Brazilian Jews donate 70,000 winter coats for charity


Volunteers in two of Brazil’s largest Jewish communities have collected nearly 70,000 winter coats for the needy during two independent campaigns this month.

In Sao Paulo, some 24,000 coats were collected on Sunday during the sixteenth edition of the annual Jewish-led winter campaign. Some 400 Jewish youths rode trucks loaded with speakers through the streets of Higienopolis, a upscale neighborhood with a large concentration of Jews.

Donors also could drop off coats in collection boxes in a major local square, which organizers called “citizenship drive-thru.” Some thirty Jewish institutions also served as collection sites in the city, which is home to nearly half of Brazil’s 120,000 Jews.

“We are very honored. The concept of building a better world and leaving a legacy is part of our DNA. The Jewish community has this duty toward the larger society,” said Bruno Laskowsky, president of the Sao Paulo Jewish federation.

In Porto Alegre, the capital city of Brazil’s southernmost and coldest state of Rio Grande do Sul, some 45,000 coats were gathered on June 5. On “Iom Mitzvah,” Hebrew for “good deed day,” trucks got packed with clothes and blankets as they rode through central neighborhoods. Donations have beefed up the local government-led winter campaign.

A unusual obstacle was overcome in Porto Alegre after some 5,000 coats were stolen from the storage area at the Hebraica club. Volunteers expanded the calls and new donations were undertaken in Porto Alegre, home to some 12,000 Jews.

Unlike in the vast majority of the country, overnight temperatures can commonly reach between 0-10 degrees Celsius, or 32 to 50 degrees Farenheit, during the winter in both cities.

Sanders raises $3 million in 24 hours after Iowa caucuses


After virtually tying with Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Iowa Democratic caucus, Sen. Bernie Sanders raised $3 million in a 24-hour period, a record for the insurgent presidential candidate.

Sanders, I-Vt., who has abjured raising money from major givers, scored the amount from small donations online in the 24 hours after Monday’s vote, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.  Clinton, long the presumed front-runner, claimed victory in Iowa, the first state to hold a vote, with a razor-thin margin.

Sanders and Clinton also agreed to add debates to what has been criticized as a sparse schedule of six for the Democratic candidates. A a newly scheduled debate will be held Thursday in New Hampshire.

With the advantage of being from neighboring Vermont, Sanders is heading into the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday with a substantial lead in the polls over Clinton. Combined with the strong showing in Iowa, a victory there could build on his momentum.

On the debates, the Sanders’ campaign, along with that of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who dropped out after Iowa, had complained that the Democratic National Committee had scheduled only six, including some on Saturday night, when viewership is low, because its chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., is aligned with Clinton.

Heading into the campaign, Clinton had a reputation of being uneasy on stage stemming in part from her failed 2008 bid, when Barack Obama prevailed in the debates. She has fared well, however, in this campaign’s debates, and her advisers have urged her to more forcefully confront Sanders as his bid gains traction.

Adelsons each give maximum $2,700 to Cruz campaign


Sheldon and Miriam Adelson each gave the maximum $2,700 to the presidential campaign of Ted Cruz, suggesting the power couple was leaning toward endorsing the Texas senator in the Republican race.

The Adelsons’ donations, the maximum allowed for direct donations to a campaign, were reported in various media on Sunday after they were revealed in Federal Election Commission filings. The Adelsons, who are hugely influential in Republican politics and pro-Israel activism, did not respond to media inquiries for comment.

The donations to the Cruz campaign do not necessarily indicate that the couple have settled on a candidate. Last year they gave similar amounts to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has since abandoned his campaign.

In recent weeks, the couple have suggested they are split between Cruz, whose campaign has targeted the GOP establishment and who Miriam Adelson favors, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is emerging as an establishment favorite and who Sheldon Adelson admires.

The donations to Cruz on the eve of Monday’s Iowa caucuses, the first nomination contest taking place, could be seen as a sign that the Adelsons are leaning toward Cruz as the likelier candidate.

Both Rubio and Cruz are staunchly pro-Israel, which is the preeminent issue for the Adelsons. They are also in a fierce battle for second place behind Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner.

Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate, and Miriam, a physician, may still give much more to political action committees not directly related to campaigns. That’s how they helped prop up the Republican candidacy of Newt Gingrich in 2012, with infusions of millions of dollars to PACs that backed the former House of Representatives speaker from Georgia.

The donation to Graham, always a long shot, was seen more as gratitude to a senator who has been a leader on pro-Israel causes; the Adelsons made clear at the time that they had yet to endorse.

Building a better philanthropist


In the last couple of decades, a tectonic shift has altered the landscape of Jewish philanthropy. The phenomenon is not only Jewish — the number of foundations in the United States has grown fivefold in the last 20 years; the same growth in donor-advised funds has taken just a decade.

The relative weight of independent philanthropy — as opposed to communal giving — has gone off the charts. The Jewish Federation system in North America holds an impressive $15 billion of philanthropic assets, but based on conservative estimates, the overall “pie” of Jewish philanthropic assets is more than $75 billion.

And the change isn’t only quantitative: funders approach giving dramatically differently now. They seek greater engagement, they seek to focus and direct their contributions and they don’t feel bound by lifelong loyalty to a given organization. If, a few decades ago, a donor was perceived as a “tool” that enabled an organization to do good and fulfill its mission, that’s been upended: now it’s funders who regard organizations as tools to realize a personal vision.

Some decry these changes, seeing them as a challenge to the traditional Jewish values of communal philanthropy. They fear that independent philanthropy will weaken the collective and give way to whimsical and disjointed funding. It’s a valid criticism, but taken too far. This individual empowerment isn’t a fatality; it’s the opposite. This is an era in which a kid can start a revolution from her cellphone, or create one of the world’s biggest companies from his dorm room. This brave new world in which everybody is an entrepreneur offers enormous possibilities for the Jewish community. Independent philanthropy opens the way for an explosion of creative energy and innovative thinking. It is “good for the Jews”: It ushers in an era of greater creativity and entrepreneurship. It opens new ways for engaging major donors — their wealth and talents — in proactively solving the big problems our generation.

Still, though promising, these new opportunities present very real dangers. While some funders are literally changing the world, Jewish philanthropy as a whole is, sadly, underperforming. Many funders haven’t yet taken on the responsibilities that come with their newly acquired leadership mantle. Some haven’t yet discovered that in philanthropy, as opposed to business, excellence is self-imposed. In the open market, a business that doesn’t deliver value is punished with bankruptcy; in philanthropy, we can just keep sending good money after bad. The challenges we face as Jews in this early 21st century are so new and difficult that good-enough philanthropy is not good enough.

So how can philanthropy live up to its promise? How can it be the engine of innovation, creativity and solidarity in the Jewish world? Here are a few things that I believe Jewish philanthropy needs:

1. Strategy: Developing a philanthropic strategy is critical to be an effective funder. Being strategic implies defining areas of focus. What are the problems that your philanthropy will try to solve? What are the ways in which you are going about doing that? In business, the lack of a sound strategy means bankruptcy; in philanthropy, it can lead to irrelevance.

2. A healthy — and complementary — relationship with communal organizations: Some see the role of independent philanthropy as antagonistic to the role of communal organizations like federations. They are wrong. Independent philanthropy can exist only within the context of a strong community. Philanthropy can be strategic only after the “safety net” is guaranteed and when basic services are provided. Independent funders can be strategic in our funding because somebody is already paying the heating bill. Funders have a responsibility to keep that basic communal infrastructure going. It’s true that many communal organizations are stuck in the old paradigm, but many more are not; they’re willing to partner with funders and respect their independence and areas of focus. Independent and communal philanthropy are two legs upon which the Jewish community stands: One maintains the fabric of the community, the other moves the needle on specific issues and addresses specific challenges.

3. Networking: The times of go-it-alone philanthropy are gone. The problems we face are too complicated, too complex. Even our biggest foundations can’t solve them alone. But there’s hope: If individuals in this 21st century are hyper-empowered, they’re also hyper-connected. Networking allows for collective action on specific issues without drowning the individuality of each funder. Networks are fluid, ad-hoc coalitions in which we can define and solve problems together. But networking necessitates a different mind-set, one in which information and ideas flow freely; one in which leadership is distributed and sharing trumps owning. From our own community, the amazing success of Birthright is just one example of funders with shared interests working together, achieving results they could not have if they’d gone it alone.

4. Measuring the right things: We struggle to make data-driven decisions. We don’t measure enough and when we do, we still often measure the wrong things. Donors have an obsession with overhead, as if it was the ultimate indicator of an organization’s performance. It is not, and by obsessing about it — and cutting it — we prevent organizations from building capacity and fulfilling their mission. Good measures are those that measure impact, especially long-term impact. Granted, this can be hard and expensive to measure. But measuring the wrong things is not the solution. Investing in capacity to allow organizations to measure themselves is critical for high-performing philanthropy.

5. Experimenting and taking risks: Foundations have a flexibility that public organizations don’t. They can have a much more open attitude to risk and innovation. In an uncharted world in which the old recipes don’t work, taking risk is more necessary than ever. Embracing creative failure and knowing how to learn from it is critical. The problems we face need a lot of trial and error, because there are no silver bullets. In our uncertain world, knowing how to fail is the key to success. And as funders, we need to also experiment in the philanthropic vehicles that we use. Let’s explore new philanthropic tools like venture philanthropy, impact investing, giving circles, and more.

Jewish philanthropy needs to climb up to the next level. It is important to be really smart about giving, and we are way smarter when we learn with and from each other. The next decades are going to see the biggest transfer of wealth in human history: In the United States alone, $41 trillion are going to be passed from one generation to the next. That adds urgency to these words. Not only is important to be strategic about philanthropy now, it is critical to pass on these concepts to the next generation of potential funders.

The challenge is big, the promise is enormous. The time for action is now.

Andres Spokoiny is president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, whose annual international conference is March 17-19 in Los Angeles.

Obama to donors: Israel and the U.S. need ‘fresh eyes’


President Obama told Jewish donors to his reelection campaign that Israel and the United States must assess the new Middle East with “fresh eyes.”

“Both the United States and Israel are going to have to look at this new landscape with fresh eyes,” Obama said Monday night at an event in Washington that charged a minimum $25,000 a couple.  “It’s not going to be sufficient for us just to keep on doing the same things we’ve been doing and expect somehow that things are going to work themselves out.  We’re going to have to be creative and we’re going to have to be engaged.”

Obama said Israel is the United States’ “closest ally” and that he was committed to Israel facing the challenges “from a position of strength,” noting the closeness between the two countries’ defense establishments and his increase in defense assistance to Israel.

Obama, who has clashed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over settlement building and parameters for peace talks with the Palestinians, said that in the coming months “there may be tactical disagreements in terms of how we approach these difficult problems.”

Organizers of the event, entitled “Obama Victory Fund 2012 Dinner with the President in support of a strong US-Israel relationship” ushered the White House pool reporters out of the room at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel after Obama’s short talk so he could talk frankly with the donors.

Organizers aimed to raise $1 million in the evening. Obama’s Jewish supporters have been pushing back against reports that he is losing support in the community because of tensions with Netanyahu.

Empire Kosher chief recognized for food donations


The head of Empire Kosher Poultry was honored for helping to feed New York’s Jewish poor.

Greg Rosenbaum, CEO of Empire Kosher Poultry, received this year’s humanitarian award from the Met Council on Jewish Poverty in New York at the council’s second annual Food for Life event at the Jewish Heritage Museum in New York.

Empire Kosher, the nation’s largest processor of kosher chickens and turkeys, donates more than 50,000 pounds of kosher poultry each year to the Met Council’s food pantries and kitchens. The company’s facility is in central Pennsylvania.

Jews take 5 of top 6 spots in annual list of top U.S. givers


America’s most generous citizens gave less in 2010 than they have over the past decade, but Jews remained among the top givers, according to an annual survey by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

In 2010, the top philanthropists in the United States contributed approximately $3.3 billion to charity, according to the Chronicle’s Philanthropy 50, a list that tracks the largest gifts made by individuals each year. That number is some $800 million below 2009 and less than half of the total made up by the top 50 donors when the Chronicle first started keeping tabs a decade ago.

At least 19 of the 53 individuals and couples named on the list are Jewish, including five of the list’s top six (the list included three ties). George Soros ranked No. 1 with $332 million donated in 2010, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was second at $279.2 million. Irwin and Joan Jacobs, Eli and Edythe Broad, and Leonard Blavatnik took spots 4 through 6, respectively, with $117 million to $119 million in donations.

Jews traditionally rank high on such lists and figure prominently among the country’s elite philanthropists. Jews also make up more than half of the first 57 billionaires to join the Bill Gates and Warren Buffet Giving Pledge—a group of ultra-wealthy Americans who have pledged to give away more than half of their assets during their lifetime.

The Chronicle’s list, however, also offers more cause for concern for those in the Jewish nonprofit world who wring their hands about the lack of giving by Jews to Jewish causes. The Institute for Jewish and Communal Research has collected data showing that less than a quarter of all philanthropic dollars given by Jews go to overtly Jewish causes.

For instance, while Soros gave $1 million to World ORT in September, and Bloomberg gave a smaller gift to the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged, their gifts to overtly Jewish causes comprise only a small proportion of their overall giving.

This year’s Philanthropy 50 had one major exception: Stephen and Nancy Grand, who ranked 39th, gave more than $20 million of their $28 million in 2010 charitable donations to the American Technion Society, which supports the Technion: Israel Institute for Technology.

In June, the Grands helped the Technion finish off a 14-year, $1 billion fundraising campaign with their mammoth gift to the school, to which they also had given $10 million to create the Stephen and Nancy Grand Water Research Institute.

The Grands are very involved in the Jewish world and launched their philanthropy through the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. Stephen Grand is a board member of Birthright Israel, while Nancy Grand soon will be the president of the Jewish Federation in San Francisco and serves on the executive committees of the city’s JCC as well as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Among the other Jews on the list to watch are hedge fund manager William Ackman, who with his wife, Karen, gave away $59.3 million last year. At 44, Ackman already is one of Wall Street’s most significant players and a regular on the dais of the UJA-Federation of New York’s annual Wall Street dinner. He made his most significant Jewish contribution in the past year, leading an effort to bail out the Center for Jewish History in New York from its $30 million debt with a $6.8 million gift.

Qualcomm’s founder, Irwin Jacobs, is one of San Diego’s most generous men. Aside from propping up the San Diego Symphony with a $100 million-plus gift last decade, he and his wife, Joan, have decided to give away most of their money through a donor-advised fund at the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego, where Joan Jacobs is a board member. Last year, according to the Chronicle, they gave the fund $39.1 million, which will be distributed to Jewish and nonsectarian causes.

Cleveland car dealers Lee and Jane Seidman gave $42 million in 2010 to land them at No. 24 on the list. Most of their giving went to University Hospitals, but Jewish charities played heavily among their contributions to more than 40 charities, including the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.

Some money came from a surprise bequeathing.

Charles Kaufman, an executive at Merck, was something of an unknown to this annual mega-donor list. When he died last September at age 97, he left $53 million to charity, according to the Chronicle. Of that, $50 million went to a fund he and his late sister established at the Pittsburgh Foundation. Jewish health care is listed among the primary concerns of the fund.

He also left $3.34 million to a variety of other charities, including those that deal with Jewish life and culture, among them $300,000 to Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Pittsburgh and $50,000 to the Jewish National Fund.

Others on the Chronicle’s list have established track records with certain Jewish charities.

Blavatnik, who came in at No. 6, sits on the board of Tel Aviv University, the Center for Jewish History and the 92nd Street Y. Richard Friedman, the head of Goldman Sachs Merchant Banking Division who ranked No. 49 with $20 million in donations, is a board member of the Central Synagogue in New York.

The biggest question may be whether the youngest person ever to appear on the list, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, will become a giver to Jewish causes.

Zuckerberg came in at a tie for No. 10 with Ackman, having made his first significant charitable donation in 2010 with a $100 million gift to his Startup: Education foundation, which will go to help the struggling school system in Newark, N.J., a non-Jewish cause.

The following is the list of Jews who appear on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Philanthropy 50 top givers of 2010, along with their rank on the list and their total philanthropic contributions in 2010.

•  1. George Soros, $332 million
•  2. Michael R. Bloomberg, $279.2 million
•  4. Irwin M. and Joan K. Jacobs, $119.5 million
•  5. Eli and Edythe L. Broad, $118.3 million
•  6. Leonard Blavatnik, $117.2 million
•  9. Meyer and Renee Luskin, $100.5 million
•  10. Marc R. and Lynne Benioff, $100 million
•  10. Mark Zuckerberg, $100 million
•  17. William A. and Karen Ackman, $59.3 million
•  18. Charles E. Kaufman, $53.3 million
•  24. Lawrence J. Ellison, $45.1 million
•  25. Lee G. and Jane H. Seidman, $42 million
•  28. Lin Arison, $39 million
•  29. Herman Ostrow, $35 million
•  39: Stephen and Nancy Grand, $28.1 million
•  40. David M. Rubenstein, $26.6 million
•  41. Paul and Daisy M. Soros, $25 million
•  49. Iris Cantor, $20 million
•  49. Richard A. and Susan P. Friedman, $20 million

Debbie Friedman: Memorial donations


To all of Debbie’s beloved fans who have inquired about making donations in her memory:

A number of years ago, Debbie established the Renewal of Spirit Foundation with the goal of manifesting her life’s work and all that she stood for. Now, donations to the Renewal of Spirit Foundation will enable the projects that Debbie was working on at the time of her death to be completed. These funds will also support future projects reflecting her passions and commitments. In a note to her fans on her website, Debbie wrote, “Remember, out of what emerges from life’s painful challenges will come our healing.” The tragedy of Debbie’s death presents a deeply painful challenge and it is our hope that your support of the Renewal of Spirit Foundation will help to begin your healing.

Donations may be made online at

Donation of Organs Has Support of Most Rabbis


It was a decision based on a widespread misunderstanding in the Jewish community, locally and nationally. A young boy not yet 10 years old lay brain dead in a Los Angeles hospital after suffering a severe head injury in an accident. The attending physician explained to the parents that their son was brain dead.

Then a representative of the organization that arranges organ donations in the Los Angeles area approached the boy’s parents and discussed the possibility of having their son’s organs donated; by doing so, they were told, the lives of as many as eight people might be saved.

The parents gave their consent. Shortly thereafter, their rabbi paid a visit to them in the hospital. When they told him about agreeing to have the son’s organs donated, he quickly responded:

“Oh, absolutely not. You can’t donate organs. You’re Jewish.”

At that, the parents rescinded their offer to donate.

Now, as the chief executive of the organ procurement organization serving most of Southern California, I was distressed to learn about the parents’ change of heart. Not only did it mean that several people on waiting lists for organs might die; it also deprived the parents of the comfort that would come from having their son leave a legacy of generosity.

But their withdrawal of consent didn’t surprise me. While most Jews and Jewish organizations support organ donation, there are still some Orthodox groups that ardently oppose it.

Although I’m a non-Jew, I have become aware of nivul hamet, the biblical prohibition against the needless mutilation of a cadaver. According to the Halachic Organ Donor Society (HODS), this prohibition is the reason why autopsies should not be performed on Jews.

I’m also aware of halanat hamet, a biblical prohibition against delaying burial of a body, and hana’at hamet, a prohibition — some say biblical; others say rabbinical — against anyone benefiting from a dead body, such as selling it for medical research.

But as the HODS points out, a basic tenet of Jewish law — pikuach nefesh — overrides both of these prohibitions and commandments because it says: “Save one life and it is as if you have saved the entire world.”

HODS, on its Web site, goes on to note that rabbis who object to organ donation do not do so on the basis that a body must be buried whole. Rather, says HODS, “Their objection makes sense if they believed that organ donation was taking critical organs from a live person, and that would, in effect, be killing the person.”

But it is very clear in law and medical practice around the world that brain death is, in fact, “death,” a determination that was confirmed just a few weeks ago by the President’s Council on Bioethics.

And the distinguished Orthodox rabbis who support organ donation through HODS strongly agree that brain death is death and disagree with those who contend it’s wrong to take organs from a person who is brain dead but whose heart is still beating. In the Winter 2008 issue of the national publication, Jewish Action, HODS says these rabbis “all agree that brain-stem death [the medical requirement for a brain death declaration] is halachic death, even though the heart is still beating [because it is supported by mechanical ventilation] — and [they] support organ donation.”

(The six rabbis quoted by HODS are Shaul Yisraeli z”l, former dayan, Chief Rabbinate of Israel; Dovid Shloosh, chief rabbi of Netanya; Avraham Shapira z”l, former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel; Shlomo Amar, Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel; Ovadya Yosef, former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel; and Mordechai Eliyahu, former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel.)

It is my fond hope that this discussion will clear up the misunderstandings harbored by some members of the Los Angeles Jewish community. At any given moment, there are some 100,000 people, many of them Jews, on those waiting lists for organs. A decision to donate by families who lose loved ones to brain death will enable many of those desperately needy people to live. 

Thomas D. Mone is chief executive officer of OneLegacy, the organ procurement organization serving Los Angeles County and six other Southern California counties. He is also past president of the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs), which comprises OneLegacy and 57 other federally designated OPOs, and is a director of UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Madoff scheme deals new hit to FSU Jews


MOSCOW (JTA) — The Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Bernard Madoff is the latest in a string of financial blows to Jewish aid programs in the former Soviet Union, wiping out a major foundation that was the primary funder of Jewish higher education in Russia.

The Chais Family Foundation, a $178 million philanthropy forced to close after investing all its money in Madoff’s fraudulent fund, gave away more than $12 million per year to Jewish causes. About $2.5 million of that focused on the former Soviet Union, where the foundation funded at least 12 cultural and educational programs.

Even before the foundation’s collapse, several organizations — including the Jewish Agency for Israel, Chabad-Lubavitch and the American Jewish Joint Complete Madoff CoverageDistribution Committee — had announced in recent months that they would be reducing support for programming in the region, fueling doubt and fear among Russian Jewish communal leaders.

“Many of my colleagues and others think that 2009 could be the hardest year for the Jewish community of the former Soviet Union,” Mikhail Chlenov, the general secretary of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, who also sits on the board of a program that was funded by Chais, told JTA. “Education is the first sphere of work that is already suffering, but social welfare programs could be next.”

Re-creating a Jewish community in the former Soviet Union following the collapse of communism has been an intense project undertaken by the broader Jewish community, drawing hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years from the Jewish Agency, Chabad and the JDC. The Chais Foundation’s annual $2.5 million contribution was the driving force behind creating a sustainable and self-sufficient piece of infrastructure in the region — a higher education system equipped to train Jewish professionals and teachers.

Chais funded the Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies in St. Petersburg, the Jewish studies department at Moscow State University and the Chais Center for Jewish Studies in Russia, which it founded. The Chais Center brings professors from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to the region to create accredited programs. Hundreds of Jewish professionals have been trained through the center.

In addition, the foundation was a major funder of the Open University of Israel, which transmits online curricula to the former Soviet Union.

Those programs are now in danger.

Arkady Kovelman, the head of the Jewish studies program at Moscow State, said his program could definitely expect to lose some opportunities for grant money.

The Moscow program relies on academics from the Chais Center at Hebrew University who conduct courses in Hebrew and Russian. Kovelman says it is too early to tell if the program will continue or what the loss of Chais money will do to his program.

“I am hoping that it will not have an immediate impact,” Kovelman said. “They are telling us that everything is more or less OK.”

Even if programs in Russia weather the loss of Chais, the foundation’s closing is only the latest in a half-year of calamity for programs in the region pinched by the downturn in the global economy.

The Heftziba system — a network of 41 state-sponsored schools that offer Jewish curricula, which is is administered by the Jewish Agency — is in peril. The system, which was set up by Russian municipalities in conjunction with the Israeli Ministry of Education immediately after the fall of communism, has seen its finances gutted by $40.5 million in cuts to the Jewish Agency’s overall budget.

The agency, which pays to have some 11,000 students bused to the schools, is reducing its funding for the system from $12.7 million in 2008 to just over $5 million for 2009, with the hope that local philanthropists will help pick up the slack.

Alan Hoffmann, the director of the Jewish Agency’s education department, estimates that the Heftziba budget now has a $5 million hole.

“It could really be a mortal blow” to the school system, he told JTA Sunday.

The Jewish Agency already had been forced to adjust after Russian-Israeli philanthropist Arcadi Gaydamak pledged $50 million in 2006 to help establish programming in the former Soviet Union, but then froze the gift after giving only $10 million.

The two other Jewish-run school networks in the region — the secular ORT system and the Orthodox Shma Yisrael — have suffered from cutbacks undertaken by the Jewish Agency. Shma Yisrael has lost $200,000 in funding and the ORT schools are struggling through a budget cut of $1.2 million in recent months, according to ORT officials, JTA reported in November.

In the past three months, the largest Jewish educational network in the region, Chabad’s Or Avner system, has been forced to make significant cutbacks as its main benefactor, Lev Leviev, withdrew a substantial portion of his funding in the face of the financial crisis.

On top of these cuts, the Joint Distribution Committee, which provides social services to the frail and elderly in the region, is cutting its $100 million-plus 2009 budget in the region by about $5 million.

“You put those factors together in one six-month period from June 2008 until January of 2009 and you have some serious dynamite there for some institutions,” Hoffmann said. “I think it is a serious body blow to Jewish life in the FSU.”

The survival of Jewish programming, he said, “will depend on how quickly the world economy improves and the philanthropy world improves.”

U.S. Jewish leaders and Israeli officials have long hoped that the creation of new Jewish wealth in the region would lead ultimately to the formation of a home-grown Jewish philanthropy class that one day could pick up the mantle. But that had been slow in coming, even before the financial crisis and the drop in the price of oil wiped out huge swaths of Jewish wealth in the region.

For a system still largely dependant on outside money, the disappearance of Chais could really hurt.

Outside of higher education, the foundation funneled tens of millions of dollars into several programs aimed at promoting Jewish identity among youth.

Hillel in the former Soviet Union relied on the Chais Foundation for 23 percent of its budget and the ripples of the Madoff scheme have forced its operations “to the edge,” said Hillel FSU director Osik Akselrud.

“Now I don’t know how to find the exit from this situation because we have to cut programs and reduce salaries,” he told JTA at a Hillel staff conference in Baltimore. “I just don’t know what to do.”

Akselrud, like others whose organizations received funding from Chais, received a letter last week saying that he could no longer expect any support from the now-defunct foundation. The letter, which arrived just as he was to fly to the United States, set off a frenzy of meetings to determine how Hillel FSU could stay afloat.

Akselrud is also the chairman for Limmud FSU, an increasingly popular series of educational conferences that began last year. Limmud has plans for two conferences next year, in Belarus and Ukraine, and the Chais Foundation was expected to be a major underwriter of both.

The Sefer Center, an umbrella group that holds conferences and brings together students in Jewish studies from across the region, had relied on the Chais Foundation for 50 percent of its budget, said its director, Victoria Mochalova. She also learned in a terse message last week that her organization would need to look elsewhere for support.

In the face of the bad news, Mochalova predicted that the older generation of Jewish community activists in the former Soviet Union who had built the network from scratch would find a way to get through a decrease in funding.

“We never had a great situation and we have learned how to live in a hard situation,” she said. “For the young it is a big blow to take.”

In the United States, at least one Jewish organizational leader is holding out hope.

“I am not going to predict the future, but today if you go to our JCCs or to Yesod in St. Petersburg, they are full and active and Jewish life is vibrant,” said Steven Schwager, the CEO of the JDC. “They are critical links in building a Jewish community, and some way or other they will find a solution to continue them.”

Could economic slump — which means less giving — kill Jewish community innovation?


The past decade has seen a groundswell of innovative Jewish nonprofits — from the birth of a Jewish pop culture magazine, Heeb, to the creation of a slew of trailblazing Jewish social service organizations, to an array of projects that allow Jews to express their Judaism through ways other than the prayer book.

But as these initiatives reach adolescence and eye expansion, the spiraling economy and financial crisis threatens to stunt their growth and thwart the next generation of startups from even getting off the ground.

Story after story has been written about fears that the economic downturn will hurt philanthropy. The thinking goes that when people feel economically unstable, the first thing they do is cut their discretionary spending — and charity, no matter the moral or biblical obligation, is still viewed by most as discretionary spending.

Until recently, most of the concern had been based on speculation; charities had been holding out hope that they would be able to avoid significant cutbacks. But, according to a survey taken in late September by the private wealth research firm, Prince & Associates, the cuts have arrived.

According to Forbes magazine, Prince spoke to 439 high-net-worth families, with 73 percent of respondents saying they had been significantly hurt by the economic downturn. Fifty-one percent said they planned on giving less next year than they did this past year — and only 16 percent said they planned on giving more.

The concern about such trends was detectable recently at the Manhattan launch party for the 2008 edition of “Slingshot,” an annual guidebook to innovative Jewish organizations put out by the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Foundation. The leaders of several of the most well-regarded and established innovative Jewish projects expressed concern, saying they are expecting to feel the pinch.

“Most recently, we are starting to hear, ‘We love what you do. We think that it is really, really great. And because of the economy, we are not going to fund any new projects this year. We are going to fund the things that we already fund.’ And that is only over the past few weeks,” said Aaron Bisman, who runs JDub, the nonprofit Jewish record label that produced Matisyahu’s first album. “I had heard it was maybe going to be a possibility, but we are really starting to hear that as a definitive answer.”

JDub, the product of two incubators of Jewish startups, Bikkurim and the Joshua Venture, is widely regarded as one of the most successful young Jewish projects to get off the ground in recent years. For the last five years, Bisman’s budget has increased as funders have taken notice of the group and JDub’s record sales have started to bring in additional income.

Early this summer, Bisman was talking about expansion. Those plans were based on being able to tap into new revenue streams, attract new donors and entice foundations to become new investors.

But by late September, Bisman was talking cutbacks — in both programming and staff.

Bisman’s experience reflects what most philanthropy experts see on the horizon. Philanthropists may not completely shut their coffers, but new grants — the lifeblood of young organizations — are going to be the first to get cut because, like any investment in any startup, they are risky proposals that may not pay dividends.

“Everybody is looking to this as a real event that they are dealing with, and especially for groups that are young and startup and in a growth phase, it is challenging,” said Rabbi Eli Kaunfer, the cofounder of Kehilat Hadar, an egalitarian, traditional-style minyan in New York that is a model for the independent minyan movement.

Hadar has yet to lose any grants, but Kaunfer has been told to brace for next year.

That is when the real crunch could come, especially for those who rely on funding from endowed foundations. Those foundations are required by law to give away 5 percent of their assets each year, based on the assets from the previous fiscal year. As the market drops, that 5 percent shrinks, leaving less for foundations to give away.

To put it in perspective, the Washington Post reported that the Community Foundation for the National Capital Area, one of the area’s largest grant makers and comparable in size to the Koret Foundation, the Pritzker Foundation and the Mandel Fund, lost about $40 million between July and September. The fund had approximately $330 million in assets at last reporting.

Back in 2006, Hadar was able to raise enough funds to launch an egalitarian yeshiva. Kaunfer said he’s unsure if the founders could have pulled it off in the current climate.

“Today would be a very hard day to start an organization and raise the soft dollars,” Kaunfer said.

Such projects — especially those focused on building Jewish identity — could be facing an even greater challenge in the coming months if they need to compete with social service agencies that are getting squeezed on both ends as they face greater demand for services and shrinking revenue streams.

But a bad economy does not need to be the death knell for Jewish innovation.

Those who run new organizations that have established a foothold for themselves and are looking to grow, like JDub, have won recognition in the Jewish organizational mainstream. Their leaders have become regular speakers at federation events and at the federations’ annual conference, the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities.

At last year’s GA in Nashville, organizers dedicated a plenary session to young Jewish innovators and gave them a chance to address several thousand federation lay and professional leaders. Though they will have to work hard to secure funding, many of them have at least one foot firmly in the door.

And most of the newer operations have an advantage over established organizations: They tend to operate on relatively small budgets of under $2 million and so are not yet in need of megagrants.

There may even be hope for those looking to start nonprofits, as the Joshua Venture — the incubator that helped launch this movement, but then went on hiatus in 2006 — has announced on its Web site that it is now seeking new applicants.

Nina Bruder, who runs the UJC-funded incubator Bikkurim, said she is hopeful.

“When the economy is bad, the need for basic human services goes up and the funding for basic human services goes down,” she said. “In the circles that are concerned about that, there is going to be a big push about [the fact] that basic subsistence needs are going to have to be met.”

“But I think there is a whole other part of the funding community that doesn’t focus on that and still has an attention for other kinds of creative cultural and special needs areas,” Bruder went on. “I think we are going to have to wait and see what happens.”

This article was adapted from Jacob Berkman’s blog on the nonprofit sector, which can be found at www.fundermentalist.com.

Zucky’s and SOVA — knishes and compassion


Hy and Zucky Altman founded the SOVA food pantry program at a vacant Santa Monica bar in 1983. On opening day, the Altmans put all the food they had on the counter — bagels, soup, canned goods — waiting to serve the impoverished Jewish seniors they had gotten to know in the beachfront neighborhood.

A Latino walked in looking for a meal.

“Hy looked at me and said, ‘He’s not Jewish,'” recalled his wife, Zucky Altman, 89. “I said, ‘So what? He’s hungry.’ From that moment on, we decided we would just feed everybody.”

SOVA’s history and its connection to Zucky’s Delicatessen — the iconic Googie-style Ocean Park restaurant where the Altmans fed needy residents for more than 20 years — are the topics of a new documentary, “Knishes and Compassion,” which will premiere online Sept. 21, the organization’s 25th anniversary.

Filmmaker Leron Kornreich, who produces personal life-story films through her company,

Q&A with showbiz power broker Irv Weintraub: Why doesn’t Hollywood give Jewish?


Irv Weintraub, chief operating officer of the William Morris Agency, talks about his distaste for business travel, the philanthropic flipside of Hollywood excess and why Jews in entertainment don’t support Israel.

The Jewish Journal: What’s the best thing about your job?
Irv Weintraub: I never know what I’m going to end up doing during the day. And the personalities of people in the business are certainly ‘interesting.’ What I also love is that mostly everybody I deal with has a good soul.

JJ: Mostly everybody?
IW: There’s always going to be the occasional people who are self-centered. People tend to get jaded about what they are and what they do, how they contribute to society at large. That’s why we encourage people to get involved with their community, so they can get some perspective.

JJ: Because there’s egocentrism in entertainment?
IW: It’s all about what your character is. If you have a real firm grounding in values, I think that you can still deal in this business and draw upon those. Sometimes people don’t want to leave that last dollar on the table.

JJ: How have you found time to raise a family?
IW: It was one of the many reasons for taking the [WMA] job. If you want to be good at your job, you have to put in the time. There’s no free pass. My second year in public accounting, I was out of town for 13 weeks. To be on the road and then living in hotels out of suitcases is not glamorous. I don’t care where you’re going.

JJ: Were they nice hotels at least?
IW: No. There aren’t many nice hotels in Midland-Odessa, Texas.

JJ: How do you rationalize the excess of Hollywood, how people in entertainment have three Ferraris at home, and yet there are nearly 80,000 homeless people sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles?
IW: I drive a very nice car. I’m part of the culture you’re talking about. But people who know me also know that I’m not only charitable financially, but give time. I can think of some of the people you might be talking about — and I know that they are very charitable — they just don’t want it known. That’s part of the dilemma that Hollywood faces. If your ego needs that build up, you’re gonna publicize the fact ‘I give to all these organizations.’ Look how many people give anonymously — they don’t need that.

JJ: Isn’t ego publicized in where you live and the car that you drive?
IW: I don’t think the Torah says you have to live a poor life. I think what it says is, you have to do something to improve the world in which we live. For me, it’s always been — can I look myself in the mirror and feel like I’m doing the right thing?

JJ: Why do people think Jews run Hollywood?
IW: I’m not sure I want to answer that question.

JJ: Do you think it’s true?
IW: There’s no question that there are very prominent people involved in this business who are Jews. There are also people who are not Jews. For a long time this was a business where successful people happened to be Jewish.

JJ: You make it sound circumstantial.
IW: I’m not a historian; if you look at people who are in significant positions in the business, the percentage of Jews is probably higher than what you see in the general population of Los Angeles and probably the country. Whether it’s heritage or skill set, or the needs that this business has, people tend to gravitate to maybe where their skills match. Is it something unique in the Jewish heritage that Jews are more creative? I don’t know.

JJ: What does it actually mean to be a Jew in Hollywood?
IW: When I have reached out to people in the Jewish community in Hollywood and talked to them about Jewish causes, they’ve been very receptive. If you were to look at the giving record in [The Jewish] Federation, you would not see some of the most prominent Jews in Hollywood on the list of the most prominent temples today like you did 30 and 40 years ago. I think there are myriad causes that people feel are very important today and may not have existed then.

JJ: Why do you think Hollywood is less inclined to ‘give Jewish’ nowadays?
IW: We have one thing that’s not happening now that happened then, which was the memory of the Holocaust. We are 50-plus years removed. The urgency that existed then doesn’t exist today. The Federation campaign did better with Lou Wasserman — people didn’t tell him no. There isn’t that iconic person like Lou who is willing to be identified publicly with their Judaism.

JJ: How would you characterize Hollywood’s attitude toward Israel?
IW: There are many in Hollywood who don’t want to be identified with the complexities that surround the state of Israel. It’s more difficult for them to say ‘I support what Israel is doing,’ if you look at press that’s come around with regard to the Palestinian situation.

JJ: Why doesn’t it bother you?
IW: I have a better understanding of what’s going on. I think the portrayal at times — in papers in the U.S. and around the world — can be viewed as anti-Semitic. Only with knowledge can you respond to that.

This interview was edited for space and content.

Federation aids Jewish food agencies’ hunger needs


It all started with powdered milk.

Last April, SOVA Community Food & Resource Program, which operates three food pantries and resource centers in Los Angeles, ran out of powdered milk, so the directors decided to solicit directly from their support network. They sent out a memo to local synagogues and schools asking for powdered milk donations.

One parent forwarded the notice to a reporter at the Los Angeles Daily News, which published a story last week about a shortage at food pantries affecting agencies across the country, including SOVA. At a time of economic uncertainty nationally, these agencies are facing shortages of many essential items, including powdered milk, peanut butter and other proteins and healthy essential staples for families in need.

The article turned out to be the first notice John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles had of the crisis, he said. The Federation provides funding to Jewish Family Service (JFS), the agency that runs SOVA. Fishel said he immediately called SOVA to find out about the shortage.

“Once I saw the problem existed, it was very clear that we had to respond expeditiously as a Federation,” he said.

Last Thursday, he announced that The Federation would give $50,000 in emergency funds to the agency. JFS is asking for an increase in next year’s budget; the details are to be determined.

“I’m glad our community is generous enough to raise the funds to address a situation as critical as this one,” he said. “Obviously, poor people have to have something to eat.”

“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Leslie Friedman, director of SOVA, of the emergency grant.

In 2007, the Federation gave $250,000 to JFS for SOVA. In November 2007, the pantries fed 5,249 people, of which 853 were first-time visitors. (In November 2006 they served 5,086 people, 721 of them first-timers.)

Friedman attributes the current shortage to two factors: “The need for food assistance has skyrocketed, and the availability of food from our generally reliable sources has diminished,” she said. According to Friedman, government cuts to the farm bill means farmers have less of a surplus to donate to hunger relief agencies, such as SOVA.

But the causes of the food and funding shortage go deeper, said Paul Castro, executive director of JFS, which inherited the SOVA program in 2002 from the flailing Jewish Community Centers.

“If your perspective is that government needs to be smaller, then it’s up to the private sector to pick up the slack — and they don’t have the ability to do it,” he said.

In recent years, cuts in government funding of social services affect the poor in all areas, especially when it comes to food.

“It’s larger than SOVA, JFS and the government can do,” Castro said, adding that more than 100,000 people in Los Angeles are in need of help to obtain food every year.

“The whole issue of hunger is a growing problem,” he said, noting that it’s not just an issue of funding, but a growing demand due to economic conditions. “It’s hard to estimate what the demand will be — it’s a trickle-down approach,” he said. The high cost of living — rent, gas, food — all affect the hunger crisis. For example, the current subprime mortgage-lending crisis may affect the number of needy people.

“People who come to our pantries are not homeless, they’re working poor. They just don’t have money at the end of the week to put it all together,” he said. “A person might ask, ‘Do I pay my mortgage, keep my car or buy food?’ and then end up coming to a food bank.”

Others have also seen shortages: Valley Interfaith Council (VIC), which includes seven churches and two synagogues (Temple Beth Hillel and Temple Adat Ari El), has had more people coming to their doors for a weekly bag of groceries.

“In the last two years, the homeless and the senior population have been increasing,” said Jerry Rabinowitz, a VIC board member who volunteers at the pantry on Fridays. There has also been an increase in the number of children. The group used to get three or four kids a month, but now about 45 to 50 often come with their families and parents.

VIC serves some 4,000 people a month, but despite the increase in demand they do not run out of funds. That’s because they do not have a payroll.

“We do not pay rent,” Rabinowitz explained.

Their network operates on a budget of $65,000 to $70,000 a year — 100 percent from donations — with 160 volunteers from synagogues and churches who buy the food, pack it, bring it to the First Christian Church and distribute it to the needy.

SOVA, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2008, operates on a $1.5 million budget, with a staff of nine full-time and seven part-time workers and hundreds of volunteers. In addition to a bag of groceries, they also provide legal counseling from Bet Tzedek, vocational counseling from Jewish Vocational Service, food stamp enrollment and nutritional counseling.

Targeted food drives — like the one for powdered milk in April — are helpful.

“The idea of handing over a can of food makes it very real — it’s food coming from them to another individual,” Friedman said. “It creates a very deep feeling of caring and sharing and helping another person,” she said.

But funding can be even more helpful, as it allows SOVA to buy essential products in bulk.

Which is why SOVA recently hired a part-time director of development, Jane Zuckerman, formerly executive director of Temple Israel of Hollywood.

“We need to help the community understand that SOVA is more than a place to give canned food, but [also needs] funds to buy the products that don’t come through food collections,” Friedman said.

With the holidays and winter season approaching, many people are attuned to the issue of hunger and the needy. Both SOVA and VIC have room for volunteers, either on a one-time or long-term basis.

“The need exists every month of the year,” Friedman added.

For information and to contribute, go to:

Sova

Diane Linder

SOVA Administrative Office

16439 Vanowen Street

Van Nuys , CA 91406

Phone: (818) 988-7682

Fax: (818) 988-7683

SOVAinfo@jfsla.org

Valley Interfaith Council (VIC)

10824 Topanga Canyon Blvd. ‘7

Chatsworth, CA 91311

(818) 718-6460

FAX: (818) 718- 0734 Email: info@vic-la.org

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.

You get when you give


It is very cool to give. Whether you can give your time through volunteer work or give money though tzedakah, every little bit helps. If you need some inspiration, check out the following two stories:

“The Giving Tree,” written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein, begins: “Once there was a tree … and she loved a little boy.”

Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches or slide down her trunk … and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave.

“The Giving Tree” is 64 pages, but it isn’t hard to read. After you’re done, you can talk to your parents about whether the tree sacrifices too much or not, and whether the boy is selfish in what he asks of the tree. The book is more than 40 years old, but its message could have been written yesterday.

There’s also an old fable called “Stone Soup” that shows how a little can go a long way. There are several different version of the story floating around.

According to one, during a great famine in Europe, a hungry traveler comes to a village with no food to eat, but he is carrying an empty pot. The villagers won’t share any of their food with him, so he fills the pot with water, takes a large stone out of his bag and drops it in the pot. He then puts the pot over a fire in the middle of the village.

When asked what he is doing, the man answers that he is making “stone soup.”
The villagers think the man is nuts, but as the man sniffs the “soup” and licks his lips, hunger takes over their disbelief.

“Ahh,” the man says out loud to himself, “I do like a tasty stone soup. Of course, stone soup with cabbage — that’s the best.”

Soon a villager adds a cabbage from his garden to the pot.

“Great!” says the man. “You know, I once had stone soup with cabbage and a bit of beef as well, and it was delicious!”

When the butcher hears this, he adds some meat. Then another villager brings potatoes. Soon everyone is putting something into the soup: onions, carrots, mushrooms and so on, until there is a delicious meal for all. The stone was just a way of starting the process.

What we learn from this story is that if everyone works together, each giving what they can, good things can happen.

We’d love to know how you like to give back to your community: Do you donate tzedakah? Pack food for the needy? Or even take care of your younger siblings when your mom and dad are busy? E-mail us at kids@jewishjournal.com with stories or pictures and we’ll run them on an upcoming yeLAdim page.

Holidays NOT on the Calendar

Aug. 5: International Friendship Day. Take some time today to meet someone new, whether they live across the country or across the street. You can never have too many friends.

Aug. 13: Left Hander’s Day. Though only 10 percent of the population is left handed, they haven’t had it easy. Most things out there (like scissors and school desks) are designed for righties. So if you have a friend or family member who is left handed, give ’em a big hug today.

Wild About Harry?

We’re guessing that by now many of you have read “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” and we want to know what you thought of it.

What was your favorite part? Was it a good ending? Was it disappointing? How would you have ended it? Do you think J.K. Rowling should write more books about Harry Potter or Hogwarts or the wizarding community?

E-mail us at kids@jewishjournal.com and we’ll print your thoughts in August.

A Primer on Giving: What to ask before you start


The Torah commands you to give a minimum of 10 percent of your earnings (ma’aser) to charity, and 20 percent if you are generous. That’s easier said than done, according to philanthropists, Jewish communal leaders, and charity evaluators.

Where should you donate your money? How? How much? How do you know if you’re getting your money’s worth? Like Maimonides’ eight levels of charity what follows are eight good questions to start asking.

1. How Do I Pick a Cause?

Go with your passions, says Susan Grinel, director of the Family Foundation Center of the Jewish Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization partnering with donors, professional advisers and agencies in all aspects of charitable giving. Ask yourself what you care about, what your passions are, Grinel says — that should give you a good place to start. If it’s a broad passion, such as helping children, you can narrow it down by determining whether you want to help children in areas of poverty, mental health, education, etc.

“Then you can zero in on a program,” Grinel said.

Many people also donate money in honor of someone, and that can help in choosing the type of cause for a donation. Grinel recently helped two siblings who wanted to honor their deceased sibling, a social worker. She came up with a menu of possibilities, and the two decided to sponsor a Chai Lifeline scholarship to send a child with cancer to Camp Simcha, a place for children facing serious illnesses.

“My sister loved helping others in needand was a mental health counselor and worked with handicapped and sick individuals. She wanted to make a difference and help people smile,” the woman’s brother said. “Providing an opportunity for these kids to go to a camp and enjoy themselves means the world to us, and I know it means the world to my sister.”

2. What If I Don’t Have a Particular Passion or Gift in Memoriam?

“If you don’t have something specific, the best thing to do is give to an umbrella,” Grinel said.

For example, if you want to donate to a Jewish cause, you can donate to The Jewish Federation, and if you want to give to a general cause, you can donate to the United Way.

“That’s what they are there for,” she says. Umbrella and large organizations have the staff and experience to investigate worthwhile charities.

3. Should I Donate to the Organization in General or Target My Funds to a Specific Program?

Most people involved in the world of philanthropy agree: targeted donations, or donating to a specific program or event rather than making a general donation to an organization, are growing more popular. They allow people to connect to and follow a concrete and specific goal, such as feeding the hungry in a specific town in Israel, or taking a group of poor inner city kids to the country for the day.

“The trend line among younger people is to know what they are giving to and how they are giving,” said John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “It’s not necessarily a bad phenomenon, but in the extreme it’s a bad phenomenon, because where’s the collective action when you need it?”

When you donate to the organization as a whole and not a specific — and perhaps trendy or popular — cause, “you are allowing the organization to make a decision on how the contribution should be made,” Fishel said.

4. At What Level Donation Will I Be Involved With the Charity?

Not to put a figure on charity, but anything less than $3,000-$5,000, Grinel said, should probably just go to operational costs rather than influence a specific program.

“An agency is not going to respond if you’re in a smaller bracket,” she said, adding “it’s harder to target your dollars to something specific, because they have to track those dollars. When they’re also trying to keep their lights on at the same time. You don’t want to take away from their operation.”

5. Is It Better to Give to Many Charities or Just a Few?

“Unlike your investment portfolio, diversification isn’t a good strategy when giving to charity,” advised Charity Navigator, an online resource for evaluating charities. “We suggest that you take the time to find a few well-run charities that match your interests and make a commitment to support those charities over time. By concentrating your giving among a few outstanding charities, your donations will do more good than if you contributed small gifts to a wide array of charities.”

On the other hand, Grinel says that it depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

“If you’re trying to accomplish something in a field, it’s better to develop a relationship with an agency over the years,” she said. “If your purpose is to respond to requests that come in, then certainly you can give smaller amounts to a variety of places.”

Also, she said, we all have a limited amount of time and energy, and if you must track your donations and their progress, it might be best to concentrate your donation.

6. What Financial Information Do I Need to Know About My Charity?

There are a number of online charity guides such as Charity Navigator and Guidestar.org that evaluate charities based on their tax returns, operational overhead, and CEO salaries. Organizations such as The Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation can also assist donors in investigating a charity.

Fishel said that many individuals call them to check out a charity they are interested in.

“Many organizations come to us — particularly [about charities that are] international in scope, looking for the imprimatur of the Federation, and it makes it easier for other individuals and gives them legitimacy,” he said.

Charity Navigator says to check the charity’s 501(c) (3) status, to insure that at least 75 percent of the organization’s budget is spent on programs and services, and less than 25 percent on fundraising and administrative fees. (Grinel advises an 80 percent to 20 percent split.) Ask for the three most recent 990 forms if they’re not available online, she recommends checking the Web site.

Milken JCC board rejects Federation offer


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Briefs: Palestinians riot near Jerusalem dig; Brandeis threatened with loss of donations


Palestinians Riot Around Jerusalem

Palestinians rioted at entry points to Jerusalem to protest a ban stemming from previous riots over an Old City dig. Police banned Palestinian males under age 50 from attending Friday prayer services at mosques on the Temple Mount, and extended a ban on Raed Salah, leader of Israel’s Islamic Movement. Police arrested 15 people in scuffles in and around the city. Worshipers have rioted in recent weeks to protest a construction project near the Temple Mount.

Israeli authorities say the renovation of a staircase leading to the Temple Mount does not threaten the integrity of the site, but Salah, who has frequently concocted imaginary Jewish plots against the Temple Mount to incite his public against Israel, has led protests at the site and scuffled with police officers. Last Friday, he called for a Muslim intifada to “save” the mosque from the Jews. The Israelis “want to build their Temple while our blood is on their clothing, on their doorposts, in their food and in their water,” Salah said.

Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter asked the attorney general to investigate whether Salah’s comments constitute incitement and sedition.

Brandeis Threatened With Loss of Donations

Mideast scholar Daniel Pipes called on donors to reconsider their support of Brandeis University. In an op-ed published Tuesday in the Brandeis student newspaper, The Justice, Pipes claimed that his planned appearance at the university had been put on hold pending approval from a new committee created to vet potential speakers on the Middle East.

The committee also reportedly is holding up an appearance by Norman Finkelstein, a noted critic of Israeli policy who has argued that the Jewish state exploits the Holocaust for political purposes. Evidence that pressure on the university may be intensifying came from a report Friday in the New York Jewish Week that “more than a handful” of major donors told Brandeis they would no longer contribute following a recent controversial visit by former President Carter, who discussed his book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” which is harshly critical of Israel. A Brandeis spokeswoman told the Jewish Week that she wasn’t aware of any communication from donors.

Hezbollah Seen Expanding Arsenal

Hezbollah aims to stockpile more weapons than it had before last year’s war with Israel, a top Israeli intelligence analyst said.

Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, chief of research in Israel’s Military Intelligence, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in a briefing Monday that the Lebanese terrorist group was smuggling in rockets to replace the thousands it lost fighting Israel during the summer war. Once it receives new shipments from neighboring Syria, Baidatz said, Hezbollah will have a larger rocket arsenal than it did before the war.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz interjected that this should not be a gauge of the threat posed to Israel by Hezbollah. Peretz noted that Hezbollah deprived of its border positions was in far less of a position to launch attacks.

Hezbollah admitted it has resumed stockpiling arms on Lebanon’s frontier with Israel.

“We can reveal that we have arms, and of all kinds,” Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said last Friday in a speech. “We move them covertly, and Israel does not know about it.”

Nasrallah said the smuggling would continue in defiance of Israel, foreign peacekeepers and the Lebanese army, which deployed in southern Lebanon as part of the U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended last year’s war.

“We are not a burden to the Lebanese army but rather a supporter of its mission,” Nasrallah said.

Iran Defies U.N. Demands

Iran signaled that it will not honor a demand by the United Nations to halt sensitive nuclear projects. The Foreign Ministry in Tehran announced Sunday that Iran has no intention of meeting a Feb. 21 deadline set by the U.N. Security Council for suspending uranium enrichment. Under Security Council Resolution 1737, which was passed in late December, Iran was subjected to limited international sanctions that could be expanded if it defied the 60-day deadline on uranium enrichment, a key potential process for making nuclear bombs.

While China and Russia surprised other Security Council members by backing the original resolution, it was unclear whether they would support further sanctions given their robust trade ties with Tehran and public skepticism over whether the Iranians are seeking nuclear weapons.

Feinstein Reintroduces Cluster Bomb Bill

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein cited Israeli cluster bombs left behind in Lebanon in introducing legislation to restrict the sale of the devices.

“What gives rise, in part, to my bill are recent developments in Lebanon over alleged use of cluster bombs by Israel,” Feinstein, a Jewish Democrat who is seen as strongly pro-Israel, said last week in introducing the legislation with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Israel dropped some 4 million bomblets in southern Lebanon during last summer’s war with Hezbollah, and 1 million failed to explode, she said.

“As Lebanese children and families have returned to their homes and begin to rebuild, they have been exposed to the danger of these unexploded bomblets lying in the rubble. Twenty-two people, including six children have been killed and 133, including 47 children, injured.”

Israel said it used the weapons in areas where civilians had already fled, and says the postwar casualty rate is due to U.S.-made bombs that have a high rate of delayed explosion.

Human-rights groups have noted that Hezbollah also used cluster bombs during the war, firing them directly into Israeli cities. Feinstein and Leahy introduced similar legislation immediately following the war, but it failed.

Jerusalem Opens Alcohol-Free Bar

An alcohol-free bar opened in Jerusalem with municipal funding. Lugar opened its doors in central Jerusalem on Monday with a teetotaling format geared toward minors.

The initiative was conceived by Mayor Uri Lupolianski following growing evidence that youths in Jerusalem, including many foreigners on study visits, were increasingly abusing lax controls on alcohol consumption in public places.

Lupolianski said he hoped other cities in Israel would emulate the Lugar pilot.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Angels in the hood


We’ve all seen these great organizations that help the needy and the hungry. We’ve been to their annual galas in Beverly Hills hotels, and we’ve applauded theircelebrity endorsers and prominent honorees.

In the Jewish Orthodox world, we’re familiar with of organizations like Tomchei Shabbat, a highly professional operation that distributes free Shabbat food to observant families. If you ever take your kids to their La Brea warehouse on any Thursday, you will see a distribution efficiency that rivals that of Wal-Mart.

So yes, there are all those great, big successful charity organizations. And then there is a married couple named Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen.

You won’t find them on the society pages of the Los Angeles Times, receiving an award, or at a luncheon at the Luxe hotel, raising money for their cause. You’re more likely to find them shlepping around town, gathering leftover food from weddings, bar mitzvahs, and kosher restaurants, and bringing it to their little house in Pico-Robertson to help the needy families of the hood.

It might surprise you, but there are more than a few families in the hood that have a hard time putting food on their tables. Yaelle and Nouriel estimate that they regularly help feed — very discretely — about 65 families in the neighborhood.

Discretion is a given in the Cohen chesed machine. Everyone is in on it, even their six children. No last names are ever used, and recipients usually stay in their cars while the kids bring them their food boxes.

Yaelle has been known to wake up in the middle of the night to answer the knock of a needy mother too ashamed to come while there is daylight. But not every recipient needs discretion.

The other day, Nouriel and his children took a haggard, grimy homeless Jew home with them on their way back from synagogue, much to the consternation of some people watching. When he got to their home, the man washed and got a fresh white shirt, and took a long nap before eating. The man has been coming back ever since, and often sleeps in their front yard.

The Cohens do more than give food. If you have clothes or furniture or anything of value that you want to donate, chances are they’ll find a recipient. Their phones never stop ringing.

Ever since I moved to this neighborhood, I have been hearing about Yaelle and her family, usually from supermoms humbled by her selflessness. But nobody could tell me about the depth of the Cohens’ motivation.

This I got when Yaelle, a sweet-looking, olive-skinned Moroccan Jew from Montreal, and her husband, a gentle Persian chasid, served me Moroccan tea on a recent Sunday night. A lot of the facts are known: They were living a comfortable life in Beverly Hills, thanks to a thriving beauty supply business.

Eventually, the business went south and they had to sell their house. To this day, they still struggle to pay their bills, and there’s little doubt that this daily struggle has helped them connect with the pain of others.

But there’s more to this story. Many years ago the doctors informed Yaelle and Nouriel that one of their daughters urgently needed a major liver operation. They agonized, and before doing anything, they decided to take their daughter to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe and get a personal blessing.

As they quietly recall the story, their lightheartedness is gone, their tone has sobered up. It’s almost as if they are reluctant to tell me what happened — their daughter miraculously healed, to the shock of the doctors — for fear that no one will believe it. But my interest is in their motivation, and here, one thing is clear from looking at them: their limitless gratitude for the recovery of their daughter animates everything they do. This selfless love for others is one of the ways they say thank you to God.

In the end, though, does it really matter why they do what they do? For the father of four who called last week at 5 p.m. to say that he had no dinner for his children, it didn’t matter why Yaelle immediately got on the phone with Jeff’s Gourmet restaurant to get a full meal donated and delivered to that man’s family. What mattered was that his family ate.

Still, I do marvel at how they do what they do. The Cohens have no mission statements or spreadsheets or strategic plans. Their business model is not old school, it’s ancient school: Gather with your own hands from those who want to give, and give with your own hands to those who need.

Their marketing is from the Kevin Costner movie, “Field of Dreams”: Build it and they will come. No press releases, no ads, no dinners. If the business plan is food to mouth, the marketing plan is word of mouth. Here in Pico-Robertson, quietly, discretely, the word has gotten out over the years that there are neighborhood angels named Yaelle and Nouriel who will do whatever it takes to bail you out, should you ever need it.

Can any organization do this kind of personal, hand-to-hand charity? I doubt it. Professional organizations do a lot of wonderful things at many levels of the community. But, inevitably, things and people will fall through the cracks. Some people don’t know how to ask, others are too ashamed to ask. A caring neighbor with an ear to the ground is often in the best position — literally — to come to the rescue, with the only red tape being the one that wraps the food boxes.

It makes you wonder: How many Yaelle and Nouriel Cohens have come to the rescue of fellow Jews over our history? We hear a lot about the King Davids and the Queen Esthers, but could we really have survived as a people without the quiet angels of chesed that have graced Jewish neighborhoods since time immemorial?Thanks to people like Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen, we don’t have to answer that question.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Webb’s progressive center gift inspired by family’s future


There are some stories Max Webb will never recount.

“With my own eyes, I saw the most barbaric and unbelievable things,” said Webb, who survived 18 concentration camps during the Shoah.

The walls of this nearly 90-year-old homebuilder’s Beverly Hills office are lined with scores of citations and certificates of honor, as well as pictures of presidents, mayors and celebrities. Every surface seems to be covered with framed photos of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Webb surrounds himself with reminders of a life dedicated to family and tzedakah, or charity. And while both inspire him, it’s a promise he made in another time and another place that drives his philanthropic visions.
Since finding success in the Southland real estate market more than 50 years ago, Webb continues to honor a deal he made with God. While witnessing the Holocaust, he swore if he lived he would devote his life to the survival and recovery of the Jewish people.

“As soon as I began making money, I began giving it away,” he said with a shrug.

In December, the Webb Family Foundation announced it had purchased a $3 million plot of land to establish a center that will house two socially conscious Jewish organizations: IKAR and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA). The project is one of the latest in a series of philanthropic ventures for Webb, whose foundation funds projects in the United States and Israel.

“My entire family is involved in this. My life is a gift and a miracle. As long as I’m alive, I’ll do whatever is possible to help humanity…. And I’m not finished yet,” Webb said as he leafs through a pile of preliminary drawings for the three-story building, tentatively named The Max and Sala Webb Center for Progressive Judaism.

For IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous, the donation is an expression of Webb’s interest in ensuring the flourishing of Jewish life.

“His primary concern is not whether a group is conventional or innovative or progressive or traditional. What Max is really committed to is vibrant Jewish life in whatever form it takes, be it a yeshiva in Borough Park or a cutting-edge spiritual community in Los Angeles. He came out of the Holocaust not with despair, but with a real commitment to building the future with incredible openness and devotion,” she said.

But behind this Polish immigrant’s effusive joy are memories that still evoke almost unspeakable horrors.

Webb’s earliest experience with Nazi barbarities came when the Germans first occupied his native city of Lodz.

“I saw military trucks lined up outside a hospital,” he said. “The soldiers went into the hospital. They went into every room. They took the newborn children by their little legs and threw them out the windows. I could hear the screams of the mothers. I couldn’t cry; my tears were frozen.”

During his years in the camps, Webb met and befriended Nathan Shapell. After liberation, Shapell introduced Webb to his sister, Sala, whom he married. In 1951, after arriving in Los Angeles, Webb and Nathan Shapell and Shapell’s brother, David, began a construction business, which would provide the start-up funds for the Max Webb Family Foundation in 1962.
Webb’s wife, Sala, died in 1990. In 1993, Webb married Anna Hitter, who like all members of the Webb family is an active participant in the foundation.

The citations on Webb’s office walls are just part of the philanthropic tale. A thick binder, bursting with letters, photographs and newspaper clippings, provides still more information on a long life dedicated to resurrecting the Jewish community. Leafing through the record of his giving — schools, hospitals, synagogues, universities — his delight is palpable.

Given that the Max and Sala Webb Center for Progressive Judaism was inspired by his granddaughter, Justine, and her husband,Greg Podell, who serves as director of the Webb Family Foundation, the project has particular resonance for Webb, a man committed to the future of Jewish generations.

“When Greg and Justine moved to Los Angeles, I was hoping to get them involved with my synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel on Beverly Boulevard,” he said. “Everyone there is old. I thought they might bring in young people, but that didn’t work out.”

Instead, Greg and Justine came across IKAR, where Brous was developing a new spiritual community rooted in social justice and action. Then the couple met Daniel Sokatch, PJA’s executive director. (Both groups have offices at the Westside Jewish Community Center.)

“These organizations were attracting lots of people, and I thought that as generous and significant as Max’s giving has been, he could really address the concerns of my generation by donating to them,” Podell said.
“One day Justine and Greg came to my office,” Webb explained. “‘Poppa,’ Justine said, ‘we’d like the foundation to help build a place for our children and for all children.'”

The couple introduced Webb to Brous and Sokatch.

“I think that seeing his grandchildren so excited about active Jewish life, fired his commitment to us,” Sokatch said.

Plans were soon under way to purchase land on Pico Boulevard for a building that will house both IKAR and the PJA, and serve as a center for a wide range of religious and social activities.

“It’s not just that Max is giving money. He’s created an ethos of giving in his family. Greg and Justine have internalized Max’s core commitments. Ultimately that’s his greatest gift,” Brous said.

Podell marvels that Webb is “so easily able to adapt to changing times and situations.”

He added that Webb saw how the couple was inspired by Brous and Sokatch and understood that by supporting them, he could guarantee that his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would continue to be involved in a vibrant and compelling Jewish community.

“We’re doing this not because we want a beautiful building, but because we want to provide a home for these leaders who are inspiring our family,” Podell said.

Eve Marcus: Soul of the Food Pantry


Eve Marcus

Barri Evins

Alex Baum

Betty Neymark

Eve Marcus

Fran Rosenfield

Marilyn Harran

Noah Bleich

Rebecca Levinson

Yehoram Uziel

Yoram Hassid

Eve Marcus asks that people not call her on Saturday. Mostly they comply.

Otherwise, as volunteer director of the North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry, she is on call and in command of a staff of 150 volunteers and an operation that currently provides emergency food for more than 30,000 people a year.

Marcus, 70, first became involved in the fall of 1984, when she read a newspaper advertisement seeking volunteers for the Food Pantry, which had been founded more than a year earlier as a result of the Valley Interfaith Council’s Task Force on Community Emergency Needs and in response to the 1982-83 recession.

“I could do that,” thought Marcus, a Studio City homemaker and mother of three girls. She began working Mondays at the First Christian Church of North Hollywood, packing bags, interviewing clients and pitching in wherever needed.
And she has been doing that ever since.

Early on, Marcus was asked to serve as Monday captain. She has continued in that capacity while also taking on the responsibility of volunteer director four years ago.

As director, she runs the monthly board meetings; oversees staffing, donations and grants, and fields myriad phone calls. She also coordinates volunteers for the yearly National Association of Letter Carriers Food Drive and organizes the Food Pantry’s annual Interfaith Service of Thanksgiving.

But to the other volunteers, she encompasses much more.

“Eve is the soul of the Food Pantry. She just knows that people cannot be hungry and we need to do whatever is necessary,” said Joy Grau, a member of St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in Studio City and a 15-year volunteer.

The North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry was founded in 1983 by five women from two synagogues (Temple Beth Hillel and Adat Ari El) and three churches. It is now a coalition of 10 congregations in the East San Fernando Valley.

“We ask people to come once a month but we never turn anyone away,” Marcus said. These days the largest segments of their clientele, mostly from the East San Fernando Valley, are the homeless and the elderly. There are also some “rare but heartbreaking” instances of those who fit both categories.

For Marcus, the benefits of her work are the lasting friendships she has made over the years and the discovery of hidden abilities, like public speaking. She credits her cardiologist husband with handling the computer work.

The worst problem is the aging of the volunteers, who now range from late 50s to early 90s and who often can’t do the heavy lifting that’s required. Recruiting new volunteers, with so many people working in full-time jobs, is difficult.

Marcus attributes her upbringing with drawing her to volunteer work. She was raised in a modest household in Brooklyn where, although imprinted by the tragedies of World War II, she somehow always felt fortunate.

“I had good parents, food and love,” she said. “I want other people to enjoy some of the comforts I do.”

Fran Rosenfield: All About the Children


Fran Rosenfield

Barri Evins

Alex Baum

Betty Neymark

Eve Marcus

Fran Rosenfield

Marilyn Harran

Noah Bleich

Rebecca Levinson

Yehoram Uziel

Yoram Hassid

Fran Rosenfield answers the door of her Northridge home a few moments after the musical doorbell has cycled through its tune. This 79-year-old grandmother was slowed by a recent spinal injury that has rendered her dependent on a cane or walker to get around. But her passion for a cause she championed 15 years ago is going strong.

Inside, her dining room has been transformed into a makeshift shipping department. On the table are wrapped gifts stacked three- and four-boxes deep that are waiting to go to children who are autistic, chronically ill, poor, abused or neglected. Hundreds of gifts were picked up the previous week, and now this batch has to be cleared out to make room for more that will soon arrive.

Welcome to Fran’s Project.

“I do what I do because it’s what I have to do,” said Rosenfield, who is known as Bubbe Fran at Northridge’s Temple Ahavat Shalom. “I can’t stand the thought that anywhere there is a child who is hungry or doing without.”

Her inspiration for the project came from the Adopt a Child Abuse Caseworker Program, which she helped a fellow congregant pitch to the Valley Interfaith Council in 1991.

“These caseworkers are overloaded, and they can’t keep track of everything,” she said.

Rosenfield started out collecting donations for one caseworker from the Department of Children and Family Service, and found she was so successful at motivating people to give that she adopted another caseworker a year later.

Before long the former personnel manager had adopted the entire North Hollywood office.

“You hear stories, like a mother and two kids who are living in a garage on $325 a month or a family whose gas was turned off,” she said. “How can you not want to help these people?”

For Rosenfield, the only December dilemma has been how to collect more gifts than the previous year. This former sisterhood president collected more than 1,000 gifts in 2005, which she donated to four different agencies, including Family Friends, a project of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. For 2006, she added Jay Nolan Autistic Services to her roster of groups that receive her gifts.

Every morning in the run-up to Christmas, Rosenfield gets on the computer and phone with her list of names and uses her “Jewish mother guilt like crazy, honey.”

The gifts donated to her program from synagogue members and others range in price from $20 to $100, and include toys, clothing, grocery scrip and gas cards. Rosenfield was hoping to break her 2005 record by collecting between 1,500 to 2,000 gifts to put under children’s trees.

Born in Minnesota, Rosenfield moved with her husband, Lenn, to Panorama City in 1950.

“We didn’t even have a phone for the first three years,” said her husband, a former advertising art director who designs the annual posters for Fran’s Project.

Rosenfield’s efforts reflect a family tradition of responding to a crisis. After Hitler came to power, her father rented a home in Minneapolis, declared it a synagogue and brought one or two family members over at a time to serve as its rabbi or cantor. Her father would then find work for the newly arrived relative and put in another request to fill the empty leadership position.

Building on her success with Fran’s Project, Rosenfield recently started a birthday twinning program at Temple Ahavat Shalom. A Hebrew school student is paired up with a child in need whose birthday is on or near the same day, and she provides them with a gift suggestion list.

“I tell them that there are kids who are not as lucky as they are whose parents can’t afford to give them birthday parties and gifts,” said Rosenfield, who serves as the synagogue’s social action chair.

While Rosenfield says she doesn’t know what drives her to do what she does, she counts herself as one of the luckiest people in the world.

“How many people can feel that they’ve made a difference in a child’s life, and then do that by thousands?” she said.

Obituaries


Seymour Robinson, “Father of Pan Pacific Park,” 90

Seymour Robinson died Sept. 13 at 90 from pancreatic cancer. Born in Chicago, Robinson was a graduate of Tuley High School and studied at the Chicago College of Music. He was a decorated World War II veteran who received the Croix de Guerre for his contributions to the D-Day Invasion and the liberation of Paris.

A devoted proponent of social justice, Robinson was a CIO labor organizer and activist in his youth. A skilled typographer, he was a partner at Ad Compositors in Los Angeles and lifelong member of the International Typographical Union.After settling with his family in the Pico-Fairfax neighborhood, Robinson was a co-founder and leader of Neighbors Unlimited and Block Party Neighbors, two influential multiracial organizations in West Los Angeles that worked to bring black and white neighbors together and successfully promoted racial integration.

Robinson chaired the Public Affairs Committee of the Westside Jewish Community Center and was a member of the Urban Affairs Committee of the L.A. Board of Education. He was a past member of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee, which assisted small and minority businesses, and the L.A. City Human Relations Commission.

He was president of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee for Pan Pacific Park, and helped coordinate funding for the park from state and local government. Mayor Richard Riordan later officially named him the “Father of Pan Pacific Park.”He is survived by his wife, Anita; children, David, Lorraine and Billy; and granddaughters, Rachel and Mara Woods-Robinson.

In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate that donations in his memory be made to either the Westside Jewish Community Center, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036, or to TJ Mahoney & Associates, a transitional program for women directed by his daughter, Lorraine, 524 Kaaahi St., Honolulu, HI 96817.

www.reawakeningforwomen.org.

Rabbi Richard Ira Schachet,founded Valley Outreach, 70

Richard Ira Schachet, founder and rabbi emeritus of Valley Outreach Synagogue in Los Angeles and Henderson, Nev., died of injuries sustained in an automobile accident in San Bernardino County near the Nevada state line. He was 70.

A native of Long Island, N.Y., Schachet was an accomplished academician and rabbi. He earned undergraduate degrees in business administration and Hebrew education, a master’s degree in social anthropology and a doctorate in theology. Schachet completed his rabbinic studies at both the Academy for Higher Jewish Learning and Yeshiva and Mesivta Rabeinu Chaim Ozer, from which he graduated with honors.

Schachet became known for his work in the field of drug abuse, working especially with middle-class families. An article he penned on middle-class Jewish drug addiction and the role of the rabbi was published in an anthology, “The Jewish Family in a Changing World.” He was a consultant to the New York Jewish Federation, where he helped facilitate the first conference on Jewish Drug Abuse.

He was quite active in civil rights causes, participating in sit-ins in the South, marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and attending the famous “I Have a Dream” speech. An activist in defending equality for all peoples, he was on the board for the Campaign for Liberty, which successfully prevented the Oregon Initiative, which threatened to take away civil rights from the gay and lesbian community.

After working in Jerusalem for a year, Schachet held a pulpit at Community Temple Beth Ohr, Brooklyn N.Y., and later, was the first rabbi of what is now Temple Solel of Cardiff-by-the-Sea in North San Diego County. He also founded Valley Outreach Synagogue in Los Angeles. In 1993, Schachet founded Valley Outreach Synagogue, Las Vegas.

He is survived by his daughter, Tammy; son-in-law, Cantor Wally Briskin; stepchildren, Alan Zalkind, Lori Dahl and Deborah Morrissey; and grandchildren, Channa and Micah Schachet-Briskin.

Donations may be made to the Schachet Family Music Memorial Fund, c/o Six Point Productions, 9512 Texhoma Ave., Northridge, CA, 91325, www.6Point.com .

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Joan Marilyn Epstein died Sept. 16 at 59. She is survived by her husband, Sherwin; son, Michael; daughter, Mara Wasserman; two grandchildren; and sister, Wendy Rosen-Brooks. Groman

Frank Foulkes died Sept. 17 at 84. He is survived by his brothers, John and William. Groman

Morris Gorrin died Sept. 21 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Ann; sons, Harvey (Jane) and Neal (Ruth); eight grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Henry Jessner died Sept. 16 at 94. He is survived by his sons, Ronald and Maurice; daughter, Esste Engel; seven grandchildren; and nine great grandchildren. Groman

Maurice JiJi died Sept. 23 at 98. He is survived by his daughters, Sandi Eliga, Barbara (Harry) Schenk and Delores; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Harold Kay died Sept. 17 at 93. He is survived by his wife, Lorraine; son, Howard; daughters, Janice Eisman and Valerie; eight grandchildren; six great grandchildren and sisters, Sondra Gorney and Jeanette Rosencranz. Groman

York Lewson died Sept. 22 at 91. He is survived by his son, Sam (Stephanie); grandsons, Spencer and Michael; and brother, Ben. Mount Sinai

Rose Langert Mauel died Sept. 22 at 93. She is survived by her daughters, Judy Sforzini, Lori (Howard) Seago and Susan (Larry Gaines); and four grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Albert Peskin died Sept. 20 at 77. He is survived by his sons, Gary (Janet) and David (Christine); daughter, Ellen (Ben) Heschen; six grandchildren; sister, Mildred Silverman; friend, Francie Hornstein; and significant other, Barbara Haines. Mount Sinai

Michel Schwartz died on Sept. 22 at 73. He is survived by his wife, Rina Schwartz; daughters, Karen (Dan) Durham and Elissa Schwartz; four grandchildren; and sister, Annie Chwat. Mount Sinai

Rose Silbert died Sept. 11 at 87. She is survived by her daughters, Lucy Silbert-Luisi, Mitar Kaur Khalsa and Irene; and four grandchildren. Groman

Happy Rosh Hashanah: swastika flags fly over SoCal, Florida highways


Swastikas were found flying from highway overpasses in Los Angeles and northern San Diego County, as well as in Orlando, Fla., just before the Jewish New Year.Calls began coming in to law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles at around 5:45 a.m. on Sept. 22, saying flags with swastikas were hanging from the overcrossing between Balboa and White Oak boulevards over the eastbound Ventura Freeway, according to California Highway Patrol officials.
 
“Obviously, they’re offensive, and a huge distraction,” CHP Officer Leland Tang said in a televised news report.
 
Flags also were reported at the Escondido Avenue overpass of Highway 78 in Vista, near San Diego.
 
The flags were taken down soon after they were discovered. Jewish leaders have denounced the acts.
 
— Staff and Wire reports
 
Steven Windmueller to serve as interim Dean of Hebrew Union College
 
Steven F. Windmueller, a scholar who has held several prominent positions in local Jewish organizations over the years, has been named interim dean at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR).
 
Windmueller previously served as director of HUC-JIR’s School of Jewish Communal Service and said he will remain in the new position for an undetermined period. During his tenure, he said, he hopes to tighten HUC-JIR’s links with other institutions of higher education, as well as the federations and the Union for Reform Judaism. Windmueller also hopes to grow HUC-JIR’s Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health and the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation.
 
“I want to reposition HUC in the constellation of the Western Jewish scene,” Windmueller said. “I want a higher profile, greater engagement with the Reform movement and a larger voice on Jewish life, whether it’s intermarriage or how to welcome new Jews into the community.”
 
Meanwhile, Windmuller has just returned the prestigious Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission’s John Allen Buggs Award given him in 1995 for his strong record in intergroup relations. He gave back the prize last week to protest the commission’s decision to bestow the honor upon Dr. Maher Hathout, chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California and senior adviser to the national Muslim Public Affairs Council, who has been outspokenly critical of Israel. Much of Los Angeles’ organized Jewish community opposed Hathout’s being given the award.
 
“The commission didn’t look for a candidate who could find common ground but rather chose one who was divisive by his actions and words,” Windmueller said.
 
Windmueller replaces Dr. Lewis Barth, who served twice as HUC-JIR dean and whose nine-year tenure ended in June. HUC-JIR has 525 graduate students at campuses in Jerusalem, New York, Cincinnati and Los Angeles, with 120 students here. The educational and intellectual center of Reform Judaism, HUC-JIR trains rabbis, cantors, communal and educational professionals. Locally, about 650 USC undergraduates also take courses at the school in subjects ranging from Holocaust studies to Zionism.
 
During his 11 years as HUC-JIR’s director of Jewish communal service, Windmueller established several programs that he said were designed to deepen students’ educational experience. He helped create the “New York Jewish Experience,” a biannual program that takes Los Angeles’ Jewish communal students to New York to meet with national Jewish leaders and to visit landmarks of the American Jewish experience, including synagogues. In 2001, Windmueller oversaw the creation of a program that sends students to Germany to study contemporary and historical Jewish life in the country.

Under his direction, HUC also increased its cooperation with USC and added several dual-degree communal studies graduate programs with the university, including in business administration, communications management and public arts management.
 
“He combines two remarkable skills,” said Rabbi Alan Henkin, a sometime HUC-JIR lecturer and regional director of Pacific Southwest Council for the Union for Reform Judaism, the umbrella organization for 80 local Reform synagogues. “He’s able to keep his eye on the big picture, even as he attends to the small details of running the school.”
 
Windmueller, 64, received a doctorate in international relations from the University of Pennsylvania. He began his professional life at the American Jewish Committee, before moving to the Greater Albany Jewish Federation — now known as the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York — where he served as a director. Heading west in 1985, he served as head of the local Jewish Community Relations Committee for a decade.
 
— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

High Holiday party raises funds for Israel
 
The war in Israel may be over, but fundraising efforts in Los Angeles are not.On Saturday, Sept. 16, a party at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood raised $22,000 for Israel through the Israel Help Fund, which was started by the Council of Israeli Communities (CIC). The party was jointly put on by the CIC, DJ Eyal Productions, DJ Ziv Productions and Sababa parties. Approximately 1,100 people — primarily Israelis — attended the $20-a-ticket event, with two floors of dancing, one on the roof.
 
“Sitting back and watching what was going on during the war, we felt compelled to do something,” said LiAmi Lawrence, head of Sababa parties, which generally holds for-profit parties.
 
But this time everyone was willing to donate their services for free, including seven Djs: DJ Eyal, DJ Udi, DJ Avi, DJ Ziv, DJ Titus, DJ Shay and DJ George, who drove in from Las Vegas. Lawrence said that DJ Eyal had already booked the Fonda for that date for his own High Holiday party but donated the club and the party for the cause. Many people who couldn’t attend the party sent in checks.
 
“I was touched and inspired by the generosity of the people,” Lawrence said.The money will primarily go to rebuilding Ziv Hospital in Tsfat and to helping firefighters in the north.
 
Donations can still be made to the Israel Help Fund, 16027 Ventura Blvd, Suite 400, Encino, CA, 91436.

Bittersweet symphonies: the Pearls struggle to find life after Daniel’s death


Eight days after Yom Kippur, Judea and Ruth Pearl will commemorate what would have been the 43rd birthday of their son, Daniel. As on every Oct. 10 for the last five years, it will be a day of intensely personal reflection and remembrance by the couple and their daughters, Tamara and Michelle, intensifying their emotions of the other 364 days.
 
By contrast, the date also will be marked by public worldwide concerts celebrating the life of Daniel Pearl, an accomplished violinist, equally passionate about the classical, jazz, country and bluegrass musical idioms.
 
As of a week ago, the master calendar showed 166 different performances scheduled in 24 countries — from China to El Salvador and Kenya to Egypt — on and around Oct. 10. It is expected that the numbers will reach last year’s record of 300 concerts in 41 countries.
 
Music was Daniel Pearl’s avocation, but journalism was his profession. In pursuit of a story on Al Qaeda’s financial ties, the then-38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter was kidnapped in early 2002 in Pakistan and beheaded by Islamic extremists.
 



The life and death of Daniel Pearl on HBO
 
It has a handsome, brilliant, fun-loving reporter, who kisses his beautiful, pregnant wife goodbye as he goes off to track down an Al Qaeda financial network in Pakistan. His nemesis is Omar Sheikh, a man not unlike Pearl in background — intelligent, well educated, but who has become a fanatical terrorist.
 
Sheikh lures Pearl into a trap, where kidnappers abduct The Wall Street Journal reporter and withhold news of him for almost a month, while Pearl’s parents and wife, and much of the rest of the world, hold their breath.
 
The Pakistani police search everywhere for Pearl, while the same country’s intelligence service apparently shields the terrorist. Finally, the kidnappers release a grisly video in which Pearl is decapitated by a sword.
 
No wonder four different film projects on the case have been announced, although only one is actually ready for prime time.
 
On Oct. 10, the day on which Pearl would have celebrated his 43rd birthday, HBO will air “The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl,” a 90-minute documentary, which will be hard to beat for drama and intensity by subsequent movies.
 
The film was produced and directed by Ahmed A. Jamal, a Pakistani, and Ramesh Sharma, an Indian, with the full cooperation of Pearl’s wife, Marianne, and his parents, UCLA professor Judea Pearl and Ruth Pearl, both raised in Israel. It is narrated by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
 
What gives the film much of its emotional impact are lovely home videos of Pearl’s childhood in Encino, his passion for music, a makeshift seder conducted on a trans-Siberian railroad train, and the joyous wedding joining him to his Cuban Dutch wife.
 
The life of the secretive Omar Sheikh is, of necessity, less well documented, and at times the directors have to stretch quite a bit to force the two protagonists’ backgrounds into parallel lines.
 
There remain a number of yet unanswered questions, both in the film and in the actual investigations:

  • Did Pearl’s kidnappers sell him to an Arab gang that then murdered him?
  • What was the role of the Pakistani government?
  • Why has the death sentence, imposed on Sheikh by a Pakistani court in July 2002, never been carried out?

Until such questions are answered, the documentary serves as a riveting history of a case that has gripped the world’s attention.
 
“The Journalist and the Jihadi” airs at 8 p.m. on Oct. 10. It will be repeated on various dates in October on HBO and HBO2.

Check www.hbo.com for details.
 
— TT



Yet the wake of this tragedy is an extraordinary story of renewal in itself. Ruth and Judea Pearl are both high-achieving professionals. He is an emeritus professor of computer science at UCLA and internationally recognized for his pioneer research on artificial intelligence. She is an electrical engineer and for years was a highly paid industry consultant. Although quieter than her more exuberant husband, in the immediate days after the tragedy, “she was the captain and ran a tight ship,” her daughter wrote.
 
Both parents cherish their privacy and still shudder each time an inquiring reporter thrusts a mike in their face and asks, “Well, and how did you feel when you first heard that your son had been murdered?”
 
But on the day before Rosh Hashanah this year, sitting in the living room of their pleasant Encino home, they agreed to talk openly about their agonizing experience and how they transformed their lives by transmuting private grief into public good.
 
The story begins on the morning of Jan. 23, 2002, an ordinary day when life seemed especially good for Daniel Pearl. He was a highly respected and popular foreign correspondent for a leading American daily, married to fellow journalist Marianne, and the couple were expecting their first child.
 
That evening, Daniel went to a restaurant in the Pakistani port city of Karachi to meet a supposed source who could provide a break for his investigative story on the financing of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
 
That was the last time his family saw Daniel, except for videos released by his shadowy captors, one showing the journalist in chains with an unknown hand pointing a gun at his head.
 
It was the beginning of 28 days of hope and despair for the Pearl parents, and their six new houseguests from the FBI.
 
Repeatedly during that period, the Pearls were informed their son was dead and his body had been found, and each time the report turned out to be wrong.
 
Throughout the ordeal, Daniel’s colleagues and editors at The Wall Street Journal were in touch with the parents, lending moral support and advice. One of the editors’ main concerns was that other media might leak the fact that both parents come from an Israeli background, thus increasing the threat to Daniel’s life.
 
Judea was born in suburban Tel Aviv in the fervently Orthodox enclave of B’nai Brak, co-founded by his grandfather, and he had served in the Israeli army.
 
Ruth was born in Baghdad, when one-quarter of the Iraqi capital’s population was Jewish, and emigrated with her parents to Israel in 1951. She and Judea met as college students at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
 
In a rare display of professional solidarity in the competitive media, no one raised the Israeli angle until after Daniel’s death.
 
During the torturous waiting period, Barney Calame, a Wall Street Journal editor, phoned the Pearls daily with a situation report. “He was a slow, deliberate speaker and each time our hearts kept sinking until, at the end, he would report that there had been no new developments,” Judea recalled. “We finally taught him to open each conversation with the sentence, ‘I have no news.'”
 
In the last days before Daniel’s death, the Pearls were fairly hopeful.
 
“Danny was a careful professional, not a Don Quixote type, and he had always gotten himself out of any trouble before,” his mother said. “Besides, his goodness shone through, and we couldn’t believe that his kidnappers could live with him for weeks and not be affected by it.”
 
Adding to the hopefulness was the history of other journalists abducted in Parkistan previously, who had always been returned after a few days in exchange for enemy prisoners or ransom.
 
On the morning of Feb. 21, 2002, the last glimmer of hope was extinguished. “We were having breakfast when three FBI agents, two women and a man, walked in,” Ruth remembered. “One woman had tears in her eyes, and she asked me if I had anything cooking on the stove. Then she told us that she had bad news and that Danny had been killed.”
 
After the previous false alarms, the Pearls refused to believe the report. They phoned the American consul in Karachi, who confirmed that he had seen the gruesome video showing the decapitation of their son.
 
Pakistani police did not find Daniel’s mutilated body until May 16, and it took another three months until the remains were returned to the United States. Hours before the funeral, the FBI stopped the proceedings on the grounds that the agents needed four more days to perform an autopsy.
 
Finally, after the burial and the memorial service, the Pearls were left to ponder their loss and their future.
 
“I felt that my life was over,” Ruth said. “We would never again have a normal life. I still cannot comprehend it; I try not to comprehend it; there’s a mental mechanism blocking it.”Added Judea, “As human beings, we don’t have the software, the computational machinery, to comprehend the logical contradiction that such a beautiful person, who tried so hard to explain the Muslim world to the West, would be killed by people who elevated their grievance above all norms of civilization.”
 
But rather than the sad ending that might have happened, this is where the story takes a surprising turn. The Pearls faced three obvious options. One was to retreat into their private grief, another to resume their professional lives as best they could, and a third to do whatever they could to exact revenge on their son’s murderers.
 
They chose a fourth way. “We refused to accept the idea that Danny’s contributions to the world as a journalist, as a musician, as a gentle human being was ended forever,” Judea said.
 
“We decided on a different kind of defiance,” he added. “We would fight hatred with everything in our power, but we wouldn’t seek physical revenge — that’s what his murderers wanted.”
 
The parents found the vehicle to turn thoughts into action a few days later, as a steady stream of condolence cards, flowers and envelopes with $20 bills and other small donations arrived at the house.
 
“We didn’t know how to cope with all that,” said Ruth, so The Wall Street Journal arranged for a team of lawyers to advise the family.
 
The first decision was to set up a trust fund for Marianne and her soon-to-be-born son, Adam. As the discussions continued, all agreed that the most relevant way to honor Daniel’s life and death was to establish a foundation to perpetuate his work and ideals.
 
Exactly one week after the FBI agent reported Danny’s death, the legal papers establishing the Daniel Pearl Foundation were signed by Judea Pearl as president and Ruth Pearl as chief financial officer.

Three Generations of Pearls

Three Generations of Pearls. back row: Tosha Pearl (center) is flanked by her daughter-in-law, Ruth, and son, Judea, during a Tel Aviv family reunion. front row: Tamara Pearl and her brother, Daniel Pearl. Photo courtesy Ruth and Judea Pearl

“We wanted to fight the tsunami of hatred engulfing the world and we had a powerful weapon — the memory of Danny, respected by millions of Muslims, Christians and Jews, and through the three fields in which he excelled, journalism, music and dialogue.”
 
Working with a miniscule staff and a $400,000 annual budget, raised mainly through small contributions (“We don’t get any celebrities,” Judea said), the foundation has transformed Daniel’s legacy and the parents’ vision into reality.
 
In journalism, reporters and editors from Muslim countries annually travel to the United States for six-month working fellowships on American newspapers, including The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
 
Through the Web-based World Youth News, students at 20,000 high schools in 109 countries develop professional skills, unbiased reporting and respect for cultural differences.
 
In music, World Music Days will be celebrated this year Oct. 6-15. Among the hundreds of performers and performances will be Sir Elton John, world premiere of Steve Reich’s “Daniel Variations,” symphony orchestras in five different countries, neo-soul artist Nya Jade, Bo Diddley and Friends, Hollywood Interfaith Choir and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.
 
Judea Pearl and professor Akbar Ahmed, a leading Islamic scholar from Pakistan, have engaged in dialogues before multiethnic audiences throughout the United States and in the British House of Lords.
 
“We have only two rules,” Pearl said. “No topic is taboo and both speakers and audience must maintain civilized tone.”
 
The foundation has promoted publication of books of Daniel’s own writings and about his beliefs. Among a number of projected films, HBO will air “The Journalist and the Jihadi” on Oct. 10.
 
Somewhat to their own surprise, Judea and Ruth have become accomplished and passionate public speakers and are constantly busy promoting and running the Daniel Pearl Foundation.They have also evolved into skillful interviewees, with Judea as the more animated and gesticulating responder, while Ruth is quieter on the surface and occasionally corrects her husband’s recollections.
 
But, Judea said, “I resist the idea that I’m doing all this for therapeutic reasons. If I didn’t believe that our work makes some difference, I would quit tomorrow.”Added Ruth, “Some days we are encouraged and on other days we are down. But we are doers and we don’t quit.”
 

 
Daniel Pearl

Israel Donations Stimulate — and Don’t Hurt — Local Fundraising


Israel’s military campaign in Lebanon has left the Jewish state spiritually and financially drained. The overall cost of the conflict, including the amount spent on the war and business losses in northern Israel, exceeds $7 billion, according to The Israel Project, a nonprofit, pro-Israeli advocacy group.

Responding to Israel’s plight, American Jews have sent tens of millions of dollars to the beleaguered country, much of it through Jewish charities, including Jewish federations across the country. Given that Israel’s needs remain vast, undoubtedly the upcoming High Holiday season will see rabbis across the Southland encouraging congregants to open their hearts — and their pocketbooks — to the Jewish homeland.

But will Israel’s needs trump those of local synagogues and Jewish nonprofits? Will the charitable dollars flowing to Israel during the giving season mean less support for maintenance of Southland temples and for the social services that Jews traditionally support, such as Jewish day schools or food and psychological counseling for the needy?

An informal survey of rabbis and agency executives suggests that they remain optimistic that donors this year will not hold back. They will find a way to help both the Holy Land and causes closer to home.

For synagogues, the stakes appear especially high. That’s because fundraising during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can generate the largest portion of a year’s total fundraising. With a large, semicaptive audience, it is not uncommon for rabbis or temple presidents to make three or four appeals during holiday services. The season’s emphasis on teshuvah (repentance); tefillah (prayer); and tzedekah (righteous) giving, helps Jews understand the importance of contributing and puts them in the right frame of mind to do so, said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, which has 285 members.

Rabbi David Eliezre of the Chabad synagogue, Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen in Orange County, feels confident that the act of giving only begets more generosity.

“People with a charitable heart will reach a little deeper in their pockets this year,” he said.

Similarly, Rabbi Don Goor, senior rabbi of Temple Judea in Tarzana and West Hills, said he is hopeful his synagogue will raise as much for its own operations this year as last. In a reflection of the appeal’s importance, which accounts for more than 50 percent of Temple Judea’s annual fundraising, Goor will make the pitch himself at services, while another rabbi will make an appeal for Israel. Goor said that his sermon will address how centrifugal forces, including America’s rugged individualism, have pulled the Jewish community to “the outside, while the synagogue pulls Jews back to the core of Judaism.”

Goor said he has little concern that charitable giving to Israel will dilute the synagogue campaign. Last year, he said, congregants gave generously to victims of Hurricane Katrina but still managed to keep up their temple giving.

University Synagogue in Brentwood, with 60 full- and part-time employees and a planned renovation, relies on holiday fundraising for a “significant” portion of its operating budget, said senior Rabbi Morley Feinstein. That’s why its president will make a pitch for synagogue donations on Rosh Hashanah, while a separate appeal for Israel will be made on Yom Kippur.

Feinstein said he is hopeful that temple members will come through, even though they have already contributed tens of thousands of dollars to various Israel emergency campaigns.

“Our people are known as compassionate, and our children are compassionate,” Feinstein said. “Our compassion has to enter our checkbooks so that we help those in need.”

Like synagogues, local Jewish philanthropies often build fundraising campaigns around the High Holidays, although to a lesser extent. The picture here seems a bit murkier.

Because Jews “get that warm, fuzzy feeling of Judaism” during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) steps up its fundraising in the last three months of the year, said Mark Meltzer, the organization’s executive director. Typically, the nonprofit takes in about one-third of its donations from October through December, he said.

However, Meltzer worries that charitable dollars now earmarked for Israel could impact JFLA fundraising and cause the nonprofit to miss its 2006 targets. If that happens, he said, Free Loan would have less money available for interest-free loans for university students or Jewish couples seeking fertility treatments or Jewish campers.

“For the donor who wants to make an impact both locally and internationally, it’s going to stretch their pocketbook,” Meltzer said.

To coincide with the High Holidays, Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger recently kicked off its campaign “Corners of Our Fields,” a reference to the biblical practice of leaving corners of a field untouched for the poor to harvest. For a variety of reasons, though, Mazon can’t predict how this year’s holiday drive will fare, said Jeremy Deutchman, Mazon’s director of communications and development. Deutchman said at least two rabbis he tried to enlist to talk up Mazon told him they plan instead to focus their holiday sermons on Israel this year.

Mazon funds food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens locally, as well as nationally and internationally. The nonprofit, Deutchman said, has seen demand for its contributions jump in recent years because of the squeeze on America’s middle class.

By contrast, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has seen an increase in contributions, including from new donors in recent months, because the Jewish philanthropic organization set up one of the major Israel emergency campaigns, according to Craig Prizant, executive vice president of financial resource development. The Federation now has the chance to “convert” crisis-fund donors into regular givers, Prizant said. It hopes to do so by making first-timers aware of all the ways the organization supports the Jewish state — and then ask for a donation at a later date.

The success of the L.A. Federation’s Israel in Crisis fund, which has raised $15 million so far, appears to have had little or no impact on The Federation’s annual campaign, Prizant said. He projects this year’s campaign to hit $50 million, a 5 percent jump over last year.

There are those who would like to keep discussions of money out of the sacred days. At least one Southland rabbi, Sheryl Lewart of Kehillat Israel in the Pacific Palisades, thinks Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur should not be synonymous with fundraising. She said her temple makes, at most, a quiet solicitation during the High Holidays and holds its two major fundraising events at other times during the year.

“We try to keep the sanctity of the High Holidays without having it be so commercialized,” she said.

Local organizations seek funds to help Israel


The following are some of the local organizations collecting donations to aid Israel in its time of crisis:

American Associates of the Haifa Foundation
Mailing Address: 287 South Robertson Blvd. ‘343
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Telephone: 323-913-7133

American Friends of Magen David Adom: Code Red Campaign
Web: www.afmda.org
Mailing Address: 5535 Balboa Blvd. Suite 114
Encino, CA 91316
Telephone: 800-323-2371,818-905-5099
E-mail: info@afmda.org

American Friends of Meir Panim: Relief Center in Israel
Web: www.meirpanim.org
Mailing Address: 5316 New Utrech Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11219
Telephone: 877-7-DONATE (877-736-6283)
E-mail: info@meirpanim.org

American Friends of Migdal Ohr
Web: www.migdalohrusa.org
Mailing Address: 1560 Broadway, Suite 510
New York, NY 10036Telephone: 212-397-3700

American Friends of Rambam Medical Center (Haifa)
Web: www.rambam.org.il
Mailing Address: Mr. Michael Stoler, President
C/O First American Title Insurance Company of New York
633 Third Avenue, 16th Floor
New York, NY 10017
Telephone: 212-859-0675
188-87-RAMBAM (188-87-726226)
E-mail: mstoler@firstam.com

American Friends of SELAH – The Israel Crisis Management Center
Web: www.selah.org.il
Mailing Address: 25 West 45th Street, Suite 1405
New York, NY 10036
Telephone: 212-840-1514

American Jewish Committee: Israel Emergency Assistance Fund
Web: www.ajc.org
Mailing Address: Ms. Brenda Rudzin, American Jewish Committee
165 East 56th Street
New York, NY 10022.
Telephone: 310-282-8080 ext. 307
E-mail: mailings@ajc.org.

AMIT Kfar Batya
AMIT Kfar Blatt
Web: www.amitchildren.org
Mailing Address:1122 South Robertson Blvd. ‘9
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Telephone: 310-859-4885
800-989-AMIT (800-989-2648)

Bnai Zion Medical Center Foundation: Emergency Campaign
Telephone: 323-655-9128

Development Corporation for Israel/State of Israel Bonds
Web: www.israelbonds.com
Mailing Address: 1950 Sawtelle Blvd., Suite 295
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Telephone: 310-996-3000
800-92-BONDS (800-92-26637)

EMUNAH Emergency Fund
Web: www.emunah.org
Mailing Address: Emunah of America
7 Penn Plaza
New York, NY 10036
Telephone: 212-564-9045 ext. 303

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces: Soldiers’ Emergency Fund
Web: www.israelsoldiers.org
Mailing Address: 4640 Admiralty Way, Suite 406
Marina Del Ray, CA 90292
Telephone: 310-305-4063

Friends of Israel Disabled Veterans, Inc. (FIDV): Beit Halochem
Web: www.fidv.org
Mailing Address: 1133 Broadway, Suite 232
New York, NY 10010
Telephone: 212-689-3220
E-mail: info@fidv.org

Friends of Sheba Medical Center
Mailing Address: 9911 West Pico Blvd., Suite 1220
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Telephone: 310-843-0100
E-mail: ino@shebamed.org

Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.
Web: www.hadassah.org
Mailing Address: June Walker, National President
Hadassah
50 West 58th Street
New York, NY 10019vTelephone: 866-229-2395

The Jewish Federation: Israel in Crisis
Web: www.JewishLA.org
Mailing Address: The Jewish Federation
Goldsmith Center
6505 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Telephone: 866-YOUR-FED (866-9687-333)

The Jewish Federation South Bay Council
Mailing Address: 23430 Hawthorne Blvd., Suite 120
Torrance, CA 90505

The Jewish Federation Valley Alliance
Mailing Address: Bernard Milken Community Campus
22622 Vanowen Street
West Hills, CA 91307

Jewish National Fund (JNF): Operation Security Blanket
Web: www.jnf.org
Telephone: Los Angeles: 323-964-1400
Valley: 818-704-5454
E-mail: Los Angeles: vyeoman@jnf.org
Valley: ddaniel@jnf.org

Ohr Torah Stone
Web: www.ohrtorahstone.org.il
Mailing Address: Aid for the Northerners
49 West 45th Street, Suite 701
New York, NY 10036
Telephone: 212-935-8672

Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make Me a Donation Match


Call him a personal shopper, a matchmaker or a boutique investment adviser. However he is described, Joseph Hyman is trying to chart a new course in the world of Jewish philanthropy. A longtime Jewish organizational professional and fundraiser, Hyman last year launched the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy (CEJP) to support and advise philanthropists who are considering major gifts to Jewish and Israel-related causes.

Hyman acts as the middle man between donors and organizations, working with philanthropists to understand their particular interests, then he hits the pavement to locate worthwhile organizations that meet their philanthropic requirements.

The center’s goal is simple: to attract dollars to Jewish groups that might otherwise have gone elsewhere.

“If successful, we believe that CEJP will help to create a new paradigm in Jewish giving,” said Hyman, who is going public about his organization for the first time. “One that empowers and inspires a new generation of philanthropists to participate because they want to, not because they have to.”

His endeavor comes at a time when wealthy American Jews make a disproportionately high number of large gifts in United States but overwhelmingly make them to non-Jewish institutions. It also comes as philanthropists are increasingly looking to have a say in exactly where their dollars go.

The approach seems to be working.

Since its launch 19 months ago, the center already has facilitated more than $10 million in philanthropic donations to Jewish and Israel-related causes. Recipients include some well-known projects, such as Birthright Israel, which provides free, 10-day trips to Israel for young Jewish adults. They also include some lesser-known ones, including Meshi, a center in Israel offering the parents of special-needs children a break from child care, and Project Kesher, a group devoted to Jewish education and advocacy for women in the former Soviet Union.
“CEJP is revolutionary,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president and founder of The Israel Project, which has received two six-figure, multiyear commitments from donors working with the center.

“What it is doing,” she said, “is taking the desires of the philanthropists to heart and saying, ‘What is the outcome that you want? What is the investment that you want to make so that you can make positive change? And what’s the most cost-effective, reliable way to achieve those goals?'”

“There are people out there who are not giving to the level that they’re capable of giving,” said Adam Frieman, a longtime investment banker on Wall Street and a financial sponsor of the new center, said, Some portion of that group would give meaningfully more if somebody were able to connect with them on a personal level and make the giving personal.”

Hyman hopes that his efforts to eliminate much of the work involved in finding worthy causes will attract new dollars to Jewish groups.

“Beginning with the creation of Birthright about 10 years ago, it has been a core group of committed Jewish philanthropists who have challenged the community to move forward,” said Hyman, who stresses that his work is meant to complement that of the federations and other more traditional fundraising arms, not replace them.

“We are now beginning to see a new generation of megadonors emerge whose support is crucial to our future.”

The center today is working with nine North American philanthropists, including real estate developers, senior management of Fortune 500 companies and hedge fund managers, according to Hyman. And while all have donated to Jewish causes before, some now are giving at a much higher level.

Hyman likens the philanthropists “to world-class athletes who, with the proper support and coaching, can become Olympic gold medalists.”

Donor-advised funds are not new, say philanthropy insiders, and in fact have become increasingly popular over the last number of years in Jewish philanthropic circles.

However, said Sue Dickman, executive vice president of The Jewish Communal Fund, which facilitates and promotes charitable giving through donor-advised funds, the center is doing something different.

“What we do and what other donor-advised funds do is simply facilitate people’s philanthropy,” she said. “We don’t provide advice and input into the direction of their philanthropy. What Joe does is help people think strategically about their philanthropy and maximize the input that they can have.”

Other Jewish groups, notably the Jewish Funders Network, offer some donor advice. And several organizations are doing similar work in the general philanthropic world – among them the Wealth and Giving Forum, Rockefeller Advisory Services and the Philanthropic Initiative in Boston.

The center is also seen as attractive because it is supported by investors and does not charge for its work. Donors say that for this reason, they feel the group’s advice is objective.

“We felt that he could offer us something that we needed” because Hyman is “not connected to any particular organization but very well connected in the greater Jewish community both here in the U.S. and in Israel,” said the administrator of a private family foundation in the Chicago area, who requested anonymity for reasons of privacy.

Nearly two years ago, shortly before the center was launched, Hyman sat down with a Chicago-based private investor Robert Sklare to chat about philanthropy. They spent about 10 hours talking, Sklare said, discussing the Jewish philanthropic interests he and his wife, Yadelle, shared, the areas that got them excited and the problems they hoped to help solve. Then Hyman got to work tracking down a series of organizations that fit their bill.

Several did. In fact, Sklare said, since then, he’s donated a “substantial” amount of money to Israel-related organizations – certainly more than he’d have given had he never met Hyman.

He has since funded, among other groups, Birthright Israel; Karev, an after-school enrichment program for inner-city youngsters in Ashkelon, and Meitarim, a group of pluralistic schools that attempt to bridge the gap between religious and secular students.

According to Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, general philanthropy has nearly doubled in the last decade, and the growth of Hyman’s center reflects that trend.

“I think we’re going to see more and more different kinds of approaches to specialize it, make it more strategic, capture it,” he said. “This is the first one that is specifically aimed at Jewish philanthropy.”

Still, asked if this sort of philanthropy is the wave of the future, Solomon demurred.

“It’s hard to know what would have happened had CEJP not been there,” he said. “Would that money have gone to different Jewish organizations? To general charities? Would it have been given at all? While helping to direct millions of dollars is very impressive, it’s hard to know what would have happened had it not been there.”

Rabbi Irving Greenberg, president of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation, said that Michael Steinhardt, a megadonor to Jewish causes, was not initially convinced about Hyman’s efforts, but after he demonstrated that “he had a little bit of a track record, Michael became a funder.”

“I think it’s very significant,” Greenberg said of Hyman’s approach. “My guess is that this has not only got legs, but that this is the wave of the future.”

Iranians Open Shul in Garment District


With a new Torah in their arms, about 100 local Iranian Jewish businessmen sang Hebrew songs and danced down a busy street in downtown Los Angeles’s garment district June 13 to celebrate the official opening of a new synagogue, where many Iranians have their businesses.

As a DJ blasted Israeli music and kebab dinners were served, congregants packed the elegantly decorated 700-square-foot sanctuary, known as the “Downtown Synagogue,” to give thanks and pray. The shul is situated inside a store, alongside fabric outlets, on Cecilia Street, between Eighth and Ninth streets.

“Baruch Hashem, we are very pleased with the new synagogue,” said Avi Cohan, a local Iranian businessman who is one of the founders of the Downtown Synagogue. “It looks just amazing with the nice chairs, and it’s perfect for many of us who wanted a place for prayer at the end of the work day.”

Prior to the festivities, approximately 25 Iranian Jewish business owners gathered at a local textile warehouse, where they each pledged to donate between $260 and $1,500 for each of the last Hebrew letters Cohan was writing to complete the synagogue’s Torah. The Torah was made in Israel for the congregation, and funds still needed to be raised to cover the cost.

Cohan had reason to boast about the new synagogue, whose initial dozen or so congregants first began to assemble in his downtown office to recite Mincha and Arvit prayers nearly 12 years ago. The congregants formed the initial Downtown Synagogue because they were often unable to beat the rush hour traffic to arrive at daily services at synagogues in Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles.

“It’s very convenient for me, because sometimes during the week, I’m in downtown and need a place to pray, so I go there because there is always a minyan, and it’s close by,” said businessman Dara Abaei, an Iranian community activist.

Cohan and other founders said they wanted to create a place of spirituality, as well as a social center, in the business district, which also has an Iranian shul in the jewelry district, between Broadway and Hill streets.

“Our main goal was to little by little get businessmen in our community to close their businesses on Shabbat and bring them closer to God,” said Cohan. “Many are also, unfortunately, too busy during the day to make it to a synagogue to say the Kaddish on the anniversary of their parents’ deaths, so our synagogue provides them with a place to do that.”

Although the afternoon ceremony marked the official opening of the synagogue space, Cohan said congregants have unofficially been holding services at the Cecilia Street location for the last two years.

Contrary to most shuls, the Downtown Synagogue is open only on weekdays and closed on Saturdays and High Holidays. Between 50 to 60 people regularly attend. On Tuesdays, congregants also hear a devar Torah by Rabbi Yosef Shem Tov of the Torat Hayim Kohel in the Pico-Robertson area.

The move to create a formal space for the group began in 2003, when local Iranian businessmen Ezri Namvar and Solomon Rasetgar stepped forward to furnish the rent-free store situated inside a building they co-owned. Namvar and Rastegar recently sold the building housing the synagogue, but they said the current owner, who is not Jewish, has continued to permit the congregation to stay there without paying rent, Namvar said. The new owner was not available for comment.

Cohan said approximately $15,000 was raised through direct contributions. Unlike Ashkenazi Jews, who generally generate the revenue for synagogues through membership fees, Iranian Jews have traditionally raised such funds by auctioning off aliyot during services or asking individuals for direct donations.

Namvar said his family has always strived to keep Judaism alive in Los Angeles and worldwide by supporting Jewish groups, regardless of their specific denominations.

“Our passion is for Jewish education, and we try to help organizations that promote Jewish education, whether they are Orthodox, Reform or Conservative,” Namvar said.

For more information on the Downtown Synagogue call (213) 215-6061.