The Mensch List: Hope for Paws founder’s dogged devotion

When Eldad Hagar, co-founder of the dog rescue Hope for Paws, arrived at the trash heap in Wilmington last November, a defeated-looking white husky huddled miserably amid the garbage, her red and raw body racked with mange, bacterial infections and parasites. The dog was too listless to run away or even to move as Hagar approached. But Hagar patiently sat with and fed the dog he would name Miley, until he was able to coax her into his Honda SUV more than an hour later. His heartrending YouTube video depicts the rescue, as well as Miley’s remarkable recovery and her friendship with another stray, Frankie, a black Chihuahua that Hagar saved by crawling deep inside a tunnel running under the I-5 freeway in Sylmar.

Miley and Frankie are just two of thousands of dogs that Hagar, along with his wife, Audrey, have rescued and found homes for since 2001: “I always save the most miserable, saddest, sickest dogs,” said Hagar, who prefers to handle the rescue missions solo. “They’re matted, starving, filthy, shot with BB guns. One pit bull mix had been shot, hit by a car and he was so hungry that he had eaten rocks to fill his stomach.”

Hagar has been rescuing animals since he was 5 in the northern Israeli town of Zichron Ya’akov, where neighbors knew to bring him stay dogs, kittens, birds and even hedgehogs that he would nurse back to health.

After marrying Audrey in 1999, the couple began volunteering with local animal groups and then fostered hundreds of dogs before Hagar began rescuing strays and capturing his missions on videotape for YouTube. The couple founded Hope for Paws in 2008, which survives on funds donated mostly from followers of their two Facebook pages.

One of Hagar’s some 200 YouTube videos shows him tying two ladders together with a leash to save a German shepherd trapped 20 feet below him in the Los Angeles River in Compton; another depicts him saving Frankie from the tunnel where she had almost drowned. But it was the video of Fiona, a terrified, blind poodle mix who underwent surgery to repair one of her eyes, that went viral last year and put Hope for Paws on the global map.

The organization now has 500,000 followers on Facebook, and Hagar has begun a new mission to spay and neuter strays with a mobile unit that treated 1,000 dogs last month. He now works 15 hours a day rescuing up to 20 dogs per week, driving to veterinary appointments and working to find the animals new homes, among other endeavors. “In my car I carry traps, ropes, fencing, flashlights — I’m ready for everything,” he said.

Hagar has rescued other animals as well: Last year, he chanced upon a donkey on the side of the road in the Negev Desert, its front legs tied together with rope that had cut to the bone; he waited for two hours in the searing heat until his friend from Israel’s Pegasus sanctuary arrived to pick up the animal.

“There are 30,000 dogs on the streets of Los Angeles each night,” he said of his work here. “There are so many living in horrible conditions, and they can’t help themselves. Miley, for example, would not have gotten better over time; she would have deteriorated and died a painful, miserable death.”

For information about Hagar’s work, visit

Israel cited in Caterpillar’s delisting from influential investment index

The sale of Caterpillar tractors to Israel was a factor, but not the determining one, in the delisting of the company from an influential index that prioritizes good governance and human rights.The move, however, is poised to further complicate the difficult ongoing conversation about Israel taking place between American Jewish gruops and the Presbyterian Church (USA).

A senior official at MSCI-ESG, a subdivision of MSCI, Morgan Stanley’s investment advice arm, said Caterpillar already had a low rating before its delisting earlier this year, in part because of its association with the Israeli army’s use of the tractors in the West Bank and past use in the Gaza Strip. The role of Israel’s use of the tractors in the decision also suggests that a sustained campaign by pro-Palestinian groups has had some effect, although officials at MSGI-ESG and one of its clients, the TIAA-CREF pension fund, deny succumbing to direct pressure.

TIAA-CREF’s divestiture amounted to $72 million in funds, dwarfing previous divestitures by liberal religious groups such as Friends Fiduciary, a Quaker group that divested $900,000.

The news of the delisting comes ahead of the biennial general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), where divestment from Caterpillar and other companies selling products used by the Israeli army, will be considered.

Ethan Felson, the assistant executive director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the Jewish community’s lead official in countering the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement aimed at Israel—known as BDS, said that news of the MSCI-ESG decision would cause “damage” just ahead of the Presbyterian colloquy.

He said that linking Caterpillar to Israeli practices was “nonsensical,” noting that it had no say in how the U.S. military resells the tractors, and that it could not legally turn down the U.S. military as a client.

The MSGI-ESG official told JTA on Friday that what drove Caterpillar off the index was the company’s decision in February to shutter a London, Ont. plant after a high-profile dispute with employees. However, the official acknowledged several factors played into it, including the association of CAT with Israeli army practices in the occupied territories.

The death in 2003 of Rachel Corrie, an American pro-Palestinian activist, while she was protesting such a demolition in Gaza, helped spur the BDS movement forward. Corrie’s parents and witnesses say she was caught beneath an armored tractor.  The army denies fault and maintains she was killed by debris.

MSCI-ESG – ESG stands for Environment, Social or Governance – has as its clients a number of progressive groups that base their investments in part on social justice issues, including care for the environment, the treatment and safety of employees, and involvement in human rights abuses.

MSCI-ESG’s decision, made in February and effective as of March 1, came to light this week because of claims by groups associated with the BDS movement that a decision by TIAA-CREF – a pension fund for teachers and other academics – to divest from Caterpillar was a result of their pressure.

“It’s long past time that TIAA-CREF began living up to its motto of ‘Financial Services for the Greater Good’ when it comes to the people of Israel and Palestine,” Rabbi Alissa Wise, the national coordinator for “We Divest,” a coalition of several groups, including Jewish Voice for Peace, where Wise is director of campaigns.

Caterpillar, in a statement released to Jewish groups, once again denied direct sales to Israel of the D-9 Track-Type tractors.

“This is how it works,” corporate spokesman Jim Dugan said. “Caterpillar sells equipment to the U.S. government, which then transfers the equipment to the Israeli government, which then transfers it to the Israeli military.  Israeli is one of about 150 countries that take part in the program, which supports U.S. allies. For the D9s, the protective armor plating, the bullet resistant glass and other modifications take place after the machine has been transferred to the Israeli government by the U.S. government.  These changes happen after the sale, not in our factories. We hope and wish for a peaceful resolution to the unrest in the Middle East, but that solution is a political matter to be worked out by the appropriate parties.  Caterpillar does not and should not have a role in that political process.”

The Jewish Federations of America’s Israel Action Network derided the haste with which pro-BDS groups claimed credit for the divestment.

“Pro-BDS groups have constructed the ‘Caterpillar Myth’ that insinuates a conflict between the machine and the Palestinian people,” Geri Palast, IAN’s managing director said in a statement. “It is designed to invoke dystopian images, link BDS to specific Israeli policies and appeal to fear.”

Officials of TIAA-CREF, however, denied such pressure was a factor and pointed JTA to established policy that devolves such decisions to its “social screen vendor,” in this case, MSCI-ESG.

And while the MSCI-ESG official, who spoke on background, affirmed that Israel’s use of the tractors was one of several factors in the decision, he also said that an established methodology determines which company is listed and which is not, and that decisions are not based on representations from interest groups. The official’s emphasis suggested that shuttering the Canadian factory had greater weight than Israel’s use of the tractors.

Rebecca Vilkomerson, the Jewish Voice for Peace spokswoman said she was “confident” that representations by the We Divest coalition and other groups both to MSCI-ESG and to TIAA-CREF played a role.

In any case, she said, activism by groups such as hers has resulted in a “consensus in the human rights community because of its role in human rights abuses in Palestine, Caterpillar is not an ethical actor.”

Pro-Palestinian groups have for a decade campaigned against the sale of the tractors to Israel. Caterpillar sells the tractors to the U.S. military for resale to allies. Caterpillar says it does not determine to which countries the tractors are resold and how they are refitted for military use.

The pro-Palestinian groups, backed by a number of human rights NGOs, say that Israel uses the tractors to destroy Palestinian homes as a means of inhibiting growth and as collective punishment. Israel says the tractors are used to destroy illegal structures, and in Gaza were used until 2005, when Israel pulled out, to destroy tunnels used by terrorists for smuggling purposes.

Service for the Dogs and Cats

The rabbi wore a pooch-print tie.

The rebbetzin sported a pussycat brooch and a doggy bone pin “to give equal time” to man’s best friends. The congregants arrived two by two, with canines and felines in tow.

On the occasion of Parshat Noach – the yearly Torah reading of the Noah’s Ark story – some 40 members of B’nai Tikvah Congregation in Westchester gathered for their fourth annual “Celebration of the Animals” on the shul’s cement courtyard. Rabbi Michael Beals’ collie, Yofi (“Beautiful” in Hebrew), shook paws to the command of “Shalom.” A 100-pound great Pyrenees named Romeo nonchalantly sat in his own chair. Westchester United Methodist Rev. John W. Mills, Jr. fussed over his feisty Jack Russell terrier as someone introduced a 13-year-old mixed-breed named Bubbie. There were chows and West Highland terriers, tabbies and mutts, meowing and yapping along with the animal-related readings. The unique program just won an award of excellence in the ritual category of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Beals noted over the cheerful din. “There’s never been an event like this in Conservative Judaism, or any Judaism,” he said, cradling his blue-eyed ragdoll cat, Shovav (“Naughty”).It all began while Beals was finishing up at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1997, when his veterinarian wife, Elissa, noted the line that stretched all the way down Amsterdam Avenue the day the local Episcopal cathedral offered its “Blessing of the Animals.” “She came home, all excited, and said, ‘We should do this,'” Beals recalls. “And I said, ‘Uh, well…'”

A “Celebration of the Animals” would be liturgically correct, Beals discovered, after finding myriad animal references in classic Jewish texts. Moses, for example, gets the OK to lead the Jewish “flock” after he’s concerned enough to search the desert for a lost sheep.

At the B’nai Tikvah celebration, participants shared shaggy dog stories in between readings from Talmud and the Tur (a medieval Jewish commentary). Richard Seigel, 9, described how his beagle-mix, Jazzy, was rescued from an abandoned trailer; the mutt’s since been known to bury bagels in the backyard. A mom spoke of how her golden lab, Lady, previously a breeding female, had never lived in a house and was scared of TV when she was adopted by the family. Now the pooch is helping her 5-year-old daughter to sleep in her own bed.

The owner of a couple of Australian blue shepherds confided that “Celebration of the Animals” brought him to shul for the first time ever. “An event like this helps get people through the door to encounter their Judaism,” concurs Beals, who hopes other temples will follow suit.

“We want lots of copycats,” he quips.

People interested in organizing “Celebration of the Animals” at their own shuls can call Rabbi Beals for information at (310) 645-6262.

Jerusalem’s Catwoman

Gotham City had its Catwoman. Now Jerusalem has one of its own. Only this one isn’t causing chaos for our Caped Crusaders. Quite the contrary.

Recently, American-raised Tova Saul, who made aliyah 17 years ago, has become something of a folk hero in the streets of the Old City, especially among its population of stray cats. An observant Jew and an avid cat lover, Saul has dedicated her existence to saving felines from an uncertain fate on the Jewish Quarter’s mean streets. Working closely with sympathetic vets, Saul is bringing these unwanted animals back to health, and her current goal is to have every female cat in the Old City spayed before spring.

Saul is not without her helpers. Moslems, Christians and Jews all bring her rescued kittens, injured animals and leftover food for her efforts. And Angeleno Lili Feingold has brought over 16 cats from Israel, with the intention of placing them in fine homes. The animals arrive with a certificate of health and vaccination record from a Jerusalem vet.

Saul and Feingold are currently looking for Angelenos to help the cause. Anyone interested in adopting an Israeli kitten or helping transport cats from Israel can contact Lili at her e-mail address: The pets now available have been checked by Shendandoah Animal Clinic. And, jokes Feingold, “all the cats understand English!” — Michael Aushenker, Community Editor