November 15, 2018

Opinion: Wall Street shock wave in rear-view mirror

On the day after his op-ed piece appeared in The New York Times of March 14, 2012, Greg Smith, a midlevel executive in the London office of Goldman Sachs had generated 19 million entries on Google.  By three days later, that number had risen to 134 million.

Smith’s announcement of his departure from the storied firm whose culture he describes as “toxic and destructive” set off a shock wave heard round the world.  It was brutally criticized as naïve, but far more frequently praised as courageous, an “unprecedented revelation” of the distortions that have come to characterize Wall Street’s behavior.  There’s been much discussion of greed, which appears to be the principle lubricant of the financial industry, and debate between those who think greed is inherent in the market system and those who believe it can and should be expunged — or, at least, somehow contained.  My own view is that what we are talking about here is not greed; it is avarice, in which all sense of proper proportion is lost. 

But relax: I am not about to launch into a disquisition on derivatives and credit swaps and the other arcane arrangements that led to the world financial crisis of 2008 and that have yet to be adequately addressed.  Truth is, my own interest in the Smith saga is quirkily more parochial, particularly piqued by Smith’s inclusion among the proudest moments in his life his having won a bronze medal (in table tennis, aka pingpong) in the Maccabiah Games in Israel.  (Full disclosure: I am an undefeated pingpong champion of Eilat, having defeated the army corporal who’d been the local champion back before Eilat was a city, when it was just a lonely army base.  I retired immediately.) 

The Maccabiah Games, together with the fact that Smith hails from South Africa, set me searching — and, sure enough, Smith graduated from the famous King David Schools in Johannesburg, schools whose mission statement says they aim to deliver “an excellent general education together with the study of Hebrew, Jewish Studies and the living of the Jewish calendar” and to produce “graduates who are menschen, confident and equipped to pursue any opportunity they wish to, who are proud of their Jewish heritage and its traditions, who have a love for learning, and a determination to contribute to their society.” 

One for our team, I thought.  A noteworthy one, since the number of insiders who have volubly called public attention to the endless excesses that characterize the financial industry is tiny.  Award-winning journalist Michael Hirsh, author of the much-praised “Capital Offense: How Washington’s Wise Men Turned America’s Future Over to Wall Street,” writes of the “very small group — an absurdly small group — of truth-tellers” who have come forward to bear personal witness to these excesses. He names just two others: Frank Partnoy, who, says Hirsh, described the Morgan Stanley of the 1990s as a “furious profit machine . . . mainly involved in speculation and scamming, using arcane derivatives and complex new packages of debt obligations and interest-rate payments that Morgan foisted on customers who barely understood them,” and one other,  “a former Moody’s managing director [who] revealed in congressional hearings in late 2009 that even into the year after the financial crisis, the firm continued to deceive investors by inflating ratings on dubious securities.”

The Internet is so handy.  I tracked down Partnoy, now George E. Barrett Professor of Law and Finance and co-director of the Center on Corporate and Securities Law at the University of San Diego and widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on the complexities of modern finance and financial market regulation.  He worked in derivatives at Morgan Stanley and CS First Boston during the mid-1990s and wrote “F.I.A.S.C.O.: Blood in the Water on Wall Street,” a best-selling book about his experiences there.  (His more recent books include “Infectious Greed: How Deceit and Risk Corrupted the Financial Markets” and “The Match King: Ivar Kreuger, The Financial Genius Behind a Century of Wall Street Scandals.”)  And yes, he grew up in a Conservative synagogue in Kansas City. 

I’ve not yet managed to communicate with the Moody man Hirsh mentions, but I did watch a Chris Hayes show on MSNBC devoted to the Smith affair and its larger context, in which all the panelists compellingly called for tougher regulation of Wall Street — and when I say “all the panelists,” I include Ezra Klein, Noam Scheiber, William Cohan, Alexis Goldstein, Jared Bernstein and Dan Dicker.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that a responsible social ethic is in our DNA.

Hard to avoid, that is, until we are reminded of Wall Street titans such as Richard Fuld (Lehman Brothers),  and Bob Rubin and Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman), whose DNA seem quite differently composed.  Jews are, in other words, a mixed multitude — saints and sinners, Nobel laureates and fraudsters, wise sons and wicked sons.  Some day, perhaps, once sequencing of the individual human genome becomes routine, we may be able to map such differences.  In the meantime, the work of bending the arc toward justice — and truth, its handmaiden — awaits.  So, too, real regulation. 

Thank you, Greg Smith et al.


Leonard Fein has written and advocated for progressive Jewish causes since the 1960s. In 1974 he founded Moment magazine, the journal of Jewish ideas, and in 1985 he founded MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

Opinion: Can’t buy me love

It feels like spring, but there’s little love in the air for Mitt Romney.  The GOP frontrunner expected to have his party’s nomination sewn up by now so he could focus on sending Barack Obama back to Chicago.  But too many Republicans just can’t find it in their hearts to embrace the former Massachusetts governor and are still hoping someone will come along who can make them fall in love. 

The enthusiasm deficit has haunted him throughout the long and winding primary season.  It’s been said he has the charisma of Bob Dole, the GOP’s losing 1996 candidate and the aura of a loser.

But there’s a stronger emotion than love in this election; it’s loathing, and that is what Romney is counting on to lock up the nomination – and what the GOP is counting on to get out the vote against Obama.

Spreading fear and loathing has been the hallmark of the Romney campaign, and nearly all has been aimed at his Republican rivals.  The super PAC run by his friends and former aides has spent more than 90 percent of its money on ads trashing his rivals.

Romney’s rivals have responded with a shots few of their own, and you can bet the Obama campaign’s opposition research team in Chicago is collecting them for use this fall.

The primaries are expected to cost Romney about $75 million, but he has been raising more money than all his rivals and that will only improve after he locks up the nomination.

Newt Gingrich’s —and Bibi Netanyahu’s—most generous benefactors ($11 million plus), casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife are expected to shift their spending to Romney as soon as the former Speaker drops out of the race.

Most big Jewish GOP givers are backing Romney, according to a report in the Forward.  More than 10 percent of the $36 million raised by his super PAC came from Jewish donors, primarily ordinary people like Romney: mega-wealthy private equity investors, hedge fund managers and real estate developers.

Mitt’s money may not be able to buy love, but it can buy a lot of votes in what is expected to be a billion-dollar presidential election. Each campaign has its stable of billionaires, but Obama has what Romney lacks: a large network of small contributors, a sign of grass roots support.

The tough primary season has made Romney a better debater and campaigner, but it also has exposed two big weaknesses.  He has failed to connect with people on a personal level (and judging by the allocation of spending he hasn’t tried very hard) and he has demonstrated what one Republican operative and former advisor called a “generous flexibility” on the issues, a desire to do what’s popular rather than what’s right. That explains his failure to criticize Rush Limbaugh’s recent display of misogyny.

Romney faces a big problem in following the Nixon dictum: run to the right for the nomination and the center for the general election.  Most candidates can do it with guiltless ease, but Romney has moved so far from his roots as a Massachusetts moderate to being a self-defined “severely conservative” that making a U-turn could damage him on both ends.

The GOP’s ultra-conservative/tea party wing has had trouble accepting him despite his efforts to convince them of his ideological purity, and they may feel betrayed when he turns his attention to the middle-of-the-road swing voters both parties need to win this election.

If they see him moving too far to their left they may try to teach the GOP a lesson and stay home, not unlike what the anti-Vietnam movement did to the Democrats in 1968.

Many in the GOP’s evangelical base are troubled by Romney’s Mormon faith, but there’s no evidence it will be an issue for Jewish voters, and no one is blaming him for his church’s posthumous conversions of people like Anne Frank, Daniel Pearl and Holocaust victims.

His rhetoric on Israel has been a transparent attempt to make Obama look weak, but close examination shows their positions aren’t that much different.  Romney just sounds more strident.  The Washington Post Fact Checker, Glenn Frankel, said Romney’s charge that Iran would get the bomb if Obama is reelected is just “silly-hyperbolic campaign rhetoric.”

Republicans don’t need to love Romney to vote for him.  They just need to hate Barack Obama enough, and that is what we’ve been hearing from Romney when he hasn’t been smearing his fellow Republicans.  The pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC has already spent over $30 million on negative advertising compared to less than one million defining the candidate and his vision of America, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll this month showed voters’ greatest concerns about Romney were “he waffles on the issues” and he’s “too wealthy and does not relate to the average person.”

Romney may have the charisma of Bob Dole but he’s generating a kind of pragmatic enthusiasm in the corporate boardrooms, big banks, business schools and penthouses.  The resulting flood of money may not buy love but will help fuel a highly negative campaign that will do little to change the perception that Mitt Romney is the champion of the one percent.

Goldman banker always stuck to principles, former teacher

Greg Smith was a principled and competitive student, the kind of person whose strong sense of right and wrong probably pushed him to resign from Goldman Sachs in a scathing letter to an international newspaper, his former teacher and coach said.

A quiet, unassuming child, the South African first attended the private Jewish King David’s High School in suburban Johannesburg before winning a scholarship to Stanford University in the United States.

Smith then joined Goldman Sachs, a workplace he once loved but described in his resignation letter in the New York Times on Wednesday as having developed an environment “as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it”.

“He was a remarkable young man, exceptionally intelligent with an integrity that is probably unequalled,” Elliot Wolf, the school’s retired headmaster, told Reuters in an interview.

“An absolutely remarkable man with high principles. He was an asset to the school in every possible way.”

Wolf, who is now retired after 34 years at the school including 28 as headmaster, said he remembered Smith well from teaching him Latin and that he was loved by all because he was polite, unassuming and decent.

The Goldman Sachs banker sat a total of eight exams in his final year of secondary school in 1996, winning a distinction in every subject, Wolf said. According to school records, Smith’s subjects included maths, advanced maths, Hebrew, English, Afrikaans and accounting.

“He was a wonderful young man with the highest principles. That was already part of his character when he was very, very young,” Wolf said.

He said he was amazed Smith would take such a stand, suggesting others would probably bend their ethics to suit a company that was rewarding them handsomely.

Smith, who worked in equity derivatives, said it had made him ill at Goldman to hear his colleagues joke about cheating clients.

“Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as ‘muppets’,” Smith said.

In Britain, “muppet” is slang for a stupid person.

“VERY COMPETITIVE”

Wolf also recalled Smith as a skilled table tennis player. Smith, in his 30s, said in his letter one of the proudest moments of his life was winning the bronze medal at the Maccabiah Games in Israel for table tennis.

Rainer Sztab, chair of the Gauteng Maccabi Table Tennis Club, where Smith played in South Africa regularly in the 1990s when he was a teenager, remembered him as an “outstanding kid”.

“He was a stand-up kid, he always did what was right,” Sztab told Reuters, saying Smith twice played for the South African Maccabi team at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, as a junior in 1993 and as a senior in 1997.

But he said Smith was never a member of the South African national table tennis team, contrary to what was stated in his Goldman Sachs biography.

Sztab said Smith was “very bright and really well liked and behaved”.

“He was very competitive. He was just starting to get the edge on the top players in Gauteng province,” he added.

Sztab said he was not surprised by the manner of Smith’s dramatic public resignation from Goldman Sachs. “He did well to come from South Africa to become a Wall Street banker.”

He said Smith had called him two years ago to say hello while on a visit to South Africa.

“He said it was going great.”

Did you transact your business honestly?

“When a person is led in for judgment [in the next world], God asks: ‘Did you transact your business honestly? Did you fix times for the study of the Torah? Did you fulfill your duty to establish a family?’ ”
—Rava (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a)

The very first question that God asks each one of us after death, according to this passage in the Talmud, is whether we handled our monetary affairs honestly. The Talmud does not say what you might expect—Did you murder anyone? Injure anyone?—presumably because it assumes that most Jews do not do those things. What we are tempted to do, though, is to cheat in monetary affairs. Thus the way one handles one’s money is a sensitive barometer of the moral mettle of a person and hence the very first question we are asked.

Fundamental Jewish Perspectives on Money

American Jews are confronted by two very different perspectives about money in the American and Jewish traditions. The Protestant ethic at the core of much of America’s attitude toward money values not only work, but the resources it produces, including money. All too often in modern America, money in this approach is taken to an extreme, such that money becomes the measure of a man – and now, increasingly, of a woman, too. We speak of a person’s “net worth,” referring to how much money or other financial resources he or she has, as if that really defines the worth of a person.

Another source of American perspectives on money is the Enlightenment. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson says that it is a “self-evident truth” that all people are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” John Locke, from whom Jefferson copied that sentence, ended it, however, with “life, liberty and property.” In Locke’s theory, we give up some of our rights in order to gain the benefits of civil society. Among these are our rights to all the monetary resources we have produced, for every government taxes away some portion of those resources. The burden of proof, however, rests with the government to show that it needs that money and that it is using it wisely and fairly. That I get to keep a significant part of what I earn is at the root of capitalism, for that motivates me to work to earn at least as much as I need and maybe much, much more.

In sharp contrast, classical Jewish sources assert that by creating the world, God owns it all. As Moses says to the Israelites, “Mark, the heavens to their uttermost reaches belong to the Lord your God, the earth and all that is on it” (Deuteronomy 10:14). Thus when I own something, I own it only vis-a-vis other human beings. Jewish law definitely does presume private ownership; although communities may own property, individuals legally can own property as well. That ownership gives me the right to use my property in any way I please except as restricted by law. Furthermore, my legal right to my property means that I can sue others in court if they damage my property or try to take it from me by force, and there the rule will be, “The one who wants to take something from his fellow bears the burden of proof [that it is rightfully his]” (Mishnah, Bava Kamma 3:11; Bava Batra 9:6; etc.). All of this, though, applies only to my standing vis-a-vis other people, not vis-a-vis God.

God’s ownership of the world, though, means that I must abide by God’s rules in doing business. Based on quite a number of specific rules governing business in the Torah itself, the rabbis of the Talmud and later times amplified them in spelling out what the rabbis understood to be God’s demands of us.

Unlike other systems of thought, in Judaism the human being is neither inherently sinful (“Original Sin”) nor inherently virtuous. Rather, we are born with an inclination to preserve ourselves and an inclination to serve others. The first of these is evident from the moment of our birth, and it takes 13 years for the altruistic instinct to be in full force (Avot D’Rabbi Natan 16), but from then on people must balance both instincts. The self-serving instinct is called the yetzer hara, “the evil instinct,” because caring only for ourselves usually leads us to do bad things to others. Even so, the rabbis recognized that without that instinct, “a man would not build a house, marry a wife, beget children, or conduct business affairs” (Genesis Rabbah 9:7). Conversely, the rabbis also recognized that the altruistic instinct could be taken to an extreme such that a person neglects oneself and one’s family (B. Ta’anit 24a; B. Ketubbot 50a). The proper path is, therefore, to balance both instincts. In the famous maxim of Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?” (M. Avot 1:14).

Because God ultimately owns the whole earth, God imposes limits on my ownership. So, for example, according to Deuteronomy 22:8, I must put a parapet on my house’s roof if it is flat and intended for people to use so that they do not fall off. Similarly, the Torah asserts that if I own land that I farm, I must leave the edges of the field and the crops that fall to the ground during harvest to the poor (Leviticus 19:9).

Furthermore, the community has both the moral right and the legal power in Jewish law to impose taxes, to require that individuals contribute to the communal fund and soup kitchen for the poor, and to regulate individuals’ use of their property through such regulations as zoning rules. Ultimately, the communal court has the right to expropriate an individual’s property because “property that the court declares ownerless is ownerless (hefker bet din hefker)” (Tosefta, Shekalim 1:1; Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 89b; Gittin 36b). 

Applying Tradition to Modern Problems

Jewish sources substantiate what most readers of this essay probably assume—namely, that Jewish tradition has much to say about how we use and conceive of money in the first place. As with everything else, however, some contemporary realities require that we apply Jewish concepts and values about money in new ways. For example, our ancestors could never have imagined the global economy with instantaneous transactions by computer, and they certainly did not deal with the new moral issues of honesty and privacy that it raises. Furthermore, they knew nothing about corporations. Indeed, contemporary corporate international issues are vastly more complicated than the ones raised by the agrarian and mercantile contexts, respectively, that the Torah and later the rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud assume. Rabbis responding to these issues must therefore identify the relevant values and perspectives of the tradition and then apply them, rather than specific precedents, to the situation at hand. They must practice “depth theology” rather than simply apply a clear and relevant precedent.

Many of the moral issues modern Jews face with money today, however, are identical or at least very similar to the ones Jews have confronted for generations, and so a relatively direct application of the tradition will suffice. For example, the Torah already knows about the temptation to use dishonest weights and measures and prohibits us from giving in to that temptation (Leviticus 19:35-36; Deuteronomy 25:12-16); that precedent could easily be applied to new kinds of fraud. Similarly, the Torah is well aware of the fact that people will need loans, and it demands that we respond to that need in a way that does not make the debtors slaves for life (Exodus 22:24-26; Leviticus 25:25-55; Deuteronomy 24:10-13). Although we no longer press debtors who cannot pay their debts into slavery, we can learn from the values articulated in these passages that the way we handle loans should be realistic and humane so that people do not lose their livelihoods and their self-respect in taking out a loan. The Torah also knows that some people will be too poor to take out a loan, and it demands that we give food and money to the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10; 25:35-38; Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 15:7-11). The Torah also warns of the haughtiness, and indeed, the idolatry, involved in presuming that I deserve full credit for everything I have, that “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me” (Deuteronomy 8:17). Instead, we should have the humility to recognize the role others have played in affording us what we have, especially God: “Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power to get wealth” (ibid., v. 18). In these general ways, and in some very specific ways that are spelled out by rabbinic rulings (teshuvot) from the Middle Ages to our own times, much of what Jewish tradition has to say about moral issues in business rings true and offers us wise counsel still today.


Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, rector and distinguished professor of philosophy at American Jewish University, is co-editor, with Louis Newman, of “Jewish Choices, Jewish Voices: Money” and “Jewish Choices, Jewish Voices: Power,” which served as the basis for this year’s Gittleson Seminar on Jewish business ethics at AJU.

The high cost of how women relate to money

There are a number of topics society has told us we aren’t supposed to discuss in mixed company. Religion, for example, has long been a forbidden subject between people of different faiths. Politics is mostly swept under the rug among people of different parties. Money, something that we all have feelings about, has never been a polite conversation piece.

Enter Kate Levinson, a San Francisco Bay Area psychologist and author of “Emotional Currency: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship With Money.”

As Levinson explains in her book and during her numerous “Emotional Currency” workshops, we need to start talking about money and examining our feelings about it.

“Whether you have a lot of money or a little bit of money, we all have emotional reactions to money,” Levinson said. “We make better financial decisions when we’re aware of what these financial decisions are.”

Levinson said many people have guilt about having too much money or shame about never having enough. Even though they might understand that they have those feelings, few people are aware of why they have them.

Just like personality itself, emotional currency develops in a variety of ways — starting in our biology, she said.

“I think we’re born with innate tendencies, psychologically, and we’re born with innate tendencies toward money,” Levinson said.

Family often has a major impact on our thoughts about money as well, she said.

In her book, Levinson writes about how her mother’s wallet was always open (figuratively) for her to take money when she needed it as a child and young adult. But she said she didn’t have that same financial arrangement with her father. This common occurrence during her adolescence, she said, was one of the many instances that shaped her own views on money as well as her relationship with her father.

The first step in understanding your emotional feelings toward money, Levinson said, is to talk about money thoughts, concerns and opinions with a friend or someone trustworthy. She attributes some money issues, such as compulsive shopping or hoarding money, to underlying emotional reasons. In many cases, bringing the problem out in the open can pay dividends in overcoming an issue one has with money, she said, adding that suppressing these feelings might lead to further trouble.

“Just acknowledging the feeling helps us find a better solution,” Levinson said. “Not acknowledging the feeling keeps us stuck in behavior that may not support us and may be self-destructive.” 

As the title suggests, Levinson’s book focuses heavily on how women react to money. Using anecdotes from clients as well as her own personal experiences, she links a lot of her theories to behavioral examples as well as general feelings women have toward money.

Although women are increasingly becoming breadwinners and sometimes the major moneymakers in their families, men have dominated — and still do — the topic of money in the household, the office and society, Levinson said. Because of this discrimination, men and women have developed different feelings toward money.

Levinson said that certain sensibilities regarding money are characterized as either more masculine or feminine. Objectivity, logic and reasoning are more generally attributed to masculine sensibilities, whereas emotionality, empathy and compassion are more closely associated with feminine ones, she said.

However, Levinson isn’t blaming men for the nature of women’s relationship with money. Rather, she said she is identifying a societal trend. And while she acknowledges that there is a difference between the genders when it comes to money, there doesn’t necessarily have to be. Levinson recommends that men provide more support to the women in their lives. Fathers, for example, should be open to discussing financial issues with their daughters to break down some of the feelings of inequality.

She also encourages men to examine their own relationship with money in relation to society.

For all of the advice and exercises Levinson offers through her book, she said “Emotional Currency” doesn’t tell readers how to feel about money. Instead, she lets readers discover that for themselves.

“The book doesn’t have any prescriptions,” she said.

That said, Levinson stresses the importance of understanding unique feelings toward money and taking back control of those feelings.

“Money is very concrete, and it does not magically take care of itself. You have to attend to it,” she said. But, “If you pay too much attention to it, it will take over your life,” she added.

Levinson has researched the emotional and psychological effects of money since she wrote her dissertation. And yet, she said she doesn’t feel cured of her own money problems. But she does feel like she now understands how she will react in many situations involving money. And that is a satisfying feeling, she said.

“I feel like money has a saner place in my life and that it’s not in charge so much,” Levinson said.

For more information, visit emotionalcurrency.com.

How to get paid what you want

Whether you’re looking for a new job or are a recent graduate, you might be so thrilled to get a job offer — any offer — that you settle for less than you should.  Here are five strategies to get paid what you really want:

Tip 1: Don’t provide salary history. Keep your salary information to yourself as long as possible because it can be used against you in the negotiation process. Instead, write “open” or “negotiable.”

Tip 2: Never discuss your salary requirements. If an interviewer asks what salary you want or what you made at your last job, simply redirect the question by asking about the salary range of the job you’re interviewing for. Say that you don’t know what would be acceptable until you fully understand the job requirements, benefits and potential for advancement.

Tip 3: Don’t negotiate during an interview. If you’re given a verbal offer, always ask for a complete offer in writing (including benefits) so you can evaluate it thoroughly. Let the interviewer know that you’re very interested in the job and will consider any offer they make.

Tip 4: Ask questions about an offer. Once you receive a written offer, ask whether the company can be flexible. Remember that first offer is typically a low one. You might be able to get more pay, more vacation days or a higher level of expense reimbursements if you negotiate.

Tip 5: Make a counter-offer.  Let the company know you want the job but would be much happier with X amount of additional annual salary or hourly pay. Remember: They offered you the position because they consider you the best candidate. Most companies are willing to shell out a little more money or perks to get the right person for the job.


Laura Adams, host of the “Money Girl” podcast on QuickandDirtyTips.com, is the author of “Money Girl’s Smart Moves to Deal With Your Debt” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010)

Insights for investors from one who knows firsthand

Rebecca Rothstein, a managing director at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Beverly Hills, focuses on helping high net worth and ultra-high net worth investors with estate, tax and financial planning. But she hasn’t always been a Barron’s top 100 financial advisor. A high-school dropout who went on to get her GED and an associate’s degree in design and merchandising, Rothstein started out as a buyer for the Robinson’s department store chain but left the job because it required too much time on the road away from her four young sons. At her husband’s suggestion, Rothstein switched careers and became a broker for a small L.A. firm in 1987, one month before the market crashed. From there the Hidden Hills resident moved on to Bear Stearns and Deutsche Bank before joining Smith Barney in 1999. During her tenure with Smith Barney, she has become a member of the Investment Management Consultants Association and is a member of its Directors Council, which features the top 5 percent of the firm’s financial consultants. She manages $2.4 billion in assets for clients whose typical net worth is $10 million. Barron’s has her at No. 21 on its 2011 list of the Top 100 Financial Advisors and No. 2 on the list of Top 100 Female Financial Advisors.

Jewish Journal: I’m sure it’s an honor every time you’re named to Barron’s top 100 advisors. How does it feel after eight years of being on this list?
Rebecca Rothstein: It’s shocking to me that we make the cut every year. I’ve always been No. 1 or No. 2 [in the Top 100 Female Financial Advisors] and that’s even more stunning to me because I’m a high-school dropout. I don’t take that lightly. There are certainly people smarter on the list than me. I have a great team. I give most of the credit to my team.

JJ: Are you disappointed that you weren’t No. 1?
RR: I’d be lying if I said anything but ‘of course.’ The thing that I measure myself on and measure my staff on is: Every year we publish our numbers as dictated by a number of things, like number of households and things like that. But one of the things they tell you is the number of clients gained or lost in that year. My client retention is about 98 percent, which is about 20 percent higher than the rest of the industry. So that’s how I measure myself.

JJ: Are there any challenges unique to being a woman in this business?
RR: My old answer would have been yes, it’s challenging to get credibility. The other thing that was really hard was to convince a guy that I was as good as another guy at what I did. Very often, at the beginning, I would only get a small piece of a guy’s account and then I had to earn the rest. Men don’t have the same problem. Now I realize that that’s not really true. You’re having a tougher time because that’s the story you’re telling yourself. As time has evolved, I’ve become a lot more comfortable in the fact that when I go see a client, I expect to win. And I expect to win regardless of whether I am a man or a woman.

JJ: Are there any rookie mistakes that you felt like you made when you first started investing? 
RR: There wasn’t a mistake I didn’t make. You make them all. And then it’s only over time that you understand: ‘You know, I would have handled these situations a little differently.’ … In the beginning, they train you in these places, but they don’t train you in the minutiae of the business, and that only comes with time. That only comes with getting your head punched in. That only comes with making a mistake, looking at it, understanding why it was a mistake and not doing it again.

JJ: What are the public’s thoughts about investing in this economy?
RR: I think that people are angry, very distrusting. I personally had to live with two years of people going: ‘You’re responsible for this!’ They were people I’ve known for many, many years, and I would say, ‘Really? Me personally?’ And they would say, ‘No, your industry.’ And, unfortunately, I can’t really disagree with them, because there was a lot of really bad behavior that occurred in this business: Madoff. The guy in Texas. These were people who behaved badly. But we [Morgan Stanley Smith Barney] didn’t behave badly.

JJ: What’s your advice for investing today as opposed to a couple of years ago?
RR: We’ve changed our investing mandate to be much more cautious. So, for example, in days gone by, if a bond was triple-A rated in California, we never thought about it. We’d buy it, and that was that. Now when we buy a bond for somebody, we look at the underlying rating for it and do they have enough money to service the debt. This is a much more granular way of looking at it. Because of the granularity, we’ve become smarter.

JJ: What are some of the things you do to prepare people for retirement?
RR: It depends really on what the client’s life story is, how many kids they have, where they are when I met them. So, if they’re 60 and they want to retire at 65 and they haven’t saved any money, it’s a little tougher to get them to that goal. It all comes back to spending. If they are making half a million dollars a year and they are saving 20 percent of that, 20 percent is sort of the goal post to me. If you save 20 percent of your money and you pay off your house, you should be able to get to your goal.

JJ: How do you advise clients who want to donate money to charities?
RR: For my clients who want to make donations and contributions, we are very helpful to them in how they set up the charitable giving account. More often than not, we use what is called a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). People open up these accounts and put in money and then they give away the money. So when they give away money to charities, more often than not, we look [the charity] up. These are things that we used to never even do. If a charity doesn’t spend at least 93 cents of every dollar directly to the benefit of the charity, we won’t allow our clients to give them money or we’ll strongly suggest to them [to not give the money].

JJ: Where are you headed? What’s in your future?
RR: The biggest problem that my industry has is people like me—I’m in my mid-50s, I have a wonderful client base. If I retired, what would they do? For me personally, I’m trying to build a pyramid that can pass [clients] to my other partners, where they can continue to be the trusted advisor to those families. If you don’t stay involved and don’t do things in your life, what are you going to do? I don’t golf. I want to have my intellect challenged, and I want to learn new things. But I definitely want to have more free time than I’ve had in the last 30 years. l

Can Reform Jews be politically conservative? Yes, say the ‘1 percent’

It’s not easy being a political conservative in the most liberal of Jewish religious denominations.

Just ask the 40 or so people among the more than 5,000 attendees at last week’s biennial conference of the Union for Reform Judaism who showed up for a session on political conservatism.

“We didn’t know if anyone would come,” said Laurie Silber, a synagogue president from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who organized the session. Only four names appeared ahead of time on the online sign-up sheet.

“When I saw this session on the schedule, I thought it was a joke,” one attendee said. “But I’m glad there’s one or two of us.”

For participants, the lunchtime meeting on the conference’s second day served as something of a griping session, with audience member after audience member standing to blow off steam about the liberal bias among Reform Jews.

But for Reform leaders it was part of a broader effort to project an image of the movement as nonpartisan, as well as to ensure political balance in a conference that featured President Obama as a keynote speaker.

In addition to the lunchtime conversation, which was organized at Silber’s request, the biennial featured a plenary speech by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and a debate between conservative William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, and Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, titled “Liberalism, Conservatism: Which Better Furthers Jewish Values and Jewish Interests?”

Nonpartisanship long has been a challenge in a movement so closely identified with signature Democratic positions such as women’s reproductive rights, gay equality and social welfare issues. The Religious Action Center, the Reform movement’s advocacy arm in Washington, takes decidedly liberal stances on issues from health care reform to wars overseas. And in his introduction to Obama’s speech, the movement’s outgoing president, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, noted that the president has been a champion for many of the values the Reform movement holds dear, citing the issue of health care reform.

Not all Reform Jews esteem the same values, however.

“There’s an idea that Reform Judaism must be liberal on every front, and I don’t think that’s true,” said Rabbi Jonathan Siger of the Houston-area Congregation Jewish Community North, in Spring, Texas.

“Tikkun olam doesn’t mean giving away money,” said one participant in the session on conservatism.

“Isn’t there something in the Jewish tradition about people helping themselves?” asked another.

“We can all be for tikkun olam if it doesn’t mean paying for it,” said a third.

More than any other issue, however, participants complained of what they described as the hypocrisy of liberal Reform Jews who preach pluralism and tolerance while disparaging or silencing conservative voices.

“It’s very hard to have a civil discourse,” said a past president of a Reform synagogue in Los Angeles. “They assume everyone is liberal. At least talk and listen.”

A woman from Lehigh Valley, Pa., chimed in, “Trying to even have a discussion is impossible because they will not listen to the facts.”

One man described the attitude of Reform Jews toward political conservatives as “xenophobia.”

In an interview with JTA, Silber recalled posting some conservative comments on a listserv of synagogue presidents and then getting shut out by vocally liberal participants who complained that she was making the discussion too political.

Most of the participants at the Dec. 15 conference session did not seem to be dyed-in-the-wool conservatives. Many proclaimed themselves fiscal conservatives but social liberals. A physician from Fort Worth, Texas, talked about how he voted for Obama because he was concerned that John McCain as president might succumb to melanoma and leave the Oval Office in the hands of Sarah Palin. Another lamented what he called the hijacking of the Republican Party by political extremists. And not one person mentioned any of the Republican candidates for president during the freewheeling discussion.

“My conservatism is economic, in terms of smaller government, individual rights, relationship with Israel,” Siger told JTA. “Socially I’m decidedly progressive.”

A few session participants said that Israel was the key issue that had thrust them into the conservative camp, at least within the Reform movement.

“I have long been unhappy with the debate about Israel in the Reform movement,” said Rabbi David Kaufman of Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, Iowa. A founder of a group called We Are for Israel, Kaufman was one of five rabbis at the session.

“There are a lot more politically conservative Republican Jews than people think, especially when it comes to Israel,” he said.

But when someone at the session questioned the bona fides of the incoming president of the movement, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, noting Jacobs’ past affiliations with the New Israel Fund and J Street, Kaufman came to Jacobs’ defense.

“I wouldn’t worry about Rick,” Kaufman said. “He’s good on Israel.”

When The Weekly Standard’s Kristol made a surprise visit to the session, he credited Jacobs for including him, Cantor and Natan Sharansky—a politically conservative former refusenik who is now the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel—on the biennial program.

But there was no mistaking the fact that at least at this conference on the outskirts of Washington, political conservatives were a tiny minority.

“It occurs to me,” Siger said, “that we are the 1 percent.”

(JTA Washington bureau chief Ron Kampeas contributed to this story.)

Police and Los Angeles protesters skirmish, eviction delayed

Police in riot gear held back on clearing out anti-Wall Street protesters who defied a deadline to abandon their 8-week-old encampment outside Los Angeles City Hall on Monday but opened streets for morning commuters before pulling back.

About 2,000 demonstrators remained at the Los Angeles site after a tense morning face-off with police.

Four demonstrators were arrested on suspicion of being present at an unlawful assembly during the brief confrontation. Police cleared the intersection where protesters had gathered to accommodate morning traffic and then withdrew from the immediate vicinity of the City Hall park.

Across the country, a Sunday deadline set by Philadelphia officials for Occupy protesters there to move out of a municipal plaza to came and went without incident.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had given protesters until 12:01 a.m. local time/0501 GMT to dismantle their tents and clear out of the park or face a forcible removal.

But about two hours after the eviction deadline, police commanders said they would permit the Occupy LA encampment to stay until at least daybreak. Police Commander Andrew Smith later said he thought it “highly unlikely” that the camp would be forced to shut down on Monday.

Dozens of people heeded the evacuation order but many tents and other structures stayed put. Police sources said authorities hoped the rest of the protesters would relocate voluntarily and that no major actions are expected before Tuesday.

SUPPORTERS RALLY TO BOLSTER CAMP

The Los Angeles encampment is among the largest on the West Coast aligned with the 2-month-old national Occupy Wall Street movement protesting economic inequality, high unemployment and excesses of the U.S. financial system.

Staking its place since Oct. 1 on the grounds surrounding City Hall, the Los Angeles compound grew to roughly 400 tents and 700 to 800 people, organizers and municipal officials said. At least a third of the people were believed to be homeless.

By Sunday night the size of the crowd outside City Hall swelled as supporters from organized labor, clergy, civil rights and other groups streamed into the area, answering a call for an 11th-hour show of support for the campers.

The overall number of protesters, some wearing gas masks, had grown to at least 2,000 by late Sunday, police estimated.

As the eviction deadline came and went, the protesters’ mood turned from calm and festive to rowdy. Demonstrators and police confronted each other but except for some debris thrown by protesters at one point, there was no violence.

The face-off grew tense when police ordered the protesters to clear the street and dozens of helmeted officers with night sticks and special shotguns for firing “bean-bag” projectiles enclosed the intersection and forced their way into the crowd.

Most in the crowd quickly retreated into the park, as onlookers chanted “Whose street? Our Street!”

Los Angeles has been relatively accommodating to its Occupy group compared to other major cities, with Villaraigosa at one point providing ponchos to campers when it rained.

But after the collapse of negotiations aimed at persuading protesters to relocate voluntarily, the mayor said last week the encampment would have to go.

In a statement released Sunday evening, the mayor complimented the protesters for staying peaceful but added, “It is time for Occupy LA to move from focusing their efforts to hold a particular patch of park land to spreading the message of economic justice and restoration of balance to American society.”

He said he hoped to avoid the sporadic violence that erupted in other cities when police used force against Occupy protesters.

A number of protesters early Monday credited the police with showing restraint, including Clark Davis, an Occupy LA organizer, who said to Smith and a group of other officers standing by, “You guys have been fantastic.”

Writing by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Lucy Nicholson and Dave Warner in Philadelphia; Editing by Greg McCune and Bill Trott

Social service agencies facing more complex needs

Two years ago, I did a series of interviews with Jewish community members hit hard by the recession. At that time, they were mostly optimistic that things would turn around soon, but when I checked back this month, I found that they’re all still struggling to find their footing in this unstable job market. Social service agencies I contacted say this is not surprising.

“What we’re seeing is that what looked like a crisis initially is now sort of the status quo, said Susie Forer-Dehrey, chief operating officer of Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Los Angeles. “People who thought that things would be temporary are now seeing them as more permanent, so people are coming through our doors with very difficult situations. The needs are growing and are more complex than ever.”

The unemployed cover the spectrum of age and past experience, according to Jay Soloway, director of education and training at Jewish Vocational Service (JVS). JVS sees many clients through Community Connections at the JFS/SOVA Community Food and Resource Program, where it has career counselors on site during food pantry hours.

“Until the recession hit, the majority of the clients we saw at SOVA were chronically unemployed, with limited language, education and work skills. But since the recession has taken hold … we see this whole other group of individuals who are educated, who were in classic white-collar jobs, in administration or management.  They have told us on numerous occasions that they never thought there would be a day when they would need to come to a food pantry to put food on the table,” Soloway said.

JVS guides clients to visit the resource center, where they can get help with interviewing skills, networking, building a resume or information about re-educating themselves for a new career.

Through Community Connections, JVS saw 2,059 clients in 2010-2011, a 47 percent increase over 2009, which in itself was a 100 percent increase over 2008.

The number of first-time clients continues to climb at a steady pace, and JVS works with a growing number of people who have been unemployed for months or years, Soloway said.

“This prolonged unemployment precipitates all kinds of issues in terms of emotional stress and financial stress, not just on the individual, but on the family as well,” Soloway said.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has included $100,000 for job training in its proposed 2012 budget. That fund will help cover out-of-pocket costs for job re-education programs, many of which are already subsidized by government or philanthropic agencies, according to Andrew Cushnir, The Federation’s chief program officer.

The proposed 2012 budget allocates a total of $5 million toward helping local Jews in need, a $250,000 increase over last year, Cushnir said.

Federation has included in that budget $150,000 to help Jews in danger of losing their home, or who are already homeless — a growing problem, Cushnir said. Federation has partnered with JFS on the Jewish Homeless Crisis Intervention Fund, so JFS can help clients access resources that will lead to more stable housing situations.

Those initiatives come on top of Emergency Cash Grants, a Federation program that provides one-time emergency funds of up to $1,800 for a family to cover medical, housing, employment or child-care needs. Since the program’s inception in early 2009, Federation has allocated 1,684 grants totaling $2,341,683.

Applicants access the grants through synagogues, schools and social service agencies, a system aimed at bringing clients into the social service network. Federation has also partnered with synagogues, JFS and the Federation’s Board of Rabbis on a program that will place social workers in synagogues to serve congregants and community members. Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades and University Synagogue in Brentwood are piloting the Caring Communities program, funded in part by a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, with expansion slated for synagogues in the East Valley and the West Valley, as well as to clients of Tomchei Shabbos, which provides weekly groceries to Jewish families in need.

Federation allocated $2.3 million to JFS in 2011. JFS has continued to see a steep uptick in the number of clients needing services — from food programs to mental health services to support for the elderly and disabled. But government cuts have shuttered some programs, including Adult Day Health Care and Linkages, which offered day programs for the elderly and disabled, respectively.

Calls to JFS’ Central Access phone line have increased from 300 a month in 2008 to 400 a month today. JFS/SOVA has jumped from 6,000 clients a month in 2008 to more than 13,000 in 2011, a number that continues to go up every month.

Forer-Dehrey said JFS strives to make the process of getting help on multiple fronts easy and streamlined. Clients should have to tell their story only once, when they call the Central Access number, or when they see an intake counselor.

Intake counselors offer hours at SOVA’s three pantry sites through the Community Connections program. During food pantry hours, SOVA clients can also meet with attorneys from Bet Tzedek legal services, representatives of government aid programs, counselors and social workers from JFS, and career counselors from JVS.

Forer-Dehrey of JFS laments that often counseling gets cut first when funding becomes tight.

“People need to talk about what is going on in their lives, and how they see themselves as part of a trajectory of moving themselves forward. That is important to the whole process,” she said.

But even for the families, pressing demands often crowd out the attention they might pay to mental health.

“People are really overwhelmed right now,” said Megan Koehler, director of program services at Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles.

She said the program hasn’t seen a big uptick in the past few years, partly because the organization couldn’t fund a recruitment director, and partly because choosing a mentor for a child is not a priority when a family is deciding whether to skip paying rent so they can pay for medical care.

Financial stress is apparent for both the children who need help and their adult mentors. Koehler said she perceives that more adult volunteers are unable to continue because they are relocating to find employment. Applications to the college scholarship fund that little brothers and sisters are eligible for have included heartbreaking tales of financial hardship, she said.

“The impact is not only on the family, but on us, as we’re supporting that family,” Koehler said. “Our primary focus is on making sure the mentor/mentee relationship is strong and solid and safe and healthy, but we are really broadening our role, because so many additional variables are impacting families.” 

Agencies continue to look for more funding so they can service the growing demands, but people are not getting what they need, Forer-Dehrey said. With budgets stretched taut, JFS no longer talks of being a safety net that will prevent the fall, she said, but doing what it can to soften the inevitable impact.

And no one knows when things might turn around.

“About a year ago, I was saying that I saw a shadow of a glimmer of a hint of light on the horizon, and now I don’t say that anymore,” JVS’ Soloway said.

“Economists have tried to analyze this, but I don’t think anyone really understands what is happening.” l

Buffett points the way

Warren E. Buffett is the second-richest person in the United States (after Microsoft’s Bill Gates), so when he purchased an Israeli-based stock not long ago, investors throughout the world sat up and took notice. What made it more newsworthy is that it was Buffett’s first major foray into overseas investing. Up to that point, he said he could always find good stocks here at home.

Then the Sage of Omaha’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, paid $4 billion for an 80 percent share of Iscar Metalworking, and he said at the time that he was looking for other low-priced jewels.

What drew him to Israel, Buffett said, was its brainpower.

“If you’re going to the Middle East to look for oil, you can skip Israel. If you’re looking for brains, look no further. Israel has shown that it has a disproportionate amount of brains and energy.”

For other investors looking to invest in Israel, but with perhaps not quite $4 billion to invest, there is a goodly variety of choices.

Israel’s economy actually has been doing well compared to those of many other countries, in part because the country did not have a credit bubble.

Andy Brown of Aberdeen Asset Management, which runs First Israel Fund, admits that inflation is something of a worry, but he argues that Israel’s “long-term fundamentals are strong. Israel has a young, growing, healthy population.”

Brown believes that a good time to invest in Israel is when political unrest has made stock prices a bargain. 

STOCK INDEX FUND

The Amidex35 Israel Mutual Fund consists of the 35 largest Israeli companies. It is a unique combination of stocks that trade on either the U.S. or Tel Aviv exchanges — the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, the New York Stock Exchange, or Nasdaq (where smaller stocks trade).

Why “35”? Because 35 stocks have been found to provide 60 percent of the return of all Israeli stocks.

Why “Amidex”? It is a combination of a word for “friend” and “index.”

The fund is no-load (no sales charge), but if you sell within a year, there is a redemption fee.

Minimum first investment is $500, with $250 for follow-ups; for automatic investments, only $100.

For more information, call (888) 876-3566.

Amidex is setting up other index funds, such as the Cancer Innovations & Healthcare Fund.

Index funds over the years have done better than 70 percent or so of actively managed funds. In his book “What Works on Wall Street” (fourth edition, 2012), James P. O’Shaughnessy claims this is because index funds do not change their strategy. On the other hand, John Bogle, who started the Vanguard Group, attributes the success of index funds to their low expenses.

A CLOSED-END FUND

Unlike Amidex35, the First Israel Fund (ISL) does not issue new shares.

A limited number of shares trade among buyers and sellers. It is a “closed-end” fund, not an “open-end” one, such as Amidex35.

The advantage of this is that if shareholders decide to sell out, en masse, the fund does not have to raise cash to meet redemptions by selling its holdings, perhaps at hurtfully low prices.

The fund is not an index fund. The managers buy and sell Israeli stocks. It is a concentrated fund, with 75 percent of its assets in its top-10 holdings. The fund is overweight in information technology, particularly the stock Check Point Software. It is underweight in cyclical sectors, such as energy.

As with other closed-end funds, First Israel trades at a discount to its underlying value — right now, around 12 percent. Of course, shareholders may wind up selling their holdings at the same or a larger discount.

The fund trades on the New York Stock Exchange.

For more information, call (866) 839-5205.

First Israel Fund was launched in 1990 by Credit Suisse Asset Management, and it is headquartered in Philadelphia.

EXCHANGE-TRADED FUND

iShares Israel is an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) — an index fund that trades as a stock. ETFs traditionally have very low expenses. In the case of this fund, expenses come in at 0.61 percent.

The fund follows an index called the Morgan Stanley Capped Investable Market Index. It was launched in March 2008.

iShares Israel holds 83 stocks but is tilted toward Teva Pharmaceuticals, which has 23 percent of its assets.

For more information, call (800) 474-2737.

INDIVIDUAL STOCKS

For investors interested in buying individual stocks, whether in Israel or elsewhere, Teva Pharmaceuticals may be a good bet. The Value Line Investment Survey rates its timeliness “above average,” and its analyst writes: “Despite the inevitable slowdown in the Copaxone franchise, we think Teva can still prosper in the years to come, assuming its growth strategy succeeds.” (Copaxone is a drug against multiple sclerosis.)

Amdocs Limited is rated average by Value Line, which writes that the stock “has decent 3- to 5-year appreciation potential.” The company provides information-system solutions.

Check Point Software is also rated average, and Value Line writes that the stock has “minimal appreciation potential out to 2016.”

Elbit Systems (defense electronics and electrical optical systems) “is a suitable choice for conservative, income-oriented investors with a long-term perspective.”

Ormat Technologies (alternative energy) is ranked below average in timeliness, but the stock, writes Value Line, may “appeal to patient investors looking for less risky (nonsolar) exposure to the alternative energy sector.”

Israel Bonds now available online

Israel Bonds, which many synagogues pitch during the High Holidays, can now be purchased online.

The Development Corporation for Israel/State of Israel Bonds has launched an e-commerce site that its board chairman, Richard Hirsch, lauded for its functionality and expediency.

“Supporting Israel by investing in Israel Bonds has never been easier,” Hirsch said in Tuesday’s announcement of the site.

The site also can generate gift cards.

Putting the ‘Pop’ back into soda pop

At the dawn of the 20th century, the British royals were privy to a spiffy new system for infusing drinking water with carbon dioxide bubbles. It would take 53 years for SodaStream to reach commoners, and another 42 until it was acquired by an Israeli distributor and transformed into an international DIY product called Soda Club.

The brand really started to sparkle when it was taken over in 2007 by an Israeli entrepreneur with a Harvard Business School degree, and today the home carbonation system is sold by 40,000 stores in 41 countries. CEO Daniel Birnbaum says that about 4 million households now have a SodaStream machine on the kitchen counter.

“We still have a long runway ahead of us,” Birnbaum said. “There are a lot more households out there.”

Jazzing up a blah brand

Birnbaum was perfectly happy at the helm of Nike Israel when fellow Harvard alum Yuval Cohen, managing director of Fortissimo Capital, asked him to check out a possible acquisition.

“When he told me it was Soda Club, I almost fell off my chair, because I thought the company was gone,” recalled Birnbaum, who had previously established Pillsbury Israel.

But after visiting the firm’s Airport City headquarters, he predicted that Soda Club was a sure investment. It had an existing sales base of close to $100 million in a product category that accounts for $230 billion in sales globally.

Making what he calls the quickest career decision of his life, Birnbaum left Nike and took on Soda Club, determined to push its envelope of potential. Because for all its modest success, the brand was as flat as week-old pop.

“It was losing money on operating expenses. The management had little passion or optimism, no growth strategy, no new product pipeline, no new market development. I asked about their plans for markets like Russia and the U.S., and they had no answers.”

Just four years later, having rebranded the system with its old name and a new logo, Birnbaum has added 24 countries to the marketing mix and even relaunched it in the United Kingdom with its original commercial jingle, “Get busy with the fizzy.”

In the United States, where Soda Club was strictly Web-based, SodaStream is now available in mega-retailers including Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Sears, Kohl’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

A native New Yorker living in Israel since he was 7, Birnbaum understands the American market well thanks to his education and a stint at Procter & Gamble.

In November last year, SodaStream’s initial public offering on NASDAQ turned out to be the eighth-largest Israeli IPO ever in the United States and Israel’s biggest IPO in 2010.

“When we rang the closing bell on our first day as a public company, the vice chairman of NASDAQ announced that we are an Israeli company, and I just glowed,” said Birnbaum, who lives in Tel Mond with his family.

When good deals go bad

So your good deal has gone bad. Perhaps your house is underwater. Maybe that great job, with the promise of valuable stock options, not only has not produced options “in the money,” but has itself disappeared. It could be that your business, once lucrative and full of promise, has gone south, and now you are not sure how to extricate yourself from it, particularly since your partners are your parents. It’s possible you are regretting withdrawing retirement savings to invest in the next sure bet, as “guaranteed” by your (perhaps now former) best friend. What do you do now?

Before you (re)act (i.e., go legal), you should first be introspective and evaluate what role, if any, you played in your current predicament. Ask yourself: “Did I really have a ‘good’ deal to begin with, or did I have a ‘bad’ deal all along?” Too often, “good” means a deal whose desired outcome exceeds any reasonable expectation, and “bad” means a deal whose actual outcome does not or cannot meet unrealistically high expectations.

How do you know whether you ever had a good deal (“good” being a deal reasonably likely to meet or exceed reasonable expectations)? One measure is to ask whether a deal is ethical.

Rabbi David Golinkin, president and rector of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, discusses six basic principles of Jewish business ethics in a 2003 article for USCJ Review, three of which are summarized as follows:

• ona’at mamon – no monetary deception (strive for a fair and reasonable profit, but no more);
• ona’at devarim – no verbal deception (communicate honestly);
• no “putting a stumbling block before the blind” (do not knowingly take advantage of another).

California law contains similar requirements: a prohibition on “unfair competition,” a requirement that every contract contain an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and a rule against “unconscionable” contract provisions, just to name three.

In short, when evaluating the relative goodness of a deal, ask yourself whether you were modest (not greedy), honest, reasonable and fair in your own approach to the deal. Only if you have conducted your own business affairs appropriately should you look for redress elsewhere.

Now, getting back to your “bad” deals. If you are being totally honest with yourself, is your house underwater because of fraud or deception, or is it underwater because you took out a nothing-down, interest-only, no-doc loan during your third refinancing, pulling out equity along the way? Did you deal modestly, honestly and reasonably with the bank? Were you honest with yourself?

Regarding your dream job, did your employer actually lie to you, or were you deceiving yourself as to the job’s potential? Or, notwithstanding everyone’s best efforts, did the job simply not pan out as you and everyone else had hoped? Are you culpable for your loss? Is anyone?

Undoubtedly, there are times when by any objective measure you have been wronged, through no fault of your own. In such cases, you should seek the benefit of your bargain, or otherwise seek compensation for your reasonable injuries. But not every wrong has a readily available remedy. And sometimes, because of your own acts and/or omissions, you should look only to yourself for a solution.

In light of bad outcomes, regardless of cause, people are often hurt, angry, frustrated and disillusioned. Good behavior and civil discourse often succumb to raw and coarse words and deeds. But we should never forget that Jewish law prohibits both lashon harah (evil speech — “truth” communicated for an improper/negative purpose) and motzi shem ra (“spreading a bad name,” the equivalent of defamation). What we communicate and how we communicate it matters. To seek legitimate redress of legitimate claims is fine. To trash or defame someone, regardless of what he did or you believe he did, is not.

More difficult is when the bad deal involves a family member, friend or longtime business associate. As if losing a business or investments were not enough, often you may be at risk of losing a familial tie or a personal bond that may not be easily replaceable. Under these circumstances, the stakes are much higher. Are you still willing to “honor” your parents, notwithstanding your economic losses? When you are most frustrated, remind yourself that we are all created b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God). Can we, or should we, allow economic adversity to interfere with such important relationships? And are we ever entirely innocent, or so innocent that we can say truthfully that we are the only “victim”?

Money is important, but it can be replaced. Relationships are precious, and once broken or lost, often cannot be repaired or rediscovered. Whenever you are faced with a “bad” deal, look first to yourself and assess your own accountability, and then evaluate carefully that which is most important to you.

Stuart Leviton, founder of Leviton Law Group, is a frequent lecturer in business law and business ethics at American Jewish University.

Stanley Black: Businessman, philanthropist, collector

Moses may have brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai, but he only gave the Israelites one copy — and those stone tablets weren’t easy to lug around.

Real estate businessman and philanthropist Stanley Black, on the other hand, has probably distributed hundreds of copies of the Ten Commandments over his 50 years in the real estate business — and he gives them out in convenient, pocket-size booklets labeled “Thoughts to Live By.”

It’s a tradition that Black’s father, Jack Black, started when he was working in the garment industry. “It was his hope that these ‘thoughts of the day’ would capture one’s conscience and pave the way to a better life,” Black writes of his father in the introduction to the fifth volume of his own booklet.

Black is an omnivorous collector. Over the past 30 years, Black assembled his most profitable collection, a portfolio of investment real estate properties that stretches across 35 states and includes more than 18 million square feet of space. The occupants of Black’s buildings include familiar names: Wendy’s, Burger King and Office Depot, among many others.

The 80 or so pithy sayings that appear alongside the Ten Commandments in the most recent booklet say a lot about how Black considers business and life. “It’s the empty can that makes the most noise,” reads one. “The best exercise is reaching down and lifting people up,” goes another.

By that criterion, Black keeps himself in good shape. Sitting in the Black Equities offices in Beverly Hills, the 78-year-old talked about the ways he has tried, as a philanthropist, to help people get a leg up in the world.

Black is a longtime supporter of Jewish Vocational Services (JVS), which offers training and counseling to help job-seekers in Southern California. “He’s been involved as a donor for years,” JVS’ chief executive officer, Vivian Seigel, said. Black regularly refers people who are out of work to JVS for assistance, and when the organization honored him at a luncheon in 2006, Seigel said that “Stanley publicly doubled his gift, knowing how big the influence is, and how important it is to help people get back on their feet.”

Black is also on the board of Los Angeles ORT College (LAORT), the local branch of the 130-year-old worldwide education and training organization. Since opening in 1990, LAORT has educated or trained more than 25,000 students at its two locations. The LAORT building on Wilshire Boulevard, located next door to The Jewish Federation’s headquarters, is named for Black and his wife, Joyce.

Black helped the nonprofit acquire the building in 1995. “They were asking $3 million. I offered, I think, $2 million,” Black said. He was traveling abroad at the time of the negotiation. “Then I see that they bombed the Jewish Federation building in Argentina,” Black recalled. The sellers had seen the news as well. “An hour later, I got a fax: ‘We accept your offer.’ ”

The real estate business has changed in the past five decades. “When I started, it was easier. I would buy a property with $5,000 down,” Black said. Still, he likes it, and his son and 24-year-old grandson both now work at Black Equities Group. “There’s opportunity out there,” Black said.

Jack Black, President Barack Obama and Stanley Black. Photo courtesy Stanley Black

It’s just a matter of recognizing it — and knowing when to hold out for a better offer. For years, Black and his son Jack have been photographed with prominent local and national politicians. The photo collection includes pictures of the Blacks with Mikhail Gorbachev, Robert F. Kennedy and many others — including the last five U.S. presidents.

Like many real estate developers, Black often supports multiple candidates in a single election. He supported both President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain in 2008. He wanted a photograph with Obama, but during the 2008 campaign he was told that it would require a $35,000 donation to the Democratic National Committee.

Black balked. “$35,000 is too much money. I’d rather give it to a charity,” he said.

Last year, Obama came out to San Francisco to campaign for Sen. Barbara Boxer. The price for a photograph with Obama had gone down to $5,000. Even with the cost of the plane ticket from LAX to SFO, Black is pretty sure he got a good deal.

In addition to the pictures, his buildings and his “Thoughts to Live By,” Black has collected countless objects, and nearly every available space in his Beverly Hills office is covered with paintings, sculptures and assorted tchotckes. A sign with Black’s name written in Chinese is affixed to his office door. A soccer ball signed by Bob Bradley, coach for the U.S. men’s national team,  sits on a table in the entryway. Opposite the receptionist’s desk hangs a string of rosary beads in a frame that was presented to Black by L.A. Cardinal Roger Mahony.

The office is also overrun with monkeys. In an homage to the “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” monkeys that sat on his father’s desk many years ago, Black has accumulated dozens of sculptures and paintings of the primate trio.

The father and son were also photographed with California Gov. Jerry Brown — twice. The first photo of Brown with the Blacks was taken during the governor’s first term in the 1970s; the more recent photo was taken just last year. “I told him not to run,” Black said of his advice to Brown during his last successful campaign.

The 2010 photo shows how the Blacks and Brown have aged — but one look at Black’s “Thoughts to Live By” suggests that he’s probably not too bothered about getting older.

“Sometimes,” one of Black’s thoughts reads, “it is better to be 80 years young than 40 years old.”

Balancing the budget: Making the weak pay

Sylvia Mnuchen has spent her life fighting.

First it was cancer that attacked her skin, then her breast. More recently it has been an ailment that has kept her in a wheelchair, her feet swollen, her legs wrapped tight like a mummy.

But as a loyal Jewish Democrat and longtime advocate of social justice, she never thought she would find herself fighting Jerry Brown, a man she voted for three times for governor. Yet the 94-year-old is suddenly on the wrong side of Brown’s proposed budget cuts that would slash state spending by $12.5 billion, ripping a hole in numerous social service programs and eliminating others entirely.

Payouts for Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid, would be reduced by $1.7 billion. The welfare-to-work program CalWORKs would be cut by $1.5 billion. Other programs assisting the elderly and disabled would be affected, too.

Legislators are working on a budget agreement with the governor and expect it to be ready for a vote early this month.

Brown has called it “a tough budget for tough times.” To Mnuchen and other social service advocates in the Jewish community, though, it would only make tough times tougher.

“It’s a terrible situation,” she said.

A former travel agent who lives in an apartment in Beverly Hills on $986 per month, she uses the state’s In-Home Supportive Services Program (IHSS), which pays for personal care assistance. She needs someone to help her get out of bed, wash herself, make her meals and prepare her many medications.

“What are they trying to do? Kill us all?” she asked. “I can’t manage. I can’t manage because I can’t be without a caretaker.”

Mnuchen’s concern is that cost-cutting measures — on top of a 3.6 percent reduction in IHSS hours enacted by the previous administration — would endanger her well-being as well as that of her caregiver, who makes only $9 an hour. Fewer hours will mean less money and tougher times for such providers.

“How can a person live on that kind of money? And then take more money from them?” Mnuchen said.

No one disagrees about the root of the controversy: a state budget gap that has spun out of control to more than $25 billion.

“I think everybody who does advocacy on their agency’s issues understands there is a shortage of dollars. It’s just that simple,” said Adine Forman, director of government affairs and special projects for Jewish Vocational Service (JVS). “The government’s short money, and it has to take it from somewhere.”

Somewhere, it turns out, could be far reaching. The governor’s proposed reductions to CalWORKs, for example, would add up to $450 million in Los Angeles County, causing tens of thousands of families to lose their benefits.

The program, known in the county as GAIN, or Greater Avenues for Independence, is administered by JVS at three sites: Palmdale, Chatsworth and Santa Clarita. It helps provide child care, case management, transportation, counseling and more, all with the goal of returning people — often single moms — to work and helping them regain self-sufficiency.

Anne Kagiri can testify to the importance of that. The mother of two moved here from Michigan to live with her sister after she lost her job and separated from her husband. Even though she had a master’s degree in human resources, she couldn’t find a job quickly and left one son in the care of her mother back in Kenya.

“I never thought I would be on welfare,” said Kagiri, 35.

But it worked. Now she has a full-time job as a case manager for JVS, has her own house, and she was able to bring her other child to live with her.

“I’m completely independent,” she said.

Brown’s budget would trim grants and cap participation in the program at four years instead of five over the course of a person’s lifetime.

JVS officials say it’s their job in this time of financial crisis to examine how the programs can be scaled back with the least damage to those they serve. Still, they worry about the stress the governor’s proposals would have on county resources as former CalWORKs participants end up on general relief. Other worries plague their minds, too.

“I think you have the potential to have a highly elevated homeless count because of it,” Forman said. “There are a lot of people that are hanging on by a thread that are on CalWORKs and living on bare bones to try and make it work.”

It may seem hard to think of number crunching and state budgets as a matter of life and death, but that’s how Paul Castro sees it. The chief executive officer of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) fears that some proposed reductions could leave frail elderly populations with a deadly choice: Stay at home and die or be institutionalized.

Consider the Multipurpose Senior Services Program (MSSP), operated locally by JFS and earmarked by the governor for elimination. It provides skilled health care professionals to give case management and supplemental services to poor, at-risk seniors who are living at home. If axed altogether, it would cost JFS $2.9 million and affect more than 650 of its clients who might otherwise be in nursing homes, Castro said.

While ending the program would trim $20 million from the budget, Castro said the state should consider the full implication of its actions. Not only are California’s dollars matched by federal contributions, the eventual cost to the state of at-risk seniors moving into nursing homes would be much greater, he said.

“The math doesn’t work,” he said. “The question becomes: Have they calculated the cost yet?”

And not just the cost in dollars. Castro said he’s concerned about people who would do anything to stay in their homes, even without the program. He sees them missing doctor appointments and meals, not taking their medications regularly and ending up in emergency rooms.

A January policy note by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research supports his concerns about the impact of possible budget cuts to this and other initiatives, stating, “Recipients of these programs are already in precarious situations and … undermining their care networks will place them at risk of worsened health and institutionalization.”

Castro takes it a step further: “Some are just going to stay home and die because they won’t have any support system.”

It’s an argument that many lawmakers have found persuasive. Jewish State Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) said he understands the role such programs play in keeping people alive.

“Somehow, we have to keep as much of the safety net in place as we can,” he said. “Right now, we’re trying to do the least amount of harm, but it’s still terrible.”

Lowenthal is a member of the State Senate’s Budget Committee and the conference committee charged with reconciling differences between the Assembly and Senate. Legislators in both chambers have indicated they will try to protect — partially or in full — various iniatives that serve the aging, poor and disabled, including MSSP.

Understanding Shariah finance and Islamic banking in American finance

The Middle East, with its exotic tropical sirocco winds, is also now the haven and leader of a new form of finance that is enticing the world with the alluring scent of its petrodollars. Substantial profits are to be made, and gold plated Bentleys, mansions on the Palm Jumerah Island, and golf courses designed by Tiger Woods only add to the mystique behind the veils. However, more than Dubailand and dreams of riches lurk behind the Islamic ideologues who invented the concept of Islamic Finance, and they are ones who are promoting this form of “interest-free, Muslim friendly, ethical investment” worldwide.

From behind the walls of opulent palaces and banks, there are many people with militant backgrounds who are seeking to promote this new type of religious finance to spread a form of militant Islam throughout western civilization. That militancy, they believe, can be financed by co-opting American financial institutions. Many in this movement wish to replace traditional western capital systems with Islamic economic values.

Islamic Finance was conceived by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1920s. Decades later, it is a viable modality for spreading the Islamist movement of Jihad against the West.

To understand the concepts of Shariah one needs to understand and the doctrines that Shariah compliancy commands. Strict Shariah adherence is the sole criterion of whether a financial institution can be deemed “Islamic.” When HSBC, Citibank, or Deutsche Bank open “Islamic Windows” those are not just another place to deposit money. The banking operation must adhere to constants common to all Islamic banking institutions.

One is that the operation must adhere to the tenets of Shariah Law. However, when perusing the brochures or prospectuses sent out by the institutions, there is very little that explains the real meaning to the layperson. The advertisements usually gloss over the objectionable religious details and just refer to “ethical investment, interest-free, and an obligation to the alms giving, or zakat.” This seems innocent enough, but like the hidden face behind the veil, more information is needed for the investor, both Muslim and non-Muslim.

The lack of full disclosure and due diligence in presenting this new form of banking is no coincidence. It is being done to lure investors from all walks of life who want to share in the glow of banking and borrowing “interest free and ethically.” It is meant to draw not only from the Muslims who adhere to the laws of the Koran and Shariah, but to everyday people who think that banks are thieves, and this is a way to “beat the system.”

Western institutions that offer Islamic finance are in a conundrum, especially in America, often failing to disclose what Shariah really is. The question is, why? One reason is ignorance, or being politically correct in a post 9/11 world. The other answers are still unknown. That is why monitoring and following the growth of Shariah-compliant investments and banking is so important. For critics of Shariah Finance, it is a bit like being a “Paul Revere,” trying to ring the bell of freedom to warn investors.

The true agenda of Shariah and Islamic Finance is really just a means to bring this type of movement of Islam into the West, and especially, the “great Satan” America. As this economic system creeps into the threads of capitalism, it may eventually change the way we live. Not a few see it as part of the international campaign to legitimize Shariah Law among those who would never adopt it.

Banking compliant with Shariah law is more than just abiding by ethical rules and regulations, combined with interest-free loans. It supposedly resonates with how life is lived in Saudi Arabia and Iran. Understanding the objectives of Islamic banking by the words of the Shariah Scholars themselves suddenly brings our own financial institutions into compliance with a lifestyle anathema to the west.

Quoting from Nassar M. Suleiman, Corporate Governance in Islamic Banking, the law states: “Shariah Law must develop a distinctive corporate culture, the main purpose of which is to create a collective morality and spirituality which, when combined with the production of goods and services sustains the growth and advancement of the Islamic way of life.”

The authoritative Shariah compendium of the Shafii School of Jurisprudence, which is a cornerstone for understanding Shariah, is the “The Reliance of the Traveler: The Classic Manual of Sacred Law.” For example, this book states on family law:

1. A woman is eligible for only half of the inheritance of a man
2. A virgin may be married against her will by her father or her grandfather
3. An Arab woman may not marry a non-Arab man
4. A woman may not leave the house with her husband’s permission
5. A Muslim man may marry four women, including Christians and Jews, a Muslim woman can only marry a Muslim
6. Beating an insubordinate wife is permissible

The book states on jihad:

1. Offensive Military jihad against non-Muslims is a religious obligation
2. Apostasy from Islam is punishable by death without trial
3. Non-Muslim subjects of a Muslim state are subject to discriminatory (dhimmi) laws.
4. It is permissible to bribe (Da’wah) non-Muslims to convert them to Islam
5. Lying (Taqiyya) to infidels in time of Jihad is permissible.

The book states on human rights:

1. Homosexuals and lesbians must be killed
2. Slavery is permitted and legitimate, as in Darfur
3. A Muslim man has unlimited sexual rights over slave women, whether they are married or not
4. Female sexual mutilation (cliterectomy) is obligatory
5. Adultery is punished by death by stoning
6. A woman’s testimony in court is worth only half that of a man, and only in cases involving property.

Shariah plays a huge part in Islamic Finance and according to Islamic scholars, Shariah is simply “God-ordained sacred Islamic Law that rules each and every aspect of a Muslim’s life.” The tenets of Shariah are immutable, not subject to any change or interpretation, and valid for all times and places. This ideology is entering our financial system.

Many people think that Shariah Finance in America is a runaway train that cannot be stopped. However, with our own due diligence we can require banks to become compliant to the American way and not the Shariah way.

Allyson Rowen Taylor writes for Shariahfinancewatch.org. She speaks nationally on the influence of Shariah on the banking and financial systems.

Israeli economy surprises with pace of growth

Israeli economic growth unexpectedly accelerated to its fastest pace in more than two years.

Exports and consumer spending increased, helping to sending up growth in the second quarter by an annualized 4.7 percent, Bloomberg reported.

The expansion rate rose from a revised 3.6 percent in the first quarter, the , Jerusalem-based Central Bureau of Statistics said Monday on its website.

The median forecast of six economists surveyed by Bloomberg had predicted growth of 2.9 percent. The statistics bureau reported last month that the economy grew a preliminary 3.4 percent in the first three months.

“This is really an economy running on all pistons,” said Jonathan Katz, a Jerusalem-based economist for HSBC Holdings Plc, who forecast 3.7 percent growth. “Down the road, the Bank of Israel will have to increase interest rates. This is clear to them, clear to everyone, and the pace may surprise many.”

The Israeli economy’s rebound from the global financial crisis has been powered by exports, which make up nearly half of gross domestic product.

How to save on wedding costs without sacrificing

Several years ago, a character on my favorite television show expounded on the cost of modern weddings, finishing up his tirade with, “And the next morning, you wake up and realize that for the same price as the down payment on a house you’re married to that.”

The average wedding costs about $30,000, and in this declining economy it might not be too long before that will once again be a down payment in Los Angeles.

Most brides want beauty and romance during their wedding — an expression of their love in the form of a grandiose ceremony. But for many couples, a lavish wedding would require a major financial sacrifice at time when few can afford to do so.

For brides and grooms who are focused more on the marriage than the wedding, the following are some cost-cutting ideas to preserve the grand expression, while leaving enough aside for a nest egg.

Planners

Unless the guest list tops 300, don’t hire a wedding planner. Their service won’t save you any time or trouble, because they will regularly want to meet to offer you more choices. What you might save in prices with vendors will in turn be spent on their fees. Planners are mostly in the business of selling services, and as a result, they look to increase the extravagance.

Wedding at Home

While people generally think that having a wedding at home is the least expensive, it can cost as much as a banquet hall to rent the tables and chairs, hire a valet service and pay for the catering service to provide and serve the food. Having the wedding in a professional venue only gets expensive when all the extras are added in, from valet parking to serving your guests champagne upon entering.

Food

At a recent wedding, guests were served apples and champagne before they could get their coats off, and then there were exotic hors d’oeuvres, tables filled with fruit, cheese, crudités and dip. Then as they left the ceremony, they were offered goblets of a variety of soups. Entering the hall for cocktails, guests encountered deli, Japanese, Italian, French, Latin and Chinese buffet tables. By the time people were ushered into dinner, the three entrées they had to choose from were hardly enticing.

Instead of stuffing the guests before the dinner, serve hors d’oeuvres and drinks, allowing the guests to mingle without having to get in long lines.

Another approach is to have a morning or early brunch wedding and forgo elaborate dinners.

Invitations

Next comes invitations; these seem to get more elaborate each year. A recent one came in a box that when opened, a light inside went on. Even the postage was exorbitant. Short of doing the invitations yourself, go for more imagination in the printing and the design than the size and grandeur of the presentation. Leave out response cards. Most people will call anyway and tell you if they’re coming.

Tchotchkes

Decorations have become more elaborate each year — streamers, horns, hats and even Hula-hoops being handed out just to keep everyone occupied and having a good time. Cutting out all the handouts can save a ton of money, perhaps enough to get a higher quality band that will play music that won’t blast out the eardrums. Plus, all the tchotchkes tend to get thrown out rather quickly, literally money down the drain.

The Dress

Of course, every bride wants to look like a vision coming down the aisle. But designer gowns can cost more than $6,000, and they’re only worn once.

However, there are alternatives, such as off-the-rack gowns that can be purchased for as little as $500. Another practice, which is becoming more popular, is to get a secondhand wedding gown at a thrift shop, a secondhand clothing store or for the more adventurous, by bidding for a gown on an online auction site like eBay. It’s also possible to borrow a gown through L.A. Hachnosas Kallah at (323) 936-3254.

The best way to save money on your wedding is to focus on quality. Think seriously about what is important and the best reflection of the values of the soon-to-be happy couple. Throwing out money to keep up with the Steins reflects the values of others and is a poor start to any marriage.

Anne Phyllis Pinzow is a scriptwriter who makes her main living as a newspaper reporter and editor.

Post-war belt-tightening: Israel could cut Falash Mura dreams in half

Israel’s Finance Ministry is proposing substantial cuts to Ethiopian immigration next year as part of widespread belt-tightening following Israel’s war in Lebanon.

The plan, announced on Sept. 5 as part of Israel’s proposed budget for 2007, would halve the number of Ethiopian immigrants brought to Israel per month, to 150 from the current rate of 300.

If adopted, the change would represent a major setback to U.S. backers of Ethiopian aliyah, who launched a $100 million campaign last year designed in part to pressure the government to increase the rate of Ethiopian immigration. Israel’s Cabinet decided in March 2005 to double the rate of Ethiopian immigration to 600 people per month, but the decision was never implemented.

“I hope the Jewish leaders overseas will understand this breaks all the rules, all the agreements, all the understandings,” said Shlomo Molla, an Ethiopian-Israeli politician and head of the World Zionist Organization’s department of Zionist issues. “We won’t let this happen. It’s a scandal.”

The proposal to slash Ethiopian immigration signals the failure of a complex agreement reached a year and a half ago to complete mass Ethiopian immigration to Israel by the end of 2007.

That agreement would have seen the takeover of Jewish aid compounds in Ethiopia by the Jewish Agency for Israel, the end of lobbying campaigns for immigration by the main Jewish advocacy group in Ethiopia and the raising of more than $100 million by North American Jews to help Israel foot the bill for the airlift and absorption of up to 20,000 additional Ethiopians.

The collaborative effort was intended to bring the mass Ethiopian aliyah to a close in under three years.

Now it seems the estimated 12,000 remaining Ethiopian petitioners for aliyah — known as Falash Mura — will have to wait even longer in shantytowns in the Ethiopian cities of Gondar and Addis Ababa before they can emigrate to the Jewish state, if at all.

“I think it’s morally reprehensible,” Stephen Hoffman, president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, said of the proposed budget cuts. “We’re going to obviously ask the government not to go in that direction.”

The Israeli government repeatedly has delayed implementing the decision to accelerate the aliyah, with various ministries shifting the blame. Under the current budget proposal, an increase in the aliyah rate wouldn’t be reconsidered until the 2008 budget discussions.

Last year, the United Jewish Communities umbrella group of North American federations launched a campaign called Operation Promise to raise $100 million for Ethiopian aliyah and motivate the Israeli government to move ahead with its March 2005 decision.

The UJC raised about half of the amount before the campaign stalled and was overshadowed this summer by special emergency fundraising for the war with Hezbollah.

“Even considering a cut from the current level of 300 a month would be unacceptable,” said Howard Reiger, UJC’s president and CEO. “UJC and the federations will continue their partnership with the government to help populations most in need, including the Falash Mura. We hope and expect that the government of Israel will keep its commitments in this regard as well.”

Some U.S. Jewish leaders say they’re not sure whether the proposed slash in the Ethiopian immigration budget is a legitimate cutback resulting from the war or just an excuse to avoid bringing more Ethiopians to Israel.

One federation official said he’s beginning to doubt Israel’s commitment to accepting the Falash Mura as immigrants.

“I think there will be great skepticism that this is not about something beyond money,” said John Ruskay, executive vice president of UJA-Federation of New York. “I think many of us are aware of the complexity and costs involved, but the signal that will be sent if the number is in fact reduced will, in my judgment, weaken the partnership with world Jewry.”

“Every prime minister has said to us over and over again that the issue of aliyah is a No. 1 priority,” Ruskay said. “The rabbinate has indicated that these are Jews. Ultimately, this is an issue in the hands of the Israeli public and the Israeli political system.”

The government’s reticence to bring the Falash Mura to Israel has been both economic and ideological — and, some charge, racist.

Each Ethiopian immigrant costs the state approximately $100,000 over the course of his lifetime, according to Israeli government estimates. The Ethiopians are considered far more expensive than other immigrants, since the background they’re coming from is so different than Israel, and they need extensive support services after immigrating.

Many Israelis also doubt the Falash Mura’s Jewish credentials, despite their being classified as Jews by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and the three major religious denominations of American Judaism.

The Falash Mura are Ethiopians of Jewish ancestry whose progenitors converted to Christianity several generations ago to escape social and economic pressures. Now they have begun returning to Judaism — in order to immigrate to the Jewish state along with their extended families, some charge.

Given the state of record-keeping in Ethiopia, the Falash Mura’s Jewish pedigree is virtually impossible to prove. Unlike Ethiopian immigrants who came to Israel in Operations Moses and Solomon in 1984 and 1991, the Falash Mura have not continuously maintained Jewish traditions and practice, so Israel has been accepting only those Falash Mura who can demonstrate a familial connection with Ethiopians already in Israel. Some of those now coming to Israel have no claims to Jewish heritage at all and are linked to descendants of Jews only by marriage.

It’s not clear exactly how many Falash Mura remain in Ethiopia, though aid officials say the number is probably not more than 12,000.

The longer it takes Israel to bring the current group of Falash Mura, the more petitioners for aliyah there will be, warn Israeli and American Jewish officials stationed in Ethiopia.

Study of UJC Merger Finds Unhappiness

 

American Jewish leaders who created the United Jewish Communities (UJC) umbrella organization out of three separate ones in 1999 are largely frustrated and disappointed by the outcome of their labor, with some scoring the missed chance to form a truly representative and forward-looking voice for American Jewry.

Among the apparent losers of the merger are Israel and overseas beneficiaries, as well as rabbinical, intellectual and Zionist segments of the American Jewish community. These findings are part of a two-year study, tellingly titled, “From Predictability to Chaos? How Jewish Leaders Reinvented Their National Communal System.”

In an interview, Dr. Howard Rieger, who took over as president and CEO of UJC last September, termed the study “constructive and useful,” but questioned some specific points and recommendations.

John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said that on the whole, American Jewry was better served than before by the creation of UJC, although the merging of different organizational “cultures” left a number of problems yet unresolved.

The study is based on written responses and in-depth interviews with 88 stakeholders, mostly men and women involved in the merger negotiations, augmented by other prominent Jewish personalities.

Authors of the study are Gerald (Jerry) B. Bubis and Steven F. Windmueller, founding director and current director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles, respectively. For their report, they investigated how Jewish communities have organized themselves since biblical times and current corporate and nonprofit mergers, and also added their own comments and conclusions.

Attempts to combine the alphabet soup of American Jewish fund raising and communal institutions date back more than 60 years, and it took seven years of discussion to effect the establishment of the UJC.

The merger represented the largest 20th- century effort of its kind in the American nonprofit sector and the most significant institutional transformation in modern Jewish life, according to the study. One major impetus was to streamline the entire system and make it more accountable.

The three constituent organizations in the merger were:

• Council of Jewish Federations, which focused mainly on serving the needs of approximately 230 local communities with federations and welfare funds.

• United Jewish Appeal (UJA), which oversaw fundraising, mainly through the federation system, for Israel and overseas needs.

• United Israel Appeal (UIA), which monitored and distributed funds for Israel, by way of the Jewish Agency and monitored U.S. government allotments for refugee resettlement.

The three organizations raised and distributed between $850 million-900 million a year, including $60 million from Washington, for domestic, Israel and overseas needs, and one major impetus for the merger was to streamline the entire system and make it more accountable.

While praising the dedication and good intentions of the organizational leaders, the study reveals a tale of unclear expectations, unshared visions, mixed motivations and multilayered power games. It is a work in progress, according to Bubis and Windmueller.

Toting up perceived winners and losers in the power games, the study cites local federations as coming out on top, with executives of large city federations, in particular, ending up as owning the system.

The biggest loser appears to be Israel (and the UIA), which is likely to lose an even bigger share of American Jewry’s financial support with the ascendancy of locally oriented federations.

Following the 1967 war, about 70 percent of the total pie went to Israel and other overseas needs and 30 percent to U.S. communities. Rieger said that in 2004, out of some $855 raised, 31 percent, or $266.4 million, went to Israel and overseas.

The dollar flow to the Jewish state will likely be further reduced by the preference of large donors to set up their own channels, such as the Jewish Funders Network, and the tendency of a new generation of Jewish philanthropists to give to general secular causes, such as universities and hospitals.

Some of the most acid comments by the study respondents, who are not identified by name, are reserved for the new UJC structure, itself, which was preordained to fail and produced anarchy in the name of unity. The federation system also comes in for criticism, being described by some as a ponderous pachyderm, which processed things to death.

However, Windmueller noted that the study represents a snapshot in time, dealing with the functionality of the UJC structure, rather than its recent performance and reforms.

The authors of the study obviously sympathize with a few visionaries among the respondents, who called for a complete re-invention of a stodgy, tired system and asked for a more open and more daring form of governance for a Jewish community that is this year celebrating its 350th anniversary.

The study concludes with 11 recommendations to the UJC leadership, among them:

• Restore the traditional role of rabbis and intellectuals, now largely excluded, as one of the pillars of communal governance.

• Provide opportunities to discuss and react to Israel’s policies, and encourage full airing of diverse opinions on the challenges facing Jewish life in this country, now often suppressed in the name of unity.

• Expand the old boys network of the wealthy in Jewish life by including more women and young people.

• Appoint an ombudsperson to examine and report on the stewardship of UJC funds.

• Restore the household brand name of UJA in one form or another.

• Balance the division of power between lay and professional leadership.

Rieger, as head of UJC, noting that the interviews underlying the study concluded in December 2003, said that since that time UJC had stabilized itself and moved forward.

“I think today, the evaluations would be a bit more optimistic,” he said.

Responding to suggestions that Jewish leaders should have made fundamental changes and created a more representative body, Rieger said that the overriding purpose was to “align national and local, and domestic and overseas needs. We never meant to create a representative assembly for American Jewry.”

Rieger objected to classifying “winners” and “losers” in the merger talks, observing that “communal work is not a zero-sum game.”

He said that while fundraising by the three separate organizations had declined 5 percent in the last four years before the merger, under UJC the decline had been narrowed to 1 percent in the last four years, not counting $400 million collected for the Israel Emergency Fund.”

“I don’t understand what we have lost,” he said.

To the study’s recommendation to appoint an ombudsperson for UJC, Rieger strongly defended his organization’s existing financial controls.

“Our fiduciary oversight is bullet-proof, it’s the strongest thing we got,” he said.

Asked whether he was upset or outraged by some of the study’s pointed criticisms, Rieger responded, “That’s not my style. We can always learn something from inquiries, but I am more inclined to look toward the future, and I think there’s a lot more potential in the Jewish world.”

Fishel of the L.A. Federation said that despite UJC shortcomings, “the system is now more coherent and unified, and duplication of effort has been minimized.”

He took issue with the study’s assertion that UJC was dominated by federations, especially the executive directors of large-city federation.

Fishel also disagreed that in a federation structure, professionals generally had greater clout than the lay leadership.

“Because professionals usually serve longer in their positions than lay leaders, the former have a better sense of the evolution of the organization, but no one has sole control,” he said.

Fishel noted that the study had been conducted by two academicians, who necessarily had a different perspective than “the people in the trenches,” day by day.

“That doesn’t mean that one is right and the other wrong, but they look at things differently,” he said.

Bubis and Windmueller were to meet Wednesday afternoon in New York with Rieger and some 30 participants in the merger talks and UJC leaders to critique the findings of the study.

“From Predictability to Chaos?” was published by the Center for Jewish Community Studies in Baltimore, an affiliate of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Primary financial support came from Boston Hebrew College, HUC-JIR, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and various foundations and individuals.

 

Foundation to Stop Funding Hate Groups

In a stunning reversal, the Ford Foundation has admitted it erred in funding anti-Israeli Palestinian groups and has vowed to establish tough new guidelines to stop its funds from being used for anti-Semitic action anywhere in the world.

The foundation said it was "disgusted" by anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agitation action taken at the 2001 U.N. Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which the foundation helped finance.

"We now recognize that we did not have a clear picture of the activities, organizations and people involved," conceded foundation President Susan Berresford in a letter this month to U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

In addition to establishing new funding guidelines, the foundation’s letter said the group promises to cease financing of pivotal anti-Israel groups and even recover funds, where the grant’s intent was violated. The foundation’s wide-ranging announcement was detailed in a five-page, single-spaced letter to Nadler.

Nadler had circulated a petition signed by 20 members of Congress demanding that the Ford Foundation halt its funding of anti-Israel hate groups. Nadler’s petition and the foundation’s letter came in the wake of a four-part Jewish Telegraphic Agency investigative series, "Funding Hate," which documented how foundation grantees were using the prestigious organization’s money to foment virulent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agitation in the Middle East and worldwide — and in some cases advocacy for armed revolution in Israel.

The series prompted immediate congressional calls for an investigation from Nadler, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Senate Finance Committee chairman. There were also indications from the Internal Revenue Service, State Department and Justice Department that officials would review the Ford Foundation’s funding.

In her letter to Nadler, Berresford wrote, "Recent media stories have raised questions about the conduct of certain Palestinian grantees who participated in the 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, and the adequacy of the foundation’s oversight of grantees. In response, foundation officers and trustees have discussed these stories with concerned individuals, making clear the numerous steps that the foundation takes to ensure the proper use of its funds."

"Having reassessed our own information on the Durban Conference," the letter continued, "and in continuing talks with others, we now recognize that we did not have a complete picture of the activities, organizations and people involved. Although some Ford-supported grantee organizations repudiated the bigotry they witnessed in Durban, questions remain about others. More troubling still is the fact that many organizations among the large number at the conference did not respond at all."

"We deeply regret that foundation grantees may have taken part in unacceptable behavior in Durban," the Durban section of the letter concluded.

Nadler and representatives of Jewish groups, with whom foundation officials had met after publication of the JTA series, praised organization’s response. Foundation officials could not be reached for comment.

However, Berresford promised more than just apologies. She pledged to take sweeping, new preventive and monitoring measures to address revelations in the JTA investigation that Ford Foundation grantees were openly refusing to sign U.S. government funding guidelines designed to ensure that charitable donations in the Middle East don’t end up in terrorist hands.

In a section of Berresford’s letter titled, "Prevention of Funding for Terrorism," the Ford Foundation said it regularly checks approximately 4,000 active grantees against a State Department list to identify any that might be on the State Department’s proscribed list.

However, the letter continued, new measures will help ensure that funds will not be passed through one organization to another, or that Ford Foundation grantees use other independent monies to promote violence or terrorism.

In addition, Berresford said, the foundation will require additional measures "to make explicit our intolerance for unacceptable activity by any grantee organization."

She said the foundation’s standard grant-agreement letter, which grantees worldwide must sign to receive funds from it, "will now include explicit language requiring the organization to agree that it will not promote violence or terrorism. This prohibition applies to all of the organization’s funds, not just those provided through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Organizations unwilling to agree to these terms will not receive foundation support."

The Berresford letter also contained a section titled, "Prevention of Funding for Bigotry and the Destruction of any State," which declared that organizations promoting the delegitimization or destruction of Israel would be ineligible for funding.

"Grantees refusing to sign this agreement will not receive foundation support," the letter said. "We will never support groups that promote or condone bigotry or violence, or that challenge the very existence of legitimate, sovereign states like Israel."

Addressing questions raised in the JTA series about monitoring of funds to grantees, the Berresford letter included a section titled, "Financial Oversight," in which the foundation announced a major new auditing initiative.

Meanwhile, in a special section specifically addressing the Durban conference, the Berresford letter completely reversed the earlier position of its vice president, Alexander Wilde. In statements and letters to the editor, Wilde had insisted, "We do not believe" that the events at Durban "can be described as ‘agitation.’"

In her letter, Berresford said, "Ford trustees, officers and staff were disgusted by the vicious anti-Semitic activity seen at Durban, and we were disappointed that it undermined the vital issues on the meeting’s agenda. The foundation has reviewed its own information to establish whether Ford grantees took part in unacceptable, ugly and provocative behavior."

"To ensure that we receive a complete picture of grantees involved in the Durban conference, foundation officers and outside advisers will seek out attendees whom we, American Jewish leaders and others concerned about anti-Semitism and hate speech think should be heard on these matters," the letter said.

Promising action, Berresford’s letter also said, "If the foundation finds allegations of bigotry and incitement of hatred by particular grantees to be true, in conformance with normal foundation policy, we will cease funding."

In that vein, Berresford’s letter announced that the foundation "has decided to cease funding LAW, a grantee that has been the subject of criticism." LAW, whose full name is the Palestinian Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, was a special focus of the investigative series. The group was a principal player in the anti-Israel agitation in Durban. An audit concluded it misappropriated millions in philanthropic funds.

Meanwhile, Jewish community leaders applauded the foundation’s dramatic turnabout.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said, "We welcome the statement by Ford that they will stop funding groups that have been promoting hatred of Israel and the delegitimization of Israel. We look forward to seeing these changes implemented and hope that other foundations that may have engaged in similar conduct will also make the necessary corrections."

Foxman said he welcomed the "the sincere effort by the current leadership of the Ford Foundation to deal responsibly with the past and to put into place safeguards so that these things do not recur."


Edwin Black is the author of the
newly released “War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create
a Master Race,” which investigates corporate philanthropic involvement in
American and Nazi eugenics. The entire JTA investigative series on Ford
Foundation funding can be read at www.jta.org/ford.asp

Money Talks

We live in the age of full disclosure. In this era of creepy stalkers, emotional maniacs and frightening venereal diseases, you can’t be too careful, so singles have learned to utilize romantic phrases such as, “Have you been tested for AIDS lately?” as casually as one used to suggest, “Shall I pick you up at 8?”

As my romances blossom, I learn about my boyfriends’ health records, former lovers, stints in therapy, trips to rehab and devastating childhood traumas. Is nothing sacred?

Well, yes, there is one thing that should never, ever, ever be discussed. One subject so taboo that if you even begin to flirt with the notion of dancing around the subject, you’re considered wildly offensive. I’m talking about money, honey.

Last summer, I was joyriding around in my boyfriend’s new convertible. We were testing out the acceleration, battling with the CD player and speculating whether the GPS could talk in Spanish. Although I had asked my guy about 25 thoughtful car-related questions (not an easy task for a girly girl like me), I then stumbled upon the one mortally inappropriate one.

“So, how much did this bad boy run you?”

My guy looked at me like I had just suggested we go spin doughnuts in a school-zone. He sneered and asked, “Why on earth would you even ask a question like that?”

I tried to quickly recover. “Um … I was thinking of buying a new car.” He looked unconvinced and completely offended.

“If the price is that important to you, I am sure you can find it on the Internet,” he replied tersely.

I was going to let it rest, but I was upset. “Did you tell your friend how much it cost?” I asked. He said yes. “Did the co-worker that took you to the dealer know how much it cost”? He said yes. “So why,” I asked, “am I not allowed to ask such a question?”

“With you,” he said, “it’s different.”

Huh?

Some guys protect their financial information as gravely as those soccer players who grab their crotches during penalty kicks. Now, the car-guy had shared family secrets, confidential work information and a frighteningly precise sexual history with me, yet the sticker price of his stupid car (which was the new convertible BMW M3 — look it up if you’re curious) was a sticking point.

I believe that men who won’t talk about their cash think that we’re after it. With that one simple question, I am perceived as a little money-grubber.

What is it about money? Does the unfortunate characterization of the “greedy Jew” make us hesitant to discuss money for fear of reinforcing the stereotype? Yet protectiveness of cash transcends social and religious barriers. A WASPy friend of mine explained that he was raised never to discuss money, which, like politics and religion, was considered offensive dinner-party conversation. Even in the secular American workplace, income is kept secret.

And for romantically involved men or women, the subject is even stickier. Maybe men worry that they make too little money and their masculinity or “breadwinner” potential will be called into question. There are also high-earning, professionally successful guys who wonder if women are pursuing them for their hearts and minds, instead of the Rolex on their wrist.

Are we women simply supposed to wait around until the “I do” to find out if we are going to be paying off some guy’s old college loans? And is it fair for us to wonder? Society’s answer: an emphatic no!

A week ago, my new (and improved) beau asked me to help him shop for a new apartment, explaining that his current floor plan was huge, and the monthly rent obnoxiously high.

“What do you want to spend?” I asked.

“Less than I do now,” he answered cryptically.

“What do you pay now?”

He looked pained. He searched his mind, and finally settled on an overly diplomatic answer: “The current market price for a two-bedroom in Brentwood is anywhere from $1,800 to $2,600 per month.”

I groaned inwardly, thinking, “here we go again.” But I didn’t learn from my past, deciding to let ‘er rip.

“Look,” I began, “I don’t care how much you spend, or how much you make. But if you want my help, then you should give me a hint at a budget. And I am so sick of guys being anal and assuming we’re after your money. It’s not that I am dying to know your financial situation, but we have gotten naked, met each other’s parents and you even let me drive your truck, so you know, as far as your rent is concerned, you can trust me.”

He smiled, and then he let it rip. He told me his salary, his savings, about financial windfalls and losses and, yes, his rent. True, he did make a lot of money — but that only made me feel more materialistic for bringing it up. After I heard it all, I realized that he hadn’t been hiding anything from me; but he thought it was too early in our relationship to discuss money — and he was right.

I was embarrassed. Even though we had seen each others’ bodies, families and motor vehicles, even though we knew about past lovers, sexual history and psychiatric evaluations, somehow, when he laid it all out before me so precisely, it was all too much. I wished I lived, not in the age of full disclosure, but the age of mystery, when all your suitor asked you was, “Shall I pick you up at 8?”

Lilla Zuckerman is the author of “Tangle in Tijuana” (Fireside, May 2003),
the first book in the “Miss Adventures” series. She can be reached at lillazuck@aol.com.

Three JCCs to Gain Their Independence

The Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), which last year nearly drowned amid a sea of red ink and allegations of mismanagement, wants to get out of the business of running major community centers after 60 years.

With pressures mounting to give the centers under its control greater autonomy, JCCGLA has gone a step further. Sometime next year, the Westside JCC in Los Angeles, Valley Cities JCC in Van Nuys and West Valley JCC in West Hills are scheduled to become fully independent entities with their own boards of directors, employees and budgets, said Nina Lieberman Giladi, JCCGLA executive vice president.

The trio of centers and the JCCGLA will retain strong links, Lieberman Giladi said. The JCCGLA, for yet-to-be-determined fees, will provide them with accounting, human resources, fundraising and other services, she said.

Lieberman Giladi said JCCGLA will continue to operate the Zimmer Children’s Discovery Museum, the Shalom Institute in Malibu and the Conejo Valley JCC,

It is unclear whether the independent centers would have to pay off debts incurred by JCCGLA. If they do, some observers question whether they could survive.

Lieberman Giladi said JCCGLA has balanced its budget and has made real progress in righting its finances. However, in recent negotiations with the centers’ unionized employees, JCCGLA officials allegedly asked for major concessions, including wage freezes, the elimination of several paid Jewish holidays and the curtailment of health benefits for many teachers and employees, said Jon Lepie of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 800.

"What they’ve said is that their financial situation is dire; that they have debt all over town, including credit card debt," he said. "It’s incredibly serious."

Robert Sax, JCCGLA spokesman, said the organization had no credit card debt. He declined to comment on Lepie’s allegation, saying JCCGLA doesn’t discuss ongoing negotiations.

The JCCGLA has taken steps to cut costs and better marshal its resources. For instance, it saw a one-time savings of $200,000 and will also save $150,000 annually from hiring a new accountant. It has also replaced its chief financial officer and made changes to prevent future financial crises.

"From all evidence I’ve seen in the last year, I’m confident of their abilities and that corrective actions have been taken," said Michael Kaminsky, president of Westside JCC Advisory Board and a JCCGLA board member.

However, JCCGLA remains saddled with a large debt. The organization owes The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles $2.8 million, The Federation said. Over the past eight months, the two groups have negotiated on repayment and a host of other issues. It is unclear how much debt The Federation would forgive, if any.

As part of its repayment, JCCGLA has, at the behest of The Federation, put a lien on two properties worth an estimated $1.1 million, including the site of the Silver Lake Independent JCC. That arrangement means The Federation would receive the proceeds from any sale.

The Federation said it would not take any action that would result in the closure of Silver Lake, at least until June 30, 2003. It is also in discussions with JCCGLA and the Silver Lake group to explore options after that date.

Silver Lake Independent JCC has improved its finances since breaking away from JCCGLA and now operates with a slight surplus, Silver Lake Chairman Janie Schulman said. In early December, a silent auction and dinner dance raised $20,000, she added.

Lieberman Giladi said the worst is behind JCCGLA, adding that the impending split with the Westside, Valley Cities and West Valley JCCs would help the centers.

"I believe this gives them the best possible chance [to survive]," she said. "Each of the JCCs will be able to broaden their base of support by developing their own governing bodies and programs."

Critics of JCCGLA had long complained that money raised by individual centers went into the JCCGLA general fund. They also groused that JCCGLA was sometimes unresponsive to local concerns.

"This will give us more control over our individual destinies," said Judy Boasberg, a Westside JCC board member. "Before, we didn’t have much input on what was going on."

Despite the optimism, the centers’ futures are by no means assured.

The Federation, by far JCCGLA’s biggest benefactor, has itself come under increasing financial pressure from the many agencies it supports. With cash-strapped federal, state and local governments slashing funding across the board, several nonprofit groups will likely turn to The Federation to make up any shortfalls. That could stretch The Federation thin, making it more difficult for JCCGLA or independent centers to tap its resources.

"We do not have unlimited funds," Federation President John Fishel said. "We have many responsibilities and will continue to meet as many of them as possible. It’s a balancing act."

In 2001, Federation grants, loans and advances to JCCGLA totaled $6.1 million, or nearly 44 percent of its $14 million budget, according to The Federation (that figure includes a $2.8 million emergency advance). Nationally, federation giving accounts for just 12 percent of the budgets at typical Jewish community centers, the JCC Association said.

This year, The Federation has earmarked $2.9 million for JCCGLA. The Federation also is contributing another $600,000 to run programs shed by JCCGLA during its financial crisis and taken over by Jewish Family Service, including SOVA, the Israel Levin Senior Center and Westside Adult Day Care.

It appears that JCCGLA has struggled more than many of its peer organizations nationwide. The Bay Cities JCC was the only Jewish community center in the United States to have closed in the past two years, the JCC Association said. As JCCGLA contracts, the overall number of affiliated Jewish community centers in the United States has grown in recent years, according the JCC Association.

Lieberman Giladi remains upbeat.

"I think the fact that the centers are here today is proof that they’ll be here tomorrow," she said. "We’ve already beaten the odds."

Services Offered by Community Centers

Conejo Valley JCC: Early childhood education (ECE); and intergenerational programming and community programs, such as lectures on parenting.

West Valley JCC: ECE; family programs; seniors programs; health and fitness; summer day camp; after-school child care; and cultural and fine-arts programs.

Valley Cities JCC: ECE; summer day camp; after-school child care; family programs; and some cultural programs, including staged-play reading series. Weekly seniors group and monthly senior dinner-dances.

Westside JCC: ECE; kindergarten; family programs; and some cultural programs. Budget cutbacks forced the suspension of seniors and health and fitness programs. Jewish Family Service runs a senior adult day care program.

North Valley JCC (Independent): ECE, after-school child care; after-school karate and gymnastics; winter, spring and holiday minicamps; swimming classes; senior bridge club; and adult social clubs. Beginning in January: adult evening programs, including Israeli dancing, beginning Hebrew and Jewish history.

Silverlake Independent JCC (Independent): ECE; kindergarten; after-school child care; ballet and other children’s classes; and fitness class for seniors

Trading Up

Investment banker Adlai Wertman was fed up with Wall Street — so he moved to Los Angeles, took an 85 percent pay cut and got a job on Skid Row. Two years later, he says he’s never been happier.

Wertman, 42, is the president and CEO of Chrysalis, a nonprofit organization that helps homeless people find jobs in order to become economically self-sufficient. It wasn’t a sudden revelation that changed his life. “I always felt what I should be doing was some sort of community or public service,” said Wertman, whose 18-year banking career included senior positions at Bear Stearns and Prudential Securities.

He said when his brother died six years ago, “I came to realize that if there were things I needed to do with my life, I really couldn’t put them off. I had made a bunch of money, but I didn’t make a difference in the world or in people’s lives.”

After serving on the board of directors of Chrysalis, he threw his hat into the ring when the agency’s top job became available. “I find this mission of helping people who are asking for a hand up to be unbelievably compelling,” said Wertman, who studies Torah weekly and is particularly moved by “Pirke Avot.”

“I can point to 100 spots in Torah and Talmud that tell you why the mission of Chrysalis is so compelling,” Wertman said. In addition to the tikkun olam work he does with Chrysalis, Wertman serves on the board of directors of his synagogue, Kehillat Israel, and on the board of governors for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Additionally, he is in the Wexner Fellowship Program.

Wertman isn’t asking everyone in the private sector to quit their jobs and join him — although some of his friends have. Leveraging his business connections, much of his time is spent talking to executives about hiring Chrysalis clients, making financial contributions and spreading the word. But you don’t have to be a CEO to help. “I think people will feel really good if they get involved in these issues,” he said.

Wertman likes to quote a colleague who said, “Skid Row is the rug under which L.A. sweeps its homeless problem.” Chrysalis estimates that 25,000 homeless people live within the 40 square blocks of downtown’s Skid Row. Many have not worked in years or not worked at all.

Each year, 2,000 people walk through the doors of Chrysalis’ sites in Skid Row, Pacoima and Santa Monica. About 35 percent are referred to other agencies because they don’t meet three basic requirements: sobriety, living at least in temporary housing so they can focus on employment and a willingness to take ownership over a job search. “Our best numbers show a vast majority of that 35 percent will come back later,” he says.

The people who do become clients meet with an employment specialist and enroll in a series of job preparation, job searching and interviewing classes. The agency provides computers to create resumes and search for jobs, a phone bank to call employers and receive messages and professional clothes for interviews and office work.

About 93 percent of those who completed Chrysalis’ job readiness program last year found jobs. With the agency’s retention program, 85 percent were still working six months later.

One of Wertman’s favorite parts of his work is the moment someone gets a job: They ring a bell and all work stops. Clients, staff and visitors gather in the lobby to congratulate the job-seeker, who tells his or her personal story. “That moment is worth its weight in gold for everyone here.”

Recently, four people rang the “success bell” in 30 minutes. Wertman joked that Chrysalis’ motto, “changing lives through jobs,” doesn’t really refer to the agency’s clients, “but to the people who work here.”

For more information or to get involved, contact
Chrysalis at (213) 895-7777 or visit www.chrysalisworks.org .

Caped Crusaders

The $114 million opening weekend for the release of "Spider-Man" on May 3 was not only a box office record breaker but a resounding triumph for two wily Israeli entrepreneurs.

In his new book, "Comic Wars," journalist Dan Raviv details the dramatic battle of Revlon CEO Ronald Perelman, financier Carl Icahn and the two Israelis, Ike Perlmutter and Avi Arad, who toppled both Perelman and Icahn from the throne of Marvel — home to such legendary characters as the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, Captain America and, of course, Spider-Man — rescued the company and brought it roaring into the 21st century as a major media force.

Perlmutter and Arad had owned a company, Toy Biz, which manufactured memorabilia based on Marvel’s characters. When Perelman bought Marvel comics in 1989, Perlmutter was convinced that Perelman’s business savvy would bring Marvel to new heights. Instead Perelman brought Marvel to its knees with a crushing $600 million of debt, while, according to Raviv, Perelman pocketed nearly $280 million by selling junk bonds off of Marvel’s previously profitable enterprise.

The largest buyer of those junk bonds was Carl Icahn, who was later awarded temporary stewardship of the company by a bankruptcy court. When Icahn’s leadership failed, Perlmutter and Arad kicked into high gear and transformed Marvel Entertainment into Marvel Enterprises — a company that now has four films in production with such stars as Halle Berry, Jennifer Connelly and Ben Affleck.

The son of Israeli immigrants, Raviv has been a reporter with CBS since 1976, stationed in Miami, New York, Tel Aviv and London and is currently posted in Washington, D.C. The author of three previous book on Israeli politics, including "Every Spy a Prince," about the Israeli intelligence community, he sat down with The Jewish Journal to discuss "Comic Wars" and the fall and resurrection of Marvel.

The Jewish Journal: Previously you’ve written about Israeli politics, why did you want to write about comic books?

Dan Raviv: I was resistant at first, because I never thought of myself as a business reporter, but I kept running into people who had worked on the case, and I was just very taken with the story. The decisive factor was when I heard that two Israelis had won the battle [to head Marvel comics]. Because all of my books have involved Israelis, Israelis in America who’ve taken over a comic book company was just too good a story to pass up.

Journal: What was Marvel’s business situation before they were bought by Perelman in 1989?

Raviv: They were getting along as a small company, but it was only a small profit business. It’s unclear, however, if without a big money person behind them, that Marvel would have survived. They might have been too small for our modern media age. The Perelman people have since said it was always a bad business and their mistake was not realizing it sooner. Comic books are very small and are largely dependent on the whims of collectors.

Journal: How did Perelman drive Marvel into the ground? Is it a classic story of noncreative people running a creative enterprise?

Raviv: That and over expansion and too much borrowing. The ways that he chose to expand Marvel weren’t the most sensible. He bought baseball and trading card companies to increase the company’s attractiveness on Wall Street but kept on rejecting movie proposals. For example, Stan Lee [Spider-Man’s creator] brought him a property he wanted to develop for film and was told, "You don’t understand. Perelman doesn’t want to make movies."

With movies you have a long lead time, and the chances of hitting it big are uncertain, but if you care about the characters, it makes sense to develop them in new media formats. Skip ahead a decade, and the idea of putting the characters in the movies seems brilliant.

Journal: How was Marvel rescued?

Raviv: Perelman failed, and Marvel had to file for bankruptcy. Then Icahn — who was the largest buyer of Perelman’s junk bonds — tried to head the company for less than six months. A court-appointed trustee then had to decide around 1997-1998 whether the company should live or die.

That’s when Perlmutter and Arad kicked into high gear. They had tried to work with Perelman and then Icahn, but when it was clear that the trustee’s decision meant life or death for Marvel [and thereby for their own company which was dependent on licensing Marvel’s characters], they wooed the banks to go with them, which is what you have to do in bankruptcy proceedings. When the banks are satisfied, generally the judge will be satisfied.

On erev Rosh Hashana, Ike and Avi spoke to an assembled meeting of the bankers to plead for Marvel’s survival. Avi said, "Don’t sell this company to Icahn on the cheap! Spider-Man is worth a billion dollars." It turned out he was right! The banks came around, and by early 1998, Toy Biz took over Marvel Entertainment and renamed it Marvel Enterprises.

Journal: Why were Arad and Perlmutter able to rescue Marvel?

Raviv: They have that Israeli persistence and stubbornness. Arad wants to protect the characters, and Perlmutter wants to protect the money. Avi loves the Marvel characters and considers them his "children." Ike doesn’t read the comics or go to movies, but has a keen attention to details. Ike Perlmutter pays attention to every business detail, and he totally trusts Arad with the creative details.

Journal: What is the future for Marvel?

Raviv: "Spider-Man" is proof of their victory, but only the beginning of Marvel’s new life in Hollywood. The company was around since 1939 and these two guys took it to a new level. It’s only now graduating into a new level of media exposure. "Spider-Man" is only the beginning.

Limiting Soft Money

The jury is still out on how the Senate’s campaign finance reform bill would change the political influence of the Jewish community, but experts believe Jewish interests will remain well represented no matter what happens.

After years of protracted arguments, the Senate on Monday set new standards for campaign finance that would affect the way officials receive money and how groups make their voices heard in the political process.

The bill still must pass the House of Representatives, where its chances are considered fair. President Bush has indicated he will sign a campaign finance reform bill that "improves the system."

Legal challenges to the bill are also being considered.

The McCain-Feingold bill would prohibit unregulated contributions by groups or individuals to the parties, known as "soft money" donations. Large donors to the parties — a number of whom are Jewish — would have to find new ways to flex their political muscles.

Among them could be increased "hard money" donations to a greater number of candidates, or financing of issue ad campaigns and direct mail efforts.

Both parties have their share of major Jewish donors, but many agree that the backbone of Jewish giving to campaigns has always been small individual donors. The end result, therefore, could be that Jews would be less affected by the McCain-Feingold bill than other groups.

Some political action committees, or PACs, have bundled such small individual contributions in order to use the group’s power to greater effect.

Dozens of pro-Israel PACs started up in the 1980s, giving money to pro-Israel politicians and working against politicians who opposed Israel. Within a few years, PACs had become a major part of the fundraising establishment.

The campaign finance bill, which passed the Senate Monday by a 59-41 vote, would return some of the influence that PACs lost during the past decade — particularly in recent years, when soft money began to proliferate.

"The big game has always been the hard money," said Tina Stoll, a fundraising consultant in Washington, and the McCain-Feingold bill could force more donors to go that route.

Fund raisers in private homes would continue to be the preferred way to attract premium donors, Stoll said. In addition, she predicted, large Jewish contributors who can no longer funnel money to the national parties would still support state parties and might get more involved in gubernatorial races.

Most experts seem to feel the change would have a relatively small effect on Jewish political involvement.

Ken Goldstein, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, said donors who can’t give million-dollar checks to the parties instead could fund issue advocacy campaigns.

"It’s hard for me to see how this decreases any sort of influence of the Jewish community," Goldstein said.

In fact, the bill would double — to $2,000 — the amount individuals can contribute directly to a candidate. The limit on an individual’s total annual contributions to all federal candidates, parties and PACs also was raised, from $25,000 to $37,500. The amounts would be indexed for inflation.

The bill is "neither a great hindrance nor a great help to Jewish political influence," one source close to the issue said.

Time to Buy?

You’re rich. You’re eyeing that million-dollar dream house. Is now a good time to buy it?

"Prices are high in certain areas," notes David Diesslin, a certified financial planner who specializes in real estate at his own firm, Diesslin & Associates, in Fort Worth, Texas. Advising caution, he likens the housing market to the dot-com market. "And there may be some shakeout."

"But it’s a good time to be looking for when lower prices and lower rates will converge," he says.

The next meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets interest rates, is March 20. Talk now is the Fed will lower rates by at least a quarter-point, maybe even before the scheduled meeting.

Meantime, home sales are still brisk and prices are still firm. And you don’t have to be an expert to understand that lower interest rates are driving home sales. The current release of U.S. indicators, comprised of government and private-sector economic data, reports 975,000 new homes were sold in January, up from 909,000 in December. Existing home sales were off, marginally. But that typically has to do with the time of year. And it was holiday season.

To be sure, agents aren’t seeing discounts.

"We’re seeing it starting to pick up," says Emil Alexander, a real estate broker in Pacific Palisades with Prudential John Aaroe & Associates. "People are watchful, but the market is still strong."

Alexander sells throughout the Westside, where some of the most expensive homes in the country are located. Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and megastars from the entertainment industry live in the area, along with wealthy financiers and corporate magnates.

The market in Los Angeles isn’t an aberration. Luxury home sales throughout the country are on the rise.

National luxury homebuilders Toll Brothers and Pulte Corp. are seeing strong demand from buyers.

Pulte said its preliminary new domestic orders in January rose 7 percent from a year ago. And Toll expects 15 percent profit and revenue growth in 2001 based on strong demand and record backlog from last year.

With interest rates declining and the country teetering on a recession, investing in your home may be a safe bet.

"Refinancing is definitely in," says Diesslin.

Typically, real estate and tangible assets are considered recession-proof items. People move toward things like real estate and gold when the capital markets begin to lose ground — and look like they’ll stay that way.

How much you invest in your house is another question altogether. Some financial advisers tell you to pay off the entire mortgage on your house. Others say keeping a mortgage is a good idea. "If you have a long-term asset, long-term debt is okay," says Diesslin. "But it’s a problem if you have no long-term debt and short-term liabilities."

He says a couple recently approached him for financial advice. "They were trying to pay off their mortgage, but they had two leased cars. There’s a difference between intelligent debt and dumb debt."

The basic formula: Keep debt when you can make more money elsewhere on those funds than the cost to borrow.

As well, a home purchase isn’t akin to a real estate investment. There are quality-of-life issues that come into play. Children’s school and job relocation timing all skew investment variables. And then there is pride, especially at the higher end of the marketplace where homes equate to egos.

Carlton Cabot, a real estate agent in Boston, Mass., once showed me a small ivory stone imbedded in the eye of the swirl at the bottom of the banister in his parents’ house in old-moneyed Louisburg Square on Beacon Hill.

"It’s a subtle sign," said Cabot. "It means, to those who know, that your house is paid for."

How you pay off also depends where you live and what type of house you own. In Park City, Utah, you can get a four-bedroom, 4,200-square-foot house on more than an acre of land for $975,000. For almost the same amount in Santa Monica, you can get a two-bedroom, one-bath knockdown on less than one-quarter of an acre.

Location, location, location may be the three things you should know about real estate. But timing should be an asterisk.

And a lot of people think the time is now to buy and own a home. Analysts and observers say wait and see.

Reprinted with permission from Featurewell.com.

Digital Divide

Though Israel boasts a burgeoning high-tech industry and a predominantly Net-savvy populace, many of the country’s charedim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) view technology, especially the World Wide Web, as something of a mixed blessing. Sure, many charedim support their families by writing code, and several sites such as asktherabbi.com help Diaspora Jews answer questions about Jewish law, but earlier this year the Council of Torah Sages banned the Internet from its followers’ homes. In a harshly worded edict, the panel of Talmudic scholars that represents the majority of charedi sects branded the Internet a “terrible danger” that’s “1,000 times” more hazardous than television (which was cast out of ultra-Orthodox homes about 30 years ago). Some sects even declared personal computers in the home off-limits.

Rabbi Yitzhak Halperin may be one of the few people with the power to relax the ban. He’s the 75-year-old founder of the Institute for Science and Halacha — something of a cross between a high school laboratory and a yeshiva — that develops technology to “expand observance of halacha and decrease its desecration.” In other words, the Institute detects loopholes in Jewish law, then builds Rube Goldberg-style contraptions such as the “Sabbath Telephone.”

Some rabbis equate the act of dialing, which initiates an electric current, with creating fire, a Sabbath no-no. The Institute’s phone, which looks like a rotary-dial unit circa 1972 that underwent a face lift with a drill, operates in the opposite manner. By inserting a golf-pencil-sized dowel in holes that correspond to each number, users interrupt a continuous flow of energy, which triggers the dialing mechanism. It’s completely kosher, since nothing in halacha forbids dousing a fire.

Halperin’s right-hand rabbi, Shmuel Strauss, defends the Institute’s unorthodox mission.

“If the lawmaker is human,” explains Strauss, “sometimes he makes mistakes. If you see a loophole in the law, don’t take it, respect the intent of the lawmaker. But if the Lawmaker never makes a mistake and never overlooks anything, and still there’s a loophole, then what’s it there for?”

Despite maintaining a Web site (www.machon-science-halacha.org.il) to benefit his Institute’s fundraising efforts, Halperin allows no loopholes for Internet use in the home. Hunched over a leather-bound volume of Judaic teachings, the end of his Moses-like white beard resting on the yellowing pages, Halperin dismisses the World Wide Web as a potential “poison,” and he justifies the ban as a bid to shield religious children from online pornography and violence.

Writer Jonathan Rosenblum, an official spokesperson for much of the charedi community, also applauds the restrictions.

“The Torah teaches us that every visual image to which we are exposed leaves its impact,” says Rosenblum. “Damage to the holiness of one’s soul cannot be compensated for later, any more than a dieter can compensate for a chocolate mousse by eating a fruit salad afterwards.”

Rosenblum, who recently rid his home of the Internet, elaborated in his Jerusalem Post column: “Charedim don’t reject modern technology, but they don’t subscribe to the cult of the new, according to which life without the most up-to-date technology is considered not worth living. They seek to remain masters of technology, not its slaves.”

Maybe so. But charedim may have other motivations for shunning technology; perhaps Windows offers a window on secular society that entices those questioning their commitment to a religious lifestyle?

“The Internet is the charedim world’s latest fear,” argues Laura Sachs, deputy director of Hillel: The Association for Jews Leaving Ultra-Orthodoxy. “Their greatest fear is exposure to the outside world, a threat to their way of life. They don’t let their people read outside newspapers, listen to outside radio, see movies or theater. … I think their fears are correct. The minute these walls come down, they’ll have a lot of problems keeping people inside.”

Charedi leaders dispute the notion that the Internet might spur an exodus.

“Nonsense,” scoffed Rabbi Yehezkel Fogel, dean of The Charedi Center For Technological Studies, a 4-year-old college serving ultra-Orthodox students. “Whoever believes this is making Judaism a very cheap thing. Judaism would not be alive 5,000 years later if every new trend would endanger it.”

Conceding that the ban may merit reexamination as the Web becomes more ubiquitous, Fogel foresees a halachic solution to the conundrum: a “clean” ISP, sort of a charedi Intranet. A business plan for such a system recently crossed his desk. Others envisage the emergence of a monitoring system that covertly transmits random screen shots to the head of the household.

But Joshua, a 22-year-old yeshiva student strolling trough the charedi enclave of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, suggests another alternative that could gain popularity. Joshua’s parents, who keep in touch with American relatives via e-mail, quietly defied the rabbinical order. Administrators at the religious school that Joshua’s 11-year-old brother attends demanded that his parents sign a written pledge to keep their home computer-free, which “they couldn’t believe,” says Joshua, swinging a black plastic shopping bag containing new Nikes. “My parents know it’s dumb, but they signed anyway,” he added. “Why go head-to-head with the rabbis?”

A High-Yield Investment

It’s one of the longest-standing and most futile complaints in synagogue life: Why are they always schnorring for money?

The answer, of course, is that while synagogues are much more than businesses, they need steady and significant revenue to be able to provide the services that the community needs, expects and benefits from.
But where the old leaky-roof appeal may have saved a synagogue from going into debt in the past, today’s synagogues are looking for more hefty and stable streams of charitable income that will allow them to think bigger and better than subsistence.

“The mental leap has to be that we’re more than a hand-to-mouth operation, that we have a real and vital role to play in the community and that we need to stake that claim,” says Lee Hendler, who spearheaded a campaign in her Baltimore synagogue that brought the endowment up to $11 million. “We have to stop thinking of synagogues as the second cousin or the poor relation of all other Jewish institutions.”

That’s why more and more synagogues are talking to their congregants about establishing endowments, bequests and annuities where the synagogue is the beneficiary and the contributor receives sizable tax deductions.

There is much at stake. The word in philanthropic journals is that baby boomers in the next couple of decades are set to inherit an estimated $25 trillion from their parents, and many will be looking for ways to keep as much of that as possible out of Uncle Sam’s pockets.

“If we don’t ask them, they will be asked by Federation and colleges and local hospitals,” says David Katowitz, director of the Fund for Reform Judaism at the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC). “We believe the synagogue is the most important Jewish institution in people’s lives, and we shouldn’t be afraid to ask.”

Dues cover about 40 percent of the budget for most synagogues, while High Holiday appeals and major fundraising events, like dinners, might make up another significant portion. A handful of shuls have sizable incomes from catering facilities or cemeteries.

Income also dribbles in through scrip programs, fundraising events — which tend to be labor-intensive — and smaller personal donations. Directors or rabbis often get sponsors for specific programs.
“The drawback of doing a budget and running a temple the current way is there is just so much you can do, and everything else becomes optional,” says Harriett Zeitlin, executive director of Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills.

Kol Tikvah is one of several local congregations that is for the first time looking into setting up an endowment.

“We don’t want to just offer two or three things, we want to offer everything we can for the community, and of course that takes money,” Zeitlin says.

Rabbi Steven Weil of Congregation Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills says that expanded vision is one of the reasons synagogues need to rethink funding methods.

“The synagogue of the 21st century cannot exist on dues and fundraisers and a journal dinner, and one of the reasons for this is that synagogues today provide many more services, qualitatively and quantitatively, than synagogues of the 20th century.”

Add to that the high cost of real estate in Los Angeles, day school tuition, and young people that are more likely to be professionals than entrepreneurs, and you have a different philanthropic picture than existed a few decades ago.

Synagogues need to embark on the slow process of changing the culture of giving in their congregations, and that will start with an attitudinal change.

“It’s time to see the synagogue not as a mom-and-pop store, but as an institution that has a plan and a dream and wants to fulfill them,” Katowitz says. “Once people feel the investment in terms of their hearts and minds, they will be happy to invest their dollars as well.”

Hendler, a board member of Synagogue 2000, an effort to revitalize synagogues run out of the University of Judaism’s Whizin Center for the Jewish Future, presided over a five-year fundraising effort at Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore that not only nearly doubled the endowment but saw this year’s campaign exceed its goal of $500,000.

The success came, she says, because the campaign pushed the 1,400-family Conservative congregation to crystallize its vision and detail its dreams. That effort sparked passion and motivation among not only the long-term planning committee but among the congregation as a whole. Thus, along with raising funds, the 129-year-old shul has heightened enthusiasm and participation in its many programs.

Formulating a mission statement “became the cornerstone for thinking about what it is that we hope to fulfill, what gets in the way and whether in fact we are living up to the standards we set for ourselves,” she says. What emerged was a “very unique and inspiring sense of who we are.”

Potential donors were solicited face to face and were included in formulating the vision for the synagogue. They were given different options for contributing over five years to the annual fund or to the endowment or both.

And throughout, they were kept abreast of the programs they helped to actualize.

“The storytelling piece is often terribly neglected, and you neglect it at your own peril,” Hendler says. “You can’t take the money and run. You have to be regularly thanking people for what their commitment and generosity have meant, and you have to be sharing evidence of the value of their investment,” Hendler says.

For many contributors, giving to a synagogue is indeed an investment not just in the community, but in their own estate and tax-planning strategies.

Many shuls are pushing alternative ways of giving that offer great benefits to the donor, such as different types of trusts, donating appreciated stocks to avoid paying capital gains tax, or taking out a life insurance policy where the beneficiary is the shul, so that a small investment now has tremendous yield for the synagogue in the long-term. The Jewish Community Foundation of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles recently launched the Partnership Life Annuity Program, which encourages synagogues to have contributors set up a charitable gift annuity.

The foundation is licensed to administer the annuity fund, paying out a fixed, guaranteed annual sum to the contributor after she turns 55. At time of death, 95 percent of the remaining principal of the annuity goes to establish an endowment for the designated synagogue, and five percent goes to the foundation’s endowment.

UAHC runs a similar program, with the synagogue taking 82 percent of the principal.

“Seniors are very concerned about trying to acquire as high a fixed income return as they can, and charitable gift annuities almost always perform better than other comparable fixed income opportunities,” says Baruch Littman, vice president of development at the Jewish Community Foundation.

But, he says, the investment can be very lucrative for younger people as well. The earlier in life you take the annuity, the higher the percentage paid out, so someone in her 30’s may be looking at a payout of more than 30 percent when she reaches 55 or older.

And annuity payments made in stocks allow a large percentage of the capital gains tax to be avoided completely and the rest to be deferred and then prorated over the life of the annuity.

Beyond the annuity program, the foundation, working with Federation’s Council on Jewish Life, awards synagogue grants for specific programs. In the fall of 2000, the foundation awarded $110,000 to synagogues that submitted proposals for innovative programs.

For Zeitlin, having a program paid for — whether by a grant or a donor recruited to sponsor that program — is essential.

“I know some people feel that God will provide,” says Zeitlin, executive director of Kol Tikvah. “But I like to make sure it’s provided first, before we spend the money.”