L.A.’s financial support of Israel’s election

The Los Angeles dollars—or shekels—spent may not have approached the amount Hollywood throws around for U.S. elections, but Jews in Los Angeles nevertheless managed to funnel about $175,000 into Israel’s party primaries this election cycle.

Israel’s primaries ended in January with Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu blowing out his rival Danny Danon, and Labor’s Isaac Herzog soundly defeating Shelly Yachimovich under the Zionist Union coalition, in which Labor is paired with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah. Israeli campaign finance law forbids foreign donations during the general parliamentary election—scheduled for March 17—but allows for very limited contributions during the primary season.

In this election’s primaries, Israeli candidates raised about $1.4 million in the United States, with New York donors contributing more than in any other state. In Los Angeles, candidates raised about $162,000, or 11 percent of the national total. And of that, Likud candidates—primarily Netanyahu and Danon—dominated the fundraising field, taking in nearly $124,000, or 70 percent of the total.

Netanyahu led the pack among the candidates, raising about $42,000 in Los Angeles; Danon brought in about $34,000, and other Likud candidates including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein and Gilad Arden raised between about $11,000 and $15,000.

The only politician outside Likud to top $10,000 was Nahman Shai, a member of the Labor party and the Knesset’s Deputy Speaker, who raised more than $15,000. Abraham Dichter of Kadima raised about $8,000.

The campaign finance data, which is publically available on the Israeli comptroller’s website, shows that nearly 40 people in the Greater Los Angeles area sent funds to Israeli candidates this round, with most donations ranging in the thousands of dollars, and only a handful topping $10,000. Although the donations logged by the comptroller online date back to January 2013 at the earliest, the vast majority of the contributions came in late 2014 and early 2015, and were applied to candidates who ran in this election cycle’s party primaries.

Lawrence Feigen, an executive at Windsor Healthcare Rehabilitation, gave about $14,500 to three different candidates, all Likud—Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Edelstein. According to Federal Election Commission data, Feigen’s U.S. political donations over the years have been to both Democratic and Republican politicians and groups, including Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.), and current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK).

Feigen wrote to the Journal in an email that he’s been donating his money and time for decades to causes he believes in, including American and Israeli politics. “I generally (although certainly not always) agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s views,” Feigen wrote. Asked whether he knows if his political donations have made a difference, he responded: “I honestly have no idea what kind of impact my donations possibly can make. I hope they help.”

Shlomo Rechnitz, the local mega-philanthropist who for a brief time owned Doheny Meats in 2013, which he purchased as an attempt to rectify the kosher meat company after it was wracked with scandal, confirmed to the Journal that he gave about $11,500 to Netanyahu. Rechnitz too has given to a number of both Democratic and Republican politicians and groups, including former Congressman Henry Waxman, Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and a joint fundraiser for Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).

Other notable local donors include Adam Milstein, a co-founder of the Israeli American Council; Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation; real estate businessman and philanthropist Stanley Black; and Steve Goldberg, who ran an unsuccessful campaign last year to replace Mort Klein as the president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), and donated $4,000 to Danon’s campaign in January.

Goldberg was on the ZOA’s national board from 2008 to 2014 and became the board’s vice chair in 2010. He was also the head of ZOA’s Los Angeles chapter until its closure in 2014. On Monday, Goldberg was in Israel for the election. He recently became a dual citizen, and because Israel’s voting laws prohibit absentee ballots, Goldberg was among the Israeli citizens who flew there from the United States just to vote—in Goldberg’s case for Netanyahu, whom he initially opposed in favor of Danon in Likud’s party primaries.

“I found Danon to be courageous,” Goldberg said, referring to Danon’s outspoken opposition to Netanyahu’s handling of the Gaza war last summer. “He spoke up, put himself in political peril and risked his career.”

Peter Medding, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem with expertise in Israeli politics, said that the amount candidates raised for the primaries in Los Angeles were “just symbolic” and said that, as in an American election, $175,000 has very little impact.

“It’s peanuts here too,” Medding said. Asked whether the $42,000 that went to Netanyahu could have any discernible impact, he said it would not. He added, though, that in party primaries, name recognition is a key factor for lesser-known candidates who need to pay for television ads across the country. Danny Danon, for example, who remains a vocal Netanyahu opponent yet has failed thus far to gain enough traction within Likud to become one of its leaders, nearly matched Netanyahu’s fundraising in Los Angeles. It didn’t help, though, in his bid to represent Likud in the general election.

For Netanyahu, on the other hand, visibility is not a problem.

“The amount of money that [Sheldon] Adelson spends on newspapers that promote Bibi every morning exceeds that by a function of 50 or 100,” Medding said, referring to Israel Hayom, the free daily funded by Adelson that is pro-Netanyahu.

Although the money Israeli candidates raised from Los Angeles for this year’s election cycle may ultimately prove inconsequential, Angelenos are sure to continue to be a source of funds for aspiring and established Israeli politicos.

“Los Angeles has been a good collection area for Israeli candidates,” Medding said. “There are generous donors there. People are used to giving money to political campaigns; they give to Israel as well as to Waxman.”

And for local Jews like Goldberg who are passionate about Israel, although a few thousand dollars here or there may not prove to change much, and represents only a “modest commitment”, it’s a commitment nonetheless.

“If there are people I believe in, I’ll do whatever I can to help,” Goldberg said. “One of those ways is money.”

Napolitano talks security funding cuts with Jewish leaders

Janet Napolitano, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, met with leaders of the New York Jewish federation to discuss security for nonprofits in the wake of substantial funding cuts.

“DHS recognizes the important role the nonprofit community has in our homeland security efforts,” Napolitano said in a statement after meeting at the White House with the UJA-Federation delegation. “We work closely with nonprofit organizations throughout the country—including the faith-based community—to share information, offer training, conduct risk assessments and provide resources to give the nonprofit sector the tools to address threats and help keep communities safe.”

Napolitano discussed the recent slash in funding for such programs, from $19 million last year to $10 million this year. The bulk of nonprofits receiving the money are Jewish.

“DHS sustained funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program despite significant overall cuts to grants in order to support target hardening and physical security enhancements at nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of terrorist attack,” she said in the statement, adding that nonprofits would now also be able to apply for funds through a different program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

William Daroff, the director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America, said his group appreciated Napolitano’s “continuing recognition that since Sept. 11th, nonprofits generally, and Jewish communal institutions specifically, have been victims of an alarming number of threats and attacks.

Daroff said his group would continue to seek “adequate” funding for the programs.

Other groups lobbying for Homeland Security funding for security for nonprofits are the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America.

Germany doubling its funding to Jewish community

Germany will double its funding to the Central Council of Jews in Germany to about $13 millon.

The decision, which broke last week in the mainstream news before being publicly announced, follows negotiations that began a year ago with the election of Dieter Graumann, a businessman based in Frankfurt, to head the council.

The German federal government will raise its allocation to the Central Council to 10 million euro, or about $13 million, from about 5 million euro, or $6.7 million.

The contract is reportedly to be signed in the coming days. Graumann confirmed the allocation in an interview Saturday with Domradio, a Catholic radio news service.

Speaking with young Jews at a youth congress in Weimar over the weekend, Graumann, 61, said he hopes especially to use the new funding to help the younger generation. He said that despite Europe’s difficult economic climate, the timing was evidently right—with the current government of Chancellor Angela Merkel still in power—to ask for additional help.

Graumann said the council represents 110,000 Jews who are members of communities. According to the council, another 140,000 people who identify as Jews do not belong to communities. The great majority—some 85 percent—came to Germany from the former Soviet Union after German unification in 1990.

Germany’s Jewish population is more than five times as large as before fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Before Hitler came to power in 1933, there were about 500,000 Jews in Germany.

In 2003, the German government signed its first contract with the Central Council, putting it on a legal par with the Catholic and Protestant communities. At the time, the government pledged 3 million euro, or about $4 million, per year to help the Jewish community meet its infrastructure needs, before raising the allotment to its current levels in 2008.

In recent years, as the community has grown, there have been increasing demands on the council to fund additional programs, such as those that train teachers and rabbis for communities.

Graumann has said his main concern as head of the council is to promote the continuity of Jewish life in Germany, with a special focus on youth and on the integration of former Soviet Jews in the communities.

The Jewish youth congress in Weimar marked the first time that the event has been held concurrently with the meeting of the Central Council board. Participants had the chance to ask questions of the president in a special forum, and on Sunday they were to be represented at the board meeting.

Congress passes funding until March

Congress passed a procedural resolution that sustains government funding until March.

The “continuing resolution” passed Tuesday includes the $2.75 billion in annual defense assistance for Israel. It passed 79-16 in the Senate and 193-165 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

It maintains government funding at 2010 levels. Failure to pass it would have meant that the government would run out of money by midnight.

The Republican minority in the Senate had used parliamentary procedures to block spending bills, in part because Republicans are set to retake the House in January and the party wants to use its new power to slash spending as soon as possible.

Jewish groups are apprehensive that the new Congress will slash “earmarks” for representatives’ districts, which include funding for programs for the poor and elderly favored by the groups.

Additionally, pro-Israel groups are reaching out to new members to keep foreign aid funding at current levels.

Democrats have made it clear they will make funding for Israel a key issue in pusshing back against overall GOP attempts to slash spending in the new Congress.

“The incoming Republican leadership has sent disturbing signals about the future of aid to Israel with its calls for across the board budget cuts without regard to the impact on U.S. allies and interests around the world,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the outgoing chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement.

Competing Moments of Truth on Schools

On Tuesday April 18, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is expected to lay the groundwork for the most defining initiative of his term in office: his attempt to take control of Los Angeles’ schools. But the day before he does, opponents of his plan will beat him to the microphone. The L.A. teachers union has scheduled a Monday press conference, hoping, they said, to push Villaraigosa in a different direction.

Villaraigosa’s first state-of-the-city speech is likely to put bone and muscle on his school takeover pitch which, up till now, nearly a year into his term, has been theoretical and short on specifics. If Villaraigosa delivers what people all over town have been waiting for, a slew of interest groups will know where they stand and will begin to respond accordingly.

“Mayor Villaraigosa has made a major commitment to take on the reform of the school district, and the civil, political and media hierarchy of the city have taken up that commitment as a serious benchmark of his performance as mayor,” said David Abel, a publisher who founded New Schools, Better Neighborhoods, an organization that works to shape schools as centers of community revitalization.

Unless Villaraigosa holds off — and further delay might be seen as retreat or indecision — the mayor will set the city on a path toward mayoral control within about two years. That would put Villaraigosa on a timetable to win control in a first term as mayor and wield that power in a second term, if he is reelected.

“Getting this to happen,” said Abel, who supports mayoral control but is not directly involved in the effort, “will be a delicate balance between the doable, the clock and the mayor’s own strategic goals and political ambitions.”

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the L.A. teachers union, hasn’t been content to wait for the unveiling. Over the past several weeks, union leaders have met with community groups and other key players, trying to set up a parallel juggernaut. The effort is planned to culminate the day before Villaraigosa’s speech, at a news conference during which the union will unveil its own “Call to Action” on school reform.

Early this week, the union was putting its reform declaration in final form, trying to settle on wording that will attract as many allies as possible. The stated goals will have much in common with what anyone would like to see in Los Angeles’ schools: It will call for quality instruction by fully trained teachers, a rigorous, diverse and engaging curriculum and adequate (meaning increased) funding.

“I think Mayor Villaraigosa will agree with almost all of it,” said UTLA spokesperson Steve Weingarten. “This vision of ours does not stop and start with mayoral control. We will be proposing the most dramatic changes at the school site. If you have people at that ground level making decisions, then it’s secondary who’s controlling things at the top.”

Of course, until now, the teachers union has been the most consistently powerful political force in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The mayor’s intervention could change that.

A recent version of the union’s draft declaration didn’t take on mayoral control directly, but spoke generally of more representation, which for the union has meant an elected school board at one end and a switch to community-governed schools at the other. Union officials also have talked about expanding the school board and “professionalizing” it. Which means making school board service a full-time job and increasing a board member’s salary and staff. That agenda is hardly compatible with putting Villaraigosa in charge.

Specific wording on who would call the shots is tricky for the union, because potential members of the union’s hoped-for coalition are not themselves settled on the issue.

“Some are a little more opposed to mayoral control than others,” said one teachers union stalwart, joking that “some are atheists and some are agnostics.”

Groups at the table with UTLA have included ACORN, a national social justice organization with deep Los Angeles roots; CARACEN, an L.A.-based organization that focuses on the needs of Central American immigrants and Latinos; and One L.A., the local affiliate of the national Industrial Areas Foundation. The union also would like to bring on board officials from smaller cities, such as Carson, South Gate and Cudahy, that are served by the LAUSD.

“The new leadership of UTLA prefers to work in concert with community organizations as part of a real alliance for change,” said Joel Jordan, the union’s director of special projects.

The union desperately wants to avoid being the bogeyman of school reform. A hint of that worst-case scenario played out during a late-March panel discussion at the Latino-Jewish Roundtable, held at the West Los Angeles headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League.

“Nobody ever gets fired,” said Marcus Castain, the mayor’s point man for developing a reform plan, while enumerating the district’s ills. “Fifty-three teachers were let got out of 37,000 in a school system where 75 percent of students are not making the grade.”

At the forum, Castain was supposed to have gone head to head with school board President Marlene Canter, who, like other board members, has evinced no desire to turn over authority to the mayor. But Canter couldn’t attend because a school board meeting ran late, and Canter’s pinch hitter avoided a verbal confrontation with Castain.

Instead, Lucy Okumu, an aide to Superintendent Roy Romer, suggested that Romer could find some common ground with the mayor if the goals included making it easier to get rid of bad teachers.

The union failed to burnish its own image recently when it backed a school board candidate, Christopher Arellano, who works for the union as an organizer. His candidacy collapsed after The Journal and other media outlets reported that he’d exaggerated his academic credentials and failed to disclose two theft convictions. UTLA spent more than $200,000 on his behalf and Arellano limped into a runoff, but he and the union have abandoned his candidacy.

The union would prefer to be one of many groups supporting its Call to Action. But each invited participant has interests that don’t perfectly coincide with the union’s. One such group is the Community Coalition, a black-brown social justice organization of South Los Angeles. Its focus has been getting the school district to make a full college-prep curriculum available to every student, said Sheilagh Polk, the coalition’s communications adviser. That goal appears in the Call to Action.

Nonetheless, the Community Coalition and other groups also are meeting with the mayor’s office. It’s clear that the mayor, too, would like to line up as many allies as possible.

The union leadership considered staging a competing event on the day of the mayor’s address, but that idea was dismissed as unnecessarily confrontational, said UTLA’s Jordan. Besides, on the charisma scale, “You’re not going upstage Antonio.”

Jordan spent most of his career in the teaching trenches, one of a legion of Jewish educators devoted to serving communities of poor black and brown students. It was another Jewish educator, Herman Katz, who helped turn around a teenage Villaraigosa when he was in danger of becoming a dropout.

Jordan remains on a first-name basis with the mayor after having worked with Villaraigosa during the future mayor’s days as a UTLA organizer: “He’s one of ours,” said Jordan.

Or so he seemed when UTLA broke with much of organized labor and backed Villaraigosa for mayor last year instead of incumbent James Hahn. Jordan and recently elected teachers’ union president A.J. Duffy met with Villaraigosa earlier this year.

“If we could show him there might be another way to have an effect on schools…” said Jordan wistfully, adding, “he left that door open.”

Jordan also conceded: “He appears to be set on his course. I wouldn’t bet against that.”


Super Sunday Aims at Aiding Programs

In 1999, Alexander Khananashvili left behind his prosperous life as a Moscow doctor to immigrate to the United States with his wife and two daughters, hoping for a better future. He came with little money, no job prospects and no knowledge of English.

With the help of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Khananashvili and his family quickly found their footing. Within two days of their arrival, the former doctor and his wife met with a social worker from Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), a Federation beneficiary agency.

The social worker spoke to them at length about life in America, giving them information on everything from opening a bank account to enrolling in a medical plan. Within a few weeks, Khananashvili had several job leads, courtesy of JVS, while his wife enrolled, for free, in an English-language class offered by the agency.

Subsequently, The Federation awarded scholarships worth tens of thousands of dollars to enroll the Khananashvili daughters in Jewish day schools and Jewish camps, which, Khananashvili said, has helped cement their Jewish identities.

“The Federation improved our lives,” said Khananashvili, now a 48-year-old social worker and Beverly Hills resident. “They gave us our start here and protected us under their shield. We’re very grateful.”

During the past 30 years, The Federation has helped 30,000 Jews from around the world settle in the greater Los Angeles area. On Feb. 26, The Federation will hold its annual Super Sunday megafundraiser to support its 22 beneficiary agencies, including the Refugee and Resettlement Program that helped the Khananashvilis, as well as myriad other programs.

For the fundraiser, an estimated 1,900 volunteers will gather from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to staff phones at three sites: The Federation’s headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills and the Torrance Marriott. They will be making calls to potential donors, with the goal of raising $4.7 million.

Craig Prizant, The Federation’s executive vice president for financial resource development, said he hopes this year’s Super Sunday fundraising will break its record by $200,000 over 2005. He said he feels optimistic, because many local Jews have profited from the sizzling real estate market, enabling them to give more generously. In addition, The Federation has identified and plans to contact the growing population of Jews in the West Valley, including West Hills, and in such South Bay cities as Manhattan Beach and Torrance.

Still, “the needs are always going to outweigh what we can raise,” Prizant said.

That’s especially true for Jewish Family Service (JFS) and Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), two Federation beneficiary agencies that have been particularly hard hit by cuts in government funding.

The JFS Gramercy Place Shelter, for instance, has lost about $180,000 in federal and state money over the past two years, a huge financial hit, according to Paul Castro, the agency’s executive director. The 57-bed homeless shelter, which, Castro said, “seems to be chronically at risk,” has managed to stay afloat only because JFS has filled the gap with private donations. However, because of the government shortfall, JFS has not been able to expand the existing programs or introduce needed new ones at a time when demand for services has skyrocketed, Castro said.

In this age of budget deficits, JFS and other local nonprofits increasingly rely on funds generated by Super Sunday and other private-sector initiatives to maintain present service levels, Castro said.

“When you look at what’s happening with government funding, you’re seeing a bigger expectation that private donors will take a greater responsibility for meeting the safety net,” he said. “And Super Sunday is an important example of how this community is working toward that reality.”

JVS also has seen demand for its services outstrip resources to provide them. In 2002, for instance, the agency’s staff included eight full-time job developers tracking down leads for clients. Today, JFS has one full-time and one part-time employment developer.

Reduced funding has forced JVS to move away from individual sessions for resume writing and interviewing. Instead, said Vivian B. Seigel, JVS chief executive, much of the training is now done in a group setting.

In light of those realities, she said, Super Sunday’s importance to JVS should not be underestimated.

“We look at the money generated by Super Sunday as extremely important,” Seigel said. “It has enabled us to reach out to families we know are living below the poverty line and to offer important services, ranging from help in finding jobs that pay a living wage to college tuition scholarships.”

Among those calling prospective donors will be the Khananashvilis, who, in addition to making pitches, will make their own donation, just as they have every year since coming to America.

“We like being able to give back,” Khananashvili said. “In the beginning, it was only $10, but $10 for us was maybe more than $1,000 now. It was a lot of money.”

To volunteer for or make a donation to Super Sunday, call (866) 968-7333.


Post-Katrina, Jews Raised Funds Fast

Major Jewish organizations have raised more than $30 million to house, feed, educate and relocate thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The biggest chunk of money has come from the United Jewish Communities (UJC), which represents 155 Jewish federations and 400 independent communities across North America. As of Dec. 13, UJC said it had collected $25.5 million in Katrina disaster relief, of which $7.9 million already has been allocated to Jewish and non-Jewish hurricane victims.

The single largest beneficiary of UJC’s generosity has been the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, which received $4 million for programs ranging from emergency assistance for individual Jews to general funding for social services.

UJC funds also have gone to the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, as well as groups such as MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, to aid 13 food banks and other groups along the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast.

Smaller amounts have been allocated to groups such as the Dallas Mayor’s Housing Initiative, to provide housing assistance to evacuees ($250,000); the Jewish Federation of Northern Louisiana to provide Wal-Mart gift cards to evacuees in shelters ($153,900); and the Jewish community of Jackson, Miss., for emergency aid to evacuees ($50,000).

The American Jewish Committee also has been active. In mid-December, the group’s executive director, David Harris, visited New Orleans to present a total of $575,000 in hurricane relief funds to four institutions.

Dillard University, a predominantly black college, got $200,000 to help rebuild its Information Technology Center, while $125,000 each went to Clement of Rome, a Catholic church, and two synagogues — Congregation Gates of Prayer, a Reform synagogue next to St. Clement, and Congregation Beth Israel, an Orthodox shul in suburban Lakeview that was severely damaged by Katrina.

“Each of us is potentially vulnerable to the fury of Mother Nature, irrespective of where we live, the religion we practice, or the lifestyle we lead,” Harris said. “Responding to the needs of our fellow Americans in New Orleans was a moral imperative, and we are glad to be able to contribute significantly to the long-term rebuilding and recovery efforts.”

In addition, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), which represents more than 900 Reform congregations, has raised $3.4 million in general hurricane relief.

Rabbi Deborah Hirsch, director of regions at URJ, said about half of that is going to general assistance for both Jews and non-Jews, and the other half to Reform congregations throughout the Southeast that suffered damage this fall from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

“Whenever there’s a disaster of this kind, there are often high uninsured losses. Obviously, the fund won’t be able to cover all those losses,” Hirsch said. “Between these three hurricanes, the losses are going to exceed whatever is in the fund.”

The URJ also has raised $225,000 for SOS New Orleans, a new fundraising campaign to help four New Orleans-area Reform congregations maintain their operations, programs and services: Gates of Prayer in Metairie; Temple Sinai and Touro Synagogue in New Orleans; and the Northshore Jewish Congregation of Mandeville.

According to a URJ press release, some 500 to 600 of the more than 2,000 families that belonged to these four synagogues before Katrina might not return. This puts an added burden on the synagogues’ fundraising efforts at a time when they need money more desperately than ever.

“Never in our modern Jewish history have we witnessed such a dramatic displacement of a Jewish community in North America: so many people displaced, for who knows how long a time,” said Robert Heller, chairman of URJ’s board of trustees. “Those who want to return need to know their congregations will be there for them. The buildings can and will be repaired, but souls and spirits do not mend so easily.”

Eric Stillman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, said that besides the institutional grants, his federation has received over $100,000 in private, individual donations from outside the New Orleans area since the hurricane.

“We’re tremendously grateful to the American Jewish community for the way they’ve stepped forward and provided financial support,” Stillman said. “I don’t know where we’d be otherwise.”


Camp Adjusts to Life Away From Parent

This will be Camp JCA Shalom’s first summer away from home. For the first time in its 54-year history, the Malibu camp is independent, having broken away from the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) in January.

Life after the centers crisis hasn’t been easy for The Shalom Institute: Camp and Conference Center, and now officials are learning how to raise the bulk of the camp’s $2.3 million budget.

“Everything is great but we need support,” said Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute, which runs Camp JCA Shalom.

JCCGLA’s financial problems involved The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles as well as JCA Shalom, and the Jewish agency is doing its part to help the start-up nonprofit camp. By providing transitional money, The Federation hopes the camp’s leadership can develop an administrative culture.

Prior to its move for independence, the Camp JCA Shalom received 8 percent of its annual funding from JCCGLA. Now an independent Jewish nonprofit and designated Federation beneficiary agency, the camp and institute are getting 17 percent of its budget this year, or $350,000, directly from The Federation. About 80 percent of the camp and institute’s budget will be covered by service fees, with another 3 percent from individual donors and grants. The number of campers on scholarship has not changed from last year.

The first round of campers arrives at Camp JCA Shalom on June 28.

“We were happy to provide the transition funding that any new organization getting started would need,” said Andrew Cushnir, The Federation’s vice president of planning.

Cushnir said that after transitional support is withdrawn, the camp should continue to thrive.

While Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Camp Hess Kramer hugs the Ventura County line near Malibu’s northernmost beaches, nearby Camp JCA Shalom requires a nerve-testing drive through mountainous stretches of the Mulholland Highway. Once there, Camp JCA’s large Hebrew script front gate opens to a camp far removed from the urban world.

But the mellowness does not affect the newly independent camp’s aggressive new outreach. The Shalom Institute ran a February Elderhostel, which Kaplan said had a waiting list. The camp’s expanded Reform religious school retreats for Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, Westwood’s University Synagogue, Valley Village’s Temple Beth Hillel, Santa Monica’s Beth Shir Shalom and Sha’arei Am and Culver City’s Temple Akiba. In March there was a successful mother’s retreat with a similar event slated for this October.

“We are using the term ‘virtual JCC’ to describe who we are,” Kaplan told The Journal, explaining how the camp and institute have shed only the funding mechanism of Jewish community center life but not the half-century of JCC culture.

“The reality is that we’ve been growing despite the JCCGLA crisis,” he said.

Other organizations that the Shalom Institute has been reaching out to this year include the Santa Barbara and Palm Springs federations, Agoura’s Heschel West Day School and another day school in Albuquerque, plus Jewish community centers on the Westside and in Long Beach, Tucson and Albuquerque. The Modern Orthodox Shalhevet High School near the Fairfax District used Camp JCA Shalom for a Shabbaton in mid-March, and its students learned about Israeli flora at the camp’s Marla Bennett Israel Discovery Center.

“In December we’re slated to use them again,” said Eddie Friedman, Shalhevet student affairs director. “They’re trying to teach vegetation, trying to teach something about biblical gardening, kind of all inclusive. That’s quite different for kids who live in Beverly Hills or the Valley, to get out there into nature.”

Friedman’s sole complaint about the nondenominational Jewish camp is that it lacked a permanent eruv.

“We have to put it up,” he said. “I wish they would find a way so they can leave it for others to use it.”

A capital campaign seeks to match an initial $333,000 challenge grant to refurbish the Camp JCA dining hall by 2007.

The institute has hired a couple more staffers to handle administrative support and has spent part of this spring educating its board members on their duties. Fundraising has become a top priority, since The Federation’s funding level will not last indefinitely.

“There’s no parent agency supporting us,” Kaplan said. “It’s wonderful to be independent. At the same time we have to begin a culture of fundraising. You equate it with the child who goes off to college.”



Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s impending visit to Israel could be a win-win for the governor, the Los Angeles Jewish community and for Israel, but first some fine-tuning is in order.

As we reported last week, the governor is scheduled to travel to Jerusalem May 2 to participate in groundbreaking ceremonies there for the $150 million Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance.

But as soon as reports circulated that the visit was on, eyebrows started shooting skyward. By the middle of this week, it looked like the governor’s trip to the Land of Milk and Honey was going to include a side order of sour grapes.

Why, asked some local Jews, did such a high-profile visit seem to exclude representation of a wider swath of the California Jewish community? Why should one Jewish organization take up the bulk of the governor’s agenda? Why was a trip by a politician not organized first through the normal political channels?

"He’s not some star popping in to help out some friends," said one local activist, clearly disgruntled. "He’s the governor of the State of California visiting the State of Israel." (This trip is privately funded, and does not use taxpayers’ money.)

Some of the concerns found their way into a March 24 Los Angeles Times article about the trip. The story, with its implication that the trip was stepping on toes and upsetting protocol, infuriated some Wiesenthal Center supporters.

"I don’t get it," one of them told me. "Here this popular governor is going to Israel at a time when Israel really needs all the friends it can get, and people are turning it into an issue. I’ve had it with the Jews."

You know emotions are running hot when Museum of Tolerance supporters start getting anti-Semitic.

But, exasperated joking aside, the Jerusalem brouhaha does threaten to mar what can be a flat-out success for all parties. So far, the mess is hardly anything that the governor’s office can’t quickly clean up. One experienced local pol — not Jewish — observed the dust-up with dispassion: "Arnold has a mix of politically experienced and politically inexperienced people on his payroll," he said.

When it comes to little things like visits to foreign countries, experience helps.

Simon Wiesenthal Center dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier, who initiated the Jerusalem museum project, said he just can’t comprehend some of the reports and rumors that are circulating about the visit.

Most disturbing is the idea that the visit is some kind of quid pro quo. In the heat of the bitter recall campaign that put Schwarzenegger in office, Hier reiterated the results of a Wiesenthal Center investigation that cleared the Austrian-born governor’s late father, Gustav Schwarzenegger, of involvement in any World War II-era war crimes.

If the trip is seen as payback, it demeans both the governor and the center. "Quid pro quo applies when you don’t know a person," Hier told me by phone. "I’ve known the governor for 20 years. He has had cocktail parties and parlor meetings for us. He has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to us and raised millions. He has participated in events of much less importance than [the groundbreaking], so it would be unusual if he didn’t participate in this."

Furthermore, Hier added, the center released all records it found pertaining to Schwarzenegger’s father to the media for public review.

The idea for trip is a year and a half old, Hier said. Schwarzenegger attended a parlor meeting in Miami for the Jerusalem museum long before his run for governor. At that meeting, Schwarzenegger promised to attend.

"He said, ‘You don’t have to tell me I’m going, I’m going,’" Hier said.

There has not been any indication that the recent State Department travel advisory against Israel and the prospect of violence in the wake of the assassination of Shiekh Ahmed Yassin will deter the governor. A spokesperson at the governor’s office said that trip was still in the planning stages, as are responses to security concerns.

"Everything is still being determined," the spokesperson said.

As to whether the Wiesenthal Center should have made sure to bring Israelis and local Jewish leaders in on the trip, Hier said he could only take responsibility for the part of the visit that concerned the groundbreaking ceremony and a Museum of Tolerance fundraising dinner that the governor was scheduled to attend. (The governor’s office would not confirm his attendance at the latter event.)

"I assume he has other components to his trip," Hier said. "We’ve always known he was going to do other things."

All official visits by governors include a meeting with the prime minister — true whether the governor is from California or Kansas — and a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum. (The Museum of Tolerance, which is being designed by Frank Gehry, will have no Holocaust-related exhibit.)

"My interest is that the governor is going to have an official, formal element to his visit to Israel," Israel Consul General Yuval Rotem said. The governor’s office said an itinerary is still in formation, and its release is two to three weeks off.

"Of course that should take place," said Hier, referring to a meeting between Schwarzenegger and the prime minister, "but I’m not involved in that."

Including other community leaders in the festivities surrounding the groundbreaking was not an option, Hier said. Invitees are people whom the center hopes will contribute toward the $200 million price tag of the museum and its endowment. So far, the center has raised $75 million for the project.

"On this occasion the shoe didn’t fit," Hier said. "We’re looking for prospects."

It’s no secret that a dram or two of bad blood has flowed between the Wiesenthal Center and some quarters of the community ever since Hier established the center and the museum here. As the center has become more of a presence in Jewish Los Angeles — many in the media see it as the major Jewish presence here — Hier and other Jewish leaders have worked to forge warmer bonds. Indeed, not everyone is ticked. "I think it’s fine," said Mel Levine, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council of The Jewish Federation, regarding the trip. Levine, himself a former congressman, did not think a promise made as a private citizen should necessarily be negated once in public service.

"The governor, long before he was governor, was a supporter of the Museum of Tolerance here," he said, "and I believe it’s good whenever public officials go to Israel."

Officially, then, many community leaders are adopting a far-from-antagonistic approach to the visit. They want the governor, in the words of one activist, to see that "there’s more to the Jewish community than Marvin Hier," but they also don’t want to create any ill will so early in the administration. That makes sense. There are just too many important communal issues — poverty relief, medical funding, homeland security, to name a few — that rate higher on the agenda than this visit.

They also understand that, to borrow from the season we’re fast approaching, this governor is different from all other governors. "He doesn’t see himself as a politician," said the local pol, "and so far people don’t see him as one." Just as Schwarzenegger’s campaign circumvented normal channels of campaigning, so too his governance can bend the rules.

But as the governor moves forward, it must be with an understanding that as good a friend as he has in Hier, he has the potential to make many more in the Jewish community.

When It’s Federal Aid, Pork Isn’t Treif

When it comes to politics, even the Jews want pork. American Jewish communities and some national organizations have become well versed in getting their share of millions of dollars available for social service programs, medical research or other community essentials.

A search of the 2004 omnibus spending bill under consideration in Congress this month found 37 earmarks with the word "Jewish" in the name, amounting to $9,973,000 in appropriations. If you include the terms "Hebrew" and "Sephardic," it climbs to 41 appropriation earmarks and $10,723,000. Many other projects of importance to local Jewish communities may not have identifiable names and could be buried in the vast spending document.

Getting funding for a project takes massive time, energy and, often, money. Many Jewish communities send representatives to Washington to make the pitch directly to their lawmakers, as well as members of congressional appropriations committees. Some hire Washington lobbyists to make the necessary introductions for them.

Next week will be an important one for the budget process. In its first session of the year, the Senate will vote on the omnibus spending package for 2004, because it did not pass all 13 spending bills before the end of last year’s session.

The omnibus bill lumps all appropriations that were not approved by Congress into one piece of legislation, and contains $328.1 billion in discretionary spending. It passed the House Dec. 8 by a vote of 242-176.

President Bush’s State of the Union address on Jan. 20 will launch the budget process for 2005. The president will lay out his fiscal priorities in the speech, before officially submitting his budget proposal early next month.

Garnering money for one’s local Jewish community depends in large part on the influence of local congressmen. Five of the Jewish appropriations next year are in Pennsylvania, amounting to $950,000, in part because Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

Jewish officials bristle when they hear the projects described as "pork," a term used to describe pet projects in a lawmaker’s congressional district.

"One man’s pork is another’s essential program," said Reva Price, the Washington representative for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

For example, the Jewish Association for Residential Care (JARC) in suburban Detroit received $500,000 in 2003 for its facility for people with developmental disabilities. It is likely to receive an additional $150,000 this year.

Joyce Keller, JARC’s executive director, said her program provides an essential service and shouldn’t be lumped in with more frivolous appropriations. She cited one notorious example of Washington pork, a study on the sex lives of fireflies.

"These are the needs of people that are not being met by whatever states have to offer," she said of her patients.

Keller’s organization began pursuing a federal appropriation because Michigan’s state mental health funds were not properly funding its patients, many of whom are mentally disabled. It hired a Washington lobbyist, met with Michigan congressmen and both senators and hoped for the best.

"We had no idea, and we were very ecstatic that we were successful," Keller said. "We knew it was a gamble."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) last month touted six Jewish community projects that were funded in the appropriations process. Among them were allocations to the Sephardic Community Center in Brooklyn and two allocations for the Sephardic Bikur Holim Center in Brooklyn.

Brett Heimov, Nadler’s Washington chief of staff, said the office receives 15 to 20 requests from the Jewish community each year and forwards them to the appropriators.

"In 11 years here, I’ve seen maybe a dozen projects that are just stupid," he said. "Most are worthwhile."

Heimov said appropriators, who have the final say on what projects receive money, prefer programs that already are advanced in their development, giving a better sense of how the money will be spent.

A lawmaker touting a project may go it alone or may seek additional support when he sends a letter to members of the appropriations committee. Eight lawmakers signed a letter in October to the chairman of an appropriations subcommittee seeking $543,375 for the Center for Jewish History in New York’s archival preservation project. The center was allocated $328,000.

While some Jewish organizations seek money individually, others group their requests. The United Jewish Communities (UJC) helped win $4,320,000 for 19 Jewish communities for naturally occurring retirement communities, or NORCs, which seek to assist elderly living independently in areas with large aging populations.

Robert Goldberg, UJC’s assistant legislative director, said the organization is able to serve as a conduit between the local communities and lawmakers who know the value of NORCs.

"We are the ones that have done the legwork with the appropriations committees and educated them on NORCs as a community-based service," he said.

Jewish communities in big cities often need less assistance, because they have more resources and are more familiar with the process.

The need for federal appropriations is growing in the Jewish community. Budget crunches in many states, as well as decreases in social service block grants that give federal money to the states to distribute, have led to a decrease in the availability of other public funding sources, Price said.

It is hard to pin down some of the ingredients for a successful bid for funds. Communities with Republican lawmakers may be served better, because the Republican leaders of the divided Congress have been reticent to provide funds for Democratic districts, Jewish officials said.

Some suggest that having a Jewish lawmaker in one’s district helps. Others say that Jewish lawmakers, concerned about a backlash, try not to have too many Jewish projects funded in their districts.

One Democratic aide said he believed Republicans may be working to give more assistance to Jewish communities as part of their efforts to court the Jewish vote in 2004.

Price said Jews do no better or worse than other interests lobbying for pork.

"Not everything asked for is gotten," she observed.

Giving Adult Students Credit They Deserve

A group of local Jewish educators are seeking funding to start a novel adult-education academy that would grant a certificate of recognition to students who complete its requirements over three years.

The Orange County Academy of Jewish Growth and Learning is envisioned as a way to impose a quasi-academic structure on an array of existing courses offered by local synagogues, the Bureau of Jewish Education and the Community Scholar Program.

Around the country, administrators of similar nonacademic Judaic studies programs are also trying to elevate their curriculum with professionalism. For instance, the continuing legal-education requirements of three state bars now accept for credit an ethics class offered by the Jewish Learning Institute, a fast-expanding program established by the Orthodox Chabad Lubavitch movement. Chabad is seeking similar approvals in six other states, including California.

Behind the shift toward formality is the perception that to boost participation in Judaic studies, adults require a greater inducement than spiritual satisfaction.

"It may motivate people to take more classes by being part of a larger experience," said Arie Katz, chairman of the Community Scholar Program and who is involved in the academy’s organization.

"We want to validate the study in the community and honor the people who do," said Joan Kaye, director of the Bureau of Jewish Education, who also supports the academy’s formation.

Even without formal accreditation, an academy certificate would accrue some economic value. A national teacher licensing board for Jewish schools already accepts such informal studies as partially meeting licensing requirements.

"The motivation is to create opportunity for serious Jewish learning," said Michael Mayersohn, who resigned as rabbi of Westminster’s Temple Beth David in August. Mayersohn would serve as the academy’s part-time dean and sole employee. He hoped to start his duties this month.

However, the academy’s request for $20,000 in start-up funding from the Jewish Federation of Orange County was postponed in September and put off for a month, along with other allocation requests.

The academy’s five required areas of study would accept courses regardless of denomination and will rely on an honor system. A proposed $50 annual academy fee does not include individual class fees. Mayersohn would offer assistance in helping students plan a program that suits their interests.

"For the average person, it’s possibly daunting," said Reuven Mintz, rabbi of Chabad Center of Newport Beach. "But for people looking for something deeper, this will please them," he said, still maintaining that too few learning opportunities exist for adults.

"I feel there is a thirst in this community," Mintz said, pointing out that four local Jewish Learning Institute sites drew 200 students weekly last year. Kaye, he said, had been skeptical about JLI’s chances for success. "Commitment-based education had failed in Orange County," he remembers being told.

A decade ago, little attention was paid to adult Jewish education by the national movements. A shift is underway as new and established national programs, such as JLI, Meah at Hebrew College of Boston, Chicago’s Melton Adult Mini School and the JCC association’s Derech Torah, are rapidly expanding.

Paul Flexner, chair of the Alliance for Adult Jewish Learning, an educators’ group, said, "People are seeking meaning in their lives and looking to find ways to spend leisure time in a meaningful way. "

A Wish Is Granted

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Jewish
Family Service (JFS) have received the first federally funded grant in California
for so-called naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs), places where
a majority of the population is over 55.

JFS, which collaborated with the Federation in a year-long
lobbying effort to land the money, will use the $500,000 to provide support
services to clusters of seniors living in the Fairfax area and West Hollywood.

“This is a significant victory for the community, especially
in these tough economic times,” said Paul Castro, JFS executive director.

As their physical and mental capabilities diminish, many
seniors living at home must grapple with myriad problems, ranging from balancing
their checkbooks to flipping their mattresses to finding a ride to the

Often to frail to adequately take care of themselves, they
nonetheless continue living in their homes after the children leave for fear of
losing their independence and ending up in nursing homes. Even healthy seniors
generally prefer staying among friends in their old neighborhoods as long as

NORCs have cropped up around the country, with an estimated
5,000 now dotting the U.S. As the population grays — an estimated 75 million
Americans will be over 55 in 2010 — the number of NORCs is expected to jump,
said Andrew Kochera, senior policy advisor at AARP in Washington.

To better provide services for the people residing in them,
the federal government has awarded 18 grants worth nearly $10 million to 15
Jewish Federations in the past seven months. And in late February, The Jewish
Federation of Greater Los Angeles and JFS were awarded their grant.

“This is really the wave of the future for senior care,”
said Jessica Toledano, the Federation’s director of government relations.
“There’s a huge need for this.”

JFS, which the Federation partially funds, will spend the
grant money to improve the lives of local seniors. JFS plans to identify what
seniors might most benefit from NORC support services and then begin providing
them within six months, said Castro, agency executive director. Programs under
consideration include home-delivered meals, transportation to and from doctor
offices and grocery stores and taxi vouchers.

All seniors living in JFS-designated NORCs in the Fairfax
area and West Hollywood, regardless of income levels, would qualify for support

JFS has a proven record of providing vital services to needy
seniors, said Perri Sloane Goodman, director of state programs for the agency.
The Multipurpose Senior Services Program has, since 1980, provided frail,
indigent elderly men and women with an array of services ranging from taxi
vouchers to home-meal preparation to keep them out of nursing homes.

A growing number of politicians favor funding NORC support
services partly because of economics, said Diana Aviv, vice president for
public policy at the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella group for
the nation’s federations. She estimates that nursing home care costs $55,000
annually per person, while senior housing with special services is $20,000. By
contrast, NORC support services cost about $5,000, Aviv said.

One of the reasons why the UJC has become involved in
seeking funding for NORCs is because of demographic trends in the Jewish
community. Whereas 11 percent of the general population is 65 or older, 19
percent of Jews are, Aviv said.

UJC will continue going after NORC funding “as long as our
communities are interested in it,” she added.

Funding for NORCs dates back nearly two decades, although
federal support is still relatively recent and small.

The first support services for NORCs began in New York City
in 1986. Less than a decade later, in 1994, the New York State Legislature
supported 14 NORC programs. Five years later, the City Council in New York City
allocated millions of dollars to expand the program.

In the Big Apple, services for the elderly inhabiting NORCs
ranged from social worker home visits to cat sitting and plant watering for
wealthy seniors near Lincoln Center, said Fredda Vladeck, director of the
United Hospital Fund’s Aging in Place Initiative.

Last August, the federal government got into the act by
allocating $3.7 million to five Jewish federations, including Baltimore,
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Seven months later, the government awarded 13
grants totaling almost $6 million, including the stipend to Los Angeles.

Each federation receiving federal funds individually lobbied
legislators for money. Among others, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif), Sen.
Barbara Boxer (D-Calif), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Van Nuys) and Rep. Howard Berman
(D-Los Angeles) championed local NORC funding, the Federation’s Toledano said.
The Boston, New York and Richmond, Va. Federations all failed in their bids to
land NORC money. 

Giving to the Future

Financial wizard Michael Steinhardt is blunt in assessing
the future of North American Jewry.

The next generation is “mostly Jewish ignoramuses,”
Steinhardt said. “We haven’t convinced the general Jewish population of the
value of a Jewish education.”

Steinhardt’s bleak assessment was aimed not at Jews in
general, but at a select group: those who have donated at least $100,000 — and
as much as several million — to Jewish day schools.

There are only 1,800 such major supporters of the country’s
approximately 700 Jewish day schools, however, and that, Steinhardt said, is
“not enough.”

“We need to double that number,” he said.

Steinhardt was addressing the third annual Donor Assembly of
the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) held in Century City
from Feb. 2-4, the day school advocacy group he launched five years ago.

For the first time, those big donors mingled with Jewish
communal and day school professionals in a leadership assembly of more than 600
people, aiming to hammer out a national strategy to promote Jewish day schools.

The gathering comes at a time when many day schools, viewed
as solid foundations for lifelong Jewish identity, are strapped for funds. And
many who want to attend cannot afford the high cost of a Jewish education.

Some 200,000 children attend Jewish day schools in this
country, 79 percent of them Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox.

Among the top goals of the philanthropists was finding new
sources of money.

To bolster their advocacy effort, PEJE offered the initial
findings of a survey of 177 of those big day school supporters. They also
released the results of interviews with 65 other donors, potential donors and
day school experts.

The survey, conducted in October and November by TDC
Research of Boston, found that among current donors, 49 percent give to day
schools because they see them as vehicles to “ensure Jewish continuity” and 13
percent were motivated to give because they had a personal connection, such as
a child or grandchild in day school.

But among donors, nondonors and experts, the study found
that: 81 percent believe that day schools ensure continuity; 78 percent
supported day schools because of the Jews’ “collective future”; 75 percent
backed day schools because they “foster communities of committed Jews.”

Of those who responded, 97 percent also gave money to their
synagogue; 92 percent aided their local federation; 73 percent helped some kind
of Israel-focused program and 59 percent backed their local Jewish Community

The donors surveyed hailed from 29 states and Canada; were
usually parents or grandparents of day school students and were sat on day
school boards.

One such donor at the conference was Claire Ellman of La
Jolla, whose three children attended the San Diego Jewish Academy, a
pluralistic, 700-student school with students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Ellman has just helped the school raise $33 million toward a
new building, the largest single effort to date in the city’s Jewish community.

Born in South Africa, Ellman said her grandfather started Cape
Town’s first Jewish day school and infused her with a love for Jewish

But she believes not all donors support education for the
same reasons.

“A lot of people are going to give to Jewish education
because they feel so strongly about continuity,” she said, “but also because of
a guilt complex” that they personally failed to teach their children Jewish

The study did not reach that conclusion, though it did find
that 10 percent of donors said the most important reason to back Jewish day
schools was to teach Jewish knowledge.

Ellman, who is also vice chair of the Continental Council
for Jewish Day School Education, a program of the United Jewish Communities and
the Jewish Education Service of North America — works to build ties among the
day schools, Jewish federations, religious institutions and the general
community — welcomed the donor study.

“The study is critical, because for the first time we’ve
asked donors and nondonors why they do or don’t fund Jewish education.”

Many of those who don’t support Jewish schools said they
either were not aware of them or found them too parochial, the study found.

But the study also recommends against trying to win this
group over.

Instead, it recommends spreading the word to “neutral” Jews
who may not have any personal ties to the school, but who believe education
helps ensure a thriving Jewish community.

Meanwhile, Steinhardt pointed to statistics showing that
only 20 percent of philanthropy by North American Jews goes to Jewish causes,
down from 50 percent 50 years ago.

“What we lack is a sense of priority,” he said.

But Michael Rosenzweig, a board member of the New Atlanta
Jewish Community High School, said the fact that there are so few donors to
Jewish day schools is both good and bad news when it comes to doubling their

“The good news” is that doubling their numbers is easy to
do, he said. “The bad news is, it’s easy to do because it’s so small.”

Your Letters

Who Should Pay?

While Sharon Schatz Rosenthal’s cover story notes that dayschools are costly, it fails to address cost efficiency (“Who Should Pay?” Jan.31). I believe the Jewish community’s limited funding can be more effectivelytargeted at bolstering supplementary secondary schools. A good example is theLos Angeles Hebrew High School (LAHHS), which Dr. Samuel Dinin established(“Legacy in Motion,” Jan. 31).

LAHHS serves more than 500 teenagers who concurrently attendsecular high schools. With more than three dozen distinguished faculty members,its educational program is on par with the best full-time Jewish high schools.Yet, tuition is around one-tenth the cost.

Leonard M. Solomon, LAHHS Board of Trustees Los Angeles

There’s another reason some of us are unable to send ourchildren to Jewish day schools — the lack of after-school care at most of theschools. Catch 22: We work to be able to afford Jewish day school tuition, butstill can’t send our children there because the schools are not willing toaccommodate working, two-parent families.

Name Withheld Upon Request, Woodland Hills

The truth of the Jewish community is that the vast majorityof non-Orthodox students attend supplementary schools and will continue to doso.

I take particular issue with the article’s innuendo that theLos Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education could be more financially supportive ofday schools. That may be, but they are more supportive of supplementary schoolsthan most, striving to raise the quality of teachers and the esteem of thework.

It is my hope that when we talk about Jewish education, wecan engage in discussion about communal goals and the myriad options that areand could be available.

Cheri Ellowitz Silver, Education Director   Congregation NerTamid of South Bay


I am unable to comprehend Rob Eshman’s logic regardingPresident Bush’s State of the Union address (“Ich Bin ein Missourian,” Jan.31). Saddam will never comply with the U.N. resolutions that demand hiscooperation to reveal what he has done with the weapons of mass destruction. Noamount of inspection is going to find what he has hidden.

Michael Brooks, West Hills

Interfaith Families

As a Catholic Latino married to a Jewish woman, I havelearned that many Jews consider interfaith marriage a terrible threat to thesurvival of the Jewish people (“Jews Must Draw in Interfaith Families,” Jan.24). I understand this concern, but I would argue that the threat is notnecessarily mixed marriage, but rather the Jewish community’s treatment ofmixed families. My wife and I are committed to raising our children as Jews.Sadly, while we’ve belonged to a Reform congregation for many years and havetried to become part of the temple community, we’ve had very limited success.Typically, we have been treated with reactions ranging from indifference tosuspicion. We are politely tolerated, but feel relegated to a marginal status.

In contrast, the church I attend supports a group ofCatholics married to Jews. The parish seems to welcome these families, fullyintegrating them in the church community. Although we as a family are notchurch members, we have developed closer relationships with this group than wehave with families at our temple.

Over the years, the few mixed families we’ve encountered atthe temple have gradually drifted away. We have also started looking foranother congregation. We’ll continue trying to find a Jewish community where wefit in. However, I often wonder how my children will feel about Judaism if theyare always kept at the margins.

R. Hernandez, Los Angeles

Gay Rabbis

Although I am a traditional Jewish man with traditionalideas, I support the idea of allowing gays and lesbians to become Conservativepulpit rabbis (“A Conservative Challenge,” Jan. 17). The Conservative movementshould reconsider its position and at least discuss the issue. Why should anyJewish person be excluded from fulfilling his or her dreams because of personalpreferences? The Conservative movement allowing women to become pulpit rabbisin 1985 was a great decision and helped fortify the views of ConservativeJudaism.

Israel Weiss, Agoura Hills


In Rabbi Michael Beals’ letter to the editor (Jan. 31), TheJournal incorrectly added the translation “repentance” next to the word teshuvot,which here meant “a rabbinic response to a query, based on halacha (Jewishlaw).” We regret the error.

L.A. Jews Aid Argentines

The plight of Argentine Jews hammered by the collapse of their country’s economy was forcefully brought home to a contingent of Los Angeles Jews this month.

Twenty-two young leaders active at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles joined the United Jewish Communities (UJC)/Ben Gurion Society (BGS) National Young Leadership Mission Oct. 31-Nov. 6.

Standing on the patio of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Aid Association (AMIA) center in the city’s La Paternal neighborhood, Brian Weisberg talked with Graciela Estrin, who had come to the center for help. When Weisberg asked Estrin what had brought her there, the woman tearfully revealed her story.

The 43-year-old Estrin explained that she had been unemployed since December 2001, and her husband, a furniture salesman, only earns 500 pesos a month — roughly $140. The eldest of her three children, she continued, had just quit the university so that the family could buy food.

"This was too much to keep standing on our own," said Estrin, who added that she had only come to the center after many weeks of deliberation.

Estrin’s story is one of only many that the 166 UJC/BGS members heard on the mission. The group visited Argentina to get a first-hand look at the situation. According to officials, thousands of Argentine Jews are being assisted by a Jewish welfare network.

The AMIA center, which opened in August to help Jews in the area who were living near the poverty level, is part of the welfare program. About 550 families receive food vouchers, medicine, clothing and subsidies at the facility, which is supported by AMIA and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

Monica Cullucar, a JDC staffer in Buenos Aires, used to work with Paula Szwarc at the same Jewish high school. Cullucar’s former colleague has been hit hard by the economic crisis.

"Now I teach only four hours a week of classes in a local private and prestigious university," said Szwarc, a former Fullbright Scholar who taught English at international companies. "Many companies became smaller and quit training their staff."

"I used to earn $1,300 a month," said the 32-year-old divorcee, who has a 9-year-old son. "Now I’m getting $70."

Silvana Bloch, a social worker, said of Szwarc, "She does not talk about her needs, but they are urgent."

One of the mission members, Diana Fiedotin, who represents Los Angeles on the United Jewish Communities’ (UJC) National Task Force on Argentina, is the daughter of an Argentine couple.

Fiedotin is involved in the Lifeline to Argentina project, which matches Jewish American families with Jewish Argentine families. The project provides the Argentines with a year’s worth of food vouchers, medicines and day school or Jewish Agency programs. The local Tzedaka Foundation in Buenos Aires and a JDC partner coordinates the program in Argentina.

"The program started last Yom Kippur and has already gathered $40,000," Fiedotin said.

Michele Sackheim, national co-chair of the UJC/BGS mission and the sponsor of a family, said visiting the Argentine Jews was like looking in a mirror. She said the Argentines were educated, well-traveled — "we can relate [to them]."

"It is so emotional because we can all see ourselves in the Argentine community," Sackheim said. "But you need to look beneath to really know that something is happening, and that is why the Argentine story is so compelling."

Sackheim related her visit to the family she sponsors. She said the family’s situation was typical of what many Argentine Jews are experiencing.

"The [husband] used to sell medical materials," she said. "They had a good standard of living. They bought their own apartment, and they even showed me the receipts of contributions they made to the Jewish community when they were prosperous."

"Now," Sackheim related tearfully, "the couple is looking for jobs. Their two kids have a scholarship in a Jewish school. This is so emotional."

Daniel Yoffe, executive director of the Tzedaka Foundation, told the mission, "Argentine Jews lost their dignity. They are like us, but they suddenly became poor."

Despite the desperate economic situation, Yoffe said, Argentine Jews remain involved in their community to the best of their abilities. He said they have contributed 3.8 million pesos — roughly $1.07 million — this year and, "we have just gotten 800 new donors."

Fiedotin, who has made three trips to Argentina this year, has seen the Argentine Jews’ reactions change as the crisis continues. In February, she said, there was panic. In August, there was resignation to the situation and no hope.

On the latest trip, Fiedotin said Argentine Jews have accepted "their new reality and are adjusting to being lower-middle class, having middle-class values and lower-class living standards."

Throughout the trip, the BGS mission members encountered recipients of social assistance programs who thanked them for the help that the Jewish community has received.

"It makes me uncomfortable to be thanked," Sackheim said. "The whole Jewish world is like my family. I know they would have done the same for us."

The Jewish Federation’s Jews in Crisis Fund is still accepting donations for the Jews of Argentina. For more information, contact (323) 761-8200.

Plans for Future Aid

The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI)’s Task Force on Argentina says that Argentina’s Jewish community is restructuring itself, cutting costs and raising money, but the country deteriorated even more dramatically in recent months. JAFI is hoping to come up with $44 million to meet that challenge.
Steve Hoffman, president and CEO of United Jewish Communities (the umbrella organization over JAFI, JDC and the federations) believes another 6,000 Argentine Jews will make aliyah in 2003 if JAFI can provide special aliyah/absorption funding as they did in 2002. Part of the $44 million will go to aliyah and absorption, welfare relief in Argentina, and funding to keep poor children in the Jewish school system. “Without special funding, thousands will soon drop out and be lost,” Hoffman wrote in a recent newsletter.

Fight Over UC Funds

Pro-Israel faculty at UCLA have launched a petition drive opposing a campaign to get the University of California system to divest itself of investments in corporations doing business in the Jewish state.

The petition comes in response to another faculty petition urging the UC system to withdraw the investments because of what it calls Israel’s "human rights violations."

Distributed throughout the UC system, the original divestment campaign last month called upon UC to withdraw some $54 million in corporate investments. "We believe that our university ought to use its influence — political and financial — to encourage the United States government and the government of Israel to respect the rights of the Palestinian people," reads the divestment document signed by more than 165 faculty members.

Some signatories compared Israel’s record with that of South Africa: "Divestment worked for South Africa, why not Israel?" wrote Susan M. Ervin-Trip of UC Berkeley.

During the apartheid-era, many American college students protested university support of U.S. corporations doing business in South Africa. The divestment movement was crucial in undermining the racist South African regime.

Many UCLA faculty members and students were appalled by comparisons of Israel to South Africa. "I thought it was reprehensible; it didn’t help the course of peace or serve any useful purpose to either side," said Professor Steven L. Spiegel, associate director of the Burkle Center for International Relations.

"The attempt to compare [Israel] to South Africa is absurd, inaccurate and false," Spiegel said.

UCLA Hillel drafted the counterpetition. It was based on a similar one started at Harvard and MIT that garnered over 6,000 signatures.

"We, University of California’s faculty, staff, students and alumni who support peace in the Middle East, oppose the misguided divestment petition calling for punitive actions by the U.S. government and our universities against the state of Israel," the UCLA version reads.

"A major purpose of the counterpetition is to demonstrate that there is broad opposition to divestment," said Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director of UCLA Hillel. Seidler-Feller said the counterpetition has garnered some 160 signatures.

Many UCLA professors who signed the counterpetition believe that the original pro-divestment petitioners represent a minority of the UC faculty.

"I don’t think it is very controversial, because a very tiny group is making a lot of noise," Spiegel said. "There is not serious support for [divestment]."

It is difficult to measure the effect that both petitions have had on the atmosphere at UCLA, because they were circulated at the end of the academic year. But the controversy is indicative of how much the Middle East situation has invaded the campus.

"The original petition is a manifestation of a new political activism on college campuses," said David N. Myers, professor of Jewish history at UCLA. He added that he doesn’t believe this political activism is anti-Semitic.

Myers cited a recent survey on anti-Semitic attitudes by the Anti-Defamation League that said while 17 percent of Americans hold views about Jews that are "unquestionably anti-Semitic," only three percent of U.S. college and university students and five percent of faculty fall into the most anti-Semitic category.

As for the students, "I think they are glad that Hillel has taken the stance and has put the petition out there," said Robin Levine, UCLA Hillel program associate. "They’re glad that UCLA Hillel has taken the initiative."

Furthering Hillel’s efforts, students at UC Berkeley are creating a Web site that will streamline opposition by allowing online signing of the counterdivestment petition. The Web site is the work of the UC Justice Campaign, a grass-roots community project of the Akiva Movement, a student-run human rights and democratic values campus action group.

"It is not a pro-Israel action," said David Weinberg, director of the UC Justice Campaign. "We want students and other activists to feel that they can sign this and not be associated with an agenda."

In addition to online reading and signing of the petition, the site will offer downloadable hard-copy petition forms, a page where all signatures can be viewed, a signature counter, a frequently-asked-questions page and links to relevant articles.

"If we don’t do this kind of action, policy is going to be swayed forever," Weinberg said.

Answering the Call

Imagine a cellphone ringing and ringing. Put it in a backpack. Put the backpack next to the wreckage of a bus mangled by a bomb. A rescue worker reaches into the backpack to turn the cellphone off because he cannot bear to hear the voice on the other end of the line.

With that image, from an account given in Israeli papers, I asked my congregants on the first day of Passover to help our sisters and brothers in Israel. We cannot win Israel’s battles nor restore to life those who have died. But we can buy wheelchairs for the injured. We can pay for physical and emotional therapy for those whose lives are scarred by terror. We can provide social services for the shattered lives of the 400 children orphaned by the recent attacks.

As one of the most affluent and fortunate Jewish communities the world has ever known, we can give. God has blessed us; it is up to us to make that blessing matter.

Parvis Nazarian, the founder of Magbit, a Persian Jewish charitable organization, promised that Magbit would match whatever we raised up to $500,000. It seemed too ambitious a goal, but I announced it anyway, because the 1,800 worshippers in the sanctuary knew what was at stake.

Congregants and members of our community rose to pledge humanitarian aid to Israel. Children promised $10, $100, $1,000. Their parents pledged $2,500, $10,000, even $25,000.

The atmosphere was charged with the energy of a mitzvah that enabled us for a moment to escape the fear and frustration gripping our worldwide community. People raised their hands, stood up, called out.

I spun out the following scenario: One day Israel will be at peace. It may come to pass that you will be sitting at a restaurant in Jerusalem or waiting for a bus in Tel Aviv. An Israeli will sit next to you. As you talk, he will recount the losses that he and his family endured. Exchanging stories, he will discover that you come from Los Angeles.

“I know of a synagogue in Los Angeles,” he will say. “They paid for my surgery when I was wounded. Sinai Temple — do you know it?” That day in shul, we made such a future memory possible.

Soon, following the suggestion of board member Lili Shafai, the treasurer of Magbit, Abraham Simahee, stood up and publicly announced Magbit’s matching offer. In 25 minutes, we raised $700,000. With the matching gift we had almost $1.5 million for Israel. In 25 minutes. Inspired by the music of Craig Taubman, his band and our Cantor Joseph Gole, the congregation celebrated the moment by singing and dancing through the crowded sanctuary.

Thousands of envelopes have now been mailed to members who were not in attendance. The students in Sinai Temple religious school and Sinai Akiba Academy have joined the effort. When all the funds are in, we hope to have well over $2 million.

We will select (in consultation with advisers from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Magbit and a committee from our own congregation) organizations in Israel that specialize in aid to victims of terror. Our research has already begun to find institutions and agencies with little or no overhead. Donations must go directly to help those most in need.

It is not our obligation to finish the work, “Pirke Avot” reminds us. But how uplifting it is to make a meaningful beginning. As we joined together in singing “Am Yisroel Chai,” we affirmed that through God’s goodness and our passion, the people of Israel live.

Valley Secession: Better for Jews?

For the Jewish community, like the rest of Los Angeles, the issue of Valley secession boils down to one key question: Will we be better off after secession than we are now?

Some officials predict that secession would actually make very little difference to the Jewish community. In terms of services, secession of the Valley and Hollywood would have only a minimal effect, according to Jewish Federation representatives. Miriam Prum Hess, vice president of planning and allocations for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said that of all the agencies only Jewish Family Service would be significantly impacted.

The bulk of the Federation’s funding for 2001 — a total of $39.6 million — came from state and federal sources; only $12 million was derived from local sources, primarily from Los Angeles County. Of city and county funds combined, Jewish Family Service received the largest portion, about $1.7 million.

Jewish Family Service representatives declined to comment on the possible ramifications for the agency, but Jack Mayer, executive director of the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance, said even if secession were to pass, The Federation and its agencies would find a way to continue their funding.

"We’re a service delivery organization, so we would work with whatever government structures are appropriate," Mayer said. "The organization of the Jewish community is not dependent on the organization of the City of Los Angeles.

"We work with elected officials throughout the area and would continue to have strong and positive relationships with elected officials, no matter how they are organized. Even in the Valley Alliance we work with a number of different cities: Calabasas, Burbank, all the way to Thousand Oaks. We’re not limited in that sense," he said.

Most community leaders agree that the Valley secession’s primary impact on the Jewish community would be more psychological and political than financial. Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, has spent the past year participating in a special task force of the Council of Religious Leaders (CRL) exploring the moral issues surrounding secession. He said it doesn’t take a genius to see that secession will not be helpful to the Jewish community.

"I happen to live in the Valley and work in the city and get to travel all around, and this is a very big issue," Diamond said. "It is already hard for people in the Conejo and San Fernando valleys to feel a part of the greater Jewish community. This is part of life in Los Angeles, that we do not seem as unified as the Jewish communities of Chicago or Detroit or Baltimore.

"It troubles me because there’s an intrinsic bond between Jews all over the world and if a Jew living in the San Fernando Valley doesn’t feel a connection to a Jew living in Hancock Park, let alone Argentina, we’ve got real problems," he said.

Diamond said there are some positive effects of raising the issue of secession.

"In our seminars, studies and investigation over the past year [the task force has] learned there are a lot of disenfranchised people out there and to bring that to the fore is very important," he said. "First, people feel they do not have the access to decision making in their community. Second, some people have the erroneous belief that this is a bunch of rich, white people wanting to break away from the poor city, and that is not true. One of our most enlightening days was a tour we took of Pacoima and parts of Van Nuys, where we saw there were real areas of need in the Valley."

Rabbi Alan Henkin, director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, who along with Diamond is serving on the CRL task force, said another factor to consider in examining secession is its effects on relationships between Jews and other minorities on both sides of the hill.

"Politically, secession would dilute the power of the Jewish community both in their representation in the city and in the Valley. It would really impel the Jewish community to form broader coalitions with a variety of groups," Henkin said.

The need to establish such coalitions could make for an interesting shift in the political landscape, said Raphael Sonenshein, a political science professor at California State University Fullerton who specializes in racial and ethnic politics.

"The Jewish community is like the Latino community geographically, in that they both straddle the north-south divide with the Latinos on the Eastside and in the East Valley and the Jews on the Westside and in the southwest Valley," Sonenshein explained. "Not everyone is divided that way; the African American community, for example, is not. But Latinos and Jews are likely to be the pivotal voters in how the decision is made."

Sonenshein said what may also be at stake is the broader role Jews have played in government in Los Angeles.

"Even during the Riordan period, the Jewish community remained very active at City Hall and still is today," he said. "But if we actually had secession carry through, it would have a whole different dynamic."

Longtime Los Angeles City Council Member Ruth Galanter has had to fend off two secession attempts in her district, one in Venice and one in Westchester. She said that if people in the Jewish community are committed to improving their relationships with non-Jews, they are better off working as a cohesive whole.

"To the extent that anti-Semitism exists, it doesn’t make sense to be separate," noted Galanter. "It’s better to be part of one large community and reach across the greater Los Angeles community to build relationships."

Galanter also said that if the Jewish community wants a more representative government, secession is not necessarily the way to go.

"There is a rhetorical bandwagon out there crying that the government [in the City of Los Angeles] is not responsive, but that is not necessarily true. Council members spend all day long responding to things in their district," she said. "The danger in the kind of rhetoric I’m hearing is that it just obscures the issue of learning to be close to [the representatives] who can fix things in your neighborhood."

But former Assemblyman Richard Katz, a secession supporter, disagrees.

"If we have more districts representing fewer people, those areas that are more Jewish might have better representation because we have always had a disproportionate number of Jewish people on the City Council," he said.

Overall, it is difficult to predict the effect of secession on the Jewish community of Los Angeles. In many ways, the current situation in Los Angeles reflects the split within our community itself, between those in the city and those in the Valley areas. As embodied in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Valley Alliance, that "split" has been successful only to the extent both sides recognize that they are on the same team.

"I think it strengthens the community to have people from different parts of the community with different perspectives," said Mayer. "The Federation weaves us together."

Were the city of Los Angeles to discover a similar common denominator, perhaps secession would be unnecessary. But the polls paint a different picture: the latest numbers from a Los Angeles Times survey this month show 55 percent of Valley residents in favor of secession and other areas of the city almost evenly split on secession. Clearly, many Valley residents do feel that they would be better off as an independent city.

In the next article in this series, The Journal will explore whether the Jewish community’s feelings reflect those of Los Angeles overall.

World Brifs

Beit Jalla Action Postponed

Israeli military sources were quoted as saying the army had postponed a planned action in Beit Jalla by a day. The media reports said the operation, aimed at stopping Palestinian gunfire in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, was delayed in part because of American criticism of Tuesday’s military incursion into the Palestinian-ruled city of Jenin.

Palestinian Militants Arrested

Israel arrested several Palestinian militants that planned to carry out a terrorist attack near Haifa. The militants, arrested last week, were members of a suspected Islamic Jihad cell, according to details allowed for publication. Several Israeli Arabs also were arrested in connection with the incident.

Israeli undercover security forces also killed a member of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction Wednesday in Hebron. Imad Abu Sneineh was suspected of involvement in shooting attacks. Israel defends its policy of “targeted killings” of suspected Palestinian terrorists, but the international community condemns what it calls “assassinations.”

Israeli Astronaut Set for 2002

Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, will blast into orbit on May 23, 2002, the prime minister’s office announced Monday. The announcement followed a meeting between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and NASA administrator Daniel Goldin. The two also agreed to continue cooperation between Israel and NASA.

Stem Cell Reaction Mixed

Jewish groups offered mixed reactions to President Bush’s decision to allow limited federal funding for research on existing embryonic stem cells.

Groups praised the government’s first step but expressed hope that the scope of funding could be expanded in the future.

The National Council of Jewish Women, however, said it is “deeply disappointed” by the president’s Aug. 9 announcement, calling it too narrow and restricting

U.N. Alters Zionism Resolution

A purported compromise on a resolution denigrating Zionism as racism at the upcoming U.N. conference in South Africa is “subterfuge,” according to a Jewish official. In the current draft, the term “occupying power” simply replaces specific references to Zionism and Israel, said Jason Isaacson, director of government and international affairs for the American Jewish Committee. Still, the document “is written for no other purpose than to single out Israel,” Isaacson said, contradicting comments Tuesday from a South African official who said that the Zionism-racism issue had been removed from the conference agenda.

Israel’s Nude Offensive

The Israel Defense Force is using female soldiers to lure Palestinian rock-throwers to their doom, according to the Gazan weekly Al-Hayat al-Jadida. The female soldier performs a strip show, luring the Palestinians away from their piles of stones. She then produces a gun and fires on the hapless crowd, according to the paper, which did not explain where the nude soldiers hide their guns. The IDF called the story “totally ridiculous.”

Jews Teach for America

Several North American Jewish organizations, including the federation system and Birthright Israel, hope to have a Jewish version of Teach for America in place by next summer, according to Ron Wolfson, vice president of the Los Angeles-based University of Judaism. The project, which Wolfson describes in the latest issue of the Jewish Life Network’s magazine and which the university is spearheading, would recruit hundreds of college students and alumni of Israel trips to teach in Jewish schools and would train them in a Jewish teachers’ “boot camp.”

Five Jews Killed in Crash

Five Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn were killed in a helicopter crash near the Grand Canyon.

The five tourists killed last Friday were part of a group of about 20 friends and family on a four-day vacation at the Bellagio hotel-casino in Las Vegas. “They are all active in the communities, they’re all friends,” New York City Councilman Noach Dear said of the victims. “They were a lot of fun to be with.” The sole survivor, Chana Daskai, suffered burns over 80 percent of her body.

Two N.Y. Rabbis Sentenced

Two New York City rabbis were sentenced to nearly three years in prison for embezzling $2.5 million meant for training counselors for elderly Holocaust survivors. Efroim Stein and Jacob Bronner pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy charges.

Prosecutors said Stein slipped funds to his synagogue and to subcontractors in exchange for kickbacks and falsely put his relatives on the payroll as trainers.

Shoah Denier Offers Deal

Holocaust denier David Irving offered to pay Penguin Books $210,000 if the publisher as well as historian Deborah Lipstadt drop all further claims against him. Last year, a British court ordered Irving to pay Penguin’s and Lipstadt’s legal costs, estimated at $3 million, when he lost a libel suit against them over Lipstadt’s book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.”

Russian Leader Slammed

A Russian Jewish leader is being attacked in the media for seeking charges against a diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church for publishing and distributing an anti-Semitic tract, according to the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.

Church leaders in Yekaterinburg are defending the diocese’s distribution of the book and accusing Mikhail Oshtrakh of “inciting antagonism toward Jews.” The prosecutor’s office said it is investigating the issue.

British Group Warns of Attacks

A group that monitors anti-Semitic incidents in Britain is warning that Palestinian terrorists may expand their activities to target Jews around the world.

The Community Security Trust points out that Hamas’ Web site asks rhetorically, “Aren’t all Jews and Zionists fighting your own brethren and targeting you all?”

A Hezbollah-controlled television station, meanwhile, reported that a group allied with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement issued a threat to attack “Zionists and their U.S. allies anywhere, inside and outside occupied Palestine.”

Biased Forum Feared

Jewish leaders are trying to spin a hopeful story about the fight to prevent the upcoming World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance from turning into an Israel bash-a-thon.

But recent events offer little cause for optimism about the conference, scheduled to begin Aug. 31 in Durban, South Africa.

At Monday’s opening of final planning meetings in Geneva, delegates to a nongovernmental organization session approved a document calling Israel an "apartheid, racist and fascist state," and slamming the United States for "initiating a flimsy peace process, as they are entirely and fully responsible for the escalation of this war carried by the Israeli regime against the people of Palestine."

"This surpasses the worst rhetoric of the ‘Zionism is Racism’ days of the U.N.," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who testified at a House hearing on the subject Tuesday, along with representatives of the Anti-Defamation League and B’nai B’rith.

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), who is headed for Geneva this week, put Congress on record opposing the hijacking. Monday the House took up and approved a Lantos resolution praising the original intent of the racism meeting but slamming the attempt to use it "as a platform to resuscitate the divisive and discredited notion equating Zionism with racism."

In an interview, Lantos, a leading Jewish House member, said, "A conference that deals with discrimination, but in its initial documents says not one word about the Taliban and their practices, the ongoing slavery in Sudan … and the discrimination against women in Saudi Arabia, but focuses on the one democratic state in the Middle East as the uniquely singled-out culprit … is beneath contempt."

Lantos said he is going to Geneva to do his "level best to see that the documents are cleansed of the language of hate and anti-Semitism that permeates them."

He praised the Bush administration for its "exemplary" efforts to bring the focus back to racism.

Late last week, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "We will not stand by, if the world tries to describe Zionism as racism." If the anti-Israel theme persists, he said, "the United States will not go."

Lantos said he "fully supports" that position. "I don’t think Colin Powell should dignify this conference if it is a … lynch mob which has discovered there is a victim they can all beat up on."

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and others don’t see things that way: CBC members are promoting a second resolution urging Powell to lead the U.S. delegation and to increase funding for the conference.

It’s the Economy Again, Stupid

Will the religious right dominate the Washington agenda as a Republican president, backed by a mostly GOP Congress, takes the reins of government?

That scenario is on the minds of many Jewish leaders who worry that abortion, school prayer, vouchers and other issues championed by Christian conservatives will be the engine behind the 107th Congress.

Conservatives on Capitol Hill, led by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), have reinforced their fears by promising to press their partisan advantage to advance a wide range of conservative domestic issues.

Jewish leaders would do better to focus on Bill Clinton’s memorable 1992 campaign theme: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the bitter end to this year’s presidential election, the top issues of groups such as the Christian Coalition may not be front and center as the new Congress and administration try to find a way to govern amid political gridlock on Capitol Hill.

Instead, the administration is likely to focus at first on the economic changes it would like to implement — changes that are likely to garner bipartisan support but which could prove troublesome for Jewish organizations.

The social agenda of the religious right will enjoy only limited success when the new Congress gets to work.

School prayer amendments will be dead on arrival. School voucher plans may do better, thanks to support from some Democrats. Several voucher demonstration projects were passed in recent years but vetoed by President Bill Clinton; Bush supports vouchers, so the veto threat will disappear.

Some abortion restrictions may move through, but the evenly divided Senate will remain a major obstacle to any sweeping changes.

But the Bush administration can wreak considerable havoc on abortion rights through executive order. And the wild card remains the Supreme Court; a vacancy or two during the Bush administration would likely tip the balance on the Court on abortion.

New gun control legislation is unlikely, but so is any major pullback from laws already on the books; again, the Senate will be the major stumbling block.

Gary Bauer, the former leader of the Family Research Council whose bid for the Republican nomination was spurned by GOP primary voters, urged Bush this week not to give an inch on the conservative domestic agenda.

Bush is hearing much the same message from Republican leaders on the Hill. And his soon-to-be vice president, Richard Cheney, promised over the weekend that their administration will not abandon the interests of its core supporters.

But Bush is also being told that if he focuses on a narrow conservative agenda, the result will be bitter stalemate — not a political plus for a president whose margin of victory was thin to nonexistent.

If he does try to govern from the center, GOP moderates say, he will do better with some of his core economic issues.

But some of those issues could have much more immediate consequences for the Jewish community than the nexus of social issues pushed by the Christian right.

Bush’s campaign platform called for a $1.3 trillion tax cut, a demand Cheney recently called nonnegotiable. Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are divided; some support the huge, 10-year cut, others want to press for a series of smaller tax cuts.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will be looking for high-profile actions they can take that have a chance of bipartisan support, and tax cuts, supported by a significant number of Democrats, could top the list.

Most Jewish groups do not have official positions on the issue. At the same time, many Jewish leaders privately fear that anything more than token cuts could be a time bomb tossed into the middle of the nation’s social safety net.

Today, the federal treasury is flush, thanks to the record economic boom and the run-up in the stock market.

But the surplus will evaporate with astonishing speed if the economy skids.

Tax cuts in the coming year, many worry, will lead to a ballooning of the budget deficit when the economy slows. And that, in turn, could produce intense pressure to cut discretionary spending programs.

The programs most at risk are precisely those that the Jewish community successfully provides across the country, using government dollars along with philanthropic money: health and housing programs for the elderly, services for children and teens, vocational services, services for immigrants.

Big cuts could also jeopardize important foreign policy priorities of the Jewish community, starting with foreign aid to Israel.

Bush’s economic thinkers say the cuts will spur the economy and preserve the boom. But it’s a gamble; if they’re wrong, the government will quickly face a new deficit crisis and ferocious new pressure to cut vulnerable programs.

That, and not the religious right “values” agenda, is where the real action is likely to be for Jewish groups in 2001.

Circle of Friends

I see that it’s time for the media to replay the perennial horror story known as The Dying Jew. “The Vanishing Jew,” by Alan Dershowitz, is a mea culpa over his son’s intermarriage. Elliot Abrams, the former Reagan administration official, has written “Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America,” a political argument against liberalism and in favor of blurring the lines between church and state. New York magazine’s cover story this week asks, “Are American Jews Disappearing?” and rounds up the usual Orthodox, Conservative and Reform suspects for the unsurprising reply: maybe. The Dying Jew has become our Loch Ness monster, a friendly nightmare story brought out during summer doldrums, a crime story without a real perpetrator.

But, this summer, such news does not stand alone: As the stories of Jewish extinction are being repeated, the women’s group Hadassah has announced a $1 million grant to fund a new International Research Institute on Jewish Women at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Its purpose: to study the entire Jewish woman’s experience as reflected in spirituality and religion, the arts and media, Israel, the Holocaust, family and community. For the first time, an educational institution will study women’s lives as a special component of the Jewish people, discrete and real.

Naturally, this research institute lacks the sex appeal of the Dying Jew story (New York magazine will never put it on the cover). Nevertheless, to rewrite Virginia Woolf, even the press release announcing that Barbra Streisand is the think tank’s honorary chair constitutes, for women, true “news of our own.”

“As a Jewish woman, I have always been bothered by negative stereotypes about us,” read a statement prepared by the woman whose life is a Rorschach test of a Jewish woman’s acceptability in America. “[This] is the first institute in the world that focuses the spotlight on Jewish women.”

The Dying Jew stories prove why such a spotlight is needed. The unnoticed (though obvious) fact is that such accounts about Jewish extinction are written by men. If men see Jewish life as a trail that has come to the end, so be it. But women have another point of view.

Jewish men and women have had two distinct histories in America, a fact conveniently ignored until now. Men have held the license over the American Jewish experience; from men’s exploits (creating Hollywood) and stories (Roth, Malamud, et al.), we have learned about our success and our roadblocks. They’ve defined who we are.

How distinct is the Jewish woman’s experience? That’s a question the institute will help us answer. But it starts from the fact that women are two generations behind men in all indices: While Jewish men began to assimilate in the first generation, women held back. While men changed their names, gained jobs in banking and industry, intermarried, women stayed home, keeping the Jewish world intact. Our mothers and grandmothers were less distracted by American values, if only because they were less free to know them.

“We’re half the Jewish people, but our role in history has been obliterated,” Shulamit Reinharz, professor of sociology at Brandeis and director of the new institute, told me. “We’re not part of the people as men have always been.”

Though women have been integral to Zionism, the building of the Jewish state, and the creation of American communal organizations, J.J. Goldberg, in his 1996 study “Jewish Power,” barely mentions them.

This male domination of the Jewish experience must be questioned now before the Dying Jew becomes a self-fulfilled prophecy. Like a cancer patient who thinks he’s got a month to live, a people who are told that they are dying will no doubt act accordingly.

“There’s a real half- empty/half-full syndrome going on about Jewish life,” said Reinharz, who also heads Brandeis’ women’s studies department. If men are becoming either strident or giving up hope, she said, “women are energized.”

If I sound excited about what might ordinarily be an academic exercise, there’s a reason. Here’s the first think tank with the money to address a problem that goes back three generations: For all our education, energy and high- level employment, Jewish women continue to feel stereotyped, outcast and isolated within both America and the Jewish world; we use TV and movies as our mirror, only to find, as Streisand correctly implies, a world that seems to scorn us. But, now, through research and study, we finally will broaden the picture.

Reinharz said that the Institute’s first goal is to help Jewish women rethink themselves, and then to help men see the Jewish world more accurately by incorporating the truth of women’s lives. There will be scholars-in- residence, conferences and discussion of policy issues from a woman’s perspective.>/p>

Men may think the Jewish people is dying, but women are not taking that prophecy lying down.

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of The Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is wvoice@aol.com.

All rights reserved by author.


Read a previous week’s column by Marlene Adler Marks:

July 11, 1997 — Celluloid Heroes

July 4, 1997 — Meet the Seekowitzes

June 27, 1997 — The Facts of Life

June 20, 1997 — Reality Bites

June 13, 1997 — The Family Man