Locals absent at ceremony in Poland marking postwar atrocity


Some 150 people attended a commemoration on the 75th anniversary of a massacre of hundreds of Polish Jews by their neighbors in the country’s northeast.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, also attended Sunday’s ceremony in the town of Jedwabne, whose history is controversial in Poland because it involves complicity in the Holocaust by members of a nation that many perceive primarily as a victim of the German Nazi occupation.

Commemorating the victims in Jedwabne “grounds our work, which is to fight anti-Semitism, bigotry and racism,” Greenblatt said.

At Jedwabne, a few dozen perpetrators burned alive at least 340 Jews.

The mayor of Jedwabne did not attend the event, citing previous engagements. Nor did any of the townspeople, according to Henryk Zandek, 90, a non-Jewish man who lived in Jedwabne for years after World War II.

Ichak Lewin, an 85-year-old survivor who lives in Israel, sobbed when he recalled how the entire Jewish population of his village near Jedwabne was “taken to the barn and burned alive,” he said. Warned by locals, his family escaped the roundup in nearby woods, where a Polish family hid them. Lewin said he later worked in a German army kitchen.

Under Poland’s Communist governments, which blurred sectarian divides and at times displayed anti-Semitic tendencies, Jedwabne’s Holocaust-era record was little known until 15 years ago, Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, told JTA at the event.

In 2001, the publication of a book on Jedwabne by Princeton historian Jan Gross triggered a public debate on the issue.

In a nation where the Nazis killed 3 million non-Jewish Poles in addition to 3 million Jewish ones, “some found it, and some find it, difficult to accept the very bitter truth” about Jedwabne, Schudrich said. But since then, polls suggest that today approximately half of Poles have come to accept their compatriots’ role at Jedwabne, Schudrich said.

Polish Undersecretary of State Wojciech Kolarski represented Polish President Andrzej Duda at the event, where he laid a wreath at the monument for the victims.

“To be clear about what happened here: Polish citizens killed their own Polish compatriots of Jewish origin in a way that damaged a long tradition of living side-by-side,” Kolarski told JTA. “There can be no justification for that.”

At least 1,500 Jews died at the hands of Poles during the Holocaust or immediately after it, Schudrich said.

Some Polish politicians in the past denied that Poles killed Jews in Jedwabne, including former senator Jadwiga Stolarska, who in 2001 stated in Parliament that Germans were behind the killings and that “there was no way a Pole could kill a Jew.”

In 2011, Poland’s then-president, Bronislaw Komorowski, said of the centrist Civic Platform: “I beg forgiveness” for what happened at Jedwabne. In a nation of victims, he said, “there were perpetrators.”

Duda, the current president of the center-right Law and Justice party, last year attacked Komorowski’s statement in what some observers considered a step backward from acceptance of the role of Poles in the massacre at Jedwabne.

“I believe it is extremely important for us that we did not, as we are falsely accused by others, participate in the Holocaust,” Duda said at a televised debate last year. “The Lord knows that the Polish people did not take part in the Holocaust.”

Jonny Daniels, founder of the From the Depths commemoration group, said the event “shows us how seriously Polish society takes this matter,” citing Kolarski’s presence and that of the national media. Unlike some of its neighbors, he said, Poland is “standing up to its sometimes difficult past and not shirking from often painful truths.”

Neighborhood Music School hits 100


While the Emmy Awards were under way at downtown’s Nokia Theatre on Sept. 23, a very different — but no less emotional — celebration of the arts took place less than half an hour away in the leafy residential community of San Marino.

Approximately 50 people gathered during a Sunday night reception for Boyle Heights-based Neighborhood Music School (NMS), which has provided instruction and performance opportunities to inner-city youth for nearly a century. Hosted by NMS board secretary Janet Doud, the reception paid tribute to the school’s late president, Robert Kursinski, who died in 2011. 

NMS board president Jeff De Francisco and administrator Wendy Kikkert welled up with emotion as they described Kursinski’s contributions to the school as well as his work with the music departments at Woodrow Wilson and Taft high schools. Afterward, Kursinski’s son, Rob, who flew in from Colorado, and his grandchildren were introduced.

“He definitely instilled in me to be involved in music,” granddaughter Jenny said. “But also my love for history and books and a sense of style.”

The Neighborhood Music School, which provides East Los Angeles and area youth with free or subsidized classical music instruction, will celebrate its centennial in 2014. And it’s only fitting that the school has its origins on Mozart Street in Boyle Heights. 

When NMS opened nearly a century ago, it was in a community that included Russian and other Jewish immigrants as well as Japanese-Americans. Today, based in a Victorian house near Fourth Street and Boyle Avenue, NMS serves about 250 students, primarily Latino, offering them studios, created from converted rooms, in which to perfect their craft.

Recognizing the importance of such an institution, Barry Socher recalled his own mentors as a teen — internationally renowned sisters Alice and Eleonore Schoenfeld, a concert violinist and cellist, respectively.

A violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Socher performed Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusick” with a quartet of young students from the school during the reception.

“It’s really important to help nurture these developing young talents,” said Socher, who once played for composer/conductor John Williams.

“It surprises me that politicians do not do more to protect these schools and programs from budget cuts,” said Herb Alpert, who is unaffiliated with NMS but donates annually to some 350 music programs. “The arts in general, whether it’s music, the performing arts or fine arts, it’s so important to give kids an outlet to be expressive. The arts are so core to a person’s humanity.”

One of the reception’s great unscripted moments came when the program’s hosts prompted the reluctant Maegan McConnell, who had studied under Kursinski for most of her life, to deliver an impromptu performance for the group. After much hesitation, the young soprano from Altadena, who has performed in recent productions of Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” and Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music,” delivered a flawless aria. 

Watching proudly: her parents, Maureen McConnell, who sits on NMS’ board, and Ross McConnell, camera in hand.

“The school is absolutely wonderful!” Ross McConnell said. “None of these kids would be playing if it wasn’t for the school.”

After her performance, McConnell talked about how important institutions such as NMS are at a time when the music department is usually the first to go when schools face budgetary challenges.

“Music, the arts, they feed the imagination, which is so important to independent thinking,” she said. “Creativity helps people to think for themselves; otherwise it’s just regurgitation.”

Kursinski, who led the choir at Trinity Lutheran Church in Pasadena, where McDonnell belonged, “instilled in me discipline, which I needed,” she continued. “There were lessons he taught me that I didn’t catch up to until later in life.”

Another student who learned under Kursinski’s guidance was Celina Nishioka, 13, of Alhambra. A member of a student quartet performing at the private event, the thoughtful, articulate Japanese-American teen has been studying violin at NMS for about eight years.

“It’s been a very important part of my life,” said Nishioka, who noted that the school allows “a lot of opportunities to perform” what the students are learning. She added that the school instructs a multicultural group of musicians ranging in age from 3 or 4 through adulthood.

“Everyone gets along,” she said.

In Boyle Heights, some things never change.

Israel marking Rabin assassination


The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin “must not be forgiven or forgotten,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said at a candlelighting ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the tragedy.

On Tuesday afternoon, on the eve of the Hebrew date of the anniversary of the prime minister’s death, Peres spoke about the man with whom he was awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. Rabin family members, public figures, youth movement members and students attended the ceremony.

“We are holding a memorial evening because we must fight forgetfulness,” Peres said. “Such forgetfulness is the enemy of man. It’s also puts democracy in danger.”

Also Tuesday, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised Rabin during a speech at a conference.

“Yitzhak Rabin was a real fighter and a man of peace,” Barak said at a kibbutz in Shefayim, 15 miles north of Tel Aviv. “We have not forgotten him for a single moment, but we must all do more to make sure today’s youth know about Rabin and the influence he had on Israel.”

A ceremony on Monday morning at the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv marked the coming anniversary.

“Yitzhak Rabin is not with us today, but his spirit and legacy continue to guide us, and with that his hope that there will be an equal, united and inventive society here,” said the army’s chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.

A national memorial ceremony is scheduled for Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, where the prime minister was gunned down on Nov. 4, 1995 by Yigal Amir, for later in October.

JDub throws off the label and opts for change




Golem live (‘Romania, Romania!’) at the Knitting Factory in NYC June 2007

JDub was never supposed to be just a record label, and as JDub records celebrates its fifth anniversary with a free concert on July 27 downtown at California Plaza, it is more clear than ever that the organization’s founders have greater ambitions than merely putting out good Jewish CDs.

Aaron Bisman, who co-founded the label with Jacob Harris when the duo were finishing college in New York, readily admits those ambitions.

“We believed there were legs for the idea behind the label,” Bisman says, his eyes alight with the passion of someone who after a half-decade is still excited by what he is doing. “We wanted to change attitudes about Jewish music and culture. We wanted to create something for young Jews, our contemporaries, to create spaces and music that would make them want to be there.”

And it wasn’t about making money. What sets JDub apart from other Jewish music purveyors is their not-for-profit status, which allows them to seek grants and work closely with other Jewish nonprofits. The Six Points Fellowship program, a partnership among the label, Avoda Arts and the Foundation for Jewish Culture, substantially funded by UJA-Federation of New York, is a good example.

“We wanted to bring together artists who had never done a specifically Jewish project before,” Bisman says.

The two-year fellowship program provides 12 artists with a living stipend, financial project support, professional development workshops and ongoing peer- and professional-led learning opportunities.

The vision has already begun to bear fruit. Having built a strong foundation in New York, Bisman and Harris have begun the slow, hard work of expanding their outreach to Los Angeles and other cities with a substantial Jewish presence. They have already cleared a major hurdle, receiving a “Cutting Edge” grant of $250,000 from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. In the long run, the idea is to create spaces and events for young Jews, whether affiliated or not, with the goal of making Jewish culture cool.

“They have figured out a way to allow their contemporaries to find a way to comfortably express themselves,” says Marvin Schotland, CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation. “It’s another way in a complex environment to test what will attract other people to get comfortable with their identity and to take some step beyond showing up at a concert. JDub has the capacity to get them to show up at a concert, but they’re interested in doing more than that, and they are interested in connecting with other participants in the Jewish community. We believe this initiative will have a major impact on the Jewish community in Los Angeles.”

Of course, no one is expecting an overnight transformation of Los Angeles’ diverse, diffuse Jewish community. JDub’s program is designed to build gradually, creating links between self-identified Jews in the arts communities, the Jewish communal world and audiences. And somewhere along the road, JDub also hopes to nurture new bands and performers to sign to their label.

In the very short term, the July 27 concert is a useful launching pad for JDub in Los Angeles, highlighting two of their bands — Golem, a hard-driving klezmer-punk-gypsy fusion, and Soulico, a powerful crew of Israeli DJs whose guests for this performance will include the Ethiopian-Israeli MCs of Axum and Sagol 59, the grand old man of Israeli hip-hop. In its sheer atypicality, the double-bill is typical of JDub, Bisman says.

“Both [bands] help us fill in the picture of the diversity of the world of Jewish music we’ve always been striving for,” he says. “Eastern European Jewish — and non-Jewish — folk tunes played as rock and punk, led by an amateur female ethnomusicologist, and an Israeli DJ crew building original hip-hop out of Middle Eastern melodies and rhythms.”

Not coincidentally, both groups have new CDs scheduled for release in early 2009. (Hey, we said they weren’t just a record label.)

“New York has been our base of support and our home,” Bisman says. “But our plan is to grow as a national organization, to find artists and funding outside New York City.”

Schotland is optimistic.

“For us, while the art is significant, it’s the vision they have for the utilization of the art to provide a way for young Jewish adults to identify with their Jewish identity [that] was most impressive about their proposal,” he says. “The proof of the pudding will be five years from now.”

Golem, Soulico, with Sagol 59 and Axum as guest artists, and Slivovitz and Soul will be performing free at Grand Performances (California Plaza, Waterfront Stage) on Sunday, July 27 at 7 p.m.

L.A.’s German Jews celebrate club’s 75th year


When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, one of his principal goals was to rid Germany of its Jews, to make the country Judenrein. German Jews, many of whom had considered themselves more German than Jewish, began to search for secure havens. From 1933 until the outbreak of World War II in 1939 there was a mass immigration of Jews to countries all over the world.

Thousands were able to find sponsors, enabling them to come to the United States, with the vast majority settling in New York. But by 1939 some 2,500 German Jews had relocated to Los Angeles, and by 1941, when the United States entered the war, their number had grown to 6,000, making Los Angeles the second-largest center of German-speaking Jews in America.

They were “often regarded as the most educated and intellectually brilliant wave of immigrants ever to come to the United States,” according to Anne Clara Schenderlein, who has written on the history of German Jewish refugees in Los Angeles.

However, they were not particularly welcome in the City of Angels. Their Jewishness was held against them, which inspired director Gottfried Reinhardt to describe Los Angeles as a “ghetto under Pacific palms.”

As the German Jews made connections with the L.A. Jewish community, two immigrant businessmen, Theo Lowenstein and Lothar Rosenthal, along with dentist Bruno Bernstein, came together to form The German Jewish Club of 1933.

It was “a loosely structured organization whose aim it was to assist in the Americanization of its members and to help them become valuable American citizens,” said Annelise Bunzel, a past club president.

When the Benefactors of The Jewish Club of 1933, Inc. gather at Sinai Temple on June 1 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of their organization, the club will honor Randol Schoenberg for recently reclaiming a collection of Klimt and other famous works of art from Austria, while President Ray Prinz will present a check for $20,000 to the Jewish Home for the Aging as well as $5,000 to the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum. TV personality Monty Hall will serve as emcee, and Prinz said “Gemuetlichkeit will be the watchword at the luncheon,” using a German word that has no direct translation, but can best be described as cozy.

The club, which initially met at the Hamburger Home for Jewish Girls, helped arriving refugees find a place to live, study English and learn “the American way.” For 20 cents a month, members were able to join exercise groups, play tennis, go on hikes and attend lectures.

Finding work was especially difficult since America was still in the depths of the Great Depression and most of the German Jewish immigrants lacked adequate English skills. Those who were able to find work typically held menial jobs. Wolfgang Blech, who owned a large manufacturing firm in Germany, worked as a porter, cleaning toilets and pushing a broom.

Women were able to find work, provided they were prepared to take on jobs as domestics or seamstresses. Berlin-born Eva Hirsh, a retired physical therapist and the current treasurer of the club, is the daughter of Paul Hirsch, the prime minister of Prussia in the Weimar Republic from 1918 to 1920. She came to Los Angeles after having first immigrated to South Africa, where she worked as a nanny.

With the help of the greater Jewish community, the group established a clubhouse at 1126 S. Grandview Ave. that it rented until the 1940s. New arrivals paid $7 a week to live in the large California-style home, which provided limited sleeping accommodations.

As more immigrants arrived from Europe, the club also attracted German-speaking Jewish immigrants from such countries as Austria, Hungary and Switzerland.

Former theater producer Leopold Jessner, who served as the organization’s president, founded a cultural events program in collaboration with the European Film Fund, a Hollywood group that aided refugees. The club’s Cultural Committee scheduled Tuesday night meetings, with programs ranging from lectures by such noted German émigrés as author Thomas Mann and piano recitals by Andre Previn. Current events discussions were held, and other talks included familiarizing housewives with the varieties of fruits and vegetables available to them in their new California surroundings.

Several of the club’s leaders filed a petition for a charter with the state of California in December 1938 and changed the club’s name to The Jewish Club of 1933 after connection with anything German became undesirable. By 1939, the club had some 1,600 members and annual dues were $1.20 for individuals and $1.80 for families.

After the United States entered the war, German Jewish immigrants faced new hurdles, including registration under the Smith Act, which featured curfews and travel restrictions as well as the threat of forcible eviction from homes in the vicinity of defense plants or military establishments. Due in large part to the 1933 Club’s lobbying efforts, these restrictions were lifted in October 1942 and members were free to join in the war effort.

The 1933 Club’s members were enthusiastic boosters of war bond and blood drives, and many joined the Civilian Defense Corps. About 170 of the younger men also served in the armed forces. Among these was Ray Prinz, a native of Danzig and the club’s current president, as well as Kurt Herrmann, from Nordhausen, who will be 90 in August and has been secretary of the club for 52 years. “For me, it’s a mitzvah to help,” he said.

Once club members began to assimilate and prosper after the war, they followed other Jews into West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. In 1980 the club took on a philanthropic mission, changing its name once again to The Benefactors of The Jewish Club of 1933.

A bulk of the club’s financial support has gone to the Jewish Home for the Aging, and according to Hirsh its donations have totaled $20 million.

Although the club’s numbers have dwindled with the passage of time, its 300 members continue to enjoy programs, including an annual membership brunch at the Jewish Home for the Aging, a midsummer garden kaffeeklatsch traditionally hosted by the consul-general of Germany and held at his residence in Hancock Park, as well as a festive pre-Thanksgiving luncheon. And each year, the club takes part in a special Yom HaShoah service of remembrance at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

For more information about the Benefactors or to attend the 75th anniversary at Sinai Temple on June 1, call (818) 774-3337.

Couple stands under the chuppah — 60 years on


“What is this chuppah? We didn’t order it.”

Maria Shvarts, 80, spotting the wedding canopy standing on the dance floor at West Hollywood’s Cafe Troyka, asked the restaurant staff to remove it. She and her husband Boris, 84, were hosting a 60th anniversary party. Guests were arriving, and the chuppah — obviously from a previous celebration, she thought — was an obstruction.

Then she saw Cantor Alexander Berkovich and Rabbi Liat Yardeni-Funk arrive, and suddenly she understood.

“This is what we were not allowed in Russia,” she said, stunned by the surprise that her son and daughter-in-law, Vladimir and Felina, had orchestrated.

Sixty years earlier, in a wedding veil her mother fashioned from a white curtain and a dress sewn from inexpensive floral-patterned silk, Maria Zaltsman celebrated her marriage to Boris Shvarts. They had exchanged vows in a perfunctory civil ceremony five days earlier and on that day gathered with 30 friends and family members in the living room of her parents’ tiny house in Kishinev, Moldavia, and ate cherry strudel and Napoleon cake and drank red wine.

That was Feb. 1, 1948. About 53,000 of Kishinev’s pre-World War II population of 65,000 Jews had been annihilated by the Nazis, and the town itself was almost completely reduced to rubble. Food and money were scarce, and in a country under the domain of the Soviet Union, a Jewish ceremony was out of the question for the young couple, 20 and 25 respectively.

“But the whole time we knew we were Jewish,” said Boris, who, like Maria, had been raised in an observant family.

Now, Maria, elegantly attired in a long beige lace dress with a turquoise corsage, and Boris, distinguished looking in a black suit and black-and-white tie, a kippah atop his head, were given the opportunity to reconsecrate those wedding vows.

Only this time, they stood together under a chuppah as Berkovich began singing “Dodi li v’ani lo” (my beloved is mine and I am his) and Yardeni-Funk welcomed more than 100 close friends and relatives.

The guests surrounded them, sitting at white-clothed tables, adorned with balloons and towering floral displays and covered with sumptuous platters of black and red caviar, Russian dumplings and beef stroganoff, as well as open bottles of vodka and wine. Many people blinked back tears.

“You’ve both experienced difficult times in your life, and today we’re all witnessing a miraculous and magical moment,” Yardeni-Funk said.

The difficult times began on June 28, 1940, when Soviet troops entered Kishinev, then part of Romania, making it no longer safe to be Jewish.

Maria’s immediate family managed to escape, riding a horse-drawn wagon to the railway station, where they boarded a cattle car for a two-month trip to Kazahkstan. There they lived in a mud hut and worked in the beetroot fields, given only a little bread and sugar to eat. “But we survived because of that,” Maria said.

Boris, whose family led a comfortable middle-class life, was 17 when the war broke out. He and his older brother, Gersh, were conscripted into the Soviet army, traveling east with the Russian front and digging trenches almost the entire time. Toward the end, they were sent to the Ural Mountains to work in a military factory.

After the war in 1945, Boris and his brother returned to a Kishinev lacking the most basic necessities. With the aqueducts destroyed, even water was scarce.

But life brightened when Boris’ mother sent him across the road to a water pump, instructing him to get the key from the Jewish family living next to the pump.

Boris knocked on the door and, in his words, “There appeared this magic girl.” That was Maria, then 17. From that time on, Boris willingly fetched all the family’s water “when we needed it, and when we didn’t need it,” he said.

Three years later they were married.

As they rose in their careers, unusual for Jews and especially non-Communist Party members, Maria and Boris found it difficult to practice any kind of Judaism. Yet, while their parents were still living, there were improvised seders with matzah bought on the black market and hamantaschen that Maria and Boris’ mothers baked for Purim. And when their son, Vladimir, was born in 1950, they even managed a bris. But these celebrations were always small and carried out clandestinely behind drawn drapes.

“Everything was more than good,” Maria said, despite the restrictions. Vladimir became a mechanical engineer and his wife, Felina, worked at a day care center. Their grandson, Roman, was born in 1972.

But Vladimir and Felina earned so little they couldn’t make a living, and in 1980, they immigrated to the United States. At the time, Maria was ill with thyroid cancer, her vocal cords paralyzed. And complicating things, the Moldavian borders closed, preventing Maria and Boris from following them after her recovery.

“For five years my eyes didn’t become dry,” Maria said, thinking that she would never see them again.

In January 1985, however, the border suddenly opened, and a few months later, on April 30, Maria and Boris landed at Los Angeles International Airport.

Their Judaism was rekindled. On Aug. 25 of that year, they celebrated their grandson Roman’s bar mitzvah at Stephen S. Wise Temple. They themselves began attending Shabbat and holiday services at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

But in addition to attending shul, both Maria and Boris wanted to give back to the community. Maria, who missed the engagement of full-time work, began volunteering at the Russian Senior Center in West Hollywood’s Plummer Park. She also taught holiday workshops to Russian �(c)migr�(c)s at Temple Israel and volunteered for 11 years as a case aide at Jewish Family Service.

Maria also joined the only Russian chapter of Na’amat in the United States in 1987. There were 16 members. After she took over as president in 1992, membership increased to 270. Meetings continue to be held twice a month, often at Cafe Troyka, with no less than 100 women attending each event.

“Whatever we do, it has to include fundraising,” Maria said, even though most of the members are living on SSI (Supplemental Security Income).

Think you know ‘The Jazz Singer’? You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!


On Oct. 6, 1927, audiences attending the premiere of “The Jazz Singer” at New York’s Warner Theatre witnessed a revolution that gave voice to a medium that had lived in silence since its birth, more than 30 years before. With his double-barrel delivery of the improvised line, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothin’ yet. Wait a minute, I tell ya. You ain’t heard nothin’!” Al Jolson fired the ad-lib heard around the world, signifying the death of the silent era and the birth of the “talkies.”

It’s been 80 years, and now the American Cinematheque is celebrating the anniversary with a three-day tribute to Jolson that includes a screening of a new digitally restored print of “The Jazz Singer,” screening Oct. 5 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. In addition, Warner Bros. plans to release a special three-disc DVD set including the restored film plus several of the first shorts produced by Vitaphone, Warner’s pioneer sound division.

“The Jazz Singer” tells the story of Jakie Rabinowitz, a cantor’s son who rejects his father’s wishes to follow family tradition and serve in the synagogue, pursuing instead a career in show business as a jazz singer. The music-based story afforded Warners the opportunity to produce a feature film using the sound-on-disc Vitaphone process they had recently licensed from Bell Telephone. Up to that point, Vitaphone had been used only experimentally on short subjects.

The Warners predicted, correctly, that “The Jazz Singer” would be “without a doubt, the biggest stride since the birth of the industry.” But the film’s importance may not rest solely on the fact that it was the first sound film. It was also the first film to boldly address the assimilation of immigrant Jews into American culture.

“It is basically a showbiz story, but in back of it is the big question of assimilation and, of course, the conflict of the generations,” Herbert Goldman, author of the book “Jolson: The Legend Comes to Life,” said in an interview. Goldman, who will be a guest panelist at the Cinematheque event adds, “There was a special appeal to the Jewish people, but the national audience was not Jewish, and yet it went over with them too. When you think about it, it’s amazing that for the first talking picture Warner Bros. chose a theme that was so overtly Jewish for a national audience.”

It may not be so amazing, considering the parallel between Jakie Rabinowitz and the Warners themselves. Like Jakie, the Warner brothers left home to enter show business, and like so many of the other Jewish studio moguls, they assimilated themselves into secular American culture. In his book “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” author Neal Gabler points out ‘”The Jazz Singer’ did something that was extremely rare in Hollywood; it provided an extraordinary revealing window on the dilemmas of the Hollywood Jews generally, and the Warners specifically.”

“The Jazz Singer” began as a short story called “The Day of Atonement,” published in Everybody’s Magazine in 1922. The author was Samson Raphaelson, who would go on to become a top writer in Hollywood, known for witty and sophisticated screenplays, many of which were directed by the legendary Ernst Lubitsch. Jolson, already a popular entertainer, read the story and was drawn to it because he felt the story’s conflict between an aging cantor and his “Americanized” son who yearned to be in show business mirrored his own life.

Jolson brought the story to DW Griffith, who rejected it because he felt it was too racial. The other studios in town passed for the same reason. Apparently, Raphaelson was unaware of Jolson’s efforts. When Jolson met the writer at a nightclub, he told him he wanted to turn the story into a musical revue. Raphaelson dismissed the idea and instead adapted his story into a straight dramatic play. Ironically, Raphaelson had been inspired to write his story after seeing Jolson perform in “Robinson Crusoe, Jr.” in 1917 at the University of Illinois, while the young author was a student there. Raphaelson recalled, “I shall never forget the first five minutes of Jolson — his velocity, the amazing fluidity with which he shifted from tremendous absorption in his audience to a tremendous absorption in his song … when he finished I turned to the girl beside me, dazed with memories of my childhood on the East Side … my God, this isn’t a jazz singer, this is a cantor!”

The original title of Raphaelson’s play was “Prayboy” but it was changed to “The Jazz Singer” before its Broadway opening on Sept. 14, 1925. The star of the show was vaudeville comedian George Jessel. Reviews of the show were lukewarm, and it got off to a slow start. But since the audiences were 90 percent Jewish, it picked up momentum around the High Holy Days and ran for 38 weeks, closing only because Jessel had signed a contract with Warner Bros. The day before closing, Warner Bros. purchased the rights for $50,000, presumably with the intention of having Jessel reprise his stage role. According to Jessel, in Neal Gabler’s book “An Empire of Their Own,” Harry Warner thought, “It would be a good picture to make for the sake of racial tolerance, if nothing else.”

The story of why Jessel was replaced by Jolson is a film history “Rashomon.” One version is that Jessel’s contract with Warner was for silent films, but when Jessel discovered it was going to be a Vitaphone production, he demanded $10,000 extra. Jessel would later claim the reason he did not do the film was not over money differences, but because he objected to the revised ending. In the play, the son abandons the stage and becomes cantor of his father’s synagogue, but in the film, he remains an entertainer. Jessel demanded they keep the original ending, but Jack Warner refused. Another version is that Jessel was upset over the casting of two non-Jews, Warner Oland and Eugenie Besserer, as Jakie’s parents. According to Neal Gabler in his book, “Jessel was probably too Jewish for the kind of assimilation story that Jack and Sam Warner wanted to make. To them ‘The Jazz Singer’ was more of a personal dramatization of their own family conflicts than a plea for racial tolerance, and they would want to cast a Jew that was as assimilated as they were.” Losing the film role plagued Jessel for the rest of his life.

The opening of “The Jazz Singer” lived up to the film’s tag line “Warner Brothers’ Supreme Triumph!” According to The New York Times, it received “The biggest ovation in a theater since the introduction of Vitaphone.” Variety called the film “Undoubtedly the best thing Vitaphone ever put on the screen.” But Miles Kreuger, president of The Institute of the American Musical, attributes the film’s success solely to its star: “It was Al Jolson, even more than the film itself, or even the content of the film that made it an international success. Just the fact that the whole world, which had heard Jolson on phonograph records, could finally see him in a movie, that is the key to the success of ‘The Jazz Singer.'”

Combining fact and fiction confuses peace event


On June 5, the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War, two years after standing side-by-side with friends in Gush Katif in an attempt to ward off the evacuation of Gaza, I attended an Israeli-Palestinian peace event marking “40 years of war and occupation” at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque.

I have not converted to the left; I applaud the achievements of the Six-Day War, yet I cannot deny that the situation in the West Bank – Judea and Samaria – the territories, is a tragedy for both Israelis and Palestinians. Palestinians live in a virtual cage, and Israeli soldiers spend the best years of their lives checking Palestinian identity cards at checkpoints to sift out terrorists.

I decided to attend the event with an open mind, to approach it as an opportunity to learn more about the occupation, to show my solidarity with my leftist brethren and to express my appreciation for their humanitarian instincts. While we may disagree on how to end the occupation – I believe in Palestinian disarmament, not reckless Palestinian empowerment –we agree that the status quo is untenable.

The event was like an annual conference for anti-occupation groups. Card-carrying far-leftist organizations were represented by different booths: IPCRI, Machsomwatch, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel, Yesh Din, Combatants for Peace, Students for Equal Rights and the Arab-Hebrew Theater.

I arrived a little late, as people onstage were reciting testimonies of acts of Israeli aggression in the West Bank. One man described a group of maverick settlers grabbing an old Palestinian man’s cane and beating him, sending him to the hospital. An Israeli border policeman described the mutual hatred and distrust he had witnessed at checkpoints.

But probably the most moving testimony was that of a Palestinian woman named Jamilla. Wearing a beige hijab, she emotionally described how the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) once prevented her from passing a checkpoint while she was in the middle of labor contractions – she gave birth to a boy in a car, only to watch him die on the way to the hospital.

I was deeply saddened and hurt by these stories and grateful that they were being told. We can’t afford to hide from the truth, and I intended to confront my settler friends about such events, because I thought they would share my sadness.

In the middle of the courtyard, Machsomwatch (an organization that monitors IDF behavior at checkpoints) had created a makeshift checkpoint for people entering the Cinemateque building, where films documenting Palestinian hardships were to be shown. I waited inside the caged corridor leading to the revolving metal exit, and Jamilla was standing just in front of me.

We were trapped together, and I felt a need to say something, to apologize for her baby’s death. I knew at the height of my anger during the intifada – when a terrorist attack hit my favorite cafe and a friend got moderately wounded in another – I might have been guilty of bashing Palestinians, calling them horrible names and wishing upon them ugly things, but no one deserved her kind of suffering.

After all, we are all human beings, created in God’s image.

I mustered my courage, tears forming in my eyes – this was a big moment for me – and I said: “I’m sorry about what happened to you.” She nodded sympathetically, and I continued, “Not that sorry is the right thing to say. I don’t know what to say.”

She continued to nod, and I asked her how many children she had. Then she perked up and said: “It was an act!”

“What?” I asked, stupefied.

It turned out that some of the people who gave “testimonies” were actors from the Arab-Hebrew Theater, reciting monologues based on real-life testimonies. Jamilla was not an Arab but an Israeli, because Palestinians generally can’t enter Israel and “play” themselves.

She said she didn’t know whether the exact story she told was true but that similar things have happened.

At that moment, I really wanted to cry. My moment of reconciliation and empathy was killed and with it my open mind – I didn’t want it to be played with.

Waiting at the fake checkpoint actually became strangely enjoyable as I watched thespian “soldiers” in army uniforms dramatize the “humiliation” at the checkpoints. When it was my turn to pass, I went up the steps and they shouted, gruffly: “Don’t move!”

I laughed.

“Don’t smile!” one demanded.

Finally, I showed them my press card and passed through. One of the soldiers eventually smirked, too, and I told him that I write for a Los Angeles paper and joked that I can make him famous. It was all sadly comical, defeating the purpose of the installation, at least for me.

I remained outside and passed by the booth of Combatants for Peace, an organization consisting of IDF soldiers and Palestinian Fatah fighters now working toward peace through nonviolence.

A handsome 28-year-old Israeli student, Yonatan, a former tank officer who refuses to serve in the territories, told me that the organization was founded to bring together the “fighters” of Palestinian and Israeli society, considered the elite of their respective communities.

“Israelis should meet Palestinians and not rely on what they see on television,” he said.

Taking his encouragement, I jumped at the chance to speak with a Palestinian member of Parents’ Circle – Family Forum, which had an adjacent booth. The organization fosters dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis who lost family members in the last round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Dark, thin Ibrahim Halil, 41, spoke fairly good English as we sat on plastic chairs in the courtyard. Finally, I got the chance to meet the “Palestinian future,” the “moderates” with whom we’ll eventually make peace and live side by side.

He joined the organization because he believes that “the most suitable meeting ground for making peace between Israelis and Palestinians are those who are paid the highest price.”

No ordinary orchestra — in war and in peace, the Israel Philharmonic plays on


If it were a novel, no one would believe the 70-year saga of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, with its astonishing cast of famous characters, including Leonard Bernstein, Arturo Toscanini and Albert Einstein. But it’s all true. It’s a history ripe for Hollywood: An orchestra that has lived through wars and constant strife, performed on battlefields and had more than its own share of internal drama and turmoil.

Even before there was an Israel, there was an orchestra in Israel.
It was the brainchild of Polish-born violin virtuoso Bronislaw Huberman, who, in 1934, at the height of his career, resigned from the Vienna State Academy to devote his time and efforts to creating the Palestine Symphony Orchestra in Tel Aviv. Huberman had long been outspoken in his stand against fascism, and he had seen the devastation of the riots in Vienna earlier that year.

I was there …

Upon reading our coverage of the history of the Israel Philharmonic
Orchestra, Jewish Journal Contributing Editor Tom Tugend wrote this note to
the editors:

This great piece on the Israel Philharmonic reminded me of my own encounter
with the orchestra and Lenny Bernstein.

It was back in October 1948, when I was serving as an American
volunteer in the Israeli army during the country’s War of
Independence. With a two-day pass in hand, I hitchhiked to Jerusalem,
where the Israeli equivalent of the USO scrounged up a ticket for the
evening’s performance of the Israel Philharmonic at Edison Hall, with
Bernstein as the guest conductor.

The audience was a curious mix of black-tie patrons and soldiers in
fatigues. Bernstein raised the baton for Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,
stirring at any time, but never more so than for a people engaged in
a life-and-death struggle.

Toward the end of the first movement, machine gun fire started
crackling from the Old City, held by the Jordanian Legion, and
continued intermittently through the rest of the performance. What
would have been a distracting disturbance at any other time, melded
with the music as entirely appropriate to the mood and circumstances
of the occasion.

Lenny and the orchestra never missed a beat.

Best,

Tom

He saw his mission as both cultural and political — with the creation of a Palestine symphony orchestra, he announced, he would “unite the desire of the country for an orchestra with the desire of the Jewish musicians for a country.”

During the next 28 months, he devoted much of the proceeds of his sold-out concerts to the founding of the orchestra. In addition, he enlisted the aid of his fellow Viennese Jew, Albert Einstein, to help raise funds. Huberman rearranged his touring schedule to accommodate Einstein’s fundraising banquets, while convincing 75 first-chair Jewish musicians from major European orchestras to immigrate to Palestine.

In February 1936, Toscanini was music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and considered the greatest conductor in the world. Having fled the Italian fascists himself, he agreed to conduct the opening concert of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, declaring it his duty to “fight for the cause of artists persecuted by Nazis.”

On Dec. 26, 1936, Huberman’s vision became a reality, when Toscanini stepped onto the podium with the words, “I am doing this for humanity.”

The premiere of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra included works by Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert and — as a taunt to Nazi Germany — Jewish composer Mendelssohn.

Toscanini described it as the happiest moment of his life and one of the highest points of his career. After conducting four concerts in Palestine and four in Egypt, he refused any payment or even reimbursement for his travel expenses. He was so impressed with the orchestra and its “unique audiences” that he decided to return the next year. The press lauded the Palestine Symphony Orchestra as an “orchestra of soloists.”

In 1942, the orchestra performed for Allied forces and for soldiers of the Jewish Brigade in a 1944 concert conducted by concertmaster Joseph Kaminski in the Western Desert.

A young Leonard Bernstein made his first appearance in 1947 with the Palestine Symphony Orchestra in Tel Aviv, beginning a relationship that would last throughout the composer-conductor’s lifetime. His first tour included dates in Jerusalem, where, even though the war had not yet begun, bombs could be heard detonating during the concert.

On May 14, 1948, the Palestine Symphony Orchestra appeared at the official ceremony of declaration of independence at the Tel Aviv Museum to play “Hatikva,” the new national anthem. The orchestra proudly changed its name to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and through the summer, the musicians traveled in armored cars to play in a besieged Jerusalem during the War of Independence.

An inspiration and comfort to all, Bernstein returned in November to conduct the orchestra in front of 5,000 soldiers on the Negev dunes, after the battle for Beersheba. Playing Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” he led from the piano amid the rubble of war.

On another date, in the middle of playing a Beethoven concerto in Rehevot, an air raid siren loudly interrupted the music. Bernstein stopped and said, “Whoever has to leave, leave now.” No one left the concert. Bernstein resumed playing, finishing brilliantly to the roar of a standing ovation.

For the next two years, Bernstein would serve as the orchestra’s musical adviser, and in 1950 he headlined its first American tour, along with fellow conductors Serge Koussevitzky and Izler Solomon, who had been with the orchestra from the beginning.

The 1950s saw a growth in the prestige of the orchestra and the beginnings of many lifelong friendships with great musicians, among them Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, Jascha Heifetz and Zino Francescatti, who remained in Israel even after the outbreak of the Sinai War in 1956.

The orchestra made its first recordings for DECCA in 1954, consisting mainly of works by Jewish composers Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg, conducted by Paul Kletzky. That same year, Philadelphia philanthropist Frederick Mann unveiled plans for a 2,800-seat concert hall that would become the orchestra’s home in Tel Aviv.

In 1957, Bernstein conducted at the inaugural concert at the new hall, with an appearance by pianist Arthur Rubenstein. And in a memorable gaff, in an address to the audience, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion thanked “Leonard Rubenstein and Arthur Bernstein.”

Rabbi Heschel at 100 — still the voice of God


I had a life-changing experience on Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s 25th yahrzeit in 1997. After just meeting and befriending Heschel’s daughter and only child, Susannah,
she took me with her to all of the various memorial services happening around New York City in her father’s memory.

I went into the Heschel home and met his relatives — great rebbes and leaders of various Orthodox sects, who, regardless of the fact that their famous family member left Orthodoxy, came to pay their respects and honor his memory.

There was an intense Ma’ariv service at the Heschel School, one in which Susannah taught a Mishnah, a selection of oral law, in honor of her father, using the chanting and pronunciation of another world, another time. The experience swept me back into Eastern Europe, to the Polish village where Heschel came from, to the beit midrash, the study hall, where he emerged as the talmudic and biblical genius he was to become.

I had never felt such depth of prayer, such fervor of learning text, such intensity of emotion; Abraham Joshua Heschel’s spirit was alive in that room.

This past week was Heschel’s yahrzeit, which falls during Parshat Shemot, the beginning of slavery and our fight against Pharaoh, which is also when we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. How appropriate!

Heschel spent the end of his life fighting against injustice, screaming out against the Pharaohs of his day, using his prophetic understanding to try and end the Vietnam War, speak out against poverty and, of course, famously walking with and befriending Dr. King in his fight against racism and for civil rights. From the life of Jacob, the God-wrestler, to the battle against injustice, from Vayechi to Shemot, these are the mountaintops from which Heschel lived his life, combining love of Torah and God with a need for prophetic screaming against the injustices of our world.

Heschel taught that God, Torah, Judaism and one’s whole being are fully interconnected. There is no break among any of these moments in our lives. When we pray, we must give our whole selves over to the experience of connecting with God, the Divine. As Heschel wrote in “Between God and Man”: “One who goes to pray is not intent upon enhancing his storehouse of knowledge; he who performs a ritual does not expect to advance his interests. Sacred deeds are designed to make living compatible with our sense of the ineffable.”

Mitzvot lead us to this kind of life, even as we exist in the secular and material world. We must cultivate an inner sense of connection with the Divine so as to carry it forth in all moments of our lives. This takes work, patience, consistency and inner courage. Every moment with every falling leaf, every passing car, with every unseen sound, with every unseen breath, these are the moments of eternity, holy of holies. If only we can come awake to these moments, then Heschel will live in all of us.

Pathos for God, feeling the pain, sharing the joy, having a relationship — that is what Heschel lived with. There is nothing higher, nothing holier, than community connected in rich and meaningful prayer. It is never a performance, a show for the congregation to watch. It is an experience to partake in and fully contribute to.

Without all of us in it together, the experience is not complete. As Heschel wrote in “Man’s Quest for God”: “The act of prayer is more than a process of the mind and a movement of the lips…. What marks the act of prayer is the decision to enter and face the presence of God. To pray means to expose oneself to God.”

In today’s Jewish experience, we need to recapture the sense of awe and wonder that Heschel professed so often. Prayer must regain its sense of meaning for it to have value for us today. Life must be lived with a sense of the ineffable, which Heschel meant as seeing the great amazement of just being alive.

How many of us wake up each morning and give thanks for the new day? How many of us see the pain of the world around us and call out for justice? How many of us notice the beauty, the glory, the absolute magnificence that exists right here, right in front of us?

Heschel noticed the gnat on a wall, the bud on a tree just before it blooms, the face of the God in the homeless people he passed on the street each day. And, in all of these moments, he understood that there was a God, a Creator and Sustainer, a Life-Supporter and a Guide. We must do the work in this world, that is true, but it is God that offers us the chance to do mitzvot, it is God that smiles when we succeed and it is God that cries when we fail.

We all have the ability to become the prophet, to live with the voice of God in us. On this, Heschel wrote: “The pathos of God is upon him. It moves him. It breaks out in him like a storm in the soul, overwhelming his inner life, his thoughts, feelings, wishes, and hopes. It takes possession of his heart and mind, giving him the courage to act against the world.”

This is the mindset of Heschel, and while we can’t live like this all of the time, ultimately, this is the mindset that can be achieved through prayer, leading to action in our world. If only we commit ourselves to cultivating this sense. We must carry God with us on our journey in life, not just visit God when we come to the synagogue.

In honor of Heschel’s 100th year, I would encourage you to read, or re-read, something by him. His books have the potential to change your life if you read them with an open heart, an open mind and desire to be truly moved, shaken, uprooted and replanted with different vision, new motivation and a drive to make this world a more holy, special, just place, and to live a life filled with the awe and wonder that we seldom only see in our children. Heschel maintained his sense of wonder throughout his life, and, at the end, he recalled that fact as the most important kernel he had to teach:

“Live your life as a work of art,” he said in his final interview. What more can be said then, “Amen.”

Jewish Time Machine: The 1982 General Assembly in Los Angeles


When it comes to issues making up the agenda during General Assemblies in Los Angeles, perhaps Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) was right when he wrote: “What has been will be, what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.”

Los Angeles had surpassed Chicago as the country’s second largest Jewish population center by the mid-1950s, but it wasn’t until 1966 that what was then called the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds (CJF), now United Jewish Communities, held its first GA here.One-thousand attended that GA, the CJF’s 35th, at the Ambassador Hotel, where, seven months later, Robert F. Kennedy would be assassinated.

The main discussions focused on changing conditions in the Israeli immigration picture and Israel’s economy, as well as issues facing overseas Jewish communities.

The GA returned to Los Angeles in 1982. Almost a quarter of a century has passed since, but the challenges confronting the Jewish world then are strikingly similar to those in 2006:A war in Lebanon and the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila, the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Syria, the suffering of Ethiopian Jewry, cutbacks in federal and state funding of social services, grave concerns about American Jewish identity and low levels of affiliation and giving to Jewish causes.

(Although not everything’s the same- registration in 1982 cost $110 for out of town delegates and $50 for Los Angeles residents; this year it’s $525 and $275, respectively.)

At the same time, it was the CJF’s celebratory Golden Anniversary GA, or “GALA” as it was called, and it occurred during the period some consider to be a golden age of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, then led by president Osias Goren and executive vice president Ted Kanner.

A volunteer hospitality team of 700 Jewish Angelenos welcomed the 3,000 delegates, who were greeted on arrival by mariachis and a recreation of Farmers Market.

More than 500 marched from the Bonaventure to City Hall to call attention to imperiled Jewish communities around the world and to protest anti-Semitism in Argentina, Ethiopia, Iran, the Soviet Union, Syria, Western Europe and elsewhere. Mayor Tom Bradley and law professor Irwin Cotler, who at the time was working to secure the freedom of imprisoned refusenik Anatoly Scharansky, spoke to the crowd. A conference session on the plight and rescue of Ethiopian Jews was found to be particularly moving.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino was scholar-in-residence, and spoke at two plenary sessions on the convention’s theme, “Federation’s Role and Responsibility in Ensuring the Commitment of the Next Generation.”

Schulweis said the “megastructure” of Jewish organizations and institutions is remote and alienating to the individual Jew struggling to maintain a rich Jewish spiritual identity. He maintained that the “post-Holocaust” generation is “less secular, less moved by the public agenda and institutions and more concerned with the spiritual, personal and internal dimensions of their lives.”

Prime Minister Menachem Begin was scheduled to address the Saturday night Golden Anniversary banquet. It was to be his first major speech to a U.S. audience since Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in “Operation Peace for Galilee” in June 1982. After the GA, he would fly to Washington to meet with President Ronald Reagan. Debate over the Lebanon War caused a great rift in Israel. This political turmoil, the loss of Israeli lives and the massacre greatly troubled Begin. The prime minister hesitated to leave Aliza, his wife of 36 years, who had been hospitalized for much of the previous year with respiratory problems. When her condition improved slightly, she convinced him to go. The main ballroom of the Bonaventure was packed with delegates, guests and officials such as Governor Jerry Brown and Mayor Tom Bradley.

Outside, according to the Los Angeles Times, the Secret Service and LAPD had their hands full with demonstrators and counter-demonstrators. LAPD had issued a permit to the Committee to Oppose the Begin Visit, a coalition of several pro-Palestinian groups and others. The New Jewish Agenda and the Jewish Defense Organization were also among the picketers.

But sadly, Begin’s appearance at the GA was not to be. Shortly before he was to speak, his beloved wife Aliza died in Jerusalem. He immediately flew back to Israel for her funeral.

Moshe Arens, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, stood in for Begin at the GA. According to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report, he recounted some of “the scars we in Israel bear from the terrorists coming out of Lebanon,” and said that Israel’s operation had smashed the PLO infrastructure, thereby striking a blow for peace in the region. Nevertheless, he observed, Israel was “criticized, vilified, calumnied and judged” by the nations of the world and “we were subjected to snap judgments” by the media and its audiences.

Arens was critical of “those who counsel us to make concessions,” declaring that “the wages of weakness in the Middle East is destruction.” The ambassador also recounted other achievements of the war in Lebanon and each achievement was greeted with roars of applause: He noted that Lebanon was then rising from seven years of warfare and occupation and that a new page was turning “in the tragic history of that country. Hopefully, Lebanon will join the world democratic community and also be at peace with Israel.”

Perhaps what Kohelet is saying is that the significant, unresolved issues of one generation are left as a legacy to the next, to be reconsidered, reclaimed and reconciled.

— SJS

Nation World Briefs


Rebbe Commemorated at White House
A commemoration of the death of the Lubavitch rebbe culminated in a White House briefing. Leaders of both parties in Congress, as well as top Bush administration officials, attended the two-day tribute to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died June 12, 1994. The theme was education, and speakers included Elie Wiesel; U.S. Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff; and Australia’s defense minister. Chertoff and Joshua Bolten, the White House chief of staff, who are both Jewish, attended the White House briefing Wednesday morning. About 30 diplomats joined Lubavitch emissaries to their countries at the events. Thousands of people gathered at the rebbe’s grave in New York on the anniversary of his death.

Tourists Attacked in Mea Shearim
Fifty pro-Israel Christian tourists were attacked June 28 in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, according to reports in The Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz. The tourists, who arrived decked out in orange T-shirts that read “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” were seemingly identified as Christians by Charedi residents of the neighborhood, 100 of whom then gathered in the vicinity of the visitors and proceeded to hit them. Police broke up the attack, which left three tourists and one police officer with minor injuries. Israeli authorities have made two arrests but are waiting for the tourists to press charges before proceeding. — Ali Austerlitz, Contributing Writer

Kosher Suppliers Subpoenaed
Federal subpoenas were served against several kosher meat suppliers in the United States in connection with an antitrust investigation. The New York Jewish Week reported that AgriProcessors, in Postville, Iowa, is among those hit with subpoenas. The subpoenas could be focusing on collusion in the kosher industry. The Conservative movement currently is investigating complaints about working conditions at AgriProcessors, the country’s largest kosher slaughterhouse. After an animal-rights group produced an undercover video of conditions at the plant in 2004, investigators with the U.S. Agriculture Department determined that some plant employees had violated humane slaughter regulations.

Darfur Postcard Campaign Reaches 1 Million
The Million Voices for Darfur campaign has reached its goal of collecting 1 million postcards against the genocide in Sudan. The postcards, which will be delivered to the White House and Capitol Hill, ask President Bush to “support a stronger multinational force to protect the people of Darfur.” The campaign has been a project of the Save Darfur Coalition, the group of 150 faith-based advocacy and humanitarian organizations responsible for April’s Darfur rally in Washington. The coalition now is planning a second major rally this September in New York City. Despite the signing of a peace agreement last month, the systematic rape, torture and killing of black Africans by government-backed Arab militias continues in Darfur, where some 400,000 have been killed since 2003.

Jewish Astronaut Asks for Ramon Mementos
A Jewish astronaut asked Ilan Ramon’s widow for mementos from the late Israeli astronaut to take on a shuttle mission in 2007. Garrett Reisman, 38, will fly to the International Space Station in 15 months. He underwent training and became friends with Ramon, who died in the Columbia shuttle crash in 2003. At Rona Ramon’s invitation, Reisman attended a ceremony Tuesday in Rehovot, Israel, naming the Kaplan Medical Center’s new emergency medicine department in Ilan Ramon’s memory. “It was so incredibly tragic,” Reisman said. “Ilan had a great sense of humor and worked very hard to represent not only Israel but every Jew in the world.”

Technion Tops Israeli University List
The Technion was named Israel’s best university. A poll conducted by the Israeli Student Union, released this week, put the Haifa technological institute at the top of 35 schools of higher learning in the Jewish state. Often described as Israel’s version of MIT, the Technion was followed by Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The study was conducted on the basis of 56 criteria, including the employment rates of alumni and quality of on-campus life.

Ashkelon Named Politest Israeli City
Ashkelon is Israel’s politest city, according to a study. Ma’ariv published a study Wednesday in which Israel’s biggest cities were scored on residents’ responses to basic etiquette tests such as holding doors for women or providing instructions to motorists. Ashkelon came out top, followed by Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Lowest on the list was Rishon le-Zion. According to Ma’ariv, Ashkelon’s average score an 86 percent responsiveness rate is higher than that of New York City in a recent courtesy test carried out by Reader’s Digest.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Love, Journal Style?


Did you meet the love of your life through The Jewish Journal’s personals? Was it lasting devotion or did it crash and burn? We’re compiling the best stories of people who met through The Journal to run as part of our 20th anniversary edition. Send your stories — happy or horrid — to letters@jewishjournal.com with the subject line: JJ Love. Be sure to include your name, since we will not run anonymous submissions.

Deadline is May 31.

 

The Circuit


Doctor in the House

On Sunday, April 9, American Jewish Congress, StandWithUs and Beth Jacob Congregation welcomed Dr. Raanan Gissin, strategic analyst, international spokesman and senior adviser to Israel’s prime minister, to Los Angeles. More than 150 people learned about Israel’s next course of action regarding West Bank disengagement and consolidation; the move to create defined, defensible borders; the Hamas election; and subsequent prospects for peace. Gissin stressed the urgency of making aliyah and increasing Jewish population in Israel to keep it the majority. Gissin is a fifth generation Israeli, born on Kibbutz Hasollelim in 1949.

Wine and Wishes

The historic Beverly Hills Post Office, future home of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, was the setting for a multivintage wine tasting hosted by Beaulieu Vineyard, the Peninsula Beverly Hills and Eunice and Hal David.

There to see a preview of the new architecture, guests sipped wine, schmoozed and nibbled goodies as they discussed the endless possibilities for the soon-to-be-a-reality long awaited project.

A dramatic multimedia preview of plans for the Performing Arts Center slated to break ground in 2007 was the evening’s highlight. Guests included Beverly Hills Mayor Stephen Webb and wife, Bonnie; Bram Goldsmith, and Vicki and Murray Pepper.

Kudos for Dr. Katz

Music, laughter and everyone dressed up and determined to have a great evening, sums up the recent Junior Philharmonic 69th anniversary Concert Spectacular.

Rainy weather couldn’t deter these die-hard fans that showed up en masse to celebrate the evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion that paid homage to Dr. Ernst Katz’s extraordinary accomplishments over seven decades.

In addition to the melodic strains of Mozart, John Williams and Tchaikovsky, the annual Celebrity Battle of Batons brought levity and some show business legends to the stage. A cocktail party in the founder’s circle began the festivities and Wink Martindale served as host for the evening while, Army Archerd led the Battle of the Batons.

Participants included Peter Graves, who also narrated “The Impossible Dream” with the orchestra; June Lockhart; Mark Kriski, and Linda Gray. But local KTLA morning newsman Carlos Amezcua took home the honors and received the golden baton from last year’s winner, Florence Henderson.

Amezcua won over the audience with his spirited dancing (in the style of Zero Mostel) as he led the talented musicians in the strains of “To Life” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” while a stirring violin solo by Smbat Atsilatsyan had everyone enraptured.

Henderson presented a rendition of the score from “The Sound of Music,” which actually had the audience singing along. (Hard to resist that “Do Re Mi.”)

The evening really was specia,l and Katz really deserves all the kudos for his tireless work keeping this amazing group of talented musicians playing.

Time for Tikvah

Camp Ramah’s Tikvah program will be have a new leader this summer.

The one-of-a-kind Tikvah program for special needs children will now have Elana Naftalin-Kelman, a Columbia University and Bank Street College trained social worker and educator at its helm. This follows the announcement of the resignation of previous director Tara Reisbaum, who led the program for eight years.

Camp Ramah’s Tikvah program is especially designed for Jewish adolescents, ages 11 to 18, with learning, emotional and developmental disabilities. The Ezra program, Tikvah’s counterpart for young adults, offers participants a summer vocational training course at cCamp.

Throughout its 34-year history, Tikvah has sought to create an environment of inclusiveness for special needs children, adults and their families both at Camp and in the greater Jewish community through education, exposure, socialization and fun.

For more information about Camp Ramah or the Tikvah program, call (310) 476-8571.

Yiddish Spoken Here

What could be better? An evening of Yiddish poetry, a nosh, interesting guests. It was all a wonderful evening of “tom” when Pen USA, a club for writers, recently presented one of its entertaining salons organized by Helen Kaufman.

It was like channeling Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman and the members of the Algonquin Roundtable as Miriam Koral delighted attendees with Yiddish poetry readings from such noteworthy poets as Fradel Shtok, Rosa Gutman and Avrum Reisen, among others.

Koral, an expert in all things Yiddish also read one of her own selections. And although we know it is always lost in translation, the essence, the tone and the wonderful reading had everyone mesmerized. Literary notables like Dr. John Menkes, author of “After the Tempest,” sat eyes closed as Koral read or played some of the pieces set to music.

Everyone’s presence seemed to say, Yiddishkayt is very much alive and well and appreciated in Los Angeles, and can we please have more?

 

The Meatiest Offer in Town


The tables were filled and the clock turned back at Canter’s on Monday, as the landmark Fairfax deli lowered the price of a corned beef sandwich to 75 cents in honor of the restaurant’s 75th anniversary.

Cashier Tom Gordon, who answered questions between fielding phone calls and ringing up tabs, said his crew expected to serve 10,000 corned beef sandwiches during the one-day, 24-hour promotion. That’s about 5,000 pounds of corned beef, by his reckoning. But that’s nothing compared to the restaurant’s estimates of their cumulative servings of 2 million pounds of smoked salmon, 20 million bagels and 24 million bowls of chicken soup.

It’s been 75 years since the Canter brothers moved west from Jersey City and opened a restaurant in Boyle Heights, east of downtown, in the center of what was then a bustling immigrant Jewish neighborhood. As the tribe migrated westward, Ben and Jenny Canter opened a second location at its current spot in 1953, eventually closing the original Eastside spot. The family also owns a restaurant in Las Vegas, which opened in 2003.

Some things at Canter’s never seem to change. The pickles are still made onsite according to Ben’s original recipe. And the few sugar-free baked goods are overwhelmed by the markedly sinful display of sweets that you must pass as you enter. But the updated and ever-gargantuan menu also includes Mexican-style offerings and healthier plates like the Orange Almond Salad, which is what Wade Twitchell would have ordered if corned beef wasn’t selling for 75 cents. Twitchell had brought along Brian Ewell, 13, who would have ordered coldcuts, but couldn’t resist the 75-cents logic either. But Dawn Sharpe, originally a deli-goer in Dorchester, Mass., has been a pastrami/corned beef gal from the word go. She conceded, however, she might not have made the drive from Porter Ranch in the San Fernando Valley if the price hadn’t been so right.

The line outside varied in length throughout the day, but it was never short. Still, it seemed to move fast — a good thing since the appetite-maddening smell of corned beef wafted at least two blocks away.

The topsy-turvy prices had consequences up and down the street. For one thing, a street person in black boots and a knit cap was asking passersby for 75 cents, as though that were the going price. And it looked as though some familiar street denizens were actually in line for sandwiches. But things were not going well at the nearby Schwartz Bakery, where the line of Canter’s customers effectively blocked the storefront.

“No one is breaking through the line to get to my store,” complained the woman behind the counter. “It’s been like this all day.”

Reporter’s Postscript: The situation was no better for me, a regular Canter’s customer, after all, who was able to get close enough to photograph and takes notes on the corned beef, but lacked time to stand in line. Luckily, the poppyseed danish from Schwartz’s was first-rate.

 

Just One Shabbat


“Just one Shabbos and we’ll all be free,” religious rocker Mordechai Ben David sang back in the 1980s. Well, for the last decade, one Jewish organization has tried to get people to experience Shabbat at least once a year. The National Jewish Outreach Project (NJOP) on March 3 celebrates its 10th anniversary of Shabbat Across America, where more than 650 synagogues of all denominations will host Friday night services and a traditional Shabbat meal around the country.

“Shabbat Across America/Canada allows Jews — many of whom have never enjoyed any Sabbath experience — to come together to get a real feel for one of the Jewish tradition’s greatest treasures,” said Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, founder and director of NJOP.

Buchwald founded NJOP in 1987 to address issues of assimilation and lack of Jewish knowledge. NJOP also provides classes and programs as well as Shabbat Across America, which some 850,000 people have attended over the years.

For the 10th anniversary dinner, held at locations around Los Angeles and the Valley, the organization has produced “Gourmet Shabbat: Recipe for a Friday Night Experience,” a 32-page color booklet that includes an explanation of rituals, prayers and 10 recipes from top chefs around the country. Wolfgang Puck chimes in with gefilte fish, Jean-Georges Vongerichten with brisket, Sara Moulton with Grated Carrot Salad. The booklet — a takeaway gift to all participants and also available online — is meant to provide Shabbat newbies a recipe for a traditional meal.

“Shabbat is not merely a series of gourmet meals,” Buchwald said. “Shabbat is an environment of light, peace, domestic tranquility and song. But most of all, an environment of sanctity.”

The following synagogues are hosting NJOP in Los Angeles:

•Adat Shalom, 3030 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 475-4985

•Temple Bet T’shuvah, 8831 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 204-5200

•Helkeinu Foundation (310) 785-0440

•Young Israel of North Beverly Hills, 9350 Civic Center Drive, Beverly Hills (310) 203-0170

•Chabad of Burbank, 1921 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank (818) 954-0070

•Pacific Jewish Center, 505 Oceanfront Walk, Venice (310) 392-8749

•Temple Mishkon Tephilo, 201 Hampton Drive and 206 Main St., Venice (310) 392-3029

•Maohr Torah, 1537 Franklin St., Santa Monica (310) 657-5500

•Temple Sinai, 1212 N. Pacific Ave., Glendale (818) 246-8101

•Temple Beth Hillel, 12326 Riverside Drive, Valley Village (818) 763-9148

•Beth Shir Sholom, 1827 California Ave., Santa Monica (310) 453-3361

•Congregation Tifereth Jacob, 1829 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach (310) 546-3667

•Makom Ohr Shalom, 5619 Lindley Ave., Tarzana (818) 725-7600

•Jewish Home for the Aging, 18855 Victory Blvd., Reseda (818) 774-3018

For more information, visit NJOP.org

 

Is This Marriage Made in Heaven?


The night I met my husband was a warm evening in April and the smell of orange blossoms permeated the air. The date was “arranged” by mutual friends but I had lots of doubts about meeting their old college friend, a nice Jewish doctor from Los Angeles.

“If he’s such a great guy, why is he 31 years old and not married?” I asked myself as I pulled into the parking lot, totally missing the irony of my own unmarried situation.

I knew, even before the chips and salsa arrived, that my children would have his eyes. Deep, calm, caring eyes that had me convinced in less than a minute that I had come home to the place I had been traveling 27 years to find.

I didn’t know what it was called at the time but according to Jewish tradition, I had found my beshert, my true soul mate.

What is a soul mate? Is it a New Age concept that defines true love? Is it a catchy phrase used by romance novelists and publishers to sell books? Or does it mean something deeper and more essential, a spiritual bond between two people that is essential to fulfilling our heart’s destiny?

The Bible gives us a glimpse of the origins of a soul mate in Genesis 2:18 when God said: “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helper corresponding to him.”

Loneliness is God’s first concern about us as human beings. There is a sense that we will not be happy alone; that we need to be connected to another human being to experience companionship, support and the struggles inherent in a relationship if we are to achieve personal fulfillment and reach our highest potential. Adam, the first man, may have been complete in his physical being but without someone to love, without a partner with whom to relate, he was spiritually and emotionally incomplete.

In the story of Isaac and Rebecca, we watch as Divine guidance directs the meeting of two people destined for one another when Abraham’s servant, Eleazar, prays to God for a sign. Eleazar barely finishes his entreaty when Rebecca appears and provides the exact sign that Eleazar had prayed for: She offers him and his camels water to drink. This is seen as more than a lucky coincidence; it is viewed as an act of Divine providence guiding Isaac to his true love.

The idea that heaven plays a part in the destiny of our hearts also appears in the Talmud, which describes a soul mate as someone who is chosen for us even before we are born. “Forty days before a child is born, a voice from heaven announces: ‘The daughter of this person is destined for so-and-so'”(Sotah 2a).

How does one find their soul mate? Jewish history provides us with several answers. Abraham’s servant, Eleazar, is our first example of a Jewish matchmaker, a man on a mission to find the right wife for Isaac. During the 12th century in Europe and Asia, it became customary to hire an intermediary, or shadchen, to find a suitable marriage partner. While this custom is no longer widely practiced, it is still followed in traditional Orthodox Jewish communities today.

Another answer has emerged from the world of technology. Jewish matchmaking in cyberspace is now a vibrant industry consisting of numerous Web sites offering successful matchmaking services for Jewish singles.

Not finding one’s soul mate does not mean that one will live a loveless life. There are many forms of love and many types of loving relationships that nourish the heart and elevate the soul. Although different from a soul mate, a soulful relationship is one born out of true knowledge, caring, respect and love for another person that imbues life with emotional and spiritual meaning and purpose. Soulful relationships can occur throughout our lives with friends, co-workers, respected teachers and family members, as well as in our efforts to know and love God. In all cases, it is through our search for love and the belief and faith that we will find it that we open ourselves up to finding soulful relationships, as well as our true beshert.

My husband and I will celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary this year. While some may view ours as a “marriage made in heaven,” we both know how hard we have struggled, worked, negotiated and compromised to make it a strong and loving relationship here on earth. When I look into his face and see the light reflected in the eyes that so closely resemble those of my children, I am reminded of a wonderful Jewish saying from the Chasidic rabbi, the Ba’al Shem Tov:

“From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven. And when two souls that are destined to be together find each other, their streams of light flow together and a single brighter light goes forth from their united being.”

Amy Hirshberg Lederman is a nationally syndicated columnist, Jewish educator, public speaker and attorney. She can be reached at alederman@cox.net.

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Spectator – A Three Nyuks Salute


Three Jews are in a room screaming at one another, poking each other in the eyes, hitting each other on the head with objects ranging from frying pans to anvils. It’s either a meeting of the synagogue’s board of trustees or a Three Stooges film festival. Fortunately, this time, it’s the latter, a quick but lethal — and lethally funny — display of Stoogehood by the American Cinematheque as part of its year-end festivities from Dec. 28-Dec.30.

Why the Stooges? Well this is the 70th anniversary of the inestimable trio’s signing by Columbia Pictures, the momentous contract that locked them into the comfortable prison block of the short-films unit at the studio. (Given that the Stooges started with the “Lady With the Lamp” in 1934 and released their first short for Columbia, “Woman Haters,” that year, logic would seem to dictate that this is the 71st anniversary, but logic seldom came onto the horizon where the Stooges are concerned.)

The Stooges would toil long and hard making films that ranged from 15 minutes to the much rarer expansiveness of 20 minutes. By the time the boys had reached the pinnacle of the industry, Jerome and Samuel Howard (better know as Curly and Shemp) had been dead several years, and Moe Howard (ne Horwitz) and Larry Fine (ne Feinberg) were well past their prime. Adding Joe Besser and Joe DeRita (a.k.a. Curly Joe) in succession as third Stooges did nothing to help, and the scripts that the boys were saddled with can best be judged by a trip to Cinematheque for “The Three Stooges Meet Hercules,” a woeful 1962 extravaganza that suffers from too little money, too few gags and too much running time.

The Stooges shorts are sharp, savage, funny and, yes, vulgar. The comedy short never lent itself to great sophistication. When geniuses like Keaton and Chaplin wanted to explore more complex modes of moviemaking and richer thematic relationships, they moved into features.

The Stooges were never so fortunate, but the best of their shorts, like “You Nazty Spy!” is pointed in its satire of Hitler (here played by the oldest Howard brother as Moe Hailstone of Moronica), and goes for his jugular with a gusto that prestige features of the time didn’t dare. Were the Stooges comic geniuses? No, but they had the sterling comic timing of the professional funnyman, hard-won in a thousand tank towns on the vaudeville circuit, and that is more than enough.

The American Cinematheque is showing the Three Stooges in “You Nazty Spy!” before the screening of “The Cocoanuts” on Wednesday,Dec. 28 at 7:30 p.m.; “The Three Stooges Meet Hercules,” preceded by “We Want Our Mummy” will be shown the following night at 7:30 p.m. Finally, on Friday, Dec. 30 at 7:30 p.m., the Cinematheque comemorates “The Three Stooges’ 70th Anniversary with a program of six of their best shorts, “Men in Black,” which merited their only Oscar nominee for best live-action short “Horses’ Collars.” “From Nurse To Worse,” “Squareheads Of The Round Table,” “An Ache in Every Stake” and “In the Sweet Pie and Pie,” which concludes with of the greatest pie-fight sequences ever perpetrated. All programs will be shown at the Aero Theater (1328 Montana Ave. at 14th Street) in Santa Monica. For more information visit http://www.americancinematheque.com/Aero/tickets.htm’Tickets.

George Robinson is film and music critic for Jewish Week. His book, “Essential Torah,” will be published by Shocken Books in fall 2006.

Hatches and Matches


Your news weekly about Jewish life now has an easy, free way to share your Jewish life with others.

At www.jewishjournal.com/Celebrations.php, you can now post wedding, birth, bris, b’nai mitzvah, anniversary, graduation and aliyah announcements. The posting can include photos and links to your Web page, if you like.

Web surfers can use an interactive search engine to see who is celebrating what, and even send congratulations online.

The Jewish Journal will choose from posted items and reprint them — also for free — on our twice-monthly Celebrations page in the back of the paper. The Celebrations page will run the second and third week of each month, between Tribe, a page by and for teens, and our new page for kids.

“The new interactive Celebrations feature joins our interactive community Calendar to make www.jewishjournal.com the Web hub for Jewish L.A.,” Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman said. The Journal’s online community calendar — also free — has over 2,000 local and regional listings.

For more information, visit — of course — www.jewishjournal.com/Celebrations.php.

 

Sharon Emerges as Rabin’s Heir


As world leaders gathered in Israel to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, Israelis are asking to what extent the killer’s bullet changed the course of Israeli-Palestinian history.

An Israeli assassin, a right-wing extremist, killed Rabin on Nov. 4, 1995. Had Rabin lived, would the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been resolved? Or would the peace process he started still have unraveled?

The latter possibility raises additional questions: If Rabin realized that the Oslo process was a debacle, would he have continued to insist on a negotiated peace deal? Or, like Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, would Rabin have concluded that without a credible Palestinian peace partner, Israel should set its borders unilaterally?

The legacy Rabin left is not simple. His life as soldier and peacemaker underlined the Sisyphean struggle to keep Israel strong and, when possible, to cut peace deals with its neighbors. His death highlighted the need for greater tolerance in Israel’s politically divided society.

A decade after the assassination, it’s not clear how much of Rabin’s legacy is firmly in place. Though left-wing politicians such as Yossi Beilin, who sponsored the “Geneva Accord” peace initiative, try to present themselves as the successors to Rabin’s legacy, a recent poll in the Yediot Achronot newspaper suggests that 24 percent of Israelis see Sharon — the Likud Party leader who vehemently opposed Oslo during Rabin’s lifetime — as Rabin’s true heir.

Only Shimon Peres, with 27 percent, outpolled Sharon in that survey — but 73 percent hold that Rabin’s and Peres’ own Labor Party is doing little to promote the slain leader’s legacy.

The poll also indicates that nearly 70 percent believe another political assassination is likely in Israel.

Rabin wanted to be a water engineer, but his belief in the need for a strong army made him a general. He was always defense-minded, a man with limited faith in the goodwill of Israel’s neighbors and a conviction that only a militarily strong Israel can survive in the Middle East.

For Rabin, the main strategic goal was to secure Israel’s survival in a tough neighborhood. Peace was a means to that end, not an end in itself.

In 1993, Rabin cautiously embraced the Oslo peace process with the Palestinians in the hope that it would lead to Israel’s acceptance in the region, but he insisted that it be reversible: If the process threatened Israel’s security instead of advancing it, he insisted, Israel would be able to revert to the pre-Oslo status quo. Some see that as a shocking bit of naivete from a man who at other times displayed keen strategic thinking.

Rabin called Oslo “an experiment in laboratory conditions,” which he believed could be stopped at the first signs of failure. It’s not clear whether Rabin would have stuck to that principle had he lived, since many Israeli politicians who initially were skeptical of the peace process felt constrained to see it through, even as evidence that the process was failing became overwhelming.

Five years after Rabin’s death, the Oslo concept was put to the test at Camp David in July 2000. It failed: Then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak was unable to reach agreement with then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The result was nearly five years of Palestinian terrorism. Yet Barak, and many in Labor and parties further to the left, insist that if negotiators do get back to work one day they should pick up roughly from where Barak’s team left off.

Some speculate that Rabin might have succeeded where Barak failed, arguing that he would not have labored under the burden of the three-year interruption under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which Palestinians claim eroded their confidence in the Oslo process.

Moreover, unlike Barak, Rabin was trusted and even liked by Palestinian leaders — although it’s not clear if Arafat’s protestations of affection for Rabin after his death were anything more than crocodile tears.

And no one will ever know whether, by force of his personality, Rabin could have overcome the huge differences between Israel and the Palestinians on basic issues such as refugees, Jerusalem and borders.

Many believe that if Rabin had failed to bridge those gaps, he would have called an end to the Oslo experiment and gone down the unilateral route — the way Sharon has done, and for much the same reasons.

Rabin’s strategic outlook was very close to Sharon’s: Like Sharon, he put a premium on close ties with the United States, prioritized the achievement of a state of non-belligerency with potential adversaries and recognized the long-term demographic problem caused by Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

That in itself could have been enough to lead Rabin down the unilateral road.

The fact that so many Israelis see Sharon as Rabin’s heir is one of the most significant facts in Israeli politics today: It’s symptomatic of the blurring between security-minded peacemaking in Labor and Likud and the creation of a new ideological center in Israeli politics, in which both Rabin and Sharon are iconic leadership figures.

Sharon’s image as a security-minded peacemaker in the Rabin tradition wins him the support of large segments of Labor’s right wing, one of the main reasons for his enormous cross-party popularity in Israel.

Even if Rabin’s legacy continues to dominate the political scene through Sharon, however, the drive for tolerance and reconciliation in the wake of the assassination has been far less successful. The Yediot Achronot poll shows a disturbing degree of support on the far right for Rabin’s jailed assassin, Yigal Amir.

Some 20 percent of those polled believe Amir should be eligible for parole. Carmi Gillon, head of the Shin Bet security service at the time of the assassination, says the findings show that the chances for another political assassination in Israel are high.

“There is a group of hundreds of thousands of people, not all of whom are killers but who all think the Rabin assassination achieved its purpose by stopping the Oslo process,” Gillon said in a recent interview. “They think today that if Sharon were to disappear, the moves in the West Bank would disappear/evaporate, too.”

Amir’s family feels confident enough to make inflammatory remarks and demand his early release. In a television documentary, Amir’s mother declared that she would like to see all the politicians who supported Sharon’s withdrawal plan “hanged in the city square.”

One of Amir’s brothers, Amitai, said Amir had served a long enough sentence because the man he killed was “a criminal.” Amir himself is said to want a retrial because of “new ballistic evidence.”

The chances of Amir being paroled or retried are negligible, and the danger posed by his family’s rhetoric isn’t great. But Gillon and other experts say another potential assassin could be lurking somewhere in the extremist, religious milieu that produced Yigal Amir.

On the 10th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, they reiterate a chilly warning: Israel’s brittle democracy withstood one assassination, but may not be able to withstand another.

 

Israel Has Wish List for U.N.’s 60th


As the United Nations prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its founding in San Francisco, the occasion is bittersweet for Jewish observers.

It was the United Nations that sanctioned the State of Israel’s birth in 1948, but it gave the Jewish state the status of an ugly stepchild — constantly singling out Israel for condemnation and excluding Israel, alone among U.N. member states, from full membership in the regional groupings that apportion key positions at the world body.

That said, Israel recently has made strides at the United Nations.

In the past year, the U.N. Department of Public Information convened a daylong conference on anti-Semitism, devoting more time to the topic than the United Nations ever before had.

In commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps, the U.N. General Assembly held a special session and a Holocaust exhibit in the lobby of U.N. headquarters was launched with the playing of Israel’s national anthem and the recitation of a Jewish mourning prayer.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also attended the opening of the new Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem, the first time a secretary-general had traveled to Israel.

This month, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group of 52 Jewish organizations, reported a very friendly meeting with Annan.

And last week, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Dan Gillerman, became one of 21 General Assembly vice presidents, the first time Israel has held the position in more than half a century.

“All these things, beyond their symbolic importance, are also things that herald a totally new treatment of Israel at the U.N. — and for Israel, a symbolism in this very difficult and hostile environment is also very important,” Gillerman told JTA.

The recent Jewish achievements and the 60th anniversary of the United Nations — founded on June 26, 1945 — come as Annan strives to push through a package of reforms for the world body.

Jewish officials praise Annan for backing some critical Jewish initiatives, but say a test of the secretary-general’s strength is the extent to which he makes fair treatment of Israel a part of his reform plans.

Annan’s reform package doesn’t explicitly cite fairer treatment of Israel, but Jewish officials believe that steps he is demanding to streamline the organization bode well for Israel. For example, Annan’s idea to make the U.N. Commission on Human Rights into a smaller council — not populated by serial human rights violators — could change that body’s agenda.

In addition, Annan plans to review any committee that has existed for more than five years. That would include special committees devoted exclusively to the plight of the Palestinians that Israel and Jewish officials view as propaganda organs and are eager to close.

“The singling out of Israel is the elephant in the room of the whole U.N. reform debate,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch in Geneva. The anti-Israel agenda “is not a small issue. It’s a material issue. It dominates and monopolizes so many U.N. bodies.”

As examples, Neuer cited the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which issues more resolutions against Israel than against any other country, and the World Health Organization, which last month held a special session on the alleged damage Israel causes to Palestinians’ health and condemned Israel in a resolution opposed by only a handful of countries.

Furthermore, Annan’s supportive statements, while positive, need to reach beyond the Jewish community, Neuer said.

For example, in his Jerusalem speech, Annan pressed for Israel’s full participation in the Western European and Others Group. Israel has full membership in the regional group at U.N. headquarters in New York, but not at U.N. offices in Geneva, Nairobi or Vienna.

But when he spoke in April to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Annan “didn’t mention a word of it — and that’s where the change has to happen,” Neuer said.

On the other hand, Felice Gaer, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Human Rights, praised the fact that Annan told the Human Rights Commission it was not credible and needed to be replaced.

“Kofi Annan has been courageous and has broken with past secretaries-general in reflecting honestly on the U.N.’s failings when it has come to Israel and anti-Semitism, but he still needs to do more,” she said, pointing to entrenched bias at the institution.

“We’re finally beginning to get these issues out from the shadows. We finally have the straight talk about anti-Semitism from the front office. What we don’t have is it coming from the political bodies,” she said. “I would like to see the secretary-general’s leadership mirrored by others who serve as top officials of the U.N.”

Amy Goldstein, director of U.N. affairs for B’nai B’rith International, had sharper words.

Ever since the United Nations fulfilled the Jewish right to self-determination by granting Israel statehood, it has tried to erode those rights, she said.

“After 60 years, we need to reform the United Nations to return it to the original ideas of the framers and to make it a place where all peoples, including the Jewish people, are treated equally,” Goldstein said.

Others feel more optimistic.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, said the recent meeting with Annan was a success.

The meeting addressed many issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, anti-Semitism, Iran’s nuclear program, the ongoing killings in Darfur and Israel’s full membership in its regional grouping.

“He was actually pretty responsive to everything,” Hoenlein said of Annan.

Hoenlein noted that Annan “indicated support for the idea of pursuing the ‘road map'” — an internationally backed peace plan — and not backing the Palestinian demand to jump immediately to final-status negotiations before the two sides have met their commitments in intermediate stages.

For his part, Gillerman views the recent advancements as irreversible.

A new world view is taking shape among member states after Sept. 11, Gillerman said, pointing to shifting politics in the Middle East, from Israel’s Gaza withdrawal plan to the potential reignition of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to Syria’s withdrawal of troops from Lebanon.

Israel lobbied diplomats for six months to attain a vice presidency of the General Assembly, where Gillerman said he will try to steer the agenda away from the usual slew of anti-Israel resolutions.

Israel now is working for a coveted seat on the 15-member Security Council, the only U.N. body with binding authority.

“Nothing is impossible for Israel anymore, and whatever position is available, we will fight for,” Gillerman said. “The sky’s the limit.”

 

Spectator – The Geffen’s Great Escape


In the 1930s, with the Great Depression at home and Hitler saber-rattling overseas, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, two sharp-witted Jewish lads, kept Broadway and the nation laughing.

Together, they wrote such comedic classics as “Once in a Lifetime,” “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” “I’d Rather Be Right” and “You Can’t Take It With You.”

The latter play, which debuted on Broadway in 1936 and won a Pulitzer Prize and as an Oscar-winning movie two years later, has now been revived by the Geffen Playhouse.

The revival marks the 100th anniversary of Hart’s birth and, to keep the familial connection, is directed by his son, Christopher.

Cunningly constructed, the play relates the adventures and misadventures of the Sycamore Family of New York, whose guiding motto is, do whatever turns you on, however eccentric, and you’ll have lots of fun, avoid ulcers and enjoy a happy ending.

This philosophy may not always work in this harsh world but it surely does on the stage.

The pace of this production is not quite as antic and frantic as we recall from the olden days, but there are enough laughs to get your money’s worth.

Excelling in a somewhat uneven cast is veteran British actor Roy Dotrice as the family patriarch, who quit the rat race 35 years ago and has never looked back.

Also amusing are Conrad John Schuck as an irascible Wall Street tycoon, and Magda Harout, who doubles as an inebriated actress and an aristocratic Russian refugee who has fallen on hard times.

The Geffen’s performances have been in exile on the Veterans Administration grounds while its Westwood playhouse has been undergoing a $17 million facelift.

Included in the renovations are a plusher main stage and audience seats and construction of the smaller Audrey Skirball-Kenis Theatre.

A grand reopening of the Westwood facility is set for Oct. 17. The inaugural drama on Nov. 4 will be Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” directed by Gilbert Cates and starring John Goodman as Big Daddy.

“You Can’t Take It With You” concludes its run on May 22 at the VA’s Brentwood Theatre. For information, call (310) 208-5454 or visit www.geffenplayhouse.com

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Rites Mark Shoah, Camp Liberators


 

Rain and clouds greeted Southern California’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, while sunshine welcomed a gathering of World War II veterans and the Shoah survivors whom they liberated from concentration camps.

“Our remembrance ensures that the truth never will be forgotten; this time it might not happen to Jews but to other minorities in the world,” said Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Jona Goldrich, chair of the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument at Pan Pacific Park in the Fairfax District. The monument was seen by some of the 2,000 private and public school students who came to the park’s May 5 Yom HaShoah event.

Three days later, the Museum of Tolerance and the Simon Wiesenthal Center hosted about 600 people for a short March of Gratitude down Pico Boulevard, honoring Allied veterans. In contrast to the rainy, emotionally darker Yom HaShoah event, the march’s generally upbeat mood and sunny weather played perfectly last Sunday — the 60th anniversary of Europe’s liberation on May 8, 1945, V-E Day.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, Simon Wiesenthal Center dean and founder, noted that Holocaust and V-E Day gatherings — separated by just three days each May — reflect the world during World War II.

“Soldiers on the one hand, survivors on the other,” he said.

One distinction between World War II’s 50th and 60th anniversary events has been the toll of the 10 years between 1995 and now. About 50 survivors stood up at the Pan Pacific Park event, and the Museum of Tolerance gathering honored concentration camp-liberating veterans approaching their 90s.

“I’m getting older; I’m 87 years old and it’s getting difficult,” said Maurice Weinstein, a jeweler who served in Belgium’s independent brigade with Allied forces. “I lost all my family to the Germans.”

Attending the Holocaust and V-E Day events were Belgian, Croatian, French, German, Hungarian, Israeli, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and South African diplomats. Also walking in the V-E Day march was Hans Wendler, the consul general of Germany in Los Angeles.

“I come here, of course, with mixed feelings. Nobody likes to celebrate the defeat of one’s own country, but we have to accept the bitter truth that the Germans were not able to liberate themselves from the Nazis,” said Wendler, whose prior diplomatic postings included Germany’s embassy in Israel. “I have come here to express my gratitude that the Allies sacrificed so much blood to liberate us from the Nazis.”

Both remembrance events had political overtones dominated by the current L.A. mayor’s race. Like at the V-E Day remembrance, Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn spoke at Pan Pacific Park, saying; “We’re here in one place showing that humanity can do better.”

Mayoral candidate and Los Angeles City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa presented a veterans’ proclamation at the V-E Day gathering and, like Hahn, spoke there and at Pan Pacific Park. But at the park event, Villaraigosa was not listed in the official printed program as a speaker. Instead, he spoke after the mayor and was introduced as speaking “on behalf of the City Council” — a curious choice of words, because the council as a whole usually is represented by City Council President Alex Padilla, who was at that same Shoah remembrance.

State Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, a Democrat running for lieutenant governor next year, took a veiled swipe at Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s praise last month for the self-appointed “minutemen” patrolling Arizona’s border.

“The brown shirts of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and the minutemen of America today both targeted minorities,” he said.

The governor did not attend the Museum of Tolerance or Pan Pacific Park events but he issued a proclamation declaring May 1-May 8 as “Days of Remembrance.”

 

The 411 on the 818’s Israel Fest


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•What, Where and When: The 17th annual Israel Independence Day Festival celebrating Israel’s 57th anniversary on May 15, from 10 a.m.- 7 p.m., Woodley Park, Van Nuys (between Burbank and Victory boulevards).

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•Price: Admission is $5. Kids under 6 get in free.

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•Parking: Free on the streets near the fenced-in, gated festival area. Satellite parking will be farther away at Lake Balboa, with shuttle buses running from there to the park.

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•Numbers: More than 22,000 people attended the 2004 festival, which was held on Mother’s Day, and up to 45,000 are expected this year. More than 40,000 attended the 2003 festival, which started out in 1988 with about 500 people marking Independence Day at a Wilshire Boulevard hall, said festival executive director Yoram Goodman.

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•Weather Forecast: In the great tradition of the Israel Independence Day festival — expect it to be hot (it is May in the Valley after all). Goodman said areas such as the Tel Aviv Cafe will put up extra shade nets to make things cool. Check www.weather.com for the latest temperatures.

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•Security: Tight. The festival area’s central entrance will have metal detectors. Along with fire marshals, the LAPD’s Van Nuys Division will have at least 80 uniformed officers there.

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•For Eyes & Ears: There will be five stages this time — including a Teen Stage and a Fashion Show Stage — “last year we had four,” Goodman said. Folk dancing will be going on in one area, there will be a large childrens’ play area in what Goodman called a “humongous amusement park” and many musicians will be performing throughout the day, including the Alter Rocker and the corned Beef Rangers, who will be at Tel Aviv Stage at 11 a.m.

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•The Red Carpet: Israeli singer Sarit Haddad will be performing at 5 p.m. Orthodox talk show host Michael Medved will host the main stage’s one-hour Israel tribute at 1:30 p.m., with many local politicians, including both mayoral candidates. Talk show host Larry Elder has hosted the main stage event for the past three festivals, but Goodman said Elder wasn’t available this year.

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•New This Year: The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles will be a festival co-host and is supporting this event instead of holding its own Jewish festival.

“They are pooling together with us, getting out the temples,” Goodman said. “The Jewish community at large knows that this is the place to come now.”

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•Gone This Year: The Miss L.A. Israel Pageant. Last year, one of the pageants bikini-clad contestants became ill and dehydrated backstage. It was the festival’s first and last year for the pageant.

“We are not doing it; it brings too much controversy,” Goodman said. “This is a family event; we want the families to come. We decided to stay away from contests, stay away from beauty pageants.”

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•Vendors: Count on getting brochures, free candy or what-have-you at booths from such organizations as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, Camp Ramah of California, Democrats for Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition, Downtown L.A. Motors Mercedes Benz, Morgan Stanley, El Al, the Israeli consulate and government tourism offices, Jews for Judaism, the peace initiative 10,000 Kites, the Mount Sinai and Hillside memorial parks, The Jewish Journal, The Los Angeles Times, Shalom LA and other Israeli newspapers, pro-Israel Christian radio station KRLA, the Jewish Free Loan Association, Jewish World Watch, StandWithUs, at least a dozen synagogues, including three Chabads plus the Jewish Defense League (with two booths), the Kaballah Centre, Belly Dancing for Fitness and Psychic to the Stars.

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•Water: Chabad of California will have a booth promoting its popular Jewish-questions Web site, www.askmoses.com and Chabad staffers will distribute an estimated 30,000 free bottles of water.

“We just have a whole truckload,” said Rabbi Simcha Beckman. “The idea is to fulfill people’s spiritual thirst and their actual thirst, with a bracha of course.”

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•Food: For the first time, the Tel Aviv Cafe area will offer coffee and other coffeehouse beverages. Other vendors will be hawking lemonade, Red Bull, knishes, Tunisian cuisine and, of course, falafel for all.

“We can’t have more than four falafel servers,” said Goodman. “You don’t want everybody selling the same kind of food.”

Don’t forget to stop by The Jewish Journal’s booth No. 18 on “Ben Yehuda Street.” Meet your favorite Jewish Journal celebrities, pick up some free goodies and enter to win raffle prizes from Gelson’s. For more information on the festival, visit

What Bergen-Belsen Taught Us


 

On Sunday, April 17, hundreds of Holocaust survivors from around the world, along with their children and grandchildren, gathered on the site of the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen to observe the 60th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. I was privileged to participate in the commemoration beside the Jewish monument my father had inaugurated in the midst of mass graves in April 1946. Because my parents are no longer alive, I spoke in their stead, on their behalf, hearing their voices in my mind.

It is from Bergen-Belsen that the horrors of the Holocaust first permeated the consciousness of humankind. Long before Auschwitz became the defining term of the Shoah, the films and photographs taken by British soldiers and journalists in April 1945 of both the dead and the survivors of Bergen-Belsen — shown in newsreels throughout the world — awakened the international community to the genocide that had been committed against the Jews of Europe.

In her memoir, “Yesterday: My Story,” which she finished writing just before her death, my mother, Dr. Hadassah Bimko Rosensaft, described April 15, 1945:

“It was Sunday, a very hot day. It was strange; there was nobody to be seen outside the barracks. The camp seemed to have been abandoned, almost like a cemetery…. Suddenly, we felt the earth tremble; something was moving. We were convinced that the Germans were about to blow up the camp…. We all believed that these were the last moments of our lives. It was 3 p.m. We heard a loud voice repeating the same words in English and in German. ‘Hello, hello. You are free. We are British soldiers and have come to liberate you.’…. We ran out of the barracks and saw a British army vehicle with a loudspeaker on top, driving slowly through the camp.”

But almost immediately, my mother recalled, a new reality set in: “There was joy, yes. We were free, the gates were open — but where were we to go? The liberation had come too late, not only for the dead, but for us, the living, as well. We had lost our families, our friends, our homes. We had no place to go, and nobody was waiting for us anywhere. We were alive, yes. We were liberated from death, from the fear of death, but the fear of life started.”

At Belsen, the British found themselves in Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. More than 10,000 bodies lay scattered about the camp, and the 58,000 surviving inmates — the overwhelming majority of whom were Jews — suffered from a combination of typhus, tuberculosis, dysentery, extreme malnutrition and other virulent diseases. Confronted with the emaciated, tormented survivors moving, walking, speaking in the midst of corpses, the liberators must have asked themselves not “Can these bones live?” but “How can these bones live?’’

My father, Josef (Yossel) Rosensaft, was also liberated here. For more than five years following the liberation, he headed both the Jewish Committee of the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons camp and the Central Jewish Committee in the British Zone of Germany. I am one of more than 2,000 children who were born in Bergen-Belsen between 1946 and 1950.

We, the children and grandchildren of the survivors, were proud to be at Belsen on that Sunday alongside our parents and grandparents. We know that we were given life and placed on earth with a solemn obligation. Our parents and grandparents survived to bear witness. We, in turn, must ensure that their memories, which we have absorbed into ours, will remain as a permanent warning to humanity.

Sixty years after the liberation of Belsen, anti-Semitism remains a threat, not just to the Jewish people, but to civilization as a whole, and Holocaust deniers are still allowed to spread their poison.

In France, Great Britain and the United States, the number of anti-Semitic incidents has increased markedly during the past year. The same weekend that we were in Belsen, several American white supremacist groups were scheduled to celebrate Hitler’s birthday with concerts in Michigan and New Jersey. Earlier this year, right-wing members of the state parliament of Saxony in Germany disrupted a tribute to the victims of Nazism; and the mayor of London saw fit to compare a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard.

Sixty years after the crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau stopped burning our families, innocent men, women and children are murdered in a horrific genocide in Darfur; and government-sponsored terrorists continue to seek the destruction of the State of Israel, which arose out of the ashes of the Shoah.

Thus, we do not have the right to focus only on the agony and suffering of the past. While the Germans were able to torture, to murder, to destroy, they did not succeed in dehumanizing their victims. The ultimate victory of European Jews over the Nazis and their multinational accomplices was firmly rooted in their human, ethical values.

The critical lesson we have learned from our parents’ and grandparents’ tragic experiences is that indifference to the suffering of others is in itself a crime. Our place must be at the forefront of the struggle against every form of racial, religious or ethnic hatred.

Together with others of the post-Holocaust generations, we must raise our collective voices on behalf of all, Jews and non-Jews alike, who are subjected to discrimination and persecution, or who are threatened by annihilation, anywhere in the world. We may not be passive, or allow others to be passive, in the face of oppression, for we know, only too well, that the ultimate consequence of apathy and silence was embodied forever in the flames of Auschwitz and the mass graves of Bergen-Belsen.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft, is the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. This column is courtesy of JTA from a speech Rosensaft gave at Bergen-Belsen.

 

Circuit


Friends in Deed

On Feb. 17, David Nathanson hosted a silent auction at his L.A. home for more than 100 young executives – and special guest 5th District L.A City Councilman Jack Weiss – to benefit nonprofit Yemin Orde Youth Village in Israel.

Located just south of Haifa, the 500 children who call Yemin Orde home come from 22 different countries. These immigrant, disadvantaged and refugee children, who have experienced trauma of one form or another, are defined as at-risk youth, and the Village provides them with a home, high-quality care and an education.

“Yemin Orde never closes and we never turn a child away who has nowhere else to go,” said Dr. Chaim Peri, director of Yemin Orde Youth Village, during his two-day visit. “Support from the Los Angeles community will help us to continue our care, and support our alumni.”

“It’s very clear that Angelenos are interested in learning more about the incredible work of the Yemin Orde Youth Village,” Weiss said. “Yemin Orde is turning at-risk youth into productive members of Israeli society. It’s an organization worthy of support, and a model for Los Angeles to study.”

High Hopes

As trumpeters heralded the moment, City of Hope supporters entered the sleek new Betty and Irwin Helford Clinical Research Center in Duarte on Feb. 13. The futuristic hospital replaces a building constructed back in 1937.

“As we open the doors of this magnificent facility, we recognize that we are metaphorically and literally opening the doors to the next century of this institution’s existence and its service to humanity,” said Dr. Theodore G. Krontiris, executive vice president of medical and scientific affairs.

Completed just weeks earlier, the 347,000-square-foot center is slated for patient occupancy this spring and incorporates innovative features to meet the needs of patients with compromised immune systems.

Honorees Irwin and Betty Helford were recognized for providing a $36 million gift that fueled development of the $200 million center.

“We’re very proud to be part of City of Hope, and grateful to have the ability to do this,” said Irwin Helford, chairman emeritus of Viking Office Products. He said he viewed the gift not only as a contribution, but also as an investment in the people of City of Hope, and recounted many acts of kindness and generosity he witnessed by hospital staff over the years. – Nancy Sokoler Steiner, Contributing Writer

A Humbled Humanitarian

In accepting the Ambassador of Humanity Award from Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, former President Bill Clinton described the refusal of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration in 1939 to admit 900 Jewish refugees aboard the German ship, St. Louis, as “one of the darkest chapters in United States history.”

Clinton, who addressed a star-studded audience of some 750 on Feb. 17, also apologized and asked forgiveness for his failure to intervene in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which 1 million victims were slaughtered during a three-month period.

Established by Spielberg following the global success of his film, “Schindler’s List,” the foundation is currently processing the last of nearly 52,000 videotaped testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses.

In his brief and thoughtful address, Clinton explored his longstanding concern with the roots of human hatred, thanking his grandparents for “growing up to despise racism” in a small, segregated Southern town.

One of the country’s most accomplished politicians himself, Clinton ascribed the cause of ethnic hatreds mainly to power-hungry politicians indoctrinating their followers with “the fear of the other.”

“How can we survive in a global society in which we have to have enemies?” he asked.

Clinton paid special tribute to assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as “A man I loved as much as anyone I know.”

The annual event, was held on the Universal Studios backlot under a huge tent, occasionally shaken by gusts of rain and wind.

Actor Tom Cruise served as master of ceremonies and such Hollywood stars as John Travolta, Sharon Stone and Scarlett Johansson were in attendance.

Stand-up comic Robin Williams, in one of his patented multiaccented monologues, welcomed the fashionably dressed guests to “Temple Beth Prada” and assured them that the dinner had been prepared under dietary laws separating milchig (dairy), fleishig (meat) and sushidik ingredients. – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Diamonds Are Forever

Jim and Laura Maslon and Shirley and Edgar Phillips received Lifetime of Service Awards at the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) 75th anniversary diamond-studded gala on Jan. 29 in front of 400 guests at the Loews Santa Monica Hotel.

The Maslons began their volunteer life together at the Venice Art Walk and Jim Maslon is a former president of JVS. Laura Maslon serves on the JVS Marketing Committee as well as the board of the Contemporary Art Council at LACMA, and the executive committee of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Edgar Phillips has been a board member of JVS since the 1970s and is co-founder of the JVS Jewish Community Scholarship fund. Shirley Phillips is devoted to The Helping Hand that runs the nonprofit gift shop at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The gala event, hosted by Monty Hall, was attended by local elected officials and longtime agency supporters City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo; mayoral candidate and former Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg; City Councilman Jack Weiss; L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and his wife Barbara; Jewish Federation President Harriet Hochman; and Michelle Kleinert, deputy director of community affairs for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“We believe that putting people to work and assisting them to have meaningful careers is the key to achieving our core mission,” said JVS CEO Vivian Seigel.

Beyond Rebbitzen

Women rabbis from Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Arizona gathered on Feb. 24 at the University of Judaism’s (UJ) Gindi Auditorium in Bel Air to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Conservative movement’s first ordained female rabbi.

As part of the celebration, “Women in the Rabbinate” was the topic of this year’s Torah Fund Study Day, held by the Torah Fund Campaign for the Pacific Southwest Branch of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.

The day, which focused on what the coming decades hold for women as they make their voices heard, included a panel discussion with Rabbi Leslie Alexander, community chaplain for the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley; Rabbi Sherre Zwelling Hirsch of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles; and Rabbi Sally Olins of Temple B’nai Hayim in Sherman Oaks. Gail Labovitz, Talmudic scholar and assistant professor of rabbinic studies at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the UJ, was the keynote speaker.

The day began with greetings from UJ President Robert Wexler and

Ziegler School Dean Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson.

Real Treasures

Elsewhere on the UJ front: On Feb. 22, the University Women of the UJ presented a check for $30,000 to UJ President, Robert Wexler. The proceeds, raised from sales at the Treasures of Judaica Gift Shop at the UJ, are part of the group’s annual grants allocations program, which supports student scholarships.

After the event, four UJ students discussed their scholarly goals: second-year Gershom Sizoumu, spiritual leader of the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda; first-year Gary Buchler, who has led more than 150 college-age students on their first visit to Israel; first-year Penina Podwol, who graduated cum laude from UCLA and is the daughter of a Chicago-area Conservative rabbi; and fourth-year Michael Werbow, who has worked with Jewish youth programs around the country.

‘Never Again’ — An Odd Thing to Say


 

How odd it was to hear Kofi Annan mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in an address before the United Nations.

“The United Nations must never forget that it was created as a response to the evil of Nazism, or that the horror of the Holocaust helped to shape its mission,” Annan said.

How very odd, indeed, considering how little he did to prevent the massacre of 800,000 Rwandans. Annan was head of the U.N. peacekeepers at the time of the 1994 genocide.

“The international community is guilty of sins of omission,” Annan later said by way of apology.

As a side note, do you know what Annan had to say about the ongoing genocide taking place in Sudan? — “The Security Council must wait to receive a report on Tuesday before it can decide how to act.”

I wonder what the thousands of black Darfurians dying at the hands of Arab militias thought about that. If we were being massacred, what would we think? What would we want from Annan, the European Union or President Bush? Some protection perhaps? Maybe a stockpile of M-16s to defend our families, our village?

God knows we have enough rifles in America.

With the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we recall once more the destruction wrought by Nazism, the chaos, desolation, the machinery of death. We peer unflinchingly at the ovens and gas chambers, the cattle cars and the concentration camps, we stare at the heart of darkness and swear, “Never Again.”

What a strange thing to say, “Never Again.” Do we think the world has tattooed a place for Auschwitz in its flesh? The world let Pol Pot kill more than one million Cambodians.

The world let 800,000 Tutsis get hacked to death. The world let Slobodan Milosevic bury his Muslim antagonists in mass graves. The world allows Arab Sudanese militias to bludgeon their black countrymen as we speak?

What an odd thing to say, “Never Again.”

And in spite of it all, there was more to Auschwitz than the gas chambers and crematoria, there was the Gestapo, there was Dr. Josef Mengele, there was the whole pathology of Nazism. Long after Auschwitz snuffed its last Jewish candle, that pathology, that pathology of nihilism and hatred, intolerance and irrational faith still cuts deep across the continents.

Even though the Gestapo was defeated in 1945, the secret police of Syria, Iran and North Korea still inspire fear and elicit subjection each and every day. Mengele’s experiments are long over, but female genital mutilation and physical torture remain rampant in Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sierra Leone.

Cast a sharp ear and you will notice that Osama bin Laden and Muqtada al-Sadr — who despise Bahais, Christians, Jews, as well as many of their fellow Muslims — do not lack for listeners. But in this world, where it seems that the United Nations fears Israel more than it does totalitarians or terrorists, bin Laden and Al-Sadr often lack for critics.

So it is with many of the wrongs of this age, every age really, very few bother to condemn true evil, and even fewer bother to act. And yet we keep saying: “Never Again.” Why? What for?

I don’t want to sound like a pessimist. But Maimonides gave us a stern reminder: sheyitmameiyah, the Messiah may tarry. To have false hope, to believe that the world is better than what it is, to think that a savior will rescue the Jewish people or any people if doom draws near, this is a grave careless error. An error Auschwitz commands us never to commit.

After the Holocaust, many presumed European anti-Semitism would never return. But here it is in Britain and France, in Belgium and Sweden, in Poland and Germany. Synagogues are torched. Men with kippahs and payot are bullied and beaten. This is the world we live in.

Each day, we unfold the morning paper and find proof that many peoples do not believe in the inestimable value of human life. Genocide and torture, suicide bombing and religious terrorism rages on. Alas, the cry of “Never Again” has not stopped evil from enduring. That doesn’t mean we ought to stop our cries, it just means we must shout louder.

Yehuda M. Hausman, a graduate of Brandeis University, is a part-time researcher for the Encyclopedia Judaica. He was a third-place winner in the “Reaching Common Ground” writing competition and is a fellow with the Institute for Judaism and Christianity (ICJS).

 

Briefs


Farmer’s Market Case Heads to Court

A downtown Los Angeles courtroom this week relived the horrid 2003 crash in which the tranquil Santa Monica Farmers Market was shattered when 86-year-old George Russell Weller’s foot hit the accelerator of his 1992 Buick and the speeding car killed 10 people.

Superior Court Judge Katherine Mader will determine if Weller, now 87, will stand trial on 10 felony counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, to which Weller pleaded not guilty last January. A California Highway Patrol report said Weller was taking nausea-inducing prescription medication that could have made him confuse the accelerator with the brake just before the July 16, 2003 accident, but crash investigators also stated that Weller’s eyes were open and that his hands here were “on the steering wheel at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock position.”

Weller’s attorneys believe an undiagnosed heart condition may have contributed to the accident. The 10 victims included Jewish shoppers such as 70-year-old Movsha Hoffman, 63-year-old Molok Ghoulian Nabatian and her 7-year-old grandson, Brandon David Esfahani. Among the 63 injured was octogenarian Shamsi Khani, who broke her neck in three places and both her legs but recovered and still attends services at Westwood’s Sinai Temple. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Hate Crimes High in California

Hate crimes in the United States were just about at the same level in 2003 as in the preceding year, and well below the record figures of 2001, according to the annual FBI report released Oct.25. Anti-Semitic incidents were actually down by a miniscule fraction, with 927 in 2003 compared to 931 in 2002.

California, by far the most populous state, accounted for one of every five hate crimes reported in the country.

Nevertheless, the 7,489 nationwide cases of hate-motivated violence and vandalism in 2003 leave no room for complacence, the Anti-Defamation League warned.

As in previous years, violence and vandalism against black citizens and institutions, representing more than one-third of all hate crimes nationally, topped the statistics. Among the 1,300 hate crimes motivated by religious bias, 69 percent were anti-Jewish and 11.5 percent anti-Muslim. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jews, Christians Join in Solidarity Thanks to Nexus

Nearly 1,000 Jews and Christians came together on Oct. 14 for a “solidarity gathering” at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel Air. The event was sponsored by Israel-Christian Nexus, alliance of Southern California’s pro-Israel Christians.

“We stand with you. We pray with you and thank you for your increasing trust,” said Rev. Jack Hayford, the longtime pastor of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, to the Jews in attendance. Hayford, who is visiting Israel this week, has been an articulate advocate of Christian Zionism.

This year’s gathering was co-sponsored by 52 Christian and Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Supporters reacted angrily to charges that many of the Christians involved in the conference were also active in conversion efforts aimed at Jews and in supporting Jews for Jesus.

“Are we going to put everyone under a microscope and check if he is kosher?” said retired Israeli general and Israel-Christian Nexus president Shimon Erem. “The time has come to stop this stupidity!”

Stephen S. Wise Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin criticized liberal Christians in the Presbyterian and Episcopalian churches for recently advocating divestment from Israel-allied companies.

“What moral blindness on the face of [those] Christians!” said Zeldin, who added that liberal, mainline Protestants often allied with Palestinian liberation movements are distinct from evangelicals who, “at least know the difference between the victim and the perpetrator.”

“Alliances such as this are important for us right now,” said Roz Rothstein of StandWithUs, a local pro-Israel advocacy group. She said that these people will fight against divestment from other Christian groups.”

Critics of the event pointed to a gathering to be held later this year as proof that Israel’s supporters have not disavowed active missionary activities. On Dec. 3, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden near Palm Springs will host, “The Road to Jerusalem,” a Friday afternoon stadium gathering whose organizers state that it will allow “Christians to publicly affirm our Jewish roots, distinctions and oneness in Jesus.”

The free event promises “special festive Hebrew music and dancers,” two Christian-trained “rabbis” involved with Jews for Jesus and Messianic Jews, and an ex-Catskills singer. Hayford will also be speaking.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Pacific Southwest Region issued a statement on Oct. 22 expressing concern about the “Road to Jerusalem” event: “We do not support targeted prostelyzation of Jews — the planned event could very well serve to legitimize fraudulent ideas about Judaism.” — DF

Exhibit Celebrates Century of Dignity


To celebrate 100 years of offering interest-free loans to the needy, the Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) has put together a traveling photo exhibit that chronicles its growth from bit player to an integral part of the city’s Jewish philanthropic network.

In the past century, more than 300,000 Southern California families have benefited from JFLA’s largess. Today, JFLA has total assets of $8.3 million, employs seven full-time and four part-time workers and makes more than 1,100 loans annually.

The exhibit, which began touring in late May and will make two-week stops at several Southland synagogues and Jewish community centers until November, features black-and-white pictures, yellowing newspaper clippings and personal stories that tell the organization’s rich story. It also "serves as an excellent platform to begin JFLA’s sparking future," said executive director Mark Meltzer.

The free-standing exhibit begins by taking visitors on a journey to the past. Several pictures of Los Angeles at the turn of the 20th century, including on showing horse-drawn buggies on city streets, set the scene.

A small group of businessmen, led by Rabbi David Cohen, founded the Hebrew Free Loan Association in 1904 "to prevent recipients from becoming objects of charity." In the early days, the leaders conducted meetings exclusively in Yiddish. They made loans from $25 to $200 to the unemployed and indigent. A few small loans went to aspiring entrepreneurs to purchase pushcarts to sell fruits and vegetables and to tailors to buy sewing machines.

"JFLA’s mission hasn’t changed in all these years," said Martin Shandling, president of Beth Jacob Congregation of Beverly Hills, who viewed the exhibit at his synagogue in early August.

Like many in the community, Shandling’s has a personal connection to JFLA. He recently referred a temple member to the organization because the man needed money while waiting for a real-estate transaction to close. Shandling co-signed the $5,000 loan, which the businessman paid off, in full, four months later.

JFLA’s raison d’etre might have changed little since its inception, but the organization has grown up considerably, especially in the past 25 years under Meltzer’s direction. Meltzer, working closely with chief operating officer Evelyn Shecter, has established 17 new programs since 1980, including student loans, loans for fertility treatments for Jewish couples and loans for women to start new businesses. In that time, JFLA’s assets have also grown more than tenfold.

"The agency is now much more a part of the Jewish mainstream than it ever was," JFLA President James Kohn said. "We’re better known, have more contacts in the community and more publicity."

In addition to pictures and press clippings, the exhibit features personal stories of JFLA loan recipients. In 1926, a Mrs. Goldberg, for instance, took out the first of 16 loans that the widowed mother of nine needed to survive. Among other things, the money went toward buying supplies for peddling, paying taxes, business school tuition for one of her daughters and food and clothing during the holidays. The loans allowed the Goldberg clan to stay off welfare.

A more recent case history in the exhibit describes the plight of a Soviet immigrant named Valentine, who arrived in Los Angeles without any family. Through a friend, she met the manager of a beauty salon who promised Valentine a job if she completed cosmetology school. There was only one problem; she had no money. JFLA loaned her the money that allowed her to graduate and land a job at the salon. Later, the agency gave her a second loan so she could pay the security deposit for her own apartment.

Over the years, JFLA showed an ability to adapt to societal change. To address the needs of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis and immigrating to the United States, Free Loan groups nationwide established the Business Advisory Council in 1940. The new outfit made loans to immigrants in Southern California and elsewhere to open businesses, including cigar stands, service stations and manufacturing plants, according to the exhibit.

As a nonsectarian group, JFLA has long assisted non-Jews. In 1957, the Bureau of Indian Affairs penned a letter of appreciation to the group for having helped Native American families moving to Los Angles get on their feet.

Looking forward, Meltzer said he would like to expand the student and small business loan programs to meet growing demand. He would also like to increase the endowment for a program that makes loans for bar mitzvahs, Jewish weddings and other communal needs.

"We want to maintain Jewish continuity," Meltzer said. "If we don’t do it, who will?"

The exhibit will be at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, Sept. 8-22, and Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, Sept. 22-Oct. 6. Additional dates and places for the exhibit will be announced soon. The exhibit’s final stop will be Nov. 7 at the St. Regis Hotel in Century City to commemorate JFLA’s centennial celebration.

For more information on the organization’s 100th anniversary dinner, call (323) 761-8830.

Spy vs. Spy


Over the past few weeks, as the anniversary of Sept. 11 approached, the FBI and the Department of Justice, along with investigative reporters at CBS, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, have focused their resources on what they must figure is a real threat to American security: the folks at AIPAC.

"Israel Has Long Spied on U.S., Say Officials" screamed a front page Sept. 3 headline by Times’ writers Bob Drogin and Greg Miller.

The article played catch-up to a report on CBS that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobbying group, is the focus of an ongoing federal investigation. According to the news reports, an indictment was imminent against lower-level Pentagon analyst official Larry Franklin for passing confidential documents regarding America’s Iran policy to two AIPAC officials, who then funneled them to the Israelis.

In June the Pentagon revoked Franklin’s security clearances, and the FBI has been tracking two AIPAC Iran analysts, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman. I suppose that’s just in case they try to enroll in flight school.

What is going on here?

No one I’ve spoken with believes this purported investigation will uncover serious wrongdoing. That’s not to say no one may have crossed lines, lines that are often blurry to begin with. The office of Doug Feith, the undersecretary of Defense for Policy, is under at least two separate investigations that don’t concern Israel, as is the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, which was responsible for some of the dubious intelligence regarding pre-invasion Iraq. But as for the Franklin investigation, a Washington investigator told me, "We’re not even close to Jonathan Pollard territory here."

All along, the seriousness of the charges and the way they unfolded doesn’t square. If AIPAC were really the target of a two-year government investigation approved by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, wouldn’t it have been radioactive by now? Would Rice herself have spoken to the group several times last year, and maintain her commitments to speak to it again in the coming months? Would she have allowed her boss, President Bush, to speak to AIPAC’s annual meeting on May 10? And would members of both parties have swamped AIPAC events in New York and Washington?

Is this affair about some nefarious pro-Israel spy ring that reaches from the Century Plaza AIPAC banquets to the halls of Congress to the neocons at the Pentagon to the White House? Or are the accusations volleys in a turf war over administration policy in the Middle East, from Israel to Iraq to Iran? The administration’s weak and incoherent Iran policy has pitted the State Department and CIA against the Department of Defense, and leaking a spy story is one way to discredit the latter. There is plenty of fault to be found with administration neocons, but smearing them with insinuations of dual-loyalty hurts Israel and American Jewry as a whole.

In all this, the press has been a willing accomplice. The Sept. 3 Los Angeles Times article lacked only a photo of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg to make it more sensational. The damning headline rested — if you read through the piece — on a few unnamed officials. Other than printing some pro-forma Israeli denials, the writers don’t bother to investigate the details of the accusations themselves. It’s Swift Boat Veterans for Truth-style journalism: print the accusations, let others sort out the truth. Meanwhile, the looney left and Buchanan right go off on an Internet posting binge of anti-Israel conspiracy theories.

The Los Angeles Times piece offers no context — zero — as to what kind of spying other allies engage in, or to what extent the United States does the same. It doesn’t detail the harm — if any — to America’s security that such a vast network may have caused. And, like any good spy information, it self-destructs toward the end: The unnamed former officials say, "The relationship with Israeli intelligence is as intimate as it gets," and "They probably get 98 percent of everything they want handed to them on a weekly basis." So Israel and AIPAC have an intensive, politically suicidal, ongoing spy network against Israel’s life-sustaining ally in order to snag that extra 2 percent?

Franklin has not been charged yet, but there are reports indictments are forthcoming. They are expected to be minor. But they will cast a major pall on the operations of an organization that has been critical to Israel’s well-being. I’ve often disagreed with AIPAC when it has appeared to act as a hand puppet in the lap of Israeli governments whose policies sometimes defied logic or decency. Even then I know it has sometimes served as a truth-telling intermediary to Israeli prime ministers who needed to face difficult facts.

In Los Angeles, home to a financially and politically active network of AIPAC supporters, no one is even thinking of jumping ship. That would change in a heartbeat if what looks like reporters getting spun turns out to be bona fide espionage.

"It would be a dealbreaker," said one AIPAC supporter, who preferred to go unnamed.

In the meantime, we can only hope the folks at State, the FBI and the press are working as hard to uncover our enemies as they are to discomfit our friends.