Best bet: Super Bowl winner donating long-shot’s payoff to charity


The Jewish owner of a real estate company in New York is donating his $50,000 winnings from a Super Bowl bet to charity.

Jona Rechnitz, 29, of New York, had wagered $1,000 on Super Sunday at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas that the New York Giants would score first—on a safety.

With the odds at 50 to 1, Rechnitz earned a $50,000 payout.

Rechnitz, who is Orthodox, told TMZ that he would donate $5,000 to a charity chosen by New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, who was penalized for intentional grounding in the end zone, causing the safety call. Rechnitz also will give $5,000 each to the charities of choice for four Giants’ defensive linemen involved in the play. He also said he wants to take Brady out for a falafel dinner.

Rechnitz, owner of the year-old JSR Capital after having worked for Africa Israel, said he will donate the rest of his after-tax earnings to other charities.

The California native was visiting his parents and decided to watch the Super Bowl in Las Vegas. The Giants defeated the Patriots, 21-17.

Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation joins list of Madoff victims


Steven Spielberg suffered some losses in the Bernard Madoff fraud scandal, though apparently nowhere near a rumored $300 million.

However, the famed filmmaker’s private Wunderkinder Foundation had some investments with Madoff, though Spielberg spokesman Marvin Levy said he was unable to detail the assets or losses of the foundation.

The Wunderkinder Foundation (translated as child prodigies) is a relative modest one compared to Spielberg’s much better-known Shoah Foundation and Righteous Persons Foundation.

According to the latest available public filing with the IRS, the Wunderkinder Foundation’s 2006 statement, covering the previous tax year, showed assets of $12,573,018 and grant distributions of $5,215,016. Spielberg gave $2 million to the foundation and is listed as the only donor.

According to press reports, Madoff managed 70 percent of the foundation’s dividend and interest income in 2006.

The lion’s share of the foundation’s grants, according to the IRS filing, went to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which received $3,338,000 for medical research.

The Ross School in New York City received $500,000 and the local Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services got $100,000.

Smaller grants went to some 55 diverse organizations and institutions, from the American Museum of Natural History to the Young Musicians Foundation.



From the Federation:

LOS ANGELES, Dec 15, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) — The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has been advised by The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles that it, together with a number of other major philanthropic institutions, as well as individuals and for profit investment companies, is included among those which have been victimized by an alleged fraud perpetrated by the New York based firm, Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC.

The Jewish Federation, together with other local charitable bodies, has for decades participated in a Common Investment Pool (CIP) managed by the Jewish Community Foundation. The CIP invests, with the input of professional advisors, significant funds on behalf of the Federation’s United Jewish Fund Endowment Fund in a range of investment classes and vehicles. Among these has been Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC.

We have been informed by the Jewish Community Foundation that the Federation’s United Jewish Fund Endowment Fund may have sustained a loss of $6.4m as a result of the actions of Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC. This constitutes approximately 11% of Federation’s endowment funds as of December 2008.

Stanley Gold, Chairman of the Board of the Jewish Federation, stated, “We are both shocked and saddened to learn of this alleged fraud. The Jewish Federation is exploring various options to fully understand its exposure as well as how this occurred. We intend to aggressively protect and recover as much of Federation’s investment with Bernard Madoff Securities LLC, as possible. We will take all necessary actions to assure this type of action so hurtful to those who depend on our charitable organization never happens again.”

The Jewish Federation will continue to utilize the funds in the United Jewish Fund Endowment Fund to support its essential life saving work, at home and abroad, on behalf of the Los Angeles Jewish Community.

From The Jewish Community Foundation

LOS ANGELES (December 15, 2008)–The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (The Foundation) today issued the following letter to the public regarding the impact of the collapse of the Bernard Madoff investment funds. The Foundation, the largest manager of charitable gift assets for Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists, stated:

Dear Friends,

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles was shocked and outraged to learn that it is among the many victims of the massive fraud attributed to veteran Wall Street investment advisor Bernard Madoff.

The Foundation invested a total of $18 million with the Madoff firm, representing less than 5% (five percent) of the Foundation’s assets.

Donor Advised Funds were not affected by the Madoff fraud. Donor Advised Funds are held separately in Treasury notes and other government instruments.

The $18 million was part of The Foundation’s Common Investment Pool, set aside for long-term endowment-type uses.

The loss, while unprecedented in The Foundation’s 54-year history, does not threaten The Foundation’s stability, its existing commitments, or its ability to maintain its leading role in the Los Angeles philanthropic community.

Despite this loss, The Foundation has a long-term record of generating favorable returns from its investments. The Foundation’s emphasis on diversification, both of investments and of investment advisors, helped limit the impact of the Madoff collapse.

In light of the substantial recent declines in the stock market as well as the financial impact of the Madoff situation, The Foundation is re-evaluating its investment strategies and examining ways to respond to these changed market conditions. This process includes a full review of The Foundation’s policies, practices and due-diligence procedures.

The Foundation is aggressively pursuing every possible recovery and remedy related to the Madoff situation.

We are committed to a fully transparent sharing of information with our donors, supporters, grant recipients and the community, and will continue to report to The Foundation’s constituencies as we learn more. This will include updates to a dedicated page on The Foundation’s website at www.JewishFoundationLA.org.

Sincerely,

Cathy Siegel Weiss Marvin I. Schotland
Chair President and CEO

Trip highlights our duty to help worldwide


Having grown up in and around Los Angeles my entire life, I am awe-stricken by the thriving Jewish community and the venerable reputation it has made for itself.

Considering our history, the present situation of Jews in America is one that would have been coveted by any Jew from almost any other time period. And if, God forbid, any Jew is to forget the adversity through which we have suffered and endured throughout the ages, I would expect it to occur now more than ever.

These thoughts became very clear to me after a recent visit to the Philippine Islands, where I found myself exposed to a situation that I will value forever.

Filipino streets are crawling with beggars who are able to survive only because food and shelter cost almost a tenth of what Americans pay. These people are subject to the generosity of people who would also be considered destitute if compared to Los Angeles’ neediest.

I came equipped with a stack of 2,000 pisos, equaling $50, which I planned to distribute as charity whenever it was solicited. My eyes were opened when I visited a tourist town popular among beggars. A small boy accosted me with an extended palm, and I handed him a 20-piso bill. Only later did I become aware that this was an enormous amount for beggars to receive, despite its U.S.-value of only 50 cents, and that so many other indigent people who witnessed my generosity were willing to employ almost any means to take advantage of it.

Within seconds I was swarmed by a mob of the most impecunious people I have ever seen. I was met with appeals ranging from sobs of supplication from elderly women to snarls of desperation from struggling mothers to the aggressive attempts of children to wrest the money from my grip. My attempts to form a line to hasten the fulfillment of their pleas were fruitless. They did not relent.

Never having experienced anything like this in my life, I am almost embarrassed to admit that though I felt an emotional connection to their desperation, I laughed, not knowing how to outwardly express my emotions in such a sudden and tumultuous shock. I am still haunted by the possibility that they suspected me of teasing them with the hope of receiving charity. I also wonder what they might have thought when they saw me laughing had they known I was a Jew. I suspect that they would have expected a certain sensitivity from a Jew — a member of a nation that has overcome trials far more daunting than theirs and which now has the resources to alleviate the hardships of others.

It is not my goal to persuade people to give charity to Filipino beggars; it was just the event that opened my eyes to the needs of other people in the world. There is another issue toward which I expect Jews should feel more sensitive — the crisis in Darfur. I am not discounting the steps already taken by Jews to aid the victims of one of this century’s most devastating acts of man against his fellow. However, I do mean to bring to attention to what I perceive as deficiencies in the reactions of Orthodox Jews around me.

Though I would never advise Jews to replace Orthodox tradition with humanitarianism, I have always felt that the Darfur issue is one in which I would expect more Orthodox Jews to be active in resolving. Our inability to react now strongly resembles America’s self-imposed ignorance during the Holocaust. America and its Jews should redeem themselves now by contributing whatever they can to humanitarian aid to those suffering in refugee camps and in homes on the brink of destruction. It is also our responsibility to avoid the hypocrisy of not working to alleviate the pain of a people who are subject to the genocidal whim of an oppressive government. What will the world say when the Jewish people or the State of Israel solicit anyone’s assistance in a life-threatening situation? It has been established that the Jewish people possess an indestructible conviction to survive and prosper, but how many enslavements, expulsions, pogroms, and genocides must we endure, and witness others endure, before we live up to our God-given name of a “light unto the nations”?

For these reasons I urge all Jewish institutions to educate their students and congregants in atrocities committed against mankind throughout the world. Our schools’ students yearn to contribute what they can to worthy causes, but no outlets are provided by their educators. Orthodox synagogues seem to always have tikkun olam on their agendas, but the most significant differences they can make are being forgotten.

In 1927, before the Holocaust, Edmund Fleg said, “I am a Jew because in every place where suffering weeps, the Jew weeps. I am a Jew because at every time when despair cries out, the Jew hopes.”

Our Jewish communities now have the resources they never had before. We have a certain influence over everything in which we become involved. Let us now employ the hope that defines us as Jews and ameliorate the world’s conditions for ourselves and for whomever else we can before our entrenchment in despair becomes possible again.

Jacob Goldberg is in 11th grade at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High School for Boys.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the February issue is Jan. 15; deadline for the March issue is Feb. 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Alter Kayakers make waves in Newport Bay


Every Thursday morning, 11 supremely fit old men come thundering into Newport Bay, rounding up all the good rental kayaks on the Balboa Peninsula and singing at the top of their lungs.

Most are major fundraisers for Heritage Pointe, Orange County’s Home for the Jewish Aging, and they call themselves the Alter Kayakers.

The name was a natural, said Stan Sackler, 70, of Newport Beach, a retired fuel dealer, who was already a member of a Jewish cycling group in Fullerton called Shlemiels on Wheels.

Sackler and Steve Fienberg, 67, of Irvine assembled the group four years ago, and let Howard Weinstein, 72, of Corona del Mar coin the name. They’ve never had a slow moment since.

“I look forward to this all week,” Weinstein said. “I can’t wait for Thursday.”
Not that Weinstein, or any of the other Alter Kayakers, lives in the slow lane the rest of the week.

Weinstein hiked and rode horseback through Patagonia for 18 days last fall. He plays tennis four times a week, works out with a personal trainer twice a week and he’ll have to miss the Alter Kayakers’ February cruise to Mexico because he’ll be in Botswana.

“I figure that if I stay active when I’m 72, I’ll still have a life when I’m 92,” Weinstein said.

The Alter Kayakers stand out for their awesome endurance and robust bearing, and they cram their days with endless bicycling, hiking, tennis, martial arts and river rafting. But no one has to quit when his abilities falter.

Seymour Lobel, 77, a retired auto financier from Corona del Mar, for example, has lost much of his vision. Other members of the Alter Kayakers drive him to Newport Bay each week, and in the water, someone always keeps an eye on his kayak.

Members love to reminisce about their Kern River rafting trip last September, when the raft overturned and all the members were dumped into the churning river’s Class 4 rapids. Stronger members helped stragglers get back onto the raft, and the team spirit that prevailed made even these tough men of steel mist up for a moment.

Two seconds of sober reminiscence passed, and then Weinstein said, “Stan Sackler, wearing a hearing aid, came damn close to getting electrocuted.”

Ephie Beard, 75, a Newport Beach resident of 13 years who owned car auction businesses in Anaheim and Fontana, introduced the Alter Kayakers to whitewater rafting.

“I’d been doing it for 21 years,” he said. But the day the raft flipped, he said, “it was pretty scary for some of those guys.”

But all this running around without performing a few mitzvot is against Alter Kayaker rules.

“We all try to do something for the Jewish community,” said David Stoll, who owns a boat engine business in Newport Beach. “Most of us are Diamond Donors to Heritage Pointe in Mission Viejo. My personal feeling is that you have to pay your Jewish dues. If you don’t pay the community back, it really gets on our nerves.”

Two of the Alter Kayakers aren’t Jewish, but they’re treated like Members of the Tribe. Stan Angermeir, 67, a nursing home operator who lives on Lido Isle, belongs to Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana with his Jewish wife. Wayne Harmon, 69, of Corona del Mar, the other non-Jew in the group, has a serious relationship with a Jewish woman.

“Believe it or not,” joked Stoll, 68, “we made Wayne our treasurer.”

“But we don’t have anything in the treasury,” added Stackler, a former director of the Orange County Jewish Federation.

Every year, the Alter Kayakers hold an awards ceremony.

“Everyone wins first place in something,” Stoll said. “Wayne Harmon won first prize for looking the least Jewish.”

Most of the Alter Kayakers are retired or semiretired professionals or businessmen.

Arthur Friedman, 71, of Balboa was a dermatologist. Sid Field, 77, who lives in Newport Coast, was a dentist. Robert Baker, 64, of Newport Beach and Fienberg were lawyers.

Weinstein was a pharmacist who became a pharmaceutical manufacturer. Harmon was an executive with J.C. Penney. The rest were entrepreneurs.

When they gather, they are sure to sing “Kayakers’ Spirit,” their own anthem, sung to the tune of the “Illini Fight Song.” Field, a University of Illinois alum, wrote the words. The anthem concludes their weekly Thursday ritual, which starts with a 4-mile, one-hour kayak expedition into Newport Bay and progresses to lunch at Newport Landing Restaurant.
“Same seats or we forget the name of the guy next to us,” Sackler explained.

Same menu, too, it turns out: A half portion of Caesar, Cobb or chicken avocado salad. Ironmen feasting on salad fragments?

“Some members are on diets or too cheap to buy a whole salad,” Weinstein said. “One member who shall remain nameless orders a sandwich off the menu, and he is penalized by getting a separate check.”

The Alter Kayakers say they don’t accept new members.

“Our membership is now closed because the group has such good chemistry, and we don’t want to tamper with it,” Fienberg said. “Also, the place we rent kayaks from only has about 11 good kayaks, and more than 11 for lunch is a bit much.”

They also discourage lunch guests.

“You must be mishpachah,” Weinstein said. “You can be a ninth cousin, but you have to be in the family.”

All but one of the Alter Kayakers are married, nearly all to their first wives — Stoll for 42 years, Baker for 41.

“My wife loves it,” Weinstein said. “It gives me an opportunity to socialize with the boys and to go out and exercise.”

There are no greens fees or memberships to eat away at the family budget; it costs $10 to rent a kayak.

So far none of the Alter Kayakers’ wives has taken to renting a kayak of her own.
“My wife came out with me in a tandem in Newport once,” Sackler said, “and loved it as long as I did the paddling.”

Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson expected to set new charity donation record


Sheldon Adelson, frequently dubbed “the world’s richest Jew,” is about to claim the title of biggest Jewish philanthropist.The Las Vegas-based global casino and resort owner is slated to announce creation of a foundation that will allocate $200 million a year, according to a rising tide of media leaks and speculation.

Adelson himself, in a phone call to The Journal, would not confirm these figures, or that the money would be split between projects strengthening Jewish heritage and medicine. He labeled such media reports as exaggerated or erroneous.

“Everything I do promotes Jewish heritage, and I’ve given more than $200 million to medical research,” he said. “We’re now focusing on 10 different diseases.”

It is believed that half of the $200 million will go for projects to preserve the Jewish heritage and half for medical aid to the needy.

On the current Forbes 400 list of the 400 richest Americans, Adelson ranks third with $20.5 billion, up from a mere $1.4 billion in 2004. That year, Adelson took the Sands public, with his family as the majority stockholder. The shares have more than doubled since the initial public offering.

However, the 74-year-old entrepreneur has made no secret of his ambition to overtake Bill Gates, who leads the field with $53 billion, and Warren Buffett, second at $46 billion.

The expected new mega-donation tops Adelson’s other contributions this year, including $25 million to the Yad Vashem Martyrs Memorial in Jerusalem, between $2 million and $3 million to hospitals and residents of northern Israel hard hit by Hezbollah rocket attacks.

This week, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Adelson had pledged $5 million to Birthright Israel to send 2,000 additional young American adults on 10-day trips to Israel.

A close friend of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Adelson came under scrutiny some years ago for alleged improper donations to the Likud election fund.

In this country, Adelson has been a generous supporter of Republican candidates and, in Las Vegas, he has underwritten a new Chabad center. He has also pledged $25 million for a state-of-the-art Jewish community high school in the gambling destination.

Much of Adelson’s interest in Israel has been spurred by his second wife, Miriam, an Israeli internist and authority on methadone treatments for drug addicts. She heads rehabilitation clinics in Las Vegas and Tel Aviv.

Adelson is the father of five children and his life and career is in the best immigrant’s-son-makes-good tradition. His father left Lithuania for Boston, where he made a modest living as a cab driver.

Young Sheldon started his business career at 12, when he borrowed $200 from his uncle to buy the “rights” to peddle newspapers at a favorable Boston street corner.

He attended City College of New York, but dropped out to work as a mortgage broker, investment adviser and financial consultant.

Adelson made his first big money by creating COMDEX, which became the world’s leading computer trade show, one of the first of 50 companies he has founded or developed during his lifetime.

In 1989, he joined the big league by buying the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas for $128 million, gutting it and then erecting the 4,000-suite Venetian Resort Hotel Casino.

Legend has it that Miriam Adelson inspired the Venetian concept while the couple was on their honeymoon. Whoever deserves the credit, the super-luxurious Venetian resort complex helped to revolutionize the Las Vegas hotel industry and give a facelift to Sin City.

Not resting on his laurels, Adelson broke into the Asian market two years ago by opening the Sands Hotel in Macao, the former Portuguese enclave on China’s southeast coast.

Next year, he will open the Venetian Macao as part of a complex of 20,000 hotel rooms and 3 million square feet of retail space. In addition, Adelson has won the right to open the first casino in Singapore.

“We’re in an obsolescence-proof business,” Adelson told Bloomberg News. “We’re in the second-oldest business in history.”Recently, Adelson has been slowed by a nerve condition and needs to use a walker, but he is not about to step down as chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation.

“Why do I need succession planning?” he told Bloomberg. “I am very alert. I’m very vibrant. I have no intention to retire. But if I were to retire, I would keep my family interest in the company the same and say ‘don’t sell.'”

Appraising Adelson’s influence, Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco, told Israeli reporters, “I predict that Adelson will change the nature of Jewish philanthropy by setting new standards in dollar terms for giving to Jewish causes and hopefully others will follow his lead.”

Pick a cause


When I was in eighth grade, I went on a school field trip to the Museum of Tolerance. My grandmother being a holocaust survivor, I had learned much about the Holocaust and took an interest in it. At the Museum of Tolerance, however, I learned about other things as well.

At an exhibit called the Millennium Machine, the last stop, I was in shock at all the horrible things that are still happening to children today. I couldn’t believe that in the world I lived in, kids were being enslaved and starved. I had always been involved with community service, but at the sight of this exhibit I knew I had to do something to help these children.

It was only a couple of weeks later that I was shopping at a jewelry and clothing boutique, when the owner noticed my necklace — which I had made. She offered to sell it at the store. That very day I brought in a tray of my work, and my guitar-pick jewelry was an instant success at the store.

This was right before summer started, and before I knew it I would be spending my summer days making jewelry. When I realized how much money I could make, I remembered that exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance and how much those children needed the money — much more than I did.

So I decided to give all of my proceeds to these unfortunate kids, and I began looking up charities that benefit kids. The first charity I donated to was UNICEF, because I knew that the money I gave would directly help youths in other countries that I had seen in the video at the museum. Ever since, I have given all of my proceeds to various charities, amounting to about $10,000.

In addition to my business, I always take on the opportunity to help in my own community. I believe that it is important to help out whenever you can, whether it’s picking up trash at the beach or working at a charity benefit, as well as taking on new challenges.

I love art and jewelry making, but giving to charity is the heart of my business. I might not be making jewelry forever, but I know I will always be charitable, because I have a love for helping those less fortunate than I am. Since I am a creative person, I’m glad to know I can use my talents to help others.

I also realize how fortunate I am to live in a nice house and to have food to eat, something that is easily taken for granted. I have also learned that we fortunate kids hold the responsibility to help children who are in desperate need for simple things that we have an abundance of. I believe that one person can make a difference, and with my charitable business I would like other young people to see that they, too, can use their talents for a good cause.

Amanda Martin is a junior at Viewpoint School in Calabasas. Her jewelry can be purchased at www.pickmejewelry.com.


The this essay was written for the Service Learning awards given out by the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Sulam Center for Jewish Service Learning (julief@jewishjournal.com.

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday the 7th

Take a stroll for a good cause at today’s 14th annual Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk. More than 100 teams are scheduled for the 5K recreational walk around Hollywood Park racetrack, and those wishing to register today are also welcome. Also ambling are celebrities Peter Gallagher, David Hyde Pierce, Leeza Gibbons and Lea Thompson.

7 a.m. (registration), 8:30 a.m. (opening ceremonies), 8:45 a.m. (warm up). 9 a.m. (walk). 10:15 a.m.-noon (health expo, live entertainment, celebrity autographs and prizes). 1050 S. Prairie Ave., Inglewood. (323) 930-6228.

” TARGET=”_blank”>www.actoberfest.com.

Monday the 9th

Sneak behind the curtain into the life of Pulitzer and Tony award-winning playwright Tony Kushner in the new documentary, “Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner.” Following the writer from just after Sept. 11, 2001 to the 2004 presidential election, cameras captured Kushner’s work on the Broadway musical, “Caroline, or Change.” and the children’s Holocaust opera, “Brundibar,” as well as his “humor, ambition, vision and dazzling braininess,” according to Newsweek.

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Jewish Renewal leader Rabbi Shefa Gold debuts her first book, “Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land,” this month. Described as an approach for using the Torah as a path for spiritual growth, the text has been praised by Renewal leaders like Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Gold visits Los Angeles this week, offering workshops in conjunction with the release. Tonight, she is at B’nai Horin/Children of Freedom.

Oct. 10: (310) 441-4434 or e-mail PeggiS@mac.com.

For other workshop dates, visit ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.uclalive.org.

Thursday the 12th

Storytelling for grownups comes courtesy of UCLA Live this week. “The Moth,” a New York storytelling organization, comes west for a night at Royce Hall titled, “Out on a Limb: Stories From the Edge.” The show of real-life narratives will include host Andy Borowitz (creator of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”), Jonathan Ames (author, “Wake Up Sir!”), comedian Margaret Cho, Cindy Chupak (writer and executive producer, “Sex and the City”), RUN DMC’s Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Steve Osborne (retired NYPD lieutenant).

8 p.m. $25-$35. Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 825-2101. ” target = “_blank”>Loudon Wainwright III (photo below), read theirs tonight.

7:30 p.m. $8-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

Jewish causes must compete to get big charitable gifts


Roland Stanton’s $100 million gift to Yeshiva University is the largest ever to a U.S. Jewish institution. Yet as Stanton himself said, “There are plenty of people who could do it.”
 
Our research shows he’s right: Dozens of Jewish philanthropists are capable of equaling Stanton’s gift.
 
So why don’t they? It’s not that wealthy Jews have no reputation for making large gifts to Jewish causes: Julius Rosenwald in his day invented modern Jewish philanthropy; Charles and Edgar Bronfman have built and continue to sustain the core elements of Jewish life around the world.
 
The question is not one of capacity; the question is whether the Jewish community can imagine and prepare for gifts of that size and scope.
 
Jews are among America’s elite in philanthropy today. They endow professorships, fund museums, build hospitals and science labs and set up foundations. Clearly, wealthy American Jews have no problem parting with tens or hundreds of millions of dollars at a time. b
But why not more to Jewish causes? Stanton is proof that we can succeed when we ask for big figures — $100 million or even $1 billion. Other Jewish organizations can set their sights as high as Yeshiva University or even higher.
 
Our annual research of megagifts — gifts above $1 million — turns up at least 50 people who could match or exceed Stanton’s generosity. These typically are wealthy Jewish business leaders who give only relatively modest gifts to Jewish causes. It’s tempting to write these people off as uncommitted Jews, but it would be wrong.
 
If Jewish causes want to receive megagifts, they have to prove themselves worthy. They have to compete on equal ground with the secular hospitals, symphonies, museums and universities, all of which court and inspire Jewish donors.
 
Richard Joel came to lead Yeshiva University three years ago; his vision has energized the place and clearly energized Stanton, who is chairman of its board. Stanton could have directed his gift anywhere, but this month he chose Yeshiva University. It means that he believes in something.
 
That’s the character of today’s new philanthropists. They typically are unimpressed by the donor recognition events of typical charities — the fancy dinners and building-naming ceremonies. They’re more hands-on and active in their philanthropy.
 
They want to give away their wealth during their lifetimes. Many of them are entrepreneurial in background and temperament; Bill Gates is their living embodiment. They will disburse their money with the same attention they paid to the building of their businesses.
 
The Jewish communal world not only should prepare for this shift in the philanthropic world, it should rejoice. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of wealthy Jews who have yet to become fully engaged in Jewish giving. There is an enormous opportunity to engage these Jewish givers.
 
Look at Birthright Israel. Sending thousands of young Jewish adults to Israel for free is expensive, but it has support from some of North America’s biggest Jewish philanthropists. Look at Nefesh B’Nefesh, a project that is helping thousands of people to make aliyah. And look at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s efforts to feed the hungry and poor.
 
Big ideas attract big donors. These are examples of what good, provocative ideas can do, and we need more of them.
 
Of course, the Jewish nonprofit world — the professionals who staff the organizations — also must be prepared to become more entrepreneurial. Most often, good philanthropists work hand-in-hand with good professionals.
 
Look at it this way: Today’s philanthropists think like investors, because that’s how they got wealthy. They want their money to achieve a return; they want results.
 
We should applaud philanthropists who choose to search for cures for deadly diseases, feed the hungry or educate America’s youth. At the same time, we need to develop and support ambitious initiatives that ensure a secure Jewish community, help grow the Jewish people around the world and take care of the Jewish poor and elderly.
 
Philanthropists then would feel that the Jewish community is worth both a mighty financial investment and the invaluable donation of their personal involvement.
 

Social Action Groups Fight for Cleaning Ladies’ Rights


I am sitting in a Brooklyn diner, having breakfast with Marlene Champion, 61, a tall, striking woman from Barbados. Champion makes her living as a domestic worker, and right now she works as a nanny caring for a 4-year-old girl in Brooklyn Heights.

Champion is also an active member of Domestic Workers United (DWU), a Bronx-based organization fighting for domestic workers’ rights. In the 16 years since she immigrated to the United States, Champion has worked in four households, all Jewish. With the exception of one family that treated her badly, she says she’s had good relations with all of them.

Champion felt especially close to a Dr. Steiner, whom she took care of for six years, until he died at 92 with Champion at his side. She was in charge of all his care, prepared his meals, did the laundry and kept his apartment clean. She accompanied him to all the family weddings.

He had specialized in the study of tuberculosis, and he used to tell her stories about his work. Sometimes, he showed her his old slides. You’d make such a great doctor, or nurse, he used to tell her. Champion still keeps a picture of Steiner on her wall, and stays in close contact with his children.

After she finishes telling me her story, I say that my family had a housekeeper when I was growing up. I also say something that she probably already knows: that hiring domestic help is fairly common in Jewish households. And then I ask her what is special, if anything, about working for Jewish families. She smiles.
“We’re of different races,” she says. “But I think we have a lot in common.”

When Jews hire people to do household jobs — anybody who cleans, cooks, does the laundry, cares for children or elderly parents — we are the ones who represent the privileged class, with the funds to hire help. Jews today are generally wealthier and better educated than the majority of Americans. But the widespread practice of having “help” goes all the way back to our grandmother’s day, when even Jewish families in modest circumstances very often had cleaning ladies, perhaps because the wages for domestic work were so low that even working-class families could often afford this small luxury.

“It wasn’t as if you were putting on airs,” a Jewish lady in her 70s told me. “Having a cleaning lady was socially acceptable.”

Yet even the term “cleaning lady” indicates the awkwardness employers feel in the presence of a rather un-American class system. We don’t need to call the electrician the “electrical fix-it gentleman,” after all.

Today, two-career households need housekeepers and nannies and cleaning ladies even more than the stereotypical clean-floor-obsessed housewives of a previous generation might have. Indeed, some of the backlash against the women’s movement focuses on this issue: The gains of middle-class women during the last three decades, critics charge, were achieved through the exploitation of other, less fortunate women. And despite the energy that fueled the 1970s efforts to elevate the status of housecleaners — stating that being paid fairly for a job responsibly done was no different if you were a housekeeper than if you were any other kind of laborer — those early efforts to make the relationship between employer and employee more businesslike never took hold.

Our relationship with the women who work in our homes is still inherently an unequal one. This fact makes many of us so uncomfortable that some Jewish women refuse to have household help even if they can afford it. Breena Kaplan, 65, is an artist on Long Island who has always done her own cleaning,
“It’s my schmutz, so I should take care of it,” said Kaplan, a “red-diaper baby” who grew up in “the Co-ops,” two Bronx apartment buildings populated in the 1940s and onward largely by left-wing Jews.

Her father, who came from Russia, a card-carrying Communist, made “a good living” in the textile business, and he insisted that Luba, his wife, have help in the house. Kaplan remembers Elizabeth, a tall black woman who smelled of starch and soap, standing over the sink, scrubbing the family’s wash. But Elizabeth didn’t last long, because Luba couldn’t stand the humiliation she felt at a black woman coming into her home and slaving away for her in, of all places, the Co-ops.

Some Jewish women attempt to deal with the discomfort they feel at the imbalance of power between them and their domestic workers by reframing the relationship as a collaboration. Carla Singer, a film producer in New York City, employs Grace Smith — not her real name — as a twice-weekly housekeeper. Singer says she really only needs Smith one day a week, but, “this is tikkun. I know where my extra money is going — to support Grace and her son. If I send it to a charity, I don’t know where my money is going.”

Singer feels that the tikkun, or repair of the world, is mutual — Smith helped her out at a very difficult time, after Singer had just made a hugely dislocating transition, she said, moving to New York from Los Angeles with her teenage daughter. One day, as Smith was helping them settle into a new apartment, Singer, stressed-out, snapped at her.

Smith shot back: “You know, Carla, we’re partners in this.”

“She was right,” Singer said. “In a sense, she doesn’t work for me.”

Except that Smith does work for Singer. And it’s time, especially in the context both of the global discussion of immigration laws and the more local desperation of working mothers juggling many needs, to talk openly about the relationship between Jewish women and the help — almost always female — we employ in the intimate settings of our own homes and families.

According to DWU, virtually all domestic workers today are immigrants, the vast majority of them undocumented, which makes it all too easy for employers to exploit them, wittingly or not. The good news is that there’s movement to encourage Jews to treat those who work for us with fairness, as we’re enjoined to do as a basic Jewish value.

A series of interviews with both Jewish employers and their domestic workers revealed that, happily, the mutual respect between Champion and the Steiner family is not unique. But I also heard awful stories about Jewish families who treat their domestic workers badly, ranging from subtle to not-so-subtle insults — recalling Philip Roth’s cringe-inducting scene of Portnoy’s mother and her treatment of the so-called “schvartze” in “Portnoy’s Complaint” — and a real blindness to the basic needs of the employee to allegations of physical abuse.

Some bosses, in flagrant disregard of Jewish teachings and basic consideration, don’t pay their domestic workers on time. “Do not withhold the pay of your workers overnight,” it says in Leviticus 19:13. Or, in a striking lack of empathy, some employers don’t recognize the dire financial consequences to a day worker who may be counting on the next day’s wages to pay the rent, or feed her kids, who gets a call the night before, announcing “I don’t need you tomorrow.”

Some women mistreat their domestic workers in more subtle ways. Gayle Kirshenbaum, 39, who is active in Jews for Economic and Racial Justice, a New York City-based grass-roots group with the stated goal of injecting a “progressive Jewish voice” into New York City politics, once remarked to a friend, also Jewish, how awful it must be for Caribbean domestic workers to have to leave their children back home with relatives. Her friend disagreed.

“No, it doesn’t bother them,” the friend said. “They’re not like us.”

Another woman spoke of her friend, a Holocaust survivor’s daughter in her 50s, living in a New York suburb, who confessed to feeling gratified when she ordered around a non-Jewish Polish immigrant cleaning lady.

The one family that Champion said did not treat her well consisted of two ill and elderly parents, whom Champion looked after for eight months, and their adult daughter who lived nearby. The problem, Champion said, was the daughter.

She would buy only enough groceries for her parents; Champion was expected to get her own food. When Champion lifted the father from his bed to his wheelchair — something she had been trained to do — the daughter, likening Champion to a man, would call her “Harry.”

And one day, when the daughter was visiting, Champion overheard a conversation between daughter and father. The father was telling his daughter how much he liked Champion, so much that he’d like to give her something. Maybe even some stock that he owned.

The daughter was furious. “Oh, no! They’re just the help!” she screamed loudly. Champion, although in another room, could not help but hear. “Give it to your grandchildren!”

Money, of course, is a real issue. Many domestic workers are badly paid. According to DWU, some day workers receive as little as $2 an hour; some live-ins are paid $250 a month. DWU recommends a living wage of $14 an hour.

Even though labor laws technically protect all workers, documented or not, in reality the laws fail domestic workers. Domestics do not have the right to unionize, and most are undocumented immigrants, which makes them doubly vulnerable. These facts make it nearly impossible for them to demand such rights as health care, severance pay, paid vacation, sick days, notice of termination — all things that we would likely assume were due us if we were the employees ourselves. But how domestic workers fare depends entirely on the will, good or ill, of their employers.

Jeannie Prager of Englewood, N.J., spoke about how these issues play out in her tightly knit modern Orthodox community in a New York suburb: “We are the people who seem to hire the most housekeepers. And we’re doing a terrible job.”

Prager knows this, because over the years she’d gotten quite an earful, both from Victoria Smith (not her real name), her former housekeeper, and from Smith’s schmoozing friends, who often hung out at the house.

Prager recently fired Smith, who had been with her for 13 years, providing care to Prager’s ailing nonagenarian mother for the last nine of them.

“It was time for a change,” Prager said. “She was always on the phone. Her friends who worked in the neighborhood often stopped by for a bite and a chat on their way home. It was all just too much, too much noise and commotion.”
Letting Smith go was a tough decision, though. “She was a godsend in many ways. And a 13-year relationship, with two women sharing one kitchen, becomes a very close friendship.”

When Prager finally got the words out, she gave Smith two weeks’ notice and $5,000, six weeks’ severance pay. Smith, also eligible for unemployment compensation, was furious.

“I always held you up on a pedestal,” Smith told her employer. “But my friends always warned me. And now I see that they were right, that you’re just like all the rest.”

“The rest,” of course, meant “the rest of the Jews.” Prager felt horrible. But despite Smith’s anger, she and her family paid a shiva call when Prager’s mother died shortly after the firing.

Smith declined several requests to speak with this writer directly, though she and Prager stay in touch.

It took Smith seven months to find a comparable job. Prager said she was the one to find it for her. In the Prager household, Smith had two weeks off annually to start, increased to three weeks at her 10-year anniversary, five sick days, three personal days and “of course,” said Prager, paid holidays.

Prospective employers, responding to the ad Prager posted for Smith on the shul’s Web site, kept telling her they’d never heard of a housekeeper getting paid vacation.

“These things upset me so much,” Prager told me. “They give us such a bad name.”
Worried, Prager approached her rabbi with the idea of starting a discussion in the congregation about practices around hiring household help.

“I feel that if some of these women could speak in a safe environment and say what bothers them, and likewise for their housekeepers, we would all benefit,” she said. The rabbi said her idea was interesting, and that was the end of it.

Prager had nailed it, though her rabbi wasn’t listening. But at least one rabbi is: Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of the Brooklyn congregation Kolot Chayeinu devoted last year’s Rosh Hashanah sermon to employing domestic workers, not a usual High Holidays theme.

“Since we are Jews sitting here together on a night designated for thinking about doing right, it seems crucial that we Jews be thoughtful about and to the people who work in our homes,” she said. And often, she added, we are not. “Not out of malice, but out of busyness and lack of thought.”

Lippmann cited the story of Sarah and Hagar, whom the infertile Sarah mistreats when Hagar conceives. The Ramban, Lippman said, “says Sarah sinned when she did this and so did Abraham by letting it happen.”

She added: “When we hire someone to work in our homes, we must see that person as fully human, seen by God.”

Lippmann, like Kirshenbaum, is active in Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ). Two years ago, the group embarked on a “Shalom Bayit” campaign in partnership with DWU. JFREJ also hosts small group discussions in people’s homes, the “living room project.”

As part of the campaign, the group’s members conduct discussions in synagogues about the just treatment of domestic workers. Last year, for example, Kirshenbaum and DWU members Champion and Allison Julien were invited to visit Temple Beth-El in Great Neck, an upscale New York suburb, for the congregation’s social action Shabbat. The women spoke about domestic workers’ rights.

JFREJ’s membership is decidedly left-leaning. In their shalom bayit, or peace in the house, campaign, the group is consciously trying, says Kirshenbaum, “to broach the line between progressive and more traditional Jews.” Because it is clear, she says, “how deeply this issue resonates in the Jewish community” in both directions. Jews are employers, she said, and they also want to do right by their employees.

“Doing right” means putting your money where your mouth is. At the living room meetings, JFREJ organizers talk about the specifics of treating domestic workers in a professional manner. Which means, for example, offering full-time employees a contract. The standard contract, based on a DWU model, specifies, for example, what responsibilities the job does — and does not — entail, how many paid sick days and vacation days the employee is entitled to, what the rate of payment will be for overtime work, the medical care the employer agrees to pay for, and what the food arrangement will be.

The document explaining the contract goes out of its way to assure employers that using a contract is good for them, too, leading to more loyalty from the employee, and an end to abrupt departures, as there’s a “must give notice” clause.

But it may take a while to shift employers from the more casual — and less fair, though less costly — model of doing business. The JFREJ-DWU presentation last year at Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, said social action committee chairwoman Alice Fornari, did not get much of a response.

“The evening ends and then it’s over,” Fornari said. “Nobody talked to me about it afterward.”

Other social-action subjects — stopping the genocide in Darfur, for example — get a significant response from the whole community, said Rabbi Darcie Krystal, who with Fornari organized the social action Shabbat and was supportive of the domestic workers issue. With domestic help it’s a different matter.

“It’s a very risky topic for a social action Shabbat,” Fornari told me. “People don’t want it in their face.” People, she said, would rather hear about, say, Israel. In other words, things and places that are far away.

“I don’t think most people care about the rights of domestic workers,” Fornari said. “They don’t feel it’s a topic that’s relevant to their lives, even though the women they hire are taking care of their homes and their children. People don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want to do anything about it.”

It is a topic dear to her, Fornari said, because of her involvement with each of the housekeepers she has employed over the years in her own home. She helped one, who came from Bolivia not knowing any English, to get into college; the woman is now a teacher. Extensive interviews reveal that many Jewish employers have tried similarly to improve the individual lives of their housekeepers, to whom they’ve grown close; Fornari’s behavior, like Prager’s, is not an isolated phenomenon. Fornari is determined to continue the conversation that she started at Temple Beth-El. She would love to see a living room session in Great Neck.

Kirshenbaum described hosting such a meeting at a friend’s home in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a neighborhood where a majority of the women pushing strollers on the streets look to be other than the babies’ mothers.

“There were perhaps 11 people there. We raised issues like the fact that if you go on vacation, you need to pay your domestic worker. And people said, ‘But no, if I’m going away, I shouldn’t have to pay.’ ”

“But then,” Kirshenbaum continued, “I could see people shifting categories, for the first time. It was like lightbulbs going on. These women had thought of their domestic workers as casual baby sitters, not as women who were counting on this salary to pay their own household bills. And now, they were suddenly realizing, ‘We are employers and they are our employees, and of course I get sick leave, so why shouldn’t they?'”

“There is no shame in hiring someone to work for us,” Kirshenbaum said. “The only shame is in not treating them well.”

This article is reprinted with permission from Lilith Magazine: Independent, Jewish & Frankly Feminist.

It May Be Time to Change Goals, Ideas on Philanthropy


I have a dream in which Jewish early childhood educators in the United States, who currently receive an average salary of $9.66 an hour, can raise their own children without having to take out loans or marry rich. I have a dream in which Birthright Israel does not have to keep tens of thousands of potential participants on waiting lists for lack of funds. I have a dream in which non-Orthodox day schools truly rival the best private schools and the Jewish socioeconomic elite clamor to enter them.

While these dreams are remote and quixotic, American Jews have achieved levels of wealth unprecedented in our history. The problem is that we no longer give much to Jewish causes.

We are donors to universities, museums, orchestras and hospitals, but when it comes to Jewish philanthropy, we fall short. Today, perhaps 20 percent or less of Jewish giving goes to Jewish causes.

In the middle of the 20th century, it was about 50 percent. Only half of the Jews surveyed in 1990 claimed to have given to a Jewish cause. Of the $5.3 billion in megagifts given by America’s wealthiest Jews between 1995 and 2000, a mere 6 percent went to Jewish institutions.

Among those who do give, the levels of giving are weak. Only 11 percent of Jews donate over $1,000 to Jewish causes.

Can you name a serious non-Orthodox American Jewish philanthropist below the age of 50?

There may be one or two, but it would be looking for a needle in a haystack. Even those who give Jewishly give smaller amounts to Jewish charity than to secular causes.

Too many ignore programs of Jewish education and culture, focusing instead on antiquated preoccupations, such as the fight against anti-Semitism. In North America, the greatest threat to the Jewish people is not the external force of anti-Semitism but the internal forces of apathy, inertia and ignorance of our own heritage.

People’s giving is a mirror image of who they are. Over time, we have become meaningfully more American and less Jewish. That is reflected in our philanthropy.

We have lost not only our connection to Jewish roots but also our understanding of why Jewish identity and involvement matter. It’s an unfortunate cycle: attenuation of identity leads to reduced philanthropic giving, which, in turn, hobbles our efforts to create programs to enrich identity.

How, then, does one revive Jewishness in an increasingly secular American world?
Not easy. Too many of our needs are no longer fulfilled Jewishly. Today’s synagogues and other institutions no longer appeal to the Jewish spirit the way they used to.

Tzedakah is an outcome, an end product of what we care about, what we want to enhance, what we believe in and what we want to see grow. If we were to apply these hopes to our present community, I’m not sure we would like what we see.
The community has not operated by a set of norms and standards of what constitutes appropriate tzedakah. People who have amassed enormous wealth are told by ‘professionals’ that they’re the most altruistic individuals since Robin Hood, regardless of what they give. There are few role models in the community who represent our tradition of giving 10 percent of income or assets.

Historically, the rabbis of past periods anticipated neither the wealth nor the longevity of many contemporary Jews. If they had, they surely would have insisted on even higher levels of giving.

Recognizing that we are far removed from the bare-bones survival of the immigrant generation, it may be time to reconfigure what is the right level of tzedakah and what we should expect from our givers. One of our philanthropic goals may be to develop an ethic of higher levels of giving in relation to net worth.

For a person with assets of $100 million — and there are many such people today — annual philanthropy of $500,000 or $1 million is not serious. Yet, the community fawns as if these individuals have given amounts that are truly selfless.

At present, there is little accountability between wealth and philanthropy. This must end. A person earning $45,000 who gives $5,000 in tzedakah should be acknowledged as heroic, even though he may not get his name on a building.
We need to become part of a movement to change the perception of giving, to spread the notion that real meaning in life comes from selfless acts of philanthropy and to inculcate a sense of responsibility for the fate of klal Yisrael among those who have achieved high levels of wealth.

The challenge is daunting. In a community where people want their names up in lights, where we have a cadre of professionals known as ‘directors of development,’ whose ambition is to separate rich Jews from their money, how can we create a sense of justice, of fairness between rich and poor and recognize true philanthropy? How can we accomplish this in a free and open society?
On the one hand, we value our privacy. How many of us enjoyed the public displays when there was card-calling at events? For many of us, there is something unseemly about it.

I’m not immune to the conflict. In my various philanthropic efforts, I have valued the Maimonidean principle of modesty and indeed anonymity. Yet I, too, have had my name put on some projects and buildings. I frankly feel deeply conflicted.

I think it is a higher calling not to use one’s name, but I haven’t always been able to reach that higher level.

One of the goals of the emerging Fund for Our Jewish Future is to usher in a culture of vastly increased levels of Jewish giving. The fund plans to raise tens of millions immediately for priority action in Jewish education.
Hopefully, this will be followed by a series of focused funds to revivify Jewish commitment levels. Another goal of the fund is to approach individual communities and offer local philanthropists the opportunity to receive significant outside funds for projects that they are prepared to give meaningful down payments toward.

It is clear that what we need is imagination to view our Jewish future in a way that will capture the spirit of those Jews who are mostly on the sidelines today.

We don’t have many of the needed answers. But through hard work, creativity and, again, imagination, we can begin to reach the presently unreachable. With success, the result will be a renaissance of Jewish life in which our flourishing communal structures inspire greater Jewish involvement and commitment, which in turn inspire even greater levels of tzedakah.

Michael Steinhardt is co-founder of Birthright Israel.

Andrea Bronfman, Charity Giant, Killed


Andrea Bronfman, a giant in the world of Jewish philanthropy, was killed Monday when a car struck her while she was walking her dog in Manhattan. She was 60 years old.

“She was a Zionist — and her parents were lovers of Israel and strong Zionists,” said Marlene Post, who worked with Bronfman at Birthright Israel, the 6-year-old program that to date has brought nearly 100,000 young Jews to Israel for free 10-day trips.

Born in London to a Scottish father and a mother from New York, Bronfman and her husband — the billionaire businessman and philanthropist Charles Bronfman — maintained residences in New York, Florida and Jerusalem. They spent about three months of each year in Israel and in 2002 were awarded honorary Jerusalem citizenship.

Twenty years ago, the Bronfmans founded the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies Inc. The foundation has supported numerous programs and initiatives aimed at strengthening Jewish life, in addition to programs not related to the Jewish community.

Bronfman worked to establish a nexus between her concern for Israel and her artistic pursuits. In 2003, in response to the drop in tourism dollars at the height of the intifada, Bronfman founded AIDA: the Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts, which has helped expose Israeli artists to North American galleries and collectors and educate North Americans about decorative arts in Israel.

For her 60th birthday earlier this year, Charles announced creation of the “Andy Prize,” a $10,000 annual award for an Israeli artist.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bronfman turned her philanthropic eye to the attack’s victims. She became founder and deputy chairman of The Gift of New York, a nonprofit initiative to provide free tickets to a variety of cultural offerings and sports events for the bereaved families of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Other initiatives included 21/64, which supports young philanthropists; and Reboot, which nurtures young Jewish leaders outside the mainstream of organized Jewish life.

Friends and colleagues described Bronfman as attractive, dignified, vibrant — and highly intelligent. Those who knew her also spoke of Bronfman’s deep devotion to her husband, five children and six grandchildren.

A memorial ceremony was held Wednesday at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan. Burial is scheduled for Friday in Jerusalem.

 

Who’s Up, Who’s Down in Giving


Jewish philanthropies didn’t raise much more money last year than they did the previous year, but the American Jewish community remains numerically over-represented among America’s top charities, an examination of a recent ranking of philanthropies demonstrates.

Of the 400 top charities included in The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual “Philanthropy 400” list, a just-released who’s who of American nonprofits, some 26 were Jewish.

“The Jewish community raises a lot of money. Its philanthropic system is pretty strong,” said Gary Tobin, director of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research.

If Jews make up 2.5 percent of the population, he said, “there should be no more than 10 Jewish organizations on this list.”

At the same time, Jewish groups that made the list did not see the same boost in giving in 2004 that general philanthropies did.

The Jewish groups appearing on this year’s list, which looks at fundraising in fiscal year 2004, raised more than $2 billion, about the same as in 2003. Two more Jewish groups appear on this year’s list than on last year’s — although this number is still two fewer than the 28 that made the list for fiscal year 2002.

Observers say this year’s rankings don’t offer a significantly different picture of the American Jewish philanthropic world than last year’s did.

“I think there’s no good news and no bad news here,” Tobin said.

The United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella organization of Jewish federations, held on to its ranking as the top Jewish charity this year, having raised $251.9 million. The UJC finished 42nd overall, a drop in ranking from the 25th spot last year, as its fundraising went down by 26.9 percent.

The decline, UJC officials say, can be attributed to the fact that in 2003 the group was running its Israel Emergency Campaign, which brought in a large sum of money.

Although the UJC figures provided to the Chronicle of Philanthropy did not include money raised by local federations, some of the money reported did include funds from those federations and, therefore, essentially was double-counted. The UJC said that the total campaign of the federations raised $850-$860 million.

The other top Jewish groups are:

• The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which dropped from 54th place to 60th, although it raised 7.8 percent more private money;

• The Jewish Communal Fund, the New York group that manages the philanthropic funds of individuals and families, which finished in the 82nd spot, up from 103rd last year with a fundraising increase of 29.8 percent;

• The UJA-Federation of New York, which raised 1.4 percent less money in 2004 and went from the 74th spot in 2003 to 83rd this year; and

• The Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, which landed this year in the 133rd slot, down from 86th, with a drop of 23.8 percent in funds raised.

Eleven other Jewish federations made the top 400 as well.

The American arm of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS, a Chabad-led group working to revitalize Jewish life in the former Soviet Union, made the list this year for the first time, ranking 391 and raising $35.8 million.

“We have been working and developing our U.S. office in the last four years and many prominent Jewish philanthropists have come to recognize the mainstream work that we are doing for Jews across the former Soviet Union,” said Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz, executive director of the federation in Moscow.

Over the past year, Berkowitz said, the federation has constructed $25 million worth of buildings.

Several Israel-related organizations made the list this year, including Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, which was ranked 183; the P.E.F. Israel Endowment Funds, which directs the distribution of funds to charitable organizations in Israel, at 229; the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology at 247; and the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science at 263.

On the whole, donations to American philanthropies shot up by 11.6 percent in 2004, the Chronicle said. That increase dwarfs the 2.3 percent increase between 2002 and 2003. The first part of this decade, they say, proved tough for many charities hit hard by the post-Sept. 11 economic downturn.

“Philanthropy in general had a banner year,” said Heather Joslyn, a senior editor at the Chronicle. “The economy is recovering, and the stock market has been recovering compared to two to three years ago. That’s a big thing. This is definitely good news.”

United Way of America was No. 1 in the overall rankings this year. Its 1,350 United Way groups raised $3.9 billion, up 0.4 percent from 2003. Next in line at No. 2 was the Salvation Army, down from the No. 1 spot last year, followed by Feed the Children, up from the ninth position last year.

For the first time since the survey’s inception, the American Red Cross did not finish in the top 10, although it is expected to appear among the first 10 next year, when it will report some $532 million raised for Asian tsunami relief.

While the Chronicle list shows no commensurate leap in Jewish philanthropies, Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, said the list doesn’t capture the full picture of Jewish giving. A large part of that giving, he said, goes to synagogues, day schools, Jewish community centers and even non-Jewish groups like the United Way.

 


Locals on the
Dollar List


by Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Two local philanthropies made the coveted Chronicle list. The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles came in at No. 153, with more than $98 million raised, while the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles ranked No. 277, with nearly $53 million.

The Jewish Community Foundation’s performance was particularly strong. The grant-making group jumped an impressive 216 spots over 2003, when it placed No. 369. The Foundation’s credibility in the community, improved marketing and ability to land new donors helped account for its fundraising prowess, Chief Executive and President Marvin Schotland said.

“We’re delighted that the Chronicle of Philanthropy has taken notice of our significant growth,” Schotland said.

L.A. Jewish Federation dropped 28 places compared to its standing in 2003. Federations representing smaller Jewish populations, including San Francisco (No. 215), Detroit (No. 237) and Boston (No. 238), each raised more money than the L.A. group.

Still, the numbers tell only part of the story, at least when it comes to federations, L.A. Federation President John Fishel said. Whereas the Los Angeles group only reports the proceeds from its annual campaign, other federations often count that along with funds generated by community foundations, which is “a little like comparing apples and oranges,” Fishel said.

The L.A. Federation would have placed second behind New York among American federations if the funds raised by the L.A. Jewish Community Foundation were included in its total.

In recent years, the L.A. Federation has seen an uptick in annual fundraising, Fishel said, adding that the positive trend should continue this year. Still, “I always think there’s room for improvement,” he said.

The Circuit


Monty’s a Man — Again

Philanthropist and game show icon Monty Hall took center stage last week at Temple Shalom for the Arts when he stepped up to the bimah to read from the Torah at his bar mitzvah. Hall embraced the ancient tradition of a second bar mitzvah surrounded by an overflowing group of friends and well-wishers who turned out to share this “second” special life moment.

Hall, born Monty Halperin on Aug. 25, 1924, in Winnipeg, Canada, came to the United States in 1955 and worked for NBC on various projects. In 1963, he became the host of “Let’s Make a Deal,” a game show he co-created, which ran for 23 years and aired on all three major networks at different times.

With his wife, Marilyn, at his side, he has spent his life in philanthropy, raising millions of dollars for charities, ranging from the Variety Clubs to the Jewish Home for the Aging and a wide array of national and community charitable endeavors, including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Hall and his family hosted a Kiddush and reception after the service, which included participation by peacemaker and virtuoso Omar Faruk Tekbilek.

A Family Mitzvah

Charlie Brucker, father of Beverly Hills Councilman Barry Brucker, also celebrated a second bar mitzvah last week at Temple Beth Am as children and grandchildren joined well-wishers and friends to participate in the festivities. Making it even more a family affair, granddaughter Lauren Brucker fashioned a personalized tallit for her grandfather to wear for the ceremonies out of a piece of silk which she tie-dyed and painted depicting the family.

Son Barry, commenting on his father’s bar mitzvah, said, “I am so proud of my dad. He has always been an inspiration to me in every aspect of my life and will always continue to be. His children and grandchildren have learned so much from him about what it means to be a Jew and that pride has filtered down through our family and been a shining light to us all.”

L.A. Goes for Gold

Los Angeles delegates made a strong showing at the annual JCC Maccabi Games held during August in four U.S. cities: Dallas; San Antonio; St. Paul, Minn., and Richmond, Va. Israel’s first Olympic gold medalist, windsurfer Gal Fridman, was in St. Paul to light the torch at the opening ceremony.

Los Angeles, which sent 154 athletes to the games, brought back 131 medals, thanks to star athletes like 14-year-old Alex Fullman, who returned with 13 he earned in swimming — the most from the delegation.

“It was a wonderful experience for anyone who likes to have fun, play sports, and who likes to be with other Jewish teens,” said Fullman, a freshman at Harvard Westlake.

With his incredible achievement it is hard to imagine that Fullman did not expect to compete so well. At last year’s games he managed a single bronze medal, so “I didn’t know what to expect this year. I just went to do my best and have a good time.”

Competing with and meeting other Jewish athletes meant so much to Fullman that he skipped the Junior Olympics that were taking place at the same time to compete at the Maccabi Games.

“I have until I’m 18 to compete at the Junior Olympics, but only until I’m 16 to compete at the Maccabi Games,” he said. “I am happy with my decision.”

During the JCC Maccabi Games, Jewish teens from around the United States represented their JCCs as they competed against Jews from Canada, Great Britain, Australia, Israel, Venezuela and Poland. — Roxanne Pourshalimi, Contributing Writer

Chabad Aids Evacuees

Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad-Lubavitch, announced that Chabad will urge donors during its upcoming “Celebration 25” Telethon to add to their usual contributions in order to support Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. The California-based organization has joined as a full partner in a broad relief program undertaken by Chabad-Lubavitch of Louisiana, and is providing vital financial, material and logistical aid to those in need.

“It’s impossible to see the images of destruction and loss coming from the Gulf Coast and not be moved to action,” Cunin said. “Our hearts go out to the hundreds of thousands who are suffering from this disaster, and we will continue to do everything we can to help the survivors. On Sept. 25, we will ask our generous telethon donors to contribute an extra amount during this emergency that they can earmark for hurricane relief. Chabad has a long, proud tradition of nonsectarian crisis intervention, and now is the time for all of us to step forward.”

More than a dozen Chabad centers across the Gulf Coast and the South have been converted into emergency relief stations to provide shelter, food, clothing and accommodations to displaced families. Chabad of Louisiana has been involved in evacuation efforts, and has provided counseling, referrals to other agencies, and networking for those in search of loved ones.

“The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, taught us the special power contained within each good deed,” Cunin added. “And after this devastating storm, we will need as many good deeds as possible.”

Chabad’s Telethon is an annual fundraising event that supports the largest network of educational and nonsectarian social services under Jewish auspices in America. The special Chabad “Celebration 25” Telethon will broadcast live from Hollywood on Sept. 25, from 3 p.m.-midnight. It will also be simulcast online at www.tolife.com.

For information, contact Daniel Ferszt at (310) 729-7108.

 

Etta Israel Campers Learn Skills for Life


Mark Worland — six-foot-something, dressed in tight black and skinhead bald — grabs Navid by the arm.

“Come with me!” he barks.

“No!” screams Navid, barely 5-feet tall.

Navid throws himself on his back, locks the bottom of his feet to Worland’s knees, and shields his face and head from Worland’s flailing fists.

“Great job,” says Worland, a self-defense specialist, shaking Navid’s hand and helping him up, as Navid’s friends applaud.

This self-defense class is part of a repertoire of life skills that Navid and his peers are learning at Independent Living Skills, a summer program for developmentally disabled adults run by Etta Israel Center, a mid-Wilshire nonprofit for people with special needs.

Piloted last year, the program now has 15 participants, ages 18 to 29, who are developing life skills in a Jewish atmosphere while also having the kind of fun summer is all about — sports, trips and counselors who keep the energy level and the warmth at a joyous high.

On this Monday morning, counselors are dressed in muumuus and leis as part of today’s Hawaiian theme. They blast music while campers twirl hula-hoops around their arms, necks and hips.

For the hula-hoop contest and smoothie making that followed, the disabled young adults joined with kids from Camp Avraham Moshe, Etta Israel’s program for 10- to 18-year-olds with Down syndrome, autism and other developmental disabilities. Both programs meet at the YULA boys’ school on Pico Boulevard.

The living-skills training is a natural outgrowth of Camp Avraham Moshe, which has been around for seven years.

“We saw the older campers getting bored. They needed more learning, more focused activities,” said Dovid Levine, a college student and long-time Etta Israel volunteer who helped establish and now directs the program for young adults.

The camper-to-counselor ratio at Avraham Moshe is one to one, and at the adult camp one counselor is responsible for two or three. The counselors are paid a nominal stipend.

During the five-week, 8 a.m.-to-3:30 p.m. program, participants learn skills and responsibility from activities such as the camp car wash, taping and producing their own film, and reorganizing the warehouse at a food bank. They also help out with the younger kids and with set-up and cleanup. And this summer they held a charity garage sale, and collected recyclables from receptacles they placed in neighborhood homes.

Some of the adults work during the year, in packaging, food service and janitorial jobs, for instance. Some are in day programs, and others spend their days at home watching television.

Their life-skills classes — nutrition, hygiene, safety — and daily social interactions are practice for real life. Trips for rock climbing and horseback riding, accomplished with whatever modifications are necessary, give them a sense of independence, while daily prayers, blessings before and after meals and Jewish music create an unmistakably Jewish experience.

A highly detailed intake process pinpoints specific skills campers want to work on. This summer, one child at Camp Avraham Moshe mastered buttoning his shirt, giving him the independence to dress himself.

One adult with autism hadn’t been out of his house for two years, but on a recent day volunteered to be a punching bag for Worland’s self-defense demonstration.

After the class, Navid, 25, is eager to talk about his summer experience. It’s “the best! A dream come true!” he said.

Navid is a regular at Etta Israel events, including weekend retreats at different synagogues, Sunday school classes and monthly social events. Etta Israel also runs two group homes in Valley Village, self-contained special-needs classes and inclusion programs at day schools, teacher training and a support and outreach program for the Iranian community. All of the programs are designed with the goal of being welcoming to all Jews — from the unaffiliated to the ultra-Orthodox.

Camp costs $300 a week, a sum that is covered by parents, government funding and scholarships. Donations make up the difference between what is charged and the actual costs, which is closer to $440 a week per person.

Menachem Litenatsky, director of youth and volunteer services at Etta Israel, hopes the summer programs lead to something bigger.

“It’s a huge blight on the Los Angeles Jewish community that we don’t have a special-needs day school,” he says.

Elana Artson, whose son Jacob, 12, attends Camp Avraham Moshe — and a public school during the year — appreciates the benefit of an excellent education and a plethora of Jewish activities outside of school. She says Etta Israel gives him a consistent community and a circle of friends that a patchwork of Jewish activities couldn’t.

Jacob himself, who is autistic and communicates primarily through typing, is thrilled with the camp.

“I love being with people who love Judaism as much as I do,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I also enjoy camp because I can’t do most of the things that other 12-year-old boys do independently, but at camp I have an opportunity to do all the things regular kids do.”

For information on the Etta Israel Center, visit www.etta.org or call (323) 965-8711.

 

Charity List Shows Fundraising Stability


Who’s up and who’s down in Jewish charities? While a recent snapshot of some of the largest Jewish charities reveals that Jewish fundraising generally is stable, nuances in the numbers reveal the viccissitudes — and why.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy last week released its annual list of the top 400 charities in America primarily for fiscal years that ended in 2003.

The 24 American Jewish charities that made the “Philanthropy 400” list raised more than $2 billion from private sources. That was some $42 million less than the total raised in fiscal year 2002 by the 28 Jewish charities on last year’s list.

First among the Jewish charities was the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella group for North American Jewish federations, with nearly $345 million in private donations.

However, since the UJC represents the federations and the funds they raise, much of that amount essentially was double-counted.

Of its $345 million, $233 million was collected by federations for the system’s overseas partners, which run relief and welfare, Zionist education and immigration to Israel. The remaining $112 million is for the federation system’s coordinated Israel Emergency Campaign, which was launched in 2001 to aid Israelis amid the intifada.

While federations raised much of those funds in fiscal year 2002, most were not transferred to UJC until fiscal year 2003. That explains why this year’s list shows a bump in fundraising for the UJC but a dip for many of the federations, many of which already had listed the money in fiscal year 2002.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles fell in rankings out of the top five (see box).

The American Jewish community values the Chronicle’s list because it provides an opportunity to assess the health of their charitable organizations in comparison to each other, the non-Jewish community and years past.

But the list is not foolproof. For one, it doesn’t consider endowments or planned giving, many of which are mainstays of Jewish organizations. It also leaves out donations to synagogues, Jewish community centers and day schools, which boast massive capital campaigns, said Gary Tobin, president of the Institute of Jewish and Community Research.

Since most of the Jewish philanthropies that made the list are federations, which have flat campaigns, Jewish philanthropy appears flat overall — but, in fact, it is growing, Tobin said.

Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, believes Jewish fundraising generally is stable — but that’s not good enough, he says.

“The needs are becoming more acute, and if the Jewish community wants to have a greater impact in fulfilling our mission, then stability is not going to allow us to do the job.”

Additionally, “younger philanthropists view themselves as investors. This is not a generation that is looking to invest in static” charities, he said. They’re “looking to take some risks, educated risks, but risks [in charities] that are taking risks.”

Topping the general list of 400, by a landslide, was the Salvation Army. With some $1.3 billion raised, the group was half a million dollars ahead of the No. 2 charity, the American Cancer Society.

Federations and federation-related agencies make up more than half the Jewish charities listed. That underscores the federations’ pre-eminence in American Jewish communal life despite increasing competition — from both Jewish and non-Jewish charities — for donors’ money.

At the same time, Jewish federations primarily push a collective funding pool, despite a general philanthropic trend to give donors greater control over how their dollars are used.

In analyzing the “Philanthropy 400,” it becomes clear that a group’s ranking and the funds it raises may shift from year to year due to general economic conditions or even a single exceptional donation.

Often it relates to the timing of a special fundraising drive, as was the case for the federation system’s Israel Emergency Campaign.

Such a scenario boosted Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America in this year’s listing. The group’s fundraising jumped from some $75 million in 2002 to $94 million in 2003 due to a campaign to build a new emergency medical center in Jerusalem, said Jane Karlin, Hadassah’s director of development.

“This campaign, which had a $46 million goal, motivated our members across the United States to give generously,” she said, noting that the group had raised $51 million for the project by May 2004.

Some, like the Jewish National Fund, lost their place on the list entirely. Last year, the group’s nearly $30 million put it at 392nd place; while it topped $30 million in fiscal 2003, it didn’t make the current list.

The American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science saw its funds slip from nearly $65 million in 2002 — when it received a few major gifts — to more than $47 million last year.

Others made the list for the first time. The New Israel Fund, which raised nearly $37 million from private sources, debuted at 354th place. That includes a $20 million grant from the Ford Foundation last fall, the group said.

While many federations explained their rise and fall due to the Israel Emergency Campaign, the fact is that federation fundraising remained fairly stable in fiscal 2003. Donations to the federation system’s annual campaign — assembled from federations across North America — dipped only slightly in 2003, to $827.5 million from $831.9 million the year before. The annual campaign has hovered in the low- to mid-$800 million range since 2000.

The UJC raises another $1.2 billion each year through planned giving and endowments.

The list comes as federations report an increase in annual campaign gifts for 2004.

“We’re running 6.4 percent ahead of last year,” having raised some $778 million for the annual campaign this year compared to $745 million by this time last year, said Steve Selig of Atlanta, chair of the UJC’s finance and resource development pillar.

Indeed, some 1,300 women attending the UJC’s Lion of Judah conference in Washington earlier this month pledged more than $18 million, a 12 percent jump from Lion of Judah pledges last year. According to Selig, the UJC’s immediate past national campaign chairman, 2003 was a “good year,” but fundraising was hampered by a struggling economy and “a little bit of a hangover” after the Israel Emergency Campaign.

This year, fundraising has improved because of a better economy, and the fact that donors — many of whom have visited Israel on federation solidarity missions — are aware of the threats facing the Jewish state, he said.

Charendoff has a less rosy take.

With the exception of emergency campaigns, “the general story of campaigns in the federation system is that they have been flat when you adjust for inflation,” he said. “It speaks to several things, including a lack of clarity of purpose and an inability to engage larger numbers of the younger generation.”

Although the Palestinian intifada — and the consequent needs of securing and healing Israelis — continued in 2003, many federations chose not to actively solicit again for the emergency campaign, to avoid straining the system and undermining their credibility.

However, Steven Nasatir, President of the Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, didn’t share that outlook. Nasatir links his federation’s increased 2003 revenue to its emphasis on the emergency campaign.

“We really brought that message out to our community in a very strong way,” he said.

The Chicago federation raised more than $145 million in 2003, up from $121 million the previous year, retaining its rank as the largest federation fundraiser after New York.

Who’s Up, Who’s Down, Who’s Flat

Findings from the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s “Philanthropy 400” list include:

The Top 10 Jewish Charities:

In order, they are the United Jewish Communities; the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC); the UJA-Federation of New York; Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago; American Friends of Bar-Ilan University; Jewish Communal Fund; Hadassah; Brandeis University; the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology; and the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.

The Flukes:

The JDC, the federation system’s provider of overseas relief and welfare, made the list for the first time. The JDC took in more than $192 million in funds, putting it in second place among Jewish charities. Yet, the group had “been in that range for the last number of years,” according to its executive vice president Steven Schwager.

Explaining the oversight of the JDC in previous years, the Chronicle said it may simply have come across new information that allowed it to list the group.

With $140 million, American Friends of Bar-Ilan University was the fifth-largest Jewish charity, at 84th place on the list. However, that number may include international donations, according to the Chronicle. No one at the group was available for comment.

By comparison, the Technion raised some $60 million, but ranked in 214th place.

The Top Federations:

The top five federations in this year’s list were New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Baltimore and Boston. In 2003, they were New York, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and Boston. Of the 10 federations listed this year, only Baltimore and Chicago moved up the list, while San Francisco stayed steady.

Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Metrowest (New Jersey) all fell in rank. Federations from Washington, Atlanta and Miami, which made the list of 400 last year, didn’t make it this year. — RP

Tips to Avoid a Charitable Rip-Off


Every Jewish New Year we recite the words, "Repentance, prayer and charity avert the evil decree." It sounds straightforward enough, but trying to navigate myriad charities, especially Jewish charities, is confounding.

There is often an extra layer of complexity that comes with evaluating an American arm of a charity that benefits a sector in Israel or Jewish people living in distressed conditions in a far-off country.

Then come questions of how much to donate and in what manner to give.

Next, you may wonder what percentage of money received by the organization is actually funding the programs and services defined by the charity’s mission statement, and what amount is contributing to paychecks and perks to the charity’s officers.

And then there is the question most people should — but often don’t — ask themselves: How do I know which charitable organizations are legitimate and which are fraudulent?

Discouraged? Don’t be. And certainly don’t stop giving. Just give wisely.

"If you find a charity on GuideStar, at the very least, it is a legitimate organization," said Suzanne Coffman, director of communications at GuideStar (www.guidestar.org), which maintains an online national database on thousands of nonprofit organizations based on their IRS filings. However, Coffman cautions that you cannot infer that an organization is fraudulent simply because it is not included in their database.

"For instance," she said, "faith-based organizations are not required to register with the IRS, so they wouldn’t be on our Web site."

She advises people considering donating to a synagogue or a Jewish educational center to ask to see their IRS Letter of Determination, a form excluding them from submitting certain forms other charities must file annually.

"One of the ways we recommend to see if an organization is on the up and up," Coffman said, "is to look at their mission statement and the specificity of their programs and ask yourself how verifiable it is. Look out for organizations that are vague in the way they describe their programs and purposes, and how they will accomplish them."

If you are approached by an unfamiliar charity, check it out. Most states require charities to register with them and file annual reports showing how they use donations. Also, beware of sound-alikes. Some crooks try to fool people by using names that are very similar to those of legitimate, established charities.

The Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, which reports on charities and other soliciting organizations, offers free "Charity Reports" on their Web site, www.give.org. Like GuideStar, the list of charities evaluated is not exhaustive, especially those whose primary operations are in Israel. If you seek to verify the authenticity of a local charity that solicits regionally, contact a local BBB.

Often the best source of information is from the charity itself. You can contact the organization directly and request a copy of its most recent annual report and IRS Form 990. There, you can find out how much of the money it receives goes toward its stated mission and how much goes toward executive salaries, fundraising and administrative costs.

If an appeal for funds from an unfamiliar charity makes its way into your mailbox, you can also contact the government office responsible for registering charities in your state. Most state attorney general’s offices have a local charity registration division.

"Beware of appeals that bring tears to your eyes, but tell you nothing of the charity or what it is doing about the problem it describes so well," the BBB offers in its tip sheet for avoiding charity scams.

Online IRS filings also reveal how much charities pay their top officers. The Chronicle of Philanthropy, dubbed The Newspaper of the Nonprofit World, regularly lists such public information and provides information on how to assess a charity’s overhead.

Giving Tzedakah

According to Maimonides’ treatise on tzedakah, or doing justice, the highest level of charity is to help prevent a person from becoming poor. For example, finding someone a job or teaching a person a trade is far better than writing that person a check.

The next highest level occurs when a person contributes anonymously to a tzedakah fund that is then distributed to the poor. Jewish law commands that a person contribute between 10 percent and 20 percent of their net income to tzedakah.

It is wonderful to encourage and facilitate charitable giving on the part of our children. The b’nai mitzvah is an important spiritual passage that is often reduced in our culture to an elaborate party and gift-giving bonanza. As parents, we can imbue spiritual and profound meaning to these celebrations by designating a portion of these gifts to go toward a tzedakah of the child’s choosing.

Russian Kids’ Home Has Fashionable Help


Who would guess that every hip-hop kid sporting the Ecko label inadvertently helps save a Jewish child half a world away in the former Soviet Union?

The founders of Ecko Unltd., a popular line of hip-hop apparel that features a distinctive rhinoceros, promised in 1998 to donate a portion of their profits to charity if they got out from under their considerable debt. In late 2000, Marc Ecko, Marci Tapper and Seth Gerzberg started fulfilling that promise after learning about Ukraine’s Ohr Dessa Project and Tikva Children’s Home.

The Ohr Dessa Project was established 11 years ago by Rabbi Shlomo Bakst to rebuild Kiev’s Great Choral Synagogue, completed in 1997. During reconstruction, Bakst became aware of numerous homeless Jewish orphans in Odessa. The Tikva Children’s Home was created in 1996 as a spin-off of the Ohr Dessa Project.

Today, Ecko Unltd., based in South River, N.J., underwrites all administrative costs for Tivka, which means “hope” in Hebrew.

“Marc [Ecko] and his business partners have had a major influence on Tikva,” said Emily Lehrmann, Tikva’s director of operations. “They have enabled us to more than double the number of children we are able to help.”

Ecko also draws other U.S. supporters to Tikva, including Sandra and Leonard Piontak, of Corona del Mar, who became Tikva’s largest contributors.

On their last fundraising mission to Odessa in May, Ecko and friends raised over $700,000 for Tikva, bringing the total amount raised this year to $2.5 million. The effort is part of a larger capital campaign (with a goal of $6.5 million) that will support the construction of a new girls’ high school, dormitory and infants’ home, set to open in the fall of 2006. The Piontaks are Tikva trustees.

Sandra Piontak got involved with Tikva a year ago at the suggestion of Effy Zinkin, general counsel for Ecko Unltd. “‘Just wait until you see these kids,’ he told me,” Piontak said. “He was right.”

The Piontaks and their son Adam took an 11-hour flight to Budapest, Hungary and from there they flew to Odessa. After touring the city and visiting many places where Jewish children live — some in train stations by the tracks, some small one-room houses crammed full with people — the group of executives went to the children’s home.

“The great thing about Tikva is that you can actually see, touch and smell the difference that you’re making in the children’s lives,” Sandra Piontak said.

Tikva provides food, shelter and schooling for 180 girls and boys and educates an additional 500 Jewish children in the greater Odessa area. All children attending Tikva’s schools receive two hot meals a day.

Since her first trip last year, Piontak says the children recognize her and come running up, offering a wave of affection. On this last trip in May, Piontak visited three brothers, aged 8 months, 2 and 4 years old. Atur, the oldest, pulled up a chair for her to join them in the common room. Older children helped translate.

“The kids are just adorable,” Piontak said. “You fall in love with them right away.”

The younger ones are very fond of bubbles, she said. Ecko’s influence can be seen in the older children’s taste in music — they rave about Eminem and Beyoncé.

In addition to Atur’s two younger brothers, he has 11 cousins living in Tikva’s home with him. This is often the case, according to Lehrmann. Tikva’s staff includes researchers, who sift through old Soviet records — birth certificates, passports, etc. — to confirm a child’s true Jewish heritage and to find relatives of children that have come through Tikva’s doors.

The organization also provides other services to the greater Jewish community, including a daily “meals on wheels” program for the elderly and a day care center for working parents. The group is the largest and most well-respected group seeking to rebuild the Jewish community in Odessa.

After hearing horror stories about Jewish survival, most especially the Holocaust, Piontak feels compelled to give something back.

“Meeting these children and spending time with them has been the most moving experience of my life,” she said.

For more information about Tikva, visit

Cantors Plan Charity Concerts


With religious school winding down this month at many synagogues, some cantors will regularly seize the opportunity to produce a brief season of secular concerts with guest artists and visiting cantors.

Such a shift from liturgical music to secular show tunes will take place May 22 at a fundraiser for Westminster’s Temple Beth David. The vocal lineup includes three local cantors, including Beth David’s own cantorial soloist, Nancy Linder; along with Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot’s cantor, Arie Shikler; and Temple Beth Sholom’s cantor, Mark Thompson. Beth Wasserman Rosenfeld, chazzan sheni of the Reconstructionist synagogue Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, will fill out the soprano section. They will be accompanied by an eight-piece Huntington Beach-based band and produced by David Pinto, who has produced Linder’s CDs.

Beth David hopes for an annual concert reprise to bulk up its budget to pay for items such as a pulpit ramp for the sanctuary and new chairs for the social hall, Linder said.

June 6 will mark the 10th cantorial concert at Newport Beach’s Temple Bat Yahm organized by its cantor, Jonathan Grant. Grant will be joined by nine colleagues from around Southern California on a "Journey Through Jewish Music." They will be accompanied on the piano by Thomas MacFarlane.

In Irvine, Shir Ha Ma’a lot’s Shikler will again feature the Los Angeles-based Moshav band at his 7:30 p.m. concert, June 26. The group has a large following among the Orthodox community.

"It’s an opportunity for each of us to do material we can’t do all year," Shikler said.

Beth David is located at 27462 Hefley St., Westminster. For tickets, $18-$100, call (714) 892-6623.

Alternative Invitation to a Simcha


After canceling a bat mitzvah trip to Israel for their daughter, Danielle, Tricia and Mark Rauch decided that if they couldn’t bring their family to Israel, they would bring Israel to Houston. But when Tricia and Danielle began shopping for Israel-themed bat mitzvah invitations, they got very upset.

“We couldn’t believe how expensive invitations had become since my last daughter’s bat mitzvah two years ago,” Tricia said. “I said to Danielle, ‘If we’re going to be spending this kind of money, at least let’s try and find a way to also make it benefit Israel.'”

Tricia called Jewish National Fund (JNF) to find out if she could plant a tree in Israel for each guest invited to Danielle’s bat mitzvah. “It turns out JNF has exactly such a program set up already,” Tricia said. “The tree certificate is the actual invitation. We had the choice between a number of different bar and bat mitzvah-themed tree certificates and even one for water to help JNF alleviate Israel’s water crisis. We wrote the text to appear on the certificates, and now Danielle has a garden in Israel made up of trees planted in honor of each of her 550 bat mitzvah guests.”

Trends show that religious celebrations such as bar and bat mitzvahs are more lavish than ever, with the standard expense costing the equivalent of one year’s college tuition (Forward “‘Today I Am a Master Card’: Bar Mitzvahs Break the Bank,” Feb. 22, 2002). For most people, though, it is not just a question of how much money they are spending but how they are spending it. Whether planning a big blowout or a more modest affair, invitations that give to charity infuse any simcha with greater significance.

Roni and Arthur Tillem of Atlanta used JNF’s Simcha Invitation Program for both their daughters’ bat mitzvahs. As members of an Orthodox synagogue where women are not called to the Torah, the Tillems wanted to celebrate their daughters’ rites of passage in a way that still had religious and spiritual significance. For Nicole, who just had her bat mitzvah in October, the Tillems planned a family weekend for Parshat Noach at which Nicole gave a dvar Torah based on her studies of the parsha. The theme of the weekend was about choices and Nicole spoke about how it is the ability to make rational choices that distinguishes humans from God’s other creatures.

“The tree certificates with doves on them that we used as invitations fit in perfectly with the theme of the weekend,” Roni said. “First of all because of the role of the dove in the story of Noach, and second of all, and more important, because they illustrated the choice of giving tzedakah. Given the circumstances in Israel, for the same money you would spend on invitations anyway, why not support Israel in a way that’s tangible for your kids, yourself, your friends and your kids’ friends.”

Both the Tillems and the Rauchs reported on the overwhelmingly positive feedback they received from their unique choice of invitations.

“So many people called and even sent me thank-you notes about what a meaningful and beautiful way to start off the celebration of Danielle’s Jewish coming-of-age,” said Tricia Rauch. “People were so moved that they in turn bought trees in honor of Danielle.”

Roni Tillem mentioned a similar phenomenon: “A number of people took Nicole’s initiative and gave trees back to her as gifts. She loved the idea that she had inspired people to give tzedakah and I think she really took away from it a sense of the power of making good choices as well as the feeling that she had been able to do a personal mitzvah for Israel.”

“When Danielle goes to Israel she will see what a special thing she did and understand how proud she should be,” said Tricia. “Her bat mitzvah didn’t just end with a party that had Israeli dancing and a backdrop of the Western Wall, but will always be something living in Israel –there is perpetual significance to her moment of passage from childhood to accepting the responsibilities of adulthood.”

To find out more about JNF’s Simcha Invitation Program,
call (800) 700-1312 ext. 136 or e-mail simchas@jnf.org .

How to Fundraise in the 21st Century


More than a century ago, Jewish federations served the needs of tightly knit Jewish communities around the country. Centralized, bureaucratic and occasionally paternalistic, these charitable organizations were highly efficient fundraising and money-dispensing machines in an era when Jews were marginalized members of a WASP-dominated society.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times they have a changed. Today, Jews are among the most educated and affluent minority groups in the United States. Attitudes toward them have evolved to such an extent that an Orthodox Jew, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), is considered a front-runner for the Democrat Party’s presidential nomination.

As these tectonic shifts in American Jewish life occurred, federations, like dinosaurs trapped in tar pits, seemed stuck. As Jews became more secular, assimilated, geographically dispersed and willing to give to universities, museums and other non-Jewish causes, federations focused on the same handful of rich donors and trotted out their same tired fundraising campaigns.

Not surprisingly, they have found it increasingly difficult to engage their supporters in recent years. The nation’s federations raised $851 million in their annual campaigns in 2001, only 18 percent more than the $719 million in 1991, according to the United Jewish Communities (UJC), an umbrella group for 156 federations in North America and 400 independent Jewish communities. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles performed slightly worse than the national average, raising 3 percent less in that period, excluding other money-raising campaigns.

To maintain their relevance and polish their images, several federations are making sweeping changes in the way they operate, raise money and define their mission. From Los Angeles to Philadelphia and from Atlanta to Denver, these philanthropic bodies are looking at ways to boost fundraising, strengthen communal bonds and fund programs and agencies that resonate best with Jewish communities. In many instances, the UJC is providing consultants to help.

"We’re going to reinvent ourselves," L.A. Federation President John Fishel said. "We must; we will."

However, federations face myriad challenges that might prove difficult to surmount. Scores of Americans have lost faith in big institutions, said Mary Joyce, Gianneschi professor of nonprofit marketing at California State University Fullerton.

Joyce said that in the wake of United Way scandals in the 1990s and more recent corporate malfeasance at Enron Corp., WorldCom Inc. and Global Crossings Ltd., "people have become cynical of big business or anything that mimics big business. So when you have a big organization or charity that touts its ability to serve a big constituency, they’re now seen as suspect by many."

On Aug. 20, the L.A. Federation’s board will meet to consider a series of policy recommendations that would radically overhaul the organization from top to bottom. The fruits of eight months of intensive labor by a group of 25 local Jewish leaders — including Allan Cutrow, former chair of the Jewish Community Foundation; Frank Maas, The Federation’s former chair of planning and allocations; and Michael Koss, former chair of the United Jewish Fund — the proposed changes would "permit The Federation to remain as the central body in meeting the educational and social welfare needs of Los Angeles," said Irwin Field, head of the Blue Ribbon Task Force.

The L.A. Federation’s initiatives come at a period when it has fallen on tough times. In December, the organization posted a $1 million budget shortfall that was covered by reserves, said Field, who is also chair of The Jewish Journal’s board.

With annual campaign fundraising relatively flat over the past five years and workers’ compensation insurance costs tripling since 1999, the nonprofit organization expects to lay off some employees in coming weeks. Morale has flagged because of the uncertainty, said Jeff Rogers, president of the AFSCME, Local 800, which represents 84 of The Federation’s 145 employees.

In this difficult economic climate, other local Jewish agencies have also taken a hit. Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), a nonprofit that offers employment services, has lost $500,000 in government funding since October and recently laid off five workers. The cuts have led, in some instances, to a 10-day wait for career counseling, JFS Chief Executive Vivian Seigel said.

Jewish Family Service (JFS), in an attempt to balance its budget, recently eliminated the equivalent of seven of the agency’s 421 full-time positions. Jewish Free Loan Association has experienced a dramatic jump in loan requests without a corresponding bump in fundraising.

At The Federation, the task force has come up with 12 policy recommendations, subject to final board approval. Among the proposals:

  • Federation staff members should increasingly focus on high-end donors to raise more money, although the organization continues to have a commitment to the broader community.

  • All Federation personnel should help with fundraising in some way.

  • All allocations to national bodies must be consistent with The Federation’s strategic priorities.

  • All unanticipated or unbudgeted costs must be offset by additional revenue.

  • The Federation should partner more closely with such Jewish organizations as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Skirball Cultural Center and synagogues to create programs, among other initiatives.

  • The Federation should strategically allocate its money to accomplish measurable goals.

Some activists in the community have taken a wait-and-see approach. Gerald Bubis, a former Federation vice president and board member, said he hopes the philanthropic entity will play a more active role in Jewish life in the future.

"Unless and until a federation thinks of doing community building alongside fundraising, it’s going to have a very, very hard time," he said.

The L.A. Federation isn’t the only one getting a facelift.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has just unveiled its road map for the 21st century. With its 2003 annual campaign off by nearly $2 million compared to last year, the organization has decided to sharpen its focus to build "an inspired, caring and connected Jewish community," President Harold Goldman said.

The organization plans to focus on the Jewish elderly, Jewish education and on strengthening ties between Philadelphia’s Jews and the larger community abroad. That means less funding for underperforming agencies.

At the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, fundraising for the annual campaign has jumped more than 10 percent to $9.5 million this year. That’s largely due to the recent launch of Total Choice Tzedekah, a program that allows givers of more than $50 to decide where their money goes, said Doug Seserman, federation president. Hebrew schools and synagogues are among the new aid recipients of the directed giving, he said.

In the South, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta recently outlined a series of goals it hopes to reach in five years. The organization wants to double its endowment to $200 million and increase its annual campaign nearly 50 percent to $25 million by 2008. Federation task forces are currently coming up with a strategy to implement it.

Despite predictions of their untimely demise, federations are actually in better shape than many might imagine, said Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco. Although annual campaigns no longer generate much excitement and attempts to reinvigorate them are likely to fall short, federations have proven quite adept at raising hundreds of millions for capital campaigns, endowments and special initiatives, including funds for Jewish victims of terror and indigent Argentine Jews. To cite but one example, the L.A. Federation raised $18.6 million last year for its Jews in Crisis Campaign, money not counted in its annual campaign.

"In terms of creating new vehicles for raising money and managing money, there probably hasn’t been any greater success story in the Jewish community in the past 15 years than federations," Tobin said.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Laemmle Theatres serves up more Jewish documentariesthis weekend under the banner of their cleverly titled screening series “Bagelsand Docs.” At Laemmle Monica, early risers can catch “Undying Love,” a film thatrecounts the stories of young couples whose relationships were affected by WorldWar II. “Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good,” and “Ruthie and Connie: Every Roomin the House” will also be shown as part of the morning screening series thisweekend, at the Laemmle Fallbrook and Sunset 5, respectively. Bagels notincluded. www.laemmle.com

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Sunday

Short and stout? Think again. Encouraging a reexamination of such houseware stereotypes, Long Beach Museum of Art unveils its new exhibition today, “Teapots Everywhere.” Designs by Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring are just two of the more than 250 mold-breaking variations featured in the show. Other contributors include Cindy Sherman, Ron Nagle and Tony Marsh, promising kettles in every size, shape and material imaginable.11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Sunday). Runs through Sept. 14. $5 (general), $4 (students and seniors), free (children under 12 and for everyone on the first Friday of the month). 2300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. (562) 439-2119.”Mona Lisa/Van Gogh” by Noi Volkoy.

Monday

Zehava Ben lends her unique voice and singing style totwo new CDs that manage to feature many of the same Israeli standards and, atthe same time, sound completely different. In “Beit Avi” (“My Father’s House”)Ben is accompanied by the Symphonic Orchestra of Hadera, lending a soulful,classic Mediterranean sound to songs like “Hanasich Hakatan” (“The LittlePrince”) and “Zemer Noge” (“Sentimental Tune”). In “Laroz Variations,” Ben’spairing with top Israeli electronic music producer Haim Laroz adds trance beatsfor a world-fusion treatment of those same melodies and others. $15-$17. www.israel-music.com

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Tuesday

The tale begins when Ivy League-educated Richard Rubin takes a job as a reporter in the small Mississippi town of Greenwood. Part coming-of-age story, part courtroom drama, “Confederacy of Silence: A True Tale of the New Old South” dispels some assumptions about the New South just as it corroborates others, and is out in paperback this month.Atria Books, $14.

Wednesday

Do you aspire to hobnob, but can’t afford thegrand-a-plate dinners quite yet? Benefiting Lifeline to Argentina, an emergencyrelief project that helps Argentine Jews, Charity Stars sponsors an artexhibition and wine tasting on the beach in Santa Monica. At $25 a ticket (inadvance), it’s a good deed you can afford, plus excellent preparation forplayers-in-training. 7:30-10:30 p.m. $25 (in advance), $35 (at the door).Hamilton Galleries, 1431 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 936-5674 orcharitystars@yahoo.com

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Thursday

Grab a date and head out for good jazz and good food tonight. Steve March Torme (as in Mel Torme’s offspring) performs at The Vic in Santa Monica, the upstairs part of the romantic Victorian. Expect some old standards like “Blue Skies” and “Stardust,” both from his new album “The Essence of Love.” Just be sure to make a reservation. That’s the only way you’ll find out the password required to gain entry to this modern-day speakeasy.8 p.m. and 10 p.m. $10 (cover). 2640 Main St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (888) 367-5299.

Friday

Jennifer Maisel’s “The Last Seder” tells the story of a family’s last gathering before the father, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, will be placed in a care facility. Through the course of the play, the ritual of the seder becomes a channel for the family’s healing. Having helped launch the careers of playwrights like Christopher Durang and Wendy Wasserstein, the Ensemble Studio Theatre (through their West Coast branch, “The L.A. Project”) presents a staged reading of this new play tonight and Sunday.8 p.m. (June 27 and 29). $10. Theatre/Theater, 6425 Hollywood Blvd., fourth floor, Hollywood. (213) 368-9552.

A Pass-SOVA Tradition


A jar of gefilte fish, a bottle of Tzali’s grape juice, Manischewitz matzah ball soup mix, Streit’s macaroons, Trader Joe’s horseradish, matzah, Sun-Maid raisins. All the makings for a Passover seder — even if you’re homeless.

On a sunny Friday morning in March at SOVA’s humble West Los Angeles storefront, about 10 people — young and old — work together in assembly-line fashion to package these nonperishable items. These volunteers are unpaid, and the Passover kits are aimed at low-income, homebound and even homeless Jews.

Helping the needy is what SOVA (Hebrew for “eat and be satisfied”) has been doing since 1983, when Santa Monica deli owner Hy Altman and wife, Zucky, created the nonprofit organization.

SOVA’s three storefronts are open for four hours a day during the weekdays, during which the Los Angeles and Valley locations provide grocery packages for more than 2,000 people a month. A typical four-day supply of groceries — designed for homeless people without cooking facilities — includes canned and packaged grocery products, produce, liquid supplements and can openers. In addition to its food pantry services, SOVA provides referrals to an array of employment, legal and medical help services, as well as bus tokens.

There is a cap on how many times people off the street can solicit SOVA’s services: twice a month for the homeless, once a month for low-income, although exceptions are made for emergency situations.

Originally a Jewish Community Centers (JCC) program, SOVA transferred over in 2002 to the authority of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, as part of a post-crisis reorganization of JCC assets. SOVA operates on an annual budget of $560,000 culled from The Federation, government and municipal grants, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and private donors, such as the Edelstein Family Foundation and Carolyn Spiegel. Spiegel, who has purchased and donated products to SOVA for several years, even developed a system for combining coupons and advertised grocery store specials to donate goods. In 2002, she single-handedly donated more than $39,000 worth of products for SOVA’s clientele.

“Their income is so low, they can’t afford to cover their day-to-day costs,” said Leslie Friedman, SOVA’s director since the JFS takeover.

SOVA is a real roll-up-your-sleeves kind of team effort.

“The most rewarding element has been working with volunteers,” said Lirona Kadosh, the 25-year-old manager of SOVA’s West L.A. location. “In the end of the day, it’s tough, it’s draining. But you learn a lot.”

SOVA thrives from food collection campaigns supported by more than 50 area congregations, as well as other community entities. Passover — along with Rosh Hashana, Thanksgiving and Chanukah — is one of several holidays each year for which SOVA holds special distributions. The food collected during the High Holidays translates into an estimated $80,000 saved.

“We have a lot of regulars — homeless veterans, Russian immigrants, Latino families that just can’t stretch enough,” said volunteer Myrna Dosie, who is in her 12th year as a volunteer. About a quarter of those helped by SOVA are Jewish, many of them elderly, some Holocaust survivors.

Enter Hans, a man with a German accent, who comes in for his typical SOVA care package, which might included cooking oil, tuna, pasta, rice, spaghetti sauce, tea, cereal and toiletries, such as toothpaste, shampoo and hand lotion.

Minutes later, in walks another regular, Paul, who lives in the Crenshaw District. He feeds a family of five and has been turning to SOVA twice a month for supplemental help since 2000. He also has AIDS.

“They’ve been very helpful,” said Paul, an African American who learned about SOVA through AIDS Project Los Angeles. “They’re very personable and have always treated me with kindness. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”

Since 1989, Paul and Ruth Mittleman have dropped by the West Los Angeles station every week to donate their time. Ruth even got her friend, Dosie, involved.

What might not be so obvious on the surface is that SOVA not only assists total strangers, but often even helps the very people volunteering for the nonprofit organization.

Ezra Shemtob, 82, struggles to suppress tears as he tells his story, even after nearly two decades have passed. The Mittlemans helped Shemtob adapt to America when he was just a stranger to the United States in 1989. The former high school teacher came to this country a broken man — his apartment, career and car confiscated by Iran’s government, simply because he was Jewish. Upon his arrival in America, his wife died of a heart attack as a result of all of the stress they had endured.

Every day after synagogue services, the observant Shemtob comes down to SOVA to volunteer a few hours of his time. Given all that he has experienced, Shemtob credits the volunteering as crucial to his mental and spiritual health.

“He’s been here for 14 years,” Paul Mittleman said. “He’s been very sick, but he’s OK now. He’s been a very loyal worker.”

Shemtob, who has a son living in Los Angeles and a daughter stuck in Iran, gives back to the community “as a mitzvah, for the United States, which gave me everything.”

He appreciates the scope of SOVA’s outreach.

“SOVA is a good organization,” Shemtob said. “They don’t look at race, what color, what religion — they help everybody.”

Also helping expedite things on this Friday morning are a clutch of students from the Archer School for Girls and Harvard-Westlake School who are fulfilling required community service hours. Abram Kaplan, a Harvard-Westlake 10th-grader, chose SOVA because he remembers the charity group from his Temple Emanuel days.

“I’ve met a whole lot of cool people like Ezra,” said Kaplan, 16, who sees SOVA as something he would volunteer for even if his school did not require him to. Kaplan roped in his classmate, Eyal Dechter, who was less enthusiastic about his community service detail. But he conceded that SOVA is a good cause.

“It’s a good idea to help others in need, but I do it mostly because I have to,” said Dechter, 15.

First-time volunteer Simon Yeger had no problem getting into the SOVA groove.

“Everyone’s been very helpful,” said Yeger, now retired for four years and looking for ways to give back to the community.

What SOVA needs most right now is more volunteers, who can donate a couple of hours per week, and vendors, who would be joining supermarkets such as Ralphs and Gelson’s.

“We are very open and interested to hearing from vendors who’d like to contribute goods,” Friedman said.

Kadosh has seen a difference for the better since JFS took over SOVA.

“All of the adjustments have been for the better. We’ve had more access to food, an increase in help, more drivers and stronger support.”

And volunteers see SOVA’s mandate as an extension of what the Torah commands Jews to do.

“The middle name of Judaism is tzedakah,” Ruth Mittleman said. “Offering help to people is just a way of Jewish life, and here you can see your money at work. This is as hands-on as it gets.”

The SOVA Food Pantry Program is located at 13425 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 200, Sherman Oaks. For more information, call (818) 789-7633 or visit www.jfsla.org/sova/.

The three SOVA storefronts are: SOVA Valley, 60271¼2 Reseda Blvd., Tarzana. (818) 342-1320.

SOVA Metro, 7563 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 932-1658.

SOVA West, 11310 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 473-6350.

The Match Game


When B’nai B’rith International needs a headliner to attract
people to a fundraising dinner, it knows where to turn.

Los Angeles-based Celebrity Connection, founded 20 years ago
by Barry Greenberg, is the exclusive coordinator for all of B’nai B’rith’s fundraising
dinners in the United States.

Greenberg, 51, is a pioneer in the celebrity brokering
business, which involves finding, matching and hiring celebrities to make
appearances on behalf of organizations.

While celebrity brokering is still a small industry, it’s
growing fast as America becomes ever more obsessed with celebrity. Curiously,
virtually all the major players in the field are Jewish.

“Initially, Celebrity Connection was conceived as a
clearinghouse for celebrity participation in charity,” recalled Greenberg, who
previously worked for Jewish nonprofit organizations, including B’nai B’rith
and the Jewish National Fund, and currently is vice president of Temple Israel
of Hollywood. Greenberg teaches a course titled “The Role of Celebrity in
Public Relations” at the USC Annenberg School of Communications.

Celebrity Connections brokers deals for celebrities and
receives 10 percent on top of the contracted price. The company has experienced
dramatic growth, especially in the last six years, with satellite offices in Germany
and Spain in addition to its Los Angeles headquarters.

“We spend a lot of time educating prospective clients not
only about the specialized service we provide, but about the entire process of
matching the right celebrity with the right client,” he said.

For example, efforts to fight Parkinson’s disease saw
funding increase after actor Michael J. Fox got involved, while AIDS awareness
benefited from the advocacy of actress Elizabeth Taylor. Some actors,
musicians, comedians and sports stars may appear for charities for a nominal
fee, while others charge tens of thousands of dollars for commercials or
endorsements.

While Celebrity Connection is the oldest and biggest firm in
the industry, another key player is Celebrity Source in Los Angeles.
Established in 1988 by Rita Tateel, who has a background in Jewish communal
service, Celebrity Source also is a full-service firm, which often arranges
video or satellite celebrity if celebrities can’t attend an event in person.

Another player in the field is Mark Goldman, founder and
principal of the Oxnard-based Damon Brooks, a boutique firm in the niche market
of celebrities and athletes who have overcome disabilities. Goldman books them
for charitable appearances, public relations promotions and motivational
speaking engagements.

Celebrities’ managers and agents appreciate the role
celebrity brokers play in pairing their clients with worthy causes — and
earning their clients some publicity to boot.

Movie producer Larry Brezner, who also manages Billy Crystal
and Robin Williams, lifts a stack of letters, invitations and requests that
clutters the desk of his Beverly Hills office.

“This is just one day’s mail,” Brezner said, shaking his
head as he fanned the solicitations from charitable organizations that range in
size from local medical clinics to well-known national associations.

For the most part, however, Brezner already knows his stars’
predilections and preferences. He also estimates that if celebrities agreed to
support every worthy cause that came their way, “they would spend 90 percent of
their time doing nothing else.”

Crystal, for example, “throws his energy into big projects,
like the planned Performing Arts Peace Center at the Hebrew University, to
which he has personally donated $1.5 million,” Brezner said. “He is the
recipient of the Scopus Award, and was also the guest of honor this [month] at
the Simon Wiesenthal [Center’s] Museum of Tolerance annual dinner, which was
attended by every major studio head in the business.”

He added: “Virtually every celebrity with whom we work has a
big heart. Most of them are very grateful for the good fortune they have had in
their careers, and for getting paid to do what they love to do anyway. So they feel
an obligation to give back to the community.” Â

World Briefs


U.S. to Reduce Sinai Presence

The United States has convinced Israel and Egypt to accept an immediate cut in the American presence in the Sinai, JTA has learned. According to an Israeli official, the United States will continue to lead the Multinational Force and Observers — established under the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt — but the American presence will be significantly reduced. Israel and Egypt rejected an earlier idea proposed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to reduce the U.S. presence to as few as 26 men. Under U.S. pressure, the two countries submitted a joint counterproposal in which the American presence will be more than “nominal,” but significantly fewer than the current 900 men, the Israeli official said. The plan, which has not yet been made public, received U.S. government approval Tuesday.

Presidents Conference Rejects
Meretz

Meretz USA’s bid to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations was rejected. Tuesday’s vote at a meeting of the umbrella group of American Jewry came after the conference’s membership committee recommended rejecting Meretz USA, saying it has too small a budget and scope of impact. However, some conference members say the 17-14 vote was political. The conference leadership “really doesn’t want us on board,” said Charney Bromberg, executive director of Meretz USA, a peace and civil rights group associated with the left-wing Israeli political party. The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, which applied for adjunct membership and was recommended for admission by the Presidents Conference’s membership committee, also was rejected.

Court Won’t OK Firing

A U.S. court refused to approve a Florida’s university plan to fire a Palestinian professor who is accused of having ties to terrorism. On Monday, the court recommended that the dispute between the University of South Florida and Sami Al-Arian be submitted to binding arbitration. A spokesperson for the university said the school is still deciding how to proceed. Critics of Al-Arian, who is suspended from his tenured position, say he raised money for terrorist groups, brought terrorists into the United States and established groups that support terror. Al-Arian denies the charges.

Statue Honors Wartime Hero

A statue was unveiled in Los Angeles honoring a late Japanese diplomat serving in wartime Lithuania who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. The statue of Chiune Sugihara was dedicated last Friday in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district. Jewish, Japanese and Lithuanian officials were among those attending the ceremony.

No U.S. Tax on Shoah Restitution

President Bush on Tuesday signed a law excluding Holocaust restitution payments from federal tax. The Holocaust Restitution Tax Fairness Act of 2002 passed Congress earlier this year.

Rabin Assassin Testifies

Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin testified in the trial of a former Shin Bet operative. Yigal Amir appeared Wednesday at the trial of Avishai Raviv, an undercover agent accused of knowing in advance about the 1995 assassination but failing to prevent it. Amir testified that he never told Raviv he intended to murder Rabin, but did say that someone should kill the prime minister. Amir also testified that among the people who heard him make the remark was legislator Benny Elon, leader of the far-right Moledet Party. Elon denied the accusation: “I don’t know what is going on in Amir’s twisted mind,” he said. “Seven years ago he assassinated the prime minister, and today he’s trying to perform character assassination.”

Hamas Associates Arrested

Four brothers have been arrested in Dallas for alleged ties to Hamas. The four, who work for the InfoCom computer company, were arrested Wednesday, according to WFAA-TV in Dallas. They were accused of having fundraising ties to Hamas and the Holy Land Foundation, a charity closed last year after the Treasury Department claimed it funneled funds to Hamas. Attorney General John Ashcroft is expected to comment on the arrests Wednesday afternoon.

Tzedakah for Chanukah


The Chanukah wish lists of six needy local Jewish families
will be filled by generous families from Rancho Santa Margarita’s Morasha
Jewish Day School.

“These families have been financially disadvantaged for a
long time,” said Charlene Edwards, social services director for Jewish Family
Service of Orange County. “They asked for things our children take for
granted.”

On Dec. 4, in time for Chanukah, Edwards was scheduled to
collect gift baskets filled with wrapped toys and clothing, along with gift
certificates for groceries, movie tickets and haircuts. The cumulative
contributions from students, parents and faculty likely tallies $1,500, said
Robin S. Hoffman, the school’s Jewish studies coordinator. “We’ve been
inundated in the last week.”

The Chanukah effort is one of the first outcomes of
Morasha’s involvement with a three-year national research project of Hebrew
Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Its Rhea Hirsch
School of Education selected eight schools to participate in Jewish Day Schools
for the 21st Century, a project to demonstrate how schools can serve as a
Jewish learning catalyst for an entire community, said Eve Fein, Morasha’s
director.

As part of the project, a 25-parent panel, which has met
regularly over the last year, settled on enhancing certain Jewish values.
Morasha’s parents chose tzedakah (charity).

“So often, kids never see the end result,” said Kathleen A.
Canter, of Aliso Viejo, a panel participant who has two children in the school.
“We wanted the whole school community involved. It’s powerful when it’s visible
to all.”

Good Deeds


When Becca Yuré turned 13, her enthusiasm for pandas became the focus of her Bat Mitzvah celebration. Her Torah portion provided a neat tie-in to her message: the importance of caring for endangered species. At her party, stuffed panda toys graced the tables, and teenaged guests took home panda T-shirts. In honor of the simcha, Yuré and her family wrote a check to the World Wildlife Foundation.

But it’s the rare 13-year-old who spontaneously decides to use a Bar or Bat Mitzvah as an occasion for doing good deeds. That’s why synagogue B’nai Mitzvah programs encourage young teens who are being showered with gifts and attention to try thinking beyond themselves. Many rabbis and B’nai Mitzvah teachers suggest to their students that a portion of the gift money be put toward a worthy cause. And celebrating families are routinely urged to donate 3 percent of the amount they are spending on their parties to MAZON: Jewish Response to Hunger.

Some synagogues have devised more formal ways of promoting charitable impulses among their B’nai Mitzvah candidates. Adat Ari El in North Hollywood, for one, has in place a voluntary “Thirteen Mitzvot” program. Students who choose to participate engage in a set number of ritual and ethical acts of their own choosing. In the category of gemilut chasadim (acts of kindness), they might tutor younger students, assist in synagogue events, or perform the mitzvah of bikur cholim by visiting the sick. Those credited with all 13 mitzvot receive a gold pen during the B’nai Mitzvah ceremony.

Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood incorporates the concept of tikkun olam (healing the world) into its B’nai Mitzvah curriculum by asking seventh-grade students to take charge of several classroom tzedakah projects. This year’s students have chosen to organize a school-wide book drive, toy drive and canned-food drive. They make classroom presentations urging younger students to pitch in; once the drive is over, they vote on the organizations that will receive the items they’ve collected. These same seventh-graders are also staging a read-a-thon to benefit the Jewish Braille Institute.

At Agoura’s Beth Haverim, targeted
charitable giving is first emphasized in the year preceding Bar and Bat Mitzvah. Teacher Heidi Rich has introduced to her sixth-grade classes the notion that they can choose the recipient of their weekly monetary tzedakah contributions. This year, one of her classes has picked MAZON; the other has selected Pet Assisted Therapy, a program that brings dogs to visit hospital patients. Representatives of the chosen organizations visit the classroom, explaining what their work is all about. Filled with a new sense of purpose, Rich’s students tend to give generously. When $100 has been collected, Rich sends a check to the chosen beneficiary and rewards her kids with a pizza party. Then the tzedakah box begins making the rounds again.

By the time Beth Haverim students are seventh-graders, they are ready for more hands-on giving. Rabbi Gershon Johnson encourages all B’nai Mitzvah candidates to participate once a month in an interfaith consortium that feeds the homeless of the Conejo Valley. They also collect Chanukah gifts for needy Jewish families as part of a project co-sponsored by the synagogue and Jewish Family Service. Beyond this, each B’nai Mitzvah student is expected to research a Jewish charitable organization to which he or she will make a monetary gift. Part of the B’nai Mitzvah speech must be devoted to the reasons behind the student’s selection. One unusual entry on the synagogue’s B’nai Mitzvah tzedakah list is the Therapeutic Riding Club of Israel, which provides equestrian experiences for Israelis suffering from physical and emotional injuries. This organization has proved a popular choice, because it plays into many teens’ love of horses, while also giving them a chance to connect with one aspect of modern Israeli society.

Michael Raileanu, now religious school director at Westwood’s Sinai Temple, was until recently director of education at Beth Haverim. He believes it’s essential that students “donate somewhere that has some meaning,” so students are asked to make inquiries about chairtable organizations prior to the Bar or Bat Mitzvah day. By creating phone or pen-pal relationships with these organizations, they establish personal stakes in them, perhaps paving the way for long-term involvement. Raileanu notes that most B’nai Mitzvah celebrations tend to be dominated by the wishes of the parents. He feels that the choosing of an appropriate charity “can be one area where the kids still have a little bit of control.”

At Sinai Temple, students commonly make charitable donations with their gift money. But religious school Judaic studies coordinator Michal Freis also hopes to inspire her B’nai Mitzvah students by taking them on monthly field trips. They have learned first-hand about charitable work by wrapping gifts for the homeless at the Chrysalis Center, planting a garden of native plants at the Malibu Nature Preserve, and signing prayers at a service held by Temple Solomon for the Deaf. One important aspect of Freis’s program is the time that students spend in the classroom, making a connection between Torah and the social problem that each organization is designed to address. Before visiting Temple Solomon, for instance, they studied traditional Jewish views of the disabled. Freis says, “We teach the lessons from the Torah, then take them out of the Torah into the world. The Torah and the world aren’t separate.”

Sinai’s approach is to bring B’nai Mitzvah students into the community, hoping that among these class excursions, each teen will find a cause that stirs his or her passion.

At Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, where congregants have a long-standing commitment to social action, each seventh-grader is required to devise a personal mitzvah project. Nancy Levin, director of religious education at Kehillat Israel, explains that students must devote at least 18 hours to their projects and must incorporate them into their B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies whenever possible.

So when Steven Yates opted to help stock the shelves at SOVA, the kosher food pantry became the leitmotif for his Bar Mitzvah day. Yates’ invitations contained literature about SOVA, and all guests were asked to bring a can of food to the ceremony, where the bima was colorfully decorated with bags of fruit and beans, all of them purchased by the Yates family for donation to SOVA when the day was over. Most important, Yates’ project became a family affair that still continues. Although his Bar Mitzvah was in June 1999, Yates, parents Ken and Leslie, and 10-year-old sister Lauren still make the trek to SOVA almost every Sunday morning.

Kehillat Israel students tend to get creative, choosing projects tailored to their personal interests and concerns. The Auerbach-Lynn family likes athletics, so Brett (now 18) decided to raise funds for SOVA by entering a series of 5K races. By appealing to the local business community for sponsorship, he raised $1,300 over a period of five months. His sister Berit, knowing that her grandmother had died of breast cancer, put her energies into assembling a large team of women to enter the Revlon Run-Walk, dedicated to the cause of breast cancer research.

For Lilah Sugarman, choosing a project was easy. Because her young brother Alon has been a cancer patient at the City of Hope, she knows how much other young patients enjoy receiving toys for their birthdays or before major surgery. So her Bat Mitzvah this past November became the occasion for a toy drive. Now she looks forward to distributing the items personally. Her mitzvah project has brought her much personal satisfaction to go along with her pride in becoming a full-fledged Jewish adult. Sugarman says, “It makes you feel good — helping people.”

The Laws of Life


Among those who left Egypt, there were two — Berel and Shmerel. As slaves, these two had grown so accustomed to looking down at the ground, they could no longer lift their eyes.

And, so, when Moses brought Israel across the Red Sea, Berel asked Shmerel, “What do you see?”

“I see mud,” he responded.

“I see mud too. What’s all this about freedom? We had mud in Egypt; we have mud here!”

When Israel stood at Mount Sinai, Shmerel asked Berel, “What do you hear?”

“I hear someone shouting commands,” he answered.

“I hear commands too. What’s all this about Torah? They shouted commands in Egypt; they shout commands here!”

Finally, after 40 years, when Israel arrived at the Promised Land, Berel asked Shmerel, “How do you feel?”

“My feet hurt,” he replied.

“My feet hurt too. What’s all this about a Promised Land? My feet hurt in Egypt; my feet hurt here!”

Removing the external chains of slavery doesn’t make a person free. The body is unfettered, but the mind remains in bondage. “One of the great liabilities of life,” declared Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in one of his last sermons, “is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and, yet, they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.”

Freedom, in the Torah, comes in two parts: the exodus from Egyptian slavery and the revelation of law on Mount Sinai.

Why law? Law seems an odd place to find spirituality. Law is technical and dry. Law is about conflict and confrontation. Law is a restraint on the lowest parts of ourselves. In Western culture, law is an instrument for achieving social order — a way to keep us from killing one another.

Now consider a law from Maimonides Mishna Torah, Code of Jewish Law: You must give charity to the poor. You must give at least one-tenth of your income, but may not give more than one-fifth. When you give charity to the poor, the dignity of the poor must be respected. You may not humiliate the recipient of charity. Anonymous giving, where neither donor nor recipient are aware of one another’s identity, is best. Even better is to provide employment or business opportunity, thus alleviating the need for further assistance.

Notice how this is phrased. It doesn’t say the poor have a right to receive charity. This isn’t an entitlement program. It says you have an obligation. It is a mitzvah, a commandment. This is the core concept of Jewish law: You are obligated because you are covenanted.

This law speaks not to the lowest in us, but to the highest. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord Your God am Holy.” The purpose of law in the Torah is to cultivate the holy, the compassionate, the just, the sensitive within us — to cultivate the divine within us. Law is educative.

Law is a nexus between what is and what should be. Law rests upon a paradox: Because we’re human, we need law. Because we have drives, because we often forget who we are, because we have the agility to rationalize any behavior or attitude…because we’re human, we need law. But we can live up to the law only because we have the divine with us. Every “ought” implies a “can.” The command to be holy — to live a life of justice and compassion — is the strongest possible confirmation that we have the capacity to be holy. We have Godliness in us.

“The great danger facing all of us,” wrote the Preacher Phillips Brooks, “is not that we shall make an absolute failure of our life.

“Nor that we shall fall into outright viciousness. Nor that we shall be terribly unhappy. Nor that we shall feel that life has no meaning.

“The danger is that we shall fail to perceive life’s greatest meaning, fall short of its highest good, miss its deepest and most abiding happiness, be unable to tender the most needed service, be unconscious of life ablaze with the light of the Presence of God, and be content to have it so.

“The danger is that we will wake up to find we’ve missed life itself. Satisfied too soon with too little — with a life that falls short of the best.”


Ed Feinstein is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

Weathering the Crisis


City of Hope is the largest provider of bonemarrow transplantation services in California. Here Dr. Stephen J.Forman attends to a patient.

The City of Hope, the esteemed charity, cancerhospital and research center, is under attack. But supporters of thecharity, whose roots run deep into the Jewish community, are comingto its defense.

Last month, the Los Angeles Times and the PasadenaStar News published reports that revealed a conflict which has beensimmering behind the scenes at City of Hope for three years.

In 1995, the charity paid settlements to threewomen who had accused then-COH president, Dr. Sanford Shapero, ofsexual misconduct, City of Hope general counsel Glenn Krinsky toldThe Jewish Journal. An initial investigation found that Shapero andan associate had demonstrated “poor judgment” but “did not establishthe existence of a sexually hostile work environment,” a City of Hopeleader wrote to Shapero. However, during a second investigation,Shapero and the associate were informed that their jobs could be onthe line, Krinsky said.

Thus began a battle that now involves the FBI andthe state attorney general’s office.

According to an FBI search-warrant affidavit,dated Jan. 29, the bureau is investigating Shapero and two associatesfor engaging “in a conspiracy to extort money from COH” bythreatening to harm its reputation and donor base.

But Shapero, a 68-year-old rabbi who once workedat Temple Emanuel, “unequivocally denies he ever made such threats,”said his attorney, Frank Nemecek. Shapero strongly denies theallegations of sexual misconduct and insists that he never tried toextort money from the City of Hope, Nemecek added.

The rabbi believes that he is the victim of a”vendetta” for his 1995 hiring of an independent company, the FairfaxGroup, to investigate possible financial improprieties at the City ofHope, the attorney said.

The alleged improprieties, in turn, have promptedthe state attorney general’s office to investigate the City of Hope.”If a credible person brings us information about something impropergoing on at a charitable trust, we will look into the matter, thoughthat does not imply any wrongdoing,” said Wayne Smith, chief ofstaff, state attorney general’s office. Smith declined to discussdetails of the case.

Krinsky, however, said that the allegationsagainst City of Hope are false. He pointed out that an arbitrationjudge cited “serious questions about Shapero’s credibility,” in courtdocuments. The judge wrote that “Shapero’s motive in retainingFairfax Group” was to uncover misconduct “that could be used asleverage in his…ongoing war with City of Hope.”

Another arbitration judge ruled that Shaperoviolated the terms of his settlement package upon leaving City ofHope. The rabbi was ordered to pay $1.3 million as “compensatorydamages” for legal and other fees incurred in the charity’s “attemptto respond to the allegations made to national and localmedia.”

For example, City of Hope had to convince “60Minutes” that the allegations against it were untrue, Krinskysaid.

On March 10, a Superior Court judge confirmed thearbitration award against Shapero. Nemecek says Shapero will appealthe Judge’s order with the California Court of Appeals.

Steven Solton, COH’s chief development officer,said that he expected “hundreds” of donors to contact his officeafter the newspaper articles ran last month. Krinsky expected to bedeluged by calls from the press. But only a dozen people telephoned,and all were supportive, the officials said. There also haven’t beenany complaints from the more than 350 auxiliary chapter presidentsthroughout the United States. All of them received a Feb. 18 letterthat stated COH’s point of view.

“Let’s say you have a good friend, someone withintegrity. If someone says something derogatory about them, you’renot going to ingest the negative information,” said Claire L.Rothman, chair of the medical center board.

Dr. Stephen Forman, COH’s physician-in-chief, saidthat he insulated his staff from the legal battles. “No one was everdistracted by this,” he told The Journal.

More than two years after Shapero’s departure,officials insist, COH is stronger than ever. Since 1995, researchgrants have almost doubled, from $13 million to $25 million, Soltonsaid. Fund raising, which covers one-quarter of COH’s annual $250million budget, has increased from $47 million in 1994 to $59 millionlast year. During the past 24 months, 33 new physicians andscientists have joined the staff from illustrious institutions, suchas Harvard Medical School. And, last year, COH opened four newbuildings on the pastoral campus, including an outpatient center thataccommodates 204,000 patient visits per year.

The story of the City of Hope began one day in1912, when a young Jewish tailor fell dead of tuberculosis in frontof his walk-up residence at 12th Street and Central Avenuedowntown.

Thereafter, a dozen people, principally Jewishémigrés and garment workers, traversed theneighborhood, clutching the four corners of an American flag asneighbors pitched in their pennies, nickels and dimes. The changepaid for the young man’s funeral; it was also the birth of amovement. Ailing East Coast sweatshop workers were fleeing toCalifornia, only to find that many TB sanitariums refused to admitJews.

The first City of Hope patients treated fortuberculosis were housed in one tent, with a nurse in the other, on10 acres purchased by volunteers. Below, The Spirit of Life Fountain,representing the hospital’s philosophy.

And, so, the Los Angeles Jews took up the call tofight the “white plague.” By January 1914, their nickels and dimeshad purchased 10 acres of land in Duarte, at the foot of the SanGabriel Mountains. There, the Jewish Consumptive Relief Associationbegan with two tents, two patients and a nurse.

When TB was eradicated with the advent ofantibiotics in the 1940s, the charity began tackling another deadlydisease: cancer. Today, City of Hope, comprising a 110-acre campusthat features a Japanese garden, is one of the most important cancerhospitals and research centers in the world.

Although COH is now nonsectarian, 70 percent ofits donor base remains Jewish. There are some 2,500 employees,including more than 250 physicians and scientists, “a significantpercentage of them Jewish,” Forman said. COH is known formanufacturing the first synthetic insulin, as well as for itsresearch in cancer genetics and cutting-edge treatments for leukemia,breast cancer and other diseases.

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COH is also known as California’s largest privateprovider of free and subsidized medical care, Krinsky said.”Twenty-eight percent of all money spent on medical care helpsindigent patients, which is an integral part of our mission,” saidCharles M. Balch, City of Hope’s president and CEO. But finding waysto pay for the care remains a struggle in this competitive hospitalera, Balch added.

That is why some of COH’s supporters are worryingabout the recent negative publicity. “The possible alienation of anysector of our support is of tremendous concern,” said Ben Horowitz, adefining City of Hope past president and CEO.

In fact, the charity may have lost a $50 millionhospital endowment, in part, because of the allegations, Krinskysaid. And one 35-year board member, Percy Solotoy, resigned over theway, he perceived, COH was mistreating Shapero. “I can’t understandthe viciousness with which [he] is being pursued,” Solotoy told TheJournal. “That runs counter to City of Hope’s philosophy…. Dr.Shapero and I had a very close relationship, and I don’t believe hecould have engaged in criminal acts.”

Three others, including a COH donor, phoned TheJournal to express support for Shapero.

City of Hope supporters say that the charity ismerely defending itself from harmful attacks; Pat Perrott, a majordonor, says what is at stake is the welfare of people such as herson, Matthew Phelan.

Seven years ago, Phelan, then 30, was diagnosedwith an aggressive form of lymphoma. After 14 unsuccessful months ofradiation and chemotherapy, a bone-marrow transplant at the City ofHope was his last hope, Perrott said. When he first entered thehospital, he weighed little more than 100 pounds and shivered underhis heavy coat, despite the August heat, his mother recalled.

But the transplant worked, and, last April, Phelanand six fellow patients were pronounced cured. Perrott threw them ahuge, celebratory bash, inviting all the doctors and nurses who hadtreated them at the hospital.

“I feel angry that anyone would try to denigratethe City of Hope,” Perrott told The Journal. “The work they do is tooimportant. They keep families whole.”


Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?


Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Aish HaTorah’s guest list includes many of Hollywood’smost famous and influential players

By Robert Eshman, Associate Editor

Imagine that you follow a rainbow insearch of a pot of gold, only to discover that the rainbow ends inyour own back yard. Now imagine that you can’t get into your own backyard.

That’s the dilemma Jewish fund-raisers in Los Angeles have longfaced. Here, they share a city with stars, agents, directors,producers, writers and studio heads — a disproportionate number ofthem Jewish.

And they try to get a critical mass of these people to donate tomainstream Jewish charities such as the Jewish Federation Council –without great success. Other Jewish charities don’t fare much better.Except Aish HaTorah. Next Monday, Nov. 17, the religious outreachorganization will honor Kirk Douglas with its King David Award, whoseprevious recipients include Ronald Reagan and Steven Spielberg. Thedinner will be held at the home of Merv and Thea Adelson — hefounded Lorimar Pictures (remember “The Waltons”?) and is now thechairman of East-West Capital. Dinner co-chairs include JeffreyKatzenberg, Larry King, Michael Ovitz and Lew Wasserman, the kind ofnames instantly familiar to anyone in Los Angeles who can find his orher way to a box office. The Dinner Committee includes Mel Brooks,Barbara and Marvin Davis, Arthur Hiller, Quincy Jones, Nicole Kidmanand Tom Cruise, Sherry Lansing, Jack Lemmon, Leonard Nimoy, GregoryPeck, Neil Simon and Elizabeth Taylor, along with a dozen or so bignames from the industry’s business side — the power behind theglitter. The world of politics is represented by Mario Cuomo, BobDole, Jack Kemp and Natan Sharansky. And Prime Minister BinyaminNetanyahu will attend too — he’ll be presenting the award toDouglas.

Dinner honoree Kirk Douglas.

The dinner costs $10,000 per couple, and organizers are expecting50 to 100 couples. Aish HaTorah will use the $1 million it hopes toraise to subsidize its Jerusalem Fund, whose monies enable AmericanJews to study at Aish’s Orthodox yeshivas in the Old City ofJerusalem. Last time we checked, neither Mike Ovitz nor any otherHollywood name on the above list was praying shachrit and layingteffilin. Let’s be blunt: These are people who, between their barmitzvah and their funeral, don’t get to shul all that much.

So how does Aish get them? The answer to that question goes a longway toward revealing the ties that bind Hollywood and Hollywood Jewsto the Jewish world at large. Sure, the charity-dinner game mightplay by the same rules in any other business or social circle, butHollywood is, of course, always more interesting.

R abbi Nachum Braverman of Aish HaTorah. Photo from”Climbing the Mountain”

Why They Say Yes

Assuming that the captains of Hollywood have plenty to eat intheir own Subzeros, there are only three reasons to say yes to acharity dinner: the honoree, the hosts or the cause. Like the savvyorganization it is, Aish pressed all three buttons to expand its rollcall.

The Honoree.

Dinner Committee member Arthur Hiller is the acclaimed director of”The Out of Towners” and “Love Story.” He remembers instantly thetime that Kirk Douglas gave him his first motion picture directingjob. The movie was “The Careless Years.” The year was 1957. Fortyyears later, when the invitation to Douglas’ dinner arrived, Hillerdidn’t hesitate. Indeed, Douglas’ name attached to an invite elicitsinstant and well-deserved loyalty.

Douglas credits Los Angeles Aish HaTorah Rabbi Nachum Bravermanwith helping to bring him back to Judaism after a near-fatalhelicopter crash in 1991. Since then, the 80-year-old Douglas hasbeen a stalwart supporter of Aish. Soon, the institution will open anexperiential exhibit on Judaism across from the Western Wall, fundedwith a $2 million contribution from the Douglas family.

Who could question the Judaic credentials of a man so sincere inhis faith? And who would doubt the political savvy of the man whobroke the blacklist by hiring Dalton Trumbo to write “Spartacus”?Hiller, a longtime supporter of civil-libertarian and Jewish causessuch as Friends of Sheba Medical Center, had never heard of AishHaTorah. He told The Jewish Journal that he assumed Aish’s JerusalemFund had something to do with the Jerusalem Foundation, founded byformer Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek to elicit Diaspora support forthe city.

It doesn’t. But no matter. “I did it for Kirk,” said Hiller.

The Hosts.

A Los Angeles political consultant speeds her eyes down the listof big names and then proclaims, “This list has more to do with MervAdelson than with Kirk Douglas.” Adelson’s cross-pollinating cloutspans Hollywood, finance and politics. An importantentertainment-industry investor, he is also on the board of directorsof Time Warner Inc. and is an early member of a group of Netanyahu’swealthy American supporters, dubbed the FOBBs — Friends of Bibi’s.That explains the appearance of Netanyahu and Time Warner PresidentGerald M. Levin on the invite.

How did Aish get to Adelson? The former husband of Barbara Waltersis a sometime student of Braverman’s too. Though accepting aninvitation from Adelson doesn’t guarantee he’ll support your cause orcareer move in turn, why tempt fate?

The Cause.

Oh, yes, the cause. Of the 56 people listed as co-chairs andcommittee members, 36 have no affiliation with Aish HaTorah,according to Aish’s North American president, Richard Horowitz. Notcoincidentally, those include all but a handful of the Hollywoodnames.

That means that three dozen people agreed to give their moneyand/or their names to a cause they know nothing or next to nothingabout. To those of us for whom a donation of hard-earned cash exactlyequals wholehearted support, this behavior seems weird. To thepolitical consultant, it is par for the course. “Are Hollywood peoplesophisticated about Jewish stuff?” said the consultant. “No. AishHaTorah sounds fine to people.”

In fact, Aish is a tad more controversial than “fine.”

Even those who praise the organization’s outreach effortsacknowledge that individual Aish HaTorah students and teachers can befound at the forefront of the most vitriolic protests against therights of non-Orthodox Jews in Israel and the peace accords signed byYitzhak Rabin. “I know them,” said one non-Aish HaTorah OrthodoxAngeleno who asked not to be identified. “These are not the kind ofguys to sit and watch on TV while others do the protesting.”

The organization itself, founded in Israel by American-born RabbiNoah Weinberg, does not take stands or support political parties. InLos Angeles, Aish attracts thousands of participants annually topacked Shabbat services and to singles seminars on topics rangingfrom sex to the meaning of life. “We don’t want people to intermarrybecause they don’t agree with our stand on Judea and Samaria,” saidHorowitz, using the biblical term for the West Bank.

The New Israel Fund, which recently launched a campaign againstOrthodox political hegemony in Israel, doesn’t have Aish in itssights. “They’re clever and upbeat,” said NIF’s Gil Kukick, “andthey’re brilliant at drawing in Jewish searchers. They don’t have apolitical agenda.”

One former Aish student agreed, but said that the strictinterpretation of Jewish texts left little room for liberalism. “Atthe very least, the yeshivas are helping to create morefundamentalist right-wing voters in Israel,” said the man, who didn’twant his name used in print. Aish officials won’t deny that someyeshiva students, acting independently, might engage in protest. Theunanswered question is whether an Aish yeshiva education inspirestheir actions.

“Our students receive a standard Orthodox education,” said onelongtime Aish HaTorah lay leader, who spoke on condition ofanonymity. “Actually, there’s very little in the Torah that’spolitical.”

That statement would be news to the Jews in Israel, whereOrthodoxy’s biblical interpretations are at the heart of issuesdividing Jews, from conversion to the peace process. But RabbiBraverman — a gentle and engaging man — becomes steely cold whenthe word “fundamentalist” is attached to Aish yeshiva studies. “Howdo you define fundamentalist?” he said. “We’re Orthodox. We have abigger agenda than political issues. Our agenda is creating arenaissance in Jewish life.”

Ethical Prioritizing

In any case, parsing such questions takes time and energy, and fewHollywood names choose to invest either over deciding whether to sayyes or no to the dozens of dinner invites that cross their desks.Some in the industry, such as Richard Dreyfuss, are active inpolitics and, additionally, retain consultants to guide suchdecisions. (The actor declined the Aish invitation.)

In some hard cases, a kind of ethical prioritizing takes effect.Do you give money to a cause you disapprove of in order to honor afriend? For Hiller, the answer is no. “If the charges [against anorganization] are proven to me,” he said, “I won’t do it.”

But most see an Aish HaTorah invitation as a way to support not acause or a faction of Jewish life but Judaism in general.

Chabad, which raises about $4 million annually through itsstar-studded telethon, benefits from the same notion that, somehow,supporting Orthodox institutions is supporting the real legacy oflong-lost bubbes and zaydes.

“Hollywood figures don’t understand the theology of Judaism,” saidthe Aish lay leader, “but they understand the Orthodox are successfuland growing, and the Conservative and Reform movements are dead-banglosers. They have the stench of failure. The Orthodox stand forsomething, and they’ve stood for something for 3,300 years.

“Fifteen years ago, the Conservative movement said it wouldn’tordain women rabbis. Then it did. In 10 years, you can at least besure there won’t be a single Orthodox synagogue with a homosexualrabbi.”

Whether Aish’s Hollywood supporters subscribe to that statement ornot, they do share a general sense of wanting to do something forJewish life.

“I see [Aish HaTorah] as a Jehovah’s Witness for Judaism,” saidFred Spector, who represents A-list actors at Creative ArtistsAgency. “They try to bring people back into the fold.”

Spector’s wife, Pamela Robinson, took some Torah classes fromBraverman, and though Spector himself has never been involved, hefound the group possessed one other all-important attribute in thistown: “They’re aggressive and hard to say no to,” he said.

So Spector signed on (although the Aish HaTorah invitation, whichmisspells several Hollywood names, lists the agent as “Senator ArlenSpector”). And Hiller signed on. And Aish HaTorah built itself quitea Dinner Committee. But, this being Hollywood, there is one thing thestar-struck should know before plunking down $10,000 to mingle withall these Big Names. Many won’t be there, and many didn’t pay. As iscommon at fund-raising dinners of any sort, glamorous names are usedto draw in paying civilians and press attention. Hiller knew hecouldn’t attend the minute he agreed to be on the list. Why? He’ll bein Fort Lauderdale at another fund-raising dinner, held to honor him.

It’s a Little Tricky


Once again we are faced with the annual dilemma of what to doabout Halloween. Should we let the kids “trick or treat” or not? Weknow that Halloween is not a Jewish holiday; that is not the problem.We celebrate Thanksgiving and Presidents Day, both American holidayswhich reflect good values. Halloween, on the other hand, does notreflect a value system that we would like to pass on to our children.It focuses on taking, greed and violence, not to mention theconsequences, a nasty trick, played on those who refuse to give.

My children attend a Jewish day-school where no attention is paidto the holiday. But we still experience the holiday in our suburbancommunity where party stores are transformed into haunted houses,street corners are dawned with pumpkin patches and everyone istalking about what they are going to be on Oct. 31.

In our home, where we believe the influence on values isstrongest, we play it down. No pumpkins or carving, no decorationsare displayed and very little attention is placed on costumes. Weeven relate the collecting of candy to the value of tzedakah(righteousness) by having the kids donate ten percent of their candyto a charity.

To counterbalance, we make a huge deal of all other Jewishholidays, particularly Purim. While we will spend money on a Purimcostume, anything laying around the house will have to do forHalloween. We give gifts, have lots of treats and host Purim parties.

Another subtle message is found in the garage. There, you can finda box designated for each Jewish holiday filled with paraphernalia.The boxes overflow; Passover and Hanukkah require two boxes each. Themessage is clear: we have a Purim box, but there is no box forHalloween.

And yet, we still struggle. I admit, although we move closer andcloser to our yiddishkeit, we are still assimilated.

This year presents us with something that can compete withHalloween — Shabbat! The perfect solution. The children loveShabbat. It’s our favorite time of the week — family, friends, goodfood, yummy desserts! What could be better? They’ll never missHalloween. So here is the plan: We are having a Shabbat Party. Theinvitation goes like this:

It’s a Shabbat Party

You’ll want to be there

But, regular clothes you mustn’t wear

Come dressed in a costume

be creative and fun

At the end of the dinner

We’ll pick the best one

The theme is of course JEWISH

be it hero, holiday, or food

Base your costume on your mood!

We’ll do the dinner, dessert,

treasure hunt, the whole thing

there’s just one thing you can bring —

A can for SOVA

will make us all smile

So come on October 31st

and party a while!!

At 5:30 p.m…

please knock on our door

We’ll light candles and a whole lot more.

Well, the response so far, a big hit! They can’t wait. My8-year-old daughter has announced she wants to dress as Hava, thedaughter in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Would this have been her firstchoice for a Halloween costume? It took Shabbat to help us through.

Risa Munitz-Gruberger is associate director of The WhizinInstitute.