Photo by Lynn Pelkey

Measure S asks voters: How do we do density in L.A.?


Gustavo Flores sees his fight against a local development project as a struggle for the character of his neighborhood.

In late 2014, a developer rolled out plans for four restaurants and a bar a few blocks from his Westlake home, on an intersection with three nearby schools. To Flores and his allies, it was a disaster, an example of development gone wrong. What’s more, nobody in the city establishment seemed to be listening — not the local police captain, not the neighborhood council, not Gilbert Cedillo, the city councilmember for the East Los Angeles neighborhood.

“They’re never looking out for us,” Flores said of City Hall. “They care about the people with the big bucks.”

So when he heard about Measure S, an initiative on the March 7 ballot that would restrict dense development and impose sweeping land-use reforms, he was heartened. Somebody was finally talking his language.

And it wasn’t just talk. Since last year, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), led by president Michael Weinstein, has funneled more than $4.5 million into the campaign. Effectively, Weinstein has bankrolled a conversation about how and where Los Angeles will develop, galvanizing a patchwork of neighborhood advocates into a unified front against city politicians.

But even if the measure passes, serious questions linger about what effect it will have and whether it will accomplish the goals it sets out. The most controversial item in the measure is a two-year moratorium on construction projects that use exceptions from the city to build denser than would otherwise be allowed.

Other provisions would change the way environmental impact reports are compiled and rule out the practice of “spot zoning” that allows the city to carve out parts of neighborhoods for different uses. Advocates hope these changes will help stem a rise in housing costs and bring equity to L.A. building policy.

“It’s really a matter of equality and whether or not Los Angeles is going to becoming a rich ghetto like Manhattan or San Francisco,” Weinstein told the Journal.

Consensus and contention

Few observers are thrilled with the way Los Angeles approaches housing. Most agree that outdated planning documents mean big projects proceed on a case-by-case basis, with developers approaching City Hall to bend the rules when they want to increase density.

“The city has decided that they want more density along transit corridors, but the plans don’t provide for it,” said Century City-based land-use attorney Benjamin Reznik.

He agrees with proponents of Measure S about the need to update the General Plan and 35 community plans that govern construction in L.A., but he called the initiative ill-conceived and poorly written, pointing out that it fails to provide funding for the community planning process it mandates. “It’s not going to achieve the goals they want to achieve,” he said.

Yes on S campaign director Jill Stewart described the city’s approach to land use as “piecemeal, piecemeal, piecemeal.” She argued that the process is governed through shady backroom deals, with developers rewarding politicians for approving their projects through campaign funds.

“They’re planning L.A. by which developers reward them the most,” Stewart said. “And it’s — it’s insane, really.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has loudly opposed the measure, flatly rejected the claim in an interview with the Journal.

“Outdated zoning and community plans is a real problem,” he said. “That cozy relationship is not.”

Garcetti dismissed those who paint a picture of corruption as “conspiracy theorists.” As for the fact that community plans are outdated, “Well, I didn’t need Measure S to tell me that,” he said.

In his first budget, the mayor said he put a premium on hiring city planners to accelerate the process of updating L.A.’s planning documents. Still, he estimated those plans will take six to seven years to fully update.

points-redA survey of 300 Angelenos by independent polling firm Probolsky Research found in February that 46 percent were planning to vote against Measure S while 34 percent planned on supporting it. But if it passes, Garcetti said the city would move the most outdated community plans to the front of the queue for revision in order to allow development to proceed. Nonetheless, the picture he painted is not a pretty one.

“If you think homelessness is bad now, Measure S will make it worse,” he said. “And, even though we have a prosperous economy, we will lose jobs.”

And it’s not only the mayor, but also some community activists who make the economic argument against the measure.

“It will be devastating,” said Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, an L.A.-based community-organizing group. “Millions and millions of dollars, if not hundreds of millions, will be lost.”

Brick and mortar

Measure S would mostly impact large projects that increase housing capacity, according to analysis by the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.

A small proportion of construction projects require the type of exception banned by the two-year moratorium, the analysis suggested, pegging that proportion somewhere below 27 percent. Between 2011 and 2016, that amounted to fewer than 4,000 units.

Still, “exceptions are important tools to build higher density,” the report noted, since they’re mostly used to green light larger development projects. For instance, it pointed to a complex in Reseda that houses 240 low-income people on the former site of an under-utilized church. The project would not have been allowed under Measure S. Projects like the Riverwalk at Reseda are cited as evidence that the measure would be self-defeating and actually make neighborhoods less affordable.

Critics also insist it would stymie efforts to house the homeless.

“We can’t necessarily build our way out of [the homeless] crisis, but dampening the production of more housing is going to make the problem worse,” said Amy Anderson, executive director of PATH Ventures, the development arm of People Assisting the Homeless (PATH).

But advocates say that logic is faulty since the measure would target luxury units rather than affordable ones. Grace Yoo, a community leader in Koreatown and former city council candidate, dismissed allegations that Measure S would increase rents and homelessness.

“They go, ‘Well, if you don’t build more luxury units, you’re going to cause more homelessness,’ ” she said. “And we’re going, ‘In what world is that true?’ ”

Crossed wires on homelessness

In theory, the measure’s moratorium allows low-income housing proposals to seek exceptions for zoning and height, but not amendments to the city’s General Plan.

Anderson said a review of the measure’s language by knowledgeable members of PATH’s board, including former L.A. city planning director Con Howe, found “there’s in fact not an exception for affordable housing” since many affordable housing projects require General Plan amendments to proceed. What’s more, Measure S could get in the way of Measure HHH, the $1.2 billion bond for homeless and affordable housing construction voters approved in November, she said.

Garcetti has proposed 12 city-owned properties as sites for bond building. “Eleven of those 12 would be dead in the water if S passes — they require General Plan amendments,” he said.

Weinstein’s solution is simply to look elsewhere. “There are thousands of sites across the cities where you could build housing,” he said.

Populist or pest?

To his critics, Weinstein is a busybody whose electioneering is simply a ploy to stop a construction project that would block the view from his Hollywood office. To his proponents, though, he’s a crusader for empowering community advocates over real estate barons running roughshod over their neighborhoods.

“I am grateful that there’s someone willing to stand up to the bullies of City Hall,” Yoo said of Weinstein’s efforts.

But even though AHF has put up nearly 99 percent of the funds behind Measure S, Weinstein insists the conversation should not be about him, but rather about who the city council truly represents.

“They want to make it about me because they want to change the subject,” he said of his detractors in City Hall. “Because they’re doing the bidding of the billionaires, and they don’t want that talked about.”

In April, he made an enemy of one of those billionaires when he sued to stop a pair of condo towers slated to go up across the street from AHF’s offices on Sunset Boulevard. Since then, the developer on that project, Crescent Heights, run by Israeli real estate billionaire Sonny Kahn, has poured more than $1 million into the No on S campaign, or more than 60 percent of the campaign’s total budget in 2016. Crescent Heights declined to comment on the donations.

Weinstein points to the preponderance of developers against his measure as a sign that he’s on the right track (though labor groups such as the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations also are major contributors to the No on S campaign).

The nonprofit director says his motives are entirely altruistic. He insists he’s doing his job by trying to help the AIDS and HIV patients his organization serves, and who are disproportionately hurt by the housing squeeze.

“In the broader sense, you have to look at the social determinants of health,” he said. “Health is not restricted to medications and doctors and nurses.”

Cause and effect

The most common criticism of Measure S is that it won’t do what proponents say it will. Even if one assumes backroom dealing exists, for instance, Measure S “doesn’t even begin to address” that problem, said Reznik, the land-use lawyer.

“If you want to take the politics out of land use, take zoning power out of the hands of the councils and put it in the hands of planners,” he said.

Reznik is among a class of city planning professionals who have lined up behind Garcetti’s contention that “land use by referendum is usually a bad idea in the first place.”

“The chances of solving this from the ballot box are very, very small,” said Marlon Boarnet, chair of USC’s Department of Urban Planning and Spatial Analysis.

Among his colleagues, Boarnet says he finds few, if any, who support Measure S. He said he personally views the measure as a wrongheaded attempt that will impede the city’s growth.

“As much as I want to respect neighborhoods, Los Angeles has hit a moment where we need to think as a city,” he said. Thinking as a city means increasing density along transit corridors, he maintains, even over the complaints of some communities.

Weinstein is unfazed by the critics. He insists the moratorium will help break City Hall of its dependence on campaign funds from donors, resulting in smarter development in the long run.

“You have to take the crack pipe away from the addict at some point,” he said.

For local advocates like Yoo and Flores, Weinstein and his foundation’s millions represent an evening of the score between the little guy and billionaire developers.

Flores, 27, an aspiring law student with four children, has lived in Westlake over the course of a decade when property values climbed rapidly and dense development began to seem inevitable. He’s not looking to stop development in its tracks but wishes it would happen in a smarter way.

“I know development’s gonna happen, and in my opinion, it’s good,” he said. “But let’s have responsible development.”

Fields of Dreams


I used to think that between the time of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D., and the birth of Israel in 1948, there was no such thing as anexclusively Jewish city. Sure, there were plenty of Jewish ghettos and neighborhoods scattered throughout the globe, but a city with only Jews in it? I never imagined it.

That is until I met my neighbor, Jeremy Goldscheider.

Goldscheider is an aspiring filmmaker with an obsession. He’s obsessed with the story of a little town called Trochenbrod in Northwestern Ukraine that was started by Jews in the early 1800s.

Most people know the town as the fictitious Trachimbrod, from Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, “Everything is Illuminated.” But while Foer has said in interviews that virtually everything in his story is made up, there are a few people alive today who know better.

Goldscheider is one of them, and he knows how very real Trochenbrod is.

He knows, for instance, that Trochenbrod was the only freestanding Jewish town ever to exist outside the biblical land of Israel, and that, in 1942, the Nazis marched all 5,000 Jewish residents to a nearby forest and had them dig their own graves before murdering and burying them.

Before the massacre, Trochenbrod had been a thriving regional commercial center that had a diversified and largely self-sufficient economy. Everyone in Trochenbrod — shopkeepers, farmers, craftspeople, teachers, livestock traders, factory owners — was Jewish, and they spoke Yiddish and modern Hebrew.

The town was founded in 1835 by Jews who took advantage of an edict that exempted Jewish farmers from being conscripted in the Russian army. That didn’t help them, though, when the Nazis arrived.

Because all the residents were Jewish, the whole town was leveled. Today, all you can see is an empty field of trees and wildflowers with a small memorial plaque erected in 1992.

It’s on that field that Goldscheider walked several months ago, with only his notebook and a video camera. And it’s on that field that he kept thinking of his great-grandfather and great-grandmother, Jacob and Ethel Kessler, who left Trochenbrod and settled in Baltimore around 1910.

Goldscheider remembers his grandmother, Minnie, talking about how her parents’ home in Baltimore had become a kind of way station for Trochenbrod immigrants who came to settle in America. But Goldsheider was never too interested in Baltimore; it was Trochenbrod he wanted to know more about.

And, in particular, the Jews who survived the massacre.

Evidently, a small group of maybe 30 Jews managed to escape and survive in the forest for years. Some of the young ones became partisans who banded together and fought the Nazis, stealing guns and ammunition, blowing up trains and taking care of other Jews with stolen food and makeshift shelters.

Goldscheider has already met and interviewed a few of the survivors in Ukraine and in Israel, and next month he plans to meet another survivor in Brazil.

When I first met him last spring at a neighborhood cafe, he hadn’t yet made the trip to the empty fields of Trochenbrod. He was going there “blind,” he said, with a sort of primitive desire just to walk the fields where his ancestors had once lived, and where so many Jews had perished.

I met him at the same cafe when he returned a couple months later, and it was clear that by then he was immersed in a labor of love that was consuming a lot of his time.

Our conversation then took an unexpected turn.

Since he hadn’t yet secured financing for his film project, I asked him how he paid the bills. Well, it turns out that Goldsheider does promotional films for all kinds of Jewish organizations around town, and that one of his biggest clients is Camp Ramah.

Now, you should know that when I hear the words “Camp Ramah,” my heart goes aflutter. My kids are pretty much addicted to the place. So, naturally, when Goldsheider informed me that he was driving up to Ojai the following day to film the camp, which was in session at the time, it took me one or two nanoseconds to invite myself along.

Officially, I was going to accompany him on the film shoot, and maybe do a story. (Unofficially, I was dying to see my kids.)

It was a hot day, and we covered pretty much the whole camp. Camp Ramah is big and small at the same time. No matter where you venture, you always seem to return to a familiar place. Kids were everywhere, playing in this grand game of organized spontaneity. Some were davening in an outdoor amphitheater, others cheering at a basketball game, still others shooting down waterslides decorated with a map of Israel. The place was teeming with life.

As we walked through the camp’s main field, I couldn’t help thinking about Goldscheider’s recent experience. A week or two earlier, he had been walking through an empty field in Ukraine that once also teemed with Jewish life. A field where Jews also davened, worked and played — but a field where Jews were no more.

From one week to the next, Goldscheider had traveled from a field of death to a field of life. It must have had some effect on him.

In truth, he hadn’t thought of the contrast until I brought it up. But then, he did notice that there was a similar tree formation and land elevation in the fields of Trochenbrod and Camp Ramah.

Two fields with similar landscaping — and with a similar connection to the Jewish ideal of life and community. But one field, in one century, witnessing a nightmare; while the other, in the next century, witnessing an ongoing summer dream.

If Goldscheider has his way, if he can get the real Trochenbrod story out to the world, that same field of nightmares might one day become the realization of his own field of dreams.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Golscheider’s email address is jeremy@kihou.com

Northern Israel needs investment to bolster it — security and development are linked


The graffiti on the Galilean bomb shelter that greeted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wasted no words: “Wake up Sharon, Olmert’s in a coma.”

Watching Olmert tour upgraded and refurbished bomb shelters in the north after the release of the Winograd Report last spring prompted jokes in Israel about rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic. Much worse, the hapless images of Olmert checking the bomb shelter shower knobs suggested unfortunate associations for more than 1 million Israelis who fled the war temporarily, many of whom have been scouting for new locations ever since.

As a former intelligence chief told me upon reading Milken Institute’s data on Galilean economic conditions: “You are right. There is negative out migration from the north to the center of the country and from the center to the Diaspora.”

And that out migration is Israel’s enemies’ ultimate objective in launching wars they can’t win in conventional terms. They seek to create the perception that the country has no future.

Thanks in part to the Israeli government’s inaction, that plan is succeeding. The economic situation of northern Israel was deteriorating even prior to the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War. Five years before rockets fell, the north experienced net negative out migration of 23.2 percent. In other words, 33,000 Israelis had already abandoned the north even prior to rockets falling.

These problems were only exacerbated after the war. Poverty levels continue to hit 29 percent of families in the north vs. 20 percent nationwide. Regional family income in the north is only 74 percent of the national average, and unemployment rates run 20 percent higher in the north than in the rest of country.

But now we are told, the showers in the bomb shelters now are supposed to be working, even if the people aren’t.

All measures of the growing social and economic gaps in Israel are refracted and amplified in northern Israel. According to national security authorities, the strategy of Iran and Hezbollah is to weaken Israel’s northern region what Israelis call “the periphery” economically and make a small country claustrophobic.

This strategy successfully weakens morale and created military and diplomatic advantages during and subsequent to the war. Facing conditions of asymmetric warfare, where the home front and front lines of conflict blur, the linkage between national security and economic security become central. Investment is of urgent importance to fully integrate regions of Israel that are peripheral, due to lack of physical, transportation and social infrastructure.

Many long-term and long-promised projects by the central government in the sphere of infrastructure and commercial/industrial development have been postponed. Emergency aid that poured into the north was insufficient and targeted to relief, rather than economic development. Conditions in northern Israel remain vulnerable and its status is worsening.

According to the evaluation by the government examiner’s report (May 21, 2008), most of the Israeli government’s actions in response to the north remain unfulfilled. The report concludes:

  • The government budgeted NIS 4 billion for northern Israel economic development but only allocated NIS 1.6 billion since the war.
  • The government based the budgetary increase upon contributions from abroad that failed to materialize or were deployed to the southern front with the attacks on Sderot and the northern Negev.
  • The government did not operationally execute the rehabilitation plans proposed by government ministries.
  • Government ministries were not obligated to execute northern Israel rehabilitation plans and failed to allocate budgets for that objective.

The next Israeli prime minister, like all the others, will speak loudly and often about national security. But the goal of national security is inextricably linked to economic development.

The next government must lead a private-public partnership that will invest billions in infrastructure and economic projects to fully integrate the north to the country’s dynamic growth center. Israel and the Diaspora have the resources to make “periphery” an anachronistic word in the Hebrew lexicon. But we don’t have much time.

Glenn Yago directs the Milken Institute’s capital studies program and the Koret-Milken Institute Fellows program in Israel. Further information can be found in their report on northern Israel at www.milkeninstitute.org.

Briefs: CIA lifts lid on Israeli raid on Syrian reactor; Iranians raze Tehran shuls


CIA: Syria Could Have Made Two Nukes

Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor that was nearly ready to produce two bombs, the CIA chief said.

Michael Hayden said Monday that the secret, unfinished reactor that the United States believes Israel bombed Sept. 6 in northeastern Syria eventually would have made fissile material for bombs.

“In the course of a year after they got full up, they would have produced enough plutonium for one or two weapons,” he told reporters.

Israel has refused to provide details on the target of the air strike, leaving the CIA to deliver an extensive briefing last week on indications that Syria was pursuing nuclear weapons with North Korean help. In an apparent reference to help from Israeli intelligence, Hayden said that CIA’s disclosures were “the result of a team effort.”

Some Israeli experts have questioned the wisdom of the CIA giving such an expansive account on the reactor because it could compromise intelligence assets in Syria. But Hayden indicated there was no breach of trust with Israel.

“One has to respect the origin of the information in terms of how it is used,” he said.

GOP Lawmakers Target Carter

Two Republican congressmen introduced legislation that would deny the Carter Center federal dollars.

U.S. Reps. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) and Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) introduced the Coordinated American Response to Extreme Radicals Act , or CARTER Act, last week in the wake of former President Jimmy Carter’s recent outreach to Hamas.

“America must speak with one voice against our terrorist enemies,” Knollenberg said in a statement. “It sends a fundamentally troubling message when an American dignitary is engaged in dialogue with terrorists. My legislation will make sure that taxpayer dollars are not being used to support discussions or negotiations with terrorist groups.”

The Zionist Organization of American praised the legislation.

Carter’s Atlanta-based center focuses mostly on international development. The former president met with Hamas officials against the advice of the Bush administration. He defended his meetings as his attempt to help bring an end to the violence on the Israel-Gaza Strip border.

Pollard: I Don’t Know Kadish

Jonathan Pollard says he does not know alleged spy Ben-Ami Kadish.

Kadish, 84, allegedly passed American military secrets to Israel during the same period as the former Navy intelligence analyst.

Esther Pollard, the wife of the convicted and jailed spy, said in an interview that the first her husband had heard of Kadish was when his arrest was announced last week.

Kadish, a former U.S. Army engineer, is accused of spying for Israel between 1979 and 1985, a period coinciding with Pollard’s activities. Kadish is also believed to have been run by the same Israeli agent.

“He said he did not know Kadish and asked me if this would embarrass Israel, even though this was an affair that had been known for years,” Esther Pollard told Ma’ariv.

She further downplayed speculation that the new affair could hurt Israel’s efforts to win clemency for Pollard, who is eligible for parole in 2015.

Observers believe the U.S. government will likely deny the request.

“It won’t take long for this to drop from the headlines,” she said. “There will always be people who want to interfere, but this must not obscure Israel’s goal, which is to rescue its agent from jail in a foreign country.”

Iranians Raze Seven Synagogues in Tehran

Seven synagogues in Tehran have been razed by local authorities to make way for residential skyscrapers and urban renovation, L.A. Iranian Jewish leaders report. The synagogues were located in the Oudlajan neighborhood of Iran’s capital, a former ghetto with a dwindling Jewish population.

“It is a Muslim-owned area that in the eyes of a neutral observer would justifiably require a major renovation,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Los Angeles-based Iranian American Jewish Federation.

Oudlajan was the poverty-stricken site of Tehran’s Jewish ghetto nearly 100 years ago. After Iran’s Pahlavi monarchs gave Jews new freedoms more than 60 years ago, Tehran’s Jewish community gradually attained prosperity and left the area.

Kermanian downplayed the value of synagogues, saying that they were all but deserted.

“The synagogues there were mostly store fronts,” he said. “They were not the type of structures that would be considered significant historical monuments.”

While he believes the destruction of the synagogues was insensitive, Kermanian says he doubts anti-Semitism played a role.

Calls made to the Central Jewish Committee in Tehran for comment were not returned.

Tehran currently has 11 functioning synagogues, several Jewish schools and a Jewish library.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Young Jews to Pledge Genocide Fight

Young Jews will pledge to fight all genocide during a Yom HaShoah gathering at Auschwitz. Some 10,000 participants in the annual March of the Living had planned to sign the pledge Thursday — Holocaust Remembrance Day — at the Nazi concentration camp in Poland.

The March of the Living Pledge commits each individual, the majority of whom are aged 16 to 22, “to fight every form of discrimination manifested against any religion, nationality or ethnic group.” It goes on to say, “After the Shoah the promise of ‘Never Again’ was proclaimed. We pledge to create a world where Never Again will become a reality for the Jewish People and, indeed, for all people. This is our solemn pledge to the Jewish People, to those who came before us, to those of our generation, and to those who will follow in future generations.”

The ceremony will be led by Brig. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, in recognition of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Following Thursday’s event, a global effort will attempt to enlist the support of the 150,000 March of the Living alumni to publicly state their condemnation of genocide past and present.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The downside of upscale growth


I’ve been following the Los Angeles housing story for a few months because of its special relevance to the Jewish community.

It has been a story of skirmishes, of threatened apartment houses, of new high rises and old buildings converted into expensive lofts and even of profound ethical questions that confronted two of our most prominent synagogues, Wilshire Boulevard Temple and Temple Israel of Hollywood.

Both bought apartment houses — perfect examples of middle class rental housing — to be torn down to make way for expansion plans provoking long and anguished discussions at the temples.

The skirmishes are part of a much bigger question: What kind of Los Angeles do we want? Is there still room for apartments and homes for garment workers, gardeners, waiters, cooks, bus drivers, teachers, health care providers and social workers, for the millions of people who are not rich? Can they find places to live in a Hollywood suddenly restored as a playground and living space for the affluent? Will there be room for them in the new downtown aimed at fulfilling the builders’ dreams of a high-rise city extending to USC?

And what about the middle- and working-class Jews living in apartments in the West Valley, Pico Robertson, Venice, Fairfax, Silver Lake and other places? Will they be forced to move when their homes are wiped out along with their unique communities? Will the classic L.A. two-story duplexes and quadplexes south of Wilshire Boulevard give way to expensive condos, some of them ugly?

As I pursued the story, Larry Gross, an advocate for affordable housing in his job as head of the Coalition for Economic Survival, told me of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple situation. It seemed like a natural clear-cut story with a rich villain, the temple, tearing down an apartment house, and the downtrodden tenants as victims. But, as is often the case, when I dug into the matter I found it was much more complicated. The temple board discussions are an example of debates going on throughout L.A., with the added angle that colors all our fights:

What is our ethical obligation as Jews?

I called Howard Kaplan, the temple’s executive director, a native Angeleno from East Los Angeles. He had been dealing with the controversy for months, talking to the renters, even sending over his maintenance crew to help one of the tenants, an older woman, pack and move boxes.

“We bought it about a year ago,” he said. “Our intention was to build a nursery school there.”

He said the temple was concerned about the tenants from the start.

“The temple did everything possible in a difficult situation, including financial assistance. It was not something that was done lightly. It was thought through and done as best as we could,” Kaplan said.

He said the nursery school, with room for about 180 children, would be a key part of a restoration and redevelopment of the site on Wilshire Boulevard and Hobart Avenue. I had long wondered about the fate of that magnificent old sanctuary in Mid-Wilshire. The area had been in decline for years. But I learned that it is coming back, and young Jewish families are among those moving into residential areas around the temple, including Hollywood, Silver Lake, Glendale and elsewhere.

“We did demographic studies,” Kaplan said. “We found that Jews are moving to east of La Cienega, into Hollywood, Los Feliz, that whole area. People can’t afford the Westside.”

Providing these Jews with a vibrant place to participate in Jewish life, including convenient, up-to-date Jewish schools and worship facilities, is crucial in keeping our migrating population engaged in the Jewish community. People, particularly the young, are reluctant to drive long distances for religious participation, and congregations have found that they are most successful in keeping families involved if they engage them when the kids are starting school.

Understandably, the purchase of the apartment house and the evictions that followed — to make way for tearing it down — upset some of the tenants.

I have a copy of a letter sent to Kaplan by three of the renters. It said, in part, “While the temple promulgates its commitment to helping the most disadvantaged in our society and sets a fine example on the surface with innumerable and most generous contributions to the community, in the shadows, un-divulged to even its members at large, the temple forces those in the lowest of the economic classes out of their homes and into a housing market increasingly diminished of affordable low income housing to compete with only what the law demands they receive plus a mere pittance to soften what will most indubitably be a devastating economic blow.”

I was told that one of the tenants was paying $716 a month in the building bought by the temple for an apartment with a small, separate kitchen. The tenant moved to a smaller apartment with a counter, a sink and a small built-in refrigerator at a rent of $725 a month, found after two months of looking.

Kaplan said the temple “let them [the tenants] know by letter that we were going to do this, we followed the city process. We met with city officials … we provided way more in financial assistance than required. Neither side would say how much financial assistance the temple gave because of a confidentiality agreement.

The city requires owners of apartments who tear them down to pay relocation fees. Tenants who have lived in a rental unit for less than three years are entitled to $6,180 from the new building owner. Those who have been residents for more than three years receive $9,040.

In addition, the city law created a class of tenants called “qualified.” These are those who are seniors, disabled, families with minor children under 18 and residents who may have lived in a building for less than three years but whose family income is 80 percent of or below the Los Angeles area median income of $56,000. Qualified tenants have a year to move after they have received their eviction notice.

A qualified tenant who has lived in a unit for less than three years receives $14,850. Such a tenant who has been a resident for more than three years gets $17,080.

Das Happy Kapital


Last Monday, I took my ticket from the parking valet at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, turned, and came face to face with John Kerry. He was standing beside me, staring at his cell phone.

“Oh,” I said to the senator, at a loss. “Hi.”

“Hi,” he said, and turned back to his phone.

The doors to the hotel slid open. Former Secretary of Education William Bennett moved past me. We exchanged nods. I turned and ran into Paul Gigot, editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal. Three steps behind him, Eli Broad whizzed by.

Just another 30 seconds at the Milken Institute Global Conference, the annual gathering that attracts everybody you’ve ever seen on CSPAN, the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and FOX, including the owner of FOX, Rupert Murdoch — I bumped into him coming out of the men’s room.

The annual conference marked its 10th anniversary last week, with three days of lectures, keynotes and seminars on the topics and trends that organizers at the Milken Institute believe will shape our global future.

The Los Angeles Times compared the gathering to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland or the Clinton Global Initiative Conference. But what makes this high-powered global conference different from all others is the audience: not mainly policy wonks and NGO do-gooders, not politicos and journos (though plenty of all of the above), but investors, corporate types, men and women who collect and distribute private and public capital.

“We run the number one high-yield bond fund in the country!” I heard a conference-goer bark into his cell phone. Many people I met told me they ran hedge funds, though I never did quite figure out what a hedge fund is.

It’s a three-day return to university, if your university hired mostly Nobel laureates and your fellow students were all much richer than you. At about $1,000 per day, it’s just a bit pricier than an Ivy League college.

On Wednesday I attended one of the general sessions in the hotel’s ballroom, at which most of the conference’s 3,000 participants heard the conference’s founder, Michael Milken, in discussion first with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, then with a panel of Nobel laureates. The subject was global warming and energy independence.

The governor laid out how California would lead the way in reducing the gases that cause global warming and developing green technologies. He threatened to sue the federal government if it prevents California from implementing a law reducing greenhouse gases from vehicles within six months. Then, under Milken’s questioning, he switched gears and spoke of “great economic opportunities for green technology.”

Schwarzenegger challenged his audience to invest in California and in alternative energy technologies.

“Everyone needs to look at this as a huge opportunity,” he said.

In Milken’s conversation with the Nobel laureates in science and physics, he prodded them on where future energy investment opportunities lie.

“People are not sitting still on the assumption that we’ll have an energy system based on carbon-based energy,” he said.

But the panelists and Milken seemed to agree that opportunities need government to help out by passing stronger regulations on fuel emissions.

That’s what consistently surprised me at a gathering birthed by a man who has, despite a lifetime in groundbreaking philanthropy, been interred in popular imagination as a poster boy for avarice. For one thing, you end up hearing a lot about alternative energy, the end of oil, the most effective means of Third World development, curing the world’s worst diseases, universal health care, and environmental rescue. And every other chance he gets, Mike Milken himself goes on about healthier eating through soy.

Strip away the power suits and you’re back in a freshman dorm, circa 1978, hearing the campus lefties talk about saving the world.

In fact, idealism infuses this conference. It is at root about doing well and doing good; and often, in the case of investment in energy alternatives and emerging markets, in doing well while doing good. “I’d like to think [government] can tilt the playing field so the private sector is rewarded for doing the right thing rather than the wrong thing,” the Nobel laureate Burton Richter of Stanford University, told Milken. But it was Milken who provided the graph that showed that in the past stronger government regulation has improved energy efficiency while allowing the economy to grow at unprecedented levels.

Clearly, this is not your grandfather’s capitalism.

As I wandered in and out of conference sessions, I discovered not the slash-and-burn mentality of go-go capitalism at work, but something actually closer to the earliest form of capitalism in the Middle Ages. Back then, private capital was a kind of new technology that enabled a nascent middle-class to use its funds to attain wealth previously accessible only to aristocrats. Back then, money in the hands of merchants and guilds challenged the feudal autocracy and funded invention, discovery and social development.

At the Milken Conference, investment was presented as just that kind of engine of human ingenuity, and human capital as a foundation of wealth. The ultimate smart money, Milken and his conference presenters seemed to be saying, is on health and education: there’s no limit as to how much wealth a nation of smart healthy people can generate. At one luncheon, Milken flashed a chart — the man likes his statistics — showing the cost of early deaths caused by heart attacks and cancer.

Invest millions of dollars into finding cures, said Milken — founder of FasterCures, a nonprofit that does just that — and free up trillions in lost wealth.

Nowhere was this noble capital more apparent than in the Conference’s treatment of Israel.

At a time when much of the world makes a special point of singling Israel out for disparagement — just witness the British National Union of Journalists, which last week called for a boycott of Israel after one of their own members was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists — the Milken Global Conference holds Israel up as an exemplar of how a developing country can combine smart economic policies with investments in education and innovation to unleash enormous economic potential. Milken economist Glenn Yago hosted a nearly two-hour session titled, “Israel: Confessions of an Economic Growth Engine,” which dissected the country’s progress and problems.

Growing taste for kosher boils in U.S. melting pot


Hispanic and Asian foods are so different — in taste, textures, ingredients (even the utensils with which they are eaten) — that it seemed a strange pairing when the annual Expo Comida Latina was combined with the All Asian Food trade show at the Los Angeles Convention Center recently.

Yet among the 500 exhibitors offering food service establishments everything from refrigeration equipment to signage, etc., there was one with an “intangible” asset: kosher certification, something that intrigues ethnic food providers of all stripes.

Sitting alone in a simple booth with a few brochures and a backdrop banner declaring, “Star-K Kosher Certification / Kosher Supervision Worldwide / A Vital Ingredient in Your Success,” Steve Sichel, director of development for the Baltimore-based agency, fought off fatigue. He had raced to the airport right after Simchat Torah to fly across the country overnight.

Sichel is no stranger to conferences where he is the only man wearing a kippah: “I attend these kinds of shows all over the world.”

Kosher has come a long way from designating merely a set of obscure dietary restrictions that are strictly observed by only a minuscule fraction of the world’s population. According to a 2005 Mintel Organization International report, Kosher is a $14.6 billion industry and ranks among the fastest-growing segments in the retail food business.

“Outside of Israel and North America, Star-K has offices in Europe, Asia and Latin America,” Sichel reported. “Obviously, our consumers are not in India and China, but a growing number of food processing plants are interested in kosher certification in order to broaden their export markets, and they call on our mashgihim based in Bombay and Shanghai.”

The increased availability and desirability of kosher food, whether imported or domestic, is reflected in its astonishing growth rate. “While retail food sales grew at a rate of 6 percent last year, kosher food sales grew 15 percent,” Sichel told the audience attending his expo seminar, “Kosher Certification 101.”

The turnout for Sichel’s workshop was small: only a minyan of men and women, both foreigners and locals. Undiscouraged, Sichel went through his complete bilingual (English and Spanish) slide presentation: “The Latest Wrap About Kosher Hispanic Food — Lo Ultimo en Comida Latina Kosher.”

As Sichel likes to tell his audiences, “You don’t have to be Jewish to have kosher products.” In fact, Star-K is a member of the American Tortilla Industry Association, and Los Angeles’ own Tumaro’s Gourmet Tortillas — the country’s best-selling flavored (savory and sweet) tortilla brand — is certified kosher.

Nor do you have to be Jewish to buy, consume and enjoy kosher products. “The second largest consumer group for kosher food is Muslims,” Sichel noted. “There are 10 million Muslims in the United States, and in the absence of widespread halal certification, they have come to rely on kosher certification.”

According to Sichel, others who prefer to eat kosher include Seventh-day Adventists, vegetarians and health-conscious consumers.

“The kosher symbol is seen as an indication that there is another set of eyes keeping watch on what the company is doing,” he said.

The growing number of non-Jewish consumers of kosher food has not been lost on the supermarket chains.

“Given a choice, supermarkets prefer to stock kosher products — particularly products whose kashrut certification comes from a reliable agency.” he said.

Nor did this growth escape the attention of Diversified Business Communications, the company that owns and operates Expo Comida Latina and All Asian Food Expo, as well as Kosherfest, the country’s largest exhibition of kosher foods. In fact, Kosherfest — which was founded by Menachem Lubinsky 18 years ago and purchased from him by Diversified four years ago — was combined with New York City’s joint Expo Comida Latina and All Asian Food Expo in mid-November.

According to Brian Randall, Diversified’s group vice president for ethnic and cultural foods, Kosherfest, was not held in Los Angeles this year because of an unwritten agreement with Kosher World that the latter would hold kosher trade shows on the West Coast, as it did last spring in Anaheim.

In the meantime, Kosher World has been sold, and the brand dissolved, leaving it up to Randall and Diversified to decide whether to bring Kosherfest to Los Angeles next year.

Randall predicted more avenues for the growth of kosher products.

“We are going to see kosher kid products in all cuisines,” he said. “In addition, organic food is a nexus with kosher food for the growing healthy food market. Jewish parents want the best for their kids. Look for major kosher food producers, like Manischewitz, to introduce organic lines under their labels.”

Designing woman preserves observatory’s past for future


Brenda Levin sometimes said that she wishes her original architectural designs would get as much attention as her historic-preservation efforts, such as the restoration she’s just completed of the Griffith Observatory. If so, there is no detectible ambivalence in her voice on this bright, if hazy, morning in Griffith Park. As the architect recites a list of materials and techniques she used in bringing back to life the stately, white, beaux arts-style building, which now looks as bright and sharp-edged as it did when completed in 1935, it’s clear that Levin’s warm, approachable manner belies a core of strong will and clarity of purpose. The observatory has personal attachment for her.

“It’s practically in my backyard,” said the Los Feliz resident, adding that she and her family have been hiking in the nearby trails of Griffith Park for more than two decades.

The observatory, which this weekend celebrates its reopening after a $93 million renovation and expansion, is one of the best-known structures in Los Angeles. For decades, it has been a pilgrimage site for visitors, not least for its unparalleled vista of the L.A. basin, which flows downward from its site like an immense green checkerboard, intersecting with the spiked spine of tall buildings along Wilshire Boulevard.

“Of the 2 million people who visited the observatory before it closed,” she wonders aloud, “how many came here for the view alone?”
Levin is decidedly not ambivalent in acknowledging that 2006 will be a landmark year for her practice, which she opened in 1980 in the Fine Arts Building in downtown Los Angeles. Not only are her years of painstaking work on the Griffith Observatory coming to fruition — “we have been over every inch of this building,” she said firmly — but another long-awaited, long-delayed project, the Barnsdall House by Frank Lloyd Wright, is set to reopen nearby, in a radically redesigned Barnsdall Park in Hollywood.

Further, Levin is discussing plans to rehabilitate and enlarge another notable project: Wilshire Boulevard Temple, the ornate synagogue built by Harry and Jack Warner in the 1930s. (She and her husband, David Abel, a political consultant and school construction advocate, are longtime members of that congregation. Her son, Elliot, celebrated his bar mitzvah at the temple’s Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu.)

Even without being a member, it would be hard to imagine that Levin would not be on the short list as the temple’s architect. She is the reigning historic-preservation architect in the city, and few other people in the design profession can boast comparable credentials. (Disclosure: This writer wrote the introduction to Levin’s 2001 monograph and remains a friend.)

Levin’s preservation work, in part, reflects a lifelong interest in cities, she said, having grown up in suburbs outside New York and spent much of her early youth exploring that city on foot. After completing studies at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design in the 1970s, the newly married Levin decamped to Los Angeles, where she briefly worked for John Lautner, a Wright disciple who built a series of boldly engineered houses in Los Angeles. Her own home, which she designed in the 1970s, has some of the geometrical purity and quirky planning of the older architect.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, she helped spark the revival of downtown Los Angeles — a firecracker with a 30-year fuse — by acting as the architect for developers Wayne Ratkovich, on the renovation of the Oviatt Building (and later the Pellissier Building-Wiltern Theater) and the late Ira Levin, who was responsible for reviving the Bradbury Building and the Grand Central Market. Although architects and developers are often adversarial in their dealings, both developers had lifelong friendships with Levin.

The downtown projects were widely published, and Levin became pigeonholed, possibly unfairly, as a historic-preservation specialist. She likes to point out the volume of original architectural designs she has built, including the sensitively scaled music, dance and athletic center and math and science building at Oakwood School’s upper-school campus in North Hollywood. Among her current nonhistorical projects are a new student center at Whittier College, a new civic park in the Grand Avenue mixed-use development in downtown Los Angeles and the outdoor Ballona Discovery Center planned at Playa Vista.

This morning, however, belongs to the observatory, the master plan of which was a collaboration between Levin and Pfeiffer Associates, which was responsible for the newly designed portions of the building, while Levin focused on preserving and updating the observatory building itself.

For a 71-year-old building that had not undergone any major repair, she said, the observatory was in relatively good shape, in large part because of the quality of the original materials, including concrete on the exteriors with domes covered in copper and marble and travertine on the interior. According to legend, the materials in the observatory are particularly fine, because the cost of those materials plummeted during the Depression years.

Levin’s preservation and updating work on the observatory includes a number of new spaces and details that she emphasizes are compatible with the historic originals. One of her most elaborate efforts was to re-cover the central planetarium dome with new copper panels. This delicate task required construction of an elaborate scaffolding — a design feat in itself — that encircled the observatory dome without touching it at any point.

Characteristic of Levin’s concern for improving the quality of public life in her buildings, a number of rooftop spaces at the observatory that were formerly closed to the public have become viewing platforms. “This building is now accessible from all four directions, just as it was originally intended to be,” she said.

The Griffith Observatory and Wilshire Boulevard Temple, have some design features in common, Levin points out. Both buildings are topped with enormous round “drums” supporting domes, reminiscent of early 19th century German architecture. The observatory, built of concrete, was originally intended to have a skin of terra-cotta ornament, much like the temple has today. Given the local history of earthquakes, however, Levin quickly adds that the observatory was probably better off without the brittle clay ornament.

Her design for Wilshire Boulevard Temple remains preliminary and subject to change, Levin said, but she said officials there are considering the conversion of the east-facing parking lot into an outdoor event plaza, the addition of a new school building and a new parking structure, among other new spaces, as well as historic preservation.

Although synagogue architecture is a new undertaking for Levin, she said the dignity of sacred architecture is not essentially different from what she describes as the spirituality of all great architecture.

“Whether it is the Disney Concert Hall or the Griffith Observatory, beauty and inspiration and spirituality are part of the things you hope to achieve as an architect,” she said.

Schools Give Prum-Hess High Marks


Last year, two Los Angeles schools applied for and won MATCH grants, which are awarded each year by a consortium of Jewish education foundations that reward day schools for cultivating new donors. The grants brought in more than $100,000.

This spring, 13 day schools were awarded the same grant, bringing in $1.5 million.

What changed?

Miriam Prum-Hess, director of day school operations for the Bureau of Jewish Education, entered the Los Angeles Jewish day school picture, and she alerted schools to the opportunity and guided them through the process.

Prum-Hess, an experienced and admired Federation executive, took on a new role working on behalf of day schools last year, an effort to increase the level of professionalism and efficiency in all nonacademic areas. She has become the central address for day schools looking for expertise on operational issues — fundraising strategies, legal advice, business decisions, purchasing, and human resources. During the past 18 months she has examined the big picture of what the city’s 37 days schools — of all denominations — need, and has run seminars, consulted with the school administrators and lay leaders and opened up new resources to meet those needs.

Since Los Angeles’ Federation is the first to fund such a position, national Jewish leaders have trained their eyes here to see how things turn out.

“The whole model that undergirds Miriam’s position, which is that a central agency should have a professional dedicated to helping day schools build their capacities, is from our perspective just 100 percent sound,” said Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of the Boston-based Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE), which works off a similar model on a national scale. “It is a very important strategy in enabling day schools to grow themselves from the inside by focusing on all the things they need to be strong.”

Local educators have welcomed Prum-Hess, who visited all of Los Angeles’ Jewish schools in her first few months on the job, which she started in December 2004.

“I have been involved with the Bureau [of Jewish Education] as a head of school here for 20 years, and for me adding Miriam was the most significant change in the entire time I’ve been here,” says Lana Marcus, head of school at Adat Ari El, a Conservative kindergarten through eighth grade day school in Valley Village. Marcus credits Prum-Hess for enabling her to win a MATCH grant worth $275,000.

One of Prum-Hess’s primary goals is to bring more money into the schools to bring relief both to parents struggling to pay tuition and administrators struggling to make the budget. She is working with The Federation, the Jewish Community Foundation and BJE Executive Director Gil Graff to set up a $20 million community endowment fund.

But while that is in the works, she is helping schools tap into government and foundation money they can access immediately.

To qualify for the MATCH grants, funded by a consortium of foundations under the leadership of PEJE, the Jewish Funders Network and the Avi Chai Foundation, schools had to generate gifts of at least $25,000 from donors who had not previously given a major gift to a day school.

A BJE-sponsored seminar in November 2005 helped schools gain enough confidence and expertise to approach new donors. Twenty-three schools attended, and more than half of those received one-on-one coaching as a follow-up.

Thirteen schools — of all denominations and sizes — were able to raise a combined $1 million, and the foundations matched 50 cents to the dollar.

In addition, 12 schools this year brought in more than $1 million in grants from the Department of Homeland Security.

Schools credit the BJE-sponsored seminars for giving them the information and know-how to pursue these opportunities.

“It forced a lot of the schools to go outside of their comfort zones and look for new donors or push people they were working with before to go above and beyond what they were doing,” said Alain R’bibo, a lay leader at Or Hachaim Academy, a 3-year-old Sephardic elementary school in North Hollywood. The school, affiliated with Adat Yeshurun Congregation, qualified for the MATCH grants. “Miriam reaches out to make sure we get information and find out about what programs are available.”

In December 2004, the Federation transferred Prum-Hess, then vice president of planning and allocations, into the BJE, where she took on the newly created portfolio of Day School Capacity Building to deal with operational issues for 37 schools, which have a combined budget of $138 million. The Federation funded her salary for two years and BJE funded her expenses such as office support and travel. A Jewish Community Foundation grant of $50,000 provided much of the programming fund.

Federation President John Fishel said that senior Federation leadership has asked the planning and allocation committee to continue funding Prum-Hess’s position past the initial two-year commitment.

“Her work is extremely important and she’s making a difference in the day schools,” Fishel said. “She has accomplished more in a year and a half then I would have anticipated. It’s very impressive.”

Prum-Hess says that every one of the day schools in the L.A. area has participated in at least one of her programs over the past year, most of them in more than one.

“The really exciting thing for me is how open and hungry for this the schools are,” said Prum-Hess, who herself has two kids in day school.

The BJE has hosted seminars on board development, fundraising, legal and tax issues, management training and grant-getting. All of these came with follow-up one-on-one consulting, providing the schools enough expert guidance to implement what they learned at the seminars.

Prum-Hess has also negotiated joint purchasing for items such as copier contracts — a huge budget item for schools — and is looking into jointly purchasing employee benefits. A consortium of lawyers specializing in school issues is now available at a minimal cost.

She has launched a marketing campaign, starting with research aimed at decoding why so many parents who send their little ones to Jewish preschool pull them out for grade school.

These are questions that all Jewish schools share, and Prum-Hess is happy to be there to answer. For the first time, principals and directors say, they feel like they know whom to call with questions unrelated to pedagogy or curriculum. They know they have someone who can take a step-back and evaluate objectively.

“What she has done in 15 months for a system with 37 schools is remarkable,” PEJE’s Elkin said. “At PEJE we see this as one of the really outstanding models for helping to grow and sustain strong and excellent Jewish day schools in North America.”

 

Dr. Freud at 150


“Why,” Sigmund Freud once asked rhetorically, “did it [psychoanalysis] have to wait for an absolutely irreligious Jew?”

Why indeed?

Freud was born in Freiberg, in the Austrian empire, on May 6, 1856, 150 years ago this weekend. Three years after his birth, his family moved to Vienna. There, the reaction of Freud’s personality to the mix of cultural, political and scientific forces was such that — we may state in hindsight — psychoanalysis could not have been created by anyone else in any other time or place.

Already for 1,000 years, in the Islamic and Christian worlds, medicine had been a Jewish profession par excellence. In late 19th century Vienna, as well, a vastly disproportionate number of doctors were Jews, and they were contributing mightily to the explosive development of modern medical science.

But the Austrian political climate was souring. A few decades of liberalism (in the European sense of individual freedom) were followed by a reactionary wave of Austro-Germanic nationalism and anti-Jewish politicking.

In the new age of medical specializations, the prejudiced academic powers that be were channeling Jewish medical students away from the prestigious mainstream fields, like internal medicine and surgery, into marginalized specialities: dermatology, ophthalmology — and psychiatry.

Yet if some Jewish doctors were being pushed into psychiatry, many others were voluntarily drawn to it. For the Jews of late 19th century Vienna were facing mental pressures different from any in past Jewish history.

For centuries, Diaspora Jewish physicians and philosophers, such as Maimonides, had written on the means of attaining spiritual well-being, often in a sea of hostile humanity. Their compass was the age-old Jewish religious and cultural values.

Now, however, Jews were being set adrift in an era of modernity that they themselves were doing so much to create. Nowhere more so than in Vienna, as the 20th century approached — where Josef Popper-Lynkeus and Ludwig Wittgenstein were developing their radical philosophies of science and technology, and Arnold Schoenberg would soon experiment with daringly atonal music.

Little wonder that the pioneering psychiatrist-anthropologist Cesare Lombroso, author of “Man of Genius,” attributed the apparently high rates of insanity among his fellow Jews to “intellectual overactivity.”

Such was the atmosphere in which Freud found himself. No longer a Jew in the religious sense but of the rationalist tradition of Judaism (“free from many prejudices which restrict others in the use of their intellect,” as he put it), Freud first made important, if unrevolutionary, contributions to our understanding of aphasia (major speech impairment due to physical trauma or stroke).

By the 1890s, however, Freud became intrigued by more cryptic language disturbances as signs of neurotic conflicts caused by hypothesized unconscious forces: slips of the tongue in wakefulness, and the largely imagistic and apparently nonsensical — but in fact symbol-laden — “language” of dreams at night.

Freud famously called dreams “the royal road to knowledge of the unconscious.” And his own dreams and their analysis revealed to him a whirl of conflicts around his Jewish identity.

Thus to cite just one of many examples, Freud dreamt that he sat almost in tears beside a fountain at the Porta Romana in Italy. The children had to be moved to safety, and a boy who was but wasn’t Freud’s son said to him in farewell the nonsensical “auf ungeseres,” instead of the usual “auf wiedersehen.”

Among a labyrinth of free-associations the next morning, Freud recalled his actual viewing of the Porta Romana (the gateway to Rome and, by implication, the Roman Catholic Church) during a recent visit to Siena, where the Jewish director of a mental hospital had been forced to resign. Returning to Vienna, Freud had attended a play on the Jewish question called, “The New Ghetto.”

Freud linked the dream fountain to the refrain, “By the waters of Babylon … yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.” The seemingly nonsensical farewell, “auf ungeseres,” derived from the German word for unleavened bread and a Hebrew word for imposed suffering. Clearly, the life as a Jew in fin-de-si?cle Vienna was one of exile, with professional barriers and social burdens imposed on him and his children.

Such encumbrances could be relieved in a day with a splash of baptismal water and assimilation into Austria’s Roman Catholic majority. But Freud would have none of that.

“I considered myself German intellectually, until I noticed the growth of anti-Semitism. Since that time, I prefer to call myself a Jew,” he defiantly declared. “A Jew ought not to get himself baptized — it is essentially dishonest.”

If Freud’s view of dreams had been limited to analyzing them for various personal and cultural conflicts — some of which are lurking below the level of consciousness — it would have been a significant but unrevolutionary contribution to psychology.

But to repeat Lombroso’s term, the “intellectual overactivity” characteristic of so many modern Jews was part and parcel of Freud’s genius. Thus he went on to develop his psychoanalytic model with its Oedipus and Electra sexual complexes, supposedly laid down in early childhood, and continuing to dominate the unconscious id of the adult mind.

The libido, Freud theorized, ultimately supplies the driving force behind all dreams. A task of civilization was to channel such forces to higher goals. This, too, was part of the millennia of Jewish tradition.

“In his inner being, the Jew, the true Jew, feels only one eternal guide, one lawgiver, one law,” Freud proudly declared. “That is morality.”

Such radical theories faced a long uphill battle against the conservative medical establishment. But, as Freud told his B’nai B’rith lodge brothers, “As a Jew, I was prepared to join the opposition and to do without agreement with the ‘compact majority.'”

The psychoanalytic theory ultimately did gain much acceptance. It was Freud’s international reputation that allowed him to flee Vienna after the genocidal Nazis took control of Austria in 1938.

When Freud died in London two years later, he was more of an exile than even he would ever have dreamt when first developing his model of the mind. But disciples of his were in the Land of Zion — pursuing a Jewish dream that would become reality.

Dr. Frank Heynick’s most recent book is “Jews and Medicine: An Epic Saga” (KTAV, 2002), in which Sigmund Freud plays a prominent role.

 

Nonverbal Baby Talk a Sign of the Times


While other infants and young toddlers let out a howl when they are hungry, 14-month-old Emmet Weisz simply brings his hands together at the heel and rotates the right hand over the left, making the hand-sign for his favorite food: cheese.

“He has a great love for dairy,” laughed Emmet’s mother, Rabbi Debra Orenstein, who lives in the Pico-Robertson area. “If I say it’s time for lunch or let’s go to the kitchen, he’ll sign ‘cheese.'”

Rather than waiting for her son to express himself verbally, Orenstein, like many Southland parents, decided to enhance Emmet’s language skills by taking baby sign-language classes. Teaching sign-language to preverbal hearing babies is one of the fastest-growing parenting trends in North America.

“Imagine that your baby is crying at night and you have to play the guessing game as to what the baby wants. Baby sign-language makes it so easy because they tell you exactly what they want,” said Etel Leit, founder of SignShine, a West L.A.-based company that offers American Sign-Language (ASL) workshops and classes for parents, caregivers and children.

Teaching her 19-month-old daughter, Zoë, more than 100 signs has quelled those late-night brainteasers. In addition, sign-language has become a unifying language in the family’s bilingual household.

While signing has only recently become popular for nondisabled children, it has been used to help special-needs children communicate for decades. At the UCLA Intervention Program, a program for infants and toddlers with a variety of disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder, sign-language is one of the typical means used to help children with language delays.

The recent popularity of baby signing is a comfort to many families with special needs children.

“It’s nice that [signing] has become mainstream,” said executive director Kit Kehr. “It helps the families in our program feel like it’s not an odd thing they’re doing.”

Research shows that sign-language reduces frustration between parent and child, helps accelerate verbal language development, can serve as a bridge between English and non-English speakers and may increase a child’s IQ.

Not everyone agrees. Critics of the trend feel that teaching babies to sign is a symptom of an overachieving parent. Other naysayers fear that parents will depend on sign-language and abandon the spoken word.

“I don’t think parents should ever use [sign-language] as a substitute for speech or as a way to teach children to develop language faster,” said Deena Bernstein, professor and chairman of the department of speech-language-hearing sciences at City University of New York’s Lehman College in the Bronx. “I think children are born to talk and some believe they are pre-programmed physiologically to do so.”

Leit, however, has seen the benefits firsthand.

In her Sign, Sing and Play classes, parents and/or caregivers and their children attend six one-hour classes consisting of interactive games, music, singing and storytelling. By the end of the series, parents and children are exposed to over 100 signs focusing on topics like mealtime, bathtime, clothing, bedtime, animals, family, colors, emotions and playtime. Students take home supplementary materials and are told to practice throughout the week.

Babies are ready to learn sign-language when they can point and clap their hands. Leit suggests that anywhere from 4 to 6 months is a good starting point and she claims that it’s never too late to learn.

Children who already speak can also benefit from sign-language because it enhances their vocabulary. At age 2, babies who sign have more than a three-month advantage over nonsigners in the area of speech; at age 3 they often speak at a nearly 4-year-old level, according to a National Institute of Health study conducted by Dr. Linda Acredolo, a professor of psychology at UC Davis, and Dr. Susan Goodwyn, professor of psychology at California State University Stanislaus.

West Hollywood resident Revital Goodman signs with her 2-1/2-year-old daughter, Abigail.

“We use it when we’re at the park,” Goodman said. “Instead of yelling for her to come here or to come eat, we sign.”

Abigail, who is already bilingual, constantly asks her mother how to sign new words.

Dimple Tyler, a stay-at-home mom from Los Angeles, believes in the benefits of signing. After several classes, her 8-month-old son, Jonathan, is showing his first indication of interest in sign-language: a smile.

“Watching me sign is a game to him and it engages him,” Tyler said. “I can tell he’s learning the concept.”

Amusement is often the first stage for babies learning sign-language. Recognition, imitation and the baby’s first sign follow.

As a language teacher, Leit feels that her Judaism and Israeli roots have influenced her outlook on communication.

“People who know more languages are more open-minded,” she said. “Instead of looking at a deaf person or a person who speaks Hebrew or Farsi and saying how different they are, we realize how similar we all are.”

For information on SignShine classes, call (310) 613-3900 or visit www.babysignshine.com

 

Parental Values Do Influence Children


It was 12:45 a.m. on a Sunday, and my 14-year-old son and I were returning from a rap concert. It wasn’t my kind of music, but the entertainers were talented, and it had been fun dancing along with the concert crowd. The occasion also gave my son and me time for one of our many small intergenerational exchanges.

I admitted to my son that I didn’t understand the thrill of people shouting the infamous “N” word from the stage or the responding cheers of the audience. He said that he could understand my bewilderment because he couldn’t see why anyone (meaning me, of course) would listen to the Beach Boys. We both laughed.

By the time we arrived home, we had discussed various musical styles, how music can be an expression of cultural rage, sexual inquiry and misogyny, and how music often tells the stories of lives very different from our own. We felt close. It was a satisfying parental moment.

Having an open dialogue — about things like rap music, Xbox games or Polly Pockets — is essential for raising moral and ethical children. Creating the stage begins in infancy. There are no guarantees about the results of our parenting efforts, but there are ways we as parents can tilt the odds in our favor.

The competition is tough: television, movies, popular music, billboards, computer games, Internet access to almost anything and that most powerful competitor — peer pressure.

We will never eliminate the presence and ultimate access to views and values that we would rather they not have. But we can influence our children by displaying our own values through our behavior and words, and by understanding their world so that we can develop a relationship where anything can be talked about with mutual respect for views and feelings.

We can place our children in a school and community where they are likely to meet families with values similar to our own. But we cannot escort our children to every party, or to every friend’s house, or supervise every access to Internet pornography or even illicit drugs.

As my own children grow into adulthood, I do not want to — and can’t –control their choices; however, I do want to be a part of their internal and external discussions as they make their own choices.

Here are seven tips for creating and sustaining that kind of parent-child relationship.

1. Hold, cuddle, and talk with your children from birth. Look into their eyes; be aware of their body tension and yours — at every age. Bonding with parents is the cornerstone of moral development. Talk about moral and ethical issues in the course of daily life and help them understand the meaning of behaviors and events. While parents often worry about trusting their children as they become adolescents, the bigger issue is whether they will trust you.

2. Empathy is essential for moral and ethical behavior. Let your children know how their behavior affects you and others. Teach them to care for other people and their feelings.

3. Observe Shabbat and the holidays, using them as opportunities to celebrate Jewish values. Invite friends to the Shabbat dinner table and guarantee time and attention for each person’s thoughts and feelings, regardless of age. Use Shabbat to teach your children to make time to just think and contemplate — essential ingredients for moral behavior.

4. When your children are young, get on the floor and play with them. Then talk about these adventures both with your children and with adults when your children are present.

5. When your children become adolescents, listen with them to their music. Get the words to the songs. Talk with them about their music as an expression of their world, as you would talk with your friends about their interests. Do not condemn your child’s taste; this stops the conversation (as it would for you). Share the car radio.

6. Compliment moral and ethical behavior. When they make tough decisions, exhibit pride for their contemplation. Disagree with a choice or a behavior, but don’t attack them personally — and always do this away from their friends to protect them from humiliation.

7. Create “car talks” when you want to talk with your children about something important but which is uncomfortable for them. A car talk is a pre-planned opportunity to say one brief idea. Limit it to about 10 sentences and five minutes. In a car ride you have a captive audience for a few minutes. You and your child know this is going to be over soon. Car talks, of course, don’t always have to take place in the car.

Raising moral and ethical children in an often-immoral world can be difficult. Tilt the odds in your favor by creating the conversation.

Dr. Ian Russ is a marriage and family therapist in private practice, and consults at many Jewish schools in Los Angeles.

 

Program Tries to Sell Youth on Negev


Endless stretches of sand and sky surround the teenagers as they tumble off buses in the Negev Desert.

“It’s really pretty here. It’s very different from the Ukraine,” said Larisa Protasova, 17, as she posed for a photo on the edge of a sand dune. A recent immigrant to Israel, it was her first time seeing the Negev.

Protasova was one of 16,000 young Israelis — including immigrants as well as soldiers, students and youth group members — who were brought to the Negev on day trips in December, part of a campaign to convince them to make their lives here one day.

The two-day event over Chanukah, dubbed “Light Up the Negev,” was organized by the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (JNF) with the express purpose of “selling” the Negev to Israel’s youth.

The Negev represents about 60 percent of Israel’s landmass, but has only about 8 percent of the country’s inhabitants. After the Gaza Strip withdrawal and with pressure expected to build on Israel to uproot settlements in the West Bank as well, developing the Negev has become a priority for the government, which recently approved $3 billion toward building an infrastructure of jobs and communities in the region.

The JNF, meanwhile, has launched a $500 million campaign specifically for Negev development.

Israelis traditionally have shunned the region because of its remoteness from the rest of the country, the lack of jobs and the relative harshness of desert life. The vast majority of Israelis live in the center of the country, where the cost of living is much higher but opportunities for jobs are greater.

Officials hope the surge of investment will lure people south to fulfill the vision of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, to “make the desert bloom” by transforming the Negev into a center of life and trade, not the periphery it has remained since the country was born.

Plans include the creation of a biotech park in Beersheba, new tourism projects and several ecologically minded villages to be built with environmentally friendly materials. Also being promoted are swaths of land to be sold as ranches.

Israeli officials hope that some 250,000 more people will move to the Negev.

“We must educate young Israelis and let them know what opportunities await them once they move there: affordable housing, open spaces, jobs, a sense of community and a place in history,” said Sharon Davidovich, who helped organize the event and formerly was a JNF shaliach in the United States.

Efrat Duvdevani, director of the recently formed Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, said there is a rare consensus in the Jewish world around the need to develop the two regions.

“The Negev and Galilee are not politically controversial. It is something that unites people and brings everyone together, including the Jewish community abroad,” she said. “It has nothing that has to do with this party or that party but the history and, most importantly, the future of Israel.”

The Negev is home to some 140,000 Bedouin. Officials say the development plan will benefit them by bringing better education and housing, but some in the Bedouin community are opposed to the plan, fearing that additional building in the region will encroach on land they claim.

Over Chanukah, youth visited different sites throughout the Negev, including military bases, development towns and parks, learning about the region’s history and environment.

Some of the youth spent time painting houses and planting trees in the town of Yeruham, while others cleaned out a riverbed or helped build a bicycle trail in Mitzpeh Ramon.

One group of immigrant youth from the former Soviet Union visited Mitzpeh Gvulot, an experimental farm from the 1940s just outside Kibbutz Gvulot.

“Do you know where you are on the map?” asked their guide, a female soldier. The teenagers, all of them from the Tel Aviv area, shook their heads no and laughed.

The soldier showed them around mud buildings that a group of young pioneers built in 1943. One had served as a communal dining room, another as a bakery.

Arkadi Demianenko, 16, who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine in 2000, said the history was interesting, but he didn’t see his future in the Negev.

If even 10 percent of the 16,000 youth who came to the Negev on this trip decide to move there, the operation will have been a success, said David Ashkenazi who organized the event as JNF-Israel’s head of informal education.

He said the Negev life clearly wouldn’t appeal to everyone.

“It’s for them if they want a different kind of life — not the same kind of life they would live in the center of the country, but if they are looking for a more pioneering life,” Ashkenazi said.

That appealed to George Moscowski, 14, from the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon, who said the openness of the scenery drew him in.

“In the future I’d like to live in a free, open place that is not crowded. Maybe it will be green one day,” said Moscowski, who hopes to study computer programming.

 

Negev + Galilee = Israel’s Future


“The Negev and the Galilee comprise 70 percent of the area of the State of Israel with 30 percent of its populace, but they guarantee 100 percent of the future of the state,” said Ron Pelmer, the director of Or National Initiatives, a nonprofit organization that helps to develop Israel’s periphery.

Pelmer spoke at November’s Sderot Conference for Social and Economic Policy, at a session devoted to developing the Negev and the Galilee. The phrase “Gedera to Hadera” — referring to the metropolitan sprawl where most of Israel’s populace lives — was oft heard in comparison with the Negev and the Galilee, considered Israel’s peripheries. Attracting people to the peripheries will take an overall strategy, he noted.

Jewish Agency Chairman Ze’ev Bielski, who chaired the session, described the agency’s role in bringing together Israeli philanthropists and their Diaspora counterparts to help the government implement its decision to develop the Negev. In June, the agency agreed to the multiyear funding of Daroma, a company comprising Israeli and Diaspora businesspeople and public officials who will devote time and resources to develop the Negev. Likewise, Tzafona will be established to help develop the Galilee.

“Real Zionism is to encourage all to move to the Negev and the Galilee,” said Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit, adding that the key to developing the peripheries lies in improving transportation to the center of the country. Efficient transportation, he said, will change the periphery into suburbia.

Sheetrit would like every citizen to be able to reach a large urban center within half an hour. Train lines have expanded in recent years, and further expansion is planned. A new train line will shorten travel time from the Negev to Tel Aviv, and another line will bring the Galilee closer to Haifa. Highway 6 (the Trans-Israel Highway) already connects Gedera to Hadera. By 2007, two new sections will extend the highway north and south.

Sheetrit rejected the government policy of offering tax incentives, since only 20 percent of the periphery’s residents reach tax brackets entitling them to such incentives. “It would be better to take the money and invest in a long school day, thus providing equal opportunities for each child. Education is the real answer for social change,” he said.

“The State of Israel will not advance without the Negev and the Galilee. We will have serious problems if we don’t develop these areas,” said Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick of the Sacta-Rashi Foundation, a private family fund dedicated to assisting the underprivileged in Israel’s geographic and social periphery. Although an interministerial government committee has been established, Brick stressed the role of nongovernment organizations, some voluntary, in filling the gap until the government becomes more involved.

The Or movement hopes to market homes in the Negev to 108,000 people by developing housing, services and employment opportunities. It has already helped establish six settlements — five in the Negev and one in the Galilee — and expand 25 moshavim and kibbutzim.

Pelmer moved with his family from Petah Tikva to Sansana in the northern Negev, providing an example for others. “In the Negev there are 200 professional job offers every month, and in the Galilee, 400,” Pelmer said. He wants to prevent people from leaving these areas and attract more young and young-at-heart residents. Since army bases dot the Negev, families of military personnel will live there if services are sufficiently developed, he said. Or is also trying to attract large companies to the area.

The Strauss-Elite food concern is an example of a large firm reaping the financial benefits of operating in the periphery. “It’s a win-win situation,” Director-General Giora Bar Deah said. “There are economic advantages in these areas, like tax breaks and benefits. There’s no shame in benefiting from them.”

Ofra Strauss, chairperson of the Strauss-Elite Group and a Jewish Agency board member, provides an example of industry’s positive involvement by volunteering as a driving force behind the agency’s Babayit Beyahad program that matches veteran Israelis with new immigrants.

Representing local government, Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri placed the blame for his city’s decline since 1982 on government policy, along with lack of local leadership and a master plan. At Acre’s helm since 2003, Lankri has improved infrastructure, developed tourism and stemmed the tide of residents leaving the city. Acre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“As a mayor, I have taken upon myself to improve a city with potential. We must not be alone in this. Without the government bringing strong populations and increasing grants, we are unable to do it alone,” he said.

Young people are seen as the key to development. Discharged IDF soldiers founded the Ayalim association with the aim of keeping students in the peripheries after they complete their studies. Today there are some 26,000 students at southern venues, including Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and Sapir College, where the Sderot Conference took place. There are some 47,000 students in northern colleges and universities. Most will later return to the center of the country to find employment.

The main crop of Kibbutz Ashbal in the Galilee is education. Founded a few years ago, its 60 members — all graduates of the Hano’ar Ha’oved Vehalomed youth movement — are involved in educational projects, some unconventional. They work with 4,000 local children and youths from all social sectors, including Jews, Arabs and Bedouin. The kibbutz has a dormitory for Ethiopian immigrant youths who might otherwise have dropped out of school, and has established five study centers in Arab villages.

Professor Alean Al-Krenawi, head of BGU’s Department of Social Work, feels that the Israeli Arab population is ignored. A Bedouin whose brother is mayor of Rahat, Al-Krenawi believes that the programs and initiatives for the Negev serve to weaken the Bedouin population and increase the gaps between them and their Jewish neighbors.

“One cannot ignore the 1.5 million Arabs in Israel. The Arab Bedouin population of the Negev is in a dire economic situation,” he said.

Eitan Broshi, head of the Jezreel Valley regional council, bemoaned the lack of government involvement but also noted the dearth of leaders from the periphery. “Since the days of Ben-Gurion there has been no national leadership from these areas,” he said.

Broshi argued that transportation options are not the solution for outlying areas. “Young people need a purpose and the means to live in these areas. Once people moved to these areas as a national mission. Today they look for self-fulfillment.”

Although the challenge of developing Israel’s peripheries is daunting, Bielski suggests to “look at what we’ve done in the past 57 years” and gain encouragement for the future.

 

Russian City Gets New JCC


At a time when Jewish Community Centers in the West frequently struggle to survive in prosperous communities with lots of Jews, the small Russian port city of Arkhangelsk near the Arctic Circle is on the verge of getting a brand-new JCC. A local businessman had pledged to build and fund the facility for a Jewish community of fewer than 2,000 people.

The current JCC building is located on the edge of town — one floor above a blood transfusion clinic. It is tiny and in disrepair; building materials and a few wheelchairs dusty from neglect clutter a hallway connecting its five small rooms. This space houses a library that doubles as a kitchen, two offices and a meeting room.

Anatoly Obermeister, a local Jewish businessman, decided to improve the situation. “We need something that we can call our own and a place where we know we will always be able to stay,” he said.

Obermeister, president of the construction and development firm ASTRA, plans to offer the ground floor — about 6,000 square feet — of a new housing project in the center of town for use as a Jewish community center that could include a restaurant, clinic, school and other social services.

Nothing is left of the two synagogues that were built after the arrival of Jewish merchants and soldiers in the army during the 19th century. The wooden buildings fell into ruin and were scrapped after their closures during communist times.

Outside funding assistance for the new JCC would be welcomed for consideration, but Obermeister prefers that the community should not have to rely on outside sources to support itself — something that rarely happens in Jewish communities anywhere in Russia, where Jewish life still largely relies on the generosity of foreign donors.

In recent years, the Arkhangelsk Jewish community has seen an involvement of international Jewish organizations. Like almost everywhere across the region, Chabad, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel have all assumed some role in this remote Russian Jewish community.

This involvement means an increase in Jewish social support and cultural life for Arkhangelsk’s Jews. However, the increase in Jewish identification also has led many local Jews to emigrate.

Since the Jewish Agency first opened a center here in 1998, the community has seen a heavy flow of Jews moving to Israel, said Lilya Martinova, coordinator for the St. Petersburg department of the Jewish Agency, which handles communities in northwestern Russia.

“Ten to 15 people make aliyah to Israel every year from the Arkhangelsk area,” said Igor Prober, director of the local Hesed Avraham welfare center.

For a community the size of Arkhangelsk, that is a considerable number.

The Arkhangelsk Jewish community is a branch of the Federation of Jewish Communities — a Chabad-sponsored organization. It, along with the JDC and local donors, helps fund various educational and social programs, including a tiny Sunday school of about 15 participants and a youth club.

Although the JDC-operated Hesed Avraham is thriving in its work of assisting the elderly, local Jewish leaders don’t think the future of the small Jewish community has much of a chance.

Yet, though Jewish activity should be declining, it may, in fact, be gaining momentum. Many Jews are leaving, but many are also coming out of the woodwork. Those with some Jewish heritage are finding their way to the evolving community and are becoming active participants.

“When they become interested in their identity, the half- and quarter-Jews become very active in Jewish cultural life — usually much more active than the full-blooded Jews,” Prober said.

 

Women’s Lib Rises in Wake of Disaster


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This Time They’re Ready for the Wave

The two young, sari-clad women, one in blue and one in orange, stand in the thatched-roof meeting hall, take hold of the microphone and join their voices.

“We don’t need any fancy materials,” they croon by heart. “What we need is just some food to live. We don’t ask for a refrigerator, a TV or a car. We just need some small capital to start a business.”

The audience of women in the village of Alamarai Kuppam applaud with enthusiasm. The few men, seated or hovering around the edges, are more circumspect, but they, too, nod approvingly.

Call it women’s lib, post-tsunami-India style.

The outpouring of financial support that followed the 2004 tsunami has accelerated efforts to improve the lives of rural women — an initiative that goes well beyond helping families recover from the tsunami.

“This disaster has given us a space to create gender equality,” says Attapan, the director of Rural Organization for Society Education (ROSE). ROSE is among the Indian nonprofits supported by the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which focuses on international development based on the Jewish value of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

Before, says Attapan, many fishing villages functioned almost as closed societies, distrustful of outsiders, with women locked into traditional, subservient roles. It’s still a country of arranged marriages, and, in places, instances of girl infanticide and widow burning.

But in this region, when the tidal wave took everything, these villagers had to look outside for help. The women, it turned out, were eager for expanded roles. And many men quickly realized that not only could they benefit from the outsiders, who brought resources and new ideas, but also from the resourcefulness of their own spouses, daughters and mothers.

Attapan’s organization has worked with women from fishing villages to help them develop business skills, such as tailoring and growing and selling herbs.

The two singing women are performing the homemade anthem of an informal women’s “congress” from 14 villages that has gathered in Alamarai Kuppam under the auspices of the Ghandian Unit for Integrated Development (GUIDE). GUIDE is trying to make women politically powerful and to break down traditional Hindu class divisions.

The caste system, although officially abolished in 1949, remains a potent and denigrating social force. The mixture of castes among the women gathered in Alamarai Kuppam is striking: It includes Dalit participants, the group once known as untouchables; they still suffer pervasive discrimination.

At the meeting, women rise group by group to proclaim their successes.

“We stopped the men from making alcohol in our village,” one women says.

Another exclaims: “We made demands for tsunami relief and got it.”

“We got schools to reduce their fees,” a third says.

This activism is true and courageous feminism, says R. Vasantha, development consultant for GUIDE. “In traditional society, if a woman speaks out about a problem, especially a problem with an abusive husband, she is an immoral woman. These women will now go to a police station and file a case.”

A delegation of women from four villages recently demanded that a man reserve some property and inheritance for a second wife he had taken, as well as for the woman’s baby. And in Alamarai Kuppam, women and GUIDE workers went to the police to halt an arranged marriage between an unwilling 13-year-old and an older man who wanted a second wife.

The 13-year-old’s parents had made the deal for money. Villagers later raised money to help the family.

And, when it comes to the business theme of the homemade anthem, these women aren’t waiting for opportunity to come looking for them. They’ve opened fish stalls in nearby towns to sell the village catch. And they’re going to start an ice factory to keep their fish fresh and to sell ice to others.

Working with women, particularly educating them, is probably the “best single investment” that can be made in international development, said Michael Cohen, director of the New School for Social Research’s graduate program in international affairs in New York. “It helps on the income side and reduces the family size.”

Both elements, he added, are key to reducing rural poverty.

 

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

France Tirelessly Battles Anti-Semitism


After 15 days of violent urban unrest, at a time when all those who have France at heart are worried and distressed, when the beautiful motto of the French Revolution, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” seems endangered, I would like to convey a strong and meaningful message: France is more committed than ever to make her republican values a reality shared by all its children.

Just like the crisis of the suburbs, the late resurgence of anti-Semitism in France has been putting our core values at test. For many observers, these events could be related and indicate a “crisis of identity,” which President Jacques Chirac in his Nov. 14 speech before the nation, referred to.

To the Jewish community of Los Angeles which, I know, has legitimately been concerned by the latest developments in France, where some of its members have kept family ties, I would like to draw a preliminary review of what has been done by the French government to address the scourge of anti-Semitism and racism.

First a few remarks:

• With about 600,000 members, the French Jewish community is the third largest Jewish community in the world after Israel and the United States;

• French Jews are not, as I too often hear, a tiny group of immigrants struggling for integration. They are French citizens.

There have been Jews in France for centuries: We all remember the venerable figure of Rashi, the immense commentator of the Bible born in Troyes in the 11th century.

Since the French Revolution guaranteed their full civil and political rights, French Jews have played a major role in the development of the French republican ideal and model. A list, from that time onward, of the French political leaders tied to the community, illustrated by real statesmen and women, would simply be too long. Not to mention artists, scientists, philosophers, writers, actors and musicians, spiritual figures.

• We cannot and will not forget the darkest periods of history. We cannot forget the Dreyfus case, which saw the victory, after 20 years of struggle and heated debates, of the defenders of this bright, young army officer. Fully rehabilitated in 1920, Capt. Dreyfus was made Knight of the Legion of Honor and continued his military career.

We cannot forget the horror of the Shoah, in which the Vichy regime played such a revolting role — 77,320 French Jews died in the death camps (about 22 percent of the 1939 community). And yet, some among the French people chose to resist — 2,500 of them stand as Righteous among the Nations and are remembered at Yad Vashem.

Conscious of its own history and heritage, France cannot accept anti-Semitism. France cannot accept any form of bigotry, intolerance and racism. As Chirac put it so forcefully: “Any attack against a Jew is an attack against France itself.”

Confronted with this scourge, the French government’s determination is absolute. The creation in 2003 of the Interministerial Committee to fight racism and anti-Semitism, a coordinating body chaired by the prime minister, testifies to the entire government’s commitment to this fight. The French government’s proactive approach since 2002 has translated into a large number of measures taken in close coordination with the Jewish community in several priority areas: protection, suppression, education, means of communication and international cooperation.

Protection: Since the summer of 2002, we have increased security at Jewish community establishments, including cemeteries, which, as we all know, have too often been targeted.

Last June, the government created a high authority to fight against discrimination and for equality (HALDE). Its mission is to reach out to victims by allowing the public to refer any matter involving any form of discrimination (be it racism, religious intolerance, sexism, homophobia, rejection of the disabled). If mediation fails, HALDE is empowered to bring the case before the courts.

Suppression: We have strengthened our 30-year-old legislation by ensuring that the existence of racist or anti-Semitic motives in the commission of a crime is an aggravating circumstance, resulting in a heavier sentence. Firm instructions were given to public prosecutors, who are invited to appeal sentences deemed overly lenient. For instance, the author of Nazi graffiti on the Douaumont Memorial was sentenced to two years in prison.

Education: We are convinced that school is the best place to fight racism and anti-Semitism. A “Republican Booklet” inspired by the ideal of tolerance and mutual respect has been widely distributed in schools. Screenings of movies, like “Shoah” by French director Claude Lanzman, are organized.

A system for identifying and dealing with racist and anti-Semitic acts in learning environments has been established in school districts. Our pedagogical approach also consists of developing a curriculum about religions.

The French government’s efforts also apply to means of communication. Thanks to adaptations in our laws, the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel, the French watchdog of the broadcast media, was able in December 2004 to prohibit broadcasting by the Al-Manar network over French territory, due to the anti-Semitic content of its programming. Likewise, we interrupted Al-Manar’s signal to Asia and South America, which had been relayed by Globecast, a subsidiary of the French company, France Telecom.

Finally, efforts undertaken in France to fight racism and anti-Semitism are also being undertaken abroad through international cooperation with the European Union, the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). We are particularly attached to the definition of an ethic code to counter Internet abuse.

In Los Angeles, we also try to play our part. It is for me a matter of great satisfaction to maintain faithful relations with some of the prominent representatives of the Jewish community. The Simon Wiesenthal Center welcomed in May 2003 a high-ranking delegation of the French national police for a one-week working session. The American Jewish Committee hosted several successful and useful events with the consulate general of France, including a memorable lunch with our ambassador to the United States, Jean-David Levitte.

Since the impression has developed over the years that French foreign policy was biased against Israel, I would like to add a few comments on the present state of our bilateral relations. As you certainly remember, Chirac very strongly condemned as “senseless” the recent, unacceptable threats of Iranian President Ahmadinejad against the very existence of Israel. The existence of a secure Israel is not negotiable nor questionable.

As you may know, the pace of our bilateral visits goes fast these days. Foreign Minister Shalom was in Paris last October, Prime Minister Sharon last July, former French Foreign Minister Barnier was in Israel last February.

Please note that during Sharon’s visit, Chirac made it a point to praise his exceptional courage with regard to the withdrawal from Gaza. What France hopes to see in the Middle East is, of course, peace, security and reconciliation.

In order for this to happen, there must be a viable, democratic Palestinian state coexisting peacefully with a secure Israel. France, along with its European partners, is committed to that goal.

Our fight against anti-Semitism thus takes many forms. And it is unflagging.

Today we are seeing our policies have been fruitful. We recently learned that the number of anti-Semitic acts reported during the first quarter of 2005 dropped nearly 50 percent, compared to the same period in 2004. Violent acts have fallen the most, with three times fewer incidents reported in 2005 than in 2004.

Such results do not go unnoticed. On his visit to Paris this past July, Sharon thanked Chirac publicly for “his staunch fight against anti-Semitism and his full and entire faith in the strengthening of the deep friendship between France and Israel.”

A recent poll published by the Israeli daily, Maariv, (“Who Likes Us ?” Sept. 21) shows that 82 percent of French people have a positive opinion of Jews, the second-highest result behind the Netherlands (85 percent ) but ahead of Canada, the U.K., the U.S.A. (77 percent ) and Germany.

All this is comforting. But let us make no mistake: as revealed by the outburst of our suburbs, the challenges to foster equality, equal opportunities and to fight any form of discrimination are high. But we want to remain faithful to the ideals of the French republic: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

We want to make this ideal a reality. It is our every day fight.

Philippe Larrieu is French consul general in Los Angeles.

 

L.A. Hosts Debate on Israel Economy


“It’s the economy, stupid,” was President Clinton’s campaign mantra, and the same lesson was hammered home June 5-7 to 25 Israeli diplomats at a three-day conference at the Beverly Hilton.

“Growing Israel’s economy must be the priority of every Israeli representative abroad, and let others worry about the peace process,” said Stanley Gold, considered the largest private investor in Israeli industry.

In the 21st century, it is trained intelligence that grows the economy. International competition will not be for land or oil, but for human capital, observed former Wall Street powerhouse Michael Milken, now chairman of the Milken Institute think tank.

Gold and Milken were among the few to address the sessions in English. For most other discussions, Israeli consul generals and economic attaches from five U.S. cities, the ambassador to Canada and high officials from Jerusalem brainstormed in Hebrew on how to turn good advice into practice.

Holding the meeting on the West Coast, rather than in traditional New York or Washington, D.C., was a breakthrough for Ehud Danoch and Zvi Vapni, the No. 1 and No. 2 men at the consulate general in Los Angeles, who lobbied for the venue and organized the conference.

The choice of Los Angeles spoke to the large concentration of top American and Israeli entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley and the rest of California, as well as the growing orientation of the world economy toward the Asian continent, Vapni said.

That direction, fueled by the astonishing growth of technological brainpower in China, India and other Asian tigers, was driven home by Milken.

In barely 25 years, he predicted, Asia’s output will make up 58 percent of the world economy, followed by 25 percent for North America and 12.5 percent for Europe.

Israel is generally well-positioned for the “human capital” era, as shown by its present standing in the Middle East.

With only 0.6 percent of the region’s land area and 5 percent of its population, Israel today accounts for 24 percent of the economy of the region, Milken said.

Israel’s chief strength lies in the “creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and product development” in the high-tech and biotechnology sectors, said Dr. Glenn Yago, director of capital studies for the Milken Institute.

National healthcare, for which Israelis pay one-tenth of the cost in America while enjoying longer life expectancy, would be one area in which Israeli managers could well advise their overseas colleagues, said Milken.

At the same time, Israel’s economic expansion is hampered by some pronounced weaknesses.

“Israel doesn’t market itself and its products, or it does so badly,” the diplomats were told bluntly by Gold, CEO of Shamrock Holdings, the largest private fund investing in Israel.

Israeli businessmen also are not aggressive enough, Gold said, a charge rarely leveled at the Jewish state.

“You should only do business with foreign companies which, in turn, invest in the Israeli economy, otherwise you are fools,” he said. “Tell an American defense industry you will only buy if it invests in a $100 million portfolio on the Tel Aviv stock exchange. It’s how business is done.”

In addition, Gold said, Israel “does a poor job of using people like me to talk to American investors, You should put together a pool of people like me to talk about Israel to American business groups.”

Danoch, the Israeli consul general in Los Angeles, acknowledged that while marketing, promotion and advertising were not Israel’s strongest suit, business and government were working together to remedy the shortcomings.

It is also his job “to show that there is much more to Israel than scary headlines, to point out the achievements of our industries, culture and universities,” Danoch added.

Yossi Gal, deputy director for economic affairs in Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, who served as de facto program chairman, stressed the need for “synchronizing our economic and diplomatic efforts, in the sense that economic issues must be an integral part of every diplomatic exchange.”

Indeed, the conference itself, bringing together representatives of the often competitive ministries of foreign affairs, finance and trade and industry, served as an example to the hoped-for synchronicity and synergy in Israel’s efforts abroad.

The fact that this meeting among diverse ministerial interests was conducted without any apparent bureaucratic infighting and one-upmanship, noted one observer, augurs well for the future.

 

When Sad Things Happen to Good Kids


“The Boy Who Didn’t Want To Be Sad” by Dr. Rob Goldblatt (American Psychological Magination Press, 2004).

After taking his children to see a pleasant Disney cartoon, Dr. Rob Goldblatt thought there would some animated chatter about the film during the drive home.

Instead, there was silence, and tears.

“My kids started crying and said they never wanted to see the movie again,” said Goldblatt, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist and father of three. “All they could remember about it was that the hero’s father had died.”

At that moment, Goldblatt, was torn. As a father, he wanted to protect his children from grief. As a psychologist, he realized that running away from unpleasant feelings only serves to inure you from pleasant ones to come.

Instead of dwelling on the lachrymose movie, Goldblatt started telling his children a story which he made up on the spot, about a boy who tried everything possible to never be sad, only to find that the best way to deal with sadness is to acknowledge it and live through it.

Inspired by the moment, Goldblatt turned the story into a children’s book, “The Boy Who Didn’t Want To Be Sad” (American Psychological Magination Press, 2004), which he illustrated as well.

In the book, the boy decides that he wants to rid his life of everything that makes him sad. So he goes away to his secret place in the shade of the trees, and is happy. But then he’s struck by the thought that the trees will lose their leaves, and that makes him sad. He leaves the trees, and retreats to his room, where he watches videos and makes a huge tower with his blocks. “But every story has sad parts,” Goldblatt writes. “Blocks fall, toys break, game pieces get lost. He’d had it with everything.”

The boy continues to shut himself off from the world so that he never comes into contact with anything that could possibly make him unhappy. And, ironically, what he finds is that running away from sadness makes him terribly sad. The book ends with the boy embracing everything that he rejected, and riding the waves of emotion that are part and parcel of human existence.

Although the book is written for children, Goldblatt asserts that its message is crucial to healthy emotional development in adults as well.

“If we learn to be scared of feelings and run, we keep running because the feelings keep coming,” Goldblatt said. “This is the very thing that causes or worsens every psychological and relationship problem I treat in my office. Feelings are brief, but the problems we develop to escape them last a lifetime.”

Goldblatt, who in his practice treats everyone from “celebrities to soccer moms,” said that the secret to happiness is not to feel disconnected from sadness. Society places too much emphasis on the material keys to happiness (i.e., getting good grades, going to a good college, having a lucrative profession) and not nearly enough on the emotional ones. And it is the emotional equilibrium, according to Goldblatt, that makes the difference between a satisfying life, and an unhappy one.

“Unfortunately, feelings come as a set. You don’t get to choose to just have one,” Goldblatt said. “What most of us learn to do as a kid is, when we feel bad, to just push those feelings away. Parents are often annoyed with displays of emotion, and [tell kids] to walk it off. Parents think they are teaching their kids to cope with it, but what they end up doing is teaching them how to push away their feelings. And in order to have happiness, you have to feel. You have to stay with the emotion [and realize] that feelings are temporary. They come and go like a wave. They grow in intensity and then they come down all by themselves.”

For parents, helping children deal with their tears is a three-step process.

“First, you look at [the situation] and make sure there is no major damage,” Goldblatt said. “Then you tell them that it must hurt, and then you kiss it and make it better. And then pat them on the butt and send them out to play. Staying with them when they are feeling something uncomfortable is a very powerful experience. They don’t have to throw a tantrum because they have your sympathy, and what you teach them is courage.”

But even if you didn’t get that nurturing as a child, it’s never too late to mend one’s approach to processing emotions.

“It is less important what you feel than it is that you feel. Be as intensely engaged with life as you can,” Goldblatt said. “The more you feel the richer your life is going to be.”

 

Mayor Hahn Deserves Another Four Years


 

There is no doubt that Antonio Villaraigosa is flashy. But Los Angeles has enough movie stars. What our community and our city need is a mayor of accomplishment and whose values are in line with ours.

We should especially appreciate Mayor James Hahn’s efforts on behalf of the Jewish community. His efforts have resulted in maximum police protection for synagogues and Jewish community centers during the High Holidays. His administration also launched a citywide campaign against hate crimes and hate language, and he’s partnered with the Museum of Tolerance in programs, for example, that offer training in resisting racial profiling.

In addition, he’s participated in economic development initiatives and cultural and educational programs in conjunction with the mayor of Tel Aviv. Mayor Hahn’s city budget, through Cultural Affairs, supports the Jewish Federation’s Zimmer Children’s Museum. And city funds also assist the Aviva Center’s work to help at-risk teenage girls.

But our community also has benefited, along with the rest of the city, from Mayor Hahn’s work to make Los Angeles the nation’s safest city.

He chaired the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s Aviation Security Task Force after the attacks of Sept. 11 to lead the fight for safer airports and aircraft.

Before Mayor Hahn, the LAPD was shrinking, reforms to stamp out racial profiling were stalled, community policing was being eliminated and crime was on the rise. Mayor Hahn dismantled that status quo, and with the help of the police chief he hired, Bill Bratton, more officers are on the street, reforms are under way, community policing is a cornerstone of the LAPD and violent crime is down this year by 27 percent.

But our city is still facing challenges, and Mayor Hahn will not rest on the successes of the last four years. He is developing an unprecedented citywide gang injunction to make every part of Los Angeles off limits to gangs, and he has never slowed his constant battle to hire more police officers.

I trust Mayor Hahn to keep up the pressure on criminals. I do not trust Antonio Villaraigosa.

Then-City Attorney Hahn pioneered the use of gang injunctions, now a crime-fighting tool that’s being used nationwide. At the same time, Antonio Villaraigosa was suing in court to stop gang injunctions.

City Attorney Hahn helped draft the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act to bring some of the toughest crackdowns on gangs California has seen. Antonio Villaraigosa was one of just 10 votes against that law.

Time and time again, Antonio Villaraigosa has acted against crime victims and for criminals — like when he was the only vote out of 63 against a bill to toughen penalties against child abusers who kill a child.

It may be a cliché, but there is nothing more true than the fact that our children are our future. I trust Jim Hahn to turn around our schools, just as he turned around the Police Department. Our kids deserve an educational system that prepares them for success, and one that ensures the future peace and prosperity of our city.

Jim Hahn has already led the fastest-ever expansion of city after-school programs, giving more than 20,000 kids a safe place to learn after school, when they may otherwise be out on the streets and getting into trouble. And his office has provided assistance to the school district on 60 of its school construction projects, because classroom overcrowding so negatively impacts classroom learning and the quality of life in our neighborhoods.

Now, he is fighting to appoint members to the school board, establish charter schools and provide incentives for teachers to make sure the best ones come and stay in Los Angeles public schools, where they are sorely needed.

Antonio Villaraigosa is saying that he will be the “education mayor,” but in light of his failure to attend even one meeting of the City Council Education Committee he sits on this year, I question his commitment.

Although Antonio Villaraigosa takes credit for state school bonds voters passed in 1997, the reality is that, because of his mismanagement, it took a lawsuit by Los Angeles parents before our city started receiving its fair share of the bond money, which is now helping to build schools all over the city. Before the lawsuit, Los Angeles, the second-largest school district in the nation, stood to receive as little as 1 percent of the bond’s funding for construction of new schools.

I trust Mayor Hahn to move our city forward. He’s proven over his tenure as the city controller, city attorney and as mayor that he does what he says he’s going to do, and he brings results.

He’s always acted in the interests of the people, regardless of the political consequences. Hiring a new chief for the LAPD cost him thousands and thousands of votes — but it also prevented thousands and thousands of people from becoming crime victims.

Jim Hahn is a man of faith. He is a man of integrity and he is a man who delivers results for our community and the entire city. For our own good, we should vote to give him another four years.

Carmen Warschaw is a longtime Democratic Party leader, philanthropist and community activist.

 

Weiss Support Strong Despite Challenge


 

For most L.A. City Council members, the March municipal election is less a race than a stroll in the park. Mayor Jim Hahn faces four serious challengers, but just before the December filing deadline, it seemed that the only serious council race was in the Westside’s 11th District, where newbies Flora Krisiloff and Bill Rosendahl are squared off to replace Cindy Miscikowski, who has been forced out by term limits.

No other councilmember faces term limits, and the usual reasoning is: Why should a hopeful take on an incumbent when that incumbent will be out of office in just another four years?

Since Los Angeles’ voters imposed the two-term limit in 1993, only one single-term incumbent has been forced out.

But in December, at almost the last possible moment, a challenger emerged in the Westside’s other district — the UCLA-centered 5th District, long the stronghold of present County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. The 40-year-old incumbent — boyish, mild-mannered former federal prosecutor Jack Weiss — faces a moderately funded effort by unknown attorney-businessman David T. Vahedi.

The 39-year-old Vahedi contends that he speaks for disgruntled citizens who say Weiss has an unsatisfactory record on crime, traffic and development. Weiss has countered that crime is actually down, and even many of his past opponents have spoken out to support him.

Weiss has raised $301,000. Vahedi, who unlike Weiss is taking city matching funds, has raised $111,000, including $32,500 in city matching funds and personal funds of $22,500. According to January filings, Vahedi has raised more money than any other candidate this year who is challenging a council incumbent.

“I decided to run at almost literally the last minute,” Vahedi said. “My wife and I went door-knocking, and we were able to gather the 1,700 signatures we needed in just a few hours.”

“I was the 81st of all of the 82 people to file their eligibility petitions in this city election,” Vahedi said in an appearance at a Westside meeting of the local Fairness and Accuracy in Media group in Santa Monica.

The tall, dark candidate was by far the youngest and, arguably, best-dressed person in the room, wearing a light-absorbing black, single-breasted suit and a sky-blue necktie, like the ones both President Bush and Hahn have sported of late.

Vahedi accused Weiss of allowing the destruction of Century City’s Schubert Theater and of letting it be replaced by an office tower that, he argued, will bring thousands more rush-hour car trips.

Actually, the plan was in place under Weiss’ predecessor, Mike Feuer. However, Vahedi said Weiss should have known better and done something.

This audience was quite receptive to Vahedi’s attacks on Weiss, consisting as it did of fans of former state Sen. Tom Hayden, whom the then little-known Weiss narrowly defeated in the 2001 5th District council race.

Vahedi, a Democrat like Weiss, isn’t running to the left of moderate Weiss. Rather, Vahedi contends that Weiss failed to live up to his billing as the practical, pothole-filling alternative to the controversial Hayden.

“I decided to run because I saw a need, because people are complaining about things like overdevelopment and traffic,” Vahedi said.

This isn’t his first political sally. He also recently ran unsuccessfully for the State Board of Equalization.

Vahedi mentioned Westwood, and said that the one-time entertainment mecca of West Los Angeles today has nearly the same aura of desolation it had in 2001. “And there is increasing crime,” he added.

In a later interview, Weiss countered with LAPD statistics suggesting that crime in his district has dropped 12 percent. He insisted that he’s one of the toughest anti-crime council members: “I was a federal prosecutor. I used to put people in jail for a living.”

Weiss received a vote of confidence from Sandy Brown, who heads the Holmby-Westwood Property Owners Association, the local homeowners group. Weiss has done a lot to turn Westwood around, she said, even though problems remain.

Brown strongly supported Hayden in 2001, but she’s been won over: “Jack was obviously not a seasoned politician when he started. But since then, we’ve found him most receptive to constituent concerns.”

She contended that Weiss even managed to bring around a satisfactory solution to the sprawling Casden residential-commercial development in Westwood Village — a project that stalled under three previous developers and two previous councilmembers.

“He made no decision without consulting residents,” she said.

Westwood is the centerpiece of the 5th District, which includes pieces of Encino, Sherman Oaks and North Hollywood, plus Bel Air, Century City and Los Angeles from the 405 Freeway to east of Beverly Hills and south nearly to Culver City. It also contains the city’s chief Jewish regions: the Chandler Boulevard,

Fairfax Avenue and Pico Boulevard corridors.

Even before a youthful Yaroslavsky stormed aboard in 1975, it was long represented by Jews: Ed Edelman, who was preceded by Roz Wyman. These predecessors have endorsed Weiss.

Vahedi’s Persian name might suggest that he’s Jewish, too, but he isn’t.

Vahedi’s made some inroads against Weiss. He got the county Federation of Labor endorsement and an interesting range of bricks-and-mortar union backing, including that of the county Building Trades Council. Vahedi’s major elected endorser is Democratic Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally.

But there’s been no major groundswell against Weiss, with 19 of the district’s 20 homeowner groups endorsing him. Weiss also has the backing of the local Democratic Party organization and almost every local legislator, including Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood).

So even with a spirited challenge, it’s hard to see this race going to anyone but Weiss. Vahedi may have to wait until 2009 — that’s when Weiss terms out.

Marc B. Haefele is news editor of the Los Angeles Alternative Press and comments on local government for KPCC-FM.

 

Israel Watches Iran With Worry


 

For Israel, it’s the classic “I’ve got good news, but you might want to hear the bad news first” scenario.

Just when a confluence of unrelated events revived the prospect of peace talks with the Palestinians, Iran’s potential nuclear threat to the Jewish state suddenly seems greater than ever.

In fact, the Iran dilemma is almost the mirror image of new hope with the Palestinians: The prospect of a nuclear-armed, radical Islamic regime suddenly has moved from the “within years” to the “within months” column, differences between the United States and Europe are dogging resolution — and the United States wants Israel to just sit still.

Reports of Iran’s accelerated development of nuclear material, as well as missiles to deliver it, have profoundly unsettled Israelis.

“We believe we know what the real intentions of the Iranians are,” Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said last week in Cleveland at the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group of North American Jewish federations. “The real intention of the Iranians is to develop a nuclear bomb.”

The level of agreement over keeping at bay a nation that routinely calls for Israel’s elimination and glorifies suicide bombers reached across Israel’s otherwise fractious political culture.

“Israel cannot, cannot live under the shadow of nuclear Iran and the bomb,” Ephraim Sneh, a leader of the opposition Labor party, said on CNN.

“Israel is very vulnerable,” said Sneh, who was in Washington last week. “All our economic and intellectual assets are concentrated in a piece of 20 and 60 miles. That’s all. Two bombs can turn Israel into a scorched Third World country. We cannot live with it.”

Yossi Beilin, leader of the dovish Yahad party, said the issue hangs over the nation at a time when Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s death, forthcoming Palestinian elections and the Bush administration’s post-election energy present renewed opportunities for peace in the region.

“Iran is a very, very important issue,” Beilin said. “For us it is hovering, it is a problem.”

Israel and the United States were hoping the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would announce tougher measures at its board meeting Thursday, including more rigorous international monitoring and a trigger mechanism that automatically would refer any violation of Iran’s nonproliferation agreement to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions.

Mindful of this week’s IAEA meeting, the Iranians signed an agreement last week with France, Germany and Britain to temporarily suspend their uranium enrichment efforts.

Iran announced on Monday that the suspension, in effect until Iran works out a long-term agreement with the international community, is now underway.

Instead of assuaging concerns, however, the agreement underscored skepticism about Iran’s intentions. Within days of signing the agreement, a reliable opposition group said Iran was using advanced technology to enrich uranium at military sites and keeping the activity secret, presumably to exempt it from the suspension.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran also said that the country had purchased enriched uranium in 2001 and designs for nuclear warheads in the mid-1990s.

Iran dismissed the claims out of hand, but on Friday European diplomats — some apparently from the same nations that had negotiated the suspension agreement — were telling reporters that Iran was accelerating enrichment ahead of the suspension.

The diplomats were furious with the obvious effort to get Iran as close as possible to weaponization before the freeze kicks in.

President Bush said he found the allegations credible. Attending a meeting of Pacific Rim leaders in Chile, Bush said he considered the reports a “very serious matter.”

Another area of concern for the Americans is the development of missiles needed to deliver the warheads.

“I have seen some information that would suggest they had been actively working on delivery systems,” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said last week.

Iran dismisses the reports as unfounded and compares them to the erroneous intelligence on weapons development that helped draw the United States into war with Iraq.

“The burden of proof is on the shoulder of the person who makes the claims,” Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Monday in an interview on CNN.

The problem with that explanation is that Iran often is the source of the claims. In August, Iran released photos of a new version of its Shihab missile that had a baby-bottle design, as opposed to the usual cone shape.

The design apparently was drawn from Soviet era ICBM nuclear missiles, said Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, since a nuclear device fits better in a baby-bottle shape.

Why would the Iranians allow the release of those pictures?

“They want people to know,” Clawson said.

With Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein out of the way, flexing muscles sends a message that Iran is now a dominant power in the Middle East. That would allow Iran to continue its disruptive involvement in Lebanon, where Israel says Iran has armed Hezbollah terrorists with 13,000 missiles. Hezbollah and Iran also have emerged among the main financiers of Palestinian terrorist attacks in the West Bank.

The revelations late last week only increased skepticism among some on the 35-member IAEA board, and the United States has expressed its determination to impose stiffer standards, especially since Iran reneged on previous deals.

Europeans also are unnerved that the newer Shihab missiles apparently could put major European cities within range.

On the other hand, China and Russia — which as declared nuclear nations have considerable influence at the IAEA — are averse to sanctions. Russia has a financial stake in Iran’s main nuclear reactor at Bushehr.

Furthermore, Mohammed ElBaradei, the IAEA’s director-general, on Monday called Iran’s enrichment suspension a “step in the right direction,” despite skepticism by Israel and others that any real suspension was underway.

Should Iran clear the IAEA hurdle, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) plan to reintroduce their bipartisan “Iran Freedom Support Act” when Congress reconvenes in January. It would allow the president to sanction countries that do business with the Islamic regime and strengthen support for opposition groups.

That likely would have the strong support of the pro-Israel community in Washington, which believes the suspension agreement with Europe is inadequate.

“Iran is intensely working to marry its nuclear and missile programs so that it can deliver a nuclear weapon at the earliest possible date,” said Andrew Schwartz, a spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “Nothing in the agreement stops Iran from completing nuclear warhead designs or improving its missiles to enable them to deliver nuclear weapons.”

After this meeting, Bush likely would raise the threat of sanctions when the IAEA board meets again, in about four months.

Israel, meanwhile, is sitting on its hands, not wanting to upend delicate U.S. efforts to build international support. U.S. officials have made clear they do not want Israel to repeat its successful 1981 strike on the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak.

“I don’t see how it would do anything but provoke … a conflict between Israel and Iran, and we want to avoid that at all costs, and I think the Israelis recognize that,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press. “It’s one thing to attack a reactor in Iraq 20-some years ago. It’s something entirely different to take on that challenge now.”

Israelis say they are happy to comply, for now. On the record, they say the window for Iran’s nuclearization is two years; off the record, they say the world is looking at 12 months.

“The complacency of the international community drives Israel, pushes Israel to the corner,” Sneh, a retired general, told CNN. “We don’t prepare a pre-emptive strike, but, gradually, along the axis of time, we are pushed to the corner.”

 

Negev to Blossom Under JNF Blueprint


A prominent Jewish organization wants to turn the mostly barren desert that is the Negev into a string of tree-lined, thriving communities dotted with verdant parks, flowering fields and pristine waterways.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF), a nonprofit group that has served as caretaker of Israeli land for more than a century, hopes to oversee the transformation of a mostly arid region that comprises 60 percent of the Jewish state’s land but only 8 percent of the population into a magnet for Jewish families, replete with commerce, housing and cultural centers. Parts of the Negev will bloom, both figuratively and literally, as recycled and reclaimed water fills new reservoirs and replenishes dry riverbeds to help communities sprout up where now there is only sand.

Blueprint for the Negev: The Vision for 21st Century Israel, an ambitious $500 million project, was unveiled Oct. 17 at a major JNF conference in Los Angeles. The plan calls for increasing the number of Jews in the region by 250,000 in five years and by 500,000 in a decade, partly to check the high birthrate among the area’s Bedouins. With Israel’s population expected to double in two decades and congestion increasing, now is the time to develop the arid 4,600-square-mile Negev, supporters said.

“We want to develop the Negev in the spirit of [modern-day Zionism founder] Theodore Herzl and with the vision of [Israel’s first Prime Minister] David Ben-Gurion,” JNF President Ronald S. Lauder said in his keynote address.

A booming Negev could also serve as a safety valve of sorts for displaced settlers from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, as well as new olim, or Jewish immigrants to Israel, supporters said. Also, JNF’s vision for the Negev might resonate with Jewish and other donors by promoting a more positive image of Israel.

But they concede that the Negev has yet to realize its potential. The confluence of several forces, however, could make this the propitious moment to turn Ben-Gurion’s dream into a reality, said Zvi Vapni, deputy counsel general of the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles.

Israelis in search of better air, more affordable housing and elbow room might finally give the Negev a chance, he said. Improved train service and a north-south highway now under construction could turn parts of the Negev into bedroom communities for Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Vapni added.

At the same time, JNF officials said improvements in water reclamation and recycling have made it easier to sustain large-scale development in the region.

“In many ways, the future of Israel is in the Negev,” Vapni said.

Indeed it is, said Ra’anan Gissin, senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The Negev might serve as the future home for 8,000 displaced settlers from the Gaza, Gissin said. The government has such high hopes for the Negev that it plans to push the Knesset to offer incentives to settlers choosing to relocate there.

“In one area, we’re dismantling and in another we’re expanding,” Gissin said. “I think developing the Negev would bring a new direction, a rejuvenation to Zionism.”

However, some observers worry that JNF’s plan could further diminish the quality of life for the Negev’s nearly 200,000 Bedouins, who already suffer from high unemployment, low education levels and poor health care.

David Lehrer, director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in the Negev, said he has suggested that JNF and other nongovernmental agencies make a financial and social investment in the Bedouin community to help them address such problems as poverty, joblessness and women’s rights. Lehrer said he feared the Negev initiative might exacerbate tensions between Jews and Bedouins by displacing the Arabs from land they traditionally live on and pushing them into impoverished settlements.

“We must stop looking at the Bedouin as the enemy but as citizens of the Jewish state of Israel and our partners in building a strong and healthy Negev,” Lehrer said.

JNF executives said the Negev’s development would benefit Bedouins by sparking regional economic growth.

As envisioned, major development in the Negev would take place around two hub cities, the region’s capital of Beersheba and Eilat. Among other things, JNF’s Negev initiative calls for:

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• Recycling Beersheba’s waste water and sending it down a now-dry, foul-smelling riverbed to promote tourism and riverfront development. With clean water running throughout the city, JNF hopes to boost Beersheba’s population by 50 percent to 300,000. The cost: $25 million over five years.

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• Establish seven new communities within a 15- to 30-minute drive from Beersheba. The largest would have up to 2,500 homes. Work has already started on six communities. The cost: $75 million.

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• Rebuild and expand a central park and develop a water recycling reservoir to revive a dry riverbed in Ofakim, a small town with 27,000 residents and a 45 percent unemployment rate. The cost: $10 million.

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• Create a JNF economic development fund to co-sign loans making it possible for Negev home buyers to receive 100 percent mortgage financing. Typically, Israelis can borrow no more than $65,000 for housing, even though homes go for $125,000 to $150,000, according to JNF. The development fund cost: $5 million.

“For years, the Jewish community has been raising money to fight terrorism, wars and other crises,” JNF Chief Executive Russell Robinson said. “This [blueprint] is a tangible way for Jews to connect with Israel. It’s a great, positive vision for Israel that gives the Jewish people the hope and spirit that sort of brings us back to the future.”

To be sure, talk of developing the Negev has been around probably as long as the Jewish state itself. However, past efforts have fallen short because many Israelis viewed the region as a cultural backwater, far removed from Israel’s cosmopolitan cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Poor roads and slow train service physically isolated the Negev. The expense and difficulty of bringing water there made it enticing to only the hardiest of souls.

That’s not to say growth and modernity have completely bypassed the Negev. Under JNF’s auspices, farming throughout the region has boomed, partly because of land purchases and irrigation and water reclamation projects. Beersheba, once little more than a desert outpost, today thrives with a population of 200,000, a world-class center of higher education in Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and one of Israel’s best hospitals, Soroka.

Ofir Fisher has personally experienced the rejuvenation that comes with taming the desert. Five years ago, the rugged 28-year-old and six friends founded a new community in the Negev called Sansana.

They did so for the idealistic purpose of promoting growth in the region, a place where $150,000 buys a dream house instead of a tiny three-bedroom apartment in Tel Aviv, Fisher said. Today, Sansana has 250 residents and is growing.

Fisher, a board member of Or Movement — a nonprofit advocacy group that works with JNF to support development in the Negev and Galilee — said his and other Negev settlers’ efforts have slowly helped burnish the area’s image.

“There’s a new spirit in Israel,” Fisher said. “People are starting to talk about the Negev.”

But even he conceded that some Israelis continue to think of the place as some sort of nowhere-land, good for little more than hiking.

To change those attitudes, JNF plans to bring 10,000 families to the Negev this Passover to “see for themselves, to let them feel what it will be like to be 21st century pioneers,” JNF President Lauder said.

In the Southland, Jewish support for the Negev initiative might resonate with affluent parts of the local community more than past appeals for Israel, said David Frank, president of JNF’s Greater Los Angeles region.

Whereas many Hollywood liberals have balked at supporting the Jewish state, lest their donations go toward supporting the occupation, they would likely open up their wallets to help relocate settlers from occupied Gaza to Israeli land in the Negev.

“A lot of people who have money in this town are in the entertainment business and don’t respond to some Israeli issues related to security,” Frank said. “But when they hear that we’re developing land and moving people there to help make peace, I think they’ll be quite excited.”

Stem Cell Success a Prop. 71 Boost?


Researchers at the Technion Institute of Technology and Rambam Medical Center in Israel have transformed embryonic stem cells into heart cells. The big breakthrough: When they grafted those cells onto a damaged heart, they essentially worked as a biological pacemaker.

This development comes at an auspicious time for Californians deciding on our referenda here at home, as Proposition 71 represents a $3 billion bond to support California embryonic stem cell research. (The measure boasts significant support from Jewish organizations.)

Some Proposition 71 opponents have claimed that no research on embryonic stem cells has ever come to fruition and that the technology is too dangerous and unpromising. The Israeli development seems to contradict that.

Dr. David Gutterman, associate director of the Medical College of Wisconsin Cardiovascular Research Center, who is familiar with the Israeli development, said, “This could lead to a replacement of the mechanical pacemaker, which requires surgery to replace the battery every few years.”

The Israeli research shows that rat heartbeats integrated the human “pacemaker cells” naturally, and that the cells actually regulated the rats’ heartbeats.

“We have been working on embryonic stem cells since the year 2000,” professor Lior Gepstein told The Journal. Demonstrating that the technology can actually work with a living heart took about two years, Gepstein said.

“This process may have future applications for the treatment of two very common heart diseases. One, abnormalities in the normal electrical activity of the heart resulting in slow heart rate and, two, heart failure due to significant loss of heart cells, such as occurs during a large heart attack,” Gepstein explained.

He made clear that there are several obstacles to overcome before the process can become a clinical reality, including overcoming the body’s tendency to reject grafted cells from another person, and the need for the lab to manufacture a far greater number of stem cells, which may take some years.

Santa Monica Election Surprise

Santa Monica City Council elections are scheduled on a big date — Nov. 2. Still, they don’t seem to be in danger of going unnoticed.

One newcomer from the Kennedy family and another old hand in Santa Monica politics are shaking up the race, stealing the thunder from the perennially politically powerful Santa Monica for Renter’s Rights (SMRR) organization, which has helped numerous local candidates get elected on its affordable housing platform. SMRR has been pivotal in city politics for the past 25 years.

Bobby Shriver, nephew to President John F. Kennedy and brother-in-law to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, joined the race amid a battle between homeowners and the existing city government over the allowable height of hedges, of all issues (though as the chair of the State Recreation and Parks Commission, it wasn’t the first meeting he’d had with the city).

“I was mad at the bullying that my neighbors and I had been subjected to, and I was also having fun meeting all my neighbors, so I decided to run,” Shriver said.

He told The Journal that as councilmember he would focus intently on the problem of homelessness in Santa Monica.

“What we need to do is get permanent supported housing for [the homeless] and I think the big empty buildings in Westwood on the VA grounds should be made into that type of housing.”

Shriver has raised more than $100,000, far more than any other candidate, in a campaign that limits per-person contributions to $250. Famous names appearing on his list of donors include David Geffen, Southern California ACLU Executive Director Ramona Ripston, Michael Ovitz and Sheryl Sandberg, vice-president of global online sales and operations at Google.

In the meantime, another candidate snubbed this year by the SMRR is the Green Party’s Michael Feinstein (also a former Santa Monica mayor), who said the organization’s endorsements this year were more the result of an internal personality struggle.

Feinstein is focusing on quality-of-life issues and infrastructure, noting that the city will be re-examining its general plan in the near future.

“We want to increase the likelihood that people will live closer to where they work so that new development will improve the quality of life rather than being overwhelmed by traffic,” Feinstein said.

“I’ve done traditionally well with Jewish seniors in town,” he said. “I think that culturally I can certainly relate to the large Jewish community.”

Jews Disagree With ‘Total War’

With just a few days left in the national campaign, President Bush has clearly staked this election on his prosecution of the war on terror and the war in Iraq.

The nonpartisan American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) 2004 Annual Survey, however, suggests that American Jews disagree with one of the President’s central premises on this: That the two wars are actually part of the same struggle.

Forty-two percent of American Jews approve of the manner in which the administration is handling the war on terror. But when asked about Iraq, only 30 percent said they approve of that war. And only a minuscule 7 percent think that the Iraq war has made the United States safer from terrorism.

According to the AJC, the survey respondents were 1,000 demographically representative members of the United States adult Jewish population, reached by telephone.

“I don’t think that poll really successfully polled the mainstream of the Jewish community,” said Bruce Bialosky, California state chair for Jewish outreach for the Bush/Cheney campaign. “Any Jew who doesn’t feel that the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror is either in denial or is just confused on the facts.”

Bialosky justified Bush’s combination of the wars by saying that although there may be locally minded insurgents in Iraq, they are clearly being utilized by global terrorist forces.

“It’s easy for us to purport that the terrorists in Iraq have a different desire and emphasis than terrorists in Indonesia, but what’s the difference? That’s like saying there’s a difference between those [terrorists] and the ones in Chechnya,” Bialosky said. “They’re all accomplishing the same thing and they’re coming from the same means, and they’re all being funded by the same sources.”

Bialosky said that this war on terror actually began in 1972 with the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.

In other words, Bialosky linked secular dictator Saddam Hussein, religious terrorist Osama bin Laden, the nationalist guerrillas in Chechnya and the Palestinian killers at Munich to the same agenda and organization, and Bush today is fighting a war that he understands actually began 30 years ago.

Against criticisms that this oversimplifies the problem, the president and his campaign have repeatedly claimed that only the na?ve fail to see the truth behind this struggle.

Nevertheless, according to the 2004 AJC poll, the definition of an all-encompassing war seems to have been soundly rejected by American Jews.

Balance Paramount to UPN Head Ostroff


Dawn Ostroff, who in addition to being a religiously observant wife and mother, has worked her way up to a glamorous, powerful and exciting position: president of entertainment at UPN. Offering insight into the art of balancing home and work life and achieving one’s professional dreams, she reminds us that it’s never too late.

Determine what is important.

Ostroff is responsible for all creative aspects of the network’s entertainment, including programming and development for weekly shows, specials, movies and miniseries. Additionally, with the help of a nanny, she cares for her two young children, while her husband Mark is across the country half of the month. She also volunteers on professional committees, but only a select two that are very close to her heart. While others are soliciting her leadership, she prioritizes what causes are most important, and turns down the other committee positions.

Focus and compartmentalize.

To balance her personal life with her professional responsibilities, the 44-year-old UPN power-exec stays focused.

“When I’m at work, I’m really able to focus on work, and when I’m at home, I’m really able to focus on my family. Of course, there are always times when things cross over, like when my child is sick or I have an obligation at school. Or, when I’m home and the phone is ringing and I still have work to do,” Ostroff said. “But for the most part, I really try to be respectful of wherever I am in my life, and covet the time and focus on what I need to get done. Or when I’m with my family, really focus on just enjoying them.” Having a toddler, she joked, “who is just demanding and wants you certainly makes it easier to focus on him.”

Balance your schedule to work for you.

Ostroff starts her days at 4 a.m. and usually works until 6 a.m., when her son Michael usually wakes up. After spending a couple of hours with him and her baby, she is at her desk at about 9 a.m. Ostroff is typically busy with meetings, returning telephone calls and “keeping up with everyone.” She also visits a set to watch rough cuts or catch up with other production-related duties. Ostroff usually gets home around 7:30 p.m., has dinner with her family and relaxes with her husband.

“And the weekends, we spend as a family,” though she has also devoted herself over the years to philanthropic organizations such as the American Jewish Committee, which brings international relief to victims of hate and bias.

Ostroff flies to New York about once a month to see her two stepsons. Her husband commutes to New York every other week, and has an office in both locations.

“We definitely have a challenging lifestyle, but it works for us,” she said.

Passion, patience and persistence.

Ostroff has a motto for her success.

“I believe in the three Ps: passion, persistence and patience. I always feel that if you have these three things, good things will come to you if you set your sight on something,” she said.

Good things have come her way since she began her career at 16.

“At 16, I was already very interested in the media and wound up answering request lines at a local station in Miami. Then I ended up interning at a lot of different TV stations down there. By the time I was 18, I was a reporter for the CBS ‘All News’ radio station WINZ in Miami.” All while attending college.

“I was very determined. I worked weekends at the radio station as a reporter and an anchor and I worked the weekdays as an intern at the local CBS television affiliate on sort of a local ’60 Minutes’-type show called ‘Montage.’ I really started to figure out what part of the business interested me and started to explore all different areas. I worked in the promotions department, the news department, and produced documentaries,” she said.

Fine-tune your interests.

After trying different positions, Ostroff made the critical decision that news didn’t fit the way she wanted to live her life: “At 18, I had seen more tragedy, death and despair that most people see in a lifetime. I decided that there might be a happier way for me to earn a living.”

A college graduate at 19, Ostroff began her career from the bottom up all over again.

“I had an opportunity to move to Los Angeles and go into the entertainment side of the industry, and I just took the chance when it came up and moved to L.A. by myself when I was 21,” she said.

In Los Angeles, she worked as a casting assistant, a secretary floating for different departments at 20th Century Fox and then figured out the area that really interested her: development.

Develop your skills

From there, she got development jobs and worked her way up.

She was at 20th Century Fox as an assistant for several years before securing her first opportunity as an executive for a small independent company called Kushner Locke, where she produced different “Movies of the Week” and television programs for HBO.

“As I started to develop my skills,” Ostroff said, “the company was developing at the same time.”

Take intermediate steps

Following her seven-year stint at Kushner Locke, Ostroff was offered a job at Disney to be a producer with writer Michael Jacobs. Together, they produced sitcoms for several networks and worked on shows like “Dinosaurs” and “Boy Meets World.” She stayed with Jacobs for five years.

“We enjoyed a good amount of success. ‘Boy Meets World’ is still on the air all the time now,” she said.

Ostroff’s career took off at high speed from there. She was offered a position at 20th Century Fox, where she served as president of development.

“A couple of shows really seemed to strike a chord, so that was really great. In fact,” she said. “One of the shows I developed was ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.'”

Work well with others.

By “developed,” Ostroff means that producers and writers bring her an idea and, as an executive of the studio, she develops it with them, helps them sell it and “sits on the sidelines as a guidance counselor/champion of the project.”

“In no way do you create it” she said. “You are just there to support the creative entities and make sure all the pieces fall into place so the show can be successful.”

She is involved in casting, script notes, selecting the director and the other important pieces of the puzzle. It is then pitched to the network.

Keep up the stride.

Following her executive position at 20th Century Fox, Ostroff was offered a position at Lifetime and, under her stewardship, it rose from the sixth highest-rated network in cable television to the No. 1 in prime time.

“A lot of people didn’t believe that a network geared toward women could ever become the No. 1 cable network,” she said, but attributed its success to good projects, network talent, and a supportive board.

This was the last rung on a long ladder to success before landing at UPN.

Always evaluate where you are at.

Would she change any step she’s taken during the course of her career?

“I think there were different times when I would have changed things, but in hindsight the experiences that I had helped make me a better-rounded executive, and that’s the thing that I’m most appreciative of.”

“I do believe that everything happens for a reason,” she added. “One of the things that I am really grateful for is the many experiences I’ve had behind the camera, in front of the camera, as a producer, as an executive, that I feel that I can identify with everyone throughout the process and I understand what everybody’s going through. I understand what their issues are and I think that makes me a better executive because I am able to really able to put myself in everyone else’s shoes and know what they have to do to get the best project.”

Remember, you can have it all.

And after the weekend, she is just as motivated to once again rise at 4 a.m. to meet the challenges of her job. According to the tireless Ostroff, she has a great passion for her work.

“It’s never a chore,” she said. “Never. I can’t really say that there’s too many days when I wake up and say, ‘Ugh, I’ve got to go to work,’ like I felt about school. I’m excited every day and I’ve been doing it forever.”

World Briefs


Israel Asks U.S. Egypt Help in Gaza

The United States and Egypt want to know more about Israel’s proposal for Egypt to help secure Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal.

Dov Weisglass, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s chief of staff, and Giora Eiland, Sharon’s national security adviser, discussed the idea Monday in meetings with Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s national security adviser, and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The Israelis are ready for a total withdrawal, but say they need Egyptian help to keep arms smugglers from crossing the Gaza-Egypt border.

U.S. State Department official said the proposal was not fully worked out and that the Americans are waiting for further details. If the Egyptians are willing, the official said, the United States could help them with incentives.

Nadil Fahmy, Egypt’s ambassador to Washington, said his country was interested in the proposal but needed to know more. Egypt would participate if the withdrawal were part of negotiations with the Palestinians, Fahmy told JTA.

“It has to be in the context of resolving the conflict on the basis of a two-state solution and ending the occupation,” he said. Israel has suggested that its withdrawal could be unilateral unless the Palestinians crack down on terrorism.

E.U. Presses Libya

The European Union called on Libya to join a free trade zone it has boycotted because of Israeli membership in the group. The European Commission said Monday that Tripoli immediately should send officials to Brussels to prepare its application to the group, whose purpose ultimately is to create a free-trade zone bringing together all the countries of North Africa and the Middle East. Libyan President Muammar Gadhafi recently expressed a desire to join the process, but he cannot take part unless he agrees to recognize Israel.

Bush Sends $20 Million to UNRWA

President Bush is sending $20 million to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza. The new allocation, authorized Thursday, is from the U.S. Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund, and will be distributed through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The request is a response to an appeal for $193 million for humanitarian needs for the Palestinian people, the State Department said.

Group Collects Money for Haitians

A Jewish group is collecting money for humanitarian aid
in Haiti. Donations can be sent to the American Jewish World Service at: AJWS,
Haiti Relief, 45 W. 36th St., 10th Floor, New York, NY, 10018, or online at

Transition to New Center Under Way


The transition by Orange County’s Jewish Community Center (JCC) to an expansive $20 million facility in Irvine this summer is already underway with the hiring, effective March 1, of an expanded management team.

On the job only a few months, Dan M. Bernstein, the JCC’s executive director, is also moving swiftly to tidy up a homegrown, informal culture and instill more professionalism in the organization. Besides reassigning staff and making new hires, Bernstein is pushing to establish more rigorous policies about membership and community use at the new facility.

At least Bernstein can avoid wrestling with the threat of court-imposed restrictions on hours of operation, as neighboring homeowners in January dropped a lawsuit seeking such limits. To allay noise concerns by residents, both sides agreed to restrict usage in the gymnasium to 10 p.m., said James W. Kauker, a board member of the Sierra Bonita Homeowners Association and president of Irvine Residents for Responsible Growth, which helped pay for the litigation. The gym is closest to the Turtle Rock neighborhood.

Still unresolved is paying for landscaping to obscure the multistory building, uphill from homes on Sierra Lago Road. The forest of mature trees on the homeowners’ wish list would cost $700,000, Kauker said, while the JCC has agreed to an additional $100,000 worth of plantings. Residents intend to ask city government to fund the difference.

"We’re hoping the city will do the right thing," Kauker said, because city officials failed to adhere to development notification rules when issuing permits for the campus.

The facility still under construction in Irvine is expansive and includes an infant-care facility, preschool, fitness center and gymnasium large enough to accommodate two basketball games. There are areas designated for workout classes, adult education and massage. When completed, there will be lockers for swimmers, space for an art exhibit, playground and Holocaust memorial.

In addition, the JCC will have a cafe, poolside snack bar and kosher kitchen to prepare hot food, which is partially for the use of high school students on the neighboring campus of Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School. The center’s multipurpose theater will seat 500.

Typically, the fitness center and athletic facilities are what 70 percent of JCC members seek, Bernstein said, noting that the current 30,000-square-foot JCC in Costa Mesa was inadequate to offer more typical amenities.

"A normal JCC has teen activities, a parenting center, athletic activities," he said. "Outside of preschool and camp, we didn’t have 90 percent of what a normal JCC does." The director predicted that the new 120,000-square-foot JCC will support a program guide an inch thick.

"We have to change the way we do business," Bernstein said. "I know what it takes to open this building. It’s going to be very expensive to run this building."

A new emphasis will be placed on boosting JCC membership, which had not previously been mandatory, even for board members. Contracts are under review, too, with independent contractors, such as those who for years have offered Krav Maga self-defense classes and Israeli folk dancing on JCC premises.

"They will be our programs, on our terms," Bernstein said.

His goal is to increase a current membership of 900 units to 1,000 in a year and to double that in three years. In addition, he hopes to standardize fees, which now vary by category.

Among the new staff starting this month are some familiar faces in unfamiliar roles. The current 12-member staff is expected to more than double — up to 30 — when the new facility opens, now expected in September.

Sean Eviston, hired as director of health, recreation and physical education, worked as fitness coordinator at the Westside JCC in Los Angeles.

Sheila Witzling, who volunteered her marketing skills to JCC projects, such as the "Three Tenors" concert, accepted a staff position as director of marketing and membership. Witzling most recently worked for the Identity Group, an Irvine marketing firm. She is also president of Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel.

Wendy Miller of Aliso Viejo will return to the JCC as special events and fundraising coordinator. Jason Meyers, who developed the JCC’s after-school sports program and Sunday leagues, was named director of a new JCC sports camp.

Bernstein also mined his former employer in Sarasota, Fla., hiring two former employees to serve as the JCC’s camp director and teen coordinator. Wendy Fogel will succeed outgoing camp director Sari Poremba. Audra Martin will take on the new position of teen and tween program supervisor, charged with developing after-school, weekend and summer youth programs.

Bernstein believes JCCs play a vital role in maintaining Jewish identity and solidifying the Jewish community. His 84-year-old father is still a dues-paying JCC member. When Bernstein asked why, his father told him, "Because my picture is on the wall," referring to a dated team photograph.

"I want everyone who comes through the door to see their face [on the wall]," Bernstein said.

Campus Advocates Spring Ready


After 12 days of advocacy training in the Jewish state, Jonathan Goldberg is returning to the University of Michigan with concrete plans for promoting Israel’s cause on campus.

"The trick is to translate [passion for Israel] into something that somebody else would care about," said Goldberg, a sophomore who went to Israel for an advocacy workshop run by Hillel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

"[It’s about] making the people who don’t really know much about Israel love Israel," he said.

With the spring semester coming, students like Goldberg are smitten with a new strategy for Israel advocacy on campus: love.

Thousands of Jewish students went to Israel over winter break on their own or in formal trips organized by groups like the Jewish Agency for Israel and Birthright Israel.

Hillel, the central Jewish campus group, unveiled a campaign called "Love Is Real," launched by sexpert Ruth Westheimer, to inspire passion — or love — for Israel.

"When you love something, you can disagree with aspects of the policy, but at the end of the day it’s still something you very much support," said Daniel Frankenstein, a senior at UC Berkeley.

The Israel programs aim to imbue students with the knowledge and emotion only first-hand experience in Israel can provide, organizers said. The goal is for students to return to campus with personal stories and new energy to help them promote Israel effectively and get others involved in the cause.

Activists say the stakes are big. College campuses represent the next generation of American opinionmakers, and showing them Israel’s side is essential for the security of the U.S.-Israel bond.

After the beginning of the intifada in September 2000 led to an outbreak of anti-Israel activism at campuses across the United States, Jewish groups have worked to craft increasingly sophisticated advocacy training for students.

Three years in, the activists behind the advocacy programs are confident the message is getting out.

Ritzy pro-Israel programs groom campus activists into savvy leaders, and sometimes even professional lobbyists. AIPAC, for example, offered full-time jobs to three of the students who attended the group’s winter trip. AIPAC calls its campus strategy "retail engagement" — dispatching pro-Israel messages on a peer-to-peer basis.

Many of the students who participate in the training programs say they feel proud about being in a positive pro-Israel movement. They say they leave the programs with an articulate message and a bevy of ideas to fuel Zionist identity, from classes on krav maga — a type of self-defense taught in the Israeli military — to forging ties with other campus groups.

The anti-Israel activists turn off students with their hostile attitude, some of the advocates for Israel believe.

"We’re really making it clear to people that the pro-Israel movement is one that encompasses many different beliefs," Frankenstein said. "[It is] very attractive to people."

If tension resurfaces at Berkeley — a hotbed of anti-Israel activism during the intifada — pro-Israel activists say they’re prepared.

Activists say they expect anti-Israel attacks this year to target Israel’s talk of unilateral separation and the West Bank security barrier.

But not all Jewish college students have morphed into Middle East policy wonks. Many remain confused or intimidated when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reaches campus.

"I definitely have had moments where I was very, very fearful," said Wayne Klitofsky, a sophomore at UC San Diego.

An Alpha Epsilon Pi activist who attended his fraternity’s Israel advocacy training last fall, Klitofsky says he gets "death stares from members of the other side all the time."

Last year, he brokered an agreement among activists against offensive antics, after pro-Palestinian students staged a scene of mock Israeli soldiers shooting pregnant women. This fall, however, the pro-Palestinian students backed out of the agreement, Klitofsky said, so he expects an "incredibly intense" semester.

At Georgetown University, the chilly relations between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students resemble "a cold war on campus," said Deidre Moskowitz, president of the Jewish Student Association.

The debate on Israel does not stop at the classroom door.

Moskowitz, who is minoring in justice and peace studies, said she often hears students and professors calling the U.S.-Israel relationship "the catalyst for the war in Iraq." Her contemporaries often call Israeli soldiers the "real terrorists," she said.

Fighting back in class isn’t easy, Moskowitz said.

"Obviously, I’m not a tenured professor. I don’t have the same clout as someone spouting off [his or her] beliefs," she said.

Even when hostilities aren’t a challenge, engaging apathetic students is.

The Middle East is "really off everyone’s radar down here," said Greg Swartzberg, coordinator of a pro-Israel group at the University of Georgia.

At the University of Pennsylvania, pro-Israel activists say they can’t take it for granted that the issue won’t become heated on campus.

"When you look at the media and you watch TV and CNN, the image that one can have of the situation is one that doesn’t lend itself to support for Israel," said Gabrielle Mashbaum, a student leader for the Jewish National Fund’s Caravan for Democracy, which sends speakers to campuses to promote Israel’s democratic values.

"When people don’t have that background or education in the history, then there’s a risk of sort of losing them," Mashbaum said.

That’s why activist groups are turning to one-on-one advocacy.

"What keeps me up at night is that we’ve only scratched the surface," said Jonathan Kessler, AIPAC’s leadership development director.

"We’ve got the right prescription," he said, pointing out that pro-Israel groups constantly are launching new programs that interest students. But he’s worried that only one-quarter of the country’s 2,400 major colleges have a pro-Israel presence, and many students have grown tired of the ongoing conflict.

The answer, Kessler and others say, is personal engagement.

AIPAC teaches students to engage others through pro-Israel voter registration. In addition to conducting regional campaign training institutes, AIPAC urges students to get involved with political campaigns and organize student delegations to lobby congressmen in their districts and in Washington.

Hillel has adopted the same tack. The group is asking its nearly 3,000 students returning from winter trips to Israel to give their peers "Love Is Real" buttons.

"We will be encouraging and helping facilitate tens of thousands of discussions on campuses," said Wayne Firestone, director of Hillel’s Center for Israel Affairs. "They are personal accounts that are meant to generate real discussions and real sharing of their experience and their stories while they were in Israel."

Moving Beyond Ladies Who Lunch


Dorraine Gilbert is happily married. But she hasn’t forgotten what life was like when she wasn’t.

During the five years after she was divorced from her first husband, the enthusiastic 57-year-old recalls returning to Hadassah. She had hoped that the organization would provide her with an outlet for support and friendship like it had done in the past.

But while Gilbert was a life member of Hadassah, she remembers feeling out of place among the mostly married membership.

Now that she is remarried, Gilbert is helping to make Hadassah more welcoming for other single women.

"I didn’t want anybody else to experience that," said Gilbert, who is currently the Israel, Zionist and international affairs chair for Hadassah Southern California (HSC). "I felt that Hadassah should be there no matter what your age or your position in life…. Hadassah is a place for everybody."

Gilbert and her own Metro region Bat Yam group — which was founded last October and currently includes 90 married and unmarried members — have founded a singles circle. Open to women of all ages who have never married or who have divorced, Gilbert hopes that the group will offer single women an opportunity to network and establish friendships that will be beneficial in the future.

Bat Yam’s efforts follow a trend of volunteer organizations trying to entice younger members to replace an aging membership. In doing so, groups like Hadassah must change their image to counter old stereotypes. Historically viewed as an organization for older, married women, Hadassah now has a wide variety of options for women who don’t fit the mold.

Miriam Erdosi, membership and group development specialist for HSC, hopes to rebuff the myths that Hadassah is only for elderly women.

"There are women in our age range who don’t know what Hadassah is," said Erdosi, 30. "They’re like, ‘Oh, I think my grandmother belonged. I think I’m a life member…. Aren’t all the women in their 80s?’ These women are not in their 80s. They’re young leaders; vibrant professional people."

Members of HSC’s 82 existing groups range in age from 24 to 100 years old. The youngest group, Ahavah, consists of young professionals in their mid-20s and early 30s. While all of the girls currently in the group are single, Erdosi says that meeting a mate is not the group’s goal.

"There are opportunities for the women to meet their friend’s friends, but that’s not the focus of the group," Erdosi said. "The focus is making a difference for Israel and being a part of the Jewish community, and if they happen to meet someone — fabulous."

HSC’s West Los Angeles-based Chalom group consists of women mostly in their 30s and 40s, most of whom are married and have young children, while Aviva, a Covina-based group, is made up of women predominately in their late 40s.

Susan Rifelli, incoming membership chair for Bat Yam, joined Gilbert in her venture to create a singles group within Hadassah after Gilbert set her up on a "blind date" with her girlfriend, Sandy, who couldn’t find someone to go with her to an art show. The women have become good friends ever since.

Rifelli hopes that the organization will help other women create meaningful relationships with each other.

"The reason we think it’s a good idea is so we can network with each other," said Rifelli, 50. "For instance, one of my title officers — I’m a realtor — gave me two tickets to a concert at Staples Center tomorrow night. I’ve got to find someone to go with me. I don’t have a guy to bring as a date. So I’ll either bring a single woman client or I’ll bring somebody from Hadassah."

But attracting a younger — sometimes single — membership may pose a challenge for Hadassah considering its previous track record. It’s not that Hadassah hasn’t tried having a singles group in Los Angeles. At one time, Vanguard, Hadassah’s national singles program "comprised of singles groups that bring together Jewish men and women, ages 22-39, for cultural, spiritual, social and fundraising activities" was active in Los Angeles. Vanguard, however, was unsuccessful in the Los Angeles market — a failure that Hadassah leaders attribute to a high level of competition in the city’s oversaturated singles market.

Rifelli, however, believes that Bat Yam’s singles circle will survive because it is stands apart from typical singles groups.

"Believe me, when women get dressed and go to a singles event, even if two girlfriends go together, they’re not focusing on each other. They are focusing on who the men are out there," said Rifelli, who is single. "They’re not developing a friendship with the woman they’re with."

On June 1, Rifelli will host Bat Yam’s first singles circle event, and she says the event — which will feature guest speaker June Walker, incoming National Hadassah president — will be an exception to the rule of singles event.

"How many singles events do you know that are not completely centered around the possibility of meeting a man? This is not one of them," Rifelli said.

For more information on the Bat Yam or the singles circle, call (310) 649-5533.

Clash Over Council, School Board Seats


In the North San Fernando Valley lies District 12, which has been represented by Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson for 24 years. Bernson, 72, is retiring because of term limits, and the battle for his seat has resulted in the nastiest fight in years.

Not since "the Richards" — Katz and Alarcón — duked it out for the Assembly have there been so many accusations between two candidates. In one corner is Julie Korenstein, the longest-sitting member on the Los Angeles Board of Education, on the other is Greig Smith, Bernson’s chief deputy.

Each has a long record of public service: Korenstein has been on the Board of Education since 1987, while Smith has been Bernson’s top aide since 1980. Both are on the May 20 ballot to replace Bernson, whose district covers Chatsworth, Northridge, Granada Hills and parts of Canoga Park, West Hills and Encino.

Both candidates have long lists of endorsements. Korenstein’s backing reflects her political links: Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters and the United Teachers Union of Los Angeles. Smith has the political support of state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), United Firefighters of Los Angeles and former Mayor Richard Riordan.

In the hotly contested battle, each has accused the other of, among other things, lying, playing dirty and being beholden to special interests. Smith says Korenstein is tied to the unions, while Korenstein says Smith is hand-in-hand with developers.

Korenstein’s main challenge in the race is to convince voters that she is City Council material. In this, she believes her Board of Education experience has served her well, noting that as a board member, she has had oversight of a $9.9 billion budget.

"Los Angeles Unified covers 28 cities or parts of cities," Korenstein said. "We have a transportation division, a construction program with 120 schools, which are going to be built in the next five to six years. So I think I’m ready [to work for the city]."

In an appeal to Jewish voters, Smith took credit for helping North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) advocates secure funding in order to begin the process of purchasing the site from the troubled Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA).

"I went in and fought to keep it open," Smith said. "I was offended by the [JCCGLA] saying there weren’t enough Jews in the area to maintain it, when there is a very large Jewish community in the area that wants to keep the center open."

Andrea Goodstein, vice president of the NVJCC board, confirmed that Smith did attend the meetings to help secure the center, either with Bernson or as Bernson’s representative. However, she said that members of the NVJCC are split on the candidates. The center has held "meet-and-greets" for both candidates, but cannot endorse either one.

"We hope whoever takes Hal’s place will continue to work to support the center," Goodstein said.

Both candidates have been vocal on many of the issues in the district, most notably the Sunshine Canyon landfill. Smith differs with both Bernson and Korenstein in his approach to the North Valley area.

"Hal’s viewpoint is more global, as far as dealing with transportation and air quality, and looking at the city as a larger entity," Smith said. "I really want to focus my attention on the street level and work with the neighborhood councils."

Korenstein said she sees land use and transportation issues as "the most frustrating to people in the northwest Valley." She is concerned about equestrian property owners who moved to the area because it was horse-friendly and now are seeing their favorite trails eaten up by development.

One development of which she would approve, however, is a freeway.

"We really need another north-south freeway, because the San Diego Freeway can’t take the traffic anymore," she said. "We also need to improve bus service and look at a light-rail system. We need to bring our public transportation into the 21st century, like San Francisco or London or any normal city."

Elsewhere, two-term Board of Education member David Tokofsky is facing a strong challenge from Nellie Rios-Parra, a Lennox schools administrator and teacher, in what has shaped up as sharply contested battle. The two are vying for the Fifth District seat, representing an area whose student population is largely Latino.

Sue Burnside, Tokofsky’s election consultant, said polls show the incumbent is ahead as Election Day nears. However, Rios-Parra has received strong support from the Coalition for Kids, a political action committee backed by Riordan and millionaire businessman Eli Broad.

"We run on things that are very David Tokofsky, like textbooks and kids graduating with reading and writing skills and fiscal oversight," Burnside said. "We’re still ahead in the polls, but if our voters don’t turn out, we lose. It’s all an issue of who’s going to be there on Election Day."