As Israel’s economy grows, more Israelis are giving to charity


At Hadassah's centennial celebration in October, 2,000 guests heard about two major philanthropic projects being undertaken by the women's Zionist group: a new tower and a new cardiovascular wellness center at its Jerusalem hospitals.

The tower, which was dedicated at the centennial, cost $363 million. And a $10 million gift from American philanthropist Irene Pollin came with the announcement of the cardiovascular center. Most of Hadassah’s members and donors are American, and every year most of its $100 million budget goes to Israel — as it has for a century, well before Israel was a state.

For virtually all of Israel's history, the philanthropic highway between the United States and the Jewish state ran in one direction. Now, with the growth of Israel's economy and an expanding class of affluent citizens, Israeli initiatives have begun to encourage giving by Israelis for Israelis.

Still, experts say, building a culture of philanthropy remains an uphill battle in Israel.

“Israeli philanthropy is not very well developed, even though there’s [been] a lot of Israeli wealth in the past 10 to 20 years,” said Debra London, project manager for Sheatufim, which helps donors and nonprofits become more effective. “It’s about recruiting them to the idea that they have to give.”

Since well before the founding of the state, American Jewish philanthropy has been instrumental in establishing and sustaining Jewish settlement in Israel. This funding model persisted even as the state established itself and grew into a thriving industrial and information-age economy. American donors still fund many projects and organizations in Israel, while many Israeli outfits have established fundraising arms in the United States.

On the whole, Israelis are less philanthropic than Americans. In a recent paper, Hebrew University professor Hillel Schmid found that in 2009 Israeli philanthropy constituted 0.74 percent of Israel’s GDP, compared to 2.1 percent in the United States. In total that year, Israelis donated $3 billion. Part of the reason, Schmid says, is the high income tax that Israelis have pai d traditionally to support a robust social safety net. Many Israelis also feel that their years spent in compulsory military service provided a significant contribution to the state.

“We all go to the army, we pay a high income tax, so we think we give a lot,” Schmid, the director of the Center for the Study of Philanthropy in Israel, told JTA. “There are a few good philanthropists, but there’s no movement of philanthropy.”

That’s changing. Schmid noted that in 2009, Israeli nonprofits received a majority of their donations from Israelis, not from abroad — a departure from previous years.

New philanthropic models are emerging, too. An organization called Takdim in the coastal town of Ramat HaSharom hopes to duplicate the successful North American Jewish federation model, where one central institution in each community manages collective Jewish giving. More than two-thirds of the funds raised by Takdim will go to projects in the central Israeli city, while 30 percent will fund projects across the country. A communal board will determine which projects to support.

“We need to have a change in outlook and show people that if they want to help the community, they need to help in both senses, to volunteer and to help financially,” said Revital Itach, Takdim’s project manager. “Our goal is not to depend on two or three donors but to draft the whole community.”

Founded a year-and-a-half ago, Takdim has 120 donors and is embarking on its first major fundraising drive. Itach hopes to raise $256,000, much of which will go to building a new park that will be accessible to disabled children.

“There was a sense of community” years ago, Itach said. “As the city grew and brought more people in, the feeling of community got weaker. There was a desire to bring back that feeling of togetherness, to look beyond your own sphere and to do something for all of the residents.”

Another initiative, called Committed to Give and run by Sheatufim, aims to expand the top echelon of Israeli donors, defined as those who give more than $64,000 annually. London estimates that 10,000 Israelis can give that amount. Twenty donors who already give that much are running the initiative.

A rise in Israeli philanthropy does not necessarily mean a drop in U.S. Jewish giving, says Becky Caspi, director general of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Israel office. Caspi recognizes an emotional drive in American Jews to help Israel and does not anticipate a significant decline in donations to Israel.

Federations have been involved in helping launch Takdim and Committed to Give, and Caspi sees a growing number of Israelis “who can assist in carrying the burden to care for the most vulnerable in Israeli society.”

“There are so many people who see Israel hurting and want to help,” she told JTA. “When Israeli philanthropists are exposed to that strength and resilience, it’s a source of inspiration.”

In 2011, JFNA allocated $237 million to overseas funding, the bulk of which goes to Israel. It was a decrease from previous years: In 2010, $249 million went overseas from JFNA, while the figure was $258 million in 2009.

While Israel’s philanthropic culture is still growing, the country does have an established volunteer culture. Yoram Sagi Zaks, chairman of Israel’s national volunteering council, estimates that 46 percent of Israeli youth volunteer in some capacity, and that 800,000 Israelis volunteer in total. Many draw on their military experience to volunteer with security institutions, like the police force.

While Sagi Zaks appreciates rising philanthropy in Israel, he hopes that it doesn’t replace the culture of volunteerism.

“There’s a trend that more people are giving money because they can, and that needs to rise in all sectors of society,” he said. But, Sagi Zaks added, “It’s easier to give a monetary donation. A donation of yourself connects you to society.”

Obama to donors: Israel and the U.S. need ‘fresh eyes’


President Obama told Jewish donors to his reelection campaign that Israel and the United States must assess the new Middle East with “fresh eyes.”

“Both the United States and Israel are going to have to look at this new landscape with fresh eyes,” Obama said Monday night at an event in Washington that charged a minimum $25,000 a couple.  “It’s not going to be sufficient for us just to keep on doing the same things we’ve been doing and expect somehow that things are going to work themselves out.  We’re going to have to be creative and we’re going to have to be engaged.”

Obama said Israel is the United States’ “closest ally” and that he was committed to Israel facing the challenges “from a position of strength,” noting the closeness between the two countries’ defense establishments and his increase in defense assistance to Israel.

Obama, who has clashed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over settlement building and parameters for peace talks with the Palestinians, said that in the coming months “there may be tactical disagreements in terms of how we approach these difficult problems.”

Organizers of the event, entitled “Obama Victory Fund 2012 Dinner with the President in support of a strong US-Israel relationship” ushered the White House pool reporters out of the room at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel after Obama’s short talk so he could talk frankly with the donors.

Organizers aimed to raise $1 million in the evening. Obama’s Jewish supporters have been pushing back against reports that he is losing support in the community because of tensions with Netanyahu.

Free at last!


Last Sunday night (June 1) in an amphitheatre outside Jerusalem, I had a flash of insight into how to get disaffected Jews excited and involved in Jewish life: Make it free!

I was at something called the Birthright Israel Mega Event. Birthright is the eight-year-old program that has brought more than 170,000 Jewish young people from 53 countries to Israel for 10-day trips, all expenses paid. By most measures it has been a phenomenal success. Kids with no or limited connection to their heritage become deeply attached, or at least intrigued. They form lifelong bonds with peers from other states or other countries. They see the best of Israel having the best of times, and the impression is lasting and positive.

I rode a wave of that enthusiasm Sunday night in Latrun. “Birthright, ARE YOU READY TO PARTY??!!!!” screamed emcee Michael HarPaz to a packed amphitheatre of some 7,500 young people.

Strobe lights raked the stage, giant Star of David-shaped balloon sculptures floated in the breeze, and when the Birthrighters leapt up and screamed “YEAH!!” a series of synchronized fireworks shot out from behind the bandstand and dazzled in the warm, starry night.

Birthright, with an annual budget of $104 million, was created and initially funded by American Jewish mega-philanthropists Charles Bronfman and Michael and Judy Steinhardt. It now receives major support from the Israeli government, as well as from other private, mostly American Jewish donors. Many of them were seated in the first few rows of the mega-event — Bronfman, the Steinhardts, Lynn Shusterman and Gary and Karen Winnick, among others. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke, thanking the donors, the emcee thanked the donors, a video featured the donors, the donors took the stage and thanked one another — for at least 45 minutes, the event recalled that scene in “The King and I” where grateful Siamese come, on bended knee, to honor the benevolent Yul Brynner.

But so what — they deserve it. And it was in the midst of the thank-a-thon that my epiphany occurred: Why do this just for 20-somethings?

Clearly, the Bronfman/Steinhardt brainchild worked. And a great part of its success has been due to three factors.

First, it is professionally done. Israel, a country that can’t seem to organize a line at a bus stop, has managed to shepherd thousands of wild and crazy young people on a meticulously planned itinerary twice a year for 10 days without breaking a sweat.

Second, Birthright gives these Jews something they need at that point in their lives, even if they themselves don’t know it.

Finally, it’s free. A trip that costs thousands of dollars per participant is handed out like a money-stuffed attaché case on “Deal or No Deal.” It doesn’t matter if the participant is the child of a single mom working three low-wage jobs or the scion of a Cincinnati ladies’ support-hose magnate, your money’s no good here.

To summarize: Excellent + Relevant + Free = Huge Success.

It turns out the success of many other Jewish outreach initiatives boils down to this same formula. Think of the new minyans and congregations who don’t ask for a dime but offer a great spiritual experience.

Think of Chabad, arguably one of the most successful outreach organizations of any religion. Their services are free, and so is their schnaps.

Think of the scholarships that various communities and schools offer young people for study in Jewish institutions: There is never a lack of applicants.

Finally, think of this very newspaper and Web site, offered at no cost to anyone who takes the trouble to pick it up or click on it.

It turns out that uninspired, unattached, unaffiliated Jews are easy to lure into the fold: Just give them something good for free.

So, my suggestion is, extend the Birthright brand. You want to rock the Jewish world? Tell every 30-something with children their first year of Jewish school tuition is gratis. That’s right: one free year of Jewish education to every child — Call it Schoolright.

How about Campright — a free week of summer camp for every Jewish teen?

And of course, Prayright — one year’s free temple membership to any Jew, anywhere.

And while we’re at it, what’s wrong with Dateright — one year of free membership in the online Jewish dating service of your choice, for any Jew of any age.

I’ll stop for a moment to stress I’m not being arch or facetious. The common beef against Jewish institutions is that they don’t strive for excellence and that they cost too much. Birthright’s mega-philanthropists demanded business-world accountability and performance and they paid for it. In return, they have changed hundreds of thousands of hearts.

With the same level of competence and commitment, the same could be done for young parents in their 30s who never really considered Jewish schools, for parents in their 40s who are too stretched to pay summer camp bills, for singles in their 20s, 50s or 80s wary of the Jewish dating services but willing to try it — for free.

As the Birthright Mega Event in Latrun went on that evening, there were Israeli singers and dancers, drummers, a great band, a real helicopter that landed and disgorged a real Israeli soldier, much flag-waving, more fireworks and, after 10 p.m., an all-out dance jam that sent the screaming joyous masses into a sweaty, hormone-stoked Zionist frenzy until the early morning hours.

I saw the future of Jewish philanthropy at Latrun — the “Field of Dreams” approach to the Jewish future:

If you build it, they will come. Just make sure a mega-donor picks up the tab.

A birthday gift


Here we are, Jews in every corner of the world, awash in a frenzy of celebrations for Israel — all because of a birthday. And not just any birthday, mind you, but one that ends in a zero.

In a marketing-obsessed world, milestones give us an easy way to promote our brands. For lovers of Israel, promoting the brand of Israel is important business, especially since the country has taken a real beating over the years. So naturally, when a chance comes up to give that brand a little shine — like a 60th birthday — we run with it.

That’s why this year, Israel@60 has become the hot Jewish brand.

Every Jewish newspaper in the world has devoted a special section. Every Jewish community is doing multiple celebrations. Israeli embassies and consul offices are busy squeezing every ounce of Israel@60 good will from their local communities. World leaders are sending messages of congratulations. Elites from everywhere are gathering in Jerusalem at the invitation of President Shimon Peres. And, of course, every Jewish writer of note is weighing in with their personal reflections on the state of the Zionist project. (My favorite is Yossi Klein Halevi’s piece in this week’s issue.)

There’s something intoxicating about all this activity. I feel like I’m getting drunk on Israel. The Jewish world is rising up and giving my cherished Israel a celebration for the ages.

So why, then, do I also feel a certain emptiness?

Is it because I’m too aware of the growing dangers that Israel faces? Or that I know most of the world will go right back to hating us once the party’s over, or that these kind of big-bang celebrations just leave us with one big hangover?

Maybe, but I think there’s more. I see a missed opportunity. I love the sense of pride that the celebrations have fired up, but I wish someone had launched the Israel@60 campaign with this theme: “What will you give Israel for her birthday?”

That’s right: What will you give Israel for her birthday? What I think is missing from all the hoopla is a birthday gift from each of us to the Israel we love.

And I don’t mean money. Money is the gift for normal times. A 60th anniversary is not a normal time. It’s a time to celebrate, yes, but also to reflect, take stock, look deep inside of ourselves — and offer a special gift.

Imagine going to celebrate your parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. What kind of gift would you bring? Would it be personal? Would it have special meaning?

Now imagine going to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary. What’s the most personal and meaningful gift you can make? What is your unique passion or talent? What can you bring to the party to show your love for the honoree?

Whatever your thing is, it’s worth bringing. If you’re a musician, organizer, writer, artist, environmentalist, cook, teacher, activist, comedian, doctor, architect, rabbi, Web designer, business tycoon or filmmaker, whatever your passion, it can become your personal gift to Israel.

Make a film. Write a poem. Start a Web site. Help at a soup kitchen. Organize a trip to Israel. Find a cause dear to your heart. In short, look at what Israel needs, and see how your talents match up.

So, what about me, what’s my “thing” for Israel?

These days, the advertising guy in me would love to promote a side of Israel the world rarely sees — the good side. God knows the anti-Israel propaganda machine has done a remarkable job of turning Israel into a globally reviled country. And God knows Israel has more than enough critics who expose her many mistakes and weaknesses. But who is balancing the picture? Who is showing the other side? Who is spreading the word on Israel’s many contributions to the world?

Of the $1 billion a year in Jewish philanthropy, how much do you think goes to advertise in the mainstream media the numerous contributions Israel makes to humanity? Virtually zero.

So this is my birthday gift to Israel: Ads4Israel.com.

It’s a new organization whose mission will be to create and run ads worldwide that show Israel’s incredible gifts to the world, in such areas as combating disease, developing alternative fuels, fighting world hunger, creating life-changing technologies, revolutionizing agriculture and much more. There are literally hundreds of areas where Israel has helped make the world a better place, and Ads4Israel will do its share to let the world know. The Web site will offer a variety of ads that donors will be able to support and help run.

Why ads? They’re dramatic, quick and efficient. You can reach 100 million people with a powerful message in a few seconds. Grass-roots efforts, conferences, articles, books, Web sites, etc., are all valuable, but when 99 percent of the planet has been poisoned by three-second visual sound-bites about Israel, the best way to fight back is with equally powerful sound-bites.

Will this solve Israel’s image problem overnight? Nothing can. But we can at least raise immediate awareness of Israel’s value to the world, and that’s a gift.

We each have a gift. What will be your birthday gift?

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Polished Diamonds


One of the benefits of the creation of the State of Israel is the creativity and industry of the Israeli people … living in Los Angeles.

Yes, the Zionist ideal is that all Jews would move to Israel, and those born there would grow up to be proud citizens of a noble land, etc., etc.

But people have a funny way of compromising ideology. Their all-too-human needs and desires trump platforms and philosophies. So for as long as there’s been an Israel, there’s been an Israeli Diaspora in Los Angeles. And as long as there’s been an Israeli Diaspora, we pure Angeleno Jews have treated them as something less than full members of the Tribe, and we have done so with the full blessing of the government of the State of Israel itself.

But enough of that. Israelis in Los Angeles are an underused, underappreciated Jewish communal resource. It is time we embrace the people we’ve been treating as outsiders.

“They look at us Israelis as barbaric,” said Eli Tene, speaking of the Ashkenazic establishment here. “But we’ve been here 10, 20 years. We’re motivated. We’re successful. There are enough of us to set an example.”

The policy of successive Israeli governments has been to either denigrate or ignore yoredim. The Hebrew word for Israeli Jews who leave Israel, “yoredim,” literally means “those who descend” and has always carried a pejorative connotation.

In 1976, Israel’s then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called emigrants “the offspring of weaklings.” Israel encouraged organized Diaspora communities not to offer them services. If you welcomed them or helped them, went the thinking, they might stay.

It turns out, welcome or not, they didn’t just stay, they — like waves of Jewish immigrants before them — thrived.

But even as Israeli Jews settled, grew businesses and raised families, Los Angeles Jews maintained a fixed, negative image of the newcomers as coarse, striving — pretty much the image German Jews had of the Eastern European Jews who arrived en masse at the turn of the last century.

But Tene and his peers want to change that. He is a co-founder of the Israeli Leadership Club (ILC), a new group of successful businesspeople who use their money and influence to promote Israel and encourage other Israelis to get involved in philanthropy.

Money isn’t an obstacle: Tene estimates the average net worth of members at $15 million-$20 million. He and I lunched at a fancy restaurant near the Woodland Hills offices of Peak Capital Group, a multimillion dollar real estate investment business Tene runs. I let him pick up the check.

I first noticed the ILC when I attended its Feb. 26 “Live for Sderot” concert at the Wilshire Theatre: glitzy entertainment, a largely Israeli crowd pulling up in new Mercedes and Lexuses. I thought, Hmmm, these aren’t your abba’s Israelis.

“Live for Sderot” was, said ILC executive director Shoham Nicolet, their coming out event.

“One of the differences is that this time we initiated the program and led it,” Nicolet said, “We weren’t guests. Until now we’ve had to apologize for being Israeli in L.A.”

There have been, and continue to be, other Israeli-led initiatives in Los Angeles. Most notable are the Israel Film Festival, this year to be held June 11, and this Sunday’s Israel Independence Day Festival, which attracts some 30,000 people to Woodley Park each year.

But ILC operates on a different level. It has come about at a time when Israelis in the Diaspora have equaled or surpassed their American counterparts: Last time I checked, the No. 1 movie in the country was “Iron Man,” a Marvel Studios production from Israeli-born Avi Arad.

ILC’s members include leading businessmen like Adam Milstein, Shawn Evenheim and Benny Alagem. Tene said while their Israeli compatriots produced this Sunday’s festival, it was a call from a close ILC friend of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that ensured the governor would be there, too.

The Feb. 26 Sderot concert raised money for a computer-assisted learning program that will enable children in the rocket-battered southern Israeli town to study in the relative safety of their homes. ILC also brought a dozen youths from Sderot to L.A. to meet with the Jewish community here and to relax, and they also arranged for 10 children whose fathers or brothers were killed in the Second Lebanon War to visit Los Angeles, both for fun and to speak with Israelis here about their loved ones’ sacrifice. “We want to create Israeli Zionists,” said Tene, who was born in Ashdod and came to the States in 1986 after serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

“Israelis here have double duty, ” said Tene, then he used a word that means “reserve army duty” in Hebrew: “They need to do their miluim in America. It’s not about guilt. We want to do good.”

But, you’ll say, this is bad for Israel. How can Israel compete and thrive if so many of its entrepreneurs leave? How can we who are committed to Israel at 60, at 70, at 100, condone such behavior?

Well, for one thing, we don’t have much moral standing on the issue — it’s not like most of us are moving there. Over the past six years, about 350 L.A. Jews have moved to Israel, according to the group Nefesh b’Nefesh. Meanwhile, there are between 30,000 and 150,000 Israelis and children of Israelis living in the region (the numbers vary wildly depending on whether you ask professional demographers or the Israeli consulate). It seems inevitable that Israel’s most valuable exports, along with polished diamonds, citrus and high-tech, are its people.

But Tene told me that he’s not convinced that the Jewish establishment here fully realizes this. He described relations between his organization and the local Jewish Federation as — historically — somewhat less than warm and supportive. But he credited the new Federation CEO Stanley Gold with making a proactive effort to change that. In a front-page interview with the local Hebrew-language weekly, Shavua Yisraeli, Gold reached out to Israelis, inviting them to get involved.

That, Tene said, is a good sign.

“We need to create Israelis who belong to the community,” he told me. “For two reasons: So we can preserve the next generation, and so we can create something good for Israel. If we can’t work together to educate the next generation of Israelis who come here, we’re going to lose them forever.”

No food will be wasted if Joseph Gitler has his way


In the city of Ra’anana, in the center of Israel, the corporate cafeteria at the publicly traded Amdocs high-tech company is full of young executives and IT specialists finishing up their lunch break.

The cafeteria is the size of a fancy Las Vegas hotel buffet, with countless stalls dedicated to hot and cold salads, grilled meats, starches and even classic home cooking — enough choice and quantity to satisfy the high-tech employees throughout their long workday.

But a kitchen worker pushes a cart back into the kitchen full of untouched filets of beef laden with gravy.

“You see what perfectly good meat this is?” remarked Joseph Gitler, founder of Table to Table, an Israeli food rescue organization. “To think that would go to waste.”

Rescuing excess food from Israeli corporate cafeterias on a daily basis is just one of the projects Gitler conceived about five and a half years ago when, as a new immigrant to Israel, he decided he must do something about the disturbing reports of poverty in Israel. He took time off from his job as a marketing executive at an Israeli high-tech company to spend time in soup kitchens and other charitable food providers, only to find they often didn’t have enough food to provide.

“No one was thinking big on how to rescue food en masse,” Gitler told The Journal from the cafeteria as Amdocs employees and visitors from London voluntarily packaged chicken and rice for transport via the Table to Table truck. “I simply opened the yellow pages, called catered events, and asked if they have extra food they’d be willing to donate. Most of them responded favorably. Actually, it was more than ‘yes.’ It was: ‘Where have you been?'”

The 33-year-old New York native initially went on a private mission to gather the unused food, packing it in refrigerators at his home in Ra’anana, where he lives with his Canadian-born wife and four children. He looked to City Harvest in New York and Second Harvest in Toronto as models of large-scale organizations dedicated to rescuing food.

“Within two weeks, the amount of quality food available was very self-evident, and I put a posting on local English internet listings saying ‘this is what I’m doing, who wants to join me?'” he said. “And it ran from there.”

Today, Table to Table is the largest organization of its kind in Israel, operating on an annual budget of $2.2 million, funded mostly through anonymous donors. Altogether 35 employees and some 4,000 monthly volunteers now work to collect food from weddings and b’nai mitzvah, corporate cafeterias and army bases, as well as neglected agricultural fields. For every dollar spent, Gitler estimates Table to Table saves $5 worth of food, not to mention uncalculated costs in energy consumption. On average it rescues 12,000 to 14,000 meals (defined as a protein and two sides) and 40 to 50 tons of produce per week. From the warehouse in Ra’anana, the food gets channeled through 106 nonprofit charitable organizations.

But, Gitler said, Table to Table has not yet tapped resources in northern and southern Israel, and recent poverty statistics have given him the impetus to expand.

According to a report put out last month by Israel’s Welfare and Social Services Ministry, close to one-third of Israel’s population cannot afford to buy essential food items, while 24,000 people eat in soup kitchens and 22,500 families turn to others to feed them. In Israel, food costs have risen by 6 percent in the last year. The push to get food to the needy is particularly strong right before a Jewish holiday. With Passover approaching, Table to Table is working with farmers to gather food required for the seder table.

“We got farmers who want to donate specifically for Pesach — particularly lettuce. Lettuce is very expensive this year with because of shmita” (the practice of allowing fields to lie fallow every seven years), said Mark Eilim, the director of Project Gleaning, or Leket in Hebrew. Leket also attracts farmers who must abandon fields out of economic efficiency or who must leave-over fruit and vegetables not suitable for sale due to size or minor imperfections.

Leket started four years ago at the grass-roots level when Eilim, then a driver for Table to Table, was approached by a farmer who had persimmons he couldn’t sell.

“He offered to let us take some off the floor,” Eilim said. “There was nothing wrong with them. They just weren’t the right size.”

Together with some volunteers, Eilim gathered 25 tons of persimmons over a few nights. Today he oversees thousands of volunteers monthly — including Birthright Israel participants, schoolchildren and even prisoners — who harvest fields throughout Israel. high-tech companies turn to Table to Table for uplifting afternoon company outings.

At a large strawberry field in Hod HaSharon flanked by residential high-rises, a few dozen employees from the Israeli high-tech company worked to pick perfectly ripe, red and delicious strawberries in a field belonging to second-generation farmer, Efraim Yosef.

“I would have shut off the sprinklers, dried up the field,” Yosef said. “Since I know people are coming, I continue to irrigate it.”

So far his fields have yielded 9,000 baskets of strawberries for families for whom the fruit is a luxury. According to Eilim, most farmers donate a portion of their fields as an act of charity.

“If I could cause a child to smile when he sees strawberries in his refrigerator or on the table,” Yosef said. “It gives me a lot.”

Support for Sderot is strong at L.A. benefit concert


Republican presidential candidate John McCain pronounced the name “Sharat.” Latina actress and singer Maria Conchita Alonso added a throaty “ch” sound to the end of the word. Even several Israelis, including Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni, couldn’t get it quite right.

Nevertheless, the name of the city of Sderot (pronounced sde-ROTE), located near the border of Gaza, was on everyone’s tongue at the sold-out Wilshire Theater in Beverly Hills on Tuesday evening, Feb. 26.

Politicians, Hollywood stars, Israeli celebrities, Jewish community leaders, high school students and local dignitaries all were talking about this small, rocket-riddled town in Israel’s western Negev region, whose plight has largely been ignored by the international media for the past seven years.

“Live For Sderot,” a benefit concert organized by the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles and the Israeli Leadership Club (ILC), aimed to raise awareness of one of Israel’s most painful, ongoing issues, along with funds for children’s educational programs.

“That night, Sderot stood alone in the spotlight,” said Gilad Millo, Israeli Consul for Media and Public Affairs and one of the main architects behind the “Live For Sderot” gala. “For the first time, an Israeli humanitarian issue was brought to light without balancing it with Gaza. Until now, Sderot has been an illegitimate cause. We wanted to change that.”

More than $300,000 has been raised so far to fund four educational projects in Sderot that will bring the latest technology to classrooms, provide assistance through an online network that will allow students forced to stay home to continue their learning, improve English-language studies and help bring test scores up to national standards.

Haim Saban and the Jewish Federation were two of the largest donors, it was announced at the concert. They each donated $100,000.

The high-profile event, which also marked the beginning of Israel’s 60th Anniversary celebration in Los Angeles, did much to bring the suffering of Sderot residents to the forefront of many people’s consciousness — in Los Angeles, in the United States and even in Israel. From non-Jewish public school students on up to one of Israel’s brightest stars, the word ëSderot’ penetrated hearts and infiltrated minds.

As part of the “Live For Sderot” public awareness campaign, the ILC funded a weeklong diplomacy trip for ten 15-year-olds from Sderot. The shell-shocked but resilient young ambassadors visited several high schools and universities in Los Angeles, including Kadima Hebrew Academy, Taft High School, Milken Community High School and USC, sharing terrifying as well as universal teen experiences from their daily lives and answering questions about their imperiled town.

“We hear Qassam rockets every morning and night,” said Yarin Peretz, 15, to a large gathering at USC Hillel on Monday, Feb. 25. “If we don’t get hurt, someone we know will get hurt. We have no solution to the security problem.”

Moved by their words and the connection they felt to their peers from the other side of the world, 200 students from Milken attended the “Live For Sderot” concert and made their support known to everyone in the theater by howling enthusiastically from their seats in the balcony.

Milken student Joey Freeman spoke at the concert, expressing his solidarity with Sderot on behalf of his enthused classmates. Freeman took the opportunity to show off his Hebrew skills in front of his Hebrew teacher, also in attendance, one of many on stage that night pledging support for the long-ignored crisis.

Twenty-four speakers and musicians were part of the lengthy, but impressive, salute to Sderot and Israel’s 60th Independence.

Among the highlights was Noa Tishby, an Israeli model, actress and producer — she is the executive producer of HBO’s “In Treatment” — who stepped in at the last minute to replace Paula Abdul as the master of ceremonies. Abdul rushed to the Wilshire Theater after an “American Idol” taping and was all set to host, but backed out an hour before show time because she was feeling sick, according to the Israeli Consulate.

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple led the audience in the “Shehecheyanu,” a prayer thanking God for bringing us this far, and reminded everyone that though we are celebrating 60 years of a Jewish homeland, we should not forget to commemorate 3,000 years of a unified existence.

Other sentiments of solidarity with Israel, and specifically Sderot, were expressed by Hollywood, as well as Holy Land, celebrities: actress Valerie Harper, who played Golda Meir in “Golda’s Balcony”; Jon Voight, an Academy Award-winning actor who is a frequent contributor to Jewish causes and events such as the Chabad Telethon; Aki Avni, one of Israel’s biggest stars; Jonathan Lipnicki, who played the charming kid in “Jerry McGuire”; and stage actor Mike Burstyn, a legend in Israeli theater who received much acclaim for his recent one-man performance in the U.S. as Meyer Lansky in “Lansky.”

With his strong ties to the Jewish community of Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio

French philanthropist aid to Iranians comes full circle


Philanthropist Hubert Leven, a French Ashkenazi Jew who recently visited Los Angeles, has ties to the close-knit Iranian Jewish community that go back four generations.

More than 100 years ago, the Alliance Israelite Universelle (AIU), a nonprofit educational organization his great-grandfather, Narcisse, helped establish with six other French Jews, provided schools throughout Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East for Sephardic Jews. The educational opportunities AIU made available to the thousands of Jews in Iran between 1898 and 1979 forever changed their lives.

The generosity Leven’s ancestor extended to Iranian Jews came full circle when Leven visited Los Angeles this month, seeking financial support from Los Angeles Iranian Jews for his family’s new nonprofit organization in Israel, the Sacta-Rashi Foundation.

“I find it important, as well as natural, for French Jews to have helped Iranian Jews a century and a half ago, as it would be for Iranian Jews to help Russian or Ethiopian Jews,” Leven said in an interview. “Jews have always survived because of this solidarity.”

Leven, the retired head of a brokerage firm, lives in Paris and now devotes himself full time to his foundation, which offers hands-on educational, health and social welfare programs to benefit Israelis, one-third of whom currently live below the poverty line.

“Due to a lack of educational opportunities, there are still many youngsters who are still not able to integrate and become productive Israeli citizens,” Leven said. “It is only natural for those who benefited from the Alliance two or three generations ago to support the same organization, which is still fighting to save those who are at the bottom of the socioeducational ladder.”

For their part, local Iranian Jews were enthusiastic about supporting Leven’s organization, because of the special ties and nostalgia they felt toward the AIU for helping lift them out of their ghettos in Iran.

“If the Alliance schools had never existed, Iranian Jews would not have attained education and become so wealthy and well off as they are today,” said Elias Eshaghian, a former AIU school graduate in Iran and current chairman of the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation.

According to a 1996 book by Iranian Jewish AIU graduates living in the United States, the organization established both boys and girls schools in 11 different — and often remote — cities throughout Iran. Thousands of Jewish children attending AIU schools in Iran were given uniforms, food, inoculations and moral support.

“The schoolteachers of Alliance were not only teachers, but they were saviors, because they gave pride and dignity to Jews,” said Dr. Nahid Pirnazar, professor of Judeo-Persian history at UCLA. “The school also protected them from any maltreatment they encountered from the Muslim population.”

Eshaghian, now in his 70s, trained as a French language teacher at the AIU in Paris and returned to Iran, where he taught French, as well as serving as the school’s director in Tehran and other cities.

“I literally went from store to store of the poor Jews in the city of Yazd and had to drag their kids to get an education at the Alliance schools — many of those children today in the U.S. are among the most respected physicians, scientists, engineers and successful businessmen in our community,” Eshaghian said.

Among the graduates of AIU schools in Iran is diabetologist Dr. Samuel Rahbar, who works as a research fellow in the department of hematology and bone marrow transplantation at City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte. Now in his late 70s, Rahbar is credited with many scientific breakthroughs in treating diabetes.

“Who knows what my life would have been like if I had not attended the Alliance school,” Rahbar said. “The school had a major impact on my life, since I learned French there that was very helpful to me when I entered medical school. And I later became the first Jewish professor at the medical school in Tehran University.”

Eshaghian said that while a number of Iranian Jews in New York and Southern California have long forgotten the aid of AIU, others feel a great deal of gratitude to the organization and are therefore willing to support Leven’s new foundation.

The Merage Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Southern California and Denver, headed by the Iranian Jewish Merage family, has donated to Leven’s foundation and helped him forge new ties with the local Iranian Jewish community.elias eshaghian
Elias Eshaghian, chairman of the Iranian American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles.Photo courtesy of Elias Eshaghian

Birthright program needs wider support


Although the High Holy Days have always been a period of introspection, the Jewish community — at least those in it who care deeply about its future —
could stand to do some especially vigorous soul searching this year.

The results of a new study, “Beyond Distancing: Young Adult American Jews and Their Alienation from Israel,” on young American Jews’ attitudes toward Israel, were released recently, and the news is disheartening. These Jews, who represent American Judaism’s prospects in the next generation, are growing increasingly alienated from Israel, the study finds. They are less concerned with its welfare than previous generations and, unbelievably, less comfortable with the very idea of a Jewish state.

Fewer than half of American Jews younger than 35 feel that Israel’s destruction would be a “personal tragedy.” Fewer than half!

The results of the study, which was commissioned by our foundation, are shocking, if not entirely surprising. We’ve known for some time that young Jews seemed less engaged with the Zionist project than their forebears. And yet, coming face to face now with these data and assimilating the depth of the problem that they portray is unsettling, to say the least.

What’s worse, we already know the answer to this quandary, but for some reason, the organized Jewish community continues to pay it too little attention.

The answer I refer to is Taglit-Birthright Israel, the most successful identity-building program in the history of the Jewish community. Since 2000, the program has brought 145,000 18- to 26-year-old Jews to Israel on free, 10-day trips and has demonstrated time and again its profound impact on the lives and identities of participants.

Indeed, the experience is often transformational: Many participants were unaffiliated and uninvolved Jewishly before leaving, yet research shows that an overwhelming number return home to take on greater roles in their campus Hillels, enroll in Jewish studies courses and sign up for subsequent Israel trips and semesters abroad.

Others come back and decide to pursue careers in the Jewish community or to engage in Jewish life in traditional and nontraditional ways. Several thousand have even moved to Israel from countries around the world.

At a moment when Jews are intermarrying at an alarming rate and joining synagogues and other Jewish communal organizations at an alarmingly low rate, I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that Taglit-Birthright Israel could prove to be the best salve, with regard to one of the pressing communal issues of our day: Jewish continuity.

We in the Jewish philanthropic community have taken this message to heart. In less than eight short years since launching Taglit-Birthright Israel, private philanthropists have willingly funded the program to the tune of nearly $150 million. But because of the ever-growing popularity of the program, we can’t go it alone. Many hundreds of parents and other concerned members of the Jewish community have recently followed suit by making contributions to sustain the program.

But the American Jewish community as a whole must be a full partner and reach deep into its pockets and match our financial commitment to stemming the stampede of our children away from a Jewish connection.

The past four prime ministers of Israel understood this and provided the unprecedented leadership of full partnership. However, organizations like the Jewish Agency for Israel remain unwilling to lay out sufficient funds to accommodate all of the young Jews who wish to participate. As our youth disengage from Israel before our eyes, it is shameful that the Jewish Agency, for which encouraging aliyah is a raison d’etre, would fund a paltry 6 percent of Taglit-Birthright Israel’s annual budget, while the waiting list numbers in the thousands.

What of the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella of the American federation system? UJC also can only find enough cash in its coffers to fund just over 6 percent of the program’s budget. That figure represents less than 1 percent of UJC’s entire budget for a program that has proved a consistent success, changing thousands upon thousands of Jewish lives and, thereby, potentially altering the course of the American Jewish future.

I ask this as a loving believer and supporter of this system, having been the first UJC chair.

Recently, our foundation made grants to nine federations in the desire to bring federations and Birthright closer. The grant is to hire additional staff to help local federations raise money for birthright. However, as the study demonstrates, time is not on our side.

And not only do these groups, and others like them, fail to give sufficiently to Taglit-Birthright Israel, but they fall short when it comes to creating opportunities for program participants when they return. The Israel trip is an unparalleled catalyst, to be sure. But in order to spark lifetime commitments to Israel and to Jewish peoplehood among young participants, it is equally important that there be ample follow-up options when they return home: meetings, lectures, social events of whatever kind. The trip is the gateway to Jewish identity, but without reinforcement at home, we cannot ensure that the gate remains open.

With his typical combination of vision and practicality, Michael Steinhardt — my partner in co-founding birthright israel — recently announced that he would be allocating millions of dollars for boosting alumni programs. This is truly wonderful news. Yet I’m left wondering why follow-up should remain strictly in the domain of the philanthropists. Should we be left alone to both follow through and follow up?

Why shouldn’t Jewish organizations that are funded and supported by members of the U.S. Jewish community, and which aim to buoy, strengthen and perpetuate that community, be supporting these post-program efforts, which are opportunities to raise, educate and promote the young and future leadership of our community? Do these essential ends not justify the allocation of sufficient means?

I hope and pray that the leaders of American Jewish organizations and some of their Israeli counterparts take a deep look within themselves and, like the philanthropists who fund Birthright Israel in all of its aspects, put their money where their mouths are.

Israeli military commanders are known for leading their troops into battle with the selfless cry “Acharai!” — “After me!” At this important juncture, I say to the leaders in the American Jewish organizational world, the time has come.

“Acahrai!”

Charles R. Bronfman is the chairman of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies.

5767: News of the Jewish year in review


Here’s a chronology of some of the top news items of the past year:

September 2006

  • Yeshiva University announced that its immediate past chairman, fertilizer and oil magnate Ronald Stanton, was giving $100 million to the school — believed to be the highest amount of money ever pledged to a Jewish cause.

October 2006

  • The remains of more than 50 people, many of them children, were discovered in a mass grave in Menden, Germany. Experts suspected the dead were victims of the Nazis’ so-called euthanasia program, in which disabled people were murdered.
  • Israel said it would continue air force flights over Lebanon. Defense Minister Amir Peretz said the surveillance flights over Lebanon were needed to track arms shipments to Hezbollah from neighboring Syria, two months after a cease-fire ended what would be later designated as Israel’s Second Lebanon War.

November 2006

  • The Democratic Party won back the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since 1994 and also gained control of the Senate. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the Orthodox Jew who was the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee in 2000, kept his seat even though he lost in the Democratic primary to liberal Ned Lamont. Six new Jewish members of Congress and two new Jewish senators were elected. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who has close ties to many Jewish groups, was chosen as Speaker of the House.
  • The United Jewish Communities (UJC) refocused its annual General Assembly (GA) to focus on fundraising for rebuilding Israel’s North after the country’s war in Lebanon. By the time of the GA in Los Angeles, the UJC had raised $320 million for its Israel Emergency Campaign. By the end of the Jewish year, it has raised some $360 million.
  • Talks on forming a unity government in the Palestinian Authority were suspended. Palestinians had hoped that by bringing the more moderate Fatah into the government, a Western aid embargo imposed when Hamas came to power in March could be removed. But the Islamist terrorist group rejected donor nations’ conditions that it recognize Israel and renounce terrorism.

December 2006

  • The Conservative movement’s legal authorities approved a rabbinic opinion allowing ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis and sanctioning same-sex unions. The move followed years of internal debate over whether to reverse the traditional ban on gay clergy. The Jewish Theological Seminary’s new chancellor, Arnie Eisen, later announced it would accept gay and lesbian students to its rabbinical and cantorial schools.
  • Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hosted a conference that brought together Holocaust revisionists including David Duke and members of Neturei Karta, an ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist group. Titled “The International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust,” it sparked international outrage.
  • Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, made their first pledge of $5 million to help bankroll Birthright Israel trips. That gift was followed in February by an additional $25 million and another $30 million in August.
  • The U.N. Security Council voted to impose sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. The resolution demanded that Tehran end all research on uranium enrichment and halt research and development that can make or deliver atomic weapons. The resolution, watered down to meet Russian demands, did not permit the use of force if Iran does not comply.

January 2007

  • Longtime Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek died.
  • Former President Jimmy Carter discussed his controversial book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. The book, published in November, blamed Israel for the failure of Middle East peace. It sparked widespread debate and prompted 14 Jewish members of the Carter Center board to resign in protest. Democratic leaders had distanced themselves from Carter’s views.
  • A Palestinian suicide bomber killed three in an Eilat bakery. Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aksa Military Brigades, a Fatah-linked group, claimed responsibility for the attack.

February 2007

  • Masorti Jews reached a compromise with the government over the freedom of men and women to daven together at an area of the Western Wall. Israel’s Conservative movement dropped its Supreme Court appeal after the government agreed to enforce mixed groups’ ability to worship for free at a site at the southern end of the Wall.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met in Jerusalem. Olmert and Rice reiterated the international preconditions for the resumption of aid to the PA — renouncing violence, recognizing Israel and adhering to past peace accords.
  • A Holocaust denier was arrested in New Jersey in connection with a Feb. 1 attack on Elie Wiesel, who was attending an interfaith forum in San Francisco. Eric Hunt apparently wanted to force Wiesel to recant his wartime memoir “Night.” He was extradited to California, where he pled insanity and apologized to Wiesel in court.
  • Vandals sprayed neo-Nazi graffiti on a Jewish kindergarten in Berlin and attempted to set fire to the building. The incident marked a new level in attacks on Jews in Germany.

March 2007

  • An Israeli government report found that Israel’s Muslim minority has a far greater birth rate than the Jewish majority. Data released by the Industry and Trade Ministry showed Jewish women had an average of 2.69 children, compared to Muslim women who give birth, on average, to 4 children.
  • Vice President Dick Cheney told the AIPAC annual policy conference that it was hypocritical for activists to demand tougher action on Iran while not supporting the Iraq War.
  • A German court sentenced Germar Rudolf to two and a half years in jail for anti-Jewish incitement and Holocaust denial. He claimed in a 1991 article that the Nazis did not gas Jews at Auschwitz. Rudolf was sentenced to 14 months by a German court in 1995, but fled the country. He was deported in November 2005.

April 2007

  • Liviu Librescu was one of 32 victims killed by a student gunman at Virginia Tech. The engineering professor, a Holocaust survivor who had moved to Israel, was shot while blocking the doorway to his classroom. He prevented the South Korean gunman from entering and enabled all but one of his students to escape through the window.
  • U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Fransico), the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, delivered a message to Syrian leader Bashar Assad, saying Israel is ready to talk peace. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert immediately issued a “clarification” saying Syria must first end its backing for terrorism. Pelosi and her delegation say they conveyed that message, and Olmert called Pelosi later to smooth over the flap. The White House slammed Pelosi for what officials said was an attempt to conduct an independent foreign policy.
  • Federal Judge T.S. Ellis III rejected a government proposal to close the trial of two former American Israel Public Affairs Committee staffers. Ellis ruled the request unconstitutional. Former senior staffers Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman were indicted in August 2005 and now face a trial date of Jan. 14, 2008.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ban on late-term abortions. Most Jewish groups opposed the decision, which rolled back women’s privacy protections established in the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
  • Russian Jews remembered President Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first democratically elected president, as the one who ended decades of state-sanctioned anti-Semitism.
  • An Israeli governmental report sharply criticized Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s management of the 2006 war in Lebanon. The Winograd Commission’s report said there was a “serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence” in the government’s handling of the war. Despite a 100,000 person rally against Olmert in Tel Aviv and a call from Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to resign, Olmert stood firm in his decision to stay in office.
  • The Jim Joseph Foundation announced the first of its long-awaited grants, designating four gifts, the largest, $2.5 million, to B’nai B’rith Youth Organization’s Youth Professional Initiative. In July, the foundation announced an $11.2 million grant to the Foundation for Jewish Camping to target preteens in communities west of the Rockies.

May 2007

  • Edgar Bronfman, who served as president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) for nearly 30 years, resigned. The move came two months after Bronfman fired his close associate and a top WJC official, Rabbi Israel Singer. Bronfman claimed Singer stole money from the WJC, an allegation Singer denied. The WJC elected Ronald Lauder as its interim president in June, with officials voicing hope the organization could get past its years of legal and internal wrangling.
  • The Labor Party ousted Amir Peretz as its leader in an internal vote, which followed a government-appointed commission that cited his mishandling of the Second Lebanon War. In the June runoff, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak beat Ami Ayalon, whom Peretz ultimately backed, by a narrow margin.
  • The Museum of the History of Polish Jews broke ground in Warsaw. To be completed in 2009, the museum will be the largest Jewish institution of its kind in Europe, commemorating the 1,000 years of history of what was the largest Jewish community in Europe before World War II.

June 2007

  • The United Jewish Communities (UJC) passed a $40.2 million budget, allocating a significant portion to a restructuring plan aimed at boosting the sagging campaigns of the North American Jewish federations. According to the plan, the UJC will dissolve its pillar system, beef up its office in Israel to oversee Israel and foreign affairs and ramp up its domestic consulting services to help individual federations.
  • Human Rights First released a report concluding that anti-Semitism in Western Europe is at unprecedented levels, and European governments are woefully inept at measuring and thus prosecuting hate crimes.
  • Shimon Peres, 83, was elected Israel’s ninth president, a largely ceremonial role, for a seven-year term. The Nobel Prize winner has held virtually every top civilian post in Israel during his 60-year career, including that of prime minister.
  • Hamas gunmen took over the Gaza Strip after routing the rival Fatah at a key Palestinian Authority security compound. Hamas declared victory after seizing the Preventive Security Service compound in Gaza City, a last stronghold of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah in the coastal territory.
  • Israeli President Moshe Katsav confessed to sexual misconduct under a plea bargain that spared him more serious rape charges and possible prison time. He resigned his presidency early as part of the plea.

July 2007

  • The Catholic Church’s decision to allow the use of the Latin Mass sparked a to-do between Jews and Catholics. Pope Benedict XVI issued a declaration authorizing wider use of the Latin Mass, an older form of Catholic worship that includes a prayer read only on Good Friday for the conversion of the Jews.
  • President Bush announced a major new initiative aimed at bolstering Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The plan included tens of millions of new funding for the Palestinian Authority, as well as $30 billion in new military aid to Israel and a reported $20 billion in arms sales to Saudia Arabia. The arms sale to Saudi Arabia was seen as a way to entice Riyadh to attend an American-hosted international peace conference on Israel and the Palestinians in the fall.
  • The Broward County School Board in South Florida approved two measures that effectively give a green light to the nation’s only Hebrew-language charter school. The Ben-Gamla Charter School, to open for the new school year, will be operated by a private company, Academica, under the direction of Adam Siegel, an Orthodox rabbi.

August 2007

  • More than 100 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter warning President Bush they would try to stop his proposed arms sale to Saudi Arabia.
  • Jean-Marie Lustiger, a Jewish-born convert to Catholicism who became a top Vatican figure, died. A former archbishop of Paris, he was the son of Polish Jewish refugees but converted while hiding out in Catholic boarding schools during World War II. He said he always considered himself a Jew. Mourners recited Kaddish for him during his funeral at Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral.
  • A youth village, sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which will serve 500 impoverished Rwandan orphans, was created. The village is the brainchild of Anne Heyman, a South African-born New York lawyer who was moved to help after learning that 15 percent of Rwandan children are orphans due to genocide.

Briefs: Peres elected President of Israel; Oprah criticized for pro-Israel stance


Peres Elected President of Israel

Shimon Peres became Israel’s ninth president. In parliamentary votingWednesday, the longtime leader defeated rival Knesset members Reuven Rivlinand Colette Avital. Rivlin and Avital dropped out after the first round,having received 37 and 21 votes respectively, the Jerusalem Post reported.In the second round 86 Knesset members supported Peres, the only remainingcandidate, and 23 opposed him.

“I have been in the Knesset for 48 years and not for one moment have I lostfaith or hope in Israel,” Peres said in his acceptance speech. “What Israelhas achieved in 60 years, no other country has been able to achieve. I hopeI can represent our faith not because there are no problems but because weall want to overcome them.”

Peres, 83, will assume the presidency, a largely ceremonial post, on July 15for a seven-year term. The presidency will cap a six-decade career in whichPeres has served in virtually every top civilian post in Israel. In 1993 hewon the Nobel Peace Prize along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.

Oprah Criticized for Pro-Israel Stance

Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI), a partnership between the East Jerusalem YMCA and the YWCA of Palestine, said in a June 8 letter that Oprah Winfrey’s willingness to visit Israel was “very shocking” considering her image as someone who “stands with oppressed, marginalized people, fights racism, and works for justice and human rights.”

The letter was apparently a response to the talk show host’s declaration last month that she sympathized with the suffering of Israelis and would accept an invitation from Elie Wiesel to visit the Jewish state. Calling Israel’s policies a violation of international law, the JAI invited Winfrey to visit Palestinian areas and “witness firsthand the refugee camps, Apartheid Wall, movement restrictions and ghettos.”

Health Care Tops Poll for Jewish Progressives

An online poll conducted by progressive Jewish Web sites showed health care to be the top domestic political priority. The poll, coordinated by Jewish Funds for Justice, listed 10 issues and asked respondents to pick the five most important. The top five were, in order: health care, the environment, education, civil rights and wages. The other issues, not in order, were seniors, immigration, housing, child-care and hurricane devastation. Each issue was framed in progressive terminology.

The poll got more than 8,600 responses through participating Web sites, including the Shalom Center, Jewcy and the National Council for Jewish Women. Polling experts believe online polls are suggestive at best, as participants are self-selective.

Grinspoon Offers $300,000 for Youth Philanthropy

The Harold Grinspoon Foundation will award $30,000 to each of 10 communities to start a B’nai Tezedek program, which asks teens to contribute a minimum of $125 of their bar or bat mitzvah money to an individual endowment fund. The foundation matches the contribution to help the teens establish a fund of at least $500, from which they make allocations every year. The program, which started in Western Massachusetts, where the foundation is based, is already up and running in 37 communities. The grants will be given on a first come, first serve basis, the foundation announced in a press release.

“It is essential to the future of Jewish society that we get our teens involved in giving to charity in a personally engaging way, and equip them with the tools to become financially intelligent donors,” said Harold Grinspoon, founder and chair of the foundation.

Rabbi Offers Online Advice for Interfaith Weddings

InterfaithFamily.com, a support and resource center for intermarried families, has hired Rabbi Lev Baesh as its first Rabbinic Circle director. The 1994 graduate of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion begins work July 9. Baesh’s main tasks will be referring interfaith couples to rabbis who will officiate at their wedding and running a listserv for rabbis to discuss the issue and share practical tips.

InterfaithFamily.com President Ed Case, who said he receives about 60 requests a month from interfaith couples looking for officiating rabbis. Case says this service differs from the “rent-a-rabbi” phenomenon because the rabbis on Baesh’s list are all carefully vetted, and couples will be steered toward their local synagogues. “Our intention is not to tell rabbis that they should officiate, or pressure them to do so,” Case said.

The Reform movement’s rabbinic association officially discourages intermarriage, but leaves it to the discretion of individual rabbis whether or not to officiate at interfaith weddings. Conservative and Orthodox rabbis are barred from doing so.

Shalit’s Mother Assails Government

The mother of an Israeli soldier held hostage by Palestinians assailed the government for not doing more to recover him. Aviva Shalit, whose son Gilad was abducted to the Gaza Strip by Hamas-led gunmen last June, broke her silence in a newspaper interview published Monday. Previous public comments on the family’s ordeal have been made by Shalit’s husband, Noam.

“All year I hoped that the repeated promises to do everything for Gilad’s release would bear fruit, but this hope is also beginning to wane,” Aviva Shalit told Yediot Achronot. “My strong feeling is that not enough has been done, because if had they really done everything, Gilad would be home, and so would the other two kidnapped soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev,” Shalit said, referring to troops held by Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon since last July.

Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including top terrorists, in exchange for Shalit, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ruled this out for fear of encouraging further kidnappings.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegrapic Agency

Shatner Horse Trek; Four of a Kind; Star Bright; Mayor Meets Mayor; Social Justice? Here I Am


Horse Trek

William and Elizabeth Shatner made their first U.S. public appearance on behalf of the William and Elizabeth Shatner-Jewish National Fund Therapeutic Riding Consortium Endowment for Israel last week at “An Evening of Magical Information.”

The $10 million endowment will support therapeutic riding programs for the disabled throughout Israel so that more individuals can benefit from the essential contribution equine therapy makes to the overall well-being of the disabled. The long-term hope is to forge cooperative networks between Israel and neighboring countries in support of therapeutic riding for the disabled.

Four of a Kind

The San Fernando Valley Council of Na’amat USA (formerly Pioneer Women) honored two local couples Sept. 10 with its 2006 Distinguished Community Award. Marilyn and Jerry Bristol and Trudy and Lou Kestenbuam were recognized for their decades of philanthropy and public service. The lunch at Braemar Country Club in Tarzana raised $75,000 for the Petach Tikvah MultiPurpose Center in Israel. Middle East expert Yoav Ben-Horin gave a thoughtful speech on the current situation in Israel and reminded everyone that events in the Middle East never turn out predictably. Phil Blazer served as master of ceremonies for the evening.

Star Bright

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Mayor Meets Mayor

Rabbi David Baron of Temple of the Arts hosted Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Mayor Yona Yahav of Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, on Yom Kippur. The Israeli city was recently shut down for more than a month during the destructive Hezbollah missile attacks.
“Mayor Yahav is a symbol of resiliency” said Baron. “This is a recurring theme of Yom Kippur — that the Jewish people will endure hatred and violence to pray for peace.”

The vision of Temple of the Arts, which was founded by Baron, is “to reconnect fellow Jews and all people seeking spiritual enlightenment with the beliefs and traditions of Judaism through the arts.”

For further information, or to attend the services, call (323) 658-4900 or visit

Israel Donations Stimulate — and Don’t Hurt — Local Fundraising


Israel’s military campaign in Lebanon has left the Jewish state spiritually and financially drained. The overall cost of the conflict, including the amount spent on the war and business losses in northern Israel, exceeds $7 billion, according to The Israel Project, a nonprofit, pro-Israeli advocacy group.

Responding to Israel’s plight, American Jews have sent tens of millions of dollars to the beleaguered country, much of it through Jewish charities, including Jewish federations across the country. Given that Israel’s needs remain vast, undoubtedly the upcoming High Holiday season will see rabbis across the Southland encouraging congregants to open their hearts — and their pocketbooks — to the Jewish homeland.

But will Israel’s needs trump those of local synagogues and Jewish nonprofits? Will the charitable dollars flowing to Israel during the giving season mean less support for maintenance of Southland temples and for the social services that Jews traditionally support, such as Jewish day schools or food and psychological counseling for the needy?

An informal survey of rabbis and agency executives suggests that they remain optimistic that donors this year will not hold back. They will find a way to help both the Holy Land and causes closer to home.

For synagogues, the stakes appear especially high. That’s because fundraising during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can generate the largest portion of a year’s total fundraising. With a large, semicaptive audience, it is not uncommon for rabbis or temple presidents to make three or four appeals during holiday services. The season’s emphasis on teshuvah (repentance); tefillah (prayer); and tzedekah (righteous) giving, helps Jews understand the importance of contributing and puts them in the right frame of mind to do so, said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, which has 285 members.

Rabbi David Eliezre of the Chabad synagogue, Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen in Orange County, feels confident that the act of giving only begets more generosity.

“People with a charitable heart will reach a little deeper in their pockets this year,” he said.

Similarly, Rabbi Don Goor, senior rabbi of Temple Judea in Tarzana and West Hills, said he is hopeful his synagogue will raise as much for its own operations this year as last. In a reflection of the appeal’s importance, which accounts for more than 50 percent of Temple Judea’s annual fundraising, Goor will make the pitch himself at services, while another rabbi will make an appeal for Israel. Goor said that his sermon will address how centrifugal forces, including America’s rugged individualism, have pulled the Jewish community to “the outside, while the synagogue pulls Jews back to the core of Judaism.”

Goor said he has little concern that charitable giving to Israel will dilute the synagogue campaign. Last year, he said, congregants gave generously to victims of Hurricane Katrina but still managed to keep up their temple giving.

University Synagogue in Brentwood, with 60 full- and part-time employees and a planned renovation, relies on holiday fundraising for a “significant” portion of its operating budget, said senior Rabbi Morley Feinstein. That’s why its president will make a pitch for synagogue donations on Rosh Hashanah, while a separate appeal for Israel will be made on Yom Kippur.

Feinstein said he is hopeful that temple members will come through, even though they have already contributed tens of thousands of dollars to various Israel emergency campaigns.

“Our people are known as compassionate, and our children are compassionate,” Feinstein said. “Our compassion has to enter our checkbooks so that we help those in need.”

Like synagogues, local Jewish philanthropies often build fundraising campaigns around the High Holidays, although to a lesser extent. The picture here seems a bit murkier.

Because Jews “get that warm, fuzzy feeling of Judaism” during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) steps up its fundraising in the last three months of the year, said Mark Meltzer, the organization’s executive director. Typically, the nonprofit takes in about one-third of its donations from October through December, he said.

However, Meltzer worries that charitable dollars now earmarked for Israel could impact JFLA fundraising and cause the nonprofit to miss its 2006 targets. If that happens, he said, Free Loan would have less money available for interest-free loans for university students or Jewish couples seeking fertility treatments or Jewish campers.

“For the donor who wants to make an impact both locally and internationally, it’s going to stretch their pocketbook,” Meltzer said.

To coincide with the High Holidays, Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger recently kicked off its campaign “Corners of Our Fields,” a reference to the biblical practice of leaving corners of a field untouched for the poor to harvest. For a variety of reasons, though, Mazon can’t predict how this year’s holiday drive will fare, said Jeremy Deutchman, Mazon’s director of communications and development. Deutchman said at least two rabbis he tried to enlist to talk up Mazon told him they plan instead to focus their holiday sermons on Israel this year.

Mazon funds food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens locally, as well as nationally and internationally. The nonprofit, Deutchman said, has seen demand for its contributions jump in recent years because of the squeeze on America’s middle class.

By contrast, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has seen an increase in contributions, including from new donors in recent months, because the Jewish philanthropic organization set up one of the major Israel emergency campaigns, according to Craig Prizant, executive vice president of financial resource development. The Federation now has the chance to “convert” crisis-fund donors into regular givers, Prizant said. It hopes to do so by making first-timers aware of all the ways the organization supports the Jewish state — and then ask for a donation at a later date.

The success of the L.A. Federation’s Israel in Crisis fund, which has raised $15 million so far, appears to have had little or no impact on The Federation’s annual campaign, Prizant said. He projects this year’s campaign to hit $50 million, a 5 percent jump over last year.

There are those who would like to keep discussions of money out of the sacred days. At least one Southland rabbi, Sheryl Lewart of Kehillat Israel in the Pacific Palisades, thinks Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur should not be synonymous with fundraising. She said her temple makes, at most, a quiet solicitation during the High Holidays and holds its two major fundraising events at other times during the year.

“We try to keep the sanctity of the High Holidays without having it be so commercialized,” she said.

Circuit


Getting in Their Licks

Carvel Ice Cream in the Ralphs center on Pico Boulevard was the scene of an Israeli fundraiser last month. In conjunction with Beth Jacob Youth, the Ice Cream You Scream for Israel event raised more than $900 to help Israeli soldiers and children.

There was also a project station where children wrote letters to soldiers and Israeli children, showing their love and support. Carvel Ice Cream is RCC kosher and adheres strictly to kosher dietary laws.

Center of Everything

The home of Evelyn and Bill Bernstein was filled with supporters when the American Friends of Rabin Medical Center held an informative event on current stem cell research. Guests watched a video highlighting the hospital, its research and new advances.

Dr. Jeff Bronstein professor of neurology and director of movement disorders at the UCLA School of Medicine, and Dr. Dan Oppenheim, CEO of the Rabin Medical Center, Israel’s premier medical complex, answered questions and gave updates.Those wishing to donate to the Rabin Medical Center should call (212) 279-2522. For information, call Gail Bershon at (310) 717-9729.

A Splash of Charitable Fun

The fifth annual Summer Splash fundraiser benefiting Bright Future Scholarships for promising Fulfillment Fund students took place on Sunday, Aug. 6 at the Beverly Hills home of Alfred Mann. Cuba Gooding Jr. attended as the honorary chair of the event. He was joined by Dr. Gary Gitnick, Fulfillment Fund founder; Andrea Cockrum, Fulfillment Fund CEO; actress Liza Snyder, who led a live auction; actress Constance Zimmer; singer Michelle Branch; actor Sean Patrick Thomas; and many others in a pool party that featured live music, henna tattoo artists, massages and a host of delicious offerings from local restaurants.

The event honored this year’s three Bright Future scholarship winners, Cindy Hernandez, Andy Gomez and Jacob Gutierrez. For more information, visit www.fulfillment.org.

The Hands of Angels

The stars were out when Project Angel Food held its annual fundraiser Angel Awards on Aug. 5 night. Honoree Nathan Lane, who has helped raised copious amounts of money for AIDS-related charities, broke up the crowd when he said he was in town to circumcise Mel Gibson. Superstars Doris Roberts, who was honored in 2005, and Victor Garber joined in the fun to fete Disney for its support and present Lane with his Angel award. Guests roamed about the silent auction and mingled at the well-attended event that raised more than $200,000 for Project Angel Food to feed the hungry. Project Angel Food founder Marianne Williamson touched the crowd with her stirring comments on Project Angel Food’s beginnings.

The Way It Is

Nearly 300 members of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana gathered on Aug. 5 during Saturday services to hear Israel air force Brig. Gen. Relik Shafir speak about Israel’s air offensive against Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon.

Shafir, who was also one of the eight pilots that attacked Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility in 1981, said Israel’s air force could not take out all of Hezbollah rockets with air strikes and ground troops would eventually have to be sent in to eliminate the threat of attacks on northern Israel.

“Some people ask why we don’t wipe out southern Lebanon, it’s because we are Jews and care about civilian lives in both Lebanon and Israel,” Shafir told the crowd.

Following his speech, the Persian Jewish members of Eretz-SIAMAK individually pledged thousands of dollars in donations to help the Rambam Hospital in Haifa, Israel, as well as other hospitals in northern Israel aiding Israeli victims of terror.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

A 10-Step Guide to Helping Israel


As the conflict in Israel continues, Jewish groups are focusing their efforts — financial, spiritual, intellectual, personal and practical — on ways to help Israel. The following list — by no means comprehensive — includes 10 things you can do to help Israel.

  1. Write a Letter to a Family: Sometimes the personal touch is the most effective. The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles has set up a way to send your letters in diplomatic packages that will go directly to families in shelters in the North. To participate, go to www.israeliconsulatela.org. Who knows? Maybe your letter will lead to a full correspondence!
  2. Send a Gift Basket to a Family: Nothing distracts a child more than candy or toys. The Web site www.israel-catalog.com is offering free delivery for care packages being sent to children in shelters. Prices for packages for 10-20 children begin at $19.95.
  3. Send a Gift Basket to a Soldier: The Israel Defense Forces recently called up 30,000 reservists, in addition to the thousands of 18- 21-year-olds serving their national duty. “Dash Cham,” which means warm regards, is a web site specializing in sending gift baskets from the Diaspora to Israel.
    “The IDF has told us that these programs have helped boost morale and provide helpful and wanted food and personal care products to the soldiers,” says a notice on www.dashcham.com.

  4. Deliver a Pizza: A program popular during the second intifada is still going strong. Send a hot pizza to soldiers on the front line. For more information, go to pizzaidf.org.
  5. Send a Northerner to the South: For only $15 a day you can send one person to Efrat. Rabbi Joel Zeff, formerly of Westwood Kehilla, moved to Israel 12 years ago and is now involved in an effort to bring more than 300 people to the Ohr Torah institutions in Efrat, for food, clothing and housing in the school’s dorms. Tax deductible donations can be sent to American Friends of Ohr Torah Stone, 49 W. 45th St., Suite 701, N.Y., N.Y. 10036. The memo line on the check should indicate “For Northern Refugees.”
  6. Donate Money: Of course there are many places to send money to help Israel, but among those that will ensure that 100 percent of your donation goes directly to humanitarian needs is The Jewish Federation’s Israel in Crisis Fund. The fund will provide kits for children in bomb shelters, summer camps and programs for displaced children, trauma and meal services for the elderly, assistance for the disabled, training for volunteers, psychological support, air-conditioning for bomb shelters and more. For more information, go to www.JewishLA.org or call 1-866-968-7333.
  7. Visit Israel: Tourism in Israel was set to be at an all-time high this summer and while some groups and individuals have cancelled trips because of fears about the conflict, many people are going as planned. Despite travel advisories, it’s still possible to travel to Israel safely by remaining in the central region, Jerusalem and the South. There is nothing that puts a smile on an Israeli’s face more than to see an American visitor.

    Some groups are going on focused three- or four-day missions to help distribute food, toys and funds to victims of the war. Participants often also meet with politicians for briefings on the current situation and how to help. Right now, Sinai Temple and Stephen S. Wise are each taking delegations to Israel for three days; each has raised at least $1 million to distribute there.

    Some local groups are proceeding with trips that were already planned, but are refocusing their design: StandWithUs.org, the pro-Israel advocacy organization, which has led the demonstrations and counter-demonstrations at the Israeli Consulate here, is currently on a 10-day mission to Israel. The National Republican Jewish Coalition is also taking a leadership group Aug. 6-14.

  8. Help the Blood Drive: Due to the violence, Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel’s first-aid and emergency response organization, and the State of Israel are on high blood alert. The American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA)is asking for all U.S. citizens to donate money — instead of blood — to ensure that the IDF is able to care for all those wounded as the current conflict escalates.

    “It is critical during this time that we support those victims of the recent violence,” says Rabbi Daniel Allen, executive vice presidet of AFMDA. “In Israel, citizens are lining up to donate blood, but without this financial support, we risk not being able to process all potential donations.”

    MDA in Israel also needs funds for medical supplies, blood test kits, telecommunication devices, life-saving vehicles maintenance, as well as to support the increase in staff needed to work all hours, and more. Funding can be donated through www.afmda.org, or via their hotline, at (866) 632-2763.

  9. Spread the News: As the war progresses, much of the battle will be fought in the media. Some local activists are meeting in their homes to plan how to fight the battle in the media. Other organizations are posting articles about the situation. Knowledge is power: Read and disseminate articles and photographs to your community that support your position.

    The Los Angeles Israeli Consulate has been briefing federations in the Western Region on the situation so that local members can call in to radio shows, write in to newspapers, and make their presence known.

    There are also a number of Web campaigns being disseminated. StandWithUs urges the Red Cross to help free Gilad Shalit, by sending a letter, which can be found on their Web site www.standwithus.com.

  10. Pray and Study Torah: As much of the community gathered last week to rally for Israel, Orthodox synagogues around the city organized to say special psalms for the Jewish State. Throughout the nine days leading up to Tisha B’av, the fast of the ninth of Av on Thursday, the Orthodox Union synagogue members have been studying Torah to help the situation.

    “We believe that such a major continuous spiritual effort will have a meritorious effect on the welfare of our fellow Jews in Israel at this critical time,” said OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb.

    OU President Stephen J. Savitsky added: “We are calling for massive involvement in Torah study, because this is one way in which we feel we can make a difference and demonstrate our concern.”

We welcome your suggestions on how to help Israel. Please send them to webmaster@jewishjournal.com and we will post them on our Web site.

Falash Mura Wait and Hope


I pulled my rubber-duck-yellow poncho over my head and trudged through the dirt of the open sewage and trash in the shantytown, trying to breathe through my mouth. I was in Ethiopia with my mother and a mission from United Jewish Communities (UJC) and I could smell the people’s desperation for a new life in the holy place of Jerusalem.

My eyes were opened so wide by seeing what is going on in Ethiopia that they almost ripped. I saw Ethiopian Jews living a life that no one should ever have to bear, Jewish or not, with disease, lack of food and obvious poverty.

Most of the more than 20,000 Ethiopian Jews left in Ethiopia today are Falash Mura, people whose families were converted to Christianity about 100 years ago, but who still identify as Jews. The Israeli government for years has been wavering on whether they are real Jews and should be brought to Israel, even though most have family there. Today there are about 85,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel, including about 20,000 who were born there.

Starting in the 1970s, thousands of Ethiopian Jews walked from their villages through the Sudan, hoping to find a way to Jerusalem. Some of them died along the way from sickness and exhaustion. More than 8,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel in Operation Moses in 1984, but still thousands of the community were left with just bubbles of hope back in Gondar. There were 3,000 Falash Mura among the 15,000 Ethiopian Jews who were airlifted to Israel in Operation Solomon in 1990, but the Israeli government sent the Falash Mura back to compounds in Addis Ababa because they weren’t considered “real Jews.”

I wonder how any country, especially Israel, which has suffered so much, can turn away children who could turn out to be doctors, teachers and the world’s next best politicians, and send them not back to their villages in Gondar but to compounds covered in the gray blanket of rain clouds in Addis Ababa, where they don’t have any of their belongings or money to survive.

Falash Mura who are still in the compounds of Addis Ababa or their villages in Gondar are waiting to see what’s over the rainbow — and that place is Israel.
My group went to one of the compounds in Addis Ababa, where we saw the clinics and met the main doctor, Rick Hodes, who inspired and motivated me more than anyone or anything. He has spent more than 20 years helping the sick and needy in Ethiopia.

I thought that doing a four-day mission should make me a good person, but he has devoted his whole career and life to helping, including adopting 12 children himself — and only one fully healthy. He studied at Johns Hopkins and could have lived a well-off life in America. But instead, he chose the path of living in Addis Ababa with Ethiopian Jews, where he could be their doctor, a friend and a part of their lives.

In Addis Ababa, we went to see some one-room, square huts that housed five people. I stepped into an old woman’s hut and saw the dilapidated, stained walls with no light, straw mattresses and the few reed-woven goods that were the fiber of her life. But what really caught my eye was one picture frame crammed with five or six little shots of family members that had made it to Israel.

The old woman sitting on the coarse, straw mattress said that she had been told that she could go to Israel because she has family there. She left all of her belongings in Gondar and went to live with nothing in Addis Ababa. She has been waiting for nine years. I asked the translator to ask her who had told her to go to Israel. The old woman said in Amharic, “God.”

An early one-hour flight to Gondar took us to one of the places where families are interviewed to determine if they are eligible to go to Israel. As I was looking around the room, my mom pointed to a little box filled with passport photos. The box, coincidentally, had the word “lucky” in bold red printed on the side. Those passport photos were of the lucky Falash Mura, those chosen to go Israel, as they believe God intended for them.

The last day, before we went back to Israel with about 50 new immigrant Falash Mura, we stopped at the Israeli Embassy and passed by crowded rooms with classes on how to flush toilets, use refrigerators and what the plane is going to be like.

When the UJC group met at the Addis Ababa airport for our 2:30 a.m. flight, we saw all of the Ethiopian families in their finest white dresses and the little boys in gray suits they had picked up at the embassy. One member of our group brought a Polaroid camera and gave the families pictures of themselves on the day their hopes became reality.

Once we were settled on the plane, these families were reserved and quiet. If they had any fear it was bottled inside. The wheels levitated into the clouds, and only a few of the children giggled, and maybe one baby cried.

When we landed, all of the UJC members walked nonchalantly out of the exit. But as we watched, the Falash Mura came out of the plane — the women modestly enveloped in their white scarves — and when each of them reached the tarmac, they kissed the ground, almost throwing themselves to the pavement. They had gone over the rainbow. They had reached Israel.

Sophia Kay is 15 and attends The Archer School for Girls.

To learn more about Ethiopian Jews, visit the julief@jewishjournal.com.

The Roots of an Israel Marathon


Some people raise money for Israel, other people visit Israel, and still others look for a unique way to support the country, like Eat4Israel. Now a new group of local athletes wants to Run for Israel, in Israel. A marathon, to be precise.”Roots Marathon” is starting their training program this summer, inviting people of different faiths to run the 30th Tiberias Marathon or 10k in Northern Israel next winter.

The 10-day tour, from Dec. 30-Jan. 11, will take the group from Tel Aviv to Haifa to Acrw and Safed, to the Galilee and Golan Heights, stopping off along the way at religious and historical sites, like a Bahai Shrine, a site of Christian miracles and, of course, a Jewish holy city.

“When you train for a marathon you bring people close together, and this is a way to bridge different religious faiths,” said Dan Witzling, a long-time Jewish activist and marathon runner who is co-organizing the trip.

The other organizer, Avner Hofstein, is the West Coast correspondent for Yediot Achronot, Israel’s largest newspaper. He wanted to show people a different Israel.

“Israel is a lively place filled with fun, sports and action, very different from the action in which it is portrayed in the news,” said Hofstein, who has been based in Los Angeles for the last four years.

Roots has been coordinated by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, and The Israeli Consulate of Los Angeles, Board of Rabbis of Southern California and Interfaith Environment Council of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life/Southern California all support the marathon effort.

Is running 26.2 miles a lot to run to see and support Israel? Hofstein gives it a historical spin: “If the Jews walked 40 years in the desert, they won’t mind running 26 miles, or much less, a 10k.”

For more information contact: www.rootsmarathon.com.

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

News Briefs from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency


Technion Gets $25 Million Gift From Californian

A California philanthropist has donated $25 million to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. The gift from Lorry Lokey, founder and chairman of Business Wire, will be used to create a new combined life sciences and engineering center. The money came through the New York-based American Technion Society, which has raised more than $1.2 billion since its inception in 1940. “I feel that Israel has in the Technion an asset as valuable as MIT and Cal Tech combined,” Lokey said.

Technion Professor Aaron Ciechanover, a who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2004, will head the center.

U.S. Teachers Union Backs Israel

A major U.S. teachers union passed a pro-Israel resolution. Passed July 21 at the biennial convention of the American Federation of Teachers in Boston, the resolution supports Israel’s right to defend itself and condemns the “bombings, killings and kidnappings by Hezbollah and Hamas that precipitated the current crisis.”

The resolution also calls for the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which demands that Hezbollah be disarmed and calls for negotiations leading to a cease-fire.

Initiative Aims to Boost Israeli Tourism

A major U.S. Jewish umbrella group launched an initiative to bolster tourism to Israel during the conflict with Hezbollah.

The program, launched by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, allows tourists to place reservations, which will be valid for up to a year, in northern Israeli hotels and kibbutzim. It is intended to provide a “continuing stream” of income to Israeli tourism and the people who work in that industry, the group’s executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein, said Monday in a conference call with reporters.

Israel’s Hotel Association and the Tourism Ministry are participating in the effort, in cooperation with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Gaza Development Authority.

Jewish Lawmakers Honor Israeli Air Force

Several members of the U.S. House of Representatives attended a July 19 gathering honoring the Israel Air Force Center, an Israeli nonprofit that promotes ties between the Israeli air force and the international community.”There are difficult days ahead for Israel,” said Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo). “I can’t tell you how profoundly grateful we are to the Israeli air force for what it does 24 hours a day. Members of Congress who are friends of Israel are honored and privileged to do our little bit to assist.”

Other Jewish members attending included Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).

Saudis Warn of War

Saudi Arabia said Israeli actions could bring about a Middle East war.”Saudi Arabia warns everybody that if the peace option fails because of Israeli arrogance, there will be no other option but war,” Saudi King Abdullah was quoted as saying Tuesday, in reference to Israel’s offensives in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Saudi Arabia championed a 2002 regional peace proposal under which Israel would be recognized by the Arab world if it gave up territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and allowed a “right of return” for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Israel rejected the preconditions, which are seen as demographic suicide for the Jewish state. The chief of Israel’s military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that Syria had put its armed forces on high alert and that there was concern in Jerusalem that it could “misread the situation” an apparent reference to Syrian fears that it could come under attack from Israeli or U.S. forces.

Turkey Would Consider Lebanon Role

Turkey would consider a role in a stabilization force in southern Lebanon. “If and when called upon, we will be giving positive consideration to whichever way we contribute, including the stabilization force,” said Burak Akcapar, a counselor at the Turkish Embassy in Washington. Turkey is to play a prominent role at talks in Rome on Wednesday hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice aimed at ending the Israel-Lebanon crisis. Akcapar said it was too early to consider whether Turkey would take a leading role in such a force, but noted that Turkey had successfully led such forces in recent years in the Balkans and Afghanistan. “We have a major stake in maintaining stability in the region,” he said.

Ukrainians Hold Pro-Israel Rallies

Demonstrators in two Ukrainian cities rallied in a show of support for Israel. An estimated 2,000 people, some of them carrying Israeli flags and banners reading “Stop the Terror,” “Yes, Israel” and “Ukraine and Israel Together” demonstrated Monday in Kiev.

Israeli Ambassador Naomi Ben-Ami, the chief rabbis of Ukraine, and Jewish and Christian leaders took part in the rally. Also Monday, some 1,500 people attended a rally in support of Israel in the city of Dnepropetrovsk.

In a related development, Alexander Feldman, a Jewish member of Ukraine’s Parliament, collected some 50 signatures from lawmakers on a petition urging the Ukrainian leadership to publicly support Israel in the current conflict.Last week, hundred of demonstrators rallied in Kiev and some other Ukrainian cities to protest Israel’s military operation against Hezbollah.

Poll: Canadians Back Israel

Almost two-thirds of Canadians see Israel’s military action in Lebanon as completely or somewhat justified, according to a new poll.

A survey conducted for the CanWest News Service and Global National found that 64 percent of Canadians are sympathetic to the goals of Israel’s counterattack against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Sixty-three percent of the 1,023 Canadians polled said that if any side should be required to make a major compromise to attain a cease-fire, it should be “those who kidnapped the Israeli soldiers.”

Israeli Children Get Donated Toys

Children in northern Israel received toys donated from North America. Canadian philanthropist Gerry Schwartz and his wife, Heather Riesman, along with the Toys “R” Us chain, donated toys worth approximately $50,000 to children in the northern Israeli towns of Nahariya and Shlomi.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make Me a Donation Match


Call him a personal shopper, a matchmaker or a boutique investment adviser. However he is described, Joseph Hyman is trying to chart a new course in the world of Jewish philanthropy. A longtime Jewish organizational professional and fundraiser, Hyman last year launched the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy (CEJP) to support and advise philanthropists who are considering major gifts to Jewish and Israel-related causes.

Hyman acts as the middle man between donors and organizations, working with philanthropists to understand their particular interests, then he hits the pavement to locate worthwhile organizations that meet their philanthropic requirements.

The center’s goal is simple: to attract dollars to Jewish groups that might otherwise have gone elsewhere.

“If successful, we believe that CEJP will help to create a new paradigm in Jewish giving,” said Hyman, who is going public about his organization for the first time. “One that empowers and inspires a new generation of philanthropists to participate because they want to, not because they have to.”

His endeavor comes at a time when wealthy American Jews make a disproportionately high number of large gifts in United States but overwhelmingly make them to non-Jewish institutions. It also comes as philanthropists are increasingly looking to have a say in exactly where their dollars go.

The approach seems to be working.

Since its launch 19 months ago, the center already has facilitated more than $10 million in philanthropic donations to Jewish and Israel-related causes. Recipients include some well-known projects, such as Birthright Israel, which provides free, 10-day trips to Israel for young Jewish adults. They also include some lesser-known ones, including Meshi, a center in Israel offering the parents of special-needs children a break from child care, and Project Kesher, a group devoted to Jewish education and advocacy for women in the former Soviet Union.
“CEJP is revolutionary,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president and founder of The Israel Project, which has received two six-figure, multiyear commitments from donors working with the center.

“What it is doing,” she said, “is taking the desires of the philanthropists to heart and saying, ‘What is the outcome that you want? What is the investment that you want to make so that you can make positive change? And what’s the most cost-effective, reliable way to achieve those goals?'”

“There are people out there who are not giving to the level that they’re capable of giving,” said Adam Frieman, a longtime investment banker on Wall Street and a financial sponsor of the new center, said, Some portion of that group would give meaningfully more if somebody were able to connect with them on a personal level and make the giving personal.”

Hyman hopes that his efforts to eliminate much of the work involved in finding worthy causes will attract new dollars to Jewish groups.

“Beginning with the creation of Birthright about 10 years ago, it has been a core group of committed Jewish philanthropists who have challenged the community to move forward,” said Hyman, who stresses that his work is meant to complement that of the federations and other more traditional fundraising arms, not replace them.

“We are now beginning to see a new generation of megadonors emerge whose support is crucial to our future.”

The center today is working with nine North American philanthropists, including real estate developers, senior management of Fortune 500 companies and hedge fund managers, according to Hyman. And while all have donated to Jewish causes before, some now are giving at a much higher level.

Hyman likens the philanthropists “to world-class athletes who, with the proper support and coaching, can become Olympic gold medalists.”

Donor-advised funds are not new, say philanthropy insiders, and in fact have become increasingly popular over the last number of years in Jewish philanthropic circles.

However, said Sue Dickman, executive vice president of The Jewish Communal Fund, which facilitates and promotes charitable giving through donor-advised funds, the center is doing something different.

“What we do and what other donor-advised funds do is simply facilitate people’s philanthropy,” she said. “We don’t provide advice and input into the direction of their philanthropy. What Joe does is help people think strategically about their philanthropy and maximize the input that they can have.”

Other Jewish groups, notably the Jewish Funders Network, offer some donor advice. And several organizations are doing similar work in the general philanthropic world – among them the Wealth and Giving Forum, Rockefeller Advisory Services and the Philanthropic Initiative in Boston.

The center is also seen as attractive because it is supported by investors and does not charge for its work. Donors say that for this reason, they feel the group’s advice is objective.

“We felt that he could offer us something that we needed” because Hyman is “not connected to any particular organization but very well connected in the greater Jewish community both here in the U.S. and in Israel,” said the administrator of a private family foundation in the Chicago area, who requested anonymity for reasons of privacy.

Nearly two years ago, shortly before the center was launched, Hyman sat down with a Chicago-based private investor Robert Sklare to chat about philanthropy. They spent about 10 hours talking, Sklare said, discussing the Jewish philanthropic interests he and his wife, Yadelle, shared, the areas that got them excited and the problems they hoped to help solve. Then Hyman got to work tracking down a series of organizations that fit their bill.

Several did. In fact, Sklare said, since then, he’s donated a “substantial” amount of money to Israel-related organizations – certainly more than he’d have given had he never met Hyman.

He has since funded, among other groups, Birthright Israel; Karev, an after-school enrichment program for inner-city youngsters in Ashkelon, and Meitarim, a group of pluralistic schools that attempt to bridge the gap between religious and secular students.

According to Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, general philanthropy has nearly doubled in the last decade, and the growth of Hyman’s center reflects that trend.

“I think we’re going to see more and more different kinds of approaches to specialize it, make it more strategic, capture it,” he said. “This is the first one that is specifically aimed at Jewish philanthropy.”

Still, asked if this sort of philanthropy is the wave of the future, Solomon demurred.

“It’s hard to know what would have happened had CEJP not been there,” he said. “Would that money have gone to different Jewish organizations? To general charities? Would it have been given at all? While helping to direct millions of dollars is very impressive, it’s hard to know what would have happened had it not been there.”

Rabbi Irving Greenberg, president of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation, said that Michael Steinhardt, a megadonor to Jewish causes, was not initially convinced about Hyman’s efforts, but after he demonstrated that “he had a little bit of a track record, Michael became a funder.”

“I think it’s very significant,” Greenberg said of Hyman’s approach. “My guess is that this has not only got legs, but that this is the wave of the future.”

The Circuit


Victory Call

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayal met recently and placed a call to congratulate new Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. They, along with Ayal’s wife, Anne, extended congratulations on the Kadima Party victory. Photo by Duncan McIntosh.

A Sheba Success

The evening was dressy, festive and upbeat recently when Friends of Sheba Medical Center honored three outstanding Angelenos at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The organization, which does so much to fulfill a promise of excellent medical care in Israel, didn’t disappoint when supporters turned out in record numbers to show their loyalty to honorees and the group’s devotion to its cause. The Rabin Philanthropy Award was presented to community leaders Anna and Max Webb; the Humanitarian Award went to stage, screen and television star Jason Alexander, and Dr. Michael Vermesh, noted infertility specialist, received the Medical Visionary Award. Lynn Ziman and Louis Milkowski, gala dinner co-chairs , said the proceeds of the event, in excess of $4.5 million, will be directed to the Center for Newborn Screening, which will test every baby born in Israel (150,000 annually) for 20 genetic diseases. Every hospital in the country will participate using test kits provided by Marilyn Ziering, and her late husband, Sigi. For information, call (310) 843-0100, ext. 1.

Mitzvos competition

This year’s “Chidon Mitzvos” competition was held recently at Emerson Middle School. More than 1,000 people attended the finals of the annual competition, in which students learn and are tested on the Sefer Hamitzvos of the Rambam. The 150 finalists are all students from Lubavitch cheders, yeshivas and day schools from around the world who scored highest in their home city’s competition. Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum, principal of Cheder Menachem Los Angeles, hosted the competition, and Rabbi Baruch Sholomo Cunin, director of Chabad of California, and Rabbi Ezra Schochet, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad of Los Angeles, commended finalists for their diligence in learning the Sefer Hamitzvos. Internationally acclaimed entertainer Lippa performed a rousing medley of songs, much to the delight of the audience, many of whom rose to their feet to sing and dance along. But the centerpiece of the event was the high-energy “Jewpardy” competition, in which the finalists wowed the audience by answering complicated questions on knowledge from the Sefer Hamitvos.

The Chidon Mitzvos was inspired by the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s directive that all Jews be united by learning the halachos set down in the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos.

Glitter, Glamour and Gehry

Famed architect Frank Gehry kicked off his new jewelry line at Tiffany’s recently in Hollywood fashion as the rich and famous congregated on Rodeo Drive. Gawking and glitz went hand in hand at the event, wall to wall with stars, celebs and Hollywood heavy hitters. Talk show/comedy diva Ellen DeGeneres, and her significant other, Portia de Rossi, were among the cache of stars who extended cordial hellos and mingled with fans. Grammy award-winner John Legend teamed with surprise guest Patti LaBelle to blow the audience away with a rocking performance enjoyed by such luminaries as Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, Christina Ricci, Owen Wilson, Lawrence Fishburne, Mira Sorvino, Anjelica Huston, Quincy Jones and Wolfgang Puck.

Gehry’s new collection consists of an unusual array of materials, such as black gold, pernambuco wood and cocholong stone. Along with sterling silver, diamonds and gemstones, the collection is based on motifs inspired by structural elements, childhood memories, renaissance masters and contemporary painters, thus resulting in arresting shapes and forms that have a kinetic rhythm and energy.

 

The Circuit


Choirs Rock the House

Temple Emanuel was rockin’ recently when it hosted the Temple Bryant A.M.E. Church Choir that performed with Emanuel’s choir at a Shabbat Shira Service. The entire congregation and guests were on their feet singing and clapping in joyous rapture.

Behind the Camera

The Peninsula Beverly Hills was filled with aspiring future filmmakers at the Multicultural Motion Picture Association’s (MMPA) 13th annual Student Filmmakers Pre-Oscar Scholarship Luncheon. Actors, cinematographers, writers, and directors came together for the annual luncheon, to show support for the next Spielbergs and Hillers.

Seven students selected for their outstanding achievements, creative vision and technical talent received financial awards toward their tuition, certificates of merit and grants from film providers like FUJIFILMS and Eastman Kodak.

MMPA President Jarvee Hutcherson, said it was “an honor to pay recognition and award scholarships to a particularly fine group of up-and-coming filmmakers this year.”

The scholarship recipients include Vineet Dewan, Dwjuan F. Fox, Margaret C. Kerrison, Nathan D.T. Kitada, Anthony Sclafani Jr., Phyllis Toben and Ashley York.

Readers and Leaders

Third-graders from Maimonides Academy, Los Angeles, recently donated 48 Jester books and 24 Jester dolls to the Pediatric Hematology Oncology Unit of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The philanthropic youngsters read more than 19,000 pages for a penny a page during the one month Jester & Pharley’s Reading to Give campaign and collected additional funds, as well.

“I’m delighted by the incredible efforts of Maimonides Academy students to help ill children at Cedars-Sinai Hospital,” said Barbara Saltzman, executive director of The Jester & Pharley Phund. “Many people talk about how important it is to help others, but Maimonides students and their families have demonstrated what it really means to actually do something to help others, something that will make a difference for many years to come.”

A Big Step

Beit T’Shuvah held its annual “Steps to Recovery” gala dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel recently.

Young and In Charge

A new generation of Jewish leaders is taking the reins of philanthropy and making a difference through its efforts. Young WIZO, an organization dedicated to helping battered women and children in Israel, has brought together young Jewish professionals and business leaders across the L.A. area.

Bernard Hoffman, Lisa Gild, Joyce Azria-Nasir, Sabrina Wizman and many others have found that focusing their energy on Jewish community leadership brings profound meaning and unequivocal fulfillment to their day-to-day lives.

Through participation in organizations like The Jewish Federation, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Young WIZO, they are realizing their goals of helping to build a vibrant, thriving Jewish state.

If you are between the ages of 21-40 and would like to know more about upcoming events, contact Sabrina at Sabrina@mdpropertiesla.com or call (310) 278-8287.

Animal Crackers

Philanthropist Suzanne Gottlieb, and her company, Greenview Inc., gave the Greater Los Angeles Zoo $2 million for expansion and renovation of zoo. Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Zoo officially christened the zoo’s veterinary facility the Gottlieb Animal Health and Conservation Center, in honor of Gottlieb and her late husband, attorney Robert J. Gottlieb. With Gottlieb, is GLAZA trustee and animal activist Betty White.

Friends in Israel

Women’s Alliance for Israel (WAIPAC) welcomed Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Consul-General of Israel Ehud Danoch at a reception hosted by Michal and Danny Alpert and Barbara and Jeff Scapa. WAIPAC is a bipartisan pro-Israel political action committee that supports candidates for and members of Congress who believe that Israel, an important ally and friend, deserves American friendship and support.

 

Nimoy’s New Trek


In a recent Tel Aviv seminar, Leonard Nimoy — famous as “Star Trek’s” logical Mr. Spock — described the Vulcan way he behaved while playing Golda Meir’s husband in a 1982 TV movie.

“I had a question and the director blurted, ‘It doesn’t make any difference, you’re wrong for this part anyway,'” the 74-year-old actor-director said. “But I just walked away, let it fizzle out and went back to work.”

Nimoy — who was Emmy nominated for that role — was back in Israel as part of the Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership film master class program. During his five-day trip, he conducted two “Inside the Actor’s Studio”-style seminars for student actors and directors.

Nimoy said he was eager to participate because he finds current Israeli cinema to be “fresh, well-executed and relevant to the culture,” compared to the “primitive” films he viewed in the early 1980s. He was equally impressed by students at the Beit Zvi drama school, who asked questions such as “How did you approach your work?” and “How did you find your way into a character?”

Nimoy, in turn, described his use of Stanislavsky’s Method, as taught by the late Jeff Corey, in which an actor uses personal experiences to emotionally tap into a scene. The technique also emphasizes finding major themes in a piece to determine a character’s connection to them. Spock, for instance, drew on “Trek’s” dissection of individuals simultaneously “exploring outside of themselves and achieving self-discovery.”

“I also talked a lot about subtext,” Nimoy recalled. “For example, what does a character mean when he says the simple words, ‘I love you’? Is he saying, ‘I love you,’ meaning the other person doesn’t, or ‘I love you,'” because he feels unloved?”

Eventually someone asked why Nimoy gave up acting and directing in favor of photography and philanthropy eight years ago. The artist traced his decision to sitting, for hours in a hot trailer in Morocco, flies buzzing about, while playing the prophet Samuel in the TV movie, “David.” “I decided, ‘I’m done with this,'” he said, in decidedly un-Spock-like tones. “‘There’s no need to continue, because I’ve had all the creative expression a person could ever have dreamed of in a career that’s spanned more than 50 years.”

The Nimoy Concert Series presents Sheshbesh, The Arab-Jewish ensemble of the Israel Philharmonic, June 26, 3 p.m., at Temple Israel of Hollywood. For more information, call (213) 805-4261. For more information about the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, visit www.jewishla.org/html/io_partnership.htm.

 

Nonprofits Refocus 2005 Funding Efforts


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At the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, executive director Roz Rothstein can look back wistfully on a seemingly more innocent time when fundraising was less convoluted for the four-year-old group.

“Life was simple when we had one brochure, one Web site and two or three people on staff,” Rothstein said. “Now, we have five Web sites, multiple speakers, brochures in multiple languages, over 10 people on staff, a shipping department and we are looking at opening up a New York office, as well as chapters around the country. We have a healthy budget and strong community support. The biggest challenge is always development.”

Development is the nonprofit’s world polite term for money. Jewish non-profits are scrambling for every dollar and for those big-fish $10,000 donors, competing not only with each other but with a larger, equally competitive group of secular charities. The money chase can exhaust both partners in the donor dance.

“I cannot neglect my actual work and commitments, so the time I spend on development forces me to work nights and weekends,” Rothstein said. “There are many groups approaching the same people for donations; even the best of them get weary.”

Jewish charities also must respond to government moves. As president of the Jewish anti-hunger group MAZON, H. Eric Schockman is concerned this year about both donor fatigue and 2005’s expected social service cuts at both the state and federal level.

“Basically, we’re looking at not enough revenue ultimately to sustain the major entitlement programs that the federal government is involved in,” Schockman said. “Foster care, Medicare, you go down the list. So we have to assist donors in sort of understanding the implications of what will come out of the federal budget debate come next September or October, and at the state level it gets even more convoluted. I think in the sort of long term sustainability, it’s going to be a difficult year.”

Money to fund fights against anti-Israel sentiments and long-term hunger is coming as Jewish groups expand their traditional philanthropy focus. At the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Pacific Southwest regional offices, development director Barbara Racklin has been working for the past two years on creating an expanded ADL endowment culture of getting donors to think beyond the year-to-year annual fundraising.

“The Holocaust generation understood the mission and embraced it,” said Racklin, who was a Pasadena-based fundraiser for the American Red Cross before joining the ADL. “I’m focusing on trying to endow gifts so that we have a future that we can count on, rather than just about day-to-day. For the ADL it’s been year-to-year for a long time. The endowment legacy is fairly new. The ADL often in the past was not necessarily seen as a fundraising organization; people supported it but I don’t think they thought that as an organization it needed to raise money.”

For Racklin, this change in ADL thinking has meant scaling back, combining or consolidating some of the annual fundraising events. Also, she said, it means working to, “personalize the mission” for long-term endowment donors and uniting the ADL’s previously separate offices for legacy/endowment and planned-giving donors.

“Everybody wants to secure the future of their nonprofit charity,” Racklin said. “The beauty of planned giving is that you’re talking to the people that support you already.”

At the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, president John Fishel is trying to address the generational changes in wealth, from L.A.’s post-Holocaust community-building funders to the younger generation of community sustainers. That means more explaining to donors where their dollars go in Southern California.

“Israel remains very, very key,” Fishel said. “But I think that if you look below the surface with younger people, their primary interest seems to be moving toward supporting local people more in their own communities. We have tried to create programs that support those things that we think motivate our donors to give direct dollars to as opposed to what I might refer to as a block grant.”

World events also affect donors, including the Asian tsunami and the continuing frequent attacks on Israeli citizens coupled with rising anti-Semitism. At StandWithUs, Rothstein said, “By now, everyone understands that we need to pay far more attention to educating our youth about Israel and Jewish history, about what Zionism means, in order to prepare them properly for possible challenges on their colleges campuses.”

The tsunami also has expanded MAZON’s poverty work abroad, but without hurting the group’s U.S. emphasis.

“I don’t see that trade-off happening; it’s an amazing sort of testimonial to the understanding that disasters and emergencies and wars of genocide take priority along with sustained issues that Jews understand must be tended to,” Schockman said. “I’ve only seen an enhancement of philanthropic goodness and giving along with concerns in southern Asia.”

For Rachel Jagoda, director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, southern Asia in 2005 is of less immediate concern than southern Poland in 1945. She is seeing her old survivor funding base die off and it must be replaced with a less Jewish, more eclectic donor culture equally committed to preserving Shoah remembrance.

“We have had to look outside of ourselves,” Jagoda said. “The majority of our funding has been coming from small private foundations that are not necessarily Jewish. There was this idea at one time that there’s 20 Jews [in Los Angeles] with money and we’re all in competition with each other. I think we’re better served appealing to, and working together with, other institutions.”

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IDT’s CEO Jonas: Not a Typical Millionaire


 

Don’t be alarmed if you visit the Newark headquarters of telecommunications giant IDT, open the coat closet and stumble upon a lanky man in jeans, a wrinkled work shirt and running shoes.

That’s just Howard Jonas, the company’s 48-year-old founder, chairman and controlling shareholder, the one whose boyish enthusiasm, slightly awkward mannerisms and excitement about the little perks he enjoys as head honcho — like sushi delivered to his office for lunch every day and the opportunity to get the company swimming pool to himself — bring to mind Tom Hanks in “Big.”

By the way, in addition to running this Forbes 1000 corporation, he is among the world’s leading Jewish philanthropists.

Did we mention that while IDT is in the telecommunications, high-tech and entertainment industries, Jonas has no answering machine at home, dislikes and almost never uses a computer and hates television?

That is only the beginning of the many contradictions he embodies.

Jonas is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, yet largely maintains a quiet, middle-class lifestyle, residing in a relatively modest home in Riverdale with his wife and nine children. He flies coach, drives a Ford station wagon, buys used furniture for the office and eschews most luxuries.

Jonas, who was not raised as Orthodox, funds a range of Orthodox causes across the ideological spectrum, and he estimates that 25 percent to 40 percent of the 5,000 employees at IDT are Orthodox.

Yet he sympathizes with the ultra-secular Israeli party, Shinui, particularly its efforts to reduce government subsidies for the ultra-Orthodox. And he lashed out recently at Yeshiva University in a blunt speech, accusing the school of shifting too far to the right.

Entrepreneurial, hard working and visionary, Jonas has started several successful businesses since his first venture opening a hot dog stand as a teenager. Yet he has been all but paralyzed by two major episodes of clinical depression and lives in constant fear that the illness will strike again.

Jonas and his wife give away more than 20 percent of their income to charity, favoring causes that help the impoverished. Yet he is an ardent supporter of President George W. Bush and the Republican Party, whose tax cuts and other policies often are seen as favoring the wealthiest Americans and widening the gap between rich and poor.

In his book, “I’m Not the Boss: I Just Work Here” (Leviathan Press, 2004) Jonas himself acknowledges, “I look at life differently than most people I know.”

Quietly, Jonas and his high school sweetheart wife Debbie — the two graduated from Bronx High School of Science and Harvard University — have joined the ranks of American Jewry’s largest philanthropists.

Between their family foundation and IDT’s foundation, they donate approximately $20 million a year, roughly 70 percent to Jewish causes, a whopping sum considering that most wealthy American Jews allocate the vast majority of their charity to secular causes.

But you won’t find any buildings or programs named for the couple, and it is only recently that Jonas reluctantly agreed to be honored at fundraising dinners in hopes that it would encourage other people to donate. For Jonas, having something named for him “seems show-offy.”

The top five recipients of the Jonas largess are Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the liberal Orthodox alternative to YU’s rabbinical school; SAR Academy High School in Riverdale; the Yatzkan Center a Jewish drug rehabilitation center in Long Island; Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital; and Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Jonas also is a JTA board member.

He said he is interested in making a major gift to bring the Jews still in Ethiopia to Israel, and is in discussion with a major outreach yeshiva in Jerusalem to fund a chesder yeshiva, or joint army-yeshiva program.

Jonas and IDT also give to a variety of non-Jewish groups, particularly ones that benefit Latinos.

“We sell a billion dollars worth of products a year to that community, so we have an obligation to give back to them,” he said.

In addition to their institutional giving — the Jonases support scores of causes — they give to a seemingly limitless number of individuals in crisis, often referred through their rabbi, Avi Weiss, and leaders of other Jewish institutions.

“I’m privy to several things he’s given to where there was no publicity attached,” said Rabbi Israel “Izzy” Greenberg, executive vice president of Beth Jacob-Beth Miriam School for Girls, which the Jonases have supported for 15 years. “He does it purely for the sake of the mitzvah.”

Beth Jacob-Beth Miriam, in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx, serves a largely low-income student body. The Jonases are the school’s largest benefactor.

Weiss recalls that for six months, the Jonases took in a poor family that was in New York receiving cancer treatment.

“There’s always someone there,” Weiss said. “The door is always open.”

Then there are the people who come to the door. Every night, the Jonas doorbell rings at least once with people asking for help.

Jonas has been giving away 20 percent of his income since he was a teen, and charities he aids describe him and his wife with words like tzadik and saint.

But Jonas doesn’t even consider himself a philanthropist.

“When I was driving a delivery truck, no one applied this title ‘philanthropist’ to me,” he said. “I don’t think of myself any more as a philanthropist than maybe the person sitting three rows in front of me in shul who’s running a sporting goods store.”

In fact, Jonas is quick to say, he is far less generous than his wife, who in addition to caring for their children — they range in age from 23 months to 22 years, and the family has never employed a nanny — visits sick people, helps parents of disabled children, drives elderly people to doctors’ appointments and performs other good-will projects.

“She really cares about individual poor people, individual sick people, people that are suffering,” Jonas said, adding, “I wish I was that kind of person. I always make resolutions to go to a nursing home and spend time with people, but I always find something else to do.”

Pressed to explain the source of his generosity, this son of an insurance salesman who grew up in the Bronx said, “I always felt this incredible sense of privilege.”

“Maybe it was growing up a little after the Holocaust and knowing so many survivors. I really internalized that,” Jonas said. “I’m free, I live in a free country and can do whatever I want. It just seemed like the right thing to give back.”

Jonas is so generous and widely respected that even his inflammatory comments about Yeshiva University (YU) have aroused little public reaction.

At a dinner for Chovevei Torah, Jonas said in a speech that YU has shifted too far to the right, is “gutless and spineless” and described it as a place “people pay to get into when they can’t get in anywhere else.”

The speech largely was met with silence, save for a few letters to the editor of Jewish newspapers, an editorial in the YU student newspaper and a paid advertisement placed in the New York Jewish Week by Marvin Schick, an educational consultant.

Despite the apparent Jonas-YU rift, Jonas remains on the Y.U. board and met recently for three hours with YU President Richard Joel. And Debbie Jonas still is co-chairing an upcoming luncheon benefit for the Yeshiva University Women’s Organization.

Jonas said he resents the insinuation some have made that he can do whatever he wants because people are intimidated by his wealth.

“I don’t put strings on any gift that I give to anyone,” he said. “I don’t say they have to praise me or can’t distance themselves from me. When I give, I just give because the things they’re doing are right. This whole implication that I’m only able to say what I say because I’m rich and have bought everyone off — what a crock!”

Several beneficiaries of the Jonas largess agreed that he is not particularly controlling with his gifts. Even when pressed and promised the opportunity to speak off the record, no beneficiary would speak ill of Jonas.

“There are no strings attached when it comes to any of his beneficiaries,” said Greenberg of Beth Jacob-Beth Miriam. “He doesn’t get involved in the politics. He just gives based on merit. He’s a real tzadik.”

In some ways, Jonas’ loyalty to the upstart Yeshivat Chovevei Torah parallels his approach to business.

As a small underdog, IDT drew headlines for taking on AT&T.

In his first book, “On A Roll: From Hot Dog Buns to High-Tech Billions,” Jonas tells how he built IDT when he was 33, launching the company with a simple idea: cutting long-distance phone costs by rerouting international calls through the United States through something he invented called callback technology.

In the early 1990s, AT&T petitioned the Federal Communications Commission demanding that IDT’s callback service be declared illegal and turned off immediately. But Jonas prevailed, thanks in part to connections with the Bush White House.

IDT, once housed in a converted funeral parlor in the Bronx, now is bursting at the seams of its 18-story building in downtown Newark. It has approximately 5,000 employees worldwide (including 1,000 in its Israel office in Jerusalem), annual revenues of $1.8 billion and ranks 746th on the Fortune 1000 list.

In addition to its phone and Internet service, IDT recently launched an entertainment division with digital animation studios and a right-leaning talk radio syndicate.

The Newark headquarters, where yarmulkes and black hats are a common sight, has a uniquely Jewish flavor. The company cafeteria is kosher; according to Jonas, it is one of, if not the largest kosher facility outside of Israel. Multiple Jewish prayer services take place in the building throughout the day.

And IDT hosts two yeshivas. At Yeshiva Bais Tzvi Yaakov: IDT Center for Torah and Business, 39 men ranging in age from 18 to 23 spend mornings studying in the beit midrash and afternoons taking computer or business courses. The Mesivta of North Jersey is a yeshiva high school with approximately 70 boys, who Jonas notes are major consumers of pizza from IDT’s dairy snack bar.

Raised as a secular Jew, Jonas was expelled from two Hebrew schools, one Conservative and one Orthodox.

In high school, he grew interested in Orthodoxy, a shift he attributes in his book to his Orthodox grandmother and a search for answers amid the social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s.

He and Debbie, who also did not grow up Orthodox, became fully observant only when the couple joined the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale synagogue as members shortly after graduating from Harvard.

Deciding to wear a yarmulke was the hardest part for Jonas.

“There’s a sort of separation that naturally happens when you are overtly identified as Orthodox,” he said. “Your family thinks you’re different. Everyone sees you as a religious person.”

Jonas does not like to be labeled. He felt self-conscious at a high-powered lunch for Bush supporters, worrying that people were making assumptions about him because of his specially ordered kosher meal.

It didn’t help that while the others were enjoying shrimp salad and listening to Bush speak, Jonas was struggling to open the tightly wrapped plastic covering. He was sitting at Bush’s table.

“I was trying to take off the tape as quietly as possible,” Jonas recalled with a laugh. “Every time I pull it off it’s like ‘Screech!’ ” But he said Bush was “a nice guy. He looked over and said, ‘Tough to get that kosher food out, huh?'”

That lunch was not Jonas’ first meeting with the president. Photos of Jonas with Bush, and one with Vice President Dick Cheney, adorn IDT’s executive suite. Jonas is an ardent Republican, and was one of 12 vice chairs of this summer’s Republican National Convention in New York City.

A quote from President Reagan: “America is too big for small dreams,” graces IDT’s entrance. Jonas, who has appeared on Pat Robertson’s “700 Club,” is friendly with evangelical Christians and said that strengthening ties between Jews and evangelicals is something he would like to support in the future.

Nonetheless, he is married to a liberal Democrat. In 2004 Debbie Jonas said she voted for Bush because he is pro-Israel, but “it’s killing me and Howard just gloats.”

During the 2000 election, when Jonas “dragged” Debbie to the Republican convention, she went wearing a Gore-Lieberman button.

Despite their different politics, the Jonases say they share the same core values.

“I grew up thinking of Republicans as these evil, uncaring people, but Howard is certainly not uncaring,” Debbie said. “He just has a different idea. In every fiber of his body he believes in capitalism and thinks it’s best for everyone.”

What is perhaps most remarkable about Jonas and IDT is that in the midst of their simultaneous rise to success, he found himself crushed by severe depression. He has suffered two months-long episodes of clinical depression.

One, which he writes about in “I’m Not the Boss,” occurred in 1992-93, shortly after IDT was launched. The second bout, which he spoke about in an interview, was in 1998-99.

In the first depression, triggered by the tensions of starting a new company, he would “count the minutes until I could go downtown to see my psychiatrist and cry.”

Jonas writes that he regularly contemplated suicide, fantasizing about jumping off the George Washington Bridge. The only thing that stopped him was Debbie telling him she’d never forgive him, and the kids would blame themselves and be scarred forever.

Jonas recovered on a family vacation to Israel, but five years later the depression returned. It all started when Debbie developed a tumor. It turned out to be benign, but in the three weeks

between diagnosis and surgery, Jonas “completely fell apart,” his wife said. Even after she recovered, Jonas was still “floundering.”

Then a month later, their house burned down. While no one was hurt, Jonas was the only one away from home when it happened. No one had been able to contact him, so he arrived home to see his house engulfed in flames.

This time the depression was even more severe. Jonas stayed at home for weeks at a time and didn’t shower.

“I was beyond suicide,” he said. “Suicide is sort of an active thing.”

Debbie speculated that her husband’s proclivity toward depression is rooted in “this kind of underlying security.”

“He has this underlying feeling that he’s not worthy of what he has and it could all disappear in a heartbeat,” she said. “There’s like a wounded child in there.”

Jonas and his wife live in constant fear that the depression will return.

To prevent it, Jonas employs a range of strategies, including exercising regularly, taking anti-depressants “if I feel it coming on,” trying to get enough sleep and staying focused on “the things that are important, like the kids.”

“I’m still looking for the silver bullet,” he said, although lately Jonas is trying another approach: giving himself a jolt by doing things that frighten him, like giving blood “religiously” — he’s afraid of needles — and parachuting.

So what was Jonas doing in the IDT coat closet? Taking computerized lessons for his latest project, learning to fly.

Jonas does not like computers. He worries they will suck up his attention for hours, preventing him from interacting with people and doing his other work. He manages to do his work and write his books without computers.

But since the flight lessons had to be done by computer, Jonas installed the machine in the closet, giving himself an incentive to finish up quickly.

In his book, in which Jonas argues passionately for God’s existence, Jonas said he is grounded by the awareness that “it could all come to an end tomorrow.”

“Life has taught me to recognize that I’m not really in charge,” he writes, “that I’m not the One pulling the strings.”

 

From L.A. to Tel Aviv —


An Israeli girl and a Los Angeles girl celebrate their bat mitzvahs together in Tel Aviv. Two Holocaust survivors from the same European town rediscover each other during an intercontinental videoconference call. Financial experts from Los Angeles assist their Tel Aviv counterparts to float Israel’s first municipal bond issue. A Tel Aviv fusion theater production of “The Dybbuk” as a Japanese Noh play debuts in Los Angeles. Israeli and Los Angeles experts start cleaning up Tel Aviv’s polluted HaYarkon River.

The scope and effect of projects in Israel funded by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have always been broad. But the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, with its specialization in hands-on, people-to-people programming seeks to transcend mere philanthropy in order to change the attitudes of Jews in both cities and create a mutual stake in each other’s Jewish life.

Most Federation philanthropic money raised for Israel in Los Angeles is still entrusted to the Jewish Agency for disbursement, while some of it goes directly to fund specific pluralism and security-related Jews in Crisis projects in Israel (see sidebars). Programs undertaken through the partnership program, however, are different — partly staffed from Los Angeles, planned and managed jointly with personnel in Tel Aviv and often including exchanges of staff and students.

The result, say organizers, participants and even occasional Federation critics, is a remarkably successful program that may change the nature of Israel-Diaspora relations — for the better.

History

The partnership, with its education, health, human services, culture and economic projects, harks back to Project Renewal, a 1980s Jewish Agency program for funding urban renewal projects in selected Israeli neighborhoods. Under Project Renewal, the Israeli government provided infrastructure and housing, while Diaspora communities underwrote such capital projects as community and child-development centers.

Even then, North American federations, including Los Angeles, began to insist that social renewal was a necessary part of urban renewal. They also demanded oversight of social projects and the inclusion of local residents in decision-making and managing.

Los Angeles’ renewal projects thus included drug rehabilitation, as well as community centers in a poor Jerusalem area neighborhood; big brother-sister and tutoring projects, rebuilding of an ancient Roman amphitheater in the development town of Beit Shean, and clinics and school projects in Ajami-Lev Jaffa, a mixed Arab-Jewish area in Tel Aviv.

While meeting some of Israel’s needs, Project Renewal partly failed to satisfy Los Angeles planners’ and contributors’ growing preference for more directed giving and hands-on programming. “It was a colonial, lady bountiful approach, recalled Dr. Gerry Bubis, a Federation veteran.

In the mid-1990s, as the renewal projects were being absorbed by local Israeli municipalities, the Los Angeles Federation established a think tank, composed of both Federation personnel and Los Angeles immigrants in Israel, to consider how to use the skills and creativity of the Los Angeles community for future projects in the Jewish State. The old philanthropic model — “build us a park or a hospital and we’ll run it” — no longer seemed quite right.

When in 1998, Israel’s 50th anniversary year, the Jewish Agency announced its Partnership 2000 program, an umbrella under which Diaspora communities were called on to fund regional development projects in Israel, Los Angeles said yes — but no. The Federation insisted on being twinned not with a development town but with Tel Aviv, a metropolis whose sophistication and skills would match its own city.

And if the mercantile and cultural capital of the Pacific Coast was going to collaborate with the most sophisticated city in Israel, it wanted to do it partly on its own terms, establishing a peer relationship that would include professional, institutional and personal interactions and joint programming in the areas of the Federation’s priorities and expertise, especially education and social services. Cultural affairs and economic initiatives were added to the partnership later.

The idea was to affect the culture of both Jewish Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, to make the buzzwords “Israel-Diaspora relations” refer to something real.

The Jewish Agency objected to the loss of control over funds flowing through its pipeline, but The Federation persevered. After then-mayor of Tel Aviv Roni Milo appointed a committee to work with Los Angeles, the agency eventually gave its blessing.

From the first, the partnership’s steering committee of 15 lay and professional leaders from each side confronted significant differences in cultural expectations, organizational needs, basic assumptions and personal styles. The Tel Aviv people, explained Bubis, who currently serves on two partnership committees, were civil servants, unaware of the committee-consensus model by which The Federation makes decisions, while the Los Angeles contingent, as volunteers and professionals working for private agencies, had no idea how the Tel Aviv municipality operated.

One key element determined at those first meetings, at the insistence of Los Angeles, was that the partnership should include a Jewish-Israel component. Part of Los Angeles’ aim was “to make a relationship that would strengthen Jewish identity in both communities,” recalled Fredi Rembaum, who, as The Federation’s director of Israel-overseas relations for eight years, was instrumental in developing programming for the partnership.

The curriculum was designed to make Israel a more defined part of Jewish identity for Jewish students in Los Angeles, while being Jewish would be a component of Israeli identity for the Tel Aviv participants.

Semiannual steering committee meetings, alternating between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, as well as a communications network that includes videoconferencing and visits to each other’s communities continue to guide the partnership, whose main component areas are described below.

Education

Education, with many projects planned and run through the Bureau of Jewish Education in Los Angeles, is the oldest and most developed component of the partnership. The most visible and probably the most successful of the partnership projects — what Ed Robbins, an initiator of the partnership, calls education’s flagship — is the twinning of 12 schools in Los Angeles with schools in Tel Aviv for programs that include organized, ongoing communication and student exchanges.

The twinned schools include many day schools in the Los Angeles area, as well as the public Calabasas High School, whose student population is two-thirds Jewish. At Calabasas, the focus is not on Jewish peoplehood but on Israel’s relationship to the United States.

Student exchanges have slowed because of the security situation in Israel, but joint programming in the schools continues to address the subject of Israel-Diaspora relations and Jewish identity. Los Angeles day school teachers continue to meet with their peers in Israel to develop joint curriculum.

It is noteworthy that the Israeli schools, backing away from the classic Zionist view that the Diaspora exists to provide money and immigrants for Israel, have been extremely eager to pursue the twinning relationship. In fact, Marty Karp, who directs The Federation’s Israel office, suggested this may be the first time that pedagogical issues relating to Jewish peoplehood are being worked out between a Diaspora and an Israeli community.

A related project that predated the school twinning, Distant Friends, began with a film in which Los Angeles high school students discuss Jewish life in their city and their own sense of Jewish identity. The film, with an accompanying curriculum on U.S. Jewish life and Israel-Diaspora relations, has been used in approximately 70 Tel Aviv high schools. The project is currently being turned around — a film about Tel Aviv students and their lives as Israelis and Jews will be included in the curriculum of Los Angeles Jewish schools.

In Tel Aviv, a high school forum brings 40 students from 12 Tel Aviv schools together weekly to discuss issues of Jewish identity and Israeli-Diaspora relationships. The program will be broadened with a counterpart group established in Los Angeles, leading to exchanges and communication between the groups.

In addition, the partnership sends shlichim (student ambassadors — most of them young men and women just past their army service) to be counselors at Los Angeles Jewish summer camps.

The work-study Teach and Study Program (TASP) offers university graduates the opportunity to teach English for two years in Tel Aviv schools, while earning a master’s degree from Tel Aviv University in teaching language, especially English as a second language. Each of the 14 current TASP interns — their numbers down from 27 last year due to the security situation — is responsible for the English-language development of a group of 15 Israeli children.

A joint UCLA-Tel Aviv University course in Jewish studies brings students together through videoconferencing.

Health and Human Services

The partnership’s health and human services committee brought together Los Angeles’ Jewish Family Service and Tel Aviv’s Department of Human Services to jointly identify target areas for social welfare projects, particularly family violence, emergency personnel management and services for seniors and Holocaust survivors. The collaboration has allowed professionals in both cities to learn and adapt models from the each other’s care and delivery systems.

Cafe Europa, a social and support program for Holocaust survivors developed in Los Angeles, has been adopted and adapted by Tel Aviv, where an average of 150 survivors now are drawn weekly to two sites for socializing and programs. The project also includes videoconferencing between survivors in both cities.

In one of the most moving moments of the partnership connection, two Holocaust survivors — one in Los Angeles and the other in Tel Aviv — both from the same town in Eastern Europe discovered each other during a group videoconference.

Another import from Los Angeles is the Wellness Community, which offers support groups, lectures, social and health-enhancing events to hundreds of cancer patients and their families in the Tel Aviv area. Using a Los Angeles model, a Wellness Community hospice has been established in Tel Aviv.

The Zug or Peret Marriage Project, based on the Making Marriage Work course at Los Angeles’ University of Judaism, has been set up in Tel Aviv.

The Sandwich Generation Women, offering support and empowerment for midlife women, now reaches approximately 3,000 in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa area.

The Beit Alochem center in Tel Aviv runs extensive social, cultural and psychological programming for disabled war veterans. It has now been expanded to include terror victims.

The Yad al Hadofek (friends to the elderly and homebound) program, modeled after a similar program run by Jewish Family Service, develops a cadre of volunteers who maintain regular contact with the elderly and homebound.

The Life Stories project uses tape, film and writing to document individual, family, neighborhood and community stories and trains individuals to handle the information gathering. The curriculum was developed in Tel Aviv and will soon be transferred for use in Los Angeles.

The Family Friends projects encourages senior citizen volunteers to adopt families with a disabled child. Other projects target domestic violence and violence against people with disabilities through educational programs in Tel Aviv workplaces.

Culture

As a center for the performing arts, Los Angeles has mounted a wide range of cultural collaborations and exchanges of artists with Tel Aviv, including performance projects and discussions in schools in both cities. The Inbal Ethnic Theater and Los Angeles’ Keshet Haim dance group collaborated on a project, as did the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony and the Tel Aviv University School of Music, among others.

The production of S. Ansky’s “The Dybbuk” in Japanese Noh style, featuring Tel Aviv actors, was directed by a Tel Aviv University professor, adapted by an expert on Japanese theater at UCLA, staged in Tel Aviv and then imported on video for showing in Los Angeles.

Curators from museums in Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Getty and the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, have been linked for joint programming and institutional exchanges.

A master class workshop in filmmaking, staffed from Los Angeles and presented at Tel Aviv University, has also brought some young Tel Aviv filmmakers to Los Angeles on internships in the film industry (see page 12).

Economic Initiatives

Economic initiatives, the most recent addition to the partnership, includes many projects that are still in the evaluation and planning stage that is expected to continue through 2003.

However, one project already under way, using financial expertise developed in Los Angeles, is helping Tel Aviv float the first municipal bond offering in Israel. The money will be used to create underground parking to relieve the city’s clogged thoroughfares.

Another ongoing project is a collaboration between businesspeople and environmentalists to clean up Tel Aviv’s badly polluted HaYarkon River.

A third large enterprise now being studied involves neighborhood revitalization in the Jaffa flea market area. Based on the model used in Los Angeles after the riots in the early 1990s, the Tel Aviv Genesis projects would combine urban investment and real estate development with community organizing, social welfare programs and small-business development.

About $1 million now flows from The Federation into the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, double the amount allocated in partnership’s first full year in 1998. The Federation anticipates increasing partnership allocations, however, the amount has not been revealed.

The partnership allocations comprise about 10 percent of The Federation’s funds earmarked for overseas use. Although there is perennial tension between overseas needs and local Jewish needs, no complaints have arisen about the allocations to the partnership. In fact, as Rembaum put it, a subsidiary goal of the partnership is to “blur the line” between support for Israel and support for the local community by doing both at the same time.

Has the Partnership Worked?

Federation personnel involved in the partnership seem convinced that it has been a great success. “Everyone is delighted where we’ve got to,” Federation President John Fishel proclaimed after an eight-hour steering committee evaluation meeting in Tel Aviv in October.

Yes, there are problems, Fishel acknowledged, naming “a certain fragmentation,” — too many small programs not connected to the mainstream partnership relationship. But even these, he insisted, putting a positive spin on it, merely indicate “opportunities for greater synergy.”

Lois Weinsaft, The Federation’s vice president for international planning, echoed Fishel, explaining that the partnership expects to “move away from smaller programs in order to concentrate money, energy and impact.”

On-the-ground appraisals from partnership personnel range from the evaluation by David Gill, the partnership’s Los Angeles chairman, that “everything worked” to first partnership chairman Herb Glazer’s acknowledgement, leavened with high grades overall, that some projects — he named several performance exchanges — simply “flopped.”

Meanwhile, even such critics of Federation programs and priorities as demographer Pini Herman voiced no criticism of the partnership in general. However, he did say that The Federation remains out of touch with local needs, while funding programs like the partnership, which provide overseas junkets for Federation executives and managers.

But Herman’s is a lone voice. Bubis, the founding director of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Relgion’s School of Jewish Communal Service and a Federation veteran who has sometimes voiced criticism of Federation programming, called the partnership “nothing short of spectacular — the leveraging of a relatively small amount of money for a remarkable payoff.”

In Tel Aviv, Los Angeles’ contribution has been warmly praised by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai. “I’ve seen how much it contributes to the city, how much impact it has,” Huldai said, naming summer camps, day-care centers, projects for the elderly. “We feel we have partners.”

The fact is that the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership is young and still developing. It may simply be too soon to know what works well or what the long-range effects of partnership will be. One major success, observers said, is not programmatic but the promotion of volunteerism and layperson involvement on the Tel Aviv side.

As for the success of the specific programs, themselves, most have not yet been officially evaluated — a deficiency that The Federation is aware needs to be remedied — and many programs will require long-range follow-up to determine their effect on individuals and the two communities.

Meanwhile, Fishel is full of ideas for future partnering: extended-day kindergartens in Tel Aviv, a Tel Aviv spinoff of Los Angeles’ Mommy and Me programs; sending graduate business students to Tel Aviv to help on economic projects; broadening the school exchanges and finding ways for engaging youth groups on both sides; increasing the scope of joint curriculums, and consulting with other federations to learn what they are doing in their partnerships.

Partnership is “infinite in its possibilities,” Fishel enthused. “The more you’re working together, the more opportunities for collaboration.”

With the sense of connection to Israel decreasing measurably in the U.S. Jewish community, the collaborative framework appears to offer a possibility for reconnection, as people on both sides go beyond philanthropy to work together on Jewish issues and communal problems.

David Margolis, who lives in a small village in the
Judean hills, can be reached through his Web site, www.davidmargolis.com .


Federation Directs Funds Overseas

Currently, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles allocates about $11.5 million of the approximately $40 million it collects annually to overseas projects. Most of the overseas funds — some $9.5 million — are funneled through the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group of North American federations, which divides the money between the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee on a 3-1 ratio.

Directed funds for "pluralism" programs amount to about $425,000. Funds for Jews in Crisis projects, which were raised in a separate one-time campaign, are funneled to projects in Israel without any administrative or fundraising costs deducted, a Federation spokesman said.

The Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership — allocations for which have doubled since its first budget year in 1998 — currently receives about $900,000 with an additional $300,000 earmarked for joint projects in Israel that are outside its formal structure. Another $100,000 goes to the partnership for administrative and programming needs from the Jewish Agency and the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation, respectively.

Unity in Motion


On the warm night of May 2, a cross-section of wealthy Los Angeles Jews — including philanthropists Jona Goldrich, Stanley Black, Danny Ziv and Max and Anna Webb — attended an event in the heart of Beverly Hills to raise money for Israel. The evening’s goal: to raise $180,000 to purchase 180 state-of-the-art bulletproof vests for Israeli soldiers.

During the evening, hosts Orit and Chaim Cohen read a moving letter from their absent daughter, who contributed to the cause a $180 paycheck she earned at college. David Suissa, co-founder of Suissa Miller Advertising, reflected on the Jewish unity he was witnessing from every denomination and political leaning. And Tiran, a 27-year-old Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer, mesmerized the audience with his firsthand account of his experiences in the trenches of Jenin.

This was not your typical banquet gala fundrasier. The setting was not some posh hotel, but the Cohens’ backyard, for a parlor meeting.

Such parlor meetings are increasingly common in area homes these days, as Jewish Angelenos express their concern for Israel through grass-roots efforts and through mainstream organizations. With two years of the intifada raging and no end in sight, U.S. Jews are worried about the escalating carnage, the future of the Jewish state and a perceived media bias against Israel.

From major communal philanthropists to elementary school students, people have been pooling their resources and extending themselves to help Israeli causes. The push for ad-hoc activism took on a profound urgency in the aftermath of the brutal Passover suicide bombing at a Netanya hotel that claimed the lives of 29 people gathered around a seder table.

“Something biblical happened on Passover in the Jewish world,” Suissa said. “This remarkable surge of unity is something I haven’t seen in 20 years. It gives me goose bumps.”

During Pesach, Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood raised more than $1 million from his congregation, which was matched by Magbit Foundation, a local Persian Jewish charitable institution. The total $3.2 million, directed to The Jewish Federation’s Victims of Terror Fund, will be presented during an early June mission to Israel by Wolpe and a delegation of community representatives. Those joining Wolpe on the mission will include Federation President John Fishel, Magbit representatives Parviz Nazarian and Jimmy Delshad, Suissa and the Webbs.

The money collected will be divided among a group of charities, including Beit Halochem, which supports soldiers; NATAL, which promotes emotional recovery; Sela Foundation, which assists Soviet immigrants, and trauma centers in five major Israeli cities.

Recently, Magbit coordinated several parlor meetings, including one in Santa Barbara and a local Russian community house call last weekend.

All these efforts are taking place against the backdrop of The Jewish Federation’s recently announced Jews in Crisis campaign, a commitment undertaken by The Federation to raise $10 million for Israel. It is part of a nationwide effort of the United Jewish Communities’ multimillion dollar campaign (see sidebar).

At a May 5 Jews in Crisis fundraiser at the Century Plaza Hotel, past Federation President Herb Gelfand announced that he had held a parlor meeting the night before at his home that raised $1 million. Gelfand donated $60,000 to Jews in Crisis, and he urged his audience of nearly 2,500 to hold their own parlor meetings. Among those who did just that was Santa Monica resident Cece Feiler, who held a meeting earlier this month that Fishel attended.

“People have been calling us who want to do something about the crisis of Argentina and Israel, and we’re helping them with materials and speakers,” Fishel said.

Feiler, a therapist and mother of three, raised $50,000 from the 37 people who attended her function — roughly half of whom were not Jewish.

Another Brentwood woman, who prefers to remain anonymous, said she has been holding regular meetings for a year at her estate. On May 11, she drew 60 people to her home to hear Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America. Her gatherings are not fundraisers, but teach-ins.

Synagogues have also geared up for action, many of them coordinating their efforts with the Jews in Crisis fund. On May 14, hundreds of people came to Valley Beth Shalom in Encino to hear Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior. On May 21, University Synagogue will host a talk with Ze’ev Friedman of the Health, Welfare and Human Services Department of Tel Aviv, proceeds of which will go to the fund.

Like many other synagogues, Temple Beth Am circulated a special letter outlining Project Embrace, a program that matches members of synagogues with an Israeli family that has been victimized by terror.

The Federation, along with Janine and Peter Lowy and Vivian and Ron Alberts, began sponsoring a newspaper page in tribute to Israeli terror victims (see page 3).

Jewish schools have also gotten involved. Children at Maimonides Academy and Congregation Beth Jacob raised over $5,000 to support families of terror victims through the organization One Family.

Various clubs at Milken Community High School spent a month raising $1,180 for Jews in Crisis. Anat Ben Ishai, religious school director at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, coordinated an effort on both of the temple’s campuses to raise $22,000 toward the purchase of a Tel Aviv trauma unit.

“When the situation in Israel started to flare, we said, let’s see if we can do something on behalf of the school,” said Ishai, who added that tzedakah efforts at the school have always been a staple. “I have kids who took their boxes of coins and gave a lot of money.”

The effort also engaged the school’s 1,100 kids in writing letters and drawing posters of support that will be forwarded to students at Machon Schecter in Jerusalem. “The teachers went all the way, trying to boost the morale of the kids who constantly hear all around them the negative stuff,” Ishai said.

Letter-writing campaigns are popular around Los Angeles, with elementary school children penning notes to soldiers in Israel. One second-grader wrote: “Dear soldier, thank you for protecting Israel. I hope you and your family are safe,”

Young people in their 20s have been active in fundraising events. Four young Pico-Robertson-area Israeli folk dance teachers — Jenny Fish, Aviva Notowitz, Naomi Silbermintz and Natalie Stern — are staging Dance for Israel, for females age 11 and up, at Shaarei Tefila Dance Studio on June 9. Their goal is to raise $5,000 for American Red Magen David for Israel (ARMDI).

Janet Hay organized a May 4 Youth of Israel Night at Temple Israel of Hollywood, which brought in 300 people and raised $12,000 for Magen David Adom’s emergency services for terror victims.

Across town in Westwood, UCLA Hillel special events coordinator Guy Kochlani altered the focus of this year’s annual Jewish student union block party. “You spend all of this money and time and energy, I thought. Let’s do something a little more serious,” Kochlani said.

The Hillel party raised $1,500 for IHelpIsrael.com, which raises funds for families of Israeli soldier victims. About $1,200 was raised from the sale of IDF merchandise, while another $300 was generated through a raffle. According to Kochlani, the April 17 outdoor event was UCLA’s biggest. “We expected 2,000 people, and 3,000 showed up,” he said.

Among the senior set, the Wabash Saxons-Spirit of Boyle Heights, a collective of Jews from the once-thriving Jewish East L.A. community, are once again addressing Israel’s dire situation.

“The situation about 28 years ago was really tough for Israel. We got together and got the money,” said Hershey Eisenberg, 75. “Now we’re doing it again.”

In 1974, the group purchased Chevrolet vans for ARMDI at $8,000 apiece for use in Israel. The vans served as emergency vehicles and carried the slogans “The Spirit of Boyle Heights” and “Wabash Avenue Cannonball.”

Today, an ambulance costs $60,000, and the Wabash Saxons-Spirit of Boyle Heights members have committed themselves to purchasing an ambulance to replace one of the same vehicles they had purchased nearly three decades ago. The group has so far raised $33,000 since late April from 34 alumni. Eisenberg said that the new ambulance will be named “The Spirit of Boyle Heights II.”

Retailers have also become swept up in the fundraising movement. Nader and Mireille Menesh, owners of Avant Garde, a high-end women’s clothing store in Beverly Hills, have organized Shop to Support Israel. The special sale, to run June 9-17, will offer merchandise donated by top manufacturers, with proceeds going to Magen David Adom.

Menesh, a Persian Jew, and his wife of Moroccan-Jewish descent, said the goal is to raise between $75,000 and $100,000 during the sale.

“We’re very much in touch with our clients and most of them are local,” he said. “The voice of concern is very loud. Most of them have Israel on their minds.”

The Internet has also seen a proliferation of spontaneous charities. StandWithUs (standwithus.com), which has already staged pro-Israel rallies in recent months that have attracted thousands of people, is currently planning an August solidarity mission to Israel.

One Family (onefamily.org.il), is the brainchild of Canadian Israeli teen Michal Belzberg. She canceled her bat mitzvah party after the Sbarro restaurant attack in Jerusalem and contributed her gifts to those orphaned, widowed and injured from terrorist attacks. One Family merged with Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund (IESF), another home-grown cause established in 2000 by Neil Thalheim. During this short time, One Family/IESF has raised and distributed $3 million and launched a campaign to raise $25 million toward an orphan’s fund. The fund has already attracted major contributions from Ronald Lauder and Edgar Bronfman.

There are several other Web drives, including: the Shavout-timed Seeds of Solidarity (SOS), created by Israeli citizen Sima Menorah (www.flowers4israel.org). People may purchase pizza and Pepsi for a patrol or a platoon of Israeli soldiers at www.pizzaidf.org.

Yeshiva University students Uri Miller, Ovadiah Jacob and Gershon Strauchler initiated Project One Percent (www.pledge4israel.com), a Wharton School of Business program-inspired endeavor that calls on students to pledge at least 1 percent of their summer income to IESF.

“I reasoned if Wharton could have that kind of success, so, too, could the Jewish community for such a worthy and urgent concern,” said Miller, who launched the project on Israeli Independence Day.

Although most organizations raising money for Israel have tried to keep it apolitical, when it comes to Israel, politics inevitably enters the equation.

Stuart Wax and his Midnight Music Management held an all-star April 29 benefit concert at The Mint that raised $10,000 toward purchasing a traveling amusement park for children living in the settlements. Although the settlements have become a flashpoint of controversy, Wax does not want the humanitarian aspect to become drowned out by politics.

“It’s not politics,” Wax said. “Jews dying is not politics.”

On May 2, Suissa, who bought several vests for the IDF and contributed $50,000 to Jews in Crisis, spoke of the recent spontaneous fundraising movement. “Unity is the bulletproof vest of the Jewish people,” he said. “We’re not alone tonight. Throughout the world, Jews are getting together like we are tonight and asking, What can we do?”

Suissa, himself an immigrant, said that everybody in the Cohens’ backyard on that night was not present because of intellect, talent or accomplishments but by circumstance and the grace of God.

“We’re very lucky to be here and to give money, rather than to give blood,” he said.

Meanwhile, over at the collection table, jeweler Elly Sandberg looked around and liked what he saw.

“For a week of preparation, it turned out to be a very good event,” Sandberg said, smiling. “It’s just the beginning.”

To donate money to the Jews in Crisis Fund, visit www.jewishla.org or call (323) 761-8207. To join Sinai Temple’s June 2 mission to Israel, contact Ranit or Orit at World Express at (818) 654-2880. Shop to Support Israel will run June 9-17 at 401 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. Contact Nader Menesh at Avant Garde at (310) 550-0105. Dance for Israel will take place at 7 p.m. on June 9 at Shaarei Tefila Dance Studio. $10 minimum. Contact Aviva Notowitz at (310) 888-8734. Temple Israel of Hollywood is seeking volunteers for upcoming youth events benefiting Israel. Contact Janet Hay at (310) 659-4555. To donate to the Spirit of Boyle Heights’ ARMDI campaign, send contributions in care of Meyer Sack, 4521 Sherman Oaks Ave., Sherman Oaks, CA 91403.

Giving


The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is one of our city’s most successful philanthropies. Yet, nationwide, it ranks behind New York, Chicago, Detroit, the Bay Area, Philadelphia and Baltimore in the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual listing of the 400 not-for-profit organizations with the largest revenues from individual contributors.

I’ve often wondered why this is so. With the exception of New York, these are cities whose Jewish populations are far smaller than our own. People tell me it’s because Jews are like other Angelenos: They come West to make their own way, to avoid hierarchy and organization of all kinds. They are spread out, self-absorbed, apolitical and apathetic.

Others tell me the Federation itself is to blame. For too long it focused on Israel and overseas Jewry, as local Jews turned more toward domestic concerns. It lacked a clear mission, it became political (or not political enough), and it had a cumbersome and resolutely unsexy name — Federation — in a town where packaging matters.

In fact, a little of “all of the above” might be the case, but these reasons must not obscure what I’ve understood as the Federation’s mission: to meet the needs of Jews here, in Israel and around the world.

The Federation is the central planning, coordinating and fundraising body for 18 local and international agencies that offer the entire community a broad range of humanitarian programs. The annual UJF campaign supports these programs and is the largest single year-round fundraising endeavor in the Jewish community.

There is a legitimate discussion going on about the best way to meet Jewish communal needs in the 21st century. But now, today, the Federation and its beneficiary agencies are the primary way those needs are being met.

You could dismiss the organization, focus only on its faults, or argue it should be reinvented from A to Z, but that wouldn’t change the nature or urgency of the needs the Federation has evolved to meet.

There would still be 31,300 L.A. Jewish households living at or below the poverty line. Who would help feed, shelter and care for these people?

There would still be battered women, drug- and alcohol-ravaged families, mentally ill Jews and non-Jews. Who would meet their needs?

There would still be immigrants from Russia, Ethiopia and other nations in need.

There would still be thousands of Jewish children in need of quality education, good community centers and programs that reinforce a strong identity.

There would still be emergencies, such as the North Valley JCC shooting, to which the Federation and its beneficiary agencies are uniquely suited to react, with a full range of social services that goes beyond sound bites.

This Sunday, thousands of people will take part in the Federation’s Super Sunday fundraising event. Volunteers will make calls, staffers will coordinate, donors will donate. It’s a big production, which last year raised $5 million, about 10 percent of the annual United Jewish Fund (UJF) campaign locally.

I don’t think there is ever a time to stop asking whether the institutions that help define this community could do better, be more efficient or more accountable. To ask those questions and seek fair and accurate answers is the job of this journal, if not each one of us.

But at the same time, our other job is to make sure that those among us who need help will get it. One of the best ways I know of doing that, still, is giving on Super Sunday.

Managing the Bitter Debate Ahead


Next month, Prime Minister Ehud Barak will travel to Atlanta for the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities, the central philanthropic and service organization in the American Jewish world.

Israeli officials say that one goal will be to renew his appeal for Jewish unity as Israel moves quickly to negotiate a deal that will create some kind of Palestinian state.

Barak believes what many Jewish leaders here believe: Jewish disunity — the bitter battles between Orthodox and non-Orthodox, left and right, peace process supporters and those who see “land for peace” as just another name for treason — is as much a threat as Arab armies.

Barak wants political support for his approach to negotiating with the Palestinians and Syria, and by and large he will get it from American Jews.

But that will not quell the voices of dissent. To the contrary: the impending start of final status talks will add to the intensity of a debate that has already created deep fissures in the Jewish world.

The challenge for community leaders will be to manage that debate in ways that cause the least damage to the tattered fabric of Jewish unity — and that do not add to the steady erosion of interest in Israel among American Jews. And to do that they will need help from an Israeli government that, so far, has done little to build support for its peace policies here.

The negotiations that Israeli officials hope will be wrapped up in a year will open a host of issues deemed too explosive to be dealt with in earlier rounds, including Palestinian statehood, settlements and refugees, an issue that evokes images of returnees filling the discontented Palestinian ranks in the West Bank and Gaza.

And Jerusalem. Ehud Barak is said to be open to a variety of solutions that might give the Palestinians at least a semblance of their “al Quds,” but Jews on the right — and many not so far to the right — will have a hard time swallowing anything that doesn’t sound like the formulation that has become a key dogma of the pro-Israel faith: Jerusalem as the indivisible, eternal capital of Israel.

Moreover, the Palestinians will bring into the negotiations maximalist positions that will incense Jews and seem to confirm the most dire predictions of anti-peace process crusaders.

Already, there are indications of the challenge Barak and Jewish leaders face.

Numerically small but highly motivated groups on the right are cranking out torrents of information designed to show that Israel’s negotiating partners — the Palestinians, potentially the Syrians, even the Jordanians — are inherently unreliable and duplicitous.

Further out on the fringes, groups are anonymously distributing almost daily fliers to journalists and Washington decision makers branding Barak a traitor and demanding his ouster. The unsigned broadsides stop just short of calling for a coup, and the violent tone is reminiscent of the rhetoric that preceded the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

At the same time groups on the Left are restive, anxious to see the peace process advance at a speed the cautious Barak is unlikely to embrace. They’re willing to give the new leader a chance, but how much of a chance is open to question.

The challenge for Barak and his ministers is this: how to build American Jewish support for the peace process in this increasingly overwrought environment. So far, there’s little evidence that they are interested; the new government is doing even less than the Rabin-Peres regimes to prepare the American Jewish community for the wrenching decisions ahead.

Israeli governments from both left and right helped foster passionate attitudes in the U.S. about Jerusalem, settlements and Palestinian statehood that will be communal flashpoints when final status talks get underway. Now, they have to deal with those attitudes they helped create among America’s Jews.

Young and Committed


When leaders from 119 North American Jewish federations met here this week, they did not make any earth-shattering decisions or vote on anything binding.

Instead, they did what many involved described as even more revolutionary: They listened to each other, building trust and beginning to explore what it will mean for them to be “owners” of their newly formed umbrella organization, the United Jewish Communities.

“I’ve begun to see a trusting relationship start,” Charles Bronfman, chairman of the UJC’s board, said at the meeting’s closing plenary on Monday.

Robert Aronson, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, observed as the meeting closed: “I don’t think the decisions themselves were as important as the opportunity to sit and talk together.”

Spawned from the merger of the United Jewish Appeal and the Council of Jewish Federations, the UJC says it is attempting to transform a system that had traditionally been top-down and somewhat mysterious in its decision-making to one that is more open.

Indeed, at this two-day “owners’ retreat,” which ended Monday and was followed by a series of meetings, the most oft-repeated words were “transparency,” “consensus” and “change.”

What happens with the UJC is significant because its 189 member federations across North America raised almost $882 million last year for domestic and overseas Jewish needs — everything from day schools to rescuing and resettling refugees.

The federations have long been considered the central address of Jewish philanthropy and social services, but in recent years have been devoting larger portions of their funds to local causes rather than overseas needs.

What remains to be seen is whether — in this climate of openness and without coercion — they will be able to come together and agree on enough to form a cohesive system.

At this week’s retreat, representatives from the various federations spent time breaking into small groups for lengthy discussions and debating among the entire body.

Following the retreat, the UJC’s board of trustees on Tuesday approved:

* A two-year nonbinding plan for federations to maintain at least their current contributions to the UJC and to overseas needs. The board also passed an amendment that would require UJC to come up with a formula by Dec. 31, 2001, that would determine the “fair share” contributions of individual federations in the future.

* A decision to work with local federations and the Jewish Agency for Israel to become partners of Birthright Israel, a program started by philanthropists Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman to send unaffiliated Jews on a free trip to Israel.

The board set $39 million as the target amount to contribute over three years — $15.6 million from the UJC budget, $15 million from federations and the rest from the Jewish Agency. So far, more than 70 federations — representing more than 83 percent of the North American Jewish population — have indicated they are prepared to participate, according to Stephen Solender, UJC president and chief executive officer.

In addition, leaders from within the UJC system agreed as a result of their discussions on their top three priorities for what they want the new organization to accomplish: coordinate overseas needs, help with training for lay and professional leaders and assist with fundraising.

During the retreat, UJC leaders updated their constituents on their accomplishments — getting up and running, establishing pillars, or focus areas, and forming tentative recommendations for a budget and overseas allocations.

They also outlined some goals for the future, including recruiting more women for top leadership positions, stepping up planning, identifying and publicizing “best practices” and developing training programs for federation leaders.

All in all, they seemed to be seeking the buy-in of federations and attempting to persuade them why they should be involved.

But there remain many points of conflict and uncertainty:

* Many small and middle-sized federations feel they do not have a large enough voice in collective decisions and have expressed fears that proposed budget cuts — particularly to regional offices that assist smaller federations with things such as fundraising and personnel matters — would adversely affect them.

* Issues of obligation and enforcement — particularly on the issue of financial commitment for overseas needs and the national system’s overhead — were considered so divisive that they were moved off the agenda weeks before the retreat. Nonetheless, the UJC committee charged with assessing overseas needs is requesting federations contribute at least 105 percent of what they gave last year.

* Federations agree that they want to trim the budget — which is approximately $40 million — for the national system but cannot agree what programs and services should be cut to achieve that goal.

Despite the difficulties, participants from both large and small federations overwhelmingly voiced satisfaction with the retreat, even if some were skeptical about what will happen next.

“We have the opportunity to speak up, and everyone’s being heard,” said Daniel Chefjec, executive director of the Central Kentucky Jewish Federation.

“Small communities have a history in which we’ve felt neglected and been forced to go into decisions we didn’t like. But much of that is being dispelled by the fact that this is being kept clean.”

Jeff Levin, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County in Ann Arbor, Mich., said the meeting was strengthening federations’ commitment to the larger system.

“There’s a growing recognition that whatever comes, everyone making Shabbos for himself is not a good thing,” he said. “That’s the main theme, and all the rest is commentary.”

Shelly Katz, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Santa Barbara, Calif., described the process as “a real turning point for the small cities.”

“We feel we’re being listened to, especially in the small groups,” she added.

For Joel Tauber, UJC’s executive committee chairman, “We’re building a culture of oneness, and people are beginning to look beyond their own federation.”

Despite the sense of growing confidence, leaders — particularly from smaller federations — noted that they were still not certain what the long-term impact of their discussions might be.

Sara Schreibman, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, N.C., described the retreat as a learning process but noted that “the real test” will be “if the board really listens.”

Arthur Paikowsky, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, agreed, saying, “The devil is in the details. Once you figure out how you want to do it, what’s the implementation?”

Community Briefs


What do you give the country that has everything?The thousands of children in Jewish day and Hebrew schools throughout Los Angeles are planning to give Israel a very special present for its 50th birthday — an ambulance.

Over the course of the school year, children fromall day schools, Reform to Orthodox, will contribute their tzedakah money and hold special fund-raisers in order to purchase a $50,000 ambulance for the country’s Magen David Adom, Israel’s equivalent to the Red Cross. “Given all the negative intra-Jewish news,” said Dr.George Liebowitz, chairman of the Day School Principals Council, “we thought it would be very good to have people come together for the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh,” or saving souls.

Each school will organize its own fund-raising program. The organizers are hoping to raise $4 from each of the 9,000 Jewish day-school students and $2 from each of 12,000 Hebrew-school pupils.

There also will be an educational component to the efforts. A fully decked-out ambulance will make the rounds of the campuses so that children can see where their money is going. The ambulance the students actually purchase also will be displayed to the children before it is shipped to Israel. Accompanying the vehicle will be a sign reading, “From the Children of Los Angeles to the People of Israel.” Happy Birthday. — Robert Eshman, Associate Editor


Books for South Africa

Marilyn Woods, assistant principal at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, shares curriculum information with the staff from Hewat/Capetown Institute of Education and Training.

Like the abolition of slavery in this country, the end of apartheid in South Africa hasn’t brought instant equality to people long divided by class and color. This is particularly evident in the schools in the black and colored townships, according to Marilyn Woods, assistant principal at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge. Woods recently returned from a trip to South Africa, where she was a guest lecturer at the Hewat/Capetown Institute of Education and Training, a teaching college.

Having made extensive visits to township schools,the Heschel administrator was appalled at the conditions she found –cramped classrooms of 70 or more students, crumbling walls, broken windows, no heat or electricity, and blackboards on which nothing could be written. Woods was particularly struck by the lack of materials. “I visited some classes where there were three or four books. The teacher writes everything on a blackboard that you can hardly write on or see.”

Upon returning to Heschel, Woods rallied support for a book drive among elementary- and middle-school students, with the books to be sent to the townships. In a stroke of serendipity,she had met on the plane home a man who offered free space in grain containers that are being shipped from Decatur, Ill., to Cape Town,where the books will be warehoused before distribution. The project has caught fire not only at Heschel but at Moorpark High School, Adat Ari El Day School and Rand McNally, which will ship some surplus maps.

At press time, Woods was preparing to make a presentation to the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Principals Council,with the aim of expanding the project to other Jewish schools. Shehopes that the initial book drive, which ends on Dec. 16, will spawn an ongoing mission to provide desperately needed materials not only to South African schools but to other needy students around the world.

“This is just a pilot project,” she said. “We don’t want it to get too large immediately.” — Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer