‘Rachel Corrie’ on stage: agitprop or art?


“The American Jewish community has a problem keeping silent,” says scholar Michael Berenbaum, and he ascribes the “problem” to guilt over our collective failure to speak up during the Holocaust.

In a very different time and on a vastly different scale, the option of silence versus public protest faces Los Angeles Jews in advance of the opening of a play many view as anti-Israel propaganda.

The one-woman play, “My Name Is Rachel Corrie,” will open Sept. 1 at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, an outdoor venue in Topanga Canyon. Although it is hardly a prominent theatrical event for a cultural mecca like Los Angeles, its focus on a controversial historical figure from Israel’s recent history raises questions of artistic freedom and historical balance.

Rachel Corrie, who grew up in a liberal, non-Jewish family in Olympia, Wash., traveled during the Second Intifada to the Gaza Strip as part of an activist movement to “shield” Palestinian inhabitants from the Israeli army.

She was killed March 16, 2003, at age 23, while confronting an army bulldozer assigned to demolish a house believed to harbor hostile militants. Some allege the bulldozer driver killed Corrie on purpose because she would not move out of the way. Others say the driver did not see her and ran over her accidentally.

The dramatic circumstances of this young American woman’s death in the midst of a widely covered conflict quickly turned the incident into an international cause célèbre.

Corrie, a compulsive writer, left behind a huge cache of diary entries and e-mail letters, which two Londoners, actor/director Alan Rickman and journalist Katherine Viner, have edited into a 70-minute play.

“My Name Is Rachel Corrie” opened in London in 2005 to full houses and glowing reviews. A planned New York premiere in early 2006, at the nonprofit New York Theatre Workshop, met a different fate, however.

The timing of the New York opening was inauspicious. It was a moment when the always-heated emotions surrounding the

Israeli-Palestinian conflict had been intensified by Hamas’ election victory in Gaza, a group listed as a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States. The play’s intended opening also coincided with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s massive stroke, which left the Israeli leader in a coma.

So, before opening the play, James Nicola, artistic director of the New York theater, decided to poll local Jewish religious and community leaders as to their feelings about the work, according to a New York Times report.

Nicola concluded that the announced play “has made this community very defensive and very edgy … and it seems reasonable to me to postpone the opening indefinitely.”

Nevertheless, the play opened later that year at a commercial theater in Greenwich Village, and that production left New York Times critic Clive Davis cold.

“An element of unvarnished propaganda comes to the fore … with no attempt to set the violence in context,” Davis wrote. “We are left with the impression of unarmed civilians being crushed by faceless militarists.”

In a rebuttal, Viner, the play’s co-editor, defended her work as “a piece of art, not a piece of agitprop.”

Various productions of the play have since been staged in Seattle, Chicago, Australia and Ireland.

Samara Frame will portray activist Rachel Corrie in “My Name Is Rachel Corrie,” opening Sept. 1 at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum.

Perhaps with the unhappy New York experience in mind, the Theatricum Botanicum’s board decided to do some advance outreach to the local Jewish community, with veteran character actor Alan Blumenfeld, a longtime board member, volunteering to make the contacts.

In an interview with The Jewish Journal, Blumenfeld noted that, so far, attention has focused on Corrie’s dramatic end, rather than on her life. In assessing the play, he said, “I think it is important to figure out who she was and what she tried to do — separate from her death.”

In one of her diary entries, the then-21-year-old Corrie describes herself as “scattered, deviant and too loud.” Susan Angelo, who directs actress Samara Frame in the upcoming production, sees Corrie as a rather naïve young woman who knew little about the Middle East conflict and could have gone to any global hot spot in her search “to make her life meaningful.”

Co-editor Viner, in an epilogue to the play’s script, sums up Corrie as “messy, skinny, Dali-loving, list-making, chain-smoking, with a passion for the music of Pat Benatar.”

A reading of the play shows Corrie portrayed as an intelligent, idealistic, super-imaginative and introspective teenager and young woman, who strove, somewhat self-consciously, to appear unconventional.

In trying to evaluate the Jewish community’s mood, Blumenfeld spoke with representatives of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Israel-advocacy group StandWithUs.

Blumenfeld said he found the representatives of all three groups friendly and forthcoming. As a result of the discussions, representatives from the community will provide audiences with factual written material and participate in “audience talk-back” sessions following all four performances of the play.

In an interview, Patsy Ostroy, founding president of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, said she had not seen the play but she anticipated “a negative reaction in the Jewish community,” while at the same time fully defending the play’s right to be heard and seen.

Catherine Schneider, Federation’s senior vice president of community engagement, said she had expressed her deep concern about the possible impact of the “play’s misinformation” on audiences, but also explored with Blumenfeld possible future stagings of other works at Theatricum Botanicum, perhaps by young Israeli authors.

Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, a group that on its Web site describes its mission as fighting the “delegitimization of Israel,” expressed concern about the play’s approach: “I can fully understand that Rachel’s parents are heartbroken …  but the play itself consists of one-sided anti-Israel propaganda.”

StandWithUs does not advocate a boycott of the play, she said, but it will distribute to audiences a leaflet featuring pictures of eight Israeli women, all also named Rachel, who have been killed in terrorist attacks.

Although the Simon Wiesenthal Center was not part of Blumenfeld’s advance discussions, its founder and dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier, said that based on Israel’s record and government investigation of the case, he is convinced Corrie’s death was accidental.

“In a free country, the producers of the play have every right to put it on,” Hier said, “but to any friend of Israel, I would say, ‘Don’t see it.’ ”

Veteran peace and civil-rights activist Gerald Bubis also emphasized the right of any play to present its message, nevertheless predicting that “the more Jews attack the play, the more publicity it will get.

“My advice about the play is leave it alone, leave it alone,” Bubis said. “If it’s good, it’ll survive; if it’s bad, it won’t. In either case, nothing will happen to the Jews.”

Two telling evaluations came from theatrical producers who have had their own struggles with controversial plays.

Howard Teichman, artistic director of the West Coast Jewish Theatre, recalled that two years ago he wanted to put on “Behind the Gates” by Wendy Graf, much of it set in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim quarter.

Though Teichman considered the play “brilliant,” when he presented the project to his board, a majority turned it down, concerned that the contents would offend religious sensibilities. “I still think one of the theater’s missions is to present all points of view,” he said.

Gordon Davidson, who served for nearly four decades as artistic director of the Center Theatre Group, staged “The Devils” by John Whiting as his very first production. Among other topics, the play dealt with religious hysteria and sexual repression among 17th century nuns and priests, and the reaction by the Catholic Church and powerful politicians almost aborted Davidson’s career at its start.

“I realize that a given play may cause anger and hurt, but if I chose it on its merits, I have to take the responsibility,” Davidson said. “And what better exercise in democracy can there be?”

So far, the Jewish community, or that segment aware of the Rachel Corrie play, is generally taking its upcoming performance with equanimity.

Blumenfeld said that the theater sent out notices of the play’s schedule to its mailing list of 4,000, and just seven came back with e-mailed comments.

“Three said, ‘I’m excited and will attend,’ ” Blumenfeld said. “Two responded with, ‘I am concerned about the play. Can we discuss this?’ And two more messaged, ‘How dare you put this on? I’ll never set foot in your theater again.’ ”

Performances of “My Name is Rachel Corrie” are on successive Thursday evenings, Sept. 1, 8, 15 and 22, at the Theatricum Botanicum’s S. Mark Taper Foundation Pavilion, located at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., midway between Pacific Coast Highway and the Ventura Freeway. For tickets ($12 each) and information, phone (310) 455-3723, or visit www.theatricum.com.

A leaflet will be distributed to audiences by the group StandWithUs.

Falash Mura Wait and Hope


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Activists Strategize on Hotel Contracts


The gala dinner was like many others at the Century Plaza Hotel, featuring festive centerpieces atop crisp tablecloths, well-dressed guests exchanging greetings and servers bustling about offering trays of beverages.

However, this event wasn’t actually inside the hotel. Set in front of the hotel on the Avenue of the Stars, which was blocked off, this banquet-in-the-street supported some 4,000 striking workers at seven Los Angeles hotels. The traffic-stopping April gathering was among a series of actions organized by a coalition of community groups, including the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), in support of an 11-month strike that ended in June.

The outcome was an important step forward for the union: It achieved a wage hike, continued health benefits and a short contract that will expire at nearly the same time as the contracts of other hotel workers in other parts of the country.

Last week saw the next round of activism — a transnational effort in support of hotel workers in eight cities fighting for a new contract in 2006.

On Wednesday, inspired by the success in Los Angeles, Jewish social justice organizations from the United States and Canada gathered at the hotel workers’ union headquarters just west of downtown. The strategy session was convened by New York-based Jewish Funds for Justice and Los Angeles’ Progressive Jewish Alliance. Representatives also attended from other Jewish organizations in Los Angeles, as well as from groups in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Paul, Washington, D.C. and Toronto. In mostly closed-door meetings, organizers discussed the tactics and the coalition building that worked in this year’s L.A. campaign and how the lessons would apply in other cities.

Organizers say that Jewish involvement has been a central fixture within the effort.

Jewish participation, particularly at the Century Plaza Hotel, was essential, said Maria Elena Durazo, president of the hotel workers local, UNITE HERE. The Century Plaza is sufficiently serious about Jewish clientele to maintain a sealed-off kosher kitchen, she said.

“There’s no doubt that if it had not been for the influence and the participation and the constant, constant communication of the Jewish organizations, the Century Plaza would not have settled,” Durazo said.

“The most important aspect of what we did there,” said Jaime Rapaport, the architect of PJA’s hotel worker support campaign, “was this national Jewish response to a campaign that’s addressing poverty.”

The national average median wage for housekeepers is $7.85 an hour, according to the union. Wages are higher where more hotels are organized: In New York, where hotels are 95 percent unionized, a housekeeper’s wages start at $19 an hour; in Los Angeles, with a 35 percent union density, housekeepers average $11.31.

“It’s not just about a contract fight,” UNITE HERE organizer Vivian Rothstein said. “It’s a national approach to address conditions for nonunion and union workers.”

But a hotel industry representative said the union activists are over-reaching with unrealistic demands and that they misrepresent how hotels treat their workers.

“The bulk of hotel workers are housekeepers. They make, under this contract, approximately $13.50 an hour,” said Fred Muir of the Hotel Employers Council, which represents seven unionized Los Angeles-area hotels. He points out that the contract also provides for a pension fund, paid health care and free meals at work.

The strategy on the hotel side has been to prevent union contracts across the country from expiring at the same time. Hotels gave ground on that issue in the last year. Beyond that, individual hotel chains have opposed union organizing and simply worked to hold down labor costs in a business environment that includes rising health-care costs.

The economics of the hotel industry are simple, Muir said. “How many rooms can you fill and how much can you charge for them? The money to pay everyone has to come from somewhere.”

Room rates in New York are twice what they are in Los Angeles, so workers in New York can be paid more than those in Los Angeles, he said.

The activists who gathered last week emphasized that they are trying to make their labor campaign about Jewish values. The meeting’s purpose was to link local Jewish groups to the union organizing in their cities, and, just as important, bring them together to develop “a common language, a common strategy, common goals that would enable us to speak in a louder and more aggregated voice,” said Daniel Sokatch of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. He wants to expand the notion of what constitutes “Jewish issues.”

“We want to put out there on the radar the notion that social justice is central to our identity as Jews,” he said.

The idea resonates with Simon Greer, who just six months ago took over as executive director of Jewish Funds for Justice. The foundation, which handles some $15 million annually, underwrote transportation and lodging costs for participants from the Jewish social justice organizations.

Greer said that the campaign seeks to boost hotel workers into the middle class. “As Jews in this country, the beneficiaries of America as an open society, we are obligated to do something for others in this society,” he said. “A piece of this is about how we reclaim justice as a centerpiece of Jewish identity in America.”

When Jews make choices that support social justice, he added, they are, in effect, expanding the notion of keeping kosher.

Rabbis Call for Day of Fasting for Darfur


Because the quintessential Jewish celebration — of life, of survival, of victory — always involves food, it only makes sense that a Jewish response to tragedy involves fasting.

Rabbis from all denominations are calling upon Jews in Los Angeles to participate in a day of fasting, prayer and political activism to raise alarm about the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Roving militias, backed by the Muslim Sudanese government, have killed an estimated 300,000 black Africans and displaced, raped or maimed another 2 million in the last year and a half.

“We are appealing to people’s conscience to invoke traditional responses to calamity, and to think beyond the immediate bodily welfare of the Jewish people as entering our perception of what constitutes a calamity,” said Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California and rabbi of B’nai David-Judea Congregation. The Board of Rabbis responded to a call to action issued by Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom, who founded Jewish World Watch (JWW) in September 2004. The coalition of 14 synagogues works to combat genocide and human rights violations around the world through education and by building political will to confront genocide.

In the last eight months, JWW speakers have addressed students at 40 schools and dozens of clubs and synagogue groups. It advocated for the Darfur Accountability Act currently in Congress, has sent thousands of letters to politicians and raised $150,000 to build wells and medical clinics in Darfur.

The May 26 fast, sponsored by JWW and the Board of Rabbis, brings the Darfur atrocities to a wider swath of the Jewish community.

An almost unprecedented coalition of 17 Orthodox, Reform and Conservative schools and shuls on the Westside joined to sponsor a mincha (afternoon prayer) service and break fast at B’nai David-Judea on Pico Boulevard, one of three venues that evening.

While the Orthodox community has traditionally been more concerned with issues that directly impact Jews, rabbis’ readiness to sponsor this event indicates an acknowledgment that genocide anywhere is a Jewish issue, said Kanefsky, who is Orthodox.

“Our claim that the world stood by while the Holocaust unfolded is now pointed at us, and we have this opportunity to demonstrate that we understand the accusation we have leveled at others over the last 50 years,” Kanefsky said.

All three May 26 events will highlight action items such as fundraising or pressuring politicians.

“It is critical that this not be some sort of guilt-assuaging event, but a touchstone for a pattern of activity,” Kanefsky said.

Stephen S. Wise Temple: Service and break the fast, followed by lecture from John Prendergast, former director of African affairs for the National Security Council and currently director of the International Crisis Group. 6:45 p.m. (service/break the fast), 7:30 p.m. (speech). 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, off of Mulholland Drive near Sepulveda Boulevard; (310) 889-2274; e-mail dkabat@sswt.org.

Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center: Interfaith service with the All-Saints Church and musician Craig Taubman with break the fast and a short film on Darfur. 7 p.m. 1434 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena. (626) 798-1161.

B’nai David-Judea: Mincha service, Torah study, short film on Darfur and break fast, 6:45 p.m., 8906 Pico Blvd. west of Robertson Boulevard; (310) 276-9269; e-mail bdj@bnaidavid.com.

For information on Jewish World Watch, visit www.jewishworldwatch.org; e-mail pre-k-koreh@jewishla.org; or call (818) 530-4088.

Taking Note of 2004


Last week, I pulled out a big, unsorted folder from my desk filled with material I had used for my Jewish Journal columns. Early in my

career, I was taught to take notes on folded sheets of paper, my employer being too cheap to buy notebooks. After finishing the story, we reporters usually threw away the notes, believing that nothing we wrote was of lasting value.

When I started writing books, I realized the value of saving things — but not in an organized way. Still, I had the material for my columns, and I thought that wading through it would be a good way to review the year — and it was.

I spent much of my time in 2004 on the Jewish vote in the presidential election. I interviewed party activists and ordinary voters, many of them in the San Fernando Valley. Because of its middle-class demographics, the Valley is an excellent laboratory for politics of all kinds.

I looked at the election through the prism of Israel, speculating on whether President Bush would improve his standing in the Jewish community because of his ironclad support of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In the end, the president got 24 percent of the Jewish vote, according to an analysis of exit polls. This was 5 percent more than he received in 2000, a fact hailed by Jewish Republicans as a victory and by Jewish Democrats as a repudiation.

Actually, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, his total was far below his father’s 35 percent in 1988, Ronald Reagan’s 39 percent in 1980, Richard M. Nixon’s 35 percent in 1972 and Dwight Eisenhower’s 40 percent in 1956.

Looking back on the election, it’s clear there was more to the Jewish vote than Israel. The 76 percent Kerry vote included huge numbers of people who are intensely fervent in their support for Israel. The 24 percent who voted for Bush don’t have a monopoly on the issue.

There were many other factors driving the Kerry vote. His voters didn’t like Bush, disapproved of his war policy and felt he was taking the country down the wrong road domestically with proposals such as privatizing Social Security.

Other factors were also important. Although I didn’t explore it much, I’ll bet the religious and cultural divide in the Jewish community was as important in shaping the Jewish vote as was Israel.

As the Israel Insider noted in its post-election analysis, a higher proportion of Orthodox Jews were Republican than less-observant or secular Jews.

How did religion and culture play into this? Are Orthodox Jews like fundamentalist Christians, bringing to the political process a whole basket of convictions that ran counter to what was proposed by the Democratic candidate and the party platform?

Did the Orthodox resent the way liberal Hollywood campaigned for Kerry? How did they react to newly wed same- sex couples hugging after marriage ceremonies in the San Francisco City Hall presided over by Democratic Mayor Gavin Newsom?

And what about abortion? Feelings on this subject will come out in the debate over new Supreme Court justices, which basically will revolve around how the nominees feel about choice. Without getting into a discussion about the range of rabbinical thought on abortion, it’s safe to say many Orthodox thinkers take a position that choice advocates would say is distinctly anti-choice.

In the last presidential election, the Republicans demonstrated a great ability to pick out ideological sympathizers from masses of voters. Undoubtedly, they will do this with Orthodox Jews as they seek support for a Bush Supreme Court nominee.

They know there’s a culture war in the Jewish community, as there is elsewhere in America. Tracking it will be a challenging job in the months ahead.

In my brief expeditions to college campuses during the past year, I saw a wide variety of thought and activism that was reflective of the community as a whole. I’ve made a resolution to explore them more.

Looking through my folder, I found other ideas to be checked out. One is Jewish life in the far suburbs that stretch beyond the West Valley into Ventura County. What are the ties that bind this community?

Another subject is the Jewish poor, particularly the elderly. I dipped into this early in my Jewish Journal writing career but never followed up. How will this impact the Social Security debate? What will be the attitude in the Jewish community to the medical and social service cuts being considered in Sacramento and Washington?

Any other ideas will be appreciated. When I started this column, I thought of it as my personal voyage of discovery through the Jewish community, in all its richness and diversity. I still have a lot of territory to cover.

Bill Boyarsky’s column on Jews and civic life appears on the first Friday of each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at

Body Shop Sorry for Palestinian Award


The Body Shop, a British-based retailer of personal care products, is apologizing for a 2002 human rights award it gave to a Palestinian group. The action comes after a Los Angeles-based boycott campaign caught the attention of The Body Shop and Jewish leaders.

Jewish activists began the boycott effort after learning of the retailer’s 2002 honoring of the National Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced and for a 2001 Day for Palestine fundraiser in the United Arab Emirates. The Body Shop had been coming under increasing scrutiny since the broad e-mail campaign began in August. However, the retailer has no plans at this time to withdraw the award.

The award shows that The Body Shop favors the Palestinian side in the Middle East conflict, said David Frankenthal, a Los Angeles computer consultant who runs an online activist group called Join The Boycott, which previously called for boycotting newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times over news coverage of Israel.

The Body Shop created the biennial Body Shop Human Rights Award in 2000. The National Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced was one of four 2002 recipients to share the award’s $300,000 prize. The group advocates the Palestinian “right of return,” widely seen in the Jewish community as destructive to the Jewish state. The group’s documents denounce the founding of “the Israeli state, gained with the support of international Zionism and imperialist forces.”

Body Shop officials initially sent activists standard e-mail responses stating that the Palestinian group was being honored with the $75,000 prize for being one of the “best examples of peaceful grass-roots activism on the issue of housing.”

The online boycott campaign also caught the attention of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). In a Sept. 20 letter to ADL National Director Abraham Foxman, Adrian Bellamy, Body Shop International executive chairman, said the retailer would be taking “as balanced an approach as possible” on future company honors.

The Body Shop told activists in e-mails that it “supports the integrity of the award jury and the robustness of the selection process.” But Bellamy later wrote to Foxman that the awards jury “did not consider the broader issue of a right of return’ for all Palestinian people living outside Israel, or any individual opinions that may have been expressed on this broader issue by members of the National Committee [for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced].”

“We have not promoted a broader agenda for a ‘right of return’ for all Palestinians nor rejected Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state,” stated Bellamy’s letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Jewish Journal.

Frankenthal said he obtained at least 1,000 signatures of people willing to boycott Body Shop stores. Following the online uproar, the retailer removed images of the awards and its Palestinian honoree from its Web site.

“The Body Shop has been reviewing the future of the Human Rights Award over the last few months,” Bellamy wrote to the ADL. “We sincerely apologize if we have caused offense in making this award.”

Foxman said he was pleased with the retailers’ plan to fix its awards system, but he did not agree with the online activists’ call for a Body Shop boycott.

“We do not call for boycotts,” said Foxman, who also credited the Jewish activists’ campaign, because it got The Body Shop’s attention. “They realized that what they were doing was misinterpreted.”

The e-mail campaign also called for a boycott because of a June 2001 Body Shop event in the United Arab Emirates. There, the chain’s seven stores sponsored the A Day for Palestine fundraiser, with each store’s one-day revenues being donated to a Palestinian-allied charity.

The fundraiser was not a pressing issue to ADL leaders. A Body Shop spokesman told The Journal that the event was done by franchise retailers in the United Arab Emirates, which, as local franchisees, can create their own charity events without approval from Body Shop management.

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), has some local ties to The Body Shop at Sherman Oaks Fashion Square. The store carries JFS brochures and pink-and-white laminated hot-line cards for its Family Violence Project, part of the Body Shop’s commitment to U.S. domestic violence programs.

Paul Castro, JFS executive director, said The Body Shop’s U.S. arm has donated between $200-$300 to JFS in the past 18 months. When Castro learned about The Body Shop’s honoring of the Palestinian group, he said, “We’re clearly going to have to re-examine it [the donor relationship]. The relationship has been sort of casual. They’ve been supportive of the work we have done.” n

Crisis Manager


On March 11, Paul S. Nussbaum trudged down the driveway in
his bathrobe, picked up the Los Angeles Times and headed back into his house —
part of his early morning routine. Moments later his wife handed him a fruit
protein shake, he cracked open the paper and pulled out the business section.

Nussbaum was “astounded and dumbfounded” by what he saw.
Under a headline that read, “Wells Refuses Belgium Claim,” Nussbaum learned
that Wells Fargo & Co. said it would not contribute $267,000 to a war
reparations fund for Belgian Jews, making it the only financial institution of
22 banks named in the $59 million settlement to balk at paying. Wells Fargo
argued that it had no legal obligation, because it had inherited the liability
through its acquisition of a small Belgium bank.

For Nussbaum, the son of two Holocaust survivors, the bank’s
actions came as a double shock. For one thing, Wells Fargo had cultivated a
great deal of good will in the Jewish community by contributing hundreds of
thousands of dollars to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jewish Family Service
(JFS) and other Jewish organizations. For another, Nussbaum, 46, is senior vice
president for Wells Fargo in Beverly Hills.

Turning to his wife, Nussbaum said: “The bank has done
something incredibly stupid that I have to deal with.”

And he did.

A day later, after a barrage of calls by Nussbaum to senior
executives at Wells Fargo and Jewish leaders, the bank said it would pay the
reparations. In a statement, Wells Fargo Chief Executive Dick Kovacevich
apologized to the Jewish community and called the Holocaust “the worst form of
discrimination and violation of human rights.”

The bank’s quick reversal probably minimized long-term
damage to its business interests and reputation. It also reflected the
crisis-management skills of Nussbaum, a Jewish philanthropist who has spent
much of his corporate career guiding organizations through roiled waters.

Although they sometimes cause him sleepless nights and an
upset stomach, difficult times bring out Nussbaum’s most analytical and
creative side, he said. Like a general calmly barking orders as bullets whiz
by, Nussbaum said he becomes ever more focused in a crisis, when his
“just-fix-it” personality kicks in.

During his career, he has helped clean up the portfolio of a
faltering savings in loan, put in 80-hour weeks to help Orange County tame its
budget to emerge from bankruptcy and single-handedly revived Wells Fargo’s
regional commercial banking office on the Westside.

In 1984, Nussbaum joined American Savings & Loan, just
as panicky investors had withdrawn $6.8 billion in one of the biggest bank runs
in history. Over the next five years, Nussbaum, working in conjunction with
then-American Savings CEO William J. Popejoy, helped the institution collect as
much as possible on its bad loans and remove them from the company’s books.
Nussbaum said his efforts saved taxpayers billions.

Later, he joined Wells Fargo. In 1995, the bank gave him a
paid leave so that he could serve as an adviser to his mentor Popejoy, then-CEO
of bankrupt Orange County. At first viewed suspiciously as a Popejoy lackey,
Nussbaum won over a lot of skeptics with his long hours and dedication toward
making the county solvent, experts said.

Nussbaum was part of a group of officials who slashed the
county’s budget 41 percent.  Although Nussbaum left after only five months,
Popejoy said, “I don’t think anyone made a bigger contribution that helped the
county regain its footing. Paul was one of the unsung heroes.”

Four years ago, Wells Fargo asked Nussbaum to reopen a
commercial banking office in Beverly Hills that had been shuttered during an
earlier consolidation. Starting from scratch, he has built a team of 16 people
and increased by fourfold the number of Wells Fargo loans to Westside companies
and individuals.

“I think Paul has done an exemplary job of establishing us
in a market we had tried to break into in the past but had been largely
unsuccessful,” said Paul Watson, Wells Fargo head of commercial and corporate
banking. “He’s a good banker and very involved with the community. When you put
that together, you have a successful formula.”

Nussbaum’s commitment to business is matched only by his
community activism. A board member at JFS, the Wiesenthal Center and Stephen S.
Wise Temple, he has encouraged Wells Fargo to donate hundreds of thousands of
dollars to those and other groups, including $150,000 this year to JFS.

Mark Berns, past president of Stephen S. Wise, said Nussbaum
makes contributions to the temple, both big and small. Recently, Nussbaum volunteered
to cook food all afternoon “over hot flames and in the sun” at a Purim festival
that raised $40,000, Berns said.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, has known
Nussbaum for seven years. He said the banker’s efforts to coax Wells Fargo to
pay the reparations reflect Nussbaum’s deep commitment to Jewish values.

“I think he saved the bank a lot of heartache by making such
a big fuss,” Hier said. “He did the right thing.” 

Songs of Power


On a December day in 1993, an anxious Lee Hirsch sat on a747 bound for riot-torn South Africa with $600 and a small video camera.

The 20-year-old filmmaker didn’t know a soul inJohannesburg, but he had two telephone numbers and a mission: To make adocumentary about the protest music that had spurred the anti-apartheidmovement. To buy his ticket, he had sold his car and ignored the StateDepartment official who had called about the travel advisory.

“It was months after [American student] Amy Biehl had beenmurdered in Cape Town, and the plane was empty,” said Hirsch, a politicallyprogressive Jew from Long Island. “I was very scared, and I was prepared toturn around and go home the next day.”

Instead, he struggled for nine years to make “Amandla! ARevolution in Four-Part Harmony,” which won the audience and Freedom ofExpression Awards at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and opens today in LosAngeles. Named for the Xhosa word for power, the exuberant movie explores the historyof apartheid and the music that helped overturn it. While some of the songshave previously been featured on the soundtracks of fictional films such as”Cry Freedom,” the documentary is the first to explore the phenomenon ofprotest music itself.

For the energetic Hirsch, who punctuates conversation withyouthful invectives such as “awesome,” one inspiration was the Jewish mandateof tikkun olam (repairing the world).

“I learned about it in a college class on the earlyChasidim, the Jewish radicals of their day,” said Hirsch, whose previous filmprofiled his godfather, the Holocaust survivor. “Coming out of the Jewishhistory of oppression, I feel we have the responsibility to stand up and makethe world a better place. In ‘Amandla!’ I wanted to show the power of music toaffect this kind of social and political change.”

Hirsch has been preoccupied with anti-apartheid music sincesuccessfully lobbying his Vermont boarding school to divest its South Africanholdings in the 1980s.

“I’d watch a news broadcast about unrest in a township andrealize that people were singing, because I could hear it under thenewscaster’s voice,” he said. “I started becoming obsessed with the music, andI vowed to learn more.”

Easier said than done. No studies or books existed on thesongs, which were largely undocumented. And the white, Jewish filmmaker didn’tknow any of the black activists or performers. His first break came when hecalled one of his telephone contacts two days after arriving in Johannesburgand reached a Zulu family whose son was prominent in the MK, the military wingof the African National Congress. Before long, he was tagging along tounderground meetings in the townships, which he describes as “row after row ofunpaved streets and garbage burning in overstuffed receptacles.”

“Suddenly, I was in the middle of things,” he said.

By the mid-1990s, Hirsch had partnered with “Amandla!”producer Sherry Simpson, an African American TV music producer based in LosAngeles, and had relocated to Johannesburg to develop the film. Over the nextfive years, he criss-crossed the country with his video camera, filling 12notebooks with research and persuading activists to appear in his film.

Parliament member Thandi Modise described how she sang tocomfort herself when her water broke during a prison beating and she was dumpedin her dank cell to give birth. An ex-death row warden stood in the former”hanging room” at Pretoria Central Prison and recalled leading shackledactivists to the gallows (they sang, too).

At a 1995 rally, Hirsch filmed a beaming President NelsonMandela dancing to a victory song before the country’s first democraticelections. 

He believes he was granted the access because he was aneager American, not a white South African; it didn’t hurt that he was Jewish.”It’s well known that most of the white anti-apartheid activists were Jews,” hesaid by telephone from his publicist’s office in Manhattan. “These people wereloved by the black community as if they were black, as if they were one of theirown.”

For two years, Hirsch lived in the guest bedroom of one suchactivist, Dr. Paul Davis, a “struggle doctor” who cared for detainees when theywere released from prison. Hirsch grew to love the multicultural Shabbatdinners Paul held with his wife, Allison Russell, a chief physician at thelargest black hospital in South Africa. “They were a tremendous inspiration tome,” Hirsch said of the couple. “We talked a lot about tikkun olam and what ourresponsibilities are to the world as Jews.”

Ten years after Hirsch set off on that empty flight forJohannesburg, he still considers directing socially-conscious films to be oneof those responsibilities. “I want to make movies that fuse my activism with alarger audience,” he said.

“Amandla!” opens Feb. 28 at Laemmle Sunset 5, 8000 SunsetBlvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500; and in March in Orange County. 

The Need for Campus Activism


The level of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments on our
campuses has been hotly debated in recent months. Some see an alarming surge of
pro-Palestinian prejudices that drown out and intimidate
supporters of Israel — and too often cross the line into anti-Semitism. Others,
including some Jewish campus leaders, minimize these trends and criticize
organizations that have mobilized to counter them.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller of UCLA’s Hillel, for example, in
a recent article in this paper, disparaged these organizations and their
materials as “propagandistic,” “polemical,” part of the “anti-anti-Semitism
industry” and of “dubious value.”

Sadly, even though most Americans remain supportive of Israel,
there is abundant evidence that in academia, opposition to Israel’s policies
has mutated into attacks that demonize the Jewish State, undermine its
legitimacy and foment anti-Semitism. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports
that “campus anti-Semitic incidents were up dramatically in 2002.” “Too often,”
added a recent ADL newsletter, “anti-Israel activism crosses the line into
anti-Semitism … and the bad news is that there is a silent majority on campus
that is simply not speaking out against anti-Semitism.”

It is not surprising that this majority remains silent.
Left-of-center ideology, with its fashionable post-colonialist critiques of America
and Israel, dominate campus culture. Edward Said’s bitter anti-Israel polemics
hold sway in Middle Eastern Studies departments and pervade other disciplines.
Pro-Palestinian views that distort Israeli-Arab history and spread
disinformation have been accepted as fact in many campus circles. Visiting
Israeli professors called their past year in American academia “a nightmare”
because of their colleagues’ intense and often ill-informed bias, Ha’aretz
reported last August.

“An entire year of attacks, even in corridors, staff
meetings and conferences … there is an unquestioned assumption that Israel
and the Israelis are the bad guys,” said Dr. Liora Brosh who taught comparative
literature at a New York State University.

Joint Palestinian-Israeli discussion panels often exclude
the moderate view, though they masquerade as balanced presentations. Divestment
campaigns that blame Israel alone for the conflict and ugly slogans such as
“Zionism is Racism” abound. Pro-Palestinian rhetoric is couched in a potent
brew of popular campus causes for social justice, human rights,
anti-globalization and indigenous people’s rights; and pro-Israeli students who
share these values have trouble disentangling them from the Palestinian
position. They also face an unfriendly environment. As journalist Daniel Pipes
recently pointed out, when well-known pro-Israel speakers lecture on campuses,
they require security protection. Speakers critical of Israel, however, do not.

It is little wonder that many Jewish students feel
uncomfortable and besieged. The one-sided nature of the campus debate also
leads other students, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who otherwise would have no
particular bias, to simply assume that Israel has no case.

Unfortunately, the solutions offered by some campus leaders
do not go far enough to address students’ needs or the larger problem. Their
recommendations — issuing healing messages, encouraging Jewish students to
reach out to Muslims, supporting moderate Arab Muslim students — certainly have
merit, but they do not help students understand Israel’s case and they do not
fill the urgent need to counter the barrage of anti-Israel disinformation.

Israel has compelling ethical and historical justifications
for its existence and its policies. The American Israel Public Affairs
Committee, ADL, National Hillel and grassroots groups such as StandWithUs have
mobilized to make sure this information is part of the campus debate. Their
arguments are mainstream, shared by a majority of the U.S. Congress and the
current Israeli government. All students should be familiar with these
positions even though they may not agree.

Pro-Israel organizations are helping turn the tide on our
campuses, The Forward reported on Dec. 20, 2002. Many campus activists credit
them “for providing increased resources and training to campus activists and
helping them develop more proactive approaches.”

Campus leaders need to be on the front lines encouraging —
not marginalizing — efforts to better inform students and to ensure that all
voices across the political spectrum are heard and respected. Suppressing
conservative pro-Israel views will have the unfortunate effect of keeping the
campus debate one-sided and of inhibiting dialogue. Students of today will be
the leaders of tomorrow. Hopefully, their college years will expose them to the
full range of issues about the beleaguered Middle East so they can make informed
decisions in the future. Â


Roz Rothstein is executive director of StandWithUs. Roberta Seid is director of research and education for StandWithUs.

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday

Puppets, paupers, pirates and poets — especially poets — are invited to the Workmen’s Circle tonight for Slam Shirim, a competitive performance poetry event for the Jewish community. Anyone can sign up to perform, judges are chosen randomly from the audience and the rest of the audience is encouraged to share their reaction to the poetry, so expect a raucous evening. The flyer says it’s “like an amusement park adventure of spoken word.” We say it’s good, artsy fun.

8 p.m. $7 (members); $10 (nonmembers). 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

Sunday

Chanukah comes early this year, but it can’t come early enough for the kids. Universal Studios understands, and they’re bringing out the chanukiah — and the stars — a few days early for a big park-wide celebration today. Spider-Man spins the dreidel, the Rugrats characters light the candles, Mayor James Hahn will lend an official air to the proceedings and Jerry’s Famous Deli will present “The World’s Largest Latka.” Plus, the performances range from the sweet Mallory Lewis and Lambchop to Jewish rapper Remedy of the Wu-Tang Clan. This Chanukah celebration, co-sponsored by The Journal, has something for everyone — it’s Universal!

10 a.m.-6 p.m. With coupon it’s $35 (adults) and $25 (children).
100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City. (800) 864-8377.

Monday

“When you’re a Hip Hop Hoodio, it’s Chanukah-time 24/7, 365 days a year.” So say the members of Hip Hop Hoodios, the Latino-Jewish rap supergroup, and listening to their music, you believe them. In addition to a beat-heavy version of “Hava Nagila,” the group’s album, “Raza Hoodia,” includes their attitude-heavy Chanukah track, “Ocho Kandelikas.” UCLA Hillel and Yiddishkayt L.A. bring this free concert tonight, with multiethnic samba-funk-rockers Bayu and an afternoon discussion panel on what all this fusion means.

2 p.m. (panel). 2408 Ackerman, UCLA. 8 p.m. (concert). Bradley International Hall, 417 Charles E. Young Drive West, UCLA. (213) 389-8880.

Tuesday

Set in the near future, George Larkin’s new play “Perverse Tongue” portrays an America ruled by an absolute literalist interpretation of the Bible. Follow the story of two sisters, the younger of whom must flee the Soldiers of God, enforcers who want to put her on trial for having been raped.

8 p.m. $15. Mon.-Wed., through Dec. 18. No performance Wed. Nov. 27 or Mon. Dec. 2. MET Theater, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. (323) 957-1152.

Wednesday

< She may be better known for her decades of social activism, but Betty Sheinbaum is also recognized for her art. When she's not filling banquet halls with friends for a fundraiser, Sheinbaum fills galleries with her paintings. Now at Santa Monica's The Artist's Gallery, her collection "Bullfighting" examines the dramatic tension between man and beast.

11 a.m.-5 p.m. Through Nov. 30. The Artist’s Gallery, 2903 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 829-9556.

Thursday

Sculptor Keith Edmier doesn’t claim to be the only artist inspired by an angel, but he may be the only one to collaborate this well with a Charlie’s Angel. Edmier began a collaboration with Farrah Fawcett in 1999 and the fruits of their labor are on display now at LACMA. Fawcett, an art major in college, contributed equally to the six-sculpture, multiple-photo exhibit, which set out to examine the relationship between artist and muse.

Through Feb. 17, 2003. $7 (adults); $5 (seniors and students); $1 (children).
5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6000.

Friday

Light one candle, have some latkes, then head out to celebrate the first night of Chanukah with a few laughs from Eric Schwartz, known to listeners of KIIS-FM as Smooth E, the Suburban Homeboy. The Thousand Oaks-raised comic will be sharing the stage with some big names next week at The Jewish Federation’s Vodka Latka gala, but you can also catch “Lose the Gelt,” “Welcome to the Valley” and other hip-hop ha-has this weekend.

8 p.m. Also Sat. Hornblowers Comedy Club,
1559 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura. (805) 658-2202.

Community Briefs


Action Israel Comes to L.A.

On Sunday, Feb. 24, student activists will gather from colleges all over Southern California for Action Israel, a conference held in response to the increasing concern about anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses throughout the country. Comparisons of Nazism with Zionism at CSUN and UCLA as well as a speech given by Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi at UCSB are only a few of the events that have called students to action.

The purpose of Action Israel will be to provide students with an opportunity to acquire skills to increase awareness about Israel on campus, and meet other activists from more than 20 campuses in Southern California to build powerful networks and share ideas. Speakers at the conference, which is being co-sponsored by The Jewish Journal, will include: Yuval Rotem, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles; Rep. Howard Berman (D-26); Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; and author and UCLA professor David Myers. The conference will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Cost is $15. For more information, contact (323) 761-8163. — Merav Tassa, Contributing Writer

Jewish Schools Make Playoffs

If you thought it unlikely that both the Lakers and the WNBA Sparks won the championships last season, get ready for another unusual event in basketball. Three Jewish high schools — Yeshiva University of Los Angeles (YULA), Valley Torah, and Milken Community High School — are currently competing in statewide intramural basketball playoffs.

Of the three schools, YULA Boys had the closest shot at victory, until this past Tuesday, when they lost a game to Verbum Dei, a Catholic school in South Central Los Angeles.

“We got to the final eight and that’s as far as we got,” said Joel Fisher, YULA Boys’ athletic director, who oversees the boys basketball team with coaches Ed Gelb and Dave Winnik. Fisher added that while there was some post-game depression, YULA Boys are taking their loss in stride.

“For a school of our size with no gym to compete with these powerhouses, it’s a testament,” Fisher said. “The boys are realistic.”

No matter which team wins or loses, this amazing feat of Jewish representation in the high school playoffs is, in itself, something of a victory for the Jewish student athletes, which compete while maintaining a double curriculum.

However, the road to victory for the three schools was not without complications. Shabbat forced the schools to rearrange game schedules for YULA and Valley Torah. For YULA, that meant that the Pico-Robertson area school, which had a game at Arrowhead Christian rescheduled last weekend, had to spend Shabbat at a San Bernardino hotel, complete with sefer Torah for their minyan.

So is there a master plan in place at YULA Boys to improve their fortunes in 2003?

Said Fisher, sense of humor intact, “We’re going to try to find the tallest Jewish boys that we can find. Even if it takes genetic engineering.” — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

First Ramat Zion Kindergarten

Temple Ramat Zion of Northridge will open its first kindergarten class this September. “For the past several years, many parents have requested that we open a kindergarten,” said Betty Gorelick, nursery school director.

The nursery school will last from three to eight hours per day, as opposed to public school kindergarten, which can run less than three hours a day. The school day will be from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., with early daycare starting at 7 a.m. and late daycare going until 6 p.m.

Temple Ramat Zion is located at 17655 Devonshire St., Northridge. For more information call (818) 366-1773. — Staff Report

Chabad Women’s Shabbaton

Chabad of the Conejo is hosting the a Women’s “Survivor” Shabbaton on March 1-3, at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley.

Fee for the weekend is $225.00 per person, based on double occupancy. For more information please call Chabad at (818) 991-0991. — Staff Report