How to judge judges on judgment (election) day

It’s the evening before Election Day, and Morton and Ethel Voterstein sit down after dinner to decide how to mark their ballots.

They know whom they want for president, as well as for U.S. and state senators and representatives. It’s a bit tougher to decide on the state and local propositions, but with a little study and the recommendations of trustworthy political leaders and organizations, the job gets done.

However, when it comes to the list of Superior Court judges elected by countywide vote there is sheer bafflement. With rare exceptions, the names are unknown and so are their records of service.

With a twinge of conscience or frustration, the Votersteins skip the page. At best, they take a stab at marking some of the races based on gut instincts, which have little to do with judicial performance and integrity.

What to do? The Journal turned to a few experts for advice. One was Judge Joseph Wapner, who served on the bench for 20 years before retiring and re-emerging as the television star of “The People’s Court.”

“Every election, I get calls from around 15 people asking my advice on how to vote in specific judicial races,” said Wapner, whose son, Fred, is a current judge.

For people who don’t have a judge for a buddy, Wapner suggests first to check the assessments of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, which rates judicial candidates as extremely well qualified, well qualified, qualified and not qualified on its Web site.

Wapner also recommends checking out the endorsements of the Los Angeles Times and the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, which coves the courts and legal profession.

Veteran political analyst Howard Welinsky, chair of Democrats for Israel, acknowledges that down-ballot races are usually a tough call.

For one, judicial races are officially nonpartisan and candidates cannot list political affiliations, thus eliminating one common guideline. However, determined voters can check the Los Angeles County Democratic or Republican parties for their partisan endorsements.

For another, candidates have only two or three words to designate their occupations on the ballot.

“It’s an advantage if a candidate can put down ‘prosecutor’ or ‘law professor’ but ‘attorney’ is a negative,” Welinsky said.

People generally don’t like to admit it, but left with no other criteria, they will vote for candidates whose last names seem to put them into the voters’ own ethnic group, be it Latino, Asian or Jewish.

There is also likely to be a gender bias at work, Welinsky said, particularly in races for County Central committees of the two major parties.

“If a husband and wife with the same last names both run for a spot, the woman will generally come in way ahead of the man,” he said.

This phenomenon was particularly noticeable in 1992, “the year of the woman,” when Californians elected both Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to the U.S. Senate. Welinsky believes that 2008 may be another such year.

Hal Dash, president of Joe Cerrell and Associates and a longtime political consultant, agrees that ethnic identification can play a strong role in voters’ choices, saying, “People tend to vote for their own.”

He is managing the campaign of Hilleri Grossman Merrit and advises her and other Jewish candidates to put their Jewish connections on their Web sites and talk to The Jewish Journal.

Edward Sanders and Carmen Warschaw, two savvy political activists, also agree that ethnicity plays a role in the voting process, but neither would cast a ballot for a less-qualified candidate just because he/she is Jewish.

“I think most voters try to be fair, but personally, if I don’t know anything about any of the candidates, I won’t vote for either,” Warschaw said.

What motivates voters is a matter of immediate concern to Tom Rubinson (photo) and Cynthia Loo, who are facing each other in the runoff for Superior Court Office 82.Rubinson is a criminal prosecutor in the district attorney’s tom rubinsonoffice and Jewish, and Loo is a Superior Court referee presiding over juvenile delinquency cases and Chinese American. On their respective Web sites, the two approach the question of their ethnic backgrounds differently.Rubinson makes no mention of Jewish affiliations or endorsements, telling The Journal that he considered his religion “too personal. I didn’t feel it would be appropriate to mention it.”

However, during the interview, he spoke at some length about celebrating his bar mitzvah in Jerusalem; his current family membership at Temple Israel of Hollywood, where he initiated a havurah group for parents with young children, and his support of the Guardians, who aid the Jewish Homes for the Aging.

By contrast, Loo listed seven Asian American organizations among her endorsements. She emphasized that ethnic identification shouldn’t be a key reason to vote for a candidate but made note that Asian Americans are vastly underrepresented in the federal judiciary.

Loo seemed more concerned about having to list her professional title on the November ballot as “referee,” although she performs the same functions as a judge.

“I am afraid that most people think of a referee as a guy who runs around in a striped shirt,” she said.

Speaking to The Journal, Loo noted that she feels a general and personal relationship to the Jewish community.

“Both of our people put a high value on education and family,” she said, adding, “I used to be married to a Jewish man. He is a really good guy and we’re still close friends.”

For information on the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s evaluations, visit

VIDEO: ‘Don’t Be A Sucker’ — War Dept. tells Americans to fight hatred and fanaticism (1947)

VIDEO: ‘Don’t Be A Sucker’—War Department tells Americans to fight hatred and fanaticism (1947)

From The Prelinger Archives.

Voices of women loud and proud with ‘Vox Femina’

More than a decade ago, when Gay Men’s Chorus director John Bailey lobbied Iris Levine, chair of the music department at Cal Poly Pomona, to start up a parallel women’s group, she balked. “It wasn’t something I wanted to do,” she said over the phone recently, recalling how Bailey envisioned a large, all-lesbian group.

Later, Levine said, Bailey approached her again, having realized that a women’s group might be different in nature from the men’s group — more intimate and “about being women, not about being lesbian.” With this new premise and a grant from the Gay Men’s Chorus, Levine founded Vox Femina, which will be performing “Nerli,” a children’s Chanukah song, at the 47th annual Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration on Dec. 24 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Now in its 10th year, Vox Femina recently staged its season opener, “Defying Gravity: Flying High on L.A.,” focusing on music about the heavens. One song on that bill, “Sky Dances,” also appears on Vox’s new CD, “Still I Rise.”

“Sky Dances” seems emblematic of the music sung by the 38-member women’s group — choral music with lyrics limited to a large extent to the refrain and with an emphasis on high soprano singers. Yet “Still I Rise” also includes the Marvin Hamlisch-Edward Kleban “A Chorus Line” tune “At the Ballet”; a snappy folk-rock number, “Closer to Fine,” and the titular gospel song, “Still I Rise,” all three of which feature soloists, alto singers and, in one case, an acoustic guitar.

Despite its eclectic repertoire, Vox Femina is not to be confused with the Whiffenpoofs, a Broadway chorus or a 1960s girl group. It is not an a cappella group; it almost always receives accompaniment on piano. The members are primarily interested in world music composed by women, not Cole Porter or Bob Dylan.

Levine is not only the founder of Vox Femina, she is also its artistic director. She chooses the themes of the performances, the music and even the singers. She also sometimes does the arrangements of the songs, such as that of “Hinei Mah Tov,” which the group once sang in Hebrew. For that piece, she provided group members with transliterated Hebrew; she herself knows the language from studying at a kibbutz ulpan.

Although Vox Femina will be singing “Nerli” in Hebrew, it is not in any sense a Jewish singing group. The women in Vox come from all backgrounds, not only in their sexuality, but also in ethnicity, race, religion and age. They sing in many foreign languages and even gave one concert entirely in Spanish at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, where they practice.

“We want to give the women of Los Angeles a voice,” said Levine, pointing out that every world song in their repertoire “has a population right here” in Los Angeles. She added that world music is “the music of the people.”

Levine began her musical career by taking the obligatory piano lessons at age of 5 or 6. Later, she sang in or accompanied choruses in high school.

When it came time for her to go to college, her mother encouraged her to pursue her love for music. After getting a B.A. in music at the University of New Hampshire, the Boston native followed up with a master’s degree from Temple University and then a doctorate at USC.

When she is not teaching music to college students or conducting Vox Femina, Levine directs the choir at Stephen S. Wise Temple, a job she has held for nearly two decades.

One gets the sense that she has almost no time for leisure. Given her schedule, it is perhaps not surprising that she had a cold when she spoke to a reporter recently, which affected her voice. But she is not a singer. She is a conductor, arranger, choir director, professor and artistic director, a Renaissance woman of the people.

Vox Femina will perform along with more than 40 other ensembles, including the Gay Men’s Chorus, the TishTones, the Beth Shir Shalom Choir, the Burbank Chorale and the Universal Dance Designs Kennedy Tap Company at the L.A. County Holiday Celebration on Sunday, Dec. 24, from 3 to 9 p.m. at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. For information, call (213) 972-7211 or go to

Ed Koch wants Prager out — will ask him to resign from Holocaust Memorial Council next week

(WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 12) The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council faces
continuing questions over recent statements by
one of its members, local commentator and writer Dennis Prager.

But the panel, which oversees the Holocaust
Museum on Washington’s Mall, has no answers,
since it had no role in appointing Prager and no
way of removing him. Prager was appointed to the
Council in September, but has not attended any
meetings since it has not met since then, and has
not been appointed to any committees.

Prager generated protests from across the
political spectrum when he wrote that Keith
Ellison, elected to the U.S. House on November 7,
shouldn’t be allowed to take the oath of office on a Quran.

In January Ellison will become the first Moslem
in Congress; although members do not get sworn in
on any holy book, he has said he would bring a
Quran to the private ceremony that many members use as a swearing-in photo op.

That offended the conservative Prager, who wrote
that allowing congressional oaths on a Quran
“undermines American civilization. “If you are
incapable of taking an oath on (the Bible), don’t serve in Congress.”

A long list of Jewish leaders quickly condemned
his comments, and former New York Mayor Ed Koch
demanded that he quit the Council.

Koch is also a Council member, and in an
interview he said he will seek Prager’s
resignation at the December 18 Council meeting.

“If they permit it, I will introduce a motion to
condemn him,” Koch said. “I am hopeful he will
resign, because I think he can’t do anything
other than discredit the Museum with what he has said.”

Koch said Prager’s comments undermine the basic
message the Museum was created to disseminate.

“I believe it is the duty of members of the board
to spread the message that attacks on people as a
result of their religion, ethnicity, race, are
all to be condemned wherever we have an
opportunity to raise our voices,” he said.

Prager, he said, is doing just the opposite by
“creating such an attack on a Muslim.”

Koch — a former member of Congress himself —
said he would have “no objection if sacred books
were used” for swearing in purposes — including the Bible or the Quran.

One Council member expressed frustration at the
position Prager’s comments have put the Museum in.

“We are caught in an impossible situation,” this
source said. “Because the controversy has gone so
public, it is hurting the Museum and its mission
— but we have no control over who is on the
board, we have no way of getting Prager to resign
other than simply asking him to.”

This source said that far from resigning, Prager
has asked fellow Council members to support him.

The White House has declined to comment on the
Prager controversy, and several Council members
said this week that they do not believe any of
their colleagues are lobbying the administration to remove him.

One of the Museum’s founders said Prager was
probably a poor choice for the panel.

“A pundit’s job is to stir up controversy,” said
Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, a former
Council member and Museum official. “Prager
views himself as a great ethicist, as a moral
voice, but on this issue he has gone off on a
profoundly alienating tangent. He sure doesn’t help the Council.”

Berenbaum said Prager’s comments suggest a
“religious test for public office. And that’s
wrong; it goes against the whole thrust of Jewish activism in this country.”

The issue is especially nettling because the
Museum, caught up in several explosive
controversies in its early years, has largely
steered clear of public flaps under the
leadership of Fred Zeidman, a Bush confidante and the current Council chair.

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.

Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish: 652 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” (Workman, September 2006) and can be found on the Web at

The Many Faces

“They both have dimples,” Rachel’s earnest classmate declared, “that’s how you can tell they’re sisters!”

The explanation was simple enough — no matter that 7-year-old Rachel has white skin and her 21-month-old sister, Angela, has black skin.

I just spent the weekend with more than 125 people (including 50 children) who came together because they are Jews with widely varying ethnicities and skin colors. They stay together because the intention of Bechol Lashon (In Every Tongue) — the initiative on ethnic and racial diversity in the Jewish community and the sponsor of the weekend — is to provide a time of learning and play in a Jewish atmosphere offering more than welcome. It is a weekend that offers embrace and delight, an opportunity for Jews to look around at Jewish faces who look different from stereotypes; Jewish faces who look as different as their own. These Jewish families belong to different synagogues or none at all and so often find themselves in (or feeling excluded from) American Jewish communities where they stand out from others in skin color or in accent, in background or in appearance. At Bechol Lashon events, stereotypes of what it means to look Jewish disappear within moments of one’s arrival, and instead, people see what really matters — sympathetic hearts and minds, the blessing of diversity, love of Torah and a desire for Jewish community.

Would that every Jew the world over were already so free from prejudice and fear that all Jews (let alone non-Jews) could expect and find a welcome no matter which Jewish community we walked into. The experiences of Jews throughout our history has not taught us how to be open-hearted. But our tradition does invite us to be, and perhaps our Torah begins with all human beings descended from the same first human beings for just that reason.

This week we begin our annual cycle of Torah — when God began to create the world in all its splendid variety.

“God created the human in ‘His’ image [b’tzalmo], in the image of God [b’etzelem Elohim], God created it; male and female God created them,” we are told in the first chapter of Torah (Genesis 1:27). And the Midrash plays with the concept: Each person is created in that person’s own individual, singular image (b’tzalmo), and also in the image of the Holy One (b’etzelem Elohim). So each one of us is unique, and also a reflection of God in the world. And why are all humans descended from the first person(s)? That none of us may claim, “My ancestors are superior to yours.” (see BT Sanhedrin 38a).

The history of Jews in the world has seen to it that we live in every corner of the world, and come in every color, but only in recent decades have we been given the opportunity to live together, to truly embrace that diversity of the Jewish people.

The National Jewish Population Survey 2000-2001, sponsored by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, tells us that 20 percent (1.2 million) of the Jewish population of the United States is “diverse,” including converts to Judaism, children adopted into Jewish families and raised as Jews, multiracial children of partnerships between Ashkenazi Jews and people of color and those who are themselves the generational descendants of Jews of color and those of Sephardic and Mizrahic heritage. (For more on that read “In Every Tongue: The Racial & Ethnic Diversity of the Jewish People” by Diane Tobin, Gary Tobin and Scott Rubin, or visit Most importantly, the number is growing — now more than ever. As corners of the world come together, we are being offered the opportunity not to blend in, but to embrace the diversity of God’s creations, right here, in our own city, in our Jewish community and in our own individual congregations.

There is another teaching I love based on the statement in Bereshit that all human beings are created bezel Elohim, in the image of the Holy One. In this Midrash, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi comments on the verse of Psalm 55 that reads, “There are many with me.”

And who are they? Rabbi Yehoshua asks. “They are the angels who watch over people. An entourage of angels always walks in front of people, with messengers calling out. What do they say? ‘Make way for the image of the Holy Blessed One'” (Deuteronomy Rabbah, Re’eh 4).

As the participants of the Bechol Lashon retreat gathered for a farewell shalom circle, I looked around at all the dimples on all the gorgeous, smiling, colorful Jewish faces and I heard the angels calling out, “Make way for the image of the Holy Blessed One.”

It’s a new year, a new opportunity to study the Torah from Bereshit though to its very end in the company of friends and study partners — old and new. May our Torah circles and our Torah study be filled with beautiful and diverse images of the Holy Blessed One.

Lisa Edwards is rabbi of Beth Chayim Chadashim.


When Jewish Is Too Jewish

I was in Washington, D.C., this week and had a meeting with a senior officer of the World Bank, who is from Bombay. As we ate our dinner, the conversation turned to ethnicity.

He told me he was from the Brahman caste. I told him I was Jewish and clearly not from the Brahman caste of our people (as if no one can figure that out). He commented that his wife was Jewish, and they are raising their kids in both identities.

He then said something very upsetting but yet understandable to my ears. His oldest son, who attends an Ivy League university, is now turned off to Judaism and turned on to being a Hindu.

He began college open to his Judaism. Several times he attended meetings of Jewish organizations on campus and always walked away with the same feeling. All he heard at the meetings was about the Jewish world and Israel.

In contrast, when he attended meetings of the Hindu students, they spoke of India and Hinduism, but they also spoke about the world, American society and the issues on campus, which had nothing to do with their ethnic identity. As a result, his son now feels that to be Jewish is to live in a very closed-in world of Jewish concerns, where people relate only to the particular and not to the universal.

I know what he is saying. There are times I walk away from a Jewish event or an evening with friends who are also active, committed Jews, and I say to myself, "It’s Jewish, Jewish, Jewish, Jewish, Jewish, Jewish, Jewish."

In a recent study by the Charles and Andrea Bronfman philanthropies of the new generation of young Jews in their 20s and 30s, they have learned that many of those who are business and cultural leaders in that generation have reached the same conclusion as my friend’s son. They are positive about their Jewish identities, but they don’t relate to the core group of active Jews or their Jewish offerings. They feel that the Jewish world is narrow, insular and out of touch with the larger society.

The study was done through focus groups with hundreds of participants randomly chosen in major cities across America. In each group, the findings were always the same.

When the subject matter finally turned to Jewish issues, people commented on warm feelings and sense of pride toward their Jewish identity. But when asked about the organized community and its activities, they said it did not relate to their lives or interests.

They further commented that they live in a diverse world, interacting with friends and colleagues who come from many backgrounds, with whom they share many cultural experiences. They feel that the Jewish world, as it is presented to them, is narrow.

Now, key participants from these groups are meeting in three-day retreats, brainstorming ideas that they believe would attract people like themselves into a deeper Jewish life experience and strategizing how to fund these new approaches.

I believe their feelings about the organized Jewish community have validity. Many of us who are among the core of activist Jews are losing our balance. We are passionate and concerned about Judaism. We fear for the future of the Jewish world. We work in Jewish causes. But we are forgetting we are part of a broader humanity and a broader culture.

We are losing our ability to relate beyond our particular, to embrace diversity beyond our own, to experience life outside the Jewish box. We believe that our Judaism goes with us everywhere. But is our Jewish identity meant to surround us and protect us from the world or to be our foundation through which we open to the world?

There are times I find in conversations with other involved Jews that the only novels we read are about Jewish subjects. Our houses are filled with kitschy Jewish art. We don’t go to concerts unless it is a performance group from Israel or some other area of the Jewish community.

Our children have gone from day school to an Israel experience to a Jewish college experience and then into Jewish professionalism without their feet ever touching soil outside the Jewish community. After Friday night Shabbat, our Saturday night experience is a Jewish event. Our conversations are only about Jewish subjects.

Does our Judaism mean we only know about the issues of Israel, anti-Semitism, how America effects Jews, Torah study and observance? Or does it mean that as Jews, with this knowledge and these concerns, we integrate with the broader society, able to be active and conversant about global issues, our cities, our society and culture?

Are our families, shuls and organizations the entire framework of our existence? When the Columbia space shuttle blew apart, did we only relate as supporters of Israel and saddened Jews and not as citizens of a world family?

At times, I feel we are moving back into the shtetl and voluntarily closing the gates at night. What I believe we are doing is not only separating ourselves from the world but separating ourselves from the 90 percent of Jews who don’t relate to organized Jewry. We are open to those Jews and embrace them but only as they come inside our gates.

This is not good for the future of the Jewish world. Closing ourselves off in order to protect our identity and living only within our vibrant core will destroy us quicker than assimilation.

We will become irrelevant to the vast majority of Jews and the world. Ask the uninvolved Jews of the next generation. They are our lifeline to the future. We need to remain vibrantly universal in order to thrive in our particular.

This was driven home to me in a very serious way last month, when I attended the Aspen Institute. I was invited to participate in the Socrates program, a three-day seminar about leadership in America.

Prior to arriving, I often found myself reflecting upon my two years’ participation in the Wexner Heritage Foundation, an experience that changed my life. I could not imagine that anything would possibly touch me as deeply as Wexner, as the Jewish subject matter, as the rabbis and teachers, the bonding between the participants and my ongoing Torah study.

However, in three days, Aspen did. The readings touched me. The facilitator, a non-Jewish professor from the Sloan School at MIT, moved my soul. The bonding between the diversity of participants was as deep as anything I had experienced through Wexner.

There was a moment during the seminar, that as an educated and passionate Jew I was able to cite a passage in Pirke Avot ("Ethics of the Fathers") relevant to the discussion, bringing it to another level for everyone involved. I realized in this way, I am fully participating in my Jewish identity to be part of the world.

I learned much from the Aspen experience but nothing more important than the critical nature of balance between the particular of my Judaism and the universal of our society.

Balance, I am learning for myself, must be the ongoing companion to the passion of my Jewish identity. It is for me what brings a fullness to my Jewish soul.

Today, when I walk away from an event or social evening that is just Jewish, Jewish, Jewish, Jewish, Jewish, I say to myself, it really wasn’t very Jewish.

Gary Wexler is an advertising executive and consultant to Jewish agencies

A District Divided

As the City Council begins it consideration of Redistricting Commission-drawn district maps, a conflict between Valley activists and Jewish interests seems to have been resolved. But as proposed districts are scrutinized and rescrutinized block by block, the question of whether the 5th City Council District will contain three core Orthodox neighborhoods remains open.

Council District 5 has historically contained core Jewish communities on both sides of Mulholland, including the Chandler corridor and the Fairfax and Pico-Robertson areas. A push to include five districts wholly within the San Fernando Valley and only one district split between the Valley and city threatened to separate Valley Jewish communities from their city counterparts, diminishing a strong Jewish influence in the City Council.

For the first time, wrangling over Council district lines was conducted in open hearings this year, with the new city charter creating a special Redistricting Commission composed of 21 members appointed by the City Council, mayor and city attorney.

Though the final redistricting plan will be decided by the City Council, the Redistricting Commission collected and helped implement public input. On average, Los Angeles’ 15 Council districts encompass 246,000 people each. The Council will approve a final map by June 30.

Redistricting commonly pits myriad interests against each other. Part of the difficulty in keeping the Chandler corridor in the 5th District derived from unrelated disputes between neighboring districts.

Valley activists like Richard Close, chair of the secession group Valley VOTE, wanted five Council districts entirely within the Valley to better represent concerns specific to the Valley.

City Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents the 5th District, and chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Redistricting (composed of five councilmembers) says, "It’s interesting to see how the overheated desire of those who want to split the city apart almost directly conflicted with the representative needs of an important constituency."

Weiss adds that, unlike pro-Valley secession activists, he approves of the Valley-City districts. "I think it is good for the City of Los Angeles to have districts that straddle Mulholland. It forces officials to be less parochial," he says.

Close was appointed to the Redistricting Commission by former 2nd District City Councilman Joel Wachs. For Close, keeping Jewish neighborhoods together takes a back seat to ensuring proportional Council representation for the Valley. "There were drafts discussed without [the Chandler corridor] in the 5th District," he explains. "The problem is, the 5th District is probably the longest district. We understand that Jack Weiss wanted the Fairfax district as well as the Chandler-Burbank area. Many ethnic groups came to us and testified to their interests. But if you have one ethnic neighborhood down in San Pedro and another in Chatsworth, you just can’t draw that into a district. The big problem we had was compactness was not consistent with some community interests.

"When we do districts, we’re supposed to be blind to race, religion and ethnicity," Close says. But the commission does consider the needs of "communities of interest." Commissioner Ron Turovsky, appointed by Weiss, says the ties that bind a community of interest can be a "whole range of factors," including ethnic or religious groups as well as distinct neighborhoods.

Rabbi Aron Tendler of Shaarey Zedek Congregation was among those voicing concern that Los Angeles’ Orthodox community would be split. "We do see ourselves as a single entity," he says. "You’re talking about a very large Jewish community that is very unified — which can be very advantageous." Together in the same council district, says Tendler, "We have shared issues and shared support."

The Jewish community and Valley representation controversies were only a small part of the litany of issues faced by the Redistricting Commission over the course of 11 public hearings since November 2001.

The map of the 5th District that the Redistricting Commission has sent to the City Council includes the Chandler corridor area, attached via Laurel Canyon Boulevard to the main body of the district, which includes Bel Air and Westwood and extends east as far as Highland Avenue.

Close is pleased that the plan, as proposed, includes the five Valley districts, but says, "The real question is, is the City Council going to meddle in the process?… Was the Redistricting Commission just a façade?"

At the final hearing on March 26, Ruth Galanter, whose 6th District has been moved from Venice to Van Nuys, told the commission, "Of course we’re going to meddle with the lines you decide."

At the same meeting, 13th District City Councilman Eric Garcetti called the redistricting process "intensely imperfect." That process, now nearly completed with the finalization of the commission’s proposals, is still subject to tinkering. But Weiss believes the Jewish communities of the 5th District will stay together.

"We’re talking about a community that has made their interests known," Weiss says.

Never the Same

Danny, 10, can recite the Five Pillars of Islam: faith, prayer, charity, fasting and pilgrimage.

Jeremy, 12, understands the difference between Predator armed drones and Global Hawk surveillance drones; between 500-pound "dumb" gravity bombs and 2,000-pound "smart" precision-guided bombs.

Gabe, 14, knows that Pastun and Dari are the spoken languages of Afghanistan while Pastuns, Uzbeks and Tajiks make up the main ethnic groups.

Zack, 18, can locate most of the "stans" — Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Since Sept. 11, on a practical and comprehensible level, my sons have learned about the religion of Islam, the military capability of the United States, the ethnicity of Afghanistan and the geography of Central Asia.

On an impractical and incomprehensible level, they have learned that their world can change horrifically and irreversibly in a split second.

They have learned that evil exists.

"Your lives will never be the same," I told them on Sept. 11. Even more than Dec. 7, 1941, altered the lives of their grandparents and Nov. 22, 1963, altered the lives of my husband, Larry, and myself.

Some changes happened immediately. I put a halt to Zack’s early decision application to an East Coast school. I forbid visits to theme parks, stadiums and venues with large gatherings. And I replenished and expanded the emergency supplies.

In the following few weeks, in a warranted and comforting burst of patriotism, we adorned our car windows, garage and boys’ bedroom walls with American flags. My younger sons replaced pop singers and athletes with firefighters and police officers as their heroes. And we mourned the victims, crying as we read their encapsulated biographies in The New York Times "Portraits of Grief."

Six months later, our lives are still not the same.

Yes, the fear of immediate danger is less palpable.

Larry and I have let Zack apply to three East Coast colleges. We have allowed Jeremy to visit Magic Mountain and Gabe to visit CityWalk and Century City. We have resumed going out to dinner, though less frequently, and supporting our faltering economy, though less enthusiastically. We have taken down all the flags except for a child-made felt flag that hangs in the front hall.

But I still nervously await the next terrorist attack on United States territory.

I still cry easily, this last time when journalist Daniel Pearl was first kidnapped and then viciously murdered.

And I find myself agreeing with Dr. Chris Giannou, head surgeon of the International Red Cross, who has spent 20 years in war-ravaged countries, including six weeks in Afghanistan last fall. He said, "For me, the world is divided between the bad and the worst, not the good and the bad."

But my sons, at least outwardly, are more optimistic.

"It’s not as if I walk into Dad’s office [on the 40th floor] and think, ‘Oh no, an airplane’s going to fly into the building.’ You can’t worry about that stuff," Gabe says.

"I can’t think about the terrorists all the time. It’s too sad. It’s what Osama wants us to do," Jeremy adds.

Perhaps their youth affords them more resiliency. Or affords them no basis for comparison, unlike their grandparents who witnessed World War II, or Larry and me who lived through the assassinations and upheavals of the late ’60s and ’70s. Or perhaps they’re repressing fear is too painful to surface.

I see their anxiety, however, when they talk about Israel, when they read about yet another suicide bomber in this increasingly volatile and seemingly insolvable conflict.

"It seems so unfair," Zack says, "that I get to plan for college while my Israeli friends have to go into the army."

These friends include our beloved "adopted" son, Ya’ir Cohen, who lived with us two years ago for three months and visited last October, as well as the other Israeli teens from Tichon Chadash High School who participated in Milken Community High School’s Israel Exchange Program.

They also include Gabe’s friends from the A.D. Gordon school in Tel Aviv, who visited Heschel Day School last year as part of The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership 2000.

My sons’ concerns are heightened by having experienced Sept. 11. By knowing how it feels to have their own country unexpectedly and brutally attacked.

But despite the world situation, which he reads about in detail in the newspapers, Danny is enthusiastically making plans for his birthday party in April.

Jeremy, as Cantor Jay Frailich of University Synagogue says, "is really cooking" as he learns his prayers and aliyot for his bar mitzvah in June.

Gabe is engrossed in rehearsing his lines for Milken’s spring production of "Comedy of Errors," in which he’s playing Dromio of Syracuse.

And Zack is enmeshed in the final semester of his senior year.

Yes, their lives will never be the same. They have permanently lost their naiveté and sense of invincibility. But perhaps, despite the sadness and the uncertainty, I could benefit from their forward-looking attitudes.

As Robert Frost said, "In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on."

It’s Just Business

“Do they all have to be Italian?”

This is the question the network executive asked the creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond” as they were casting Ray Romano’s family. A dumb question? If what was going on here was finding the best possible cast for a particular show, then, yeah, it would be a dumb question. But this is network television, where the marketing department has as much, if not more, to say about which shows will get on the air as the creative department. In order to deliver viewers, the network will do anything it can to avoid alienating the majority of Americans, who happen to be white Protestants. And conventional wisdom dictates that these people want to see themselves reflected on TV. So maybe asking whether all the Romanos have to be Italian was not such a dumb question, after all.

There’s been a lot of angry and disappointed reaction to the new TV shows for fall. The NAACP is protesting this television season’s all-white look. Hispanics and Asians are absent in leading roles, just like they usually are. And are there any Jews this year? I can’t think of one.

While I personally think this situation is deplorable from an aesthetic and cultural point of view, I honestly don’t believe the decision-makers at the networks are sitting around, wondering how they can keep ethnic groups off television. What they are sitting around and thinking about is money. Their own and the corporation’s, which, of course, are intimately connected. Millions, no, make that billions, of American advertising dollars ride on a hit TV show, and a hit TV show rides on only one thing: the numbers. If this is starting to sound more like a Vegas crap shoot than electronic theater, you’re following perfectly.

For the corporation to make money, those networks have got to sell commercial time, and the more viewers they can deliver, the more they can charge for that commercial time. See, it’s not politics; it’s math.

Since we’re talking about economics, remember the “trickle down theory?” Here’s how it works in TV: As a producer and writer of network television shows, I want to keep my checks rolling in, so I’ve got to deliver what my boss wants. I can start out creating a Jewish character, but by the time it’s on the air, she’ll be a white Protestant.

I created a character named Cassandra Kaplan. She lived on the Upper West Side of New York and was a literary agent in the publishing business. Could you get more Jewish? This was a pilot script — i.e. a template episode for a potential show. CBS liked it and wanted to shoot it. The network M.O. that year was to only develop shows that had a star in the lead role. This was not because Les Moonves, the president of the network, wanted to create jobs for out-of-work stars. No, he believed that the most reliable way to get people to tune in was to give them a familiar product, someone they already knew and loved.

OK, if we want the Cassandra Kaplan project to move forward, we need a star. Fran Drescher: already got a show. Bette Midler: developing her own project. Barbra Streisand: Get real. She’s not gonna do episodic TV. I think we’re out of Jewish stars. What’s annoying is that it’s self-perpetuating. Few obviously Jewish actresses are cast in leading roles; therefore, few have the opportunity to become stars. So then when you need a star, you haven’t got a Jewish one, and you have to go with someone who’s not. We cast Kathy Baker, the Emmy-winning star of “Picket Fences.” The network was happy; the project moved forward.

Kathy is a wonderful actress, and we were lucky to get her. She brought warmth and depth and humor to the role, but she certainly isn’t Jewish. So Kaplan became Cassidy, and that, as they say, is show business. Jewish writers, Jewish producers, Jewish network executives, but the audience is not Jewish. Nothing personal, just business.

When I was growing up, my father had a jewelry store in Sioux City, Iowa. He was Jewish and half the people who worked in the store were Jewish and a lot of the companies that supplied him with merchandise were run by Jews, but come December, he didn’t sell Chanukah gifts; he sold Christmas gifts because he was running a business and that’s where the money was. Well, TV is a business, no different then my Dad’s jewelry store, except the grosses are a whole lot bigger.

For the past two years, Ellen Sandler has been co-executive producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which airs Monday nights on CBS.

Why Are We in Kosovo?

I always thought that historical perspective helped sharpen the mind by illuminating the choices that loomed ahead. But when I look at the awful state of affairs in Kosovo, I am not so certain that history offers much guidance. Maybe, though, if we try to look at the past freshly and innovatively, we might just find a better solution for Kosovo and its moslem victims than the one President Clinton is offering. More about that later.

Of course, we know from history that the relations between Serbs and Kosovar Albanians are bitterly divided along lines of religion, ethnicity and nationalism. We know as well that the Serbs of Yugoslavia, who comprise only 10 percent of Kosovo’s 2 million population, have mythological feelings about Kosovo: It is their Jerusalem. Not auspicious.

Also, if we look back to the eve of World War I, we can discover a curtain raiser for today’s atrocities. In 1912, the Serbs overthrew their Turkish rulers (for more than 500 years) and set about gaining revenge on a population self-identified as Turks or Albanians, nearly all of them moslems. Their villages were burned; about 20,000 were killed; and some moslems were forced to convert. We can hazard a guess as to what had occurred during the 500 years of Turkish rule.

Now we have new players: President Clinton, the United States and NATO…. Having brokered a peace with Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic four years earlier in Bosnia (which is holding up, albeit with the presence of NATO troops), Clinton is trying again with Kosovo. His hope is to secure autonomy for the Albanians within Yugoslavia, with NATO troops present to enforce the peace over a three-year period.

At first, the Kosovo Liberation Army was an unwilling participant. Although clearly on the defensive, the rebels held out for independence. The KLA at various times has been described as a state of mind, and on other occasions as a ragtag band of guerrilla fighters spread throughout Kosovo’s villages. Today, they number about 30,000, hiding in the mountains and beyond the reach of Milosevic’s security forces. They were pressured to accept Clinton’s terms about a month ago.

Not so, Milosevic. NATO troops on his territory were too much for him to swallow. They could lead to his political downfall, and so he stalled. In the interim, his security forces began to seize Albanian homes and drive out Albanian villagers. When NATO moved in with planes and bombs about 10 days ago, he stepped up the pace. It now looks as though he is intent on purging Kosovo of its Albanian population.

In the face of his aggression, the United States and NATO are now clearly embarked on a humanitarian mission — save the Kosovar Albanians, whose tragic situation may have been accelerated, ironically, by our own course of action. Our policy is to bomb Yugoslav forces and not send in ground troops. The premise is that, in the long run, bombing will cost the Serbs more than they are willing to tolerate for the sake of a bleak stretch of land. That approach has thus far proved unsuccessful in Iraq.

In Yugoslavia, however, even the bombing is restricted and is almost “humanitarian” in scope. It is aimed mainly at air defenses and military units. We are avoiding civilian targets, refraining from any devastation to cities, transportation systems or the Yugoslav economy. It is a tactic that is calculated precisely not to bring the Serbs to their knees…or quickly to the bargaining table. But it is humane — or as humane as bombs raining on a populace can be.

Meanwhile, Milosevic’s security forces are changing the conditions on the ground in Kosovo. They are murdering Albanian leaders; sending vast numbers into refugees camps outside of Kosovo, minus papers, money, belongings; and, in short, creating a stateless people.

What is our goal? And, if uncertain, as I think it is, what should it be? Perhaps we are moved by the fact this is taking place in Europe. Perhaps we are shamed by our ignoble behavior with regard to the Jews in this self-same Europe 60 years ago. We are following a Churchillian path and avoiding the appeasement road taken by Britain’s Neville Chamberlain in the 1930s. We can congratulate ourselves that we have embarked on a morally correct policy. Why, then, am I uneasy about that policy and its possible/probable outcome?

In part, I suppose I am dubious about the effectiveness of our air campaign. It is designed to prevent — or at least limit — the devastation of Kosovo and the elimination of its population. That seems to be failing, and time looks as though it favors the Serbs rather than our humanitarian bombing policy.

I also have difficulty imagining that day down the road when some face-saving rapprochement is finally arranged. We have demonized Milosevic — who is perfectly cast for the role — so that it will be difficult not to try him as a war criminal. In which case, why should he negotiate with us? And even if we all swallow our wounded pride and end this callous struggle by feigning ignorance, what will follow? Written agreements aside, what will become of the Kosovo Liberation Army? Taking the past as prologue, either the KLA or some new Albanian nationalist group will soon search for ways to even the score. And who then will we support?

Most likely, we will edge silently away, as we did in Somalia. Our dilemma is that in order to prevail, we need to ignore domestic politics and humanitarianism, and, for obvious reasons, we cannot take those necessary steps. We are engaged in a war, no matter what we call it, and if we are to win, we have to be willing to do the unpalatable: to send in ground troops; to be hardhearted and bomb Yugoslavia into the early stages of ruin. Who among us is willing to embrace such policies? Certainly, not I.

What then? Perhaps some imaginative replay of history. We could have accepted the Jews from Germany in the 1930s, but did not. Today, there are all the NATO countries, including the United States, whose immigration policies might expand to accept refugees from Kosovo, and support them until they are on their feet economically. Even 1.5 million refugees. After all, tiny Israel has taken in more than half that number of Russians. Would the budgetary cost be that much more than our bombers and the lives of troops on all sides of the battle?

And we could demand that Yugoslavia pay settlement costs. If Milosevic refuses, there is still the option of sanctions on everything from his economy to the exclusion of Yugoslavia from the Olympic Games. No nation is comfortable in the role of pariah — we saw that with South Africa.

The fact remains that Yugoslavia’s policy toward Albanians in Kosovo, while reprehensible, even genocidal, is, nevertheless, national policy. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where tyranny exists, where nation states treat some of its citizens abominably, and where collective action is probably still best exerted in a nonviolent manner. By all means, let’s save those Kosovar Albanians who wish to be rescued — in precisely the way we could have, and failed to, rescued the Jews of Europe: Accept them as new citizens in our new NATO world. And, until the Yugoslavs shape up, ban them from joining the civilized world in which we are struggling to live. — Gene Lichtenstein

A Vote at a Time

The big political story that’s emerged from last week’s California primary is not the Davis-Lungren gubernatorial race nor the high-profile propositions. The big story is yet unfolding and takes us to a small corner of our town, in the east end of the San Fernando Valley. At this writing, former Assemblyman Richard Katz is only 33 votes behind City Councilman Richard Alarcon in a race to replace veteran state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal. While awaiting the inevitable recount, observers of the new American ethnic politics are peering over the map of Senate District 20 block by block for what is being done right — and wrong.

“It’s despicable how they played on race,” Katz (pictured above) told me, seething from five pro-Alarcon mailers, including one with a photo of Cardinal Roger Mahoney, who disavowed it on election day. Another mailer implied to Latinos that Katz would have workers at the polls to block voters.

“What does hard work and experience mean if it can’t stand up against ethnicity?” he said.

No matter how slick a spin we put on it, the Katz/Alarcon vote reveals that politics has come literally to an ethnic divide, the divide being the Hollywood Freeway that cuts north and south through the district, from East Los Angeles to the city of San Fernando into Sylmar and the Angeles National Forest.

West of the freeway, where the district includes the Orthodox shtiebls in North Hollywood, the Conservative Adat Ari El, and Assembly District 40, occupied by powerhouse Bob Hertzberg, the vote went for Katz. To the east, in an area previously known as the “sleeping giant” and including Assembly District 39, now occupied by Tony Cardenas, the vote went to Alarcon.

With only 33 votes between them, it’s clear to see what the new Latino activism means: Los Angeles voters, like those of many urban areas undergoing volcanic ethnic upheavals, are voting in enclaves. The candidate who brings more of his enclave to the table wins.

Is this harsh? It is true that Congressman Howard Berman handily won 61 percent of the vote against Raul Godinez II, mayor of the city of San Fernando, in a congressional district that nests in the upper reaches of Senate District 20. (This same district contains Berman’s congressional seat plus the 39th and 40th Assembly district seats.) But Berman was one of 12 California representatives whose seats were targeted by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute for having at least 20 percent of eligible voters who are Latino. In Berman’s district, the voting-age population of Latinos is at least 46.9 percent. Berman told me that longtime Hispanic voters remained with him. But with first-time voters, he still had work to do.

“The Latino political role is growing, and it is focused,” says the man who helped grow and focus Jewish representation in California politics over 30 years. “It’s a formidable block.”

Which brings us to the Katz/Alarcon race.

Katz is, after 16 years in Sacramento, the more impressive political presence. He masterminded the Democrats’ recapture of the Assembly in 1996, and he authored the legislation that merged Southern California’s two largest mass transit districts.

By contrast, Alarcon (pictured above) may be (to quote L.A. Weekly) one who has left few tracks on civic life. But, as the councilman himself told a Jewish Federation Council debate, he has one asset: timing. This year, the Hispanic political caucus, led by state Sen. Richard Polanco (attempting to shore up support in his own fight to replace Senate leader John Burton), had the money, the experience and the well-oiled machine for Alarcon to ride.

On election day, the Polanco/Alarcon get-out-the-vote drive was nearly 1,000 strong. The numbers tell the story: The precincts east of the freeway outpolled those of the west by 317 votes.

And so today, Katz and Alarcon are 33 votes apart.

What comes next? For years, it was an article of faith that Latinos stay home on election day. That faith is no more.

Bill Mabie, chief aide to Polanco, told me, “I thought to myself, ‘What are they so laid-back about?'” referring to Katz’s camp. “We had a tremendous mobilization. They did not.”

Katz is angry that this election ultimately turned not on the candidacy of Alarcon but on help, and a last-minute infusion of $180,000 from Polanco’s Latino Political Action Committee.

Howard Welinsky, incoming chair of the Jewish Community Relations Commission, said that the problem is compounded because “the Jewish community does not support our own the way we used to.” Faced with a potentially divisive campaign, the best that some Jewish leaders could do was urge their Latino colleagues to stand in silence.

But such friendships didn’t help Richard Katz. The Katz/Alarcon race makes clear that we who live in our own enclaves may have to work harder to reach out.

Torah Portion

You know me, Rabbi. You know how important thesynagogue is to me, how much I enjoy services; you see me at yourTorah classes. You know what kind of Jew I am: I am the only one atthe family seder table who can read the Hebrew side of the Haggadah,but they won’t accept me, because I wasn’t born Jewish!”

Every rabbi has heard these painfultestimonies.

“After my conversion, the Christians in myoffice congratulated me on this special moment. They wanted to hearall about the ritual and about my new faith. The Jews, on the otherhand, made sarcastic remarks — someone wondered aloud if they’dgiven me a Bloomingdale’s charge card at the mikvah as the symbol of myJewishness.”

Sociologically, it can be explained. Judaism is aunique composite of religion and ethnicity. One can convert into areligion by adopting its beliefs and practices. One cannot convertinto an ethnicity. Ethnicity is family; it is blood. Try as one may,one cannot become Italian or Irish. Ethnicity is expressed in acomplex and subtle culture of shared memories, language and symbols.Facing an ethnic culture, the outsider can at best become theequivalent of a daughter-in-law or son-in-law — invited to sit atthe family table even though he or she may never get our family jokesor share our intimate memories. You can come to the table, but you’llnever really feel at home. In an American-Jewish community whereethnic identity far outweighs spirituality, the convert faces adifficult dilemma — how to ever feel at home as a Jew.

This is compounded by the Jewish experience of2,000 years of oppression and exile. In response to castigation andhumiliation, Jews erected a powerful internal barrier between Us andThem. The defense against ghetto walls was an internal wall. But nowthat we are secure in a free democracy, the internal walls remain,held up by old fears and prejudice. Even when Jews assimilate, losingall vestiges of faith and culture, the last thing to go are theinternal walls. They don’t attend synagogue, own a Bible, orcelebrate a seder, but they won’t hesitate to tell someone that he orshe is not really Jewish.

Have we forgotten that the Jewish experience beganwith a radical act of decision, with a conversion?

“The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Go forth from yourland, from your birthplace, from your father’s house to the land thatI will show you…and you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:1-2).

The convert’s journey follows the same radicalroute of Abraham and Sarai — cutting oneself off from the familiarand the safe, from all that provides identity in this world, fromhome and family, culture and memory — to pursue a promise. We callthem ben orbat Avraham v’Sarah — the child of Abraham and Sarah. The children of Abrahamand Sarah live among us!

An alternative interpretation reads God’s commandLech lecha as”Go into yourself!” Abraham’s journey is not geographic butspiritual. Those who have chosen Judaism are living witnesses to thespiritual journey of Judaism. They are a blessing to us, for theyteach us that the essence of the Jew is not in ethnic affectations –bagels and Yiddish quips — but in the deepest spiritual search formeaning and joy in life, in Covenant with God.

Eight hundred years ago, Maimonides heard the samepainful cry. A convert named Ovadia was barred from praying with thecongregation because some questioned how he could offer prayers tothe “God of our ancestors.” With all his rhetorical power, Rambamresponded: “Anyone who becomes a convert isa pupil of our father, Abraham, and all of them are members of hishousehold. You may say, ‘God of our ancestors,’ for Abraham is yourfather…and there is no difference between us and you. Toward fatherand mother, we are commanded to show honor and reverence; towardprophets, to obey them; but toward converts, we are commanded to havegreat love in our hearts. God in His glory loves theconvert.

Ed Feinstein is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom inEncino.