It’s mayor meets mayor at Temple of the Arts; Women of vision see Jews’ future in Iran


It’s mayor meets mayor at Temple of the Arts
 
Mayor Yona Yahov of Haifa received a standing ovation after his Kol Nidre address at Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills Sunday night. A few minutes earlier, by way of introducing Yahov, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke candidly about the feeling of disorientation his famously frenetic schedule tends to induce.
 
“It’s almost like not knowing where I am at any given moment,” Villaraigosa confessed.
 
Luckily, the sound of Hebrew prayers and his recollection of a Yom Kippur appointment at a temple in Northridge earlier in the evening helped Villaraigosa get his bearings. During his brief remarks he praised his counterpart from Haifa as a man of peace.
 
In his sermon on the seed of resiliency, Rabbi David Barron spoke more pointedly about Yahov’s aptness as a speaker at Sunday’s service. Citing Yahov’s ongoing efforts to create understanding between Arabs and Jews, Barron called Yahov “a man who is practicing forgiveness, which we are here to reflect on.”
 
“This has been an awkward, unprecedented war,” Yahov said at the beginning of his speech. “It has not been soldiers against soldiers or ships against ships.”Yahov said that when a rocket struck the Carmelite monastery above Haifa at the onset of the conflict, a local investigator at the scene was puzzled to find tiny ball-bearings scattered about the area.
 
“We learned these are often packed into the belts of suicide bombers,” Yahov said, “to widen the effect of the blast.”
 
When it become clear that civilians were to be the targets of Hezbollah’s missile campaign, Yahov said one of his first concerns was to keep life as normal as possible for Haifa’s children, even under the city’s constant curfew.Soft laughter rippled through the audience when Yahov, a big silver-haired bear of a man, asked, “Can you imagine what to do with your kids if they were stuck in your house for a month?”
 
Yahov’s solution was to place his city’s youngest citizens in a very familiar environment. Each day of the conflict, from early morning until late afternoon, thousands of Haifa’s children were sheltered on the lower levels of underground parking garages at the city’s shopping malls.
 
“No enemy can destroy our life,” Yahov said.
 
After he thanked the congregation for its support, he concluded his remarks by saying, “We showed the whole world that the Jewish people are one people.”
 
— Nick Street, Contributing Writer

Women of vision see Jews’ future in Iran
 
Amidst growing tensions between Iran and the United States in recent months, the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization (IJWO) in Los Angeles is planning a seminar at the Museum of Tolerance focusing on the future security of Jews living in Iran today.
 
The event, scheduled for Oct. 10 and organized by the Women of Vision chapter of IJWO, will include prominent Persian Jewish activists, leaders and intellectuals from Europe and Israel, as well as Los Angeles, and aims to shed light on the political, social, and psychological challenges faced by the approximately 20,000 Jews in Iran.
 
“We didn’t really select this seminar or its topic because we wanted to make a statement about ourselves as women, rather because it is an important topic that has not been addressed by the Iranian Jewish community nor the larger American Jewish community,” said Sharon Baradaran, one of the volunteer organizers of the IJWO seminar.
 
Baradaran said the seminar is particularly significant for opening new dialogue between the various factions within the Persian Jewish community that for years have often been at odds with one another on how to best address the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric of Iran’s fundamentalist regime without jeopardizing the lives of Jews still living in Iran.
 
“While every panel member has been very sensitive to safeguarding the best interest of the Jewish community, to address difficult questions about the future of the community in Iran is critical and if that means certain disagreements, then they should be discussed,” Baradaran said.
 
Local Persian Jews have expressed concern for the security of Iran’s Jews in recent months, following false media reports in May that the Iranian government had approved legislation requiring Jews to wear yellow bands on their clothing.In July, Iranian state-run television aired a pro-Hezbollah rally held by Jews living in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, in what many local Persian Jewish activists believe was a propaganda stunt organized by the regime to show national solidarity for Hezbollah.
 
Maurice Motamed, the Jewish representative to the Iranian parliament, had been slated as a panelist for the seminar but withdrew, saying he will not be arriving in Los Angeles until after the seminar, Baradaran said. Some local Persian Jewish activists have expressed concern over public comments from Motamed during the past year, including his praise for Iran’s uranium enrichment program and his opposition to Israeli military actions against Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and Hezbollah terrorists in Southern Lebanon.
 
In January, Parviz Yeshaya, the former national chairman of the Jewish Council in Iran, issued a rare public statement questioning the logic of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had called the Holocaust a “myth”.
 
The Iranian Jewish Women’s organization was originally set up in 1947 in Iran and later re-established in 1976 in Los Angeles with the objective of recognizing the impact of Iranian Jewish women in the community. In 2002, the Women of Vision chapter and other chapters were added to the organization in an effort to reach out to younger generations of Iranian Jewish women.
 
The IWJO seminar will be held at the Museum of Tolerance on Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. For ticket information contact the IWJO at (818) 929-5936 or visit www.ijwo.org.
 
— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer
 
Captured soldier’s brother addresses students
 
Gadi Goldwasser — brother of Ehud Goldwasser, one of two Israeli soldiers captured on July 12 and still held by Hezbollah — spoke recently to students at UCLA and USC during a brief visit to Los Angeles. He addressed the business and law schools at USC, as well as Hillel and Chabad student groups during their Shabbat dinners.

Terror on Campus


July 31 was the last day of Ulpan, the six-week Hebrew class at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University’s Rothberg School for Overseas Students. Most of the students studying, lunching and lounging on the Mount Scopus campus that day were not Israelis. They were Americans, Canadians, South Koreans, Japanese taking Hebrew summer classes to prepare for the fall semester. The minority of Israelis on campus were retaking final exams. Ulpan’s finals were to be held on Thursday.

At 1:40 p.m., Sofia Aron was studying for her final the next day, when a bomb exploded in the Frank Sinatra cafeteria, killing at least seven and wounding some 85 people. The cafeteria is adjacent to the new Rothberg building, expanded some three years ago.

Aron, a 19-year-old UC Davis student, immediately began compiling a list of all her friends who might be there. "Everyone hangs out in that cafeteria," she said. She started calling friends on their cellphones, trying to locate her new roommate, Chloe Massey, a Christian from Somerset, England, who had arrived just two days prior.

Aron later found Massey, but still, "We know a lot of people who were there," she said, still in shock. "There’s no reason to target the campus here. There are so many Arabs studying here," the L.A. native said. "I’m shocked that it happened here. I told my parents that I’d be safe here."

The July 31 bombing — not a suicide attack, police believed, but a remotely detonated bomb for which Hamas claimed responsibility — hit one of the last perceived areas of safety in Israel.

The unprecedented attack on an Israeli university campus comes as a big blow to Hebrew University, which prides itself on its secular and pluralistic identity, with a diverse student body hailing from more than 70 countries that includes Israeli Jews and Arabs, new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and American and European exchange students.

"This university has never been attacked," said Peter Weil, president of the American Friends of the Hebrew University, Greater Los Angeles region. The closest such incident occurred on April 13, 1947. Arab fighters ambushed a civilian medical convoy from the university, massacring some 80 doctors and nurses.

Officials at Hebrew University and its American affiliates — including the L.A. chapter — expressed their outrage at the incident. They also worried about the repercussions this tragedy might have on an already-ailing Israeli university system, as well as what it might bode regarding the future shape of terrorism.

The bombing follows a steady decrease in enrollment of American students at the university since the intifada began in September 2000. Approximately 1,000 American students enroll in the university’s Summer Ulpan, freshman year and masters programs, and popular junior-year and semester-abroad programs on a typical year. Enrollment this year was already down 40 percent from the previous year, which was far below 1,000.

Following the news of the tragedy, an executive meeting at the Los Angeles offices of American Friends of the Hebrew University was held on the morning of July 31. Weil, Western Region Chairman Richard Ziman and eight other members of American Friends’ West Coast branch joined a conference call initiated by Hebrew University to update American affiliates on the situation and how it was being handled. Two university psychologists have been dispatched to the dorms, and more will be sent in coming days to help students cope with the tragedy.

"For the Palestinians or Hamas to do what they did," Ziman said, "is really striking at the heart of anything that affords the hope for peace in the future."

"I think it’s just another outrage that will push Israelis to dig deeper in their resolve to fight terrorism," Weil said. "This is not only a problem for the administration but from other universities who see the dangerous precedent this could set."

The surrounding buildings, including the Frank Sinatra Student Union, are all named after American supporters. The cafeteria is just across from Nancy Reagan Plaza, which is adjacent to the Rothberg School for Overseas Students.

"There are two towers both named after Angelenos — Richard Ziman and Harvey Silbert," Weil said, noting the prominence and dedication of American support to Hebrew University.

Safety on the campus, located atop Mt. Scopus, has never been an issue. Despite the numerous terrorist attacks that have taken place all around the campus, which is surrounded by some hostile Arab neighborhoods, Hebrew U. itself has never been targeted since it was founded in 1923 by a group of intellectuals and dignitaries that included Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Martin Buber.

"The university feels that it had done an extraordinary job beefing up security around the university several months ago," Ziman said. "But it’s a very difficult environment. You have traffic of 10 to 15,000 people a day to keep the university functioning."

Campus newspapers lately had mentioned the possibility of an attack.

"It’s in the East Jerusalem and surrounded by some Arab neighborhoods that are unfriendly," Weil said. "But it’s on a hilltop so there’s only one way in. They have security and tall fences and you need identification to get in but it’s still an open university."

"Until today, the university was regarded as a very safe place," said Amy Sugin, director of the Office of Academic Affairs.

"Hebrew University has been the last island of sanity in Jerusalem with respect to Arab and Jewish coexistence," said Peter Willner, executive vice president of the American Friends of Hebrew University.

"We have to show our solidarity," said Ziman, whose daughter is presently studying at a Jerusalem yeshiva. "There are several people leaving from New York to Hebrew University. I’ve been there this year in March and in June."

The support, Ziman added, is particularly needed in the wake of the second intifada.

"The universities in Israel are going through unique financial hardships," Ziman said. "The government allocations are down because of other involvement. Enrollment from overseas has gone down significantly and as a result, tuition is down. More local students have been called up to serve in the armed forces."

So what will this mean for Hebrew University? Ziman said that the attack at Hebrew U. could be systematic of a larger trend.

"I think this is a wake-up call, perhaps for universities all over the world," Ziman said. "Universities are some of the hotbed of political ideas. Look what’s happening in Tehran where university crackdowns are happening."

American Friends’ Los Angeles chapter hopes that this will not further erode enrollment at the university.

"Up until this time, nothing like this has happened on an Israeli university," Ziman said. "You felt like it was the unwritten law. We had the riots here and USC was untouched. Will it affect students from abroad going to learn there? I hope not."

For her part, UC Davis student Aron says she intends on taking another six-week Ulpan class and to do her semester abroad at Hebrew U. Right after the bombing, she hurriedly typed up an e-mail to her parents in Los Angeles: "I’m OK, don’t worry."

Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this story.

A Nice Not-Jewish Boy


"Everyone thinks I’m Jewish," says actor Jason Biggs.

The 23-year-old star of "American Pie," "Loser" and "American Pie 2" is actually an Italian Catholic from New Jersey. But he looks like the kind of nice Jewish boy you had a crush on in Hebrew school. Which is why he keeps getting cast as Jews, he says.

His big break, at age 13, was playing Judd Hirsch’s son in the Broadway run of "Conversations With My Father." In 1997, TV mogul Steven Bochco cast him as Robby Rosenfeld in the series "Total Security."

In "American Pie 2," Biggs’ character, Jim, gets a Jewish surname, Levenstein. "Yet again, I am playing a Jew," quips Biggs, who comes across as exuberant and personable.

If the misconception lingers, it doesn’t help that Biggs has a Jewish girlfriend, a 24-year-old writer, his first serious relationship since high school. In the year and a half that they’ve been dating, he has celebrated Shabbat and Rosh Hashana at her parents’ Los Angeles home.

When she flew off to Israel in June to visit her brother, a Hebrew University of Jerusalem exchange student, Biggs tagged along. "I was definitely concerned about the political situation," he confides, "but I’ve always wanted to see Israel."

Hours after he flew into Lod airport, Biggs was walking in Tel Aviv when he heard a loud explosion. "When we got to our restaurant, all the Israelis were on their cell phones, and suddenly they were clearing out of the place," he recalls. "Then our waiter told us there had been a suicide bombing at a discotheque less than half a mile away. It was as if the headlines had come to life."

When the shaken actor walked past the disco two days later, there was still blood on the sidewalk. "But the Israelis were getting on with their lives, so we felt, ‘We must get on with our vacation,’" says Biggs, who was often approached for autographs.

"They were impressed that we would show solidarity and come at a time like this to see their country."

He spent the rest of his 12-day trip doing touristy things like snorkeling in Eilat, visiting Hebrew University and learning a smattering of Hebrew. He was amused to learn that the Israeli Domino’s Pizza was giving away promotional copies of the Hebrew-language "American Pie" video.

Back in Los Angeles just before the release of "Pie 2," Biggs was wearing his Hebrew University T-shirt and recalling the day he made pop culture history with a pastry.

"Pie got everywhere," he recalls. "It was pretty slimy."

The actor was hesitant to do the sequel, however. "I thought so highly of the original that I didn’t want to mess with it," he says.

But he was swayed by the funny script, in which Jim comes home from college and at one point visits "band camp" — the almost-mythical place that was obnoxiously touted by his prom date, Michelle, in the original movie. He’s seeking sex-ed from the experienced Michelle, who begins every other sentence with the annoying phrase, "This one time, at band camp…."

In real life, the sequel’s band camp sequences were filmed at Camp Shalom in Malibu.

"At the end of the second day of filming, my girlfriend asked me which camp it was, and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s Camp Shalom,’ and she goes, ‘No way, I went there for four summers!’" Biggs says. "I was just relieved that at no point has she ever said, ‘This one time, at Camp Shalom….’"

Steimatzky in Tarzana


Tarzana may fast become the Israeli cultural center of Los Angeles. On Dec. 17, sabras flocked en masse to the grand opening of Steimatzky-Prolog L.A., a Hebrew-language bookstore that tantalizes customers with best-selling books, music CDs and children’s videos from Israel.

Steimatzky, Israel’s answer to Barnes & Noble, recently agreed to franchise its name for the first time to Raanan Achiasaf, an Israeli book publisher who moved to Los Angeles two months ago. Out of 140 stores, the Tarzana-based Steimatzky is the first to set up shop outside of Israel.

“It’s a store that will serve the cultural needs of Israelis,” says Achiasaf, who hopes to establish another store in New York and expand the reach of his publishing house, Prolog. “It’s an exciting new adventure.”
With his brother Uval and his wife, Haya, Achiasaf says that their goal was to establish a bookstore that Israelis would instantly recognize as Steimatzky. The store’s slogan: “To feel at home.”

“It’s a wonderful surprise,” said Shemtov Dan, who was browsing through the store’s fiction section. “I was so happy to see the store when I drove by.”

Dan, like many of the customers visiting Steimatzky-Prolog L.A., would have visitors bring books from Israel when they came to the U.S. Others had family or friends mail books from Israel.

“It’s wonderful to have a store that provides us with literature and children’s books in Hebrew,” says Keren Latzer, who was perusing books for her two girls. “I can share stories with my daughters that I heard growing up.”

The store carries a wide selection, including travel guides, cookbooks, dictionaries, novels, art books, biographies, children’s games and Hebrew translations of popular American titles, included the first three “Harry Potter” books and “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” Steimatzky also has a small selection of how-to-learn-Hebrew guides and software, cookbooks and novels by Israeli authors in English.

Achiasaf says that he and his brother are working on establishing a Web site and catalog ordering in the near future.

Steimatzky-Prolog L.A. is located at 19566 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. For more information, call (818) 708-2347 or e-mail: stmla@crawler.com.