Mickey Cohen’s colorful life of crime


Meyer Harris Cohen was born in the Jewish Pale of Settlement in imperial Russia, immigrated with his family to the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn and reached Los Angeles’ Jewish point of entry in Boyle Heights in 1915. Up to this point, the spare details of his biography are unremarkable. But Meyer was later nicknamed “Mickey,” and his name still echoes with the larger-than-life reputation he acquired on the mean streets of Los Angeles in the 1930s and 1940s.

“By the end of the 1930s, the view from the top of Hollywood Hills seemed unlimited,” Tere Tereba writes in her rich, lively and fascinating biography, “Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster” (ECW Press: $16.95), an account that owes something to the hard-boiled prose of James Ellroy while, at the same time, dealing in hard facts rather than superheated fiction. Not unlike an Ellroy novel, I could not put “Mickey Cohen” down.

Starting out as a newsboy at the age of 6 — young Mickey hawked copies of the Los Angeles Record at the corner of Brooklyn and Soto — he did not learn to read and write or add and subtract until he was nearly 30. He was no more successful in his brief career as a featherweight boxer. But when he became a “shtarker” — a Yiddish term used in the underworld to describe an enforcer — Cohen’s freelance activities as a pimp, a bookie and a specialist in “muscle jobs” caught the attention of mob bosses in Cleveland and Chicago. He was eventually summoned to the Hollywood YMCA to meet Benjamin Siegel, the emissary in charge of the L.A. rackets who was invariably called Ben, rather than Bugsy, to his face. “You little son of a bitch,” Siegel said to the defiant and unruly young thug. “You reflect my younger days.”

Cohen, in fact, was an upwardly mobile mobster with a canny sense of self-invention. “I just wanted to be myself — Mickey,” Cohen later boasted to screenwriter Ben Hecht at a time when the mobster had already become a celebrity in his own right and an active member of the Hollywood demimonde. “Winning a street fight, knockin’ over a score, having money to buy the best hats — I lived for them moments.” But Hecht himself saw through the self-effacement: “Young Cohen was a gangster from his toes up.”

Cohen acquired a glamorous wife and a series of ever more impressive apartments and homes in the best neighborhoods on the Westside. “Bugsy Siegel had made a mensch out of him,” writes Tereba, “and during the process Cohen grew from ambitious thug to cunning racketeer.” When Siegel was murdered by his own disaffected partners-in-crime in 1947, Mickey Cohen “took over from Benny right away,” as Cohen himself bragged, “on instructions from the people back east.”

Tereba is both a fashion designer and a journalist, and that helps explain why her eye falls on details that have escaped other biographers. Cohen opened a haberdashery on Sunset Boulevard to serve as the headquarters of his criminal operations, but the expensive merchandise on display was not merely stage dressing. “To make the proper impression and keep the tailor shop busy, Cohen’s top men dressed like fashion plates,” Tereba writes.

Cohen’s fleet of Cadillac sedans “were always navy blue, spotless, and flashing with chrome,” with souped-up engines and hidden compartments where guns and cash could be hidden. His Brentwood home featured a soda fountain where Cohen — who shunned alcohol, tobacco and drugs — liked to make hot-fudge sundaes. His beloved pet bulldog, Toughie, slept in a miniature version of Mickey’s own bed, under monogrammed bedding. The cedar-paneled closets were filled with custom-tailored suits, “some with hidden holsters built into the left shoulder linings.”  Hundreds of shirts, shorts, socks, suspenders and handkerchiefs were arranged in meticulous order.

“Secretly overwhelmed by profound and deeply rooted phobias, Mickey Cohen was terrified of germs,” the author explains. “Showering and changing outfits several times a day, Mickey wore clothes a few times and gave them away. He scrubbed his hands every few minutes and touched no surface unless protected by tissues. Every day the bookkeeper replenished his bankroll with clean, crisp bills.”

The shtarker from Boyle Heights now socialized with Hollywood moguls and stars. “Whenever Judy Garland had problems with her husbands,” Tereba writes, “she went to Mickey Cohen.” He hired a tutor to polish up his manners and his vocabulary, and decorated his home with a wholly unread library of leather-bound volumes. But when Ben Hecht recruited Cohen to support the Revisionist cause during the 1940s — a notion that appealed to Cohen because he admired “Jews fighting ‘like racket guys’ to establish their homeland” — a committee of prominent Jewish leaders, including Wilshire Boulevard’s Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin and Louis B. Mayer, threatened to agitate for his imprisonment, or so Cohen claimed.

Nor were they his only adversaries. Cohen was threatened both by rival mobsters and by law enforcement agencies, and he saw them as active co-conspirators in an effort to bring him down. He survived a bombing at his Brentwood home and then appealed to his neighbors, who saw his presence in the neighborhood as “a continuous and increasing hazard to life and property.” “Mickey Cohen,” he boasted of himself, “has no intention of joining the cast of Hollywood has-beens.”

Like his longtime hero, Al Capone, Mickey Cohen finally fell afoul of the IRS on tax charges. “I got less money,” he quipped, “than when I was selling papers.” By the time he was back on the street in 1955, he was “the last remnant of an era when gangsters talked out of the side of their mouths and boasted perfect manicures.” He started calling himself “Michael,” and he opened a greenhouse where reporters watched in astonishment as he puttered with the begonias. A year later, Mickey was dead. Thanks to Tere Tereba, however, his uniquely American life story is not wholly lost to us.


Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs at books@jewishjournal.com.

Arsonist Attacks Persian Synagogue in Tarzana


Police have labeled as an arson-related hate crime a fire ignited early
Friday at the rear door of a yet-to-open Persian synagogue in Tarzana.
Investigators found anti-Semitic graffiti at the scene, as well as a
burnt door and trash.

The attack came two days before the grand opening of Beith David Education Center’s new building. Congregants are scheduled to carry Torahs from the shul’s original location nearby at Reseda Boulevard to the new home in the
18600 block of Clark Street
on Sunday, July 9.

Parviz Hakimi
“I hope the people who have done it, they come to their senses,” said Parviz Hakimi, the synagogue’s vice president, who hopes those responsible will turn themselves in.

The blaze was started at 3 a.m. using a pile of discarded carpet scraps and cardboard boxes that had been moved to directly beneath the oak front door, according to Sgt. Jim Setzer of the LAPD’s West Valley Division. The flames were quickly extinguished by the synagogue’s fire-suppression system, which runs along the building’s eaves. Damage was limited to the door.

Hakimi said the initial damage estimate is $4,000, enough to classify the crime as a felony.

Anti-Semitic graffiti was found on a retaining wall of the building as well as on a window that looks into a room where Kohanim wash their hands and feet.

A joint House of Worship Task Force that includes detectives from the LAPD’s criminal conspiracy section, L.A. Fire Department investigators, as well as FBI and ATF officials were first on the scene after a congregant living nearby called police at 6:30 a.m. Officials are still investigating and currently have no suspects.

Because construction has not been completed at Beith David, the building is presently without a security camera system. However, LAPD detective Ray Morales said police were able to collect forensic evidence at the scene that could help investigators identify the arsonist.

Following an inquiry by the mayor’s office and City Councilman Dennis Zine, the LAPD reported that patrols of the area will be stepped up in advance of the new shul’s Sunday ceremony.

“I’m horrified to see this, especially because this is my community. It’s a very sad day,” said Fortuna Ippoliti, area director of neighborhood and community services for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

“It’s probably some misguided kids,” Tarzana Neighborhood Council President Leonard Shaffer said as he looked over the scene. “It’s really ridiculous.”

The attack comes three years after a string of arsons in a nearby area targeted The Iranian Synagogue, Da’at Torah Educational Center, as well as the Conservative shul Valley Beth Shalom. There have also been attacks on the nearby First Presbyterian Church of Encino and the Baha’i Faith Community Center. Farshid Tehrani, an Iranian Jewish immigrant allegedly suffering from depression, was arrested in connection with those crimes in May 2003.

Beith David Education Center’s journey to the new location has been a long one. After a years-long battle over parking that has kept the congregation in its Reseda Boulevard location, Hakimi says nothing will stop the congregation from moving to Clark Street.

The synagogue purchased the former post-office building for $1 million in 2002, but L.A. City Council approval for the new structure turned into a two-year battle. The Tarzana Property Owners Association claimed the Orthodox synagogue would require at least 150 parking spaces, claiming that members followed a more Conservative style of worship and often drove to services. Synagogue representatives rejected the argument, saying that its congregants were Orthodox, regularly walk to the shul on Shabbat and do not need the parking.

Following City Council approval of the Clark Street site in 2004, the Beith David congregation has devoted the last year and a half and has spent a $1.2 million on renovation of the building in advance of its grand opening. Beith David has limited the advertising of the Sunday event to Radio Iran 670 AM, a local Iranian newspaper and word-of-mouth among congregants.

Like Shaffer, Beith David Vice President Hakimi believes the targeting of his synagogue was likely a hate-crime by youths and not a targeted attack related to the City Council battle or animosity toward Persians.

“This is an isolated situation, and it doesn’t reflect on the community that we live in. That is my hope,” Hakimi said. “But it’s a very sad incident.”

 

Defender of France


Jean David Levitte, France’s ambassador to the United States, is arguably its most effective defender against charges of anti-Semitism, in no small part because he himself is Jewish.

I met Levitte at the Beverly Hills residence of the French consul general, Phillipe Larrieu. It’s a sprawling, modernist home near the Beverly Hills Hotel, the walls lined with contemporary art, the small streetside drawing room furnished in … French Regency. Silver coffee service and a plate of petits fours appear.

Levitte, 60, is youthful, patient and polished. He is used to contradicting accusations that France is anti-Semitic, in no small part because of all the anti-Semitism French Jews have suffered over the past few years.

The worst incident occurred just last February, when kidnappers tortured and killed 23-year-old Ilan Halimi, taunting his parents with anti-Semitic slurs during phone calls. The heinous crime led to an uptick in French Jewish immigration to Israel, according to the Jewish Agency, and renewed concern that French Jewry’s days were numbered.

I began my interview by mentioning that exactly a year ago, I traveled to Paris to interview French officials and Jewish leaders, all of whom agreed the government had been taking anti-Semitic attacks seriously and that the frequency and severity were in decline. This is what I reported, so my first question to the ambassador was, in so many words: Am I a chump?

Levitte said no. French anti-Semitism continues to be a problem among a disaffected Muslim population egged on by extremist imans, exposed to anti-Israel Arab media and frustrated by its status at the fringes of French society. “If we have a problem with racism,” he said, “it is not anti-Semitism, it is anti-Arab.”

Anti-Semitic attacks, he said — reinforcing what the philosopher and author Bernard-Henri Lévy told our reporter Marc Ballon (see Page 16) — are the smoke from the Israeli-Palestinian fire. “The problem is the connection to the Middle East,” Levitte told me.

Levitte reiterated what I learned last year. The French government has responded to anti-Semitic acts with forthrightness: harsher penalties, better coordination with prosecutors, widespread educational reforms, a crackdown on hate-spewing Iranian and Arab media and ongoing public statements from the president on down.

“When a Jew is attacked in France,” said President Jacques Chirac on Nov. 17, 2003, “it is an attack against the whole of France.”

These steps all contributed to a 48 percent decline in anti-Semitic acts in the first six months of 2005.

Then came the brutal Halimi murder, which obliterated these achievements in the public eye.

Halimi’s parents claimed the French police botched the investigation by, in part, refusing to see it as anti-Semitic in nature. Initial statements by government officials downplayed the role Jew-hatred might have played.

But to Levitte, the official and popular reaction only supports his contention that France is intolerant of intolerance. Tens of thousands of citoyens took to the streets of Paris to express their outrage at the murder. French officials quickly identified 21 suspects. Fourteen are under arrest and 11 are being charged with kidnapping and murder with the aggravating circumstance of anti-Semitism.

The perpetrators, Levitte pointed out, were not all Muslim. They were inhabitants of the often lawless, neglected neighborhoods surrounding Paris and other large cities. (In the French movie, “La Haine,” (“Hate”), the youthful criminal gang from one Parisian slum includes a Jew. “Hate,” in fact, released in 1995, is a cinematic tarot card of what would be in store for France).

Many of France’s 10 percent Muslim population live in these banlieux. Most are law-abiding and loyal.

“The problem is the 10 percent who are not well-integrated,” Levitte said.

He pointed out that the racial unrest that broke out in Paris this winter (not to be confused with the anti-labor law reform riots of the spring) were not in the “new cities” with large Muslim populations, There were no riots in Marseilles, for example, whose Algerian population is second only to that of Algiers.

The rioters also did not take to the streets waving Algerian flags. What they wanted was not separation but belonging.

“Islam is not the demand of these teenagers,” said the ambassador. “They feel excluded.”

Levitte reiterated his government’s approach to the problem: better schools, stricter law enforcement, more work incentives and the creation of tax exempt zones to spur business investment in the worst areas.

Nevertheless, Levitte acknowledged, isolated attacks against Jews have, “triggered feelings of insecurity” among the country’s 600,000 Jews.

But Levitte said the claims of a French Jewish exodus to Israel are overstated. Many Jews will buy apartments or homes in Israel, but they remain in France. Those who go for good, he said, often come back.

Meanwhile, Israelis themselves seem to harbor less ill will toward the French than American Jews. France is the No. 1 tourist destination among Israelis.

And the feeling appears to be mutual. Levitte quoted (correctly) a 2005 poll by the Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv, which asked citizens in more than 12 countries their feelings about Jews. The Dutch came in first, at 85 percent, and France placed second, with 82 percent of French citizens checking off “positive feelings” about Jews. (The United States scored fifth at 77 percent, and Jordan and Lebanon tied for last, at 0 percent).

Indeed, for Levitte, the (wine) glass of French Jewry is perennially half full: The Dreyfuss Affair? It showed how the republic stood up to an insidious cabal of anti-Semitic army officers.

“Today it is Dreyfuss who is our hero, not them,” Levitte said.

The Holocaust? Seventy-five percent of the nation’s Jews were saved, and many Frenchmen risked their lives to save them. The government of Israel has recognized 2,500 of them with the distinction of “Righteous Among the Nations.”

Levitte’s own grandparents were sent to Auschwitz. His father and uncle joined the resistance, and his father later became the leader of the American Jewish Committee in France for 30 years.

“We will not accept anti-Semitism in France,” the ambassador said, with finality. “We will fight this disease.”

 

Jews in Poland Speak of Shoah Remembrance as a Curse


This tale is about two visions of Poland.

In one, Poland is about pain and loss. It’s the place where 3 million of a total population of 3.3 million Polish Jews perished in the Shoah, where Jews have nothing left, where indeed there are almost no Jews other than a few languishing, aged survivors who can’t even scrape together a Shabbat morning minyan. Poland is Auschwitz; it’s Never Again.

Defining this Poland is the March of the Living, an annual event that lays bare Poland’s deepest, murderous shame and then immediately whisks participants to Israel, to showcase that nation’s glories, and its essentialness to the Jewish people. The March of the Living has won wide acclaim from donors and participants, including students from Los Angeles.

March arrives at Birkenau
A Jew in Poland: Severyn Ashkenazy celebrates oneg Shabbat at Warsaw temple.

But there’s also another Poland competing for the attention of Jews. This is the Poland of 70-year-old Severyn Ashkenazy, who, although a victim of the Holocaust, chooses to paint a different picture. Ashkenazy, who splits his time between Poland and Los Angeles, is a co-founder of Beit Warszawa, a Warsaw synagogue that belongs to the World Union of Progressive Judaism. Ashkenazy’s Poland offers Jewish studies programs at three leading universities. It will hold its 16th annual Jewish Culture Festival this summer in Krakow, expected to attract 20,000 people and its fourth annual Jewish Film Festival this November in Warsaw. His Poland now has an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Jews, according to figures published by the U.S. State Department. Ashkenazy and others estimate the number to be considerably higher.

In his Poland, Judaism has a present and a future, which makes March of the Living, and its thousands of participants, a sore point.

“They are the opposite of ambassadors of goodwill,” Ashkenazy said. “To the Poles, it seems that the whole world comes and looks at them as murderers.”

March of the Living, the international educational program that began in 1988, has brought approximately 90,000 teenagers, accompanied by Jewish educators, social workers and survivors, to Poland for a week. Every year, in late April or early May, thousands of Jewish teenagers from around the world gather to commemorate Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, by recreating the 3-kilometer “death march” of concentration camp inmates from Auschwitz to Birkenau. In addition to Auschwitz-Birkenau, they visit the death camps of Majdanek and Treblinka as well as the destroyed Jewish communities of Warsaw, Lublin and Krakow. They then fly to Israel for a week where they celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, and tour the country.

Participants pay a subsidized fee of $3,300, plus their own roundtrip airfare to New York. Some scholarships and additional subsidies are available.

Many teenagers report that the trip has profoundly and positively changed their lives, and two studies by William B. Helmreich, a sociology professor at City University of New York, concluded that the program strengthens participants’ Jewish identity.

“If the most important goal of the March was to increase Jewish identity, it clearly succeeded. Over 93 percent of those who participated reported that it did,” wrote Helmreich about research he conducted in 1993 and 2004. “This is especially noteworthy because so many of those attending were strongly identifying Jews to begin with.”

But there are critics, too, who say the March builds that identity based on death and destruction, creating an irrational fear of anti-Semitism in impressionable adolescents and sending a message that the primary reason to be Jewish is to keep the Holocaust from happening again.

Critics frequently take issue with the juxtapositioning of dark and gloomy Poland with sunny and joyful Israel. Participants have little or no contact with Poles or modern Poland, which has a strong relationship with Israel. Nor does the itinerary emphasize the burgeoning Jewish community in Poland.

But this year, Ashkenazy hopes to change things, even if it means getting in the face of participants. For the first time, many of the estimated 8,000 marchers will be confronted with something that belies this image of unmitigated death and darkness, of a decimated culture with only a few old, struggling Jews remaining.

On the streets of Warsaw, Krakow and Lublin, representatives of Poland’s small but vibrant Jewish community will be handing out flyers introducing marchers to the Poland they don’t know and, for the most part, won’t experience. To help drive this message home, Ashkenazy is overseeing the preparation of thousands of handouts presenting the Poland that he knows and cares about. The materials cost about $4,000 to assemble and print and were funded by several private donors, Ashkenazy said. The handout includes a cartoon by Steve Greenberg (whose work appears regularly in The Journal) that lampoons “Depressing Tours, Inc.” as well as a listing of Poland’s many active Jewish institutions and organizations, plus other relevant articles. Ashkenazy says that the visiting Jews ought to be celebrating their faith and heritage with the Jews of Poland, not acting as though they don’t exist.

“This is perverted,” he said of the March. “Jews should be standing in line to meet us, to celebrate Shabbos with us and instead we have to go running after them.”

He’s hardly alone in his discomfort among Jews living in Poland.

“They are everywhere,” Ania Zielinska said about the marchers. The 30-year-old trade officer in the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw has been a four-time March participant, but has soured on the event: “They are like a plague.”

Zielinska, a member of the Orthodox Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw — which is under the leadership of Rabbi Michael Schudrich and which she says has 500 members — didn’t discover she was Jewish until 10 years ago. She completed an Orthodox conversion two years ago. Zielinska resents the visitors who ignore the modern Polish Jewish community: “Polish Jews are very bitter. We feel abandoned.”

When Adrianne Rubenstein went to Poland on March of the Living with a group of about 200 Montreal teenagers in 2000, she expected the trip to be difficult but transformative. Instead, she found it controlling and numbing as she was constantly sleep-deprived and “talked at” by her group’s leaders, a deliberate tactic on the part of March officials, she believes.

“I don’t remember associating anything positive with Poland. It was all shock, shock, shock,” said Rubenstein, 23, a senior at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. She was especially affected by the large exhibits of “tons and tons of shoes, watches, wallets and hair” in the Auschwitz Museum.

“I don’t know what can be taught by that, except to show that it’s sad,” she said.

Aliza Luft, 22, a senior at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, who participated on the March with Rubenstein, thinks Holocaust education is important but needs to be more all-encompassing, taking into account the 1,000 years of Poland’s rich Jewish culture and focusing less on the history of persecution.

“We’re told we need to support Israel and be Jewish, but we don’t know why, except if we don’t, things like the Holocaust are going to happen again,” she said.

There are any number of glowing testimonials to counter such criticisms from participants. They note that the shock value is part of the point — organizers want to make a stronger, sobering impression.

But Ashkenazy believes that point is made unfairly. “What’s our problem with the Poles today? What do we want from them?” he said.

In 1939, he points out, 60 percent of Poles were illiterate, under the sway of the then-anti-Semitic Catholic church. And while many individual Poles enthusiastically aided the Nazis during World War II, Poland historically has welcomed Jews, who started arriving in the Middle Ages, fleeing oppression in other countries. Despite periods of pogroms and persecution, Poland gave Jews substantial economic freedom and, compared to other places, allowed Jewish life to flourish. Polish Jewish culture gave birth to Chasidism and Jewish Enlightenment, and it was a bastion of Zionism.

The nonprofit March of the Living, founded by in 1987 former Knesset member and current Minister of Tourism Avraham Hirshson, does not hide its mission of teaching the lessons of the Holocaust. Organizers of the New York-based group want to make sure that the stories of the survivors live on, that the ongoing problem of anti-Semitism is confronted and that participants come to see the necessity of a strong and secure state of Israel.

The stark contrast between Poland and Israel is deliberate, even in the welcoming statement from the first paragraph of the current educator’s manual: “You will be transported … back in time to one of the darkest chapters in human existence, to one of the most terrifying times in Jewish history. Then, before you can take a breath, you will travel to Israel, the Jewish Homeland, to celebrate with the people of Israel, Independence Day. It will be a journey from darkness to light. It will be an experience of a lifetime.”

left - Phil Liff-Greiff, right -
Survivor Nandor Markovic, right, sitting with Phil Liff-Grieff, from Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education, at Auschwitz before the March of the Living (2005).

Understandably, memories of the horrors persist for survivors and their families. Nandor Markovic, 81, was shipped from a shtetl in the Carpathian Mountains to Birkenau at age 15. His parents and three siblings were killed; he somehow survived six concentration camps and a death march before being liberated. For him, the streets of Poland will always be paved with blood.

Markovic, known as “Marko,” insists on accompanying the Los Angeles teen contingent on this year’s March, despite difficulty walking because of a tendon operation that never healed properly. It’s his third trip. He feels strongly that he stayed alive for a purpose, not only to have a family but also “to give back to society and to my people who have suffered so much.” For him, the March of the Living is a righteous duty, a way to honor and give meaning to the sacrifice of the victims.

No one would have more right to identify with the aims of the March than Severyn Ashkenazy. Born in Tarnopol, home to more than 18,000 Jews before World War II and now part of Ukraine, Ashkenazy survived the war by spending two years, from ages 6 to 8, holed up in a 6-by-12-foot sub-cellar — “a cellar dug under a cellar” — with his mother, brother and uncle, paying a non-Jewish Polish family to bring them food. For the last eight months, his father and three others joined them. Only one night in those two years was he allowed outside to see the moon.

Out of hundreds of blood relatives on both sides of his family, only an uncle and two cousins, in addition to his immediate family, survived. Ashkenazy left Poland in 1946, eventually making his way to the United States with his family in 1957. Later, in the early 1970s, while doing business in Russia as a real estate developer, he began traveling back through Poland. Each time, he was told only a few thousand old Jews were left in Poland. But gradually, after meeting many people who appeared to be Jewish, he came to realize that there was a community that deserved to be nurtured rather than abandoned.

In 1999, he co-founded Beit Warszawa, to give the Jews in Poland a non-Orthodox place to study, practice and explore their Judaism. The synagogue, which currently has more than 200 members and more than 1,000 on its mailing list, hosts weekly Shabbat dinners, services and concerts; Saturday morning services; and preschool and religious school. And beginning in July, Beit Warszawa will have its first full-time rabbi, Burt Schuman, an American Reform rabbi who has served Temple Beth Israel in Altoona, Pa., since his ordination in 1995.

Ashkenazy and others estimate there could be more than 50,000 Jews living in Poland today (a figure much higher than the 5,000 to 7,000 Jews March of the Living officials publish in their educational materials).

One of those is Malgorzata (Gosia) Szymanska, 25, who discovered that her father was Jewish about 12 years ago, when she asked him why he tuned into news about Israel more than other news. The revelation didn’t mean anything to her at the time but later, at 16, while visiting her father’s family in Canada, she was introduced to Shabbat and to her relatives’ close-knit Jewish community, which resonated with her. Returning to her hometown of Lodz two months later, she began learning Hebrew. A few years later she moved to Warsaw, where she became involved with the Polish Union of Jewish Students, which now claims about 300 members, and Beit Warszawa.

Szymanska is currently in Los Angeles getting a joint master’s degree — in Jewish communal service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and public administration at USC. After graduating in May, she plans to return to Poland and become Beit Warszawa’s first full-time administrator. She is especially upset by people she meets who say Poland is anti-Semitic and Jews shouldn’t be living there.

“The fact is, we are there,” she said. “And we are comfortable being Poles and Jews.”

Latent anti-Semitism does persist, especially among less-educated segments of the population. More historical than political in nature, it’s typically expressed in the form of graffiti and verbal slurs rather than actual physical harm. It’s also in decline, according to a 2005 report by the U.S. State Department, and officially condemned. When the Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw was firebombed in 1997, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski issued a statement expressing his outrage that day.

Polish Jews interviewed for this article say they feel safe in Poland. They are comfortable publicly identifying as Jews, telling strangers they meet that they are Jewish and wearing kippot or Stars of David. Their synagogues do not have visible armed guards at the entrances, as in Sweden and other European countries. According to Ashkenazy, even Chasidic Jews, in full religious garb, feel safe traveling alone.

Furthermore, Poland is a solid friend of Israel. One of its first moves, when it became a democratic country in 1989, was to establish diplomatic ties. Since then, Poland has officially apologized for crimes that Poles committed against Jews and made denying the Holocaust a crime. It entered into an agreement to purchase $350 million worth of Israeli anti-tank missiles and has allocated land and $26 million for the building of a Jewish museum in Warsaw.

Additionally, many Poles note that the death camps in Poland were the primary responsibility of German Nazis. And while many Poles aided and abetted the Nazi, others risked their lives to help the Jews. In fact, Poles constitute the largest number of Righteous Gentiles honored at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Leaders of the March are not entirely insensitive to the criticisms. Phil Liff-Grieff, associate director of Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), has led groups of marchers three times. He says the depiction of Poland should be balanced. Over the years, he has arranged meetings with various groups of Polish and Jewish young people.

This year’s group of 60 Los Angeles teenagers, under the leadership of the BJE’s Monise Newman, is hoping to spend one Friday morning celebrating Shabbat with students at the Lauder-Morasha Primary and Elementary School in Warsaw, a Jewish day school established by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. They also will spend a day helping to restore a cemetery in Otwock along with a group of Israeli students, a project of the Jewish Federation’s Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership. Along the way, they hope to meet with Polish Jews from the Polish Union of Jewish Students.

Some 55 Jewish Poles will be participating in this year’s March and others will be meeting separately with visiting groups of Jews, said Yossi Kedem, executive vice chairman of International March of the Living, in an e-mail. But outreach to Poles and local Jews is simply not part of the March’s core program.

“It’s always a logistical nightmare,” Liff-Grieff said, especially given the tight schedules, bus availability and Shabbat observances.

Several adult groups, who can provide their own transportation, have arranged to celebrate Shabbat at Beit Warszawa during this year’s March.

“It’s a pity no young people can come,” Ashkenazy said.

Still Liff-Grieff and others defend the fundamental goals, which include creating the next generation of witnesses and celebrating Jewish survival.

“It’s not all roses and light,” he noted.

For their part, educators in Poland are working to enhance cultural ties that would add nuance and balance to the March. Professor Annamaria Orla-Bukowska works with specific group leaders from Australia, Israel, New York and Connecticut to arrange student meetings, often coordinated months in advance.

But she had to aggressively instigate such contacts. Four or five years ago, while at Birkenau waiting for the commemoration services to begin, she recalls running around from group to group asking, “Would you like to have a meeting with real Polish people?”

Participants were surprised to learn that this was possible and several accepted her offer.

Orla-Bukowska, a practicing Roman Catholic born and raised in the United States by non-Jewish Polish parents, moved to Poland in 1985. She’s now an associate professor of sociology at Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Orla-Bukowska has been involved with several organizations working on improving Jewish-Christian relations, trying to get both sides over what she calls “this plexiglass wall” — where people see each other but don’t touch.

She recognizes some benefits in the March, especially for her non-Jewish students. Going on the March and spending the entire Holocaust Memorial Day embedded with a group of Jewish teenagers is the best way, she said, to understand the Jewish perspective.

But it wasn’t until 1998 that non-Jewish Poles were allowed to take part in the March, and only two years earlier that even Jewish Poles were permitted.

Today, the number of non-Jewish Polish students allowed on the March is a negotiation between March of the Living officials and the Polish Ministry of Education. This year, 1,000 Polish students will participate, although the number of those wishing to be involved is larger, said Andrzej Fowarczny, president of Forum for Dialogue among Nations and a former member of the Polish National Parliament. He also recalls that up to three or four years ago non-Jewish Poles were relegated to the back of the line. Fowarcyzy’s organization works on Jewish-Polish reconciliation, fighting anti-Semitism and breaking down stereotypes. While he feels that March of the Living deepens those stereotypes, he also tries to arrange meetings between Jewish and Polish high school students.

“This is a golden opportunity for dialogue and for Polish students, many of whom are meeting a Jewish person for the first time, to fight their anti-Semitism,” Fowarczny said.

 

French Rally Against Jew’s Torture Death


Paris — The brutal murder of a young Jewish man in Paris is roiling the community and reviving questions over whether France is a safe place for Jews.

In an incident that has dominated headlines across the country, Ilan Halimi, 23, was lured away from the store where he sold mobile phones on Jan. 21 by a woman, abducted and then held in a suburban housing project for three weeks by a criminal gang, where he was repeatedly tortured, according to French officials. Halimi’s captors allegedly beat, burned, stabbed and poured toxic fluid on him.

He was then dumped, barely alive and reportedly with burn marks all over his body, at a suburban train station on Monday, Feb. 13. Halimi died while being driven to a hospital.

Until last week, officials and detectives investigating the case said they were not linking it to anti-Semitism. But in a turnaround, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told a Jewish communal gathering last week that officials had decided to treat the case as an act of anti-Semitism.

De Villepin said the minister of justice had ordered that Halimi’s torture and murder be considered “premeditated murder motivated by religious affiliation.”

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy was among tens of thousands of Parisians, mostly Jews, who rallied last weekend in what was billed as a community march against hate.

“There can be no tolerance of this act of torture and murder and anti-Semitism,” said Sarkozy. “This concerns the Jewish community and all French people.”

Among the marchers was Sandrine Berda, who runs a catering business. “It seems that so much is going on now to try to force us to leave Paris,” Berda said. “I am here to show there are lots of Jews here, and if we leave, Paris will become a pitiful city.”

Police estimated the number of marchers at 33,000, although others put the number much higher.

The question of whether France is still safe for its estimated 600,000 Jews was a major topic of discussion among the demonstrators.

“Many people decide on the safety of Paris by what happens to their children at school,” said Diana Tabbacoff, a psychologist originally from Brazil. “I think everyone believes we must react against ignorance, but personally, my daughter has not suffered for being Jewish. If she did, I would think of returning to Sao Paulo.”

Ironically, officials recently announced that anti-Semitic acts in France dropped by 47 percent in 2005 over the previous year.

The earlier spike of anti-Semitic attacks was largely perpetrated by youths of North African origin, and these incidents had increased in France during the first few years of the Palestinian uprising against Israel. This rise had been largely attributed to tensions over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The climate for Jews had seemed to improve, however, in recent months, as had France’s relations with Israel. One factor was Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to Paris last summer and the Israeli pullout from Gaza.

But the recent incident has rocked the Jewish community, with many saying they had felt all along it was a deliberate act against Jews.

“We are here to demonstrate for France, because we live here and we are fed up,” said David Riahi, a student at the HEC business school, marching under the banner of the French Union of Jewish Students. “This is not about calling for people to go live in Israel or the States.”

But one marcher was skeptical that anything could be done to improve the situation.

“Will this really move people to take a look at what is going on or push the government to take more action?” asked Eric Chicheportiche, former head of the France-Israel Chamber of Commerce. “I really don’t know, and I really don’t know what can be done.”

Although most of the marchers were Jewish, there were North African Muslims and blacks in the crowd, and all agreed that this was an anti-Semitic act.

“There are cultured and educated Arabs marching here today who believe we can live and work in peace with Jews [and other French people,]” said Khadidja Cherkaoui, who is finishing a master’s degree in management here. “This was an anti-Semitic act committed by savages.”

Cherkaoui said some typically racist attitudes may come from school.

“I have heard of youngsters being taught by certain teachers that Jews are all rich,” she said. “That is not true and is racist, like saying that all Arabs are terrorists.”

While the statistics show the climate of anti-Semitism has improved in
France during the past few years, Malik Boutih, the former president of the
activist group SOS Racism, who is currently a Socialist Party official, said
the problems of anti-Semitism and racism remain. “We need firm reaction from the government to deal with anti-Semitism,” he said.

“We need firm reaction from the government to deal with anti-Semitism,” he said.

Also noted was the enormous stupidity of the crime.

“These guys are total idiots,” said Audrey Benyoun, marching with friends and her father. “They got absolutely nothing from this except this demonstration. I think a lot of French people are fed up with hearing about such stupid acts.”

While the Jewish community is almost unanimous in its belief that the kidnapping and torture occurred because Halimi was Jewish, many French still want to believe that it was simply a criminal act committed by sick individuals.

Police have made 15 arrests among associates of a gang that apparently called itself the Barbarians. Eleven face charges of conspiracy, kidnapping and murder motivated by anti-Semitism. Those arrested include suspects of North African and black African Muslim origins and of white French background.

French police officials said they originally thought the only motive of the kidnapping was money. After questioning several of the suspects, the police reported that there had been six other kidnapping attempts, four of them against Jews.

Officials said the suspects told police that because Jews were all rich, someone would find the money to ransom them. Only one of those attempts was reported to the police when it took place.

Authorities tracked the accused ringleader, Youssouf Fofana, to the West African country of Ivory Coast, where he was arrested. Extradition proceedings are under way to return Fofana to France.

JTA correspondent Lauren Elkin contributed to this report.

Nation & World Briefs


Jewish Man’s Murder Angers Parisians

At least 1,200 people demonstrated in Paris on Sunday to show their anger at the murder of a Jewish man. Ilan Halimi, 23, was kidnapped, tortured and murdered. His body was found last week at a train station outside Paris. Halimi apparently was lured into a trap by a woman of North African origin who came into a Paris store where Halimi sold mobile phones. The demonstrators at Sunday’s protest shouted slogans and carrying banners that read “Justice for Ilan” and “Avenge Ilan!”

The French government is considering Halimi’s murder to be an anti-Semitic act. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Monday night that the minister of justice had ordered that Halimi’s death be considered “premeditated murder motivated by religious affiliation.”

Villepin spoke at the annual dinner of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, or CRIF, the umbrella organization of secular French Jewish groups. In addition to pledging that the government would do its utmost to find Halimi’s killers, Villepin pledged that the French government would fight anti-Semitism throughout French society. The dinner, which was attended by some 800 ministers, elected officials, ambassadors and religious officials included Muslim representives from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Mauritania, Pakistan and Tunisia.

Holocaust Denier Sentenced

An Austrian court sentenced David Irving to three years in prison for denying the Holocaust. Irving, a British historian who pleaded guilty to the charges at the opening of the trial earlier on Monday, looked stunned in the crowded courtroom after the jury and three judges returned the sentence. Holocaust denial is a crime in Austria, a country once run by the Nazis. Irving was arrested in November when he came to Austria to give a lecture. The charges against him are based on a speech and interview from 1989 in Austria, in which he denied that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz. After he arrived at the court, Irving told reporters that he had changed some of his views since 1989 and now recognized that gas chambers had indeed existed and that “millions of Jews died, there is no question.”

Israel Cracks Down on Hamas

Israel decided to impose sanctions on the Palestinian Authority as soon as Hamas takes over its government. Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Cabinet voted Sunday to stop the monthly transfer of tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority, to step up scrutiny over crossing points into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and to prevent entry into Israel by members of Hamas. The measures go into effect when Hamas, which won last month’s Palestinian Authority elections, forms the new government.

“It is clear that, given Hamas’ majority in the Palestinian Parliament and the fact that Hamas will form a government, the Palestinian Authority is effectively becoming a terrorist authority,” Olmert told fellow ministers.

The measures were not as tough as had been expected, especially after the Defense Ministry recommended a halt on entry to Israel by Palestinian workers. Israel has been under Western pressure to not impose sanctions severe enough to boost Hamas’ standing and increase pan-Arab and Iranian support for the Palestinian Authority.

Jewish Skater Earns a Silver

Jewish ice skater Ben Agosto and his partner, Tanith Belbin, earned a silver medal in ice dancing at the 2006 Olympics. Agosto and Belbin finished second to Russians Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov in the ice dancing competition, which concluded Monday. Agosto’s mother is Jewish and his father is Puerto Rican.

Zionist Congress Election Faces Low Turnout

The Feb. 28 deadline to vote for U.S. representatives to the World Zionist Organization’s (WZO) 35th Congress of the Jewish People is fast approaching, but the majority of American Jews seem largely disinterested. Of the estimated 5 million to 6 million Jews in the United States, less than 100,000 are expected to cast ballots by the deadline in an election that will choose 145 delegates from 12 groups that range from the Russian American Jews for Israel, to Religious Zionist Slate to the ARZA/World Union, the Reform movement’s slate.

If registration trends continue, it appears that fewer Jews will participate this year than in 2002, when nearly 89,000 voted. Five years earlier, almost 108,000 Jews cast ballots. Participation has drifted downward, despite an extensive media campaign by the American Zionist Movement (AZM), the WZO’s U.S. wing, to educate American Jews about the organization and to get the vote out. The WZO, which has an annual budget of $12.5 million, was founded in Switzerland by Theodor Herzl to support the creation of a Jewish homeland and now works to improve Disapora relations, combat anti-Semitism and to strengthen Jewish identity and education around the world, among other initiatives.

In addition, WZO members account for half the board of governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which encourages Jews to immigrate to the Jewish homeland and helps them resettle there. The projected low turnout in the current WZO election might reflect, among other things, a diminished emotional link to Zionism among younger American Jews, said Chani Monderer, election manager of the American Zionist Movement.

The 35th Congress meets in Jerusalem June 19-22.

Individuals 18 and older who accept Zionism can register and vote through the AZM at www.congressofthejewishpeople.org. Registration is $7 for the general public and $5 for students. –Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Anti-Israel Rally in Rome

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators burned Israeli and American flags during a march Feb. 18 through Rome, sponsored by several left-wing groups. Protesters chanted anti-Israel slogans and carried banners equating Israel’s security barrier to apartheid. At one point, three protesters, two of whose faces were hidden by kaffiyehs, burned and spat on an Israeli flag.

Bank Admits Nazi Ties

Germany’s Dresdner Bank helped finance the crematoriums at Auschwitz, according to a study commissioned by the bank. During the Nazi era, Dresdner was part of a construction company that built the crematoriums at the death camp in Poland, according to the report, which was released last week after seven years of research. The company also financed Nazi weapons plants and did business with Nazi-linked authorities in Eastern Europe.

“We accept these truths, even if they are painful,” said Wulf Meier, a Dresdner board member.

New Cartoon Furor in Russia

Russian human rights activists criticized the decision of provincial authorities to close down a newspaper that published a controversial cartoon of religious leaders. The Moscow Bureau on Human Rights said the decision to shut down the Gorodskie Vesti newspaper in the southern city of Volgograd was a show of “incompetence” and epitomized the inability of local officials to deal with interfaith issues. Last Friday, city authorities in Volgograd annulled the license of Gorodskie Vesti, which published a cartoon depicting Jesus, Moses, Buddha and Mohammed in front of a television showing two groups of people about to start a fight. The caption read: “We did not teach them to do that.” The decision to shut down the paper came despite the fact that no local religious community in Volgograd said it was offended by the cartoon. The officials stated the closure of the city-owned paper was needed to avoid “incitement of ethnic hostilities.” According to the Moscow Bureau on Human Rights, a group that monitors anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Russia, Volgograd officials never paid attention to another local newspaper, Kolokol, that over the years has consistently published anti-Semitic and xenophobic articles and published “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” an anti-Semitic forgery.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Suit Filed Over Police Shooting of Israeli


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Community Briefs


Gold Train Delivers to Local Agency

The Hungarian Gold Train has finally pulled into the station, figuratively speaking, bearing $67,536 for Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Los Angeles.

In the chaotic days following the end of World War II in Europe, 24 freight cars loaded with boxes of jewelry, cutlery, thousands of wedding rings, art works and other personal property taken by German and Hungarian Nazis from Hungary’s Jewry were discovered stranded in Austria by American troops.

As was the custom in those days, GIs and officers “liberated” some of the valuables. In due course, Washington settled a class-action suit last year and allotted $25 million as compensation.

Rather than attempting the near impossible task of tracking down the original owners 60 years later, the Claims Conference, as steward for the money, has decided to distribute it among needy Hungarian survivors throughout the world.

An initial down payment of $4.2 million has been allotted to 27 social service agencies in seven countries, including the JFS grant.

The local agency is currently assisting 45 Hungarian survivors and, in line with the grant mandate, is forming an advisory committee among them. Lisa Brooks, JFS communications director, said the money would probably be used for the survivors’ ongoing medical needs.

The largest of the initial allocations is going to survivor agencies in Israel and Hungary. The remaining $21 million will be distributed over the next five years, according to the Claims Conference.

In addition, the U.S. government has earmarked another $500,000 to create an archive related to the Gold Train and the Nazi looting of Hungarian Jewry for educational and scholarly purposes. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish Alliance Joins Drive to Improve Life in LAX Area

Five years ago, 30 soaring glass and steel columns, shimmering in ever-changing hues of blues, pinks, oranges and yellows, were installed at the entrance to Los Angeles International Airport. As time passed, the lighting became erratic — colors didn’t change properly and some lights failed. Last month, the entire system was closed for repairs.

But even when they worked, the glowing pylons did nothing to improve a surrounding area that remains plagued by poverty and high crime rates. That deeper problem is the subject of a broad-based coalition spearheaded by religious and community leaders who announced a “Campaign for a New Century.” As a first step, the group is circulating a petition that calls “on city and industry leaders to join us in formulating a plan for a new century.”

Citing a report prepared by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, coalition leaders assert that while the 13 major hotels on Century Boulevard have among the highest occupancy rates and the largest concentration of rooms in Los Angeles County, their approximately 3,500 workers earn far less than their counterparts in the region. The effects of these low wages can be seen in the high rates of poverty, crime and overcrowding in the neighboring communities of Lennox, Inglewood and Hawthorne, where many of these workers live, according to the report.

“We in the Jewish Community understand both the importance and complexity of community,” said Catherine Schneider, assistant director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA). “The people who live and work in the Century Corridor are trying to build a healthy community.

“This campaign is not just about wages. It’s not just about health care,” she continued. “It’s about living in a beautiful place. PJA joins this effort to create a gateway to Los Angeles that we can all be proud of.”

For more information, visit www.newcenturycoalition.org. — Naomi Glauberman, Contributing Writer

ADL Report Links Southland Skinheads to Drugs, Guns

Southern California is home to a small but volatile stew of racist skinheads involved with guns and drugs, according to a report released by the Anti-Defamation League.

“There’s so much of this going on in Southern California,” said Amanda Susskind, the ADL’s Pacific Southwest regional director. “It’s equally hateful toward Jews, African Americans, Hispanics.”

The ADL’s national Racist Skinhead Project has identified 110 racist and neo-Nazi skinhead groups, many of them new, in outlying areas, such as the Inland Empire and Los Angeles County’s Antelope Valley.

While such locales may seem remote to a Jewish community heavily concentrated in the Conejo Valley, the San Fernando Valley’s southern suburbs and on the Westside, individual skinheads have committed crimes in Canyon Country, Simi Valley and Chatsworth. A small gang called the San Fernando Valley Skins has been seen at high schools. The ADL report noted that its members appear “closely allied” with the Nazi-imitating National Socialist Movement.

In total, the number of active, racist skinheads in the region is less than 1,000, Susskind said. Last year, the neo-Nazi group, Volksfront, created an all-California chapter in San Bernardino County. Orange County’s Public Enemy No. 1 Skins has about 300 members and is allegedly involved with methamphetamine sales.

“We track organizations that have an ideological conviction and translate that to action,” said ADL investigative researcher Joanna Mendelsohn.

The ADL described another group, the Nazi Low Riders, as “a strange amalgam of street gang, racist skinhead group and racist prison gang” involved with armed robbery and drug dealing.

In the mid-1990s, Nazi Low-Riders successfully were prosecuted on felony weapons charges in a federal probe by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF). While the number of Nazi Low Riders has since declined, “you’ve got dozens of other groups out there that have filled the void,” said John A. Torres, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Los Angeles field division.

Whether it’s Bloods, Crips or neo-Nazis, “the common denominator is their propensity to firearms,” Torres told The Jewish Journal.

The ADL report highlighted the March 2005 arrest in San Bernardino County of a Southern California Skinhead group member on several charges, including one involving a stolen handgun.

Similarly, ATF raids on skinhead hideouts in the Antelope Valley have turned up an abundance of guns and Nazi memorabilia. “Signs and pictures — it’s right there, hand-in-hand with the firearms,” Torres said. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Chaplains Foundation Honors Schulweis, Interfaith Group

An Israel-Palestinian interfaith group and Rabbi Harold Schulweis were honored last weekend aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach for reaching out to other religions.

The honors came from The Immortal Chaplains Foundation, created in memory of the four U.S. military chaplains — two Protestant, one Jewish and one Catholic — who drowned together after giving their life preservers to soldiers on a sinking troopship on Feb. 3, 1943. Organizers said the foundation uses the chaplains’ self-sacrifice as an example to honor others for altruistic, interfaith deeds.

Schulweis and the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous created by him have spent two decades honoring non-Jews who rescued Jews in the Holocaust. In recent years, the longtime rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom has spoken out against the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region, another outreach prompting The Immortal Chaplains’ honor.

“From their point of view, it was an appreciation of somebody to emphasize the need for goodness,” Schulweis said in an interview. “You had here people of different faiths and backgrounds who had found so much in each other, so much in each other to love and to appreciate.”

The other honoree at the Feb. 5 ceremony was Yehuda Stolov and his Jerusalem-based Interfaith Encounter Association, which has had more than a dozen dialogues, retreats and other interactions between Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze in the Holy Land.

“For me, the main thing is the recognition of our work and the possibility to leverage it to get more awareness to what we’re doing and get more funding,” said Stolov in an interview. He was scheduled to speak this week in Southern California about his interfaith work. — DF

 

Where Streets Were Paved With Sorrow


“Bodies and Souls: The Tragic Plight of Three Jewish Women Forced Into Prostitution in the Americas” by Isabel Vincent (William Morrow, $25.95).

Memory is a central concept in Judaism. When someone dies, we say that he or she lives on in how he or she is remembered by others. Countless museum exhibits, oral histories, films, books and archives that memorialize the Holocaust repeat the mantra, “We will never forget.”

Conversely, the biggest insult that any Jew can face is to be forgotten — by fellow Jews, by history, by the country in which he or she lived. This was the fate that nearly awaited the Jewish “shtetl girls,” who were lured to South America by wealthy-looking men who promptly sold them into lives of prostitution. Thankfully, Isabel Vincent, a journalist who spent five years researching these women and their situation, rescues them from obscurity in her new book, “Bodies and Souls.”

Vincent introduces us to three women who illuminate three very different aspects of the shameful reality of white slavery that existed in Latin America between 1860 and 1939. Sophia Chamys excitedly came to the Americas with Isaac Boorosky, a pimp who she believed — at some level, until her death — was her husband; Rebecca Freedman first became a prostitute in New York and then went on to work for and lead the Society of Truth, an organization devoted to giving Jewish prostitutes a proper Jewish burial; and Rachel Liberman was instrumental (at great personal risk) in helping police plan a series of raids of the Zwi Migdal crime syndicate.

One of the most profound ideas that Vincent gets across is the sense of cosmic disappointment that is common to the three women. We have all heard horror stories of shtetl life, the violence and fear that lurked around every corner — but to read about how America turned out to be nearly as terrible for these eager girls is almost as heartbreaking as the physical pain and degradation that the prostitutes endured.

The narrative arc of the book, from Sophia’s crushed naiveté to Rachel’s open resistance, makes Vincent’s work a deeply Jewish story where out of abandonment, suffering and disillusionment come self-determination and a fierce survival instinct. Ultimately the shock and shame of learning about the atrocities that Jewish pimps inflicted on their modest shtetl sisters is somewhat rescued by the nobility that many of the women managed to salvage for themselves.

If Vincent has misstepped at all in this book, it is largely in her overuse of theoretical language: “Maybe, in order to make her feel better about her situation, Madame Nathalia told Sophia that she was one of the lucky girls.” “It must have taken a tremendous effort of will for Julio Alsogaray to remain calm throughout the lengthy interrogation.” Nearly every page contains some similar stylistic hedging.

This linguistic tic seems more a mark of Vincent’s careful reporting than of mere misjudgment, especially since, as she notes, most of the 20,000 women who were involved in the trafficking could not read or write. Historical records were quite hard to come by. But reading “might have,” “must have,” “may have” and “perhaps” over and over again throughout the book had the net effect of leaving the reader questioning how sure Vincent was of even those things she did report as fact: She knew that “tin cups and utensils were set out on coarse blankets on the whitewashed floors” of a Buenos Aires immigrants’ hotel, but had to say, “flustered, Sally must have also shown the stranger her first-class ticket.”

Although it’s annoying, this stylistic choice further highlights the sad reality of the subjects of Vincent’s book: how history, religion and shame conspired to threaten these Jewish prostitutes with that most dire of prospects — to be forgotten. There was sparse historical record, few survivors and even fewer family members who were willing to speak openly with Vincent. One might wish that Vincent had opted instead to write a work of historical fiction in which she would not have to constantly apologize for her lack of reportable material. But there is a certain amount of intellectual honesty in her choice. It is not merely that she resisted the temptation to falsely beef up her work; by choosing to acknowledge this story as a real chapter in history, Vincent affords her subjects the dignity of not being “spoken for,” as they were so often and so cruelly during their lives.

This article was reprinted courtesy of The Forward.

Holly Lebowitz Rossi is a freelance writer living in Arlington, Mass.

 

In the eyes of American and Torah laws, Williams should die for his heinous crimes.


In the case of the People v. Williams, the facts are quite clear. A jury convicted Stanley Tookie Williams of the execution-style murder of 23-year-old Albert Owens during a robbery of a 7-Eleven store in Whittier. The jury also convicted him of murdering the owners of a Los Angeles motel, Tsai-Shai Yang, 62, and Yen-I Yang, 65, and their 42-year-old daughter, Yee Chen Lin, in the course of a robbery two weeks later.

These innocent victims suffered an unwarranted execution at the hand of Tookie Williams. Now, at long last, it is Williams’ turn to pay for these crimes, after having lived more than 20 years following the deaths of people who committed no crime, who had no lawyer, who had no chance to file an appeal, who benefited from no legal technicalities, who never had an opportunity to seek clemency from a governor.

The American justice system has been patient and thorough, and its verdict is clear: It is legal, proper and high time that Williams should die.

The verdict under Judaism is just as plain: Capital punishment is a rare, but permissible, important and sometime necessary option for the delivery of justice. In this case in particular, the ethical and Jewish case for the death penalty is overwhelming.

But for those who doubt, it is necessary to look no further than the holiest writings of the Jewish faith.

Capital punishment is the second commandment in Genesis, after “Be fruitful and multiply.” Genesis (9:6) proclaims: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in his image did God make humankind.”

So fundamental is capital punishment as the specific response to murder that it, alone among the laws of the Bible, is established in all five books of the Torah: Genesis (9:6), Exodus (21:12, 21:14), Leviticus (24:17), Numbers (35:31), Deuteronomy (19:19-20, 24:7).

For literal believers in biblical liturgy, nothing more need be said. But certainly Jewish tradition and practice has evolved over the centuries, leading to ongoing moral reinterpretation. It is true that Jewish authorities established strict standards of evidence, as they became especially concerned about the rights of defendants during Roman rule and after. But there’s a difference between a high (and laudable) standard of evidence and an outright prohibition. Jewish law and its Judeo-Christian successor, modern American law, have consistently upheld the legal and moral basis for the death penalty.

It remains fair and reasonable to hold that the value of innocent human life is best established by exacting a proportionate and ultimate sanction upon a murderer. Government has a duty to act where God cannot, so as to establish justice on earth, prevent further murder, and organize a system for prosecution, judgment, and punishment on behalf of victims and society.

Williams had his day in court — again and again and again.

Court after court has rejected his appeals. The 9th Circuit Court determined that Williams had competent counsel. Democrat and Republican governors have rejected calls for clemency. His supporters claim he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for his prison writings, but this is ridiculous grandstanding, trying to attach an honor to a person who doesn’t deserve it. Nominating Williams for a Nobel Peace Prize did nothing but cynically cheapen the award itself.

Williams was convicted for specific crimes — and that’s what he will die for — but it’s worth considering for a moment the wider evil he’s brought into the world. Williams co-founded the brutal Crips gang, and in that role, it’s difficult to calculate how many crimes and other murders to which he was an accessory. And once he was imprisoned, he left behind a nefarious legacy, an ongoing wave of mass murder that resulted directly from his original criminal leadership. This information was never mentioned in court and was, in fact, kept from the jury. But it remains part of the real Tookie Williams story.

The Crips super-gang he founded exists throughout the United States and even internationally. Williams’ evil efforts have arguably resulted in more devastation — more murder, torture, rape and crippling of Americans, specifically young black children — than the acts of anyone else now alive.

Williams says, conveniently enough, that he’s changed his mind about gangs, although he’s never taken responsibility for the carnage he caused. At best, he may have tried to return a few evils into the Pandora’s Box that he personally opened and helped unleash upon the world. But that’s a far cry from true repentance and actual justice.

The life that Williams has led in prison and his public writings have generated for him the respect of misguided leftists who are all to eager to be kind to the cruel.

No one denies that murderers can go on to apologize, write books and even arguably make a contribution. Perhaps God will weigh the million intangibles, giving them their proper weight on the scales of evil and good done by any individual in a lifetime. But it is our proper and better role to content ourselves with the mission of justice.

I know honorable people who oppose the death penalty on principle. But the arguments are more persuasive on the other side — especially if we consider the rights of victims to take priority over the rights of those who murder. That’s an easy call for me to make, and it’s a crime that victims have to wait so long for justice.

I defend the death penalty — and the need for a more swift and sure death-penalty process, on other grounds, too. Under the current system the result is abusively long legal appeals and expensive lifetime imprisonment for convicted killers. All the while, victims’ families are often tortured by legal gamesmanship as well as by the suffering of not knowing if or when an execution will finally be allowed to go forward.

There are broader considerations as well. In an age of intense religio-political terrorism, the failure to deter and punish mass murder with capital punishment would deliver a devastating blow to the moral and actual defense of innocent life, not to mention the defense of our nation.

Some death-penalty opponents cite DNA evidence as a reason to end capital punishment. To the contrary, death-penalty proponents abhor just as much the theoretical possibility of an innocent person being executed. DNA evidence puts science on the side of justice — and firmly on the side of capital punishment.

The death penalty is widely approved in our society as our collective means of punishment and moral retribution. It is applied in extremely few cases. As applied to mass murderers like Williams, deep care for innocent life and for deterring future crimes requires the ultimate punishment. American law says so; common decency argues as much, and Jewish law says so, too.

Cry for Williams if you like out of mercy. But we are all more deeply stained by the tears of his victims and their loved ones. This just execution will dry some of their tears — and offer some closure and peace. n

Larry Greenfield is an attorney, victims-rights advocate, and the California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

 

Spectator – Scene of the Shot


In New York City of the 1930s and ’40s, Arthur “Weegee” Fellig often worked all night, shooting the latest murder, fire or urban melee with his Speed Graphic camera. An unshaven, fedora-wearing, tough-talking, cigar-smoking loner, Weegee renamed himself after the popular Ouija board game and shamelessly cultivated a reputation for his “psychic” ability to sniff out breaking news.

Although he became famous for graphic, sensationalist and emotionally raw photographs that simultaneously exaggerate and illuminate human folly, Weegee never forgot his Lower East Side roots as an immigrant Jew.

Currently on display at the Getty Center, “Scene of the Crime: Photo by Weegee” focuses on the photographer as tabloid journalist and New York City-style Toulouse-Lautrec — for his documenting of urban nightlife, particularly the clubs of Greenwich Village. But according to Judith Keller, the exhibit’s curator, Weegee also had an interest in “shooting synagogues, life-cycle celebrations and other scenes of Jewish life.” And like other secular, socialist-leaning Jews of his time, Weegee “was adamant about racial and social prejudice,” she said.

Born at the turn of the century in Austria, Weegee immigrated to New York with his family in 1910 and grew up in various cold-water tenements on the Lower East Side. His father eked out a living as a pushcart peddler and later, became a rabbi. A high school drop out, Weegee became interested in photography around age 15. An entrepreneur, he shot passport photos and children on rented ponies. He eventually found work in the darkroom labs of Acme Newspapers.

The Getty exhibit features some 60 photographs from 1937 to 1959. In the 1950 print “Tenement Sleeping,” a large man slumbers without covers on a fire escape, clearly seeking refuge from his sweltering digs. Weegee himself had spent many nights on fire escapes in cheap tenements. Mundane and almost peaceful, this photograph intriguingly stands out in a body of work that often emphasizes the dramatic and lurid.

“Scene of the Crime: Photo by Weegee,” is on display through Jan. 22 at the Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles (310) 440-7300 or visit www.getty.edu.

 

Juvenile Offenders Taste Teshuvah


The slightly built, 13-year-old Latino boy sitting in the Starbucks near downtown Los Angeles didn’t know much about teshuvah, the Jewish notion of repentance.

But it lies at the heart of L.A.’s Jewish Community Justice Project, and it kept this scared kid with the tremulous smile from a likely stint in juvenile boot camp for throwing rocks at a police car.

Instead of going before a judge, the boy was brought face-to-face with the policeman whose car he’d damaged, and in a two-hour meeting facilitated by two trained mediators, he had to tell the cop he was sorry.

Then he had to pledge to make restitution by working a set number of hours for his parents and a local gardening firm to pay $200 for a new car window.

“I felt nervous in that room,” the boy admitted. “I told him I was stupid, and not thinking about what I was doing at that moment. He was kind, he was a good person. He told me to thank my parents for raising me.”

It was the first time the boy had worked for money, and his mother said he was tempted to keep the first $50 he made.

“But I told him, ‘You have to take care of your responsibilities first,'” she said.

The Jewish Community Justice Project is a partner of the Centinela Valley Juvenile Diversion Project, which has been running a victim-offender restitution program in Los Angeles since 1992.

Four years ago, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles funded the joint project between Centinela and two L.A.-based Jewish groups, the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish recovery program.

According to the agreement, the PJA trains volunteers to mediate in cases forwarded by local law enforcement and juvenile courts. There currently are almost 60 Jewish volunteer mediators.

“The alliance with PJA has been so exciting because they’ve recruited motivated, dedicated volunteers,” said Steve Goldsmith, Centinela’s executive director. “The religious component, the education of teshuvah, really keeps the people motivated.”

The mediation project is based on the legal concept of restorative justice, according to which offenders must take personal responsibility for their crimes and make restitution directly to those they have offended.

Participants say it dovetails neatly with the Talmudic notion of teshuvah, which specifies that one must seek forgiveness from those one has wronged before asking God’s forgiveness, something Jews are meant to do every year between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

“Part of teshuvah is attending to what one did, and turning to the person who was hurt or offended to see whether you can come back to an open relationship with that person and their family,” said Rabbi Richard Levy, director of the School of Rabbinic Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

Levy helped create the Jewish part of the curriculum — eight hours of Jewish text study on justice and forgiveness — for the volunteer training program.

Daniel Sokatch, director of the PJA, said he brought his organization into the program in 2002, when Los Angeles became the nation’s murder capital.

“We realized that most of the murders were in the 310 area code, home to most of the Jews who don’t live in the Valley,” Sokatch said.

The most affected neighborhoods weren’t those where many Jews live, Sokatch said, but “it’s still our city, and in the words of Jeremiah, you must work for the welfare of the city where you live and there find your own well-being.”

Cases involving murder aren’t eligible for mediation. Most of the what comes to Centinela involves petty theft, vandalism, bullying and similar crimes.

One of the hardest parts of the program is making sure that appropriate cases are referred to them. There were 45,000 youths arrested last year in Los Angeles, Goldsmith said, yet Centinela received only 600 to 700 referrals.

To address that problem, Sokatch said, the next volunteer training program in early 2006 will include a separate, less-intensive track for volunteers, who will learn how to schmooze intake cops, “visit them every week, bring doughnuts and coffee and review the docket with them” to ensure that fewer juvenile offenders slip through the cracks.

Jordan Susman, a former television writer and filmmaker, was in Sokatch’s first group of volunteer mediators.

“I felt that’s what a Jewish organization should do,” said Susman, who is now a third-year law student. “It appeals to my Jewish point of view. The juvenile justice system is beyond broken — once you’re in the system, you learn how to be a better criminal. This is about breaking that cycle.”

Keren Markuze, a documentary television writer, has mediated about a dozen cases since her training last year.

“Jewish law is very big on giving people chances,” she said. “Let’s do everything we can to make sure the punishment is appropriate, especially when we talk about children.”

Jewish law also takes intention into consideration when looking at crime, Markuze noted. She described one case she mediated in which a boy stole pants, a shirt and shoes from a department store.

During the mediation, the boy confessed in tears that his mother was laid off and couldn’t afford to buy him a new school uniform, and he was tired of being humiliated by the other kids at school for his clothes.

“That’s an issue of economic justice,” Markuze proclaimed. “Of course, he had to learn that stealing is not a solution, but for him to end up in the conventional justice system would have been tragic.”

Restorative justice programs exist in many cities around the world, according to several Web sites devoted to the topic. And it’s not about feeling sorry for kids — statistics show that such programs work.

According to the Center for Restorative Justice and Mediation at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, recidivism rates are lower following mediation than following traditional punishment. Approximately 80 percent of young offenders who participated in mediation complete their restitution to their victims, compared to just 58 percent of offenders who were ordered to do restitution by the courts, but who did not sit face-to-face with those they had wronged.

“When you go to court, you’re not sitting across from your victim, forced to look them in the eye and hear what they have to say to you,” Markuze said. “It’s very powerful.”

Susman said he has his young offenders “do the math” to figure out the number of jobs lost because of crimes like theirs every year in Los Angeles. When they realize it’s their parents and friends who are losing those jobs, it “really affects them,” he said.

In the L.A. mediation project, Goldsmith said, about 70 percent of juvenile offenders complete their restitution pledges. He pointed to a study done by California’s Supreme Court that found the re-arrest rate was half that of young criminals who did not go through mediation.

“It helps divert kids from the court system, and it actually shows a pretty good success rate of keeping kids out,” said Michael Nash, presiding judge of L.A. County Juvenile Court. “Not every kid needs to be brought into the court system if there’s another way they can be

held accountable, make restitution to the victim and develop a sense of responsibility.”

The mediators take away something from it as well. For Susman, who said he and his wife are “always looking for ways to incorporate more Judaism” into their lives, acting as a court mediator “is where my Judaism is expressed existentially through the actions I do.”

Markuze said she often “feels ambivalent” after a mediation, “because there’s so much more we as a society could be doing.”

Sometimes she feels the juveniles “aren’t really contrite.” But overall, she said, “I feel good I’ve given someone a chance to make amends.”

The next volunteer mediator training session will be held in the spring. For information, contact www.pjalliance.org.

 

Krugel Gets 20 Years for Bomb Plot


The former No. 2 man in the Jewish Defense League (JDL) had his day in court last week and the only suspense was over how much time he would remain in prison. Earl Krugel, 62, has already spent close to four years in lockup over alleged terrorism charges. And in court, he learned that he could be in prison for as much as 16 years more.

The proceedings brought an apparent close to a case that briefly riveted national attention in the immediate wake of the terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists on Sept. 11, 2001. Krugel and JDL colleague Irv Rubin were accused of plotting to bomb a local mosque and the office of an Arab American congressman. No one associated with the targets had any ties to terrorism.

A young JDL member, who’d been recruited to participate in the plot, revealed it to federal authorities.

The sentencing marked the official denouement to the best-known public faces of the JDL, whose mantra called for Jews to defend themselves by any means necessary. The aborted anti-Arab terrorist plot was something of a last gasp for JDL leaders trying to reassert their relevance. The group and its adherents have virtually vanished from the American scene, although its ideological descendants continue to play a role in the body politic of Israel.

Under a deal struck some time ago with federal prosecutors, Krugel had pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to bomb the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City and carrying an explosive to use in the attacks, which included plans to bomb the field office of Congressman Darrell E. Issa (R-Vista). Krugel’s alleged co-conspirator, JDL head Rubin, died in prison in November 2002.

One charge, with its enhancement — the use of explosives — carried a mandatory sentence of 10 years. The range on the other count was probation to 10 years. At one point, the government voided the plea agreement, because prosecutors decided Krugel was not cooperating enough. Although the government’s reasons for backing out of the deal and the response from Krugel’s defense were filed under seal, the government was plainly dissatisfied with the extent of Krugel’s cooperation in helping solve the 20-year-old murder of Arab American activist Alex Odeh and other unsolved crimes. Associates of the JDL have been suspects in the Odeh killing almost from the start. And Krugel’s assistance apparently yielded little, if any, new information. In the end, prosecutors argued for a stern calculation of his sentence.

For his part, Krugel showed contrition in court as he asked for mercy.

“I regret joining a criminal conspiracy for the burden and shame it has brought to me and my family,” he said, “and for the burden it has brought to the government and the court.”

Krugel added: “This was carried too far. It became a plan for violent protest and not civic protest. Violence only begets violence.” After “much soul-searching” in prison, he concluded, he had come to realize there are “good Arabs and bad Arabs just like there are good and bad Jews.”

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald S. W. Lew sided with prosecutors, giving Krugel the maximum 10-year jail term on top of the 10 years required for the other charge.

Lew said that he “did not believe [Krugel] was a changed man. People don’t change like that overnight.”

Lew added that Krugel’s actions were “totally reprehensible and the sentence imposed was completely reasonable.”

He also noted that Krugel’s collection of guns had included a “machine gun, an aggravating fact as well.”

Krugel will get credit for his three years and nine months in custody and could shave three years and eight months off his sentence with good behavior. Still, he won’t be eligible for parole until he’s at least 76.

What’s left of the JDL is uncertain. Meir Kahane, who founded the JDL in 1968, emigrated from the United States to Israel in 1971, where he advocated the forcible expulsion of Arabs. Kahane was assassinated during a trip to New York City in 1990. His movement was outlawed in Israel, but still has adherents.

In the United States, however, a walk-in closet might be large enough to hold a board meeting of the local JDL faithful. And there’s a chance those assembled would spend much of the time bickering or finger-pointing.

Krugel’s wife, Lola, maintained outside the court that her husband is innocent and the victim of bad legal representation from a former attorney, which she asserts will form the basis of an appeal. Lew gave Krugel 10 days from sentencing to file a notice of appeal. Krugel’s former attorney, Mark Werksman, dismissed Lola Krugel’s criticism as ridiculous and factually baseless. Meanwhile, Irv Rubin’s widow, Shelley, called Earl Krugel a traitor, while also asserting that her late husband had done nothing illegal.

Shelley Rubin told The Journal that she’s furious with Krugel for pleading guilty and accusing her husband of criminal wrongdoing.

“Irv was his best friend, his best man at the wedding,” she said. “How could he do this to him, when he is dead and can’t defend himself?” she asked. “Friends meant something to my husband. He would never have done this to Earl.”

Shelley Rubin claims control of the JDL leftovers, while another faction, headed by Ian Sigel, is battling over control of the JDL Web address, asserting that it is now the official JDL. Even while Rubin was alive there were divisions and conflicting claims of leadership. Critics sometimes dismissed Rubin and his cohorts as three guys and a megaphone, but authorities implicated the JDL in some very real and deadly crimes.

A million-dollar reward is still being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for assassinating Odeh, 41, the western regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Odeh was killed by a pipe bomb as he tried to enter his Santa Ana office. Since then, the FBI has tried but failed to make a case against current or former members of the JDL, which has repeatedly denied any involvement by the organization and its leaders.

Regarding the Odeh murder, Krugel’s third attorney, Jay Lichtman, said in court “Krugel had passed on to the government four names, which Rubin allegedly gave him. But the FBI responded that they were already aware of three of those people.”

According to Robert Friedman’s 1992 book, “The False Prophet — Rabbi Meir Kahane: From FBI Informant to Knesset Member,” three of the named individuals, Andy Green, Robert Manning and Keith Fuchs — all former JDL members, actually surfaced as suspects within hours of the Odeh attack.

Green reportedly immigrated to Israel from New York City in 1975, where he met JDL founder Kahane. He then joined a West Bank settlement, and changed his name to Baruch Ben Yosef. In 1983 he moved back to his hometown, where he ran the office for Kach, another group Kahane started.

At one point, Green partnered with Manning in a private investigation firm. Manning, who hailed from Los Angeles, was convicted of a bomb attack against a Palestinian in 1973. He reportedly became Kahane’s chief bombmaker. Prior to the Odeh killing, federal authorities claimed the pair carried out a number of bombings, mostly directed towards former Nazis and their collaborators.

Fuchs, another New Yorker, had also traveled to Israel. In 1983, he was convicted of shooting at a passing Arab-owned car in the West Bank. Israeli authorities eventually pulled him out of jail and put him on a plane back to New York. Today, Fuchs and Green are reportedly back in Israel. Meanwhile, Manning was extradited from Israel to California, where he was tried and convicted of a fatal letter-bomb attack that arose out of a business dispute. He is now serving a life sentence in state prison.

Since Green, Manning and Fuchs have been suspects in the Odeh investigation for nearly 20 years, it’s unclear what more prosecutors wanted from Krugel in exchange for his reduced sentence. Much of the court record in the JDL case was filed under seal and remains secret.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Jessner asserted in court that Krugel had not cooperated fully, had not been totally honest and delayed almost five months before giving his FBI interrogators information about the alleged Odeh murder plotters.

Judge Lew said in court that Krugel had “failed several polygraphs.”

The JDL also was investigated in recent years for an alleged role in an extortion scheme against black rappers Tupac Shakur and Easy-E. Both are now dead, Tupac from a bullet, and Eric Wright, a.k.a. Easy-E, from complications due to AIDS. That probe, by the FBI, with assistance from the Los Angeles Police Department and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, lasted from Oct. 17, 1996 to May 18, 1999, according to government documents. It was closed because investigators could not substantiate the allegations.

The key figure in the terrorism investigation was JDL recruit Danny Gillis, a former Navy seaman. Gillis had second thoughts about carrying out the bombings and contacted authorities. He agreed to help the FBI tape record his meetings with Rubin and Krugel. Those tapes became the centerpiece of the government’s case.

In response to the sentencing, the office of Rep. Issa issued a statement thanking the FBI for “preventing the conspirators from carrying out their planned acts of terrorism and the many individuals, including the office of the U.S. attorney, who have worked to bring justice to those who participated in this plot.”

Speaking on behalf of the King Fahd Mosque, Usman Madha, director of public relations said that he had no comment on whether Krugel’s 20-year sentence was fair.

“I leave it to the wisdom of the court,” he said. He added: “JDL is a fringe group that does not represent the Jewish mainstream. We have very good relationships with many Jewish rabbis and this has only strengthened them. People who do not learn the lessons of Sept. 11 will try and repeat them. I just thank God it didn’t happen here.”

At the court hearing, the speakers included Salam Al-Mayayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which was one of the conspirators’ proposed targets, according to government tapes.

“I would like to appeal to you, your honor, for Earl Krugel to receive the maximum sentence for his crime to harm me, my institution, a mosque and a congressman’s office,” Al-Mayayati said. “Mr Krugel should be treated like any other terrorist.”

Mainstream Jewish groups have consistently repudiated Krugel, Rubin and the JDL, but that didn’t stop Linda Krugel from saying her brother had been abandoned by the Jewish community during the court case. This was “a dark day in American justice,” she said. “My brother fought for 35 years to defend the Jews, and where are they when he needs them?”

 

Katrina Touches Off School Voucher War


The Hurricane Katrina recovery effort is turning into the latest front in the bitter war over government aid to parochial schools. And that fight is already putting Jewish church-state groups in an awkward position.

“On its face, what the administration is proposing is an outrage,” said an official with one major Jewish group. “But as a practical matter, we don’t want to be seen as erecting barriers to helping students whose schools have literally been washed away.”

Last week, President Bush proposed a $1.9 billion emergency education program that would include $488 million in vouchers to help with private and parochial school tuition. That would make the program the biggest federally funded school voucher program by far, Jewish leaders say.

“It’s still unclear exactly what they’re proposing, which is troubling in itself,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “They’re going for a huge program with very little discussion, very little sunshine.”

The hurricane, he said, is being used as a vehicle to drive other administration goals, he said.

“We understand the urgency of responding to the hurricane,” he said. “But it doesn’t follow that what was bad policy five weeks ago is suddenly good.”

Elliot Mincberg, legal counsel for People for the American Way, was blunter.

“It’s hard to say that one outrage tops another — but the notion of using the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina to push vouchers may be a new low,” he said. “What we’re really talking about is … subsidizing those who were until a little while ago perfectly able to pay for parochial education themselves.”

Orthodox Jewish groups disagree; since the hurricane, they have been fighting for that “equity” in the school aid effort.

“We’ve been talking to Congress and the administration since shortly after the disaster,” said Nathan Diament, Washington director for the Orthodox Union (OU). “Jewish schools all around the country have opened their doors to kids displaced by the hurricane — no questions asked, with no cost. But it’s costing the schools and the communities money.”

If the government helps public schools with the burden of absorbing Katrina refugees, it shouldn’t discriminate against private and parochial schools, Diament said.

But some Jewish activists who oppose vouchers say the very scale of the proposal — up to 20 times the size of any previous voucher program — suggests that the administration is using Katrina as the foot in the door for expanded voucher programs.

That was also a theme struck by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a longtime voucher opponent, who said he was “disappointed” in the plan. “This is not the time for a partisan debate on vouchers,” he said, according to wire service reports.

In a statement, the OU lashed back.

“The Orthodox Jewish community is offended by Sen. Kennedy’s call for what amounts to religious discrimination in the wake of Katrina,” Diament said.

However, Marc Stern, legal director for the American Jewish Congress, said the new voucher program raises troubling long-term questions.

“The larger issue is how much of this is an opportunity to get a foot in the door, and implement policies you couldn’t sell otherwise because of the emergency,” he said.

He cited other examples of using the Katrina relief effort to advance longtime conservative goals that have not won congressional approval, including the administration’s suspension of Davis-Bacon “prevailing-wage” rules for the reconstruction effort.

Stern said his group will raise questions about the details of the voucher plan.

“Will this plan have restrictions that require you to be open to everybody who comes to the door? If so, Jewish schools might not be able to participate. Will there be academic standards? Will fly-by-night schools be able to take advantage of the plan? The details will be very important.”

House OKs Hate Crime Law

Jewish activists who have been pushing for a new hate crime law for years were stunned this month when the House passed the bill as an amendment to a children’s safety measure, after a daring maneuver by a liberal congressman.

“It was a very welcome and surprising development,” said Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, which has been a primary advocate for the hate crime legislation. “This was the first time it was put to a straight up-or-down vote in the House, and it demonstrated once again that it has broad bipartisan support.”

The measure would make it easier for federal authorities to help investigate and prosecute hate crimes and extends existing hate crime statutes to include crimes based on the gender, disability or sexual orientation of the victims. It’s that last provision that has earned the wrath of conservative lawmakers.

The Senate passed the measure in 2004 as part of a defense authorization bill; the House voted to urge House-Senate conferees to approve it, as well, but Republican leaders stripped it before final passage.

But earlier this month, the House approved it 223-199, when Republican leaders brought the children’s safety bill up under a “modified open rule.”

That rule, which opened the door to germane amendments, was sought because GOP leaders expected a slew of amendments from the right to toughen the bill’s language. Instead, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), a liberal, used the unexpected opening to offer the hate crime bill as an amendment, which quickly passed.

But House GOP leaders will have another chance to kill the measure if the Senate approves its own version of the bill, and it goes to a House-Senate conference committee.

With that in mind, conservative Christians are mounting an all-out offensive against the new hate crime bill. This week the Family Research Council attacked the House-passed measure as extending “special protections” for gays and lesbians.

Jewish leaders concede many obstacles remain for the legislation, but said the vote will advance their cause, even if the surprise House action is reversed in conference.

Christian, Jews Seek to Save Endangered Species Act

Liberal Jews and conservative Christians disagree on most domestic issues, but there may be room for agreement on some environmental issues. Last week, activists from both camps came together to create the Noah Alliance; the goal is to prevent moves in Congress to roll back the Endangered Species Act.

In separate statements, members of the Academy of Evangelical Scientists and Ethicists and a group of rabbis and scientists associated with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life issued a call for action on the issue.

“As evangelical Christians … we see a most profound threat to the integrity of God’s creation in the destruction of endangered species and their God-given habitat,” the Christian group wrote.

Thirty-six rabbis and scholars — including Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary — struck a somewhat tougher note, charging that “today … the Endangered Species Act is itself endangered by impatience, ideology and shortsighted, even deceptive, policymaking.”

The coalition is planning an all-out effort to recruit “people in the pews” in churches and synagogues, and promises active congressional lobbying.

Jews Opposed to Iraq War Facing Quandary

Jews upset about the Iraq War and its growing economic and human toll face a quandary: Prominent figures in the new antiwar movement have also expressed bitter hostility toward Israel.

But that shouldn’t preclude Jewish protests, said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia. Waskow was to go to Washington this week to offer a Jewish alternative to last week’s rally organized by International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), a group that has staged most of the big demonstrations against the Iraq War.

ANSWER, once associated with the radical World Workers Party, has included harsh criticism of Israel as part of its antiwar activities. The march Wednesday called for an “end (to) colonial occupation from Iraq to Palestine to Haiti.”

Two years ago, Rabbi Michael Lerner, leader of the progressive Tikkun Community, refused to participate in ANSWER events because of what he called “the anti-Semitism we think pervades the sponsoring group’s response to Israel.”

Nothing has changed, said Waskow — which is why his group staged events allowing Jews to protest the Iraq War without joining hands with ANSWER. Waskow’s group encouraged Jews to participate in other weekend antiwar events, including a concert, an interfaith service and “nonviolent civil resistance” at the White House, but not the rally led, in part, by ANSWER.

“We view ANSWER as an extremist, factionalist, divisive, manipulative and anti-Israel organization,” Waskow wrote in an e-mail to supporters. “By ‘anti-Israel,’ we mean not just that it opposes specific Israeli government policies, but that it demonizes Israeli society.”

Waskow said his group opposes the Iraq War “out of a commitment to Jewish values,” and that it “profoundly disagree(s) with the decision to have ANSWER co-sponsor the Sept. 24 rally, especially because that means its divisive, extremist and anti-Israel positions will probably get major air time.”

In an interview, Waskow said the high visibility of ANSWER in protests should not keep Jews away from the antiwar barricades.

“I don’t see the antiwar movement made up just of ANSWER,” he said. “Most groups [involved in the movement] have a sensible, more balanced view of Israel. We can work with them, and when they get out of whack, we can argue with them. ANSWER is a totally different animal.”

Jewish leaders say they do not fear a surge of anti-Semitism because of efforts by ANSWER and other groups to link the increasingly controversial Iraq War to Israel, but worry that a deteriorating situation on the ground could give that message a little more traction with the American public.

“I am worried that the longer the war goes on and the more people are concerned because there’s no exit strategy, the greater will be the ability of some groups to make this linkage,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

 

Entrapment, Surrender and Silence


If recent press reports regarding the government case against two former American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) employees are to be believed, then I am increasingly outraged at the government’s case, AIPAC’s response and the silence of the American Jewish community.

A word of caution is in order: Because grand jury testimony is secret — or at least should be — we do not know the full nature of the government’s case against these individuals, and will not know it unless an indictment is delivered and they are charged with a specific crime or crimes. But press reports, if they are accurate, point to an outrageous setup of the two and a muteness on the part of our community.

According to recent reports in the Washington Post and Ha’aretz, Keith Weissman, an AIPAC staff member, was told by Lawrence Franklin, a midlevel Pentagon official working in the office of Assistant Secretary of Defense Doug Feith, secret information that the Iranian government had targeted Israeli agents working with the Kurds for death in Iraq. According to the newspapers, he then took that information to his superior in AIPAC, Steven Rosen, who made three calls: two to check out the story and a third to warn the Israelis of risks to their agents in the field.

Given what Weissman was told — the information turns out to have been false, deliberately so because Franklin had set him up — Rosen could assume that Israel, an ally of the United States in the region, was working with the full knowledge and consent — active or tacit — of the United States. One may presume that the Israeli government or Israeli intelligence would not operate in such a sensitive area of American activity during wartime without finding a way of informing their ally.

Secondly, an American government official working in an office so friendly to Israel would not casually leak such sensitive information. There was a purpose; the information was to be conveyed elsewhere. In short, the Israelis were to be warned.

This is not the Jonathan Pollard case.

Neither Rosen nor Weissman were American government officials who had broken the laws of secrecy, the commitments that come with any level of security clearance, let alone top-secret clearance. They were not agents of a foreign government (although it seems that this is the goal of the U.S. government investigators and prosecutors — to require Americans Jews working in the U.S.-Israel foreign policy arena to declare themselves foreign agents of Israel). The Israeli government did not pay them for their services. They did not transmit documents.

If press reports are correct, they had acted as conduits for information leaked to them that was designed to save the lives of Israelis working with the consent and knowledge of the United States — at purposes agreed upon by the United States — to support American policy and the interests of both the United States and Israel.

Little did they know and less could they imagine that the information given to them was a sting operation by government investigators who already knew Franklin, the American government official, would be charged with criminal misconduct for allegedly mishandling classified documents by removing them from his office and taking them to his home.

Rosen and Weissman were attempting to save lives, not compromise lives or engage in a political vendetta. They had every reason to believe that they were operating with the active consent of the Pentagon, which had given them the information in the first place. According to press reports, they did not solicit the information; they merely listened to what was told them.

AIPAC initially gave these two officials administrative leave, continued them on salary and agreed to pay for their defense. They were working for AIPAC and trying to save Israeli lives, trying to further the alliance of the United States and Israel.

It seems that over the past month — in advance of its much-heralded and highly successful conference that featured U.S. government officials from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on down — AIPAC caved and fired these officials. It has told its key supporters that it will continue to fund their defense, but it has left them to fend for themselves economically at a time when both men will be preoccupied with their own defense and virtually unemployable.

Both of these men have made important contributions to the U.S.-Israel relationship — Weissman, an expert on Iran, and Rosen, a principal architect of the U.S.-Israel strategic cooperative relationship for more than 20 years.

And why the silence of the American Jewish leadership, which should be outraged by government entrapment on civil liberties grounds, and which should be furious that the bait the government chose to use was Israeli lives?

I lived in Washington when Pollard was arrested, and was the editor of a Jewish newspaper who joined the chorus of condemnation of both Pollard and the Israeli government for their ineptitude and stupidity in using an American Jew as an agent. It sent a chill throughout Washington officialdom, especially among a new generation of committed Jews, supporters of Israel, who were working throughout the government in every level of government service and in every agency.

This is different.

Weissman did what any person in his position is supposed to do. He went to his superior with important, albeit secret, information that purported to tell him that Israeli lives were at risk — immediate, tangible risk, information given to him in a quasi-official fashion, but what he presumed to be a most reliable source. And Rosen acted on such information to save the lives of agents working in direct alliance and with the presumed consent of the United States.

This was not a question of dual loyalty or conflicting loyalty, but of saving lives. From the perspective of Jewish tradition, if press reports are to be believed, they acted honorably in a manner prescribed by tradition, and Jews should not be adverse to defending those traditions, affirming those values and to supporting these men.

Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust and an adjunct professor of theology at the University of Judaism.

 

‘Heaven’s’ Mysterious Spirits


Rabbi Joseph Telushkin has done his part to keep the Jewish people, well, literate, by publishing such erudite tomes as “Biblical Literacy” (William Morrow, 1997) and “Jewish Literacy” (William Morrow, 1991). But it seems he also wants to keep us amused on airplanes, which is why he moonlights as a mystery novelist. He recently published his fourth mystery, “Heaven’s Witness” (The Toby Press), a page-turning whodunit about a creepy serial killer who has a thing for young, pretty girls stuck on Los Angeles canyon roads.

On the killer’s trail is psychoanalyst Jordan Geller, who is drawn into the case after a woman he hypnotizes assumes the identity of one of the murder victims — who was killed several years before the woman’s birth. The book, which Telushkin co-wrote with Allen Estrin, is peppered with talmudic and biblical axioms, and raises some lofty questions about the nature of the afterlife and what happens to us after we die.

Telushkin said that he was inspired to write the book, which CBS plans to bring to the small screen in fall 2005, after he conducted a hypnotic regression with a friend of his who went back to a life in the year 1853.

“She spoke in 19th century American English using odd terminology,” said Telushkin, who has also been the spiritual leader of the Synagogue for the Performing Arts since 1993. “When I asked her if she was married, she complained ‘that the men here are so refractory.’ She used names of relatively obscure 19th century figures, who, after months of research, I was able to trace.”

Telushkin said that he is “open” to the idea of reincarnation, and that writing mysteries does have religious implications.

“The genre of mysteries, like the world of religion, still insists that there is a right and wrong, that not everything is relative,” he said. “You might be able to explain the reason why somebody has committed a crime, but, still, it is imperative to the genre that the person is caught, and that justice should prevail.”

For more information on “Heaven’s Witness,” visit www.heavenswitness.com.

When We Elected Lindbergh


“The Plot Against America” by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin, $26).

Reading “The Plot Against America,” I thought of two other demented visions of the country, Mad Magazine, and Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle,” a speculative history like Roth’s, about America after the Germans and Japanese have won the war, when collectors of Mickey Mouse memorabilia are looking for fakes. Mad may be a weird association, but this is nothing if not the weirdest time of our lives, and there is a great long Roth sentence in “The Plot Against America” that no writer born after the war is capable of writing with a straight face. It’s on the third page, “The men worked 50, 60, even 70 or more hours a week; the women worked all the time….” In the 1950s, Mad Magazine was a vaccine against the lies of official America; it gave commercial-free clarity about the manipulations we suffered, to those of us driven mad by the times, but with the terrible side effects of bitterness, irony, skepticism and, finally, disgust with the country — and then with our parents.

But Roth was born to a generation that believed in America, and although some of them were like the undertaker in the first scene of “The Godfather,” who also believed in America, but went outside the courts for justice — Roth’s parents love their country, or what they remember of it.

In the novel, after the fascist Charles Lindbergh’s election as president, they bring 7-year-old Philip and his 12-year-old brother, Sandy, to Washington, D.C., where they visit the monuments, out of love for the threatened promise. And for being a loudmouthed Jew, Herman Roth is thrown out of his hotel. It is impossible to imagine a Baby Boomer writing a book so critical of America and still write, without irony, about the sincerity of Herman Roth’s love for America, his faith in the promise he could already see was broken.

This is the most cynical time in American history. In such a time, endless injustice leaves little room for private emotions like sadness and disappointment, only frustration and outrage. No novelists since the pre-war generation, except the artists of outrage, the specialists in horror and crime, and those who understand the private worlds of the powerless and helpless, the fantasy and romance writers, have found the sources of emotional energy necessary to fill shelves with as many books as Roth has. This is why “The Plot Against America,” a book of social outrage in response to a country losing itself to fear, is the first of Roth’s novels to brush against genre, and why he had to write about today in the frame of pure imagination, and also why a fiction had to be narrated by Philip Roth and not David Kepesh or Nathan Zuckerman, his literary alter egos.

Zuckerman’s books include “American Pastoral,” “I Married a Communist” and “The Human Stain,” books about the changes in American history and how we live with them as private traumas. Roth follows Kafka and Orwell in 1984, who never named the specific politics that they abstracted to create parallel universes of pure allegory, so a novel about the Bush administration, to make something real out of our current unreality, had to be set in some other universe. A fictional character narrating a fantasy would have lost the novel’s special poignancy, the unexpected emotions of a coming of age story, so Philip Roth, real at least in name, narrates instead of Zuckerman.

The story isn’t too complicated. Philip is a precocious third-grader in 1940. He lives in a small apartment in Weequahic, N.J., with his father, mother, brother and 21-year-old cousin, Alvin, his parents’ ward. Everyone in his world is Jewish, and almost no one is religious. Everyone is patriotic: “Our homeland was America. Then the Republicans nominated Lindbergh and everything changed.”

Lindbergh is elected on a platform to keep America out of the European War. The East Coast establishment of the Roosevelts mock Lindberg’s appeal to the people who don’t live in the big cities, and are surprised at the landslide. The red states win.

The book follows the expected structure of a speculative history, the entertainment is the flow of differences between what really happened and what the book describes, every change ringing congratulations for our recognizing it. That Walter Winchell is the book’s political hero, the voice of opposition, is delicious only to readers who remember the name. I suppose that younger readers will recognize what remains of him in Howard Stern, already harassed away from commercial radio, as though his vulgarity is unique, as though the reasons aren’t political.

Life is normal, then it changes a little, and then everything changes: “Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear. Of course no childhood is without its terrors, yet I wonder if I would have been a less frightened boy if Lindbergh hadn’t been president or I hadn’t been the offspring of Jews.”

Herman Roth loses his job to anti-Semitism, gets a night job through Jewish gangster connections and protects his family. The government establishes the Office of American Absorption, and Sandy is shipped to live for a few months with a family of tobacco farmers in Kentucky as part of the Just Folks program, spreading Jews harmlessly around the country. Cousin Alvin runs to Canada to join the army in its fight against the Germans and comes back with a missing leg. Some Jews emigrate.

A Child’s Murder, a Mother’s Strength


“The Blessing of a Broken Heart” by Sherri Mandell (Toby Press, 2003).

When a crime takes place in my neighborhood, I play a mental trick. Of course that (naive) person was mugged. She was walking alone after dark. Naturally that (careless) family was burglarized — they left their garage door unlocked. Why was that (foolish) person robbed in broad daylight? Because they live south of Third Street instead of north of it like me and my savvy neighbors. If the crime gets close, I just stretch. That robbery was on my block, true, but, please note, it was on the odd numbered side of the street.

Sociologists call this the “just world” phenomenon. We attribute meaning and logic to disturbing events so that we can get out of bed in the morning believing that the world is stable and predictable, that if we live according to the rules nothing bad will happen to us or our loved ones, that victims of misfortune deserve what happens to them.

When I started reading “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” Sherri Mandell’s book about the murder of her 13-year-old son, I had plenty of grist for distancing myself from the horror of her loss. On the day he was killed, her son, Koby, and a friend skipped school (there you go) to go hiking in a scenic gorge near their home in a West Bank (need I say more?) settlement. There, they were brutally bludgeoned to death in a cave by Palestinians from a nearby village. The cave was located in an area in which travelers are required to have an armed army escort (case closed). That no one had ever been harmed in the gorge did not enter my computation.

By the time I finished this beautiful book, all of my tricks had failed me. Mandell, a journalist, chronicles her experiences during the year after her son’s death with unusual breadth and compassion. She invites us to join her as she observes the different faces of mourning.

In this startlingly moving passage she talks to her daughter:

The night of the funeral, I go to Eliana, 10 years old, to comfort her. We are in her room, on her bed. Her hair is dark and tussled; her eyes look at me with infinite kindness. She rubs my back, asks if she can bring me tea. I tell her: “I’m the mother and I’m here to take care of you.”

She says, “No, I’m your mother.”

I say, “No, I am still your mother and this is very hard now, but we will get through it, we will go on, and I will still be your mother.”

“No,” she says,” I’ll be your mother.”

“No, I am your mother, and I know this is hard, but your are my child, and I will take care of you,” I say firmly.

“Okay,” she says, “I’ll be your grandmother.”

And to her 6-year-old son:

Gavi asks me: “Who is Koby’s mommy now?”

I wonder what to answer. It’s true that I am still Koby’s mommy, but I no longer am the one who takes care of him. I answer, “God is his mommy.”

“Oh good,” Gavi answers, “then he can see a falling star whenever he wants.”

Mandell also explores the stages of her own grief. At first she wonders, “I am like the canary in the coal mine. I have been sent out to the land of the dead to see, can one live there?” She is surprised that the Jewish period for mourning a child is only 30 days. Then she comes to understand that when you lose a child, you grieve for the rest of your life.

“You don’t need the rituals to remind you to grieve,” she writes. “You will think of your child forever.”

Later she sees how agonizing it is to modify the reflexes and habits of love. “Six months after your death,” she writes Koby, “my body has phantom legs that walk to your bed to wake you for synagogue. My body lags in recognizing your absence. It is still moving towards you, like a flower to the light. The phantom legs walk to the door to welcome your home form school, bring you chips and salsa when your return.”

Slowly, Mandell learns how better to communicate with God. “God speaks to me. I know that. But sometimes his voice is silent. Other times he mumbles. I have to keep learning, so that I can recognize his language. I have to keep my heart open….”

She understands that without an intimate knowledge of death we are not fully alive.

“The thought of life without death scares me now,” she writes. “Grieving is also the place of God, the sacred place that connects heaven and earth. It is up to us as grievers to discover and dwell in that space. The sage says, ‘Each moment is a miracle and an agony. A miracle that the world exists in all its glory. An agony that this world is one of suffering and pain.”

I watch the news of unending conflict in Israel, and much as I wish it to be otherwise, the suffering of its families too often remains on the odd numbered side of my street. “The Blessing of a Broken Heart” gives the struggle a precious face and, at the same time, illustrates the power of Jewish faith, ritual and community to heal.


Wendy Mogel is the author of “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee.” She is a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles.

Community Briefs


Grocery Shop for Israel

Boost Israel’s gross national product while buying itsgrocery products.

That’s the idea behind Fine Foods From Israel, acollaboration among the California Israel Chamber of Commerce, The JewishFederation of Greater Los Angeles and the Israel Export and InternationalCooperation Institute, and includes a diverse range of sponsors, likeStandWithUs.com, Israel Discount Bank and various schools and synagogues.

The March 19-31 citywide event, which urges Angelenos to”Savor the Flavors of Israel,” features the participation of 90 markets,including 56 Ralphs supermarkets and kosher outlets such as Valley Glatt KosherMarket and Elite Market in the Valley, Kosher Club and La Brea Kosher Market inLos Angeles, Fairfax Market (Sami-Makolet) and Picanty in the Fairfax District,and Elat Market and Nut House in the Pico-Robertson area. Store discounts,promotions, and food samples will allow customers to partake in fresh produceand dairy products, Mediterranean cuisine, kosher goods and other specialtiesof Israel.

“It’s good timing,” said Doron Abrahami, consul for economicaffairs of Israel in Los Angeles, “because it’s two weeks before Pesach andeverything you can buy for Pesach, you can buy Israeli products.”

Israel, which presently has a $100 billion economy, shipsabout $38 billion in total exports, an estimated $1 billion of thatfood-related.

“Trade can always be improved,” said Teri Cohan Link of theCalifornia Israel Chamber of Commerce, “and with what’s going on in Israelright now, there’s been a serious disruption with trade.”

“Beyond whatever we do philanthropically, it’s importantthat people do consider purchasing Israeli products,” Federation President JohnFishel said.

The campaign will also encourage locals to purchase at least$1,000 of Israeli goods annually.

For more information, call (323) 658-7924 or visit www.finefoodsisrael.com. — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Bratton on Terror

With only 9,000 officers for a city of 5 million, the LosAngeles Police Department has been woefully underequipped to tackle the 250,000gang members roaming the city, Police Chief William Bratton told a packedaudience at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles on March 6. This isone of a number of appearances Bratton is making in the Jewish community.

With 650 murders in 2002 and homicides increasing 100percent in two years, the LAPD has been unprepared to deal with terrorism,Bratton said, explaining that scandals such as Rampart have driven away 1,000 officers,and the impending war has also siphoned off additional officers.

“Next to New York and Washington, we are the biggest targetin the country,” he said. “We are a city that is not prepared. L.A. hasunderinvested in its police force.”

Bratton has hired a new team of top brass and consultants,including terrorism expert John Miller, one of the few journalists to conduct aface-to-face interview with Osama bin Laden.

“We are much better off now than we were four months ago …a year ago, and we’re getting better all the time,” Bratton said. “I think wecan do it. I have a lot of faith in this department.”

Bratton, who is married to Jewish Court TV anchor RikkiKlieman, said he wants to restore prestige to the force. “My goal, quitesimply, is to reduce crime, fear and disorder,” Bratton said.

Bratton will be the guest speaker at The American JewishCommittee’s Civic Achievement Award Dinner honoring Rick J. Caruso on March 20.For information, call (310) 282-8080.

For a previously published Journal interview with PoliceChief William Bratton, go to www.jewishjournal.com/archive . Keyword: Bratton. — MA

Purim for Soldiers

West Coast Chabad Lubavitch has sent more than 2,000mishloach manot (Purim baskets) to Jewish soldiers serving in Kuwait. The packageswere packed by Chabad schoolchildren in California and then airlifted to the Mideaston Tuesday.

“Many of the Jewish men and women serving in the militaryare convinced that the Jewish community in the United States is unaware of theJewish population in the military,” said Lt. Col. (Rabbi) Mitch Ackerman, whowill be traveling to Kuwait this Purim as an Army chaplain and who helpedChabad organize the airlift. “This support or recognition creates a mostpositive experience and is greatly appreciated.”

Ackerman will personally deliver many of the packages to thesoldiers, and he will also be reading the Megillat Esther to the soldiers in Kuwait.

“These mishloach manot packages are a way that we can bringthe spirit of Purim to the soldiers now,” said Rabbi Chaim Cunin, publicrelations director for West Coast Chabad Lubavitch. Cunin noted that in the1940s, the Lubavitcher rebbe had distributed prayers to the Jewish members ofthe armed services.

“People are often surprised that Jewish kids are serving inthe military, but it is very common,” Cunin said. “We are doing our best toshow that they have the support of the Jewish people all around the world.” –Gaby Wenig, Contributing Writer

An Old Murder Is a Tale for Our Times


"The Butcher’s Tale: Murder and Anti-Semitism in a German Town" by Helmut Walser Smith (W.W. Norton and Co., $25.95).

One of the most depressing of the many depressing aspects of the second year of the new millennium has been the resurgence of anti-Semitism and the importation into Islam of anti-Semitic motifs that were abandoned and discredited in the post-Holocaust Christian world.

Sadly, too many in Islam have adopted what the West had rejected, including such noted forgeries as the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and the myth that Jews killed gentile children to drain their blood in order to bake matzah for Passover — the well-known "blood libel."

Little could Helmut Walser Smith imagine when he set out to do his impressive work tracing the blood libel in the small German town of Konitz, following an unsolved murder of a young German man on March 11, 1900, that the scandal of the last century would reverberate in the new millennium.

Smith set out to understand an event set in a specific town at a specific moment, to trace a crime and to examine more than a century later those who might have committed it, assessing their possible guilt or innocence, examining their motives and their alibis, trying as dutifully as one can to establish what happened, who did what, who said what and then how events got out of hand, leading to three different pogroms between April and June 1900, and influencing Jewish and German life in the region.

Perhaps Smith suspected that he could shed light on events that happened four decades later, when anti-Semitism was prevalent throughout Germany, and local pogroms gave way to the state-sponsored systematic annihilation of the Jews that we call the Holocaust.

Had that been all that was achieved, it would have been more than sufficient for a monograph that is uncommonly interesting and exceedingly well researched. But there are greater reverberations to the work, which have less to do with Smith’s topic and research and more to do with the peculiar quality of our times.

The murder was particularly gruesome. The victim, Ernst Winter, was a "tall, strong, robust 18-year-old, a swimmer, gymnast and bicycle rider." The upper torso of his body, cut off at the ribs, was discovered in a local lake wrapped in strong packing paper and sown shut. His other body parts were strewn around town, wrapped in packing paper and tied shut.

Rumors were that the body was drained of all blood, which shed some suspicion on the Jews, most especially in March, which is in proximity to Passover. Clearly, the young man had been murdered, and his body dismembered.

It was the nature of the crime and the skill with which the body was cut apart that was to shake the community and also suggest that the murderer possessed a certain skill set. Not many — surely not everyone — was capable of so dismembering a body and packing it ever so carefully for dispersal at multiple sites. A century later, Smith uses this information to narrow the field of possible murderers and to hypothesize on the full timetable of the crime.

Unlike Jan Gross whose work, "Neighbors," described the murder of the Jews of Jedwavne, Smith could not rely upon eyewitnesses or contemporary oral history. He was forced to rely on the written records; court records, especially of those tried for perjury; newspaper accounts; police interrogations, and the diverse recollections that had been committed to paper to get at the truth of what had been done.

Unlike Jedwavne, where authorities either participated in the murders or turned aside as they were happening, the authorities were a front line of defense that kept the atmosphere from becoming even more explosive.

Smith must also recreate the town from these records, the social dynamics, the interrelationship between Jews, Germans and Poles, Catholics and Protestants that characterized the border town, then a part of Germany and in the post-war period and now a part of Poland. He must also sort out the complex interrelationships between domestic help and their employers, class and educational issues, as well as religious divisions and ethnicity.

So much has changed since then that the task is even more difficult. The Jews are gone, and the area is now Polish not German. Some Jews departed shortly after the crime; the remnant of the community was eliminated in the Holocaust.

But many Germans are also gone, feeling uncomfortable remaining in Poland after the Nazi era. The town that remains is so very different than the town reconstructed through Smith’s meticulous research.

While this review cannot, as Smith so elaborately does, go through the town folk and evaluate the suspects, their motives and their alibis to ascertain the identity of the killer, we can focus on the accusation against the Jews, the rallying of social forces targeting the Jews and the spreading of these accusations like wildfire

Smith is asking the right questions. He wonders, "How local enmities become potent symbols resonating with larger antagonisms. How spiteful stories and tavern tales are elevated to public spectacle, and how these takes conform to pre-existing patter of political and religious beliefs."

As I read the book, I kept wondering about our global universe, where the media and the Internet — and not only the local tavern and barber shop — are the places in which certain conversations take place, where antagonisms are spread and tales told and by their very repetition seem to gain credibility and become objective reality.

How is it that the "street" in certain world capitals believes that the Jews working at the World Trade Center escaped just before the bombing or that the CIA and the Mossad were responsible for the murders?

Like Gross’s work, "The Butcher’s Tale" focuses on one town and the struggle of neighbors against neighbors. He explores the gallery of prejudices about Jews, class, sexuality and the criminal mind that skewed the investigation, blinding police and people to the identity and whereabouts of the real killers among them.

The reader benefits because Smith is a learned man — learned in history of blood libel and in medieval ritual murders. He reviews many of the 79 cases of blood libel in Europe in the 19th century and also its medieval origins.

He understands why popes denounced the blood libel and also why these denunciations had such a limited impact on the general populace. One feels the deep scholarship that he brought to this project and not only what he learned in the research.

At another time and in another place, this would be a fascinating and brief historical study. The tragedy of our era is that this work has a timeless quality, for we now have anti-Semitism in lands that are bereft of Jews, and one must look globally and not just regionally to understand its shape.

Forces larger than those that surrounded Konitz, which at the turn of the 20th century was a simpler place in a simpler time, fuel contemporary antagonisms, and Smith’s study can help us understand at least some of those forces.

What’s In a Name?


I check surnames. It’s a reflex, and I can’t help it. If you’re like most Jews I know, you do it too. You can’t help but wonder, for instance, if some of the people at the center of the latest financial scandals are Jewish or not. We kvell at Shawn Green and cringe at Andrew Fastow, although it’s hard to figure just what being born Jewish had to do with Green’s batting average or Fastow’s alleged misdeeds.

But still, I check.

Andrew Fastow, former CFO at Enron? Hmm. Fastow. Yes, Jewish.

L. Dennis Kozlowski, former CEO of Tyco? Hmm, could be but — no.

Mark Belnick, the ousted general counsel of Tyco? Maybe … have to check.

Then there is Gary Winnick, founder and chairman of bankrupt telecommunications group Global Crossing, who testified this week before Rep. L. Billy Tauzin’s (R-La.) House Energy and Commerce Committee. The committee wanted to know whether Winnick knew his company was in financial trouble and failed to alert investors while selling millions of dollars worth of his own stock in the meantime. According to The Financial Times, Winnick grossed $512 million since 1999, a period in which Global Crossing has lost $9.2 billion and eliminated 5,020 jobs.

Winnick has been charged with no crime and has denied any wrongdoing. “Global Crossing’s bankruptcy,” Winnick told the committee, “based on the facts known to me, is a result not of any fraud, but of a catastrophe that befell an entire industry sector.” Winnick’s lawyer says his client’s stock sale was proper and approved by Global’s counsel.

Reading Gary Winnick’s name splashed scross the national papers hits especially close to home. Three years ago to the day that I write this, the cover of The Journal featured a photograph of Winnick and this headline: “Gary Winnick Steps Out Front: ‘The Wealthiest Man in Los Angeles’ is driven to succeed and to give to the Jewish community.” In it, Tom Tugend reported that Winnick’s fortune of $6.2 billion made him Los Angeles’ richest citizen, according to The Los Angeles Business Journal. The story documented Winnick’s rise as the grandson of a one-time pushcart peddler on New York’s Lower East Side to financial whiz at the side of Michael Milken to visionary leader in the telecommunications industry.

More pointedly, it reported on the billionaire’s seemingly inexhaustible charity: a $5 million-pledge by the Gary and Karen Winnick Family Foundation to erect exhibit galleries at the Skirball Cultural Center, Hillel center endowments at three East Coast universities and a children’s zoo at the Los Angeles Zoo. His pledges and donations to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Birthright Israel, Chabad and at least 54 other groups totaled $100 million over the past three years. The Foundation’s largest single donation is the $40 million pledged to the Simon Wiesenthal Center for construction of the Winnick Institute in Jerusalem, to be designed by Frank Gehry.

All this largesse, the lion’s share of it directed toward the Jewish community, set an example for others of similar wealth to follow.

Now, of course, in the court of public opinion, Winnick is being held up as an exemplar not of philanthropy, but of 1990s greed. Though he’s worth considerably less than $6.2 billion these days, he still built a home worth an estimated $60 million to $90 million, and he may never provide satisfactory enough answers for the people whose financial worth evaporated along with Global Crossing’s.

I’m assuming this is a source of anguish to Winnick, whom I don’t know and have never met. He must know that, in light of Global Crossing’s reverses, a good many people will forever see his philanthropy, his words of contrition, his offers of recompense, as utilitarian ploys to win favor, to buy back his good name.

He is now in a place where others, including some from this community, have traveled before. How does one emerge from such a fall? The answer, surprisingly, may come from Winnick himself.

Speaking three years ago of the criteria by which he chooses philanthropies, Winnic told The Journal: “I must believe in the cause, and I demand accountability from the recipient.”

Accountability. The lack of it is what lay at the heart of the numerous financial scandals that have rocked the stock market and shaken investor confidence. It is at the heart of the endless post-boom congressional hearings at which former CEOs put on their best Easter Island faces and can rarely, if ever, account for what was taking place in the companies they headed.

There are signs that Winnick does expect accountability of himself. Heads of charitable organizations to which Winnick pledged contributions, contacted this past February by The Journal, said they were in receipt of the monies or fully expected the pledges to arrive. His offer to replenish depleted employee retirement funds by $25 million was unprecedented in the current climate of CEO duck-and-run. Having set an example with his giving, Winnick can now set one with his candor.

This would be a good thing, because employees and stockholders are not, according to Jewish tradition, the only stakeholders in our business behavior. God also calls us to account for our actions. When we die, the Talmud says, the first question God will ask each one of us is, “Nasata v’netata be’emunah” — “Did you conduct your business affairs with honesty?”

In an article on Jewish law, Rabbi Eliezer Breitowitz elaborates: “Business ethics is the arena where the ethereal transcendent teachings of holiness and spirituality confront the often grubby business of making money and being engaged in the rat race …. It is the acid test of whether religion is truly relevant or religion is simply relegated to an isolated sphere of human activity.”

Justly or unjustly, Gary Winnick is undergoing that acid test quite publicly.

Be Careful With ‘Terrorism’


The LAX shooting on the Fourth of July was another test of Muslim-Jewish relations.

Some Jewish leaders complained that Los Angeles Muslims did not denounce the shooting. That some people didn’t hear it, and then accused Muslims of remaining silent, seems to be a common problem in many public pronouncements Muslims make these days. It is not an issue of transmission by Muslims, but of reception by others.

Another problem for the Muslim community, and other ethnic/religious groups in America, is the definition and application of "terrorism" in violent crimes.

As we await the conclusion of the FBI’s investigation in the LAX shooting on the Fourth of July, we are witnessing a sudden attack on law enforcement’s definition of terrorism. If the investigators conclude that the shooting incident involved terrorism, let’s all accept it and move on. If they maintain that it was an isolated incident, expect a widening of the debate on the methodology on classification of violent acts.

At the root of that debate, I believe, is the deeper problem of how our society has politicized and exploited violence and its painful aftermath.

When police charged the Jewish Defense League’s Irv Rubin last fall with attempting to bomb our office, the King Fahd mosque in Culver City and the office of Congressman Darryl Issa, the federal authorities avoided calling it terrorism. It was a bomb plot and the charges centered on the possession of explosives. The president did not issue any statement to the nation as he did for the LAX shooting. In fact, the Jewish Defense League is still not listed as a terrorist organization. Where were the brave voices speaking out against political correctness then?

In another landmark case reported in The New York Times on June 24, a federal judge dismissed charges against seven members of the Mujahedeen El Khalq (MEK), a pro-Marxist terrorist organization established to overthrow the current Iranian regime. The group was charged with aiding terrorist groups by soliciting donations at airports. The judge asserted that MEK’s civil rights were violated when they could not defend themselves against the State Department’s assertion that they were a terrorist group in the agency’s listing. Members of Congress even passed a resolution in solidarity with the MEK after the Clinton administration placed the group on its terrorist list. Congress was never accused of aiding and abetting terrorists.

Should the same standard apply for the three American Muslim charities shut down last fall as a result of the government’s freeze of their assets? Of course, the MEK story did not stir up any debate, because these terrorists are working for the Western geopolitical interests against a Muslim country. Selective justice is injustice — it does not help us in the war on terror and continues to project the image that the United States is anti-Islam.

Other cases involving violence against ethnic groups could have been used as political footballs. An Egyptian storeowner was killed weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, but the authorities did not classify it as a hate crime or a terrorist attack. The U.S. Government never considered it terrorism when black churches were torched throughout the South.

If a group of Muslims were caught storing arms to ship to the Kashmiris, for example, I’m sure there would be a national uproar about it as another chapter in the war on terror. It’s not just a matter of arresting and prosecuting the criminals, but how it is played out in the court of public opinion that leaves deep impressions in our society.

American Jews celebrate the fact that their children defer going to college in order to serve in the Israeli army, but American Muslims are chastised if they recruit any of their youth to join the Palestinians, or are called terrorist sympathizers for giving money to the refugees of war-torn countries.

Whether violence is committed by groups or individuals, our job as leaders in the Muslim and Jewish communities is to diminish — not exacerbate hatred; there is an alarming trend from those who jump on opportunities to score more political points against one another at the expense of human relations.

I can understand the hysteria surrounding the Middle East conflict. Public policymaking is not the place for allowing that hysteria to influence serious decisions.

Emotionalism has negatively impacted Muslim-Jewish dialogue throughout the United States and in Los Angeles. But those who have managed to endure these oppositional forces will, in the long-run, be the pioneers of fostering mutual trust between the two communities. Those who have left the dialogue usually have done so in a circus atmosphere to demonstrate zeal to the right-wing members of their constituencies.

We passed the test from the LAX shooting, because of the leadership of a handful of Muslims and Jews, but more tests will follow. We all have to deal with the realities of extremism today and the violent acts emanating from it.

A violent crime that takes the life of innocent people is bad enough. But to be so adamant about, and outraged over, the labeling of the crime does not serve anyone’s interest. To the valiant spokespeople who want to promote the war on terrorism in their selective application of terrorism: Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. And then you will have to recoil to your corners when the double-edged sword of the terrorism debate swings the other way.

Exodus From Addiction and Shame


These are the Ten Plagues of Prison Life, and we take a drop of grape juice out of our cups for each: Damage left in the wake of destructive addiction. Abusive relationships. Low self-esteem. The embittered spirit. Wrong attitude. Weakening mind and body. Daily degradation. Deprivation. Captivity. Separation from loved ones.

Freedom has a different meaning for the Shalom Sisterhood, a group of 20 inmates who meet twice a month for Jewish study at the California Institution for Women (CIW). As they gather for a seder in the meeting room of this college campus-like institution set among the dairy farms and truck repair shops of Chino, the Shalom Sisterhood considers anew the story of the Exodus and the freedoms of mind and spirit available to them.

Their seder is just one of many held throughout the area that reinterprets the ancient story to shed light on contemporary issues (see sidebar).

Before attending the March 18 event at CIW, Rabbi Paul Dubin wondered what kind of seder is appropriate in a prison. As a board member of Gateways Hospital and Mental Health Center, the sponsor of the event, and former executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, Dubin wanted to help the inmates connect their prison experience with Jewish life. He read the haggadah they had prepared and was impressed. "They’re covering the very thing that would have worried me: How do you speak about freedom in a place like this?"

Dubin spoke at the seder about "all those enslavements that warp the spirit and blight the mind, that destroy the soul, even though they leave the flesh alive."

In the "Haggadah Shel Assurim" ("Haggadah of Captivity"), developed by the Shalom Sisterhood with Rabbi Mel Silverman before his retirement last year, the Jewish prisoners include their own stories. Margaret Tanner, who wears a small necklace charm reading "Try God," reads from her selection, "Many women have said ‘I wasn’t arrested, I was rescued.’ This is true for me."

Dawn Ayers is chair of the Shalom Sisterhood. At the seder, she reads her "Letter to Heroin," a declaration of freedom included among many of the inmates’ meditations in the haggadah. "Each day I find courage and strength, not from you, but from my spiritual fold," she reads, "I regret that I had to lose everything to set myself free…. I will stay sober and out of your bondage."

Kim Braun was a preschool teacher from Porter Ranch. Following her divorce and a bitter custody battle, Braun began writing bad checks and got involved in computer hacking. She vows that when she is released, "I’m never even going to have a parking violation."

Mona Blaskey is a mother of nine. When her own mother died last year, she went out drinking with a friend. The night turned violent when a drunken argument with a friend led to a shoving match; an aneurysm burst when her friend fell. It was Blaskey’s first run-in with the law. She is serving six years for attempted murder and will serve half the time for good behavior.

Braun and Blaskey consider themselves lucky. Blaskey recalls her first meeting with the Shalom Sisterhood. When the women introduced themselves and the amount of time they were serving, she says she was "heartbroken" — many of the women at this seder have "indeterminate" sentences of seven, 15 or 25 years to life.

On her left hand, Blaskey has a Star of David tattoo. She says the seder makes her homesick for her father’s Orange County home, where she would spend hours cooking for her family.

Rather than cooking a meal with family, on this night the Shalom Sisterhood enjoys the treat of nonprison food, with dinner contributions from Art’s Deli in Studio City and Gateways Hospital pitching in for the catered chicken dinner. Boxes of matzah and macaroons are available to take back to their rooms; what hot food is left over, Shalom Sisterhood members pile onto plates to share the joys of Passover with roommates. No door is left open for Elijah, but strangers are invited in.

The seder was sponsored by the Jewish Committee for Personal Service (JCPS), a service of Gateways Hospital that helps to bring Jewish life and values to prisoners and acts as advocates on their behalf. JCPS Director Judith Sable visits CIW every other week. Since Silverman’s retirement, the prison budget has not supported a visiting rabbi. Though the women say they trust and respect CIW chaplain Father Neil Fuller, Sable is their only regular connection to Jewish life.

Sable, a social worker who visits prisons across the state as a "religious volunteer," says the hardest part of her work is convincing those outside the system that Jewish prisoners are worthy of their help. She points to the sincere efforts of the Shalom Sisterhood, evident at the seder table, to improve their minds, bodies, spirits and lives.

"I would stake my life on it," Sable says. "These women would not commit another crime. They’re upstanding citizens and they’re still here." She wants to offer more to them than twice-monthly visits. "We’re working on doing some shonda-busting," she says.


You don’t have to go to prison to find a Passover seder with a contemporary interpretation of the Exodus. With the service itself encouraging us to place ourselves in the sandals of the Israelites, Passover is uniquely suited to tie together history and personal experience. All around Los Angeles, Jewish and non-Jewish groups offered fun, thought-provoking, inspirational, celebrational seders that take off from the Exodus into a new land of celebration.

At Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village, the freedom vibe rings in from West Africa at the popular Reggae Passover. Alan Eder & Friends bring their "Songs of Freedom," joined by African dancers and choirs from the temple and Parks Chapel A.M.E. Church.

If you prefer gourmet to reggae, Wolfgang Puck has it covered — Spago’s seder, with braised Morrocan lamb and tarragon gefilte fish, has become a tradition in its own right, and proceeds go to charity.

The seder may focus on women’s issues, as at Temple Judea in Tarzana or the National Council of Jewish Women. Or reading a haggadah together might aim to bring singles to the Promised Land of their beshert, as did a Passover dinner this year at Meet Me Café. Perhaps the most popular "new order" for Passover is the interfaith seder, of the type Leo Baeck Temple held this year, where members of any community can recognize elements of their own historical struggles in the retelling of the Passover tale.

Whatever the community, whatever the goal, the story of Passover can speak to anyone who has struggled, anyone who has been set free. In congregations and communities across Los Angeles, Passover celebrants are saying, "We’ll leave the door open." — Mike Levy, Staff Writer

A Wealth of Embezzlers


A former bookkeeper at Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach turned herself in to police last week after reportedly admitting to having stolen nearly $100,000 from the Reform synagogue. Doina Stanescu, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, allegedly embezzled the money by signing checks to herself.

The case exposes a danger for nonprofit organizations like synagogues, which may rely on volunteer lay leadership for much of their financial management and oversight.

Margy Feldman, Temple Menorah’s president, agreed that her synagogue runs on "a tremendous amount of trust in a very small office," but "my heart goes out to [Stanescu]." She said Stanescu had a gambling addiction and that the temple had contacted Beit T’Shuvah to request help for her. Feldman declined to discuss details of the embezzlement or the synagogue’s accounting oversight procedures. "Our synagogue needs to heal," she said, adding that the temple’s board of directors had met several times since the arrest to review accounting practices, "to see that this never happens again." Feldman also noted that other synagogues have been hit by similar crimes. "This is not an unusual circumstance," she said.

Embezzlement scandals at Jewish organizations have made numerous headlines in the past few years.

  • In March 2000, the fiscal administrator of the Los Angeles Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion campus was arrested and charged with embezzling more than a million dollars over an eight-year period.

  • An FBI investigation in April 2000 found that the bookkeeper and the executive director of a Philadelphia-area synagogue had collaborated to steal $700,000 from that synagogue.

  • The investigation into Rabbi Baruch Lanner’s sexual misconduct as a leader of the Orthodox Union’s National Council of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) also uncovered numerous instances when Lanner had deposited donations to the NCSY into his personal bank accounts.

"Ideally, Jewish nonprofits and synagogues would be immune from this sort of behavior," said Judith Kranz, president of the North American Association of Synagogue Executives. "But we live in the real world, and so we set up these checks and balances to protect our synagogues from harm."

Because a great deal of money flows in and out of even a small synagogue, Kranz said, "In general, synagogues are set up like small businesses." Regular accounting principles should include two separate signatures required for each check with different people responsible for approving and writing checks.

Kranz also recommends having outside accountants come in to audit a synagogue’s books. Strict accounting practices and thorough oversight should help ensure that a dishonest person will be unable to steal. Kranz said her organization has never had to deal with a case of embezzlement and believes that when it happens at a Jewish organization or synagogue, it is "news, because it’s so rare."

Woody Allen Comes Clean


“People think I’m being facetious when I say I once toyed with a life of crime,” filmmaker Woody Allen recently told 1,400 students, professors and alumni during a standing-room-only screening of his new comedy, “Small Time Crooks,” at UCLA’s Wadsworth Theater.

The life-of-crime idea came after Allen, a poor student in high school, discovered he couldn’t make the height requirement to join the NYPD. “So I considered becoming a criminal, where there were no height requirements whatsoever,” he said. “I thought of being a swindler, maybe a bookmaker, maybe I’d go into schemes or clever burglaries. I saw myself on boats and cruises, cheating people at card games or cleverly cracking safes.”

All the while, he said, he was the kind of “kid in the movie house who yells up at the screen, annoyingly, purportedly funny things.” On a lark, Allen wrote some jokes, sent them “to somebody who was peripherally involved in show business,” and a month later was working in comedy. “All those elaborate plans to become a master criminal went out the window,” confides Allen, who instead channeled his crime fantasies into caper films like “Take the Money and Run.” Allen concedes he is lucky: “I would now be doing time if I weren’t funny,” he said.

Of course, the event’s moderator, Esquire’s Bill Zehme, had to ask Woody why he hates L.A. Allen responded that he always teases things he loves, though he could never live here. “I like a gray, nervous, concrete city,” he said.

Nevertheless, Allen feels affection for the smoggy city, which was where all his childhood movie heroes lived and where he filmed the giant breast scene from “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask.” L.A. is where he got to know Groucho Marx, who was “the kind of elderly Jewish man that you’d meet at a Bar Mitzvah, who’d shake your hand with a $50 bill in it and make wisecracks.”

Of course, the then-young comedian couldn’t resist a few morbid musings about Marx: “I thought, ‘If I really become famous, this is what it is in the end. You lose your teeth and your hair and you’re making wisecracks to waitresses.'”

Allen may be concerned about losing his hair and his teeth, but he’s not a hypochondriac, he insists; he’s merely an “alarmist.” “If I have chapped lips, I think I have a brain tumor,” he said. “I cut right to the worst possible scenario.” Allen whipped out a silver pill box containing eight pills: “It’s an assortment of pharmaceuticals rivaling the Merck company,” he revealed. “I take them everywhere. I don’t like to feel that God forbid, I should be anywhere I can’t lay my hands on something that will ameliorate suffering.”Another revelation from Allen: He admitted he lied for years about why he never attended the Oscars. It wasn’t because the ceremony fell on the same night he performed with his jazz band. “I just don’t like to fly,” he said. “And why should I travel 3,000 miles to sit nervously in an audience and I can’t get my car out of the parking lot at the end?”

SNew Weinberger Bombshell: Judge Asked for Pollard Memo


Caspar Weinberger has dropped a bombshell that could dramatically affect the fate of Jonathan Pollard.

In an interview in the September 1999 issue of the Middle East Forum, the former defense secretary says that his still-secret memo to Judge Aubrey Robinson was written at the request of the presiding judge, who “made a formal, official request to me to supply” an assessment of the damage caused by Pollard’s espionage. The Weinberger memorandum, which is still classified, has been withheld from the Pollard defense team.

The revelation is important because the Weinberger memo remains central to Robinson’s decision to overturn Pollard’s plea bargain agreement with the United States Justice Department, and it is routinely cited as evidence of the severity of Pollard’s crime in passing classified information to Israel.

It is improper to secretly solicit information and then, on the record, imply that [U.S. Attorney Joseph] de Genova introduced it.” said Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.

Although Dershowitz allowed that not all information is shared, “anything the judge asks for has to be put on the record. For the judge to solicit a substantive memorandum and then to use it in this way raises fundamental questions.”

In the interview with the Forum’s Daniel Pipes, Weinberger repeats his statement about the involvement of Robinson five times.

* “I said everything I knew about Pollard at the request of the United States District Court.”

* “I gave the judge an affidavit that was classified because it went into great detail about the extent of the damage that was done and the number of lives of our people that were endangered.”

* “That covered a lot of sources and methods at the court’s request.”

* “What I had to say, I said at the court’s request in the classified affidavit.”

* “We were impacted very severely. That was the exact subject matter of the information that the judge wanted in the case, and he made a formal, official request to me to supply it to him, and I did.”

Robinson did not inform the defense that he had invited a submission from the secretary of defense and made no provision for the defense to see the submission in advance. Nor did he allow the defense counsel adequate time to study the submission and prepare a legal defense to challenge it.

In a Tuesday, Sept. 28, letter to the NJJN, Pollard spelled out what he saw as the consequences for his case.

“If Weinberger is lying about the judge having solicited his memorandum, then this seriously calls into question his credibility as an ‘assessor’ of my actions,” Pollard writes.

“On the other hand, if he’s telling the truth and the judge did, in fact, engage in such ex parte behavior, then somebody’s going to have to stand up and call for a full-scale investigation of the judge’s behavior. His apparent unethical actions in this matter were later compounded by his decision to uphold the government’s refusal to share Weinberger’s memorandum with my lawyers during the…appeal over which he presided.”

In making the new revelation, Weinberger does not back away from his assessment that Pollard caused significant damage to the United States.

“The whole case was a source of very considerable potential and actual danger and damage to the United States, primarily from the vantage point of information, intelligence sources, and methods that were lost,” Weinberger told Pipes. “We were impacted very severely.”


David Twersky writes for the New Jersey Jewish News.

Pass


In the wake of the Littleton shooting tragedy, a nation of finger-pointers has rounded up the usual suspects: media violence, guns, video games, the Internet. But for Jonathan Kellerman, this laundry list — inevitably brought out in the wake of such violence — omits one major source of responsibility: the perpetrators. “We’ll blame society,” says an unsurprised Kellerman. “And we’ll forget about it until the next tragedy.”

Kellerman is not being cynical or prophetic, just reflective.

He is a child clinical psychologist who, several years ago, embarked on a highly successful career as a mystery novelist. He has written 14 novels and four nonfiction books. He was working on another novel in March 1998 when Mitchell Johnson and another student at a Jonesboro, Ark., middle school murdered four classmates and a teacher. He began researching child violence for an Op-Ed piece in USA Today, and continued to study it when Ballantine approached him to write a book on the subject. Last week, in the wake of the Columbine High shootings, Ballantine announced that it will release Kellerman’s “Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children” in early May.

For Kellerman, the answers to why kids kill lay not in politically juicy fixes such as media violence, but in the murkier and more complex realm where psychology, biology and society collide and, in a few particular cases, explode. Kellerman, who is a clinical professor of pediatrics and psychology at the USC School of Medicine, spoke with Jewish Journal Managing Editor Rob Eshman by phone from his home in Beverly Hills. His comments are excerpted below:

Jewish Journal:

Why Littleton?

Jonathan Kellerman:

Everybody’s talking about the same things: media violence, guns — the latter of which is probably important; the former of which isn’t. But nobody is talking about psychopathology. And the truth of the matter is that these acts are carried out by disturbed people. They’re not carried out by the 99.9 percent of us who are essentially psychologically normal. This does not happen to normal kids. There are no surprises here. These children do not go from perfect angels to homicidal maniacs in one fell swoop. These seeds are planted extremely early, and they manifest themselves as early as age 3, 4. The warning signs are there for years and years.

JJ:

What about the influence of violent media?

JK:

We’re confusing correlation with causation. Just because something is associated with something else doesn’t mean it causes it. There are about a thousand correlative studies of media violence and various forms of aggression, and not a single causal link. Virtually every teen-ager and every child in America is exposed to violent imagery. Very few of them engage in this kind of behavior. A normal child is not going to be turned bad by media violence. A rotten kid is more likely to be influenced by it, but there are much stronger influences in that rotten kid’s life than media violence.

The problem with dealing with media violence and pouring millions of dollars into it is: Where does it lead? We’re not going to censor people. So we’re wasting our time. And the crime is that all the money and time we spend talking about this, leads us away from what we really need to focus on, which is to identify high-risk youngsters and to deal with them. And they’re a very, very small percentage.

An anti-hate curriculum in the schools is good for most of us, but the people who need it the most are probably not going to be affected by it. The problem isn’t political hatred. The political hatred is a symptom of extreme psychopathology.

JJ:

How do we identify young psychopaths?

JK:

This type of behavior often manifests itself extremely young. You see people engaging in vicious and cruel acts at 3, 4 years old. It’s a combination of bad biology and bad environment. There are some children with a biological tendency to psychopathy, as frightening as that thought is. That doesn’t mean they will become psychopaths. But someone with those proclivities who is then exposed to a very chaotic family life is much more likely to engage in this behavior. You then add in access to weapons, and you’ve got problems.

We need to look at high-risk kids, and do what we need to do with them. The indications are that if you don’t change a seriously violent, disturbed kid by age 12, you’re probably not going to change him. There’s neuropsychological evidence. Experience with the police at age 11 or 12 is a good predictor of a lifetime of criminality. I would never say never, but you want to get them as young as possible.

This is not anything new. Jesse James was 21, and he murdered 21 people. Clyde Barrow began his career at 9. That we’ve created folk heroes out of these violent, vicious, psychopathic killers at a very young age tells us something about our own true feelings, that we have an attraction and admiration for it, as well as a repulsion.

JJ:

But the press reports are that the two Columbine killers were good kids. One of them is reported to have a religious background as a Jew and a Lutheran.

JK:

I do not believe for a minute these were good kids. A year ago, they were arrested. If a guy’s arrested for a crime, chances are he’s done 10 he didn’t get caught for. In Arkansas, they were saying the same thing about Mitchell Johnson, but as I went into the history, I found he was anything but. Religious observance and moral behavior are correlated but not 100 percent. There are a few bad people out there, and the few bad people do a tremendous amount of bad deeds.

JJ:

If there are biological factors to child violence, can there be a medical fix?

JK:

There are some indicators that are really kind of scary. There’s a weight of evidence suggesting that low-resting heart rate at age 3 is somewhat of a good predictor of violence later on. Just because you have this, doesn’t mean you’re going to be bad, but we ought to be looking at kids who are high-risk biologically…. This might occur because of psychological reasons, such as withdrawal of love at an early age or some kinds of abuse, causing the autonomic system to shut down and lower the heart rate as a protective mechanism.

JJ:

What about parental responsibility?

JK

: I have four kids and a big house, but I think I would know if my kids were building bombs in the garage. If my kid was arrested for breaking in, don’t you think I’d want to pay closer attention to what he’s doing? I do blame parents, and I have no problems doing it.

If you take an in-depth look at these kids, there won’t be many surprises. [Their peers] are in no position to be psychologists. Most psychopaths are extremely charming and personable. People don’t understand the difference between psychopaths and psychotics. These people aren’t crazy; they’re bad. These kids made a video about killing people. They talked about it openly. The warning signs are always there, but people don’t pay attention to them. We can’t understand psychopaths. Empathy is a big problem. We project our normalcy onto abnormal people. They’re nothing like us.

JJ:

Then what can we do about them?

JK:

If a kid were engaging in this kind of threatening behavior, I would like to see him arrested and taken into custody and treated in the criminal-justice system. Then we can take a look at how we want to deal with it — to use therapy, use jail, engage the parent….

These dangerous kids are not a big surprise. There are very few big surprises out there. Clinton will form a commission, and we’re going to spend gazillions of dollars on media violence, but no one is talking about psychopathology. It’s just more comforting not to deal with the notion of evil or bad people. These were bad kids, they did bad things, their parents screwed up, and the school officials and the cops ignored the warnings.

In Honor of Justice


Despite his Italian surname, joked DistrictAttorney Gil Garcetti, “[My heritage] is Mexican-American and my wife is Jewish.So our kids ask, ‘Well, what are we?'”

Garcetti was praising our city’s multiethnicpopulation as he spoke at last week’s Anti-Defamation League SpringLuncheon, touted as a tribute to Israel’s 50th Anniversary but, infact, honoring Deputy District Attorney Carla Arranaga andDeputy Sheriff BerniceAbram. Recognized for their efforts incombating hate crimes in Los Angeles, they were this year’srecipients of the Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate. The luncheon washeld at the Harriet and Charles LuckmanFine Arts Complex on the campus ofCal State Los Angeles.

Both Abram and Arranaga have been instrumental inthe development and implementation of various anti-crime projects.Abram directed the Sheriff’s Department’s Multidisciplinary DomesticViolence Training Project and helped develop the “Field Deputy’sGuide to Domestic Violence” and the California Peace OfficerStandards and Training ’96 Domestic Violence Telecourse.

Arranaga’s accomplishments include working withthe ADL on establishing “Hate Crimes Protocol” and co-chairing theLos Angeles County Human Relations Commission Task Force on HateCrimes.

In her succinct acceptance speech, Abram, anAfrican-American, thanked the largely Jewish audience for the “newwords I learned today: todaraba” (“thank you very much”).

Before introducing Arranaga, Garcetti spoke to TheJournal, praising the deputy district attorney and the ADL for “afabulous job” in the fight against acts of anti-Semitism.

“Because of Carla,” said Garcetti, “she had themcertified to adult court. Probation is not the message we want tosend [to these perpetrators]. They were sentenced to two years instate prison. That’s the kind of thing she’s doing, and it’stough…and she does it almost single-handedly. I’m proud ofher.”

He went on to commend Arranaga, aseventh-generation Angeleno, for her focus on the source of themajority of hate crimes — juveniles — and her commitment to “nipthis problem in the bud” by instituting programs designed to tackleracism at an early age.

When Arranaga took to the podium, she returned theadulation, thanking Garcetti for his “wonderful vision in the battleagainst hate crimes.”

She also said, “I am touched because this honorcomes from the ADL, an organization that I have respected, emulatedand admired.” Thanking her parents “for instilling decency andhumanity,” Arranaga alluded to the importance of strong parental rolemodels.

Representing the family responsible for the prize,Joe Sherwoodsummed up the afternoon’s honors, singling Abram and Arranaga for the”good work that they’ve done.”

Also present at the function was CaliforniaSupreme Court Justice StanleyMosk.

Following the buffet luncheon — a smorgasbord ofMexican and Middle Eastern culinary delights — attendees weretreated to renditions of classical music standards by theIsrael Camerata Jerusalem.

Public Counsel Thanks Steven A.Nissen

A room awash in blues, browns and grays, cracklingwith energy…

No, this isn’t a Max Beckmann exhibit at theArmand Hammer Museum but the sea of three-piece-suit-clad attorneysholding court at a recent silent auction sponsored by Public Counsel Law Center, theagency that provides free legal help and access to low-incomeresidents and nonprofit organizations. The event, with proceedsbenefiting Public Counsel, was held this year at the Century Plaza Hotel in CenturyCity.

Following the auction — which included luncheswith staffers from the Los Angeles Times, hotel and dining packages,and Mattelproducts such as Chinese Empress Barbie (! ) — the crowd movedinto the Los Angeles Ballroom for the William O. Douglas AwardDinner. Sidley &Austin, TheGreenlining Institute and Mattel Inc.received the Law Firm Pro Bono Award, the Community Achievement Awardand the Corporate Pro Bono Award, respectively.

But the man ofthe hour was Steven A.Nissen, the executive director of thestate Bar and the former chief executive officer of Public Counsel.Close friend and Los Angeles Chief of Police Bernard Parks moved the crowdwith his introduction of Nissen, praising his “body of knowledge, hiscode of ethics, and [the fact that] he never works in [his] ownself-interest.” In accepting the award, the visibly moved Nissenpraised and thanked his staff at Public Counsel numerous times, aswell as his wife, fellow attorney LynnAlvarez. (Photo of Steven Nissen, left, with Bernard Parks by BrendanEisen)

Nissen, a Fairfax HighSchool graduate, went on to study law atStanford andUC’s Boalt Hall.In 1984, at the age of 33, he became the chief executive officer ofPublic Counsel and turned a failing organization into “the nation’slargest pro bono law firm.”