Volunteers huddle after helping clear furniture from the flooded house of a neighbor in Houston on Sept. 3. Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters

May Harvey inspire our better angels


Whenever there’s a tragedy, people unify.

That’s true of every group. It’s true of Americans during Hurricane Harvey. It’s true of Jews during every crisis in Jewish history. It’s only pressure from the outside that demonstrates cohesion within.

But what happens when the tragedy ends? What happens when the crisis abates?

If we’re not careful, we fragment again.

Take the Jewish community as an example. During the Gaza War, Jews around the world united in support of Israel; the deadly rocket assaults and brutal tunnel kidnappings from Hamas terrorists forced Jews to come to the realization that no matter their internal divisions, their mortal enemies wanted them collectively destroyed. Then the Gaza War ended, and Jews got back to the business of savaging themselves: leftists suggested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration was too resistant to negotiations with the Palestinians, right-wingers suggested that the left was too conciliatory.

The same will be true in Houston. As the rains fall, driving thousands from their homes and destroying the savings of thousands more; as Texans band together to weather the elements and venture out on missions to save their fellow citizens; as Americans around the country watch, heartbroken, and reach for their checkbooks to try to help in any way they can, we feel united. That’s not new. We felt united after Sept. 11. We felt united during Hurricane Katrina. But that unity will inevitably break down: There will be complaints about government malfeasance, about partisan politics. In fact, it’s already begun: We’ve seen diatribes about first lady Melania Trump’s high heels, President Donald Trump’s crowd-size remarks, and supposed hypocrisy regarding federal disaster funding.

This is the point: Crises are sporadic. But we must take to heart the clarifying truths we see during crises: that we are united, that we are family.

In the Jewish community, this means recognizing that once a crisis ends, our enemies do not disappear. Hamas is intractable, as its members prove each and every day: Last week, they moved to restore ties to Iran and Syria. The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, named a youth camp in Jericho after Dalal Mughrabi, a female terrorist responsible for hijacking an Israeli bus and killing 38 civilians, including 13 children. Hard-leftists continue to call for divestment from Israel; alt-righters continue to target Jews as a cancer eating away at Western civilization. Jews must understand that the values we hold dear — individual rights and personal accountability, cherishing life above death, the perpetuation of Judaism and its adherents — will not endure further crises if we do not retain our unity.

Crises are sporadic. But we must take to heart the clarifying truths we see during crises: that we are united, that we are family.

In the broader American community, the same holds true. Houston showed us that artificial barriers of race don’t matter in the slightest — Blacks helped whites, whites helped Blacks. Color didn’t matter as first responders raced to save drowning people flooded from their homes. Neither did concerns about tax rates or Medicare funding. In the end, Americans were united because we saw that we held values of family and community in common, that we cared enough about each other and trusted each other enough to know that even in our darkest hour, we would reach out. We didn’t need a heavy hand forcing us to do so; all we required was the motivation of our own hearts.

None of this means there isn’t room for disagreements, hearty and loud. None of this means that we can’t engage in brutal politicking — the issues about which we disagree do matter. But if we see one another as enemies rather than brothers, then the true crisis will come: the crisis of division. Even as Americans braved storms to help one another in Houston, Americans beat the living hell out of other Americans in Berkeley — members of antifa attacked a crowd of peaceful demonstrators, declaring themselves anti-Nazi in the process. Antifa sees its opponents as enemies, not brothers. Some antifa fellow travelers — Mark Bray of Dartmouth comes to mind — feel the same way. That belief, in turn, will lead too many right-wing fellow travelers to make room for violent groups on their own side.

But Houston is America; Berkeley is what America looks like when external crisis becomes internal crisis. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t merely speaking to 1861 Americans when he pleaded with them to remember their “bonds of affection,” praying that “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

We see the better angels of our nature in Houston. May they inspire us to remember those bonds of affection, before everything falls apart.


BEN SHAPIRO is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened-to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

Egypt army seeks national unity as crisis mounts


Egypt's army chief called for talks on national unity to end the country's mounting political crisis after a vital loan from the IMF was delayed and thousands of pro- and anti-government demonstrators took to the streets.

The meeting scheduled for Wednesday afternoon was called in response to an increasingly destabilizing series of protests that has unfolded since President Mohamed Morsi awarded himself sweeping powers on November 22 to push through a new constitution shaped by his Islamist allies in a referendum on Saturday.

Armed forces chief and Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for a meeting of “national unity for the love of Egypt to bring together partners of the country in the presence of the president of the republic”, the army spokesman said.

An aide said Morsi had supported the call for talks. The Muslim Brotherhood said it would be there, while the main opposition coalition said it would decide on Wednesday morning whether to attend.

Earlier, the finance minister disclosed that a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan, a cornerstone of Egypt's economic recovery hopes, would be delayed until next month.

Mumtaz al-Said said the delay was intended to allow time to explain a widely criticized package of economic austerity measures to the Egyptian people.

The announcement came after Morsi on Monday backed down on planned tax rises, seen as essential for the loan to go ahead, but which the opposition had fiercely criticized.

“Of course the delay will have some economic impact, but we are discussing necessary measures (to address that) during the coming period,” Said told Reuters, adding: “I am optimistic … everything will be well, God willing.”

Prime Minister Hisham Kandil said the measures would not hurt the poor. Bread, sugar and rice would not be touched, but cigarettes and cooking oil would go up and fines would be imposed for public littering. In a bid to rebuild consensus, he said there would be a public consultation about the program next week.

In Washington, the IMF said Egypt had asked for the loan to be postponed “in light of the unfolding developments on the ground”. The Fund stood ready to consult with Egypt on resuming discussions on the stand-by loan, a spokeswoman said.

GUNMEN OPEN FIRE

On the streets of the capital, tensions ran high after nine people were hurt when gunmen fired at protesters camping in Tahrir Square, according to witnesses and Egyptian media.

The opposition has called for major protests it hopes will force Morsi to postpone the referendum. Thousands gathered outside the presidential palace, whose walls are scrawled with anti-Morsi graffiti.

A bigger crowd of flag-waving Islamist Morsi backers, who want the vote to go ahead as planned on Saturday, assembled at a nearby mosque, setting the stage for further street confrontations in a crisis that has divided the nation of 83 million.

In Egypt's second city of Alexandria, thousands of rival demonstrators gathered at separate venues. Morsi's backers chanted: “The people want implementation of Islamic law,” while his opponents shouted: “The people want to bring down the regime.” Others cities also witnessed protests.

The upheaval following the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year is causing concern in the West, in particular the United States, which has given Cairo billions of dollars in military and other aid since Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, made peace with Israel in 1979.

The turmoil has also placed a big strain on the economy, sending foreign currency reserves down to about $15 billion, less than half what they were before the revolt two years ago as the government has sought to defend the pound.

“Given the current policy environment, it's hardly a surprise that there's been a delay, but it is imperative that the delay is brief,” said Simon Williams, HSBC economist in Dubai. “Egypt urgently needs that IMF accord, both for the funding it brings and the policy anchor it affords.”

The IMF deal had been seen as giving a seal of approval to investors and donors about the government's economic plans, vital for drawing more cash into the economy to ease a crushing budget deficit and stave off a balance of payments crisis.

MASKED ATTACKERS

In central Cairo, police cars surrounded Tahrir Square in central Cairo, the first time they had appeared in the area since shortly after Morsi awarded himself sweeping temporary powers in a move that touched off widespread protests.

The attackers, some masked, also threw petrol bombs that started a small fire, witnesses said.

“The masked men came suddenly and attacked the protesters in Tahrir. The attack was meant to deter us and prevent us from protesting today,” said John Gerges, a Christian Egyptian who described himself as a socialist.

The latest bout of unrest has so far claimed seven lives in clashes between the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and opponents who gathered outside Morsi's presidential palace.

The Republican Guard, which protects the palace, has yet to use force to keep protesters away from the building, now ringed with tanks, barbed wire and concrete barricades.

The army has told all sides to resolve their differences through dialogue, saying it would not allow Egypt to enter a “dark tunnel”. For the period of the referendum, the army has been granted powers by Morsi allowing it to arrest civilians.

In statement issued after rights groups criticized the army's new police powers, the presidency said anyone arrested by the military during the referendum would face civil rather than military courts. It said the army's new role would only last until results are declared after Saturday's referendum.

The army has portrayed itself as the guarantor of the nation's security, but so far it has shown no appetite for a return to the bruising front-line political role it played after the fall of Mubarak, which severely damaged its standing.

OPPOSITION MARCHES

Leftists, liberals and other opposition groups say the hastily arranged constitutional referendum is polarizing the country and could put it in a religious straitjacket.

Opposition leaders want the referendum to be delayed and hope they can get sufficiently large numbers of protesters on the streets to change Morsi's mind.

The main association of Egypt's judiciary, the Judges' Club, voted against supervising the referendum, but the Islamists are confident they can muster enough judges to make sure the vote goes ahead with the necessary judicial supervision.

Islamists have urged their followers to show support for Morsi and for a referendum they feel sure of winning.

The opposition says the draft constitution fails to embrace the diversity of the population, a tenth of which is Christian, and invites Muslim clerics to influence lawmaking.

Additional reporting by Tamim Elyan; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by Peter Graff and Will Waterman

PA says it’s facing ‘worst financial crisis’


The Palestinian Authority is facing its “worst financial crisis” yet, according to a PA official, because of a foreign aid shortfall and the rejection of a $100 million loan by the International Monetary Fund.

Unless the PA finds a way to close its budget gap, PA Labor Minister Ahmed Majdalani said, the delay in aid from Arab donor nations will render the PA unable to pay its employees’ July salaries and its debts to private businesses, according to the French news agency AFP.

In an attempt to help ease the PA’s budget problems, Israel recently asked the IMF for a bridge loan of $100 million on the PA’s behalf. The IMF denied the request, saying it did not want to set a precedent of one state receiving a loan on behalf of a non-state body, Haaretz reported.

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, both former IMF officials, had decided that Israel would ask for the bridge loan because the Palestinian Authority is not a member state and cannot receive financial support from the fund.

Al-Arabiya reported that a delay in salary payments would be particularly sensitive now with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan beginning in mid-July.

Opinion: Beinart’s 1% crisis


A response by Lara Friedman, Americans for Peace Now Director of Policy and Government Relations, can be found here.

One of the more brazen initiatives in the Jewish world today is Peter Beinart’s call, in his book “The Crisis of Zionism,” to boycott anything produced in the Jewish settlements of Judea and Samaria (commonly known as the West Bank). In his view, the settlements must be stopped because they are encroaching on a future Palestinian state that is necessary for the survival of a Jewish and democratic Israel.

I knew that Beinart was very focused on the settlements when I debated him last week at Temple Israel of Hollywood, so I wanted to know beforehand: How bad a “crisis” is it?

Here’s what I found out. After 45 years of settlement growth, according to the Israeli monitoring group B’Tselem, “built up” areas where Jewish settlers live represent less than 1 percent of the West Bank. That’s right, less than 1 percent (0.99 percent, in fact). You can look it up.

Of course, as critics often point out, Israel still controls 42 percent of the West Bank through municipal infrastructure, roads, security bases, sewers, etc. But what critics rarely tell us is that, under a peace agreement, this kind of “non-settler occupation” can be ended with the stroke of a pen. As Israel knows all too well, it’s a lot easier to evacuate sewers than it is to evacuate families.

And Jewish families occupy less than 1 percent of the West Bank.

You can rail against the Israeli government’s “support” for settlements, but it’s worth remembering that over the last 14 years (according to the Foundation for Middle East Peace), not one new settlement was started.

But even if we grant the worst about Israeli actions in the West Bank — illegal outposts, road blocks, unauthorized construction, heavy-handed actions, etc. — it’s extraordinary to think that after 45 years of settlements, 99 percent of the West Bank — or even 95 percent — is still available for a peaceful Palestinian state.

If you crave a Palestinian state, that’s not a crisis, that’s an opportunity.

When many of us hear the word “crisis,” what comes to mind is not Jews building kindergartens but a madman in Iran threatening a nuclear Holocaust; or 100,000 terrorist rockets ready to launch at Tel Aviv from Hamas and Hezbollah; or our “peace partners” in Ramallah continuing to sponsor Jew-hatred and refusing to recognize a Jewish connection to the Holy Land and to Jerusalem; or a terror state next door calling for Israel’s destruction as a religious commandment.

In that context, calling Jewish settlements in 1 percent of the West Bank the “major obstacle to peace” borders on the absurd.

It is also utterly boring and unoriginal.

Seriously, how often have we seen a hypocritical world treat the “Israeli occupation” as if it were the world’s greatest evil? Google “international pressure on Israel to end the occupation” and you’ll get 21,400,000 mentions.

You’ll have to excuse me, then, if I don’t get overly impressed when I see critics like Beinart jump on the international bandwagon to demonize Jewish settlers.

What would impress me, on the other hand, would be some original reporting of the conflict from the ground.

I got a glimpse of such reporting last week from Felice and Michael Friedson, who run The Media Line, an American news agency that specializes in in-depth coverage of the Middle East.

“With all the bad news, there is still a lot of cooperation going on between Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank that the media rarely covers,” Felice told me when she and her husband visited the Jewish Journal offices.

“The media generally love to report from the top, from the Quartet and the White House and Ramallah and Jerusalem. But while that high-profile peace process is indeed dying, there are many little ‘peace processes’ on the ground that are living,” she added.

You won’t hear much about these little “peace processes” from Beinart, because they distract from his big idea: calling on American Jews to join the global campaign to criticize and penalize Jewish settlers.

Yes, I know, self-criticism is a great Jewish value. But it’s not the only Jewish value. Defending a nation under siege that is unfairly maligned is also a Jewish value. And so is making the case for Israel when so few others are making it.

If Beinart feels that calling for the collective punishment of Jewish families is a deep expression of his Jewish values, maybe he ought to expand his view of Judaism.

Or at least try to say something new.

Because these days, the safe, dull choice is to follow the global herd and blame Israel first. The true rebels are those who aren’t afraid to push back and put things in perspective.

To sell us on his version of “crisis” that puts most of the blame on Israel, Beinart has focused on the 1 percent and blocked out the 99 percent where the real crises, complications — and even opportunities for peace — exist.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

With debt crisis looming, Jewish service groups are on alert


Jewish service groups are telling their constituents to be on guard for a possible government shutdown or slowdown after Aug. 2, when the United States is scheduled to hit its debt ceiling.

What that means is not yet clear: The government isn’t saying what it will stop paying for or which debts it will halt payment on.

Moody’s, one of the three pre-eminent credit-rating agencies, said the crisis could affect not only the AAA rating of the U.S. credit risk—the best offered by the agency—but also the ratings of nations that have loans guaranteed by Washington. It named Egypt and Israel.

Democrats, Republicans, the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House have deadlocked over a formula that would raise the limit the U.S. can take out in loans while shaping a longer-term formula to tamp down the deficit.

The White House says that as of next Tuesday, it will not have the money to fully fund government, which means that anything from government paychecks to defense spending to social services could come to screeching halt. For Jewish service groups, housing grants that help maintain Jewish homes for the elderly could stop paying out, Medicaid money that funds services for the vulnerable could dry up and the Social Security checks that help the Jewish elderly make ends meet could stop coming.

“We are sending out guidance to federations and Jewish social service agencies to make sure they are aware of the situation and to act accordingly with a message that they should stand by” for further guidance as the deadline looms, said William Daroff, the Washington director for the Jewish Federations of North America.

Daroff said the “game of chicken in Washington could have an impact on the most vulnerable.”

“We are most worried about Medicaid payments that go to Jewish nursing homes and Jewish family services,” he said. “The people who will be most affected are the most vulnerable of our population—the people who are suffering most because of the recession.”

The effect won’t be felt immediately on Aug. 3, according to Rachel Goldberg, director of aging policy for B’nai B’rith International. Instead, its effect will become apparent as the Obama administration chooses what to cut.

“No one is going to be happy with the choices made,” she said.

There could be a ripple effect on the economy. If millions of elderly Americans don’t get their Social Security checks directly deposited after Aug. 2, then mortgages and rents due could be affected.

Likewise, said Mark Olshan, the director of B’nai Brith’s Center for Senior Services, if the Department of Housing and Urban Development fails to send out subsidies to homes for the elderly, the institutions will have to dip into reserves immediately.

“That eats up future moneys,” he said.

The principal division between the parties is over revenue—whether or not to raise taxes as part of a recovery package. Democrats want some tax hikes, while Republicans want only cuts for now.

It’s a division that seeps into the Jewish groups. The Reform movement and B’nai B’rith International back plans that include increased taxes. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish policy groups, last week wrote to Congress to oppose the cuts-only Cut, Cap and Balance Act backed by the Republicans.

On Tuesday, the JFNA wrote to the president and congressional leaders appealing to them not to gut discretionary spending—the allocations that states use to fund services that provide food, shelter and medicine to the needy, as well as Medicaid. The letter also appealed to the parties to leave alone charitable tax deductions, which have been targeted by Democrats.

Yet as the crisis looms, Goldberg said, it becomes harder to advocate for the whole social services package that Jewish service groups once favored.

“We want to protect Medicare and Medicaid,” she said of the programs that respectively subsidize health care for the elderly and the poor. “But we don’t want to keep pressing for that and end up with default. Everyone is struggling with how hard to push.”

Goldberg said that cuts that do not immediately affect Jewish services may have ancillary effects one or two weeks into the crisis. The government could authorize funds for HUD to pay institutions, she said, while cutting back government salaries.

Another consideration is whether a deal forged after a cutoff in funds would be retroactive, Daroff said.

With the sides continuing to disagree on the best way out of the crisis, no one is sure what may happen.

The looming crisis drew Muslim, Christian and Jewish clergy to the Capitol on Tuesday to press for a resolution.

“The stiffening of the ideological lines is really alarming,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. “The people who fall through the cracks are very often the people in our pews. When you cut the safety net out from under, it’s the elderly and the hungry and the disabled.”

Groups concerned about potential for flotilla violence


J Street and Americans for Peace Now are expressing concerns about the possibility of violence between Israel and the latest Gaza flotilla.

In separate statements, the two liberal groups said the flotilla, which is scheduled to reach the Gaza Strip this week, is a provocation for conflict. J Street urged organizers to reconsider their actions amid fears that clashes could derail efforts to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

“We remain deeply frustrated at the lack of progress toward a two-state solution,” the J Street statement said. “But frustration does not justify this new flotilla, which has the potential to escalate the conflict and needlessly put the lives of both Israeli soldiers and civilian activists at risk.”

Americans for Peace Now said that while Israel has no control over the actions of the flotilla organizers, the organization is not “compelled to accept the role” that led to the deaths of nine participants in a raid on the first Gaza flotilla in May 2010.

Both organizations said that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza should be eased. Restrictions on what is allowed to pass should be “narrowly limited to keep out only items with a possible military purpose,” J Street said, while APN called the entire blockade “a failed policy” that has been an ineffective security measure and “inflicts collective punishment on the population of Gaza.”

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Israeli authorities approved shipments of housing construction material to enter Gaza legally and that the flotilla’s aim seems to be to provoke Israeli defensive action.

Flights resume from Israel’s airports, but fuel crisis continues


Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport resumed flights Friday after jet fuel contamination halted all outgoing flights Thursday afternoon.

Friday morning, the airport was permitted to tap into emergency jet fuel supplies to enable grounded planes to fly to refueling stations in Cyprus or Jordan, Ha’aretz reported.

But that’s only a temporary solution, the airport’s chief official told reporters.

“The end to the crisis is not yet known,” Ben Gurion Airport manager Shmuel Kandel said Friday.

Early reports that the contamination might be due to sabotage or terrorism have been discounted. Samples of the tainted fuel have been sent to Germany for testing.

Aircraft refueling was halted Thursday at Ben Gurion when Aviation Assets, which supplies fuel to the airport’s pipeline, discovered contaminants in the fuel. Refueling was also stopped at the airports in Eilat and Haifa. Tens of thousands of passengers were stranded.

Two weeks ago, officials noticed that the fuel filters on the company’s trucks were clogging. Clogging of airplane fuel filters “could be disastrous,” an airport official told reporters Thursday.

The Israeli media is reporting concerns that the contamination may be more widespread in the country’s fuel supply.

U.S.: “Gadhafi has lost the legitimacy to govern”


From Huffingtonpost.com:

International pressure on Moammar Gadhafi to end a crackdown on opponents escalated Monday as his loyalists fought rebels holding the two cities closest to the capital and his warplanes bombed an ammunition depot in the east. The U.S. moved naval and air forces closer to Libya and said all options were open, including patrols of the North African nation’s skies to protect its citizens from their ruler.

(SCROLL DOWN FOR LIVE UPDATES.)

France said it would fly aid to the opposition-controlled eastern half of the country. The European Union imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions, following the lead of the U.S. and the U.N. The EU was also considering the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya. And the U.S. and Europe were freezing billions in Libya’s foreign assets.

“Gadhafi has lost the legitimacy to govern, and it is time for him to go without further violence or delay,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. “No option is off the table. That of course includes a no-fly zone,” she added. British Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers: “We do not in any way rule out the use of military assets” to deal with Gadhafi’s regime.

Read more at HuffingtonPost.com.

IDF to open internal flotilla investigation


The Israel Defense Forces will conduct an internal investigation into its interception of a Gaza-bound flotilla that ended in the death of nine activists.

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi on Monday appointed Gen. Giora Eiland, the former head of Israel’s National Security Council, to lead the military investigation.

Israel over the weekend rejected a United Nations proposal to establish an international commission to probe the deaths.

The Israeli investigative team will use Navy testimonies gathered following the incident. The team has been charged with determining “the outcomes and lessons learned from the operation,” according to a statement from the IDF.

The members of the team include professionals with expertise on the matter who were not a part of the operational chain of command during the incident.

The investigative team will present its findings to Ashkenazi by July 4, according to the statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also decided to appoint a state panel of inquiry into the incident after deliberating with his forum of seven ministers, Haaretz reported Monday. The forum had deliberated over the panel for days.

Top justices experienced in matters of international and marine law—including at least one American observer—will make up the panel, Haaretz reported, citing an unnamed source.

Obama: No ‘crisis’ in U.S.-Israel ties


In his first public remarks on the strain in U.S.-Israel ties, President Obama said there was no crisis in relations between the two countries.

In an interview with Fox News aired Wednesday night, the U.S. leader said Israel’s announcement last week during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit of new construction in eastern Jerusalem has not led to a crisis in ties between Israel and the United States.

“We and the Israeli people have a special bond that’s not going to go away,” Obama said. “But friends are going to disagree sometimes.”

He added, “There is a disagreement in terms of how we can move this peace process forward.”

Meanwhile, in an Op-Ed published Thursday in The New York Times, Israel’s U.S. ambassador said that Israel and the United States have a “deep and multi-layered friendship, but even the closest allies can sometimes disagree.”

Michael Oren said in the article that though the “discord” between Israel and the Obama administration over the housing announcement during Biden’s visit “was unfortunate, it was not a historic low point in United States-Israel relations.” Preliminary approval was granted for a 1,600-apartment construction project in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem.

Oren also wrote that he had never said that relations between the two countries were at their lowest since 1975, despite widely circulated media reports to the contrary.

Two days after the incident, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton berated Netanyahu in a 43-minute phone call and reportedly demanded that he cancel the apartment project’s approval, make a dramatic gesture to the Palestinians such as releasing Palestinian prisoners and agree publicly to discuss all core issues, including the status of Jerusalem, in upcoming peace talks.

Netanyahu and his top seven ministers, called the Forum of Seven, met until late Wednesday night to discuss Israel’s response to the Obama administration’s demands.

The United States reportedly is waiting for a reply, which it had expected as early as Wednesday, before agreeing to allow any top government officials to meet with Netanyahu during his visit to Washington next week to address the annual policy meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Clinton also is scheduled to address the AIPAC parley.

Will recession fuel a return to public schools?


Throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District, the recession is prompting middle-class parents to take a look at public middle and high schools they have long disdained. Private schools are just too expensive for many people.

A large number of Jews, whose heritage and culture put a high value on education, are in this economically stressed category. That is why the present and future of the Los Angeles schools is a Jewish issue, one that deserves a place high up on the community’s agenda.

“The number of people who can’t afford private school is increasing,” said Marlene Canter, the Los Angeles school board member who has for two terms represented the Westside and its many Jewish residents and who is about to step down. I met with Canter and her field representative, Paola Santana, for breakfast last week in Westwood to talk about her efforts to persuade Westside residents to send their children to public schools. She represents the Fourth District, which extends from the Palisades and Brentwood to Marina del Rey and includes Mar Vista, Palms, Westwood, Westchester and Venice. It also reaches as far east as Hollywood.

We discussed the current recession’s impact on Jewish families who began abandoning the LAUSD generations ago, when court-ordered desegregation touched off a white exodus from the school system. While this was happening, Los Angeles’ population was changing, and many schools became predominantly Latino. The change is reflected in high schools in Canter’s district.

University High School’s student body is almost 60 percent Latino, 18.6 percent black, 8.9 per cent Asian and 10.3 percent white. At Venice High, Latinos comprise almost 73 percent, whites 11 percent, blacks almost 11 percent and Asians almost 4 percent. Hollywood High School’s students are 77.8 percent Latino, 9.4 percent white, 4.7 percent black and 3.8 percent Asian.

Canter said she starts with the premise that “every child should have an opportunity to get a great public education in a public school.”

You can’t very well make the argument that the schools throughout the Los Angeles district are great schools. The district is huge and covers the Southland’s poorest and toughest neighborhoods. LAUSD’s leadership is unstable and uncertain, smothering initiative with a huge blanket of bureaucracy. The teachers’ union opposes attempts to change work rules that shelter the incompetent. So does the principals’ union. (Yes, unbelievably, they have a union, too).

But there are many talented teachers and principals in the Los Angeles schools. I saw some bad principals, but good ones, too, when I wrote about the schools for the Los Angeles Times more than a decade ago, and I was reminded of the high-quality personnel in September when I met with Los Angeles High School teachers for a column for Truthdig, the web magazine. I was impressed.

In this climate, Canter is stepping up her efforts to urge parents to consider sending their children to middle and high schools in their neighborhoods. There are, she acknowledged, other choices within LAUSD — charter schools and magnets. But charters are often located far from home, and for admission to magnets, parents must navigate through a complicated lottery system based on points. Local schools are making an attempt to improve, and they could be an attractive choice.

What’s more, many public schools aren’t the same monolithic campuses that they once were. There’s been a movement to create small learning centers, offering special programs known as Schools for Advanced Studies, for example, for honors students, or specialized “academies” for kids particularly interested in math, science or performing arts, among others. These schools-within-schools are very popular, creating not only specialized learning centers for the students, but also a sense of community. And they take only a simple application for admission. You can find them in many LAUSD middle and high schools.

Earlier this year, Canter arranged for Ray Cortines, the recently named LAUSD school superintendent who at the time was deputy superintendent, to meet with a group of parents at a Westside Coffee Bean to tout the virtues of University High. Kathy Gonnella, principal of Emerson Middle School, has also hosted a wine and cheese evening for parents. My daughter, mother of two children, went to the latter and came back impressed. Earlier this year, I attended an evening meeting at Webster Middle School, where several principals pitched their Westside middle and high schools.

“What we are doing is breaking down perceptions,” Canter said, attitudes that have been 30 years in the making, dating back to the desegregation controversy.

She said the principals and teachers have to play a big role in bringing about the change. “Principals in private schools spend a lot of time marketing themselves,” she said. But in the past, she said, “our principals have never tried.” The schools, she said, “must open the doors to the parents.”

In addition, she said, the school board must make marketing LAUSD a high priority.

Of course the need to bring back middle-class parents extends far beyond the Jewish community. It is important throughout the district. It is unfair, unjust and simply dead wrong for a parent to be forced to mortgage the family future to send a kid to a private school that may or may not provide the education the child needs. Harvard Westlake is a good school, but graduation from there is not an automatic ticket to the Ivy League.

Los Angeles’ public high schools should be a path to Harvard, UCLA, Berkeley, USC, Cal State Northridge or any other college. As a matter of fact, they already often are. The district is making an effort to improve and has succeeded in many schools.

With more parents considering such an alternative, it is up to the L.A. school district to convince them that it is a good choice.

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

Panel discusses strategies for dealing with recession


Talking investment strategy might not top everyone’s agenda for a bright Sunday morning, but about 75 local residents gathered at Young Israel of Century City on Dec. 21 to do just that.

The Pico Boulevard synagogue opened its doors to the community for a panel discussion on the economy, its effects on real estate and stocks and what people can do to get by amid the ever-darkening financial forecast.

“We have to help those in crisis, and right now, we’re all in crisis,” said the Orthodox congregation’s Rabbi Elazar Muskin. “A synagogue is not just a place of prayer and learning — it has to be a family that cares for the needs of its members and the community at large.”

As the Jewish community reels from monetary losses, those needs include advice on everything from investing in index funds to choosing an insurance company. All four panelists agreed on at least one thing: Living modestly and without excess is coming back into fashion.

“The days of going to the bank and getting lines of equity are over,” said Jacob Hausman, owner and broker of Los Angeles-based Real Estate Finance Connection. “We have to live within our means again. This is the traditional way, which is sensible, has good traction and is grounded. It’s the way of the future.”

Selwyn Gerber, CPA, economist and investment adviser, also touted a return to traditional financial values. After years of spending freely, he said, U.S. consumers are literally spent.

“We’re at the beginning of the end of an era,” said Gerber, who made a point of referring to the economic downturn as a depression instead of a recession. “This is the beginning of the end of America’s global power…. The days of California being this great place with a booming economy are gone.”

Gerber’s recommendations for living in this “radically new environment” included diversifying investments, avoiding flavor-of-the-month investing (hedge funds, he said, are “a Jackie Mason joke waiting to be told”) and choosing index-based equities and secure bonds.

“You shouldn’t have to think too much about your investments — it should be like watching paint dry,” he said. “The key is to resist the impulse to react” to the stock market’s bumpy path.

But stocks are no safe haven for life insurance, said Richard Horowitz, president of Management Brokers Insurance Agency. He cautioned against buying insurance invested in the stock market and recommended checking the safety of insurance companies through a rating agency before purchasing a policy.

“You want to make sure you don’t outlive your insurance company,” Horowitz said, only half in jest.

On the real estate front, Hausman pointed to traditionally Jewish areas as bright spots in Los Angeles’ otherwise bleak landscape. Neighborhoods like the Pico-Robertson area, he said, won’t suffer as much as other locales because the enclave — with its shuls, schools and kosher restaurants — will always have value for the community.

“There is strong infrastructure in the Jewish community,” Hausman said, adding that falling rents in these neighborhoods offer a window for younger Jewish families to move in. “This is an opportunity for families to move back into the neighborhood, if at one time that wasn’t a choice. That is a silver lining.”

Alan Gindi, president of ABRA Management Inc. and board president of Yeshiva University of Los Angeles (YULA) Girls High School, said people will need to make sacrifices wherever they can.

“We obviously have no idea how long or how severe our current economic downturn will be,” he said. “In difficult times, we’re much better off securing a small brick house as opposed to building a large house made out of cardboard.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, it’s always Sunny in Hebron


2009

I have but one question for Rob Eshman. It seems that in the economic hardships ahead, which will include loss of funds to send your children to college, loss of retirement IRAs, loss of homes, loss of jobs and other Depression or near-Depression hardships, Eshman finds comfort in the hopes that relationships with fellow Jews will be like meat and money in these hard times (“2009,” Dec. 12).

Having been born in the heart of the Depression, I cannot share his rosy Ralph Waldo Emerson philosophy. So, Eshman, here is the question I have for you: Brother can you spare a dime?

Leon M. Salter
Los Angeles

Peace House

Sunny Sassoon is dead wrong when he characterizes the extremist settlers who were evicted from the Palestinian house they were occupying as “heroes,” (“Peace House Expulsions Show Need for Sensitivity,” Dec. 12). Those settlers were not heroes — they broke Israeli law and put all 6.5 million Jewish Israelis at risk.

Regardless of the controversy over who has legal title to the house, the settlers broke Israeli law by moving in without government permission. By moving in, they placed a requirement on the army to protect them and added to the friction between Israel and the Palestinians, thus putting all Israelis at risk.

Once evicted, the settlers, to use Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s word, they carried out a “pogrom” on the Palestinians by marauding through Arab Hebron — by far the larger part of the city — torching houses and cars, shooting and stoning and even defacing mosques and Muslim cemeteries, not only in Hebron but elsewhere in the West Bank, as well, for a day or two afterward.

No Sassoon, those settlers were not heroes; they were terrorists, and their actions undermined the rule of law in Israel and put all Israelis at risk.

Jeff Warner
La Habra Heights

Moral Crime

Allowing unimpeded movement in and out of Gaza would provide free passes to terrorists theologically committed to murdering Jews and destroying Israel. Hamas refuses to acknowledge Israel’s existence. Its commitment to destroy it is the very reason why it broke from Fatah and took over Gaza. Territorial compromises won’t satisfy Hamas. Read its charter — http://www.mideastweb.org/hamas.htm.

It’s therefore baffling that anyone claiming to care about human lives would suggest “lifting the siege” of Gaza, since the result would be tantamount to sanctioning the murder of innocent Israelis. Where are the calls for Hamas to renounce violence and accept Israel’s right to sovereignty?

The key to co-existence is held by Hamas and its supporters. Allowing free movement of those committed to your destruction is not only a logical absurdity; it would be a moral crime against the Jewish people, as is the media bias against Israel.

Dan Calic
San Ramon

Fit to Neuter

Marty Kaplan dismisses a complaint that a factual reporting is compromised when the same reporter prints a follow-up editorial favoring one party (“All the News That’s Fit to Neuter,” Dec. 5). Kaplan’s concern over so-called “factual reporting” significantly applies to the BBC’s reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the BBC overlooks the Arab Muslim imperative of an Arab Muslim Middle East (as in the genocide of non-Muslim blacks in Darfur and the attempted genocide of Jews in Israel). Each Palestinian atrocity is “balanced” with reporting a prior Israeli retaliation or a justification by a terrorist identified as a combatant.

It was Clark Clifford and Harry Truman’s response to England’s despicable betrayal of the Balfour Declaration, when it prevented survivors of the Holocaust to go to the only place they were welcome, cum a boycott of arms leaving the Jewish minority to be slaughtered by genocidal Arabs, that influenced the U.S.A.’s recognition of Israel.

When English academics passed a resolution to boycott Israeli academics, U.S. academics squelched the boycott. Correspondingly, PBS television must make it clear to the English government-owned BBC that America will not be the sounding board for English anti-Semitism.

Charles Berger
Los Angeles

Museum of Tolerance

I find it appalling that the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which previously said that it would not build on a site were it known that it was a cemetery, continues to build a Center for Human Dignity, despite more than 150 skeletons being dug up at the cemetery under the center’s supervision (“Protests Over Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance Spread,” Dec. 12).

And the claim about Muslims being silent for the past 50 years is just plain wrong. Israel imposed martial law from 1949 to 1966. During that time, any signs of nationalism among Palestinians were crushed.

But Muslims in Israel did legally oppose the designation of waqf land as absentee property in the 1960s, lobbied to rebuild and maintain the Ma’manullah graves after the 1967 War, protested the desecration of the graves in the ’70s and ’80s, and have been opposing the building of the Center for Human Dignity on the cemetery land.

This issue is not about politics or victory. It is about respect and fair treatment of the living and dead — something taught in both Judaism and Islam.

Munira Syeda
Communications Coordinator
CAIR-Greater Los Angeles Area

Hope vs. slippery slope


Is Bernie Madoff Jewish?  Very. Oy.



Bernard Madoff at a 2007 roundtable discussion with Justin Fox, Ailsa Roell, Robert A. Schwartz, Muriel Seibert, and Josh Stampfli.



“It’s all just one big lie.”

With those words Bernard Madoff confessed to senior executives of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities that the $17 billion hedge fund company  he  founded was nothing more than a Ponzi scheme.
 
According to Timeonline.com, Madoff is at the center of “the largest investor swindle ever blamed on a single individual.”
 
Madoff was arrested Thursday by Federal agents and charged with securities fraud.  In its complaint the Securities and Exchange Commission said Madoff was at the head of an “ongoing $50 billion swindle.”  He could face 25 years in prison.

The news that broke today on the front pages of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reverberated in Jewish communities across the world.

“A lot of Jewish charities had investments with him,” one prominent investor — who said he had no connection to Madoff — told The Jewish Journal. “So did a lot of Jews.”

The collapse of the Madoff business leaves a mess that is yet to be sorted out and whose victims are just coming to the fore.

But what’s already clear is that Madoff used his ties to the Jewish community to garner at least some of his ill-used funds.



UPDATE SUNDAY 1:41 p.m.:

By Sunday the initial casualty reports showed that Madoff’s crimes reached deep into the Los Angeles Jewish community. 

“It has come to our attention that the Jewish Community Foundation [Los Angeles] is included among a number of major institutions as well asindividuals who may have been victimized by an alleged fraud,” wrote Jewish Community Foundation Board Chair Cathy Siegel Weiss and President and CEO Marvin Schotland in a letter sent to board members.

Regretfully, the Foundation was one of those clients. Mr. Madoff was highly regarded and his firm has been one of the most prominent firms on Wall Street for decades. We were shocked to learn of this alleged fraud.

Some $18 million of the Foundation’s Common Investment Pool (currently valued at 11% of its assets) was invested with Madoff, according to the letter.The CIP represents endowments from a variety of long-established Jewish organizations. The Journal is investigating which participants were involved and how much they stand to lose, and whether officials can expect any sort of remediation.

Meanwhile, there are reports that many other local institutions and individuals have been hit by the scandal.  Senior Writer Brad Greenberg and blogger Dean Rotbart are investigating and verifying these reports and will have updates here.



Madoff is a trustee of the Yeshiva University and a long-time philanthropist in Jewish circles.
 
According to Yeshiva University, “Bernard L. Madoff, a member of the University’s Board of Trustees since 1996, was elected chairman of the Board of Directors of Sy Syms School of Business in 2000. Mr. Madoff is chairman of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, one of the nation’s largest third-market dealers in New York Stock Exchange and over-the-counter securities.
A benefactor of the University, Mr. Madoff recently made a major gift to the Sy Syms School.”
 
The first known charity victim, according to JTA, is the The Robert I. Lappin Foundation in Salem, Mass. which gave away about $1.5 million to Jewish causes.
 
After Madoff’s arrest, The Robert I. Lappin Foundation in Salem laid off all of its employees and locked its doors on Friday after its benefactor’s assets were frozen because they were invested with Madoff.

“Mr. Lappin investments were frozen,” the foundation’s executive director of the foundation Deborah Coltin told JTA. “The assets are frozen. We have no money. The foundation cannot access its money.”

Lappin, who was reached by JTA Friday afternoon, said that he lost $8 million – the entirety of his foundation’s money – because it was invested with Madoff. Lappin, who had been involved financially with Madoff since 1991 also took a “significant” hit personally. He said that he knew nothing of Madoff’s fraudulent activities.

The foundation, which gave away about $1.5 million per year to Jewish causes, let go all of its workers, one fulltime employee and six part-time employees.
 
Forbes details the fall of Madoff
 
“Bernard Madoff is a longstanding leader in the financial services industry,” his lawyer Dan Horwitz told reporters outside a downtown Manhattan courtroom where he was charged. “We will fight to get through this unfortunate set of events.”
 
A shaken Madoff stared at the ground as reporters peppered him with questions. He was released after posting a $10 million bond secured by his Manhattan apartment.
 
The SEC filed separate civil charges.
 
“Our complaint alleges a stunning fraud — both in terms of scope and duration,” said Scott Friestad, the SEC’s deputy enforcer. “We are moving quickly and decisively to stop the scheme and protect the remaining assets for investors.”
 
The SEC said it appeared that virtually all of the assets of his hedge fund business were missing.
 
Madoff had long kept the financial statements for his hedge fund business under “lock and key,” according to prosecutors, and was “cryptic” about the firm.
 
And Reuters has the story here:

REUTERS – Edith Honan and Dan Wilchins:
 

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Bernard Madoff, a quiet force on Wall Street for decades, was arrested and charged on Thursday with allegedly running a $50 billion “Ponzi scheme” in what may rank among the biggest fraud cases ever.

The former chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market is best known as the founder of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, the closely-held market-making firm he launched in 1960. But he also ran a hedge fund that U.S. prosecutors said racked up $50 billion of fraudulent losses.

Madoff told senior employees of his firm on Wednesday that “it’s all just one big lie” and that it was “basically, a giant Ponzi scheme”, with estimated investor losses of about $50 billion, according to the U.S. Attorney’s criminal complaint against him.

A Ponzi scheme is a swindle offering unusually high returns, with early investors paid off with money from later investors.

On Thursday, two agents for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation entered Madoff’s New York apartment.

“There is no innocent explanation,” Madoff said, according to the criminal complaint. He told the agents that it was all his fault, and that he “paid investors with money that wasn’t there”, according to the complaint.

The $50 billion allegedly lost would make the hedge fund one of the biggest frauds in history. When former energy trading giant Enron filed for bankruptcy in 2001, one of the largest at the time, it had $63.4 billion in assets.
U.S. prosecutors charged Madoff, 70, with a single count of securities fraud.

They said he faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $5 million.
The Securities and Exchange Commission filed separate civil charges against Madoff.

“Our complaint alleges a stunning fraud — both in terms of scope and duration,” said Scott Friestad, the SEC’s deputy enforcer. “We are moving quickly and decisively to stop the scheme and protect the remaining assets for investors.”

Dan Horwitz, Madoff’s lawyer, told reporters outside a downtown Manhattan courtroom where he was charged, “Bernard Madoff is a longstanding leader in the financial services industry. We will fight to get through this unfortunate set of events.”

A shaken Madoff stared at the ground as reporters peppered him with questions. He was released after posting a $10 million bond secured by his Manhattan apartment.

Authorities, citing a document filed by Madoff with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Jan. 7, 2008, said Madoff’s investment advisory business served between 11 and 25 clients and had a total of about $17.1 billion in assets under management. Those clients may have included other funds that in turn had many investors.

The SEC said it appeared that virtually all of the assets of his hedge fund business were missing.

CONSISTENT RETURNS

An investor in the hedge fund said it generated consistent returns, which was part of the attraction. Since 2004, annual returns averaged around 8 percent and ranged from 7.3 percent to 9 percent, but last decade returns were typically in the low-double digits, the investor said.

The fund told investors it followed a “split strike conversion” strategy, which entailed owning stock and buying and selling options to limit downside risk, said the investor, who requested anonymity.

Jon Najarian, an acquaintance of Madoff who has traded options for decades, said “Many of us questioned how that strategy could generate those kinds of returns so consistently.”

Najarian, co-founder of optionmonster.com, once tried to buy what was then the Cincinnati Stock Exchange when Madoff was a major seatholder on the exchange. Najarian met with Madoff, who rejected his bid.

“He always seemed to be a straight shooter. I was shocked by this news,” Najarian said.

‘LOCK AND KEY’

Madoff had long kept the financial statements for his hedge fund business under “lock and key,” according to prosecutors, and was “cryptic” about the firm. The hedge fund business was located on a separate floor from the market-making business.

Madoff has been conducting a Ponzi scheme since at least 2005, the U.S. said. Around the first week of December, Madoff told a senior employee that hedge fund clients had requested about $7 billion of their money back, and that he was struggling to pay them.

Investors have been pulling money out of hedge funds, even those performing well, in an effort to reduce risk in their portfolios as the global economy weakens.

The fraud alleged here could further encourage investors to pull money from hedge funds.

“This is a major blow to confidence that is already shattered — anyone on the fence will probably try to take their money out,” said Doug Kass, president of hedge fund Seabreeze Partners Management. Kass noted that investors that put in requests to withdraw their money can subsequently decide to leave it in the fund if they wish.

Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities has more than $700 million in capital, according to its website.

Madoff remains a member of Nasdaq OMX Group Inc’s nominating committee, and his firm is a market maker for about 350 Nasdaq stocks, including Apple, EBay and Dell according to the website.

The website also states that Madoff himself has “a personal interest in maintaining the unblemished record of value, fair-dealing, and high ethical standards that has always been the firm’s hallmark.”

In the wake of the scandal, Internet message boards are alive with anti-Semitic vitriol.
 
The web site dealbreaker.com provides a list of Madoff’s victims supplied by CNBC’s  David Faber:

  • Fund of Funds
  • European banks
  • remont Advisers
  • “market confidence”
  • JEWS

The comments on that page reveal the kind of anti-Semitic writing that scandals involving Jewish financiers unleash with clockwork precision.
 
A sampling:

  • LOL Jews!…
  • Looks like a lot of Jews might be converting to Muslim soon….in prison….
  • Now that the JEW has been thrown down the well, is our country free?LETS THROW A BIG PARTY!!!

The message boards at the web site Stormfront, where neo-Nazis go to play, is rife with comments like, “One of satan’s children doing what comes naturally.”

Hey. If it’s small comfort the prosecutor in the case is Jewish, and it was Madoff’s sons who turned their crooked dad in.

Thousands of small Jewish investors who played by the rules and worked and saved are now financially ruined because of this man. For all but your garden variety bigots, one horrifically monstrously putrid apple doesn’t mean squat about the whole tree.

 

Kadima cuts costs via Community Tuition Partnership


Kadima Hebrew Academy/Kadima Heschel West Middle School is confronting the economic crisis by reducing tuition school-wide for 2009-2010 by an average of 20 percent.

Kadima hopes the move — the first of its kind in the Los Angeles area — will encourage struggling families to keep their kids enrolled at the private day school and make Jewish education seem more financially feasible to those who formerly could not afford it.

“We wanted to find a way to make our day school education more affordable for more parents,” said Dr. Barbara Gereboff, head of school. “A couple of our families have come in and said times are tough and they don’t know how they’re going to make it work. We decided it was time to make an innovative, bold move outside of the normal paradigm to make that possible.”

The West Hills school joined community supporters and parents who could afford to donate extra funds in a partnership to subsidize the tuition cut. The Community Tuition Partnership, which will take effect in the 2009-2010 academic year, will lower costs for the entire K-8 student body: kindergarten students currently paying $16,273 for 2008-2009 next year would pay $13,070; elementary school fees would fall from $18,314 to $14,300; and middle school rates would drop from $20,910 to $16,905. New enrollees pay an extra one-time entry fee, but total tuition and fees are slightly lower if families pay for the year in full upfront.

“Most schools in the last few years have continued to increase tuition, in Los Angeles and across the country,” board of trustees president Shawn Evenhaim said. “What we’ve done is we’ve pushed a large part of our community away because it just wasn’t accessible anymore. We wanted to look at what we could do to correct that.”

This year, many families receiving financial aid asked for increased aid, and several families that had never applied for financial aid before did so for the first time, Evenhaim said.

But simply increasing financial aid wasn’t addressing the extra stress put on middle class families, Gereboff said. Even as the economic downturn began to plunge formerly stable households into financial turmoil, many parents resisted making the psychological adjustment necessary to ask for help.

“Many middle-class parents didn’t see themselves as people who should apply for financial aid, so they wouldn’t even walk in the door to begin with,” she said.

Evenhaim also said he spoke to parents who couldn’t afford a day school education on their own, but refused to apply for aid because they didn’t see themselves as “financial aid families.”

Kadima board members started exploring ways to subsidize tuition four months ago in response to what they saw as a “perfect storm” pushing students out of Jewish education across the city and beyond. The school modeled its rate cut on a similar step taken by Gross Schechter Day School in Cleveland, Ohio, five years ago. At that school, parents, community donors and Jewish organizations pooled their funds to cut yearly tuition almost in half — students now pay $6,500, a steep drop from the $13,000-$14,000 they would be paying without the subsidy.

“If we could shock the system by lowering tuition, we felt we could provide relief to our current families and also attract new families,” said Rabbi Jim Rogozen, headmaster. “We figured we could either take a chance, given the economy, and wait to see what the next year brought — or we could do something different.”

Since slashing tuition in the 2004-2005 academic year, Gross Schechter has seen its enrollment rise by 24 percent. The school has also retained more students at all grade levels who might have otherwise opted to switch into public schools, Rogozen said.

Parents and administrators at Kadima are hoping their own partnership produces similar results. PTO president Natalie Spiewak said the move would tip the scale for families who found the school’s former price tag intimidating.

“I think people who otherwise wouldn’t look at Kadima because it was too expensive might say, ‘This is more affordable now; maybe I can consider it,'” she said. “I think this is going to open the door for a lot more people to be able to choose a private day school education.”

News of the program is also a much-needed boon to families that are now struggling to keep more than one child enrolled at the school, said Spiewak, whose two children are students.

But even with the tuition cut, Kadima’s rates are still middle-of-the-road as far as L.A. day schools go. The Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am this year charged $13,345 to $14,650 for its elementary and middle school students, Valley Beth Shalom Day School charged $16,150, and Sinai Akiba Academy’s fees ranged from $17,083 to $19,275.

“Some schools cost significantly less, some are on par, and others cost more,” said Miriam Prum Hess, vice president of The Jewish Federation and director of day school operations for the Bureau of Jewish Education. “The struggle for schools is to make their education as affordable as possible, yet operate in a responsible way. It will be interesting to see how this works, but it’s hard to tell.”

While Kadima is still “not cheap,” Evenhaim said it wasn’t hard to get donors on board to fund the tuition cut. For the school’s parent donors, it was as simple as asking them to pay what they paid in tuition this year — under the new, lowered-rate system, the extra dollars would suddenly be tantamount to tzedakah.

“Almost everybody that we went to were extremely excited about this concept,” he said. “Just by writing a check for tuition, they are giving tzedakah to the community. When they become part of this partnership, they feel good because their money is working to ensure the future of Jewish education. This is the best investment that we can concentrate on today.”

The new tuition system would not affect the quality of classroom instruction for the school’s 260 students, according to Gereboff.

Evenhaim said he hopes the program will inspire a local trend. He wants other private schools to adopt similar plans and make a unified effort to boost the number of L.A. students in Jewish day schools. “If this is successful, we would love to share it with many other schools,” he said. “Our goal is not just to make sure Kadima has a lot of students — our goal is to make sure that as many Jewish kids as possible receive a Jewish education.”

Spiewak said she plans to keep her children in private day school.

“I believe in the education that my children are getting there,” she said.

2009


I’ve been reading a lot of Ralph Waldo Emerson lately. I recommend him when times get tough.

“People wish to be settled,” Emerson wrote. “It is only as far as they are unsettled that there is any hope for them.”

Well, there is hope for us. A lot of hope — it’s been a very unsettling week.

Any Monday that begins with news that the Los Angeles Times’ parent company is filing for bankruptcy protection, The New York Times is putting its headquarters in hock, General Motors is gong to be run by a government nanny, NBC is going to start cutting its programming hours, unemployment is at record levels and laid-off workers are beginning to protest the fact that Bank of America gets $25 billion and they don’t even get bus fare home — this isn’t the dawn of a new week, but of a new era.

A month ago my Shabbat dinner companion was an investment analyst who pulled all his clients out of the markets in October — October of 2007. He said his company ran sophisticated mathematical models that showed the financial markets were — hmm, what’s the polite word here? — doomed.

“This isn’t the end of the beginning,” he told me. “This is the beginning of the beginning.”

The pain will continue to spread around the world.

“Dubai is going to look like a ghost town,” he said. “It’s overbuilt, there are no buyers and the price of oil is going to go through the floor.”

The image of oil sheiks lighting campfires to keep warm beside their indoor ski slopes comforted me for only an instant. The truth is, their pain and our pain are interconnected, as it is with the fate of those striking Chicago factory workers, the college grads unable to find decent jobs and, of course, our own Jewish community.

“A lot of money has been sucked out of the system,” a lawyer who is active in several Jewish institutions told me Monday. “We’ll make it through this year, but ’09 will be very tough.”

What’s happening in the L.A. Jewish community is, to paraphrase Sam Zell, our ersatz Citizen Kane, a perfect storm.

Endowments invested in the markets are down. As we’ve reported here, some organizations, out raising thousands, saw millions sucked from their endowments overnight.

Donations are trending down among big donors and small. Most institutions receive 80 percent of their donations from 20 percent of their supporters. But it’s the wealthiest among that 20 percent who give the most, and that crust has gotten thinner. Real estate, financial services, and media and entertainment are vulnerable industries now, and Jews are over-represented in all of them.

The Los Angeles Business Journal reported this week that some 300 to 400 Iranian Jewish families face severe financial setbacks or even bankruptcy after real estate ventures run by Ezri Namvar, a leader in the Persian Jewish community, tanked, leaving investors owed an estimated $400 million.

Meanwhile, needs are up. One report out of San Francisco — where the worst of the calamity hasn’t even hit yet — has demand for Jewish Vocational Services up 100 percent. Personnel cutbacks, inevitable as they are, will only strain already stressed service providers more.

Monday night, Larry King had preacher Joel Osteen on CNN to offer spiritual advice to help us through these times. This, too, shall pass, he said. Be the change you want to see in the world.

No offense, but when people are wondering how to keep their homes, that strikes me as useless pap.

(Again Emerson: “I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic…. Do I not know beforehand that not possibly can he say a new and spontaneous word?”)

But then, what do we do? As I walked to my car after Monday’s lunch, the lawyer — who had just spent an hour describing the calamitous state of the community — said, “Hey, don’t worry so much.”

When the money is sucked from a community, what’s left is community. Sure, there is less for now to sustain services it provides, but the bonds of acquaintance, friendship and family abide. When your real estate business skids, when Zell’s L.A. Times defers your buyout payments indefinitely, when a trusted friend loses your millions, there are still friends to go to for support, for commiseration. Stripped of its financial successes, the community Jews have built here is revealed for what it is: bonds among people, not among donors.

“But this is an old custom on the East Side,” wrote Michael Gold in “Jews Without Money,” about growing up impoverished in the Lower Manhattan, “whenever a family is to be evicted, the neighboring mothers put on their shawls and beg from door to door.”

Of course, we are a long way from those dire straits, but the idea that help comes from our neighbors rings true. Relationships with others, with our teachers, with fellow Jews — those relationships are like meat and money in times like these.

We learn geology the morning after the earthquake, Emerson wrote. I suppose we’ll learn the richness of community now that much of its wealth is gone.

Thanks, Cal State — thanks a lot


I am not applying to a Cal State University (CSU) system school. Let’s just get that minor detail out of the way. I have never intended or wished to go to one. In fact, I’ve aggressively dismissed the notion, and yet I find myself saddened and concerned for my peers and Californian education or lack thereof.

The Cal State system just announced a decrease in admissions by 10,000 applicants, due to the governor’s budget cuts. In a year when there are already more college applicants than ever in history, those rejection letters will not go unnoticed.

It isn’t that I have friends by the masses that are applying to CSUs; actually the one friend who I know applied to San Francisco State has already been accepted. The problem is the principle of the thing (to use an argument widely taught in high school). When we hear that the one option that has always been guaranteed to us is now an uncertain variable, we can do nothing but doubt. When competition rages from all angles, and the safety we counted on no longer exists, we can do nothing but give up, right?

Wrong, of course, but that’s certainly how it feels.

We can concede to taking responsibility for the B average we’ve gotten and know that Harvard is improbable; we can agree that the internship we passed up limits a chance at Stanford, but when we made those decisions we had in mind that no matter what, college was in the picture, no matter what, getting a higher education was a done deal.

And now what? Now obtaining a degree could take six years instead of four, because of college deferment and prolonged acceptance; now venturing away from home may be unlikely, because to weed out applicants, locals get priority. Now, like always, education bears the burden of neglect — glorified in theory but ignored in practice.

Recently, I’ve heard a lot of cross-generational accusations — middle-age cynics claiming my generation to be founded on apathy, disregard and technology. Yet, I am fairly certain it is not my generation that created the economic distress that consequently crippled college education. No, we are much too self-involved to bother creating economic distress for everyone. I think what this parent generation forgets is that we are the product of their morals, their priorities, their innovations. If we have an iPod (and I’ll say right here that I don’t) it is because you have given us one.

If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. And I don’t like exhibiting the mentality of a surly old man bruised by life; trust me. But bitterness has been embedded into us — my generation, I mean. And this CSU application cutback only reinforces a cynicism that could potentially be interpreted as apathy.

And I know, I know, the CSUs aren’t the villain here; I know they don’t enjoy turning eligible kids away. And I also know parents and adults didn’t plan for this — you didn’t plan for this.

But what I’d like you to understand, CSU administrators and parents everywhere, is that no matter how bad or sympathetic you feel, we are the ones hit the hardest. We are the ones who receive that raw and biting slap in the face reminding us it will all be that much harder.

I wish I could offer a solution, and I realize that I can complain about these cutbacks via angsty teen columns until the cows come home, and there still wouldn’t be an answer. The tragedy here is the helplessness I feel — we feel.

I suppose attacking an entire college system is a magnitudinal feat, and completely reviving such a system cannot be done lickety-split.

So maybe we’ll clean up our act in a few years, and that’ll be great for those applicants who are again guaranteed a spot among the cadre of Cal State professors and guides. But there will always be this gap, this purgatory of knowers and learners who will have fallen short of an acceptance, when acceptance means everything.

So it goes.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the January issue is Dec. 15; deadline for the February issue is Jan. 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Don’t let the stress of ailing economy kill you


Downtown Hospital is just a block from Wall Street. Walking through its beefed-up emergency room recently, I came upon Terry Jung, the hospital’s very thoughtful head triage nurse. She told me that despite the financial crisis and roller-coaster stock market, the number of patients with chest pain or heart attacks was not yet increasing.

“Nothing’s different,” she said. “Except the feeling that something’s about to happen.”

In all likelihood, that “something” is happening to millions of people who are worried about their jobs, retirement plans, the prices of their homes and the ability to keep food on their table should a worst-case scenario play out.

Americans are receiving a daily barrage of gloomy news that could inevitably begin to take its toll. The focus on the front pages of newspapers and on the screens of the nightly network news is of a financial calamity engulfing the planet.

But it starts at home. A neighbor’s house is being foreclosed. Food is more expensive. A friend loses his job. The daily stock market tickers on cable news shows remind people, in real time, how their investments are faring.

A survey by the American Psychological Association indicated that financial concerns “topped the list of stressors for at least 80 percent of those surveyed,” according to a recent front-page story in USA Today. More than half reported the most common symptoms of stress being anger, fatigue and an inability to sleep. Close to half responded by overeating or eating poorly, a trend that will definitely lead to killer diseases that include heart attacks and strokes.

And if the economic woes continue? Well, our collective national health could just follow our economy into the depths.

The Last Crash

In the 1980s, concerns about the failing economy after the 1987 crash led to so much stress that urgent-care centers sprang up around Wall Street. With the economic rebound of the 1990s, many of these centers closed.

Tales of traders suddenly throwing themselves out of windows on Wall Street in the wake of the 1929 crash that was the precursor to the Great Depression were largely myths, as John Kenneth Galbraith noted in his 1955 account. But millions did turn to drinking and smoking in greater numbers, which led to heart attacks, strokes, bleeding ulcers and clinical depression.

Stress is cumulative; it wears down the body and leads to disease down the line.

Research based on 17 years of Pennsylvania unemployment records concluded that workers affected by mass layoffs at a plant were 15 percent more likely to die of any cause over the next two decades.

Though stress in society at large is impossible to measure, we’re already seeing anecdotal evidence suggesting that angst is spreading. In New York, calls to the Hopeline network for people with depression or suicidal thoughts increased 75 percent in the 11 months ending in July. According to UnitedHealth Group, the largest U.S. health insurer, hospital admissions for psychiatric services are up 10 percent this year over last year. Medical illness is sure to follow.

Harvey Brenner, professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, projects that an increase of 1 percentage point in a nation’s unemployment rate could cause as many as 47,000 more deaths — including 1,200 more suicides and 26,000 additional heart attacks — over the ensuing two years.

The Biology of Stress

Stress is creeping; it damages the body’s organs just as alcohol and cigarettes do. Cumulative stress is a well-documented cause of depression, suicide, heart disease, stroke, predisposition to infection and certain kinds of cancer. The body builds up the vessel-constricting, heart thumping hormones noradrenaline, adrenaline and the steroid cortisol. The problems cascade from there throughout the body.

What To Do?

The best advice is often the simplest: Eat healthy food, sleep right and avoid obsessing on the doom and gloom. Do yoga, meditate or exercise regularly to combat the growing stress.

A new study from Utah researchers shows that touch, in the form of massage, hugging and kissing, decreases stress hormones, increases the feel-good hormone, oxytocin, and lowers blood pressure.

I am all for more touching and hugging, but people who feel a disaster is looming generally are resistant to altering their increasing unstable lives. A sleepless Wall Street trader or even a Nebraska farmer is too concerned about his or her bank account to consider health.

But for each one of us, awareness is a vital weapon, and we must consider that there is still time for us to take the same kind of common sense approach to health — eat right, exercise, sleep, manage stress — that might have saved our economy from this crisis in the first place.

As the father of stress research, Hans Selye, once wrote, “It’s not stress that kills us; it is our reaction to it.”

This article originally appeared in USA Today.

Dr. Marc Siegel, associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine, is the author of ”False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear.”

Don’t cut support to innovative nonprofits


From New York to Los Angeles to San Francisco, the impact of the global financial crisis feels like an eerie parallel to the days after Sept. 11. No one knows whether the acute phase is over or whether there will be further shocks. For some, little has changed; for others, life will never be the same. Everyone knows someone who has been directly affected.

Our major institutions are struggling to adjust, react, prepare but most of all to respond to those most harmed. News outlets strive to explain and advise; houses of worship have added services; social service agencies brace for increased demand even as they anticipate reduced charitable and government support. Each organization is focused on what it can do to minimize and mitigate the effects of the crisis on our city, our country and our world.

Amid this outpouring of effort, we have been dismayed by intimations, in the Jewish media and elsewhere, that smaller, newer nonprofit organizations will and perhaps ought to lose funding support in order to allocate more to immediate concerns: a warm meal, a place to stay, income stabilization. While we agree that protecting the most fragile is key, we disagree with this last-hired, first-fired funding mentality.

The argument against the new nonprofits is both simple and disingenuous. The simple argument is that they are risky investments, ephemeral champions of the latest passing fads. The disingenuous argument is that these innovators are self-indulgent narcissists, insubstantial and erosive of the communal fabric. These arguments are not only wrong, they are counterproductive.

Far from risky ventures, new start-ups like Darkhei Noam, Hadar, Jewish Milestones, IKAR and the Progressive Jewish Alliance actually are fulfilling the promise of engaging a new generation of Jews in their own idiom and on their own terms. It is this generation’s connection to Judaism that ultimately will determine the future of Jewish life and of its larger institutions. They build innovative new minyanim and educate young leaders who in turn will strengthen their communities. They develop, test and promote new models of community involvement that will be the foundation for generations to come.

From Hazon to Jewish Mosaic to Matan to Sharsheret, they use new tools and methods to promote environmental responsibility, ensure our community welcomes Jews of all backgrounds, widen the reach of special education and put resources into the hands of those afflicted with deadly diseases — all missions at heightened risk in the period of social and economic turmoil we are entering.

While the big boys debate scalpels and hatchets, these new start-ups quietly perform laparoscopies without cutting open the patient. Bootstrapped together with all the advantages of today’s cost-saving technologies that many established Jewish organizations have yet to discover, these start-ups are models of industry and investment that will help America emerge from recession. They can feed for a year on what their larger brethren consume in an hour. They are lean, staffed more austerely than their older, bigger peers and subsist by sweat equity donated by those for whom they mean a great deal.

Putting the attention on new start-ups distracts us from asking the tough questions of our most venerable institutions, many of which have lost sight of their original missions in the struggle for institutional survival.

But these start-ups are also fragile, without reserves to fall back on, and do not yet possess long-term funding relationships to be called upon in times of crisis. They lack the confidence and reputation — and the sheer seniority — conferred on larger nonprofits by decades of service. Questioning the viability, merit or necessity of nascent nonprofit organizations risks becoming self-fulfilling. Moreover, it’s unfair to do so without also challenging the unquestioned assumptions governing larger nonprofits.

New ventures are essential to our recovery and are ideal places for funders to invest to stabilize the community. Individual or institutional funders seeking ways to make fewer dollars go further should take a closer look at the group of emerging nonprofit organizations ready to rise to the occasion if given a chance. These new groups do far more than put on hip-hop concerts and publish risqué magazines. From a communal investment perspective, these organizations provide tremendous value.

Just as after Sept. 11, the priority is on rebuilding — not only our portfolios but also our souls. We must succor those re-examining their values and goals, and support those for whom economic distress leads to personal distress. Financial crisis is often the mother of religious crisis, during which the quest for meaning becomes not only more potent but more critical. It is precisely in trying times that we must focus on efforts that can best distill and transmit the essence of Jewish values in today’s complex and decentralized world.

The age of an organization doesn’t correlate to the significance of its mission. In 1798, when our new nation faced a grave economic and political threat from France, John Adams summoned leaders of each of the nation’s diverse faiths to organize “a day of solemn humiliation, fasting and prayer,” during which citizens were asked to pray “that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it.” The message was clear — strengthening committed communities strengthens our nation.

The new groups formed by our most gifted social entrepreneurs are just such committed communities — some religious and others not — and now is the hour when they can do their finest work.

Shawn Landres is the CEO of Jumpstart, a thinkubator for sustainable Jewish innovation in Los Angeles. Toby E. Rubin is the founder/CEO of UpStart Bay Area, igniting Jewish ideas and supporting Jewish start-ups in the San Francisco Bay Area. Martin Kaminer is the New York-based chair of the board of Bikkurim: An Incubator for New Jewish Ideas.

Pinched pocketbooks no bar to party planning


Pinched Pocketbooks NoBar to Party Planning

Have tough economic times forced you to scale back your child’s bar or bat mitzvah party plans? With your 401(k) down, is the ice sculpture out? Is your resetting ARM making you reconsider that 18-piece orchestra?

If so, you can still have one of the best bar or bat mitzvah parties ever.

Paul, who lives in the northern Sierras and preferred not to use his last name, was pleased with the modest bar mitzvah party he and his wife hosted last month for their son.

“We had a Kiddush at our little synagogue immediately after the bar mitzvah and a catered dinner for about 75 people at the lodge building at our town’s public park,” he said.

Paul spent about $40 per person, including food and “midrange” wines. After dinner, guests were invited back to the house, including many out-of-town relatives and friends, for more time to visit and socialize. The kids had their own fun, and music was provided via a Bose iPod dock.

This modest party wasn’t prompted as much by economic pressure as it was by being turned off by what Paul and his wife considered “large, garish bar and bat mitzvah parties” they had attended on which “embarrassing” amounts of money were spent.

“We frankly think it is shameful and a violation of both the tenets of Judaism and good taste to throw a huge and lavish bar or bat mitzvah party,” Paul said.

Paul’s hardly alone. When Rob Frankel and his wife planned their daughter’s bat mitzvah, they were so turned off by their synagogue’s onerous rules (including vetting the parents’ speeches) and insistence on using an expensive caterer, that later they did their son’s bar mitzvah totally on their own, from using a “rent-a-rabbi” to teach their son and provide a rental Torah scroll and bimah.

“The whole year’s training and day of service cost less than a year of temple membership dues,” Frankel recalled.

The Frankels also saved money by creating their own save-the-date postcards, invitations, tribute videos and thank-you cards.

Rabbi Steven Leder, senior rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple and author of “More Money Than God,” encourages all parents planning bar and bat mitzvah parties to keep the focus on Judaism and on the child. When he meets with parents, he asks them to make two lists: one of values they consider Jewish and another of values they associate with bar/bat mitzvah parties.

The lists are starkly different. While the Jewish values list often includes sacred music, spirituality and community, the list of values associated with the bar mitzvah parties can include sexuality, gross excess, drinking and narcissism.

Leder has found this exercise very useful.

After discussing the values gap between the bar mitzvah service and the typical bar mitzvah party, “parents feel they have permission to embrace a more child-appropriate event and one with more Jewish content,” he said.

He recommends that a Saturday night party begin with a Havdalah ceremony and that parents should be more discerning about the music played at the event. He also encourages that some money be donated to MAZON-A Jewish Response to Hunger. One creative mom at the synagogue, tired of seeing party favors that went to waste, began doing mitzvah projects at parties, such as having kids make stuffed animals, which are then donated to a children’s hospital.

Leder also keeps parties held at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in line by insisting on no hard liquor, no amplified music outside and no inappropriate décor or themes, such as Halloween.

“We’re trying to avoid glaring contradictions to Jewish values,” he noted. “Besides, kid-friendly parties automatically save money.”

Chai’le Ingber, a Los Angeles-based party planner, says that times are changing when it comes to money and party planning. She acknowledges that while most people able to hire a planner aren’t the ones feeling the pinch as much as some others, she has found lately that some are choosing to scale back, so as not to flaunt their wealth at a time when so many others are hurting or are earmarking some money that would have gone to the party to tzedakah instead.

Ingber recommends that anyone who can host a party at home do so.

“There’s always something so special about a home party, when friends have helped out. Leave out the hall and the band if you can. You’ll cut major expenses, while creating a beautiful, homey event,” she said.

Inger even overheard her daughter, who recently completed her bat mitzvah circuit year, agree with friends that the most fun parties they had attended were home-based, because they were not done to impress adults but were geared to what the girl wanted.

Other ideas to save money include using a school auditorium or nonhotel venue.

“With a little creativity and twist you can transform even plain rooms into a themed room,” Ingber said.

After choosing a theme or colors with your child, inexpensive crafts and flowers can be found in a variety of stores downtown. And paper plates and plastic cutlery can still add color while saving money.

“The truth is, community pressure to create a certain kind of party can be intense, but it’s not the $500 cake that makes the party; it’s the hosts and the child who welcome you into their home or the hall who make it special. If the hosts are stiff and stressed, it’s worthless,” Ingber said.

Aaron Cooper, psychologist and author of “I Just Want My Kids to Be Happy,” hopes that more parents begin to see the upside of financial adversity in the form of valuable lessons learned and resilience developed.

Too many bar and bat mitzvah parties, he notes, have been marked by the worshipful emphasis on the child that colors so much contemporary parenting, yet spirituality and a sense of meaning are two of the ingredients essential for happy lives.

“What do we want the outstanding memory to be when our son or daughter looks back from middle age to their bar or bat mitzvah event? If a pinched pocketbook helps parents re-think this question, it’s the kids who will reap the dividends someday,” he said.

Judy Gruen’s latest book is “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement.”


Cut Costs, Not the Fun

Want to keep your costs low without alienating your family, friends and fellow congregants? Consider these tips from the proud survivor of a bar mitzvah party.

  • Buy a planner notebook and organize everything yourself, instead of hiring a party planner.
  • Skip the banquet hall and rent a neighborhood or community clubhouse, large room at an activity center or school assembly hall.
  • Cater through your favorite restaurant, instead of using a restaurant or banquet hall that only has package deals or would be more costly. If you get a package deal somewhere, read the fine print: There are invariably all kinds of strange charges, such as corkage fees, cake-cutting fees, charges for valet service and security.
  • Make your own centerpieces, adding a few balloons on top, with confetti sprinkled around the base. Decorate simply — sometimes too much really looks like too much.
  • Design and print your own invitations, RSVP cards and placecards. Today’s online paper businesses and PC applications make this easier and more beautiful than you could have imagined five years ago.
  • If your synagogue allows it, have your friends make the desserts and/or oneg sweets instead of buying them from a bakery. Get all of your beverages — alcoholic and no-alcoholic — on your own from a place like Costco, Trader Joe’s or BevMo.
  • Have your dinner for the out-of-towners in a Chinese or Italian restaurant that serves family-style platters — this cuts way down on the cost of individual meals.
  • Have a luncheon instead of a bar mitzvah dinner because lunch typically costs less. Alternately, forgo one really huge celebration and have two little ones — a casual oneg luncheon and then a kids-only party in the evening.
  • Interview and hire a photographer who will give you the disc with all of your photos, and you can make the album yourself online, with the help of a service like Flickr.com. It’s a very easy process once you learn how. Making the album yourself costs about one-half to one-third of the traditional proofs-and-album route.

— Denise Koek, Contributing Writer

‘When there’s life, there’s hate’: Q & A with ADL’s Abe Foxman


Abe Foxman is director of the Anti-Defamation League. Born in Poland in 1940, he survived the Holocaust in Lithuania.

Foxman joined the ADL in 1965 upon graduating from New York University Law School and was appointed director in 1987.

Under his leadership the organization has gained a reputation as one of the nation’s preeminent human rights organizations, going after neo-Nazi groups and winning passage of groundbreaking hate-crime legislation. It has also been a magnet for controversy and criticism for its outspoken stands on issues ranging from Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ” to the Armenian Genocide.

A week before coming West for the ADL’s annual meeting, Foxman spoke by phone with the Jewish Journal’s Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman.

Rob Eshman: The Republican Jewish Coalition ran a series of ads implying Sen. Barack Obama is anti-Israel and soft on terrorists. If those charges were true, it seems the ADL should have weighed in on Obama.

Abe Foxman: We don’t weigh in on political charges.

RE: But if you truly thought he was all those things, you’d be compelled to weigh in.

AF: We don’t weigh in one way or the other, except when there were rumors very early on which started before it became a major issue, floating in the Jewish community that Obama was a Muslim, went to a madrassa, was sworn in on the Koran. We did our own research, ascertained none of it was true, posted it on our Web site before it became an issue. Whether he is or isn’t [pro-Israel], nobody knows; that’s an opinion, a political opinion. And there’s a whole debate about William Ayers — that’s an opinion. That’s not an issue we would get an involved in.

RE: You released a statement saying the downturn in the economy has increased anti-Semitic invective. But your evidence is online message boards, which consist of crazy people posting on the Internet. How worried are you about this problem?

AF: We’re worried because there is a spike. You call them crazies. I call them bigots. Maybe every bigot is crazy or not. It’s not a surprise that bigots use a crisis situation to spew forth their venom, their hatred, their anti-Semitism. What is of concern is the quantity. What you call crazy or I call bigot out there can communicate his anti-Semitism instantaneously, in nanoseconds, if you will. We don’t know how far it reaches, into whose home, into whose institution, into whose school. We want people to be aware that it’s out there, and we’ve reached out to the servers, those who provide the platforms for it, and at this point they have been responsive. Some of the horrendous stuff is removed, but it doesn’t take very long for it to come back in another forum on another server, so we take it very seriously.

RE: Have you seen any signs that the hate has gone beyond the Internet?

AF: I don’t care what category you put it in, [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad stands in front of the world and declares that the economic downturn is the result of Zionist Jewish control of finances. Hamas declares the same thing on its media. Yeah, it crosses into mainstream.

RE: You believe extremism in Iran is the most important issue facing Jews today?

AF: I think it’s the most important issue facing the free world. I think that … when Iran obtains nuclear power, it will first blackmail the Middle East. Then it threatens freedom and democracy in Europe, it will threaten trade, it will threaten oil supplies, etc. But, yes, I do see it as a greatest threat to the Jewish people, because here is a state in our lifetime that threatens the destruction of the Jewish state. It’s one thing for him to use words, and we believe words can kill, but he is developing the ability to deliver on his words.

RE: Your biography is so striking, so emblematic of the plight of Jews under anti-Semitism. But now there have been two or three generations who have no first-hand experience like you have. Do you worry that they simply won’t feel the urgency on these matters that you lived through?

AF: There are so many people working for the ADL; they are not all Holocaust survivors; they are not all of my age group. What’s happening now, unfortunately, is that … many who felt they would be handing over to our children and grandchildren a different experience wake up in the year 2008 and see that they better become concerned with anti-Semitism, looking at what’s happening in France and in Great Britain and in the Middle East and in Latin America. So this has nothing to with the fact that Abe Foxman is a Holocaust survivor.

RE: Yet the ADL seems to have an image problem. Do you agree with that?

AF: Tell me what that image is?

RE: You had someone like Joey Kurtzman write on Jewcy.com and Joe Klein write in Time that the ADL engages somewhat in fear-mongering.

AF: They have their own interests and axes to grind. I respect it. I disagree with it. I work for an organization that is as quick to say that it’s not anti-Semitism as we are to say when something is anti-Semitism. So, in fact, if you want, why don’t you look at the statistics of our sister agency, The American Jewish Committee, who finds in their polls that Jews see anti-Semitism as the greatest threat to them in the United States? I’m not even talking about abroad. Because when you take Iran or you take Europe or you take the Middle East, it has grown exponentially in the last six to eight years. But I think what you will find is that we are an institution that when it’s up, we say it’s up, and when it’s down, we say it’s down.

RE: During the height of controversy over Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion,’ we ran a Purim spoof cover showing Mel Gibson thanking you at the Academy Awards for drawing so much attention to his movie. Of course, it’s easy for us to make fun. How do you balance drawing attention to anti-Semites versus letting them blather in obscurity?

AF: We never have the luxury of ignoring anti-Semitism. By the way, I believe — I don’t think I should say it, I think you should say it — I believe I’ve been vindicated by the very fact that we raised issues about Mel Gibson and his film. We raised concerns, and I never called him an anti-Semite until he himself stood up and exposed himself publicly as the anti-Semite that he was. But you always ask the question, ‘If you talk about it, do more people know about it?’ ‘Is it worth it?’ etc.

My justification, if you will, is to say to you and all those who had a good time on Purim, take a look. Mel Gibson was an icon in this county. When this issue and debate began, Mel Gibson was the people’s choice. He was the most popular actor, producer, director, moneymaker in Hollywood. OK? And when we spoke up, people said, shocked, ‘He’s an icon.’ Well now look, several years later. In the interim, he did his film, he made his money and then he revealed himself for what he was. That’s the beauty of America. Where is he today? He’s still around; he’s no longer an icon. He’s no longer the most popular guy to run after. Where is he? He is where he needs to be. Because this country, the good people of this country did make consequences for him. It happens to politicians in this country; it happens to commercial enterprises. It’s not foolproof; its not 100 percent, and that’s what encourages me to stand up and speak out.

RE: When you see that anti-Semitism is up, around the world, when we thought anti-Semitism would end after the Holocaust and now it’s going on in Iran and in Europe, you have to wonder — is it just built into the civilization? Is it immortal in some ways?

AF: Hatred has been around since Cain and Abel. I’m not a philosopher; I’m not a sociologist. I don’t pretend to be. But they used to say, ‘Where there’s life, there’s bugs.’ When there’s life, there’s hate.

We’re into the age of DNA. The greater hope in our business is DNA, because if we can eventually map and find and isolate these DNA that makes people good, love, courageous, altruistic verses hate, greedy, jealous, etc., we may be able to change the universe.

RE: But the same technology could be reversed to take good people and inject them with hate.

AF: Absolutely. There’s always a risk in science. Take a look at the Internet. Great use for education and information, great use for bigots.

This interview has been condensed and edited

Judaism teaches that the economy must rest on justice and righteousness


There is a scene from an old movie that has been playing in my mind recently, triggered by Alan Greenspan’s testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week.

In that scene, the tough guy thug, who was a neighborhood hero, is about to be executed for a murder that he willingly admits to having committed.

In his last minutes, he is strutting and boasting about how he is not afraid of death. Just before his execution, he is visited by the priest from the old neighborhood. The priest tells him the following (reconstructed from my foggy memory): “Johnny, your life has been a waste. You haven’t done nuthin’ good since you were a kid. You’re a bum. Worst of all, the kids in the neighborhood think you’re a hero, and they all want to act like you, be tough like you, and kill like you.”

“If you go to the chair bragging and boasting, those kids will think you are a hero, and it will ruin some of their lives. There is one thing you can do to save your immortal soul. You can go to the electric chair crying and screaming. Perhaps then they will realize that you are not such a glorious role model and this is not the life they should choose.”

The priest leaves, and in the final scene, the thug is dragged to the gas chamber crying and screaming.

Alan Greenspan finally cried and screamed. After serving several terms as the high priest of free market idolatry, the “oracle” admitted that greed was not a way to guarantee that banks and financial institutions will behave justly or ethically.

Or, in his words: “Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity (myself, especially) are in a state of shocked disbelief.” (It sounds better if you say this in the voice of Capt. Renault from “Casablanca,” when he finds gambling in Rick’s tavern.)

Toward the end of his tenth decade, Greenspan recognized a “flaw in his worldview:”

The market is not self-regulating!When faced with a choice between profits and the greater good, the market will not choose the greater good.

If Greenspan had perhaps spent a little less time with Ayn Rand and a little more time with Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) he might have arrived at this insight slightly earlier. “Those who believe that mine is mine and yours is yours,” says the Mishnah in Avot, “some say these are like the Sodomites.” That is, those who believe that ownership is a moral category on which to ground a community’s interactions are just like those who caused Sodom to, literally, go to hell.

The midrash (Genesis Rabba) relates that God decided to destroy Sodom when God saw that one of its citizens, a young woman, was killed for sharing her provisions with a needy person. The Sodomites saw this as the highest breach of the principle of ownership.

Yet, ownership is not a principle. It is a social convention that is helpful in ordering our affairs. Therefore, when it is unhelpful, when it morphs, as it is wont to do, into unrestrained greed, it must be restrained by the community through regulations.

Perhaps now, as Greenspan walks off into the night, a pathetic has-been idolator, we will be empowered to see justice and righteousness as the principles on which to ground our economy.

Aryeh Cohen is associate professor of rabbinic literature at American Jewish University.

Old traditions, new rules


Topic No. 1 on the Sukkot circuit this year was the economy. How bad will it get? Who’s pulling their kids out of day school? Where are you putting yourmoney? What money?

“I have a new word for my sukkah this year,” a friend said as we walked into his simple bamboo-and-muslin hut: “Affordable housing.”

There’s no doubt about it: We are scared. Things have been bad before but not this bad. After seven fat years come the lean, just like our tradition says.

The problem is particularly acute in the world of Jewish nonprofits. In the fat years, they have built up a skein of projects, payrolls and programs that demand a constant flow of philanthropic dollars. Now comes the reckoning, when they will have to redefine and redirect the role of money in Jewish life.

For Jewish nonprofits — schools, community centers, synagogues, social service and social action agencies — what exactly does that mean?

For answers, I went to the top. I called Bob Aronson, who for 20 years has been CEO of the Detroit Jewish Federation, an umbrella organization that under Aronson has raised more money per capita than any group of its kind. Aronson just announced this week that he is stepping down as CEO in Detroit (he will remain a senior adviser). He will continue as president of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and will consult with other philanthropies.

“Oy,” he said to me when I congratulated him on the move. “My friends are saying, ‘Now is not the time to be a philanthropic consultant — no one’s got any money.'”

Aronson, of course, doesn’t really believe that.

“It’s worse than it’s ever been,” he said, “but it too will pass.”

In the meantime, according to Aronson, there are some rules we should all live by:

  1. Don’t Panic.

    “People are afraid to give,” Aronson said. “Even if they have money, it’s psychological. They’re stopping allocation. They’re stopping solicitation. But the most important thing is to keep going, to realize that we have a job to do, if only because the number of people who need our support is also growing.”

  2. Be Frugal.

    “We have to be extremely careful about expenditure and overhead,” Aronson said. “Even if we raise more money, there will be greater need for allocations.”

    The cutbacks will have to include staff, salary, nonessential programs, glossy mailers and that Jewish charity mainstay: the banquet.

    “Messages are extremely important, and fancy dinners send absolutely the wrong message,” Aronson said.

    The Detroit federation just moved a big donor dinner from a grand hotel to a private home and substituted desserts for dinner.

  3. Be Aggressive.

    “We have to be as aggressive as ever in asking for money,” Aronson said. “At our core, this is what we’re about, and philanthropists still expect to be asked.”

    The media is full of sad-sack accounts of billionaires who, having lost 20 percent of their net worth overnight, are down to their last 9 billion. Some of these men have the gall to say they will have to reduce their charitable commitments.
    I asked Aronson, a guy who plays in those leagues, to try to help me understand that mentality.

    “It’s all relative,” he said. “If a guy had $3 billion and now he has $1 [billion], we say, ‘You’re still a billionaire.’ He says, ‘I’m down to my last billion.'”

    Aronson recently met with a big macher who said he wouldn’t be giving this year. The man, Aronson pointed out, wasn’t about to give up his Gulfstream 4 to give money away: “For some of these guys, giving is just not fundamental to who they are.”

    One solution is for our communal leaders — rabbis, organizational heads — to make the case that self-worth is not a function of net worth.

    “Our spiritual leaders have a bigger responsibility now to point out our responsibilities,” Aronson said.

  4. Prioritize.

    “Now is probably not the time to be starting a new capital campaign,” Aronson said. “People are losing their jobs, their health care, their housing. They need food; they need money. This economy is affecting the poor and the elderly, but it’s also having a major impact on the middle class.”

    “Now is the time to look at meeting the everyday needs of people.”

I asked Aronson if it wasn’t true that there is still enough money in the Jewish community for all these needs — the big buildings in memory of Mr. and Mrs. So and So, the edgy outreach to 20-somethings, the cross-cultural community bridge-building. Besides, each of these has a natural constituency that probably wouldn’t be moved to give otherwise.

“That’s simplistic,” Aronson shot back. “There may be, but it’s hard to raise money right now, and we need to focus on what’s critical.”

Where does Israel fit in on this list of priorities? Aronson is one of the prime movers behind Birthright Israel, which brings thousands of young adults to Israel for 10 days each year.

“Obviously, the domestic need is the priority right now,” he said. “We need to meet our obligation to Israel, but we need to make sure we are meeting our needs here.”

“We are really at the point where we need to be worrying about clothing the naked and caring for the widow and the orphan,” said Aronson .

Just like it says in our tradition.

Alan shrugged


What went wrong?

Greed is only part of it. Yes, the people who sold subprime loans to unqualified buyers were concerned about their cut, not about ARMs spiking and home prices falling. Yes, the Wall Street wizards who sliced and diced collateralized debt obligations were greedy for big paydays and living large.

But invoking greed actually explains little, no more than invoking lust or envy or any other human urge. The mystery isn’t why people are greedy; it’s how greed gets the better of them.

At a private fundraiser in Houston, when he thought there was no risk of being recorded, George W. Bush offered this explanation for our troubles: “There’s no question about it, Wall Street got drunk—that’s one of the reasons I asked you to turn off the TV cameras—it got drunk and now it’s got a hangover. The question is how long will it [take to] sober up and not try to do all these fancy financial instruments.”

There is no reason to question President Bush’s credentials for knowing a drunk when he sees one. But Bush, though he says he can’t remember a day from prep school to his 40th birthday when he didn’t have a drink, also insists that he has never been an alcoholic. He just drank “too much.” When he stopped, he didn’t acknowledge that he had a disease; what was wrong, it seems, was just typical youthful irresponsibility and a too-protracted youth.

So Wall Street’s problem, in the president’s mind, is not a systemic pathology, not an illness that comes on the same chromosome as the profit motive. Instead, it’s the behavior of a frat boy on a bender, the reckless phase of a good-time Charlie rather than the symptom of profound disease.

Bros will be bros; greed, like stuff, just happens.

A quite different explanation comes from a man to whom Bush gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and who is the intellectual parent of this collapse: “>speech at Georgetown University earlier this month, he attributed it to “lack of trust in the validity of accounting records of banks and other financial institutions” in the past year. Trust! Who knew?

So it’s not competitive markets and “Atlas Shrugged”-style enlightened self-interest that makes economies work. It’s “reputation and the trust it fosters.” Wealth creation, Greenspan says, requires trusting the people with whom we trade. The better your reputation, the more I trust you, the more able I am to take risks and accumulate more capital. When people “let concerns for reputation slip” the way they have in recent years, when counterparties are “not always truthful,” lenders are hesitant to lend, and credit freezes up.

But even an apostle of free markets like Ronald Reagan said, though in a different context, “Trust, but verify.” For years, credit-rating agencies like“>words of Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz, “performed the alchemy that converted securities from F-rated to A-rated” with no apparent damage to their reputations.

For years, the sterling reputations of Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch served as a substitute for transparency. For years, federal efforts to monitor the trustworthiness of big banks were fought tooth and nail by the same Alan Greenspan who nevertheless says that trust is everything.

James Madison warned us in Federalist No. 51 that men are not angels. Lincoln, while appealing to “the better angels of our nature,” nevertheless acknowledged our darker inclinations.

Anyone who’s been anywhere near a big investment bank knows that the gentlemen who run them have more in common with Hollywood buccaneers and Washington barracudas than they do with the Marquess of Queensbury. Maybe on Planet Fountainhead the economy runs on trust, but on this one, reputations aren’t warrants of integrity, they’re commodities marketed by the branding industry and burnished by the business journalism business.

Bill Moyers,

Congregations help the homeless into homes — one family at a time


Sharon (not her real name) and her 4 1/2-year-old son have been in and out of shelters and temporary housing for the past several years, sometimes living on the streets. A recovering drug addict, Sharon now has a steady job working at a bakery but is about to reach her time limit in a transitional housing apartment.

But this time, she has a team of congregants from Leo Baeck Temple to help her not only find a place she can afford to live, but create and stick to a budget. They’ll help her furnish her apartment, will set up her transportation and will even baby-sit for her son so she can get an occasional break.

Leo Baeck connected with Sharon through Imagine LA, a program in its pilot year that aims to end homelessness among families by connecting Los Angeles’ 8,000 places of worship with the city’s 8,000 families who are on the verge of homelessness.

Three churches and Leo Baeck have signed on, and by 2009 Imagine LA hopes to have 30 families adopted.

Congregations make a financial commitment of $5,000 to adopt a family for two years. Most of that money is put into a donor-directed bank account overseen by the family, the congregation and case managers.

Imagine LA inserts itself into the problem of homelessness at a critical juncture: the exit from transitional housing. While case managers and psychologists help residents in transitional housing stabilize, many find themselves spiraling lower in the cycle of homelessness when the six-month to two-year limit there is up.

Imagine LA coordinators work with facility case managers and faith partners to determine the family’s needs and set up a plan for independent living. They might help a single mother get her high school equivalency diploma, help kids with homework or shuttle kids to sports programs. Sometimes, a mother needs to learn how to shop for and cook meals for a week, or sometimes she just needs moral support.

“The idea is to create a sustainable exit from homelessness, so they don’t just get into housing and get on the treadmill, but feel like they can grow and have some hope,” said Jill Govan Bauman, executive director of Imagine LA, an independent nonprofit founded in 2005 at the Bel Air Presbyterian Church.

The Leo Baeck team has met with Sharon once a week over the last month, since they signed on, and they’re hoping to have her in an apartment soon.

“Many of us here are socially active in many different ways, and there were enough of us who wanted to really do this hands-on,” said Scott Sale, a Leo Baeck member working with Imagine LA. He said the team bought into the idea of each faith-based organization in Los Angeles adopting one family to make a huge impact. “If we have to do it one at a time, that’s how we’ll do it. It’s just like the Jewish idea of saving one life is like saving the whole world.”

For additional information, visit http://www.imaginela.org/main/index.html.

Sukkot on the streets — finding community amid temporary shelter


When he woke up from a six-month coma, Al Sabo (photo) found his life unraveled. His wife had attempted suicide, and his three children were in foster care. He had lost his job as the managing editor of a trade publication. He couldn’t walk.

After several months of rehabilitation, Sabo ended up on the streets of downtown Los Angeles. He was almost 60 years old, white, and had spent his life avoiding places like Skid Row.

On his first night without shelter, he lay on the cold concrete in the dark, terrified of what a group of young, predominantly black drug addicts might do to him if he fell asleep. As it turned out, what they did was help him survive.

“They watched over me. It was totally amazing,” he said. “They went out and hustled up food for me. They took care of me. It gave me a whole different perspective of who people here really are, and a new understanding of the problems they’re facing.”

Sabo slept on the street for two months. He learned how to create a makeshift shelter with cardboard and tarp. He learned that, in the most precarious of situations, people with very little are willing to give a lot.

Every night on Skid Row, 5,000 people pile onto shelter cots or erect their flimsy huts in the concrete desert of the city. Another 9,000 go to bed in the area’s residency hotels, hoping to still have a roof over their heads the next day. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, year-round they share their sukkot with each other and remind us that we have failed to do the same for them.

When Sabo’s disability check came, he was able to afford a room at the Frontier Hotel. The Frontier is less than one block away from where I live, in a loft on Main Street. But Sabo and I are separated by much more than the physical space between us.

I am part of the new downtown, a much-touted “revitalization” of L.A.’s urban core. When I tell people in other parts of the city where I live, they say things like, “I hear they’re really cleaning up the area.”

Sabo is part of the old downtown. He’s poor, disabled and doesn’t have anywhere else to go. When others talk about “cleaning up the area,” they are talking about getting rid of people like him.

ALTTEXTIn the last few years, gentrification has swept downtown Los Angeles. Developers set their sights on the area’s residency hotels, and city officials, eager to preside over the rejuvenation of a long-neglected city center, failed to protect those who for decades have called these hotels home. Countless residents have already been displaced. Thousands more, like Sabo, are trying to hang on.

Just three months after Sabo moved into the Frontier — a slum property by city standards — the building’s owner began converting the hotel’s 450 rooms into market-rate apartments.

Sabo, like most of his neighbors, had been paying $400 a month for a 150-square-foot room at the Frontier. He said he had problems with roaches and rats and didn’t have any heat in the winter. It was no bargain, but it was the cheapest rent in town.

Now the owner was ridding the hotel of tenants like Sabo, one floor at a time.

“They were not only converting the top floors into lofts, they built a separate entrance on Main Street because they didn’t want these people associating with the residents that were already there,” Sabo said. “They certainly didn’t want people that had been there for years to mix with the young yuppies that were coming into the lofts and paying a lot more money.”

The newer, wealthier residents entered the building through a grand, recently refurbished lobby with its own set of elevators. The old residents, most of them black and many disabled, entered from another side of the building, through a bleak, concrete chamber.

The Frontier was a microcosm of what was happening downtown. Block after city block featured advertisements for the new urban life. Old buildings were festooned with images of young white couples in modern interiors, a reminder to longtime residents that the new downtown would not include them.

These low-income residents felt they had been doubly neglected by the city: Before gentrification turned these blighted properties into valuable real estate, they said, the city departments in charge of enforcing fire codes and habitability laws turned a blind eye. When the evictions began, they said city officials failed to enforce state and local rent- control laws that would keep them from joining the ranks of the homeless.

Housing rights advocates and community members used to fight the city and downtown landlords to improve slum conditions. Now they were fighting just to keep people inside.

The Bristol Hotel, just a few blocks away from the Frontier and a stone’s throw from City Hall, was emptied in three days. Many of the tenants said they were evicted at gunpoint.

The Alexandria Hotel was purchased, with substantial help from the city, by a developer who evicted 100 tenants in the first year. Activists said some mentally disabled residents were simply locked out, and remaining tenants, many of them elderly, were stranded on top floors for days without working elevators or running water. The city officials who subsidized the renovation ignored countless pleas from tenants complaining of rampant abuses.

Fatah fighters’ escape to Israel and what it means


Even for the complex Middle East it was a moment of exceptional irony. Some 180 Fatah loyalists fleeing a series of shootouts and summary executions by Hamas

on the streets of Gaza ran for the border — banking on the mercies of the enemy they usually target.

Remarkably, Israeli soldiers braved Hamas fire to save the Palestinians. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, however, opted to return the fighters to Gaza. The first group of 35 returnees was promptly arrested by Hamas.

Seeing the danger to their erstwhile foes, the Israel Defense Forces balked at transferring the rest of the Fatah men, while the Association for Civil Rights in Israel appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court to block the forced repatriation. Finally, Israel prevailed upon Abbas to give safety to his own followers, and they were sent to Jericho.

The reaction in the Arab world to this incredible turn of events is instructive. Writing in Beirut’s Daily Star, columnist Rami Khouri offered an assessment of the larger issue:

“This is the latest and most troubling example of how a once-grand and noble Palestinian national liberation movement has allowed itself to degenerate into ineptitude…. As Fatah and Hamas battle it out like a bunch of armed neighborhood gangs, it will not be surprising to see some friends of Palestine quietly walk away, mumbling that if the Palestinians wish to kill each other and destroy their own society, they are free to do so.”

Writing in Al-Hayat, Mohammad Salah goes even further:

“The flight by Ahmad Hilles and other Palestinians to Israel in search of safety away from the bullying and aggression of Hamas affirms that the Palestinian issue is on its way to disappearing, evaporating and being forgotten. It also proves that Israel, for many Palestinians, is a refuge or objective one seeks and heads toward when Palestinians oppress each other.”

The border episode should have been cheered by nongovernment organizations and church groups who insist that peace will come to the Middle East not through governmental fiat, but when people on both sides recognize the humanity of the other.

Other developments, however, indicate that we are a long way off from moving beyond widely held stereotypes in the Arab World that depict Christians as bloodthirsty crusaders and Jews as the offspring of pigs and monkeys. The reaction to a University of Haifa course shows just how much toxicity prevails in the Arab street.

Professor Ofer Grosbard, assisted in a project by 15 Muslim students, quoted verses from the Quran that would help Muslim psychologists reinforce in their religious patients concepts like respect, responsibility, honesty, dignity and kindness. Their selections were vetted by three Islamic clerics.

Nonetheless, the project drew furious responses. Speaking to Gulf News, Dr. Abdullah Al Mutlaq, of the Senior Ulema Board in Saudi Arabia, insisted that the project should not be trusted by Muslims, because it is run by Jews who openly show their hatred to Islam and Muslims, and that Grosbard’s interpretation of the Quran’s lessons in human dignity and kindness would give Muslims the wrong impression of their religion. Not surprisingly, officials of the Palestinian Authority concurred.

Don’t expect the caretakers of the global civil society to challenge the Arab world anytime soon. Some self-appointed activists, operating in the rarified moral high ground of nongovernmental organizations, refuse to be impacted by the facts. For even as Israelis fought to obtain the safety of Arab fighters on Aug. 5, two boats in Cyprus were preparing a mission to burst through Israel’s sea blockade into an embrace with Hamas. The success of the mission was to be measured by Google hits on BBC and Iranian media coverage, not by any humanitarian cargo for the beleaguered residents of Gaza.

Israel has consistently allowed such supplies in and arranged passage for many critically ill patients to Israeli hospitals. This despite the fact that at least one ill woman from Gaza used the privilege of shuttling back and forth to an Israeli hospital to try to smuggle a bomb that would blow up the very facility and doctors who treated her.

Most nongovernmental organizations (NGO) that see themselves as protectors of Palestinian interests remain blind and silent, both about the Israeli largesse and the rupture of Palestinian society. Have they ever wondered what issues Israelis grapple with, what their needs are in the Gordian knot we call the Holy Land?

Did anyone consider the reaction of the parents of Gilad Shalit to the Fatah rescue? Shalit is the Israeli soldier kidnapped near that very crossing where the Fatah members were saved by other Israeli soldiers.

And what of the bereaved families of Vadim Nurhitz and Yossi Avrahami, two Israeli reservists who took a wrong turn into Ramallah? Taken to a PA police station, they were brutalized and dismembered by a mob. Rather than protect the two soldiers, a PA policeman at the station participated in the lynching.

For too many, repeating empty mantras about the “occupation” is much easier than rethinking the nature of a future Palestinian state and how it would treat its own citizens or its Jewish neighbors. Indeed, too few in the international community care enough to demand a modicum of accountability from the Palestinians.

These events present a microcosm of a clash not between two governments but of two fundamentally different cultures. Nothing will ever change until the world comes to understand the truths that led the Fatah fighters to choose the Israeli enemy over their Palestinian brothers?

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of interfaith relations for the Wiesenthal Center.

Men: the ill topic of choice


It happens to the smartest and most beautiful of women. Enter Ms. X. We run into each other four years after we were friends in college and decide to meet for dinner.

Ms. X is skinnier now, wears a lot more makeup and is no longer all about T-shirts and jeans. She is high-style and her breasts are way bigger than I remember.

I order a burger, and she orders a salad. I order a drink, and she abstains due to a recent discovery of what alcohol does to her.

Ms. X and I get to talking. Her eyes are heavy; they look a little pained, a little tired. She is all clinical in her language, minimal in what she has to say and often refers to her many therapist friends who allow her to speak and speak and speak without an end in sight.

She also pulls the age-old trick of a depressive. The “you know, people like you and me” trick, where she refers to her neurosis and then to you, bringing you down into her deep, dark cave with her.

What happened to Ms. X? Life. What does she claim happened? Men.

Men are the scapegoat for lost and neurotic twentysomethings. Men and women and the dating scene really are the ill topic of choice for so many of my otherwise smart friends.

This is not to say that I haven’t been plagued by obsession as aversion from existential crises. I’ve been Ms. X beforethe eyes, the eating habits, the aversion to all toxins.

I was there, too, terrified about my futureterrified, really, about my pastand all I could do was obsess interminably about the boy I loved. I may even be there again one day.

This “love” can be another word for insanity, compartmentalization of self and the neurotic anxiety of any generation. Further, it gives us someone else to blamefor everything.

This is what happens: Issues of God, of death, of life, of marriage and career are so overwhelming that we 20-something genius people fall in love with the worst person possible or grow tirelessly obsessed with the dating scene. We fall in love or cry over not falling in love and then tumble so deep into that lair of emotion, revolving completely around our desirability, that we are blind to the things we actually once cared about.

And we grow, suddenly, very, very boring as all we are capable of speaking about is the boyfriend/girlfriend, the ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend or the potential boyfriend/girlfriend who just won’t rear his or her God-given head. Rather than attempt to learn how to live with and to love ourselves, rather than discuss the taboo topics of the horrors your 20s throw at you, we hunt for someone else to be our mirror, to do the dirty work of self-discovery for us.

Ms. X, when she got to talking, had found a passion. It wasn’t music or art. It wasn’t ideas or fashion. No. This woman’s passion was the man who did not love her.

I sound mean. I sound harsh. But this syndrome once swallowed me, and now that I am panting on shore, thanking God I survived, it is swallowing my woman friends left and right. Is it a life-cycle imperative to lose yourself in love before finding yourself?

I want to yell to all my crying female friends who are so sure that “a man will fix it all.” “It” being a deep well of loneliness, lack of self- and world-knowledge and confusion over what to do with this world/self/country. “It” being “I don’t know what to do with my life,” or “I don’t know what to do about my depression,” or maybe, “I don’t know what to do about George Bush.”

I don’t know either. All I do know is that a man won’t make it all better. Not without a lota whole lotof personal work on my end.

We need a new language, one of the 21st century that will allow people in their 20s to articulate their anxiety not as neurosis, particularly about the conundrum of finding love in the eyes of another, but as intellectualism. We need the permission in our friendship relationships to speak of what is truly wrongor right, for that matterrather than using dating as life-defining conversation filler.

Someone needs to start throwing you-just-made-it-through-an-enormous-life-crisis parties or he’s-out-of-your-hair-and-you-can-be-with-yourself-again parties, instead of just engagement parties. Sobriety parties,
never-had-an-addiction-to-begin-with parties, I-finally-found-a-passion-in-life parties, I-survived-a-year-on-my-own parties.

Congratulations need to be doled out where they are truly due.

Victory of a Blessing


There are times in our lives where after periods of struggle and conflict, we seek peace and quiet.

As life would have it, the term of tranquility is short, but we can emerge
from these times strengthened both physically and spiritually.

“Vayeshev Ya’akov — And Jacob settled down in the land where his ancestors had sojourned….”

The opening words of this week’s reading elicited the following comment from our sages: Just when Jacob sought tranquility, the crisis of Joseph erupts.

Jacob, our quintessential ancestor, is indeed a lifelong wrestler. Even before he is born, he is portrayed as wrestling in the womb with his twin brother, Esau.

In fact, his very name, Ya’akov, refers to an ancient wrestling technique. It means one who can strike at the Achilles’ heel of his opponent and cripple him, even while lying on the ground with the enemy’s heel at his own throat. Throughout his life, Jacob will constantly wrestle, and even in his final moments, we find him wrestling with Joseph, his favored son, in order to reverse the blessings between his two Egyptian-born grandsons.

Jacob will become “Israel” as a result of another wrestling match — this time against a mysterious, divine opponent. In this case, all commentaries seem to agree that we are confronted with a profoundly significant metamorphosis. Jacob becomes Israel.

When the patriarch finally succeeds in breaking the grip of the angel and achieves the upper hand, the angel begs to be released, and Jacob utters these famous words: “I will not release you until you grant me your blessing.” These words articulate an authentically Jewish value all too often overlooked.

According to 18th century Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico, heroic thinking in the classical Mediterranean world defined victory as the killing of one’s opponent, which could be restated as:

“Might makes right.” Jacob and the meaning of Chanukah, incidentally, offer us a radically different definition of victory.

Perhaps it could best be expressed as: “Right makes might.” For the Jew, victory must mean receiving a blessing from the enemy, converting him into an ally.

The modern State of Israel never celebrated any of its stunning military victories with parades, parties, celebrations, dancing, etc., as do all other nations on earth.

The late Golda Meir said that we cannot celebrate, because our children had to kill and be killed. The only instance when we witnessed such a great wave of joy in Israel was when the enemy came to bless; i.e., when the late President Anwar Sadat of Egypt came to Israel, extending recognition and the offer of peace.

Sadly, Jacob/Israel must always be alert and ready to take up arms against the “violent hands” of Esau the hunter in order to survive.

As Edmond Jabes, one of the greatest 20th century Jewish writers, remarked concerning the Jewish people: “How inventive his means, how diligent his metamorphosis, deduce, adapt, plan, he can be hounded but not destroyed; Half man, half bird, half fish, half ghost, there is always one half which escapes the hangman…. ”

Our survival can be attributed in great measure to our adaptability but also to our inner spiritual victories.

David Baron is rabbi of the Temple of the Arts at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills.

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