Nation & World Briefs


Reform Criticizes Iraq War

The Reform movement passed a resolution criticizing the handling of the Iraq war and seeking a partial troop withdrawal. At its biennial in Houston, The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) on Friday became the first Jewish denomination to speak out against the war. The resolution, launched at the behest of several congregations, called for more transparency and a clear exit strategy, including a partial troop withdrawal after Iraq’s parliamentary elections next month.

“This is not a just war,” Vietnam veteran Michael Rankin of Arlington, Va. said in calling for the resolution’s passage. “Was it worth the billions of dollars it cost, when the world so desperately needs food and health care for the poorest of the poor?”

Delegates had been expecting a heated, prolonged discussion prior to the vote, but less than a dozen people lined up to address the issue, and URJ officials cut off debate quickly. The measure passed overwhelmingly by a voice vote.

House Presses Saudis on Textbooks

A congressional committee has called on Saudi Arabia to reform its textbooks. Textbooks that “foster intolerance, ignorance, and anti-Semitic, anti-American, and anti-Western views” make students “prime recruiting targets of terrorists and other extremist groups,” said the resolution that the U.S. House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee referred to the full House last week.

Zarqawi: Jordan Bombings Targeted Israelis

The terrorists who struck Amman’s Radisson Hotel last week were targeting Israeli intelligence officials, terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi said. In an audio recording, Zarqawi claimed the Radisson bomber hit a hall in which the Israelis were meeting but accidentally killed scores of Jordanians, Ha’aretz reported.

“Our martyred brother’s target was halls being used at the time by intelligence officers from some of the infidel crusader nations and their lackeys,” he said. “God knows we chose these hotels only after more than two months of close observation [that proved] that these hotels had become headquarters for the Israeli and American intelligence.”

Zarqawi said Jordan was deliberately hiding Israeli and American deaths. He also threatened to decapitate Jordan’s King Abdullah II. His claim about Israeli intelligence officials is widely believed to be baseless.

E.U. OKs Border Job

The European Union authorized monitors for the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Under an agreement reached this week, the European Union will send a unit of monitors to the Rafah border terminal so Palestinians can leave and enter Gaza. The Palestinian Authority hopes that a total of 50-70 monitors ultimately will be posted at Rafah. The European Union also said it would send observers to Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections in January.

Group Blasts Ukrainian University

The Simon Wiesenthal Center called on Ukraine to rescind the accreditation of a Ukrainian university that backed a call by Iran’s president to destroy Israel. The university, known as MAUP, is known for its anti-Semitic publications.

“By supporting Ahmadinejad’s threat to Israel, MAUP’s consistent Jew-baiting now culminated in an endorsement of genocide,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The international community criticized Ahmadinejad’s comments.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

 

Curb Your Verbosity


 

Do rabbis have to be wordy? Actually, no — or at least, not according to Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe. For the past eight years, Wolpe has been doing the unthinkable and actually condensing his lofty thoughts into succinct, easy-to-read-and-digest 200-word essays in the New York-based Jewish Week. Recently, Wolpe published “Floating Takes Faith, Ancient Wisdom for the Modern World,” (Behrman House), an anthology of his best columns. The selections in the book attempt to blend secular culture with Judaism, to prove that we have as much to learn from 17th century French aphorists like Francois de La Rochefoucauld as we do from Jewish scholars like Ibn Gabirol.

“No one tradition has a monopoly on wisdom,” Wolpe said. “I also want to help people learn to look for Jewish messages in the culture around them.”

Wolpe said that his desire to write a shorter column came as he was writing longer ones, but they were “infrequently published and infrequently read.” Once he started cutting words, the columns got a bigger response.

“When people see a rabbi’s name and a lot of words, they automatically assume that they are about to read a lot of superfluous stuff, and it’s hard for people to commit in a paper to read an entire column,” he said. “It’s much easier for them to read a brief, punchy point. And I also felt as though the central lessons that I had to teach, even though they could all be expanded upon, could be expressed succinctly.”

Wolpe’s goal with this book and with his columns is to achieve the most coveted accolade of all newspaper columnists — to have his column posted on someone’s refrigerator.

“I want to be put up there right next to that 30-year-old Art Buchwald column that has turned yellow,” he said.

In the meantime, he is continuing to write his columns and keeping them short.

“There is something to be said for brevity,” Wolpe mused. “But not too much, because you have to be brief.”

 

Briefs


Hate Crimes on the Rise

Committee reports that higher numbers may point to heightened awareness and better reporting.A surge in attacks against Jewish targets and gay men paced a general increase in hate crimes reported last year in Los Angeles County.

As compared to 1998, anti-Jewish incidents rose 37 percent, from 86 in 1998 to 118 in 1999, and anti-gay attacks 22 percent, from 173 to 211, the county Human Relations Commission reported Aug. 23.However, authorities cautioned that much of the increase could be attributed to greater alertness by law enforcement agencies in reporting such crimes and a greater willingness by victims to come forward.In particular, the shooting rampage at the North Valley Jewish Community Center last August, which left five wounded, led to an “unprecedented awareness” of hate crimes, said Robin Toma, the commission’s acting executive director.

Overall, 859 crimes were classified as motivated by hatred of the victim’s race, religion or sexual orientation. The figure represented a rise of 11.7 percent over the 769 hate crimes committed in 1998 but are well below the county’s peak year of 1996, when 995 hate crimes were reported.

Although attacks on Jewish institutions and gay men showed the highest percentage increase, the largest number of hate crimes were committed against African Americans.

The most common hate crime involved a white man victimizing a Black, followed by a Latino man targeting Blacks, and a Latino man against gay men.

The vast majority of crimes against Jewish targets were nonviolent, while more than half the attacks against gays and lesbians involved violence.

Overall, the findings for Los Angeles County closely matched those of the for the state of California, which reported in July a 12 percent jump in hate crimes in 1999, compared to the previous year.

Both government studies tend to validate a study by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which reported in April a 20 percent statewide rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes for the corresponding years.

The Los Angeles and California figures deviate sharply from statistics for the entire United States, which show a 25 percent drop in anti-Semitic crimes over the past five years, said ADL regional director David Lehrer. – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

3 Israelis Killed on West Bank

Three Israeli soldiers were killed and another wounded in a fire fight with Hamas militants north of the West Bank town of Nablus on Sunday.

Israeli chief of staff Shaul Mofaz said the soldiers may have been killed by “friendly fire” during a “serious operational mishap.”

The troops were on a mission to capture Mahmoud Abu Nahoud, an alleged Hamas terrorist who officials say was responsible for suicide bombings in Jerusalem three years ago.

Abu Nahoud was lightly hurt in the clash and turned himself in to Palestinian police.

Polish Catholics Ask Forgiveness

Poland’s Catholic leaders asked forgiveness for its toleration of anti-Semitism in a letter read during Sunday Masses.

“We ask forgiveness for those among us who show disdain for people of other denominations or tolerate anti-Semitism,” the letter said.

“Anti-Semitism, just like anti-Christianism, is a sin.”

Bush: I’ll preserve ‘special’ ties

George W. Bush promised members of a Jewish organization a continued “special relationship” between the United States and Israel.

But the U.S. Republican presidential candidate told B’nai B’rith International’s convention via satellite Monday that America should not pressure the Jewish state or interfere with Israel’s democratic process.Bush also sounded familiar themes for Jewish groups, including support for the peace process, tolerance of all faiths and moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, B’nai B’rith International’s sitting president, Richard Heideman, was re-elected Monday by a vote of 236-111 at the convention, which was held in Washington.

It was the first time in the organization’s history that an incumbent president faced a serious challenger, a fact many insiders attribute to grass-roots dissatisfaction with the budget cuts and restructuring by the Washington office.

Lawyer seeks to bankrupt racists

A lawsuit against the Aryan Nations, a white supremacist group that says Jews are the offspring of Satan, went to trial Monday.

Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who is representing a mother and son who were attacked by the group, says he tries to bankrupt hate groups through litigation.

Rabbis join peace summit

The chief rabbis of Israel, Great Britain and Russia joined religious leaders from around the world in an international summit aimed at building world peace.

The Dalai Lama is being excluded from the conference sponsored by the United Nations because of China’s objections that he is a political leader who is seeking Tibetan independence.

Iran leader meets Jews

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami met with dozens of leaders and members of Iran’s Jewish community in a move described in Iran as an effort to soothe communal anxiety in the wake of the July 1 conviction of 10 Jews accused of spying.

U.S. Jewish observers, however, view Khatami’s actions Aug. 24 as a public relations maneuver in the run-up to his September visit to the United Nations.

A ruling on the appeal of the Jews’ case is expected Sept. 5, a day before the kickoff of the U.N. summit that Khatami is slated to attend.

Charity may have links to Hamas

The United States suspects a Muslim charity is providing support to families of suicide bombers and others with links to Hamas, The New York Times reported.

The Holy Land Foundation should be removed from the roster of charities and relief groups supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department says.

All briefs from Jewish Telegraphic Agency

A Strong Bridge


Beverly Hills Welcomes Jordanian Royalty
Visiting California for the first time since he took over following his father’s 47-year reign last year, King Abdullah II of Jordan attended a Beverly Hilton Hotel luncheon Monday and told his audience that prospects of Middle East peace in the near future look good.Speaking before the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, Abdullah said, “We can have peace in the Middle East and have it quickly.” The 38-year-old prince, who assumed the throne after his father, King Hussein, died in February 1999, said that Israel’s recent withdrawal from southern Lebanon may bring the peace process to fruition as long as Israeli, Arab and U.S. leaders follow through on this intention. Abdullah also mentioned that he had been encouraged by a recent meeting with Syria’s President Hafez Assad.”The door is definitely open,” said the king, with his wife, Queen Rania, and the evening’s master of ceremonies, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, sitting beside him on stage.Abdullah also won cheers from his audience of Angelenos when he congratulated the Lakers on their previous night’s victory in the NBA playoffs.The king’s quick stop in L.A. was part of a broader U.S. visit, which included Silicon Valley – from which Abdullah hopes to crib strategies on how to develop a software and communications empire in the desert – and a trip to the White House.The Anti-Defamation League’s western regional director, David Lehrer, who was among the luncheon’s attendees, told The Journal that Abdullah’s comments and spirit were “very optimistic and upbeat.” Overall, Lehrer found Abdullah’s positive remarks on peace in the Middle East “very reassuring to hear from someone as well-placed as the king.” – Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Prosecutors May Seek Death Penalty for Furrow
At a court hearing in Los Angeles Monday, a federal judge refused to prevent prosecutors from pursuing the death penalty for white supremacist Buford O. Furrow. Furrow is being held for the racially motivated murder of Joseph S. Ileto, a Filipino American mailman, on Aug. 10, 1999, which followed a rampage at the North Valley Jewish Com-munity Center in Granada Hills, where Furrow allegedly wounded three small children, a teenager, and an adult.Prosecutors in the case have announced that they will seek the death penalty for Furrow, 38, who will go to trial in November. If convicted of Ileto’s murder in federal court, Furrow, who was not present at Monday’s federal court hearing, will be eligible for execution for the slaying of the federal employee, who was shot at close range while on his mail route. At the hearing, Furrow’s team of public defenders attacked the Federal Death Penalty Act and its application to the Furrow case as unconstitional and vague. However, U.S. District Court Judge Nora Manella rejected this argument, telling the defenders that similar death penalty issues have precedence in such high profile cases as those of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh.Following his arrest in Las Vegas, Furrow admitted to FBI investigators that he was at war with the “Jewish controlled” government and had planned to commit mass murder of nonwhites such as Ileto throughout L.A. At press time, Furrow’s defense team had not announced whether or not Furrow would plead insanity come November. – Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

New Sefer Torah for B’nai Hayim
In her estimation, Rabbi Sally Olins has officially arrived – she is now a Sefer Torah maven.”I learned so much,” she said of the process of preparing a new Torah scroll for Congregation B’nai Hayim in Sherman Oaks. “I picked the scribe [in New York], the size of the lettering, which determines the weight of the Torah – everything.”An anonymous congregant came to Olins to contribute a Torah to the temple in memory of her husband and unwittingly started a whole communal ball rolling.Olins, the 10th woman to be ordained as a Conservative rabbi, invited the congregation, young and old, to participate in the creation of the Torah by having members sponsor a particular passage, section, word or letter. Half of the 200 members dedicated a portion in their names. Even the youngest members got involved by picking letters of their Hebrew names.This Saturday, on Shavuot morning, the entire congregation will march down Ventura Boulevard, celebrating their new Sefer Torah. They plan to arrive at the temple at 9:45 a.m., where Olins will lead the group in prayer before the scroll is taken into the building. At 10 a.m. there will be a special Shavuot service, followed by a kosher dairy luncheon with Congressman Brad Sherman, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and L.A. City Councilman Mike Feuer in attendance.”This Torah has caused a lot of energy, not just for me, but for the entire congregation. They love the Torah as much as I do,” Olins said enthusi-astically. “The whole temple is ecstatic.”For more information, call Rabbi Sally Olins at (818) 788-4664. Congregation B’nai Hayim is located at 4302 Van Nuys Blvd. – Charlotte Hildebrand Harjo, Contributing Writer

Playing for Peace
Recently named by the FBI as the safest city of its size in the United States, Simi Valley seems an appropriate location to hold the first in a series of events entitled “Music and Peace.” On May 25 and 28, the Simi Valley Cultural Center played host to concerts featuring acclaimed Bosnian-born Israeli pianist Sasha Toperich and Israeli Arab violin and oud virtuoso Nabil Azzam. The Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, one of the evening’s sponsors, called the event “a transcultural musical dialogue of Western and Eastern classical works… part of the global celebration of the year 2000 as a ‘Year of Culture of Peace’ as proclaimed by the United Nations.”
Having played together at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center in 1996, both Toperich and Azzam expressed their affection for the city. “I am very pleased to return to the embracing atmosphere of the Simi Valley,” said Azzam, “and to add my instruments to the sound of peace.” Toperich, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) ambassador of peace and the coordinator of international projects for the Los Angeles and Israel-based Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, Toperich said, “Simi Valley was selected as the first community in the series because of its traditional emphasis on and support for the cultural arts and multicultural programming.”Film star Mickey Rooney, an International Federation of Festival Organizations ambassador, served as special guest host for the May 25 invitation-only event.
The music for the night progressed from quite serious to light and playful as the musicians individually and in tandem presented Western classic works of Bach, Rachmaninov and Chopin, followed by Eastern and Jewish pieces of Kreisler, Afanda and Oshrat. The audience was also treated to the U.S. premieres of the artists’ own compositions: Toperich’s “Nesicha” and Azzam’s “The Crescent.”
The highlight of the evening was those pieces which centered on the oud, a Middle Eastern lute. Azzam, a noted composer, ethnomusicologist and master of the violin and oud, presented a variety of original pieces and variations on ancient and familiar tunes, often inviting the audience to clap along.Embodying the spirit of the evening, Toperich and Azzam showed a genuine pleasure in each other’s presence, sharing hugs and playful exchanges throughout the evening, much to the delight of the audience.The concert concluded with the recognition of the city of Simi Valley as a City of Peace. In his role as ambassador for peace, Toperich presented Mayor Bill Davis with a book of writings by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi on the power of nonviolent action.
The May 28 concert, a cultural educational event, was open to the general public and dedicated to the students of Simi Valley High School. The concerts were the result of a collaboration between the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, UNESCO, the Palestinian Cultural Cent
er and the City of Simi Valley. -Susanna Crosby Perrin, Contributing Writer

Cedars-Sinai Launches SecondFundraising Campaign
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center has launched the second phase of a $500 million campaign, billed as the most ambitious fundraising effort ever by a non-university health system. During the campaign’s first phase, $140 million was raised between 1992 and 1997. The current $360 million phase is to be completed in 2005 and will support hospital-wide modernization and facility construction, new patient care programs, and medical research and education. Described as the largest teaching, research and nonprofit hospital in the western United States, Cedars-Sinai, which is heavily supported by the Jewish community, will mark its 100th anniversary in 2002. Its origins go back to the Kaspare Cohn Hospital, founded in 1902 by the Jewish Benevolent Society to treat destitute consumptives arriving from the East Coast. – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Community Briefs


Beverly Hills WelcomesJordanian Royalty
Visiting California for the first time since he took over following his father’s 47-year reign last year, King Abdullah II of Jordan attended a Beverly Hilton Hotel luncheon Monday and told his audience that prospects of Middle East peace in the near future look good.Speaking before the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, Abdullah said, “We can have peace in the Middle East and have it quickly.” The 38-year-old prince, who assumed the throne after his father, King Hussein, died in February 1999, said that Israel’s recent withdrawal from southern Lebanon may bring the peace process to fruition as long as Israeli, Arab and U.S. leaders follow through on this intention. Abdullah also mentioned that he had been encouraged by a recent meeting with Syria’s President Hafez Assad.”The door is definitely open,” said the king, with his wife, Queen Rania, and the evening’s master of ceremonies, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, sitting beside him on stage.Abdullah also won cheers from his audience of Angelenos when he congratulated the Lakers on their previous night’s victory in the NBA playoffs.The king’s quick stop in L.A. was part of a broader U.S. visit, which included Silicon Valley – from which Abdullah hopes to crib strategies on how to develop a software and communications empire in the desert – and a trip to the White House.The Anti-Defamation League’s western regional director, David Lehrer, who was among the luncheon’s attendees, told The Journal that Abdullah’s comments and spirit were “very optimistic and upbeat.” Overall, Lehrer found Abdullah’s positive remarks on peace in the Middle East “very reassuring to hear from someone as well-placed as the king.” – Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Prosecutors May Seek Death Penalty for Furrow
At a court hearing in Los Angeles Monday, a federal judge refused to prevent prosecutors from pursuing the death penalty for white supremacist Buford O. Furrow. Furrow is being held for the racially motivated murder of Joseph S. Ileto, a Filipino American mailman, on Aug. 10, 1999, which followed a rampage at the North Valley Jewish Com-munity Center in Granada Hills, where Furrow allegedly wounded three small children, a teenager, and an adult.Prosecutors in the case have announced that they will seek the death penalty for Furrow, 38, who will go to trial in November. If convicted of Ileto’s murder in federal court, Furrow, who was not present at Monday’s federal court hearing, will be eligible for execution for the slaying of the federal employee, who was shot at close range while on his mail route. At the hearing, Furrow’s team of public defenders attacked the Federal Death Penalty Act and its application to the Furrow case as unconstitional and vague. However, U.S. District Court Judge Nora Manella rejected this argument, telling the defenders that similar death penalty issues have precedence in such high profile cases as those of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh.Following his arrest in Las Vegas, Furrow admitted to FBI investigators that he was at war with the “Jewish controlled” government and had planned to commit mass murder of nonwhites such as Ileto throughout L.A. At press time, Furrow’s defense team had not announced whether or not Furrow would plead insanity come November. – Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

New Sefer Torah for B’nai Hayim
In her estimation, Rabbi Sally Olins has officially arrived – she is now a Sefer Torah maven.”I learned so much,” she said of the process of preparing a new Torah scroll for Congregation B’nai Hayim in Sherman Oaks. “I picked the scribe [in New York], the size of the lettering, which determines the weight of the Torah – everything.”An anonymous congregant came to Olins to contribute a Torah to the temple in memory of her husband and unwittingly started a whole communal ball rolling.Olins, the 10th woman to be ordained as a Conservative rabbi, invited the congregation, young and old, to participate in the creation of the Torah by having members sponsor a particular passage, section, word or letter. Half of the 200 members dedicated a portion in their names. Even the youngest members got involved by picking letters of their Hebrew names.This Saturday, on Shavuot morning, the entire congregation will march down Ventura Boulevard, celebrating their new Sefer Torah. They plan to arrive at the temple at 9:45 a.m., where Olins will lead the group in prayer before the scroll is taken into the building. At 10 a.m. there will be a special Shavuot service, followed by a kosher dairy luncheon with Congressman Brad Sherman, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and L.A. City Councilman Mike Feuer in attendance.”This Torah has caused a lot of energy, not just for me, but for the entire congregation. They love the Torah as much as I do,” Olins said enthusi-astically. “The whole temple is ecstatic.”For more information, call Rabbi Sally Olins at (818) 788-4664. Congregation B’nai Hayim is located at 4302 Van Nuys Blvd. – Charlotte Hildebrand Harjo, Contributing Writer

Playing for Peace
Recently named by the FBI as the safest city of its size in the United States, Simi Valley seems an appropriate location to hold the first in a series of events entitled “Music and Peace.” On May 25 and 28, the Simi Valley Cultural Center played host to concerts featuring acclaimed Bosnian-born Israeli pianist Sasha Toperich and Israeli Arab violin and oud virtuoso Nabil Azzam. The Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, one of the evening’s sponsors, called the event “a transcultural musical dialogue of Western and Eastern classical works… part of the global celebration of the year 2000 as a ‘Year of Culture of Peace’ as proclaimed by the United Nations.”
Having played together at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center in 1996, both Toperich and Azzam expressed their affection for the city. “I am very pleased to return to the embracing atmosphere of the Simi Valley,” said Azzam, “and to add my instruments to the sound of peace.” Toperich, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) ambassador of peace and the coordinator of international projects for the Los Angeles and Israel-based Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, Toperich said, “Simi Valley was selected as the first community in the series because of its traditional emphasis on and support for the cultural arts and multicultural programming.”Film star Mickey Rooney, an International Federation of Festival Organizations ambassador, served as special guest host for the May 25 invitation-only event.
The music for the night progressed from quite serious to light and playful as the musicians individually and in tandem presented Western classic works of Bach, Rachmaninov and Chopin, followed by Eastern and Jewish pieces of Kreisler, Afanda and Oshrat. The audience was also treated to the U.S. premieres of the artists’ own compositions: Toperich’s “Nesicha” and Azzam’s “The Crescent.”
The highlight of the evening was those pieces which centered on the oud, a Middle Eastern lute. Azzam, a noted composer, ethnomusicologist and master of the violin and oud, presented a variety of original pieces and variations on ancient and familiar tunes, often inviting the audience to clap along.Embodying the spirit of the evening, Toperich and Azzam showed a genuine pleasure in each other’s presence, sharing hugs and playful exchanges throughout the evening, much to the delight of the audience.The concert concluded with the recognition of the city of Simi Valley as a City of Peace. In his role as ambassador for peace, Toperich presented Mayor Bill Davis with a book of writings by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi on the power of nonviolent action.
The May 28 concert, a cultural educational event, was open to the general public and dedicated to the students of Simi Valley High School. The concerts were the result of a collaboration between the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, UNESCO, the Palestinian Cultural Center and the City of Simi Valley. -Susanna Crosby Perrin, Contributing Writer

Cedars-Sinai Launches SecondFundraising Campaign
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center has launched the second phase of a $500 million campaign, billed as the most ambitious fundraising effort ever by a non-university health system. During the campaign’s first phase, $140 million was raised between 1992 and 1997. The current $360 million phase is to be completed in 2005 and will support hospital-wide modernization and facility construction, new patient care programs, and medical research and education. Described as the largest teaching, research and nonprofit hospital in the western United States, Cedars-Sinai, which is heavily supported by the Jewish community, will mark its 100th anniversary in 2002. Its origins go back to the Kaspare Cohn Hospital, founded in 1902 by the Jewish Benevolent Society to treat destitute consumptives arriving from the East Coast. – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Nation/World Briefs


From the beginning, there were clear indications of the kind of year that lay ahead.

As the Days of Awe approached last September, President Clinton reached for a High Holidays prayer book and turned to the Yom Kippur liturgy in his search for the right words of contrition following his dalliance with a loose-lipped Jewish paramour.

Members of Congress then figured Rosh Hashanah was as good a day as any for a nationwide viewing of Clinton’s videotaped grand jury testimony, and with that auspicious beginning, so began the carnival of insanity that was the Jewish year 5759.

In recognition of some of the year’s bizarre antics from around the Jewish world, here’s a gaggle of awards and observations:

Least convincing martyr: Monica Lewinsky, who, in her authorized biography, compared herself to Holocaust diarist Anne Frank and Jewish World War II heroine Hannah Senesh. The presidential seductress said she identified with the plight of Frank because independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s “bullying” tactics had her “living in constant fear.” And during her darkest hours, Lewinsky said she was sustained by thoughts of Senesh, who parachuted behind enemy lines to rescue Allied prisoners from the Nazis and organize Jewish resistance.

Most menacing Jewish lobbyist: Bill Goldberg. The 6-foot-4, 285-pound World Championship Wrestling star made his debut on Capitol Hill in February as a lobbyist for the Humane Society. Jesse Ventura may have already blazed the trail from wrestling to politics, but with all due respect to Minnesota’s governor, he couldn’t carry Goldberg’s tefillin strap.

Best theatrics on the campaign trail: In a private meeting with Jewish supporters last October, then-Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., called his opponent, then-Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a “putzhead.” He also referred to the heavyset Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., as “Congressman Waddler” and proceeded to waddle around the stage like a duck. A month later, D’Amato found himself with plenty of time to practice his lame-duck routine.

That’s why they pay him the big bucks: James Carville, one of three American political consultants who advised Ehud Barak in his successful campaign for Israel’s prime minister, said Israel’s campaign was not that different from America’s electoral process. “Who won,” he quipped, “came down to who got that all-important Jewish vote.”

An honorary doctorate in psychiatry for displaying uncanny insight into the adolescent mind: Following the Colorado school shooting, Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., said at a House hearing on gun control that if high schools were allowed to post the Ten Commandments, “we would not have the tragedies that bring us here today.” It wouldn’t have anything to do with those military-style assault weapons that Barr has so staunchly fought against banning.

Most outstanding commentary on the House’s passage of legislation permitting public displays of the Ten Commandments: “Congress probably should spend more time obeying the Ten Commandments and less time trying to exploit them for crass political purposes,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

Runner-up in the previous category: After President Clinton said he would talk to lawmakers about “another option” to the Ten Commandments measure but declined to provide specifics, several pundits speculated that he was probably thinking of something more along the lines of nine commandments.

They should have been given honorary seats in Israel’s Knesset: A comedic lineup of single-issue parties campaigned unsuccessfully during Israel’s election. Among them: the Casino Party, which sought to legalize gambling; the Green Leaf Party, which sought to legalize marijuana; the Right of the Man in the Family Party, dedicated, apparently, to boosting the right of the man in the family; and the Natural Law Party, predicated on the idea that transcendental meditation is the answer to the Middle East’s woes.

Most thinly veiled anti-Semitic utterance: Jerry Falwell told a conference on evangelism that he believes the Antichrist is probably “alive and here today,” and when he appears, “of course, he’ll be Jewish.” What the founder of the now-defunct Moral Majority didn’t say was that he’ll also be a gay Teletubby named Tinky Winky, and he’ll reveal himself onstage amid a throng of demons at Lilith Fair.

Best career move: Former U.S. Rep. Jon Fox, a Jewish Republican, took up substitute teaching in Philadelphia after losing his re-election bid, thus trading in one body of unruly, obstinate juveniles for another.

Most unsavory bit of imagery conjured by a foreign dignitary: Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas, accusing Yasser Arafat of selling out his people, said the Palestinian leader has made one concession after another to Israel — “like a stripper.” Tlas further mused: “But a stripper becomes more beautiful with every layer she removes, while Arafat becomes uglier.” You can leave your kaffiyeh on, Yasser.

Clearest indication that Y2K is approaching: All sorts of interesting people began emerging from the woodwork and descending on the Holy Land, including members of a Denver-based apocalyptic cult who were arrested for planning millennial mayhem to try to bring about the second coming of Jesus. Anticipating hundreds of thousands of Christian pilgrims, Israel’s Tourism Ministry said it wants to welcome everyone to “the place where it all began” and has touted such events as a motorcycle rally from Rome to Jerusalem; a formation of a human ring around the Dead Sea on New Year’s Eve; and a “Million Tourist March” to promote world peace. There are no plans yet for a jai alai tournament against the Western Wall, but stay tuned.

Nation/World Briefs


Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have again introduced the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, hoping a new set of supporters will help push it into law.

The bill, introduced Tuesday, is aimed at preventing workplace religious discrimination by forcing employers to accommodate religious needs.

The bill is no stranger to Congress. Several attempts to get it enacted into law have failed.

This year, however, there appears to be more bipartisan support for the bill, and advocates say they’re cautiously optimistic about its chances of success.

“It’s about the strongest set of co-sponsors on the bill that we’ve ever had,” said Richard Foltin, legislative director and counsel for the American Jewish Committee.

The bill would clarify an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed nearly 30 years ago that requires employers to “reasonably accommodate” the needs of religious employees unless it causes the employer “undue hardship.”

The courts have broadly interpreted undue hardship and given employers a lot of latitude in deciding whether to accommodate employees’ religious practices.

Foltin, chairman of a coalition of religious and civil rights organizations working to pass the bill, said the Workplace Religious Freedom Act would restore to the Civil Rights Act amendment the weight that Congress originally intended.

“The Workplace Religious Freedom Act is crucial civil rights legislation meant to ensure that all members of society, whatever their religious beliefs and practices, are protected from this invidious form of discrimination.”

Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) joined Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in introducing the bill. A staff member for Hutchinson said the congressman decided to co-sponsor the bill after he received a number of letters from organizations describing religious discrimination on the job.

Nadler, who has supported the bill in the past, sees the legislation as a way to obligate employers to accommodate their employees’ religious practices and give employees the right to a fundamental protection.

“No one should have to choose between the right to worship freely and the need to earn a living,” he said.

For example, the legislation would help observant Jews and Seventh-day Adventists who have been forced to work on Saturdays, Muslim women who have been asked to remove their head scarves while at work and devout Christians who have been made to work on Sunday or Christmas.

The Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, which considers the Workplace Religious Freedom Act one of its top legislative priorities, notes the bill’s introduction is particularly timely in light of a recent settlement between the State of New York and Sears over the company’s failure to accommodate the needs of Sabbath-observant workers.

But the bill, which has the support of every leading Jewish organization, likely faces the same opposition it has in previous years, much of it from the business and labor communities. Those interest groups have argued that making special accommodations would upset labor practices by granting certain employees unique privileges and disrupting union rules.

In 1997, the federal government enacted guidelines to protect religious expression. The guidelines only applied to employees at all federal agencies, but the private sector often applies the federal government’s employment practices. — Sharon Samber, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Nation/World Briefs


From the beginning, there were clear indications of the kind of year that lay ahead.

As the Days of Awe approached last September, President Clinton reached for a High Holidays prayer book and turned to the Yom Kippur liturgy in his search for the right words of contrition following his dalliance with a loose-lipped Jewish paramour.

Members of Congress then figured Rosh Hashanah was as good a day as any for a nationwide viewing of Clinton’s videotaped grand jury testimony, and with that auspicious beginning, so began the carnival of insanity that was the Jewish year 5759.

In recognition of some of the year’s bizarre antics from around the Jewish world, here’s a gaggle of awards and observations:

Least convincing martyr: Monica Lewinsky, who, in her authorized biography, compared herself to Holocaust diarist Anne Frank and Jewish World War II heroine Hannah Senesh. The presidential seductress said she identified with the plight of Frank because independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s “bullying” tactics had her “living in constant fear.” And during her darkest hours, Lewinsky said she was sustained by thoughts of Senesh, who parachuted behind enemy lines to rescue Allied prisoners from the Nazis and organize Jewish resistance.

Most menacing Jewish lobbyist: Bill Goldberg. The 6-foot-4, 285-pound World Championship Wrestling star made his debut on Capitol Hill in February as a lobbyist for the Humane Society. Jesse Ventura may have already blazed the trail from wrestling to politics, but with all due respect to Minnesota’s governor, he couldn’t carry Goldberg’s tefillin strap.

Best theatrics on the campaign trail: In a private meeting with Jewish supporters last October, then-Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., called his opponent, then-Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a “putzhead.” He also referred to the heavyset Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., as “Congressman Waddler” and proceeded to waddle around the stage like a duck. A month later, D’Amato found himself with plenty of time to practice his lame-duck routine.

That’s why they pay him the big bucks: James Carville, one of three American political consultants who advised Ehud Barak in his successful campaign for Israel’s prime minister, said Israel’s campaign was not that different from America’s electoral process. “Who won,” he quipped, “came down to who got that all-important Jewish vote.”

An honorary doctorate in psychiatry for displaying uncanny insight into the adolescent mind: Following the Colorado school shooting, Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., said at a House hearing on gun control that if high schools were allowed to post the Ten Commandments, “we would not have the tragedies that bring us here today.” It wouldn’t have anything to do with those military-style assault weapons that Barr has so staunchly fought against banning.

Most outstanding commentary on the House’s passage of legislation permitting public displays of the Ten Commandments: “Congress probably should spend more time obeying the Ten Commandments and less time trying to exploit them for crass political purposes,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

Runner-up in the previous category: After President Clinton said he would talk to lawmakers about “another option” to the Ten Commandments measure but declined to provide specifics, several pundits speculated that he was probably thinking of something more along the lines of nine commandments.

They should have been given honorary seats in Israel’s Knesset: A comedic lineup of single-issue parties campaigned unsuccessfully during Israel’s election. Among them: the Casino Party, which sought to legalize gambling; the Green Leaf Party, which sought to legalize marijuana; the Right of the Man in the Family Party, dedicated, apparently, to boosting the right of the man in the family; and the Natural Law Party, predicated on the idea that transcendental meditation is the answer to the Middle East’s woes.

Most thinly veiled anti-Semitic utterance: Jerry Falwell told a conference on evangelism that he believes the Antichrist is probably “alive and here today,” and when he appears, “of course, he’ll be Jewish.” What the founder of the now-defunct Moral Majority didn’t say was that he’ll also be a gay Teletubby named Tinky Winky, and he’ll reveal himself onstage amid a throng of demons at Lilith Fair.

Best career move: Former U.S. Rep. Jon Fox, a Jewish Republican, took up substitute teaching in Philadelphia after losing his re-election bid, thus trading in one body of unruly, obstinate juveniles for another.

Most unsavory bit of imagery conjured by a foreign dignitary: Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas, accusing Yasser Arafat of selling out his people, said the Palestinian leader has made one concession after another to Israel — “like a stripper.” Tlas further mused: “But a stripper becomes more beautiful with every layer she removes, while Arafat becomes uglier.” You can leave your kaffiyeh on, Yasser.

Clearest indication that Y2K is approaching: All sorts of interesting people began emerging from the woodwork and descending on the Holy Land, including members of a Denver-based apocalyptic cult who were arrested for planning millennial mayhem to try to bring about the second coming of Jesus. Anticipating hundreds of thousands of Christian pilgrims, Israel’s Tourism Ministry said it wants to welcome everyone to “the place where it all began” and has touted such events as a motorcycle rally from Rome to Jerusalem; a formation of a human ring around the Dead Sea on New Year’s Eve; and a “Million Tourist March” to promote world peace. There are no plans yet for a jai alai tournament against the Western Wall, but stay tuned.

Nation/World Briefs


From the beginning, there were clear indications of the kind of year that lay ahead.

As the Days of Awe approached last September, President Clinton reached for a High Holidays prayer book and turned to the Yom Kippur liturgy in his search for the right words of contrition following his dalliance with a loose-lipped Jewish paramour.

Members of Congress then figured Rosh Hashanah was as good a day as any for a nationwide viewing of Clinton’s videotaped grand jury testimony, and with that auspicious beginning, so began the carnival of insanity that was the Jewish year 5759.

In recognition of some of the year’s bizarre antics from around the Jewish world, here’s a gaggle of awards and observations:

Least convincing martyr: Monica Lewinsky, who, in her authorized biography, compared herself to Holocaust diarist Anne Frank and Jewish World War II heroine Hannah Senesh. The presidential seductress said she identified with the plight of Frank because independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s “bullying” tactics had her “living in constant fear.” And during her darkest hours, Lewinsky said she was sustained by thoughts of Senesh, who parachuted behind enemy lines to rescue Allied prisoners from the Nazis and organize Jewish resistance.

Most menacing Jewish lobbyist: Bill Goldberg. The 6-foot-4, 285-pound World Championship Wrestling star made his debut on Capitol Hill in February as a lobbyist for the Humane Society. Jesse Ventura may have already blazed the trail from wrestling to politics, but with all due respect to Minnesota’s governor, he couldn’t carry Goldberg’s tefillin strap.

Best theatrics on the campaign trail: In a private meeting with Jewish supporters last October, then-Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., called his opponent, then-Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a “putzhead.” He also referred to the heavyset Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., as “Congressman Waddler” and proceeded to waddle around the stage like a duck. A month later, D’Amato found himself with plenty of time to practice his lame-duck routine.

That’s why they pay him the big bucks: James Carville, one of three American political consultants who advised Ehud Barak in his successful campaign for Israel’s prime minister, said Israel’s campaign was not that different from America’s electoral process. “Who won,” he quipped, “came down to who got that all-important Jewish vote.”

An honorary doctorate in psychiatry for displaying uncanny insight into the adolescent mind: Following the Colorado school shooting, Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., said at a House hearing on gun control that if high schools were allowed to post the Ten Commandments, “we would not have the tragedies that bring us here today.” It wouldn’t have anything to do with those military-style assault weapons that Barr has so staunchly fought against banning.

Most outstanding commentary on the House’s passage of legislation permitting public displays of the Ten Commandments: “Congress probably should spend more time obeying the Ten Commandments and less time trying to exploit them for crass political purposes,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

Runner-up in the previous category: After President Clinton said he would talk to lawmakers about “another option” to the Ten Commandments measure but declined to provide specifics, several pundits speculated that he was probably thinking of something more along the lines of nine commandments.

They should have been given honorary seats in Israel’s Knesset: A comedic lineup of single-issue parties campaigned unsuccessfully during Israel’s election. Among them: the Casino Party, which sought to legalize gambling; the Green Leaf Party, which sought to legalize marijuana; the Right of the Man in the Family Party, dedicated, apparently, to boosting the right of the man in the family; and the Natural Law Party, predicated on the idea that transcendental meditation is the answer to the Middle East’s woes.

Most thinly veiled anti-Semitic utterance: Jerry Falwell told a conference on evangelism that he believes the Antichrist is probably “alive and here today,” and when he appears, “of course, he’ll be Jewish.” What the founder of the now-defunct Moral Majority didn’t say was that he’ll also be a gay Teletubby named Tinky Winky, and he’ll reveal himself onstage amid a throng of demons at Lilith Fair.

Best career move: Former U.S. Rep. Jon Fox, a Jewish Republican, took up substitute teaching in Philadelphia after losing his re-election bid, thus trading in one body of unruly, obstinate juveniles for another.

Most unsavory bit of imagery conjured by a foreign dignitary: Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas, accusing Yasser Arafat of selling out his people, said the Palestinian leader has made one concession after another to Israel — “like a stripper.” Tlas further mused: “But a stripper becomes more beautiful with every layer she removes, while Arafat becomes uglier.” You can leave your kaffiyeh on, Yasser.

Clearest indication that Y2K is approaching: All sorts of interesting people began emerging from the woodwork and descending on the Holy Land, including members of a Denver-based apocalyptic cult who were arrested for planning millennial mayhem to try to bring about the second coming of Jesus. Anticipating hundreds of thousands of Christian pilgrims, Israel’s Tourism Ministry said it wants to welcome everyone to “the place where it all began” and has touted such events as a motorcycle rally from Rome to Jerusalem; a formation of a human ring around the Dead Sea on New Year’s Eve; and a “Million Tourist March” to promote world peace. There are no plans yet for a jai alai tournament against the Western Wall, but stay tuned.

Community


‘David Fighting a CorporateGoliath’

The heirs of a Holocaust victim and policyholder sueItaly’s giant Generali Insurance Company for five decades ofrebuffing their claims

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Above, Regina, Moshe and Edith Stern; Below,from left, William Palmer, General Council for the CaliforniaInsurance Commission, with Anne, Lisa and Allan Stern and CaliforniaInsurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush. Photo below by Albert J. Winn

One of Europe’s largest insurance companies hasbeen hit with subpoenas by the state of California and a $135 millionsuit by a private family for allegedly stonewalling demands forpayment on policies taken out by Holocaust victims andsurvivors.

In the double-barreled action, announced at a Feb.4 news conference, the Generali Insurance Company (AssicurazioniGenerali) of Trieste, Italy, was charged with five decades of evasiveaction to avoid its responsibilities to Jewish policyholders andtheir heirs.

California Insurance Commissioner ChuckQuackenbush said that after inviting Generali representatives tothree separate public hearings, and getting no response, he hasissued subpoenas to four top officials at Generali’s New Yorkheadquarters to appear at an investigatory hearing on Feb. 19 in SanFrancisco.

“We’re 50 years behind and wasting time, which iswhy I am ordering Generali to come forward…. I demand a publicaccounting,” said Quackenbush.

If Generali fails to cooperate, the commissionerwarned, he was ready to “pull their license” to do business inCalifornia, which currently accounts for $22 million of the $125million the company earns in the United States.

A Generali spokesman, Dan Leonard, reached byphone, said that the company was ready to meet with Quackenbush in aprivate session, as it had with insurance commissioners of otherstates. Leonard added that Generali could not meet before the media,because it is a defendant on similar charges in a class-action suitpending in a New York federal court.

The descendants of Moshe “Mor” Stern and his wife,Regina, gave dramatic, and at times emotional, testimony at the newsconference at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Stern, an affluent wine and spirits producer inUzshghorod, Hungary, had six sons and one daughter. Between 1929 and1939, he took out large insurance policies (and a dowry policy forhis daughter) through the Prague office of Generali.

He prepaid premiums through 1944, on policiesworth about $1.5 million. That sum, with accrued interest, is nowworth $10 million, the heirs believe.

Moshe Stern, his wife and three of their sonsperished in Auschwitz. The couple’s oldest son, Adolf, was liberatedin Buchenwald. One month after the war’s end, in June 1945, AdolfStern made his way to the Generali office in Prague to claim hisfamily’s life and annuity insurance proceeds.

His reception by the insurance company’sofficials, as described in an affidavit, was “less than kind.” Theaffidavit further stated: “They mocked me. They were arrogant. Theystated that I would have to produce a death certificate and copies ofthe relevant insurance policies before they would process theclaims.

“I explained that Hitler did not pass out deathcertificates and that all family insurance policy documentation wasconfiscated by the Third Reich. They declined my request to retrievefrom Generali’s own files the insurance and annuity policies thatthey sold to my family. The officials said that Generali could nothelp me, and they had me forcibly removed from the premises by asecurity guard. I was humiliated.”

Over the ensuing five decades, the survivingchildren of Moshe Stern and his grandchildren, living in the UnitedStates, Israel and Great Britain, repeatedly petitioned Generali.They were constantly rebuffed with claims that no records of thepolicies could be found, that the assets of Generali’s Prague branchhad been nationalized, and that the time limit for claims hadexpired.

Then, in 1996, by a fluke, the Sterns found, in alarge Generali warehouse in Trieste, jammed with old policies, a copyof one policy issued to Moshe Stern in 1929. A few months earlier,Generali had affirmed that no such policy existed.

At the news conference, Alan Stern, a Los Angelesbusinessman and grandson of Moshe Stern, and his wife, Lisa, anattorney, described their family’s long legal odyssey, which hetermed a battle of “David fighting a corporate Goliath.”

Lisa Stern, holding up a piece of stone from anAuschwitz crematorium, described Generali’s actions as “the financialcrime of the century.”

Alan Stern’s aunt, Anne Stern, herself a survivorof Theresienstadt, pleaded in a tear-choked voice, “We cannot waitany longer; we beg all of you to help so that justice may bedone.”

Their attorney, William M. Shernoff, a well-knownexpert on insurance consumer rights, said that the present suit, inwhich he is seeking $10 million in actual damages and $125 million inpunitive damages, “is one of the most abusive in my 25 years ofpractice.” He also believes that the case represents the largest “badfaith” suit filed against any insurance company.

Shernoff said that because of the age and physicalcondition of some of the plaintiffs, a hearing in the suit could beaccelerated under California law. He hopes that a trial date will beset within four months and the case submitted to a jury within oneyear.

Generali spokesman Leonard said that the companyhad not received a copy of the Stern suit and that he, therefore,could not comment on it.

Generali, whose net worth is put at $4.3 billion,has a long history of involvement with the Jewish community andIsrael. It was founded in 1831 by a group of Jewish merchants inTrieste and quickly established branches in the major cities of theold Hapsburg Empire.

It employed thousands of Jewish agents and,according to Quackenbush, wrote 80 percent of all policies taken outby Jews in Central and Eastern Europe.

In the 1930s, Generali helped found Migdal, nowthe largest insurance company in Israel, and, last year, it paid $320million to buy a controlling interest in Migdal. According to AlanStern, Generali’s chairman of the board is Jewish.

At the time of the Migdal takeover, Generaliannounced establishment of a $12 million philanthropic fund, “inhonor of Generali policyholders who perished in the Holocaust.” Thecompany publicized the fund through large ads in Jewish newspapersand also established an information center for claimants.

Speakers at the news conference, however, observedthat even this gesture is suspect. For one, said Alan Stern, the onlymoney disbursed so far has been $1 million for advertisements.

In addition, attorney Shernoff stated in hisbrief, Generali, in making future disbursements from the fund,specifically denies any legal or moral obligation to do so andrequires recipients to forgo any future claims against thecompany.

In the separate class-action suit pending in NewYork — initiated with the assistance of the Bet Tzedek legal aidservice in Los Angeles — Generali is among 15 German, Swiss, Frenchand Italian insurance companies named. One of the largest is theGerman firm Allianz AG.

Most of the companies have operations andsubsidiaries in the United States and, thus, may be subject toAmerican courts. Rene Siemens, a lead attorney in the case, thinksthat, ultimately, claims against European insurance companies may runinto the billions of dollars and far exceed the claims of holders ofdormant accounts in Swiss banks.

In a related development, the Jewish TelegraphicAgency reported this week that a Holocaust Victims Insurance Act hasbeen introduced in Congress. The act would require European insurancecompanies to give a full accounting of policies taken out byHolocaust victims and survivors and mandate payments to theirheirs.

 

The Russians Are Coming

Émigrés overcome cultural differences andhardship to participate in Super Sunday

By Ruth Stroud,Staff Reporter

In the former Soviet Union, asking for charitymoney was a punishable offense. It isn’t surprising, then, thatRussian Jews who immigrate to the United States need some educationon the concept of tzedakah. Add this to the fact that most of themhave little money to take care of their own families’ needs, and itmakes sense that few former Soviet citizens would participate inSuper Sunday — the biggest fund-raising day for the JewishFederation’s United Jewish Fund.

But things are changing, says Maya Segal,resettlement coordinator for the Federation. More and moreRussian-born Jews are participating in this event, both as volunteersand as donors.

“At first, they’re afraid. They say, ‘How can Iask someone to give money,'” Segal says. But after they are trained,start working the phones, and see the response, their attitudechanges. “When their shift is over, they don’t want to leave,” shesays.

Next Sunday (Feb. 22), more than 40Russian-speaking volunteers are expected to gather at the SuperSunday “mega-site” — the Westside Jewish Community Center. Amongthem will be Alla Neyman, along with her husband, Afanasiy,19-year-old son Igor, and 17-year-old daughter Galina. Her mother,who will be 65 this year, has participated in the past and may comethis time as well.

The Neymans arrived in West Hollywood in February1992, after leaving their home near Minsk. Alla hasn’t forgotten howshe was helped by the Federation when she first arrived in theStates. The family didn’t have medical insurance, and a Federationcounselor put them in touch with a doctor. Alla found her first twojobs through the Jewish Vocational Service, a beneficiary of theFederation. One was a baby-sitting job, which her daughter hasinherited. Alla now works as a general office assistant in a CenturyCity law office, and her husband works at a security company nearby.Her children are no longer afraid to say they’re Jewish, and herdaughter plans to bring several friends with her to volunteer thisSuper Sunday.

Alla and her family first began making calls toother Russian-speaking Jews on Super Sunday a few years ago. It wasdifficult at first. “It’s hard to ask for money from people who don’thave a lot of money,” she said. “I just ask, ‘Please give us as muchas you can.’ Some of them do. Some don’t.” But Alla feels stronglythat “everyone who comes to this country has to do something becausewe got so much help.”

Alla’s neighbor, Galina Tsitrina, who also arrivedin February 1992, and became an American citizen last July, alsoplans to volunteer on Super Sunday. Like many other Russian-speakingJews, Galina, 63, and her 86-year-old mother came to the UnitedStates in search of religious freedom. Her grandfather was a rabbibefore World War II, but in Galina’s native Gomel, like elsewhere inthe USSR, it was illegal to practice Judaism. On Passover, Galinaremembers, no matzo was available, so her mother ate onlypotatoes.

Upon their arrival in the United States, Galinaand her mother received SSI benefits, with the assistance of theFederation. (Galina is unable to work for medical reasons.)

On Jewish holidays, Alla Feldman from JewishFamily Service of Los Angeles arranged for the Tsitrinas to celebratewith American families. Like Alla Neyman, Galina says that she wantsto do something to show how grateful she is for the help she hasreceived and to aid other Jews. “I became free from the Russiangovernment,” she says. “On Super Sunday, I collect money for Israel.It’s very important to me because I am a Jew.”

Facts About Super Sunday

What:

It’s the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’single-most important fund-raising day of the year.

When:

Sunday, Feb. 22.

Who:

5,000 volunteers reach out via telephone, directmail and face-to-face meetings with 50,000 people. From preteen to80-plus, all ages can be volunteers.

How Much:

More than $4 million is raised annually in asingle day for the United Jewish Fund.

Why:

Super Sunday helps the Federation and itsbeneficiary agencies support Jewish education, immigration, synagogueprograms, Jewish camps and recreation programs; combat hunger,disease, disability, and drug and alcohol addiction in Los Angeles;and assist Jewish organizations nationally, and the American JointDistribution Committee and Jewish Agency for Israelinternationally.

Where:

Four sites in greater Los Angeles.

Westside Jewish Community Center

5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles

(213) 761-8319

Jewish Federation South Bay Council

22410 Palos Verdes Blvd., Torrance

(310) 540-2631

Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance

22622 Vanowen Street, West Hills

(818) 587-3200

Western Region

University Synagogue

11960 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

(310) 828-9521

Taking a Pluralistic Path

‘The Pathways in Jewish Spirituality’ series will featurelectures by Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionistrabbis

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

In a path-breaking outreach to potential converts,rabbis representing four different streams of Judaism will join in aprogram to elucidate the philosophies and practices of theirrespective denominations.

“This pluralistic outreach program is unique inJewish history and is based on the premise that God did not inventdenominations,” says Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis. The rabbi, who ispraised, and sometimes criticized, for his innovative approaches torevitalizing Judaism, said, “I believe that Jews by Choice should beable to choose the beit din (rabbinic court) of whatever branch ofJudaism they find attractive and to choose whatever form of Jewishreligious life they find compelling.”

Schulweis, the spiritual leader of Valley BethShalom, a Conservative congregation in Encino, which is hosting theprogram, believes that the cooperative venture will send an importantmessage not only to potential converts but to the entire Jewishcommunity.

“Given the increasing denominational factionalismthat has broken out and threatens to factionalize Judaism, it isimportant to demonstrate, and not by rhetoric alone, that we are onepeople, that God is one and the Torah is one,” Schulweis says.

“There are many ways of understanding thatoneness; there are 70 faces to the Torah, and we are not amonolithic, sectarian entity. Hopefully, this project will spreadthroughout the country and make a modest contribution to the visionof unity in diversity.”

“The Pathways in Jewish Spirituality” series offive lectures will feature presentations by leading Orthodox,Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis. The lectures areopen to the public at no charge and will start on Feb. 25 with anintroduction to Judaism by Schulweis.

Speakers on subsequent Wednesday evenings will beRabbis Abner Weiss (Orthodox), Daniel Gordis (Conservative), ArnoldRachlis (Reconstructionist) and Steven Jacobs (Reform).

The “Pathways” series will be followed by 12additional lectures on “The Wisdom of Judaism,” in which differentrabbis and scholars will explore the teachings, ritual and meaning ofJudaism, its relationship to Christianity, and the impact of theHolocaust. There will be a fee for attendance, by individual lectureor for the entire series.

The 17 lectures in the two programs, coordinatedby Rabbis Edward and Nina Bieber Feinstein of the host congregation,are by no means limited to potential converts, Schulweis stresses.Equally welcome are Jews who seek a deeper connection with theirreligion, or non-Jews interested in a better understanding of Judaismwhile remaining in their own faith.

“What we are aiming for is to broaden the circleof inclusion, to reach out and to reach in,” says Schulweis.

In preparation for the two lecture programs,hundreds of Valley Beth Shalom congregants have been participating ina Mentor-Keruv study program. The mentors will befriend participantsin the lecture series, host them for Sabbath or Passover meals,accompany them to Jewish events, and sit with them in the synagogueto acquaint them with the flow of the service.

The mentors will gain as much as they will give,Schulweis believes. “There is no better way to learn Judaism than toteach it,” he says.

For program information and registration, call(818) 788- 6000, ext. 655.

 

BeverlyHills Confidential

The city is hardly all glamorous, all wealthy or allJewish

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

When 19-year-old Stephanie Middler, a product ofBeverly Hills schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, is askedby new acquaintances where she is from, she answers, “LosAngeles.”

“If I say I’m from Beverly Hills, I getstereotyped right away — you know, rich, superficial and spoiled,”says Middler, who graduated from Beverly Hills High School a year agoand is now a music major at USC.

People, from Bombay to Buenos Aires, who haven’tbeen within a thousand miles of California, know all about BeverlyHills High. Thanks to the TV melodrama “Beverly Hills 90210,” theyare certain that the town’s teen-agers talk only about sex, clothesand cars. Films such as “Pretty Woman” and “Down and Out in BeverlyHills” prove that the kids’ parents readily flaunt their ostentatiouswealth and sexual escapades.

The people who know Beverly Hills close up resentthe stereotyping of their city, and their sensitivities are sometimesexpressed in a kind of reverse ostentation.

“Many kids from affluent homes will dress down sothat they won’t stand out, including my daughter, who buys herclothes at a thrift shop,” says Middler’s mother, Lillian Raffel, whohas been a member and president of the board of education for thelast six years.

On the other hand, Middler says that she had a fewclassmates who never wore the same outfit twice during the schoolyear.

Naturally, there are some pressures on BeverlyHills youngsters, such as living up to the expectations of highlysuccessful, hard-driving parents, but the same holds true forself-made wealthy families anywhere else, says Dr. Jeff Blume.

Blume, a psychologist at the Maple CounselingCenter, has worked extensively with Beverly Hills students andparents, and he believes that “it’s a very large stretch” to linkMonica Lewinsky’s present White House predicament to her BeverlyHills background.

The assessment is emphatically seconded by MilkenCommunity High School President Dr. Bruce Powell, who has taught inand administered Jewish and public schools in Los Angeles for thepast 28 years.

Comparing the backgrounds of Bill Clinton andLewinsky, Powell notes that the president grew up in a poorProtestant family in Hope, Ark., and Monica, in a wealthy Jewishfamily in Beverly Hills.

“If their alleged relationship actually existed,they arrived there by making individual ethical choices,” saysPowell. “The notion that the Beverly Hills milieu makes for eithermoral or immoral people is nonsense.”

As in most stereotypes, there are kernels of truthin the Beverly Hills image, but the “golden ghetto” of the fabulouslyrich and famous no longer exists. The gap between illusion andreality is nicely illustrated by the fact that television’s “BeverlyHills 90210,” which has done so much to feed the fables, is shot notin Beverly Hills but mainly in the prosaic town of Torrance.

What about Beverly Hills’ storied wealth? Far frombeing the richest city in the world, Beverly Hills placed eighth inLos Angeles County alone, and 83rd in the United States, according toa 1996 national survey of per capita income.

Veteran newsman Rudy Cole, who has covered thecity for 35 years, notes that in Beverly Hills, whose populationstands at 34,000, half the residents live in apartments andcondominiums rather than in palatial mansions.

“Very few residents will shop on Rodeo Drive, withits upscale stores,” says Cole. “We leave that to thetourists.”

Cole has also read the foreign reports about theglamorous beaches of Beverly Hills, an unlikely attraction in alandlocked community.

Contrary to common assumptions, Beverly Hills isnot an all-Jewish enclave, but is split about half-and-half betweenJews and non-Jews.

“Jews, however, are most active in civic andcharitable activities,” says Cole. “All five city councilmen areJewish, as are four of the five school board members.”

In any case, “even my non-Jewish classmates atBeverly Hills High knew about the Jewish holidays and understood whatJews are like,” says Middler. “It’s only since starting USC that Iget the feeling of being a minority.”

During the past two decades, there has been aheavy influx of foreign immigrants, many of whom will strain tightbudgets and live in one-room apartments to qualify their children forBeverly Hills’ excellent public schools.

Lillian Raffel of the board of education estimatesthat 45 percent of the current public-school students require Englishas a Second Language instruction. Their predominant home languagesare Farsi (Persian), Korean, Russian, Hebrew and Chinese.

If many Beverly Hills residents resent theHollywood version of their lifestyle, they admit that it’s not badfor business.

For instance, when Julia Roberts, as the hooker in”Pretty Woman,” cavorted in the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel,”tourists booked all the rooms for months on end,” says Cole.

Indeed, Beverly Hills’ enterprising Chamber ofCommerce has no scruples in playing up to the town’s popular image toattract free-spending visitors.

To mark the city’s 75th anniversary, the chamberthrew a party for “America’s most glamorous city,” which included afashion show with 1,100 models, and a gigantic cake studded with2,500 real diamonds.

Also featured was an homage to ostentatiousshopping, which described Beverly Hills as the kind of place “wheresomeone from London can call and get fingernail polish that matchesthe color of her Rolls Royce.”

Chefs from the Four Seasons Hotel stand infront of the one-and-a-half ton cake baked for Beverly Hills on theoccasion of the city’s 75th birthday

 

Community Briefs

Jackson Shares His Dream

By Shlomit Levy

Proclaiming, “When we dream together we change thewhole world!” Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke before large, appreciativeaudience at Temple Kol Tikvah Sun. night . The community forum washeld to celebrate the life of Jackson’s friend, the late RabbiAbraham Joshua Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Rabbi Heschelfaced extreme rejection in the Jewish community,” said Jackson, “andDr. King faced rejection in the black community.” Jackson said hisdream is for “one big tent America where all of us are in the tentand none are in the margins.”

Before his speech, Jackson held a press conferenceat which he expressed his support for President Bill Clinton and hiscondemnation of White House Independent counsel Kenenth Starr. Thepress conference was cut short by shouts from Anti-Defamation Leagueprotesters who demanded Jackson speak out against Minister LouisFarrakhan.

At the end of his lecture, Jackson made afundraising pitch for his Rainbow/PUSH Coaltion and asked hisappreciative audience to participate in the “Save the Dream” March onFeb. 23 in Los Angeles.

Rabbi Jacobs presented Jesse Jackson with Abraham JoshuaHeschel “The Prophets.” Photo by ShlomitLevy

 

A True Public Servant

Scott Svonkin, the 32-year-old chair of theValley Alliance’s JCRC, brings experience beyond his years and newideas

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

Last fall, Scott Svonkin, now 32, became theyoungest chair of the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance’s JewishCommunity Relations Committee.

It wasn’t the first time he was the youngest atsomething: He was the country’s youngest professional tennis umpireat age 16. His political involvement started even earlier, when, at13, he campaigned for independent candidate John Anderson in the 1980presidential election. As a student at Cal State Northridge, Svonkinspearheaded the creation of a task force to deal with the problem ofhunger among students. On his 30th birthday, he raised money for acomedy benefit to support Hillel at Pierce and Valley colleges.Svonkin attended the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago,wearing a yarmulke with Clinton’s name hand-painted on by his olderbrother. It ended up in the Smithsonian.

Svonkin’s knack for getting noticed, and gettinginvolved, is a family trait. His mother, Paula, is the kosher catererat USC Hillel. His father, Stan, taught for years in East Los Angelesand was president of the family’s Alhambra synagogue. His oldestbrother is youth director at Valley Beth Israel; his second-oldestbrother, a professor at Cal State Los Angeles, is the former Far Westregion director of United Synagogue Youth; his oldest sister isactive in her synagogue. Svonkin’s great-great-uncle was a shamas atCongregation Talmud Torah on Breed Street in Boyle Heights.

Since he’s come aboard as chair of the ValleyAlliance JCRC, the organization has grown younger — with the averageage now in the 30s, instead of the 50s and 60s. That was a primarygoal of Svonkin’s, both at the JCRC and at the Federation/ValleyAlliance, where he is also a board member. “It’s time for theestablished leaders to mentor us young people,” he says. “It’s nottime for them to disappear, but it’s time for them to hand over thereins.”

In December, Svonkin took a group of 25 JCRC youngleaders on a trek to City Hall to find out how things work downtown.Mayor Riordan showed up unexpectedly to lunch with them. Also onSvonkin’s JCRC watch: A rabbinical advisory council was formed todiscuss issues affecting communities in the Valley Alliance’sfive-valley territory, and a Hispanic-Jewish women’s dialogue is inplace.

Another of Svonkin’s aims is to strengthen therelationship between the Jewish community and electedrepresentatives, particularly those who represent portions of thefive-valley area. “I want to make sure that whoever is elected isaware of the issues that face our community.”

Rebuilding public education and fostering closerrelations with other ethnic and religious communities is foremostamong those issues, he believes.

Svonkin’s own political involvement includesserving for two years in Mayor Tom Bradley’s office as assistantWestside area coordinator. He was appointed to Los Angeles CountyCommission on Insurance last fall by Los Angeles County SupervisorZev Yaroslavsky. He is also a member of AIPAC’s Congressional ClubExecutive Committee.

Svonkin works at Prudential HealthCare in WoodlandHills, where he’s been the past 6 1/2 years. Most recently, he wasoperations manager for the New York sales office, which he convincedto donate 250 computers to the local public schools.

SWC Film Nominated for Oscar

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s film “The Long WayHome” has been nominated for an Academy Award in the documentaryfeature category.

Through archival footage and interviews, the filmdramatizes the fate of post-Holocaust refugees between 1945 and 1948,and their desperate attempts to reach the Jewish homeland.

“The Long Way Home” was written and directed byMark Jonathan Harris. It was produced by the Wiesenthal Center’sMoriah Films division, under Rabbi Marvin Hier and RichardTrank.

The center’s first production, “Genocide,” won anOscar as best documentary in 1981. — TomTugend, Contributing Writer

Cutting Down to Size

The Federation restructures its board of directors and executivecommittee for the first time in nearly 40 years

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles hasapproved the first restructuring of its board of directors andexecutive committee in nearly 40 years.

Born of a 1959 merger between the Jewish CommunityCouncil and the United Jewish Welfare Fund, the organization hadnever resolved the issue of how its board should be formed. Createdout of the two boards, it kept accommodating itself to communitychanges, growing to its current size of about 200 members. Over thepast 18 months, a Strategic Planning Implementation Committee,chaired by former Federation President Irwin Field, has created whatField says is a board seated through “a unified nominatingprocess.”

Key changes will include:

* Initially, a smaller board of 159 members; afterfive years, 149.

* A smaller executive committee of 39 (sometimes40). Currently, it can be as large as 60.

* Specifically named seats on the board to includerepresentatives of the four major streams of Judaism — one each forthe Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist movements –as well as two seats for the Hebrew Union College and theUAHC.

* Five criteria for nominations, including anannual gift to the United Jewish Fund and active Federationinvolvement.

In reducing the size of the board, the aim was notto exclude people but to create a body that is “more representativeof what Los Angeles looks like today and will begin to look liketomorrow,” Field said.

The current policy-making process of theFederation is sometimes cumbersome, he said: “It takes a long timebefore anything moves.”

In the future, things may speed up somewhat, withthe executive committee able to take some actions that will notrequire board approval, although the board will still havejurisdiction over critical matters, such as major policy changes andimportant financial transactions.

The reorganization is expected to go into effectin September, when the next Federation president, Lionel Bell, takesthe helm.

Bet Tzedek Legal Services Dinner

Seen at the annual Bet Tzedek Legal Servicesdinner at the Century Plaza Hotel were (from left): honoree EliBroad, chairman and CEO of SunAmerica Inc.; Vice President Al Gore,who presented an award to Broad for his support of Bet Tzedek; JayWintrob, president of the Bet Tzedek Board of Directors; and DavidLash, executive director of Bet Tzedek. Also honored at the dinnerwere the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, whichreceived the Commitment to Justice Award.

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