Genetic research can open book on Jewish identity — for good and bad
Father William Sanchez wears a Star of David pendant on the same chain as his crucifix, and he keeps a menorah in his parish office. After a DNA test confirmed his Sephardic roots, the Albuquerque priest has been actively reconciling this discovery with his Catholic beliefs.
“Knowledge of my Jewish ancestry has provoked me to question things, yes,” Sanchez says in the book, “Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity and the DNA of the Chosen People” by Jon Entine (Grand Central, 2007).
Looking back over his childhood in New Mexico, Sanchez now recognizes the Jewish signs: his parents shunning pork, spinning tops during Christmas and covering the mirrors at home if someone in the family died.
For Crypto-Jews like Sanchez, DNA testing services can confirm or disprove suspicions about a hidden Jewish family history, uncover unknown genetic disease risks or inspire greater exploration of Judaism. For small populations in Africa and Asia, genetic research has shed light on claims of Jewish ancestry and provided a better understanding of Jewish migration over thousands of years.
But critics fear that Jewish genetic research also opens a Pandora’s box. The discovery of a shared genetic marker among men who claim to be descended from Kohanim grew into wild, exaggerated claims in the media that geneticists had confirmed the story of Aaron. Some have decried research exploring a genetic basis for Ashkenazi intelligence as politically incorrect and racist, since all humans are 99.9 percent similar.
Entine, who will be speaking at Adat Chaverim and Brandeis-Bardin this weekend, believes exploring that .1 percent is worth getting researchers riled up.
An American Enterprise Institute fellow and former NBC news producer, Entine is no stranger to controversy. He tackled the topic of race in sports with “Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It” (PublicAffairs Books, 1999), which was lauded by Scientific American as a “well-researched, relatively thorough and lucidly written case.”
After “Taboo” was published, Entine learned his sister had breast cancer. As a teenager, he had lost his mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer over a period of three years. The family assumed it was a coincidence at the time, but recent genetic testing revealed the BRCA2 genetic mutation contributed to his sister’s cancer.
Since Entine has a young daughter, he decided to undergo testing, which confirmed he carries the mutation. The experience inspired him to research the link between Jews and DNA.
The result is “Abraham’s Children,” a survey of Jewish genetic research paired with a chronicle of Jewish history that explores the thorny question: “Who is a Jew?”
Entine writes that Jewishness is a function of religion and ancestry, shaped by faith, politics and culture. Given the Jewish community’s historically insular nature, most Jews also share genetic markers, which speaks to common ancestors.
This commonality inspired research in the 1990s that found the Cohen Modal Haplotype, a set of six identical genetic markers shared among Ashkenazic and Sephardic Kohanim, passed from father to son on the Y chromosome, which doesn’t change much over time and may have originated with a common ancestor. While the genetic markers alone do not prove the existence of Aaron, they can be seen to confirm a biblical tradition.
The haplotype, however, is also not unique to Jews — Kurds, Armenians, southern and central Italians share these same markers but to a lesser extent.
Doing Jews right on TV — for better or worse
In the AMC drama “Mad Men,” about the male-dominated advertising world of 1960s New York, an early episode features Jewish heiress Rachel Menken soliciting the services of ad firm Sterling Cooper to boost sales for her family-owned department store.
Eager to secure her business, the ad execs find Sterling Cooper’s only Jew — David Coen in the mailroom — and bring him to the pitch meeting, supposing that his presence will earn the woman’s confidence.
But when it is suggested that another company might be more suited to her needs (subtext: a firm run by Jews), Menken becomes incensed and insists on a high-end image in which “people like you” (subtext: non-Jews) will shop there precisely “because it’s expensive.”
“I’m not going to let a woman talk to me that way,” Don Draper, the agency’s creative director, declares before walking out of the meeting.
What the scene lacks in offensiveness, it makes up for in subversiveness in the depiction of what the show’s creator, Matt Weiner, calls “casual anti-Semitism.” Because this woman is attractive, lacks any discernable accent and therefore any ethnic specificity, she is identified as an assimilated Jew and is instead, assaulted for her gender.
“I was surprised that no one talked about it,” Weiner told an assembly at Friday’s panel discussion, “Fair or Foul: The Portrayal of Jews on TV,” part of the Anti-Defamation League’s annual conference, which took place in Los Angeles last week. “Law and Order” producer Rosalyn Weinman and former Los Angeles Times’ television critic Howard Rosenberg joined Weiner in discussing the evolution of the Jewish character on television.
“The sexism was talked about,” Weiner continued, “and that the show was so racist — but casual anti-Semitism?”
Because, as he admits, Jews are prevalent in Hollywood and have a legitimate cultural sensitivity to Jewish discrimination, there is both interest and concern regarding images of Jews disseminated through entertainment media. As old as the medium itself, the depiction of Jews on television tells a story of ethnic identity, and therefore an acute responsibility is ascribed to the storyteller who decides what language, images and styles become associated with being Jewish. Thus, the underlying theme of the panel discussion became whether producers, writers and directors are conscientious in their depictions of Jews, and, if so, what are the boundaries?
“I’m very conscious of my depiction of Jews,” Weiner said. “When I said to my casting people, ‘Can you get me a Jewish actress?’ they said, ‘Well, we can’t really ask for that,’ and I was, like, ‘Well that makes sense; I just violated, like, 80 laws.'”
Since the advent of television, the medium has been a vehicle for defining aspects of American identity. Ethnic entertainment emerged to portray various aspects of the immigrant experience and explored relationships among ethnic subgroups.
For her part, Weinman talked about an episode of “Law and Order” dealing with black anti-Semitism that aired during its first season, just after the 1991 Crown Heights riot in Brooklyn.
“There were still raw nerves in the City of New York about these issues. And I think that it was very useful in at least elevating that conversation from the New York Post to somewhat of a higher plane, a plane that was more intellectual and hopefully a little more healing,” Weinman said.
“But in order to try to do that — and that was the goal — the language was rough. The language about the blacks and the Jews in Crown Heights at that time was reflective of what was happening.”
The “Law and Order” episode dealt with subject matter otherwise being ignored by mainstream television. Weiner traced the history of ethnic entertainment, citing examples from “All in the Family” to “The Jeffersons,” but, he said, the emphasis on ethnic specificity has diminished over time, in favor of a melting-pot philosophy of entertainment.
“I’ve always thought, you know, ‘Think Yiddish, write British,'” he quipped.
“I think that multiculturalism and political correctness have been very hard on Jews, because we don’t want to be seen as a minority … we don’t want to call attention to the fact that we’re immigrants,” Weiner said, adding that the presence of openly Jewish characters with accents has disappeared from television. “It’s embarrassing for executives and for a whole generation of people that that’s our past.”
The result is the Jewish character becoming the American Jewish character, disassociated from an ethnic history and assimilated into American culture. And the assimilation hasn’t only been for Jews. Blacks and even Italians have preferred a more Americanized identity, as well. “We became less politically interested in [ethnic identity]; we became more bland, more everyman, with less ethnic identity for everybody,” Weiner said.
Weinman recalled her days as an executive at NBC, when “Seinfeld” was thought to be “too Jewish,” and there was great debate over whether the show would air. It wasn’t until the addition of the Elaine character, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, that the show was considered more acceptable for a wide audience.
The 1999 debut of “The Sopranos” on HBO constituted the return of a fully formed ethnic identity to television, said Weiner, who was a writer for that show.
Yet, when ethnic identities are being played out onscreen for purposes of entertainment, the problem of stereotypes inevitably arises. During the Q-and-A portion of the panel, some audience members expressed concern over some representations of Jews that could be seen as offensive. One woman cited an episode of Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” in which he scalps High Holy Day tickets. Another man said he is bothered by the Ari Gold character on “Entourage,” a Jewish Hollywood agent who engages in some of the most “horrific anti-Asian, anti-gay slurs.” These examples brought up the deepest worry of most Jews in the room: Should Jewish storytellers depict Jews in any kind of negative light?
“I think there’s a distinction between hate language and doing something in the spirit of comedy,” Weinman said of cutting the phrase, “don’t Jew me down,” from a show she oversaw. She cited an episode of “Law and Order” in which Chabad members were in cahoots with Hells Angels distributing ecstasy on the streets on New York, a story, she said, that was based on fact.
Both Weiner and Weinman agreed that even controversial Jewish depictions can be appropriate, if rendered in the spirit of comedy or truth. Whether their audience agreed or not, the choice of how Jews are represented is ultimately in Hollywood’s hands, and people like Weiner and Weinman have significant influence and control over what images network television promulgates.
Jews, Weiner said in conclusion, “are represented in this industry in a very big way.” “We are in every aspect of it — the creative part; we’re behind the camera; we’re in front of the camera — [Jewish] people have been attracted to [Hollywood], and America enjoys our product.”
Survey: Fewer Americans think Jews control Hollywood
Forget Spielberg. Forget the Weinsteins. Forget “Seinfeld.”
The majority of Americans no longer believe that Jews control Hollywood. This is the news from a new poll released by the Anti-Defamation League that also suggests there remains a widespread conviction that there is an organized campaign by Hollywood and the national media to undermine religious values.
In the October 2008 survey of 1,000 American adults, “American Attitudes on Religion, Moral Values and Hollywood,” conducted by the Marttila Communications Group, 63 percent of Americans said they do not believe that the movie and television industries are “pretty much run by Jews.” This finding contradicts not only the prevailing myth, but also a 1964 survey in which half of the respondents agreed that Jews controlled Hollywood. It seems the era depicted in Neil Gabler’s book, “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” is over.
“It’s interesting that it’s fallen that much; it’s a mark of the decline of anti-Semitism in this country,” said Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. However, Sarna was quick to point out that the statistics may not be entirely reliable. Telephone polls, he said, tend to skew older because they are the ones who are at home to answer calls, and because the prohibition against cold-calling cellphones precludes most younger perspectives.
Sixty-one percent of those polled said they believe religious values are under attack, and 63 percent said religion as a whole is losing its influence on American life.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents do not believe Hollywood shares the religious and moral values of most Americans. Of those, 70 percent identify themselves as religious Americans who attend religious institutions one or more times each week. Conservative Protestants agreed with this statement most strongly (68 percent), followed by traditional Catholics (60 percent) and moderate Catholics (55 percent).
Forty-three percent of respondents said they believe there is an organized campaign by the national media to “weaken the influence of religious values”; 62 percent of that group said they attend religious institutions one or more times per week. Among them, those who identified themselves as traditional Catholics agree most strongly (65 percent), followed by Protestants (56 percent) and liberal Catholics (41 percent). However, 59 percent of non-affiliated people surveyed disagree with this statement.
The idea that certain forms of entertainment are antithetical to religious values predates Hollywood. In early American history, Protestant groups were deeply opposed to theater. When motion picture “talkies” were introduced to America in the 1930s, the Production Code (also known as the Hays Code) was quickly created, establishing explicit censorship guidelines for the film industry.
“Ambivalence towards entertainment is a bit like ambivalence towards sex,” Sarna said. “And they’re related; things that give one joy are often deemed to be suspect, and I think we’re seeing that.”
The poll also revealed some support for censorship. While a clear majority does not think books containing dangerous ideas should be banned from public school libraries, 38 percent support censoring books.
The study’s data indicates that people who attend religious institutions regularly are decidedly more conservative in their cultural views. They are also more likely to vote Republican. While the majority-vs.- minority groupings do not surprise Sarna, he is skeptical of the poll’s numerical conclusions.
“If 43 percent of Americans decided not to go to the movies, the movie industry wouldn’t be the size it is in this country,” he said.
In a statement accompanying the poll’s release, ADL director Abe Foxman said, “The belief that religion is under attack underlies the drive to incorporate more religion into American public life.”
Yet, Sarna countered that if the majority of Americans really believed religion was under attack, Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin would have won the election.
“The very fact that Obama’s ticket won — and won big — reminds us that there are all sorts of other issues that are important. Nobody voted for Obama because they thought he would inject more religion into public life,” Sarna said.
Anne Frank diary resonates with Cambodians
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (JTA)—As a young girl in the early 1990s, Sayana Ser often spent the night cowering in fear with her family in an underground shelter her father had dug beneath their home on the outskirts of this capital city.
Outside, marauding bands of Khmer Rouge guerrillas battled it out with government forces. Meanwhile, brutal mass murder was still fresh on civilians’ minds.
A decade later, as a 19-year-old scholarship student in the Netherlands, Sayana chanced upon the memoirs of another girl who had feared for her life in even more dire circumstances.
It was “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank, the precocious Jewish teenager who hid from the Nazis in occupied Amsterdam until her family’s hiding place was discovered and she was sent to her death in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
“While reading the book I couldn’t hold my tears back,” Sayana recalls. “I wondered how Anna must have felt and how she could bear it.”
Sayana now is the director of a student outreach and educational program at a Cambodian research institution that documents the Khmer Rouge genocide. Between 1975 and 1979, up to 2 million people—a fourth of the population—perished on Pol Pot’s “killing fields” in one of the worst mass murders since the Holocaust.
Sayana, who wrote her master’s thesis about “dark tourism,” or touristic voyeurism at genocide sites in Cambodia and elsewhere, also visited several Holocaust memorials and death camps.
“I couldn’t believe how one human being could do this to another, whether they were Jews or Khmers,” she says.
On returning home, she sought permission to translate the Anne Frank diary into Khmer.
The Holocaust classic was published by the country’s leading genocide research group, the Documentation Center of Cambodia. It is now available for Khmer students at high school libraries in Phnom Penh alongside locally written books about the Khmer Rouge period. Such books include “First They Killed My Father” by Loung Ung, which recounts the harrowing experiences of a child survivor of the killing fields.
“I have seen many Anna Franks in Cambodia,” says Youk Chhang, the head of the documentation center and Cambodia’s foremost researcher on genocide.
A child survivor himself, Chhang lost siblings and numerous relatives in the mass murders perpetrated by Pol Pot and his followers.
“If we Cambodians had read her diary a long time ago,” he says, “perhaps there could have been a way for us to prevent the Cambodian genocide from happening.”
Anne Frank’s message, he adds, remains as potent as ever.
“Genocide continues to happen in the world around us even today,” Youk says. “Her diary can still play an important role in prevention.”
Although the story of Anne and her resilient optimism in the face of murderous evil has touched millions of readers around the world, it may particularly resonate with Cambodians, Sayana adds.
“Under Pol Pot, many children were separated from their families. They faced starvation and were sent to the front to fight and die,” she explains. “Like Anna, they never knew peace and the warmth of a home.”
Inspired by Anne’s diary, she adds, some Cambodian students have begun to write their own diaries to chronicle the sorrows and joys of their daily lives.
Children in Laos, too, can soon learn of Anne’s story and insights.
In the impoverished, war-torn communist country bordering Cambodia, almost a million people perished during the Vietnam War, while countless landmines and a low-level insurgency continue to take lives daily.
Yet with books for children almost nonexistent beyond simple school textbooks, Lao students remain largely ignorant of the world and history. In a private initiative, an American expat publisher is now bringing them children’s classics translated into Lao, including Anne Frank’s diary.
“I was describing the book to a bright college graduate here and gave him a little context,” says Sasha Alyson, the founder of Big Brother Mouse, a small publishing house in Vientiane, the Lao capital, which specializes in books for Lao children. He recalls the student asking, ‘World War II? Is that the same as Star Wars?”
Anna Frank’s “Diary of a Young Girl,” he says, will provide Lao children with a much-needed lesson in history.
The dream of a beautiful bat mitzvah — but whose dream would it fulfill?
For my daughter to have a bat mitzvah would be a dream come true — but for whom, for her or for me? Throughout my life, people have told me that I am only half Jewish, as my father is Jewish and mother is Japanese Buddhist, although Reform Jews now recognize children of Jewish fathers as Jews. I remember my own childhood as a series of colorful feasts of Jewish and Japanese tastes. But I still hunger for more meaningful cultural and religious traditions, as I had no formal rites of passage, no opportunity to study for a bat mitzvah or a tea ceremony.
Growing up with a Jewish father and Japanese mother did not mean I visited double the number of temples during holidays, like some special at your favorite restaurant. Instead I watched longingly as Jewish kids celebrated Chanukah and Japanese kids celebrated the Shichi-go-san, a festival for girls and boys that celebrates the 3rd, 5th and 7th birthday. At my house we celebrated Christmas as a secular holiday.
While life in my family was always amusing and entertaining as a multicultural and interfaith family, we sacrificed both cultures and faiths in the interest of supposed peace and avoidance of cultural conflict and disharmony. As a result, the absence of religious and ethnic identity has left me longing for a personal identity I am just now beginning to find.
When I look at my daughters, I see their faces as both azoy shayne and uruwashii, “so beautiful” in Yiddish and in Japanese. I hope they never have to share my experience of being shunned and shamed for not belonging truly to either one culture or another. As a child I found it laborious and dispiriting to explain to Jewish and Japanese kids why I did not look just like them with either perfectly straight or wavy hair.
We celebrated holidays with few customs except culinary ones, with both miso and chicken soup served at the celebratory table. Growing up with Jewish and Japanese parents meant I lived among two distinct cultures, with an identity that was less secure and more obscure. As I did back then, I continue to long for a stronger sense of my Jewish culture, as well as to be considered simply Jewish rather than half.
Since my parents were artists who believed individual faith was a personal decision, even for small children, there are no marked passages to remember. Except if you count the afternoon I wore my grandmother’s silk kimono with my best friend’s prayer shawl to a Jewish deli in Hollywood. OK, I concede, there were no ceremonies — but that was certainly a rite of passage!
I suppose I should listen to sympathetic friends who attempt to console me.
“Saying you’re only half-Jewish is like saying you’re only half-pregnant,” says one. “Even a bit Jewish means you’re one of the tribe!” he continues, as he passes me a piece of bacon.
Remind me not to consult him should I decide to make a kosher home.
Or there is my friend who lists all the “cool” famous people who are half-Jewish, like Sean Penn, Harrison Ford and Gloria Steinem. Even Geraldo Rivera got to have a bar mitzvah, although his mother was Jewish.
My middle daughter looked at me the other day and said, “Mommy, I think I am a Jewish girl. Can I attend Hebrew school like Daddy did?”
“Yes,” I answered, as I kissed her tan, cool forehead. “You are a Jewish girl, and you will know all of the traditions I never did.”
As my daughter will soon turn 10, my husband laments that she has not received any formal Jewish education. Dancing the hora at weddings, watching the Marx Brothers and trying on his yarmulke for laughs does not count.
Unlike me, my husband had a bar mitzvah when most ceremonies were still respectable, unlike a bat mitzvah I attended in which I couldn’t figure out which person on stage was the rapper for hire or rabbi for hire. Maybe they were the same person.
I can think of no parent who does not wish more for their children than they had, but I remain in a quandary: Do I wish my girls to have a bat mitzvah celebration because I missed out, or for more honorable reasons? Many American Jewish families consider having a bar or bat mitzvah to be the sole experience of their children’s Jewish education, a symbolic occasion securing them in the Jewish tradition.
Indeed, I have decided this is a gift I will give to our daughters, who are confident that they are Jewish and deserve to study in the traditional way all the more. Perhaps I am no different than my Jewish sisters and brothers, as I too want to ensure that my daughters feel secure in their Jewish identity, with this celebration a testament to their strong cultural history. The worst that might happen might be that they would study for a few years, receive a little more gelt than guilt and experience a valuable celebration they would neither be able to forget, nor wish to.
In the meantime, I have dreams of what my own bat mitzvah might have been like in laid-back, lackadaisical 1970s Southern California, when many expectations and traditions for children were abandoned, leaving many members of my generation feeling abandonment.
I see myself in a proper but pretty dress from my favorite Sears catalog I used to keep in a drawer by my bed. I am in a beautiful L.A. temple near my father’s Beverly Hills boyhood home and I begin to chant from the Torah in my songbird voice, while both my Jewish and Japanese relatives are verklempt and tokui — overcome with emotion and pride in two languages.
Too many mazel tovs and kisses are given to count, and my lyrical mother gently fixes a velvet ribbon in my hair while my father tells me how proud he is.
After that, my dream is not so clear, although there is some blurry vision of overeating knishes and California rolls simultaneously until I have to lie down, something I am still guilty of today.
Somebody please call the doctor.
Francesca Biller-Safran is an investigative print and broadcast journalist and recipient of The Edward R. Murrow Award. She specializes in political and social inequalities and is currently working on a book about her background. She is married with three daughters, lives in the Bay Area and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission from InterfaithFamily.com.
New Israeli Cabinet member urges ‘ethnic partitioning;’ Gay pride parade OK’d and Jerusalem protests
Israeli Official Urges Ethnic Partitioning
An Israeli Cabinet minister called for the Jewish state and the West Bank to be partitioned according to ethnicity. Avigdor Lieberman of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu Party said in an interview that rather than evacuating Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Israel should keep them, while ceding Israeli Arab communities to a future Palestinian state.
“I think separation between two nations is the best solution,” Lieberman told Britain’s Sunday Times. “I want to provide an Israel that is a Jewish, Zionist country.” He invoked as a model the forcible 1974 separation of ethnic Turks and Greeks in Cyprus.
Lieberman recently joined Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Cabinet as minister for strategic threats. A Lieberman aide told the Sunday Telegraph that under the partition vision, Israeli Arabs would have the option of remaining in the Jewish state on condition that they pledged allegiance to it.
Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade Gets OK
Israel’s attorney general turned down a request by Jerusalem police to call off this week’s gay pride parade. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ruled Sunday that the parade, which has drawn threats of violence from ultra-Orthodox protesters, could go ahead Friday Nov. 10, but he ordered organizers to confer with police on changing the route in order to reduce friction with Jerusalem’s religious communities.
Dozens of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Mea She’arim rioted at the news that the parade was to proceed, blocking the city’s Shabbat Square with burning trash cans and blocking road access Monday to Mount Herzl. Police said Monday that 12,000 police and border police would be called in to protect the marchers.
Sephardic Chief Rabbi Cancels Agunah Meeting
Jewish women’s rights leaders are reeling after Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi canceled a conference of prominent rabbis that was to deal with the issue of women who become agunah, or “chained” women, when their husbands refuse to give them a get.
The closed-door conference, which was set for Nov. 7-8 in Jerusalem would have been the first such forum for a large number of heads of beit dins. On Thursday, 27 of 56 invited rabbis were notified of its cancellation via fax from Rabbi Eliahu Ben-Dahan, director of Israel’s rabbinical courts, that said Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar had decided to cancel the conference “due to petitions that came to him both from Israel and outside of Israel requesting its cancellation.”
Blu Greenberg, a founding president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, said a few random meetings in lieu of a conference with the chief rabbi would “not be satisfactory,” but added that the cancellation could prove to be a blessing in disguise.
Although much of the community was not even aware of the conference, “they’ll be aware now,” she said.
Hospital Moves Sharon Out of Intensive Care
Ariel Sharon was moved out of intensive care and back to an Israeli coma ward. Sheba Medical Center announced Monday that the former prime minister, who was taken for emergency surveillance over the weekend after developing an infection, had been returned to his bed.
“His heart function has improved after being treated for an infection, and his overall condition has stabilized,” a hospital statement said.
Sharon, 78, has been in a coma since suffering a stroke in January.
Pope Deplores Gaza Violence
Pope Benedict XVI deplored the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the Gaza Strip.”It is with deep worry that I am following the news about the grave deterioration of the situation in Gaza, and I want to express my closeness to the civilian populations who are suffering the consequences of acts of violence,” the pope said Sunday in his weekly sermon at the Vatican.
The pope called for the “enlightenment” of Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as for other Middle Eastern nations which might have a role in brokering peace.
Israel Readies for Possible New War in ’07
Israel reportedly is preparing for the possibility of another war with Hezbollah, this time joined by Syria. Citing assessments among top military brass, Ha’aretz reported Monday that Israeli forces are on alert for a fresh fight initiated by the Lebanese terrorists and its Syrian patrons in the summer of 2007. According to the report, Hezbollah is believed to have come out of its recent war with Israel with more than 5,000 ground-to-ground missiles intact. In case of such a conflict next year, Iran would likely provide Hezbollah and Syria with backing but not get directly involved, Ha’aretz reported. Military officials declined comment on the report.
Technion Receives $30 Million Gift
A $30 million grant from the founder of QUALCOMM will allow the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to expand its graduate programs. Irwin and Joan Jacobs of San Diego announced recently at the American Technion Society’s annual meeting that they would make the donation to the Haifa school. The philanthropists previously had established a research center at the Technion for communication and information technologies. QUALCOMM established operations near the Technion campus in 1993 and has hired many Technion graduates.
Italian Jews Co-Sponsor Islamic Art Show
An exhibition of Islamic art is under way in an Italian synagogue. Called “SalamAleikum,” the show opened Oct. 29 in the historic synagogue in Casale Monferrato in northern Italy’s Piedmont region. Organized by the Casale Monferrato Jewish community and the Ibn Sina Center for European Studies, the show includes works by 14 artists from Algeria, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Italy and elsewhere. The exhibition runs until Nov. 23.
Geller Claims Psychic Aided Saddam Capture
Israeli psychic Uri Geller said a clairvoyant helped U.S. forces capture Saddam Hussein in 2003. Geller, who is in Israel to tape a reality television show for aspiring psychics, made the claim in an interview Monday. “You remember when they found Saddam Hussein in Iraq? A soldier walked over to a rock, lifted it and then found a trapdoor and found him in there,” he told Reuters. “Well, I know that that soldier walked over to that rock because he got information from a ‘ remote viewer’ from the United States.” Geller said he got the information from a high-level American source. The U.S. military had no immediate comment.
Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
A World of Food
World Ethnic Market/KosherWorld Show manager Phyllis Koegel presented a Buyer of the Year Award to Tamara Dorrell, Safeway manager, national categories, ethnic. The World Ethnic Market was held recently at the Anaheim Convention Center.
L.A. Helps the Gulf
Four members of Temple Beth El in San Pedro took a hands-on approach to charity when they went on a relief mission to Gulfport, Miss., last week. The four accompanied Rabbi Charles Briskin to help in rebuilding and reconstruction efforts for the coastal city devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Briskin, along with Alan Rowe of San Pedro, Vicki Hulbert of Palos Verdes Estates, Ben Pogorelsky of Rolling Hills Estates and David Burton of Rancho Santa Margarita, are part of a citywide delegation of Jews and Christians participating in this relief mission sponsored by the Southern California Board of Rabbis, the Jewish Community Relations Committee of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Grant A.M.E. Church and the Southern California A.M.E. Ministerial Alliance.
“Tikkun Olam, the ethical imperative to work to repair the world by responding to crisis and the needs of the larger community is one of Judaism’s central values,” Briskin said. “By going to Gulfport, we are doing our small part to repair, literally, one small corner of our world.”
Briskin said he hopes not only to contribute time, energy and labor, but also to return home with valuable lessons learned about the faith, hope and cooperation that prevails within this devastated region.
For more information, call (310) 833-2467 or e-mail; email@example.com.
Consulate’s “Israel 101”
The L.A. consulate general of Israel hosted a group of 40 sixth-graders from Pressman Academy for an “Israel 101” event before their class field trip to Israel next month. Students participated in Israeli dancing, word association games, videos and an educational skit highlighting Israel’s high-tech industry, performed by members of the consulate staff. Apart from the mouthwatering Israeli chocolates, the students got a special treat when Consul General Ehud Danoch greeted them and emphasized that while the scenery and holy sites would undoubtedly leave an impression on them, it will be the connections they make with their Israeli counterparts that will most affect them. During their 10-day tour of Israel the students will experience the action of Tel Aviv, the majesty of Jerusalem and Masada, and catch a glimpse of life on a kibbutz.
It was Lladro&tilde and African dishes recently on Rodeo Drive when Lladro&tilde, the renowned Spanish house of porcelain, joined forces with Operation Smile to raise money for free reconstructive facial surgery to children in developing countries worldwide. A special porcelain sculpture, “Let Me Help You,” was formally unveiled at a VIP reception at the Lladro&tilde Rodeo Drive Boutique.
To set the mood for the African trip, Lladro which will sponsor it with the funds raised, transformed the boutique into a visual homage to the Kenyan landscape in blues, reds, yellows and oranges to reflect a Kenyan sunset, while Barbuda trees recreated the greenery native to the region. Guests enjoyed African music, and cocktails and sampled unusual goodies, like groundnut soup garnished with tiny bananas, Nyama Choma (barbecued meat in the Kariokor style), M’Chuzi Wa Kuku (coconut chicken), Smaki Na Nazi (coconut fish), Samosa (meat-filled pastries) and Irio (a pea, corn and potato dish served as a minipancake, topped with East African salad relish).
OK, I am not certain if it was kosher, but I would have to pronounce it to ask, but I do know the food was yummy and the desserts amazing. Great stuff like, Mini Mount Kenya’s (minicoupe with peach ice cream topped with diced, rum-soaked pineapple; mango, and a dollop of whipped cream) and Mahamri (fried dough with powdered sugar). What could be bad about a doughnut with powdered sugar?
On hand were celebs like Operation Smile spokeswoman and angelic actress Roma Downey, who was with her husband, super- reality show guru Mark Burnett; Kathleen Magee, co-founder, Operation Smile; Bill Magee, son of co-founders Kathleen and William Magee; Safa Hummel, CEO, Lladro USA; Beverly Hills Mayor Stephen Webb; Vice Mayor Jimmy Delshad, and Lorraine Bradley, L.A. City human relations commissioner (and daughter of former Mayor Tom Bradley).
The Ultimate Taste Test
Inside Kosher World, the recent “for-the-trade” food show, you had to remind yourself you were in Anaheim. To my left, two gentlemen negotiated a deal in animated Hebrew. To my right, wine connoisseurs swirled, sniffed and sipped kosher-for-Passover premium varietals from Israel and 11 other countries. Behind me, hungry visitors, beckoned by the intoxicating aromas of smoked meat grilling, speared six varieties of kosher sausage. And at what other trade show would you find a curtained section designated “Davening Area”?
While this was the third year for Kosher World, it was the first time the show joined with the ethnic and halal markets, under the umbrella of the World Ethnic Market.
“These foods are no longer limited today to specialty suppliers or people of a particular religion or ethnicity,” said show director Phyllis Koegel. “They’re now routinely available at major food retailers, restaurants, hotels and food service operations.”
About 40 companies exhibited kosher products, ranging from wines to cheese to meat and halvah, but there also were cashews from Dan-D-Pack, a product of Vietnam; halal beef franks from Midamar, and salted lassi from Gulf & Safa Dairies of Dubai.
As usual at such shows, I sampled far too much, but what don’t you do in the name of research? My first stop was Neshama Gourmet Kosher Foods, for the best sausage I’ve ever tasted. My personal favorite is the exotic Merguez line, made from beef and lamb.
“For the first time our smoked andouille and country apple will be available kosher for Passover,” announced vice president Evelyn Baran.
I sampled salad dressing from Mistral — loved the soy ginger — and the yummiest individually wrapped Kugelettes — sure, there were Traditional Golden Raisin, but could grandma dream up Green Chile and Cheese with Salsa?
Next I visited Raphy’s booth, where samples of baba ghanoush, stuffed eggplant and a host of other delicacies, all produced in Turkey — the watermelon peel preserves are to die for — were dished up with flair.
Only fine wine could top off this “balanced meal,” so I headed for Royal Wine Corp., the world’s largest producer, importer and distributor of kosher wines. “When people hear ‘kosher’ and ‘wine’ in the same breath, they think sweet,” said Dennis Bookbinder, the company’s director of sales. “Our slogan is: ‘We produce and import premium varietal wines that happen to be kosher.’ Today you’ll find world-class kosher wines from $200 a bottle on down.”
Many of the company’s 300 wines from 12 countries regularly garner awards and top ratings from the world’s foremost wine critics and publications. And with Passover around the corner, expect a flood of new kosher wines. Petit Castel from the Judean Hills is considered the finest wine from Israel, Bookbinder said. Baron Herzog Jeunesse, as well as premium wines from Segal’s, Barkan and Carmel, are just a few he recommended to grace the seder table.
This year’s show also included the Natural Products Expo in the same building, “because people tend to associate kosher food with natural and organic,” said show director Koegel.
According to analysts, only 20 percent to 33 percent of kosher foods produced worldwide is consumed by Jews, and this is one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry. So just who is buying the rest? Muslims, Seventh-day Adventists, Hindus and others who follow similar dietary restrictions, for starters. With 20 percent of the population lactose intolerant and millions calling themselves vegetarians of one sort or another, plus countless others who are health conscious, it is easy to see why kosher products have wide appeal. The mad cow disease scare hasn’t hurt either; because of strict cleanliness requirements and butchering procedures, there has never been a case of the disease found in kosher beef.
So, as the motto on a banner said at the first Kosher World: “Bringing kosher to mainstream and mainstream to kosher.” Truer today than ever, I’d say.
Indifference Enables Moscow Shul Attack
Jewish leaders have blamed Russian authorities, law enforcement agencies and societal attitudes for the Jan. 11 stabbing attack at a Moscow synagogue, saying that the authorities have not responded properly to previous anti-Semitic and hate incidents.
“The entire world has seen what the lack of fight against fascism leads to today,” the Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC), Russia’s largest Jewish group, said in a statement.
Berel Lazar, one of Russia’s chief rabbis and a federation leader, demanded that Russian authorities react promptly to the incident.
“We won’t be silent,” Lazar said at a news conference in Moscow. “We are expecting that the state organs, law-enforcement agencies will take real measures so that” these types of incidents will not occur again.
The federation also said the attack was a direct consequence of earlier manifestations of anti-Semitism that Russian authorities left almost unnoticed. In particular, the group cited an infamous letter signed by some Russian lawmakers and public figures that in early 2005 called for a ban of Jewish organizations in Russia.
Some Russians seem to share this view; 81 percent of 3,992 callers to a popular Moscow radio station said that the attack was a sign of rising xenophobia and extremism in Russia.
Many groups are also looking into increased security. The Israeli Embassy is pressing Russia’s Foreign Ministry to install more security at Jewish institutions in the country. “Events in Moscow have aroused grave concerns,” said Mikhail Brodsky, the embassy’s press secretary.
The incident took place just before the evening service, when the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue in downtown Moscow was full of worshippers. The shul is one of the oldest in Moscow and serves as the base of the Agudas Chasidei Chabad in Russia, a Lubavitch organization.
The man, identified by police as Alexander Koptsev, 20, struck out at random before being pushed to the ground by Yitzhak Kogan, the shul’s rabbi, and Kogan’s son.
The attacker, with self-inflicted injuries, was checked into the same Moscow hospital as most of his victims. Once his condition permitted, prosecutors charged Koptsev with racially motivated attempted murder. Officials quoted Koptsev as saying he stabbed the Jews because “they live better.” He also reportedly will be charged with actions aimed at humiliating religious groups.
All of his victims are in stable condition or better, several were released within days of hospitalization. None of the injuries was life-threatening, medical sources said, despite initial reports to the contrary. Among the injured were Russians, several Israelis, an American — Kogan’s son-in-law, Michael Mishulowin, who had formerly lived in Los Angeles — and a rabbinical student from Tajikistan.
Witnesses said the attacker shouted, “I came to kill you,” and looked like a skinhead, but a source with the Moscow police told news agencies that the attacker is not a known member of any known neo-Nazi groups. Some sources have indicated the young man may suffer from a mental disorder.
Investigators classified the attack as attempted murder and “inflicting injuries out of ethnic or religious hatred,” which in Russia carry a maximum punishment of 12 years in prison.
The FJC leadership called on the authorities to take tough measures against the existing neo-Nazi youth groups and against the publishers and distributors of anti-Semitic books that can be easily bought in public places in most of Russian cities.
Lazar said that the rampage was a direct result of the atmosphere in a Russian society that easily tolerates xenophobia.
In the meantime, the federation said it has beefed up the security measures in all its synagogues across the country.
Russian synagogues usually hire private companies to provide security. Another Russian Jewish umbrella group, the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations said it would call on its local constituents later this month in an attempt to raise funds to improve security measures at provincial synagogues and Jewish institutions.
“We should appeal to the authorities for protection,” said Vladimir Pliss, a spokesman for the group. “But in the end we should definitely take care of ourselves; no one will help us on that.”
‘Oy Vey’ Such a Sign
A traffic sign with the words, “Leaving Brooklyn Oy Vey!” went up on the Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn into Manhattan. The city’s Department of Transportation approved the sign earlier this month, after rejecting an earlier request from Borough President Marty Markowitz.
“The beauty is, every ethnic group knows it,” Markowitz said of the expression.
Vote May Be First to Blur Ethnic Lines
For more than a generation, racial and ethnic politics have dominated Los Angeles’ mayoral elections. That is, perhaps, until this year, which might be the first election of Los Angeles’ emerging post-ethnic era.
Although no doubt frustrating to the various candidates, this development is a promising one for Los Angeles as a whole. It is far healthier in this polyglot mess of a city if people can run for office based on their persona, qualifications and ideology, instead of their lineage. Better to be a confused and cacophonous democracy than one divided along communal lines.
Much of the evidence comes from the earliest polling. It appears that none of the leading ethnic candidates against white-bread Mayor James Hahn — Antonio Villaraigosa, Bernard Parks, Bob Hertzberg or Richard Alarcòn — are winning overwhelming and immediate support from their ethnic compadres. People may come around in the end to vote that way, but at least they seem to be giving a benefit of the doubt to the guys from other tribes.
Perhaps nothing is more illustrative than the relatively tepid support Villaraigosa is gaining from Latinos this time around. Last time, they gathered around him like the second coming of Cesar Chavez; this time, they seem more skeptical and pragmatic. This time, according to the Los Angeles Times Poll, he is garnering roughly half the amount he got last time.
Indeed, arguably the most powerful Latino in town, Labor Council boss Miguel Contreras, has chosen to back his dutiful and proven servant, the mayor, rather than his own compadre. Contreras would rather be the big boss of Los Angeles than its most important Mexican. Alarcòn fiesty candidacy, if not gaining votes, is also diluting the kind of Chicanismo message that propelled Villaraigosa the last time.
Similarly, Parks is not exactly proving to be a redux Tom Bradley. African American voters may be disillusioned with their choice last time, Hahn, but they are not flocking blindly to the former police chief. Parks arguably the most conservative of the candidates, is making some inroads where Hahn, the white Protestant, should be, that is, among Los Angeles’ remaining Republicans.
As for the Jews, they are even more confused and confusing than ever. By the laws of ethnic politics, they should be rallying en masse around former Assembly Speaker Hertzberg. Yet he so far has won the support of perhaps only one-fifth, with as many supportive of liberal firebrand Villaraigosa.
What’s behind these developments?
For one thing, ethnic politics are now increasingly trumped by factors of age, income and even geography. Take the Jewish vote. Ten years ago, a Zev Yaroslavsky candidacy would have brought a massive united Jewish turnout, which might have been enough to elect him mayor. Today, many Jews, particularly younger ones, vote based on something other than ethnicity, according to Arnold Steinberg, a longtime Los Angeles political consultant and pollster.
“We are a long way from a time when having a Jewish mayor would be seen as a great source of pride,” Steinberg said.
In other words, Jews are established enough, secure and rich enough not to feel the need to have one of theirs running city hall.
Ultimately, Steinberg believes we will see a more nuanced breakdown in the ultimate Jewish vote. Hertzberg, once he gets his middle-of-the-road message out, can expect to do well with more conservative Jews in the San Fernando Valley and among the more religiously oriented. These are people who tend to be more middle class, and who feel belabored by the city’s ultraliberal politics, high taxes and regulatory regime.
These represent very much the same subgroups that rallied to Richard Riordan in 1993 and 1997. Yet at the same time, there are many Jews, particularly on the Westside, who may opt for Villaraigosa. Their votes, suggested David Lehrer, former long-time head of the Anti-Defamation League, may be more swayed by the pull of liberal politics and an emotional desire for a hip, dynamic Latino mayor than anything else.
“There are people who support Hahn because of his father, and there’s people who want Villaraigosa because of his liberal politics,” Lehrer said. “It’s the same old politics now but without the ethnic overlay. The Jewish factor doesn’t matter the way it used to.”
But it’s not just Jewish identity that doesn’t factor in. If anything, the post-ethnic concept even more reflects the growing presence of Latinos and Asians in the city. These groups tend to be divided between native born and immigrants, each of whom has a somewhat different perspective. Recent arrivals may tend to judge people more on ethnicity; second- and third-generation people, particularly those born after the Chicano movement, may tend to support candidates for nonethnic reasons.
Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who represents a very ethnically mixed East Valley district, said she found that many Latinos supported her in her last election for reasons that had more to do with her approach on issues than on ethnicity.
“I got 50 percent of the vote in some Hispanic areas,” said Greuel, a non-Jew married to a Jew who is raising her young son Jewish. “They are about traffic, public safety — the same things everyone else wants.”
Then there is the intermarriage and inter-mixing factor. Today, about 5 percent of Angelenos are of mixed race. This number is likely to go up, given the roughly 30 percent-40 percent of second-generation Latinos and Asians who marry outside their ethnic groups. Today, suggested ethnic marketing expert Thomas Tseng, young people of all ethnicities choose from a similar menu of music, food and cultural-lifestyle choices.
“People are divided not by race so much as by their preferences,” observed Tseng, co-founder of the New American Dimensions marketing firm. “You are less an African American or a Latino than someone who is a rocker, a pop music fan or a hip-hop person.”
Translated into political terms, this means ethnic politics is blurring as people interact more with people of different backgrounds. In the Valley, now arguably the most racially diverse part of the city, many neighborhoods that were exclusively Anglo, now have many Latinos and Asians.
Valley Jews certainly are not immune to this process. Hertzberg himself is married to a Latina, and many younger Jews are more likely to have Hispanic, Asian and African American friends than their parents. They are as likely to identify with their cultural proclivities, ideological preferences or neighborhood as with their ethnic group.
For the candidates seeking to dethrone Hahn, this shift to a less-racial or lineage-based politics may prove a bit irritating. But for Los Angeles’ future, this post-ethnic trend may prove exactly what the doctor ordered.
Joel Kotkin is an Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He is the author of “The City: A Global History” to be published by Modern Library in April.
Investigation of AIPAC Crosses Line
There have been hundreds, even thousands, of articles in the American press regarding an FBI investigation involving the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
While the reports imply or assert various charges, none, in fact, has been lodged, despite an investigation that has lasted more than a year. While information has dribbled out, it’s still hard to discern exactly what wrong has been allegedly committed that would justify such a highly publicized case.
Leaders and members of the Jewish community are confident that there is no substance to the allegations, yet their level of concern is increasing. Why?
To fully understand the reaction and emotions evoked we would need to engage in a lengthy sociological, historical and even psychological analysis of the American Jewish community.
I think it’s safe to say that American Jews are among the most patriotic and loyal of American citizens. Certainly this is true of those who are the targets of this investigation. As a community, we respect the authority of government and support the rule of law. But historical realities have loaded on us a lot of baggage, so that when a Jew is charged, particularly in such sensitive areas, it is seen as a communal, not just a personal, matter.
When there are doubts about the motivation behind such actions, it raises other specters that have dark roots in our past. In recent months, there have been repeated stories about the “neocons” — often a code word for Jews — or widespread canards placing the onus on Jews for everything from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to the war in Iraq.
The implicit references to “dual loyalty” cannot be overlooked, especially when reliable studies show that a significant percentage of Americans still believe this baseless and bigoted idea. American Jews care about Israel and advocate proudly in support of the special U.S.-Israel relationship. So do many other Americans with historical or ethnic ties to other homelands overseas.
The effectiveness of that Jewish advocacy has raised resentment, jealousy and wild mythologies. These are among the factors that set the context for the reaction to the AIPAC investigation.
There are many questions as to why, after such a long period, there have only been selected leaks, and why — after AIPAC cooperated fully — it was necessary for seven FBI agents to stage a raid for information that was voluntarily offered, with CNN waiting at the door as they departed.
In fact, the root of the concern harks back to Leslie Stahl’s original, breathless report on CBS’ nationwide broadcast on Aug. 27, 2004, a Friday night.
That initial account asserted that espionage was involved and that a Pentagon “mole” was working with AIPAC. The CBS Web site carried a headline, “The FBI Believes It Has ‘Solid’ Evidence That the Suspected Mole Supplied Israel With Classified Materials That Included Secret White House Policies and Deliberations on Iran.”
In the following days, the story kept changing — to the alleged transfer of secret documents, to the mishandling of classified information, to ever-lesser charges. Some immediately likened it to the Pollard affair, while others saw it as part of the administration’s internal turf battles.
There were many questions regarding CBS’ behavior, the timing of the release — three days before the Republican Convention — and the lead investigator’s earlier dealings with Jewish employees at the CIA.
There were no official statements from administration sources. Some members of Congress shied away from comment, while many called for investigations of the probe.
Jewish organizations, confident of AIPAC’s assurances that there was no substance to the charges, rallied to its support. So did members of AIPAC, in public and private ways.
They were bolstered by the appearances of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice at a major AIPAC event in October, as well as the revelation that President Bush chose to address AIPAC’s annual conference a few months earlier, despite the investigation that was already under way.
But damage was done, and the Pat Buchanans of the world rushed to take advantage of it. Buchanan said on a national television show, “We need to investigate whether there is a nest of Pollardites in the Pentagon who have been transmitting American secrets through AIPAC, the Israel lobby, over to the Israel Embassy, to be transferred to [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon].”
He went on to refer to reports about people in the office of Douglas Feith, an undersecretary of defense.
These comments were repudiated by one of Buchanan’s fellow panelists, former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich. But another panelist, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), chose not to respond even when asked by the program’s host.
While speculation continues about the true motivations behind the investigation — whether it’s an attempt to take advantage of a sting operation to bring AIPAC down, or force it to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or merely is the result of bungled effort — it clearly has crossed the line of the acceptable.
The latest revelations by investigative journalist Edwin Black (see page 22) and others suggest that agents took advantage of a scared, lower-level, non-Jewish Defense Department employee to set up AIPAC and others, including former Pentagon official Richard Perle and CBS News producer Adam Ciralsky.
The case already has taken a toll. Jews working in government have told of the pressure they feel and of unpleasant experiences. Those who seek to spread venomous anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views have found temporary camouflage. AIPAC has been forced to divert resources and time from its ongoing work — and all before a single charge has been brought.
We do not want to cover up; if there was wrongdoing, let it be exposed. We are confident that there was none, and that the allegations will prove false.
We want to see a conclusion to this case and not see it “hang out there” as did “Agent X,” the “mole,” and other past charges against Israel, which were without foundation but were never repudiated. Periodically they re-emerge from the mouths and pens of the haters.
Neither AIPAC nor the Jewish community will be cowed into silence or in any way lessen our commitment to working on behalf of the interests of the United States and its democratic ally, Israel.
The American people identify with Israel based on common values and world views, and no fabricated charges or allegations can undermine these fundamental bonds or commitments.
I hope that the vindication — and perhaps the apology — will be as visible as the charges. But past experience shows that’s unlikely.
Malcolm Hoenlein is executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Keeping Jews in the Flock
Brace yourselves, people: We’re about to celebrate a holiday that touts intermarriage. Yep, our beloved Queen Esther married a goy — minus the ol’ now-a-Jew sniparoo. According to today’s Jewish demographic reports, that puts Esther in the "Bad Jew" category.
We’re told repeatedly that intermarriage is the death knell of the Jewish people, but let’s face it: Jews have been intermarrying since the beginning of our tribe 4,000 years ago. Marrying "out" is precisely how we got Jews with looks covering the gamut from blonde hair and blue eyes to black skin and nappy hair. It’s also one of the reasons that Hitler hated us: We were at it again, blending with the local race, destroying its ethnic purity.
Even that sorely desired Messiah we’re always yappin’ about is going to be the descendant of King David, who in turn is the descendant of Ruth. Well lookie here: Ruth was a Moabite! If that’s not heaven’s approval of intermarriage, I don’t know what is.
True, Ruth took on the Jewish faith. But were she around these days, her children (that’s right folks, the ancestors of the Messiah) would not be allowed to enroll in any number of Orthodox Jewish schools. After all, Ruth never did the dunk. The way we’re looking at things today, her conversion was not kosher.
Another thought to consider: Until recently, conversion to Judaism was based on patriarchal concepts of marriage: A man "took" a wife, so he could "take" that wife from whatever tribe and religion he wanted. The woman automatically would be subsumed by her husband’s identity, religious affiliation and way of life. Not exactly what I would call a heartfelt, spiritually conscious entry into Judaism. Nonetheless, we consider the descendants of such a woman to be Jewish — including descendants of those women who predated the days of the mikvah, the ritual immersion bath.
The way I see things, we’re losing Jews not because of intermarriage today, but because of how we’re treating Jews who intermarry today. Our community is following the "I’m losing a daughter" routine, instead of the more pleasant and expansive option, "I’m gaining a son." As a result, we’re casting out interfaith couples and their children.
Rather than ostracize and sit shiva for someone who marries a non-Jew, why not invite the non-Jewish spouse to learn about and practice the wonders and joys of our precious heritage? Why not ensure that the couple’s children will grow up with Jewish holiday celebrations, religious teachings and values?
I have known plenty of Jewish youth who have given their hearts and souls to the Jewish community, just to be told they are not "really Jewish," because their mothers come from non-Jewish backgrounds. Only exceptionally strong youngsters have the spiritual wherewithal to continue to affiliate with the Jewish community, following such an onslaught of rejection. And
we wonder where all the Jews are going.
As for myself, I guess I should not have been shocked when I got hate mail several months back, following an article I published about my Arab Muslim boyfriend and me. I was especially struck by the letter of a woman who had admired my outstanding contributions to the Jewish community … until she read that article. Suddenly, she was ready to turn me into the authorities and publicly damn me to hell. Good thing my Judaism was stronger than her interfaith vitriol. Reactions like hers can, and have, sent Jews running away from us.
Ironically, interfaith relationships can bring Jews closer to our tradition. My friend Rebecca, for example, was a thoroughly secular Jew until she got involved with Jamal, a Muslim man. Inspired by his religious devotion, Rebecca began exploring her own religion. Not long after marrying Jamal, she began celebrating Shabbat, attending Orthodox services and moving toward keeping kosher.
True, interfaith coupledom is not the easiest path to take, especially when each person cares about her/his own religion, and even more especially when kids are involved. But that’s all the more reason for us to be a loving and embracing community — to help families pass on the Jewish torch.
There are so many factors involved in finding a partner, and finding one’s mate is such an individual decision. In a world of violence and decay, let’s congratulate those of us who have managed to find love, respect and laughter. Rather than spending our energy on condemning intermarriage, let’s put it into creating a Jewish community where all of us will want to stay.
Loolwa Khazzoom, the editor of “The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage” (www.loolwa.com/anthology), will read from her new anthology, “Unveiling the Crossroads,” on Thursday, March 18, 7:30 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For tickets, $10 (general), $5 (members and students), call (323) 655-8587.
Mexican Jews Hail Discrimination Law
Mexican Jews are pleased that the government has begun implementing a recent law that explicitly prohibits anti-Semitic discrimination.
The Federal Law to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination — which one government official called "one of the most advanced laws of its kind" — passed unanimously in both legislative chambers in April and was signed by President Vicente Fox in June.
The law calls for a 300-member National Council to Prevent Discrimination, which is being formed now and will begin operating in January. The council, which will have branches throughout the country, will address alleged violations of the law.
Anti-Semitism is not a serious problem in Mexico, Jewish leaders said. Still, the law is seen as key to Mexico’s future as a democracy.
"This law places Mexico on a level plane with democratic nations," said historian Shulamit Goldsmit, coordinator of the Judaic studies program at the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City.
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender, age, disability, economic or social condition, health, pregnancy, language, religion, opinions, sexual preference or marital status. It clearly states that xenophobia and anti-Semitism are forms of discrimination, and calls for equal access to education, jobs and political office.
Previous presidents had issued declarations forbidding discrimination, but they never made them into law.
Former legislator Gilberto Rincon Gallardo, who will direct the anti-discrimination council, said the council’s goal is cultural reform — something that could take two or three decades.
Rincon Gallardo ran for president in 2000 from the Social Democratic Party on an anti-discrimination platform. After losing to Fox, Rincon Gallardo founded a citizen’s commission against discrimination, which spent two years drafting the law.
"This law is extremely advanced; I believe it’s one of the most advanced laws of its kind in the world," he said in an interview.
Prohibiting anti-Semitism is an indispensable part of the law, Rincon Gallardo said.
"In Mexico, there is a certain tradition of looking at Jews as a form of foreigner," he said. "We want the elimination of anti-Semitism to be part of this cultural change."
There are about 50,000 Jews in Mexico, mostly in Mexico City, the capital.
While they don’t suffer serious anti-Semitism, the law is an important symbolic measure that could prevent future problems, said Mauricio Lulka, executive director of the Central Jewish Committee, Mexico City’s Jewish umbrella organization.
"There was confusion about why anti-Semitism needed to be included," said Lulka, who was part of the citizen’s commission that drafted the law. "We explained that anti-Semitism goes beyond ethnic discrimination."
Lulka and Rincon Gallardo both said the law aims less for punishment than for education — which Lulka sees as essential to Mexico’s future.
"In the past, Mexican nationalism was defined by sameness," Lulka said in an interview at the committee’s Mexico City offices. "But if you don’t recognize plurality and diversity, you can’t be democratic."
Jews have been both welcomed and persecuted throughout Mexican history, as the country has struggled with competing desires to attract immigrants for economic reasons and to maintain a cohesive society.
Jewish settlement in Mexico dates back to the Spanish colonization in the 16th century. But Mexico’s inquisition, although not as severe as Spain’s, virtually eliminated the Jewish community.
In modern times, significant Jewish immigration began in the late-19th and early-20th centuries with arrivals from Europe, Russia and Syria. Jewish immigration increased when the United States restricted entry in 1924. Mexico prohibited Jewish immigration in 1933 and 1934, but then opened its borders to European refugees fleeing the Nazis.
In her book "Ashkenazi Jews in Mexico," Adina Cimet describes Mexican attitudes toward Jews in the 20th century as ambivalent.
At times the attitude "came perilously close to prejudice, and when the wave of anti-Semitism enveloped the world, Mexicans did not entirely dissociate themselves from those feelings," Cimet wrote. "They remained largely detached: Jews were not physically attacked in Mexico, but neither was there any rush to help refugees out."
Goldsmit said Jews have lived better in Mexico than in other parts of the world.
"The Jewish community in Mexico has always enjoyed complete citizenship," Goldsmit said. "Jews could build schools and synagogues, live where they wanted, practice their religion openly."
Still, she admitted, Jews often are viewed as foreigners, even when they come from families that have lived in Mexico for two or three generations.
Mexico’s new law could begin to change such attitudes, Jewish leaders said.
Renee Dayan-Shabot, director of Tribuna Israelita, the analysis and opinion arm of the Central Committee, said the Senate’s vote on the law was moving.
"It came time for any arguments against the law, and there was complete silence," said Dayan-Shabot, who had lobbied the government for the legislation for eight years. "It was so satisfying because this has been a long process."
Jewish Wizard Takes Flight in New Potter Book
Are there Jews at Hogwarts? The world’s most famous School of Witchcraft and Wizardry might be muggle-free, but it is possible that it has an equal-opportunity policy for Jewish wizards.
In "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the fifth of seven books in J.K. Rowling’s insanely popular children’s series, readers are introduced to one Anthony Goldstein.
The book doesn’t tell us much about Anthony, but we can ascertain certain things. He is in Ravenclaw, which means he is of "the sharpest mind" according to the "sorting hat." Because Anthony is a prefect, he is a considered to be a leader among his classmates. We know that he is one of the good guys, because he joins "Dumbledore’s Army," the defense against the dark arts class that Harry teaches after the unctuous professor Dolores Umbridge removes anything remotely practical from their defense lessons.
Representatives at Scholastic Books, the publisher of the Harry Potter series, said they had "no idea" if Anthony is Jewish or not, and Rowling was unavailable for comment. However, Dr. Raymond Jones, a professor of English at the University of Alberta, who teaches literature courses in "Harry Potter," said that is was highly probable that Anthony is Jewish.
"One of the things that is happening here is that Rowling is making the school contemporary," Jones said. "The school seems quite old-fashioned — they use quills and not computers — but, by populating her school with a variety of ethnic backgrounds, she is admitting to the reality of modern England and modern America."
But even if Anthony and others are Jewish, don’t expect them to start lighting the menorah too soon; according to Jones, religion plays no role of any kind in Harry Potter — where the only miracles are ones done by the wizarding community.
Japane wish American Reflections
If there is such a thing, I am your typical Japanewish
My Mom is Japanese American, my Dad is ethnically Jewish
and, in a wonderful embrace, I came to be. Growing up in a town in which racial
and religious combinations were not the norm, my two heritages naturally
blended into one. Kamaboko (fish cake) and matzah ball soup were just as normal
to me as they were odd to everyone else. On several occasions, my brother and I
would joke about being double-teamed by our parents, whose academic standards
were sky-high. Mom and Dad seemed to be the only ones on the block who
strategically transformed games of report cards and SAT scores into two-on-one
situations. But no matter how much I still accuse them of being ruthless, they
didn’t team up to be mean — they just wanted us to be the best we could be.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about Mom and Dad when they
decided to marry — particularly Dad. Sure, he was committing himself to Mom.
But what he was really committing himself to was a lifetime of fish heads and
pickled weeds (as he calls Japanese food), chopsticks and a New Year’s
superstition — if you don’t arrive for breakfast by 8 a.m. sharp, you’ll have
an unlucky year. He was entering a world in which strong opinions weren’t
always vocally expressed, and oishikunai (unappetizing) dinners ruined entire
evenings. Life was all about the family — and all about the family meal.
Dad likes to tell me that he and Mom were like night and
day, that their looks, foods and personalities didn’t match up. But what
mattered most did match. Beneath the superficialities, they discovered
deep-rooted similarities like the centrality of family, the value of education,
a curiosity about the world around them and a strong belief in doing the right
thing. No matter how odd a couple they might have seemed to others during their
high school and college days, they in fact belonged together.
Like Dad, Mom also encountered another culture. Visiting
Dad’s family meant stepping out of her house, into his, where food was half as
important and conversation was twice as loud. Mom tiptoed between bursts of
song and unrestrained vocalized opinions at the dinner table. But no matter how
much her culture initially clashed with Dad’s, it was nothing that time
In fact, in time, the two cultures cross-sectioned so much
that they eventually flipped sides. In a cabinet beside my parents’ bedroom, an
otafuku (a charm symbolizing motherhood) sits next to a Sandy Koufax mug. The
great marriage of Japanese woman to Jewish man displayed in our own bookcase!
And yet the irony of this odd juxtaposition is that Sandy Koufax was Mom’s
childhood idol and otafuku was omiyage (a souvenir) Dad brought back from a
trip to Japan. If cultural harmony can exist inside a cabinet, it sure as heck
can exist in the world — can’t it?
Mom and Dad didn’t raise my brother and me in the Jewish
religious tradition. To make up for it, Dad likes to remind us that we are in
fact Jewish — even if just by culture. He loves to point out Jewish-sounding
names like “Schulman” and “Leibowitz,” tell me I get my “good looks and poysonality”
from hi, and comments after whistling “Nice Work If You Can Get It” that the
Gershwins — two Jewish guys from New York — “could sure write ’em!” He also
never misses the opportunity to nudge me and say, “How about finding a nice
Jewish boy?” I think most of the time he’s just kidding — but I’m not always
Since there aren’t very many Asian Jews, I often wonder if
my unusual ethnic combination is simply weird. After all, it’s not every day
that I run into an edamame-eating Woody Allen movie-lover like myself.
Â In the hope to discover I’m not alone, I’ve recently
scrounged for Asian/Jewish history. I discovered that three groups of Jews from
Spain, Portugal, Iraq and India lived in the Indian cities of Kerala and Bombay
during the 19th century, and Persian Jews lived in Kaifeng, China, as far back
as the 15th century.Â
In both India and China, cultural mixing took place — the
Jews of Cochin developed a version of the Indian caste system, and the Persian
Jews intermarried so much that they became physically indistinguishable from
the Chinese. Not to mention the Jews who fled from concentration camps to China
during World War II. These Asian Jews, and particularly the offspring of
intercultural marriage, must have felt what I feel now — both joy and distress
for being different.
My problem lies therein. I hate standing out in a crowd,
proving my American nationality, and justifying my nonreligious Jewishness. I
hate the discrimination, the classification, the ambiguity. But I love being
different. I love telling folks I am both Japanese and Jewish, that my nose may
be small and cute, but my hair is wild and frizzy.
After ranting to a friend about the absence of Japanewish
history, he in turn replied, “But that’s what makes you so interesting.”
I’m almost convinced I don’t really need a history, that I’m
strong enough without one. Put it that way, and I realize I’ve been running in
circles for the missing puzzle piece, not realizing that the puzzle was already
complete. But maybe the exercise has been good. Maybe I’ve just been running
through the cycle of self-discovery like everybody else.
Sure, I hope to find my place somehow, sometime. And if it’s
in a Japanewish American homeland, even better. But, until I find it, I’ll just
keep wandering. It’s too hard to know everything. And anyway, isn’t life more
exciting when you don’t? Â
Ellen Fuji is an L.A. native, a freelance writer and an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.
Be Careful With ‘Terrorism’
The LAX shooting on the Fourth of July was another test of Muslim-Jewish relations.
Some Jewish leaders complained that Los Angeles Muslims did not denounce the shooting. That some people didn’t hear it, and then accused Muslims of remaining silent, seems to be a common problem in many public pronouncements Muslims make these days. It is not an issue of transmission by Muslims, but of reception by others.
Another problem for the Muslim community, and other ethnic/religious groups in America, is the definition and application of "terrorism" in violent crimes.
As we await the conclusion of the FBI’s investigation in the LAX shooting on the Fourth of July, we are witnessing a sudden attack on law enforcement’s definition of terrorism. If the investigators conclude that the shooting incident involved terrorism, let’s all accept it and move on. If they maintain that it was an isolated incident, expect a widening of the debate on the methodology on classification of violent acts.
At the root of that debate, I believe, is the deeper problem of how our society has politicized and exploited violence and its painful aftermath.
When police charged the Jewish Defense League’s Irv Rubin last fall with attempting to bomb our office, the King Fahd mosque in Culver City and the office of Congressman Darryl Issa, the federal authorities avoided calling it terrorism. It was a bomb plot and the charges centered on the possession of explosives. The president did not issue any statement to the nation as he did for the LAX shooting. In fact, the Jewish Defense League is still not listed as a terrorist organization. Where were the brave voices speaking out against political correctness then?
In another landmark case reported in The New York Times on June 24, a federal judge dismissed charges against seven members of the Mujahedeen El Khalq (MEK), a pro-Marxist terrorist organization established to overthrow the current Iranian regime. The group was charged with aiding terrorist groups by soliciting donations at airports. The judge asserted that MEK’s civil rights were violated when they could not defend themselves against the State Department’s assertion that they were a terrorist group in the agency’s listing. Members of Congress even passed a resolution in solidarity with the MEK after the Clinton administration placed the group on its terrorist list. Congress was never accused of aiding and abetting terrorists.
Should the same standard apply for the three American Muslim charities shut down last fall as a result of the government’s freeze of their assets? Of course, the MEK story did not stir up any debate, because these terrorists are working for the Western geopolitical interests against a Muslim country. Selective justice is injustice — it does not help us in the war on terror and continues to project the image that the United States is anti-Islam.
Other cases involving violence against ethnic groups could have been used as political footballs. An Egyptian storeowner was killed weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, but the authorities did not classify it as a hate crime or a terrorist attack. The U.S. Government never considered it terrorism when black churches were torched throughout the South.
If a group of Muslims were caught storing arms to ship to the Kashmiris, for example, I’m sure there would be a national uproar about it as another chapter in the war on terror. It’s not just a matter of arresting and prosecuting the criminals, but how it is played out in the court of public opinion that leaves deep impressions in our society.
American Jews celebrate the fact that their children defer going to college in order to serve in the Israeli army, but American Muslims are chastised if they recruit any of their youth to join the Palestinians, or are called terrorist sympathizers for giving money to the refugees of war-torn countries.
Whether violence is committed by groups or individuals, our job as leaders in the Muslim and Jewish communities is to diminish — not exacerbate hatred; there is an alarming trend from those who jump on opportunities to score more political points against one another at the expense of human relations.
I can understand the hysteria surrounding the Middle East conflict. Public policymaking is not the place for allowing that hysteria to influence serious decisions.
Emotionalism has negatively impacted Muslim-Jewish dialogue throughout the United States and in Los Angeles. But those who have managed to endure these oppositional forces will, in the long-run, be the pioneers of fostering mutual trust between the two communities. Those who have left the dialogue usually have done so in a circus atmosphere to demonstrate zeal to the right-wing members of their constituencies.
We passed the test from the LAX shooting, because of the leadership of a handful of Muslims and Jews, but more tests will follow. We all have to deal with the realities of extremism today and the violent acts emanating from it.
A violent crime that takes the life of innocent people is bad enough. But to be so adamant about, and outraged over, the labeling of the crime does not serve anyone’s interest. To the valiant spokespeople who want to promote the war on terrorism in their selective application of terrorism: Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. And then you will have to recoil to your corners when the double-edged sword of the terrorism debate swings the other way.
According to a recently released Shaw University study, there are now between 6 and 7 million Muslims living in America. The study’s figures may be a bit inflated, but few doubt their larger meaning: either Muslims now outnumber Jews in America, or they soon will.
The Journal featured a cover story Jan. 12, 2001 on this subject, so the news shouldn’t come as a shock to our readers. In fact, it shouldn’t necessarily alarming at all. Why? Well, there are Muslims and there are Muslims. According to the study, 33 percent of mosque members are of South Asian origin, 30 percent are black and 25 percent are of Arab descent. "The overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans," one analyst noted, "spend more of their time thinking about local issues that affect their lives — schooling for children, housing, employment — than about the Middle East."
That means there are plenty of areas where American Jews can find common ground and common cause with Muslims. And then there’s the Middle East.
How to deal with our inevitable conflicts over Israel and the Palestinians? One unique approach originated in this community in Dec. 1999, when a group of 80 Muslim and Jewish leaders drafted a code of ethics, pledging to denounce all terrorism and hate crimes, promote civil dialogue, and avoid mutual stereotyping and incitement. Many Jewish leaders opted out, wary of joining with Arab Americans whom they believed were two-faced in their statements on Israel. Since then, dialogue between mainstream leaders has slowed considerably. That’s a mistake. If Israeli officials are still speaking to the Palestinian Authority — and they are — Jewish leaders here could at least tolerate local Muslims whose opinions they dispute.
In Detroit lately, Jewish and Arab schoolchildren have been slinging ethnic slurs at one another. It shouldn’t get to that point here, and one way to prevent it is for our leaders to demonstrate the advantages of dialogue.
Officials Visit Israel
Andrew Carter, a participant of Operation Unity, a program that brings minority Los Angeles high school students to live on an Israeli kibbutz for six weeks, never felt as accepted as he did in Israel. No one treated him differently because of his color, he said, and the minute he got off the plane, “Everyone wanted to hug you.”
Whether or not his experience is shared by other visitors to Israel, it points to a general attitude of acceptance for people of different cultures and ethnicities found in Israel — an attitude that a group of Californian legislators, participating in the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Annual Legislators Mission, also encountered and commended.
The Legislators’ Mission was coordinated by the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Federation to bolster elected officials’ relations with the Jewish community in California, to strengthen their understanding of Jewish culture and modern Israel and to share the struggles common to both regions. Together with a group of Jewish lay leaders, they toured Israel extensively and learned of the Jewish state’s current political, economic and cultural developments and realities. It’s an experience, said JCRC executive director Michael Hirshfeld, that strengthens the ties of legislators to Israel, and the L.A. Jewish community to its representatives.
Participating legislators included Assemblyman Jim Battin, Liet. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Assemblywoman Ellen Corbett, Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh, Deputy Councilman Adi Lieberman, Assemblywoman Gloria Romero and Assemblywoman Kevin Shelley.
The topic of tolerance reached the fore at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem where the legislators were joined by the participants of Operation Unity, a program designed to give minority students a lesson in unity and co-existence.
“A kibbutz is an ideal model for the students to learn about people working together and multicultural education because it’s a microcosm of a community,” said Cookie Lommel, who was inspired to found Operation Unity after the airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1991.
Part of the appreciation for diversity in Israel is an outcome of the priority Israel places in the successful absorption and integration of immigrants.
“Israel has a really forward looking and forward thinking way of absorbing immigrants,” remarked March Firebaugh, assemblyman of the southeast Los Angeles district, which has a predominantly Latino population. The systematic way Israelis teach Hebrew as a second language and offer assistance to immigrants, for example, set an example for California, said Firebaugh.
Yad Vashem proved to be a pivotal stop for the mission participants and students. The topic of the Holocaust poignantly demonstrated the challenges that Jews have faced in the past, the importance of a Jewish state and the gross consequences of intolerance, an issue that the multi-cultural societies of California, and now Israel, must deal with regularly.
Jewish Earning Power
Jews are more likely than members of any other American ethnic group to purchase a hardcover book or attend a live musical performance in the coming year, but they’re much less likely to buy a car, truck, recreational vehicle or major home appliance.
Their earning power outstrips any other ethnic group, yet they continue to vote very much the way Blacks and Hispanics do.
These statistics may sound like the setup to some tired ethnic joke or chicken soup homily, but they’re actually the latest in social-science research.
They are part of an intriguing new portrait of American Jews that has emerged from a groundbreaking study of ethnic America. Conducted last winter by Zogby International in cooperation with the New Jersey Jewish News, the studies, the Zogby Culture Polls, attempt to shed new light on a variety of American ethnic groups by examining them side by side.
The study consists of a series of identical surveys administered simultaneously to six different ethnic groups: Jews, Hispanics, and Asian, African, Arab and Italian Americans. The result is perhaps the first fully rounded statistical snapshot of America’s ethnic mosaic, or an important chunk of it.
By mapping the contours of individual ethnic subcultures alongside one another, the researchers hoped to produce a sort of relief map of the broader society, as well as a more rounded profile of each individual group.
The surveys were conducted between Dec. 14, 1999 and Feb. 7, 2000. Sample sizes varied, as did margins of error. The Jewish sample numbered 589 people, with a 4.1 percent margin of error.
The portrait of American Jews that emerges from the poll is at once familiar and surprising. Jews are increasingly rooted in America, the survey confirms. Fewer than one-third are immigrants or children of immigrants, a percentage similar to that of Italian Americans, but far less than the numbers for newer arrivals such as Hispanic, Asian or Arab Americans.
Moreover, Jews have achieved an extraordinary measure of success. Six out of 10 Jewish adults have a college degree, more than any group except Asians.
More than 41 percent report a household income of $75,000 or more, far above any other group surveyed. Fewer Jews than members of any other group reported worrying about losing their jobs or going without a meal. Far more reported investing in the stock market and shopping via the Internet.
And yet Jews still view themselves as a minority, and that self-image clearly shapes their view of their world.
Close to 90 percent say their ethnic heritage is “very” or “somewhat” important to them, comparable to Blacks, Hispanics or Arab Americans but far beyond Italian Americans. And nearly 60 percent report having experienced discrimination because of their ethnic heritage, more than any other group except Blacks.
Fully half of Jews report having a “strong emotional tie” to their “country of ethnic heritage” — less than Hispanics, at 62 percent, or Arab Americans, at 56 percent, but much more than Asian Americans, at 43 percent, or Italian Americans, at 37.5 percent.
What is particularly striking is that unlike the other groups, the country to which Jews are attached is not one their grandparents came from, but Israel, one which for the most part they have only read of in newspapers or learned about in religious school.
The researchers pointed to the very distinctiveness of the Jews as an identifiable community, with its own patterns of behavior and values, as the most striking finding of the poll of Jews.
“Jews have retained their own identity,” said John Zogby, president of Zogby International.
“I’m not an expert in Judaism, and as an Arab American I wouldn’t claim to be, but the findings suggest that there’s plenty within the context of Judaism as a spiritual force that generates a commitment to community spirit and communal values.”
Zogby, who is of Lebanese Christian descent, is best known as a New York-based Republican pollster. He is the brother of Arab American lobbyist James Zogby.
“You have to look at what appear to be subtleties,” added Belio Martinez Jr., Zogby’s director of international marketing and research. “When you look at issues of persecution, or at their involvement in international affairs, it’s clear that they really don’t view themselves as part of the traditional Anglo American majority culture.”
That minority self-image may help explain why Jews remain more liberal than any of their neighbors, despite their material success and the fading of the immigrant experience.
Both Zogby and Martinez cited that liberalism as the most important finding in the Jewish survey.
“They’re more conservative than they were in the 1920s and 1930s,” said Zogby, “but within the larger context, they remain more liberal than others.”
This liberalism shows up in a variety of contexts: party identification, voting patterns and positions on issues.
Nowhere, though, is it clearer than in the simple fact that Jews are more likely to identify themselves as liberals than any other group. Some 49 percent of Jews called themselves “liberal” or “very liberal,” compared to 42 percent of Blacks and about one-third of every other group.
By contrast, about 19 percent of Jews called themselves “conservative” or “very conservative,” compared to 25 percent of Blacks and about one-third of every other group.
The lopsided liberalism is reflected in party identification: About two-thirds of Jews are registered as Democrats and 15 percent as Republicans. That makes Jews less partisan than only Blacks, who are 78 percent Democratic and 6.5 percent Republican.
Among Hispanics, 57 percent are registered Democratic and 21 percent Republican. Italian and Arab Americans, like the nation as a whole, are about 37 percent Democrat and 34 percent Republican. All the groups’ presidential votes in 1996 closely matched their party registration.
The lopsided liberalism of the Jews shows up in their responses to issues on the public agenda, particularly on abortion.
Jews are overwhelmingly pro-choice, with 61 percent saying the decision should always be left to the mother. Among other groups, the figure ranged from 40 percent of Blacks and Asian Americans to 29 percent among Italian and Arab Americans and 24 percent of Hispanics who were fully pro-choice.
Similarly, fewer than 50 percent of Jews believe in notifying parents when a minor seeks an abortion, compared with nearly 80 percent in every other group.
Jews are also the most supportive of letting the federal government set education policy, the most supportive of campaign donation limits and the least supportive of increasing the military budget. In general, Jews showed a greater faith in the power of the federal government to do good than any other group.
That good will does not spill over to the United Nations, which received lower marks from Jews than from any other group surveyed.
Given a choice between “effective peacekeeping/human rights agency” and “bloated bureaucracy that weakens U.S. sovereignty,” most groups tilted about three-to-one toward “effective peacekeeping.” Only 55.8 percent of Jews chose “effective peacekeeping,” while 18.2 percent chose neither.
For Zogby, the specific characteristics marking American Jews — attachment to Israel, distinctive political values, mistrust of the United Nations — all point to the enduring influence of Judaism on the Jews’ inner lives.
Others might dispute that conclusion. But one thing is certain — wherever it comes from, they’re not getting it in synagogue.
Jews attend worship services less regularly than any other group surveyed. That, in fact, was one of the most striking differences the survey found between Jews and the others.
Just under one-quarter of the Jews polled said they attend services at least once a week, while more than half said they attend on “special occasions only.”
In every other group those numbers were precisely reversed, with about half saying they attend services at least weekly and 25 to 30 percent saying they attend only on special occasions. (Between 9 and 20 percent of each group said they “never” attend services, with Asian Americans scoring highest.)
At the same time, Jews had the highest proportion — 5.2 percent — who attend services daily, suggesting the continuing influence of Orthodoxy. Combined with 18 percent who attend weekly and more than 6 percent who attend “once or twice a month,” a total of nearly 30 percent attend synagogue with some regularity. This matches other surveys showing that 25 to 30 percent of American Jews maintain a deep, ongoing involvement in communal Jewish practice.
What keeps the others identifiably Jewish? The Zogby Culture Poll doesn’t say. All it does is state the facts: One way or another, something is keeping them Jewish.
Glorifying DiMaggio, but Not His Times
By the time you read these words, the death of Joe DiMaggio will be old news. I grew up in a New York City in which he was the greatest of our sports heroes, and I was blessed as a child with an Uncle Ike who took me to the bleachers in Yankee Stadium. My love for baseball and loyalty to the Yankees have remained strong (although George Steinbrenner can really test a man’s faith…).
New York Jews in the 1930s and 1940s were divided into two, the all-rightniks who rooted for the Yankees and the poor schlumps who favored the Brooklyn Dodgers. (The New York Giants must have had some Jewish fans, but I cannot recall any, offhand). Not until 1941 (I don’t count 1916 and 1920) did the Dodgers, perennially mired in the National League basement, win a pennant, only to be crushed by the Yankees in the World Series.
I don’t believe that we young, Jewish Yankee fans ever thought of DiMaggio in ethnic terms, although ethnicity was a factor in our lives. In 1940, I attended junior high school in Corona, a largely Italian community in Queens. That was the year that Mussolini joined Hitler in World War II. On the day that sad event occurred, there was loud cheering from the nearby classrooms; our Rapid Advance class, filled with young Jewish scholars from neighboring Forest Hills, was silent and depressed.
Before World War II, ethnicity was not viewed as positively as it is today. The New York Times’ obituary of DiMaggio included the following quotation from Life Magazine, in a 1938 issue that featured his picture on its cover:
“Although he learned Italian first, Joe, now 24, speaks English without an accent, and is otherwise well adapted to most U.S. mores. Instead of olive oil or smelly bear grease, he keeps his hair slick with water. He never reeks of garlic and prefers chicken chow mein to spaghetti.”
The Times obituary writer pointed out that this was intended to be complimentary.
Such a jarring statement, appearing in a major publication not noted for its ethnic or religious biases, reminds us that, while society has changed over the years and not always for the better, the “golden ages” of the past, lovingly recalled by politicians and some religious leaders, were as much fancy as fact.
For a more accurate picture of America in those years, tune in any evening to American Movie Classics on cable. There, you will see, in grainy black and white, the movies we were viewing while growing up. In them, blacks are jungle savages, housemaids, tap dancers and comic foils. Asians (Mr. Moto, the perfect Asian stereotype, excepted) are present only as assistants, evil enemies (during the war) and background natives for adventure stories that star white Christians. And Jews don’t exist at all.
In the DiMaggio obituaries that I read, there were several references to Muhammad Ali as being the only American sports figure who matched the Yankee Clipper in stature. In DiMaggio’s time, we would have substituted for Ali, Joe Louis, the “Brown Bomber,” who endeared himself to Jews by knocking out Max Schmeling in the first round of a much-anticipated rematch. The German, to the evident delight of Hitler and his propaganda experts, had stunned Louis in their first bout.
But Louis was not a hero to Jews only; he was, in the patronizing phrase of his day, “a credit to his race.” Louis was praised in the media precisely because, outside the ring, he was humble, deferential, apolitical and “knew his place” — the antithesis of Ali, whose showbiz aura and aggressive but controlled persona were as much reflections of America in the 1960s as was Joe Louis of the earlier period.
In some of the DiMaggio obituaries, I sensed an undercurrent of resentment that today’s heroes and celebrities are so different from those in the years of his prime. It is true that DiMaggio did not conform to our modern concept of celebrity (although he did marry and divorce Marilyn Monroe). He did not live flamboyantly, and he did not seek out the media; he even resented publicity in his post-career life.
I grew up in New York. Nevertheless, Joe DiMaggio was one of my heroes. But I was a child and didn’t appreciate, until much later, how greatly DiMaggio exemplified values at variance with those of the society in which he lived. In the 1930s, the United States was, in large measure, racist, sexist, homophobic, uncaring about the less fortunate, and isolationist. Never did DiMaggio’s image include any of those characteristics.
Six decades later, while we have not eliminated these evils, we are a far different, far more tolerant society. Joe DiMaggio would still be a highly regarded athlete and a highly respected individual. But those who urge a return to some of the questionable values of the years of his triumphs lead us astray. It was enough that he did what he did; we need not, in his name, glorify the past he belonged to.
Contributing writer Yehuda Lev writes from Providence, R.I.
The Ethnic Revolution
Contrary to the ever-hopeful predictions of the Republicans, Jewish voters proved remarkably resistant to change in this month’s congressional voting.
But that predictability — Jews voted overwhelmingly Democratic, with a few regional exceptions — belies a seismic shift in ethnic politics. Several groups came out of this year’s electoral brawl strengthened — a message that is being heard loud and clear by politicians.
The rise of these groups, along with decreased electoral participation by Jews, may threaten Jewish political clout if community leaders do not heed this month’s wake-up call.
“Assimilation has a political as well as cultural impact,” said a leading Jewish political analyst. “Fewer Jews may be voting as Jews. At the same time, there’s a danger we will succumb to the trend of indifference we see in the electorate at large. What we need now that other groups are coming into their own is more Jewish turnout, not less, [and] more identification with our community’s core issues.”
Complacency, this analyst said, could turn the gains by other ethnic groups into a zero-sum game — with Jews on the losing end.
The raw numbers on Nov. 3 told an intriguing story. Jewish voters were actively wooed by both parties, and in several close races, it was expected that they could provide the margin of victory.
But when the votes were tallied, the Jewish vote made a discernible difference in only a few. Jews voted the way they always vote — about 80 percent Democratic, 20 percent Republican. There were variations, but the pattern was clear; even Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., who received about 40 percent of the Jewish vote against a Jewish rival six years ago, sank back to 23 percent, thanks to a series of gaffes and an aggressive campaign by his rival, Rep. Chuck Schumer.
Jewish “swing” voters, who can go either way, seemed scarcer than ever. Despite recurrent predictions that Jews are shifting to the GOP, political scientists say a muscular Christian right and a Republican Congress dominated by ultra-conservatives are keeping Jews firmly on the Democratic side, even though many may be attracted to the other Republican Party — the party of fiscal conservatism and individual freedom.
The African-American vote was also a lock for the Democrats. But the potential size of that bloc — and the fact that it was pivotal in a handful of contests — is not passing unnoticed by political strategists.
In Maryland’s gubernatorial contest, for example, a last-minute Democratic get-out-the-vote effort in the black community propelled the lackluster incumbent, Parris Glendening, to a convincing victory over challenger Ellen Sauerbrey.
Other ethnic blocs are rising even faster. The huge Hispanic vote came out in force, boosting Democrats in California, Republicans in Texas and Florida. Hispanic voters represent an emerging swing vote, which makes them a particularly worthwhile investment for party tacticians. Just behind them are Asian-American voters, by some accounts the next great untapped swing vote.
In a number of states, the message politicians heard was this: The black vote is increasingly important to the Democrats because of the big numbers that can be turned out under the right circumstances, and the burgeoning Hispanic community can be a swing constituency worth fighting for.
The Jewish community, in contrast, is numerically small, increasingly fragmented and utterly predictable — a constituency easy to take for granted, or to write off entirely.
GOP leaders say that they’re not going to slacken their Jewish outreach, but it’s hard to see how the party can justify the effort, given election after election of disappointing results.
Democratic officials are confident that the Jews will stay put, leaving them free to devote greater energy to the larger but less active black community — and to ethnic swing constituencies, including Hispanics and Asian-Americans.
A shift to the center in the Republican leadership could change that calculus, but there are no indications that is likely to happen.
So where does this leave the Jews? Some pillars of Jewish strength are unchanged, but there are alarming signs of a weakening at the polls.
Jews remain disproportionally involved in financing political campaigns; no other group has exploited the controversial campaign finance system as effectively.
“Elections today are decided by money, and Jewish contributions — especially to the Democrats — are substantial,” said American University political scientist Amos Perlmutter. “That means Jewish influence will remain strong, particularly on the Democratic side.”
The Jewish community is also unusually effective in lobbying and in working with state and local officials who may someday run for Congress, a long-term strategy that is already paying big dividends. Other groups are playing catch-up, but they have a long way to go.
Although the community is increasingly divided over the Mideast peace process, Israel continues to offer a focus for activism that multiplies Jewish power. The emerging Hispanic bloc, by way of contrast, is divided by economic class and country of origin. Their numbers and involvement may be growing, but translating that into effective political action will be difficult without an overarching issue.
And Jews continue to be disproportionately involved in politics as campaign consultants and workers, as party officials, as congressional and administration staffers.
But as intermarriage and assimilation continue to deplete the Jewish demographic presence, Jewish political power at the voting booth may stand on an increasingly narrow base.
Most Jewish analysts say that turnout, traditionally higher than among non-Jewish voters, is declining, although statistics are scarce. If that is true, the rise of other ethnic groups — the big story in 1998 — will erode Jewish power.
Apathy and indifference, the poisons of democratic political life, may be particularly toxic for Jews. Finding antidotes — including new ways to get Jews to the polls and new ways to educate them about the Jewish importance of political issues — is the major challenge facing the community’s political leaders in this new era of energized ethnic politics.
Death of a Patriarch
Tom Bradley was buried Monday, hailed as Los Angeles’ longtime mayor, statesman, leader and friend. His is a grand biography; a son of Texas sharecroppers and the grandson of slaves, Bradley broke down ethnic and class barriers and forged a new multiracial political base that re-created this capital city of the Pacific Rim.
For the Jewish community, his is the death of a patriarch. By the time his 20-year term as mayor ended in 1993, the vaunted black/Jewish coalition that brought him to City Hall was already falling into disrepair, as both blacks and Jews struggled to mediate the city’s complex ethnic realities. When Bradley this week was extolled as a “Moses who could not bring his children into the Promised Land,” many in our own community knew what was meant.
As I sat with the well-dressed, respectful crowd that sweltered in bright sunlight outside the First AME Church, only the vestiges of that historic coalition remained. When Tom Bradley was hailed as a bridge-builder, no one mentioned the bridge extending from black Leimert Park to Jewish Fairfax and Westwood. Those seeking “closure” will be meeting in our own community to mourn the Tom Bradley we knew.
How shall we mourn him? Together, blacks and Jews came to power, but what have we learned? The obituaries have been kind, stressing, as they should, Bradley’s idealistic beginnings. Our own community’s great founding fathers and mothers — Judge Stephen Reinhardt, Ed Sanders, Richard Giesberg, Roz Wyman, Maury Weiner, Fran Savitch, Valerie Fields, Bruce Corwin — figure prominently in that triumph. Many of them were with Bradley even during his first try at City Council, in 1961, a recall bid against Sam Yorty-appointee Joseph Hollingsworth for the 10th District seat. Those early days and their alliances foreshadowed Bradley’s 1969 mayoral defeat followed by victory in 1973.
Yet, in the mayoral war stories, retold often this week, I learned something new. True, Jewish leaders recognized a winner in Bradley, a man who could forge a more progressive Los Angeles. But I hadn’t known that, in order to get him into power, they had to change not only the minds of bigots in the larger non-Jewish community but those of their fellow Jews as well.
When Bradley lost to Yorty in 1969, it was in part because Jewish voters stayed away. A last-minute mailer from the Yorty forces, circulated on Fairfax Avenue, linked Bradley, a moderate in style and political philosophy, with black militants.
“There was nothing we could do. The community didn’t know him,” says Ed Sanders. In the ensuing four years, Jewish leaders made sure that such scare tactics could never work again. “Bradley went to a lot of bar mitzvahs,” Sanders tells me. “In 1973, he was a stranger no more.”
This explains a lot, including why Jewish voters stayed with Bradley for so long, after every other group was drifting away. In his definitive study, “Politics in Black and White,” Raphael J. Sonenshein shows that, in 1985, Bradley would have beaten favorite son Zev Yaroslavsky in Zev’s his own 5th District. Which is why Zev did not run.
“I would have stayed with Bradley against King David,” says Bruce Corwin, Bradley’s first fire commission president and, today, a strong Yaroslavsky backer. The Jewish community was loyal to Tom Bradley, perhaps ashamed by its first failure of nerve. Once its heart is opened, it does not easily close.
Sadly, I was there for one closing. By the time I came to this paper, Louis Farrakhan’s 1985 Los Angeles appearance had already done its damage. While not the most difficult moment of Bradley’s years — certainly the 1992 Rodney King riots would be — it was a huge debacle for black/Jewish relations. Bradley, a UCLA graduate always as comfortable among Jews as among his own people, was caught between the two. Black church and civic leaders, for whom Farrakhan represented a crisis in leadership, urged the mayor not to condemn the Nation of Islam leader until after he had spoken. Jewish leaders demanded that the mayor come out strongly against anti-Semitism.
“Black leadership didn’t understand how terrified we were,” says Richard Giesberg. “They thought we were white people, with the world on a string.” So began an era of distrust among longtime friends.
Why talk of the Farrakhan incident now? Like the 1969 Yorty-Bradley race, Farrakhan offers lessons from hindsight. Jewish leaders this week were candid in their self-questioning: Despite Farrakhan’s potent and terrifying rhetoric, were they wrong to lean on a friend in this manner? What are the obligations of coalition partners? And, today, with as many as five Jews expected to run for mayor — including Councilwoman Laura Chick, Recreation and Parks Commission President Steven Soboroff and, perhaps, Supervisor Yaroslavsky himself — on what basis will strong coalitions with Latino and Asian communities be forged? Do we understand them even as we ask them to understand us?
The glory of Tom Bradley is the easy part of his legacy. The pain must be dealt with too.
We buried a statesman, this week, a man, a leader and a friend.
Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of The Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
A Stitch in Time May Save Jobs
For generations of my own family, and many Jewish families, thegarment industry long has been a source of employment andentrepreneurial opportunity. Yet, in recent weeks, some local Jewishactivists, led by the American Jewish Congress, have been making theshmatte business and its workers once again the object oftheir heartfelt intentions.
Although concern for garment workers’ rights and wages is alegitimate one, the AJCongress seems more motivated by what ExecutiveDirector Carole Levy calls “our hearts and morals” and nostalgicmemories of “our grandparents” than by a well-thought-outunderstanding of either the current economic realities or the ethnicclimate that is Los Angeles.
For one thing, the AJCongress campaign has already resulted inseveral pieces in the mainstream media — including one by UC SantaBarbara Professor Richard Applebaum — painting Jewish manufacturersas largely responsible for the exploitation of predominately Latinoworkers. Given the recent racially tinged flap over Councilman MikeFeuer and Councilwoman Laura Chick’s demand for coke-sniffingCouncilman Mike Hernandez’s resignation, posing the garment issue insuch ethnic terms makes about as much sense as lofting a Molotovcockatil in a crowded theater.
The AJCongress campaign also is almost certain to drive yetanother chasm within the Jewish community itself. Despite Levy’sgenuine claims of impartiality, the Los Angeles Jewish Commission ofSweatshops is likely to reflect the views of industry critics such asacademic Applebaum. He sits on the commission alongside arepresentative of the Jewish Labor Committee, a tiny but vocal groupwhose first vice president is Jay Mazur, the president of UNITE, theleading garment workers union. Industry representatives, althoughinvited to observe and testify, have been excluded from the panel,leading one disgusted former AJCongress board member, David Abel, toliken the whole investigation to a “kangaroo court.”
Linking union agitation to the sweatshop fight has been a commontactic since the revelation in 1995 of a “slave shop” in El Monte. Inthe media wars, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and TextileEmployees (UNITE) — the result of the mid-1990s merger of two fadingold-line garment unions — has used revelations of sometimesdisgraceful working conditions as a way to win sympathy for its causeand condemnation for the industry.
Yet a close examination of recent U.S. Labor Department findingsmight lead some of the less Pavlovian Jewish activists to rethinktheir retro-1930s views of unionism. Just last month, the LaborDepartment published findings identifying sweatshop violations of theFair Labor Standards Act by 63 percent of the shops in heavilyunionized New York; among shops represented by UNITE, the level ofviolations reached 75 percent.
Ironically, the New York survey puts the relative performance ofthe much-abused, largely unorganized Los Angeles garment industry –the prime concern of the AJCongress campaigners — in a somewhat morefavorable light. After having been rightfully shamed by disgracefulconditions at some of their contractors, California manufacturershave proven themselves more proficient at reducing abuses than theirunionized colleagues across the county. The development of anindustry-funded monitoring system is a primary reason.
A survey last year, for example, found roughly 39 percent of LosAngeles-based contractors in compliance, with two-thirds of monitoredfirms in full compliance. As the manufacturer-led compliance programhas expanded, one top Labor Department official estimates thatoverall compliance may now be roughly 50 percent, and far higheramong monitored firms.
These changes, along with boosts in the minimum wage, have helpeddrive wages for Los Angeles’ garment workers up 20 percent since1995, according to Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman.
Ultimately, the good-hearted activists of the AJCongress should gobeyond their nostalgic union proclivities to also explore other ways– such as improved industry monitoring, better marketing and workertraining — that might be more effective in boosting wages andworking conditions in a highly competitive, globalized industry. Thisis no longer your — or my — grandmother’s garment industry oreconomy; unions may not be the solution that they once were in an erawhen America faced limited foreign competition and had effectivelycurtailed most immigration.
Instead of patronizingly suggesting that Latino and Asian workersfollow the model of our own forebears, perhaps it would be better tounderstand why so few workers today — UNITE can claim no more than500 members in an industry that employs upward of 100,000 workers –see their salvation in unionization.
At Sorrento Mills in San Bernardino, 42 out of 50 workers thisfall voted to “decertify” the union, claiming that UNITE did littleto improve their working conditions or wages. A lawsuit against UNITEfiled by Sorrento workers claims that the union punished them fortheir actions by forcing M. Shapiro, a unionized Los Angelescoat-maker, to withdraw a contract from the firm.
The experience of Sorrento’s co-owner, Simeon Prophet, alsoprovides some insight into something that the AJCongress inquisitorsmight do well to consider — why so many employers dislike UNITE.Like others who have tried to work with the union, Prophet chargesthe union with using intimidation tactics, such as slashing tires,breaking windows and verbally intimidating workers who wanted tobreak ranks — claims with which a UNITE spokeswoman in New York saidshe was completely unfamiliar.
At the same time, the commission should also consider how itsefforts to what role the one-sided portrayal of the industry may havein helping push more and more sewing operations, including those fromUNITE bête noire Guess?, out of the region and to such bastionsof labor rights as Mexico, Sri Lanka and the People’s Republic ofChina. Of course, the jobs gone from Los Angeles won’t be those heldby righteous liberals in Brentwood, Santa Monica or Malibu. But thepain will be real for the thousands of workers, mostly Latino, andentrepreneurs, many recent Jewish immigrants from the Middle East andNorth Africa, who could lose their jobs, hopes and dreams. Maybe thenthey will be able call up the good-hearted activists of theAJCongress to pay the rent and feed their families. After all, itwould be the “moral” thing to do.
Joel Kotkin is the John M. Olin Fellow at the PepperdineInstitute for Public Policy and a Senior Fellow at the PacificResearch Institute.
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