Community Profile: Gerald Bubis

Gerald B. Bubis is 88, and he knows there are things he’ll never do again.

He’ll never travel to Israel again, for one, and after 46 trips, that’s a tough one to swallow. Then there’s the fact that this author and/or editor of 12 books and 200 articles on serving the Jewish community now has a tremor in his hand that prevents him from putting pen to paper. He also can’t drive anymore, and he can’t stand up long enough to wash dishes.

Despite all this, he’s not frail, and the clarity and wisdom he still possesses have provided him the blessing of being able to ponder how he wants to approach this late stage of life.

“I think of this more as a condition than as a stage,” Bubis said, sitting in an armchair in the living room of his Beverlywood condo. “This is the first time in your life you’re confronting the fact that this is really the end of the physical stage, and that’s different. Because there is this notion of it being Dec. 25 on the calendar, and it’s a matter of saying how will you spend that last week of your life.”

It’s a scenario the High Holy Days imposes on all worshippers, but for Bubis, as it is for many seniors, the question of what has filled his book of life and how it will close is not abstract, but an everyday reality.

He has made the decision that he will not allow himself room for regrets — neither about the past nor about what he can no longer do. Rather, he focuses on what he has accomplished and what he still can do. 

Bubis is the founding director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and was an early and ardent advocate for peace with the Palestinians. He is recognized nationally as an elder statesman, both in the peace camp and in the world of Jewish professionals.

In his earlier years, Bubis, who is still a broad 6 feet tall, was probably called strapping. Now, his hearty eyebrows and booming voice both have taken on the qualities of old age, and he moves slowly, with a walker. His health issues are profound: He takes two dozen pills a day to deal with legs that barely work, heart trouble, high blood pressure and episodes of pain on one side of his face that are so debilitating the condition is referred to as suicidal neuralgia. He’s had three bouts with thyroid cancer, and a serious car accident in February exacerbated issues with his legs and left vision in one eye impaired.

But Bubis is well aware of the tendencies of his age cohort, so to a genuine query of, “How are you?” Bubis will begin his answer by setting himself a time limit to update the essentials, and he promises that he will then move on to more interesting conversation.

 “You can either sink into a morass of depression or feeling sorry for yourself, or you say it is what it is, it can’t be any different,” Bubis said. “The people I admire most are the people who confront their limits and cope with them in ways that say, I still have my life, and I still have my pleasures. I still have my challenges, and if one part of my body is diminished or extinguished or involves some kind of coping or adjusting, so be it. I can’t do anything about it, but what I will do about it is, I will say ‘hineni,’ here I am, and how do I go forward?”

Jerry and Ruby, his wife of 64 years, still go to concerts and lectures regularly; they get together with friends often, and they are close with their two children and three grandchildren. They study and socialize with a chavurah they have been part of for 35 years, and have been members of Valley Beth Shalom for decades, but their once weekly attendance has become more sporadic since the car accident.

And Jerry still works. He mentors and consults with Jewish professionals several times a week and reliably holds court at Pat’s on Pico, where the lunch waiters know to pack up half his salad at the outset and to bring him biscotti with the bill.

Because he can no longer write, he is considering looking for funding to hire someone to help him transcribe his words into articles.

He has volumes of anecdotes to share, and while he is careful about his listeners’ time and patience, it doesn’t take much goading for him to unleash dependably gripping stories about camping in Yosemite or personal encounters with King Hussein.

Bubis says he is at peace with where he is now, because he allows himself the satisfaction — but not the fiction — that his life has been lived well.

“To me, it’s a nourishing thing to know that this stage has grown from all those other stages. I have been lucky enough to go through all the stages there are — by way of love and marriage, children, professional fulfillment and accomplishment and recognition,” Bubis said.

That’s not to say it’s been perfect. He’s got an ego, and he can get angry, he said. He said he was for too long married to his work, and didn’t always give Ruby or the children the time he should have.  

“My regrets are of my failing as a father and as a mate in the early days of our marriage,” he said. Today he has a strong relationship with his son, David, who is vice president for development for Bet Tzedek Legal Services, and his daughter, Deena Libman, a development officer at the San Diego Jewish Federation. Both David and Deena were Bubis’ students in graduate school at HUC-JIR, and, like their father, both also were awarded honorary doctorates from HUC-JIR. 

Dwelling on what wasn’t accomplished is a sure road to unhappiness, Bubis advises.

“Making peace with what you have accomplished, and not judging yourself for what you didn’t accomplish, is to me a very important attribute, which I believe a lot of people never acquire, but rather they have this restless dissatisfaction, and maybe in some cases depression, about what they wished would have happened that didn’t happen,” Bubis said. “But you can only be what you are capable of being at the time that you are that.”

Jerry and Ruby built their life from modest beginnings.

Bubis grew up in Winnipeg, and his parents divorced when he was 11, after his father fled to the United States after being caught embezzling. Jerry, his mother and his sister moved to Minnesota, where they lived with his mother’s parents, Orthodox immigrants from Minsk. 

As a teenager, he split his time between the Talmud Torah at the Jewish community center and loitering around the streets, shoplifting and pulling pranks. He had a lot of anger, he admits, and says he once went at his mother with a butcher knife and tied his sister up in the closet.

But his maternal grandfather was a true role model. He was a quiet and kind small property owner who established a synagogue and Jewish free loan in Minnesota, and during the Depression he would secretly leave food and coal for his tenants.

“I’ve always had two birds on my shoulder — my father and my grandfather, and each influenced me in his own way,” Bubis said. “As a result of my father, I vowed that I would try to be a person with a good name. And as a result of my grandfather, I had a model of a person who had a good name.”

Bubis enlisted in the Army during World War II as a combat engineer and was trained to remove land mines. He was about to be deployed overseas when he was plucked from his unit and sent back to the camp in Oregon to train other soldiers. A few months later, his entire unit was killed in Italy.

With injured feet, Bubis was discharged with a disability pension that paid his way through college and social work school. Two months after he left the military, he met Ruby at a Manitoba-Minnesota Hillel event and was smitten immediately.

“Having the luck of having a mate, a partner, for so long is in itself an incredible gift, because we grew up together,” Bubis said, looking across the room, where Ruby sat on a loveseat that, like most of their furniture, is a family heirloom. “The love, for me, grows and grows, and it grows even as the nature of how we relate is different than when we were young. And, for me, having the luck of a person who is on the one hand always my supervisor and a goad for keeping me focused, and on the other hand has kept me from ballooning up about myself and puffery about myself, that to me has been a tremendous help.”

Ruby, also a social worker, helped resettle refugees after World War II and later helped settle Soviet Jews in Los Angeles. Jerry worked as a camp director and a Federation executive before he founded the School of Jewish Communal Service and then became a professor at HUC-JIR.

After his recent car accident, which left Bubis laid up for months, he was stunned at the love that began to flow from across the globe and from those close by — people stepped in with meals, rides and visits.

“This has just been a shower of love and support from places I never, ever would have expected — e-mails and calls from former students all over the world. And it has been a tremendous experience to have the equivalent of my hesped [eulogy] while I’m alive — the equivalent of what people will say at my funeral. To me that is remarkably lucky.”

It is the knowledge that he has affected so many people that gives him peace now. 

“You never know what time is going to be. I live as if there will be time to get to our grandson’s smicha [ordination], which will be in two years. My wife comes from a long-lived strain of people. I believe she could live until 100. I have no relatives who lived past 87, so I’ve already passed them. And I’m at peace with that. It doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the future and wondering what will happen, but I really do feel peaceful.”

Where are the great American Jewish leaders?

We are living in a troubling and dangerous time, a time when we need courageous and insightful leaders more than at any point since the Holocaust. We are facing a potentially existential crisis for Israel and ultimately, I believe, for Jewish people worldwide. Yet our leaders for the most part have not responded in a forceful way.

Those among us who understand what is at stake must immediately light a fire under our current leaders. At the same time, we need to rethink the process of how we select our leaders and what we expect of them.

If we look squarely at the facts and are unflinchingly honest with ourselves, we will admit that we are confronted with substantial threats. Today we are experiencing two primary attacks. The Arab/Muslim/Persian drive to remove Israel as a Jewish state is a fact, as is the very real threat of catastrophe that a nuclear Iran poses to Israel.

The unsettling recent events in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and the entire Arab world add to the instability of Israel’s neighbors. Increasingly, radical Islamists, who interpret certain edicts of the Koran as instructing them to kill Jews, are directing their vitriol and hateful propaganda not solely at Israel but at the Jewish people as well. Anti-Israel sentiment is simply a new twist on an old canard. The hate has migrated from Christian religious anti-Semitism to Nazi racial anti-Semitism to Muslim political anti-Semitism and, finally, to a leftist, intellectual form of anti-Semitism under the guise of political correctness.

There is a frightening groundswell of negativity in the Western and Muslim worlds toward Israel and the Jews resulting from a deliberate, pernicious and astonishingly effective international propaganda campaign to delegitimize Israel by portraying it as a colonial implant and oppressive occupier. We have a situation in which Jews everywhere are experiencing a level of insecurity that has not existed since the 1940s.

Many would agree that Jewish leadership has a poor record when it comes to the perennial American Jewish problems of Jewish education, assimilation and confronting modernity. Most everyone also would agree that American Jewish leadership during the Holocaust was abysmal.

Why, then, have we ignored the lessons of that era? We certainly have the wherewithal—we have shown ourselves to be effective change agents and effective leaders in so many spheres outside of the Jewish world, from the media to medicine to the sciences to the arts and humanities. Where is our “Jewish genius”?

To all who would argue that we already have been responding, I submit that we have not. Mass assemblies within our communities with the stars of the Israeli lecture circuit and American political leaders might make American Jews feel good, but won’t make a difference—preaching to the converted never does.

American Jewish leadership does a reasonably good job running nursing homes, feeding the poor and housing the homeless. It is essentially a model forged in the prewar Ashkenazic communities of Europe and in the Sephardic world of the Levant, when the Jewish people were in effect powerless.

But when it comes to issues of exercising serious power to prevent another catastrophe in which the unthinkable can happen in an instant, our leaders have been impotent. They have adhered to an outdated model based on powerlessness despite the fact that, since the founding of the State of Israel, we now have power and a voice that potentially can be heard the world over.

I am not denying that we have an effective group in AIPAC, which does a phenomenal job of lobbying Congress. Paradoxically, however, no Jewish organization has succeeded when it comes to lobbying the Jewish people—and no organization has been successful in motivating the masses of Jews to action.

Where are our great, inspiring leaders who will be able to rally us, help us coalesce to work together for the good of the Jewish people and the world? Where is our Brandeis, our Martin Luther King Jr.? Where is our American Ben-Gurion or Jabotinsky?

Threats and insufficient response

We are running out of time. While the Arab leadership funded a well-thought-out campaign to sway the hearts and minds of the masses in Europe and the left in the United States; while they endowed chairs on college campuses and subsequently embedded like-minded professors sympathetic to their cause; we were marching at Israel Day parades singing “Am Yisrael Chai.”

While we were feeling warm and fuzzy, while we were asleep at the wheel, our enemies laid out and put into action a detailed and effective plan to destroy the State of Israel and the Jewish people. What they could not accomplish on the battlefield, they determined to carry out in the public arena.

We are now playing catch up—we finally realized what was going on and have been making a belated attempt to fight delegitimization and promote Israel studies on the campuses, but our efforts are nowhere near the scope that is necessary to effectively counter the momentum in place from our enemies’ efforts.  It is a case of too little, too late.

What are our leaders doing about these threats to the safety of Israel and the Jews? How loudly did our leaders protest when the world sided with the Turkish flotilla? How much is really being done about the Iran issue? Were our leaders vocal enough in response to the Goldstone report? And it staggers the mind how our leadership is not clamping down on some Jewish federations as they continue to fund organizations that espouse anti-Israel activities.

Considering our recent history, it seems inconceivable that our leaders are not more vociferous in their calls for justice and protection, are not organizing marches on Washington and putting unrelenting pressure on the president, are not coordinating a voice of truth to counter the growing threats. Quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy did not work during the Holocaust, and it won’t work now. The isolated voices of organizations like AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, the Zionist Organization of America and others are not enough. The groups that are pushing for sanctions are not doing enough.

We need our leaders to be louder and more forceful, and for their actions to have real results. They need to motivate not only Congress and the administration to take action, but also Jews as a whole from apathy into action. We need more in-your-face Jewish activism. And we also need to form real partnerships with those that wish us well, i.e., the Evangelicals.

Would today’s Jewish leadership have the wherewithal to call for Jewish civil disobedience if a nightmare scenario develops, as yesterday’s leaders should have but did not during the Shoah?

Of course, there are some very dedicated and inspired leaders among us. There are those who are speaking out, those who are trying to apply the lessons of the Soviet Jewry model, which was one of American Jewry’s successes (albeit only after impetus from the masses). But there are too few of them.

To understand, it helps to look back. The failure of American Jewish leadership during World War II was no doubt in part motivated by fear, by the conviction that not rocking the boat was the best course, by the desire to hold onto the relatively newfound security of living in America, a safe haven and an ocean away from the turmoil of Europe. During the Holocaust, there were grass-roots groups doing valiant work on behalf of Europe’s Jews that were essentially silenced by America’s mainstream Jewish leadership.

This is the legacy we have inherited. Our leaders today have additional reasons for choosing to keep silent. Raising the alarm about the threats to Israel runs the risk of being labeled a racist or Islamophobe. And certainly there are many leaders who simply don’t know what to do. As a consequence they are doing next to nothing.

We know from modern Jewish history that people, organizations and leadership can change. In the 1940s, despite the horrific news coming from Europe, a number of individuals, organizations and rabbis were and remained opposed to the establishment of the refuge of the State of Israel. Some Jews opposed the United States entering and prosecuting the war. In hindsight, their opposition was ghastly.

Yet when prompted by their constituents, organizations do change, as do their leaders. Although the American Jewish Committee was not enthusiastic about Zionism before the State of Israel was declared, today it is one of the leading advocates for Israel and the Jewish people.

Choosing our leaders

Finally, we must reconsider how we choose our leaders. Our decision-makers today, the ones on the boards guiding collective Jewish action, are predominantly consensus builders drawn from the moneyed class, many of whom are unschooled in Jewish history and ritual, often unappreciative of the mystique and grandeur of our heritage, and lacking a solid grasp of what is most beneficial for the Jewish people and for Israel. When they do act, they often make ill-considered decisions that lead to poor outcomes.

To continue to choose our leaders from the same subset year after year and expect different results is not rational.

We should choose our leaders with different criteria in mind. Leaders should be people who are independent, creative thinkers and committed doers. They should be people of conviction and vision with the moral courage to rock the boat. We need leadership that is more diverse in terms of age and range of experience.

Our leaders should include members of the clergy, the academy and the creative community—people who understand the lessons of history and believe that history has a purpose. They are the ones who can inject into our community the missing vitality, imagination and vision.

We are in dire need of leaders who are connected to core Jewish values and who are caring, have empathy, wisdom and a majestic vision to be part of the power structure. Their collective experience, combined with the acumen of some of the current leaders, should improve the process of decision-making and lead to better outcomes.

If we choose our leaders with these criteria in mind, we will increase the probability that charismatic and forceful leaders will arise.

We cannot afford to remain silent. It is up to us to speak up, motivate our current leaders and ultimately strengthen our leadership. That is our homework. Let us hope that there is still time.

(Aryeh Rubin, a JTA board member, is the managing partner of the Maot Group and the founder and director of Targum Shlishi.


In the lions’ den: Federation women cap week in the Big Easy

Just down the road from where the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America had concluded a day earlier, more than a thousand of the federation system’s most generous women found a philanthropic sanctuary of their own.

At the Hilton Hotel here, the International Lion of Judah Conference drew about 1,100 of the women that the federation system refers to as “lions”—those who give at least $5,000 each year to the system—for a number of sessions dedicated to showcasing the best of what that system supports and highlighting some of the interesting projects women are running in the broader Jewish nonprofit world.

They told stories about strong women and mothers. And at a conference without men, the humor was decidedly female-centric: Comic Judy Gold, performing at its closing gala, got her biggest laugh in response to a joke involving a yeast infection and Passover.

The absence of men was vitally important to making the five-day event a success, said guests at the Nov. 10 closing gala at the Hilton.

“You can let your hair down more,” Shanny Morgenstern, the president of women’s philanthropy at the Kansas City federation, told JTA.

While annual campaigns have fallen across the country with the recession, women’s giving to the federation has held steady over the past two years, said Kim Fish, the senior director of national women’s philanthropy for the Jewish Federations of North America.

The lions made $19.1 million in pledges over the course of their conference—a 12 percent increase compared to their last get-together in late 2008, just before the recession took hold. In the Big Easy, their average gift was more than $17,000.

The Lion of Judah has become something of a cultural phenomenon within the federation world since Norma Wilson came up with the concept in Miami in 1972.

Her idea was to spur giving by rewarding women who gave $5,000 or more with a gold brooch featuring a roaring lion and a diamond eye. As the idea spread from federation to federation the lion evolved, with the diamond eye turning into a ruby for a gift of $10,000, a sapphire for $18,000 and an emerald for $25,000. The lion turns platinum if a woman has given a gift of more than $100,000—and if a woman endows her gift, the philanthropic feline gets a little gold torch to hold in its outstretched paw.

And while the GA, the annual conference for the federation system’s lay and professional leaders, is more about the system’s functionality, best practices and policy, the biannual Lion of Judah conference is strictly about fund raising—and instilling a sense of feminine camaraderie in some of the most generous benefactors of the multibillion-dollar per year charitable system.

“It’s about sisterhood,” Bari Freiden, a Lion from Kansas City, told JTA between sessions. “You are all the same because you are at a certain giving level or above no matter where you are from. You recognize a lion and all of a sudden you have a connection.”

The idea has worked—big time. The federations may do a better job of raising money from women than any other philanthropy, Jewish or not. About 17,000 women in the United States have become Lions, and they provide the core of the $180 million raised by the federations through their women’s philanthropy campaign.

All told, giving by women accounts for about 23 percent of the annual $900 million general campaign, according to Fish.

At federations like the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, the women’s campaign brings in about 40 percent of the organization’s overall annual campaign, according to Steve Rakitt, the federation’s president.

While some insiders openly wondered whether federations should have spent more time at the GA working on how to articulate their story more clearly, the system clearly knew how to pitch its Lions. Their conference this year was orchestrated to put the federations front and center, and to pull at the heartstrings of its participants.

Sessions ranging from “Slim Peace: Diet for a Peaceful Planet” to “Strong Women and ‘Lipstick’ Leadership” to “Business Women and Politics” generally avoided becoming bogged down in philanthropic theory, instead focusing on making the attendees aware of the more interesting programs being funded by the federations. The sessions told the stories of the programs through women’s voices.

For example, during one session, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee—one of the federation system’s two main overseas partners—focused on a woman it rescued from Georgia and another it saved from Bosnia. The session also highlighted the generosity of Anne Heyman, a major funder who worked with the JDC to establish the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda for orphans of the country’s genocide.

Each presentation drew more on the emotional than on nuts and bolts—and each included a pitch for the federation system.

Plenary sessions were more about positioning the federation and the Lion of Judah as not just organizations offering opportunities to donate to good works, but also venues for making friends and empowering women through philanthropy.

Having no men around was key, participants said.

“You can say things you wouldn’t necessarily say with men there,” said Morgenstern of the Kansas City federation. “If there would be men, the women would be less open to share.”

“It is an exclusive network both because it is women and the giving dollar amount,” said Freiden, a fellow Kansas City lion.

And while that included a bit of feminine high-jinks on Bourbon Street that both acknowledged, the conference all led up to a caucus closed not only to the press but also to all but the highest-level staff, at which the women poured out their hearts and opened their checkbooks.

After spending five days hearing about the power of the federations and of being women associated with the federations, the Lions broke into groups. The women sat in a circle and, one by one, told their stories about how their local federation had personally touched them.

The caucus became a tear-filled affair as the women related their intensely personal stories—and made financial pledges to their local federations, often disclosing the dollar amount or at least the percentage of increase over their last pledge, according to several participants.

Despite the success, some federation insiders say the model would need to be tweaked to attract a younger generation. This year the conference included a service project in which Lions, in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s PJ Library, handed out backpacks of books to underprivileged New Orleans children as the federations become convinced that service is the gateway to a younger generation.

But for now, the federations are banking on inspiring more giving through sisterhood.

“If you put women in a situation where there is abundance and where they can all succeed, they are incredibly cooperative and helpful to each other,” Freiden said. “Whereas if you are in a situation where you are taking from my cubs, they come out with their claws. Here it doesn’t hurt us to share good things. It helps us and we help each other.”

This article was adapted from The Fundermentalist newsletter; sign up at

It’s hard to find good day school leaders these days

A dearth of leadership talent is affecting not only the likes of Yahoo! and Microsoft, it’s also wreaking havoc on the Jewish day school system as schools find it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain qualified heads.

Representatives from 11 Jewish educational organizations will meet next month at a think-tank at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York. Working with strategic planners and other Jewish and general education experts, they will look for solutions to what they describe as a crisis.

“As soon as you bring it up with those involved in Jewish education, it’s like bringing up the topic of in-laws with a group of married people — there are a lot of nodding heads,” said Nina Butler, an educational consultant at the Avi Chai Foundation. The foundation has a special focus on day school education, and is one of the think tank’s organizers.

To some extent, the day school system is a victim of its own success, said Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE).

“This is basically a story about the phenomenally rapid growth of the day school system in North America,” he said. “For the last couple of decades, the addition of new schools and the expansion of schools has put a tremendous demand on the Jewish community to supply leaders and teachers. The growth has outstripped the capacity.”

There are roughly 800 North American day schools, and 60 new schools have opened since PEJE, a collaboration of major philanthropists to improve Jewish education, started in 1997, Elkin said. The number of children in day schools has increased by 100,000 since 1982 to more than 200,000 today, according to a 2003 Avi Chai census.

Frances Urman, director of the Day School Leadership Training Institute, founded by Avi Chai and run out of JTS, said her office has seen a “tremendous” influx of calls from schools across the country looking to fill their top spots. Her office runs a 14-month fellowship to train prospective day school leaders.

Marvin Schick, a senior adviser to the Avi Chai Foundation, said finding heads of school isn’t the only issue — there’s also the problem of keeping them.

Schick recently completed research for a study into Jewish day school leadership. He sent out 500 questionnaires to Jewish heads of school and got 400 responses.

The study looked at career path, salary, job responsibilities, career satisfaction and other areas. The data won’t be ready for release for several months, but Schick said it shows that a “significant number” of Jewish heads of school are “new or fairly new” at their jobs.

Most started out as teachers without expecting to go into administrative work, he said, and one out of five continues to teach on top of other duties. Schick also found that job satisfaction is very high among heads of school, with 90 percent of those who returned the questionnaire reporting less than 1 percent job dissatisfaction.

Schick said it was “remarkable that there is so much movement in the field.”

Los Angeles, home to 37 day schools serving 10,000 K-12th grade students, has bucked the national trend and enjoyed healthy stability in retaining principals and headmasters, according to Gil Graff, executive director of the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education.

“School heads have been drawn from a variety of backgrounds, including both Jewish education and public and private school administration. Rare are the instances of appointment as head of a day school in L.A., absent previous experience in a senior role in educational administration,” Graff said.

Still, the national crisis is cause for concern.

“Los Angeles, however, represents 5 percent of the schools and students in the American day school universe. Ensuring that, nationally, there is a sufficient pool of well-qualified heads of Jewish day schools to serve the needs of an expanding number of institutions is vital to sustaining and furthering the momentum of the day school movement,” Graff said.

PEJE’s Elkin said the average retention rate for heads of Jewish schools is three to six years, hardly enough time for an educator to leave a mark. For the schools to be successful, they have to figure out how to raise that rate to six to nine years, Elkin said.

When principals do switch jobs, it’s often because they find better opportunities, advancement or a preferable location, said Schick, who noted that “very few were fired.”

Some of the difficulty stems from the fact that schools are popping up in small Jewish communities, such as Kerry, N.C. and Asheville, N.C., said Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK, an umbrella organization for the country’s 90 Jewish community schools.

Getting qualified people to leave bigger Jewish communities is often a problem, and getting them to stay when a job in a larger city opens up is difficult, he said.

A head of school functions like a CEO, maintaining curriculum and serving as liaison among the school’s board, faculty, parents and student body, while making sure that school finances are in check. Finding someone who is qualified to do all this — and who also has experience working at a Jewish school — is nearly impossible, Kramer said.

He added that about eight RAVSAK schools — about 10 percent of the schools in the system — look for new heads each year.

That’s why Debra Altshul-Stark, president of the board of the Milwaukee Jewish Day School, considers her school very lucky to have found a qualified applicant to take over as head of school this year. The founding headmaster of the 25-year-old school retired five years ago, and the school couldn’t find a qualified replacement.

The board decided to try a three-headed approach. That flopped, as did a model of two heads of school.

When the board decided to go back to a single-head model, Stark was wary, because the first search had been so disappointing. This time 25 candidates applied; one had the general educational and Jewish educational background — and wanted to move to Milwaukee.

Kerry’s Heritage

Seven years ago, then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright discovered that more than a dozen of her relatives had perished in the Nazi concentration camps because they, like Albright, were born Jewish.

Albright’s discovery raised an even larger question: How many other American leaders have actually been of Jewish descent, but because of records and memories eroded by time, they never knew it?

In the case of Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry — thought by many to be a Boston Brahmin — the answer to the question is a convoluted one. It follows a path from a small Czech village near the Polish border to a long-forgotten suicide in a posh Boston hotel. It is the story of a young man who abandoned his Jewish faith, his nation and his name to pursue the American dream.

The Village

In 1873, in the Czech hamlet Bennisch, there were not enough Jews to form a synagogue. But anti-Semitism and pogroms were still a fact of life, and it was into this world on May 10 that year that Fritz Kohn was born.

The son of Benedikt and Mathilde Kohn, he became a simple brewer. He married a Jew named Ida Lowe but grew dissatisfied with his place in Moravian society.

Most of the population were Catholic and spoke German. Jews often found themselves the victims of discrimination, and many posed as non-Jews under pressure to assimilate.

“It was easier to do business as a Christian,” said Prague genealogist Julius Miller. “But many Jews just stopped being Jewish during this period and had no belief at all.”

On March 17, 1902, Kohn took his wife and infant son, Erich, to a government office in Vienna, changed his family name to Kerry and renamed himself Frederick. On May 4, 1905, the family traveled to Genoa, Italy, and boarded a ship bound for the United States.

The steamer was configured to carry nearly 2,000 passengers in steerage. However, the Kerrys did not make the typical immigrant crossing. Instead, they traveled in first class, with only 29 other passengers who had names like Hale, Walker and Bridgeman.

The ship’s records suggest that Kohn was already actively obscuring his roots. Ellis Island records note that he identified his family as Austrian Germans, rather than as Jews from Bennisch. By the time he arrived in New York on May 18, 1905, he had left his Jewish heritage behind.

A New Life

By January 1906, the Kerrys had settled in Chicago. Once there, Kohn — now Kerry — quickly set out to live the American dream.

On June 21, 1907, he filed his initial citizenship papers. By 1908, he appeared in a business directory with an office in Chicago’s Loop and, in 1910, he made it into the Blue Book, a catalogue of notable Chicago residents.

He filed his naturalization petition on Feb. 6, 1911, listing an address in the tony Uptown district. Signing as a witness was famous State Street merchant Henry Lytton.

Kohn’s second petition witness, Frank Case, worked as a manager at Sears & Roebuck, and was also regarded as a well-known member of society. Kohn had been involved in the reorganization of Sears and, by 1912, ran an ad in a directory as a “business counselor” under the name, Frederick A. Kerry & Staff.

However for unknown reasons, Kohn left Chicago, settling in the prominent Boston suburb of Brookline where, in 1915, his wife gave birth to Richard, father of Sen. Kerry. He continued life as a merchant in the shoe business, seeing enough success to hire a live-in German servant girl, who appears in his household’s 1920 U.S. Census record.

The census offers a glimpse into lengths to which Kohn had hidden his lineage. Both he and his wife listed their native tongues as German — when, as Czech Jews, their first language would have been Yiddish. At this point, both had been devout Catholics for nearly 20 years — a fact that adds greater mystery to the events that were about to unfold.

On Nov. 15, 1921, at the age of 48, Kohn wrote his last will and testament. Six days later, he walked into the lobby washroom of the posh Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, put a revolver to his head and pulled the trigger.

Probate records show he was virtually bankrupt. Other reports suggested that Kohn may have been in failing health — he suffered from severe asthma — and that he may have recently received an inheritance, which he transferred to his wife before his suicide.

The gunshot that took Kohn’s life also silenced a family history for more than 50 years. It would take the notoriety of a U.S. senator running for president to bring the story back to life.

A Rising Star

Unlike Kohn, a peasant who climbed the social ladder into America’s privileged class, John Kerry was to the manner born. His father served as an Army pilot during World War II, before becoming a noted U.S. diplomat. His mother descended from two dyed-in-the-wool Massachusetts blue-blood families: the Forbes and Winthrop clans.

Kerry’s early years were the transient life of a diplomat’s son at exclusive boarding schools in Europe and New Hampshire. He attended Yale at about the same time as President Bush, but while Bush lived the fraternity life, Kerry became president of the school’s political group.

Upon graduation in 1966, Kerry followed his father’s military footsteps, volunteering for Vietnam. He was mustered out in 1969, after receiving the Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. However, he soon became a vocal antiwar protester, using his military experience to criticize the war, including testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 1971.

After graduating from law school in 1976, Kerry launched his political career, becoming Massachusetts lieutenant governor in 1982 under Michael Dukakis. He eventually ran for Senate in 1984, winning the seat vacated by Paul Tsongas.

The mystery of his family history continued. He learned from a relative that his grandmother had been born Jewish, but he knew virtually nothing about his grandfather. He eventually became so fixed on the subject that once, on a visit to Europe, he stopped in Vienna and called every Kerry in the phone book.

His office even contacted the regional Czech archives that, unknown to him, actually contained the original record of Kohn’s birth, but the senator never heard back. The bureau had stopped conducting searches for foreigners two years earlier.

The Mystery Revealed

In late 2002, rumors began to circulate that Kerry would seek the Democratic nomination for president. The Boston Globe’s editors solicited reporters for articles on Kerry’s life, and journalist Michael Kranish volunteered.

Kranish’s experience gave him a significant edge: He had recently spent four years piecing together his own family history. He knew that he’d need an overseas collaborator to check European records, so he hired prominent genealogist Felix Gundacker, an Austrian from the Institute for Historical Family Research.

Gundacker had developed a specialty in tracking the bloodlines of Jews in parts of what is now the Czech Republic. Eventually, he uncovered the document that detailed Frederick Kerry’s name change — the clue that would enable him to search for Fritz Kohn, the man’s birth name and the key to his past.

Had Kohn’s name been changed at Ellis Island, like so many other immigrants, it might have been lost in the fog of time. Because Kohn had changed his name before he immigrated — perhaps, ironically, to conceal his background — his origins could now be traced.

Gundacker only needed to find Kohn’s birth records. That took him to the Czech city of Opava, where vast regional records remained stored. One recordkeeper there, Jiri Stibor, opened letters each day from people around the globe seeking genealogical aid.

On June 20, 2002, Stibor received a letter in English from a man he only remembers as “Samuel C.” It carried the seal of a high-ranking Washington, D.C., official.

The letter related that Kerry was running for president and asked about a “Fritz Cohn.” However, the archives had stopped processing foreign requests, and the misspelling would have sidelined the search.

Stibor never forgot about the letter, the first he’d received from a prominent U.S. government official. So when Gundacker eventually visited his office, Stibor immediately remembered the request.

Both men began scouring the archive’s records, playing on Gundacker’s hunch that Kohn had been born Jewish. That meant extra time pursuing an additional, essential step.

“The Catholics at the time weren’t interested in keeping good records [of the Jews],” Stibor said. “I took note to find any entry in the books, and I couldn’t find him in the Catholic section. But if there were Jews in the town, they would be the last entries, at the end of the book.”

And that’s where it was — revealing a secret that Kohn had sought to hide a century earlier: the senator’s grandfather had been born a Czech Jew, in what is now the town of Horni Benesov. Gundacker phoned The Globe and told them he was “1,000 percent sure of it.”

No Trace of a Past

Kranish gathered the evidence and presented it to Kerry a short time later. Kerry could not contain his surprise.

“This was an incredible illumination,” Kerry explained. “It really connected the things I’d talked about for years but now understand even more personally.”

“I never really knew why my grandfather left Austria or why he underwent such personal transformation, but we do know many of the things that were happening under the old Hapsburg Empire,” the senator said. “We know what life was like for too many of them, and the ultimate turn for even greater tragedy it would take not much later.”

The Czech town’s current mayor said he has considered extending an invitation to Kerry to visit, although he added that there isn’t much to see. A box-shaped apartment building sits on the lot where Kohn’s house once stood. A small Jewish cemetery, where Benedikt and Mathilde Kohn were possibly buried, has vanished over time and the Kohn brewery is now the location of a discount sauna.

Such absence of history is typical of the Jewish immigrant experience, genealogist Miller said.

“People who left for America left all of their history,” he explained. “Grandparents and great-grandparents sometimes didn’t tell anything to anyone. In the 18th and 19th century, they wanted to leave their past behind.”

A Few Jews Focus on Props, Too

With a few notable exceptions, Jewish politicians, activists and community leaders are getting into the controversies over Propositions 53 and 54 late and lackadaisically, having focused most of their attention and fundraising efforts on the recall election.

Proposition 54, The Racial Privacy Initiative (RPI), backed by University of California regent Ward Connerly, bans the state from classifying people according to race, ethnicity, color, or national origin.

Supporters maintain it would move society closer to a color-blind society, while opponents maintain it would impede the collection of data needed to redress discrimination.

Though opponents claim it would also block collection of data that could be helpful in addressing genetically transmitted diseases such as Tay Sachs, which affects Ashkenzic Jews, supporters say the measure would not affect health-related issues. The state’s independent legislative analyst said the matter is unclear.

Among Jewish groups, the Anti-Defamation League and the Progressive Jewish Alliance oppose Proposition 54.

Jewish politicians including U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Con. Howard Berman (D-26th) and Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss oppose it as well.

The statewide Jewish Public Affairs Committee, a coalition of mostly Federation-based groups, has not taken a stand on RPI, though the San Jose/Silicon Valley Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) unanimously passed a resolution opposing it.

"There’s been a trend among JCRCs of not wanting to get involved in controversial measures," JPAC Director Coby King said. "Federations don’t see how taking a position benefits them."

For many groups, RPI brings dangerous echoes of the highly controversial Proposition 209, a 1996 initiative designed to dismantle state affirmative action programs based on sex or race. That ballot measure caused considerable division between liberal and more conservative Jews. "A lot of people feel [Proposition 54] is not worth the risk," King said.

Democrats for Israel’s Howard Welinsky said his organization follows the Democratic party position on such measures, and the party opposes it. Welinsky, who sits on the California Post-Secondary Education Commission, said Proposition 54, "will make it impossible to determine if there are civil rights violations or equal opportunity violations."

The Southern California chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition has not taken a position on RPI, said the chapter Chair Bruce Bialosky, because members have been so focused on the recall. But Bialosky, speaking for himself, said he would support it. "As long as we continue to classify people by race," he said, "we are going to continue to think of them by race."

If Proposition 54 is getting relatively attention, Proposition 53 is going positively unnoticed. If it passes in Tuesday’s recall election, Proposition 53 will set aside up to 3 percent of the annual state budget for repairs of California’s infrastructure of highways, hospitals and libraries.

"One of the tenets of the Jewish religion is to improve our community, to leave our community a better place than we found it," said State Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge). Richman, who is Jewish, helped create the legislation that later led to Proposition 53. "If California is going to be successful in the future, then we need to ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place," he said.

The measure’s supporters include the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the California Chamber of Commerce and Caprice Young, former Los Angeles Unified School District president. Opponents include the California Tax Reform Association and the Congress of California Seniors.

State Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) said he finds himself, "smack dab in the middle," about supporting Proposition 53, formerly known as the "Funds Dedicated for State and Local Infrastructure" state constitutional amendment.

"The basic concept is that we have not done enough and are not doing enough … to pay for the infrastructure needs of the state," Koretz said. "When you have a surplus, this would trigger some of that surplus money to go to infrastructure. It’s one of many initiatives that can strain a state budget left with fewer and fewer options. I see its pluses and its minuses."

On the left, Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) director Daniel Sokatch called Proposition 53, "another conservative, far-right fake fix-all. It’s not going to solve any problems, just shift the problems around."

Despite no formal endorsement, RJC of Southern California Executive Director Michael Wissot spoke supportively of Proposition 53.

Richman said Proposition 53 protects against pulling funds out of the state education budget and transferring that money to rebuild roads, hospitals, libraries and state buildings.

The assemblyman added that from the 1960s through the 1970s, California politicians regularly poured 15 percent to 20 percent of annual state budgets into building the state’s extensive freeway system — plus hospitals and libraries and other public entities to be covered by Proposition 53.

But since 1990, Richman said, "our state has spent two-tenths of 1 percent of the General Fund annually on infrastructure. There’s no question why our roads are congested why they’re crumbling. This money is specifically going to infrastructure projects and capital outlay, not for operations."

Koretz also noted that, "There are Jewish values, I would say, on both sides of this issue. It’s really a compelling case of what do you do right? We can never do everything right. It’s a question of are you more concerned about social services or are you more concern about the long-term effects of the state crumbling?"

"I’m actually leaning in favor of it," the assemblyman said. "I think the pluses and minuses are about equal. People need to think this through themselves."

Building the Future

When Jonathan Schulman went on a mission to Israel 1995, he
said his life was forever changed, because he started getting involved. “I got
engaged because there were opportunities for me to build on that experience,”
said Schulman, director of the recently established Young Leadership Program of
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Schulman, who is in his mid-30s, hoped that the other 61 Los
Angeles young Jewish leaders would be similarly inspired at the United Jewish
Community’s (UJC) Young Leadership Regional Conference, which took place March
7-9 at San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis Hotel.

While many in the Jewish establishment bemoan the lack of
involvement of young people and wonder how to get the next generation
interested, the conference attendance proved that many — 600 people from the
Western Region — are eager to become involved in the Jewish community and even
lead it.

“People want to be involved and appreciated and want to make
a difference,” Schulman said. “Some people are looking for social opportunities
or something more educational or to make a difference; all three of those
things can overlap.”

And overlap they did, at a weekend replete with lectures,
workshops, prayer services, meals and the after-hours hanging out, as
politicians, lay leaders and Jewish professionals gave guidance on how to make
a difference.

The conference’s theme was, “If you will it, it is no
dream.” Throughout the lectures, the conference stressed personal
responsibility and activism. The topics ranged from the practical to personal,
like “The Fine Art of Fearless Fundraising” and “How to be a Media Maven,” to
“From Humdrum to the Holy: How Can Jewish Values Transform Your Life?” and
“What’s So Funny About Being Single?”

“My hope is that you will pursue whatever it is that you
find meaningful and that you will institute change,” said Stephen Selig, UJC
national campaign chairman, at the opening event at The Congregation Emanu-El
in San Francisco.

For many young leaders, it was less about finding motivation
to take action and more about learning how to exercise their influence.

For the majority of the participants, Israel was first on
their agenda.

“There’s a lot of anti-Israel sentiment, and it’s hard to
know how to answer it,” said Gretchen Koplin of Minneapolis.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee led the effort
with workshops such as “Becoming Effective Advocates for Israel” and “Political
Action That Makes a Difference.”

Three participants who came to the conference from Israel
said they were touched by the eagerness to help.

“We’re stunned by it,” said Roni Madmoni, a representative
of the Partnership 2000 Israel Leadership Project, a community service program
in Israel. “Jews from all over the country coming together to help.”

“All the Jews here have quality of life, but they understand
that it wasn’t always,” the 27-year-old continued. “They understand that in
order to stay Jews and enjoy life, they have to keep Israel out of the water
… not drowning.”

The conference also provided an on-site opportunity to
record video messages to Israeli soldiers, staged a book drive for Israeli
children and conducted a Jewish bone marrow drive. In addition, there were
boutiques selling Israeli-made products.

“There’s a very action-oriented point of view,” said
Minneapolis resident Tali Veiner. “To hear these talks reminding us that you
can make a phone call, you can do XYZ, you can make a difference … it’s

As the weekend progressed, Jewish leaders continued to
prepare participants for the challenges that lay ahead, all the while posing
the ultimate challenge to take action within their own communities.

The weekend’s keynote speaker, radio talk show host Dennis
Prager, told participants, “We are living in a decisive time in human
history…. You, as an American Jew, are at the center of history, and I
suggest that you like it.”

Some participants were motivated by the speakers.

“We’re really in need for people to speak up for us,” said
Richard Aranow. “It’s important to connect with others; I’m hoping to arm
myself with more knowledge about what people think and how things work.”

Others enjoyed the networking opportunities.

 “In New York it’s easy to meet and talk with Jewish folks
every day,” said Keith Gottfield, an executive from Silicon Valley who moved
from New York two years ago.

The conference gave Gottfield a chance to meet people and
exchange views.

“It’s reassuring that there are channels in the West Coast
to be able to connect with the Jewish community on whatever level you want,” he

But whatever aspect of the conference they enjoyed, most of
the participants left armed with awareness of the power of one.

“Each of us has hopes and dreams, and the beautiful thing,”Â
said Mark Wright, “is that we have the opportunity to make them come true.” Â

Pumping Up the Bottom Line

On Sunday, Feb. 23, 800 volunteers from across the Southland
will staff the phones from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. to raise money for the Jewish
Federation of Greater Los Angeles. They will try to coax extra money out of
existing donors and recruit new ones to the cause of Jewish giving.

Just a year ago, Super Sunday, as the single-day
extravaganza is known, raised $5 million to help the Federation underwrite the
15 recipient organizations it funds, including Jewish Vocational Service,
Jewish Family Service and Jewish Big Brothers.

This year, with the economy softening and the drums of war
beating ever louder, the charity faces an even greater challenge in making
Super Sunday 2003 super.

“These are difficult times for nonprofit organizations as
they try to build support for their programs,” said Eugene R. Tempel, executive
director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. “Many fundraisers
are having to work harder to raise the same amount of money as last year.”

In 2002, the Federation’s Annual Campaign brought in nearly
$42.5 million. That’s slightly 3 percent – $1 million – more than in 1997. (The
Federation raised an additional $20 million in 2002 for the Israeli Emergency
Campaign.) This year, the Federation expects to match or slightly exceed last
year’s Annual Campaign results.

The local Federation’s fundraising woes parallel those of
similar organizations across the country. The United Jewish Communities (UJC),
an umbrella group representing 156 community federations, raised about $851
million in 2001, nearly a 20 percent increase compared to 1996. At the same
time, the number of donors dipped by more than 58,000 to 651,000, a 9 percent

Federation giving has stalled nationally partly because
Jewish charities have focused too much time and attention on wealthy donors at
the expense of the larger community, UJC President Stephen Hoffman said. Also,
intermarriage and a low birthrate have shrunk the American Jewish population,
along with the potential donor base, by an estimated 250,000 over the past
decade to 5.25 million today, he added.

On the other hand, federations have successfully raised
millions in emergency campaigns for Israel and other causes and from
contributors earmarking their giving for specific causes, so-called
donor-advised funds, said Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish
& Community Research in San Francisco.

Still, “federations are not the central address for Jewish
givers that they once were, and it’s not going to change,” he said.

What has changed, said Tobin and others, is the nature of
Jewish philanthropy, and federations find themselves having to adapt quickly to
new trends and expectations.

Federations’ fundraising problems notwithstanding, American
Jews are more philanthropic than ever. It’s just that many now embrace a more
personalized approach to giving, experts said. Simply put: Givers increasingly
want direct control over how their dollars are spent and are willing to bypass
federations altogether to ensure that happens.

To that end, an enormous network of Jewish family
foundations have sprung up over the past five years, from about 2,500 to up to
8,000 today. These foundations control an estimated $25 billion in assets, said
Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, a 12-year-old
organization representing Jewish family foundations and independent givers.

Those foundations, which fund a variety of causes ranging
from education to the environment to AIDS research, have undoubtedly siphoned
money away from federations. And as wealth is transferred from aging
philanthropists to their children, the importance and number of Jewish
foundations is expected to rise, he said.

Many of those freshly minted givers probably won’t be giving
to traditional Jewish causes.

“Younger funders are far more likely to define Jewish giving
as a reflection of their Jewish values than giving to a cause with Jewish or
Israel in its name,” Charendoff said.

Obviously, that could hurt federations across the country.

Closer to home, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
faces several hurdles – some beyond its control – hampering its ability to
significantly boost donations.

Unlike Detroit, Boston and other older cities, the Jewish
community here is geographically dispersed and lacks cohesion, making it
difficult to reach. Wealthy Hollywood insiders have largely shunned federation
and other Jewish giving in favor of higher profile charitable causes like the
environment and animal rights. Jewish charities that attract large Hollywood
contributions, like the Simon Weisenthal Center and the American Friends of
Hebrew University, tend to have more of a single focus. Until recently, the
Southland’s large Russian Jewish and Persian Jewish immigrant populations
segregated themselves and gave little to Federation.

Still, the Federation bears some of the blame for its
problems, experts said.

Federations, including Los Angeles, have come under attack
for operating like remote bureaucracies more interested in filling their
coffers with cash from a handful of wealthy donors than in addressing the
spiritual and educational needs of the community at large.

“A federation should be more than just a fundraising
machine. It should be a Jew-making machine,” said Gerald Bubis, a former Los
Angeles Federation board member and founding director of the School of Jewish
Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
“Unfortunately, ours is a fundraising machine.”

Federation executives said fundraising is only a small part
of what the organization is all about and that it is working to tighten its
bond to the public. The organization recently formed a committee to examine how
it could improve operations and fundraising, and better serve the Jewish

The Federation’s campaigns are “not fresh or new or
interesting. It’s the same stuff regurgitated about the poor and elderly
needing help,” said Irwin Daniels, a former board member. To dress up its
message and increase its relevance, the organization should hire an outside
marketing firm, he added.

Bill Bernstein, executive vice president of financial
resource development at the Federation, said the organization can only afford
to spend $1 million annually on advertising and marketing. He admitted that
financial constraints have hindered getting the word out.

“There are a lot of people who don’t know about us, and we’d
love to have more resources to convey our message and educate people on what we
do,” he said.

The local Federation’s efforts to cultivate future leaders
and donors among the community’s youth has fallen short over the past decade,
said a former fundraising executive at the Federation. The ex-employee, who was
laid off last year and asked to remain anonymous, said the organization has
failed to generate enough excitement among young Jews or clearly explain its

In an attempt to address that, the Federation recently
inaugurated the Young Leadership Program. Designed to increase cooperation
among young Jews in the Federation’s entertainment, law and real estate
divisions, among others, it replaces Access Program, which fell short of
fundraising goals. Young Leadership’s strategy is still being formulated, but seminars,
dinners and concerts are planned, said Jonathan F. Shulman, directory of the
Young Leadership Program.

Given the increased competition for charitable dollars and
the Federation’s relatively flat fundraising, the organization must reinvent
itself to maintain its relevance.

“We better start thinking in a very radical sense about how
to engage more people in what we do,” Federation President John Fishel said.

Toward that end, The Federation has recently undertaken a
series of initiatives designed to broaden its donor base and heighten its role.

Fundraisers are now encouraged to go out and meet face to
face with donors. The visits serve to educate givers on what the Federation
does, get feedback and “make donors feel valued,” Fishel said.

To tap into the business community, the organization has
established the CEO Leadership Forum, which meets quarterly to discuss topics
of interest, including Jewish business ethics. The Federation’s Bernstein, who
has also begun soliciting gifts from big local corporations, said he hopes to
turn many of the 200 participating executives into givers.

One initiative that has borne fruit is the Los Angeles
Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund (LA-JVPF). Founded last year by Jewish
professionals in conjunction with the Federation, the self-funded group has
raised $250,000 and plans to award grants to new or existing nonprofits that
benefit Jews.

Although LA-JVPF members make the final decision on how to
earmark their funds, an example of the more hand-on approach to giving, the Federation
has benefited from its involvement: Several LA-JVPF participants have become
first-time Federation donors, having contributed more than $100,000 so far,
Bernstein said.

Its efforts notwithstanding, some consider the organization
a vestige of the past.

Its advocates are not so willing to write off an
organization that still ranks among larger charities in the city. Fishel said
the Federation is moving in the right direction and remains a vibrant,
important part of local Jewish life. If not for the Federation, Fishel asked,
then who would fund burials for indigent Jews or support poor pensioners in the
former Soviet Union?

Indeed, other federations have launched programs that have
become among the most-cutting edge in the nation.

The Boston Federation heavily subsidizes intensive adult
Jewish education to build a community of “Torah, tzedek [justice] and chesed
(kindness),” said Barry Shrage, president of the Boston Federation. Many Jews
participating in the program have increased their donations, he said.

The Boston Federation’s Annual Campaign jumped to $28.5
million last year, up nearly 24 percent since 1997.

In the Midwest, The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan
Detroit gives $500,000 annually to area synagogues and $2.5 million to local
Jewish day schools for scholarships, Chief Executive Bob Aronson said.

By contrast, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
gives about $100,000 to local temples and $2.35 million to day schools.

The Detroit organization is also seriously considering
giving Jewish newborns vouchers for free trips to Israel to “make a connection
between the Federation and family in a very personal way,” he said.

With a Jewish population of 80,000, or just 15 percent of
that of greater Los Angeles, it raised $30.6 million in last year’s Annual
Campaign, or 72 percent of the amount collected locally (Overall, Detroit
raised $20 million more than the Los Angeles’ Federation when adding the Israel
Emergency and other campaigns.)

The Detroit Federation’s attempts at community building
appear to have paid off, Aronson said.

“The more you can make yourself relevant to the community
and what people are doing in Jewish life,” he said, “the more you can get them
to contribute.”  

Nobody Likes Saddam

So do you think America should go to war with Iraq?

The question is not idle.

This week, members of Congress and the Bush administration met with Jewish leaders in Washington to discuss President George W. Bush’s resolution on Iraq. While administration officials did not ask directly for Jewish support, some GOP congressmen did call for an active Jewish lobbying campaign on behalf of the Iraq resolution, reports our Washington correspondent James Besser.

Whether you approve or not, the groups who will lobby do so on your behalf. So now would be a good time to make up your mind, and make your voice heard.

Right now, it’s fair to say that the country’s 6.1 million Jews are of about that many minds when it comes to war with Iraq. Experts on both sides are hitting each other’s arguments back and forth like Venus and Serena.

There is no agreement on Iraq’s unconventional weapons capability. There is no agreement on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s willingness to use those weapons on a more powerful force rather than on, say, Kurdish children. There is no agreement on whether the aftermath of a successful "regime change" would plunge Iraq’s three large ethnic groups into murderous chaos or jump-start its highly literate and oppressed people toward democracy.

There is no agreement on whether America, in acting nearly unilaterally to attack Iraq, will alienate important allies and undermine the United Nations. Perhaps it will, by asserting its leadership, put both cowards and dictators on notice. There is no agreement on whether American forces can get rid of Hussein, and at what cost in American and innocent Iraqi lives. Some say ousting Iraq is the linchpin in America’s war on terror, others say it is a distraction.

Many Jews are inclined to agree with former Vice President Al Gore, whom they supported overwhelmingly for president in 2000. In a speech earlier this week in San Francisco, Gore bashed into Bush’s Iraq policy and called it a smoke screen for his failure to extirpate Al Qaeda. Or perhaps Jews would agree instead with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Gore’s former running mate. On Oct. 15, Lieberman said the United States must be "unflinching in our determination to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq before he, emboldened by Sept. 11, strikes at us with weapons of mass destruction." That’s right: he said it Oct. 15, 2001.

The sides in this debate do not split Democrat and Republican, left and right, hawkish and dovish. As numerous pundits have pointed out, many experts with actual combat experience oppose rushing into war, while many of the officials who favor it never saw a uniform, much less combat.

Israelis, who have seen much terror and war, support immediate American military action against Hussein. Perhaps more than any other country besides Iraq, Israel will feel the war’s effect. Some argue that war on Iraq will bring about an immediate and perhaps devastating attack on Israel. Other experts say the Iraqi threat to Israel will only increase, so better to stop it now.

With so much in dispute, are there any points of accord? Nobody likes Hussein. Experts agree that he is developing and stockpiling chemical and biological weapons, and at least trying to develop nuclear ones. But how soon will he be able to deliver these weapons, and, knowing the cost, why would Hussein, the consummate survivor, even want to? On these points, experts disagree.

No wonder, then, when GOP officials asked Jewish leaders to get behind the president’s resolution on Iraq, the leaders offered only qualified support for now. The board of the Union of American Hebrew Congregation voted in favor of U.S. action against Iraq, on the condition that the United States first try all possible diplomatic solutions and that Bush not act with explicit congressional support, Besser reported. The American Jewish Congress is working out a statement of support, as is The Conference of President of Major Jewish Organizations. The Conference represents 52 Jewish organizations nationwide and speaks to elected officials as the consensus voice of American Jewry. Its opinion in such sweeping policy matters can be important. Ideally, it reflects the positions of its member groups, which receive input from their constituents, like you.

But how do you go about deciding whether to support the Bush resolution or not? By turning to Bush. The president, in speeches, articles, interviews and especially in press conferences, needs to be as precise and as forthcoming as possible. He needs to provide, as Sen. Arlen Spector (R.-Pa.) has written, "information amplifying the specifics on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction; the precise details concerning U.N. efforts to conduct inspections in Iraq, and Iraq’s refusals; the type of a military action necessary to topple Hussein, including estimates of American casualties, and how a post-war regime in Iraq is envisioned."

The president has yet to do this, and the ball is in his court.

Shifting Gears

"It’s not someone else’s problem. It’s our problem." The problem Devorah Shubowitz is talking about: poverty.

Over the summer, Shubowitz worked with Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) to study the Jewish working poor in Los Angeles.

Through CLUE, more than 400 religious leaders throughout Los Angeles County have already helped hundreds of workers unionize for better wages, and helped refugees threatened with deportation to become citizens. Now the efforts of CLUE, and the Jewish interns who worked with the organization this summer, are focused on extending those successes, bringing awareness of the working poor to congregations throughout Los Angeles.

Shubowitz came to CLUE from New York, where she teaches at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, a center for women’s advanced study of classical Jewish texts. Mark Goodman and Jennifer Flam, rabbinical students at the University of Judaism, also worked with CLUE over the summer. In addition to studying the problem of the Jewish working poor in Los Angeles, their summer internship included helping organize Santa Monica residents of all faiths to support a living wage initiative for hotel workers, and reviving the "Sanctuary" movement of the 1980s.

With inspiration from the prophets (Goodman likes to quote from Jeremiah because, "All he ever talked about was ‘We must have done something wrong and you haven’t been good to other people,’") the Jewish interns at CLUE worked all summer with clergy and lay leaders of all faiths in support of social action. "It was a summer internship," Flam said, "but it’s a life’s work."

The big project for CLUE these days is on the November ballot in Santa Monica. Measure JJ, the Living Wage initiative, would increase wages for as many as 2,000 hotel workers in Santa Monica’s coastal tourist zone. In the wake of a Labor Day project called "Labor in the Pulpit," in which CLUE-affiliated clergy delivered sermons on the issue, the group plans to hold a get-out-the vote kickoff event on Sept. 22, featuring a performance by folk group Peter, Paul and Mary at Santa Monica City Hall. "CLUE is a bridge between both sides," Flam said, "We’re not bound to the unions, and there are ethical business owners who work with us."

For workers who have been lost their jobs for their unionizing or living wage efforts, CLUE is reviving the Sanctuary program, first used in the 1980s when thousands of workers were threatened with deportation, often back to repressive regimes. CLUE encourages clergy and congregations to publicly support the fired workers. "Even though people are not losing their lives this time, they are losing their livelihoods," Flam said of the program.

One of the biggest problems the CLUE interns faced in trying to bring Jewish congregations into the fight for economic justice was in presenting the working poor as a "Jewish" problem. Working with the Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, CLUE’s executive director, and local rabbis including Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom and Steven Carr Reuben of Kehillat Israel, CLUE’s interns supplemented their organizing efforts with a study of poverty among Jews in Los Angeles. They found that, "Poverty among working people also plagues the Jewish community here," Goodman said. And the solution requires more than money.

"The Jewish response to poverty has been more about giving than creating societal change," Shubowitz said. "The problem won’t be alleviated by giving people food."

To support that societal change, Shubowitz, Goodman and Flam undertook a study of Jewish working poor in Los Angeles. Starting with figures provided by a Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles study, they interviewed Jewish workers, counselors at Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles and local rabbis. They found Jewish workers, primarily immigrants from the Former Soviet Union or Israel, who worked solely for tips, or below the minimum wage, without any type of health insurance, even after years at the same jobs — the same conditions that non-Jewish low-wage workers face. "Our purpose has been to demonstrate the connection between Jewish poverty and poverty at large," Shubowitz said, "We have the same problems — immigration, lack of organization to fight this problem. It’s important the Jewish community get connected with other communities doing this work."

"At least 13 percent of Jews in the Los Angeles area make below $10,000 a year," said Flam, citing the Federation study, "When we

This year, the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, which has treated more than 500 victims of terrorist attacks, including those from the Passover massacre in Netanya, received $250,000 toward its intensive care trauma unit. Sheba Medical Center received $135,000 toward a portable ultrasound system. And Natal, an Israeli trauma center, received $200,000. All the funds came from L.A. Jews.

Over this past year, during which some of the most insidious and relentless suicide bombings in Israel’s history have occurred, these Israeli institutions, as well as dozens of others, have received — and will continue to receive — millions of dollars in emergency funds, thanks to Los Angeles’ Jewish community.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, through its Jews in Crisis (JIC) campaign, funneled emergency funding to Israel within a short window of time. A roster of emergency agencies and trauma centers, mostly based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, have received millions of dollars earmarked toward everything from hospitals to children’s education and bomb-sniffing dogs.

"Our goal was to raise $10 million for Israel as part of our share of the $300 million campaign nationwide [sponsored by United Jewish Committee of North America, the umbrella agency for all Jewish federations]," Herb Gelfand, chairman of Los Angeles’ successful JIC campaign, told The Journal. "We also wanted to raise $2 million for Argentina. We’ve raised $18 million. We’re over the national goal [by $8 million]."

In just a few months, The Federation’s JIC was able to bring together a windfall of contributions raised from the community, Federation-sponsored events and a plethora of parlor meetings — fundraising receptions held at the private homes of affluent Jewish individuals. But with the year winding down, The Federation is now shifting gears in its fundraising goals.

"It isn’t over," Gelfand said. "We’ll continue to raise [JIC] money, mainly through direct solicitations, but we’re moving into the end of the regular campaign, and we’re careful not to interfere with that, because the regular campaign feeds into The Federation’s core services and our constituents here and in Israel."

Ed Robin, who, along with Stanley Gold, is co-chair of the Israel and Overseas Committee at The Federation and is in charge of the JIC’s allocations process, said that JIC and the annual campaign are related.

"The general campaign funds the main social services — the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency," Robin said. "The needs we tried to fund with JIC were specifically toward the crisis."

The JIC’s success owes much to the parlor meetings, which became a galvanizing local phenomenon, particularly after the March 27 Passover massacre. Gelfand estimated that about half of JIC’s total came from parlor meetings.

"Contributors were very eager to do something," Robin said. "The JIC [through parlor meetings] gave them a tangible outlet to express their concern."

Gelfand credited The Federation’s Annette Shapiro and Fredi Rembaum for organizing the meetings. But a key element to JIC’s efficiency, organizers said, was The Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, unique to Los Angeles’ Federation, which lent the campaign its focus and cohesiveness.

The long-running partnership — a network of collaborations with Israeli scientists, schools and human service agencies, which until February was directed in Los Angeles by Rembaum — was able to identify Israel’s needs and rally JIC’s efforts by April, rather than June, when most federations organized their JIC campaigns.

In addition to parlor meetings, The Federation sponsored missions to Israel to generate awareness of JIC and its efforts, such as the early June entourage during which The Federation presented contributions to various agencies, singles missions and a late summer mission that sent actor-comedian Larry Miller and others to visit campers at the Jaffa Institute for the Advancement of Children.

Los Angeles’ humanitarian efforts, consolidated by The Federation through JIC, have provided substantial financial support for continuation of programs. The efforts represented an important statement of solidarity, according to spokespersons at the beneficiary agencies in Israel.

"The gift has been like receiving a dose of oxygen, because it will enable us to purchase essential equipment that we immediately need," said Talia Zaks, deputy executive director of ZAKA. She said the $87,000 that was received will go toward the volunteer-staffed organization, which provides first aid and collects body parts for proper Jewish burial after every terrorist attack. "This money will help us save as many lives as possible," she said.

The Jaffa Institute, which shelters underprivileged children, has worked with The Federation before. JIC raised $50,000 to help the institute build a security fence to prevent terrorists from penetrating its Beit Shemesh campus.

"My immediate reaction," said Dr. David Portowicz, Jaffa Institute’s chairman, "was that I could sleep better at night knowing that the 300 children in my charge are not exposed to the risk of a terrorist attack."

Akiva Holtzer, spokesman for Bikur Cholim Hospital, a public facility in Jerusalem, said that its $25,000 gift will go toward trauma center equipment.

"We appreciate the fact that Jewish people worldwide think about us and want to help us," Holtzer said. "The fund will help us provide better services."

"This was the largest gift we’ve received from any federation in North America," said Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, Natal director of development, of its $200,000 grant. "We were overwhelmed by the generosity of Los Angeles Jewry, and very encouraged by the effort made by the delegation of L.A Jews who visited us in June."

"The [JIC] campaign is providing direct support to nongovernmental agencies that are working directly with individuals," said Marty Karp, The Federation’s senior vice president for Israel and Overseas, who is based in Israel. "It is not only providing cash support to help individuals return to good health from physical injuries and psychological anguish, but is also helping those that support them."

Gelfand noted that this year’s general campaign, stimulated by JIC, is on the verge of being the strongest since 1990. "If things go where we expect it to go," Gelfand said, "we’ll raise $45 million in the general campaign, in addition to a $19 million Jews In Crisis campaign."

This would be an improvement over recent years, when the slowing of the economy and the dot-com crash affected The Federation’s fundraising, Gelfand added.

But with the success of this year’s emergency relief effort, will there be a need for a JIC campaign next year?

"It depends on what happens in Israel," Gelfand said. "About 50 of us are going to Israel in October, when we’ll get a better idea. Of course, there will always be a need. But let’s hope that the next six months will bring a relative calm.

"The community has responded extremely well and very generously, as it always does," he added.

Open France’s Eyes to Hatred

Although Shelley Ventura-Cohen had been to France several times before as a tourist with an interest in French culture,this visit — on an American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) mission to counteract French anti-Semitism — was unique.

"The difference was, that this time I went with passion," said the Los Angeles psychologist. "And I went with a spirit of connection to the French and Belgian Jews. Anti-Semitism in France affects Jews everywhere, and I went to France knowing that there had to be a determined and fitting anger about it, and a profound need for dialogue with the French government."

Ventura-Cohen was one of nine participants on the July mission, which also included L.A. residents Gary Ratner, executive director of the AJCongress Pacific Southwest Region; David Suissa of Suissa-Miller advertising agency, and founder and editor of OLAM magazine, and Dr. Steven Teitelbaum, AJCongress Pacific Southwest Region president. The mission was organized against a backdrop of 1,000 anti-Semitic incidents that had occurred in France since the start of the Al-Aksa intifada — incidents that appear as a hideous epilogue to a history that has sustained both Dreyfus and Vichy. The mission comprised of meetings with French government ministers, officials at the European Union, leaders of the French Jewish community, and French Jewish intellectual groups. Besides offering solidarity and support to French Jews, the aim of the mission was to probe and prod politicians, who for the past year had treated the problem of the growing number of anti-Semitic battery, harassment and vandalism incidents evasively, failing to take measures that acknowledged the seriousness of the problem.

"One had to call attention to the fact that the French government tolerated the ridiculousness of anti-Semitism," said AJCongress President Jack Rosen, who headed the mission.

The mission arrived in France at the dawn of a new government, and many of the politicians the group met with, while not willing to admit that anti-Semitism was a problem in France, were eager to cast blame on their predecessors for their laxity in dealing with anti-Semitic crimes. Both the minister of justice and the interior minister assured the group that there had been a decrease in incidents since the new government was elected, and that from now on, tougher sentences would be handed out. They all tried to dissuade the group of the notion that anti-Semitism was endemic to French society — they explained it instead as a problem that was isolated among the millions of disaffected Arab migrants from places like Algeria and Tunisia.

Others were more circumspect about the situation, and urged the AJCongress to be vigilant about taking action. "Don’t be lured by smiles and other pleasing talk from the government," warned Michel Gurfinkel, the editor of a French weekly. "You don’t have SS men walking down the street, but the situation is very bad. The country has gone over the border."

Pierre Lellouche, a Harvard-educated French parliamentarian, explained that what was happening in France was that a new kind of anti-Semitism was arising, one that was championed by the extreme left. "You have the media in Europe and in France beating down on Israel as a butcher every day, and a lot of the good-faith guys are absolutely convinced that the bad guys are the Jews and the good guys are the Arabs, which means that you can be openly anti-Semitic in France today, in the name of anti-racism," he said.

Lellouche is championing a bill that will make a crime out of anti-Semitic or racist intentions on acts of aggression or battery either on persons or property

The mission encountered hostility on the trip to the European Union in Brussels, which began with a meeting with officials from the office of Chris Patten, the European commissioner for external relations, who acknowledged that they agreed with Cherie Blair’s comments about the desperation of suicide bombers — they thought suicide bombings had achieved a lot for the Palestinians politically, and tried to convince the group that long tourist lines outside of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam surely proves that there is no anti-Semitism in Europe today. After a day of meetings at the European Union, which included friendlier dialogue with Javier Solana and other policy chiefs (they even served a kosher lunch) — the group got back on the bus to find that someone had placed a Palestinian flag there, a sign that the group’s presence was resented.

Despite the current situation, Jews have thrived over the years in France, which makes the problem of anti-Semitism all the more urgent to combat.

"There are 600,000 Jews in France today," said Stephane Friedfeld, who was the group’s French guide, "and as a Jew, I can say that there are problems, but I am proud to be Jewish in France today."

Jewish Republicans in Orange County

Hoping to capitalize on President Bush’s support of Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) revived its local chapter. The group held its first organizational meeting last month at Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach — the county’s most Republican-registered city and home of the Lincoln Club for locally prominent GOP insiders.

More than 100 Jewish Republicans heard from Matt Brooks, national director of RJC, which in 1998 sponsored then-candidate George W. Bush on a trip to Israel. The interest group’s aim is to raise the awareness in elected officials about hot-button issues with American Jewry, says Scott E. Gluck, RJC’s California organizer and former campaign deputy to defeated gubernatorial candidate Richard Riordan.

An earlier local chapter atrophied without committed leaders, says one political activist. The local GOP lists 24 other politically aligned groups, including Republican Arab Americans and Korean Americans.

Be Careful With ‘Terrorism’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Briefs

U.N. Workers Killed

Two U.N. observers were shot and killed, reportedly by Palestinian gunmen, in the West Bank. The members of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron were using a road frequented by Israeli settlers when their car was shot at, according to Israeli military officials. A third member, who was lightly wounded, told Israel Radio that the group was attacked by a single gunman wearing a Palestinian Authority police uniform. Palestinian officials denied any Palestinian involvement and said Israeli soldiers were reponsible.

Jewish Leaders Meet Alongside NATO

Jewish leaders from 10 Eastern European nations gathered in the shadow of a NATO summit in Bucharest to discuss Holocaust-related issues. Organized by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Jewish conference came as prime ministers of 10 Eastern European nations met in the Romanian capital to examine possible admission to NATO. The Jewish leaders addressed communal property restitution, Holocaust memory, anti-Semitism and media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. NATO’s 19-member military alliance is expected to add seven new members in November, and among the most pressing criteria is a nation’s human rights record, including Jewish affairs. Prominent members of the Romanian government attended the roundtable with Jewish leaders from Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Jewish leaders in Albania and Slovakia sent written reports.

Arabs Encouraged to Leave

Israeli right-wing activists are encouraging the emigration of Israeli Arab citizens and Palestinians from Israel and the West Bank, Army Radio reported. Working with the Moledet Party, the right-wingers are locating overseas places of work, study and residence for interested Arab applicants. The activists are advertising their services in Arab-language newspapers and universities. Moledet is part of the National Union-Israel, Our Home bloc founded by Rehavam Ze’evi, the tourism minister assassinated in October.

Pro-Hitler Magazine in Brazil

Brazilian Jewish activists are protesting a pro-Hitler magazine. Articles in Humanus magazine praise Hitler, call Sigmund Freud a sexual pervert and “reveal the true Jewish Albert Einstein.” The magazine is widening its distribution and can be found in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city.

Slovakian Skinheads Arrested

Slovak police are charging 15 skinheads with promoting fascism. The neo-Nazis were arrested during a recent raid on a hotel disco in which police also seized neo-Nazi CDs and anti-Semitic books. Police said eyewitnesses saw skinheads using Nazi salutes and shouting racist slogans outside the hotel before the disco started. This was the second major raid by police on neo-Nazi activities in central Slovakia in recent weeks.

FBI Investigating Viriginian

The FBI has accused two men of attempting to travel to Israel to become suicide bombers last December. An FBI investigation found that Mohammed Idris and a companion, who tried to enter Israel after flying from New York on El Al, had been carrying a letter from Idris’ brother noting Idris’ plans to wage jihad, or holy war. The letter, written in Arabic, is described as a farewell letter. Idris and his companion were denied entry and sent back to New York. Idris also was accused of lying to a Virginia grand jury about his views on the Middle East and the use of suicide bombers and of falsifying documents to obtain a new passport.

P.A. Pays $7 million

The Palestinian Authority has paid the United States $7 million in taxes it assessed on U.S. foreign aid. After requests from Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the Palestinian Authority returned the money it had collected as taxes for goods and services purchased by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which distributed U.S. foreign aid to the West Bank and Gaza, and USAID’s grantees and contractors. The Palestinian Authority previously agreed to grant USAID a tax-free status but had not paid back taxes collected.

Israel Program Courts Singles

Birthright Israel is offering a trip to Israel for Jewish singles. The program, which offers free, first-time 10-day trips to Israel for young Jewish adults, is offering the trips over the summer in conjunction with the Jewish Web site JDate.

JNF Wins Israel Prize

The Jewish National Fund won an Israel Prize for Life Work. The award, which will be presented on April 17 in Jerusalem, is being given to the group on its 100th anniversary.

Soldiers to Hear From Mom

Israeli soldiers originally from France will hear their mothers’ voices in a special Army Radio program on Passover Eve. The Jewish Agency in Israel, Army Radio and Radio-J, a French Jewish radio station, put the program together.

Help Afghan Quake Victims

The American Jewish World Service established a relief mailbox for victims of this week’s earthquakes in Afghanistan. Contributions can be sent to American Jewish World Service, 45 W. 36th St., 10th Flr., New York, N.Y., 10018, or via the Web at At least 1,500 people are estimated to have been killed in the quakes.

Lubavitch Meet Bush

A delegation of Lubavitch rabbis met with President Bush in the White House. The president signed a proclamation in honor of late Lubavitch Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s 100th birthday, designating the day as Education is Sharing Day. Bush talked of the strength of faith and bringing people together and the importance of religious freedom, particularly in Russia. The rabbis also thanked Bush for his efforts to protect Israel’s stability.

All briefs courtesy of JTA

World Briefs

Righteous Who Saved Jews Honored

Almost 60 years after they risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust, a Dutch couple and a one-time Polish partisan will be honored as Righteous Among the Nations on Sunday, Feb. 17 at the annual luncheon of the 1939 Club.

Accepting the honors, conferred by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance authority, will be Jacek “Jack” Stocki and Hans Siegenthaler, the son of the late Hugo and Wijbrigje Siegenthaler.

Stocki (also known as Stocki-Sosnowski) was a 23-year-old jeweler and goldsmith in Krakow. After the Nazis occupied the city, Stocki paid a large bribe to spring one Jewish acquaintance from a Gestapo prison and then led the friend and another young Jew in an escape to Hungary.

When the German army took over Budapest, Stocki paid for surgical operations to “uncircumcise” the two Jewish men, which allowed them to pass as gentiles when confronted by the SS. Later, Stocki returned to Poland to fight as a partisan and then with the Polish army in exile.

Now an 82-year-old resident of Woodland Hills, Stocki cited his mother’s influence for his attitude toward Jews.

“My mother was a devout Catholic, who demanded from her children both discipline and altruism,” Stocki said. “She insisted that we help others in distress, and she was the first to help Jews after the Nazis came.”

Following the German conquest of Holland in 1940, the Siegenthalers, who lived in the town of Enschede, took in Annie Sanders Van Dam, a Jewish woman from Amsterdam, and hid her throughout the war, while her son found refuge in another house.

In addition, the Siegenthalers gave shelter to several other Jews. Their son will accept the honor for his late parents.

The younger Siegenthaler, a resident of Northridge, said that while his father was born Catholic and his mother Protestant, neither practiced their religions.

“They had Jewish friends and did what they could. There was nothing to discuss,” he said.

The native countries of the honorees, Poland and Holland, saw higher proportions of their Jewish populations slaughtered than any other countries in Europe, but also provided, by a wide margin, the largest number of gentile rescuers.

Of the more than 19,000 Righteous Among the Nations listed by Yad Vashem, 5,632 were Poles and 4,464 were Dutch.

At the ceremony on Sunday, Israeli Deputy Consul General Zvi Vapni will present short video clips he created of the honorees deeds, while Consul General Yuval Rotem will confer the Yad Vashem medals and certificates.

Also to be feted at the noon luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel will be filmmaker Jon Avnet for his docudrama, “Uprising,” commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto revolt.

For information, call Sonia Rosenwald at (310) 276-5401. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Educating the Educators

On Feb. 7, The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) “The Holocaust and the Media: The Role of the Media in Implementation of the Holocaust” and the L.A. Museum of the Holocaust’s 19th annual “Music as Survival, Music as Resistance, Music as Response” aimed to provide teachers with the tools necessary to inform their students about the Holocaust from several different perspectives.

Noted historian and author Dr. Michael Berenbaum was the first speaker in the “Holocaust and the Media” series that will continue every Thursday through March 7 at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). Berenbaum’s lecture and film, “The Holocaust: The Untold Story,” delved into the American media’s failure to accurately report on the war against the Jews until it was too late.

The event was co-sponsored by the ADL, Survivors of the Shoah History Foundation, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and HUC-JIR.

Completion of the series will qualify the 17 LAUSD teachers in attendance for one unit toward a salary increase.

United Teachers of Los Angeles, the LAUSD and the Bureau of Jewish Education hosted the program at the L.A. Museum of the Holocaust. Featuring speakers, musicians and interactive sessions, the program focused on the idea that music has long been a tool of Jewish survival.

“Music is very important,” said Masha Loen, executive secretary and coordinator for the museum. “It has always been a part of Jewish life. Even while hopelessness weighed upon the Jews during the Holocaust, rabbis instructed Jews to pray and sing.”

Loen and volunteer chairs, Miriam Bell, Marie Kaufman and Dana Schwartz, were instrumental in organizing the event. — Rachel Brand, Contributing Writer

Israeli Singer Convicted of Bigamy

Singer and composer Matti Caspi, one of the dominant forces in Israeli popular music over the past 30 years, was convicted of bigamy last week in a Tel Aviv magistrate’s court.

The convoluted case, which has been dragging through the Israeli courts and media for 12 years, also involved Los Angeles Rabbi Gabriel Cohen in a controversial role.

In 1990, Caspi filed in the Tel Aviv rabbinical court for divorce from his wife of 15 years, Doreen, and the mother of his two children. As the divorce proceedings grew increasingly bitter and public, Caspi moved to Los Angeles with his girlfriend, Rachel Wenger.

While Caspi was living in Los Angeles, Cohen granted him a divorce in 1994, and Caspi subsequently married Wenger in a civil ceremony. The couple has two daughters.

In his ruling in Tel Aviv, Judge Daniel Be’eri castigated Cohen and said he believes administrative steps should be taken by the rabbinical court against Cohen for granting Caspi a divorce.

However, in a phone interview, Cohen defended himself by saying that prior to granting the divorce, he had spent almost a year trying to get a ruling from the Tel Aviv rabbinical court.

Cohen then granted the divorce, after which Caspi’s attorney asked for a ruling from the chief rabbinical court in Jerusalem, which, according to Cohen, confirmed the validity of the divorce.

In any case, Cohen maintained, no secular court, whether in Israel or the United States, could overturn a divorce decree granted by rabbinical authority.

Cohen is the rabbi of Congregation Bais Naftali on La Brea Avenue. He emphasized that he did not even know that Caspi was a celebrity at the time the singer contacted him. “I helped Caspi as I would any other Jew,” Cohen said.

Caspi’s sentencing hearing is to take place in about a month. Although under Israeli law, Caspi could receive a five-year prison sentence, he may be sentenced to three years or less, in accordance with California law. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Grants for Young Entrepreneurs

Applications for 2003 Joshua Venture Fellowship Grants are now being accepted and due by April 1, 2002. Eight $60,000, two-year grants will go to “social entrepreneurs” with project proposals for Jewish revival projects, strengthening Jewish identity and activism.

Applicants must be between the ages of 21 to 35 and demonstrate a track record of entrepreneurial leadership. For more information or to submit a proposal, visit or call (415) 929-4989. — Mike Levy, Staff Writer

LAUSD Quran Controversy Resolved

A controversy over anti-Semitic references in a translation of the Quran sent to Los Angeles public schools has been resolved to the apparent satisfaction of both Jewish and Muslim community representatives.

At a meeting Feb. 11, called by the Los Angeles Unified School District, participants agreed to permanently withdraw “The Meaning of the Holy Quran” from school libraries and to appoint a committee to review future books explaining different religious faiths.

The book that triggered the flap, a 1934 translation of the Quran with footnotes and commentaries, described Jews at various points as “illiterate,” “arrogant” and “men without faith.”

Some 300 copies had been donated last month by the Omar Ibn Khattab Foundation to the school district and were distributed without the customary content review to middle and high schools.

After a history teacher complained about the anti-Semitic references, the book was withdrawn form school libraries.

Dafer Dakhil, head of the Islamic foundation, apologized for the anti-Jewish commentaries at the closed-door meeting and agreed to the book’s withdrawal, according to one participant, Michael Hirschfeld, executive director of The Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee.

“We had a very cordial meeting and there was general agreement that the Omar Ibn Khattab Foundation had donated the Quran translations without any malicious intent,” Hirschfeld said in a phone interview.

Also participating in the meeting was Marjorie Green, western states education director for the Anti-Defamation League.

On the Muslim side, representatives included Salam Al-Marayati and Dr. Maher Hathout, two leading spokesmen of their community.

The cordiality of the meeting was taken as a sign of reduced friction between Southern California’s large Jewish and Muslim communities, which had been on the rise over the past year. ” — TT

Bush Backed — Finally

With the launch of the U.S.-led war on terrorism, American Jewish leaders are rallying behind Washington.

At the same time, anxiety that Israel’s interests may be shunted aside seems to be dissipating.

In the weeks since Sept. 11, the administration appears to have acted upon the realpolitik equation that beginning with a narrow goal — going after Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist network — would garner a broad international coalition. Pursuing a broader goal from the get-go, such as eradicating all terrorism, might result in a narrower coalition.

In the run-up to Sunday’s initial airstrikes against Afghanistan, two well-publicized dust-ups over the administration’s course hinted at Jewish and Israeli dissent, and perhaps a schism within American Jewry.

Many Israelis and American Jewish leaders felt blindsided amid news reports that the Bush administration had been prepared to launch a new Israeli- Palestinian peace initiative and declare support for a Palestinian state.

Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, was quoted as describing such policy — perceived as a leak to entice more Arab states into the anti-terrorism coalition — as "a very short-sighted and erroneous policy" that would reward the Palestinians for their past year of violence against Israel.

Zuckerman later said his words had been taken out of context and misunderstood.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon then expressed the fears of many Israelis when he warned the Bush administration not "to appease the Arabs at our expense," invoking the infamous appeasement of Hitler in 1938 when the West sold out Czechoslovakia in an effort to avoid a wider European war.

Sharon’s speech sparked a diplomatic tiff, and a schism appeared to be developing in the American Jewish community as the weekend approached, when some 50 Jewish leaders wrote a letter of support to Bush.

Sharon and the White House reportedly patched up relations over the weekend, before the airstrikes.

And on Monday, with America embarked upon a new military campaign, Jewish leaders voiced their support — and banked on off-the-record reassurances from Washington that the anti-terrorist dragnet likely will extend beyond bin Laden and his network to include enemies of Israel such as Hamas and Hezbollah. (The U.S. State Department last Friday issued a biannual list of foreign terrorist organizations that includes Hamas, Hezbollah and other groups that perpetrate terrorist attacks against Israel. But the significance of the list — which is unrelated to Bush’s executive order on 27 terrorist organizations — is unclear in light of the new U.S. war against terrorism.)

Most Jewish leaders expressed the belief that U.S. and Israeli interests more or less coincide.

"There is broad consensus and support for the administration, both for what it’s doing right now and for going after the global terrorist infrastructure, to not make it a one-shot deal," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents.

"If you address those who are a part of this terrorist network, you are enhancing Israel’s security, in addition to America’s security and interests."

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group for Jewish communal organizations nationwide, was also backing the president.

"We support the direction in which the president is going, and it’s important we go on record saying so," said Martin Raffel, the group’s associate director.

"It’s not a question of ‘wait and see’; we support the president based on what he’s said, that we’re striking out against those who use violence against civilians," Raffel said. "This is the beginning, but certainly not the end, of the campaign against terrorism."

Meanwhile, to the left and right of the mainstream, views were predictably mixed about the appearance that Washington was linking the Palestinian issue to the anti-terrorism campaign.

Numerous analysts and Middle Easterners — including bin Laden himself — have pointed to the Arab-Israeli conflict as one of the main sources, if not the primary one, of anti-American anger in the Muslim world.

The Israel Policy Forum (IPF), while praising the Bush administration’s steps against terrorism, also welcomed its renewed push to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

"The Arab-Israeli conflict, with few exceptions, has only moved forward with help from the Americans," said Tom Smerling, director of the IPF’s Washington Policy Center.

"Parties involved in deep conflict are almost never able to extricate themselves without third-party involvement."

On the other side of the spectrum, though, Morton Klein, the national president of the Zionist Organization of America, said Bush had done "serious damage" to Israel’s attempts to repel Palestinian violence.

While stressing his support for Bush’s efforts to fight terror, Klein warned: "By saying he has a vision for a Palestinian state, he is whetting the appetite of the Arabs to continue their terrorism. He pledged that we will end all regimes that harbor terrorists, but then he turned around and asks precisely those regimes to join the coalition. That proves Sharon’s charge that he is appeasing regimes of great danger to Israel."

Still, Klein implied that the fight ultimately would be broadened, to Israel’s benefit.

"I remain confident that, overall, Bush’s policies will be of benefit to both the United States and Israel," he said.

To destroy only bin Laden and the Taliban, he said, "while allowing the others to continue with business as usual will mean we’ll lose the war on terrorism. He will have to destroy them, or terrorism will persist."

Trying to Talk

Relations between Southern California’s 600,000 Jews and 500,000 Muslims, which have been marked by roller coaster-like ups and downs over a 50-year history, have hit near bottom in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

With more than 200 hate crimes against Arab Americans reported nationally since then, some here are trying to decrease tensions between the Muslim and Jews communities.

The most recent attempts at building bridges between leaders of the two communities — named the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue — was already on hold before Sept. 11, in the wake of the bitterness engendered by the intifada.

But the dialogue returned to the news last week after a prominent Muslim participant suggested that Israel be considered a suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca convened his own version of Oslo to help address fears and prejudices.

Baca enlisted the support of Rabbi Stephen Jacobs of Kol Tikvah and Dr. Nazir Khaja of the Islamic Information Group to bring members of the Jewish and Islamic communities together and open the dialogue between faiths.

“It ultimately has to come from the hearts and minds of the people,” Baca said.

In 1999, Khaja, a Palestinian American, negotiated alongside Jesse Jackson for the release of four Americans being held hostage by Slobodan Milosevic.

“Out of 1.2 billion Muslims, 80 percent are non-Arab,” Khaja told The Journal. “They live in Southern Asia and the Far East. They don’t speak Arabic; have very little knowledge of it. Yet the authentic source of Islam is in Arabic. They are left to rely solely on second-hand teaching from leaders who have gained the knowledge of Arabic and teach these masses their own version of Islam with their own agendas attached.”

Since his move to the United States in 1972, Khaja trained at Harvard University-affiliated hospitals in Boston and then moved to Los Angeles, where he has been a clinical assistant professor at UCLA School of Medicine. Realizing there was very little information about Islam in Los Angeles, Khaja founded the Islamic Information Service. On the way to Belgrade, Khaja met Rabbi Stephen Jacobs.

“If there is a positive to this huge tragedy, it is the relationships that can be built and mended, as well as a recognition of the Arab Americans in this country,” Khaja said.

On the eve of Rosh Hashana, in front of some 2,500 congregants, Jacobs shared a letter written by Usman Farman, a young Pakistani man from New York. A Chassidic Jew rescued Farman as he lay in front of the World Trade Center. “Help came from the least expected place, and goes only to show, that we are all in this together … regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. Those are principles that this country was founded on,” Jacobs said.

But that coming together was jolted less than a week after the initiation of interfaith meetings when Arab American leader Salam Al-Marayati told KCRW radio host Warren Olney that Israel is a state which might ultimately benefit from the terrorism in New York.

According to the show’s transcript, Al-Marayati said at one point, “If we’re going to look at suspects, we should look to the groups that benefit the most from these kinds of incidents, and I think we should put the State of Israel on the suspect list because I think this diverts attention from what’s happening in the Palestinian territories so that they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies.”

Al-Marayati subsequently told the Los Angeles Times that the quotation was accurate but taken out of context, and he sent a “clarification” to Jewish leaders.

These actions did not mollify David Lehrer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, who told the Times, “I’ve had a long relationship with Salam, and I am so disillusioned with what he has done in the past week as to not be interested in engaging in a dialogue with him.”

Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood, a veteran dialogue participant, labeled Al-Marayati’s statement “so offensive and provocative that I am in crisis as to whether I am going to stay in the dialogue.”

Further raising Jewish ire were several anti-Zionist articles in the local Muslim magazine, Minaret. The publication went to press before Sept. 11, but angered Jewish leaders, who noted that the editor, Aslam Abdullah, was a longtime dialogue partner and so-called moderate.

Muslims, in turn, protested when the Simon Wiesenthal Center posted a photo on its Web site showing cheering Palestinians as they celebrated the suicide attacks on New York and Washington.

Charging that the photo fanned “the flames of ethnic and religious hatred,” a handful of Muslims held a brief press conference in front of the Wiesenthal Center.

The photo was removed from the Web site after the Associated Press, which had sent out the picture, removed it from circulation, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean.

Into this heated arena, a somewhat unexpected peacemaker has come to the front: Lee Baca, sheriff of Los Angeles County.

Baca, a Latino elected public official, brought together spiritual leaders from five synagogues and five mosques shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

A second interfaith meeting, convened by Baca on Thursday, Sept. 20, drew elected officials and some 70 participants, representing the spectrum of the county’s religions. The Journal was the only media present.

In contrast to past Jewish-Muslim dialogues, in which the Jewish representation heavily outnumbered the Muslim one, the situation was reversed at the Baca meeting.

Gov. Gray Davis, Supervisor Zev Yaroslovsky and County Mayor Mike Antonovich sat beside Baca at the meeting.

Addressing religious leaders from Muslim, Jewish and Christian groups, Davis asked them to “make your views known in a strong way.” Urging leaders to “prove to ourselves and the state, if we live here, we are Americans and all one people. We must condemn violence against any group.”

Many leaders pleaded with officials to stop media outlets and other groups from making the situation worse. “The message resonates more fully when it comes from the clerics and community members to which it was directed. My words are not as useful or as powerful as yours,” Davis responded.

Yaroslovsky discussed the “nervousness in the Jewish community,” asking leaders to “protect civil liberties and not scapegoat issues.”

Baca asked the leaders to “come in with a kinder heart. Don’t think privately and speak out publicly to unveil your prejudices to the public. What we say here can’t be minimized by other actions in other forms in other places. If I did that as sheriff, it would be a breach of my responsibility to protect. I ask you to reach that level of agreement with yourself.”

Rabbi Leonard Beerman, a longtime participant in Jewish-Muslim dialogue, said: “We can’t expect to agree on some of the critical issues. It doesn’t mean we cannot see the humanity of the other people.

“The discussion should focus on the fact that Jews and Muslims have a right to be who they are. If we could try to keep our eye on the ball and the central issue, we would see that Israelis and Palestinians have a right to their own identities,” Beerman added.

Rabbi Marc Dworkin of Leo Baeck Temple said one way to keep dialogue going is to keep discussion local. “The task at hand is to heal our community. People are traumatized,” he said. “Pakistani Muslims are afraid to send their kids to school. Human civil rights are for everyone. Once there is a relationship between people and trust, we can take on the difficult issues.”

Shocked, Shocked

This Marc Rich story has legs and then some. Bill Clinton’s last-moment pardon of the indicted billionaire commodities trader has, like so many of the former president’s actions, created a cottage industry in sleazy revelation.

The scandals change, but their essential elements remain constant: the morally if not criminally questionable act, a media feeding frenzy, blood-lust among the president’s enemies and hand-wringing and some attrition among his friends.

The Rich case has the added twist of featuring more Jews than a Neil Simon stage memoir. Last week, Jewish groups lambasted their friend, the ex-president, for saying that in pardoning Rich he was in part following the advice of close friends in the Jewish community and Israel. The list of those who wrote letters or made phone calls on Rich’s behalf is long and varied: Ehud Barak, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman, Rabbi Irving Greenberg, and Israelis from left-wing Shulamit Aloni to right-wing Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert. One way of ensuring Jewish unity, Rich found, is to pay for it.

That brings us to the one other inevitable feature of a Clinton scandal: hypocrisy. In the Lewinsky debacle there were Clinton’s inquisitors, whose defiantly crossed arms obscured their own scarlet A’s. In the Rich mess, there are Jewish leaders who stood up for the billionaire after he had made substantial contributions to their causes. There is good to be found in almost every one, I suppose, especially when they make it worth your while.

On the other side are those Jewish leaders who are crying shame at Barak and Foxman and company. But had Rich dropped tens of thousands of dollars on their own organizations, would they have acted any differently? More to the point, would they have rejected Rich’s money up front as tainted, so as not even to place themselves in a moral tight spot to begin with?

For centuries Jews have practiced the art of whispering into the ear of the powerful, a necessary outgrowth of anti-Semitic policies that kept Jews themselves from holding positions of civil power. On Fri., March 9, we celebrate Purim, when the Jews Mordechai and Esther used their proximity to the throne to intervene on behalf of their oppressed and threatened brethren.

What Clinton did might qualify as sleazy, but he was president, and presidents get to pardon whom they want. If his enemies made half as big a deal out of George Bush’s pardon of Caspar Weinberger, their outrage now would be easier to take seriously.

As for our moral leaders who are shocked, shocked to find that some Jewish leaders gave a man the benefit of the doubt because he provided them money or other favors, they’ll have to convince us that they have always turned away a donor’s money if they suspected it was tainted.

If they have, I’d like to hear about it. Now that’s a story with legs.

Dear Bill: Thanks a Lot

Dear Ex-President Clinton:

We couldn’t help but notice that some of your most controversial last-minute pardons and commutations went to our fellow Jews.

Thanks a lot, boychik.

Many of your actions seemed justified, but a few had the pungent aroma of political payoff, which badly sullied the legacy you hoped to leave behind.

Eight years’ worth of your good work — with the economy, in the Middle East — will be obscured by the memories of fugitive financier Marc Rich and the team of high-powered lawyers who used every possible route of political influence to arrange his pardon, even though he fled the country rather than face American justice.

And the depressing affair has also tarnished the Jewish leaders who were too willing to overlook Rich’s motives in writing big checks to their organizations, too oblivious to the impressions a successful pardon drive would leave behind.

Rich won endorsements from prominent rabbis and Jewish communal officials, not to mention Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Some of the petitioners may have admired Rich’s Jewish spirit, but it’s safe to say that more were simply responding to Rich’s riches — and the hope of being rewarded with another big check.

But Bill, there may be one redeeming result of the disillusioning end of your presidency: you have provided a mirror that may enable our own community to see the corrosive impact of the all-consuming money chase.

It’s the same impact, by the way, that the fundraising frenzy has on American politics and on the moral authority — pardon the term — of our political leaders.

More and more, big philanthropic organizations — Jewish leaders are not unique in this regard — depend on a small handful of big givers, not on membership fees or small donations from a broad pool of supporters. The reasons aren’t hard to discern.

Jewish life is getting expensive, Mr. President, like politics.

Our community organizations provide a vast array of services, from education to drug rehabilitation. We have expensive schools, expensive community centers, expensive outreach programs to try to stem the assimilation tide.

Government is doing less, and that adds to the burden of philanthropy.

We have built big — and expensive — political operations aimed at supporting Israel, fighting anti-Semitism and working for human rights here and abroad.

And this network is expanding even as many Jews drift away from community life.

It’s no wonder the big guys — your pals with their private jets and art collections and checkbooks always at the ready — are increasingly important to the folks who run our organizations.

Many of these are good people. Some of the richest and best known have given selflessly, without demanding anything in return.

But some give with motives that are mixed, at best; often, their help comes with big strings attached.

The economic imperative means our communal leaders are too willing to look the other way when the money is tainted, either because of who gives it or because of what they want in return.

Sound familiar? It’s the principle that kept tripping you up throughout your presidency; it’s the principle that has led to the surge of popular support for serious campaign finance reform, although Congress remains mostly deaf to the issue.

Like Democratic and Republican party treasurers, leaders of our communal organizations increasingly jump when the big funders come calling. And when the bills come due, they’re only too happy to give the check writers what they want.

That’s why so many wrote to you and appealed for Rich’s pardon. In doing so, they overlooked Rich’s alleged crime, and his flight from justice, his renunciation of American citizenship and the high-end life he has led since his self-imposed golden exile.

Some appealed in heartfelt tones for justice, but what they really wanted was to pay back a giver who might be willing to give more.

But as it does in politics, the overwhelming emphasis on big money has destructive consequences.

In politics, the stain of big money is a major factor in the alienation and cynicism of so many American voters. In the philanthropic world, it has produced a corresponding distrust, as well as a feeling by many ordinary members that the organizations they support are responsive only to a big-giving elite.

The pardons were a scandal, all right, but not a Jewish one; the lure of big money and the corrosion it can cause are endemic to American philanthropy, as well as politics.

Still, the image created by Rich’s focused effort to line up Jewish leaders — and their willingness to be lined up — will create the impression that Jewish conniving was a major factor in one of the ugliest episodes in your presidency.

That’s what happens when money blinds leaders, both political and philanthropic, to their nobler goals as they get caught up in endless cycles of fundraising.

The answer isn’t to spurn the big donors; in today’s world, doing so would only hurt clients.

But somehow the Jewish communal leadership has to do a better job of balancing strictly economic concerns with the moral authority they convey — moral authority that was squandered in the tawdry Rich affair.

Thanks for the wake-up call, Bill, and enjoy your retirement.

Scrambling for Access

Listen closely, and you can almost hear the sound of panic sweeping through the boardrooms of Jewish organizations around the country.

A new administration is taking over in Washington, and Jewish machers are faced with the loss of their most treasured political commodity: access.

That’s a primary reason that so many are muting their criticism of some controversial cabinet picks by President-elect George W. Bush — conservatives whose presence atop the pyramids of power would normally ignite fusillades of criticism from generally liberal Jewish organizations.

Some nominees, like former Joint Chiefs Chair Colin Powell as secretary of state and Donald Rumsfeld as defense chief, have won genuine praise from Jewish leaders across the political spectrum.

Others have had the impact of a good poke in the eye. Their selection, many Jewish leaders believe, refutes Bush’s promises of inclusiveness and “compassionate conservatism.”

But publicly, these same communal officials are generally holding their fire. The reason: access.

For the past eight years, they have played to a president and vice president who surrounded themselves with Jews and who felt comfortable speaking to Jewish groups and addressing Jewish issues.

Access was enhanced by a record number of Jewish cabinet secretaries and other top officials, providing numerous routes into the administration’s inner sanctums.

That era ends on Jan. 20, when Bill Clinton rides into the political sunset.

In the new Bush administration, there will be some Jews in high places — the new White House spokesman, political director and top policy adviser are all Jewish — but many fewer than in recent years, and not at the highest levels. There will be a significant drop in critical access points for Jewish organizational leaders.

That explains the muted reaction to Bush’s most controversial personnel picks.

Former Sen. John Ashcroft, a favorite of Christian right groups, faces ferocious opposition from civil liberties and pro-choice groups. But when a coalition of them held a news conference in Washington this week, only the National Council of Jewish Women and the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs, a pro-Israel group that also takes strong positions on domestic issues, especially women’s issues, were represented.

A long list of other groups — traditional coalition partners of the anti-Ashcroft organizations — were noticeably absent.

Many Jewish groups support the environmental agenda, but they’ve been strangely silent about the appointment of Gale Norton, opposed by major environmental groups, as interior secretary.

Last week the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, arguably the most liberal of the major Jewish groups operating in Washington, issued a press release praising the Bush administration for “assembling the most diverse cabinet in our history.”

The group expressed concern about some of Ashcroft’s positions, but said only that the nomination should be “closely scrutinized.”

Several Jewish leaders who are privately appalled by the Ashcroft nomination on church-state grounds refused to criticize it publicly.

What this is all about is access — a problem facing interest groups with every change in administration, but a particular dilemma for Jewish groups as a new administration with limited connections to the Jewish community gets set to take over.

Jewish leaders fear — and not without reason — that they will be shuffled to the end of the line when they seek meetings with important administration officials.

Political sources suggest that the new Bush administration will work hard to expand the minority presence in the Republican Party but that the emphasis will be on groups that have shown more of a willingness to swing in the GOP direction.

There are two Hispanics and one Asian in the Bush cabinet — picked for their ideological compatibility with the new president, but also because they represent groups that offer the richest potential area for Republican outreach.

Former Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.) wasn’t appointed energy secretary because he is an Arab American. But the fact that there is one Arab American and no Jews in the Bush cabinet is not insignificant; Arab American and Muslim voters began a potentially big shift in the direction of the Republican party on Nov. 7, while the Jewish community continued to remain mostly wedded to the Democrats.

The plain fact is that the new Bush administration is less beholden to the Jews than its predecessor — and has less hope of winning a substantial number over to their side of the partisan divide.

“The new administration is not hostile to Jewish interests,” said a prominent Jewish Republican last week.

“But they don’t owe the Jewish leadership anything, and they don’t see them as likely political allies. It is only natural for them to focus on the groups that are most likely to support the administration’s initiatives.”
Refraining from criticizing controversial nominees, this source said, may help avert politically damaging clashes as the new administration begins changing the nation’s political course, but it is unlikely to go far in buying critical executive branch access in the weeks and months ahead.

Down to the Wire

Los Angeles Jews agonized along with the rest of the country as the results from the Nov. 7 election trickled in. Hardly as split as the rest of the nation, Jews in California preferred Al Gore to George Bush 82 to 15 percent. Nationally, Gore received 79 percent of the Jewish vote, according to CNN exit polls and Voter News Service (for national stories, see page 36).

The smoke in the presidential race hadn’t cleared much at all by Wednesday afternoon, but Jews around the city still had strong reactions to those races and ballot measures that were decided.

Howard Welinsky, longtime Democratic activist and chair of Democrats for Israel, saw an upbeat note for his side in the increased number of Jewish congressmen elected locally.

“With the elections of Adam Schiff and Jane Harman and the reelection of Henry Waxman, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, the Los Angeles area will have a record of five Jewish representatives,” said Welinsky. Thanks mainly to the good California showing, which included the election of Susan Davis in San Diego, Jewish membership in the House, which now stands at 23, will rise to 27. If two undecided races break the right way, that number might rise to 29, he said.

With the possibility of a Bush administration looking more likely by the hour, Jewish leaders and analysts said they didn’t think the overwhelming Jewish support for Gore would hurt U.S.-Israel relations or the Republican’s relations with American Jewry.

“During a campaign, a lot of things are said. I think we have to wait until we see who wins, who the president will appoint to cabinet positions, which I believe are very key to the articulation of policies,” said John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “I have to assume that whoever is elected to the presidency in the end, the relationship with Israel will remain strong.”

Fishel said the close split in the presidential vote and in congressional representation along party lines will make governing “a big challenge for whomever is in the White House.”

“The Jewish vote for Gore-Lieberman will have zero effect on Mideast policy,” said Republican political analyst Arnold Steinberg. “There are many Republican members of Congress and U.S. senators who have received little Jewish support or who represent districts or states with few Jewish voters. But they have supported Israel.” Politically, Steinberg said, “Bush has shown himself to be strategic as well as tactical. That is, he would be looking toward the future, not the past.”

In perhaps the most closely watched congressional race ever in California, Democratic State Sen. Adam Schiff took control of the House seat held by two-term Republican Rep. James Rogan, winning by a comfortable 9 percent margin. With the presidency still hanging in the balance Wednesday but likely to go to Gov. Bush, Schiff said he hoped if Bush won he would take the high road in his dealings with the Democrats in Congress.

“If we have a Republican majority in Congress and a Republican president, they would be wise to take a lesson from Gov. Gray Davis, who although a Democratic governor with a Democratic majority in the state legislature recognizes that a bipartisan product is a better product,” Schiff told The Journal Wednesday afternoon.

Democrat Paul Koretz, West Hollywood city councilman and mayor pro tem, said he was thrilled to be elected to represent the 42nd Assembly District, which covers much of West Los Angeles and parts of the San Fernando Valley. He said he hoped to be the “go-to guy” for the Los Angeles Jewish community, representing the community on valued issues like hate crimes legislation and better schools.

“From my point of view, having a Democratic majority [in the California Legislature] is very beneficial, because we will be able to pass everything from gun control to a decent living wage for workers,” Koretz said. “With the amount of prosperity we have had in the state, we need to make sure the CEOs making millions are not paying their people only minimum wage. I’d also like to see us strengthen our environmental protection and improve our educational infrastructure so that we do not stay at the bottom of per-pupil spending.”

The results on at least two ballot measures provoked more strong reactions.

Harriet Rossetto, executive director of Gateways Beit T’shuvah in Venice, rejoiced in the passage of Proposition 36, which requires California to treat nonviolent drug offenders rather than incarcerate them.”I’m 100 percent for it,” said Rossetto, who called the passing of the initiative “the only good news in this election. It will not only mean money for treatment but an opportunity to redefine how we handle a social problem.”

“I watched with great interest the swinging of the pendulum from the penalty of three strikes to a more humane notion of helping addicts to seek help,” said Rossetto. “I’m hopeful that it will impact our facility by some of the $120 million finding its way to Beit Teshuvah,” which she believes serves as a model for faith-based rehab facilities nationwide.

Proposition 38, the school voucher initiative, was soundly defeated, which came as good news to Ron Reynolds, director of school services at the Bureau of Jewish Education.

“It was striking that the Catholic bishops failed to support the measure and did so because it was universal in nature rather than restricting the awarding of scholarships to those with the greatest financial need,” said Reynolds, who is also president of the California Association of Private School Organizations. “This time around, the Jewish community contemplated the concept [of vouchers] at greater length and in greater depth. All of us as citizens and residents of this state are still left with the question of how we can best reform our public education system.”

Journal writers Tom Tugend, Michael Aushenker, Wendy Madnick and Beverly Gray contributed to this story.


6505: Home for the Next Generation

For Federation executives and board members, 6505 Wilshire is more than just another building. It is a monument to years of memories; an edifice awash in nostalgic value. But does the Miracle Mile area headquarters hold any meaning for the new generation of Federation leaders? And what will it mean to these up-and-comers who will no doubt steer the future of Jewish outreach in Los Angeles?

As chair of the Leadership Development Council, Andrew Cushnir oversees all lay divisions involving the 22-45 age group. Cushnir has an extensive personal history with the building, which goes back to his late ’80s stint with the Anti-Defamation League. And while he has high hopes for the revamped 6505 and its state-of-the-art facilities, Cushnir does not discount the Westside’s growing significance as an epicenter for local Jewry. He believes that, ultimately, a headquarters combined with a Jewish Community Center would be great.

“It would make it more of a true community center as opposed to a corporate headquarters,” says the Leadership Development Council chair.

Continues Cushnir, “There are a lot of people — myself included — who wish that people would build a West L.A. campus, based on the model of the Milken campus. And it’s a dream we keep. But for now [6505] will be great.”

Jackie Shelton, who served as the chair of the Federation-based Access from 1996-98, feels that 6505 consolidates a literal and symbolic community presence for the Federation.

“I look forward to having that as the central location,” says Shelton. “It seems to me that the Jewish population is moving in different directions. Working to develop a place that will meet the Jewish community’s needs will be a great thing. Now is the opportunity to do it.”

Shelton’s husband, Vice Chair of Access Craig Miller, also believes that 6505 — in tandem with a Westside location — will best serve its constituents and enhance the Federation’s visibility.

“The Jewish community clearly has moved west and north,” says Miller, “but I think the Federation has done a good job accommodating those people. With the building comes a lot of history, which is important… Staying in the neighborhood where the Jews are is important.” Miller and Shelton may be reflective of that notion — the couple, who currently reside near the 6505 location, met through Access and are looking forward to vice chairing the next Super Sunday in February 2000.

Beth Comsky Raanan, who helped oversee last year’s Super Sunday drive and will co-chair again next year, likes what she sees so far. A working architect, Raanan is pleased with the conceptual designs she’s come across in Federation literature.

“It looked very nice, at least from the rendering,” says Raanan. “Certainly an improvement. It had a nice, clean, modern look.”

She does, however, have her qualms about 6505’s inherent interior shortcomings.

“The building has a very small floorplate,” says the architect. “I like the idea of the temporary space they’re in now because it allows for more interaction [between departments and agencies]. I hope they are able to maintain that communication between departments… Whenever you’re in a high rise building with an elevator, you have to work harder to maintain [those ties].”

Regardless, Raanan believes that, from a lay perspective, the Federation’s decision is a smart one.

“Fiscally, it’s the responsible thing to do,” says Raanan. “I appreciate the fact that as much of the money as possible gets spent to where they want to. And I think from a historical perspective, people have a connection with that building. So it will be kind of nice to go back to 6505.”

Stephanie Steinhouse — who staffs the Leadership Development Council as assistant director of Human Resources for the Jewish Federation — also welcomes the change of address as an emblem of continuity.

“As long as I’ve been a Jewish Angeleno…I remember that building,” says Steinhouse. She adds that both of her parents and her grandmother were employed at that very building.

“To me, it’s a larger issue than how to get there,” says Steinhouse. “It’s a nice tie to my community.”

Other Stories on the Federation’s return to 6505:   A new Jewish Federation headquarters is rising at 6505 Wilshire.
   The $20 million campaign.
   The Federation building: past, present and future.