Terror Victims Help Other Survivors

Yaffa Elharar, from Afula in northern Israel, has spent days outside a courtroom in the summer heat of Tampa, Fla., holding a photo of an attractive teenage girl and a sign proclaiming “The Blood of Our Children Calls for Justice.”

Elharar is in the United States as a possible witness in the ongoing trial of Sami Al-Arian, accused of heading a Florida support group for Palestinian terrorists.

The photo is of her daughter, Maya, killed in 1994 at age 18, when a suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden car into a bus stop crowded with students.

Convicting accused terrorists is one part of Elharar’s mission, which began with her daughter’s death. The other, more central effort is helping the survivors of terror attacks and their families. To that end, Yaffa and her husband, Michel, set up the Organization of Victims of Terror in Israel in 1994, a few months after their family tragedy.

The couple recently stopped in Los Angeles to help launch a local branch of the nonprofit organization.

Another group that does similar work in the United States and Europe is One Family. That organization has distributed $13 million to some 2,500 families. It, too, is now setting up an office in Los Angeles.

Other groups focus on special needs, such as psychological aid for traumatized persons or working with parents who have lost children. The Maccabi World Union has launched Project Tikva to help rehabilitate terror victims through sports. Among the participants is Olympic swimming great Mark Spitz.

One of the main fundraisers, the Fund for Terror Victims, has distributed $18 million to nearly 3,000 families over the last four years. But this effort, which is part of the Jewish Agency for Israel, will shut down in December. Organizers cite a drop in terrorist bombings.

For the two groups set to open offices in Los Angeles, however, the need remains pressing.

Since the beginning of the second intifada on Sept. 9, 2000 to the present, a total of 1,063 Israeli civilians and soldiers have been killed and 7,376 injured in terrorist attacks, according to the official count by the Israel Defense Forces.

These figures, extrapolated to the population of the United States, would be the equivalent of the U.S. suffering close to 400,000 casualties from terrorist attacks.

One goal of the victim-aid groups has been to spread awareness of the suffering of families through national memorial services and centers.

“We found that the acts of the perpetrators were on the front page, and the names of the victims on the back page,” Yaffa Elharar said.

Her husband, who retired to devote himself full time to the organization, oversees free legal consultations, vocational training and cultural and social activities. The nonprofit also assists orphans in celebrating bar mitzvahs and widows with the weddings of their children.

The Elharars’ daughter died while trying to shield a 13-year-old girl. She was among eight killed and 52 wounded in the attack.

In Israel, the National Insurance Institute and the Jewish Agency have been providing basic living and rehabilitation allotments for wounded civilians and for stricken families.

What was lacking, said Yaffa Elharar, was adequate person-to-person emotional and psychological support for both the injured and their families.

The East Coast director of One Family knows firsthand about her clients’


Sarri Singer, the daughter of New Jersey state Sen. Robert Singer, was working in Jerusalem two years ago and riding on a No. 14 bus, when a terrorist, disguised as a pious Jew, came aboard. He blew himself up, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100.

It wasn’t Sarri’s first encounter with terror. On Sept. 11, she was working in New York at the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, when the two hijacked planes plowed into the World Trade Center, only two blocks from her office.

While recuperating from shrapnel wounds received during the bus bombing, she started volunteering at the One Family office in Israel, and last year assumed her present American post. One Family was founded and is headed by Marc Belzberg of the philanthropic Belzberg family of Vancouver and Los Angeles. Among the organization’s main projects for victim families are camps for kids, retreats for parents, Big Brother and Big Sister programs, an orphan fund and a Simcha Fund for weddings.

“We are dealing, among other concerns, with 826 kids who lost a mother or father to terror, and 28 youths who have lost both parents,” Belzberg said.

Belzberg is troubled by the decision of the decision of the Jewish Agency to discontinue its fund for victims. The result is likely to mean heavier responsibilities for private groups like his, he said.

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For terror-victim aid groups setting up in Los Angeles:

•Organization of Victims of Terror in Israel (www.terror.co.il). Local contact is Raphael Ortasse (RAYSPACE@aol.com).

•One Family, contact Bari Holtzman (bari@onefamilyfund.org)

Other support organizations listed by the Israeli government and other sources, include:

•Almagor Terror Victims Association (www.terrorvictims.com)

•NAVAH (www.navah.org.il)

•ZAKA (www.zakausa.org)

•All4Israel (www.all4israel.org)

•Project Tikvah (contact Simone@maccabiah17.com)


Jewish Giving is Still Looking Good

When the stock market entered bear territory last month, individual investors weren’t the only ones taking note. The continued softening of the market can also have a major effect on nonprofit organizations, many of which have benefited greatly from an exceptional run during the past five years.

While it’s still too early to tell how the recent changes will affect Jewish nonprofits in Los Angeles, fundraisers at some of the city’s largest philanthropic organizations say they’re not worried yet.

The Jewish Federation’s annual United Jewish Fund campaign is "off to its best start in seven years," according to William S. Bernstein, Federation’s executive vice president for financial resource development. He said giving has already increased 15 percent, and the campaign reached the $26-million mark — more then half its goal — a month and a half earlier than it did last year.

Not suffering either is the American Jewish Committee (AJC). "We are right on schedule," said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, Western regional director of the AJC. The organization is "raising about the same as last year, which was our best year ever — over $2 million in Los Angeles," he said.

Likewise, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is having a "banner year," with 100 new synagogues having joined its Passover campaign, said H. Eric Schockman, MAZON’s new executive director. Organizations that emphasize planned giving — like the American Society for Technion–Israel Institute of Technology and the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles — say they are also performing strongly this year.

One factor making these Jewish organizations hopeful is that the last several years weren’t just good, they were very good. During the three years from the start of 1997 to the end of 1999, the nation’s largest charities experienced double-digit percentage increases in giving, according to a September 2000 report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

"There’s been huge growth in private foundations that give to Jewish causes," said Evan Mendelson, executive director of the Jewish Funders Network, an organization that brings together Jewish donors across the country to collaborate on their giving. In 1998, she said, there were 3,000 U.S. private foundations that gave to Jewish causes, and today there are 5,000, and that doesn’t even count the supporting foundations and donor-advised funds that are run by individual Federations and community foundations. The accumulated assets of these funds topped $6.2 billion in 1998, although the percentage given to Jewish organizations varies.

"There is a tremendous amount of new money that’s secured into foundations," said the AJC’s Greenebaum. "They may not be making the same interest rate that they were … but those foundations will be giving in perpetuity."

A February survey in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, however, found that nearly half the country’s largest foundations expected giving to remain flat in 2001. Slightly more said their assets shrank over the last year. In Los Angeles, it’s too early to predict what will happen to the local foundations, the stock market and the economy overall, said Marvin I. Schotland, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation, a $325-million endowment that helps Jewish donors with tax and estate planning and philanthropic giving. What he and other leaders say is that during times of financial uncertainty, people give more strategically; they think about which organizations are best equipped to fulfill the passions they believe in.

"Passions and commitments don’t come and go based on economic circumstances," Schotland said. "They’re based on what you feel deep down in your heart or your gut. Economic circumstances merely allow you to fulfill those commitments."

Schockman agrees that donors are more selective when the economy sags. But he points to the tradition of tzedakah and says that, when it comes to giving, "Jews behave differently…. If the economy bottoms out, Jews will still give. I think they will give to organizations they feel comfortable with, who have good track records, whose administrative overheads are within guidelines of nonprofit management and who they trust." Most leaders agree that a nonprofit’s best protection against an economic downturn is planning, a clearly defined mission and a good track record. A large endowment doesn’t hurt, either.

"The next couple of years are going to be challenging for charitable organizations," Schotland said. "The better-run organizations and those whose missions resonate will come through the process more easily and with less trauma than those that are not."

"It’s a little like the pharaoh’s dream — there are the fat cows and the skinny cows. Part of fundraising is to do as well as you can in good years and as well as you can in the not-so-good years," said Greenebaum of the AJC. "I think people are not convinced that the economy is, long-term, so unhealthy that it has completely altered how people are giving right now. Many, many, many people are vastly better off than they were 10 years ago, so they may still be giving at a higher rate."

The Federation’s Bernstein agrees. "Although the economy and market have declined somewhat in the last year, the accumulated wealth of the community … still leaves contributors with significant flexibility in terms of how they wish to spend their charitable dollars," he said.

While a large amount of money has been created, it would be a mistake to believe that everyone has benefited. "There’s 31 million people who go to bed hungry every day, and 12 million of them are children," said Schockman. "Stock market or no stock market, there’s an epidemic out there of hungry people. We have not seen a diminution, even in the good times."

While tzedakah inspires giving, so do tax deductions. One tax of concern to fundraisers is the estate tax, sometimes called the death tax, which enables people to reduce the taxable value of their assets when they die by leaving a portion of it to charities. The tax encouraged the creation of many major foundations, such as Hughes, Mellon, Ford, and MacArthur.

If the Bush administration eliminates the estate tax, nonprofits stand to lose a large incentive for giving. Like the economy, the future of the estate tax remains an unknown. But a cause that speaks to donors’ hearts and checkbooks is the best protection against the hazards of both.

"The longer you’ve been involved with a cause, then the stronger you feel about it," said Diane Siegel, executive director, Western region, of the American Society for Technion. "It becomes part of your life and something you want to do, regardless of tax benefits."


Off to a Super Start

I spent the day after Super Bowl Sunday at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which has wasted no time kicking off the new millennium with a helping hand. The Special Projects unit of Federation’s Real Estate and Construction Division recently presented the key to a new donated van to Gateways Beit T’Shuvah.

At the United Jewish Fund’s (UJF) cabinet meeting, 2001 campaign chair Michael Koss and campaign director Lee Rosenblum laid out a busy fundraising calendar for 2001, which will include a donors mission in May to Poland and Israel.

Larry Tishkoff, executive director of the Israel Aliyah Center, spoke about the kibbutz volunteer programs available through his Federation-based organization. And Super Sunday chair Glenn Gottlieb opened his remarks this way: “Yesterday was just a football game. Feb. 25 is Super Sunday.”

Super Sunday — the Federation’s annual community drive that includes phone-a-thon pledge solicitations — netted more than $5 million last year. That’s 10 percent of last year’s entire fundraising campaign. Twenty percent of that total, it was reported, came from the Women’s Division’s efforts.

The highlight of the cabinet meeting was the firsthand accounts from people who have benefited directly from Federation aid. An emotional Ronna Sundy and her adopted daughter, Christina Wright, thanked Federation for helping them after Wright lost her family to AIDS (see Naomi Pfefferman’s Oct. 6 article “Family Matters” at our online archive at www.jewishjournal.com). The Federation’s burial program assisted with funeral arrangements, the Jewish Free Loan Association provided low-interest financial assistance, and an orthodontist in the community even donated free braces for Wright. A Federation program also made it possible for Wright to visit Israel.

“Israel gave me a sense of history and spirituality that I was missing,” said Wright, who is Jewish but was not raised with any sense of her Jewish identity.

Charming the room with her winning Russian accent was 20-year-old Victoria Gendel, whom Federation also helped connect with her Jewish heritage. Raised in Russia, Gendel had no idea that she was even Jewish until her family received a phone call from a JAFI Youth Camp. Gendel asked her parents why a Jewish camp would be interested in her. That’s when her parents — who had concealed their background out of fear of discrimination — informed her, matter-of-factly, “‘Because you’re Jewish.'”

“That’s good to know,” said Gendel, recalling her deadpan response, which drew big laughs. Gendel, who now lives and studies in Israel, has since helped her parents make aliyah.

Elias Inbram — an Ethiopian Jew studying business at Ben Gurion-University on a Jewish Agency Student Scholarship — proved equally engaging. The 28-year-old Inbram opened, “Shalom, It’s good to see you after 2,000 years.”

Inbram recounted his tortured journey, at age 8, among the caravan of Jewish Ethiopians who, under the cover of night, walked from Ethiopia to neighboring Sudan and escaped, via Operation Moses, to Israel.

Terri Smooke — Gov. Gray Davis’s liaison who will chair an upcoming Women’s Division dinner — spoke for many when she commended the guests for their strength in the face of adversity and thanked them for sharing their incredible stories.

Also presented at the UJF meeting were the latest advances of The Federation’s technological capabilities, which will include comprehensive e-learning and e-training. Thanks to Federation Web master Sara Kocher and system architect Jacob Shavit, the Federation’s Web site now includes nine videos, boasting some very fluid streaming.

Earlier that morning, Federation exercised its exciting new technology with a live link-up to Israel. The broadcast, the third such videoconference, brought Ha’aretz reporter Zev Schiff into 6505’s conference room for a three-way conversation with the Federation’s Valley offices. The exchange allowed Federation brass and staff to ask Schiff questions on current Middle East affairs, discussing peace negotiations, Jonathan Pollard and this week’s elections. Chief information officer Robert Haberman, along with Shavit, helmed the videoconference.

Craig Prizant, Federation’s newly installed senior vice president of marketing and communications, told the Circuit that the videoconferences may go monthly. Another conference, featuring Tel Aviv University Prof. Tamar Herman, is slated for Feb. 7 and will focus on post-election analysis.

Through Super Sunday and generous grants, such as the $95,000 Anheuser Busch contributed, Federation intends to continue helping people locally, in Israel and in 58 other countries with its humanitarian and social service programs.

Youth Movement

Usually, adults are depended on to be role models (Johnny Knoxville notwithstanding). However, here are some examples of our community’s youth leading the way… About 350 members of Young Judaea, the Zionist youth movement sponsored by Hadassah, converged on the Capitol in Austin, Texas, to rally solidarity behind Israel…. Meanwhile, LAUSD seventh-graders convened at the University of Judaism for the Fifth Annual Prejudice Awareness Summit on Feb. 5…. And the children of Kadima Hebrew Academy in Woodland Hills will commemorate the 100th day of school by doing 100 acts of kindness, raising money for Make A Wish Foundation and Camp Simcha. The theme: children helping children.

Keepin’ It Legal…And Regal!

Here are some pix from the law community fundraisers we recently reported on: “The Liberal & Conservative Perspectives” panel on the Supreme Court decision that made George W. Bush the victor in the 2000 presidential election, sponsored by Federation’s Legal Services Division, and Bet Tzedek’s annual dinner.

The King of All Media Circuses

Last Tuesday, the Circuit managed to sneak in a couple of questions to the self-proclaimed King of All Media about his Jewish identity. Howard Stern — who was in town from New York for a weeklong West Coast broadcast at E! Entertainment’s studios — held a “press conference” on his show, where the Circuit was positioned between KTLA Morning News reporters Sam Rubin and Sharon Tay and a flamboyant Odyssey magazine columnist in glam metal drag. The Circuit asked the controversial shock jock to clarify whether he was half-Jewish, as he’s often claimed on the air, or full-Jewish, as reported in Israeli interviews. We facetiously inquired: If he were the latter, on behalf of Jewish people everywhere, would he consider converting to another religion? Stern responded by chanting his Bar Mitzvah Haftorah.

Evidently, security was so tight that even longtime Stern devotee Melrose Larry Green was shut out from the proceedings. Standing outside the building with a large sign, Green said he wasn’t complaining like Jessica Hahn, who had telephoned Rubin to complain about feeling slighted for not being invited to Stern’s Playboy Mansion broadcast.

“Howard’s a great guy,” said Green, who believed that Stern and his wife Alison will reunite. Then Green, who is on the official ballot of this year’s mayoral race, leaned in, somewhat confidentially, to answer one of the questions he had heard the Circuit pose on the air.

“I’ve got news for you,” said Green, somewhat confidentially. “Howard’s all Jewish.”

Until Stuttering John becomes a panelist on the McLaughlin Group, I am…Michael Aushenker

The televised version of Howard Stern’s show that featured this press conference will air during the week of Feb. 19 on E! Check your local listings for air times.