Mark Zuckerberg’s Hawaii wall irks neighbors


Billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is angering neighbors with the privacy settings he’s building at his Hawaii vacation property.

Zuckerberg is building a 6-foot-tall wall around his waterfront property on the island of Kauai, and his neighbors in Kilauea say it is blocking their ocean views and breezes, West Hawaii Today reported Tuesday.

“The feeling of it is really oppressive. It is immense,” neighbor Gy Hall said.

Neighbors told the Hawaii newspaper they are also upset that he began construction without first consulting them and that they written to Zuckerberg but received no reply. Hall said that signs placed on the wall explaining the neighbors’ concerns were quickly ripped down.

Shosana Chantara, a Kilauea resident, said the wall is blocking air circulation.

“You take a solid wall that’s 10 or more feet above the road level, the breeze can’t go through,” she said.

Another neighbor, Donna McMillen, said: “I’m 5-foot-8 and when I’m walking, I see nothing but wall. It just doesn’t fit in with the natural beauty that we have here.”

Zuckerberg, 32, purchased the 700-acre Hawaii estate for $200 million in 2014. He is the sixth richest person in the world, according to Forbes magazine’s most recent ranking of billionaires, as well as the world’s wealthiest Jewish person.

Maria Maitino, another Kilauea resident, told the Hawaii paper that she doesn’t understand why the wall is so high, adding it “doesn’t feel neighborly.”

Neighbor Thomas Beebe, however, defended the wall in a text message to West Hawaii Today, saying it “appropriately makes use of local materials and serves as a tasteful reminder of an ancient method of defining boundaries.”

It’s not clear when construction will be done or whether it will encircle the entire property, and Zuckerberg has not commented on it.

He and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced in December that they will donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares over the course of their lifetimes.

With Kerry coming, Israel to delay announcement of West Bank building


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly will wait until after a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to announce new construction in West Bank settlements.

Kerry is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Thursday in a bid to boost the current U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. He reportedly will stay through Sunday and could extend his trip by several days in order to work for progress.

Kerry was last in Israel less than three weeks ago; it is his 12th visit to Israel since becoming secretary of state.

Netanyahu asked Housing Minister Uri Ariel to delay announcement of the tenders for the construction of 1,400 housing units in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, Haaretz reported Wednesday.

Israeli media reported last week that Netanyahu would announce up to 2,000 tenders for new settlement housing units on the heels of the third Palestinian prisoner release.

Israel agreed to several rounds of prisoner releases more than three months ago in conjunction with the Palestinians’ return to the negotiating table. The latest release occurred after midnight on Monday; the new West Bank construction had not been announced as of late Wednesday night.

Both the United States and the European Union have called on Netanyahu to refrain from announcing new settlement construction during Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

West Bank settlement housing construction projects were announced in October following the second release of Palestinian prisoners. The projects were roundly criticized by the United States, international bodies and international leaders.

Kerry presses Netanyahu on Jerusalem building


Secretary of State John Kerry in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised U.S. unhappiness with Israel’s announcement of new building in eastern Jerusalem.

Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for Kerry, was asked about such a conversation during the daily briefing on May 31 and said the two had spoken the previous day.

She said Kerry “did raise this issue as part of a broader conversation about the ongoing desire to move back to the negotiating table.”

Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel, the housing minister, last week granted the final approval for the construction of 300 homes in the eastern Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Ramot.

“We feel these activities are counterproductive to the cause of peace,” Psaki said. “They’re not constructive.”

On Sunday, Kerry in a statement welcomed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ appointment of a new prime minister.

Rami Hamdallah, the British-educated president of An Najah University in Nablus, will succeed the Western-oriented Salam Fayyad, who resigned over differences with Abbas.

Kerry had endeavored to persuade Fayyad not to resign; the economist was widely credited with making the P.A. more transparent and cleaning up corruption, and Kerry considered him critical to renewing peace talks, a key Obama second administration goal.

Fayyad’s resignation last month came at an unpropitious time for Kerry, who is trying to revive Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

Hamdallah’s “appointment comes at a moment of challenge, which is also an important moment of opportunity,” said Kerry’s statement, which also recognized what it called Fayyad’s “extraordinary contributions.”

Plan to build in eastern Jerusalem neighborhood is resurrected


A building plan for eastern Jerusalem that stirred a furor when it was approved during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden has been resurrected.

On Dec. 17, the Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee will discuss the plan to build more than 1,600 apartments in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, according to reports. The Jerusalem municipality had approved the plan in March 2010 during a visit by Biden, causing a diplomatic uproar, after which the project was frozen.

Israel's interior minister gave his final approval to the project in August 2011.

Discussion of the Ramat Shlomo project was moved up as a way to punish the Palestinians for the approval last week by the United Nations General Assembly of their enhanced statehood status, Haaretz reported Monday.

It comes on the heels of the announcement of plans to build 3,000 new housing units in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem that has raised the hackles of the United States, a number of European countries and the United Nations.

Iran reportedly installs hundreds of new uranium enrichment machines


Iran may have installed as many as “hundreds of new” uranium enrichment machines in its underground nuclear facility at Fordow.

“Our basic understanding is that they were continuing to install,” Reuters quotes an unnamed diplomat based in Vienna as saying.

The new centrifuges were not yet operating, according to the Reuters report. Another source spoke of “hundreds of new machines.”

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is scheduled to release a report on Iran’s nuclear program next week. Talks between IAEA representatives and Iranian delegates resume on Friday at the agency’s headquarters in the Austrian capital.

If the Reuters report matches the conclusions of the UN atomic watchdog report, the development could be seen as a sign of Iran’s continued defiance of international demands to curb its nuclear program.

The fresh round of talks follow discussions that ended in failure in June.

The IAEA negotiations are separate from talks between Iran and world powers, which have made little progress since restarting in April after a 15-month hiatus.

Israel and other Western countries believe the Iranian nuclear program is aimed at building nuclear weapons. Tehran repeatedly says that its nuclear activity is a domestic energy creating program and for peaceful research.

During next week’s talks in Vienna, the parties also are expected to discuss claims that Iran is cleaning up facilities at its Parchin site near Tehran, allegedly to remove any sign of illicit nuclear activity. In the past, Tehran has dismissed allegations about Parchin, which it says is a normal military site.

The IAEA suspects Iran has conducted tests with a military dimension at Parchin; the talks with IAEA officials are expected to again press Iran for access to the site.

EU ministers express concerns about Israel’s settlement building


European Union foreign ministers called Israeli settlement building “worrying” as its foreign policy chief left for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders

In a statement released Monday in Brussels, foreign ministers from the EU’s 27 member countries said that “Against the backdrop of worrying developments on the ground in 2011, particularly with regards to settlements, the EU reaffirms its commitment to a two-state solution.”

The ministers also said they “welcome the efforts by Jordan”—Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have met four times under Jordan’s auspices in the last month, with a fifth meeting scheduled for Wednesday. The statement called on Israel and the Palestinians to bring “comprehensive proposals” to the Jordan-brokered talks that are trying to lead to the resumption of direct peace talks.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is leaving Wednesday for talks in the region and is scheduled to visit Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Meetings are planned with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Ashton is trying to push the recent talks past Thursday’s deadline set months ago by the Mideast Quartet of the United States, the EU, Russia and the United Nations for the resumption of direct peace talks.

“I’ll be looking for positive signs from both sides that they are prepared to turn this progress into real gestures and negotiations,” she said in a statement.

Gilo building plan gets go-ahead


Jerusalem’s district planning committee has approved a construction plan to build 1,100 housing units in Gilo, a Jewish neighborhood of 40,000 in eastern Jerusalem.

The plan also includes public buildings, a school and an industrial zone, Ynet reported. The public has 60 days to express opposition to the plan.

The committee had previously approved a motion to expand the neighborhood with additional housing. The plan allots 20 percent of the new housing for young couples..

The approval comes as the international community, including the United States and the Mideast Quartet, are attempting to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. The Palestinians have said they will not resume talks until Israel halts settlement construction, including in Jerusalem.

Gilo was annexed by Israel after being captured in 1967.

Sydney local council denies permission to build eruv


Jewish leaders in Sydney are irate after a local council denied an application to build an eruv.

Ku-ring-gai Council, on Sydney’s north shore, voted Tuesday night to reject a plan to build a 12-mile symbolic boundary that would allow Orthodox Jews to push prams and carry objects on Shabbat.

The Northern Eruv Group has already applied to the New South Wales Land and Environment Court to have the decision overturned, its chairman, David Guth, confirmed.

New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies President Yair Miller said: “The tone of the meeting was unpleasant and there is no doubt in my mind that unease exists with the multicultural aspect of the application.”

In a letter to a local newspaper Wednesday, New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies Chief Executive Vic Alhadeff wrote: “This was a sad day for us. Not because the application to install an eruv was knocked back, but because of the bigotry that has emerged from some of the opponents to the eruv.”

The opponents to the plan, which would include the erection of 26 poles, have been vehement. “This is not New York, it’s not Bondi, this is St Ives and Ku-ring-gai,” said one local ccouncilman at the meeting.

A petition has been signed by some 1,200 locals, with some arguing that the eruv would create a “ghetto of Jewish people” and “pollute the environment.”

An eruv already exists in Bondi, where the majority of Sydney’s Jews live, as well as in Melbourne and Perth. But the north shore community has been trying to establish one there since 2006.

Israel approves more eastern Jerusalem housing


Israel’s interior minister gave final approval to a project to build 1,600 housing units in a Jewish neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem.

Eli Yishai late Wednesday night approved the housing plan for Ramat Shlomo. In March 2010, the Jerusalem municipality’s approval of the project came during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, causing a diplomatic uproar.

The Ramat Shlomo announcement comes a week after 930 housing units in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa were given final approval by the Interior Ministry’s Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee. President Obama is among the world leaders who have criticized the approval of the Ramat Shlomo building and new Jewish housing in eastern Jerusalem in general.

The announcement also comes during the fourth week of protests in Israel calling for more available and affordable housing.

Two other plans for more than 2,000 more housing units in eastern Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods are also slated for approval in the near future, according to reports.

Livni says Israel should freeze settlement building


Israel should have instituted a second settlement building freeze in exchange for U.S. guarantees, Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni said on ABC News.

“In choosing between building more buildings or making peace, I prefer to make peace,” Livni said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” in a joint interview with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. “I believe that a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians is in Israel’s interest. It’s not a favor to President Obama. Israel needs to make these kinds of decisions in order to live in peace.”

Livni, who heads the left-of-center Kadima Party, met privately with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton over the weekend and attended the Saban Forum in Washington.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not extend a 10-month moratorium on building in the settlements despite guarantees from the Obama administration.

The current state of the Middle East peace process was due to the makeup of Netanyahu’s right-wing government, said Livni, who indicated that she had offered to form a national unity government with his Likud Party.

Fayyad did not answer directly when asked if the Palestinian leadership would unilaterally declare a Palestinian state.

“What we are committed to is statehood. Not a declaration of statehood, we’re looking for a state,” he said. “We did make a declaration of statehood [in] 1988. This time we’re looking for a real state on the ground.”

Fayyad said he was waiting to hear from Netanyahu on what the Israeli leader means when he says he is committed to a Palestinian state.

Sukkahs that captured a city’s imagination to go nationwide


It was a surprise hit on the cultural roster of a city that may be the most culturally busy city in the nation.

And even though the Sukkah City architectural competition in New York is being dismantled this week, look for Sukkah City next year in a town near you.

“Our goal is to fan it out across the nation next year to 15 cities,” said Roger Bennett, who put together the sukkah competition with writer Josh Foer.

More than 620 participants from 43 countries submitted designs for sukkahs, the outdoor booths Jews build on the Sukkot holiday. A dozen finalists, chosen by an expert panel, were constructed for two days in Manhattan’s Union Square Park. Thousands of visitors wandered through the sukkahs; more than 17,000 voters cast ballots for their favorite.

The winning design—“Fractured Bubble” by Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan, which one reporter described as an “exploding coconut”—was left up alone for the duration of the holiday ending Friday.

Who would have thought a bunch of wild and crazy huts would generate such attention?

The project became a media darling. Reporters from The Wall Street Journal to The Los Angeles Times gushed and cooed over the cutting-edge sukkahs, all of which had to conform to halachah, or Jewish law: more than two walls; a roof made of organic material that provides more shade than sun but allows for views of the stars; no taller than 20 cubits but higher than 10 handbreadths.

“I’m not surprised at the buzz,” said Jacob Wisse, director of the Yeshiva University Museum in lower Manhattan, where two of the 12 winning structures spent the past few days on display after they were taken down in Union Square on Sept. 20. “It reflects the natural interest in a contemporary understanding of traditional forms.”

Bennett, vice president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and co-founder of Reboot, a network for Jewish innovation, said one inspiration for the competition was to rescue Sukkot, one of the Bible’s three pilgrimage festivals, from its neglect by non-observant American Jews.

“We wanted to take Sukkot, a 21st century festival of meaning, and place it back on the pedestal where it belongs,” Bennett told JTA. “Themes of homelessness, of scarcity and abundance, of hospitality—there are few more important values embedded in a ritual than these.”

One of the finalist designs took the homeless theme literally. “Sukkah of the Signs,” conceived by an architectural firm in Oakland, Calif., utilized nearly 300 signs bought from homeless people in the San Francisco Bay area to illustrate the transient nature of the shelter provided by a sukkah.

In keeping with the theme, the wildly fanciful and elaborately constructed finalists themselves had short life spans.

Following their two-day presentation in the park, two were carted off to the Yeshiva University Museum, one went to the JCC in Manhattan and a couple were sold to private collectors, according to Bennett. Several ended up on the sidewalks of New York, cast off and abandoned.

New York Times writer Ariel Kaminer noticed that one runner-up sukkah, left by its creators on an Upper West Side sidewalk, was commandeered by a few local families. They “had run home and grabbed food, then reconvened under the stars,” moving with an alacrity Kaminer chalked up, at least partially, to “the lengths to which New Yorkers will go for outdoor seating.”

Sukkah City is inspiring other ventures.

The Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles already had commissioned a local firm to design its public sukkah; education director Sheri Bernstein said it “wasn’t inspired per se” by the New York contest.

“But we were inspired by the goals of the project, which tapped into something of interest not only to the Jewish community but the larger community: issues of shelter and caring for the earth and the world around us,” she said. “When we heard about Sukkah City, it confirmed that this is of interest to people. It’s a point where Jewish values can connect with issues of wider concern.”

Attack on building is hate crime, N.Y. court rules


A person can be guilty of a hate crime even if his victim is a building and not a person, a New York court found.

The state’s Court of Appeals affirmed Tuesday that Mazin Assi’s conviction under New York’s hate crimes statute for throwing firebombs at a Bronx synagogue in 2000 was valid.

Assi was convicted in 2003 of attempted arson and criminal mischief as hate crimes and sentenced to five to 15 years in prison. In an appeal, Assi claimed that his conviction under the hate crimes law should be reversed since he attacked property and not a person.

“It is self-evident that, although the target of the defendant’s criminal conduct was a building, the true victims were the individuals of Jewish faith who were members of the synagogue,” Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote in the court’s opinion, according to the New York Daily News.

‘Everybody Knows’ Real Jerusalem Fallacy


Throughout this month, the world has heard Israeli government officials and their allies in the United States — particularly among the pro-settler crowd —
defending construction in East Jerusalem settlements on the grounds that “everybody knows” these areas will always be part of Israel.

“Everybody knows these areas in East Jerusalem will always be Israel,” goes the argument, “so when the Palestinians (and the Americans) make a fuss about new construction plans, it is just for political purposes, not because there is any real issue.”

Those peddling this rubbish are guilty of transparent manipulation. Those buying it are guilty of having short memories and an excess of credulity.

In 1993, when the peace process was taking off, the settlement of Ramat Shlomo — which earlier this month caused such a headache for Vice President Joseph Biden — didn’t exist. The site was an empty hill in East Jerusalem (not a no man’s land, as some have asserted), home only to dirt, trees and grazing goats. It was empty because Israel expropriated the land in 1973 from the Palestinian village of Shuafat and made it off limits to development. Only later, with the onset of the peace process era, was the land zoned for construction and a new settlement called Rehkes Shuafat (later renamed Ramat Shlomo) built.

If in 1993 you had asked what areas “everybody knows” would stay part of Israel under any future agreement, the area that is today Ramat Shlomo — territorially distinct from any other settlement and contiguous with the Palestinian neighborhood of Shuafat — would not have been mentioned.

The same can be said for the massive settlement of Har Homa, for which Israel issued new tenders recently (sometime after the Ramat Shlomo-Biden fiasco). Here, again, the argument is that “everybody knows” this area will forever be part of Israel.

But here again, we are talking about an area that at the outset of the peace process was empty land — devoid of Israelis, belonging mainly to Palestinians and contiguous entirely with Palestinian areas — that anybody drawing a logical border would have placed on the Palestinian side.

American pundits and members of Congress may be unfamiliar with or may have forgotten these inconvenient facts, but the Palestinians — who have watched Israel eat away at East Jerusalem at an increasing pace — have not.

Some will argue that these are the facts on the ground today, and the fact is that Israel will never part with the big East Jerusalem settlements. So, regardless of sins of the past, why make a fuss about new construction in them?

The answer lies in a closer look at what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu means when he talks about what “everybody knows.”

Because if he meant that everybody understands what will be Israeli and what will be Palestinian in Jerusalem, this would potentially be great news: It could mean an agreement is possible, at least on
Jerusalem, tomorrow. And if that were what he meant, then just as he suggests that Israel can build without restrictions in the areas that “everybody knows” will stay Israeli, he would have no problem with
Palestinians building without restrictions in the areas that everyone knows will be Palestinian.

But there’s the catch: For Netanyahu, there is no place in Jerusalem that “everybody knows” will be Palestinian.

What Netanyahu really means is that East Jerusalem land falls into two categories: areas that “everybody knows” Israel will keep and where it can therefore act with impunity, and areas that Israel hopes it can keep by dint of changing so many facts on the ground before a peace agreement is reached that they move into the first category.

It is an approach that can be summed up as: What’s mine is mine, and what you think is yours will, hopefully, be mine, too. It discloses with stark clarity the underlying principle of Netanyahu’s Jerusalem policies: The status of Jerusalem and its borders will be determined by Israeli deeds, rather than by negotiations. More bluntly, who needs agreement with Palestinians or recognition of the international community when “everybody knows”?

And it is an approach that we see today on the ground, where Israel is doing its best — through construction, demolitions, changes in the public domain — to transform areas of East Jerusalem that have always been overwhelmingly Palestinian into areas that everybody will soon recognize as Israeli, now and forever. This is happening in the area surrounding the Old City, in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods like Ras al Amud and Jebel Mukabber, and it is now starting to target areas like Shuafat and Beit Hanina.
The notion that a peace process can survive such an Israeli approach in Jerusalem is not rational. The notion that Israel can be taken seriously as a peace partner while acting this way is farcical. And the notion that the United States can be a credible steward of peace efforts while tolerating such behavior is laughable. l

Lara Friedman is director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now. Daniel Seidemann is the founder of the Israeli NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem. Reprinted with permission from foreignpolicy.com.

Quartet condemns east Jerusalem building


The “Quartet” guiding the Middle East peace process condemned Israeli building in eastern Jerusalem but called for a resumption of talks without preconditions.

The statement issued Friday morning by the grouping, which comprises the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, suggested frustration with both Israel and the Palestinians.

“Recalling that the annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized by the international community, the Quartet underscores that the status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties and condemns the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem,” the statement said.

Israel’s government angered the Obama administration last week when it announced a massive building start in eastern Jerusalem during what was to have been a friendly visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

The Palestinian Authority cited Israel’s announcement to renege on its agreement to re-start “proximity” or indirect talks—and the Quartet statement implied frustration with such tactics.

“The proximity talks are an important step toward the resumption, without pre-conditions, of direct bilateral negotiations that resolve all final status issues as previously agreed by the parties,” the statement said. Israel has repeatedly said it is ready to start the talks without pre-conditions.

The Quartet praised the Palestinian Authority for its “significant progress” on establishing a security force but called on it to “fight violent extremism and end incitement.” It also praised Israel for easing movement in the West Bank.

The statement recommitted to P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s plan to establish a state within two years. “The Quartet believes these negotiations should lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties within 24 months, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors,” it said.

What we need: Philanthropreneurship


When American Jewish leaders hear I’m consulting in Canada, they often comment that Canadian Jewry is years behind American Jewry.
After several years of intensively
working with the Toronto Jewish community, I’m not so sure. In fact, I see them as being ahead of us.

Since 2001 I have been intimately involved with UJA-Federation of Toronto as the marketing partner in an infrastructure campaign that is raising nearly $300 million over a seven-year period. The federation has raised more than half the amount while doubling what it raises in its annual campaign during the same period.

As Toronto Jews re-envision their community, they’re rebuilding it in three geographical areas of what is referred to as the Greater Toronto Area: the vibrant, gentrified downtown area, in the north of the city where the major Jewish population is; and in the far northern region where young Jewish couples are moving.

Throughout this project the federation is partnering with community institutions, acting not in a traditional allocations capacity but as the actual fund-raising arm — identifying mega-donors, cultivating them and ultimately making the request.

They’re acting as collaborative partners in an imaginative planning process as well. They’re building and rebuilding JCCs at state-of-the-art levels with floors of stores — the Birthright Israel store, the Mount Sinai hospital storefront, the Second Cup coffee chain and possibly commercial establishments such as the Gap and others.

In the same spirit, they’re also building and rebuilding day schools, Hillels, museums, theaters, a Holocaust center, the federation building, open spaces and celebration centers. They’re bringing in the best architects, space planners, program professionals, educators and thinkers — creative and Jewish minds.

The Vaughan campus, now called the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Campus for the brothers who made a $25 million naming gift, is described by the architect as having been designed in the spirit of the great Jewish area of Vilna and as an integral part of the community where the city streets traverse the center, filled with inspirational and spiritual design, plazas, nature and public spaces.

Through the physical building and rebuilding of their community, Toronto Jews in essence are building and rebuilding the community’s soul, setting a model for Jewish communities throughout the world.

We have a lot to learn from our Canadian brothers and sisters, particularly those of us living in Los Angeles. It’s time Toronto’s tale was told.

Spending a week per month there, I’m learning that to American eyes, Canada can be very deceptive. It looks and smells like America, but scratch the surface and our northern neighbor is a million miles away. It’s a very different place and culture.

How Canadian Jews see themselves as Canadians is very different than how we American Jews see ourselves as Americans. Active American Jews are in a constant struggle between two very rich senses of identity — our national identity as Americans and our communal, religious and Zionist identity as Jews.

Active Canadian Jews, I have observed, live with a completely different dynamic. They’re proud of their Canadian citizenship, but don’t have a deep sense of Canadian national identity. Their national identity is ebulliently Jewish, belonging to the Jewish nation. Their Jewish communal work leads them on a much different path.

It’s only partly against this backdrop that UJA-Federation of Toronto is pulling off what no American federation is.

Two other critical parts have laid the groundwork for this campaign, which I believe are the more influential factors.

First, unlike America’s highly mobile society, Toronto’s Jewish leaders are deeply committed to maintaining family continuity in the same city. They want their children and grandchildren to remain Jewish and in Toronto. How to do it is a constant discussion that arises in many meetings.

As a result, these leaders recognize that they must build a community of the future, creating the type of institutions that will be seen as mainstream and world-class, inspiring the imagination, enthusiasm and pride of a new generation of Jews who are sophisticated and worldly.

The second, and by far more important, factor is their leadership.

They realize that in order to achieve their dreams, they cannot just maintain a community but must work to envision one — in a big way. This has led these leaders to create big ideas and take huge risks to claim an unprecedented return. As they often say, the alternative is to shrivel and lose.

As a marketer I’ve seen that vision, big ideas and risk are everything when leading a community organization such as a federation.

From the start of this project, the executive director of the Toronto federation, Ted Sokolsky, risked professional safety, going out on a limb to articulate a bold vision, create big ideas and inspire allies among professional and laypeople, and ultimately to motivate Toronto’s wealthy Jews — those both deeply and peripherally involved in the federation — to donate generously of their own funds, ranging from $5 million to $25 million.

That’s what demographer Gary Tobin describes when he talks about how federations need to move from the annual campaign business into the philanthropy business. Watching the success of Toronto, I would call this “philanthropreneurship.”

Philanthropreneurship means identifying needs, setting a bold, risky vision, then creating big ideas to be funded in order to carry out the vision.

In philanthropreneurship, the funders are viewed as investors and treated like partners. The return has to be quantifiable.

Federations needs philanthropreneurship, and Toronto is a prime example. So are the initial foundations that created the vision and funded the ideas of Birthright Israel.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a model of philanthropreneurship. So is Warren Buffet. Hopefully, so will be the foundation of Sheldon Adelson.

What has been the trajectory of philanthropreneurship in Toronto?
In the past 20 years, Toronto grew from a Jewish community of 80,000 to nearly 200,000 due to an influx of English-speaking Jews leaving Francophone Quebec, and immigration from the former Soviet Union, South Africa, Israel and English-speaking countries around the world.

Toronto also has attracted families from across Canada who are seeking a Jewish community of size, breadth, depth and multiple alternatives.

Broad Art Center lifts concrete divide from UCLA


In remodeling UCLA’s old art school building, architects Richard Meier and Michael Palladino have taken a building that was essentially a wall and made it into a window. And the view through the window is good.

Far more than a facelift of a tired facade, the Broad Arts Center is a thorough rethinking of the building, inside and out, particularly the way the building interacts with the campus around it. The architects have taken an uninviting, barrier-like structure and created a see-through building, looking north and south. On sunny days, the glass doors of the bottom two levels disappear behind adjoining walls, and the building literally becomes both a window and a hallway, as well as a much improved locale for arts education.

The wall in our analogy was formerly the facade of UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture — a dreary, “functionalist” flop by the late William Pereira, a prominent local architect who had done better things. A seven-story structure with a horizontal orientation, the school building was one of several from the 1960s and 1970s that seemed determined to wall off the university campus from its northern edge along Sunset Boulevard.

Even worse, Pereira’s building, with its uninterrupted facade of concrete sun screens, was an inward-looking, anti-social building that seemed embarrassed by its highly visible setting amid UCLA’s superb Franklin Murphy Sculpture Garden, the Ralph Freud Playhouse and the Wight Gallery.

The makeover of the UCLA arts complex could be called a collaboration between two prominent members of the American Jewish community: Meier and donor Eli Broad. Businessman, philanthropist and fixer extraordinaire, Broad is the angel of the story in both the moral and financial senses. Two years ago, Broad, a noted art collector with a taste for architecture, personally hired Getty Center architect Richard Meier and contributed $23.2 million, or roughly half the cost, to remake the grim arts building into something both more useful for students and more cheerful for the public.

The assignment was an unusual one for Meier, the New York-based Meier, who is best known for museum designs (the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills is also his), as well as for Michael Palladino, co-principal of the firm, who runs Meier’s Westwood office and who took an active design role in the UCLA project. Although Meier’s firm is accustomed to stamping its own distinctive modernist style — a kind of classicized version of Franco-Swiss master Le Corbusier — on its projects, the architects put image-making on the back burner at UCLA while focusing on the quality of experience of both students and visitors.

The solution hinged on several straightforward moves: The first was to change the direction along which people walk through the building. By removing a structural wall that ran east and west, Meier and Palladino opened the building from north to south so students and visitors can stroll through the 40-foot depth of the building, rather than being forced to walk its 150-foot length, with its long hallways and creepy blind corridors.

Jack-hammering the east-west wall removed part of the building’s structural support. To replace the lost support, the architects added a new system of horizontal reinforcements on each floor, held in place by massive new concrete “book ends” on either side of the building. “They’re like flying buttresses,” a proud Palladino said of the concrete walls, comparing them to the exterior structural supports that helped prop up Gothic cathedrals.

The removal of the old structural wall essentially also opened much of the building to the sun, providing enough natural light for students to work without turning on lights — a definite plus for a structure built to strict energy-saving and “green building” standards.

Not all aspects of the “base building” were bad. Its orientation was ideal for capturing prevailing breezes and inducing natural cooling. “You have to give Pereira credit for siting the building in a way that would take advantage of those breezes,” Palladino said. With the interiors now largely open from window to window, the cooling air circulates better than ever.
It’s not surprising that one of Palladino’s favorite buildings is the Carpenter Center at Harvard, by Le Corbusier. That building works hard to create pedestrian movement and the mood of a public place at an awkward spot on that campus. Although the UCLA arts complex bears little outward resemblance to the Harvard building, the Broad Arts Center accomplishes an analogous repair job on the UCLA campus. The Broad takes a walled-off, hard-to-get-to corner spot of the campus and connects it to the rest of UCLA with a front entrance that also serves as a public hallway leading from one part of the campus to another.

The formerly inward looking building has now become a confident public building, which is appropriate for a spot on the campus that brings together the Wight Gallery, the Freud Theater and the sculpture gallery, newly adorned with the 42-ton “T.E.U.C.L.A.” (as in torqued ellipse at UCLA) by Richard Serra. Like the Carpenter Center, the Broad Arts Center is an example of architecture as problem solving, and an object lesson in the way a single building can do more than one thing.

Morris Newman has written about architecture and other subjects for many publications, including the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

Fate of Santa Monica apartment building embroils rabbi and residents in legal battle


One late afternoon in October 1978, Hertzel Illulian, a Chabad student from Brooklyn, was silently praying mincha outside the Intercontinental Hotel in Tehran. He took three steps back after reciting the Amidah, the service’s central prayer, and found himself surrounded by a wall of men, secret police dressed in street clothes.

They threatened to cart him off to jail, eventually dismissing him and taking a local Iranian Jew instead.

This was a period of massive unrest in Iran, as pro-Ayatollah Khomeini supporters engaged in often violent street demonstrations against the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who had imposed martial law and whose tanks and troops patrolled the streets. But Illulian, then 19, didn’t feel scared.

“I was courageous,” he said. “I had the purpose to save Jewish children.”

He was an official Chabad student shaliach, or emissary, working on behalf of the Brooklyn-based National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, and armed with the coveted blessing of Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneersohn. This was the beginning of his now-legendary mission to help transport about 3,000 young Jewish Persians, most ranging in age from 12 to 19, using I-20 student visas, from an increasingly dangerous Iran to safety in the United States.

Today, Illulian, a rabbi active in the Los Angeles Persian community, finds himself embroiled in a different kind of revolt. It’s taking place in the normally laid-back city of Santa Monica. And while the two factions aren’t lobbing Molotov cocktails or overturning and burning cars, emotions are running at a fever pitch, and angry accusations are being vehemently fired off in both directions.

On one side are the residents and supporters of the Teriton, a 28-unit, three-story garden apartment building designed by architect Sanford Kent in 1949, which sits on almost an acre at 130-142 San Vicente Blvd. It is around the corner from Ocean Avenue, across the street from Palisades Park and the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.




Built in the midcentury Modern Vernacular style, with a flat roof and smooth stucco exterior, it actually consists of two low-rise buildings surrounding an L-shaped landscaped courtyard. It was sold for an estimated $10.5 million last April.

On the other side is Or Khaim Hashalom, a nonprofit religious organization, whose name means Living Light of Peace, and which was incorporated last January. It allegedly purchased the building.

The members want to evict the existing tenants, tear down the building and replace it with 40 units, plus a synagogue and possibly a day care facility for refugees from the Middle East, according to real estate and land-use attorney Rosario Perry, the group’s spokesperson and lawyer. Illulian identifies as the organization’s spiritual leader.

In this current confrontation, as opposed to the life-threatening danger he experienced in Tehran over 30 years ago, Illulian appears less confident. “I didn’t know it was going to be such a thing,” he said.

On its face, this “thing” — first brought to light in a series of stories on The Rip Post, a blog and Web site written by veteran Los Angeles journalist Rip Rense — is a typical battle between developers and tenants, between advocates of free enterprise vs. supporters of slow or no growth.

But ever since a “notice for pending demolition permit” sign was posted without prior warning on the Teriton’s lawn on Nov. 10, 2005, both sides have mobilized forces and escalated the battle, invoking what many say are self-serving interpretations of city and state laws. The demolition sign was posted in November at the time of a sale that ultimately fell through.

Particularly perplexing is the role of Illulian. He is a rabbi so observant that he doesn’t eat or drink anything outside a kosher sukkah during the entire eight-day harvest festival. He is a rabbi so revered that Iranians he rescued in the late 1970s and early 1980s, such as Los Angeles attorney Philip Nassimi Alexander, utter accolades like, “He’s a great man, a truly great man.”

Yet as the rabbi of Or Khaim Hashalom, his new nonprofit organization, he is so vague and seemingly dismissive of what should be an exciting and worthwhile venture, that many people suspect its true mission may be less than magnanimous.

Here’s what’s happening (See timeline below for specific dates):

The tenants and their supporters are claiming that the Teriton is eligible to be designated a Santa Monica city landmark. If this occurs, residents such as 85-year-old Kit Snedaker, a former food and travel editor of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, who is retired and living on a fixed income and selling items on eBay to make ends meet, could remain in the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her cocker spaniel, Joe. So could Louis Scaduto, an architect who spent five years on a waiting list before he moved into the Teriton in 1997. Nathalie Zeidman, 91 and suffering from cancer, could also stay, as well as about 50 others, young and old, retired and working, some paying current market rates, others living in lower-cost rent-controlled apartments.

Building Battle Timeline

Nov. 10, 2005

“Notice for pending demolition permit” is posted on the Teriton’s lawn. K. Golshani and Asan Development are listed as the applicants. Because a building older than 40 years old is slated for demolition, it is automatically placed on the next city of Santa Monica Landmarks Commission meeting agenda.

Nov. 14, 2005

The Landmarks Commission, in its monthly meeting, reviews the Teriton’s eligibility. Chair Roger Genser requests the item be returned with more information. The demolition permit is subsequently withdrawn.

Jan. 30, 2006

Or Khaim Hashalom files with the California Secretary of State’s office as a religious nonprofit corporation.

April 2006

Tenants receive notice that Or Khaim Hashalom has purchased the Teriton and that rent checks should be made payable to Pacific Paradise Realty, the new management company. Kathy Golshani is listed as the contact.

July 2006

Landmarks Commission places Teriton on its July 10 meeting agenda.

July 7, 2006

Rosario Perry, attorney representing Or Khaim Hashalom, sends a letter to the Santa Monica city attorney declaring that under state law, Government Code Sections 37361 and 25373, the Teriton cannot be designated a landmark because it is owned by a religious nonprofit.

July 10, 2006

Representatives of both sides speak at the Landmarks Commission meeting. Barry Rosenbaum, senior land-use attorney for Santa Monica, points out that Or Khaim Hashalom has not yet held a mandated public forum but that the City Attorney’s Office will examine the statutes. Meanwhile, Landmarks Commissioners approve a motion to obtain more information on the Teriton property.

Aug. 11, 2006

Or Khaim Hashalom holds a public forum at the Gateway Hotel in Santa Monica to explain why the Teriton is exempt from landmark designation and to allow the public to respond.

Sept. 11, 2006

The Landmarks Commission unanimously votes to nominate the Teriton for landmark designation, pending further study. Perry announces that if the Teriton is approved as a landmark, he will file a lawsuit on behalf of his client.

Nov. 13, 2006

Landmarks Commission, on the basis of a more detailed historical assessment, as well as a recommendation from the Santa Monica Planning Division staff, will make a decision regarding the Teriton.

Landmark or Historic District Designation Criteria:
http://www.qualitycodepublishing.com/codes/santamonica/view.php?topic=9-9_36-9_36_100&frames=on

California Code Section 37361(c):
http://www.aroundthecapitol.com/code/code.html?sec=gov&codesection=37350-37364

— JU

The Teriton, as a building more than 40 years old and slated for demolition, is automatically being evaluated for landmark status. That process began in November 2005. But whether it meets at least one of the six criteria necessary for landmark designation — from exemplifying elements of the city’s cultural history to representing a significant example of a notable architect’s work — is questionable.

An impartial preliminary historical assessment, prepared by an outside consultant selected by the city and presented at a Sept. 11 Landmarks Commission meeting, states: “Nonetheless, because of its lack of individual historical and architectural merit, the property does not appear eligible for local landmark designation and, therefore, no further investigation into its historical and/or architectural significance is warranted nor recommended at this time.”

Despite that, the Landmarks Commission nominated the Teriton for landmark status, pending a more detailed report, as well as a recommendation from the city Planning Department. Commission chair Roger Genser defended the decision, noting that the commission also relied on a 1983 report by noted architectural historian Paul Gleye, which points to the Teriton’s significance as part of the San Vicente Courtyard Apartment Historical District.

Concurrently, Or Khaim Hashalom, through lawyer Perry, is claiming that the Teriton is exempt from landmark designation under California law, because it is owned by a nonprofit religious entity. The statute (Government Code Section 37361(c)), which allows religious organizations to alter or destroy historic buildings, was passed in 1994 in response to a decision by the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco to close nine parish churches that had been damaged in an earthquake. It was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2001. The law has been used only once previously in Santa Monica, on behalf of the First Church of Christ Scientist, a pre-existing religious establishment, at Fifth and Arizona streets.

In a mandatory public hearing Aug. 11, Or Khaim Hashalom laid out its case. Perry, flanked by what he introduced as the organization’s executive committee — Illulian, another bearded rabbi in full Chasidic garb and five other kippah-wearing men — claimed economic hardship and an inability to pursue the nonprofit’s religious mission if the Teriton isn’t demolished and a larger building constructed.

Perry told the residents in attendance, “You are giving up your homes so people can come here, but we feel that you are more able to re-adjust to new housing than refugees from the Middle East.”

He entertained inquiries and comments from the audience. However, in response to specific questions about Or Khaim Hashalom, including its history, purpose and standing as an actual synagogue, Perry answered, “We are not here to answer questions about our organization.”

That’s the frustration. No one connected with Or Khaim Hashalom is forthcoming, and no factual and consistent information about the organization is available.

Various legal documents list three different addresses for Or Khaim Hashalom: Perry’s office, Illulian’s office and a lighting company on Jefferson Boulevard. On one deed of trust, Perry is listed as both the president and the secretary. On another, Rouhollah Esmailzadeh, the owner of the lighting company, signed as president. Illulian himself, after some hesitation, said he thought Or Khaim Hashalom’s president was “A.J.,” referring to Esmailzadeh’s son. He added, “I don’t know the technicalities. You have to ask Rosario [Perry].”

Many, like Teriton resident Scaduto, believe that Or Khaim Hashalom is “a blatant case of fraud.”

Rabbi Illulian’s response to this accusation was: “I think it’s unfair, just because people want to stay in this building and pay the price they paid 20 years ago. We’re doing everything within the system … legally, with God’s help.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Marx of Santa Monica Synagogue, who attended the hearing, was affronted by what he saw as a display of black-hatted rabbis paraded out to make a clear business venture look like a pious endeavor.

“Do they think everyone is an idiot?” he asked.

What about the claim of bringing in refugees? Illulian, who was raised in Milan, Italy, by parents born in Tehran, has a bona fide track record in this area. It was his idea to bring almost 3,000 young people out of Iran, working tirelessly from 1978 to about 1982 to accomplish it.

Sholem Hecht, rabbi of the Sephardic Jewish Congregation and Center in Queens, N.Y., who accompanied Illulian on his first trip to Tehran and assisted in the rescue, said, “There’s no question he played a very special role in the history of Iranian Jews in America.”

But in 1982, Illulian moved to Los Angeles, married and changed his focus. He became rabbi of Chabad Persian Synagogue in Westwood. Later, about six or seven years ago, he recollects, he founded and moved to JEM, Jewish Educational Movement, which is located in the former YMCA building Beverly Hills and which hosts a synagogue, as well as sports, educational and arts programs and camp experiences for youngsters. He is currently JEM’s rabbi.

Illulian is no longer affiliated with Chabad. According to Rabbi Chaim Cunin of Chabad of California, “He was dismissed some 10 years ago for personal reasons, which were not made public.” Cunin refused to elaborate. Illulian said he believes he was not dismissed.

Illulian has eight children ages, 14 to 24, and lives in Beverly Hills.

While he has worked in his family’s former furniture business in the past, he says he is a full-time rabbi. Still, he maintains an office in a medical building on Wilshire Boulevard near Crescent Heights Boulevard. Records from the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office show he purchased a commercial office building on Wilshire Boulevard in December 2005 for $4.4 million.

When questioned about his new plan to bring in refugees, Illulian is vague. But according to Rezvan Armian, a social worker at Jewish Family Service in Los Angeles who oversees Iranian immigration, individual people cannot resettle immigrants; it must be done through HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and the U.S. Department of State.

“Hertzel Illulian resettle? There is no way,” she said.

Illulian, however, claims he is helping small numbers of Jews escape from Iran and has been quietly doing this work since 1982. “I can’t say exactly what I’m doing, because I can’t endanger the lives of Jews in Iran,” he said.
So how are these ventures being financed? Who is paying for the claimed refugee rescue work? Who is funding the purchase of the Teriton? How does Or Khaim Hashalom expect to cover demolition and construction costs?

According to Illulian, the backers are supporters of Or Khaim Hashalom who wish to remain anonymous. Because it’s a religious nonprofit, the organization does not have to make its financial records public.

The building’s seller, Erwin Mieger, president of Teriton Investors LLC, said the buyer of the Teriton was a single individual. He also confirmed that the person who was trying to buy the building in November, when the notice of pending demolition sign was erected and before Or Khaim Hashalom was incorporated, was the same person who purchased it in April.

Dennis Golob, the Los Angeles attorney who represented Mieger’s company in the transaction, identified that buyer as Rouhallah Esmailzadeh, listed on one document as Or Khaim Hashalom’s president. Golob said he was unaware of the involvement of any religious organization. When told about Or Khaim Hashalom, he replied, “That’s really, really interesting.”

Or Khaim Hashalom, however, is the name listed as the owner in documents at the Assessor’s Office and the Recorder’s Office.

A number of roads also lead to a building on Westwood Boulevard. That’s the address of Novin Kathy Golshani, a real estate broker and owner of Pacific Paradise Realty, who represented the buyer in the transaction. She also requested the demolition permit, according to Santa Monica records.

Two people listed as local partners on Golshani’s Web site are also involved. An attorney at the same address, Douglas Weitzman, also represented the buyer. The name of a contractor, Asan Development, owned by Sasan Samimi, was also listed on the demolition permit request.

“So many buildings are torn down all the time, and there is no noise about it. I don’t know why this is such a big deal,” said Golshani, whose Web site promises, on its list of 10 commandments of real estate, “We shall walk away from any illegal and unethical transaction.”

Ultimately, the Teriton’s eligibility for landmark status will be decided by the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission at its Nov. 13 meeting. A determination on whether Or Khaim Hashalom fits the definition of a religious entity and meets the requirements necessary for landmark exemption will be decided separately by the City Attorney’s Office.

According to Barry Rosenbaum, city senior land-use attorney, “There are serious unresolved questions of whether the property owner is entitled to the protections of the statute.”

As for Illulian, he strongly prefers to focus on his early work in the late 1970s and early 1980s and on the thousands of Persian Jews whom he helped resettle both directly and indirectly and who are now living in Los Angeles. He sees himself as the man behind the extraordinary growth of “Tehrangeles.”

Illulian refers to the tumult surrounding the Teriton as “a little thing.” He said, “That’s not the important part of my life. I’d rather forget about it.”



Teriton resident Kit Snedaker, 85, with Cocker Spaniel Joe in her two-bedroom apartment in the Teriton. She has lived there since 1979.

Which came first: the building or the dress?


A model at a Parisian fashion show sports an enormous collar that almost hides her head in an aureole of stiff, folded cloth. So stiff does the cloth appear, in fact, that it could almost be mistaken for concrete. Meanwhile, in Yokohama, Japan, architects have covered the ceiling of a port terminal with a folded material that looks very much like pleated fabric. Are these chance coincidences, or signs of some odd convergence between fashion and architecture?

“Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture,” opening Nov. 19 at the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown, proposes that building design and haute couture have increasingly begun to overlap and borrow ideas from one another. Even if the premise seems thin, the show’s parallel images of buildings and clothing suggest that meaningful connections can be found between these two very different kinds of design. Indeed, “Skin + Bones” turns out to have much to say about the current practice of both building design and fashion design, not all of it positive.

Skepticism is a legitimate starting point. Clothing and shelter have different purposes, different materials and different methods of assembly. Why should they be compared? Well, for starters, because designers are always searching for fresh ideas, and architects and fashion designers apparently check each other out on a regular basis.

In an essay for the show’s catalog, Brooke Hodge, MOCA’s Curator of Architecture and Design, who has previously organized shows on the architecture of Frank O. Gehry and Peter Eisenman, as well as the fashion designs of Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, identifies some obvious and not-so-obvious commonalties between the two mediums.

“A vocabulary derived from architecture has been applied to garments, describing them as ‘architectonic,’ ‘constructed,’ ‘sculptural,'” she writes. Architects, on the other hand, have borrowed some “sartorial strategies,” such as “draping, wrapping, weaving, folding, printing and pleating architectural surfaces and materials.”

Although Santa Monica-based Gehry may not be a “dedicated follower of fashion,” to quote the Kinks, he has undoubtedly boosted the cross-pollination between construction and tailoring with the biomorphic curves of buildings like the Disney Concert Hall, referencing to the human body and other natural forms. Gehry, Eisenman and Preston Scott Cohen are among the Jewish American architects who have contributed work to this international collection of design.

The complementary opposite would be clothing that looks hard and structural, such as a tulle dress from the spring/summer 2000 collection of Hussein Chalayan that appears to be a rigid structure, inflating by four or five sizes the shape of the woman who wears it.

Another structural-looking garment, this one from Chalayan’s autumn/winter 1999 collection, is the “Aeroplane Dress,” which appears to be a smooth, hard shell. A portion of its form seems to be slipping away, like a panel of airplane fuselage that has not been properly bolted, revealing the wearer’s navel and a seductive slice of abdomen.

Some architects are interested in exploring fabric-like materials, sometimes called extreme textiles. The “Carbon Tower,” an unbuilt project by Los Angeles-based architects Peter Testa and Devyn Weiser would be built with a lightweight carbon-based material that curves and bends much like fabric. Although the method of construction on the building is not visible from the images in the show, some so-called “technical textiles” can be woven or sewn together.

The “Inside Out 2way Dress” from the spring 2004 collection of Yoshiki Hishinuma, for its part, seems inspired by the glass “curtain walls” of high-rise buildings. The garment is a tight-fitting transparent tunic (think glass) held in place by a white band (think steel structure) wrapped in a crisscrossing band of cloth around the model’s body.

The relationship between buildings and clothing is not new, according to Hodge. In her catalog essay, she identifies some parallels, both ancient and modern. In ancient Greece, the flutings of classical columns may have been suggested by the folds in the chiton, a garment worn by both men and women. In the Middle Ages, the “propensity for extreme verticality” can be found in the “sharply pointed shoes, sleeves and hennins [conical headdress]” that seem directly related to the “ogival arches and soaring vertical spaces of Gothic architecture.”

Not all of Hodge’s examples are equally convincing, however, such as the analogies to fashion design in the soft curves of the landscape elements of the Yokohama International Port Terminal by Foreign Office Architects. Or the comically oversized collar of folded and feather-like white fabric from Junya Watanabe’s fall/winter collection for 2000/2001.

What is convincing, however, is the degree to which architectural style has become as attention seeking, and in many cases, as short-lived as fashion design. Here the commonality between architecture and couture is the quest for spectacular display. While display as a value in itself is not new, the degree of importance placed on display — so that buildings can make an impression in two-dimensional media such as magazines, newspapers and the Web — has undoubtedly increased.

If the result of fashion design dipping into architecture is not profound, neither does it seem harmful, because couture is ephemeral, fading away quickly into the next sensation. Architecture, however, is about permanence (or relative permanence), and most buildings are expected to last for decades and to serve many different users. Building design that is guided by momentary fashion, can lose sight of its purpose in search of the values of celebrity culture. “Skin + Bones” hints at the degree to which the runway mentality has influenced architecture for the worse.

“Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture,” Nov. 19-March 5, Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 90012. (213) 626-6222.

Morris Newman has written about architecture and other subjects for many publications, including the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

Building Homes, Building Hope


The prophet Isaiah asks: “What is the house which you would build for Me, and what is the place of My rest?” (Isaiah 66:1). In the days following the Easter and Passover holidays, 41 Angelenos traveled to the Gulf Coast to translate their faith into action. We were rabbis and pastors, African Americans and Jewish Americans, high school seniors and senior adults, synagogue and church members from 12 Los Angeles congregations who rebuilt homes in Gulfport, Miss.

We spent our days building and rebuilding roofs — separated into teams of eager “rookie roofers” under the patient supervision of AmeriCorps volunteers. In short order we were on the rooftop tearing off old shingles and tar paper, and replacing them with new materials. The work was hard, the heat and humidity intense. Few of us had prior construction experience, and many of us had never even been on the roofs of our own homes. But we were determined to finish “our roofs” before we left Gulfport. By week’s end, our volunteers had built six new roofs valued at $30,000 for uninsured or underinsured homeowners in the region.

The individuals and families we helped shared their moving stories of struggle and survival during and after Katrina. “Bob” described his 12-hour ordeal as the hurricane battered his house, and vowed never again to ignore evacuation orders. He lost his job at a federal facility that was destroyed in the hurricane and has no other job prospects. Bob lives day by day as he contemplates an uncertain future.

“Cheryl” is a single mom who has a job but lacks the funds to fix her leaky roof. The night before our site visit, a powerful thunderstorm blew through Gulfport and water crashed through the ceiling of Cheryl’s modest home. Our crew rebuilt her roof in one day, preventing further damage to the interior of the house. However, it will take years to heal the psychological and emotional scars borne by Cheryl and her family.

Everywhere we traveled along the coast, we witnessed heartbreaking scenes of devastation. We passed gutted churches that are now mere shells of formerly majestic houses of worship; twisted and dangling signs identifying businesses that are heaps of rubble; ruins of mansions and homes that are reminiscent of a war zone; front yards adorned with trailers whose occupants worry about how they will survive the next storm.

Through Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the people of the Gulf Coast have met with tragic circumstances. The storm robbed them of homes and livelihoods, battered their dignity and in many cases left them for dead. The people we met have lost faith in FEMA, their insurance companies, their government, and so many others who have let them down over and over again. But the Jewish and African Methodist Episcopal Church communities of Los Angeles — two diverse groups working together — had compassion on the people of Gulfport and worked together to make a difference.

By repairing roofs, we helped to bandage their stricken community. Beyond the financial contributions our groups have previously made to the relief effort, by shouldering our neighbors’ burdens, we offered something equally as important: hope. That hope was seen in the eyes of the homeowners that we served and felt through the prayers and tears they offered as thanks for our assistance.

This journey was a lesson in faith and partnership. Our partners in Mississippi included the amazing young men and women of AmeriCorps, who devote one to two years of their lives in volunteer service for their fellow Americans. Our hosts were the staff and congregants of Westminster Presbyterian Church, which has transformed itself into a 24/7 center for volunteer relief groups. One of the church elders told us that he is especially pleased to welcome Jewish groups to the church, since he is a leader in ongoing efforts to overturn the divestment resolutions of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

This mission was a lesson in spirit and fellowship. The region’s sole Jewish congregation and B’nai B’rith chapter warmly welcomed us to their annual Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) commemoration, held in a Methodist church while the synagogue awaits repair. As the multifaith, multiracial congregation read the names of Holocaust victims, we prayed that we honor their memories by building bonds of faith and friendship between Los Angeles and the Gulf Coast.

We also built strong and sure bonds within our L.A. delegation — between African Americans and Jewish Americans; between Jews and Christians and their congregations; among Conservative, Orthodox and Reform Jews and their synagogues. Too often it takes a crisis or disaster for people of diverse races, religions and cultures to draw closer to God and to one another. Sometimes it takes a trip away from home to remind neighbors to celebrate their differences and their shared destiny as God’s children.

We returned home with a pledge to work together to meet the needs of our community in Los Angeles, even as we remember the needs of the Gulf Coast. The lives and struggles of the people we met are daily reminders of the sacred mandate to rebuild our broken world. We will not rest until the community has healed.

On June 4, the first Sunday of the 2006 hurricane season, churches and synagogues throughout Louisiana and in all cities with major concentrations of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita evacuees will join together in remembrance of those who were lost and to raise awareness of those still missing from the storms. For more information, e-mail findfamilypio@dhh.la.gov.

The Rev. Kevin Taylor is associate minister of Grant AME Church in Los Angeles. Rabbi Mark S. Diamond is executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. The Mississippi trip was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, The Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee and the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Ministerial Association.

 

Huizar Proposal Would Close Razing Loophole


An order to investigate the demolition of a historic Jewish Community Center (JCC) building in Boyle Heights is now on the agenda of the Los Angeles City Council.

Under a motion introduced March 22 by Councilmember Jose Huizar, whose district includes Boyle Heights, municipal departments would be ordered to explain why they greenlighted the razing of the structure without requiring a demolition permit notifying neighborhood organizations and officials.

The motion would also require the city’s Planning Department and the Department of Building and Safety to review current ordinances and close any loopholes to prevent a similar fate for other cultural and historical landmarks.

At an outdoor news conference Wednesday, adjoining the historic Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights, Huizar said, “I am deeply concerned by the loss of the Jewish Community Center, and I am here today to call for action that will help ensure that this community — and this city — protect what remains of our cultural heritage.”

Huizar said he would instruct the appropriate departments to survey all of Los Angeles to identify similar sites that may not have been officially designated as historic landmarks. Currently, some 800 such landmarks are registered.

The new burst of activity was triggered by a report in The Journal that the former Soto-Michigan JCC building, later known as the Eastside JCC, had been razed by a developer without public notice or demolition permit.

The building was of architectural, as well as historical, significance. It was designed by Raphael Soriano, who helped pioneer the architectural style known as California Modernism.

Dedicated in 1939 to keep Jewish kids off the street and away from “potentially demoralizing influences,” the building became the All Nations’ Center in 1958, as the community became increasingly Latino.

After the structure was razed in late February by a private San Diego developer, The Journal learned that the developer would erect a new structure to be leased to the U.S. government for a Social Security office.

The federal government does not have to comply with city regulations, such as obtaining a demolition permit. However, one gray area Huizar intends to probe is whether the exemption rule applies when a private company takes over and then leases the property to a federal entity.

Huizar was joined at the news conference by Latino community leaders and by Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, senior vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Stephen Sass, president of the regional Jewish Historical Society; and Ken Bernstein, director of preservation with the Los Angeles Conservancy.

The JCC and similar sites are “a reflection of what was, and what can be again, an opportunity for our diverse citizens to create a future that intersects in meaningful ways,” Schwart-Getzug said.

Sass, who was instrumental in preventing the destruction of the Breed Street Shul in 1988, said that efforts are under way to renovate the impressive shul’s structure as a multicultural community center.

Bernstein pointed out that only 15 percent of Los Angeles has been surveyed for possible cultural and historic landmarks.

“Some 85 percent of the city is a blank slate,” he said.

Also on hand was Rosalie Turrola, a high school counselor and lifelong Boyle Heights resident, who told The Journal that she recalled her former Jewish neighbors fondly.

“I remember everyone lighting candles on Friday nights, and I loved the potato pancakes,” she said. ” I had a nice neighbor who always called me a ‘shayne maidele’ [pretty girl].

“In those days, I used to be a Mexican-American, now I’ve turned into a Chicana.”

 

Parent Wins School Pesticide Battle


A new law that bans that use of experimental pesticides in schools is the latest achievement of Robina Suwol, a Jewish anti-pesticide activist.

The law, which took effect last month, grew out of a presentation two years ago before an L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) advisory committee of which Suwol was a part.

As Suwol recalled it, a researcher asked to use LAUSD school sites to test an experimental pesticide.

“The woman said, ‘We use less [pesticides] and they’re stronger [so] therefore they’re safer,'” Suwol said. “We all kind of laughed and politely declined.”

But in the back and forth, the researcher mentioned that a school site had already been secured in Ventura County for the experimental product.

“That haunted me, and I began to research it,” she said.

What Suwol said she found was an arena of murky practices and documentation. It wasn’t clear that experimental pesticides were being used at any schools, she said, but it also wasn’t clear that they weren’t or that they never had been — or that they wouldn’t be tried at school sites in the future. So she decided to do something about it.

Suwol soon met with various environmental and public health organizations to marshal opposition to experimental pesticides in schools: “Everyone was on board that this was a curious loophole.”

Assembly member Cindy Montanez (D-San Fernando) agreed to author the legislation, which became Assembly Bill 405. Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) backed it, as did organizations including the California Medical Association, the state PTA, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and many others.

An early critic of the effort was the state’s own Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), which has responsibility over these matters. At the time, officials there characterized the proposed restrictions as potentially redundant, confusing and over-reaching.

While permission to test can, in fact, be granted to experimental pesticides whose safety has not been determined, these permits “are time-limited, relatively few, and are closely controlled under very specific and restrictive conditions,” said Glenn Brank, director of communications for the Department of Pesticide Regulation.

He added that the department “has never allowed an experimental pesticide project at an active school facility, and we never would.”

Suwol said she had trouble obtaining data from the department about experimental test sites. Brank insisted, however, that such data is publicly available on request.

As it happens, even the researcher whose comment prompted Suwol’s quest contends there was a misunderstanding. This different version of events was reported by a pesticide industry news e-journal on Pesticide.net called Insider, which identified the researcher in question as UC Berkeley entomologist Gail Getty.

Getty told Insider that she did indeed give L.A. Unified a presentation on an anti-termite poison that she was researching called Noviflumuron. But as for the Ventura County school test site, Getty told Insider that it was an abandoned school building fenced off from the public due to extreme termite damage — though she acknowledged that she did not mention this fact during her Los Angeles presentation. She added that her aim was simply to make LAUSD aware that a potentially helpful product was in the works. In the end, Getty told Insider, her test in Ventura never happened anyway. Noviflumuron received EPA approval in 2004.

Whatever the case, as far as Suwol and the legislation’s backers are concerned, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Lawmakers passed AB405 in 2005 and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law. The Department of Pesticide Regulation says it fully supports the new regulations in their present form. The bill was eventually amended to avoid the problem of creating potential legal hurdles if a school used a widely accepted product, such as bleach, in ways not specifically mentioned in regulations.

Suwol’s interest in the subject of pesticides dates to 1998, when a worker accidentally sprayed her 6-year-old son, Nicholas, with a weed killer as he walked up the steps of Sherman Oaks Elementary.

“I saw someone in white near the steps,” said Suwol, then “Nicholas yelled back at me, ‘Mommy, it tastes terrible!'”

Nicholas suffered a severe asthma attack afterward. Suwol started meeting with doctors and scientists, and she began raising concerns with L.A. Unified officials. At first she was treated like one more crazy mom, but she persisted, eventually getting the attention of the school board, where she got backing from board members Julie Korenstein and David Tokofsky.

In some cases, she made officials consider the obvious: Why should pesticides be sprayed when children are present?

Today, Suwol heads California Safe Schools, an L.A.-based nonprofit that advocates lower-risk pest control in schools, including barriers and natural predators, and keeping parents and school staff informed when poisons must be used. Its advisory board includes directors of various environmental organizations, including Dr. Joseph K. Lyou of the California Environmental Rights Alliance and William E. Currie of the International Pest Management Institute.

At L.A. Unified, her efforts bore fruit in the 1999 creation of the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system, which recommends a more holistic approach to eliminating pests and weeds than simply dousing them with poisons. It was before the district’s IPM oversight committee, on which Suwol sits, that she first heard from the pesticide researcher and became convinced there was a problem that needed to be addressed.

The governor’s office and others, Suwol said, “recognized that this was a situation that, even if it happened in just a few instances, should be stopped.”

 

Program Tries to Sell Youth on Negev


Endless stretches of sand and sky surround the teenagers as they tumble off buses in the Negev Desert.

“It’s really pretty here. It’s very different from the Ukraine,” said Larisa Protasova, 17, as she posed for a photo on the edge of a sand dune. A recent immigrant to Israel, it was her first time seeing the Negev.

Protasova was one of 16,000 young Israelis — including immigrants as well as soldiers, students and youth group members — who were brought to the Negev on day trips in December, part of a campaign to convince them to make their lives here one day.

The two-day event over Chanukah, dubbed “Light Up the Negev,” was organized by the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (JNF) with the express purpose of “selling” the Negev to Israel’s youth.

The Negev represents about 60 percent of Israel’s landmass, but has only about 8 percent of the country’s inhabitants. After the Gaza Strip withdrawal and with pressure expected to build on Israel to uproot settlements in the West Bank as well, developing the Negev has become a priority for the government, which recently approved $3 billion toward building an infrastructure of jobs and communities in the region.

The JNF, meanwhile, has launched a $500 million campaign specifically for Negev development.

Israelis traditionally have shunned the region because of its remoteness from the rest of the country, the lack of jobs and the relative harshness of desert life. The vast majority of Israelis live in the center of the country, where the cost of living is much higher but opportunities for jobs are greater.

Officials hope the surge of investment will lure people south to fulfill the vision of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, to “make the desert bloom” by transforming the Negev into a center of life and trade, not the periphery it has remained since the country was born.

Plans include the creation of a biotech park in Beersheba, new tourism projects and several ecologically minded villages to be built with environmentally friendly materials. Also being promoted are swaths of land to be sold as ranches.

Israeli officials hope that some 250,000 more people will move to the Negev.

“We must educate young Israelis and let them know what opportunities await them once they move there: affordable housing, open spaces, jobs, a sense of community and a place in history,” said Sharon Davidovich, who helped organize the event and formerly was a JNF shaliach in the United States.

Efrat Duvdevani, director of the recently formed Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, said there is a rare consensus in the Jewish world around the need to develop the two regions.

“The Negev and Galilee are not politically controversial. It is something that unites people and brings everyone together, including the Jewish community abroad,” she said. “It has nothing that has to do with this party or that party but the history and, most importantly, the future of Israel.”

The Negev is home to some 140,000 Bedouin. Officials say the development plan will benefit them by bringing better education and housing, but some in the Bedouin community are opposed to the plan, fearing that additional building in the region will encroach on land they claim.

Over Chanukah, youth visited different sites throughout the Negev, including military bases, development towns and parks, learning about the region’s history and environment.

Some of the youth spent time painting houses and planting trees in the town of Yeruham, while others cleaned out a riverbed or helped build a bicycle trail in Mitzpeh Ramon.

One group of immigrant youth from the former Soviet Union visited Mitzpeh Gvulot, an experimental farm from the 1940s just outside Kibbutz Gvulot.

“Do you know where you are on the map?” asked their guide, a female soldier. The teenagers, all of them from the Tel Aviv area, shook their heads no and laughed.

The soldier showed them around mud buildings that a group of young pioneers built in 1943. One had served as a communal dining room, another as a bakery.

Arkadi Demianenko, 16, who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine in 2000, said the history was interesting, but he didn’t see his future in the Negev.

If even 10 percent of the 16,000 youth who came to the Negev on this trip decide to move there, the operation will have been a success, said David Ashkenazi who organized the event as JNF-Israel’s head of informal education.

He said the Negev life clearly wouldn’t appeal to everyone.

“It’s for them if they want a different kind of life — not the same kind of life they would live in the center of the country, but if they are looking for a more pioneering life,” Ashkenazi said.

That appealed to George Moscowski, 14, from the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon, who said the openness of the scenery drew him in.

“In the future I’d like to live in a free, open place that is not crowded. Maybe it will be green one day,” said Moscowski, who hopes to study computer programming.

 

Zoning Snafus Keep New JCC Empty


Flashback to last fall, the opening ceremony of YESOD, a first-of-its-kind Jewish community center in the heart of St. Petersburg. This three-story modern stone-and-glass building — built by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) with funds raised primarily from North American federations and private donors — was pitched by the JDC as the new heart of the St. Petersburg community.

Now, four months after the impressive opening ceremony that brought together JDC leadership from New York and Israel, North American donors and local community leaders, the center is fully built — but stands empty.

The center is also the focus of criticism from some of its would-be occupants, who say that they haven’t been kept in the loop about planning the center from the beginning, that its opening has been delayed and that they are unsure about when they will be able to move in.

For its part, the JDC says that the delays are a result of bureaucratic snafus in obtaining zoning approval, and that it plans to move local Jewish organizations into the building later this month. JDC also wants to make the building economically self-sufficient; sources suggest that the project has stalled because JDC is also looking for commercial tenants to help achieve this goal.

YESOD, a bright and open space, is similar to state-of-the-art JCCs in cities across North America. It has space to house half a dozen Jewish organizations, a gym, a concert hall and a kosher cafe.

Although hailed as a landmark space uniting under one roof many Jewish organizations that have been scattered around the city, the center was received with mixed feelings by community leaders.

At the time, some criticized the JDC for organizing the center from afar and of not bringing the local bodies into the organizational process.

When the center held its ceremony, with Jewish federation guests from North America in attendance, its administration hoped that it would be ready for operation by the end of the year at the latest.

But the center is still not open.

“Everything has stalled and it is not certain when and how we are going to move,” said Leonid Kolton, director of St. Petersburg’s Hesed Avraham welfare center, which provides food and other services to Jewish elderly.

The JDC-run Hesed Avraham gave up some of its space in anticipation of the September move — space that it will need in its more active winter months. Hillel’s predicament is more serious: the student group’s lease is ending at the end of the month.

In an e-mail message, Jonathan Porath, JDC’s country director for Russia, said Hillel will move into the JCC before the end of the month.

But according to Leonid Smirnov, director of JDC in St. Petersburg, the finished building is still going through the lengthy process of receiving final approval from the zoning commission.

Local Jewish organizations should be able to move in at the end of January and “general activity” in the building should begin in the late winter or early spring, Porath said. Meanwhile, the amount that local groups will be expected to pay in rent is still unclear.

There are indications that the nonprofit tenants, St. Petersburg Jewish organizations, will need to pay rent for space in YESOD to cover its costly maintenance. Local Jewish leaders worry that the groups will be expected to pay commercial rates that some organizations cannot afford.

Smirnov says such criticisms and fears are unwarranted because most of the organizations relocating to YESOD are funded by the JDC and thus the JDC would just be paying itself.

“We are not interested in transferring money from one of our pockets to another,” he said.

Financial details are still being worked, out, JDC’s Porath said. According to Leonid Kolton, the overall situation puts a stain on JDC’s image and could even damage the structure of the Jewish community.

The JDC’s Smirnov says any large-scale operation spanning almost four years and involving the transfer of many organizations to a newly constructed building will inevitably run into difficulties and complications.

Added Joshua Berkman, a JDC spokesman: “JDC and its partners built YESOD to serve as a first-class facility where Jewish life in St. Petersburg can continue to flourish. Rest assured, we will do everything we can to make sure the organizations that are driving this historic Jewish rebirth can make YESOD their home.”

Russian City Gets New JCC


At a time when Jewish Community Centers in the West frequently struggle to survive in prosperous communities with lots of Jews, the small Russian port city of Arkhangelsk near the Arctic Circle is on the verge of getting a brand-new JCC. A local businessman had pledged to build and fund the facility for a Jewish community of fewer than 2,000 people.

The current JCC building is located on the edge of town — one floor above a blood transfusion clinic. It is tiny and in disrepair; building materials and a few wheelchairs dusty from neglect clutter a hallway connecting its five small rooms. This space houses a library that doubles as a kitchen, two offices and a meeting room.

Anatoly Obermeister, a local Jewish businessman, decided to improve the situation. “We need something that we can call our own and a place where we know we will always be able to stay,” he said.

Obermeister, president of the construction and development firm ASTRA, plans to offer the ground floor — about 6,000 square feet — of a new housing project in the center of town for use as a Jewish community center that could include a restaurant, clinic, school and other social services.

Nothing is left of the two synagogues that were built after the arrival of Jewish merchants and soldiers in the army during the 19th century. The wooden buildings fell into ruin and were scrapped after their closures during communist times.

Outside funding assistance for the new JCC would be welcomed for consideration, but Obermeister prefers that the community should not have to rely on outside sources to support itself — something that rarely happens in Jewish communities anywhere in Russia, where Jewish life still largely relies on the generosity of foreign donors.

In recent years, the Arkhangelsk Jewish community has seen an involvement of international Jewish organizations. Like almost everywhere across the region, Chabad, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel have all assumed some role in this remote Russian Jewish community.

This involvement means an increase in Jewish social support and cultural life for Arkhangelsk’s Jews. However, the increase in Jewish identification also has led many local Jews to emigrate.

Since the Jewish Agency first opened a center here in 1998, the community has seen a heavy flow of Jews moving to Israel, said Lilya Martinova, coordinator for the St. Petersburg department of the Jewish Agency, which handles communities in northwestern Russia.

“Ten to 15 people make aliyah to Israel every year from the Arkhangelsk area,” said Igor Prober, director of the local Hesed Avraham welfare center.

For a community the size of Arkhangelsk, that is a considerable number.

The Arkhangelsk Jewish community is a branch of the Federation of Jewish Communities — a Chabad-sponsored organization. It, along with the JDC and local donors, helps fund various educational and social programs, including a tiny Sunday school of about 15 participants and a youth club.

Although the JDC-operated Hesed Avraham is thriving in its work of assisting the elderly, local Jewish leaders don’t think the future of the small Jewish community has much of a chance.

Yet, though Jewish activity should be declining, it may, in fact, be gaining momentum. Many Jews are leaving, but many are also coming out of the woodwork. Those with some Jewish heritage are finding their way to the evolving community and are becoming active participants.

“When they become interested in their identity, the half- and quarter-Jews become very active in Jewish cultural life — usually much more active than the full-blooded Jews,” Prober said.

 

Attacks on Moscow Synagogues


Moscow’s five functioning synagogues have been repeated targets:

  • Dec. 30, 1993 — The old wooden building of the Marina Roscha Synagogue burned to the ground in what was considered an arson attack.
  • 1994 — A hand grenade was thrown at the window of the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue.
  • October 1994 — An explosive device disguised as a beer can was found and defused in the courtyard of the Choral Synagogue.
  • August 1996 — An explosive device went off outside of the Marina Roscha Synagogue. No one was injured.
  • May 1998 — Two people were injured when an explosive device went off near the Marina Roscha Synagogue.
  • July 13, 1999 — A knife-wielding youth entered the Choral Synagogue and stabbed Jewish leader Leopold Kaimovsky several times.
  • July 25, 1999 — An explosive device containing 500 grams of TNT was found in the prayer hall of the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue. It was successfully defused.
  • April 2003 — An explosive device was found and defused outside the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue.

 

The Building Blocks of a Great Sukkah


Every year, Scott Rekant of Monmouth Junction, N.J., hauls a tidy pile of 21 2-by-4s from his garage and puts together a sturdy sukkah that stands on his back porch.

“It takes me about an hour to assemble it with a bit of adult help. Two hours with my kids,” he said.

He’s been building a sukkah, which he designed himself, every year for the last 12 years or so and always invites a large number of friends to enjoy dessert.

“I wanted to leave the sides open so we could see the backyard and the woods bordering our property,” he said. “I also wanted something I could easily store and then reassemble each year.”

Building a sukkah doesn’t need to be something only the few can do. If you have a place to put a sukkah, there is a design or kit to fit your level of handiness, time commitment and budget. Besides being an integral part of the holiday of Sukkot, building a sukkah is a great way to create shared family memories and to start a family tradition. Decorating a sukkah can also take in the whole family — the completed “masterpiece” creates an opportunity to share the holiday.

In the Torah, Sukkot is referred to as Hag ha-Asif — the Holiday of the In-Gathering. This is the time of the final harvest in Israel, as well as in many other parts of the world. This is therefore the time that we thank God for what we have received.

The sukkah has two symbolic meanings. First, it represents the dwellings of our ancestors as they lived in the wilderness during their journey to the Promised Land. Secondly, it reminds us of the huts our forefathers would erect in the fields during the harvest so they could watch over their produce.

The Bible commands us to live in our sukkah just as our ancestors did. Ideally this means eating, drinking, sleeping and spending leisure time in the sukkah. At the very least, traditional Jews try to have their meals in the sukkah. Dispensations regarding these mitzvot are allowed in cases of rain, illness or severe discomfort, such as very cold weather.

A sukkah basically consists of two parts — the walls and the skakh, or roof covering.

The Basics: The Walls and the Roof

All material is appropriate for the walls of a sukkah as long as it can stand up to the weather. The sukkah must have at least three walls. When the sukkah is built adjacent to a permanent structure, one or more of the walls of that structure may be used as part of the sukkah. By the way, the sukkah itself is a temporary structure. Therefore, you cannot take a permanent structure, an arbor for example, and turn it into a sukkah.

The roof covering should be placed after the walls are finished. It should be made of vegetable matter that was not previously used for anything else. It cannot be rooted in the soil, such as the canopy of a tree. Severed tree branches, strips of wood, straw, bamboo and the like are all suitable. Things that are edible cannot be used as skakh. It must provide more shade than sunlight, yet the roof materials must not be so thick that they do not let in rain. It must be open enough for stars to be seen, but no opening can be more than 11 inches in width or length.

The Design

The beauty of a sukkah is that you are free to create your own design within the limits of the aforementioned guidelines. I use two rectangular sides that remain assembled throughout the year (stored outside by my shed) and then I add three 1-by-2-by-12-inch pieces of wood to attach them and the same for the structure of the roof. For those who want to create their own design, there are numerous plans on the Internet. And for those who don’t want to bother with all this, there are a number of companies that sell ready-to-assemble kits.

The Decorating

How you decorate your sukkah will depend to some extent on where you live. In Israel, and other areas with warm climates, palm fronds are a favorite material. For those living in more temperate climates, corn stalks and pine boughs are more common. Since Sukkot is a harvest holiday, it is nice to have some symbolism representing the harvest. If you have a garden, all the better — then you can use things from your own harvest. Display or string some of the vegetables for decoration. Put some flowers in a vase.

If you don’t have your own garden, you can always get vegetables from the supermarket, such as string beans, cranberries, peppers or whatever, to string together and hang from the walls or roof. Small gourds are also usually available during the time of sukkot and even large gourds or pumpkins can be placed in the corners to add some color and soften the angular nature of the sukkah.

If you have potted flowers, they can be moved near to the sukkah during the holiday to add color and also help blur the line between the ground and the sukkah, so it looks more natural.

Sukkah Hospitality

Hospitality is an important and fun part of Sukkot. Inviting guests into your sukkah to share food allows those without a sukkah to fulfill the mitzvah of eating in a sukkah. This hospitality goes back to Abraham, who was well known for his generosity toward guests.

Once again, in keeping with the harvest origins of the holiday, think about serving some food that incorporates produce that is plentiful at the time of the holiday. In our area, apples are in good supply and local tomatoes are usually still plentiful. Two foods we make every year that incorporate these ingredients are apple raisin nut cake and tabouleh — a Middle Eastern salad.

Apple-Raisin-Nut Cake

3 tablespoons margarine or butter

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 medium apples, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks

1/2 cup raisins (soaked in water for 15 minutes)

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup chopped nuts

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, mix together sugar and margarine or butter, then eggs and vanilla.
In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add the liquid ingredients.
Lastly add apples, nuts and raisins.
Mix all ingredients thoroughly and pour into an 8-by-8-inch pan. (Double the recipe for a 9-by-13 pan.)
Bake at 350 F for about one hour. You will know it is ready when a knife you insert into the cake comes out clean.

Tabouleh

1 cup bulgar wheat (fine)

1 cup chopped chives, or a mixture of chopped chives and onions

1 1/2 cups finely chopped fresh parsley (preferably flat leaf type)

1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

1/2 cup olive oil

1/3 cup lemon juice

3 medium-sized tomatoes, diced

salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl combine the wheat with enough cold water to cover and soak for 10-15 minutes. Drain and squeeze out excess water.
Mix the wheat and chives (or onion mixture) and squeeze together so that the juice penetrates into the wheat.
Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Michael Brown is author of “The Jewish Gardening Cookbook: Growing Plants and Cooking for Holidays and Festivals” (Jewish Lights, 1998) and lives in New Jersey.

 

Close Calls, Tense Moments in Fire


Jeff and Liz Kramer and their three teenage sons could only watch and wait. The Oak Park residents paced the sidewalk in front of their home on Thursday morning, Sept. 29, watching as the head of the Topanga Canyon Fire crept along a ridge less than 800 yards away, consuming brush and sending up billows of smoke.

“We’ve been up all night watching it,” Liz Kramer said. “It started here at about 1 a.m.”

As the Ventura County Sheriff’s fire support helicopters doused flames with water assaults, the Kramers talked with neighbors about whether to evacuate.

“The firemen keep telling us we’re fine,” Liz Kramer said. “But our cars are loaded, and we’re ready to leave.”

While the Kramer home was spared and no other Jewish homes were known to have been lost, an iconic Jewish structure was damaged. In Simi Valley at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, the roof and a set of doors of the landmark House of the Book were damaged as a firestorm raged around the building, leaving the lush hillsides blackened and a pine forrest mostly destroyed. The intense heat also caused the synagogue’s Yizkor window to crack, but the concrete structure weathered the assault.

The Topanga Canyon Fire erupted in Chatsworth off of Topanga Canyon Boulevard at 1:47 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 28, amid high temperatures and dry Santa Ana wind conditions. By early this week, it had engulfed more than 24,000 acres, requiring the mobilization of 3,000 firefighters from throughout the state. Fire officials talked of imminent full containment, while also worrying about the onset of more Santa Ana winds. The estimated cost of the fire currently stands at $9.3 million, with the cause still under investigation.

The fire destroyed three single-family homes, three commercial buildings — including one at the Rocketdyne facility between Chatsworth and Simi Valley — seven out buildings, four RVs and 35 vehicles. The fire also damaged one residence and two commercial buildings. The blaze was one of at least three significant fires that broke out last week in the Los Angeles region.

Hundreds of families were evacuated from areas affected by the Topanga Canyon Fire, including Box Canyon, Lake Manor, Woolsey Canyon, Bell Canyon, West Hills, Hidden Hills, Mountain View Estates, Las Virgenes Canyon, Chesebro Canyon, Agoura Hills and Oak Park. Among the evacuees from these upscale hillside communities was “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” Shelley Berman, who has lived in Bell Canyon since 1984.

Temple Aliyah President Marcy Howard told The Journal she evacuated her home in Mountain View, a gated community adjacent to Las Virgenes Canyon, at 4 a.m. that Thursday.

“When they tell you you’re going, nothing counts but getting your kids, your dogs and yourself [out]. You don’t know if you have five hours or five minutes,” she said.

Howard met friends at the Calabasas Commons and then ended up at Jerry’s Deli in Woodland Hills, where she said many displaced Jewish West Valley residents were congregating early Thursday morning. Howard opted to spend that night in a hotel, despite offers of shelter from numerous friends.

“Everyone has been so gracious and so lovely,” she said.

Around the Conejo and West San Fernando valleys, synagogues reported similar situations. “We had more people offering space than needed it,” said Rabbi Ted Riter of Temple Adat Elohim of Thousand Oaks.

The Conejo and West Valley have become a magnet for Jewish families in recent years, so there were bound to be scores of Jewish families affected by mandatory evacuation orders, not to mention the choking haze that hung over the region.

“We left at 3 a.m. [Thursday morning] and went to my mother-in-law’s in Thousand Oaks,” said Loury Silverman, an Oak Park resident who davened later that morning at Chabad of the Conejo.

At Brandeis-Bardin Institute, Executive Director Gary Brennglass had examined the House of the Book by that afternoon. “The exterior is OK, but the roof was damaged,” he said. “We also lost a lot of vegetation. But thank God our other buildings and bunks weren’t lost.”

While no synagogues in the Conejo or West Valley were damaged, area shuls still removed their Torahs as a precaution.

In Old Agoura, the proposed future site of Heschel West day school was unsinged. That project has long been challenged by the Old Agoura Homeowners Association, partly over concerns that it might make a wildfire evacuation more difficult.

Heschel West, at its temporary site in Agoura Hills, closed Thursday and Friday, as did the New Jewish Community Day School at Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills and schools throughout the Las Virgenes Unified School District. In the Las Virgenes Canyon area, Mesivta, an Orthodox boarding school closed on Friday. Many synagogues also canceled Hebrew school classes, but most restarted this week.

Jewish leaders exhorted community organizations to find out what people’s needs were in the affected areas.

“We can make sure that synagogues that have been displaced because of the fire will have a space for the High Holidays,” said Carol Koransky, executive director of The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance.

Or Ami took up Koransky on her offer, Rabbi Paul Kipness said. His congregation usually meets at the Agoura Hills/Calabasas Community Center during the High Holidays, but the center had been requisitioned as a staging area for firefighters. Or Ami relocated its Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services to the JCC at Milken campus gymnasium in West Hills.

“We couldn’t be sure what was going to happen, and we were concerned about the smoke for the elderly and young,” Kipness said. “And if the fire started back up, we were going to be in trouble.”

Simi Valley’s B’nai Horin congregation also had its High Holidays services moved. It normally meets at the House of the Book, which currently is without power. The Brandeis-Bardin Institute relocated B’nai Horin’s Rosh Hashanah service to its Wapner Patio, with the hope of reopening the House of the Book in time for Yom Kippur.

“The fire got very close to [Brandeis-Bardin] on Friday, but the many fire departments were able to put it out,” said the institute’s Brennglass, who now has a new worry. Since the wildfire destroyed most of the mountain vegetation above the camp, the area will be highly susceptible to mudslides if heavy rains occur.

“What we’re more concerned with now is when it rains and getting mud flows,” he said.

 

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.

 

People, Motifs Blend at The Shul


 

At the crossroads of four Miami Beach communities is a thriving Chabad synagogue that welcomes Jews of all stripes. The Shul of Bal Harbour — locally known as The Shul — is a thriving community, which draws an unusual blend of Jews from around the world.

A significant number of people who attend its services are first- and second-generation Sephardic immigrants. So many Latin Americans attend services that Shabbat announcements are made in Spanish as well as English. Like many of the more than 2,000 Chabad centers worldwide, a share of the community is not Lubavitch but “Chabad friendly.”

Even with its immense and striking architecture, the palpable sense of achdut, or unity, is perhaps what most distinguishes The Shul, which serves the communities of Bal Harbour, Bay Harbor Islands, Surfside and Indian Creek Village.

Rabbi Sholom Lipskar has served as The Shul’s spiritual leader for more than 20 years, and his sermons clearly reflect a Chabad perspective. Likewise, he and his wife, Chani, teach classes with that same outlook. Yet in what is also traditional Chabad fashion, they welcome all, as evidenced by a Sunday evening barbecue I attended during my weekend stay.

The Shabbat Torah service underscored this tangible sense of unity. A “calling gabbai” with a Galitzianer accent (along the lines of “baruch elokeni”) preceded a beautiful Torah reading by a Mizrachi member. Services in the cavernous main sanctuary were momentarily suspended while members of the Sephardic Hashem’s Minyan next door recited a resounding blessing over Kiddush.

Rabbi Joseph Oziel, who leads the minyan, also conducts classes in English and Spanish.

The Shul’s powerful sense of Jewish solidarity is well-documented. In May 1995, it hosted a meeting of the annual Sephardic Rabbis Convention, which featured an address by Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron, then the the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel.

Similarly, The Shul’s architecture integrates diverse elements from various Jewish communities. Three great old-world synagogues inspired its unique design.

The majestic, gothic cage-like bimah was inspired by the Old Synagogue of Kazimierz, Poland. The first 12 letters of the Hebrew alphabet surround the cage, recalling the ingathering of the 12 tribes of Israel with the Torah as their unifying force.

The picturesque arches and courtyard echo the Rema Synagogue of Krakow. The ark, whose triangular design draws from the Rema’s entrance, holds a Torah scroll dedicated in February that was penned in Florida.

The Shul’s twin domes, hanging lamps and open women’s balcony are reminiscent of the Great Synagogue in Warsaw.

Also of note are the more than 100 glass mezuzot created by sculptor Donnie el Berman, a congregant who also designed its evocative Wall of Souls that greets guests as they enter the building. Constructed in 1997 from 9 tons of Jerusalem stone, the 18-by-36-foot piece features cantilevered asymmetric rock outcroppings.

Within the stone itself, nine natural earth tones create a “mosaic of complementary textures and color,” Berman said. Together, they suggest a “natural landscape painting of the hills of Jerusalem.”

A large cavelike alcove is adorned with asymmetric, bent carved panels of pale-green glass that feature the names of Shul members’ departed relatives. In two side alcoves, dedication plaques memorialize the loss of life during the Holocaust and conflicts in Israel.

A wealth of fascinating, subtle details is also found throughout the wall. The word zachor (remember) is etched above. Thirty-six autumnal colored leaves from around the world appear to fall as the memorialized souls ascend toward heaven.

Scattered within its inner archways, Berman faintly carved text and images — icons of Jewish faith and continuity, including Torah passages, rabbinic teachings and a fragment of a Dead Sea Scroll.

The words “Ani ma’amin/I believe” appear in one arch. In another, tiny images recall the Tomb of Rachel the Matriarch and the ancient harps played in the Temple. Replicas of ancient Canaanite graffiti describe the Jewish people as the “foundation of the world,” a reference echoed in the biblical book of Jeremiah.

Observers recognize Maimonides 13 Principles of Faith, as well as a map depicting both the historical inheritances allotted to the biblical tribes and sites in contemporary Israel. Musical notes signify what Berman described as “souls murdered in the Holocaust who continue to sing in perpetuity.”

When asked about his choice of materials, Berman said he incorporates glass in his work, because as compressed sand, it comes from the earth.

“Jerusalem limestone is our holy stone where our forefathers walked,” he said.

The entire structure is held up by steel, which Berman pointed out translates to barzel in Hebrew. Barzel, he said, is an acronym for Bilchah, Rachel, Zilpah and Leah — Jacob’s wives and their handmaidens, who gave birth to the ancestors of the 12 tribes.

“Those are our mothers. That’s who we come from,” Berman said. “These carvings are faded in to represent our heritage, our origination thousands of years ago.”

The Shul of Bal Harbour is at 9540 Collins Ave. (305) 868-1411;

Zucky’s Counter Culture


 

There was weeping and gnashing of teeth when Zucky’s Deli in Santa Monica, mecca of pastrami sandwich and borscht lovers far and wide, abruptly closed its doors on Feb. 16, 1993.

“We were like family,” one tearful waitress recalled in an old Los Angeles Times story. “We had elderly customers, who left their homes only to come to Zucky’s.”

Now the venerable eatery, boarded up for 12 years, is in the news again.

A new building owner, John Watkins, is about to remodel and reopen the place at Wilshire Boulevard and Fifth Street as a retail store, and some nostalgic citizens are battling to retain the ex-deli’s distinctive architectural features.

Heading the effort is Adriene Biondo, chair of the Modern Committee of the Los Angeles Conservancy, who hopes that Zucky’s might be designated as an historical landmark.

“Zucky’s was designed by Weldon Fulton as a prime example of the Googie or California Coffee Shop Modern architectural genre,” Biondo said. “In any remodeling, we want to preserve the main Zucky’s signboard, exterior ceramic tiles and stonework, the diagonal treatment along Fifth Street, and the brick wall and window sills.”

Biondo has talked with Watkins, the new owner, and said that he has been very forthcoming to her requests. The city of Santa Monica architectural review board is now considering the case.

The original Zucky’s was opened in 1946, facing the former pier at Pacific Ocean Park, by the late Harry “Hy” Altman. He named the deli in honor of his wife, born Wolfine Zuckerman, but always addressed as “Zucky.”

In 1954, the deli moved to its Wilshire location after a difficult search.

“The city fathers didn’t want Jewish merchants. Santa Monica had one Jewish merchant, a dress shop, and they said one was enough,” Zucky Altman, 86, reminisced in a recent interview with Marcello Vavala, a volunteer member of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica conservancies.

Once established, the deli soon attracted a faithful clientele of movie stars, UCLA football players, stockbrokers and dentists.

Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were regulars, Altman said. So was everyone from Gold’s Gym, including a body builder named Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“We were also friendly with the nearby churches,” Altman recalled. “Preachers would say, ‘No one here leaves until I finish my sermon. Then we’ll all go over to Zucky’s.'”

“The girls [waitresses] didn’t have to ask customers what they wanted, they just knew,” Altman continued.

After their retirement in 1977, Hy and Zucky Altman endeared themselves to the needy and elderly of the Jewish community by launching SOVA, the free kosher food pantry.

The end of Zucky’s Deli came suddenly, after Health Department inspectors demanded extensive renovations costing more than $500,000. The then-owners decided to shut the place down on a few hours notice to customers and employees.

In an “obituary,” The Times noted mournfully, “It was not easy to find another deli with the same mélange of counter camaraderie, lean corned beef and devoted waitresses.”