Hacker releases Israelis’ personal data

A hacker has released credit card and other personal data of dozens of Israelis and is threatening to leak more.

The hacker published the information on the website Remember Emad, referring to the operational chief of Hezbollah, Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed Feb. 12, 2008 in Damascus by a car bomb. Hezbollah blames his killing on Israel. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in the hit.

The hacker on Wednesday released credit card numbers, Facebook passwords, copies of checks and identification numbers of dozens of Israelis. It also released the database of The Israeli Presidential Conference, an annual program hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres.

The information comes from WebGate, an Israeli data center, the hacker reported on the website. The hacker reports, “We have terabytes of data from WebGate, but uploading the whole chunk of data on our servers will take time, so we decided to publish them gradually.”

In January, Saudi Arabian hackers published the credit card information and personal data of thousands of Israelis. Many of the cards were expired or the numbers were repeated on several lists.

Survey: EU hate crimes monitors lack reliable data

More than half of the nongovernmental organizations monitoring hate crimes in the European Union have no working definition for what constitutes a hate crime, according to a new survey.

The survey was conducted in the form of a questionnaire answered by representatives of 44 watchdog NGOs from across the EU. The results are to be released at a conference on hate crime registration in the EU sponsored by the Brussels-based CEJI: A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe, scheduled to end on April 19, exactly one month after a Muslim extremist killed a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France.

The lacunas exposed in the survey correspond with flawed registration by EU governments, according to CEJI director Robin Sclafani.

“The killings in Toulouse are a tragic reminder that hate crimes continue to grow unabated in Europe,” Sclafani said.

Of the 44 NGOs surveyed, 27 reported that they had no system to verify complaints. Seventeen did not share information with police.

The survey and conference is part of a larger project titled Facing Facts! to help watchdogs become more effective.

“There is an overall paucity of reliable data on hate crimes in the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] area, which impedes the formulation of effective policy responses,” Sclafani said. She noted that only 12 EU members collect “good or comprehensive” data, according to the 2010 Fundamental Rights Agency Report.

The Facing Facts! project is a partnership between CEJI and the Dutch gay rights center COC. Other partners include the British and Dutch Jewish communities’ watchdogs on anti-Semitism: respectively the Community Security Trust and the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel.

Staying Supple

Leo Cohen wanted to see my PalmPilot.

“How do you put in the data?” he asked.

We were just completing our pre-fast family dinner, and I’d taken out my snazzy, whiz-bang electronic calendar to demonstrate it to Leo’s son-in-law, Sam, an astronomer who gets his data from the sky, not from bytes in his Palm.

But if Sam was blasé, Leo was emphatic.

Leo is 93. He could hardly see the potato on his plate next to the chicken. He has a hearing aid. He had two valve-replacement surgeries, for starters.

This man is anything but turned off. I’d been speaking to Sam in a low-pitched voice I hoped was below Leo’s radar screen, to spare the man frustration. Yet I had underestimated his interest, his tolerance for new ideas. Leo, with a look that said ‘Don’t count me out,’ read me loud and clear.

I explained that I type the information into my computer, and then transfer it electronically.

“How do you put in the data?” he repeated, still not satisfied. He immediately reached for the Palm, examining its buttons, fingering the stylus, the thin inkless pen that lets me write on the portable screen. The tiny typeface embarrassed me, with its blatantly discouraging “Do Not Enter” for those with limited sight. Though Leo couldn’t see the print, he got the principle. Funny, the Palm wasn’t so newfangled after all. It was just an updated version of the old plastic film scratch pads we’d had when we were children. With the pride of a man who had grasped a new technology, Leo was content.

It was a night for lessons. The topic arose, was Leo fasting?

“Yes!” he said.

“No!” said his daughters, Margie and Cindy, together.

I, trying to play peacemaker, rushed in with the voice of tradition. I explained, as if he’d just started celebrating Yom Kippur this year rather than before Henry Ford, that the rabbis say you don’t have to fast if it jeopardizes your health. I figured such excuses would have pleased me by getting me off the hook; maybe it would help him.

But Leo gave us that same withering look: “Don’t count me out.” He knew all about the rabbis and their opinions, and a lot more. Only when he made it clear that he’d fast, how and if he wanted to, did he become content. Now we went to shul, where Leo fought his entire family on the topic of his cane.

“Take it with you, Dad!” said Margie.

“Take it, Dad!” said Sam.

“Dad!’ said Cindy.

“It takes up a full seat,” said Leo, throwing the cane back into the car, like a bowling ball ready to forge a strike.

We were all dreading the evening, the terrible indignities the man could suffer without his cane. Surely he’d be unable to stand and sit with the rest of the congregation.

Fuggetaboutit. Years ago he lost his beloved wife. In his 70’s, he packed up and moved cross-country and started a new life. He had hobbies, including a new recipe for fruit compote that he made using candied pineapple. The man is supple.

Up and down, Leo stood and sat throughout the service while Cindy complained about her back and Margie and Sam discussed the philosophical distinctions between vanity and pride. Leo, who knows that attitude, not physical limits, is the true test of infirmity, was content.

The old are difficult, but so are the young. I am in the middle now, marveling at it all.

During this High Holiday period, I traveled around my community, visiting shuls and taking the temper of our time. The synagogues these days are filled with people like me, proud of our new knowledge, our trophy spirituality, our newfangled reconstruction of ancient rituals.

But we take change hard. We get irritated when the cell phone cuts off at a mountain pass. We get frustrated when the Internet service cuts out, when voice mail overfills and won’t accept more messages. We get irritated when the cantor changes the melodies and the rabbi moves Yizkor from 1 o’clock to 5 o’clock.

And that’s just the outer change. We come to shul alone now that our children are grown and gone. Our homes are filled with computers, surround-sound stereo, hardwood floors and Wolf ovens. But they are emptier, as we get ready for the next stage of life. We have completed the season of teshuvah, the period of self-reflection devoted to personal change. But it’s clear we have only scratched the surface. Life is change. Instability is the rule. Keeping steady is the challenge, for the young or old.

When I am seriously old, will I still care about the Palm Pilot 200? Will it matter that I walk to my seat under my own steam? When the rabbi says it’s all right to sit for the final “Amidah,” will I rise anyway, because I care?

As the new year proceeds back into normal rhythms, think of Leo Cohen. Stay supple.

Flawed Methodology

No one seems to believe what Pini Herman does. While all observers – particularly outside of the Orthodox community – take for granted the phenomenal growth of the Orthodox, he continues to stand behind the seriously flawed methods he used in the Los Angeles Jewish Population Survey of 1997. That’s the one that no one can believe, the one that claims that Orthodox numbers have actually declined in L.A. When his office stonewalled several requests from the Orthodox community to examine the raw data, a little skullduggery on our part turned up what really happened. The L.A. survey was not a census, but a survey of a smaller number of households, whose results are then extrapolated statistically. For that to work, you have to sample the community according to its actual composition. If 30 percent of your respondents call themselves Conservative, then you assume that the larger population also has 30 percent Conservative Jews. If your sample is off, so are your results.

That is precisely what happened. Those who made the calls got their phone numbers from two sources: random-number calls and the Federation list.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see why the Orthodox were seriously undercounted. Neither of the two methods used by the census-takers accurately measures Orthodox demographics. The first fails because the Orthodox are not uniformly spread throughout Jewish Los Angeles. They are heavily concentrated in a handful of neighborhoods. Taking a random sample from all neighborhoods seriously undercounts us.

The second sampling list – drawn from Federation sources – is even more problematic. Orthodox Jews give charitably to scores of recipient agencies, far beyond the per capita giving of other parts of the Jewish population. But Federation is not one of their favorite causes, for a variety of reasons. Using any Federation list for a general census, then, is a guarantee for undercounting the Orthodox community. And the sample takers reported that there was much greater responsiveness to their questions from members of the Federation list than the other!

Additionally, the phone method relies on the willingness of people to answer a series of questions over the phone. Ask yourself who is more willing to answer those questions on a Friday afternoon – a member of a Reform household with 1.4 children, or a mother of eight, frantically trying to finish her Shabbat preparations?

If the U.S. Census Bureau employed methods as unscientific to downgrade African American strength, there would be a congressional inquiry. Luckily for Pini Herman, it’s only Federation money he’s using.

Setting the Record Straight

As authors of the oft-cited research study titled “Will Your Grandchild Be Jewish?” we have more than a passing interest and familiarity with the Jewish demography of Los Angeles and America. The following points outline some of the fundamental flaws in the L.A. Jewish Population Survey of 1997 not reported by other respondents:

  • The L.A. survey shows an increase of Orthodox population from a maximum of 25,030 in 1979 to at least 27,878 in 1997. This increase of at least 12 percent is never directly referred to in either the L.A. survey or in demographer Pini Herman’s many public statements defending the survey. Instead, the demographic comparisons were always made by households. This allowed both the L.A. survey and Herman’s representations to obscure the growth of large, young Orthodox families that the L.A. survey itself had uncovered.

  • No previous population study (whether targeting the general population or the Jewish population) based its findings primarily on house-holds rather than individual people. Orthodox Jews generally have more people per household, but they have fewer households per person. The L.A. survey results and Herman’s defenses seemed to have been designed to mask the growth of Orthodox Jews whose numbers grew between the last two community surveys. The 1979 survey, as is typical, reported the total number of individuals, not households.

  • Additionally, the figure used to illustrate the average size of Orthodox families in the L.A. survey (2.7 persons per family) is well below what has been found elsewhere as the average size of Orthodox families.

  • The upcoming CJF 2000 national population study took pains to include Orthodox activists and scholars (including ourselves) in order to ensure an accurate count. No such efforts were made in con-nection with the L.A. survey. Besides the lack of intellectual honesty displayed, clearly the Ortho-dox denomination was placed at a disadvantage.

  • Both the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey and the 1991 New York Jewish Population Study, as well as every significant population survey over the past 20 years, have made both the raw data as well as methodologies available to interested parties after the results have been published. True social scientists have nothing to hide. In spite of repeated requests to share the raw data and methodology of the L.A. survey, Herman refused to release any information. Moreover, several calls to him remain unanswered.

The L.A. survey, spearheaded by Herman, went out of its way not to consult leaders of the Orthodox community; utilized at best an unconventional method of counting so-called respondents; and hid the growth of numbers of Orthodox Jews by counting families, not individuals. Then, to add insult to injury, Herman refused repeated requests from baffled members of the Orthodox community to check the supposed figures by examining the raw data and methodology.

Who is really trying to fool whom?

Expanded synagogues and day schools, new construction, sold-out events, mushrooming of kosher stores versus a flawed study with obscured conclusions. The question is only the rate of growth of the Orthodox community, not whether it is in fact growing.

We strongly encourage those who invested funds in the apparently flawed L.A. survey to produce, in conjunction with the CJF 2000 population study, an accurate assessment of the Los Angeles Jewish population spearheaded by a nonbiased source so that our community can deal with the real composition of Los Angeles Jewry.

Growing or Shrinking?

Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin can’t stop laughing.
No really, I tell him, according to the numbers, the Orthodox community is shrinking.
He takes a deep breath.
“I’m trying not to get upset here,” says Cunin, sovereign of West Coast Chabad for the past 36 years. “But you have to be blind to say that.
“Have you counted the kosher restaurants? The schools? And the mikvahs – just look at the mikvahs!”

Actually, I have counted, and the numbers are pretty impressive. About 130 kosher restaurants, bakeries and markets, 5,200 kids in Orthodox day schools and about 80 shuls, from Chasidic to liberal Orthodox. And that’s stretching from the Beverly-La Brea community all the way out to the Ventura County line in Conejo, and down through Irvine and Long Beach.

I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s in Los Angeles, and I remember the days of Nosh N’Rye and Kosher Nostra – and that was it. And that’s not even going back as far as Hartman’s, the only kosher restaurant in town till the early ’70s. There were three day schools, North Hollywood was the only Valley outpost, there were a dozen or so Orthodox shuls, and when you saw a shtreimel or even a black hat walking down the street on Shabbos, it was odd enough to make you stop and point.

And you’re telling me – and the rest of this flourishing and vibrant Orthodox community – that our numbers have shrunk since the late ’70s?
Yes, says Pini Herman, principal investigator of the 1997 Los Angeles Jewish Population Survey, presented by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Close your collective jaws and look at the evidence. In a 1979 survey, those defining themselves as Orthodox constituted 5 percent of the Los Angeles Jewish population, at 11,400 households.

Today, Orthodox households number 10,600, making up just 4 percent of the population of 248,000 Jewish households in Los Angeles, the Valley and South Bay. Compare those numbers with about 18,000 Orthodox households, out of 104,000 Jewish, in 1953.
“I can’t understand what they mean. It defies reason,” says Rabbi Gershon Bess, a leader in the Beverly-La Brea area. “On just one street, on Detroit Street, we counted, Baruch Hashem [thank God], over 200 children.”

Exactly the point, says Herman. It’s a classic case of ecological fallacy – when you are part of a community, you assume everyone is like you. “When you live in Chinatown, you think everyone is Chinese,” he says. Outsiders might also tend to overestimate the number of Orthodox Jews because they are more visible. For example, says Bruce Phillips, a sociologist who also researched the study, Americans estimate that 20 to 25 percent of the population is Jewish, when it is in fact 2 percent.

The rightward shift of Orthodoxy could explain some of the perception that more people are Orthodox – more people dress the part, and as such stand out. Still, even if the perceptions are inflated, how do you explain the number of institutions? Let’s just look at kosher restaurants.
“When I was dating in the ’60s, we had Hartman’s on Fairfax and Sixth. That was where you had business meetings, dates – that was it,” says Michelle Harlow, whose parents, Anne and the late William Bernstein, were pioneers of the Los Angeles Jewish community.

Today, there is a menu for every taste and occasion, in about six distinct geographic areas. “That just shows that the leisure activity has changed. That shows socioeconomically what the Orthodox community can afford,” counters Herman, which also might explain why attendance at Orthodox day schools has more than doubled in the last 20 years.

And, he adds, clusters of Orthodox establishments – shuls, restaurants or bookstores – can just signify a geographic shift rather than actual growth. A new mikvah in the Pico area might mean the death of one in Fairfax.

Miriam Prum Hess, director of planning and allocations at the Federation, adds another explanation for the restaurant phenomenon. Not everyone who utilizes an Orthodox establishment, whether it be a pizza shop, a mikvah or a day school, is necessarily Orthodox.

“I think we’re seeing more observance in the Conservative community, as well as the observant ethnic community of Persian Jews,” she says.
Certainly, the conservatively estimated 30,000 Persian Jews in L.A. add an interesting factor to the analysis.
Like Sephardic Jews, Persians don’t define themselves within the standard American slots of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist.
“Back home we had one monolithic community in terms of worship and belief, so we didn’t have these names,” says Rabbi David Shofet, leader of Nessah Israel Congregation, a 700-family cultural and educational center in Santa Monica. That pattern persists here, where even if observance levels differ, no one labels anyone else.

Today, many of the kosher establishments, especially on Pico, are owned by Persian Jews. “We needed the special spices and greenery, and we couldn’t get them here. That was the kernel for the huge markets like Pico Glatt and Eilat Market,” Shofet says. Persian-owned establishments have effectively changed the face of kosher cuisine in L.A. Cunin takes issue with these labels altogether. “Calling myself Orthodox doesn’t mean I am any holier and calling myself Reform doesn’t release me of the responsibility I have to God, the Torah and the Holy Land of Israel,” Cunin says. Rather, Judaism is Judaism, Torah is Torah, and people’s observance is a personal matter of where they are in their journey.

“If you approach a Chabadnik on the street and say ‘Are you Orthodox?’ they would laugh in your face,” he says. “If you asked one of the Russian immigrants who come to our schools, they would just walk away.”

My unresearched intuition is that the 1953 survey, which found about 18,000 Orthodox households in L.A., included a good number of first-generation Americans who knew only Orthodoxy from back home, who attended an Orthodox synagogue two or three times a year, who sent their kids to the only day schools around. They were more Orthodox by default than by conviction.

That might explain why the 1997 survey also found that three out of four people who say their parents were Orthodox are not now Orthodox. Perhaps it was not a meaningful Orthodox upbringing they left. Perhaps those same families who called themselves Orthodox in 1953 would call themselves Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist today.

So if the rosters have shrunk, maybe it is because they are no longer padded with people who never enjoyed a fulfilling Orthodox life. And if that is true, maybe the converse is as well. Those who define themselves as Orthodox today do so with pride and conviction, with a dedication to creating a rich, meaningful life for themselves and their children.

That is certainly true of the ba’alei teshuvah, the 30 percent of the Orthodox community who grew up outside of Orthodoxy.

A qualitatively stronger, if quantitatively smaller, community could also explain the boom in schools, eateries and shuls.

The boom goes well beyond the basics: Los Angeles is now home to an active bikur cholim society, which tends to the needs of the ill and their families; adult education for men and women at all levels; women’s tefillah groups; kollels, where the community supports men who study Torah all day long. None of these institutions is absolutely necessary.

Rather, they indicate that the community has matured beyond subsistence and is flourishing. So in the end, is their any harm in overestimating our size?

Phillips, who with Herman now runs Phillips and Herman Demographic Research, says there is grave danger.
“If they believe their own propaganda, they are going to make communal and financial decisions that endanger existing Orthodox institutions,” he says. “That means creating an overly ambitious building plan, that means you hire teachers you can’t pay. A distorted image stretches resources too thin.” And he says that can hurt not just the Orthodox but the wider commun
ity that uses the valuable services the Orthodox provide.

Meanwhile, on Pico alone, the Orthodox Union just opened a new building, YULA and Aish HaTorah are under construction and Chabad just purchased another couple of sites on Pico adjacent to its existing preschool-through-high-school buildings.

As for Rabbi Cunin; “It all depends on what kind of glasses you are wearing, what type of outcome you intended before you started,” he says. “Shrinking?” He laughs. And laughs, and laughs, and laughs.