Presidents Conference taps Richard Stone as chairman

Richard Stone, the chairman of the NCSJ, was elected unanimously as the next chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Stone, a New York attorney, was elected Monday at a meeting of the Presidents Conference in New York. He will assume his new position on June 1, succeeding Alan Solow.

NCSJ, formerly known as the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, advocates for the Jewish communities in the republics of the former Soviet Union.

Stone said his goals as chair of the Presidents Conference, an umbrella organization of the American Jewish community focusing on national and international issues, includes prioritizing the fight against the delegitimization of Israel, strengthening ties with Israel and promoting unity among the American Jewish community.

“I look forward to working with all of the members of the Conference of Presidents to advance the U.S.-Israel relationship and address the pressing issues that face the Jewish people throughout the world,” he said.

Stone has served as vice president and on the Executive Committee of the New York Jewish Community Relations Council and currently chairs its Government Relations Commission. He was the chairman of the Institute for Public Affairs, the public policy arm of the Orthodox Union, from 1992 to 2002, and served on the board and executive committee of Jewish Council for Public Affairs from 2005 to 2009.

He currently serves as a member of the board of the Hebrew Free Loan Society, the America-Israel Friendship League, the American Zionist Movement and the New York Metropolitan Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty.

Stone is on the faculty of Columbia University Law School, where he has held the Wilbur Friedman Chair in Tax Law since 1991.

Hillel Official Julian Sandler Dies

Julian Sandler, chairman of the Hillel: Foundation for Jewish Campus Life Board of Directors, has died.

Sandler, who served Hillel for 15 years, died Friday after a brief illness. He was 64.

He served as treasurer and vice chair of the Hillel board of directors and as chair of its Strategic Planning Committee.

Sandler recently established The Julian Sandler Endowment for Executive Leadership Development to support Hillel’s training, executive leadership development, mentoring, coaching and evaluation program for new Hillel directors.

He was the founder, president and CEO of Long Island-based national SmartSource Computer and Audio Visual Rentals.

Sandler was a past president and an active member of the Dix Hills Jewish Center on Long Island. He also was a board member of the Fay J. Linder assisted living complex at the Gurwin Jewish Geriatric Center and a member of the rabbinical school board of overseers at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

“Julian had a gift for blending his keen analytical abilities with his genuine warmth and humor,” said Hillel President Wayne Firestone. “He believed in the critical importance of transmitting yiddishkeit from generation to generation and modeled what it means to be a proud, knowledgeable, committed Jew with menschlichkeit.”

Venezuela Jews Rebuild After Synagogue Attack

CARACAS (JTA)—The quiet on a residential street in this eastern Venezuelan city is shattered by construction crews as workers perched on a scaffolding place panels of marble on the external wall of a two-story synagogue.

The construction occurs under the watchful eye of local police, who monitor the street around the clock. From their post on the corner, the police van has kept surveillance over the site since late January, when an older synagogue in the rundown Mariperez district of Caracas was attacked and desecrated.

Committed to their future here, the city’s Jews are building a new synagogue to replace the 50-year-old Sephardic synagogue that was attacked.

They must do so under police protection.

On Jan. 30, more than a dozen assailants invaded Tiferet Israel, overpowering two security guards and disabling the surveillance system. They desecrated holy objects, stole a computer database with the congregation’s personal information and put this city’s Jews on edge.

“It’s something that is really shocking and that has never been seen before in Venezuela. Never ever,” said Federica Palomero, who curates a small museum at Tiferet Israel. “In Venezuela there’s a tradition of coexistence, tolerance, respect and mutual admiration.”

Synagogue members say that anti-Semitic graffiti began to appear on the temple’s exterior walls in January, after President Hugo Chavez expelled the Israeli ambassador from the country to protest the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip.

As Chavez ratcheted up his rhetoric against Israel, calling it a genocidal state, the official media followed suit, calling for a boycott on local Jewish businesses unless they publicly denounced Israel.

Venezuelan Jews, who first arrived here in the 1700s, say an unprecedented wave of anti-Semitism has followed.

“People are being taught to hate,” said Venezuelan Chief Rabbi Pynchas Brener. “Venezuela has never seen anything like this before.”

“We’ve never had any kind of political or social problems in Venezuela,” he went on. “Venezuelans are extremely tolerant; they accept differences.”

Other attacks and outbursts of hostility followed the Tiferet Israel attack. In February, unknown assailants lobbed a small explosive into a Caracas Jewish community center.

A local production of “Fiddler on the Roof” was even caught in the maelstrom after the orchestra chairman pulled out of the musical, possibly because of the play’s Jewish content.

The play’s producer, Michel Hausmann, said Manuel Torres, who had performed in “Fiddler” in the past, felt that to do so this year would be politically offensive and threaten his financial support from the state.

Torres refused to comment about the case when reached by JTA via telephone. But in an interview several days earlier with a local daily, the chairman denied being pressured and said the orchestra was concentrating on other events.

For its part, the government has been erratic in its response to the attacks on the Jewish community.

At first, Chavez and other members of his government denounced the attack on Tiferet, promising the assailants would be quickly apprehended. But Chavez also blamed government opponents for the raid and told the Jewish community not “to allow themselves to be manipulated.”

Then the Interior Ministry arrested 11 people, saying robbery was their real motive and that it simply was disguised as a bias crime.

While local Jewish leaders have publicly expressed their gratitude toward the government for prioritizing the investigation, many in the community quietly express doubt that the real perpetrators of the attack will be brought to light.

As Tiferet’s Palomero guides a visitor through a small exhibit of pictures showing the destruction caused by the attack, she says the attack does not reflect the attitudes of Venezuelans toward Jews “but rather those of a small group” that is “small, but active, dangerous and supported.”

Like many Jews here, Palomero declined to say who she believes is behind the attacks. But Jewish leaders from overseas have made clear who they believe is to blame.

“Now that I’ve been here and seen this with my own eyes, I have no doubt that direct responsibility for the attack on the Tiferet Israel synagogue goes directly to the door of Hugo Chavez,” said Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Congregation Ohev Sholom in Washington after a recent visit to Caracas.

“The attack couldn’t have happened without the permission of Chavez,” he said, noting the technical sophistication used to break into the synagogue and crack safes inside.

Herzfeld, who was part of a four-person delegation from North America, said he is pressing U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House or Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, to assemble a congressional commission on religious freedoms in Venezuela.

Israel also is using its diplomatic muscle to keep the spotlight on Venezuela’s treatment of the Jewish community. Its Foreign Ministry has asked 15 countries with ties to Venezuela to bring up the issue with Chavez, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz.

“There has been a significant outbreak of anti-Semitism there, and we wanted to send messages to Venezuela’s president through several different channels in order to clarify the gravity with which we view the situation,” a senior government source told the paper.

Locally, the Jewish community has not been directly outspoken against Chavez. Its members say they need to continue with their lives as before.

“Life goes on and one has to keep working,” Palomero said. “The Jews are Venezuelans just like the Muslims, the Protestants and the Catholics. We’re Venezuelans and we’re Jewish.”

Waxman will play key role in putting Obama agenda into action

Henry Waxman is a combination of toughness and gentlemanliness, qualities that helped raise him from the fratricidal politics of West Los Angeles to the pinnacle of power in President-elect Barack Obama’s Washington.

Through it all — from battles as a leader in the California Young Democrats in the 1960s to the Washington, D.C. Capitol meeting room where last week the Los Angeles Democratic congressman unseated John Dingell (D-Mich.) to become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee — he has retained an idealism and interest in intricate public policy unusual in a political world, where victory too often goes to the superficial and cynical. He is also serious about his religion. He and his wife, Janet, are practicing Jews.

Waxman’s toughness was on display when he beat Dingell, Washington’s great defender of the auto industry and opponent of mileage, safety and pollution standards. Waxman had long fought for such standards, often clashing with Dingell.

He strongly made the point to his colleagues that his policies represent the change Obama brings to Washington and some of the most important portions of the president’s agenda will have to pass through the committee.

But there was more to Waxman’s victory than strong words and promises, as John M. Broder and Carl Hulse reported last Sunday in The New York Times. They quoted Rep. Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat and Dingell supporter, as saying many new members had received direct campaign contributions from Waxman: “You bumped into a lot of freshmen who said Mr. Waxman had been very good to them.” Waxman’s supporters carried lists of prospective supporters to contact in the climactic meeting and watched the doors to talk to those leaving for a break.

Waxman honed his talent for careful planning in the ’60s, when, as a young lawyer and UCLA graduate, he began his political career in the liberal volunteer organization, California Young Democrats.

Emma Schafer, a public affairs consultant who runs the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum, recalled meeting with other Young Democrats, including Waxman, at the West L.A. home of Howard Berman, who also later went on to Congress. “We plotted and planned campaigns,” Schafer said. “We were the anti-Unruh, anti-money crowd.”

By Unruh, she was referring to the late Jesse M. Unruh of Los Angeles, the longtime Speaker of the California Assembly, who, unlike the Berman-Waxman crowd, supported the Vietnam War, although he turned against it later in the decade. He was also a prodigious political fundraiser, whose efforts offended the reformist Young Democrats who opposed the war.

The fights between the Unruh followers and the anti-war group became legendary. They fought on every level, battling fiercely for even fairly obscure posts known only to political insiders.

When Waxman became president of the Young Democrats, Rick Tuttle, the former Los Angeles city controller, met up with him at an East Hollywood meeting hall. Tuttle was there for a complex four-way fight for political power, an event typical of Young Democrats’ political life.

He listened to Waxman speak, and later they chatted. “He was friendly, engaging, very down to earth,” Tuttle said. And he remembered that Waxman “spoke in complete paragraphs.”

By this time, Waxman was ready to challenge the Democratic assemblyman in the West Los Angeles area, Lester McMillan, an Unruh loyalist.

McMillan was well-liked by many Los Angeles liberals, mainly because he introduced a bill abolishing the death penalty every year. It never passed, but it made McMillan something of a hero among some Westside liberals, and Waxman’s decision to take him on represented a huge escalation of the Young Democrats’ assault on Unruh.

McMillan had the name and Unruh backing, but Waxman had a brilliant young political strategist in Howard Berman’s brother, Michael.

Most politicians at that time saw the Westside as a typically amorphous sprawl, difficult to fathom. Michael Berman saw it for what it was, a distinct collection of Jewish communities, centered on synagogues and community organizations.

Waxman reached them by traditional means, traveling from synagogue to synagogue, from one organizational coffee to another.

But Michael Berman brought a technique to the campaign that was revolutionary for the 1960s: using computers to analyze census tracts and voter records to identify voters in the district. A much more sophisticated version of this technique is now common in political campaigns, but when Berman unveiled it some 40 years ago, computerized politics brought about a radical change.

Berman sent out direct mailers to each group. Some addressed the concerns of older people. Others were targeted toward younger families. Some were about Israel, others about homeowners’ concerns.

Waxman beat McMillan, became a leader in the Assembly and moved on to Congress in 1974. His district reaches as far north as Calabasas and Agoura Hills, and includes portions of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, as well as Beverly Hills and the Fairfax district.

In Congress, Waxman has dug into complex issues, including health care and pollution. He is the author of a major revision of the Clean Air Act of 1990, a major step in efforts to control pollution.

When the Democrats lost control of Congress, Waxman, no longer a policy-making committee chair, turned to investigating abuses by industry and the Bush administration.

Now, as chair of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, Waxman is poised to play a leading role in putting the Obama agenda into law, particularly in health care and in pushing the auto industry into manufacturing energy-efficient and minimally polluting cars.

In a phone conversation on Monday, Waxman told me that health, the environment and energy — all within the committee’s jurisdiction — will be his top priorities.

“The energy issue is one of national security,” he said. Americans must “wean ourselves from depending on sources” in nations hostile to us. And he said millions of jobs will be produced by industries created by a new energy policy, and they “will transform our economy.”

On health care, he said he favors something along the lines of what Obama has advocated, where people can retain their own health plans or move into a form of government-backed health insurance.

I asked him what it felt like to take on a tough old vet like Dingell.

“I felt the next two years offered historic opportunities, and I didn’t think John Dingell was up to it,” he said.

Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at

Where in the world is Joe Lieberman?

Henry Waxman: In his own words

What makes Waxman run?  

Earlier today, Rep. Henry Waxman defeated Congressman John Dingell for Chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

The Westside Democrat, who is 69, now assumes a key role in pushing for greater government action on environmental issues like global warming. 

Two years ago in The Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Waxman reflected on the values and traditions that shaped his political career:

This piece is excerpted from remarks Rep. Henry Waxman gave at Carmen and Louis Warschaw Distinguished Lecture delivered at USC April 23.

What drew me to politics was the esteem I had always felt for public service and the commitment of our religious values to justice, human and civil rights, peace and the importance of helping all people be able to realize their full potential. And, of course, the essential task for our nation to be engaged in the world as a force for good.

As a Jewish congressman, I have been mindful that even in America, there have only been 157 Jews who have ever served in the House of Representatives; that I was the first Jew ever to have been elected from Southern California and the first in California in 40 years when I was elected in 1974. Today, we have 24 Jewish members, many from districts with very few Jewish constituents and seven from Southern California.

I am proud to have played a role as a congressman in events that impacted the Jewish people. My wife, Janet and I were in Egypt and Israel when, after meeting with both President [Anwar] Sadat and Prime Minister [Menachem] Begin, Sadat came to Jerusalem. We sat is amazement as we heard his speech in the Knesset. We fought for the freedom of Soviet Jews, visited Refuseniks, pressured Soviet leaders, and saw the doors open to allow them to leave. Janet was an instrumental player in the efforts to help Syrian Jews leave. We were in Israel as the airlift of Ethiopians arrived in Israel. I was able to attend the White House ceremonies for the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt, the signings of the ill-fated Oslo agreement between Arafat and Rabin; the dinner in honor of diplomatic relations between Israel and Jordan. Last August, we were in Israel as it undertook the difficult disengagement from the Gaza.

While I have always had a strong Jewish identity, only as an adult have I explored more deeply the Jewish religion. The Jewish way is to have us elevate ourselves and refine our character through the observance of mitzvot. Judaism is much more about acting and doing the right thing, rather than believing the right things. Ethics is at Judaism’s core. God’s primary concern is not that we mindlessly follow ritual, but act decently. Ritual is to help us do that.

Actions and how we live our lives and treat others is at the heart of the matter. To aid us along these lines, we have specific obligations. Tzedakah, which means righteousness, not charity, helps bring justice to others and sanctity to ourselves. The discipline of kashrut raises the most mundane of routine acts into a religious reminder that we are distinctive and the mere physical satisfaction of our appetite can be a spiritual act. Shabbat gives sanctity to time to refresh our body and our soul. It has great meaning for me primarily to remind me, no matter how important I may or am supposed to be, the world can get along without me quite well for one day. It puts a lot of things into perspective.

Jewish observance is a check on our arrogance, self-importance, rationalizations to do what we want. We are required to fulfill the ethical commands and to choose to overcome our natural inclinations that are not worthy.

I have looked at the issue of governmental power in a similar way. Our U.S. Constitution tries to put in place a mechanism for checks and balances because our founders did not trust the concentration of power and the arrogance and corruption that can come with it. By the way, Jewish sources also resist an absolute power structure. Rabbi Joseph Soleveitchik referred to a well-known axiom that power tends to corrupt the one who wields it. The noblest, best-intentioned ruler is affected by the glory, tribute, and power of his office. This may cause him to step over the boundary of legitimate authority. The human ego is likely to be distorted and intoxicated by a status, which has no external limits.

For the last six years, we’ve essentially had one-party rule in Washington. And for the last decade, the Republican congressional leadership has governed with the idea that the most important job for them was to keep the Republicans together instead of trying to seek bipartisanship.

Next week, the Republicans will put forth a bill in the House for lobbying reform, in response to the convictions of Duke Cunningham, and the indictments and convictions of a number of staff people around Tom Delay, who also has been indicted. The problem runs far deeper than can be cured by superficial reform. The problem starts not with lobbyists, but with Congress itself.

Look at the Medicare prescription drug bill. Negotiations were behind closed doors; Democrats excluded. Key estimates about the bill’s costs were withheld by a government official who was told he would be fired if he disclosed the information. Two key negotiators ended up working for the drug companies after the bill passed. And when the bill was short of votes on the House floor, the 15-minute roll call was extended to three hours. A Republican member was offered a bribe to vote for it. Now, seniors are trying to make sense of the law and how it affects them, while the drug and insurance companies are coming out the big winners, as the legislation is projected to cost billions more than originally thought.

What about our checks and balances? What about self restraint and ethical guidelines? It is as if recklessness is invited because some leaders do not think they will be held accountable.

Oversight is important, and if done right it can find the truth and bring real change.

At the same time the Congress is refusing to do oversight, the Bush administration acted, even before Sept. 11, 200l, with greater secrecy than any other in history, exceeding even Richard Nixon’s.

Last year, Congressional Quarterly, the nonpartisan magazine reported that:

“Administration secrecy has become the rule rather than the exception, a phenomenon that lawmakers, journalists, public interest groups and even ordinary Americans say has interfered with their ability to participate in government and to hold it accountable for its actions.”

Congressional Quarterly went on to note that some of the documents the administration has withheld seem to have little to do with the war on terrorism and a lot to do with keeping embarrassing information from the public.

There’s no doubt that some things must be kept secret. Our national security demands some information must be kept secret for the good of all. But what we have here is an obsession for secrecy.

Think about the secrets that we now know about: the wiretapping of Americans; a network of foreign prisons; information about detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, Sept. 11 documents proving that the White House had been warned abut the use of hijacked airplanes as weapons

I do not intend to be partisan. But I do believe that the leadership of our government in both Congress and the Executive Branch has turned away from core values we have as Americans and as Jews.

The Journal’s Raphael J. Sonenshein profiled Waxman — ‘the Democrats’ Elliot Ness’ — last year:

The sweeping Democratic congressional victories in 2006 have not translated into the kind of oversight many voters had hoped for. In particular, the SenateJudiciary Committee has been notably unable to penetrate the Iron Curtain of Justice Department resistance.

The Bush administration has figured out it can derail the traditional hearing process by simply refusing to cooperate at all, by withholding all relevant documents or either not showing up at hearings, and if there, having nothing interesting to say. White-maned senators, who look like they were sent from Central Casting to play the part of “outraged representatives,” are reduced to rolling their eyes when witnesses “do not recall.”

Without the facts being handed to them on a silver platter, the senators seem inclined to weakly extend deadlines for cooperation or just give up. How can we do oversight, they ask, if the White House won’t help us?

There is another path to oversight, though, and its model has been developed by a 68-year-old Jewish congressman from the Westside of Los Angeles named Henry Waxman. But it takes a lot more work than the standard model.

With a hostile president, even a Democratic majority in Congress cannot legislate. But it can do oversight, and in the long run, oversight creates a constituency for legislation. Oversight is about information and public education.

In fact, Waxman already did more oversight while in the minority than many Democrats have been able to accomplish with the majority. Back in 2005, David Corn wrote in the Nation magazine that Democrats considered Waxman to be their “Eliot Ness,” and that many members wished the rest of the party would adopt his approach.

The standard oversight model is the congressional hearing. But hearings are not good vehicles to gather information, and they do not work as public education without some effort and creativity. Senators who think they are one great question away from breaking the case wide open and getting their names into the history books instead find themselves drawn into obscure debates with uncooperative witnesses, which leave the public baffled or indifferent. It’s doubtful that anyone will repeat Sen. Howard Baker’s memorable Watergate line: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” So why bother trying?

A hallmark of Waxman’s work as chairman of the incomparable House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (which, Waxman notes, allows him to poke into “everything”) is that his staff does the legwork before hearings are held. Before the 2006 elections brought him into the majority, Waxman used his minority position on the committee to establish an investigative staff. He has used his staff even more effectively in the majority.

Majority staff reports on a wide array of topics are made available to the media in an accessible format. There is usually a “hook” that fosters active media coverage. For instance, in 2004 he issued a staff report listing “237 misleading statements” by Bush administration officials about Iraq.

The groundwork for the issue is defined by Waxman, and the baseline information does not depend on cooperative witnesses. These reports, covering a vast array of urgent topics, make for good reading on his committee Website. The Web site also includes a “whistleblower hotline.” The hearings then add to the data and even add some drama.

Once the report is issued, hostile witnesses have an incentive to appear before the committee to do damage control. That is why Blackwater’s founder had to testify following a blistering and well-publicized staff report that investigated the company’s activities in Iraq. Waxman knows how to run a dramatic hearing, as shown by the famous day in 1994 when he got tobacco executives to raise their hands and commit perjury about the effects of smoking.

Waxman’s latest foray into Blackwater suggests that if he keeps pulling that thread, he may bring home to the public the scope and impact of the private war the taxpayers have been financing in Iraq. That’s what congressional investigations are supposed to do.

He is worrisome enough to Republicans that one California congressman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), issued a veiled threat: “If Henry Waxman today wants to go to Iraq and do an investigation, Blackwater will be his support team. His protection team. Do you think he really wants to investigate directly?”

Waxman is easy to underestimate. He is obviously not a member of the Washington society A list. He is known for never having attended the Academy Awards in his hometown. After the 2006 elections, he told Time magazine, “It’s such a long night. When I watch it on TV, I can get a snack.”

Those who know Waxman’s political history, however, are not surprised that he is tenacious and effective. While Waxman is very idealistic about how government should work and is not a Beltway shmoozer, he is a sophisticated political practitioner.

Before he won a seat in Congress in 1974, Waxman was a young Democratic activist during the heyday of Democrats in California politics. He upset an incumbent to win election to the state Assembly in 1968. He and his close ally (and, after 1982, fellow congressman) Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) pieced together one of the few successful political organizations in Los Angeles political history.

Labeled the Waxman-Berman “machine” (which was undoubtedly an overstatement encouraged by the lack of such organizations in California), their combine backed numerous candidates for the state Legislature and other offices. They nurtured the early career of Zev Yaroslavsky.

Waxman and Berman were effective campaign organizers and team builders. They were at the center of a loyal group of elected officials, many of whom were Jewish politicians on the Westside; others were African Americans and Latinos.

So as Democrats struggle to define their role of congressional majority facing a hostile White House, they would do well to consider that neither the White House nor the mass media will do their work for them. If they want to see how it is done, they would be well served to ask the West Los Angeles expert.

Very fulfilled; Levin on board

The nonprofit The Fulfillment Fund’s STARS 2006 gala honoring Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman and CEO Tom Rothman, raised $2.3 million to help underserved students graduate high school and attend college.

Almost 1,000 guests enjoyed cocktails, dinner and the comedy of Wayne Brady while they ogled high-profile attendees: including first lady of California Maria Shriver, Hugh Jackman, Cuba Gooding Jr., director Baz Luhrmann, Jami Gertz, Robert Wuhl and Peter Farrelly.

Dinner chairs included Joyce and Avi Arad; Jeff Berg; Megan and Peter Chernin; Jordan and John Davis; Ann and Jim Gianopulos; Jill and Brad Grey; Bryan Lourd; Brittany and Richard Lovett; Kelly and Ron Meyer; Dr. Madeleine and Tom Sherak; Stacey Snider and Gary Jones; Dr. Jennifer Patterson and Howard Stringer; and Elizabeth and Jim Wiatt.

Brady opened the evening on a light-hearted note and then introduced Fulfillment Fund Founder Dr. Gary Gitnick who spoke about the need to nourish the spirit and minds of the youth and the importance of education in today’s society. Brady then introduced Chantel Parnell, a Fulfillment Fund student from Crenshaw High School who hopes to one day become a teacher and mentor.

The Lively Auctioneers — board member and Revolution Studios principal Tom Sherak and actor/producer Sinbad — entertained the audience with their spirited auction of one-of-a-kind packages and scholarship pledges from the generous guests.

A real highlight of the event was Grammy and Country Music Award-winner Tim McGraw performing two songs, including “My Little Girl” from the recently released film, “Flicka.”

Award-winning actor Ben Stiller presented the Fulfillment Fund’s STARS 2006 award to Rothman.

Levin on Board I

Kathleen B. Levin, Los Angeles civic leader, was ” border = 0 width=’400′ alt=0>

Charles (Chuck) Levin, right, newly elected president of the Southern California Chapter of the American Technion Society’s board of directors for 2006-2008 accepted the gavel from Rob Davidow, member of the President’s Advisory Council and National Board Treasurer. More than 60 guests gathered at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel recently for the installation of new board members and to listen to Technion professor Daniel Rittel, who discussed his research concerning the physics of failure and how it relates to defense systems.

Art of the Matter

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles President and CEO John Kobara, along with gallery owner Joni Moisant Weyl of Gemini G.E.L, welcomed guests in celebration of Toba Khedoori’s print, “Untitled” (2005). Khedoori and Gemini are donated 100 percent of the sales of this limited edition etching to help the nonprofit as it assists at-risk children reach their potential by matching them with an adult mentor. For more information, or to purchase a print, visit

USC Names First Jewish Board Chair

The University of Southern California, once considered a bastion of WASP elitism, has capped a decade of transformation by naming Stanley Gold as its first Jewish board chairman.

Gold’s appointment comes a decade after USC President Stephen Sample made a number of key appointments and programming moves intended to lure Jews to a campus that was once known as a haven for the city’s wealthy, white non-Jewish gentry. Today, USC, nearing its 122nd birthday, is ranked as one of the most diverse and academically elite universities in the nation.

As one of the two major universities in a city with a half-million Jews, USC historically drew a disproportionately low number of Los Angeles’s Jewish students, many of whom attended USC’s cross-town rival UCLA.

"Gold’s appointment is a very significant event for Jewish Los Angeles," said Rabbi Laura Geller, who was the director of USC’s Hillel from 1976-1990. "When I first came to USC, it wasn’t a place that was known for being totally receptive to Jewish students and faculty."

But, she added, "over the 14 years I was at USC, I began to see that the university took its relationship to Jewish students more seriously and its desire to include them, along with other ethnic groups, into the fabric of the university."

Gold is an investor who rose to national prominence in 1984 as a key architect of the takeover of Walt Disney Co., in which Disney’s nephew, Roy Disney, gained control of the company and placed Michael Eisner in charge. He sees his chairmanship at USC as less about his Judaism than about his abilities and business acumen. Still, Gold doesn’t deny that his appointment has significant symbolic value to many Los Angeles Jews.

"I think there’s a lot of symbolic value to the [Jewish] community that I got chosen," Gold said, "but I was chosen because I am qualified, not because I am Jewish."

Gold gives Sample, who was president of the State University of New York at Buffalo before coming to USC in 1991, much of the credit for his own involvement in the university. Although he had been active as a university alumni since the early 1980s, Gold said he decided to take on a larger role after Sample became president.

"I saw a dramatic change," Gold said. "I became very enthusiastic. He’s very inclusive of Jews, Hispanics, blacks and Asians."

Even though Los Angeles had been transformed into a multicultural city by the time Sample arrived at USC — with Jews prominent in politics and industry — current and former Jewish faculty and staff said they had memories of a campus that was insensitive to Jewish concerns during the 1970s. The same faculty and staff members said that the USC’s reputation among Jews reached its low point during the 1930s and 1940s under the presidency of Rufus B. Von KleinSmid, who was widely regarded as a German sympathizer.

Sample said he sought to put to rest any continuing misconceptions about the Jewish population not being welcome at USC.

"Good students, good faculty, energetic alumni, a commitment to public service — I think the Jewish community has a sense of duty of doing things for the community, and a long tradition for reverence for scholarship and academic excellence," the USC president said.

Sample’s outreach efforts to the Jewish community included appointing Rabbi Susan Laemmle as dean of religious life for USC, hiring a recruiter for Jewish students in the admissions office, establishing the Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life and setting up kosher dining halls.

The number of Jewish undergraduates has risen from 4 percent to as high as 8 percent, according to freshman surveys, said Mark Pavelchak, USC’s director of student research and information. Hillel’s "Guide to Jewish Life on Campus" says there are 2,000 Jewish undergraduates and graduates at the 28,000-student campus.

Gold, who was raised only blocks away from USC’s downtown campus, was the first member of his working-class family to attend college. A graduate of the University of California who spent a year studying at Cambridge University in England, Gold returned to Los Angeles to attend law school at USC and graduated in 1967.

Gold, 59, who is married and has two adult children, is seen as a serious and decidedly liberal player in the Jewish community. A former chairman of the board of trustees of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Inistitute of Religion (HUC-JIR), Gold is an active leader of the Israel Policy Forum, which supports a secure Israel side-by-side with a Palestinian state.

As president of Shamrock Holdings, a private investment company held by Roy Disney and his family, he has turned Shamrock into one of the major U.S. investors in Israel.

Gold’s election was praised by Rabbi Jonathan Klein, USC’s current Hillel director and a UCLA graduate. "It definitely signifies a changing of the old guard here at the university," he said. "We are seeing the dawning of a new era in the life of USC and multiculturalism."

The new chairman was also hailed by figures outside the university. "Stan Gold’s emergence into this position has been a reflection of a decades-long institutional transformation at USC, especially accelerated during Sample’s administration, in which the university has embraced the talents of people from a multiplicity of groups," said Lewis Barth, the dean of the Los Angeles branch of HUC-JIR, whose campus has been adjacent to USC’s since the early 1970s.

Strength in Numbers


The message was loud and clear: Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, with terrorist backing by Iran and Iraq, was considered no less a monster than Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Ladin. That was the message backed by thousands of Southland residents who lined Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood with signs, balloons and Israeli and American flags last Sunday to show their support for the state of Israel and their disgust with the escalation of Arab-backed terrorism that has taken scores of innocent civilian lives since the second Intifada began in the fall of 2000.

The recurring sentiments of those in attendance near the Federal Building at the April 7 rally was that enough is enough with the Palestinian suicide bombings and Arafat’s duplicitous political games.

UCLA student Robin Nourmand, 21, held a sign that read “Honk! We Love Israel! We Love America!” Across Wilshire, his 18-year-old brother, Raymond, also held up a banner.

“This is the least we can do,” Robin Nourmand said. “In Israel, people are making sacrifices on a daily basis by just living there.”

The rally, organized by lead group StandWithUs, in concert with a wide range of co-sponsors, came after a week that saw other Middle East-related outcries, including an April 2 StandWithUs rally in Westwood that drew several hundred people and a separate Palestinian demonstration elsewhere that drew about 700. On the same day as Sunday’s L.A. rally, pro-Israel demonstrations took place in New York, Chicago and other North American metropolises, as well as in Paris.

At the pro-Israel rally in Paris, a melee with anti-Israel demonstrators erupted. A police officer was stabbed in the fighting.

Like its April 2 counterpart at the Federal Building, which drew several hundred people, Sunday’s StandWithUs rally relied largely on an Internet campaign and word of mouth to draw about 2,000 people to the Westwood demonstration.

Among those in attendance were: Pooya Dayanim, of the Council of Iranian American-Jewish Organizations; Darlene Basch, founder of Descendants of the Shoah; Steve Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California; Rabbi Marc Rohatiner, president of Beth Jacob Congregation; Larry Tishkoff, West Coast aliyah emissary for the Jewish Agency for Israel, who runs the Israel Aliyah Center out of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; and Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe and his wife.

The local support comes at a critical time in Israel’s history, as terrorist attacks have claimed more than 130 lives during March alone. At the rally, participants said they felt a lack of international and mainstream media support for Israel.

On Sunday, however, if there was a lack of support, it was not apparent from all the honking, cheering and commotion the rally stirred up in Westwood.

At the rally were a cross section of the city’s Jews, young and old, religious and secular — and some non-Jews who came because they said they were protesting terrorism. Persian Jews came down to join the banner-waving Magbit delegation: “It’s an incredible turnout,” said Magbit President Doran Adhami. “It’s nice that people stand united for peace.” Ariella Adatto, an Orthodox mother of four, came in from the Valley with her husband and their young children. Gary Meisels, 38, said he was willing to go fight for Israel if they need him. “We’re being tested,” he said of the deteriorating situation in the Middle East.

Ori Blumenfeld, 24, stood alongside a ledge at the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Veteran Avenue with a group of his friends, waving flags. Blumenfeld calls relatives in Israel often. He said his cousin is fighting in the Israeli military. “It’s scary!” he exclaimed. “Nobody’s leaving their houses.”

Aside from a skirmish involving a lone pro-Palestinian supporter, who suffered a bloody nose in a physical encounter toward the end of the day, Sunday’s rally ran smoothly.

Middle East demonstrations and discussions will continue into the weeks ahead. Another StandWithUs rally is planned for Friday, April 12, at 2 p.m., in front of the French Embassy, 10990 Wilshire Blvd. Americans For Peace Now held a town meeting with Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller and Dr. David Myers at UCLA Hillel and will hold an April 26 discussion at Leo Baeck Temple with co-founders of Israeli-Palestinian Coalition for Peace. A national rally in solidarity with Israel will take place on Monday, April 15, in Washington D.C. in front of the Capitol. For more information, visit

Enron Fallout in Houston

The Enron Corporation and Linda Lay, the wife of its chairman and chief executive, have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Houston’s Holocaust museum, accounting for approximately 10 percent of the institution’s $3 million budget.

Now enmeshed in scandal and bankruptcy, Kenneth and Linda Lay were to be among the honorary co-chairs at the museum’s annual dinner this March, sharing the title with various dignitaries, including President George W. Bush.

The energy company, which filed for bankruptcy protection last month after acknowledging it had overstated its profits by nearly $600 million, is at the center of a scandal in which it is accused of lying to investors and abusing its vast political clout.

Enron’s collapse and the ensuing scandal are threatening the entire economy of Houston, and its effects are being felt by local Jewish institutions — particularly the Holocaust museum — and some of the city’s 45,000 Jews.

Holocaust Museum Houston was one of many local cultural institutions that benefited from Enron and the Lays’ largess and whose future — presumably without their assistance — is uncertain.

Although neither of the Lays are Jewish, Linda Lay — who is on the museum’s board — grew up with many Jewish friends and sometimes attended synagogue with them, said Steven Johnson, a spokesman for the museum. "She really believes in her heart about celebrating diversity, being aware of the dangers of hatred and prejudice," he said.

The Lays and Enron each regularly purchased $100,000 tables at the museum’s annual dinner, and Enron was the $100,000 corporate patron of The Human Race, an annual "fun run" the museum sponsors to celebrate diversity, Johnson said.

In addition to the couple’s donations, Linda Lay reportedly raised the lion’s share of revenue for the museum’s annual dinner, according to one Jewish leader, by making "lots of calls to Enron business associates." "She was a major source of fundraising for the museum, and now that’s dried up," the Jewish leader said.

While the money from Enron "seems to be through," Johnson said Lay remains on the board and the museum is "hopeful that Linda Lay and her involvement will continue, and that we’ll continue to receive some funding from her personally."

Asked whether some might find it unseemly for someone linked to a major scandal to serve in such a prominent role, Johnson said that while "things could change," there has been no discussion yet.

"Our involvement is predominantly with Mrs. Lay and not Mr. Lay, and she doesn’t work for Enron and hasn’t had anything to do with what’s going on," he said.

The Lays also contributed $2,500 to the Jewish Community Center of Houston for its scholarship fund and made a one-time contribution of $50,000 to its capital campaign in 1999 .

Top professionals with the federation and JCC acknowledge that the Enron scandal is taking a toll on the Jewish community, but say Enron had a relatively minor role as a donor to Jewish causes or an employer of Jews. So far, local Jewish agencies are not experiencing a surge in demand for services from people who lost their jobs or retirement money as a result of the Enron bankruptcy.

"We’ve had very few if any individuals that have lost their retirement assets approach Jewish institutions for help," said Lee Wunsch, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston.

"We’re encouraging all the Enron employees who are JCC members to come talk to us about financial aid if they need to or if they are considering not continuing their membership" due to Enron-related financial losses, said Jerry Wische, executive vice president of the JCC.

In Like Jake

Jake Farber definitely has his work cut out for him.

The longtime, active supporter of L.A.’s Jewish community this week starts his two-year term as the new chairman of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

"I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Jewish community and in the community-at-large to live up to the Jewish people’s biblical mandate of tikkun olam — making the world a better place," Farber said.

An upbeat statement for these tumultuous times, as The Federation’s standing within the L.A. Jewish community has hit turbulence that included layoffs and the near shutdown of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA).

"We have a very good working relationship now with the JCCs," Farber said. "And we’re going to do our best to help their cause."

Farber’s immediate past predecessor, outgoing Federation Chair Todd Morgan, has confidence in Farber’s leadership abilities.

"Jake is always going to do the right thing," Morgan said. "He’s got a very large heart." (See box below.)

One of Morgan’s main objectives had been to bring down the average age of Federation board members and to involve more young professionals in the decision-making process. Farber wants to continue that.

"We’ve appointed more young people to the board," Farber said, adding that they have "something planned in terms of new leadership," though he would not divulge details.

Farber knows firsthand the importance of introducing Jews to philanthropy at an early age. He himself was raised with a sense of tikkun olam. Farber’s father died when he was 8, and despite their poverty, his mother, a seamstress, emphasized the importance of raising charity dollars in a blue-and-white tzedakah box.

As a teen at L.A.’s Roosevelt High School, Farber delivered newspapers and found other odd jobs to help support the family. After serving in World War II, he enrolled at USC, where he graduated in 1950 with an degree in accounting.

Farber joined his father-in-law’s metal recycling firm, Alpert and Alpert Iron and Metal, where he became president in 1980 and board chairman in 1996. In the 1960s, Farber chaired The Federation’s Machinery and Metals Division. He has served as a Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance board member, and has been a major contributor to the recently constructed sports and youth complex at the Bernard Milken Campus in West Hills.

Farber has also chaired Camp Ramah and currently serves on the board and executive committee of the University of Judaism. He is also a board member of the Anti-Defamation League.

"We both have been involved in [Federation] activities since it’s been knocking on doors," said Farber’s wife, Janet, who, for the past 2 1/2 years, has served as president of the Bureau of Jewish Education, a Federation beneficiary agency. Since 1960, the Farbers, who reside in Sherman Oaks, have belonged to Adat Ari El Synagogue in Valley Village, where they helped lead the synagogue’s drive to establish a day school.

Several years ago, Farber told The Journal that he could not reconcile why The Federation, over the past few years, could only muster an annual general campaign in the $40 million range.

"We should be able to raise it to $50 million," Farber said at the time. He still believes this is true.

"We’re the second largest Jewish community in the United States," Farber said, "and we don’t rank second in the amount of money we collect. The city of Chicago raises $60 million. We should and we will try to get to that point."

Farber believes that more fundraising needs to be done in the entertainment industry and among the unaffiliated philanthropists within the Jewish community. "We have to get out the word who we are and what we do," Farber said.

Another of his goals for The Federation’s fund raising is the overseas campaign. "Janet and I have been to Israel more than 30 times," Farber said, "so we have a very strong connection there."

For now, finding resolution for the JCCGLA crisis will remain his immediate top priority: "I didn’t expect to come in under these conditions that we have now," Farber said, "but you know what, these problems will all be solved. We have a tremendous staff at The Federation, lay leaders who give a lot of their time. I’m going to enjoy it. I’m looking forward to the next two years."

UJC’s Challenge

The outgoing chairman of the United Jewish Communities (UJC), Charles Bronfman, has challenged the UJC leadership to "change the perception out there that rich, old guys who write big checks are the only ones who count."

"There are rich young men and women, who may or may not write big checks but who may have a wealth of ideas," he said. "They may even have a desire to become more involved with the Jewish community. Will we give them the opportunity to lead?" Bronfman, said in his departing speech to the North American Jewish federation system.

"If a person in his 20s or 30s can lead a major corporation, why can’t she or he run a federation project or an agency or, indeed, a federation?"

Bronfman made his comments Monday at the UJC’s annual General Assembly, held this year in Washington, D.C.

Bronfman pointed out also that private Jewish foundations, which now have assets in excess of $25 billion and distribute more than $1 billion annually to Jewish and non-Jewish causes, have surpassed the federation system in their distribution of dollars. Last year, federations in the United States and Canada raised $920 million; its endowment funds total $8 billion.

"These numbers have to tell us that we are living in a very new Jewish philanthropic world," said Bronfman. "Are Jewish foundations a threat to us or can we collaborate with them, now and in the future?"

In an interview, Bronfman said the "big question is how will the federations locally and nationally take advantage of good-hearted people who want to do good. Federations offer an infrastructure and delivery system and most foundations don’t have that."

Schiller’s List

You’ve seen it in movies, television, even as the engine behind some fundraising efforts: the crass commercialization of the Holocaust. Dr. Gary Schiller is very aware of this phenomenon.

"You know the old joke: ‘There’s no business like Shoah business.’ People are making so much money on the back of the Holocaust, and they’re not even survivors," said Schiller after a long day at UCLA’s division of hematology-oncology, where he is an associate professor.

Since April 2000, Schiller has served as chairman of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, a department of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Exploitation of Holocaust history is exactly what Schiller and Museum Director Marcia Reines Josephy attempt to avoid. It’s the reason why Schiller became affiliated with the museum and has, until now, avoided going down the fundraiser route. On Aug. 5, the museum will honor its founding father, Holocaust survivor and humanitarian Fred Diament.

Toeing the line of "pure, uncommercialized integrity," as Schiller put it, may have come with a price. The Museum of the Holocaust (formerly Martyrs Memorial) struggles, eking by on shoestring allocations provided by The Jewish Federation and other sources.

Located on Wilshire Boulevard in Museum Row, the museum is the oldest Holocaust memorial in the country, yet its future is very much in doubt, Schiller said. "As a volunteer chair, I sure wouldn’t like to see it become a big commercial venture. We’ve never used the Holocaust as an excuse for a fundraiser."

But at what cost?

"Can a noncommercial entity, which reason for being is educational, survive in this milieu?" Schiller asked. "I don’t know."

It’s a challenge that Schiller, 41, was well aware of when he became chairman. No stranger to this institution, he has worked with the museum since his decade-long tenure as president of Second Generation, the Holocaust descendants group.

One reason why funding is problematic, Schiller noted, is resistance to have fundraising benefits based on drudging up Jewish guilt. Yet another is ingrained in the culture itself.

"American Jewry has a problem with Holocaust remembrance. I am not the first or the last one to explain this," continued Schiller, who believes that the Holocaust has overshadowed positive Jewish associations for many Jews.

Schiller also sees an abandonment of Jewish tradition in favor of "secular idols " — sex, money, fame and celebrity.

"Young people intermarry because Judaism is not the most important thing in their lives," Schiller said.

Judaism has always played a profound role in Schiller’s identity. Even as this Hancock Park native attended secular schools (Bancroft Junior High School and Buckley High School), Schiller cherished attending Wilshire Boulevard Temple, during which time Rabbi Edgar Magnin presided.

Schiller strongly believes that the future of Holocaust scholarship lies in the lap of non-Jews. He pointed to the amazing progress made by Germany in the Holocaust’s aftermath: "Better than Americans with slavery. The Germans have made amazing inroads. I don’t know if there could ever be a great Jewish life in Europe again, but people should be encouraged to the commitment to dialogue some people in Germany have made."

Schiller would like to see the museum establish its own building "so that we’re very visible to the non-Jewish community."

Children also figure in the continuance of Holocaust study. Schiller pointed to the success of the museum’s Jay Shalmoni Holocaust Arts and Writing Contest, which pairs Jewish and non-Jewish students alike with survivors.

"Young people really give me hope," Schiller said. "Young people, mostly gentile, make an evolving interest in the subject that is not commercial, that is pure."

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust will honor Fred Diament on Aug. 5, noon. For information and reservations, call (323) 761-8170.

A Gathering of Friends

Last month The Jewish Federation held a party for about three hundred. The occasion: to honor outgoing Federation Chairman of the Board Lionel Bell and to welcome the incoming designated Chairman Todd Morgan, who assumes office January 18. It was a festive occasion with plenty of food, speeches (all of them brief) and warmth. In a sense, a gathering of friends.

All the photos were taken at the event by Peter Halmagyi.