Tips for clearing out your home: Where to donate, shred and dump


Is it time to lighten your load? I’ve been on a major purging kick this summer, going through the garage, closets and cabinets, and under the bed — basically anywhere clutter has collected — and getting rid of all kinds of things. I’ve also been keen to avoid throwing unwanted items in the garbage because I’d rather not have my junk adding to the landfill. To that end, I’ve found some great resources for taking my castoffs so that they can find new life, or at least be disposed of properly.

Clothes

There must have been a clothing donation surplus this summer because I actually had trouble giving away mine. The local thrift shop wasn’t taking donations, and when I ventured farther to a Goodwill that did take clothes, I was disheartened to see my stack of clothing would be added to a 14-foot pile in a warehouse — not exactly where I wanted to see my designer duds end up.

Fortunately, I did find some other worthy places for my unwanted clothing. Multiple trips to several thrift stores convinced me that smaller enterprises such as the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) Thrift Shops (ncjwla.org) and the BTS Thrift Store in Culver City (btsthriftstore.com), a division of the addiction treatment center Beit T’Shuvah, appreciated my goods more. I was also swayed by the shopping experience at the stores themselves — both had great inventory and nothing seemed “junky” at all.

If you have clothing you think might be worth some money, consider selling it to Buffalo Exchange (buffaloexchange.com). Simply bring in your freshly laundered items to the buying counter, and they’ll appraise them and offer you cash for them. A similar store is Crossroads Trading (crossroadstrading.com), but I’ve had better luck with Buffalo Exchange taking my clothes.

You also can donate business attire you no longer wear to an organization such as Clothes the Deal (clothesthedeal.org), which provides low-income men and women with professional attire for job interviews. Check the website for a drop-off location near you.

Books

All my books are precious to me, so I want to make sure that when I give them away they will find good homes.

As a fan of The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles, I was happy to see that it has a program called Re-Book It (rebookit.org), in which it either collects unwanted books and resells them at its store (usually for $1); distributes them to local libraries, charities, hospitals and schools; or recycles them. The store schedules pickups for your used books rather than taking drop-offs, so check the website for more information.

One of the most convenient resources for donating books, CDs and DVDs is American Book Drive (americanbookdrive.com) and its collection bins. Designated organizations receive a portion of the proceeds from the eventual sale of the books, so it’s a good way to help a local nonprofit or school. For example, the collection bin in my neighborhood benefits the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation. Other participating organizations include the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles and the Susan G. Komen organization.

Baby items

As your baby grows up, all the clothes and furniture she has outgrown take up valuable room in the house. So what do you do if you don’t have friends or family about to be new parents who can take the stuff off your hands?

Baby2Baby (baby2baby.org) provides low-income children, from newborn to 12 years old,  with diapers, clothing and basic necessities. Check its website for items it will accept, and for drop-off locations in your area.

To get outdated and potentially unsafe baby car seats off the road, Toys R Us and Target host trade-in events at which you can turn in any car seat (even if you bought it elsewhere) and receive a merchandise credit to purchase something else. These events happen throughout the year, so ask your local store about the next one scheduled.

Paper shredding

If you have documents dating back to the Paleolithic period (or even the 2000s), you have many shredding options. Shredding services will come to your door, or you can go to them.

If you don’t have a lot to shred, most office supply stores such as Staples and Office Depot have locked shredding bins in which you place your documents, and they are taken off-site for disposal.

But I’ve largely taken advantage of community shredding events. Various cities offer either free or low-cost shredding. For example, Santa Monica offers quarterly free shredding events. And Culver City has them twice a month with a price of $30 for  seven boxes. Check your local community paper for announcements.

Used paint, hazardous waste and electronics

A lot of my clutter was old paint, cleaning supplies, used batteries and broken electronics. I knew enough not to dump them in the trash bin, but how was I going to safely dispose of them?

My favorite find during my purging was the S.A.F.E. Collection Center at UCLA. S.A.F.E. stands for solvents, automotive, flammables and electronics. Aerosol cans? They take them. Fluorescent tubes? Yes. Unused medications? They take those, too. The service is absolutely free. You drive up, people in jumpsuits take everything out of your car, and you’re on your way. Although it’s located on the UCLA campus, the service is not affiliated with the university and is free to all residents of Los Angeles County. There are six additional locations throughout the Southland (lacitysan.org).

Humans of New York showcases the adorable way a Jewish journalist teaches his sons about charity


Steven I. Weiss has been praised for his work as a reporter and now as the director of original programming and new media at The Jewish Channel, a national cable outlet focused on Jewish news and culture.

But it’s safe to say he has never had this many likes on Facebook.

Weiss and his two young boys appeared on Father’s Day this past Sunday in a post on the wildly popularHumans of New York Facebook page — which provides glimpses into the interesting lives of everyday New Yorkers. Its posts routinely garner hundreds of thousands of likes.

 

In the post, one of Weiss’ sons explains the system his dad has created to teach him about the importance of charity and managing money. He gets one dollar of allowance from his parents each week, and he has to choose a “section” to put it under: spend, save, donate or invest. If he chooses to “invest” the allowance, his parents give him two extra pennies for each dollar at the end of the month (mimicking a small-scale return on investment). But he tends to put his money in the “donate” section.

“I have way over $10 in my ‘invest section.’ I used to have more but I took some money out and put it in my ‘donate section.’ We used to it to buy food for people who don’t have much money in their ‘spend section,’” Weiss’ unnamed son says in the post.

By Tuesday afternoon the post had received almost 800,000 likes. “Way to teach his kids both how to be economic and compassionate at the same time,” wrote one of the more than 21,000 people who left comments.  “A lot of adults today seem to have missed out on that lesson.”

The post contains an important message that resonates far beyond Father’s Day. Read it in full here.

Easy and affordable eco-friendly decorating ideas


Kermit the Frog famously said, “It’s not easy being green,” and when it comes to our homes, a lot of people agree. There is a perception that for a home to be environmentally friendly, it needs to be remodeled, or built as such from the ground up, with state-of-the-art features such as solar panels, energy-efficient appliances and building materials made exclusively from sustainable sources. And for someone in an existing home, all that sounds too expensive. 

But living in a green home doesn’t have to be so out of reach. After all, eco-friendly living is not about having all the latest bells and whistles — it’s about reducing our carbon footprint to make less of a negative impact on the planet. And when you think about being eco-friendly from that point of view, you’ll find there are some easy ways to be good to the environment while decorating your home. You might even save money instead of spending it.

Buy pre-owned

Purchasing new furniture and accessories means considerable energy and materials were expended to create them. But when you choose items that were previously owned and loved by someone else, you’ve saved valuable resources — and rescued something from likely spending eternity in landfill. Beyond the obvious places like estate sales and thrift shops, Southern California has some excellent resources for used goods, including resale emporiums that sell items ranging from used hotel furniture (like Hotel Surplus Outlet) to barely used props and furnishings from movies and television shows (which you can find at Previously On and It’s A Wrap). And browsing is always fun on eBay and Craigslist. I limit eBay purchases to smaller items, like accessories, as the shipping charges for larger pieces are usually high. Also, you want to be able to see major furniture items in person before purchasing, which you can’t do with eBay. And for Craigslist, you are dealing with a stranger, so be safe and bring a friend with you when checking out the item. And remember that you can negotiate a lower price — but do so via email or phone, before you meet.

Renew or upcycle

Another eco-friendly alternative to buying something new is to refresh or repurpose something you already own. Reupholster old furniture. Refinish the wood on chairs and case goods — or paint them for a whole new look. Turn old curtains into pillow shams. Just by keeping what you have, you’re helping the earth.

Donate rather than discard

Of course, there are times you just don’t want to keep a piece of furniture. I’ve told many a design client to get rid of an outdated sofa. But instead of throwing it in the dumpster or putting it out in an alleyway, I always advocate donating. Some places, such as the Salvation Army, are notoriously picky about what they’ll take. But you know who isn’t so choosy and will take anything? Anyone who reads the “free” listings on Craigslist. I’ve given away televisions, area rugs and chairs just by listing them as free on Craigslist — and they’re picked up sometimes within mere minutes. Once I had about 50 table legs from Ikea coffee tables (don’t ask why I had all those extra legs), and I almost threw them in the trash because I didn’t think anyone would want just table legs. But within one hour of posting an ad on Craigslist offering them for free, I had more than a dozen takers. 

Rethink your wish list

If, like most homeowners and renters, you have a list of all the fun and fabulous furniture and accessories you just absolutely must have, take a step back and ask yourself if you really need them all. I’m always in the market for something: I wish I had new window treatments. I could use a new coffee table. That new waffle maker would make my life so wonderful on Sunday mornings. Before buying something new, ask yourself how often you will use it, how long it will last and what you’re going to do with it when you don’t want it anymore. They’re tough questions when you’re ready to pull out that credit card. But just being in that mindset will inform all your purchase decisions and make you more environmentally conscious. 

Buy things that will last

When purchasing something for your home, consider how well made it is and what its projected life span would be. In the long run, something cheap often isn’t good for the environment — or your pocketbook — if you’re just going to have to replace it in a few years. 

Plan a décor swap party

These may become the book clubs of the new millennium. Invite a group of friends and neighbors for a gathering at which each person brings small furniture pieces, accessories, books or any other household goods they no longer want. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, as everyone trades items. In the end, each person ends up with new things for their home. And you can donate anything unclaimed to a thrift store.

Just keep it

Here’s a tip that might blow your mind. It might be more eco-friendly to keep something you already own that wasn’t eco-friendly in the first place than to replace it with something that is eco-friendly. For example, you might have some carpeting in your home that doesn’t contain a single sustainable fiber, so is it better for the environment to tear it out and install sustainable bamboo flooring? Not necessarily, if that carpeting is going to end up in landfill. Don’t start replacing everything in your home with eco-friendly alternatives. By doing absolutely nothing, you might just be saving the environment. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Professional tips on clearing clutter and getting organized


There’s a post that’s going around Facebook right now about how creative people have messier workspaces. That certainly fits me. I would show you a picture of the desk I’m typing at right now, but it would ruin your image of me as the consummate style guru. (OK, that may not be your image of me, but let’s move on.)

And don’t even get me started on my closet. It is so packed with clothes, that I can squeeze a shirt in there — without a hanger. Feeling I needed some professional help to get rid of my clutter and get more organized, I consulted with Christel Ferguson of Space to Love, a Los Angeles-based interior decorating firm that specializes in organization and decluttering (” target=”_blank”>jonathanfongstyle.com.

Typhoon Haiyan: How you can help


In response to the devastation wreaked on the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan, which hit land on Nov. 8, killing thousands and obliterating whole towns and villages, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has set up the Philippines Typhoon Relief Fund.

The solicitation for donations went live on Monday, Nov. 11, on the Federation website, jewishla.org, according to Mitch Hamerman, Federation’s senior vice president of communications and marketing.

The L.A. Federation’s response is only one example of local Jewry attempting to reach out to Filipinos suffering in the aftermath of the largest storm surge in modern history, despite the absence of a sizable Jewish population on the Southeast Asian island country. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has already sent emergency teams, and the Israeli nonprofit IsraAID has dispatched a team of humanitarian workers. The L.A. Federation is working with both organizations.

“We know our community wants to take action in this time of crisis,” a statement issued by Federation said.

On Monday, members of Congregation B’nai David-Judea in Pico-Robertson received an email from Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky asking for donations to IsraAID.

“We're all aware of the horrible death and destruction that occurred in the Philippines over the weekend. There is a special connection, as you may know between the Philippines and the State of Israel,” Kanefsky wrote, emphasizing that members of the Filipino community often are the healthcare workers who care for elderly Israelis.

Israel’s reaction to the storm has been robust, with the Israel Defense Forces and Magen David Adom both promising aid. Israeli consul general in Los Angeles David Siegel estimated that “several hundred” people, representing the Israeli government and Israeli non-government organizations, may join the relief effort in the Philippines.

“We’re very happy to do this, and I think you’ll see Israel put not insignificant resources into this, both in aid and in the representatives that we send,” he said. As a leader in trauma medicine, Israel is expert at responding in the immediate aftermath of mass casualty events. And helping another country in need fulfills the obligation of tikkun olam, Siegel said.

“Whenever there is a humanitarian disaster, we’re poised to be the first, if not one of the first, to provide immediate aid,” Siegel said.

Additionally, The United Kingdom’s World Jewish Relief organization has said it plans to offer help, and a fund launched by American Jewish World Service is providing support to local Filipino-run groups on the ground in the Philippines.

Hurricane Sandy: How you can help


Know another organization helping with disaster relief? Let us know by commenting below.


The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is accepting donations to contribute to recovery and rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  One hundred percent of collected donations will be distributed to Federation partners in the affected areas and L.A.’s Federation will absorb all administrative costs. The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Emergency Committee staff is working directly with the affected regions to assess local needs and is coordinating with the Jewish Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (JVOAD) partners.

To contribute, visit ” target=”_blank”>http://JFeds.org/SandyRelief.  Donors may also send checks to the national mailbox at The Jewish Federations of North America, Wall Street Station, PO Box 148, New York, NY 10268. Please indicate “JFNA Hurricane Relief Fund” on all checks or in the designation box online. The Jewish Federations of North America Emergency Committee has also been activated and will be in consultation with community leadership to keep them apprised of relief and response efforts as the situation evolves.

The Jewish community and the Federation Movement send our support and prayers to those affected by the hurricane, and we will stand beside them during the recovery and rebuilding. Thank you for joining us in sending wishes of support and needed resources to all those impacted by Hurricane Sandy.”


The Jewish Federations, collectively among the top 10 charities on the continent, protects and enhances the well-being of Jews worldwide through the values of tikkun olam (repairing the world), tzedakah (charity and social justice) and Torah (Jewish learning).

Time to write a check to Federation


The period from the end of the Jewish holidays (i.e. now) till the end of December (the end of the tax year) is peak season for non-profits raising money. That’s no less true for Hazon than anyone else: we’re doing important work on a relatively shoe-string budget, and we need your help. Despite that, this email isn’t a request to write us a check: it’s a request that you write one to your local Jewish Federation. That’s especially true if either A. you’ve never written a check to Federation before or B. it’s a few years since you last did so and you got out of the habit. In this email, I want to say why I think this is important, and I especially want to address critiques that are made of the system in relation both to Israel and to issues of diversity, democracy, and inclusion.

The Jewish Federation system accreted gradually over time. The first push was in the late nineteenth century; then again around the First World War; and then a different high-water mark happened in 1967 and 1973 around the time of the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. At each point the central argument was that A. we were needlessly replicating ourselves, and needed to be more efficient, and B. that the whole was in some sense more than the sum of the parts.

In terms both of inflation-adjusted dollars raised, and the total number of donors, 1973 was probably the peak. In all sorts of ways, the system has been declining for at least the last decade and in most places longer.

It’s right to adjust to changing times. I don’t use a Sony Walkman any more. The three legacy national TV networks are in secular decline. I don’t wear a dark suit when I go to work. Life goes on. The Jewish community, like America itself, is more fragmented than it was a generation ago, and fragmented also means – in this case – more diverse, more inclusive, more varied, more vibrant. Geological monoliths erode over time and so too do their cultural analogues.

But the erosion of the Federation system is not inevitable, and even if it were inevitable it’s not good. On the contrary, those of us who most believe in the evolution of America’s cultural ecosystems, including its Jewish community, should be putting our weight, individually and institutionally, behind the renewal of the Federations. Here’s why:

First, there’s no other entity that’s capable of doing the range of good that a Federation does, with one single check. Hazon is part of a cohort of groups that have been involved in renewing Jewish life in powerful ways in the last decade. Hadar, JDub, Storahtelling, the Six Points Fellowship, Moving Traditions, Dor Chadash, Panim: all of whom have received material UJA-Federation support. Creating healthier and more sustainable communities, within and beyond Jewish life? Jewish Farm School, Teva, Eden Village Camp, Adamah, Jewish Greening Fellowship, Wilderness Torah. A tremendous number of the key innovators have received significant support from their local federation – and that includes in the Bay Area and LA, and elsewhere. (Kayam, doing incredible work, is supported by the Associated in Baltimore.)

(Double disclosure: yes, Hazon receives support from the Federations in New York and in San Francisco, and now also in the East Bay and in Portland, OR. But in New York we applied five years running for a multi-year grant, and five years running we were rejected. I feared we’d go bust before we ever got a penny from the Federation. We finally received that grant in year 6. In San Francisco we talked to Federation – and tried to apply for money – for about four years and only recently received a multi-year grant for the first time. We aresupported by the Federation system, and/but we have had our share of frustrations with Federations along the way. But here’s the key thing: despite imperfections, I understand what they’re trying to do, I know that they’re important, and I empathize with their challenges. My respect for the system has only increased over time – and not only, and perhaps not even, because Hazon has subsequently been funded, especially by UJA-Federation of New York, in significant ways.)

But the world that Hazon is most part of is only a tiny part of the system.  Separate from the organizations involved in renewing Jewish life or creating a more sustainable world for all, is a whole different set of organizations: day care centers, senior homes, programs for those in need. A slew of anti-poverty initiatives. The Kosher Food Net. The All in Need Kosher Food Pantry. The Passover Food Outreach Program. The Village Temple Soup Kitchen. Community advocacy. The disabled. People with AIDS. Spiritual Care as Part of Oncology Supportive Care. Many of us pay lip service to these sorts of needs, but America today is more and more unintegrated. There’s hidden poverty in our midst – but it is often hidden. There’s a whole universe of people and institutions at Federation that I don’t know, don’t overlap with, don’t see socially, don’t work with. But when I write a check to Federation, I’m supporting all of them, and rightly so.

And then so too with Israel, and Jewish people around the world. We’ve gone full circle on all this. For a century or more Jews in this country worked hard for Jewish people in need around the world. In recent years that’s somehow, in certain circles, become blasé or uncool, or too particularistic, or maybe less cool than supporting non-Jews in need. These of course are not either/or – I write a check to AJWS also, and to New Israel Fund as well for that matter. But I do care about Jewish people around the world – in Israel and elsewhere. The Gilad Shalit story is about the sheer wonderful irrationality of treating a member of one’s people as being also a member of one’s family. His redemption – at extraordinary and painful cost – makes no sense unless we accept an extended notion of family, and I absolutely do.  It’s a similar wonderful seeming irrationality that has led the Federation system to start to put resources behind supporting Israeli Palestinians (languaged by most Federations as “Israeli Arabs”) – since we care about Israel, we’re serious about Israel being an inclusive democracy, and so Jewish peoplehood resources stretch in new and to some unexpected ways. One perspective sees this as tokenism and argues we should do more; another would say, why do Federations do this at all? You can argue both positions, but if you do so, argue l’shem shemayim – believing in the renewal of philanthropic endeavors, and the complexity of the world we live in.

So: writing one check to your local Federation does incredible good, locally, nationally, and internationally. It does it at low-cost (as large organizations, their fundraising costs are proportionately lower than most other non-profits), and with strong infrastructures and deep systems of lay/professional partnership and transparency. So how come they’re on the ropes in so many ways?

First: people accuse Federations of being unrepresentative. I don’t think that’s fair. They’re a money-weighted and sweat-weighted democracy. People who are actively involved have a bigger say than those who are peripherally involved, and those who write bigger checks have more say than those who write smaller checks. You know what? –  that’s true at Hazon also, and it’s true in almost any non-profit you could care to name. The biggest check doesn’t give you the right of veto, and the smallest one (especially if you work hard, and you have good people skills, and you’re smart) doesn’t mean that your voice won’t be counted. Attacking Federations for being undemocratic is about 180 degrees off: they’re often slow-moving because they’re so participatory, and over time they’ve evolved complex governance cultures. If in doubt: volunteer in good faith, be patient, and I think you’ll find that most Federations would love to involve you in their work.

That leads me to my next point: let’s stop using Federations as a punchbag on Israel. In 1967, and even more so in 1973, the unifying secular religion of American (and British) Jews was “support for Israel.” Rightly or wrongly that’s not so today. We know it’s not so, and we see evidence of it every place we look. As the central structure of American Jewish life, Federations across the country support Israel, and a range of projects that connect in some way with Israel, in a staggering number of ways. That’s as it should be. My own views on Israel will be slightly different than yours; and yours from his, and his from hers. Yes, we should care, and yes we should express our views. But – and this is a key but, in the year 2011 – we need to have the maturity to support the system even if, in some particular respect, it does something that’s not exactly in accordance with our own views.

Do I have criticisms of the Federation system? Of course I do. My main one is a relatively unusual one: I think Federations have made an understandable but nevertheless significant mistake in focusing on dollars-raised to the exclusion of number-of-people-donating. Federations are very focused on numerical targets, especially dollars raised. I think a clear public goal needs also to be established of raising the number of people who donate to Federation, year-on-year, for at least the next decade. That’s a scary number for a Federation to focus on, because it looks like it’s fighting against the tide, and thus bound to fail. But I think it’s important in two different ways. First, the number of donors adds to the moral legitimacy of a Federation – and the diminution of that number is correspondingly problematical over time. And secondly, looked at through a different lens, I think that focusing on increasing the number of donors would actually help Federations tell their stories better – it would focus them, systematically and culturally, on moving outwards in various ways, including publicly.

Here’s the last image I want to share with you: it’s the photo over my desk; a photo, given to me by Andy Blau, of Jack Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. Of all the photos I might have put there, I chose this one because of the famous words of Bobby Kennedy: some see what is and ask why; I dream of what might be, and ask why not? The word Hazon means vision, and that photo most sums up for me the possibility of bringing new vision to fruition in the world. But in this context it means something else as well: it means imagining what American Jewish life, and the future of this country and of the Jewish community, would be like, if we didn’t have a Federation system. It would be more chaotic, more expensive, less representative, less coordinated, less thoughtful, and it would expose many of the weakest in our communities even more than they presently are. It would damage central connective tissue in our communities, and it would remove a central support for innovation. And I make this observation in the week of parshat vayera. It’s the beginning of the story of Jewish responsibility and, yes, acceding to larger calls to give of ourselves in profound ways, and, clichéd though it may sound, the next chapters of that story are written by each of us, this day and this week.

So as I say: if you want to write a check, here are some links to help you find your local federation.

We gratefully acknowledge support from the Federations in New York, San Francisco, the East Bay, and Portland, ORFind your local Federation, anywhere else in the country.

Nigel Savage is Executive Director of Hazon.

Israel’s Carmel fire: HOW YOU CAN HELP


These organizations are working to help rehabilitate Israel’s fire-damaged Carmel region:

” title=”http://www.jnf.org/work-we-do/our-projects/security/friends-of-israel-firefighters.html” target=”_blank”>Friends of Israel Firefighters
FIF, a partner of JNF, is focused on replenishing and improving Israel’s firefighting infrastructure, which was stretched thin even before the Carmel fire. In the last few years, FIF has donated nearly 100 mini-pumper fire trucks.

” title=”http://www.jewishla.org/israelwildfires” target=”_blank”>Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles collected $200,000 for fire victims in the week after the blaze broke out. From that, $50,000 has already been distributed to the Israel Trauma Coalition and to Yemin Orde (see sidebar). Federation will continue to collect and allocate funds — 100 percent of donations goes directly to Israel — to meet the short- and long-term needs of fire victims, rehabilitate the environment and acquire resources to confront future disasters.

” title=”Orthodox Union” target=”_blank”>Israeli Leadership Council
The Israel Leadership Council, including many Israelis in Los Angeles who served in the army, have adopted as their cause taking care of the frontline heroes — the firefighters and police force. They sent care packages and handwritten letters while the fire raged, and now are focusing on helping those who lost their homes.

” title=”American Jewish Committee” target=”_blank”>American Jewish Committee
The American Jewish Committee made an initial donation of $100,000 to JNF to plant a forest of 10,000 trees in memory of the 42 people who died in the fire. The AJC has also reopened its Israel Emergency Assistance Fund for humanitarian and relief efforts.

UJC seeks donations for hurricane victims


United Jewish Communities begun a campaign for donations to help in the recovery from recent hurricanes.

The umbrella organization of North America’s Jewish federation system is urging the 157 federations and 400 independent Jewish communities it serves to contribute to the effort, which will go to help Jewish communities in the country’s coastal region that were affected by the hurricanes and to nonsectarian relief efforts.

Initial relief will go toward short-term disaster needs such as food, water and medicines, and for intermediate needs such as mental-health counseling and other counseling, according to the UJC’s emergency committee chair, Fred Zimmerman. Other needs will be determined.

UJC staff have spoken daily with the president and chief executive officer of the Jewish federation in Houston, Lee Wunsch, as well as to community leaders elsewhere.

In an effort to coordinate a response to the storm, UJC also has talked with Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff; national, state and local relief agencies; and national Jewish groups and religious movements.

Initial reports said the community in Corpus Christi, Texas, was safe following Hurricane Ike over the weekend, according to UJC. Also in Texas, efforts were continuing to reach Jewish evacuees in Galveston—one report emerged over the weekend that people were trapped in a flooded synagogue there. UJC coordinated with local and federal law enforcement agencies, who investigated and reported the synagogue was empty.

Checks should be mailed to United Jewish Communities, P.O. Box 30, Old Chelsea Station, New York, NY 10113, Attention: UJC Hurricane Relief Fund, or go to www.ujc.org to make online donations.

Key questions can answer donation motivations


I opened my mailbox to find several letters, a few bills and a host of requests for donations from various organizations that I have supported over the years. Because I am a stickler for organization, I sort the letters, place the bills in a folder marked “Look at me soon!” and the appeals for donations in one marked “Save the World.” Between the needs of my local community, the Jewish community, our country and the world at large, I am seriously thinking about renting a storage unit for the hundreds of requests I receive annually.

I don’t know how others consider charitable giving, but I am honestly confused about it. Year after year, questions continue to gnaw at me like: What is the right amount for a gift? Should I support Jewish organizations first and then donate to other charities, like my alma mater, only after I have made my Jewish gifts? Why am I giving in the first place? Does it need to hurt for my gift to be meaningful? Am I willing to give up something — a dinner out, theater tickets, a trip — to make a more substantial contribution this year?

Tzedakah, the Jewish commandment to give, has been a quintessential Jewish value since the beginning of Jewish time. The Torah teaches: “If there is a needy person among you, any of your brethren in any of your cities in the land that God has given you, you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against him. Rather, you shall open your hand and lend him whatever he is lacking” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8).

Tzedakah is the counterpart to tikkun olam, the Jewish obligation to repair the world. Both affirm our responsibility to distribute a part of what we have in order to take care of others who are less fortunate. Both are grounded in the idea that individual wealth is neither a right nor a privilege but a form of stewardship for which we are charged, as agents of God, to care for the world in which we live.

These obligations operate in concentric circles — originating within our own home and family, extending out into the Jewish community and then the world. Jewish law specifically recognizes that any needy person who lives in peaceful coexistence with us is a worthy charitable recipient. The Talmud teaches that we should help support the poor, even outside our own community, because of the “ways of peace” (Gittin 59 b).

Jewish law is fairly specific in its answer to the question of what we should give. Ideally, we are expected to give what is needed to help restore a poor person to his or her former position. If a man has lost all of his clothing in a fire, we should help him purchase clothes. If he has lost his job, we should provide him with employment either directly or indirectly by helping him find work.

The Jewish sage Maimonides established specific parameters for giving, with the average acceptable gift as 10 percent and the ideal gift as 20 percent of our possessions. Jewish law is both practical and realistic in its demands, because it never requires us to become lacking or poor ourselves as a result of giving.

The critical questions we each need to answer are: Why do I give? What makes me want to give? Is it because of peer or professional pressure, social recognition or a genuine commitment to the cause?

I am inspired by the words of Moses when he told the Israelites to bring gifts to build the Tabernacle, saying: “Take from among you gifts to the Lord: everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them….” (Exodus 35:5). When we give, Jewish tradition asks that we open, rather than harden, our hearts — because it is from our hearts, not our heads, that we are more inclined to see the needs of others and give willingly, meaningfully and generously.

During our lives we will have times when our resources and income may be limited. Some of us will struggle more than others. An unexpected tragedy or illness can make it nearly impossible to give. But Tzedakah is an equal opportunity mitzvah and applies to everyone, no matter how great or small our portion.

If we are unable to give of our money, we can give of our time, talents and wisdom. Our sages assured us that we are all capable of giving, even one who receives tzedakah, when they said: “To the one who is eager to give, God provides the means.”

Amy Hirshberg Lederman is a nationally syndicated columnist, Jewish educator, public speaker and attorney. She can be reached at alederman@cox.net.

Teaching our kids how to give


As a child, I hated having my birthday fall in the middle of December because it meant that no matter when Chanukah began, my birthday gifts were somehow expected to count for Chanukah, too. It just didn’t seem fair that I had to give up some of my gifts because of a glitch in the calendar.

I never told anyone about my frustration, except perhaps a therapist or two along the way. But recently, I heard a story from my friend Rachel about her daughter, Hannah, who also shares the December birthday dilemma that gave me a new insight about birthday gifts and giving.

After Hannah’s third birthday party, Rachel surveyed the room and realized that among the decorations and leftover cake were enough presents to fill a small toy store. And it bothered her that her own child should have so much when there were so many others who have so little. So she came up with a plan that was both ingenious and Jewish-minded to the core.

She told Hannah about all of the children who didn’t have any toys for their birthdays or for Chanukah and asked her what she thought they could do to help. With some “gentle parental maneuvering,” it didn’t take long for Hannah to suggest that she give up a present from the pile on the floor. Hannah chose a Care Bear, a talking doll and a child’s tea set, and together mother and daughter re-wrapped the gifts.

A few days later, Rachel drove Hannah to Jewish Family Service with the presents. When Rachel arrived, she asked a staff person if she would tell Hannah about the families who needed the presents and how much it would mean to the children who received them. A few weeks later when Rachel drove past Jewish Family Service, Hannah looked up in recognition and asked her mom, “Do you think the kids are playing with my Care Bear right now?” Rachel nodded and smiled. It was one of those rare and precious moments when being the parent of a toddler seems like the easiest thing in the world to do.

Tzedakah, or the Jewish commandment to give, has been a quintessential Jewish value since the beginning of time. The Torah teaches: “If there is a needy person among you … you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against him. Rather, you shall open your hand and lend him whatever he is lacking” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8).

Giving tzedakah is one way to achieve tikkun olam, or the Jewish obligation to repair what is broken and lacking in the world. Both affirm our responsibility to give a part of what we have to take care of others who are less fortunate. We do this because Judaism views individual wealth as neither a right nor a privilege but a form of stewardship for which we are charged to care for the world.

Rachel’s family began to put money in a tzedakah box every Friday night before Shabbat and Hannah knew that the box was for the people who didn’t have toys or food or a place to live. When Hannah was 5, she saw pictures of the victims of Hurricane Katrina on television and came running into the kitchen to find Rachel.

“Mommy,” she asked in a worried voice, “don’t we need to give our money to the children in the hurricane?”

Rachel emptied out the tzedakah box and took Hannah to the Jewish Federation with more than $80 in change.

It is difficult, almost impossible, to convey to our children how horrible it is for others who live in poverty, and don’t have families, friends or resources to turn to for help. Not only is the concept foreign to their lives, but it runs counter to contemporary expectations in today’s youth culture of buying more, owning more and having more.

But we can start at an early age like Rachel did with Hannah, by modeling our values and teaching our children the responsibility we have as Jews to care for those in need. And in doing so, we will empower our children with the awareness that they, too, can do something, even at a young age, to make the world a better place.

Amy Hirshberg Lederman is a nationally syndicated columnist, Jewish educator, public speaker and attorney. She can be reached at alederman@cox.net.

Big Sunday Gets Bigger This Year


Months ago, David Levinson, the founder and chairman of Big Sunday predicted that the citywide day of volunteerism might grow from 8,000 participants to 25,000 — now that the City of Los Angeles has joined the effort.

He was so, so wrong.

At the final gathering of the day, at the Los Angeles Zoo, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced that his office estimated 38,000 had participated. Nearly five times more people cleaned, swept, painted, cooked and helped in myriad other ways.

“This is a great partnership because we really complement each other,” Levinson says, speaking of the Big Sunday-city connection. “A funky, spunky grass-roots organization that’s been working on this for years joining with the city government. I like the fact that it’s not a response to a disaster. For some people it’s one day of volunteering. For others, it starts a long-term relationship.”

Here are some scenes from this reporter’s day on the frontlines:

8 a.m.: Hollenbeck Park, East Los Angeles

For Levinson, the mayor and thousands of others, the day kicks off with a rally. Villaraigosa, accompanied by DJ El Cucuy (Renan Almendarez Coella) of 97.9 FM La Raza welcomes a throng of volunteers.

Across the Southland, volunteers already are working in about 40 sites, says Sherry Marks, Big Sunday vice-chair and volunteer co-coordinator.

8:45 a.m.: Drive Time

After the rally, I follow Levinson back to Temple Israel, which started Big Sunday and remains the flagship location. Distracted by a phone call from a wandering group that has lost its way en route to a Heal the Bay Program, Levinson initially misses our exit.

9:30 a.m.: Temple Israel, Hollywood

Here, where it all began as Mitzvah Day with 300 volunteers in 1999, 15 projects are well under way.

9:45 a.m.: The Lobby

Racelle Shaeffer, project captain of Book’em stands surrounded by piles of books, half-filled cardboard boxes, and sorters and packers of all ages.

“We have about 10,000 books, new ones donated by publishers and others from book drives at schools, she says. “Later today they’ll be delivered to school libraries. People say that Los Angeles is a city where everyone is thinking about what they can get, but today is evidence that we also think about what we can give.”

10 a.m.: Miller Hall

The synagogue’s auditorium is overflowing with crates, diaper bags, beach bags and piles of purchases made by Gary Gilbert and his wife Judy Kirschner Gilbert, who bought 25,000 items to create 2,500 gift bags for distribution to 40 agencies. Adding to the tumult are the camera crews following the mayor throughout the day. This is his first stop after the Park.

Every inch of the synagogue seems filled with volunteers.

10:15 a.m.: The Boardroom

A dozen women are knitting tiny caps for premature babies around the heavy wooden table. The center is piled high with pastel caps and sweaters.

10:27 a.m.: The Parking Garage

The northeast section is devoted to Krispy Kreme donuts, bagels and cream cheese, not to mention coffee, orange juice, cookies, cupcakes, chips, salsa, vegetables and dip. The stock must be regularly replenished. Apparently, this sort of labor works up an appetite.

10:42 a.m.: Day School Playground

Naomi Hasak, the clothing-drive captain, directs her troops in sorting and packing boxes. A group of committed darners and sewers repairs old jeans, which will be redistributed — distressed and fashionable.

10:56 a.m.: Preschool Play Yard

Tables are covered with cookies, icing and all sorts of decorations, for the ever-popular cookie decorating project, while other volunteers make cards for the gift packets and tissue paper flower displays to be distributed to nursing homes, hospitals, home shut-ins and senior centers.

11:10 a.m.: Entrance to Parking Garage

Andy Romanov, seated at a map-covered table looks like he’s running the show, but he says he’s merely a deputy for Stephen Connors, the coordinator of 10 moving trucks and a fleet of private vehicles.

“We’ll be delivering food, gift, bags, furniture and clothes,” Romanov says.

“And even skateboards,” adds Jason Blagman, 16, a “key assistant runner” in the operation.

11:38 a.m.: The Kitchen

It’s between shifts. A meat lasagna has been assembled and packed, and a new round of volunteers is being directed by Kitchen Captain Estee Aaronson to form an assembly line for a vegetarian lasagna that will be delivered to shelters. The third shift of the day will make vegetable and chicken casseroles.

11:50 a.m.: The Lobby

The floor is no longer covered with books. Shaeffer’s volunteers have packed almost all of them into boxes. Paper maché pots filled with tissue paper flowers are lined up ready for delivery, as are most of the gift bags assembled in Miller Hall.

11:56 a.m.: Drive Time

I leave for my next site, New Horizons, a Muslim school on Sawtelle Boulevard in West Los Angeles, one of four schools founded by the Islamic Center of Southern California. This cross-town excursion gives me a sense of the scope of the day’s ambition.

12:15 p.m.: Arrival at New Horizons School

The mayor and his entourage are leaving. Scores of people, parents at the school, and many volunteers are engrossed in decorating paper maché flower pots and tissue paper flowers.

12:30 p.m.: Principal’s Office

Anis Ahmed, the principal since 1996, explains that this fall her school had participated in an outreach program with students from Temple Israel. The shared activities of the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders set the stage for their Big Sunday participation.

“The mission for our schools is to nurture a positive Muslim American identity. It is essential for us to reach out to other communities, to establish peace and friendship, while holding on to our culture and our roots,” Ahmed says.

12:45 p.m.: Lunch and Playground

Katie Covell, 24, who teaches a community class in world religions at her Venice home, has brought five friends with her after learning about Big Sunday on MySpace: “There are so many people my age who want to get involved. I’m meeting so many great people and the food is delicious”

Long tables are covered with platters of samosas, pakoras, many variations on potato pancakes and croquettes, curries, eggplant and noodle dishes from many cultures along with a bounty of desserts.

1:10 p.m.: Flower Pot Central on the Playground

Vaughan Rachel, a member of Beth Chayim Chadishim, is on the scene with Robin Baltic, who has been co-coordinating that synagogue’s Big Sunday activities for the past four years.

“We’ve been talking to Ramiza Subhan, the principal’s mother,” Baltic says. “We’ve spent two hours talking about the similarities between Islam and Judaism. I knew very little about Islam.”

“And I had very little knowledge of Judaism,” Subhan chimes in.

They report coming up with about a dozen similarities including having only one God, observing fast days and not eating pork or shellfish.

1:35 p.m.: Drive Time

Next stop, Figueroa School in South Los Angeles.

2:10 p.m.: Figueroa School, W. 111th and S. Figueroa streets

Parents, teachers and other volunteers have been painting murals, cleaning, planting, and re-organizing storage sheds, in addition to making tissue flowers for the Watts Senior Center, and running a flea market to raise money for the literacy program at the Alma Reeves Woods Library. A jazz trio adds to the ambiance. I arrived too late for the reptile man and the marionette show, but manage to catch the 100-person drum circle run by Chris Reid from Bang a Drum on La Brea.

3:45 p.m.: W. 111th Street.

A truck pulls up with about 60 boxes. The donated books that, this morning, were stacked in the Temple Israel lobby, have reached their destination.

4 p.m.: Drive Time

The highlight is a weekend traffic jam.

5:30 p.m.: The Zoo Parking Lot, Griffith Park

I’m milling about with tired volunteers. John Rosove, Temple Israel’s rabbi, spent the morning working with Rebuilding Together in Pasadena renovating a home for women recovering from addiction.

“What is exciting about Big Sunday, he says, “is it provides real role modeling. Parents bring their children. It’s a statement of what a community can do.”

6 p.m.: Stage in Zoo Parking Lot

In his closing remarks, Villaraigosa, who spent the day visiting projects through the city, refers to the Jewish principles of tikkun olam and mitzvot, adding that Christians have a deep belief in social justice that mirrors these ideas. Today, he says, bringing David Levinson to the stage, “Jews, Christians and Muslims; blacks and whites; Latinos and Asians are coming together.

“What I always say about Big Sunday,” Levinson adds, “is that everybody has some way they can help somebody else.”

 

‘Lucky’ Friends


Since they met at a mommy and me 13 years ago, Adam Schlesinger and Sean Abramson have been coming up with innovative schemes together, such as the time they sold novelty items like Whoopie Cushions and electrified hand buzzers. (They pulled in $100.)

But now the two recent graduates of Sinai Akiba Academy are onto something bigger and better. Their latest venture — a simple plastic guitar pick on a ball chain called “Lucky Pix,” selling for $10 — seems to be catching on.

Some high-powered connections forged through the boys’ parents landed them an appearance on Fox’s “Good Day L.A.” and placed some of their Lucky Pix around the necks of celebrities. Intuition, a trend-setting Web boutique known to cater to celebrities, is the sole outlet for Lucky Pix, giving the boys the kind of publicity and panache other retailers covet.

Schlesinger and Abramson, whose families are longtime members of Sinai Temple, are donating 25 percent of all sales to children’s charities.

“It was Adam’s idea to give to charity, and we thought that would be great,” Sean said. “By giving luck to others, you also bring luck to yourself.”

Both boys play guitar with Raw Material, a rock band at Sinai, and Sean says he has one pick he considers his “lucky” one that helps make his music come together. The boys researched the idea themselves, designed a logo and a found a manufacturer for the first several hundred picks in tortoise-shell brown, hot pink, turquoise and black.

Those have long since sold out and the next order of 2,000 is already on the way.

And the boys are about to meet a whole bunch of new teenage necks from which to hang Lucky-Pix. Both boys are attending Milken Community High School next year and Camp Ramah this summer.

“We’re really excited because this has a lot of potential for us to be able to donate a lot and help a lot of kids,” Adam said.

To view or purchase Lucky Pix, visit www.lucky-pix.com .

Charitable Yums


Thinking about doing something for Israel but don’t have time or inclination to go there and volunteer in person? This Sunday you can do your bit for the beleaguered Jewish state by chowing down in local restaurants.

On May 2, 20 of Los Angeles’ kosher restaurants will participate in the National Council for Synagogue Youth’s (NCSY) second annual Eat 4 Israel campaign. The restaurants have agreed to donate 10 percent of their gross receipts from that day to one or more of the following charities: One Family, which helps victims of terror; Magen David Adom; Yad Eliezer, which provides food to indigent Israelis; Save Our Soldiers, which outfits members of the Israel Defense Forces with bullet-proof vests; and Hatzolah Jerusalem, a charity that provides medical services at the scene of terror attacks.

“We thought that this was a good way to help Israel and really no one loses,” said Tova Weiner, an 11th-grader at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles high school, who was one of the 15 high school students to organized the campaign for NCSY. “The restaurants will make up for what they give us by increased sales, and people are going out to eat anyway. We think this is a great way to raise money without having to go door to door.”

Last year, the Eat 4 Israel campaign was nationwide, and netted $6,000 from 20 restaurants and the restaurants reported a 35 percent average increase in customers. This year organizers decided to concentrate only on the local market, and are proud that they have 20 restaurants participating in the Greater Los Angeles area. They are hoping for similar — or better results than last year.

“As a Jewish Orthodox youth group we believe that supporting Israel very important,” said Sharona Motkin, a senior at Shalhevet. “We believe Israel is going through a lot right now, and anything we can do to raise awareness we do.”

For more information and a list

of participating restaurants, visit

www.angelfire.com/un/eat4israel, call (310) 940-5683, or
e-mail eat4israel@hotmail.com .

Tzedakah With Toys


When 5-year-old Ariela Weintraub learned about the recent Southern California fires during a family dinner discussion, she was worried. The Santa Monica resident asked her mother, Susan Weintraub, "Mommy, do you think the children who lived in those burning houses lost their toys?"

Her mother told her yes, and the youngster ran to her room and returned with a big white teddy bear. To her parents’ surprise and delight, Ariela announced that she wanted to donate her cherished stuffed animal to a child who lost his or her own toys in the fires.

When Susan Weintraub told her daughter’s story to Rabbi Karmi Gross, the principal of Maimonides Academy in Los Angeles, which is attended by Ariela and her older sister, the 5-year-old’s generosity inspired a school toy drive for local children affected by the fires.

"When we think communitywide, we usually think of the Jewish community," Gross said. "This seemed like the perfect opportunity to make a point to our students that we have to sometimes look past our family. The needs of the general community have to be a genuine concern to us."

On Nov. 12, the American Red Cross stopped by Maimonides and picked up the boxes of treasured stuffed animals, lunch boxes, art activities and board games. The toys will be distributed to local homeless shelters and specifically given to children who lost their possessions in the tragedy.

"I just thought they might’ve lost their favorite toys in the fire," Ariela said. "I think they’ll be happy when they get new ones."

To donate to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, visit www.redcross.org or call (800) 435-7669.

Jewish Charities Get Favorable Rating


If you’re concerned that the money you donate to Los Angeles Jewish charities is eaten up by administrative and fundraising costs, fear not.

Most Jewish charities in Los Angeles have a favorable rating for the amount of dollars spent on their projects compared to dollars spent on costs, according to Charity Navigator, a new philanthropic watchdog. The group assessed some 130 Jewish nonprofits, including seven from Los Angeles, among 2,500 charities across the United States. It then rated the groups based on the Form 990 tax returns that all nonprofit charities, except religious institutions, must provide annually to the IRS.

Charity Navigator evaluated the groups’ overall financial health, fundraising and organizational efficiency. The goal was to equip potential donors with enough detail to “make more intelligent giving decisions,” spokeswoman Sandra Miniutti said.

Independent analysis of charities and philanthropies remains relatively rare, so many in the Jewish philanthropic world welcome the extra focus.

Such data “should serve as a reminder to donors that it is not enough to find a cause that tugs at your heart strings,” said Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network. “We have to hold charities we care about to higher standards of efficiency, effectiveness and transparency.”

Among all kinds of charities, Jewish and non-Jewish, the median fundraising costs were about $.08 of every dollar, she said — “pretty good” compared to the most efficient charities. Those charities deemed the most efficient spent no more than $.10 cents, or 10 percent, to raise each dollar. It’s estimated that there are between $25 billion and $50 billion in assets in the coffers of U.S. Jewish philanthropies, from foundations and federations to nonprofits and pension funds.

What the watchdog calls religious charities range from museums to universities to the U.S.-based fundraising arms of Israeli institutions to Jewish federations and political groups. Each charity was assigned up to 70 points and up to four stars, with better scores going to those showing greater financial health and streamlined bureaucracies.

The Jewish groups ranked similarly to other nonprofits when it came to areas such as fundraising and program expenses, but ranked poorly regarding money in the bank.

Checked for their “working-capital ratio,” or how much cash each group would have left if fundraising dried up, Jewish charities had enough to last for only 3.6 months on average, compared to 8.3 months for non-Jewish charities. Such “liquid assets” could be cash, stocks or easily sellable property such as real estate. The Jewish charities ranked lower because they typically raise the bulk of their money around the High Holidays and at the end of the year, but don’t have cash on hand year-round, Miniutti said.

In Los Angeles, the top rated Jewish charities were Jewish Family Services (JFS), Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger and the Skirball Cultural Center, which were all awarded four stars, and 62, 63, and 68 points respectively. According to Charity Navigator, JFS spends only $.02 to raise every dollar, Mazon spends $.07 and the Skirball spends $.04.

The charity with the next highest rating was the Simon Wiesenthal Center which was awarded three stars and 53 points, and spends $.17 cents to raise every dollar. The Bureau of Jewish Education, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation were granted two stars.

Nationally, the top Jewish charity was the Shefa Fund, which won a four-star, 69-point rating. The fund, dedicated to advancing social responsibility through grants, spent $.04 cents to raise each dollar, according to its Form 990.

Jeffrey Dekro, president of the Shefa Fund, said his organization’s first-place ranking “is really consistent with the doctrine of our work.”

At the bottom of the Jewish heap sat the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah, which is dedicated to Jewish education and outreach. The group garnered only 19 points and zero stars, spending $.23 cents to raise each dollar.

In several cases, Charity Navigator ranked branches of the same charities separately because they were incorporated separately for nonprofit status and file different forms to the IRS. Aish HaTorah represented one such case, with its New York branch, which it says is dedicated to “wisdom for living,” gaining 53 points and three stars, spending only $.13 cents to bring in every dollar.

Irwin Katsof, the Los Angeles-based president of Aish HaTorah, said he couldn’t discuss the findings until he had studied them more closely.

“I’m not really going to comment until I’ve had a chance to analyze how they did it,” Katsof said.

Charendoff, whose Jewish Funders Network is an umbrella group for many of the more than 8,000 private Jewish family foundations in the United States, some of which were rated byc Navigator, said the rankings provide useful data but miss some subtleties.

While the rankings allow one to compare a range of similar charities for their efficiency, they offer only a snapshot that does not reflect an organization’s development over time.

Newer charities “may take a few years to achieve a balance between building the business and delivering the product,” he said.

The rankings also do not take into account the size of an organization, he added. A small foundation may have only one fundraising professional, accounting for a major share of its budget, compared to bigger organizations with more money and a few more fundraisers.

Charity Navigator’s rankings, compiled in August and updated Sept. 3, were based on federal reports from 2001 and 2002, but the group “looked back” to 1997 and 1998 to “calculate growth as well,” Miniutti said.

Other national Jewish nonprofits that got ranked for overall efficiency included Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, which ranked 10th, and the World Jewish Congress, which was listed 112th.

Staff Writer Gaby Wenig contributed to this report.

Kosher Pig-Out


Imagine if hitting the restaurants was a mitzvah. For one day, at least, it will be. Finally, the guilt-free excuse to overeat you’ve been looking for. On May 4, the Sunday before Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day), Eat-4-Israel, a campaign created by yeshiva high schoolers, will do just that — encourage people to patronize participating kosher restaurants. The restaurants will donate 10 percent of the day’s gross receipts to their choice of seven Israel-based humanitarian organizations that are endorsed by the campaign: Hatzolah, Bet Ashanti, Ezer Mizion, Save Our Soldiers, Yad Eliezer, Yad Sarah and ZAKA.

Eat-4-Israel was the brainchild of Monique Grunberger, a high school senior at the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, who developed the idea with two local Yeshiva University of Los Angeles students, Yitz Novak and Zvi Smith.

“I was getting fed up,” said Grunberger, who in March was frustrated by the underwhelming response to a pro-Israel letter-writing campaign she aimed at senators on Capitol Hill.

In two months time, the trio of 18-year-olds enlisted a roster of North American restaurants, mostly Los Angeles-based businesses, including Pico-Robertson area destinations — Jeff’s Gourmet, Nagila Pizza and Chick ‘N Chow — and Pizza World and Mr. Pickles Deli in greater Los Angeles.

The high schoolers partnered with several organizations — including StandWithUs, UCLA Hillel, the Zionist Organization of America, Far West United Synagogue Youth, West Coast National Council of Synagogue Youth, HaBonim Dror and the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-AMCHA — to promote the event. Smith also noted that the Bureau of Jewish Education, a Jewish Federation beneficiary agency, will contribute a $1,000 Israel Teen Leadership Seminar Grant, which will go toward advertising costs.

Grunberger, Novak and Smith — all of whom will be studying together in Israel next year — have short-term and long-term goals for Eat-4-Israel.

“Other than raising at least $10,000 for Israel,” Grunberger said, “I would like to see Jewish communities where this event is taking place come together, no matter what denomination, to help Israel. I would like to see this as an annual event.”

“The most basic reward of putting this together has been the experience of working with the community,” Smith added. “But it’s also very fulfilling to represent Israel. It’s nice to see that no matter where we are, we can stand with Israel.”

Eat-4-Israel will take place on Sunday, May 4. For a complete list of participating restaurants, go to www.mobilize4israel.org/eat4israel .

Cry, Argentina


It’s a balmy night as we join those filing into the basement
social hall of the venerable Libertad Synagogue in the heart of downtown Buenos Aires. It resembles any Friday night service
crowd anywhere in the United States, except that it’s standing-room only. An
elderly man sings Yiddish songs in a still-strong tenor followed by a young duo
on saxophone and clarinet playing selections from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

The crowd applauds, while sipping tiny paper cups of wine.
This is what they’ve come for. This and the food — especially the food. Not
that it’s anything to write home about. The meal is rice stuffed tomato, and
dry gefilte fish, served tureen style. Dessert — ice cream straight from the
carton — is simple in the extreme. But there are few leftovers. When you’re
hungry it all tastes good. And these people are hungry. The catastrophe that
ravaged Argentina in December 2001 — the peso was devalued to a third of a
dollar and all savings were frozen — hit the middle class particularly hard.
Since most of the 200,000 Argentine Jews are part of that class, they are many
among the suffering.

These are the people Rabbi Sergio Bergman is entertaining at
the Shabbat dinner at the Libertad Synagogue. The slim, 40-year-old rabbi looks
exhausted. His well-tailored suit hangs hauntingly on his slender frame. His
eyes are bloodshot. He’s too busy trying to inspire his guests to partake of
the spirit of Shabbat to touch a bite of his dinner.

He parades between the tables singing familiar Ashkenazi
melodies. He softly cajoles the congregation to get involved in the political
protests against the government’s inaction and corruption in the face of human
suffering, and to wear the colors of the Argentine flag in their lapel, as he
does. He tells us that he is flying in the face of Argentine culture and
tradition. Argentina, he explains, does not have a culture of philanthropy and
consequently neither do its Jews.

“We need to teach our people to give money,” he explained
sadly. “In this society you take, you don’t give. We need to teach our politicians
to be mensches, and not to destroy this country because it’s a country with
plenty of blessings and plenty of resources. The Argentine people are the
problem — our culture, our way of life.” During our two weeks in Argentina we
heard the same story repeatedly. Populist governments from Peron on had
corrupted the people by giving them handouts rather than teaching them to farm
the rich land and fend for themselves.

“We were all immigrants,” said Bergman, whose grandparents
came from Poland. “But we have lost the values of the immigrant culture — the
values of effort and work and sacrifice to make a future.”

As we talked to people from all around the country, a
consistent picture emerged. The Jewish community in Argentina was one of the
wealthiest and most cultured in the world. No more. “It’s as bad as America was
in the Great Depression,” said Steven Schwager, executive vice president of the
New York-based American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

The new Jewish poor include professionals, business men,
shop and factory owners who can no longer get business loans, and can’t afford
to import the parts they need to carry on their businesses. Students have had
to drop out of school and college to try and search for non-existent jobs to help
their families. Unemployment is more than 25 percent. While the old are
struggling to eat, the young are leaving in droves.

While we were in Buenos Aires, Communidades, the newspaper
of Argentina’s Jewish community ran ads offering jobs and resettlement expenses
to professionals who would like to relocate to Birmingham, England.

Devora, who is in her late 20s and works at AMIA Communidad
Judia — the building that was blown up in 1992 with 85 dead — is leaving with
her computer analyst husband for Winnipeg, Canada. The folks from Winnipeg flew
them out for a month and promised them jobs and aid for housing. Jewish leaders
tried to encourage them to make aliyah, but Devora turned that option down.

“Not because of the war,” she hastened to explain. “Too aggressive,
too loud, too rude. Canada is a civilized country where things work  — they
want us. They will help us. And our children, when we have them, will have a
future.”

But leaving comes at a considerable emotional cost.
Argentines love their country with a visceral passion. They will stay until the
bitter end because nowhere else measures up.

One woman who has visited her son in Los Angeles found the
people there “cold and aloof. And all everybody does is work all the time,” she
complained.

Her husband agreed. “We love Buenos Aires, the gaiety of it,
the smells, the life, the activity. We don’t want to leave,” he said.

Bergman, ever the optimist, sees in the crisis an
opportunity. This determinedly secular community has always forged its
collective identity through the Jewish social and sporting clubs that dot the
city; synagogue membership was minuscule. That is now changing. For a start,
they can no longer afford country club fees, and there is more.

“In the crisis, they come to the religious institutions to
receive support and this is a new opportunity to involve them in Jewish life,”
the rabbi said. If the crisis continues he knows synagogue services will be
standing-room only. It is a small comfort.

To help, contact Will Recant at the JDC at (212) 885-0839;
or visit www.jdc.org. Donations marked “Argentine Relief Fund” can be sent to
ARZA/World Union for Progressive Judaism, North American 633 Third Ave., New
York, N.Y., 10017.”  


Sally Ogle Davis is a Southern California-based freelance writer. Ivor Davis writes a column for The New York Times Syndicate.

Briefs


Programs Continue at Valley JCCs

Programs will continue at the various Jewish Community Centers (JCC) around the San Fernanado Valley, albeit not all under the same umbrella. The new North Valley Jewish Community Center, Inc., (NVJCC) a nonprofit organization created after the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) divested itself from the Granada Hills site, is still in negotiations to purchase the site, and is temporarily relegated to using only part of the property. But it still opened its summer camp July 1 with 10 children.

The organization hoped to use the entire property by September, NVJCC board member Andrea Goodstein said, noting that discussions with the JCCGLA toward that end were going well.

As for the other two Valley centers, the West Valley JCC is fully functioning and remaining a part of JCCGLA for the time being, according to JCCGLA Executive Vice President Nina Lieberman Giladi. Valley Cities JCC’s preschool ended the school year with an enrollment of more than 100 children, Giladi said, so both the site’s preschool and after-school programs will open in the fall as usual. Programs for seniors at Valley Cities are also continuing in a limited fashion, despite the cuts made following the JCCGLA’s declaration of near bankruptcy last December.

Enrollment has begun for preschool and after school programs at the NVJCC with a message line set up for both at (818) 594-4075. — Wendy J. Madnick, Contributing Writer

West Valley Community Health ExpoDebuts

Shomrei Torah Synagogue will join forces with co-sponsors Temple Aliyah, Valley Outreach Synagogue and the West Valley Jewish Community Center to present the very first West Valley Community Health Expo, a daylong fundraiser benefiting Magen David Adom West, on Aug. 4.

The concept behind the Health Expo evolved as a vehicle for an idea of Shomrei Torah’s Rabbi Richard Camras to raise the $54,900 needed to purchase an ambulance for Israel. The Expo will feature a variety of medical screenings, a blood drive and health- and safety-related exhibits. Scheduled speakers include: Judy Ziedler, who will lecture on the joys of kosher cooking; Jerry Guon, liver transplant recipient, who will speak on Jewish perspective on organ donation; Dr. Rena Falk, of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, who will talk about genetic screening; and representatives of Stroller Power, a group that teaches exercise workouts for new moms.

“I’m hoping that people will come to the Expo to learn about their own health,” said Nedra Weinreich, Health Expo Committee chair, “as well as do something that will help the health of those in Israel. You can help save lives here and as well in Israel.”

West Valley Community Health Expo will take place from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Aug. 4 at Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. Blood drives will be held from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free, but donations will be encouraged. For information, call (818) 346-2721; or visit shomreitorahsynagogue.org.

— Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Shop ‘Til You Drop

Need a crock pot? Or would you prefer to donate your old one? If so, you’ll want to know that one of the San Fernando Valley’s most popular thrift shops has moved. The National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW/LA) celebrated the opening of its Canoga Park store on June 11.

The store replaces the one previously located in Reseda. Harriet Baron, executive director of NCJW/LA, said she hopes the change will attract even more customers and donors.

“Quite simply, we felt that there was a market in the West Valley we were not reaching,” Baron said. “We know we have many constituents there.”

Baron said the new location has the advantage of being within the radius of a stretch of antique stores and thrift shops. The Canoga Park store is more spacious than its predecessor, with furniture housed on one side of the store and racks of clothing, mostly for women, on the right. There is a limited amount of children’s clothing but plenty of bric-a-brac for the kitchen and the prices are very reasonable. The store is easy to spot from the street due to its distinctive blue-and-white mural. The mural is based on an original design by Burton Morris in Pittsburgh, Pa., and was painted by a local artist known as Chase, who does all of his artwork for NCJW using spray paint.

Altogether, NCJW operates six thrift shops.

The store is located at 21716 Sherman Way. Hours of operation are 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (Monday through Saturday) and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Sunday). For more information, call (818) 710-7206. — WM

How the West Was Jewish

Historical figure Solomon Heydenfeldt, a Jewish justice on the California Supreme Court from the Gold Rush era, ruled on California water laws and cases involving religious freedom. Donning black-and-purple robes, an old-fashioned bow tie and his best southern accent, law professor Peter Reich brought Heydenfeldt to life for fourth-graders at Valley Beth Shalom Harold M. Schulweis Day School in Encino this past spring.

As the school’s fourth-grade social studies curriculum includes the California Gold Rush, Reich’s presentation brought a Jewish element to the study of American history during this period.

For the last 12 years, Reich has taught property and environmental law at Whittier College, as well as a legal history class at UC Irvine. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

What You Can Do


GIVE

In times of tragedy and disaster, blood supplies oftenrun critically low. Giving blood is an incredible mitzvah, and one which costsyou only time. Call 1-800-GIVELIFE (1-800-448 3543); if the number is busy, theRed Cross requests that you please keep calling so that you can schedule anappointment at your local blood donation center. You can also try Cedars-SinaiMedical Center (blood donations). — (310) 423-5346.

Undoubtedly, much financial help will be required toassist the individuals, families and institutions affected by the recentattacks. We will provide information about where monetary donations can bedirected as soon as such information is available. Check www.jewishjournal.comfor updates.

The Victims of Terror Fund set up by The JewishFederation of Greater Los Angeles will provide financial support for crisiscounseling and other needs to victims of recent terrorist attacks in the UnitedStates.

Donations made payable to:

The Jewish Federation
Victims of Terror Fund
6505 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 1000,
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 761-8207
www.jewishla.org

BE SAFE

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

provides security guidelines for Jewish institutions, which are especially relevant during the High Holy Day season. http://uscj.org/item104_681.html

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

For emergency assistance or information, call:
The Jewish Federation (City Office)
(323) 761-8000
The Jewish Federation (Valley Office)
(818) 464-3200
Jewish Family Services (City Office)
(323) 761-8800
Jewish Family Services (Valley Office)
(818) 464-3333
Board of Rabbis of Southern California
(323) 761-8600

PRAY

Individually, or with your family or community, reciteprayers.

It is customary in Jewish tradition to recite Psalms inresponse to tragedy or in a time of fear and concern. Choose Psalms that aremeaningful to you, or try Psalm 23.

Bring your community together: organize a prayer vigil,reciting Psalms and other readings, and a sharing of thoughts and feelings.

JewzNewz.com contributed to this report.

A Day of Mitzvot and Meaning


Young Mitzvah Day volunteers clean-up Taft High School inWoodland Hills.

A Day of Mitzvot and Meaning

The annual Valley event provides social-action projects andopportunity for community involvement

Mitzvot, acts of loving kindness or just plain charity:Whatever you call them, Jews are commanded to do more than simplypray for good things — they have to do good themselves in order tohelp repair what is wrong in the world.

For the third year, this idea of tikkun olam (repairing the world)has become a rallying cry for Mitzvah Day, a community-wide day ofvolunteerism that this year is expected to bring together a smallarmy of more than 3,000 do-gooders from across the five-valley areaserved by the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance. Members of 37synagogues and other organizations from the San Fernando, Conejo,Simi, Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys will participate in morethan 100 projects during the event, which takes place on Nov. 16 andis coordinated by the Valley Alliance’s Jewish Community RelationsCommittee (JCRC).

JCRC Director Barbara Creme views Mitzvah Day as acommunity-building tool. “It’s an incredible way of bringing thesynagogue and organizational community together,” she said. “It’s awonderful way for people to get together and do something meaningful,lasting and that feels good.” The goal of the day is not simply to dogood for a single day but to kick off ongoing projects.

One of the most ambitious projects this year, a tree-planting atLake Balboa, will take only a few hours, but the fruits (well,foliage anyway) of the effort will last a lifetime and beyond. TempleJudea, Stephen S. Wise Temple, Ahavat Shalom and Heschel Day Schoolwill join together with the TreePeople to plant 100 24-gallon-sizetrees as part of a major beautification project. The resulting smallforest will be aptly named the Mitzvah Grove.

Stephen S. Wise itself has 40 projects, ranging from volunteersmaking sandwiches for homeless-shelter residents, to youngstersdecorating 200 photo albums to give to foster children, who will fillthem with their own pictures (a disposable camera will be included).

Diane Kabat, the temple’s social-action chair, said that thesynagogue is also engaged in ongoing mitzvot, such as donatingvegetables from its community garden to the Valley Shelter in NorthHollywood, and conducting monthly bingo games at the Jewish Home forthe Aging.

She expects about 1,000 people from the congregation to donateabout 3,000 mitzvah hours on Nov. 16.

Other highlights of the day include:

* A swim-a-thon for teens at the West Valley Jewish CommunityCenter to benefit Jewish AIDS Services, the American Cancer Societyand the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

* A knit-a-thon at the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center toaid nursing homes and a blood drive.

* Wheels for Humanity has teens repairing wheelchairs, also at theWest Valley JCC.

* A sports day and barbecue for less privileged children at theGuadeloupe Community Center in Canoga Park is sponsored by the B’naiB’rith Reunion Chapter.

Conejo Valley, which has one of the fastest-growing Jewishpopulations, is getting into Mitzvah Day in a big way this year, withthe efforts of four synagogues (Temples Beth Haverim, Adat Elohim,Etz Chaim and Or Ami), the Conejo Valley JCC, B’nai B’rith, HeschelWest Day School and Chabad of the Conejo. Among the projects: a blooddrive, bubbes and zaydes reading to children, a sing-along at aseniors home, a trail cleanup in the Santa Monica Mountains and akosher tour of Bristol Farms.

For the first time, Mitzvah Day has a logo, the result of acontest among religious- and day-school students. Vanessa Le Winter,a Milken Community High School student and Temple Beth Hillel member,created the design, which shows a Band-Aid affixed to a blue andgreen world that is encircled by children linking hands and hearts.

Many of the mitzvah projects benefit non-Jews, and that is not byaccident, said Candice Stein, who is chairing Mitzvah Day for thesecond year. “It’s important for the community to know that Jews careabout it and do give back to it,” she said. This is particularly truein some areas of the Antelope, Santa Clarita and San Fernandovalleys, where there have been recent anti-Semitic incidents, Steinsaid. “We need to do outreach and create some relationships that willcontinue.”

For information about taking part in Mitzvah Day, call the ValleyAlliance JCRC at (818) 587-3219. — Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

No Accidental Tourists

Nearly 400 Angelenos travel to Israel as part of the Federation’sGolden Anniversary Mission

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

Three hundred ninety-eight Angelenos took off for Israel lastSaturday evening with an itinerary planned by the Jewish FederationCouncil of Greater Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, some departed withgreat hopes and memories, few with fears, and everyone with a senseof excitement.

“I’m really interested to see what it’s like since we were therelast,” said Arthur Mishler, who last visited Israel, with his wife,Susan, 18 years ago. “I know there have been lots of changes, andIsrael has become a very modern society.”

The Mishlers are riding on the Temple Beth Am bus, one of 11 thatare ferrying the large contingent on a tour of the Holy Land. Amongthe other travelers are top Federation officials, including PresidentHerb Gelfand, Executive Vice President John Fishel and newlyappointed 1998 United Jewish Fund General Campaign Chair SanfordGage, as well as representatives from major Federation departments,agencies, the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, and the Westside andSouth Bay regions.

Also making the trip are several California legislators,representatives from Mayor Richard Riordan’s office, seven rabbis(Ronald Shulman of Congregation Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes;Rabbi Joel Rembaum of Temple Beth Am; Rabbi Ed Feinstein of ValleyBeth Shalom and wife, Rabbi Nina Feinstein; Rabbi Donald Goor ofTemple Judea; Rabbi Zvi Dershowitz of Sinai Temple; and Rabbi JudithHaLevy of the Malibu Center and Synagogue) and a cantor (Stephen S.Wise’s Nathan Lamm).

The largest group — close to 50 — was recruited by the IranianAmerican Jewish Federation (IAJF), an umbrella organization for about16 nonprofit Iranian interests. Unlike more than half of thetravelers — who are first-time visitors to Israel — most of theIranian-American Jews have been there before, said IAJF PresidentSolomon Rastegar, who has led previous missions but will be aspectator on this one. Many Iranian-American Jews have relatives inIsrael. “We want to go there to see what was created out of nothingin the short time of 50 years,” Rastegar said.

The Federation’s 10-day Golden Anniversary Mission, in the worksfor more than a year, was scheduled to coincide with celebrationskicking off the 50th anniversary of the State of Israel. It was onNov. 29, 1947, that the United Nations endorsed the partition ofPalestine, which led to the final withdrawal of the British and thecreation of an independent Israeli nation on May 15,1948.

Participants of this mission began their trip by joining in acelebration of Israel’s 50th on the steps of Tel Aviv’s IndependenceHall. Splitting up into separate traveling groups with tailoreditineraries, most of the visitors will trek to the Galilee and GolanHeights. Many will meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and membersof the Knesset. There will be visits to Yad Vashem, Yitzhak Rabin’sgrave on Mount Herzl, the Western Wall and possibly Masada. Abouthalf of the contingent is continuing on to Jordan to visit MountNebo, the Roman city of Jerash, Amman and Petra, a city carved out ofa red-stone canyon.

At the last of three pre-mission educational meetings, held atStephen S. Wise Temple two weeks before departure, most people seemedinterested in discovering what the weather was like, how much luggagethey should bring, and how to extend their tr
ip after the mission.Few seemed worried about security despite recent bombings, dissensionover the faltering peace process and the “Who Is a Jew?” issue inIsrael, and new tensions between Israel and Jordan.

“I think it’s critical that people go to Israel, especially now,when there are issues concerning pluralism, the terrorists and thepolitical situation,” said Michael Scott, who is co-captain of theFederation’s Access (young leadership) traveling group. “Many peoplewho disagree with Netanyahu, including myself, want to go and showour support to Israel.”

The trip is not primarily a political trip, said Gelfand, althougha small group of participants will meet with Knesset members todiscuss the pending conversion bill, which would grant the Orthodoxrabbinate the exclusive right to perform conversions within Israel –a status quo situation that has angered many non-Orthodox outside theJewish state.

“The fact is that we take every opportunity we can to let themknow how we feel,” Gelfand said. “But the main purpose of the missionis to begin the celebration of the 50th anniversary.”

Evy Lutin, who is co-chairing the mission along with her husband,Marty, and is also Michael Scott’s mother-in-law, noted that ifIsrael were celebrating its 60th anniversary instead of its 50th,”there would not have been a Holocaust,” because the Jewish homelandwould have welcomed refugees from the Nazis who were spurnedelsewhere. Her father, who emigrated from Russia to the United Statesat the turn of the century, lost all nine brothers and a sisterduring the 1930s. “They couldn’t get out,” she said. “If there hadbeen an Israel then, they would have.”

Ruth Stroud is traveling with the Federation mission to Israeland Jordan and will report about the trip.

Headline News

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

The Jewish Federation Council’s mission to Israel was greeted byThe Jerusalem Post with a Tuesday front-page story under the headline”L.A. Jews here to fight conversion bill.”

The Post quoted Federation President Herb Gelfand as saying:”Although there is more unhappiness with Israel among American Jewsthan I’ve seen in my lifetime, there is still wholehearted supportfor Israel.

“But, today, one thing is certain: We feel Israel is our countrytoo. It belongs to all Jews; therefore, all Jews everywhere have aright to speak up on what happens there.”

During their meetings with government and spiritual leaders,mission members “plan to express their worry and frustration over theconversion bill,” The Post reported.

The English-language daily further quoted Gelfand as saying: “Whatwe’re hoping to do is attempt to make them understand what theconversion [bill] means to us. We know it’s not on top of the agendaof most Israelis, but we have to tell them that in the U.S., where 90percent of Jews are Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist, manyof us feel that we, our children and grandchildren, have beendelegitimized.”

He added that “a small minority” of American Jews are withholdingtheir contributions to the Federation in protest, “but only becausethey feel that is the only way they can communicate the way theyfeel.”

The delegation also intends to strengthen its “twin cities” tieswith Tel Aviv during the visit.

John Fishel, the Federation’s executive vice president, told ThePost: “We plan to work for a deeper, more intensive relationshipbetween various social programs, schools and individuals in LosAngeles and Tel Aviv. I think both sides understand there has to bemore to Israel-Diaspora relationships than just philanthropy.” 

Do we need a permanent international tribunal, like theNuremberg body in 1946 (below)? Above, Jews, like everyone else, areburied in Sarajevo city parks. Lower photo from the NationalArchives. Sarajevo photo from “Survival in Sarajevo” by EdwardSerotta.

War Crimes and Punishment

“War Crimes: Individual or Collective Responsibility?”

That was the topic explored at a symposium held at Sinai Templelast week. Sponsored by Bet Tzedek Legal Services and moderated byNational Public Radio talk-show host Kitty Felde, the questionresonated with the three panelists as well as the sizable audience inattendance.

The speakers brought impressive credentials. There was theHonorable Richard J. Goldstone, justice of the Constitutional Courtof South Africa and former chief prosecutor for the United NationsBosnian War Crimes Tribunal; Professor William Eckhardt, chiefprosecutor for the Vietnam War-related My Lai cases; and Dr. MichaelBerenbaum, the president and CEO of the Survivors of the Shoah VisualHistory Foundation.

Perhaps the most ardent advocate for a permanent internationaltribunal was Goldstone. Quoting a statistic that claimed that 175million people have been murdered by their own governments in thiscentury, Goldstone stressed the dire need for such a judicial systemto enforce what he called “good policing” on a worldwide level. Headded that as the world enters the 21st century, human rightsviolations may proliferate as technology further refines theefficiency of mass murder. “What happens in every country is thebusiness of the rest of the world,” he said. “The closing of the 20thcentury will see the beginning of international justice.”

Eckhardt provided a U.S. perspective, evoking My Lai, in whichAmerican soldiers were indicted after the fact for a wartime incidentinvolving the looting, raping and pillaging of a Vietnamese village.Since 90 percent of the participating soldiers were already undercivilian status by the time of the trial, they could not be tried,due to a technicality that allowed only uniformed soldiers to beprosecuted. Eckhardt singled out the United States’ failure to pursuejustice and accept accountability in this case as shameful. “If wecannot do that, taking the next step may be impossible,” he said.

Meanwhile, Berenbaum discounted any notions of granting amnesty tothose coerced into committing atrocities. When the topic turned tothe celebrated case of a Bosnian soldier tried in the Hague forreluctantly executing 70 war prisoners after his superiors hadthreatened to kill his family, Berenbaum turned to Jewish law andtenaciously embraced the Talmudic concept of martyrdom. He cited anobligation to God that precedes familial obligations, pointing outthat the Torah is absolutely clear on the three violations warrantingmartyrdom (the shedding of blood, unsanctioned intercourse and theworship of false gods); included within this realm are crimescommitted under duress.

“If there are things in life worth living for, there must bethings in life worth dying for. Taking a life is such a case,”Berenbaum said.

As for the Nuremberg Trials, Berenbaum considered the landmarkrulings more important as legal “theater” than as jurisprudenceprecedent, for they failed to effectively and responsibly administerfull culpability to the Nazis. To illustrate his point, Berenbaumcriticized their failure to try the creators of the gas chambers aswell as the operators.

By the conclusion of the program, the panel addressed thesemantics of terrorism, drawing a clear distinction between theJewish resistance fighters of World War II and present-day Arabextremists. Summarizing the need for a world court, Berenbaum said,”[During the Holocaust], the law itself was the instrumentation ofdestruction. [The Nazis] were technically correct when they said theydid not break the law. That’s why we must go to a higher law.” –Michael Aushenker, Community Editor

VBS’ ‘Crossroads to Equality’

Valley Beth Shalom is known for its groundbreaking “VBS Response,”a 5-year-old support group for Jewish gays, lesbians, bisexuals,their families and friends.

And, on Nov. 16, the Encino temple will host a conference, “At theCrossroads to Equality,” which will explore a variety of gay andlesbian issues.

More than 300 p
articipants are expected to attend seminars ontopics such as gay/lesbian parenting; homophobia in the workplace;making synagogues inclusive; and parents of gays “coming out of thecloset.”

Among the speakers will be Nancy McDonald, the national presidentof Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG); entertainmentconsultant Chastity Bono; The Advocate editor-in-chief Judy Wieder;and Steve Sass, senior vice president/business affairs for NBCStudios (and the president of the Jewish Historical Society ofSouthern California).

LAPD officer Lisa Phillips will receive an award for her effortsin promoting tolerance, and the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus willperform.

The goal is ambitious, says VBS Rabbi Jerry Danzig, the Responsehead. “We view this conference as a first step in creating a bridgebetween gays, lesbians, their families and friends, and the communityat large.”

For registration information, call VBS at (818) 788-6000. — NaomiPfefferman, Senior Writer

Community Brief

Honoring

Our

Educators

For Jewish educators, the annual Milken Family Foundation EducatorAwards are a double blessing. The five winners receive $10,000 each.And all Jewish educators benefit from the increased public awarenessand acknowledgment of their contribution to the community.

This year’s recipients are Marianne Siegel of Kadima HebrewAcademy in Woodland Hills; Dr. Joseph Hakimi of Sinai Akiba Academy;Tova Baichman Kass of Pressman Academy; Lynn Karz of Ohr Eliyahu inCulver City; and Chaya Shamie of Bais Yaakov.

Now in their seventh year, the Milken Awards honor educators whoexhibit innovative methods and curricula, “an outstanding ability toinstill students with self-confidence and sound values,” and personalinvolvement in the Jewish and secular communities. “Theresponsibility of keeping alive both the Jewish faith and the Jewishculture in our young people often lies with our educators,” saidfoundation Executive Vice President Julius Lesner. “These awards aresimply to thank the finest of those educators for the wonderful workthey do.” — Staff Report

Top, from left, Dr. Joseph Hakimi of Sinai Akiba Academy; LynnKarz of Ohr Eliyahu in Culver City; and Chaya Shamie of Bais Yaakov;above, Dr. Julius Lesner with Marianne Siegel of Kadima HebrewAcademy in Woodland Hills; and below, Lesner presents an award toTova Baichman Kass.

 

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