Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Photo courtesy of downtowngal/Wikicommons.

Rocks thrown at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, not believed to be anti-Semitic

The Wilshire Boulevard Temple Erika J. Glazer campus in Koreatown went on lockdown for eight minutes on March 14 after a male suspect began “throwing rocks and kicking the glass doors,” according to a statement from the temple’s executive director, Howard Kaplan, and director of safety and security, Cory Wenter.

No damage was caused by the incident, which occurred at the Hobart Street entrance to the synagogue, nor was anybody injured.

Security personnel responded “within one minute of the subject’s first contact with the Hobart door” and the situation was “quickly resolved,” Kaplan and Wenter said in a joint statement issued on Tuesday in the late-afternoon.

“He was restrained without resistance by our security team and held until [the Los Angeles Police Department] arrived and placed him in custody. The individual had no weapons and was described as mentally unstable, agitated by the world. There does not appear to be any connection to any anti-Semitic activity or motivation,” the statement says.

The incident occurred as the community is at heightened alert over ultimately discredited anti-Semitic bomb threats that have been targeting Jewish community centers, day schools and other Jewish institutions nationwide since Jan. 4. Two bomb threats, both of which turned out to be hoaxes, targeted the Westside Jewish Community Center on Feb. 27 and March 9.

Kaplan and Wenter, in their message, praised synagogue security in light of Tuesday’s event: “We are grateful for the prompt response by our staff and security officers.”

Skinhead Attack in Beverlywood

Four Caucasian men, appearing to be neo-Nazi skinheads, attacked three Jewish high school boys last Shabbat shortly after midnight in Beverlywood.

The three observant students, in their midteens and wearing kippot, were walking through the quiet neighborhood on April 6, when a dark-colored car containing four men pulled up, according to a police report. Two of the men emerged from the car shouting slurs such as "Heil Hitler" and attacked the Jewish teens.

One of the Jewish boys escaped, while the other two, both 17, were beaten, despite their efforts to fend off their assailants, according to one of the victims. The Jewish boys were punched and kicked. One of the boys was held down, and the assailants shouted slurs, calling the boy "a dirty kike." No weapons were involved in the incident. At the parents’ request, the names of the Jewish teens have been withheld.

Two of the Jewish teens were set to leave that weekend on the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance’s March of the Living program — an educational travel program that brings teens to Poland and Israel to observe Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut — and were walking home a third friend when the attack occurred. The only witness was a man walking his dog. However, the passerby did not come to the aid of the teens, noted one of the victims. As the attackers departed, they shouted more slurs against Jews.

One Jewish teen was rushed to Century City Hospital, where a gash above his right eye was sewn up with six stitches.

A news conference regarding the incident was held on April 9. In attendance were LAPD Deputy Chief Dave Kalish; Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, and Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss. Detective Supervisor Ron Phillips of the West Los Angeles Division told The Journal that the attack appeared to be an isolated incident and that the investigation into locating the attackers is in progress.

According to police, the two suspects were in their 20s and had shaved heads. One was about 6 feet tall, 180 pounds, with blue eyes. The other was about 6 feet and 150 pounds. Their vehicle was a four-door, economy-style car, possibly a Honda or Toyota Corolla.

"We’re running down some names," Phillips said.

"You have to give high grades to LAPD. They were right on top of this," Cooper said. "They did everything right. We should not take any of this for granted."

"The local community is meeting with the LAPD to figure out how to best from this point go forward," said Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, West Coast director of the Orthodox Union, who coordinated a B’nai David-Judea Congregation gathering on April 10. "We just can’t sit back after this takes place in our neighborhood."

Chief among discussions will be to coordinate police and Beverlywood-area private security patrols.

Meanwhile, the injured boys are recovering. One victim was able to make the March of the Living Trip, while the boy with the gash dropped out as a result of his injury. However, the teen found some solace in joining some friends from his high school at the April 7 pro-Israel rally in Westwood.

"After what I just experienced, it’s nice to be here," he told The Journal.

"The police are aggressively pursuing this case," Cooper said. "I feel pretty confident that there will be a positive outcome here. Justice is going to be done."

Anyone having any information regarding this incident or other suspicious activity is asked to contact either the West Los Angeles police station, (310) 574-8401; or West Los Angeles Detectives, (310) 575-8441.

Goodman Quits Team

Star basketball player Tamir Goodman ended his career at Towson University in Baltimore last week, when the school took the side of the head coach in a dispute that ended with Goodman’s resigning from the team.

The incident that sparked this took place after Towson beat Morgan State on Dec. 8 at the Towson Center. Goodman alleged that men’s basketball coach Michael Hunt held a chair over the player’s head and later kicked a stool that hit Goodman’s leg. Goodman filed a complaint later that night with the university police, and it was forwarded to the county state’s attorney’s office. He later dropped the charges. The Towson statement said the investigation had determined no criminal charges would be filed.

"Mr. Goodman’s participation as a basketball student-athlete has not been suspended or terminated," a university press release stated. "However, he has conveyed to [Athletic Director Wayne] Edwards and [Associate Director of Athletics] Margie Tversky his decision that he will not continue as a member of the Towson University men’s basketball team unless a head coaching change occurs."

That change will not occur, according to the university. Goodman’s father, Karl, said he was hoping his son could find another Division I school to play for, possibly in New York, and that they’d already received calls.

Goodman, formerly a student at Talmudical Academy High School, reacted with faith and confidence: "[Hunt] never liked the fact that I wouldn’t break down when he didn’t play me or when he criticized me. I kept coming back with a smile on my face, stronger and stronger. He was the one who broke, not me. I have the faith of Hashem, the faith of my people behind me. This is fitting that it happened during Chanukah, because like the example given over to us by the Maccabees, I had to keep strong for my people. And I did." — The Baltimore Jewish News

Establishing Boundaries

For those who look up to the American Jewish clergy, it has not been a good year.
Last week, one of the Reform movement’s most prominent rabbis was suspended from the movement’s rabbinical association for past sexual misconduct.

Shortly after his suspension from the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, widely respected as a Jewish thinker and teacher, resigned as president of the movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

The news about Zimmerman came on the heels of several other widely publicized incidents involving Jewish clergy:

A Reform rabbi in Cherry Hill, N.J., faces a possible death sentence for allegedly hiring people to murder his wife in 1994.

A Conservative cantor in the Chicago area was arrested over Thanksgiving weekend for alleged involvement in a prostitution ring.

The Orthodox Union has just received a report investigating its handling of allegations that a New Jersey rabbi working for the movement’s national youth group sexually harassed and molested teens. The report’s findings and recommendations will not be made public until late this month.

The wave of incidents is refocusing attention on an issue that has come into public view only in recent years.

In the past, rabbinic misconduct — particularly sexual misconduct — was rarely discussed publicly. Many advocates for victims complained that rabbinical associations were more interested in protecting their members than the people they hurt.

Today there are stirrings of change. Leaders of the rabbinic organizations say misconduct remains rare, but during the past five years, three of the four denominations have developed new guidelines or modified old ones for addressing misconduct.

In addition, some rabbinic seminaries are raising the issues for rabbis-in-training, both before and after ordination.

It is unclear what overall impact such changes are having, since no one appears to be tracking the issue or monitoring how the new guidelines are affecting the number of complaints or the actions taken against rabbis.

While some believe that recent high-profile cases may encourage victims to come forward, others worry that the pendulum may swing too far.

They worry that fear of false accusations or misunderstandings are leading rabbis to become nervous about even innocently hugging congregants in need of comfort or counseling people behind closed doors.

One result from all the publicity is a growing awareness of the issue, which many expect will lead to less tolerance for misconduct.

“The wall of silence around clergy misconduct is being taken down,” said Susan Weidman Schneider, editor of Lilith, a feminist Jewish magazine.

In 1998, the magazine published an article about women who said they were sexually harassed by the late charismatic Orthodox leader, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Rabbi Debra Orenstein, a fellow at the Wilstein Institute in Encino, Calif., who has been an advocate on this issue in the past, said, “People are less skittish and afraid of saying this happens with rabbis and are therefore more willing to deal with it.”

Rabbinic sexual misconduct is an extraordinarily complex issue.

It ranges from more obvious transgressions, such as sexual harassment and inappropriate touching, to more ambiguous cases in which a rabbi has a seemingly consensual relationship with a congregant or staff person, but which is questionable because of the power dynamics involved.

It is difficult to know how prevalent misconduct cases are or what percentage are reported.

As Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly (RA), put it, “I can never guarantee there are not things that happen that don’t get taken care of.

“Obviously someone has to lodge a complaint,” he said. “My office is not a police force, and we’re not on witch hunts.”

It is also difficult to assess how fairly cases are handled, since rabbinic ethics committees — in order to protect both the accuser and the accused — operate in secrecy.

That secrecy “by its very nature makes it difficult to evaluate the process at all,” said Rabbi Shira Stern, chairwoman of the Reform movement’s Women’s Rabbinic Network.

The Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform rabbinical associations have created or modified policies concerning sexual misconduct within the past five years.

The Conservative movement’s guidelines, in the works for several years, have not yet been printed and distributed to rabbis but are expected to be completed in June 2001.

The Orthodox rabbinical association has not modified its procedures in more than 50 years, according to Rabbi Steven Dworken, the group’s executive vice president.

But the group’s president, Rabbi Kenneth Hain, said the process may be re-examined if that is recommended in the Orthodox Union’s new report on the handling of the youth abuse case.

The movements vary in how explicit their guidelines are about procedures for inquiry and punitive measures. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), which is Orthodox, and the Reform movement’s CCAR made their guidelines available, while the Conservative and Reconstructionist associations gave overviews but would not distribute actual policies.

All the ethics committees request complaints in writing and give an opportunity for the accused rabbi to respond in writing. They then interview both parties and other sources, where appropriate, in order to ascertain what happened and how to respond.

When rabbis are found guilty, the responses range from a reprimand to suspension to expulsion from the association, depending on the misconduct and the assessment of the ethics committee.

Some of the movements require therapy and a process of teshuvah (repentance) in order for the charged to pursue their rabbinic careers.

In addition, the Reform movement informs any future employers of that rabbi about that rabbi’s past transgressions and rehabilitation process.

None of the rabbinic associations could provide data prior to 1995, but since then, three Reform rabbis have been suspended for sexual misconduct and two Conservative rabbis have been found guilty but not suspended.

Both Conservative rabbis were required to undergo therapy and be monitored by the ethics committee, and one was forbidden from taking any rabbinic post other than teaching adult education courses.

Meyers said the RA’s ethics committee is currently wrestling with a case in which a now 86-year-old rabbi is being accused of something he did 30 years ago, raising the question of whether rabbis should be disciplined for transgressions that occurred long ago.

Officials of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association would not disclose how many cases it has reviewed or what disciplinary action it took, and the Orthodox’s RCA said it did not know of any cases of rabbinic sexual misconduct.

Rabbi Baruch Lanner, the Orthodox rabbi accused of sexually harassing and molesting scores of youth in the Orthodox Union’s youth group, was not a member of the RCA, which is composed primarily of congregational rabbis.

Some do worry that the movements’ guidelines may be so stringent that rabbis and other Jewish professionals may not be able to do their jobs.

“At my son’s camp, the counselors weren’t allowed to check them for ticks after they come back from hikes,” said Rabbi Stephanie Dickstein, assistant dean of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s rabbinical school.

“Where’s the line? We’re in a world where touching is so dangerous that people are lonely,” Dickstein said.
Another difficulty in preventing misconduct is identifying the type of personality prone to overstepping the boundaries.

“Confidence, willingness to reach out to people — all the things that make people good rabbis also make them susceptible to inappropriate behavior,” Dickstein said.

“When you realize how much power you have with vulnerable people, sometimes you might be tempted to take advantage.”

The added scrutiny on the rabbinate, and the fear that one misstep can ruin one’s career and reputation, may add more pressures to an already demanding career.

“You have to be so many things to so many people — what I call the multifarious P’s: pastor, preacher, pedagogue, politician, public relations expert, pronouncer, priest, prophet and pal,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, spiritual leader of the Community Synagogue of Port Washington on Long Island, N.Y., and author of a recent book on Jewish masculinity.

Salkin, who is Reform, urges his colleagues to seek regular therapy and speak more openly with each other about the issues they face.

“I think rabbis stray because they need intimacy, they need affirmation and more than that, it’s what Judaism calls the ‘yetzer hara,’ the not-so-good inclination that’s within us.”

Rabbi Jacob Staub, vice president for academic affairs at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, said most rabbis and prospective rabbis think that “this is someone else’s problem — you have to be bad. But you can be operating from the noblest of motives and from what you think are the best of values, and you still could be tripped up.”

What most rabbis fall into is not “what we’d call pathological or criminal” — sexual harassment, sexual molestation or nonconsensual sex — “but human foible,” said Staub, who coordinates RRC seminars that deal with these issues.

Like the RRC, other rabbinical schools also now offer some seminars in which sexual misconduct and other related issues are addressed.

Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer, a law professor and spiritual leader of two Los Angeles-area congregations who has written extensively on issues of rabbinic misconduct, would like to see more.

“We need programs at seminaries and out in the field to remind them that sex and power and excitement are very real. And if you do any counseling at all, emotions are going to be there and, like therapists, we need to be aware of what’s happening and ensure that synagogues remain safe places.”

The More Things Change

Steve Glickman, Jewish Student Association (JSA) president at Georgetown University, is battling “muffled intolerance on campus.” He gives a small but chilling example.

“Yesterday, when we were passing out blue ribbons… against intolerance and for diversity, two students approached and said specifically they don’t support Jews here,” he said, his voice thick with fatigue. “The sentiment exists among a larger number of students than it’s currently being given credit for… This shouldn’t be glossed over by students or the administration.”

The hatred hasn’t stopped at talk.

In twin acts of vandalism apparently driven by bigotry, a seven-foot silver Chanukah menorah set up by the JSA was first damaged and then broken.

The incidents drew a striking display of student solidarity. In a break with the past, they also evoked strong, public condemnation from the administration.

At about 3:15 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 11, a dozen students were keeping vigil by the seven-foot silver menorah set up by the JSA in Red Square on the main campus. A young man approached, shoved the menorah to the ground and yelled an anti-Semitic slur.

When the vandal took off running, the vigil-keepers followed in pursuit. Two students tackled him and held him down until campus and district police arrived shortly afterward.

Media reports have identified the suspect as business school sophomore Michael Byrne of Garden City, N.Y. He was taken into custody first by the campus police, then the Metropolitan Police Department. Charged with destruction of property and released, Byrne was taken back to campus, put on a plane home and, in the words of Georgetown spokesperson Dan Wackerman, “suspended until further notice.”

Prejudice had reared its venomous head on Dec. 4 when vandals toppled the menorah in Red Square. The structure’s central pole was twisted, the nine light bulbs broken. A similar attack had occurred last year.

Then, early on Dec. 7, another chanukiah at the university’s law center near Union Station was also knocked to the ground. A police and FBI investigation has concluded this incident was due to high winds.

The two attacks on the Red Square menorah are still under investigation.

“Part of the environment that allowed it to happen… [was because] the university was careful not to give last year’s vandalism of the menorah too much exposure,” said Glickman. “Only a handful of individuals on campus know what happened.”

Not so this year. An 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. vigil at the Red Square menorah began the night of Tuesday, Dec. 7. The vigil, which ran through Saturday night, showed the strength of the bonds forged between Jews and other religious and ethnic groups on campus.

Scores of other students joined JSA members throughout the week. The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic student organization, stood vigil the first night. Students from the Protestant Leadership Team took their place the following evening. Black Student Alliance (BSA) members kept vigil all through the last day of Chanukah. Other organizations furnishing volunteers included the Muslim Student Association, College Republicans, College Democrats and the Catholic Daughters of America.

“Here at Georgetown, we’re a diverse community,” said BSA President Erica Cannon. “If something happens to one group or person, we all need to be there in support.”

Glickman singled out African-American students on campus for special praise.

“The black students on campus have been extremely supportive and want to see some things change,” he said.

The menorah desecrations are not the only hate-inspired incidents troubling these student leaders. During the past few years, resident assistants have testified in campus meetings on diversity about swastikas in the stairwells of freshman dormitories, Glickman reports.

Early Sunday morning, in Kopley Hall, a Red Square dormitory, two swastikas were placed on flyers announcing a Friday vigil and Shabbat service at the menorah.

This time, the administration’s response was swift. A mandatory meeting for students in the dorm was held 9:30 p.m. that Sunday.

More dramatically, Georgetown President Father Leo J. O’Donovan attended a Saturday evening Havdalah service hosted by the JSA. He underscored his condemnation of the vandalism.

The college president listened to Jewish student concerns and helped dispel earlier skepticism about the administration’s seriousness in tackling anti-Semitism.

“After meeting with Father O’Donovan, I and other Jewish students have faith that [the administration] is committed to working with us to make whatever changes are necessary to create a more tolerant and accepting community,” said Glickman afterwards. “This incident affected him almost as much as it affected the Jews.”