Meet the ‘Jewish Batman’ who saved the KKK from an Anaheim mob


Is Brian Levin a hero? It depends who you ask.

For three long minutes on Saturday, Levin was all that stood between an angry, violent mob and some Ku Klux Klan demonstrators in Anaheim, California, in Levin’s retelling of the episode.

A former New York Police Department officer who is now director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, Levin was on hand to document the KKK rally, as he has many other extremist demonstrations over the years.

But he quickly found himself a part of the action when a violent melee greeted the arrival of the KKK members in their oversized SUV.

“There was a mob stomping on a Klansman who had fallen or was pushed to the ground,” Levin said in his breathless recollection of the confrontation, which made headlines around the country after three people were stabbed and 13 arrested.

“There were football player-sized people kicking him in the face and the abdomen. I crouched over him so he wouldn’t be kicked, and I said, ‘Do not hit this man.’”

When asked how he was able to hold off the assailants, who he said were wielding a wooden plank and a metal rod, Levin said he used the authoritative voice he honed during five years of service on the NYPD in the late 1980s.

“I don’t know if I would call it heroics,” Levin said.

White supremacist website Daily Stormer dubbed him the “Jewish Batman.”

Levin is no fan of the Klan, but this wasn’t the first time he has come to the aid of a white supremacist in distress, he said, recalling a similar incident in 1998 in Warren, Ohio.

After the cops arrived and order was restored, someone asked one of the KKK members how it felt to have his life saved by a Jewish guy.

“He said thank you,” Levin said.

Uncorking Anaheim’s Jewish past — the vintage years


Long before Tomorrowland, there was another land in Anaheim, created and inhabited by Jews, that as a child growing up there in the 1950s and ’60s I had not the slightest clue existed.

Little did I know from my education there that generations before Mickey and Minnie, Goofy and Donald, there were Kohler and Frohling, Dreyfus and Goodman.

Influenced by “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic” — a show that explores the history of the Los Angeles Jewish community at the Autry museum — I began to wonder where I fit into the mosaic of my home town, which up until 1889 was actually part of Los Angeles County.

In elementary school, we learned that the Anaheim colony was founded in 1857 by 50 German grape growers. I even remember dressing as “a little old winemaker” for the city’s annual downtown Halloween parade.

Unknown to me then was that I should have worn that costume with a drop of ethnic pride, as near 100 years before, Jews in Anaheim were not only growing grapes, but making wine, some of it even kosher.

“Benjamin Dreyfus was known as king of the Anaheim winemakers,” said Dalia Taft, who edited “Jewish Pioneers of Orange County” and is the archivist for Orange County’s Jewish Historical Society.

For a period of time, Dreyfus was even an owner of the first house in Anaheim, known as the “Mother Colony House” — built by surveyor George Hansen, said Taft, who writes a monthly history column for Orange County Jewish Life magazine.

[Related: How the Jews changed L.A.]

In 1885, Dreyfus built a winery that eventually would produce, according to an article in Taft’s book by Gladys Sturman, 300,000 to 400,000 gallons of wine and brandy annually. The kosher wine he produced is considered the first mass-produced kosher-for-Passover wine made in the United States.

As a kid, I remember seeing the abandoned-looking building. Today, I wonder how knowing of its Jewish origins might have shaped my identity growing up behind the “Orange Curtain.”  

My parents, when they came to California, moved first to Whittier, and then to Anaheim, in 1955. They were transplants from the Bronx, and never totally buying into the Southern California dream, they had a mural of the New York skyline painted on their living-room wall. Like many of the Jewish adults I met growing up who had moved to Anaheim from parts East, they lacked a feeling of belonging and place — not knowing that Anaheim was a place for Jews from the very beginning.

“Approximately a third of the 50 founders of Anaheim were Jewish,” said Taft, pointing out on a map the plots of land that each had owned.

Two Jewish pioneers, San Francisco businessmen Charles Kohler and John Frohling, first conceived of “Anaheim as a colony devoted to grape cultivation and wine production,” and recruited the first settlers from Germany for the colony. In the society’s archives there is even an image of a Kohler & Frohling Grape Brandy label.

“By the 1870s, there was a Torah in Anaheim,” Taft said. “Though there was not a synagogue; they prayed in homes,” she added.

In 1880, the Anaheim Gazette, describing the influence of Jews who had opened businesses on the city’s main street, reported that it had been a “week of extremes.”

“On Monday, the streets had been uncomfortably filled with people, and on Wednesday, owing to the closing of many of the stores on account of it being a Jewish holiday, the town was abnormally quiet and dull.”

By 1885, on one block of the city’s main street, “three of the businesses were Jewish,” Taft said. Morris L. Goodman, who was Jewish and was born in Bavaria, had previously established himself in 1850 as one of Los Angeles’ first city councilmen. He was co-owner of a dry goods store, selling “clothing, furnishing goods, boots and shoes, hats and caps.”

In 1893, adding a fourth Jewish-owned business to the block, was Lemuel Goldwater, the politician Barry Goldwater’s second cousin, who bought into the Citizens Bank, becoming the cashier; another Jewish pioneer, Hippolyte Cahen, was the president.

Considering all the Jewish participation in the creation and settlement of Anaheim, and even governance — Dreyfus was the city’s mayor from 1881 to 1883 — you would think that some knowledge of the history would have survived.

“The Jewish influence in Orange County has fingerprints everywhere,” wrote John M.W. Moorlach, a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, in the forward of Taft’s book. But in WASPy, conservative Orange County, especially in the 1950s and ’60s, were the prints wiped away or covered up?

“I think of it more as a whitewashing. We had no idea of our history here,” Taft said.

“There definitely was a period when you didn’t talk about being Jewish,” she added, referring to the period between 1915 and 1980, which she calls “the quiet years.”

My wife, who also grew up in Anaheim, recalls how in the 1970s at her parents’ home, which is not far from the “Happiest Place on Earth,” a swastika was burned into their front-yard lawn. I also remember, apart from the mostly benign interest in my religion, how while walking my dog, a neighbor once ran out of her house and screamed, “Keep that f—ing Jew dog out of my yard!”

Taft, who gives talks about her research at Orange Country synagogues, related that “when I tell them that Anaheim was started by Jews, they are shocked.” She feels that children especially need to be aware of their legacy. “You cannot know where you are going until you know where you came from,” she said.

“History gets lost when people don’t care,” said David Epstein, president and co-publisher of the Western States Jewish History Association.

As an example of how quickly history can vanish: When Temple Beth Emet bought its first building in 1956 — a Craftsman house on North Emily Street in downtown Anaheim that had been converted to a dance studio (I learned to read Hebrew in its converted garage) — they had no idea that they had located just blocks away from where the original Jewish pioneers settled. 

“We built the foundations of many of the cities of the West,” said Epstein, who thought the problems for Jews started in the West around the 1880s as a result of the migrations from the Transcontinental Railroad. “They brought the restrictions and the anti-Semitism with them,” said Epstein, whose organization recently opened an Orange County Exhibition Hall in its virtual Jewish Museum of the American West (jmaw.org).

In the 19th century and into the early 20th, Jews lived openly in Anaheim, according to Taft, even in business partnerships with Christians. They were buried in a nonsectarian cemetery, and in 1887 a circumcision was even announced in the Anaheim Gazette.

Wanting to connect with this history, I went to downtown Anaheim to visit the Anaheim Heritage Center. There, in thick files, including one labeled “Jews,” I found articles by Dr. Norton B. Stern, who, along with Rabbis William Kramer and Max Vorspan, wrote about Anaheim’s and Orange County’s Jewish history. In another folder, I found a black-and-white photo of a spectacular house built by Cahen in 1882.

“Do you know where it is?” I asked the librarian. While explaining that it had been relocated from its original location, she drew me a map.

On a street of one-story bungalows, the Cahen residence, a Queen Ann house at the street’s end, stands out in scale, and its tower peeked out over the trees. “Cahen, a Jewish immigrant from Algiers, was one of Anaheim’s leading citizens. He owned a dry-goods store. Started the First National bank of Anaheim,” Taft’s book says.

It was late in the afternoon as I parked and walked up to the house. It was fenced, and as I looked up to the long wooden porch out front, I imagined Cahen and his family sitting there on an afternoon, perhaps tossing back a glass of Dreyfus’ wine. As two dogs ran up to the fence to greet me, I knew I was home.

The Cahen House, circa 1902. Courtesy Orange County Jewish Historical Society

I found unity, friendship and tzedakah in Anaheim


Imagine walking into a room full of 1,000 Jewish teenagers from all over North America who are singing in unity and celebration of their Jewish heritage.

This was the sight at the 2007 United Synagogue Youth (USY) International Convention. From Dec. 23-27, the Marriott Hotel in Anaheim became the center for teens from all over North American attending an amazing weeklong convention packed with social action projects, Jewish studies and most importantly, a focus on tzedakah.

What made this one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life wasn’t just the location, or even the number of people, but rather the friendships I made and the social action projects that we as a group helped bring to the world.

USY, the youth arm of the Conservative movement, is made up of 17 regions that span the United States and Canada. Every year at the convention, the 17 regions enter the grand ballroom of the hotel in an epic opening ceremony full of ruach (spirit) and regional USY pride. The roar from the crowd was intense, and it was clear that these Jewish teens were ready for what would be the most amazing week of their life. After the USY regional presidents introduced their regions, 2007 USY International President Aaron Jacobs banged the gavel, a roar of excitement swept through the crowd, and the convention began.

Since this year’s theme was tzedakah, we spent much of our time focusing on the many different mitzvah projects that we can do to help the world. Every day, USYers gathered in limmud (class sessions) in which we studied what Judaism said about the many different situations involving the giving of tzedakah. How much should we give? And to whom do we decide to give it? In addition to the discussions, we took part in helping make more than 1,000 tzedakah boxes.

The most extraordinary experience at this year’s International Convention was the walk to raise awareness of the genocide in Darfur. On the morning of Dec. 26, all 1,000 convention delegates walked out of the Marriott Hotel for a three-mile march around the Anaheim Convention center. It was the first time I had participated in any kind of protest to fight for a cause, and, most importantly, it is a cause I feel connected to. Thousands in Darfur have been killed, left homeless and brutally injured. This is a national issue that needs to be addressed and stopped today! As Jews, we have been victims of genocide, and we promised we would never let something such as the killing of the Six Million Jews take place again. Yet a very similar situation is taking place in Darfur. We as a Jewish people need to unite and stand up to the rest of the world to help these victims.

At the end of the march, something amazing happened. Every single USYer started screaming, “One more time!” over and over. Without any warning at all, everyone rushed back outside the hotel in an attempt to do the march again. No one was satisfied with just one march. We felt there was much more that needed to be done and that there was so much more that we could accomplish. Soon everyone started joining in chorus of the song: “We’re not going to take it any more.” Unfortunately, we were forced back inside the hotel vicinity by the professional staff, but this situation showed me that when we as a Jewish people unite, we can accomplish anything.

Finally on Dec. 27 at 11:55 p.m., newly elected 2008 USY International President Adam Berman banged the Presidential gavel, thus officially ending the convention. Through all the activities and excitement, what I will always remember in addition to the march for Darfur are all the people I met and the friendships I made. The true beauty of USY International Convention lies within the people themselves. It’s hard to think that some of your best friends could live more than 1,000 miles away. But USY is a place where teens come together from all over the continent and form friendships based on the common ground of their Judaism and a desire to change the world for the better.

In the words of Far West USY President Kesha Dorsey, “an international convention exemplifies the reason why over 1,000 Jewish teens give up their individual winter vacations to gather; USY provides for opportunities beyond the educational and religious aspects. The sense of young Jewish unity carries so much weight that makes us determined to show the world that we are the next generation of Jews, and that a wave of passion will keep us strong!”

Matt Sackman is a senior at Hamilton High School Academy of Music in Los Angeles and the vice president of communications for the Far West region of USY.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the March issue is Feb. 15; deadline for the April issue is March 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Sitcom superstars, sultry songstresses, literary diamonds


Saturday

Bob Saget will forever be remembered as Danny Tanner from “Full House.” Now, instead of guiding the household with his wise advice and calm demeanor, Saget is exposing the sitcom family’s sexual exploits on cable television. “Bob Saget: That Ain’t Right” was taped in front of a packed audience at New York University and will debut on HBO tonight. His wildly inappropriate stand-up comedy routine covers such dirty ground as animal sex, snuff videos, prison and the personal sex lives of his former “House” mates. Although his sense of humor might make your rabbi blush, word on the street is that he is very entertaining. And a mensch.

10-11 p.m. Also, Aug. 30, Aug. 31, Sept. 4, Sept. 7, Sept. 10 and Sept. 20.

Sunday

You’ve heard of Christmas in July … now you can have Chanukah in August! Grab your gelt and head to Thousand Oaks to take part in the creation of a real holiday treat cooked up by Harvey Shield, Richard Jarboe and Chayim Ben Ze’ev. “Maccabeat!” is a rockin’ musical take on the story of Judah the Maccabee and his cooler-than-thou Greek rivals. Forbidden lovers Judah and Allura force two different cultures to confront and learn from one another. A heated battle ensues and, well, you already know the rest of this tale. Hebrew hotties, Jerusalem Valley girls and a biblical boy band — it’s the Chanukkah story like you’ve never seen it before!

Part of the Thousand Oaks Festival of New Musicals, Aug. 25-26. 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. $24 (two-day pass includes admission to all four staged readings plus workshops, discussions and a festival party.) Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. For tickets call Ticketmaster, (213) 480-3232. ” border = ‘0’ vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Sophie Millman” >

Sophie Millman’s golden blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes and delicate facial features recall the old days of Hollywood glamour. But this 24-year-old Russian Israeli Canadian beauty is no aspiring actress. She’s a jazz singer with a dark chocolate voice that’s set to take the U.S. by storm. Millman is touring New York and California in support of her new album, “Make Someone Happy,” and the predictions from jazz critics are that she’ll be making lots of music lovers very happy. Swoon to this chanteuse’s infectious crooning in “Rocket Love,” “Fever” and the particularly meaningful “Eli, Eli,” written by the Jewish Hungarian poet Hannah Senesh, who sacrificed her life to save her family from the Nazis.

8:30 p.m. $15. Catalina Jazz Club, 6725 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 466-2210. ” border = ‘0’ vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Edward Schwarzschild’ >
“The Family Diamond” is a collection of jewels. Literary gems, that is. Early reviews for Edward Schwarzschild’s second novel, comprised of nine short stories, have been sparkling: “each story is as satisfying as a full moon,” writes one author. “An achingly beautiful collection,” writes another. To see the value of the diamonds with your own eyes, visit Dutton’s tonight and meet the author, his wife and maybe the rest of his family too.

7 p.m. Free. Dutton’s Brentwood Books, 11975 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 476-6263. ” border = ‘0’ vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Dinah Berland”

If you’re a (Jewish) bookworm, this is your week! Not one, but two more book readings are taking place tonight. In Pasadena, teenybopper idol turned television director Robby Benson reads and discusses “Who Stole the Funny?” The satirical novel parodies the world of sitcoms and gives a behind-the-scenes look at the ditsy stars, meddling money-men and sexual escapades that Benson witnessed firsthand while directing more than 100 episodes of “Ellen,” “Friends,” “Dharma & Greg” and other hit shows. Back at Dutton’s, Dinah Berland covers a very different Jewish topic: prayers. She’ll be signing “Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda’s Book of Prayers for Jewish Women,” a restoration of a cherished 19th century prayer book.

Benson: 7 p.m. Free. Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. ” border = ‘0’ vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Clare Burson” >

Awarded one of 12 Six Points Fellowships for Emerging Jewish Artists in April, Tennessee native Clare Burson is hard at work on “Invisible Ink,” a 10-song album of original Jewish music infused with Southern Americana. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t diligently promoting her recent release “Thieves,” which showcases her warm voice and songwriting talents. She’ll be hitting up all the big towns, including ours, this summer and fall.

8 p.m. $8. Tangiers, 2138 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 666-8666.

L.A. Times violates journalistic ethics in Anaheim City Council election coverage


Normally, a race for a seat on Anaheim’s City Council garners little attention beyond Anaheim. But this year, one candidate is drawing some outside attention.

Bill Dalati, a Syrian-born insurance agent, is running for a spot on Anaheim’s City Council. His candidacy has come under scrutiny because of his association with a controversial organization with known links to the Hamas terror group and his participation at a virulently anti-Israel rally this past summer.

But the Los Angeles Times has been singularly trying to portray the criticism of Dalati, made by Republican Shawn Steel, as racist and unsubstantiated.

On July 29 of this year, during the war between Israel and Hezbollah, which was set off by Hezbollah’s July 12 cross-border raid and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, Dalati attended an anti-Israel rally in Anaheim. In its coverage of the City Council race, the Associated Press reported that Dalati referred to the event merely as an “anti-war rally.” And the L.A. Times reported on Oct. 9 that Dalati “defended his association with the rally protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict,” quoting him as saying, “I’m not against Jews or Christians … I don’t support Hezbollah. I just don’t believe wars solve any issues; love does.”

But the situation is not nearly as innocuous as the L.A. Times and Associated Press would have one believe. The Anaheim protest was about anything but “love.” The rally was not merely “anti-war” and the attendees were not merely “protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict.” The event in question was billed by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, one of the sponsors of the demonstration, as a “Rally Against U.S.-Israeli Terror in Palestine & Lebanon,” hardly a neutral, let alone credible “anti-war” sentiment.

Although the rally drew little mainstream media attention, what little coverage there was whitewashed the content of the demonstration, giving cover for the AP, the L.A. Times and Dalati himself to downplay the nature of the event.

Fortunately, a participant at the rally created a slideshow of the demonstration, posted on YouTube, which shows various demonstrators carrying such signs as “Israel Likes Killing Kids,” “Killing Kids Is Not Self Defense” and “End the U.S.-Israeli War,” as well as the more typical signs seen at various anti-Israel protests, such as “Stop Israeli War Crimes” and “$134 Billion US Taxes To Israel — Enough.”

Whatever one thinks of American foreign policy and support for Israel, the July rally cannot be fairly described either as simply “anti-war” or just “protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict.”

There were no signs indicating any disapproval of Hezbollah’s actions — the capture of Israeli soldiers — which started the war, nor were there any signs indicating any disapproval of Hezbollah’s indiscriminate shelling of Israeli towns with Katusha rockets (packed with scrap metal and ball bearings to cause as much damage to humans as possible), nor any condemnation of Hezbollah’s use of civilians as human shields in Lebanon. There were no signs indicating any disapproval of the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Palestinian militants and no calls for Hamas — now the majority in the Palestinian government — to moderate its stance rejecting the existence of Israel to help pave the way for peace.

Yet, the L.A. Times again came to the defense of Dalati on Oct. 13, in falsely describing this rally in evenhanded terms as a “rally protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict.”

In the original story on Dalati, the L.A. Times also refers to Dalati’s support of and association with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), describing the organization as it often describes itself: “the largest Muslim civil rights group in the country” and stating uncritically that CAIR is “largely viewed as a mainstream organization.” In the second L.A. Times story, the newspaper drops any pretension of reportorial objectivity in its embrace of CAIR: “The largest Muslim civil rights group in the country, CAIR is widely viewed as mainstream and helps the FBI in combating terrorism.”

While CAIR may call itself the “largest Muslim civil rights group” in America, the Times completely ignores CAIR’s well-documented history of extremism, anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, as well as its origins in a now-defunct group, the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), an organization that was a losing defendant in a $156 million civil judgment related to the Hamas murder of an American citizen. In the case, the judge noted that there is “evidence that IAP provided material support to Hamas.”

Similarly, during a 1994 speech at Florida’s Barry University, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad stated, “I am in support of the Hamas movement.” Awad was the public relations director of IAP before founding CAIR.
And this is what Awad said six years later, on Oct. 28, 2000, in a Washington, D.C., anti-Israeli rally: “Brothers and sisters, we are at least 8 million people, but there are 265 million people in this country who have been deceived, who have been misinformed, who have been intimidated by a small group of people who have been hijacking the political process.”

Additionally, several CAIR officials have been convicted on terrorist-related charges. One of them, Randall “Ismail” Royer, CAIR’s former communications specialist, trained to fight with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a designated foreign terrorist organization, against Indian forces in the disputed territory of Kashmir. Royer pled guilty to weapons and explosives charges and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the notorious “Virginia jihad” case.

A founding board member of CAIR-Texas, Ghassan Elashi, is in even greater legal trouble than Royer. Elashi was convicted on a variety of charges in July 2004, including violating the Libyan Sanctions Regulations, and he was found guilty in April 2005 of a Hamas-related money laundering conspiracy, handling money of top Hamas official, the Damascus-based Musa Abu Marzook. Elashi is awaiting his sentencing for both convictions (Elashi’s brother, Bayan, was sentenced to seven years in prison on Oct. 11, 2006, for his role in laundering money for Hamas). And Ghassan Elashi is still awaiting another trial, slated to begin in 2007, for his leadership role in the Hamas-linked “charity,” the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Texas-based organization shut down in 2001 for allegedly funneling millions of dollars to Hamas.

CAIR has defended Marzook, participating in his legal defense fund when he was arrested in the United States, as well as including his arrest in its annual catalog of hate crimes against Muslims. CAIR’s defense of, and links to, anti-Semitic individuals is also unfortunate and extensive.

Shocktoberfest


The plan was innocuous enough: Meet up with some Jewish Journal colleagues for Oktoberfest at The Phoenix Club, a German cultural center in Anaheim that features a banquet hall, a restaurant and bar, as well as country club-like grounds. We were looking for something truly authentic — a slice of Munich in the Southland.

I guess we should have been careful what we wished for.

It was a Saturday evening and there were 10 of us sitting together on the edge of the biergarten, which held about 2,000 people. An opulent, modern white tent covered a patio area lined with picnic tables, which were getting snatched up quickly around us. With the heat on to find a place to sit, an older couple and their adult child with Down’s syndrome joined us at our table.

Oktoberfest is a two-week celebration held in Munich, Germany, during late September and early October. Beer, food and music are the cornerstones of what is the world’s largest festival, drawing 6 million tourists to the city annually. Cities around the world hold their own Oktoberfests, typically modeled after the Munich event.

We’d hoped for more colleagues from The Journal, but the distance put off some, and others seemed disinclined because Jews and plans based on Munich and beer historically don’t mix well.

At the Phoenix Club in Anaheim, men were walking around in lederhosen and liking it. (However, the only dirndln — full-skirted dresses with gathered waists and closefitting bodices — were ultrashort and being sported by women carrying trays of Jagger shots.) Young families with children mixed with a predominantly senior crowd. The food was mostly authentic — weisswurst, bratwurst, porkshanks — so most of The Journal’s crowd stuck with the potato pancakes and Bavarian pretzels.

After a second round of the chicken dance, the bandleader from Munich held up his stein to lead a beer chant. We shot back with our own Yiddishly tweaked version: “zicke zacke, zicke zacke, oy oy oy.”

And then it happened. We saw a dozen skinheads gathering at the edge of the biergarten, looking for a table.

One of them wore a T-shirt that read: “My boss is an Austrian painter.” I doubted it was a reference to Gustav Klimt.

Orange County is known for having a few enclaves of neo-Nazis, and, I suppose, we shouldn’t have been surprised that they, too, would seek out an Oktoberfest.

And there we were: a table full of Jews; a Catholic of mixed German, Irish and Mexican heritage, and someone with a visible handicap.

As the skinheads approached our table, they stopped to eye its lack of Aryan homogeneity and then moved on. While the skinheads didn’t hang around to intimidate us, their actively growing numbers on the sidelines left some of us with the distinct feeling that safety could become an issue. We joked that we should have worn our Jewish Journal T-shirts, but we were just looking to cover up our discomfort.

We cleared our table and left shortly thereafter. One couple from our group stayed behind, but even the couple with the Down’s syndrome child decided it was time to leave, even though it was only 9 p.m., which is usually when Oktoberfest is just starting to come to life.

Despite the fact that there was a security presence, I couldn’t shake the feeling that no one would come to help us if were attacked. There was that moment of doubt, that feeling of being alone in a sea of thousands.

Joyce Greenspan, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Orange County, said that neo-Nazis showing up at Oktoberfests has been a problem for some time, but that organizers can take steps to limit their entrance if they wanted to.

“It’s not a public event. They can certainly control who can come into their event,” she said.

Phoenix Club Vice President Hans Holste told me later that the board and the membership don’t want skinheads anywhere near their 45-year-old facility.

“If we would disallow them to come in, there may be more problems than we wish for,” he said.

Instead, the Phoenix’s approach has been to kick them out only of they’re being disruptive. A T-shirt extolling Adolph Hitler, apparently, does not cross that subjective line.

The Phoenix Club wants to keep a safe, family-friendly environment. But how can a family possibly feel safe with neo-Nazis milling about almost every weekend of the festival?

Following The Journal’s inquiry, Holste said The Phoenix Club was bringing off-duty police officers onto their security team during Sunday nights and would post rules of conduct at entrances.

Still, ignoring hate groups and hoping they’ll behave or go away may send the wrong message. For one thing, it suggests that tolerance applies foremost to the intolerant, such as neo-Nazis, at the expense of the victims of their hate speech or worse.

Thus far the club has addressed the problems in-house. They have not consulted with organizations such as the ADL or the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which are adept in dealing with such situations. That’s a shame because the accumulated knowledge and experience of Jewish organizations has much to offer a local German group that wants to show that it, too, believes in “never again.”

 

Temple Plays Iranian Card to Spur Growth


The desperate son of a woman diagnosed with cancer sought advice from Rabbi Reuben Malekan before accompanying his mother to Mexico for shark-cartilage treatments. When the cure failed, the son again beseeched Malekan for support in claiming his mother’s body.

Emotionally spent and depressed by the experience, Malekan nevertheless went on that same day to perform a joyous wedding service, which typically includes his full-throated a cappella version of "Sunrise, Sunset."

"It’s an art to get out of that sadness," said Malekan, a well-known Iranian-born rabbi from Los Angeles, who is a master at refocusing his mental energy to suit the emotional range requisite of daily clergy life.

That discipline is readily on display when Malekan takes a Shabbat pulpit, summoning energy and charisma that stir a shrinking-violet congregation so that those in attendance "feel it to their bones."

In an innovative attempt to rejuvenate its shrinking congregation, Anaheim’s Temple Beth Emet is turning to Malekan, hoping that his use of Persian traditions will appeal to the county’s small but dispersed population of Iranian Jews.

Of the handful of Iranian American families, who already are members of the Conservative congregation, some believe once-a-month sermons by the visiting rabbi will telegraph a welcoming message that could help the congregation grow.

"It’s a beginning," said Beth Emet board member Michael Younessi of Huntington Beach, who left Iran as a 7-year-old with his parents in 1978. "If they enjoy it, they’ll come."

Such a Persian infusion could well permeate the congregation in unexpected ways.

Rabbi Mordecai Kieffer, Beth Emet’s spiritual leader since 1995, is sharing the pulpit as one of several recent initiatives by the synagogue’s leaders to reverse declining membership. "We are courting the Farsi community that hasn’t found a home in Orange County," Kieffer said.

At its peak three decades ago, the county’s first Conservative congregation had 700 families and enrolled 300 children in religious school. Today, membership is 300 families and 40 children. The figures reflect the county’s population shift as housing development swept south and new synagogues followed.

Beth Emet’s novel effort at émigré outreach comes at an opportune time. Iran’s Jewish population, which mostly fled to Israel and the United States when the shah was ousted in 1979, today is struggling to preserve its cultural identity.

An alienating generation gap over religious issues is widening between immigrant parents and their children. While Iran had a single rabbi and the same religious practices throughout the country, the offspring are encountering the splintered denominations of American Judaism and embracing different practices.

A Persian youth center started 10 years ago in Los Angeles by the Orthodox Chabad Lubavitch Chasidim is a fertile recruiting ground. The center is expanding to larger quarters.

Youth are most at risk of losing their Jewish identity, said Shoshana Pe’er, a Chabad outreach representative to Los Angeles’ Persian Jews, told the Lubavitch News Service in September. Parents, she said, though well-meaning, are often ill-equipped to transmit Jewish tradition to their own children, having grown up with little real Jewish background.

"The reality here is it’s very difficult for new immigrants," said Rabbi David Shofet of the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center in Santa Monica, the 13th generation in an unbroken line of rabbis. His father, Yedidia Shofet, bore the honorary title of chief rabbi of Tehran.

Rather than adopting institutions typically shaped by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, many Iranian Jews embrace Sephardic congregations that hew closer to the practices of their homeland. Services often include Farsi alongside Hebrew. The liturgy is voiced with a Persian melody, and men and women sit apart. "They are looking to be traditional, to continue their own tradition," Shofet explained.

Intermarriage and Orthodoxy, at the opposite ends of acculturation, though, are pulling at family unity among Iranian Jews. "These are the two greatest issues facing the community," said Homa Sarshar, director of the Beverly Hills-based Center of Iranian Jewish Oral History. She moderated a discussion on the topics that drew 1,200 parents to Beverly Hills High School in October.

"That’s happening here big time," agreed Dr. Morris Abboud of Irvine, who left Iran at 17 in 1982 to attend New York’s Yeshiva University. Except for a few cousins who remain in Iran, his entire family resettled in Irvine.

"Being religious in Iran was a plus. It had respect," Sarshar explained. By comparison, she said, in the United States, "Persian parents are ashamed of saying their kids are Orthodox."

Such an admission deserves pity, she said, and implies parents will be alone on Shabbat, because their observant children won’t drive on the Sabbath or will spurn their parents’ tables as not adequately kosher. Persian parenting is not yet a hot topic at Beth Emet.

Beth Emet is also trying to grow by dropping dues for new families that enroll in religious school. Another appeal to younger families is hiring Craig Taubman, a guitar-picking crooner popular on the spiritual renewal circuit. In October, he enlivened the first of four Shabbat morning appearances scheduled at Beth Emet this year.

"He had the whole temple swinging," said Marvin Marsh, 76, of Anaheim, who compared the mood to the fervor evoked by the Christian evangelist Billy Graham. "But everybody loved it," Marsh added, noting that Taubman drew a High Holiday-size crowd.

In an informal arrangement, Malekan will season the second Saturday service of each month with Persian tradition. Beth Emet’s after-service wine blessing and celebration will also get a fresh twist by featuring Persian-style delicacies.

"We hope it’s permanent," said Doris Jacobson, congregation president. "We hope it will attract more Persians." The board will evaluate the results in a few months, she said.

"The service I do is very personal, happy and warm," said Malekan, who mixes Farsi with Hebrew, as well as involving participants in a high-energy, finger-snapping renditions of traditional music.

"I try to share the spirit in me," he said. "You try to elevate the soul of those people who give you an hour of their time."

The visiting rabbi’s distinctive tone and style is doubly appreciated by Kieffer. "The way he speaks and reaches out is more participatory and responsive," he said. "For the Farsi community, it’s a treat that their synagogue has done this for them."

Attendance has increased during previous visits by Malekan. "That indicates there is interest," Kieffer said.

Malekan is well-known within the Iranian Jewish community for his joyous wedding services. He is gratified that Beth Emet sees him as a tool to solidify the local Persian population.

"If they don’t become part of a community, they will assimilate," Malekan warned.

Abboud, a member of Congregation Beth Jacob, an Orthodox synagogue in Irvine, was delighted to hear about Malekan’s peripatetic services. "If I’m not on call, I’d come," he said.

To woo the county’s Iranian Jews, Abboud said, the synagogue needs to publicize its new tack in the communities where expatriates reside: Anaheim Hills, Newport Beach and Irvine.

However, awareness isn’t enough to dissuade some to shift synagogue loyalties. Parvin Rafii of Orange left Iran 32 years ago to join her husband, Max, in the United States. Rafii is devoted to Chabad of Yorba Linda, because the shul "captured the heart of many Jews that haven’t been involved in religion," she said. "You don’t need the Persian that you had in your childhood."

The couple consciously distanced themselves from Los Angeles’ growing Iranian community as they were raising their young children, who attended Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom. "We wanted the kids to be part of society right here," Rafii said.

Beth Emet isn’t the first synagogue to intentionally shift its character to suit a new population. Five years ago, Hollywood Temple Beth El faced a similar membership drought and started marketing to the Iranian Jewish community, said Elliott Benjamin, a board member of the Iranian American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles. He commended Kieffer for reaching out to a group adrift.

In Great Neck, N.Y., another U.S. haven for Iranians, most Iranian Jews attend local Sephardic synagogues. Traditional Sephardic practice hews closely to Orthodoxy, separating the sexes during services and schooling, shunning the use of musical instruments on the Sabbath and excluding women from the clergy.

However, another 200 Iranian families comprise 20 percent of Great Neck’s Temple Israel, like Beth Emet, a Conservative synagogue.

"A large number have chosen to join our synagogue," said Steven Markowitz, the congregation’s president, explaining that "one of the most important [reasons] is men and women want to sit together." Other factors, he said, are that the temple provides girls with the same Jewish education as boys and permits bat mitzvah.

The Persian influx in the largely Ashkenazi congregation is its own unique culture clash, sowing both enmity and respect.

Sometimes a Torah reader will use a Persian trope or a Shabbat dinner menu will get a Persian makeover, Markowitz said, but the synagogue has avoided any direct appeal to the larger Iranian community. "Many are adamant it not become Persian," he said.

The flip side is that a synagogue-produced magazine that included an article about a gay couple and the recent hiring of a female rabbi offended some Iranian members. "They’ve had a tough time adjusting," Markowitz said. "Some have left because it’s too liberal."

Yet, at a typical Temple Israel service, Iranian congregants predominantly fill the sanctuary seats, Markowitz said. "They put the rest of us to shame."

The level of observance by Beth Emet’s Iranian congregants plays a role in the synagogue’s willingness to adopt a Persian countenance. "You have to do what you can for the people who show up," said Kieffer.

"Their presence is a blessing," he said.