Spinning Wheels for a Good Cause


 

Some people kiss the soil of Israel when they come to the Holy Land. Last month, Audrey Adler didn’t so much kiss the dirt as inhale it.

Adler and a handful of other Angelenos participated in a charity bike ride for Alyn Children’s Hospital in Jerusalem through some of the toughest terrain Adler has ridden.

A mountain bike racer and triathelete who trains in the Santa Monica Mountains, Adler took the off-road leg of the bike ride from the Negev desert up to the Dead Sea and on to Jerusalem, where 250 yellow-clad riders from around the world swept into the parking lot of Alyn hospital on Oct. 28. This year’s ride raised nearly $1 million for the hospital, which has a new residential wing and rehab center for children with chronic respiratory disease. Christopher Reeve visited the hospital last year and was a supporter.

“When you see these kids you just say, ‘OK, I’ll do whatever you want,'” Adler said. “These are kids who were born with difficulties, kids who were victims of terrorist attacks, kids that just had fluke accidents.”

Adler, a self-described workout maniac who teaches spin classes for women at her home studio, and also leads classes at the Spectrum Club and Sports Club/LA, didn’t let a shattered wrist bone from a snowboarding accident last February stop her from training for the five-day, 240-mile ride (300 miles for the on-road riders). It started at the Ramon Crater in the Negev, traversing dusty desert mountains in 100-degree heat and stifling humidity.

Riders stayed overnight at kibbutz guest houses, and Adler was inspired by visions of men going to minyan at the crack of dawn with tallit and teffilin over their lycra shorts and yellow jerseys.

“It was like I died and went to heaven — that I could ride on a supportive ride that didn’t ride on Shabbos, that catered to my every need with three kosher meals a day, and I was out there with other maniacs like me that were Jewish and Israeli, but total fiends like myself,” Adler said.

This is Adler’s second year riding in the 5-year-old event, and this year she got corporate sponsorship from Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, whose Californian and Israeli divisions kicked in $5,000 for her ride. In addition, Coffee Bean donated a 200-gram souvenir canister of coffee to every rider.

Adler also got $5,000 sponsorship from one of her training clients, Richard Crane, a 61-year-old Jewish man who didn’t have much to do with Judaism or Israel until he met Adler.

“I go out with him on weekends on very long bike rides, and I talk to him about Judaism and I explain things,” she said.

Many of her students are shocked when they find out that Adler, a vivacious talker who doesn’t have an ounce of fat on her and has a fashion sense worthy of her other identity as an interior designer, is in fact a 45-year-old Orthodox mother-in-law.

Adler’s husband, Benny (the eponymous Benny of the minyan at Beth Jacob), secretly trained and surprised her by participating in the on-road bike ride for Alyn, in honor of their 25th wedding anniversary.

“A ride like this gives athletics a deeper meaning. It took everything I’ve worked on for years as an athlete and implanted into it a soul and made it whole,” she said. “This took it to a whole other level and I want to focus on turning other people on to it.”

For more information, visit www.alyn.org, or contact Audrey Adler at www.homebodiesworkout.com or homebodies789@sbcglobal.net.

 

Q & A With David Grunwald


David Grunwald is agitated. The chief executive of L.A. Family Housing Corp. grows ever more upset as he details the indifference many Angelenos feel toward the population his nonprofit group serves: the homeless and those one or two paychecks away from being on the streets. From liberal Brentwood to conservative Pasadena, most Southern California residents don’t want homeless shelters in their neighborhoods and oppose the construction of high-density, affordable housing that could help thousands of families. NIMBY is alive and well here.

With the housing market on fire, Grunwald said the situation for the region’s poorest is likely to worsen. Housing prices northward of $300,000 for dinky starter homes and average monthly rents of more than $1,200 might make homeowners and landlords happy, but they have taken a toll on the cab drivers, waitresses and mechanics trying to eke out a living. Many have found themselves living on friends’ couches or commuting three or four hours daily from the Inland Empire and beyond. Simply put: the sizzling real estate market and dearth of affordable housing has made daily life a struggle for some of the region’s poorest.

Grunwald and L.A. Family Housing, which will hold its annual dinner and fundraiser on Dec. 10 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, have worked hard on behalf of those people. The agency, which has an annual budget of $9 million, has provided assistance to more than 62,000 homeless and low-income Southern Californians since its founding in 1983. Last year, L.A. Family Housing served nearly 14,600 people at emergency shelters, transitional living centers and with life-counseling programs and support designed to steer homeless families into permanent homes.

Grunwald, a trained attorney with a master’s degree in public policy from Duke University, has held a variety of high-profile positions in the past decade. In the mid-1990s, he helped establish human and labor rights policies in Cambodia under the auspices of the AFL-CIO and the United States Agency for International Development. Grunwald, 41, later became director of the HIV & AIDS Legal Services Alliance, a consortium of HIV agencies in Los Angeles County.

He spoke to the Journal about the city’s housing problems and what L.A. Family Housing is doing to alleviate them.

The Jewish Journal: How bad is Los Angeles’ affordable housing problem?

David Grunwald: Southern California’s housing crisis is über bad. There simply isn’t enough housing to keep pace with demand. We need about 8,000 new homes a year to meet demand and we are only producing about 4,000. This has put extreme pressure on housing prices — the median housing price for a single family home is almost $320,000. Even with good mortgage rates, a family would need a combined income of about $90,000 to qualify for a mortgage on a modest home. This makes homeownership unreachable for almost 70 percent of Angelenos. An average two-bedroom apartment rents for about $1,250 a month. A family of four needs a combined income of about $45,000 annually to support this rent. A recent study by a think-tank at USC forecasts that Los Angeles will grow by 3 million new residents by 2010. Where will they all live?

JJ: Politicians seems to pay scant attention to homelessness and affordable housing. Why the indifference?

DG: Actually, in response to Los Angeles’ housing shortage, Los Angeles’ mayor recently launched a new initiative to increase the city’s investment in workforce and affordable housing development. This important initiative calls for a dramatic expansion of the city’s current investment in housing from $10 million last year to $100 million annually by 2005.

While this new investment is a critical first step to addressing the city’s housing crisis, most local politicians, in response to hostile neighborhood associations, avoid affordable housing development in their community.

JJ: How does a lack of affordable housing hurt the economy?

DG: Availability of decent, reasonably priced housing is vital to supporting a vibrant workforce in our city. Without more housing there will be fewer people to fill our service jobs as well as the jobs located in our skyscrapers, office buildings and retail centers. Business growth will slow, our economy will recede and all of us will feel the pain.

JJ: Tell me about some of the more important initiatives L.A. Housing is currently undertaking.

DG: L.A. Family Housing is embarking on new partnership with private-sector investors and developers to rehab and build hundreds of affordable single-family homes over the next three to five years. Our new homeownership program will help hard-working families become first-time homebuyers. More importantly, we believe that by turning renters into homeowners, we are empowering our clients to become good neighbors and strong community stakeholders.

JJ: What is your biggest frustration?

DG: Despite all our aggressive efforts to fight homelessness, the problems don’t go away. Ideally, our agency should put itself out of work by ending homelessness. Maybe homelessness and poverty are intractable problems. While I’m not yet willing to admit this, there are moments when I feel like we are powerless to change the forces the that lead people into a life of destitution.

The annual dinner and fundraiser will be held at 6 p.m., Dec. 10, at Beverly Hilton International Ballroom, 9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. For tickets, call Tarlov Associates at (310) 996-1188.

Breaking the Media Monopoly


Jews aren’t the only Angelenos dissatisfied with the Los Angeles Times. Indeed, for the first time in a generation, that dissatisfaction may actually produce something akin to competition for the most dominant newspaper west of Chicago.

Today speculation centers on the efforts of former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan to start a new weekly or daily newspaper to compete with the gray lady of Spring Street. Like other Angelenos, the Jewish community should look forward to such efforts, if nothing else to provide an alternative to the conventional, liberal-media spin that dominates not only the Times, but virtually all the major national newspapers.

It may seem odd that Jews, supposed masters of the liberal media, might want to break with institutions where, in many cases, they have played prominent roles for generations. Although never under Jewish ownership, the Times’ has long had many prominent Jewish editors and writers.

Yet as historian Fred Siegel has pointed out, recent trends in large-scale newspapers, including The New York Times, have propelled a major rift between these institutions and Jews — particularly on issues involving Israel. Several factors are critical to this process, notably the growth of "Third Worldist" ideology among reporters, detachment of editors and writers from the concerns of their core middle-class readers and the sheer complexity of news itself.

In the post-Sept. 11 reality, particularly since the recent events in Israel, these factors have come to create — for the first time — a well-founded impression that much, if not most, of the news media is actually hostile to both the Jewish state and our community’s interests. As adept consumers of information, Siegel asserts, Jews have been perhaps among the most likely to start seeking out new media sources that they feel more accurately reflects reality.

"Jews are adept at going on the Net or to cable to find things they feel more comfortable with," Siegel suggests. "They are not likely to stand pat with something they feel is hostile to them."

In New York, this dissatisfaction, particularly among moderate and conservative readers, has led to a plethora of new alternative publications, including the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, the New York Observer and, most recently, the daily Sun. Many of those involved with these publications, including Sun Editor Seth Lipsky, formerly of the Jewish Forward, are prominent, self-identified Jews.

Can a Sun-like publication rise in Los Angeles? To some extent, conditions for such a venture are promising. Over the past few decades, the Times, once a supreme booster of Los Angeles’ growth, has become widely perceived as a negative force, particularly in business circles. Under the guidance of Southern liberal Editor Shelby Coffey, the paper became nationally renown as one of the more politically correct publications in the nation.

In the dark days of the early 1990s the Times’ increasingly reflexive pro-Third World, racially obsessed and often almost hysterically pro-labor politics colored its coverage of local events. A generally "progressive" tilt became so entrenched as to not even be noticeable to editors and reporters themselves. The paper’s perceived tilt against Israel may have its roots in these attitudes, as leftist opinion has turned against the Jewish state.

Since the recent takeover of the Times by the Chicago-based Tribune Co., the political bias seems to have somewhat eased, and at least a patina of professionalism has made something of a welcome comeback. Yet, the paper all too often seems still inhabited by the spirit of Coffeyism — pandering to various constituencies made up of presumed "victims" of color, while often seemingly contemptuous of the values of middle-class suburbanites, who make up the bulk of the readers.

Added to this problem are those brought on by having a great newspaper now owned by out-of-state interests and run by editors with often little firsthand knowledge of the admittedly complex, often difficult to fathom, megalopolis of Los Angeles. This inexperience, a lack of sechel, if you will, not any deep-seated anti-Semitism, is what likely accounted for such mistakes as not covering the massive Woodley Park pro-Israel rally last month.

Riordan and his supporters hope these factors — a perception of insensitivity to local interests, excessive negativity and alienation of middle-class, middle-age readers — can create the basis for a new newspaper. Yet sources close to Riordan suggest that the former mayor is far from sure what tack he wants to take. Some worry openly that the amateurishness that characterized the mayor’s recent disastrous gubernatorial run will now spill into this venture.

Top Riordan advisers on the project, who include several close personal associates, feel that a sophisticated weekly, a la The New York Observer, would make the most sense. This publication would appeal to many of those who are prime targets of advertisers — notably affluent Westsiders and Valley residents. These are readers who can get their national news from the Internet, The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal but are looking for incisive local coverage of politics, culture and business. Jews would constitute a large, perhaps even a majority, of the audience for such an effort.

The case for weeklies rests on the success of several such publications in Los Angeles already. Although not known as a great print-media mecca, several weeklies — from the leftist LA Weekly and its rival New Times, to the snappy Downtown News and the nuts-and-bolts oriented L.A. Business Journal — all thrive in this market. Much of the best reporting about Los Angeles politics, where the Times reporting is often weak and unfocused, comes from writers like Marc Haefele of the Weekly and the acerbic Jill Stewart at New Times.

Economics suggest that a weekly, at very least, loses less money than a daily. A general-interest weekly that serves the more affluent and older reader — the LA Weekly and New Times are clearly for the under-35 crowd — conceivably could find a profitable market niche, Riordan’s more business-oriented advisers contend.

But another, perhaps more exciting and risky alternative lies with following something closer to the Sun model. Matt Welch, the 30-something publisher of the lively LA Examiner Web site, (www.laexaminer.com), has been urging Riordan in this direction. He sees a daily tabloid that covers Los Angeles with passion and interest — in contrast to the perceived indifference of the Times — as having far more relevance than a weekly publication that, in his words, "appeals to 25,000 rich people on the Westside."

Welch may well be right, and his zeal for a Los Angeles publication that appeals to local pride and interests reflects an increasingly strong local identity among a new generation of post-riot writers and journalists. But it still may boil down to a matter of dollars and cents. And since it’s largely Riordan’s pocket change that is at issue, what happens next is largely up to him.

As a community that loves Los Angeles, and intends to stay, we can only wish Riordan, Welch and their compatriots well as they look to create an alternative that all Angelenos deserve. So, too, should my sometimes-journalistic colleagues at the Times, for whom a strong, intelligent competitor would provide the most salutatory of medicines.

Year in Review


Remember the fear and trepidation that accompanied the coming of the year 2000? Millennialists ran around like Chicken Little, selling us on bottled water and canned tuna, promising disaster.

It turns out they were off by a year.

As it happened, 2001 was Hell Week. Leading up to Sept. 11, there was the tanking economy, petty divisiveness and lurid scandal. Since the morning of Sept. 11, there’s been all that plus terror, war and fear.

The year began shakily. There was the inauguration of a new president with whom few felt at peace; the fight over his attorney general; and early skirmishes over energy policy, stem cell research and the environment.

There was an energy crisis in California, though Angelenos were saved from the worst of it, in no small part due to the foresight of David Freeman.

There was the second intifada in Israel that began the previous year and shows every sign of continuing into the next. It wove itself in and out of the world’s larger war: Americans and Israelis bonded over their common enemy, but America left Israel out of the anti-terror coalition. Many in the rest of the world pointed fingers at Israel as a source of the problem, and the finger-pointing, as our cover story reveals, has quickly transformed itself into the threat of anti-Semitism.

The intifada in Israel has made its recession much worse: tourism there is down to something less than a trickle, hotels are closing, not only is no one going to Israel, many Israelis are leaving.

Here in Jewish Los Angeles, the turmoil and bad news came Ali-like, in rapid-fire body blows. We seemed eager to add to the sense of general unrest.

There was the furor that erupted when Rabbi David Wolpe reviewed the scientific evidence for the Exodus story from the pulpit, just before Passover. By late fall, we would be nostalgic for the bloodless rancor of that debate.

Last month, more bad news. The Jewish Federation slashed 30 positions, citing the economic downturn. The Jewish Community Center system faced imminent collapse, and Jewish Los Angeles was suddenly faced with the prospect of losing much of a 70-year-old system that has served the needs of generations.

As the year wound down to a close, two Jewish militants were arrested by the FBI for allegedly plotting to use explosives against a mosque and an Arab American congressman.

I’d like to believe the news couldn’t get any stranger this year, but to paraphrase Jack Palance in “City Slickers,” the year ain’t over yet.

To be bright about things, the days following Sept. 11 looked truly bleak. We reeled awaiting the next attack with a certainty that the millennialists of Dec. 31, 1999, could only envy.

Things had fallen apart, including perspective. Optimism seemed an early casualty of terror. It is now, believe it or not, just three months later.

The evidence of hard times is everywhere. But the other shoe hasn’t dropped, and the president whose competence we questioned has led much of the world to victory over those who harbored terrorists, and over at least some part of a terrorist network. The success hasn’t gone unrewarded: in a poll released earlier this month, 82 percent of American Jews said they approved of Bush, pretty much mirroring the percentage of Jews that voted against him in 2000.

Even the JCCs look like they have a shot at rescuing themselves. Their leaders and members have devised a plan for a short-term solution, and are now facing the challenges of the long-term.

And in case you missed it, Wolpe published an article in the December issue of Moment magazine titled, “We Were Slaves to Pharoah in Egypt.”

Of course, that’s what he had been saying all along: The Exodus happened, just not the way we expected.

Then again, few things ever do.

Have a Happy New Year.

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