Federations and Israeli leaders converge on L.A.


The 75th annual General Assembly (GA) of United Jewish Communities, which begins Sunday and continues through Wednesday, will feature prime ministers, award-winning journalists and celebrated academics, among the nearly 4,000 Jewish leaders expected to attend.

But the event’s biggest star will be Israel, a country nearly 8,000 miles away.

This year’s theme is “Together on the Frontline: One People, One Destiny,” which is meant to suggest the connectedness of Israelis and Diaspora Jews, as well as their shared concerns about Israel and the Jewish people. The most prominent Israeli officials are expected to appear, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni; Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog; Education Minister Uli Tamir; and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

The spotlight will also shine, to a lesser extent, on the local Jewish community and the city of Los Angeles, which is hosting the conference for the first time in 26 years.

An estimated 750 local volunteers have signed up to work the GA, and several prominent Jewish leaders, including West Coast Chabad head Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, talk show host Dennis Prager and Jewish World Watch co-founder Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, are slated to speak. To get a flavor of Jewish Los Angeles, tours are planned for the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance and the Skirball Cultural Center. The Federation will also co-host a concert of Jewish music at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Nov. 13.

“People are really pumped and excited about showing L.A. off as a world-class city and as a center of Jewish life,” said John Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, who will join Schulweis and American Jewish World Service Executive Director Ruth Messinger in a session about the genocide in Darfur.

The conference will be staged at the Los Angeles Convention Center downtown and is among the largest Jewish events in North America. In the aftermath of the summer’s conflicts, it will focus on all things Israel: the future of the Jewish state, its enemies, its relations with the Diaspora and the way that Israel is perceived on college campuses, among many other subjects.
Session topics include: “Israel on the North American Campus”; “What’s Next for Israel and the Palestinians?”; “Iran: What Are the Options?”; “Anti-Zionism as the New Anti-Semitism”; and “The Israel Economy: Investing in Israel Today.”

“There’s a greater need for the people of North America to connect with Israel and for the people of Israel to connect with North America,” said Michael Kotzin, the GA’s lead consultant for Israel programming and executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

Originally, the GA had been planned with a lighter theme, “Be With The Stars,” a reference both to the glitz and glam of Hollywood and to the Jewish big-wigs expected to attend the event. However, the war against Hezbollah and Hamas changed all that.

As a reflection of North American Jews’ concern about Israel, the United Jewish Communities’ (UJC) Israel Emergency Campaign has raised nearly $350 million since its creation in July. Equally important, Kotzin said, the Middle East crisis has reminded American Jews of their deep concern for the Jewish state. For Israelis, the Diaspora’s heartfelt reaction to their suffering has made them more appreciative of their special relationship with American and other Jews, he added.

Kotzin anticipates that the GA will inspire North American federation leaders to increase the number of missions to the Jewish state and to support new programming there. Given American Jews’ response to Israel’s difficulties this summer, he said, communal executives might raise more money in future annual campaigns by spotlighting how communal charitable dollars support overseas programming in Israel.

GA participants will discuss issues other than Israel during the four-day conference, including Jewish education, Ethiopian Jewry, ways to reach young philanthropists and the challenges facing Jews in the former Soviet Union. Non-Israel sessions include: “Working to Save Darfur,” “The Jewish Advocacy Agenda in Canada,” “What to Do When the Bucks Stop,” and “Connect to a Career with Meaning, Connect to Federation.”

The UJC represents 155 federations and 400 independent communities across North America. All events, including the concert at Disney Hall, are open to registered delegates and volunteers only.

“All of us will return home with new approaches, tools and inspiration for engagement, leadership and community building,” UJC Chair Robert Goldberg said.

For more information, visit www.ujc.org.

Yeladim


Days of Smiles, Days of Tears

We know that Adar is a month of great joy. But there is one day, the 7th of Adar, which falls this year on March 18, when we take a small break from joy. On this day, Moses was born; he died on this day exactly 120 years later, but his burial place is unknown. Some Jews fast on this day.
Linking Jewish present to past, Israel has instituted a public memorial ceremony on this day for soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces who have not yet been brought to burial (the unknown soldier). This annual memorial takes place at Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem.

Wonderful Women

March 8, was International Women’s Day. Who are these famous Jewish women?

1. She was born in Jerusalem in 1981 and moved to New York, but paid a visit to the planet Naboo. 2. She was born Oct. 29, 1971, with the last name of Horowitz. 3. She was born in Russia, moved to Wisconsin and then made the Holy Land her home.

Purim is just around the corner!

Send Purim baskets this Sunday, March 20, at 2pm, at the Zimmer Museum.
Fill them with candies and hamentaschen!
Give them to your friends (and save a few hamentaschen for yourself).

Jewish Sportsmen?! No Joke


Why sit home and watch “SportsCenter” on TV when you can take part in a local sports highlight?

On Sunday, June 6, the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame will hold its annual induction banquet. Yes, there are enough extraordinary Jewish sportsmen and women in the Southland for a hall of fame. So wear your tux, but leave your Jewish sports jokes at the door.

To be held at the JCC at Milken, the black-tie optional affair will feature a silent auction and kosher dinner. The event will honor athletes, coaches, media personnel, officials and executives who have made significant contributions to the wide world of sports. Inductees are nominated by the public and selected by the Hall of Fame board of directors.

“We’re proud of this year’s inductees. They’ve each played an important role, not just in the sports community, but in the Jewish community,” said board member Jeff Marks.

The 2004 inductees include:

Sheldon Andrens (USC and silver glove-winning minor league baseball player), Jerry Simon (pro basketball player in Israel, earned college and Maccabiah honors), Anne Barber (world, national and Maccabiah lawn bowling champion), Bill Caplan (renowned boxing publicist and promoter), Dr. Ira Pauly (UCLA football star) and Bobby Frankel (Eclipse Award-winning, multichampion racehorse trainer).

Others are Stan Cline (celebrated sports artist), Marc Dellins (UCLA sports information director and associate athletic director), Derrick Hall (former Los Angeles Dodgers senior vice president of communications), Steve Hartman (radio and television sports reporter and host), Barry Lorge (former San Diego Union sports columnist and editor, named Tennis Writer of the Year), Ken Schwartz (national and Maccabiah fast-pitch softball champion) and Dara Torres (nine-time Olympic medal swimmer).

Also included: Stacy Margolin (Potter) (ranked college, national and world tennis player-turned coach), Carl Earn (top junior tennis star, pro player and head pro at Hillcrest Country Club), Richard Perelman (track and field event manager, reporter and statistician, ran press operations for 1984 Olympics) and Leland Faust (high school, college and Maccabiah water polo and swimming champion, currently in sports management).

The 2004 Pillar of Achievement award will be given to Dana and David Pump (owners of Double Pump basketball camps and clinics) and posthumously to Bill Libby (sports biographer, reporter and national Magazine Sportswriter of the Year).

Harvard-Westlake senior and school paper editor Steve Dunst will receive the Alan Malamud Scholarship for sportswriting. Dunst will study communications at Cal next year. Taft High School point guard and UCLA basketball recruit Jordan Farmer will be named Jewish High School Athlete of the Year.

In addition to sponsoring the JCC at Milken’s permanent Hall of Fame exhibit, the organization is in the process of creating a traveling exhibit to be displayed in local synagogues. The Hall of Fame also supports the World Maccabiah Games in Israel, JCC Maccabi Youth Games, Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles’ sports programs, as well as the Malamud scholarship.

“We look to support programs that use sports as a vehicle to build a Jewish identity in our community,” Marks said. “We’re always looking to form new partnerships and identify additional programs we can help.”

For more information on, go to

Book Month Sparks Literary Landslide


Last year, when Leonard Lawrence learned that the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) had to cancel its annual book fair as a result of restructuring within the organization, he vowed to not let it happen again.

"We saw it as a challenge that Mount Sinai could rise up to," said Lawrence, general manager of Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries.

This year, Lawrence’s call to duty has placed the book festival back on the map with a bit of a twist. Unlike the traditional book fairs of previous years, this year’s book festival, co-sponsored by Mount Sinai and JCCGLA, will cater to children.

"We really wanted to create a niche that doesn’t currently exist," said Nina Lieberman Giladi, JCCGLA executive vice president. "There’s so much focus on literacy and the value of reading for children lately. All the feedback that I’m getting from all of our early childhood education directors is that literacy is the number one issue for parents when they’re choosing where to put their children in school."

The joint effort will take place on Sunday, Nov. 16, at Mount Sinai’s Simi Valley Memorial Park with the first ever Children’s Bookfest, which will donate $1 for every attendee to local firefighters and police officers in appreciation for their efforts during the recent wildfires. The event will feature performances by Parachute Express, the Los Angeles Children’s Museum Theatre Project and Jewish puppeteer Len Levitt. In addition there will be mezuzah and book-binding workshops and a story writing contest.

The Children’s Bookfest is one of many events scheduled in and around Los Angeles as part of the nationwide Jewish Book Month, which has been celebrated in November for more than 50 years. Recent years have seen a renaissance of Jewish book festivals, typically sponsored by a city’s Jewish community center. Larger cities like Los Angeles often have smaller festivals and book signings, rather than one large fair, said Carolyn Hessel, director of the Jewish Book Council for the national JCC Association.

"Jewish book month is growing bigger and bigger, and the enthusiasm and the amount of time and effort has grown tremendously and it shows," Hessel said.

This year, with five different programs scheduled for Jewish Book Month in the Los Angeles area, organizations from Simi Valley to the San Gabriel Valley are working to ensure that there is something available for Jews of all ages and denominations.

The most extensive book festival is being hosted by the Jewish Federation of San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys. The festival, which runs through Dec. 3, is taking place at various bookstores, synagogues and private homes from Whittier to Pasadena. It will feature 14 authors, including Jane Levy ("Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legend"), Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis ("In God’s Mirror"), Sylvia Rouss ("Sammy Spider") and Leslie Epstein ("San Remo Drive: A Novel from Memory").

"We’re a large geographic area, and you have people living in Jewish pockets," said Marilyn Weintraub, Federation assistant director. "This gives us the chance to mingle with others in the Jewish community."

Elsewhere, the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles (JCLLA) will kick off its Jewish Book Month programming on Nov. 10, with rabbi and author Adin Steinsaltz (see story, page 36), who will talk about his new book, "Opening the Tanya." Programming continues throughout the month with other authors, such as Robert A. Rosenstone (see story, page 38), and creative programming, including a music and story extravaganza at The Grove, with storyteller David Steinberg, musician Shep Rosenman and entertainer Ditza Zakai.

Library Director Abigail Yasgur said that one of the main audiences that JCLLA considered in its programming this year was young adults and teens.

"The young adult audience in libraries is sometimes a hard match," Yasgur said. "But I know that our teens read…. They’re checking things out. The teen audience is a great audience. You just have to find a way in."

Programs include young adult author Gloria Miklowitz ("The Enemy Has a Face"), Holocaust survivor and author Sonia Levitin ("Faith and Generosity") and a performance by Jewish rapper Etan G.

Promoting literacy among an even younger audience, KOREH L.A., a program that pairs volunteer "reading partners" with students in the first through third grades at public schools throughout Los Angeles, will offer three training sessions during the month (see story, page 24).

In addition to the Children’s Bookfest, Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries will stage the first Association of Jewish Libraries’ Western Regional Jewish Children’s Literature Conference in partnership with Sinai Temple. The Nov. 9 event will offer educators, librarians and aspiring authors of Jewish literature an opportunity to learn from leading writers, publishers and illustrators in the field.

The conference opens with a keynote address by Caldecott Medal recipient Eric Kimmel. Other presenters include author Jane Breskin Zalben, who will speak on "Common Threads … Writing and Illustrating Picture Books to Young Adult Fiction in the Era of 2003," and Adaire Klein, director of the library and archives at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, who will moderate a panel on "Portraying the Holocaust in Children’s Literature."

Lawrence hopes that other community institutions will follow Mount Sinai’s lead.

"I think it’s incumbent upon every community institution to share the burden of maintaining cultural events for the community," Lawrence said. "We are the people of the book, and it’s important for the Jewish community to support their authors, publishers and book sellers … specifically those that write on topics that affect the Jewish world and America in general."

Start the Sin Cycle


Here we go again: the Yom Kippur confessional is upon us, our annual alphabetical recitation of our sins and transgressions, from ashamnu to ti’tanu, from avarice to xenophobia and zealotry. The list never changes; the question it poses, somewhat tediously, is whether we have changed.

While it maybe thought useful to have a list that is basically a catchall, in which each of us can see not only the entire community but himself or herself, such a list is also problematic; too much. The longer the list, the more overwhelming it is, the less it comes as a challenge, the less we attend its components, the more we treat it as poetry rather than indictment. Pleading guilty to a poem? Our confession becomes too easy; the ritual defeats its purpose.

I would hardly write in this fashion did I not have a solution to propose, one inspired from another ancient civilization. The Chinese name each year after one of 12 animals, in an endless cycle. (This reflects a certain view of life: What goes around literally comes around.) There’s the Year of the Dog, the Year of the Snake, the Year of the Rat, the Year of the Ox and so forth.

I’m not much into animals, Chinese or zodiacal, but the notion of naming specific time periods after particular elements, be they animal, vegetable or moral, has some appeal. Might we not choose to signify each new year with a name, specifically the name of one of the classic transgressions? Think of it as a kind of “sin of the year” that would provide us as both individuals and a community some focus in the year ahead. Suppose, for example, this were to be “The Year of Cupidity,” a year in which we genuinely seek to modify our greed. Or “The Year of the Evil Tongue,” during which we’d try, really try, to avoid gossip and slander. During the run-up to a new year so designated, we’d have think tanks, synagogue committees and family circles devoted to analyzing the issue at hand and proposing methods for dealing with it. Over the course of an adult life, we’d have the opportunity to confront, in a serious way, our disposition to lie, to persecute, to counsel evil and all the rest.

Imagine: Each of us could make his or her own cheshbon nefesh (accounting of the soul), with respect to the well-publicized transgression. We could, perhaps as families, explore our motives, raise questions that might normally be thought impertinent but that now would be rendered near-mandatory by the communitywide understanding that this year, families everywhere are working their way through the issue. The burgeoning book clubs might select their books with an eye to the yearly theme. We could (and should) meet across denominational boundaries, explore Jewish sources, Jewish history, our own experiences, all with a mind to wrestling the transgression into a state of submission.

As it happens, I am especially intrigued by the prospect of a frontal assault on cupidity. Perhaps it is my own infatuation with things that renders it easier and more urgent for me to bare and then beat my breast in connection with greed — or, to make the self-criticism both easier to absorb and rather more accurate, not so much greed as simple acquisitiveness.

But in what sense is acquisitiveness a failure of the community at large, as distinguished from its component parts? One answer: Almost all our communal institutions honor and increasingly offer leadership positions only to the moneyed — some of whom merit the honor or position, many of whom do not; it is their wealth that is the necessary condition, and sometimes even the sufficient condition. Organizations once headed by devoted activists — one thinks, for example, of the American Jewish Congress — have become shameless in this regard, selling their souls along with their leadership positions. That’s a transgression worth considering, one face of avarice. (And a face of betrayal, as well.)

When the poor people of Chelm protested that only the rich could sit next to the synagogue’s east wall, the rabbis decided that henceforward, all walls of the synagogue would be known as the east wall. If, however, there were those in the congregation who wished to pay more in order to next to what was formerly knows as the east wall, that was their right. If it were only so simple!

Even the process of deciding which transgression to focus on, year by year, could prove valuable: Imagine interest groups within the community debating whether this is more timely than that; imagine debates in which idolatry is pitted against oppression. We might even devise a method of popular voting, the community as a whole selecting the sin of the year. Starting with cupidity is plainly only a suggestion. If it’s a timely “C” we want, we could as easily start with celebrity, wondering what it means and why so many of us respond to it. Or, if “A” is where to start, there’s not only “avarice,” there are also “aggression,” “abstention” (as in “indifference”), “arrogance,” and on and on, together a more than sufficient material for a lifelong course in ethical behavior, for a thoughtfully examined life — a way to be ethically challenged and be proud of it.

One small point of personal privilege: As the father of the idea, I’d like to be excused from being required to deal with my stiff-neckedness, if and when we get to that one. Thanks.


Elliot Fein teaches Jewish studies at the Tarbut V’Torah School in Irvine.

Note to AIPAC: ‘Road Map’ Is Alive


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AIPAC officials dismissed the criticism.      

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

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

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

Eighth Concert for Eight Days


Dr. Gordon and Hannareta Fishman fell for Newport Beach in
1956 while he served as a medical intern in Long Beach. The couple even
considered putting down roots until they inspected a local phone book. But
their hope turned to disappointment and shock at finding three other
opthomalogists already listed in Corona del Mar.

Four decades later in 1993, after raising a family and
building a successful practice in their hometown of Detroit, the Fishmans
abandoned their old lives to start again in retirement, returning to the beach
life for which they still hungered. Without friends, relatives or community
expectations, the couple reveled in possessing a clean slate to rewrite the
direction of their lives. “It was anything you wanted it to be,” Hannareta
Fishman said.

And Orange County’s Jewish community has not been the same
since.

Nearly single-handedly, the couple created what is now one
of the Jewish community’s most anticipated events: an annual “Chanukah Concert”
that sells out the 2,900-seat Orange County Performing Arts Center and features
12 children’s choirs and cantors from synagogues and day schools throughout the
county. The Dec. 8 performance at 2 p.m. is the concert’s eighth consecutive
year.

“I have to credit their vision with doing it on a large enough
scale for it to succeed,” said Cantor Alan Weiner, the concert’s choirmaster,
who choreographs the succession of acts with a pianist and other musicians.

The first event, however, was a near disaster. Held at Irvine’s
800-seat Barclay Theater, the overflow crowd without seats started venting
their frustration on the glass walls of the theater’s atrium. Only children
vacating their seats to spend the performance cross-legged on the stage averted
a near riot. The venue changed thereafter.

More recently, an audience of young families was scandalized
by the guest appearance by Milton Berle, who told off-color jokes. Hiring
headliners was ditched after that.

This year’s refinements include its theme, “Chanukah Rocks,”
pushing cantors to rehearse audience-energizing music, Israeli-style dancing by
students of Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School and the “10’rs,” a parody of
last spring’s “Three Jewish Tenors” performed by 10 year olds Mathew Gibbs,
Danny Busch and Adam Mann. 

The concert is a rare opportunity for young children to
experience the breadth of the county’s Jewish community and for cantors to grab
the limelight beyond the pulpit.

“We live in a Christian society. Isn’t it nice for your
children to be able to go somewhere that’s theirs?” asked Hannareta Fishman,
68, who has four adult sons and seven grandchildren.

“Before this happened, the cantors didn’t get to sing pop
songs together,” said Gordon Fishman, who opens his house for rehearsals.
“They’re so glad to see each other. They’re doing it for their community, their
synagogue and for themselves.”

Singing gives children recognition for contributing to their
community, said Herb Modelevsky, a retired pediatrician from San Clemente, who
entertains restless toddlers during the concert’s second half in a clown
outfit.

“It’s a very powerful experience,” added Cantor Arie Shikler
of Irvine’s Congregation Shir Ha Ma’alot, who will sing an original
composition, “Every Young Lion.” Motivated by performing on a professional
stage, all the children’s choirs have improved musically, he said.

During the event, the 12 cantors will perform individually
as choral groups assemble behind the curtain. This year’s cantorial repertoire
includes, “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” from University Synagogue’s Ruti
Brier; “New York, New York,” from Temple Beth El’s Shula Kalir-Merton, and a
Sephardic melody, “Yismach Moshe,” from Congregation Eilat’s Joseph Chazon.

While the Fishmans put on the concert to honor Gordon
Fishman’s parents, they and others credit it with sharpening awareness among
the county’s dispersed Jewish population, so unlike the cohesive Detroit
community.

Initially, the concert garnered a tepid reception and the
cooperation of just six synagogues. “But it had such a great impact, now
everyone subscribes,” said Frank Edelstein, a neighbor who suggested the “10’r”
parody. The concert’s only advertising is through the center’s playbill and in
newsletters of synagogues, which keep 50 percent of ticket proceeds. Last year,
they netted $20,000. “They put us in their budget,” Gordon Fishman added. “They
won’t let us quit.”

Creating Jewish community is the only remnant from the
Fishmans’ past they seem intent on replicating.

In Detroit, their country French home was so filled with
furniture that it lacked any wall space. Gordon Fishman’s pride was 28 classic
sports cars. Once their boys left home, though, whenever he wanted to take one
for a spin a dead battery would frustrate him.

Here, among the faux chateaus and Spanish-style haciendas of
Newport Beach’s Spyglass Hill, the Fishmans’ contemporary home in a titanium
white stands apart. The interior is a minimalists’ canvas, sparsely furnished
and flooded by natural light for displaying their new collecting passion:
museum-size abstract works by leading contemporary artists and sculptors.
Wall-sized canvases by Frank Stella and Robert Jessup keep company with
mesmerizing kinetic sculptures in stainless steel by George Rickey.

“When you live that life,” explained Gordon Fishman, 73,
referring to his former private practice and professional obligations, “you see
a lot of realism.” He appreciates the interpretation permitted by the abstract.
“It’s so enjoyable to live around happy paintings,” he said.

Music, though, provided the reoccurring theme in the
Fishmans’ Jewish home life, more relaxed than the modern Orthodoxy of Hannareta
Fishman’s parents. Her own children were encouraged to bring a guest to Friday
night Shabbat dinners. Afterwards, while Hannareta Fishman provided
accompaniment on the piano, the rest would open cases enough for a brass band.
Gordon Fishman played trombone.

The grown Fishman sons and their families now stretch from
San Francisco to London. Each year they assemble for a black-tie birthday bash
celebrating their cumulative birthdays and take a joint vacation.

Growing up, Gordon Fishman’s strongest Jewish connection was
playing on the intrasynagogue basketball league started by his father, a
furniture maker. In mirroring the efforts of his father, Gordon Fishman’s own
intramural concert seems a most fitting tribute.  

New Jewish Music


During Orange County’s annual “Chanukah Concert”, a corner
of Costa Mesa’s Performing Arts Center is transformed into an all-Jewish music
store featuring CDs recorded by some Reform cantors who participate in the
performance.

“They don’t have much opportunity to put their CDs up for
sale,” said Dr. Gordon Fishman of Newport Beach, who co-produces the concert
with his wife, Hannareta. She and some friends supervise sales, which this year
include works by Ruti Brier, Nancy Linder, Shula Kalir-Merton and Arie Shikler.
Also available are CDs by the Orange County Klezmers, who play at the concert
intermission.

Unlike mainstream recording artists, who count on frequent
gigs and building street credibility to win a recording and distribution
contract, the aim of these gifted artists is not about achieving commercial
success, but liturgical renewal. “The Reform litmus test is, ‘Can you sing it
in a synagogue?'” said Mark Kligman, an associate professor of Jewish
musicology at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.

“Very few are able to make money from recording,” he said,
noting that a folk artist is considered noteworthy with sales of 5,000 copies.
A rare exception is Andy Statman, who is credited with reinvigorating klezmer
music, under contract to mainstream label Sony Classical.

The cantors, like many performers still holding day jobs,
each self-produced their own recordings, though some received more help than
others. Most attempt to achieve national distribution by submitting their work
for consideration to the handful of Jewish music distributors. Distributors
receive about 300 unsolicited submissions annually, half of which are aimed at
Orthodox consumers, who by far eclipse non-Orthodox Jews in music buying,
Kligman said.

The concert audience will get a sample of the most recent
recording by Shikler, cantor of Irvine’s Congregation Shir Ha Ma’a lot. From
“Libi Ba Mizrach,” Hebrew for “My heart is in the east,” he will perform to a
reggae beat “Every Young Lion.” Onstage, as on the CD, he will be backed by the
Flying Falafel Bros., a four-man band that accompanies him for musical Shabbat
services.

The CD spans several musical styles and includes 12 numbers
from an archive of original compositions that Shikler estimates number in the
thousands. It was recorded by Irvine’s Woodland Music Productions. “It’s like a
pipe that’s open,” he explained of his music-producing flair. “Two nights ago,
I wrote four songs,” he said.

His earlier CDs, “The Torah in Song” and “Hebrew Reggae,”
are live recordings from services where the liturgy is sung to Shikler’s
arrangements.

“Most people in the Jewish world aren’t doing original
music,” said Randee Friedman, president and founder of Sounds Write Productions
Inc. of San Diego, which distributes works by 200 contemporary artists,
including New York’s Debbie Friedman and Albuquerque’s Rabbi Joe Black.

Ruti Brier, cantorial soloist with Irvine’s University
Synagogue, in May released her first CD, “Shabbat Alive,” which she co-produced
with Sam Glazer, a well-known Jewish music producer in Los Angeles. She sings
the Friday night prayers to a blend of jazz, pop-klezmer and Mideastern
melodies. Even without a distributor, 800 copies of “Shabbat Alive” have sold,
Brier said. She is considering an English-language CD next.

Nancy Linder, of Westminster’s Temple Beth Emet, recorded
“My Favorite Hebrew Songs,” and “Songs of the Jewish Spirit.” She is finishing
work in a Fountain Valley studio on a third CD, tentatively titled “Simchat
Shabbat.”

Among the lot, the most ambitious CD was made by Shula
Kalir-Merton, cantor for Aliso Viejo’s Temple Beth El. She commissioned new
compositions from Cantor Meir Finkelstein, Craig Taubman and Cantor Alan
Weiner. Its title song, “Don’t Ask Me to Leave You,” was written by the late Ami
Aloni, who was to produce the recording. The rest are well-known Israeli songs
with unusual arrangements. She recorded at a Los Angeles studio with full
orchestral arrangements.

“It was a labor of love all the way,” said Kalir-Merton, who
received financial help from an anonymous donor. “I didn’t want it to be
half-baked. I love music. It’s poetry. I wanted the magnitude of the passion to
come out.”

In two years, she has sold 500 CDs. All proceeds go to the
synagogue.

“That was my commitment to the donor. I have stuck to it
religiously,” she said.  

Suddenly Seymour


In the days when National Public Radio flagship KCRW-FM was an obscure Santa Monica College station, general manager Ruth Seymour decided to create a live Chanukah show as an alternative to Christmas programming.

It was actually a Yiddish show — feting a culture Seymour imbibed during her 1940s Bronx childhood — but during its 1978 debut, the phones went dead and stayed there.

"Honestly, I thought we’d gone off the air," she told The Journal. "Then the show ended, and the switchboard exploded for three hours. People absolutely went berserk."

Since then, Seymour’s annual Chanukah time show, "Fiddlers, Philosophers and Fools," has become a holiday institution. Jews and non-Jews tune in to hear her play folk music, 1940s pop tunes and Yiddish prose translated into English, among other fare.

There’s also a Holocaust memorial segment, which is one reason Seymour refuses to record the show. "People are angry about that," said KCRW’s visionary leader, whose parents were intellectual, immigrant leftists. "But I always wanted the program to be ephemeral. This is really a show about a culture and a way of life that was lost."

"Fiddler" helped keep the mamaloshen (mother tongue) alive in Los Angeles, according to Yiddishkayt L.A. founder Aaron Paley. Years before, the klezmer revival helped fuel a Yiddish renaissance in the late 1980s, "the only visible evidence of Yiddish for the general public here was Ruth’s show," he said.

Seymour — who attended the rigorous Sholom Aleichem "folk schools" — takes the responsibility seriously. Every year, she trudges to Hatikvah music on Fairfax Avenue to pick up and peruse scores of albums. She said keeping "Fiddlers" fresh is easier because the Yiddish revival spurred diverse CDs by young artists.

Just don’t ask her to make any other changes to the show. "It’s the most personal thing I do on the air, because it’s so redolent of my childhood and my beliefs," she said. "So either take it as it is or turn the dial." n

Jewish Survey Missing Data


Much-anticipated parts of the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) will not be released as expected next week because some of the data has been lost.

The United Jewish Communities (UJC), which is funding the $6 million study, is canceling all events pertaining to the 2000-01 NJPS at the Philadelphia gathering of its General Assembly, which begins next Wednesday.

And the UJC, the umbrella of the North American federation system, is launching an independent investigation into the lost data, JTA has learned.

“It is true we are delaying the release of the study,” Stephen Hoffman, UJC’s president and chief executive officer, said on Wednesday. “The reason is there have been some questions raised that I don’t believe we have adequate time to get answers to.”

The revelations could cast doubt on the entire NJPS, the most extensive and costliest demographic study ever conducted of the American Jewish community. The lost data apparently concerned methodological details about who was surveyed, rather than their responses to survey questions.

“Some people with serious reputations believe the study is sound and it could have gone forward and will stand up to the test of time,” Hoffman said. “That could be the case — but I didn’t feel comfortable with these questions to go forward [with releasing further NJPS data next week as planned].”

Last month, the UJC released initial findings from the NJPS, showing the American Jewish population declined 5 percent to 5.2 million since the last study in 1990, and that birth rates were dropping and the community was aging.

Hoffman said that had he known of the missing data before the release of that information, he would not have approved the release of those initial conclusions.

“There may be aspects of it [that are inaccurate],” he said, referring to the initial data released. “I don’t know.”

Hoffman said he only learned of the missing data Tuesday, one week before the information from the NJPS about Jewish identity and intermarriage was due to get released at the annual UJC gathering, which brings together much of the organized American Jewish world.

“I feel it would be irresponsible to go ahead and release the study while these questions are still unresolved,” Hoffman said.

“There will be some people who will be disappointed,” Hoffman said of the implications for the General Assembly. “I’m personally disappointed.”

But there “are other things in Jewish life,” he said that delegates will focus on.

At the heart of the mystery was that Hoffman only learned Tuesday that the firm conducting research for the NJPS, Roper Audits & Surveys Worldwide, lost some data for the study two years ago during initial telephone calls.

Meanwhile, “other issues like that have been coming up in recent days,” he added, though he declined to elaborate.

One source familiar with the NJPS said the missing data concerned lists of those people telephoned for the survey, their phone numbers and how often they were called.

Two-thirds of that data was lost, according to the source.

But the source maintained that while this information was important in determining the accuracy of the survey’s methodology, he did not think that it would undermine the ultimate conclusions, specifically those relating to Jews and Jewish identity.

“I don’t know how much has been lost,” Hoffman said. “The issue is 29 hours old. All I’ve had time to do is make the decision to not have the data be released.”

However, Hoffman said that Jim Schwartz, UJC’s director of research for NJPS, “was aware” of the missing data at some earlier point, though Hoffman said he hadn’t spoken directly with Schwartz yet about the matter. There were no plans affecting Schwartz’s position at this point, he added.

“It would be unfair to jump to conclusions about anybody’s particular role,” he said. “I’m not casting any aspersions at the moment.”

Schwartz could not be reached Wednesday for comment, despite several attempts.

After the General Assembly, the UJC will secure “an outsider” who is “totally objective” to launch an investigation into the missing information. The investigative team might include UJC staffers as well, Hoffman said. Such a probe would presumably attempt to learn exactly what information is missing, how it got lost, how significant it is, who knew about the missing information and why they did not inform senior UJC officials.

“I want to know if there are any other issues they haven’t told me about, either from staff or the technical team” or Roper researchers, Hoffman said.

June Wallach, a spokeswoman for Roper, said the company would have no comment at this time.

Hoffman said he had no idea whether the UJC would take action against Roper, which apparently lost the information from its computer system.

Several lead members of the National Technical Advisory Committee of demographers and social scientists that consulted with UJC’s staffers working on the NJPS said they were participating in a conference call Wednesday about the survey, though they declined to comment further.

Hoffman said he did not know if the co-chairs of the advisory panel, Vivian Klaff of the University of Delaware and Frank Mott of Ohio State University, knew about the missing data. Reached Wednesday, Klaff would only say he would be joining the conference call on the NJPS. Mott did not return calls.

Egon Mayer, director of the North American Jewish Data Bank at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said he had heard about the delay this week though he didn’t know the reasons for it.

“I think some very important conclusions were reached by the UJC management that led them to this decision, which I’m sure they reached very reluctantly,” he said.

Stephen Bayme, national director of contemporary Jewish life for the American Jewish Committee, said he had heard of the delay but preferred waiting until the UJC got to the bottom of the issue.

“I’d rather not have the data than have data that is mistaken,” Bayme said.

Some Talk, Lots of Action


The Council of Israeli Community (CIC), an organization primarily known for planning the annual Israeli Independence Day Festival in Los Angeles, is moving in new directions in the wake of the current Middle East crisis.

According to Vice President Haim Linder, the CIC (originally called the Council of Israeli Organizations) came together in 1996 as one arm of a nonprofit umbrella organization called the Promoting Israel Education and Culture Fund. The group adopted its current title and mission statement on Sept. 10, 2001.

“We got together at Valley Beth Shalom. At noon we went home, knowing we had a new organization, and then we all know what happened the next day,” Linder said.

Working with agencies like The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the CIC has gained a reputation for being able to quickly pull together the manpower and materials for pro-Israel rallies. The organization’s latest activities include a writer’s bureau, which sends e-mail and letters to members with information to help them respond to various media outlets’ coverage of Israel; a speaker’s bureau, and guest lecturers such as Dan Bahat, an archeology professor at Bar-Ilan University and Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman.

The group strives to make positive connections with people in the media who support Israel, including radio talk show hosts Larry Elder, Sean Hannity and Al Rantell (all of radio station KABC), and to promote Israeli cultural events, such as the Israeli Film Festival (currently taking place through April 25) and the Israel Independence Day Block Party that was held April 17 at UCLA.

In addition to its lobbying efforts, the CIC provides contacts and other support for Israeli immigrants, many of whom need help adjusting to American Jewish life. Dr. Yehuda Handelsman, a physician at Tarzana Medical Center and president of the CIC’s steering committee, says, for example, that Jews in the United States, who move from one city to another, customarily seek out a synagogue in their new area in order to connect with the Jewish community, an act that would never occur to a secular Israeli.

Handelsman said the group not only wants to help immigrant Israelis connect, but is also actively seeking donors among Israelis who have made a success of their lives in Los Angeles.

“We need to get the word out. Each time we organize a showing [rally] at the Federal Building, it costs $3,000 to $4,000 for the advertising, to get security and so on,” he said. “We have found over many years other Jewish groups ask, ‘How come Israelis don’t contribute money? How come they don’t come to events?’

“The answer is simple: they don’t know [about the need or event]. So there is a massive amount that needs to be done for education and for Israelis to learn from other groups how to become a group,” he said

The one area the organization stays away from is partisan politics. Linder points out that the CIC is unusual as a Zionist organization in that it espouses no particular bent regarding how Israel should handle the current crisis.

“We have only one thing in mind and that is supporting Israel with no strings attached,” Linder said. “We have only one country, and we can’t afford to shortchange it. We have to put our agendas aside and pull together.”

In addition to chapters of B’nai B’rith and Hadassah, about 400 families belong to the CIC. Membership costs $20 a year. The council maintains offices in Tarzana that include a meeting room available for use by the community.

For more information, call (818) 342-7241. The CIC e-mail
address is info@cicisrael.com. The CIC
writer’s bureau e-mail address is jointhewriters@cicisrael.com .

The Women of Worcester


The third annual daylong symposium sponsored by the Jewish Federation in Worcester, Mass., was titled, "A Woman’s Voice," without the slightest hint of irony. Less than a generation ago, "a woman’s voice" meant only one thing, the talmudic prohibition of Orthodox men toward hearing the sound of Jewish women in prayer.

Kol isha (a woman’s voice) was used as the legal barrier against women becoming rabbis and cantors, the excuse for exclusion.

That’s why I named this newspaper column A Woman’s Voice, to break down a wall.

There were some 100 women at the Woman’s Voice seminar at the Worcester Jewish Community Center (JCC), and many had no idea what blocks had been hurdled. Why should they? By a showing of hands, more than three-quarters of those in attendance had had a bat mitzvah, most of them as adults. They were at the JCC to refine personal skills ("winning without whining"), enhance their spirituality and celebrate themselves as part of Massachusetts’ second largest Jewish city, with its own revolutionary history.

It was an activist crowd, and many were interested in knowing how Jewish experience in transforming our own rituals could help women in Afghanistan. For a woman with a memory, attending such events can provide the thrill of the normal, to see how earlier dreams had come true.

We have come far. But that was the rub. The more I talked about women’s victories of the recent past, the more I worried about the present, not to mention the future.

Pride has its limits.

It has been clear since Sept. 11 that our children, especially our college- and high school-age youth, do not feel equipped to fight the current rhetorical and political battle on behalf of the Jewish state. My sisters in Worcester are worried, too. They confirmed it last weekend with their own family stories, so I know it’s not merely the attention deficit of those raised near Hollywood. Their sons and daughters, like those I see in Los Angeles, are not picking up the torch.

Daunted by the military challenge? Overwhelmed by the politics? Terrified by terrorism? Who knows? They should be in the heat of the debate. They are not.

Perhaps they’ve been too infused by the left-leaning equivocation of the Vietnam generation. Instead, the generation now coming into adulthood is still, politically speaking, deferring to us, their parents. These are young men and women with strong Jewish backgrounds, who have visited Israel, who date Jews. They are saying, "We are numb. Help us."

I have heard too many conversations in which parents set the agenda and state their positions. The young sit by in silence.

If you are a college-age Jewish activist, write to me. I want to understand. Meanwhile, we, the parents generation, can’t wait any longer. We must find a way to help you help us. There is so much to be done, and much of it is waiting for you.

I don’t want to remind you about the Six-Day War and how it transformed young Jews of your parents’ time. You will find your own coming-of-age experience to bind you to Israel.

In the present crisis, every Jewish event must be used for community organizing. There is no chance for downtime, to gaze at the glories of the past without energizing ourselves for the current battle.

Every luncheon must include a) an educational update on Israel; b) a letter-writing campaign to legislators urging continued support for Israel, reviving the techniques of the Soviet Jewry campaign; c) outreach to the local campus or Hillel; and d) informational material on how to talk to your children about Israel.

Let’s help the next generation gain its voice.