High percentage of Romanian teens reject Jews, Roma, gays, Muslim as neighbors


One third of Romanian teenagers would be opposed to living next to Jewish neighbors according to a poll that found even higher levels of prejudice directed at Roma, Muslims and gays.

Three quarters of respondents said they did not want gays living next door, according to the poll, reported Friday by Associated Press and carried out last November.

Two thirds rejected being neighbors with Roma and AIDS sufferers, while 42 percent rejected Muslim neighbors and 34 percent rejected Jewish neighbors.

The poll, commissioned by the Soros Foundation, questioned 5,680 students between the ages of 14 and 18 and has a margin of error of 2 percent.

Czech politician quits over gay, Jewish comments


From WashingtonPost.com:

Derogatory comments by the Czech Republic’s former prime minister about Jews, gays and the Catholic Church led Thursday to his resignation as chairman of his conservative political party.

Mirek Topolanek had been under strong pressure from within his Civic Democratic Party to step down following the comments to the editorial staff of the gay magazine Lui. He announced last week that he would not lead his party’s campaign in a May 28-29 election or run as a candidate.

Topolanek’s were made came during an informal conversation with editorial staff of the magazine and were not meant for publication. A video of the meeting was leaked to other media, however.

Read the full article at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/01/AR2010040102047.html

Olmert to meet Mubarak; Israel Gets Secular Rabbis


Olmert, Mubarak to Meet

Aides of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he is scheduled to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak next week at the Red Sea port of Sharm el-Sheik. Mubarak has played a key mediating role in efforts to retrieve Cpl. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held hostage in the Gaza Strip. Olmert recently held his first formal peace summit with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and visited Amman for talks with Jordanian King Abdullah II, spurring speculation that a new peace initiative is in the works.

Livni: We Seek Peace With Syria

Tzipi Livni said Israel considers peace with Syria a strategic goal. The Israeli foreign minister said Tuesday that Jerusalem must heed recent peace overtures from Damascus, but only after ascertaining that they’re sincere.

“Israel’s strategic objective is peace with Syria, but the discussion is purely tactical at the moment,” Livni told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. “We must assess whether the Syrians want to get into negotiations just for the sake of negotiations, or whether they are interested in achieving peace.”

Israel’s Mossad spy service has warned that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s offers to open new talks with Jerusalem are a bid to distract from Western scrutiny Syria’s support for Arab terrorist groups. Israel’s military intelligence, however, has said Assad could be sincere, and that Syria would enter peace talks if this helps it recover the Golan Heights.

Israel Gets Secular Rabbis

The Tmura Institute, a group lobbying for religious pluralism in the Jewish state, this month certified seven men and two women to conduct weddings, and bar and bat mitzvahs for Israelis who reject Orthodox practice. The nine underwent three years of training in Judaism but profess no spiritual convictions. Since they will not require couples they marry to prove that they are Jewish, the weddings will not be recognized by the state. But Tmura said its achievement was more a matter of symbolism.

“We simply want to serve the majority of the Jewish people, which is not religious. We are not committed to religious principles, we are committed to pluralism,” professor Yaacov Malkin, one of the program’s leaders, told Ma’ariv.

Israel Plans New Settlement

Israel is building a new West Bank settlement to house former Gaza Strip settlers. The Defense Ministry announced Tuesday that it was converting Makiot, a former military base in the northern Jordan Valley, into a settlement with homes for 30 families who were evacuated from Gaza last year. Former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz had initiated the project. Construction is to begin next month. Most of the 8,000 former Gaza settlers have chosen to live in Israel, rather than in the West Bank.

Israel’s Economy on the Rise

Based on a survey by The Economist, Globes reported that Israel rose 12 places to become the world’s 36th largest economy.

The survey graded nations’ economies in 2001-05, as compared with 1980-84, and ranked economies on the basis of their five-year average GDP in current dollars.

Some of the biggest climbers were in Asia: Singapore rose 20 places to No. 39, Taiwan rose 14 places to No. 18 and both South Korea and Hong Kong rose 12 places to Nos. 11 and 30, respectively. Iran fell 16 places to 33, and Saudi Arabia dropped from 15th place to 22nd.

Federation Bookkeeper Admits Embezzlement

A former bookkeeper for the Jewish Federation of Ventura County pleaded guilty to embezzlement. Susan Abrams said this week that she had stolen about $30,000 from the federation from 1998-2001. She faces sentencing Feb. 1, when she also is expected to pay restitution. She faces up to a year in prison.

New ADL Regional Leader Breaks Ground

Kevin O’Grady, a national expert in gay and lesbian issues and a longtime educator, has been named interim director at the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Orange County/Long Beach regional office.

O’Grady, formerly the ADL’s associate director, replaces Rick Shapiro, who resigned after only five weeks on the job for undisclosed reasons. O’Grady’s position is expected to become permanent in the near future.

“I think the work we do is incredibly important, and to have the opportunity to lead that mission is an honor,” said O’Grady, who is believed to be the first gay person to head an ADL regional office.O’Grady, 40, said he plans to work closely with law enforcement agencies to combat hate crimes, anti-Semitism and extremist groups and to expand the ADL’s presence in Long Beach. He came to the ADL three years ago after a 15-year career in education in Hawaii and California, where he received a Ph.D. in education from USC. He is a native of Brighton, England.

— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Similar Goals Unite Faith-Based Agencies

At a conference held last week at Loyola Marymount University, Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith-based social service agencies were urged to better coordinate their services and to work more closely with government agencies. Titled “Government and Faith-Based Communities: Working Together to Build a Civil Society,” the event was co-sponsored by Loyola Marymount University, Claremont Graduate University and the Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for the Western United States.

Dr. Amy Gross of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles and Jewish Family of the Conejo, Simi and West Valley columnist, Yasser Aman of the UMMA Community Clinic and Rita Chavez of the Dolores Mission described the services their organizations provide in their own communities. Citing the impressive response of faith-based organizations to major crises such as Hurricane Katrina, the Rev. Leonard Jackson, senior adviser to the mayor of Los Angeles, asked “why does it take a disaster to pull us together?”

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism, gave a lucid explanation of tikkun olam and the Jewish tradition that requires Jews care for all.

“Judaism is a put up or shut up religion” he said. “We are required to act, not just to pay lip service.”

Better late than never, Theodor Herzl, children reunited in death; Ex-N.J. Governor McGreevey’s Isra


Theodor Herzl, Children Reunited in Death
 
Two of Theodor Herzl’s children were reinterred in Jerusalem after decades of debate. Hans and Pauline Herzl, who died in 1930 and were buried in France, were laid to final rest alongside the Zionist visionary at the cemetery that carries his name in Israel’s capital. Theodor Herzl, who launched the modern Zionist movement and wrote “The Jewish State” a few years before dying in 1904, had expressed the wish to be buried next to his children. But Israeli authorities, after reinterring Herzl himself in 1949, were reluctant to do the same for Hans and Pauline given the controversy over their deaths. Pauline died of a drug overdose in what might have been a suicide, prompting her brother to shoot himself. Hans’ conversion to Christianity shortly before his death further stoked religious opposition to his burial in Israel. But rabbis recently ruled that Hans had disavowed Christianity before dying, and that Pauline’s demise was a result of mental disturbance.
 
“Having brought in the remains of Pauline and Hans, we are completing the mission and achieving historical closure,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at the burial ceremony.
 
Ex-N.J. Governor McGreevey’s Israeli ‘Lover’ Denounces Book
 
An Israeli who was James McGreevey’s declared love interest attacked the former New Jersey governor’s memoir. McGreevey, who stepped down in 2004 after declaring he was gay, published a memoir this month titled, “The Confession.” In it, he details an affair he said he had with Golan Cipel, an Israeli whose appointment to serve as homeland security adviser in New Jersey raised eyebrows. But Cipel, who says he is straight and suffered sexual harassment by McGreevey, issued a statement attacking the book as a “pack of lies.”
 
Cipel said: “I strongly hope that the gay community rejects this obvious and shameless ploy from a man who has engaged in acts of deception, sexual violence and intimidation.”
 
Latino Jews React to Miami Radio Caricature
 
Hispanic Jews in Miami formed a group to monitor Spanish-language media for anti-Semitism. The establishment of the Hispanic Jewish Initiative comes after Jews said they were offended by Goldstein, a Jewish character on the top-rated 95.7 FM show, known in English as “The Morning Hijinks,” local media reported. A Web page, until recently linked to the show, depicts a black character, Al Jackson, with the mug shot of a man whose lips balloon from his face. In place of a photo for Goldstein is a Nazi eagle and swastika.
 
The group, created under the state chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, will monitor and address other concerns of Florida’s Spanish-speaking Jewish population.
 
Israel Unmoved by Irish Boycott Call
 
Israel’s education minister downplayed an Irish call for Israeli academics to be boycotted. In an open letter published by the Irish Times newspaper earlier this month, 61 local academics urged their country, as well as the European Union, to impose a moratorium on ties with Israeli educational institutions until Israel “ends the occupation of Palestinian territories.”
 
The letter also deplored Israel’s “aggression against the people of Lebanon” during the recent war against Hezbollah. Israel’s education minister, Yuli Tamir, said she would meet the Irish ambassador to discuss the boycott call but played down its importance.
 
“At this time, I don’t see a real danger to Israel’s academic ties, though any boycott is despicable and we have to make sure it is lifted,” she told Army Radio.
 
Four Men Charged In Norway Synagogue Attack
 
Norwegian police charged four men in the shooting attack on an Oslo synagogue. The men were initially charged with vandalism Sept. 21, but the charge was upgraded to organizing an act of terrorism, an offense punishable by up to 12 years in prison. Police said one suspect was Norwegian, and the others had different backgrounds. They declined to provide more information about the suspects. However, Norwegian news outlets have reported that one suspect was a 29-year-old Norwegian of Pakistani origin who had been held briefly in Germany in June on suspicion of planning an act of terrorism against the soccer World Cup. No one was hurt in the Sept. 17 incident.
 
Czechs on Security Alert During High Holidays
 
The Czech Republic went on high alert for a terrorist attack during the High Holidays. The government announced the alert in the early hours Saturday and said it would continue for some time, with no specifics given. Czech officials noted that the Czech alliance with the United States in its war on terror might have made it a target, but there was also media speculation that an attack was planned to coincide with Rosh Hashanah. A government spokesman reportedly hinted that the alert was connected to the arrest of four men charged with shooting at an Oslo synagogue last weekend. Norwegian authorities have said the men were plotting to blow up U.S. and Israeli embassies in other cities. Thousands of additional police are present in the streets of Prague and are particularly noticeable near Jewish sites, such as synagogues and the Jewish community headquarters.
 
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

New JTS Head Faces Trouble, Opportunity


Arnold Eisen doesn’t need to be reminded that he’s not a rabbi. It’s certainly not news to him.

The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) announced this month that Eisen, 54, the chair of Stanford University’s religious studies program, would become just the second nonrabbi to serve as the New York City seminary’s chancellor and the first since 1940. He succeeds Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, who held the post for two decades.

“I would have preferred a rabbi in this position, too,” said Eisen with a laugh. “I’ve been writing and thinking for 25 years about changes I’d like to see made, and now I have a chance to help make them.”

Eisen ascends to the helm of a Conservative movement that is hemorrhaging memberships on a congregational level and cannot, at present, reach consensus about whether to ordain openly gay and lesbian rabbis. Perhaps more than any other branch of American Judaism, the Conservatives must walk a difficult line in maintaining a coherent identity as halachic Jews in the modern world. Eisen is well aware of these quandaries and has spent a lifetime considering various solutions.

Take the pressing question of what to do about openly homosexual rabbis. Eisen offered a three-part answer.

“No. 1, this is a halachic movement, period. I want honesty and integrity in the halachic process carried through, and I would be upset if it were not. And No. 2, it’s a faculty matter. The faculty has to teach the people who are going to be ordained. So there will be a halachic decision by rabbis and there will be faculty discussion as well. Then, I voice my personal opinion about how I’d like things to turn out, and you know what that is.”

Eisen personally favors the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis, while also insisting, “I’m not qualified to decide on matters of rabbinic law. That’s one of the things that changes” with a nonrabbi at the reins of the seminary. The halachic decisions of the JTS will now fall to a yet-to-be determined rabbi or perhaps even a number of rabbis. They simply haven’t figured it out yet.

Bay Area Jewish community leaders, while intrigued by the novelty of having a nonrabbi lead a rabbinical seminary, were far more preoccupied with praising Eisen’s record over two decades as one of the nation’s foremost scholars in the field of modern Jewish thought.

Because the JTS selection committee chose to look outside the rabbinate, the Conservative seminary now has a leader who was never mired in political infighting, said professor Lee Shulman, the president of Stanford’s Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Teaching and a longtime colleague of Eisen.

Rabbi Stuart Kelman of Berkeley’s Conservative Congregation Netivot Shalom said that Eisen’s academic record indicates “that the seminary, which has consistently stood for academic excellence, will continue to do so.”

“Arnie didn’t live in [a] cloister,” added Rabbi Brian Lurie, former director of the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation. “He mixed with students and donors and is a person who understands what’s going on on the street. His research at school really gave him a very unique and strong vantage point on the American Jewish community. They didn’t give this job to some ivory tower isolated person.”

A colleague praised Eisen as a scholar with his feet firmly planted on the ground and one who has long devoted thoughtful consideration to issues of the Jewish community.

“The questions that have engaged him most as a scholar are arguably the central questions that engage Jews today,” said Steven Zipperstein, Eisen’s Stanford colleague.

Eisen’s dissertation explored the ramifications of being both Jewish and American. A subsequent book, “Galut: Modern Jewish Reflection on Homelessness and Homecoming” (Indiana University Press, 1986) explored Jewish feelings of being at home and homeless in the Diaspora.

“His concerns begin with the preoccupations of everyday Jews,” Zipperstein said.

And, as far as Eisen is concerned, too few everyday Jews are preoccupied with Torah.

“There are literally a couple of million Jews in this country who have never had Torah taught to them in a live and exciting way. They just don’t get it. They don’t get how much Jewish tradition could mean to them. So they’re turned off and disconnected, and we’ve got to reach them better,” he said. “I now have a chance to help train a lot of the people who are going to be serving them for the next generation.”

Eisen, an active congregant at Palo Alto’s Kol Emeth, can’t deny the declining synagogue rolls in the Conservative movement but insists that “the numbers for all [affiliated] Jews are down…. It’s a very strong movement, and I don’t understand the sense of malaise some people feel.”

Rather than obsess solely on wooing new members (or disenchanted old ones), Eisen said that the movement must provide more for its existing membership: “We need a better prayer experience, better schools, better adult learning and better communities. If we can do any or all of these things, we will have an improved movement.”

Conservative thinkers have, for some time, pondered how to invigorate the movement. Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood has suggested a name change to something that better reflects the direction and potential of the movement. He suggested Covenental Judaism.

Eisen disagrees with that approach: “Rather than have a name change [of the movement], I’d rather we live up to our potential.”

For his part, Wolpe has enthusiastically embraced the choice of Eisen.

Eisen’s selection to head the JTS follows a trend. Richard Joel, the former president of Hillel, took over the presidency of the Orthodox Yeshiva University in 2003; like Eisen, Joel is not a rabbi. In 2001, David Ellenson took over the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). And while Ellenson is a rabbi, he is best known for his scholarship in Jewish studies.

“That JTS needed to go to Stanford to pick their president a couple of years after HUC had to go to Los Angeles to get David Ellenson, now the myth is finally broken. The West Coast is not a backwater of the Jewish community. Indeed, it’s very likely the cutting edge of the new leadership of the Jewish community,” said Stanford’s Shulman.

Eisen, for his part, downplayed any rivalries between East Coast and West Coast Conservative Judaism, namely Los Angeles’ University of Judaism and New York’s JTS. But, as a native Philadelphian who has lived in the Bay Area for nearly 20 years, he says he could serve as a natural bridge.

He’s also not quite ready to leave the Bay Area yet, and as “chancellor designate,” he doesn’t have to assume full duties until July 2007. In the meantime, he will serve at both Stanford and the seminary. But he says he’s ready to take on the challenges, while also realizing the inherent limitations of his new mission.

“You know, I’m a pluralist,” Eisen said, “and I don’t think Judaism is the only way to be a good person and serve God. I don’t think Conservative Judaism is the only way to be a good Jew. But having said that, I’ve been a Conservative Jew all my life, and this is the path that matters most to me. And I will do all I can for it.”

This article is reprinted from the J Weekly, a Northern California publication.

Choosing Celibacy


At 16, Carl Birman started secretly to date men. At 21, he came out and plunged into a gay world of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. He joined a group called the Radical Fairies that promoted promiscuity and paganism. As for the ages between 5 and 10, he tried to bury them in the past. He did not succeed.At 39, Carl davens daily, observes the Sabbath and meditates on the ancient Temple of Jerusalem. In his struggle to reconcile the sexual abuse he says he endured during childhood with his adult quest for meaning, he has been celibate for eight years. “Given all my previous shenanigans, sins if you will, this was the only way I could move forward,” he says. “But I don’t think celibacy is the solution, unless you’re Gandhi.”

With his shaved head, thin frame and large eyes, Carl bears some resemblance to a wandering ascetic, though he works as an attorney for a nonprofit organization in Flatbush, Brooklyn. While he displays occasional flashes of wry humor, he’s a serious guy, and for good reason. He would like to meet the right man one day. For now, he’s trying to put the past to rest and advocates celibacy as a way “to help people figure out their direction in life. It’s a way to come to terms with feelings without acting on them,” he says.

Carl can divide his life in three phases.

Phase One: growing up in an upper-middle-class Reform Jewish household in Westchester, where a male member of the family stole his innocence. He told no one of the abuse. “I dissociated, though I never blocked it out completely. I became obsessed with men and interpreted that I must be gay,” he says. “I didn’t link the abuse with being gay until much later.”

Phase Two: rebelling against “warm, fuzzy, liberal Judaism” and becoming a neo-pagan. “I took paganism seriously,” he says and describes his days with the Radical Fairies as “taking gay liberation to the extreme. We were all searching for meaning and found it dancing around a fire performing pagan rituals.”For about 10 years Carl lived this way. He smoked enough marijuana to become an addict. He had relationships that turned sour. He had nightmares about his childhood and one too many moments in which he felt completely powerless over his own life. By his early 30’s, he knew he needed to leave the pagan world, where he heard plenty of anti-Semitic comments, and saw the Torah as an escape route. He gravitated toward the stories of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem, which illustrated how pagan desires can be sublimated. “My yearning to understand God was paramount,” he recalls. “I became attracted to Orthodoxy.”

Phase Three: purifying his soul and acknowledging there’s no quick fix for the dilemmas of his life. Though Carl has “drifted from a world where, if you’re not having sex, then you’re not gay,” he does not feel so comfortable in Orthodox Jewish settings. Once, he attended a panel at an Orthodox synagogue on sexual abuse and “found it appalling” when a speaker pointed a finger at the “evils” of feminism. Essentially, “it’s all been independent study,” he says of his Torah learning. “I can’t imagine sitting down with an Orthodox rabbi but I’d like to find one. I’d like to observe all 613 commandments because I feel that’s the most authentic way to be Jewish.”

Carl has a difficult time understanding some of the gay Orthodox Jews he’s met. “They have that American mentality that you can have everything, that you can be both Orthodox and gay and that it’s fabulous,” he says. “But it’s not so easy for me. That’s why I’ve chosen celibacy.”

Celibacy, however, does not belong in Phase Four, which has yet to take shape. Carl admits to “middle-class aspirations” of 2.5 kids, a house in the suburbs and a religious context for living life.He toys with moving to Israel one day, but “it’s all meaningless unless I have someone to share it with,” he says, emphasizing that this someone would also have to renounce the sexual behavior between men that Leviticus calls an abomination. “But there are other sexual practices that the Torah doesn’t mention. There are ways to work this out.”

Carl used to dream that he would meet his beloved at the Western Wall. But when he took that trip to Jerusalem, he did not find him. Carl takes that as a sign that he still has work to do. “I’m not looking for a quick fix; I’m still confused,” he admits. “But I’m trying to live a decent, honorable life. I want to help people and get the message out that abuse is rampant and can happen to anyone.”

Carl still has nightmares. Only now he wakes up, opens his siddur and recites morning prayers. “The healing process, it takes so long,” he says quietly. “But it’s imperative that I work this all out. … God will show me the way.”

More Thana Villain


When Jason Isaacs went in to audition for the Royal National Theatre’s production of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” he knew exactly what role he wanted. He insisted upon portraying the anxiety-ridden character of Louis, who is somewhat based on the life of the gay Jewish playwright.

The London producers raised their eyebrows. They had a slightly larger role in mind for Isaacs, the rising British stage and screen actor. But the thespian was not interested. “Look, I play all these tough guys and thugs and strong, complex characters,” he told the producers. “In real life, I am a cringing, neurotic Jewish mess. Can’t I for once play that onstage?”

Isaacs earned stellar reviews as Louis, but he remains best known, at least in the press, as an elegant brand of villain. He was Kurt Russell’s futuristic foil in “Soldier,” Dennis Quaid’s nemesis in “Dragonheart,” a sadistic ex-IRA terrorist in “Divorcing Jack” and a psychopathic soldier in the controversial BBC miniseries, “Civvies.”

Of late, he is all over the screen in the Revolutionary War epic, “The Patriot,” killing children in front of their parents, burning villagers alive in their churches and bludgeoning Mel Gibson in scenes of gruesome hand-to-hand combat.

His redcoated Col. Tavington is so nasty, in fact, that the British press saw red: An irate June 14 article in London’s Express, headlined “Hollywood’s Racist Lies About Britain,” railed against Tavington and other English characters as “cowardly, evil [and] sadistic,” according to Entertainment Weekly.The New York Times put it differently. “Screen evil may not have reached quite such well-spoken proportions since Ralph Fiennes delivered his career-making performance in the 1993 film “Schindler’s List,” the Times suggested of Isaacs.

During a Journal interview, the actor, who is in his late 30’s, was hardly villainous. He was witty, chatty and self-deprecating as he regaled a reporter with stories illustrating how he is not a “tough guy” but a “total wimp.”

There was the time he was flying home from visiting his parents, who now live in Israel, when the soldier in the next seat recognized him as “that bloke from ‘Civvies.'” “Oi, you were great, you were so bloody ‘ard,” the man gushed. “He was horrified, however, when I cried all the way through the in-flight film, ” ‘Mr. Holland’s Opus,’ ” the actor reveals.

Then there was Isaacs’ audition for “The Patriot,” when the producers asked him, point blank, if he knew how to ride a horse. “I said, ‘Oh, Olympic standard!’ but I lied,” he admits. “I was terrified.” And when Isaacs sobbed all the way through his first screening of “The Patriot,” his girlfriend reminded him to dry his eyes, because the lights were coming up and he was the bad guy.

“I’m a terrible coward; I’ve been hit all the time, but I’ve never hit anyone,” he says, his chatty tone turning serious. “So I think these extreme parts that I play offer some kind of therapy, some catharsis for me. Maybe one of the reasons I do them well-ish is because I was always the bullied, never the bully.” The actor pauses, then laughs. “They are my revenge.”

Watching Isaacs in “The Patriot,” swashbuckling and dapper in his red uniform, his blue eyes glittering as he slashes his saber, it’s hard to believe he became an actor, in a way, because of the residual fear of anti-Semitism he felt as a Jew in Britain.

The fear, he says, was handed down to him by his parents and by others in the closely-knit Jewish community of Liverpool, of which his Eastern European great-grandparents were founding members. The community was insular, Isaacs recalls, and young Jason attended a Jewish school and cheder twice a week. Then the family moved to London, and the anti-Semitism Isaacs had learned about in theory became a reality. There were attacks on his local synagogue and, in the late 1970s, the National Front’s racist rhetoric spurred a rash of skinhead violence in his neighborhood. “Battles ensued,” Isaacs says, “and I was occasionally involved in things that were unsavory.”

One such “battle” took place when Isaacs’ older friends decided to confront the skinheads who were harassing the Jewish children at their hangout near the local Underground station. Isaacs, then 15, was reluctant to participate but agreed to tag along. “We grabbed sticks and bricks and … suddenly these cars came screeching around the corner, and skinheads with pickaxes and chains jumped out. They chased us off, but they followed us, and when we stopped at a red light, they all ran out of this big old Jaguar with more chains. We were all yelling, ‘Drive, for f–‘s sake.’ And the boy who was driving kept saying, ‘But it’s my mother’s car!’ “

Most of the time, however, Isaacs was low-key about being Jewish. “I feel very vulnerable telling you this, because I’m an English actor and I don’t really want to see this in the English press, because it’s damaging,” he confides. “But there is the sense that Britain can be a very xenophobic country; it’s not just directed at Jews but at anybody who isn’t the perceived version of what ‘Englishness’ is.

“Of course, England is an extraordinarily multicultural society, and the notion of what’s perceived as English is a relic, a fossil,” he continues. “The result is that people are not ‘loud’ about being Jewish. They don’t stick their heads above the parapet.”

Neither did Isaacs, as he pursued his acting career. “I don’t talk about being Jewish,” he admits. On the one hand, he believes it’s important for any actor to be “as neutral a being as possible.” In “The End of the Affair,” for example, he plays a priest, and he doesn’t want viewers to be watching and thinking, “How ironic, this actor is Jewish.” Of his “Patriot” role, he says, “There were not too many Jewish officers in the British army, I suspect, in the late 1700s.”

He points out that “everyone is a ‘hyphenate’ in America, whether Jewish-American or Italian-American. … I’m not a religious person, but I’m very Jewish, and I feel a great weight off my shoulders being a Jew in Hollywood.”

While Isaacs’ parents reacted to the feelings of unwelcome by making aliyah in 1988, along with his three brothers (two subsequently returned), the actor responded in another manner.When he entered Bristol University, he says, “There were lots of very upper and upper-middle-class people with accents I had never heard before, and I felt very strange being a Jew from North London, completely out of sorts.”

Then he attended his first play rehearsal, and “I suddenly felt that my background was irrelevant, and income was irrelevant and accent was irrelevant, because there was just this ready-made family of rehearsal group. I took to it and I became totally addicted to it, and I did plays and plays and plays every term.” Onstage, Isaacs wasn’t an outsider. He felt that he belonged.

After graduating from the prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama in London, Isaacs began working in British television and, over the years, the roles kept coming.

Yet, he insists, he was shocked when he was actually hired after submitting a two-minute audition tape to “Patriot” director Roland Emmerich.

To prepare for his role, he immersed himself in research (“British schools don’t teach the Revolutionary War,” he says), and learned that the real Tavington, actually a lieutenant colonel named Banastre Tarleton, was, like himself, the third of four sons from Liverpool.

Tarleton, known as “The Butcher” or “Bloody Ban” was apparently quite a piece of work: He carried a map of the Carolinas with him, and after every victory he slightly enlarged the area he intended to claim as his property once the war was over. He also carried a tract on polygamy, having selected several of many wives he hoped to keep in the New World. Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin were receptive to Isaacs’ research and incorporated some of the information into his character.

Today, Isaacs’ Hollywood career appears to be kicking up a notch; recently he was in San Francisco to film “Sweet November,” in which he plays the drag-queen best friend of actress Charlize Theron. He dieted a bit for the role, he confides: “It’s hard enough walking in high heels up and down those San Francisco hills without bursting out of your sequined frock,” he explains.

Yet despite the steady work and the comfort level of being Jewish in Hollywood, Isaacs has no plans to move to Los Angeles. The environment is just too unstable, he suggests. “When I was here doing ‘Armageddon,’ I had the key to the kingdom, but when ‘Soldier’ came out, I felt like I had professional and social leprosy,” he recalls. “And so I continue to live in London. I just need to look in people’s eyes who’ve known me for 20 years.”

Community


Before therewas “Ellen,” Chastity Bono, Rock Hudson’s death from AIDS, or AIDSitself, there was Beth Chayim Chadashim. The year was 1972, and mostlesbians and gay men were deep in the closet. For four gay Jews whoshowed up for a rap session at Metropolitan Community Church in LosAngeles, there was no other place to seek spiritual solace. But, aswelcoming as Rev. Troy Perry was, MCC was still a Christian place ofworship. Many gay and lesbian Jews felt deeply alienated from thesynagogues in which they had grown up, but there were no shuls wherethey felt comfortable to be who they were and love who theyloved.

Supported by Perry, the four Jews decided to formtheir own synagogue and to seek affiliation with the Reform stream ofJudaism, which they felt would be the most friendly toward theircause. In this quiet way, inside a gay and lesbian church, was bornthe world’s first and oldest synagogue with outreach to the gay,lesbian and bisexual community. Next month, it will mark thecompletion of its 26th year. This Sunday, as part of its ongoingcelebration of its first quarter century, BCC will host theappearance of Rabbi Alexander Schindler at Leo Baeck Temple in LosAngeles. Schindler, president of the Union of American HebrewCongregations from 1973 to 1996, was instrumental in BCC’s gainingacceptance to the Reform movement in 1974, the first congregation oflesbians, gays and bisexuals to become part of any mainstreamreligious denomination.

Also speaking at the event Sunday (via videotape)will be Rabbi Erwin Herman, Pacific Southwest Council and newcongregations director for UAHC when BCC’s affiliation wasconsidered. Herman reached out during BCC’s early days, offering theresources of his North Hollywood offices to the fledgling synagogueand helping to secure the use of Leo Baeck Temple before BCC found apermanent location. But finding a rabbi to officiate at its firstHigh Holiday service was a problem. “Several rabbis locally turned usdown,” he recalled. “They were afraid of being misperceived as gayrabbis.” But a rabbi from Washington, D.C. agreed to conduct theservices without pay.

Securing UAHC affiliation was even more knottyproblem. “Some of the more liberal, respected rabbis within ourmovement were totally opposed to it,” Herman said. “Their attitudewas [BCC] wasn’t necessary. They said: ‘Our temple will welcomethem.'” Others took refuge in biblical text that cites homosexualityas an abomination.

BCC was ultimately admitted to full UAHCmembership in July 1974. Still, it wasn’t until 1977 that it had itsfirst permanent home at 6000 W. Pico Blvd., a modest one-storybuilding with a purple facade, where it still resides today. Notuntil 1983 did it welcome its first permanent rabbi, Janet RossMarder.

Marder, now director of UAHC’s Pacific SouthwestCouncil, said many people assumed she was a lesbian at first,although she was married and about eight months pregnant at the time.Marder, who remained at BCC until 1988, was rabbi there during theearly years of the AIDS epidemic, when each week seemed to claim thelife of another congregant. “Those were traumatic years,” she said.BCC focused its efforts in those dark days on educating the largerJewish community about AIDS through a program that later became LosAngeles Jewish AIDS Services, and continues today as part of JewishFamily Service of Los Angeles.

Much of the Jewish gay, lesbian and bisexualcommunity was closeted then, with many listed on the membershiproster only by first name and last initial. Now, says Rabbi LisaEdwards, who has led the congregation since1994, there is almost noone who isn’t “out,” at least at BCC. With new medicines, there havebeen fewer deaths from AIDS recently, but there are still many BCCmembers who are HIV-positive, the rabbi said.

Cantorial Soloist Fran Magid Chalin (left) and Rabbi LisaEdwards.

 

Edwards, slender, soft-voiced and much youngerlooking than her 46 years, grew up in a Chicago suburb and received adoctorate in English literature from the University of Iowa beforedeciding to become a rabbi. She interned at BCC while completing herstudies at Hebrew Union College and became a full-time rabbi there in1994. One of her predecessors, former BCC Rabbi Denise Eger, left toform another Reform gay, lesbian and bisexual synagogue, CongregationKol Ami, in West Hollywood in 1992.

Despite the pain and loss caused by AIDS, theatmosphere at BCC is more often one of joy and celebration ratherthan sorrow. Often close to 100 of its 270 members crowd into thesmall sanctuary for Friday night services. “There’s not a singleperson who is there because someone is dragging them,” said MarkLevine, chair of the temple’s education committee and a teacher of apopular BCC Jewish history class. “That’s why our services are veryspiritual. There’s the same kind of a feeling that there was insummer camp. People are out there actively participating.”

BCC has brought a lot of people back to Judaism,added Levine. “I can’t tell you how many people that are closetedbefore they come out almost give up their Judaism. What BCC hastaught gays and lesbians is that it’s okay to be both.”

What finally helped him bond most deeply with BCC,Levine said, was when his partner died of AIDS a few years ago. RabbiEdwards and Cantorial Soloist Fran Magid Chalin were able to help himthrough the ordeal, even attending the funeral in Chicago. At a moremainstream synagogue, the relationship between the men might havebecome an issue, but at BCC, it’s not only accepted, it’s celebrated,he said. “It’s interesting to have to go to a gay synagogue to makegay not part of the discussion.”

A BCC wedding celebration, left to right: Rabbi LarryEdwards, brides Tracy Moore and Rabbi Lisa Edwards, and Rabbi LauraGeller.

Although BCC is associated with the Reformmovement, it attracts members of all denominations — and nodenomination. Levine believes the synagogue may also have among thelargest number of Jews by choice of any synagogue in the city –probably over 20 percent. Many left the church and embraced Judaismbecause they felt they had more leeway to question in Judaism thanChristianity, he said.

Even among the gay and lesbian community, thereare still battles to fight and prejudices to overcome. As a bisexual,Chalin has encountered it from both the gay and straight communities.Now in a monogamous relationship with a man, she spent 15 yearsidentifying as a lesbian, and has made it part of her mission to makebisexuality better accepted at BCC and elsewhere.

Another contribution that Chalin has made to BCCis making the synagogue, which has always catered to adults, morewelcoming to children. Chalin, who has a 3-year-old boy, Eli, saidBCC was always proud that it was a place that people didn’t choose tobelong to simply in order to find a place for their children’s bar orbat mitzvah. With more congregants having children throughalternative insemination, adoption, previous relationships andmarriage, the synagogue is taking its first steps to create achildren’s program. Eventually, Edwards hopes there will be Hebrewschool and a bar and bat mitzvah program. “For a long time, the focusof our community was in dealing with the loss from AIDS,” Chalinsaid. “Now we’re looking at having children in our community andcaring for aging parents. We’re finally coming of age, so theseissues that affect the larger mainstream community also affectus.”

The backward glance that Rabbi Schindler plans tocast on BCC’s accomplishments this Sunday will also scan the unpavedroad ahead. “The job isn’t totally done,” he said. Homophobia remainsentrenched, even among enlightened Jews, and gay marriages are stillnot legally recognized, even if some rabbis choose to perform them.Although gays and lesbians are increasingly accepted as members ofcongregations, Schindler said, “it doesn’t go quite as far inaccepting them as youth leaders and rabbis. There, the old[homophobic] demons reappear.”

Rabbi Schindler will speak on Sunday, March 29, at7:30 p.m. at Leo Baeck Temple, 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles.The topic is “One in Every Minyan: Jewish Outreach to Gay, Lesbianand Bisexual Jews.” For information, call BCC at (213) 931-7023 ore-mail them at BCC25@aol.com.

 

The Life of the Party

Vice President Gore reaffirms theadministration’s support of Israel

By Robert Eshman, Managing Editor

From left, Vice President Al Gore, AIPAC LosAngeles chapter Chair Hentu Amis, Israel Consul General Yoram BenZeév and American Jewish Congress Los Angeles chapterPresident Barry A. Sanders

If the multicultural panel of speakers were thehonored guests at the American Jewish Committee and AIPAC’s50th-birthday party for Israel last Saturday evening, then thekeynote speaker — Vice President Al Gore — was the icing on thecake.

The event was a hybrid: part love-in for Israel,part exercise in coalition building, part political rally for the manwho aspires to be our next president. Gore himself made the lastpoint apparent when he began telling a joke about the first Jewishpresident of the Unites States. “This, obviously, takes place in2008,” he said, prefacing the joke.

For organizers, the fact that representatives ofthe African-American, Latino and Asian-American communities, as wellas elected state and local officials, turned out was testament enoughto the event’s success.

Those looking for harder news heard the vicepresident disclose details of an earlier meeting in Washington withRussian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who has just beendismissed from office by President Boris Yeltsin. The foremost topicon the agenda, according to Gore, was Russian arms sales to Iran, asubject that has worried Israel and its supporters.

Before Gore entered the room to an extendedstanding ovation, the 430 people in attendance — AIPAC and AJCmembers, state and local elected officials, and students — heardspeaker after speaker avow his or her affection for Israel andappreciation for the Jewish community.

“The black, Asian-American and Latino communitieshave always been a bedrock of support for Israel,” said CongressmanHoward Berman, in introducing three of the evening’s four mainspeakers: toy magnate Charlie Woo, president of Chinese-AmericansUnited for Self-Empowerment; Genethia Hudley-Hayes, executivedirector of the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition; and AntonioVillaraigosa, speaker of the state Assembly.

Woo praised Israel for better representingAmerican values than his own homeland, and he thanked AIPAC and AJCfor “volunteering to stick with us” when the White House fund-raisingscandals cast suspicion on the dual loyalties of Chinese-Americandonors. “They defended our rights as citizens in the Americanpolitical process.”

Woo ended his speech by quoting from the Mishneh:”At 50, you have gained the wisdom to offer counsel to others,” hesaid.

Hayes, who had traveled to Israel on anAJC-sponsored trip last year, said that the country derives “strengththrough diversity,” just as Los Angeles does. She recounted meetingswith Ethiopian Jewish children, then referred obliquely to theproblems within Israeli society. “I remember how their faces mirroredmy face,” she said. “A democratic Israeli state is theirpassion.”

Villaraigosa spoke more personally of growing upin a mixed Latino-Jewish neighborhood of City Terrace andexperiencing the kindness of Jewish neighbors. The son of immigrants,raised by a single mother, Villaraigosa said that his AJC-sponsoredvisit to Israel in November 1997 reaffirmed his belief in “thevindication of the indomitable spirit.”

Reflecting on all the speaker’s comments later,AJC-Los Angeles chapter President Barry Sanders said theydemonstrated that “support for Israel is not just from Jewish people;it’s across the board.”

Gore, for one, didn’t need to be won over. Praisedby former national AIPAC Chair Larry Weinberg as a lifelong supporterof Israel, Gore appeared to be among friends, employing the kind ofbackpats, hugs, asides and self-deprecating humor that have become aClinton trademark.

He drew applause for pledging continuedadministration support for the peace process, but the supportiveaudience withheld initial applause when Gore, prompted by a commentfrom Weinberg, lauded the administration’s achievement in gettingChernomyrdin to commit to ending arms sales to Iran. “These peoplearen’t pushovers,” said an AIPAC official. “They want to hear aboutverification and timelines and conditions.”

Gore was on firmer ground in recounting hisattachment to Israel. Using intermittently flawless Hebrew, he quotedbiblical scripture, poet Chaim Bialik and Hebrew prayers, praisingIsrael as a “story of redemption and freedom for all oppressed peopleeverywhere.”


Education

Town Hall Meeting

Parents gather to discuss the issuesconfronting Los Angeles’ public schools>

By Beverly Gray, Education Editor

What about the public schools? With increasingnumbers of Jewish parents opting out of the public school system, theJewish community, whose support for public education is legendary,has tended to shift focus to Jewish and nonsectarian privateschools.

But last Sunday, March 22, a Federation-sponsoredEducation Town Hall brought the issues of public education backbefore the community.

More than 160 parents and educators of allethnicities gathered at Roscomare Road Elementary School to questiontop administrators, ranging from Ruben Zacarias, superintendent ofthe Los Angeles Unified School District, to a representative fromMayor Riordan’s office, to several widely respected public schoolprincipals.

The kickoff was a rousing call-to-arms by DelaineEastin, state superintendent of public instruction, who had a readyanswer for those in our state who say they can’t be worried about theschooling of other people’s children. Said Eastin, withcharacteristic fervor: “Think about that next time you’re on anairplane. This country runs on other people’s children.”

Eastin left quickly — to catch a plane –outraging one woman in the audience who wanted immediate comments ona long list of educational trouble spots. Her rant — “I want to hearabout Compton! I want to hear about the Unz Initiative!” — attractedsome sympathetic nods of agreement.

In later sessions, political issues such as thecontroversial Unz Initiative — which sets stringent limits oneducation in a child’s native language — resurfaced. But mostparents seemed more interested in the specific problems facing theirown children. A young mother asked about the procedure for enrollinghe
r children in magnet programs. The grandmother of a child withcerebral palsy brought up issues related to special ed.

Although debate in the four sessions on topicsranging from “20 Choices in Public Education” to “Life AfterElementary School” was polite, discussion in the hallways sometimesgrew heated. An angry former teacher who now heads the Coalition toSave the Children could be heard telling anyone who’d listen, “Godhimself couldn’t teach with 40 kids and no books.” And there was atelling moment when two attendees stood face to face, one demanding,”What about the teachers?” and the other insisting, “What about theparents?’

Parents found in the Town Hall a rare opportunityto attach faces to the names behind the huge public schoolbureaucracy. Loren Grossman, a Venice mom currently busing her twosons to a highly gifted magnet in Mission Hills, lobbied educationofficials for her own pet project: the creation of a Westside HighlyGifted Center. “I met all the people I’ve been sending letters to forthe last year,” said Grossman.

Though the event was sponsored by the Commissionon Urban Affairs of the Federation’s Jewish Community RelationsCouncil, there was nothing particularly Jewish about the Town Hall’sagenda. In the past, said Helen Katz, chair of the JCRC’s Task Forceon Education, task force events have been directed at Jewish parentswho are trying to make informed choices for their sons and daughters.This time around, the focus was on the needs of the school-agepopulation as a whole. “It’s important for Jewish parents to get theperspective of the other people in the community,” Katz said.

The Wonder Years

Early childhood educators are those heroic soulswho wipe noses, soothe hurt feelings, clean up paint spills, andmanage to perch gracefully on pint-sized chairs. But their hiddenagenda lies in introducing Jewish values and culture to their youngcharges. It’s a tall order.

That’s why the Bureau of Jewish Education sponsorsan annual conference at which early childhood educators can hear new,creative ideas, delve into the latest academic research, andgenerally recharge their batteries. This year’s Early ChildhoodSpring Institute, held on Monday, March 16, at Valley Beth Shalom,drew some 850 teachers from the 65 BJE-affiliated preschools in thegreater Los Angeles area. Surprise — many educators discoveredsimilar experiences and questions when it comes to working with smallchildren.

For some 50 teachers, the conference highlight wasa discussion session led by Dr. Ellyn Gersh Lerner of Temple Emanuel,who outlined the special issues faced by “Parent and Me” teachers.The overflow crowd freely chimed in on such pressing topics as how toeducate parents while keeping their toddlers amused, and what to dowhen nannies and housekeepers come to class as parental substitutes.The more things change, the more they same to be the same.

Tova Goldring, who teaches “Mommy and Me” at GanIsrael of Tarzana, noted that this year’s conference marked the firsttime the unique needs of programs such as hers have been addressed.Goldring said, “The teachers who were there were so excited to bewith people who do what they do.” In fact, at session’s end, therewas talk of organizing monthly meetings so that the shared encounterscould continue.

Because the conference’s theme was Israel at 50,several presentations dealt with the Jewish homeland. A delegationfrom Stephen S. Wise showed how its “Windows on Israel” curriculummakes Israel a vital year-round presence for its pupils, while theVBS demonstrated some of its schoolwide approaches.

One of the most ambitious workshops dealt withIsrael in a far less sunny light. Called “The Dark Side of the News:In Israel and In Our Community,” it featured two veteran preschooleducators, Bea Chankin and Dafna Presnell, who admitted at the outsetthat they had far more questions than answers. Their goal was to findapproaches through which young children can be given emotionalsupport at times of war and natural disaster.

Presnell, director of the Stephen S. Wise NurserySchool, lived through numerous close calls while growing to adulthoodin Israel. She broached the fact that children, who are taught inpreschool to “use their words” instead of coming to blows, have ahard time reconciling the contradiction when adults go to war.

Chankin, who earlier in the day had received oneof this year’s Lainer Awards for distinguished early childhoodeducators (the other recipients were Marian Milman and Bea Prentice),stressed that it is the teacher’s first responsibility to makehis/her students feel safe.

Both acknowledged that because popular classroomholidays such as Chanukah exalt military heroes, it sometimes may behard to convince children that the way of the peacemaker also hasvalue in Jewish tradition. The session wasn’t nearly long enough tofully debate this thorny topic, but attendees left with a stack ofuseful handouts, along with more questions than they hadanticipated.

Another out-of-the-ordinary session was titled”Growing Up Jewish. It was an opportunity for a small group to sharetheir own stories. One woman grew up in Mexico, the child of Jewsfrom the Middle East. A second described the public schools inNorfolk, Va., where she was one of the few Orthodox Jews enrolled. Bycontrast, another was raised in a family where the “religion” wasSocialist Zionism. The range of personal stories reinforced the ideathat Jews come in many varieties. But all agreed that high standardsof ethical behavior were intrinsic to their concept of being Jewish,and all felt duty-bound to transmit these standards to theirstudents.

— B.G.

 

Taking a Stand

Who should speak for the Jews of LosAngeles on hard issues that arouse diverse and passionate feelingswithin the community? Maybe nobody — say someleaders.

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

When is an issue a Jewish issue? Should the JewishFederation or its departments only take stands on obviously “Jewish”issues and only when there’s a clear consensus in the Jewishcommunity?

These are perennial questions at the Federation,and they came to the forefront last week, following the abruptresignation of a Jewish Community Relations Committee commissionchair.

Douglas Mirell, who had chaired the JCRC’s UrbanAffairs Commission for the past several years, tendered hisresignation in a five-page letter to JCRC Chair Carmen Warschaw. Init, he accused her of “stacking” a March 11 JCRC executive committeemeeting so as to obtain the outcome she wanted, and then curtailingdebate and preventing a possible stand by the JCRC on a key stateballot initiative.

Warschaw’s reasoning: Proposition 227 — theso-called “English for the Children” initiative that will appear onthe June ballot — didn’t fit the profile of an issue the JCRC oughtto tackle. It simply wasn’t Jewish enough.

Mirell disagreed. “Consonant with what I believeto be the desires and intentions of Federation leadership, yourtenure as a JCRC chair has witnessed a steady and precipitous declinein the willingness of the JCRC to straightforwardly and unabashedlylead the Los Angeles Jewish community,” he wrote.

At a previous meeting, the Urban AffairsCommission (UAC) had taken a 22-2 (with one abstention) vote againstProposition 227, which would require, with few exceptions, that allCalifornia public-school children be taught only in English. It wouldeffectively end most of the s
tate’s bilingual-education programs.Mirell and his supporters opposed this.

“I don’t believe this is of particular Jewishinterest, except that Jews are being impacted by it,” Warschaw saidof Proposition 227. “It’s an American or California issue that weshould know more about, but it’s just not a Jewish issue.”

When she made the ruling that the issue would notbe considered, Warschaw said, she thought that it would be lesscontroversial than if she had asked for a vote. “If they didn’t likemy ruling, they could have asked for a vote, but no one did.”

But Beverly Hills School Board President VirginiaMaas, a UAC member who was present at the meeting, thinks thatWarschaw should have allowed the issue to be heard. “I think she hadthe votes to support her position not to bring it to the JCRC board,”said Maas, who believes that 227, which she supports, is relevant tothe Jewish community, since about 65 percent of Jewish childrenattend Los Angeles public schools.

Warschaw agrees that the issue is “terriblyimportant” and the Jewish community should be well-informed aboutboth sides of 227, and there are many public forums for this purpose.But, she said, the JCRC should confine itself more narrowly to issuesof Jewish concern. “I think the Federation and the JCRC should takepositions on issues that really pertain to and affect the Jewishcommunity,” she said.

JCRC Executive Director Michael Hirschfeld echoedWarschaw’s sentiment, saying that in cases where there is nounanimity, taking a stand can sometimes be difficult. “Thisparticular ballot issue, I think, totally lacks consensus in theJewish community and possibly in other communities as well,” hesaid.

For his part, Mirell said that he couldn’t thinkof anything “more core to Judaism” than education. “I don’t thinkthere is anybody who would deny the importance that students whograduate from our schools can speak and write fluently in English,”he said. “The debate about the best way of ensuring that is criticalto this community and every other community.”

Mirell’s letter raises the larger question ofwhether the JCRC, a department of the Federation, should take a leadon controversial positions, as it has from time to time in the past,or merely serve as a gatekeeper on issues of Jewish concern.Previously, the JCRC’s executive committee took stands on a number ofissues, including opposing the nominations of Clarence Thomas andRobert Bork to the Supreme Court. But those stants enjoyed widespreadsupport. Two years ago, amid some angry debate, the JCRC recommendedthat the Federation oppose Proposition 209, the controversialanti-affirmative action initiative over which the Jewish communitywas deeply divided. After much discussion, the Federation finally didso. Many participants in that fight questioned the appropriateness ofthe JCRC taking any stand at all.

After all, one observer noted, it seemspresumptuous for a group of political activists to serve as the voiceof the Jewish community — especially when there are deepdivisions and personal interests (of a large minority) at stake. It’soligarchy at its worst.

In some communities, such as San Francisco, theJCRC is an independent body and, consequently, has more leeway toweigh in on controversial issues. But, as part of the Federation, theLos Angeles JCRC’s actions are more constrained. As FederationPresident Herb Gelfand sees it, the JCRC’s role isn’t to take aposition, but to recommend one to the Federation — and only onmatters of clear Jewish interest. Bilingual education, he said, “isabsolutely not a Jewish issue.”

Since the Federation is a consensus organizationrepresenting 519,000 Jews, it shouldn’t take positions on Jewishissues where there is no unanimity, Gelfand added. When theFederation took a strong stand against Israel’s conversion bill lastyear, he said, “there was no question in my mind that this was notonly a Jewish issue, but there was a very large consensus againstit.”

Gerald Bubis, a member of two JCRC commissions andthe Federation board and executive committee, believes that the JCRCshould be an independent entity. “As a committee of the Federation,it is not able to fulfill its function of sometimes taking unpopularstands.” The Federation, by definition, has a dilemma, he added. Itsmajor function is to raise funds to provide “the bloodline” forserving Jews, while its other purpose is to build community. One isoften at the expense of the other, he said. “If 90 percent of themoney is coming from 10 percent of the people, [the Federation is]going to be very concerned about what the 10 percent feel. If youlose $10 million from the very dissatisfied people, you’ve destroyedthe very system you put in place to support Jews.”

Israel at 50 Bash at

Pan Pacific Park

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

It’s being called the biggest community-widecelebration of Israeli Independence Day outside of Israel. No, it’snot the two-hour CBS TV special on April 15. It’s the IsraeliIndependence Day Community Festival.

Jointly sponsored by the Jewish Federation and theCouncil of Israeli Organizations of Los Angeles (CIO/LA), the May 3event is expected to draw as many as 50,000 people to a multiculturalJewish blend of live entertainment, ethnic foods andcelebration.

This is the first time that the CIO/LA, which putson the annual Israeli Festival for Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day),and the American Jewish community in Los Angeles are putting on ajoint celebration.

The establishment of Israel is “the second-mostimportant event, after the Exodus from Egypt,” said Morrie Avidan, amember of the steering committee overseeing the Pan Pacific Parkcelebration. “That’s why this Independence Day is so important. Wewant to make it like a Cinco de Mayo for the Jews.”

Plans for the event include:

* More than 200 booths, including a “heritagepavilion,” roughly the size of a football field, with arts, cultureand food of the Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities.

* Entertainment, including Israeli popularsinger-composer Danny Sanderson, Israeli musician Lisa Wanamaker, thePini Cohen Band, the Keshet Chayim Dance Performers and the ZimriyahChorale, among others.

* Dignitaries, including Israeli Minister ofInternal Security Avigdor Khalani, a decorated Yom Kippur War hero,who will be part of a formal commemoration ceremony.

* The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s DepartmentGolden Stars, a five-person skydiving team, will parachute out ofhelicopters and then hand out Israeli and American flags to thechildren.

* Children’s events, such as rides, games, apetting zoo, arts and crafts, and special entertainment

The festival may be worth checking out just forthe kosher eats, which will include everything from falafel to sushi,from kugel to hot dogs.

Festival director Yoram Gutman, who directed theIsraeli Festival in the past, expressed the hope that thousands ofpeople would show up at Pan Pacific Park. “This is our biggestopportunity to identify with Israel and show our support,” Gutmansaid.

The festival will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. onMay 3. There is no entrance fee, but parking will be $5. Pan PacificPark is located two blocks east of Fairfax on Beverly Boulevard. Formore information, contact Susan Bender at (213) 761-8120 or Gutman at(818) 757-0123.

South Bay Celebration

The South Bay is p
lanning its own IsraeliIndependence Day celebration for Sunday, April 26, from 1 to 5 p.m.,at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center. At least 2,000 people areexpected. Impresario Sam Glaser will emcee. Booths, pageantry, artsand crafts, and entertainment will be part of the mix. Eventco-chairs are Rabbi David Lieb of Temple Beth El and Center and ReneeSokolski. The Jewish Community Israel 50 Jubilee, as the event iscalled, is being sponsored by the Jewish Federation South BayCouncil, six South Bay synagogues, the Torrance Hilton and The DailyBreeze.

For more information, call (310) 540-2631.

 

 

 ‘Long Way Home’ WinsOscar

It’s the second Academy Award for theWiesenthal Center

The headline honors went to “Titanic” and thestars of “As Good As It Gets,” but Oscars in two less glamorouscategories illustrated the continuing impact of the Holocaust and itsaftermath on filmmakers.

“The Long Way Home” took the prize as the bestdocumentary feature for producers Rabbi Marvin Hier and Richard Trankof the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The film chronicles the fate of Holocaustsurvivors in the immediate postwar years and their desperate attemptsto reach the Jewish homeland.

In his acceptance speech, Hier, the dean andfounder of the Wiesenthal Center, dedicated the award to “thesurvivors of the Holocaust, who walked away from the ashes, rebuilttheir lives, and helped create the State of Israel.”

Host Billy Crystal seemed dumbfounded at thepresence of the yarmulke-wearing Hier, saying: “What a night, whenyour rabbi wins an Oscar. Unbelievable.”

It was the second Oscar for the Wiesenthal Center,whose first documentary, “Genocide,” won in 1981. The production teamof “Long Way Home,” including writer-director Mark Jonathan Harris,is rushing to complete the official film of Israel’s 50th-anniversarycelebration, titled “If You Will It.”

The dramatic, true story of a diplomat who paidwith his career for saving thousands of Jews won an Oscar for theshort film “Visas and Virtue.”

It honors Chiune Sugihara, who was the Japaneseconsul in Vilna, Lithuania, in 1940. As throngs of desperate Jewsbesieged his office to escape the expected Nazi onslaught, Sugihara,against the direct orders of Tokyo, wrote out thousands of visas toenable Jews to escape to safety via the then neutral SovietUnion.

The film was produced by Irish-American ChrisDonahue and Japanese-American Chris Tashima, who plays the role ofSugihara in the 26-minute film.

There were the usual Hollywood/Jewish insideasides during the Academy Awards. In one, Robin Williams, acceptingan Oscar as best supporting actor for his role in “Good WillHunting,” thanked Bob and Harvey Weinstein, heads of the film’sMiramax production company.

“My thanks to the mishpoche Weinstein,” said thenon-Jewish Williams. “Mazel tov.”

In his opening monologue, Crystal spliced himselfinto a scene from “The Full Monty,” during which candidates displaytheir qualifications for a male stripper’s job. As Crystal pretendedto drop his pants, the camera panned to the long, amazed stares ofthe “judges.” A prolonged silence ensued, finally broken by Crystal,who asked, “Too Jewish?” — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

The Arts


Max (Clive Owen, left) and Horst (Lothaire Bluteau) in”Bent.”


What a peculiar piece of work is “Bent.” The film version ofMartin Sherman’s play, first presented on the London stage in 1979,and later on Broadway, has taken almost 20 years to come to thescreen. It’s not difficult to see why. Not only is it turgid stuff,with a paucity of unfilmable ideas, but in an industry that sometimesseems to specialize in specious history, it will be hard to matchthis one for irresponsibility.

The chief character, Max (Clive Owen), a playboy, a main player inthe decadent gay night life of 1930s Berlin, has the misfortune ofpicking up a soldier in a cabaret-style nightclub owned by thetransvestite Greta. (The scene, incidentally, is a dreadful pasticheof every depiction of German decadence, from Christopher Isherwood to”The Damned.”) Max’s one-night stand turns out to be a chum of NaziCommander Ernst Roehm, and the evening of their tryst was the nightof the Long Knives, when Hitler purged open homosexuals from hisregime. Max’s entertainment for the evening meets a bloody end, andMax and his steady boyfriend, the cabaret dancer Rudy, take to thewoods, hotly pursued by the SS and their dog packs.

Once in the concentration camp, Max chooses to pass as a Jew,donning the yellow star instead of the pink triangle of thehomosexual prisoner; Jews get better treatment than gays, who are,according to this tale, the lowest of the low.

The argument is ludicrous. It is bad art and even worse history.That it deserves to be pilloried is obvious to anyone who cares todraw the line between fact and fiction. That it will probably not beis testament to our politically correct times.

Almost 20 years ago, when Sherman’s dubious metaphor — he wastrying to make some sort of statement about the perils to gayself-respect of remaining in the closet, at a time and in a placemuch different to ours — was being attacked in the English press,the playwright who is both gay and Jewish, and, therefore, accordingto him, incapable of being offensive to Jewish sensibilities,insisted that the criticism was misplaced. Only the plight of theJews, he said, was a strong enough image in our consciousness to makeaudiences aware of the degree of gay suffering. Arguing that the playneeded to be judged by political rather than aesthetic standards,some of the gay press, though by no means all, agreed.

Historian Barry Davis, in a review for the London-based magazineGay Left, decried what he called “the mercantilism of compassion” –the dangerous game of who suffered most.

“Whatever Sherman’s intention,” he wrote, “he appears to diminishthe suffering of one persecuted group to highlight the suffering ofanother.”

Davis, among others, was at pains to correct Sherman’s skeweredhistory, pointing out that while homosexuals were often sent toconcentration camps, they rarely ended up in death camps, at leastfor the sin of being gay. The Nazis did not exterminate gays as theydid Jews and Gypsies.

In the absence of records, estimates of the number of gays killedunder the Third Reich range anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000, butthere is no way to assess how many of those were killed because theywere gay, or how many were Jews who also happened to be gay. Gaysreturning from the camps after the war, surprisingly, were notreluctant to discuss the reasons for their incarceration.

It was a crime, punishable by death, to be homosexual in the SS.But in the German population at large, preventative detention, notdeath, was the punishment for the “crime” of being gay.

Ironically, to today’s radical right — the militias, theNeo-Nazis — Jews and homosexuals are one and the same, but in moresophisticated circles, to equate being gay with being Jewish issentimental at best and nonsense at worst.

A homosexual in the face of Nazi persecution could choose to stayin the closet. In the film, Greta, the transvestite nightclub owner(played by Mick Jagger), simply burns her wardrobe and becomesGeorge, a respectable German burgher. A Jew had no such option.

British historian Davis believes that Sherman may have based hisplay on the writings of Bruno Bettleheim in “Survival and OtherEssays,” in which the author described a camp where gays were indeedthe lowest of the low. But it was not a death camp. Those were earlydays in the war against the Jews, and Bettleheim had escaped toAmerica by the time the mass exterminations began.

In the England of the 1970s, long before we had lesbian love onprime-time sitcoms and red ribbons on every lapel, Martin Sherman maywell have felt persecuted, not least in a Jewish community that couldfind little role for an openly gay man. We hope times have changed.

Piggybacking the woes of one group onto the suffering of anotheris always tempting — witness the overheated rhetoric of some of theearly radical feminists who would have had us believe they had it ashard as the passengers in the slave ships — but it is a dangerousbusiness that can come back to bite those who avail themselves of it.

Homosexuality was rife among the SA and the SS in a culture thathad its roots in the German male-bonding ethos, the Mannebund. Andthere is little doubt that many of the female guards in the campswere lesbians.

“The trouble with creating instant victims,” says Davis, “is thatyou have to do your sums, and, in this case, there were probably moregays among the oppressors than there were gays oppressed.”

This double-edged sword was demonstrated graphically at aninternational gay and lesbian convention not long ago in Israel. On avisit to Yad Vashem, delegates were spat upon by demonstrators, oneof whom yelled, “My uncle was raped by homosexual guards in thecamp.”

It would indeed be a tragedy if Sherman’s work were to set Jewsand gays against each other in a juvenile and ridiculous “Hitlerhated me more” argument.

Happily, “Bent” is such a poor film that, with any luck, few willsee it.

Sally Ogle Davis writes about entertainment from Ventura.

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