Aerial view of Camp Newman after the Tubbs fire. Photo courtesy of Camp Newman.

Reform Camp Vows to Rise From the Ashes After Massive Fire in Northern California


No lives were lost when the Tubbs Fire tore through URJ Camp Newman near Santa Rosa in Northern California, incinerating most of its structures. But as news of the disaster spread Oct. 9, campers and alumni gathered on social media or in vigils across Southern California and throughout the United States, mourning what sometimes felt more like a close friend than a group of buildings.

Rachel Katz, 22, who recently moved to Mississippi from Los Angeles, recalled her physical reaction to hearing word of the calamity. “I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “I was at a loss for words.”

Quickly, her thoughts turned to teens she had mentored as the camp’s counselor-in-training adviser, some of whom now are counselors.

“I’m just heartbroken for my kids,” she said. “You can’t train them for something like this. You can train them for pretty much everything else, but this is where their good hearts and souls that they all had, go into practice.”

“I’m just heartbroken for my kids. You can’t train them for something like this.”–Rachel Katz

Members of the Camp Newman community gathered in homes and synagogues in states including California, Arizona, Nevada and New York in recent days to discuss the outsized importance the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) camp played in their lives, mourning ties to the camp that often spanned generations. Others took to Facebook and Instagram to tag friends in old photos and share messages of loss.

At Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, Rabbi Barry Lutz invited current and former campers to share their stories during Kabbalat Shabbat services four days after the fire, which turned prayer halls, dining facilities and cabins into piles of twisted rubble and smoking ash. Temple Beth El in San Pedro, Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley and Temple Beth Israel in Pomona were among the spiritual communities that mourned the fire during Friday night services.

A Jewish star stands on the scorched campus of Camp Newman. Photo courtesy of Camp Newman.

 

The arks that once held the Torahs at Camp Newman burned in the fire. Photo courtesy of Camp Newman.

 

The rubble of a burned building at Camp Newman. Photo courtesy of Camp Newman.

 

Vivian Gee, whose two sons attended the camp and whose daughter, 11, normally spends her summers there, addressed the congregation at the Northridge temple.

“I never went to camp, but all of my money went to camp,” Gee said jokingly.

Her eldest son, Cole, 24, met his current girlfriend at camp six years ago and still lives with three camp friends in San Francisco. Cole’s younger brother, Chandler, “who is not always wanting to be Jewish,” their mother said, nonetheless cherishes his memories of camp.

“It was such a great loss to them,” she said as her daughter, Ashlynn, and husband, Doug, sat in the pews. “It was their second home away from home. Our kids’ motto is, ‘Camp Newman is life — and the rest is just stuff.’ ”

The camp is located in Santa Rosa, a six-hour drive north of Los Angeles. Wildfires raging across Northern California have claimed more than 40 lives and burned more than 220,000 acres since breaking out Oct. 8.

On the first day of the fire, camp staff and faculty followed the news of the massive Tubbs Fire burning nearby. After midnight on Oct. 9, authorities evacuated the five permanent residents of the camp, according to camp director Rabbi Erin Mason. After that, it was a waiting game, she said.

“I was fairly certain that we were going to lose a couple buildings, but we just didn’t know the near-total loss that we were going to experience,” Mason said in a phone interview.

Camp staff was not allowed back on site until Oct. 13, the Friday after the fire, when the impact of the blaze became clear. Everything outside of seven camper cabins, the poolhouse, some staff housing and a storage shed had burned, Mason said.

But even before the scope of the damage was known — no cost estimates were available as of Oct. 17 — the camp community began to discuss how to rebuild. By the time camp staff inspected the site, a donation page launched earlier that week (campnewman.org) had raised about $150,000 — not counting what Mason had collected personally.

During a Simchat Torah celebration Mason attended Oct. 12, she said a camp mom handed her a brown paper bag and told her, “The kids wanted me to give you all their tzedakah.”

Mason said about one-third of the camp’s summer participants come from Southern California. “The connection to our Southern California community is huge and is not something that we take for granted,” she said. “We appreciate knowing people come all the way up here.”

Each summer, the camp plays host to some 1,200 third- through 12th-graders during sessions that last two to eight weeks. It also hosts gatherings for NFTY — The Reform Jewish Youth Movement, as well as schools and families.

Mason said the camp is intent on reviving its programs for the coming summer even as it remains unsure how or where.

“We don’t know what that looks like or where that looks like, but it’s first on our priority list to find out how we run camp next summer in whatever iteration that takes,” she said.

Across the region, some campers cast an eye toward rebuilding while others grieved for losses that can never be recouped.

“I’ve been hearing a lot of people say, ‘But we will rebuild,’ ‘But we’re a strong community,’ ” said Ariella Thal Simonds, a Los Angeles-based attorney. “All of that is true, but that’s not where my head is right now.”

Instead, Simonds said she was thinking about the tile murals she and fellow counselors-in-training had installed together by hand, intended to be a permanent testimony to their time and memories there.

Simonds met her husband, Rabbi Joel Simonds of University Synagogue, at Camp Newman, and the pair “had every intention” of sending their kids, who are 3 and 6, to the camp when the time came, she said.

“When we play the movie in our heads of our memories, of those special times, there’s a backdrop to them, and those places played an important role,” she said, adding, “That’s why it’s so devastating to everyone, even though everybody’s safe.”

This year, the camp celebrated 70 summers since it opened as Camp Saratoga at a nearby location, later became Camp Swig and finally Camp Newman. Rabbi Paul Kipnes of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas has been on the camp’s faculty since it moved to its current location 20 years ago.

“We’re going to be OK, and camp’s going to end up in a stronger position for the next 70 years,” he said. “The hardest part is for these kids and the staff. These are places where we made memories, where people had their first kiss, where Judaism was deeply spiritual and completely creative.”

On Oct. 11, Congregation Or Ami held a support service for those mourning the loss preceding its Simchat Torah holiday celebration.

Elsewhere across Los Angeles, thoughts of mourning mingled with hope for the future.

Emily Kane Miller, 35, lives in L.A. but grew up going to Camp Newman. Her mother attended Camp Swig.

“As childhood gets further away, knowing there are these places that exist that are touchstones for your memories is something that brings a lot of comfort, and when they go away, it’s extremely sad,” she said. “But camp was never meant to be something that is a time capsule. It’s a living place that helps to greet each new camper’s summer with fresh energy.”

Miller said she and her husband, Nate, still intend to send their kids to Camp Newman, when and where it rebuilds.

“When Nate and I talk about the things that are sort of mandatory for our kids and what we absolutely want them to do to have Jewish identities, summer camp is at the top of the list, because of [my experience at] Camp Newman,” she said. “Knowing that the space is devastated doesn’t change that for me.”

Back at Temple Ahavat Shalom on Oct. 13, Lutz, who has spent more than a dozen summers on the faculty at Camp Newman, led the congregation in song and prayer as Spencer Hyam, 16, accompanied him on the guitar, playing camp melodies.

When it came time for the Hashkiveinu prayer — “Blessed are You, Lord, who spreads a shelter of peace over us” — the congregation enacted a camp tradition, where counselors spread prayer shawls over their charges as the camp director offers blessings. At the Reform temple, parents spread tallitot over their children while Lutz led the prayer.

“Camp Newman will rise from the ashes,” he said afterward.

The fire had threatened the storage shed where the tallitot are kept that are normally used for the Haskiveinu ritual at Camp Newman, Mason said. But when camp staff returned to the site and inspected it, they were surprised by what they found.

“The ground all around that shed is burned; the ground underneath the shed is burned; the water pump behind it is burned; the trees all around it are burned,” she said. “They opened the door to the shed — and all of the siddurim and all of the tallitot are untouched.” 

Photo from Pexels

Gov. Brown signs law imposing harsher sentences on violent use of social media


Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law on Wednesday that slaps harsher sentences on those who use social media as part of a violent crime.

The law, dubbed as “Jordan’s Law” in response to a teenager being violently attacked in 2016, would allow judges to weigh the use of a video recording that had “the intent to encourage or facilitate the offense as a factor in aggravation in sentencing that defendant,” according to the text of the law.

In other words, uploading a video of a violent attack to social media with the intent of aiding and abetting the crime is an added factor when it comes to sentencing.

Assemblyman Matt Dababneh (D-Woodland Hills) said in a statement, “The number of social media motivated attacks, which has included hundreds of vicious assaults on children, the elderly, and the disabled, has risen sharply each year since the mid-2000s. We need to ensure that our criminal code keeps pace with technology, and AB 1542, by maximizing the sentence for those who conspire with attackers to videotape a violent crime, will serve as a strong message to our youth that California will not tolerate this sick desire for internet notoriety.”

In December, 14-year-old Jordan Peisner was sucker punched outside of a Wendy’s in West Hills by a 15-year-old boy who was reportedly paid by a girl to do so. Another girl recorded a video of the attack and uploaded it to Snapchat, which was the alleged motivation behind the attack. The boy received what Jordan’s father, Ed Peisner, thought was a light punishment while the girls have yet to face any sort of legal punishment.

Jordan suffered a fractured skull and brain bleeding from the sucker punch and has since suffered from “seizures, headaches and hearing loss,” according to CBS Los Angeles.

Ed Peisner told the Journal that the law was a step in the right direction.

“I’m hoping that this will serve as a pause button,” said Peisner. “Before you grab that phone and you’re about to do something that could get you in trouble, stop for a minute. Wait. Think about it. So it’s adding some accountability.”

Peisner added that social media has “no rules” and thought that schools should teach proper social media etiquette.

“We need to now adapt the way we think and what we do at schools and at home and apply it towards the digital world because they live in the digital world now,” said Peisner, “and we need some guidance there.”

Peisner said he hoped that Jordan’s Law would go national, thus fulfilling the goal of “changing the future… one child at a time.”

 

A demonstrator holds a sign to protest against the refugee ban on Feb. 4. Photo by Tom Mihalek/Reuters

Standing up for immigrants represents of our values as Jews and Californians


Few states exemplify the adage that the United States is a nation of immigrants more than California.  There is virtually no ethnicity, religion, race or nationality that isn’t represented here.  Those of us who live in and love California, as my family does, benefit in a multitude of ways from the richness and diversity of California’s immigrant community.  Without these communities, the nature of our lives in California would be significantly different, and worse for it.  This is but one of the reasons that Reform CA and many members of the Reform Jewish community of California support Senate Bill 54, The California Values Act, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León.

The main benefit of SB 54 is that it balances the precarious situation of California’s immigrant residents with the safety and security needs of all Californians. Ensuring that our state’s immigrant residents feel safe at schools, hospitals and courthouses is a crucial part of this.  For example, SB 54 protects our immigrant residents from being reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents if they come forward to assist law enforcement in criminal investigations, if they are stopped for minor traffic infractions and importantly, if they themselves are victims of a crime.  This benefits all members of our community, regardless of immigration status. At the same time, SB 54 empowers local law enforcement to communicate with federal immigration officials in the identification and apprehension of serious and serial felons and violent immigrant criminals.  The bill also allows local law enforcement to work on taskforces with federal authorities.

This legislation represents one of the most important values the Jewish tradition esteems: offering kindness and respect to strangers.  Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik suggests that whenever the Torah wishes to teach us about compassion for the oppressed, it reminds us Jews of our once-lowly status as strangers in Egypt.  For this reason writes Soloveitchik, the Torah commands us 36 times to treat the stranger kindly.

More than 100 years ago, my great grandparents made the decision to leave Kiev and make the long voyage to the United States, along with my grandfather who was only a toddler at the time. They showed up not speaking a word of English and without a penny in their pockets. This story resonates today because this is the narrative of virtually every Jew and, indeed, virtually everybody in this country.

When I speak to my congregation, comprised of roughly 800 of families, I often preach that in many ways the United States of America has been the land of milk and honey for Jews.  This is because America welcomed Jews from around the world by giving us safe harbor and sheltering us from the persecution our ancestors left behind.  I want to offer the same gift of freedom and opportunity that was bequeathed to my family to the immigrants arriving in California today.  This is why my community will join the California Reform Jewish community in Sacramento on August 22 to advocate that our lawmakers pass SB 54 this legislative session.


Rabbi Joshua M. Aaronson serves as senior rabbi at Temple Judea in Tarzana

A smashed window at Temple Israel clearly shows children’s drawings of Stars of David, Aug. 17, 2017 Photo by Mel Waldorf/J. The Jewish News of Northern California.

Windows smashed at Northern California synagogue


Published by JTA via The Jewish News of Northern California.

Police  are investigating what appears to be vandalism at Temple Israel in the Bay Area city of Alameda.

At about 6 p.m. Thursday, congregational president Genevieve Pastor-Cohen sent an email to the congregation stating, “in the morning, it was discovered that two classroom windows had been smashed,” and noting that police and Harbor Bay Security had been notified.

“During our Weds. Aug 16th Board of Directors meeting, we discussed the possibility of our synagogue being a target in our small town of Alameda especially with the ongoing expression of bigotry and anti-Semitism,” the letter continued. “It breaks my heart and soul to be exposed to this type of mindless and senseless action especially aimed at the community I (we) love.”

Congregant Mel Waldorf went to the synagogue after he received the email, and told J. that one of the windows that had been smashed “was where kids had painted Stars of David.”

He also said that another window that noted this was “the new Temple Israel” had been smashed. Waldorf said that police took away a rock the assailants had used in an effort to smash in the front door.

“There’s no question that the attacker knew this was a Jewish institution,” he told J.

In her email to the congregation, Pastor-Cohen noted that a security plan had been developed this year by a synagogue task force, and added that the plan will be re-examined after this incident “to ensure our community is protected and safe from harm, especially with our High Holy Days coming upon us.”

Police told J. that a report had been filed, and the case was being investigated. No further details were available at press time.

Keeping the peace in troubled times


Angry disagreement now dominates our national discourse, with emphasis on the “angry.”

We feel, with William Butler Yeats, that “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

I believe that however we define America, whatever principles we think it stands for, it’s worth preserving. So are our families and friendships.

Whether you think that America “was never great” or you yearn for a lost era of innocence and patriotism, no one can deny America’s achievements. No one can deny the ideals that our country has imperfectly tried to follow. People vote with their feet. Middle Eastern migrants don’t want to go to Saudi Arabia, which is much closer but won’t take them, anyway. They want to come here.

The good we have achieved, and the good we can still achieve, are things that we don’t want to throw away. America can survive a controversial president. It can’t survive being torn apart.

This is a difficult time for all of us. But we can get through it if we keep our heads and follow some common-sense rules – both personally, and as a country.

Keeping Our Personal Sanity

The personal rules are easier to follow.

First, don’t sever relationships that matter. Our relationships with family and close friends should transcend most disagreements. That also applies to other people we respect, who might have some ideas we find repugnant. If we know they’re good people whom we admire for other reasons, then we shouldn’t close the door on them permanently.

Online or in real life, I never “unfriend” family, close friends, or people I respect. Every family has its Uncle Frank who’s a staunch right-winger and Aunt Sally who’s a staunch left-winger. When they walk through the front door, we should greet them warmly, embrace them, and avoid conversation about their hot-button subjects. We can talk about the kids or the weather. Online, we can mute their posts so we remain friends but don’t have to see their political rants.

Second, forgive hurtful things that people said in heated arguments. If you’re ever in doubt, forgive them anyway. Forgiveness should be our default response. The only people exempt from this rule are those who have never said anything stupid or hurtful. Which means: nobody.

Third, remember that we all sometimes have crazy ideas. Remember that people, including us, tend to base their political beliefs more on emotion than on facts or reasoning. As a result, good people, smart people can believe things that we think are absurd. Don’t abandon them because of it.

Fourth, remember that we all sometimes change our minds. People who bitterly disagree with you today might decide tomorrow that you’re right. Or you might decide that they’re right. The fact that we feel absolutely sure of our own rightness doesn’t guarantee that we’re right, only that we’re sure.

Keeping Our Political Sanity

It might surprise you to learn that we’re not the first generation to have this kind of disagreement. In the late 1700s, the United States – referred to in the plural until the mid-20th century – were sharply divided on issues such as religion, local autonomy, and of course – to our shame – slavery.

Does this situation sound familiar?

“A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power … have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.”

That’s from Federalist Paper #10 by James Madison, published in 1788. The bitter national dissension we see today is an old problem that was solved (as well as it can be) a long time ago. We just forgot the solution.

The American Founders needed to unite the colonies into a single nation in spite of their disagreements. They did it with the last article in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” (10th Amendment)

In Federalist Paper #45, Madison explained the meaning:

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce …The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

We’ve heard a lot about the disagreements between California and other parts of the country, most notably with the Trump White House. It’s what’s got some people promoting “Calexit.”

But what if the federal government had no power to tell the State of California how to run its internal affairs, except for basic human rights and issues affecting the entire country? Then it wouldn’t matter what the president wanted to do. He or she wouldn’t be able to do it. Calexit would be superfluous.

Going back to the Constitution isn’t without cost. Apart from the legal hurdles, it requires a willingness to “live and let live.” Arbitrary power seems like a great idea when you’re the one who’s got it. But when it’s in the hands of people with whom you disagree, it’s suddenly a lot less appealing. If we don’t want people in Kentucky dictating how people live in California, then we must give up the idea that people in California may dictate to people in Kentucky how they are required to live.

The U.S. Constitution can solve our political problems, if we’ll let it.

California’s next move


With its worst fears realized and President Trump now a reality, Californians need to look forward.  We need a new approach as to how residents of the Golden State can influence the national election.  Because, since 1980 (and again in 1984), when the national news organizations called the race for Reagan while Californians were still finishing their afternoon meditation before heading to the polls, it seems the most meaningful way Golden State residents can influence election is with cocktail parties and fundraisers.  Politicians of all stripes stop in our state, to feast on tofu dumplings, non-dairy cheese served on gluten free crackers, and local – organic – wine, for only one reason: Money.

As we look ahead to 2020, if we want to make a meaningful difference, we need to be more strategic with our dollars, combining Silicon Valley ingenuity and entrepreneurship with Southern California creativity.  And by that, I do not mean hosting more Hollywood and Silicon Valley events.  (If there is one beacon of light in Trump’s victory, it is that LA freeways will have fewer days of gridlock.)  We can jointly contribute our tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars not to the Democratic party or specific candidates for President but rather to the one thing that can most ensure Trump’s defeat in four years:  Move.

Hold on, no need to reach for the Xanax and Ativan that line your medicine cabinet.  Or for the cannabis growing in your yard (likely long before it was made legal on November 8).  I am not suggesting permanently leaving our great state. 

The ‘move’ will be only for a short time period.  Enough to declare residency in a state that went for Trump in 2016 and use your vote to make a difference.  Calm down, breathe.  No, you won’t have to trade in your Tesla or Prius for a Ford pickup. 

“But – “

It’s okay, I know your next worry.  No need to dust off your winter coats, the out of style parka, or that Michelin tire looking bubble jacket that surely was the right look once upon a time before you headed west.   You don’t even have to hurry to get your KJUS or Bogner jacket back from your winter home in Sun Valley or Aspen.  You know, the jackets you wear to the après ski parties.

“Oh.  Good.  But – “

Yes, you can still keep your tan.

“I can?”

Yes.

“And –“

Yes, your surfboard too.

“Dude, what’s the deal?”

Okay, so I have your attention.  

California residents donated approximately $100 million to Hillary Clinton and the Democrat Party.  That’s a lot of money for a losing candidate and party.  I suggest we channel that money to buy real estate in the sunny – yes I said sunny – state of Florida.

Here’s the plan:  Money we would set aside for the next Presidential campaign will be pooled to buy single family homes and apartments in different parts of Florida. Call it the NextMove Fund.  We’ll get homes closer to the beach for those who can’t be away from surf and sand.  A sprinkle of condos will be purchased near South Beach for those who need the paparazzi snapping photos of them. 

All we need are 120,000 votes to win Florida in the next election.  Each home will have a minimum of 4 beds so we need to purchase 30,000 homes.  At an average price of $200,000, the current average price for a home in Florida, the total needed to buy all of the properties will be $6,000,000,000.  But, thanks to our new President, mortgage rules will certainly be relaxed (ah, remember those days?), so the most we will have to put down will be $600 million.  Yeah, that leaves us short so we will essentially use each house as collateral for the next, taking out second and third mortgages to raise the money we need.  So, yes, all we need is 1-2% to fund this entire operation.  Crazy!  Impossible, you say?  Did you see ‘The Big Short’?  Right, I know it only won an Oscar for Adapted Screenplay and that doesn’t really count.  But you saw it.   

And here’s the beauty.  It’s an investment.  Unlike campaign contributions that give you no tax or financial benefit, these properties will bring rental income once the next election is over.  Maybe we can even pool the properties and go public and really make some money. 

“IPO”

That’s right.  The NextMove Fund will IPO.  We’ll hire Goldma Sachs.  Easy.  And, as soon as the election is over, you can leave.  You didn’t think we were going to ask you to stay more than a few months, did you? 

I couldn’t see your brow furl up because your skin is so taut. 

All you need to do is live in Florida for a period of time required to be considered a Floridian.  Once you own a home, you can become a permanent resident, which then entitles you to a driver’s license, which you can then use to register to vote.   You just need to register 29 days before the next election. 

Come summer 2020, you can begin your vacation as usual, on your yacht off the coast of Italy.  Stay longer overseas if you want to avoid hurricane season, or if you wish, come back to your now second home in California while rain batters the Southeast.  In fact, you’ll be doing your Floridian neighbors a favor because when it rains, you won’t know how to drive and the idea of buying plywood to board your windows is as foreign to you as retrofitting your water heater or buying earthquake insurance.  NextMove will have your house for you, in your name.  Arrive in Florida in time to get your driver’s license and vote.  Just make sure to punch your ballot correctly!

“Did you say permanent – “

Yoga time!  Breathe in and out through your nose, close your eyes, stand in tadasana.  And listen closely.  Nothing is permanent in life.  Nothing.  Neither is living in Florida.  Permanent is the new temporary.  Wink, wink.  You just need to keep repeating permanent because that will get you the driver’s license.  You need the license to be able to vote.

“But – “

I know, I know.  You don’t want to be a resident of Florida forever.  Who does?  After all, hurricanes, alligators, the Jacksonville Jaguars, hurricanes, Zika.

“Zika!”

Each property comes with an endless supply of mosquito repellent.  With fragrance.  Because we understand.  The Jaguars on the other hand.  We can’t help you there. 

“But what about Zika! “

Chill.  The CDC just said the fear has passed.  You have more to worry about tanning salons than Zika.

“Okay, I am in.  But –“

Wisconsin, Michigan and Pencelvania?  We’ll leave that to the kind folks from Illinois, New York and the rest of the Northeast.  They know how to live with the cold.

Jewish community frames Prop. 57 as social justice cause


Martin Cruz owes his freedom to the California juvenile justice system. 

His childhood essentially ended at age 8, when he saw a friend shot five times and killed. Soon enough, he was part of a gang, and at 16, after years of cycling in and out of the juvenile justice system, a district attorney tried to send him to adult court.

“If I had been sent to adult court, I would be done,” he told an audience at Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) on a recent Tuesday evening. “I would probably still be in prison today.”

Seated in plastic chairs set in semicircles in the Reform synagogue’s meeting hall, shul members and representatives from other faith communities and social justice organizations had gathered to hear about Proposition 57. The measure on the November ballot aims to reduce California’s prison population through a variety of methods, including by ending the practice of allowing prosecutors to send minors to adult court without approval from a judge.

In advance of the election, Prop. 57 made its way into High Holy Days sermons across the city, including that of TIOH’s Rabbi Jocee Hudson, who moderated the Oct. 18 panel. 

While critics have raised safety concerns, the proposal sponsored by Gov. Jerry Brown has earned the support of Reform CA, the progressive Jewish organization Bend the Arc, and the California chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women.

The measure would allow nonviolent offenders to earn parole after they serve the sentences for the primary offense that landed them in prison. In addition, it instructs the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to consider educational and rehabilitative achievements when weighing a prisoner’s early release. 

But perhaps the most important step Prop. 57 would take, Hudson said, relates to juveniles being sent to adult court. When the synagogue adopted criminal justice reform as one of its initiatives and she began learning more about the prison system in California, she said, “I didn’t realize that juveniles could be sentenced to life — I mean, without parole.” 

For every six youths sent to adult court, California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) estimates that five of them are there at the sole discretion of a prosecutor, contributing to harsher sentences and longer prison terms.

 Things would have gone much differently for Cruz if he had been tried as an adult, according to Elizabeth Calvin, a Human Rights Watch attorney and co-author of Prop. 57.

“Everyone in the courtroom would have operated under the myth that he was an adult,” she said, speaking beside him at the Hollywood congregation. “And he would have faced adult prison time.”

Instead, Cruz said, he got the chance to seek therapy in a juvenile detention facility and learn about himself, eventually reforming his behavior. Today, he’s a father and film student at West Los Angeles College.

But thousands of youths in California are never afforded that opportunity — roughly 44,000 of them, according to the LAO.

“We don’t give them the right to vote, we don’t give them the right to buy cigarettes, we don’t give them the right, under 16, to drive, but we’re willing to put them into the adult system and treat them like adults,” Miriam Aroni Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor and Temple Israel member, said at the event.

She said she became jaded as she watched politicians pass harsher and harsher sentencing laws during her 15 years as a prosecutor.

“I became deeply troubled during those 15 years by the willingness of our justice system to throw away a generation of young people,” she said.

Each panelist encouraged the audience to support Prop. 57, painting it as a crucial social justice issue for religious communities.

“California’s justice system is terribly broken, really from one end to the other,” said Calvin, the Human Rights Watch attorney. “As people of faith, as people who care about repairing the world, we have to wade in and decide that we’re going to fix it piece by piece by piece.”

That, more or less, is the pitch Brown made to Southern California rabbis in April, hoping to earn their support for the measure. At a meeting in Beverly Hills called by Leo Baeck Temple Senior Rabbi Ken Chasen, at Brown’s request, the governor urged about two dozen rabbis to get behind Prop. 57, said Hudson, who was present at the meeting.

He told the rabbis he’s supporting the measure with surplus campaign funds as a way of seeking “prophetic justice” for a mandatory sentencing law he signed during his first term, which contributed to an increasing prison population. 

“It was a very profound experience, I thought, for him to say to us, publicly, ‘I put this law into effect in my first term; I never anticipated what the consequences of it would be,’ ” Hudson told the Journal.

Brown has made similar statements in more public venues. In an Oct. 21 op-ed in the Bay Area’s Mercury News, he wrote of his support for mandatory sentencing, “My idea then was to add greater certainty in sentencing, but it turned out just the opposite. The legislature kept changing sentences by passing hundreds and hundreds of new crime laws.”

Opponents of the measure — including a host of California law enforcement officers associations and district attorneys — see it as a public danger that would put violent criminals on the streets. L.A. county’s sheriff and its district attorney have joined the opposition campaign.

The “No on 57” campaign has gone so far as to distribute playing cards with pictures of rapists and murderers under the words, “Meet your new neighbors.”

“The summary says that it applies to nonviolent offenders,” said L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, speaking at an Oct. 20 news conference alongside a number of city leaders opposed to the measure. “But the truth of the matter is that the way it was written, human traffickers, who we’re trying hard to get off the streets, would actually be eligible to be released earlier.”

In fact, the measure fails to outline its definition of nonviolent crime. Instead, it assumes any crime not listed as violent in the penal code is nonviolent, according to the LAO. 

In general, Jewish activism in favor of the reform has focused on social justice and teshuvah — repentance — rather than public safety. But Krinsky, the former federal prosecutor, did address the issue during the TIOH event.

“As a matter of outcomes, we’re not making our community any safer” by trying juveniles as adults, she said. “Kids we put into our adult system are at greater risk of future criminal conduct.”

California needs anti-BDS bill to fight discrimination


Introduced in response to the “BDS Movement,” a growing international campaign of intolerance and bigotry operating under the guise of human rights advocacy, AB 2844 is an important and needed law that will help to protect many Californians from discrimination. AB 2844 would, in essence, prohibit the state from contracting with entities that engage in discriminatory activity, including, but not limited to, discriminatory activity targeting Jews and those of Israeli origin.

[OPPOSITION: Gov. Brown should veto flawed BDS law]

Many other states have adopted similar laws and with the thoughtful revisions to AB 2844 that were made through the legislative process, there is no question that AB 2844 passes constitutional muster while also protecting a minority group in California that is under concerted attack.

I have written extensively on the BDS Movement generally and the constitutionality of restrictions on BDS Movement activity in the United States specifically.  My most recent paper, “The Inapplicability of First Amendment Protections to BDS Movement Boycotts” was published in the Cardozo Law Review de novo and is available here.  This paper demonstrates the constitutionality of AB 2844, especially with regard to First Amendment concerns.

Some of those who oppose anti-BDS laws, and AB 2844 in particular, have argued that BDS activity is subject to the same type of constitutional protections that civil rights boycotts enjoy.  Indeed, the initial legal analysis prepared by the legislature for AB 2844 contained this deeply flawed position. However, after a number of constitutional scholars, including my legal foundation, informed the state of its erroneous legal conclusion, the record was corrected and the legislature resumed consideration of AB 2844.

As a legal matter, there is no question that AB 2844 is a common sense, reasonable and permissible state action to combat discrimination, no different from other actions against discriminatory conduct, such as bans on state and local employee travel to states with anti-LGBTQ policies.  As a policy matter, there is great urgency in having the State of California take a stand against the increasingly hateful targeting of Jews and Californians of Israeli-descent, and their businesses. 

While those who support the BDS Movement claim that it is a rights movement, the truth is that it is nothing more than a revival of the old Arab League boycott against Israel, reinvigorated with a savvy public relations arm and backed by designated terror organizations and sponsors of international hate.  The BDS Movement came to life at the behest of, among other state actors, Iran, in a conference that former California Congressman Tom Lantos described as “an anti-American, anti-Israel circus…a transparent attempt to de-legitimize the moral argument for Israel’s existence as a haven for Jews.” 

BDS Movement activity has, as its ultimate goal, the elimination of the modern State of Israel and the disenfranchisement of Jews worldwide from their historic homeland.  In recent testimony before Congress, Dr. Jonathan Schanzer identified ties between supporters of designated terror groups, such as Hamas, and key supporters of the BDS Movement. 

BDS Movement activities in California have a particularly important impact on me.  My mother was born in a small village in what was then known as Czechoslovakia in 1933.  Her family was persecuted by an organized group that sought to demonize and disenfranchise Jewish residents under the guise of protecting the rights of others.  While many Czechs thought that the incremental vilification and targeting of their Jewish neighbors was a passing occurrence or one that would not concern them, when the Nazis invaded and began rounding up Jews it was too late to take action.  My mother was taken from her home by SS agents and while everyone in her family other than her (and her mother and father) were slaughtered in extermination camps, through a stroke of luck my mother was allowed to immigrate to the United States in 1942.  The fate of those in my father’s family who remained in the Ukraine had no such luck, as a frenzied population, driven my anti-Jewish agitprop, worked with the Nazis to eradicate Jews from their midst.

Today, the BDS Movement dutifully spreads a similar agenda of hate and discrimination and has unfortunately found a home in California.  Under the banner of the BDS Movement, radical Islamist groups operate on college campuses, intimidating and silencing Jewish students, spreading misinformation meant to encourage anti-Semitic activity and preventing Jewish and Israeli academics from participating in university activities.  In addition, BDS Movement boycott activity negatively impacts commercial markets in California.

In a recent decision by the International Executive Board of the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), one of the country’s largest labor unions, the union found that the BDS Movement “espouses discrimination and vilification” of union members and a local union’s support of BDS was found to “Intrude upon [the union’s constitution] by subverting the Union in collective bargaining…[and] would have a far reaching  economic impact on UAW and other union members.” 

The words of the UAW speak volumes about the true nature of BDS and the impact of BDS support:

…the local union’s BDS Resolution inherently targets … Israeli and/or Jewish members…this call to action by the local union, in association with the BDS Resolution, is in disregard of the rights of … members of the UAW.  Moreover, this type of activity is suggestive of discriminatory labeling and a disparagement of these members

Similarly, the local union’s [BDS resolution engages in] biased targeting of Israeli/Jewish UAW members….

…we find that the provisions of the BDS Resolution, despite semantical claims to the contrary by the local union, can easily be construed as academic and cultural discrimination against union members on the basis of their national origin and religion

…notwithstanding the denotation and connotation of words, it is our unanimous belief that the notion of BDS, credibly espouses discrimination and vilification against Israelis and UAW members who are of Jewish lineage….Thus, the local union’s platform is apparent in its unfavorable stance against the State of Israel, Israelis, and, invariably, Jewish union members.

On this basis, the UAW found that BDS support violates the UAW’s International Constitution’s prohibition on discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion and national origin.

Make no mistake about it, while the BDS Movement is not openly advocating a Nazi-like agenda, their goal is to weaken, delegitimize and ultimately eliminate the Jewish identity of the Middle East (and all vestiges of it throughout the world). 

If the BDS Movement was, in fact, truly concerned with human rights in the Middle East, they’d be taking action against the homophobic, xenophobic and misogynistic policies of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas (and neighboring countries’ governments).  Instead, they are trying to destroy the only true liberal democracy in the Middle East and the only country in the region that respects and supports LGBTQ rights.  Recent activities on UC campuses, including targeted harassment of Jewish students by BDS supporters and fostering of radical anti-Semitic activities to marginalize Jewish voices on campuses are simply the tip of the iceberg of this hate movement.

Supporters of the BDS Movement argue that they have a right to protest against Israel and AB 2844 in no way infringes upon this right.  If Governor Brown signs AB 2844 into law, Californians can still take to the streets to voice their opinions against Israel and individual Californians can, if they so choose, avoid doing business with Israel.  

We can all agree that the people of California overwhelmingly oppose discrimination and there is no question that the BDS Movement is an organization that promotes discrimination. AB 2844 is simply an exercise of California’s proprietary power to spend or invest state funds in a manner that reflects the moral and economic interests of the people of the State of California.  AB 2844 follows the same longstanding policy against discriminatory boycotts as is enshrined in a number of federal laws, including the anti-boycott provisions of the Export Administration Act and Treasury Department regulations.

The State of California not only has the constitutional authority to choose to not do business with those who foster discrimination, it has a moral obligation to avoid contributing to such activity.  Governor Brown should sign AB 2844 into law.


Marc Greendorfer is an attorney and founder of Zachor Legal Institute, a legal foundation that focuses on constitutional scholarship and rights advocacy

Governor Brown should veto flawed BDS law


Since March, the California legislature has struggled to draft a bill aimed at thwarting BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.  As readers of these pages know, BDS is a movement that promotes South Africa-style boycott and divestment strategies to oppose Israel and its policies. For many of its supporters, BDS is a way to challenge the very legitimacy of the Jewish state.

[OPPOSITION: In support of AB 2844]

After a torturous path of amendment and revision, the State legislature now has in AB 2844 something it thinks it can live with.  But the revised bill, however well-intentioned, remains seriously flawed.  Governor Brown should veto it.

Earlier versions of the bill would have created a list of companies that participate in BDS – defined to include boycotts targeting Israel or settlements – and prohibited companies on the list from becoming state contractors (a blacklist). After being cautioned by its own legal counsel that economic boycotts qualify as protected free speech under the First Amendment, the legislature abandoned its original scheme and converted AB 2844 into a generic anti-discrimination law.

The new law requires state contractors to certify, under penalty of perjury, that they comply with California’s anti-discrimination laws, including the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Unruh Act.  The bill does not mention BDS, but it cautions that any policy maintained by state contractors “against a Sovereign nation or peoples, including but not limited to the nation and people of Israel,” may not be used to discriminate in violation of those laws.

If this sounds a little confusing, it is.  It is not clear whether AB 2844 prohibits any conduct that is not already illegal under California law, because state contractors are already required to certify that they comply with anti-discrimination laws. And the formal findings and analyses that accompany the bill do not explain what, if anything, the new bill would add to existing rules.

The bill does send a symbolic message that California opposes BDS.  And AB 2844 avoids the pitfalls of many anti-BDS bills and regulations recently adopted in other states, which unconstitutionally penalize participation in BDS, and which will almost certainly face credible legal challenges.

Nevertheless AB 2844 is unsound.  The bill’s lack of precision creates a serious risk that courts will give it unexpected interpretations, and it could become a victim of the law of unintended consequences.  On top of all that, it is unfair to put contractors at risk of perjury – with potential criminal sanctions – by requiring them to sign a certification for such a confounding statute.

The legislative history of waffling and revision on the proposal will likely subject the legislature to embarrassment and ridicule for pandering to anti-BDS, pro-settlement forces in the Jewish community.  After learning that it could not prohibit state contractors from exercising their constitutional right to participate in BDS, it looks like the legislature scrambled to come up with something, anything, to please these groups.  And yet, in a backhanded way, the bill legitimizes BDS. It states, in effect, that it is perfectly fine to support BDS, so long as you don’t discriminate in the process. And although some claim that BDS is by its very nature anti-Semitic, if there is one point of clarity in AB 2844, it is that BDS is not intrinsically discriminatory against Jews or others.

Finally, there lurks beneath the bill a difficult and complex question about what it means to have a policy against “the nation and people of Israel.”  There are many strong supporters of the State of Israel, including our organization Americans for Peace Now, who oppose the extreme positions of BDS, but who support a boycott of economic activities that further Israel’s dangerous settlement policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Does the “the nation and people of Israel” in AB 2844 include settlements that the United States government has long declared illegitimate and that are clearly illegal under international law?  

Whether state government should get involved in foreign policy issues is always a difficult question.  That state government needs to be particularly sensitive when entering the thicket of the Israel-Palestine conflict should be self-evident. The fact is, there is no pressing BDS problem that warrants this amount of legislative attention. Nobody is claiming that hordes of state contractors are boycotting Israel, let alone using BDS as a pretext to discriminate against women, the disabled, racial minorities or Jews.

The California experience shows that efforts to defeat BDS legislatively will, ineluctably, run into serious constitutional hurdles and likely will result in ineffective if not counterproductive laws.  Here, AB 2844 will give exposure to the BDS movement, but it’s just not clear what else it will do – and it’s not clear as of now whether that exposure will harm the movement. The BDS controversy is best left to those who can educate, persuade and influence.  This is an issue for public discourse, not confusing and muddled legislation.


Steven J Kaplan and Sanford Weiner are Americans for Peace Now National Board Members. Steven J Kaplan is Chair of the Los Angeles Region of APN.

California may soon legalize pot, but what does Jewish law say?


Among the more puzzling of the Jewish mitzvot is the commandment to get so drunk on Purim that you can’t distinguish the hero from the villain in the holiday story.

This year, recounted Rabbi Yisroel Engel, director of Chabad of Colorado, one ultra-Orthodox Denver man decided to ditch the booze and substitute marijuana brownies to achieve the required inebriation.

“I found that very bizarre,” Engel said in a phone interview.

The experiment was the exception to the rule in Denver’s Orthodox community, Engel said: Most understand that whatever state laws might say, recreational use of marijuana stands contrary to the values of Orthodox Judaism.

“It’s great to get high,” Engel said. “But you know what? You can get high on spirituality, on the soul, on prayer. Get high on God.”

The conventional Orthodox line on marijuana is at best ambivalent.

Nobody is suggesting that taking a puff of cannabis is like eating pork,” said Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, an Orthodox lecturer, writer and pulpit rabbi in Manhattan.

Rosen compared the Jewish view on cannabis to that of wine, which halachah allows — even encourages — but only in moderation.

“Drunkenness is totally disapproved of,” he said, dismissing Purim as a debatable exception. In general, “nobody is in favor of being drunk. But in small quantities of wine, it’s a mitzvah.”

On Nov. 8, Californians will have a chance to vote to legalize marijuana, and in fact, it seems likely they will: A statewide UC Berkeley poll of California voters published last month showed more than 60 percent of California voters favor legalization.

But just because Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, would legalize the drug in California doesn’t mean it would become allowable under Jewish law.

Though most Orthodox authorities consider smoking weed a frivolous pursuit to be discouraged, an end to pot prohibition creates an opportunity to reconsider some of the halachic and religious considerations around lighting up.

To be sure, Jewish texts bristle with verses that poseks — interpreters of Talmudic law — use to prohibit the smoking of marijuana.

Deuteronomy 4:15: “For your own sake, therefore, be most careful.”

Leviticus 19:2: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”

Numbers 15:39: “Do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge.”

For Diaspora Jews, though, the clearest prohibition is perhaps dina d’malchuta, literally, sovereign law — Aramaic shorthand for the concept that an observant Jew should obey civil authorities as well as rabbinical ones.

Legalizing weed would lighten the dina d’malchuta concerns around using cannabis. But Jewishly speaking, the absence of a prohibition doesn’t constitute permission.

“The idea, ‘Well if something is not illegal it must be OK,’ is very much not a Jewish idea,” said Rabbi Mark Washofsky, professor of Jewish law and practice at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.

“Lots of things are not prohibited,” he went on. “At the same time, you might not want to spend a whole lot of time using them. … Just because you’re allowed to drink wine doesn’t mean you should be a drunkard.”

And although wine proves a useful analogy, pot is not explicitly addressed in the Torah. Where the word of law is unclear, as it is with cannabis, the normal Jewish prescription is dialogue.

“Merely because the state of California decides to legalize marijuana does not mean anything for Jews until we talk about it,” Washofsky said.

As it stands, much of the Orthodox mainstream rejects marijuana entirely. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986), the Lithuanian-born posek whose pre-eminence in American Jewry is such that the Orthodox often refer to him by only his first name, Rav Moshe, declared smoking marijuana to be “obviously forbidden.”

“It destroys his mind, and prevents him from understanding things properly,” he wrote in “Igros Moshe,” a nine-volume halachic commentary. “This is a terrible thing, since not only can the individual not properly study Torah, he also can not pray and properly perform mitzvot [commandments], since doing them mindlessly is considered as if they were not done at all.”

To bolster his opinion, the rabbi cites the punishment for gluttony offered in Deuteronomy: death by stoning.

A Torah of cannabis

Sure enough, there are those, such as Yoseph Needleman, who dismiss Feinstein’s prohibition as “suck-up-to-the-man disinformation.”

That’s the message in his 2009 book (written under a pseudonym), “Cannabis Chassidis: The Ancient and Emerging Torah of Drugs (A Memoir),” about the canned answers he received from mainstream rabbis when he was looking for guidance as a high schooler as to how the Jewish religion treats pot.

“Not that I thought I would find one, but I wanted a tradition that was helpful about how to enjoy drugs better — specifically, reefer,” he said. “Because that was a wholly natural thing, according to all the rumors on the street.”

That search led him to Jerusalem, where he spoke with the Journal in March at a café in the Nachlaot neighborhood.

Yoseph Needleman

Needleman is a lanky, bearded man whose words tumble quickly after one another in a rush of enthusiasm. He stretched out his long legs at a sidewalk table on a street of hip coffee shops where it’s not uncommon to walk past several Friday pleasure-seekers rolling marijuana cigarettes in public.

Marijuana laws are more stringent in Israel, but both society and police are just as tolerant of it in some places as they are in California. One gets the sense the cops consider other matters more pressing in Israel.

Where most Orthodox poseks read the holy texts as prohibitive of marijuana use, Needleman sees a potential guide for the perplexed stoner.

For example, in the introduction to his book, he cites Proverbs 25: “‘If you get a taste of honey, take only as little as you need and let the rest pass, lest ye take too much and vomit it all up.”

“Very deep, right?” Needleman probes in the book. “Anything ‘sweet,’ this applies for.”

The Jewish tradition of smoking pot is old and deep, he argues.

Needleman is fond of quoting Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye, biographer of the Baal Shem Tov (Israel ben Eliezer), the mystical founder of Chassidism. Yosef once claimed he would trade his portion in this world and the next, all for just a taste of what the Baal Shem Tov got from his pipe.

Law and stigma

Then as now, divisions in Jewish opinion were stark. In a 1772 letter, the Vilna Gaon, a legendary Torah scholar, excommunicated the followers of the Baal Shem Tov, taking issue with their dancing, exuberant methods of prayer and their smoking.

In today’s terms, the letter might have read, “What exactly is it that they’re smoking over there?”

There are many who now take a similar disapproving view of Needleman’s cannabis theology.

“If that’s what you’re talking about as spiritual experience, then Timothy Leary must have been the most spiritual person ever,” said Rosen, the Orthodox lecturer, referring to the psychedelic pioneer who popularized LSD.

“I don’t call that spiritual,” he added. “I call that something else: altered mind state.”

But then, there are plenty who are inclined to agree with Needleman on the spiritual potential of marijuana use.

The manager of marijuana law and policy for the Drug Policy Alliance, Amanda Reiman, is among the top backers of Proposition 64 in the state.

Reiman grew up in the Reform tradition, though today she no longer observes most rituals. Once a year, however, she gets together with a group of friends on Yom Kippur to light up and share insights on how they hope to change and grow in the new Jewish year.

“I would say it’s absolutely been a helpful tool in terms of spirituality,” she said in an interview.

But aside from her own practice, Reiman believes that legalizing pot is a Jewish imperative because marijuana prohibition disproportionately affects marginalized populations, she said.

“As Jews, we’ve had so much in our history of being marginalized and unfairly persecuted,” she said. “I think we have a responsibility to recognize that this has been happening to our communities of color for decades in the United States, and we need to play an active role in righting those wrongs.”

In that belief, she might find some support from halachah.

“If you see an injustice, you have to fix it,” said Washofsky, the Reform rabbi. “That’s what Jewish law tells us. But how we understand the definition of injustice is not always determined by the text. Sometimes we have to look at the world and make the decision on our own.”

Coexisting with cannabis

For years, Ean Seeb, a marijuana entrepreneur in Denver, wanted to sponsor the local Jewish Community Center’s annual poker tournament, and for years the organizers turned him down because they were uncomfortable carrying the logos for his marijuana businesses.

This year, they reached out to him to say they were going to be allowing cannabis-related sponsors and branding.

For Seeb, a regional board member for the Anti-Defamation League who’s active with JEWISHcolorado (formerly the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado), the reversal is a signal that “the negative stigma of cannabis users is slowly fading away.”

If California voters choose to legalize marijuana, run-ins between the recreational marijuana industry and Jewish communities here would be likely, if not inevitable.

They wouldn’t be without precedent: At one time, the South Robertson district, which encompasses several heavily Jewish neighborhoods, was home to more than 20 medical cannabis dispensaries, said Doug Fitzsimmons, president of the South Robertson Neighborhoods Council.

For the most part, dispensaries and the neighborhood’s religious institutions coexisted without problems, Fitzsimmons said. Over time, though, it became clear that a lack of strict regulation created nuisances to the community. Because dispensaries are cash businesses, robberies were frequent, and customers would sometimes loiter and smoke weed in front of the shops, Fitzsimmons said.

After a crackdown on dispensaries citywide by the city of Los Angeles, the number of shops dwindled. But if recreational pot becomes legal after the November vote, demand for the plant could bring such businesses flocking back to Robertson Boulevard.

Talking to kids about pot

Each year, Bruce Powell, founding head of school at de Toledo High School in West Hills (formerly New Community Jewish High School), gives a talk to the school’s entire student body. He tells the teens to ask themselves five questions before doing anything:

Is it legal? Is it moral? Does it comport with Jewish values? Is it going to hurt another human being? Can you proudly tell your grandmother about it?

Powell’s prescription addresses risky behavior more broadly. But with regard to marijuana, a change in the law would modify the students’ answer to the first of those questions: Although the product would still be forbidden for those younger than 21, it would exist in the same legal classification as alcohol.

But Proposition 64 wouldn’t touch any of the other questions. Notably, Powell said, it would not impact the Jewish values on which the high school bases its drug and alcohol education.

“This is definitely going to be another challenging parenting moment,” he said of the likely change in legal status. However, “it’s no different than parents talking to their children about drinking, about driving, about sex.”

In all those conversations, Jewish teachings figure prominently for Powell.

“Everything is created b’tselem Elohim [in the image of God],” he said in an interview. “So how do we want to treat that image? Do we want to diminish that image?  Do we want to increase that image? And then we ask the question: What do drugs do to that image? Do they help the image? Do they increase the image?”

Meanwhile, at Chabad of Colorado, Engel has a different strategy for dissuading people from toking.

Instead, he suggested, “Try POT — stands for ‘put on tefillin.’ ”

If you will it, it is no dream


Every trip to New York for me is a return to the old country. Even in California, I live in the sixth borough; a bicoastal netherworld that feels like the real thing though I am 3,000 miles away on the Best Coast.

Still, New York has changed profoundly since I last lived here back in the ‘80s and as a child growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Most striking perhaps is how I can walk almost anywhere without fearing that I will be mugged or worse by a guy jonesing for his next vial of crack.

I live to walk in any city, but none more than The City. Alfred Kazin’s adoring portrait of working-class Jewish Brownsville, A Walker in the City, has been my talmud since I read it for the first time in my twenties.

On this most recent trip back to the New Jerusalem I revisited Brownsville and East New York with Bill Helmreich, a City College sociology professor whose mind is like Google when it comes to New York. The professor has walked every street in the city and has almost perfect recall of what he has seen, learned and eaten.

I meet Bill and his wife Helaine, an accomplished writer in her own right, under the elevated A train near Liberty and 80th Street in Ozone Park, Queens. Arriving early, I browse the Bangladeshi markets on 101st Avenue, taking in the ad in the window of one of the stores for Qurbani. Curious about this holiday I have never heard of, I go online and learn that Qurbani, celebrated during Eid-ul Adha is an act to commemorate the Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrifice as mentioned in the Quran. Qurbani in Islamic law means the slaughtering of an animal with the intention of getting close to Allah by giving the meat to the poor.

The author of thirteen books, including The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City (Princeton University Press, 2013), Helmreich’s next must-read for anyone who wants to discover New York, The Brooklyn Nobody Knows – An Urban Walking Guide (Princeton), is due out soon. I read the book’s galley proofs on Brownsville and East New York while heading over to Brooklyn.

Helmreich starts our tour on Blake Avenue in East New York, an area I remember as where Goodie, Mr. Goodie, who did collections for my uncle’s burglar alarm business, was twice mugged in a day back in the late ‘70s when I worked for the company as well.

We are near the Louis Pink Houses on Linden Blvd, perhaps the most infamous of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) projects in a neighborhood still known as the most dangerous in all of New York. The Pink Houses is a place where guys involved in drug deals gone bad have been thrown to their death out the window of an apartment on one of the upper floors. With a waiting list of several hundred thousand people seeking admission to public housing in New York City, East New York and neighboring Brownsville have New York’s highest concentration of public housing.

Helmreich has taken us here, just several blocks away, to see the Mafia graveyard on streets like Elden between Linden Blvd and Blake Avenue.

Gone is Murder Inc., the brutal Jewish/Italian gang that once ran numbers and other rackets in the area. Still, the Mafia graveyard is where a Genovese Family capo ran a chop shop and where hundreds of bodies of their victims are rumored to have been buried. The victims would be drained of their blood and chopped up and buried in this area which in places looks more like rural parts of New Jersey or Long Island than East Brooklyn. With its overgrown lots littered with industrial equipment and trucks, the streets here remind me of forgotten, undeveloped parts of Pacoima and Van Nuys. There are even the occasional well-tended gardens of industrious residents who find a higher use for the open space that can still be found here, a short distance from the projects.

I ask Professor Helmreich, “Where are New York’s poor moving given the City’s unstoppable gentrification?” To the Rockaways, the West Bronx and the mid-Bronx. The hipster gentrification that has hit the Rockaways is in the 80s and 90s while the poor are concentrated in the 30s, 40s and 50s.

East New York and Brownsville have special resonance for me as they are where my father was born and lived until his family, like so many other Jews, left the shtetl for better off areas of Brooklyn and beyond. In his case it was Ocean Avenue and Avenue V close to Neck Road (Gravesend Neck Road) in Sheepshead Bay. From there he was zoned to attend the renowned James Madison High School, where his classmates included Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Notorious RBG was also a candidate for office the year my father was elected president of the school.

Leaving the Mafia graveyard, we head to Alabama Avenue near New Lots Avenue, to my father’s East New York childhood home. He’s now 83 but he remembers like it was yesterday, the extended family life and the rock fights he and the other Jewish kids on his end of the block had with the Italian kids on the other end of Alabama. My father’s red brick two family house is still there and the block is practically leafy with its mature sycamores lining the street. A large community garden grows on once bustling New Lots Avenue at Alabama and the street’s current residents, a mix of African Americans and Latinos, are cordial if not friendly, to three obvious outsiders.

For the Epstein and Kolb families who lived here, even with its rock fights, Alabama Avenue was a move up from the teaming squalor of the Lower East Side; a way station on the family’s way to Great Neck, Scarsdale, L.A.’s Westside and New York’s Upper West Side.

Is this what Theodor Herzl meant when he wrote, “If you will it, it is no dream.” These are the words I read on a colorful oversized mural on Herzl Street off Pitkin Avenue in nearby Brownsville. Admiring the mural and the monument in Zion Triangle, a pocket park next to the former Loew’s Pitkin theatre, that commemorates Jewish World War I soldiers, the utterly secular Jew that I am is proud of the strong Jewish connection my children have found in the Habonim Dror youth movement and at its Camp Gilboa in Southern California.

Dominican men playing dominos have replaced the  Jewish Bundist, Worksmen’s Circle and Labor Zionists arguing politics in Zion Triangle. Do these newer arrivals know that the country of their birth was one of the few countries willing to accept mass Jewish immigration during World War II? Do they know about the importance of Sosúa where 700 European Jews found a safe haven from the Nazis? Do most Jews know this important footnote of Dominican history?

I wonder if the area’s current residents are even aware of who Theodor Herzl was and the fact that his empowering declaration inspired a downtrodden, disenfranchised people to create the democratic State of Israel.

Perhaps my children arguing with their friends about the police shootings of unarmed black men, fossil fuel divestment, gender equality and pluralistic Zionism are not that different after all from their ancestors in Zion Triangle.

“If you will it, it is no dream.”


Joel Epstein is a Los Angeles-based walker in the city and a senior advisor to companies, law firms, foundations and public initiatives on communications strategy, government affairs and corporate social responsibility.

California’s Senate passes bill targeting Israel boycotts


A bill targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) of Israel took a final step towards passage in the California legislature as the state Senate voted 34-1 to approve Assembly Bill 2844 on Aug. 24.

The bill faced a long and winding path to approval by the Senate, passing through a number of iterations in an attempt to satisfy concerns about free speech.

Whereas other state bills aimed at rebuking the BDS movement may violate First Amendment rights, AB 2844 skirts those concerns, said Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), who introduced the bill to the Senate.

“We carefully crafted this bill to not fall into any of those pits,” he said.

The idea behind AB 2844 when “>dub it “no longer a pro-Israel bill.” Bloom encouraged his colleagues to pass it anyway so that it could be salvaged in the Senate, and it passed without opposition.

Then, on June 20, the Senate Judiciary Committee tweaked the bill into roughly its current form.

Now, the measure doesn’t forbid contractors from boycotting Israel. Instead, it requires that companies certify they don’t violate state civil rights law in the course of boycotting a sovereign nation recognized by the United States – including Israel, the only country mentioned by name.

“We are looking not at people’s individual rights to speak, but whether or not what they’re doing violates existing California laws against discrimination,” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, who chairs the judiciary committee.

Block said the bill was intended to target boycotts rooted in anti-Semitism. He pointed out that proponents of BDS don’t seek to boycott Russia, China or Saudi Arabia, which he called far worse human rights violators than Israel.

“They don’t propose boycotting those nations for political reasons, only the Jewish state,” he said on the Senate floor. “Why only the Jewish state?”

The BDS movement, said Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Riverside), is “rooted in the same anti-Semitism that has surrounded Israel since its founding.”

Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) was the only legislator to vote against the measure.

“Those standards already apply,” he said of the anti-discrimination measures proposed by the bill. “So we have a bill on the floor that seeks to affirm laws that already exist and people are held accountable for already.”

He went on, “I would have much rather seen the energy generated around this bill be directed towards bringing stakeholders together on our campuses and in our communities to model the type of dialogue that is so desperately needed.”

The bill has until Aug. 31 to gain re-approval in the Assembly before the legislative session ends.

From the beginning, the bill received strong support from the mainstream Jewish community. Block dismissed as “fringe groups” the Jewish organizations, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, who have denounced the measure.

“Now we have another tool in our toolbox” in the fight against BDS, said Shawn Evenhaim, chairman of the Israeli-American Coalition for Action (IAX), which has led the move to pass AB 2844.

Evenhaim said that once the bill becomes law, IAX would look to see that it’s used to halt discriminatory boycotts against Israel.

“We’re not just going to frame [the bill] and hang it,” he said. “It’s a much longer fight and a much longer process.”

Dillon Hosier, the national director of state and local government affairs for IAX, said the federal government is producing a list of companies “engaged in a coercive political boycott against Israel.”

Once that list is composed it “will be a strong resource” in using AB 2844 to combat BDS in California.

In a joint phone interview, both officials praised the efforts by the legislature to fine-tune the measure.

“The bill was modified to really be very strong and secure from a constitutional perspective while also frankly confronting directly BDS and its effects,” Hosier said.

He said he’s continuing to work with Bloom and expects the bill to receive a vote in the Assembly on Aug. 29.

But the updates made to the bill as it wound its way through the legislature failed to quiet its opponents.

“From the start, the aim of AB 2844 has been to punish and chill First Amendment protected conduct – BDS campaigns for Palestinian freedom,” Rahul Saksena, staff attorney at Palestine Legal, said in an emailed statement. “The sponsors have jumped through hoops and hurdles trying to amend the bill to make it ‘less unconstitutional,’ but you can't fix a fundamentally flawed bill.”

How Israel manages its water better than California does


California and Israel share a climate of perpetual drought. As far as water is concerned, however, that’s where the similarities end.

Israel has a water surplus, while California struggles to manage. Among other reasons, the Jewish state owes its water wealth to technology such as drip irrigation and water reclamation, which have yet to win wide popularity here. 

But different rules on water use pose one often overlooked answer to why California remains parched while Israel thrives.

Water law is a famously complex field, but one regulatory difference is clear-cut: In California, if a landowner digs a well, he can freely use the water that comes up. In Israel, the government controls that water.

“This itself is so powerful,” said Tamar Shor, senior deputy to the director of the Israel Water Authority. 

In late June, Shor sat at a round table at the Ritz Carlton in Marina del Ray, at a conference on Israel-California water collaboration. Across from her was Felicia Marcus, who, as chair of California’s State Water Resources Control Board, is the top water official in the state.

Around them, conference guests participated in structured discussions with designated experts, riffing on cue cards that had been distributed in advance. 

At Shor’s table, the card prompted conference goers to discuss “How to design long-term water policies.” Hers was among the most popular discussions.

As Shor and Marcus talked back and forth, a group of farmers, water entrepreneurs and municipal functionaries leaned in.

Marcus expressed her “Israel envy” over the way water rights are apportioned in the Los Angeles County-sized nation.

In comparison to Israel’s system, she said, California’s water rights look something like the Wild West.

“Right now, it’s whoever has the deepest pump wins,” she said.

Shor explained that in Israel, a license is required to dig a well. In California, local health and safety departments can ask for permits, but the state does not.

What’s more, even if a farmer digs a well herself in Israel, she’s required to pay the government for the water she draws from it in the form of a tax, Shor said.

By contrast, in California “if you dig a well on your property, you have a right to use it by virtue of owning the property,” said Eric Garner, a water lawyer and adjunct law professor at USC.

Wells draw from underground water tables with finite resources. 

Imagine a single cup of water with a number of straws in it: In California, anybody with the funds to buy a straw can drink freely, while in Israel, the government owns the straws.

Of about 6,000 groundwater basins in California, some 20 percent of them are considered medium to high priority, meaning there is more water going out than coming in, Garner said. 

Southern California faces further groundwater challenges; Local officials say the aerospace industry left many aquifers tainted with toxic industrial byproducts, such as perchlorate.

But Garner said even in contaminated or prioritized basins, the only law regulating the use of private wells is a provision in the state constitution saying that all water use “shall be limited to such water as shall be reasonably required.”

Functionally, that means the law is “pump until a judge tells you not to,” he said.

 The difference in who owns wells changes the incentive scheme:  Whereas once a farmer in California digs a well, it make sense to pull out as much water as they can; in Israel they’ll draw out only as much water as they care to buy.

“I’m a strong believer that wherever the economic incentives and the regulation don’t go in the same direction, it won’t work in the end,” Shor said.

The rule on who owns wells dates back to Israel’s 1959 Water Law that established government control over water use across the state, Shor said.

That’s hardly the only difference between California’s water regulation scheme and Israel’s.

In 2006, Israel established its Water Authority to replace a previous control board that many felt was mired in politics. Since then, the agency has maintained sole power over distribution and use.

By contrast, in California multiple agencies are responsible for making sure faucets don’t run dry. In Southern California, estimates put the number of governing bodies somewhere around 100.

Often to our detriment, Garner said, “California does probably have the most complex water rights system in the world.”

These five companies want to clean up our state with Israeli tech


The La Kretz Innovation Campus is an open-concept, exposed-beam workspace across from an Urth Caffé and new, million-dollar condos in the rapidly gentrifying downtown Arts District.

Inside, teams of young people dressed casually in hoodies and jeans sit around conference tables and plan to launch startups aimed at a cleaner, greener city as part of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI).

Those young people barely looked up from their laptops on July 12 as some 20 industry players and local officials gathered to hear from five Israeli energy and water conservation companies poised to enter the California market. 

Executives from the five companies, including four startups and one established company, traveled to Los Angeles for a two-week crash course on California’s existing clean-tech economy, hosted by LACI, a project of the city of L.A. and the Department of Water & Power (DWP). 

Organized by the business group Israel-California Green-Tech Partnership, the two-week program acted as “a kind of boot-camp, a 101 of the necessary background, introductions, stuff like that, to get their first foothold in the California market,” according to the group’s co-founder, Ashleigh Talberth.

The Israeli executives met with regulatory stakeholders, such as the DWP and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, and learned from LACI’s executives in residence — seasoned clean-tech industry leaders who offer their acumen to LACI startups.

“California, like a lot of places, is really complicated on the policy front,” Talberth said. “So having a one-stop shop where you can meet the right people can save you a lot of time and money.”

Talberth grew up in the Bay Area and spent a decade in the clean-tech industry here before moving to Israel a year ago, where she advises startups in that industry. She conceived of the Israel-California Green-Tech Partnership while in ulpan, or intensive Hebrew study, inspired by an agreement California Gov. Jerry Brown and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed in 2014 to deepen ties between the innovation nation and Silicon Valley.

At the Arts District campus, a woman paced on a treadmill desk in an office behind a glass wall across from a large projector screen. She paid no attention when the screen lit up with revenue figures and technical diagrams as one by one, the companies took the stage to pitch their products.

OptiNergy

Adam Hirsch was the first to take the stage, a lanky, bespectacled American in a salmon-colored button-up and sneakers, who made aliyah to Israel a year ago with his wife and four sons.

OptiNergy is truly a niche product — a cloud-based platform for reducing electricity use in mass refrigeration systems. But by his telling, the supermarkets that use those systems burn more energy per square foot than any other type of commercial space, so the electricity savings are potentially great.

“You can think of it as being a high-tech solution to a fairly low-tech industry,” said Hirsch, director of business development for SmartGreen, the Rehovot, Israel-based company that created the platform.

The software detects energy fluctuations and diagnoses mechanical problems. According to Hirsch, it can save companies 25 percent to 40 percent in electrical refrigeration costs.

“You could do all of this with a crew of Ph.D. mechanical engineers looking and tweaking,” he said, “but this does things automatically.”

Flowless

Some time around 3 one morning, a supply line to a water cooler in an office block in Tel Aviv burst. The pipe would likely have gushed until morning were it not for Flowless, a system designed by Israeli startup Aqua Rimat to detect and monitor leaks.

Armed with an automatic shutdown switch, the Flowless unit in this office cut off the water supply, saving about $100,000 in water damage, according to Ari Briggs, an investor representative for Aqua Rimat, who told the story at the Arts District campus.

“Every device within a water system has a water footprint,” said Briggs, a South African immigrant to Israel, as he explained the principle behind the black device in his hand.

By recognizing the water footprints of each particular device, Flowless can identify even minor leaks and track water consumption. Preventing catastrophic leaks is just an added bonus.

“Everybody knows how many steps they’ve taken since this morning, but nobody knows how much water their business has consumed,” Briggs said. “This product gives them that information.”

Chakratec

Charging an electrical vehicle (EV) is as easy as finding an outlet and plugging in. Charging it quickly is another matter.

The infrastructure required to fill an EV battery on a commercially viable timescale can be installed only near large transistors, explained Ilan Ben-David, CEO of Chakratec, hamstringing the spread of electric cars.

Chakratec hopes to solve that problem: Using kinetic energy storage (literally, a futuristic-looking white pod with a fan-like contraption inside), it draws down electricity from the grid over a period of time. Then, when a user plugs in, it quickly delivers its energy, enabling EV users to charge in their homes and businesses without overtaxing their power lines.

What’s more, Ben-David said, “It’s totally green, no chemicals, very easy to deploy and safe.”

Energo-On

You probably don’t realize it, but every time you access data on the internet, you’re using something called an uninterruptible power supply (UPS): a device that ensures power won’t go down, even momentarily, if the electrical grid fails.

A UPS acts like “a bridge from the moment you detect an outage until a standby generator kicks in,” according to Abraham Liran, the CEO of Energo-On.

Such products are already an indispensable part of crucial infrastructures like the data centers that store information for the web. But Energo-On claims to work more reliably and more efficiently than its
competitors.

“Everything was designed to live more than 30 years with no maintenance at all,” he said.

And data centers are just the beginning. Liran said he hopes to sell in California to customers that include hospitals, telecommunications companies, manufacturing concerns, airports and more.

Amiad

Each year, billions of cubic meters of water pass through filters manufactured by Amiad Water Solutions.

Amiad was the only company to participate in the LACI boot camp that in no way classifies as a startup. 

But even though it employs 700 people worldwide with $100 million in yearly revenue from 80 countries, according to Eyal Shpitzer, vice president of research and development, it has yet to enter the California market.

The company’s filtration business emerged as a solution to dirt-clogging drip irrigation systems (also an Israeli technology) on a northern kibbutz. The need for water filters runs from the industrial to the municipal and agricultural, he said.

In Southern California, where the aerospace industry is suspected of leaving a number of groundwater aquifers tainted beyond potable use, and desalination is bandied as a drought solution, Amiad sees plenty of opportunity.

California’s stressed-out stoners


California tokers, why are you trippin’ so hard?

You keep saying that marijuana helps manage anxiety. But those of you who work in or partake of the cannabis industry sound like the most stressed-out people in California.

And that leaves me wondering what’s in your bongs, especially since 2016 is supposed to be a year of great triumph for you. Cannabis is booming in California. New regulations on medical marijuana are coming together, and a November ballot initiative to legalize recreational use seems likely to pass. California is thus well on its way to becoming Mary Jane’s global capital, and a national model for how to pull cannabis out of the black market shadows and into the legal light.

So if the future looks so dank (that’s stoner-speak for awesome), why do you all look so wrecked?

Did you get some bad schwag or something?

In recent weeks, I’ve posed these questions to people on farms and in dispensaries and I keep hearing two big reasons why cannabis people seem so burned out.  The first involves all the necessary pressure you’re putting on yourselves. The second reason is about all the unnecessary pressure the rest of us are putting on you.

Let’s start with the self-pressure. Cannabis is not just an industry, it’s a movement to end prohibition, and the hardest times for movements can come right when they are on the verge of winning what they want. Your movement’s victory—the end of cannabis prohibition—requires a difficult transition that is stressful and scary.

In California, by one estimate, there are as many as 10,000 cannabis-related businesses—only a couple hundred of which have the proper zoning and licenses to operate a medical marijuana business. That leaves thousands of you trying to work out your futures very quickly—at least before 2018, when regulations for medical marijuana (including a state marijuana czar) and for recreational use (assuming the ballot initiative passes) are supposed to be in place.

Some of you—particularly weed boutiques that operated outside the law—are preparing to shut down. But others of you are engulfed in the difficult, expensive process of making your businesses legal quickly— but not so quickly that you run afoul of the authorities. In the process, you’re learning that while managing an illegal business has its perils, it may be even more dangerous to run a legal capitalist enterprise in the Regulatory Republic of California, and navigate its dizzying array of licensing, workplace and environmental rules

A number of you are taking on outside investors; there’s even a new private equity firm making “strategic investments” in cannabis. Those kinds of big-money decisions raise new anxieties, even as you still have to operate semi-underground. Some local governments don’t want marijuana operations and are sending the police on raids of your facilities. And the federal government, by maintaining that your businesses are illegal, no matter what state law says, has made it difficult for you to use banks and pay taxes.

On top of all this stress comes the burden of being a political cause. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is building a gubernatorial campaign by backing the ballot initiative to legalize recreational use. At the local level, there are competing initiatives that sometimes divide the cannabis industry. And the presidential race creates uncertainty about federal intentions. A Trump presidency might bring Attorney General Chris Christie, who might wipe out medical marijuana. Some of you fear Hillary Clinton would turn the industry over to her rich donors in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.

“A lot is being born right now–this is going to be an entirely different animal than anyone is used to,” says Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech Corp, a publicly traded “cannabis-focused” agriculture company. “All of this creates a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety for people,”

And what makes this moment even tougher for all of you are the  outside demands that this transition has brought from what cinematic stoner Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski called “the Square Community.”

To put it bluntly (pun intended), California leaders have gotten way too high on the possibilities of fully legal marijuana. Today you hear rhetoric from politicians and media that legal cannabis in California will end the drug war, rationalize our prison and court systems, create new jobs and economic opportunities in poorer and rural areas of the state, save agricultural businesses and lands, and replenish strained local and state budgets with new taxes on weed.

But many of these plans amount to Bogarting weed for selfish priorities. Los Angeles County recently debated a plan to address its homelessness crisis with a marijuana tax. Some environmentalists have been touting how marijuana, which requires considerable water to grow, could pioneer water-saving practices to mitigate the state drought.  And no small number of musicians—chief among them Snoop Dogg, the wizard of “weed wellness,” and Tommy Chong, the “godfather of ganja”—seem to think that by licensing their names to marijuana products, they can replace the revenues that music used to provide, before iTunes and Spotify.

Cannabis has come to be seen by its most zealous champions as a substance that can alter California realities—in ways reminiscent of our craze for gold in 1849 or for oil in the early 20th century. That is an awful lot of expectations to put on this one plant.

Before exploiting legal marijuana for their own schemes, California governments need to get this transition right. The tax system for cannabis should be comprehensible and not so extortionate that it drives out small players (or creates incentives to keep the black market alive). The regulatory regimes for medical marijuana and recreational use should fit together, and be transparent enough that California cannabis goes forward as a competitive market, not a state monopoly. To ease the transition, state government needs to do everything it can to make sure your cannabis businesses negotiate these changes successfully, including protecting you from the feds..

If California gets this right, maybe some of the biggest dreams for marijuana can come true. At the very least, cannabis could be a thriving and well-regulated industry.

But for now, as the marijuana-friendly rap group Cypress Hill like to say, you gots to chill. These are stressful enough times for stoners already.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zocalo Public Square.

A ghost story of the American gun


Once the United States’ largest private residence and the most expensive to build, today you could almost miss it. The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, sits between the eight lanes of the I-280 freeway, a mobile home park, and the remains of a space-age Century 23 movie theater. The world has changed around it, but the mansion remains stubbornly and defiantly what it always was. 

Each time I visit the Mystery House I try to envision what this space must have looked like to the “rifle widow” Sarah Winchester, when she first encountered it in 1886—acre after acre of undulating orchards and fields, broken only by an unassuming eight-room cottage.

Legend holds that before the 1906 earthquake—when her estate was as huge and fantastically bizarre as it would ever be with 200 rooms, 10,000 windows, 47 fireplaces, and 2,000 doors, trap doors, and spy holes—not even Sarah could have confidently located those original eight rooms.

Sarah had inherited a vast fortune off of guns. Her father-in-law Oliver Winchester, manufacturer of the famous repeater rifle, died in 1880, and her husband Will, also in the family gun business, died a year later. After she moved from New Haven, Connecticut, to San Jose, Sarah dedicated a large part of her fortune to ceaseless, enigmatic building. She built her house with shifts of 16 carpenters who were paid three times the going rate and worked 24 hours a day, every day, from 1886 until Sarah’s death in 1922.

An American Penelope, working in wood rather than yarn, Sarah wove and unwove eternally. She built, demolished, and rebuilt. Sarah hastily sketched designs on napkins or brown paper for carpenters to build additions, towers, cupolas, or rooms that made no sense and had no purpose, sometimes only to be plastered over the next day. In 1975, workers discovered a new room. It had two chairs, an early 1900s speaker that fit into an old phonograph, and a door latched by a 1910 lock. Sarah had apparently forgotten about it and built over it.

In 1911, the San Jose Mercury News called Sarah’s colossus a “great question mark in a sea of apricot and olive orchards.” Over a century later, the San Francisco Chronicle was still baffled: “the Mansion is an ornately complex answer to a very simple question: Why?”

The answer: Sarah’s building is a ghost story of the American gun. Or so the legend went. A spiritualist in the mid-1800s, when plenty of sane Americans believed they could communicate with the dead, Sarah became terrified that her misfortunes, especially the death of her husband and one-month old daughter, were cosmic retribution from all the spirits killed by Winchester rifles. A relative said many decades later Sarah fell “under the thrall” of a medium, who told her that she would be haunted by the ghosts of Winchester rifle victims unless she built, non-stop—perhaps at ghosts’ direction, for their pleasure, or perhaps as a way to elude them. Haunted by conscience over her gun blood fortune and seeking either protection or absolution, Sarah lived in almost complete solitude, in a mansion designed to be haunted.

When I heard Sarah’s ghost story from a friend in graduate school, I was enthralled. Eventually, Sarah became the muse for my book on the history of the American gun industry, and culture.

I keenly anticipated my first visit to the Mystery House. I must have been hoping that the house would yield up its secret to me. At first glance I was deflated, for the unusual reason that from the outside, the house wasn’t entirely weird.

But the drama of this house, like the drama of Sarah’s life, was unfolding on the inside. A staircase, one of 40, goes nowhere and ends at a ceiling. Cabinets and doors open onto walls, rooms are boxes within boxes, small rooms are built within big rooms, balconies and windows are inside rather than out, chimneys stop floors short of the ceiling, floors have skylights. A linen closet as big as an apartment sits next to a cupboard less than an inch deep. Doors open onto walls. One room has a normal-sized door next to a small, child-sized one.  Another has a secret door identical to one on a corner closet—it could be opened from within the room, but not from without, and the closet drawer didn’t open at all.

Details are designed to confuse. In one room, Sarah laid the parquetry in an unusual pattern: When the light hit the floor a particular way, the dark boards appeared light, and the light boards, dark. Bull’s-eye windows give an upside-down view of the world. Even these basic truths, of up and down, and light and dark, could be subverted.

The house teems with allusions, symbols, and mysterious encryptions. Its ballroom features two meticulously crafted Tiffany art-glass windows. Here, Sarah inscribed her most elegant clues for us. The windows have stained glass panels with lines from Shakespeare. One reads, “These same thoughts people this little world.” It’s from the prison soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Richard II. Deposed from power and alone in his cell, Richard has an idea to create a world within his prison cell, populated only by his imaginings and ideas.

Is the legend accurate? I found spine-tingling clues on the archival trail that incline me to believe that Sarah really was a spiritualist, but I never found that smoking gun, to borrow a metaphor from Oliver’s empire. I do know that her mansion conveys a restless, brilliant, sane—if obsessive—mind and the convolutions of an uneasy conscience. Perhaps Sarah only dimly perceived the sources of her unease, whether ghostly or profane. But she wove anguish into her creation, just as any artist pours unarticulated impulses into her work. Over repeated visits, I came to think that if a mind were a house, it would probably look like this.

The House is an architectural exteriorization of an anguished but playful inner life. Ideas, memories, fears, and guilt occur to us all day long. They come to consciousness. If they displease or terrify, we brood or fuss over them for a while, then revise them to make them manageable, or we plaster over them and suppress them, or refashion them into another idea. One of the house’s builders recalled, “Sarah simply ordered the error torn out, sealed up, built over or around, or … totally ignored.” The mental and architectural processes of revision, destruction, suppression, and creation were ongoing, and similar.

Perhaps the same mental process happens with a country’s historical narratives about its most contentious and difficult topics—war, conquest, violence, guns. Sarah’s family name was synonymous by the 1900s with a multi-firing rifle, and the Winchester family had made its fortune sending more than 8 million of them into the world. It wasn’t crazy to think that Sarah might have been haunted by that idea, that she might have perpetually remembered it, and just as perpetually tried to forget.

I’ve come to see the house as a clever riddle. Sarah made charitable donations, certainly, and if she had wanted to, she could have become a philanthropist of greater renown. But the fact remains that she chose to convert a vast portion of her rifle fortune into a monstrous, distorted home; so we can now wander through her rooms imagining how one life affects others.

Instead of building a university or a library, Sarah built a counter-legend to the thousands of American gunslinger stories. And in this counter-legend, the ghosts of the gun casualties materialize, and we remember them. 

Pamela Haag, Ph.D., is the author most recently of The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of an American Gun Culture. She has published two other books and numerous essays on a wide variety of topics.

She wrote this for What It Means To Be American, a partnership of the Smithsonian and Zócalo Public Square

California’s bill to combat BDS passes state senate judiciary committee


California State Assembly Bill (AB) 2844 had a long and winding path to its passage by the California State Senate judiciary committee June 28. It was first submitted to the State Assembly by Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) as an attempt to circumvent the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. 

The bill passed the California Assembly on June 2, but only after a Democratic-controlled appropriations committee had transformed it, including deleting any mention of Israel while changing the language to say boycotts against sovereign nations are unacceptable. The changes were so significant that many of the bill’s original backers said they would not support it further unless the state’s Senate made significant changes.

Significant changes had been made to the bill before the vote Tuesday. The bill that was approved by the judiciary committee no longer prohibits California from entering into contracts with companies boycotting Israel. Instead, it bars the state from entering into contracts with companies that violate California’s anti-discrimination laws, including the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The current language no longer includes the word “boycott.” 

The current bill prohibits companies from having policies against a sovereign country, “including, but not limited to, the nation and people of Israel,” that are a pretext for violating anti-discrimination laws. 

The Tuesday vote, according to Bloom, was five in favor and two opposed.

Bloom said he supports the revised version of the bill: “We think it’s specific enough now to send a strong message about BDS-type behavior, which at its most fundamental level is discriminatory behavior, but broad enough to include other circumstances as well as other countries,” he said.

I’m very happy that the bill passed,” Dillon Hosier, senior political adviser for the Israeli-American Nexus, the advocacy arm of the Israeli-American Council, said in a phone interview after the vote held at the State Capitol in Sacramento. “We look forward to seeing it go to the [Senate] appropriations committee. Hopefully, we get a concurrence vote in the assembly and then it’s on to the governor.” 

Hosier was one of several Los Angelenos who spoke in support of the bill before the vote. Others included Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks).  Groups supporting the bill include the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, 30 Years After and others.

Hannah-Beth Jackson, chair of the Senate judiciary committee, is among the bill’s co-authors. Other members of the committee include Sen. Mark Leno, who voted to support the bill. He said the legislation’s wording improved upon previous versions and that he was “more pleased with this version than any previous versions.”

Sen. Bill Monning voted against the revised bill submitted to the judiciary committee. He believes the bill limits free speech.

“This bill does not seek to condemn acts of anti-Semitism,” he said. “This bill seeks to limit exercise of First Amendment rights.” 

Those speaking against the bill during the public comment portion included Carol Sanders of Jewish Voice for Peace, local progressive activist Marcy Winograd and others. 

Clash at California capitol leaves at least 10 injured


At least 10 people were injured at a rally outside the California state capitol in Sacramento on Sunday as members of a white supremacist group clashed with counter-protesters, authorities said.

The melee erupted during a rally staged by the Traditionalist Worker Party, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist extremist group.

One of its leaders, Matt Parrott, said the party had called the demonstration in part to protest against violence that has broken out outside recent rallies by Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

The incident may fuel concerns about the potential for violent protests outside the major party conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia this summer and in the run-up to the Nov. 8 presidential election.

“With the eyes of the world's media on both Philadelphia and Cleveland, no doubt there will be significant protests,” said Democratic strategist Steve Schale. “The extreme rhetoric, combined with the nonstop media attention, does encourage these kinds of events.”

In Sacramento, when the white supremacists arrived at the capitol building at about noon on Sunday, “counter-protesters immediately ran in – hundreds of people – and they engaged in a fight,” said George Granada, a spokesman for the Capitol Protection Service division of the California Highway Patrol.

In announcing the counter-protest, a group called Anti-Fascist Action Sacramento said on its website that it had a “moral duty” to deny a platform for “Nazis from all over the West Coast” to voice their views.

“We have a right to self defense. That is why we have to shut them down,” Yvette Felarca, a counter-protester wearing a white bandage on her head, told reporters after the clash.

The Sacramento Fire Department said 10 patients were treated at area hospitals for multiple stabbing and laceration wounds.

None of the injuries were life-threatening and there were no immediate reports of arrests, Granada said. The building was placed on lockdown.

Matthew Heimbach, chairman of Traditionalist Worker Party, said his group had expected violence even though it planned a peaceful rally and had a permit.

“We were there to support nationalism. We are white nationalists,” Heimbach told Reuters. “We were there to take a stand.”

Representatives of the Sacramento police could not be reached immediately for further comment.

Video footage on social media showed dozens of people, some of them wearing masks and wielding what appeared to be wooden bats, racing across the capitol grounds and attacking others.

Photos on social media showed emergency officials treating a victim on the grass in the area as police officers stood guard.

The melee comes about four months after four people were stabbed during a scuffle between members of the Ku Klux Klan and counter-protesters near a KKK rally in Anaheim, California.

In recent months Trump has blamed “professional agitators” and “thugs” for violence that has broken out at many of the Republican candidate's rallies.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, last month, anti-Trump protesters threw rocks and bottles at police officers who responded with pepper spray. A month earlier, some 20 demonstrators were arrested outside a Trump rally in Costa Mesa, California. 

Firefighters gain ground over devastating California blaze


Firefighters in the foothills of central California have made significant gains against a blaze that has killed at least two people and destroyed scores of homes in a devastating start to the state's wildfire season, authorities said on Monday.

By Sunday night, crews had carved containment lines around 40 percent of the fire's perimeter, up from 10 percent earlier in the day, and evacuation orders were lifted on Monday for two communities previously threatened.

But officials reported a higher toll of property losses on Monday, with about 250 structures reduced to rubble, 50 more than estimated the previous day, and 75 buildings damaged.

As of Monday morning, the so-called Erskine Fire has blackened more than 45,000 acres of drought-parched brush and grass on the fringes of Lake Isabella in Kern County, California, about 110 miles (180 km) north of Los Angeles.

The blaze erupted Thursday afternoon and spread quickly through several communities south of the lake, driven by high winds, as it roared largely unchecked for two days and forced hundreds of residents from their homes.

At the fire's peak, some 2,500 homes were threatened by flames.

On Friday, at least two people were confirmed to have been killed in the blaze, and Kern County fire authorities warned that the death toll could rise as investigators comb through the rubble of homes that went up in flames.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

More than 2,000 personnel have been assigned to the blaze, the biggest and most destructive of nine large wildfires burning up and down the state, from the Klamath National Forest near Oregon to desert scrubland close to the Mexico border. Most of those were at least 60 percent contained as of Monday.

A blistering heat wave that has baked much of California in abnormally high temperatures ranging from the upper 90s to the triple digits has been a major factor contributing to the conflagrations.

While California's wildfire season officially began in May, the rash of blazes since last week signaled the state's first widespread outbreak of intense, deadly fire activity this year.

Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said the state has already experienced some 2,400 wildfires, small and large, since January. They burned a total of 99,000 acres (400 square kms).

Winter and spring rainfalls helped ease drought conditions but also helped spur growth of grasses and brush that have since dried out, providing more potential fuel for wildfires, he said.

Moving and shaking: Commencement ceremonies, Jews for Hillary and more


Three seminaries — American Jewish University (AJU), Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and the Academy for Jewish Religion, California (AJR-CA) were among the local schools holding commencement ceremonies last month.

At AJU, which held its 66th commencement on May 15 at its Bel Air campus, nine students received Master of Arts degrees in rabbinic studies. They were ordained in a ceremony the next day. Four students were conferred Master of Arts in Nonprofit Management degrees and 13 were awarded a Master of Business Administration through the Graduate School of Nonprofit Management, while seven students earned a Master of Arts in Education. Eighteen students received bachelor’s degrees.

Among those getting honorary doctorates were Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Ed Feinstein, philanthropist Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer and Jeffrey L. Glassman, CEO of Covington Capital Management and chairman emeritus of AJU. John Magoulas, the associate chief development officer of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles who received an MBA from AJU in 2001, received the Mickey Weiss Award for Outstanding Alumni. 

HUC-JIR ordained eight students in a May 15 ceremony at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, the president of HUC-JIR, was the ordination speaker. Giving remarks were Cary Davidson, a member of the university’s board of governors and chair of the Western region overseers; Congregation Kol Ami’s Rabbi Denise Eger, president of the board of trustees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; Daryl Messinger, chairman of the Union for Reform Judaism’s board of trustees; and Congregation Or Ami’s Rabbi Paul Kipnes

Graduation exercises took place the following day at Temple Emanuel, with dean Joshua Holo offering opening remarks. A certificate of recognition was presented to Michael Zeldin, retiring senior national director of HUC-JIR’s schools of education, who also gave the graduation address. 

Seven students received the Master of Arts in Jewish Nonprofit Management, seven others were awarded Master of Arts in Jewish Education and eight students earned Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters. One student received a Doctor of Hebrew Letters. 

An honorary doctorate was presented to Rabbi Marc Lee Raphael, the Nathan and Sophia Gumenick Professor of Judaic Studies and Director of the Program in Judaic Studies at the College of William and Mary. The Sherut La’Am award was presented to activist, philanthropist and author Buff Brazy Given

AJR-CA held its graduation and ordination on May 30 at Stephen Wise Temple. Seven rabbis and one cantor were ordained after they had received their master’s degrees a day earlier in an event at the school’s Koreatown campus. At the May 30 event, one student graduated with a certification in chaplaincy and another received a master’s degree in Jewish studies. Rabbi Laura Owens, the school’s interim president, gave the opening address. 

— Avi Sholkoff, Contributing Writer


Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Regional Director Amanda Susskind moderated a May 25 panel discussion titled “Challenges and Opportunities Facing Jewish and Asian-American College Students,” hosted by ADL’s Asian Jewish Initiative in Los Angeles. Panelists were Jerry Kang, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion at UCLA; Heather Rosen, a graduating senior and student body president at UCLA; Riki Robinson, a student and program coordinator at the Center for Asian Pacific American Students at Pitzer College; and Varun Soni, dean of the Office of Religious Life at USC. 

From left: ADL Asian Jewish Initiative co-chair Vince Gonzalez, UCLA Vice Chancellor Jerry Kang, USC Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni, ADL Asian Jewish Initiative founder Faith Cookler, ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind, UCLA senior and outgoing president Heather Rosen and Pitzer College student Riki Robinson.  Photo courtesy of Anti-Defamation League

Approximately 30 people were present as the panelists drew attention to the clash of identities — how students self-identify and how they are perceived — and what was described as a “wealth of diversity” within both communities.

Jewish students Rosen and Robinson said that some of the challenges Jewish students face come from within the Jewish community, while other challenges are external. On UCLA’s campus, Rosen said, “There’s a huge issue with politicization of identity, especially the Jewish identity.”

“A lot of times, because we are considered to be part of the white population, we are excluded from [progressive] conversations,” she said. “I’ve been told I’m an oppressor because I’m Jewish, because Israel is considered the oppressor and Palestine is considered the oppressed.”

Susskind stressed that there is no competition over who is more victimized. From her knowledge of individual instances, “The only allies Jews have had on campuses … have been oftentimes Asian, oftentimes South Asian.” 

“I want to [end] on an overarching positive,” Susskind added. “We have a lot in common among the Asian and Jewish cultures: the ancient cultures, the strong moms, the great food. And we want to see these alliances improved.”

— Lakshna Mehta, Contributing Writer


The Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) recently announced a $1 million donation from Jay H. Geller and his husband, Lowell Gallagher, to establish the Geller-Gallagher Leadership Institute (GGLI). 

From left: Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management at HUC-JIR Director Erik Ludwig, Jay Geller, Lowell Gallagher and HUC-JIR President Rabbi Aaron Panken. Photo courtesy of HUC-JIR 

The announcement was made at the Zelikow School’s honors reception on May 15, which celebrated eight individuals who received honorary doctorate degrees from the school. Geller is a Los Angeles attorney and member of the HUC-JIR Board of Governors, and Gallagher is an English professor at UCLA. 

The institute is being established “to engage in an open dialogue with professional leaders in the Jewish community to address challenges in the leadership pipeline,” said Erik Ludwig, the director of the Zelikow School. Although the institute will operate under the umbrella of the Zelikow School, it will be open to the general public. 

“Mentorship is really, really important to me,” said Geller, who is the chairman of the Zelikow School Advisory Council. “The reason why we started the institute was to create relationships and foster mentorships. The institute will work with professionals, lay leaders and students to develop those relationships.” 

The inaugural event of GGLI will be on Aug. 8. The speakers at the event will be Gali Cooks, executive director of Leading Edge: Alliance for Jewish Leadership; David Cygielman, founder and CEO of Moishe House; Jordan Fruchtman, chief programming officer of Moishe House; and Allan Finkelstein, former president of Jewish Community Centers Association of North America.

Of the eight honorees at the recent reception, two were from the Los Angeles area: Lori Klein, senior vice president of Caring for Jews in Need at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; and Lesley Plachta, development director of the Los Angeles Jewish Home Foundation. Lori Goodman, the chief development officer of CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation) in Santa Barbara, also was an honoree.

— Lakshna Mehta, Contributing Writer


American Jewish Committee Los Angeles (AJC-LA) elected Scott Edelman as its regional president during its 71st annual meeting and luncheon, held on May 23 at the Intercontinental hotel. He succeeds outgoing AJC-LA President Dean Schramm, who continues on as chairman of AJC-LA.

New American Jewish Committee Los Angeles regional president Scott Edelman. Photo courtesy of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher

“What attracts me most to AJC is its outreach to the non-Jewish world,” Edelman, a Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner and 2015 AJC-LA Judge Learned Hand Award recipient, said during his acceptance speech, as quoted in a press release. “We cannot take our freedom for granted; we live in perilous times. We must fight against anti-Semitism, all forms of bigotry, and the spread of radicalism and extremism.”

The meeting also marked appointments of new AJC-LA board members, including Glenn Sonnenberg, the current president of the board of directors at Stephen Wise Temple. Additionally, Reeve E. Chudd, Julie Bram and Cathy Unger were named AJC-LA vice presidents; Dan Schnur was named treasurer; and Eva Dworsky was named secretary. 

Additional new board members include Jonathan Anschell, Brian Cohen, James Dasteel and Marc Graboff.

Attendees at the event included L.A. City Councilmen Paul Koretz and Bob Blumenfield, and L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin, among others.

Faithful Central Bible Church Bishop Kenneth Ulmer delivered the invocation and spoke about the importance of Black-Jewish relations.

AJC-LA Director Janna Weinstein Smith said she is looking forward to working with Edelman in his new role. “AJC is thrilled to have Scott, an accomplished Jewish community leader, serve as president of our region,” she said in a statement.


Samara Hutman, the executive director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), traveled to Washington, D.C., on  May 6 to see photographs of Los Angeles-based Holocaust survivors on display in the Russell Senate Office Building rotunda. The exhibit, which initially debuted at LAMOTH, is titled “Portraits in Black and White: Survivors and What They Carry” and features 20 black-and-white photos taken by photographer Barbara Mack.

Photographer Barbara Mack and LAMOTH Executive Director Samara Hutman visit Washington, D.C.  Photo by Bryan McLamara 

Two members of the Argus Quartet, violinist Clara Kim and violist Diana Wade, accompanied Hutman. Kim and Wade performed two pieces, “Found Missing” and “Tracks,” which students created as part of the Righteous Conversations Project at Milken Community Schools in Los Angeles. Milken student Noah Daniel composed “Tracks” after learning from survivor Armin Goldstein

“The piece begins with an academic-sounding, exercise-like scale in order to portray the rigorous 14 hours a day Armin spent in school (apart from homework and studying), but also has a youthful joy as the waltz-like pizzicato comes in,” Daniel said, as quoted by LAMOTH. “It then moves into the period Armin spent in forced labor, as a lumberjack in freezing wind and snow. The augmented chord played by the violins as the piece accelerates creates the illusion of a train, as Armin is forced into a cattle car and taken to Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in today’s northern Germany.”

Hutman praised the event and stressed the importance of students learning about the Holocaust. “This generation of students is the last one that will be able to connect in person with Holocaust survivors in our community,” Hutman said. “LAMOTH’s Righteous Conversations Project Music Composition Program gives students the opportunity to carry on the legacy of memory to future generations through music.”

— Avi Sholkoff, Contributing Writer


If you want to celebrate an organization that works to help churches, synagogues and mosques create sustainable gardens on their properties, what better place to do it than in the middle of a … sustainable garden?  Netiya’s “Not Just a Garden Party” on May 26 at the home of founder Devorah Brous and Laurence Weber brought together 90 supporters of the organization amid the home’s raised beds, fruit trees, aquaponic pond and chicken coop.

An interfaith gardening event organized by agriculture group Netiya.   

“Almost everything grows here in this part of the world,” Brous said in impassioned remarks to guests. “Yet 600,000 kids are food insecure in Los Angeles County.”

Netiya helps by converting congregations’ water-intensive crabgrass lawns into sites for fresh food production. So far, it has installed 16 food gardens at faith-based institutions and given 10 microgrants to L.A. congregations to grow food.

“These congregations are essentially the greatest source of ready-to-repurpose lands in the entire city,” Brous said. “Faith communities are literally the fertile ground to seed institutional scale change around the city.”

As night came and lights twinkled in the garden, performance artists entertained a crowd including Rabbi Sharon Brous and David Light, Melissa Balaban and Adam Wergeles, Jack Weiss and Leslie Kautz, Brian Pass, Yuval Ron, Carolyne Aycaguer, Shep and Shari Rosenman, Rabbi Noah Farkas, Rabbi Ahud Sela and Jessica Ritz.  

— Staff report


Former Congressman Howard Berman discussed the Democratic Party platform on Israel at the Beverly Hills home of Ada and Jim Horwich during a “Jews for Hillary” event on May 31. 

A “Jews for Hillary” event was held at the Beverly Hills home of Ada and Jim Horwich on May 31.

“My sense from conversations with people who are very involved in Hillary Clinton’s campaign, more so than I am, is … a firm resolve to stand with American support for Israel,” Berman told the standing-room-only crowd that filled the Horwich courtyard.

Co-organized with activist Donna Bojarsky, the event brought out Democratic pols and community leaders en masse. 

“We really need a strong united Jewish community,” said Sarah Bard, Clinton’s Jewish outreach coordinator. “Hillary Clinton is going to fight hard to make sure the platform reflects her long record of support for Israel.”

“I think we got our marching orders,” Bojarsky called out to the crowd.

Spotted at the event were Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin, L.A. City Councilman Bob Blumenfield, Wendy Greuel, Zev and Barbara Yaroslavsky, Rabbi Naomi Levy, Sharon and Leon Janks, Rabbi Ken ChasenSam Yebri, Jesse Gabriel, and Rabbi Sharon Brous and David Light.

— Staff report

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com

California votes: The scene in Los Angeles


Heading into five primaries and one caucus June 7, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had 1,862 pledged delegates and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had 1,521 pledged delegates, with a minimum of 2,433 total needed to secure the Democratic Party’s nomination. On June 6, The Associated Press reported Clinton had reached the needed 2,433 because 571 of the Democrats’ 714 superdelegates (party officials who have a vote at the convention) said they would vote for Clinton. Only 48 had publicly backed Sanders as of June 7.

As the Journal went to press the evening of June 6, California had not been called, and The Associated Press had called New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota for Clinton, and North Dakota for Sanders. Clinton spoke at her Brooklyn, N.Y., headquarters, declaring herself as the party’s nominee, adding further pressure on Sanders to concede.

California’s primary was not only significant because of its sheer number of delegates (546), but because Sanders’ performance here would play a large part in determining whether he would suspend his campaign or stay in the race until the Democratic National Convention in late July in Philadelphia — a prospect that the party’s leadership has been concerned would hurt the Democrats’ unity heading into a November matchup with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

The following are some scenes from the day of the California primary in Los Angeles.

The Clinton Scene in L.A.

An office space in Westchester, near LAX, served as one of five of the Clinton campaign’s Southern California field offices. And on the evening June 7, while Clinton spoke in Brooklyn, more than 20 volunteers had gathered in this office adorned with Clinton posters, huddled around a television, with snacks on a nearby counter, watching the primary results come in. Early in the evening, they cheered as MSNBC announced the initial results.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for three years. I knew she would run and said to myself that when Hillary runs, I will do everything I can to ensure she gets the presidential nomination, and she is leading in California, and I am a happy camper,” said Cathi McWhorter, a FedEx account manager who works in West L.A.

Posters on the wall read, “She’s With Us!” “Fighting for Us!” and “I’m With Her.” 

Cara Robin, a pledged Clinton delegate who will attend the convention in Philadelphia and who is president of the West L.A. Democratic Club, said she likes Clinton’s prospects against Trump. 

“I don’t know if they can rein him in,” she said of Trump, “but I think Hillary has a terrific chance.”

— Ryan Torok, Staff Writer

A Westside Gathering of Iranian Jews

Guests at 30 Years After election party watch returns come in at Q’s Billiard Club in Brentwood on June 7. Photo by Eitan Arom

Upstairs at Q’s Billiards Club in Brentwood, 30 Years After, an Iranian-Jewish civic organization, celebrated Election Day with celebratory cocktails. Polls had yet to close as guests gathered, but they voted with their cocktails, choosing among discounted drinks: the Hillary, Feel the Bern and the Trump (the Trump was just a bottle of Budweiser).

Though several partygoers described the night’s results as anticlimactic, that fact didn’t dampen the mood of the evening. 

30 Years After encourages Jewish Iranians in the United States to exercise civic rights not available to those still living in Iran, such as the right to vote for candidates not hand selected by a supreme leader.

“That’s why we started the organization — because we have that privilege now,” said Jasmin Niku, a board member for 30 Years After, while waiting for the bartender to serve the Hillary she’d ordered — a concoction of Grey Goose vodka and grenadine.

The organization throws an election party for each presidential primary and general election. Attorney Sam Yebri, the group’s president, said nail-biters like Barack Obama’s 2012 general election win tend to draw greater crowds.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

Holding out Hope for Sanders

Jeremy White, production designer for Team Bernie LA. Photo by Lakshna Mehta

Between the “fascist, the war criminal and the hippie,” a man dressed like Jesus who called himself Amigo, said he would vote for the hippie. Holding a large sign with Bernie Sanders’ face on it and hoping to inspire people to vote for Sanders, he stood outside a makeshift Bernie’s Coffee Shop Restaurant — a pop-up gathering place and souvenir shop for the Bernie Sanders campaign at the corner Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. 

Others held signs with slogans like “Honk for Bernie.” 

“You can just feel the love here,” said Michelle Manos, a founder of Team Bernie LA, which runs the shop. 

“I believe in Bernie because he believes in me,” said Jeremy White, production designer for Team Bernie LA. “But I’m worried he won’t get as many votes as he should. When your vote is literally not counted, it’s not a democracy.”

As would be expected, the feeling in the coffee shop was very pro-Sanders. It was also very anti-Hillary Clinton and anti-Donald Trump. 

“If Trump becomes the president, I’m going to become a freedom fighter,” Ed Higgins said. “If we [Bernie Sanders] lose this election, it will be because of disenfranchisement. It won’t be Bernie’s fault.”

As polls were closing, Manos and other volunteers started closing shop to head to the rally scheduled for Sanders in Santa Monica. But even that was slow going as people walked in and out of the coffee shop either to show support for Sanders or simply out of curiosity. 

— Lakshna Mehta, Contributing Writer

Nervous, Yet Firm Support Highlights Sanders’ Rally

]Crowd gathers outside Barker Hangar in Santa Monica waiting for Bernie Sanders to speak after the California primary. Photo by Jackson Prince

On the evening of June 7, hundreds of Bernie Sanders supporters lined up for a rally at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica after California polls closed at 8 p.m. Despite a victory speech by Hillary Clinton in which she claimed the Democratic nomination, Sanders supporters were doing their best to stay in high spirits while they waited for him to speak. 

“We’re firm in our support,” Nick Cullen, a Mar Vista resident, said. “It’s definitely much more subdued tonight than the other rallies I’ve been to, but Bernie is our candidate, and remains so.”

Nick Brown, a Highland Park resident, said he wanted to hear a message of coalition-building. “Tonight is important in setting up a fight and a cause that we hope to grow and strengthen over the coming months,” Brown said. “We’re definitely nervous about the results.”

 

 — Jackson Prince, Contributing Writer

Primary Day: How Bernie Sanders’ contribution goes beyond winning


Prior to California’s primary election, several news outlets reported that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has “clinched” the Democratic nomination, though Senator Bernie Sanders remained in the conversation amongst voters as they went to the polls on June 7.

“Even though it looks like Hillary has it, I like Bernie Sanders,” said Irwin Zucker, an 89-year-old Beverly Hills resident. “He’s creating sincere conversation in an election that otherwise would be easy to ignore.”

Haley Albert, a student at Northeastern University, urged primary voters not to take Clinton’s clinching of the nomination at face-value.

“For me, Bernie has been invigorating; the pressure he puts on Clinton and the fight he leads for all different kinds of people is necessary,” she said. “It’s far from over.”

Since February, the Democratic party has undergone an internal split between Clinton and Sanders. Despite recently reported numbers indicating Clinton had enough pledged delegates along with the promise of super delegates, to become the Democratic presidential candidate in the fall, Sanders and his supporters say they will seek a “contested national convention.”

As a Jew, Zucker finds Sanders’ “innate Judaism” to be good for the election.

“Sanders keeps many Jewish interests alive by simply being at the table,” he said. “And outside of being Jewish, he’s a good man, and a good challenger.”

Rabbi Sarah Bassin of Temple Emanuel said that Sanders’ Judaism is not his main appeal to Jewish voters.

“Most Jews voting for Sanders aren’t voting for him solely because he’s Jewish. We Jews feel secure, and are able to talk about his policies rather than his Jewish identity, which hasn’t been a detriment to his overall popularity,” Bassin said.

Rabbi Jonathan Aaron, also of Temple Emanuel, also said he appreciates the conversations the Sanders-Clinton race has helped to cultivate in the past few months, relating the democratic nature of this specific political instance to the ideals of the Talmud.

“In the Talmud, there is a majority and a minority, and both parties listen and adapt to each other until it’s time to make a decision,” Aaron said. “The presence of these two candidates has stimulated so many conversations pertaining to different ideas and goals, and it’s activating the public in a good way.”

Aaron, who seeks to avoid intertwining faith and politics, hopes to see that, once the conversations are concluded, the “minority” will be able to support and enhance what the “majority” has decided.

“At Emanuel, we put all aspects of a conversation out there, and allow for discussion to make and back the best possible decision. I’d like to see the political scene adopt some Talmudic ideals and honor the real democratic process that this primary election has displayed,” he said.

After the reports from the AP of Clinton’s delegate count, Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said he believes the time for the Sanders minority to concede has come, as the “contentious conversations are no longer productive.”

“In most normal elections, this kind of interparty division can create difficulty for the nominee in the general election…but this isn’t a normal election,” Schnur said. “It’s a continued and ongoing fight with Sanders, and where this used to strengthen Clinton as a candidate, now it’s merely a distraction.”

Schnur said he believes Sanders has inspired a more “whole primary election,” and that he and his supporters could be of service to Clinton’s general election campaign.

“There’s no question that Sanders candidacy has provided energy and enthusiasm,” he said. “He excited a lot of people to participate, but now he has to decide when it makes sense to encourage those same people to stand behind her, both for the sake of her candidacy and for the party. It’s not whether Bernie supports her, it’s when. And the more he waits, the more difficult it will be for the Democratic party to focus on defeating Trump.”

Nevertheless, Sanders’ supporters remained unwavering as California voters continued to go to the polls.

“It sort of feels like I’m throwing my vote away,” Zucker said. “But if my vote means that Bernie can keep pressuring Hillary to be thinking about Israel and the economy, even to be a better candidate, then that’s how I’ll vote.”

How California’s anti-BDS bill became ‘no longer a pro-Israel bill’


A growing split over Israel within the Democratic Party appears to be spilling over into the California legislature.

Just three months ago, an anti-Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) bill being considered in Sacramento appeared to be on track to become a sure win for pro-Israel politicians and advocacy groups aiming to stem the growing BDS movement.

That bill, AB 2844, finally passed the California Assembly on June 2—but not before a Democratic-controlled Appropriations Committee had transformed it, to the point that many of the bill’s original backers say they will not support it further unless the state’s Senate makes significant changes.

The latest development of AB 2844 is a twist for a law that Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), who introduced the bill, along with other backers, had expected would receive broad support. But AB 2844 had difficulty getting through the Democratic-controlled Assembly’s Committee on Accountability, as well as its Judiciary Committee and, finally, the Appropriations Committee, which is chaired by Lorena Gonzalez (D-Chula Vista). 

The bill was initially named the “California Combating the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Israel Act of 2016” and was intended to force all California government agencies to stop doing business with companies participating in a boycott against Israel, which is currently California’s 18th-largest export partner.

But on May 27, by the time the bill came to a vote in the Appropriations Committee, it had been renamed, “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Recognized Sovereign Nations or Peoples,” and all mention of Israel had been deleted. The revised bill also does not distinguish between nations that are U.S. allies and those that are not, nor does it mention protecting major California trading partners. The revised bill also stripped a demand that the state cease business with companies participating in economic boycotts.

The new version of AB 2844 states only that the attorney general shall create “a list of companies that have engaged in discriminatory business practices in furtherance of a boycott of any sovereign nation or peoples recognized by the government of the United States.” Also, to the chagrin of some of AB 2844’s original backers, the amended version instructs the attorney general to assess “the constitutionality of prohibiting a company on the list…from entering into a contract with a public entity.”

“The bill came out with amendments that really, in my view, took the whole meaning away from the bill, stripped out all references to Israel and all of the important operative language, and turned it into something very different,” Bloom told the Journal on Friday.

On the Assembly floor Thursday, ” target=”_blank”>introduced an anti-BDS bill virtually identical to the one Bloom introduced in March, but the California Legislative Jewish Caucus (CLJC) was

Jewish Dems face off in costly state senate contest


UPDATE: Republican Steve Fazio took 37.5 percent of the votes in the race to become state senator in California’s 27th district. Henry Stern defeated Janice Kamenir-Reznik for the second spot on the November ballot. Though Kamenir-Reznik, a prominent figure in the local Jewish community, led Stern for most of the evening of June 7, by the time all the votes were counted she had taken 19.7 percent of the vote to Stern’s 26.5 percent. All three candidates are Jewish.

“While of course the results in my race were very disappointing, that does not take away from my sense of accomplishment and gratitude,” Kamenir-Reznik wrote in an email to supporters the morning after the election. “I am very proud of the race we ran.”

Until January, Henry Stern, 34, a top staffer for termed-out state Sen. Fran Pavley, appeared to be a lock to replace her: He had an impressive war chest and endorsements from a laundry list of elected leaders. 

Then, Janice Kamenir-Reznik, 64, entered the race with a history in Jewish and civic life longer than her opponent’s entire life. 

If there was ever a question of why California’s primary system is called a “jungle primary,” the lopsided Democratic side of the contest in the 27th state Senate district could provide an answer.

Even though the district leans Democratic, the five Democrats splitting their ticket will likely assure the lone Republican, Steve Fazio, a spot in the November election under the primary rules passed by voter initiative in 2010. And the tone has soured among the competition. 

Amid an unusual wash of campaign money for a state seat, much of the oxygen in the race has gone to barbs traded between Kamenir-Reznik and Stern, whose fundraising and endorsements indicate they are likely the strongest candidates.

Each has accused the other of accepting money from fossil fuel interests in a district where the environment looms large for many voters, sprawling as it does from the Ventura Freeway and the backbone of the Santa Monica Mountains down to the Malibu coastline. 

Kamenir-Reznik’s entry into the race didn’t augur well for a friendly contest with Stern. 

Sheila Kuehl and Zev Yaroslavsky, respectively current and former Los Angeles County supervisors for parts of the same district, pulled their support from Stern to endorse Kamenir-Reznik when she put her name on the ballot. Both claim Kamenir-Reznik as a longtime friend.

“She had been my preferred candidate all along,” Kuehl told the Jewish Journal. “And so I apologetically called Henry and said, ‘I’m sorry but Janice was always my candidate, and I have known her for 35 years, so good luck.’ ”

Kamenir-Reznik said her decision to run for the seat in 2016 came after an unfruitful attempt two years ago to recruit her to run.

She’s perhaps best known to L.A.’s Jewry as a co-founder of Jewish World Watch, an organization fighting genocide and rape in Africa that grew out of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, and now focuses on Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as lobbying in Washington, D.C. 

She also is a former president of the California Women’s Law Center and presided over Los Angeles County’s Judicial Procedures Commission, where she helped launch a network of self-help legal clinics. Together with her husband, she ran Reznik and Reznik, a large law firm dealing with diverse land-use issues. 

Both she and Stern have worked in environmental law.

Stern’s sell is that even though he has less experience in years, his background is more relevant to the office he’s running for.

“She’s done amazing work in the Jewish community, and I would never, ever try to take that away from her,” Stern said.

But, he added, “The policymaking process is different than running a nonprofit or being a land-use environmental attorney.”

Stern promises a different kind of Jewish candidate. He styled himself as a “millennial Jewish man” in an interview with the Jewish Journal, saying because he is conversant in the ways of Sacramento politics, he can deftly represent his generation and their concerns in the capital.

As Pavley’s senior policy adviser, he wrote many of her bills, including the bulk of her environmental legislation, since he began working for her in 2011.

Both candidates’ appeal aims at the same political bases, and their support splits California’s Jewish community leaders. 

Though Stern earned the endorsement of the California Jewish Legislative Caucus, Kamenir-Reznik boasts support from Sen. Dianne Feinstein — the highest Jewish officeholder in California politics — and many recognizable names in the local Jewish community, such as actress Mayim Bialik (“The Big Bang Theory”) and Abby Leibman, president and CEO of the nonprofit MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. Stern, who along with his father, actor Daniel Stern (“Home Alone”), helped pass a statewide film tax credit in 2014, also has some backing from Hollywood circles, including Billy Crystal and “Homeland” creator Howard Gordon.

In large part, the race is animated not by the differences between the two candidates, but by their similarities, said Herbert Gooch, a political science professor at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.

“Both are very liberal; both happen to be Jewish and are very much tied into human rights,” Gooch said. “In fact, they’re very similar, which unfortunately has meant kind of a nasty tone that has been developing.”

Much of the tit-for-tat between Kamenir-Reznik and Stern focuses on money pouring in from outside the district.

Together, the candidates in the race have raised more than $2.5 million. Stern’s campaign leads the pack in fundraising at $890,396. As of May 26, Kamenir-Reznik, with less time in the race, comes in second at $685,007, according to filings with the California secretary of state.

But in addition to funds raised by the candidates themselves, money has flowed into the race from political action committees (PACs), which can spend for or against a candidate without the candidate’s cooperation. 

Together, PACs representing the California Dental Association (CDA) and the California Apartment Association have spent nearly $300,000 to support Kamenir-Reznik. 

Another $180,000 from the dentists’ PAC and a second real estate group has gone to opposing Stern without explicitly supporting any of his opponents.

Candidates are legally barred from communicating with such interests-spending on their behalf. But that hasn’t stopped Stern from suggesting Kamenir-Reznik is linked to oil interests via independent expenditure PACs supporting her.

A Stern campaign mailer features a picture of Pavley under the headline “A message from State Senator Fran Pavley.”

“Big Oil smeared me in 2012,” it reads. “Now they’re coming after Henry Stern, the most qualified candidate for State Senate.”

As evidence that the oil company is sneakily spending for his opponent, Stern’s campaign points to the relationship between the dentists’ PAC and a Chevron-supported group called Keep Californians Working .When it comes to dark money groups, Pavley said in an interview that what’s alarming is not “who or how much or which one.” 

She told the Jewish Journal, “Money should come from people who know you and work with you in the district in which you live.”

Stern’s campaign charges in a second mailer that $17,300 was channeled to the dentists’ group by the Chevron-funded PAC, which also receives support from the insurance and real estate industries.

“I’m just saying you can’t wash clean that 17 grand from that PAC,” Stern said. “They play a shell game, the oil companies, and I don’t even think it’s Janice’s fault necessarily. My beef isn’t with her — it’s with the oil guys.”

However, a spokesperson for the dentists’ association said the $17,300 from Keep Californians Working was “a non-monetary, in-kind contribution” in the form of polling data, and that it does not accept money from that PAC. (The money goes the other way, though: The dentists’ PAC reported a $500,000 donation to Keep Californians Working on March 17.)

Nonetheless, the Stern campaign has doubled down on the charge that his opponent benefits from oil money. 

In a Stern campaign video posted to Facebook on May 27, “Seinfeldcreator Larry David tepidly referred to the candidate as a “good guy,” saying he only endorsed Stern because his ex-wife “prevailed upon” him to do so. In the next frame, David’s ex-wife, Laurie David, calls the Jewish TV star to say, “Big oil is spending a fortune trying to defeat [Stern].”

Kamenir-Reznik called the Chevron money charge “a patent lie.” In an interview, she pointed out she openly opposes offshore drilling and favors an outright prohibition on fracking for natural gas, giving the energy giant scant reason to support her.

“He’s created this complete fabrication about the oil industry coming after him,” she said in an interview. “To me that’s the most obnoxious part of this campaign. He’s created a boogieman that doesn’t exist.”

In response to the accusation, Kuehl recorded a robocall rejecting it.

“There would be no reason for [Chevron] to invest in [Kamenir-Reznik] – and of course they didn’t,” Kuehl said.

She said the robocall makes a counterclaim, connecting Stern with money linked to SoCal Gas, the utility company responsible for the massive Porter Ranch gas leak that displaced thousands of residents in the 27th district.

Last June, Sempra Energy, the parent company of SoCal Gas, which administers the Porter Ranch gas storage site, donated $1,500 to Stern, and an employee of the utility gave $250. Seven months later, Stern’s campaign gave away $1,750 to the American Lung Association to offset those sums.

Stern has also received $9,000 from employees of a Washington, D.C.-based law firm where he worked for two years in 2009 on climate change, among other issues. The firm represents Sempra, a fact Kamenir-Reznik has brought up.

Of the Sempra claim, Stern said: “It’s silly season in politics, so I’m not surprised that things like this come out. In terms of my work at the law firm, I’m incredibly proud of that.”

The 27th district contest’s other candidates seem content to sit back while Stern and Kamenir-Reznik go after  each other.

Shawn Bayliss, a top staffer for L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, and David Pollock, a Moorpark city councilman, are also running for the seat, but they lag behind Stern and Kamenir-Reznik in fundraising. Bayliss has raised almost $530,000 while Pollock pulled in just over $180,000. Each stands to gain if the two top contenders drain votes from each other.

A fifth Democrat, newspaper publisher George Christopher Thomas, hasn’t reported any fundraising and is considered a long shot.

Bayliss called the trading of barbs between Kamenir-Reznik and Stern “the classic pot-and-kettle scenario.” But as far as he’s concerned, “They can beat each other up all day — go ahead.”

Don’t like Trump’s wiews on immigration? Blame California


Three out of every four Californians have an unfavorable view of Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president. In a poll taken before his opponents dropped out, four of 10 California Republicans would be “upset” if he won the nomination.

California has been making national headlines with bold liberal policies in the past few weeks, so the state’s coolness to Trump—and the antipathy on display when he visited the state two weeks ago—might seem unsurprising. After all, on Trump’s signature issues–demonizing Latino immigrants and building a wall to keep them out—he is far outside the state’s mainstream; a recent poll shows that less than a quarter of Californians agree with his stances on “illegal” and Muslim immigration, and just 16 percent of Californians support widespread deportations.

But Californians who might be tempted to pat themselves on the back for their state’s open-mindedness should make no mistake. When it comes to insulting immigrants and building walls to keep them out, the Golden State started it.

Today’s anti-immigrant campaigns began not with New York billionaires or white conservatives in rural America, but with middle-class professionals, both Democrats and Republicans, in California. For most of U.S. history, fomenting anti-immigrant sentiment was a project of labor unions and working people who feared job competition from newcomers. In these movements—particularly those directed at Chinese people in the 19th century—California was a national leader. 

Trump draws votes mostly from a 21st-century version of that working-class demographic. But his rhetoric on immigration is much newer—it comes straight from an anti-immigrant movement begun 25 years ago by educated, mostly white California suburbanites from across the political spectrum. 

Trump has famously said he will force Mexico to pay for a new wall on the entire southern border through a variety of pressure tactics, among them increasing fees on all Mexican border crossers. While this idea may sound very Republican today, my University of Oregon colleague, the political scientist Dan Hosang, has shown that it originated with our own Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, former mayor of liberal San Francisco.

In 1993, the newly elected Feinstein became the first California senator in decades to make immigration control a major political issue. She wrote in the Los Angeles Times that “illegal” immigrants cost the state billions and filled its jails with criminals; she brought that same message to talk shows and the U.S. Senate. How to crack down? Feinstein’s proposal: Charge a $1 toll on anyone entering the country and use the money to increase funding for the Border Patrol. 

Trump also wants to end the birthright citizenship that is currently guaranteed by the Constitution. That idea first picked up steam in California, too. It was proposed in the early 1990s by Simi Valley’s Republican Congressman, Elton Gallegly, and soon gained the support of a neighboring congressman, Democrat Anthony Beilenson.

I was in high school in Los Angeles in 1994 when California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 187, a ballot initiative to deny public services, including education and health care, to undocumented immigrants. In hindsight, most remember this as the signature issue of Republican Governor Pete Wilson. Yet observers at the time noted that Wilson had previously focused on ensuring that the state’s agricultural interests had as many immigrant workers as they needed. It was actually the stand of the liberal Feinstein, a fierce political rival of Wilson’s, that “inspired” the conservative governor’s turn to a strongly anti-immigrant agenda.

Furthermore, the grassroots energy for the proposition did not come from the working-class white folks that support Trump today. Rather, both Hosang and another scholar, Robin Dale Jacobson, found that Proposition 187 activists were middle-class professionals: accountants and engineers, secretaries and educators. Their rhetoric did not focus on job competition as earlier anti-immigrant movements in the United States had. Rather, they decried “billions of tax dollars” spent on public services for immigrants and accused them of importing “rape, robbery, assault”—the same allegations Trump is making today.

California’s politics may have changed since those days, but many Californian people and ideas of that time, having relocated to Trump country, are part of today’s anti-immigrant campaigns. Trump swept Georgia and Alabama, two states that passed high-profile anti-immigrant laws in recent years, and whose immigration histories I have spent a decade researching. Those laws bear the fingerprints of California. In Alabama, the anti-immigrant law was pushed by the Alabama Federation of Republican Women—whose president, Elois Zeanah, was a longtime city councilwoman and mayor in her 25-year home, the L.A. suburb of Thousand Oaks. 

As for Georgia, its grassroots anti-immigrant movement began just a few months after Proposition 187’s passage, in the fast-growing Atlanta suburb of Cobb County. Members of a local neighborhood group borrowed the pro-187 campaign’s language in a letter-writing campaign to elected officials: Immigrants “drain our economy,” “crowd our school system,” and are responsible for “criminal activity.”

Most of Cobb’s residents at that time were interstate transplants, including thousands of ex-Californians. One of them, a former resident of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, wrote to his mayor: “At one time The Valley was 90+% white. The streets were very clean. Crime was very low. All of that has changed. During the last 10 years the Valley has been invaded by people from Mexico and all points south. … It is happening right here in Georgia. We need to stop it before it gets out of hand.” 

Cobb remains the hub of the state’s anti-immigrant movement: one of the first Georgia counties to pass a local anti-immigrant ordinance, and home to the state’s most prominent anti-immigrant group, the Dustin Inman Society. The society’s mission? To prevent the coming of “Georgiafornia”—“the chaos that has befallen the once wealthy and desirable state of California,” thanks to “illegal” immigration.

Californians can be proud that, as a whole, they no longer support the anti-immigrant agenda. But before they smugly dismiss nativism as a faraway phenomenon in which they are not implicated, Californians should remember their own recent history. Anti-immigrant sentiment has been present throughout U.S. history. But it was Californians who renewed it at the end of the 20th century, giving it the legs Trump has commandeered on his run into the 21st. 


Julie M. Weise is assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon and author of Corazón de Dixie: Mexicanos in the U.S. South since 1910. She was previously an assistant professor at Cal State Long Beach.

This article first appeared on Zocalo Public Square.

Drought rules pushed Californians to cut water use by nearly 25 pct


Residents and businesses in drought-stricken California cut back water use by nearly 25 percent from June 2015 through the end of February 2016 – enough to supply nearly 6 million people for a year, officials said Monday.

The state's first ever mandatory cutbacks in water use were imposed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown as the state entered its fourth year of devastating drought last spring, leading to a savings of 1.19 million acre-feet of water, about the amount used annually by the cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego combined.

“Californians rose to the occasion, reducing irrigation, fixing leaks, taking shorter showers, and saving our precious water resources in all sorts of ways,” said Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, which developed the regulations and is responsible for enforcing them.

Under the rules, California residents and businesses were required to cut back their usage by up to 36 percent over 2013, in a range determined by a combination of geography and past conservation efforts. All told, they conserved by 24 percent, close to the 25 percent goal set by Brown in an emergency order issued by Brown last April.

Regulators are weighing whether to lift or adjust the cutbacks following a wet winter that has left the northern part of the state with a plentiful water supply.

Regulators are set to reconsider the orders at a series of meetings later this month, as consumers and water utilities chafe under the continued burden.

One water district, responding to consumers who are irate that they must continue to conserve even as their local reservoir is reaching flood-control levels, has on its own told residents that they will no longer require cutbacks.

“It's very hard to maintain your credibility when residents can see the lake spilling for flood control purposes,” yet stringent cutbacks are still being enforced, said Keith Durkin, assistant general manager of the San Juan Water District, which serves the community of Granite Bay and other suburbs east of Sacramento with water from Folsom Lake.

California lawmakers approve hiking minimum wage to $15


A plan to raise California's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022 passed both houses of the state legislature on Thursday, putting the state on track to become the first in the nation to commit to such a large pay hike for the working poor.

The measure, incorporating a deal Governor Jerry Brown reached with labor leaders and progressive Democrats in the Legislature, was approved in the state Senate Thursday afternoon after winning approval earlier in the day in the Assembly, and now goes to Brown for his signature.

“If you work full time, your family shouldn't live in poverty,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Southern California Democrat, said in support of the bill to raise the state's minimum wage from its current level of $10 per hour.

Lawmakers from the state's poorer regions said the measure could harm small businesses that are barely hanging on amid double-digit unemployment, ultimately leading to job losses.

If enacted, the bill would put California, home to one of the world's biggest economies, among a growing number of U.S. states and cities that have moved in recent years to surpass the federal minimum wage, which has remained at $7.25 an hour since 2009. A proposal to raise the minimum wage in parts of New York state to $15 was announced Thursday by Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders.

The California measure would gradually raise the state's hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2022 for large businesses and by 2023 for smaller firms.

The measure would also head off two competing ballot initiatives lacking a provision to allow the governor to suspend increases in hard economic times, a deal breaker for Brown.

The proposal sped through the legislative process after the governor's office reached a deal last week with labor unions pushing a similar minimum wage hike in the form of two ballot initiatives.

With polls showing strong support for those measures at the ballot box, Brown emphasized that a version passed through the legislature would allow lawmakers to amend it if needed over time instead of going back to voters to request amendments in expensive and uncertain campaigns.

Moreover, the deal allows the state to opt out of minimum wage increases if the economy is doing poorly, a provision not in either of the union-backed ballot initiatives.

Even so, several moderate Democrats and most Republicans complained that it was being rushed through, and would disproportionately harm businesses in poorer parts of the state, where the cost of living is not high enough to warrant such a dramatic wage hike.

The deal reached in New York would raise wages in costly New York City to $15 in three years, but would stagger increases in other parts of the state, some to just $12.50 per hour unless further approval is granted. It still must pass the legislature, where negotiations on the details are ongoing.

Jewish Dem withdraws support of Republican’s anti-BDS bill, plans to introduce same legislation


This story is developing.

For nearly three months, an anti-BDS bill Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica)

An official in Allen’s Sacramento office said there was “nothing to leak” and that the “timeline speaks for itself. ” The source believes Greenger “connected the dots” earlier this month after being declined on-the-record comment when she asked Allen’s office why the bill was stalled. Before Greenger wrote about the issue, there still appeared to be hope a deal could be reached between Allen and the Jewish caucus, but, the official said, Bloom asked Allen to postpone announcing him as the bill’s joint author, even though he had requested joint authorship in February, pending the caucus’s support and approval of his amendments.

“Bloom had that as a stipulation right when he signed on and [has] been pushing for no [press] coverage for a month,” the source, who asked to not be named, said. “Thus why you saw no related [press] release, even though we shook hands in February”

Allen’s bill is still technically alive and waiting to move forward, and includes bipartisan commitments to coauthor, including from Democrats Matt Dababneh (D-Encino) and Mike Gatto (D-Burbank), according to the proposed March 14 amendments to AB 1552. 

“AB 1552 is the only bipartisan bill in the California legislature that’s been organized and moving for months,” Allen said. “With bipartisan legislation already in existence, it would make the most sense to join together.”

Stone attended the recent AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C. along with Allen, who’s a regular attendee and went this year in part to garner support for his bill among both Republicans and Democrats. Stone said Democratic members of his caucus were upset they had not been asked to give AB 1552 “a litmus test” before it was submitted.

“They’re going to promote their own bill, and they’re going to use their political might to suppress Travis Allen’s bill,” Stone said of his colleagues in the Jewish caucus. “He’s trying to make it bipartisan, and yet it sounds as if we have the Jewish caucus putting up roadblocks.”

But Jewish caucus chair State Senator Marty Block (D-San Diego) says this isn’t about partisan politics, but about what will give an anti-BDS bill the best odds of success.

“If we have an anti-BDS bill that comes to the legislature, it will be very controversial. It will likely face heavy opposition by the pro-BDS folks,” said Block on March 28. “We think that a bill authored by the Jewish caucus will have more support from our colleagues in all the other ethnic caucuses and the rest of the legislature.”

Bloom said it is “certainly correct that the caucus would like to be the sponsor of legislation like this,” and said Allen “failed to consult with the caucus at all” before introducing the bill. But Allen's aide said Allen had met informally with caucus members and staffers at the end of 2015, before he introduced the bill, and in January and February met individually with caucus members and as a group with the caucus to review AB 1552.

“I was there when Travis Allen made his pitch, and it seemed as though Mr. Bloom was speaking very positively about partnering with him and coming back to the caucus with some type of joint effort to promote a bill,” Stone said, referring to a meeting between Allen and the Jewish caucus on Feb. 4. He criticized what he said would be his fellow caucus members promoting the bill from Allen, a fellow Republican, “under their name,” when “there was never anyone who came forward” with anti-BDS legislation until Allen introduced it.

Bloom countered that although discussions about the bill took place during the legislature’s fall break in the last quarter of 2015, “that is also a notoriously difficult time to gather together and arrive at decisions.”

Bloom said earlier interaction with the Caucus by Allen “would have avoided the mess we now find ourselves in,” which, Bloom said he hopes, “will disappear when my bill advances.”

“We have enough issues with those bearing ill will towards Jews and Israel. That is where our focus must be,” Bloom said.

Israel conducts significant trade with California. In 2014, the state exported just over $2.3 billion in goods to Israel — including manufactured goods, electronics and agricultural products. Also in 2014, Brown and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed a nonbinding agreement to boost high-tech cooperation between California and Israel, aimed at solving problems related to water, alternative energy sources and cyber security. And in Sept. 2015, Los Angeles County and the City of Beverly Hills each signed nonbinding agreements to cooperate with Israel on water scarcity issues.

Neither AB 1552 nor Bloom’s expected bill is the first bill of its kind. Last year Illinois passed a law barring state pension funds from investing in companies that boycott Israel. And South Carolina has a law requiring state contractors to affirm they’re not involved in any boycott of Israel. Earlier this month, the Florida legislature passed a similar bill, which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law.

In early January, Allen also introduced AB 1551, which would direct the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) to divest from companies that boycott or engage in political or economic discrimination against Israel. CalPERS and CalSTRS have portfolios worth nearly $500 billion combined, the largest of their kinds in the nation. AB 1551 is still waiting to be referred to the Rules Committee.

So far, the BDS movement’s success in the United States has been limited to votes of support in student governments on dozens of American campuses, as well as to liberal churches like the Presbyterian Church, Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, and several academic associations. But the effectiveness of the movement in Europe is a different story. BDS had a major victory in January, when the European Union, Israel’s top trading partner, mandated that some imported products originating from the West Bank should be labeled as “made in settlements.” 

Stone said he fears the current discord over Allen’s anti-BDS legislation could provide an opening to anti-Israel, pro-BDS forces, and he thinks “the liberal approach by the Jewish caucus” could make the bill vulnerable to becoming something that’s “not going to be what people expect in the end.”

“What I worry about is that a caucus-sponsored bill may be amended in ways we don’t like,” Stone said. “There are going to be BDS people in these hearings that take advantage of this division.”

Moving and shaking: Jeopardy winner, AIPAC gala, YU and more


This local college student is $100,000 richer. The question, “Jeopardy!”-style, would be: “Who is USC student Sam Deutsch?”

The junior political economy major won the game show’s recent college tournament, which culminated on Feb. 12. 

“It definitely has not sunk in yet. I don’t know if it ever will,” Deutsch wrote the Journal in an email from the Netherlands, where he’s spending a semester studying at Maastricht University. The Bethesda, Md., resident plans to go to law school and work in his native Washington, D.C., after graduation.

Deutsch said he played online trivia games, watched “Jeopardy!” episodes using a pen as the buzzer and brushed up on history and geography to prepare. His mother and father attended the show’s January taping, along with his grandmother, uncle and a few USC classmates. The latter held viewing parties when the show aired and sent congratulatory messages and pictures. “Even though I’m halfway across the world, I still feel close to home,” Deutsch said.

He said he plans to use his prize money for law school, travel, and a donation to the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research at Georgetown University in honor of his mother, a cancer survivor. 

At USC, Deutsch, 20, said he has DJ’d at Hillel’s Chanukah party and observes Passover and the High Holy Days. He’ll compete in the “Jeopardy!” Tournament of Champions (TOC) in November for a $250,000 prize. “The fact that I’ve even gotten this far is amazing, so anything that happens in the TOC is a huge bonus,” he said. 

— Gerri Miller, Contributing Writer


More than 1,400 guests attended AIPAC’s Los Angeles Gala Dinner on Feb. 21 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. Featured speakers included former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; AIPAC Christian activist Pastor Chris Edmonds, whose father was recently recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem for saving Jewish prisoners of war during World War II; Wayne Klitofsky, AIPAC’s regional director; and Julie Munjack, Los Angeles AIPAC director. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) took part in a panel moderated by AIPAC board member Michael Tuchin.

Attendees included a number of Democratic congressmen from California: Brad Sherman, Linda Sanchez, Janice Hahn, Julia Brownley, Alan Lowenthal, Raul Ruiz and Mark Takano. Among the state legislators present were Democrat State Sens. Isadore Hall and Ben Allen and Republican Jeff Stone, as well as Democratic Assemblyman Matt Dababneh and Republican Travis Allen.

Other officials included Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel, Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, West Hollywood Councilman John Duran, and Santa Ana Councilmember Michele Martinez.

AIPAC is a pro-Israel lobby that it urges members of Congress to support Israel through foreign aid, government partnerships and more.

— Jewish Insider


Academy of Jewish Religion, California (AJRCA) has appointed Rabbi Laura Owens of Congregation B’nai Horin as its interim president. Former President Tamar Frankiel, who became the first Orthodox woman to lead an American rabbinical seminary when she was appointed president in 2013, has returned to the position of provost.

Rabbi Laura Owens, interim president at Academy of Jewish Religion, California. Photo courtesy of AJRCA

“She is a remarkably gifted woman and we are so honored and delighted she is staying on as provost,” Owens said.

Owens, who served as chair of the board at the school before being named president, earned her bachelor’s degree in theater arts from USC, and has spent most of her adult career as an actress, appearing on television and in theater, according to her congregation’s website. She was ordained at AJRCA in 2008.

Succeeding Owens is Marlene Canter, who graduated from the school in 2015 and is serving as interim board chair.

The transition in leadership became effective Jan. 1. Meanwhile, a search for a long-term president is underway.

AJRCA is a transdenominational school in Koreatown dedicated to training rabbis, cantors, chaplains and other Jewish community leaders. The school currently serves approximately 60 students, according to its website. 


Some 300 people turned out Feb. 17 at Stephen Wise Temple to hear Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback moderate a debate between Rob Eshman, publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media/Jewish Journal, and David Suissa, president of TRIBE Media/Jewish Journal. 

From left: Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman and Jewish Journal President David Suissa appear at Stephen Wise Temple for a conversation about Israel, American Jewry and more. Photo by Lisa Ellen Niver

The two outlined their sharp differences over the Iran nuclear deal, how to approach Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and President Barack Obama’s Mideast policies, but also focused on how they work together to create media that incorporate the widest range of viewpoints.


From Jan 17-24, Yosef Kerendian, Ezra Schwarcz and Bella Sebban, three Orthodox or Modern Orthodox Los Angelenos who are currently enrolled at Yeshiva University (YU), participated in a trip to Israel organized by the university during their winter break. 

Participants in the Yeshiva University-organized trip to Israel in January included (seated from left) YU students Manny Dahari of Chicago and Angelenos Yosef Kerendian, Ezra Schwarcz and Bella Sebban. Photo courtesy of Yeshiva University

In total, 20 YU undergraduate students from around the country participated in the trip. 

Kerendian, 19, graduated from Yeshiva Gedolah of Los Angeles; Schwarcz, 22, is an alumnus of Shalhevet High School; and Sebban, 22, is a graduate of Bais Yaakov School for Girls. 

“I had the tremendous privilege of spending seven insightful, emotional and thought-provoking days on Yeshiva University’s 2016 Solidarity Mission to Israel this past week,” Sebban said in a statement provided to the Journal. “After going on this mission, I feel very strongly about spreading the message that no matter where you are in the world, the land of Israel is intertwined in the genetic makeup of a Jew.”

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

California, Israel to partner on stem cell research


Doctors, dignitaries and officials representing Israel and California convened at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Feb. 8 to witness the signing of an agreement between Israel’s Ministry of Science and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to collaborate on stem cell research. It follows a 2014 Memorandum of Understanding to promote collaboration and innovation between Israel and California.

“Stem cell research is a cutting-edge field full of promise and opportunity. Who better to forge new ground together than the State of Israel and the State of California?” Israeli Minister of Science, Technology and Space Ofir Akunis said. “Both are hotbeds of innovation, medical research and technological invention and have a strong commitment to science as a means to improve the lot of all humanity … and creating a brighter future for us all.”

Stem cells are cells in the body that have the ability to renew themselves. Some stem cells can form other cells that make up different types of tissues and organs in the body. As such, they can act as a repair system for the body, replenishing adult tissues. 

CIRM Chairman Jonathan Thomas said he was inspired to reach out to Israel after hearing Israeli stem cell scientists speak at City of Hope’s annual conference in November 2011. 

“If a scientist in Israel is working on something that another scientist in California is working on,” Thomas explained, “they can jointly propose to CIRM for funding, and if they pass peer review and are approved, they will be jointly funded by us for the California scientist and the government of Israel for the Israeli scientist. 

“Also,” he continued, “we are actively looking for projects from around the world to encourage them to develop a California nexus to what they’re doing. If there’s a project in Israel that requires multiple clinical trials, we could encourage them to come to Cedars and they could apply to CIRM for funding. That way, we help to develop the best projects.”

Although it is not specifically involved in the agreement, Cedars-Sinai “has made a major commitment to stem cell research,” Senior Vice President and Dean Shlomo Melmed said. “Our scientists have shown that stem cell technology can help reverse heart attack damage, the effects of macular degeneration, joint damage including osteoporosis-related fractures, and we’re about to embark on very promising early clinical trials for treating ALS.”

The therapy’s possibilities hit home when Julian A. Gold, Beverly Hills mayor and co-chair of Cedars-Sinai’s anesthesiology department, announced that he had a stem cell transplant nine years ago to treat leukemia. “I am standing here as evidence of the benefits of stem cells,” he said.

David Siegel, the American-born consul general of Israel to the U.S., talked about Israel’s history of success in stem cell research. “We are very well positioned to achieve breakthroughs very quickly and move very quickly on clinical trials therapies. With funding and through these partnerships with American companies, we can have quick FDA approval. For Israel, CIRM is like oxygen.”

The benefit will be mutual. “We will bring the minds and technology from Israel here. We’re creating jobs here in America,” said Israeli-American Council National Chairman Adam Milstein, whose organization aims to strengthen the bond between Israelis and Americans and “ensure Jewish and Israeli identity for future generations.” He also sees the stem cell agreement and others as a vital step in countering the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“With this scientific and technical partnership showing the Israel behind the conflict to the world, we can fight BDS head-on,” he said, noting that other agreements are forthcoming in the areas of cybersecurity, biotech and water issues such as drought, a particular concern in California.

“Five years ago, very few people understood that Israel could be the key to solving the water problem in the world, and now because of these agreements, we have more visibility and more people are taking notice,” Siegel said, noting a growing interest in partnerships from other states, companies and academic institutions.

Akunis is setting his sights globally. “The beauty of Israel is high-tech innovation, and the cooperation will be not only with the United States and Europe but places like China, South Korea, Japan, India, Vietnam, all over the world,” he said. “We want to continue to lead the world in technology.” Public schools in Israel stress science and provide a tablet for every student.

For Israel, the benefits of international partnerships are vital. “These agreements are a way to put and keep Israel on the map in a very significant way, for our companies and for Israel’s ability to grow and protect itself,” Siegel said. “Israel is under political attack from our enemies and opponents around the world. One of the ways to fight that is by partnering with countries like the United States and states like California.” 

+