French National Assembly approves $60 million Holocaust reparations fund


The French National Assembly voted to approve the creation of a $60 million fund to compensate Holocaust victims transported to Nazi camps by the state railroad SNCF.

The fund, to be administered by the United States, would compensate foreign nationals and also protect France against lawsuits filed in the United States.

The lower house of the French Parliament approved the fund on Wednesday. The French conservative opposition abstained from the vote, according to Reuters.

The fund redresses longstanding claims by survivors who were otherwise unable to obtain reparations limited to French nationals through the French pension system.

Compensation will be available to non-French nationals who are citizens of the United States and any other country that does not have a bilateral reparations agreement with France. Belgium, Poland, Britain, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have such agreements.

Surviving spouses and the estates of survivors will also be eligible. The fund could ultimately pay out to several thousand people or estates.

The plan could affect bills under consideration in a number of U.S. state legislatures that would ban any dealings with SNCF, a major exporter of rail cars, until it agreed to address lawsuits.

The French Senate will vote on the bill on July 9.

SNCF trains transported 76,000 Jews and other prisoners from the suburbs of Paris to the German border from 1942 to 1944.

Owned by the French government, SNCF says it has acknowledged the role that its wartime management played in collaborating with the Nazis and given public apologies. It also has supported memorial efforts and research of the Holocaust in France.

Tensions flare over Chanukah date for Westside election


Former Culver City Mayor Christopher Armenta, who is running for a California state Assembly seat, sent a mailer to local residents last week accusing his opponent’s father, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, of using his influence to elect Sebastian Ridley-Thomas to the state Assembly by scheduling the upcoming special election on Dec. 3, during Chanukah.

In singling out Mark Ridley-Thomas, the mailer says: “The Supervisor pushes to have a very expensive Special Election called for December 3rd, 2013, two days after the Thanksgiving weekend and in the middle of Hanukah to make it nearly impossible for any other candidate to challenge his son.”

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, 25, is favored in the race for the 54th Assembly District, a heavily Jewish district that includes Culver City, Century City, Westwood, and Mar Vista. He is also the candidate officially endorsed by Los Angeles County’s Democratic Party.

California Governor Jerry Brown called the special election earlier this year after Holly Mitchell, the district’s previous representative, won election to the state Senate. There’s no indication that Mark Ridley-Thomas had any influence on selecting Dec. 3 as election day.

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas’s supporters suggest Armenta’s mailer is a last ditch effort to get the 49-year-old former mayor of Culver City within striking distance.

Fred MacFarlane, Ridley-Thomas’s spokesman, said Armenta’s flyer suggests Jewish voters will not vote during Chanukah. MacFarlane said it is “insulting to the Jewish community” to suggest the date “would somehow have a negative impact on Jewish voter turnout because the election was being held” during Chanukah.

Armenta, responding by email, said the mailer “was about nepotism and its negative effect on the democratic process.” He said it clearly, “hit a nerve with my opponent, and his campaign has tried to distort my message and create controversy.”

“Scheduling an election on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving weekend, the kick-off of the holiday shopping season, and during the final days of Hanukkah, does nothing to encourage strong voter turn-out,” Armenta wrote.

“I have never stated that my Jewish supporters would be disinclined to vote for me because of Thanksgiving or Hanukkah,” he wrote.

There are, in fact, no Jewish legal restrictions on working, driving, or voting during the eight-day period of Chanukah, which begins on the night of Nov. 27.

Armenta acknowledged the distinction in his email, writing, “I am certainly aware that Hanukkah does not preclude Jews from working or voting.

“Nevertheless, it is significant in the hearts and minds of many of my Jewish friends and supporters, and I respect that,” he wrote.

Ari Noonan, editor of The Front Page Online, a Culver City online news site, wrote on Nov. 7th, “Laughably for Jews, Mr. Armenta complains that Election Day arrives in the middle of Chanukah—the Torah equivalent of arguing that Election Day falls in the heart of Arbor Day,” a holiday that celebrates trees.

State Assembly hopeful is a political and personal bridge builder


When Robert J. Blumenfield was 12, he covered the 1980 Democratic and Republican conventions as a reporter for a youth-oriented magazine, and he has been hooked on politics since.

In June, Blumenfield, 40, always addressed as Bob, won the Democratic primary to represent the 40th Assembly District in Sacramento, which in this heavily Democratic enclave in the San Fernando Valley is considered tantamount to election.

The Journal met with the candidate in a quiet coffee shop, close to the Van Nuys office of veteran Congressman Howard Berman, where Blumenfield’s multiple duties as district director include serving as liaison to the Jewish community.

To Blumenfield’s own surprise, he won the primary outright by 53 percent against three opponents in an Assembly district that includes Van Nuys, Northridge, Canoga Park and Woodland Hills.

The campaign to succeed the termed-out incumbent Lloyd Levine was acrimonious, fueled by chief opponent Stuart Waldman’s charges that Blumenfield’s father and Berman had funneled large contributions to the winning candidate through a nominally independent committee.

With national attention focused at the time on the Democratic presidential contest between Sen. Barack Obama, the first viable black presidential candidate, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, local political and social analysts took a special interest in Blumenfield’s family life.

His wife, Kafi, is black, has a law degree from UCLA and is now president and CEO of Liberty Hill, a foundation working for social, racial and economic equality in Los Angeles County.

Bill Boyarsky, a Journal columnist, moderated a debate among the Assembly candidates at a synagogue and filed a report on truthdig.com.

“Bob Blumenfield is white, Jewish and chairs the Valley Advisory Board of the Anti-Defamation League,” Boyarsky wrote. “His wife is African American. They live across the street from his parents. She was in the audience at the synagogue. Twenty-five years ago, this would have been impossible.”

Then, pointing to Obama’s campaign, Boyarsky observed, “It could be that race relations in America are taking a new turn, unfamiliar to those of us who see everything through the prism of mid- and late- 20th century conflict.”

Kafi Blumenfield touched on the same topic, though suggesting that the “new turn” still had some way to go.

Speaking at Liberty Hill’s Upton Sinclair dinner, she reminisced, “After I arrived in Los Angeles, I met a wonderful man. His name is Bob Blumenfield. We got married…. We have a beautiful baby, who I hope is home asleep right now.

“Last month, I was trying to find a part-time baby sitter, and I got a call from our search agency. ‘Mrs. Blumenfield,’ the agent said, ‘would you hire a black?’

“Bob and I face a lot of challenges building bridges between his heritage and mine. Our daughter, Nia, will also face challenges of dealing with racism and anti-Semitism…. What community does my daughter belong to? She is black, and she’s Jewish. At her day care center, the kids speak Spanish.”

Nia is now two-and-a-half years old and, said her father, is being raised “100 percent Jewish and 100 percent African American.”

To cement the Jewish part, Nia had a baby conversion ceremony, conducted by a Reform rabbi. A little later, the parents held a baby naming ceremony for “Ruth” at the 212-year- old Hebrew Congregation Synagogue in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, where some of the mother’s relatives live.

Asked how the respective families felt about the marriage, Bob Blumenfield said, “The reaction was generally positive, but there were a few hiccups. Our parents were very supportive.”

On the campaign trail, the interracial aspect tended to be a plus rather than a minus, and during debates the most hostile remark came from a questioner who wanted to know whether Blumenfield was loyal to the United States or to Israel.

Blumenfield was born in Brooklyn, but was raised in Scarsdale and celebrated his bar mitzvah at Beth Am Shalom, which he described as a Conservative/Reconstructionist temple. His father is a still-practicing psychiatrist and his mother a social worker.

“It was a mixed marriage,” said Blumenfield. “My father was a Republican and my mother a Democrat.” Eventually, mother and son brought the father over to their side.

After graduating from Duke University with a degree in public policy, Blumenfield headed for the nation’s capital in 1989 and landed a job as an aide to Sen. Bill Bradley, a New Jersey Democrat.

He moved on to become legislative director of Berman’s office in Washington and, following the 1994 Northridge earthquake, focused on getting emergency relief for the stricken area.

Blumenfield got an even closer look at Los Angeles politics as government affairs director for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy between 1996 and 2000.

“It’s there I got to know a lot of political leaders, like Zev [Yaroslavsky] and Antonio [Villaraigosa], and also learned the difference between Sacramento and Washington politics,” he said.

Blumenfield made another switch in 2000 (“All my life decisions seem to coincide with presidential election cycles,” he observed) and became the district director for Berman’s congressional office in Van Nuys.

Surrounded by politics and politicians, Blumenfield had considered for a long time running for public office. After establishing a family, persuading his parents to leave the East Coast, and joining Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, he felt “rooted enough” to run for the Assembly seat.

If elected, one of his top priorities will be California’s “quality of life,” especially in upgrading the state’s infrastructure. “Every one dollar invested in infrastructure adds seven times that amount to the general economy,” he said.

Fundamentally, though, “everything begins and ends with the budget,” Blumenfield said, and he advocates eliminating the requirement for a two-thirds majority to pass the state budget, moving from a one-year to a two-year budget cycle and possible modifications of Proposition 13.

His Republican opponent in November is Armineh Chelebian, whose parents came to the United States from Iran in 1978 and who is of Armenian descent.

She is an accountant and describes herself as a mother, grandmother, pro-Israel and an optimist used to overcoming obstacles. “I am not a partisan politician,” she said. “I want to focus on the issues and serve the community.”

The Journal asked Howard Welinsky, the dean of Southern California Democrats and chair of Democrats for Israel, for his evaluation of Blumenfield.

Welinsky, who campaigned actively for Blumenfield in the primary, described the candidate as “very smart, experienced and thoughtful … in today’s world of blogs, it’s very hard to find someone like him.”

Welinsky added, “I favor candidates who are versed in public policy but realize that it takes politics to achieve their goals. Bob is one of the few who combines these qualities.”

Briefs: The Milken JCC pool; Valley Cities JCC fundraiser; Iran divestment bill moving forward


Federation Asks Milken JCC to Relinquish Property Rights

With little notice, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles closed the Olympic-sized swimming pool at The New JCC at Milken on April 25, citing possible mold damage but having already been issued a permit on April 11 by the City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to demolish and fill in the pool.

Now The Federation appears to have more extensive plans for the financially troubled JCC, offering them a one-time supplemental allocation of $350,000 in return for signing a quitclaim deed relinquishing their historic right to be the major tenant on the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills.

After June 30, 2008, the JCC’s space and budget could be greatly diminished as The Federation intends to rent the space to former tenant New Community Jewish High School, giving them a substantial portion of the Milken campus.

In response to that proposal, which was faxed to the JCC on May 22, the JCC board of directors has scheduled a membership meeting on Sunday, June 10, 2 p.m., to present and vote on The Federation’s rescue plan. Prior to that meeting, however, JCC officials are hoping to raise $500,000, giving them the ability to consider other options.

“We have a lot of financial problems and some mismanagement. Nobody’s denying that,” former JCC president Bonnie Rosenthal said. “But we do serve people and it seems that Federation is not interested in the people we serve.”

Those people include 125 preschoolers, many from single-parent, working-parent and immigrant families who depend on the extended daycare hours. Additionally, the JCC serves more than 700 seniors who come for classes, cultural events and fitness programs.

Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon said that it is a coincidence that the pool closure happend at the same time as the JCC’s financial distress. She added that The Federation wants to see the best communal use of the property and intends to work with the JCC to continue a downsized version of its early childhood and senior programs.

Dragon and Andrew Cushnir, Federation vice president of planning, said that without signing the quitclaim deed, the JCC will not receive supplemental funding and, like all Federation agencies, must apply for a 2008 allocation, with no guarantee.

“The JCC is losing members in droves because of the pool closure and the lack of information that Federation is giving out,” said Marty Rosenthal, JCC treasurer and past president.

Meanwhile, the pool remains closed with no set demolition date.

— Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor

Valley Cities JCC Holds Fundraiser

In what could be a last hurrah, the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center (JCC) will hold a BBQ social on Sunday, June 10, 2-7 p.m., complete with a bounce house for children, face painting, bands and silent auction. The entrance fee is $10.

The center, which uses property owned by the Jewish Community Centers Development Corp., is facing closure as soon as June 15. The development corporation had agreed in principle to a Burbank philanthropist’s $2.7 million offer to buy the property and turn it over to Valley Cities JCC. But in April everything fell apart.

“We keep making them offers, and they just keep turning their backs on us,” said Michael Brezner, the center’s board chair. “They are not nice people.”

The BBQ is part fundraiser, part public relations initiative.

“We want people to know we are here. We want to stay,” said Lori Brockman, a concerned parent who helped organize the event.

Valley Cities JCC is in Sherman Oaks at 13164 Burbank Blvd. For more information, call (818) 786-6310.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer

Iran Divestment Bill Passes Assembly Appropriation Committee

[SACRAMENTO] — A proposed California State Assembly bill that would require state pension funds to divest an estimated $24 billion from more than 280 companies doing business with Iran, took one step closer to become law on May 31 after being approved by the Assembly’s Appropriation Committee.

The bill, also known as AB 221, was first introduced by freshman Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) and unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee on April 24. Anderson has said the primary goal of the legislation is to secure the California Public Employees Retirement and the State Teachers Retirement pensions with wise investment strategies, since both are valued at nearly $400 billion and funded by taxpayers.

AB 221 has received wide support from 14 national and state Jewish organizations and dozens of Los Angeles-based Iranian Muslim groups opposed to Iran’s regime, as an economic means to bring down the already crippled Iranian economy. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a Washington D.C.-based pro-Iran lobby as well as the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have been the only groups opposing AB 221. The Assembly will have a final vote on the bill in the first week of June and supporters said they expect it to become law by January 2008.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Collegians do the ‘Write Thing’ at GA


College students are not only attending the General Assembly, they are
covering it as well.

This will be the 17th year that a select group of Jewish collegians, as
members of the Do the Write Thing team, will have its own prestigious place
in the General Assembly.

For this 40-member cadre, most of whom staff their campus Jewish and/or
secular newspapers, the GA will be more than a place to learn about and
participate in organized Jewish life. They will also have the opportunity to
sharpen their journalistic skills while deepening their understanding of
what the community does — and how it does it.

Do the Write Thing is sponsored by The Jewish Agency and the Hagshama
department of the World Zionist Organization, with some sessions coordinated
by the American Jewish Press Association.

Hagshama translates to “fulfillment,” explains New York-based fulfillment’
and find a personal connection and engagement with the Jewish state is
through programs such as this,” he says. “It also helps these students to
be better equipped to make Israel’s case on campuses.”

The GA, he adds, “is a great place for these students to meet Jewish
leaders, and to establish friendships with each other.”

In addition to being at major GA plenaries and sessions, DTWT participants
will attend press conferences with visiting dignitaries and hear, in
sessions exclusively for them, from such eminent people as Gary Rosenblatt,
publisher and editor of The Jewish Week (New York), and Rob Eshman, editor
of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, about “Covering Israel in
the American Jewish Press.” Meetings with Israeli journalists and workshops
with members of the American Jewish Press Association also are on the
agenda.

For many DTWT alumni, participation proved to be a step toward a
professional career. Gil Hoffman and Miriam Saviv are on the staff of the
Jerusalem Post. Dan Schifrin is director of literacy programs at the
National Foundation for Jewish Culture, and Marita Gringaus was press
officer at the Consulate General of Israel in New York. Rustin Silverstein,
who served as press secretary for Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, was also a
producer at “Hardball With Chris Matthews.”

“Do the Write Thing,” Silverstein says, “helped me understand the craft of
writing from a Jewish perspective.”

As a result of a visit during last year’s DTWT program at the Toronto GA by
Laura Kam, director of the Washington-based Media Fellows Program of The
Israel Project, participants learned about the project’s fellowship program.

“Several students applied, and two were chosen, ” Kam reports. “They proved
to be excellent media fellows,” she says. “They were sincere students who
were intent upon pursuing Israel advocacy.”

“I hope to make more connections this year through Do the Write Thing,” Kam
says.

Keren Douek, assistant editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light, says DTWT
confirmed for her that writing for and about the smaller, more specific and
personally relevant Jewish world, was an intriguing concept. “There is
nothing like it,” she says.

Brotherhood in a Sukkah … in Iraq


Three long, narrow white boxes with Hebrew and English writing were laying on the chapel floor at my Air Force Base in the Persian Gulf.

“What’s this?” I wondered aloud. When I looked closer, I noticed the words “Sukkah” and “U.S. Government” stamped on each package.

“A sukkah kit for the Jewish service personnel at our overseas American Air Force base!” I exclaimed. “It’s not often one comes across these sorts of things in an Arab country!”

As the sole Jewish chaplain at the base, I eagerly shared the news with the Jewish personnel who serve here. We agreed to meet late Friday afternoon, before Sukkot began, to erect the booth.
Due to busy schedules, only two of us showed up. Determined to get the help I needed, I asked the chapel staff for volunteers. A Catholic chaplain and a Protestant chaplain offered to assist.

The three of us, accompanied by the Jewish airman, picked a spot for the sukkah in front of the chapel. We felt the location was perfect because the outer chapel walls would protect the sukkah from the high desert winds.

We hastily opened the boxes and pulled out the disassembled white metal frame, the white-and-navy nylon tarp used for the walls and the reed mat for the roof.

As the Jewish airman read the assembly directions to us, the other chaplains and I interlocked the floor frame, and I used a rubber mallet to hammer the corner wall pieces into the slots of the floor frame.

We stabilized the sukkah with four bungee cords, then stretched the tarp around the perimeter of the structure. Two parallel wooden beams were laid for roof support, and the reed mat was unraveled on top of the beams.

To prevent the schach, as the roof is known, from blowing away, we tied it to the frame. We completed the project by placing a wooden pallet outside the front door as a makeshift “welcome mat.”

The airman, Protestant chaplain, Catholic chaplain and I stepped back, wiped the sweat from our brows and admired our handiwork.

What a beautiful sukkah! And probably the only one in this entire Muslim country.

We first used the sukkah that night. After participating in Shabbat/Sukkot services in the chapel, we walked outside and made Kiddush over grape juice and made the blessing over the bread in the sukkah.

Together we recited the blessing “Lashev b’sukkah,” blessing God for commanding us to dwell in the sukkah, and sat down on metal folding chairs.

While feasting on brownies, cookies and pecan pie, we discussed how lucky we were to have such a beautiful sukkah. We continued to talk throughout the evening until the others excused themselves for bed.

Before leaving the sukkah, I looked through the roof at the stars above.

“How appropriate it is to observe Sukkot in the Middle Eastern desert,” I thought.

Being a service member in Operation Iraqi Freedom, I also realized that life, like the sukkah, is temporary. One never knows how long one might live or when one might die.

For this reason, we must truly make the most of each day that God grants us. As the Psalms say, “Teach us to count our days wisely so we may attain a heart of wisdom” (Psalms 90:12).

With this in mind, I stood up to leave the booth. As I walked out into the warm, moonlit night, I smiled at the thought that Protestant, Catholic and Jewish chaplains had worked together as brothers-in-arms and friends to build a sukkah.

Before joining the Air Force in 2004, Rabbi Gary Davidson served as rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Long Beach. Security precautions prohibit identifying the air force base where Davidson is currently stationed. He can be reached by e-mail at Mensch613@msn.com.

First Election Round Goes to Jews


While most Jewish politicians easily won Tuesday’s primary election, four out of six Jewish candidates in Los Angeles County Superior Court judge races survived the primaries, with two Jewish women competing this fall in a tough judge’s race.

California’s Jewish legislators who retained their seats Tuesday against token or zero opposition included Sen. Barbara Boxer, who had no Democratic opposition and now faces Republican challenger Bill Jones. Los Angeles County’s five Jewish members of Congress — Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood), Jane Harman (D-Venice). Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) — all won, although Sherman faces Republican attorney Robert Levy in November.

In the vacant Superior Court Office 69 judge’s race, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Judith Levey Meyer garnered 32.55 percent of Tuesday’s vote and runner-up and Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Donna Groman earned 29.09 percent of ballots cast. The two square off in November as neither took the majority needed (51 percent) of the vote.

In other Superior Court races, Jewish candidates either lost to or still are up against Latino opponents.

Deputy District Attorneys Daniel Feldstern (Superior Court Office 18) and Jeffrey Gootman (Superior Court Office 29) both came in third in their separate court races, with Feldstern getting 26.1 percent and Gootman 22.3 percent; the top vote-getters in both races respectively were Latino candidates Mildred Escobedo, a Superior Court referee, and attorney Gus Gomez.

Deputy District Attorney Laura Priver came in second with 38.2 percent, and in November faces administrative law judge John Gutierrez for the Superior Court Office 52 seat.

Superior Court referee Daniel Zeke Zeidler, a dependency referee at Edelman Children’s Court, came in first in the Superior Court Office 69 race with 28.08 percent against his November opponent, Deputy District Attorney David Lopez, who earned 21.5 percent.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, a Catholic, faces no fall election since he retained his seat with 59.27 percent of the vote. Jewish challenger Deputy District Attorney Denise Moehlman came in third with 9 percent.

In state races, Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Granada Hills) won his primary unopposed, as did Assembly incumbents Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) and Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), with Levine battling Republican schoolteacher Mark Isler this fall. Similarly, state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) had no primary opposition and won.

In the 47th District’s open Assembly seat, including Jewish neighborhoods in Pico-Roberston, Westwood and Cheviot Hills, African American Democrats Karen Bass and Nate Holden square off in November, with political science professor Richard Groper coming in fourth with 10 percent of the vote.

Republican political consultant Arnold Steinberg said the Jewish community took little interest in Orange County’s onetime Republican congressman Bob Dornan and his late, underfunded attempt to unseat incumbent Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) in the 46th District; Rohrabacher has become more sympathetic to Arab perspectives in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The Jewish community has to be more interested in some of these races," Steinberg said. "The Jewish community simply was not involved in the race. [Dornan] brings a lot of baggage into the race and, as such, there wasn’t any substantive press coverage of the foreign policy issues, instead a focus on personality."

Susan Pinkus, director of the Los Angeles Times exit poll, said of Tuesday’s California turnout of Jews, "For all voters, it was 7 percent Jewish; for the Democratic primary voters, it was 11 percent and 71 percent of them voted for Kerry, 18 percent for Edwards."

Another 4 percent voted for Kucinich, she noted.

On the Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger-fueled Proposition 57 state bond initiative and Proposition 58 balanced budget initiative, "For 57 [Jews] voted for it, 59 percent to 41 percent. On 58, again, they voted for it, 69 percent to 31 percent," Pinkus said.

Proposition 55, the state school bond initiative, had 69 percent to 39 percent Jewish support, Pinkus said, while Jewish voters in a 47 percent to 53 percent margin opposed the state budget initiative Proposition 56, "they voted against it as everybody else did," she said. "They voted as did the rest of the electorate."

Jewish Candidates Fill County Ballot


Jewish candidates will be well represented in the March 2 election, with incumbents in Los Angeles County expected to sail through with no — or token — opposition in the Democratic and Republican primaries.

At the top of the ballot — after the presidential candidates, among whom the departed Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) is still listed — is U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who has no competition on the Democratic side.

There also is no Democratic competition facing the county’s five Jewish Congress members, Brad Sherman (Sherman Oaks), Howard Berman (North Hollywood), Adam B. Schiff (Burbank), Henry A. Waxman (Los Angeles) and Jane Harman (Venice).

These five, who make up 28 percent of Los Angeles County’s 18 House members, represent the largest congressional Jewish contingent of any county in the United States, according to political expert Howard Welinsky. While New York City may have a larger overall Jewish total, each of its boroughs counts as a separate county.

In the November general election, Sherman will face attorney Robert M. Levy, who is unopposed in the Republican primary.

Running for an open state Senate seat is Assemblyman Alan S. Lowenthal (D-Long Beach).

One of the liveliest Assembly races is shaping up for the open seat in the 47th District. After the last reapportionment, the predominant African American population lost some demographic ground to mainly Jewish concentrations in Cheviot Hills, Pico-Robertson and Westwood.

The three black front-runners, Karen Bass, Nate Holden and Ricky Ivie, have been courting the Jewish vote, which is likely to determine the outcome in the Democratic primary, Welinsky said. Also competing in the same district is Democrat Richard Groper, a California State University political science professor and active member of Congregation Mogen David.

Among other Assembly races, Democratic incumbents Paul Koretz (West Hollywood), Lloyd Levine (Van Nuys) and Jackie Goldberg (Los Angeles), as well as Republican Keith Richman (Granada Hills), are unopposed in their respective primaries. In November, Levine will face Republican Mark Isler, a public school teacher, who faces no opponent in his primary, noted Michael Richman of the local Republican Jewish Coalition.

In additional Assembly contests, Ontario City Councilman Alan Wapner is a Republican contender in the 61st District, while in Orange County, Republican Todd Spitzer (Orange) is up for reelection.

Twelve members of Democrats for Israel are in the race for seats on the Los Angeles County Democratic Party Central Committee, and about an equal number are vying to serve as delegates to the Democratic National Convention, said Welinsky, who chairs the organization.

In a contest that is drawing some national interest in the Bay Area, Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos (San Mateo), the only Holocaust survivor serving in Congress and a champion of Israel, is again opposed by Palestinian American attorney Maad Abu-Ghazalah.

Simchat Torah


When: Sundown on Sat., Oct. 21, to sundown Oct. 22.

What:

Simchat Torah ends the days beginning with Sukkot (which began last Friday night) that are known as Z’man simchateinu (season of our joy). The day before Simchat Torah (beginning sundown Oct. 20) is called Shemini Atzeret, which, loosely translated, means “the eighth day of assembly.” Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are often thought of as the eighth and ninth days of Sukkot, but they comprise a holiday separate from Sukkot, which lasts seven days, and in Israel, they’re observed on the same day.

A post-biblical festival conceived in exile, Simchat Torah celebrates the presence of the Torah in the lives of Jews. Congregations read the very end of the Torah and begin again with the first verses of Genesis. The holiday is marked by singing and dancing, similar to that of a wedding. Just as a bride and groom dance with each other at a wedding, on Simchat Torah we hold the Torah in our arms and dance joyously.

What you’re supposed to do:

Go to synagogue. More than even the High Holy Days, Simchat Torah is a shul-based holiday (after all, that’s where the Torah scrolls are).

What happens:

Shemini Atzeret is marked by two special observances: a memorial service honoring the dead and the first recitation for the season of the prayer for rain.

In the Simchat Torah service, the congregation recites or sings “Atah horeita” (“You have been shown”), a series of verses in praise of God and Torah. Then the ark is opened, all the Torah scrolls are taken out, and there’s a series of seven hakafot (processions) with the scrolls, interspersed with bursts of singing and dancing.

Everyone in the congregation is given an opportunity to carry or dance with a scroll (though women may not have a chance to do so in some Orthodox synagogues). The scene becomes a joyous pandemonium of adults and children alike marching, dancing, singing, shouting, and waving flags.

After the processions, a traditional congregation will read the end of the Torah up to the last few verses during the evening service, continuing with those final verses and the beginning of Genesis the next morning (after another round of processions). In a liberal synagogue, the reading of the end and the beginning of the Torah may be combined in a single service.

Some synagogues hold a ceremony called “consecration” at Simchat Torah, during which religious school students in kindergarten or first grade are welcomed into the study of Torah and given toy Torah scrolls.

What you eat:

While Simchat Torah is not closely associated with particular foods, cakes and other sweets symbolizing the sweetness and joy of Torah are common, especially sweets made with stretched dough such as strudel and baklava.

More details about Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret can be found online at sites such as Virtual Jerusalem (www.vjholidays.com) and the Orthodox Union (www.ou.org) or in books such as “The Jewish Holidays” by Rabbi Michael Strassfeld and “Jewish Literacy” by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.

What To Do With Your Kids

A selection of this week’s Jewish events for children:Ongoing:

“Kids Kehilla” at the Westside JCC emphasizes performing arts and multimedia projects which focus on Jewish values. For children 6-13. Mon.-Thurs., 3 p.m.-6 p.m. For more information on enrollment, call (323) 934-2925.Monday, Oct. 23 Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus: 6:30 p.m. Israeli teen pop comes to the Valley with a live performance by Tze’irei Tel Aviv, “The Young Tel Avivians.” Their 30-minute performance will consist of contemporary and pop Israeli music, sung mostly in Hebrew. 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. For reservations or more information, call (323) 761-8161.Friday, Oct. 27 Sukkot Temple Beth Hillel: 7:15 p.m.-7:45 p.m. “Tot Shabbat” service with stories and songs selected for their appeal to toddlers and preschoolers. 12326 Riverside Dr., Valley Village. For more information, call (818) 761-6983.Also, many synagogues have Simchat Torah celebrations especially for children. Call your local synagogues for more information.

State Races Get Hot


As I made the rounds of endless cocktail parties and debates two weeks before March 7 primary day, I could see that the Jewish community has little reason to cheer term limits, just as it will not likely salute restrictions on campaign contributions, if that should ever come to pass. The Jewish community has spent much of the past 30 years learning the effective use of government for the wider public good. The race between Assembly members Wally Knox and Sheila Kuehl to replace State Senator Tom Hayden is another case of chopping our institutional wisdom at its root. Newly-installed Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, already regarded as one of the most effective and professional legislators of his generation, will be term-limited out of office at the next election term.

As it is, the Knox/Kuehl fight is being waged as gingerly as two hard-hitting adversaries can make it — velvet on steel.

“Time after time we agree on much,” Knox told the Sherman Oaks Property Owner Association last week. “We are strategic allies.”

Nevertheless, much of this newspaper’s readership lives in State Senate District 23, extending from Sherman Oaks to Westlake and Malibu, in which 25 percent of the electorate is Jewish. So how will you likely vote?

The answer is, probably with much pain.

The assets of both candidates — two Harvard Law graduates, both well-known in the Jewish community, with vast identification on liberal issues, are easy to enumerate. Since you’ve received their mailers, too, I’ll just say that what impresses me about each is as follows:

Knox, a former labor lawyer, has a gut instinct for high-profile consumer issues like saving the 310/818 area codes and studying the car-choked 405/101 freeways. He acted fast on gun control, especially after Buford O. Furrow, Jr. opened fire on the North Valley JCC. He played a key role in legislation enabling Holocaust survivors and their families to recoup on European insurance policies. In the battle of endorsements, Knox has Mayor Riordan. One factor in the loss of Gov. Gray Davis to Kuehl may be Knox’s early support of Jane Harmon in her gubernatorial bid.

Kuehl, forever known as Zelda Gilroy on “Dobie Gillis,” takes an equally effective approach, especially with regard to family-related issues like nursing care, HMOs, financial privacy and overhaul of the Kafka-esque child-support collection system. She acted fast to repair Pacific Coast Highway, and is a fervent protector of motion picture industry interests, and the environment. And she’s an independent thinker, a maverick who refused to back Gov. Pete Wilson’s hastily-designed, potentially disastrous school “reform” package, including onerous educational testing which is now causing much pain.

Once upon a time, Jewish clout, and the seats that went with it, seemed to be endlessly expanding. Tony Beilenson began his Sacramento career representing exactly the district that Knox and Kuehl are now fighting to win. He ended his congressional career 25 years later, and most of his seat was near Ventura County. But unless upcoming reapportionment splits the Valley and Westside into two Senate seats, the political pond is shrinking.

West Hollywood City Councilman Paul Koretz and attorney Amanda Susskind are the front-runners for the 42st Assembly District vacated by Sheila Kuehl, with Dan Stone, a Beverly Hills physician, an earnest third. One campaign insider termed the Koretz/Susskind race “the nerd vs. the activist,” and that almost says it all.

What it leaves out is the way that local politics, in a campaign in which both candidates will raise $600,000, breaks down into distinct subgroups. Gays, seniors, women, homeowners — each of these will find a candidate to match their schism.

Community activists Adele and Ira Yellin are typical: Adele is for Susskind; Ira for Koretz. A Koretz fundraiser on Thursday featured real estate interests from West Hollywood focussed on density issues along Sunset; at a Susskind event the previous day, the topic among women activists was the need for better hospital care.

Susskind is by far the more gregarious and articulate candidate, a charming policy wonk who can make her decades spent representing small cities like Hidden Hills seem like a glamorous precursor to her current foray into politics. Her father, who was a Kindertransport survivor from Nazi Germany, became an engineering professor at UC Berkeley. Her mother was a veteran of the London blitz. A hardball campaigner, she has the support of both Mayor Riordan and Latino powerbroker Assembly member Richard Polanco. Howard Welinsky, Jewish community activist and former head of the Jewish Community Relations Committee, is one of her biggest backers.

Nevertheless, Koretz, whose diffident speaking style hides considerable political acumen, has sizable support and name recognition in the Jewish community. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky (and Gov. Davis) back Koretz, who has spent his career in local politics as aide or elected official.

“We’ll be able to be proud of either candidate,” a long time political observer told me. But when it comes down to March 7, that sentiment will be cold comfort to the loser.


Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of The Jewish Journal.


Her website is www.marleneadlermarks.com.

Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.comHer book, “A Woman’s Voice” is available through Amazon.com.

Jewish Philanthropy, From A to C


There was a sort of informal poll conducted among the delegates who gathered in Atlanta last week for the annual assembly of America’s Jewish welfare federations.

The agency that convened them, the newly-designated United Jewish Communities, had scheduled a series of discussions for the assembly’s second day on the four “pillars” that sum up its mission: Jewish renaissance, social services, Israel and overseas needs, and fundraising. Delegates were free to pick their “pillar.”

The results tell you everything you need to know about where Jewish philanthropy is headed in the next few years. The session on fundraising drew between 400 and 500 people, mainly professionals engaged in a businesslike discussion of new trends. The session on Israel and overseas needs drew about the same number, including some of American Jewry’s top activists, for an earnest — and inconclusive — exploration of how to bind American Jewry and Israel together in the years to come.

The session on social services, the worst attended, drew just over 300 people, for a dispirited discussion of how to keep American Jewry from dropping out of social activism altogether. “People in the room were generally pretty depressed from what I could tell,” said a New Jersey delegate. The best attended session was the one on Jewish renaissance and identity.

It had over 800 delegates spilling out of the chairs and lining the walls . The mood in the room was one of eager expectation. But the reviews afterward were generally downbeat. The consensus seemed to be that delegates hadn’t heard much they didn’t know already. In part, that was because the answers are already familiar. “We already know exactly what we have to do,” Boston federation president Barry Shrage told the delegates. “All we have to do is do it.” What’s needed, Shrage said, is more and better teachers, more communication among synagogues, more openness among Jews.

“The bottom line is, you can’t do anything without money,” said one delegate, Caryl Berzovsky of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as she exited the session. The delegates had come to Atlanta with few expectations. They knew the organization that convened them had been reorganized and renamed. Just what that would mean for their local work, out in the community, wasn’t clear to anyone. But they were about to find out. After five years of mind-numbing quibbling, the fabled United Jewish Appeal had been transformed into the little-known United Jewish Communities. This assembly was the new agency ‘s inaugural rollout.

The opening session had featured Vice President Al Gore, in a 45-minute speech that could only be called astoundingly adequate. He was smooth, sometimes funny, at times almost uplifting. He talked about things his listeners cared about. By any standard it was a credible performance. For Gore, given his robot-like reputation, it was a masterpiece. “I was looking for a reason to like him, and he gave one,” said one satisfied listener. By the time delegates headed home two days later, that was pretty much the verdict on the operation as a whole. For five years the national institutions of Jewish philanthropy had been paralyzed, unable to discuss anything but their own structure. In Atlanta, finally, they got back to t he business of Jewish philanthropy. “There’s a sense of optimism that some o f the institutional baggage has been cleared up,” said delegate Francine Immerman of Cleveland. The shift hadn’t come a moment too soon. Delegates spoke repeatedly, many in urgent tones, of the need to shake up the Jewish community’s institutions and move them into a new era. The existing institutions of Jewish philanthropy had been created a century ago, to face emergencies that have long since ended. Local Jewish federations were set up to provide social services for millions of penniless Jewish refugees pouring into America’s urban ghettoes. The United Jewish Appeal arose a half-century later to rescue Jews from the devastation of Nazi Europe and build a new state of Israel.

Today’s emergency isn’t in the ghettoes or battlefields, but in the heart s of young Jews. The issue is no longer how Jews can survive in a hostile world. The issue is why stay Jewish in a world that’s ever more welcoming . The question facing the Jewish federations is whether the awesome resources they command — annual donations of $1.5 billion, a vast network of institutions from coast to coast — can be harnessed to that new mission.

Up to now the system has been slow to shift direction, in large part because the old structure kept vested interests in command. The old Unite d Jewish Appeal, run by donors who’d spent a lifetime fighting for Israel, was a stubborn advocate for keeping things unchanged. Local initiatives — new forms of Jewish outreach, voices of Jewish spirituality, women’s groups — had little voice. According to some critics, that was a key reason the new emergency hasn’t yet gotten the full-bore response American Jewry is capable of. “Right now, the leadership and vision are being provided further down the food chain,” says Shrage. Heads of the new United Jewish Communities say they’re moving as fast as they can. “None of our pillars is up and running,” says UJC president Stephen Solender. “We don’t have permanent committees working yet. This is just the beginning. Up to now people really couldn’t see what we were trying to do. People here are seeing it come together.” But there’s another question facing the federations, and it’s not so simple to answer. You can’t discuss a renaissance of Jewish identity without discussing what Judaism is about. That will leave Jews feeling empty and frustrated, as assembly delegates learned.

Pursuing a genuine agenda of Jewish renaissance means not just focusing inward and teaching more Torah. It also means adapting — and expanding — the old programs. It means reaching out to Israel, not forgetting about it now that it can take care of itself. It means adapting, not ending, Jewish social services and social activism, so that Judaism doesn’t become the only religion in America with nothing to say. The initial moves by the UJC are encouraging. What’s needed is much more leadership and vision, to keep Jews engaged with each other and the world.

Otherwise, as one UJA ex-board member griped, “it’s all just rearranging furniture.” “In the end, this is the place where people come together to set the agenda for the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Md. “The question now is how this whole configuration is going to trickle down, whether changing an A to a C is going to have an impact on people’s lives.”


J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for the Jewish Journal.

Invitation to a Showdown


Readers’ Quiz: Who was the unhappiest Jew in Indiana last week?Was it:

A) Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had to endurethe icy stares of 4,000 hostile delegates at the General Assembly ofthe Council of Jewish Federations, as he begged them to set asideinternal divisions in the face of deadly enemies such as Iraq?

B) United Jewish Appeal chairman Richard Wexler, who repeatedlyappealed to the assembly’s delegates not to let their anger overIsraeli religious policies cripple the legendary American Jewishfund-raising machine?

C) Avraham Burg, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, whoarrived to find an American Jewish philanthropic establishment deeplyalienated from his Jerusalem-based agency and bent on radical budgetcuts, despite all his recent streamlining efforts?

Answer: None of the above. It appears that the unhappiest Jew inIndiana last week was insurance agent Ed Wormser of Terre Haute, 85miles southwest of Indianapolis. Wormser is the president of TerreHaute’s tiny Jewish Welfare Fund, which raises some $17,000 a yearfrom the town’s 250 Jews. The General Assembly that convened inIndianapolis on Nov. 16 was about the biggest Jewish event ever totake place in Ed’s neck of the woods. Unfortunately, he missed itbecause no one remembered to tell him in time that it was takingplace.

“I think it’s crazy,” Wormser said in a telephone interview fromhis home, on the assembly’s second day. “I know we don’t raise bigbucks. We’re submicroscopic. Still, somebody should have thought ofus. Communities like ours can really benefit from experiencing ameeting like this, and we didn’t have the opportunity.”

The reason the organizers forgot Ed Wormser — and leaders likehim from a dozen other one-shul towns around Indiana — is one ofthose classic cases of many small errors adding up to one bigfoul-up. It’s the sort of mistake the organizers are certain to learnfrom so that they can go on to make new ones next year.

For the rest of us, though, there’s a bracing lesson in EdWormser’s misfortune. The assembly in Indianapolis may have been ascene of great turmoil and angst, but Wormser wanted to be there justthe same. People usually want to be part of the action, if they’reinvited.

That’s the way it is with a big convention. Whatever else it maybring — great clashes between warring philosophies, dark warnings oflooming danger — the delegates usually experience it as a rippinggood time. It’s a chance to learn from others, to be part ofsomething bigger. It’s a chance to see another part of the world,even if it’s only Indianapolis.

And, indeed, while the top guns of American and world Jewry werefulminating from the podium of the Indiana Convention Center lastweek, warning of the calamities sure to result from the Jews’disunity, disengagement, disaffiliation and that nasty habit ofmarrying the wrong kind, the folks down on the convention floor werehaving the time of their lives.

“I haven’t been to a General Assembly in many years, and I mustsay, it’s very good,” said an exuberant Delores Wilkenfeld, adelegate from Houston, interviewed on the assembly’s final day. “Ijust came from the biennial convention of the Union of AmericanHebrew Congregations in Dallas, and now I’m here, and it’s quite anexperience.”

Paradoxically, the assembly may have been all the more successfulthis year because of the crisis atmosphere that hung over theproceedings. With Netanyahu isolated on countless fronts at home andabroad, his journey to Indianapolis to mend fences with AmericanJewry, Israel’s last and best ally, captured the world’s imagination.As such, Israel-Diaspora strains over religious pluralism becamefront-page news from Kuwait to Kansas City. The whole world, itseemed, was watching to gauge the assembly’s mood.

“There’s no denying the experience of sitting in a room with 4,000people and listening to the prime minister of Israel,” said CindyChazan, executive director of the Jewish Federation of GreaterHartford, Conn. “Whether or not you agree with him, it’s a headyexperience.”

Because of such heady experiences, many delegates went home fromIndianapolis with energy renewed. The bitter pluralism debates, farfrom reducing their will to carry on fund raising and communitybuilding, actually gave them a boost. For a change, it seems, thethings they do and care about actually mattered. “What our peoplefelt was the passion,” said Marvin Goldberg, executive director ofthe Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, N.C.

All this may help to answer a riddle posed with increasingfrequency by the Jewish community’s latest generation of doomsayers– those who say that with the big crises of the past nearly settled,there are no big crises left, and that’s a crisis. Now that MiddleEast peace is visible on the horizon and most Jews are out of Russia,what will hold the Jews together? Does the age of normalcy meanthere’s nothing to look forward to but drift and decline?

If the Indianapolis assembly was any indication, normalcy may notbe all that bad. In the next great stage of Jewish history, beingJewish may be something like being American or French — ascomfortable as we make it, and filled with the content we give it.The challenge will be to fight today’s battles and then go back tobusiness as usual tomorrow.

Normalcy, then, may be a matter of learning to walk and chew gumat the same time. The Indianapolis experience suggests that Jews outthere are ready for it. What’s needed is a leadership that canremember to send out the invitations.

J.J. Goldberg is the author of “Jewish Power: Inside theAmercan Jewish Establishment.” He writes from New York.

Palestinian Angst


Despite its propaganda success in the United Nations General Assembly, where 134 countries last weekend denounced Israeli construction on the disputed Har Homa site in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority is in despair over the stagnant peace process.

Despite the fact that the United States was one of only three countries voting against the U.N. resolution (the others were Israel and Micronesia), Palestinian officials still recognize the Clinton administration as their best bet to bring Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whom they accuse of dictating his own terms, back to the table.

The American Middle East peace envoy, Dennis Ross, is expected to