Poor, Darfur Lose in Budget, Israel Gains


Jewish agencies around the country could have to ante up tens of millions of dollars in the next five years, thanks to a year-end budget package approved by Congress.

That assessment from a top Jewish activist here could be just the tip of the fiscal iceberg, as activists try to figure out exactly what was in the massive budget bill and how it will be implemented.

Last month, the Senate passed its version of the budget reconciliation bill by the narrowest of margins, with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote. The measure aims to trim $40 billion from the gigantic federal budget deficit over five years through cuts in a wide range of programs, but lawmakers scaled back reductions that had generated the strongest opposition, including reductions in the Food Stamps program.

Jewish groups, led by the United Jewish Communities (UJC), were particularly concerned about changes in Medicaid rules intended to slow the growth in the entitlement program.

Despite their efforts, the final bill includes a number of provisions that could cost Jewish agencies dearly. Included among them: changes to regulations governing transfer of assets by potential recipients to both relatives and charitable institutions.

Jewish health agencies would be forced to make up the difference when Medicaid benefits for some recipients are cut because of the tighter rules, said William Daroff, UJC Washington representative. The change could also “disincentivize charitable giving” by the elderly, he said.

UJC also expressed concerns about increased co-payments for Medicaid recipients, something that could have a “profoundly negative impact on millions of destitute Medicaid recipients who would have greater difficulty accessing necessary health services,” Daroff wrote in a memo to Jewish agencies.

Congressional analysts say the massive bill — 770 pages of fine print that even many congressional leaders had not read when it was passed at 6:15 a.m. — will cut Medicare benefits, as well.

While warning that the full impact of the measure cannot be measured until regulations for implementing it are drawn, “we’re worried about the impact it will have on our agencies, as well as on the elderly and indigent population,” Daroff said, adding that “it’s going to cost a lot.”

Because of a legislative technicality, the House must vote again on the measure this month. Some groups, like the AARP, will use that to try to overturn the whole bill. However, Daroff said that congressional rules mandate an up-or-down vote on the entire bill, not selective modification, which will make reversing the cuts an uphill fight.

UJC, he said, will wait to see if there is a groundswell of opposition before deciding on a course of action: “If it’s a tilting at windmills exercise with no real possibility of having an impact, we may decide to save our strength and try to correct parts of the bill we see as most egregious after the fact. [We] have a limited amount of political capital.”

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) was blunter. The group called the budget measure “a heartbreaking end to a year in which so many Americans struggling with poverty have been repeatedly wronged and abandoned by those in whom their trust was placed.”

In a statement, the group cited cuts in funds for child-support enforcement and student aid and said the elimination of cuts to Food Stamps after a national uproar was “small consolation.”

The RAC and other liberal groups argued that far from reducing the deficit, the overall Republican spending plan — with tax cuts of more than $90 billion, which Congress will take up in the next few months — will just add to the red ink, while cutting services for the needy.

Israel Up; Darfur Down

Amid the last-minute budget-cutting frenzy, there was some good news for Israel: Congress approved $600 million for U.S.-Israeli cooperative military ventures as part of a big defense spending bill.

Lawmakers — perhaps with an eye on the 2006 midterm elections and the pro-Israel political action committees that are deciding which candidates to help when doling out dollars in this year’s election cycle — added more than $150 million to the administration’s funding request.

The appropriation included $133 million more for Israel’s Arrow anti-missile program, an Israeli military project with extensive U.S. funding. The measure also includes $10 million to study new technologies for short-range missile defense — a special concern for Israel, surrounded by hostile and increasingly well-equipped neighbors. That includes Iran, which recently acquired 12 long-range cruise missiles, according to Israeli officials.

The appropriation was hailed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which argued that enhanced U.S.-Israel military cooperation contributes to the security of both countries.

At the same time, some Jewish groups are lamenting something Congress left out of the military spending bill: $50 million to support African Union peacekeeping efforts in genocide-ravaged Sudan. Several Jewish groups lobbied for the funding, which the administration initially supported but then spurned.

The money was meant to bolster and expand the 7,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force in the Darfur region, which most analysts say is woefully inadequate in the face of genocide sanctioned by the Khartoum government.

“The lack of serious funding for addressing the crisis in Darfur is a disgrace,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the RAC. “Both Congress and the administration talk a good game about addressing the crisis, but then, when given a chance to do something concrete, they fail to do so.”

The administration may still find money for the program by tapping other appropriations, but the lack of congressional action undercuts U.S. demands for other countries to support Darfur relief, several activists said.

 

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help


 

At 6:30 p.m. on a chilly Wednesday night in December, more than 30 young Jewish professionals gathered on the corner of Sycamore Avenue and Romaine Street in West Hollywood to feed homeless people waiting in line for a hot meal.

There on behalf of the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, the volunteers looked with surprise at the growing line of nearly 200 people waiting for food — a sight already familiar to Jennifer Chadorchi, the young Persian Jewish woman who had single-handedly recruited the evening’s volunteers.

“The turnout of volunteers was amazing that night,” said Chadorchi, who regularly organizes volunteer groups for the Coalition. “It makes me feel so great to share the experience of helping others by bringing them in to volunteer.”

For the last eight years, Chadorchi, a Beverly Hills resident in her 20s, has become a rare jewel in the Persian Jewish community, quietly mobilizing a small army of friends, family members and local students to respond to the plight of the homeless in Los Angeles.

“Her compassion and her actions are contagious,” said Lida Tabibian, a volunteer recruited by Chadorchi. “She not only changes thousands of lives, but she’s also inspiring a whole generation to be leaders for this cause.”

Chadorchi’s journey in aiding the homeless began when she was 16, when, on a rainy night while driving in her brand-new car, she spotted Coalition volunteers serving food to the homeless.

“What caught my eye was the long line of these people just standing in the pouring rain with only newspapers over their heads,” Chadorchi said. “It didn’t seem fair to me that I had so much and they had nothing, so I decided I had to help.” Since 1987, coalition volunteers have been handing out excess food donated by Los Angeles area hotels, restaurants, grocery stores and caterers. In 2000, the coalition joined forces with UCLA medical students, who offer medical aid to sick, homeless individuals gathering at the street corner.

Chadorchi’s efforts also have included raising funds for the coalition, and she has organized clothing drives in her Beverly Hills neighborhood. She was also instrumental in organizing Project Feed, a campaign allowing Beverly Hills school district students to donate food and time to the coalition in exchange for school credit.

“She has had a tremendous impact on our organization. What she did was build a bridge between our group and Beverly Hills, especially the Iranian Jewish community,” said Ted Landreth, one of the coalition’s founders. “Without her I doubt we could have made these important connections.”

Those familiar with Chadorchi’s volunteer efforts said they wished she would enter the public sector and work with local government officials to help alleviate Los Angeles County’s difficulties with the homeless.

“I’ve known Jennifer since she was a junior at Beverly Hills High School. I think she is one of the most dedicated, incredible and passionate young people out there,” said former U.S. presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. “The people working out there [L.A. city officials] are doing alright, but if she was in charge of the homeless problem in Los Angeles County, I promise you’d see some real changes.”

Chadorchi said she is frequently approached by Jews in the community who question her for helping a non-Jewish cause like the coalition.

“It is our duty as Jews to heal the world one person at a time — tikkun olam,” Chadorchi said. “I’m here to let people out there know that one person can really make a difference.”

Individuals interested in joining Chadorchi’s efforts can contact her at (310) 288-0090.

Jennifer Chadorchi

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A Local Witness to Darfur Tragedy


John Fishel has seen hell, and he wants to share his impressions with the Jewish community.

The president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles recently visited refugee camps in the African country of Chad to bear witness to the pain and suffering of more than 250,000 victims of genocide from neighboring Sudan. During the five-day, mid-October trip, Fishel, along with four other American Jewish leaders, watched doctors, relief workers and others help the refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region begin the long, difficult process of putting shattered lives back together.

Fishel said he was stuck by the physical isolation of the refugee camps and the refugees’ abject poverty. Fishel also wondered where all the grown men were. The answer: Many had fallen victim to the atrocities. And then there were the children. Fishel, a social worker by training, said he worries about the long-term effects on children who witness all the murder, rape and destruction wrought by a Sudanese government-backed militia known as the Janjaweed.

A primary goal of the trip was to lay the groundwork for Fishel and his colleagues to speak out loudly to their constituents. Fishel was accompanied by Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS); Rabbi Rick Jacobs of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y.; Rabbi David Stern of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas; and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism.

In an Oct. 27 teleconference call with community leaders who went to Africa, Fishel said he plans to raise awareness in the local Jewish community: “Having had this first-hand experience to visit the region and see the work on the ground, I’d like to go out and meet with opinion leaders in our community and give them my personal impressions about what’s going on and why it’s our obligation to get involved.”

Coming on the heels of Asia’s devastating tsunami and the Gulf Coast’s Hurricane Katrina, Fishel said he realizes many Jews, like other Americans, might feel tapped out and suffer from donor fatigue. Still, Fishel said, the historical experience of the Jews makes them likely to respond to humanitarian appeals once they learn about the horrors in Sudan.

“As a people who were victims of the worst genocide of the 20th century, the Holocaust, we do have an obligation to speak out when we see a genocide happening anywhere in the world,” Fishel said.

A more assertive response from the U.S. government also would help, Messinger said. She urged Jews and Jewish groups to lobby the government to increase humanitarian aid and also to better support African Union troops who are trying to restore order in Darfur. Messinger’s organization, the AJWS, which sponsored the trip, dedicates itself to alleviating poverty, hunger and disease around the world.

“Genocide is only stopped when people are indignant, organized at the grass-roots level and urging government to intervene,” she said.

AJWS has raised and distributed $700,000 for projects in Darfur and Chad, with much of the money going to support international relief agencies. In addition to the refugees in Chad, nearly 2 million displaced persons remain in Sudan. Refugees in both countries need better medical care, more food and assistance in the reunification of their families.

“The bottom line is … the Jewish community needs to do more,” Jacobs said.

 

The Circuit


In the Pink

Lladró, the world-famous Spanish House of Porcelain, joined forces with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation at a private reception at the Rodeo Drive Gallery recently to launch the new Lladró Pink Collection. A portion of the proceeds went to the foundation. Stephanie Medina Rodriguez, director of public affairs for KCBS-TV and KCAL-TV, was honored for her ongoing commitment to the organization. (From left) Lladró USA President Juan Vicente Lladró, Rodriguez and Linda Briskman, mayor of Beverly Hills. Photo by James Louis

Help for the Hungry

MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger provided a total of $305,000 in grants to 15 organizations working to provide relief for those affected by Hurricane Katrina. The grants span Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana and support programs that offer food services to the victims of the storm.

Grant recipients include the Greater Baton Rouge Federation of Churches and Synagogues, Baton Rouge, La., $15,000; and Jacob’s Ladder: A Relief Project of the Union for Reform Judaism, Utica, Miss., $10,000.

“MAZON is an expression of the American Jewish community’s belief that all of us, regardless of faith, are part of the same human community,” MAZON President H. Eric Schockman, said. “During this time of great need, MAZON’s 100,000 supporters have responded in great numbers, enabling MAZON to provide critical relief to the region.”

Since 1986, MAZON has granted nearly $36 million in support of anti-hunger programs and advocacy working to end hunger and supply aid to needy families throughout the United States, Israel and other countries.

Donations to MAZON for relief efforts can be made at www.mazon.org. or by calling (310) 442-0020.

Beary Nice

As part of her bat mitzvah community service project, Nicole Sabolic, 12, of Northridge led friends and family members on a teddy bear drive to neighborhood homes and stores to receive donations of money and stuffed animals as a way to brighten the day of Providence Holy Cross patients. Sabolic and 10 of her family members and friends handed out the teddy bears to the patients at the medical center.

Return of the Scrolls

When the Topanga Canyon Fire entered Las Virgenes Canyon on Thursday, Sept. 29, and began moving toward Congregation Or Ami, Rabbi Paul Kipnes acted quickly and removed the synagogue’s three Torah scrolls to his home.

By that evening, the Calabasas congregation on Mureau Road was included in the mandatory evacuation. Once fire crews successfully contained the area the next day, Kipness and Cantor Doug Cotler led a procession of congregants to ceremoniously return the sacred Torah scrolls to the ark before the start of Shabbat services.

Music for Daniel

Each year, a festival of music fills the earth around Oct. 10, Daniel Pearl’s birthday, to celebrate his life and promote tolerance and “harmony for humanity.”

“Music Days is a musical protest against the hatred that took Danny’s life, in which musicians and audience together reaffirm their commitment to sanity and humanity,” said his father, Judea Pearl. “As the music blends with hundreds of voices from all over the world, people are empowered with the awareness of who they are, and what they stand for in a world gone mad.”

Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in 2002 in Pakistan. A classically trained violinist, an avid fiddler and mandolin player, he used his passion for music to form friendships across language barriers and cultural divides. His participation in musical groups in every community in which he lived, left behind a legacy of musician-friends around the globe.

Daniel Pearl Music Days uses the power of music to promote cross-cultural understanding and reaffirm a global commitment to humanity.

“Music Days carry special significance in Jewish communities, for they portray Jews as active seekers of peace and dialogue, in a spirit of a Jewish American journalist who earned respect on both sides of the East/West divide,” Judea Pearl said.

One such event, the American Youth Symphony’s performance of Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, Resurrection, was held in Royce Hall UCLA last week.

Over 35 countries are involved and approximately 200 concerts are performed as part of the series.

Pearl said he would like to see more participation in the future from the Arab and Muslim communities. This year Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and Pakistan were involved.

For more information about Daniel Pearl Music Days, visit www.music-days.org.