ZOA L.A. office in doubt

Citing budgetary pressures, the Zionist Organization of American (ZOA) will vacate the small office it has rented in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard later this month. 

The pro-Israel nonprofit exercised an opt-out clause in October, passing up the chance to renew its one-year lease on a small office space on the building’s fifth floor, for which it has paid somewhere between $800 and $1,000 each month, according to officials from ZOA and Federation. 

National Executive Director David Drimer called the move part of an effort to cut costs;  ZOA’s tax-exempt status was revoked earlier this year, and the organization is currently unable to access any new donations. 

“It’s prudent to show that we’re managing the company in a cost-conscious way, no matter what the expense,” Drimer said. 

Drimer said the decision to move the office occupied by Los Angeles Regional Executive Director Orit Arfa out of the Federation building is not yet final, but as of Oct. 29, both Drimer and Federation confirmed that no talks had begun to discuss the group’s continuing on as a tenant. “This is what happens in the office-space business,” Federation President Jay Sanderson said. 

Drimer said ZOA, which has also put its annual fundraising dinner “on hold” this year, is paring back in many ways. 

Of the five regions where ZOA has a full-time executive director, one already works from home, Drimer said, adding that cuts were being made throughout the organization, including reducing the number of students participating in the upcoming mission to Israel to 15 from the usual 24. Drimer also said that at least one ZOA staff position that has been vacant since August will remain unfilled to reduce spending. 

But whether the spirit of austerity extends to the man who has held ZOA’s top job for the past 18 years is unclear. 

According to documents shared by ZOA with the Journal, ZOA National President Morton Klein has received a total of $1.7 million in compensation from ZOA over the years 2009-2011, and could be owed as much as $1.4 million in additional deferred compensation. Asked on Nov. 2 whether Klein himself had taken any voluntary pay cuts to ease the current burden on his organization, Drimer referred the Journal directly to Klein, who Drimer said was traveling in California. 

An e-mail sent to Klein and Drimer on Nov. 2 garnered no response, and on Nov. 5, Drimer wrote in an e-mail that Klein was unwell and would not speak with the Journal. 

Arfa also declined to be interviewed. 

The austerity measures trace back to the Internal Revenue Service revocation of ZOA’s tax-exempt status in February 2012, after ZOA failed to file its required tax forms for three consecutive years. 

The 115-year-old organization filed the required forms belatedly on Oct. 31 of this year, Drimer said; for now, however, all new donations to ZOA are being redirected to a nonprofit entity that will hold the monies until ZOA’s tax-exempt status is reinstated. 

ZOA hasn’t ceased operating, though. With assets of about $6.3 million in cash and other investments and a building owned by the organization valued at $18 million, ZOA has been funding its operations with existing funds. 

“We try to prioritize, just like any company, Drimer said of the possible closing of the L.A. space. ZOA National Vice Chair Steven Goldberg, however, saw the cut as possibly an attempt by Klein to retaliate against Arfa, who has been a vocal internal critic of the organization’s handling of its loss of tax status. 

In an internal ZOA memo dated Oct. 12 obtained by the Journal, Arfa expressed significant reservations about what she said were Klein’s requests that she conceal ZOA’s lost tax status, calling such actions “unethical and disingenuous.” 

“There’s no longer any pretense by Mort Klein that he’s acting in the best interests of the ZOA,” said Goldberg, who called for Klein’s resignation in an interview with the Journal in September. “It’s all about being spiteful and punitive against Orit Arfa and me for insisting that the organization behave legally and ethically.”

Goldberg, a Los Angeles-based lawyer who has emerged as the lone, loud voice of dissent on ZOA’s national board, was referring to his belief that the organization should proactively inform donors and the public about its loss of tax-exempt status. 

Drimer, who dismissed Goldberg as a “rogue board member,” rejected one claim Arfa made in her Oct. 12 memo, that Klein had instructed her “not to mention the loss [of tax-exempt status] at all” to potential donors. 

“Neither she nor any other ZOA employee has ever been encouraged to mislead anyone about the ZOA’s tax status,” Drimer said.  

The loss of tax-exempt status appears to have discouraged contributions from at least some potential ZOA donors; along with her Oct. 12 memo, Arfa submitted three e-mails as evidence of this. One came from Jesse Rosenblum, president of ZOA’s Orange County chapter, who said, “the ZOA image in the community is now at an all time low.” Another came from Mark Tannenbaum, who, in response to Arfa’s invitation to join the local board, wrote that he was “too uncomfortable” with ZOA’s loss of tax-exempt status and with Klein’s “excessive” salary to join. 

The third e-mail attached to Arfa’s memo was from Lew Groner, director of marketing and communications at the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. In an e-mail sent to Arfa on Sept. 28, Groner called ZOA’s loss of tax-exempt status a “game-stopper.” 

“I can imagine the ZOA’s non-filing of tax returns is an impediment for your fundraising efforts; don’t see how it could be otherwise,” Groner wrote. “Quite frankly, it doesn’t look good, smell good or feel good to any reasonable donor.”  

In addition to the uncertainty surrounding her future tenancy at Federation’s headquarters, Arfa has been getting other mixed signals from ZOA’s leadership. 

On Nov. 2, Arfa, after being informed by another ZOA employee that her account of her region’s activities would be omitted from ZOA’s upcoming annual report, sent an e-mail to Klein and Drimer asking why. The decision was reversed a few days later, but Goldberg, who was copied on Arfa’s e-mail to Drimer and Klein and shared it with the Journal, said he believes Klein has been threatening Arfa with termination, and that she wasn’t the only ZOA employee to feel that way. 

“The vast majority of employees, including in New York, are concerned about what’s going on,” Goldberg said. “Most if not all of the employees are working in fear of losing their jobs.”

Drimer rejected Goldberg’s assertion about Arfa. 

“Orit Arfa’s job has never been threatened in any way because of her questions on these matters,” Drimer said.

 But if the loss of tax-exempt status and the subsequent controversy has roiled ZOA’s leaders, members and donors in Los Angeles, the same can’t be said of all the organization’s chapters. 

The ZOA Michigan chapter in suburban Detroit is known to be the most independent of the regional chapters, and its president, Eugene Greenstein, told the Journal that his group was not involved in the internal politics playing out at the national level. 

 “We are minding our business and running our programs,” Greenstein said. “And we support the good work of the national organization.”

Sex and the column

One of the first things I did when I arrived in my hometown of Los Angeles for the summer was to rush with my friend Lori to see “Sex and the City” on opening

We weren’t the only ones.

The movie was sold out all over Los Angeles, but as committed fans, we made the trek to Manhattan — Manhattan Beach, that is — despite the current gas prices, to see the only 10:30 p.m. Friday showing available within a 30-mile radius.

The line, filled mostly with women, went around the block. I had gotten all dolled up in shiny golden (knock-off?) Kenneth Cole heels, brown leggings and a golden wrap — just to sit in a movie theater. We stood for a half-hour in the cold beach weather — me in my heels and Lori wrapped in a blanket she found in her car — but we didn’t mind. The mood was cheerful and expectant. It wasn’t the sluggish anticipation we experienced in line for the new “Indiana Jones” movie along with fathers and sons.

We passed the time examining everyone’s shoes and chatting with a 50-year-old mother of five kids who’d brought her 18-year-old daughter to see the movie.

Already, during the previews for romantic comedies, we were all cheering and jeering. We weren’t strangers — but sisters — all connected by our familiarity and sympathy for our mutual best friends: Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha.

But we didn’t only come to see fictional characters, but ourselves; the characters are more like Freudian concepts — there’s a bit of each of them in each of us. Sometimes we channel our inner Miranda — cynical and hard. When we feel sappy and romantic, we channel the prudish Charlotte. And then there’s Samantha — raunchy and horny. And, of course, there’s Carrie — intelligent, open and a bit neurotic.

When I first started writing singles columns, I was living in Tel Aviv, Israel’s big city. I titled my column “Sex in Tel Aviv” and described my wish to write about a life as fabulous as that of the show’s syndicated columnist, Carrie. With all its hip bars and cafes, Tel Aviv seemed suited to Carrie-esque adventures, only I didn’t make as much money or go out as much as she did, and, most of all, I never developed a clique of fabulous girlfriends.

Even in Tel Aviv, generally sheltered from Israel’s security issues, I faced predicaments unique to a Jewish American Israeli: surviving a terrorist attack in Sinai, going out on a date with a repressed ultra-Orthodox Jew and encountering a Palestinian at a bar. I was both fortunate and unfortunate to live in a city where struggles reach far beyond simply finding love and a good pair of Manolos.

But no matter the topic, Carrie Bradshaw gave me permission to divulge my romantic life for the entire Jewish world, garnering both fans and foes. Sometimes I wonder: Would I have written half the stuff I did if not for her example? Would I have made the men I dated fodder for my columns without their knowing it? Would I have shared the pain of my first time? I don’t know.

My openness has not exactly procured me a “Sex in the City” lifestyle, either. I’m still single, still pretty poor and still don’t have a clique of girlfriends. I took on the sexual honesty, but got no fantasy to show for it.

The film is even more fanciful than the TV show. Despite their added years, the women have never looked so posh, perfect — and plastic. Sure, there are difficult moments of betrayal and break-ups, but how bad can those be when you’re wearing Prada and Dolce and Gabbana? Renting apartments in Manhattan on a whim? Jetting to Cancun to ease the pain?

I also faced another challenge in applying “Sex and the City”-style dilemmas to my own life: The community for which I write.

The Jewish world is often covert when it comes to female desire. Jewish women aren’t supposed to open up with their rabbis about our pent-up desire for a one-night stand. We can’t openly eye another congregant in shul and comment “that guy is hot!” without getting a lecture about middot (good deeds) before looks. I know I speak for some girlfriends when I admit that I have suffered a lot of confusion about the not-so-good deed — in part because extramarital sex is associated with much taboo in Jewish communities across the board.

And maybe that’s why watching “Sex in the City” has always offered such pleasure, and why I have taken Carrie Bradshaw’s example of honestly sharing the nitty-gritty, sexually charged challenges of single life with more than just my girlfriends.

So while I may not have enjoyed such a glamorous life of sex in the city, if I have fostered a bit more openness to the needs and challenges of the Jewish woman attracted to secular life, then maybe I have done my share of tikkun olam, even if I won’t be wearing Manolos when I get the backlash.

Orit Arfa is a Jewish Journal contributing writer based in Israel who is spending the summer in Los Angeles. She can be reached via her Web site: www.oritarfa.net.

10 dating tips for men

I don’t think I’ve enjoyed enough successful relationships to justify my doling out advice to men about how to sweep a woman off her lonely sofa and into a date
with him.

But maybe that’s because I haven’t enjoyed enough successful dates. Dating is not only an art, but a skill, and I’ve met few men who have mastered it.

The following are some tips — or call them fantasies — for good dating that I’ve compiled based on successful dates I’ve had. Warning: They place the burden of the work on the man. The sexual revolution might have done a lot to confuse men about dating, but I think most women still like to be courted. As much as I like to be a strong, active and go-getting woman, sometimes I look for a date to experience what no professional achievement can offer: The celebration of my own femininity and quintessential female characteristics — grace, active passivity and receptivity.

These tips apply when there is mutual attraction between the two sexes — they won’t work magic when the woman gives clear indications that she is not interested. Here goes:

Ask a woman out on a date. What a concept! This means, don’t just say, “Oh, by the way, I’m going to a party Saturday night, want to come?” This also means, don’t send an e-mail (or worse, a text message) saying, “Hey, wanna do coffee sometime?” It means phone her or say to her in person, very specifically: “I’d love to take you out. What are you doing tomorrow?”

Choose a specific venue for the date. I hate it when guys ask, with uncertainty, “So what do you want to do?” I know sometimes men like to let women feel in control, but I like to see the first date as a dance — let the man take the lead. Don’t choose an ordinary venue — like Coffee Bean or Starbucks. Surprise her with a new cafe designed with a funky concept or a tapas bar, for instance.

If the date goes well, end it with a specific conclusion, not just “We’ll be in touch.” Don’t rely on the woman to make the next move. Show her that you are confident by saying that you are looking forward to seeing her again — if indeed you are — and that you will call her in the next day or two.

Initiate contact within two days after the date. Call or e-mail — but don’t text! Tell her how much you enjoyed the date — but be specific about what you enjoyed —her ideas on the elections, her passion for Israel, etc. Don’t offer corny compliments about her outfit or her eyes. Arrange the next date over the phone without letting too much time pass so that she doesn’t have too much time to doubt you.

Invest in her interests, but sincerely. There is nothing more attractive than a man who gets to know the heart of a woman by investigating what is important to her. For example, if she raves about a particular movie, look it up on Google. If she mentions an artist that she loves, offer to take her to a local museum showcasing his/her work. I once told my date how much I was influenced by “The Fountainhead.” He went out the next day and bought it. He read it within a week, enjoyed it sincerely, and indulged me in lengthy discussions about the book’s ideas. He got me.

Once you graduate beyond coffee or drinks, plan creative dates. Take her to a new art gallery, a hike into the mountains, a bike ride at the beach. Show that she’s special enough for you to put thought into the date.

Don’t pressure her for sex — ever. A man can innocently request a kiss, but, ideally, he should let the woman take the lead when it comes to sexual play. This restraint proves a man is after her soul, not just her body. You can definitely initiate affection — like handholding and cuddles. Most women love that.

In the beginning, don’t bug her or call her too often. Better to offer a few intelligent statements about her or the date rather than hammering her with one-line text messages that say generic things like “Have a great day” or “Thinking of you.” Try to avoid “biting,” “poking” or “teasing” her via Facebook. All this can come across as phony or desperate. Unless she is really insecure and needs this fawning, give her space.

Never play games. A wise woman’s worst fear is that she is dating a player or jerk. This means, call when you say you’ll call. Pick her up when you say you will. Never flake on plans without a really good, honest excuse.

Keep it up. There might be a point where you get complacent — she has responded very well to all your initial planning — and the dating action balances out. You feel comfortable around each other and the woman will initiate playful dates and outings too. But make sure that the romance and thoughtfulness never stops — even if your final date ends at the chuppah.

Orit Arfa is a Jewish Journal contributing writer based in Israel.

The Great Shave, the anti-Semitic professor in the U.S. Mail, Barack, Orit, Hillary and Suissa

The Great Shave

Loved your video on getting a haircut and shave on Lag b’Omer. I think it’s great that you raise awareness about our customs and traditions.

I think you made one faux pas, however. Religious Jews don’t allow a razor to come in contact with their face when shaving, which is why Orthodox Jews use only electric shavers instead of razor blades.

Your barber wasn’t allowed to shave you, according to Jewish law. Jews who observe the custom of not shaving would’ve shaved using a Norelco or Remington instead.

Rabbi Daniel Korobkin
Community & Synagogue Services Director
Orthodox Union West Coast Region

Professor Anti-Semites Love

Why the righteous indignation (“The Professor Anti-Semites Love,” May 9)?
The fact is that we are clannish, have a history of marrying within and not thinking positively of much of the outside culture. We do tend to select for mates along either intellectual or financial lines.

Historically, we have tended to benefit from niche businesses, such as banking during the primacy of Catholicism, when it was prohibited to Catholics, and entertainment during the primacy of Protestants, when they looked down on such businesses. We do tend to be far more visible, disproportionately to our numbers.

What professor Kevin MacDonald has done is to provide a laundry list of reasons why the losers can’t successfully compete against Jews and Jewish culture. I read the article, and I came away thinking that this bitter man is like many others who resent the need to change in order to compete.

It is true: Jews want to chuck the morally bereft outside culture. It is our mandate to be first a blessing to the world, then a kingdom of priests and a light unto the nations. Why be Jewish if Jewishness serves no purpose? We feel a moral elevation compared to outside culture based upon the mandate for our existence.

Of course, we are in conflict with non-Jewish culture. Our mandate requires us to influence the others, to convert outside society not to Judaism but to an enlightened Noahide society. Jewish culture and Jewish society developed in a direct response to the mandate.

It is most certainly benefiting our survival. When we are persecuted, we strengthen our ties with each other and to Judaism. When we are not persecuted, we rise to visibility in the face of non-Jews.

MacDonald is perfectly correct in many of his assumptions and observations.
Rather than feel hurt from the truth, I would feel proud that even the least observant Jews have the spark to influence outside society, as seen by MacDonald’s assessment.

Craig Winchell
via e-mail

Bad Cover Choice

After working for the U.S. Postal Service for 34 years, I retired recently. In high school, I was the school paper’s compositor for one year and its sports editor for two years. The Jewish Journal definitely needs my help in improving on whoever decides the covers of your paper.

I was upset and disgusted that you had a professor that anti-Semites love grace the cover [on May 9]. I purposely would turn the paper upside down so as not to look at his puss. And I wasn’t interested to read the article, even though my friend read it and asked if I had.

Please send me an employment application before you lose any more readers and advertisers due to your yellow journalism.

Joseph Hammer
Los Angeles

Eshman and Suissa

I would like to combine my thoughts on two articles in the May 23 Journal — Rob Eshman’s “Wednesday With Ben” and David Suissa’s “Israel Fest or Jewish Fest.

First, I hope I am not the first person to point out in Eshman’s column that he presented one Jewish point of view — and in my opinion, not the best — as to the nature of God and suffering. He consulted a rabbi who says, “I do not believe in a God who gets involved in the activities in individual human beings.”

Well it’s no wonder people abandon God — they feel like God abandoned him.

I love Suissa’s idea to have a Jewish festival. That way, once and for all, we can put it out on the table what are the different categories of Jewishness and what do they believe about that lifelong question that we have about God and religion: Why do bad things happen?

The answer we will get from the rabbi Eshman consulted will be clear. Yet, the answer from hopefully every other brand will hopefully have something a little more inspiring that will actually make someone want to connect to God.

Perhaps some people forget where the name “Jewish” comes from. It comes from the tribe of Yehudah, the name given to Leah’s fourth son. It was a name, meaning thank you — as in, Leah was thanking God for remembering her and giving her that fourth son. Remembering her — an individual.

So if someone wants to say they don’t believe in a God who gets involved in individual suffering, they have every right. But if they do, I wonder if they should be calling themselves Jewish.

But, of course, that is just my opinion. Everyone can figure it out for themselves at Jewish Fest 2009.

Liane Pritikin
via e-mail

Regarding Rob Eshman’s article depicting the slowly destructive disease of ALA (Lou Gehrig’s disease), our cousin in Israel, David Cohen, was diagnosed with ALS in 2003, and one of the first things he did was to create a research and support organization called IsrALS.

I invite you and your readers to learn more about how we can increase research, especially with stem cell research, which is more accessible in Israel, to battle this “orphan” disease.