October 20, 2018

Blessed by Movement

Photo by Puls

At the beginning of summer, life changed in the Upper East Side apartment I share with my 9-year-old son, Alexander. Although it was a positive change, a change I’ve been wanting for years, it was still fairly dramatic for him.

I promised Alexander all sorts of things to help make the transition easier. “We’re going to finish decorating,” I told him. “And we’re going to make it beasal” — a word he uses to mean uber-cool. “We’re finally going to get a puppy. And we’re going to make this into a party apartment — with all of your friends coming over and hanging out.” 

During a thorough apartment detox, I came across a small tile that the super had found behind the stove. The tile was sky blue, engraved with Arabic calligraphy. Though I had no idea what it said, it was too beautiful to throw away. I set it aside on the kitchen counter and prayed it said something positive.

Meanwhile, Alexander wasn’t dealing well with the transition. His anger and sadness made me sadder than I had ever been — how could I hurt my son? — even though I knew that it was all for the best. When he escaped to a gorgeous camp in Westchester every day, I tried to make the apartment more beasal for his return. 

Weekends were hardest for him. Most of his friends had gone to sleepaway camps. We took trips, but the thing that helped us the most was a Saturday afternoon basketball class in Central Park run by Ameen, a sheikh at the local mosque. The weekly class allowed Alexander to be challenged by boys much older, and he gained new confidence. 

Ameen and I would sit and watch the boys play — an array of ethnic diversity amid the natural diversity of the park. Each week, Ameen looked into my eyes as though he was examining the health of my soul. He knew exactly what to say to calm me and to make Alexander glow. 

School started, and with it Alexander became more sensitive and vulnerable again. I tried to compensate by having over a steady stream of his friends. But that wasn’t always comforting. Kids can say mean things, most often when they don’t know what to say.

On Yom Kippur, after returning from services, we heard a faint knock on the door. “Hi, I’m Waseif from Yemen,” a strikingly beautiful woman said. “We moved in next door. In my culture we bring food to our new neighbors.” Before I had a chance to say, “So do we,” Waseif handed me a box of cookies. Then her 14-year-old son, Reese, came to the door and said hey to Alexander; soon her daughter, Anaya, a 7-year-old firecracker, waltzed in. Two puppies followed. 

“On Simchat Torah, we bless the movement, the transition, the essential cycle of life — one door closes and another one opens.”

Suddenly, our apartment was filled with warmth, light and joy. The boys bonded over technology; Anaya entertained us with her gymnastic moves; and Waseif and I talked as though we had known each other our entire lives.

Then I remembered the tile.

“Please,” I asked Waseif, “what does this mean? I found it here, in the kitchen, after my ex-husband moved out.” Tears welled in her eyes. “Baraka,” she said. “It means blessing…. Like your B’racha.”

Stunned, I had to verify this with my Egyptian friend, Marwa. She confirmed it and added: “We have a saying: ‘Al Haraka Baraka. In movement there is blessing.’ ”

For the next few days, there was a lot of movement between our apartments. Waseif taught me how to apply makeup “like Cleopatra.” Alexander gave Anaya some of his stuffed animals. Reese helped me fix a bed issue. 

We finally came full circle with a challah sandwich. Alexander is hard to please for packed lunches, but I recently had made him a challah and turkey sandwich that was a big hit. I was making him another when Reese asked for one too. 

“Have you ever had challah?” I asked. He shook his head, shyly. “Well, you don’t have to eat it if you don’t like it.” He loved it.

There is, indeed, blessing in movement, in finding peace and serenity in unexpected places, in opening our hearts and souls to let in light.

On Simchat Torah, we bless the movement, the transition, the essential cycle of life — one door closes and another one opens. But we only find it, as Waseif said, when we are ready to see it.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.

Seeing the Whole Community

This is my 18th issue of the Jewish Journal as editor-in-chief, and, I have to say, these past few months have been exhilarating. One, I’ve never worked harder, and two, the reaction throughout the community has been incredible —  better than I could have imagined. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve heard a similar refrain, “I love what you’re doing with the Jewish Journal.”

Of course, when I hear that, I have to say (as I wrote about last week), “poo, poo, poo.” But I also like to ask: “What is it that you like?” I’ve done this countless times with readers from across the spectrum — religious, secular, left wing, right wing, young, old, Jewish, non-Jewish, everyone.

So, in honor of our “chai” issue, I thought I’d recap the thinking behind the reimagining of your community paper, a paper I have always loved and am working to build upon.

First, we’re here to cover the whole community. That means I can’t allow content biases to get in the way. This easily can happen in publishing. If an editor-in-chief, for example, favors religion and spirituality, you’ll see too much of it. If the editor favors news and opinion, or culture and the arts, or community reporting, or Israel and political coverage, same thing — you may see too much of it.

The challenge is to balance everything to honor the diversity of the community and the diversity of Judaism.

The challenge is to balance everything to honor the diversity of the community and the diversity of Judaism. If we’re going to live up to our promise to “connect, inform and inspire” the whole community, we must keep everyone in mind and cover as much of the Jewish buffet as possible. If we focused more on the news, we would mostly inform; if we focused more on religion, we would mostly inspire; and if we focused more on the local community, we would mostly connect.

We must do all three equally. That’s why you see such a broad diversity of coverage.

You may see a pro-and-con debate on abortion, gun control or the Iran nuclear deal, but also a spiritual poem on the Garden of Eden.

You’ll see a dark story on neo-Nazis or the rise in anti-Semitism in the United States, but also one on the uplifting message of Hanukkah.

You’ll see reporting on Jewish outreach at the Sundance Film Festival, but also a cri de coeur from a Mexican “Dreamer” afraid of being separated from her family.

You’ll see hard coverage of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement, but also a dialogue between a Reform and Orthodox rabbi on the true meaning of tikkun olam.

In other words, it is diversity, above all, that is imperative.

Does every page in the paper appeal to everybody? Of course not.

Some people like our ethereal poem page, others prefer our political analysis and commentary. Some like reading about the local Persian gay community, others prefer a story on how the Jews of Puerto Rico fared during the hurricane.

Some people like our Israel coverage, others are just tired of anything Israel and prefer local stories. Some like to see coverage of a new film, others prefer a commentary on how that film connects to Jewish values.

Our mission, then, is to reach everyone in a meaningful way. That also means a great diversity of voices. Over the past few months, we have added more than a dozen women’s voices, many of them local rabbis who contribute to our Table for Five page. We’ve gone out of our way to add more Sephardic and millennial voices. With op-eds, we look for opinion pieces that provoke thought, not anger.

But diversity is not enough if you don’t enjoy reading the paper. That’s why we’ve redesigned the paper to make it more visually engaging. We’ve also added a few special sections like “Image of the Week” and “20 (or 30) Years Ago in Jewish Journal.”

Online, we’ve increased our coverage of daily news on our website and launched the global newsletter “Roundtable,” which provides “fresh takes on hot issues” every morning.

Over the past few months, we have added more than a dozen women’s voices, many of them local rabbis who contribute to our Table for Five page.

In recent months, we’ve produced more than 20 online videos, ranging from interviews with Jewish leaders to light-hearted clips on the Jewish holidays. We’re now in the process of building a sound studio in our offices to produce a podcast network.

While we’re excited about all the new things we’re doing online, we never forget that the community paper is our pride and joy. There’s no substitute for a paper you can pick up at a local synagogue or café. You can feel the whole community as you flip through the pages. It’s hard to capture that feeling on an iPhone screen.

One comment I’ve been getting consistently is that the paper “looks great.” Why is that important? Because in publishing, beauty is more than skin deep. Clean, attractive layouts engage the readers with your content. This is smart business: If we make the content more visually appealing, you’ll be more likely to read the articles, and we’ll be more likely to connect, inform and inspire you.

Poo, poo, poo.

Avraham Infeld Makes His Case for a Passionate Judaism

Avraham Infeld.

A story is told of a visitor to The Hebrew University of Jerusalem who is taken on a tour of the buildings named after famous Jewish writers. But the name on one building is unfamiliar to the visitor.

“What did he write?” asks the visitor, to which the guide answers: “A check.”

I was reminded of this story in the opening pages of “A Passion for a People: Lessons From the Life of a Jewish Educator” by Avraham Infeld with Clare Goldwater (YouCaxton Publications). It’s the memoir of a man who has written his name into our history — not with a book, not with a check, but with his life’s work, both in Israel and throughout the Diaspora.

Over the years, he has served as president of Hillel International, CEO of the Melitz Center for Jewish Zionist Education, director of English-speaking youth programs for the Jewish Agency and planning director of Birthright Israel, among other posts.

“I am a builder — not of buildings but families,” Infeld explains. “I start with my own family … [a]nd then I expanded my perspective, yielding to the eternal pull that I feel toward the extended Jewish family to those I don’t know personally but love anyway and to the relatives across time and space that Jewish history has bequeathed me.”

Born in South Africa in the 1950s, Infeld was raised in what he calls a “secular, ethnic, Zionist form of Judaism,” and only later found his way into observant Judaism.

“For our family, Shavuot was an agricultural festival that had been revitalized by the Zionist movement,” he recalls. “I had no idea that Jews around the world celebrate Shavuot as the day on which the Torah was given.”

Even so, he insists that describing Judaism as a religion “is a distortion of what we are.” He says: “One cannot practice the Jewish religion without a sense of belonging to the People.”

His devoted work for a diverse and distinguished list of Jewish communal organizations was in service of the overriding goal of reminding Jews that they belonged to a people rather than a faith. According to Gideon Shimoni, a professor at Hebrew University, “peoplehood” is “a concept which became the hallmark of his famed educational enterprise.

Intriguingly, he does not identify anti-Semitism as the greatest challenge to the integrity and vigor of the Jewish people.  Rather, he reaches back to the Emancipation of the 19th century, which enabled Jews to escape the ghetto and enter the secular world, an event that shattered the Jewish people into what he calls “subtribes,” including “the Zionist, the Haredi, the assimilated Jew, and the denominational Jew — each with its own definition of what it means to be a Jew.”

Yet he regards the diversity of Judaism as the source of its richness, strength and vitality, if not also some of its greatest challenges.

A book about the Jewish religion that even a wholly non-observant Jew will find endearing and enriching.

“[M]y understanding of being Jewish today has been continually enriched by the multiplicity of modern Jewish identities that I have encountered. … And the assumption behind it is very important — namely, there cannot be a single way or truth for what it means to be Jewish, there are only multiple perspectives on the same truth,” he said.

Early in his career, Infeld spent time at what is now the Brandeis-Bardin Campus of American Jewish University in Simi Valley, and he singles out its founder, Shlomo Bardin, as one of his teachers and mentors. But Infeld also confesses that America causes him to feel both “love and fear” precisely because “you can be Jewish and American at the same time.”

The reason for his trepidation is found in the fact that Judaism is regarded as a religion in America: “[If] Judaism is a religion, like Christianity, then there is no national identity to express and no contradiction between being American and being Jewish.”

Exactly here we find the cutting edge of Infeld’s candor. Since the United States and Israel, at least during the pioneering era of secular Zionism, sought to achieve “freedom from religion,” the goal of both countries seemed to provide “an ability to be Jewish without religion.”

For Infeld, then, we must recognize our membership in the Jewish people before (and whether or not) we participate in the religious practices of Judaism.

“After all, a religion is understood as the truth of all truths, and religions want others to accept those truths,” he explains. “If we had that approach, we would actively look for those non-Jews who wanted to try on tefilin and perform other mitzvot. … But we are not a religion, we are a people, and our rituals and values apply only to those who are members of our People.”

Infeld sums up his own prescription for the health of the Jewish people with the metaphor of “the five-legged table,” that is, “Memory, family, Mount Sinai, Israel and Hebrew.”  Notably, only one leg of the table is explicitly religious: “Mount Sinai signifies the earliest recognition of a transcendent power and the ensuing realization that if there is already a God, then human beings are not God,” he writes. “From here we learn the values and rituals that are our particular inheritance and that govern our behaviors, our role in the world, and our contribution to humanity.”

Even when it comes to the miraculous account of Mount Sinai that we find in the Torah, Infeld keeps an open mind: “Whether or not it really happened, this event changed us forever.”

“A Passion for a People” is a book about the Jewish religion that even a wholly non-observant Jew will find endearing and enriching.  It is beautifully written, full of resonant stories and recollections, gentle instruction and both courage and candor. “I live in perpetual tension between my universal and particular tendencies,” he writes. “I am both Avraham Infeld the Jew and Avraham Infeld the human being.”

And so, Infeld has given us a book that  is intended to open both doors and

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.

Black, Jewish and challenging ideas about the face of federation

When Ilana Kaufman, a program officer at the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation, arrived at San Quentin State Prison for a meeting with the Jewish chaplain at California’s oldest correctional facility, the chaplain couldn’t seem to find her — even though Kaufman was standing in plain sight.

As Kaufman waited in the receiving area, a security officer by her side, the spiritual leader of the prison community — largely composed of men of color — turned her head left and right trying to locate the federation representative whose name she knew but whose face she had never seen.

“Finally the officer says, ‘Chaplain, this person standing right next to me,’” Kaufman recalled. “And the chaplain says, ‘You know, you are not who I expected.’”

It wasn’t the first time that Kaufman, 42, had heard such a comment.

In her two years as the federation officer responsible for regional grant making in Marin and Sonoma counties, Kaufman had seen her fair share of jaws drop when she walked into a Jewish communal space. Kaufman is black — the daughter of an Ashkenazic Jewish mother and an African-American father.

“There is a deeply established set of assumptions about who represents federation,” said Kaufman, who stands nearly 6 feet tall. “So when I walk into a space where they’ve seen my name, which is a very traditional Jewish name, they cannot fathom that a person of color is going to walk in the door.”

North America’s central Jewish charities employ many non-Jewish people of color — some at high levels of management, including an Asian-American chief financial and investment officer at the San Francisco federation. But Kaufman, having reached out via email and social media to colleagues across the federation system, has yet to identify any other Jews of color working in forward-facing programming roles.

The Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella group of 153 federated charities, does not track the racial and ethnic composition of its approximately 2,700 employees. In response to questions about the role of racial and ethnic diversity at Jewish federations, a JFNA spokesman said, “Jewish federations enjoy a tremendous commitment to inclusivity and diversity, one that is highly reflective of the different kinds of Jews there are in our communities, vis-a-vis Jews of different ethnic origin, Jews across the religious spectrum and interfaith families, among others.”

Kaufman was raised in San Francisco’s Western Addition neighborhood by a hard-working single mother who spoke to her in Yiddish. Kaufman, who is a lesbian, now lives with her almost 9-year-old-daughter, Noa, in Berkeley, Calif., and has a long-term partner. While she was growing up, her struggling family often benefited from Jewish philanthropy, and Kaufman attended a Jewish summer camp on scholarship.

She spent 20 years working in independent school education and administration. Most recently, Kaufman served as director of the Windrush School, a private elementary school in the East Bay city of El Cerrito, which was forced to shut down in 2011 as a result of the economic downturn.

After the school closed, Kaufman embarked on a search to find a job that would “totally rock my world,” she said.

Kaufman was steeped in her Jewish identity: Her daughter had attended Hebrew school since the age of 6, and she was as part of a diverse Bay Area social network that included other Jews of color and LGBT Jews. But she had never considered a career in Jewish communal life.

That changed when she visited Afikomen Judaica, a Jewish bookstore and Judaica shop in Berkeley, and encountered the shop’s co-owner, Nell Mahgel-Friedman, an old friend from her Jewish Student Union days at Humboldt State University.

Mahgel-Friedman said she remembered Kaufman’s passionate commitment to social justice issues and deep spiritual connection to Judaism — as well as her role in bringing Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach to the Humboldt campus in 1994. She looked Kaufman squarely in the eyes and said, “I just want you to consider working in the Jewish community.”

The statement resonated so deeply, Kaufman said, that for the first time she could envision a career that would bring her social, spiritual and professional lives into tighter alignment. By October 2012, she had begun her work at the San Francisco federation, known officially as the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.

“Maybe it’s not coincidental,” Kaufman said. “But I came out of an independent school world that’s equally rarefied. My purpose in the world has always been to be a bridge.”

In her role at the federation, Kaufman allocates grants in Marin and Sonoma counties. Her program officer portfolio includes the Early Childhood Education Initiative and the Affordability Initiative, which provides federation scholarships for Jewish education from preschool to day school.

Jim Offel, the San Francisco federation’s interim CEO, said that Kaufman “brings a really keen intelligence, thoughtfulness and high level of commitment to her work.”

He also said that if it’s true that Kaufman is the system’s only program officer of color — it’s impossible to say with certainty, given the lack of data — it wouldn’t be the first “first” for their federation. In 2010, the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation became the first big-city federation to hire a female CEO, Jennifer Gorovitz, who left in March.

“There’s a likelihood that the Jewish community will become more diverse in a variety of ways, and being inclusive of the full Jewish community is going to be important for any communal institution, whether it’s our synagogues or JCCs,” Offel said. “Diversity as a value is important, and I would hope that the federation system would reflect that.”

According to a 2005 study conducted by the late Jewish demographer Gary Tobin, 10 percent of America’s approximately 6 million Jews identify as black, Latino, Asian or mixed race. A 2011 Jewish Community Study of New York, the American city with the largest Jewish population, found that 12 percent of the city’s Jewish population is non-white.

These figures reflect wider demographic changes, according to Diane Tobin, the CEO of Be’chol Lashon, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that promotes racial, ethnic and cultural diversity in Jewish life. Diane Tobin, the widow of Gary Tobin, pointed to the 2010 U.S. Census, which found that among American children, the multiracial population had increased by 50 percent in 10 years.

Informally, Kaufman works with Be’chol Lashon on capacity building, and it was the organization’s 2013 International Think Tank that sparked her search for other Jews of color in the federation system. In mid-November, Kaufman and her daughter attended the organization’s Family Camp weekend retreat in Petaluma, Calif.

“We’re gratified that the federation is making space for leaders like Ilana who bring a different perspective and experience,” Tobin said. “We’re also delighted that Ilana is serving as a role model for our diverse Jewish kids.”

Chava Shervington, president of the Jewish Multiracial Network, a volunteer organization that promotes diversity in Jewish life, said that mainstream Jewish communal organizations are finally starting to “get it.” Over the past decade, she said, an increasing number of synagogues and Jewish groups from across the country have contacted JMN seeking counsel on how they can be more welcoming to Jews of color.

Last summer, a JMN representative spoke at the UJA-Federation of New York’s day of learning dedicated to racial and ethnic diversity.

“Jewish organizations, whether they be large communal organizations like the federations or local community synagogues, are starting to see the changing face of Judaism in the American context,” Shervington said. “I think that people are starting to realize that they have to change their modus operandi to reflect that.”

There’s also the issue of a bottom line.

If the numbers are any indicator of the federation system’s future constituency, then the North American philanthropic network has a strong financial incentive to bring more Jews of color into the fold, Kaufman said.

“There are moral reasons mainstream Jewish organizations should be more inclusive, organizational development reasons,” she said. “And then there’s a strong business rationale for being inclusive of the broadest range of possible donors.”


Diversity is good for Jewish college students

In case you haven’t heard, Orthodox Judaism has pretty much taken over Jewish life on U.S. college campuses. I say this not because I’m smug and happy about it, but as a wake-up call to the Conservative and Reform branches to get their acts together.

If diversity is good for the Jews, then it’s even more important for college students.

College life is the ideal time for students to experiment and search for their own truths. If they’re exposed to a diverse religious menu, they’ll be more likely to find their personal Jewish path.

Unfortunately, they’re not finding much religious diversity these days.

According to a report last week in The Jewish Week by Sam Cohen, a senior at New York University, the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism have virtually abandoned their outreach efforts on campus. As he writes, “Last month the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism drove the penultimate nail into the coffin of KOACH, its college-programming branch, by announcing it would end the program unless supporters raised $130,000 by the end of the year.”

As if that weren’t bad enough, Cohen adds that “KOACH lasted three years longer than its Reform companion Kesher, which the URJ [Union for Reform Judaism] closed down after a similar stretch of inadequate funding and underwhelming impact.”

Meanwhile, Cohen notes how Orthodox outreach efforts are thriving: “The Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus program (JLIC), which places young Orthodox rabbis and their wives to live full-time on college campuses, has grown to include 15 locations. Chabad on Campus continues to expand rapidly with a $28.8 million budget (equal to the URJ’s entire annual budget), and other Orthodox outreach programs (such as 21-campus Meor, with a budget of $5.7 million) have grown as well.”

He laments that “what’s at stake here is not merely denominational pride. It’s the future of non-Orthodox Judaism in this country.”

I think it’s worse than that: What’s at stake is the future of Judaism itself — or at least its vitality.

As Cohen reminds us, “Going to college is the single most common factor for American Jews — 85 percent of all college-age Jews in the U.S. are in college. Every year, 100,000 Jews begin their freshman year, and 100,000 graduate and begin making decisions about the Jewish life they want to live and the family they want to raise.”

So, if we don’t engage this hugely influential group in a rich and diverse way, what kind of future will Judaism have in this country? Sure, if it were up to me, every Jew on the planet would observe the Sabbath and eat kosher. But an “Orthodox-only” model is a fantasy. That’s not the world we live in. The new generation must make its own decisions on what Jewish connection they will have, if any.

The Orthodox, God bless them, are making their pitch. But what about the non-Orthodox?

In my view, they’re too consumed with labels and self-definition. And even when they’re not, they use labels like “egalitarian” or “non-denominational.”

For my money, there’s only one label worth its salt in Jewish outreach: Passionate Judaism.

I don’t care if it’s a Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Chasidic, Orthodox, post-denominational or Sephardic experience. Just make it passionate.

Passionate could mean Chabad’s “unconditional love” approach, or a Carlebach minyan’s “ecstatic joy” experience or creating your own lively “medley minyan.” It could also mean offering passionate engagement with Jewish texts, Jewish history and Jewish culture. In other words, passionate means that whatever style of Judaism you practice, make it pulsate with passion and excitement.

Labels like “Reform” or “Conservative” don’t convey passion. You don’t think of passion when you think of “reforming” or “conserving.” The Orthodox label is not as much of a problem, because people assume that the more observant you are, the more passionate you are.

That’s why the non-Orthodox “spiritual communities” and independent minyanim that have sprung up in recent years don’t label themselves as Reform or Conservative. It’s no longer about the label. It’s about the experience.

Religious diversity on campuses is a must, but it’s not enough. If Jewish organizations want to make a lasting impact with today’s Jewish college students — whose hearts and minds are more loyal to their careers and their iPhone screens than to their religious tradition — they will need to offer a lot more than Judaism Lite or Judaism Friendly.

They’ll need to offer Judaism Deep, Judaism Spiritual and Judaism Never Boring.

I’ve sat on the board of UCLA Hillel for years, and the challenge of attracting students to Jewish life is consistently at the top of our agenda. The programs that work best always seem to have a passionate and pluralistic flavor — such as our Friday Night Unity Shabbats and our Challah for Hunger baking sessions.

We need many more such efforts. I’d love to see the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism team up to launch a campus movement with the simplest of labels — as simple as “The Jewish Center” — and offer a vibrant Judaism that Jewish students will want to keep for life.

Passion doesn’t belong to the Orthodox. For Judaism to thrive in America, we need every branch to show intensity and enthusiasm for the Jewish practice of its choice.

That will make it a lot easier for young Jews to choose that label called Judaism.

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

Israel: A work in progress

From the birth of the Zionist movement more than a century ago through its 60 years as a Jewish state, Israel has come of age amid a vastly changing world: two world wars, the technological revolution and economic globalization with all its attendant challenges.

The creation of Israel is a paradigm for the way people without sovereignty embrace and transform their history through freedom. That ongoing struggle of humans trying to find their place in the universe unfolds over time, but it requires a place.

Israel also represents a unique laboratory — and not just for defining itself for its residents but also for addressing global crises. Every problem on this planet is refracted and amplified here: Having resettled and grown in the land, how can we conserve its environment? Can we halt our addiction to oil and achieve energy independence? If we level the field in information and technology, can we overcome the limitations of size and space and become a player on the global stage? If Israel can answer questions like these, it will achieve a secure position among nations and obtain its peace.

As President Shimon Peres said, the objective of this 60th anniversary year should be to bring Israel to the world and the world to Israel. Our experiment, through shifting events and the failures and challenges they bring, is one that results in the covenant renewed. And looking back through the decades from our founding, we can find four lessons that resonate globally. They also inform 21st century hopes for our survival, based on the merging of ancient truths with the ever-present task of national renewal. These are lessons that will sustain all global communities from the chaos of our times:

Lesson 1: Diasporas need homelands.

Today, the United Nations reports that more than 300 million people in this world live in Diaspora communities that struggle to maintain homeland ties. The Rwandans, the Armenians, the Guatemalans and, yes, the Palestinians long for their place among the nations. For many nations, Diaspora remittances are sometimes far greater than foreign direct investment, portfolio flows and foreign aid combined. The contributions of Israel’s Diaspora and its transformation through the creation of the State of Israel have been a lesson well studied by others.

Lesson 2: Nations need security.

Imminent threats, beginning before the Holocaust, informed not only the Zionist movement but also the Jewish concept of state defense. No nation can survive while its people live in exile.

The captive Hebrews in Babylon lamented, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” In revolting against its history, Israel rejected centuries of subjugation and developed a national defense based on the doctrine that homeland building can tolerate many risks for peace — but never the catastrophic risks that unite senseless hatred with regional imperialism.

This is what links the Eichman trial to Entebbe to Osirak to last fall’s strike against the Syrian reactor facility. Yet the world has seen genocide spread to Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. The lesson of homeland security is ignored at great peril.

Lesson 3: Language and cultural revival are key.

Jewish cultural identity — expressed through art, music and, most important, through the revival of Hebrew from its strict liturgical usage to an official state language — has been key to our national renewal and rebirth. Where else in the world has a language no one spoke, but which was common to all, emerged as a national language?

Like archaeological discovery and conservation of cultural capital, the protection of language is essential for national cultures throughout the world. While not promoting linguistic exclusivity (Israel, after all, has three official languages), the protection of communal language promotes a multilingual access and a cultural infrastructure, encourages the safekeeping of minority languages and culture and their ultimate restoration as part of our international heritage.

Lesson 4: Unity exists in diversity.

From the microcosm of Israel’s rebirth as a modern nation, this is perhaps the most profound lesson for a global future. Israel’s Jewish-majority population can boast more than 120 nations of origin, along with significant local minorities of Palestinian, Druze and Bedouin Arabs. As a result, Israel is one of the most diverse countries in the world.

Integrating this pastiche into a democratic republic that protects and celebrates diversity through unity remains a remarkable achievement. It is also becoming a common challenge for nations around the world.

Absorption is the means to achieving true national self-interest. It puts the emphasis on integration, rather than on full assimilation and the triumphalism of a majority. In Israel, frankly, there is no majority — not Ashkenazim, not Sephardim, not political, not religious. It is our challenge to grow from the particular to the universal without comprising the richness and uniqueness of diversity.

Ultimately, these lessons underscore the celebration of Israel’s rebirth. Let us reaffirm our particular attributes as a nation by reaffirming our universal values. That was the lesson of the prophets.

These lessons and inspiration place Israel, a small country, on the global stage in a unique way. They offer enormous advantages in global trade and provide the basis for both military power and peace incentives. They provide the basic formula for an open society, global ties and national security. They enable Israel to renew and repair both itself and an endangered world in troubled times.

Glenn Yago is director of capital studies at the Milken Institute.

Diversity lost

Forgive me for going on about this. I keep promising myself I’ll stop being outraged, turn off the radio and stop reading the papers. But if you’ll permit me one more question here:

Whatever happened to the Democrats being the party of tolerance and diversity?

These days, it’s gotten so people are afraid to say they still support Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y). They wait till they know if you’re a comrade before they say anything at all, and even then, they lower their voice and lean closer, as if confessing to some tell-tale mark of moral depravity, some innate but previously undetected propensity for corruption and vice and — God forbid — ambition.

She’s shameless she’ll stop at nothing to win she’s destroying the party Bill has lost it he’s playing the race card she should just go away and let Obama win.

All this from fellow Democrats, and I’m standing there thinking, Al Sharpton is threatening marches and demonstrations throughout the country if Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) doesn’t get the nomination. African American superdelegates who had pledged support to Hillary months ago and haven’t changed their mind are getting threatening messages from anonymous Obama supporters, something like 90 percent of the African American vote is for Obama and we blame Bill and Hillary — up until recently embraced by the African American community, Bill having been called “our first black president” by Toni Morrison — for bringing race into the equation?

Something like 14 million Democrats have voted for Hillary, given her their time and money, placed in her candidacy so many of their hopes and aspirations, and yet we blame her for the fact that the primaries have taken as long as they have?

If we have to find someone to blame, why not blame the Democratic Party’s proportional system? Michigan and Florida for breaking rules and being made to sit in a corner? Hell, why not blame Obama for getting into the race in the first place? Or the superdelegates who won’t declare themselves until they’re good and sure which side their bread is buttered on?

The notion that Hillary (or anyone else, for that matter, who still has the resources and the stamina and the faith to stay in the race) should just “go away” so that another candidate can coast to victory smacks of a sense of entitlement that, I dare say, is more suitable to a monarchical system than a democratic one. So does the argument that Obama’s record or abilities should not be scrutinized, held to the same high or low standards as those of other candidates throughout history. He’s been called a “unifier” and a “post-racial” candidate, and whatever little chink has appeared in his glossy image is being blamed on the fact that Hillary “just won’t go away.”

Are we electing a candidate based on his or her ability to lead the country, or are we crowning a king who looks good in pictures and who is above criticism, examination and challenge?

But the questions that have been raised about Obama in the past few weeks are ones that would have surfaced with time — during the primaries or the general elections. The fact that he became a phenomenon as quickly and unexpectedly as he did perhaps delayed the kind of scrutiny that other candidates are subjected to. But it seems to me that Obama supporters are doing exactly what Bush voters did in the last two elections: back him because he’s raised the most money; is likable and charming (I cringe when I say that, but there’s no accounting for taste); and promises them the world — No Child Left Behind, democracy in the Middle East, a permanent Republican majority.

True, there is a sense among young Democrats that Obama represents them better than an establishment candidate like Hillary. There’s equally a sense within the African American community that “our time has come.” Fair enough. They’re all entitled to their sentiments and entitled to support Obama as much as they want.

But by the same token, there is a sense among some of us woman folk in our 40s and 50s that our time has come, as well — that Hillary is the one female candidate with the brawn and the brain and the money and whatever else it takes to have a realistic chance at the presidency. That were she to lose — and I grant you, that seems more and more likely — there won’t be a female president in our lifetime. This may not seem like a big deal to our daughters’ generation, for whom women’s rights’ issues seem quaint. They’re energized by Obama’s message and the rock-star rallies. Fair enough. Go ahead and vote for him if you want, I say. Just don’t tell me that it’s OK to pick your candidate because he’s African American or young or a good speaker, but that it’s a betrayal of the party and a ruinous choice to pick her because she’s a woman who we believe is qualified.

Call me cynical, but I like Hillary in spite of the fact that she’s not Florence Nightingale. I think she’s as ethical or unethical as anyone else who has managed to navigate the treacherous waters leading to candidacy. On one level, I believe Gore Vidal when he said: “Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so.” I think that applies as much to Hillary as it does to Obama or Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), that, again in the words of Vidal, “By the time a man gets to be presidential material, he’s been bought 10 times over.”

Yet, every time she’s attacked by the other Democrats in the media, every time a superdelegate previously pledged to her switches sides, every time New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson smirks into the camera and bashes Hillary in order to ride on Obama’s coattails (sorry, Bill, we all know the benefits of betting on a winner), anytime she digs her heels in and promises to keep going, I feel a sense of pride.

Here’s a woman who fights for what she wants to the bitter end; who doesn’t abandon her own dreams and the faith of people who have voted for her; who has the daring and the ambition to do what no other woman has been able to do in this country. And if that inconveniences anyone else — superdelegates, party bosses or Mr. Obama — it’s nothing that hasn’t been done, every election cycle in memory, by men.

Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her latest novel is “Caspian Rain” (MacAdam Cage, 2007). Her column appears monthly in The Journal.

We don’t need more gabfests on diversity

The details of the ugly dustup between a leading local Jewish philanthropist, Daphna Ziman, and the local African American head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Rev. Eric Lee, are still at issue. Ziman disseminated her account of the encounter in a widely distributed e-mail. She claimed that Lee gave a speech at a local fraternity function rife with anti-Semitic statements. Lee strenuously denied the charges, and no independent corroboration exists.

But what is of greater interest than what actually transpired at the Kappa Alpha Psi gathering is the response from the leadership of our community to Lee’s remarks and what that portends for intergroup relations in this city.

Predictably, the civil rights leadership of our communities seems to be responding to the incident just as they have in the past — with dialogue groups and resurrected “roundtables” aimed at convincing participants of the value of diversity and of our historic and present commonalities.

What ought to distinguish the response of today from those in the 1970s and 1990s is the context of our very changed society.

Society has caught up and passed well beyond dialogue groups and the need to justify and rationalize the value of diversity. Every major study conducted in this field has revealed an amazing attitude of acceptance of differences by today’s young people. As Morley Winograd and Michael Hais observe in their just-published book, “Millennial Makeover,” “the great diversity of the Millennial Generation [born between 1982 and 2003] and its experiences growing up in a multiracial society is reflected in their relatively color-blind attitudes on racial relations.”

The Pew Center concluded in its multiple surveys of millennials that “they are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, race and homosexuality.” One example documented by the Pew Center (dealing with a historically incendiary issue) found that that between 1987 and 2003, attitudes toward interracial dating among 18-25-year-olds underwent a sea change — those approving such activity rose from 56 percent to 89 percent. Those completely agreeing with interracial dating rose from 20 percent to 64 percent.

The data of a profound change in attitudes is incontestable and is manifested across racial and religious lines. The Reboot study of millennials, “OMG! How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era,” found that today’s youth are “fully integrated into diverse social networks. While previous generations often lived in homogenous religious communities, among Generation Y [born 1980-2000], only 7 percent of youth report that all their friends are the same religion as themselves. Even the most religious youth maintain diverse networks of peers.”

The study oversampled Jewish and black youth to confirm their findings.

Even the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) study of anti-Semitic attitudes indicates a decline in anti-Semitic attitudes among the African American population, historically among the most problematic cohort it surveys. Unfortunately, the ADL study does not disaggregate data for younger blacks and their attitudes.

If one believes the myriad studies that confirm the exceptionally positive trends of the new generation, how should one respond to the Lee incident? More dialogue groups that devolve into vehicles to preach to the converted seems to be what we have in store for us. The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission and its friends will be busy singing the same old songs.

What ought to inform any actions that grow out of the Lee-Ziman incident is the profound change that has taken and is taking place around us. Young people today don’t need a “coalition” to talk about how to live together — they do it 24/7. Their world isn’t circumscribed by their faith, their race or their ethnicity.

Nor should we trudge out the old nostrums and activities and think that the Lees of the world will change their version of history or their attitudes — nor should we really care. They are not the future, and their historical notions are virtually irrelevant.

Our communities’ leadership has to absorb the reality that the next generation of open-minded young people sees diversity as a plus, not as a burden to be overcome. We need to offer them activities that confirm their positive outlook and involve them in doing, not talking, about things, much as Temple Israel’s Big Sunday program does — people working together as equals, improving our community for everyone. We don’t need more gabfests or sessions of self-flagellation.

Millennials believe that they live in an exciting time, two-thirds rate their lives as “excellent or pretty good,” let’s give them reason to confirm those positive attitudes.

David A. Lehrer is president and Joe R. Hicks vice president of Community Advocates Inc. (www.cai-la.org), a Los Angeles-based human relations organization headed by former mayor Richard J. Riordan.

Women keep out — this seder’s for men only

“Avadim Hayinu,” one of the first refrains of the Passover seder, usually refers to the fact that we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. “What enslaves us as men,” is another interpretation — this at The Man Seder, the third annual men-only pre-Passover gathering, which takes place at American Jewish University this year on April 13.

This is where the Ten Plagues are not blood, frogs, boils and the killing of the firstborn son, but prostate cancer, heart disease, weight gain and hair loss. The Four Sons are not the smart, the wicked, the innocent and the one who does not know how to ask, but parenting/fatherhood at different stages. Halach Ma’anya, the bread of affliction, represents a fear of poverty and earning a living.

In a city where many niche groups seem to have their own Passover seder — from the feminist seder and the green seder to the sober seder and the Muslim-Jewish seder — it was only a matter of time before one oft-forgotten group decided to gather on their own: men.

“When we first began to discuss the idea of a men’s seder, some questioned the very premise of the idea. Many argued, not inaccurately, that for centuries, the seder was dominated by male themes, symbols and language and to create a men’s seder was both redundant and a step backwards in the development of Jewish identity,” reads the introduction to the men’s haggadah — the guide to “The Man Seder,” written by seder leaders Rabbi Perry Netter of Temple Beth Am and Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Judea. “Where does a contemporary man go to find male bonding? Where does a man go to find a relationship with other men that is not competitive, that is not comparative, that is not threatening and dehumanizing?”

A man’s seder. “It is the ideal structure for exploring those issues which pertain specifically to men, to be discussed by men, to be wrestled with by men, to be shared by men.”

The gender that presumably runs the world increasingly seems to need their own space these days. There are men-only outdoor adventures, weekly workshops and support groups and separate schooling. In the Jewish arena, brotherhood groups, such as the Men of Reform Judaism, have emerged. Although it sounds like a counterpart to the age-old synagogue sisterhood, instead of giving voice to the women who often were left out of a male-dominated synagogue life, men’s groups, which exist at egalitarian synagogues, often give a place for men to be men — alone.

“I have to be honest. I was inspired by women’s seders,” said Rabbi Dan, as he is called. Temple Judea had a women’s seder for 20 years. “It’s fantastic, with the women singing and connecting to each other, and celebrating what it means to be a Jewish woman and a feminist.”

Moskovitz wanted to bring men into synagogue life in a similar way. About five years ago, he created a men’s group that met once a month at his synagogue.

“Whereas women would talk about menopause, we talk about sexual dysfunction,” said Jon Epstein, a father of two from Calabasas who has been partaking in the men’s groups, retreats and The Man Seder. “The whole thing shouldn’t be embarrassing, but it is. It’s something we all go through — this breaks those boundaries and makes it a safe place to discuss those things which by a societal standard are embarrassing.”

“There can be a boundary of barriers that go up when women are present in a discussion,” Moskovitz said. “It adds to it, but maybe something is also lost — some freedom to be honest, some sense of the showmanship that men have to put on, the machismo to not look vulnerable, to not look weak.”

That’s why, he said, men were traditionally separated from women, because it was distracting to men. “If we remove women for a moment, we can talk more honestly about our fears, true experiences of pride, the challenges we face in our work environment with other men or other women.”

Netter adds: “There was a time when boundaries between men and women and their roles and the expectations were very clear. We now live in a time of permeable boundaries. And we are all, men and women alike, trying to fit in the boundary-less world. There are issues that pertain only to men, and that’s what we try to explore in the men’s seder.”

The seder, which attracts some 100 men from the city and Valley, follows the format of a seder, focusing on asking questions about what it means to be a modern Jewish man. At tables of eight, men do some creative exercises, such as writing down answers on a card to questions such as: “When was the moment I first realized I was a man?” and “What is some advice you wish you’d been given?” Then they discuss the answers.

Gary Bachrach has attended The Man Seder for the last two years. “I never have a man’s-only environment,” he said. “There are a lot of issues as a man — dealing with pressure to make sure there’s money and food on the table and things are under control,” he said. Discussing these issues with other men helps him. “It allows you to realize you’re not alone.”

The third annual Man Seder meets at American Jewish University, April 13, 6 p.m. To register online for the event, visit http:// www.templejudea.com.

There won’t be blood

Bill Clinton, Ann Coulter, James Carville — over the years American Jewish University’s top-notch lecture series has hosted plenty of people who have infuriated plenty of people.

But evidently, when it comes to being infuriating, Karl Rove is in a class unto himself.

How else to explain the barrage of e-mails and phone calls that series organizer Gady Levy received when he announced Rove would be the second speaker in the 2008 season? The thrust of the complaints: How dare Levy give a forum to this man?

Levy was shocked.

“Bottom line, the purpose of the Public Lecture Series is to engage the community in an honest discussion about the issues, which includes both sides of the debate,” he explained to me in an e-mail. “I wanted to include Rove specifically because he does not represent the voice of the majority of our community. I felt (and still do) that it is critical for us to gain insight into his perspective on the current administration and the issues of the day.”

Both sides of an issue — how dare Levy. Something has happened in the Jewish community, all across the political and religious spectrum, and it isn’t good.

Somehow too many people in the Jewish community have become stuck in a very dangerous place: their comfort zone.

They are loathe to confront and really hear ideas that differ from their own, and they cleave to the company of voices that echo their preconceived ideas and long-formed opinions.

A few people have picked up on this.

“There was a time,” Haaretz’s Gideon Levy said in an interview with The Nation, “when you’d ask two Israelis a question, and you’d get three different opinions. Now you only get one.”

In The Jerusalem Post, columnist Larry Derfner noted the problem in Israel, where public opinion fell into “lockstep” behind the war in Lebanon, the invasion of Iraq and the criticism of the National Intelligence Estimate report on Iran. How different, Derfner writes, from the Israel of old, where robust public debate was the norm.

“This is a society that’s been brainwashed by consent,” he wrote. “And when all hands are raised together, it not only enhances certainty, it offers the added comfort of unity.”

J.J. Goldberg, The Forward’s brilliant executive editor, wrote that the national Jewish debate is similarly afflicted. In fighting nouveau anti-Semitism, he wrote, “It doesn’t help when Jews ignore or deny Israel’s genuine shortcomings. It doesn’t help when they overreact to criticism — hostile, benign or just clumsy — and intimidate their critics into resentful silence, reinforcing their enemies’ worst stereotypes.”

The response to Goldberg’s essay? One organization head accused him of blaming the Jews for their own victimization.

And here at home things aren’t any better.

Over the past few years I’ve noticed an evolution in Jewish events from debates to “panel discussions” to “presentations.” That is, from dissent to delivery.

Last month, a worthy group called the American Freedom Alliance presented “The Cases and Consequences of Anti-Americanism Around the World,” and featured three speakers whose political differences on the issue are hardly diametrically opposed.

Another group presented a panel on “Women in Islam,” which featured three speakers, all critics of Islam.

And I can’t tell you how many events I’ve read about — and some I’ve attended — titled, “Understanding the Middle East,” and that featured former Ambassador Dennis Ross. The man is sharp, no doubt. But the first and last word on understanding the Middle East?

We are the people of the prophetic tradition, but you can be almost certain that our panel discussions are designed to thwart true dissent and probing inquiry — the hallmarks of that tradition. They offer the illusion of debate in a safe, bloodless format.

And even where prophets are invited, even they could use a reality check, now and then.

The danger of groupthink should be apparent to anyone who makes an honest accounting of the past couple decades. Would Oslo have ended in such disaster if the left had heeded the caution of honest dissenters? The Republicans today, as author David Frum has pointed out, face years in the political wilderness. If they had heard and perhaps incorporated the insights of dissenting opinions on Iraq, global warming and oil dependency, not only the party — but the world — would be better off today. Just ask Karl Rove.

My plea is simple. Expose yourself. Challenge your beliefs. Daily, on your own time, but also each time your group or organization decides to explore an issue. Expand by at least one the number of responsible dissenting opinions on your panels, symposia, presentations and conferences.

I don’t mean that cantankerous guy who can never agree on Robert’s Rules of Orders doesn’t count — those are a shekel a dozen in any organization. I don’t want someone who’s just disagreeable, but someone who fundamentally disagrees.

What about, you might ask, if my panel is on Orthodox approaches to issues of human sexuality, does that mean we need to seek out a gay Reform rabbi? Doesn’t the title presuppose the participants? Am I saying the Republican Jewish Coalition should invite Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles)? Should the Democrats for Israel host U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon)? Yes, yes and yes. As cozy and affirming as it is to hear iterations of our own hard-won wisdom repeated back prior to coffee and cookies, it really doesn’t do anyone much good. Many of the issues we face today are complex enough to be post-partisan, pandenominational and cross-movement. That’s why the most coveted voting bloc these days is Independent.

That’s not such a bad thing for a mind, or a People, to be.

The challenge of pluralistic day schools

More than 225 Jewish educators from pluralistic community day schools across the country convened in Los Angeles for four days of networking and brainstorming last month.

The 20th annual conference of Ravsak: Jewish Community Day School Network, held at the Biltmore Millennium Downtown, was the organization’s first conference in Los Angeles and its largest ever.

Ravsak — an acronym for the Hebrew meaning Jewish Community Day Schools Network — was founded 20 years ago with about 12 schools. By 1994 there were 27, and by this year there are 120, a reflection of the tremendous growth in day school attendance across the country.

The theme of the conference, underwritten in part by a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, was “Everything to Everyone: The Challenges, Limits and Opportunities of Jewish Community Day School Education.”

The theme stemmed from the reality that as attendance at community day schools has mushroomed, the socioeconomic levels, cultural background, learning styles and Jewish affiliation of the students and families has become increasingly diverse.

While 20 years ago day school attendance was dominated by families that were already Jewishly committed and observant to varying degrees, that is no longer the case.

“Today we see families with new commitments, families whose commitment to the Jewish people is largely articulated through enrollment in Jewish day school, who are building their lives based on what the kids do in school,” said Marc Kramer, executive director of Ravsak, pointing out that a growing percentage of children have only one Jewish parent.

Some topics covered at the conference could have applied to any school — students’ sexual identity, mental health and learning differences, lay leadership, philanthropy and legal issues. Other issues pertained specifically to community day schools — how to create inclusive prayer atmospheres, forging an attachment to Israel and the Jewish people and successfully integrating sub-communities, such as the Orthodox, the Reform or the intermarried.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino delivered the opening keynote speech, challenging leaders to question their assumptions about community day schools.

Pardes, the Progressive Association of Reform Day Schools, folded its conference into the Ravsak conference, and the North American Association of Jewish High Schools recently merged with Ravsak, which had previously dealt mostly with kindergarten through eighth-grade schools.

Aside from the conference, Ravsak provides leadership training, consulting services and curricular and staffing initiatives for day schools, and recently opened a new Center for Jewish Day School Education, as a laboratory of ideas for teachers and administrators.

For more information visit www.ravsak.org or www.pardesdayschools.org.

Jewish Leaders Help LAUSD Tackle Diversity

Five Jewish leaders were among the 22 appointees to a new Human Relations Council for the LAUSD Board of Education. The council will advise and review policies and make recommendations to the Board of Education on matters related to human relations, diversity and equity.

Appointed to the board were: Dan Alba, L.A. regional director of Facing History and Ourselves, an organization that educates students and teachers about how to apply lessons of tolerance through understanding the Holocaust; Jenny Betz, project director of the Anti-Defamation League’s A World of Difference Institute, which runs cultural diversity and tolerance workshops for students and teachers; Rabbi Allen Freehling, executive director of the L.A. City Human Relations Commission and rabbi emeritus of University Synagogue in Brentwood; Beverly Lemay, program manager at the Museum of Tolerance, which hosts thousands of school children each year; and Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, executive director of Jewish World Watch, which raises awareness and funds to stop genocide throughout the world.

“In a community as diverse as Los Angeles, community leaders must have a role in developing policies that emphasize the importance of tolerance and respect of other cultures,” said School Board President Marlene Canter. “The Council provides a formal, ongoing forum for our community partners to voice their opinions and concerns.”

Hillel Pumps Up the College-Bound

Los Angeles Hillel Council’s March 18 “Get Into College Conference and College Fair” is geared toward helping Jewish students and their parents understand the importance of Jewish life and community in deciding which college to choose. Aside from general information about schools and admissions, the fair focuses on topics such as Jewish life on campus, how to deal with anti-Semitism, cults and anti-Israel rhetoric and a parents-only session on letting go and helping your student succeed.

The conference takes place March 18, 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Jewish Life at UCLA, 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles.

For more information visit www.getintocollegeconference.com.

Free Spirits Wanted

Alex Melamed
Shalhevet senior Alex Melamed was one of 102 student journalists nationwide — a male and female from each state — to win an Al Neuharth Free Spirit Scholarship from Freedom Forum, a nonprofit dedicated to a free press. Along with a $1,000 scholarship to the college of his choice, Melamed will be flown to Washington, D.C., in March to receive the award and attend a journalism conference. Two of the 102 winners will be chosen for an additional $50,000 scholarship.

Melamed, who emigrated from Ukraine at age 6, worked his way up to being editor in chief of The Boiling Point, Shalhevet’s newspaper.

Some of the topics he has written about include an examination of the specific mandates of Jewish journalism and a three-part series on Torah and evolution. As editor in chief, he has motivated young writers to push themselves to write complex articles.

For more information visit www.shalhevet.org or www.freedomforum.org.

Science Scholars Receive Awards at Milken

Six Milken Community High School students received Excellence in Science Awards from the American Technion Society Southern California Chapter. The awards are part of a collaboration between Milken and the American Technion Society meant to foster more interest and expertise in science while promoting closer ties to Israel and Technion, Israel’s leading science and technology university. In addition to the awards, professors and researchers from Technion have visited Milken science classes and the Technion website is available for use in researching the science projects.

The winners were: Alixandra Kriegsman, 10th grade, for “Indigo vs. Dycromine Dye — Which is More Colorfast?”; Abigail Zwick, 10th grade, for “Effect of Wearing a Swim Cap on Streamline Velocities”; Jonathan Batscha, ninth grade, for “Determining the pH of Various Soils Affected by the Simi Valley (2005) Fires”; Yael Cypers, ninth grade, for “Calculating the Salt Concentrations of Various Sidewalk Samples”; and Madison Friedman, ninth grade, and Daniel Reisfeld, ninth grade, for a study of increasing efficiency of photovoltaic cells.

Bibi, Judea Pearl, Muslims and the Dennis


Thank you for presenting Larry Derfner’s candid perspective on perhaps the most shameful issue facing Israel: the treatment of Israeli Arabs (“Netanyahu Ranks High as Racist Demagogue,” Jan. 19).

Former Prime Minister Netanyahu’s disdain for Israel’s Arab citizens and fear of a future Arab majority is only the tip of the iceberg. A significant portion of Jewish Israel is unabashedly discriminatory of Israeli Arabs in a manner that is an abomination of Jewish values and a mockery of democracy.

It is a miracle that the vast majority of these Israeli citizens have not renounced their allegiance to Israel and embraced Palestinian nationalism or Islamic fundamentalism. That day however may not be so far away, and if indeed it comes, Jewish Israel will have only itself to blame. Only by truly embracing the values of Judaism and democracy can we rid ourselves of the fear of an Arab majority in Israel.

David Orenstein
Los Angeles

Larry Derfner’s article demonizing Bibi Netanyahu was mistakenly placed in The Jewish Journal, instead of where it really belonged, in Al Jazeera.Netanyahu’s delight that his economic decisions resulted in a lower Arab birthrate has nothing to do with racism, as Derfner accuses, but with Jewish survival.

Demographers have predicted that with the current birthrate in Israel, Arabs could become a majority in less than 50 years. If that were to happen, the only Jewish homeland would be voted out of existence, and the safety of the Jewish population seriously jeopardized. Maybe Derfner believes that if that were to happen, they could count on the assistance of the United Nations. Most Israelis, however, are not that na?ve.

Derfner also slams Netanyahu for wanting the limited funds of the Jewish Agency to help the Jews but not the Arabs affected by his economic plans. Derfner’s misplaced rage should rather be turned toward the Muslims around the world funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to terrorist organizations to buy weapons, instead of to their poor Muslim brethren to buy basic necessities.

Daniel Iltis
Los Angeles

Judea Pearl

Judea Pearl talks about Palestinian and Arab recognition of Israel’s right to exist (“Palestinians Generate Cheer and Doom,” Jan. 19). The truth is that no matter what the Palestinians or Arabs say for publicity purposes, they are driven by Islamic belief that the Middle East is ordained by Allah to be Islamic territory. They will never stop their fight to eliminate Israel, and the world should recognize that fact.

Larry Derfner criticizes Benjamin Netanyahu as a anti-Arab racist for his statements about Jewish and Arab birthrates. The truth is that Israel was founded and is intended to be a Jewish state, and birthrate differences that increase the Jewish majority are a help to Israel, so Netanyahu is not a racist but an Israeli patriot.

Marty Annenberg
Huntington Beach

Muslims and Jews

Kudos to you for your generous spread Jan. 19 on “NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change,” initiated by the Progressive Jewish Alliance and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

We’d like to point out a small but important mistake on the cover. Under the title, “Try, Try Again,” our new program was incorrectly described as an “Arab-Jewish Project.” (We’re pleased that it was corrected on your Web site, but the printed page is irreplaceable). In reality, our participants are Jews and Muslims from all ethnic and denominational backgrounds who seek to build authentic relationships rooted in honesty and consistent engagement over mutual issues of concern.

Malka Fenyvesi
Progressive Jewish Alliance
Interfaith Program Coordinator

Aziza Hasan
Muslim Public Affairs Council
Interfaith Program Coordinator

I was really pleased to learn that Daniel Sokatch was renewing efforts to establish a meaningful relationship with the Muslim American community. We cannot abandon these efforts.

Our community should be very proud of Daniel and his continued work on behalf of strengthening ties within our culturally diverse region. I only wish that he had chosen a counterpart whose motives, intentions, and integrity have been proven to be as pure as Daniel’s.

Stu Bernstein
Santa Monica

Prager’s Words

Your news briefs of Jan. 5, in which you reported on the Democrats calling on the GOP to condemn Dennis Prager and Rep. Virgil Goode Jr., seemed to be more of an opinion piece than a news brief.

Prager is absolutely correct in identifying Rep. Keith Ellison’s refusal to have a photo-op with the Bible in place as a refusal by Ellison to recognize the source of values from which the laws of this country derive. Goode is absolutely correct in his analysis. Immigration “reform” from 1986 has resulted in a steady flow of Muslims to the U.S.A.

People like Prager and Goode best serve the Jewish community’s interests, while those like Abe Foxman and the ADL, unable to see clearly, do a disservice.

Brian Dennis
Studio City

The ‘Hood’

I was disappointed with David Suissa’s definition of the “hood” as an “Orthodox neighborhood.” Although the point of this column is very important — that we Jews can gain a great deal of insight from learning and caring about the lives and beliefs of Jews who are different from us — I disagree with his generalization that a column about the “hood” automatically means a column about Orthodoxy.

I am a Conservative rabbinical student living in Pico-Robertson. This past Shabbos, on my way home from the Shtibl Minyan (a vibrant egalitarian community on Robertson Boulevard), I passed numerous friends and neighbors, all coming from other Conservative and egalitarian minyanim. I send my daughter to preschool at Pressman Academy at Temple Beth Am, a very successful Conservative synagogue and day school in the heart of the hood.

Yes, Pico-Robertson is a thriving, observant community, but it is not merely an Orthodox neighborhood. It is a Jewish neighborhood — a place where Jews of all different affiliations love to live. This Jewish diversity is one of many aspects that distinguishes our hood from other neighborhoods, and this diversity deserves recognition.

MOCA’s latest exhibition reveals the early years of the ‘Feminist Revolution’

That women corporate executives are now indicted for malfeasance reminds me of the old Zionist litany that: “We won’t have a normal Jewish state until it includes gangsters and whores.”

If the glass ceiling hasn’t exactly been shattered, it does show a bit of leakage, although it’s still difficult to determine comfort levels about a woman being third in line for the presidency — or even a viable candidate.

Does this move toward egalitarianism now constitute a state of normalcy?

These are just some of the questions that make it worth contemplating the significance of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s bold look back at a pivotal period for women in art in “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” an exhibition that opens March 4 at The Geffen Contemporary and runs through July 16, 2007.

Women now make up about 30 percent of the membership of the Association of Art Museum Directors; that’s a huge difference from the early 1970s, when I first became a member and there were only a few women included.

Revisiting the once hot topic of feminism ought to be more than a nostalgic trip down memory lane, and the inclusiveness of MOCA’s exhibition — curated by former MOCA curator Connie Butler, currently at the Museum of Modern Art in New York — suggests a new level of seriousness that ought to be of special interest to Jewish viewers.

We, too, have seen a shift in the way Jews are viewed in the society.

We’re now a long way from the anti-Semitism of the 1930s and 1940s, when fears of “special pleading” kept many Jews from boldly protesting events in Europe that we subsequently came to call the Holocaust. But that doesn’t mean we should shun the topic of anti-Semitism, how it shaped the role of Jews in American society, and how it once gave us a special sensitivity to the plight of other groups subject to prejudice and indignity.

The MOCA exhibition “will highlight the crucial 15-year period between 1965 and 1980 during which feminism became a cultural force, and the discourse of feminism intersected with the practices of artists around the world.” This exhibition is not about a particular style, but about attitude and about artists positioning themselves in relation to the art world: As women, as feminists and, foremost, as artists. And that should make for an engaging experience of our perception of this art. And once again, Jewish analogies abound, since there has long been discussion about whether there is any such thing as Jewish art” or whether there are “Jewish artists.”

Regarding either Jewish or feminist art, we may ultimately be stuck with Justice Potter Stewart’s comment about pornography, “I know it when I see it.” And perhaps that will be the most valuable contribution of this exhibition.

Just as I have known artists who didn’t want to be seen in a Jewish context, fearing it might diminish some larger connotations of their work, I have known women artists who wouldn’t want to be shown in Washington’s Museum for Women in the Arts. Strange, since the artist never knows how she will be absorbed by the viewer.

Do we know what people are thinking when they look at Chagall’s painting of a Jew wearing tefillin at the Art Institute of Chicago?

Do people looking at the abstract color-field paintings of Helen Frankenthaler or the sculptures of Louise Nevelson — two women, artists, and Jews — make associations to specific gender or ethnic issues?

Probably not, since they are among the handful of successful women artists who overcame typecasting to make it to the mainstream prior to the advent of feminism, which may suggest why they are not included in this exhibition.

Using scholar Peggy Phelan’s definition, as stated in the show’s advance materials, that “feminism is the conviction that gender has been, and continues to be, a fundamental category for the organization of culture” and that “the pattern of that organization favors men over women,” the exhibition suggests an enormous diversity both in the range of work and in the range of attitudes about what feminism means to women artists (presumably men aren’t capable of expressing ideas about feminism in their work).

Again, Jewish analogies abound, since there is surely no Jewish style, but various Jews have expressed themselves Jewishly in their art, while others have emphatically eschewed such an approach. And what about artists embracing issues that don’t “belong” to them? For example, artists using the Holocaust or racism as a theme, even if they themselves have no personal relation to either issue.

As with any interesting and provocative exhibition, “WACK” promises to raise more questions than it likely will be able to answer. Which may well be all to the good, since we surely need thoughtful questions more than we need simplistic answers. Jewish viewers might approach this work by considering whether there’s any connection between feminism and Jewishness in the work of the many Jewish women in this exhibition (indeed, so many they can’t all be listed here).

Is it fair to suggest that in the 1970s Jews were still in the forefront of what might be thought liberal politics, and that this explains Jewish women embracing feminism? Or did Jewish women feel a special need for stridency, considering the long tradition of male domination in traditional Jewish religious practice. (Yes, I know, women have “special” obligations, such as lighting Shabbat candles; but let’s admit that the Jewish tradition has relegated women to the back of the bus. Indeed, even today’s gender-sensitive liturgies, citing the four so-called matriarchs, omit the two poor handmaidens who went through the pains of childbirth to help make that full dozen of Jacob’s boys!)

There’s no question that such issues inform the work of Chicago — one of feminist art’s most vocal and visible presences. But Jewish questions also enrich the work of Eleanor Antin, Mierle Laderman Ukeles and Hél?ne Aylon (the latter, strangely, missing from this show), and it will be worth pondering, in the presence of the work, in what way they do or don’t feel evident in the work of Eva Hesse, Miriam Schapiro and others.

Jamie McCourt Proves She’s an Artful Dodger President

Bougainvillea and vines curl around a pergola at the Bel Air Hotel’s outdoor patio restaurant, a lunch spot for Westside powerbrokers. It’s 10:30 a.m., and powerbrokers are scarce at this hour, except for Jamie McCourt, vice chairman and president of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who is seated under a canopy at a private table. She smiles when asked what humanitarian work she and her husband, Frank, have done to earn the Scopus Award, an honor from the American Friends of Hebrew University, which they will receive in a ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in December.

“You don’t think saving the Dodgers is enough?” she quips.

Indeed, she is right, for the Dodgers, a legendary name in professional sports, a franchise once associated with excellence on the playing field, stability in the front office and a commitment to progressive causes, most notably the breaking of baseball’s so-called color barrier, fell on hard times during the Rupert Murdoch era.

Perhaps the beginning of the Dodgers’ decline dates back farther, to that moment in 1987 when longtime Dodger executive Al Campanis, given multiple opportunities by Ted Koppel to atone for his ignorance, nonetheless continued to deny the leadership qualities of African Americans on “Nightline.”

The Dodgers went on to win the World Series in 1988, but the architect of that team, Fred Claire, another longtime company man who had replaced Campanis as general manager, later made a number of unpopular trades, such as dispatching young pitching phenomenon Pedro Martinez for the forgettable Delino DeShields. Claire and manager Bill Russell were ultimately fired by Murdoch, whose cable apparatchiks inaugurated their tenure by trading slugger Mike Piazza, a future Hall of Famer, for five players who do not play any longer for the Dodgers.

Since 2004, when the McCourts purchased the team from News Corp, the Dodgers have had a mixed record. They won their division that first year, though they lost in the first round of the playoffs. By the next year, they had parted with clubhouse leader Paul LoDuca, most valuable player runner-up Adrian Beltre and local hero Shawn Green, three players who were critical to the team’s first win in a playoff game since 1988.

After a dismal season last year, which culminated in the firing of neophyte GM Paul DePodesta, the severing of ties with manager Jim Tracy and the hiring of their respective replacements, Ned Colletti and Grady Little, the team has rebounded surprisingly well. Although Eric Gagne, who is out for the season, is the only player who has been with the ball club for as many as three years, the Dodgers have jelled better than might have been expected.

Colletti spent an active winter acquiring a strong group of veterans, including Rafael Furcal, Kenny Lofton and comeback player of the year candidate Nomar Garciaparra, who have combined with some productive rookies and holdovers like Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew to lead the team to a spot near the top of the National League West Division.

So, Jamie McCourt, an attractive, petite woman with blond hair and an easy smile, has every right to argue that in resurrecting the Dodgers she and her husband have performed a public service worthy of the Scopus Award.

McCourt, who as president of the Dodgers handles much of the club’s business side, as opposed to its baseball operations, once attended the Mount Scopus campus of Hebew University. A native of Baltimore, from the same neighborhood as filmmaker Barry Levinson, she is Jewish and has raised her four sons as Jews.
On this midmorning at the Bel Air Hotel, she wears a brown suede jacket over a white top, sporty attire that gives one the impression that she has just come from working out. In fact, she swims every day and typically climbs the stairs at Dodger Stadium instead of taking the elevator.

She may be remarkably slim, like one of the social X-rays in Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities,” but she is also athletic and looks like she might have been a coxswain on the college crew team. That is befitting a woman whose husband, Frank, rowed crew at Georgetown, where they met.

Like Levinson’s characters in his Baltimore-set movies, she speaks with a spirited yet soft voice, but she doesn’t accentuate her double O’s as Danny DeVito did when pronouncing words like “food” in Levinson’s “Tin Men.” Despite her Baltimore lineage, she says she has not seen “Diner,” Levinson’s iconic film about her hometown, because she feared that Levinson “wouldn’t get the diner right.”

McCourt’s father, an appliance discount king, worked near that diner, and she fears that her own memory and her father’s experiences have not been honored accurately.

She has, however, picked up on her father’s sloganeering, which included the priceless couplet, “Jack, you know, will save you dough.” She utters one-liners almost effortlessly.

When Danish pastries are brought to the table, McCourt cracks, “It’s all health food.”

When she recounts her first trip to Israel, in which she traveled around the country for several months on a bus, a mode of travel she abhors, she says, “That cured me of touring.”

When asked about her avid swimming regimen, she says, “There’s no talking to me if I haven’t gone swimming.”

If she is quick with a quip, she is no “screaming meanie,” as L.A. Times sports columnist T.J. Simers refers to her.

“I never scream,” she says. “If you want to pick a nickname, at least pick one that’s true.”

Especially during the McCourts’ first year of ownership, the Times sports section for the most part depicted Jamie and Frank McCourt, the latter known by Simers as the parking lot attendant, as carpetbaggers who have little interest in or knowledge of Los Angeles, social climbers who lack the financial resources to run the team and public relations novices. More recently, Times columnist Bill Plaschke expressed mock distaste for their smooching in public.

Although McCourt and her husband have indeed kissed in public, the rest of the charges don’t appear so valid.

On the issue of funding, Jamie McCourt says that no solo purchaser in the history of Major League Baseball has spent as much money by himself in purchasing a team as her husband did in buying the Dodgers. Unlike Yankee honcho George Steinbrenner and owners of other teams, the McCourts purchased the Dodgers without partners, she says, a statement that is not completely accurate, in that News Corp was a “minor, noncontrolling partner” at the outset of the deal, according to the Boston Globe.

While the purchase price, anywhere from $421 million to $431 million based on reports, may be higher than that paid by any one individual for a baseball team, the McCourts borrowed heavily in order to finance the acquisition. The structure of the deal, in which the McCourts put up their South Boston real estate property as collateral and assumed significant debt, including a loan of more than $100 million from News Corp, led some to speculate that they were arbitrageurs looking to game the market and sell the property after a year or so.

Though such speculation may have been unfounded, there was no denying that the deal was highly leveraged. No less than Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College professor and authority on baseball economics, has stated that Major League Baseball likely waived its debt percentage rule for the McCourts. That rule would have required the McCourts to have at least a 50 percent equity stake in the team at the time of purchase.

Now, more than two years after the purchase, the financing seems more sound. Earlier this year, the McCourts sold News Corp the family’s prized 24-acre waterfront property in the Seaport District of Boston. That sale reportedly satisfied all of their financial obligations to Murdoch’s company.

This past winter, the team also invested roughly $45 million, according to McCourt, in renovating the stadium, putting in new seats and restoring the original color palette to the famed venue that the New Yorker’s Roger Angell once called the “pastel conch.” The Dodgers also acquired numerous free agents during the off season to boost its payroll to a competitive level.

Nor have the McCourts shied away from personal expenditures. They purchased a home and the adjacent property in pricey Holmby Hills and send their youngest of four sons to the elite Harvard-Westlake private school.

In short, they do not look like they are on the verge of bankruptcy or about to leave town, particularly since McCourt says she loves Los Angeles and all its diversity: “There are so many immigrant populations. It’s sort of the way New York must have been once. It’s a place of opportunity. Every day you wake up, it’s ‘today’s the day I’m going to succeed.'”

Oozing optimism, McCourt and her husband have taken a leadership role in Los Angeles and in the Jewish community, joining the Temple of the Arts, where they were recently named founding members, as well as many civic organizations like the Leadership Council of the Literacy Network of Greater Los Angeles.

She cares deeply about literacy and education, holding a bachelor’s from Georgetown, a law degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. She also studied at Hebrew University for a semester of law school and at the Sorbonne while she was in college.
“Education is the great equalizer,” she says. “Everyone should have a fair shot.”

With the Dodgers’ Dream Foundation, she has helped award college scholarships named after Jackie Robinson to minority youth.

She has also reached out to women in the community. The highest ranking woman in Major League Baseball, McCourt says that women comprise 40 percent of the Dodgers’ fan base. “The female consumer,” she says, ruminating for a moment, “is critical.”

To tap into that critical base, the team has created the Dodgers WIN (Women’s Initiative & Network). Last year, the team held four events for women in the community. This year, there will be 11 events, McCourt says, where women and teenage girls can learn about the game and receive baseball clinics from players and coaches on the Dodgers.

She says that second baseman Kent, often characterized by the media as being gruff, is “an ardent supporter of our women’s initiative.” She adds, “If you have 150 women between 18 and 34 gawking at you, who could complain?”

Despite such good cheer, not all women have enjoyed a welcome in baseball. One woman in the Dodgers front office, Kim Ng, a vice president and assistant GM, was insulted a few years ago by Bill Singer, a former Dodger pitcher who was at the time a broadcaster for the New York Mets. More recently, a San Diego Padres employee was criticized by Keith Hernandez, also a Met broadcaster and a former National League MVP, for being in the dugout.

If the atmosphere for women in baseball remains less than optimal, McCourt still sees opportunity for prospective distaff employees. She has added several women to the Dodgers payroll, including chief financial officer Cristine Hurley and Camille Johnston, head of communications.

“You don’t have to just be a statistician,” she says.

You can even be an owner like McCourt, who wanted to write her thesis at MIT on buying a ball club or a new ballpark. With Wall Street the craze at the time, she had to settle for writing about “naked short selling,” but her interest in baseball goes back to her childhood, when she played shortstop in games in her neighborhood: “I’d come home when I was 7 years old and announce that I was buying a baseball team and a camp.”

Of course, that mirrors her husband’s interest. Frank McCourt’s grandfather owned a piece of the Boston Braves. As Jamie McCourt says, a love of baseball is “in his blood,” all of which runs counter to the skepticism of some critics who said that the McCourts, with their real estate background, would raze Dodger Stadium and build condos.

While the McCourts are showing that they care for baseball and Los Angeles, Boston has not completely left them.

Jamie McCourt says that she has to leave for lunch. Who is she meeting? Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is in town and whom she knew back in Beantown.

When asked if it’s a fundraiser for 2008, she flashes a smile that suggests more than she’s telling, and then she strolls out of the posh surroundings for her next engagement.

Latin American Jews Create L.A. Oasis

Imagine that you live in Latin America and you’re Jewish. Typically, you and your family would belong to a full-service Jewish club with cultural, recreational, educational and athletic activities for all ages. The club is reasonably priced, promotes Jewish identity in a secular manner and is the backbone of your social life.

You spend a lot of time in club-sponsored activities with your nuclear and extended family, and with friends from the club: Friday night dinners, Sunday afternoon barbecues, weekends in the country, vacations at the seashore — a full and active communal life.

Now imagine that — mainly for economic reasons — you emigrate from such a country and come to Los Angeles. You have your nuclear family, but you’re separated from your extended family and friends. You may know enough English to earn a living, but you’re not at ease with the language. As a result, it remains difficult for you to have a social life with English-speaking friends, or participate fully in an American cultural life — whether you’re a new arrival or have been in the country for a number of years.

And even though you have a strong Jewish identity — you may speak Hebrew and/or Yiddish — you’re not really interested in a communal life that revolves around a shul: first, you’re not observant and you don’t want to make a shul the center of your life; second, it would be in English, not Spanish; and third, it would mean spending more than you feel you can afford. The Jewish Community Center (JCC) might be a possibility, but in the last few years there has been a cutback in JCCs in Los Angeles, and what they offer is not exactly you’re looking for.

So what do you do?

What you could do is start your own Jewish organization, using the Latin American model. That’s what happened in early 2005 when the Latin American Jewish Association (LAJA) was founded by several people with exactly that idea.

Omar Zayat, director of LAJA and one of its founders, said the “drive to create this organization came from the fact that after 2001, with the economic crash in Argentina, many Jews left there, and a lot of them came to L.A. Once here, they wanted to recreate the kind of community they’d left behind, and creating their own club seemed a good way to go about it.”

In Argentina, Zayat had worked for Jewish groups, organizing children’s summer camps and programs for seniors and other age groups, so it was logical that he would continue doing that kind of work here. He’s not a hands-off administrator: LAJA presents evening dance workshops that are both energetic and sweat-inducing and where about 20 to 30 people get a good workout in Israeli and other kinds of dance. Zayat himself leads these groups.

“For now,” he said, “we have 85 families signed up and many more come when we have special events. We have the names of 400 families that we contact for these events, like movies that someone has brought from Argentina or casino night or a tango show.”

One of the challenges for LAJA has been to adapt to Los Angeles’ sprawling area, which has meager public transport. Here, a parent needs to drop off and pick up a child, which takes getting used to by Latin American parents whose children were accustomed to using good public transport or cheap taxis to navigate their own way around a city like Buenos Aires. It also means scheduling activities to fit working parents who double as chauffeurs.

LAJA divides its activities into youth, Jewish education, university student programs, adults, sports, arts and drama and marketing. Youth activities are handled by teenage madrichim, Hebrew for guides. Zayat said that “using the Latin American model, older kids are trained to guide the younger ones, encouraging Jewish identity and having fun while doing it.”

LAJA is co-sponsored by The New JCC at Milken in West Hills, which has provided office space and other facilities. Since many of the new immigrants arrived with limited resources, the JCC has permitted them to become members at a discounted price.

If you go to The New JCC at Milken nowadays, you’re as likely to hear Spanish as English. There’s an unmistakable spark of creative, communal energy in the air, whether one attends a workshop that helps new arrivals get oriented to life in Los Angeles or a Latin American-style barbecue or a musical recital.

Michael Jeser, director of development and community affairs at The New JCC at Milken, noted that “one of the most exciting pieces in working with the Latin American Jewish Association is that the JCC, historically, has been a home for new immigrants and a venue for the absorption of new immigrants into American society. And here we are in 2006, and it’s really no different. When the Latin American group came to us and said, ‘We’re looking for a home,’ it was a really natural partnership, and we’ve sort of adopted them, made them into one of our own programs, and have watched them flourish.”

Jeser said that “seeing how the members are interacting with our other JCC members, it’s the extension of a real family, and the feeling of a real international ethnic Jewish community, even beyond Los Angeles’ typical ethnic diversity. The JCC has been home to a large Russian community, a large Persian community, a large Israeli community, and now with the growing Latin American group, it’s just getting larger. And we are very proud to have this community [because] they have a strong history with Jewish community centers in Argentina, which lent itself to this partnership.”

“Having them here is like having a piece that we were missing,” Jeser said. “Now we’ve filled that void in the community and are looking to expand it.”

?LAJA is located at The New JCC at Milken, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. They can be contacted at (818) 464-3274. Their Web site (in Spanish) is


O.C. Incidents Raise Anti-Semitism Fears

The president of a Los Alamitos high school’s Jewish students’ club came out to the school parking lot last October to find swastikas and “Jew Bitch” scrawled on her car. Across the county, a San Clemente high school student was harassed last year with anti-Jewish slurs to the point that she transferred out of the district.

These two instances in which Jewish students from Orange County were targeted by peers coincide with a broader rise in anti-Semitism, including in schools. Local Jewish groups have sounded an alarm, while the reaction of local school officials has varied.

“There has been a significant rise in the past four years in anti-Semitism generally and on school campuses,” said Dr. Kevin O’Grady, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Orange County/Long Beach Region. O’Grady’s office recorded 43 cases of harassment and vandalism last year, nearly 50 percent more than in 2003; one-third of these involved public schools.

In its 2004 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, the ADL documented 1,821 cases of harassment, threats, assault and vandalism against Jews nationwide — up 17 percent from the previous year. This jump was due in part to a spike in reports of anti-Jewish harassment in American middle and high schools.

These incidents have included defacing lockers with swastikas and anti-Jewish graffiti and name-calling, bullying and intimidation in hallways and Internet chat rooms. Incidents tend to be spread evenly throughout the county, although Los Alamitos and San Clemente have the most reported cases, according to ADL research. In the northwest corridor, skinheads, with their white supremacist ideology, are actively recruiting teenagers in schools, said ADL regional director Joyce Greenspan.

School administrators are responding to these incidents with varied intensity. In some cases, their actions have been resolute. One Costa Mesa middle school principal notified police and suspended 18 students after a girl was harassed on the Web site, My Space, O’Grady said. In San Clemente, a high school principal met with Jewish leaders following reports of several incidents, and ran tolerance programming for the student body, said Rabbi Mendel Slavin of the Chabad Jewish Center of San Clemente, who attended the meeting.

At Los Alamitos High School, administrators banned clothing bearing an iron cross and other paraphernalia associated with white supremacy.

Districts have also adopted zero-tolerance policies for ethnic-based intimidation and offer sensitivity and diversity training programs to prevent problems before they arise.

“When you see that firm and clear response, you see a drop in anti-Semitic incidents,” ADL’s Greenspan said.

Other schools deny the presence of anti-Semitism on their campuses, even in the face of some evidence to the contrary.

Parents of a Tustin-area 10th-grader perceived the administration’s response to be deficient after reporting that their daughter was being continuously harassed by a fellow student.

“He’d walk by and sneeze and say ‘a Jew,’ and say ‘shalom’ and laugh,” said the 15-year-old girl, who asked to be identified only as K. “In class, I’d hear him talking and I’d hear the word ‘Jew’ and [my name] and I knew he was talking about me. He actually called me a ‘kike’ one time.”

The boy described himself as a Nazi and would talk about how Jews killed Jesus, according to K., who said she felt scared and intimidated.

She reported the harassment to a counselor and was instructed to document the incidents in a statement to the vice principal. Because she was afraid to confront the boy and his parents in a face-to-face meeting, she was told that he could be disciplined only if caught in the act.

When the abuse continued, K.’s parents met with the vice principal, who allegedly said that he would direct teachers to send the boy to the office if he made offensive comments. Not all teachers followed this instruction, according to K. In the face of the boy’s unrelenting taunting, the distraught parents removed their daughter from the school.

“What I’m most upset with are the teachers and the way they allowed it to happen, and the way that the vice principal, after receiving such a powerful statement from K., just did not respond,” said K.’s mother. “I feel that they allowed it.”

Tustin Unified School District officials denied knowledge of this incident, but stated that they do not tolerate racial or religious harassment.

“The safety and security of our campuses is our first priority,” said Ron Heape, Tustin Unified’s district administrator for child welfare and attendance. “We are not timid at all about going after these kids.”

Peer-to-peer anti-Semitism is not limited to high schools.

“Our most recent phone calls have been third- and fourth-grade related,” said the ADL’s O’Grady. In one case, a fourth grader was called “dirty Jew” by two classmates, who then wrote the word “Jew” on a piece of paper, circled it and drew a line through it.

“This is what we do to Jews,” Grady says they said.

ADL officials suspect that only a small percentage of incidents gets reported.

“The numbers are staggering,” agreed Robyn Faintich, director of the Orange County Board of Jewish Education’s (BJE) youth education program. Faintich recounted that at a recent gathering of 110 public school 10th graders, more than 90 percent said they had been targets of anti-Semitic comments, vandalism or other encounters.

“Schools are not mandated to collect data [on hate incidents] so there is no global perspective,” said Georgiann Boyd, student services coordinator for the Orange County Department of Education.

For that matter, many incidents never leave the school yard. Fear of being further ostracized prevents some students from reporting confrontations to school or community officials.

“We are aware that there is anti-Semitic activity in the schools,” said Orange County Human Relations Executive Director Rusty Kennedy. “Each year we learn of at least a half-dozen incidents in schools that we’re concerned with, and I’m sure there’s more.”

He said that while the number of cases is too small to indicate a trend, he believes that school-based anti-Semitism is comparable to hate acts in the adult community, in which Jews, African Americans and gays and lesbians are most frequently targeted.

“These things that are happening at an early age are concerning, because this is a taught or learned behavior,” said Heather Williams, director of gang victim services at Community Service Programs, Inc. “These children are learning to be anti-Semitic by their parents and people who they’ve been around for a long time.”


Cultural Mix Inspires Revenge’s Warfield

Get out a pen and the map to Los Angeles. Now, draw a crooked line from the dense neighborhoods of South Central to the suburb-hubbub of North Hollywood. No, this is not a story about a Metro route but rather one about familial roots. Justin Warfield, the monotone-voiced, seductive lead singer and co-songwriter of the local nouveau and dark-wave group, She Wants Revenge, has roots that stretch across the city, and truth be told, he really doesn’t feel any tinge of revenge these days, because his band’s moody, dance-club-beat debut self-titled album has not only conquered the radio waves nationally, but is about to take on the avid audience at the Coachella Music & Arts Festival this weekend, too.

The music of She Wants Revenge is a mix of light and dark tones, soft and harsh feelings and complicated sexual innuendo. Taking a peek behind the public mask, Warfield is more than ready to get into those complicated feelings.

If one person could embody the diversity of Los Angeles’ cultural mix, it may be Warfield. The product of a Jewish mother with a Russian-Romanian lineage, who lives in North Hollywood, and a Southern, African American father, who lives in South Central, he always felt a little on the fringes as a kid. “When I was growing up, it seemed like I was the only person experiencing such a drastic sharing of cultures. But since then, I’ve talked to a number of people, and because of the liberal and progressive nature of the entertainment industry in New York and Hollywood, there are more of us than I thought.” In fact, Warfield developed a friendship with rock star Lenny Kravitz because of their shared backgrounds — Kravitz’s father is a Russian Jew and his mother is a Bahamanian American.

Whatever the outside world thought about Warfield’s “different” family, inside the walls of his grandparents’ beach house in Malibu the two cultures were completely unified, Warfield remembers. “Every summer we’d have my dad’s side of the family from South Central meet up with my mom’s side of the family from Brooklyn, and we ate together and laughed together, like any other family.” And to this day, Warfield still finds comfort and “a feeling of being with grandma,” when he sees a group of elderly Jewish women eating at a table next to him.

“I grew up around Jews from Coney Island and Brighton Beach who all lived during the Depression. My mother’s father inherited a business from his father, a well-known eatery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan called, Sammy’s Romanian, and my grandmother’s father was a cantor and a kosher butcher.” And although Warfield wasn’t bar mitzvahed and never went to temple, his family did celebrate some of the holidays. But Warfield contends that he doesn’t regard Judaism so much as a religion but more as a way of life.

“When people ask about the darkness or sadness expressed in our music, although there is no obvious connection between the lyrics and Judaism, it does make me think of sitting at the dinner table with my family, because if you grew up around the kind of Jews I know, there’s a certain sense of humor that they all have. One moment, you’re laughing while you’re eating, and then, two seconds later, tragedy will creep into the conversation, and then, in no time, you’re all laughing again. Humor, food and tragedy, what could be more Jewish?” Warfield laughs.

The mere fact that someone so seemingly happy as Warfield would end up making minor-chord dance dirges is, in itself, ironic, especially when you find out that he was introduced to hip-hop at an early age because of his father’s job in the rhythm and blues and rap music industries. Even Warfield’s first full-length solo musical output titled, “My Fieldtrip to Planet 9,” was a hip-hop album.

So how did he end up writing songs with DJ Adam 12, (whose real name is Adam Bravin) the other songwriter of She Wants Revenge? Warfield, a self-proclaimed skateboarder, met the slightly older Bravin at a junior high party, where the latter was spinning ’80s new wave music. But it wasn’t until years later — at the suggestion of a mutual friend — that they teamed up to make music and what resulted was She Wants Revenge. Their music is inspired as much by pop-rock royalty, Prince, as by those British goth-fathers of rock, Bauhaus.

The pair will get a chance to bring their music to the masses this weekend at the mega seventh annual Coachella festival near Indio. Warfield is excited about being part of a festival that features the best in new- and old-school alternative bands. Coachella is a great stepping stone for any band with the desire to become a household name — for it, 50,000 people camp out for two days in the blistering desert sun to catch some rays, while tapping their toes to hottest names in rock.

Warfield promises that those coming to see them will be happy with their time slot, which is a highly guarded secret up until the day of the show. He’s also hoping that after this performance, the music of She Wants Revenge will be a secret no longer.

Karla S. Blume is an arts writer living in Los Angeles.

What Do Gen-Y Jews Want? Everything

Brandeis University just released a new study of Jewish college students. It found that they’re proud to be Jewish, largely unaffiliated, attracted to Jewish culture more than religion, like diversity and don’t feel strong ties to Israel or Jewish federations.

Reboot, a nonprofit that promotes creative Jewish initiatives, just did a study of the same age group, and found that they’re proud to be Jewish, avoid institutional affiliation, are interested in Jewish culture and have diverse allegiances.

Sociologist Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York did a similar study, as did Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and they both found … guess what? Young Jews are proud, unaffiliated, pro-culture, pro-diversity and anti-tribal.

The last few months have seen a flood of studies of Gen-Y Jews — all trying to map their sense of Jewish identity, affiliation patterns, needs, hopes, beliefs and behaviors.

Why is everyone looking at the same population?

First, there are the numbers: almost half a million Jewish college students, the future of this country’s Jewish community. The very few studies on record, particularly the 1990 and 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Surveys (NJPS), indicate that large numbers of young Jews aren’t going to synagogue, joining Jewish organizations, marrying other Jews or giving money to Israel or Jewish charities.

They’re opting out, which has led to great hand-wringing and head-shaking on the part of American Jewish officials.

Yet the new studies show an up-and-coming generation that is proud of its Jewish identity and culturally creative, is coming up with new methods of religious expression and feels part of a global community linked by Jewish Web sites and blogs.

Researchers say it’s cause for cautious celebration.

“There has been a general angst about the Jewish future for the past two decades, a continuity crisis,” says Roger Bennett, senior vice president at the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, which sponsored the March 2006 Reboot study, “Grande Soy Vanilla Latte with Cinnamon, No Foam: Jewish Identity and Community in a Time of Unlimited Choices.”

Describing his study’s findings as “very positive,” Bennett says, “I hope this study assuages almost all the fear. There’s plenty to be optimistic about.”

The question for Jewish funders and organizations is what they’re going to do with the information, Bennett says.

Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, says that while Jewish leaders in the late 1960s and early ’70s were “very unhappy about developments in the youth culture, and took a long time to reconcile themselves to it,” today’s Jewish leadership “is inquisitive, wants to know more.

Even while the older generation “may be shocked at things like Heeb,” an irreverent youth magazine, it “sees that something is going on and is paying attention,” Sarna says.

But if all these new studies are yielding pretty much the same information, are they useful?

Yes, researchers insist. First, each study asks slightly different questions, reflecting the needs of the sponsoring organization.

For example, Hillel’s study was prompted largely by one figure from the 2000-2001 NJPS, which showed that two-thirds of Jewish college students don’t attend Hillel activities, says Julian Sandler, chair of the group’s strategic planning committee. Hillel will release its long-awaited study of Jewish college students in late May.

The statistic “troubled us immensely,” Sandler says. Hillel engaged in two years of research “to try to understand what it is that today’s Jewish students are interested in.”

Hillel already has put some of that information to work. One of the central findings of its study is that young Jews have “a strong desire to find out more about their Jewishness, especially from an ethnic perspective,” which can “be manifested in multiple ways.”

One popular way is through tzedek, or social justice work. To that end, Hillel last month sent hundreds of students on a spring-break trip to the Gulf Coast to help rebuild communities hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“Tzedek will be a major emphasis [of Hillel programming in the future],” Sandler says.

Amy Sales, co-author of “Particularism in the University: Realities and Opportunities for Jewish Life on Campus,” a new study by the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis, says her data, collected in 2003, helps the people funding Jewish campus activities to use their dollars more effectively.

Her study found, among other things, that Jewish college students are interested in Jewish studies, want events that have a Jewish “flavor” but are open to non-Jews and need help in finding meaningful, compelling ways to engage in Jewish life.

She and co-author Leonard Saxe used that information to propose that Hillel customize its programs for each campus and develop better relationships with university administrations, other campus groups and local Jewish communities, creating “Jewish-friendly campuses” rather than focusing on simply reaching as many Jewish students as possible.

In fact, Hillel is doing just that, incoming President Wayne Firestone says. The group is convening a Washington summit May 21-23 to bring together funders, university administrators and Jewish organizational heads to talk about how to improve working relationships on campus, the first time such a targeted meeting has been held.

Researchers from all the studies agree that today’s young Jews can be a willing and energetic audience if the organized Jewish community steps up to the plate in time, and with a message that is relevant.

“They are looking for a positive Jewish experience, and every Jewish institution that answers that and puts its faith in young people will have a rosy future,” Bennett says. “Any funder that wishes to innovate is going to prosper.”


Out of My Comfort Zone

Each morning at the Anti-Defamation League’s Grosfeld National Youth Leadership Mission in Washington, D.C., which took place in November, about 20 students crowded into a hotel room for student-led Shacharit, or morning prayers.

What was notable was that many of those students weren’t Jewish. Each student was nominated by their school, and then chosen after writing an essay and being interviewed.

Having never been to a Jewish prayer service before, the non-Jewish students wanted to see what it was like. The tradition fascinated many, and everyone could relate to the singing and dancing.

For me, as a student who grew up going to day schools, this conference with 109 other high school juniors was my first opportunity to interact extensively with non-Jewish students.

I was apprehensive at first. My tendency was to mingle with the other Jews. But this conference was about eliminating discrimination and hate in our schools and communities, and I knew it was necessary to leave my comfort zone to appreciate the diverse backgrounds of the people there. I would soon find out the most rewarding conversations I was to have would be with non-Jews.

When the delegates were broken up into small groups, I had the opportunity to discuss diversity, racism and tolerance with Jews and non-Jews alike. I sometimes discuss issues of hate and racism with my friends at Shalhevet, but generally we all derive our beliefs from Jewish understandings discussed at school. However, brainstorming the topics with non-Jews at the conference threw me into contact with points of view I was not used to.

For example, while they have varying stances on Israeli politics, everyone I have spoken with at Shalhevet is pro-Israel. They believe Israel should exist. Some at the ADL conference, however, disagreed with this viewpoint, and in this regard, I sometimes felt uncomfortable.

In one particular instance, a delegate explained that his sister had lived in Israel for a year and had returned with a predominately pro-Palestinian view of the situation. While I believed his claims were insufficiently supported, I lacked the knowledge to refute his remarks. Still, I was comforted in finding that just because he claimed to be pro-Palestinian did not mean he thought Israel shouldn’t exist.

Speakers brought in by the ADL described how they had made a difference by leading the fight against racism and hate in their communities. Between speakers, including civil rights leader and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), students took part in breakout sessions. There, we discussed how hate can manifest itself, and later on, how to fight it by joining school advocacy groups and lobbying politicians. On the last full day of the conference, we visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which helped to drive home the reality of what can happen when discrimination and racism go unchecked.

Although the programming was inspiring, the greatest highlights were not the planned events. Rather, they were the spontaneous ones created by students, such as the Shacharit services, which I organized, along with Alex, another Shalhevet student, and Justin, a public school student from New Orleans.

At our Shacharit services the first morning, Justin led the prayers with great kavanah (faith). His house had been flooded by Hurricane Katrina, forcing him to live temporarily in Georgia. Still, he plans on returning soon and maintains his tremendous faith in God.

I prayed for a better understanding of the people and points of view I was interacting with. The fact that non-Jews were present helped me realize that even if we had varying political and religious beliefs, we had all come to the conference for the same reason. Additionally, the services allowed me to reconnect with the comfort zone I was used to back home.

A constant battle within traditional Judaism is over the extent to which Jews should interact with the secular world. Every Jew has a personal degree of willingness to explore outside the religion. While we don’t want to assimilate, we must communicate with each other to better interact with our surrounding society.

The ever-growing contingent of non-Jews at our prayer services may not have understood the prayers, but they could relate to the singing and dancing, and the fact that they were experiencing something different. Just as they have explored our culture, we should attempt to explore theirs, while still maintaining our Judaism.

Benjamin Steiner is a junior at Shalhevet, where he serves on the Model UN and writes for The Boiling Point, the school newspaper.

The Circuit

ADL Celebrates Family

More than 800 people showed up to celebrate the work of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) last week at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where more than $400,000 was raised for ADL’s battle against anti-Semitism, hate and bigotry.

The event lived up to its theme, “We Are Family,” as it celebrated diversity and tuned into the words of keynote speaker Ambassador Dennis Ross and vignettes by four individuals affected by the work of ADL, including L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who told The Journal, “Without the ADL we couldn’t have made as many advances against bigotry as we have, and I wouldn’t be mayor.”

During the event, co-chaired by Suzanne and Harvey Prince and Stacey and Michael Garfinkel, Villaraigosa spoke of his experience leading an ADL mission to Israel and the importance of an organization that battles hate and bigotry. A victim of anti-Semitic hate mail shared how ADL comforted her and others who received the vicious mail and worked with law enforcement to bring the perpetrator to justice.

Honored during the evening were Richard E. Wiseley, managing director of the Western Division of Oppenheimer & Co, Inc., who received the Humanitarian Award and Justice Norman L. Epstein, presiding judge of the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District, Division Four, who received the Jurisprudence Award. In keeping with the “We Are Family” theme, Wiseley’s wife, March, presented his award and Epstein’s children, Carole and Mark, presented his award.

Eighty Years Young

More than 150 guests gathered at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica on Sunday, Dec. 4 to celebrate the 80th birthday of Moshe Arens, former Israeli ambassador to the United States. Arens, now the chairman of the board of governors for the College of Judea & Samaria in Israel, also accepted the “Living Legacy Award” from the college for his many years of public service in Israel.

“Education is important everywhere, particularly in Israel,” Arens said. “Our natural resources are very limited but our most important resource is our young people, so investing in their education is key.”

Consul General of Israel Ehud Danoch spoke at the event, which included a question-and-answer session with veterans of Israel’s War of Independence Lou Lenart, Arens and famed hairstylist Vidal Sassoon. The Milken Family Foundation sponsored the event with proceeds going to the College of Judea & Samaria. — Karmel Melamed Contributing Writer

Speaking of Lunch

In December, the National Council of Jewish Women, Los Angeles presented its Lunchtime Speaker and Discussion Series on “The Separation of Church & State,” where John L. Rosove, senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood, and Stephen F. Rohde, vice president of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, enlightened the group who lunched and listened intently as they spoke.

In January they will present “Marriage Equality” with speaker Eva Wolfson, executive director and founder of “Freedom to Marry.”

For information call Ruth Williams (323) 651-2930, ext. 503

Big in the Big Apple

Prominent L.A. Jewish communal leader Jack M. Nagel received an honorary degree at Yeshiva University’s (YU) 81st annual Hanukkah Dinner and Convocation on Sunday, Dec. 11 at The Waldorf-Astoria in New York.

YU President Richard M. Joel also confered honorary degrees on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who delivered the convocation, and four other leaders: Linda Altman, Jay Feinberg, Kathryn O. Greenberg and Rose Yavarkovsky.

Nagel, a Holocaust survivor born in Poland, came to the United States in 1947, attended New York University and moved to Los Angeles in 1955, where he established Nagel Construction Company, a leading developer of residential and commercial real estate. He is chairman of the West Coast Friends of Bar-Ilan University and a member of both its American Board of Trustees and International Board. He was awarded an honorary degree from Bar-Ilan University, which named its Jack and Gitta Nagel Jewish Family Heritage Center in honor of him and his wife.

A Star-Studded Shop

Century City’s Westfield Shopping Center kicked off a new $150 million renovation with a star-studded, spectacular movie premiere raising more than $600,000 to benefit UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. Celebrities abounded at the festivities featuring the world premiere of the Mel Brooks comedy “The Producers.” On hand were the movie’s stars Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Will Farrell, Gary Beach and Roger Bart along with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who cut the ticket-shaped ribbon with Westfield’s CEO Peter Lowy.

Villaraigosa praised the new facility, noting that “the renovations at the center put the ‘city’ back into Century City and is a great boost to Los Angeles.”

Lowy voiced his determination to keep the facility a major shopping experience for the community and thanked the mayor for finishing the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project on time.

The new-state-of-the-art theater features stadium seating and an outdoor dining terrace (the first of its kind in the U.S.) which Lowy promised will be the setting for many future movie premieres and exciting events.


L.A. Jewry Needs More Exploring

Like any self-respecting East Coast native, I arrived in Los Angeles more than a decade and a half ago armed with the usual stereotypes of this city — namely, it lacked intellectual and cultural “gravitas,” was distinguished by its traffic and smog and defied all known logic of urban organization. Almost immediately, I came to realize that while there was a grain of truth in all of these claims, Los Angeles had many virtues. To begin with, it was far more playful and open to reinvention than the solemn and self-serious East Coast cities in which I was raised and educated. More substantially, it is the site of immense cultural energy that encourages initiative and innovation.

Since arriving, I’ve also shed another stereotype that I had brought with me as a historian of the Jewish experience. Trained as a Europeanist, I had been inculcated to believe that Los Angeles was to New York as America was to Europe — a pale imitation of the real McCoy, a “parvenu” in a world in which antiquity and social stratification bestow merit. This view, unfortunately, is all too common among East Coast or Eurocentric academics.

It is quite surprising, for example, that Los Angeles, the site of frequent innovation, merits no place in the definitive account of American Judaism recently authored by Jonathan Sarna. What this lacuna suggests is that we are in need of more research on the L.A. Jewish experience leading to a new scholarly synthesis that blends cultural, political, social, religious, and institutional stories into one tale. This research must attend to both the local and national contexts of L.A. Jewry.

For it is hard to deny that America has been one of the most successful sites of Jewish settlement in history, if not the most successful of Diaspora communities. Nor can one quarrel with the premise that Los Angeles is one of the most interesting laboratories of urban experimentation today, including its Jewish community.

What make Los Angeles and its Jews so interesting and worthy of attention? Indeed, why should the L.A. Jewish community be a subject of serious study for researchers. Here are some reasons:

1) Size — Los Angeles is the second-largest Jewish city in North America and one of the largest concentrations of Jews in the world. Starting with but eight young men in 1850, the L.A. Jewish community has exploded in population over the course of its 150-year history, reaching its current population of 500,000-600,000. It has developed a vast network of organizations to which Jews of different religious, cultural and political persuasions belong. It also has a sizable majority of Jews without affiliation of any sort, who represent an important and largely untapped source for those intent on studying the challenges facing the American Jewish future.

2) Diversity — Similar to the larger city, the L.A. Jewish community is blessed with rich cultural and human resources. The arrival of thousands of Jews from Iran, Israel and the former Soviet Union over the past 30 years has injected tremendous diversity and energy into Jewish communal and institutional life. In Los Angeles today are some of the most textured and diverse ethnic Jewish neighborhoods anywhere in the world. We have an opportunity to observe in these neighborhoods, and among the recent arrivals, familiar patterns from the history of immigration to this country — the initial desire to organize among one’s own group, followed by a desire for integration into the mainstream, followed by a desire to reclaim parts of a fading or lost native culture. We also have the opportunity to juxtapose these recent waves of migration with the internal American waves that brought thousands of Jews to Los Angeles in early- to mid-20th century.

3) The Sunny Side — Jews have come to Los Angeles for the same reasons that millions of others have: sunny weather and an accompanying sense of social optimism and economic opportunity. Los Angeles has been very good to its Jews, who have assumed positions of prominence in Hollywood, the real estate business and local politics. Moreover, Jews have thrived on the ethos of social mobility and cultural experimentation for which the city is known (and often mocked elsewhere). Thus, they have constantly moved, often westward, in search of open space. And they have constantly remolded themselves from new arrivals into city elders, political radicals, moviemakers, and neo-kabbalists. In this sense, the L.A Jewish experience may not diverge radically from the larger American Jewish template of opportunity and upward mobility. It is the same (in terms of seizing opportunity), just more so.

4) The Dark Side — Some have observed that the “sunshine” narrative of Los Angeles must be tempered by a healthy dose of the “noir.” According to that darker story, evoked by Mike Davis in “City of Quartz ” and more recently in the film, “Crash,” Los Angeles’ veneer of opportunity and mobility barely conceal the barrenness of a vast urban wasteland, marked by anomie, isolation and a glaringly absent center. This “noir” account of the L.A. Jewish experience cannot be dismissed out of hand. It pushes us to think not just of the Hollywood studio bosses, but of the blacklisted writers accused of communist sympathies; not just of the conspicuously affluent, but of the invisible working-class poor; not just of the self-assured guardians of the faith, but of those who struggle to find anything meaningful in their lives as Jews.

Ranging between the narrative extremes of sunshine and noir, the Jews of Los Angeles make for one of the most intriguing and complex Jewish urban centers around. This is all the more remarkable given how understudied L.A. Jewry is. To say this is not to diminish in any way the pioneering labors of Rabbi William Kramer and Norton Stern, who did much to preserve the historical legacy of L.A. Jewry. Nor is to take credit away from groups like the Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly or the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California, which work to continue the work of Kramer and Stern.

Rather, it is to say that the last major monograph devoted to the history of Jewish Los Angeles was written 35 years ago by Max Vorspan and Lloyd Gartner. Their “History of the Jews of Los Angeles” (1970) covers a great deal of ground, especially in tracing the institutional history of the community over the course of its first century. But much more remains to be studied and written, especially since the city has grown and changed in dramatic ways. Scholars ranging from Deborah Dash Moore to George Sanchez to Raphael Sonenshein have shed considerable light on one or another of the city’s Jewish history. But we need more.

A step in this direction will take place this weekend when leading scholars, community activists and political officials gather for a conference, “L.A. Jewry Then and Now,” to be held on consecutive days at the Skirball Cultural Center, the Autry National Center and the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies. At the heart of the deliberations will be two sets of key questions. First, how do L.A. Jews, in all their ethnic diversity and geographic dispersion, fit into the larger cultural and social mosaic of Los Angeles? In what ways is the Jewish experience different from and similar to the experience of other groups in this explosively multicultural city (Mexicans, Chinese, Koreans, Armenians, etc.)? A second set of questions is refracted through a broader national lens: What is the place of L.A. Jewry in the larger narrative of American Jewish history? Is L.A. Jewry unique or typical of the American Jewish experience?

Answers to these questions will, of necessity, be provisional. But they will set the stage for more systematic work over the coming years, work that will begin to fill large gaps not only in the history of the city of Los Angeles, but also in the history of the modern Jewish experience.

For more information about the Nov.11-13 conference, contact UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies at (310) 267-5327 or visit www.cjs.ucla.edu.


Taking Note of 2004

Last week, I pulled out a big, unsorted folder from my desk filled with material I had used for my Jewish Journal columns. Early in my

career, I was taught to take notes on folded sheets of paper, my employer being too cheap to buy notebooks. After finishing the story, we reporters usually threw away the notes, believing that nothing we wrote was of lasting value.

When I started writing books, I realized the value of saving things — but not in an organized way. Still, I had the material for my columns, and I thought that wading through it would be a good way to review the year — and it was.

I spent much of my time in 2004 on the Jewish vote in the presidential election. I interviewed party activists and ordinary voters, many of them in the San Fernando Valley. Because of its middle-class demographics, the Valley is an excellent laboratory for politics of all kinds.

I looked at the election through the prism of Israel, speculating on whether President Bush would improve his standing in the Jewish community because of his ironclad support of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In the end, the president got 24 percent of the Jewish vote, according to an analysis of exit polls. This was 5 percent more than he received in 2000, a fact hailed by Jewish Republicans as a victory and by Jewish Democrats as a repudiation.

Actually, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, his total was far below his father’s 35 percent in 1988, Ronald Reagan’s 39 percent in 1980, Richard M. Nixon’s 35 percent in 1972 and Dwight Eisenhower’s 40 percent in 1956.

Looking back on the election, it’s clear there was more to the Jewish vote than Israel. The 76 percent Kerry vote included huge numbers of people who are intensely fervent in their support for Israel. The 24 percent who voted for Bush don’t have a monopoly on the issue.

There were many other factors driving the Kerry vote. His voters didn’t like Bush, disapproved of his war policy and felt he was taking the country down the wrong road domestically with proposals such as privatizing Social Security.

Other factors were also important. Although I didn’t explore it much, I’ll bet the religious and cultural divide in the Jewish community was as important in shaping the Jewish vote as was Israel.

As the Israel Insider noted in its post-election analysis, a higher proportion of Orthodox Jews were Republican than less-observant or secular Jews.

How did religion and culture play into this? Are Orthodox Jews like fundamentalist Christians, bringing to the political process a whole basket of convictions that ran counter to what was proposed by the Democratic candidate and the party platform?

Did the Orthodox resent the way liberal Hollywood campaigned for Kerry? How did they react to newly wed same- sex couples hugging after marriage ceremonies in the San Francisco City Hall presided over by Democratic Mayor Gavin Newsom?

And what about abortion? Feelings on this subject will come out in the debate over new Supreme Court justices, which basically will revolve around how the nominees feel about choice. Without getting into a discussion about the range of rabbinical thought on abortion, it’s safe to say many Orthodox thinkers take a position that choice advocates would say is distinctly anti-choice.

In the last presidential election, the Republicans demonstrated a great ability to pick out ideological sympathizers from masses of voters. Undoubtedly, they will do this with Orthodox Jews as they seek support for a Bush Supreme Court nominee.

They know there’s a culture war in the Jewish community, as there is elsewhere in America. Tracking it will be a challenging job in the months ahead.

In my brief expeditions to college campuses during the past year, I saw a wide variety of thought and activism that was reflective of the community as a whole. I’ve made a resolution to explore them more.

Looking through my folder, I found other ideas to be checked out. One is Jewish life in the far suburbs that stretch beyond the West Valley into Ventura County. What are the ties that bind this community?

Another subject is the Jewish poor, particularly the elderly. I dipped into this early in my Jewish Journal writing career but never followed up. How will this impact the Social Security debate? What will be the attitude in the Jewish community to the medical and social service cuts being considered in Sacramento and Washington?

Any other ideas will be appreciated. When I started this column, I thought of it as my personal voyage of discovery through the Jewish community, in all its richness and diversity. I still have a lot of territory to cover.

Bill Boyarsky’s column on Jews and civic life appears on the first Friday of each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at


Rabin’s Daughter Seeks Aid for Center


Nearly a decade after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, his daughter fears that Israeli society has not yet faced up to the underlying causes of the horrifying crime by a Jewish extremist.

“We are still an intolerant people, afraid of diversity, unwilling to compromise, and our democracy is still in the making,” said Dalia Rabin, a former Knesset member and deputy defense minister on a recent visit to Los Angeles. “We have not yet dealt with our national dilemmas and divisions of secular against religious, newcomers against old-timers, and Sephardim against Ashkenazim.”

But she has not given up on her father’s goal to “create a normal society on a platform of peace” and she looks on the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies as her chief instrument to fulfill her father’s legacy.

The prime minister and war hero was assassinated in November 1995 at a Tel Aviv peace rally and the new Rabin Center building, designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie, will be dedicated a decade later on Nov. 15, 2005.

Rabin expects many of the world leaders who attended her father’s funeral to participate in the dedication.

The center was established by law in 1997 and housed in temporary quarters. Dalia Rabin resigned from the Knesset two years ago to assume the full-time chairmanship of the center.

During a visit to California in December to speak at the Governor’s Conference on Women and Families, she outlined her vision for the center in an interview.

“I believe in education,” she said, describing the center’s mission as the democratic education of Israeli society, from the army, civil service, teachers and students to immigrants in development towns, Arabs, Druze and other minorities.

Currently underway are a number of programs, such as sensitivity training workshops for Israeli soldiers, border police and police officers serving in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The workshops address what Rabin sees as one of the most frightening developments in Israeli society.

“We have become much more violent and much more indifferent to human life because of what has happened during the last few years of the intifada,” she said.

One reason is that “we send 18- and 19-year-olds, mainly from the poorer segments of our society, to man checkpoints and we ask them to cope with the responsibility of detecting terrorists while still remaining humane,” she added.

During the one-day workshops, trained moderators use films, role-playing, simulation games, and extensive discussions to drive home the diversity and democratic basis of Israeli society, including its many Jewish strands, Arabs, Druse and Circassians.

In 2003, some 6,000 young uniformed men and women took part in the workshops and most requested a follow-up session, Rabin said.

Other programs include the University Within Reach, which targets 11th-graders, mainly from the country’s disadvantaged and multiethnic communities, and mixes them in semesterlong university courses. The classes seek to give the youngsters a sense of empowerment and some of the tools to qualify them for higher education.

In the Democratic Challenge program, high school students are offered enrichment courses on the values of a democratic society, not as abstract slogans but as concrete problem-solving challenges.

The Handshake Network program twins kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers and students in neighboring Jewish and Arab schools, who work together on joint projects for one year.

Cooperating in the programs are the Israel Democracy Institute, Menachem Begin Heritage Center and most Israeli universities, and Rabin said that future efforts will involve civil service officials, young Israelis about to start their military service and student groups from the Diaspora.

The future home of the Rabin Center has quite a history of its own. It is now rising above a bunker in northern Tel Aviv, constructed on order of then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in the 1950s as an emergency power station in case of a nuclear attack on the city, Rabin said.

The bunker itself, near the Hayarkon Park and Tel Aviv University, is the new site of the Israel Defense Forces Museum.

On top of the bunker, the Rabin Center will include a museum, information center, archives, library, academic research institute and an education resource center “for the promotion of tolerance and pluralism.”

To symbolize the purpose of the center and soften the severe lines of the bunker, Safdie is placing two sets of large dove-like wings on the upper façade.

Dominating the museum will be spiraling, segmented exhibits, intertwining the personal and public life of Yitzhak Rabin with the social and military history of Palestine and Israel from the early 1920s to the present.

The museum will incorporate some aspects of an American Presidential library, while its international planning staff includes experts who helped conceptualize the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Museum of Civil Rights in Birmingham, Ala. and the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem.

The Israeli government provides the annual operating budget of slightly more than $1 million per year, but the construction cost of about $35 million must come from private donors.

Dalia Rabin, a lawyer and mother of two adult children, is now preoccupied mainly with fundraising. She said that about two-thirds of the sum had been collected, with $12 million coming from private Israeli donors, $5 million each from the German and United States governments and another $5 million from various sources, including the Norwegian government. That leaves $8 million to go, and during Rabin’s three-day visit to Los Angeles, she met with potential large donors and the heads of the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation.

In the United States, the American Friends of the Rabin Center has been organized to publicize the center and encourage contributions. For information, contact Jeannie Gerzon at (212) 616-6161, or e-mail jgerzon@vmwcom.com. Information on the center’s mission and plans can be found at www.rabin.org.


Lighten Up on Christmas and Christians


Even in relatively tolerant and officially secular America, Jews long have had to do a dance around the holidays of the majority population. There’s a national party going on and, let’s face it, we are not invited.

The issue then is how to deal with it. There seems to be three basic responses.

One, give in “to the spirit,” even if that means elevating Chanukah into an ersatz version of Christmas, with excessive gift-giving and demands for equal time with the bigger holiday.

Two, rail against the persuasiveness of the holiday and of Christianity in our core culture. For some, that means waging a kind of secularist jihad to remove all spiritual aspects from the season.

Third, just keep a respectful distance and let the Christians enjoy their holiday to the fullest including allowing trees, mangers and reindeer in the parks. Use the time to reconfirm to yourself and, more importantly, your children our status as proud and very separate minority.

In some ways, the first approach seems akin to giving in to the majority faith. We boost Chanukah, a relatively minor holiday, into megastatus and turn our children into Yuletide wannabes. Let’s face it, most of our kids don’t need more excuses for presents.

More serious, and immediately damaging, is the opposite tendency, which amounts to driving religious Christmas out of the public sphere. This is something not exclusively supported by Jews, but it’s no big secret that Jews are prominent in many of the organizations — like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — that spearhead the anti-Christmas secular jihad.

To a large extent, this approach seeks to eliminate everything that is Christian about Christmas from the public sphere — from trees, green lights and mangers to the singing of Christmas carols. It reached the point of ludicrous when our former, illustrious governor, Gray Davis always craven in the service of his heavily Jewish donors, renamed the state Christmas Tree into a Holiday Tree.

This kind of idiocy, which was reversed this year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, comes out of a mistaken belief that to ensure a secular state, we need to eliminate any hint of Christian belief from the public sphere. In the words of Amanda Susskind, regional director of the ADL, furious efforts must be made to maintain “a wall of separation between the pubic realm and religious tradition.

In theory, this is a fine idea. I certainly would not like to see public school students forced to sing Christmas carols or listen to a Billy Graham lecture. Yet Susskind is talking about circumscribing all manner of spiritually tainted behavior. They have even issued a somewhat silly pronunciamento called, “The December Dilemma, ” to supply guidelines so schools don’t dip their toes into even vaguely religious waters at this time of year.

Behind these efforts lies what I suspect is a more elaborate agenda. Susskind, for example, expresses “sympathy” for the French government’s decision to ban crosses, head scarves and yarmulkes from public schools. She isn’t ready to take this on in America, but more zealous secularists, like the ACLU, might be sorely tempted.

Such efforts, in my mind, turn the state from neutral toward religion to advocate for what may be called the secularist faith. Instead of admitting that religious ideas, primarily derived from Jewish and Christian roots, stand at the root of our constitutional republic, the ADL and the even more secularist ACLU seem to see any acknowledgement of religion — from the singing of “Jingle Bells” at schools to discussions of the religious roots of Christmas — as a grave threat to civil liberties.

Perhaps, the most egregious local example of this can be seen in the ACLU’s so far successful attempt, with full backing from the ADL, to get the Board of Supervisors to excise the mission cross from the Los Angeles County Seal. This effort grew out of the notion that having a cross on the seal for the past half century represented, in the ADL’s words, and affront to the “diversity of the people of the community.” Zev Yaroslavsky, easily the most influential Jewish politician in the county even called the cross a “symbol that divides us.”

David Hernandez, one of the leaders of a broad-based effort to overturn the country’s decision, considers this decision an example of legislative arrogance. It was taken without considering the idea that many church-going Christians, as well as Hispanics proud of their historic role in the City of Angeles, might object to having their heritage expunged from the seal.

After all, Catholic missionaries built the first schools, brought medicine and many other elements of European civilization (not all positive, to be sure) to this part of the word. Reducing the mission symbol to a kind of jumped-up Taco Bell is not only an affront to L.A.’s Hispanic Catholic heritage but to the critical role faith has played in the evolution of the city since then.

Nor can anyone but a total paranoid compare people like Hernandez to the kind of bigoted Christians who have tormented us in the past.

“People are surprised I am not a Bible-Belt, right wing Christian fanatic,” explains the middle-of-the-road Republican insurance adjuster from Valley Village, who is a member of such dangerous groups as the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, the North Hollywood Neighborhood Council and the Executives support group for the Jewish Homes fro the Aging.

This guy is about as close to Father Coughlin as, well, Kris Kringle.

Rather than wage silly battles with such well-meaning people over Christmas carols, of a mission cross, Jews need to lighten up. Christmas and traditional Christianity today simply do no represent serious threats to the existence of Jews in the contemporary world; outside of the Islamicists, our mortal enemies and those of Israel, can more likely be found among the most hip, pro-Palestinian Churches, some of which back a boycott of Israel, as well as among the longtime anti-Zionists in the secular intellectual left.

In 2004, we have more to fear from Micheal Moore and the archbishop of Canterbury than we do from Graham and ex-urban megachurches. It’s long since time to admit that the political and social landscape has changed greatly from the time our grandparents fled the czarist shtetl.

Finally, we should also recognize that the attempt to drive all religious thought (except perhaps pagan ideas) from the schools also represents a threat to the intelligent understanding of our republic. The founding fathers, many themselves steeped in the traditions of the Torah, would have found it ludicrous that our kids are expected to learn about the roots of American republicanism without some notion of the role played by basic Jewish, as well as Christian, moral principles.

For these reasons, learning about our faith, along with Muslims, Buddhist and Christian traditions, should not be verboten within public education. Indeed, the study of history has convinced me that you can’t understand the past, and how we got to be who we are, without a full comprehension of the religious past.

By removing religion from the public realm entirely, evicting the ecclesiastical role from our histories, plays and pageants, we essentially end up embracing in its place another theology, one that sees human history in exclusively economic class or biological terms.

Given these realties, it’s time for Jews to realize that traditional Christianity — and its symbols — represent less a threat than an important potential ally. By showing respect, and keeping our distance at this time of year, we can build on this historically miraculous development, instead of creating the basis for yet another season of discord.


See Change


About 6,000 people pass through the doors of the University of Judaism (UJ) each year, 13,000 if you include the people who catch its high-profile public lecture series at the Universal Amphitheatre. Significant as that number is, it means tens of thousands of other Los Angeles-area Jews have yet to figure out what that campus just off the 405 in the Sepulveda Pass can do for them.

Peter Lowy wants to change that. The recently named chairman of the board of the institution is that rare bird in nonprofit institutional life: a breath of fresh air.

He is young: at 45, practically a teenager compared to the aging membership of many boards. He isn’t from here. Lowy and his wife, Janine, moved to Los Angeles 14 years ago from Sydney, Australia. Not only does that mean Lowy speaks in that chummy, endearing accent, it means he enters his post with a new and expanded perspective.

He is a poster child for the post-denominational Jew. Two of the Lowy’s four children attend a Conservative Jewish day school, and two attend a pluralistic high school affiliated with a Reform congregation. Lowy himself attends an Orthodox synagogue, as does the UJ’s president, Rabbi Robert Wexler.

“When you consider that the president and chairman are secular but daven in Orthodox shuls while running a Conservative institution, that’s where the world’s moving,” Lowy told me during a talk at his Brentwood office. “That’s where the community’s moving.” Lowy doesn’t just walk the walk, he, like so many Jews today, walks many walks.

Finally, he is wealthy and connected. Lowy’s father, Frank, fled Europe for Palestine, fought as a Golani commando in the War of Independence, then moved to Australia, where he built shopping centers. Lowy is now managing director of the Westfield Group, a global real estate investment trust (think Century City Shopping Mall, Westside Pavilion, Woodland Hills’ Shoppingtown). Someone with the head to run a multifaceted, multibillion dollar international business just might be able to move the University of Judaism and L.A. Jewry forward.

But it won’t be easy.

The UJ has been around since 1947. My office window in Koreatown overlooks the block of Ardmore Avenue where it was originally housed. The university followed the Jewish community west in 1979, settling in to the expansive Familian campus, where it fulfills a unique but hardly problem-free niche in a unique Jewish community.

Running a full-fledged undergraduate school — deans, professors, classes, dorms — for a limited number of students is a daunting task. Meanwhile, Conservative rabbis have leveled public and private criticisms that the UJ has veered too far from its roots in the Conservative community.

Some critics have taken to task the UJ’s department of continuing education for offering courses exploring edgier, controversial topics like homosexuality and astrology. The Orthodox community is still leery of a school whose cafeteria, not to mention its courses, is not kosher enough for them.

Lowy said he wants to build on the work of leaders like Frank Maas and Dena Schecter to stabilize the UJ internally, then enable it to reach out to all parts of the community.

On the first front, Lowy and others on the UJ board saw the importance of bringing business-world models of financial accountability and corporate governance to the nonprofit world. They instituted training programs for Jewish day schools on finance and made sure they took their own advice. Lowy said the school’s budget is in the black for the first time in recent memory.

He believes the costly undergraduate school is an asset, one part of a “three-legged stool” that includes the graduate programs and the department of continuing education, which together give the UJ gravitas and reach.

“You couldn’t get the quality of programs and lectures without the university underpinning it,” Lowy told me. “For instance, how would you get Elliot Dorff to come to a lecture on bioethics if he wasn’t part of the institution serving the community?”

His vision is to open the UJ’s resources to the community.

“The UJ needs to be viewed as a community institution,” he said. “We need to be able to give these benefits to the Orthodox community, the Reform community, the Conservative community and the Reconstructionist community. We need to change the mindset of the community. It’s a very difficult job to do.”

One way to do it is to offer these various facets of the community services they need. Jewish unity motivates in theory, good programming motivates in fact.

One place where Lowy hopes the UJ can contribute to the wider community is in tackling the problems facing day school education.

“If you look around, we have a growing system that is very good,” he said. “But the teachers aren’t paid enough, because the schools can’t afford to pay them. The schools can’t expand, because they’re undercapitalized. And the parents are paying too much to send their kids. Those are major issues, but the schools still grow because there is demand.”

Along with the nuts-and-bolts seminar for administrators, the Lowys funded a UJ program to help day school teachers get their masters’ degrees in Jewish studies. Teachers with advanced degrees earn more, and better quality attracts more parents, which brings in more money.

“Let’s make the Jewish day school system the best so people want to go to it, and not just because they believe in Jewish education,” he said.

If Lowy succeeds, it will prove a few things. One, that boards should make way for youthful leadership and diversity. Two, that breaking denominational barriers pays off. And three, that megadonors can have a megaimpact on their community.

I hope this last point resonates. The Lowys give more than 90 percent of their personal philanthropic dollars to Jewish causes. (Westfield Corp. supports charities of all types). A study of Jewish megadonors last year found that just 6 percent made their megagifts to Jewish causes and institutions, which often struggle for funding. The Lowy’s are a rare exception, and a welcome one.


Fritter Away Your Time for Chanukah


We just returned from a trip to Italy, concentrating on the provinces of Puglia and Campania close to Naples. It is a region that we enjoy because of the diversity of the foods and wines available.

We visited several new places but returned to one of our favorites, La Caveja, a country restaurant with eight rooms, in the village of Pietravairano. It is owned by Antonietta Rotondo and Berardino Lombardo. They hosted us two years ago, when we had a remarkable experience that lasted past midnight, observing just-picked olives being crushed into olive oil.

However, since our last visit, they have remodeled their farmhouse into a wonderful villa. It is a bed and breakfast, and includes six additional rooms. In Italy, it is called an agri-turismo.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner that they cooked in their newly restored kitchen, and for dessert, Antonietta served us honey-glazed fritters fried in olive oil. She called them Scavatelle and said they were made from a traditional recipe that was handed down from her grandmother.

I couldn’t help but think how perfect these fritters fried in olive oil and dipped in a honey syrup would be to serve for our Chanukah celebration. She was happy to share the recipe with me, when I told her that I would like to serve them to our family.

This pastry is easy to make, and it is a project that you can share with your children or grandchildren. Baking helps teach children to follow directions, how to measure and weigh ingredients, tell time and other useful skills. So, let them help in the shaping and dipping of these delicacies.

The dough can be rolled out several hours in advance and covered with a dry towel. Fry and dip in the honey syrup just before serving, so they will be warm and crisp.

Remember, Chanukah begins at sundown on Tuesday, Dec. 7. Happy Chanukah!

Scavatelle (Fried Pastries)

Adapted by Judy Zeidler from Antonietta Rotondo at La Caveja.

Antonietta said that these pastries are traditionally served on a large lemon leaf.

1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons water

1 cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon olive oil

Peel from 1/2 of a lemon

1 tablespoon sugar

Pinch of salt

1 cup flour


1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon sugar

Peel of 1/2 a lemon

1 tablespoon water

Olive oil for frying

In a saucepan, place water, cinnamon stick, olive oil, lemon zest, sugar and salt. Boil for two or three minutes. Remove zest and cinnamon stick. Add flour all at once, and using a wooden spoon, mix until dough comes together. It will be lumpy.

Spoon dough onto a floured board, punch down and knead into a flat disk to remove lumps. Pull off pieces of dough and roll out into thin ropes.

Cut into 6-inch ropes and working with one rope, bring one end of rope around to form a loop, crossing over the other end (leaving 1/2-inch ends) and pinching to resemble a bow tie. Place on paper towels and cover with a dry dish towel.

In a saucepan, place honey, sugar, lemon peel and water. Mix well and simmer over low heat.

In a deep fryer or heavy saucepan, heat oil and fry pastries until browned. Dip in honey syrup and serve at once.

Makes about four dozen.

Antonietta Rotondo and Berardino Lombardo can be contacted at:
La Camere della Locando
La Stalla della Caveja
Via s.s. Annunziata
Pietravairano (ce), Italy
Telephone (0823) 984824, fax (0823) 982977.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Cookbooks, 1988) and “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (Morrow, 1999). Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen.


Closing the Gap on Believers

Is religion more prominent or less today in American life? Is it fading away or roaring ahead? Articles about the conservative Christian influence in the Bush administration point — often fearfully — in one direction. Statistics about the disappearance of young adults in the 18-30 age group point — with another kind of anxiety — in the opposite direction. Ironically, those who are the greatest removed from religious affiliation tend to believe that religion is more powerful than ever, while those in the thick of congregational life tend to believe just the opposite. Meanwhile, is any force more powerful in American life than inertia?

From Oct. 10-11, a colorfully diverse group of Jews, Christians and Muslims gathered at USC to address what some in the clergy have called the “black hole” in religious affiliation. Synagogues, churches and mosques are all more or less equally affected. Membership tends to be strongest among those younger than 18 or older than 30. Ominously, this black hole seems to be growing at its upper end. Can this common problem have something of a common answer? Can there be learning across canyons that usually divide these groups? Is there a set of identifiable “best practices” that work for all Americans? The conference was given the name Faith, Fear & Indifference: Constructing Religious Identity in the Next Generation.

The diversity of sponsorship of the conference is unusual enough in itself to deserve mention: The Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Omar Ibn Al Khattab Foundation, and three entities under the roof of USC.

Among Americans of the middle class, the experience of “going away to college” has long been thought a key to the interruption of religious affiliation. That departure from hearth and home has been sanctioned for many years as a salutary separation away from childhood itself, a coming of age, a major step forward in individuation that would properly include a stock-taking with regard to religion. But because American education has been growing longer and more costly, this interruption between childhood and achieved adulthood has been growing longer as well. American marriage has been taking place later and, as a result, parenthood has come later. In an earlier era, when college education, marriage and first parenthood were all accomplished by age 25, the early adulthood hiatus frequently enough ended with a religious wedding ceremony that was simultaneously a kind of spiritual homecoming. Now the seven years have grown to 12 or 14 or more — And the longer the hiatus lasts, the more likely it is to become permanent.

In a presentation spiced with sometimes-hilarious direct quotes from survey respondents, Berkeley sociologist Christian Smith characterized what might be called the majority or default religiosity of young Americans — present among the unaffiliated as well as among the affiliated — as “moralistic therapeutic deism.” According to MTD, there is a God, he cares much about right and wrong; while he wants you to do right, he mainly wants you to be happy, which means that he wants you to be involved or not in any organized form of religion to the extent — and only to the extent — that it fosters your happiness. In effect, no other value is operative for adherents to MTD.

The surprise, given this as an opening state-of-the-population vision, was then a set of presentations by groups that have been most successful in reaching the age group in question. In every case, the successful seemed to ask a great deal, did not promise happiness or customer-is-always-right service and stressed to newcomers that their communities — be it study group, worship community, summer camp, whatever — were going forward for authentic reasons of their own that would remain valid whether or not new, young recruits were attracted.

This was the message that I, for one, took away most especially from presentations by two charismatic leaders: Brother John of Taizé, an American member of a French Protestant monastery that attracts thousands of young Europeans to a remote village in Burgundy every summer; and Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon, an Argentine who shares leadership of the extraordinarily successful Congregation B’nai Jeshurun on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Actions always speak louder than words. The cleverest pitch will always seem no more than a pitch when contrasted with a quietly embraced way of life.

We speak proudly in the West of our pluralism, but what happens when you substitute the phrase “the religion market” for “religious pluralism”?

But is it not obvious that religions do compete with each other in this country? Different congregations within the same religion compete with each other, as well, and all religious activities compete with other claimants for the free time of the American. This being the case, there always looms the possibility that market success — and market techniques for building market success — can drive out all other kinds of success and all other techniques for reaching it.

But those who live by the market also die by the market, or so the conference seemed to conclude. The young are, if nothing else, very market savvy. They can spot a pitch. They are the hardest of hard sells. Yet they crave authenticity and, perhaps the largest surprise, they hunger for mystery.

Jack Miles, author of “God: A Biography” and other works, delivered an address at the Faith, Fear & Indifference conference titled “The Leisure of Worship and the Worship of Leisure.”

Education Briefs

Day Schools Earn Accreditation

Two area day schools, both founded in 1994, earned full accreditation this summer.

Beth Hillel Day School in Valley Village, the East Valley’s only Reform Jewish day school, was accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE).

“The fact that our school earned a six-year accreditation, the maximum length of time awarded by these certifying boards, is recognition that Beth Hillel Day School is indeed meeting the high goals we’ve set to provide our students with the best education possible in general and Jewish studies,” said Susan Isaacson, Beth Hillel Day School’s education director.

Farther west along the 101, Abraham Joshua Heschel West Day School in Agoura Hills was accredited by the California Association of Independent Schools, the WASC and the BJE.

“Receiving recognition from these prestigious accrediting agencies puts Heschel West in the upper echelon of young dynamic educational institutions,” Heschel West principal Jan Saltsman said. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

High School Makes Temporary Move to ShomreiTorah

When New Community Jewish High School students (NCJHS) return to their studies on Sept. 7, they will no longer be meeting at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, where the school was founded in 2002 with 40 students.

“We outgrew it,” said Dr. Bruce Powell, head of NCJHS. “We were supposed to be there for three years, but we were only supposed to have 120 [students]. We’re at 170 at this point. We were bursting at the seams there.”

NCJHS moved to Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills on Aug. 29. The school has use of 16 classrooms at the synagogue and will continue to use Milken’s gym for its athletics program. NCJHS expects to be at Shomrei Torah for one to six years and will add modular classrooms as its enrollment grows.

However, Powell said the school has its eye on a property that can be developed as a permanent campus in Agoura Hills, and the city’s planning commission has already issued a conditional use permit.

“Growth is both wonderful and challenging,” Powell said. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

L.A. Educators Receive NationalAward

Two Los Angeles religious school teachers were honored in July when they received Grinspoon-Steinhardt Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education. Lea Ben-Eli, a music teacher at Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy, and Eden Cooper Sage, a eighth- and ninth-grade teacher at Temple Israel of Hollywood, were thrilled to be among the 56 recipients in North America.

The awards, sponsored by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation, in partnership with Jewish Education Service of North America, are given to Jewish educators who made a career commitment to the field and contributed to his or her school or community in an outstanding way. As winners, Ben-Eli and Sage were awarded $1,000 cash prizes and $1,500 stipends for professional development.

Both women will be honored at the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in November where they will be recognized in a national gathering with an emphasis on Jewish education and communal leadership. — SSR

Cal Lutheran Embraces Diversity

California Lutheran University (CLU) got a lesson in diversity when 22 students and three faculty members participated in the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) A Campus of Difference, an anti-bias and diversity training program.

During the three-day session, which began on Aug. 23, two trainers, representing different cultural and racial backgrounds, prepared the student ambassadors to lead diversity and inclusion discussions on campus. Participants examined stereotyping, explored the idea of culture and discussed issues related to discrimination and bigotry on campus.

CLU is involved in several diversity programs following the receipt of a $400,000 grant from the James Irvine Foundation in 2003. The grant, which will be dispersed over a three-year period, is being used to foster a campus climate that encourages inclusion, crosscultural interaction, respect for and appreciation of diversity and global awareness.

Over the past decade, more than 43,000 people have participated in the campus training programs — which have been held at more than 250 colleges and universities nationwide. — SSR

Brown vs. Board of Ed. — 50 Years Later

“We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

To grasp the importance of this striking statement made in 1954 by a unanimous United States Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education (see story on page 25), we must both look back and look forward. In 1896, in Plessy vs. Ferguson, the United States Supreme Court upheld a long-standing practice of segregation in public schools and sanctioned widely held racist assumptions by declaring that segregation was acceptable if the separate facilities provided for African Americans were equal to those provided for whites.

African Americans were not the only minority group affected by “whites only” policies. In 1925, a Chinese American girl fought for the right to attend a white school in Mississippi. The court in Rice vs. Gong Lum ruled she was not white but that she could choose to go to a colored public school or to a private school. In 1947, Mexican American students won the right to attend white schools in California in Westminster School District vs. Mendez, but even there the court noted that California law prohibited segregation … except for “Indians under certain conditions and children of Chinese, Japanese or Mongolian parentage.”

Looking back at the era preceding Brown vs. Board of Education, we have to appreciate that the court’s holding that education “is a right which must be available to all on equal terms” was a significant milestone, as was the unanimity of the decision. It was a landmark case that launched an unprecedented era of civil rights and school reform.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1954:

Sixty-nine percent of African American children ages 5 and 6 were enrolled in school (96 percent in 2002);

Twenty-four percent of African American adults ages 18 and 19 were enrolled in school (58 percent in 2002);

Fifteen percent of African American adults age 25 and older were at least high school graduates (79 percent in 2002);

Two percent of African American adults age 25 and older were college graduates (17 percent in 2002).

Looking back at these statistics, we can even conclude the decision was heroic.

However, we must also look forward. The news is not all good. The statistics for 2002 listed here suggest improvement but still tremendous disparity. Worse, some of the progress has receded. In 1954, not a single African American student attended a majority white public school in the American South. By 1988, after a generation of integration efforts, more than 43 percent of Southern African American students attended majority white schools. However, today, slightly more than 30 percent of African American students attend majority white schools, the lowest figure in 35 years. A new word has entered our vocabulary: resegregation, which studies show has been on the rise since 1991 for many white, African American, Latino, American Indian and Alaskan Native students.

According to a recent study from the Harvard University Civil Rights Project, white students are the most segregated group in the nation’s public schools. On average, they attend schools where 80 percent of the student body is white. Likewise, on average, African American and Latino students attend schools where more than 85 percent and 95 percent, respectively, of the student body are people of color.

The Los Angeles Unified School District provides a dramatic example. In 2003, only 9.4 percent of enrolled students were whites, while the vast majority, 71.9 percent, was Latino.

A related impact is segregation by economic status. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 80 percent of African American and Latino segregated schools are in high poverty areas, compared with 5 percent of segregated white schools.

Finally, if diversity of educators was a goal of integration, the news is decidedly bad. There are about 3 million teachers available to educate America’s nearly 50 million school children. Only 14 percent of educators are people of color, while children of color make up 40 percent of our school-age population.

In 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must face the tragic fact that we are far from the promised land in the struggle for a desegregated society.” Regrettably, these words still apply today.

The online curriculum, “Looking Back … Reaching
Forward: Exploring the Promise of Brown vs. Board of Education 50 Years Later”
is at


Lev Eisha Women Pray Their Own Way

On the first Saturday of each month, while weekly, traditional Shabbat morning services are taking place at Adat Shalom synagogue, another service transpires behind the main sanctuary that is anything but traditional. Women of all ages dance between davening, beat tambourines and sing loudly, and instead of praying silently they share with one another.

They are the women of Adat Shalom’s Lev Eisha (A Woman’s Heart), “a joyous community of Jewish women engaged in prayer, study, spiritual growth and friendship.” Founded by a handful of women in 1999 as an outgrowth of the Wagner Women’s Retreat — an annual retreat at Camp Ramah in Ojai organized through the University of Judaism’s Wagner paraprofessional program — Lev Eisha has grown to average more than 100 women at each service and more than 400 people on its mailing list.

Lev Eisha attracts a diversity of women that ranges from young to old, unaffiliated to observant, and while most are not members of Adat Shalom, they travel from Orange County and the San Fernando Valley to attend the monthly service. While the women of Lev Eisha pride themselves on their diversity, it is a hunger for a spiritual connection that unites them.

“The women that come have a very strong spiritual need and are seeking something in a Jewish context,” said Elaine Craig Segal, Lev Eisha’s president. “You can get meditation and other things, but people looking to find a spiritual connection within their own religion can look to Lev Eisha.”

Lev Eisha offers women an opportunity to express themselves through music.

“In a regular service I don’t find a spiritual connection. The words, to me, don’t go as deep,” said Debbie Juster, a West Los Angeles resident. “Here, the music goes deep inside and I feel a comfort and a spirituality that is connected with music.”

Led by cantor Cindy Paley, the music in the Lev Eisha prayer booklet is a collaborative effort of Paley and Lev Eisha’s Rabbi Toba August, which combines “California style,” a contemporary mode characterized by such musicians as Craig Taubman and Debbie Freidman, and “Jewish Renewal” music, such as musicians Hanna Tiferet and Linda Hirschhorn, which comes out of the Renewal stream of Judaism. Joy Krauthammer, a member of Sarah’s Tent, also volunteers each month to accompany the women with such instruments as bongo drums, xylophones and rainmakers.

“The music cracks open your heart,” said August, who directs Adat Shalom’s religious school in addition to leading Lev Eisha. “It’s the only time I can really pray. The music lets you go in and find God — to find your divine within. It helps you cry and it helps you laugh. It allows people to enter into prayer.”

In addition to the music, the camaraderie and the opportunity to pray with other women keeps women coming back to Lev Eisha.

“When women get together to pray the energy is different. We are not competitive. Our voices can be heard,” said Mollie Wine, a cantorial soloist that helps lead the service. “I often daven with Chabad — with a mechitzah — but once a month I just want to be with the girls.”

The women of Lev Eisha, however, realize that their approach to Judaism does not appeal to everyone.

“There are some women who wouldn’t want to pray this way,” Segal said. “This is not a traditional service, so if you feel you are very traditional in your observance you probably wouldn’t want to do something like this. It doesn’t speak to everyone.”

But for women who it does speak to, it speaks loudly.

Barbara Axelrod, a two-time survivor of breast cancer told The Journal that she discovered Lev Eisha at the time when she needed spirituality the most.

“It really has had a lot to do with my inner healing,” Axelrod said. “When I was laying in bed at the hospital it would give me peace when I would close my eyes and envision being here. It gives me such inner peace and joy.”

Like it has done for Axelrod, August wishes that the Lev Eisha service can offer women hope.

“I want the women to walk out with a faith in God and the understanding that they’re not alone in their lives and that they will be able to cope with whatever their life experience offers them,” August said. “I also hope they gain a deeper appreciation of the joyful moments and a more profound ability to cope with painful illnesses and losses. I pray that they walk out feeling renewed.”

For more information about Lev Eisha, contact leveisha@earthlink.net .