Oscars Ballot 2014

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*This ballot is closed as of March 2 at 5:30 pm.

For official rules and prize description click here.     And the nominees are…

Best Picture:
Best Director: 
Best Actor:
Best Actress:
Best Supporting Actor:
Best Supporting Actress:
Best Animated Feature:
Best Film Editing:
Best Cinematography:
Best Screenplay, Adapted:
Best Screenplay, Original: 
Best Original Song:
Best Original Score:
Costume Design:

Best Foreign Language Film: 
Best Documentary Feature:
Best Documentary Short :
Best Short Film, Live Action:
Best Short Film, Animated:
Production Design:
Makeup and Hairstyling:
Sound Editing:
Sound Mixing:
Visual Effects:

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First Prize: A pair of opening night tickets to “Harmony,” a new musical by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman on March 12th at 8pm


Second Prize: Two orchestra tickets to see Annette Bening in Ruth Draper’s Monologues on April 24th for Girls Night Out at the Geffen!


Third Prize: Four opening night tickets to Yemen Blues at the Separdic Music Festival


Fourth Prize: A pair of tickets to see “Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life” on May 10 at The Wallis.


Fifth Prize: A signed copy of best seller “The Accidental Caregiver” by Greggor Collins


Sixth Prize: A pair of tickets to hear “Recovered Voices” on March 27, 7:30 pm at The Broad Stage. Program features LA Opera music director James Conlon conducting work featuring two generations of music by Jewish composers who were silenced by the Third Reich.


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Shofars blasting, Bend the Arc urges yes on Prop. 30

Bend the Arc is urging Jewish voters in California to rally behind Proposition 30. 

Gov. Jerry Brown’s measure, which will appear on the November ballot, would collect almost $6 billion in additional revenue to support education, public safety and other public services by temporarily raising sales taxes by a quarter-cent on all purchases, while also increasing income taxes for the state’s top earners.

In their effort, the progressive Jewish group has used all manner of Jewish thematic elements. Bend the Arc launched its campaign in support of Proposition 30 in a sukkah on a Santa Monica beach at the end of September, and on Oct. 15 convened about 40 people in the hot sun at Valley College to hear why students, educators and advocates for public education are urging Jews and other Californians to vote yes on 30. 

At a few points during the press conference, a handful of attendees blew shofars; Bend the Arc called the blasts “a clarion call for justice.”

Symbolism aside, Eric Greene, the organization’s Southern California director, made his case by talking about what might happen if voters reject the measure. 

“The kind of cuts that we’re hearing about are absolutely terrifying,” Greene said. “Weeks being cut off of the school year, more layoffs of teachers.”

The situation facing California’s public institutions of higher education is already pretty dire, according to one Valley College student who spoke at the Oct. 15 press conference. 

Nicole Hutchinson had intended to spend just two years at the community college but is now in her third year of studies there because she can’t get into the oversubscribed classes that she needs. 

“I can’t catch up because the summer sessions have been canceled,” Hutchinson said. 

Should Proposition 30 fail at the polls — and one online poll taken earlier this month by a business group showed support for the measure had dipped below 50 percent for the first time — the situation will almost undoubtedly get worse. Los Angeles’ nine community colleges will have to cut $50 million this year if voters don’t approve the tax hike next month. 

Islamists seek to extend gains in Egypt run-off vote

The Muslim Brotherhood’s party will seek to extend a lead over hardline Islamists in run-offs in Egypt’s parliamentary vote Monday, with liberal parties struggling to hold their ground in a political landscape redrawn by the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is set to take most seats in Egypt’s first democratic parliament in six decades, strengthening their hand in a struggle for influence over the Arab world’s most populous country.

Banned from formal politics until a popular uprising ended Mubarak’s three-decade rule in February, the movement emerged as the main winner from last week’s first-round vote and called on its rivals to “accept the will of the people.”

The phased election runs over six weeks, ending in January.

Opponents accuse the Brotherhood’s slick campaign machine of flouting a ban on canvassing near polling stations and say it handed out food and medicine to secure votes, but monitors said polling seemed fair overall.

“You cannot have democracy and then amend or reject the results,” Amr Moussa, a front-runner for Egypt’s presidency, told Reuters, adding that the shape of parliament would not be clear until the voting was over.

The Brotherhood, Egypt’s best-organized political group and popular with the poor for its charity work, wants to shape a new constitution to be drawn up next year.

That could be the focus of a power struggle with the ruling military council, which wants to keep a presidential system, rather than the parliamentary one favored by the Brotherhood.

Egyptians return to the polls Monday for 52 run-off votes for individual candidates, who will occupy a third of the 498 elected seats in the lower house once two more rounds of the complicated voting process end in January.


The run-offs will pit 24 members of the ultra-conservative Islamist al-Nour party against Brotherhood candidates.

Two-thirds of the seats in the assembly are allocated proportionately to party lists.

Figures released by the election commission and published by state media show a list led by the Brotherhood’s FJP securing 36.6 percent of valid party-list votes, followed by the Salafi al-Nour Party with 24.4 percent, and the liberal Egyptian Bloc with 13.4 percent.

The result has unnerved Israel, concerned about the fate of its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Egypt’s future rulers to preserve the deal.

“We hope any future government in Egypt will recognize the importance of keeping the peace treaty with Israel in its own right and as a basis for regional security and economic stability,” Netanyahu said Sunday.

The fate of the peace deal between Egypt and Israel is a concern for its sponsor, the United States, which has backed it with billions of dollars in military aid for both countries.

The rise of the Salafis has also sparked fear among many ordinary Egyptians because of the group’s uncompromising views.

Analysts say the Brotherhood, which topped the first-stage vote, has a pragmatic streak that makes it an unlikely ally for Salafis who only recently ventured from preaching into politics and whose strict ideology suggests little scope for compromise.

The leader of Salafi party al-Nour Emad Abdel Ghaffour made it clear he would not play second fiddle to the Brotherhood.

“We hate being followers,” Ghaffour told Reuters in an interview. “They always say we take positions according to the Brotherhood but we have our own vision… There might be a consensus but … we will remain independent.”

Additional reporting by Edmund Blair; writing by Tom Pfeiffer; editing Philippa Fletcher

Calif. bill would prevent anti-circumcision ballot initiatives

A bill that would prevent local communities in California from banning male circumcision was unanimously approved by the state senate’s judiciary committee.

The committee approved the bill, proposed by two Democratic lawmakers, on Tuesday. It will head to the Senate floor as early as next week.

If approved by the California State Legislature, the bill would prevent future attempts to place measures banning circumcision in front of the voters.

The bill comes on the heels of two attempts in California communities to place circumcision bans on the November ballot.

A state Superior Court judge in California ruled in July that an anti-circumcision measure in San Francisco be stuck from the ballot. Activists in Santa Monica then withdrew an identical proposal. The initiative would have made the practice of circumcision a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail, and offered no exemption for religious ritual.

It would have been the first time that such a measure appeared on a ballot in a U.S. city, according to the Anti Defamation League.

Supporters of the San Francisco measure told the Associated Press that they would decide by Friday whether to appeal the judge’s ruling.

Proposed circumcision ban not merely a parochial concern

Circumcision, or “brit milah,” has long been the stuff of cheap jokes and comedy. But in recent weeks, what used to be nothing more than harmless fare has taken on a much more serious tone. So-called “intactivists” on the fringe left of American politics have pushed the radical notion that infant circumcision is an act of genital mutilation, so unacceptable in fact that it ought to be illegal.

That such a notion should have garnered enough signatures to have qualified for a popular referendum in San Francisco (and potentially elsewhere) is deeply troubling. For even if, as expected, it will be defeated in the end -– like most such California ballots—that will offer scant comfort to the millions of Americans, Jewish or otherwise, who for good reasons circumcise their sons at birth. For to them – to us – it defies comprehension that in this land of liberty and justice for all, serious consideration can be given to outlawing the fundamental practice of Jews since the beginning of Jewish history.

We thought we had left such things far behind in our long journey through eras and lands of religious bigotry and cultural intolerance.

Proponents of the ballot argue that there is a state interest in opposing the consequences of circumcision. But to carry any weight, only state interests of the highest order and greatest clarity should be permitted to override religious liberty claims. And given the substantial medical evidence that circumcision has positive benefits, that standard cannot be met here.

The referendum has been couched as a vote on male genital mutilation. To frame our age-old practice as genital mutilation is manipulative and misleading, as it precludes any other interpretation of circumcision. To portray the issue, as the intactivists have, via a supposedly humorous cartoon featuring Foreskin Man battling Monster Mohel is worse than a bad joke. It is deeply offensive and beyond the pale of civilized discourse.

The concern, however, goes far beyond the right to circumcise Jewish or Muslim children.

Far more troubling and ominous is what would appear to be a gathering assault on the religious freedoms enjoyed by faith minorities in this land that so proudly celebrates the separation of church and state.

There are many examples: There are growing efforts to forbid adherence by Muslims to their Sharia law. Some hospitals and medical care facilities have adopted end-of-life policies that would violate the deeply held principles of minority faiths relating to life and death. Some corporate employment policies do not allow for “conscience clause exemptions” based on religious belief. There are ongoing challenges to accommodation of religious practices such as Sabbath eruv construction.

The list goes on.

Such crucial concerns should not be seen as merely the parochial concerns of some Jews. To the contrary, like the First Amendment that so critically ensured every citizen’s right to free exercise of religion, they reflect the long tradition of recognizing that the price of liberty, as Andrew Jackson said, is eternal vigilance. As long as the practices of any minority faith are threatened, we are all of us – religious or non-religious – at peril of the loss of our fragile freedoms in a world of increasing homogeneity and conformity.

And thus, to ignore or downplay the significance of anti-circumcision activist groups that would presume to oppose others’ faith or practices, no matter how frivolous or outlandish it might appear, would be not just folly but a clear and present danger to all of our freedoms. And thus the time to oppose them, in concert with all freedom-loving Americans, is now.

Rabbi Basil Herring is the executive vice president and Rabbi Joel Finkelstein is vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, a Modern Orthodox association.

Coalition sues to keep circumcision ban off S.F. ballot

The Jewish-led coalition working to defeat a San Francisco ballot measure, which would ban circumcision for boys 18 and under, filed a lawsuit there on Wednesday morning asking the city to remove the proposition from the ballot entirely.

The ballot measure, which would make circumcision for any reason—including religious belief—a misdemeanor, was formally approved for inclusion on the November 2011 ballot by the San Francisco Department of Elections last month.

The suit was filed in California Superior Court on June 22 by a group of plaintiffs that included two Jewish community organizations, three local Jewish families, one Muslim family and two doctors. It is just the latest salvo in a multifront battle to defeat a ballot measure that many in the Jewish community say would interfere with their religious practice and their autonomy as parents.

“It’s taking away our rights to decide privately all the things we want for our children, whether it’s medically or religiously,” plaintiff Jenny Benjamin said in an interview.

Benjamin, a resident of San Francisco and mother of two young children, and her husband, Jeremy, both of whom are Jewish, were recruited by the Committee for Parental Choice and Religious Freedom to stand as plaintiffs in today’s lawsuit. That coalition, which is being led by Abby Michelson Porth of the Bay Area’s Jewish Community Relations Council, also arranged a press conference on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall at 11 a.m. on Wednesday to announce the filing.

The lawsuit cites a state law that denies California cities the power to “prohibit a healing arts professional licensed within the state … from engaging in any act or performing any procedure that falls within the professionally recognized scope of practice of that licensee.”

That law, together with a 1991 appellate court decision that affirmed a city’s right to deny initiatives a place on the ballot if the resulting laws cannot be enacted, forms the basis for plaintiffs’ lawsuit.

Michael Jacobs, a partner at the law firm Morrison and Foerster, is leading the case. “The law is clear,” Jacobs said in a statement released by the coalition. “It is misleading to San Francisco’s electorate to put an initiative on the ballot where they lack the power to enact it.

“By prevailing in this lawsuit,” Jacobs continued, “we will protect doctors against being charged with a misdemeanor for carrying out a routine and beneficial medical procedure. We will also protect parents’ choice to make medical decisions for their children. And we will protect faith communities against efforts to restrict religious freedom.”

Jacobs, the other plaintiffs and many opponents of the ballot measure speak frequently about the ways a citywide ban on circumcision would infringe upon religious freedom, but the legal precedent cited by Wednesday’s lawsuit comes from a section of the California Business and Professions Code having nothing to do with religion. Subsection 460 (b) was enacted by a 2009 law sponsored by the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) to stop cities from banning the declawing of cats.

The Paw Project, a Santa Monica-based nonprofit educational organization, inspired the City of West Hollywood to ban feline declawing in 2003.

When other California cities began considering legislation similar to West Hollywood’s in 2009, the CVMA made its legislative push, culminating in the passage of a law that stops cities from interfering with the work of any “healing arts professional licensed within the state.”

That language is broad enough to include veterinarians and doctors, said Sarah R. Wolk, a partner at the Glendale-based law firm WLF Lawyers. For Jewish ritual circumcisers, known as mohelim, the situation is less clear.

“Circumcisions performed by doctors or those licensed and regulated by Division 2 of the Business and Professions Code could probably not be banned,” Wolk wrote in an e-mail. “But, a ‘healing arts professional’ would not include circumcisions performed by non-professionals or professionals licensed by other private governing bodies, and would therefore not prohibit restrictions on such individuals.”

This new legal move is only the latest action in the widening fight to defeat the San Francisco ban. Last week, Rep. Brad Sherman and California State Assemblyman Mike Gatto announced plans to introduce legislation in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento that would prohibit cities from banning male circumcision nationwide and in California, respectively.

The goal of all of these efforts is to have the ballot initiative thrown out before it ever reaches the citizens of San Francisco. But David Lehrer, president of Community Advocates, Inc., said it wasn’t clear that such maneuvers were the way to go.

“It’s not clear what the most effective strategy is,” he said. “Dealing with it through legislation could be counterproductive—more discussion and debate over what should be a nonissue. It’s probably a very close call, assuming the legislation is effective.”

As of press time, neither piece of legislation had been formally introduced.

More discussion and debate is exactly what anti-circumcision activist—or “intactivist”—Jews are hoping for. Ronald Goldman, the founder of the Boston-based Jewish Circumcision Resource Center and the author of “Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective,” said he was frustrated that the media’s coverage of the progress of the ban in San Francisco did not say more about the medical claims in favor and against circumcision.

“The issue becomes should we have a law, or what should be done to stop a law,” Goldman said. “Where’s the discussion of the harm circumcision causes?”

Intactivists like Goldman contend that circumcision is “physically, sexually and psychologically harmful,” and they believe that Americans, Jews and the members of the American medical establishment are simply in denial about the damage circumcision can cause.

In the hopes of redirecting the conversation, Goldman and eight other Jewish intactivists from around the country released “A Message to Jewish Americans on Circumcision” on June 20.

Circumcision is widespread among Jews and is traditionally performed on the eighth day of a baby boy’s life; Goldman and his cosigners say that “a growing number of Jews in the U.S., South America, Europe, and Israel are making the decision not to circumcise their infants,” the statement read.

The statement also included a remark indirectly disavowing “Foreskin Man,” the comic book created one of the backers of San Francisco’s ballot initiative, Matthew Hess, which was roundly critiqued as anti-Semitic.

“Unfortunately, there may be statements and tactics by individuals opposed to circumcision that are insensitive and even offensive to many Jews,” the statement read. “We regret this and absolutely reject all statements or actions, often based on ignorance, that are disrespectful of any religion or ethnic group.”

When asked, Goldman said that remark was not just a rejection of “Foreskin Man,” but also of the entire effort to ban circumcision in San Francisco.

“The statement is intended to refer to any and everything that is insensitive or offensive to the Jewish community,” Goldman said.

Members of the coalition fighting against the San Francisco ballot measure regularly dispute intactivist claims that circumcision causes harm. Indeed, they attribute numerous health benefits to the practice.

“Circumcision is a medically safe practice,” plaintiff Brian McBeth, a doctor in the department of emergency medicine at San Francisco General Hospital, said in the statement released today. Circumcision is, McBeth continued, “endorsed by the World Health Organization and other major medical and public health institutions because of the scientifically proven health benefits, including the reduction of transmission of HIV, penile cancer, and urinary tract infections, as well as cervical cancer in women whose partners are circumcised.”

Winning the fight over the medical benefits that some attribute to circumcision will be vital to the success of the coalition’s lawsuit, in part because legal experts doubt the ballot measure could be challenged under the First Amendment, which protects the free exercise of religion.

“I think it’s an outrageous infringement on religious freedom, but I think it would be very hard to challenge under the First Amendment,” said Erwin Chemerinksy, founding dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law.

This apparent paradox, Chemerinsky said, can be traced back to a 1990 Supreme Court decision, Employment Division v. Smith, which allowed states to restrict certain religious practices, provided that the laws they drafted were applicable to everyone and not motivated by the desire to interfere with religion.

Chemerinsky said the proposed ban on circumcision met both of those criteria.

“It would be hard to argue that the circumcision ban is motivated by the desire to interfere with religion,” Chemerinsky said. “That is clearly the effect, but it’s not its purpose. And it’s clearly of general applicability as well. It prohibits all parents—not just Jewish parents—from circumcising their sons.”

San Francisco to put circumcision ban on the ballot

A measure seeking to ban male circumcision will appear on the November ballot in San Francisco.

More than 7,700 signatures from city residents on a petition in support of the measure were approved as valid by city officials on Wednesday. At least 7,168 signatures were required, and more than 12,000 were submitted.

The measure, which would apply only in the city of San Francisco, would make it a misdemeanor crime to circumcise a boy before he is 18 years old. The maximum penalty would be a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Circumcisions would be permitted only for medical reasons, with no religious exemptions.

Even if the measure passes in November, it likely would be challenged as a constitutional violation of freedom of religion.

“This is a tradition not only practiced by Jews, but by Muslims and members of secular society,” Rabbi Yosef Langer, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of San Francisco, said. “The Jewish people and spiritually conscious people all over the world will certainly—and have always—risen to the occasion so that justice, and the will of the Almighty, will prevail.”

The Anti-Defamation League and the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council have come out against the proposal.

Jewish boys traditionally are circumcised at eight days of age and Muslims at some time during boyhood.

San Francisco circumcision ban likely for November ballot

A proposal to ban circumcision in San Francisco looks likely for the November ballot.

A group opposed to male circumcision told Reuters that it had collected more than enough signatures on petitions to qualify their proposal for the Nov. 8 vote this fall.

The measure, which would apply only in the city of San Francisco, would make it a misdemeanor crime to circumcise a boy before he is 18 years old. The maximum penalty would be a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Circumcisions would be permitted only for medical reasons.

On Tuesday, the group submitted 12,000 signatures for verification to the city’s elections department. If 7,200 of them are valid, the proposal goes on the ballot.

Legal experts told reporters that even if the measure passes in November, it would be challenged as a constitutional violation of freedom of religion. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council have come out against the proposal. Abby Michaelson-Porth, associate director of the JCRC, told reporters that if the proposal makes it to the ballot, “there will be an organized campaign against it.”

Jewish boys traditionally are circumcised at eight days of age and Muslims at some time during boyhood.

Illinois Supreme Court: Rahm Emanuel on Chicago mayor ballot

From the Chicago Tribune:

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled today that Rahm Emanuel can stay on the ballot for mayor of Chicago,  saying in a unanimous decision that he meets the state’s residency requirements despite spending most of the last year as White House chief of staff.

The decision came without a moment to spare; early voting for the Feb. 22 city election begins Monday, Jan. 31. You can read the opinion by clicking here.

“The voters deserved the right to make the choice of who should be mayor. And what the Supreme Court said basically, in short, that the voters should make the decicions of who will be mayor,” a victorious Emanuel said after slapping backs and shaking hands with commuters at the Clark and Lake elevated train stop near his downtown headquarters.

“The nice part was to be able to tell the news to voters, because a lot of people had not heard it,” Emanuel said.

Read more at ChicagoTribune.com.

Rahm Emanuel’s name back on ballot, for now

The Illinois Supreme Court ordered Rahm Emanuel’s name back on the ballot for Chicago mayor.

A day after a state appellate court panel ordered that Emanuel’s name be removed from the ballot because he had not lived in the city for a year before the election, as stipulated by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, the state’s high court agreed to examine his appeal, based on already filed briefs, on an expedited basis.

The court ordered that any ballots printed in the interim include his name, according to reports.

Emanuel has spent the last two years living in Washington while serving as President Obama’s White House chief of staff.

The ballots are set to be printed in the next few days for the Feb. 22 election; early voting begins Jan. 31.

Emanuel, a former congressman who also had worked in the Clinton White House, argued that he was exempt under a “national service” exception. He noted also that he maintained ownership of his Chicago home.

Two lower bodies, the Board of Election Commissioners and a Cook County court, had ruled in his favor.

Emanuel, who has an Israeli father, is leading in the polls.

Jews’ view of the pot initiative? Mixed

Marijuana is everywhere. Smokers come from every walk of life — from the college student to the cancer patient, from the wealthy older couple to the heroin addict who started out just smoking weed.

Jews care about this issue because Jews, like every other group, can be found among those who use, who dispense, who grow, and also those who disdain this all-pervasive drug. In fact, the halachah of pot is not entirely clear.

The Talmud states that the law of the land is the law. But when it comes to pot, what does that mean? State and federal rules on marijuana are rapidly changing. California has legalized medical use and decriminalized recreational possession of small amounts, but many smokers still rely on the black market. And marijuana remains completely illegal under federal law, although enforcement is inconsistent.  Now, Californians face Proposition 19 on the Nov. 2 ballot, a measure that would allow possession, purchase and taxation of marijuana for adult recreational use.

The Jewish perspective on pot is ambivalent, and observant Jews could plausibly take either side of Proposition 19, according to Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a professor of ethics and Jewish law and rector at the American Jewish University. On one hand, Judaism “is very insistent on responsibility for our actions,” Dorff said, meaning that becoming extremely intoxicated on any substance is forbidden. Any drug that harms the body is also forbidden because “in the Jewish tradition, God owns our bodies, and we have a fiduciary relationship to take care of [ourselves],” Dorff said.

On the other hand, marijuana may be more akin to alcohol — a drug that observant Jews may take in moderation — rather than tobacco, which the Jewish tradition frowns upon as dangerous and highly addictive, Dorff said. Where marijuana falls on that sliding scale is an “empirical question,” he added, and the answer may affect how Jews vote on Proposition 19. Schools, synagogues, drug control experts and law enforcement all have a role to play in providing that answer and determining the boundary between the law and making a responsible individual choice.

Cities Rule

The most distinguishing feature of Proposition 19 is how much authority it delegates to cities. Possession of up to 1 ounce would be legal statewide, but California already has made possession of that amount an infraction on par with a speeding ticket. The real meat of Proposition 19 is that cities would become free to make their own rules on regulating and taxing the commercial sale of marijuana to adults over the age of 21. 

“I think they’re trying to make sure cities can opt out, like with liquor stores [or] medical marijuana dispensaries,” said Kyle Kazan, a former Torrance police officer and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which supports the measure. “You can zone it away.”

Story continues after the jump.

Opponents, however, see the delegation of authority to cities as a “legal nightmare,” which has become one of the catch phrases of the No on 19 campaign.  “You’re going to have 550 different versions of this law, city by city,” said Rodney Jones, chief of the Fontana Police Department and a Proposition 19 opponent. County sheriffs will have a particular problem, Jones said, because they cross city lines and will be responsible for enforcing small differences in rules on marijuana.

But Kazan said police already handle similar complexity in enforcing various city ordinances on the sale of liquor.  And if the initiative had set a single rule for marijuana sales statewide, supporters worry that “the other side would say, ‘How dare they have a one-size-fits-all solution?’ ” said Hanna Liebman Dershowitz, an attorney and member of the legal committee of Yes on 19.

The Case for Talking to Kids

Even if only a few cities authorize sales, both sides agree that Proposition 19 almost certainly would increase overall use of marijuana in California.  It would be more widely available in stores than it is on the black market now, and it would not be stigmatized as illegal. And unless governments levy huge taxes, it would also likely be much cheaper. The real debate is whether the inevitable increase in use will be more harmful than the status quo.

Drug war veterans have long argued that marijuana physically damages the brain and other organs, but the data on that are inconclusive. “ ‘Reefer Madness’ isn’t true,” said Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine and former senior policy adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama. “The [idea that] everyone who picks up a joint has their life ruined is absurd,” he said. 

But that doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless, Humphreys said. “I don’t deny that some people use marijuana and they’re fine, but if a million people pick up regular marijuana use, probably at least 10 to 20 percent will have significantly adverse experiences in life, maybe do badly in school, maybe get in a car accident.” Legal marijuana would be particularly harmful to high school students who are already on the verge of flunking out, he said.

Nobody knows exactly how much usage will increase, but Humphreys predicts the state could add anywhere from 1 million to 3 million new smokers. Vulnerable groups, such as teens and the poor, are particularly likely to smoke more, he said, because they have less disposable income and will be more attracted by the lower price.

Jason Ablin, head of school at Milken Community High School, has worked with high-school students for 20 years, but he’s not convinced that the status quo of criminalization is an effective deterrent, either.

“I think if kids are going to use drugs and alcohol, they’re going to find ways to acquire them — they do it with alcohol already,” Ablin said. “We have a lot of double standards with marijuana use. The association with marijuana is counter-culture, so that becomes a lot more damning than, say, alcohol,” he said.

For Dershowitz, that association is patently unfair. “As we look inward [following] Yom Kippur and the New Year, we also need to look outward to reflect on our actions as a society,” she said. Dershowitz is particularly troubled by the social and legal stigmas that follow a young person who is busted by law enforcement for marijuana, even now that the penalties have been reduced. “We should abhor a system that erases other people’s chances to turn toward the good simply because they’ve chosen an action that we singled out for disdain.”

Instead of focusing on heavy-handed scare tactics and criminalization, Ablin prefers to engage kids in a broader public policy discussion about the way society treats drugs in general. “Because I work in schools, I have a lot more confidence in kids to critically think through problems,” Ablin said. “You’re not getting anywhere with kids by talking at them. [You’ll do] much better work by listening to them.”

Judges Facing Judgment Day

It is a simple enough question: yes or no? Voters on Nov. 5 will answer the question many times, and the independence of California’s judicial system depends on the answer.

Justices for the California Supreme Court and Court of Appeal are appointed for 12-year terms by the governor. They are confirmed by a committee consisting of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the attorney general and the presiding justice of the Court of Appeal. If a judge is appointed to serve the remaining term of a retiring or deceased judge, or when the judge has finished a 12-year term, the jurist must be approved in an election in order to remain on the bench.

Among the judges up for retention on the Nov. 5 ballot are a handful of Gov. Gray Davis appointees with close ties to the L.A. Jewish community.

Appellate Court Justice Richard Mosk of the 2nd District (Los Angeles and Ventura counties) is active in the community. He is the son of former state Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk, who died in June 2001. Justice Carlos Moreno, who was named to Stanley Mosk’s seat on the Supreme Court, is up for vote as well.

Other Appellate Court justices on the ballot include Steven Perren, whose Jewish community involvement includes a stint as assistant cantorial soloist at Ventura’s Temple Beth Torah; Dennis Perluss, who is married to Rabbi Emily Feigenson of Leo Baeck Temple; and Laurence Rubin, who began his legal career as a law clerk for Justice Stanley Mosk .

Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School and director of its Center for Ethical Advocacy, said of the Nov. 5 retention vote, "This is a gimme. All of these justices should be retained."

Levenson, who also serves on the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Judiciary Committee, added, "I’m somewhat troubled by the concept of electing judges." Unless they have acted dishonestly or can be shown to be incompetent, she said, "the law anticipates that they will be reelected. The idea is a little bit of accountability," rather than a review of the judges’ stand on political issues.

However, political issues can intrude in the judicial sphere, as was the case in 1986, when pro-death penalty voters organized to defeat state Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird and associate justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin.

"The opinion in the legal profession is that the whole Rose Bird fiasco was not good for the courts," Levenson said. Yet that did not stop activists from organizing in 1998 against Chief Justice Ronald George and Associate Justice Ming Chin, primarily in opposition to their votes in the 1997 ruling overturning the law that required teenage girls to have parental consent for an abortion. The justices were retained. This year, no organized opposition has developed over the vote on the judges.

But the current slate of justices cannot rest easy. In an October 1998 article for the County Bar Association, then-Bar President Lee Smalley Edmon wrote that "a judge who must make a decision that may be politically unpopular and who faces the prospect of becoming a target in an election is under considerable pressure," and that "such threats to an independent judiciary should be a concern in our constitutional democracy."

Another threat to the judiciary that has surfaced is voter apathy. Since the 1986 election, the average "yes" vote for Supreme and Appellate Court justices has declined from 75 percent to 60 percent, according to the Bar Association.

Edmon attributed the decline to "the trend toward anti-government voting." He said there is also "a decline in public confidence in institutions generally," plus the fact that "the public is rarely well informed about individual judicial candidates."

Of the lack of information voters have on judges, Levenson said, "No news is good news." If a justice up for retention were dishonest or unqualified, she said, "believe me, you would hear about it."

Justice Richard Mosk posits another reason why Jews, in particular, should vote to retain the judges on the ballot: an independent judiciary is good for the Jews. "Jews depend upon religious freedom to protect their interests," he said. "Only an independent judiciary, unafraid of the electorate, will stand up to protect minorities."

Some prominent Jewish politicians have joined Mosk in asking voters to retain the judges. Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Edmund Edelman, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss and Edward Sanders, former president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, sent a letter to The Jewish Journal, stating, "We believe it is very important that voters vote to retain all of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal justices by voting ‘yes’ next to each of their names on the ballot."

"Voting to retain these justices will help preserve the independence of the judiciary," the letter said. "Judges should not have to worry about losing their positions unless they are clearly deficient, and none are."

Levenson went a step further, saying, "I actually think they’re a terrific bunch. I would go on the principle that they should be retained just if they’re competent. But actually in this election, we should check off the boxes and say we’re grateful."

Trauma System in Critical

Angelenos in need of emergency care are facing the threat of longer journeys to fewer facilities. Faced with a projected deficit in excess of $700 million in 2005, the L.A. County Department of Health Services has proposed to shut down two of its hospitals, increasing the burden on remaining hospitals countywide.

To avoid this prospect, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky proposed Measure B, a county ballot measure to generate funds for emergency and trauma care. Measure B would tax all residential and commercial buildings by 3 cents per square foot, effective July 1 of next year. For a 1,500-square-foot home, that would amount to $45 annually. The measure requires endorsement of at least two-thirds of voters in order to pass.

“If you’re a hospital and you have a trauma center or an emergency room, [by law] you must see anyone who’s wheeled through the door or walks through the door,” Yaroslavsky told The Journal. “If a hospital feels it can’t afford [to provide that kind of care], they have one of two choices: They either go broke or they close their trauma center or emergency room in order to salvage what’s left of the hospital.” Closure of a single trauma center or emergency room “will inundate the rest of the system,” he said.

Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance is one of the hospitals slated to close as part of the county’s cost-cutting measures. If that happens, the South Bay would lose its only trauma center. There are currently 13 trauma centers in Los Angeles County, hospitals equipped to deal with the most serious of injuries, such as car accidents and gunshot wounds. Unlike typical hospitals, trauma centers have specialized programs, equipment and staff (including a trauma surgeon) available at all times.

“If we lose one of these centers, it’s just going to critically stress all the rest of them,” said Dr. Daniel Marguiles, head of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s trauma service.

Nontrauma emergency care faces a similar, though slightly less urgent, strain on the system. Emergency care is costly, and the combination of uninsured patients and use of emergency departments for nonemergency conditions taxes the system. The majority of state emergency rooms operate at a loss according to Jan Emerson, vice president of external affairs for the California Healthcare Association. If county plans proceed, the Valley will have one less emergency room when Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar is converted into an outpatient clinic.

The county’s deficit stems from a number of factors, including dramatically declining federal and state support, which exacerbates the challenge of providing health care to the 31 percent of the county’s residents who are uninsured. According to the California Department of Health Services, Los Angeles County trauma centers provide more than $57 million in unreimbursed trauma care annually. The county’s three trauma centers — L.A. County USC Medical Center, Martin Luther King/Charles Drew Medical Center and Harbor-UCLA Medical Center — together handle close to 55 percent of all countywide trauma cases.

Measure B would generate an estimated $168 million annually to preserve and maintain emergency medical services and the trauma system, and to bring trauma services to three areas — Pomona, the eastern San Gabriel Valley and the Antelope Valley — where none currently exist. The measure includes a bioterrorism response component to pay for medications, professional training and other related resources. Supporters include the League of Women Voters, the Hospital Association of Southern California, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) and the director of the county’s Emergency Medical Services Agency.

Opponents say voters are already paying taxes that are supposed to support trauma care, that state budget mismanagement and federal immigration policy are to blame, and that the tax will “open the floodgates for additional taxes,” according to arguments in the sample ballot.

As an alternative to Measure B, Supervisor Michael Antonovich has proposed a voluntary system enabling property owners to contribute to the trauma system by means of a check-off box included on county property tax bills. “While the goal of a source of funding for trauma care is a worthy one, the means of burdening the homeowners with higher taxes is wrong,” Antonovich said of Measure B.

In addition to Antonovich, those listed on the sample ballot as opposed to Measure B include the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the chair of the board of Antelope Valley Hospital and several businessmen.

Los Angeles County Trauma Centers

Los Angeles County currently has 13 trauma centers to serve a population of 10 million residents:

Cedars Sinai Medical Center – Los Angeles

Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles

(pediatric patients only) – Los Angeles

Harbor/UCLA Medical Center – Torrance

Henry Mayo Newhall

Memorial Hospital – Newhall

Huntington Memorial Hospital – Pasadena

L.A. County USC Medical Center – Los Angeles

Martin Luther King/Charles Drew

Medical Center – Los Angeles

Long Beach Memorial Medical Center –

Long Beach

Northridge Hospital Medical Center – Northridge

Providence Holy Cross Hospital – Mission Hills

St. Francis Medical Center – Lynwood

St. Mary Medical Center – Long Beach

UCLA Medical Center – Westwood

After the Election

For a few strained hours last week, I was afraid we’d be witnessing the Jewish version of Elian Gonzalez, Part II. Could Jewish blood pressure withstand the tension of the Palm Beach vote taken hostage?

As hours of electoral anxiety passed into weeks, I worried that the world would soon know how the Chosen People behave when the food comes late, let alone when an election result is held up. I feared that Fox News would send Joan Rivers to cover the re-vote protest, that Saturday Night Live would point out the ironic casting of Jesse Jackson as Moses. Frankly, I was ready to die of embarrassment.

Yes, my own mother was temporarily unhinged by the thought that her absentee ballot might have been thrown away like a receipt from Bloomingdales. But soon, like the rest of us, she simmered down.

“I don’t trust any of them anyway,” my father said. That’s when I knew the nation was going to be all right. My father makes his political pronouncement every four years, as the Republic is transferred to the next generation of scoundrels. It’s a tradition, like the losing candidate’s concession speech. It assures me that, in our family, healthy cynicism has been restored and everyone is once again well behaved.

And decorum was very much the issue last week: how to behave when the eyes of the planet are upon you. The Election 2000 Cliffhanger has been a national civics lesson, but for Jews it is something else, like taking off control-top pantyhose and letting yourself breathe naturally. Regardless of who ultimately “wins,” (would you want such a blessing?) it has taught American Jews, as well, that all the world really is just one big condo project, and that we feel right at home.

Joe Lieberman is one part of the comfort factor, but only one. The affable, Torah-quoting son of a bakery truck driver himself has been a tonic. The first Jewish vice-presidential candidate brought Orthodox Jews back into the Democratic column. He gave young activist Jews a place for their political hopes. Prof. Kenneth Wald, head of the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Florida, tells me that the AIPAC offices were raided of eager staffers, gone to Gore-Lieberman.

But Lieberman is a career politician, concerned with far more than proving that there is no secret obsessive anti-Semitism lurking in the hearts of mainstream America.

Through his relentless day-after-day campaigning along the Condo Coast, he put the Sunshine State, whose governor, after all, is the GOP candidate’s brother, into play. In doing so, he set up the Jewish vote for what it has traditionally hated the most: attention to itself as a political force.

Over many years, I’ve seen this parochial fear of public disclosure in action. In every election cycle, a candidate or a race emerges in which Jewish votes are regarded as “swing.” In Los Angeles almost eight years ago, for example, 50 percent of Jewish voters punched out the chad for Republican Mayor Richard Riordan (as had an equal number of Jews in New York supported Mayor Rudolph Guiliani).

Like the “Seinfeld” episode in which Jerry gives his father a Cadillac, we like being close to power, but we don’t want anyone to see us pulling into the driveway.

Underlying this reluctance to get too comfortable is the lingering conviction that we will somehow handle power wrong. For all our pride at Jewish involvement in American civic and economic life, many feared that if Gore-Lieberman won, the Jews would be blamed for any Wall Street reversals.

That’s why the events of last week provided real threshold tests of our civic engagement tolerance.First came the newspaper stories asserting the undeniable: Jewish votes for Pat Buchanan provided conclusive evidence that the butterfly ballot did not fly. Then came the political analysis showing that Broward and Palm Beach Counties were heavily weighted with Jewish Democrats; the fate of the nation rested on residents who moved South but vote North.

Finally, there were the votes of Aliyah Americans, the Jews of Haifa and Tel Aviv, giddily hoping to repay Bill Clinton’s pro-Israel foreign policy with a vote for Al Gore. Florida Jews kicked off their shoes and settled in for the long American vote count.

It feels good.

American Jewish commitment to the political system is intense, loyal and strong. Our love of democracy verges on religious devotion, extending even to the archaic punch card ballot and the Electoral College. From Florida this week, my friends sent e-mail assertions that they personally would volunteer to oversee the presidential recount. Whatever it took, they were there. Just two weeks ago it was clear to me that Jews were no longer a swing vote, that our place had been taken by Latinos, Asians and, yes, Arab Americans.

Shows how much I know.

The fact is, the whole nation is swinging. But we can still carry the tune.

Butterfly Ballot Blues

Politicos and machers who had given heart and soul (and a lot of cash, in some cases) to their respective candidates saw conspiracy, fraud or betrayal in the ballot crisis in Florida this week. Feeling ran strong, but no one was willing to predict whether Bush or Gore would turn out to be president.

Conservative author and commentator David Horowitz maintains that there is no accurate electoral count in any precinct in America. “But there is a legitimate count,” he says. “That legitimate count is like a little bridge over the Hobbesian abyss, in that it allows us to have a peaceful transition to the next administration and to confer legitimacy on that administration. What Gore has done is that by subverting that tradition, or convention, he’s opened the election to mob rule. It’s the most irresponsible and destructive act I’ve seen by a national political figure on the domestic front in my lifetime.”

Dennis Prager, nationally syndicated talk show host who recently switched stations to KIEV, is equally pessimistic. “I can only echo The New York Times and The Washington Post editorial pages that maintained this week that Gore has poisoned the American democratic processes by going to litigation. I believe the Democratic Party has decided it will use the courts rather than the democratic process to further its beliefs. Wherever possible, judges are used rather than the vote count. I think dragging this on is very dangerous.”

For the machers who gave their financial support to Gore and Bush, there is an uncharacteristic feeling of uncertainty: In the end, it wasn’t the people with all the money or all the power who got to decide this election. “I was in Nashville as the results came in,” says Richard Ziman, a major player in the campaign and chairman of the board of Arden Realty, Inc. “People were hysterical; couldn’t believe the results. You felt there was a complete electoral system breakdown.” Ziman believes that “the longer the situation drags on, the worse it is for this country and the world.”

He wants a resolution. “My personal opinion is that if they decide to do the hand count, do it; if they decide not, don’t do it. And wait for the absentee ballots to come in by midnight on Friday. And the winner should be declared, but more importantly the loser should concede. Even if Gore loses. And I’m a longtime liberal Democrat.”

As to the butterfly Palm Beach ballot, Ziman comments: “I have not heard anyone say it was done on purpose or with ill will. It’s a mistake. And you know what? That’s the way it goes. If it’s unfair, I’m sorry. Address that the next time around. But don’t upset the whole election.”

Mel Levine, a partner in Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, an L.A.-based international law firm, has been one of the leading figures in the California Gore campaign, chair of his Middle East committee and both a financial contributor and fundraiser. He agrees with Ziman that the Palm Beach County ballot “was a fluke. But it feels awful. I feel very drained. Some comedian who may have been right said that in Palm Beach, Yasser Arafat would have received more votes than Pat Buchanan. The idea that you would have close to 3,500 people voting for Buchanan when the second largest county in Florida had a thousand people voting for him is outrageous, absurd and exasperating.” Nevertheless, Levine sees no demons in the woodwork.

“We just want a fair and accurate account,” he contends. “And if at all possible, ensuring that people’s votes count the way they intended them to count.”

Steve Kass, a private investor, chair of the Bush for President volunteer organization in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and a member of the California steering committee for Bush, is far less sanguine about events. He says Bush has already won under the law, but questions what will happen if the election is taken out of the electoral process law and placed into a state court that is for the most part controlled by Democratic judges. “It is not unheard of for politics to be camouflaged in the face of law, and the results would be devastating.”

“It’s a horrible thing we’re going through,” says Republican activist Bruce Bialosky. “This bickering and partisanship, the questioning of everybody’s integrity: it brings down the whole moral character of the country. The Gore campaign should have stopped after the recount.”

L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky thinks a hand recount in Florida is legitimate and that the Bush campaign’s efforts to stop it are ill-advised. “If the Republicans want to recount all the ballots in Florida, by all means they should. Every ballot where there’s a vote cast ought to be counted. That’s what you do in a close election.”

On the issue of the Palm Beach ballot, Yaroslavsky also feels there are no ethical issues at stake. “Part of what’s expected of you when you vote is that you know what you’re doing,” he says. “I don’t think you can call a new election. “

While neither macher nor politician, L.A. lawyer Jon Drucker has made a difference in the ballot war in Florida. He was one of those responsible for bringing about the preliminary injunction in Palm Beach county that prohibited the county from certifying the results of the election until the next hearing.

“First I saw this lady, Zorna Orenstein, a classic Yiddishe mama in Palm Beach, saying on TV: ‘I was confused. I wanna vote again,’ I thought obviously she was not going to be aware of the legal ramifications of being confused. So I went online to see what could be done. I researched the Florida election law and then I wrote this detailed outline of a brief supporting a temporary restraining order and a re-vote in that county. I e-mailed it to the lawyer in Florida who had filed a lawsuit on behalf of a handful of voters in the county.”

Drucker contends that he had discovered that the ballot was illegally arranged as prescribed by the election statutory law, creating “utter confusion among the electorate, and some 20,000 votes being nullified. I thought if the vote was certified as it was, it would not reflect the will of voters in Palm Beach.”

It is likely that as the electoral drama plays on, creating frustration and suspense, Drucker and his fellow lawyers are among the few who will be able to find a voice in this new twist on the democratic process.

Tight Races

Initially, one cannot help but think that the surge of retired, elderly Jews to Florida, augmented by this year’s Lieberman Factor, has redefined Florida politics into an Israel-style method of governance. While the rest of America was voting and deciding on Tues., Nov. 7, Florida was telling us – just as Israel runs under Barak – “Wait 48 hours, and then we’ll decide.” Two days later, as the last recount came in from Seminole County with Bush a nose ahead, Florida essentially told us, “Well, wait 48 more hours, and then we’ll really decide.” Even today, Nov. 17, with all the incoming mail ballots from those Floridian voters stationed out-of-state in the military and on campuses tallied, we still have the proverbial 48 hours and more. Recounts. Manual recounts. Just like Barak’s Israel.

Critically, the deadlock that marked the presidential voting also spilled over into splitting the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. An interesting quirk, as the Senate totters on a 50-50 split – and that possibility will continue as Americans monitor the health of two elderly Carolina Republicans in the upper chamber – is that if Bush ultimately emerges the uncontested winner, then Vice President Dick Cheney could be in the Senate casting tie-breaking votes until the next election. The impact of such a situation cannot be underestimated, although everyone in the meantime is underestimating it. Traditionally, vice presidents stay in the shadows and bide their four or eight years until they get to run for president. But if Cheney casts tie-breaking votes in the Senate, he will become a powerful force. Imagine if he casts the deciding vote to confirm a Supreme Court justice – or an arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

Another impact of the close Senate result is that, at least for the next two years, every Republican Senator will have great, inordinate power. That is, as long as the GOP holds the Senate by 51-49, or if it goes 50-50 with Cheney casting tie-breakers, all it takes to switch the majority is for one or two Republicans to “vote their consciences” on a bill. So, liberal Republican senators will become a major nuisance for Trent Lott and will have huge power, as will the Democrat conservatives in their party.

As a result, presidential leadership will be minimized, avoiding dramatic initiatives, and that will redound to Israel’s benefit, especially if James “F— the Jews” Baker III is back in the equation. In Israel’s time of great crisis, in the era of Oslo’s collapse, the gridlock will make it difficult for an American president to impose brutal concessions on Israel. Look for adherence to the polls. As a result, these will be the years of cautious moderation, and that will help Israel. Ironically, the necessarily practical course will make the new president wildly popular over the next two years, artificially reassuring independent voters that he can be trusted to “steer the course.”

Jews lost a few good friends and a few enemies in this election, as we usually do. Florida’s Sen. Connie Mack had been a strongly supportive Republican voice in support of Israel; he has retired, and we shall see whether and hope that Senator-elect Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, takes care not to offend Florida’s Jewish Democrats on Israel. Jim Rogan of California was a top-drawer Republican Congressional supporter of Israel. He is replaced by Adam Schiff, a liberal Jew, who will follow other liberal Democrat Jews in Congress – backing whatever the Israeli government does or fails to do, whether it be Oslo or whatever. In New York, Rick Lazio already had been named by Arabs to their “Congressional Hall of Shame,” so we lose a good friend in the House. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is a political mercenary, so she may very well become a strong “friend of Israel” in the coming months. The bad news on Hillary has been that she was among the first to back an independent Palestinian State, that she hugged Suha Arafat while the Palestinian First Lady was accusing Jews of horrible things, and that Hillary had received lots of bucks from Hamas supporters. But the good news is that she easily backtracks on her principles as the situation requires. Consequently, Arabs have lost a friend, at least until she seeks a higher office, when she no longer will need to rely on Jewish voters in New York, much as former New York Gov. Franklin Roosevelt progressed once his constituency expanded. She has begun her White House march by quickly proposing to abolish the Electoral College.

In addition to Hillary’s temporary conversion to Israel, the Arab side apparently has lost another friend with the fall of Republican Spencer Abraham in Michigan. Abraham, a Lebanese American, was one of only two senators who refused to sign the recent Senate letter supporting Israel.

Sen. Jon Kyl’s huge reelection numbers in Arizona are encouraging because he has been a wonderful friend of Israel. Dianne Feinstein’s victory in California was good news, too, because Republican Tom Campbell overtly supported Arab aspirations against Israel during his campaign. We have friends and ill-wishers in both parties. The election results demonstrate as much.

As for the electoral college, I kind of like it. It allows states like Florida, Oregon, New Mexico, Iowa and Wisconsin to be taken seriously. It also forces national candidates to make promises on Israel to Jews in New York. That is a powerful motivator for the candidates and their advisors to learn about Israel early, to study the issues and to make informed decisions as to where they will aspire to stand. Ultimately, their views change, in the face of Arab oil pressures, the sheer number of Arab countries, and the United Nations factor. But the electoral college system forces them to come out for Israel early because there are lots of Jewish votes in New York, in California, in New Jersey, in Pennsylvania – and in Florida. Therefore, like every Jew who values higher education, I endorse that college. I am not married to it, but I like it.

Nevertheless, we may remain concerned – especially if Oregon still goes to Gore – that, with Bush coming out of Florida with 271 electors, one or two of his electors may decide to show Mom and Dad back home how famous he can be, or try to impress Jodie Foster with how powerful she is, and decide to vote for Gore, making it a tie, or otherwise throwing the results askew. It just may happen -because this is America, where tabloid papers sell briskly at supermarkets and where everyone in the country except me watched “Survivor.” If such a thing happens and the Bush elector who throws the election to Gore-Lieberman turns out to be a Jew, it will not be funny at all. So if Dubya wins Florida, may he win New Mexico, too.

Rabbi Dov Fischer, a board member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Jewish Community Relations Committee and national vice president of the Zionist Organization of America, practices complex civil litigation and First Amendment law at the Los Angeles offices of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld.

Voter Revolt

Alan David never gave his ballots a second thought after voting in dozens of presidential elections during the decades he lived in New York.

Then, after moving here two years ago, he voted in Palm Beach County for the first time last week.”I looked at the ballot and said, ‘What the heck is this?'” recalled David, who lives in the Century Village community of West Palm Beach. “I voted, but I don’t know what I voted. It was so confusing.”David isn’t the only Palm Beacher who left the polls on Election Day unsure if his vote helped or hurt his candidate, Al Gore.

Even before the polls closed, voters were flooding the state’s elections department with angry calls, demanding recounts and even re-votes as many realized they may have voted for the wrong candidate.Now, as the nation awaits the outcome of the legal wrangling and the vote recounts, residents of this heavily Jewish region of South Florida are not only questioning their vote, they are angry at the way they are being portrayed in the media as older, confused citizens.

Ed Lewis, who lives at the Aberdeen Golf and Country Club in Boynton Beach, said he carefully studied the sample ballot he received in the mail before the election and mapped out his votes. So he was shocked when he arrived at the voting booths and couldn’t understand the ballot.

“Even though I’m 66, I’m very bright,” he said. “I voted correctly, but I had to spend at least 20 seconds or more reading the ballot. There is no question in my mind there was a problem with the ballot.”The confusion for many stemmed from the way the ballot was structured, with the proximity of Gore’s name to the punch hole designated for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan apparently causing many Gore supporters to vote for Buchanan accidentally.

Sheila and Ed Levins of Boca Raton had volunteered to help run the polls at the Kings Point community in Delray Beach, where some of the worst confusion has been reported.

Sheila Levins said many people dissolved into tears after leaving the voting booths there.

“This was very upsetting. People started crying, saying, ‘I voted for Buchanan,'” she said. “I think it’s a terrible disgrace. Somebody has to stand up somewhere about this. I’m an optimist; I believe the truth will come out.”

Some people at Kings Point realized they had made a mistake and asked the site’s supervisor for help, Ed Levins said, adding that tempers flared when the supervisor told them there was nothing that could be done.”I really feel for these people. They find out they voted for the wrong person and nothing can be done,” he said.

“Quite a few of the older men who came to vote were so proud that they were wearing their medals and combat ribbons that they earned during World War II,” he said. “They were part of the group of people that Tom Brokaw called ‘Our Greatest Generation.’ To deny these men and women their vote is a great injustice.”

Adding insult to the injury, say many residents, is the unflattering media coverage that has focused on Palm Beach County voters, painting them as seniors too sunbaked and dim-witted to understand a simple ballot.”For the men who put their life on the line and for the women who worked the munitions factories building the ships, planes and tanks for their sons and husbands, to be made fun of and joked about by the media is embarrassing and a poor example for our young people,” Ed Levins said.

“As far as I am concerned, the people of Palm Beach County have brought to light the problems in using the present antiquated methods of voting. The over 19,000 discarded votes were comprised of people of all ages and races from every walk of life,” he added. “Hopefully, something constructive will be accomplished so that this will never happen again.”

Meanwhile, the nation waits for the courts to decide whether Palm Beach County will have to hold a re-vote before the next president is announced.

Democrats and Republicans are also closely monitoring the absentee ballots trickling into Florida from overseas, which, although traditionally coming from military members who favor Republicans, could swing Florida’s vote toward Al Gore because of the several thousand ballots requested by voters in Israel.But some here aren’t so sure if the confusion warrants a re-vote.

“I do not believe in rerunning the election,” said a senior at the Kaplan Jewish Community Center in West Palm Beach who asked not to be identified.

“I am for Gore, but I don’t think there is any indication of fraud,” the voter said. “I think people should have read the ballot better.”

“Public Schools Are Today’s Door to Assimilation”

The Jewish community, along with the rest of the citizens of California, have a chance to change the educational destiny of the their children in the upcoming election. Appearing on the ballot is a voucher initiative that will enable parents to choose the school that best fits the needs of their children.

The Jewish defense agencies have cranked up their PR machines, joining with the teachers unions with dire predictions of the future if the initiative passes. They are concerned with the future of the public schools, worried about church-state entanglement, concerned about crazy groups making schools. While that may be the position of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee), the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) and others, there has been a shift in Jewish opinion on vouchers. Vouchers have been earning greater support through the Jewish community.

The critics of vouchers, who have ignored the priorities of Jewish education, have failed to take a look at how similar systems are working in other countries. In Australia, a country that so enthralled us during the Olympics, education choice is alive and well. The government financial support follows the student to the school of choice and the results are very interesting.

Nationwide, 50 percent of Jewish children attend Jewish schools. In the large cities of Melbourne and Sydney the numbers are closer to 70 percent. In remote Perth, 85 percent of the Jewish children attend day schools. The public school system is still strong, with about 70 percent of Australia’s children attending. The competition from a wealth of private schools has made the public system more accountable.

Most remarkable is the intermarriage rate, which is around 15 percent, instead of 50 percent in the United States. This validates the results of the National Jewish Population Study, which states the more Jewish education, in particular in day schools, the lower the intermarriage rate.

Australia and Orange County have almost identical Jewish populations of about 80,000. In Orange County there are fewer than 1,000 children in three Jewish schools, while in Australia there are 12,000 in more than 20 schools. Parents there pay for the religious segment of the education, removing government from involvement with religion.

The public school system was the ticket from the tenement to the promise of opportunity in America. This may have been true decades ago, but times are different. Public schools are today’s door to assimilation. Jewish parents, as all parents, should be given the choice of what is best for their kids.

The Jewish community should support vouchers, not just out of its own needs but for the benefit of the whole society. Educational choice in American cities has proven that it is a way for inner-city children to increase their opportunities.Educational choice has been in operation for decades in this country. Send your kid to college, and grants and tax credits will benefit you. It makes no difference if the school is UCLA or Yeshiva University. We all know that competition on the college level has only increased the choices for students.

Even students who study at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College and the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary use these government benefits. These movements that oppose support for educational choice for children in elementary and high school use government funds for their institutions on a college level. The ADL, AJCommittee and AJCongress should protest government financial support of religious higher education based on their strict interpretation of church-state separation. Funny thing is, we have never heard a word from them on this issue.

The United States is the only Western democracy that does not allow parents to direct their tax dollars to the school that they think is best for their kids. In Australia, as well as other countries such as Canada, England, France and even the former Soviet Union, tax dollars follow the child. Competition is the central principle of a free society. It’s time that we bring competition to the educational system; the only ones that will benefit are our children.

Rabbi David Eliezrie is the president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County and Long Beach. His e-mail address is tzedek@sprynet.com

Playing Favorites

About six months ago, The Journal published a ballot asking readers to pick their LA Jewish favorites: delis, party places, bookshops, etc. The ballots came back with a few surprises, some familiar old choices, and a lot of fervor. Like the old saying goes, 500,000 Jews, one million opinions.

The following list does not purport to be a “Best of” guide, or an index to the only good establishments or products serving the community. (For complete lists, check your Yellow Pages or online guides.) We retitled the categories from “Best” to “Favorite” just to avoid that confusion.

What we wanted to do is gather the experiences and opinion of our readers and serve them up for your information. We published two complete ballots with voting instructions last spring, and tallied the results over the summer. Ties were listed together, and please keep in mind that sometimes two votes separated the Number One from Number Three. Agree wholeheartedly or disagree absoluteley — these choices reflect the thoughts and tastes of at least a sampling of our readers.

The responses, tallied by editorial intern Sarit Kattan, ranged from the precise to the hilarious. Among the latter were several that exposed an undying New York-centrism (Favorite Place for a Wedding: New York. Favorite restaurant for Homesick New Yorkers: No place); one that portrayed despair (Favorite place to meet your Beshert: Let me know!); and at least one that read like an old joke (Favorite Hotel to House the In-laws: One that’s far away).

Enjoy, maybe learn a little, and thanks to all those who sent in ballots.

Different Approaches to Zionism

Kenneth Bob, a software executive from Long Island,N.Y., is registered to vote in this month’s World Zionist Congresselections, but he’s having a hard time deciding how to cast hisballot.

His vote, along with those mailed in by 149,370other registered voters, will determine the makeup of the U.S.delegation to the 33rd World Zionist Congress. Scheduled to conveneon Dec. 23 in Jerusalem, the congress will bring delegations fromabout four dozen countries to elect the leaders of the World ZionistOrganization (WZO). They, in turn, will choose the top executives ofthe Jewish Agency for Israel. Ten slates of candidates are vying fora share of the U.S. delegation.

Ken Bob’s vote is not the only cliffhanger in thiselection. The size of the U.S. delegation is still to be decided in aJerusalem courtroom, as is the overall size of the congress. And itis rumored that the choice of WZO chairman will be decided in aLikud-Labor back-room deal.

Yet the question most asked in this Zionistelection season seems to be one no courtroom will hear: Whocares?

“As far as I can tell, it’s just about power –who has the ear of the prime minister, who has the right to speak tothe White House in Israel’s name, who gets the information first,”says longtime Jewish leader Shoshana Cardin, a candidate on theindependent slate of the Baltimore Zionist District. She thinks thatit’s “time to look at new modalities in Zionism.”

To Marlene Post, president of Hadassah, whichrefused to field a slate, “the whole thing is ludicrous. With allthat’s going on right now, we should be united. Instead, we’refighting each other over issues like pluralism, which can’t even bedecided by the WZO. The Reform and Conservative Zionists are spendinga fortune on this. For what?”

That’s an easy question for Rabbi Laura Geller ofBeverly Hills, a Meretz candidate. “It’s incredibly important tocommunicate to Israel in every way possible that religious pluralismis a critical issue for Jews in America,” she says. “It’s alsoimportant for those who care about Israel to show other Jews they canbe involved and still hold to their beliefs.”

To Ken Bob, the issue is much simpler: Who willcontrol the largest and most powerful bodies in the Jewish world? “Ireally think this election comes down to a decision between the twomain bodies of political thought in Israel and the Jewish world,” hesays. “This is one of those interesting times when an election istaking place that actually will decide something.”

Ken Bob says that his first impulse was to voteLabor, given his lifelong love of the kibbutz idea, but he’s angeredby Labor’s waffling on religious pluralism. He thought of votingMercaz, the Conservative Zionist slate, but doubted their commitmentto the peace process. He considered voting for the leftist AmericanFriends of Meretz, which is unswerving on both issues, but he worriedabout “wasting” his vote on a minor party with no chance ofwinning.

His indecision has a twist: He’s a Labor candidatehimself. In the end, he admits, “I’ll probably vote Labor.” Still, atpress time, he hadn’t mailed in his ballot.

“It’s a familiar dilemma I’m hearing from people,”says Shoshana Hikind, an Orthodox Zionist fund-raiser in New York.She says that many associates are torn between backing pro-Likudgroups or the Religious Zionists slate, “and I keep hearing the samequestions: Which list is closer to my beliefs? Which needs my supportthe most? Which would accomplish more?”

Most observers agree that pluralism is the mainissue on voters’ minds. Not everyone is happy about it though. “It’sunfortunate, but a lot of Diaspora organizations want to make theirmark in Israel by saying, ‘We represent pluralism and look how manyvotes we received,'” says New York attorney Joel Abramson, head ofthe Revisionist Zionists of America (formerly Likud USA, but barredfrom campaigning under the Likud name due to a suit by rival AmericanFriends of Likud).

Actually, such Diaspora politicking has a longhistory. Israeli law defines the WZO and Jewish Agency as theDiaspora’s official voice in Israel. They are charged withrepresenting Jewish views to Jerusalem, and elections make thatpossible. No other Jewish institution brings together such a broadspectrum of Jews, invites vigorous debate and then holdselections.

In the last U.S. Zionist elections, in 1987, closeto 1 million Jews signed up (registration was simpler) and 250,000voted. The outcome was a Reform-Conservative sweep of the U.S.delegation, leading to a Labor-Reform-Conservative coalition takingover the WZO and Jewish Agency. It was the first time Israel’s rulingparty ever lost control of the powerful institutions.

The Jewish Agency, which is run by the WZO inpartnership with Diaspora fund-raising campaigns, is best known forbringing Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union to Israel. Thework consumes about 60 percent of its budget, which, at $400 million,is the richest purse of any Jewish institution in the world.

Less noticed, the agency is also one of theworld’s largest Jewish educational bodies. It spends some $50 milliona year on youth programs around the world. Most goes to places suchas Peru and Sweden, where the Zionists are the main educationprovider. Only about $6 million is spent in the United States, barelyenough to notice. But nothing prevents that sum from going up.

In 1992, national UJA President Brian Lurieproposed a $30 million program to bring 50,000 American youngsters ayear to Israel. He hoped to make Israel trips a universal AmericanJewish teen experience. The idea died for lack of funds.

What if the World Zionist Congress elected aleadership pledged to finding that $30 million? Or $100 million? Whatif the Zionist movement voted to recognize — as most of us havebegun to suspect — that with most of the Jews out of Russia, thenext great task is saving American Jewry?

Ah, but why bother with the notorious WZO-JewishAgency bureaucracy? Why, indeed: Because Israel is still, after all,the central Jewish presence in our times. Because it’s right for Jewsworldwide to have a representative body, based in Jerusalem, with theresources to tackle Jewish problems wherever they arise. Because ifZionism means anything, it means the right and duty of Jews to governthemselves.

Nobody is running on that sort of platform thisyear, but a few have begun thinking along those lines. “I believe thetime has come to look at different approaches to the meaning ofZionism,” says Cardin. “The Jewish Agency can certainly be aninstrumentality for world Jewry. We’re in a period of change, and thechange is one that we can begin to direct.”

Theodor Herzl