Smashed car window covers 6-year-old in glass, may be hate crime


A teenage boy hurled a rock into the car of an Orthodox Jewish woman in Brooklyn, shattering the back window and covering her 6-year-old child in glass.

The teen, who was not identified, had shouted an anti-Semitic remark at the woman in the car before throwing the rock and fleeing the scene, the New York Daily News reported.

The New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating.

If you care about California, then you should care about Salinas


Do you worry about the future of California?

Then you should worry about Salinas. Because if this Monterey County town of 155,000 can’t build itself a brighter future, it’s hard to imagine other struggling places doing the same. 

“Rich in Land. Rich in Values. Ripe With Opportunity,” reads the slogan on a city website, and that’s no exaggeration. Salinas might be the richest poor city in California.

So many poor California cities sit well inland, but Salinas is just eight miles from the Pacific. It might have the best weather in the state. It’s part of the prosperous Monterey Bay region, and close enough to Silicon Valley that rising apartment rents have become a problem (a two-bedroom costs more in Salinas than it does in Seattle or Miami). And while many poor California places are rapidly aging, Salinas has the advantage of youth—its average age is less than 30.

The Salinas Valley is known as the Salad Bowl of the World, a center for producing healthy foods—leafy greens and berries—at a time when such foods have never been more popular. Jobs in the region’s multibillion-dollar agriculture and tourism economies are so plentiful that some employers complain of labor shortages. It has a rich culture—from the dynamic Alisal neighborhood to an old downtown where a new headquarters for Taylor Farms is going up—and higher education, including an excellent community college and the newest California State University campus a 10-minute drive away. Salinas also has a healthy amount of civic engagement. Ask its residents where they’re from, and they’ll answer you with the name of their neighborhood—and a colorful description of it.

But ask people in Salinas why the city ranks so miserably low in so many measures—crime, schools, public health—and you’ll likely get puzzled looks.

By the numbers, Salinas borders on the nightmarish. Its homicide rate remains stubbornly high—nearly four times higher than the national average and more than twice as high as Los Angeles’; the year 2015 began with 10 shootings, including four deaths, in an 11-day period. Salinas and its neighboring communities in Monterey County have the highest rates of child poverty in the state. And Salinas lags significantly behind the state average in test scores, in its high school graduation rate, and the percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees. Nearly 40 percent of Salinas residents have no high school diploma; the percentage statewide is 19 percent.

Salinas also has persistently higher unemployment than the state (8 percent vs. 6.3 percent currently) and a homeownership rate of less than 43 percent (compared to 55 percent statewide). In a bitter irony for a capital of healthy food, its obesity rates, especially among children, are well above the state average. And basic services can be hard to find. The federal government says Salinas is medically underserved—with not enough primary care doctors or dentists or mental health providers. And if you want to unwind or exercise in the fresh air, good luck. The city has one of the lowest ratios of parkland per resident in California, less than half the amount of L.A. or San Francisco (and eight times less than San Jose).

As a columnist traveling around California, this mismatch between its horrible statistics and its obvious strengths makes Salinas one of the most frustrating cities in California. And easily the most confounding. Why does Salinas add up to so much less than the sum of its parts? 

Two of its handicaps are fundamental: it’s a midsized city and it’s in California. Salinas is one of 60 small cities in this state of between 100,000 and 300,000 people, too many of which are dysfunctional; Salinas’ municipal sisters include bankrupt Stockton and San Bernardino. The problems for Salinas-sized cities is that many started as smaller towns and grew to have all the problems of any urban place, while retaining the weak local governments and public resources of small towns. California’s governing system—which famously limits the power and discretion of local officials—imposes heavy regulations on local communities while giving city governments precious little power to shape their own destinies. 

Salinas, to its credit, has more than its share of people who have tried to transform the community anyway. Many of its leading citizens were part of the 1970s farmworker movement—or are the children of those who were—and there is almost no constituency for the status quo in Salinas. People there know the city needs to change. 

But, perversely, the ambitions of Salinas have served mainly to create more frustration.

People in Salinas are very good at starting things—launching new campaigns or programs, building new things. But finding the public resources to maintain them has been harder. Driving around town, you can see how Salinas is littered with public institutions it couldn’t quite sustain. A golf course that had to be taken over by First Tee. A public swimming pool that had to be taken over by a private aquatic club. (It’s still open to the public, but at limited hours and for a fee). A performing arts center now occupied by a charter school. At police headquarters, a cop tells me how the gang unit is being disbanded so that the understaffed department can have enough people on patrol. 

And then, right in the center of the city sits the National Steinbeck Center, a monument to its native son, the Nobel Laureate author John Steinbeck. It failed to meet very high projections for drawing tourists, and faltered. After a years-long ordeal that involved debt and foreclosure and fighting, it’s about to be rescued by California State University Monterey Bay. 

The one lasting legacy of so many spasmodic endeavors is an ingrained sense of skeptical fatalism, particularly among the young in Salinas, who are the target audience of many ambitious programs there. Those who run such programs say they are often asked by young skeptics, “How long is this going to last?”

Salinas can count some victories. After its libraries nearly ran out of money in 2005, local fundraising and a vote for a sales tax increase rescued them. Friends of the libraries, incidentally, have come up with one of the best ideas I’ve seen anywhere in California —mobile paleteros, or ice cream carts that move around the city dispensing books and library cards, and providing mobile Wi-Fi hot spots. More recently, Acosta Plaza, originally an owner-occupied housing development that fell on hard times, is being revived by a coalition of housing developers, young people, and community organizations.

Of course, Salinas has problems that are peculiar to it. While residents like to tout the size and wealth of the city’s agriculture industry, the hard truth is that for most, agriculture is an industry that doesn’t pay all that well, which is why agriculturally-oriented cities are typically poor and too often plantation-like in their social structure. 

And while Salinas boasts remarkable diversity, it’s also been marked by segregation and racism. Monterey County was one of three California counties that, until very recently, had to get federal approval for changes in its election rules because of its history of voting discrimination against Latinos and Asians. And inside Salinas, the divide between a poor and Latino east side and the rest of the city is profound, and dates back across decades of racial and ethnic discrimination.

In this age of inequality, Salinas’s prosperous surroundings do it no favors. The economic successes of Monterey and the Bay Area can make the climb Salinas faces seem steeper than it really is. 

It also makes people in Salinas feel isolated. Steinbeck wrote that the fog turned Salinas into “a closed pot” cut off “from the sky and from all the rest of the world,” a line that still gets quoted by residents even though their city is a California crossroads. It’s right on the 101, connecting north and south, linking the coast and the agricultural inland. Even if you’ve never stopped to visit, you’ve almost certainly driven through.

Salinas is an All-America City, too. That’s not an opinion—it’s an official designation, issued just last month, by the National Civic League. And, suitably, it’s a double-edged award. It recognizes all the efforts in Salinas to address community problems—of which there is an all-American abundance. 

Joe Mathews is California & innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column. This column is part of Salinas: California's Richest Poor City, a special project of Zócalo Public Square and the California Wellness Foundation. 

Poverty causes crime?


One of the first clues that this Columbia-educated, liberal, Democrat, New York Jew had that there was something wrong at the heart of progressive/left-wing thought was when I read and was taught over and over that “poverty causes crime.”

I knew from the first that this was dogma, not truth.

How did I know?

First, I thought about the world that I knew best — my own. My paternal grandparents were extremely poor immigrants from Russia. They lived in a small apartment in Brooklyn, where they raised four children, none of whom, of course, ever had his own room. Moreover, my grandfather was a tailor and, as such, made little during normal years, and next to nothing during the Great Depression.

They were considerably poorer than the vast majority of Americans who lived below the poverty line as it existed when I was in college and graduate school. And they would have regarded most of those designated poor today as middle class, if not rich, by the standards of their day.

Here is a story that illustrates that point:

On the 25th anniversary of the United Nations in 1970, the U.N. convened its first and only World Youth Assembly. The purpose was to bring young delegates from every country and the major nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to New York to the U.N. to engage in dialogue. 

I was 22 years old and named as one of the two delegates of world Jewry. (I represented B’nai B’rith International; the other Jewish delegate was a European who represented the World Union of Jewish Students.) In every way, the young delegates did what real delegates did — everything we said was simultaneously translated into five languages, and we convened in the actual Security Council and General Assembly.

One day, the communist and many of the Third World delegates demanded to be taken to Harlem. They insisted on seeing real American poverty and, of course, racism — things they were not able to see in the Midtown Manhattan area in which the U.N. building is located.

So, the U.N. chartered buses to take these delegates from around the world to Harlem.

When they returned from the visit, they convened a press conference to protest that the trip was a set-up — they were only shown neighborhoods where a few rich blacks live, not the real Harlem.

In fact, they had been taken to some of the poorest areas of Harlem. And what did they see? Apartments and homes and cars that almost anywhere in the world would be regarded as middle class, or even upper middle class.

That is worth remembering whenever an American claims that violent crime in America is caused by poverty. The poor who commit murder, rape and robbery are not only not starving, they have far more material things than the word “poverty” suggests. 

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey for 2005 (the last year I could find in detail — but it doesn’t matter what year, because those who say that poverty causes crime have said it for 100 years and continue to say it), among all poor households:

More than 99 percent have a refrigerator, television and stove or oven. Eighty-one percent have a microwave; 75 percent have air conditioning; 67 percent have a second TV; 64 percent have a clothes washer; 38 percent have a personal computer. 

As for homelessness, 0.5 percent living under the poverty line have lost their homes and live in shelters. 

Seventy-five percent of the poor have a car or truck. Only 10 percent live in mobile homes or trailers; and half live in detached single-family houses or townhouses, while 40 percent live in apartments. Forty-two percent of all poor households own their home, and the average home is a three-bedroom house with 1 1/2 baths, a garage and a porch or patio.

According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report, 80.9 percent of households below the poverty level have cell phones.

When the left talks about the poor, they don’t mention these statistics, because what matters to the left is inequality, not poverty. 

But that is another subject. Our subject is the question: Given these statistics, why do the poor who commit violent crime do so? Clearly, it is not because they lack the basic necessities of life.

Now, I didn’t know any of these statistics back in college and graduate school. So how did I know that “poverty causes crime” was a lie?

I thought about my grandparents, and I could not imagine my grandfather robbing anyone, let alone raping or murdering. 

Why not? Because it was unimaginable. They were people whose values rendered such behaviors all but impossible.

But there was another reason.

I was as certain as one could be that if I were poor, I wouldn’t rape or murder — and would rob only for food, only if my family were starving, and only if I couldn’t find work.

Which leads me to wonder about people who believe that “poverty causes crime.” 

When people say this, there are only two possibilities: Either on some level of consciousness they think that if they were poor, they would commit violent crimes. Or, if they are confident that they wouldn’t, then they would have to conclude that poor Americans who do rob, rape or murder are morally inferior to themselves.

Which is almost always the case. In America, people who rob, rape and murder do so because they lack a functioning conscience and moral self-control. It is not material poverty that causes crime, but poor character. And once you acknowledge that, you have begun the journey toward affirming the essence of conservatism and Judaism, both of which are rooted in the belief that values, not economics, determine moral behavior. 

Israel conducts illegal weapons amnesty


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

There are a lot of guns in Israel. You see them carried by soldiers as you walk down the street; on the hip of the security guard checking your bag as you enter the bank; and even by licensed civilians who live in or travel through areas Israel acquired in the 1967 war.

Israel’s Ministry of Public Security has embarked on an amnesty campaign to collect illegal, unlicensed firearms, promising that anyone who hands over their unlicensed gun will not be prosecuted. Unlike similar campaigns in the US where the concern is violent crime, misuse of firearms is a greater problem relative to suicides. 

Yakov Amit, the head of firearm licensing in the Ministry says there are 160,000 licensed civilian weapons in Israel, along with 130,000 guns licensed to institutions such as security companies. According to law, Israelis must renew their gun permits every three years, including a requirement for shooting practice.

According to officials, there are about 6,500 Israelis who have not renewed their gun licenses. 

“It is likely that these guns were stolen and they’re afraid to report it or they were sold illegally,” Amit told The Media Line. “We want to know how many people have done this. They must report it but there won’t be any criminal proceedings against them.”

In the first week of the campaign which began earlier this month, 200 Israelis came forward. Since then, there have been dozens more, although complete statistics are not yet available.

The issue gained prominence here earlier this month when a disgruntled customer opened fire in a bank in the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva, killing four people before turning the gun on himself. The gunman, Itamar Alon, was a former security guard who had won a commendation from the city for preventing a terrorist attack years ago.

His gun, Amit said, was licensed.

The shooting dominated the Israeli news for days, ironically pointing out how rare gun violence is in the country. Israeli officials say the difficult process required in order to obtain a gun weeds out potential misuse.

“Unlike in the US, in Israel there is no legal right to [own or carry] a gun,” Amit said. “Anyone who wants a gun needs to submit a request and explain why he needs that gun. He also has to undergo physical and psychological tests.”

Israel’s Ministry of Health is legally bound to report any changes in psychological health that could impact on a gun owner’s ability to use the weapon safely.

Anyone living in post-1967 areas, or on Israel’s northern and southern borders, is reasonably likely to obtain a license for a firearm, as well as people involved in businesses that include risk, like diamonds or money-transfer.

Most Israelis are familiar with guns from their mandatory army service. With the exception of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arab citizens, all Israelis are drafted at the age of 18 and serve in the army – men for three years and women for two years. Even those in non-combat jobs complete at least three weeks of basic training that includes firing assault rifles.

Although violent crime involving gun use is considered rare in Israel, guns feature heavily in the high rate of suicide in both the civilian and military sectors.

The army does not like to release statistics, but after a blogger writing under a pseudonym wrote on the issue last year, the army revealed that 237 servicemen and women took their own lives over the past ten years, the vast majority using their army-issued weapons.

“There is a dangerous cultural combination of easy access to guns and the lack of awareness of depression and its prevalence in the 18 to 26 age group,” Sara Halevi, an adolescent cognitive behavioral therapist in Jerusalem told The Media Line. “That lends itself to a situation where suicide is unfortunately far too common.”

Halevi said she has noticed an increase in depression and stress-related illnesses in her practice, especially among 17-year-olds just before they enter the army.

“They feel unprepared for the responsibility that they are going to have put on them,” she said. “I’ve seen the incidence of depression go up significantly.”

There is still a stigma in Israel against seeking treatment, and many young Israelis worry that seeing a therapist could keep them out of important army jobs.

The army is also working to combat suicides of soldiers on active duty. In the past, most soldiers would bring their guns home with them when they came home for the weekend. Now, since the army began requiring that most soldiers keep their guns on their bases when on leave, suicides have decreased significantly.

Weapons found in Arab-Israeli village’s elementary school


A cache of weapons was discovered hidden in an elementary school in an Arab-Israeli village in northern Israel.

The weapons, including RPG anti-tank missiles, rockets, grenades and bullets, also were found in a kindergarten and a drainage ditch in Abu Sinan, according to reports.  Israel Police sappers destroyed the explosives.

It is believed that the weapons were the property of local crime families. Some of the arms may have been stolen from a local army depot.

Mickey Cohen’s colorful life of crime


Meyer Harris Cohen was born in the Jewish Pale of Settlement in imperial Russia, immigrated with his family to the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn and reached Los Angeles’ Jewish point of entry in Boyle Heights in 1915. Up to this point, the spare details of his biography are unremarkable. But Meyer was later nicknamed “Mickey,” and his name still echoes with the larger-than-life reputation he acquired on the mean streets of Los Angeles in the 1930s and 1940s.

“By the end of the 1930s, the view from the top of Hollywood Hills seemed unlimited,” Tere Tereba writes in her rich, lively and fascinating biography, “Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster” (ECW Press: $16.95), an account that owes something to the hard-boiled prose of James Ellroy while, at the same time, dealing in hard facts rather than superheated fiction. Not unlike an Ellroy novel, I could not put “Mickey Cohen” down.

Starting out as a newsboy at the age of 6 — young Mickey hawked copies of the Los Angeles Record at the corner of Brooklyn and Soto — he did not learn to read and write or add and subtract until he was nearly 30. He was no more successful in his brief career as a featherweight boxer. But when he became a “shtarker” — a Yiddish term used in the underworld to describe an enforcer — Cohen’s freelance activities as a pimp, a bookie and a specialist in “muscle jobs” caught the attention of mob bosses in Cleveland and Chicago. He was eventually summoned to the Hollywood YMCA to meet Benjamin Siegel, the emissary in charge of the L.A. rackets who was invariably called Ben, rather than Bugsy, to his face. “You little son of a bitch,” Siegel said to the defiant and unruly young thug. “You reflect my younger days.”

Cohen, in fact, was an upwardly mobile mobster with a canny sense of self-invention. “I just wanted to be myself — Mickey,” Cohen later boasted to screenwriter Ben Hecht at a time when the mobster had already become a celebrity in his own right and an active member of the Hollywood demimonde. “Winning a street fight, knockin’ over a score, having money to buy the best hats — I lived for them moments.” But Hecht himself saw through the self-effacement: “Young Cohen was a gangster from his toes up.”

Cohen acquired a glamorous wife and a series of ever more impressive apartments and homes in the best neighborhoods on the Westside. “Bugsy Siegel had made a mensch out of him,” writes Tereba, “and during the process Cohen grew from ambitious thug to cunning racketeer.” When Siegel was murdered by his own disaffected partners-in-crime in 1947, Mickey Cohen “took over from Benny right away,” as Cohen himself bragged, “on instructions from the people back east.”

Tereba is both a fashion designer and a journalist, and that helps explain why her eye falls on details that have escaped other biographers. Cohen opened a haberdashery on Sunset Boulevard to serve as the headquarters of his criminal operations, but the expensive merchandise on display was not merely stage dressing. “To make the proper impression and keep the tailor shop busy, Cohen’s top men dressed like fashion plates,” Tereba writes.

Cohen’s fleet of Cadillac sedans “were always navy blue, spotless, and flashing with chrome,” with souped-up engines and hidden compartments where guns and cash could be hidden. His Brentwood home featured a soda fountain where Cohen — who shunned alcohol, tobacco and drugs — liked to make hot-fudge sundaes. His beloved pet bulldog, Toughie, slept in a miniature version of Mickey’s own bed, under monogrammed bedding. The cedar-paneled closets were filled with custom-tailored suits, “some with hidden holsters built into the left shoulder linings.”  Hundreds of shirts, shorts, socks, suspenders and handkerchiefs were arranged in meticulous order.

“Secretly overwhelmed by profound and deeply rooted phobias, Mickey Cohen was terrified of germs,” the author explains. “Showering and changing outfits several times a day, Mickey wore clothes a few times and gave them away. He scrubbed his hands every few minutes and touched no surface unless protected by tissues. Every day the bookkeeper replenished his bankroll with clean, crisp bills.”

The shtarker from Boyle Heights now socialized with Hollywood moguls and stars. “Whenever Judy Garland had problems with her husbands,” Tereba writes, “she went to Mickey Cohen.” He hired a tutor to polish up his manners and his vocabulary, and decorated his home with a wholly unread library of leather-bound volumes. But when Ben Hecht recruited Cohen to support the Revisionist cause during the 1940s — a notion that appealed to Cohen because he admired “Jews fighting ‘like racket guys’ to establish their homeland” — a committee of prominent Jewish leaders, including Wilshire Boulevard’s Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin and Louis B. Mayer, threatened to agitate for his imprisonment, or so Cohen claimed.

Nor were they his only adversaries. Cohen was threatened both by rival mobsters and by law enforcement agencies, and he saw them as active co-conspirators in an effort to bring him down. He survived a bombing at his Brentwood home and then appealed to his neighbors, who saw his presence in the neighborhood as “a continuous and increasing hazard to life and property.” “Mickey Cohen,” he boasted of himself, “has no intention of joining the cast of Hollywood has-beens.”

Like his longtime hero, Al Capone, Mickey Cohen finally fell afoul of the IRS on tax charges. “I got less money,” he quipped, “than when I was selling papers.” By the time he was back on the street in 1955, he was “the last remnant of an era when gangsters talked out of the side of their mouths and boasted perfect manicures.” He started calling himself “Michael,” and he opened a greenhouse where reporters watched in astonishment as he puttered with the begonias. A year later, Mickey was dead. Thanks to Tere Tereba, however, his uniquely American life story is not wholly lost to us.


Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs at books@jewishjournal.com.

Toronto woman charged in Holocaust claims case


A woman living in Toronto was charged in the United States with taking part in a scheme to steal from a Holocaust survivors’ fund.

Documents obtained by the CBC, the state-owned broadcaster, show that the FBI alleges Luba Kramrish was part of a conspiracy that falsified documents to claim money from a special fund created by Germany after the Second World War.

The fund, administered by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, was earmarked for Holocaust survivors who fled parts of the Soviet Union ahead of advancing Nazi troops, and those who survived ghettos and concentration camps.

Last year, the FBI announced charges against several U.S. citizens allegedly involved in the scheme.

Kramrish is alleged to have falsified details for her mother’s application to the fund and that once she realized how to cheat the system, began recruiting some two-dozen other applicants. A court document states that “Kramrish provided documents for approximately 20-25 different cases. [She] helped falsify these applications so that they would be approved.”

The indictment says Kramrish took a cut of every payout.

The conspiracy to steal from the fund was uncovered in the U.S. just over two years ago. The investigation is still underway, but it is estimated that at least $60 million has been siphoned from the fund.

About $6 billion has been paid out to about 450,000 survivors since the funds were made available.

Kramrish’s Canadian lawyer declined comment to the CBC.

Israeli waiter convicted of killing boss and family


An Israeli waiter was found guilty on Monday of murdering the boss who fired him and five members of the restaurant owner’s family, including a baby, stabbing them to death in their home.

Damian Kerlik carried out the killings in 2009, angry over his dismissal for stealing alcohol on the job, police said.

Kerlik slipped into the Oshrenko family’s apartment in the suburb of Rishon Lezion late at night while they were sleeping. He used keys he had obtained from his wife, who had continued to work at the restaurant.

Convicting him of the six murders, a court in central Israel said he killed his ex-employer, his wife, their four-month-old son, three-year-old daughter and the children’s grandparents.

Kerlik will be sentenced at a later date. His wife is already serving a 13-year sentence for her role in the murders.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Louise Ireland

Agriprocessors’ Rubashkin denied new trial



Former Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin was denied a new trial by a U.S. appeals court.
 The St. Louis Court of Appeals ruled Sept. 16 that Rubashkin did not prove in his bid for a new trial that the presiding judge in the original case, Linda Reade of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, should have recused herself because she was involved in planning the May 2008 federal immigration raid on Agriprocessors that led to the company’s bankruptcy later that year.

 

Rubashkin, the former head of what once was the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse and packing plant, located in Postville, Iowa, was convicted of financial fraud in 2009 and sentenced to 27 years in prison. Rubashkin is in a federal prison in New York state.

In the federal raid on the plant, 389 illegal immigrants were arrested, including 31 children.
The appeals court also disagreed with Rubashkin’s contention that the sentence was too long.

A Rubashkin attorney told the Des Moines Register that his client would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
 


Leiby Kletzky’s accused killer pleads not guilty


Levi Aron, the Brooklyn man who is accused of killing and dismembering 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment.

Aron was arraigned Thursday in Brooklyn. An attorney spoke for the suspect.

Aron is charged with murdering Leiby after the boy became lost while walking home from camp for the first time and asked for directions, then got into his car.

Parts of Leiby’s body were found in Aron’s refrigerator and in a trash bin nearby. Carving knives and a bloody board were found in Aron’s freezer.

Aron has been undergoing a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he is fit for trial. He told his attorney he heard voices.

Body of Brooklyn youngster Leiby Kletzky found, suspect arrested


The body of an 8-year-old Brooklyn boy who disappeared while walking home from camp was found, and at least one suspect was taken into custody.

Leiby Kletzky had been missing since Monday. Part of his dismembered body reportedly was found Wednesday morning in a dumpster in Brooklyn and the rest was discovered inside the Brooklyn apartment of a suspect, who was arrested and is being questioned by police.

Police had checked the dumpster since its lid was open, the New York Daily News reported.

New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind told the newspaper that the suspected killer is Jewish. The Daily News reported that three suspects are in custody.

The discovery of the boy’s body comes after a massive search for the boy which included police and hundreds of volunteers, most from the Orthodox community. Leiby went missing after walking home from camp for the first time; he was supposed to meet his parents three blocks from the camp, halfway from his home.

The boy reportedly was seen on surveillance videos following the man who was later arrested.

Jaffa Mosque bombing plan was to be blamed on right wing Israelis


An Arab-Israeli crime mob planned to bomb a mosque in Jaffa and pass it off as an attack by right-wing settlers, police discovered.

At least eight people have been under arrest for the last month in the case, from which a gag order was lifted Tuesday, according to reports.

The plan to bomb the Hassan Bek Mosque in Jaffa and the car of its sheikh was thwarted just hours before it was set to occur, when a police raid on a home in Jaffa last month uncovered the powerful bomb that was set to be planted in the building, Ynet reported.

Another plan included targeting a new Scientology center in Jaffa.

The would-be bombers had planned to spray paint the words “price tag” in the neighborhood to make the attack look like the work of rightists. “Price tag” refers to the strategy extremist settlers have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes or their attacks on Jews. The incident was to have occurred shortly after five members of the Fogel family were killed in their home on a Friday night.

Indictments against the suspects, including several members of one Jaffa family, are expected to be made in Tel Aviv District Court later this week.

Agriprocessors supervisor arrested in Israel


A former supervisor of the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Iowa was arrested in Israel.

Hosam Amara, 46, was indicted in 2009 on federal charges of fraud and immigration abuses. He is accused of some of the worst worker abuses at the now defunct plant in Postville, according to the Des Moines Register. In 2008, the plant was the site of what at the time was the largest immigration enforcement action in American history.

Extradition proceedings against Amara will begin in Israel on May 2, according to the newspaper.

Amara, who was arrested March 31 and remains jailed, is charged with one count of conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens for profit; 24 counts of harboring and aiding and abetting the harboring of undocumented aliens for profit; one count of conspiracy to commit document fraud; and one count of aiding and abetting document fraud.

He faces up to 260 years in prison and $6.75 million in fines if convicted, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin was convicted in 2009 on 86 counts of fraud related to his management of the plant and later sentenced to 27 years in federal prison. He remains in prison while his case is under appeal.

Mets’ owners slapped with Madoff ‘clawback’ lawsuit


The trustee for the Bernard Madoff estate has sued the owners of the New York Mets, claiming they should have known the money made with Madoff was done so nefariously. 

Irving Picard, the trustee charged with recovering billions of dollars in assets stolen in Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, has filed a so-called “clawback” lawsuit against Fred Wilpon and his brother-in-law Saul Katz seeking hundreds of millions of dollars, The New York Times reported.

The lawsuit, which targets more than 100 of the assets controlled by WIlpon and Katz, seeks the more than $300 million they allegedly made through Madoff’s scam.

The lawsuit will claim that they looked past red flags about the nature of Madoff’s investments, including concerns raised by officials at Merrill Lynch and one of their investing partners, the Times reported.

Wilpon reportedly said he will sell off up to 25 percent of the team because of the lawsuit.

Israeli alleged mobsters appear in L.A. court


Five Israeli alleged mob figures extradited to Los Angeles last week will spend a considerable amount of time in jail — and that’s before their trial starts.

Defense lawyer Victor Sherman and his colleagues have asked for additional time to get up to speed on the complex cases, and Sherman estimates that it will be several months before the accused will face a jury.

The slow pace is in contrast to the speed with which the five men were hustled aboard a plane at Ben-Gurion Airport on Jan. 12, and, on arrival in Los Angeles the next day,  immediately arraigned before a U.S. magistrate.

Facing charges ranging from murder and massive embezzlement to money laundering, racketeering and running a large Los Angeles-based Ecstasy ring, the men have been described by the Israeli police and media as bosses and associates of one of the country’s most powerful crime syndicates, with far-flung operations across the globe.

Listed in the 77-page, 32-count federal indictment are Yitzhak Abergil, considered the top boss, and his brother Meir Abergil, reputedly in charge of finances and debt collection.

The indicted associates are Sasson Barashy, Moshe Malul and Israel Ozifa.

Two other defendants, Yoram El-Al and Luis Sandoval, remain fugitives sought by police. Sandoval is charged as a member of the San Fernando Valley-based Vineland Boyz street gang, which allegedly served as the main distributor of the Ecstasy ring and as enforcers for the Israeli organizers.

Members of the large community of Israeli expatriates in the Los Angeles area have described themselves as largely indifferent to the arrival of the alleged mobsters, but this may well change when the trial begins and media coverage kicks in.

A young ex-pat in the construction business, who asked not to be identified, said only, “I’m ashamed that these guys are being tried in the United States, rather than in Israel, because the Israeli police couldn’t put the evidence together.”

The voluminous indictment reads like a crime thriller in which law enforcement officials across Europe, Japan, North Africa and the United States apparently recorded every phone conversation and hotel meeting among the defendants.

Also carefully listed are the underworld monikers of the accused. Yitzhak Abergil is also known as The Friend, The Big Friend and The Man from the South; Ozifa is Israel the Tall or The Tall One; El-Al, aka The Wounded; and Sandoval as Barney Twin or Hog.

After a 2008 federal grand jury indictment in the United States, Israeli police arrested the Abergil brothers and their associates. An Israeli district court found the accused “extraditable” in 2009; the defendants appealed, but last month the Israeli Supreme Court rejected their petition.

Israeli courts have rarely agreed to extradite their nationals to other countries, and in this case U.S. and Israeli officials have agreed that if found guilty, the defendants will not receive the death penalty and will serve any sentences in Israeli prisons.

Israeli police and media have frequently described the Abergils as bosses of one of the country’s most powerful crime syndicates, with extensive overseas operations. However, the accused, who have maintained their innocence throughout, have a different view.

In a recent interview on Israeli television, Meir Abergil modestly allowed that “we’re peanuts compared to the mafias they have in America. They have the Mexican cartels, the Italians, the Irish mafia, the Colombians. Who are we? Nothing, cockroaches.”

The Los Angeles Police Department has been concerned with Israeli crime in the city since the 1970s, as Deputy Chief Michael Downing who heads the LAPD Counter-Terrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau, and Capt. Greg Hall, who commands the Major Crimes Division, told The Jewish Journal some months ago.

The two officers noted a gradual increase in crimes by Israeli nationals, mostly in such white-collar crimes as money laundering, tax evasion, real estate and financial frauds, but also in narcotics trafficking.

“Israeli crime here tends to be quite sophisticated and hard to track,” Hall said. “We’re worried about what may be going on that we don’t know about.”

However, police stressed the cooperation of the established Jewish and Israeli communities in pursuing criminal elements in their midst, and leading Israeli ex-pats were quick to draw a line between the law-abiding community and a few criminals.

“[The accused] are criminals and must be brought to justice, but I’m more concerned about some Jewish organizations in the United States that put their social justice ideologies before the security of Israel,” said Haim Linder, formerly vice president of the Council of Israeli Communities, L.A.

Amnon Peery, another Israeli ex-pat, observed, “I’m not embarrassed by [the Abergil case]. We live here, not there.”

Isaac Berman, a psychologist in private practice, took a more nuanced view.

“I’m unhappy that these men were extradited to the United States rather than put on trial in Israel,” Berman said.

“I don’t feel personally insecure here, but there is still anti-Semitism and racial bias in this country. We certainly don’t need more unflattering references to Israel.” l

Body of American tourist, allegedly killed by Arabs, found near Jerusalem


The body of an American tourist was found near Jerusalem a day after she was attacked and kidnapped, allegedly by Arab assailants.

Christine Logan’s body was identified Sunday morning by Jerusalem police. Her hometown in the United States has not yet been reported.

Logan and a friend, Susan Kaye Wilson, a tour guide from Givat Ze’ev who made aliyah from Great Britan in 1991, were attacked Saturday while hiking at Khirbet Hanut, an archaeological site near Beit Shemesh.

Wilson told police, according to reports, that two Arab men beat and stabbed the women and tied their hands behind their backs. Wilson said she pretended to be dead and later escaped. Wilson was hospitalized at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem with stab wounds to her upper body.

A massive search began Saturday for Logan, involving roadblocks and checkpoints, as well as hundreds of Israeli army and Border Police troops, Haaretz reported.

Police are working to determine if the attack was nationalistically motivated or random violence.

Rubashkin family members fined $2 million


Members of the Rubashkin family, who operated the now-defunct Agriprocessers kosher meatpacking plant, must pay a total of more than $2 million after defaulting on loans.

A federal judge ordered Dec. 16 that Abraham Aaron Rubashkin and sons Sholom and Tzvi must pay the money to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Value Recovery Group. The latter was owed more than $1.6 million in unpaid rent, according to court records, The Associated Press reported. The judgment also includes interest and litigation costs.

Agriprocessors CEO Sholom Rubashkin was sentenced last June to 27 years in federal prison after being convicted in November 2009 on 86 counts of fraud in connection with the Agriprocessors plant.

In a federal raid on the plant in May 2008, 389 illegal immigrants, including 31 children, were arrested.

Voice of reason in a sea of insanity, Jewish Dodgers, Prager, archaeologists, politicians and peace


Food Issues

Rob Eshman’s article about food issues is a voice of reason in a sea of insanity (“Food Issues,” April 11).

Much of the meaning behind the holiday is in its simplicity, as Rob indicates. Changing one’s diet for seven or eight days obviously extends beyond the seders. Unfortunately, it is getting swept under the table with the increasing availability of processed foods just like what we eat the remainder of the year.

Fortunately, we have the opportunity to choose between our day-to-day excessive commercialism or changing our lives for a week and truly appreciating the simplicity and freedom that we normally associate with Pesach.

Ed Rivkin
Cherry Hill, N.J.

Ziman and Lee

I realize that bad news always travels faster than good news — especially with today’s technology(“Four Questions,” April 18).

But the simple and difficult question you asked — is it true — still needs to be answered.

Whatever the answer is, it will say a lot about everyone involved. As you wrote, there will probably be multiple versions of what was exactly said. I think seeing all of them, or at least the generally accepted versions, will be quite revealing.

Philippe Shepnick
via e-mail

Two facts stick out from the Daphna Ziman controversy: She is a strong supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton that included Ziman’s hosting fundraisers for her, and she gratuitously connected Sen. Barack Obama with the Rev. Eric Lee’s alleged vitriolic remarks he has vehemently denied.

She then sent out her version of what he said in an attempt to persuade as many as she knew in the Jewish community to oppose Sen. Obama. Pure and simple, it was just another political hit piece. Hopefully it has not worked.

George Magit
Northridge

Jewish Dodgers

I enjoyed Robert David Jaffee’s history of Jewish baseball players on the Los Angeles Dodgers (“Dodgers Hit Grand Slam in History of Jewish Players,” April 18).

However, I would like to correct him regarding one of the players that he stated was “hailed by some as Jews even though they are not.”

Scott Radinsky is the son of a Jewish mother and Polish father. He considers himself a Jew much in the way Mike Lieberthal identifies himself.

Ephraim Moxson
Co-Publisher
Jewish Sports Review
Los Angeles


Period slide show set to Jimmy Durante’s 1963 Sandy Koufax tribute “Dandy Sandy”

Marriage Equality

I am grateful for your publishing the article highlighting Jews for marriage equality (“Battle for Gay Marriage Rights Gains Jewish Support,” April 11).

As a Conservative rabbi, I signed the petition, and I stand fully behind the work of the commission and its desire to bring equality and justice to the many gay and lesbian couples seeking to enter into the sanctity of marriage with all of the rights and privileges that come with that covenant.

Judaism has constantly evolved, and I agree fully with Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a pioneer and leader on this issue, when he teaches that this is a landmark time in the state of Judaism, a time that will require the will and commitment of dedicated Jews to bring yet another group of outsiders into the fold of Jewish life.

Some of the arguments made today against bringing homosexuals into the mainstream of Jewish life are the same arguments made 20 years ago in the Conservative movement regarding women. We overcame those hurdles, and we have started to overcome the current hurdles. Because we are all created in the image of God, all Jews deserve full access to the Torah and equal rights in civic life, as well.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center

Dennis Prager Ad

Yes, Dennis — I’m a Democrat that fights for carbon dioxide emissions control (Advertisement, April 18).

Had you and your Republican ilk been fighting for that, rather than fighting for more oil around the world, our dependence on your black gold may not be such that we’d need to be sucking it out of places where we are so resented for our presence alone.

Corporate evil — that is what you do not fight!

Kenny Halpern
Oxnard

As a respected nationwide figure and a proponent of moral belief systems, I consider Prager to have a heavy responsibility to present meaningful, well-analyzed arguments.

After reading his ad, “I Used to Be a Democrat,” I was sorely disappointed with the weakening of his own position by the juxtaposition of evil and CO2 emissions.

The implication that being against destroying the earth is tantamount to considering that is more important than nazism, communism and terrorism is absurd and totally unfair. These two hideous problems are not comparable, and one should not have to choose between them to be righteous.

Diane Rowe
Santa Monica

How sad it was to read this full-page ad and realize that Dennis Prager would rather be associated with a presidential aspirant who actively sought the endorsement of the Rev. Hagee and all the hate and bitterness he represents and stands for then remain identified with the true inheritors of the Lincoln legacy, the contemporary progressive movement.

And when he goes on to say that Republicans are for the preservation of liberal values, well, he might as well consider going to an open mike night at the Comedy Club!

Saul Goldfarb
Oak Park

Web Editor: The Prager ad did not appear online @ JewishJournal.com

Passover Ponderings

As I participated in seders this year, I imagined the early years of the Jews in Egypt. They didn’t come as slaves but came looking for subsistence. They came looking for the opportunity to feed their families.

Beverly Hills PD alleges Iranian Jewish man shot brother



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Alfred Hakim, 49, an Iranian Jewish resident of Beverly Hills, was allegedly shot Wednesday night by his 47-year-old brother, Adel.

According to the Beverly Hills police department, officers responded at 9 p.m. to a call of shots being fired in the 400 block of North Palm Drive, and paramedics transported the victim to nearby Cedars Sinai Medical Center where he was listed as of Thursday as being in critical condition following surgery.

Sgt. Lincoln Hoshino of the Beverly Hills Police Department said within two hours of the incident, Adel Hakim was identified as the suspect and arrested by California Highway Patrol following a traffic accident he was involved at an undisclosed location in the San Fernando Valley.

Local Iranian Jewish leaders declined to comment on the incident but confirmed that both brothers are of Iranian Jewish heritage.

News of the incident has shocked local Iranian Jews as violence of this nature between family members is very rare in the community. Police have not yet identified a motive for the shooting, pending a complete investigation.

The suspect is being treated for injuries at an undisclosed local hospital, and is under police supervision, Hoshino said. He will later be transported to Beverly Hills jail and is currently being held without bail.

Documentary: Sao Paolo nightmare gives lesson in class warfare


In “Manda Bala,” Jason Kohn’s nightmarish documentary of Brazil, a young woman describes how a “secret admirer” kept phoning her home in Sao Paolo. But when she went to meet him, she found the flattery was a ruse to kidnap her and hold her for ransom. She was chained inside a box, and her ears were sliced off and sent to her father as a Father’s Day present. “I only knew it was night or day because of the TV,” the woman says in the movie. “‘The Birds,’ by Alfred Hitchcock, was on the day they cut my first ear. That night I dreamed that a bird had bitten my ear off. I still have that dream today.”

In “Manda Bala” (“Send a Bullet”), Kohn portrays a dystopian nation where the rich steal from the poor and the poor literally “steal” the rich. The “characters” include a politician who allegedly stole billions from a poverty fund, a frog farmer who allegedly laundered the money, a kidnapper who uses ransom loot to help his community and a businessman so afraid of being kidnapped that he wants a microchip implanted in his body as a sort of human LoJack.

The movie won best documentary and documentary cinematography awards at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and “is as well directed as a thriller,” according to a review in The Hollywood Reporter.

“Once you get past the gore, which takes many forms – from frogs eating each other to a long sequence in a plastic surgeon’s theater as he restores a cut-off ear – ‘Manda Bala’ makes a powerful statement about the consequences of wanting the good life at any cost.”

The brisk, brash documentary is to be expected of Kohn, 28, who describes himself as a New York “leftie Jew” and, above all, a “radical atheist.” He says he lives in a small apartment in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen and does not own a home telephone (he uses his cell). His connection to Brazil comes from his South American émigré parents, who forced him to attend a Conservative religious school, which he despised because even as a child he did not believe in God. “But some of my favorite heroes come from a certain tradition of secular intellectual Jews who have changed the world for the better … : Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud,” he says.

Kohn grew up working in his family’s store near Times Square, which catered to Brazilian tourists. But the seeds of “Manda Bala” came later, after his parents divorced and Jason began visiting his father’s new home in Sao Paolo. “In America, my father was just another middle-class guy, but in Brazil, he lived [lavishly],” the filmmaker says. “Not only did he have a maid, but everyone had a maid, and many people had two maids. I was fascinated that people were driving around in bullet-proof cars.”

From the balcony of a relative’s apartment, Kohn could see sprawling slums just beside a wealthy enclave of sleek high-rise apartments.

After Kohn graduated from Brandeis University with degrees in history and film in 2001, his father told him about the “frog farm” scandal. Around the same time, Kohn read a newspaper story about a Sao Paolo plastic surgeon who specialized in ears. Kohn flew down to Brazil to visit the frog farm, where he noted that the larger amphibians ate the smaller ones – an image he felt might work in a film about class warfare.

He discussed the idea with his mentor, the eccentric documentarian, Errol Morris, for whom he was working as a research assistant.

“The story had crime, mutilation, cannibalism and the potential for metaphor, which fascinated Errol,” Kohn says. “He suggested that I see this brutal French film, ‘I Stand Alone,'” which was shot in 16mm film with anamorphic lenses – a good way to shoot a very wide-looking movie cheaply. I thought that might help me [depict] Sao Paolo as the kind of futuristic, anti-utopian city you might see in a science fiction film.”

In 2002, Kohn left his job, sold his car and moved down to Sao Paolo to try to make his movie.

It was a rash move, since he was only 22, didn’t have much money and didn’t know any Brazilian politicians. But he knew some of his father’s friends within Sao Paolo’s tight-knit Jewish community, and he slowly began to make contacts. A police detective introduced Kohn to the young woman whose ears became a Father’s Day present; and authorities gave Kohn torture videos that had been sent to other victims’ families.

By April 2006, Kohn had cut his film, but he still lacked the ending he had envisioned – an interview with a real kidnapper.

“I was depressed, broke and basically living on my stepbrother’s bed,” he recalls.

A break came when a cabbie offered to introduce Kohn to a kidnapper who served as the “don” of a local slum. Several days later, the cabbie drove Kohn and his crew to the thug’s compound – a block of shacks surrounded by walls and equipped with an elaborate security system.

The 35-year-old criminal, Magrinho, was relaxed and affable during the two-hour interview, describing how he began stealing food for his family at age 9, and how he turned from bank robbing to kidnapping because it was more profitable. “You either steal with a gun or with a pen – politicians steal with a pen,” he says in the movie.

The interview was cut short, however, when security monitors showed police entering the slum and rushing toward Magrinho’s compound. The kidnapper grabbed his gun as the filmmakers cowered in a detritus-filled courtyard.

“I thought he’d assume we had brought the police, in which case we would all have been executed on the spot,” Kohn says.

But it turned out the police had come only to extort bribes from Magrinho, and when they didn’t find him on the streets, they left.

Even though “Manda Bala” is largely set in Sao Paolo, Kohn believes the movie is universal.

“It is as much about present-day Brazil as it could be about the United States in five years,” he says.

The film opens Aug. 31 in Los Angeles.frog cannibalism
Frog cannibalism – a metaphor for class conflict in ‘Manda Bala.”

Justice takes a beating in Long Beach racial hatred case


The nine black youths who beat three young white women have now been sentenced by a Juvenile Court judge, and there’s only one problem.

While these “kids” could
have killed their victims, the judge slapped them on the wrists lightly and sent them home. Astoundingly, after finding the nine defendants guilty of intent to cause bodily harm, with hate crime enhancements, the judge then reversed direction and gave them probation?

A tenth youth was acquitted.

The basic facts of the case are that last Halloween, a pack of black youths, with no evidence of any provocation, set upon three young white women who had come to an upscale part of Long Beach known to attract trick-or-treaters. Out of the larger crowd of attackers, 10 were identified and placed on trial.

After a lengthy process, that saw witness intimidation from gang members (one was forced to move; another had her car totaled), the expectation was — that if found guilty — a verdict and sentence would be handed down that delivered a strong message of intolerance for such uncivilized acts.

Instead, another message was delivered — that racism in its black guise will be treated with leniency and “understanding,” since this kind of racial retribution is an undesirable but understandable outgrowth of historic mistreatment at the hands of whites. What complete rubbish.

In case you wondered, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Affairs, out of the 1.2 million cases of interracial crimes each year, 90 percent involve a black perpetrator and a white victim. The interests of law and order and a civil society were not served well by this judge’s sentences.

What highlights the crass, crude and bigoted nature of this ugly mass attack is the fact that Loren Hyman, one of the three victims, is both Jewish and Latino, but like a pack of hyenas converging on some yearling antelopes, this crowd was in no mood to parse out the finer points of ethnic and religious identity.

However, while these defendants have escaped culpability, others have not been brought before any judge. Ten black youths were put on trial, but it has been estimated that between 25 to 40 black teens surrounded Hyman, Laura Schneider and Michelle Smith last Halloween.

This was no routine youthful fracas — the attacks left Loren with more than a dozen facial fractures, a serious injury to her jaw, partial loss of sight in one eye and a recessed eye socket. Schneider was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion.

One male attacker knocked one of the girls unconscious with a skateboard, while another was stomped as she lay unconscious.

According to both victims and witnesses, the attackers hurled anti-white slurs while beating the girls.

And to add insult to injury, on the day that four of the defendants were being released from custody to the comfort of their homes, Hyman was undergoing a seven-hour surgery to repair her shattered eye socket — the outcome of which is still unknown.

The rationale for giving probation, say Juvenile Court officials, is to promote rehabilitation — something presumably a harsher sentence couldn’t have accomplished? But, how can rehabilitation occur, when the parents and the teens have remained defiant, without any remorse.

Yes, they admit they were there but claim somebody else beat the girls. OK, I get it. They’re not guilty of an ugly assault; they’re actually, uh, victims.

But then the whole affair is bizarre, lodged squarely in the midst of the politics of racial identity. What if the scenario were reversed? For instance, what if the pack of black thugs who attacked these girls was white skinheads and their victims had been several young black youths?

Would the national media have virtually ignored the incident? Would every nationally known black leader have swooped into town, set up an encampment at the Long Beach Courthouse and demanded justice for the victims?

Wouldn’t everybody from the mayor to the governor and beyond be demanding that the judge send a message against racism? And, what if a judge handed down a sentence of probation for the skinhead scumbags — would the city have escaped massive “social justice” marches, with its leaders lustily yelling, “No justice, no peace”? Get the picture?

Some of us still remember the ugly incident on the first day of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, you know, the one where white trucker Reginald Denny was set upon by several black thugs and nearly killed, simply for being white and in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some excused the actions of the thugs who beat Denny, saying it was misdirected black rage, but in no way was it racism.

Fast forward that tape to 2007, and we find Farai Chedeya, a black National Public Radio show host, saying shortly after the Long Beach attacks that “… some people say black folks cannot be racists because the root of the issue is power.”

What a convenient dodge. I wonder if that came to the mind of the victim as a black thug broke a skateboard over her head, sending her into unconsciousness. Now that’s power.

Joe Hicks is the former executive director of the L.A. chapter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He is currently vice president of Community Advocates Inc. and a KFI-AM talk show host.

Shoah Denial Conference: Damage Assessment


While world Jewry recovers from the shock of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust conference in Tehran, emotions are slowly giving way to analysis.

Why is Ahmadinejad pursuing this foolish crusade against the Holocaust? After all, even he must know that the Holocaust is one of the most documented events in human history and, hence, that denying its reality or even questioning its magnitude and significance is likely to end up in embarrassment. Why then is he so insistent?

The three main reasons analysts cite for Ahmadinejad’s obsession with the Holocaust are themselves questionable. We understand, of course, that by questioning the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad hopes to undermine what he believes was the main justification for the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

We also accept Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria’s explanation that “Iran is seeking leadership in the Middle East, and what better way to do so than by appropriating the core grievance of the Sunni Arabs: Israel.”

Finally, Ahmadinejad clearly enjoys ridiculing what he sees as a European double-standard — criminalizing Holocaust deniers on the one hand and advocating free speech on the other.

But these reasons, if they are the real reasons, entail heavy risks for Ahmadinejad. First, a serious risk exists that driven by all the media attention, curious, bright youngsters in Iran and Arab countries will venture to dig into the vast evidence for the Holocaust and upon realizing its magnitude and veracity, begin to ask what other parts of history were purged from their state-controlled education.

Second, promoting the Palestinian cause through Holocaust denial tarnishes the former with all the absurdities of the latter, in much the same way that post-Sept. 11 conspiracy theories have discredited Muslims and weakened their claims.

Lastly, using Holocaust denial as an instrument for delegitimizing Israel may actually backfire. Columbia professor Joseph Massad argued (Al Ahram, 2004) that Arabs’ preoccupation with Holocaust denial creates the impression that the Holocaust, if it were true, suffices to justify the establishment of Israel. This, according to Massad, serves the Zionist agenda, hence, “All those in the Arab world who deny the Jewish Holocaust are in my opinion Zionists.”

My concerns lie elsewhere. I fear that as the buzz winds down and the dust settles, there will be only one thing remembered from the Holocaust Conference in Tehran: Israel and the Holocaust are one. That is, Israel owes its existence to one and only one factor: European guilt over the crime of the Holocaust. Once this is established, the next obvious question is: Why should the Palestinians pay for Europe’s crime?

We, of course, do not see things that way. For us, the State of Israel is the culmination of a long historical process of collective homecoming, not a rescue boat from the claws of Germany. While the Nazi genocide definitely accelerated that process, it did not initiate or redirect it.

The concepts of “Holy Land,” “Shivat Zion,” “Kibbutz Galuyot” — the ingathering of the exiles — three vital engines of Jewish history, are as old as Judaism itself. The majority of the 600,000 Jews who immigrated to Palestine prior to 1940 did not flee the Holocaust nor did the 580,000 Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries in the early 1950s.

Jews are generally aware of the immutable connection between Eretz Israel and Jewishness. We know deep down that Shimon Peres is not less indigenous to the Land of Canaan than, say, Mahmoud Abbas. Yet, we seem unwilling to openly assert it.

Take the movie, “Munich,” for example, written and produced by two educated Jewish artists. While a Palestinian terrorist in the movie is shown yearning for his father’s orchard, you will be wasting your time combing the script for a hint that Israeli society has any clue why they are in Israel and not, say, in Uganda. Tony Kushner knows why; he also knows that every Israeli knows why, yet he apparently did not feel comfortable enough to articulate it anywhere in his script.

I see a similar pattern in the criticism of the Holocaust Conference in Tehran. I hear tons of well-deserved condemnations of Ahmadinejad for orchestrating such an offensive conference but not one voice saying: Hey man! What a waste of time. We don’t need a Shoah to justify a Jewish state on that sliver of land. Our history was born there, and our collective consciousness has remained there.

The main danger that I see emerging from Ahmadinejad’s conference is that the international community, busy to rectify his misconceptions about the Holocaust, would ignore, and in fact mimic, his wanton disregard of the historical, national and religious ties that bind the Jewish people to their ancient land.

They ought to be reminded, and Ahmadinejad has given us a stage to do so.


Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation

Jimmy Carter Mideast book shows his anti-Israel bias


I like Jimmy Carter. I have known him since he began his run for president in early 1976. I worked hard for his election, and I have admired the work of the Carter Center throughout the
world. That’s why it troubles me so much that this decent man has written such an indecent book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

His bias against Israel shows by his selection of the book’s title: “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” The suggestion that without peace Israel is an apartheid state analogous to South Africa is simply wrong. The basic evil of South African apartheid, against which I and so many other Jews fought, was the absolute control over a majority of blacks by a small minority of whites. It was the opposite of democracy.

In Israel majority rules; it is a vibrant, secular democracy, which has just recognized gay marriages performed abroad. Arabs serve in the Knesset, on the Supreme Court and get to vote for their representatives, many of whom strongly oppose Israeli policies.

Israel has repeatedly offered to end its occupation of areas it captured in a defensive war in exchange for peace and full recognition. The reality is that other Arab and Muslim nations do, in fact, practice apartheid.

In Jordan, no Jew can be a citizen or own land. The same is true in Saudi Arabia, which has separate roads for Muslims and non-Muslims. Even in the Palestinian Authority, the increasing influence of Hamas threatens to create Islamic hegemony over non-Muslims. Arab Christians are leaving in droves.

Why then would Jimmy Carter invoke the concept of apartheid in his attack on Israel? Even he acknowledges — though he buries this toward the end of his book — that what is going on in Israel today “is unlike that in South Africa — not racism but the acquisition of land.”

But Israel’s motive for holding on to this land is the prevention of terrorism. It has repeatedly offered to exchange land for peace and did so in Gaza and southern Lebanon, only to have the returned land used for terrorism, kidnappings and rocket launchings.

I don’t know why Carter, who is generally a careful man, allowed so many errors and omissions to blemish his book. Here are simply a few of the most egregious.

Carter emphasizes that “Christian and Muslim Arabs had continued to live in this same land since Roman times,” but he ignores the fact that Jews have lived in Hebron, Tsfat, Jerusalem and other cities for even longer. Nor does he discuss the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries since 1948.

Carter repeatedly claims that the Palestinians have long supported a two-state solution, and the Israelis have always opposed it. Yet he makes no mention of the fact that in 1938, the Peel Commission proposed a two-state solution with Israel receiving a mere sliver of its ancient homeland and the Palestinians receiving the bulk of the land. The Jews accepted, and the Palestinians rejected this proposal, because Arab leaders cared more about there being no Jewish state on Muslim holy land than about having a Palestinian state of their own.

He barely mentions Israel’s acceptance and the Palestinian rejection of the United Nation’s division of the mandate in 1948.

He claims that in 1967, Israel launched a preemptive attack against Jordan. The fact is that Jordan attacked Israel first, Israel tried desperately to persuade Jordan to remain out of the war and Israel counterattacked after the Jordanian army surrounded Jerusalem, firing missiles into the center of the city. Only then did Israel capture the West Bank, which it was willing to return in exchange for peace and recognition from Jordan.

Carter repeatedly mentions U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which called for return of captured territories in exchange for peace, recognition and secure boundaries, but he ignores the fact that Israel accepted, and all the Arab nations and the Palestinians rejected this resolution. The Arabs met in Khartoum and issued their three famous “no’s”: “No peace, no recognition, no negotiation,” but you wouldn’t know that from reading the history according to Carter.

Carter faults Israel for its “air strike that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor” without mentioning that Iraq had threatened to attack Israel with nuclear weapons if it succeeded in building a bomb.

Carter faults Israel for its administration of Christian and Muslim religious sites, when, in fact, Israel is scrupulous about ensuring every religion the right to worship as they please — consistent, of course, with security needs. He fails to mention that between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Hashemites destroyed and desecrated Jewish religious sites and prevented Jews from praying at the Western Wall. He also never mentions Egypt’s brutal occupation of Gaza between 1949 and 1967.

Carter blames Israel and exonerates Yasser Arafat for the Palestinian refusal to accept statehood on 95 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza, pursuant to the Clinton-Barak offers of Camp David and Taba in 2000-2001. He accepts the Palestinian revisionist history, rejects the eye-witness accounts of President Bill Clinton and Dennis Ross and ignores Saudi Prince Bandar’s accusation that Arafat’s rejection of the proposal was “a crime” and that Arafat’s account “was not truthful” — except, apparently, to Carter. The fact that Carter chooses to believe Arafat over Clinton speaks volumes.

Carter’s description of the recent Lebanon War is misleading. He begins by asserting that Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. “Captured” suggest a military apprehension subject to the usual prisoner of war status. The soldiers were kidnapped, and have not been heard from — not even a sign of life. The rocket attacks that preceded Israel’s invasion are largely ignored, as is the fact that Hezbollah fired its rockets from civilian population centers.

Carter gives virtually no credit to Israel’s superb legal system, falsely asserting (without any citation) that “confessions extracted through torture are admissible in Israeli courts,” that prisoners are “executed” and that the “accusers” act “as judges.” Even Israel’s most severe critics acknowledge the fairness of the Israeli Supreme Court, but not Carter.

Shedding Light on a Dark ‘Rising’


The film “City of God” shed light on a long-neglected subject, the Third World conditions and inescapable warfare existing in Rio de Janeiro’s slums. Now comes “Favela Rising,” a documentary that not only limns the tragedy of the favelas, the Brazilian ghettoes, but also tells the inspirational tale of Anderson Sá, a black Messiah figure who founds a reggae music club that offers a nonviolent alternative to their rampant drug and gang activity.

Winner of the International Documentary Association’s Best Feature Film for 2005, “Favela Rising” comes to Los Angeles on Friday, Aug. 4, at the Regent Showcase Theater.

Co-director and producer Matt Mochary says he “never thought of himself as a storyteller.”

He has gone through a number of mini careers, including Outward Bound mountaineering instructor, venture capitalist, technology entrepreneur and surfer, yet has always maintained an altruistic side and still runs his family’s nonprofit, the Mochary Foundation, which has brought enrichment programs to underprivileged youth in Miami and New York.

Shortly after he completed a five-week film class at the New York Film Academy, Mochary traveled to Brazil on a Hewlett Foundation grant. There, he visited the favelas and discovered the charismatic Sá, who with his eyeglasses, soft beard, tie-dye shirt and skullcap looks like a cross between Malcolm X and a Rastafarian shaman.

Mochary, whose great aunt lives at Beth Emek, a kibbutz in northern Israel, was then selected to participate in a two-week immersive master class in filmmaking run by The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, which is now in its eighth year. In Israel he not only rediscovered his Jewish roots, but also was able to cull through 200 hours of footage shot by him and co-director Jeff Zimbalist and sketch out the narrative arc for his movie, the transformative story of Anderson Sá.

While the ramshackle shanties stacked on top of one another in the Rio hillside may seem familiar to filmgoers who have seen “City of God,” “Favela Rising” explores the myths of the sea, its paradoxical healing and destructive qualities.

Despite some harrowing footage, the documentary, which is being released by ThinkFilm, has the ethereal dream-like quality of a Shakespearean romance. There are many shots from up high, as if from the heavens. Throughout the film we see a lone kite, flying above the slums, a peaceful link in the airspace above rival favelas, whose cartels ordinarily do not allow any kind of trespass. The kite is flown by a little boy, which reminds us that, from 1987 to 2001, almost no media attention was focused on the murder of 3,937 minors in Rio de Janeiro, roughly eight times the total of minors killed during those same years in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, a region whose suffering has not gone unnoticed.

“Favela Rising” opens Aug. 4 at the Regent Showcase Theater, 614 N. La Brea Ave., (323) 934-2944.

Communities on Alert After Seattle Shootings


Jewish communities are being urged to remain vigilant, be in touch with police and other law enforcement agencies and review their security arrangements after a fatal shooting at Seattle’s Jewish federation offices. The alleged gunman, identified by police as Naveed Afzal Haq, said he was an American Muslim upset about what was going on in Israel.

But leaders of national Jewish organizations report that their institutions are operating as usual, without panic.

“There’s obviously increased anxiety, but I think people feel safe here,” said Deborah Dragon, spokeswoman for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which held a staff meeting Monday morning to assuage workers’ fears. “As Jewish people, we’re aware that we’re potential targets for hate crime regardless of what’s happening in the Middle East.”

The Los Angeles federation’s security detail remains, as always, vigilant and constantly reassesses its tactics for ensuring worker safety, Dragon added.
Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Sgt. Lee Sands said the LAPD is aware of what happened in Seattle and has taken steps to increase police visibility in certain areas.

“In light of events in the Middle East, the department has already increased patrols in possible high-risk locations, which could include synagogues,” Sands said.

Aaron Rosenthal, spokesman for the San Francisco Jewish Community Center, said that while Friday’s shooting, which left one person dead and five injured, has raised alarms.

“We’ve taken our cue from the Seattle police, that this was an isolated incident by one individual,” he said. “But it’s certainly created a heightened sense of awareness.”

The San Francisco JCC has been in touch with other local Jewish agencies, including the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Community Relations Council “to keep tabs on the community,” and the facility’s security director has “been talking to police about whether there’s a need to step up our security,” Rosenthal said.

The Seattle attack occurred on July 28, when Haq allegedly took a teenage girl hostage, forced his way through the Seattle federation’s first-floor security door and walked upstairs to the federation reception desk, where he began shooting.

Pam Waechter, 58, the director of the federation’s community campaign, was shot and killed at the scene.

Many Jewish groups around the country reached out to local police, but in some places, police acted first.

Rabbi Daniel Isaak of Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland, Ore., arrived for services that night to see two police cars in the parking lot.

They were “checking someone out,” he reported.

The incident turned out to be nothing, but Neveh Shalom hired a private security firm for Shabbat and much of this week.

“The federation building in Seattle was pretty secure,” Isaak noted. “How do you prevent someone who comes with a gun and holds it to the head of a 13-year-old? I’m not sure in practical terms how much we can do. Maybe this is in large part for our own mental health.”

Soon after the Seattle attac
k, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations put its Secure Community Network (SCN) into action for the first time since it was created 18 months ago, sending out a bulletin to member organizations, urging them to implement pre-arranged security measures.

Those groups forwarded the alert to their constituents, including Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist houses of worship in North America.
Since last Friday, SCN’s national director, Paul Goldenberg, has been in contact with the heads of all 155 Jewish federations, Jewish camps and synagogue movements, and has been getting regular updates from the FBI and law enforcement around the country.

“I can assure you that this is not an overreaction,” said Goldenberg, who has 20 years of experience in law enforcement, including a stint as chief of the attorney general’s hate crime unit for New Jersey. “Almost every time there’s an escalation in the Middle East, there are attacks against Jewish communities in the United States and Europe.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, the Conference of Presidents’ executive vice chairman, said teleconferences were planned throughout the day Monday with groups that wanted to discuss security procedures.

The day before the Seattle attack, SCN organized a teleconference with heads of security for every major Jewish federation and senior representatives from eight law enforcement agencies to discuss concerns in the wake of the escalation of violence in Israel and Lebanon.

They specifically discussed the danger of a “lone wolf” attack, which is what happened the following day in Seattle.

“People may say it’s just one person, and I am not saying that Hezbollah or Al-Qaida are coming after Jewish institutions, but there are people out there influenced by what they see and hear, who act on it,” Goldenberg said. “It’s very difficult to track these people.”

In 1999, one such “lone wolf,” white supremacist Buford Furrow, shot and wounded seven people at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills. In 2002, Egyptian-born terrorist Hesham Mohamed Hadayet shot and killed 25-year-old ticket agent Victora Hen and 46-year-old diamond importer Yaakov Aminov at the El Al counter at Los Angeles International Airport.

Last month in Nashville, an Iraqi national was convicted of buying weapons “so he could shoot and kill Jews,” Goldenberg pointed out.

He emphasized “there is no intelligence of any imminent threat,” and the Jewish community should “be vigilant” without panicking.

“The most important weapon we have is education,” Goldenberg said. “The Jewish community needs to be training its professional staff in security awareness.”
Many such programs are free, and are offered by law enforcement agencies. The SCN can “help you navigate the process,” Goldenberg said.

Seattle was one of 18 cities that has received $14 million from the Department of Homeland Security’s 2005 budget to provide security for at-risk nonprofit groups. Virtually all the money is earmarked for enhanced security at Jewish organizations.

An additional $11 million from that budget went to non-Jewish nonprofit groups, $25 million promised for 2006 has not yet been disbursed, and the 2007 budget is still being decided.

William Daroff, vice president for public policy at the United Jewish Communities and the group’s top Washington lobbyist, said that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff pledged three weeks ago to release the 2006 funds, but nothing has happened yet.

Daroff’s office also has asked for a $25 million increase to the 2007 budget, citing the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

“What the Seattle murder brings home is exactly what I’ve been talking about,” he said. “It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that Jewish institutions are front and center on terrorist lists.”

On Saturday, a synagogue in Sydney was attacked with concrete blocks being used to smash car windows, and other projectiles were hurled at the synagogue roof.
Some Jewish organizations already have spent some of their homeland security funding. Jewish day schools in Chicago, for example, installed materials on their windows to prevent shattered glass in case of a bombing.

The Atlanta Jewish federation has used its funding for what security director Richard Raisler calls “target hardening,” meaning physical security measures such as access control, cameras and other upgrades.

Other communities haven’t yet put the money to work, particularly those in the West, the last to submit their grant applications.

San Francisco’s JCC, for example, “has a plan in place to enhance security in the front of our building,” Rosenthal said, but it’s “still in the conceptual stage.”

Monday afternoon, the Orthodox Union urged its synagogues to create a standing “security committee” that would have “ready access to law enforcement and security contacts,” and to let their local police know the times of services and other planned gatherings.

Ultimately, there’s only so much that security barriers can accomplish.
“If we have to build walls around our JCCs and camps, then the people who want to harm us have succeeded,” Goldenberg said. “Creating a secure culture can be done in other ways — learning how to see threats and protecting against them.”

The Journal’s senior writer Marc Ballon contributed to this report.

A Side of L.A. the Tour Books Don’t Mention


I’ll admit to a bit of initial wariness about a bus tour through Inglewood, Lennox and Hawthorne, sponsored a couple of Sundays ago by the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA). The three communities just east of LAX have poverty and crime rates far exceeding the averages in L.A. County. Images of huge buses packed with well-insulated tourists were difficult to avoid.

But the 90 people who boarded the two buses at the Westside Jewish Community Center were not interested in casual sightseeing.

The tour, co-sponsored by Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), IKAR, Leo Baeck Temple and Temple Israel of Hollywood proved an opportunity to examine the underbelly of the tourism industry surrounding LAX.

“One of the major components of our campaign supporting the organizing efforts of the workers in the 13 hotels along Century Boulevard is to examine the impact of low wages on the surrounding communities, where most of the workers live,” said Jaime Rapaport, PJA’s program director. “We’re offering this tour to help us all understand the very real effects of substandard working conditions.”
In addition to PJA members and congregants from a range of synagogues, participants included PJA’s Jeremiah Fellows — 20-somethings examining social justice issues — as well as members of The Jewish Federation’s New Leader’s Project and seminarians from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the University of Judaism.

“As Jews we have to stand together with these workers and not be influenced by the pressures of the current anti-immigration politics,” said Marla Stone, a member of IKAR who took part with her husband, Scott Johnson, and their 4-year-old daughter, Claudia.

“We thought we’d get more out of seeing the actual sites of the struggles,” she said. “It’s important to bring Jews closer to their entire city, especially the places that are often invisible, and we wanted our daughter to get a sense of that, too.”

Clad in a PJA “Mensches in the Trenches” T-shirt, Laura Podolsky of the organization’s Economic Justice Working Group took hold the microphone as our bus headed south on Fairfax and past the oil rigs on La Cienega Boulevard.
The neighborhoods surrounding the airport, in addition to suffering the noise and pollution that results from being directly under the incoming flight paths, are some of the poorest communities in Los Angeles, she said.

As we approached the airport, passing the seemingly endless sun-baked parking structures, rental car lots and decaying mini-malls, the Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, executive director of CLUE, explained that unionized hotel housekeepers earn more than double their nounionized counterparts on average. In an era where companies increasingly take their businesses overseas, she said. “Hotel jobs cannot be outsourced.”

Our bus pulled into the parking lot of a Carl’s Jr. on Century Boulevard, where Daniella Urban, a front desk worker from the Hilton, joined us with tales of the many obstacles she had confronted in her organizing.

En route to our next stop, we drove by two elementary schools located directly under the LAX flight path. The primary concern in the schools’ construction in the 1980s was noise attenuation. The result: bunker-like structures with no classroom windows. Not a pretty sight.

Just as we might have been despairing over these conditions, our buses pulled into the immense parking lot between the Inglewood Forum and Hollywood Park.
Former Inglewood City Councilman and LAANE senior organizer Daniel Tabor introduced the Rev. Altagracia Perez, rector of Holy Faith Episcopal Church in Inglewood, as “sister, pastor, warrior” for her opposition to a Wal-Mart on this very site.

As planes flew overhead, Perez argued that the defeat of Wal-Mart showed “we are more powerful than we think. We started the campaign as witnesses. We didn’t think we had any chance of defeating them. And then we won.”

But, she cautioned the group, shortly after Wal-Mart was rejected by the city, they actually bought the contested land; the battle is not over.

“It takes a village of warriors, which includes many of you,” Salvatierra emphasized as we got back on the bus.

Our final stop on that hot afternoon was B’nai Tikvah Congregation. The synagogue shares the facilities of the Westchester Christian Church, and the sounds of a gospel chorus were pouring out the door.

Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen was one of 27 protesters arrested last month for committing civil disobedience in support of the hotel workers — something he left out of his address.

Instead, he invoked the words of Abraham Heschel, his teacher’s teacher, who described his experience marching with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala., in 1965.

“Heschel said, ‘I felt as if my legs were praying,'” Van Leeuwen recalled. He then invoked an image, not from scriptures, but from Hanna-Barbera, imagining a flotilla of Flintstone buses, propelled by the leg power of its riders. “We are the praying legs that propel the buses of justice,” he declared. An appropriate enough benediction before we boarded our gas-propelled vehicles to return to the Westside JCC.

Back on the bus, Salvatierra spoke of the organizing campaign’s future, which is expected to culminate with a rally on Sept. 28 at Hilton Hotel’s headquarters in Beverly Hills.

“It’s David and Goliath work,” she said. “But don’t forget who won.”
Her message had an impact. “I signed up for the Economic Justice Working Group, and I’m planning to be at the rally,” Marla Stone said.

For more information, visit www.pjalliance.org or www.laane.org.

Arsonist Attacks Persian Synagogue in Tarzana


Police have labeled as an arson-related hate crime a fire ignited early
Friday at the rear door of a yet-to-open Persian synagogue in Tarzana.
Investigators found anti-Semitic graffiti at the scene, as well as a
burnt door and trash.

The attack came two days before the grand opening of Beith David Education Center’s new building. Congregants are scheduled to carry Torahs from the shul’s original location nearby at Reseda Boulevard to the new home in the
18600 block of Clark Street
on Sunday, July 9.

Parviz Hakimi
“I hope the people who have done it, they come to their senses,” said Parviz Hakimi, the synagogue’s vice president, who hopes those responsible will turn themselves in.

The blaze was started at 3 a.m. using a pile of discarded carpet scraps and cardboard boxes that had been moved to directly beneath the oak front door, according to Sgt. Jim Setzer of the LAPD’s West Valley Division. The flames were quickly extinguished by the synagogue’s fire-suppression system, which runs along the building’s eaves. Damage was limited to the door.

Hakimi said the initial damage estimate is $4,000, enough to classify the crime as a felony.

Anti-Semitic graffiti was found on a retaining wall of the building as well as on a window that looks into a room where Kohanim wash their hands and feet.

A joint House of Worship Task Force that includes detectives from the LAPD’s criminal conspiracy section, L.A. Fire Department investigators, as well as FBI and ATF officials were first on the scene after a congregant living nearby called police at 6:30 a.m. Officials are still investigating and currently have no suspects.

Because construction has not been completed at Beith David, the building is presently without a security camera system. However, LAPD detective Ray Morales said police were able to collect forensic evidence at the scene that could help investigators identify the arsonist.

Following an inquiry by the mayor’s office and City Councilman Dennis Zine, the LAPD reported that patrols of the area will be stepped up in advance of the new shul’s Sunday ceremony.

“I’m horrified to see this, especially because this is my community. It’s a very sad day,” said Fortuna Ippoliti, area director of neighborhood and community services for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

“It’s probably some misguided kids,” Tarzana Neighborhood Council President Leonard Shaffer said as he looked over the scene. “It’s really ridiculous.”

The attack comes three years after a string of arsons in a nearby area targeted The Iranian Synagogue, Da’at Torah Educational Center, as well as the Conservative shul Valley Beth Shalom. There have also been attacks on the nearby First Presbyterian Church of Encino and the Baha’i Faith Community Center. Farshid Tehrani, an Iranian Jewish immigrant allegedly suffering from depression, was arrested in connection with those crimes in May 2003.

Beith David Education Center’s journey to the new location has been a long one. After a years-long battle over parking that has kept the congregation in its Reseda Boulevard location, Hakimi says nothing will stop the congregation from moving to Clark Street.

The synagogue purchased the former post-office building for $1 million in 2002, but L.A. City Council approval for the new structure turned into a two-year battle. The Tarzana Property Owners Association claimed the Orthodox synagogue would require at least 150 parking spaces, claiming that members followed a more Conservative style of worship and often drove to services. Synagogue representatives rejected the argument, saying that its congregants were Orthodox, regularly walk to the shul on Shabbat and do not need the parking.

Following City Council approval of the Clark Street site in 2004, the Beith David congregation has devoted the last year and a half and has spent a $1.2 million on renovation of the building in advance of its grand opening. Beith David has limited the advertising of the Sunday event to Radio Iran 670 AM, a local Iranian newspaper and word-of-mouth among congregants.

Like Shaffer, Beith David Vice President Hakimi believes the targeting of his synagogue was likely a hate-crime by youths and not a targeted attack related to the City Council battle or animosity toward Persians.

“This is an isolated situation, and it doesn’t reflect on the community that we live in. That is my hope,” Hakimi said. “But it’s a very sad incident.”

 

Crestview Residents Fear Shooting Related to Gangs


Members of the quiet, tight-knit Crestview neighborhood in Pico-Robertson gathered for a candlelight vigil Thursday evening to give voice to fears regarding recent violence that has rocked the area.

The neighborhood was rattled on June 3 at about 10:15 p.m. when passengers of a black Ford Explorer fired more than a dozen shots into the second story of a duplex on the 1600 block of Wooster Street. No one was injured.

Some Crestview residents suspect that at least one inhabitant of the duplex is a gang member, and believe the shooting was gang related.

Although the West Los Angeles Police Department is conducting an investigation into Sunday’s shooting, which they say will continue until an arrest is made, residents remain fearful.

“We were very fortunate that no one was hurt this past Sunday. We
need to address and resolve this issue immediately because with gangs
there is always retaliation and we can’t have an innocent bystander
get caught in the cross-fire.” said Beth Ryan, president of the
Crestview Neighborhood Association.

About 55 residents of this largely Orthodox Jewish neighborhood attended the candlelight vigil, held at the nearby Robertson Recreational Center at Airdrome Street and Robertson Boulevard.

Mention of guns and shooting were postponed as gatherers said prayers and joined together in singing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

“We didn’t want to wait until next Thursday until we did something about this,” Ryan said.

The aim of Thursday’s gathering, which was led by members of the local Crestview Neighborhood Association as well as 5th District City Councilman Jack Weiss, was held primarily to ease discomfort by showing solidarity as a neighborhood, Ryan said.

The Rev. Howard Dotson of Palms Westminster Presbyterian Church read a selection from the Book of Isaiah and an excerpt from Nelson Mandela’s 1994 inaugural address as president of South Africa. No rabbis were able to attend due to Thursday evening prayer.

In the mid-1990s, the Crestview neighborhood experienced a wave of break ins and car thefts that subsequently declined, partly in response to Neighborhood Watch efforts and the area’s changing demographic. But during the past two years, nonviolent crime, including graffiti tagging and burglaries, have increased.

In March, an off-duty Culver City police officer was shot in the jaw by gang members on the 1800 block of Holt Avenue, also in the Crestview area.

The West Los Angeles Gang Impact Team, a LAPD gang unit, confirmed that there have been other shooting incidents in the area in the past year. The unit has deployed its entire unit to the area, according to Lt. Armando Perez, who is in charge of the team. He said officers have increased their presence in the neighborhood, and they are interviewing gang members in custody and on probation.

“The West L.A. police department is doing everything they can, but their resources are very limited,” Ryan said.

The Crestview Neighborhood Association set up a Neighborhood Watch system 15 years ago, when the association was established in response to local crimes. This week, residents hired a private protective services company to patrol the area and install cameras. Residents will meet again next week to discuss further courses of action.

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Defender of France


Jean David Levitte, France’s ambassador to the United States, is arguably its most effective defender against charges of anti-Semitism, in no small part because he himself is Jewish.

I met Levitte at the Beverly Hills residence of the French consul general, Phillipe Larrieu. It’s a sprawling, modernist home near the Beverly Hills Hotel, the walls lined with contemporary art, the small streetside drawing room furnished in … French Regency. Silver coffee service and a plate of petits fours appear.

Levitte, 60, is youthful, patient and polished. He is used to contradicting accusations that France is anti-Semitic, in no small part because of all the anti-Semitism French Jews have suffered over the past few years.

The worst incident occurred just last February, when kidnappers tortured and killed 23-year-old Ilan Halimi, taunting his parents with anti-Semitic slurs during phone calls. The heinous crime led to an uptick in French Jewish immigration to Israel, according to the Jewish Agency, and renewed concern that French Jewry’s days were numbered.

I began my interview by mentioning that exactly a year ago, I traveled to Paris to interview French officials and Jewish leaders, all of whom agreed the government had been taking anti-Semitic attacks seriously and that the frequency and severity were in decline. This is what I reported, so my first question to the ambassador was, in so many words: Am I a chump?

Levitte said no. French anti-Semitism continues to be a problem among a disaffected Muslim population egged on by extremist imans, exposed to anti-Israel Arab media and frustrated by its status at the fringes of French society. “If we have a problem with racism,” he said, “it is not anti-Semitism, it is anti-Arab.”

Anti-Semitic attacks, he said — reinforcing what the philosopher and author Bernard-Henri Lévy told our reporter Marc Ballon (see Page 16) — are the smoke from the Israeli-Palestinian fire. “The problem is the connection to the Middle East,” Levitte told me.

Levitte reiterated what I learned last year. The French government has responded to anti-Semitic acts with forthrightness: harsher penalties, better coordination with prosecutors, widespread educational reforms, a crackdown on hate-spewing Iranian and Arab media and ongoing public statements from the president on down.

“When a Jew is attacked in France,” said President Jacques Chirac on Nov. 17, 2003, “it is an attack against the whole of France.”

These steps all contributed to a 48 percent decline in anti-Semitic acts in the first six months of 2005.

Then came the brutal Halimi murder, which obliterated these achievements in the public eye.

Halimi’s parents claimed the French police botched the investigation by, in part, refusing to see it as anti-Semitic in nature. Initial statements by government officials downplayed the role Jew-hatred might have played.

But to Levitte, the official and popular reaction only supports his contention that France is intolerant of intolerance. Tens of thousands of citoyens took to the streets of Paris to express their outrage at the murder. French officials quickly identified 21 suspects. Fourteen are under arrest and 11 are being charged with kidnapping and murder with the aggravating circumstance of anti-Semitism.

The perpetrators, Levitte pointed out, were not all Muslim. They were inhabitants of the often lawless, neglected neighborhoods surrounding Paris and other large cities. (In the French movie, “La Haine,” (“Hate”), the youthful criminal gang from one Parisian slum includes a Jew. “Hate,” in fact, released in 1995, is a cinematic tarot card of what would be in store for France).

Many of France’s 10 percent Muslim population live in these banlieux. Most are law-abiding and loyal.

“The problem is the 10 percent who are not well-integrated,” Levitte said.

He pointed out that the racial unrest that broke out in Paris this winter (not to be confused with the anti-labor law reform riots of the spring) were not in the “new cities” with large Muslim populations, There were no riots in Marseilles, for example, whose Algerian population is second only to that of Algiers.

The rioters also did not take to the streets waving Algerian flags. What they wanted was not separation but belonging.

“Islam is not the demand of these teenagers,” said the ambassador. “They feel excluded.”

Levitte reiterated his government’s approach to the problem: better schools, stricter law enforcement, more work incentives and the creation of tax exempt zones to spur business investment in the worst areas.

Nevertheless, Levitte acknowledged, isolated attacks against Jews have, “triggered feelings of insecurity” among the country’s 600,000 Jews.

But Levitte said the claims of a French Jewish exodus to Israel are overstated. Many Jews will buy apartments or homes in Israel, but they remain in France. Those who go for good, he said, often come back.

Meanwhile, Israelis themselves seem to harbor less ill will toward the French than American Jews. France is the No. 1 tourist destination among Israelis.

And the feeling appears to be mutual. Levitte quoted (correctly) a 2005 poll by the Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv, which asked citizens in more than 12 countries their feelings about Jews. The Dutch came in first, at 85 percent, and France placed second, with 82 percent of French citizens checking off “positive feelings” about Jews. (The United States scored fifth at 77 percent, and Jordan and Lebanon tied for last, at 0 percent).

Indeed, for Levitte, the (wine) glass of French Jewry is perennially half full: The Dreyfuss Affair? It showed how the republic stood up to an insidious cabal of anti-Semitic army officers.

“Today it is Dreyfuss who is our hero, not them,” Levitte said.

The Holocaust? Seventy-five percent of the nation’s Jews were saved, and many Frenchmen risked their lives to save them. The government of Israel has recognized 2,500 of them with the distinction of “Righteous Among the Nations.”

Levitte’s own grandparents were sent to Auschwitz. His father and uncle joined the resistance, and his father later became the leader of the American Jewish Committee in France for 30 years.

“We will not accept anti-Semitism in France,” the ambassador said, with finality. “We will fight this disease.”

 

Jews in Poland Speak of Shoah Remembrance as a Curse


This tale is about two visions of Poland.

In one, Poland is about pain and loss. It’s the place where 3 million of a total population of 3.3 million Polish Jews perished in the Shoah, where Jews have nothing left, where indeed there are almost no Jews other than a few languishing, aged survivors who can’t even scrape together a Shabbat morning minyan. Poland is Auschwitz; it’s Never Again.

Defining this Poland is the March of the Living, an annual event that lays bare Poland’s deepest, murderous shame and then immediately whisks participants to Israel, to showcase that nation’s glories, and its essentialness to the Jewish people. The March of the Living has won wide acclaim from donors and participants, including students from Los Angeles.

March arrives at Birkenau
A Jew in Poland: Severyn Ashkenazy celebrates oneg Shabbat at Warsaw temple.

But there’s also another Poland competing for the attention of Jews. This is the Poland of 70-year-old Severyn Ashkenazy, who, although a victim of the Holocaust, chooses to paint a different picture. Ashkenazy, who splits his time between Poland and Los Angeles, is a co-founder of Beit Warszawa, a Warsaw synagogue that belongs to the World Union of Progressive Judaism. Ashkenazy’s Poland offers Jewish studies programs at three leading universities. It will hold its 16th annual Jewish Culture Festival this summer in Krakow, expected to attract 20,000 people and its fourth annual Jewish Film Festival this November in Warsaw. His Poland now has an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Jews, according to figures published by the U.S. State Department. Ashkenazy and others estimate the number to be considerably higher.

In his Poland, Judaism has a present and a future, which makes March of the Living, and its thousands of participants, a sore point.

“They are the opposite of ambassadors of goodwill,” Ashkenazy said. “To the Poles, it seems that the whole world comes and looks at them as murderers.”

March of the Living, the international educational program that began in 1988, has brought approximately 90,000 teenagers, accompanied by Jewish educators, social workers and survivors, to Poland for a week. Every year, in late April or early May, thousands of Jewish teenagers from around the world gather to commemorate Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, by recreating the 3-kilometer “death march” of concentration camp inmates from Auschwitz to Birkenau. In addition to Auschwitz-Birkenau, they visit the death camps of Majdanek and Treblinka as well as the destroyed Jewish communities of Warsaw, Lublin and Krakow. They then fly to Israel for a week where they celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, and tour the country.

Participants pay a subsidized fee of $3,300, plus their own roundtrip airfare to New York. Some scholarships and additional subsidies are available.

Many teenagers report that the trip has profoundly and positively changed their lives, and two studies by William B. Helmreich, a sociology professor at City University of New York, concluded that the program strengthens participants’ Jewish identity.

“If the most important goal of the March was to increase Jewish identity, it clearly succeeded. Over 93 percent of those who participated reported that it did,” wrote Helmreich about research he conducted in 1993 and 2004. “This is especially noteworthy because so many of those attending were strongly identifying Jews to begin with.”

But there are critics, too, who say the March builds that identity based on death and destruction, creating an irrational fear of anti-Semitism in impressionable adolescents and sending a message that the primary reason to be Jewish is to keep the Holocaust from happening again.

Critics frequently take issue with the juxtapositioning of dark and gloomy Poland with sunny and joyful Israel. Participants have little or no contact with Poles or modern Poland, which has a strong relationship with Israel. Nor does the itinerary emphasize the burgeoning Jewish community in Poland.

But this year, Ashkenazy hopes to change things, even if it means getting in the face of participants. For the first time, many of the estimated 8,000 marchers will be confronted with something that belies this image of unmitigated death and darkness, of a decimated culture with only a few old, struggling Jews remaining.

On the streets of Warsaw, Krakow and Lublin, representatives of Poland’s small but vibrant Jewish community will be handing out flyers introducing marchers to the Poland they don’t know and, for the most part, won’t experience. To help drive this message home, Ashkenazy is overseeing the preparation of thousands of handouts presenting the Poland that he knows and cares about. The materials cost about $4,000 to assemble and print and were funded by several private donors, Ashkenazy said. The handout includes a cartoon by Steve Greenberg (whose work appears regularly in The Journal) that lampoons “Depressing Tours, Inc.” as well as a listing of Poland’s many active Jewish institutions and organizations, plus other relevant articles. Ashkenazy says that the visiting Jews ought to be celebrating their faith and heritage with the Jews of Poland, not acting as though they don’t exist.

“This is perverted,” he said of the March. “Jews should be standing in line to meet us, to celebrate Shabbos with us and instead we have to go running after them.”

He’s hardly alone in his discomfort among Jews living in Poland.

“They are everywhere,” Ania Zielinska said about the marchers. The 30-year-old trade officer in the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw has been a four-time March participant, but has soured on the event: “They are like a plague.”

Zielinska, a member of the Orthodox Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw — which is under the leadership of Rabbi Michael Schudrich and which she says has 500 members — didn’t discover she was Jewish until 10 years ago. She completed an Orthodox conversion two years ago. Zielinska resents the visitors who ignore the modern Polish Jewish community: “Polish Jews are very bitter. We feel abandoned.”

When Adrianne Rubenstein went to Poland on March of the Living with a group of about 200 Montreal teenagers in 2000, she expected the trip to be difficult but transformative. Instead, she found it controlling and numbing as she was constantly sleep-deprived and “talked at” by her group’s leaders, a deliberate tactic on the part of March officials, she believes.

“I don’t remember associating anything positive with Poland. It was all shock, shock, shock,” said Rubenstein, 23, a senior at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. She was especially affected by the large exhibits of “tons and tons of shoes, watches, wallets and hair” in the Auschwitz Museum.

“I don’t know what can be taught by that, except to show that it’s sad,” she said.

Aliza Luft, 22, a senior at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, who participated on the March with Rubenstein, thinks Holocaust education is important but needs to be more all-encompassing, taking into account the 1,000 years of Poland’s rich Jewish culture and focusing less on the history of persecution.

“We’re told we need to support Israel and be Jewish, but we don’t know why, except if we don’t, things like the Holocaust are going to happen again,” she said.

There are any number of glowing testimonials to counter such criticisms from participants. They note that the shock value is part of the point — organizers want to make a stronger, sobering impression.

But Ashkenazy believes that point is made unfairly. “What’s our problem with the Poles today? What do we want from them?” he said.

In 1939, he points out, 60 percent of Poles were illiterate, under the sway of the then-anti-Semitic Catholic church. And while many individual Poles enthusiastically aided the Nazis during World War II, Poland historically has welcomed Jews, who started arriving in the Middle Ages, fleeing oppression in other countries. Despite periods of pogroms and persecution, Poland gave Jews substantial economic freedom and, compared to other places, allowed Jewish life to flourish. Polish Jewish culture gave birth to Chasidism and Jewish Enlightenment, and it was a bastion of Zionism.

The nonprofit March of the Living, founded by in 1987 former Knesset member and current Minister of Tourism Avraham Hirshson, does not hide its mission of teaching the lessons of the Holocaust. Organizers of the New York-based group want to make sure that the stories of the survivors live on, that the ongoing problem of anti-Semitism is confronted and that participants come to see the necessity of a strong and secure state of Israel.

The stark contrast between Poland and Israel is deliberate, even in the welcoming statement from the first paragraph of the current educator’s manual: “You will be transported … back in time to one of the darkest chapters in human existence, to one of the most terrifying times in Jewish history. Then, before you can take a breath, you will travel to Israel, the Jewish Homeland, to celebrate with the people of Israel, Independence Day. It will be a journey from darkness to light. It will be an experience of a lifetime.”

left - Phil Liff-Greiff, right -
Survivor Nandor Markovic, right, sitting with Phil Liff-Grieff, from Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education, at Auschwitz before the March of the Living (2005).

Understandably, memories of the horrors persist for survivors and their families. Nandor Markovic, 81, was shipped from a shtetl in the Carpathian Mountains to Birkenau at age 15. His parents and three siblings were killed; he somehow survived six concentration camps and a death march before being liberated. For him, the streets of Poland will always be paved with blood.

Markovic, known as “Marko,” insists on accompanying the Los Angeles teen contingent on this year’s March, despite difficulty walking because of a tendon operation that never healed properly. It’s his third trip. He feels strongly that he stayed alive for a purpose, not only to have a family but also “to give back to society and to my people who have suffered so much.” For him, the March of the Living is a righteous duty, a way to honor and give meaning to the sacrifice of the victims.

No one would have more right to identify with the aims of the March than Severyn Ashkenazy. Born in Tarnopol, home to more than 18,000 Jews before World War II and now part of Ukraine, Ashkenazy survived the war by spending two years, from ages 6 to 8, holed up in a 6-by-12-foot sub-cellar — “a cellar dug under a cellar” — with his mother, brother and uncle, paying a non-Jewish Polish family to bring them food. For the last eight months, his father and three others joined them. Only one night in those two years was he allowed outside to see the moon.

Out of hundreds of blood relatives on both sides of his family, only an uncle and two cousins, in addition to his immediate family, survived. Ashkenazy left Poland in 1946, eventually making his way to the United States with his family in 1957. Later, in the early 1970s, while doing business in Russia as a real estate developer, he began traveling back through Poland. Each time, he was told only a few thousand old Jews were left in Poland. But gradually, after meeting many people who appeared to be Jewish, he came to realize that there was a community that deserved to be nurtured rather than abandoned.

In 1999, he co-founded Beit Warszawa, to give the Jews in Poland a non-Orthodox place to study, practice and explore their Judaism. The synagogue, which currently has more than 200 members and more than 1,000 on its mailing list, hosts weekly Shabbat dinners, services and concerts; Saturday morning services; and preschool and religious school. And beginning in July, Beit Warszawa will have its first full-time rabbi, Burt Schuman, an American Reform rabbi who has served Temple Beth Israel in Altoona, Pa., since his ordination in 1995.

Ashkenazy and others estimate there could be more than 50,000 Jews living in Poland today (a figure much higher than the 5,000 to 7,000 Jews March of the Living officials publish in their educational materials).

One of those is Malgorzata (Gosia) Szymanska, 25, who discovered that her father was Jewish about 12 years ago, when she asked him why he tuned into news about Israel more than other news. The revelation didn’t mean anything to her at the time but later, at 16, while visiting her father’s family in Canada, she was introduced to Shabbat and to her relatives’ close-knit Jewish community, which resonated with her. Returning to her hometown of Lodz two months later, she began learning Hebrew. A few years later she moved to Warsaw, where she became involved with the Polish Union of Jewish Students, which now claims about 300 members, and Beit Warszawa.

Szymanska is currently in Los Angeles getting a joint master’s degree — in Jewish communal service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and public administration at USC. After graduating in May, she plans to return to Poland and become Beit Warszawa’s first full-time administrator. She is especially upset by people she meets who say Poland is anti-Semitic and Jews shouldn’t be living there.

“The fact is, we are there,” she said. “And we are comfortable being Poles and Jews.”

Latent anti-Semitism does persist, especially among less-educated segments of the population. More historical than political in nature, it’s typically expressed in the form of graffiti and verbal slurs rather than actual physical harm. It’s also in decline, according to a 2005 report by the U.S. State Department, and officially condemned. When the Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw was firebombed in 1997, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski issued a statement expressing his outrage that day.

Polish Jews interviewed for this article say they feel safe in Poland. They are comfortable publicly identifying as Jews, telling strangers they meet that they are Jewish and wearing kippot or Stars of David. Their synagogues do not have visible armed guards at the entrances, as in Sweden and other European countries. According to Ashkenazy, even Chasidic Jews, in full religious garb, feel safe traveling alone.

Furthermore, Poland is a solid friend of Israel. One of its first moves, when it became a democratic country in 1989, was to establish diplomatic ties. Since then, Poland has officially apologized for crimes that Poles committed against Jews and made denying the Holocaust a crime. It entered into an agreement to purchase $350 million worth of Israeli anti-tank missiles and has allocated land and $26 million for the building of a Jewish museum in Warsaw.

Additionally, many Poles note that the death camps in Poland were the primary responsibility of German Nazis. And while many Poles aided and abetted the Nazi, others risked their lives to help the Jews. In fact, Poles constitute the largest number of Righteous Gentiles honored at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Leaders of the March are not entirely insensitive to the criticisms. Phil Liff-Grieff, associate director of Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), has led groups of marchers three times. He says the depiction of Poland should be balanced. Over the years, he has arranged meetings with various groups of Polish and Jewish young people.

This year’s group of 60 Los Angeles teenagers, under the leadership of the BJE’s Monise Newman, is hoping to spend one Friday morning celebrating Shabbat with students at the Lauder-Morasha Primary and Elementary School in Warsaw, a Jewish day school established by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. They also will spend a day helping to restore a cemetery in Otwock along with a group of Israeli students, a project of the Jewish Federation’s Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership. Along the way, they hope to meet with Polish Jews from the Polish Union of Jewish Students.

Some 55 Jewish Poles will be participating in this year’s March and others will be meeting separately with visiting groups of Jews, said Yossi Kedem, executive vice chairman of International March of the Living, in an e-mail. But outreach to Poles and local Jews is simply not part of the March’s core program.

“It’s always a logistical nightmare,” Liff-Grieff said, especially given the tight schedules, bus availability and Shabbat observances.

Several adult groups, who can provide their own transportation, have arranged to celebrate Shabbat at Beit Warszawa during this year’s March.

“It’s a pity no young people can come,” Ashkenazy said.

Still Liff-Grieff and others defend the fundamental goals, which include creating the next generation of witnesses and celebrating Jewish survival.

“It’s not all roses and light,” he noted.

For their part, educators in Poland are working to enhance cultural ties that would add nuance and balance to the March. Professor Annamaria Orla-Bukowska works with specific group leaders from Australia, Israel, New York and Connecticut to arrange student meetings, often coordinated months in advance.

But she had to aggressively instigate such contacts. Four or five years ago, while at Birkenau waiting for the commemoration services to begin, she recalls running around from group to group asking, “Would you like to have a meeting with real Polish people?”

Participants were surprised to learn that this was possible and several accepted her offer.

Orla-Bukowska, a practicing Roman Catholic born and raised in the United States by non-Jewish Polish parents, moved to Poland in 1985. She’s now an associate professor of sociology at Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Orla-Bukowska has been involved with several organizations working on improving Jewish-Christian relations, trying to get both sides over what she calls “this plexiglass wall” — where people see each other but don’t touch.

She recognizes some benefits in the March, especially for her non-Jewish students. Going on the March and spending the entire Holocaust Memorial Day embedded with a group of Jewish teenagers is the best way, she said, to understand the Jewish perspective.

But it wasn’t until 1998 that non-Jewish Poles were allowed to take part in the March, and only two years earlier that even Jewish Poles were permitted.

Today, the number of non-Jewish Polish students allowed on the March is a negotiation between March of the Living officials and the Polish Ministry of Education. This year, 1,000 Polish students will participate, although the number of those wishing to be involved is larger, said Andrzej Fowarczny, president of Forum for Dialogue among Nations and a former member of the Polish National Parliament. He also recalls that up to three or four years ago non-Jewish Poles were relegated to the back of the line. Fowarcyzy’s organization works on Jewish-Polish reconciliation, fighting anti-Semitism and breaking down stereotypes. While he feels that March of the Living deepens those stereotypes, he also tries to arrange meetings between Jewish and Polish high school students.

“This is a golden opportunity for dialogue and for Polish students, many of whom are meeting a Jewish person for the first time, to fight their anti-Semitism,” Fowarczny said.