The roadmap to freedom from debt


JoAnneh Nagler and her husband know firsthand how destructive financial debt can be to a relationship.

“Our first marriage wasn’t able to withstand the financial pressure of [nearly $20,000 of] debt, so we divorced,” said Nagler, author of the book “The Debt-Free Spending Plan.” 

When she and her ex-husband remarried 14 years later, they made sure that a prenuptial agreement kept them from ever falling victim to the financial woes that destroyed their first marriage.

“We agreed that we would not engage in credit card debt, and if either one of us did, the other would not be liable. We made sure all the most important finances were laid on the table and that we employed a spending plan. Finally, we had it signed and notarized,” said Nagler, who lived for years in Los Angeles but now resides in the Northern California town of Burlingame.

Although notarizing a financial prenup might not sound like the most romantic gesture, Nagler insists that nothing helps intimacy like financial stability, trust and security.

“Relationships improve as a result of living debt-free. Your love relationship revolutionizes itself,” Nagler said. “You respect your partner more and feel more grown-up. And when you’re responsible to each other and the relationship, and honor it, then you bring more intimacy to your relationship because you’re freer with your love.”

The ascent out of debt

Many experts agree that good spending habits, as well as climbing out of debt, start with creating an easy-to-follow spending plan in the form of a chart.

Nagler recommends limiting your chart to just 10 categories to avoid making the process overwhelming. She suggests starting with the following, although you can add or delete categories based on your own spending habits: food, fuel and transportation, bills (rent, car payments, utilities, etc.), household/cleaning, clothing, beauty/grooming, drugstore, medical copays, entertainment and an extra $35 or so to cover costs if you go over in another category.

The first thing you need to do to create a spending plan is figure out how much money you have coming in each week after taxes have been removed. A general rule of thumb, according to several online financial budgeting tools, is that no more than 60 percent of one’s income each month — 50 percent, ideally — should go toward necessary bills.

The spending plan keeps track of monthly spending and sets individualized, pre-determined limits. If one category ends up costing more than anticipated, that’s OK — as long as that same amount is subtracted from another category, Nagler said.

Most experts also suggest creating an emergency fund, even when trying to pay off debt.

According to Robert Fleishman, a financial advisor at VALIC Financial Advisors Inc., in Orange, the first step of any financial plan is to create a fund for unforeseen expenses, such as major medical costs or damage to one’s car or house. Add to this fund every month, no matter what — even when trying to pay off debt.

“This is short-term savings invested in a money market account or checking account. It should contain no less than three to six months of monthly basic living expenses,” Fleishman said. 

But, it’s important to note that the savings figure varies, depending on the stability of income for an individual. “Someone who has a steady income, like a teacher or member of law enforcement, would require a smaller fund,” Fleishman said, “while someone who’s self-employed would require a larger emergency fund.”

The next step to getting out of debt — and staying out — is to write down every purchase, no matter how small. This includes the $2.50 you might be charged for taking money out of an ATM that isn’t affiliated with your bank. Writing everything down takes some getting used to, but it’s key to keeping track of and controlling your spending, Nagler said.

A common spending trap

Social spending is a common trap for those trying to save money or get out of debt. Drinks with friends, birthday dinners, late-night food truck stops and concerts can all add up — especially when you consider the cost of transportation, clothing and the requisite gift-giving that comes with some of these occasions.

Financial advisors stress that extravagant social spending isn’t worth the monetary headache.

“Yes, it’s possible to still have a social life while trying to get out of debt — it just needs to be done responsibly,” Nagler said. “Set aside some cash each month and make sure you plan, rather than spontaneously head out to drinks three times in a week. For example, my husband and I don’t go out too much if we have an upcoming dinner. And you can always do drinks instead of dinner if it’s necessary to get out of the house.”

Both Nagler and Fleishman agree that you also have to be honest with your friends and family about what you can and can’t afford.

“If you’re going out with wealthier friends, set a price limit on dinner. That way there are no hidden expectations. Most people are very understanding and supportive of friends and family who are committed to financial security. You just have to be honest and thoughtful,” Nagler said.

It’s also important not to be afraid of the stigma of being considered “poor” or “cheap.”

“People can take comfort in knowing that there’s no greater freedom and peace of mind than from being free of debt. That freedom will have a positive impact on a person’s health, longevity, family and social relationships,” Fleishman said.

Social spending gets trickier when it involves family. It’s important to set firm limits on spending and not fall prey to familial pressure to spend money on events  such as weddings and other milestones.

“People feel pressure to create the perfect ‘event of a lifetime’: weddings, anniversary parties, bar mitzvahs, quinceañeras — you have to get rid of that expectation,” Nagler said. “Don’t refinance the house for a kid’s wedding. It’s that simple.”

Cash or credit?

While there is no consensus on the best place to put your money, nor on the best way to pay for things, it’s important to spend consciously and responsibly.

“Placing large purchases on credit cards sponsored by airlines is fine on occasion,” Fleishman said. “The mileage perks can be truly valuable, but you must avoid falling into the trap of paying only the minimum monthly balance as you go.”

Nagler, on the other hand, believes in paying for everything in cash. “Of course, you can use a debit card — rather than carrying large amounts of cash — as long as you keep track of the balance, but in the end they will both keep you from going into debt.”

In the end, the most important tool anyone can use to get out of debt — and stay out — is a spending plan and the determination to stick with it.

“It’s not about deprivation,” Nagler said. “It’s like a diet — you can only completely deprive yourself for so long before falling off the horse. A budget says to people ‘constriction.’ A spending plan should include setting aside money to pay for things that make life meaningful, whether that’s a date night twice a month, a yearly vacation or money for art supplies. You have to be able to enjoy life.”

Israel’s debt-ridden Hadassah hospital gets 3-month creditor reprieve


Israel's top Hadassah hospitals centre won three-month court protection from creditors on Tuesday after racking up a debt of 1.3 billion shekels ($369 million) and grappling with a week-old strike by doctors and nurses.

The crisis has cast a shadow over the flagship institution of one of the world's most prominent Jewish groups, the U.S.-based Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization, and raised questions about mismanagement at the pinnacle of Israeli health care.

Health Minister Yael German blamed most of the privately-owned Jerusalem institution's financial ailments on inflated salaries, bloated staffing levels and payment to employees for phantom working hours.

The Hadassah Medical Center has struggled to pay suppliers, and personnel received just half of their salaries last month, prompting doctors, nurses and administrative staff to go on strike a week ago and handle only births and emergencies.

“This (court) decision opens the way for us to begin a rehabilitation programme,” German told Army Radio. “The alternative was the collapse of Hadassah, and this we cannot allow.”

The Hadassah hospitals, operated in collaboration with Jerusalem's Hebrew University, tended to a million patients last year and are a major draw of medical tourism to Israel.

German said the government and what she termed the “Hadassah ladies” would each transfer 50 million shekels in emergency funding to the centre to cover part of its payroll.

“We hope to reach a point where Hadassah can stand on its own two feet,” she said. If it could not, other solutions “including nationalisation” must be explored.

The Finance Ministry said it opposed state ownership of the centre and parliament's finance committee said the matter was not on the agenda.

With one hospital in Ein Kerem in hills outside Jerusalem and another on Mount Scopus in the pre-1967 “no man's land” of the then-divided city, Hadassah has treated Jews and Arabs for over a century. It employs 800 physicians and 2,200 nurses.

A spokesman for the Histadrut labour federation said hospital staff would not return to work until they studied the Jerusalem District Court's decision, which included the appointment of a trustee, and held a meeting later on Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, nurses and staff at all of Israel's hospitals joined Hadassah colleagues in a two-hour solidarity strike.

Hadassah's chief executive, Avigdor Kaplan, told Israel Radio his top priority is to start intensive negotiations with employees. He said a small number of staff would be let go.

With the strike making front-page news in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticised Hadassah's management and accused them of assuming someone else would bail them out.

“The public will end up paying the price and we must ensure the deficit does not return,” he told a meeting of his right-wing Likud party on Monday.

$1 = 3.5200 Israeli shekels

Congress ends default threat, Obama signs debt bill


Congress approved an 11th-hour deal to end a partial government shutdown and pull the world's biggest economy back from the brink of a historic debt default that could have threatened financial calamity on Wednesday.

Capping weeks of political brinkmanship that had unnerved global markets, President Barack Obama quickly signed the spending measure, which passed the Senate and House of Representatives after Republicans dropped efforts to use the legislation to force changes in his signature healthcare law.

The White House budget office told hundreds of thousands of federal workers, the bulk of whom had been idle for the past 16 days, to be ready to return to work on Thursday.

The down-to-the-wire deal, however, offers only a temporary fix and does not resolve the fundamental issues of spending and deficits that divide Republicans and Democrats. It funds the government until Jan. 15 and raises the debt ceiling until Feb. 7, so Americans face the possibility of another bitter budget fight and another government shutdown early next year.

With the deadlock broken just a day before the Treasury said it would exhaust its ability to borrow new funds,  stocks surged on Wednesday, nearing an all-time high. Share markets in Asia also cheered the deal.

Taking the podium in the White House briefing room on Wednesday night, Obama said that with final congressional passage, “We can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty and unease from our businesses and from the American people.”

“Hopefully next time it won't be in the 11th hour. We've got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis,” Obama said. He outmaneuvered Republicans by holding firm in defense of “Obamacare” to win agreement, with few strings attached, to end the 16-day shutdown.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said “the global economy dodged a potential catastrophe” with congressional approval of the deal to raise the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling.

The standoff between Republicans and the White House over funding the government forced the temporary lay-off of hundreds of thousands of federal workers from Oct. 1 and created concern that crisis-driven politics was the “new normal” in Washington.

While essential functions like defense and air traffic control continued during the crisis, national parks and agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency have been largely closed.

Senator John McCain, whose fellow Republicans triggered the crisis with demands that the Democratic president's “Obamacare” healthcare reform law be defunded, said earlier on Wednesday the deal marked the “end of an agonizing odyssey” for Americans.

“It is one of the most shameful chapters I have seen in the years I've spent in the Senate,” said McCain, who had warned Republicans not to link their demands for Obamacare changes to the debt limit or government spending bill. Polls showed Republicans took a hit in public opinion over the standoff.

In the end, the Democratic-led Senate overwhelmingly passed the measure on a 81-18 vote, and the Republican-controlled House followed suit 285 to 144. Obama signed the 35-page bill just after midnight.

POLITICAL DYSFUNCTION

Although the deal would only extend borrowing authority until the first week of February, the Treasury Department would have tools to temporarily extend its borrowing capacity beyond that date if Congress failed to act early next year. But such techniques eventually run out.

In addition to lifting the federal debt limit, the deal calls for creating a House-Senate bipartisan commission to try to come up with long-term deficit-reduction ideas that would have to be approved by the full Congress. Their work would have to be completed by Dec. 13, but some lawmakers say the panel faces an extremely difficult task.

The agreement also includes some income verification procedures for those seeking subsidies under the 2010 healthcare law. But it was only a modest concession to Republicans, who surrendered on their latest attempt to delay or gut the healthcare package or include major changes, including the elimination of a medical device tax.

The congressional vote signaled a temporary ceasefire between Republicans and the White House in the latest struggle over spending and deficits that has at times paralyzed both decision-making and basic functions of government.

The political dysfunction has worried allies and creditors such as China, the biggest foreign holder of U.S. debt, and raised questions about the impact on America's prestige. The Treasury has said it risks hurting the country's reputation as a safe haven and stable financial center.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced the fiscal agreement on the Senate floor earlier on Wednesday, and its passage was eased when the main Republican critic of the deal, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, said he would not use procedural moves to delay a vote.

The agreement stacked up as a political achievement for Obama, who refused to negotiate on changes to the healthcare law, and a defeat for Republicans, who were driven by Tea Party conservatives in their ranks and suffered a backlash in public opinion polls.

There was no immediate sign that House Speaker John Boehner's leadership position was at risk despite having conceded defeat in the budget battle.

Several Republican lawmakers suggested he may have strengthened his standing among the rank-and-file, who gave him a standing ovation at an afternoon meeting.

But Cruz, a Tea Party-backed senator with 2016 presidential aspirations, denounced the fiscal accord as a “terrible deal” and accused fellow Republicans of giving in too easily in their bid to derail Obamacare.

Obama's Democrats avoided claims of victory. “The bottom line is, millions suffered, millions didn't get pay checks, the economy was dragged down,” said Senator Charles Schumer. “This is not a happy day, it is a somber day.”

The fight over Obamacare rapidly grew into a brawl over the debt ceiling, threatening a default that global financial organizations warned could throw the United States back into recession and cause a global economic disaster.

Fitch Ratings had warned on Tuesday that it could cut the U.S. sovereign credit rating from AAA, citing the political brinkmanship over raising the debt ceiling.

A resolution to the crisis cannot come soon enough for many companies. American consumers have put away their wallets, at least temporarily, instead of spending on big-ticket items like cars and recreational vehicles.

“We're sort of 'crises-ed' out,” said Tammy Darvish, vice president of DARCARS Automotive Group, a family-run company that owns 21 auto dealerships in the greater Washington area.

U.S. nears deal for $1 billion in Egypt debt relief, a senior U.S. official says


The Obama administration is close to a deal with Egypt's new government for $1 billion in debt relief, a senior U.S. official said on Monday, as Washington seeks to help Cairo shore up its ailing economy in the aftermath of its pro-democracy uprising.

U.S. diplomats and negotiators for Egypt's new Islamist president Mohamed Mursi – who took office in June after the country's first free elections – were working to finalize an agreement, the official said.

Progress on the aid package, which had languished during Egypt's 18 months of political turmoil, appears to reflect a cautious easing of U.S. suspicions about Mursi and a desire to show economic goodwill to help keep the longstanding U.S.-Egyptian partnership from deteriorating further.

The United States was a close ally of Egypt under ousted autocratic President Hosni Mubarak and gives $1.3 billion in military aid a year to Egypt plus other assistance.

Obama ultimately called for Mubarak to step down as he faced mass protests in early 2011 but the U.S. president was criticized for taking too long to assert U.S. influence.

Washington, long wary of Islamists, shifted policy last year to open formal contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood, the group behind Mursi's win. Mursi formally resigned from the group after his victory.

Analysts say that one way the United States could influence the direction of policy in Egypt, a nation at the heart of Washington's regional policy since a peace treaty was signed with Israel in 1979, would be through economic support as Cairo tries to stave off a balance of payments and budget crisis.

Obama first pledged economic help for Cairo last year. Obstacles remained to completing the debt relief deal – which is reported to involve a mix of debt payment waivers and complicated “debt swaps” – and it was not immediately clear when an agreement might be announced.

But even as the negotiations proceeded in Cairo, Washington has also signaled its backing for a $4.8 billion loan that Egypt is seeking from the International Monetary Fund and which it hopes to secure by the end of the year to bolster its stricken economy. IMF chief Christine Lagarde visited Cairo last month to discuss the matter.

Egypt's military-appointed interim government had been negotiating a $3.2 billion package before it handed power to Mursi on June 30. Mursi's government then increased the request.

Lagarde said the IMF would look at fiscal, monetary and structural issues, promising that the IMF would be a partner in “an Egyptian journey” of economic reform.

Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Todd Eastham and Eric Walsh

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.”

With the Center for Jewish History debt free, its founding chairman steps down


One night back in 1985, businessman Bruce Slovin was walking home from a corporate board meeting with a lawyer named Joe Greenberger when Greenberger asked him about his involvement in the Jewish world.

Slovin responded that he wasn’t at all active, so Greenberger invited him to attend the next board meeting of YIVO, the research institute in New York on East European Jewry and Yiddish.

Slovin, who had recently lost his grandfather and father, attended the meeting and found himself spellbound.

“There was sitting my grandfather and father, who had just died—another Shlomo and a Yaakov,” he said, invoking his father and grandfather’s names.

“They were smoking with cigarettes like this”—he said, making an overhand gesture with his own Parliament cigarette. “They would drink schnapps after they had the board meeting. They were great storytellers. My father and grandfather were alive again.”

The flash of nostalgia set Slovin, a Brooklyn native, on a course that led to his joining the board of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and ultimately becoming the founding chairman of the Center for Jewish History in New York.

The center is a partnership of five historical organizations: the American Jewish Historical Society, the American Sephardi Federation, the Leo Baeck Institute, the Yeshiva University Museum and YIVO. It features the largest repository of Jewish historical artifacts in the Diaspora, with an impressive building near New York’s Union Square that contains 100 million artifacts and documents, and a library with half a million volumes.

More than 250 people gathered May 10 at a dinner to fete Slovin, 75, as he steps down as the center’s chairman.

The gala, held on the occasion of the center’s 10th anniversary, served as an opportunity to recognize the New Yorker’s lead role in the long, bumpy road to creating the center and putting it on sound financial footing.

An event that raised $1.2 million for the center also featured the unveiling of a stone plaque engraved with Slovin’s profile that will hang in its lobby.

“There would be no Center for Jewish History without Bruce Slovin,” Michael Glickman, the center’s chief operating officer, told JTA.

After attending that first board meeting in 1985, Slovin was shocked to discover that the documents in the YIVO archives were not well preserved.

“I saw these records degrading. There was no proper humidification, the warehouses were a mess,” he said. “We were broke all the time; that’s all we could afford.”

Slovin, then the president of MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings and of the Revlon Group, was soon installed as YIVO chairman. He began to push the often-resistant board to sell the building and move to a lower-priced area.

Greenberger, however, was thinking bigger: He suggested bringing in other Jewish organizations.

The idea for the Center for Jewish History was born.

Between 1994 and 2000, when the center opened to the public, Slovin had raised $67 million using strategies that many at the gala joked were “unique.”

“He came to my office and asked me for money,” Simon Ziff, whose name now adorns the center’s Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogical Institute, told JTA at the gala. “I’m not a big giver, but Bruce is tireless.”

“I was astounded by the amount of time he put into this venture,” added Ted Mirvis, co-chair of the board of trustees for Yeshiva University Museum and secretary of the center’s board of directors, at the gala.

Slovin, who received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Cornell University and a law degree from Harvard, had honed his ability to raise money as a child. He was so adept that eventually he was banned from a fundraising competition for planting trees in British Mandate Palestine because he won so often.

Despite his prowess, the center faced consistent financial difficulties. In 2007 there was controversy over a proposed takeover by New York University of the financially troubled center.

More recently, the Forward reported that Slovin was asked to step down from the YIVO board amid a string of painful layoffs. Slovin described the story as untrue and “dead wrong.”

The center also faced accusations of mismanagement and detractors who questioned its very raison d’etre.

Among the critics was Jonathan Sarna, the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and a prominent historian of American Judaism. Sarna repeatedly called for the center to be dissolved into its constituent parts.

But Sarna, among others, reconsidered his position with the announcement in January that the center had raised more than $30 million in 15 months from 22 donors—allowing it to wipe out its debts for the first time.

In February, Sarna called the center one of the most important Jewish archives in the world.

“Now that it’s financially viable,” he said, “it’s perfectly clear that it has found a place.”

Slovin points to the academic’s endorsement as a benchmark for the center.

It is this relative peace from debtors and critics that has allowed “everyone to relax a little bit,” he said, and made him comfortable with stepping down as chairman.

The chair will pass to William Ackman and Joseph Steinberg, who together led the recent capital campaign and were its largest donors.

While he will remain on the center’s board and as YIVO’s chairman, Slovin plans to focus on his business, the real estate and financial holdings company 1 Eleven Associates, as well as bringing in more scholars to the center and writing its history.

“Bruce doesn’t claim to be a scholar,” Mirvis said, “but he understands the needs of scholars.”

Hearing this, Slovin smiles wryly.

“I’m just smart enough to understand the need to have a history,” he said. “As a people as valuable to human kind as the Jewish people are, it seemed dead wrong not to have as much of history as we can save—and we have tons more work to do.”

Milken JCC board rejects Federation offer


The future of the The New JCC at Milken in West Hills, which serves thousands of Jews in the West Valley, including 125 preschoolers and 700 seniors, is still uncertain.

Despite a debt of $250,000 and the loss of nearly one-third of its members following the closure of its pool by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which owns the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, Milken JCC leaders chose to reject a bailout plan.

The proposal from The Federation would have required the center to surrender its right to be the major tenant on the 4-acre campus.

By a unanimous vote on Sunday, June 10, the New JCC at Milken’s executive board rejected a rescue-and-restructure plan proposed by The Federation. The plan would have provided the financially strapped center with a one-time supplemental allocation of $350,000 in return for signing a quitclaim deed relinquishing its historic right to the center.

“Nobody should believe we’re fighting for blood here against Federation. They are our brethren,” JCC Executive Board President Hal Sandler told a standing-room only crowd of almost 500 JCC members and supporters at an emergency meeting held on the Milken campus.

During the nearly two-hour gathering, members donated $54,000 toward the $250,000 needed to break even and confirmed the board’s vote by a near unanimous show of hands.

According to The Federation’s plan, the JCC could continue to operate in its present space, except for the now-closed pool and adjacent areas, until July 1, 2008. At that time, its space and budget could be greatly diminished if The Federation, currently “in discussions” with former tenant New Community Jewish High School, rents a substantial portion of the Milken campus to the school, with a possible option to buy.

Sandler and Steve Rheuban, a new center board member and former Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles president, explained that the board had no alternative but to reject the offer when The Federation refused to approve an addendum requesting a guarantee of nine early childhood education classrooms, parking for preschool parents, shared use of the gym and space for senior programs and JCC administration.

Sandler believes that if The Federation had signed the addendum, the JCC would more likely have agreed to the restructuring proposal.

Milken JCC board member Marty Hummel, who supported The Federation’s plan to
guarantee the center’s operation for one more year, changed his mind during
the meeting to allow for a unanimous vote. Afterward Hummel abruptly
resigned prior to the general meeting, where he spoke out against the vote.

Hummel and his wife, Jill, both cited concerns over their preschool child’s ability to attend the center next year. “My greatest concern is my child,” Jill Hummel said during the meeting. “If monies don’t come in there could be a chance the center might have to close for a few months. Where do these children go?”

Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon and vice president of planning Andrew Cushnir, neither of whom had authorization from The Federation’s board to approve the addendum, left the meeting after the JCC board turned down the proposal. In previous interviews, they have consistently reiterated The Federation’s support for continued services for seniors and preschoolers in the West Valley.

While the JCC has struggled financially for years, one ongoing stream of funding was cut on April 25 when The Federation closed the pool with little advance notice, citing possible mold problems. But even prior to this date, on April 11, The Federation had already requested and been issued a permit by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to demolish and fill in the pool, a step taken to cover all possible work scenarios, according to Dragon.

Dragon said the JCC’s financial difficulties predate the closing of the pool and the timing was merely coincidental. She and Cushnir maintain that the JCC, which is the third-largest local recipient of Federation funding, receives on average $1.3 million a year, including program funding, occasional supplemental allocations and “rent subvention,” which covers maintenance, utilities and security costs. The Federation provides 34 percent of the JCC’s budget, Dragon said, while nationally Federation support averages 12 to 15 percent of a JCC’s budget.

Up to now, the New JCC at Milken has avoided closure and selling off its property, the fate of many former Los Angeles JCCs, because of its unique history.

Founded in 1969 as the West Valley Jewish Community Center, it bought and moved to its current site, a former horse ranch consisting of a cottage and a converted garage on four and a half acres, in 1976. Unable to afford construction, the JCC parent organization, in a complicated deal signed in 1984 and reaffirmed in 2004, deeded the property to The Jewish Federation, retaining “primary use of the real property.”

The Federation purchased an adjoining acre and a half and raised the $15 million needed to build the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, completed in 1987 and refurbished in 1994 after the Northridge earthquake. In 1999, the $4.5 million Ferne Milken Youth & Sports Complex was dedicated, adding a 12,000-square-foot gymnasium, an Olympic-sized pool and a fitness center.

“We’re asking you to support us,” Sandler told Sunday’s audience. “This is your pool, this is your building, this is your center.”

Most members supported the JCC during the meeting, but voiced concerns about financial accountability, management, open communication and viability of the services, especially the preschool, summer camps and pool.

“We have a lot of financial problems and some mismanagement. Nobody’s denying that,” former JCC president Bonnie Rosenthal said.

She and many board members trace the JCC’s financial distress to the dissolution of the parent organization. “When JCCGLA broke up, we were left with a lot of debt,” she said.

Some, like Maureen Sloan, who joined with her husband for the pool and fitness center, felt betrayed by both the JCC and The Federation.

Briefs: The Milken JCC pool; Valley Cities JCC fundraiser; Iran divestment bill moving forward


Federation Asks Milken JCC to Relinquish Property Rights

With little notice, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles closed the Olympic-sized swimming pool at The New JCC at Milken on April 25, citing possible mold damage but having already been issued a permit on April 11 by the City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to demolish and fill in the pool.

Now The Federation appears to have more extensive plans for the financially troubled JCC, offering them a one-time supplemental allocation of $350,000 in return for signing a quitclaim deed relinquishing their historic right to be the major tenant on the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills.

After June 30, 2008, the JCC’s space and budget could be greatly diminished as The Federation intends to rent the space to former tenant New Community Jewish High School, giving them a substantial portion of the Milken campus.

In response to that proposal, which was faxed to the JCC on May 22, the JCC board of directors has scheduled a membership meeting on Sunday, June 10, 2 p.m., to present and vote on The Federation’s rescue plan. Prior to that meeting, however, JCC officials are hoping to raise $500,000, giving them the ability to consider other options.

“We have a lot of financial problems and some mismanagement. Nobody’s denying that,” former JCC president Bonnie Rosenthal said. “But we do serve people and it seems that Federation is not interested in the people we serve.”

Those people include 125 preschoolers, many from single-parent, working-parent and immigrant families who depend on the extended daycare hours. Additionally, the JCC serves more than 700 seniors who come for classes, cultural events and fitness programs.

Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon said that it is a coincidence that the pool closure happend at the same time as the JCC’s financial distress. She added that The Federation wants to see the best communal use of the property and intends to work with the JCC to continue a downsized version of its early childhood and senior programs.

Dragon and Andrew Cushnir, Federation vice president of planning, said that without signing the quitclaim deed, the JCC will not receive supplemental funding and, like all Federation agencies, must apply for a 2008 allocation, with no guarantee.

“The JCC is losing members in droves because of the pool closure and the lack of information that Federation is giving out,” said Marty Rosenthal, JCC treasurer and past president.

Meanwhile, the pool remains closed with no set demolition date.

— Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor

Valley Cities JCC Holds Fundraiser

In what could be a last hurrah, the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center (JCC) will hold a BBQ social on Sunday, June 10, 2-7 p.m., complete with a bounce house for children, face painting, bands and silent auction. The entrance fee is $10.

The center, which uses property owned by the Jewish Community Centers Development Corp., is facing closure as soon as June 15. The development corporation had agreed in principle to a Burbank philanthropist’s $2.7 million offer to buy the property and turn it over to Valley Cities JCC. But in April everything fell apart.

“We keep making them offers, and they just keep turning their backs on us,” said Michael Brezner, the center’s board chair. “They are not nice people.”

The BBQ is part fundraiser, part public relations initiative.

“We want people to know we are here. We want to stay,” said Lori Brockman, a concerned parent who helped organize the event.

Valley Cities JCC is in Sherman Oaks at 13164 Burbank Blvd. For more information, call (818) 786-6310.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer

Iran Divestment Bill Passes Assembly Appropriation Committee

[SACRAMENTO] — A proposed California State Assembly bill that would require state pension funds to divest an estimated $24 billion from more than 280 companies doing business with Iran, took one step closer to become law on May 31 after being approved by the Assembly’s Appropriation Committee.

The bill, also known as AB 221, was first introduced by freshman Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) and unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee on April 24. Anderson has said the primary goal of the legislation is to secure the California Public Employees Retirement and the State Teachers Retirement pensions with wise investment strategies, since both are valued at nearly $400 billion and funded by taxpayers.

AB 221 has received wide support from 14 national and state Jewish organizations and dozens of Los Angeles-based Iranian Muslim groups opposed to Iran’s regime, as an economic means to bring down the already crippled Iranian economy. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a Washington D.C.-based pro-Iran lobby as well as the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have been the only groups opposing AB 221. The Assembly will have a final vote on the bill in the first week of June and supporters said they expect it to become law by January 2008.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Passover Rescue


Five months ago, Beatrice Ballageure was struggling to make ends meet as a single, 47-year-old Jewish woman living in the capital city of an economically depressed Argentina. She had lost her job several months earlier, but she owned her own apartment and had enough money in the bank to afford basic expenses. She had friends with jobs, and she knew she could rely on her family if real trouble ever came.

Then the bottom fell out of Argentina’s economy.

The president announced that the country was defaulting on its public debt, the peso was devalued and immediately went into a free-fall, unemployment surged to 22 percent and the government froze all bank accounts, cutting off millions of Argentines from their life savings. In addition, food riots broke out, and the president, along with three of his successors, resigned.

Suddenly, Ballageure was out of options.

Last week, Ballageure found herself in a food line at Buenos Aires’ Jewish community center, waiting for a handout of basic foodstuffs for Passover. Over the course of three months, her sister had moved to Israel, all but two of her friends had lost their jobs and the few pesos she had left in the bank had been frozen and was rapidly shrinking in value. On top of that, she needed food to eat for the holiday.

“I was middle class,” said Ballageure, clutching her handbag in line at the Asociacian Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), Buenos Aires’ central Jewish community facility. “Now I have no class.”

Ballageure is just one of the tens of thousands of Jews — and millions of Argentines — who find themselves out of money and out of luck this Passover season. For Argentina’s once-wealthy Jewish community, estimated at 250,000, the trappings of wealth remain, but the money is gone.

Unaccustomed to their sudden impoverishment, many of Argentina’s new Jewish poor are too ashamed to ask for help. However, their community leaders are sounding the alarm, and U.S. Jews have begun to respond.

Earlier this month, Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the North American Boards of Rabbis, and Dr. Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), led a group of a dozen rabbis on a two-day mission to Buenos Aires to meet with Argentine Jewish leaders and figure out how to distribute approximately $100,000 in relief aid for the purchase of Passover food.

The funds were raised for Argentina’s Jews by nearly 70 synagogues across North America, including several in the Los Angeles area: Sinai Temple, Temple Kol Tikvah, Stephen S. Wise Temple, Kehillat Israel, Adat Ari El, Valley Beth Shalom and Congregation Kol Ami.

“It’s like [Manhattan’s] Upper East Side suddenly went belly-up,” said Schneier of the plight of Argentine Jewry. “They still have their nice clothes and expensive homes, but they suddenly have no money to buy food and can’t make their monthly maintenance payments. It’s unbelievable.”

Bypassing the usual Jewish communal charity mechanisms, the group delivered the money directly to 32 synagogues in Argentina, many of which have had to open soup kitchens to feed their members. The checks were cashed at exchange centers rather than banks — where withdrawals are severely restricted — and the Argentine synagogues used the cash to buy food that was distributed to congregants and other needy Jews before the holiday.

Rabbi Steven Jacobs, spiritual leader of Woodland Hills’ Temple Kol Tikvah, took part in the mission, and he brought checks from the seven Southern California synagogues.

The swift fundraising operation was a way of fulfilling the mitzvah of maot hitim, giving food to the poor for Passover, said Schneier, the group’s president. “Usually we give maot hitim before Passover to poor Jews in New York,” said Schneier, who is the rabbi of Hampton Synagogue in Long Island, N.Y. “But when we focused this year on the issue of maot hitim, we knew there was a community of deep financial need in Argentina.”

Last month, the United Jewish Communities pledged $40 million in emergency aid for Argentine relief, $35 million of which is being allocated to aid Argentine aliyah and absorption in Israel, under the auspices of the Jewish Agency, and $5 million of which is being spent locally in Argentina, under the aegis of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Dr. Bernardo Kliksberg, president of the Human Development Commission of the Latin-American Jewish Congress, said Argentina’s woes pose nothing less than a problem of “physical survival” for the country’s Jews. “This community has no [financial] resources,” he said in Buenos Aires. “There are 50,000 poor Jews in Argentina, and only 20,000 have the protection of the Jewish community. Today we have a problem of the survival of Jews and of the Argentine Jewish community.”

“We came so that when we say in our homes on Passover behind closed doors, ‘Whoever is hungry, let them come and eat,’ we will not be lying,” said Singer, explaining the timing of the rabbis’ trip.

“It’s only a beginning,” Singer said. “We shall return.”

The Complete Bar/Bat Mitzvah


America’s largest bagel chain finds itself in the hole.
The Einstein/Noah Bagel Corp., which owns 539 bagel shops across the United States, announced last month that it won’t be able to pay off a $125 million debt and may haveto shut down unless it finds new financing. Other bagel makers are in similar straits, victims partly of overexpansion but mainly of changing American tastes, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The popularity of bagels took off about a decade ago, when health and weight-conscious consumers soughta substitute for the high-fat doughnut. An average sized plain bagel has only 1 gram of fat but 300 calories compared to a chocolate glazed doughnut’s 14 grams of fat and 260 calories.

Shawn Kearns, manager of research for Einstein Bros. Bagels in Golden, Colo., inspects a batch of freshly baked beauties. As supermarkets, doughnut chains and coffeehouses offer bagels and consumers quit worrying about fat grams, bagel bakery chains are finding themselves with more storesdoing less business.

With booming economic times, however, and few signs that past diet regimens have notably slimmed the American figure, consumers are ready to live it up, say the experts. “Americans are either tired of experts telling them what’s good or bad for them, or they’re just too tired to care,” notes the Times.Giving weight to the analysis is the fact that while Noah shut down 14 of its stores last year, doughnut chains such as Krispy Kreme and Winchell’s are opening up new locations at a record pace.

To some extent, the chain’s stores became victims of their own success, with convenient supermarkets, doughnut shops, and coffee joints like Starbucks jumping in and offering bagels to their customers.The company was formed in March 1995 through the combination of four leading regional bagel retailers Brackman Brothers Bagel Bakery in Salt Lake City, Bagel & Bagel in Kansas City, Offerdahl’s BagelGourmet in Fort Lauderdale and Baltimore Bagel Co. of San Diego.

Collecting an Unpaid Debt


Campus organizations often go overlooked or get taken for granted by students and alumni alike. Hillel at Pierce and Valley Colleges has those problems — and then some. Try serving thousands of students on multiple campuses with a small staff and a smaller budget. And from an office in a strip mall, no less. That’s precisely what Nomi Gordon does as director of the Pierce and Valley Hillel.

“The Hillel at the community colleges nurtures the Jewish students who go on to be effective leaders at their future campuses,” Gordon said. “Many of our students transfer to CSUN or UCLA and continue to build on the foundation we’ve given them. That’s why our presence is so important, especially as more students see the benefits of beginning their [post-high school] education at a two-year college. And in order to be a better presence, we need to be raising more funds.”

To that end, the organization will host its biggest fund-raiser of the year, Comedy Nite ’99, at Pierce College’s Performing Arts Theater, on Saturday, Jan. 30. Director and actor Richard Kline, best known for his role as “Larry” on the ABC sitcom “Three’s Company,” will be honored for his contributions of time and talent to Stephen S. Wise Temple and Milken Community High School. The evening will also feature comedians Wendy Kamenoff and Steve Mittleman, as well as a silent auction and raffle.

Currently, Hillel at Pierce and Valley Colleges is housed in Corbin Village, a strip mall on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills. The corner office is deceptively spacious, with offices for Gordon and a part-time office manager, another for a student intern, a library/conference room, a kosher-style kitchen and a large room that doubles as a meeting hall and sanctuary. In addition to Gordon and the two part-time employees, the organization also employs a rabbinic intern.

Together, the small staff works to serve a combined population of 3,500 Jewish students from the two campuses (plus an additional 500 at Moorpark College) on a shoestring budget of $150,000 a year. In comparison, UCLA Hillel has an operating budget of $540,000 for 5,000 students, according to Eitan Ginsburg, associate executive director for the Los Angeles Hillel Council. Of that total, UCLA Hillel is able to raise about $365,000 on its own, while the Pierce/Valley Hillel ekes out about $16,000 through donations, relying mostly on grants from the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance.

“UCLA Hillel has the advantage of being attached to a prominent university,” Ginsburg said. “It is also the largest and oldest campus organization, with a well-respected leader, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, who has been there for 23 years.

“Students at Los Angeles community colleges have different needs than at a four-year university. Still, we would like to see all of our units grow. There isn’t a single staff at any campus, including UCLA, that is at full capacity right now, and that’s purely a function of budget.”

According to Gordon, raising funds at the community college level is made more challenging by the surrounding universities.

“We work with students for only about two years, and then they move on,” she said. “By and large, their allegiance is to the school where they get their four-year degree. I would love to be able to establish a better connection with our alumni because so many of them grew through their involvement [in Hillel], and now they could have the opportunity to give something back.”

Last year, Hillel at Pierce and Valley Colleges raised almost $9,000 with Comedy Nite. This year, it hopes to surpass that figure, according to Scott Svonkin, chair of development for the organization and a member of the Los Angeles Hillel Council board.

Svonkin said that there is still room for donations to the event’s silent auction and for sponsors.

For more information or to obtain tickets, call (818) 887-5901.