Sultan’s new Sharia laws prompt Jewish groups to shun Beverly Hills Hotel


Some of Southern California’s largest Jewish organizations plan to stay away from the Beverly Hills Hotel, suspending future events at the landmark venue owned by the state-run Brunei Investment Agency.

Their boycott was spurred by recent Sharia additions to the tiny Muslim country’s penal code, including the threat of execution of homosexuals, adulterers and anyone who insults the Quran or Muhammad.

The pink stucco luxury hotel is owned by the Dorchester Collection, a luxury hotel operator that belongs to Brunei’s government, and is therefore an asset of Hassanai Bolkiah, the sultan and absolute ruler of the tiny, oil-rich, South Asian country. Dorchester also owns the Hotel Bel-Air, a smaller luxury hotel in nearby Bel-Air.

At the same time, one Jewish organization, the Beverly Hills Jewish Community, announced that it will continue its relationship with the hotel. The Orthodox synagogue has held Shabbat and holiday services in the hotel for the past 15 years.

A popular location for high-end dinners, fundraisers and galas, the Sunset Boulevard hotel last week faced protests and announcements that it will be shunned by many local nonprofits and associations as well as celebrities.

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los 

Angeles, told the Journal on May 7 that the Federation will not plan any events there.

“The values of the owner of that hotel and the country in which he has power goes against everything we believe in as Jews and as Americans,” Sanderson said, adding, though, that he is not calling for a general boycott. “It’s one of these situations where, right now, given the public stand, I think it would be very difficult for any community organization to do an event there.”

Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist Pacific Palisades synagogue, has relocated a large May 20 event that would have been at the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Beverly Wilshire. Mike Lurey, Kehillat Israel’s president, wrote in an email to the congregation that the event had to be moved “if we are to be true to the values upon which our synagogue was founded,” even at the risk of losing the synagogue’s nearly $100,000 deposit. 

Protesters outside of the Beverly Hills Hotel on May 5. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

“That is a small price to pay for the importance of taking a firm stand against such atrocities,” Lurey wrote.

Aviva Family and Children’s Services already has announced that it also will change  the venue of its May 31 gala from the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Beverly Wilshire, posting on its website that it made the decision “in light of recent reports concerning the decision to adopt Sharia Law by the property’s owner.” 

The Jewish Free Loan Association announced that its June 11 gala will move from the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Luxe Hotel, just a few miles west on Sunset Boulevard.

Dorchester CEO Christopher Cowdray said in a statement that widespread event cancellations would hurt the Beverly Hills Hotel’s 650 employees, saying that the hotel has already lost $2 million in canceled events and alleging its employees could lose about $8 million in gratuities from functions held at the hotel.

“We question why the Beverly Hills Hotel is being singled out,” Cowdray’s statement said, pointing out that many Muslim governments that impose Sharia have interests in American brands.

Although the sultan announced the new legislation in October 2013, its first stage was implemented on May 1, introducing fines and jail terms for offenses such as pregnancy outside marriage and failure to attend Friday prayers. The second phase, which will be rolled out in one year, will impose whipping and amputations for theft and alcohol consumption by Brunei’s Muslim citizens.

By 2016, Brunei’s citizens could be subject to execution for adultery and for insulting the Quran or Muhammad. Although 80 percent of Brunei’s 400,000 citizens are Muslim, many of the sultan’s decrees will also apply to the country’s substantial Christian and Buddhist minorities, in particular a prohibition against proselytization.

In the neighboring countries of Malaysia and Indonesia, strict Islamic law also governs many elements of society, but Brunei is the only South Asian country to have adopted the criminal element of Sharia.

Beverly Hills Hotel employees during a public hearing where the Beverly Hills City Council voted on a resolution to pressure the government of Brunei to divest the hotel in Beverly Hills on May 6. Photo by David McNew/Reuters

Bolkiah, 67, has been Brunei’s absolute ruler since 1967. Head of an oil-rich country that is also the world’s fourth-largest exporter of natural gas, he was named by Forbes in 2007 the world’s wealthiest royal, worth $22 billion. He is, all at once, Brunei’s prime minister, defense minister, finance minister and head of religion.

A British protectorate until 1984, Brunei joins a long list of Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, that impose brutal punishments such as amputations for theft and execution for adultery and homosexuality. 

Brunei’s embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to the Journal’s requests for comment.

Former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno was among recent protesters in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel, and his presence helped the issue go viral. Hollywood stars Ellen DeGeneres and Sharon Osbourne had previously announced on Twitter that they would not stay at either of the sultan’s local properties until his new laws are repealed. Then, last weekend, the Feminist Majority Foundation canceled its planned May 5 annual event at the hotel, instead leading a protest across the street, holding the event later that evening at the Hammer Museum.

Leno’s wife, Mavis, chairs that foundation’s campaign for Afghan women, who have suffered for years at the hands of the Taliban. Appearing alongside protesters on May 12, Jay Leno said, according to the Los Angeles Times, “We get so upset when a team owner says something inappropriate,” referring to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. “Here are people being killed, stoned to death … it’s just a matter of priorities.”

Activist Dolores Huerta, left, protesting Brunei's new strict Sharia law penal code outside the Beverly Hills Hotel on May 5. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

Feminist Majority Foundation Executive Vice President Katherine Spillar told the Journal in an interview on May 8 that she does not support a general boycott of the hotel, and said the sultan’s Los Angeles properties are just the current target in the group’s broader fight against anti-female laws in nations such as Brunei, Afghanistan and Iran. She termed the new laws in Brunei as “Taliban-like,” rather than as Sharia.

“We don’t have an issue with the hotel,” Spillar said. “We have an issue with the Sultan of Brunei.” Although the Feminist Majority Foundation won’t be holding any events at the hotel in the foreseeable future, Spillar expressed her gratitude to the hotel for refunding the group’s $70,000 non-refundable deposit for the event.

Jewish groups that have canceled their events told the Journal they are still in discussion with Beverly Hills Hotel about refunds.

Unite Here Local 11, a hospitality workers union that has butted heads for years with the formerly unionized Beverly Hills Hotel, also participated in the picketing. Shortly after its purchase by the sultan in the late 1980s, the hotel closed down and renovated, reopening in 1995, with a non-unionized staff.

Charlie Carnow, a research analyst with the union, said that, in addition to raising awareness about laws forbidding homosexuality and condoning marital rape, Local 11 has previously raised red flags surrounding the sultan’s relationship with Iran, his refusal to recognize Israel and his support of Iran’s nuclear program.

“We are calling for a boycott of both properties,” Carnow said of the Dorchester Collection’s two local hotels. “The best way forward is for these hotels to be sold so they can be returned to be properties that people feel comfortable going to.”

The Beverly Hills Hotel is owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

On May 6, the Beverly Hills City Council passed a legally non-binding resolution urging Brunei’s government to “divest itself of the Beverly Hills Hotel and any other properties it may own in Beverly Hills.” Hotel staff attended the meeting in uniform and opposed the council’s resolution, highlighting how a boycott of the hotel could hurt their livelihoods.

One local Jewish organization, the Beverly Hills Jewish Community, a congregation led by Rabbi Yossi Cunin, a Chabad rabbi, plans to continue its weekly Shabbat services inside the hotel, which they have held there for more than a decade.

“Never will you feel uncomfortable in that hotel as a practicing Jew,” Cunin said. “They do a terrific job for travelers all over the world who come to stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel who are shomer Shabbos

“We have had our shul there for more than 10 years,” Cunin continued, “and have had nothing but respect and cooperation from the hotel.”

Federation’s Sanderson also conceded that the situation is not simple when considering the local impact.

“It’s not so black-and-white when you have our neighbors who work in the hotel,” Sanderson said. “It’s a business in Beverly Hills, and it employs people. It’s a very complicated problem.”

Jewish day school student takes model to prom


What’s a nice, non-famous Jewish boy like Jake Davidson doing with a very famous model/actress like Kate Upton? Nothing, apparently.

Davidson, a senior at a Jewish day school in Bel Air, California, asked Upton to be his prom date back in March, via a YouTube video that went viral—and ultimately landed him on the “Today” show.

At first it seemed like he might have a shot. Upton called in to “Today,” stating she’d love to go but would have to check her calendar. Alas, in the end she was tied up in New York,  shooting “The Other Women,” a comedy also starring Cameron Diaz, Nicki Minaj, and Leslie Mann.

But don’t feel too badly for Davidson. The Milken Community High School Prom was Thursday night, and Davidson was there with a pretty decent runner up: Danish-born Sports Illustrated model Nina Agdal. She reached out to Davidson after she learned of his rejection, his mom told the The San Bernardino Sun.

Sounds like Agdal doesn’t regret her decision. “Had such a great prom night. Thank you jakedavidson23 for being an awesome date!” she tweeted after the dance.

For tips on getting a date with a model, please refer to Davidson’s pretty funny video, in which he deploys awesome lines like, “I’m Jewish, 5’9” on a really good day, and I can’t dance.”

Milken honors educators


We are planting seeds — not me, but all of us.”

With those words of hope offered to her fellow teachers, Lidia Turner, a seventh- and eighth-grade Hebrew teacher at the David Saperstein Middle School of Milken Community High School, accepted the Milken Family Foundation’s 2012 Jewish Educator Award during an assembly at her school on Sept. 21.

Turner is one of four teachers this year who will be honored — along with winners of the foundation’s student essay contest — during an invitation-only luncheon at the Luxe Hotel in Bel Air on Dec. 13. 

The other winners of the Jewish Educator Award are Rabbi Usher Klein, a ninth-grade yeshiva rebbe at Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok; Rabbi Baruch Kupfer, executive director at Maimonides Academy; and Mary Itri, a fifth-grade general studies teacher at Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School.

The annual prize, which comes with an unrestricted $15,000 cash award, recognizes outstanding teachers, administrators and other education professionals in the Greater Los Angeles area who work at day schools affiliated with BJE – Builders of Jewish Education. The award was established in 1990.

“We only give four of these awards every year to recognize excellence, and the reason we do that is not only to honor those that get the award but to honor the teaching profession in general,” said Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation.

As part of the foundation’s mission of leading advances in education, the award recognizes outstanding Jewish day school educators while increasing public support for them and raising awareness of their contributions to the community and society. The cash award also encourages able, caring and creative people to choose a career in education, according to the foundation’s Web site. 

The award recognizes a cross-section of elementary- and secondary-school educators from across the Jewish spectrum. The foundation works in cooperation with BJE, the central agency for Jewish education in Los Angeles, in identifying winners, who have received a total of more than $1.2 million to date.

Itri, who describes her teaching as high-energy, nurturing and compassionate, has taught at Stephen S. Wise in Bel Air for more than 25 years — directing the school’s spring musical for the last 15 years. She continues to hone her skills by participating in professional development workshops, she said.

Klein is one of the founders of Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok, a boys’ yeshiva school in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood that has a waiting list of students. He teaches Talmud and keeps his home open for students to visit for study sessions and Shabbat meals. 

When Kupfer became executive director in 1984 of Maimonides Academy, an Orthodox Sephardic day school in West Hollywood, the school had 184 pupils. Now it has grown to 520 students and operates at capacity. Kupfer says that character development is an “integral part of the fabric of the school.” He is responsible for the institution’s financial health, working with board members and lay leaders to fundraise. 

Turner, who says her instruction is interactive and musical — she plays guitar during class — has been teaching for 36 years, including 18 years at Milken. Additionally, she co-created the Nofim program, a middle- and high-school experiential curriculum that focuses on Israeli history and culture. 

Aside from their unique teaching and leadership styles, each educator brings a unique personal background to the classroom. Itri, for example, is Catholic, but she said she feels a “kinship and comradeship” with Stephen Wise’s community, as the values and beliefs of Judaism and Catholicism are “aligned with one another.” 

Kupfer’s background is Ashkenazi, but he admires the academy’s commitment to preserving Sephardi life. 

“To see it flourishing and developing and to see people trying to hold on to tradition and culture in such a special way meant a lot to me,” he said. 

Turner was born in Uruguay, and one of her first teaching jobs was at a high school there where she was a former student. As a child, she wrote in her diary that her goal was to become a Hebrew teacher one day. 

In September, foundation representatives visited the teachers’ schools to announce the winners during surprise assemblies. Itri was caught completely off-guard. 

“I’m still jumping for joy and going over the moon about it. I never dreamt it was me,” she said.

Because Kupfer is executive director at his school, it was particularly difficult to keep the winner under wraps. In his case, BJE and the foundation came up with a ruse, telling Kupfer there was an urgent matter that needed his attention. Then, a faculty member led him into the assembly hall where cameras, students, faculty and applause were waiting. 

“I was overwhelmed … to be recognized and applauded is always a tremendous feeling of worth and accomplishment,” he said.

The winners said that they had expected educators other than themselves to be honored. Before her name was announced, Turner looked at those around her, wondering who might be this year’s recipient. 

“I was looking around the room, looking for who it could be,” Turner said. “I wasn’t thinking about me. I was thinking about so many professionals that we have around us, and so many of them deserve an award like this.”

Anti-Semitic flags found near Milken campus


A Milken Community High School official reported the discovery of anti-Semitic renderings of the Israel flag in front of and near its middle school campus on March 1.

The two small flags featured a painted swastika in place of the Star of David. One flag was found in front of David and Hillevi Saperstein Middle School of Milken Community High School, while the other was discovered 1 mile west of the campus, at the intersection of Calneva Drive and Mulholland Boulevard.

Milken Head of School Jason Ablin said that a Milken parent found one of the flags – approximately four inches by six inches in size – stapled onto an L.A. Department of Water and Power sign next to the middle school’s exit gate early Thursday morning.

The LAPD and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) were notified about the incident.

Milken’s security service reported that the alleged perpetrator drove a “dark-gray SUV” and is a “young-looking male, light-skinned, dark hair, about 5-feet and 4-inches,” Ablin said.

ADL Associate Director Matt Friedman, who saw photographs of the flags, said they looked like “stickers or a notecard.”
 

Friedman noted the connection between the signs and this week’s Israeli Apartheid Week, a series of events in cities and college campuses across the United States that portray Israel as unjust occupiers of the Palestinian people.

“I don’t know if there’s any linkage there, but I was thinking that,” Friedman said.

Ablin assured parents that Milken considers students’ well being to be of utmost importance. “The first thing I did was inform the parents. I sent an announcement to parents this morning because obviously the first thing on everyone’s mind is safety and I wanted to make everyone aware of what happened, so rumors weren’t spreading around and so parents knew we were taking security very seriously,” Ablin said.

Sculpture? It’s a Klapper! Ballet in Bel Air


On the Town

Dr. Robert Klapper is one amazing guy. He’s a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon whose patients include Dustin Hoffman, Sasha Baron Cohen and Brett Ratner. He holds numerous patents for surgical tools. He is an avid surfer. He sculpts pietas out of imported Italian marble from the same quarry that Michelangelo used. And, at the opening of his exhibit at his own art gallery this past Saturday night, we overheard someone saying that he is always upbeat and cheerful. Always.Dr. Robert KlapperTrue to form, Klapper was charming the socks off of his patients (Elliot Gould was the only recognizable face), friends and supporters at the Klapper Gallery on Beverly Boulevard in the shadow of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he is the Clinical Chief of Orthopedic Surgery. Raised in New York, educated at Columbia and Cornell and now living in several homes in the southland, the good doctor is a Jewish mother’s dream come true.

Sadly, Klapper’s own mother was not there to bear witness to what he appears to consider his greatest accomplishment: a gallery full of gleaming white half-finished Michelangelo-inspired marble statues. His mother-in-law was there and she’s a huge fan of The Jewish Journal.

The exhibit, titled “Michelangelo’s Slaves,” pays homage to the great artist’s unfinished slaves lining the walkway leading up to the monumental David. Klapper was particularly taken by the slaves’ struggle to break free from the stone surrounding them and has mimicked that style in every one of his sculptures.

The subjects he decided to chisel out of the incredibly heavy slabs of stone shipped to Los Angeles from Carrara in large boxes, called coffins, reflect the doctor’s scattered interests: Abraham, “The Sixth Sense,” The Surfer, “Ghost,” Noah, Mary, Pieta…

It seemed odd that a Jewish man would be moved to lovingly recreate a pivotal moment in Christian iconography, but then the artist explained that a mother losing her son is a universally touching subject.

And Klapper is all about touching: touching people’s lives as a healer and touching people’s hearts with his art. This man may not be the next Michelangelo, but he sure is enjoying life a great deal more than the notoriously melancholy and dissatisfied Renaissance man.

— Dikla Kadosh, from The Calendar Girls blog

Scene and Heard …

When Daniel Pearl visited Mumbai, India for the first time, he was elated to discover a local jazz club, where he was invited to share his musical talent by playing alongside the regulars. The late journalist’s father, Judea Pearl, shared this anecdote at a sumptuous Indian feast of sag paneer and curry at the home of Dr. B.K. and Mrs. Veena Mod in Beverly Hills, where Judea and his wife, Ruth Pearl, were honored. Indian dignitaries, the Hon. Vilasrao Deshmukh, chief minister of Maharashtra, and the Hon. Ashok Chavan, cabinet minister of industries and culture paid tribute to the Pearls’ work through the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which promotes cross-cultural understanding through journalism and music-Daniel Pearl’s favorite pursuits.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) was honored with the California Distinguished Advocacy Award for his public policy work on behalf of cancer prevention. Allan and Dorothy Jonas and Helene Brown hosted the American Cancer Society benefit Aug. 8 at the Regency Club. Waxman is known, among other things, for sponsoring a controversial bill banning federal funding for the Red Line subway in response to a methane gas explosion in the Fairfax district in 1985. When underground tunneling was deemed safe again, he introduced a bill lifting the ban, which passed unanimously in September 2006. He is also widely recognized for his hard-hitting approach to fighting the tobacco industry.

After my fellow Calendar Girl Dikla Kadosh wrote a critical review of a June 28 Sababa party in Hollywood, the disgruntled organizer bombarded her with angry e-mails disputing her report that attendance was low. An acquaintance of ours attended the most recent Sababa bash on Aug. 9 and informed us that once again the party suffered from slim attendance. Coincidence, or catastrophe?

Bel Air met the ballet, Chanel and Wolfgang Puck on July 24 when Robin and Elliott Broidy hosted 360 guests at an American Ballet Theatre (ABT) fundraiser dinner. Co-chaired by Avery and Andy Barth, Lori and Michael Milken and Laura and Jamie Rosenwald, the event raised eyebrows and $325 grand. Four-thousand red and white roses bloomed toward the stars while lilies and gardenias floated in the pool. ABT’s principal dancers performed scenes from “Sleeping Beauty,” “Gopak” and “Don Quixote” atop a stage covered in cascading ivy and flanked by phalaenopsis orchids. Wolfgang Puck Catering nourished guests Sheriff Lee Baca, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Florence and Harry Sloan and designer Monique Lhuillier with sweet corn risotto and miso-glazed salmon, while ladies in designer drapery were careful not to spill.


From left, hosts Elliott and Robin Broidy with co-chairs Lori and Michael Milken

Rescued Souls and Torahs Meet at Shul


Leo Baeck Temple in Bel Air hosted an unusual commemoration of Kristallnacht, the event that is often considered the beginning of the Holocaust. Instead of focusing on mourning, the gathering last weekend was marked by raucous joy and a sense of reunification.

The central symbolism was provided by guest of honor Olga Grilli, who fled Nazi-occupied Europe as an 11-year-old. On Saturday, she saw once more and touched the Torah scroll from the shul of her Czechoslovakian hometown. She had last attended this temple as a child.

Twenty-two California synagogues took part in the event; each now cares for a rescued East European Torah scroll. Participants saw the scrolls up close and also learned the story of the Czechoslovakian Jewish children rescued by Kindertransports, the trains that carried 664 children, without their parents, to England.

“I left on the last children’s transport,” Grilli said.

The links between Kristallnacht, the Kindertransports and the Torah scrolls are not tenuous. Historians frequently mark the start of the Holocaust as Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”), when rampaging Nazis destroyed 101 synagogues and 7,500 Jewish businesses on two November days in 1938, 10 months before World War II. With 91 Jews killed and another 26,000 arrested, Kristallnacht spread a panic among Europe’s Jews and began a race against time for the Britons and Americans organizing Kindertransports.

The Torah scrolls are on permanent loan to local shuls from London’s Czech Memorial Scrolls Centre, where they were collected and rehabilitated after being found over the past 35 years. The scrolls were brought to California by the Sherman Oaks-based Czech Torah Network (