Heads of young innovative Jewish organizations debrief L.A. Jews on their work


As part of their visit to Los Angeles last week, the outgoing class of Joshua Venture Fellows, all leaders of innovative Jewish organizations that are less than five years old, spent a few hours one evening talking to a group of L.A. Jews.

At an event co-presented by Jumpstart and LimmudLA, the fellows presented the work of their own organizations. Headquartered around the country, their nonprofits engage in work that ranges from the very hands-on, to the heady, to the overtly political, to the radically reductive. 

For a few hours on May 8, though, the fellows functioned as the hub of a self-contained ecosystem of Jewish innovation that popped up in a shared office space in Culver City. The approximately 80 (mostly young) Angelenos who joined the (also youngish) fellows included leaders of more established Jewish organizations, aspiring Jewish innovators, and staff members from Jewish Community Foundation and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

It was both an opportunity for the Joshua Venture Group, the New York-based organization that funds the two-year fellowships, to present the fellows to Los Angeles and a chance for the fellows themselves to seek out partners to help advance their work.

While the crowd talked, noshed, networked and (occasionally) Tweeted, the fellows themselves made clear their awareness that they were coming up to the end of two years of both training and exposure to other Jewish resources for innovation, as well as grants from the Joshua Venture Group to each of their organizations of up to $100,000.

“We are working on replacing that funding,” said Rabbi Ari Weiss, executive director of the Modern Orthodox social justice nonprofit Uri L’Tzedek. In addition to the Joshua fellowship, Weiss and Uri L’Tzedek have been supported by other organizations, including getting funding, office space and other resources from Bikkurim over the last four years.

Weiss said the organization is stronger today than it was before those programs invested in it.

“I think we’re a much more mature organization, having been in this ecosystem, he said.

Hopeful Dems eye top committee spots


Amid the election season tumult, behind-the-scenes campaigns are also under way for who will be the next top Democrats on two key congressional committees — with Jewish lawmakers in the running for both leadership slots.

Two veteran congresswomen, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who is Jewish, are vying for the leadership of Democrats on the Appropriations Committee, perhaps the most powerful of the U.S. House of Representatives committees because it determines spending.

And Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who is facing the Foreign Affairs committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), in a redistricting-fueled battle, has declared that he wants his fellow Jewish Democrat’s committee leadership post if he prevails. But if Sherman prevails in his House race, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), a Berman ally, says he would vie to become the committee’s top Democrat.

Irrespective of which party ends up controlling the House after the 2012 elections, the two committee leadership fights are significant.

If the Democrats win back control of the House, they would be able to appoint the committee chairs, who have broad discretion in determining what legislation makes it out of the committee and onto the House floor, and what issues deserve oversight. The minority party’s leaders, while not as powerful as the chairs, may convene hearings and often work with chairs in shaping and advancing legislation.

At this stage the campaigning — among other members of the caucus, the congressional leadership and donors, and, to a degree, in the media — has been more about who plays well with whom than it has been about issues. But bubbling below the surface of the contests are two issues that are central agenda items for Jewish groups: abortion rights and Israel.

Kaptur is in line to be the appropriations committee’s most senior Democrat now that Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) has announced that he is not running for re-election. Lowey is ranked fourth in seniority on the committee among Democrats. Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), who is one slot above Lowey and one below Kaptur, is not considering a bid. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who is ranked seventh, also is considering a bid but is considered a long shot.

Lowey, 74, who was active in Jewish women’s groups before she launched her congressional career in 1989, is making her support for abortion rights an issue in her outreach, her staffer said. Republicans, the Lowey staffer said, tend to flood appropriations bills with amendments that would inhibit abortion as an option in the United States and overseas.

“It’s important to have someone who is willing to stand up for women’s health and who can be relied on,” the staffer said.

Kaptur, a Roman Catholic who represents a relatively conservative northern Ohio district, has been rated a “mixed choice” by NARAL Pro-Choice America, the abortion rights advocacy group, while Lowey scored a “fully pro-choice” rating.

Lowey’s reputation as a premier pro-Israel lawmaker also may figure in the calculus of who gets the spot, although she is not making it an issue in her campaign. She has been a leader in securing assistance for Israel and has an unusually strong partnership with the foreign operations subcommittee chairwoman, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), based in part on their commitment to the Israel-U.S. relationship.

Kaptur is closer to J Street, the liberal Israel advocacy group. In January 2009, in the midst of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, she said that “the proportionality of Israel’s response to Hamas’ incessant terrorist rocket launches is lamentable.”

Kaptur’s communications director, Steve Fought, said that Kaptur was committed to assistance for Israel, as she was to overall foreign aid. In any case, her bid for the committee’s top Democratic spot was based more on economic issues.

“It’s still about the economy, stupid,” he said, noting that Kaptur opposed NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying that it brought job losses — and that she has been able to cobble together allies from both parties in pushing back against such agreements.

Just as Lowey’s emphasis on abortion implies an unstated dig at Kaptur, so does the NAFTA reference seem to undercut Lowey, one of a minority of Democrats who voted for the trade agreement in 1993.

Lowey may have the edge with the leadership; she allowed herself in 2007 to be dissuaded from standing for the committee leadership to make way for since-retired Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), which earned her good will. Additionally, Kaptur has clashed with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader, over the health care package that in 2010 was the then-speaker’s signature achievement.

Meanwhile in California, the Sherman-Berman race is already infused with pro-Israel politicking, and Sherman’s declared candidacy for the top Democratic spot on the foreign affairs committee only intensifies that element of the race. Berman, 71, and Sherman, 57, are both Jewish.

Sherman, in a statement, suggested that his tough postures on sanctioning Iran and supporting Israel were salient to his leadership bid.

“I have the breadth of experience to do the job and have worked tirelessly to help our caucus achieve a majority,” he said. “My record on Israel and on Iran sanctions is well known to all who read JTA reports.”

Berman would not comment for this article. However, the outline of their increasingly bitter race in the San Fernando Valley race already has seeped into this battle. Sherman’s backers have sought to depict Berman as bound too closely to the Obama administration and averse to aggressively confronting the president on Israel’s behalf. Berman’s defenders have countered that he is more reliable in securing the support and action that Israel needs — most recently the broad Iran sanctions packages — and advances Israel’s interests better as an influential insider.

Sherman, who has been far ahead of Berman in some polls, may not have helped his case by announcing for the committee leadership so early, before the outcome of his House race.

Much of the congressional leadership is rooting for Berman, albeit unofficially, according to a source close to party leaders. Pelosi has been publicly praising Berman, even as she has not made an endorsement in the race. Berman also has been endorsed by the overwhelming majority of California’s congressional Democrats.

Engel, who is also an outspoken supporter of Israel, has announced his intention to bid for the top spot if Berman loses to Sherman, although he said in an interview that he hopes that does not happen.

“I feel a little awkward, but I’m letting people know I would go for the job. I can’t allow someone who has nothing to lose to talk to people,” he said of Sherman, “and not talk to people.”

Goldstone committee members stand by report


Three members of the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza war say they stand by the report.

Calls to retract the Goldstone report disregard the rights of the victims, the international law experts said in a statement published Thursday in the British newspaper the Guardian.

“Aspersions cast on the findings of the report cannot be left unchallenged,” the statement said.

It was the first official response by the three since the head of the committee, former South African judge Richard Goldstone, in an April 2 Op-Ed in The Washington Post withdrew a critical allegation in the report—that Israel did not intentionally target civilians as a policy during the Gaza War.

Hina Jilani, a Pakistani human rights lawyer; Christine Chinkin, a professor of international law at the London School of Economics; and Desmond Travers, a former Irish peacekeeper, in their statement say they believe there is no justification to reconsider the report, “as nothing of substance has appeared that would in any way change the context, findings or conclusions of that report with respect to any of the parties to the Gaza conflict.”

The statement never mentions Goldstone by name, but it does shoot down the main contentions of his Op-Ed and implies that he succumbed to pressure from critics.

“We consider that calls to reconsider or even retract the report, as well as attempts at misrepresenting its nature and purpose, disregard the right of victims, Palestinian and Israeli, to truth and justice,” the committee members wrote in the Guardian.

“We regret the personal attacks and the extraordinary pressure placed on members of the fact-finding mission since we began our work in May 2009. This campaign has been clearly aimed at undermining the integrity of the report and its authors. Had we given in to pressures from any quarter to sanitize our conclusions, we would be doing a serious injustice to the hundreds of innocent civilians killed during the Gaza conflict, the thousands injured, and the hundreds of thousands whose lives continue to be deeply affected by the conflict and the blockade.”

The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict was appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council to look into allegations of war crimes committed by Israel and Hamas during the monthlong Gaza war in winter of 2008-09. The report accuses both sides of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Israel did not cooperate with the commission, saying its biased mandate would not give Israel a fair hearing.

United Teachers Los Angeles just says ‘no’ to Israel divestment push by union commitee


Under a tidal wave of pressure from the local Jewish community, the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) has decided to deny use of its headquarters to a UTLA committee planning to host a meeting to discuss the launch of a local boycott of sanctions against and divestment from Israel.

 
In an release issued late on Oct. 5, UTLA President A.J. Duffy said he favored canceling the planned Oct. 14 pro-Palestinian gathering because it will “only polarize our union members and members of our community.”

 
However, the UTLA’s Human Rights Committee might still choose to hold the gathering elsewhere, even though Duffy has lobbied several committee members to scrap it, UTLA communications director Marla Eby said.

 
“It’s still up in the air,” she said.

 
The planned gathering would be sponsored by the Los Angeles chapter of a group called Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS), a new outfit that, according to its Website, includes author Noam Chomsky, who has been sharply critical of Israel, as well as revisionist historian Howard Zinn as board members and which has tight links with Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, a student-activist movement that peaked in the 1960s. The gathering is officially endorsed by the Los Angeles Palestine Labor Solidarity Committee and by Cafe Intifada.

 
Still, some Jewish leaders seemed to appreciate UTLA President Duffy’s efforts to put distance between the union and the Human Rights Committee.

 
“I’m proud of what the UTLA has done,” said Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of the western region of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress).

 
Earlier, Rowen Taylor had said that allowing such a meeting to take place on union property would give the appearance that that UTLA endorsed divestment and a boycott, which it does not.

 
A draft letter to Duffy from several Jewish groups, including the Zionist Organization of America, AJCongress, the Jewish Community Relations Committee and the Progressive Jewish Alliance, among others, thanks him for sending “a clear message that UTLA does not endorse the [Human Rights] Committee’s action.”

 
Leaders from several major local Jewish organizations met at the L.A. Federation on Oct. 4 to discuss how to respond to the planned event. Duffy also attended the two-hour gathering. Duffy, several participants said, told the group he is Jewish, supports Israel and sympathizes with their concerns. He told participants that UTLA’s 30-plus committees enjoy much autonomy and that their positions don’t necessarily reflect the union as a whole.

 
Duffy said, in the release, that he had removed UTLA’s Web link to the Human Rights Committee and that UTLA would review its procedures for granting use of its facilities to union committees. In an interview Oct. 5, Duffy added that he found the brouhaha a distraction.

 
“Let me put it this way, I’d rather be focusing 100 percent of my time to the contract negotiations going on, rather than this [meeting],” he said.

 
Duffy said he had received far more pro-Israel calls and e-mails than pro-Palestinian communication.

 
Representatives from UTLA’s Human Rights Committee declined to comment. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) said he believes the group is “made up of a fringe of anti-Semites.” The congressman added that perhaps UTLA should create a new committee for teachers supporting Israel.

 
The Human Rights Committee’s mission statement calls for “social justice and the peaceful resolution of conflict for its members and other staff, students, parents, the community, the nation, and the global economy.”

 
After learning about the planned anti-Israel meeting, local Jewish groups united in their condemnation, characterizing the event as anti-Semitic and criticizing the UTLA for initially allowing its headquarters to be used.

 
“This is worse than a black eye. This goes to the heart of [UTLA’s] credibility,” said Stephen Saltzman, western regional director of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), before the UTLA announced the gathering could not take place on its property. “This is the largest teachers’ union west of the Mississippi allowing itself to be used by extremist radicals who want to launch a campaign to attack the state of Israel and do so with the implied endorsement of the people teaching our children.”

 
Paul Kujawsky, vice president of the Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles, and a fifth-grade teacher at Germain Street Elementary Street in Chatsworth, said he thought UTLA could make better use of its time grappling with such important local issues as high-school drop-out rates.

 
“As a union member, I’m furious that we are attempting to have our own foreign policy when there are so many important educational issues to be addressed,” Kujawsky said before Duffy’s announcement.

 
A release put out by the Los Angeles Chapter of the Movement for a Democratic Society said the meeting’s purpose is to support the Palestinian people and call for a boycott, divestment and sanctions.

 
“When Israel was created in 1948, 75 percent of the Palestinians were forcibly dispossessed of their lands and forced into exile,” the release says, adding that “Israel’s apartheid and racist system of oppression closely resembles that which South Africa once had…” An MDS spokesman could not be reached for comment.

 
Amanda Susskind, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said the strategy for boycott, divestment and sanctions is really a “campaign for the elimination of the state of Israel, spearheaded by extremist groups who use the same hateful rhetoric as states like Iran and terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.”

 

Community Briefs


Fallout From Holy Day Ballot

The Rosh Hashanah election fracas took another odd turn this week when Orange County officials placed the county’s registrar of voters on paid administrative leave. Steve Rodermund, who has held the position since late 2003, was relieved of his duties Aug. 25, a week after scheduling a special election to fall on Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year for Jews.

Rodermund’s status has nothing to do with the election controversy, said Diane Thomas-Plunk, a county spokesperson. But the timing invited exactly that sort of speculation about the scheduled Oct. 4 balloting, which is a primary to replace Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), who resigned from Congress to accept President Bush’s nomination to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The county has since apologized to the Jewish community and pledged to make amends, short of changing the election.

But that’s exactly what state Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge) has in mind. This week, he introduced legislation to give Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that authority.

“I think it would be analogous to holding an election on Christmas,” said Richman, himself Jewish, and a candidate for state treasurer.

Area Jewish leaders estimate that more than half of Orange County’s 80,000 to 100,000 Jews live in the 48th District formerly represented by Cox. It includes Irvine, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, among other cities.

Richman said he had contacted Schwarzenegger’s office but that the governor had taken no position on his proposed legislation.

Schwarzenegger’s lack of involvement has angered some in the Jewish community.

“The governor’s office needs to step forward and become an active partner in solving this very unfortunate scheduling problem,” said Rabbi Marc Dworkin, executive director for the Orange County chapter of the American Jewish Committee. “As the highest elected official in the state of California, the governor has an obligation to send a message both to the Jewish community and to other groups in Orange County that something like this will never happen.”

The governor’s office told The Journal this week that his staff knew the primary fell on Rosh Hashanah but thought the holiday began after sundown, which would have given Jewish voters the entire day to cast their ballots. The governor supports efforts to provide early voting, absentee balloting and other means to make it easier for people to vote, a spokesperson said.

Registrar Rodermund could not be reached for comment. In an earlier interview he said the chosen date was the best available, given scheduling constraints.

Chief Deputy Registrar Neal Kelley, who is filling in for Rodermund, said the county would set up booths in synagogues, community centers and city halls, where Jews and other county residents could vote before Oct. 4. Leisure World, a senior community, and the cities of Irvine, San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Niguel have agreed to offer early voting. The county, he added, planned to mail out information on absentee ballots.

Kelley added that, going forward, he hoped Jewish groups and others would join the Community Advisory Committee, which typically meets 90 days before an election to discuss dates, the distribution of equipment, polling sites and poll workers. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Panitch Killer Denied Parole

David Scott Smith’s best chance for parole probably evaporated after he answered the Parole Board’s first question about why he killed Robbyn Sue Panitch, a 37-year-old psychiatric social worker.

Smith replied that he hadn’t killed Panitch at all. He said he had stabbed another woman, someone named Gladys. Robbyn Panitch, he insisted, was still living — in a secret location in Russia.

“They didn’t ask him a whole lot of questions after that,” recounted Alan Panitch, the 81-year-old father of the victim, who attended last week’s hearing at a medium security prison in San Luis Obispo.

Smith, a psychotic and homeless Air Force vet, was a patient of Robbyn Panitch when he stormed into her Santa Monica office in February 1987 and stabbed her with a butcher’s knife more than 30 times. He’d been released from commitment because of budget cuts, and, at the time, county mental-health facilities lacked effective security systems.

After the murder, Alan Panitch and his late wife, Gloria, also had to endure an anti-Semitic hate-mail campaign, which prompted their eventual move from Palos Verdes to Seattle.

Smith was sentenced to 26 years to life in February 1991, making him eligible for parole as early as 2006.

These days, Alan Panich volunteers his time helping crime victims and at-risk kids. But for the last several months, he focused on gathering petition signatures opposing Smith’s release. At the parole hearing he was joined by his son and daughter-in-law, as well as by L.A. Deputy D.A. David Dahle.

“Smith’s crime was particularly bloody and heinous and he posed a dangerous threat to society,” Dahle said he told the panel. “I told them I believed he will try and kill again if he ever gets out of prison.”

Smith entered the room much older than Panitch remembered, with a paunch and a monotonic voice. Seeing Smith again made Panitch forget his prepared remarks.

“It all went out of my head,” Panitch said. “I just told the panel how he destroyed our lives. You never get over it,” he continued. “When I rode in the ambulance with my wife the night she died, she said to me, ‘Now, I’m going to see Robbyn again.'”

The two panel members left the room for about 15 minutes before they returned to announce that the parole was denied.

Smith’s court-appointed attorney did not return calls.

Said Panitch: “I’ll be back in five years to make sure he gets turned down again.” — Jim Crogan, Contributing Writer

 

JEWS DECIDE: 2004


Republicans promise that a substantive, tough party platform this year will present Jewish voters with a sharp contrast from the relatively scrawny Democratic document — but they may find that delving into details could prove devilish.

The Bush campaign is emphasizing its adherence to old-fashioned platform-writing techniques, going into particulars, yet leaving open an element of surprise by allowing a platform committee to hash through the proposed document on the eve of the convention next week.

That means the platform is more likely to approach the 100-some pages of the GOP’s 2000 version than the svelte 37 pages of the Democrats’ 2004 platform, said Ginny Wolfe, one of the senior Republican platform staffers.

Going into such detail will help reinforce Bush’s reputation as a friend to Israel, but it carries risks for the president on domestic issues, where Republican views are less in line with those of many U.S. Jews.

Wolfe said she could not go into specifics before the delegates get the draft platform but offered some guidance based on the 2000 platform.

"There will be an extensive section on foreign policy and our commitments around the world and strong support for our friends around the world, including the State of Israel," she said. "The difference between the Republican platform and Democratic platform is that ours is both broad and substantive. It reflects the principles and policies; it will very much reflect our party and presidential candidate."

Democrats, stung in the past by Republican accusations that the party is divided and weak, wanted to avoid the raucousness often associated with platform drafting. They therefore sought to avoid issues that divide the party base, focusing instead on unifying issues such as job creation, health care and promotion of alternative forms of energy.

The result is that the Democrats devoted just 223 words to the Middle East, against the thousand-plus words the Republicans gave the issue in 2000 — and which Wolfe suggested the GOP will match this year.

"This section of the document will reflect a deep understanding of world realities today," Wolfe said. "There are many friends around the world, and there are those who are not so friendly. It will reflect that understanding and will again make clear the president’s accomplishments in these areas."

Wolfe said the platform likely would reflect Bush’s historic recognition in April of some Israeli claims to the West Bank and rejection of any "right of return" for Palestinian refugees to Israel. The Democratic platform echoed those assurances.

Also likely to make an appearance, Wolfe said, is Bush’s goal of a Palestinian state, the first such explicit call by a U.S. president.

"All of these issues that he has made public will be reflected in the draft working document that delegates receive," Wolfe said.

Such detail is likely to work for Bush in areas where his administration is in accord with Jewish voters. For example, the length of the 2000 platform allowed Republicans to slam not only Iranian extremism but the persecution of Iranian Jews. That document also repeated three times the party’s commitment to maintaining Israel’s military edge over its Arab neighbors.

On the other hand, where Bush’s record is less popular in the Jewish community, there’s likely to be some concern. For instance, the 2004 Democratic platform mentions abortion only once, saying that "abortion should be safe, legal and rare."

By contrast, the Republicans’ 2000 platform mentions the topic eight times, using words like "infanticide" and "shocking." If this year’s platform repeats that language, it’s unlikely to attract the vast majority of Jewish voters who consistently say they favor reproductive choice.

Wolfe complained that the Democratic platform tries to be all things to all people.

"Lay them side by side; you’ll see a huge difference," she said.

Still, meeting some issues head-on could alienate Jewish voters. In the 2000 platform, for example, Republicans call embryonic stem-cell research — endorsed by the Democrats and by all Jewish religious streams — an "abuse."

ADL Marks 90 Years


The Anti-Defamation League is celebrating its 90th anniversary this week, marking its beginnings in Chicago when Sigmund Livingston, a young Jewish lawyer, watched a vaudeville show portraying Jews as greedy, dishonest characters with hooked noses and thick accents.

Knowing that such stereotypes were pervasive, Livingston and other members of his local B’nai B’rith chapter formed a committee to protest ethnically offensive Vaudeville acts. They were surprised when the Vaudville mangers agreed to remove the material from their shows — they simply had not realized that such humor was offensive.

In 1913 Livingston moved to formalize his group with a $200 budget and two desks in his law office as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Soon afterward, in an atmosphere of rampant anti-Semitism, Leo Frank, an Atlanta pencil factory manager, was found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit, and in 1915, he was lynched by a vigilante mob. The ADL was in business.

In the nine decades since, the ADL has expanded beyond anything Livingston could have imagined. However, it has never lost sight of the aims in its original charter: "to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all."

In the 1920s, the unemployment and economic distress after World War I led to the scapegoating of Jews and discrimination in education, employment and housing. During that period, the Ku Klux Klan was revitalized and the ADL’s model legislation to unmask the KKK became the basis for state laws.

The time of fighting against quotas and job discrimination was overshadowed by a new sense of urgency in the 1930s, as fascism and Nazism gained ground in Europe. Jews were blamed for the nation’s economic woes and for bringing the country to the brink of war. The ADL monitored and exposed the growing fascist movement in America, through expanded fact-finding work and sharing of data with law enforcement, the press and the public.

With the establishment of the State of Israel it became a new priority for the ADL to make the case for United States’ only democratic ally in the Mideast.

At home, the ADL helped to abolish discrimination in college admissions, liberalize immigration laws and end Jim Crow segregation and the no-Jews-allowed policies of numerous resorts and hotels. Joining with the African American community, the ADL was on the front lines in the South, fighting for passage of landmark Civil Rights legislation.

Following the Israeli-Arab wars of 1967 and 1973 and frequent anti-Israel resolutions passed by the United Nations, the ADL continued to make the case for the Jewish state to the United States and the world.

During the 1980s, the ADL continued to expose hatemongers such as Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam and former KKK leaders David Duke and Tom Metzger. The ADL’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents became an important measure of anti-Semitism and a model adopted by other minority groups.

The 1990s brought the new technology of the Internet, which quickly became an important tool for anti-Semites, racists and extremists. During the ’90s, the ADL wrote model hate crimes legislation that is now on the books in 46 states.

The new century brought a new intifada, coupled with suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism in Israel and abroad. Following Sept. 11, the "big lie," the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory blaming Jews for Sept. 11, spread through most of the world.

This past year has seen a continued rise in global anti-Semitism and anti-Israel incitement in Arab and Muslim media. In Europe, classic anti-Semitism has been compounded by anti-Israel sentiment, with violent and lethal results.

Recently, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told a gathering of 57 Islamic nations that Jews are the enemy of Islam — that we control the world and must be defeated. Not a single leader in attendance stood up to challenge his remarks.

How do we continue the good fight in the face of such enormous challenges and adversity? We just do. Every day, evidence comes across my desk of what can happen when we allow prejudice to invade our culture and we fail to fight bigotry with every fiber of our being.

The Matthew Shepards of this world end up tied to fences in Laramie, Wyo., and the James Byrds of this world are dragged behind a truck in Jasper, Texas.

In Los Angeles, we have witnessed the North Valley Jewish Community Center shootings and the murder of a Filipino postal worker, the serial beating of gays in West Hollywood, fatalities in the terrorist shootings at Los Angeles International Airport, the beating of a developmentally disabled African American minor by police officers in Inglewood, the attack on Jewish youths by a group of Muslim youths and an Immigration and Naturalization Service sting operation to round up men and boys from Middle Eastern countries.

We have challenged each of these wrongs publicly, while assisting victims and prosecutors privately. We continue to counteract anti-Semitic stereotypes and to fight all forms of prejudice, bigotry and discrimination as we have since 1913. After 90 years, we have learned a lot and gained worldwide recognition.

We want nothing so much as to put ourselves out of business. Sadly, we are still very much in demand.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, the ADL will honor the lifetime achievements of Billy and Tootsie Veprin. The evening will also feature entertainment by Lou Rawls and a presentation by activist and author Irshad Manji. For information, call, (310) 446-8000, ext. 260.


Amanda Susskind is director of the Pacific Southwest region of the Anti-Defamation League.

What’s In a Name?


I check surnames. It’s a reflex, and I can’t help it. If you’re like most Jews I know, you do it too. You can’t help but wonder, for instance, if some of the people at the center of the latest financial scandals are Jewish or not. We kvell at Shawn Green and cringe at Andrew Fastow, although it’s hard to figure just what being born Jewish had to do with Green’s batting average or Fastow’s alleged misdeeds.

But still, I check.

Andrew Fastow, former CFO at Enron? Hmm. Fastow. Yes, Jewish.

L. Dennis Kozlowski, former CEO of Tyco? Hmm, could be but — no.

Mark Belnick, the ousted general counsel of Tyco? Maybe … have to check.

Then there is Gary Winnick, founder and chairman of bankrupt telecommunications group Global Crossing, who testified this week before Rep. L. Billy Tauzin’s (R-La.) House Energy and Commerce Committee. The committee wanted to know whether Winnick knew his company was in financial trouble and failed to alert investors while selling millions of dollars worth of his own stock in the meantime. According to The Financial Times, Winnick grossed $512 million since 1999, a period in which Global Crossing has lost $9.2 billion and eliminated 5,020 jobs.

Winnick has been charged with no crime and has denied any wrongdoing. “Global Crossing’s bankruptcy,” Winnick told the committee, “based on the facts known to me, is a result not of any fraud, but of a catastrophe that befell an entire industry sector.” Winnick’s lawyer says his client’s stock sale was proper and approved by Global’s counsel.

Reading Gary Winnick’s name splashed scross the national papers hits especially close to home. Three years ago to the day that I write this, the cover of The Journal featured a photograph of Winnick and this headline: “Gary Winnick Steps Out Front: ‘The Wealthiest Man in Los Angeles’ is driven to succeed and to give to the Jewish community.” In it, Tom Tugend reported that Winnick’s fortune of $6.2 billion made him Los Angeles’ richest citizen, according to The Los Angeles Business Journal. The story documented Winnick’s rise as the grandson of a one-time pushcart peddler on New York’s Lower East Side to financial whiz at the side of Michael Milken to visionary leader in the telecommunications industry.

More pointedly, it reported on the billionaire’s seemingly inexhaustible charity: a $5 million-pledge by the Gary and Karen Winnick Family Foundation to erect exhibit galleries at the Skirball Cultural Center, Hillel center endowments at three East Coast universities and a children’s zoo at the Los Angeles Zoo. His pledges and donations to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Birthright Israel, Chabad and at least 54 other groups totaled $100 million over the past three years. The Foundation’s largest single donation is the $40 million pledged to the Simon Wiesenthal Center for construction of the Winnick Institute in Jerusalem, to be designed by Frank Gehry.

All this largesse, the lion’s share of it directed toward the Jewish community, set an example for others of similar wealth to follow.

Now, of course, in the court of public opinion, Winnick is being held up as an exemplar not of philanthropy, but of 1990s greed. Though he’s worth considerably less than $6.2 billion these days, he still built a home worth an estimated $60 million to $90 million, and he may never provide satisfactory enough answers for the people whose financial worth evaporated along with Global Crossing’s.

I’m assuming this is a source of anguish to Winnick, whom I don’t know and have never met. He must know that, in light of Global Crossing’s reverses, a good many people will forever see his philanthropy, his words of contrition, his offers of recompense, as utilitarian ploys to win favor, to buy back his good name.

He is now in a place where others, including some from this community, have traveled before. How does one emerge from such a fall? The answer, surprisingly, may come from Winnick himself.

Speaking three years ago of the criteria by which he chooses philanthropies, Winnic told The Journal: “I must believe in the cause, and I demand accountability from the recipient.”

Accountability. The lack of it is what lay at the heart of the numerous financial scandals that have rocked the stock market and shaken investor confidence. It is at the heart of the endless post-boom congressional hearings at which former CEOs put on their best Easter Island faces and can rarely, if ever, account for what was taking place in the companies they headed.

There are signs that Winnick does expect accountability of himself. Heads of charitable organizations to which Winnick pledged contributions, contacted this past February by The Journal, said they were in receipt of the monies or fully expected the pledges to arrive. His offer to replenish depleted employee retirement funds by $25 million was unprecedented in the current climate of CEO duck-and-run. Having set an example with his giving, Winnick can now set one with his candor.

This would be a good thing, because employees and stockholders are not, according to Jewish tradition, the only stakeholders in our business behavior. God also calls us to account for our actions. When we die, the Talmud says, the first question God will ask each one of us is, “Nasata v’netata be’emunah” — “Did you conduct your business affairs with honesty?”

In an article on Jewish law, Rabbi Eliezer Breitowitz elaborates: “Business ethics is the arena where the ethereal transcendent teachings of holiness and spirituality confront the often grubby business of making money and being engaged in the rat race …. It is the acid test of whether religion is truly relevant or religion is simply relegated to an isolated sphere of human activity.”

Justly or unjustly, Gary Winnick is undergoing that acid test quite publicly.

Exodus From Addiction and Shame


These are the Ten Plagues of Prison Life, and we take a drop of grape juice out of our cups for each: Damage left in the wake of destructive addiction. Abusive relationships. Low self-esteem. The embittered spirit. Wrong attitude. Weakening mind and body. Daily degradation. Deprivation. Captivity. Separation from loved ones.

Freedom has a different meaning for the Shalom Sisterhood, a group of 20 inmates who meet twice a month for Jewish study at the California Institution for Women (CIW). As they gather for a seder in the meeting room of this college campus-like institution set among the dairy farms and truck repair shops of Chino, the Shalom Sisterhood considers anew the story of the Exodus and the freedoms of mind and spirit available to them.

Their seder is just one of many held throughout the area that reinterprets the ancient story to shed light on contemporary issues (see sidebar).

Before attending the March 18 event at CIW, Rabbi Paul Dubin wondered what kind of seder is appropriate in a prison. As a board member of Gateways Hospital and Mental Health Center, the sponsor of the event, and former executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, Dubin wanted to help the inmates connect their prison experience with Jewish life. He read the haggadah they had prepared and was impressed. "They’re covering the very thing that would have worried me: How do you speak about freedom in a place like this?"

Dubin spoke at the seder about "all those enslavements that warp the spirit and blight the mind, that destroy the soul, even though they leave the flesh alive."

In the "Haggadah Shel Assurim" ("Haggadah of Captivity"), developed by the Shalom Sisterhood with Rabbi Mel Silverman before his retirement last year, the Jewish prisoners include their own stories. Margaret Tanner, who wears a small necklace charm reading "Try God," reads from her selection, "Many women have said ‘I wasn’t arrested, I was rescued.’ This is true for me."

Dawn Ayers is chair of the Shalom Sisterhood. At the seder, she reads her "Letter to Heroin," a declaration of freedom included among many of the inmates’ meditations in the haggadah. "Each day I find courage and strength, not from you, but from my spiritual fold," she reads, "I regret that I had to lose everything to set myself free…. I will stay sober and out of your bondage."

Kim Braun was a preschool teacher from Porter Ranch. Following her divorce and a bitter custody battle, Braun began writing bad checks and got involved in computer hacking. She vows that when she is released, "I’m never even going to have a parking violation."

Mona Blaskey is a mother of nine. When her own mother died last year, she went out drinking with a friend. The night turned violent when a drunken argument with a friend led to a shoving match; an aneurysm burst when her friend fell. It was Blaskey’s first run-in with the law. She is serving six years for attempted murder and will serve half the time for good behavior.

Braun and Blaskey consider themselves lucky. Blaskey recalls her first meeting with the Shalom Sisterhood. When the women introduced themselves and the amount of time they were serving, she says she was "heartbroken" — many of the women at this seder have "indeterminate" sentences of seven, 15 or 25 years to life.

On her left hand, Blaskey has a Star of David tattoo. She says the seder makes her homesick for her father’s Orange County home, where she would spend hours cooking for her family.

Rather than cooking a meal with family, on this night the Shalom Sisterhood enjoys the treat of nonprison food, with dinner contributions from Art’s Deli in Studio City and Gateways Hospital pitching in for the catered chicken dinner. Boxes of matzah and macaroons are available to take back to their rooms; what hot food is left over, Shalom Sisterhood members pile onto plates to share the joys of Passover with roommates. No door is left open for Elijah, but strangers are invited in.

The seder was sponsored by the Jewish Committee for Personal Service (JCPS), a service of Gateways Hospital that helps to bring Jewish life and values to prisoners and acts as advocates on their behalf. JCPS Director Judith Sable visits CIW every other week. Since Silverman’s retirement, the prison budget has not supported a visiting rabbi. Though the women say they trust and respect CIW chaplain Father Neil Fuller, Sable is their only regular connection to Jewish life.

Sable, a social worker who visits prisons across the state as a "religious volunteer," says the hardest part of her work is convincing those outside the system that Jewish prisoners are worthy of their help. She points to the sincere efforts of the Shalom Sisterhood, evident at the seder table, to improve their minds, bodies, spirits and lives.

"I would stake my life on it," Sable says. "These women would not commit another crime. They’re upstanding citizens and they’re still here." She wants to offer more to them than twice-monthly visits. "We’re working on doing some shonda-busting," she says.


You don’t have to go to prison to find a Passover seder with a contemporary interpretation of the Exodus. With the service itself encouraging us to place ourselves in the sandals of the Israelites, Passover is uniquely suited to tie together history and personal experience. All around Los Angeles, Jewish and non-Jewish groups offered fun, thought-provoking, inspirational, celebrational seders that take off from the Exodus into a new land of celebration.

At Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village, the freedom vibe rings in from West Africa at the popular Reggae Passover. Alan Eder & Friends bring their "Songs of Freedom," joined by African dancers and choirs from the temple and Parks Chapel A.M.E. Church.

If you prefer gourmet to reggae, Wolfgang Puck has it covered — Spago’s seder, with braised Morrocan lamb and tarragon gefilte fish, has become a tradition in its own right, and proceeds go to charity.

The seder may focus on women’s issues, as at Temple Judea in Tarzana or the National Council of Jewish Women. Or reading a haggadah together might aim to bring singles to the Promised Land of their beshert, as did a Passover dinner this year at Meet Me Café. Perhaps the most popular "new order" for Passover is the interfaith seder, of the type Leo Baeck Temple held this year, where members of any community can recognize elements of their own historical struggles in the retelling of the Passover tale.

Whatever the community, whatever the goal, the story of Passover can speak to anyone who has struggled, anyone who has been set free. In congregations and communities across Los Angeles, Passover celebrants are saying, "We’ll leave the door open." — Mike Levy, Staff Writer

His Summer Vacation


Brad Sherman easily remembers what was the most enjoyable time hespent during his week-long visit to Israel. “It was,” he says, “thehour I slept.”

The first-term congressman from the 24th District spent the restof his time in briefings with Israeli and Palestinian officials,touring sites of strategic importance to both sides, and listening tothe opinions of settlers, peaceniks, soldiers and terrorism’svictims. In other words, there were “no perks, no lollygagging” andnot a lot of fun — unless your idea of fun is a public confrontationwith Yasser Arafat.

The purpose of the trip, organized by the American JewishCommittee’s Project Interchange, was to reacquaint Sherman with thefacts on the ground, and to provide him an opportunity to see forhimself the principal players and issues. As a member of the HouseInternational Relations Committee, he is “just steeped in” thepolitics of the Middle East.

For most of Sherman’s constituents, Israel is hardly some vagueforeign policy objective. His district, which runs from Sherman Oaksto Thousand Oaks and from Malibu to Northridge, includes what isprobably the largest expatriate Israeli population in the UnitedStates, as well as tens of thousands of American Jews. Whether theyare twentysomething or eightysomething, they take a keen, knowinginterest in Israel.

So Sherman marched. He visited with Binyamin Netanyahu; Cabinetministers; Hebron settlers; Esther Waxman, the mother of murderedsoldier Nachum Waxman; and Yasser Arafat, whom he had met previouslyin Washington. This time, when Arafat protested against an anti-Arabcartoon distributed in Hebron by a fanatic Jewish settler, Shermantalked back. “He wanted sympathy over the actions of one racistwoman,” said Sherman, “when Syrian textbooks still containanti-Jewish caricatures and statements.”

Sherman also extracted a promise from the Palestinian leader thatthe murderer of Waxman, if ever found in areas under Palestiniancontrol, would be arrested. Sherman said that he intends to readArafat’s promise into the Congressional Record and hold him to it.

After a week, Sherman, a 42-year-old Monterey Park nativeand UCLA grad, returned to Washington, then to his field office inWoodland Hills. His take: Israelis, Palestinians, the U.S. governmentand American Jews have a “hidden consensus” on most of the thornyissues, except Jerusalem. The trick, of course, is getting from hereto there. — Robert Eshman, Associate Editor“Classic on Collins,” by Alan S. Maltz, from his newbook, “Miami: City of Dreams.”

Miami Nice

The last book I read about Miami was called “The Corpse Had aFamiliar Face.” It’s by Edna Buchanan, the legendary former policereporter of The Miami Herald, and it features true tales of gore (andcrooks such as “Murph the Surf”) in the drug capital of the world.

You won’t find any gore, or criminals, or anything even remotelyunpleasant in Alan S. Maltz’s new, gorgeous and slick coffee-tablebook, “Miami: City of Dreams” (Light Flight Publications, $60).

You won’t find much that is Jewish either, although South Floridahas roughly 645,000 Jews, 64 synagogues and 14 Jewish day schools(Maltz does throw in the occasional image of the local Holocaustmuseum or Orthodox Jews debating at Miami Beach).

What you will find is lots of rosy sunsets, translucent,turquoise seas, and vast, downtown cityscapes. You’ll see thecolorful, bustling streets of Little Havana; the fancifulfaçades of Miami Beach’s art deco district (onepink-white-and-yellow building towers like a wedding cake); and thegarishly cheerful storefront of Wolfie’s coffee shop. Thelily-covered reflecting pool at the Holocaust museum shimmers like aMonet.

For 16 months, Maltz rose before dawn to wander the area with his35mm Nikon, snapping images from dawn to 10 a.m. and from 4 p.m.until after dark. It’s no wonder the quality of his light is subtle,ethereal, perfect.

But Maltz, who won the 1995 award for best coffee-table book fromthe National Association of Independent Publishers, makes noapologies for his persistently pretty, upbeat vision of Miami. As hetold The Miami Herald, “I feel there’s enough negativity out there inthe world…that’s not my focus.”

To order “Miami: City of Dreams,” call (800)329-7297. — Naomi Pfefferman, Senior WriterThomas Elias and Mary Jo Siegel

Defending the Good Doctor

Out of Jewish holiday workshops come many wonderful things:challah and charoset recipes, knowledge of Jewish history, lastingfriendships. But an investigative book about “the century’s mostpromising cancer treatment, and the government’s campaign to squelchit”? Not usually.

However, the topic, which is the subtitle of a fascinating andextremely readable new book from General Publishing Group, “TheBurzynski Breakthrough,” was suggested by a woman the author, ThomasElias, had first met 18 years ago in a workshop he took at hissynagogue, Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades.

When Mary Jo Siegel first brought the idea to him two years ago,Elias was busy covering the O.J. Simpson criminal trial for ScrippsHoward News Service and loath to take on what appeared to be adubious story about a miracle cancer cure.

Still, since he knew Siegel, he decided to look into her claimthat the government was trying to jail the doctor who Siegel said hadsaved her life, and those of many others, through the infusion of anunusual mixture of enzymes and peptides called antineoplastins.

The procedure had led to the disappearance of a huge tumor on herneck, Siegel said, and her apparent victory against non-Hodgkin’slymphoma, a slow-growing but almost always fatal type of cancer.

But Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, the Polish-born, Houston-basednon-Jewish doctor who had discovered the medicine, was likely to losethe ability to treat his many patients, and he faced the prospect ofspending the rest of his life in prison.

Elias, who co-authored a highly praised book on the Simpsoncriminal trial, began to lose his skepticism after he talked toofficials with the major cancer organizations and the Food and DrugAdministration. None said that Burzynski was a quack or that hisanti-cancer regimen didn’t work. “All said simply that it was anexperimental, unproven treatment,” Elias writes. And when the authorinterviewed Burzynski’s patients and the relatives of some who haddied, he heard “not a single negative word.”

Ironically, while in the process of commuting to Houston to coverBurzynski’s grand jury trial, Elias’ ongoing problem with kidneydisease worsened, leaving him in need of a transplant. He was touchedwhen many members of the chavurah to which he and his wife, Marilyn,belong, as well as Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, his wife, Didi, andCantor Chayim Frenkel of Kehillat Israel volunteered to donatekidneys.

Elias has since found a donor and is awaiting surgery. The book,just published in the last month, chronicles Burzynski’s David-andGoliath fight to gain approval for his drug, and offers severalheart-wrenching case histories, including Siegel’s.

The dynamic mother of three college-age children, who now saysthat she’s cancer-free, founded an organization with her husband,Steve, that has raised $600,000 for Burzynski’s legal defense andthat is seeking FDA approval for the anti-cancer therapy.

“I am very sure that without [Burzynski] and his drug,” Siegelsays in the book, “I would be dead right now, like the people I knewwho were diagnosed with the same disease at the same time I was.”— Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

End of Conversation


I visited Los Angeles recently and learned thattwo of those dialogues, in which I had been active, had expiredwithout ceremony. The Cousin’s Club, which survived eight years oftension, argument and even, on occasion, genuine dialogue, was nomore. And the Arab-Jewish Speakers Bureau, born of the famoushandshake joining Rabin and Arafat in the White House Rose Garden,has likewise departed from the scene.

This last closure caused me particular regretbecause it grew from a dog-and-pony act that Don Bustany, a localspokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and Ideveloped over the years. Whenever a university audience or asynagogue (rarely a church, never a mosque) wanted to hear Arabs andJews argue, we would pile into Don’s car — it being far morereliable than mine — and drive to Santa Barbara or another center ofcuriosity about the Middle East. It was all quite friendly andcollegial, but underneath ran a vein of deep and serious purpose. Onthe way back home, particularly whenever the debate got hot, we oftencompared notes. Although our efforts had no appreciable effect on thepoliticians and warriors of the region, they certainly gave ussatisfaction.

I discussed the fate of dialogue between me andBustany with Alfred Stern, who replaced me as Don’s opponent; andwith Carol Levy, director of the local office of the American JewishCongress, which, with the Jewish Federation Council of Greater LosAngeles, was instrumental in getting the speaker’s bureau under way.(The bureau, I was told, is not dead but in a state of suspension,pending the finding of a new Arab partner.)

The bureau was first announced with much fanfarebefore 200 people at a dinner at the El Amir restaurant. From thebeginning, the plan was to maintain equal numbers between Arabs andJews. (One of the problems with the Cousin’s Club and similar groupswas that they tended to include three or four Jews for every Arab.)The bureau’s initial board consisted of 15 Jews and 15 Arabs, andeach side enrolled two organizations. The AJCongress and the AmericanFriends of Peace Now represented the Jewish side; the American-ArabAnti-Discrimination Committee (AADC) and the National Association ofArab Americans (NAAA) spoke for the others.

At first, everything went well. Four people fromeach camp were the debaters, a training program was organized forothers, and the opportunities to speak were legion.

But with the election of Netanyahu as Israel’sprime minister, problems began to develop. Younger Arabs, some ofthem recent immigrants from the territories, reacted angrily at thethought that Arabs should speak publicly with the “enemy.” Finally,AADC headquarters in Washington ordered its people in Los Angeles towithdraw from participation. According to Bustany, they had to besensitive to the needs of their members who were, in Bustany’s words,”the direct victims of Zionism.”

An attempt was made to restore the balance withthe Association of Arab University Graduates, but the group declined,on the grounds that it is an academic association not given toengaging in rough-and-tumble debate.

The reasons for the demise of the Cousin’s Clubare more complex. After emerging from a strange amalgam of est andother New Age aberrations of the 1970s and 1980s, it later droppedthose trappings to become a place of genuine debate, meeting inprivate homes and public rooms long before such dialogues wouldbecome fashionable.

But from the beginning, the outnumbered Arabs werealways on the offensive, the Jews on the defensive. Carol Levy toldme that, in the end, the dialogues foundered on the Jews becomingtired of having to deal with the same accusations and never beingable to move into substantive discussion and a useful exchange ofideas.

I had a taste of this myself during my recent LosAngeles visit. Bustany invited me to appear on his KPFK radioprogram, “Middle East Focus.” He began by asking for my ideas for aMiddle East peace, but they never got heard. Almost immediately, heswitched to demanding an apology from Israel for the “wrongs done tothe Palestinians”; I was never able to get back to the originalquestion. One could see where that formula, endlessly repeated, couldstifle any debate.

Yet the Cousin’s Club lasted for eight years, soit must have met needs on both sides. People participated in it formany reasons, and there were different motivations for Jews andArabs.

Some Jews were defensive about Israel and refusedto concede that it had any faults. Others were purging the guilt theyfelt about what they saw as Jewish persecution of Arabs. And a smallminority came to learn the points of view of the other side, forwhatever reason.

Among the Arabs, there was also a variety ofmotivations. Some came to vent their anger, while others expressed,in a more restrained way, their resentments. As the intifada grew,newly arrived Palestinians who were more angry began to appear, anddialogue became more difficult.

In the end, everyone I met with agreed that therewas burnout on both sides. The Jews who felt guilty came to thinkthat they had paid their dues. Enough already. Some of thePalestinians thought that they were being used and that dialogue withthe enemy merely legitimized unacceptable positions. And the generaldiscouragement of hopes for peace that followed Rabin’s assassinationand then Netanyahu’s election seemed to make the entire enterprise afutile one.

Judging by what I heard and read, Jewish-Arabdialogues are out. And the posturing parties in the Middle Eastcouldn’t care less.

 

Contributing writer Yehuda Lev writes fromProvidence, R.I. Marlene Adler Marks is on vacation thisweek.

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