‘Diamond Joe’ Gutnick, Australian mogul, declares bankruptcy


Mining magnate “Diamond” Joe Gutnick, once ranked among the wealthiest men in Australia with a fortune totaling more than $230 million, has declared bankruptcy.

Gutnick, who is an ordained rabbi, made his fortune in gold and diamond mining on the advice of the last Lubavitcher rabbi, the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Gutnick declared bankruptcy on July 8, ahead of a court hearing July 11 to hear a petition by his former business partner Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative, or IFFCO, which was seeking to have him declared bankrupt over a $41 million debt. Gutnick lost a legal arbitration decision over the $103 million partnership that began in 2008 with India’s largest fertilizer collective.

 

Gutnick’s statement of affairs, obtained by Fairfax Media, shows he owes 25 creditors at least $210 million, and has no other assets except for $12,235 in savings and a worthless portfolio of shareholdings.

The $210 million collapse ranks him alongside the biggest bankruptcies in Australian history, although he still lags behind the $450 million owed by high-profile businessman Alan Bond when his empire crumbled.

Gutnick claims to have many overseas creditors, including $25 million to one “N Sternberg” of New York and a further $10.1 million to “Machne Israel” of New York, according to Fairfax Media.

Schneerson had told Gutnick after the 1987 stock market crash to go back to the Australian desert and search for “gold and diamonds.” Gutnick was responsible for overseeing the discovery of the Plutonic gold deposit, as well as the discovery, development and operation of the Bronzewing and Jundee gold mines in Australia, which all earned him the nickname “Diamond Joe.”

In 2010, Gutnick returned to the Business Review Weekly Rich List with an estimated wealth of $230 million following an absence of more than 10 years. At the time he owned a string of small mining companies that were exploring for everything from diamonds and gold to uranium and phosphate. He was still among Australia’s 200 richest people in 2014, when BRW estimated his wealth to be more than $190 million.

He did not respond to JTA’s request for a comment.

Syms clothing company, and its affiliate Filene’s Basement, files for bankruptcy


Syms clothing company and its affiliate, Filene’s Basement, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“This has been a challenging time for Syms and Filene’s Basement,” said Syms Corp. CEO Marcy Sims Wednesday announcing the bankruptcy. “We have been faced with increased competition from large department stores that now offer the same brands as our stores at similar discounts.”

Well-known Jewish philanthropist Sy Syms founded Syms clothing company in 1958, gearing his store’s merchandise and service to “educated consumers.” He also established Yeshiva University’s Syms School of Business in 1987.

Filene’s Basement was founded in 1909 by Edward Filene. This will be the second time the fashion retailer filed for bankruptcy. The first time was in 2009, when Filene’s Basement was sold to Syms Corp. in a resuscitation effort.

Nationwide, there are 25 Syms and 21 Filene’s Basement stores. Both chains plan to go out of business by the end of January.

Baltimore Jewish Times publisher leaving bankruptcy


Alter Communications, which publishes the Baltimore Jewish Times, is set to emerge from bankruptcy.

A U.S. Bankruptcy judge on Dec. 16 approved the company’s reorganization plan, the Baltimore Business Journal reported. The plan will go into effect late next month, according to the report.

Alter, which puts out the Baltimore Jewish weekly and other publications, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April.

While under bankruptcy protection, Alter continued to publish the 91-year-old Jewish Times, with a circulation of more than 50,000, and sister publications Style and Chesapeake Life.

“I’m elated,” Andrew Buerger, Alter’s CEO and the Jewish Times’ publisher told the newspaper. “To be able to put this chapter behind us is great for us, our employees, our community, advertisers and readers.”

Since 1996, Alter has sold off Jewish newspapers in Detroit, Atlanta, and Palm Beach and Boca Raton, Fla., as well as Vancouver, British Columbia.

Creditors force Ezri Namvar into involuntary bankruptcy


Businessman and philanthropist Ezri Namvar was once a pillar of the local Iranian Jewish community, a trusted friend to whom many in the community loaned freely and without fear.

Now Namvar and his investment company, Namco Capital Group, Inc., are accused of losing as much as $400 million loaned to him.

For the last three months, lawsuits have been filed and extensive negotiations have been taking place to resolve the hundreds of millions of dollars in disputes between Namvar’s creditors and the Brentwood Iranian Jewish businessman. On Dec. 22, two dozen creditors filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against Namvar and Namco.

The petition follows 17 lawsuits filed against Namvar, Namco, entities owned by Namvar and other Namvar family members alleging breach of contract and contractual fraud in a case that attorneys estimate involves 300 to 400 creditors, the majority of whom are Iranian Jews.

“Disputes happen all the time, but the magnitude of this case is huge,” said A. David Youssefyeh, a local Iranian Jewish attorney who is advising nearly 20 Iranian Jewish creditors in this case, of whom only a small group participated in the filing of the petition. “This case hits people in the community from such a broad socio-economic level — it includes everyone, from students that had entrusted Mr. Namvar with their bar mitzvah money, to retired people who invested their entire life savings in Namco and were paying their living expenses from the interest they received from the company.”

The creditors include investors in Namco Capital Group, those who lent money to Namco and received a personal guarantee from Namvar, lenders to Namco who received a lien on property owed by Namvar or one his entities and those who gave profits from their real estate transactions (1031 funds) to Namvar, according to the lawsuits.

“For 1031 money, the IRS will allow delayed payment of taxes on profits people give to a facilitator, such as Mr. Namvar, to hold for them until they find a substitute property to purchase,” Youssefyeh said. “But now that that money is gone, the people that entrusted Mr. Namvar with the money may potentially have to pay taxes on monies that they don’t have.”

Problems first arose nearly five months ago, when various creditors discovered they were unable to retrieve funds they had invested in Namco or given to Namvar, and that they were also no longer receiving interest payments from monies invested his company, Youssefyeh said.

While some community members filed suits to regain their money, the majority hoped instead to resolve the issue outside of the courts, in the traditional manner of the tight-knit community.

“Back in Iran, whenever a businessman in the Jewish community was unable to pay his creditors, the community leaders would get together and devise a plan to help the businessman get back on his feet financially so that he could repay those debts,” said Ebrahim Yahid, a community activist in his 80s who is a close friend of the Namvar family.

Indeed, such a group was organized after a meeting on Nov. 5 between Namvar and Namco’s Iranian Jewish creditors, according to a statement released to The Jewish Journal by the group on Dec. 16. Namco’s creditors first nominated and then voted to create a provisional committee, including prominent, independent community members. The group planned to trace all of Namvar’s assets and propose solutions to the creditors, according to the statement.

The all-volunteer committee included retired banker and former president of the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) Solomon Agahi and former IAJF Secretary General Sam Kermanian, as well as businessmen Jack Rochel and Nejat Sarshar. They had their first meeting on Nov. 24, according to the statement, and they were offered full authority by Namvar to resolve the disputes. The committee also hired an independent forensic accountant and attorney.

Nevertheless, talks broke down, and Youssefyeh said he advised his clients to file the bankruptcy petition when his negotiations with the local Iranian Jewish community leaders and Namco’s attorney failed to secure a deal to retrieve their investments for his clients and the nearly 200 other local Iranian Jewish creditors.

Youssefyeh said he became frustrated because Namvar’s paybacks seemed designed to protect the wealthy creditors, rather than the small investors whose life savings had been jeopardized. “What particularly made me mad was that with the $12 [million] to $13 million, Mr. Namvar could pay off 190 people, most of which needed the money for their survival, that had entrusted Mr. Namvar with $200,000 or less,” Youssefyeh said. “But people close to him told me that instead of Mr .Namvar paying off these creditors, Mr. Namvar had earmarked the remaining $17 million that he would receive from the sale of his Wilshire Bundy Plaza building to pay his 1031 obligations first, in order to avoid any potential liability arising from the 1031 funds not being available to the investors.”

Youssefyeh said bankruptcy was the only available option to protect his clients, because it allows the courts to distribute Namvar’s assets and even reverses settlement payments Namvar had made to his more affluent creditors, who have the financial means to proceed with litigation against him.

According to the bankruptcy petition, filed in U.S. Federal Bankruptcy Court in downtown Los Angeles, the dozen creditors include both Iranian Jews and non-Jews, with more than $7 million in claims against Namco Capital Group and $7 million in personal claims against Namvar.

While members of the provisional committee declined to comment on the filing, legal experts said the petition nullifies the committee’s ability to settle the case, giving the courts the responsibility of distributing Namvar and Namco’s assets.

Some community leaders, who asked not to be identified, argued that the bankruptcy petition could hurt the community’s numerous creditors, because they might never receive their money back, since the case could take years to litigate and any available monies could be eaten up by attorneys’ fees as well as other costs.

Youssefyeh defended the bankruptcy petition. “The [provisional] committee had not taken any steps to take control of Mr. Namvar’s assets and in so many words said that they were not qualified to disperse his assets,” he said, adding, “yes, it will be painful and take a long time, but at the end of the day there was no other viable solution that would have frozen the assets, brought all of the preferential transfers and securitization money back into the pot.”

Local Iranian Jews had been investing with Namvar and Namco since the late 1990s. The relationships were based on his family’s reputation for being honorable as well as his success in real estate development, Yahid said.

Some have compared Namvar’s situation to the Bernard Madoff scandal, which involves a Ponzi scheme, but this is unfair, according to Namvar’s friends and community supporters, who say Namvar’s losses are due simply to the economic downturn.

“I know he [Namvar] did not have bad intentions — the economy around the whole world has gone downward, including the real estate market here in Los Angeles, and everyone is hurting, including himself,” Yahid said. “If he really had bad intentions, he would not have welcomed the committee to resolve this case, but would have instead declared immediate bankruptcy himself and destroyed the lives of hundreds in our community.”

All’s well that ends Zell


Los Angeles Times owner Sam Zell didn’t file for bankruptcy because the newspaper business is being battered by the recession or by online competition. He went into Chapter 11 because of the irresponsible and boneheaded deal he made to take over Tribune Co. in the first place.

Zell’s own financial chickens are coming home to roost. Unfortunately, the people who are paying the price for his recklessness are the citizens of Los Angeles and the staff of their premier paper.

Sam Zell only put up $315 million of his own money to buy the Times’ owner, Tribune Co. The rest — $8.2 billion — was highly leveraged debt; the deal, which nearly tripled Tribune’s debt load, turned on a fancy maneuver creating an Employee Stock Ownership Plan executed behind the backs of Tribune’s actual employees. The sorry result: a debt service of $1 billion a year.

Even if advertising were not dropping, even if subscriptions were not falling, Zell would have had no chance to cover his monthly nut without the waves of cutbacks he ordered, which have devastated Times morale and decimated its content. And even with those cutbacks, the bankruptcy is now proof of how misbegotten his strategy was in the first place.

The economic meltdown the nation is now living through offers plenty of evidence of how the American people are at the mercy of casino gamblers posing as capitalism’s finest. The billionaires who got us into this mess turn out to be not heroic entrepreneurs contributing to the country’s prosperity, but unaccountable buccaneers who could care less about jobs and communities. Sam Zell’s megalomania isn’t unique; it’s just our misfortune that Los Angeles’ civic life has to bear the consequences of his financial swagger.

So what’s next? The prospect of Zell’s dumping Tribune assets at fire-sale prices has renewed speculation about the Los Angeles Times being returned to local ownership.

As a strictly business proposition, it’s hard to imagine a price low enough to make sense to a buyer, but maybe the bankruptcy will force Zell’s hand. It’s also hard to imagine a new owner taking over the Times, at any price, with illusions about acquiring a financial gusher. The paper has been profitable, but buying any newspaper at this moment in the history of journalism would be more of a statement about what a great city needs than a bet on making an easy buck.

Maybe David Geffen or Eli Broad or Dick Riordan still thinks that the Los Angeles Times brand is too good not to own at the right price (all three made overtures to buy the paper before Zell sealed his deal). But chances are, there is no business plan for the future of the Times that makes sense unless serving the public interest is considered to be as much a reward as a revenue stream. That’s why it’s tempting to think of what an unconventional ownership model would look like — reorganizing the Times as a nonprofit entity, for example, either free-standing, or perhaps as part of another nonprofit, like a university or foundation.

It’s also worth imagining Los Angeles without a newspaper of the Times’ journalistic resources. Maybe the notion of delivering a product made of dead trees to people’s driveways early each morning is obsolete in an era when news is made and reported around the clock, and when digital delivery is cheap and immediate. Maybe the available sources of news are so abundant that the idea of a single authoritative source is hopelessly archaic. Maybe the fractionated megalopolis that Los Angeles has become makes it absurd to think that one paper can meet the needs of so many geographically far-flung and ethnically diverse subcommunities.

But if the Times doesn’t make the effort to look for a common culture and to create a shared public space to fight about what a common culture is, what will? Blogs and Web sites are swell, but they’re silos, not connective tissue. Local television news believes that thoughtful coverage of local politics and public affairs is ratings poison. Community and special-interest and alternative papers perform a crucial service, but size matters; a million people sharing the same information every day makes a deeper impact than 10 readerships of a 100,000 once a week, no matter how ecumenical the content. Budgets matter, too: investigative journalism takes time and dough that smaller outlets, and local public television, don’t have. The Times may be an imperfect mirror of what Los Angeles is, but without it, it’s hard to know where the region goes to see itself whole, or even why people will think that’s an effort worth making.

Sam Zell didn’t cause the crisis in modern journalism, but he did turn a superb and profitable institution into a basket case. The people who work there, and the people who read it, deserve way better. Even the people who don’t read the Times deserve a city that never stops searching for its soul. Sam Zell doesn’t get that a great newspaper can give its community a public space to do that. Maybe it’s time for him to sell it to someone who does.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School. His column appears here weekly. He can be reached at martyk@jewishjournal.com.


Postville Jewish community struggles to survive after raid


POSTVILLE, Iowa (JTA) — After former Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin was arrested earlier this month, Rashi Raices joined several dozen members of this town’s Jewish community in volunteering the equity on their homes to guarantee his return to face trial.

All told, they were willing to put up the equivalent of about $2 million, according to the judge in the case. The court also received 275 letters from around the world testifying to Rubashkin’s character.

Rubashkin stands accused of a host of crimes stemming from his stewardship of the Agriprocessors meat packing plant in Postville. To much of the outside world he is the public face of a rapacious company that has demonstrated deep contempt for the law.

But to the several hundred Jews of Postville — home of the company’s main plant and once the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the United States — Rubashkin is a figure of reverence, a man who built a successful business and thriving Jewish community while performing countless unsung acts of kindness.

“The community cares very much for Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin,” Raices told JTA on Sunday, three days after a federal magistrate rejected the appeals and ordered Rubashkin detained until trial.

“If they didn’t trust him, and if they didn’t care for him, they would not put up their homes,” Raices said. “Do you think if we really thought he was going to run away that we would put up our homes?”

The public offering on Rubashkin’s behalf is all the more noteworthy because it comes at a time of tremendous uncertainty for Postville’s Jews. The shutdown of Agriprocessors, which filed for bankruptcy Nov. 4 and hasn’t operated the plant in more than a week, has had deep consequences.

“People for the first time are going on to food stamps and Medicaid and unemployment,” Raices said.

Agriprocessors was the economic engine for the entire region of northeast Iowa, but the Jewish community was particularly dependent. Some 90 percent of Postville’s Jews were employed directly by the company, many of them as ritual slaughterers, or shochtim. Even those who didn’t often were employed by organizations established to service the community and therefore are dependent indirectly on Agriprocessors.

Teachers in the Jewish community school haven’t been paid since Oct. 3. Jewish Agriprocessors employees are, by one estimate, 12 weeks behind in their pay. A nonprofit effort has been established to raise money for the Jews of Postville and state assistance is on the way, but in the meantime some families are struggling to heat their homes and keep food on the table.

Their situation has gone relatively unnoticed, even though a massive federal immigration raid in May made this sleepy northeast Iowa town a focus of national interest. Instead, the bulk of news reports have focused on the plight of the largely immigrant work force detained by the federal government and the unsupported families they left behind. Much of the plant’s former non-Jewish work force is now stuck in Postville with dwindling resources, living off the generosity of area churches and dependent on the good will of the city’s residents.

On Nov. 21, Mayor Robert Penrod initiated the process of having Postville declared a disaster area — a move that is expected to result in nearly $700,000 in state assistance. Later in the day, a notice was posted in the Postville synagogue announcing that help is on the way for those struggling to pay for food and utilities.

“It’s a man-made disaster,” said Aaron Goldsmith, a former Postville city councilman and frequent spokesman for the community. “It’s as if we were hit by the Katrina flood. It doesn’t discriminate. The economic impact of the shutdown has hurt Jew and gentile alike, suppliers, sub-suppliers, the city’s infrastructure and the general morale of the broader community.”

Morale in the Jewish community has been especially hard hit because of a widespread sense among Postville Jews that they have been given a raw deal. Not by the Rubashkins, whose business practices some outside critics blame for the current crisis, but by the media, which many Jews in Postville see as unduly biased against the company, and by the federal government, which is seen as having moved more aggressively against Agriprocessors than against other companies accused of hiring undocumented workers.

That sense of grievance was compounded Nov. 20 when U.S. Magistrate Judge Jon Scoles refused to release Rubashkin on bail, concluding that he posed a “serious risk of flight.” Rubashkin faces substantial jail time for his alleged role in a scheme to defraud the company’s bank, as well as a host of charges related to his role in helping procure false documentation for the plant’s illegal work force.

In his ruling, Scoles cited a number of factors that made Rubashkin a flight risk, including the fact that Jews are granted automatic citizenship in Israel and that two former Agriprocessors supervisors already are believed to have fled there. He also noted that a travel bag filled with cash, silver coins, Rubashkin’s birth certificate and his childrens’ passports were found in his home.

His attorneys countered that Rubashkin’s financial situation was deteriorating and that he was saving the money to meet his family’s needs. They also argued that Rubashkin was tied deeply to the community and his 10 children, eight of whom still reside in Postville, including a mentally challenged son who is said to be particularly reliant on his father.

“Any judge can now say that they will not allow a Jew out just because he is a Jew, because a Jew has the right to run to Israel,” Raices said. “So you know what? Everyone’s hurting themselves out there by not bringing an outcry about that. That is blatant anti-Semitism. And he’s just the first one that’s suffering from that.”

“This past Wednesday was a very black day for Judaism, not just for Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin,” she added. “It was a black day for Jews in America.”

Goldsmith declined to go as far, but he did offer that Rubashkin was the victim of “over-prosecution” and that the judge’s decision was “perplexing.”

While the community anguishes over Rubashkin’s fate, it also has more pressing concerns. At the Kosher Community Grocery on Nov. 21, the shelves were noticeably less than fully stocked. In the kitchen, Mordy Brown was slicing onions for cholent, part of the meal he was preparing for the approximately 40 yeshiva students in Postville.

Brown said the store is extending credit to some families short on funds and that cash flow is “very low.” Some meat remains in stock, but last week’s order, Brown said, is going to be the last for a while. He predicted the shelves would be empty in three days.

“It’s getting really tough,” Brown said.

Meanwhile, at the packing plant, all was quiet. Handwritten signs posted in the window announced more bad news: No work on Sunday and Monday. A court-appointed trustee was due Monday in Postville; the town is hopeful that checks will be issued soon thereafter.

But there are few illusions that Agriprocessors can recover as a going concern. Virtually the only hope for the future of the Postville Jewish community rests with the plant’s purchase by another company.

“I don’t know that the name Agriprocessors can be resurrected,” Goldsmith said, “but I think the plant can be resurrected. There just might be too much baggage with the old name.”

Talks with investors have been under way for months but no deal has been announced. Bernard Feldman, the company’s recently appointed chief executive, submitted an affidavit to the court claiming that he expected “such negotiations will be fruitful [and] completed in the very near future.”

In the meantime, the community languishes in uncertainty. And while the worst of the humanitarian crisis will likely be avoided through state assistance and outside donations, the intensity of the anger remains.

“It’s a 20th century pogrom,” said a customer at the kosher grocery who declined to give his name, “just without the horses and the houses haven’t been burned down yet.”

Agriprocessors closed — now where’s the beef?


NEW YORK (JTA)–A supermarket in New Jersey with a large kosher section has shelves nearly empty of kosher beef. In New York, a kosher steakhouse says its customers are canceling reservations because choice cuts aren’t always available. And the nation’s largest kosher meat producer, reportedly besieged by new orders, is turning away new customers.

The kosher meat market is in a tailspin as production at the Agriprocessors’ meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, which had been operating at a fraction of its normal capacity since May, finally ground to a halt this week. The company, whose meat was sold under the labels Rubashkin’s and Aaron’s Best, among others, filed for bankruptcy Nov. 4.

“What I’m hearing all over the country is that one day you can get poultry in some places, one day you can get brisket, the next day you can’t get pastrami,” said Menachem Lubinsky, the publisher of Kosher Today and a former consultant to Agriprocessors. “People are being very innovative in how they’re getting their products.”

Though Agriprocessors officials say they hope to reopen the plant later this week, trouble has long been brewing in Postville and savvy industry folks began looking for alternatives months ago.

In the wake of a federal immigration raid in Postville on May 12, meat buyers began shifting their purchases to other companies, which have struggled to meet the increased demand. Alle Processing, a New York City kosher meat supplier that has become the largest in the United States with the collapse of Agriprocessors, has had to place a moratorium on new customers, according to several industry insiders.

Retailers and restaurants who already had relationships with other suppliers have fared the best, though many report only a portion of their orders are being filled. Those who were more dependent on Agriprocessors are finding themselves in real trouble.

At Heinin’s, a specialty foods supermarket in the greater Cleveland area, the shelves have been without kosher meat for months. A buyer for the company told JTA his efforts to locate an alternative are not going well. An Albertson’s supermarket in the Dallas area also was bereft of beef on Monday.

“I just got back from the supermarket and there was absolutely none,” said kosher consumer Shalom Abrams. “Normally they have an 8-foot section of kosher meat.”

At the ShopRite in Livingston, N.J., on Sunday, the shelves were teeming with glatt kosher beef and lamb from Solomon’s and chicken from Empire Kosher Poultry, which announced this week it would be increasing production by 50 percent beginning Nov. 24. One town over, in West Orange, the situation was vastly different: The most plentiful item in the kosher beef display was the Rubashkin’s signage.

“Overall, it’s a lot less selection,” said Michelle Amin, shopping at the West Orange ShopRite. “For the community who’s here to have this kind of empty shelf, it’s crazy.”

Even large retailers with multiple supply options say their orders are not being fully filled.

Yakov Yarmove, who purchases kosher meat for the Supervalu chain, which operates more than 2,400 stores across the country, estimates he’s getting about 90 percent of what he needs. Several other large supermarket chains with reported supply disruptions did not respond to requests for comment.

Michael Schreiber, the owner of East Side Kosher Deli in Denver and a supplier of kosher meat to customers in seven Rocky Mountain states, told JTA he would have been “in deep trouble” if he had relied solely on Agriprocessors. As it is, he is struggling to keep up his stocks.

“I may order 500 pounds of a certain primal cut for my guys to then break and I may only get 300 pounds, but I am getting the product,” Schreiber said. “Are my stocks as deep as normal? No, not hardly. But I can keep customers in product.”

The decline of Agriprocessors placed fish and poultry center stage last week at Kosherfest, the annual kosher food trade show held Nov. 11-12 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in New Jersey. While purveyors of kosher poultry and fish were abundant, including many first-time exhibitors from North America and abroad, there were only a handful of meat producers, and those few were besieged by buyers desperate for supplies. None of the major kosher meat producers were there: no Agriprocessors, no International Glatt, no Alle.

With their finances in ruins, Agriprocessors has been courting outside investors and rumors were rife at the show as to who might buy the company’s facility in Postville. Names floated most often were Empire and Alle, as well as the non-kosher giant ConAgra. Costco and Sam’s Club have both reportedly expressed interest.

Empire representatives say the company has investigated the possibility of entering the kosher beef market but has made no decisions. But Empire’s announcement that it plans to expand production of chicken is widely hoped to alleviate pressure on the kosher poultry supply at a crucial moment–the week of Thanksgiving.

“Empire is proud to be able to step up to the plate and be sure that consumers throughout the United States have easy access to kosher poultry at their local supermarkets and butcher shops,” Greg Rosenbaum, Empire’s chairman and CEO, said in a news release. “We are extremely grateful for the cooperation of our kosher certifying agencies, the OU, KAJ and Star-K, as well as the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, to make this rapid expansion possible.”

On Monday, Agriprocessors executives appeared in bankruptcy court in New York where they met their lender, First Bank Business Capital of St. Louis. First Bank initiated foreclosure proceedings against the company for defaulting on a $35 million loan.

According to a report in the Des Moines Register, First Bank had sought a total freeze on spending until Agriprocessors cleared up its debts. The company responded that a freeze would force it to cease all operations. A judge appointed a trustee to oversee the case, and a company spokesperson told the Register that the details would be worked out this week. The company hopes to resume poultry production on Thursday.

In an unrelated legal setback for Agriprocessors, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear its case against the National Labor Relations Board, according to a report in the industry publication Meatingplace. A lower court had rejected the company’s argument that a union vote at its Brooklyn warehouse was invalid because its workers were illegal immigrants and therefore not entitled to organize.

Agriprocessors did not respond to requests for comment.

For kosher beef, problems are likely to remain–a fact that has sparked interest from companies as far afield as Australia. Ephraim Nagar, the owner of Talia’s Steakhouse on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, told JTA he had received an e-mail from a company gauging interest in kosher meat exports from Down Under.

For Nagar, who used to get all his supply from Agriprocessors, any new product would be an enormous relief. Other suppliers have declined to deal with him because he was not a regular customer. To acquire beef, he has had to send drivers to outer borough warehouses, driving up his costs. Some customers are calling in advance to find out if the restaurant has the specialty items for which it is known.

“Assuming they made a reservation of, let’s say a table of 10,” Nagar said, “two or three people are eager to eat these bison buffalo or the baby lamb rack, and if we do not have that, they cancel the reservation.”

(JTA correspondent Sue Fishkoff contributed to this report.)



7 Days in the Arts


27/SUNDAY

The Olmert family name makes headlines again this week as a play, written by the with of the mayor of Jerusalem, makes its Los Angeles premiere. “Fantasy for Piano,” written by Aliza Olmert, debuts as part of the Celebrity Staged Reading series. Alexandra More directs a cast that includes Barbara Bain in the show about a woman’s return to her childhood home in Poland.

2 p.m. $18. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Sydney Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. For reservations, call (213) 388-2401.

28/MONDAY

Thank the Jewish Federation of San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys for picking up Los Angeles’ slack this month. You may have to drive a little farther, but you can still partake in the National Jewish Book Month festivities. This week, authors Sylvia Rouss (“Sammy Spider”)and Rochelle Krich (“Blues in the Night”) each have a book signing. And later this month, you can hear discussions with Joseph Telushkin, Jonathan Safran Foer and Sheila Kaufman, among others.

For more information, call (626) 967-3656 or visit

Briefs


Programs Continue at Valley JCCs

Programs will continue at the various Jewish Community Centers (JCC) around the San Fernanado Valley, albeit not all under the same umbrella. The new North Valley Jewish Community Center, Inc., (NVJCC) a nonprofit organization created after the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) divested itself from the Granada Hills site, is still in negotiations to purchase the site, and is temporarily relegated to using only part of the property. But it still opened its summer camp July 1 with 10 children.

The organization hoped to use the entire property by September, NVJCC board member Andrea Goodstein said, noting that discussions with the JCCGLA toward that end were going well.

As for the other two Valley centers, the West Valley JCC is fully functioning and remaining a part of JCCGLA for the time being, according to JCCGLA Executive Vice President Nina Lieberman Giladi. Valley Cities JCC’s preschool ended the school year with an enrollment of more than 100 children, Giladi said, so both the site’s preschool and after-school programs will open in the fall as usual. Programs for seniors at Valley Cities are also continuing in a limited fashion, despite the cuts made following the JCCGLA’s declaration of near bankruptcy last December.

Enrollment has begun for preschool and after school programs at the NVJCC with a message line set up for both at (818) 594-4075. — Wendy J. Madnick, Contributing Writer

West Valley Community Health ExpoDebuts

Shomrei Torah Synagogue will join forces with co-sponsors Temple Aliyah, Valley Outreach Synagogue and the West Valley Jewish Community Center to present the very first West Valley Community Health Expo, a daylong fundraiser benefiting Magen David Adom West, on Aug. 4.

The concept behind the Health Expo evolved as a vehicle for an idea of Shomrei Torah’s Rabbi Richard Camras to raise the $54,900 needed to purchase an ambulance for Israel. The Expo will feature a variety of medical screenings, a blood drive and health- and safety-related exhibits. Scheduled speakers include: Judy Ziedler, who will lecture on the joys of kosher cooking; Jerry Guon, liver transplant recipient, who will speak on Jewish perspective on organ donation; Dr. Rena Falk, of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, who will talk about genetic screening; and representatives of Stroller Power, a group that teaches exercise workouts for new moms.

“I’m hoping that people will come to the Expo to learn about their own health,” said Nedra Weinreich, Health Expo Committee chair, “as well as do something that will help the health of those in Israel. You can help save lives here and as well in Israel.”

West Valley Community Health Expo will take place from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Aug. 4 at Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. Blood drives will be held from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free, but donations will be encouraged. For information, call (818) 346-2721; or visit shomreitorahsynagogue.org.

— Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Shop ‘Til You Drop

Need a crock pot? Or would you prefer to donate your old one? If so, you’ll want to know that one of the San Fernando Valley’s most popular thrift shops has moved. The National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW/LA) celebrated the opening of its Canoga Park store on June 11.

The store replaces the one previously located in Reseda. Harriet Baron, executive director of NCJW/LA, said she hopes the change will attract even more customers and donors.

“Quite simply, we felt that there was a market in the West Valley we were not reaching,” Baron said. “We know we have many constituents there.”

Baron said the new location has the advantage of being within the radius of a stretch of antique stores and thrift shops. The Canoga Park store is more spacious than its predecessor, with furniture housed on one side of the store and racks of clothing, mostly for women, on the right. There is a limited amount of children’s clothing but plenty of bric-a-brac for the kitchen and the prices are very reasonable. The store is easy to spot from the street due to its distinctive blue-and-white mural. The mural is based on an original design by Burton Morris in Pittsburgh, Pa., and was painted by a local artist known as Chase, who does all of his artwork for NCJW using spray paint.

Altogether, NCJW operates six thrift shops.

The store is located at 21716 Sherman Way. Hours of operation are 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (Monday through Saturday) and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Sunday). For more information, call (818) 710-7206. — WM

How the West Was Jewish

Historical figure Solomon Heydenfeldt, a Jewish justice on the California Supreme Court from the Gold Rush era, ruled on California water laws and cases involving religious freedom. Donning black-and-purple robes, an old-fashioned bow tie and his best southern accent, law professor Peter Reich brought Heydenfeldt to life for fourth-graders at Valley Beth Shalom Harold M. Schulweis Day School in Encino this past spring.

As the school’s fourth-grade social studies curriculum includes the California Gold Rush, Reich’s presentation brought a Jewish element to the study of American history during this period.

For the last 12 years, Reich has taught property and environmental law at Whittier College, as well as a legal history class at UC Irvine. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

Enron Fallout in Houston


The Enron Corporation and Linda Lay, the wife of its chairman and chief executive, have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Houston’s Holocaust museum, accounting for approximately 10 percent of the institution’s $3 million budget.

Now enmeshed in scandal and bankruptcy, Kenneth and Linda Lay were to be among the honorary co-chairs at the museum’s annual dinner this March, sharing the title with various dignitaries, including President George W. Bush.

The energy company, which filed for bankruptcy protection last month after acknowledging it had overstated its profits by nearly $600 million, is at the center of a scandal in which it is accused of lying to investors and abusing its vast political clout.

Enron’s collapse and the ensuing scandal are threatening the entire economy of Houston, and its effects are being felt by local Jewish institutions — particularly the Holocaust museum — and some of the city’s 45,000 Jews.

Holocaust Museum Houston was one of many local cultural institutions that benefited from Enron and the Lays’ largess and whose future — presumably without their assistance — is uncertain.

Although neither of the Lays are Jewish, Linda Lay — who is on the museum’s board — grew up with many Jewish friends and sometimes attended synagogue with them, said Steven Johnson, a spokesman for the museum. "She really believes in her heart about celebrating diversity, being aware of the dangers of hatred and prejudice," he said.

The Lays and Enron each regularly purchased $100,000 tables at the museum’s annual dinner, and Enron was the $100,000 corporate patron of The Human Race, an annual "fun run" the museum sponsors to celebrate diversity, Johnson said.

In addition to the couple’s donations, Linda Lay reportedly raised the lion’s share of revenue for the museum’s annual dinner, according to one Jewish leader, by making "lots of calls to Enron business associates." "She was a major source of fundraising for the museum, and now that’s dried up," the Jewish leader said.

While the money from Enron "seems to be through," Johnson said Lay remains on the board and the museum is "hopeful that Linda Lay and her involvement will continue, and that we’ll continue to receive some funding from her personally."

Asked whether some might find it unseemly for someone linked to a major scandal to serve in such a prominent role, Johnson said that while "things could change," there has been no discussion yet.

"Our involvement is predominantly with Mrs. Lay and not Mr. Lay, and she doesn’t work for Enron and hasn’t had anything to do with what’s going on," he said.

The Lays also contributed $2,500 to the Jewish Community Center of Houston for its scholarship fund and made a one-time contribution of $50,000 to its capital campaign in 1999 .

Top professionals with the federation and JCC acknowledge that the Enron scandal is taking a toll on the Jewish community, but say Enron had a relatively minor role as a donor to Jewish causes or an employer of Jews. So far, local Jewish agencies are not experiencing a surge in demand for services from people who lost their jobs or retirement money as a result of the Enron bankruptcy.

"We’ve had very few if any individuals that have lost their retirement assets approach Jewish institutions for help," said Lee Wunsch, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston.

"We’re encouraging all the Enron employees who are JCC members to come talk to us about financial aid if they need to or if they are considering not continuing their membership" due to Enron-related financial losses, said Jerry Wische, executive vice president of the JCC.

The Meaning of Loehmann’s RIP


Whatever the rest of America made of last week’s news that Loehmann’s discount department store is declaring bankruptcy, for American Jewish women, it is very, very sad.

Loehmann’s, the home of designer leftovers, moved from shopping mecca to Borscht Belt-style punch line in two generations. The store, for years located on Third Street, east of Fairfax Avenue, and now on La Cienega Boulevard, is as much a monument to L.A. Jewish life as the Farmer’s Market. An era will close.

Frieda Loehmann’s Bronx discount center, which started in 1920 with the goods procured from her garment-center friends, once symbolized a certain wildly prized kind of shopping seckhel that must be counted among Jewry’s gifts to America. Long before Donald Trump wrote “The Art of the Deal,” we were practicing it here, in Loehmann’s Back Room, where designer labels were obliterated but not quite cut off, indicating to the discerning buyer that standards were being maintained.

Before its decline, the Loehmann’s ethic had traveled far into the American psyche only to be run over by T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s; at its prime, Loehmann’s had 69 outlets in the 14 states most likely to have a vital Jewish life.

Deconstructing Loehmann’s influence on American women this week, my friends and I couldn’t help but reflect on the beauty of the concept.

Loehmann’s seckhel, after all, was not merely about offering its clientele a chance to emulate the tastes of the upper American classes by wearing recognizable name brands. It was about going those classes one better by the inside joke of getting the same items at a better price.

It was not only about helping children of immigrants adapt to the tastes of America, but helping them do so by maintaining the best Old World values as well. In the days when Loehmann’s was growing, every Jewish home still had a sewing machine, and the desire for a homemade dress or suit meant something that was wool and had lining. This is no small thing, as anyone looking at a $300 pair of unlined DKNY pants made of who-knows-what will attest.

Loehmann’s, after all, helped publicize and broadcast the values of new European designers, who, at that time (but not now), used better fabrics and made suits with bound button holes — the same standards of tailoring we tried to maintain at home. I feel ridiculously old-fashioned bringing up clothing details such as bound button holes in the days of Velcro, but any assessment of Loehmann’s has to acknowledge that its tastes, for its time, were elevated.

Finally, Loehmann’s was not only about wanting a deal but about developing the persistence to get one — the sweat and toil of digging through row upon row of blouses, slacks and skirts to find a gem, and seeing the moral relevance not in the purchase but in the search itself.

My mother and I spent many hours there, planning and dreaming of the weddings, bar mitzvahs and dates to come, happy even (sometimes happier) when we came home empty-handed. (A day without a purchase, after all, was a day without mistakes — clothing that would sit unworn for years in our closet, still with the tag showing the great buy it had been.)

Did we have some of the materialistic nouveau riche illusions that soon became associated with the name Loehmann’s and were even then being mocked by Philip Roth? Well, probably. But we were savvy shoppers, or so we regarded ourselves, and as such we were critical, even cynical, about the merchandise we bought, discerning that if we were going to make an impact in this society, we had to look the part.

My mother and I usually made a day of our trek to Loehmann’s, even when one was built only a mile or two from home. From Mom, I learned to examine hemlines and twisted zippers and armholes that were often part of the “seconds” which slipped into the store. Mom was never fooled by a cut-out label or a price tag that seemed to be marked down. Value is not in the price but in the product.

I’ve tried to pass along this moral compass to my daughter, but for Loehmann’s, it was only too late. I thrilled to take my daughter into the Stalinist-style open-mirror dressing rooms, where I learned too much about what women’s bodies looked like. She tried on outfits and had complete strangers voice their opinion of a skirt that was too short, just as had happened to me long ago. But most of the aura of the place was gone. There were no huge mobs of women clamoring on long lines. There were no Hungarian refugees standing watch in the Back Room, catering to their special customers and giving them access to the rare secret lots of new Italian or French imports. The heyday of the designer was over long ago. Loehmann’s would still be good for a prom dress, but not much more.

Loehmann’s brought the romance of high-quality shopping to the American suburbs, but Wal-Mart, like The Gap, won the day. When it comes to style, who needs more now than jeans and a gray or white T. But if you have spent even a single afternoon at Loehmann’s, you will, like Hermione Gingold in “Gigi,” eternally “remember it well.”


Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist of The Jewish Journal, is author of “A Woman’s Voice: Reflections on Love, Death, Faith, Food & Family Life” (On The Way Press).

Her website is www.marleneadlermarks.com.

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

Beth Olam Cemetery


Beth Olam Cemetery in Hollywood, one of the most venerable and historical Jewish cemeteries in Southern California, is in danger of being abandoned and padlocked.

Beth Olam is the Jewish section of Hollywood Memorial Park at Santa Monica Blvd. and Gower St. It is in bankruptcy and repeated attempts to find a new owner have so far failed, according to David Isenberg, attorney for the bankruptcy trustees.

A motion by the trustees to abandon the property will be heard at 9:30 a.m., Dec. 10, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Courtroom, 1345, located on the 13th floor of the Roybal Federal Building, 255 E. Temple St. in downtown Los Angeles.

Anyone wishing to speak at the Dec. 10 hearing must file written comments with the court no later than Nov. 28. A copy of the trustees’ motion is available to the public in the office of the Clerk of the Bankruptcy Court, located at 300 N. Los Angeles St., first floor, in downtown Los Angeles.

City Council member Jackie Goldberg is among those trying to save the cemetery. For information, call her field office at (213) 913-4693. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor