The Eulogizer: Bible scholar, businessman-FBI informant, online journalism pioneer


The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories, and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at {encode=”eulogizer@jta.org” title=”eulogizer@jta.org”}. Read previous columns here.

Noted Israeli Bible scholar

Professor Shemaryahu Talmon, a Holocaust survivor who became a noted Israeli Bible scholar with a worldwide reputation, died Dec. 15 at 90.

Talmon, a native of Germany, was the sole member of his family to survive the Shoah. Following World War II, he became head of the education system in the Jewish refugee camps in Cyprus before coming to Israel.

Talmon’s achievements included the prestigious Israel Prize in Bible study. His research combined text criticism and the place of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Jewish canon. His work revealed a deep sensitivity for the Bible’s literary character and the social reality reflected in it.

He said people today must deal with the Bible in our own time, that Israeli society was an integral part of an extensive cultural network in the Near East, and that Jewish beliefs were influenced by its neighbors.

Talmon was the Judah L. Magnes emeritus professor of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and he taught and held positions elsewhere in Israel, Europe and the United States. He published scores of academic papers. Talmon also participated in Christian-Jewish dialogue among biblical scholars and was a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, to which he donated a collection of 10,000 volumes in the areas of Bible studies.

The Eulogizer was surprised to find no obituaries of Talmon in any major media, Hebrew or English.

California businessman who helped in FBI sting

Marvin Levin, a real estate developer who wore a wire in his cowboy boots during a major FBI anti-corruption sting of California’s state government in the 1980s, died Nov. 19 at 76.

In the wake of the FBI investigation, several lawmakers, state leaders, legislative staffers and a lobbyist were charged, and the hard feelings have yet to subside. Some of the reader comments (later removed) on a newspaper article recounting Levin’s life and death were scorching.

Levin was an invaluable informant in the sting, which ended in 1988 when investigators raided offices in the state Capitol. Levin’s boot-borne tape recorder had taped dozens of meetings with politicians and legislative staffers. The sheriff and undersheriff of Yolo County, California, also were convicted after they attempted to extort money from Levin for a re-election campaign.

Levin told The Los Angeles Times in 1988 that he was motivated to end Sacramento corruption because he had experienced it firsthand and “somebody had to.” All he received for his efforts were $1,800 to cover expenses, including a paint job for his 1978 Buick and the cowboy boots purchased at the behest of the FBI because they didn’t think he was “flashy enough.” But the activity cost him dearly; his wife said he had three heart attacks.

Levin was one of three children of Jewish refugees from Russia. His father was a storekeeper. He moved to Florida nine years ago.

Online journalism pioneer, website builder

Mary Jane “M.J.” Bear, a journalist and Internet pioneer who built websites around the world, died Dec. 17 at 48.

Bear, a native of Des Moines, Iowa, worked for TV and radio stations. At National Public Radio she became a vice president. She also worked for Online, Radio Free Europe in Prague and Microsoft, in Vienna, Austria. She launched websites for Microsoft in Greece, Poland, Israel and Turkey, as well as TV programming in Kyrgyzstan and Georgia.

During her illness from leukemia, Bear created a website on Caring Bridge, which provides free and private websites “that connect people experiencing a significant health challenge to family and friends.” The site is now filled with touching tributes from friends and family.

Bear took an active role in Jewish communities in every city in which she lived, and was a founding board member of the Online News Association, which is establishing an endowment fund in her name for young journalists.

Wandering Jew – New Year’s in Vienna


About six years ago at the University of Texas, I was asked to be the guest speaker for Shabbat 1,000, an event where 1,000 Jewish students are served full-course traditional Shabbat meals for free. There are no prayer services.

They must have an interesting orientation program for this unique venue, because everyone shows up on time for the Shabbat meal. Everyone is told beforehand that the only thing they need to do is to be quiet for the 15-minute sermon by the rabbi, and since a microphone is not used because of Shabbat, and the local campus rabbi couldn’t project a speech loud enough to be heard in the huge, high-ceilinged dining room, they needed someone with a built-in “PA” system. I’m used to projecting in precisely this type of venue, so they “rented” me to give that 15-minute sermon.

While in Austin, I met a young, good-looking, single, charismatic Aussie working in Jewish “outreach.” We hung out for the weekend and became fast friends. I came home and told my wife that the Aussie was destined for greatness in outreach.

Six years later, this young man, now married with two kids, had founded the European Center for Jewish Students. He had planned a New Year’s Eve weekend in Austria at the prestigious Vienna Hilton Hotel, and almost 300 students had R.S.V.P.’d. They came from 13 countries, hungry for fellowship with Jews their own age.

My Aussie friend, Yossi Waks, remembered bar-hopping with me in Austin, looking to kidnap Jewish students. He had been working in Europe for two years and realized that for the event to be a success, he needed a wild and crazy guy/rabbi.

My wife, Olivia, and I went to Vienna to excite and inspire, and we came away deeply moved by the students. Between Thursday night and Sunday morning we got to meet dozens of individuals and heard their personal stories.

The age range was from 18 to 26. There was the smashing blonde from Warsaw who worked for Polish television. Two years ago, her mother became seriously ill and told her, at age 22, that she was Jewish and then gave her a necklace with a Jewish Star that had belonged to her bubbe (the blonde’s great-grandma). Since then, she has been passionately driven to find out about her Judaism and had begun to get involved in the religion in a serious way.

Then there was the student from Geneva whose mom had married a Jew, then began to take on some traditions and slowly started dragging her hubby to temple. The student developed an interest when she was 15 and converted formally at age 18, went on birthright at 20 and was now 22 and hungry for any tidbit about Torah and practice.

The two vivacious roommates from Rome and Milan were clueless and had come to party for New Year’s, but Olivia zeroed in on them, and Sunday morning at the grand farewell they were almost crying to have to part from their new “rabbi.”

There was also a large contingent originally from Russia who had come to Europe as children with their parents. They all spoke German, but at their own table they easily moved to Russian. On Friday night after all the programs, I went to the lobby after midnight and saw about 100 of our group still shmoozing. Many of the students were smoking and talking on their cellphones — still wearing their kippahs! It was a unique sight.

I walked out of the Friday night Shabbat meal for a few minutes into the lobby. I saw a family sitting together — an older man with his wife and their two adult children. As I passed by with my kippah on, the man gave me the most beautiful smile. It certainly seemed like he wanted to say hello, although in Europe it’s just not PC to approach strangers and begin a conversation. Since I’m not from Europe and don’t abide by their rules, I approached them and his smile grew even broader. He was ecstatic that I came over; he spoke Yiddish, so I got the whole story.

He was originally from Vienna. When he was 16 and the Nazis took over the city, both he and his father were arrested for the crime of being Juden and sent to Dachau. The war had not officially started yet — it was pre-“Final Solution” — and since he was only 16, he was sent back home. His father actually also came back home after four months. They then fled to Brazil.

Now he was in his 70s, and it was the first time that he had returned to Vienna to visit. He was a guest in the Hilton (by “accident”) and was in the lobby watching the parade of beautiful Jewish college kids traipsing around in their Shabbat best.

Of course we shlepped him and his family back into the ballroom and made them eat the amazing Shabbat banquet meal with all of us inside. He then told me, crying, that this was his first Shabbat meal since he left Vienna 60 years ago. It was a very emotional scene.

Saturday night was New Year’s Eve, and the five-star Hilton Grand Ballroom was outfitted for a formal ball. Yossi had brought in a seven-piece Israeli band from Amsterdam.

At the crucial moment of 11:45 p.m., when the folks were jockeying for position for the traditional kiss, the band suddenly stopped. I had the unforgettable honor of going up on stage and speaking for a maximum two minutes and then publicly lighting the Chanukah menorah.

Only 10 percent there knew the “Maoz Tzur,” but everybody was very up for the New Year’s Eve/Chanukah experience.

I had always thought that European Jewry was dead (and almost forgotten). However it looks like there’s enough for me to do there that I (verbally) signed a lifetime contract for the New Year’s Eve gig in Europe.

For an outreach rabbi, it’s a gold mine of ripe and ready, interested and enthusiastic 20-somethings, a demographic we don’t see in this country.

Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz is in the midst of celebrating his 60th birthday.> He is director of the Chai Center.

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Suit Filed Over Police Shooting of Israeli


Nearly 20 months after Assaf Deri, an Israeli national, was shot and killed by Burbank police in a North Hollywood alley, his parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit in L.A. Federal Court against Burbank and Los Angeles, both cities’ police departments, and officers involved in the incident.

“The conduct by Burbank police officers was clearly outrageous,” said attorney Robert Jarchi, who is representing Deri’s estate and parents, Pinchas and Yehudit Deri. “Burbank police officers targeted my clients’ son because of his Middle Eastern appearance.”

Deri is Jewish but could be perceived as a Muslim, the lawyer contended.

Police claim Deri was a suspect in a multiagency task force investigation into drug-trafficking, gangs and organized crime. But Jarchi insisted their claims are absurd.

“Assaf Deri was not involved in drug dealing or any other illegal activity. He didn’t drink or do drugs,” Jarchi said. “Police killed an innocent man who was just sitting in his Jeep. Anyone could find themselves in that position.”

The coroner’s exam found no evidence of drugs or alcohol in Deri’s system. The civil complaint, filed last week, also alleges violations of Deri’s federal and state civil rights, negligence, assault and battery and false arrest.

This wrongful death lawsuit comes one month after the L.A. district attorney’s office cleared Burbank undercover officers, Scott Meadows and Sgt. Jose Duran. The duo also was cleared last February by their department’s shooting review board, which found they were “defending themselves against death or serious injury.”

The long-delayed report, by the district attorney’s justice system integrity division also ruled that Meadows fired in self-defense, after Deri, 25, allegedly tried to drive his borrowed Jeep away from approaching officers. Meadows, whose leg was grazed by the Jeep during the incident, received medical treatment at a local hospital. Duran, the D.A.’s office found, had discharged his weapon to protect his partner.

LAPD robbery homicide detectives handled the field investigation because the shooting happened in Los Angeles. The North Hollywood alley where the incident occurred lies behind a row of apartment buildings on Oxnard Street near Los Angeles Valley College.

According to the LAPD investigation, Deri was the target of daylong surveillance on June 25, 2004, by Burbank police.

Meadows and Duran followed Deri as he drove into the alley and parked with his engine idling, behind one of the buildings. At about 10:30 p.m., Duran decided to stop Deri after deciding he was monitoring their surveillance of him.

The two Burbank officers allegedly approached Deri’s jeep and ordered him out. The officers claim Deri then drove toward Meadows. In self defense, they opened fire.

Meadows reportedly shot 13 rounds and Duran 10 rounds. According to the autopsy, Deri was hit nine times, including five shots to the head. Paramedics pronounced Deri dead at the scene at approximately 10:37 p.m.

The Deri family’s suit alleges Burbank police violated Assaf Deri’s constitutional rights by illegally detaining and shooting him to death. The suit also alleges Deri’s father, who was visiting from Israel, was wrongfully imprisoned during a warrantless search of his son’s North Hollywood apartment several hours after his death.

“Burbank officers compounded the problem by going to Assaf’s apartment without probable cause in a desperate attempt to find something to justify this fatal shooting,” Jarchi said. “There they made a fruitless search and ended up illegally detaining and handcuffing my client’s father.”

The federal suit specifies no dollar amount, but last year, the family submitted a $51 million claim against the cities of Los Angeles and Burbank, which both cities rejected. The family is seeking general and punitive damages for the loss of their son and his future support and reimbursement for the transport of the body to Israel, funeral and legal expenses, as well as compensation for counseling, lost wages and medical expenses incurred by Deri’s father.

The family is represented by Greene, Broillet & Wheeler, which has taken on local police cases before, including that of a Los Angeles woman who received $7.6 million after she was broadsided by a car being chased by LAPD officers and the case of a Long Beach man who was awarded $6.7 million after being shot by Long Beach police.

The city of Burbank, representing the police officers, denied any wrongdoing in the case. Los Angeles officials declined to comment pending a review of the lawsuit.

 

Ragen Novel Blends Intifada, Intrigue


“The Covenant,” by Naomi Ragen (St. Martin’s Press, 2004).

Nineteen-year-old Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Cpl. Nachshon Waxman was off duty when Hamas operatives kidnapped him in October 1994. In the aftermath, 50,000 Israelis gathered at the Western Wall along with Waxman’s parents, Esther and Yehuda, for a prayer vigil, countless others prayed at home. Sadly, Waxman was killed, three days after his abduction, when an IDF rescue attempt went awry.

In the many terrorist attacks on Israel in the years since, Waxman’s murder has become an almost forgotten annotation to an ever-increasing list of atrocities. However, for Naomi Ragen, an American novelist who lives in Israel, the kidnapping was, as she puts it in the introduction to her newest book, “The Covenant,” the “trigger” for a novel that is as much a multigenerational, international thriller as it is a pro-Israel polemic.

In “The Covenant,” Palestinian terrorists kidnap Dr. Jonathan Margulies, an American-born physician who works at Hadassah Hospital, and his young daughter, Ilana. The Margulieses are settlers, living in a fictional Maaleh Sara. They are not, contrary to media stereotypes of Israeli settlers, militant or racist. Dr. Margulies treats all his patients, Jewish or Arab, with equal respect, and the family itself just wants to live peacefully in the place they call home.

Once he is kidnapped, Ragen’s novel moves into high gear. Margulies’ pregnant wife, Elise, contacts her bubbe, Leah, the grandmother who raised her, who in turn contacts the members of “The Covenant.” This titular bunch met in Auschwitz where they formed a lifelong pact to look out for each other. Though their lives have taken different paths — Esther is a cosmetics millionaire in Beverly Hills, Ariana is a nightclub queen in Paris and Maria was one of the leaders of the solidarity movement in Poland — they are “closer than sisters of flesh and blood.” Between the four of them, the women are connected to anyone who matters in the world (one has a daughter married to Saudi prince; the nightclub owner has world leaders frolicking at her hot spot) and they pull every string they have to find out where Margulies and his daughter are being held and to rescue them.

Like Ragen’s other books, such as “Sotah” or “Jephte’s Daughter,” “The Covenant” is a book with a strident viewpoint and hard-to-miss message. But while Ragen used her previous fiction to expose what she saw as hypocrisies in the ultra-Orthodox community, “The Covenant” is designed to debunk anti-Israel casuistries. Currently, Ragen is a vocal opponent of disengagement — she writes columns for Israeli newspapers and has a regular column she sends out to e-mail subscribers. Yet “The Covenant” is less concerned with the “Israeli vs. Israeli” debate, and — like Alan Dershowitz’s book, “The Case for Israel” — more about legitimizing the Jewish state’s place in the world.

For example, one of the supporting characters in the book is Julia Greenberg, an opportunistic journalist anxious to make a name for herself. She arrives in Israel determined to be “objective,” which for her means “liberated from any bias in favor of the Jewish State.”

She works for a network that routinely cavorts with terrorist organizations in order to receive information. In their coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they lie and manipulate situations to suit their pro-Palestinian bias, such as telling Palestinian children that they can find money in a pile of rubble so that the stereotype of poor Palestinians who search for food in garbage dumps will be perpetuated.

Greenberg also sabotages an interview with Elise Margulies by running it alongside a sympathetic interview with the mother of a suicide bomber.

Further, Ragen uses her characters to deliver pro-settlement messages. They say and think things like, “When all was said and done … this was their home,” or, ….”Losing land doesn’t explain what [the Palestinians] are doing, or excuse it.”

Toward the end of the book, Elise muses that she wants the Margulieses to be “the kind of family we planned to be … when we came to live in this land, the land that God promised to the Jewish people in His Covenant with Abraham.” With this sentence, Ragen is reminding her readers that the book’s title has a dual meaning. It refers to the group that the four women formed, but it also refers to a deeper, spiritual connection that the Jewish people have with the land, which cannot be broken.

Some of these arguments and speeches sound forced, as if Ragen felt that her novel would be missing right-wing credentials without them. Nevertheless, “The Covenant’s” greatest strength lies in its depiction of the terror of terrorism, and the heartache, loss and pain that has been devastating Israel since the start of the intifada. It is hard to read “The Covenant” and not feel moved by the Margulies family’s story, which, in various forms, is unfortunately the story of so many Israeli families today.

 

Wrongful-Death Claim in Burbank Shooting


The family of an Israeli immigrant killed by Burbank police is pursuing a $51 million wrongful-death claim against the cities of Burbank and Los Angeles. Assaf Deri, 25, died a year ago when Burbank undercover police officers shot him in an alley in North Hollywood.

Attorneys for the family said they filed their claim late last month, just prior to the one-year anniversary of Deri’s death, but the filing could not be verified on Friday, when the family went public with the legal action.

On June 25, 2004, plainclothes officers approached Deri after “boxing him into an alley with their vehicles,” according to the claim. A coroner’s report concluded that Deri died after officers shot him multiple times. The incident remains under investigation by the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office.

The Journal previously reported that Burbank police characterized the shooting as self-defense. Officials said that the shooting occurred after two officers approached Deri’s car on foot while conducting a narcotics investigation in an alley near Coldwater Canyon Avenue and Oxnard Street. Deri, who was alone in the car, accelerated, said police, hitting and slightly injuring one of the officers. Out of fear for their safety, officers opened fire. The police have declined to speak in detail about the case pending the conclusion and release of the official investigation.

The claim asserts that Deri “was not engaging in any illegal or suspicious activity, and was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” It also states that Deri had no previous criminal record. In addition, the filing alleges that officers were quick to draw their weapons because Deri looked Middle Eastern. Deri “was killed because of his race and national origin (Middle Eastern) and his religion (Jewish) and/or his perceived religion (Muslim),” in the words of the claim.

Later that night, police went to Deri’s apartment and handcuffed his girlfriend and his father, who was visiting from Israel, said family friends. Officers allegedly roused them at midnight, told them that Assaf Deri was dead, then held them there overnight without allowing them to make phone calls. The claim states that officers “conduced a fruitless search for contraband and/or illegal activities without probable cause and without reasonable suspicion.”

 

A Mitzvah Is Its Arab-Israeli Enmity Vanishes at Hospital


After exhausting the capabilities of Palestinian hospitals in Jenin and Nazareth, the mother of a 4-year-old boy with stomach cancer learned that his best chance for survival lay beyond the Green Line at Afula’s Emek Medical Center, about 10 miles from Jenin.

Quelling her own fear of becoming a target of Jewish hostility, because of the intifada, Samera permitted doctors to quietly arrange for her son, Halid, to be admitted to Emek’s pediatric oncology unit. While the rest of her family remained in Jenin, she lived in Nazareth for six months in housing arranged by one of Emek’s Arab staff members.

"She was received with compassion and warmth," said Larry Rich, Emek’s development director, who spoke with mother and son before the patient’s release last year.

"Halid, do you know your doctor is a Jew?" Rich recalled asking. "He said, ‘He’s a good man.’"

The grateful mother embraced Rich.

"It made my heart swell," he said in an interview during a recent trip to the United States.

To avoid being branded as a collaborator, most Palestinians would not admit to accepting aid from Israel. Samera bravely told her story to A-Sinara, the largest Arabic-language newspaper in the region. Her experience "was diametrically opposed to everything she’d been told," Rich said.

Yet, not even a small child is free of politics in a nation where every joy seems superseded by bitterness. When Halid’s condition worsened, Samera’s return was forbidden, according to Rich. The boy died earlier this year.

The 435-bed Emek hospital is a remarkable example of Arab-Israeli cooperation in the bitterly divided Middle East. Even so, because of its proximity to terrorist activity, its emergency room has swarmed with bombing casualties, and several among its staff have suffered disabling injuries from suicide attacks.

The hospital’s staff, about an 80-20 mix of Jews and Arabs, closely mirrors Israel’s population, where 1.1 million Israeli Arabs make up 18 percent of the nation. But the hospital’s patient population is a more diverse 50-50, where Jew and Arab often are roommates.

"Something magical happens here," said Rich, when families visiting at bedside drop their guard and commiserate together. "People begin to talk. The horns melt away. There’s no difference between them."

"We don’t represent the solution to the Middle East, but we are an example, a living philosophy of coexistence through medicine," Rich said.

Emek’s Detroit-born development director is taking on a quixotic challenge: trying to shine a light on the hospital’s good work by sharing its story with the American Jewish community, as well as the American Muslim community. His aim is to loosen purse strings and puncture stereotypes hardened on both sides by enmity over endless bloodshed.

The medical center has treated more than 800 victims of terror since the second intifada began in September 2000. Its emergency room treats more than 130,000 people annually.

Yet, anemic funding of Israel’s national health-care system has forced Emek to curb elective surgeries, hiring and research. Israel’s depressed economy has made more daunting a $100 million growth plan to add 12 operating rooms to Emek. The facility is one of 14 hospitals operated by Clalit Health Services, an HMO with 3.6 million members.

"Our current surgical facilities cannot cope efficiently with the normal caseload of a growing population," wrote Orna Blondheim, Emek’s director, in a pitch to potential donors.

On his first fund-raising trip to the United States and Canada that began in April, Rich spent six weeks going to 28 cities to describe the work of Emek’s 250 physicians and 600 nurses. In Irvine, about 75 people heard him on May 26 at an event organized by the Beth Jacob Congregation.

Rich realizes he faces a forbidding rival in the fund-raising machine of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. In 2002, the group raised $53 million divvied up among six major projects. They include its best known, the Hadassah Medical Organization, comprised of two medical facilities in Israel — the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center at Ein Kerem and the Hadassah University Hospital at Mount Scopus.

In Orange County, Rich’s sponsor was Tim Timmons of San Clemente, a one-time seminary student who has visited Israel 30 times and makes his living as a motivational speaker. Using his own Rolodex, Timmons tried to assist Rich line up speaking engagements.

"He’s not getting the response from Jewish organizations," said Timmons, who suggested he contact a Lebanese-born friend with political connections.

"I was warned not to overplay the coexistence message," Rich said. "I thought about it. I’m not going to buy into it."

In Search of ‘Shlomi’


Shlomi, the 16-year-old protagonist of the Israeli film, “Bonjour, Monsieur Shlomi,” has his hands full.

He cooks the family meals, cleans up, does the laundry, is the peacemaker in his quarrelsome Moroccan family and bathes his grandfather, who greets him every morning with the film’s title.

For his pains, the wide-eyed Shlomi is considered none too bright by his family and in school, where he is flunking out.

Worse, Shlomi believes the outside world’s assessment of him, which seems to be confirmed by his first attempt at romance. When he suggests to his girlfriend that they “upgrade” their relationship — Hebrew slang for having sex — she “freezes” him out.

At home, the situation is even worse. His obsessive mother has kicked out her hypochondriac husband for a one-time slip with her best friend. Shlomi’s older brother is the mother’s favorite, and she regales the boy with clinical details of his real and fancied sexual conquests.

Shlomi’s older sister has twin babies but regularly returns to her mother’s home to detail her fights with her husband, who shamefully surfs the Internet for porn.

It all looks like another story of another dysfunctional family, a recurring theme in Israeli movies, when Shlomi’s life slowly turns around.

A perceptive teacher and school principal gradually peel away Shlomi’s layers of self-doubt and discover an exceptional mind and poetic sensibility.

A neighboring girl recognizes Shlomi’s real inner worth, and in a beautiful scene they shyly offer each other their finest gifts — she, the herbs she grows in her garden, and he, the diet-defying cakes he bakes in the kitchen.

The film’s theme is “the pain created by the gap between one’s outer image and the inner truth,” said Shemi Zarhin, the film’s director, himself of North African descent.

“Monsieur Shlomi” is a charming film, a word rarely applied to Israeli movies. Oshri Cohen portrays Shlomi with absolute veracity and his relationship with his grandfather (Arie Elias) is deeply affecting.

As a special bonus, Ashkenazic viewers will get a much-needed insight into the lifestyle of Israel’s Sephardic Jews. Although director Zarhin’s ancestors came to Palestine nearly 300 years ago, “both I and Oshri grew up with the mindset that we were part of Israel’s underclass,” he said.

“Bonjour, Monsieur Shlomi” opens July 16 in Los Angeles.

For the Kids


One year ago, Kol Tikvah Religious School in Woodland Hills
started a letter-writing campaign to Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. The students
sent letters to him wishing him well and telling him how proud they were of his
accomplishments, letting him know he was not only important to Israel, but to
American students as well. For the next year they followed Ramon’s progress,
and were waiting for his return — when he would visit California and Kol Tikvah.

When the students arrived at Kol Tikvah on Sunday, Feb. 2,
tears came to their eyes when they realized that Ilan Ramon, one of the seven
astronauts on the Columbia, wasn’t coming home. Karen Susman Waldman, director
of education, asked the students to write letters to Ilan Ramon’s family,
letting them know that their sadness is shared throughout the world.  

Mother Weathers Terror’s ‘Storm’


"Storm of Terror: A Hebron Mother’s Diary," by June Leavitt (Ivan R. Dee, $22.50).

Either excoriated as illegal conquerors or praised as pioneers, Jews living in the territories conquered by Israel in the Six-Day War are never portrayed neutrally. The very name of where they live depends on the political bent of the writer: to critics they live in "the West Bank in the Occupied Territories," and proponents historically term it "Judea and Samaria." But at the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian controversy, settlers themselves rarely tell their own stories in print. With "Storm of Terror," June Leavitt has filled that gap.

Leavitt is an American Jewish woman who grew up in secular upper-middle-class Long Island, left for the University of Wisconsin with a trunk full of new mix n’ match clothes, then found herself floundering in the drug culture. Today she is an ultra-Orthodox mother of five who lives with her husband and children in the Jewish enclave of Kiryat Arba in the Palestinian-controlled city of Hebron.

"Storm" is the intensely personal diary of her life during the first year and a half of the second intifada, which erupted on Sept. 29, 2000. Apart from emotional references to biblical patriarchs, the book is not a political polemic; Leavitt, passionately convinced of the Jews’ historic right to live in the entire biblical Israel (including Palestinian-occupied territories), feels no need to justify her a priori position.

Rather, she tells the story of how it feels to live through the trauma of violence and death that strikes her neighbors and friends daily. She relates chronologically the relentless terrorist incidents in which settlers have been attacked in fields, cars, busses and in their own beds. In each case, Leavitt writes not of some anonymous victim, but of acquaintances in her tightknit community whom she meets in the streets, in the grocery and in her children’s schools: "We are burying another of our dead…. Orphans. Orphans everywhere."

When right-wing Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi was assassinated in 2001, it was not some remote politician Leavitt lost but a close family friend who years earlier had himself joined her hospital vigil after rock throwers assaulted her husband causing head injuries.

The real power of the narrative is its honesty, as when Leavitt agonizes about watching her own children on the firing line: "Miriam said that at school her friends are busy writing their own eulogies…. Whoever says they are not frightened is telling a lie."

Leavitt also struggles to juggle among her children’s differing viewpoints. Her eldest daughter Estie, a soldier, was stationed in her hometown to quell settlers advancing towards violent Arab demonstrators. One of the settlers was Estie’s younger sister, Miriam:

"Get out of here before I smash you with this!"

Estie pushed the settlers back with the butt end of her rifle.

Miriam cried, "Why are you on their side? Why are you going to let the Arabs kill us?"

"Traitor!" other settlers screamed at Estie.

A woman soldier grabbed Miriam’s arm. Miriam resisted. When the soldier raised her arm to hit Miriam, Estie screamed, "Don’t touch her! She’s my sister!"

Leavitt’s son became intensely devout as a reaction to friends’ deaths. And her 13-year-old daughter was often so terrified that Leavitt spent nights rocking her. In the new reality of the intifada, normalcy is nowhere. Even a simple mother-daughter conversation about planning the daughter’s future is not immune: "Both Estie and I are trying to ignore the screaming, the whistling of the mobs, the gunfire, the grenades, the street battles between the army and the Arabs," she writes.

Leavitt lost her mother at a young age, and her father and brother turned their backs on her when she moved her children into the dangers of "the West Bank."

Leavitt continues to search for the meaning that brought her and her husband first to become devoutly religious and then ardent Zionists. As a child of the ’60s she used yoga, bioenergy healing, meditation and even tarot cards in her quest for equanimity in the midst of horror.

Leavitt is candidly on the extreme fringe of the Israeli political spectrum. Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Muslim worshippers in 1994, had been her family doctor. Her comment on the causes for the crime?

"So many friends had died in his arms. Many of us think it was that event which broke our neighbor, Dr. Goldstein."

Leavitt describes, with almost utopian nostalgia, the friendships between her children and nearby Arab families before the peace process "put up barbed wire between us and the Arabs."

"Storm" will not cause any reader to change sides. But its powerful style and even more powerful emotions will engage anyone interested in the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy to race through its pages. Leavitt reveals herself not only as a determined ideologue but as a complex, struggling human being.

Respite From Terror


It is Monday afternoon at Universal Studios, and the place is swarming with camera-toting tourists, screaming children, beleaguered adults and bored-looking park staff. Prison-garbed Beetlejuice is flashing his blackened teeth as he amuses tourists with his banter, and the cheerful strains of the Universal Studios theme music are being piped loudly through the sound system, camouflaging upsets and distress with ersatz melodic joy.

In the midst of all this, Mashiach Kashi, 72, is showing pictures of his family. "This is my son-in-law — he came to help the people on the bus, and he was murdered. This is my wife. They murdered her also. They shot a bullet through her head at close range. This is my daughter who was in the bus. The bullet went through her head and took out her eye.

"These are my grandchildren," he continues. "This grandchild was shot — the bullet made a hole like this," he says as he holds up a fist. "This other grandchild was shot in the head and died. This little girl’s name is Galia Esther, and my wife saved her by putting her between her legs, but when the terrorists shot my wife, the blood from her head fell on my granddaughter, and they thought she was also murdered."

Kashi’s voice rises, passionate, but despondent. "What do they want? Do you know what they want? Nobody knows what they want. Master of the universe! They make our lives so bitter. Today I am a shattered vessel. I am not a man."

Kashi’s words, and the company he is with — 21 other Israeli victims of terror, some physically scarred, all emotionally wounded — seem out of place in the tourist attraction that is Universal Studios. The 22 Israelis are there as part of their visit to Los Angeles, which was sponsored by the Southern California Jewish Center. The trip is meant to both educate the Los Angeles public about the Israeli casualties of the intifada and to give the victims a vacation of sorts.

At Universal, they are meant to be having a day of fun, some time out to relax a bit and, if possible, to move their minds away — even if just for a short while — from the horrors they have been through.

Yet despite being thousands of miles away from their homes, in a place where the admission fee generally guarantees some form of escapism, the most this group can hope for is to be mildly distracted.

"This is the first time since I came that I am enjoying myself," says Jakov Shefi, 32, whose 5-year-old daughter, Danielle Bat El, was murdered in her bed. "But every time that we are having fun, we think about our little daughter, and we want her to be with us and to have fun with us."

As other members of the group start to laugh while they shoot each other with water guns, Shefi’s wife, Shiri, 29, talks about her daughter’s murder.

"It was on Shabbat," she says, "when the terrorists came to our yishuv [settlement], and I was with the children in the room, and my daughter was murdered in front of my eyes."

Jakov Shefi continues, "There is a song that says, ‘You have to live the fear and the pain, and look it in the eyes.’ And that is what we do every morning, every day, every evening. You hurt. You pain. But you survive."

At another table, Shoshana and Hadas Katzav, a mother and daughter who were wounded in an attack on the Machaneh Yehudah Market in Jerusalem, sit and eat their Metro Glatt burgers. Hadas Katzav, 17, has prominent scars on her forehead; her mother, 52, has her arm in a bandage, which she takes off, revealing a mangled forearm on which the shiny, scarred flesh sinks into a hole near her wrist.

"This is nothing," says Shoshana Katzav, who needed to be hospitalized for eight months after the attack. "My whole body is scarred like this."

"We came for hasbara [public relations]," Hadas Katzav says, "to tell the people what happens in Israel. They are killing us stam cacha [just like this]. We are sitting in our houses, and they go into our houses, in the streets, all the places that we go, and they kill us. We are afraid to go in the streets."

Three feet away, a newly acquired Bugs Bunny stuffed toy sits in 10-year-old Tehila Cohen’s wheelchair as she sits at a table finishing a hot dog with her father, Ofir, 35. The girl’s legs, along with those of two of her siblings, needed to be amputated after terrorists blew up her school bus.

"The terrorists knew it was a school bus, they knew what a school bus looks like, and what time it takes off in the morning," says Ofir Cohen. "And they used a bomb like they used in Lebanon, and although the bus was armed, it was a big explosion, and two people died on the bus, and the others were terribly wounded."

Cohen says that Tehila, who didn’t want to talk to the press, was doing well. "She is doing the best she can in this situation. She is very optimistic, and she is looking forward."

Although these victims are in the West, their hearts are in the East. "I want to tell the people in Los Angeles to come to Israel," Shefi says. "Here you are living in a beautiful dream, because you have beautiful cars here, and peaceful streets, and the houses are beautiful. But this is not reality of the Jewish people. The reality of the Jewish people is Israel, and we can’t escape from that."

Job or Genesis?


A few weeks into our annual summerlong stay at our home in Jerusalem, my wife, Andy, and I became honorary citizens of this extraordinary city — the first North American Jews to be so honored. It was a tremendously humbling moment in a summer of emotional ups and downs. We have many close friends here, many philanthropic and business interests and we immerse ourselves in an intensity of Jewish spirit that we find nowhere else in the world. Nevertheless, as deeply as we are connected to this land and this people, we have no family living in the danger areas, we have no children or grandchildren serving in the army — so we are here and yet, we are witnessing the "situation" through a window.

It’s a window onto many Israelis. First: the one where we live, where we feel as safe as in any other place in the world, where we dine along with dozens of others in a first-class restaurant. One may think that people aren’t going to public places. The truth is far from that. The other night, the Israel Philharmonic, under the baton of Zubin Mehta, performed a great "Concert in Jeans" to a packed house of over 3,000.

Then there is the Israel where the relentless suicide-murders leave a pall over everyone. The way the news is delivered reveals some of the tactics this society has adopted to cope. First comes the factual information, delivered as dispassionately as possible. Later in the day, some of the details: who was killed, details about the bomber, structural damages. The next morning, in the press and on television and radio, the names and ages of the dead, where they will be buried that day and at what times. The day after the June 5 Megiddo murders (17 men and women, all army kids returning to their base), I was attending a board meeting for Koor, an Israeli industrial holding company I have chaired for several years. I quietly asked whether I should ask for a moment of silence to pray for those who had been killed. I was advised that Israelis don’t do that any more. I surmised that’s because it’s so important for everyone who can, to get on with things and do their mourning by themselves.

How intensely lonely that must be if, say, in a single flash of horror, you have lost your husband, your mother and one of your children … and yet, all around you, life goes on: the annual book fair is held throughout the country; a gay pride parade in Tel Aviv is attended by some 40,000; the Moment cafe in Jerusalem, victimized by a suicide attack last fall, reopens, is filled with patrons and the very same bartender is serving drinks; a friend, perhaps an artist, continues to produce beautiful works.

There was a poll taken by one of the major newspapers about how people are feeling these days. The results: half the nation is feeling good and the other half is depressed. My assistant at our foundation put it this way: "In the crudest statistical calculation, 3 million people have smiles on their faces, and 3 million others don’t understand why."

The fact that half the population remains optimistic, even under the constant siege of terror, speaks volumes about the Israeli spirit. The mutually inflicted, negative physical, economic and psychological pressures on both Israelis and Palestinians are intense, yet the wills of both peoples are stronger. Something, clearly, has to give. But so long as Israel feels threatened by homicidal bombers, that something will not be the Israel Defense Forces. Israel’s recent takeover of Palestinian cities has been named Operation Path of Determination. Isn’t it clearly possible that this path is another bend in the Road to Nowhere?

From afar, world leaders can demand that both sides make reforms. But does President Bush or anyone else seriously believe that the Palestinians will transform their society into a democratic, financially transparent state — the marks of other democracies that we in the West know? That corruption will be a thing of the past? And if there is new Palestinian leadership, then what’s in store for Israel and the region?

The strangest part of the tragedy through which Israelis and Palestinians are now agonizing is that, insofar as the "situation" is concerned, the last chapter has already been written — partially at Camp David and partially at Taba — give or take a little bit of sovereignty here and a few acres of land there. The question is: What chapter are we on now — and how many more have to be written until we reach the last one? And what book are we really reading, Job or Genesis?

One thing is evident. The mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians is too deep for them to finish this book themselves. So, be it the so-called "Quartet" — or some combination of the United States, selected European countries, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan — a strong editor, on a temporary basis, is desperately needed. Soon. Given the cooling-off period, perhaps both sides will be able to return to that last chapter. If not, it well could be that the book will be consumed in the fire of hate.

Higher Learning


There is a part of Mt. Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem that one rabbi there calls, "the burial area for the nation’s unborn victims." There you will find the graves of women who, at nine-months pregnant, were murdered by terrorists. A husband and wife are buried side by side, killed just after they learned she was pregnant with twins. There lies the Gavish family — a grandfather, his daughter, son-in-law and grandson. A year ago this week, five members of the Schijveschuurder family were killed in the bombing of the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem. In cemeteries throughout Israel, long graves are dug beside short ones.

Nadav Shragai, writing in Ha’aretz newspaper, commented that part of the strategy of the Palestinian terrorists seems to be to wipe out generations at once, to eradicate the old with their young. Think of the Park Hotel Passover massacre in Netanya, when, in an instant, entire families were killed. Terror 2002 is a reinvention of Terror 1802. The pogroms that instilled such fear and hopelessness among Jews in 19th century Eastern Europe have come to modern-day Israel.

It is too easy to describe Wednesday’s Hebrew University bombing as senseless. Think of it instead as part of a strategy that, like the pogroms, targets a nation’s future.

At press time, there are seven confirmed dead and scores more seriously wounded after a bomb went off at a crowded cafeteria on the university’s Mt. Scopus campus. Hamas has claimed responsibility (see page 17).

The Hamas leaders want the world to believe that the attack at Hebrew University was retaliation for Israel’s attack in Gaza City last week that killed Hamas leader Sheik Salah Shehadeh along with 14 civilians, among them nine children. Much of the outrage and criticism over Israel’s actions came from within the country itself, and undoubtedly some of it emanated from professors and students of the Hebrew University.

Even in democratic Israel, Hebrew University is a beacon of tolerance and understanding. Consider its founder, American-born Rabbi Judah Magnes. In the mid-1920s, Magnes formed Brith Shalom, an intellectual society devoted to bringing about a binational state for Jews and Arabs. Among its influential members were Hebrew University professor Gershom Scholem and philosopher Martin Buber, who warned that a Jewish presence in Palestine not founded on Jewish-Arab brotherhood was, "doomed to destruction."

The university has long been a reflection of that spirit. "It’s so open," said Sofia Aron, a Los Angeles native attending Hebrew University from UC Davis. "Some of the Arabs have signs in their dorm rooms [that read] ‘Death to Israel,’ and Israel permits it." Aron told one of our reporters shortly after the attack. "The university is a very liberal place," she said. "Why was it targeted?"

As Aron and the rest of us are beginning to understand, terror logic is not political, it’s pogrom-ical. Forget about Hebrew University’s liberalism (I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the Peace Now activists among its professors). Think of the Arabs who are at this point consistently murdered by their fellow Arabs in these attacks.

Arab Israelis are assumed to be among the casualties at Hebrew University. Of course Hamas expected this: 10 percent of the university’s student body is of Arab descent, and the university has continued to employ numerous Arab workers. In addition, a suicide bomber at a Haifa restaurant earlier this year killed even more Arab Israelis, as have attacks on buses and bus stops.

Again, the strategy is not military to political. Arab Israelis don’t fight on Israel’s behalf or support the current government. But a society where Arabs and Jews work and learn alongside one another is anathema to the terrorists, and Hebrew University in many ways set an example in that regard for the rest of the nation.

Consider the recently released Arab Human Development Report 2000, produced by the United Nations and an Arab development fund. The report takes Arab nations to task for an inept, decaying system of higher education. No wonder, according to the report, 51 percent of Arab young people say they would like to leave their countries in search of greater opportunity and freedom elsewhere. (Download the report at www.undp.org/rbas/ahdr.) In the Middle East, Hebrew University is not just a haven of higher learning, but of diversity and dissent.

But again, attacking Hebrew U. is terror logic for you: If you’re willing to murder your own Arab brethren, why hesitate to kill those who sympathize with their plight?

The only explanation: because they were young, because they were the future.

LAX Trail Cold


As the families of Victoria Hen and Yaakov Aminov continued their mourning during the 30-day sheloshim period, the FBI continued its tight-lipped investigation into their July 4 murder at the Los Angeles International Airport.

“There have been no new developments and we will not issue a statement until the conclusion of our investigation,” FBI spokeswoman Cheryl Mimura said.

Neither El Al Airlines, at whose airport counter Egyptian immigrant Hesham Mohamed Hadayet shot and killed the two victims, nor the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles, had any comment, pending the FBI’s report.

Aminov’s wife, Anat, and their five children, together with a son from his previous marriage, flew to Israel to bury their husband and father, and will not return until the end of Sheloshim on Aug. 4, said Rabbi David Adatto of Congregation Yad Avraham in North Hollywood.

The Hen family sat shiva for their daughter and sister at their home in Chatsworth, and are planning a communitywide sheloshim ceremony on Aug. 4 at Hen’s graveside at Eden Memorial Park.

Family spokesman Joseph Knoller received one unexpected call when Omar Ricci, chairman of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), asked whether he could meet with the Hen family to offer his condolences and express his shock and condemnation of a fellow Muslim’s murderous act. Knoller said that the family declined the visit as “premature” and inappropriate until Ricci rendered a public condemnation on television.

Ricci, whose parents are Italian and Pakistani, told The Journal: “I felt the need, as a husband and father, to visit the Hen family, regardless of the strife in the Middle East.”

Asked whether the Muslim community had been made aware of his condemnation, Ricci said that it had been posted on an extensive e-mail network, the primary means of communication among Los Angeles Muslims.

A higher level communication took place between Israeli and Muslim leaders in Los Angeles. MPAC Senior Adviser Dr. Maher Hatout wrote to Israel’s Consul General Yuval Rotem expressing his condolences to the families of the victims and reiterating the condemnation he made of the attack. Rotem was quoted in last week’s Journal saying that as far as he knew, the Muslim community had kept silent following the attack. “Such a statement is not only wrong,” Hatout wrote, “but also inflammatory.”

Rotem acknowledged Hatout’s condemnation in a return letter. “By immediately and unconditionally condemning acts of hatred and terror we are able to demonstrate … our commitment to peaceful coexistence,” he wrote.

The men cc’d their letters to Gov. Gray Davis, who thanked them in handwritten notes for their outreach efforts.

Meanwhile, the question of whether the killing represented an act of terrorism or an “isolated incident” remained unresolved. Israeli spokesmen, both in Los Angeles and Jerusalem, called on their long expertise to unhesitatingly define the act as a clear case of terrorism, while the FBI continued to look for motives and outside connections.

Local Jewish leaders this week took issue with The Los Angeles Times’ Sunday front page profile of Hadayet. The Times deployed three reporters and 10 contributing writers from Cairo to Orange County.

The general tone was indicated by the headline in The Times, “Those Who Knew LAX Killer Say Personal Agenda Died With Him,” and a kicker above the headline, quoting Hadayet’s wife, “There is nothing to suggest he was a bad person.”

The article traced Hadayet’s career from his life as a well-to-do banker in Cairo to a difficult time as an independent limousine operator in Irvine. After dozens of interviews, The Times reported that “the emerging consensus is that Hadayet was an ordinarily religious man with little appetite for politics, who opened fire on the El Al ticket counter, following a personal agenda that died with him.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, immediately fired off a letter to Times editor John Carroll, in which he took issue with the article’s tone and content and described it as a “whitewash.”

“There is zero perspective from the victims, from police or Jewish sources,” Cooper wrote. “When touching on [Hadayet’s] motivation, the article reads that he ‘occasionally mention a hatred for Jews … [but only from] a cultural perspective….’ What does ‘occasional’ hate mean — are there cultural hate crimes or cultural terrorist acts? Did the Times bother to report that the widow of the shooter told wire services, she did not believe he even committed the murder? Has the Times assigned any of its crack reporting team to see if this guy has links to terrorist movements? … Get a grip!”

Cooper’s anger at the Times was palpable in a phone interview. “If it were up to me,” he said, “I would advise the Jewish community to pick up its marbles and go elsewhere. Unfortunately, there is no elsewhere to go to.”

Throughout the last week, a large number of donations, mostly in small amounts, continued to flow to the memorial funds established by the victims’ families.

The need is direst for the large Aminov family, bereft of its breadwinner, Adatto said.


Program Remembers Israel’s Victims of Terror

The Jewish community will commemorate the lives and deaths of more than 500 victims of terror in Israel on Sunday July 21 at 11 a.m. at Stephen S. Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles.

Included among the victims are the 13 killed in Israel this week and two Angelenos shot on July 4 at LAX.

The program will include an address by Israeli Deputy Consul General Zvi Vapni, remarks by Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President John Fishel and an invocation by Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

In addition, families of some of the victims will speak and there will be a poetry reading.

A large board will display photos of the victims, and each person will be handed a card with the name of one victim and a pebble, to be placed on a table next to the photo display.

The commemoration is part of a national observance held in 20 American cities and is coordinated by the American Zionist Movement, according to Bernard Weisberg, chairman of the Los Angeles event.

Eight organizations are co-sponsoring the commemoration.

For security reasons, those planning to attend are required to phone (323) 655-2842 in advance and leave their names. Those who fail to do so, are requested to arrive early to clear security.

Your Letters


No More Herring

Hirsh Goodman’s attack on Norwegian herring ("No More Herring," June 21) disturbs my sense of fair play. In condemning the actions of some left-wing unions that imposed a boycott on Israeli goods, it disregards the long and close relationship that exists between the two countries. It overlooks the risks Norwegians took to protect their Jewish citizen’s during the Nazi occupation. It overlooks Norway’s casting a decisive vote in the United Nations in 1947 that led to the establishment of the state of Israel. It fails to take into account Norway’s key role in the peace process.

Hasbara (Hebrew for explanation or PR) is a skill that Israel does not excel at, but in Europe it is frightfully inept. Operation Defensive Shield was clearly a war on terror. But the Arab propaganda machine crowded that message out and made it into an Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Anyone who has heard Goodman make his case for Israel directed at the American public can’t help but admire his skills at hasbara. He’s articulate, convincing, and his English is fluent. If only Israel had spokesmen with similar credentials in Europe, the world would have a different opinion of Israel’s motives and we could go on enjoying our Norwegian herring.

Leonard Beder,Encino

Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers

As a Jew born in Germany and Holocaust survivor, I find the whole matter of the book: "Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers: The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and the Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military" highly offensive ("Jews in the Nazis’ Ranks," June 14).

While it is, of course, possible that some partly Jewish men survived in the German army, I am sure that the number is miniscule, and I venture to say that the matter is not worth talking about. I am disturbed that The Journal discussed it — not once, but twice. You do all of us who suffered at the hands of the Germans and lost many family members in the gas chambers a great disservice.

Kurt G. Wunderlich, San Juan Capistrano

The Christian Right

Jewish Republicans show their naivetè by not realizing that the ultimate goal of fundamentalists such as Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed and John Ashcroft is a 100 percent Christian America ("The Christian Right, Conservatism, and the Jews," June 7). Their support of Israel has nothing to do with liking Jews. Do you think for one minute that if they could get away with it, they wouldn’t mandate that everyone convert to Christianity "or else"? Imagine, in a presidential election between Ashcroft and Joe Lieberman, Jewish Republicans would vote for Ashcroft!

As an example of what Republicans are all about, go to any all-white, restricted country club, and obtain a list of the membership. Then check the members’ political party registration. The only Democrats you might find associated with the club would be the maintenance crew.

Jewish Democrats revere leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks and John and Bobby Kennedy for their dedication toward ending racism and promoting civil rights. Jewish Republicans embrace extremists such as John Ashcroft, Trent Lott, Jesse Helms, Rush Limbaugh and George W. Bush as their heroes. Fortunately, the majority of Jews are Democrats who are enlightened enough to reject the racial and religious bigotry so ingrained in the Republican Party.

Marty Levine, Los Angeles

Dirty Facts

I find it hard to have sympathy for Phil Shuman ("Dirty Facts," May 31) because he is part of a long list of Jews and international media conglomerates that criticize Israel in the name of "objective journalism."

He is just recycling the same rhetoric being circulated by the Arab Palestinian propaganda machine trying to blame Israel for the "situation in the Middle East."

Shuman made it seem like Israel is equally guilty for the war against Israel, and everybody recognizes that it simply is not true.

Robert Fried, Oak Park

I share Phil Shuman’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stated in his article. The only answer to the continued slaughter on both sides is a settlement acceptable to both countries. Until that occurs, I’m afraid the killing of the innocents will continue.

Dr. Sol Londe, Reseda

‘Marriage’ Material


Somewhere in the middle of the Israeli import "Late Marriage," a 12-minute sex scene unfolds between the main characters.

"I [said I would] do the scene because it was natural," said Ronit Elkabetz, one-half of that onscreen couple.

The 37-year-old Israeli actress believes that the film’s much-talked about passage stands out for its realism: no shying away from anatomy — female or male; no Hollywood-stylized romance, ripe with female exploitation. Just warts-and-all lovemaking shot in real time to convey the power — and the awkwardness — of the characters’ union.

There are others reasons why the film connected with Israelis, Elkabetz said.

"It’s a really good story," she said, adding that the film’s foreign Georgian community backdrop didn’t hurt.

In Dover Kosashvili’s "Late Marriage" ("Hatuna Meuheret"), Elkabetz portrays Judith, the worldly 34-year-old single mother who becomes the center of controversy and conflict between her 31-year-old lover (Lior Ashkenazi) and his traditional immigrant family. The lighthearted tone that shades "Late Marriage" does not prepare viewers for the film’s raw, decidedly un-Hollywood ending.

"Late Marriage," which premiered at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, brought Elkabetz much acclaim.

Growing up in Haifa, she admired American actresses such as Bette Davis. After serving in the army, she moved to Tel Aviv to make films such as "Ben Gurion" (1997).

"I don’t think there’s a difference being an actress in Israel," she said of her craft. But she did say that Israel’s government-supported film industry does not allow for tremendous career or salary growth. Perhaps that’s why the actress, who recently won a screenwriting grant, plans to make her own films.

Despite her relocation to Paris, where she works in film and on stage, Elkabetz will always act in Israeli projects."It’s my family, it’s my country," she said.

"Late Marriage" opened May 22 in limited release at Regent Showcase, 614 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 934-2944; Laemmle Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 981-9811, and Edwards South Coast Village 3, 1561 W. Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 540-0594.

Israelis in Orange County


Violence in Israel, instead of creating community among the area’s fragmented expatriates, generates emotional shockwaves that turn them into news junkies. Escalating violence also appears to feed what many describe as a sense of isolation and powerlessness to help loved ones back home. Few Israelis who immigrate immediately join local synagogues.

“Everything that happens there is more troubling and stressful because we can’t send support,” says Limor Barkol, 50, of Cypress, who is the Hebrew coordinator for Rancho Santa Margarita’s Morasha Jewish Day School. She and her husband, Mony, both Israelis, immigrated in 1979 so that he could take advantage of an industrial design major at California State University Long Beach.

“All my friends were going to come for one year,” she recalled. In retrospect, she sees that attitude stalled their acclimating, particularly by refraining from learning English. “I was never with my suitcase by the door, but it took a lot of effort to feel comfortable.”

Batel Yehezkel and her husband, Shaul, of Irvine agree. “For a long time we lived with the idea we will return to Israel,” said Batel Yehezkel, 33, a curriculum coordinator at the county’s Bureau of Jewish Education, who is expecting their third child in October.

She reversed course when litigation in Israel reportedly revealed that apparent political corruption contributed to the death of her sister in a 1995 rock concert stampede. “The Israel we grew up in is no longer there,” she said. “We don’t love it enough to go back and live there.”

Tami Kalinsky, 46, of Irvine, who immigrated with her husband in 1982, remembers walking into a supermarket and opening her purse, a standard security precaution in Israel. “But nobody was there,” she said. Kalinsky feels conflicted about continuing to live in the United States while her family remains in Israel.

“People there get used to it; it’s a lifestyle for them now.” She expresses her support by buying Israeli goods from an Irvine Iranian market and a Tustin kosher market, even when her cupboards are stocked.

“I feel so torn between the way of life I chose and being with my own in Israel,” said 50-year-old Yael Weinberger of Laguna Beach, who in 1979 met and later married British-born Gareth Butler. Weinberger, who teaches Hebrew at two county synagogues, sees little recourse for her choice, which she describes as akin to reneging on a patriotic debt. “I’ve learned to live with conflict,” she said.

Mecca in the Valley


Deep red curtains, dark lighting, cushiony pillows and pictures of camels and bellydancers adorning the walls: That’s what you’d expect from a restaurant reputed to be one of the best Middle Eastern eateries in Southern California.

Instead, what you find is a bright diner-like atmosphere, with orange and yellow arches on the walls, in a strip mall in Sherman Oaks. Oh, and a long line of Americans, Arabs, Druse and Israelis.

Carnival’s green awning welcomes guests in Hebrew ("Bruchim Ha’baim") English and Arabic. Newspapers in three languages line the table of the anteroom, as people wait for a table or takeout on this busy Saturday night.

More than a month after the terrorist attack on America, when incidents of prejudice and hate crimes against Arabs — and people of Middle Eastern appearance — have climbed to a worrisome pitch, the restaurant seems largely untouched.

"The nice thing about this place is that everyone can intermingle and leave politics out the door," says Michael Jamal, 39, a Lebanese-American Druse from Studio City.

"One thing about the restaurant — you would think if all these people can sit and eat and enjoy without feeling guilt or tension, this should be an example for the whole Middle East."

Sharon Skolnik certainly didn’t come to talk politics or socialize. Skolnik, 26, who came to the United States six weeks ago from Israel, visited the restaurant with her boyfriend for the food. "It’s just known to have great food. Everyone knows about it," she says in Hebrew.

Some 50 percent of the customers are Israeli, management say, and the other half are a mix of everyone else.

Arlene Batchley, a native New Yorker who has lived in Encino for years, this time brought her son, Gary, who sports a number of tattoos and a necklace with a gold coin set into a Star of David.

"He said to me that after Sept. 11 no one’s going to come here," Arlene says gesturing to the long line. "He was wrong."

The attacks on America haven’t scared people away from this Lebanese restaurant which serves Middle Eastern food like moussaka, kibbeh, stuffed grape leaves, shawarma, hummus and baba ghannouj. If anything, say the restaurant staff, people have been friendlier and have gone out of the way to come here.

"There’s been no difference from our customers, everyone is open-minded," says Nabil Halaby, Carnival’s part owner and manager for the last 12 years. The restaurant was opened 17 years ago by its chef, Afif Al-Hakim, who named it after his first job, at a restaurant of the same name, in the thriving capital city of Beirut.

Halaby, 42, is a Lebanese Druse born and raised in Kuwait until he moved to America at age 16. At the end of a busy evening, he sits around the table with the waitresses, kibbitzing with them in a way that it’s unclear who’s boss.

"It’s not easy working with a mix of Middle Easterners," he says. "They all put their two cents in."

"But we don’t get anything back!" jokes Najwa Shaw, one of the waitresses.

"Seriously," says Aline Fahima, "A lot of our customers come in and want to talk about politics or the situation, but we don’t discuss it with them, really. Between ourselves, well, we’re like family."

Halaby adds his two cents: "Our customers too, we know 90 percent of them, their families, what they like
to eat. We see their kids grow up, so they’re like family too.”

Sen. McCain to Help Find Kidnapped Israelis


For 10 months, the families of four Israelis kidnapped by Hezbollah have been waiting for their loved ones to return home. Now the families have found a new source of hope, after U.S. lawmakers and Jewish groups indicated that the families’ crusade has not been forgotten and that a new effort will be launched to get the four back.

But amid the uncertainty they have had to contend with since the abductions, the families now have to deal with a U.N. report indicating that as many as three of the four kidnap victims may have suffered serious injuries when they were abducted across the Israeli-Lebanese border — and that some or all of them may no longer be alive.

Last October, Hezbollah gunmen kidnapped three Israeli soldiers — Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Souad — from a disputed border area known as Shabaa Farms.

Shortly after, Hezbollah kidnapped Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum, who also serves as a colonel in the Israeli reserves.

Israeli military officers and diplomats on Wednesday viewed videotapes made by U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon three hours after the soldiers were abducted. The Israeli team also inspected seven bloodstained items retrieved by U.N. peacekeepers from vehicles apparently used by Hezbollah in the kidnapping.

After viewing the tapes, Israel’s UN representative, Yehuda Lancry, affirmed the UN’s claim that the information in the videotapes does not shed new light on the soldiers, and added that it is not clear if the bloodstained articles belonged to the soldiers.

Last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced he would take part in an international commission to get information about the four and secure their release.

There has been no word from Hezbollah about the condition or fate of the prisoners despite repeated attempts by the families and the International Red Cross to gain information and access to the men.

"These families deserve to know," McCain said when he made his announcement on Aug. 2.

McCain also said he would work with Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) on legislation calling for increased U.S. involvement in the effort to bring the four Israelis home.

His comment came one day before U.N. officials released a report indicating that the three Israeli soldiers who were kidnapped suffered serious, possibly even critical, injuries.

Many feel McCain’s prominence will speed along a solution and that the senator’s personal history will raise the issue’s profile.

In 1967, McCain, a naval aviator, was shot down over Vietnam and held as a POW in Hanoi for five and a half years, much of it in solitary confinement.

"All of Israel appreciates his efforts," Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., said last week.

McCain accepted a pin depicting a blue ribbon of solidarity for the MIAs. Many officials wore stickers that read "Adi, Benjamin, Omar — Mother is Waiting."

The atmosphere at last week’s announcement on the Senate steps — attended by the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee and other groups — was disturbed somewhat by protesters who shouted and held placards with such anti-Israel slogans as: "Condemn Israel’s Aggression" and "Free Palestinian POWs in Israel."

The families of the four kidnap victims came to Washington, D.C. to thank those involved with the increased efforts, including Israeli Ambassador David Ivry and former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.

The family members were hopeful, but their words were mixed with pain.

After so many disappointments, Avitan’s father, Ya’acov, said he was optimistic that this is now "a turning point."

Saoud’s father, Qassem, said his son’s children, ages 3 and 5, cry for their father every day.

Tannenbaum’s son, Ori, said, "I am haunted by anxiety day and night."

Avraham Burg, the speaker of the Israeli Knesset, said he wants to continue pressuring the United Nations and the Red Cross and drumming up international support.

"This is a process which addresses the conscience of the world," he said.

A day later, U.N. officials provided some information about the kidnapping of the three soldiers.

In an 18-page report released last Friday, the officials presented the findings of an internal U.N. investigation into the handling of a videotape shot at the scene hours after the three soldiers were kidnapped.

After denying for months that a videotape existed, U.N. officials reversed course last month and ordered an investigation.

The report included the assessment of a senior U.N. peacekeeper in Lebanon that the three soldiers may have died from their wounds.

It also indicated that there were not one but two videotapes.

The report acknowledged that U.N. officials had failed to keep Israel informed, but that this had resulted from "lapses in judgment and failures to communicate, not from conspiracies."

The report left open questions regarding the role some U.N. peacekeepers may have played in the kidnapping.

Israeli officials later said they appreciated U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s willingness to launch an investigation. But the officials criticized the United Nations for taking so long to offer information about the soldiers’ possible condition.

Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said this week the Israeli defense establishment is working under the assumption that the soldiers are still alive.

"We have no information to say they are not alive," Ben-Eliezer said in television interviews over the weekend.

Haim Avraham, father of one of the kidnapped soldiers, said he believed U.N. officials have additional "important details about the kidnapping of the boys, which must be disclosed."

For months, contacts have been held via third parties regarding an exchange of the Israeli abductees for Arab prisoners held by Israel.

Portions of one of the videos have already been broadcast on Israel’s Channel Two Television. They show U.N. officials trying to tow two cars that were apparently used by the kidnappers and later abandoned.

A U.N. spokesman who viewed the video said that the cars contained bloodstains, explosive materials and equipment belonging to the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, as the peacekeepers are called.

According to reports, the cars had forged UNIFIL license plates.

Rallies and protests over the past several months have sought to increase awareness about the four kidnap victims.

At a rally last month in New York, campers from Young Judaea’s Tel Yehudah solicited signatures for a petition calling on U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and other political leaders to take action on behalf of the missing Israelis.

Israel has also been seeking information about three soldiers missing in action in Lebanon since 1982.

Zachariah Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz disappeared June 11, 1982, in the Battle of Sultan Yakoub at the beginning of Israel’s war in Lebanon.

Their families have since launched an international effort to obtain information regarding their whereabouts.

In 1999, President Clinton signed a law that requires the United States to raise the cases of the three MIAs when it meets with the governments of Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority.

In addition, the law calls on U.S. officials to take into consideration the willingness of the three governments to help secure the return of such soldiers when considering financial aid.

JTA correspondent Naomi Segal in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Everyday Hebrew


Meseret Rubin started learning modern Hebrew for the sake of her family.

Rubin and her Israeli husband, Amir, are raising their two children in a Westside home where any one of four languages are spoken at any given time. Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the photographer-turned-stay-at-home mom is already fluent in Amharic, French and English, but she would like to become proficient enough in Hebrew to help her children with their homework. The Rubins’ 6-year-old son, Ari, currently attends a Jewish day school where half of the instruction is in Hebrew, and 3-year-old daughter, Liat, spends her day immersed in the language at an Israeli-run day care.

“I took a Hebrew crash-course,” she said, “but it was too confusing.”

Undaunted, she signed up for beginning modern Hebrew through the University of Judaism’s (UJ) continuing education program.

The UJ’s modern Hebrew program is the largest of its kind in Los Angeles, attracting more than 200 students from a diverse cross-section of a Jewish community increasingly interested in Israeli language and culture.

“I like [the UJ program] much better,” Rubin said. “The beginning was tough, but good.”

Rubin, 31, said some similarities between Amharic and Hebrew have helped her with vocabulary, but reading and writing is a different story. She’s accustomed to reading the block Hebrew in prayer books, but much of the class is taught in script with no vowels.

“It pushes us to figure out how to read the word,” she said.

The Rubins primarily socialize with Israelis, and the family travels frequently to Israel, so she gets plenty of opportunities to practice. Now in the third quarter of her first year, she said that while she isn’t fluent yet, “I understand more than ever.”

People’s motivations for joining the modern Hebrew program at the UJ are varied. Ruthy Shalev, the UJ’s Hebrew coordinator, estimates that about 50 percent of the students in the program, like Rubin, are married to Israelis and would like to be able to speak Hebrew at home and with in-laws.

“Other people who are Jewish want to know the language of the Jews of Israel. We also have some non-Jewish students who want to read the Old Testament in the original language,” said Shalev.

Some are preparing to make aliyah, or they grew up speaking Hebrew at home and just need to brush up. Others travel regularly to Israel or have been inspired by their friendships with Israelis in Los Angeles.

Jordon Winter, a 29-year-old music video director, recently started his second quarter in beginning Hebrew. He never attended Hebrew school and always felt it was odd that during the holidays “I was praying in a language that I didn’t understand.”

An L.A. native, Winter was partly motivated by his circle of Israeli friends.

“I want to know what they’re saying behind my back,” he joked.

Winter, who is planning to go to Israel for the first time next year, said his Israeli friends “want to practice their English, but I want to practice my Hebrew, so we switch off. I think they were surprised at how much I learned so quickly.”

The program, based on the ulpan method, is staffed by 11 Israeli instructors and has no tests or grades.

“It’s a big enough commitment to come to class,” said Shalev. “We don’t think we have to burden them with tests, because that’s not what they’re here for.”

Classes are taught almost exclusively in Hebrew from the first day, and students typically lament how challenging the language can be in the beginning.

“You need to focus and dedicate yourself,” said Charlotte Krashinsky, an agent with DBL Realtors in Beverly Hills who is married to an Israeli. “I was expecting to go to class and just learn it. You have to put your time in.”

Krashinsky found herself falling behind when she first signed up a few years ago. She took some time off and came back to it this year, more prepared and committed. Shalev said that this isn’t uncommon. The program mostly attracts professionals who must juggle work with study, and occasionally work wins out.

While many feel the classes can be difficult, the feedback on the program itself is nothing short of glowing.

“I can’t imagine it being better anywhere else,” said Anna Reyner, who has been attending the classes with her husband for three years.

Reyner, a Jew by choice, likes the connection she’s able to make with her children when she’s helping them with their Hebrew school homework. Also, she said, “When my husband and I don’t want the kids to know what we’re talking about, we have our little secret code.”

A few years ago, Reyner’s daughter befriended the daughter of the assistant Israeli consul in Los Angeles, and the two families became close.

“It’s hard to break into Israeli social circles. Once you get in with one family, it’s easier. I think there are a lot of social barriers between any two groups,” Reyner remarked.

“As I approach Israelis, I have a certain confidence that I can be taken seriously as somebody who is open to their culture,” she said. “I really like the fact that I can understand what’s being said around me.”

Reyner, who taught ESL in El Salvador, thinks that UJ’s Hebrew teachers are particularly adept. Learning from native Hebrew speakers who take time to explain the language’s nuances and history is a real draw for many of the students.

“I’ve never had a teacher I didn’t think was a good educator,” she said. “It’s much easier to know something than to teach it well.”

For more information about the UJ extension program’s
modern Hebrew classes, call (310) 476-9777, ext. 436, or visit www.uj.edu .

If I should Forget Thee


The ancestors of Israeli filmmaker Ron Havilio arrived in the Holy Land shortly after their expulsion from Spain in 1492, and in "Fragments: Jerusalem" he pays loving tribute to the city of his birth and the history of his forebears.

Keeping to a leisurely pace, the six-hour documentary will screen on four evenings on the Sundance Channel, starting March 5.

Havilio mines a treasure-trove of historical paintings, etchings, still photos, postcards and various artifacts, mixed with interviews of aged relatives, to recreate the Jerusalem of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Given current religious tensions among Jews in Israel and deadly confrontations with Arabs, some of the historical photos and reminiscences are startling.

For example, a sharp mid-19th century photo of the Western Wall shows men and women, intermingling freely and praying together.

Grandparents recall how, during the 1921 anti-Jewish disturbances in Jerusalem, an Arab neighbor lent her garb and even her own baby to a Jewish woman so she could safely pass through the Arab mob and seek police help.

By bitter contrast, there are photos of Jewish corpses, victims of the deadly 1929 riots in Hebron, lined up in long rows.

But most of the scenes illustrate and celebrate the daily life of Jerusalem’s citizens and neighborhoods. One wonderful segment shows the official neighborhood "caller" making the rounds and waking up the faithful at 3 a.m. for Selichot services at the Kurdish, Persian and Greek synagogues.

The scene is shown in the documentary’s seventh and final "chapter," titled "Abba" and devoted to Havilio’s father.

The elder Havilio incorporates the transition between the old and modern Israel as he is sworn into the underground Haganah, Bible in one hand and pistol in the other. One casualty of this process is the family’s old Mamila neighborhood, which becomes a no-man’s land in the heart of Jerusalem after the 1948 war and is then "renewed" by urban construction following the reunification of the city in 1967.

"Fragments" has won a number of international awards but is regrettably marred by jerky sequences that jump from one time epoch to another and from general to detailed family chronology. The series is billed as a "mosaic" of Jerusalem, but kaleidoscope would be more apt, and some tight editing would add considerably to the enjoyment of the six-hour experience.

"Fragments: Jerusalem" will air on the Sundance Channel in four Monday installments at 9 p.m., starting March 5 and continuing March 12, 19 and 26.

Slackers No More


What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy? The answer to the old joke — "I don’t know and I don’t care" — has often been used to define young Americans of the past decade. It was tres en vogue to depict the rising generation of 20- and 30-somethings as disconnected, disillusioned and disenfranchised.

Today young Jewish professionals often are diagnosed with that same detached attitude toward their faith and their connection to Jewish culture. So goes the stereotype, along with the concern for the future of the Jewish community.

Yet on closer examination, it is evident that a growing number of young Jews are committed to preserving links with their heritage and with each other. The Journal recently spoke with several of these individuals to find out not only how they remain connected to their Jewish roots, but why.

Hailing from a cross-section of the community’s diverse subcultures, these individuals may not be the most powerful or influential young Jews in L.A., but they may be among the most important. They comprise the builders of L.A.’s future Jewish community, using their abilities to participate rather than complain, to take good ideas and turn them into great actions. They have distilled and implemented Jewish values to help improve the world around them and around us. Ultimately, it boils down to the two sentiments absent from their philosophical lexicons: "I don’t know" and "I don’t care."

Lee Broekman: Activist and Dignitary

The most rewarding aspect of her public service has been the ability to make things happen, said Lee Broekman, the field deputy in Los Angeles Councilman Michael Feuer’s office. She recently helped coordinate the project to create a playground at Griffith Park for children with disabilities, the first of its kind on the West Coast. "The kids were so thrilled," she said, recalling the grand opening of the park.

Feuer told The Journal that Broekman is exceptional. "I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with an array of outstanding young people in my career, but Lee certainly stands out as someone whose future has no bounds," Feuer said. "Lee wants to connect her academic training and her deep concern for people. For her, politics is something that has a reason. I see her with the potential to be a leader far beyond our city."

It’s hard to believe that the Israeli-born activist is only 24 years old, given her deliriously dense résumé. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Judaism’s (UJ) College of Arts and Sciences in 1998, receiving UJ’s Academic Excellence Award, and delivered the commencement speech on the topic of Jewish leadership.

Her push toward public life came in college, when she was galvanized by the impact made by her school newspaper, Catalyst. She became the paper’s junior-class representative, then editor-in-chief. "People weren’t just complaining but posing solutions to the issues they were not satisfied with," she recalled. Right after college, Broekman married schoolmate Jeremy Broekman (now director of the UJ’s Alumni Affairs).

After graduation, Broekman accepted a fellowship with the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs. As a Coro Fellow, she immersed herself in the world of public policy.

At Coro, Broekman found herself surrounded by people "like me — idealistic, if not to change the world, to change their world. I went from thinking everyone’s apathetic to everyone’s involved," she said.

Within a year, she interned at the California Employment Development Department, the Federal National Mortgage Association, the L.A. County Federation of Labor, the AFL-CIO, L.A. Department of Water & Power, L.A. Urban Funders, the Department of Health Services, Los Angeles Unified School District and KCET’s "Life & Times."

Broekman got into local politics in 1999, working on election campaigns such as Phil Angelides’ bid for state treasurer and for County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. But it was her college experience as resident adviser that led her into her present position in Feuer’s office. "It prepared me for dealing with quality of life issues. Here it’s on a grander scale," she said.

Broekman continues to give back to the institutions that shaped her world view. She serves as a member of Coro’s Alumni Association Board of Directors and at the UJ, she sits on the Alumni Steering Committee, lectures on journalism and is the Catalyst’s faculty advisor. She also joined the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Young Leaders Committee after working with the ADL’s Salvin Leadership Development Institute, for which she has spoken on everything from hate crimes to Mideast affairs.

"A lot of my other friends are not as participatory," Broekman observed. "I used to get discouraged about it, but I understand that not everyone has the desire to be involved. I don’t think it’s that they necessarily don’t care about the world around them. Some are not intellectually stimulated enough to do something about it," she said.

Broekman’s philosophy is simple: "To educate others, you first must educate yourself. That’s what I feel right now — that I’m laying the groundwork to inform people on issues of local, national, and international concern."

Come June, Broekman will serve as ambassador of goodwill in the Netherlands. As a Rotary Foundation ambassadorial scholar, Broekman will pursue graduate coursework in international relations and political economy at the University of Amsterdam. She will lecture on American policy to Dutch audiences and, in turn, will report on Holland upon her return to the U.S.

Born in Ramat Gan, Broekman spent her first decade in Israel before she moved to California in 1986. She grew up in the Valley in "a pretty traditional" Yemenite Moroccan family, she said, adding that both sets of grandparents were "very Orthodox."

It was while working on her graduation commencement address that Broekman contemplated the meaning of Jewish leadership. "I take my values, both cultural and traditional, and bring them into the world at large," she said. "I wasn’t necessarily going to be a leader in the Jewish community, but a Jewish leader nevertheless. I cannot divorce the two. It’s so part of who I am."

Party Up, Kosher Style!


Call it a beach party without the beach. The pouring rain didn’t stop Beverly Hills High School students from partying when they recently converged on the campus football field for an early evening bonfire. The up-tempo rally – which featured kosher hot dogs and school cheerleaders busting moves to the beat of a live band – was organized by Rabbi Hertzl Illulian, who, for seven years, has been organizing events at Beverly Hills High School.

Jewish and non-Jewish students alike attend Illulian’s functions, and the Chabad rabbi said that the events he organizes are appreciated by Beverly Hills High’s prominent and diverse Jewish student body. According to Illulian, half of the Jewish population at the public school is Persian or Israeli, and about 15 percent is Russian.

“They feel very privileged to be Jewish,” said Illulian. “They have pride in themselves.”

“I myself see people turning back to their roots,” said former Beverly Hills High student Flora Salih, 20, who assists Illulian with events such as this, as well as Sukkot parties and Yom Kippur programming earlier this season. Illulian’s teenage daughter, Brucha, was also on hand to help.

Michael “Micki” Weinberg, a 16-year-old senior and president of Shalom Club at Beverly Hills High School, believes events such Illulian’s programs set a good example – not only to fellow Jews, but also to non-Jews.

“It shows that wherever Jews are around the world, we’re able to unite as a cohesive group,” said Weinberg. “And they see that a Jew doesn’t fit a stereotype.”

Junior Debbie Soroudi, 16, appreciates such activities, especially since she had to cancel her plans to join a Sephardic Educational Center mission to Israel because of the recent tensions there.

“Personally, I came from a Jewish school,” said Soroudi. “To have that reinforced here at Beverly, it’s great. It’s comforting to meet other Jewish students and to know that we share the same beliefs.”

Still Stigmatized


When Ofra Haza, the 41-year-old Israeli Yemenite singer, succumbed to complications of AIDS in February, she died under a heavy cloud of silence. But why? Was it because of the shame and guilt attached to the still stigmatized disease, or, as the Israeli media suggested, was there a darker, more sinister reason connected to her husband’s past?

Whatever the reason, it is a sad and tragic fact that Ofra Haza had to hide her disease from her community, a community that clearly loved and supported her. Since her death, many in Israel and the United States have felt that an opportunity to teach our children about AIDS has been lost. Lost too, perhaps, has been an opportunity for the Jewish community to come together and deal forthrightly with the taboo of AIDS.

Much has changed since the early 1990s, when many of us believed that the HIV virus that causes AIDS could be passed through a simple kiss. Over the last 10 years, most American Jews, like most other Americans, stopped thinking of AIDS as a “gay disease” or as punishment for sinful behavior, but as a virus that can be contracted through at-risk sex, intravenous drug use and (now, rarely) blood transfusions. We learned that the disease, although stabilized in the number of new AIDS cases in the United States, has accelerated among women and drug users, disproportionately affecting people of color.

The good news is that, although there is no cure for AIDS, new drug therapies, introduced in the mid-1990s, have dramatically changed the face of AIDS. For about half of those who have developed the disease, combinations of protease inhibitors have strengthened the body’s immune system and put a halt to opportunistic infections. Gone are the hospital AIDS wings, the support groups for the sick, the housebound patient, the need to hide: Many in the AIDS community have gone back to work, some to volunteer for AIDS organizations that once reached out to them.

But despite our education and awareness, AIDS remains a stigmatized disease, still associated with homosexual activity, difficult to discuss in public and sometimes difficult to discuss at all.

Enter Rami Aizic, specialist for the HIV/AIDS Program of Jewish Family Service (JFS) of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Aizic, at over six feet, with movie-star good looks, is an immediately inviting presence. A virtual one-man band — HIV/AIDS counselor, grant writer, pantry supervisor, spiritual counselor and idea-generator — Aizic, who has degrees in law and marriage and family therapy, has been running the program since 1998. At present he carries a caseload of 100 clients, three-quarters of them Jewish.

As a counselor who specializes in HIV/AIDS and Jewish issues, he’s the one clients seek out before telling family members of their status, or the one they ask to handle important details at the end of their lives. But the one thing Aizic can not help with today is how many Jews have HIV or AIDS. To date, no data on Jews and AIDS exist.

“That has a lot to do with the problems of the Jewish community — that being, we are a very insular group,” Aizic offers. “We don’t like to talk about uncomfortable things or things that will bring, or may bring, perceived shame or guilt. Even today, there seems to be a disproportionate amount of belief that AIDS is something to keep quiet and not to discuss. It’s Reform, Conservative, Progressive, Orthodox — across the board in Jewish life.”

Still, the Orthodox are the most stringent in not talking about AIDS, says Aizic.

“They believe [AIDS] is confined to a specific population, and they do not belong to that population. I have several Orthodox clients who don’t even want to come into this building for fear that if someone from their community sees them with me, it will be understood, through association, that they have a connection to the AIDS world and in turn to the gay community, and that will cast a negative mark.

“For Jews, there’s a real identification with community. To be singled out, for whatever reason, is not a comfortable thing — there’s the shame of being less than.”

This fear of being singled out, not fitting in, being judged by others, spills over to other chronic illnesses, as well, according to a middle-aged professional, who asked to remain anonymous. He tells his own story of a chronically ill family member who had been ostracized within the Orthodox community. When he approached his rabbi for help on how to handle the situation, he was stunned by the rabbi’s unsympathetic response: Why are you coming to me, the rabbi wondered.

“If something is different about someone, or they have a chronic disease, there’s an attempt to hide, not to mingle with that individual,” the man said bitterly. “My family was treated similar to how an AIDS patient would be treated.”

“We have to be much more open to helping people with serious illnesses,” says Rabbi Rafael Goldstein, the author of “Being a Blessing: 54 Ways You Can Help People with AIDS.” A former chaplain for Los Angeles Jewish AIDS Service and the director of San Diego’s Jewish Healing Center, Goldstein believes that though the Jewish response to AIDS was appropriate and supportive, we still have a long way to go in dealing with the spiritual isolation of those with chronic and long-term illnesses.

Referring to the AIDS epidemic, Goldstein poses the question: “Didn’t we learn anything?”

Rabbi Levi Meier, chaplain of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, believes we did.

“We as Jews never place a value or judgment on an illness; the Talmud says when a person is in pain, we must show compassion and provide a remedy. We never put the person in isolation, which makes the person feel worse,” says Meier. “Negativity towards AIDS has not been my experience at all.”

But Alex (not his real name), a Jewish man who has had the disease for 12 years, believes we didn’t learn enough.

“The Jewish communal response to AIDS just wasn’t there,” Alex reports. “It was a struggle [in the early days of AIDS], and it’s a struggle still.”

He believes that if it weren’t for Congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim — a synagogue founded in 1972 to serve gays and lesbians, which ushered in the idea of a Jewish response to AIDS — there might not have been any response at all. “Any controversy, anything that might offend anyone, any disease associated with sex makes people afraid: ‘Let’s just keep quiet, it’s too embarrassing, too shameful. We don’t want to talk about it,'” Alex says.

Relief Is in Sight


A middle-aged man climbed up to the cabin of a crane and drew the operator’s attention to a small suitcase on top of a pile of rubble left by last month’s killer earthquake in Turkey.

“Can you get it for me?” he pleaded. “Please, it’s very important.”

The huge arm of the crane pulled it out of the ruins with perfect precision. The man, Aydin Yilmaz, in his early 50s, opened the suitcase, pulled out a photo album, pointed at the pictures and said: “That’s my family. They are all there, underneath.”

He pointed quietly at the huge pile of rubble that had buried his wife and two children.

Stories like Yilmaz’s are commonplace in Adapazari, a town east of Istanbul and one of the six areas hardest hit by the earthquake that killed an estimated 14,000 people.

Now, with winter approaching, the focus is on making sure that international support, including aid from Israel and Jewish communities worldwide, reaches the estimated 600,000 people left homeless.

The Israel Defense Force has deployed a field hospital at the entrance to Adapazari. A number of tents supply the local population with advanced medical equipment, including X-ray facilities, laboratories and children’s and orthopedic wards. Israeli surgeons conducted emergency operations — and one baby delivery — in the rooms of an adjacent government office.

In addition, Israel has sent Turkey about 1,000 tons of agricultural products, frozen vegetables, water, milk and new and used clothing, all of which had been collected in Israel.

The Israeli relief delegation numbered some 500 rescuers, medical staff and other experts, including the IDF’s elite rescue unit, which had gained experience in rescue operations in Lebanon and places of natural disaster in many parts of the world.

Community Briefs


Even for an international film producer and inveterate traveler, Arthur Cohn has covered a lot of territory recently.

During the last week in October, the winner of a record five Oscars and producer of “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” and “Central Station” was feted in Shanghai at his very own “Arthur Cohn Day” by the Chinese government and film industry.

He used the occasion of a retrospective of his works at the Shanghai International Film Festival to premiere his latest documentary, “Children of the Night.”

Conceived as a cinematic memorial to the 1.3 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust — and their rescue from the anonymity of statistics — the film resurrects the faces of its subjects, sometimes at play, more often ragged and starving.

Although the film is only 18-minutes long, Cohn spent three years scouring archives across the world for material, of which only six yielded scraps of usable footage.

For the feature film to follow the documentary at the Shanghai festival, Cohn had originally selected his 1995 movie “Two Bits” with Al Pacino. However, government officials in Beijing insisted on “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” the 1971 classic about an aristocratic Italian-Jewish family that is ultimately destroyed by the fascists.

Cohn says that he took the Beijing fiat as a signal that “the theme of the Holocaust has been openly recognized by the Chinese government for the first time.”

His reception in Shanghai was remarkable, as press and public mobbed him like some rock star. More than 130 journalists covered his press conference, during which a giant banner above his head proclaimed “World Famous Producer Arthur Cohn” in Chinese and English.

For the screening itself, Chinese fans fought for tickets to the 2,000-seat theater. When the two films ended, the audience sat, as if stunned, for three-minutes, before quietly leaving.

For most Chinese, it was their initial introduction to a Holocaust theme. Said a young hotel manager, “Six million dead … that’s as if they murdered every bicyclist in this city.”

A reporter for the Shanghai Star perceived that “Cohn seems to cherish a special feeling for the Jews.” Indeed, the producer’s next release will be “One Day in September,” referring to the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

The production will be a “thriller with documentary footage,” says Cohn, with Michael Douglas in the central role of the commentator.

“One Day in September” will have its world premiere on Jan. 18 in Los Angeles, under the auspices of the American Film Institute.

A couple of days later Cohn arrived in Hollywood to report on his Shanghai triumph and participate in the first annual International Jewish Film Festival here.

He officiated at the American premiere of “Children of the Night” and presented an award to veteran actor Gregory Peck.

Cohn, who stands a rangy six-foot, three inches, is a third generation Swiss citizen and resident of Basel.

His father, Marcus, was a respected lawyer and a leader of the Swiss religious Zionist movement. He settled in Israel in 1949, helped to write many of the basic laws of the new state, and served as Israel’s assistant attorney general until his death in 1953.

The family’s Zionist roots go even deeper. The producer’s grandfather and namesake, Rabbi Arthur Cohn, was the chief rabbi of Basel. He was a friend of Theodor Herzl and one of the few leaders in the Orthodox rabbinate to support the founder of modern Zionism.

It was because of this support, says Cohn, that Herzl chose Basel, rather than one of Europe’s more glittering capitals, as the site of the first Zionist Congress in 1897.

Of the filmmaker’s three children, two sons have served in the Israeli army and studied at Israeli universities.

For the Sake of Fun


Lisa Stern, a Hancock Park attorney and mother of three, has identified a syndrome afflicting women that she thinks is just as real as postpartum depression — post-Yontiff exhaustion.

As the Days of Awe come to a close, women who have spent a month entertaining are feeling the wrath of tired feet and mental burnout.

“We live to entertain guests and make the holidays festive and joyful; we live to bring family and friends together and put on a good show, all at a great expense,” says Stern. “Instead of a spirit of renewal, it’s the exact opposite.”

Stern, in her role as director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Policy, has put together a 24-hour retreat to refresh women with a hefty dose of plain old fun.

The Oct. 31-Nov. 1 retreat at the Summit Bel Air Hotel will create a “setting that is secured and dignified, where women can come and let their hair down and sing and listen to stories and cry and enjoy, and be together in song and dance,” says Stern. “These are things you can’t do in mixed company or with kids around, or in a business day or in a normal learning program.”

Highlights of the retreat include a kumsitz, complete with smores and a weenie roast; lectures by educator Shira Smiles; and Israeli dance for everyone, from professionals to the “coordination challenged,” Stern says.

“Any woman who thinks that fun has faded and that days of camaraderie are bygone, is wrong,” she says. “They are invited to come and have a good time just for the sake of fun.”

Cost of room, meals and program is $109. For more information, call (310) 777-0225, ext. 3. — Julie Gruenbaum Fax


Israeli Vice


The young Lithuanian woman in the prison libraryhas the narrow chest, hunched shoulders and wary eyes of someone whohas known poverty and is not sure where the next blow is coming from.She talks to reporters to convince herself that she was not aprostitute, not one by choice anyway.

Her first name, which is all she will tell, isGiedre. She is 19, with lank, sandy hair, pale freckles on palecheeks, stone-washed blue jeans and a black boucle zip-up jacket.Giedre is one of 39 illegal immigrants from the old Soviet Unionawaiting deportation in Neve Tirtza women’s prison near Ben-GurionAirport. Almost all of them, according to the governor, Betty Lahat,worked in Israeli brothels.

The prisoners are the tip of a multimillion-dollarracket, which recruits hundreds of women a year in Eastern Europe forwhat the Israel Women’s Network brands “a modern slave trade.”Criminologists estimate that about 2,000 women from Russia, Lithuaniaand Ukraine are currently working in Israel’s sex industry. Manyarrive by sea, on tourist visas or cruise ships from Cyprus. Some aregenuine tourists who are kidnapped by local gangsters.

The women are bought and sold by pimps andtraffickers for prices up to $20,000. Some were promised jobs asnannies, waitresses or dancers. One woman, arrested last month inHaifa, confessed that she was a doctor who couldn’t make a living inher profession back home.

Giedre, who has a Jewish father and a Christianmother, says that she came to Israel to stay with an aunt. After afamily quarrel, she moved into a cheap hotel in Herzliya, near TelAviv. One night she returned from a disco to find her room ransacked,her bag, passport and money gone.

When she went downstairs to report the theft, shewas lured outside by a Russian girl who had befriended her. Two burlymen grabbed her and bundled her into a windowless van. She was keptfor three days in a locked room of a two-story house withoutfood.

“On the third night, I was desperate,” she says.”I tried to break out. I shouted for help. But it was no use. Twomen, who spoke Russian with a Georgian accent, carted me off to amassage parlor. When I refused to work there, they beat me up. Theyraped me, punched my body, slapped my face. Finally, I agreed to workfor them.”

Giedre was put in a room with another girl. Shehad sex with six clients a day, half an hour each. The two girlsslept and worked in the same room. There were five other girls in thebrothel. Some told Giedre that they had 15 to 20 men a day, for whichthey were paid $1,000 a month.

The Lithuanian teen-ager worked for a week butdidn’t wait for a paycheck. Before dawn one day, she climbed out ofan upstairs laundry room and fled barefoot down a rope of sheets.After finding her way back to her aunt’s, she was arrested foroverstaying her visa. When she can produce the money for a ticket,she will be put on the next plane out.

Another prisoner, who calls herself Russita,admits that she was a prostitute in Lithuania. Mafia agents broughther to Israel on forged papers with tales of rich pickings. One agenttook her passport on arrival. One pimp sold her to another, who madeher strip so that he could see what he was buying.

“When I asked what I’d be paid,” she says, “hetold me I’d have to pay back his investment first, then I would get$100 a month. Before then, I was sold on to a third pimp, who put mein a massage parlor, where I received up to 30 men a day. They paidhim 150 shekels [about $42] each.”

Russita was arrested during a police raid.Prostitution is not a crime in Israel, but she will be expelledbecause she has no papers. Like most of the Neve Tirtza girls, shearrived at the prison without money. The Lithuanian Consulate willprobably pay for her ticket home.

According to a 30-page report published at thebeginning of this year by the campaigning Israel Women’s Network,most pimps are Israeli citizens, either native-born or Russianimmigrants. Police raid brothels from time to time, but the networkfound that pimps were prosecuted only in the most extreme cases. Eventhen, they usually receive light sentences. “The pimps go free,” saysEfraim Ehrlich, head of the Tel Aviv vice squad. “The women go toprison.”

And, like Giedre, Russita and many Natashas, theywait to go home with nothing to show for their trip to the PromisedLand.


Philosophers and Fools


Above, Suheil Hadad (left) and Muhamed Bakri (right) in “TheMilky Way”; Below, Arik Sharon in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda.

Features

‘The Milky Way’

This earthy, lyrical film by writer-director Ali Nassar is easilyone of the festival’s brightest highlights. Fresh, impassionedperformances and a solid script are enhanced by painterly, almostfable-like images. For the lilting, lovely score, Nahum Haiman’soriginal music is interwoven with traditional Arabic melodies. “TheMilky Way” reinforces some of the best reasons to go to “foreign”films. We’re drawn into an unfamiliar and fascinating world where weend up recognizing large parts of ourselves.

The year is 1964. The setting is an Arab village in the Galileeduring the last year of military rule. There, on rocky, sunlithillsides dotted with goats, and in modest, candlelit rooms, work,love and social ritual coexist with deep unhealed wounds — a legacyfrom the war in 1948, when many of the villagers fled or were killedin the fields where they stood.

Those left behind are a diverse bunch: There’s the opportunisticvillage mukhtar and his brutish, hotheaded son. The film’staciturn hero is a metalsmith named Mahmoud (Muhammed Bakri –chiseled and compelling as always), who shares a tender friendshipwith Mabruq, the town’s tragicomic fool. As the childlike Mabruq,actor Suheil Haddad is incapable of duplicity, and he wears theentire village’s emotional landscape on his rubbery, expressive face.

The central narrative is a neatly developed story about whatensues after the area’s Israeli military command discovers one of thevillagers has been issuing forged work permits. But linear plotsummaries don’t do justice to what filmmaker Nassar has achievedhere. “The Milky Way” is a richly knowing portrait of a worldbrimming with bawdy humor, petty cruelty, derailed dreams and smallsensual pleasures.

The rangy and reserved Mahmoud pokes his head flirtatiouslythrough the classroom window of the village schoolteacher, chidingher for the politically utopian songs she passes along to her youngstudents. Mabruq and a gaggle of boys play raucous games that reflectthe everyday reality of the adults — including the staging of akangaroo trial in which Mabruq, wearing a tattered, makeshiftmilitary uniform and holding one boy by the scruff of the neck, askshis court with mock outrage, “How did this dirty Arab threaten statesecurity?” “He pissed without a permit!” a boy shouts back amid awave of wild giggles.

Several times in the film, Mabruq shares tenderly romantic lookswith the orphaned Jamila, another badly damaged innocent herecognizes as a kindred spirit. The two are emblematic of life inthis village, where brutal realism and impossible poetry are intimateneighbors.

(Screens at the Music Hall on Nov. 9, 13, 15, 16 and 19, and atthe Writers Guild on Nov. 6.)

Documentaries

‘How I Learned to Overcome My Fear and Love Arik Sharon’

Is there a festival award for best title? The ostensible subjectof this video documentary is that (in)famous lightning rod, armygeneral-turned-pol Ariel Sharon. Director-editor-producer Avi Mograbidoggedly follows the rotund ex-general down the Likud campaign trailduring that volatile period between Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination andBinyamin Netanyahu’s election victory.

But as the playful title intimates, the movie is less about Sharonhimself than the place he occupies in the lives of Mograbi and otherdisaffected leftists like him. Mograbi’s eventual “love” for hissubject is, of course, a tongue-in-cheek falsehood. “Arik Sharon,”the filmmaker tells us at the outset, “is the only politician whosedoings, so I felt, had a direct effect over my life. And it wasscary.” Mograbi (who served jail time rather than serve during theLebanon War) proceeds to elaborate on the nature of his lifelongobsession with Sharon and the emotional havoc it has caused him.

It’s a funny, faux confessional delivered gloweringly into thecamera. Mograbi’s lumpy, affable face and bushy eyebrows are apicture of comic intensity as he relates how his childhood heroworship of the daring combat veteran gradually mutated into a fearand loathing that peaked with the bloody episode that occurred at theLebanese refugee camps Sabra and Shatila under Sharon’s indirectwatch. Mograbi’s documentary is film-as-therapy: He hopes to conquerhis complex obsession with the charismatic, seemingly likable manbehind the left-wing’s ongoing nightmare.

His initial failed attempts to gain access to Sharon are funny andtelling. They recall American provocateur Michael Moore’scat-and-mouse battle of wits with the head of General Motors in hisown satiric documentary, “Roger and Me.” Unfortunately, the parallelsend there. Although Mograbi’s resourcefulness and persistenceeventually gain him a limited kind of access to his cagey, powerfulsubject, unlike the brasher Moore, he’s not as certain of what to doonce he gets it. This proves to be the film’s undoing. Sharon’sentourage embraces Mograbi as one of them, and we see that theirdevotion to their leader is simultaneously discomfiting and touching.As for the fox-like Sharon (who repeatedly tells the filmmaker toshut down the cameras when he wants to eat), he tolerates Mograbiwith a wary affability when he’s not handily dismissing him as aminor logistical annoyance.

Mograbi may not love Sharon after all, but the bigger, unintendedirony is that he hasn’t overcome his paralyzing fear of him either.

(Screens at the Music Hall on Nov. 8, 13, 15 and 18.)

‘Jenny & Jenny’

Seventeen-year-old cousins Jenny Suissa and Jenny Guetta are bestfriends. They’re also cousins — third-generation North African Jewsgrowing up in the crowded, working-class seaside town of Bat Yam.Both are resolutely bored with high school, charmed by theirprovincial grandmother, exhilarated about boys and mightily alienatedfrom their blunt fathers. With empathy and insight, filmmaker MichalAviad tracks the two as they drift through their lives during thatseminal summer between girlhood and womanhood. The end result is adecidedly unslick video documentary that captures the way growing upfemale is done in this time and place.

This sort of material could easily end up a predictable fugueabout teen angst, sort of a low-budget version of MTV’s “Real World.”But Aviad avoids superficiality. Simple and complex truths emerge ontheir own, recalling the spirit of “Hoop Dreams” and — with itscinéma vérité scenes of domestic conflict– the raw candor of “An American Family.”

Ultimately, this is a very Israeli story. There’s poignancy inwatching these girls negotiate a blue-collar Middle Eastern worldrife with contradictions. Their cultural milieu is steeped inSephardic folkways and saturated with pop Western images. Theirparents invoke tradition but are confused about their ownincreasingly ineffectual familial roles. Religion as a spiritualresource is absent. Despite the Jennys’ penchant for sexy,midriff-baring tops, late-night club-hopping and enough finger andear jewelry to short-circuit a metal detector, their aspirations aresolidly retro: marry young, have kids, fade to black.

At times, their naiveté is painful to watch. Jenny Guetta’splan for the future pretty much consists of escaping from herdomineering father’s house into a husband’s. Her marriage celebrationwill have to be large and lavish, she says, because “if we have anunforgettable wedding, that will make sure we never stop loving eachother.”

It’s her smarter cousin, Jenny Suissa, who expresses a restlesshum of discontent. Her tentative, heartfelt search for the meaning oflife beyond Bat Yam’s figurative parameters provides this film withits best moments. To make that journey, she’ll need extraordinarycourage and imagination. During filming, her father abandoned thefamily for a new life in Las Vegas. Her older female relatives areloving, but of another era. Her swa
ggering male classmates (“My idealspouse? A virgin, a good girl who knows her place,” says one) areunlikely sources of salvation. This Jenny is poised uncertainly onthe brink of self-discovery. How it will all turn out for her is aquestion we’ve come to care about by film’s end.

(Screens at the Music Hall on Nov. 8, 12, 15 and 18.)

A Brave Show of


“When’s our luck going to run out?” my wife askedafter last week’s triple suicide bombing on Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehudashopping street. “They’re getting nearer every time.” It was one ofthose days when people phone around to count their friends.

We live downtown. In March 1996, one of the No. 18bus bombings took place barely a quarter of a mile from us. Thissummer, on July 30, two bombs went off in the Mahane Yehuda market, ashort walk away, and where we do our weekend shopping. My wife’s fishman, Nissim, still has not reopened his store. His arm was smashed.He’s only just come out of the hospital.

The Ben-Yehuda Street explosions were so close,perhaps 300 yards, that they shook the pictures on our walls.Yehudit, the manager of our favorite coffeehouse, Cafe Atara, wastalking to a couple with a baby at an outside table when the firstblast hit them. Her leg was wounded; the baby and mother wereburned.

Another friend, Natan, who runs a bureau dechange, saw it all from his office just off Ben-Yehuda, and was thefirst to help Abe Mendelson, the wounded Los Angeles student whocalled his father from a hospital bed on Prime Minister BinyaminNetanyahu’s mobile phone.

By next morning, city workers had scrubbed thepavement. Most of the shattered shop windows had been replaced. CafeAtara had a new stock of chairs and tables. The crowds started comingback. It was a brave show of business as usual.

But it was a show. No one is running away. Thebombers, we tell each other, will not dictate how we lead our lives.Yet we do feel less safe. We are savvy enough in such things torecognize that all the police in the world cannot guarantee that theHamas kamikaze boys won’t get through again.

Jerusalemites, perhaps Israelis everywhere, areworried by the bombings, but they are not in despair. They know thatthe security forces can reduce the risks. They also know that the jobhas been made harder by the army’s evacuation of major Palestinianpopulation centers — whether they liked or disliked the 1993 Osloaccords that brought it about.

What, then, can Israel do to fight the terror? Iturned to Gideon Ezra for a professional answer. Ezra, now one ofNetanyahu’s Likud legislators, is a former deputy chief of the ShinBet internal security service. His last assignment, in the early1990s, was to supervise operations in the West Bank andJerusalem.

The key, he said, is intelligence. “You have tocollect information,” he said. “Israel should invest all its effortswith all its best people to collect information on Hamas. But thatdepends on sources, and, afterward, you have to be able to arrest thesuspects and shake the tree until the apples fall down.”

Ezra agreed that Israel cannot do it alone nowthat the whole of Gaza and much of the West Bank is under Palestinianrule. Recruiting and handling informers is infinitely more difficult.So is interrogating Hamas activists. Cooperation with the Palestiniansecurity services, he said, is essential.

The question remains how effective cooperation canbe. Even at the best of times, the experience has not beenencouraging. “We can give names to the Palestinians,” Ezra said, “butthey will only give us what they want us to know. If somebody in anarea under our control is involved, they won’t tell us because theydon’t want to hand Palestinians over to us.”

Another problem has been that the Palestiniansecurity services have been too busy extorting bribes from their owncitizens to fight terrorism. “Arafat’s people are not interested incollecting information,” Ezra said. “They are interested incollecting money. They try for one week, then they stop for sixmonths.”

Israel, he argued, has to put pressure on YasserArafat to stick to his Oslo commitments. “The minute we impose aclosure, the minute we don’t give him money, the minute the Americansdon’t give him money, he’s in trouble. Hamas is a problem for himtoo. If he doesn’t act, he might as well go back and liveabroad.”

But Israel, too, can do more. “We have to see thatexplosives don’t enter the West Bank and Gaza from abroad. Theexplosives used in recent bombings, TNT and RDX [a plasticexplosive], aren’t available here. They must have come from outside.They smuggle them with small boats into Gaza and through tunnelsunder the Egyptian border at Rafah. We have to stop them coming in,and we have to make sure nobody brings explosives through Eilat oracross the Dead Sea.”

Israel has also to wage war on Palestinians whoslipped into Jerusalem through side routes without permission –usually to work. “The minute they enter Jerusalem,” he said, “a carpicks them up. We have to arrest the drivers. We have to make peopleafraid to pick up such people.”

All this will help, but it won’t solve the problemonce and for all. Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of Oslo, stillbelieves that Israel has to offer a carrot as well as a stick.”Arafat,” he said, “cannot fight terrorism if the street is withHamas. And the street is with Hamas if Israeli policy does not giveany hope to the Palestinian people.”

Over to you, Secretary Albright.

Family Business


Seated, the late Max Laemmle, founder of the theater chain, with son Robert, left, and grandson Greg.

Back in the heyday of the self-made Jewish movie moguls, the studios were, to a certain degree, family businesses. For Louis B. Mayer, Jack and Harry Warner, and others, nepotism was standard operating procedure, a way to protectively surround themselves with their own kind and to lend a hand to relatives and friends who otherwise may have had a rockier time of it, particularly during the Depression.

Nepotism reached unprecedented heights at Universal Pictures, which was founded in 1915 by Carl Laemmle, an affable and unpretentious German-Jewish immigrant. According to author Neal Gabler’s “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” Laemmle at one time had more than 70 friends and relatives on the studio payroll. It was a source of amusement within the industry, prompting Jack Warner to quip that Laemmle “was making the world safe for nephews.”

In retrospect, contemporary Los Angeles filmgoers have “Uncle Carl” and his unabashed nepotism to thank for the eventual creation of a lively, eclectic chain of movie theaters.

Two years after the family’s ties to the studio were severed during a 1936 corporate reorganization, Max Laemmle, a nephew who had been an able Universal executive under the elderly Laemmle, co-founded the Laemmle Theatre chain with his brother, Kurt. Today, almost 60 years later, Max’s son, Robert, and grandson, Greg, run the family business as president and vice president, respectively.

Laemmle movie houses — there are eight locations in all — dot the Los Angeles landscape, from Pasadena to the grand Royal in West Los Angeles. On any given weekend, the chain screens a smart and interesting mix of mainstream hits, independent art films, festivals and retrospectives. Foreign-film showcases, revival screenings and campier themes, such as a recent series centered around noir-ish femme fatales, are Laemmle mainstays.

Last week’s movie listings are a case in point. Along with commercial flicks such as “Volcano,” “Father’s Day,” “Breakdown” and Bruce Willis’ new sci-fi epic, “The Fifth Element,” Laemmles also screened “Gray’s Anatomy,” “Das Boot,” “Ridicule,” “Pink Flamingos” and “I Was a Jewish Sex Worker.” As a result, the chain attracts a diverse audience — from the popcorn-munching masses to the culture vultures and film-school wonks who patronize such nonprofit venues as UCLA’s Melnitz Theater, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Bing Theater.

To a great degree, the bigger, slicker pictures at the chain’s multiple screen houses pay for the more marginal movies, including titles of Jewish interest such as “Carpati” and “Anne Frank Remembered.”

“In some respects, the special series that we do exist because of the multiplex phenomenon,” said Greg Laemmle, during a recent interview. “We couldn’t do this kind of programming without them.”

Greg Laemmle’s latest project is the Jewish Cinema Series, which begins on Friday, May 23, and runs through June 26. He also programs the company’s wintertime Cinema Judaica festival. Partly because of those efforts, the theater chain has become an important part of the local Jewish cultural landscape.

For Laemmle, a thirtysomething graduate of UC Berkeley and a onetime administrator at Brandeis-Bardin, it’s a role that he particularly enjoys.

“It was a lot of fun putting [the Jewish Cinema Series] together,” he said. “I remember being taken as a child to see ‘Hester Street’ and ‘Lies My Father Told Me.’ Movies aren’t the same as going to day school or to synagogue, but Jewish film is a fun, recognizable experience. You see your experiences documented up on the screen, and it puts them in a context.”

The series opens with “Like a Bride,” a Mexican production that chronicles the coming-of-age of two Jewish girls in 1960s Mexico City: One is from a traditional, marriage-minded family of Turkish-Jewish immigrants in the garment business. Her friend is the daughter of intellectual Eastern European Holocaust refugees.

“Saint Clara,” an offbeat Israeli-Czech production, follows with a one-week run, beginning on May 30. Opening on June 6 is the memorable klezmer documentary “A Tickle in the Heart,” the story of the “rediscovered” Epstein brothers. Interestingly, it was jointly produced by the German government and a Brooklyn yeshiva.

While all three films have made the rounds of the festival circuit — including previous stops in Los Angeles — they merit a second look.

A scene from “Mamele.”

Also getting some much-needed exposure are the 23 films from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s that constitute the “Yiddish Film Festival,” the final portion of the Laemmle series. These films first premièred as a major retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1991, before traveling to the Soviet Union, Europe and other American cities. They were restored and presented at MOMA by Brandeis University’s National Center for Jewish Film, which is co-presenting their Los Angeles première on June 14.

Several Yiddish actors featured in the series are tentatively scheduled to attend local screenings. For older moviegoers, titles such as “Mamele,” “The Light Ahead,” “Without a Home” and “Yiddle With a Fiddle” may bring back a welcome rush of half-remembered sounds and images. For the rest of us, they represent a rare chance to see up on the screen an earthy, witty and vital world that mostly vanished with the Holocaust.

As for the current state of “Jewish film,” Greg Laemmle finds the field of American independent features to be a bit discouraging.

“Jewish cinema may be all over the place in terms of directorial style, language, etc., but what the films have in common is that they address the Jewish experience,” he said. “The next question, of course, is quality. Unfortunately, I see a lot of stuff that may address Jewish content but doesn’t deserve to be in the theater.”

Laemmle pointed to a dependence on schmaltzy clichés as one example. Superficial, juvenile treatment of subject matter is another.

“What I see mostly is angry and dealing in stereotypes — usually revolving around the bar mitzvah experience,” he said, with a laugh. “Documentaries, on the other hand, have been a rich field. In a sense, this is really a great age for cinema, in that anyone with a camera can make a film. I’ve seen such compelling, authentic stories about Jewish subjects…but, unfortunately, if it’s a documentary, the public still regards it as academic, educational — something that will be ‘good for them’ like eating vegetables.”

Laemmle, who is married and the father of young triplets, maintains that despite their iffy profitability, Jewish film festivals provide an important cultural contribution in an era of rapid assimilation.

“So far, I’ve gotten very positive feedback,” he said, “but we’ve only put this festival on for two years now, and these things grow very slowly…. We do this without any financial support from the Jewish community. We don’t go out and solicit grants and donations or anything like that. We’re prepared to do it and perhaps lose a little money. But audience attendance and support will justify this program. If people think this is worthwhile, they have to get up off their butts and go buy tickets.”

Uncle Carl couldn’t have said it better.

The Jewish Cinema Series runs from May 23 to June 26 at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theatre, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Some movies from the Yiddish Film Festival will also screen at the Laemmle Town Center 5 in Encino. For a festival schedule or other information, call (310) 274-6869.


Three Films to See


“Like a Bride” (“Novia Que Te Vea”)

Filmmaker Guita Schyfter presents us with a rich, sharply rendered portrait of Mexico City’s Jewish enclave during the 1960s with this quiet, coming-of-age movie, based on a novel by Rosa Nissan. Through her two female protagonists — Oshinica Mataroso (Claudette Maille) and Rifke Groman (Maya Mishalska) — Schyfter explores the tensions between a Jewish minority and a Catholic majority, tradition and modernity, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, and men and women.

Oshinica, the dark-eyed daughter of Turkish-Jewish immigrants, dreams of studying to become a painter, a notion that her wedding-minded family finds ridiculous. She is groomed for marriage from such an early age that she recalls cavorting in the gowns from her trousseau as a young girl. Her best friend, Rifke, a firebrand and the daughter of intellectual Holocaust refugees, finds her own Zionist identity rocked by a love affair with a handsome, non-Jewish political rebel, the son of a right-wing politician.

The struggles of both friends to define their place in the shifting sands of the 1960s defines the narrative of this freshly told wry tale, but it’s the larger emotional crosscurrents and visual details of Jewish Mexico City that Schyfter nails with affectionate relish. Oshinica’s father conducts his Luganilla market shmatte business with appropriate theatrics. The local Jewish youth group is flush with Spanish-accented kibbutz idealism. The older women set the tone at home during their sewing circles and canasta games.

The direction is sometimes plodding, and Maille, best known here for her role in “Like Water for Chocolate,” delivers a rather stolid performance, but “Like A Bride” is ultimately a treat — restrained, funny, moody and brimming with la vida.

English subtitles. Opens on May 23.

“Saint Clara”

A quirky blend of Israeli attitude and Czech surrealism, “Saint Clara” is set in the Golda Meir junior high school of a remote Israeli industrial town. The eponymous Clara, a Russian immigrant and a wide-eyed teen psychic, falls in with a group of scruffy, punkish classmates who suddenly begin acing their math tests with the aid of her clairvoyant powers.

The movie, directed by Ari Folman and Ori Sivan and based on a novel by Czech dissident Pavel Kohout, veers between amateurish stabs at realism and delightful forays into dark absurdity reminiscent of “Montenegro” or the films of Jim Jarmusch. Despite uneven performances and the self-conscious hipness, there are some things to like about “Saint Clara.” Well-known stage actor Yigal Naor’s portrayal of Headmaster Tissona, a pompous and passionate Francophile with lonely delusions of Edith Piaf, is a central highlight. His character deserves a movie of his own. Israel Damidov is also fine as Elvis, Clara’s tragicomic Russian uncle. And for moviegoers who still entertain images of Israeli youths as the straight-arrow, ballad-singing kibbutzniks of old travel posters, this film should give them a bit of a surprise.

English subtitles. Opens on May 30.

“A Tickle in the Heart”

The engaging title refers to the emotions evoked by Yiddish music, and, happily, it’s also an apt description for the overall effect wrought by this beautifully photographed documentary. It tells the story of Max (on clarinet), Willie (on trumpet) and Julius (on drums) Epstein, three brothers who began playing klezmer music 60 years ago, only to watch it die out from the vantage point of their retirement community in Florida. To their astonishment and delight, the music’s resurgent popularity among a new generation leads them back out on the road, playing to affectionate crowds in Germany, along with gigs in Poland, Brooklyn and Florida.

Along the way, director Stefan Schweitert captures poignant, revealing and funny visual details. With the buoyant, elderly Epstein brothers as his subject, Schweitert has created a love letter to klezmer music and its bittersweet history that is infused with sensitivity and good humor.

Opens on June 6. — Diane Arieff Zaga, Arts Editor