For science and U.S. jobs: Allow Israelis to visit America visa-free

The majority of Americans are supportive of Israel. Still, for good reasons, many in Jewish and pro-Israel communities are deeply anxious about both the security of Israel and the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Stopping Iran from building a nuclear weapon and maintaining U.S. support for Israel in a chaotic and dangerous Middle East will remain pillars of the pro-Israel movement.  Nonetheless, there are other goals the community should pursue that will help truly deepen our nations’ ties, promote medical solutions and help boost much-needed economic growth in America.

American–Israel cooperation in high-tech sectors, including biotechnology and medical research, green energy, defense, homeland security, and information technology have spurred countless vital joint business and research endeavors.  Too often, however, Israeli entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists have to wait for several months to get a visa to visit America.  Conferences and meetings in the medical community and private sector to promote joint innovations and ventures are made unnecessarily difficult.

Israel is currently not included from the 37 countries in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which includes most of Europe as well as Australia and several Asian countries including South Korea and Japan.  Most recently, Taiwan was admitted to the program in 2012.  The citizens of these countries can visit the United States for business, tourism, or seeing friends and family for up to 90 days without a visa.  Israelis with passports can visit most of Europe, Latin America, Canada, and several other countries around the world, visa-free.

Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are spearheading a new bill in the House of Representatives to add Israel to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.  In a remarkable sign of support, over 30 Representatives, including many senior members, join with Sherman and Poe in introducing the legislation this week.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the new Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is introducing the same legislation in the Senate.

Congressman Sherman introduced this bill in the House last year with 13 members including lead cosponsor Congressman Poe.  34 Members cosponsored Sherman’s bill, which brought much-needed attention to this important issue.  Sherman, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship, is now spearheading an even bigger coalition on Capitol Hill to move this bill through the new 113th Congress.

There are many indicators of how breaking barriers between Israelis and Americans would enhance an already vibrant scientific and economic relationship. With a disproportionately huge number of per capita scientific papers, patents filed, and startup companies in Israel compared to the world, there is great potential for increased U.S-Israeli business initiatives to the benefit of both nations.

With increased collaborations in finding ways to stop things like Alzheimer’s, Autism and other health issues, more close contact can only mean progress on the human level. This is vital as today another American gets Alzheimer’s every 68 seconds, and that number will only double as the baby boomers get older.

Moreover, the CDC says that 1 out of 88 American children have Autism. Jews need to take a special interest in that area as there is a link between the age of the father and the likelihood of a child having Autism. Jews wait longer to have children than any other demographic group in America. In the waiting rooms of the top medical experts for Autism, there is a minyan of Jewish mothers waiting for help for their children.
The Israeli life sciences and biotechnology industry is growing at an astonishing rate.  A nation of 7 million, Israel has about 1,000 life science companies, hundreds of them formed within the past few years.

The Jewish state’s highly educated and savvy entrepreneurs have invested in American jobs and growth. The Israeli private sector has invested well over $50 billion in the United States since 2000.  Israeli Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the United States was $7.2 billion in 2010 alone.

During an April 2012 trip to Israel, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie promoted U.S.-Israeli business and signed a letter of cooperation with Teva, one of the largest, most cutting-edge pharmaceutical and drug manufacturing companies in the world.  Teva has hundreds of employees in New Jersey and has been offered financial incentives by that state to build more facilities and add to job growth.

It’s that kind of entrepreneurial spirit that led Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway to make its first-ever foreign acquisition in Israel and declare that, “Israel… has a disproportionate amount of brains and energy.”  Berkshire Hathaway purchased 80% of Iscar, an Israeli maker of precision blades and drills, in 2006.

It’s time for the U.S. to let Israeli entrepreneurs and travelers to visit our country freely.

The increased travel of Israelis to the U.S. would also help America’s tourism sector. Trips to the U.S. by Israelis totaled nearly 320,000 annually the past three years.  In 2011, Israelis spent over $1.6 billion in travel and airfare to the United States.  If Israel enters the program, closer to half a million Israelis are expected to travel to the United States per year.

With 7.8% unemployment and tepid GDP growth in the U.S., we can benefit financially from the innovation resulting from greater American-Israeli science and technology cooperation and business – as well as boosting our tourism and domestic travel sectors.

The Jewish and pro-Israel community should join with U.S. business leaders and representatives of information technology, biotechnology, medical research, defense, and other high-tech industries in backing the passage of theVisa Waiver for Israel Act into law this year.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the Founder & President of and the Co-Founder and Director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust.

Opinion: Jeremy Lin, the Jews and redistricting

I was too young to see Hank Greenberg play. That was my father’s generation. But growing up in New Jersey, I well remember the day when Sandy Koufax, playing for the Dodgers, announced his electrifying decision to sit out a 1965 World Series game on Yom Kippur.  Koufax’s action was a great source of pride to a Jewish kid with a baseball glove perennially at hand and who had heard way too many jokes about the thin book of Jewish sports heroes.

I remembered that Koufax moment when I watched the New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin annihilate my Lakers not so long ago. I had the feeling that Asian-American kids with a basketball perennially at hand must be feeling something akin to what I felt back then. The Lin phenomenon is not like the hoopla surrounding Yao Ming, whose presence in the NBA was really about the internationalization of the sport and who is a huge hero in China. Even though Lin is already attracting attention in both Taiwan and China, he is going to be a special star for Asian-Americans. 

When you look at the local basketball scene, you might wonder what took so long. There is a distinguished tradition of Asian-American basketball leagues, and there is a devoted basketball following in the community. You can see Asian-American girls playing in the high schools in Los Angeles and working their way into the college ranks (in fact, there are more Asian-American women than men in college basketball). 

I was reminded of these parallels between Asian-Americans and Jews while watching the unfolding debate over Los Angeles city redistricting.  Much has changed since the days of Tom Bradley, when a coalition of African-Americans and Jews dominated the political scene. Latinos and Asian-Americans, while part of the ruling coalition, sometimes felt themselves on the outside looking in. Bradley, though, consistently reached out to Asian-Americans and Latinos (saving Mike Woo’s seat in 1986 by vetoing a council redistricting ordinance, and working to create a Latino seat in the 14th District, eventually won by Richard Alatorre).

The rise of the Latino population, and its remarkable mobilization, mean that Latino political aspirations are at center stage. African-Americans, declining in population share, are trying to hold onto their representation. The current city redistricting seems to be focused on managing the inevitable increase in Latino office holding and settling internal disputes in the African-American community. The commission advising the City Council has issued draft maps, but there seems to be a lot of political maneuvering behind the scenes.  Allies of City Council President Herb Wesson seem to want to punish Bernard Parks for not supporting Wesson’s election to council president by moving pieces out of the 8th District, and Jan Perry seems to be in a similar boat. Should the 9th District (now represented by Perry) lose its lucrative downtown business base to the Latino 14th District?  These decisions inevitably impact the other communities of the city because each district must be roughly equal in population. Moving chess pieces in one area can make it harder to achieve fairness in other areas.

Asian-Americans and Jews are feeling the spillover impact of these disputes and negotiations.  The Jewish community, which once sported a half dozen members of the 15-member council, now has only one certain seat, the Mid-City 5th District represented by Paul Koretz, and that is being realigned a bit in the draft plan from the city commission. I asked Bruce Phillips, a professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Religion & Civic Culture at USC to run some numbers (see story below).  He concluded that with the proposed changes, the 5th would be marginally less Jewish, but there could be an increase in Jewish electoral strength in the 3rd District in the Valley.  It looks as if some Valley portions of the 5th District are proposed to be moved to the 3rd,  and Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Hancock Park and Larchmont, currently in Tom LaBonge’s 4th District, would be added to the 5th. In any case, Jewish candidates stand a good case of winning some citywide offices in 2013, and high levels of Jewish voter participation will continue to be consequential in city elections. It remains to be seen whether the proposed movement of Jewish neighborhoods becomes a point of debate.

The Korean-American community, however, has registered complaints about the proposed redistricting of Koreatown. At a City Hall public hearing, Korean-American speakers charged that they were being shunted off until the end of the meeting. The set-to emphasizes the long- standing problem of not having a councilmember who would be responsive to Asian-Americans (only one Asian-American, Mike Woo, has ever served in public office in the City of Los Angeles, despite an Asian-American population of roughly 400,000). Of course, long-standing groups like the Asian Pacific American Legal Center have been submitting and advocating for proposed Los Angeles city redistricting plans all along.

It is hoped that the city will undertake a redistricting process that looks for ways to increase Asian-American representation, either by increasing the number of council districts through a charter amendment or by moving district lines to capture population concentrations of a diverse community that has become somewhat dispersed. In the final analysis, however, neither Jewish nor Asian-American communities have the raw numbers to obtain districts in which they will hold majorities. In the midst of intense conflicts over redistricting, they will have to carefully navigate the debates with an eye to creating districts in which they will have influence, and aim to build coalitions with each other and with other groups.

Perhaps this current redistricting may also activate a younger generation of Asian-Americans (and not just Korean-Americans) to become more politically engaged in the hurly-burly of Los Angeles politics. That would be no less impactful than the rise of Jeremy Lin.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

Classical Musicians’ Volume Decreases

The conductor raises his baton. On cue, 73 young musicians launch into a heartfelt rendition of “Sabbath Fantasies,” a piece that weaves together snatches of Jewish liturgy and folk tunes.

This is the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra (LAYO), a 6-year-old ensemble sponsored by Stephen S. Wise Temple to encourage the next generation of music lovers. The players, all between the ages of 8 and 18, represent a wide range of cultures and ethnicities.

But because the orchestra rehearses on Sundays on the temple’s grounds, it especially attracts young musicians from Jewish homes. The LAYO is one route through which Jewish community leaders are trying to keep alive the noble tradition that links Jews with classical music.

Russell Steinberg, who conducts the LAYO and composed “Sabbath Fantasies,” is at the forefront of this effort. As founder and director of the Stephen Wise Music Academy, he also works to provide music education for all students at Stephen Wise Day School and Milken Community High School.

Another pioneer is Bryna Vener, who for 28 years has led Sinai Akiba Academy’s popular after-school orchestral program. But many other Jewish day schools that offer elective music programs are struggling to keep them afloat.

Perhaps it’s a matter of scheduling. Students today face mounting academic obligations that leave many feeling hard-pressed to take on an instrument.

Still, Steinberg suspects also that many Jewish parents view classical music as an outmoded form of entertainment. Because they themselves prefer the likes of Pink Floyd to Prokofiev, they are less inclined to push traditional music lessons on reluctant offspring.

There was a time when Jews dominated the ranks of American orchestras, and superstars like Leonard Bernstein and Isaac Stern were musical ambassadors to the world. The fact that today’s master Jewish musicians tend to have proteges with names like Yo Yo Ma, Kyung-Wha Chung and Lang Lang is one hint that for many Jews, classical music is no longer a top priority. This gives Steinberg an important goal: “I’m trying to build a parent culture that values music.”

Why in recent years have so many American Jews sidestepped classical music?

One answer is that most 21st century American Jews are far removed from the immigrant experience of their forebearers. The Jews who came from Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as those who arrived as refugees after World War II, brought with them a passion for music.

Nostalgic for the culture they left behind, they flocked to concerts and regarded soloists as heroes. Their love of good music dovetailed with eagerness for success in their new homeland, making them hugely ambitious for their American-born children.

Sylvia Kunin Eben, 91, was raised in a Jewish enclave in South Central Los Angeles, where “everybody we knew had a piano. Even if you couldn’t afford lessons, you had a piano.”

Eben’s Russian-immigrant father somehow scraped together 90 cents for her weekly piano lesson. In return, she was expected to be a prodigy. Although stage fright derailed her performing career, she went on to create award-winning music programs for television.

A generation later, immigrant Jewish parents were still avidly steering their children toward classical music. Music educator Neal Brostoff is the American-born son of a couple who left England for Los Angeles in 1936. He began concertizing at a early age, often rubbing shoulders with such soon-to-be-famous young Angelenos as violinists Glenn and Maurice Dicterow, cellist Nathaniel Rosen, pianists Mona and Renee Golabek and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. All had parents who were staunch supporters of their youngsters’ careers, and all had strong European roots.

Today, times have changed. Aaron Mendelsohn, whose Maestro Foundation lends musical instruments to talented but impoverished young players, notes that many of the Asian-born musicians he helps are “clawing their way out of poverty, just the way the Jews did.”

Young Jews, for the most part, now tend to be firmly ensconced in the American middle class. All professions are open to them, and they’ve long-ago cast off the immigrant tradition of letting their parents determine their future path.

Jewish mothers and fathers, who in earlier eras might have overseen their children’s lessons, monitored their practice sessions and carted them to musical auditions, are now much more likely to emphasize academics, sports and, in Los Angeles, acting auditions.

UCLA music professor David Lefkowitz provides a telling example. His 9-year-old son has been playing the violin since age 3. A promising musician, he practices an hour a day but also plays soccer in the fall and baseball in the spring.

A colleague’s daughter, exactly the same age, started the violin at the same time. She practices two hours daily, and Lefkowitz doesn’t doubt that by 12 she’ll have moved far beyond his son, for whom music is one of several boyhood interests. It’s probably no coincidence that the girl’s mother is a fairly recent immigrant.

If Jewish parents are less driven now to turn their children into stars of the concert stage, they’re also well aware that music as a profession has become less promising. With the number of quality orchestras diminishing, 200 applicants vie for each open seat.

Some record labels have done away with their classical divisions. Hollywood studios that once employed a full complement of musicians often make do now with synthesized music and the licensing of pop tunes. Alan Chapman, composer, music educator and KUSC radio host, stressed, “The value of being a classical musician to society at large is not what it used to be.”

In a materialistic age, it’s no surprise that young Jews have learned to be pragmatic about their career choices. When Steinberg introduced his students to a professional conductor, their first question was, “How much money do you make?”

But sometimes pragmatism can be idealism by another name. Adam Mendelsohn, a recent UCLA graduate, for years played violin in the American Youth Symphony. Unlike most members of that highly motivated group, he gave up any thought of a formal music career to enter a doctoral program in biomedical engineering.

His father’s Maestro Foundation has shown him firsthand the hardships faced by music professionals. As a scientist, he can treat music as a serious hobby and “play the music I want to play when I want to play it.”

The dearth of rising young Jewish musicians does not extend to Israel, where ongoing political tensions may be part of what makes the arts an appealing outlet. In addition, Israel’s subsidies for artists, as well as its numerous institutes for promising students and its European-based tradition of respect for classical music, also play a significant role.

When Israeli composer Ariel Blumenthal attended a concert at Boston’s Symphony Hall, he was amazed to find an auditorium full of graying heads. At home, the Israeli Philharmonic had always attracted a younger crowd, including uniformed soldiers who get in for free.

One source of Israel’s eagerness to produce the next Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zuckerman lies in its thousands of music-loving emigres from the former Soviet Union. The Russian musical legacy also shows itself in the U.S. Sixteen-year-old Simona Shapiro, whose Russian grandmother was a concert pianist, admits that her own budding piano career is fulfilling the dreams of several generations: “My entire family is basically living this through me.”

But most American Jews have to force themselves to be philosophical when their children opt to make music professionally. Partly because they’re short on recent role models, they don’t see how their youngsters can make a living in the classical field.

But many American Jews feel, at best, philosophical when their children opt to make music professionally. Partly because they’re short on recent role models, they don’t see how their talented youngsters can make a living in the music field. One organization trying to help is the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity (

This small but ambitious nonprofit based in Los Angeles and Jerusalem has, for the past 16 years, worked to promote Jewish identity through support for the arts. Proceeds from the center’s ongoing $3 million fundraising campaign go toward such projects as international arts festivals, subsidized residencies at an Israeli arts colony, and multidisciplinary events at major universities.

More than 400 Jewish artists from many nations and in many fields have been named center affiliates. On behalf of Jewish classical musicians, the center underwrites the L.A.-based Synergy Chamber Ensemble as well as an Israeli group, Metar. It also sponsors recordings, awards prizes, and has commissioned works from such rising Jewish composers as Ofer Ben Amots, Sharon Farber, David Lefkowitz and Yale Strom. The center’s founders, led by board president John Rauch, recognize that from the time of King David forward, music has played an integral role in Jewish life.

They hope their support will smooth the way for the talented Jews of tomorrow.


Love, Jewish-American Style

Despite the abundance of Jewish filmmakers in the entertainmentindustry, Jewish Americans fall somewhere ahead of Asian-Americansand well below Anglo- and African-Americans as a group represented oncelluloid. And no one is more aware of that than film historian andauthor Harry Medved, whose “Cinema Beshert: Meeting Your Mate at theMovies” film series at the University of Judaism focuses on love,Jewish-American style.

Medved, 36, got the idea for the program after a screening of”Crossing Delancey” two years ago attracted a high quotient ofsingles. “An impromptu social hour followed…and we realized, what aconcept,” says Medved, who promptly created Cinema Beshert “to showsome great films about Jewish single life and invite filmmakers tospeak on Judaism and the dating scene, [followed by] informalmatchmaking after the screening.”

The UJ has been delightfully surprised by Cinema Beshert’ssuccess. For a recent screening of Julie Davis’ “I Love You! Don’tTouch Me!” — the tale of a 28-year-old neurotic Jewish girl’s searchfor a nice Jewish boy — 110 students attended despite littlepublicity.

Since then, Medved’s program, which appeals to the twenty- tothirtysomething set, has taken off. Upcoming films include “AmericanMatchmaker,” a 1940 Yiddish-language romance; “Carpati,” a compellingdocumentary produced by Emmy-winner David Notowitz, who retracesJewish heritage in the Ukraine; and the ever-popular “Diner,” BarryLevinson’s 1982 directing debut, which launched the careers of Jewishtalent (Steve Guttenberg, Paul Reiser and Ellen Barkin, amongothers).

A scene from”Carpati,” screening Feb. 22. Producer David Notowitz is scheduled toappear.

“These films are not only about people looking for soul mates butlooking for soul…young Jews returning to tradition,” says Medved.

Adding zing to these Sunday-evening screenings is the presence ofartists to discuss their involvement in the films. Past guests haveincluded director Paul Mazursky, composer Elmer Bernstein, and actorElliott Gould. Among the upcoming guests: Screenwriter Robert Avrechwill speak about “A Stranger Among Us.”

“We also include some wonderful short subjects unavailableanywhere else,” says Medved, “including Lewis Schoenbrun’s ‘TheGolem’ and David Frankel’s Oscar-winning short, ‘Dear Diary.'”

In the future, Medved envisions bringing Cinema Beshert to othercities.

In the broader sense, he would also like to see Hollywood depictmore positive images of Jewish women.

“It’s so rare when you stumble upon a sexy Jewish female in afeature film, like Alicia Silverstone in ‘Clueless.’ That wasdirected by a Jewish woman, but I’m looking forward to the day whenwe’ll see [positive Jewish female characters] in a film directed by aJewish man.”

For now, Medved is content to see the romance on screen at hisfilm series stimulating some real-life beshert off screen. “Severalcouples are dating as a result of this class. My only request is thatI get invited to their weddings.”

Cinema Beshert: Meeting Your Mate at the Movies screens onSundays, from 6:45 to 9:45 p.m., Feb. 1 through March 15. For moreinformation, contact the University of Judaism at (310) 476-9777,ext. 246.