World Bank: Urgent action needed to avoid PA fiscal crisis


The World Bank called on donors to act “urgently” to prevent a “deepening fiscal crisis” in the Palestinian territories.

Israel also needs to remove barriers to developing the West Bank economy, the World Bank said.

In a statement about its report published this week on the PA’s economy, the World Bank called for “immediate donor action coupled with freeing of untapped West Bank resources.”

Yet, “even with this financial support, sustainable economic growth cannot be achieved without a removal of the barriers preventing private sector development,” Mariam Sherman, World Bank Country Director for the West Bank and Gaza.said in the statement.

She added this applied “especially” to Area C – a non-contiguous area which makes up 60% of the West Bank and is under full Israeli control. Approximately 5.8% of the Palestinian population of the West Bank lives in Area C. 

Entitled “Fiscal Crisis, Economic Prospects: The Imperative for Economic Cohesion in the Palestinian Territories”, the report highlights the untapped resources of the West Bank as a potential source of private sector growth.

Ohio: Brown-Mandel U.S. Senate race among most costly


A flood of money brought in by prominent national political action committees has become the norm in this year’s U.S. Senate race in Ohio, which pits first-term incumbent Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, against Republican Josh Mandel, the state treasurer and a Jewish Iraq war veteran.

Because of the state’s swing role in recent presidential elections — going for George W. Bush in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008 — the national parties are paying particular attention to Ohio’s 18 electoral votes. As a result, television advertisements for President Obama and the presumptive GOP challenger Mitt Romney are blitzing across the state’s airwaves along with ads from the Brown and Mandel camps.

The Ohio U.S. Senate races are consistently listed in the top three most expensive ones in the country, along with Massachusetts and Texas, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). As of the end of June, Brown’s campaign had amassed $15 million and had spent about $8.8 million, according to CRP. Mandel’s campaign had $9.9 million and had spent almost $5 million. 

Polls have Brown in front by various margins. A June 25 Quinnipiac poll had Brown ahead of Mandel, 50-34, and a July 18 Rasmussen Report called the race at 46-42 in favor of the incumbent.

Support for Israel has not been a major issue in this campaign, but is being addressed by the candidates. 

Mandel has not held federal office, but his backers call him a strong supporter of Israel, which, on his campaign Web site, he calls “our most reliable ally in the Middle East.” He has been a supporter of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee since his college years at Ohio State University. 

Mandel has called for the United States to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and has stated there is no such thing as East and West Jerusalem, adding Jews should be allowed to build homes anywhere in that city. 

In his role as state treasurer, Mandel authored and was involved in divesting state pension funds from companies doing business in Iran.

Brown, who served in the U.S. House of Representative from 1993 to 2007, is one of four Senate candidates whom J Street, the liberal pro-Israel lobby, has endorsed thus far in the 2012 election.

“Sherrod is committed to full funding of aid to Israel, and he supports preserving Israel’s military edge against any threats in the region,” Sadie Weiner, press secretary with Friends of Sherrod Brown, said. “He supports legislation furthering sanctions on Iran, and he also believes that no option is off the table” when it comes to dealing with Iran. 

On the Republican side, PACs such as Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have pumped in millions of dollars to blitz the Buckeye state with anti-Brown commercials. Crossroads GPS in particular has been running issue advocacy ads targeting Brown’s support of Obama’s health care plan and stimulus package.

Democratic super PACs such as Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Majority PAC, the League of Conservation Voters and Service Employees International Union have unleashed their own advertisements against Mandel.

Democrats concede the PAC money is influencing the race. “It’s fair to say the only reason Josh Mandel is doing as well as he is is because of the vast quantities of money pouring in,” David A. Harris, president and CEO at the National Jewish Democratic Council, said. 

“This unfortunate picture is evidence” that super PAC money “can actually change ballots and bring [Mandel] in striking distance of a good public servant,” he said.

In a July 25 fundraising letter, Mandel, the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, also criticized spending, but said it’s being used to defeat him.

But Weiner countered, “Josh Mandel’s secretly funded special interest friends have spent $11.5 million to boost his flailing campaign and lie about Sherrod’s record — more than has been spent against any other Senate candidate in the country.” 

Majority PAC communications director Zach Gorin noted, “It’s the height of hypocrisy for Josh Mandel to go up in arms over spending when Karl Rove and the Koch brothers have spent in the neighborhood of $10 million on his behalf. Mandel is swimming in special interest cash, raising money from payday lenders in the Bahamas instead of being in Ohio doing the job he was elected to do.”

Gorin was referring to a trip Mandel took in the spring to the Bahamas for a fundraiser. Mandel raised $67,000 there, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.

Brown’s campaign office released a list of outside money totaling close to $11.5 million being spent against their candidate. On that list are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has spent $4.7 million, and Crossroads GPS, which has pumped in $2.5 million. Another $2.3 million came from 60 Plus Association, which calls for the privatization of Social Security and the end of Medicare, according to Brown’s campaign. 

PolitiFact, Ohio’s Truth-O-Meter, which attempts to verify or refute candidates’ campaign statements, recently looked into 15 of Brown’s claims, rating all of them either “true” or “mostly true.” The group also looked into 12 of Mandel’s remarks made while politicking, calling seven of them “true” or “mostly true,” but five earned its “pants on fire rating.”

PRESS RELEASE: Jewish Federations, Jewish Agency to Provide Financial Assistance to Burgas Victims


For Immediate Release:
Contact Josh Berkman, Jewish Agency
212-339-6068/joshuabe@jafi.org

Jewish Federations, Jewish Agency to Provide Financial Assistance to Burgas Victims

New York, NY; July 19, 2012—The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Fund for the Victims of Terror will provide financial assistance to Israelis wounded in the attack in Bulgaria and to the families of those killed.  The assistance, made possible by a contribution from The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), is meant to help those affected by the attack address supplemental needs not covered by Israeli government bodies.  Any family that experienced the loss or injury of a loved one in the attack may request assistance from the fund.

Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky said that the assistance provided by The Jewish Federations of North America demonstrates the solidarity of Jews around the world with the terrible pain of those Israelis wounded in the attack and with the deep mourning of the families of those killed.

The Jewish Agency’s Fund for the Victims of Terror, established in 2002, provides financial assistance to victims of terror in Israel.  Since its establishment, the fund—which is sustained by contributions from Jewish federations, philanthropic foundations, and donors around the world—has enabled The Jewish Agency to provide thousands of terror victims and their families with assistance at a scope of more than NIS 100 million.

About The Jewish Agency for Israel
Investing in a vibrant Jewish future, The Jewish Agency for Israel continues to address the greatest challenges of our People in every generation. We connect the global Jewish family, bringing Jews to Israel- and Israel to Jews. We build a better society in Israel- and beyond- energizing young Israelis and their worldwide peers to rediscover a collective sense of Jewish purpose. At the same time, The Jewish Agency continues to be the Jewish world’s first responder, prepared to rescue and bring Jews home to Israel from countries where they live at-risk. More information can be obtained at www.jewishagency.org.

PA says it’s facing ‘worst financial crisis’


The Palestinian Authority is facing its “worst financial crisis” yet, according to a PA official, because of a foreign aid shortfall and the rejection of a $100 million loan by the International Monetary Fund.

Unless the PA finds a way to close its budget gap, PA Labor Minister Ahmed Majdalani said, the delay in aid from Arab donor nations will render the PA unable to pay its employees’ July salaries and its debts to private businesses, according to the French news agency AFP.

In an attempt to help ease the PA’s budget problems, Israel recently asked the IMF for a bridge loan of $100 million on the PA’s behalf. The IMF denied the request, saying it did not want to set a precedent of one state receiving a loan on behalf of a non-state body, Haaretz reported.

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, both former IMF officials, had decided that Israel would ask for the bridge loan because the Palestinian Authority is not a member state and cannot receive financial support from the fund.

Al-Arabiya reported that a delay in salary payments would be particularly sensitive now with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan beginning in mid-July.

Claims Conference steps up aid to Greek Holocaust survivors


The Claims Conference is tripling its aid to Greece’s Holocaust survivors in light of the country’s economic crisis and funding an education program on anti-Semitism due to the recent rise of a neo-Nazi party.

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which administers Holocaust reparations from Germany, said Tuesday that it would give $272,000 for 2012 to the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece for social services to Nazi victims. The Claims Conference had provided $86,000 in 2011.

Some 5,000 Jews are living in Greece, including more than 500 Holocaust survivors who have seen their living conditions and social services deteriorate rapidly as the country struggles with the fifth year of a harsh recession.

Government pensions have been slashed, income from property rentals have fallen significantly and there have been steep tax hikes and price rises. At the same time, state social services and medical assistance has been significantly reduced.

“Today’s economic crisis has made these survivors more vulnerable than ever at a time in their lives when they most need aid,” Gregory Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, wrote in a report on the new assistance.

“The Claims Conference is taking dramatic and immediate action to help ease their situation as much as possible and to prevent a crisis from becoming a catastrophe for this vulnerable population.”

Greece’s prewar community of about 78,000, most of whom lived in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, was nearly wiped out entirely in the Holocaust.

The Claims Conference also said that with the rise of the Golden Dawn party—a fascist party with a Nazi swastika-like flag and Holocaust-denying leader—it also would fund an educational program on anti-Semitism for the first time in Greece.

Running on a populist, anti-immigrant platform, Golden Dawn won 18 seats in Greece’s 300-member parliament in elections earlier this month.

An allocation of nearly $120,000 will go to the Jewish Museum of Greece, which is establishing a program on anti-Semitism that includes a traveling classroom version of the museum’s exhibit.

“For survivors in Greece, already grappling with the catastrophic consequences of the government austerity plan, the emergence of this party adds another dimension to the upheaval that has already made their old age more difficult,” Schneider wrote.

Is an annuity right for you?


Grandpa’s fixed pension, that sweet and steady stream of income that started on the day he retired, is nearing extinction. Most Americans today will retire not on company checks, but on personal savings and Social Security. With interest rates low, the stock market jumpy and Congress pinching pennies, it is no surprise that 87 percent of Americans, according to one recent survey, worry about running out of money. 

That concern explains the popularity of annuities—financial products designed to generate steady cash flow, sort of like Grandpa enjoyed. But today’s annuities are different from yesterday’s pensions, says Christopher Jones, CFP, president of Las Vegas-based Sparrow Wealth Management. “Commercial annuities can certainly help some meet their retirement income needs, but these products can also be very expensive and complicated,” he said. “They certainly are not for everyone, and choosing the right one is crucial.”

Whether an annuity is right for you, and if so, what kind of annuity, can in itself be a complicated matter. Here are few guidelines to help you decide:

You are probably a good candidate for an annuity if you’ve determined that to pay your basic expenses in retirement—food, shelter—you’re going to need more money than you’ll get from Social Security, and more than you can take comfortably from savings. Say you crunched the numbers and calculated that you’ll need to tap $1,000 every month from personal savings, but that’s a bit more than your savings can handle.

“To ensure that your basic needs are covered, the annuity may be a good option,” Jones said. When you fork your money over to an annuity company, you guarantee yourself a steady cash flow. Bonds can do that, too. But you’ll get more cash from the annuity. That’s in part because of something called the ‘mortality premium,’ which is a polite way of saying that annuity providers will pay you more today because when you die, they, not your heirs, will grab your principal. The mortality premium gets larger for every candle on your birthday cake. The very best candidates for an annuity are 65 and older, and have expectations of living a long life. 

You are probably a bad candidate for an annuity if you have a good-size nest egg, are in little danger of running out of money and can stomach a bit of market risk.

“The return you’ll get on a diversified portfolio will very likely be much greater than what you’ll get on an annuity,” Jones said.

In addition, your heirs, not the annuity company, will get your money when you pass. The very worst candidates for an annuity are those who have lots of money, but suffer from health conditions that may lead to an early death. 

What kind of annuity to choose?

The fixed-income annuity is, by annuity standards, a fairly simple contract. You fork over a certain sum to an annuity company, and the company then agrees to give you X dollars a month for the rest of your life. For a guaranteed $1,000 a month, a fixed annuity today would cost a 65-year-old man roughly $165,000 (about $175,000 for a woman, because women usually live longer). You may choose to purchase various perks, such as a “joint-and-survivor” benefit, which allows your spouse to continue collecting if you die. Those perks reduce the cash flow.

The other kind of annuity is called a variable annuity. The variable annuity, unlike the fixed annuity, ties your cash payments to some underlying investments. It promises you both security and performance. But Jones warns that variable annuities, often pushed by aggressive salespeople, can be incredibly complex and expensive, and often don’t deliver as they promise. If you are considering a variable annuity, use “non-qualified,” rather than “qualified” money. In other words, use money you have in your taxable account to take advantage of the tax-deferral benefits of the annuity; don’t use money from an already tax-advantaged account, such as an IRA. 

How to annuity-shop wisely

Kerry Pechter, publisher of the online newsletter Retirement Income Journal, and author of “Annuities for Dummies” (Wiley, 2008), offers the following tips for buying any annuity:

  • Buy only from a strong company
  • You may be around for another several decades; you want a company that will be around, too. Choose only companies with the very highest credit ratings. The online shopping sources in the sidebar list company ratings. You can also find them on Web sites of the providers.

     

  • Comparison shop
  • Immediate annuity issuers change their prices frequently, and during any given month, the best deal might shift from one carrier to another.

    If you are worried about inflation (and you should be), don’t put all of your money into an annuity. Leave enough for a side fund to invest in stocks. Or buy an annuity with inflation protection. Or both.

    Since annuities pay you based on current interest rates, and interest rates are now very low, you might want to buy into your annuities over time. Put some money into an annuity today and consider another in a few more years. 

    You can start shopping annuities by looking on the Web. If you feel a bit lost, get an unbiased expert to help. Consider a fee-only financial planner. You can find one at napfa.org.


    Russell Wild, MBA, is a NAPFA-registered financial advisor who has written nearly two dozen books on finance, including “Index Investing for Dummies.”

    Egypt unrest may hasten currency crisis


    Violent unrest in Egypt threatens to accelerate the country’s slide toward a currency crisis, forcing a sharp depreciation of the Egyptian pound in coming months and conceivably prompting Cairo to impose capital controls.

    Even before this month’s clashes between government forces and protestors in Cairo, which have killed at least 33 people since Saturday, Egypt was heading toward monetary turmoil as the central bank battled to keep the pound stable by running down its foreign exchange reserves.

    The recent violence, which calls into question whether Egypt can smoothly hold parliamentary elections beginning next week, is likely to increase pressure on the reserves and may bring a full-blown crisis forward to the next several months from the late-2012 tipping point previously predicted by some analysts.

    “Even in advance of recent events we were very concerned about the balance of payments and the burn-through in reserves,” said Farouk Soussa, Middle East chief economist at Citigroup.

    “The violence and political noise is going to erode whatever confidence was left in the Egyptian economy, and may result in the current atmosphere in an acceleration of capital outflows.”

    RESERVES

    Egypt’s net foreign reserves have tumbled from around $36 billion at the start of the year to $22.1 billion in October, as the violence and political uncertainty surrounding the ouster as president of Hosni Mubarak caused an exodus of foreign investors and tourists. Reserves sank $1.93 billion last month, the biggest drop since April, central bank data show.

    By supplying foreign currency to the market, the central bank has so far managed to preserve the pound’s buying power and curb pressure for inflation in the face of this capital flight. It has kept the pound remarkably stable in a range of roughly 5.92-5.99 against the dollar since Mubarak’s overthrow.

    But pressure on the pound is clearly growing as the market speculates about when the central bank may run out of money to maintain its defense; the currency edged down last week to its lowest level in nearly seven years.

    Raza Agha, senior Middle East and North Africa economist at RBS, estimates the reserves are large enough to pay for about 4-1/2 months’ worth of Egypt’s imports. But liquid reserves—currencies, deposits and securities that can be mobilized quickly to defend the pound—are about $16.1 billion or 3.2 months of imports, he calculates.

    “Egyptian reserves are still not at the panic-inducing levels, but they are extremely vulnerable to capital flight,” Agha wrote in a report last week.

    Some traders think the market could panic, with expectations for currency depreciation causing bigger fund outflows that overwhelm the central bank, if liquid reserves fall near two months’ import cover.

    If the unrest causes the decline in reserves to accelerate from October’s rate, as the violence hurts tourism revenues further and prompts foreign investors to sell their remaining holdings of Egyptian Treasury bills, crunch time could be reached in three months or so.

    Protesters walk past graffiti reading “Leave Field Marshal”, referring to Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling military council, during clashes with riot police along a road which leads to the Interior Ministry, near Tahrir Square in Cairo on Nov. 21. Photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

    The forward market, in which banks hedge against future currency moves, clearly fears this point may be reached next year. Prices there imply an exchange rate of 6.15 in three months’ time and 6.62 in a year.

    The stock market also reflects the darkening mood. The main index, which is down 46 percent this year, rebounded 17 percent in October but in the last two weeks has given up almost all those gains.

    AID

    International aid for Egypt could buy it valuable time and, conceivably, keep it afloat while the elections proceed and political stability returns.

    Egypt turned down the offer of a $3.2 billion financing facility from the International Monetary Fund this summer, partly, officials indicated privately, because of national pride. The then finance minister said Egypt’s ruling military did not want to build up debts.

    The inexorable decline of the reserves has forced a rethink, and Finance Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said this week that Egypt would formally ask the IMF to start negotiations on a package similar to the one it previously rejected. The IMF has signaled it will not put onerous conditions on the loans.

    The wealthy governments of the Gulf and the international community in general have strong geopolitical reasons to try to keep Egypt stable; Cairo has received in-principle offers of aid totaling well over $10 billion from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other sources.

    But actual aid flows have been slow to arrive partly, analysts speculate, because of political tensions between governments in Egypt and the Gulf. Cairo has so far received $1 billion of budget support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the UAE said last month it planned to provide $3 billion but was still discussing the mechanism to deliver it.

    Meanwhile, the euro zone debt crisis and a global economic slowdown may reduce the ability of the IMF and Western countries to help Cairo. Bloodshed in Egypt, or any resulting delay in its election timetable, could make it politically difficult for the West to aid the Egyptian government.

    Angus Blair, head of research at Middle Eastern investment bank Beltone Financial in Cairo, said there were some positive factors for Egypt: Suez Canal revenues, tourism numbers and remittances from its workers abroad had held up fairly well in the circumstances.

    But the country is threatened on several fronts, including high food price inflation, its budget deficit and its trade and current account deficits, he said.

    “It’s quite difficult for Egypt to have all of these issues addressed at the same time because it’s in a global environment that’s less conducive to help—not because the world doesn’t want to help Egypt, but because there are so many other global issues to deal with at the moment,” Blair said.

    Any sharp depreciation of the Egyptian pound could fuel inflation—one of the factors which sparked the unrest that toppled Mubarak. Soussa said the central bank therefore appeared determined to defend the currency at least through January, when elections for the lower house of parliament are due to end.

    If pressure on the pound continues to increase, authorities may impose capital controls, he said, though officials have denied any intention to do so. If that does not work, Egypt may be forced to let the pound fall; Citigroup thinks the pound may depreciate between 20 and 25 percent in 2012.

    With additional reporting by Nadia Saleem in Dubai; editing by Anna Willard

    Economic crisis boosts need to focus on domestic violence


    Domestic violence is the American epidemic we don’t want to talk about, hear about or know about. But in my 30 years as an advocate for women and children, I’ve never been more concerned about the victims of domestic violence than I am right now. Families already buckling under the weight of domestic violence in the best of times can collapse in times of economic downturn and war.

    As Jews, we don’t get to take a vacation from tikkun olam and tzedakah because we find an issue disturbing or because something is affecting our bottom line. We are commanded to repair the world, to help those less fortunate, because it’s the right thing to do. And when our pocketbooks fail us, we still have our conscience and our voice.

    If we don’t focus our attention on vulnerable families now — if we don’t encourage our leaders and future president to do the same — we very likely will see increases in the already too costly human price of this national scourge.

    The statistics are staggering for this equal-opportunity destroyer. One in four U.S. women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime; one in six will be the victim of an attempted or actual rape; one in 12 will be stalked. Nearly 5.3 million acts of intimate-partner violence occur each year among U.S. women age 18 and older, resulting in 2 million injuries and nearly 1,300 deaths.

    A poor economic prognosis matters in a uniquely grave way to women and children in families where abuse happens.

    According to a 2004 study by the National Institute of Justice, women whose male partners experienced two or more periods of unemployment over the five-year course of the study were three times more likely to be abused. A spike in cases will be devastating for a system where supply is already not keeping up with demand.

    Let’s wake up to what is really going on in families of all races, religions and economic levels behind the closed doors of our apartments and starter homes, mansions and military bases. The recent tragic stabbing death of 29-year-old Sgt. Christina E. Smith was the third off-post domestic violence murder of a Fort Bragg servicewoman in four months. Sgt. Richard Smith, 26, was charged, along with a friend, with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder of his wife. A local police spokesperson responded: “No, gosh, not another one.”

    The war matters enormously to our leaders, to our citizens and to the parents and spouses of soldiers who pay the ultimate sacrifice. But it also matters to families of military women like Christina E. Smith. Families already under strain become another, rarely talked about, casualty.

    So we’ve got to keep doing what we know makes a difference, such as running domestic violence prevention programs that model and teach healthy relationships for teens, and we need to maintain partnerships aimed at ensuring full funding of the Violence Against Women Act and Family Violence Prevention and Services Act and appropriate funding of the Victims of Crime Act, or VOCA.

    Only two years ago, the Lifetime Women’s Pulse Poll, conducted by Roper Poll, revealed the degree to which domestic violence informed the voting decisions of women and men over 18. Ninety-seven percent felt that the issue of domestic violence and sexual assault against women and girls was important and would impact whom they voted for in the election.

    Jewish Americans are compassionate, and the more we know about an issue, the more we care about an issue. Let’s come together as one voice and let our leaders know that in the best and worst of times we are not going to let domestic violence continue. That we hold them, and ourselves, accountable for making it stop.

    Loribeth Weinstein is the executive director of Jewish Women International

    Three (financial) reasons to make aliyah


    When my old Harvard friend Ronnie and I decided to meet after many years, the first place that came to mind was the Brasserie. Located just across from Rabin’s Square, the Brasserie is one of the most chic, sophisticated places to eat out in Tel Aviv.

    The French-Italian cuisine it offers is indulgent; the jazzy music played in the background is an appetite-booster and the vibe dominating the scene is juvenile and intoxicating. If anything, the Brasserie has always reminded me of my favorite Harvard restaurant, Cambridge One, with its intellectually dazzling style.

    What I didn’t know about the Brasserie, though, is that it had a valet service — one of the only three restaurants in Tel Aviv that offers this elitist luxury. While waiting for Ronnie outside the restaurant, and watching the handsome Israeli valet boys handle their customers with a pseudo-IDF smile, I could not but think to myself, “Geez, Israel has come a long way in 60 years. Shouldn’t more Jews enjoy this jewel, especially now?”

    And thus I came up with three (financial) reasons for Americans to make aliyah (immigration to Israel) sooner, rather than later.

    1. “Jonathan the Plumber” vs. “Joe the Plumber”

    While U.S. banks aren’t in their heyday, American consumerism is going down and recession is just around the corner, Israel’s economy seems to be handling the global crisis pretty well. Credit is still as prevalent as before, not a single bank has collapsed, and the Israeli public still trusts both in its financial leaders (such as ex-MIT professor Stanley Fischer, now chair of the Central Bank of Israel) and the financial system as a whole. There’s much less panic on Israel’s Main Street than there is on Wall Street. The explanations are numerous, but let me give you just one: Israel’s financial system is far less complex, and far more transparent, than the United States’. While the credit crunch in the United States stemmed from the implosion of secondary markets (and specifically, of financial instruments such as MBSs and CDOs), Israel was fortunate enough to evade the contagion because it did not have such secondary markets to begin with. The securitization of mortgages that accelerated the crisis in the United States simply didn’t exist in the Tel Aviv stock exchange. Which means, except for a few Israeli tycoons that suffered from the crash of U.S. banks, the Israeli “Jonathan the Plumber” is still doing pretty well.

    2. In Israel, You Can Profit From Being American

    If you are an American businessman or businesswoman, or at least think like one, I’d argue you could live off of your Americanness in Israel, just by being American. Globalization has made most young Israelis crazy about living, working or studying in the United States for at least a few years in their lifetime. Israelis crave a U.S. college or graduate degree. But the great majority of Israelis have no idea where to begin and how to make themselves attractive in the eyes of U.S. institutions. That’s where you and your family can step in. Your contribution then becomes a two-way street: You help Israelis realize their dream, and they help you feel like a Sabra. (It shouldn’t be a population-swap, either, simply because many of these young Israelis return to Israel more educated, more experienced and wealthier.)

    3. Israel Can Profit From You

    The latter point could not be stressed enough: your contribution to Israel’s society can be huge in terms of long-term economic growth. Israel is a country full of really smart people. The problem is that sometimes, because we’re located in the midst of a faraway desert, we forget how good we can be and how high we can aim. That’s why the professional and academic interactions between Israelis and Americans in Israel can be vital: it reminds (or teaches) us what standards are required for professional and academic success, U.S.-style. Americans who come to Israel with this kind of mindset can help Israel make giant steps on the road to prosperity. And eventually, the same prosperity is shared jointly by all of Israel’s citizens, newcomers and Sabras alike.

    If you’ve contemplated making aliyah to Israe and never thought it was a feasible idea, now may be the time to reconsider. Just think of the 15,000 expatriates who are expected to return to Israel from the Diaspora in 2009, largely due to financial reasons. Despite the crisis, Israel is booming economically and is still growing faster than most Western countries. Your contribution to Israel’s growth can be immense. So what if no one has mentioned financial Zionism before?

    Shira Kaplan is a 25-year-old Harvard College alumna from Herzliya. She is currently a Milken Institute Fellow in Tel Aviv, researching regulation in the Israeli stock market. She is also the founder of the Exigo Group, which coaches Israelis on how to leverage their academic and business talents. The views expressed in this article are hers alone.

    Gift the Tree, Enjoy the Fruit


    Most of us would give almost anything to ensure that Israel’s future is secure. But what can one person do to help Israel thrive and grow?

    Plenty, as it turns out. There is a financial strategy that allows you to help Israel — and yourself. It can provide you or your loved ones with increased income for life, reduce your current tax burden and help you meet a variety of estate planning and personal goals — all while leaving a lasting legacy.

    Planned giving is a way to enhance your family’s personal finances that will also benefit the charity of your choice. There are many types of planned gifts, and the type you choose will depend on your situation.

    When you establish a charitable gift annuity (CGA), you transfer cash or marketable securities to a charitable organization. The charity pays you a guaranteed amount each year for your life, while using the remaining funds in the CGA toward a designation of your choosing, only upon your passing. The rates on a CGA — which depend on your age — are better than anything available in the marketplace. (The older you are, the higher the rates.) A $10,000 CGA, for example, will pay you 8 percent if you are 80 years old, and the payments are partially tax-free. You also receive an immediate tax deduction — and if you fund the CGA with appreciated securities, you’ll avoid the capital-gains tax you’d have to pay if you sold the securities outright. This is currently one of the most popular deferred giving vehicles.

    A charitable remainder trust (CRT) is similar to a charitable gift annuity, but can be tailored to meet specific requirements. If, for example, you need special income payout rates, variable income, an inflation hedge payment schedule or income deferral, a CRT can meet these and other needs.

    CRTs also offer great flexibility when it comes to the type of asset that funds the trust — which includes residential or commercial real estate, life insurance, or art and collectibles. Of course, you can also make outright gifts of these assets and potentially reduce your income tax liability for this year and several tax seasons to come. Save for retirement, fund a child or grandchild’s education or save for unforeseen events and long-term care. All can be accomplished with a CRT.

    When the real estate is one of your primary residences or your vacation home, you may opt for retained life estate. This allows you to make a significant gift to charity while continuing to live in the house for the rest of your life without affecting your lifestyle. When you pursue this gift option, you will enjoy a charitable income tax deduction, avoiding capital gains and estate taxes later.

    But the easiest way to support your organization of choice is by including it in your will. If you already have a will, your lawyer can simply add a codicil. The bequest can be in the form of a memorial or tribute to you or another individual you designate. In the codicil, you may also specify how you would like the funds to be used by the institution. In addition to the satisfaction you obtain from leaving a lasting legacy, a bequest may also significantly reduce your estate tax liability.

    Organizations have different ways of recognizing those who have made bequests. At the American Technion Society, for example, we recognize bequests through induction into our Genesis Circle. Members of this prestigious group receive special recognition in their local chapter, are invited to meet with leading Technion researchers and receive regular updates of cutting-edge Technion developments in health, science and technology. Depending on the size of their gift, they’re also invited to join us on our annual missions to the Technion and Israel.

    Planned gifts help meet your most important financial and estate planning needs, as well as your philanthropic goals. Often, they allow you to make an impactful, positive change in your life and the charity’s in a tax efficient manner, and they are the ultimate expression of commitment and caring concern for Israel’s future.

    Mark L. Hefter is director of planned giving at the American Technion Society, a national organization headquartered in New York City that supports the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

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    Tentative Deal to Save Valley Cities JCC


    The Valley Cities Jewish Community Center received a new lease on life late last week when its parent organization agreed in principle to sell the center property to a local partnership that will keep the JCC going. Without the agreement, the center could have shut down at the end of June, probably for good.

    The parent organization, which is called the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, said it would accept a $2.7 million bid for the Sherman Oaks property.

    The condition for this “discounted” price was that any developer must also agree to renovate the JCC building or construct a new facility, insiders said. Four developers are believed to have expressed interest in putting senior housing and a state-of-the-art JCC on the land. A formal purchase offer could materialize by the end of July.

    Several sources close to the deal declined comment because of ongoing negotiations.

    The parent organization, which has shuttered two local JCCs in recent years, has said it must sell the Valley Cities property to pay off debts.

    For more than 50 years, Valley Cities has served as a magnet for San Fernando Valley Jews, a one-stop shop that offers a panoply of services, ranging from nursery school for the young to lectures for seniors. Currently, the center has close to 90 children enrolled in summer camp and is now accepting applications for its fall nursery school and after-school child-care programs. The JCC recently refurbished a teen center to provide a gathering spot for East Valley teens.

    A study prepared for the JCC found that the facility sits amid a Jewish population of 30,000 to 40,000 people, including many Persian, Israeli and Russian immigrants. For them and other Jews, JCCs serve as an entry point into local Jewish life.

    Like other Los Angeles-area Jewish centers, Valley Cities paid a steep price for financial mismanagement by the parent organization that is now selling the site. To pay off ballooning debts, executives at the parent organization slashed center allocations and eventually shuttered the Bay Cities and Conejo Valley JCCs. The parent organization also twice threatened to close Valley Cities, including as recently as last year.

    Valley Cities leaders have worked relentlessly to save the center, which an estimated 1,000 people visit weekly. Those efforts helped secure nearly $650,000 over the past year and a half from the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, a major benefactor over the years to local JCCs.

    After years of threatened closure, a couple of Los Angeles-area JCCs have seen their futures markedly improve.

    In late April, the head of Los Angeles’ Episcopal Diocese, Bishop J. Jon Bruno, partnered with a Jewish community group operating the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center to buy its property for $2.1 million. The facility had faced an imminent shutdown and the sale of its property out from under it.

    And the Westside Jewish Community Center just received a six-figure donation from center alumnus and four-time Olympic gold medalist Lenny Krayzelburg to reopen the very pool where he trained as a young man. The gift covers the costs of a complete overhaul of the plumbing, filtration and heating systems. The pool, which closed several years ago, is expected to begin offering swimming lessons in early July. (See Westside JCC story online at www.Jewishjournal.com.)

    “Nationally, Jewish community centers are thriving,” said Allan Finkelstein, president of the JCC Association of North America. Within the next five years, up to 20 new centers could open around the country, including in cities such as Las Vegas; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Princeton, N.J., he said. Over the past decade, Finkelstein estimates that $700 million has been spent on building and renovating Jewish centers.

    “Construction, development and planning of JCCs is booming all over,” he said.

     

    Vote Yes on 57, 58: They Will Ease Crisis


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    Middle-Class Poor


    The Jewish immigrant from South Africa had lived the American dream since he arrived in the United States 14 years ago.

    Juggling import-export and computer consulting jobs, the 42-year-old Culver City resident had earned an average of $125,000 per year, enough to send his two young children to private Jewish school and support his wife. Life was good, with lots of meals out, family outings to Knott’s Berry Farm and plenty of company for Shabbat meals.

    But like many members of the middle class, the busy professional — who declined to give his name for this article — suffered a major financial blow as the economy faltered. Over a year ago, an import-export firm for which he subcontracted failed to pay him a $65,000 commission.

    Suddenly, his financial security evaporated, and he quickly fell behind in his children’s tuition payments. His marriage grew strained. Nights were sometimes sleepless.

    When the Jewish school recently barred his 13-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son from attending classes until he brought the account current, the proud father did something he never imagined himself doing: He turned to charity. Borrowing $15,000 from family members abroad and $5,000 from the Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA), a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, he paid off most of the school debt and re-enrolled his children.

    "The need for my kids to be happy and to protect their little world outweighed any shame and distress I felt," he said. "Still, asking for money was gut wrenching."

    With the stock market limping, unemployment mounting and the economy softening, many Jews who benefited from the go-go ’90s have suddenly found themselves hurting. For some, private school tuition, temple fees, bar mitzvahs, along with the need to keep up with the Cohens, has made their situation even worse.

    For the poor, tough times have forced many down a rung or two on the economic ladder. With rents skyrocketing and salaries stagnating, some families have been forced to pile into one-bedroom apartments or illegal converted garages.

    For the well-off, adjusting to the new and ugly reality has been less dramatic but still painful. Vacationing overseas and purchasing luxury items have been deferred. Neiman Marcus is out; Target is in.

    That the rich should weather a tough economy better than indigent immigrants or senior citizens living on a fixed-income is no surprise. However, the turbulent economy appears to have hit the middle class and lower-middle class harder than expected. Several charitable Jewish groups like JFLA have noticed an upsurge in demand for services, not just from the poor, but from struggling professionals as well.

    Once high-flying computer programmers, travel agents and small business owners are increasingly applying for free groceries, career counseling and interest-free loans as their jobs and incomes have dried up in the post-Sept. 11 environment.

    Although no recent statistical data exists on Los Angeles County’s Jewish poor, a 1997 survey conducted for The Federation by demographer Pini Herman for found that 9.4 percent of Jews in the region earned less than $10,000 per year (the survey area covered about 95 percent of the county). Jewish poverty rates may have declined slightly since then, because some of the elderly have died. But the weak economy has undoubtedly plunged thousands of Jews into poverty, including unemployed and underemployed professionals, Herman said.

    "We’re seeing more two-parent working families and others who never expected to need services from the community," said Leslie Friedman, director of the SOVA Food Pantry Program. "Many people are finding they can no longer stretch their incomes."

    Overcome with embarrassment, the middle-class poor show up to SOVA in shock, stunned that they must seek a handout, she said.

    SOVA, which gives clients a four-day supply of groceries every month, served 19,834 people in the first eight months of the year, 1,300 more than in the same period in 2000, Friedman said.

    Claudia Finkel, COO of Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), a beneficiary agency of The Federation, said the number of people dropping by its offices for job training and leads has skyrocketed by 50 percent over the past year. Among those anxious to find work are recent college graduates unable to break into the job market and elderly retirees who have seen their retirement savings decimated by their plunging stock portfolios, she said.

    So many laid-off young professionals and those with newly minted master’s degrees need help landing a decent position that JVS just inaugurated a program, FasTrak, tailored to meet their needs.

    Since the beginning of September, the nonprofit has offered three three-hour seminars on subjects ranging from networking, goal setting and the need to "self-brand," Finkel said. The FasTrak gatherings have proved so popular, that JVS plans to roll out a new series early next year.

    For now, many recent grads and jobless professionals under 30 are moving back in with mom and dad or taking positions in low-paying fields in which they have little or no interest.

    "They were promised a golden ring with an MBA or a law degree, and they haven’t gotten one," Finkel said. "I think there’s a state of shock."

    Shana Portigal would agree. The 27-year-old just earned an MBA from Tulane University with a concentration in marketing. With $75,000 in school debt, she hoped to land a high-paying brand-management job to pay off her loans.

    Returning to the Southland after graduating in May, she moved in with her mother and sister to save money and soon began hunting for work. Despite her degree and past experience as a marketing director at a radio station, Portigal said she generated few good leads. To get an edge, she went to several networking events and a FasTrak seminar.

    Frustrated, she eventually took an administrative job at a major studio for about half of what she expected to earn, although she hopes eventually to parlay that into a marketing position.

    "If I would have known it would be so hard to find a job, I would have put off going to graduate school," she said.

    For nearly 100 years, the Jewish Free Loan Association of Los Angeles (JFLA) has been making interest-free loans to those in need in accordance with biblical pronouncements. But with donations off by nearly $900,000 compared to last year and demand up, the nonprofit, nonsectarian organization recently had to suspend graduate school and some business loans until next year — the first time JFLA ever took such drastic action, said Mark Meltzer, the group’s CEO.

    Already, about a dozen graduate students have been turned away. Before suspending loans, the outfit slashed them from a maximum of $5,000 per person to $3,000 earlier this year .

    If JFLA’s fundraising doesn’t pick up in the next few months, that could translate into fewer or smaller loans going forward, Meltzer said. Also, the association might have to layoff at least one of its 10 employees early next year.

    As requests for emergency loans for rent and food continue to mount, Meltzer worries that the economic outlook for many middle-class and less fortunate Jews could darken.

    "We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg," he said.

    Bay Cities Exits With Class


    It may have been a bittersweet Flag Day for Bay Cities Jewish Community Center, but spirits were not flagging at its June 14 pre-kindergarten graduation — the center’s last.

    A Westside institution since 1937, the JCC site on Santa Monica Boulevard and 26th Street will close on June 30 due to financial difficulties.

    Until recently, Bay Cities offered early childhood education and after-school care programs, had partnered with the Israel Levin Senior Center and had devoted space to SOVA Food Pantry. The center also enjoyed a robust nursery school enrollment till its demise.

    However, Bay Cities’ blues were long in the making. In the summer of 2001, parent organization Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) stripped Bay Cities of its after-school care as part of a system-wide cut, leaving vacationing parents unprepared before the September 2001 school year. Only after citywide public pressure did JCCGLA reinstate an after-school care program. However, it was based at the Westside JCC, and many Santa Monica parents were loathe to bus their children across town for after-school care.

    In the wake of a mismanagement scandal that came to light in the fall of 2001, JCCGLA listed Bay Cities among five L.A. centers originally planned for closure in order to repay a $3 million bail-out loan that it had acquired with the help of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, its primary financial supporter.

    Earlier this year, a major rift formed between JCCGLA and The Federation as The Federation lost confidence in JCCGLA’s ability to draw members and run in a cost-effective manner. While JCCGLA tried to iron out its differences with the Federation, Bay Cities parents scrambled to find outside institutions to save their center from closure and keep its programs running. There was talk that Beth Shir Shalom of Santa Monica might absorb Bay Cities’ operating costs. However, the scenario proved too expensive and overwhelming, and the partnership never materialized.

    Despite Bay Cities’ impending closure, the day didn’t read like an epitaph.

    "It’s a really joyous day," said Jim Barner, who, with fellow Bay Cities dad Daniel Grossman, attempted to stave the building from closure.

    This month’s graduation marked the last ceremony at the center. Educators offered congratulations to Class of 2002: Sasha Bakhshayandeh, Jack Barner, Miriam Bern, Jordan Breuer, Thomas Chin, Joshua Ganezer, Samantha Gillespie, Asaf Grossman, Alex Kahan, Gaby Kamkar, Hannah Leve, Max Levenson, Noam Namir, Hannah Raoufpour, Katie Reeves, Daniel Roth, Karina Schneider, Jake Shulman, Jules Stahler, Mason Wolf and Micaela Zepeda.

    A Wealth of Embezzlers


    A former bookkeeper at Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach turned herself in to police last week after reportedly admitting to having stolen nearly $100,000 from the Reform synagogue. Doina Stanescu, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, allegedly embezzled the money by signing checks to herself.

    The case exposes a danger for nonprofit organizations like synagogues, which may rely on volunteer lay leadership for much of their financial management and oversight.

    Margy Feldman, Temple Menorah’s president, agreed that her synagogue runs on "a tremendous amount of trust in a very small office," but "my heart goes out to [Stanescu]." She said Stanescu had a gambling addiction and that the temple had contacted Beit T’Shuvah to request help for her. Feldman declined to discuss details of the embezzlement or the synagogue’s accounting oversight procedures. "Our synagogue needs to heal," she said, adding that the temple’s board of directors had met several times since the arrest to review accounting practices, "to see that this never happens again." Feldman also noted that other synagogues have been hit by similar crimes. "This is not an unusual circumstance," she said.

    Embezzlement scandals at Jewish organizations have made numerous headlines in the past few years.

    • In March 2000, the fiscal administrator of the Los Angeles Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion campus was arrested and charged with embezzling more than a million dollars over an eight-year period.

    • An FBI investigation in April 2000 found that the bookkeeper and the executive director of a Philadelphia-area synagogue had collaborated to steal $700,000 from that synagogue.

    • The investigation into Rabbi Baruch Lanner’s sexual misconduct as a leader of the Orthodox Union’s National Council of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) also uncovered numerous instances when Lanner had deposited donations to the NCSY into his personal bank accounts.

    "Ideally, Jewish nonprofits and synagogues would be immune from this sort of behavior," said Judith Kranz, president of the North American Association of Synagogue Executives. "But we live in the real world, and so we set up these checks and balances to protect our synagogues from harm."

    Because a great deal of money flows in and out of even a small synagogue, Kranz said, "In general, synagogues are set up like small businesses." Regular accounting principles should include two separate signatures required for each check with different people responsible for approving and writing checks.

    Kranz also recommends having outside accountants come in to audit a synagogue’s books. Strict accounting practices and thorough oversight should help ensure that a dishonest person will be unable to steal. Kranz said her organization has never had to deal with a case of embezzlement and believes that when it happens at a Jewish organization or synagogue, it is "news, because it’s so rare."

    Can the JCCs Be Saved?


    About 160 members turned up at Westside Jewish Community Center’s Birch Auditorium last Sunday in an effort to keep their center from closing down. The room buzzed with determined activity. Subcommittee members exchanged information. Two members were busy painting "Save the Centers" signs for the Dec. 13 rally outside The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ 6505 Wilshire headquarters. Members planned to protest and carry signs that read: "Don’t Mortgage Our Children’s Future," "Our Elders Are Not Collateral" and "Stop the Closure!"

    "There has been a great uprising on our membership’s part," said Helene Seifer, past president of Westside JCC’s Advisory Board and incoming vice president of Jewish Community Center of Greater Los Angeles’ (JCCGLA) Central Board.

    Westside JCC is one of five JCCs scheduled to close by July 2002 in order to pay back a $3 million loan. The center experienced a $300,000 shortfall at the end of its fiscal cycle last September, and membership dropped from 5,400 to 900 at the Westside JCC, echoing the 9,000 to 2,300 member drop of JCCGLA membership citywide.

    Federation Chairman Todd Morgan told The Journal that he feels deeply about JCCGLA’s collapse. The Federation has been the JCCLA’s largest benefactor, but has refused to provide funding beyond June 30, 2002.

    "It’s frustrating. It’s difficult," Morgan said. "I can see both sides of the situation, but it’s a very complicated business and community problem."

    He added that he has been disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm among Los Angeles’ major machers.

    "Everybody knows what’s happening by now," Morgan continued. "It’s disturbing that people haven’t stepped up to help. Right now, The Federation is doing everything possible to correct the situation."

    Meanwhile, center supporters are taking matters into their own hands. According to Seifer, about $100,000 has already been raised specifically toward saving Westside since the Dec. 3 announcement of its closure. She told The Journal that "some people have expressly indicated that they will make substantial contributions if there is a guarantee that the center can stay open beyond June 30."

    "The Federation could forget the debt, but they choose not to waive that debt," said Paula Pearlman, president of Westside’s advisory board. "They could start an emergency crisis campaign to pay off the debt, but they choose not to. Our major creditor is The Federation and they want their money back."

    "We’re doing the best we can under limited resources," Morgan said. "We’re having serious discussions with the Jewish Community Foundation about helping us out."

    But at all five JCCs, from the Westside to the Valley, outraged members aren’t waiting around for the powers that be to act.

    Ad-hoc groups raced into action. Yet, as well intentioned as these members are, nothing will remedy this situation if JCCGLA moves quickly to sell the centers.

    "Once we get that commitment from JCCGLA, that will let us go forward with our fundraising," said property attorney Warren Blum, who heads the legal committee.

    "We want them to meet us halfway," Pearlman said. "That’s why we need to keep the pressure up."

    Over the years, big names — Richard Dreyfuss, Barry Newman, Zev Yaroslavsky — have shared a Westside connection. Swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg used its facilities to help him become a gold-medal Olympic swimmer. At Sunday’s meeting, David Krischer stated that turning to these celebrities might expedite Westside’s salvation, but first, he said, "I need to know that the money raised does not go into the general fund. People need to know that if they don’t use the money, they’ll get it back and it won’t disappear."

    For now, all Westsiders can do is move forward. Aside from the scheduled rally on Thursday, members say they are flooding Federation offices with e-mails and letters of support. Entertainment contractor Michael Edelstein is doing his part. He has arranged for proceeds from a Wilshire Theater run of "Fiddler on the Roof" — about $179 of every $300 pair of tickets — to go toward saving his center [see information below].

    "I have faith in L.A.’s community to maintain its JCC system," said Alan Mann, senior vice president of the JCC Association of North America, who will visit Los Angeles next week as a consultant. "They’re working hard to provide as many services as they can."

    Mann, whose national office does not oversee local JCC affairs, said that it is not unprecedented for JCCs, such as Toronto’s, to be salvaged by their city’s Federations.

    "L.A.’s JCCs will probably need to take a deep breath, and then restructure and grow," Mann said. "It’s a sad situation that will need work."

    For more information, go to www.savethejcc.org. For information on "Fiddler on the Roof," Jan. 15-27 at the Wilshire Theater, call (323) 933-1693.

    Silverlake-Los Feliz JCC

    On Dec. 10, core members of Silverlake-Los Feliz JCC held a meeting to form an emergency action committee.

    "We decided that before we move into anything demonstrative, we need to collect as much data as possible and explore financial strategies if we want to go independent," said Broderick Miller, action committee president, who added that the meeting had a positive residual "seeing the old group and the new group come together. That was a big step. Now we have an institutional history to bring to the equation."

    Silverlake members, who have vowed to meet every Monday, are exploring the prospects of partnering with various city and state entities. Lay leaders will meet with Fishel on Dec. 14 and are contacting Councilman Eric Garcetti.

    Of central interest to members: terms of the center’s property deed. Past advisory board presidents David Feinman and Michael Goldberg are seeking to confirm Silverlake lore that claims the founding fathers of the center allowed the venue to be incorporated into JCCGLA’s fold under the condition that it would always remain a Jewish Community Center. Such a proviso could render sale of the property illegal.

    "Now that they’ve announced that they want to close our center," Feinman said, "my role here has not become less clear. It’s more clear. We see this upheaval as an opportunity to address the chronic issues that have plagued us for years, and basically grow in a direction we’ve wanted to go in but couldn’t because of JCCGLA."

    "In a way, we’re missionaries," Feinman continued. "We’re out here bringing the message and the values of Judaism."

    Bay Cities JCC, Santa Monica

    Bay Cities JCC parents Dan Grossman and Jim Barner are leading the charge to save their center on behalf of its 40 families. They have obtained the center’s books and, with an accountant’s help, they will devise a plan to run Bay Cities as a cost-effective business.

    The reason parents are fighting for the center is clear.

    "For a lot of people, it’s their only connection to Judaism," said Pacific Palisades resident Lori Mendez. "It gives some families their only connection to Judaism, which is so important."

    Mendez put three children — now ages 12, 10, and 8 — through Bay Cities’ preschool, after realizing that her temple, Kehillat Ma’arav, did not offer preschool. Her children have fond memories of their JCC experience.

    "My 12-year-old still uses the menorah he made in preschool," said Mendez, who remembered that the Chins, an Asian family, had three sons in the nursery.

    "When you look at how diverse the people are at Bay Cities, you see that what we’re really doing is serving our community," said Amy Kahn, Bay Cities Advisory Board past president and a JCCGLA Board member. Her son, Ethan, was schooled there. "That’s something I will miss. Seeing all of those great people."

    Parents spoke highly of the center’s director, Joanne Hulkower, and events — Shabbat dinners, holiday parties, "Kid’s Night Out."

    "It was a great way for parents to get to know each other," Kahn said. "I had always wanted to study the Torah. I started a group. To me, that’s the beauty of the JCC."

    "The bottom line is, we want to give the branch independence," said Grossman, who wants to enlist more parents to keep Bay Cities alive.

    "Santa Monica schools do not have as good after-care," Kahn said. She believes that, with the right support and management, Bay Cities could thrive.

    "Having grown up with the JCC — I grew up in San Antonio — the JCC was such a part of my life," she continued. "I really know how great the JCC can be."

    Centers in Crisis


    Shock. Disbelief. Disappointment. Frustration. Anger. Cynicism. Sadness.

    All were in large supply among supporters of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) during a round of public meetings held this week to break the news of the JCC financial crisis. Parents and other JCC members expressed their dismay over the news that JCCGLA is planning to close five of seven JCCs by June 30, 2002, in order to pay off a $3 million loan.

    On Dec. 3, about 100 JCC supporters gathered at the Silverlake-Los Feliz JCC, where executives from JCCGLA and longtime benefactor, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, discussed the details and repercussions of JCCGLA’s current financial crisis, and their plans to ameliorate it. The Silverlake-Los Feliz JCC was just the first stop in a series of advisory meetings held over three days and consisting of a panel that included JCCGLA Executive Vice President Nina Lieberman Giladi, Federation President John Fishel and various JCC board members. In addition to this Bates Avenue location, in the heart of Los Feliz, advisory meetings were held at North Valley JCC and Valley Cities JCC on Dec. 4, and the Westside JCC and Bay Cities JCC on Dec. 5. All of these venues on this advisory tour face closure.

    The major announcements made at the advisory meetings were:

    • Existing JCC Early Childhood Education and After School Care serving some 900 children will remain in effect at all centers offering such programs through June 30, 2002.
    • After June 30, the Westside JCC, Silverlake-Los Feliz JCC, Bay Cities JCC, Valley Cities JCC and North Valley JCC are scheduled to close.
    • All programming outside of children’s services will be terminated as of Dec. 31, 2001.
    • The Federation, in an arrangement with JCCGLA brass, will help the network of local community centers secure a loan from a lending institution to pay off the $3 million debt by putting the above five JCC properties up as collateral. These moneys are in addition to the Federation’s normal annual allocation of $3.2 million.
    • The Federation will allocate an emergency sum of $901,000 to enable the JCCs to continue its children’s services at Centers through the end of June.
    • Only four JCCGLA entities will stay in business: West Valley JCC, Conejo Valley JCC, the Shalom Institute and the Zimmer Children’s Museum.

    The closure of the five JCCs follows this summer’s termination of after-school care programs at Bay Cities JCC and Silverlake-Los Feliz JCC, and the JCCs relinquishing of the reins of Venice boardwalk’s Israel Levin Senior Adult Center and its SOVA program to Federation agency Jewish Family Service.

    The announcements come as a big blow to Los Angeles’ Jewish community at a time when morale is already low due to a hurting economy and the recent spate of gruesome terrorism that has hit both America and Israel. The situation is dire for the centers, which operate on a $14 million budget and now faces a $3 million deficit.

    Giladi confirmed that 50 people within the JCCGLA system, including center directors, teachers, athletics personnel, and other staff have received their pink slips.

    "The very good news is that we’ve been moving closely with The Jewish Federation in order to address problems — our priority is how to meet the needs of the children," said Giladi, referring to the Federation’s $901,000 relief package. "We had to work fast and furious to have The Federation help us and not compromise the child care."

    However, members in attendance at the Silverlake-Los Feliz center, many of them young parents with babies, were not heartened to learn that the majority of JCCGLA’s centers and programs would be shut down.

    What started out as a very controlled situation, featuring a representative asking the panel prearranged questions on behalf of Silverlake parents, quickly devolved into heated debate between members and panelists. Members expressed frustration and anger over the lack of communication and the failure of both JCCGLA and The Federation to involve JCC constituents until the eleventh hour.

    Silverlake parents wanted to know how the JCCGLA’s finances could have gone so sour so quickly. According to a JCC source, the JCC uses The Federation’s own auditor, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, at The Federation’s insistence.

    David Djivre, a member of the JCC board for 27 years, defended the actions and intentions of JCCGLA and Federation administrators from the podium: "I have the history that no one in this room has. I did not personally know of the deficit. This deficit was accrued over a long, long period of time."

    "I give [JCCGLA administrators] a lot of credit for saying, Look, we recognize there’s a problem," Fishel added. "We’re all trying to find a solution together."

    "We have a bankruptcy lawyer" to sort out the JCC’s finances, added Randy Myer, JCCGLA’s board vice president.

    At present, there is no ongoing official investigation into JCCGLA’s fiscal history, but Giladi promised the members that "we’re going to need to look back" and determine factors "after we get through this crisis in the next couple of weeks." She added that children’s care programming would absolutely continue through the end of June and that weekly meetings would be held with Silverlake-Los Feliz Center Director Ruthie Shavit, who replaced Pamela Boro a few weeks ago.

    Fishel assured members that all facilities would absolutely remain open until the end of June, and urged parents to devise their own "creative solutions." "I would encourage this group over the next seven months to sit down and look at its options. Don’t wait until June before engaging us in this discussion. There’s obviously a lot of brain power in this room. If there is the will on the part of the people tonight to look how to organize as a grass-roots body and take control of the facility, why not? You have nothing to lose!"

    "The fact that we’re out here to communicate with all of you is a sign that we want to keep the dialogue going," Fishel continued. "Let’s keep the lines open. Let’s see where this goes."

    Reacting to the news, JCC parents and supporters have already undertaken efforts to deal with the crisis.

    Former Federation Planning and Allocations research coordinator Pini Herman, now a principal of Phillips and Herman Demographic Research, started a Web site (www.savethejcc.org) on Dec. 1 to inform, galvanize and consolidate efforts. At press time, an ad-hoc meeting for concerned JCC members was scheduled for Dec. 5 at the Westside JCC as a result of the flood of e-mails Herman’s site received.

    "There have been discussions for people to help. Maybe they’ll be some incredible angels to come along," said Giladi, in an effort to assuage upset Silverlake parents.

    Giladi and Fishel explained that the situation is grave, and that JCCGLA needed The Federation to step in to secure a loan against the agency’s security assets. Those assets, the centers themselves, will likely be sold off in order to raise the money to pay off JCCGLA’s debt.

    Emotions ran high among members, many of whom felt as if they had been left in the dark by JCCGLA administration and shut out of the troubleshooting process.

    "By mortgaging our building, you mortgage on our entire future. We could’ve become involved in this a long time ago," said a mother, drawing enthusiastic applause from the audience.

    "They wait until the last minute to discuss this with us," said another parent.

    "We’re sorry you if you feel that you were excluded from the process," Giladi said. The audience volleyed back a chorus of "We were!"

    The advisory meetings were the latest round in what appears to be an ongoing communication gulf between JCCGLA’s central board and its constituents. Last year, JCC members clashed with executives over the Westside JCC’s administration, poor facilities and slow-moving building renovation process. This past summer, parents from Silverlake-Los Feliz JCC and Bay Cities JCC tried but failed to revive after-school care at their respective centers after being surprised with notice that the program would be terminated come September.

    At the Silverlake-Los Feliz meeting, Giladi mentioned that JCCGLA’s woes were the product of years of "mismanagement" that preceded her term as the organization’s executive vice president. However, Fishel downplayed this aspect.

    "It’s not mismanagement when a group of people with good Jewish values are trying to assure the viability of services in a rapidly changing community," Fishel said, adding that The Federation has an "obligation" to try and rescue the JCC system, "but I’m a very pragmatic person and I realize that the JCC’s have spent the last 10 years trying to play catch-up."

    A parent asked whether The Federation could waive JCCGLA’s $3 million debt.

    "I wish I could," said Fishel, who went on to explain that The Federation "can not dip into the limited corpus" of moneys reserved to fund agencies and social services, such as Jewish Family Service and Jewish Vocational Service, for the 2002 calendar year. Adding to The Federation’s woes are a number of other factors — its ongoing goal to raise another $5 million to complete this year’s campaign goal, recent lay-offs and tightening of resources in the aftermath of a post-Sept. 11 slowing economy (see sidebar).

    Giladi and Fishel were reluctant to detail the causes of JCCGLA’s crisis, which, by their account unraveled in mid-October when officials discovered that JCCGLA was operating in the red on a $1.8 million deficit. That number has since swelled to $3 million.

    "This is a very sad situation," Fishel said. "I don’t have any answer."

    This comment did not satisfy members, who wanted to know what led to the financial fiasco and why they weren’t notified of it when it was developing.

    "It’s very complicated," Fishel told the audience.

    "It’s not complicated," shouted out an audience member. "Just tell us."

    Giladi insisted that the situation came as a complete surprise, to which parents began shouting out, "Why?"

    Giladi alluded to problems created by "the chief financial officer of 22 years." Insiders told The Journal that Gayle Floyd, JCCGLA’s former CFO, was fired last month in the wake of the financial revelations. Both Federation spokesman Craig Prizant and JCCGLA crisis consultant David Novak said officials could not openly discuss Floyd because of legal issues surrounding her departure.

    "We were surprised that only in October we found the position it’s in," said Giladi.

    With the help of their post-Floyd hire, crisis management consultant Roni Fischer, Giladi said that "we will now get our books in order where they know dollar for dollar what’s happening. Our agency knows very well what money is coming in and what our expenses will be."

    It was Fischer who determined a $180,000 shortfall for the month of November.

    "It is probably true that a long time ago the JCC board should have recognized that the decrease in allocations each year could no longer support the services," Fishel said, citing "the last year and a half" as particularly problematic for the agency. In nonprofit organizations such as the JCC and The Federation, lay board members are charged with ultimate responsibility for fiduciary oversight.

    Some JCC members present at Silverlake-Los Feliz and other meetings charged that the latest developments are part of a larger, long-in-the-works agenda to use moneys reaped from the sale of the centers to apply toward other means, such as a proposed $40 million Brentwood facility.

    Silverlake-Los Feliz parents pointed out that about a year and a half ago, the JCCGLA’s central board began stripping away at the participatory powers of individual centers.

    At the Westside JCC advisory meeting, Fishel responded to this suspicion: "No properties have been purchased in Brentwood or anywhere else, for that matter."Both Fishel and Federation Chairman Todd Morgan have stated that plans for the Brentwood facility were shelved several months ago because of the sluggish economy.

    The Silverlake-Los Feliz members, which included lawyers and business people, had no shortage of troubleshooting ideas. One audience member suggested turning to The Federation’s philanthropic arm, Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Los Angeles, for financial assistance. Fishel explained, "It isn’t their money. They just hold it and invest it."

    Supporters at Silverlake-Los Feliz and Westside also came armed with Internal Revenue Service documents detailing the six-figure salaries of top JCC officials. Giladi said she offered to take a salary cut as part of the restructuring.

    But it is unclear that the restructuring will leave Giladi with any position at all. "You have to give that woman a lot of credit," one insider said. "She’s basically stepping up to the plate, dealing with these long-term problems, and she’s probably restructuring herself out of a job."

    Holding his baby in his arms, John Carogozian blasted the Silverlake-Los Feliz panel for closing down the centers. He accused administrators of throwing out the baby of Jewish continuity with the bath water: "For many secular Jews, this is the only opportunity they have to be exposed to Jewish life. We may not see it in one year, or five years, but 10 or 15 years from now, that’s when you’ll all see the mistake of what I’ve been hearing all evening."

    Towards the end of the Silverlake-Los Feliz meeting, Layne Murphy, former Silverlake-Los Feliz board’s vice president of membership, urged the panel "to be open with numbers of our community during this critical crisis or else it will engender an enormous amount of hostility if the community is not involved."

    The tension, dismay and outrage among JCC membership that pervaded the Silverlake-Los Feliz JCC was evident at every facility on the panel’s advisory tour, including the packed house at the Westside JCC’s advisory meeting on Wednesday morning, where center-users lined up with questions to pitch at Giladi, Fishel, and JCCGLA board members Michael Kaminsky and incoming JCC/GLA President Marty Jannol. Addressing the question regarding the status of donations that were earmarked for Westside JCC’s building campaign, Giladi replied that JCCGLA would examine the direction of the $4 million in pledges and $1 million in capital, amassed over a two-and-a-half year period toward the renovation of the now impermanent center, once the current crisis was sorted out. According to Westside JCC members present, there was absolutely no reference to the status of the building campaign or related donations in the JCCGLA cover letter informing parents of the current crisis.

    Fishel added that attorneys were currently looking into whether or not the Westside Jewish Center Apartments, a complex for seniors, would be part of the property used as JCCGLA collateral.

    Giladi and Fishel invited Westside members to raise money toward preserving their center, which many members interpreted as a hollow gesture.

    "We need a commitment that you’re not going to sell this building as collateral," Westside parent Amy Raff replied.

    "You can’t go and sell our building underneath us," another Westside JCC mother cried.

    "This is a horrible, painful experience," Giladi said. "It’s taking a terrific toll on all of us. It is incumbent upon all of us to make sure the JCC is a fiscally viable agency. It’s our responsibility to the community."

    Flourish, Not Fail


    The financial crisis facing Jewish Community Center (JCC) programs and locations this week will come as an awful shock to tens of thousands of area Jews, and it should (see story, page 14).

    JCC officials and Federation lay leaders and staff stress there is no cause for panic. They believe they can work out a way to save the majority of JCC programs and locations. (The Federation is the largest donor to the JCC system.) But there is no question that without immediate community response, the JCC system faces severe cutbacks.

    Other organizations have already offered to step in and help those immigrants, seniors, children and others who would be most affected by cutbacks. And JCC supporters are working to make sure that what looked like inevitable closure last week can be avoidable by next.

    The writing has been on the wall for some time now: years of accumulating deficits have led to a series of controversies over JCC closures of centers and services from Santa Monica to mid-Wilshire. "Maybe they should have sold the Westside J," an insider told me. "Maybe they should have sold Silverlake. But they always deferred the tough decisions."

    What seems clear even now is that the JCC’s present executive director, Nina Lieberman-Giladi, has done a magnificent and largely thankless job since taking over the helm last year. Giladi inherited the accumulated financial woes — and errors — going back a dozen or more years. The hot potato of debt landed in her lap. Credit her with at least not passing it on.

    That the JCCs of the second largest Jewish population in the Diaspora face this crisis raises serious questions about this community’s present priorities and future possibilities.

    The centers were incorporated in Los Angeles in 1932. After World War II, Judge Irvin Stalmaster provided the lay leadership to establish the centers as a strong, autonomous institution.

    "My dad cared so much about the centers," the judge’s son, Lynn Stalmaster, told me from his home in Santa Fe, N.M. Stalmaster, who went on to create a premiere film industry casting agency, remembered how his father devoted almost every evening to nurturing the center. "He felt the community needed places to parti-cipate in Jewish life other than the synagogue," said Stalmaster.

    Stalmaster and the activists, staff workers and donors who followed him shared a vision of JCCs as a place where Jewish Americans could be Americanized, and, later, where American Jews could be Judaized. That is, the centers provided generations of immigrants with a familiar foothold in American society. These days, they provide generations of Americans with a way to reconnect with their Jewishness.

    JCCs are as important and as effective today as they ever were. In San Jose, Boston, New Orleans, Orange County and elsewhere, communities are spending millions investing in state-of-the-art Jewish center facilities.

    What about in Los Angeles? A Federation-funded study based on the 1997 Los Angeles Jewish Population Study revealed that, while only 11 percent of households belong to a Jewish Community Center, an estimated 133,000 households reported contact with a Jewish Center in the course of a year.

    Visiting the Westside JCC — as I do about twice each week — provides a clue as to why centers work, even if the system that supports them is broken. On a given afternoon, moms and dads are picking up kids from swim practice, seniors are kibitzing in the activities room, men wearing kippot are playing basketball alongside men whose only connection to Jewish life is the weekly pick-up game. Centers are the gathering place of the great swath of Jewry, religious and nonreligious, male and female, young, old, somewhat wealthy and downright poor. How can we call for Jewish unity but not support the system that physically makes it possible?

    Do we really want our children and grandchildren to grow up in an L.A. Jewish community that has more Holocaust museums and memorials than Jewish Community Centers?

    This crisis need not leave the JCC in ruins. As the L.A. Jewish community has shifted and changed, centers have changed with it. In 1952, there was a bitter fight over closing a JCC in the West Adams section near downtown, as most Jews had moved west. But the JCC moved west, and grew as L.A. Jewry did.

    This crisis too is an opportunity for more growth and change. But for that to happen, JCC and Federation leaders have got to show creativity and leadership. Centers provide a spawning ground for Jewish identity, which in turn strengthens every Jewish institution here. "This is a time to get everyone around the table — Marvin Hier, Uri Herscher, every rabbi, everyone — and figure out how to save the centers. Are those calls even going out?" said someone close to the process.

    On Tuesday, I called Herscher, founder and president of the Skirball Cultural Center, and told him what was happening at the JCCs. "I feel like I’ve just been told someone has died when I wasn’t even told he was sick," he told me. "Are we so divided as a community we can’t ask one another for help? I wouldn’t say no."

    When he immigrated to America, Herscher had relied on the centers in Cincinnati and San Jose. "They embrace a lot of people," he said of JCC.

    We should extend that embrace into the future: a vision of a new, state-of-the-art center, such as the one outgoing Federation Chairman Todd Morgan has promoted, is a place to start. Add to it the brilliant redesign of the Westside JCC that members there have been struggling to bring into fruition. Add to that other visions, along with better financial oversight and better outreach, and there can be a renewed dedication to a system that deserves to flourish, not fail.

    Power to the People


    During the early years of the 20th century, a jour-nalist, Lincoln Steffens, published a series of exposés that were eventually turned into the book “The Shame of the Cities.” It was a sensational work of non-fiction, but it was also quite depressing. Steffens uncovered corruption from the top on down in one city after another across America. It was a portrait of how American democracy was not working, and it did not inspire much confidence in our urban future.

    The mayor, the judges, the police, the city’s new business leaders, and the ward bosses who controlled a city’s political machine at the turn of the century all formed something akin to an interlocking directorate. Their purpose: To ensure that the city government ran smoothly, that those in power retained power, and that enough money was distributed to keep everyone happy — and more than a few people quite wealthy.

    When reformers asserted themselves and were able to sweep the city clean of the party bosses and the ruling elite, the story rarely had a happy ending. Within four or eight years, the corruption had taken hold once again. A new system, sometimes with the same faces, sometimes with new ones, was back in charge running the city in the old way, but with some new refinements. Business as usual, only with a modern, updated twist. Who said there was no progress? The question arose: Were human beings — at least those who were wealthy and successful — just plain rotten, or was the system itself so open to manipulation and rule by a clever, protected group of men that it was all but impregnable?

    This is no history lesson, though it should be added that 100 years ago Jews in those “shameful” cities could be numbered among the have-nots. Today in Los Angeles (and elsewhere), we are counted as part of the ruling elite. We are a dominant minority on the City Council, in the legal profession and within the judiciary. We are also well represented in financial and corporate L.A.

    The mayor himself is not Jewish, but he owes his election in some measure to financial and electoral support from our community. It is only within the police force itself that we might be seen as underrepresented. Perhaps that accounts for the relative silence within the Jewish community over the Rampart Division police scandal. It is not that Jews themselves are especially involved, so much as that we identify with the “haves” who helped lay out the goals nine years ago for the present system, which apparently has gone so far awry. Now the challenge for us is to reform our city, albeit in ways that sidestep the dangers that took hold during Steffens’ day. And, yes, there are actions we can take that should produce change.

    When Mayor Riordan swept into office in 1993, he and the City Council and the then police chief identified gang rule as inimical to the welfare of Los Angeles. They made a concerted effort to sweep gangs from our city streets. Who could object to that? Not us, even though most of our neighborhoods were gang-free. Not the Latino community, which found itself forced to choose between gang or police rule.

    And so we watched as the system took hold, with some (definitely not all) police, prosecutors and judges enforcing what they saw as a mandate. Get rid of the gangs, through legal or extralegal methods. It was the end that was important, not the means. It was like watching an old Western, with the town hiring a gunslinger to rid it of an oppressive group of outlaws; or vigilantes taking the law into their own hands. We had only to turn to our own history and romantic myths to understand what we were about.

    In the process, L.A.’s gang members, their friends and associates all became the enemy; in some cases, for good reason. They were dehumanized, targeted, perceived as an insurgent force that had to be eliminated by whatever tactics were available. And, not surprisingly, some police took on the coloration of a corrupt gang themselves — only they were in control and wearing badges.

    Along the way (and also over the years) the police established a culture of silence, protecting one another against an enemy world outside. That world consists not only of gangs, but of bureaucrats, journalists, and us, the citizens they are protecting. What an irony: They are representatives of our government, operate on our behalf and in our name, and we are part of their problem.

    Not too many of us know gang members or even have friends who live in those neighborhoods. After all, we no longer identify with the have-nots, and the geography of our city enforces a rigid separation of classes and ethnic groups. When an acquaintance is affected, we often rationalize the experience away as an aberration. I know of a photographer in L.A. who covered the gangs in the city for a number of journals. He did not portray them as villains, nor did he demonize them.

    When the police broke into a party where the gang was celebrating, he was present. And recognized. According to his description, the police began to taunt him as they destroyed his equipment and beat him savagely. He has not recovered from the experience. Well, someone I know said, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. True. But of course next time it could be someone else; and the time after that maybe a party that was closer to home. No one is immune to the fist of unchecked power.

    Irecite this tale not in the voice of the public interest. There is no such thing as the public interest, only our own special (competing) interests and views. My interest is in seeing that the police, the prosecutor’s office, the judiciary and the mayor are all accountable to us. And that we have authority to replace them with dispatch when they overstep their authority. That’s my (selfish) interest. Maybe some atavistic memory is at work here, and I am simply recalling the Cossacks riding into my great-grandfather’s village outside Kiev.

    Does this mean I want the gangs to ride roughshod over Pico-Union and other neighborhoods? Definitely not. Does this mean I believe gang members are the product of poverty, dysfunctional families and poor education? Young men without hope who therefore need to be excused for their criminal excesses? No, again. It seems to me possible to prosecute lawbreakers and to lean on gang members without shooting them, abusing them and faking criminal charges. That road leads to our own corruption, our own criminality, even though we may run this city.

    Can we do anything? Most certainly. We need to figure out what we want and use our political smarts (and our power) to achieve our goals. I personally would like to see an independent commission step in and look at the entire criminal justice system; I want a commission beholden to no one, and not linked directly or informally to an old-boy network that runs the city. You may disagree.

    I also want to single out all the responsible players and apply pressure. The mayor, not up for re-election, values his good name. We all know people in our community who are friends of Mayor Riordan. We can urge them to impress on him that his reputation is at stake.

    Six members of the City Council out of 14 voted for an independent commission to examine the actions of the police and the criminal court system. We need two more votes. Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, recommended to a forum convened by the Progressive Jewish Alliance last week that we apply pressure on Council members Ruth Galanter and Mike Hernandez, neither one of whom voted for an independent commission. I’m for that; and for threatening politely to help turn them out of office if they don’t support my cause.

    We — on this newspaper and at the L.A. Times and the L.A. Weekly — have been delinquent as well. We have failed to identify the judges and prosecuting attorneys who have played a leading role in this scandal. We need to “out” them before the next election; failing that, we can at least lay out the facts so that their role is public knowledge; in short, so that their neighbors and associates under-stand who they are and what they have done or failed to do.

    I have more suggestions, but no more space. I never was a fan of the Black Panthers, but I loved their slogan: “Power to the people.” Even when the people are part of the establishment, just like us. — Gene Lichtenstein

    Starting Up


    When a 30-something British financial investment manager took a few years off to study Jewish texts in Israel, he was struck by the differences between the financial and Jewish communal worlds.

    “In the private sector, at the moment, committed young people with good ideas can find backing relatively easily, while in the Jewish world I see tremendous idealism and great creative thinking, but often tremendous obstacles to getting projects under way,” Nigel Savage said.

    With funds from the Nash Family Foundation, Savage created Hazon, a fledgling New York-based organization that cultivates new Jewish projects, particularly ones that may have difficulty attracting funding from traditional sources.

    Among the first projects: a cross-country bike ride to promote interest in Judaism and the environment, and a program to train female Torah scribes.

    Savage wants Hazon, which means “vision” in Hebrew, to serve as a “venture-capital house for Jewish ideas.”

    “Twentysomethings with a great idea don’t walk into Goldman Sachs, which isn’t really organized to help them,” he explained. “They go into a venture-capital house which nurtures them along the beginnings of their project and then, as it were, hands them over to Goldman Sachs when they’re at a different stage of organizational development.”

    It’s the Jewish version of the venture philanthropy trend that is shaping the American nonprofit scene.

    Applying the principles and techniques that have made Internet startups and other new companies so successful in recent years, a handful of foundations and young, affluent Jews are using money and know-how gained from the business world to create new Jewish initiatives.

    They are placing special emphasis on empowering young people, whether as philanthropists, activists or beneficiaries of the new programs.

    Martin Kaminer, 33, a New Yorker who heads an Internet distance-learning company, is working with the Jewish Education Service of North America and the United Jewish Communities to create a Manhattan incubator for people starting new projects benefiting the Jewish community.

    Similarly, Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Walter and Elise Haas Foundation are joining forces to launch a national fellows program that will provide mentoring, support and $30,000 stipends for eight “social entrepreneur” Jews in their 20’s and 30’s.

    The new efforts are even changing the language of philanthropy. Donors are called “partners,” grants are “investments” and the goal is not charity, but “social return.” But the differences are more than semantic: The new philanthropists are emphasizing training and mentorship just as much as dollars. And they are not afraid to take risks.

    “This is an experiment,” said Kaminer, describing his incubator project, which will provide office space, computers, mentoring and training workshops to six people for two-year stints.

    “By the time they emerge, some projects will be self-sufficient, some will be part of other organizations and some won’t work out.”

    Brian Gaines, executive director of The Joshua Ventura fellowship program and himself a former Ben & Jerry’s franchise owner, echoed that approach.

    “If even one out of the eight becomes the next Makor or the next great program that connects with people in some way, then I think we would have been successful,” he said, referring to a recently opened Manhattan cultural center that serves unaffiliated young Jews and is funded primarily by mega-donor Michael Steinhardt.

    “Some people may say at the end, ‘My idea isn’t going to work, but I’m going to take what I learned here and apply it to B’nai B’rith or some other existing organization and make a difference there,’ ” Gaines said. “It’s about empowering people.”

    The venture-philanthropy style differs dramatically from the more cautious and deliberative centralized Jewish federation approach of allocating campaign funds to established agencies and implementing new projects only after appointing task forces to study the situation.

    “No committees were involved. This is not the result of a study calling for new organizations,” said Kaminer, of his incubator. “We’re learning as we go along.”

    Nonetheless, many of the new projects enjoy close relationships with federations. The incubator falls under the auspices of UJC and JESNA, two national Jewish organizations funded primarily by the federation system, and Kaminer is hoping participants learn from — and are able to influence — their hosts.

    “If you’re in the incubator because you have an idea for a fantastic program about college-age kids, I want you to figure out who on the UJC floor controls the money for that and get their attention,” he said.

    A handful of federations are creating their own venture philanthropy groups.

    In 1998, the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Washington formed the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund, a group of 35 people — primarily local business executives in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s — who each invested $10,000 toward new projects. The beneficiaries of the first funding cycle — in the areas of Jewish renaissance, social services and overseas needs — will be announced in the coming weeks.

    One of the founding partners, 38-year-old Melanie Sturm, described the funds raised as “risk capital” and the potential beneficiaries as “new and innovative projects that would be more risky but could have more impact” than existing programs funded through the federation.

    “Younger people want to be more involved in directing their giving,” explained Sturm, an investment banker who says she — and many of the other partners — are newcomers to the federation world. “We thought this would be a response to that and an interesting experiment.”

    Despite resistance from the “old guard,” who were fearful that the effort would undermine the federation’s annual campaign, Sturm said the project has attracted many people who had never made large gifts to federations before. As a safeguard of sorts, partners are required to contribute at least $5,000 to the annual campaign in addition to the $10,000 investment.

    UJA-Federation of New York recently launched a similar venture philanthropy fund, and a number of federations around the country are talking about starting them.

    But some worry that venture philanthropy’s focus on what’s new and different — while attractive to young donors — could endanger existing agencies whose services are essential, albeit not glamorous.

    “Creating new programs is intriguing and it’s interesting, but then somebody has to pay for turning on the lights in the synagogue and for hiring the professionals at the JCC,” said Gary Tobin, the president of the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research and author of a recent study on Jewish family foundations.

    Joel Carp, the senior vice president of Chicago’s federation, agreed, but said that it is possible to persuade donors to support nuts-and-bolts services, too.

    “I suspect that for some people the thought of only participating in keeping Jewish communal services going — paying bills for stuff that’s very basic — is not seen as dramatic or sexy,” he said. “But I spend a lot of time taking donors and prospective donors to see the services we provide and it’s extremely rare when you put donors in front of the people who we take care of that they’re not deeply touched by what they see.”

    According to Washington’s Sturm, venture philanthropy will not replace federation campaigns that “are the best at raising low-risk money for sustaining basic needs and services.”

    “Federations, if they are smart, will try to adapt and do both,” Sturm said.