Reasons to book it to UCLA

Political provocateur Gore Vidal, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, industrialist Lee Iacocca, fantasy maven Ray Bradbury, Los Angeles crime novelist Lee Ellroy and Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua.Add more than 700 additional authors, readings, performances and panels, and you get a sense of the scope of the 12th annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books — the largest event of its kind on the West Coast — which will take place April 28 and 29 at UCLA.

At least 130,000 patrons are expected to check out the diverse fare, which will include discussions on subjects ranging from terrorism to true-crime novels; cheekily titled panels such as, “Food Fight: When Did Eating Get Controversial?”; and a ceremony honoring this year’s Times Book Prizes nominees (finalists include Yehoshua for his “A Woman in Jerusalem,” and Daniel Mendelsohn for “The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million”). Here’s a sampling of other events that may be of interest to people of the book:

Author: Peter Orner, book prize finalist
Panel: “Fiction: Jumping Off the Page”
Time: Noon, April 28
Orner — who won the Goldberg Prize for Jewish Fiction for his “Esther Stories” (2001) — will discuss his new novel, “The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo,” which draws on his own experience in Namibia in the early 1990s. The fictional story revolves around a Jewish teacher who falls in love with a beautiful, enigmatic veteran of the country’s war with South Africa, set against the backdrop of a barren, semi-desert landscape.

Author: Jeffrey Goldberg, book prize finalist
Panel: “Current Interest: Profiles in Terror”
Time: 2 p.m., April 28
In his memoir, “Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide,” Goldberg — a veteran of The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine — chronicles his unusual relationship with a devout Muslim during his service as a military policeman in the Israeli Army in 1990.

Author: Lucinda Franks
Panel: “Memoir: Hidden Truths”
Time: 2:30 p.m., April 28
Franks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, explores her father’s secret past in “My Father’s Secret War”; which she began researching when she discovered a Nazi cap in a sealed box he had hidden.

Author: Neal Gabler, book prize finalist
Panel: “Biography: 20th Century Lives”
Time: 3:30 p.m., April 28
Gabler, who tackled Jewish movie moguls in “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews invented Hollywood,” dissects another pop culture auteur in “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.” The biography posits that Disney was as childlike, indefatigable and “pathologically optimistic” as Mickey Mouse, The Observer (England) noted.

Organization: Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles
Booth: No. 535, near Haines Hall
Time: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., April 29
Six featured authors will include Jewish origami expert Joel David Stern, Susan Goldman Rubin on a Jewish financier of the American Revolution (“Haym Solomon, American Patriot”) and Rabbi Aaron Parry (“Idiot’s Guide to Talmud/Holy Scripture”).

Author: Nancy Silverton
Event: Cooking stage
Time: 2 p.m., April 29
Silverton — one of Los Angeles’ premiere chefs (and proprietor of the popular new restaurant Pizzeria Mozza) — will demonstrate layman-friendly recipes from her new book, “A Twist of the Wrist: Quick Flavorful Meals With Ingredients from Jars, Cans, Bags, and Boxes.”

For more festival information, visit of books.

Highlights of Jewish News in 5760

September 1999

JERUSALEM – The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial breaks ground for a Hall of Names that will house millions of pages of testimony about Shoah victims.

October 1999

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Israel exhibit at Walt Disney World’s Millennium Village opens, making no explicit mention of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital after protests by Arab and Muslim groups.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court sidesteps several church-state issues by upholding Maine’s school voucher program, leaving intact a ruling striking down New York’s attempt to create a special school district for a community of Chassidic Jews and refusing to let Pennsylvania exempt religious publications and Bibles from sales taxes.

JERUSALEM – Former South African President Nelson Mandela visits Israel for the first time. Mandela had canceled previously scheduled visits to the Jewish state because of his criticism of Israeli policies.

JERUSALEM – An Israeli court gives a 24-year prison sentence to Samuel Sheinbein, a Maryland teenager who fled to Israel after a 1997 murder.

JERUSALEM – Israel opens a safe-passage route for Palestinians between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

VIENNA – The New York-based Ronald S. Lauder Foundation opens schools for Jewish teachers in Berlin, Vienna and Warsaw as part of its efforts to promote Jewish education and support the Jewish revival in Central and Eastern Europe.

JERUSALEM – News emerges that since 1995, some 400 Jews have arrived from Cuba with the assistance of the Jewish Agency for Israel, a quasi-governmental agency responsible for aliyah (immigration to Israel). Cuban dictator Fidel Castro apparently gave his blessing to the exodus, code-named “Operation Cigar.”

November 1999

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives passes a bill to fund a special aid package to help implement last year’s Wye agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican shelves plans to beatify Pope Pius XII, instead beatifying Pope John XXII. Some Jewish groups had protested Pius XII’s proposed beatification because of his silence during the Holocaust. Newly discovered documents reveal that Pius XII told the United States in 1942 that he believed reports of German atrocities against Jews were exaggerated and did not think the Allies would win the war.

JERUSALEM – Visiting U.S. first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton fails to respond immediately to allegations made by Suha Arafat, wife of the Palestinian Authority president, that Israel poisoned the Palestinian population’s water supply. Clinton later said she did not receive a proper translation of Arafat’s remarks.

ATLANTA – U.S. Vice President Al Gore speaks at General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities.

BUDAPEST – Hungarian police confiscate copies of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a century-old anti-Semitic treatise, from bookstores in three Hungarian towns.

MOSCOW – The Russian branch of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement launches an umbrella organization, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia. The federation, founded by some 200 delegates from several dozen Jewish communities across Russia, establishes as its goal the representation of Jews from “all walks of life in Russia in all matters.”

December 1999

MOSCOW – The Russian government returns 10 Torah scrolls, looted by the Nazis or confiscated by the state during the Soviet era, to the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations of Russia. The government originally promised to return 61 scrolls, but lowered the number after arguments within the Russian Jewish community.

NEW YORK – The Reform movement announces the creation of a new prayer book, to be published in 2005.

JERUSALEM – Israeli courts sentence travel agent Shlomo Nour to 16 years in prison for raping the former Miss Israel, Linor Abargil, last year in Italy, seven weeks before Abargil was crowned Miss World.

WASHINGTON – A number of countries reach agreements or issue reports concerning the compensation of Holocaust survivors and their families, including France, Germany and Switzerland.

January 2000

JERUSALEM – Israeli Sigal Gilboa gives birth to twins born in different millennia. Dr. Yinon Gilboa, an obstetrician, assists in his wife’s Caesarean section as she gives birth New Year’s Eve to a daughter two minutes before midnight and a son born just after midnight.

JERUSALEM – Leading fervently Orthodox rabbis issue a religious ruling banning their followers from using the Internet out of concern it could lead to “sin” and “destruction” and lead the young astray.

STOCKHOLM – Sweden’s prime minister, Goran Persson, admits that his country acted wrongly during World War II, dropping the defense that Sweden was a neutral nation during the war.

MIAMI – Attorney Spencer Eig, an Orthodox Jew, heads the 10- member team of lawyers representing 6-year-old Cuban boy Elian Gonzales.

February 2000

VIENNA – Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, led by Jurg Haider, forges an agreement to join the country’s government in a pact with conservative People’s Party leader Wolfgang Schassel, despite the United States’ threats to join the European Union in isolating Austria. Haider, whose anti-immigrant platform and past praise for Nazi employment policies worry many, later steps down as official leader of the party.

JERUSALEM – Months of meetings involving Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and their negotiators end amid Palestinian declarations that the talks have reached a crisis.

LOS ANGELES – Federal prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against Buford Furrow Jr., the white supremacist accused of killing a Filipino American mail carrier after wounding five people at a Jewish community center last August.

JERUSALEM – Israel’s interior minister, Natan Sharansky, says his ministry will recognize civil marriages performed in foreign consulates based in Israel.

March 2000

NEW YORK – The Reform movement passes a resolution affirming the right of its movement’s rabbis to officiate at gay and lesbian commitment ceremonies.

JERUSALEM – The Knesset passes a law granting equal rights to women, including equality in the workplace and the military, the right of women over their bodies and protection from violence and sexual exploitation.

NEW YORK – The Birthright Israel program announces plans to send 2,000 Jews to Israel this coming summer after sending 6,000 students during the winter. The program, sponsored by Jewish philanthropists, the Israeli government and Jewish communities worldwide, had more would-be travelers than space available just weeks after it began accepting applications toward the end of 1999.

VATICAN CITY – Pope John Paul II beatifies Sister Mary Elisabeth Hesselblad, a Swedish nun who helped save Jews during World War II.

NEW YORK – Two online booksellers, and, post disclaimers about “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” while online civil liberties groups call the move an infringement on free speech. Earlier in the year, the Internet portal Yahoo! vowed to remove racist and anti-Semitic clubs that it was hosting online, and eBay banned the sale of hate material on its online auction site after pressure from groups including the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

PRAGUE – A compromise is reached involving the Prague Jewish community, the government and the country’s biggest insurance company that will allow for the construction of an office complex above one of Europe’s oldest Jewish burial sites. But Orthodox Jews from abroad continue to protest the planned building.

April 2000

NEW YORK – Right-leaning Forward editor Seth Lipsky is forced to resign from the Jewish newspaper after ideological differences with the newspaper’s board. He is later replaced by a more liberal editor, J.J. Goldberg.

NEW YORK – Holocaust denier David Irving loses his libel lawsuit against American academic Deborah Lipstadt and publisher Penguin Books.

NEW YORK – After the United States Justice Department contends that alleged Nazi war criminal Aleksandras Lileikis, 92, was faking illness to avoid trial, Lithuania plans to restart the previously adjourned trial. The nation’s laws are changed to let the elderly defendant monitor proceedings from outside the court.

WASHINGTON – Receiving the Most Valuable Player award at the 27th Annual Reebok Classic basketball game, Orthodox Jewish high school student Tamir Goodman is slated to play for Towson University in Maryland in the fall, after earlier turning down the University of Maryland’s offer, in part because of friction over his refusal to play basketball on Shabbat.

JERUSALEM – In a reversal of an earlier decision allowing women to serve in combat units, the Israeli army announces it will not open its air force rescue unit to women until it can be determined whether women can meet the unit’s physical demands.

PITTSBURGH – Richard Scott Baumhammers goes on a shooting spree, killing five minorities, including one Jewish woman.

May 2000

JERUSALEM – The Jewish Agency for Israel flies 100 Falash Mura – Ethiopians whose ancestors converted from Judaism to Christianity – from Ethiopia to Israel. The group is the first to arrive since Interior Minister Natan Sharansky visited Ethiopia a month before to assess the situation of the thousands of Falash Mura who have amassed in transit camps hoping to emigrate to Israel.

NEW YORK – Jews mourn the death of New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor, heralded for helping to improve Catholic-Jewish relations.

WASHINGTON – Members of synagogues and Jewish organizations, along with Jewish mothers from across the United States, join the Million Mom March in Washington to press for gun control legislation.

NEW YORK – Israel accepts an invitation to join the United Nations’ Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG), giving the country a stronger voice in U.N. affairs. Israeli leaders and their backers say they are concerned about some of the membership conditions – that Israel can only participate in WEOG activities coming out of the U.N.’s New York headquarters and that Israeli representatives will be barred for two years from running for positions on U.N. councils.

June 2000

JERUSALEM – A Tel Aviv court sentences four of five defendants to up to 21 months in jail for their role in the bridge collapse at the 1997 Maccabiah Games, which killed four Australian athletes.

MOSCOW – Authorities arrest Vladimir Goussinsky, a media tycoon who also serves as the president of the Russian Jewish Congress. He is later released, saying that pressure from the international Jewish community helped secure his freedom.

NEW YORK – Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, pulls out of the American Zionist Movement, saying that the group “no longer serves the best interests of Hadassah’s Zionist goals or the future of American Zionism.”

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court rules that students cannot lead prayers at high school football games, prompted by a lawsuit from Mormon and Catholic students in Santa Fe, Texas. Earlier in the year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a nonbinding resolution backing school prayer at school sporting events.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate passes an amendment that could lead to hate crimes legislation, covering victims targeted for their sexual orientation, gender or disability.

NEW YORK – The Orthodox Union (O.U.) creates an independent commission to investigate how the organization handled complaints that high-ranking professional Rabbi Baruch Lanner sexually harassed and molested teen-agers in the O.U.’s youth group.

NEW YORK – New Jersey Rabbi Fred Neulander could face the death penalty after a grand jury indicts him for having contracted to murder his wife, Carol, in November 1994. The charges come after two men plead guilty in the alleged murder-for-hire case.

MOSCOW – Twenty-six Lubavitch rabbis elect Rabbi Berel Lazar the chief rabbi of Russia. The election comes just a week after Russia’s chief rabbi for the past decade, Adolph Shayevich, accused the Russian government of seeking his ouster. Russia now has two chief rabbis.

July 2000

IRAN – Ten Iranian Jews held in Iran since the beginning of 1999 are convicted of spying for Israel and sentenced to prison terms of four to 13 years. Three others are acquitted.

JERUSALEM – Israel cancels plans to sell military technology to China in a move seen as an effort to placate the United States before peace talks at Camp David.

August 2000

LOS ANGELES – Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore names Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, making the Connecticut senator the first Jew to run on a major party ticket in the United States. Lieberman, an observant Jew, makes religion a central part of his campaign.

NEW YORK – The Anti-Defamation League sends a letter to Sen. Joseph Lieberman calling on the U.S. Democratic vice presidential candidate to keep religion out of the presidential campaign. The Connecticut senator says, “I respect the ADL, but I respectfully disagree,” adding that he thinks faith can play a “constructive role” in the United States.

September 2000

ROME – Pope John Paul II beatifies the 19th-century Pope Pius IX, who ordered the kidnapping of a Jewish boy, despite widespread Jewish protests. The 20th-century Pope John XXIII, admired by Jews and Catholics, was also beatified.

TEHRAN – An Iranian judiciary panel reduces on appeal the sentences of the 10 Iranian Jews sentenced on charges of spying for Israel. But Jewish leaders said the reductions, to two to nine years from four to 13 years, are not enough and vow to press ahead until all 10 are freed.

SYDNEY- American Jewish swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg wins three gold medals at the 2000 Olympic Games. Born in the former Soviet Union, Krayzelburg immigrated with his family to Los Angeles, where he swam at the Westside Jewish Community Center and later at USC.

Conspiracy Theory

Did the Mossad kill JFK? Serious researchers hardly think so.Following a day of public protests, organizers canceled the college seminar in which a speaker would “prove” that Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency masterminded the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

However, the apparent victory for sanity may be illusory.

The incident casts a sharp light on the fevered subculture of conspiracy theorists, which is growing luxuriantly on the Internet and now is apparently seeking a foothold in academia.

On Aug. 18, the trustees of the South Orange County Community College District approved $5,000 to fly in four guest panelists to participate in a Sept. 26-28 seminar on who was behind the murder of Kennedy in November 1963. Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo was to be the host.

Casting a tiebreaking vote to hold the seminar was Steven T. Frogue, president of the board of trustees. His vote was not entirely disinterested, since he was to teach the seminar.

Frogue is a high school history teacher who was allegedly transferred from one classroom to another, according to the Los Angelees Times, presumably for remarks that offended Jewish students and parents. He has been a persistent foe of the Anti-Defamation League and its regional director, Joyce Greenspan.

In a newspaper interview last fall, Frogue labeled the ADL “a group of spies,” and he declared that “Lee Harvey Oswald [Kennedy’s assassin] worked for the ADL…I believe the ADL was behind it.”

For the seminar, which the college advertised as a “high-quality community education” offering, Frogue invited an eclectic mix of “experts.” The one who received the most attention was Michael Collins Piper of Washington, D.C., author of “Final Judgment: The Missing Link in the JFK Assassination Conspiracy.”

Piper posits that the Mossad plotted the assassination. The reason, he asserts in his book, is that then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Kennedy “were involved in a heated dispute over Kennedy’s refusal to support Israel in its drive to build a nuclear weapon. Other authors have documented that this dispute, as much as anything, caused Ben-Gurion to resign.”

The ADL’s Greenspan, speaking at the college district board meeting, described Piper as a regular contributor to Spotlight, a notoriously anti-Semitic weekly, and as a Holocaust denier.

Both Michael Hirschfeld, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Committee, and Uri Palti, Israel’s deputy consul general in Los Angeles, had a one-word evaluation of Piper’s theory: “nonsense.”

Other slated panelists were:

* Sherman Skolnick, a self-described “traditional Jew” from Chicago who has been propounding a link between “rogue Mossad agents,” the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the apparent suicide of White House counsel Vincent Foster.

Skolnick, also an occasional Spotlight contributor, denied later that he had agreed to speak at the seminar.

* Talk-show host Dave Emory, who contends that top Nazis, who had fled Germany after its defeat, played a leading role in Kennedy’s assassination. Emory and Piper frequently tangle at JFK conspiracy seminars around the country.

* John Judge, who adheres to the views of the late New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (hero of the Oliver Stone film “JFK”) that the Kennedy assassination was the work of a cabal of homosexuals and the military-industrial complex.

Serious researchers of the Kennedy era reacted with incredulity and amusement when told of the “panel of experts.” One such analyst, Chip Berlet, said: “You couldn’t find…more embarrassing conspiracists in America. Even among conspiracy theorists, these people represent the outer limit.”

Various faculty members at Saddleback College immediately protested the planned seminar. The general public took notice after the Los Angeles Times published a front-page report three days after the board meeting.

Within hours, the story was picked up by wire services and radio talk-show hosts, and phone calls from some 200 angry protesters deluged the college district offices. A considerable number of supportive messages were also logged by the ADL.

In the midst of the furor, Frogue announced that he was canceling the seminar, but that he would hold it at some future date away from the college and without its financial support.

Robert Lombardi, chancellor of the college district, described the public reaction as “pretty intense and somewhat surprising.”

He had earlier defended holding the seminar on the basis of First Amendment free-speech rights and the college district’s prerogative to offer courses appealing to “special interests.” For instance, Lombardi said, “we also offer a course on California wines.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which frequently intervenes in perceived free-speech violations, did not receive any calls regarding the seminar and does not plan any action, a spokeswoman said.

Despite the seminar’s cancellation, Jewish defense agencies reacted more with concern than satisfaction.

The ADL’s Greenspan, who was the point person in opposing the seminar, said that while she appreciated the general community’s reaction, she was bothered that the college board “still doesn’t see this racist seminar as their problem.”

She also warned that if and when the seminar is given under private auspices, it will lack public scrutiny and “bring the crazies out of the woodwork.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and an expert on racist and hate propaganda in cyberspace, added another perspective.

“The Mossad conspiracy theory may be laughable to us, but I can guarantee that, in a short time, it will become part of the folklore of hundreds of web sites on the Internet,” he said.

“For the Frogues and Pipers, the seminar cancellation is only a temporary setback. They got what they wanted by getting into the mainstream press. They don’t need to prove that Israelis had a hand in assassinating JFK; they just have to plant the seed of suspicion that it might have been that way.”

In assessing the role of the college district in authorizing the seminar, Cooper said: “The situation somewhat parallels the growing practice of the mainstream press to descend into tabloid journalism. What we’re getting here is a form of tabloid academia.”