Sanders to attend Vatican conference on social, environmental issues


Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders accepted an invitation to visit the Vatican for a conference on social, economic and environmental issues, his campaign said.

“Pope Francis has made clear that we must overcome ‘the globalization of indifference’ in order to reduce economic inequalities, stop financial corruption and protect the natural environment. That is our challenge in the United States and in the world,” Sanders, who is Jewish, said in a statement Friday confirming his attendance at the April 15 event, Reuters reported.

Sanders’ announcement came as the pope called for a Church that was less strict and more compassionate towards “imperfect” Catholics.

The senator from Vermont is planning to head to Rome immediately after a high-profile debate scheduled with Hillary Clinton on April 14, the Washington Post reported. He’ll speak at the gathering hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Sanders said.

“I think the Vatican has been aware of the fact that, in many respects, the pope’s views and my views are very much related,” Sanders told the Post. “He has talked in an almost unprecedented way about the need to address income and wealth inequality, poverty and to combat the greed that we’re seeing all over this world, which is doing so much harm to so many people. … For me, it is an extraordinary honor to receive this invitation.”

Weeks after Sandy, enormity of human and economic costs are becoming clear


Kenny Vance's multimillion-dollar beach house has stood proudly on the Long Island shore and weathered all manner of storms since 1916. Then came Sandy.

Vance, a 68-year-old musician who has lived in Belle Harbor, N.Y.,  for most of his life, was preparing  to perform on a cruise ship when newscasters first warned of a major storm heading for the East Coast. But Vance had seen this movie before and knew the protocol. He boxed up his most precious belongings, rolled out the storm shutters and left. From a ship docked in Puerto Rico he watched superstorm Sandy destroy everything he owned.

“Once I saw the size of the storm, and heard the winds were coming from the south, I knew I was screwed,” Vance, who gained fame as the lead singer of the Planotones, told JTA. “The winds blew off the top of my house, and the rest of the structure basically crumbled. Everything is gone.”

Among his losses are countless pieces of precious memorabilia accumulated over the course of a nearly 50-year music career: his priceless collection of vintage guitars, a slot machine from the 1900s valued at $20,000, and a lamp that belonged to the late New Mexico artist Tony Price. Not the least of his worries, Vance is now homeless and living at a hotel on Staten Island.

“There’s just no way to get these things replaced, and I just redid my kitchen and bathrooms,” Vance said. “My grandkids would come stay here with me every summer; I’ve lost all that. And my feral cat I lived with for over fours years, she’s gone, too.”

Some three weeks after Sandy washed ashore, power has been largely restored in the tristate area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and, for most people, life has gradually returned to normal. But for some, normal has been forever redefined.

“The history of our temple is now just moldering pulp,” said Amy Cargman, president of the West End Temple in Neponsit, a neighborhood just west of Belle Harbor on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens.

“Everything was completely decimated,” Cargman said. “We took the Torahs out, fortunately, but everything from prayer books to pews to the rabbi’s personal library is gone.”

Residents of Belle Harbor and Neponsit, both affluent areas, perhaps were better equipped than most to weather a catastrophic weather event. They had cars and cash and cruise ship evacuation routes — unlike many of their neighbors in the Rockaways and nearby Brooklyn and Staten Island. But even with comparatively deep pockets and up-to-date insurance payments, few will ever fully restore their lives.

“Even if I fix my home, our banks, our schools, our gyms, our temples, our restaurants are all gone,” said Laurie Musumeci, a 56-year-old real estate agent who lives near Vance and also is a member of the West End Temple. “It doesn’t feel like home. I’m right on the ocea,n but it’s hard for me to look at it right now. I can’t believe something I’ve loved my whole life did this to us.”

Musumeci's family lost the five cars that were in her driveway when the storm hit and the basement of her home, which her grandfather built in 1939 and also had served as her office and her son's apartment. Musumeci estimates she needs $64,000 for repairs — the $2,700 she's received so far from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is “a joke,” she says – and has had to tap into savings set aside for her daughter's college tuition.

“Our insurance will only cover things they say is expected in the basement, like our boiler and heat system,” she said. “Everything else is gone.”

Elsewhere in the Northeast, residents had more immediate concerns than inadequate insurance payouts and lost guitars. In Atlantic City, which produced some of the most dramatic images of the storm's devastation, some 6,000 homes were estimated to have been severely damaged and more than 600 people were made homeless.

Three weeks later, city shelters are closed, and in a city that already had a homeless population of about 3,000, other agencies are stepping in to fill the void.

“We're providing 150 families a day basic necessities of clothing, supplies, food,” said Beth Joseph of Jewish Family Services of Atlantic and Cape May counties. “Many people's houses were flooded with their electrical systems and furnaces destroyed, so you're looking at hundreds of people displaced. Also, tons of businesses were ruined and it might be a year before they are opened, so we need to account for the unemployed who can no longer support themselves.”

Joseph's organization has raised more than $50,000 to provide temporary housing for families ineligible for federal assistance, a sum that hardly scratches the surface of what is needed. And the situation is likely to get worse once FEMA pulls out.

“There's still so much to do, and the money we've raised so far will not be enough,” Joseph said.

Millions of dollars have been raised by Jewish organizations and countless volunteer efforts have been mobilized. UJA-Federation of New York has allocated some $10 million for relief in eight counties, including the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester and Long Island. The federation, the country's largest, raised an additional $2.5 through its website.

So far, $3.2 million has been disbursed to beneficiary agencies to provide food, water, shelter and other necessities, but the organization is beginning to look ahead as well — to permanent housing, trauma treatment, and services for the poor and elderly who don't have insurance.

“Even though it's a few weeks after the storm, the basic needs are not going to go away so fast,” said Alice Blass of the the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, which has raised $54,000 for storm relief, about half of which has been disbursed to agencies.

Nationally, the Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella group of all the local federations, has raised about $3 million for hurricane relief — about $2.2 million from other federations and the rest from its own coffers. About $250,000 was allocated to New York and $350,000 to federations in New Jersey and Rockland County, north of New York City.

And that's not counting dozens of smaller volunteer efforts that have drawn support from across the Jewish community. More than 60 carloads of supplies were donated by area synagogues to coastal New Jersey communities. And a synagogue in Baltimore bused hundreds of volunteers to the heavily Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood of Seagate, which even now still has the feel of a disaster zone.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, volunteers wearing boots and masks filled the streets. Kids worked on assembly lines to help rip out the basements of homes and teenagers weaved through the narrow streets on ATVs handing out cleaning supplies. Shomrim, the Jewish neighborhood watch group, had set up a command unit and was handing out hot food and drinks. Along the beach, gaping holes in waterfront homes offered a peek at what was lost inside. Broken china, pieces of detached roofing and scattered electronics littered the beach and sidewalks.

Pinny Dembitzer, the president of the Seagate Homeowners Association, put on a brave face as he helped organize the cleanup, directing ambulances, food trucks and cleaning supplies to the proper destinations while answering three cell phones. Dembitzer hopes the neighborhood will come back stronger than ever. But surrounded by ruination and confronting untold rebuilding costs, that future was perilously hard to imagine.

“Nobody here was spared,” Dembitzer said. “Every single house you’re looking at had damage, and it will take millions to see repairs. I’ve been here 30 years, and I’ve never had a flood. Ninety-five percent of the people here don’t have insurance.”

Pinched pocketbooks no bar to party planning


Pinched Pocketbooks NoBar to Party Planning

Have tough economic times forced you to scale back your child’s bar or bat mitzvah party plans? With your 401(k) down, is the ice sculpture out? Is your resetting ARM making you reconsider that 18-piece orchestra?

If so, you can still have one of the best bar or bat mitzvah parties ever.

Paul, who lives in the northern Sierras and preferred not to use his last name, was pleased with the modest bar mitzvah party he and his wife hosted last month for their son.

“We had a Kiddush at our little synagogue immediately after the bar mitzvah and a catered dinner for about 75 people at the lodge building at our town’s public park,” he said.

Paul spent about $40 per person, including food and “midrange” wines. After dinner, guests were invited back to the house, including many out-of-town relatives and friends, for more time to visit and socialize. The kids had their own fun, and music was provided via a Bose iPod dock.

This modest party wasn’t prompted as much by economic pressure as it was by being turned off by what Paul and his wife considered “large, garish bar and bat mitzvah parties” they had attended on which “embarrassing” amounts of money were spent.

“We frankly think it is shameful and a violation of both the tenets of Judaism and good taste to throw a huge and lavish bar or bat mitzvah party,” Paul said.

Paul’s hardly alone. When Rob Frankel and his wife planned their daughter’s bat mitzvah, they were so turned off by their synagogue’s onerous rules (including vetting the parents’ speeches) and insistence on using an expensive caterer, that later they did their son’s bar mitzvah totally on their own, from using a “rent-a-rabbi” to teach their son and provide a rental Torah scroll and bimah.

“The whole year’s training and day of service cost less than a year of temple membership dues,” Frankel recalled.

The Frankels also saved money by creating their own save-the-date postcards, invitations, tribute videos and thank-you cards.

Rabbi Steven Leder, senior rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple and author of “More Money Than God,” encourages all parents planning bar and bat mitzvah parties to keep the focus on Judaism and on the child. When he meets with parents, he asks them to make two lists: one of values they consider Jewish and another of values they associate with bar/bat mitzvah parties.

The lists are starkly different. While the Jewish values list often includes sacred music, spirituality and community, the list of values associated with the bar mitzvah parties can include sexuality, gross excess, drinking and narcissism.

Leder has found this exercise very useful.

After discussing the values gap between the bar mitzvah service and the typical bar mitzvah party, “parents feel they have permission to embrace a more child-appropriate event and one with more Jewish content,” he said.

He recommends that a Saturday night party begin with a Havdalah ceremony and that parents should be more discerning about the music played at the event. He also encourages that some money be donated to MAZON-A Jewish Response to Hunger. One creative mom at the synagogue, tired of seeing party favors that went to waste, began doing mitzvah projects at parties, such as having kids make stuffed animals, which are then donated to a children’s hospital.

Leder also keeps parties held at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in line by insisting on no hard liquor, no amplified music outside and no inappropriate décor or themes, such as Halloween.

“We’re trying to avoid glaring contradictions to Jewish values,” he noted. “Besides, kid-friendly parties automatically save money.”

Chai’le Ingber, a Los Angeles-based party planner, says that times are changing when it comes to money and party planning. She acknowledges that while most people able to hire a planner aren’t the ones feeling the pinch as much as some others, she has found lately that some are choosing to scale back, so as not to flaunt their wealth at a time when so many others are hurting or are earmarking some money that would have gone to the party to tzedakah instead.

Ingber recommends that anyone who can host a party at home do so.

“There’s always something so special about a home party, when friends have helped out. Leave out the hall and the band if you can. You’ll cut major expenses, while creating a beautiful, homey event,” she said.

Inger even overheard her daughter, who recently completed her bat mitzvah circuit year, agree with friends that the most fun parties they had attended were home-based, because they were not done to impress adults but were geared to what the girl wanted.

Other ideas to save money include using a school auditorium or nonhotel venue.

“With a little creativity and twist you can transform even plain rooms into a themed room,” Ingber said.

After choosing a theme or colors with your child, inexpensive crafts and flowers can be found in a variety of stores downtown. And paper plates and plastic cutlery can still add color while saving money.

“The truth is, community pressure to create a certain kind of party can be intense, but it’s not the $500 cake that makes the party; it’s the hosts and the child who welcome you into their home or the hall who make it special. If the hosts are stiff and stressed, it’s worthless,” Ingber said.

Aaron Cooper, psychologist and author of “I Just Want My Kids to Be Happy,” hopes that more parents begin to see the upside of financial adversity in the form of valuable lessons learned and resilience developed.

Too many bar and bat mitzvah parties, he notes, have been marked by the worshipful emphasis on the child that colors so much contemporary parenting, yet spirituality and a sense of meaning are two of the ingredients essential for happy lives.

“What do we want the outstanding memory to be when our son or daughter looks back from middle age to their bar or bat mitzvah event? If a pinched pocketbook helps parents re-think this question, it’s the kids who will reap the dividends someday,” he said.

Judy Gruen’s latest book is “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement.”


Cut Costs, Not the Fun

Want to keep your costs low without alienating your family, friends and fellow congregants? Consider these tips from the proud survivor of a bar mitzvah party.

  • Buy a planner notebook and organize everything yourself, instead of hiring a party planner.
  • Skip the banquet hall and rent a neighborhood or community clubhouse, large room at an activity center or school assembly hall.
  • Cater through your favorite restaurant, instead of using a restaurant or banquet hall that only has package deals or would be more costly. If you get a package deal somewhere, read the fine print: There are invariably all kinds of strange charges, such as corkage fees, cake-cutting fees, charges for valet service and security.
  • Make your own centerpieces, adding a few balloons on top, with confetti sprinkled around the base. Decorate simply — sometimes too much really looks like too much.
  • Design and print your own invitations, RSVP cards and placecards. Today’s online paper businesses and PC applications make this easier and more beautiful than you could have imagined five years ago.
  • If your synagogue allows it, have your friends make the desserts and/or oneg sweets instead of buying them from a bakery. Get all of your beverages — alcoholic and no-alcoholic — on your own from a place like Costco, Trader Joe’s or BevMo.
  • Have your dinner for the out-of-towners in a Chinese or Italian restaurant that serves family-style platters — this cuts way down on the cost of individual meals.
  • Have a luncheon instead of a bar mitzvah dinner because lunch typically costs less. Alternately, forgo one really huge celebration and have two little ones — a casual oneg luncheon and then a kids-only party in the evening.
  • Interview and hire a photographer who will give you the disc with all of your photos, and you can make the album yourself online, with the help of a service like Flickr.com. It’s a very easy process once you learn how. Making the album yourself costs about one-half to one-third of the traditional proofs-and-album route.

— Denise Koek, Contributing Writer

‘When there’s life, there’s hate’: Q & A with ADL’s Abe Foxman


Abe Foxman is director of the Anti-Defamation League. Born in Poland in 1940, he survived the Holocaust in Lithuania.

Foxman joined the ADL in 1965 upon graduating from New York University Law School and was appointed director in 1987.

Under his leadership the organization has gained a reputation as one of the nation’s preeminent human rights organizations, going after neo-Nazi groups and winning passage of groundbreaking hate-crime legislation. It has also been a magnet for controversy and criticism for its outspoken stands on issues ranging from Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ” to the Armenian Genocide.

A week before coming West for the ADL’s annual meeting, Foxman spoke by phone with the Jewish Journal’s Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman.

Rob Eshman: The Republican Jewish Coalition ran a series of ads implying Sen. Barack Obama is anti-Israel and soft on terrorists. If those charges were true, it seems the ADL should have weighed in on Obama.

Abe Foxman: We don’t weigh in on political charges.

RE: But if you truly thought he was all those things, you’d be compelled to weigh in.

AF: We don’t weigh in one way or the other, except when there were rumors very early on which started before it became a major issue, floating in the Jewish community that Obama was a Muslim, went to a madrassa, was sworn in on the Koran. We did our own research, ascertained none of it was true, posted it on our Web site before it became an issue. Whether he is or isn’t [pro-Israel], nobody knows; that’s an opinion, a political opinion. And there’s a whole debate about William Ayers — that’s an opinion. That’s not an issue we would get an involved in.

RE: You released a statement saying the downturn in the economy has increased anti-Semitic invective. But your evidence is online message boards, which consist of crazy people posting on the Internet. How worried are you about this problem?

AF: We’re worried because there is a spike. You call them crazies. I call them bigots. Maybe every bigot is crazy or not. It’s not a surprise that bigots use a crisis situation to spew forth their venom, their hatred, their anti-Semitism. What is of concern is the quantity. What you call crazy or I call bigot out there can communicate his anti-Semitism instantaneously, in nanoseconds, if you will. We don’t know how far it reaches, into whose home, into whose institution, into whose school. We want people to be aware that it’s out there, and we’ve reached out to the servers, those who provide the platforms for it, and at this point they have been responsive. Some of the horrendous stuff is removed, but it doesn’t take very long for it to come back in another forum on another server, so we take it very seriously.

RE: Have you seen any signs that the hate has gone beyond the Internet?

AF: I don’t care what category you put it in, [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad stands in front of the world and declares that the economic downturn is the result of Zionist Jewish control of finances. Hamas declares the same thing on its media. Yeah, it crosses into mainstream.

RE: You believe extremism in Iran is the most important issue facing Jews today?

AF: I think it’s the most important issue facing the free world. I think that … when Iran obtains nuclear power, it will first blackmail the Middle East. Then it threatens freedom and democracy in Europe, it will threaten trade, it will threaten oil supplies, etc. But, yes, I do see it as a greatest threat to the Jewish people, because here is a state in our lifetime that threatens the destruction of the Jewish state. It’s one thing for him to use words, and we believe words can kill, but he is developing the ability to deliver on his words.

RE: Your biography is so striking, so emblematic of the plight of Jews under anti-Semitism. But now there have been two or three generations who have no first-hand experience like you have. Do you worry that they simply won’t feel the urgency on these matters that you lived through?

AF: There are so many people working for the ADL; they are not all Holocaust survivors; they are not all of my age group. What’s happening now, unfortunately, is that … many who felt they would be handing over to our children and grandchildren a different experience wake up in the year 2008 and see that they better become concerned with anti-Semitism, looking at what’s happening in France and in Great Britain and in the Middle East and in Latin America. So this has nothing to with the fact that Abe Foxman is a Holocaust survivor.

RE: Yet the ADL seems to have an image problem. Do you agree with that?

AF: Tell me what that image is?

RE: You had someone like Joey Kurtzman write on Jewcy.com and Joe Klein write in Time that the ADL engages somewhat in fear-mongering.

AF: They have their own interests and axes to grind. I respect it. I disagree with it. I work for an organization that is as quick to say that it’s not anti-Semitism as we are to say when something is anti-Semitism. So, in fact, if you want, why don’t you look at the statistics of our sister agency, The American Jewish Committee, who finds in their polls that Jews see anti-Semitism as the greatest threat to them in the United States? I’m not even talking about abroad. Because when you take Iran or you take Europe or you take the Middle East, it has grown exponentially in the last six to eight years. But I think what you will find is that we are an institution that when it’s up, we say it’s up, and when it’s down, we say it’s down.

RE: During the height of controversy over Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion,’ we ran a Purim spoof cover showing Mel Gibson thanking you at the Academy Awards for drawing so much attention to his movie. Of course, it’s easy for us to make fun. How do you balance drawing attention to anti-Semites versus letting them blather in obscurity?

AF: We never have the luxury of ignoring anti-Semitism. By the way, I believe — I don’t think I should say it, I think you should say it — I believe I’ve been vindicated by the very fact that we raised issues about Mel Gibson and his film. We raised concerns, and I never called him an anti-Semite until he himself stood up and exposed himself publicly as the anti-Semite that he was. But you always ask the question, ‘If you talk about it, do more people know about it?’ ‘Is it worth it?’ etc.

My justification, if you will, is to say to you and all those who had a good time on Purim, take a look. Mel Gibson was an icon in this county. When this issue and debate began, Mel Gibson was the people’s choice. He was the most popular actor, producer, director, moneymaker in Hollywood. OK? And when we spoke up, people said, shocked, ‘He’s an icon.’ Well now look, several years later. In the interim, he did his film, he made his money and then he revealed himself for what he was. That’s the beauty of America. Where is he today? He’s still around; he’s no longer an icon. He’s no longer the most popular guy to run after. Where is he? He is where he needs to be. Because this country, the good people of this country did make consequences for him. It happens to politicians in this country; it happens to commercial enterprises. It’s not foolproof; its not 100 percent, and that’s what encourages me to stand up and speak out.

RE: When you see that anti-Semitism is up, around the world, when we thought anti-Semitism would end after the Holocaust and now it’s going on in Iran and in Europe, you have to wonder — is it just built into the civilization? Is it immortal in some ways?

AF: Hatred has been around since Cain and Abel. I’m not a philosopher; I’m not a sociologist. I don’t pretend to be. But they used to say, ‘Where there’s life, there’s bugs.’ When there’s life, there’s hate.

We’re into the age of DNA. The greater hope in our business is DNA, because if we can eventually map and find and isolate these DNA that makes people good, love, courageous, altruistic verses hate, greedy, jealous, etc., we may be able to change the universe.

RE: But the same technology could be reversed to take good people and inject them with hate.

AF: Absolutely. There’s always a risk in science. Take a look at the Internet. Great use for education and information, great use for bigots.

This interview has been condensed and edited

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.

Wall Street, Main Street, Jew Street


I like to believe that as a 21st century American Jew, I’m no more paranoid than necessary.

But if I hear one more politician extol the virtues of “small towns,” I am fixing up a hiding place in my attic.

If I hear one more pundit bash Wall Street and grow misty over Main Street, I will check airfares out of the country.

“We grow good people in small towns,” vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin said in her acceptance speech at the Republican convention. The crowd went wild with applause.

Sen. Barack Obama told a Florida audience last month, “[Sen. John McCain] wants to run health care like they’ve been running Wall Street. Well, senator, I know some folks on Main Street who aren’t going to think that’s such a good idea.”

First the presidential election and now the financial crisis have given rise to rhetorical nativism. It is open season on the big city. In their bid for those elusive independent, middle-class voters, McCain and Obama and their seconds, Sen. Joe Biden and Palin, are fanning the myth that the real America resides in some shining Mayberry on a hill. If only those nasty money changers and culture vultures in the seething cities below would just let them sow their wheat and do their books and raise their children up good.

These tropes are not new to America; they are older than Shylock. The Jews make up the city: corrupt, scheming, complicated; while the common folk, the good people, occupy the farms and villages. The Jews lord over the metropolises, making easy money off the hard labor of others.

There’s an overlooked and ultimately sympathetic 1934 movie, “The House of Rothschild,” which perfectly captures the previous centuries of anti-Semitic caricature.

The film opens in 1750 on Frankfort’s “Jew Street,” as Mayer Amschel, founder of the Rothschild line, scurries to hide his precious guilden from the cruel tax collector.

“They keep us in chains!” he tells his boys. “They won’t let us learn a trade! They won’t let us own land. So make money. Money is the only weapon the Jew has to defend himself with.”

This stereotype and its accompanying rhetoric only ramps up in times of economic crisis. During the Great Depression, anti-Semitism was most virulent not in the cities where Jews lived but in the Farm Belt and Far West, where the image of “the Jew” lived.

Now the Anti-Defamation League reports “a dramatic upsurge in the number of anti-Semitic statements being posted to Internet discussion boards devoted to finance and the economy.”

Scan those Web sites and you quickly see what the candidates themselves likely don’t even realize: For the bigots and haters, Wall Street is code, the city is code, Hollywood — a staple enemy in the culture wars — is code. They’re code for “Jew.”

We shouldn’t be surprised. After all, when Palin said, “We grow good people in small towns,” she was quoting the late Westbrook Pegler, a notorious anti-Semitic columnist who called Jews “geese,” because “they hiss when they talk, gulp down everything before them and foul everything in their wake.”

Our candidates and our talking heads should be ashamed or, at least, careful. Because not only are such black-and-white dichotomies dangerous, they’re dumb.

Wall Street is not solely to blame for what’s happened — Main Street was a willing and gluttonous partner. And people on Main Street kept voting into office leaders who spouted pure pablum about “government getting out of the way” and deregulation and took their eyes off the market chicanery.

Main Street and Wall Street are inextricably bound up and always have been. Credit is as important to the economy as corn.

“Why is it everyone always talks about protecting the family farmer?” Rep. Barney Frank once told me. “What about the family shoemaker? What about the family banker?”

And those stump-speech paeans to small towns? Please.

First of all, most Americans live in cities, suburbs and exurbs. Cities aren’t cruel, shapeless Gothams and Gommorahs, they are historic centers of creativity and capital, beacons of hope and opportunity. New York is the symbol of American achievement — the terrorists on Sept. 11 didn’t go after Wasilla or some Home Depot in Delaware. Los Angeles — if it can get its act together — is the city of the 21st century, where Hollywood shapes the world’s current imagination and future reality. Ingenuity, productivity and creativity gushes out from America’s cities.

Last Sunday, I attended a fundraiser for Friends of the Los Angeles River. They closed off the Sixth Street Bridge downtown and filled it with a buffet, dinner tables and a dance floor. Maybe 300 people showed up to support a waterway whose restoration will knit together all sorts of economically and ethnically diverse communities. I stood on the bridge watching the sun set behind the rail yards, behind the downtown skyscrapers and the distant hills, and I saw in that instant how Los Angeles is a great city made up of small towns: We call them neighborhoods.

I live in one of those small towns, and so do you. I like that Wall Street, when it works well, provides the wherewithal for my Main Street to grow and compete.

So I’m not going to pack my bags yet, but I sure know where I’d run to if need be. Because no matter how much they hate Wall Street and how much they fume over Hollywood, they always say they love Israel.

I guess that’s where the good Jews live.

Communities can use High Holy Days to help ease economic angst


With the start of the High Holy Days, the pace of communal life starts to change, and our focus is on reflection, reconciliation, repentance and the annual response to new beginnings.

For too many in our community, however, this season will hold more angst than joy.

The economic situation in our country presents us with challenges unseen for nearly a generation. Too many will sit in synagogues through this season and be equally concerned with their own economic situation as they will the state of their soul. Increasingly, senior citizens on fixed or limited incomes are seeing their resources challenged. Young adults are concerned about job security. Too many of our people of all ages have lost jobs, been downsized or live on the edge of job and financial uncertainty.

This reality presents our community with a unique and necessary opportunity to become an even more meaningful “caring community.” This is a time when no one should be left to feel that they are “l’vado” (alone). This is a time for community and relationships to be enhanced and expanded, so that our congregations can be seen as responsive to and involved with those who are hurting.

In every community are untapped human resources: people who may have some time to give, who have experienced life and, if asked, might be willing to assist leadership in developing support systems for individuals and families in need. At the least, a call can be made to members who have experience in the workplace, who have counseled people in job changes and career moves.

Establishing a congregational or communal service corps with members willing to give advice and direction — or just lend a sympathetic ear to those who might be searching for new directions — is one possible course of action.

During a similar economic downturn in the early 1980s, I worked in Philadelphia and was involved in helping congregations create a communitywide job bank. It had some success helping people in our community get back to work. We simply polled the members of the community’s congregations for possible job openings and advertised those openings throughout the area so members could see what was available from those within their own community.

This could be done again. Synagogues can join other local organizations, JCCs, Jewish Family Service and others to broaden the base of opportunities to search. Even in this day of electronic and Internet job searches, personal networking and relationships go a long way in opening doors.

A difficulty in some of this may be the unwillingness on the part of many to come forward. So often we face this challenge of having people admit they may need some assistance, guidance or help in establishing goals. Transitions are tough and filled with fear. But let us not forget the power of the pulpit. The simple act of the rabbi offering a sermon on the need for this type of caring “inreach” can help worshipers see their congregation as more than a life-cycle institution.

The High Holy Days are a perfect example of a moment in time when Jews attend synagogue. Why not take a few moments at each service to launch this internal support network? Why not have in each prayer book a form that someone can fill out who has a job opening or position request, or has a willingness to give time to counsel or advise a fellow congregant on career change and possibilities?

Use your caring community committee to organize these forms and launch, right after Yom Kippur, a Sukkot of Transition so that all can feel the possibility of a “sukkat shalom.”

We soon will enter our season of possibilities. In each of our communities there are those we need to support and those with the ability to create that sense of support and caring. All we need to do is ask.

Rabbi Richard F. Address is the director of Union for Reform Judaism’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns (www.urj.org/jfc).

Article courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

McCain and Obama campaigns focus on sanctions as Iran threat looms


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The mounting anxiety over Iran’s nuclear program is sparking campaign chatter over a possible Israeli strike and prompting a bipartisan effort to revive long-stalled sanctions legislation in the U.S. Congress.

Time is running out, say advocates of new congressional sanctions against Iran, with some wondering if a nuclear deadline for the Islamic Republic looms as early as next year. But an election or three — in the United States, Israel and Iran — seem to stand in the way of coordinated action, and conventional wisdom posits that a U.S. president who is perhaps the lamest duck in decades is hardly in a position to carry through with meaningful action.

Against this backdrop, attention has turned increasingly to the possibility of Israel launching a pre-emptive strike, with reports claiming that U.S. officials have told Jerusalem not to take such action. At the same time, however, both vice-presidential candidates have said in recent weeks that the United States should respect any Israeli decision on the matter and both campaigns were planning this week to discuss their Iran policies with Jewish communal leaders.

In the Congress, escalating concerns about Iran have prompted Democrats and Republicans to set aside sharp election-year differences to coordinate with Israel and the pro-Israel lobby to push through sanctions legislation before year’s end, including the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act sponsored by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

The measure would mandate the publication every six months of a list of companies invested in Iran’s energy and defense sectors in order to facilitate divestment from Iran by state pension funds. It also protects from lawsuits fund managers who divest from Iran.

Obama’s bill and the Iran Counterproliferation Act are under consideration for attachment to a defense authorization measure that must be passed this term.

The bills have been held up until now because of resistance from the Bush administration and congressional Republicans for myriad reasons: Some business interests have opposed the counterproliferation bill because it would close loopholes that have allowed American companies to continue working with Iran through foreign-owned subsidiaries.

Additionally, the Bush administration has aggressively opposed limitations on its executive prerogative in foreign policy. Pro-Israel insiders say that some Republicans have opposed the sanctions-enabling legislation because they don’t want to give Obama, the Democrats’ presidential nominee, a legislative victory in an election year.

But many of those differences have been set aside in recent weeks, pro-Israel insiders told JTA.

Dan Shapiro, an Obama foreign policy adviser and top Jewish outreach coordinator, confirmed to JTA that Obama’s bill, which would offer tort protections to pensions that divest from Iran, is likely to be part of the defense authorization measure that is set to pass.

“It has the support of several dozen senators,” Shapiro said.
He would not, however, count out resistance from the White House.

Earlier sanctions have had an impact: Businesses increasingly are reluctant to invest in Iran in part because of sanctions Bush has implemented on Iranian banks through executive order.

The perceived need for some kind of action has been exacerbated by the lame-duck status of Bush, who is exiting office as one of the least popular presidents in modern history, and Wednesday’s primaries in Israel. The Israeli vote is likely to be followed by weeks or months of political realignments ahead of new general elections.

In addition, Iran is set to hold presidential elections next June, raising hopes of ousting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose fiery rhetoric has fanned much of the anxiety about a nuclear Iran.

According to experts, the next president — whether it is Obama or U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — is likely to ramp up the pressure on Iran. But differences persist in how each man would go about increasing the pressure.

A bipartisan slate of five former secretaries of state — including Henry Kissinger, now a McCain adviser — met this week under CNN auspices and agreed that talks with Iran would likely be on the agenda next year, whoever is president. McCain repeatedly has criticized Obama’s willingness to talk with Iranian leaders and painted the Democratic candidate as dangerously naive on the matter.

Obama is considering how best to establish an international commitment to further isolate Iran; McCain is considering ways to encourage internal Iranian dissent toward regime change.

Both campaigns are making their case on Iran this week to segments of the Jewish community. On Wednesday, McCain’s senior advisers were to meet with Jewish backers in Arlington, Va., while Obama himself was to take part in a conference call with rabbinical leaders.

“This is an extremely important issue, an extremely serious issue, and an extremely urgent issue,” Tony Lake, Obama’s top national security adviser, said at an event organized by the Center for U.S. Global Engagement in Denver during the Democratic National Convention last month. “It could well lead to the worst crisis that we will see over the next five years because the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon will present a huge threat to the security of Israel, to others in the region, to the Europeans, including the Russians, and many others.”

Obama wants to see “progress between now and next January,” Lake said, but already is planning action “as soon as he takes office.”

Dennis Ross, the former top Middle East negotiator under Bush’s father and Bill Clinton, and now a senior Obama adviser, said the candidate’s preferred approach would be “serious sticks and serious carrots” — in that order.

“You’ve got to change the formula from weak sticks and weak carrots, which is not enough to concentrate the Iranian mind in terms of the negotiations and make them change behavior,” Ross told JTA.

An Obama administration would rally the international community to cut off refined petroleum exports to Iran, hitting almost half of its gas supply, and end investment in the Islamic Republic’s antiquated energy infrastructure.

The obstacles to such a strategy remain China and Russia, which maintain extensive business contacts in Iran. Ross described a strategy of first targeting China, which depends heavily on Iran for its oil supply. China, he noted, is even more dependent on Saudi oil, yet no serious effort has been made to recruit Saudi Arabia into leveraging the Chinese into isolating Iran, even though the Saudis have even more to fear from a nuclear Iran than Israel.

Ross said Obama also became interested, after touring Israel in July and meeting top security officials there, in targeting the five major re-insurers — the companies that underwrite insurance companies. A re-insurance boycott would go a substantial way toward crippling Iran’s energy sector.

The McCain campaign is similarly exercised about Iran, but is mapping a different approach focused on supporting internal political resistance to the regime.

“I think you’ll see John McCain, diplomatically, working very aggressively with countries throughout the Middle East who feel, and properly so, a threat from the rise of the Shi’a extremist regime, and try to get a larger condominium to address them,” said Richard Williamson, the Bush administration’s envoy to Sudan who also is advising the McCain campaign, earlier this month in Minneapolis.

McCain campaign officials did not return requests for interviews on the topic, but Williamson advocated a “soft” campaign of encouraging democratization within Iran as well as building up a regional front that would isolate the regime.

“There has to be a recognition that that regime has its own fissions, and divisions within it,” he said, before rattling them off: “The balance of power between the president, Ahmadinejad, and the supreme leader, constituencies, it has economic growth problems, it has an increasingly dissatisfied younger population and the majority of the country is under 30 years of age, and it has stresses with neighbors.”

Williamson added: “I think you’re going to see John McCain utilizing the instruments he has been involved in, all over the world, in over 90 countries, in trying to help civil society, endemic democratic institutions grow.”

Table for none?


It was to be the restaurant that would change kosher dining in Los Angeles.

In December 2006, the Prime Grill, a branch of the popular New York kosher steakhouse, opened its doors in Beverly Hills promising a new experience in kosher dining. “There’s never been a kosher restaurant like this in Southern California,” Samuel Franco, the restaurant’s director of operations, told The Journal at the time. “New York has always been ahead of L.A. in certain ways. With the Prime Grill’s opening, L.A. now catches up.”

But little more than a year after it opened, rumors spread that the luxurious restaurant on Rodeo Drive was about to close.

“There is absolutely no truth to this rumor,” general manager Mikael Choukroun said in January, noting that the restaurant was adjusting its menu to more moderate pricing.

But by February, the doors were closed and a message on the voicemail said, “The Prime Grill regrets to inform that due to rainwater damage from the recent storms, we will be temporarily closed.”

Numerous calls to the New York restaurant management (including owner Joey Allaham) have not been returned, and the Beverly Hills locale now appears closed for good, its phone line disconnected.

And the Prime Grill is not the only kosher restaurant that has closed in recent weeks. Mamash, an Asian fusion restaurant in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, also closed in March, after opening only last December. And Pico Boulevard’s 15-year staple, the Yemenite restaurant The Magic Carpet, has closed, as well.

Why are all these kosher restaurants closing? What does it take to make a successful kosher restaurant in Los Angeles?

Prime Grill’s problem, many say, was the prices. The owners seemed to recognize the problem and began offering lunch and happy hour specials toward the end of the restaurant’s short run. Others say it was the location — off the “strip” (Pico-Robertson).

But the Prime Grill’s downfall also might have been the image presented as its selling point: its outsider status.

“The bottom line is that owners have to be there — you can’t manage a kosher restaurant from New York,” said one successful kosher restaurant owner who asked that his name be withheld. “Restauranting is a passion — it’s not just a business.”

New York cannot be duplicated in any market — and that includes the kosher restaurant business, said Errol Fine, owner of Pat’s Restaurant, a high-end kosher venue on Pico that has outlived others for the last 15 years.

“The market is different here,” he said.

“I think it’s more common to go out to dinner in New York than it is in L.A.,” Fine said, because New York has 10 times the kosher population. “There’s a saturation point. Maybe there’s not enough population to support all these kosher restaurants that have sprung up — there’s only so much of a kosher pie that gets divided. People have to make their choices.”

Most agree that the kosher restaurant business in Los Angeles is not easy.

“It’s a really hard game — the community is a really hard community to satisfy,” said Warren Bregman, an architect and contractor who was one of the three partners at Mamash. “Overheads are the killer — that’s what killed Prime Grill, too.”

He said location wasn’t the problem — Mamash was situated on the south side of Pico Boulevard near Doheny Boulevard — but finances were. The restaurant practically closed before it opened, the partners having underestimated costs. And kosher restaurants cannot survive on the kosher clientele alone, Bregman said.

“If you’re going to do high-end you have to do more corporate involvement,” he said. They’d planned to attract the Fox Studios and Century City crowd in their more than 160-square-foot space.

Every restaurateur seems to have a unique economic plan to make it work. Mamash’s owners thought they would draw the corporate clientele; Prime Grill hoped for celebs like Paris Hilton and Larry King. The Magic Carpet’s Nili Goldstein believes it’s all about catering.

“A kosher restaurant has to establish a catering business,” she said, because it has to be closed on Friday evenings and Saturdays — the main profit days for non-kosher restaurants.

“You lose Friday and Saturday, you’re left with Sunday, and you take away Jewish holidays — it doesn’t leave much for the owner to survive,” she said.

When one of her three business partners died three years ago, she cut down on catering — which should ideally be 15 percent of the business.

“There are a lot of non-licensed people operating catering businesses,” she said — non-restaurant owners who provide food at shul and private events — cutting into restaurant profits.

But the poor economy, difficult parking situation and increased competition also made her eager to sell. With the Pico-Olympic parking proposal, which would limit evening parking and hurt businesses like Magic Carpet, Goldstein decided it was time to get out. She sold her business to an Indian restaurant.

Even as she did, Delice Bakery opened its own restaurant across the street. It was perfect timing.

Julian Bohbot had been trying to buy the lot next to his French bakery since he opened Delice in 2001. He finally secured a 40-year lease and opened the Delice Bistro in March. The French steakhouse is centered around a faux Eiffel Tower that disappears into a circular crevice painted to look like the sky, and the dim lighting and close seating — fitting 80-85 people — give the place a bustling but cozy feel. It’s haimish — warm; kind of like the two restaurants Bohbot ran in Paris.

Although it’s too soon to tell whether Delice Bistro will be a success, in the weeks before Passover the restaurant was full. Bohbot said he pays attention to the menu — and prices.

“I am the cheapest kosher restaurant in the U.S.,” he claimed, noting that his steak is priced at less than $30.

As U.S. dollar plummets, Israelis rediscover the shekel


As the U.S. dollar continues its spectacular nose dive — it has lost 20 percent of its value against the shekel in the past year — Israelis have rediscovered the bright greens, reds and purples of their own currency.

No longer the subject of derision or victim of hyperinflation, the shekel is now among the strongest currencies in the world. For the first time in years, businesses and real estate agencies that once dealt only in dollars are now instead setting their rates to the shekel.

Overall, the transition to a shekel economy is good news for Israel, said Jospeh Zeira, a professor of economics at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Zeira said it reflects a strong economy that is attracting investment from abroad.

“It means that we are less dollarized,” he said. “It shows the public has a lot of confidence in our currency.”

But the ever-plunging U.S. dollar is a mixed bag for Israelis.

While the strong shekel has meant more buying power for Israeli consumers, American immigrants with salaries or pensions in dollars have seen the value of their monthly checks shrink dramatically, Israel’s export industry stands to lose greatly and even the Israeli military is grappling with the reduced value of the U.S. aid dollars it receives.

Over the past two years, the dollar has dropped against the shekel by about 25 percent — 13 percent in the past six months. The shekel currently stands at 3.60 against the dollar.

An e-mail joke making the rounds in Israel shows a picture of the U.S. dollar with this subject line: “The new 3 shekel note.”

In Israel’s export industry, businessmen say the industry stands to lose $2 billion to $3 billion because of the plummeting dollar. Israel has a very small domestic market, and exports comprise nearly half of the country’s gross domestic product.

In an apparent effort to soften the effects of the falling dollar, the Bank of Israel increased interest rates by a significant half-percent last week.

American immigrants who retired to Israel and are living off their dollar savings and pensions are surprised to find themselves in unexpected financial circumstances. Some say they are curtailing their travel plans and avoiding restaurants.

Simmy Friedman and his wife, Dorothy, recent retirees from Florida, made aliyah in September 2006. They say they have not changed their spending habits but do feel the impact of the new situation.

“When we came the shekel was 4.34 [to the dollar], and that is what we predicated our living expenses on,” Friedman said. “We are extremely happy here and would not have changed our minds” about coming, “but it definitely impinges on our budget.”

Describing the process of converting his monthly Social Security check for a dwindling amount of money, he said, “It’s a serious, serious problem.”

High-tech companies that raise money and set their budgets in dollars also are feeling the crunch.

“Most of them are dollar-based companies — everything they do is abroad except for their research and development, which is done by a workforce here paid in shekels,” said Aaron Katsman, the managing director of Israelnewsletter.com, a financial newsletter that focuses on Israeli companies that trade in the United States. “Their expenses have risen dramatically because their labor costs have risen dramatically as they convert their funds to shekels.

“We see in their earnings reports and every quarter that people are complaining,” he said.

New start-up companies in particular are hurting because suddenly their projected costs are askew, Katsman said, making it difficult to plan for the future and raise money.

One recent American immigrant who kept his U.S. job in the high-tech industry when he moved to Israel said he is especially feeling the weakness of the dollar now that he is buying a home here. But the immigrant, who asked not to be named, said he is not looking to switch jobs just because of the dollar’s weakness.

“Israel-based jobs still don’t come close to the salaries of an American job at this point,” he said. “If they did, no immigrants would still be working in America.”

Shlomo Namdar-Kaufman, who owns and runs an industrial design firm in Tel Aviv, started charging clients in shekels for the first time about two months ago.

“People are going over to shekels because they see it’s more stable,” he said. “People are saying, ‘I pay salaries, taxes and materials in shekels. It’s time to stop speculating on the dollar.'”

Imported goods into Israel are now cheaper, and for the consumer that means savings, including cheaper big-ticket electronic items like TV sets and washing machines.

People whose rent has been linked to the dollar find themselves paying less rent every month. Landlords are responding by setting new leases in shekels.

Prices of apartments and houses for sale still are mostly set in dollars, but they have risen to match the fall in the dollar’s value.

High-ranking army officers have expressed concerns that the defense budget, and therefore Israel’s preparedness for war, might be harmed because of the dollar’s drop.

One senior officer told the Jerusalem Post the army could lose $500 million from its current budget because of the reduced value of the dollar combined with a rise of fuel prices. He said the army has delayed converting U.S. aid money into shekels because of the low rate of exchange.

Sever Plocker, writing in Israel’s daily Yediot Achronot, told Israelis to welcome the plummeting dollar instead of wringing their hands over what it all means.

“These fluctuations are a blessing. They liberate the Israeli public from its strange addiction to the dollar,” he wrote. “Our hair will turn white if we attempt to predict what will happen to the dollar tomorrow or two days from now. Forget about the dollar, Israelis. Stick to the shekel.”

Zeira, the economist, said this is the right response.

“My only advice is to move to the shekel,” he said. “It’s a better currency and it’s ours.”

Illuminating the Jewish chapters of the Los Angeles story


Los Angeles, to the first-time visitor, can seem something of an enigma. Its vast physical spread often spawns negative stereotypes of a city beset by traffic, smog and the absence of a core. And yet, set against this rather dark image, is Los Angeles’ status as a city of global significance, a massive economic and cultural engine whose ethnic mix reflects the way the United States will increasingly look in the 21st century.

It also is a place whose ethos of constant mobility resists the kind of rigid social stratification that many older European and American cities possess. Indeed, what makes Los Angeles such a source of constant appeal to new arrivals is the opportunity to refashion oneself on a constantly evolving, sun-drenched urban landscape.

The Jewish chapter in this story has hardly been a marginal one. As the second-largest Jewish community in North America, the Los Angeles Jewish community boasts a vast range of cultural, religious, ethnic and institutional diversity — evident to the casual observer of the neighborhoods known as Fairfax, Pico-Robertson, North Hollywood, Encino or the neighboring city of Calabasas. But, as important Jews have been a constant and powerful presence in the making and re-making of Los Angeles. The city has invariably made and remade them, as well, enabling Jews to gain prominence in Los Angeles’ economic, cultural and political life.

It is this dynamic relationship that stands at the heart of an ongoing research project undertaken by the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies and the Autry National Center here that will culminate in a major museum exhibition on the L.A. Jewish experience at the Autry in 2009.

To give a flavor of the way Jews have remade Los Angeles, we recall the role played by three pioneering personalities over the past century and a half of the city’s history. The earliest of the three was Harris Newmark, who came from Prussia to Los Angeles in 1853 as an ambitious 19-year-old in search of opportunity. Soon after his arrival, Newmark learned Spanish and English, the two languages of the city, in order to establish himself as a merchant and wholesaler. As he made his way to economic success, Newmark helped found the Hebrew Benevolent Society and Congregation B’nai B’rith (today Wilshire Boulevard Temple).

But characteristic of his era and of his fellow Jewish pioneers (who hardly counted a minyan in the 1850s), Newmark was not content to remain within the city’s small Jewish circles. He had a deep commitment to civic involvement and served as a founder and trustee of the Los Angeles Public Library, helped to bring the Southern Pacific Railroad to the county and eventually donated a portion of the property where the present City Hall stands. Newmark has particular value to the student of L.A.’s past, because he left behind a richly detailed memoir, “Sixty Years in Southern California , 1853-1913.”

Another Jewish pioneer from a somewhat later period was Rosalind Wiener (later Wyman). In 1953, Wiener was elected to the Los Angeles City Council, the first woman and the first Jew in 50 years to hold a seat on the Council. At 22 years old, she was also the youngest person ever to serve on the council.

Wiener’s election, together with that of her sometime ally Edward Roybal (the first Latino elected to council in nearly 70 years, in 1949), marked the beginning of an important shift in L.A. political life — an opening of the electoral process beyond the hegemony of white conservatives. It was this opening that laid the foundation for the alliance between African Americans and Jews in the 1960s — the vaunted Bradley Coalition — that altogether reshaped the political landscape of Los Angeles by electing Tom Bradley, an African American, as mayor. Rosalind Wiener Wyman’s election also marked the rise of a well-known phenomenon in today’s intersecting worlds of politics and fundraising — the “Westside,” a codeword for wealthy, liberal and often Jewish patrons of Democratic politics.

The third and final Jewish figure to be mentioned who has helped remake Los Angeles is Eli Broad. Born in New York but raised in Michigan, Broad made his substantial fortune in home-building and finance, two related fields with a very significant Jewish presence in Los Angeles. For the past decade, Broad has committed himself chiefly to philanthropy, supporting a wide array of artistic, cultural, and educational causes in town and beyond. But perhaps his boldest plan is his desire to remake downtown Los Angeles. Broad has invested heavily through his own money, his fundraising and his efforts to persuade others to help in transforming Grand Avenue and the area near Frank Gehry’s landmark Walt Disney Concert Hall into an area of bustling activity, marked by great architectural and cultural distinction. Indeed, he has spoken often of the goal of making Grand Avenue a kind of Champs Elysees of Los Angeles. Echoing the visions of both New York’s Robert Moses and Pittsburgh’s Andrew Carnegie, Broad has become the leading civic patron of Los Angeles today.

The three figures mentioned here, two transplants and a native daughter, share a vision of an civic commitment to a vibrant Los Angeles. Their extensive involvement in the making of Los Angeles attests less to their Jewish practices and beliefs than to their ability to play a pivotal role in expanding the city’s political, cultural and economic horizons. Without question, Los Angeles has risen as a result of the many diverse ethnic groups who make up its cultural fabric — including Latinos, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Russians, Persians and Armenians. And yet, it is impossible to conceive of this city without the Jews — the captains of industry, studio moguls, political activists, cultural creators and hundreds of thousands of others from all corners of the globe who have ceaselessly remade its image.

David N. Myers teaches Jewish history and directs the Center for Jewish Studies at UCLA. Karen S. Wilson is a doctoral student in U. S. history at UCLA.

R.E. Hard Crash? Soft Landing? Bursting Balloon? Leaking Balloon?


Mark Cohen thinks those doomsday scenarios about an impending Southland housing crash miss the mark. And the founder and president of Beverly Hills-based Cohen Financial Group has learned a thing or two about real estate over the last 20 years.

With an MBA from USC and a law degree from Loyola Law School, the 47-year-old mortgage broker helped secure nearly $1.1 billion in home loans last year, making him the No. 1 individual mortgage loan originator in the country, according to Mortgage Originator Magazine.

When not spending time with his three children and wife Laurie, Cohen has been involved in the local Jewish community.

A member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Real Estate and Construction Division, Cohen has also played an active role at Sinai Temple for more than two decades. He and his wife have long supported ATID (which translates as future in Hebrew), a Sinai program that trains future Jewish leaders. They also recently contributed funds toward the writing of a new Torah.

The Jewish Journal spoke to Cohen about the recent reversal in the local housing market.

Jewish Journal: Why has the housing market slowed in Southern California?

Mark Cohen: Southern California is a great place to live, which is why so many people want to live here. However, that also means the supply of apartments, houses and condos is limited. Over time, this supply-and-demand situation in housing has pushed prices up dramatically, pricing many people completely out of the market. Added to this are the interest-rate hikes by the Fed. Rates have increased by about 2 1/2 percent over the past few years, and that has made the cost of borrowing more expensive, closing the door on even more potential homeowners.

JJ: If the Fed raises interest rates to keep inflation in check, will that help or hurt the market?

MC: The jury is still out on whether or not the Fed will continue to raise rates. It all depends on whether or not they can keep inflation under control. If there are more rate increases in the near future, they will likely have a negative effect on the market in the short term. However, if the Fed is successful in keeping inflation in check, they can keep the door open for future rate cuts should there be a slowdown in the economy. Recent economic reports are showing that inflation has moderated for the time being, which means the Fed’s tightening cycle may be over. And that would have a positive impact on the real estate market.

JJ: What areas of the Southland are most at risk of having the bottom drop out? Why?

MC: It’s difficult to single out specific areas in Southern California that have the most risk. However, right now, San Diego seems to have an oversupply of new condominiums on the market due to all the speculation that occurred over the past few years. There’s also usually a deeper correction in areas where there has been excess in new construction. Palm Springs is an example of this. On the other side of the coin, the Westside, South Bay and San Fernando Valley will likely fare better during a slowdown because of the lack of new construction, limited supply of homes and desirability.

All in all, Southern California is a great place to live and historically, over time, real estate here has proven to be a great investment.

JJ: Do you anticipate a hard or soft landing locally?

MC: A soft lading will depend on several factors. First, the direction of interest rates will have a big impact, as will the strength of the local economy. As long as jobs are being created and the economy stays at its current growth levels, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll experience a hard landing.

Obviously, the actions by the Fed in the next few months will affect the local real estate market for the foreseeable future.

JJ: How long do you expect the market to remain soft?

MC: It really depends on the economy. If we have continued job creation and continued economic growth, the market will recover more quickly. Fewer jobs created and slower growth will mean a longer slowdown. The real driving force behind the real estate market isn’t interest rates; it’s the economy. That’s because even though fixed-interest rates have risen recently, they are still at manageable levels.

JJ: How is this housing market of today different from the boom-and-bust cycle of the late 1980s and early 1990s?

MC: This is a very different market from the one we saw in the late 1980s or early 1990s, primarily because the Southern California economy is now much more diverse. During that period, the economy here was based on the aerospace, defense and entertainment industries. Today our economy is much more diverse, with financial services, technology, biotechnology and other industries playing major roles on the region’s vitality. A more diverse economy means the chances of a hard economic landing are reduced, and this, in turn, helps to support the housing market.

JJ: What kind of industries might suffer in a soft housing market, and how could that impact the entire local economy?

MC: The real estate industry has a large effect on the Southern California economy, because there are so many people employed in it either directly or indirectly, including lenders, title companies, escrow agents, real estate sales agents, contractors, and developers, This means that a prolonged slowdown would hurt the folks employed in these industries and the overall local economy as well.

JJ: How much do you expect housing in Southern California to drop in the next year? What price ranges will be hit hardest?

MC: I don’t expect prices will fall more than 5 percent to 10 percent from the market highs of a couple years ago, with the hardest hit homes being those in the mid-level price range between $1 million to $3 million.

JJ: What advice would you give to someone who is considering buying or selling a home in Los Angeles?

MC: I’m a big proponent of home ownership. Don’t we all work hard so we can eventually own our own home? My advice is for people to feel comfortable living in a new home for at least five years so interest rates and real-estate-cycle influences are reduced. I don’t think we’re in a market that allows for short-term housing speculation, since the market is extremely volatile.

Jewish Journal September 1, 2006 43

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The Slop Sink


At the heart of the tenement kitchen was the slop sink, a metal basin maybe a foot shorter than a standard bathtub, but a few inches deeper. Here the woman of the house washed vegetables and clothes, and on occasion herself and her children. Before indoor plumbing, that water came from a pump outside. It was carried up in heavy buckets for five floors of dark stairs, heated, then put to a multitude of uses.

I stood looking at a slop sink while touring the Lower East Side Tenement Museum this week and thought: Well, there’s a perfect metaphor for the illegal-immigration debate.

That debate is about preserving the economic viability of our local governments. It’s about providing health and education for the poorest among us. It’s about bilingualism and it’s about terrorism — who knows who’s sneaking across our borders. It’s about keeping America “American” and about doing justice to our own immigrant past. It’s about the faceless muscle of the agriculture and construction industries — and it’s about the face of the men and women who make our food and mow our lawns and watch our children.

Like the slop sink, a lot of stuff gets dumped into the illegal immigration debate.

The issue has been played out in recent weeks in the halls of Congress, where a House immigration bill aims to make it harder for employers to hire illegal immigrants and more difficult for illegal immigrants to stay here.

Democrats, who tend to favor more liberal amnesty policies for those here illegally, are looking on gleefully as the Republican Party splits over this issue, with the more hardline wing clinging to a no-amnesty position even as it alienates Latino voters. How do you say schadenfreude in Spanish?

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan is worth a visit for several reasons, not least of which is the light the museum’s dark hallways can shed on one of today’s most contentious issues.

The museum itself is housed in a tenement originally built in 1865. Until its upper floor apartments were closed down by the landlord in 1935, 97 Orchard St. was home to some 7,000 people from more than 20 countries.

Visitors to the building see the apartments and hear the stories of two families, the Gumpertzes and the Baldizzis.

The Jewish Gumpertzes arrived around 1870 from Prussia. Their three-room, 350-square-foot flat lacked light, heat, running water, plumbing and gas. After her husband Julius mysteriously disappeared one October morning in 1874, Nathalie Gumpertz supported her four children as a seamstress. She heated the water for her slop sink on a coal stove in a room with no windows or ventilation. The only bathrooms were four wooden stalls down the stairs and outside. Nathalie’s youngest child, Isaac, died of dysentery.

The Catholic Balidizzis arrived just in time for the Depression. Thanks to public-health laws, their flat had ventilation, gas, running water and electric light — a palace compared to a generation earlier. But the family struggled to make ends meet, going on and off the public dole as Adolpho Baldizzi roamed Lower Manhattan with a toolbox, looking for work as a day laborer.

One lesson of the museum is how unromantic our immigrant past was. It was short, nasty and brutish — filled with the pain of leaving family and the familiar behind for a long shot at economic opportunity or freedom.

I’m one of those who fails to see how today’s illegal immigrants are that much different from the Gumpertzes and Baldizzis.

Well, the hardliners could respond, our people came here legally, with papers and a name on microfiche at Ellis Island to prove it.

But that’s only partially true. As Tamar Jacoby of the conservative Manhattan Institute has pointed out, Americans did little to control immigration until the mid-19th century. But beginning in 1840, anti-immigrant sentiment grew, often linked to anti-radicalism, anti-Catholicism, protectionism and, in many cases, such as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, bigotry.

Still, illegal immigration persisted. The Baldizzis came to America in 1923 in defiance of immigration quotas against so-called undesirable races, such as Sicilians like themselves.

And the Chinese population of New York nearly tripled in the decade following 1882 — and we all know what a drain the superlative children and grandchildren of those illegal Italian and Chinese immigrants have been.

None of this takes away from the serious social and economic problems illegal immigration now presents.

But as Jacoby has pointed out, we as a nation — conservatives like herself included — are better off focusing on assimilation. Business needs a flow of immigrant labor, immigrants need legal rights and protections and we all benefit when the Garcias — and others from points around the globe — have a way to move from the untouchable caste to citizenship, just as the Gumpertzes and Baldizzis did.

Yes — you knew I’d say this — we’re all in that slop sink together.

German Jews Praise Merkel


As Germany stands on the brink of a new political era — about to have its first woman and first former East German as chancellor — Jews are peering over the horizon with cautious optimism.

Seven years of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder turned out to be rather good for the Jews. But Angela Merkel isn’t exactly an unknown quantity either.

When it comes to relations with Israel and with Germany’s Jewish community, a Merkel administration isn’t likely to bring much change, observers say. And transatlantic relations, another issue of import to the Jewish community, are likely to improve.

In coming weeks, Merkel’s Christian Democrat Union and Schroeder’s party, the Social Democratic Union, will craft their coalition.

“There’s no ‘getting to know you,’ no breaking-in period needed,” Rabbi Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress and president of the Claims Conference, said of Merkel in a telephone interview. “We know her commitments.”

Merkel has “demonstrated considerable interest in a positive and dynamic relationship with the Jewish world,” Deidre Berger, head of the American Jewish Committee office in Berlin, who also has met frequently with the CDU leader, said in an e-mail interview.

Merkel was born in 1954 to a Lutheran pastor and a teacher. She studied physics and worked as a chemist before becoming involved in politics after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. She became a political protégé of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and has headed the CDU since 2000.

A proponent of economic and social reform, Merkel wants to make Germany more competitive by allowing longer workweeks and removing barriers to firing employees.

She is a strong advocate of transatlantic relations, and even supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq at a time when the view was most unpopular in Germany.

For German Jews, the top items on the domestic agenda are integration of Jews from the former Soviet Union, funding for cash-strapped Jewish communities, support for Jewish education and training of rabbis, security and efforts to combat anti-Semitism. Internationally, the issues are close ties with Israel and the United States.

Under Schroeder, Jewish communal life took a great leap forward with the signing of a historic contract in 2003 between the Central Council and the German government that placed the Jewish community on a legal par with the Protestant and Catholic churches.

“I look to Mrs. Merkel for at least as much understanding” as the past administration showed, Rabbi Singer said.

 

Netanyahu Resigns Over Gaza


Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation from the Israeli Cabinet may have come too late to scuttle Israel’s planned withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank, but it seems almost certain to change the face of Israeli politics.

Leaving the Finance Ministry just 10 days before the pullout is scheduled to begin, Netanyahu threw down a challenge to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and set in motion a process that could split the ruling Likud Party.

Most pundits are convinced that the move will not derail the Gaza pullout, but it could considerably strengthen the Israeli right in its opposition to further withdrawals from the West Bank.

On the economic front, Netanyahu was widely praised as finance minister for initiating tough policies that led the economy from near collapse to robust growth. But analysts say his resignation is unlikely to lead to any major policy changes or have a lasting economic impact.

As for Netanyahu’s political future, leading pundits see in the move a huge gamble that could vault him into prime minister — or consign him to the far-right margin of Israeli politics.

At a dramatic news conference Sunday, Netanyahu gave just one reason for his resignation: The withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank will be catastrophic for Israel’s security, he said. Gaza will become a base for Palestinian terrorism and its port will be a conduit for terrorist weapons, while giving away territory with no quid pro quo from the Palestinians will encourage more terrorism, he argued.

“I cannot be party to this,” Netanyahu declared.

His forceful presentation begged a question: Why, if the policy is so dangerous, hadn’t he resigned earlier, when it might have been possible to change things?

Netanyahu replied that he didn’t believe stepping down earlier would have made any difference and that he first wanted to push through his economic reforms.

Most pundits were skeptical. Some suggested that Netanyahu was finding it increasingly difficult to explain to his staunchly right-wing family his continued service in a government whose central policy effort he so strongly opposes.

Others had more political explanations: Netanyahu’s own polls, they said, showed right-wing rebel Uzi Landau winning about 12 to 15 percent of the vote in a Likud leadership race. Those are votes Netanyahu needs if he is to have any chance of unseating Sharon.

His resignation, this theory goes, allows Netanyahu to take over from Landau as leader of the far-right in the Likud and — with those votes added to his own natural, more moderate constituency — win the party leadership.

Hanan Krystal, a veteran Israel political analyst, said Netanyahu believes the withdrawal plan will collapse under a wave of Palestinian terrorism. That will strengthen his national standing by proving his analysis correct.

Netanyahu then has a two-stage plan to regain the premiership, according to Krystal. First, he says, Netanyahu will capture the Likud by appealing to the far-right, though he knows that’s not a base to win a national election. Once installed as party leader, Krystal predicts, Netanyahu will move back to the political center, recalling concessions he made to the Palestinians as prime minister in the late 1990s.

But Netanyahu already has had some setbacks. Other cabinet ministers critical of the withdrawal plan failed to join his defection. Moreover, the mainstream press and the public largely were critical of his move. A poll conducted by Yediot Achronot, an Israeli daily, indicated that 47 percent of the public thought Netanyahu was motivated not by ideology but by personal and political interests.

A poll in Ma’ariv, another Israeli paper, indicated that 47 percent of Israelis would prefer Sharon at the head of Likud, compared to only 28 percent for Netanyahu. Among Likud members, who will choose the party leader, Sharon was well ahead, by a margin of 51 percent to 34 percent.

Though Netanyahu’s move generally was welcomed on the far-right, some right-wingers dismissed it as too little too late.

Some pundits argue that the importance of Netanyahu’s resignation is not Gaza but the rest of the West Bank. With Netanyahu in power or leading the opposition, right-wing settlers are convinced they’ll have a much better chance of holding on to dozens of West Bank settlements that may be targeted for evacuation in any subsequent round of withdrawals.

As for the Israeli economy, it doesn’t look as if Netanyahu’s departure will change much.

“The Israeli economy is strong. It will not be hurt by Netanyahu’s resignation. But it would be badly hurt if the disengagement were cancelled or postponed,” the Yediot Achronot economic analyst Sever Plotzker wrote, because its contribution to Israel’s economic recovery “is much greater than all Netanyahu’s reforms put together.”

Sharon aides make clear that the prime minister has no intention of stepping aside for Netanyahu. The showdown within the party will come within the next few months.

If Sharon wins that contest, Netanyahu could lead a sizable faction out of Likud and join up with the far-right. If Netanyahu wins, Sharon could take Likud moderates with him into an electoral alliance with the Labor Party and Shinui.

Either way, it’s difficult to see how the Likud can remain unified with both men in it. A lot will depend on how the Gaza withdrawal plays out.

More than Netanyahu deciding the outcome of the withdrawal, the outcome of the withdrawal could decide Netanyahu’s political future.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

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Israel Has Rx for U.S. Health Care


Israel and the United States each have successes and failures in their respective health care systems, but the younger of the modern nations, rooted in its tradition of helping the needy, has much to teach its American ally. When it comes to some of the most important issues facing the American health care system today — universal health care, administrative costs and establishing a national health basket of services — America can look to Israel.

Until 1995, health insurance in Israel was voluntary, although 99 percent of the Jewish population and 97 percent of the Arab population were covered by four HMOs, the first of which was established at the end of 1911. This was a system wherein the insured members paid the HMO, and the employer made a compulsory payment to the National Insurance Institute.

Today in Israel, everyone is covered by health insurance. In 1994, the Israeli parliament passed a groundbreaking health insurance bill that made every Israeli resident automatically insured, no matter their age, financial status or religion. In the United States today, more than 43 million people, including 12 million children, are uninsured.

Israel’s universal health care is characterized by its "national health care basket," which defines the range of services to which every resident is equally entitled. Residents can petition a labor court if they believe an HMO has ignored their rights to a medical service.

Universal access to Israel’s national health care basket means that there is no underinsurance in Israel, which happens when there are gaps in coverage. In the United States, more than 100 million citizens are underinsured — including 40 million with Medicare, 50 million with Medicaid and at least 10 million who are employed in large companies that have self-insurance.

The main health care delivery system for all Israelis is through primary and secondary clinics. These clinics, which are present throughout the country, provide easy and efficient access to care.

The clinics that belong to the HMOs enable quick access to primary medical care and also easy referral to specialists without waiting lists. There is continuity of care, while there is now a tremendous effort to computerize all the medical data.

Ninety-five percent of general care hospitals in Israel are public. There is no wait for diagnostic examinations such as MRI and CT or for procedures such as open-heart surgery. Payment for hospitalization is the responsibility of the HMO, and there is no deductible or co-insurance payment required of the patient.

There is a $3 co-payment for each prescription on the approved drug list covering acute and chronic diseases.

High unemployment and the Israeli economic recession make it difficult for about 10 percent of the population to pay even this, even though there is a $50 biannual co-payment cap.

Caring for the elderly is a core social policy and an integral part of health care in Israel. While in the United States geriatric care is handled by Medicare, in Israel it is part of the health basket and is the responsibility of the HMOs.

Only hospitalization in nursing homes is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health for those who cannot afford to pay for private insurance or from their own means. Geriatric care, being an integral part of health care in Israel, is of high quality.

I do hope that one of the Israeli government’s priorities in an improved economic situation will be to reflect the nation’s social values by exempting the poorest 5-10 percent of the population from drug co-payments.

Israel’s health indicators for longevity and infant mortality are better than those of the United States. This aspect is not unique to Israel, but many Western countries are better in the various indicators of health than the United States. Yet while Israel spends 8.8 percent of its Gross National Product on caring for the elderly, the United States spends 15 percent of its GNP.

In international comparisons of health care systems, Israel ranks among the top 20 in the world. But, even with its favorable standing, Israel faces many challenges, such as the financial limitations of introducing new technologies and prescription drugs to the health basket and the high taxes Israelis pay. Also of concern are high out-of-pocket expenses for cost sharing and for health care services that are covered only by complementary insurance.

Israel’s health care system, while based on the core value of access for all, is still evolving. The establishment of a "health parliament," a private initiative endorsed by the government, enabled input from ordinary Israelis to help set priorities for the future, including the challenges of limited resources and the growing gap between rich and poor.

Obviously, Israel and the United States differ vastly in size, making full comparisons limited. But with the exception of four large states, Israel is similar in size to most U.S. states. The American health system can be improved only if states take responsibility for health care, or, in the case of the four largest states, if there is regional responsibility within the state.

In 2003, the United States spent at least 30 percent of its national health expenditures on administration, while Israel spent less than 10 percent. The United States could have saved at least $280 billion of the $400 billion spent in administrative expenditures in 2003 to cover the uninsured and to close the gap of the underinsured, strengthening the democratic principles it holds dear.


Professor Mordechai Shani is the director general of Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, Israel’s largest hospital. He served twice as director general of the Ministry of Health, including 1994, when the Insurance Bill and the Patients Bill of Rights were passed by the Knesset.

Vote Yes on 57, 58: They Will Ease Crisis


It certainly is an unusual situation, but we Republicans are encouraging you to vote to increase the debt of the state of California, and we are doing it with a straight face.

As you know, Proposition 57 is asking Californians to commit to a bond issue of $15 billion. This commitment will allow our state budget to be stabilized, so that we can begin the process of moving forward.

If you study the state budgets over the last few years as I have, you would see that we have had a deficit at the end of each year that keeps getting larger each and every year. Even when revenues were perceived to be at a peak, we were outspending those revenues. The state budget began each year in the hole that just got deeper as the months went by.

Now we have a twofold problem. We must deal with the backlog created from prior years and try to balance this year’s budget, where expenses still are outstripping revenues. Proposition 57 will allow us to focus on eliminating the current budget imbalance without the draconian past debt facing us.

As it is, we will face serious cuts in our state budget. The growth in expenditures will have to be eliminated and actual cuts in important programs will have to be made.

As much as some of us would like to effect the cuts now that are necessary to erase this debt, we have come to the conclusion that it would significantly harm our state’s economy. This would stifle the immediate economic growth we need to reach budget equilibrium.

This new debt is not going away. That is understood. We are going to have to pay it back over the next decade. It will be in a fashion that will allow our legislators to craft a budget that will not start wallowed in debt before the opening discussions begin. By our good fortune, this debt will be financed at today’s very low interest rates.

The question then becomes how do we prevent this disastrous situation from re-occurring. We must pass the companion proposition — No. 58. It specifically makes it illegal to create any future bonds to finance a budget deficit again. It requires the Legislature to balance the budget.

Proposition 58, in addition to requiring a balanced budget each year, establishes that there must be a budget reserve in case projected revenues fall short. This is an important part of the measure.

A year in advance, some very smart people sit down and project what the revenues are going to be for the next 12 months for the world’s sixth largest economy. As smart as they are, it is a Herculean task, where it is easy to be off a billion dollars or more. This reserve will recognize that projections are only projections, and we should provide a cushion for dealing with the inevitable changes.

These new budget requirements can only be deviated from when there is a fiscal emergency upon which both the governor and Legislature agree. Some would say that a balanced budget should be locked in stone.

Those feelings are certainly justified after the dismal performance of the last few years. Once we divorce ourselves from those feelings and look at the budgeting process on a long-term basis, it becomes easier to see that this is a necessary clause that allows our elected officials to act responsibly, when a true disaster happens. If, God forbid, another earthquake occurs matching the damage caused by the Northridge quake, we would all want our leaders in Sacramento to do what is necessary to return our lives to normal.

These are the reasons why a broad spectrum of the political and financial universe is supporting both Proposition 57 and 58. It is a reasoned plan of action.

There may be alternative plans that seem good, but this one is worked out and ready to go. Let’s give it a chance and make judgment about its success after we see the full effects.

There are many important votes to cast on March 2, but none is more important for the future stability of our state than to vote yes on Proposition 57 and 58.


Bruce L. Bialosky is the Southern California chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Israel’s Poor Endure Tough Situation


Crumbs tumble down Yigal Alperson’s white beard as he eats his one guaranteed meal of the day at a crowded Jerusalem soup kitchen.

Tables spill over with immigrants, the elderly and single mothers, the predominant faces of Israel’s poor as the country’s economy is battered seemingly from every direction.

Three years of Palestinian violence have scared away investors, a worldwide economic downturn has devastated Israel’s once-thriving high-tech industry, factories are closing because of foreign competition and government cutbacks in welfare and social spending in response to a $6 billion deficit have taken their toll.

"My situation is difficult. We don’t have anything to eat," said Alperson, 66, an unemployed statistician, who supports his wife and five children on the $888 he receives each month from Israel’s national insurance system.

"This is security, you know," he said pointing to a plate piled high with steaming pasta, chicken cutlets and green beans at Meir Panim, a soup kitchen designed to look like a restaurant. "At least you know you’ll be eating today."

Israel’s unemployment rate is near 11 percent, almost 18 percent of families are living in poverty and the number of poverty-stricken children is on the rise. Israel now has one of the highest poverty rates in the developed world, according to 2002 statistics released recently by the National Insurance Institute.

A study of some 150,000 households, released this month by the JDC-Brookdale Institute, found that 8 percent were having severe difficulty buying enough food.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement last week that Israel’s recession was over sparked a storm of protest. Netanyahu swiftly backtracked from his remarks, saying instead that there were signs of economic recovery.

Exports are up and that’s a good sign, said Karnit Flug, who heads the Bank of Israel’s research department. The stock market also has risen in recent months. But it’s still too early to tell if Israel is headed toward better economic times anytime soon, Flug said.

There is a lot of uncertainty about the "security issue and prospects for improvement of the geopolitical situation," Flug said. "The ability of Israel to utilize its potential growth will depend on improvement in these areas."

The government has argued that the economy’s problems stem not only from the intifada but from more inherent problems in the structure of Israeli industry. To address these problems, Israel is trying to privatize many state-owned companies to boost competitiveness.

It has begun aggressively deporting foreign workers, whom government officials say take jobs away from Israelis and bring down wages for unskilled labor. The 1990s saw a dramatic increase in foreign workers in Israel. With 200,000 foreign workers, the Jewish State has one of the highest rates of foreign laborers in the world, experts say. Whether or not Israelis are interested in taking these unskilled jobs is unknown.

Another government project, reducing welfare support payments for the poor, is expected to increase poverty rates, the JDC-Brookdale study found. By setting a time limit for unemployment benefits, for example, the government hopes to encourage people to go back to work. But in Israel’s present economy, finding work is increasingly difficult.

The reforms "in the short term create a lot more poverty," said Jack Habib, a social economist who directs the JDC-Brookdale Institute. "More people are in need, but all the services they need are being cut back."

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein is the president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which funds soup kitchens across the country, as well as a network of warehouses where the needy can receive free furniture and other household goods. The government is embarrassed by how its stringent new fiscal policies are affecting the country, Eckstein claims.

Such policies "have changed the face of Israel. Now the question is how to portray the public image of Israel," Eckstein said. "No one wants to portray it as a third-world nation, but to portray it as an idyllic place where everything is hunky-dory is morally and practically wrong."

The government is defending its policies, taking out ads in the national press saying the reforms are the only way to help the economy. Netanyahu says the cuts are necessary if Israel wants to have a modern economy. Critics say other solutions — such as raising taxes and investing massively in infrastructure — could ignite growth and, in turn, boost tax revenue.

According to recent surveys, however, most Israelis think the economy is suffering because of the intifada and won’t improve until the diplomatic impasse is resolved.

It’s not only unskilled workers who are having trouble finding work. As the economy slides, the highly educated also feel the pinch.

Leah Rizel, 34, has a master’s degree in human genetics and has worked for several years in genetics labs. For the past five months, however, she has been unable to find work. At this point, she said, "I’ll do anything for a job, because I have bills to pay and a child to raise."

It can be overwhelming "to see the amount of educated people, people with degrees, at the unemployment office," she said. "Getting an education these days does not mean you are going to get a job."

On Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda Street, the city’s once-bustling pedestrian shopping mall, the situation is grim. Repeated terror attacks have kept both tourists and locals away. Shop owners say they barely clear $220 a week.

"Zero. There is nothing," snapped Yosef Zakai, owner of a Judaica shop. "Except for someone calling from the United States for a Star of David, there is nothing. There is no work."

A few doors down, a man named Yosef said he wasn’t sure how much longer he could afford to run the women’s clothing store his parents opened in 1949. "This is the hardest period ever for the store," he said.

Across from his shop, he pointed out names etched on a memorial plaque — eight victims of a 2001 suicide bombing.

"Here one died," he said, pointing at a corner of stone pavement. "Here another, here another."

Yosef’s voice trailed off, and he headed back to his store — where, atypically, a customer was waiting.

Return to Founding Ideals Poses Challenge


The major overall challenge we face today is that of returning to the ideals of a democratic, pluralistic Jewish State that found their expression in the noble words of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

What its authors envisaged was a state in which all citizens would enjoy equality of status and of rights, irrespective of race, religion or sex.

Unfortunately, not only has this idyllic condition not yet been attained, but it seems to be even further from reality, as economic and social gaps widen, hostility between different ethnic groups increases and new fissures appear, for example, between native Israelis and foreign workers, Jewish citizens and non-Jewish immigrants, the haves and the have-nots.

The need to educate all Israeli citizens and residents in the basic principles of democracy and pluralism, in the Jewish tradition of "love your neighbor as yourself," is paramount. The challenge is to find appropriate means of inculcating these principles.

Development of formal and informal frameworks, as well as development of a cadre of leaders who will, both by precept and example, help to put good intentions into effect — these are vital to our future.

Given the current dismal state of our economy, another challenge is how to restore the ideal of "Avodah Ivrit," Jewish labor, which used to be the pride of the yishuv, Israel’s prestate society.

This means structural change in the economy — decent wages and working conditions for all, development of public projects that will provide employment (as the WPA did in the United States in the 1930s), good vocational training and retraining — and a greater degree of social justice in determining the salary levels of senior executives and government employees in the public sector.

Economic prosperity will not be restored until we make significant cuts in expenditures on military equipment, on settlements across the Green Line and on the construction of the bypass roads and tunnels that serve the settler population and increasingly deface what is left of Israel’s "green and pleasant land." In other words, the peace process must be jump-started again, based on a readiness to make major sacrifices.

And apropos the land, we have to relate urgently and seriously to the increased pollution of our soil, our water and our air.

There is much to do. The time is short. We have to band together to ensure that the next 55 years see progress, rather than continued regression.

We need honest, dedicated, selfless leadership — and we need far more women in positions of decision-making and the determination of policy. We need an end to male domination based on military prowess.

As for the Jewishness of the Jewish State: We need equal status and rights for all streams of Judaism and an increase in Jewish education, even for those who are not religiously observant.

Those are the challenges. Now to work!


Alice Shalvi, a feminist activist and educator, was born in Germany in 1926 and educated in England from 1934 to 1949. She has lived and worked in Jerusalem ever since.

Made in Israel


On a typically bustling weekday morning at Elat Market onPico Boulevard, regular shopper Boris Sinofsky was at the fish counter,ordering several pounds of tilapia. He had seen a pamphlet for Fine Foods FromIsrael — a campaign to support Israel through the purchase of its goods — buthe didn’t pay it much mind.

“I shop at Elat, Kosher Club, Koltov all the time. I alreadybuy a lot of Israeli products.”

Over by the meat counter, Gila Mehraban had not even heardof the campaign.

“I usually buy kosher products,” Mehraban said. “But I getall kinds of brands.”

Nobody she knows, she added, is consciously buying Israeliproducts to support the Jewish State.

Fine Foods From Israel — a citywide awareness campaignrunning March 19-31 — hopes to change Jewish consumer patterns. The marketingcampaign was launched earlier this month in a collaboration by the SouthernCalifornia Israel Chamber of Commerce, The Jewish Federation of Greater LosAngeles, the Government of Israel Economic Mission and the Israel Export andInternational Cooperation Institute. More than 60,000 pamphlets weredistributed throughout Los Angeles, listing participation of 90 markets,including 56 Ralphs supermarkets and independent outlets such as Elite Marketand Sami Makolet.  The campaign’s goal: to coax customers to buy products fromIsraeli companies such as Adin Ltd., Segal Wines and Wissotzky Tea.

Fine Foods is one of many ways American Jewish communitieshave been rallying support through Israel, using financial and educationalprograms. But unlike victims of terror funds such as The Jewish Federation’sJews in Crisis, Fine Foods’ objective is not to raise proceeds for specificcharities, but to boost revenue of Israeli companies and, by extension,Israel’s economy. Israel — which has experienced a steady economic downturnsince the second Intifada began in September 2000 — ships about $38 billion intotal exports, an estimated $1 billion of that food-related. Israel exports toNorth America decreased from $76 million in 2001 to $70 million in 2002.

Fine Foods is one of many recent “buy Israel” efforts.Another food-related initiative involves Osem USA  — the American branch of Israel’s largest food manufacturer — which has partnered with Jewish NationalFund (JNF) to launch the Passover campaign Matzah With a Mitzvah. For everyfive boxes of Osem products purchased, Osem will make a donation to JNF toplant a tree in Israel. Osem will also promote facts on its packaging aboutJNF, the century-old organization that has developed more than 250,000 acres ofIsraeli land. Major supermarket chains nationwide — including Ralphs andAlbertsons — are endorsing this endeavor.

“This is a great way to support Israel,” Osem’s PresidentIzzet Ozdogan said. “With one purchase, you are helping Israel’s economy,fulfilling the obligations of Passover and planting trees in Israel — threemitzvot for the price of one.”

“Buy Israel” programs are also transcending the foodindustry. American Jewish Committee devoted part of its Web site to a “Made inIsrael” section that identifies Israeli cosmetics and clothing brands, andincludes links to other “buy Israel” Web sites, such as ShopBenYehuda.com andUSAIsrael.org.

Consumers have also been supporting Israel in the homeimprovement arena, where Israeli companies have a prominent local presence.Doorset Closet Mobel, manufacturer of custom closet and storage systems, openeda Beverly Hills showroom in 2001, while Caesarstone — pioneers of quartzsurfaces — has based U.S. operations in Sun Valley. Meanwhile, Bradco Kitchens& Baths has become the exclusive U.S. distributor of Israeli companiesTopaz Kitchens and Harsa Sink.

Doron Abrahami, consul for economic affairs at the SouthernCalifornia Israel Chamber of Commerce, believes that word is slowly gettingout. He was encouraged by the 160 people who attended a Fine Foods “food expo,”held March 24 in Beverly Hills. The networking party attracted store owners,distributors and buyers for Ralphs, Albertsons and Trader Joe’s.

“It’s too early,” Abrahami said, “but from the feedback thatwe’re getting, we’re considering holding this campaign again next year.”

Midway through this attempt to boost the quotient of Israeligoods, the Fine Foods campaign’s effectiveness is difficult to separate from anoverall, pre-Passover trend. Participating retailers endorse the marketingendeavor, but report conflicting feedback on its effectiveness. David Eskenazi,manager of Kosher Club in Los Angeles, noticed a small spike in the shape of afew phone calls.

“Overall there’s been a general increase in the purchase ofIsraeli goods even before the campaign,” said Eskenazi, who added that,conversely, “there’s been a drop in the sales of all of our French products.”

As a result of demand, Kosher Club will carry four moreIsrael-imported wine brands this Passover.

“Consumers are making a choice to support Israel, and we’remaking an effort to purchase these products,” Eskenazi said.

Noori Zbida has seen a bump in interest since the campaignbegan at his Fairfax Avenue store, Picanty.

“People want to choose more Israeli products than before,”Zbida said.

Tzvi Guttman of Mr. Kosher in Encino, felt otherwise.

“I sell the same amount around the year,” said Guttman, who”didn’t feel a difference.”

Abrahami cautioned against looking for instantaneous resultsfrom this inaugural Fine Foods.

“It might take a year to measure this campaign,” he said.”It’s a big community. I think there’s a big potential.”

Chamber of Commerce executive committee member BennettZimmerman agreed.

“If we could reach 100,000 people in California with ourcampaign,” he said, “that’s $100 million worth of goods. If we can replicatethis across the country, that’s a very significant impact on Israel’s economy.”

For more information on the Fine Foods from Israel campaign, call (323) 658-7924; visit www.finefoodsisrael.com. For more information on Jewish National Fund, call (800) 542-8733; visit www.jnf.org. For more information on American Jewish Committee’s Made in Israel program, visit www.ajc.org.

Argentina


To visit Argentina today is to see with your own eyes the tragedy these people are facing.

Imagine living in a country where you experience the following:

You have worked hard for years, and every month you add to your savings in a dollar account held at a major international bank (i.e. Citibank or equal). You placed your savings in this dollar account to be safe from currency fluctuations that are so frequent in South American countries. One day, you get a letter from your bank saying that your account has been changed from a dollar account to a peso account — transferred without your permission. You are outraged because you understand that last year the peso was equal to the dollar i.e. one peso equaling $1, yet today, it takes nearly four pesos to equal $1, thus your lifetime savings account has taken a huge hit. Later, another letter arrives that says you can only withdraw a limited amount per month from this peso account.

You appeal to the bank and hear, "Sorry, but this is government policy." You go to the politicians and hear, "Sorry, economic conditions demanded this action." There is such political turmoil that their congress didn’t meet for five straight weeks due to lack of a quorum and four presidents resigned within two weeks. You go to the courts with your dollar agreement in hand and get a total runaround. The net effect is countrywide anger.

Many banks in Buenos Aires have their first two-floor exteriors covered with plywood to ward off flying bricks and other evidence of the seething public rage. The Argentine government owes $135 billion to the IMF and the world bank, with little chance of ever repaying this staggering amount. In addition, over the past 45 years, 15 of the 19 agreements with the IMF have been broken, and thus, Argentina has zero credibility for further borrowings.

The net effect of this economic and political chaos has been the destruction of the middle-class. The official unemployment rate is 21 percent, but the unofficial estimate is 35 percent. Of the 200,000 Jews in the country, 80 percent are small businessmen or professionals and their lives have been devastated. An estimated 40,000 Jews are living below the poverty line and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is serving more than 30,000. The JDC reported that last year 1,000 Jews left for Israel, and this year the number is approaching 6,000, with three times that number seeking refuge wherever in the world they gain admittance.

Heart-wrenching stories are heard everywhere. Rosa and Bernardo are in their 60s, came originally from Eastern Europe and have lived in Buenos Aires for 30 years. Bernardo has a heart problem, cannot walk and requires Rosa’s full-time attention. They were evicted from their residence, unable to pay their rent. JDC pays their rooming-house rent and Rosa comes to the JDC soup kitchen every day and takes the lunch, offered by JDC, to her husband. Bernardo is too ill to emigrate, so they just exist — day by day.

Enrique is a lawyer who came to Buenos Aires in 1940. His wife recently died and his youngest child has Down syndrome and can’t walk. The economic crisis in the past two years forced him to layoff all his employees and he ultimately had to close his practice. He still has to support his youngest daughter, and his friends do what they can to help him with expenses. He has been coming to the soup kitchen for a regular hot lunch paid by JDC, but he refused to have his picture taken — feeling so ashamed of his situation.

Melina Fiszerman is fortunate. She has a secure, responsible position with the JDC in Buenos Aires and is getting an advanced degree in economics. Yet, Melina, 25, is also threatened by the personal and political anguish surrounding her. Argentina is a dangerous place and she lives with the risks of random kidnappings on major streets and frequent, violent civil unrest. When we visited her in November, I asked her why she stays in Argentina.

She responded, "This is my country and my people. I love this country. Buenos Aires is a beautiful city, and this is my home. I am optimistic about the future."

How can Melina be optimistic surrounded by such chaos? She is young, which helps. But much more than her youth is her knowledge and belief in the historic ability of Jews to survive. As American Jews living in our blessed country, it is our privilege and responsibility to help people like Melina and those thousands of Jews in Argentina who are living such painful, difficult lives. We cannot change the politics or economics of Argentina. But we can help by sending our dollars for Argentine relief.


Richard S. Gunther is on the board of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Budget Danger Ahead


In Jewish communal boardrooms in New York and Washington, all eyes are focused on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the tricky matter of U.S.-Israeli relations in a changing era.

But in communities around the country, many Jewish leaders have another big worry: the impending federal budget train wreck, and a state and local ripple effect that could produce real pain for needy Americans — including many Jews.

Congress and the administration are not eager to call attention to the mounting crisis, especially not in a critical election year. But the numbers won’t get any better for being ignored; indeed, putting off the day of budgetary reckoning may make the eventual crunch that much worse.

And that has huge implications for almost every item on the Jewish communal agenda. Government bookkeepers are working hard to paper over the crisis; Enron’s accountants could learn a thing or two from the administration’s budget director and congressional appropriators.

Still, it’s getting harder to ignore facts that are coming together to create an economic critical mass.

Government revenues have been down for several years, thanks in large part to the recession, producing a return to big budget deficits. Even if the economic recovery gathers steam, the problem will continue, thanks to the huge, backloaded tax cuts demanded by the Bush administration and endorsed by Congress, with support from a significant number of Democrats.

The recent sharp declines in the stock market and the literal evaporation of trillions of dollars of wealth will add new pressure on the revenue side of the equation. At the same time, spending needs are soaring.

The ongoing war in Afghanistan carries a hefty price tag, but that’s nothing compared to the projected costs of an assault on Iraq. The Pentagon is already working on the necessary buildup, and their bookkeepers’ eyes are spinning in their sockets.

The cost of homeland security is going up by the day, and a nation that suddenly understands its vulnerability to 21st century fanatics won’t complain about the cost.

At the same time, the demand for government services is growing as layoffs spread. More people out of work means more demand for a wide range of services.

And there’s the 800-pound gorilla of the baby boomer retirement crisis looming just over the horizon, but already filling budget planners with dread.

Long-term economic predictions are risky, and they are riskier in this new age of market volatility. A very strong economic recovery could quickly diminish the impact of these problems.

But few economists say that’s likely to happen, and many predict things could get worse before they get better.

The next Congress will have no choice but to start facing up to the budgetary carnage it helped create, and ledgers that went from big surpluses to big deficits in only two years.

Pressure on what’s left of the budget after defense spending, entitlement programs and debt service will be fearsome, producing a mad scramble among lobbyists for different groups to preserve as much funding as possible for their clients.

The crunch means that new spending programs are unlikely. Many Jewish groups would like expanded child-care services to ease the pain of families who have lost welfare benefits, or expanded drug benefits for the elderly or more money for immigrant and refugee services. But with the budget in shambles, extra spending is not on the agenda.

The crunch will have a ripple effect. Already, dozens of states are facing their own budget shortfalls; the return of red ink in Washington means the federal government will not be able to ease the burden.

So local Jewish groups that get both federal and state money to provide services could face a double whammy or potentially a triple whammy. If the recent plunge in the stock market isn’t quickly reversed, many Jews will find themselves with less money to contribute to the charitable organizations that will be called on to pick up the slack when government funding declines.

The accelerating budget crisis will also heighten the debate over faith based services. The Bush administration, with strong support in the Republican House, wants to shift the burden of providing important services to charitable and religious groups, a move liberal Jewish groups and church-state watchdogs oppose.

The accelerating effort to slash government funding will add to the pressure for such programs.

Aid to Israel is unlikely to be in jeopardy in the short term, but a long-term budget catastrophe will inevitably generate strong pressure on the entire aid program.

Pro-Israel leaders, worried about the huge proportion of the aid program that goes to Israel, have fought successfully for a bigger foreign aid pie in the past few years; the impending budget crisis could reverse that trend.

But it’s the domestic impact of the impending budget emergency that scares Jewish groups — the impact on needy people, including many in our own community. That, as much as the fight to protect Israel, will define Jewish activism for the next few years.

Indirect Victims


An alarming number of at-risk children are among the Jewish victims of Argentina’s economic collapse.

Even in the most stable families, children have been hit by the fallout from the collapse. For unstable parents, desperate conditions like those in crisis-ridden Argentina only make matters worse — and often it is their children who pay the price.

What money still comes in may go to feed the parents’ vices, rather than their children. That deprivation, along with the social stress of an economic crisis, is leading to a rise in child abuse, according to social service workers in the Jewish community.

With community resources already overstretched, at-risk Jewish children face abuse and neglect from their parents on the one hand and the prospect of being turned over to the state’s Catholic institutions on the other.

That was the message spelled out by Buenos Aires’ municipal justice authority in a letter to Ieladeinu (Hebrew for “Our Children”), an Argentine Jewish organization dedicated to rebuilding dysfunctional families.

The letter urged the organization to increase its capacity because of a marked rise in the number of Jewish children in distress.

In dire straits from Argentina’s economic meltdown, however, Ieladeinu hasn’t even been able to pay staff salaries since November.

“In Argentina, we are living like in a war,” Ieladeinu Director Karina Pincever said.

The “floor is moving,” she said, seeking an analogy to express the instability in the country.

Children are an easy target for frustrated parents.

“The kid is the first thing that they have in front of [them],” Pincever said.

Ieladeinu opened three years ago when Pincever learned of a Jewish boy in one of the state institutions, which she described as deplorable places where older children often sexually abuse younger ones.

Stoned by the other children for being Jewish, the boy was rescued by Pincever and, eventually, reunited with his family.

The experience showed Pincever how sorely children’s services were lacking in the Jewish community.

Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), the main social service institution in the community, has been providing social workers to families since 1994, when the AMIA building was destroyed in a terrorist bombing.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) began offering volunteer psychological services to Jewish families in 1996. Today, it offers such help in 38 centers across Argentina.

Melina Fiszerman, a JDC staffer in Buenos Aires, confirmed that the economic crisis has put more children at risk, and led to increased domestic violence. But that’s not the only emotional consequence of the crisis, she said.

“Uncertainty for survival brings emotional problems,” Fiszerman said. Many families also are struggling with depression and stressful home environments, as several generations move in together to make ends meet.

However, Jewish leaders in Argentina reject a rumor that hundreds of Jewish children have been dropped off at state-run orphanages by parents who can no longer afford them. The real story, they say, is a growing risk of child abuse.

The community continues to hand out cash assistance and food packages each month to poorer Jews, but that doesn’t solve the problems, according to one Ieladeinu volunteer.

In one case, she said, a third-generation welfare recipient had six children — ranging in age from 6 months to 13 years old — who had been severely neglected.

Six months ago, after a court sentenced each child to a different state institution, Ieladeinu took them in and opened its first foster home for Jewish children.

The organization now works with 70 children who live with their families and has 25 children in foster care who receive room, board, medical care, education, work opportunities and psychological treatment.

As Ieladeinu has grown, the state and the Jewish community have learned to alert it to new cases of abuse. Ieladeinu also has begun an investigation to determine how many Jewish children are suffering in state institutions, in abusive homes or on the street.

To date they have found more than 200 — including the children already in Ieladeinu’s care — but the number is always changing as the crisis continues and as Ieladeinu staff speak with more social workers and institutions.

Just last week, for example, they learned of 30 more children, Pincever said.

“We are working like the Mossad,” she said of Ieladeinu’s intelligence gathering.

But the revelations bring new problems.

Eager to scrimp on expenses, the government is happy to tell Ieladeinu about Jewish children in state-subsidized institutions. But getting those institutions to give up their charges is another matter: Each child in its care brings an institution $400 a month in government subsidies, Pincever said.

Government red tape also slows down the process of moving Jewish children to Ieladeinu’s care.

In any case, Ieladeinu staff know they don’t have the resources to help all the Jewish children in danger.

Learning of the high number of cases last month, Jews in Punta del Este, Uruguay — a vacation spot for wealthy South American Jews — pledged to raise some $750,000 for Ieladeinu.

In addition, Ari Bergmann, a New York businessman from Brazil, said he is starting a campaign to raise $20 million to help victims of the Argentine crisis, much of which will go toward Ieladeinu.

Two weeks ago, Bergmann helped bring Rabbi Avraham Seruya of Argentina’s Syrian community and Rabbi Isaac Saka of its Turkish community to New York, where they raised $1.2 million.

However, Ieladeinu has yet to see the money raised in Uruguay, and says it is not aware of Bergmann’s activities.

Ieladeinu’s president, Chabad Rabbi Zvi Grunblatt, confirmed that Seruya and Saka recently offered their assistance to reach Sephardic donors, but said he hadn’t been informed about the result of the pair’s recent trip to New York.

Ieladeinu is continuing to look for outside funds, something the selfsustaining Argentinian Jewish community hasn’t had to do until recently.

In the meantime, Ieladeinu is making progress, with staffers who continue to work with just the promise of payment.

The adolescents in Ieladeinu’s care arrange flower bouquets for Shabbat every Friday morning, which they sell for a few pesos at the market to the Jewish friends and family of Ieladeinu staff.

For now, Ieladeinu is offering what volunteer Deborah Shayo Hazan called “handmade” solutions for each child. Ultimately, however, “we want to rebuild the family so they can live with the parents again,” Hazan said.

And the six children Ieladeinu took in from the third-generation welfare recipient are enjoying a summer vacation program with Ieladeinu’s other foster charges and other Argentine children, Pincever said.

Their counselors report that the six siblings are playing with the other children and exhibiting no problems.

For those children — kicked out of school six months ago for their poor hygiene — it’s nothing short of “a miracle,” Pincever said.

Economic Emergency


On top of being in a military state of emergency for over a year, Israel is now in an “economic state of emergency” as well, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced last week. He was about the last person in the country to say the words out loud.

The arrival of Israel’s economic crisis was something like the NASDAQ crash of last year — everybody knew it was coming, they just didn’t know when. The scales began falling from Israelis’ eyes last week when the economic growth figures for the third quarter of the year came in — 2.8 percent in the red, the second straight quarter of economic contraction. Bad, bad news.

It’s no mystery what’s caused the recession. The NASDAQ crash hobbled Israel’s high-tech sector, the turbo jet of the economy. Then the intifada came along and devastated the tourism industry, at the same time burdening the State with the cost of fighting a new, mass-scale guerrilla war. The intifada, combined with the burgeoning world economic slump, chased foreign investment away. All this comes against the background of a construction industry that’s been in the doldrums now for five years. The economy was hit so hard in so many places, that the ripple effect has touched virtually everyone in the country. Then came Sept. 11, and there was nothing much left to do except wait for the bleak statistics to confirm the consensus expectations. In a country where the prime minister and the political echelon get blamed for the weather, it’s no surprise that Israelis are blaming the bad economy on Sharon. A poll in Yediot Aharonot last weekend found 73 percent of the public gave the prime minister a failing grade on economic performance.

The problem is that emerging from this recession is probably out of the hands of the prime minister and the rest of the government. It wasn’t government economic policy that crashed the NASDAQ, or started the intifada, or chased away tourists and foreign investors. These are objective conditions that drained the Israeli economy of billions upon billions of dollars; government policy, be it liberal or conservative, can’t replace it.

And while it is no mystery how Israel got into this fix, it is a total mystery how and when Israel will get out of it. The upshot is that lean times are coming. People are going to have to learn to make do with less. But nobody — not government, not business, not labor, and certainly not a special interest like the ultra-Orthodox community — is ready for that. Start with the government. Cutting public services and benefits alienates voters, so for Finance Minister Silvan Shalom, who has his eye on the prime ministership, it’s business as usual.

He’s drawn up a budget for next year based on the notion that the government will have greatly increased tax revenues, which will come as a result of a 4 percent economic growth. Nobody believes Israel’s economy will grow by anything close to that figure, but cutting back expectations would mean cutting back spending, which Shalom is loath to do. So, while government leaders may talk of an economic emergency, they’re spending as if the country’s on easy street.

As for labor, social security workers have been striking for weeks, joined by university professors, and now the firefighters. Public sector strikes are as Israeli as falafel, and no economic state of emergency is going to change that. With unemployment rising and government aid about to decrease, social solidarity is being battered, which is a mighty dangerous thing when terror threatens everyone and the army is fully engaged. Yet manufacturers aren’t willing to hold off on firings; in fact they want a tax cut and a promise that the minimum wage will not go up.

“Industry is the engine of the economy. The country depends on the taxes that industry pays,” said Oded Tyrah, head of Israel’s Manufacturers Association, arguing the industrialists’ demands. He seemed to forget that regular working people pay most of the taxes, and that businesspeople are not a higher order of being who deserve financial breaks when everyone else is hurting.

But probably the greatest anomaly of this military and economic state of emergency is that the sector of the Israeli population that, by and large, neither works nor serves in the army — the ultra-Orthodox — continues to demand more welfare. They threaten to bolt Sharon’s government if they do not win passage of a bill that would sharply increase government aid to families with five or more children — a law tailored for ultra-Orthodox needs.

The good news is that Israel is fundamentally a middle-class society; a deep recession will hurt, but will not drive the country into poverty. The restaurants and theaters remain full, one out of every five Israelis still travels abroad each year. Even while three-quarters of Israelis rated Sharon’s economic management poor, two-thirds rated their own personal economic situation as good. The bottom third, however, stand to get considerably poorer in the near future. This will put a severe social strain on the country; advocates in the poor towns of the Negev and Galilee warn of an “intifada” of the unemployed. If that happens, maybe then Israeli decision-makers will understand the meaning of an economic state of emergency.

We’re in the Money


Despite a tough economic year that prompted more than $550 million in line-item vetoes by Governor Gray Davis, the new California state budget allocates almost $10 million dollars to Jewish organizations.

With a range of programs from pediatric immunizations to materials for community colleges suffering last-minute cuts by the executive office, even political insiders say they are surprised by the success of Jewish-backed causes when it came to securing funds.

"I’m sort of amazed, frankly," says Howard Welinsky, a board member of the Jewish Public Affairs Committee, the political affairs arm of The Jewish Federation. "I’m amazed that the legislature and the governor allowed so many of these requests when so many other areas of funding got cut. The Jewish community did pretty well."

The $103.3 billion dollar budget approved by Davis on July 27 is a nod to the worsening condition of the state’s economy — with a decrease in spending of 1.7 percent, or $1.5 billion less than last year. Throughout his summary of vetoes, Davis repeatedly said that California is heading into a difficult year "with its softening economy and substantial revenue decreases." But despite that bleak outlook, more than a half-dozen Jewish projects survived the governor’s "blue-pencil," or 11th-hour vetoing.

The Jewish community’s biggest budget winner — as usual — was the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance, which received about $7 million, equal to their funding in last year’s budget.

Four million of that will be used to continue diversity training for law enforcement officers and educators. The remaining $3 million will help create a new exhibit for fifth and sixth-grade children that explores "what it felt like to arrive in America through the eyes of celebrities such as Billy Crystal, Maya Angelou, and Carlos Santana," says Rabbi Meyer May, executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Other recipients of state funds include the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, which received $750,000 towards the $70 million dollar renovation of its Pacific Heights building. The Jewish Museum San Francisco also received $750,000, money — which will be used to finish a new facility near Yerba Buena Gardens in the downtown area. The Breed Street Shul, Los Angeles’ oldest synagogue and a historic landmark, received $500,000 for preservation and expansion of community services in its Boyle Heights neighborhood. The Skirball Cultural Center received $400,000 towards construction of a new exhibition hall. San Francisco Jewish Vocational Services (SFJVS), a Federation beneficiary agency, received $200,000 for a new training and employment center for émigrés in the downtown area. YouTHink, an educational program for public schools, scored $250,000 to expand its curriculum of arts projects that inspire discussions of current issues among children.

Political insiders credit the Jewish community’s success to a combination of savvy political lobbying and a roster of projects with strong track records and broad social appeal.

"The [Jewish] programs are very well run and designed properly so that they are cost effective," says Terri Smooke, special assistant to Davis. "And when the governor was evaluating these programs, he was able to look at the return on the dollar." Smooke adds that the programs that received funding appealed to legislators because they serve the public at large, even though they "incubated in the Jewish community."

That point may be proved by the reduced grant received by the Minority AIDS Project. An official at that agency said the organization was not even aware that it had applied for funding until after the final budget was approved, and that they are currently "investigating" how the funding came about.

But in a year that saw $98 million in last-minute cuts for community colleges — undeniably a broad appeal service — it took more than a worthy cause or a well-run program to ensure the state’s financial blessing.

As much as the projects themselves, credit for the funding is also given to aggressive and well-organized lobbying efforts in Sacramento. Both The Wiesenthal Center and The Jewish Federation, which backed the grants for the SFJVS and the youTHink program, use the same representative, Cliff Berg of Governmental Advocates, a lobbyist that May describes as "extraordinary."

"He knows how the system works, and he knows all the players, and that, in and of itself, is an accomplishment considering how quickly those players change now due to term limits," says Michael Hirschfeld, Executive Director of The Jewish Federations Community Relations Committee.

Despite receiving funding for both of its requests, Hirschfeld says this was a tough year for lobbying, and that many programs received less than the requested amount. He cites youTHink as an example — the program was given $1 million in last year’s budget, but had to settle for a quarter of that this year. The Skirball also fell victim to lower funding, receiving only $400,000 instead of the $500,000 originally slated before Davis’ cuts.

New Vistas


"The New Geography: How the Digital Revolution Is Reshaping the American Landscape," by Joel Kotkin. (Random House, $22.95)

Joel Kotkin, a senior fellow at both Pepperdine University Institute for Public Policy and Milken Institute and a research fellow at the libertarian Reason Public Policy Institute, for 20 years has been researching and writing about what he terms "intangible" inputs into economic life.

His previous book, "Tribes: How Race, Religion and Identity Determine Success in the New Global Economy," studied cultural factors that, for example, gave Jews and expatriate Chinese communities tools for their historical economic successes.

Likewise, he argued that Southeast Asians and Koreans, among others, benefit from a variety of culturally based strategies that enable them to negotiate the shoals of a fast-paced, chaotic and demanding business environment.

In "The New Geography," Kotkin, an occasional Journal contributor, brings a similar analytic approach to the impact of the digitized economy on our physical environments. Forgoing jargon, except for the symbolic language he creates to explain some of the more overt effects of the great economic transition we have witnessed in the past 10 years or so, Kotkin writes an extremely accessible book that explores the choices and consequences of where and how we choose to live and work.

Three homemade neologisms act as his introduction to our new geography: valhalla, nerdistan and midopolis. The cutesy names belie a serious argument: that each of the three types of places, representing different tracks and classes in the new e-economy, express the different interests and capacities of their inhabitants.

One of the historic privileges of great wealth was to gain physical distance from the masses. That distance historically was constrained by practical necessity: the need to oversee in person one’s business interests, the limitations of communication, the time needed for one to travel, and one’s own need to have goods and services in somewhat close proximity. As both communication and travel have become faster, more efficient and increasingly inexpensive, the entrepreneurs of the new e-economy can locate themselves far away.

Vail in Colorado, Park City in Utah, and any number of other places are these valhallas. The locations play no part in the economic lives of their new residents, however, and the flow of wealth into such areas often leads to a serious disruption in the lives of others who live and work there. "They may be breathtakingly beautiful as places, but they are no longer rustic in the nature of their economy or, increasingly, in their population," writes Kotkin. "As Ed Marston, editor of the Rocky Mountain News, suggests, ‘What is Montana without cowboys? Once you get rid of agriculture, you’re left with nothingness. You’re not using the land. It just becomes ‘looking country.’"

Not everyone can be a wildly successful entrepreneur, and the management and technological sectors of the new economy need their physical places also. One group gravitates toward Kotkin’s so-called nerdistans: these master-planned communities feature "a more ‘campus-like’ environment, often with landscaped walkways and access to bikeways and other recreations." These are idealized communities for raising families; refurbished suburban dreams catering to the concerns of scientists, engineers and technocrats in the e-economy.

Parallel to that are the urban pioneers, the artists, artisans and generally creative types who flock into Kotkin’s "artful city," working in a more informal manner, seeking the inspiration and excitement of a revitalized urban life.

True to his long roots in Southern California, Kotkin uses local geography to illustrate his point. Irvine is a nerdistan; Santa Monica, the hip, urban "artful city."

Often those in the latter are the childless, gay, empty-nesters, divorced or never-married. In some ways, one can imagine the Getty Center as a nerdistan/artful city monument. Its design is certainly campus-like; its contents, well, arty.

The midopolises are more problematic. Typically, as the suburbs recycle and grow denser and grittier, they devolve into slums. But the great influx of immigrants, with their verve, determination, hard work and overall economic and social energy, help resist the natural history of the housing stock. As soon as they can afford it, they settle away from the inner city and into the suburban landscape, where they reshape traditional suburbia in surprising ways.

The San Gabriel Valley is in sections overwhelmingly Asian, with an elaborate and sophisticated Asian cultural and economic infrastructure, while previously "lily-white" suburbs have often become predominantly Latino. Both populations are driven to thrive in an economically beneficent environment relative to their respective homelands.

Nonetheless, the midopolises as often as not rely on the old economic mode — light manufacturing, retailing, import-export firms — rather than the new one, which has the potential of seriously limiting these groups’ progress up the economic ladder.

Kotkin points to a potential real-estate crisis. As retail sales move more to the Internet, the vast retailing physical structure will be threatened. For massive big-box stores, a 6 percent loss in sales to the Internet could translate into a 50 percent loss in profitability. Just as traditional downtown shopping areas died in the wake of regional malls, so too regional malls can suffer seriously over the long run when exposed to e-commerce.

As he explores the implications of the class stratification growing out of the digital revolution, Kotkin uses a wide range of historic analogies: Rome, Greece, Venice, Amsterdam, London. In doing so, he traces the arc of urban life, examining the relevance to our situation of the growth of artisans, the rise of factories, the inevitable development of conflict along class lines in highly stratified cities. He fears that those conflicts could grow here: the educated, online, plugged-in will so far economically surpass the under-educated and off-line that the valhallas and nerdistans will become in all essentials separated from the midopolises and city centers.

His hope is that we realize we live not only in virtual reality, but in a physical reality of place; that the intersection of real, lived human lives determines both economic and community success. "The oldest fundamentals of place — sense of community, identity, history and faith — not only remain important, they are increasingly the critical determinants of success and failure," he maintains. As always, Kotkin remains both open-eyed and optimistic.

Israel Bonds


Israel Bonds: They’re not just for bar and bat mitzvahs anymore.

That’s the message the State of Israel Bonds organization wants to get across in announcing its new floating rate offerings. Rather than being seen as a quasi-charity and feel-good gift for 13-year-olds, the organization wants to be considered a legitimate investment option.

It hopes to do that by adding the London Interbank Offer Rate (LIBOR) to its notes and offerings. LIBOR is a floating interest rate based on the average daily lending rates offered by several London banks. It’s considered a more international benchmark that takes global economics into account.

“It’s significant because, to this day, some people view Israel Bonds as a less-than-veritable investment, mostly because of a lack of knowledge of the bonds,” said a spokesman for Israel Bonds, adding that the addition of the LIBOR benchmark is “just another step” toward Israel Bonds being considered “a bona-fide investment option.”

The LIBOR-based instruments “will provide investment options that could better reflect the environment of the global market,” Gideon Patt, Bonds president and CEO, said in a statement.

Israel bonds are securities issued by the State of Israel to help build the country’s economy and infrastructure. Proceeds go to Israel’s treasury for general use. Historically, Israel Bond funds have been earmarked for projects such as highways and bridges. Current projects being used by Bonds money, a spokesman said, include water desalination and high-speed train projects.

“When you invest in Israel, you invest in the Jewish family business,” he said.

Still, they could make a respectable bar or bat mitzvah gift.

For more information, call the Contact Development Corp. for Israel at 1-800-229-9650, or go to www.israelbonds.com

This story was contributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Which Side Are You On?


Is Mike Davis right about Los Angeles? And if so, what does it mean for our increasingly conservative Jewish community? That was the subtext of my meeting with Davis last Sunday at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Davis’ most recent book, “Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster,” was on the Los Angeles Times best-seller list for nearly four months. Its local popularity is unsettling to some, given Davis’ dire review of the region’s history — filled with fire, flood, earthquake, riot, self-doubt and anxiety. The winner of the coveted MacArthur “genius” award (worth $315,000), Davis has been under attack in cover stories in the Times, L.A. Weekly and New Times much of the past month for his message and his research methods.

Davis’ major theme, updated from his acclaimed “City of Quartz,” is that critical decisions have been made, including permitted building in fire zones in Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains, which put the whole political and economic structure of the region at risk. Davis’ critics, including conservative boosters, find his criticism unnecessarily harsh and even dangerous. To them, the seven thin years since the Rodney King trial are behind us. Los Angeles is in recovery now.

But Davis argues, not so fast. The current economic recovery, he believes, is only a superficial gloss of protection on the environmental and social problems coming our way. There will be a fire next time as well as a cycle of flood and earthquake. These disasters, based on bad land use and building policies, he says, are ultimately paid for by Los Angeles’ poor, since federal disaster relief is now a budget item: the guns of fire and flood insurance are played off against the butter of inner-city welfare. Since we in Los Angeles refuse to learn our natural and political history, we’re doomed to more disasters in the years ahead, and we’ll get what we deserve.

Given the storm circulating around him, Davis in person is soft-spoken and mild-mannered. He is, at 53, every inch the unreconstructed former Teamster who drove an 18-wheeler before starting UCLA at age 28. He’s got a sense of humor, conceding that if readers didn’t get the “positive” message of his book, it was probably his own fault. “I love it here too,” he told the young, multiethnic Skirball crowd. “Sometimes, I wake up and look at the mountains and say, ‘Davis are you crazy?'”

But he’s not crazy about at least one thing: the need to build political coalitions if we are to grow together as a region. Davis loves the multiethnic experiment of Los Angeles, especially the Boyle Heights area. “You should do a program on ‘When We All Lived Together,'” he told the Skirball’s Amina Sanchez before our program began. He hates suburbanization because, among other things, it pulls people apart.

Despite Davis’ reputation as a latter-day Jeremiah, the heart of his work is not moral but political: Demographic and ethnic divisions have plagued the region since the planting of the first palm tree. First, it was the Eastside Chandlers vs. the Westside ethnic groups, notably blacks and Jews; today, it is Valley secessionists vs. the city.

But he is not without hope. “There’s a new progressive movement growing, starting with a revived labor resurgence,” he told the audience. This progressivism is based on environmental and economic issues, especially providing a livable wage for those at the bottom.

Can the Jewish community, which has moved west, north and right during the Pete Wilson years, be a part of that progressive coalition?

I spoke this week with leaders of two traditionally progressive Jewish organizations: Rick Chertoff of the Jewish Labor Committee and Carol Levy, executive director of the local office of the American Jewish Congress.

Chertoff and Levy each told me that Davis was right: that slowly, there are signs that Jews, one by one, are finding a way back, a meaningful way to be progressive, without denying changed economic circumstance. For example: In November, 63 percent of Jewish voters were against Proposition 226, which would have killed unions by barring use of dues for political issues. “We have a bifurcation of interests,” Chertoff told me. “But most of us still are for the right of workers to organize.”

In June, the JLC, backed by a committee of 22 rabbis, helped keep the Summit Rodeo Hotel in Beverly Hills as a union shop, on behalf of housekeepers, wait staff, cooks and parking attendants. Both the JLC and AJCongress are part of a coalition that achieved passage of Los Angeles’ living-wage ordinance, impacting 6,000 workers.

“As labor revives, Jews will not be able to rely on nostalgia any more, on the union past of Grandpa and Aunt Sadie,” says Levy. “They’re going to have to revisit how they feel about labor.”

Now here comes a surprise: Mike Davis himself thinks Jews are with him for the long haul. After invoking the long history of shared Jewish and Latino experiences in the garment industry, he e-mailed me this: “I am absolutely confident that the Jewish community will continue to play the same outstanding role in the progressive politics of the future as it has in its past.” Amazingly, the professional doomsayer is, on this one issue, an optimist.

Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist at The Jewish Journal.

Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.comHer book, “A Woman’s Voice” is available through Amazon.com.