A paper evolves and innovates


In 1986, Elie Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Soviet regime released refusenik Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky from prison, the New York Mets won the World Series, and “The Cosby Show” ranked No. 1 on television.

In the same historic year, The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles published its inaugural issue on Feb. 28.

On the 40-page newspaper’s first cover, above the headline “Bobbi and the New Jewish Right,” was a photo of Congresswoman Bobbi Fiedler, who had sparked the movement against the busing of school children to further the integration of public schools.

In many ways, that first issue, with its mix of politics, personal voices, solid reporting and spirited editorial independence,  has endured as a model for an organization that has grown and changed greatly in the decades since.

In the early 1980s, involved Los Angeles Jews had a choice of two privately owned weeklies, the venerable B’nai B’rith Messenger and the free-swinging Heritage, plus The Federation’s Jewish Community Bulletin.

jj_cover_040904The Federation’s lay and professional leadership felt that none of the three publications adequately served the community, and in 1983, a six-person committee set to work to explore the creation of a newspaper.

Attorney Richard Volpert served as committee chair, and, after a year of deliberations, he handed in a report recommending the establishment of a new weekly, financially supported by the Federation, but with complete editorial independence.

At the time, that last suggestion constituted a fairly radical step. Almost all other Jewish weeklies in the country were owned and run by local federations, which rarely, if ever, brooked criticism of Jewish institutions or Israeli policy.

The new editorial concept wasn’t an easy sell to many of Los Angeles’ Federation board members. Quite a few thought, “If we pay for the paper, then we run it,” Volpert recalled, “but I felt that without independence, the paper would have no credibility.”

Eventually, Federation started the paper, investing $660,000 and subsidizing subscriptions for its donors.

One of the strongest advocates for independence was Jonathan Kirsch, the youngest committee member, whose combined background as magazine writer, book critic and attorney specializing in publishing and libel law proved invaluable.

Kirsch has served as pro bono legal counsel for The Journal since its inception.

The next step was to select an editor. Gene Lichtenstein, who had edited a Jewish weekly in the Boston area, written for major national magazines and taught journalism courses at East and West Coast universities, was the pick.

His first two hires were his competitors for the editor’s slot, local writer Marlene Adler Marks and journalist Yehuda Lev, while Volpert became the first board chairman — in effect, publisher — of the fledgling weekly.

jj_cover_051305As editor, Lichtenstein made it his priority to publish as many diverse viewpoints as possible, recruit talented writers and columnists, and insisted, at all times, on good writing.

“I wanted an American newspaper, Jewish but connected to the larger world,” he said more recently. “It wouldn’t just reflect the viewpoint of The Federation or be mainly about fundraising. It wouldn’t print only favorable stories about the Jewish community and Israel.”

In the beginning …

“There were no computers,” recalled Toni Van Ness, now an advertising senior account executive at the Journal. “All invoices were typed on an IBM Selectric. There was no email. Ad proofs were copied and then sent by messenger or delivered by sales reps for approval. There were about 20 full-time people on the staff.”

Van Ness shared a small office with Janet Polyak, and the two personified the diversity of the personnel.

“I was a girl from South Central [Los Angeles] who spoke Ebonics, and Janet had a thick Russian accent,” Van Ness recounted. “In the beginning, there was a lot of, ‘What did you say? I didn’t understand you. Can you repeat that?’ ”

Naomi Pfefferman joined the Journal as a reporter in the fall of 1986.

She wrote her first cover story about the rising tensions between Jewish and African-American students on the UCLA campus. Pfefferman soon focused increasingly on movie and art stories, and now is the Journal’s longtime arts and entertainment editor.

jj_cover_062102“It became easier to line up Hollywood celebrities as the paper kept gaining exposure and credibility,” she said.

In its first few months, the Journal received kudos for lively writing, outraged comments from some Jewish organizations and a weak response from advertisers.

Almost from the beginning, the paper was hemorrhaging money, and some influential Federation leaders demanded more control over the paper.

Lichtenstein was meeting monthly at Nibblers restaurant with a four-member Federation subcommittee to chart progress and iron out problems.

Three months after the paper launched, a very influential member of the committee demanded that, from then on, all the paper’s articles be vetted by the committee’s members.

Lichtenstein says he told the committee that “this was a really bad idea.” The proposal was put to a vote and defeated, 3-1.

Nevertheless, dissatisfaction with the editorial and business performance of the Journal continued, and the Journal came close to being sold to an East Coast Jewish newspaper publisher.

At this critical point, major Federation leaders, with Edward Brennglass, Stanley Hirsh and Osias Goren in the lead, rode to the rescue, personally underwriting a loan from City National Bank to provide working capital for the paper to be an independent entity and continue publication. The group founded Los Angeles Jewish Publications as an independent nonprofit to serve the Jewish community, and the Journal lived to fight another day.

jj_cover_092900Brennglass soon became publisher, and, over the decade of his tenure, he stabilized the paper, which slowly established a solid reputation and started to make a profit. After Brennglass’ death in 1997, Hirsh, an influential businessman and Democratic heavyweight, took over as publisher.

However, by 2000, strong editorial and personality differences between publisher and editor led to a parting. Lichtenstein resigned and was succeeded by the managing editor, Rob Eshman, who had first joined the staff as a reporter in the mid-’90s.

Changing of the guard

The transition from Lichtenstein to Eshman represented a generational shift in the leadership of the Journal. In addition, Eshman was a local, from a family deeply rooted in the Los Angeles Jewish community. Eshman, a fluent and prolific writer whose interests and expertise range from politics to food, also had lived in Israel and spoke Hebrew.

At the turn of the century, Hirsh’s health deteriorated, Irwin Field took over as acting publisher, and, upon Hirsh’s death in 2003, Field became publisher.

Following on the heels of managing editors Amy Klein and Howard Blume, Susan Freudenheim, previously a longtime arts editor at the Los Angeles Times, joined the Journal as managing editor in 2005, eventually becoming executive editor before departing in 2016 to run Jewish World Watch.

Always forward-thinking, Eshman recognized early on that the future of journalism was rapidly evolving beyond the printed page. His vision was to use digital technology to turn a small, local paper into a media enterprise that reaches deeply into the community, as well as around the world.

“Jews see the world through a particular set of values, and those values shape our journalism,” Eshman said. “The digital revolution has suddenly made it possible to share that point of view with everyone, instantly, Jews and non-Jews.”

The Journal had already launched its first webpage in 1996, but that early effort served primarily as an electronic reprint of the articles and columns running in the weekly print edition.

But gradually, especially with the appointment of Jay Firestone as web and multimedia editor in 2009, jewishjournal.com has evolved into a 24/7, constantly updated news machine with original writing, foreign reporting, videos and dozens of blogs.

After Firestone went on to a post at Facebook, his successor, Jeff Hensiek, oversaw a complete renovation of the site — which goes live this week.

“As the Jewish Journal moves into the next 30 years, we are staying ahead of the curve by drastically expanding our multimedia efforts,” Hensiek said. “We are introducing a new digital media team, partnering with content producers and even entering the world of virtual reality.”

The next chapter

With millions of page views from around the world each month, jewishjournal.com is among the most-viewed Jewish news websites and by far the largest Jewish website in Los Angeles, according to Google Analytics.

In the midst of the 2009 financial crisis, local philanthropists Peter Lowy and Art Bilger, along with Irwin Field and an anonymous donor, stepped in to make major contributions to shore up the paper’s recession-battered finances and to help position it for more aggressive growth.

Lowy and Bilger said they were inspired by the growth of the Journal beyond its original scope and audience, and by its record of community service.
“The future for print media isn’t the rosiest, but this is a way we can add philanthropy to a business enterprise,” Lowy told the Los Angeles Times at the time. “This is an experiment in what I would call a community media group. The Journal is very important to the Jewish community. But we think this might work for any communal group.”

With the addition to the board of Lowy, Leon Janks, an additional member and Bilger (who has since stepped down), the Journal  undertook a major reorganization and diversification of its corporate structure, forming TRIBE Media Corp. to reflect its broader vision and ambitions.

Part of the changes included hiring columnist David Suissa as president of TRIBE Media Corp. when Eshman was made publisher/editor-in-chief.

Suissa, with 30 years of experience in advertising as founder of Suissa/Miller, and deep roots in Jewish life, increased the paper’s advertising and fundraising efforts.

jj_cover_110708“[N]o other Jewish institution can offer this breadth of Jewish experience in such a convenient and mobile package,” Suissa wrote of the Journal. “This makes Jewish journalism — whether offered digitally or on paper — the ultimate modern-day vehicle to ignite Jewish sparks and keep us continually connected to our community, our tradition and one another.”

Suissa and Eshman’s often contrasting points of view have made news themselves. During the Iran nuclear deal debate, JTA reported on how the Jewish Journal stood out among Jewish news outlets for offering sharply divergent opinions in its pages.

Who we are now

Led by Eshman and Suissa, TRIBE Media Corp. consists of four divisions. They are the weekly Jewish Journal; jewishjournal.com; the production of live events and videos; and JewishInsider.com.

TRIBE acquired Washington, D.C.-based Jewish Insider in 2015. Founded and edited by Max Neuberger, Jewish Insider (JI) provides breaking news, curated sources and politcal analysis. Its Daily Kickoff newsletter has become a must-read for diplomats, journalists, activists and philanthropists around the world. This year, JI expanded to include full-time New York and Capitol Hill correspondents.

In 2016, Julia Moss joined TRIBE as director of community engagement as the company seeks to bring its content to the community through events and video.  TRIBE’s many online videos and live feeds have attracted millions of viewers, including its annual live cast of Nashuva congregation’s Kol Nidre services, which last year attracted 90,000 views. A 2016 Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund grant will enable TRIBE to develop a dedicated video production team.

Moss also has increased the Journal’s fundraising efforts among foundations and individuals.

None of this has weakened the Journal’s devotion to its founding principles of independent, high-quality journalism.

Over the years, it has been the big story — often an unpredictable disaster — that pushes Journal reporters and editors to battle deadlines and transmit the first drafts of history to their readers. To mention only a couple of examples, in the 1990s there were the Northridge earthquake and the shooting spree by a white supremacist at the North Valley Jewish Community Center.

In the first decade of this century, the Journal broke news on the killing of Daniel Pearl by terrorists and murder at the Los Angeles International Airport’s El Al ticket counter.

In its coverage, the printed and electronic Journal count on a large roster of experienced and diverse correspondents in the field, be it an Egyptian reporter filing from Cairo or Israeli journalists tracking the crises and achievements of Israeli politicians, entrepreneurs and average citizens.

jj_cover_120304In another category are the long-range investigative and analytical stories, such as the lengthy survival battles of the Los Angeles-area Jewish community centers or the successes and weaknesses of institutions such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, American Jewish University and Federation.

During the Iran nuclear debate, the Journal conducted a national scientific poll that made international news, showing that a plurality of American Jews supported the deal. Its coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France earned the Journal a special commendation from the Los Angeles Press Club (LAPC).  And senior writer Danielle Berrin’s 2016 cover story on sexual harassment made international news.

As a model, the new corporation “is redefining community journalism for the digital age,” Eshman said, and outside observers seem to agree.
The Jerusalem Post, Israel’s English-language daily, noted that “The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles … is truly cutting edge in pursuing a 21st century platform mix.”

Former Los Angeles Times media critic James Rainey wrote in a column in 2010, headlined “New Life for Jewish Journal,” that the paper is successfully meeting the tough challenges posed by the economy and the general media market.

“If [the Journal’s] experience holds lessons for other ethnic and religious-oriented publishers, it’s that you can do good by being good,” Rainey concluded.

The quality that marked the original Journal’s writers and columnists continues to this day.

Media expert Marty Kaplan’s biweekly political analysis has earned two Columnist of the Year Awards from the LAPC. Former reporter Jared Sichel received an LAPC Journalist of the Year Award in 2014. Dennis Prager, Gina Nahai, Raphael Sonenshein, Bill Boyarsky, Judea Pearl, Danielle Berrin and Jonathan Kirsch — yes, that one — all contribute regular columns from across the political and cultural spectrum.

In addition, a rowdy Letters to the Editor section, a weekly Torah Portion and a contributor-driven Opinion section ensure that the Journal remains the most lively and diverse gathering space for the Jews of Los Angeles and beyond.

Sitting shivah for Grantland


Human beings get attached to all kinds of things. We have our favorite cafes, our favorite parks, our favorite shows, our favorite people. Take them away and something inside of us dies.

I lost my favorite website this past week, Grantland.

Grantland was a quirky, literary, sports and pop-culture site that belonged to ESPN, the giant sports network that pulled the plug. Thankfully, the archives will remain online, so Grantland junkies like myself can occasionally reminisce and revisit great stories, like a Civil War buff might revisit a famous war site.

Grantland was the brainchild of Bill Simmons, a longtime sportswriter from Boston who loved sports and pop culture in equal measure. Although he’s a diehard Celtics fan and I’m a diehard Lakers fan, I was addicted to the breezy intimacy of his sports columns. He wrote these long pieces that went off on humorous tangents, mixing deep knowledge of his subject with pop analogies and personal references. He was like an expert jazz musician, jamming away and enjoying himself, while we inhaled every note. His podcast was similarly intimate and addictive.

Although he’s a diehard Celtics fan and I’m a diehard Lakers fan, I was addicted to the breezy intimacy of his sports columns.

Simmons intuitively understood that sports and pop culture are both part of that same package we call “entertainment.” It’s not the part of our lives that worries about climate change, peace in the Middle East or paying our medical bills. It’s more like what recess was in grade school — a break from the serious and the tedious.

Although they look and feel different — sports is real-life competition with clear winners and losers; pop culture is the product of our imaginations — both can inspire us and bring us pleasure. We consume the brilliance of “Breaking Bad” just as we consume the brilliance of LeBron James.

Still, there’s a reason why you rarely see a hybrid site like Grantland. Culture junkies and sports junkies are often not the same people. It’s a lot easier to create niche sites for each crowd. Grantland broke the mold by being a hard-core site for both crowds. On its elegant and lively home page, you could see an erudite critique of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel featured right next to a 3,000-word analysis of why the Golden State Warriors offense is so lethal. 

Simmons, of course, is not the “niche” type. His site was a reflection of his deep attachment to all kinds of entertainment. It’s poignant that his contribution to the world he so loves was to cover it in a way that would be entertaining in its own right. He wanted the coverage of a show to be just as quirky and delightful as the show itself.

This is where Grantland really broke the mold — redefining how a culture site entertains. Instead of settling for popular, traffic-chasing gimmicks such as top-10 lists and juicy headlines, Grantland entertained with irreverent and literary prose. It celebrated long-form features, not Twitter-happy items. It hired talented writers who brought sophistication to mass entertainment, without being elitist. It was like watching Wolfgang Puck create the world’s best hamburger. Slowly.

No subject was immune to this ethos. Here is Grantland staff writer and author Brian Phillips on the pro wrestler Andre the Giant: 

“You open in rural France in the late 1950s. Andre at 12 is the size of a large adult. The driver has banned him from the school bus, so to get to class he depends on rides from a neighbor, Samuel Beckett, who has a truck. Yes, that Samuel Beckett. You can be the author of ‘Waiting for Godot.’ It’s still useful to have a truck. By his early twenties, Andre is working as a mover in Paris, toting refrigerators by himself. He gets noticed by wrestling promoters. Of course he does, a kid that size, with his crooked grin and those hazy piles of black hair.”

This kind of sophistication was a breath of fresh air from the macho swagger that colors so much of sports reporting, or the newsy gossip that colors so much of pop-culture reporting. Ironically, without resorting to the usual tricks of the trade, Grantland at its height was able to attract close to 7 million unique visitors a month.

But never mind all that. Today, Grantland is no more.

It’s clear that Simmons’s bosses at ESPN didn’t share his passion for his creation. After they decided not to renew his contract last May, it was just a matter of time before they would lose interest and shut down the site. I don't buy the excuse that the site was not profitable. A multibillion-dollar juggernaut like ESPN could certainly afford to support a site that adds so much prestige to its brand, or at least use its enormous sales leverage to make the site profitable. 

My gut is that ESPN killed Grantland because the very idea of the site was too subtle for its taste. ESPN has made its billions by sticking to sports and serving it up in a generally predictable way. Given that ESPN admitted a discomfort with covering pop culture, it’s telling that they couldn’t even bring themselves to keep the sports side of Grantland, which in itself would have been a breakthrough site.

In the end, as good as Simmons was, he was probably always doomed to leave the network because the man and his ideas are anything but predictable. Now that he’s at HBO, maybe he can get me addicted again.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Merkel takes Morsi to task over Jew comments


German Chancellor Angela Merkel used a meeting with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to criticize his past remarks on Jews.

During their meeting Wednesday, according to German media, Merkel raised the issue of recorded remarks Morsi made in 2010 in which he called Israeli Zionists “descendants of apes and pigs.” Morsi responded that the comments were taken out of context and said that, as a religious Muslim, he is “not against Judaism as a religion. I am not against the Jews who practice their faith,” according to the Austrian newspaper Der Standard. Morsi reportedly said he is against religious practices in which blood is spilled.

Merkel's criticism of Morsi's remarks drew praise from Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who was in Berlin to address a controversy over the center's Top 10 list of anti-Semitic statements of 2012 — which included the work of rominent German journalist Jakob Augstein.The list was topped by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

Cooper said Thursday he hoped Merkel's confrontation of Morsi would “send a signal not only to Egyptians but to leaders in Europe who show up to commemorations to dead victims of the Holocaust but unfortunately are all too absent when it comes to standing up for the rights of Jews.”

Morsi blames ‘certain forces’ controlling media for bad U.S. press


Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi told U.S. senators that he gets bad U.S. press because “certain forces” control the media.

The senators who met last week with Morsi understood him to be referring to Jews and “recoiled,” one of the participating lawmakers, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), told The Cable, a blog on the Foreign Policy magazine website.

The conversation grew heated, but Morsi never specifically named the Jews as responsible for his negative media and the senators decided eventually to move on to other topics.

At at a news conference afterward, the senators said the overall meeting was positive. They had raised among other topics the revelation last week that in 2010, Morsi had referred to Zionists as descended from “pigs and apes” and “bloodthirsty.”

Morsi's spokesman said that the slurs had been taken out of context and Morsi respected those who belong to monotheistic religions.

Since assuming the presidency in June, Morsi has maintained his commitment to peace accords with Israel and helped broker a cease-fire with Hamas that ended last month's war in the Gaza Strip, earning kudos from U.S. and Israeli leaders.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last week that Morsi's spokesman's statement affirming respect for other faiths was a “good first step.”

“That statement was an important first step to make clear that the type of offensive rhetoric that we saw in 2010 is not acceptable, not productive and shouldn’t be part of a democratic Egypt,” Nuland said. “That said, we look to President Morsi and Egyptian leaders to demonstrate, in both word and in deed, their commitment to religious tolerance and to upholding all of Egypt’s international obligations.”

Turkey’s Erdogan, others hint at Jewish control of media


Turkish leaders including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed Israel and its supporters for what they said was international media hostility to the country’s ruling party.

“This international media, as they are supported by Israel, would not be happy with the continuation of the AKP government,” the Turkish Daily News quoted Erdogan as saying this week. “Of course, they have their hands on Turkey nowadays.”

Erdogan was responding to The Economist’s endorsement of the opposition party ahead of next week’s elections.

The respected British newsweekly cited Erdogan’s crackdown on the media among other reasons to push back against what it said were his repressive measures.

Another minister, Egemen Bagıs, described “international dark elites who control the international media.”

Rev. Wright’s outreach to Jews still unsettling for many


In a series of speeches otherwise notable for their defiant tone against his real and perceived enemies, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. sounded some conciliatory notes toward Jews, casting them as fellow strugglers against inequity and for peace.

But an outburst in a Q-and-A session and an analysis of what lies behind his remarks reveals that the Jewish community may still have reason to be less than comfortable with the former pastor to U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

Wright launched a media blitz this week just as Obama entered the final stretch of his bid to become the Democratic nominee for president. On Tuesday, Obama expressed outrage over Wright’s latest comments.

The media has highlighted inflammatory passages from Wright’s past sermons in which he suggests that white racism remains pervasive and U.S. foreign policy helped bring about terrorist attacks on U.S. targets. These remarks have dogged Obama’s campaign.

The Wright factor may have contributed to his defeat in the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, where he lost to U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), 55 percent to 45 percent. In the Jewish community, where the pastor issue has come up repeatedly, Clinton beat Obama 62 percent to 38 percent, according to exit polls.

The candidate has sought to distance himself from his former pastor, calling Wright’s rhetoric “offensive.” Campaigning Monday ahead of next week’s primaries in North Carolina and Indiana, Obama again repudiated the preacher he once said nurtured his Christian identity.

“He does not speak for me, he does not speak for the campaign,” Obama said.

In three major appearances over the last few days, Wright confronted what he said were the distortions in a campaign against him created primarily by Republicans but taken up also by Clinton advocates.

The appearances included a PBS interview last weekend with Bill Moyers; a dinner Sunday of the Detroit chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and a speech Monday at the National Press Club in Washington.

The most strident of his speeches came at the press club, where Wright said the “corporate media” had ripped his statements from their context. That context, he said, was the African American church that has remained invisible for too long.

“Maybe now we can begin to take steps to move the black religious tradition from the status of invisible to the status of invaluable, not just for some black people in this country, but for all the people in this country,” he said there.

“This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright,” he said later during a Q-and-A session. “It has nothing to do with Sen. Obama. This is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African American religious tradition.”

Also in the session, Wright addressed his association with Louis Farrakhan. The Nation of Islam leader in lectures in 1984 said Israel represents a “gutter religion” and that Jews in general had corrupted the word of God through “false religions.”

Wright said he disagrees with Farrakhan on some issues but also admires him.

“Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion,” he said. “And he was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter is being vilified for and Bishop Tutu is being vilified for.”

The distinction between Zionism and Judaism will not placate many Jews. Nor will suggestions that to criticize comparisons between Israeli policies and apartheid is somehow “vilification.”

“How many other African Americans or European Americans do you know that can get 1 million people together on the mall?” Wright said, referring to the 1995 Million Man March that Farrakhan organized. “He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century. That’s what I think about him.”

Wright’s overall emphasis was on the liberation theology that emerged from the 1960s and 1970s. He often grounded that theology in the Torah texts Christians share with Jews.

“The prophetic tradition of the black church has its roots in Isaiah, the 61st chapter, where God says the prophet is to preach the gospel to the poor and to set at liberty those who are held captive,” he said. “Liberating the captives also liberates those who are holding them captive.”

Outlining such captor-captive dichotomies the evening before in Detroit, Wright placed both Jews and blacks in the “captive” category, criticizing groups who saw the “different” as “deficient”:

“In the past we were taught to see others who are different as somehow being deficient,” he said. “Christians saw Jews as being deficient. Catholics saw Protestants as being deficient. Presbyterians saw Pentecostals as being deficient. Folks who like to holler in worship saw folk who like to be quiet as deficient, and vice versa. Whites saw black as being deficient.”

As if to underscore such solidarity, he started the NAACP speech with a nod to what he said were his Jewish and Muslim supporters.

“I would also like to thank sister Melanie Maron, the former executive director of the Chicago chapter of the American Jewish Committee and the current executive director of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the American Jewish Committee,” he said. “I would like to thank my good friend and Jewish author, Tim Wise, for his support.”

Yet such thank-yous could undermine Wright’s efforts at conciliation. Wise is a Louisiana writer who has written extensively about white racism and tackled expressions of anti-Semitism on the left. But he also has repudiated Zionism as nationalist chauvinism while failing to address the chauvinism inherent in the Arab and Islamic movements that deny Israel’s existence.

In 2000, decrying Jewish pride in the selection of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Wise in Z Magazine described Judaism in the United States “as typified by an ‘objects culture’ of mezuzahs, dreidls and stars of David on the one hand; a popular culture of food, Jewish comedy and entertainment on the other; and all of it topped off by a ‘problems culture’ preoccupied with Israel and anti-Semitism: a negative identity based on real and potential victimhood.”

Wise’s claim that national chauvinism is intrinsic to Zionism jibes with Wright’s earlier reported views that equate the Palestinian experience with the experience of others who have been colonized.

Calendar Girls picks and clicks for May 3-9


SAT | MAY 3

(HOME + GARDEN)

Venice Beach is showcasing 30 of its unique homes and gardens for the public’s viewing pleasure. Benefiting the Neighborhood Youth Association’s Las Doradas ” target=”_blank”>http://www.venicegardentour.org.

(DANCE)

The last time we tried to include one of Heidi Duckler’s stunning site-specific dance performances, we had to yank it because the show sold out, then put it back in when another performance time was added, and take it out once again because that also sold out before we went to press. This time, the Collage Dance Theatre show, “A Guide to an Exhibitionist,” has wisely scheduled not two, but six show times. Set in an art gallery, the innovative work takes each audience member through a guided audio tour of framed live performers, completely reinventing the experience of viewing art. Hurry and get your tickets now, because the 7 p.m. show is sold out already! Sat. 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m., 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. $25 (includes wine and cheese reception). Museum of Design, Art and Architecture, 8609 Washington Blvd., Culver City. (818) 784-8669. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.bigsunday.org.

SUN | MAY 4

(YOM HASHOAH)

” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’ alt=”Antonio Villaraigosa and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi”>largest Holocaust Remembrance Day event, featuring guest speaker Rabbi David Wolpe. Garamendi, who has worked tirelessly to grant insurance reparations for Holocaust victims, survivors and their family members, will stand with others in remembrance at an event co-sponsored by The Jewish Federation, Jewish World Watch, the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument, The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and Second Generation. Sun. 1:45 p.m. Free. Los Angeles Holocaust Monument, Pan Pacific Park, 7600 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 280-5010.

(BENEFIT)

Oh, what a night it will be supporting Jewish education during a benefit concert featuring none other than the musical group that helped define American pop and rock in the ’60s — Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Join Faith and Jonathan Cookler, founding donors of New Community Jewish High School, during this gala event that features a kosher buffet and rockin’ concert. Dress in your finest attire and dance the night away to sizzling hits such as “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “Walk Like a Man.” Sun. 5 p.m. (dinner), 6:30 p.m. (program and concert). $100-$300. Orpheum Theatre, 842 S. Broadway, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P, (818) 449-8900.

(DANCE)

Academic institutions are turning to the expressive power of Israeli dance to promote cross-cultural understanding when politics prove befuddling. Three of Israel’s most prolific contemporary choreographers — Idan Cohen, Niv Sheinfeld and Ronit Ziv — will highlight their modern interpretations of a traditional dance form as the culmination of a two-week residency at UCLA, the second phase of a performing arts cultural exchange program orchestrated by The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles twinning program. “Bridge Choreographic Dialogues: Live from Israel” features a symposium with the artists, a live dance concert and a folk-dancing frolic hosted by popular dance teacher David Dassa. Sun. noon-1:30 p.m. (symposium) 2-4 p.m. (concert) $12-$20 (includes concert and party). UCLA, Kaufman Hall, 120 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.debiderryberry.com.

(LECTURE)

Wilshire Boulevard Temple and State of Israel Bonds invites the community to listen and learn from Stephen M. Berk, a widely respected history professor at Union College in New York and a frequent guest in the media for his Middle East expertise. With an international reputation for his teachings, writings and research, Berk will deliver an engaging presentation addressing the challenges Israel faces on its 60th year of existence, “Israel at the Crossroads: Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and the Jewish State.” Sun. 5:30 p.m. Free. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus, Marcia Israel Chapel-Auditorium, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. requested, (213) 388-2401.

Islam in the Hood


Is Islam a religion of war or of peace? Is it both? How did it start? What are its connections to Judaism?

These and other questions lit upmy house the other night as part of an unusual Torah salon that has been gracing the Pico-Robertson neighborhood for the past 10 years.

It was started by writer and film producer David Brandes and has been informally called the Avi Chai group, after the Avi Chai Foundation (which until recently supplied the funding).

What’s unusual is that this is a group of 20-25 mostly unobservant Jews, many of them writers and filmmakers, who like to go very deeply into Jewish texts. For many years, the class was led by a scholarly Orthodox rabbi and author, Rabbi Levi Meir, whose approach was to dissect the many layers of an original Torah text by delving into Rashi and other classic commentators.

In other words, it was your basic hard-core yeshiva class for Hollywood hipsters.

I participated in several of these salons over the years, and I can tell you it is a sight to behold bright, hip Jews who haven’t spent a minute in a yeshiva take on a Torah scholar on the microscopic difference between two interpretations of a text. Put a black hat on the men and make the whole thing in Yiddish and you wouldn’t be too far from Mea Shearim.

What I also find remarkable is that many of the same people have been coming back, month after month, year after year. I find this remarkable because their deep attachment to Judaism has little to do with their level of observance. They have not chosen a religious lifestyle, which would obligate them to learn regularly. They are learning about their religion, rather than learning how to become more religious.

And as you’ll see, they are very adventurous in their learning.

Lately, under the tutelage of Rabbi Abner Weiss, the class has expressed a greater interest in history and theology, including how Judaism compares to other religions. The class the other night was the first in a three-part series on Islam.

After it was over, there was a strange silence among many of the participants. It wasn’t just that they didn’t want to wake up my kids, or that my mother’s desserts had sucked up their attention.

There was a sense that we’ve all been cheated. Not by the class — which was electrifying — but by the lack of serious reporting in the general news media about history and theology.

People were wondering: Why do we rarely hear about the history of Islam, about the role that wars and coercion played in its conception, about how the prophet Muhammad felt slighted by the Jews of Arabia, and about the many similarities between Islam and Judaism?

In an hour and a half, we gained more knowledge on Islam than in 1,000 reports of any major newspaper or news broadcast.

Did you know that according to the late professor Louis Ginzberg, the eminent authority on Talmud, Arabian Jews at one point actually prayed five times a day, and that the five daily prayers of Islam “were undoubtedly ordained by Muhammad as a result of this early Jewish practice”?

We also learned through the scholarship of professor Abraham Katsh (“Judaism and the Koran”) that the Islamic concepts of “ethical monotheism, the unity of God; prayer; consideration for the underprivileged; reverence for parents; fasting; penitence; the belief in angels; the stories about Abraham, the Patriarchs, Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon; the injunction of a pilgrimage to Mecca; waging war against the enemy; the status of women; and the position of prophets, all have their antecedents in Jewish tradition.”

Of course, we also learned that Islam refashioned many of the original teachings and stories of the Jewish Bible, that military conquest and coercion played a huge role in the birth of Islam and that many Arabs and pagans in pre-Islam Arabia (particularly in what is now Yemen) had a real admiration for Jews and even converted to Judaism.

In short, our minds were provoked and our curiosity aroused. Many of us have tracked down the books quoted by Rabbi Weiss to learn more, and there is a great sense of anticipation for the next class.

Why is all this historical and theological learning so important?Because it gives us a context by which to understand current events. The information we routinely get from the media on a complicated and delicate subject like the religion of Islam seems so limited to the newsy, the violent and the politically correct that it is limiting a much needed debate.

One reason attempts at Jewish and Muslim dialogue fail is they’re too schmaltzy, like some innocuous therapy session that is overly focused on process, at the expense of knowledge.

What we need is less bridge-building and more knowledge-building; fewer dialogue sessions and more learning salons.

I’d love to see Jewish and Muslim groups engage in civilized debate on some of the hard, divisive questions of theology and history that are too often suppressed, or left to be debated in the obscure halls of academia. It may be unpleasant for both sides, but in the long run, the relationship stands a better chance.

Maybe the bridge builders can come to our next Torah salon on Islam, right here in the hood. If the subject becomes too painful, at least there’ll be my mother’s Moroccan cookies.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Sacramento PBS TV affiliate won’t run anti-Semitism documentary


David Hosley thinks a scene in which a group of devious Jews slash the throat of a young boy in a ritual slaughter to cull his blood for Passover matzah is not the type of thing that should be shown on television.

Yitzhak Santis thinks it’s exactly what we should be seeing. Santis is the director of Middle Eastern affairs for the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council.

But Hosley is the general manager of a TV station, the PBS affiliate KVIE in Sacramento. So his word goes.

Hosley passed on running the documentary, “Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence,” which most Public Broadcasting stations ran in early January, including Los Angeles’ KCET, which ran it on Jan. 8. The film, narrated by Judy Woodruff, provides a history of the hatred of Jews in the Christian West and Muslim East, accompanied by historical cartoons depicting the Jew as “Christ killer,” bloodsucker, ravisher of virgins and plotter of world domination.

Hosley defended his decision, which he said was a difficult one and came only after input from a board of station employees, professors and local religious leaders, including a rabbi, imam and Christian ministers.

“I am interested in the topic, but I’m looking for a program that lives up to its title and is well made,” said Hosley, a documentary filmmaker himself and the station’s general manager for the past eight years.

Hosley said the film, produced by Andrew Goldberg, was journalistically problematic. He claimed that its rapid cuts and interviews with unseen, off-screen questioners left it unclear if the young Arabs being questioned were stating their heartfelt opinions or repeating stories they’d heard. He also complained that the film spent far too long revisiting the history of European anti-Semitism in the 20th century. As for the ritual slaughter scene — an excerpt from a Syrian TV drama — he and his panel felt it was blunt, gory and the message could have been made without the depiction of a boy’s throat being slashed.

Hosley said his panel told him the film would do “more harm than good” for the relationships among Sacramento’s various religious groups.

“I’m very familiar with this program and I couldn’t disagree more,” said Santis of Hosley’s argument. “If you really want to understand the incitement that is being made in Arab and Muslim media, the fact that it is so dramatic and gruesome really demonstrates the level of demonization of Jews that’s going on. I have a copy of that [clip] and I’ve shown it to audiences here and people do close their eyes and I have heard gasps.

“I use it as a wake-up call,” Santis said. “This is using 21st century technology to perpetuate the blood libel and people should be made aware of that.”

Along with a bevy of letters both supporting and denouncing the documentary, PBS ombudsman Michael Getler wrote a largely supportive entry on behalf of “Anti-Semitism” on the PBS Web site.

“This struck me as just the thing Public TV ought to be doing,” he wrote in a Thursday, Jan. 11 posting on PBS.org. “It is unlikely that any diverse audience will ever say that you got this subject just right, but producers need to take a shot at it. Its value, I thought, was in explaining the evolution of anti-Semitism, the original Christian and European role and the differences with Islam, and in exposing to American audiences the kind of hate-filled imagery about Jews that is broadcast and publicly stated in many Arab countries that Americans are unaware of and that the American media rarely captures and broadcasts if they see it.”

Hosley said he that it was far from a rebellious act to not run the documentary, as each national program offered is presented at the discretion of the individual affiliate. Hosley estimates he’s rejected more than 100 hours of nonrequired programming over the past year. And of the roughly 50 largest PBS affiliates, 18 did not run “Anti-Semitism” in the time slot PBS central had earmarked for it, if at all.

In place of “Anti-Semitism” Hosley ran a documentary about America’s oil dependence and the nation’s relationship with oil-producing nations.

Get on down to ‘Funkel Town; Middle Eastern humor; Accordians! Accordians! Accordians!


Saturday the 6th

Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts takes you to “funkel town.” It’s Art Garfunkel in concert this evening, singing American tunes from his days with Paul Simon, as well as solo pieces from days since.

8 p.m. $32-$57.50. 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. (562) 467-8818. ‘ TARGET=’_blank’>www.levantinecenter.org.

Monday the 8th

The subjects and media of Susan Soffer Cohn’s art have varied over the course of her career. Focusing in on two of her series is the Pauline and Zena Gatov Gallery at the Alpert JCC. Their first exhibition of the year will present her colorful biblical paintings, with titles like “Miriam Led the Women” and “In the Beginning,” as well as her horse portraits, under the title, “Inspired by New Circles.” The exhibit opens this week, with an artist reception scheduled for Jan. 14.

3601 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (562) 426-7601. ‘ TARGET=’_blank’>www.lmangallery.com.

Wednesday the 10th

The new year means more new art on view — in fact, three times as much at UCLA Hillel’s Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts. It debuts a trifecta of new exhibitions simultaneously today. “American Jewish Legacy” features a collection of historical documents chronicling the Jewish experience in America, from 1654’s arrival of immigrants to New Amsterdam, through today. Also on view are two divergent photographic exhibitions: “Pure Faith” presents images by Israeli photographer Harel Stanton of religious ceremonies from around the world. “Jewish Musical Icons of the 20th Century” displays the photographs of cellist and photographer Jim Arkatov, who, in the course of his distinguished career in various orchestras, also snapped photos of leading musical icons.

574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. (310) 208-3081.

Thursday the 11th

The Skirball takes a giant leap in making the accordion cool again with the concert series, “Compressing the World.” Tonight’s third installment features the squeeze box stylings of Rob Curto’s Forró for All. The New York-based band plays northeast Brazilian forró pé de serra dance music, known for its use of accordion, triangle and zabumba drum.

8 p.m. $15-$25. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

Friday the 12th

Regime Change


I’m at a stunning house in Beverly Hills. The hosts are pillars of the Persian Jewish community. The food is incredible. Milky raw almonds and walnuts floating insilver bowls of ice water. Candied kumquats on gilt platters. Fragrant rice pilafs beribboned with dried cherries and pistachios, and uniformed waiters offering hillocks of grilled lamb chops.

But — and this often happens — the sumptuousness of the food is in direct proportion to the grimness of the topics under discussion.

I’m here with 30 or so other guests to meet Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Some hail him as a visionary, and others dismiss him as a thug for his call to demand loyalty oaths of Israeli Arabs and cut loose Arab areas of the country.

But what interests me tonight is not Lieberman’s idea for disenfranchising 20 percent of Israel’s citizens, a Kahane-esque ploy that would spell the end of American support for the Jewish state. As much as Lieberman, in his heavily Russian-accented English, pitches that dystopian idea, his audience — most of them from the Persian Jewish elite — express more concern over what Israel will do about Iran.

For this group, of course, it’s personal.

They share a language and a homeland with the mullah-run regime in Teheran. They understand the threat a nuclear-armed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could pose to Israel, and they are anxious over the fate of some 20,000 Jews still living in Iran.

This group wasn’t even that worked up about the Holocaust denial conference Ahmadinejad was sponsoring beginning that very day. Why focus on the man’s minor lunacies when his main one — his quest for nuclear weapons and his vow to destroy Israel — are so much more urgent? What these very elegant, very serious guests want is the bottom line — what can Israel do now? — to counter the Iranian threat.

Lieberman’s answer was not surprising. He spoke of tough sanctions — which no one in the audience seemed to put much faith in — followed by “harsher measures.” It wasn’t hard to guess what the deputy prime minister meant by that. If Israeli leaders haven’t issued an outright call for a military response to Iranian nuclear threat, they’ve sure been hinting hard.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni — all have spoken in Los Angeles recently on the need to confront the Iranian threat immediately and forcefully.

But I’m wary.

If the Iraq debacle has taught us anything, it’s to distrust those who promote preemption. The same Israeli and the same Americans who said attacking Iraq was the best option are arguing that now, or soon, is the time to plow our bombs into the bunkers and factories of Iran.

Ahmadinejad has certainly earned the right to be bombed, but is that Israel’s — and America’s — best and only option?

For one, our leaders are perfectly capable of screwing up a military response. If Olmert couldn’t destroy Hezbollah in their Iranian-funded bunkers, how certain is it Israel can destroy Iran’s much more safely guarded nukes? Also, perhaps the Iranian regime is vulnerable in other ways.

“Iran is in a state of upheaval,” the Iranian-born columnist Amil Imani wrote me by e-mail.

“It is prudent that the West does not embark on a trigger-happy policy. The mullahs’ lease on life is just about over. A concerted economic and moral support should be all that is needed for the Iranian people to put an end to the shameful and hate-driven ‘monkey’ and his ilk.”

Imani is a Muslim and an active — and brave, considering the international reach of Iranian agents — opponent of the regime. As much as he hates the mullahs, he doesn’t believe the military option is even necessary at this point. He wants Americans to understand that Ahmadinejad — whom a good portion of the population refers to as “the monkey” — has a less-than-solid grip on power, and the same goes for the mullahs.

But Ahmadinejad can use our saber rattling to rally Iranians around the flag, and extend his otherwise numbered days. Otherwise, their discontent becomes more and more apparent. Local elections throughout Iran on Dec. 16 demonstrated an “overwhelming defeat” for Ahmadinejad and his candidates, Imani said. The winners were a coalition of conservatives and reformers.

Perhaps a better strategy for Americans and Israelis is to do all we can to support Iranian voices of reform and dissent. We’re terrible at that. Seven years ago, on Dec. 9, 1999, thousands of students rallied against the regime. Government troops crushed the spreading protest, killing at least 19 students.

The Disaster of the University Dormitories, as it is known in Iran, received four mentions in major American newspapers, including a small article a week after the fact in the Los Angeles Times. Talk about moral support.

One step we can all take these days is to sign a petition now circulating on the Web calling on incoming U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to hold Iran’s president accountable for inciting genocide under Articles III and IV of the United Nations’ own Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

That’s the least that august body can doAdditionally, both Tel Aviv and Washington can fund television, radio and Internet broadcasts into Iran and offer Iranian dissidents real moral and financial help. Our media can tell stories of these dissidents and track their progress, to enable us not just to gawk at the monkey, but to actually help his opponents.

“Many people have asked me: How long will the present Iranian regime last?” Imani wrote. “No one exactly knows. Who among us expected that when President Reagan said in Berlin, ‘Tear down this wall,’ it would indeed fall within a few years? So, too, it is not possible to tell when change will come to Iran, although it is quite clear that the Iranian people detest the present system and are ready for change.”

What do Dennis Prager, Jimmy Carter, Mel Gibson and General Motors have in common?


Understanding Prager

Your Dec. 8 edition of The Journal had two prominent headlines regarding recent comments made by Dennis Prager. These headlines stated: “Prager Won’t Apologize After Slamming Quran in Congress” and “Prager Opposition to Quran in Congress Rite Draws Fire.”

Since I previously read Prager’s commentary regarding the new Muslim congressman wanting to use the Quran, instead of the Bible, during his upcoming swearing-in ceremony, it was difficult to reconcile both your headlines and the related article. Nowhere did we see Prager “slam” or “oppose” in a practical sense. Rather, his commentary sought to perpetuate American values for this traditional congressional swearing in ceremony. Our courts also use a similar process to swear in witnesses and assure truthful testimony. Will our court system be next in line?

Your paper was quite transparent in editorializing against, not reporting, Prager’s position. Moreover, some of the same Jewish leaders named as Prager’s critics have also been at the forefront of keeping religious and Jewish symbols out of our secular society.

In this latter instance, the constitutional separation of church and state argument is invoked. Interesting how they now cloak their argument against Prager with another constitutional position, i.e., the First Amendment.

You also cite an Islamic advocacy group, which vehemently attacks Prager both personally and via his position on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

Instead of overreacting to political correctness, we would be better served by pursuing the real facts and premise here.

Steven Fishbein
Sacramento

Talented Mel

I pay tribute to Mel Gibson … and believe that the word police are alive and well out there. (“Skip Into Mel Gibson’s ‘Apocalypto,’ Now,” Dec. 8).

How many of us are innocent of never making a racial or ethnic slur? Because he is who he is, the media goes after him, waiting for him to mess up and nail him. So what — they are only words. I believe he is a most talented actor and director no matter what anyone says … and will probably go back and see [“Apocalypto”] again.

J. Sklair
Via e-mail

General Motors

The series, “Hitler’s Carmaker,” by Edwin Black examines once again the role of Adam Opel AG, GM’s German subsidiary, in the period before and during World War II (“Hitler’s Carmaker: How General Motors helped jump-start the Third Reich’s military machine,” Dec. 1).

It has been well documented that, like all German companies, Opel participated in the rebuilding of German industry during the 1930s. As Germany rearmed, Opel sold trucks and other vehicles to the German military, as did all other German vehicle manufacturers.

In independent research supported by GM, historian Henry Ashby Turner Jr. concluded that GM executives in charge of Opel strove to evade Nazi demands to convert the firm’s main factory for production of dedicated war material. His book, “General Motors and the Nazis” (Yale University Press, 2005), documents that by mid-1940, soon after the invasion of Poland, the Nazis had taken complete control of operations at Opel.

It was during this later period, from 1940 though 1945, that the Nazis turned to forced labor to bolster Germany’s manufacturing industry, and that sanctions against Jews and others grew into the horrors of the Holocaust.

During this period, GM had no role in supporting the Nazi regime. In fact, GM became a key part of the American war effort, without which the Nazis might have remained in power for many years longerGeneral Motors finds the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime abhorrent and among the darkest days of our collective history. General Motors deeply regrets any role the company or its vehicles played in the Nazi era.

While “Hitler’s Carmaker” makes for compelling reading, it is not news. It covers a period of history that has been extensively researched. For example, following in-depth investigations in 1999, Opel made a $15 million contribution to the German multicompany Trust Fund Initiative to compensate forced labor workers and their survivors.

Nor does it reflect the General Motors of today, which is firmly committed to basic human rights. These principles, spelled out in GM’s Human Rights and Labor Standards, the Global Sullivan Principles and related documents, are proudly supported by the men and women of GM around the globe.

Steven J. Harris
Vice President, Communications
General Motors Corp.

Playing With the Facts

Perhaps President Carter’s latest book is not “Mein Kampf” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” but give his supporters more time to play with the facts (“With Friends Like These…” Dec. 15). For example: The response to [Theodor] Herzl’s gentle diplomacy was “Protocols of Zion”; the Palestinian response to Jewish immigration of legally purchased land where the Jews did their own labor, at slave level, were pogroms (called riots); Palestinian Nazification erupted with Hitler’s ally in genocide, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, and blossomed with Arab Ph.Ds in Holocaust denial; currently there is mass Nazi education for Palestinian youth.

Don’t worry, give Carter’s book time.

Meanwhile, I hereby nominate his book for the “Janjaweed Martyrs of the Year” award.

Charles S. Berdiansky
West Hollywood

Vegan Versions

My mouth was watering as I read about Follow Your Heart’s annual all-vegetarian Chanukah feast (“Follow Your Heart to a Vegetarian Chanukah Feast,” Dec. 15). But are latkes and vegetarian liver really that foreign to us? Indeed, there are tons of vegan dishes that are common Jewish foods, from falafel and hummus to blintzes and vegetarian cholent.

My favorite part about Chanukah and other Jewish holidays is getting together with loved ones and chowing down on the easily vegan versions of virtually all Jewish staples. Not only is it easy to be vegetarian, it’s easy to be vegetarian and eat Jewish foods.

Michael Croland
Norfolk, Va.

Correction:The Dec. 15 Journal cover illustration should have been credited to Steve Greenberg. The Journal regrets the error.

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Michael Richards: Still not a Jew


There’s a civil war brewing in Lebanon, missiles sizzle on their launch pads in Gaza; death and doom stalk Iraq; the earth’s climate speeds toward collapse; andIran is five days closer to going nuclear than it was before my Thanksgiving holiday began.

And when I return to work, what does the whole world seem to be wondering?Hey, is Michael Richards Jewish?

Richards is the former “Seinfeld” star who was videotaped at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood lashing out at hecklers using the N-word.

He’s been making the usual Stations of the Media Cross, apologizing ever since.And from the beginning, somehow Richards’ Jewishness, or lack of it, became an issue.

Comedian Paul Rodriguez held a press conference at the Laugh Factory, saying that Richards should know better, because the Hollywood community defended Jews against actor Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic tirades.

The implication was that Richards, a Jew, should not be launching racist attacks.

Black leaders, self-proclaimed and otherwise, told journalists that they’d be watching to see whether Hollywood reacted as strongly to Richards’ racist outburst as they did to Gibson.

How proud Mel must be that the intensity of Hollywood hate speech is now measured in Gibsons.

But if Gibson himself set the standard at 10 Gibsons, Richards is probably closer to a 5. He never made a full-length feature film shot through with vicious stereotypes. He never stood by a kooky Holocaust denier. And when he vented, he vented onstage in the course of an act.

I happened to catch Richards’ act at the Improv back in September. Richards showed up unbilled and stole the evening. He didn’t have punch lines — he had riffs, rants and characters — and he wasn’t close to offensive. At one point, he channeled the conversation of two dogs barking to each other across a suburban neighborhood. You needed to be there, and maybe you needed a drink in you, but it was hysterical. But channeling a racist without sounding like one is a much taller order, and best left to someone not as untethered as Richards.

That said, there’s also just a touch of hypocrisy in roasting a guy for using a word that a great many black comedians from Chris Rock on down use like … a noun. He may have gone too far, in character or not, but he certainly went where other comedians, not to mention hip hop artists, have gone before. How ethnic groups speak among themselves is one thing. But to maintain that the N-word is okay only when black comedians say it in public is a perverse kind of racism of lower expectations, as if they can’t help it but we should know better.

A lot of people in this affair should know better. How goofy is it that Richards must genuflect in apology to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who, for all his good works, is hardly pure in these matters? Evidently, people who live in glass houses can throw stones, so long as the houses are outside “Hymietown.”

And how obscene that attorney Gloria Allred immediately tried to shake Richards down for money on behalf of her clients, the hecklers. How inspiring to see the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement looting the headlines for ratings and cash.

But what interests me about Richardsgate is not black hypocrisy, but Jewish pathology. What tribal chain of ours is yanked the moment someone of indeterminate ethnicity hits the headlines?

The second the brouhaha erupted, there was an atavistic rush to get to the bottom of Richards’ identity. On Nov. 20, The Journal posted a story at reporting that Richards, contrary to the intimations of Rodriguez and others, is not Jewish.

By Tuesday night we had tens of thousands of hits from around the world.

By the following Monday, after a period of Thanksgiving reflection led people to realize what really matters most in life, our Web site had hundreds of thousands of hits, and the piece had been picked up and echoed and blogged on ad infinitum.

Monday morning I had several phones messages and two dozen e-mails demanding confirmation that Richard is not, in fact, Jewish.

What happened is that over the holiday, two more aggrieved audience members came forward and accused Richards of launching into an anti-Semitic rant on the Laugh Factory stage April 22.

Richards’ New York publicist Howard Rubenstein tried setting the record straight. It was preposterous to accuse Richards of anti-Semitism because, Rubenstein told Yahoo News last week, “He’s Jewish. He’s not anti-Semitic at all. He was role-playing, he was playing a part. He did use inappropriate language, but he doesn’t have any anti-Semitic feelings whatsoever.”

That quote was good for another tens of thousands of Web hits. Thanks to Rubenstein’s one man beit din, our original story was under attack.

But our sources were entertainment industry people who’d known the actor his entire professional life.

“Not a Jew. Never was. Take him off the list for a minyan,” e-mailed one comedy writer by way of reassurance. “Rubenstein should be wasting his time on real Jews, like David Beckham.”

(For many in Hollywood, what matters is that Richards’ outburst doesn’t cripple the “Seinfeld” franchise. There are tens of millions of dollars to be lost if fans can’t separate Michael Richards from Cosmo Kramer.)

Hollywood Jews may not know much Mishna or give to Hadassah, but at the tribal level they are sharper than Abe Foxman at knowing who’s in and who’s out.

Rubenstein knows, too, of course. The man Inc. magazine called “PR’s top dog” started his career servicing the Menorah Home and Hospital for the Aged and Infirm in Brooklyn and got his first Manhattan real estate tycoon publicity by arranging for him to sing to little Jewish orphans on Jewish holidays. So I called him and asked how, suddenly, Michael Richards is a Jew.

“Well, he wasn’t born with Jewish blood,” Rubenstein tells me in a voice that is silky, deep and confidential — with just a shmear of Flatbush. “It wasn’t an inherited religion. But after studying some of the other religions, he believes in Judaism, and that’s what he’s adopted for himself.”

Collegians do the ‘Write Thing’ at GA


College students are not only attending the General Assembly, they are
covering it as well.

This will be the 17th year that a select group of Jewish collegians, as
members of the Do the Write Thing team, will have its own prestigious place
in the General Assembly.

For this 40-member cadre, most of whom staff their campus Jewish and/or
secular newspapers, the GA will be more than a place to learn about and
participate in organized Jewish life. They will also have the opportunity to
sharpen their journalistic skills while deepening their understanding of
what the community does — and how it does it.

Do the Write Thing is sponsored by The Jewish Agency and the Hagshama
department of the World Zionist Organization, with some sessions coordinated
by the American Jewish Press Association.

Hagshama translates to “fulfillment,” explains New York-based fulfillment’
and find a personal connection and engagement with the Jewish state is
through programs such as this,” he says. “It also helps these students to
be better equipped to make Israel’s case on campuses.”

The GA, he adds, “is a great place for these students to meet Jewish
leaders, and to establish friendships with each other.”

In addition to being at major GA plenaries and sessions, DTWT participants
will attend press conferences with visiting dignitaries and hear, in
sessions exclusively for them, from such eminent people as Gary Rosenblatt,
publisher and editor of The Jewish Week (New York), and Rob Eshman, editor
of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, about “Covering Israel in
the American Jewish Press.” Meetings with Israeli journalists and workshops
with members of the American Jewish Press Association also are on the
agenda.

For many DTWT alumni, participation proved to be a step toward a
professional career. Gil Hoffman and Miriam Saviv are on the staff of the
Jerusalem Post. Dan Schifrin is director of literacy programs at the
National Foundation for Jewish Culture, and Marita Gringaus was press
officer at the Consulate General of Israel in New York. Rustin Silverstein,
who served as press secretary for Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, was also a
producer at “Hardball With Chris Matthews.”

“Do the Write Thing,” Silverstein says, “helped me understand the craft of
writing from a Jewish perspective.”

As a result of a visit during last year’s DTWT program at the Toronto GA by
Laura Kam, director of the Washington-based Media Fellows Program of The
Israel Project, participants learned about the project’s fellowship program.

“Several students applied, and two were chosen, ” Kam reports. “They proved
to be excellent media fellows,” she says. “They were sincere students who
were intent upon pursuing Israel advocacy.”

“I hope to make more connections this year through Do the Write Thing,” Kam
says.

Keren Douek, assistant editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light, says DTWT
confirmed for her that writing for and about the smaller, more specific and
personally relevant Jewish world, was an intriguing concept. “There is
nothing like it,” she says.

Jewish Woman Is European Beauty Queen; Katsav Urged to Temporarily Quit


Jewish Woman Is European Beauty Queen

Alexandra Rosenfeld, 19, won the Miss Europe 2006 title in Kiev last Friday. Rosenfeld, a student who is also Miss France, walked away with $130,000 in prize money and a diamond-studded crown. According to media reports, the Web sites covering the pageant were flooded with anti-Semitic messages after Rosenfeld’s win.

Katsav Urged to Temporarily Quit

Israel’s attorney general recommended that President Moshe Katsav temporarily resign. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz issued his advisory Sunday in response to a High Court petition lodged by a lawyer who wants Katsav to resign in light of the rape allegations against him. Mazuz noted that the High Court is not the forum for deciding Katsav’s fate, but said the president should consider having the Knesset declare him “temporarily incapacitated” until the investigation against him runs its course. Mazuz, who holds ultimate responsibility on deciding whether to prosecute Katsav, said that should there be a trial the president would have no choice but to step down. Katsav, who is suspected of raping more than one former female employee, has denied wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Elie Wiesel has said he is not interested in becoming Israel’s president in response to reports that he has been named as a possible successor to Katsav.

One-Third Favor Clemency for Rabin Assassin

Almost one in three Israelis would support seeing Yitzhak Rabin’s jailed assassin go free one day, a poll found. According to the survey published over the weekend by Yediot Achronot, 5 percent of Israelis would like Yigal Amir to be granted clemency now, while another 25 percent would favor him being freed in 25 years. Support for clemency was stronger among right-wingers and religious Jews. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they want Amir, who shot Rabin, Israel’s prime minister, at a 1995 peace rally, to stay behind bars for life. A 2001 bill passed by the Knesset ruled out clemency for anybody who assassinates an Israeli prime minister.

Foundation Funds Day School Scholarships

A U.S. foundation will offer scholarships worth $11 million for students to attend Jewish day schools in Baltimore. The multiyear grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation will be managed by the Associated, Baltimore’s Jewish federation. The Associated, which already provides more than $3 million a year to Jewish schools in the Baltimore area, committed an additional $1 million for each year of the partnership. Studies have shown that many Jewish parents say they are unable to send their children to Jewish schools because of the cost.”This fund will not only enable more children to attend Jewish day schools, it will centralize the scholarship process and ensure that the moneys are being disbursed as efficiently and effectively as possible,” said Shale Stiller, president of the Weinberg foundation.

Blair Attends Day School Launch

British Prime Minister Tony Blair attended the opening of an ultra-Orthodox day school. The Yesodai Hatorah Girls School was launched Oct. 26 at an event in London’s Stamford Hill. Blair called himself a proud friend of the Jewish people and praised the school for promoting the kind of “values that in the end must motivate and govern the whole of our country and society.”

Hours earlier, Education Secretary Alan Johnson reversed a government decision that would have required state-funded faith schools to reserve at least 25 percent of their spots for students of other faiths or no faith.

Auerbach, Legendary Celtics Coach, Dies

Legendary basketball coach Arnold “Red” Auerbach died over the weekend at age 89. Auerbach led the Boston Celtics to nine NBA titles between 1956 and 1966. Born to Jewish parents in Brooklyn, Auerbach was an innovator on both offense and defense. In 1954, the NBA introduced the 24-second shot clock to counter Auerbach’s tactic of having point guard Bob Cousy dribble out the game clock if the Celtics had a lead with under three minutes left.

Berlin Community Returns to Historic Quarters

Berlin’s Jewish community moved back into its historical headquarters. The community on Saturday celebrated its full return to a synagogue in the city’s east where both communal administration and board will be under one roof. Previously, some communal offices were located in the former West Berlin. The synagogue, which once could hold some 3,000 worshippers, largely was destroyed by allied bombing raids in World War II, but a new chapel and offices were constructed after reunification. The city’s Jewish population has quadrupled to more than 12,000 in the years since unification, particularly due to the influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union.

— Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Bittersweet symphonies: the Pearls struggle to find life after Daniel’s death


Eight days after Yom Kippur, Judea and Ruth Pearl will commemorate what would have been the 43rd birthday of their son, Daniel. As on every Oct. 10 for the last five years, it will be a day of intensely personal reflection and remembrance by the couple and their daughters, Tamara and Michelle, intensifying their emotions of the other 364 days.
 
By contrast, the date also will be marked by public worldwide concerts celebrating the life of Daniel Pearl, an accomplished violinist, equally passionate about the classical, jazz, country and bluegrass musical idioms.
 
As of a week ago, the master calendar showed 166 different performances scheduled in 24 countries — from China to El Salvador and Kenya to Egypt — on and around Oct. 10. It is expected that the numbers will reach last year’s record of 300 concerts in 41 countries.
 
Music was Daniel Pearl’s avocation, but journalism was his profession. In pursuit of a story on Al Qaeda’s financial ties, the then-38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter was kidnapped in early 2002 in Pakistan and beheaded by Islamic extremists.
 



The life and death of Daniel Pearl on HBO
 
It has a handsome, brilliant, fun-loving reporter, who kisses his beautiful, pregnant wife goodbye as he goes off to track down an Al Qaeda financial network in Pakistan. His nemesis is Omar Sheikh, a man not unlike Pearl in background — intelligent, well educated, but who has become a fanatical terrorist.
 
Sheikh lures Pearl into a trap, where kidnappers abduct The Wall Street Journal reporter and withhold news of him for almost a month, while Pearl’s parents and wife, and much of the rest of the world, hold their breath.
 
The Pakistani police search everywhere for Pearl, while the same country’s intelligence service apparently shields the terrorist. Finally, the kidnappers release a grisly video in which Pearl is decapitated by a sword.
 
No wonder four different film projects on the case have been announced, although only one is actually ready for prime time.
 
On Oct. 10, the day on which Pearl would have celebrated his 43rd birthday, HBO will air “The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl,” a 90-minute documentary, which will be hard to beat for drama and intensity by subsequent movies.
 
The film was produced and directed by Ahmed A. Jamal, a Pakistani, and Ramesh Sharma, an Indian, with the full cooperation of Pearl’s wife, Marianne, and his parents, UCLA professor Judea Pearl and Ruth Pearl, both raised in Israel. It is narrated by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
 
What gives the film much of its emotional impact are lovely home videos of Pearl’s childhood in Encino, his passion for music, a makeshift seder conducted on a trans-Siberian railroad train, and the joyous wedding joining him to his Cuban Dutch wife.
 
The life of the secretive Omar Sheikh is, of necessity, less well documented, and at times the directors have to stretch quite a bit to force the two protagonists’ backgrounds into parallel lines.
 
There remain a number of yet unanswered questions, both in the film and in the actual investigations:

  • Did Pearl’s kidnappers sell him to an Arab gang that then murdered him?
  • What was the role of the Pakistani government?
  • Why has the death sentence, imposed on Sheikh by a Pakistani court in July 2002, never been carried out?

Until such questions are answered, the documentary serves as a riveting history of a case that has gripped the world’s attention.
 
“The Journalist and the Jihadi” airs at 8 p.m. on Oct. 10. It will be repeated on various dates in October on HBO and HBO2.

Check www.hbo.com for details.
 
— TT



Yet the wake of this tragedy is an extraordinary story of renewal in itself. Ruth and Judea Pearl are both high-achieving professionals. He is an emeritus professor of computer science at UCLA and internationally recognized for his pioneer research on artificial intelligence. She is an electrical engineer and for years was a highly paid industry consultant. Although quieter than her more exuberant husband, in the immediate days after the tragedy, “she was the captain and ran a tight ship,” her daughter wrote.
 
Both parents cherish their privacy and still shudder each time an inquiring reporter thrusts a mike in their face and asks, “Well, and how did you feel when you first heard that your son had been murdered?”
 
But on the day before Rosh Hashanah this year, sitting in the living room of their pleasant Encino home, they agreed to talk openly about their agonizing experience and how they transformed their lives by transmuting private grief into public good.
 
The story begins on the morning of Jan. 23, 2002, an ordinary day when life seemed especially good for Daniel Pearl. He was a highly respected and popular foreign correspondent for a leading American daily, married to fellow journalist Marianne, and the couple were expecting their first child.
 
That evening, Daniel went to a restaurant in the Pakistani port city of Karachi to meet a supposed source who could provide a break for his investigative story on the financing of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
 
That was the last time his family saw Daniel, except for videos released by his shadowy captors, one showing the journalist in chains with an unknown hand pointing a gun at his head.
 
It was the beginning of 28 days of hope and despair for the Pearl parents, and their six new houseguests from the FBI.
 
Repeatedly during that period, the Pearls were informed their son was dead and his body had been found, and each time the report turned out to be wrong.
 
Throughout the ordeal, Daniel’s colleagues and editors at The Wall Street Journal were in touch with the parents, lending moral support and advice. One of the editors’ main concerns was that other media might leak the fact that both parents come from an Israeli background, thus increasing the threat to Daniel’s life.
 
Judea was born in suburban Tel Aviv in the fervently Orthodox enclave of B’nai Brak, co-founded by his grandfather, and he had served in the Israeli army.
 
Ruth was born in Baghdad, when one-quarter of the Iraqi capital’s population was Jewish, and emigrated with her parents to Israel in 1951. She and Judea met as college students at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
 
In a rare display of professional solidarity in the competitive media, no one raised the Israeli angle until after Daniel’s death.
 
During the torturous waiting period, Barney Calame, a Wall Street Journal editor, phoned the Pearls daily with a situation report. “He was a slow, deliberate speaker and each time our hearts kept sinking until, at the end, he would report that there had been no new developments,” Judea recalled. “We finally taught him to open each conversation with the sentence, ‘I have no news.'”
 
In the last days before Daniel’s death, the Pearls were fairly hopeful.
 
“Danny was a careful professional, not a Don Quixote type, and he had always gotten himself out of any trouble before,” his mother said. “Besides, his goodness shone through, and we couldn’t believe that his kidnappers could live with him for weeks and not be affected by it.”
 
Adding to the hopefulness was the history of other journalists abducted in Parkistan previously, who had always been returned after a few days in exchange for enemy prisoners or ransom.
 
On the morning of Feb. 21, 2002, the last glimmer of hope was extinguished. “We were having breakfast when three FBI agents, two women and a man, walked in,” Ruth remembered. “One woman had tears in her eyes, and she asked me if I had anything cooking on the stove. Then she told us that she had bad news and that Danny had been killed.”
 
After the previous false alarms, the Pearls refused to believe the report. They phoned the American consul in Karachi, who confirmed that he had seen the gruesome video showing the decapitation of their son.
 
Pakistani police did not find Daniel’s mutilated body until May 16, and it took another three months until the remains were returned to the United States. Hours before the funeral, the FBI stopped the proceedings on the grounds that the agents needed four more days to perform an autopsy.
 
Finally, after the burial and the memorial service, the Pearls were left to ponder their loss and their future.
 
“I felt that my life was over,” Ruth said. “We would never again have a normal life. I still cannot comprehend it; I try not to comprehend it; there’s a mental mechanism blocking it.”Added Judea, “As human beings, we don’t have the software, the computational machinery, to comprehend the logical contradiction that such a beautiful person, who tried so hard to explain the Muslim world to the West, would be killed by people who elevated their grievance above all norms of civilization.”
 
But rather than the sad ending that might have happened, this is where the story takes a surprising turn. The Pearls faced three obvious options. One was to retreat into their private grief, another to resume their professional lives as best they could, and a third to do whatever they could to exact revenge on their son’s murderers.
 
They chose a fourth way. “We refused to accept the idea that Danny’s contributions to the world as a journalist, as a musician, as a gentle human being was ended forever,” Judea said.
 
“We decided on a different kind of defiance,” he added. “We would fight hatred with everything in our power, but we wouldn’t seek physical revenge — that’s what his murderers wanted.”
 
The parents found the vehicle to turn thoughts into action a few days later, as a steady stream of condolence cards, flowers and envelopes with $20 bills and other small donations arrived at the house.
 
“We didn’t know how to cope with all that,” said Ruth, so The Wall Street Journal arranged for a team of lawyers to advise the family.
 
The first decision was to set up a trust fund for Marianne and her soon-to-be-born son, Adam. As the discussions continued, all agreed that the most relevant way to honor Daniel’s life and death was to establish a foundation to perpetuate his work and ideals.
 
Exactly one week after the FBI agent reported Danny’s death, the legal papers establishing the Daniel Pearl Foundation were signed by Judea Pearl as president and Ruth Pearl as chief financial officer.

Three Generations of Pearls

Three Generations of Pearls. back row: Tosha Pearl (center) is flanked by her daughter-in-law, Ruth, and son, Judea, during a Tel Aviv family reunion. front row: Tamara Pearl and her brother, Daniel Pearl. Photo courtesy Ruth and Judea Pearl

“We wanted to fight the tsunami of hatred engulfing the world and we had a powerful weapon — the memory of Danny, respected by millions of Muslims, Christians and Jews, and through the three fields in which he excelled, journalism, music and dialogue.”
 
Working with a miniscule staff and a $400,000 annual budget, raised mainly through small contributions (“We don’t get any celebrities,” Judea said), the foundation has transformed Daniel’s legacy and the parents’ vision into reality.
 
In journalism, reporters and editors from Muslim countries annually travel to the United States for six-month working fellowships on American newspapers, including The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
 
Through the Web-based World Youth News, students at 20,000 high schools in 109 countries develop professional skills, unbiased reporting and respect for cultural differences.
 
In music, World Music Days will be celebrated this year Oct. 6-15. Among the hundreds of performers and performances will be Sir Elton John, world premiere of Steve Reich’s “Daniel Variations,” symphony orchestras in five different countries, neo-soul artist Nya Jade, Bo Diddley and Friends, Hollywood Interfaith Choir and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.
 
Judea Pearl and professor Akbar Ahmed, a leading Islamic scholar from Pakistan, have engaged in dialogues before multiethnic audiences throughout the United States and in the British House of Lords.
 
“We have only two rules,” Pearl said. “No topic is taboo and both speakers and audience must maintain civilized tone.”
 
The foundation has promoted publication of books of Daniel’s own writings and about his beliefs. Among a number of projected films, HBO will air “The Journalist and the Jihadi” on Oct. 10.
 
Somewhat to their own surprise, Judea and Ruth have become accomplished and passionate public speakers and are constantly busy promoting and running the Daniel Pearl Foundation.They have also evolved into skillful interviewees, with Judea as the more animated and gesticulating responder, while Ruth is quieter on the surface and occasionally corrects her husband’s recollections.
 
But, Judea said, “I resist the idea that I’m doing all this for therapeutic reasons. If I didn’t believe that our work makes some difference, I would quit tomorrow.”Added Ruth, “Some days we are encouraged and on other days we are down. But we are doers and we don’t quit.”
 

 
Daniel Pearl

Media reporters meet community; Karnit Goldwasser appeals for help


A sold-out crowd of close to 450 men and women attended the Women’s Alliance for Israel Aug. 8 symposium on “Israel and the Media — How Fair the Coverage?” The event at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel included panelists Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project; David Lauter of the Los Angeles Times; Jay Sanderson, president of Jewish Television Network; and Bill Boyarsky, Pulitzer Prize winner, author and Jewish Journal contributing columnist.

For information about Women’s Alliance for Israel please call (310) 281-4711.

A Wife’s Plea

On Sept. 6, the American Jewish Congress (AJ Congress) sponsored an event at Sinai Temple in Westwood featuring Karnit Goldwasser, wife of kidnapped Israeli soldier, Ehud Goldwasser. Along with her father, Omri Avni, Goldwasser spoke about the plight of her husband held captive in Lebanon by Hezbollah terrorists since July 12.

“I am asking for help from anyone who has the key to show us that Udi is still alive,” Goldwasser said.

Both Goldwasser and Avni urged the audience of nearly 200 to pressure U.S. government officials and the International Red Cross to send on a letter sitting in the Red Cross office in Beirut from Karnit for Ehud. Following Goldwasser’s pleas for financial help to cover the costs of her travels across the United States and the world, Iranian Jewish businessman John Farahi pledged to pay for the expenses for the next six months. Goldwasser and her father have also visited Chicago, Miami, Houston and Washington, D.C., in order to raise awareness about her husband’s captivity (see story page 8).

Gary Ratner, executive director of AJ Congress, said his group would try to get Goldwasser another meeting with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Appointment for Prager

President George Bush recently named radio host and Van Nuys resident Dennis Prager to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the governing body of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The council consists of 55 presidential appointees, in addition to 10 congressional representatives and three ex-officio members from the departments of Education, Interior and State. Prager will complete the remainder of a five-year term that expires in January 2011.

“Dennis Prager’s unique moral voice and dedication to the mission of Holocaust education and remembrance make him an ideal candidate to serve on the council, particularly today as we witness rising global anti-Semitism,” said council chairman Fred S. Zeidman. “I welcome the talent and enthusiasm he brings to the position and congratulate him on joining the council.”

Prager, host of the nationally syndicated “The Dennis Prager Show,” is a speaker, author and film producer. In 2003, Simon and Schuster reissued his work on the history of anti-Semitism, “Why the Jews,” written with co-author Joseph Telushkin. Deeply involved in interfaith dialog efforts, he is a frequent contributor to national publications and regularly offers commentary on many national TV outlets.

For more information, visit “>www.hadassah.org.

An (Israeli-American) Voice in the Wilderness


Jonathan Tasini’s name, in Israel, would be pronounced more like Tazini. It’s related to a command in classical Hebrew that Moses uses with his people: Ha’azinu. That is: You should listen.

And at the very least, Tasini wants voters to get a chance to listen to him. He offers himself up as a new kind of Jewish American anti-war candidate for Congress, the only one who, as this summer’s news about the miseries of Iraq merged with that of the Lebanon blow-up, critically addressed both situations. He’s using his small corner of New York’s political stage to speak about these two wars of vital interest to Jews, even as it goes scarcely noticed that Tasini is the closest any candidate has come to being an Israeli American running for the U.S. Congress.

Tasini
His full name is Jonathan Yoav Tasini, and he’s challenging Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York’s Democratic primary on Sept. 12. He’s asked Clinton to debate him — an event that, following Ned Lamont’s win against Sen. Joe Lieberman, would likely be a national story — but so far she hasn’t accepted. Publications as different as The New York Times and the New York Post recently urged Clinton to engage the 49-year-old Tasini, the articulate former head of the National Writer’s Union, saying that a Tasini-Clinton match-up would give her a chance to clarify her muddled position on Iraq.

On Iraq, Tasini — along with a broad range of progressive positions — favors an immediate pullout. On Lebanon, as recent violence surged, he quickly echoed calls elsewhere for a cease-fire and joined in criticism of Israel’s bombing campaign in civilian areas. Tasini spurred a midsummer ripple of controversy with remarks that included his lament of Israel’s “many acts of brutality and violations of human rights.” He didn’t back down, reminding his critics that his comments did not stray from civil rights reports and charges by Israeli leftists.

Still, many people haven’t heard of Tasini, and the Jewish world has barely taken note. His Italian-sounding name stops even some supporters from realizing he’s Jewish, although he’s clear enough about it on his Web site, TasiniforNewYork.org. The New York media — including the Jewish press — have also not covered him with anywhere near the interest accorded Lamont, who bought his share of outsider glamour for $4 million.

Tasini’s raised about $200,000 so far, compared to Clinton’s $22 million. After a recent boomlet of press, he’s polling at 15 percent of New York Democrats. Few think he’ll win. But his positions on the Middle East distinguish him as part of a new generation of Democratic mavericks who reflect this country’s sense of political crisis over Iraq and a measure of disillusionment about Israel’s conduct in the Lebanon War. One could even call his campaign groundbreaking, given the freshness of his views and the novelty of his biography.

“I absolutely view him as an Israeli American,” said Joel Schalit, managing editor of Tikkun Magazine. “He certainly spent enough time in Israel and he certainly has enough connections there.”

Born in Houston, Tasini has two families: an American one from the marriage of his father, Betsalel Tasini, to a woman who lives now in Los Angeles, and an Israeli side, stemming from his father’s second marriage to a New Yorker who emigrated to Israel in 1968. Tasini, a UCLA graduate, lived with his father and stepmother in Israel for seven years and speaks fluent Hebrew.

I recently talked to Rita Tasini, the candidate’s stepmother, by phone as she sat in her home in Ra’anana, north of Tel Aviv, a few days after a Hezbollah missile had fallen in Hadera, not far away.

“He has roots in Israel that are very, very deep,” she said of him. “He was here, not last year, but the year before. He was here for Pesach.”

Tasini, she said, “was left wing at 16. He was always left.”

And his support for a two-state solution for the Palestinians, his objections to the Jewish settlement movement reflected familial views.

“Jonathan’s father was against it,” said his stepmother, “and so was I; none of us believed that they should be living over there.”

Tasini’s late father, a computer scientist, was born in Palestine, and fought in the Haganah, Israel’s pre-state army, and its strike force, the Palmach, his widow told me. He lived for a time in the United States during his American-born son’s early years, then returned to Israel. Rita Tasini described how a teenaged Tasini, having joined his father, volunteered in a hospital, helping wounded Israeli soldiers during the Yom Kippur War.

Yet Tasini told me it was the Vietnam War and the perspective of his father, the independence fighter, that largely shaped his anti-war views. “I remember very specifically watching the news of the Vietnam War and every week they’d have the body counts,” Tasini said, as we talked near his tiny office in New York’s West Village. “This one week, the number of Viet Cong killed were more than Americans and I said, ‘Good,’ and my father said, ‘Why is it good?’ I said, ‘It is better that more of them die than Americans,’ and my father said, ‘It is about much more than that.’ He said that no country wants to be occupied by another country, and liberation movements are very strong. My father was not a deep ideological left-winger, but it was based on his history of having fought against the British.

“Gandhi means a lot to me, Gandhi and Martin Luther King,” he added.
While he said he believes fighting is sometimes necessary, and firmly deplored Hezbollah’s actions at the start of the recent crisis, he questions why, given previous deals Israel made to release Palestinian prisoners for captives, it wasn’t done this time.

The openness of such skepticism may make Tasini seem foolishly bold (or boldly foolish) in the context of a New York political race. But it is of a piece with his controversial past as president of the National Writer’s Union, a time that included taking The New York Times to court to win payment to freelance writers for electronic reuse of their work. He won in the U.S. Supreme Court.

But critics say he misapplied his chutzpah this summer in the middle of the fighting in Lebanon. In an interview with the political blog, Room 8, Tasini was asked whether he believed Israel was a terrorist state. He answered: “It is painful to say that, but when you fire missiles from sophisticated aircraft on unarmed civilians in Gaza, those are again, the definition to me of….” He paused, searching for the next words.

“Terrorism is a very heavily laden word. But to me, what the key thing is, what are you doing? Are your actions in violation of the international norms of the Geneva Convention, and so on? And I think it’s sad to say, but it’s clear, yeah.”

While he quickly stated, on his campaign Web site, that did not view Israel as a terrorist state, he held to his critical stance. The Clinton campaign denounced the remarks, and several Jewish organizations fired back. The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), a Jewish Democratic group in Washington, called the remarks “outrageous” and “downright offensive.”

I asked NJDC Executive Director Ira Forman what made the remarks so wrong — beyond the “terrorist” label, which was pushed at Tasini and about which he wavered — given that human rights groups have issued reports saying more or less the same things.(Amnesty International has just issued a report critical of the Israeli bombing of civilians during the Lebanon conflagration.) Forman said the comments were “inappropriate,” and then added: “Inappropriate may not be the most accurate statement. The accurate statement is ‘very much out of the mainstream for the American Jewish community.'”

Forman’s objection — he was one of those who said he could not remember another congressional candidate who had as full an Israeli background as Tasini — goes to the heart of what makes Tasini an interesting new presence.

Said Tikkun’s magazine’s Joel Schalit: “If Israel comes across as being more fallible, dysfunctional and morally-in-trouble than previously perceived, then American Jewish opinion is going to have some kind of crisis. I think it is about time that an Israeli American entered the process. His timing couldn’t be better.”

Tasini has a political example to aim for in Los Angeles.

“I thought he was courageous to be critical of the Israeli actions in Lebanon, given Hillary’s gestures to win out the Jewish vote,” said Marcy Winograd, a Jewish anti-war progressive who took 38 percent of the vote in her recent primary run against Jane Harmon in California’s 36th Congressional District.
Tasini called the West L.A. campaign “the model” for his.

Tasini pointed out that critics of the Zionist Left who live in Israel tend to feel stronger in their right to question policies there than American Jewish critics in this country because their devotion to the survival of the state stands beyond reproach.

“American Jews feel they are living here in comfort and protection,” he said, “and they don’t really know what is going on, and they can’t criticize Israel. I have never had that. I can say what I say with authority, and I say it because I have a stake there.”

But interesting positions alone won’t get him into the same room with Hillary Clinton. At campaign stops recently she has dodged reporters who more and more often ask whether she’ll debate Tasini. She would only tell a CBS reporter, “We’ll see how the campaign develops over the next weeks.”

Of course Moses, with whom Tasini shares a linguistic legacy, sometimes had problems getting people to listen. But even he didn’t face the mighty logic of American incumbency — that you can deny an under-funded opponent a chance to be heard, if you simply don’t respond.

Allan M. Jalon is a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times and other publications.

Letters to the Editor


Rabbi Baron

Interesting that Rabbi David Baron said his invitation to Mel Gibson to speak at his temple on Yom Kippur was not a publicity stunt (“Three Groups Respond to Gibson’s Request for Meeting,” Aug. 11). Why then did I receive a form letter within two hours of sending the rabbi an e-mail expressing my aggravation at that very invitation? The form letter is addressed not to me, but “To Those Who Are Concerned About the Mel Gibson Invitation to Apologize.” Baron obviously hoped, and anticipated, that this handout to Gibson would bring a lot of attention; otherwise, why would he have had a form letter at the ready before there had yet been any response at all? And how was the invitation to Gibson made public in the first place? Baron wanted all the attention, which he got, without having to face the music, so he fled.

Jeff Weinstock
Encino

Ed Note: See Rabbi Baron’s op-ed column in this issue.

Star Power

Great article, but you may want to exercise a little more control over your cover art (“Star Power,” Aug. 26).

When did The Jewish Journal decide to “unilaterally” give back the West Bank and the Golan Heights?

It may be a subtle “mistake” in art direction, but the hash marks across the vibrant communities in the West Bank and the omission of the Golan are particularly insensitive as Israel continues its fight for it’s very existence. Recent events should have taught us all that the fight is not about “the territories.”

Hopefully your artist was being “creative” and not putting forth a political opinion that represents the editorial stance of The Jewish Journal.

Barry S. Weiss
Valley Village

RJC’s Israel Ads

I want to compliment the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) for their recent ads in The Jewish Journal (Aug. 18 and Aug. 25). The first correctly thanked President Bush for his stalwart support of Israel which was then under vicious attack by Iranian supplied Hezbollah terrorists.

The second pointed out that the Democratic Party has growing and influential leftist voices who not only rejected pro-Israel leader Sen. Joe Lieberman, but are increasingly hostile to bipartisan consensus in support of the Jewish state.Votes and polls do not lie. The vast majority of dissenters from congressional resolutions in support of Israel are Democrats. The majority of anti-Israel voices today on college campuses, in blogs and in our communities are left/liberal, not right/conservative. I have no doubt that American Jews will increasingly reward the GOP.

David Shacter
Los Angeles

The ad on your inside cover from The Republican Jewish Coalition disgusts me. Joe Lieberman was not defeated because of his support for Israel, but because of his continuing support of the most incompetent and corrupt president in the history of the United States.

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party supported Lieberman. It was the voting public, fed up with the disastrous war in Iraq and Lieberman’s blind support for it, that led to his defeat.

The “radical left” has hardly taken over the Democratic Party, and Cindy Sheehan is not a spokesperson for party policy.

No Democratic president would stand by and allow Hezbollah rockets to rain down on Haifa. Nor would they have started a war with Iraq that has ended up strengthening Iran and weakening both the United States and Israel.

Finally, it is the Republican Party that envisions the United States as a Christian theocracy. I cannot understand how any Jew could proudly align themselves with these people.

Barry Wendell
North Hollywood

Bill Boyarsky

I was at the event where Bill Boyarsky and David Lauter spoke for the Woman’s Alliance for Israel Program (“Needed: Rational Discussion,” Aug. 18). However, Boyarsky is incorrect in his assumptions about us going after Lauter’s scalp.We wanted much more from Lauter. We wanted an explanation on why the Los Angeles Times has difficulty in using the word terrorist, instead of “militant.” Instead of giving us a logical answer, he bored us with his explanation of the “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” jive, and that the L.A. Times assumes that its readers can discern the difference.

We booed because we are not the radical “right-wing” DEBKA readers, as Boyarsky implied. This was a slap in the face to any Republicans that were in the audience. We booed because we are not stupid. We expected an intellectual dialogue, but we were hit with criticisms of the Bush regime, a “not my president” attitude, and the moral explanation that because reporters put themselves in the line of fire they do a good job.

Well, my son is in the army in Israel; he puts himself in the line of fire, and he has no problems distinguishing between a terrorist and a freedom fighter. And to top it off, to make comments about FOX — the one channel that does not make excuses for suicide bombers — and assume this as our only source of information was a slap in the face to the many activists who work hard daily, educating, discussing, working and fighting for Israel. I am one of those people who was insulted by the attacks on the right, the convoluted answers and the lack of respect that Boyarsky gave us that night and in his column.

This is the reason why I find the L.A. Times irrelevant in their reporting. They refuse to listen to more than 400 subscribers and former subscribers, and the stats on their readership should be a wake-up call, not an excuse to use their political bias to win arguments.

Allyson Rowen Taylor
Associate Director
American Jewish Congress, Western Region

Israel P.R.

Are there any Jews in advertising? It’s a silly question, but given the pathetic state of Israeli public relations, one might wonder. Israel desperately needs a top-notch public relations campaign immediately, to reinforce the support of sympathetic Americans and win over those who are apathetic or ignorant regarding the Jewish state.

Remember the old ad campaign, “Come to Israel, come stay with friends…”? In those halcyon days, Israel just needed tourism; now, Israel needs renewed American commitment to its survival against the dedicated, dug-in Hezbollah and Hamas armies, who threaten its existence like a growing pack of wolves. America is Israel’s only reliable friend in the world, but it might not always be so.Most American Jews take Israel’s righteousness and survival for granted, but our stoic, fatal silence about Israeli greatness and appeal must end; Israel’s very survival may depend on it.

We know that Israel is the only multicultural nation in the Mideast, where all religions are respected (Muslims are elected to Parliament), where women are treated equally to men, and gays enjoy tolerance, but many Americans, and others, do not. Some great Jew, with the talent, influence and connections of, say, a Steven Spielberg or Rabbi Marvin Hier, or others of equal capability, must take the helm and reverse this public relations defeat.

Why is Hezbollah enjoying the laurels of victory for such a ruinous fiasco? Partially, it’s because they did win. Little Israel never before had to fight an army with such a death-wish commitment. What will happen when other young Arabs, anxious to die for their cause, join their ranks? How many rockets can Israeli cities endure before they become unlivable? The northern third of Israel is already a mess. But Hezbollah’s most important victory was in publicity. Israel has failed to make the case against Hezbollah tactics and for its own existence to America and the world! We must convince our fellow Americans that Hezbollah represents Arab terrorism and Israel is the front line against it. I would love to do it myself, and I’m anxious to be part of the team, but I’m just an anonymous high school teacher; all I can do is convince a person of stature to rise to the task now!

It will be a horrible irony if Israel loses in the court of public opinion, if Jews fail to make their case, the one field in which no one denies them proverbial brilliance. Some great Jew must pick up the phone, call the Israeli embassy, and offer their services to establish the team and organize the public relations effort. It is not hyperbole to suggest that this is a call of biblical proportion. All Jews know in their guts that young Israel is existentially threatened like never before.

The great Persian Empire has risen up and told the world its plan. We must rally our fellow Americans now.

We need a leader.

Rueben Gordon
North Hollywood

Truth in Media

Josef Goebbels, Nazi minister of information, astutely observed that, if you tell a big enough lie, long enough, people will believe it — for no alternative report is provided. American news media daily bombard us with the nonexistent expertise of journalists and consultants — who concur with the media’s editorial position. They state that it is the very existence of Israel and/or U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East that is the source of Islamist animus to the west. Rudimentary knowledge of history readily dispels such tripe.

The first U.S. interaction with Islamists occurred in 1805, when President Thomas Jefferson dispatched troops to Morocco to stop Barbary Pirate attacks on Americans (“The Pirate Coast” by Richard Zacks, 2006).

The Islamic Brotherhood, founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hassa al-Banna, espouses global Muslim conquest, supports violence against civilians and is the philosophical father of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

This reality long pre-dates the existence of Israel or modern-day U.S. policy in the Middle East, but you will never learn that from our news media. Certainly the media can be a valuable check against the tyranny of the government, but who will protect us from the tyranny of the press?

Fred Korr
Los Angeles

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684

Jewish Journal September 1, 2006

American-Born Spokeswoman Big Asset to Israel


Q & A With Ehud Danoch


Ehud Danoch, who has served as consul general of Israel in Los Angeles since October 2004, has been working round the clock since fighting first broke out between Israel and its neighbors in late June. The situation was prompted first by the capture of one soldier, which led to an outbreak of fighting in Gaza, followed by the capture of two additional soldiers by Hezbollah in Lebanon, where Israel’s greatest conflict in decades has ensued.

Ehud Danoch
Danoch’s consulate position covers California, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, and he has been working with communities throughout the region. This week, he spoke with The Journal about what the consulate is doing in response to the ongoing crisis, what the American Jewish community can do and how the actions here affect Israel.

Jewish Journal: You spoke at Sunday’s rally, which saw thousands of people gather in front of the Israeli consulate in support of Israel. What purpose do you think the rally served?

Ehud Danoch: It was a great rally; the presence of [Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger] and the leaders of the different Jewish communities in Los Angeles shows great support to the State of Israel and to the people of Israel. It is something that the State of Israel needs to hear, that the significant communities in the United States support Israel. It was all over the media in Israel. To see the Jewish community and the different organizations coming together warms the heart during this time.

JJ: What can the Jews do that goes beyond just rallying?

ED: The different Jewish communities in the United States are taking action. Not only rallying – San Diego’s rally had 2,500 people and Orange County had 1,500 – but communities are also having briefings, rabbis are briefing their congregations in synagogues, some people are writing op-eds in the newspapers. Federations all over are being interviewed by the media. Everything that has to do with public relations is important, because unfortunately, terrorists and Hamas are getting [media] support from radical Muslim organizations in the United States.

It’s not an easy situation in Israel. People are not going to work in the north; they are abandoning their homes, their jobs – it’s traumatic. The federations are donating money to take kids from the north to the center of the country.
People should do what they feel. We are here to help facilitate everything.

JJ: What else can people do? Are there opportunities to volunteer?

ED: We received a few phone calls from Israelis here who want to go back and do their 30 days of reserve duty in Israel. We will check with Israel on their need for volunteers. Many delegations from different synagogues and organizations are going to Israel, donating money to specific causes.

JJ: What do you tell people who are planning to travel to Israel or to send their kids to Israel?

ED: To come to Israel. Not to cancel their trip. Yes, they are launching missiles in the north, but whoever comes can go to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the rest of Israel. Everyone in Israel is very excited when there are delegations coming to Israel, especially from the U.S. Israelis really love and appreciate Americans.

JJ: Right now, public opinion has been unusually favorable toward Israel’s actions, but do you fear that it might shift as the conflict continues?

ED: What is the choice but to support Israel? To support Hezbollah? Hamas? We’re working very hard now on the public relations front. You are beginning to hear criticism, and it isn’t something we want. After all, Israel, a free country, a democracy, is fighting for its existence.

The media should take Israel as a role model of a country that fights terrorism, because unfortunately, terrorism is not only in the Middle East, it’s a global phenomenon. The media is showing personal stories of people coming from Lebanon, but it’s important to know that in Israel, there are 250,000 people in shelters, 3 million under the threat of rockets. There are soldiers dead and wounded, and all the media should report these stories.

JJ: What do you say to people who feel Israel is overreacting to the crisis?

ED: I don’t accept it. When it comes to fighting terrorist organizations, there’s a need for tough action. And it’s important to understand that Hezbollah is not an organization, it’s an army of terrorists. We have specific objectives: to bring our soldiers home and disarm Hezbollah, and that’s good for the region and the world. When it comes to global terrorism, it sends a message to terrorist organizations worldwide that they do not have any immunity. If the free world will not win in this war, chaos will take place.

JJ: As the consul general, as an Israeli, what have you learned about American Jews, especially in this time of crisis?

ED: I’m an Israeli; I’ve lived abroad over eight years, but what I saw recently, what I watched unfold is that when the American Jewish community feels that Israel is in difficult times, crucial times, then everyone comes together. The different organizations work together, people are calling in and asking, every day, “What do you need from us? What can we do?” That is beautiful to see.

In the end, the State of Israel is something that belongs to the Jewish people; the Jewish community is a sacred community that we have to hold close to our hearts.

Thousands Rally in L.A. to Support Israel


“I’m here to show this country, my family and friends in Israel that we Jews will be there forever,” said 14-year-old Elad Menna, a Los Angeles resident who emigrated with his family from the West Bank five years ago. “Although I live here, my heart is in Israel.”

The boy spoke to a reporter on a sweltering Sunday afternoon, surrounded by thousands of like-minded Jews and non-Jews who had come together in front of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles headquarters in one of the largest pro-Israel rallies in years to express their support for the Jewish state.

The song “Am Yisrael Chai” rang out, along with speeches by political and spiritual leaders, as hundreds of blue-and-white Israeli flags were flanked by banners proclaiming “Israel Left Gaza for Peace, Not for 800 Rockets,” and “We Want Peace, They Want Jihad,” and “United Against Terror.”

Draped in a blue-and-white scarf decorated with Stars of David, Allyson Rowen Taylor carried a banner that showed a smiling United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan shaking hands with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

The text: “The Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559!” a reference to, among other things, a resolution that mandates the disarmament and disbanding of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups that prevent the Lebanese government from exercising its full sovereignty. In addition to her sign, the associate director of the American Jewish Congress (AJC) of Los Angeles carried a special picture in her purse: a photo of her 20-year-old son Zachary, who is American-born and currently serving as a sniper in the Israel Defense Forces.

“Because I’ve taught him to be a good Zionist,” said Rowen Taylor, fighting back tears, “I have to be here and be a good Zionist for him.”

Rowen Taylor said she has no idea where the Israeli government has deployed her son.


As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President John Fishel declared their support for Israel, the crowd came together for two hours to make a statement to each other, the media and the entire world: They believe in Israel, its right to defend itself and its quest for peace. Even Jews who have long been critical of Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip came out to participate.

The gathering, which Federation officials estimate to have reached as many as 10,000 but police pegged at 6,500, stretched along Wilshire Boulevard from San Vicente Boulevard to La Jolla Avenue. To keep cool, many on hand wore baseball caps, shorts and carried bottles of water.

Schwarzenegger told the gathering that he has long, deep affection for Israel. He said that he has visited the country several times, including in the 1970s as a body building champion; the 1980s as “The Terminator;” and in the 1990s to open a Planet Hollywood restaurant. He added that his first trip abroad after being elected governor was to Israel.

“Let me tell you,” he said. “With all the trips I’ve taken to Israel, with all the business I’ve done with the Israeli people, and of course, I have several Israeli people working at my house, I can tell you there is nothing more the Israeli people want than to live in peace.”

Villaraigosa told the cheering crowd that Israelis will welcome their message.
“To the families in Haifa and Nahariyya, to all those in both the north and the south who’ve been terrorized in recent weeks by the relentless rocket attacks of Hamas and Hezbollah, this gathering 7,500 miles across the globe is no distant gesture,” Villaraigosa said.

Fishel, who heads the Federation, which organized the rally, proclaimed that the assembled stand with Israel at a “dangerous and defining moment.” He went on to question whether any actions taken by Israel can satisfy Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists.

Simon Wiesenthal Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier defiantly told Israel’s Los Angeles supporters that Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists will never realize their dream of destroying Israel, especially if the Jews and their supporters remain united in the face of such implacable hatred.

“Their objective is a Middle East free of Jews,” Hier said. “We can assure them today that is something they will never live to see.”

While there was unanimity of spirit, there was diversity in the crowd. A group of about 25 heavily tattooed Set Free Soldiers caused more than a few double-takes. Clad in black pants and black leather jackets and vests, the burly members of the Evangelical Christian network proclaimed love for Israel.

The club’s leader, a Harley rider calling himself Chief Phil Aguilar, said he has visited Israel 15 times since the early 1980s. Surrounded by his three biker sons and a daughter, Aguilar said he found the Jewish state inspirational. When visiting the Western Wall, though, he said and his fellow bikers sometimes get less than an enthusiastic reception.

“When the rabbis first see us, they look at us a little funny,” Aguilar said. “But they’re in black and white, too, and also look a little funny. In the end, we end up being good friends.”

Metal barricades and a large police presence separated the main rally from a small counter-demonstration of about 200. As police helicopters buzzed overhead, the pro-Israeli rally-goers and the pro-Palestinian protestors hurled insults at one another. Cries of “Terrorists!” “Terrorists!” were greeted with chants of “Free, Free Palestine, Long Live Hezbollah!”

With several Palestinian flags fluttering nearby, architect Eman Bermani said she made the trek from Irvine to voice her disapproval for Israel’s campaign in Lebanon.

“The violence is not going to benefit anyone,” she said. “There’s just going to be more killing and more loss of life. I’m full of frustration.”

An Orange County engineer who would only identify himself as Avraham took a harder-edged position, saying Israel would cease to exist if she didn’t learn how to live in peace with her Muslim neighbors instead of “subjugating them, colonizing them.”

On the other side of the barricade, pro-Israel demonstrator Eileen Jayson said she this was the first pro-Israel rally she had attended, and she came because of the gravity of the situation overseas. The 53-year-old Tarzana paralegal added that she hopes to take her maiden voyage to Israel in November to get married.

“It’s about time I went,” she said. “We haven’t given up yet,”
So did the gathering accomplish anything? Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss thinks it made a difference.

“This rally had everything going against it,” said Weiss, one of the guest speakers. “It was unbearably hot. It came on late notice and during summer vacation.

“And we still filled Wilshire Boulevard with thousands of people. All elements of the community really stood up and were counted.”

Letters to the Editor


AMIT

Uriel Heilman’s recent article, “Sderot’s Kids Living in Fear” (June 30), accurately portrays the situation in this Israeli city and the role AMIT is playing in helping the children of Sderot to continue their education under these difficult circumstances.

AMIT recently launched a special campaign for Sderot. Readers wishing to learn more about AMIT, can call our Los Angeles office at (310) 859-4885 or visit www.amitchildren.org.

Barbara Goldberg
AMIT Director of Communications
New York, N.Y.

Right Call

While visiting from Israel, I was interested to read Rob Eshman’s “The Right Call” in the July 14 issue, in which he described his conversation with a friend who thinks Israel is doing “terrible” things.

I would add the following: The great challenge for Eshman’s friend is to decide whether she can support Israel, when Israel must choose the best of bad options. By and large, Israelis do not want their soldiers in Lebanon and Gaza inflicting civilian casualties and destroying infrastructure, while searching for 10,000 missiles hidden amongst several million people.

However, it’s not serious to think that turning the other cheek is a policy that will stop the shelling. In fact, the alternative to the bad choices is something far worse: surrendering to the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Israel will defend itself and its citizens from attack. Israelis will be able to walk outside their homes without rockets slamming into the ground. And, I sincerely hope that Eshman’s friend will change her mind and support us in our hour of need.

Nathan Wirtschafter
Rehovot, Israel

Chinese-American Jews

Your cover story in the July 14 issue on “A Generation of Chinese-American Jews Comes of Age” moved me to tears. Especially poignant to me were the writings of Susan Freudenheim (Journal managing editor) and her daughter, Rachel Core.Rachel speaks of her friend, Willow, also born in China and adopted by her mother. Willow is one of my granddaughter Esther’s best friends. She, too, is a lovely child.

And Esther, my fantastic, charismatic, beautiful granddaughter who is named after my mother, also was adopted. Esther, too, will be bat mitzvahed in about two years at Temple Israel of Hollywood. And her sister, Dani, named after our son, David, who was also adopted, was bat mitzvahed at Temple Emmanuel in Beverly Hills and now will be a sophomore at the Marlborough School. Both Esther and Dani also went through the mikvah ceremony at theUniversity of Judaism.

Thank you for the cover story. It was beautiful.

George Epstein
Los Angeles

Rabbi Pressman

It’s one thing to disagree on the administration of kashrut in this state and city; it’s another to besmirch the reputation of one the great pioneering rabbis of Los Angeles.

When referring to the dearth of kosher establishments in the 1960s (“Kosher,” Letters, July 7), Howard Weiss forgets the demographics of the Jewish community of the 1950s and 1960s, a preponderance of World War II GIs and their brides new to Los Angeles, with few ties to the Jewish community or observance. It was in this context, that Rabbi Jacob Pressman’s accomplishments were extraordinary.As president of the Board of Rabbis, he was instrumental in installing the first kosher kitchen of the Jewish Community Council (the precursor to The Federation), creating a kosher kitchen at Mt. Sinai Hospital (the Sinai of Cedars-Sinai) and collaborating to create the first Va-ad HaKashrut under full Community Council auspices.

As a rabbi and educator, he inspired and still inspires generations to make kashrut and the observance of mitzvot a part of their lives.

Fran Grossman
Los Angeles

Silence on Gaza

Did I understand Ron Kampeas (“Is U.S. Silence on Gaza Sign of Friendship or Weakness?” July 14) correctly, that he wants our government to show neutrality by currying favor with the Arab governments and criticizing Israel’s self-defense?

The former would return us to a failed policy of the traditional State Department Arabists: It benefited undeserving autocratic, anti-Semitic regimes. The latter would be a dagger in the back of our most loyal ally, the only democracy in the Middle East and the first line of defense against the Islamo-fascists. There is no justification for neutrality between good and evil, friend and foe.

Councilman Dennis Zine and Rep. Darrell Issa, have risked the support of their natural political base by declaring that Israel has the right of self-defense and Lebanon is responsible for the conflict; a far more just position than Kampeas’. I applaud their honesty and political courage.

Louis Richter
Encino

Correction

A photo accompanying the July 14 cover story, “Dual Identity, Double the Questions,” incorrectly identified the woman examining the Torah with Lily Ling Goldstein. She is Deborah Kreingel, Lily’s Hebrew tutor.

The Right Call

In his July 14 column (“The Right Call”), Rob Eshman describes recent Israeli actions in Gaza as a “harsh and bloody incursion” and as “unnecessarily cruel and destructive.” By doing so, according to Eshman, Israel has “squandered the vast sums of moral capital Israel has accrued in dealing with Hamas.”

Eshman evidently believes that a war against an enemy — Hamas and Hezbollah and other religion of peace organizations and their sponsors in Iran and Syria — that wishes to destroy your country and slaughter or expel its Jewish citizens can be fought as gently as a badminton match.

As for the “vast sums of moral capital” Israel accrued, the withdrawal from Gaza got Israel about five minutes of favorable press coverage in countries that wish it would just disappear.

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

Your editorial (“The Right Call”) counseling Israel to show restraint is misguided for following reasons:

  1. Israel is that inevitable exception to the sound rule that nations should always try to avoid and restrain their military (even defensive) actions, because both Hezbollah and Hamas are Hitler wannabes as to Israel and its Jews, and like all their ilk, they will deem and spin any restraints by Israel as great “inspirational victories” for their evil means and goals (e.g. Israel’s leaving southern Lebanon inspired the second intifada, and leaving Gaza led to the daily rocket attacks and the invasion/kidnapping of Gilad Shalit);
  2. The fundamental goal in the propaganda war (supporting their military and terrorist wars), Hezbollah, Hamas, their allies, patrons, leaders, supporters and followers have been successfully waging for more than 60 years has been to depict Israel either as the true fomenter or the overaggressive defender in all Israel’s wars for survival.

    Advising Israel to show restraint when it has been attacked by Hamas, Hezbollah and their supporting nations unwittingly reinforces that 60-year libel campaign against Israel.

  3. Despite Israel having faced a war for survival through its entire history, its excellent humanitarian record of military restraints in its 60-year war for survival is unmatched by any other modern nation. Obviously, your editorial writer chose to ignore that noble record.

Ben Kagan
Hollywood

Rob Eshman’s casual assertion that Israel’s response to last week’s kidnappings and rocket attacks was unnecessarily cruel and destructive, squandering the vast sums of moral capital [it] has accrued in dealing with Hamas, misses the point. Consider what apparently prompted the attacks — acts of concession. Israel’s withdrawing from Gaza and its planned withdrawal from most of the West Bank.The sad reality is that good will gestures by Israel are a practical impossibility. Abandoning settlements, granting territory, releasing prisoners or easing security restrictions have never enhanced our image in the eyes of our enemies, including the Palestinians. Rather, such actions are taken as proof that the repulsive Jews are weakening.

As former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon put it, concessions by Israel are viewed by its neighbors as a sign that it is a wounded animal, ripe for the kill. And history, both past and present, seems to affirm this.

As difficult as this may be for many of us to accept, we have seen it before. No good will gesture would have been appreciated, let alone spared the Jews of Nazi Germany. If Israel is to survive, it has no choice but to demonstrate its readiness to strike disproportionately, a nightmare burden it cannot avoid.

Mark Ellman
Los Angeles

Dangerous Moves

To all those Neville Chamberlains who have supported giving our Arab enemies land for peace, have you noticed something? Since Israel gave her enemies the Gaza, she has been attacked by the Muslim terrorists more fiercely than ever.Sharon shouldn’t have even considered giving land to Israel’s enemies any more than Begin should have given Egypt the Sinai. Both moves were misguided, naive and dangerous. Last time I looked at a map, the Arabs have so much land they don’t know what to do with it. Yet the Neville Chamberlains (Jews and non-Jews) want Israel to keep chopping away at its borders.

Anonymous
North Hollywood

Middle-Class Squeeze

Leonard Solomon’s discussion of the “Middle-Class Squeeze,” regarding supplementary schools (Letters, June 23), brings many issues to light. Yes, more middle-class families could opt for the supplementary school if it were in any way possible for the part-time schools to deliver a semblance of the intensity and comprehensive study of our rich heritage that day schools do provide. In part, this is the underlying reason for the day school success.

The culprit is not the Bureau of Jewish Education’s standards as suggested by Mr. Solomon. The bureau offers much to enrich the supplementary programs and assists with school tuitions. However, on the contrary, the greatest challenge to the supplementary schools is the lack of professional personnel ready and able to make a part-time commitment to the institution and the program.

During the glory days of supplementary education, a very different dynamic was operative. Professional teachers in the public schools sought additional income to supplement their low salaries. They invested their energy and expertise in the part-time endeavor.

We knew it was incumbent upon us to educate our children. We brought excitement, innovation, knowledge and professionalism to classrooms overflowing with children eager to be challenged, and we were professionally trained to do just that.

Today, those professionals interested in Jewish education can find satisfying careers in the full-time day schools. It is rare to find professionals serving in both types of schools, but there are some. It is clear that the supplementary schools are bereft of adequate leadership and pedagogically well-trained professionals. Therefore, the question remains: Where and how to find well trained, certified teachers for a part-time program?

Those at the helm do all that is possible with the limited time allotment and untrained staff of willing, warm bodies manning the classrooms.

Could you envision surgery being performed by lay people? Why then do we accept less than well-trained, adequate professionals in our schools attempting to educate our children?

All who desire a meaningful, intensive Jewish education coming from committed homes should be able to find education assistance for whatever their choice.This must become our community’s No. 1 responsibility and priority. How else to ensure the continuity of our people?

Sandra Radoff-Bernstein
Board Member
Bureau of Jewish Education
Los Angeles

The New York Times

Rob Eshman’s defense of The New York Times (“A Different War,” July 7) and stereotypical attack on the Bush administration is uncalled for. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times published classified information, even though the administration asked them not to (The Wall Street Journal – a very pro-Israel publication heard that The New York Times was coming out with the story and unfortunately followed suit).

It is not a defense to say The Times weighed a “speculative risk against the public interest.” The Times should not be speculating on what risks are worthy of taking when it comes to the lives of Americans.

Contrary to what Eshman states, the “burden of proof” in showing the danger of revealing government secrets cannot be dismissed by simply claiming The Times disagrees. The administration thought there was a danger and the editor of The Times took it upon himself to conclude otherwise.

While the administration talked in general terms about the tracking of terrorist money, it gave no details how this would be done and our enemies did not know the specifics until provided by The Times.

It is simply reprehensible for Eshman to say that “when the conservative base” goes after The New York Times, he senses the attack is wrapped up with notions of “Jewish” and “liberals.” Many Democrats, including former Clinton advisers, say that great harm was done to a program that was effective in fighting terrorism.

This administration’s conservative base is in fact very pro-Israel and not in the slightest anti-Jewish. No other president in history has surrounded himself with as many Jewish advisers and Israel supporters as has President Bush.Overwhelming public opinion condemns The New York Times for its disclosure and supports all legal methods for punishment of those that leak classified material and those who publish it.

By condemning The Times, it is not the administration that takes its “eye off the ball,” as Eshman claims. The president is vigorously pursuing the policies that he believes best protect America, regardless of what the liberal media believes.

It is too bad that the editor of The Jewish Journal echoes The New York Times, one of the most liberal and anti-administration publications in the country.

Mitchell W. Egers
Los Angeles

Rob Eshman’s near miracle of defending the indefensible, i.e., The New York Times’ disclosure of the tracking details by the U.S. of Al Qaeda’s complex international transactions, is explainable only as one editor blindly defending another in the name of the religion of journalism.

The Wall Street Journal, unlike the New York Times, broke the story without disclosing secret details that Al Qaeda would literally have killed to learn. To suggest, as does The Jewish Journal article, that the Bush administration’s feigned outrage at the conduct of The New York Times is a political ploy calculated to whip up hatred against Jews and liberals is as insidious as the odious conspiracy story that Jews and liberals are responsible for 9/11.

Older Chicagoans will, of course, recognize that the old Chicago Tribune sickness of administration hatred (Roosevelt, Bush) has now infected The New York Times.

The Foreign Policy Magazine article cited in Mr. Eshman’s article showing that 86 percent of experts believe the world is now more dangerous for Americans has more to do with Islamo-fascism than anything else. A poll of European experts would probably show that they believe that the world has become more dangerous for Brits, Danes, etc. Surprise?

Seymour W. Croft
Los Angeles

Bill O’Reilly

I have been Jewish for 83 years. I have watched and listened to Bill O’Reilly for at least eight years. He is not the bigot that Dr. Sol Taylor calls him. Taylor makes a giant unsubstantiated leap from right-wing bloggers to the use of New York as anti-Semitic (Letters, July 7). Taylor should stop watching those hysterical left-wing bloggers.

Ed ShevickWoodland Hills

Converts

In response to Laura Birnbaum’s article (“Converts’ Hardships Expose Truth,” July 7), I would like to share an experience that I have had on another college campus that shows a very different attitude.

I am not a student at UCLA but have made myself a member of its Jewish community. Also in this community are two students who are in the process of converting to Judaism and have been accepted with open arms.

They are socially active at Hillel; one of them even shared an apartment with a few other members of the community.

Our rabbi gives them rides to daily minyanim, of which they are regular attendees. Various members of the community have driven them to and from the Beit Din for conversion meetings and classes. I even recall that on Shavuot, one of these young men gave a short shiur about a Gemara that he had learned.

It is unfortunate that Birnbaum’s friends have had to experience discrimination from a people whose religion they have fallen in love with. It is, however, somewhat comforting to know that this is not an attitude that is common across the board and that there are people who are ready to embrace newcomers to our religion with love and encouragement.

Josh Cohen
Los Angeles

Judaism Outdoors

I applaud your article on Judaism and the outdoors (“Judaism Finds Its Niche in Great Outdoors,” July 7). All the organizations you mentioned are doing wonderful work, however, besides Rabbi Shifren, not one of them is in the Los Angeles area or California for that matter.

My organization, Outdoor Jewish Adventures (OJA) is based in Santa Monica and has been servicing the greater Los Angeles Jewish community for a number of years with camping expeditions, hikes and other outdoor Jewish adventures.

Josh Lake and myself, the founders of OJA, have been part of the growing movement of outdoor Jewish educators that fuse the wonders of nature with Jewish teachings.

We encourage your readers to explore nature in a Jewish context and want them to know that they can find these experiences locally through Outdoor Jewish Adventures.

Stuart Treitel
President/Co-Founder
Outdoor Jewish Adventures
Santa Monica

Never Forget

I have admired the Jewish people since 1967, when as a student at Pasadena City College, I met and had a female friend who left to go to war and defend her country when the war broke out in Israel.

I really liked the “$61.8 Billion” story by Rob Eshman (May 19). It shows the greatness of an ethnic and religious group of folks that strive for greatness and do everything possible to succeed.

I would like to see the American Jewish people support Israel more and demand that the American quislings never ever forget their main friend in the Middle East – Israel!

John Sanchez
Madera, Calif.

20+ Ideas to Jump-Start Jewish L.A.


David Suissa:
“Drink more coffee.”

One big, bold idea to energize L.A.’s Jewish community?

Three words: Drink more coffee.

I’m not kidding.

A new study from the University of Queensland in Australia suggests that drinking coffee makes people more open to a different point of view. In other words, it can make all of us more open-minded.

Can you imagine what would happen if our precious Jewish community in Los Angeles became more open-minded? Let’s go on a high-octane ride together:

Imagine if on one Shabbat, every synagogue would “open up” to a different rabbi. For example, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky could switch with Rabbi Yacov Pinto, Rabbi Yosef Shusterman with Rabbi David Toledano, Rabbi Laura Geller with Rabbi David Wolpe, Rabbi Elazar Muskin with the Happy Minyan, Aish with Chabad, Rabbi Steven Weil with the Persians, and so on. All over Los Angeles on this One Sharing Shabbat, Jews would experience something different, but very Jewish. If it’s a hit, we can make it a monthly tradition, and yes, the chazans would also switch, to give us the full effect.

Want a refill?

On campuses, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller would down a double espresso and invite hard-nosed right-winger Mort Klein, of the Zionist Organization of America, to speak. Seidler-Feller himself would go (with three bodyguards) to give his message of peace at Rabbi Moshe Benzaquen’s shul.

You get the picture: cross-promotion across all the colors of Judaism to energize a great community. All we need to put this ingathering of exiles together is one enthusiastic volunteer who is not afraid of rejection and has a good phone plan. (Any takers? E-mail me at dsuissa@olam.org)

This is peoplehood, my friends. We are one big, noisy, opinionated family, and we are diverse. But what good is a diverse family if we all stay in our own rooms? How can we strengthen our bonds if we so rarely hang out, pray, eat, sing and learn with each other? The opposite of love is indifference. Instead of obsessing over Jewish continuity, we should ignite Jewish curiosity. Sure, the unfamiliar can be uncomfortable, but in this case it has one thing going for it: It’s Jewish!

Forget the whiskey club. For those of Jewish unity, let’s all choose the coffee bean.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

 

Robin M. Kramer:
“Welcoming, modern, accessible, authentic Jewish nursery school experience….”

What if a welcoming, modern, accessible, authentic Jewish nursery school experience were available to the families of every 3- and 4-year-old Jewish child in Los Angeles?

The result would be new dynamism, connection and community, judging by the experience at my shul, Temple Israel of Hollywood, which has tried to create a program worthy of emulation.

What are the characteristics of a top-quality nursery school program? A school’s learned and loving faculty should reach out in the best tradition of Abraham and Sarah, welcoming strangers and those less connected to the Jewish tent, extending the community’s embrace to grandparents and to families of all configurations, including the diversity of faith traditions. Where isolation exists in our big city, the school community should offer warmth and connection — a family-centered, holistic port of entry to Jewish life. This essential school should, with mirth and through experience, mark the sacred moments of the Jewish year, and introduce the literature, music, art and soul of our people, bringing to life the belief that every individual is both special and part of a larger human family. A fine nursery school experience builds family demand for an ongoing pipeline of robust Jewish invention and education, both formal and informal. This could be catalytic.

But how could this be affordable for all Jewish families? It would require unprecedented focus, partnership, wisdom and vision — as well as the development of millions of dollars of new financial and institutional resources. Regional and master plans for early education could provide a roadmap, which would include support for educator preparation, increased salaries, and ongoing professional development. Another key is providing facilities and scholarships to ensure universal accessibility that does not presently exist.

All told, it would be a massive undertaking, but relatively speaking, the investment would be modest, given the potential yield of enduring communal dividends.

Robin M. Kramer is chief of staff for L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Gary Wexler:
“The physical center could be the Brandeis-Bardin Institute.”

The idea is about ideas.

In my work with Jewish communities throughout America and Canada, I have learned that Los Angeles possesses a wonderful characteristic that none of those other communities have.

We are blessed with the absence of ingrained tradition, free of the boundaries cast by “the way things are just done.” Unlike the New York, D.C. and Boston Jewish communities, we aren’t committed to pass our thinking and ideas through a paralyzing hyper-critical sieve encumbered with an inner lining of hyper-intellectualism, hyper policy orientation, and a hyper-sense of ownership of all things Jewish.

The L.A. Jewish community is a wide-open environment where we can embrace the vibrant, free flow of ideas. It is time we grabbed that opportunity. Los Angeles, with its thriving creative industries, is poised to become the center for the creation of new ideas in Diaspora Jewish life and beyond.

If we will it.

We even have space where this mission could be planted, nurtured and allowed to flourish. The physical center could be the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, an institution that has for years been in search of its mission. The Institute could convene the best Jewish and non-Jewish minds in Los Angeles, even establishing a creative and thinking discipline, a Los Angeles/Brandeis-Bardin brand — something that would be celebrated, respected and sought after.

Four times a year, the best minds would convene to discuss such topics as

American values and how they are influenced by Jewish traditions, including themes like education, literature, music, Next Generation issues, Israel/Diaspora relations, medicine/healing, humor, etc. The participants would represent diverse perspectives so that we are not just exchanging the same ideas back and forth. Ideas, like genes, need to be cross-pollinated, or you have a flawed process.

The Institute would have to be strategically and carefully reconstructed so that the Jewish world would wait to see what ideas are coming out of Los Angeles, the natural environment for this gestation. The discipline would lend itself to all other offerings of the Institute, including its camps, and community activities, turning them into national models.

The Brandeis-Bardin Institute would have to give up a lot of what it is holding on to, which is actually holding it back. It would need to form the type of board capable of bringing this to reality. (Imagine that process!)

Of course, you could expect that the East Coast Jewish establishment would reflexively try to negate what we do. The owners of Jewish life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan would write articles challenging our every move.

It could be just what Los Angeles and the Diaspora Jewish community needs.

Gary Wexler is the founder and president of L.A.-based Passion Marketing.

Lisa Stern:
“More children … born, adopted, fostered and reared in loving Jewish homes.”

Twenty years ago the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and my son were born.

In the ensuing years I, indeed my generation, have been busy chasing the illusive balance between career, community service and family. Many of us delayed marriage and restricted the size of our families so we could collect degrees and worldly possessions. We had the lowest birthrate in our history and the trend, we are told, is getting worse. In that echo we may have short-changed our community and ourselves.

It’s time to do something about this. We cannot afford to let our legacy evaporate. This will involve sacrifice. Our progeny may have to do more with less and those who are able will have to fund this vibrancy.

Ours is a shared mission because we are a covenantal people; our fate is inextricably bound one to another. History teaches us that even during the most cataclysmic times our people did not deviate from the Jewish narrative: the preciousness of life, family, community and continuity.

My vision for the future is both simple and radical. I pine for a bold and transformative era where more children are born, adopted, fostered and reared in loving Jewish homes.

Lisa Stern, a Hancock Park attorney, has long been active in local Jewish causes and spearheaded litigation that forced Nazi-era insurance companies to pay benefits to families of Holocaust victims.

Joan Hyler:
“The next generation must learn.”

We are at a key moment — our culture must engage a conversation between the Heeb generation and The Federation generation. The way to do this is to develop a single citywide program that will identify, train and involve these young up-and-coming adults. The program must transcend organizational and denominational boundaries.

We who have come before already know the essentialness of The Jewish Federation, synagogues, the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, etc. The next generation must learn and, indeed, must take over. To make this transition successful, these vital organizations will have to do something that they don’t always do well: work together. The future of the Jewish community in Los Angeles depends on a focused collaboration among these well-funded, mainstream institutions.

As someone who helped initiate start-up groups in Los Angeles (MorningStar Commission under Hadassah and the National Foundation of Jewish Culture’s Entertainment Council), I’ve witnessed the difficulty in getting these large unwieldy institutions to talk to one another. They must do so, and open up to new conversations with the 20-somethings who are pouring into public life — or waiting for the right invitation.

Along the way, we must embrace the tension of not knowing who and what is next.

Joan Hyler, a former William Morris Agency senior vice president, runs Hyler Management, a boutique entertainment company and agency.

Rachel Levin:
“Bring back salons.”

Conversation. That is my “bold” idea to help invigorate Jewish life (and just plain life) in Los Angeles — good old, face-to-face, word-flying, idea-exchanging talk. In a city dominated by cell phones, Blackberries and dinner reservations, the idea of inviting people to your home to sit in person and talk about things that matter may just be a radical notion.

Specifically, I am suggesting we bring back salons — a structure for conversation that originated in 16th-century France, eventually making its way to 19th-century Germany, where the most important salons were run by Jewish women. These evenings mixed Jews and non-Jews, artists and aristocrats and according to some, were “nothing less than central to the development of modernity.”

Lest I scare you off with the weight of these previous gatherings, have no fear. I am not talking about the wittiest of hostesses and guests the likes of Klimt or Rodin. At their core, salons are just “talking parties” and, according to Mireille Silcoff, who started one in Toronto (and is the inspiration for this idea), for a salon to work you only need four things: (1) a willing host; (2) a good mix of people (you don’t want “like minds to sit there and be in agreement all night”); (3) someone to keep the conversation on track; and (4) food and drink. Add to that a topic of your choice – anything from “Jewish Guilt and Pleasure” to “What’s great about our city/What’s missing?” and you’re set. (See www.rebooters.net to download topic ideas and readings.) Now imagine if 100 of these were happening around the city – with people of all ages and backgrounds. Imagine how they could change the way people experience community – not to mention the new ideas they could spark. Now go talk amongst yourselves!

Rachel Levin is the associate director of Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation.

Rabbi Marvin Hier:
“24-hour satellite network….”

Today, the majority of Jews are unaffiliated, and our challenge is how best to reach them. In a world dominated by media and technology, one of the answers is through the medium of television. The time has come for the creation of a 24-hour satellite network that would combine films, concerts, theater, educational programs and live coverage of breaking news events that have particular relevance to Jews around the world. After all, there are specific cable networks for African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, etc.

While it is true that such an undertaking would require significant funds, it is also true that the Jewish community has the resources and its prominence would surely be an incentive for the major network and cable television providers to offer the programming.

Let us remember that our world has changed. If we want to reach the unaffiliated, we must think beyond our small neighborhood and the traditional methods to deliver the message of Jewish continuity as widely as possible.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance.

Zev Yaroslavsky:
“We cannot afford to be silent or absent from the compelling issues facing our community.”

Years ago, when I was active in the struggle to free Soviet Jewry, there were two Jewish Community Relations Committees that made a huge difference. The JCRC chapters in San Francisco (under the leadership of the legendary Earl Raab), and Cleveland, Ohio, stood tall and pushed the envelope of social activism. They successfully rallied the Jewish and non-Jewish community to pressure our government and the international community to do the right thing. Our cause was helped, our community was energized and our relations with other communities were strengthened.

It’s time to bring that formula to Los Angeles.

The JCRC of The Jewish Federation should be a forum for discussion, advocacy and action on the issues that affect us and our relations with others. The JCRC should be invigorated by making room at the table for representatives of the wide variety of stakeholders within our community. This should include the breadth of the religious spectrum, our diverse social welfare and social action organizations, and the myriad active youth movements.

We cannot afford to be silent or absent from the compelling issues facing our community or our neighbors at this critical time. We should speak out on foreign affairs, domestic policy, immigration and much more. Our voices need to be constructively heard both within and outside our organizational walls.

We really don’t have a minute to waste.

Zev Yaroslavsky is a Los Angeles County supervisor.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis:
“We need a believable Jewish theology, not a set of dogmas.”

Can the Siddur be taught without Jewish theology? Can you pray without a conception of God? Can you read the Torah or haftorah without understanding the philosophy of the Bible? Can you observe the Sabbath or keep kosher without understanding its sense of purpose?

You can.

It is being done in school and shul, and to our great loss. We have been taught and learned to mimic the “how,” “when,” and “where” of ritual behavior, absent the “why” and “what for.” That sort of practice will not satisfy our spiritual and moral yearnings.

Jewish theology deals with ultimate questions: to whom do we pray; for what do we pray; and can we pray for anything? What is the nature of the God we worship? What are the attributes of Godliness, and can they be imitated in our lives? Stripped of Jewish teleology — the Jewish sense of purpose — we are left with a mindless orthopraxy. Fluency in reading Hebrew does not reveal the meaning of the sacred prayer and biblical text.

The common complaint is boredom. Boredom signifies the emptiness that comes from belief-less living. Add responsive readings, enlarge the choir, multiply musical instrumentation, shorten the sermon and all to no avail. Prayer is poetry, but it is poetry believed in. Without belief, prayer is reduced to rhetoric.

Belonging, behaving and believing are the three marks of Jewish identity. We have wrongly thought that we can overcome the need to believe and fill its vacuum with belonging to institutions, paying dues and making contributions. We have wrongly thought that ritual busyness can substitute for the rationale of our behavior.

The Sabbath; the salting of the meat; the binding of the tefillin; and the blessing over lights, bread and wine — must not be gestures of mechanical behaviors.

We need a believable Jewish theology, not a set of dogmas. We call not for a monolithic set of doctrines, but for the adventure of the ethical and spiritual wrestling with our angels of conscience. Our goal is to persuade the so-called Jewish atheists and acquaint them with the rich theological alternatives within the Jewish tradition. The role of Jewish theology is to awake in our people the excitement and moral sensibility of ideas as ideals, which makes our earned belief system credible and actionable.

C.S. Lewis sagely wrote, “When a person ceases to believe in something, it is not that he believes in nothing, but that he believes in anything.”

Human nature, Jewish human nature as well, abhors a vacuum. A theological hole is soon filled with magic, superstition and cultic sectarianism. Neither esthetics nor edifices can serve as surrogates for the foundation of religious rationale. The three intertwining threads of belonging, behaving and believing must not be unraveled.

Harold Schulweis is a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

Daniel Sokatch:
“Jewish tradition is just as insistent that Jews respect the rights of workers as it is that Jews adhere to the rules of kashrut.”

Observant Jews in Los Angeles (and elsewhere) look for a certificate of kashrut, a heksher or a teudat heshgoha on a product or on the wall or window of a restaurant or market. These symbols tell them what they can buy and where they can eat. These foods, these restaurants, are certified as strictly following Jewish ritual observance.

Similarly, many Jews and non-Jews have come to rely on the county health department for its own version of a teudat heshgoha: letter grades, portrayed in bright colors on a uniform white placard – to determine, at a glance, the level of cleanliness at restaurants and markets. Whether a restaurant has a blue “A,” a green “B,” or (God forbid) a red “C” has become part of the calculation Angelenos make when considering where to dine.

But there is a next, important step to take. It’s beyond the reach of county inspectors but entirely in keeping with Jewish tradition. The notion of what is “kosher” should extend beyond preparation of food in accordance with ritual law; it should encompass the way in which human beings treat one another.

Jewish tradition is just as insistent that Jews respect the rights of workers as it is that Jews adhere to the rules of kashrut. We can tell if the restaurant we are about to enter is clean and kosher by looking for the certificates. But how does it treat employees?

Los Angeles needs a Human Rights heshgoha. We should insist that businesses that want Jewish customers treat their workers fairly and pay them a living wage. Those that do so could proudly display the blue aleph. And we would know to avoid the businesses with the red gimmel in the window – until they improve working conditions.

Who knows? Other community groups might just follow our lead, making Los Angeles fairer and better for all its inhabitants.

Daniel Sokatch is executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

 

Uri D. Herscher:
“Jews do not and cannot thrive as “a people that dwells apart.”

For many centuries of the Jewish people’s history, the world outside was hostile at best, lethal at worst. In such a world, insularity was tempting, and sometimes essential. We now live in a nation that strives, if not always successfully, to realize democratic ideals that include openness and inclusiveness. The Skirball Cultural Center was founded on the conviction that Jews need to respond in kind, that Jews do not and cannot thrive as “a people that dwells apart.”

And full Jewish participation means that our good works, too, must resist insularity. The Jewish obligation to help the needy, to heal the sick, to school the unschooled only begins in the Torah. It ends on the street, whether that street runs through Fairfax or Pacoima.

If we offer a Judaism that stops at the margins of the Jewish community, we will have marginal Jews. They will walk a narrow path, and a futile one. For we have learned, to our sorrow, that unless the society at large is safe, Jews will never be safe. In an open society, insularity is a grave danger. Even if we could exist in a vacuum, there would be no air to breathe. Whatever the future holds for the Jews, our destiny is tied to the society as a whole, the two strands intertwined — a double helix, like life itself.

When the Torah commands, “Open your hand to your needy brother,” it does not qualify the statement. The person in need is not subjected to an identity test. Jewish concern is ultimately human concern.

We should discover and give voice to people within and beyond the Jewish community. Examples matter! We must seek out opportunities — as individuals and through our organizations — to make positive examples of ourselves. And we should focus the benefits of our good deeds where such acts are most needed — outside the Jewish community as well as within. To open our hands to those in need is to open them as wide as we can.

Uri D. Herscher is founding president and CEO of the Skirball Cultural Center.

Dr. Michael B. Held:
“Build inclusive schools where all students benefit from diversity.”

As awareness of “full inclusion” grows, the distinction between “regular” and “special” education is changing. In truth, every child has both typical and special features and Jewish education should be for every child regardless of ability or challenge.

By typical standards, 10 percent of all students have special needs. Given that, we would expect to find 1,000 students with special needs out of the 10,000 enrolled in local Jewish day schools. But fewer than 100 such students have been identified in this category. Why are so many students apparently excluded and how do we go about creating “inclusive” Jewish schools?

Largely because current efforts to help special-needs children are simply inadequate.

Local educators have sincerely tried to address the need, by adding on special services, but in a piecemeal fashion. Rather, we can build inclusive schools where all students benefit from diversity, state of the art curriculum, and a truly collaborative, team-based approach.

In other words, there needs to be a paradigm shift from the goal of simply creating make-do programs to adopting a human rights model, guaranteeing full access for all Jewish students.

As utopian as that sounds, it is the only way to create and sustain access for special needs children and improve education for all students.

And it is doable. Anyone who doubts this should visit the CHIME Charter Elementary School in Woodland Hills, an inclusive public school. CHIME’s Academic Performance Index (API) jumped an amazing 77 points in one year. Further, the school was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a national model for innovative education.

It is not about the money; it is about transforming Jewish education by including 900 new students who belong in our school system with programming that is educationally sound and morally right. Let’s not delay!

Dr. Michael B. Held is the founder and executive director of the Etta Israel Center.

Rabbi Boruch S. Cunin:
“Any child in Los Angeles who wants a Jewish education should get one.”

Any serious discussion about revitalizing Los Angeles’ Jewish community must focus on one thing: our children. They’re our most precious resource, and we must protect and nurture them to safeguard our future as a people. Sadly, we’re neglecting this responsibility each day that we fail to guarantee them access to an affordable Jewish education.

This is a real crisis. Whenever a child is denied a Jewish education by prohibitive tuition costs, we lose something that can’t be replaced. We squander a chance to impart our values to a new generation- and we abandon the future leaders of our community.

Simply put, any child in Los Angeles who wants a Jewish education should get one. At Chabad schools, we strive to accept every deserving child who comes to us, regardless of family income, so that nobody is denied for lack of funds. Now our entire community must step forward with generous scholarships for all of Los Angeles’ Jewish schools to ensure that no child is ever turned away, anywhere.

Other major American Jewish communities are already doing this. Does it cost money? Yes. But we live in a city of riches. And if we don’t make this investment today, we’ll pay a terrible price tomorrow.

Rabbi Boruch S. Cunin is director of West Coast Chabad Lubavitch.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley:
“Outreach Centers for Jewish Life and Learning as ubiquitous as Starbucks….”

I am pro-synagogue, but synagogues as they now function do not serve all Jews well enough. The problem for these Jews and other potentially interested spiritual seekers is that affiliated Jewish life is too expensive, too boring, too irrelevant, too far and just too “other.”

That’s a shame, because it’s vital to bring in as many unaffiliated Jews as possible to the wonders and beauties of Jewish life, study and practice. And as a people, we need all possible Jews to commit to Judaism and to the state of Israel. Many good people and good places are taking on this mission, but they are not networked nor coordinated, and they are under funded.

What’s needed, communitywide, is the outreach energy of Chabad and Aish HaTorah. We need to reach the hundreds of thousands of Jews (and un-churched Americans) who will not become Orthodox, who may be turned off by worship services, who might not believe in God, for whom Hebrew is (at least for now) too high a threshold for participation in Jewish life.

I would like to see Outreach Centers for Jewish Life and Learning as ubiquitous as Starbucks, as inviting as the as the first sentence of a leather-bound classic. They should feature libraries and bookstores filled with Jewish books, music and videos — for all ages, intellects and interests. There should be ongoing classes conducted by deep, learned engaging teachers who will bring the profundities of Jewish wisdom to bear on people’s lives. And these classes should be geared to different types of beliefs, learning styles, ages, and goals. These gathering spots should include a Beit Midrash (study hall) — some should remain open 24 hours a day.

Because some people are turned off by worship, or by conventional styles of worship, there should be more create ways to celebrate Shabbat. Maybe a group could read and discuss Abraham Joshua Heschel, Martin Buber, Harold and Larry Kushner, etc. There could be Learners’ Minyans for those who would like to break the code of Jewish prayer. How about music-oriented experiences, meditative experiences, even political discussion (with knowledgeable, fair and balanced moderators)?

As for the next steps…. Well, the possibilities are many, but first a few caveats.

This effort will take substantial funding. Jewish educational institutions – undergrad program, grad programs and seminaries must be ready and able to produce hundreds of talented teachers (who ought to receive excellent salaries and benefits, and lots of variegated support in their work). And synagogues and other communal institutions need to be ready to transform.

What are we waiting for?

How wonderful it would be to send the word out: “All unaffiliated Jews: Come home. We are now ready.”

Mordecai Finley is the rabbi of Ohr HaTorah Congregation, and serves as provost and professor of liturgy and rabbinics at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California Campus.

Dr. Bruce Powell
“Pay all, or a significant part, of every third child’s Jewish day school tuition.”

Millions of dollars have been expended by our fabulous national mega-donors for the Birthright Project — two free weeks in Israel for college-age students who have never been on an organized program. This is real vision.

What I now suggest is the next big step: The Birthrate Project.

Married couples with two children, and who value Jewish day school education, have told me that they have chosen not to have a third or fourth child because they cannot afford one more child in a Jewish day school or Jewish overnight camp. These choices portend a Jewish demographic reality that does not even replace our current population of Jews in America, given that many who are physically able have one or no children at all. If we believe that Judaism, and by extension, Jews, have an important contribution to make to America and the world, this situation cannot stand. We have not even replaced, in 60 years, those souls lost in the Shoah.

My “Modest Proposal” is to launch the Birthrate Project where the national community makes a commitment to pay all, or a significant part, of every third (or perhaps fourth) child’s Jewish day school tuition, kindergarten through 12th grade and/or for Jewish overnight camp. All awards would be based on financial need. A fourth or fifth child might also be funded in partnership with the local Jewish schools. If, for example, this funding produces 100,000 new kids, the total yearly cost at, say, $15,000 a year for tuition, is $1.5 billion.

Imagine the historic implications for the community, over time, of a 100,000 new, Jewish human beings all in possession of deep Jewish knowledge, vision and values from day school — or deeply identified through their Jewish camp experiences. Now imagine our Jewish future without this new life.

I’m ready to follow up on this idea. Are you?

Bruce Powell is head of school at New Community Jewish High School.

Randall Kaplan
“Adopt-a-cause, create a fun event, and make it easy for volunteers”

Our business model was relatively simple. We started with the idea for a different kind of fundraiser — a fun and cool event for a great cause — and then recruited between 20 and 30 of our most talented friends to serve on our planning committee and sell tickets and sponsorships.

But here’s where we were different. We weren’t well-heeled people in our 70s, or even in our 60s or 50s. We didn’t do this after our primary careers, after we’d made money. We were in our 20s.

And that’s how The Justice Ball was born about 10 years ago. Each year, it raises vital dollars for Bet Tzedek, a legal aid service for the poor, disabled, elderly and homeless. During nine straight sellouts, we’ve raised more than $3.6 million — making the Justice Ball the most successful under-40 nonprofit fundraiser in the country. Besides making donations, our more than 16,000 attendees and contributors have been introduced to the wonderful work of Bet Tzedek.

We started The Justice Ball at ages when conventional thought dictated that we would be more focused on careers than on philanthropy. In reality, most people in their 20s are interested in philanthropy and simply don’t know how to get involved. In essence, we made it easy for them — we formulated our idea after choosing a great cause, and with those in hand we targeted a specific but untapped group of talented volunteers.

This “adopt-a-cause, create a fun event, and make-it-easy for volunteers” approach is transportable and would work in other contexts. There are tens of thousands of young professionals in Los Angeles (and elsewhere) who want to get involved. Each synagogue could appoint a rabbi or lay leader to identify future leaders. Nearly 130 synagogues exist in Los Angeles, and if each of these adopted a cause and put its best young leaders together, this formidable but unused human capital could be harvested to do an incredible amount of good.

Randall Kaplan is CEO of JUMP Investors.

Gerard Bubis
“No economic barriers limiting the creativity and creative continuity of Jewish experiences….”

We live in a silo community — many vibrant communities throughout the city that connect and cooperate, if at all, intermittently throughout the years.

My wish is to ascertain, in a thoughtful and representative way, the driving Jewish visions for the greater Los Angeles Jewish community. Are people and institutions ready to set forth an over-aching vision for our collective future? Are there those who would act to bring those visions into reality?

I propose a series of town meetings throughout the community. Participants would be asked to ponder:

Is it important that a Jewish community exist in Los Angeles that is devoted to the cultural, social, psychological, and physical betterment of Jews here and around the world?

If the answer is some form of yes, then I would want to explore exactly how to enhance Jewish identity and how to expand interactive and purposeful relations with likeminded Jews throughout the world.

I would have as many venues as possible; the gatherings would be heavily advertised. I would train 100 or so discussion leaders to keep the focus on the question. Discussions could then lead to specific proposals to satisfy those answering the question in the affirmative.

The first stage of the follow-up would be bringing together 15 to 20 opinionmakers, shakers and doers from the worlds of business, the arts, academia, the rabbinate, Jewish educators and communal professionals. Their charge would be to refine the suggestions into an action program, set priorities and put a price tag on the visions about which there was sufficient consensus. This group would become the sales force to package and sell this set of visions to those individuals and organizations that could assure and underwrite the effort.

What do I imagine could come of such an enterprise?

I’d like to see no economic barriers limiting the creativity and creative continuity of Jewish experiences for individuals and families

What if education, trips to Israel, memberships in all manner of organizations were truly open to all, regardless of economic or social status? How much more would Jewish life flourish if more scholarships were available for those prepared to spend the lives as educators, communal professionals and rabbis serving the Jewish community? What if subsidies were available to pay decent wages for those now staffing services that assist the Jewish community in a manner related to their Judaism?

We live in a golden city and could produce a truly Golden Age of energetic,

creative and purposeful Jewish life here. Are we ready? I would hope so.

Professor Gerald Bubis is the founding director of the Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Presently he is vice president and fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and adjunct professor of social work at USC.

Rabbi Laura Geller
“A year off between high school and college to volunteer for a Jewish “Peace Corps.”

What if we could change the culture so that most American Jewish teenagers took a year off between high school and college to volunteer for a Jewish “Peace Corps” in the United States or somewhere around the world? What if this year of service was organized in such a way that these young Jewish people would be placed in meaningful work situations with social justice or social service organizations so that they would be serving the larger community? What if, at the same time, they would be living together with other Jewish young people, studying Jewish texts about justice, making decisions together about Shabbat and kashrut, and reflecting together on the work they were each doing?

What if that year were sufficiently funded so that these young Jewish people could earn enough money to live (and maybe even save something for college), and that the program could support the training and placement of spiritual mentors, counselors and resident advisers who would live with the participants? What if other young Jews around the same age from all over the world, including Israelis (before army service), also participated in the program so that all these young people came to understand the reality of Jewish peoplehood simply by living, working, learning and becoming friends with Jewish people from different backgrounds?

Maybe then … our kids would actually be ready for college when they got there, because they would have come to understand that to be a mensch isn’t measured by SAT scores.

Maybe then… these young people would have a better understanding of the world, because they would have lived in another culture. And they would be more grateful for all the privileges that they have because they will have worked with people who have so much less.

Maybe then … they would feel more able to make a difference in the world. And they would feel part of the Jewish people, because they would have developed deep and lasting relationships with Jews from other countries and other perspectives.

Maybe then … they would be turned on to Torah study, and understand how profound the connection between Jewish learning and living can be.

And maybe then … the foundation of their future Jewish lives would be enriched by an experience that transformed their lives.

Laura Geller is senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila
“A community-funded, community-owned and community-operated House of Torah Learning.”

I dream that one day, Los Angeles Jewry will have the vision to create a community-funded, community-owned and community-operated House of Torah Learning. This centrally located House of Learning would not be Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Persian, Israeli or Russian. It would belong to the entire Jewish community. Its common agenda, ideology and language will be one and the same — Torah study. It would offer no academic degrees, no rabbinic ordination and no teaching diplomas. There would be no prayer services, no “prestigious fellowships,” and no one rabbi would be called “the rabbi” in this building. This House of Learning would be open to every Jew, irrespective of background, age group or financial status.

In this House of Learning, Jews would seek spirituality through the intellect, finding God in a page of Talmud. Singles would ask each other out on a “study date,” and would meet at the House of Learning to get to know each other over a Midrashic text. Lay leaders would gather there to take a break from community meetings, and at the end of the night, new ideas would be inspired and born out of an intense study of Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed. Newlywed lovers would spend a few hours reading Yehuda Ha-Levi’s poems and S.Y. Agnon’s stories, and parents would sit with their children and study Rashi’s commentary to the Torah. Text study would no longer be the realm of a select few rabbis and scholars, but it would belong to everybody. It would suddenly be cool to sit and study text, and the House of Learning would become L.A. Jewry’s hottest hangout. The new Jewish greeting in Los Angeles will be, “Hi, how are you, and what are you learning these days?”

Daniel Bouskila is rabbi of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.


Janice Kamenir-Reznik
“The Circuit Rabbis’ services would be provided free of charge.”

All too often, affiliated Jews and the leaders who serve them, become territorial. This territorialism often clouds the greater sense of purpose of what it should mean to be a Jew or a Jewish leader. Their priority becomes the survival or success of their particular institution, rather than a desire also to serve the broader community or to propose a broader and grander Jewish message. Such behavior presents a special problem in Los Angeles because the Jewish community is so large and dispersed — and because it takes a lot to stimulate people to positive Jewish action in Los Angles’ Hollywood-centered society. Thus, dynamic leaders and dynamic programs need to be even more dynamic.

Here’s one potential remedy: The community could hire 10 outstanding rabbis and/or other leaders to serve as “Circuit Rabbis.” They would travel to various L.A. venues, providing dynamic impetus to stimulate new programs in existing institutions. The Circuit Rabbis would have no bond whatsoever to any existing institution; nor would they have to fundraise as part of their jobs. Their only objective would be to serve as a resource and to work together with the synagogue and organizational leaders and rabbis to improve and elevate programming, learning, and Jewish life. The Circuit Rabbis would be cutting-edge thinkers and effective, collaborative and dynamic doers.

The Circuit Rabbis’ services would be provided free of charge, inasmuch as this program would be underwritten by visionary and generous members of the Jewish community.

Janice Kamenir-Reznik is president of Jewish World Watch.

John R. Fishel
“Our mission is to work toward true community.”

A recent issue of Commentary Magazine contains a provocative article by two well-known Jewish scholars. They hypothesize that the concept of Jewish peoplehood is becoming rarer as efforts to stress individualistic approaches to Judaism and Jewish life in the U.S. increase.

This dilemma manifests itself visibly in Los Angeles. We live here as associated Jews in a vast expanse, but are we a “community” at all or merely a highly diverse group of individuals? Do we coalesce in a meaningful way or are we just occasionally bound together by religious or political ideology, geographic residence or, perhaps, ethnic origin?

I believe our mission is to work toward true community.

A Los Angeles Jewish community that could meld the entrepreneurial creative energies and dynamic singular expressions of Jewish identity with the traditional strength of a collective concern for all Jews as a people, regardless of their beliefs, could set the tone for a potential revolution across the country.

John R. Fishel is president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

 

A Harvest of Conflict


Developer Ralph Horowitz made no secret of his intense displeasure with the 350 mostly Latino farmers who squatted on his 14-acre parcel at 41st and Alameda streets in South Los Angeles. As he saw it, the farmers who cultivated avocados, squash, tomatoes and other produce on individual family plots without paying him were squatters who, in effect, stole from him.

Before Horowitz finally evicted the farmers and their supporters last week, he also had to endure celebrities railing against him and demonstrators showing up at his home — not to mention the expense of thousands of dollars in legal fees spent on enforcing his property rights.

But Horowitz hauled out the most explosive grievance at the 59th minute of the 11th hour in the standoff. Speaking to a Los Angeles Times reporter last week, Horowitz said he refused to reward a group that included people who had made anti-Semitic remarks about him.

“Even if they raised $100 million, this group could not buy this property,” Horowitz told NBC4 in a separate interview. “It’s not about money. It’s about I don’t like their cause and I don’t like their conduct. So there’s no price I would sell it to them for.”

Horowitz, who declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story, also has talked of being infuriated by an Internet site that accused him of being part of a “Jewish Mafia” that controls Los Angeles.

The South Central Farmers group and supporters have emphatically denied engaging in anti-Jewish posturing, noting that many in their ranks are Jewish, including rabbis. They accuse Horowitz of playing the anti-Semitism card to divert criticism from him and to splinter an alliance of Westside Jews, environmentalists and South L.A. farmers that coalesced around saving the farm.

“I believe Horowitz thought he was getting a lot of bad press, and sometimes people believe that if you attack you can take the issue away from those people who are questioning what you’re doing,” said Dan Stormer, a civil rights attorney who’s representing the farmers. “The best defense is a good offense.”

Other observers say that Horowitz had plenty to be aggrieved about, and studies suggest that anti-Semitism is a real problem among Latinos. But evidence of actual anti-Semitism on the part of the farmers or leaders is slim or even nonexistent.

The recent battle over what many call the largest urban farm in the nation captured headlines around the world, pitting Horowitz against poor Latino farmers and do-gooder celebrities. With last week’s eviction looming, entertainers such as ’60s folk icon Joan Baez and actors Danny Glover, Martin Sheen and Laura Dern visited the farm site to show support. As pressure mounted and the bulldozers began rolling, many hoped Horowitz would buckle and sell the property, especially after Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he helped cobble together a $16.3 million offer for the land — a bid that apparently met the asking price. (Some insiders say the complicated proposal would have demanded substantial good faith from Horowitz, such as a provision that would have required him to borrow $6 million against the property with the expectation of getting reimbursed within 18 months.)

In the end, though, Horowitz walked away from a deal that would have made him a media hero, one that would have allowed the farmers to continue growing their fruits and vegetables that, supporters say, some relied on for sustenance.

Why didn’t he sell? Horowitz told several media outlets that his anger toward farmers for squatting on his land and vilifying him had so alienated him that he wouldn’t sell to them for any price. He “disliked from the beginning,” he said, “the activists, the movie stars, the anarchists and the hard-nosed group.”

He also pointed out a land trust that offered to purchase the land had missed a deadline.

But what about the anti-Semitism bombshell — which is bound to reverberate through the Jewish community, while also raising questions about Horowitz’s timing and motives?

It’s not difficult to find implied and explicit anti-Semitism linked to the cause of the South Central farmers.

La Voz de Aztlan, a Web site that describes itself as “a totally independent news service,” offered that “Not many people are aware that Los Angeles has a powerful ‘Jewish Mafia’ that is in cahoots with the Los Angeles Police Department and many local elected politicians. … Through ‘backroom deals’ and collusion with certain Jewish L.A. City Council members, Ralph Horowitz was given ownership of the land and he has now placed an ‘eviction notice’ on the entrance to the farm.”

The AfroCubaWeb site linked to the La Voz story and in its summary added the word “sinister” in front of “Jewish land developer Ralph Horowitz.”

Such radical sites are widely dismissed as marginal and irrelevant, but a handful of arguably anti-Semitic posts also appeared on the leftie site la.indymedia.org. A poster who called himself “Farmboy” referred to “WHORE-witz”; “Susan” wrote: “There was a time in this country when Jews were also kept down. Do you remember that? It appears, Mr. Horowitz, that you’ve forgotten what prejudice is like. If it’s not about the money, then what is it about, Mr. Horowitz?”

Another poster submitted a picture of a Molotov cocktail and suggested it was time to use them.

Horowitz’s charges of anti-Semitism come at a time when Latino anti-Semitism in the United States has reached worrying levels. According to a 2005 Anti-Defamation League (ADL) survey, 19 percent of American-born Latinos hold anti-Semitic beliefs, while 35 percent of foreign-born Latinos have such views. For Americans at large, the number for those with anti-Semitic views is 14 percent.

ADL National Director Abraham Foxman has said Latino anti-Semitism stems from anti-Jewish teachings in the schools, churches and communities of Latin countries.

But is anti-Semitism the issue at the South L.A. farm? The local ADL branch has received no complaints alleging anti-Semitism on the part of the farmers or their supporters, said Alison Mayersohn, spokesperson for the ADL, Pacific Southwest Region.

The farmers and their allies explicitly disassociated themselves from anti-Semitism when word reached them that that Horowitz believed they had posted anti-Semitic comments on their Web site and/or linked to an anti-Semitic site. Both charges were untrue, and group leaders faxed a letter to Horowitz on June 9 — days before the eviction — to tell him that they condemned anti-Semitism.

“We have never engaged in such descriptions and would support you in speaking out against anti-Semitism,” the missive said. “In addition, many of the supporters of the South Central Farmers are Jewish.”

L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose Ninth District includes the urban farm, acknowledged that there have been ad homonym attacks on Horowitz, but she observed no anti-Semitism from anyone associated with the farm. Perry, who is African American and Jewish, has faced intense criticism herself for suggesting that the site could be used to generate local jobs and needed tax revenue.

Horowitz, apparently, could not be mollified. His enmity for the farmers and their supporters only grew after learning that anti-Semitic printouts from La Voz de Aztlan had circulated by unknown sources at L.A. City Hall. That Web site, which Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has called “venomous,” has no official or unofficial connection with the farmers.

Even so, the injection of anti-Semitism into the dispute by third parties apparently set Horowitz off. Rabbi Levi Cunin of Chabad of Malibu, who spoke with Horowitz by phone in a failed bid at bridging the gap between the two sides, said the developer expressed upset at being characterized as a stereotypical Jewish landlord.

In Cunin’s opinion, “it was a very complicated puzzle and [anti-Semitism] was just a part of it,” he said. Horowitz “was vilified strongly, and I think he felt very, very hurt by the way this was all dealt with.”

Farmer Alberto Tlatoa, 20, said Horowitz’s charges of anti-Semitism represented nothing less than the cynical attempt of a victimizer trying to portray himself as victim. Looking tired and dispirited two days after the forced eviction, he pointed to torn branches and twisted plants where his family’s three peach trees, squash and other fruits and vegetables once flourished.

“I want to call on him to look into his heart,” said Tlatoa, wearing a shirt bearing the message, “South Central Farmers Feeding Families.” “These are families just trying to survive, to feed their kids, to keep them away from gangs. That is not a crime.”

Stormer, the farmers’ attorney, said that he wouldn’t have represented them if he’d detected any anti-Semitism. Stormer says he will continue to pursue litigation to undo the eviction. His next appearance in court is scheduled for July 12, when he intends to challenge the city’s below-market sale of the property to Horowitz in 2003.

The tussle over the land dates back before 1986, when the city seized Horowitz’s land using the eminent domain process. Officials hoped to build a trash incinerator on the site, but community opposition derailed that project. After the 1992 riots, the city leased the land to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which began allowing people to cultivate the land. After a series of bruising court battles, Horowitz regained possession of his land in 2003 for about $5 million — a price well-below market level but close to what the city had paid him 17 years earlier. (As part of the deal, Horowitz agreed to donate 2.6 acres for a community soccer field.) Farmer supporters challenged the legality of the sale and continue to do so, characterizing it as a backroom sweetheart deal.

Insiders said Horowitz was initially open to working out a deal but lost interest after repeated attacks on his character. He also told several media outlets that he paid more than $25,000 per month to maintain the property but received not a penny from the squatting farmers.

Leaders of the farmers have recently come under scrutiny for alleged wrongdoing and intimidation. The L.A. Weekly reported allegations that the leaders evicted fellow farmers, even though they lacked legal authority, while also allegedly collecting “donations” from farmers. The leaders have denied the charges, saying those evicted had illegally subleased plots for personal gain.

Meanwhile, those sympathetic to Horowitz’s position have included Mark Williams, an African American board member of Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles. Williams accused “radical” farmer activists of both bad faith and race baiting over the history of the conflict. He said that it was his mother, activist Juanita Tate, who had originally helped broker a deal with the city for the farmers to use the land while it lay fallow, provided that the farmers would vacate when needed on 30 days notice.

That day arrived when the city agreed to return the land to Horowitz. Tate took the position that the farmers should abide by the agreement. In response, she was cast, said Williams, as “a black woman hostile to the new Latin majority in our community.”

Williams said that the attacks devastated Tate, the long-time executive director of Concerned Citizens, which community members founded in 1986 to block the proposed incinerator project. Tate died in 2004.

But resisting an eviction does not make the farmers racist or anti-Semitic, supporters said. In the weeks following the judge’s order to leave in late May, activists and celebrities built an encampment at the farm, including a kitchen, medic station and art space. A “sacred space” also appeared, which featured a menorah and other holy and spiritual relics, supporter Sarah Coffey said.

“The community that has been built here isn’t about race, religion or color,” she said. “It’s about sustainability and connectedness to the land.”

As last week’s eviction approached, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa amplified his effort to broker a solution that would have preserved the green space, which stands out in an industrial area — and in a city that is short on accessible urban parkland. Working with the Annenberg Foundation and Trust for Public Land, the mayor helped put together a deal that he thought would meet Horowitz’s asking price, said Darryl Ryan, the mayor’s press deputy.

Much to Villaraigosa’s chagrin, Horowitz torpedoed the deal, Ryan said.

“I think when it came down to it, Mr. Horowitz didn’t want to sell the land to the farmers,” he said. “Mr. Horowitz didn’t like the way they were treating him.”

Neither the mayor nor his staff members witnessed any anti-Semitism directed at Horowitz by the farmers or their supporters during their involvement, Ryan added.

The city has allocated a 7.8-acre site at 111th Street and Avalon Boulevard that would accommodate some 200 garden plots. Thirty displaced farmers already have begun cultivating the land. Some of the farmers remain dissatisfied with the substitute location for a variety of reasons. The city is looking for other potential garden sites as well.

Farm supporters hope beyond hope that somehow they will prevail in their struggle to regain the use of Horowitz’s property, although the odds appear dim at best.

As things stand, many of the avocado and peach trees have been cut down, along with the photogenic walnut tree in which actress Daryl Hannah had perched.

But has more been lost than an urban garden?

Horowitz’s “unfounded” charges of anti-Semitism have generated an anti-Jewish backlash among some Latinos, said Tezozomoc, an elected co-leader of the South L.A. farmers. The farmers, he said, feel angry about the developer’s besmirching them.

But others see continued good relations between the two ethnic groups.

“The dust-up over the garden is not going to have any serious impact on Latino-Jewish relations,” said David Lehrer, president of Community Advocates, Inc., an L.A.-based consulting group that focus on improving ties between the city’s diverse communities. “There are other more profound and deep-seated issues that could cause friction, but the garden isn’t one of them.”

 

Letters


Middle-Class Squeeze
Each year, the Jewish community bemoans the high cost of a day school education, while touting its value with subjective quote, such as, “Population studies have shown that day school alumni are more likely to retain a lifelong affiliation rate with Judaism and to educate their own kids Jewishly.” Objective statistics somehow are never included to support those claims.

In fact, commitment to Judaism stems from the home, not the school. If it appears that day school graduates are more dedicated, the likelihood is that they come from homes where Jewish values and observance are a priority. Those same graduates, had they attended supplemental schools, would be just as likely to become stalwart adult members of the Jewish community, without having impoverished their families in the process.

Despite the wonderful work being done by people like Miriam Prum-Hess, there will never be enough money to enable the vast majority of middle-class families to utilize day schools. That’s because there are other very worthy causes, such as caring for the elderly, indigents, immigrants and the Land of Israel, that also deserve additional funding.

Unlike those other causes though, there is a day school alternative — the supplemental school. Supplemental schools are far more affordable, can usually provide financial assistance and offer classes for kindergarten through 12th grade. Synagogues generally provide the kindergarten through seventh-grade components, while community schools, such as the Los Angeles Hebrew High School (LAAHS), offer classes for students in eighth through 12th grade. On June 12, LAHHS graduated 68 students from its five-year program. This is its 55th graduating class.

Regretfully, during the past decade, many synagogues have downsized their Hebrew school programs from three days per week to two days or less, deeming them unattractive to committed families. Returning those programs back to their initial stature will provide middle-class families with a viable alternative that won’t drive them to the poor house.

The Jewish community must refocus its efforts and resources to bolster supplemental education. Synagogues must revisit the curricula of their schools to assure that their students receive a rigorous and robust Jewish education.

Finally, the Bureau of Jewish Education must raise its standards for accreditation of supplemental schools. Once synagogue-based Hebrew schools provide the level of Jewish education that they did in their glory days, middle-class families will no longer find it necessary to make great financial sacrifices when raising children, and a quality Jewish education will be accessible for all.

Leonard M. Solomon
Trustee

Los Angeles Hebrew High School
One practical solution to balance budgets and save is to move to nice, affordable areas of good value and build satellite communities as we are doing in Tehachapi (“Middle-Class Squeeze,” June. 9). The Kern County Kehilla is providing for the needs of the local Jewish population and has the guidance of the rabbis affiliated with the Orthodox Union, Agudah and Chabad.

Roger M. Pearlman
Tehachapi, Calif.

Define Holocaust
I note the reference in the article on the academic achievements of young Kenny Gotlieb that he is a grandson of a survivor of the “Polish Holocaust” (“Seniors’ Deeds Pave Path for Future,” June 9). Excuse me, but can someone explain to me what is a “Polish Holocaust?”

Is this suggesting that the majority of Holocaust victims were Poles? Or is it supposed to imply that the Holocaust was created by Poles? Surely neither of these. Is it supposed to mean that the Holocaust largely took place in Poland occupied by Nazi Germany? If so, then please say so.

I am afraid that this constant coupling of the word “Holocaust” with the word “Poland” makes the young people of today forget that the author of the Holocaust was Nazi Germany, whose armies conquered most of Europe and imposed the genocide of the Jews throughout the Continent. So please call it the “Nazi Holocaust” or the “European Holocaust,” or best of all, just “The Holocaust” (for there was only one) and not “Polish Holocaust.”

Wiktor Moszczynski
Via e-mail

Kashrut
It is unfortunate that the Jewish media is all too willing to jump on a bandwagon of kosher-bashing Rob Eshman and The Forward before him are being guided not by Jewish law and ethics but by the standards of Whole Foods and PETA (“But Is It Kosher,” June 9). PETA has consistently advocated that “meat is murder” and compared factory farming chickens to the mass murder of Jews in the Shoah. Any shechitah [kosher slaughter] is going to be deemed unkosher in their eyes.

Precisely because of the Jewish values Eshman refers to, Nathan Lewin, attorney for [Aaron] Rubashkin, and supervising rabbis hired independent investigators. They interviewed dozens of employees and found the allegations [of slaughter-house cruelty and mistreatment of employees] to be without merit. To summarize, “AgriProcessors, faithful to Torah ethics, provides an environment where its employees are treated with justice.”

Why are Jewish journalists giving a greater benefit of the doubt to PETA than to the companies that provide kosher meat and the rabbis who supervise them? The negative repercussions of such criticism amongst both the Jewish and non-Jewish world are self-evident. I would direct your readers to the recent edition of the Jewish Press to hear Lewin’s full account.

It would be nice if Rob Eshman were to shy away from articles critical of his fellow Jews. But, if he cannot resist the burning journalistic desire to attack, I would hope that he would put more energy toward presenting a balanced view.

Matthew Lefferman
Los Angeles

Mikvah
In the June 2 edition, a lengthy article by Amy Klein was published, featuring the use of the mikvah at the University of Judaism. It was a very instructive article but somewhat incomplete. The article failed to recognize the function of the Rabbinical Assembly Bet Din, which has been long established and meets at the University of Judaism (“Court Seeks to Ease Way for Conversions”).

The Rabbinical Assembly Bet Din serves conversion candidates of all persuasions and not only those of the Conservative movement. Candidates come to the Bet Din of the Rabbinical Assembly from throughout the Pacific Southwest area and even from other states or countries.

We are very proud of the Rabbinical Assembly Bet Din and the good work it has done for the past many years. We are especially appreciative of the wonderful rabbis who give of their time and expertise to serve on this Bet Din.

Richard Spiegel
President
Rabbinical Assembly
Pacific Southwest Region

Holocaust Remembered
In your May 19 letters section, Ilana Zadok asks, “Where were the American Jews [during the Holocaust]?”

For her information, hundreds of thousands of us were in the U.S. Army, Navy and Marines fighting Hitler and his allies. Of the nine-man B-17 crew of which I was the navigator, two others were also Jews: the pilot and the ball-turret gunner.

The lead pilot on my group’s Berlin raid of Feb. 3, 1945, when we scored direct hits on Hitler’s central command offices, was Col. Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal of Brooklyn, who was flying his 52nd bombing mission, a record for the 100th Bomb Group. Rosie’s plane was shot down, but he and his crew parachuted behind the advancing Soviet lines and all returned safely.

The U.S. Eighth Air Force had begun attacking Germany in late 1942 as the Nazi campaign of genocide against the Jews and Gypsies intensified and the concentration camps became slaughterhouses. Thousands of American Jews died on the battlefields in World War II, and it is unfair to imply that the American Jews did nothing.

Leon Schwartz
Altadena

South Central Farm
I have been following the battle over the South Central Farm for some time and am disgusted at today’s outcome (“Ecohustle Blooms in Community Garden,” June 2). Developer [Ralph] Horowitz’s intransigent position and accusations of anti-Semitism do great harm to us all. It is past time for someone of influence to intercede. Where is his rabbi? Or his mother?

Curt Wechsler
Via e-mail

Kosher
From reputation and general veneration, I had always believed Rabbi Jacob Pressman to be an intelligent and reliable community leader. Reading his foolish letter this past week convinced me I was wrong on all counts (Is It Kosher?” June 16).

Pressman would have us believe that there is some Orthodox cabal controlling the purse strings of the literally hundreds of kashrut supervising agencies; that a group of black-hatted, white-bearded rebbes control the bank accounts and policies of these “for profit” groups — this is America after all — shades of the protocols! And all that has to be done to properly fund day schools is to divert these funds to cover the schools’ budgets, how simple and how asinine and misleading. Shame on you Rabbi Pressman. You do know better!

Growing up in L.A., I know that neither Pressman nor his Conservative (and Reform) colleagues contributed one whit to kashrut observance in this city. There were no restaurants or widespread bakery products available while he was in his prime, so he has nothing to say. Sit back and enjoy your Oreos!

As regards high and truly unbearable tuition rates in our city, there is a simple solution, one that both the secular rabbinate and The Jewish Journal oppose — vouchers. I and my fellow community members pay thousands in taxes to fund a public school system that we choose not to use. Can’t we get some credit?

Howard Weiss
Los Angeles

Nature of Kashrut
I enjoyed reading Rob Eshman’s article (“But Is It Kosher,” June 9), which detailed the controversy that followed People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) with the Orthodox Union over kosher slaughter practices, and AgriProcessors’ questionable treatment of its own workers. Most interesting to me was the latter part of the article, which tried to discuss the nature of kashrut.

The article quotes scholar Meir Soloveichik as calling the nature of kashrut “mysterious and obvious … the Bible insists that it be perfectly clear to the non-Jew that the Torah-observant Israelite lives a life that reminds him constantly of his unique relationship with God.” In other words, it is to let the non-Jew know that we are special and follow laws meant to “set us apart and elevate our souls.”

Then in the last breath of the article, Eshman recommends that “the kosher label should not just imply the humane, responsible treatment of animals and the just treatment of food industry workers, it should certify it.” In other words, kosher should mean that universal standards of humane treatment are being met, standards that any reasonable person would want.

So, which is it? Do we follow kashrut to set ourselves apart from the rest of the world or to encourage the rest of the world to join with us? It can’t be both.

Les Amer
Los Angeles

Finkelstein Syndrome
Roz Rothstein’s article on the anti-Semitic Jew, [Norman] Finkelstein, highlights a major lapse in common knowledge about Jewish history (“Beware the Finklestein Syndrome,” June 9). While every effort is made to inform the world about the Holocaust, very little information is disseminated about the history of lies and hate against the Jews, or its relationship to the Holocaust. I have seen history books that devote two pages to Anne Fran but fail to mention that Jews were patriotic Germans and no threat to Germany.

Theobald of Cambridge, a 12th century apostate to Catholicism, created the “blood libel” which has lasted to this day and caused thousands of Jewish deaths. If there was general awareness of the history of hatred against the Jews, then when people hear a Finkelstein, they can wonder, is he a whistleblower or a modern-day Theobald?

Those who wish to spread vicious lies against Jews today do not convert to another religion; their venom is more credible when they remain Jews, especially if they can claim to be from a family of survivors .

Ronnie Lampert
Los Angles

DaVinci Code
Enjoyed your articles on “The DaVinci Code,” (May 19), but only the first three gospels of the New Testament (Mathew, Mark and Luke) are synoptic gospels. They are synoptic because they are similar to each other and different from the writings of the fourth gospel of John.

Brett Thompson
Via e-mail

Converts
As a convert to Judaism, I was reassured to read your series of articles on those like me who chose to become Jews (“Did It Stick?” June 2). A lapsed Catholic with many Jewish friends growing up on Long Island, early on I was attracted to the ethics and worldly focus of Judaism. Following a course of study at Temple Emanuel in New York City, I converted in 1967, and my first wife and I raised our three children in the Jewish tradition.

In 1992, on the eve of her bat mitzvah, my youngest daughter asked if I would be bar mitzvahed with her. That glorious day came to pass at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, with Rabbi Harvey Fields observing that in the 130-year history of the temple, there was no record of a father and daughter having a b’nai mitzvah. At the party afterward, when Tessa and I greeted everyone, I said that I had checked around the room, and I was the only person who had had a first holy communion and a bar mitzvah.

In my life in Los Angeles with my wife, Wendy, inspired by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA and through my work with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, enriched by interfaith activities, Judaism has strengthened and complemented my struggle for civil liberties, human rights, peace and justice.

Stephen F Rohde
Los Angelesn

Correction
In the June 16 issue, the photo accompanying the story, “Jewish World Watch Eyes National Stage,” was taken by Alicia Bergman.

 

Unraveling the Red String


It’s just before midnight, and the Pico-Robertson neighborhood is bustling. Teenagers are hanging out on corners near the pharmacy and suited men and high-heeled women are walking from synagogue to synagogue to attend the lecture of their choice.

It’s the first night of Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates when the Jews received the Torah, and it’s customary to stay up all night studying Jewish topics in what’s called a Tikkun Leyl Shavuot, which literally means a repair (as in tikkun olam). It’s a repair for the fact that the Israelites fell asleep the night before the Torah was given; they were not excited enough, so now Jews, throughout the centuries, have studied, sometimes in a private chevruta but often by listening to scholars speak.

Around this neighborhood — and the city — the standard lectures were being given on topics ranging from the Book of Ruth to Israel, but something off the beaten path was taking place on Robertson Boulevard in a lecture at Anshei Emet Synagogue. The subject was “Kabbalah and the Red String.”

Kabbalah is not often a topic studied by the Orthodox (who believe, according to tradition, that the mystical studies should only be done by scholars older than 40), and this was not necessarily a lecture one would expect to be delivered by Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, who is the head of Jews for Judaism, an anti-missionary and anti-cult center.

Jews for Judaism was founded 21 years ago “to keep Jews Jewish and defend the community from threats and missionaries.” Its primary purpose has been to train Jews to ward off traditional missionaries, such as Jews for Jesus (which its name seems to parody), messianic Jews, Mormons and Evangelical Christians.

But kabbalists?

At the late-night lecture addressed to some 40 men and women — seated separately on wood benches on the men’s side of the synagogue — Kravitz never mentioned any kabbalah institution by name. Well, not exactly. But add up the references to red string, Madonna, Britney Spears, Ashton Kutcher, expensive holy water and you can put it all together. The rabbi was alluding to the controversial practices of The Kabbalah Centre, whose L.A. base is on Robertson Boulevard.

“If Madonna can wear a T-shirt saying she’s a cult member, who am I to argue with her?” Kravitz said.

Kabbalah is a library of Jewish mystical writing initiated in the 12th and 13th centuries of the common era in the books of the Zohar. The Zohar tells you the mystical reasons of the commandments, and that when you follow these commandments, you hasten the bringing of the Messiah.

During the hourlong midnight lecture Kravitz discussed why the kabbalah being promulgated by celebrities at the Kabbalah Centre is not the real kabbalah of ancient Jewish mystics. He talked of what true mystical study really is and how religious Jews can benefit from it in their own spiritual practices.

He spoke of what it means to have spiritual kavanah, or intention, when you do something. Spiritual intention is good, he said, but intention without action is meaningless. Take charity for example. One can be meditating kabbalistically on charity, “but if there’s a person sitting opposite you starving to death, you’re commanded to actually feed them.”

Mystical thoughts can enhance spiritual practice, “but the action is always the main thing,” he said. “And without mentioning names, when people take the action out of it, they’re missing the purpose of why we do mitzvot and connecting to God.”

At the center, a common practice is to read letters and words repeatedly, including the Zohar, the original kabbalistic mystical text.

Kravitz earlier told The Journal in a phone interview that he didn’t want to focus on The Kabbalah Centre by name because “I’m not interested in giving them more publicity. It’s giving them credibility — they don’t belong in the paper — every time some star decides to do something with them, they deserve space in a Jewish paper?” he asked, referring to The Jewish Journal. “To me, they’re no different than Mormonism or Jews for Jesus or Scientology. They’re using the terminology to make themselves look Jewish, but they’re not part of it.”

This was not the first time Kravitz has delivered his lecture “Kabbalah and the Red String,” whose advance flyer included questions: “Why are people seeking answers to modern-day issues in an ancient Jewish wisdom? Why has kabbalah left so many disillusioned, angry and confused?”

In the last couple of years, he’s delivered the same talk at synagogues and institutions like the University of Judaism. But Kravitz’s open questioning of the center represents a shift in the notion of what constitutes today’s missionaries and today’s threats to Judaism.

“I don’t think cults have become less of a threat today; there are just different kinds of cults,” he said. “There are psychotherapy cults, freedom of mind cults…. People being pressured to volunteer and get their friends to join — if you’re told that you can’t benefit from the program, that may be a form of manipulation,” he said.

“I don’t need to call [The Kabbalah Centre] a cult. They don’t understand what a cult is. A cult is a group that uses deception and manipulation to keep members in its group.”

Rabbi Michael Berg, co-director of The Kabbalah Centre, was not available for comment as of press time. He has denied in the media that The Kabbalah Centre is a cult and rejects the idea that anyone is being brainwashed. In 2000, he told New Times, “One of the basic teachings of the center is, ‘Don’t accept a word that anyone tells you; you have to come to your own understanding and live with it.’ Unlike many other religious organizations, there’s no coercion. It’s the opposite of that. We’re very open that we need financial support to continue publishing books and running the organization, but there’s no push. It’s more like, ‘If you have a chance, please help us out.'”

Kravitz, of course, is far from being the first Jewish rabbi or academic scholar to denounce the center.

For example, in February, the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies hosted Rachel Elior, a professor of Jewish philosophy and Jewish mystical thought, and chair of Hebrew University’s department of Jewish studies, to discuss “The History of Jewish Mysticism and West Coast Kabbalah.” Elior was much more direct than Kravitz. She said that The Kabbalah Centre is “part of the new age phenomenon, when ideas are for sale. The center would not be spending one day on this if they couldn’t sell it. Kabbalah was once a matter of defiance and freedom of creativity; nowadays it is www.kabbalah.com — not ‘dot-edu’ and not ‘dot-org’ — but commerce. The center is part of the new age, part of globalization. They are trying to couple spiritual grace with material success.”

“The Kabbalah Centres today have nothing to do with the Divine Plan for hidden meaning of the text or with any of that,” Elior said. “They are basically about selling books for people who don’t read them … or for people who believe that by having a red string or drinking holy water they are connecting to the mysteries of the world.”

But not all rabbis and scholars in the Jewish mainstream agree with Kravitz’s dire assessment.

Jody Myers, professor of religious studies and coordinator of the Jewish studies program at CSUN, is writing a book about the popularization of kabbalah in America. She doesn’t believe that there is any such thing as authentic kabbalah, and she points out that The Kabbalah Centre doesn’t claim to be part of the Jewish community. Myers says she neither condemns nor condones The Kabbalah Centre.

In terms of its fundraising, Myers says that The Kabbalah Centre needs to raise funds, as do all Jewish organizations; it’s just doing it differently.

“I think that the American Jewish community puts a lot of pressure on people to raise money. It costs an awful lot of money to be Jewish today,” she said. At The Kabbalah Centre, “there are no membership fees, there is no annual membership, they get money from selling stuff and charging for lectures and classes. And they get money asking people to donate to a good cause, which is them.”

The participants, she said “give their money freely; they feel very grateful for [the center] and they are getting something from them that they are not getting from somewhere else.”

In the past, The Kabbalah Centre has shrugged off its critics.

At one Shabbat service in 1997, which The Jewish Journal attended, center founder Philip Berg sermonized that rabbis who oppose the center “don’t want you to know the truth. They want you to live in chaos. They are the enemies of enlightenment.”

During the last two decades, Kravitz said that Jews for Judaism has worked with thousands of people — people targeted by missionaries and cults and their concerned family members — and in recent years, these have included people from the center. “The people that I’ve come into contact with clearly accuse The Kabbalah Centre of being very manipulative and being very deceptive with their promises,” he said.

What advice does Kravitz offer to those at risk of an unhealthy involvement?

“Always use critical thinking,” the rabbi said. “Always question. Don’t accept what people say because it sounds good at first.”

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz will be teaching a countermissionary survival seminar Tuesday evenings through June 27 at 7:30 p.m. To register, call (310) 556-3344.

 

UCLA Jews, Muslims Alter Protest Tactics


Like Moses upholding the Tablets of the Law, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller stood on the steps of UCLA’s Ackerman Union last week, his outstretched arms grasping a large, hand-lettered cardboard sign, which proclaimed:

Peace for Israel
Peace for Palestine
Share the Hope

Milling near the solitary UCLA Hillel director were Arab and Jewish students with competing exhibits, but to reach them a visitor had to pass through a colorful marketplace of causes up Bruin Walk.

The largest crowd was listening to the deafening rock band, Moving Units, anchoring a gauntlet of tables, leafleteers and displays urging students to participate in the Inaugural Bruin Cardboard Boat Race, engage in Christian Bible studies, fight drug addiction, play volleyball and so on.

At the end was a large photo collage of men and women of different races and nationalities, each asserting “I am a Palestinian” to indicate international solidarity for the cause. The announced Apartheid Obstacle Course, presented by the Guerrilla Theatre, was running an hour late.

The Bruin Walk display was one of the events organized by Muslim, Arab and supporting students as part of the weeklong “Israel and Palestine: Obstacles to Peace” program.

The low-key theme appeared to be an attempt by the sponsoring Students for Justice in Palestine to lend a respectable scholarly touch to the anti-Israel demonstrations.

If this approach indicated a higher level of sophistication by the sponsors than in previous years, so did the Jewish response, organized by Bruins for Israel.

Bruin Walk was dotted with graphic pro-Israel posters aimed at different campus constituencies.

“Where in the Middle East Can Gay Officers Serve Their Country?” asked one poster, answering, “Only in Israel.” Other posters, with the same bottom line, queried, “Where in the Middle East Can Arab Women Vote?” and “Where in the Middle East Are Daughters Valued as Much as Sons?”

Smack in front of the Palestinian display stood 21-year-old Michael Smoyman, a yarmulke on his head and holding a sign inscribed, “Obstacle to Peace: Suicide Bombing.”

As Seidler-Feller’s arms grew tired of holding the peace poster, he was approached by George Malouf, an Arab graduate student from Gaza, who took over the rabbi’s sign and post.

When the “apartheid wall” finally arrived, it lead to a mind-bending face-off between Arab students dressed as Israeli soldiers manning roadblocks, and Jewish students dressed as suicide bombers and carrying such signs as, “If I were a Palestinian suicide bomber, you would be dead now” and “If I were your neighbor, you would want a fence, too.”

Two campus cops on bicycles were on hand to break up a threatening scuffle, but on the whole the week’s mood was largely nonconfrontational.

It was quite a different story a week earlier at UC Irvine, which for the past three years has witnessed militant anti-Israel agitation during Palestine Week.

Instead of UCLA’s benign “Obstacles to Peace” slogan, the theme of the UCI Muslim Student Union was “Holocaust in the Holy Land,” featuring lectures on such topics as “Israel: The Fourth Reich.”

Amir Abdel Malik Ali, a Black Muslim imam and veteran rabble-rouser given to bloodcurdling threats against Israel and “Zionist Jews” spoke at both UC campuses.

While he pulled out all the stops at an UCI outdoor rally, at UCLA he spoke to some 70 people in an indoor auditorium in a considerably calmer and less vituperative voice.

Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of the regional American Jewish Congress chapter, monitored the UCI events and, shocked by the hostile atmosphere, said “I now understand what it’s like to be a Jew in pre-war Germany or an American Embassy hostage in Tehran.”

Jeffrey Rips, the Hillel executive director at UCI, said that while there was general agreement that free speech should not be abrogated on campus, the administration had the right and duty of exercising its free speech by publicly condemning anti-Semitic demonstrations and hate harangues.

This point represents a long-standing demand by such groups as the Anti-Defamation League, StandWithUs, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federation of Orange County and some UCI faculty members, who protested this year’s events to Chancellor Michael V. Drake.

The U.S. Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education is currently investigating charges by the Zionist Organization of America that the UCI administration has failed to take a stand against anti-Semitism and to prevent harassment of Jewish students on campus.

To balance the dour campus picture, Rips said that except during Palestine Week, there was little tension between Muslim and Jewish student the rest of the year.

While some Jewish students, especially freshmen, were intimidated in the past by the militancy of Muslim students, who outnumber Jewish students, “now you see students wearing kippot and ‘I’m Proud to be Jewish’ T-shirts, and we also had a large sukkah on campus,” he said.

Rips blamed the tenser atmosphere at UCI, compared to UCLA, on a more radicalized Muslim student group, which takes its cues from Malik Ali, and the fact that UCI has become the main media focus for national Arab-Jewish campus tensions.

General and Jewish papers ran extensive stories on UCI’s Palestine Week; UCLA’s was covered only by the campus daily.

 

Iranian Colored Band Report Discredited


When the renowned exiled Iranian journalist Amir Taheri reported in a Canadian newspaper last week that Iran had just passed a law requiring Jews to wear yellow bands on their clothing, the world reacted with shock. The story, which also outlined required colored bands for Christians and Zoroastrians, was immediately picked up by major newspapers in Israel, and the word spread quickly. The purpose of the law according to Taheri’s article, was to set a standard dress code for Muslims and also for Iranian Muslims “to easily recognize non-Muslims so that they can avoid shaking hands with them by mistake and thus becoming najis [unclean]”.

The story seemed credible, given that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been making anti-Semitic and anti-Israel proclamations for months. But, as it turned out, Taheri was wrong. No such law had been passed.

Nevertheless, Taheri’s report set in motion a media frenzy, with checks and balances of rumor control that illustrate how on edge — and careful — the Iranian exile community is these days. Local Iranian Jewish leaders were bombarded with requests for comments from the international media on the reported legislation, but they held back from responding until they had received solid confirmation from their sources in Iran.

“To the best of my knowledge the final version of the law does not demand any identifying marks by the religious minority groups,” Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Los Angeles-based Iranian American Jewish Federation said in a press release. “I am not aware of what was said by whom, but it is possible that some ideas might have been thrown around.”

Kermanian also said that while Iran’s Islamic officials have in the past put out ideas in the media to gauge international reaction, there was no specific information about this instance.

The report stemmed from new legislation geared to making women in Iran dress more conservatively and avoid Western fashions, Iranian legislator Emad Afroogh Afroogh who sponsored the Islamic Dress Code bill told the Associated Press on Friday. Allegations that new rules affecting religious minorities were not part of the new regulations, he said.

“It’s a sheer lie. The rumors about this are worthless,” Afroogh said. “There is no mention of religious minorities and their clothing in the bill.”

Morris Motamed, the Jewish representative in the Iranian Parliament also denied the existence of any bills designed to segregate Jews in the country with special insignia on their clothes.

“Such a plan has never been proposed or discussed in the parliament,” Motamed said. “Such news, which appeared abroad, is an insult to religious minorities here.”

Rumors of anti-Semitic laws in Iran have disturbed local Iranian Jews who have been increasingly concerned for the safety of roughly 25,000 Jews still living in Iran since Ahmadinejad denied the existence of the Holocaust and called for Israel to “wiped off the map” late last year.

“The mere fact that such possibilities are considered to be plausible is a reflection of the sad state of affairs of the religious minority groups in Iran,” Kermanian said in his press release.

According to a 2004 report prepared by Frank Nikbakht, a local Iranian Jewish activist who tracks anti-Semitism in Iran, the Jewish community lives in constant fear for its security amid threats from militant Islamic factions in the country. Since 1979, at least 14 Jews were murdered or assassinated by the regime’s agents, 11 Jews have disappeared after being arrested, at least two Jews died while in custody and 11 Jews have been officially executed by the regime. In 1999, Feizollah Mekhoubad, a 78-year-old cantor of the popular Yousefabad synagogue in Tehran, was the last Jew to be officially executed by the regime, stated the report.

In 2000, the local Iranian Jewish community was at the forefront of an international human rights campaign to save the lives of 13 Jews in Shiraz. They were facing imminent execution after being arrested on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and the United States. Ultimately, the Shiraz Jews were not executed but sentenced to prison terms and have since been released.

Both Jews and Muslims of Iranian origins living in Southern California have been closely collaborating to raise public awareness of Ahmadinejad’s comments. Nearly 2,000 Iranians of various faiths gathered at a pro-Israel rally in Westwood last November to condemn Ahmadinejad’s calls for Israel’s destruction.

“We wanted to show the world that we are against such comments made by Mr. Ahmadinejad and that his comments are not representative of the Iranian people,” said Assadollah Morovati, owner of KRSI “Radio Sedaye Iran,” a Persian language satellite radio station based in Beverly Hills that broadcasts news around the world. “Iranians are not the type to want the destruction of another people. We respect the Jewish people and only wish success for the State of Israel.”

 

The Circuit


Built to Last

Team Mortorq from Beverly Hills High School won two prestigious awards recently at a robotics competition: The Entrepreneurship Award and the Autodesk Visualization Award for animation.

The Entrepreneurship Award recognizes a team which, since its inception, has developed the framework for a comprehensive business plan in order to scope, manage and obtain team objectives. The team should also display entrepreneurial enthusiasm and the vital business skills for a self-sustaining program.

The Autodesk Visualization Award for Animation recognizes excellence in student animation that clearly and creatively illustrates the spirit of the first Robotics Competition.

The Beverly Hills High team also was scheduled to compete in Las Vegas.

Sherman Speaks

Nearly 200 visitors, community leaders and members of the local Iranian Muslim media gathered at the The New JCC at Milken in West Hills March 26 to hear speakers address the growing threat of Iran’s nuclear program.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian Jewish Federation, were panelists at the event.

Sherman, a member of the House International Relations Committee, discussed upcoming measures Congress will be taking to combat Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

“It is unlikely that we can stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Sherman said. “Iran is subject to economic pressure and we must use our maximum economic and diplomatic steps to slow down and stop their ability to get these weapons.”

Kermanian’s discussion focused on the beliefs and core goals of Iran’s current regime to impose its fundamentalist Islamic ideologies on the West by use of force. Following their speeches, both speakers answered questions from the audience concerning Iran. Also in attendance was Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine. — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Ain’t That a Kick?

Gold and silver were the colors of the day for New JCC at Milken’s Kenshokan Martial Arts Academy last month. The American Judo and Jujitsu Federation held its national convention and freestyle championships in San Ramon recently and in the youth division, Tyler Mclean came away with second place. Program instructor Gregory Poretz, who came back from a stunning upset in 2005 in last place was able to make a clean sweep of the black belt division and take the gold.

Sensei Poretz, Mclean and the rest of the Kenshokan will be training to defend their titles in 2007 in Santa Rosa.

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