Israel Bonds now available online


Israel Bonds, which many synagogues pitch during the High Holidays, can now be purchased online.

The Development Corporation for Israel/State of Israel Bonds has launched an e-commerce site that its board chairman, Richard Hirsch, lauded for its functionality and expediency.

“Supporting Israel by investing in Israel Bonds has never been easier,” Hirsch said in Tuesday’s announcement of the site.

The site also can generate gift cards.

School Bond Measure Gets Failing Grade


I have a picture on the wall of my office. It was taken at about 4 a.m. in 1998. I’m in the picture with a group of Democratic and Republican legislators. We look tired; we’ve been up late for a number of nights. But there’s also a glint of celebration.

That was a happy and proud moment. We had just negotiated Proposition 1A, which put $9.2 billion of school bonds on the ballot. This bipartisan breakthrough opened the way for three successful state school bonds that raised $34 billion for school construction.

I’ve also supported local school bonds, and the state and local money that voters entrusted to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is being used to build schools all over the city.

I don’t take this progress lightly or for granted. But building for seats is not the same as building for reform. To date, L.A. Unified has done the former but only paid lip service to the latter. And I find myself moving to an uncomfortable and unfamiliar position on the question of the school district’s bid to pass $3.985 billion in school bonds this November.

In truth, the public was promised more and has a right to expect more: that pre-K and after-school programs, as well as adult education, libraries, health-care access and recreation, would be programmed by design into each new school.

Our expectation was that the billions in bond proceeds would create safe learning centers within revitalized and healthy neighborhoods.

Instead, as it now stands, this costly investment is doomed to return little. We are losing more than half our students as dropouts, and these new schools are not poised to alter that outcome or even to dramatically improve the fate of the undereducated grads who stick it out. Our new schools must be more than just rain-free warehouses.

The school district is blowing it — squandering a historic opportunity and, in the process, perpetrating an ethical crime on the thousands of students whose future it is failing.

The competent and relentless former Navy men and real estate pros who now erect schools in Los Angeles just drive like a freight train toward the goal of building seats — without regard to the design and programming of these schools, without regard to what we know about how children learn, without regard to the relationship between educational achievement and the health and vitality of the neighborhoods in which these students live.

Look at the schools about to open. Too many of them are huge — when we know that children learn more successfully in small schools. We’re told the district will do better on the next round, but we’ve heard empty promises from the school district before.

The district also earns a failing grade on joint planning. Now is the time, with schools rising all over the city, for the school district to work with the city, health agencies, nonprofits, parks departments, housing developers and community groups to build schools that are planned as the center of communities. LAUSD sees collaborative planning with community input as too time consuming and expensive.

Yes, collaboration is harder than building schools as though they’re islands walled off from a hostile sea. But thoughtful, joint planning pays off for generations to come.

One good example is in San Diego, where a collaborative planning process — which involved a school, along with other services and development — transformed blighted City Heights.

There are one or two exceptions to the L.A. malaise, including a new school in Westlake, just west of downtown, that involves collaboration with a Boys & Girls Club, the city and an affordable-housing developer.

But such joint planning stands out for being so rare. And outside entities that have tried to collaborate with the district’s bureaucracy can tell horror stories of how difficult it’s been. On the district side, there’s no real energy, interest or aptitude applied to the necessary re-imagining of schools.

I don’t speak for my friend, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, although I do know he shares my passion for improving the schools of Los Angeles. But as for me, I’m just tired of this same old, same old.

I’m tired of just going back to the voters and asking them to pass more money to just build more classroom seats. This bond measure represents the same old cookie-cutter: Grab the cash, pull the wool over the voters’ eyes and not learn from your experiences.

We know what we need to do. We need to make schools smaller and anchor them in neighborhoods, so that there will be more grandmothers than cops on our campuses. Chicago, New York and Providence, R.I, have shown the way.

Let’s make this bond — L.A.’s fourth since 1997 — reflect truly important educational and community values. In this bond, we must limit the enrollment at a school, absent compelling reasons. And if the school site is larger than 500, it must be divided into separate facilities with separate principals. And there must be guidelines regarding joint use, possibly including a joint-powers authority set up between the city of Los Angeles and LAUSD.

We can incorporate these principles and guidelines into the bond.

District officials can easily take action at a school board meeting before the November special election. They can mandate that bond proceeds be spent for small schools that are planned and constructed as the centers of their neighborhoods. Until such changes are made, I must oppose this school bond measure — with the greatest reluctance and a heavy heart.

I am not, however, checking out of the issue. If this school bond passes, I will continue to pressure school board members to spend wisely. But I’d rather they alter course and get it right now, so I can change my mind and support the bond.

Until then, a resounding “no” is the best way to send the school district a message that may benefit children down the road.

Attorney and former state Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg ran for mayor of Los Angeles this year and has served as an adviser to both Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 

B’nai Mitzvah Bond With Israel


Medical oncologist Dr. Daniel Lieber reached a breaking point two years ago. Israel’s poor economic state had him so concerned that he began moonlighting as a volunteer for State of Israel Bonds Development Corporation for Israel (DCI), primarily trying to induce doctors to invest their pension money.

But on Dec. 7, 2002, his daughter, Dena, was bat mitzvahed at Sinai Temple in Westwood. His idea to have Dena invest half of her cash gifts into Israel Bonds served as inspiration for what’s become known as Israel Bonds’ B’nai Mitzvot Program.

"It occurred to me that it was a good opportunity for the bar or bat mitzvah kid to do something worthwhile on that occasion and it was good for Israel to have the kids invest their gifts in Israel bonds," Lieber said.

State of Israel Bonds DCI is an international organization offering securities issued by the government of Israel to support every aspect of the country’s economy. In exchange for their investment, the children receive a certificate of appreciation from Israel, as well as the return on their investment when the bonds mature, of course.

Jonathan Toobi, who shared his bar mitzvah day at Sinai Temple with Dena, also pledged half his money. The two became the first of 36 children at the synagogue to participate in the new program.

Lieber estimates that at least $150,000 has been committed to State of Israel Bonds through Sinai Temple since the program began. Now, he said, "Our goals are to get as high participation as possible in the temple and to try to contact other temples."

To that end, State of Israel Bonds has sent out letters to synagogues throughout North America. But their meager advertising budget has driven Lieber and project co-chair Dorice Melamed to donate their own money in addition to their time. In an effort "to start some grass-roots support," Lieber said, they have personally purchased ads promoting the B’nai Mitzvot Program in The Jewish Journal. Their hope is that every child will participate.

"If someone tells us it’s a financial hardship, then any investment is fine," Lieber said. "We want to get kids used to the idea of doing a mitzvah on their bar or bat mizvah, and have a significant connection to Israel and help Israel all at once."

To contact the State of Israel Bonds office, call Esti Duenyas, director of the Synagogue Campaign of Israel Bonds, at (310) 996-3007.


Say hello to The Jewish Journal’s new celebrations section.

Due to the vast number of b’nai mitzvah, wedding, anniversary and birth announcements we receive, The Journal will now publish all of our readers’ celebration announcements immediately on our Web site. We have unveiled our celebrations Web page (part of www.jewishjournal.com). You can upload your announcements and photos onto the site, and send your best wishes and mazel tovs by e-mail directly to the person who is celebrating. We run monthly expanded profiles in The Journal on selected births, b’nai mitzvah, anniversaries and engagements, and a complete and up-to-date list will always be available at jewishjournal.com. We hope you, your synagogue or your family will keep us in touch with all your simchas through the Web (or by snail mail if absolutely necessary), so that we can celebrate with you and the entire community of 200,000 Jewish Journal readers each week. And mazel tov!

The Big Leagues


Israel Bonds: They’re not just for bar and bat mitzvahs anymore.

That’s the message the State of Israel Bonds organization wants to get across in announcing its new floating rate offerings. Rather than being seen as a quasi-charity and feel-good gift for 13-year-olds, the organization wants to be considered a legitimate investment option.

It hopes to do that by adding the London Interbank Offer Rate (LIBOR) to its notes and offerings. LIBOR is a floating interest rate based on the average daily lending rates offered by several London banks. It’s considered a more international benchmark that takes global economics into account.

“It’s significant because, to this day, some people view Israel Bonds as a less-than-veritable investment, mostly because of a lack of knowledge of the bonds,” said a spokesman for Israel Bonds, adding that the addition of the LIBOR benchmark is “just another step” toward Israel Bonds being considered “a bona-fide investment option.”

The LIBOR-based instruments “will provide investment options that could better reflect the environment of the global market,” Gideon Patt, Bonds president and CEO, said in a statement.

Israel bonds are securities issued by the State of Israel to help build the country’s economy and infrastructure. Proceeds go to Israel’s treasury for general use. Historically, Israel Bond funds have been earmarked for projects such as highways and bridges. Current projects being used by Bonds money, a spokesman said, include water desalination and high-speed train projects.

“When you invest in Israel, you invest in the Jewish family business,” he said.

Still, they could make a respectable bar or bat mitzvah gift.

For more information, call the Contact Development Corp. for Israel at 1-800-229-9650, or go to www.israelbonds.com

This story was contributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

The Arts


As Israel nears its 50th birthday, events have shifted attentionaway from the stalled peace talks. What dominates the headlines nowis the warlike rhetoric among Jewish factions — both within Israeland in the Diaspora — as they clash over the issue of religiouspluralism.

Gideon Patt is well-versed in the arguments that frame thecontroversy. Before taking his current position as president ofIsrael Bonds last January, the New York University-educated economistheld Cabinet posts in the administrations of Menachem Begin, YitzhakShamir and Shimon Peres, serving at various times as minister ofconstruction and housing, trade and industry, science anddevelopment, and tourism.

Patt, who was in Los Angeles last week to discuss preparations forthe bond campaign conducted annually at synagogues during the HighHolidays, oversees an organization that has sold $18 billion in bondssince 1952. Nearly $1 billion in securities was sold last year alone.Today, 60 percent of Israel bonds are bought by insurance companies,pension funds, labor unions and other institutions. It’s the other 40percent , the individual buyers, whose decision to purchase IsraelBonds carries with it a stronger ideological and emotional componentthat concern him. Whether the current mood among non-OrthodoxAmerican Jews may translate into less support this year for the bondcampaign ( as well as for other campaigns, like United JewishAPpeal), remains to be seen. After the end of this year, when $10billion in US-backed loan guarantees are set to expire, Israel Bondswill undoubtedly be asked to do even more.

The frank and even heated debate that marked Patt’s sessions withlocal rabbis and community leaders was not unexpected. Increasingly,his energy is devoted to emphasizing that Israel Bonds is essentiallya non-political organization and therefore an inappropriate revengetarget for the disgruntled. (“We are,” as he puts it, “in theinfrastructure business.”) More generally, he’s urging Diaspora Jewsto adopt a wait-and-see attitude with regards to events in Israel. Ina wide-ranging interview with The Journal, Patt discussed everythingfrom Israel’s absorption of Ethiopian Jews to its burgeoninghigh-tech industry. But foremost on his mind was the escalatingfractiousness among Jews. Below are some excerpts from thatconversation:

The Conversion Bill

“In the meeting I had here with the rabbis, the major issues underdiscussion were the suggested laws on the question of conversion andthe question of women’s participation on religious councils. My ownposition is a very simple one. Seven times I voted against similiarlaws proposed in the Knesset that, thank G-d, didn’t pass . . .Changing the status quo by passing a law that conversions can be doneonly through an Orthodox rabbi is not exactly a question of who is aJew. It’s more of a question of who is a rabbi. Many rabbis — andrightfully so — feel that their very position within the Jewishreligion is being questioned . . . It casts a shadow. Still, they’renot really pointing a collective finger at Israel Bonds, because wedon’t take the money and divide it up among different groups inIsrael. That money goes towards building the economic infrastructure.We don’t build one road for the Conservative Jews and another roadfor the Orthodox.”

A New Generation of Support

“We had a generation in America — 50 years ago when the Bondsstarted — people who gave to Israel and bought bonds out of Jewishsentiments. Today, we have a new generation, and the giving is amixture of sentiments and brain. When they sum it all up, they say,’Okay, we have sentiments for Israel, so it’s enough for us to gothere and stay in a hotel and spend $5,000. We can enjoy it at thesame time, so why not?’ But when they come to the conclusion thatIsrael is a successful venture, they say, ‘Instead of buying, let’ssay, tax-free municipal bonds and get more or less the same return,why shouldn’t I do it for the State of Israel? It strengthens Israel,and when Israel is stronger, my own position is better.’. . Theirfathers and grandfathers went to sleep at night with a good feelingthat they had supported Israel, and at that time they didn’t evenknow whether Israel would exist in 20 years or if they would get backtheir money. Today, our existence isn’t the question. People buy themfrom a different point of view, a more sophisticated point of viewperhaps, but the results are the same.”

Israel’s Secular-Religious Rift

“Right now, I’m much more concerned with social stability insideIsrael than I am with the peace process. The peace process may goahead and it might not, and either way, we can handle it. But thisfrightens me more than Judea, Samaria, Arafat or terrorism. Our rightto exist will depend upon whether we can master the right answers forour people — social answers –to have a State of Israel. For if weare not unique socially, and if we are not unique as far as thejudiciary system is concerned, so who needs us? . . . Look, I’mjealous of people who have all the answers. But what I want the Stateof Israel to be is such a place that Jews around the world, who haveit very good, would want to come and live there because it’s a uniqueJewish state with unique values. . . not a theocracy, or they won’tcome. And they won’t come if Israel is economically poor. That’s whyI’m mostly concerned with the social fiber of Israel. We are at ajuncture and it’s a dangerous one.”

The Diaspora-Israel Relationship

“The question of religious matters, which can cause a wide gapbetween the Jews of the Diaspora and Israel, is something that keepsme awake many, many nights. It’s not because of the money. If halfthe Jews in America decided tomorrow not to buy bonds, so I wouldsell them to other pension funds. The bonds are not my concern. Myconcern is that the misunderstandings and the gap created by thisquestion of religious pluralism will widen into other aspects oflife, and the unity of the Jewish people will be hurt to the pointwhere the State of Israel will not be able to lean on the Jewishpeople the way they have in the past. On good days it has been less,but on bad days, much more. But even on good days, for Israel to knowthat if bad days come — and they will come — that the Jews arealways behind us.”