Bloomberg confirms he is considering 2016 presidential run


Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg confirmed he is considering entering the 2016 presidential race.

Bloomberg, a billionaire media magnate who served three terms in New York, for the first time said he was seriously thinking about throwing his hat in the ring, he told the Financial Times in an interview published on its website Monday evening, hours before the first U.S. primary election in New Hampshire.

Bloomberg, who is Jewish, criticized the quality of the debate in the race and said he was “looking into all options” when asked about entering the race. He said the U.S. public deserves “a lot better.”

“I find the level of discourse and discussion distressingly banal and an outrage and an insult to the voters,” he told the Financial Times.

Bloomberg, 73, was mayor of New York from 2002 to 2013. He was a Democrat until his first run, in 2001, when unable to secure the party’s nomination, he became a Republican. He became an independent in 2007.

Early last month it was revealed that Bloomberg commissioned a poll to test how he would fare in a presidential run. Bloomberg previously considered presidential runs, but had concluded then that an independent’s chances are near zero.

Bloomberg would consider spending up to $1 billion of his own money on a run, The New York Times reported last month in an article in which anonymously quoted aides and associates of Bloomberg said he saw an opening in case Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., won the Republican and Democratic nominations, respectively.

Bloomberg has maintained close ties to Israel, making a last-minute visit to the country during its 2014 war with Hamas to show that travel was safe in the face of a brief Federal Aviation Authority ban.

He won the inaugural $1 million Genesis Generation Challenge in 2014, a prize awarded for “engagement and dedication to the Jewish community and/or the State of Israel.” His charity, Bloomberg Philanthropies, has provided $1.5 million to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in urban innovation grants.

Bloomberg made his fortune, now valued at approximately $40 billion, from the media and financial data company he founded, Bloomberg L.P.

My lunch with Lefsetz


Do you know about Bob Lefsetz? 

He is a middle-age guru living in Santa Monica.  For 25 years, he’s been commenting on our culture in an idiosyncratic independent newsletter — first in hard copy, then in an e-mail newsletter and now in an online blog. 

I first heard of him through Howard Stern, who often reads aloud from The Lefsetz Letter on air. Stern is one of the most astute satirists and social commentators this country has ever produced, so I figured if he’s paying attention to Lefsetz, I should, too.

I started subscribing to Lefsetz’s newsletter, and now, every day, I get a concise essay in my in-box that helps me figure out where the world is going.

We all need that help. The old ways of communicating are irrevocably broken.  We all now music, radio, movies and newspapers will never be the same.  But what is also clear is that the digital revolution is changing the ways we organize politically—see Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street—and the way we organize in faith communities.

This week The New York Times reported that the most “Liked” page on Facebook is called the Jesus Daily, run by a diet doctor and visited by some 10 million people.  In an age when Jesus (or Moses) can pop into your in box before breakfast, when more than 43 million people on Facebook are fans of at least one page categorized as religious, the rules of how we transmit tradition are as ripe for rewriting as the rules for making it in the music business.

“It’s a brand new game,” Lefsetz wrote recently. “The Internet is not going away, we are not going back to three networks and no cable. There will only be more entertainment options. You can reach everybody, but it’s almost impossible to get them to pay attention. How do you get them to pay attention? By not doing it the same way everybody else does. By reinventing yourself.”

The wisdom of this struck me as hard-won and provocative — and true. I wanted to meet Lefsetz, but figured he lived in some kind of blogger’s lair in Manhattan. Then I Googled and found out Bob Lefsetz lives two miles from me, in Santa Monica.

When I invited him to lunch, he began by telling me he’s not that Jewish.

It happens all the time: I want to interview someone, and they feel they need to apologize for their level of religious observance.

I told Bob Lefsetz not to worry. All he had to do was talk, and to leave the Jewish up to me.

So we met in Brentwood.

Lefsetz is pushing 60, balding — imagine if Wallace Shawn were unafraid to seem “too Jewish.” He grew up in Connecticut, went to Middlebury College, then law school and did time as a music industry executive. He started the newsletter in 1986, and that’s where he found his niche: as insider/outsider, standing apart from the scrum, pouring his passion for music and culture into figuring out how it works best.

“The pros make it look easy,” writes Lefsetz in a typical post. “But don’t believe it is. Even if you could hit the basket, try doing it during the playoffs, like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. They don’t choke under pressure, they’re even better in competition!”

Or this, from Lefetz’s advice to young musicians: “You’ve got to want it. It’s got to permeate every cell in your body. Because it’s just that hard to make it. The pitfalls are plenty. The setbacks are huge. The abuse is heaped upon you. You must have an inner light that keeps you going no matter what.”

Passion is the bottom line for Lefsetz — he admires it in others’ work, understands it as essential to success and embodies it when he speaks. Our interview took place at Mach speed, with Lefsetz stressing every sentence, veering into tangents and into cul-de-sacs, launching into arias.

We started talking about the impact of the Internet — I think — and he practically jumped across the table.

“This is why the Web is revolutionary!” he said. “There’s a Web site for every topic known to man. There’s someone who LIVES that. They are a bigger expert than anyone in the mainstream media. The mainstream media are generalists. In today’s era, when anybody can reach anybody, it’s an era of TRUTH.”

I’m not exactly sure what the Internet means, either. But, I asked Lefsetz, since we seem to be at a point where we can communicate anything to anyone, how do we do it effectively; how do we do it successfully?

Lefsetz’s metaphor-of-choice is the music industry, which I know nothing about, but his lessons are universal, apropos to all of us who are trying to get a message across. 

“The major labels were successful, because they had a monopoly,” he said. “In 1965, when the Stones released ‘Satisfaction,’ there’s nobody who didn’t know it. Now you don’t have to listen to anything you don’t want. 

“Now everybody gets to play,” he said. “But the stuff doesn’t sell. … So how do I reach more people? That’s the question. We’ve developed a culture that says everyone is entitled to a certain level of success. That’s just not true. The public decides. There’s less and less money in the niche … but it’s really about emotional connection, and that’s the stories you tell.”

Lefsetz took a breath, then raised his voice again.

“All that matters is emotional connection.”

I realized, then, that even though Lefsetz traffics in cultural ephemera — the 1’s and 0’s that make up digital music and media — he is keyed in to enduring, lasting values. Here’s this self-proclaimed barely-a-Jew whose newsletter is a kind of daily Midrash—a commentary on what really matters, amid all the noise and verbiage that doesn’t.

As I pondered my theory, Lefsetz took a bite of his burger, then started to explain Lefsetz.

“I had two peak experiences in my life,” he said.  “One I won’t mention. The other was going to summer camp. Camp Laurelwood in East Madison, run by the New Haven Jewish Community Center. My years there were one of the two peaks of my life — 99.8 percent of the kids were Jews, with a commonality of values. What I learned was you can question and still be a Member of the Tribe. I don’t want to be outside the world. But you can question and still be a part of it. That’s my philosophy of life.”

It’s fitting that Lefsetz’s remaining strong tribal connection is the annual High Holiday on Live365 Internet Radio from Temple Emanu-el in New York.  He likes his religion like he likes his music—digitally.

Passion, truth, persistence. Courage, loyalty and curiosity —  those are the truths The Lefsetz Letter illustrates time and again. Yes, it’s a new, new world.  But the only way to navigate it well is with the old values.

“We live in an era of assimilation,” Lefsetz told me. “But we also live in an era when everything our parents said was true.”

A truncated and far less adequate version of this column appeared in the 11/3/11 print edition of The Jewish Journal.

Where in the world is Joe Lieberman?


Palestinians Facing Uncertain Future


 

Standing in the Muqata, Yasser Arafat’s compound in Ramallah, on his funeral day made me believe that we Palestinians must overcome a hurdle if we are to move forward.

Our youth face uncertainty, our people feel lost and beaten and our elders are sad to think that their children and grandchildren will share their same destiny — never to live in peace in an independent Palestinian state.

Events on the Palestinian streets will have to be shaped by the combined efforts of Palestinian, Israeli and American leaders. Palestinians must rise to the occasion, put aside our differences and make unity a top priority.

Israelis must act to ease Palestinian conditions so that a new, legitimate leadership can be elected. And Americans must seize the opportunity and invest serious efforts with heavy backing from President Bush to bring about a fair and honest solution to the table.

What kind of change is Israel willing to make in an effort to ease conditions and allow Palestinians to elect a new leadership?

In the short term, Israel will play a pivotal role in the transition period by allowing Palestinians to elect a new leadership. It is crucial that Israel follows through and facilitates Palestinians holding free elections.

Unless there is full Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories and Palestinians in East Jerusalem are allowed to take part in the elections, it will not only be impossible to hold elections, but it is a safe bet that we are heading toward a more chaotic situation — something that Palestinians and Israelis can no longer afford.

Despite the anger and despair among our people and the actions of militants, the Palestinian leadership is prepared to work for peace. The first step is to elect a new leadership with a mandate to make peace. This was a very clear point Rawhi Fatooh, acting president of the Palestinian National Authority, stressed in a meeting I attended with him a few weeks ago in Ramallah.

The only person in the Palestinian leadership that I believe embodies the kind of leader that can maintain continuity and bring us to the next stage is Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. Are we more concerned about electing another leader that we can rally around and “worship,” or are we concerned about a leader that can rally international support and deliver what others could not?

People I spoke with believe that Abbas will be the right candidate, especially because of the deep desire and understanding that we must be realistic in order to move forward.

We cannot afford to elect a new leader who is serving time in an Israeli jail and make our focus an effort to free the president, rather than a national agenda for statehood. Marwan Barghouti should withdraw his candidacy for president, and instead Abbas’ agenda should include Barghouti’s release.

Every step Palestinians take must be coordinated on the Palestinian national level and international Arab level. Abbas is already taking a step toward that.

Talks with Hamas and other Palestinian groups, as well as talks with other Arab leaders, such as King Abdullah of Jordan, President Bashar Assad of Syria and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, are being conducted. Such talks must remain and continue to be the focus of any effort as we head for a new path.

The only person that can actually deliver this task is Abbas. He enjoys the support of the Arab countries, which is extremely important in any future negotiations with Israel. And beyond that, he is already working to strengthen the Palestinian-Arab relations as seen in his visit to six of the Gulf states.

The fact that a person from the old guard may be elected as president is irrelevant. Palestinians have a clear desire for reforms that must and will have to be included in the agenda of the next Palestinian leadership. Abbas has been one of the first people to speak of reforms and move toward implementing them.

Barghouti on the other hand is a man that everyone I spoke with seems to trust — even security service personnel who were in charge of the funeral arrangements for Arafat in Ramallah spoke highly of Barghouti. Nonetheless, Barghouti’s intentions to run for president from an Israeli jail cell, where he is serving a life sentence, will not only weaken the Fatah movement, but will also weaken the prospects of peace with Israel. It could also affect international support that is crucially needed to make the transition for the next stage in the peace process.

The problem is this: Every person I spoke with, whether they are a student, a mother, a father, young or old, had the impression that it is hard to trust Abbas and Ahmed Qurei, also known as Abu Ala, as leaders, because of the medical, political and economic confusion that surrounded Arafat’s final days. Nonetheless, the fact that Barghouti and Abbas are tied in the polls shows that despite the obscurity that surrounds the death of Arafat, the idea that he may have been poisoned has not impressed itself on many Palestinians.

This is a clear indication that people are willing and ready to move on.

Abbas may or may not be the best candidate from the standpoint of legitimacy, but this is not the point Palestinians must be concerned with. I believe Palestinians are aware that Abbas is a transitional figure and represents the candidate of continuity, not dramatic change. That must come later.

We must consider the fact that the formal succession process is less important than the changes that are now possible in Palestinian politics — changes that include the shift from politics based on individuals and the cult of personality to institutions. We need a leader we can respect and hold accountable; this will introduce the change from governance based on centralized and arbitrary authority to governance that is good, transparent and accountable.

Finally, for any overall improvement in the situation, a clear, sincere and serious American involvement must be present to help rebuild the Palestinian Authority’s institutions and exert the necessary pressure on Israel to move forward. Although it came in his last days in office, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit to the region was important, but the president must put full weight and personal effort to make this work.

All parties have so far endorsed the “road map” peace plan, but as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it, “The road map was never taken out of the glove compartment.”

The road map should be the framework from which the Gaza pullout plan is implemented and a good starting point for any further negotiations to come.

Whether the results of the elections will be seen by Palestinians and the international community as a vote for peace and reform is another factor in determining what comes next for the Palestinian people. Giving the new president the ability to move forward with a mandate for internal and external action should remain our focus as a united people, as we make our path toward a brighter future.

Fadi A. Elsalameen, 20, is founder and co-director of Voice of Arab Youth and a full-time college student in the United States.

 

Accord Allure


What I think about the Geneva accord is what generations of Jews have thought about getting a doctor’s second opinion: it couldn’t hurt.

I was surprised at how many people this week asked me whether I thought the accord was good for Israel. Surprised, mainly, that they would think an independent peace initiative declared at a press conference in Switzerland could actually doom the Jewish State.

The accord — negotiated over two years in secret talks between Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s policies and Palestinians with ties to Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority — were signed with great international fanfare Monday, Dec. 1, in a ceremony in Switzerland emceed by actor Richard Dreyfuss (see story, p. 18).

Although the bulky report goes into substantially more detail than other Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives now circulating, its broad outlines are hardly revolutionary to anyone familiar with the history of American-backed peace efforts in the region.

As worked out by teams led by Israeli opposition leader Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, the accord calls for two neighboring, independent states, each with its capital in Jerusalem; the evacuation of most Jewish settlements; and a limit, set by Israel, on the number of Palestinian refugees who can settle in Israel. Israel would compensate Palestinians in land for the few settlements that would remain, and in money for Palestinians not allowed to return. Palestine would have sovereignty over the Al Aksa Mosque and the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. Jews could visit the Temple Mount, but not pray there. Israel would have sovereignty over the Western Wall, and an international force would oversee the whole area.

As ideas for a future accord, these aren’t bad, and they certainly aren’t final. But supporters of the accord should temper their enthusiasm. While Palestinian negotiators received the tacit support of Arafat, his waffling in the days leading up to the ceremony should remind everyone that this is a man, to paraphrase former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, far more comfortable with the rhetoric of revolution than the reality of state building. There is little reason to think he won’t undermine the promise of Geneva as he did Oslo.

Opponents to the accord, on the other hand, should weigh their concerns against the status quo: the hundreds of innocent Israelis lost to violence, the country’s economic slide, the cost of doing more of the same. These costs become even more inexplicable when you take into account the fact that Sharon has already committed to the inevitability of a Palestinian state.

The accord, like a handful of similar initiatives, is the result of a leadership vacuum. No serious peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians have taken place since the start of the most recent Palestinian uprising in September 2000. Meanwhile, 910 Israelis have been killed.

Sharon seems to be following the strategy of former Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir: don’t do anything until you’re absolutely forced to.

The security fence his government is now building between Israel and the Palestinian territories is a prime example. Facing strong opposition from the right, he dithered for months until a strong centrist grass-roots voice forced his hand. Now the fence is going up, going left, right or straight across the 1967 borders, depending on who is pushing Sharon harder: the American government, the Israeli right or the Israeli center.

The Geneva accord is also, to some extent, forcing Sharon’s hand. The fact that Secretary of State Colin Powell has defied some powerful (and powerfully misguided) pro-Israel activists in meeting with accord negotiators is a sign that it is time for Sharon to take some action.

"If Sharon is going to step away from Shamir’s strategy it will make history," an Israeli official told me. "If not we’re in deep s–." There is good reason to believe that Sharon will make some moves. Even Sharon’s opponents do not view him as an ideologue. He is a former general committed to Israel’s strategic security, and a politician with a keen sense of the Israeli center. At the end of the day, it will be these forces that push him toward action.

That is why a more important date in Israel’s history may turn out to be not Dec. 1, but Dec. 18. That’s when Sharon will go before a party economic convention and speak — some analysts say — of unilateral moves his government will take toward alleviating the Palestinian crisis. The moves may include withdrawal from some of the more remote settlements and other overtures in the Palestinian direction. They will convince some Palestinians that movement is possible, and the American administration that the path to peace is not road blocked in Jerusalem.

Three JCCs to Gain Their Independence


The Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), which last year nearly drowned amid a sea of red ink and allegations of mismanagement, wants to get out of the business of running major community centers after 60 years.

With pressures mounting to give the centers under its control greater autonomy, JCCGLA has gone a step further. Sometime next year, the Westside JCC in Los Angeles, Valley Cities JCC in Van Nuys and West Valley JCC in West Hills are scheduled to become fully independent entities with their own boards of directors, employees and budgets, said Nina Lieberman Giladi, JCCGLA executive vice president.

The trio of centers and the JCCGLA will retain strong links, Lieberman Giladi said. The JCCGLA, for yet-to-be-determined fees, will provide them with accounting, human resources, fundraising and other services, she said.

Lieberman Giladi said JCCGLA will continue to operate the Zimmer Children’s Discovery Museum, the Shalom Institute in Malibu and the Conejo Valley JCC,

It is unclear whether the independent centers would have to pay off debts incurred by JCCGLA. If they do, some observers question whether they could survive.

Lieberman Giladi said JCCGLA has balanced its budget and has made real progress in righting its finances. However, in recent negotiations with the centers’ unionized employees, JCCGLA officials allegedly asked for major concessions, including wage freezes, the elimination of several paid Jewish holidays and the curtailment of health benefits for many teachers and employees, said Jon Lepie of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 800.

"What they’ve said is that their financial situation is dire; that they have debt all over town, including credit card debt," he said. "It’s incredibly serious."

Robert Sax, JCCGLA spokesman, said the organization had no credit card debt. He declined to comment on Lepie’s allegation, saying JCCGLA doesn’t discuss ongoing negotiations.

The JCCGLA has taken steps to cut costs and better marshal its resources. For instance, it saw a one-time savings of $200,000 and will also save $150,000 annually from hiring a new accountant. It has also replaced its chief financial officer and made changes to prevent future financial crises.

"From all evidence I’ve seen in the last year, I’m confident of their abilities and that corrective actions have been taken," said Michael Kaminsky, president of Westside JCC Advisory Board and a JCCGLA board member.

However, JCCGLA remains saddled with a large debt. The organization owes The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles $2.8 million, The Federation said. Over the past eight months, the two groups have negotiated on repayment and a host of other issues. It is unclear how much debt The Federation would forgive, if any.

As part of its repayment, JCCGLA has, at the behest of The Federation, put a lien on two properties worth an estimated $1.1 million, including the site of the Silver Lake Independent JCC. That arrangement means The Federation would receive the proceeds from any sale.

The Federation said it would not take any action that would result in the closure of Silver Lake, at least until June 30, 2003. It is also in discussions with JCCGLA and the Silver Lake group to explore options after that date.

Silver Lake Independent JCC has improved its finances since breaking away from JCCGLA and now operates with a slight surplus, Silver Lake Chairman Janie Schulman said. In early December, a silent auction and dinner dance raised $20,000, she added.

Lieberman Giladi said the worst is behind JCCGLA, adding that the impending split with the Westside, Valley Cities and West Valley JCCs would help the centers.

"I believe this gives them the best possible chance [to survive]," she said. "Each of the JCCs will be able to broaden their base of support by developing their own governing bodies and programs."

Critics of JCCGLA had long complained that money raised by individual centers went into the JCCGLA general fund. They also groused that JCCGLA was sometimes unresponsive to local concerns.

"This will give us more control over our individual destinies," said Judy Boasberg, a Westside JCC board member. "Before, we didn’t have much input on what was going on."

Despite the optimism, the centers’ futures are by no means assured.

The Federation, by far JCCGLA’s biggest benefactor, has itself come under increasing financial pressure from the many agencies it supports. With cash-strapped federal, state and local governments slashing funding across the board, several nonprofit groups will likely turn to The Federation to make up any shortfalls. That could stretch The Federation thin, making it more difficult for JCCGLA or independent centers to tap its resources.

"We do not have unlimited funds," Federation President John Fishel said. "We have many responsibilities and will continue to meet as many of them as possible. It’s a balancing act."

In 2001, Federation grants, loans and advances to JCCGLA totaled $6.1 million, or nearly 44 percent of its $14 million budget, according to The Federation (that figure includes a $2.8 million emergency advance). Nationally, federation giving accounts for just 12 percent of the budgets at typical Jewish community centers, the JCC Association said.

This year, The Federation has earmarked $2.9 million for JCCGLA. The Federation also is contributing another $600,000 to run programs shed by JCCGLA during its financial crisis and taken over by Jewish Family Service, including SOVA, the Israel Levin Senior Center and Westside Adult Day Care.

It appears that JCCGLA has struggled more than many of its peer organizations nationwide. The Bay Cities JCC was the only Jewish community center in the United States to have closed in the past two years, the JCC Association said. As JCCGLA contracts, the overall number of affiliated Jewish community centers in the United States has grown in recent years, according the JCC Association.

Lieberman Giladi remains upbeat.

"I think the fact that the centers are here today is proof that they’ll be here tomorrow," she said. "We’ve already beaten the odds."

Services Offered by Community Centers

Conejo Valley JCC: Early childhood education (ECE); and intergenerational programming and community programs, such as lectures on parenting.

West Valley JCC: ECE; family programs; seniors programs; health and fitness; summer day camp; after-school child care; and cultural and fine-arts programs.

Valley Cities JCC: ECE; summer day camp; after-school child care; family programs; and some cultural programs, including staged-play reading series. Weekly seniors group and monthly senior dinner-dances.

Westside JCC: ECE; kindergarten; family programs; and some cultural programs. Budget cutbacks forced the suspension of seniors and health and fitness programs. Jewish Family Service runs a senior adult day care program.

North Valley JCC (Independent): ECE, after-school child care; after-school karate and gymnastics; winter, spring and holiday minicamps; swimming classes; senior bridge club; and adult social clubs. Beginning in January: adult evening programs, including Israeli dancing, beginning Hebrew and Jewish history.

Silverlake Independent JCC (Independent): ECE; kindergarten; after-school child care; ballet and other children’s classes; and fitness class for seniors

A Message From David Wolpe


It’s a well-known fact that millions of Jews have doubts about the literal veracity of Bible stories.
On April 8, 9 and 15, I gave a series of sermons that emphasized the following point: faith is independent of doubt. I wanted the millions of doubting Jews to know that they can still be faithful Jews and live a life of meaning and mitzvahs.

If scholarly books are written that question the literal veracity of the Bible stories, it does not help our credibility to pretend that they don’t exist. By discussing these books we maintain the Jewish tradition of sustaining faith by seeking truth.

Ignoring the books, on the other hand, conveys a message of fear: we are afraid that science will shake our faith. I don’t believe it should, and that is why I spoke out.

This has always been the official position of the Conservative movement, and I believe it is an important message that can help millions of doubting Jews stay connected to their faith. If you would like cassette tapes of my talks, please contact my office at (310) 481-3318.

Back on Track


The American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) has reestablished its Los Angeles-based regional office with the appointment of a new president and a new executive director.

AJCongress national president Jack Rosen named Dr. Steven A. Teitelbaum as president of the Pacific Southwest Region, and Gary A. Ratner as executive director.

The regional chapter ceased operation in the spring of last year following lengthy and bitter disputes with the national organization, which is headquartered in New York.

At the time, local chapter leaders claimed that the national AJCongress had forsaken its traditional liberal agenda. National officers replied that the Los Angeles group had been shut down because it wouldn’t pay its bills.

The leadership of the former local chapter has reincarnated itself as an independent organi-zation, the Progressive Jewish Alliance (see story, Sept. 29).

Teitelbaum, 38, is a Santa Monica plastic surgeon and native Angeleno who has been active in Israel Bonds. His most recent foray into politics came during the Democratic Convention, when he organized a fundraiser for Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Among his planned projects is a recognition dinner for Robert Scheer, honoring the Los Angeles Times columnist for his steadfast defense of nuclear engineer Wen Ho Lee, freed after being charged with spying for China.

Other areas of interest will be racial profiling, police corruption, and relations with Mexico and the local Latino community.

Teitelbaum said that he has always been interested in politics and the Jewish community and harbors no grudge against his predecessors now leading the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

“It’s not like the UCLA vs. USC rivalry. It’s more like two UCLA players; one plays football and the other basketball,” explains the UCLA alumnus.

Teitelbaum, who is single, came to the attention of AJCongress leaders after they recently honored his brother, Douglas, a New York businessman.

Ratner, 51, the new executive director, was a lifelong Chicago resident and is a veteran community activist, entrepreneur, business executive, teacher and fundraiser. He has spent considerable time in Israel, and his wife, Dalia, born in the Jewish state, owned the All My Muffins store in Beverly Hills during the 1980s.Given the previous chapter’s financial difficulties, AJCongress president Rosen stressed in his announcement that “(Ratner) not only understands the needs of the Los Angeles Jewish community, but he understands how to raise the funds and to provide the services to meet these needs.”

Ratner, too, lists among his priorities forging alliances with other ethnic groups and revision of the “abusive and ineffective” immigration laws.

Gary Ratner has set up offices in Santa Monica and can be reached at (310) 450-8740.

Coastal Voters Could Pick New House Speaker


The independent voters in Venice, Torrance and San Pedro may determine the next Speaker of the United States House of Representatives on November 6, 2000.

Freshman Congressman Steven Kuykendall, narrowly elected as a pro-choice Republican in 1998, plans to be re-elected in the 36th Congressional District. Former Congresswoman Jane Harman, defeated in her bid to become California’s first female Governor in 1998, would like to take back her old seat. Both national political parties would like to control the House of Representatives, which the Republicans currently dominate by a five vote margin — and there are expected to be fewer than 30 closely contested races.

So big money will flow like the Pacific tides in this race. As Kuykendall said in an interview with the Journal, “Nobody is going to go without money.” Kuykendall spent $800,000 winning the seat in 1998, and Harman spent over a million keeping it in 1996 as a Democrat. Both candidates have voted for campaign finance reform, but both candidates are also considered excellent fundraisers.

But there’s a hitch. California’s 36th Congressional district stretches along the coastline from Torrance and San Pedro in the south to Venice Beach in the north, and includes both the Los Angeles International Airport, the Port of Los Angeles and Catalina Island. It’s 342,000 registered voters are among the least ideological, party-label driven voters in the nation. The district includes 3 percent more registered Republicans than Democrats.

“It’s not a district for a traditional Democrat or traditional Republican, but one for an effective independent,” notes Harman. Back when Ross Perot was effective, he polled over 20 percent of the vote in 1992 on the Reform Party ticket.

According to Kuykendall, the highlights of his first year include pushing Congressional leaders to focus on balancing the budget and adding amendments to proposed tax cut legislation. Kuykendall also helped pass legislation to redredge the Marina Del Rey Harbor and reduce traffic congestion around Los Angeles Airport. The incumbent also promotes himself as moderate with a bipartisan approach to appeal to fiscally conservative, socially moderate district voters, many of whom are Jewish.

But Harman will no doubt remind the district’s Jewish voters of her “incredible” final week in Congress. Harman flew to Israel with President Clinton on Air Force One, witnessed the PLO change its charter to recognize Israel, and cast four votes against Clinton’s impeachment. As an influential moderate Congressional representative from a swing district, she played a role in and held a front row seat to those historical events.

It’s understandable that Harman, a moderate known for her interest in military issues and foreign affairs, wants to represent the 36th Congressional district again. But she won a razor thin victory against Gingrich protégé Susan Brooks in 1994, and she’ll have another tough fight this time around. Both Harman and Kuykendall have cultivated close working relationships with the district’s leading businesses such as Hughes Electronics, Northrop Grumman, and Los Angeles International Airport.

Harman, who used to describe herself as one half of the House’s Jewish Women’s Caucus, hopes to rejoin an expanded caucus after the 2000 election. The strong support of Governor Gray Davis and the Democratic National Committee for her former Congressional seat remains another reason for Harman’s confidence in her comeback campaign. Analysts believe that Democrats have an excellent opportunity to win back control of the House of Representatives in November 2000 elections — especially if Harman can wage a successful comeback.

Whether she can depends on how ably she can differentiate herself from her moderate opponent in the minds of voters. “Kuykendall is a decent man,” says Harman. “I differ with him, however, on a number of issues.”

A prime example, according to Harman, was Kuykendall’s vote against a bipartisan HMO reform bill. The Norwood-Dingell bill would have established a Bill of Rights for HMO patients including the right to sue HMOs, prohibited physician gag orders and restored the right to choose a physician. Although 67 Republican Congressional members crossed party lines to support Norwood-Dingell, Kuykendall voted against the HMO reforms.

Responds Kuykendall: “I voted for two other versions allowing individuals to sue HMOs just before. I was just concerned that small businesses might be held responsible. We don’t want to discourage small businesses from providing health insurance.”

Campaign finance reform is another critical issue for Harman. “I voted for the earlier and stronger version of McCain/Feingold,” notes Harman. “I also co-introduced a bill to challenge the Supreme Court’s decision that giving money is a form of free speech.” Common Cause, the good- government organization that lobbies for campaign finance reform, supports challenging that controversial decision to reduce the role of money and special interests in politics.

Yet the concentration of so many export industries also lead to both Harman and Kuykendall focusing a great deal of attention to trade issues. “I’m a free- trade Democrat,” says Harman who voted against NAFTA, but for GATT. “The US interests in the global economy need to be explained.”

“It is my considered judgment that the South Bay will flourish under reasonable and reliable trading rules,” concludes Harman based on personal experience. Sidney Harman, Jane’s husband, owns Harman International, a premium audio systems manufacturer headquartered in Martinsville, Indiana, that has plants in the United States and Europe. Worldwide exports have been a key factor in the company’s expansion in the last decade. Kuykendall has also supported recent trade agreements, including legislation to increase exports from Africa. Trade, however, remains controversial in the district’s voters.

Harman, an experienced campaigner and lobbyist, believes that the World Trade Organization has created some of its own public relations problems by being excessively secret. “Obviously anything called the World Trade Organization will be misportrayed.” In hindsight, Harman believes it would have been better if the Seattle conference had not been held. Harman supports China’s admission to the WTO, and believes that sometimes quiet negotiations among trading partners will lead to better results than public disputes.

America’s continuing prosperity and power, according to both candidates, rests on expanding trade and maintaining a strong military. “The military budgets have been declining for 14, 15 years,” notes Kuykendall. “We need to replace military equipment and spend more to improve recruitment and have a better retention.” Congressman Kuykendall serves on the Armed Services, the Science and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committees of the House.

The daughter of a refugee physician from Nazi Germany, Harman also supports modernizing the American military. Harman’s vigorous support for a missile defense system lead the left-leaning magazine Mother Jones to put her on their “Dirty Dozen” list in 1996. Defense contractors are important industries and major employers in the 36th district, and the relatively affluent district includes an estimated 13 percent military veterans. Harman sat on the House Security Committee and developed a reputation as an expert on military intelligence.

Perhaps the importance of America’s superpower status can best be seen in the Mideast. “I want Israel to be secure,” said Harmon. “And I want the United States to do whatever it can to make that happen.”


Hasta la Vista, Yentl


Goodbye, Columbus.

And goodbye Portnoy, Tevye and Yentl, too.

A glance back at the films of 1998 reveal Jewish characters who break the mold, overturn the stereotype, and stretch the image of Jews on-screen.

Instead of bubbes, hausfraus and pickle men, there were Jewish junkies, gangsters and wild women in the quirky arena of independent film. The striking roles drew striking actors: Ben Stiller was a Jewish heroin addict and TV writer in “Permanent Midnight”; Renee Zellweger played a sexually frustrated Chassid in “A Price Above Rubies”; Ally Sheedy portrayed a tormented artist and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor in “High Art; John Turturro starred as the Holocaust author Primo Levi in “The Truce”; and Minnie Driver was a Sephardic Jew and gothic heroine in the 19th-century drama, “The Governess.”

Forget the traditional movie images of Jewish urban or suburban life. “The Cruise” is a documentary about an eccentric, homeless New York tour guide, “Speed” Levitch; “Safe Men” spotlights some bumbling Jewish gangsters; and Peter Berg’s debut film, “Very Bad Things,” reveals some nice Jewish boys who do some not-so-nice things in Las Vegas and beyond.

Most mind-bending of all is Darren Aronofsky’s debut feature, “Pi,” a Jewish sci-fi flick about a paranoid mathematics genius who is pursued by shadowy Wall Street figures and Chassidic Kabbalists.

Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan has a theory about the range of Jewish outsiders who are protagonists these days. “The popular culture seems to be pushing everything toward the extremes, and we’re seeing that reflected in the movies, especially in independent film,” he says.

The Jewish films of 1998 are mostly the work of young filmmakers, in their 20s and 30s, who are making first or second features, capitalizing on multicultural chic to express who they are. Nowhere was the trend more apparent than in the work of women directors, who mined their pasts to create bold heroines struggling with issues of Jewish identity.

In Brit Sandra Goldbacher’s “The Governess,” a Sephardic orphan disguises herself as a Gentile in 1840s England to find work in the larger world. Feeling as if a Star of David is emblazoned on her forehead, she journeys to a remote manor house and begins a torrid affair with the master.

Tamara Jenkins creates a very different, iconoclastic Jewish heroine in “Slums of Beverly Hills,” her semi-autobiographical tale of a female Portnoy, whose adolescent angst is exacerbated by the fact that she’s poor in the quintessentially wealthy Jewish suburb.

Filmmakers such as Jenkins and Goldbacher “feel more emboldened to deal with Jewish issues than in the past,” says Neal Gabler, author of “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood.” “It’s part of a continuing trend of ethnic awareness. Artists are more comfortable asserting their ethnicity.”

If 1998 was the year of the bold Jewish heroine, it was also the year of the standout Holocaust-themed film. Besides “The Truce,” there was the poignant “Life is Beautiful,” Roberto Benigni’s Cannes-winning, Chaplinesque tragicomedy about a sweet, sad man who protects his son in a concentration camp. The liberation documentary, “The Long Way Home,” won the Academy Award. And Nazis and neo-Nazis were the focus of Bryan Singer’s “Apt Pupil” and Tony Kaye’s “American History X,” starring Edward Norton.

In 1998, we also had plenty of Woody Allen, not only in Barbara Kopple’s documentary, “Wild Man Blues,” which follows the reclusive director around Europe with his paramour, Soon-Yi, and the upcoming Allen feature, “Celebrity.” The animated DreamWorks film, “Antz,” stars Woody’s voice as the rebellious, Central Park worker ant Z, who tells his analyst it’s tough to be the middle child in a family of 5 million.

For Leonard Maltin, the film critic for “Entertainment Tonight,” the proliferation of Jewish characters is a positive thing. “It asserts that we exist,” he says, “and that we are part of the fabric of American life.”