Jewish organizations petition U.S. gov’t on food justice

In a petition sponsored by seven national Jewish organizations, 18,000 individuals urged the U.S. House of Representatives and the Obama administration to focus on food justice in the upcoming Farm Bill.

The petition, which has been circulating since October, was delivered on Thursday to coincide with the House Agriculture Committee’s markup of the Farm Bill in the coming weeks.

A coalition of Jewish organizations called the Jewish Farm Bill Working Group sponsored the petition. The coalition includes the American Jewish World Service, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, Hazon, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Union for Reform Judaism.

Abby Leibman, president and CEO of MAZON, noted in a statement that the Farm Bill authorization process, which occurs every five years, gives the Jewish community “a chance to reexamine our national priorities with regard to food.”

“The Farm Bill governs the kinds and levels of assistance we provide to hungry people, helps regulate what crops are planted, establishes whether sustainable farming and conservation practices will be implemented, and influences whether our food is healthy and affordable,” Leibman said. “Each and every one of us has a stake in the Farm Bill.”

Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service, added that the outpouring of support for the petition was a sign of the bill’s importance to the Jewish community.

“It has been evident through the petition that our constituents understand how critical it is that the United States work to enact policies that pursue long-term approaches to eradicating hunger. We cannot wait any longer,” Messinger said in the statement.

Community Briefs

Hier, Pope Talk at Vatican

During a private audience at the Vatican, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center urged Pope Benedict XVI last week to lead a “coalition of the good” against international terrorism and threats from Iran.

The pope did not respond directly to the plea by Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Center’s founding dean, but asserted that “Christians and Jews can do much to enable coming generations to live in harmony and respect.”

He also expressed the hope that “this century will see our world emerge from the web of conflict and violence, and sow the seeds of for a future of reconciliation, justice and peace,” according to the Vatican news service.

For his part, Hier said in a phone call from Rome, “It is my belief, that the pontiff will make his mark in standing up to terrorism. I am also certain that he wants to strengthen relations with the Jewish people.”

The delegation included 40 trustees and other lay leaders of the Wiesenthal Center from across the United States, and the pope made a point to speak to each individually. He also blessed rosary beads brought by some delegates for Catholic friends back home. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Weiss Fine Lowered

The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission has lowered a fine against City Councilman Jack Weiss from $25,200 to $4,800 for violations during his 2001 campaign for the Fifth District council seat.

Weiss whose Westside district stretches from Pico-Robertson to Sherman Oaks, appealed the larger fine, which led to a non-binding independent review. Administrative Law Judge Timothy Thomas wrote that the size of the original penalty would do, “little public good,” and that it could not be proven that Weiss intended to deceive voters.

Weiss’ campaign had failed to file numerous campaign mailers with the commission and failed to report some campaign expenses, the commission said.

The four-member panel voted 3-1 this month for the lowered fine, with the dissenting vote from commission member and retired Los Angeles Times journalist Bill Boyarsky.

“I thought that it was a serious offense,” said Boyarsky, who’s also a contributing columnist to The Journal. “The purpose of the law is to create a central file where anyone can see these mailers before the election. And not filing them is a violation of an important law.”

Also speaking against the lowered fines was retired state senator Tom Hayden, whom Weiss defeated in that campaign by 359 votes.

Weiss, a former federal prosecutor, declined to comment. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Grants Help ‘Food Insecure’

The Jewish anti-hunger group MAZON is distributing more than $266,000 in grants to 28 hunger relief agencies throughout California to combat what MAZON officials call, “food insecure households.”

MAZON’s fall grant cycle comes in the wake of the West Los Angeles-based group’s extensive work with Hurricane Katrina relief agencies. The hurricane effort led to a rise in donations targeted for hurricane victims. But MAZON’s latest grants focus on pressing needs in this state.

“People give to MAZON because they realize that hunger is a major problem facing children and adults across this country,” said Rabbi Arnold Rachlis, the MAZON board vice-chair and leader of University Synagogue in Irvine.

“The problem is getting worse rather than better as the safety next for the poor gets shredded,” Rachlis said. “And people understand that children can’t learn in school if they can’t have breakfast.”

Grant recipients include Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles and Northern California’s Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center ($5,000 each); the St. Joseph Center food bank in Venice ($15,000); the Westside Food Bank ($8,000). The legal aid group Public Counsel received $22,000 for its homelessness-prevention project, and the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness received $16,000. — DF

Temple Speaker Angers Muslims

A local Islamic activist group has complained about a controversial Yom Kippur speaker at the Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills.

The California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has objected to the temple hosting author Robert Spencer, author of the nonfiction bestseller “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)” (Regnery, 2005).

Spencer was one of three afternoon speakers who followed the main Yom Kippur speech by U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at the old Wilshire Theater, which the temple bought and is converting to its permanent home.

A Nov. 8 CAIR press release focused not on Spencer’s speech but his Web site,, and comments on that site’s unmonitored forums, which were not made by Spencer.

Temple of the Arts Rabbi David Baron defended the invitation.

“We do tend to bring in controversial authors to discuss their findings,” Baron said. “Nowhere did he ever call to … kill or harm or maim any Muslim. I never would allow that. Our intent was to take an honest, sober look at extremist elements that need to be marginalized.”

But Spencer’s mere presence at Baron’s synagogue condoned “Islamophobia,” said Hussam Ayloush, CAIR’s Anaheim-based regional executive director: “It’s almost like, how would the Jewish community [react] if a mosque invites David Duke to come and talk about Judaism?”

Baron, in turn, said he was surprised that the CAIR Web site had not posted any condemnation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent comment that Israel ought to be “wiped off the map.”

“I find that very troubling,” said Baron, who added that he is willing to host a Muslim speaker.

Ayloush told The Journal that the comments of the Iranian president were “not acceptable,” but he also criticized Baron for linking the issues, saying, “That is a lame excuse.” — DF