J Street delineates why it pulled out of Boston pro-Israel rally


J Street withdrew from a pro-Israel rally in Boston because it did not feel the rally would address all the group’s concerns.

The liberal Jewish Middle East lobbying group, a constituent of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, publicized its stance on the July 17 solidarity rally in a letter by Shaina Wasserman, its Boston director, to JCRC director Jeremy Burton posted Monday on the J Street website.

JCRC had agreed at first to co-sponsor the rally for Israel in its current conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The group said it withdrew the night before because its officials did not feel that issues they wanted addressed were sufficiently represented, including grieving for victims on all sides, an emphasis on a diplomatic solution and especially the role of the U.S. Jewish community in advancing such a solution.

“J Street is fully supportive of the rally’s call for our community to demonstrate solidarity with Israel and Israelis, to speak for Israel’s right to defend itself under very challenging circumstances,” Wasserman said in the letter to Burton. “What was missing for us in this rally, and what ultimately precluded our co-sponsorship, was that despite our efforts, there was no space made to raise the issues that follow from our commitment to Israel’s Jewish and democratic future.”

Burton told JTA that speakers at the rally did address suffering on both sides and noted that its immediate emphasis was on Israel’s right to defend itself and Hamas’ responsibility for the current violence.

In interviews, Burton and a J Street official agreed that another point of disagreement was the JCRC’s failure to include a speaker suggested by J Street, although the JCRC had solicited such suggestions.

J Street’s selections were not appropriate, Burton said, in part because the group did not recommend a non-Jewish speaker, which the JCRC was seeking to emphasize communitywide support for Israel.

“We asked people for suggestions of non-Jewish leaders who would stand up and support Israel’s right to defend itself, original voices, new voices, not typical voices,” he said. The J Street official, who spoke on background, confirmed that the group did not suggest a non-Jewish speaker.

Non-Jewish speakers at the rally included a prominent industrialist, an associate dean of Harvard’s divinity school, a local mayor and a Canadian diplomat.

J Street has co-sponsored other pro-Israel rallies across the United States during the current conflict.

After barring anti-Islam activist, Federation reconsiders events policy


In the aftermath of its June 24 decision to bar conservative blogger and anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller from delivering a speech at its Wilshire Boulevard headquarters, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is crafting a new policy for non-Federation-sponsored events at the building.

In addition to considering the “procedural” question of how Federation staff will oversee the approval of such events, Chairman of the Board Richard Sandler said Federation leadership will also engage a second, more “substantive,” question about “the criteria you use to decide whether or not this is an appropriate event to go on in this particular building.”

The process will necessarily involve serious consideration of core questions about Federation’s role in serving Los Angeles’ Jews.

“I look at things from the point of view of what is our goal as a Federation?” Sandler said. “What is our mission? What is our responsibility to the community?”

The Geller event was sponsored by the Western Region of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), a tenant at the Federation building only since late 2011. Following current policies, ZOA executive director Orit Arfa reserved a board room in the building at 6505 Wilshire Blvd. for the Sunday morning event, titled “Islamic Jew-Hatred: The Root Cause of the Failure to Achieve Peace.” She did so on June 6, almost three weeks in advance of the event. ZOA also arranged for an announcement of the ZOA-sponsored event to be posted on The Federation’s official Web site.

The criticism of Geller’s scheduled appearance at Federation’s headquarters from Muslim civil rights groups that, together with other faith-based groups, issued a joint statement condemning Federation came just one day before the event was to take place. Hours before the event was to begin, Federation officials informed ZOA that Geller would not be allowed to enter the building, citing concerns about the possibility of protests and counter-protests at the building on Sunday morning right at the time when the Zimmer Children’s Museum has its greatest amount of traffic.

When the revocation of Geller’s invitation to speak was announced on Sunday morning, the approximately 30 would-be attendees protested outside the building, accusing Federation of stifling free speech. The event was later moved to The Mark on Pico Boulevard.

Although it appears to have fallen into disuse, Federation did at one time have a policy governing the kinds of speakers who would be invited to speak at its headquarters, according to Steven F. Windmueller, professor emeritus of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who led the Los Angeles Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) from 1985 to 1995.

“We created guidelines for appropriate conversation,” Windmueller said, adding that among the factors the JCRC considered when determining whether a particular speaker would be invited to speak at Federation were “respect for other communities’ religious beliefs.”

“There were certain boundaries that we set on what were acceptable and not acceptable voices that we want to engage,” Windmueller said.

The policy was particularly valuable in minimizing the severity of disputes about Israel among Jews on the left and right, in part because it pre-empted the objections of those who disagreed with it.

“Meir Kahane was considered off-limits, and that was pretty well known,” Windmueller said, referring to the controversial founder of the Jewish Defense League, which the FBI considered to be a terrorist organization. “Whether his supporters liked that or not, they at least knew from the beginning.”

Los Angeles is not the only Federation to have had sanctions against Kahane. Rabbi Douglas Kahn, executive director of the JCRC of the Bay Area, recalled a meeting that took place between Kahane and Earl Raab, then head of the JCRC.

The Bay Area Jewish Community Federation had decided that Kahane, who had announced his plan to visit in advance, would not be allowed to enter the building, so Kahane and Raab met in a location off-site, Kahn said, “which I actually believe was Earl’s old Dodge parked very nearby, no doubt while [Earl was] smoking a cigar. And I think they spent about an hour talking in the car.”

More recently, the Bay Area JCRC helped to devise a formal set of guidelines for “potentially controversial Israel-related programming.” The guidelines, which apply to all organizations funded by the Bay Area Federation, were created in 2010 in response to an event in conjunction with the 2009 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival that roiled many in the local Jewish community.

For a screening of a documentary about the activist Rachel Corrie, who died in 2003 while protesting Israeli demolition of Palestinians’ homes in Gaza, Corrie’s mother was invited to speak. The decision, and the absence of a forum for the expression of other points of view, set off a firestorm of criticism, directed first at the festival and later at The Federation, which sponsored the event.

The guidelines, adopted in February 2010, state that the Bay Area Federation will not fund organizations that hold events or partner with organizations that “(1) endorse or promote anti-Semitism, other forms of bigotry, violence or other extremist views; (2) actively seek to proselytize Jews away from Judaism; or (3) advocate for, or endorse, undermining the legitimacy of Israel as a secure independent, democratic Jewish state, including through participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, in whole or in part.”

“I think it has had a really positive effect with respect to calming the community, clarifying general terms where reasonable boundaries lie, not stifling the broad range of opinion and helping providing guidance to those organizations that receive funding from Federation,” Kahn said.

Kahn called the controversy over the Corrie film “an educable moment,” and Sandler said Los Angeles’ Federation is aiming to respond to the Geller incident in a similar way.

“You learn from every situation,” Sandler said, “and because this happened, it is good that we will be able to put processes in place to make sure it does not happen again.”

JCRC’s Schwartz-Getzug picked to head Jewish World Watch


Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, a longtime Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles executive and director of the organization’s Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC), has been named executive director of Jewish World Watch (JWW), a coalition of synagogues, schools and Jewish community members working to combat genocide around the world.

Schwartz-Getzug plans to leave the Community Relations Committee, which is one of the prominent faces of The Federation in the non-Jewish world, in November and begin her new position in early December. The committee has not yet announced her replacement.

Schwartz-Getzug, who is also The Federation’s senior vice president of public affairs, said she has mixed feelings about leaving the “epicenter of the local Jewish communal world” after six years of service. Still, the opportunity to head a small up-and-coming organization outweighed her misgivings.

“This was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up,” said Schwartz-Getzug, a 44-year-old mother of three. “This felt like an opportunity to branch out.”

“Tzivia will definitely be missed,” Federation President John Fishel said.

Schwartz-Getzug will help the two-year-old nonprofit raise money, market itself to the community, oversee the creation of a strategic plan and help determine which issues the group should spotlight, said Janice Kamenir-Reznik, JWW president and acting executive director.

Schwartz-Getzug was selected from 40 applicants for the top spot at JWW. Schwartz-Getzug said she plans to work closely with JWW’s board and other leaders to determine how to grow the organization.

The Community Relations Committee programs have grown in scope and importance under Schwartz-Getzug’s direction, observers say. Among them is KOREH L.A., a well-regarded reading mentoring program, which offers literacy programs to children as young as 3 and 4. Schwartz-Getzug also increased the number of JCRC-sponsored trips to Israel for California legislators, a program that helps increase political support for the Jewish state and for Federation social services.

Recently, she oversaw the creation of a new coalition that has brought together more than 80 local Jewish staff members from congressional, county supervisor, City Council and other political offices. Schwartz-Getzug hopes the new group will reach out to other ethnic and religious coalitions to network and figure out ways to collaborate.

Still, Schwartz-Getzug, like other JCRC directors in the past decade, has had a hard time leading the JCRC to take public stands on controversial political issues. In mid-May, for instance, the JCRC board approved a pro-immigrant rights statement that some members hoped would demonstrate solidarity with the Latino community. The approval process was so slow, however, that the statement appeared several weeks after the largest pro-immigration demonstrations in the country, a reflection of the JCRC’s, and, by extension, The Federation’s, cautious approach.
A lawyer by training, Schwartz-Getzug’s career has taken “a lot of left turns” over the years, she said. After practicing law for four years as a litigator, she joined the Anti-Defamation League to become civil rights director for the Western Region. She moved on after six years to become community liaison at DreamWorks SKG, principally working on “The Prince of Egypt” and its prequel, “Joseph: King of Dreams.” Schwartz-Getzug joined The Federation in 2001.

“It is clear from my career choices that I am most happy and passionate working in the Jewish community,” she said. “And I look forward to continuing to play an important role in it.”

Letters


John Fishel

Quite frankly, in my opinion, John Fishel is responsible for the “JCC crisis” (“Views Differ on Role in Centers Crisis,” May 26). But he is not alone in this case. All those who were then involved in establishing policy and direction for The Jewish Federation should be held accountable. With a salary of over $300,000 per year, we have a right to expect much more from him.

How does a major philanthropic organization give out millions of dollars — in this case to the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles — without any oversight!

George Epstein
Los Angeles

As one who has been actively involved in relief efforts and legal and political advocacy on behalf of Ethiopian Jewry since 1988, I would like to say a few words about John Fishel (“A Private Man,” May 26).

John has the rare gift of being one of the few high level Jewish officials who understands that the raison d’etre of The Federation system is substance and not process, that at the end of the day, we will be judged by our accomplishments, by the suffering alleviated, by the lives that have been saved.

Motivated by a deep sense of compassion, he articulated a clear and compelling case for Ethiopian Jewish refugees who could not speak for themselves and lacked a powerful advocate who could speak on their behalf. He spoke up with a clear moral voice whose authority could not be ignored.

May his tribe increase.

Joseph J. Feit
New York

How fortunate we of the Jewish community of greater Los Angeles are to have such an intelligent and compassionate president of our Jewish Federation Council as John Fishel (“Visit to Ethiopia Changes His Life,” May 26). We support his Jewish worldview. We support his leadership on the issue of Ethiopian Jews through Operation Promise. His determination to advance the rescue of the remaining Jews in Ethiopia who are living in squalor, waiting for years to make aliyah and reuniting with their families in Israel speaks to his menschlicheit. For John, “It’s the right thing to do.”

Peachy Levy
Middie and Dick Giesberg
Founding Members
North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry

John Fishel accompanied me on a trip to refugee camps to Chad. It is in those camps that one sees the truly dispossessed and I was moved by John’s compassion. I learned a lot about this man who clearly has a profound commitment to strengthening Jewish life and also to making life better for all human beings.

Rabbi Lee Bycel
Senior Adviser
Global Strategy
International Medical Corps

In addition to the well-deserved accolades John Fishel received in last week’s Jewish Journal, allow me to add one. He has effectively reached out to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the only major Jewish Organization to be headquartered on the West Coast. For too many years and for inexplicable reasons, 6505 Wilshire Blvd. and 9760 W. Pico Blvd. (now 1399 S. Roxbury) operated as if we were a continent apart, not two miles apart. With few exceptions, we rarely communicated or shared visions. John Fishel has singularly breached that gap. My colleagues and I regularly exchange ideas with him and have availed ourselves of his big picture view and his creative heart. He is an unselfish gift and all of us in the greater Los Angeles community are the richer for his service.

Rabbi Meyer H. May
Executive Director
Simon Wiesenthal Center

Marc Ballon has done a wonderful job in his series of articles on John Fishel and L.A. Jewish Federation. Something which Ballon said regarding the disconnect (underappreciated feeling) many “small” donors feel with Federation struck a chord with me. During the L.A. Jewish Community Centers’ (JCC) crisis a few years ago, we were at a meeting at Federation trying to obtain additional funding for our JCC. The distinct message we received was that since the majority of people at the JCCs were not a good source of money during Federation fundraising, they were somehow less deserving of monetary support from Federation. What seemed to have been forgotten in the exchange was that the JCCs served as an entry point for many Jews into organized L.A. Jewry. They also serve as a support group and meeting place for the entire Jewish community. One other important point was that the JCCs as a whole were hamstrung in their ability to do their own fundraising if it interfered with money going to Federation (JCCs were not able to raise money during “primacy periods” when Federation was involved in it’s own quest for funds) and donors were jealously guarded if large donations to the centers would impact their donations to Federation.

While Fishel has had numerous accomplishments in his tenure at Federation, both domestically and internationally, and has at times helped us at the JCCs, the overall support from Federation to the local JCCs leaves much room for improvement.

Bill Bender
President
North Valley Jewish Community Center
Granada Hills

JCRC’s History

As one who twice was an executive of the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation Council — once in the 1960s, and again in the 1970s — I feel that the article was wrong on so many areas, that I must respond (“Federation Support of Civic Group Wanes,” May 26).

The JCRC came into existence in the ’30s, as a result of overt anti-Semitism in Los Angeles, including regular Sunday marches by the local Nazi Bund, whose National headquarters was in Los Angeles. Wilshire Boulevard Temple was defaced and a rock thrown through one of the windows during the High Holidays. At that time, the leaders of The Federation created what was then called the Community Committee to fight anti-Semitism here.

Shortly thereafter, they hired a newspaper reporter who originally had come from Germany at the beginning of the Hitler period. His name was Joe Roos, who in Chicago had been researching the Nazis there. Roos, eventually, became the executive director of what became the JCRC.

As a matter of fact, he created the term “community relations” and that became a national idea. The philosophy of the CRC, with its high power Hollywood figures and Rabbi Edgar Magnin, decided that the way to fight the Nazis was to create relationships with other minorities and church people, and soon the JCRC helped to create a major organization of some 65 major groups in the black, Japanese, Chicano and church communities. That group was called the Los Angeles Community Relations Conference, which brought their leaders once a month to 590 N. Vermont for its meetings. Great interfaith and intergroup connections were developed there, which changed Los Angeles.

The JCRC was led by people such as Mendel Silverberg, a leader of the Republican Party; Dore Schary, Judge Bob Weil; Dr. Max Bay, and Sid Levine, Mel’s father, and so many leaders of The Federation — there was collegiality not only with Federation board but also at the staff level. As a result the role of the Jewish community was held high all over the county. The major contributors to the JCRC were also major contributors of The Federation, all the way into the 1970s when I returned as the director of the Middle East Commission.

It was about that time that Roos was unceremoniously removed from his 37-year position as executive director at age 60. From that time on, the JCRC has gone downhill. It became an ineffective tool of the Federation directors, with little freedom to do what it did best. Mel Levine’s disappointment was expected.

There is no connection between the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) and the power structures of the L.A. community.

Instead it has become a place for KOREH L.A., an important program, but not community relations. Whereas, in the past the JCRC was the community instrument for so many remarkable ideas and programs, it is hard to find the JCRC taking a stance on things important, and then if they do, they are censored by a Federation board, who worry about the major contributors, none of whom is involved with the rest of the community’s parallels. The JCRC was the center of religious social action committees in the synagogues. I know, because I ran three successive social action conferences, co-sponsored by the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements.

It was the JCRC that convened the first Soviet Jewry Rally in the World at Sinai Temple back in 1963. It was the CRC that jointly with the West Valley Jewish Center (before the Milken) that held the first Israel Day at Pierce College when 30,000 people came out.

I could go on, but if anybody can show me where the current JCRC has had any effect either on the Jewish community or the rest of the Los Angeles community, I would be astounded. The JCRC is almost unknown now.

By the way, it was at the JCRC where Dick and Middie Giesberg became active with the Falasha Community in Ethiopia. Where are the Giesbergs of today?

Al Mellman
Los Angeles

Code Schmode

Great cover!

I laughed out loud when I saw your clever cover, “Code Schmode” (May 19) with Mona Lisa rolling her eyes! Thanks for a good chuckle, and for the poignant articles on the film that followed.

Beth Fiance
Westlake Village

Green Party

The Green Party’s sneaky infusion of Resolution 190 into its policy, calling for the boycott and divestment from Israel, is just another example of anti-Semitism disguised as concern for human rights (Seeing Red Over Green’s Israel Policy,” May 19).

If their intentions were purely motivated, they would stop filling their tanks with gas, most of which comes from intolerant and brutal Muslim theocracies. They would also give up much of their wardrobe, which was probably manufactured in China by children earning slave wages in unsanitary conditions.

Of course, these sacrifices would be too great to endure just to protest human rights violations. It’s much easier to instruct companies and universities to avoid doing business with Israel. After all, they reason, it’s not going to adversely affect them.

In their ignorance, however, these hypocrites are unaware of the contributions that Israeli products have made to every aspect of our lives here and around the world. According to Newsweek, for example, “Israel holds the most medical-device patents per capita in the world.”

I wonder how firm these champions of human rights would stand if they knew one of these devices could save their life or that of a loved one.

P. Daniel Iltis
Los Angeles

Cover Choice

Why isn’t the ordination of 14 Reform rabbis not on the cover The Jewish Journal?

This is much more important than the latest movie release. Movies are released everyday in someone’s life, becoming a rabbi is once in a person’s lifetime.

There has been a change in the content that The Journal prints — especially toward the Reform movement. Can anyone at The Journal explain why?

Richard Hoffman
Santa Clarita

Dysfunctional Relationships

I noticed the recent column urging young women to get out of dysfunctional relationships (“Walk Out the Door,” May 19). I think it is even more useful to discuss how to keep from getting into such relationships to begin with.

The principles of staying out of dysfunctional relationships are the principles of forming good relationships, and they are pretty simple and straightforward: First of all, every normal young adult has a set of fundamental values and purposes, based on his or her feelings about what is worthwhile to accomplish in life. When a person is on track toward achieving these purposes, he/she will very likely be drawn to others who are sympathetic and supportive.

But if one looks instead to “just having fun,” or achieving wealth and power as ends in themselves, then one will be drawn to those he/she regards as useful to her or him in such pursuits. Since these motives are basically selfish, whatever relationships that initially develop out of them will wither and fail in the long run.

Durable relationships are built on feelings of shared moral purposes. This is the underlying basis of all real love and friendship — between man and man, between woman and woman and between man and woman.

Larry Selk
Los Angeles

 

Federation Support of Civic Group Wanes


When former Democratic Congressman Mel Levine agreed to chair the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC), he hoped to infuse it with the passion and purpose of its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In those days, the JCRC — which is one of the major voices and faces of The Federation to the non-Jewish world — was a high-profile entity. It took up the cause of Soviet Jewry and Ethiopia’s Jews. It was assertive locally, too, whether in denouncing the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 or reaching out to non-Jewish communities in need.

But something has happened during the John Fishel era at The Federation.

Critics say that starting in the mid-1990s, the JCRC slowly began losing its voice and shirked a core mission: to be as visible and forthrightly active as possible.

As Levine saw it, the community relations committee could once again become a powerful voice by taking principled stands on controversial public policy issues, thereby strengthening coalitions with African American, Latino and other ethnic groups.

Levine’s appointment came at a time when JCRC staff morale was low. The committee had largely abandoned public policy advocacy in favor of its more traditional roles of ardently supporting Israel, reaching out to other religious and ethnic communities and lobbying for government dollars for social programs. Under Fishel, the JCRC has seen its influence, as well as staff and budget, shrink.

“John Fishel doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand it,” said Howard Welinsky, a former JCRC chair. He said that Fishel constantly pushed to downsize the JCRC during Welinsky’s two-year term in the late ’90s.

But Fishel’s view is that the political climate simply evolved. The JCRC has “a unique function,” he said, but the community itself no longer always coalesces, through the committee, as one voice. There are no longer such issues of broad agreement, such as support for Soviet Jewry.

“I think it’s become much more difficult for the JCRC to define what becomes an issue of Jewish concern,” Fishel said.

To be sure, JCRCs across the country have seen budgets shrink as federations’ resources dipped. After the successful immigration to Israel of nearly 1 million Soviet Jews — a Herculean undertaking that community relations councils around the nation helped orchestrate — several JCRCs experienced periods of “searching for meaning,” said Ethan Felson, assistant executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the New York-based parent organization for 125 community relations councils nationwide.

Which is why the appointment of former Rep. Levine was so welcomed. Given his political connections in Sacramento and Washington and his energy and dedication, JCRC supporters believed Levine would restore the committee’s lost luster.

When the Israeli embassy contacted Levine, seeking JCRC public support for Israel’s planned withdrawal of settlers and troops from Gaza, he set about building consensus. Although Levine eventually succeeded in putting the JCRC on record as favoring the withdrawal — a position shared by the majority of American Jews — he said he felt frustrated that it took so long for The Federation to sign off on the public pronouncement. And by this time, The Federation was following the train of opinion shapers, rather than leading it.

Time was, the local JCRC, with The Federation’s blessing, took controversial stands on issues of the day, said Steven Windmueller, the committee’s director from 1985 to 1995. In those heady times, the JCRC opposed the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and spoke out in support of abortion rights, he said.

Although those positions angered some Jews in the community, Windmueller said the committee’s views reflected those held by the majority of the Southland’s liberal-leaning Jews. The JCRC’s willingness to take those and other positions, Windmueller said, attracted scores of young people to the committee, which served as a gateway to the Jewish community for many. Some later went on to became Federation donors, he added.

About a decade ago, however, the L.A, Federation, like some others around the country, began discouraging the local JCRC from venturing into controversial public policy matters, Windmueller said. With competition for charitable dollars heating up, many federations concluded that the risk of alienating conservative donors outweighed the benefit of taking liberal stands. Increasingly, most JCRCs left political advocacy, whether liberal or conservative, to other groups.

In Southern California, that void was filled by the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, StandWithUs, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), among others. Ironically, the PJA’s willingness to fight against sweatshops and the exploitation of hotel workers along with its boldness in embracing the sort of left-of-center causes once championed by the local JCRC has helped swell its ranks to 3,500. With half its members under 30, the alliance, which just opened a second office in the Bay Area, has succeeded in reaching a demographic coveted by Fishel’s Federation.

“What we find is that pursuing a positive, progressive Jewish response to the issues of the day is profoundly inspiring , especially to young people who one day will be our community leaders and donors,” PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch said.

Two of the nation’s most robust JCRCs are among the most politically liberal. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston has a staff of 24 and a $3 million budget, while the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council employs 20, with a budget of $2.1 million. By contrast, the local JCRC has five full-time and two part-time staffers and an annual budget of $1.2 million. Unlike Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco have taken bold policy stands recently, with San Francisco, for instance, coming out in favor of same-sex civil marriages.

A left-leaning JCRC wouldn’t fly everywhere, but the formula has consonance with liberal Los Angeles.

Levine had expected the L.A. JCRC to take positions on ballot initiatives, legislation and other political issues, provided he could build consensus. But The Federation’s new chairman of the board, Michael Koss, worried about alienating donors. Koss said he also thought the JCRC would benefit if led by someone who was not strongly identified with either liberal or conservative politics. Koss, who had the authority as Federation chair, did not reappoint Levine. The former congressman, for his part, said he had no interest in a second term given the lack of support.

“Losing Mel Levine for the JCRC or anyplace Mel puts his hat is a loss,” said Harriet Hochman, a former Federation chair.

Fishel said he respects Levine but added that Federation chairs make their own appointments. Fishel’s critics counter that it’s his job to show leadership.

Koss tapped corporate attorney Ron Leibow as Levine’s successor. Leibow, former chair of The Federation’s Planning and Allocation Committee, said he plans to revitalize the JCRC and has made reaching out to ethnic groups, especially Latinos, a priority.

Those involved with JCRC are determined to make a positive difference. Under new JCRC Executive Director Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, the committee has added paid staff and seen its budget increase. Several JCRC programs have grown in importance. The Holy Land Democracy Project, for instance, has helped teach thousands of area Catholic high school students about Israel, while, simultaneously, tightening links between Jews and Catholics. The JCRC continues to take elected leaders on trips to Israel — to expose them to the Jewish state and to Jewish issues.

But a recent, tentative step back into the political fray was telling, when the JCRC encountered some Federation resistance and withdrew, for now, a pro-immigrant statement. The scenario unfolded in mid-May, when the JCRC board approved a statement saying that it supported better border security but opposed legislation that would criminalize illegal immigrants. The statement also favored normalizing immigrants’ status, insiders said. JCRC members had hoped the resolution would demonstrate solidarity with the Latino community, she said.

The Federation board, however, barely approved the JCRC resolution, so the JCRC has pulled back, while it develops new wording that could attract more support, Schwartz-Getzug said.

That the JCRC still hasn’t come out with a statement weeks after one of the largest pro-immigration demonstrations in U.S. history reflects the committee’s — and, by extension, the Federation’s — cautious approach. Critics might go farther, arguing that this reluctance to take a public stand on immigration illustrate that those institutions no longer speak for the local Jewish community.

“If the Federation isn’t going to take a position on something as important to the Latino community as immigration, even after the huge marches all over the nation, then what in the world do they have to say to the Latino community?” commented Michael Hirschfeld, formerly the top JCRC staff member. Hirschfeld was himself the focus of an earlier JCRC furor: His unexpected 2003 dismissal, after 24 years with the JCRC, generated a firestorm of criticism, and a few calls for Fishel’s resignation.

Levine believes that until Fishel’s Federation either allows the JCRC to become independent or have more autonomy, the committee will serve as little more than an administrator of such programs as KOREH L.A, a well-regarded tutoring program.

“The CRC and Federation are no longer a meaningful political force in the structure of Los Angeles,” said Levine, now a partner in international law at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “That’s unfortunate.”

 

A Missing Voice?


I’m fascinated by the firing of Michael Hirschfeld.

Here was a guy, 24 years on the job, who had built up a network of relationships with politicians and community leaders outside the Jewish community.

Here was a guy who was dedicated and well-liked by most of his peers (hey, it’s the Jews — no one gets 100 percent).

Here was a guy who spearheaded what might have been one of the organized Jewish community’s highest-profile activities each year: KOREH L.A.: The Los Angeles Coalition for Literacy.

Here was a guy whose support for the New Leaders Project attracted the coveted younger demographic, and whose literacy project bagged the Holy Grail of Hollywood participation into institutional Jewish life.

Here was a guy who welcomed anyone with a passion for politics and social change into the organized Jewish community and gave them a place to roll up their sleeves and go to work.

And now he’s gone.

Federation leaders, faced with a fearsome budget gap, chose to stop funding Hirschfeld’s position as executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC). Senior Reporter Marc Ballon has written at length on The Federation’s efforts to overcome its money woes and remake itself as a leaner organization, and on page 10 he looks into Hirschfeld’s de facto dismissal.

There are two issues here that call out for comment.

Point one: leaner doesn’t have to be meaner. People who support The Federation’s move and those who oppose it agreed that in the interest of community building, Hirschfeld’s dismissal could have been handled more judiciously.

"Is there a halacha [Jewish law] for firing someone?" one member of the JCRC executive board asked. "Maybe there should be."

Cutting budgets most often comes down to cutting jobs, and it is no one’s favorite task. But here there are echoes of the Jewish Community Centers’ (JCC) cuts of two summers ago, when community members complained as much about the way an unpalatable job was carried out as about the fact that it had to be.

"They just did it too abruptly," one JCRC board member said.

JCRC Executive Committee members were not informed prior to the dismissal of their lead staff person. The firing left Federation supporters feeling weak and disenfranchised.

"It feels like there’s no respect for what we think and what we want," one longtime JCRC activist said, "and that’s a very disheartening message to a volunteer."

That makes the way this firing went down — to use the wording of former JCRC Chair Carmen Warschaw, who supported the dismissal — "a mistake."

Point two: Federation officials have said that Hirschfeld will not be replaced for now, and Senior Vice President Carol Koransky will add his role to her own. Many JCRC supporters question whether making Hirschfeld’s job an add-on to what is already more than a full-time position is, in fact, a way of marginalizing the agency.

"This clearly does not show anyone giving high priority to the JCRC," one activist said.

To be honest, the JCRC is not what it once was. As Jewish opinion fractured on a variety of issues — busing, school vouchers, Israel — the agency found it more and more dicey to take stands, and an alphabet of other organizations (AJCommittee, the ADL, the PJA, etc.) fulfilled many similar functions. (Sometimes there have been so many Jewish groups in this town organizing "Latino-Jewish dialogues" I wondered if there were enough Latinos in Los Angeles to go around.)

But The Federation strives to be the voice of Jewish Los Angeles and, for many non-Jews, the JCRC has spoken the loudest.

Consider that The Federation has for years bemoaned the fact that "Hollywood Jews" do not turn out for its events or give amply to its campaigns. But perhaps one of the only times in the past couple of years that entertainment industry celebrities turned out for a Federation-related event was at Jam Night III in May 2002, when more than 800 people filled the House of Blues. The cause: JCRC’s KOREH L.A.

At Jam Night, many of the guests and celebrities were not Jewish, and that points to another crucial JCRC function: reaching out beyond our own community. Many people worry that when Hirschfeld departs, with more than two decades of friendships and loyalties forged here and in Sacramento, The Federation will lose a trusted link to these groups and people.

"If you want to be the central address you have to act like the central address," one JCRC board member said.

Having a highly functioning JCRC with a capable and connected leader can only raise The Federation’s "centrality."

There is another interesting parallel to the JCCs here. Both the centers and the JCRC long served as a conduit for bringing Jews into organized Jewish life. They cost money to operate, and don’t always pay for themselves, but many of the most dedicated and philanthropic Jews first entered the world of Jewish giving by jumping in a JCC pool or showing up at a JCRC political meeting.

Warschaw told me that Hirschfeld’s firing, unfortunate as it was, will not weaken the JCRC, or The Federation’s role in the community. "The Federation has to cut overhead," she said. "But the JCRC has its programs, they will get up and get on with it."

The best we can do in this situation is hope Warschaw is right.

Community Briefs


Programs Survive State Budget Slash

Several programs that cater to a largely Jewish clientele have survived California’s budget ax — for now.

The Adult Day Health Care Center in North Hollywood, which had been expected to close with the passage of a state budget, got a new lease on life when the Legislature voted to exempt most long-term elder-care programs from cuts. That move also helped the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging, an 800-resident facility that had braced itself for cuts in nurses, social workers and such programs as exercise and knitting.

Intensive lobbying in Sacramento by the Jewish Public Affairs Committee (JPAC) of California helped sway the politicians. So, too, did a mission of influential Jews to the state capital, including several members of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said Jessica Toledano, director of government relations for the Jewish Community Relations Committee, a department of The Federation.

Despite the victory, Toledano said continuing budget woes made the future less than bright.

“I think we have stalled the serious cuts for at least one year,” she said.

To protect programs for seniors, JPAC plans to form a coalition with Catholic Charities, AARP, the Salvation Army and other groups, she said.

In related news, the Multipurpose Senior Services Program (MSSP), which provides poor seniors with taxi vouchers, home meal preparation and other services to keep them out of nursing homes, suffered a financial setback. The Jewish Family Service-run program will receive 5 percent less from the state because of Medi-Cal cuts. Davis had initially proposed 15 percent reductions. Because of the reduced funding, MSSP will care for about 50 fewer patients. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Custody Case Allows Boy to Live inIsrael

After two years of litigation, a Los Angeles appeals court has ruled that it is safe for 5-year-old Yuval Abargil to live in Israel.

Yuval has been at the center of a custody fight by a divorced Israeli couple, in which the mother, Michal Abargil, wished to take him back to her native country. The father, Aharon Abargil, argued that the boy should stay with him in the United States, because terrorist attacks made Israel too dangerous a place to raise the child.

Justice Laurence Rubin, in upholding the decision of a lower court, concluded that, “We would be naive to believe that there is no danger in living in Israel…. [But] few, if any, places in the world are safe from all danger, be it political, ethnic, religious, natural or random.”

Michal agreed with the three-judge panel.

“When you live in Israel, it’s not nearly as scary as it looks from the outside,” she said in a phone interview.

The case was complicated from the beginning. Aharon and Michal met and married in Los Angeles, but each had earlier entered the United States on a tourist visa and illegally stayed on after the visas expired.

Aharon has two applications pending for permanent residence here, while Michal has been barred from re-entering the United States for 10 years.

Under the circumstances, it will be impossible, in the foreseeable future, for the father to travel to Israel to see the child, or for the mother to bring Yuval to America to see the father.

To assure Aharon’s parental rights and long-distance contact between father and son, Rubin ordered that the case would remain under California jurisdiction, though registered and enforced by an Israeli court.

Michal has returned to Israel with Yuval and said she will settle permanently in either Ramat Gan or Givatayim, where she has relatives. She hopes to find work as a graphic designer. She also hopes to find a publisher for her recently completed children’s book on divorce, titled “When Mommy and Daddy Are Getting Separated.”

“The most important thing is to convince the kids it’s absolutely not their fault that the parents are getting a divorce,” she said. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Federation Lays Off JCRC ExecutiveDirector

Michael Hirschfeld, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC), has been laid off after nearly a quarter-century on the job due to financial difficulties at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

In an e-mail to his colleagues, the 24-year JCRC veteran said his job had given him immense personal satisfaction over the years and praised JCRC programs that combat illiteracy in schools, blunt anti-Semitism on campuses and create new leaders for the Jewish community. “We in the JCRC have contributed to the life of our Jewish community and our Los Angeles civic society immeasurably,” he wrote.

Hirschfeld declined to comment.

His departure comes at a time when The Federation, JCRC’s parent, has completed an internal audit to improve its efficiency, increase its relevance and boost its fundraising. The Federation, as part of its restructuring, has eliminated JCRC’s executive director position. At least one member of The Federation’s communications department was laid off.

The Federation’s fundraising has been flat for nearly a decade, although it has edged up slightly this year.

Under Hirschfeld’s leadership, JCRC developed KOREH L.A., a literacy program that places Jewish volunteers in public elementary schools to tutor students. JCRC also helped create the Campus Coalition Initiative to teach Jewish university students to respond to anti-Zionist propaganda at campuses. — MB

Bronfman Offers Young Leaders Chance at$100,000

An annual $100,000 award to recognize Jewish leaders of the future under age 50 has been announced by the family of philanthropist and business leader Charles Bronfman.

The international award will “celebrate the vision and talent of individuals, or a team of individuals, whose accomplishments on behalf of others enrich Jewish life … and inspire the emerging generation of Jewish people,” the announcement stated.

The Charles Bronfman Prize was conceived as a 70th birthday tribute to the Montreal-born philanthropist by his children, Stephen Bronfman and Ellen Bronfman-Hauptman, and son-in-law Andrew Hauptman. The Hauptmans are co-chairs of Andell Entertainment and Mission Pictures, headquartered in London and Los Angeles.

Nominations may be submitted in English or Hebrew, with a deadline of Oct. 31. The inaugural award will be presented in spring 2004.

For information and forms, go to www.TheCharlesBronfmanPrize.com,e-mail info@TheCharlesBronfmanPrize.com  or phone the New York office at (212) 572-1035. — TT

Honoring Svonkin


Someday he may be on the City Council or perhaps in state office. For now, besides serving on the board of six Jewish organizations and as a county insurance commissioner, he is the outgoing chair of the Valley Alliance’s Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC). Scott Svonkin will be honored at the JCRC kick-off event on Monday, Nov. 8, along with the families and synagogues who hosted the Kosovo refugees and Irena Kerrtsburg of Jewish Family Service. The event will also feature Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, who will speak on “Combating Hate: The Changing Face of Criminal Justice” and an update on the Middle East situation by Uriel Palti, deputy consul general of Israel.

During his two years of service, 33-year-old Svonkin brought greater visibility to the Valley JCRC with projects like Mitzvah Day and the Rabbinic Advisory Council, and increased the group’s contact with area legislators like Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Congressman Brad Sherman.

“Scott has done an outstanding job keeping in touch with me and with my office.”

The Jewish Community Relations Committee establishes relationships between the Federation and other Jewish organizations, like area synagogues, and the diplomatic arm of the Federation in outreach efforts with the non-Jewish community.

Svonkin said he is proud of the change in image and increased diversity of the JCRC during his tenure.

“We have a balance of people representing all of the major Jewish movements and all political persuasions,” Svonkin said. “In the past we were viewed as old and liberal; now you can’t characterize us in those terms.” Svonkin said he would like to see more support for Valley groups like the JCRC from the city’s Jewish Federation officials.

“The one thing I was unable to accomplish that I wanted to was increasing the size of the Valley JCRC’s staff,” Svonkin said.

Replacing Svonkin as chair of the Valley JCRC is Eddy Klein, an attorney with O’Neill, Lysaght and Sun in Santa Monica. Klein, 35, has a long history of involvement with Jewish causes, going back to his membership in Young Judea. He said he hopes to build on the success of the JCRC’s last two years and increase the Jewish community’s involvement with the organization.

The JCRC kick-off event, which will be held at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, costs $7 and includes a dessert reception.

For more information or reservations, contact JCRC director Barbara Creme at (818) 464-3203.