Jewish organizations mostly at ease with Obama appointees

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Barack Obama’s “team of rivals” is turning into a collection well known to the Jewish community, which should comfort those who expressed apprehension about who the president-elect would appoint to his Cabinet.

Obama is fulfilling pledges he made during a grueling election campaign by reaching out to notables in both parties with deep wells of experience.

While Obama has yet to announce his foreign policy team formally — he publicized his economic team Monday — a welter of leaks has lined up U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as secretary of state and former NATO commander Gen. James Jones as his national security adviser.

Some Jewish observers are uneasy over who might prevail in a rivalry between Clinton, who is seen as pro-Israel, and Jones, about whom some Jewish observers have expressed reservations.

Steve Rosen, the former AIPAC foreign policy chief who now writes a blog hosted by the Middle East Forum, has raised concerns about Jones that have redounded in the conservative Jewish world through e-mails. Rosen’s piece on Jones was titled “Jones to be National Security Adviser; wrote harsh report on Israel.”

Condoleezza Rice, the current secretary of state, added Jones last year to her team of generals monitoring the “road map” peace plan launched by President Bush in 2003. Jones reportedly wanted to publish a report that was harshly critical of Israel’s failure to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian security force and to allow more freedom of movement for the Palestinians.

But the report, which was never published, also was tough on the Palestinian force, expressing doubts about its readiness to meet Israeli expectations that it would contain terrorism. And in public forums and as NATO’s commander in chief, Jones has been friendly to Israel and its regional security concerns.

As for Clinton, her deep ties to the pro-Israel community date back to her days as the first lady of Arkansas, when she gained an admiration for the Jewish nation after introducing Israeli early childhood programs in Arkansas.

She endured some criticism from pro-Israel groups while her husband was president — for her infamous embrace of Yasser Arafat’s wife and for being a stalking horse for Palestinian statehood, floating the idea without President Clinton’s administration formally proposing it — but as a U.S. senator Clinton has been solidly pro-Israel, emphasizing the need for Palestinians to temper incitement against Israel as a precondition for peace.

Her likely deputy will be James Steinberg, a deputy national security adviser under President Clinton. Deputy secretaries of state often serve as day-to-day point men in dealings with the Middle East, and Steinberg’s record is reassuring to the pro-Israel establishment. He has advocated an increased role for Arab states in helping to create conditions for a Palestinian state, long the position of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Some in the pro-Israel community have expressed concerns about others who might make it into Obama’s inner circle, noting that after the election it emerged that Obama had been speaking frequently with Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to the first President Bush who supports making eastern Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state and advocates putting an international peacekeeping force in the West Bank.

In an Op-Ed column in the Washington Post of Nov. 21, Scowcroft argued in favor of those positions in a piece that was co-authored by Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser and a longtime critic of the pro-Israel lobby.

But Steven Spiegel, a UCLA political scientist who advises the Israel Policy Forum, said the fact that Scowcroft and Brzezinski felt they needed to make their case in a newspaper rather than privately to Obama demonstrates that they don’t have the president-elect’s ear when it comes to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

“If Scowcroft was sure the president-elect was on his side, he wouldn’t be taking this public,” Spiegel said.

Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Obama’s deliberative style means that he’s unlikely to press Israel into an accelerated peace process, especially with Hamas terrorists still controlling the Gaza Strip and making a comprehensive deal unworkable.

“He’s very pragmatic, during the campaign and in his appointments,” Reich said of Obama. “For those who want him from day one to put two feet in the peace process, it’s not going to happen. It’s going to be deliberate; nothing’s going to happen overnight.”

Obama’s emphasis will be the economic crisis, Spiegel said. On foreign policy, he said, Obama is deliberatively choosing people who will have the independence to handle the international stage, but without drama: Clinton as diplomat, Jones as a tough-minded coordinator.

“What these appointments suggest to me is that he’s got to solve his economic problems first and foremost,” Spiegel said.

It was “ridiculous” to worry about Jones, he said, with a Cabinet that includes Clinton and a White House that has as senior advisers Rahm Emanuel and David Axelord — both of whom are deeply pro-Israel.

Meanwhile, Obama’s domestic choices have been widely praised among Jewish groups.

The United Jewish Communities federation umbrella organization has issued several news releases hailing Obama’s appointments, including the selection of former Sen. Tom Daschle as secretary of Health and Human Services and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as chief of Homeland Security.

By contrast, over the past several years the UJC criticized the Bush administration for starving federal entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Obama also pledged during the campaign to move away from Democratic Party dogma when it comes to church-state issues, favoring, for instance, vouchers for families who send their children to private schools, including parochial schools.

The Jewish community is divided on the voucher issue and is waiting to see what Obama’s education appointments augur.

However, the Orthodox Union already has praised two appointments announced Monday to the White House’s Domestic Policy Council: The incoming director of the council, Melody Barnes, and her deputy, Heather Higginbottom, are both former Senate staffers who helped author legislation protecting religious rights in the work place and in federal institutions.

Q & A With Rabbi Steven Burg

After five years working as the National Council of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) West Coast regional director, 32-year-old Rabbi Steven Burg is heading back to New York with his wife and children, following his appointment as national NCSY director.

Burg has managed to turn NCSY around with his implementation of the Jewish Student Union (JSU) and tapping into 1,000 of the Jewish community’s best resources: its high school-age children

NCSY has been in operation for approximately 50 years and was designed to provide Jewish teenagers with programming that would connect them with their heritage and stem the tide of assimilation.

Once targeted specifically at yeshiva students, NCSY now reaches out to unaffiliated youth, while extending its reach to Israel with similar programs there.

NCSY is divided into 12 regional chapters across the United States and Canada. Local chapters are usually established in synagogues to reach out to teens in the community. It’s only in Los Angeles, as a result of Burg’s initiative, that NCSY reaches out to teenagers in public schools.

The Jewish Student Unions he started meet during lunch, where students get kosher pizza. They also meet guest speakers from various Jewish organizations or hold discussions on Jewish topics. There also are games and other activities with a Jewish bent

Outside of school and after school, JSU sponsors ski trips, Friday night gatherings and an annual trip to New York City. JSU students also participate in community events, including Super Sunday and Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations.

Burg spoke with The Journal about what he’s already accomplished in Los Angeles, and what he now hopes to accomplish with the Jewish youth throughout the country.

Jewish Journal: In five short years you shifted NCSY’s focus from yeshiva youngsters to unaffiliated ones. What made you think that this was the way to go?

Rabbi Steven Burg: Any Jew today that can go to sleep and not be upset about the assimilation of the Jewish people and the rate of intermarriage, well, I just don’t understand it, or why people are sitting on their hands and doing nothing.

All we [NCSY] do is bring pizza into public schools. Last year, I spent $30,000 on pizza, and it was the best money I spent. I don’t know where the money from Jewish organizations is going, but it’s not going to [connecting with] the unaffiliated. The entire community has blinders on.

JJ: But because it operates under the umbrella of the Orthodox Union, NCSY is to all intents and purposes an Orthodox organization. Your goal isn’t to turn the youngsters into Orthodox Jews?SB: No. We know that’s impossible. Of course, I’d be thrilled if some of them became Orthodox, but we just want them to do something Jewish, anything.

I don’t care what it is. Even if it’s being pro-Israel. The average kid in public school couldn’t even point out Israel on a map. Everyone is talking about anti-Semitism, but all these kids who are acting as human shields in Gaza are our kids, Jewish kids.

JJ: Why do you think that is?

SB: Because we didn’t educate them. It’s our fault. We [NCSY] bring in Israeli soldiers into the [school] clubs, because to many of these kids, they see Israeli soldiers as 6-foot Nazi thugs. But then they see these 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids, and then something clicks, and they start to get attuned to what’s going on.

JJ: So what will be your biggest challenge as national director?

SB: Our biggest challenge, in general, is to try as best as we can to change the Jewish people’s perspective on the assimilation problem. Specifically, my job is to get the community to pay attention to high school kids and to raise funds.

JJ: So has your work in Los Angeles been successful?

SB: Well, when we started JSU [we] targeted 1,000 public school kids…. No one had ever done that before. There had been small programs but not the size it is today. But we can’t rest on our laurels. There are 30,000 unaffiliated high school kids in L.A. We have to go out and get those other 29,000. There are so few resources going out to unaffiliated Jews in L.A.

JJ: Why?

SB: I think that the Jewish people as a whole are focused on the affiliated — the 10 to 15 percent. In the meantime, 85 percent walk out the door. Every 10 years we’ll do a population study and see how everyone’s intermarrying and leaving, and everyone’s going to freak out for a year and then fall asleep for another nine years. And that’s traditionally what’s been going on.

JJ: But you obviously believe something can be done about it. What do you feel needs to change?

SB: The truth is we all suck at outreach. Everyone concentrates on the synagogues, which are 5 or 10 percent of the Jewish population. I can tell you where 99 percent of the 13- to 17-year-old unaffiliated Jewish population is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day. They’re all sitting in school. And the synagogue-based youth group model is not effective anymore. What is effective is a school-based youth model.

JJ: Would you say that is what has made NCSY so successful?

SB: Yes. It’s because we are extraordinarily focused on ninth- to 12th-grade kids. Getting the kids at college level isn’t early enough. We’ve been asked to do collegiate programs, but we have found a niche, and it’s a niche no one else is tackling. I’d love to be in a situation where we have to fight to get into a public school to have first crack at the kids, but there’s no one [else] out there.

JJ: Why not?

SB: Groups like [Conservative] USY [United Synagogue Youth] and [Reform] NIFTY [North American Federation of Temple Youth] are heavily synagogue based. They can’t necessarily take on unaffiliated kids.

We have a great relationship with these organizations, but it’s frustrating that they can’t go into the public schools, because they are bound by their synagogues. The new national director of BBYO [B’nai B’rith Youth Organization] is very open to this [programming] but they have budget problems.

JJ: But don’t you also have plans to do outreach in synagogues?

SB: Yes. I believe that synagogues should set aside 5 to 10 percent of their budgets for outreach, so that an unaffiliated person can walk into a synagogue and feel comfortable. And right now, I don’t feel that’s the case. I feel that a lot of synagogues, particularly in L.A., suffer from country club syndrome.

JJ: You clearly have strong leadership skills. Do you think that’s something inherited or learned?

SB: I’m a big believer in God giving people certain gifts. And you have to identify what they are and use them for the greater good. I did terribly in school. I drove my parents insane.

But this is one of the things I can do. If I’ve been successful, it’s because I know what I’m bad at. I’m terribly disorganized, so I employ people who are really good at organizing. I’m also blessed with a great wife; she’s amazing.

JJ: Who else do you admire?

SB: Rabbi Steven Weil at Beth Jacob synagogue. And Rabbi Meyer May, executive director at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. I can always go to them with questions. And also a tremendous number of lay people here in L.A. who have been supportive when no one else was listening.

JJ: Five years ago, NCSY was rocked to its foundations when then-director Rabbi Baruch Lanner was convicted of sexual abuse. How is NCSY faring these days?

SB: I think the scandal was a really good wake-up call not only for us but also for the entire community. And I think one of the reasons that it’s no longer such a big issue today is that 75 percent of today’s regional directors — including myself — were not here during that scandal. So it’s a very different crowd today.

And the other good thing is that it’s made us make sure everything is constantly in order. As a result, we have audits on a regular basis. In addition, we have an ombudsman and a 1-800 number. So if something happens, people can call an independent third party. We have a proper procedure in place now for complaints. And all our advisers go through training now.

JJ: You will be officially moving to New York at the end of the summer. Do you plan to still spend time on the West Coast?

SB: Definitely. The West Coast will always be a priority. For a long time, we were overlooked. There are 1.3 million Jews on the West Coast. San Francisco’s probably the sixth or seventh largest Jewish population, and there’s not a lot going on up there. We put people in Palo Alto and Oakland for the first time.

JJ: So what will you miss the most about Los Angeles?

SB: The wonderful people here … and the weather.


The Circuit

Chaverim Simcha

Four members of Chaverim, a social program for adults with developmental disabilities celebrated their bar/bat mitzvahs at Valley Beth Shalom. Karen Cook, Cindi Rothstein, Ron Corn and Stephen Wise didn’t have the opportunity to partake in the Jewish ritual at the traditional age of 12 or 13. Now in their 30s, the members trained under Rabbi Sara Berman and Rabbi Sharon Gladstone in preparation for the Torah reading. Directed by Dr. Amy Gross under the auspices of the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, Chaverim organizes social events from dances to Shabbat dinners.

For more information, e-mail the Chaverim at . — Leora Alhadeff, Contributing Writer

Academic Honors

Magnanimous Los Angeles is sharing its prodigious brainpower with other less cerebrally fortunate cities. Tarzana resident David Tabari, 18, was selected to receive San Francisco State University’s most distinguished academic award for freshmen, the Presidential Scholar, which is worth some $17,000 over four years. Tabari, who comes from a family of Iranian refugees will major in molecular biology and plans to move to Israel and build a children’s hospital there.

And in Philadelphia, the American Academy for Jewish Research recently elected University of Judaism (UJ) professor Ziony Zevit to become a fellow. Zevit is the Distinguished Professor of Biblical Literature and Northwest Semitic Languages at the UJ, and is one of only four Southern California scholars to be elected to the academy, one of the oldest Jewish studies organizations in America.

Bronstein’s Breakthrough

If you have trouble recognizing faces, then perhaps a Technion student can help. Michael Bronstein and Raz Zur, two students from the Technion, one of Israel’s premier science universities, visited members of the Southern California Chapter of the American Technion Society at the Four Seasons Hotel on Sept. 7. Bronstein demonstrated his revolutionary facial-recognition software that he developed with his twin brother, Alexander.

Winn Win Situation

Betty Winn has been appointed the new head of school at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge. Winn, the former head of school at Los Encinos School in Encino will be responsible for providing educational leadership and direction at Heschel.

Mo Money, Mo Books

The Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles came into the dough recently, receiving two large grants. The first was $40,000 from the Library Services and Technology Act/California State Library, which will go toward providing Jewish cultural programs at the Los Angeles Public Library’s Roberston branch.

The Jewish Federation/Metro West Region provided the second grant of $12,000, which will go toward a program called The Right Book @ The Right Time that provides educators and librarians with knowledge of how to use literature for children and families facing troubling times.

Bat Yam Yum

The Hadassah Chapter of Bat Yam Daughters of the Sea held their second annual membership dinner on Sept. 10 at the home of Miriam Zlotolow, where special guest speaker Judy Gruen read excerpts from her latest humor book “Till We Eat Again.” The Bat Yam chapter was formed to attract residents from Marina del Rey, Playa del Rey and Westchester areas.

For more information, call Dorraine Gilbert at (310) 822-5250.

L.A. Law

Lawyers, judges, law professors and others involved in the legal profession converged at the St. Regis Hotel on Sept. 24 as Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was honored with the Harvey L. Silbert Torch of Learning Award at an event sponsored by the American Friends of Hebrew University (AFHU). Silbert, who passed away last year, supported Hebrew U for more than 50 years, providing scholarships and naming buildings and programs at the university.

On hand to greet the crowd were Richard Ziman, AFHU Western region chair; Peter Weil, AFHU Western region president; and Martinn Mandles, AFHU Western region vice president; Eliyahu Honig, Hebrew U’s vice president; and Dean Eyal Zamir, representing Hebrew U’s Faculty of Law.

Upon accepting the award from Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whom Kozinski clerked for, Kozinski paid tribute to his parents’ love for learning and said that Kennedy taught him “that judging is a serious business, and that there is no easy solution.”

“[Kennedy taught me] that you didn’t have to be Jewish to be a mensch,” he said. “But you can’t be a good judge, and you certainly can’t be a great judge, unless you are a mensch.”

Having an IMPACT!

What do Israeli soldiers do when the fighting is over? The Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces, a group that promotes the well being of Israeli soldiers, has instituted the IMPACT! Scholarships, which provide soldiers with the financial resources to pursue a college education once they have completed their service. To date, more than $3.5 million scholarship dollars have been raised in the United States.

Sgt. Maj. Tzahi Turman, a recipient of an IMPACT! scholarship spoke to prominent business leaders at the Four Seasons Hotel about how he benefited from the scholarship. Turman served in the navy, and is currently a student at the University of Haifa, where he studies law and economics.

“The moral and financial support Jews in America provide [to] soldiers during their military service and after is a tremendous boost to our moral and our overall readiness,” Turman told the crowd. “Your caring means the world to us.”

The Circuit

Juniors Rule!

Rachel Firestone and Michel Grosz, both juniors at Milken Community High School, were among the 26 teenagers across North America to receive 2003 Bronfman Youth Fellowships that entitled them to spend five weeks in Israel this summer. Firestone and Grosz were chosen from 197 applicants. The fellowships were started by Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress.

Ladies First

AMIT Los Angeles Council held its annual Mother and Daughter Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. The event was co-chaired by Gertrude Fox and Janice Fox-Kauffler. (From left) Sondra Sokal, AMIT national president; honoree Renee Firestone; presenter, Oscar-winning movie producer Branko Lustig (“Gladiator,” “Schindler’s List”); and honoree Klara Firestone.

Kol Rockin’

Congregation Kol Ami, West Hollywood’s Reform synagogue, honored Howard Bragman, Marianne Lowenthal and Steve Tyler at a Beverly Hilton gala. (Back row, from left) Rabbi Denise Eger, Alexandra Glickman, Bruce Vilanch, Andrew Ogilvie and Cary Davidson. (Front row, from left) Judith Light, Lowenthal, Tyler and Bragman.

Garden Groove

(From left) Marilyn Ziering; Hanna Khoury, AICF violin scholarship recipient; and Janet and Max Salter. AICF is a privately funded financial supporter for talented Israeli youngsters and cultural institutions.

The America-Israel Cultural Foundation’s (AICF) Los Angeles Chapter held its annual fundraising event at a Beverly Hills garden party and dinner in honor of Max and Janet Salter.

East Coast Represents

Rabbinical students Michoel Lerner, 21, of Brooklyn, and Shmuel Cohen, 20, of Montreal, spent three weeks at a Chabad center in Thousand Oaks training to distribute Jewish resources.

Heavy Medals

A scene from Aviva’s 2003 Triumph of the Human Spirit Award Gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel. (From left) Honoree Wallis Annenberg, Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson and honoree and Olympic gold medalist and UCLA softball coach Lisa Fernandez.

Funky Cold Medina

Hashalom, which offers free Jewish education for children in public school, held its third annual banquet. Israeli singer Avihu Medina (“Al Tashlicheni”) and local crooner Pini Cohen performed.

Chai Note

Chai Lifeline’s 4-year-old West Coast office will now be known as the Sohacheski Family Center, in honor of benefactors Marilyn and Jamie Sohacheski. (From left) Marilyn and Jamie Sohacheski receive a plaque from Rabbi Simcha Scholar, executive vice president of Chai Lifeline, and Randi Grossman, West Coast regional director.

Boat Trip

Some 75 singles strapped on their sea legs for Aish Los Angeles’ sunset cruise aboard the RegentSea, one of FantaSea Yacht Club’s sailing vessels. The four-hour Marina del Rey cruise featured games and a dinner under the stars.

Ink Tank

This year, Jewish journalism’s big night took place in our own backyard — make that backlot.

The Grill at Universal Studios served as backdrop for the American Jewish Press Association (AJPA) annual conference’s 2003 Awards Banquet, where the prestigious Simon Rockower Awards were presented. This was the first Los Angeles visit of the AJPA conference, with The Journal welcoming 140 editors and journalists — representing Jewish newspapers nationwide — to the Beverly Hilton for industry-related symposiums.

“It’s been a wonderful year,” said Mark Arnold, the newest publisher of the 26-year-old Jewish Journal of North of Boston.

The conference offered some charged discussions. Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman moderated “Screen Shots: Pop Culture, Hollywood and The Jews,” a lively exchange between entertainment industry liaison Donna Bojarsky; screenwriter Andrea King; Endeavor Agency partner and former Jewish Federation Entertainment Division Chair David Lonner; and “Sex & The City” creator Darren Star. Panelists discussed the paradoxal tightrope of working in a Jewish-built, Jewish-dominated business that tends to shun Jewish culture in favor of other ethnic stories.

“The Jewish community is completely separate from the Hollwyood community,” observed Bojarsky on Jewish Los Angeles’ divide.

Lonner blamed Tinseltown’s “narcissistic society” as the reason why many Hollywood Jews do not explore or support issues pertaining to Israel.

“It’s just not as important in their day-to-day world,” Lonner said. “It’s all Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.”

Star joked that Hollywood Jews are “too busy getting behind France like Woody Allen,” then observed, with seriousness, “as much as they’re Jews, they do not want to be defined by their Jewishness.”

The panel acknowledged a palpable stigma surrounding telling Jewish stories. King could see why Hollywood does not find Jews courting Jews romantic comedy fodder.

“As a writer,” she said, “I can see how it’s more interesting to have two characters on ’30-Something’ having the Christmas tree/menorah debate rather than two people making latkes together.”

A Jewish-Latino relations panel found writer Gregory Rodriguez walking his Jewish audience through issues affecting Latinos via the prism of the Mexican American immigrant experience. Beginning with the mestizo (“mixed heritage”) origins of Mexicans, Rodriguez compared and contrasted his group with the Jewish community.

“Jews are the most highly organized ethnicity in America,” he said, before expressing his frustration with polite, pro forma Jewish-Latino dialogues, and Los Angeles’ Jewish elite as power players reluctant to own up to its profound socio-political influence.

“If we can’t discuss Jews honestly,” he said, “that does a disservice to everybody.”

Jewish Telegraphic Agency Editor Lisa Hostein presided over the Rockowers with Awards Committee chair Neil Rubin. Up-and-coming comedian Joel Chasnoff kept the audience plotzing. Keynote speaker Alvin Shuster, senior consulting editor for banquet sponsor, the Los Angeles Times, was “definitely impressed by this cross section of talent.” AJPA President Aaron Cohen won the Joseph Polakoff Award and a raffle prize. Among 2003’s multiple winners was The Journal — congratulations to Managing Editor Amy Klein (“Sin”); contributing writer Gaby Wenig (“Jerusalem Mayor Visit Sparks Snub”); and Art Director Carvin Knowles, whose cover designs won first place in the “Excellence in Illustration” category.

A Buttons-Down Affair

Comedian and Oscar-winning actor Red Buttons with Ruta Lee at the annual fundraiser for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center support group, The Thalians, which also included Debbie Reynolds, Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor.

Students Score

Downey B’nai B’rith Lodge 1112 awarded Al Perlus scholarship awards of $50 to five outstanding area high school students: Edith Moreno of South Gate High School, Carlos Avelar of Bell High School, Juan Pasillas of Huntington Park High School, Roselyn Ithiratanasoonthorn of Downey High School and Franchesca Gonzales of Warren High School. n

Love, American Technion

A total of 44 American Technion Society supporters took part in the organization’s annual mission to Israel. Among the participants pledging a total of $6 million to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology at its Mount Carmel campus in Haifa: Inga Behr of Pasadena, Rodica and Paul Burg of Palos Verdes Estates, Chuck Levin of Beverly Hills, and Sherry Altura and Rita and Steve Emerson of Los Angeles.

Medical Mission

Dr. Lawrence Libuser of Marina del Rey was among a group of doctors and volunteer medical personnel sent on a mission to aid refugees in Ghana. The United Nations-run refugee camp has over 50,000 people, most natives of Liberia. The medical envoy will treat as many of these refugees as possible during their summer mission.

Wise Guys

Youth volunteers from the Stephen S. Wise Temple Summer Camps volunteer at the Union Rescue Mission. (From left) Lily Tash, Loren Berman and Alex Alpert.

A Syn’s Big Win

Shomrei Torah Synagogue of West Hills won the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s (USCJ) Solomon Schecter Award for Excellence. The award will be presented at a USCJ convention to be held in Dallas in October.

Bank’s Boost

From left) Dan Meiri, regional director of Bank Leumi USA-California, celebrates with Bank Leumi supporters Jan Czuker and Max Webb the American subsidiary’s second quarter upswing — a yield of $9.5 million in net income; an increase of 2.2 percent from 2002’s second quarter.

Flag Day Fete

Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary dedicated a monument with Jewish War Veterans (JWV) in honor of Flag Day. Participating (from left) Jerry King, color guard; Ralph Leventhal, past JWV department commander; Lt. Col. Rabbi Alan Lachtman of Temple Beth Torah of Temple City; Steve Rosmarin, past California JWV commander; Mark Freidman, CEO of Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary; California JWV Commander Odas Flake; and Mel Margolis, color guard.


Donors Gary (far left) and Karen Winnick (second from right) congratulate the first researchers to receive the Winnick Family Clinical Scholar title at the naming of the Winnick Family Clinical Research Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center: Daniel Cohn, PhD, (second from left), an expert in the genetic causes of dwarfism, bone development and short stature; and Kidney Transplant Program Director Stanley Jordan, MD, (far right). The third Winnick Clinical Scholar, human autoimmune disease specialist Sandra McLachlan, PhD, is not pictured. The Winnick Family Clinical Research Center at Cedars-Sinai is primarily engaged in translating human genome research into treatment against a gamut of diseases, including cancer and heart disease.

Stepping In

It’s official: on June 11, representatives of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) announced the appointment of Amanda Susskind as the new Pacific Southwest regional director.

"This has been a very energizing and close project between the leadership in Los Angeles and in the national office," said Ann Tourk, ADL associate director for regional operations. "We are looking forward to her [Susskind] stepping into the role."

Susskind, 45, is an attorney with a background in public policy. Her most recent position was with the law offices of Weston, Benshoof, et. al. in Los Angeles, specializing in environmental law. During her tenure at her previous firm, Richards, Watson & Gershon, she served as city attorney on a contract basis for the cities of Hidden Hills, Agoura Hills and Diamond Bar. Prior to that, Susskind was a senior deputy counsel for L.A. County, drafting and lobbying for legislation on the county’s behalf. In 2000, she ran for the 42nd District Assembly seat, narrowly losing to former West Hollywood City Councilman Paul Koretz.

Susskind’s work in the Jewish community includes nearly a decade on The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Legislative Committee and two years with the Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee’s policy cabinet. She also participated in policy conferences for the American Israel Political Action Committee. The directorship will be her first involvement with the ADL.

"I went to law school to go into public service, so this is a very natural fit for me," Susskind said. "I also had the great fortune of having a long career as deputy counsel and there are a lot of similarities in the way government works and the way service- and community-oriented nonprofit organizations work. For me, the challenge will be the learning curve and getting up to speed on all the wonderful things the ADL is doing."

Sources at the ADL said the selection process was a long and arduous one, coming nearly six months after the abrupt dismissal of David Lehrer, the ADL’s previous western regional director. For much of that time, morale throughout the Los Angeles branch of the organization has been low and confidence in the region’s relationship with the New York office even lower. There was even talk at one point of a split between the two, although it was clear from early on that such plans would never have gained widespread support.

Now, looking toward the future, lay leaders feel confident that Susskind, who takes over as director on July 15, will be able to restore balance and harmony to both the L.A. office and its relationship with the ADL’s headquarters in New York.

"We were looking for someone who could think outside the box, someone who possessed the ability to meet some very critical and unusual challenges both locally and nationally," said Judge Bruce Einhorn, the outgoing chair of the ADL’s San Fernando Valley board and a member of the organization’s national commission who served on the selection committee. "We were also looking for someone with local sensibilities and knowledge and a deep understanding of the Southern California community, someone who could hit the ground running. Amanda largely represents all those qualities. She has a genuine passion for the work that is infectious."

The new director will need that sort of confidence from her troops. The job entails running one of the national organization’s most lucrative offices, serving the second-largest Jewish population in the United States, along with two "outposts," one in the San Fernando Valley and another in Santa Barbara.

"It’s a challenging job, but it comes with a lot of rewards," said Lehrer, adding that he wished the new director all the best in her new position.

Susskind’s predecessor said he has moved on to a project he hopes will also make a positive mark on the L.A. scene

"I am in discussions with USC about a new organization called commUNITY advocates which will deal with issues of diversity, tolerance and creating common ground for the people of Los Angeles," he said.

Einhorn said the selection process was an opportunity to move past the difficulties of the past months since Lehrer’s dismissal and begin a new chapter.

"We [the Los Angeles committee] had enormous input and did not feel pressured or unduly influenced by anybody outside the region," he said. "We’re very comfortable with our choice. We didn’t want a general who waits to see where his army goes so he can follow them; we needed a general who could lead his army in a time of great challenge. Amanda has that combination creativity and experience. I have no doubt the ADL will be well served by her."