Jewish day schools short-change kids with special needs

Adam is pushing the strings of his tzitzit through a small hole on the side of his desk.

“If you don’t want to finish your work now, that’s OK,” his teacher, Chau Ly tells him. “You can do it later.”
“It’s easy. I just don’t feel like it,” answers Adam (not his real name).

He looks at the language arts workbook open in front of him, then flips it to examine the bar code. He wants to tell Ms. Ly about the cat next door. Ms. Ly, sitting right across from him, tells him he can do that when he finishes his assignment.
She begins to read him the next question.

He pulls at some rubber on his sneaker and says, “I don’t need help, it’s easy.”

Ms. Ly sits back. Adam, an 11-year-old with learning and emotional disorders, begins to work quietly.

Finally, he finishes his assignment. Ms. Ly adds up the points he’s earned for doing things like getting his head into the assignment and working independently, and sets the timer for his break.

He chooses to spend his time exchanging cat stories with Ms. Ly.

Adam is one of 12 students in Kol Hanearim, an organization that sponsors small classes in three local day schools for children with learning disabilities and emotional disorders such as attention deficit, oppositional behavior, depression or obsessive compulsive disorder. The kids spend part of the time in their own classroom and part of the time mainstreamed in regular classes. They also join their grade level for lunch, recess, art, PE and other activities.

The classes were founded last year by mothers of kids who had been either asked to leave a Jewish day school, or who chose to leave on their own. Their decision to stay and make something new is part of a slowly emerging trend toward integrating diverse learners into the Jewish day school milieu — a move that everyone agrees has been too slow in coming, and has hardly begun to reach the students who need it.

For years, resources for kids with special needs have been scarce in Los Angeles’ day schools.

While supplemental Jewish education programs — camps, Hebrew schools, Shabbatons and parties — have provided wonderful Jewish experiences to the region’s special needs kids during the last 10 to 20 years, other cities seem to be making greater strides with their day school populations.

Parents who want their special needs children immersed in a Jewish environment on a daily basis often have to fend for themselves with minimal school support. Those able to afford it have hired tutors and shadows, which has not always been a successful solution. More often, parents have had to make the difficult choice to take the kids out of Jewish schools.

For parents in the Orthodox community, the decision to pull a kid out of day school means not only forfeiting a vital environment and education, but has social consequences, as well. Since the majority of Orthodox children attend day school, the child will be excluded from social circles, further marginalizing him or her.

With the explosion of day school attendance in the non-Orthodox sectors over the last 15 years, that decision is equally painful for Conservative and Reform parents who hoped to solidify a child’s identity with an intense Jewish experience.
About 10 percent of the general population has a disability, and the Bureau of Jewish Education estimates that between 700 and 800 children with disabilities are in Los Angeles’ 37 day schools, which serve 10,000 kids.

Over the past several years, schools and programs have opened up to teaching a more diverse array of learners in Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and community schools.

“There is a growing awareness that day schools need to be accessible to the widest range of students possible, and schools are working hard to refine their mission statements and to make sure that whatever their aspirations are to work in this area, that they find the financial and human resources to make it successful,” said Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. The Boston-based group recently published a best practices report from day schools across the country.

Adam’s mother says her son, who previously attended Vista Del Mar’s Julia Ann Singer Center, a school near Culver City for children with severe emotional, learning and developmental disorders, has worked his way from a first-grade reading level to a fourth-grade reading level at Kol Hanearim. Whereas before he was surrounded by other kids with behavioral challenges, now he has nonchallenged children to model behaviors for him.

He is no longer embarrassed to wear a kippah and tzitzit, and can participate in class cooking projects without worrying about kashrut. He now asks to go to shul every Shabbat, and he even sings Hebrew songs in the shower.

While singing in the shower may seem like a silly benchmark, a positive or negative day school experience can have lifelong impact on a child’s Jewish identity.

One woman who contacted Kol Hanearim told the story of her son, now grown, who had been thrown out of yeshiva and told he would never amount to anything. Today, he is working toward a master’s degree in physics and is engaged to a non-Jewish woman.

Slammed Doors, New Opportunities

Kol Hanearim started its classes last academic year, soon after, Sharon Gindi was told that day school was no place for her son. She found that there were no good options for him within the Jewish community.

She got in touch with Kol Hanearim, a group of parents who had coalesced a few years before to offer Jewish programming to their children, who had left day schools. They had already met with principals in hopes of figuring out how to start classes for special-needs kids in day schools. But after two years, those meetings had gotten nowhere.

“I looked at my husband, and I said, ‘ All we need is a classroom and a teacher? How hard can this be?'” said Gindi, who will be speaking on this topic at a session at the United Jewish Community’s General Assembly here this week. So she skipped over the organizational meandering and immediately got down to details.

Big Sunday Gets Big Boost From City

Big Sunday began in 1999 with 300 Jewish volunteers devoted to a day of good works. That was impressive in a city notorious for lack of civic involvement — but that was just the beginning.

What started as Mitzvah Day for congregants of Temple Israel of Hollywood gradually spread across the city and beyond the Jewish community, with 8,000 participants from all socio-economic and religious backgrounds working on 150 different projects last year. Now the event has taken another big leap — suddenly, Big Sunday is the business of the city of Los Angeles.

This year, Los Angeles assumes the headline role in sponsoring the May 7 event. The planning began officially last week at Temple Israel. About 170 attended, including about 30 representatives of city government, among them Larry Frank, deputy mayor of neighborhood and community services.

Frank said that the mayor’s office would “like to help the whole city do what you’ve been doing for the past seven years.”

“We want this to be as big as the marathon, as big as the Grammys,” he said. “We want everyone to be able to participate.”

This year, as a result of the city partnership, event founder David Levinson expects as many as 25,000 volunteers.

“Do the math,” he said at the planning meeting. “We had 8,000 last year. Mayor Villaraigosa’s citywide day of service in October drew 7,500. That’s already over 15,000.”

The variety of projects last year was diverse, ranging from bathing rescued basset hounds to furnishing apartments for the homeless. Some volunteers painted murals and planted a garden at Grand View Elementary School in Mar Vista, while another crew in the kitchen made casseroles to freeze and distribute to AIDS victims.

“My honest belief is that everyone wants to help and everyone can help,” said Levinson, a playwright and TV writer who still chairs the event.

“If someone says they can’t make it because they have a 1-year-old, I tell them to bring [the baby] to a nursing home. All she has to do is breathe, and she’ll make the residents happy,” Levinson said. “We had a blind theater group washing cars. At a party we threw for low-income seniors, one of the activities was making silk flowers for shut-ins at a nursing home.

“It’s not about the haves helping the have-nots,” he explained. “It’s about everyone working together.”

Last year’s participants hailed from more than 100 synagogues (all denominations from Reform to Orthodox to Reconstructionist), churches, schools, offices and clubs, as well as hundreds of individuals and families. They worked on almost 150 different projects from Acton to Anaheim.

As book captain, Racelle Schaefer, a Temple Israel member who has volunteered every year, spends months organizing book drives at schools.

“We also get donations of new children’s books from Houghton Mifflin,” she said. “Last year we distributed over 8,000 books throughout the city on Big Sunday.”

Corporate, private and organizational donors underwrite the day, including Temple Israel. The budget this year is $450,000. The city’s participation will include providing security, busing and street closures. Additional donors are both welcomed and needed, Levinson said.

“I have absolutely no idea how we’ll pay for it this year,” he added. “It’s a cliff-hanger, but we always figure something out.”

An improved Web site will make coordination easier. Volunteers can click on a listed project and get an automatic confirmation, map, contact person and any special instructions.

“I see Big Sunday as an appetizer platter for volunteers,” said Sherry Marks, vice chair and volunteer coordinator. “There are hundreds of worthy nonprofits that need our people. If you wanted, you could start at 7 a.m. and work at four or five different sites during the day.

“You could make meals at a shelter, take senior citizens out to tea or provide makeovers for women who are re-entering the work force,” she continued. “[The volunteering] often works as a catalyst, getting people to make an ongoing commitment to a particular organization.”

For more information visit


Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis


There’s a worn American flag hanging in the second-story window of Moshe Salem’s stately Valley Village home.

Which is strange if you think about it, since much of Salem’s existence is centered around Israel. He’s Israeli, his wife is Israeli, as are their four kids. Most of his friends in the Valley are Israeli, and for the last three years, he’s been volunteering as the president of the Council of Israeli Communities (CIC), a small organization that wants to serve as the central representation of Israelis in Los Angeles — an endeavor that has not quite come to fruition just yet.

There’s more of Israel inside these huge mahogany oak doors, which open onto a marble floor and thick, ivory columns: The walls flanking the entryway are decorated with dozens of colorful hamsas, hand-shaped amulets that ostensibly protect against evil; in the corner of the two story-high living room is a tarnished silver Middle Eastern tea set and several hookahs, and, of course, there’s Moshe himself, the 45-year-old advocate for Israel and for Israelis in America.

Although the organization originally began in 2001 as a pro-Israel advocacy group, when other organizations like StandWithUs began to effectively fill that role, the CIC changed direction to try to foster a relationship between Israelis and Israel, its culture and values.

After he became president of the CIC in 2002 — a term that ends in February — Salem began working three to four hours a day on CIC projects, such as hosting speakers, sing-alongs, holiday activities; working with The Federation and Jewish Agency; organizing events like the recent Rabin memorial at the University of Judaism; or inviting Israeli soldiers to talk about Israel’s care in the execution of missions.

“There is a great need for one central Israeli organization,” says Gal Shor, editor-in-chief of Shalom L.A., a Hebrew newspaper here. Shor does not believe the CIC has fulfilled that role yet, due to a membership of 5,000 out of the estimated 200,000 Israelis in Los Angeles and a lack of funding, but he says Salem has been tireless in his work.

“One good thing about him is that he’s trying. He does give his time and effort,” Shor says.

When he’s not at the CIC, Salem runs his diamond business, which he started a few years after he came to California in 1981. Like many Israelis here, Salem originally came to America to make some money, never intending to stay. But after a wife, four children and years of what he calls “living on the fence” — about whether to return to Israel or not — Salem has come to terms with the fact that they’re probably not going back to Bat Yam. Which makes it all the more important for him to try to forge a connection between Israelis and Israel.

“People ask me, ‘Why are you doing this, giving your time, your money?’ (Time away from work is money),” he said. “You have more substance in your life rather than just getting up in the morning, going to parties, going to the movies,” he said.

On a personal level, he said, he does it for his children, too: “I think my kids observe a lot. When they see an article in the Israeli papers, or when we have a gathering at the house, it enriches their life. I think, I hope, I pray that I’m embedding in them Jewish Israeli values that way.”

On a more global level, he said that somebody has to do the work that he is doing.

“If everybody says, ‘I can’t do it, I’m too busy,’ then who would do this? If nobody would do these things, then what you’re doing is emptying the community life from any cultural or spiritual values,” he said. “A community that does not have spiritual and cultural values is a doomed community.”

Moshe Salem


Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

AIPAC Is Guilty — But Not of Spying


As some 1,250 delegates gather in Los Angeles under the banner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to celebrate the deepening ties between the United States and Israel and to strengthen those ties through political activities, I am mindful of two who will not be there.

Two former AIPAC staffers, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, will be back in Washington preparing for their January trial, which could be completed on the eve of AIPAC’s National Policy Conference in March. The timing is ironic given the loyal, instrumental roles that Rosen and Weissman played for AIPAC, and given the extent to which AIPAC has deserted them both.

These two individuals, in fact, deserve the unqualified support of both AIPAC and the Jewish community for their service to Jews and Israel — and also because they are, to all appearances, innocent of any wrongdoing. The current criminal indictment arises out of nothing more than law enforcement entrapment. But even putting that aside, the former AIPAC staffers still acted in a logical, defensible and ethical matter. Jews should be rising to their defense, but there is, so far, only a shameful silence.

Rosen, a longtime Washington lobbyist, was the chief of AIPAC foreign-policy staff. Weissman was a specialist on Iraq. No one who knew Rosen would argue that he was the soul of AIPAC or its most visible public face, but all who came close to the organization swiftly understood that Rosen was its brains.

It was he who shaped the concept of Israel as a strategic ally of the United States, refashioning American support for Israel from that of a big brother assisting a poor relation to a genuine, mutually beneficial partnership.

It was he who shifted AIPAC from an organization that was solely centered on Congress to one that also lobbied the president, his officers and his advisers — in Democratic and Republican administrations alike — as well as the think tanks and policy wonks.

Rosen recognized that he ruffled too many feathers to be out front. So he groomed protégés to assume that role. He mentored one so well that he became the head of AIPAC; another became the first Jew to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

One cannot overestimate his importance to the organization and his contribution to it over the past two decades.

One did not have to agree with his politics or AIPAC’s — as I certainly did not — to recognize the genius: While everyone was focusing on Iraq, he was concerned about Iran and North Korea. Anyone in his position traffics in information, seeking to understand what is known, attempting to fathom what is on the mind of government officials both in the United States and abroad.

What happened with Rosen and Weissman is simple enough. They were set up.

They are victims of a sting operation that relied on government analyst Lawrence Franklin, a compromised source who was in trouble for allegedly keeping unauthorized classified information at home. In order to win a more lenient sentence, he carried out an FBI plan to tell Rosen and Weissman about “secret information” that Israeli operatives were to be attacked in Iraq. Lives were seemingly at stake. Real lives, Jewish lives of people allied with the United States and presumably working in Iraq with the knowledge and consent of the United States, in alliance with the United States. Remember, this information came from a U.S. government analyst. And they had every reason to presume that he was giving them information both with permission and for a purpose.

Not surprisingly, Rosen and Weissman tried to check this information out. At one point, they apparently sought to see what a journalist covering Iraq knew. They also warned Israeli officials of the clear and immediate danger to their operatives. We now know that Franklin’s information was false and manufactured, with the specific goal of ensnaring Rosen and Weissman.

Of course that wasn’t the impression created when CBS broke its sensational account on Aug. 27, 2004, courtesy of a leak from either the FBI and/or Department of Justice.

Elements of the evidence remain shrouded in secrecy — the defendants are currently challenging the government’s attempts to conceal their own statements made on wiretaps.

Why would the U.S. government obstruct the defense in this way?

One plausible explanation is that Rosen and Weissman will recognize the circumstances in which their words were recorded and hence understand the scope of the federal surveillance — not just of them but also of those with whom they were in contact. One wonders: Does the U.S. typically spy on Israeli diplomats or diplomats of other countries?

We shall soon learn whether the government will drop the charges rather than reveal its evidence. The surveillance apparently lasted for five years and yielded such meager results that the defendants had to be entrapped into committing an alleged crime. If they were really up to something, investigators should have found it without the FBI having to engage in a Hollywood-style stunt — fictionalizing a scenario and manufacturing a crime.

This is not the Jonathon Pollard Affair redux. Pollard was a paid agent of the Israeli government who transmitted classified information to Israel. And unlike with the legal principle at stake in the Valerie Plame case, there was no possibility that lives would have been endangered by this leak; no sources were compromised. Unlike Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, Rosen and Weissman wanted to save lives, not weaken political opponents.

Yet AIPAC has run for cover; so have too many Jews. Some members of AIPAC’s own leadership are under the impression that the organization has actively defended its former employees. The word on the street, however, is that Rosen and Weissman have been hung out to dry. AIPAC bylaws require that the organization cover their legal defense, yet Rosen’s lawyers and Weissman’s lawyers have not been paid in many months. A reporters committee has come out against the indictment; a scientific group has challenged the secrecy provisions. But unless I’ve missed something, American Jewish organizations have been virtually mute.

We should be outraged by the setup!

We should be outraged by the selective prosecution — Rosen and Weissman are the first to be charged under the provision of the law being cited. Maybe it’s truly AIPAC and the vaunted American-Israeli alliance that is on trial or that is the actual target.

So why the hushed, muted tones of organizational leaders?

I leave it to their able lawyers to make the legal case for Rosen and Weissman, but the moral case also is compelling. From the standpoint of Jewish principles and tradition, the saving of human lives is an essential.

The Bush administration — or at least some within it — seems determined to crack down on the dissemination of government information, even if it impedes the public’s right to know or the right of citizens to participate in the process.

The Jewish community should not be timid in taking a different view. We dare not be sidelined.

Michael Berenbaum is adjunct professor of theology at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute, whose mission is to explore the ethical and religious implications of the Holocaust.






All About AIPAC

How to Polish a Tarnished Image

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad AIPAC?

Looking for a Shining Star

Summit Tackles Iran Nukes, College Strife

Failed Joshua Venture’s Serious Failings


Now that it has been “formally put to death and buried,” as one of its grantees told me, I feel free to speak out about the Joshua Venture, a supposed breakthrough organization, subsidizing the ideas of nonprofit professionals who will be leading the next generation of Jewish life.

I don’t know the intricacies of what happened that brought it to its final demise. I don’t even know all the details of how it worked when it was alive. I do know that when I dealt with its 14 20-30-something-aged grantees last year, it was the worst professional experience I have had since my company, Passion Marketing for Issues and Causes, began servicing the Jewish and nonprofit world.

The purpose of the Joshua Venture is something like this:

It was founded by several foundations in Jewish life to enable young social entrepreneurs (that means nonprofit start-ups) to receive funding and two-years of support, seminars, tools (that means training), mentoring and advice.

What I found out it basically meant is that they chose a group of creative and brilliant young Jews, many whom were committed to building edgy nonprofits in the Jewish world, who were coddled, handed monetary support on a silver platter, catered to, spoiled and allowed to believe that they were privileged and beyond socially acceptable behavioral norms.

I learned these realities the hard way. Initially, I was impressed and excited to be working with the grantees of the Joshua Venture. I already knew some of them. Several were great young people doing extraordinary new work in Jewish life.

There was the founder of J-Dub Records, bringing a new, hip style of Jewish music touching the lives of thousands of young, uninvolved Jews, opening a door for them into a Judaism from which they felt distant and alienated.

There was the founder of the Ayecha Resource Organization, an organization promoting the diversity of Jewish life, founded by a firebrand young Jewish woman who was a proud African American.

There was Sharsheret, supporting the needs of young, Jewish women dealing with breast cancer, founded by a young cancer survivor.

There were performance artists, filmmakers, political activists, intellectuals and others, forming an eclectic mix of dynamic personalities, committed to building their generation’s idea of a new Jewish world.

Joshua Ventures had contacted me about being one of their mentors. They asked if I could plan a full-day seminar for their grantees, teaching them the principles of marketing their causes for funding, advocacy and participation.

I was so excited to work with these people and help them further their ideas that I required my entire staff of 14 people to attend the seminar, positioning them to work as one-on-one mentors with each of the grantees. We prepared for weeks, working way beyond the hours for which Joshua Ventures was paying. I was happy to give the cause our time and a full day of 14 extraordinary professionals.

We arrived that morning to the seminar pumped up and ready to dive in with the grantees. I was prepared to work with them until midnight, if need be.

After an introduction from their professional, I stood up to convey our excitement at being with them and laid out the day’s schedule. Next, the head of our account service team, took the floor to begin the first part of the morning’s program.

He was just a few minutes into his presentation, when I noticed there was a buzz among the grantees. One young woman stands and says to me, “We believe your company is gender challenged. So far, we have heard from you and then another man. Why aren’t the women presenting?”

Not yet clued in, I nicely explained that there would be many women presenting, but that the way it worked out, the first two presentations were from men.

We continued, and then there was another buzz and interruption.

“We don’t like your methodology of presenting, as if you and your company are the center of knowledge. Your presentation model is outdated. You should be asking us what we know and then basing your presentation around our knowledge.”

I stopped and looked at their professional and their lay leader. Neither said a word. I waited to see if any of the other grantees would open their mouths to balance the critics. None did.

At the break, their professional informed me that the grantees tended to “eat up each professional that presented to them.” She further explained that this was par for the course.

(Today, as I recall this story, it reminds me of the report by Michael Jackson’s housekeeper telling the press how the kids at Neverland were allowed to run amok, without any supervision.)

The criticisms continued to fly. Finally, having reached my limit, I told them how excited we were to work with them, but as I listened to them, I was concerned about the values and behavior of the community they wanted to build. I then said that I believed through the grants they received that they had been empowered by the program and that they misconstrued this empowerment to feel entitled.

“You are taking away our safe space,” I was told by one of the grantees. “We’re supposed to be given safe space.”

As professionals, we stupidly continued to work with them through the entire day. We should have left. I should have publicly ripped up their check as a closing ceremony.

About two months later, I received a phone call from the professional, offering me a too-late and very weak apology. None of the funders, who had all heard about this fiasco, all of with whom I have worked very well over the years, ever called to ask about the experience.

The Joshua Venture raises many questions. There are numerous other programs in Jewish life, which are also handing the world on a silver platter to a new generation of Jews. The funders and their advisers have determined that free trips, free conferences, free hotel rooms, in addition to scholarships, fellowships, meetings with the rich and famous, study sessions with the brilliant, along with the awarding of cash, prizes and other untold privileges, not to mention the very deliberate creation of a new, selected elite class, are the methodology to perpetuate a vibrant and meaningful Jewish world.

And they may very well be right. But, several years into this new culture of privileged perpetuation, the late Joshua Venture is showing us that the methodology is also creating a sense of entitlement that is growing out of control.

I don’t believe that the programs should stop. But I do believe they must include some courses or sessions on values and humility, while demanding that the participants carry certain levels of responsibility. They must also include codes of conduct and expectations of gratitude, as well as an understanding that their participation does not place them above the community — or above amcha — the people.

The foundations of the Jewish world that fund these programs have stepped up to the plate to infuse Jewish life with a vibrancy and relevancy in a way the Jewish world has never worked before. They are to be thanked and praised.

But as they pursue the evaluations of their funding — as they all do, they must also question whether or not there is a critical issue of respect missing from the programs they are creating.

Gary Wexler is the owner of Passion Marketing for Issues and Causes based in Los Angeles.


WWI Huns Spark His Passion for Exercise


I learned about gymnastics from the German soldiers occupying Lithuania during World War I. I used to watch them swinging on the parallels and the rings. I would go home and try it myself. I took wood from one of our factories and made parallel bars in our backyard.

One day, when I was 10, my grandfather found me practicing on the parallels. He said, “What do you want to be, a ‘comediant?'”

They would call us “comediants,” because we would swing from bars and stand on our hands. The older generation didn’t approve. Jews weren’t used to physical education; they were used to studying.

I joined the Maccabi organization when I was 16. It was a sports club with a Zionist philosophy. The goal was to build a strong youth who would be able to fight for Eretz Yisrael.

In my town, Seraij, we had about 60 members: boys and girls from age 9 to their 20s. We rented a hall where we did gymnastics. We met every day, every evening.

We spoke Hebrew, and we took courses in Hebrew language. Lecturers came and spoke to us in Hebrew about the importance of sports and gymnastics. We had a slogan: Nefesh briah b’guf barih, a sound mind in a healthy body.

Every year, we had a festival. We would march through the streets with a band playing music. Some Maccabi members would ride horses. Then the townspeople would come to the big hall, and we would have an exhibition. We would do gymnastics and weightlifting and lecture on the importance of physical education.

Mostly, we competed against other Maccabi teams. But we also competed against other organizations and non-Jewish teams. We would perform for the townspeople, young and old, to raise money.

Sometimes, I would find a play in the library. If not, I would write a play myself. We would then perform a little drama and do exercises to music on stage. Afterward, everyone would dance until 4 o’clock in the morning.

I became the chairman of our Maccabi club soon after I joined…. I had done gymnastics at my high school, which was one of the first Hebrew-speaking schools. I also taught myself by reading literature in German, because there were no Hebrew books on physical education.

It was my job to go to towns and organize the youth into Maccabi clubs. I would explain to the people that physical education was important — just as important for the girls as for the boys.

The Maccabi Central Committee chose seven people to represent Lithuania in the Maccabiah games. I was the only one chosen to compete in the 100-meter dash. To prepare for the competition, I ran every day in an open field that the Maccabi had rented. I ran plenty, a few hours a day.

But I had to make a living, too. I would come home late from Maccabi meetings. In the morning, my grandfather would come looking for me, because customers would be lined up outside our flour mill, waiting for me to open the gates.

In 1932, I traveled with the Lithuanian team to Palestine. I took a train from Lithuania through Germany and France. Then, I sailed from Marseilles on a ship called the Patria. When we landed in Jaffa, Palestine, the harbor wasn’t deep enough for the ship. So everyone got onto small boats, which carried us to shore.

It was very exciting to step onto Palestine. The Maccabiah was the first Jewish event in Palestine for people from the Diaspora in 2000 years. There were tens of thousands of people there.

Some of the Jews who had known me in Lithuania and had moved to Palestine saw me marching in the opening ceremonies. They called my name and yelled, “You should come visit us!” The Americans and the Germans won all the awards. All I got was a certificate.

I spent about two weeks visiting relatives in Palestine after the games. One woman from our team decided to stay in Palestine, because she was a Zionist. I didn’t want to stay. I saw Arabs in Jerusalem riding horses and waving swords and yelling. And I had to go back to Lithuania to work.

When I came back, I lectured about the games. In 1935, I was invited to inspect Maccabi organizations all over Lithuania and to organize new groups in cities that didn’t have any Maccabi clubs. I did this until 1937, when I left for the United Sates.

The Maccabi made going-away parties for me, because I had organized new branches and invigorated others. I was celebrating, because I knew I would live.

My older brother, Meyer, who had been in the United States, came back to Lithuania to get me. We went to the American consul together to try to get a visa. I was sitting there while Meyer was speaking with the official behind a closed door. When Meyer opened the door and nodded his head yes, he got a visa for me, I said, “Ah, I’m alive.”

I left behind my mother; my brother, Aaron, and his wife and two sons; my sister, Paula, and her husband and two sons; my grandfather, grandmother, uncles, aunts, cousins — maybe 25 members of my family. I’m the only one left from the whole family.

In the United States, I didn’t play sports. It wasn’t so easy here. I had to work very hard. I worked at a meat factory until 10 p.m. every night. This was my exercise, my hard work.

The following story by Hillel Price, 99, was told to his granddaughter, Journal contributing writer Sarah Price Brown.


Q & A With Wilda Spalding

Open Wilda Spalding’s “little black book,” and you’ll discover a code of ethics — written in part by Eleanor Roosevelt and adopted by the United Nations in 1948: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Spalding, who will be at the University of Judaism on Oct. 26, has been a human rights activist at the United Nations in Geneva for more than 30 years. She has campaigned for indigenous people, children, the disabled and others and founded the International Human Rights Consortium, a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote the spirit of the Universal Declaration by honoring human rights advocates. Spalding is a member of congregation B’nai Horin, which holds services outdoors in gardens.

Jewish Journal: What will you speak about at the University of Judaism?

Wilda Spalding: The title of the talk is “Powerful Pixels of Peace: The Individual, the Nation and the United Nations.” Your screen on your computer or your television is made up of pixels. If one of them isn’t on, your television or your computer doesn’t work. That’s how important each one of us is. I want [listeners] to get really connected with themselves and the pretext of the individual and the different forms that can take — individual couples, individual communities, individual nations. One of the forms is the United Nations. I want them to go away feeling their beauty, their specialness, their uniqueness and their power.

JJ: Do Jews have a particular interest in human rights?

WS: A Jew is a living human rights Universal Declaration. By the covenant with Hashem — by the act of creation — they’re called to be the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. From the beginning, the declaration was born from the horrors of World War II.

JJ: How did you get involved with the United Nations?

WS: My mother was in San Francisco at the time of the signing [of the United Nations Charter in 1945], and I was in her womb. Through the amniotic fluid, I heard it, and I went, “Yes! This is for me.” For me, it’s about purpose and enabling people to feel their full dignity and respect. This is a place where people gather to try to do that.

JJ: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has said, “The U.N. Human Rights Commission promotes anti-Israel, anti-Semitic resolutions.” Do you agree?

WS: I’m in the Commission and have been for many, many years as a senior NGO [nongovernmental organization] participant. Israel as a nation is one thing, and Israel in what it’s doing in other areas of the world in terms of humanitarian work, in terms of being involved in HIV/AIDS, in its work in Senegal [is another thing]. Israel is doing a lot of very exciting and wonderful things. And that does show up in other places.

JJ: In September 2001, the United Nations hosted in Durban, South Africa, “The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.” The conference was called anti-Semitic and the United States government boycotted it. Do you think it was anti-Semitic?

WS: It was not anti-Semitic in the sense that it was not anti-Islam. No, it was anti-Israeli. And the fact that, that came through was really indicative of the pain that the world community is feeling and may be turning on the United States in a very similar way.

JJ: Peter Hansen, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), recently said in an interview that UNRWA in Gaza knowingly hires members of Hamas. Israel has called for Hansen’s resignation. Do you think Hansen should resign?

WS: When there is an organization or a club, which is all the U.N. is — it’s a dues-paying club — if you’re not a member of that club, you may not want to join that club, you may not like that club. You may want to criticize that club’s rules. But then how do you get that club to go to the ethical place you’d like it to? By being angry at it? By criticizing it? By not joining it?

If people want UNRWA to be different, then they need to start working at UNRWA.

Is it better that you have the people working for you, so that you can keep an eye on them and integrate them into something positive, or is it better to leave them alone, giving them 10 hours a day to make a bomb?

JJ: What’s something practical that the Los Angeles community can do to improve the state of human rights?

WS: The community is made up of individuals. The first thing all of us have to do is go inside ourselves, clean out the fear. Why are we always pitting ourselves us against them? Why do we fall into the trap of dualism? Is God two? No. God is echad [one].

We have tremendous capacity within ourselves, no matter our situation. Take a look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ask yourself, if you had all the money and all the staff in the world, what one thing would you do?

Wilda Spalding will speak Tuesday, Oct. 26, at 10:45 a.m. after a 10 a.m. reception at the University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. $10. For more information, call (310) 440-1283, ext 283.

Jewish Arsonist Worked for Paris Center

French Jewish leaders fear they may have cried wolf once too often after a Jew was arrested in connection with the well-publicized arson of a Jewish community center in central Paris.

Paris police say a 52-year-old Jewish man arrested Monday morning in connection with the Aug. 22 torching of the Judaeo-Spanish social center in the capital’s 11th district is the principal suspect in the arson.

Police said the man, identified only as "Raphael B." and described as unstable, is a former caretaker at the institution who had received free meals in return for his volunteer activities.

It is believed that the center wanted to part company with the man, provoking what police think was an act of vengeance.

Investigators found keys to the center at the man’s former rented apartment. This discovery tied in with earlier evidence, including the fact that the burned building’s front door was damaged from the inside during the arson, rather than being forced from the exterior.

The arrest shocked community leaders who had successfully mobilized the French political establishment to condemn what appeared to be an anti-Semitic attack.

Moise Cohen, president of the Paris Consistoire — the country’s principal Jewish religious group and the organization that owns the burned building — was sharply critical of community leaders he said had reacted "without taking the necessary precautions."

"From the beginning we thought this wasn’t normal," Cohen said. "The building is in a very quiet neighborhood and there was no indication on the outside that it was a former synagogue. From the start of the investigation, the police thought it was someone connected to the institution."

Cohen was equally scathing about politicians "who fear they’re going to be accused of not doing enough" to tackle anti-Semitism — though in part they have become zealous in their condemnations following stinging criticism that they weren’t taking anti-Semitism seriously enough.

In the aftermath of the attack, Jewish leaders sought to link the incident to recent cases in which judges had been lenient with anti-Semitic offenders.

The Jewish community could have been excused had its cries of anti-Semitism been isolated to one attack that turned out to have different motives. But the recent arson is only the latest example of politicians and community leaders reacting to an event with horror, only to have to ask questions later.

In July, an incident in which a young woman claimed she and her baby were attacked on a suburban train drew fierce condemnations from politicians and religious leaders — until it was discovered that the woman had made up the story.

Similarly, the recent knifing of a yeshiva student in the Paris suburbs also apparently was not motivated by anti-Semitism. And police still are investigating claims by a rabbi that he was stabbed outside his synagogue in January 2003, as reports allege that the rabbi may have stabbed himself.

Less in the media spotlight is the burning last November of an unoccupied annex of a Jewish school in the Parisian suburb of Gagny. It looks less and less likely that the incident was motivated by anti-Semitism.

Nevertheless, for Jewish organizations and for the government, these cases are merely isolated incidents in a tide of nearly 300 reported acts of anti-Semitism in France since the beginning of 2004.

Roger Benarroch, vice president of the CRIF umbrella organization of French Jewry, said that last week’s arson and the reaction to it should "not cause us to lose sight of the essential, that the climate of anti-Semitism makes these things credible."

But he admitted that such events "give our detractors, and the anti-Semites, an excuse to doubt us."

Similar comments came from France’s Union of Jewish Students, a group in the vanguard of the fight against anti-Semitism.

However, certain groups were critical of what they regard as Israel’s exploitation of the arson incident, which came just weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called on French Jews to leave the country "immediately" because of rising anti-Semitism.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom flew hastily to Paris to hold talks with government officials and Jewish leaders following the arson, and to visit the destroyed center.

Benarroch sharply criticized the visit, saying that "the Israelis should be more careful" and "shouldn’t meddle in the internal affairs of the community."

However, Shalom last week was considerably more nuanced about the arson attack than many community leaders.

Visiting the burned-out building, Shalom told reporters "we should leave the French authorities to conduct their investigation." He added that it was "of little importance what happened here when we know that during the last six months there have been more than 170 anti-Semitic incidents [in France].

The Consistoire’s Cohen, though, issued a warning to the Jewish community.

"Sixty years after the Shoah, every anti-Semitic incident rightly goes to the community’s head," he said. "When you cry wolf, you need to be very careful and ever vigilant. We are becoming less and less credible."

Buy It Now

It continues to baffle me why anybody who cares about the future of Jewish communal life in Los Angeleswould seriously contemplate closing the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center (JCC).

Here is a vibrant center, serving about 1,000 people each week, in the midst of a large and growing Jewish population eager for center services, on a piece of highly desirable real estate that has been bought and paid for. We should be arguing over how much to expand Valley Cities JCC, not whether to close it.

The center is slated to be shut and sold by June 30 so that its owner, Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), can get its financial house in order. The organization owes The Jewish Federation $2.2 million, and the agency must make good on $1 million in its special fund and owes banks $450,000.

JCCGLA already sold off Bay Cities JCC, holds the ax over the head of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center and is itself facing dissolution.

From the very beginning of the centers crisis, the debate has never veered far from the bottom line. I understand the logic. I’ve heard eloquent voices argue the case for fiscal responsibility, but precious few powerful voices argue the case for more communal generosity on the JCC’s behalf.

One can argue that the Jewish community is moving west, and that it is time to abandon the old neighborhoods and cut our institutional losses. Such steps were necessary in the past. The shuttering of the Menorah Center near Boyle Heights in 1953 provoked outrage over an action that, in retrospect, looks visionary.

But East San Fernando Valley isn’t dying. Driving along Burbank you pass busy kosher markets and Israeli-owned restaurants, and run into the massive campus of Adat Ari El synagogue and the thriving Orthodox neighborhoods of North Hollywood.

A needs and assessment priority report prepared for Valley Cities JCC determined that the center sits amid a Jewish population of 30,000-40,000 people. It is made up of American as well as Israeli, Russian and Persian Jews, many of whom are recent immigrants. About 60 percent of the children enrolled at Valley Cities are Israeli American. They are eager for a Jewish home away for home, a way to integrate into the larger Jewish community, a Jewish place for their children and seniors to play and learn.

I’ve never been convinced that the philanthropists who raise and allocate the bulk of the Jewish communal charitable dollars in this city, and the leadership they speak with, truly believe in the future of the JCC movement. They, along with a few rabbis and others, have told me they believe centers are over — although many of these people themselves usually came to Jewish life through involvement in a JCC.

The evidence contradicts the naysayers.

Across the country JCCs are booming, even in cities where they face competition from mega-synagogues, health clubs and public after-school programs. JCCs reach 1.7 million Jews, 28 percent of the entire U.S. Jewish population, according to a new report for the JCC Association of North America. That’s more than the Reform movement itself can claim. Are L.A. Jews that different? Of course not. A successful Jewish community has many doors of entry.

The JCC Association, which is on the cusp of a major national ad campaign to strengthen the centers, also found that successful communities teamed JCCs with other organizations — federations, synagogues, agencies — to collaborate on programming and services. Closing the actual JCC buildings then renting other facilities to deliver JCC-ish services seems ingenious and synergistic now, but would inevitably weaken the sense of a Jewish “home away from home” that is at the heart of the center movement’s appeal. Better all parties synergize now to work hard with potential donors, bankruptcy attorneys, bankers and agencies to figure out a way to buy Valley Cities from JCCGLA.

I spent last Tuesday morning at Valley Cities, saw its classrooms and playgrounds filled with children, its auditorium the site of a large gathering of local seniors debating anti-Semitism in Europe.The local demand for center services, despite repeated threats of imminent closure, has actually increased. Members have raised $30,000 in mostly small donations since the troubles began — Valley Cities Director Marla Minden won’t cash the checks until the center’s survival is assured — and have organized bake sales, carnivals and letter-writing campaigns (including to The Journal).

More importantly, a younger and more astute leadership has come on board, and shows the kind of acumen that given a chance could turn the place around.

The folks at Valley Cities are not sophisticated fundraisers. Not one of their members sits on the board of The Federation, and none of them are lunching or golfing where the big money is raised. (They hadn’t even thought to turn to the Jewish Community Foundation, with its $470 million in assets.) This particular JCC serves a less-affluent Jewish population, many of whom are among the 16-20 percent of Los Angeles’ poor Jews. Last year Valley Cities gave out a good chunk of its budget in scholarships.

“Just because Jews don’t have money doesn’t mean they don’t deserve these services,” Valley Cities President Michael Brezner said. “There will be a huge void in this community if and when this center disappears.”

A member of the center sent me a postcard that echoes Brezner’s feelings.

“The Jewish Center gave me a very good childhood. And they also helped my family pay to send me and my brother to camp while my mother was in the hospital,” the 14-year-old boy wrote me. “It would be very sad if the JCC closed.”

Sad, yes, and short-sighted.

Q & A With Robby Berman

Robby Berman was a journalist living in Israel writing about organ donation when he came across some alarming facts: Out of 200 people who were declared brain-stem dead in a given year, only 70 families agreed to organ donation — giving Israel the lowest percentage of organ donors in the Western world. So while 130 Israelis in that year were buried with viable organs, 114 died waiting to receive organs. The No. 1 reason that both religious and secular Israelis gave for not donating organs was that halacha (Jewish law) forbids it — a common misconception rooted in superstitions and a misconstruing of halacha. That information was enough to make Berman, 37, quit his writing job to found and direct the Halachic Organ Donor Society (HODS). Created in December 2001, the organization has reached more than 8,000 people worldwide.

The Jewish Journal: This issue has been in the news since 20-year-old Alisa Flatow was killed in a terrorist attack in Gaza in 1995 and her family donated her organs. Have you seen a turnaround in the superstitions or a change in the numbers?

Robby Berman: Alisa Flatow was the first blip on the radar of Orthodox Jewish consciousness that perhaps organ donation was supported by halacha. But that blip went off the screen as fast as it went on. J.J. Greenberg’s donation last year was also noted by the public [Greenberg was killed in Israel after his bicycle was struck by a truck that ran a red light], but there has been no long-term change in our educational programming about this critical issue. I will lecture and spend an hour explaining how the Torah supports organ donation and they say, “Yes, yes, yes,” and then they walk out and say, “….Still, I think Jews don’t do that.”

JJ: Have you been successful in turning that around?

RB: We’ve had some incredible successes and also some failures. We have recruited dozens of Orthodox rabbis and over 1,000 laypeople who have registered for the HODS organ donor card. We have distributed 10,000 educational brochures in English and 5,000 in Hebrew. Overall awareness of this issue is growing. There also has been an increase over the past two years in organ donation from Orthodox Jews.

Where I haven’t been successful is in cultivating the necessary resources to take this project to the next level. Major funds are needed to embark on an educational advertising campaign in the major Jewish population centers — New York, L.A., Chicago, Florida — but that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and I have not been able to raise that.

JJ: The difficulty in raising funds may be related to what holds people back from dealing with organ donation — the unwillingness to confront issues of death and dying.

RB: Right. Who wants to talk about dying? There are all those emotional issues attached. I think to a large extent people hide behind the skirt of halacha and use it as an excuse. We try to educate those who are truly concerned about halacha and for those that use it as an excuse, HODS hopefully takes away their excuse.

JJ: What are the halachic issues involved?

RB: Most rabbis will agree that to donate organs from a dead person is a mitzvah. The Torah has three prohibitions concerning a cadaver: You can’t mutilate, get benefit from or delay burial of a body, but all rabbis agree that to save a life you can do those things.

The legitimate halachic issue is defining when a person is considered dead. There are rabbis, such as Reb Elyashiv in Jerusalem, who believe that as long as a person’s heart is still beating — such as someone who is brain-stem dead on a respirator — the person is alive. He does not allow donation from a brain-stem dead person because he believes the person is alive and you would be killing him. Others, such as the chief rabbinate of Israel and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, hold that brain-stem death is halachically death and therefore not only could you donate organs, but you should.

JJ: Do HODS donor cards reflect those halachic issues?

RB: Ours is the only donor card in the world that allows people to choose between these two options. One can indicate the willingness to donate either after brain-stem death or, alternatively, after irreversible cessation of heartbeat. [From a medical perspective the latter option is not optimal because once the heart stops beating certain organs become less viable for transplant.]

JJ: What strategies have you found effective in breaking down the emotional obstacles?

RB: When we stop talking in abstract numbers and start showing faces and real people. Our Web site shows 22-year-old L.A. resident Ariel Avrech, who died this year waiting for a lung transplant. We show a number of Orthodox Jews who died in accidents and had their organs donated…. And, more importantly, we have pictures of people whose lives were saved by receiving organs. These people would be dead if not for organ donation. That has a powerful pull on people.

Robby Berman will speak Saturday, March 20, 10:30 a.m.
at Kehillat Yavneh, 5353 W. Third Street, and 11:15 a.m. at Shaarei Tefila, 7269
Beverly Blvd. To register for a HODS organ donor card or to access more
information, go to  or call (212) 213-5087.

Learning Reshaped at Europe’s Limmud

Two Jews, three opinions. That old adage may explain a lot about communal strife, but for a precious few days in the English Midlands, a multitude of Jewish opinions were welcomed at an educational conference that is a paragon of communal harmony.

Now in its 23rd year, the Limmud Conference is Europe’s largest and perhaps the Jewish world’s most influential educational event, attracting over 2,300 participants and 370 speakers from across the globe.

Remarkably, for an international residential conference of such scale and depth, all but one of its organizers are volunteers.

Limmud, which means learning in Hebrew, is a name that for many in the Jewish and non-Jewish educational world has become synonymous with an inclusive, bottom-up approach to education.

"It’s all about the grass roots. Hierarchies just don’t exist," explained Clive Lawton, Limmud’s executive director and co-founder.

A highly respected educator and occasionally controversial community spokesman, Lawton volunteers for Limmud both at the conference and throughout the year, when the group organizes smaller educational and social events.

Lawton says Jewish educators in North America can learn from Limmud as a model for a "Festival of Learning."

"For once, I think Europe is taking the lead in Jewish education, and North America has a lot of catching up to do to adapt from a top-heavy structure of learning," Lawton said. "We let the participants decide what they want to do. We have no ideological or political position, apart from ‘It’s good for Jews to learn.’"

Over four days in late December at Nottingham University’s campus — which Limmudniks take over, dormitories, classrooms and all — singles, couples and families were given the opportunity to explore diverse facets of Jewish life.

The approach of "learning for the people by the people" results in a dizzying array of sessions and speakers, ranging from bull sessions about passages from the Zohar to the rabbinical response to the Internet.

Agenda appears to be a dirty word at Limmud.

With more than 900 sessions — on topics ranging from Jewish law’s perspective on organ donation to Israeli politics — the conference caters even to the most esoteric interests.

Listening to the excited chatter at the kibbutz-style meals, where participants, speakers and organizers sit, gossip and debate together, many seemed to be getting caught up in the buzz.

"Just went to a fascinating shiur [lecture] on God’s covenant with Abraham — but have got to rush, want to get a good seat for the Sephardi cooking workshop," one participant said hurriedly to another in a typical mealtime exchange.

Such is the range of age, nationality and denomination at the conference that it’s nearly impossible to define the typical Limmudnik.

"That’s the key to Limmud’s success: It’s determinedly pluralistic," said Daniel Silverstein, a conference participant, performer and volunteer.

Silverstein, director of Culanu Center, a cultural and social center at Cambridge University, sings the praises of the conference’s philosophy — literally.

After spending much of the day helping to look after the many young children at to the conference, Silverstein rapped about Jewish pride with Emunah, a group that plays hip-hop and drum-and-bass music for Limmud’s late-night audiences.

"What’s really amazing is that friends of mine who are not religious came to the conference, and they got as much out of it as my Orthodox friends," Silverstein said. "I challenge anybody not to find some Jewish inspiration here."

So confident are Limmud’s volunteers that participants will gain from the conference that the organization promises in its mission statement, "Wherever you find yourself, Limmud will take you one step further on your Jewish journey."

More than half of those who attend the conference or other Limmud events — held in the United Kingdom, Holland and Israel, and soon in Toronto and New York — end up returning.

The speakers range from thinkers such as Rabbi Norman Lamm, the Torah scholar and chancellor of New York’s Yeshiva University, and Rabbi Natan Lopes Cardozo, to Nimrod Barkan, the senior policy adviser of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and Jennifer Bleyer, founder of the alternative Jewish magazine Heeb.

The conference also offered an entire day focused on the Jewish community’s relations with the Islamic world.

Prominent European Muslim figures came to debate and share jokes with Jewish members of panel discussions and seminars. Even controversial views — such as the Muslim perception of Israel — were treated with respect.

For the Muslim speakers, many of whom brought young families, the opportunity to meet and eat together left a lasting impression.

"We feel welcomed and know we are among good friends," said Fuad Nahdi, editor of Q-News, an influential London-based Muslim magazine.

Bused from one campus building to another, conference participants said they felt as if they were in a high-energy cocoon.

"You know, I have no idea what’s happening in the outside world," an Israeli professor told an American colleague on the way to one session. "And frankly, I don’t want to."

No one seemed to mind that there was not a television or a newspaper — apart from the London Jewish Chronicle — to be found on campus.

By the end of the conference, which fell on New Year’s Day, participants exuded a sense of achievement, both as individuals and a community.

"I’ve never been so excited to be Jewish," said Wendy Bergman, a grandmother from the tiny Jewish community of Newcastle in northern England. "I’m somewhere between the higher ground and the clouds."

Read Your Way to Cultural Literacy

Julie Sandorf recalls her immigrant grandparents telling her that they learned to be Americans at the public library, where they improved their English and learned more about American culture.

Now Sandorf wants this generation of Americans to use the public library to learn to be Jews.

Sandorf is the director of a new organization called Nextbook, a nationwide campaign dedicated to promoting Jewish cultural literacy through gateways such as the Internet and public libraries.

Replete with extensive reading lists, a daily cultural news digest and information regarding local library activities, Nextbook’s Web site — — has been up since early June.

“There’s an interest here in this being a gateway for disengaged Jews to learn about their culture, history and tradition,” Sandorf said.

Part of the program’s appeal is that it is not rooted in any particular denomination or synagogue, she said.

Reading lists have been a huge project for Nextbook. Books are listed in four separate categories: Discovering Myself, Portraits of the Artist, Sense of Place and Struggle & Justice.

Authors range from Isaac Bashevis Singer and Chaim Potok to Grace Paley and Amos Oz.

Books include “Open Closed Open: Poems” by Yehuda Amichai, “Ideas and Opinions” by Albert Einstein, “Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number” by Jacobo Timerman, and “The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews” by Edda Servi Machlin.

“By nature, the book lists are very eclectic,” Sandorf said. “They offer a broad, eclectic view of Jewish life that is consistently high quality.”

Nextbook is a project of Keren Keshet-The Rainbow Foundation, a philanthropic organization formed by the Zalman Bernstein estate to enhance the religious background of Jews in the United States, Europe and Israel.

Nextbook currently has a “multimillion-dollar budget,” with no set end date, Sandorf said.

As a result, “there are no dues, no membership, no test; you can just go in and learn,” she said.

Robin Cembalest, executive editor of ARTNews Magazine, said she uses Nextbook’s Web site to stay abreast of the latest Jewish cultural news.

“I often end up sending articles to friends and family,” said Cembalest, who has been checking the Web site virtually every day since its creation.

Library sections devoted to books donated by Nextbook, and including information on upcoming events, have been installed in three libraries in Chicago and seven in the city’s suburbs.

Pilot library programs also should begin soon in the greater Seattle area and the Washington metropolitan area, Sandorf said.

Amy Eschelman, director of development and outreach at the Chicago Public Libraries, said it’s a “terrific idea to use libraries as an access point” because they’re free and open to everyone.

Eschelman said she has been “pleasantly surprised” by the swift success of Nextbook’s implementation in the libraries.

“The only difficult thing is that we have too many ideas,” she said.

Sandorf intends to employ a “library fellow” in each of the locales where Nextbook programs can be found.

Abigail Pickus, one of two Nextbook library fellows based in the Chicago area, said part of her job is “to work as a liaison between the New York Nextbook headquarters and participating libraries.”

Beyond installing an extensive Nextbook literary section in the libraries, there are plans to “engage the public at large in Jewish literature and culture,” Pickus said.

Events are in the works at venues ranging from libraries and other cultural institutions to coffee shops and book stores, Eschelman said.

Eschelman and Pickus are working to integrate literature with culture, music, art and dance, aiming to attract the 20-40 age group.

“We’re just hoping that Nextbook will have a universal appeal,” Sandorf said.

Nextbook advisory committees have been set up in the Chicago and Seattle areas.

“It’s so important for unaffiliated Jews like me,” said Glazer, who “got hooked on the Web site” and now checks it “on a pretty regular basis.”

Glazer was raised in the 1950s in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, where “family was really important growing up, but religion wasn’t.”

“As I approached 50, I found myself wanting to reconnect to parts of my heritage and the culture that I had never learned about,” Glazer said.

A single mother of two who works full time, “my ability to read novels, biographies or historical accounts of my heritage is nonexistent — my time is very limited,” Glazer said.

As a result, it’s critical for her “to have quick reading materials, whether it’s for pleasure, work or current events,” she said.

“This is the perfect media for me,” she said. “I think it’s a fabulous venture.”

Promoting Medical Care in Israel

Even when Jews packed medical school classrooms, there were few organizations dedicated to their special concerns. Today, most schools lack active associations for Jewish students. As Carol Ghatan puts it, "The Jewish medical student gets lost sometimes."

Ghatan, both the daughter and the mother of a doctor, is also associate director of the American Physicians Fellowship for Medicine in Israel (APF). This organization, founded by three Jewish doctors in 1950, is now belatedly reaching out to Jewish medical students.

APF is sometimes called "Israel’s best-kept medical secret." Committed to advancing medical education, research and care in Israel, it gives fellowships to Israeli doctors for advanced study in North America, and sends American experts to lecture and teach in Israel. Board member Peter Glazier, son of an APF founder, estimates that over time the group has dispersed $6 million in grants, helping to ensure that Israeli medical care remains world class.

Though APF members prefer to work quietly, they’ve been positively secretive about one aspect of their mission. In close cooperation with the Israeli government, they’ve compiled a registry of American health care professionals willing to travel to Israel in case of national emergency. The APF list emerged in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, when American doctors took over for Israeli counterparts pressed into military service. The list has not been reactivated, but APF stayed on high alert during the Gulf War.

New York University medical student Justin Friedman explains why he joined APF: "I decided to become a physician to make a difference in people’s lives…. APF has benefited countless thousands of people by helping [Israeli] physicians obtain a better education, and thus, positively affecting their patients’ care. APF is something everyone should know about, but they don’t. So, I feel compelled to tell them."

Communities Find Light in Darkness

It was Thursday afternoon, three days before 1,800 Jewish kids were to arrive for the final week of the JCC Maccabi games, and 40 delegation leaders were ironing out the logistics at a New Jersey hotel.

That’s when the lights and the air conditioning went dead, and the room quickly became hot and sticky.

But the organizers kept planning, hardly skipping a beat.

"I gotta tell you," said Lenny Silberman, North American continental director of the JCC Maccabi Games, "doing this for the games for 20 years and working with those communities, the potential for a big balagan [brouhaha] was definitely there."

But "it was amazing," he said Monday from his cell phone at the site of the games, the Jewish Community Center on the Palisades.

Thanks to the organizers’ calm, the blackout didn’t create even "an ounce" of anxiety — and all the athletes, hosted by local families, arrived in time for Sunday’s opening ceremonies.

"We knew there was no power, but we also knew that we had 1,800 kids that are depending on us on Sunday, so we had to do what we had to do," Silberman said.

A mix of determination and calm was found in Jewish communities across the Northeast that were impacted Aug. 14 by the massive blackout, the largest in the nation’s history.

Jewish communities also mirrored the mood of the population at large, which was relieved to learn that the outage was the result of a system overload, not terrorism.

Yet the incident highlighted Jewish organizations’ lack of preparedness for an emergency situation.

David Gad-Harf, executive director of Detroit’s Jewish Community Council, praised the spirit of communal cooperation — people took to the streets for block parties, cooking steaks that had defrosted in their freezers — but called the power failure a "wake-up call not only for the Jewish community, but for America as a whole."

Without an "old-fashioned" non-electric phone on hand, Gad-Harf said, the agency was unable to contact local federation leaders or other Jewish agencies.

"We realized that we were really not prepared for a crisis of this kind," he said.

Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella organization for local federation community-relations councils, agreed.

"We learned how completely dependent on electricity we are," she said, noting that even the organization’s national contingency plan is dispatched through computers.

The alternative plan is to use telephones — which, if they were typical office phones, depend on electricity and didn’t work in the blackout — followed by cell phones, whose networks quickly were overloaded.

"None of those three plans worked for us," she said.

A new backup system has been in the works, Rosenthal said, explaining that a computer motherboard located in the Midwest could release information remotely.

But even that wouldn’t have helped last week, as parts of the Midwest went as black as Manhattan. As a result, every Jewish agency had to fend for itself in the blackout — without the national mobilizations or alerts that are customary in emergencies.

"[There was] not the time or the communications capacity to mobilize," said John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York. "Our first responsibility was to deal with the safety and security of our people.

"Every agency with whom I’ve spoken was better prepared and had a better system in place than we did on Sept. 11, and yet there are times when you still need to call audibles," he said, using a term for football plays that are improvised in response to unexpected circumstances.

While commending the efforts of his federation’s social service agencies, Ruskay noted that Jewish agencies realized they must establish more effective backup modes of communication.

Despite the enormity of the power failure, Jewish communities across the country took it in stride and were only minimally hindered.

The Jewish contingent of an interfaith mission from Akron, Ohio, to Washington was about to fly home when they heard about the blackout.

"I checked the Internet from my cell phone, and as soon as I found out what the situation was, I just knew that we were not going to be able to fly into Cleveland," said Michael Wise, chief executive officer of the Jewish Community Board of Akron, which sponsored the trip.

His instincts proved right: As one of six major airports that bore the brunt of the power outage, Cleveland’s airport was without power for the next 15 hours.

The group — which included state representatives, judges, media professionals, clergy and school and business leaders — arrived in Akron at 1 a.m., only five hours later than planned.

"Everyone from our group was incredibly cooperative and understanding," Wise said. "They all said this was a trip they will definitely never forget."

Others found a type of reprieve in the electric jolt.

"In a way it was magic," said Naomi Rose, executive director of the Miles Nadal JCC in Toronto, which closed early on Thursday.

"We got to see the stars," which usually are obliterated by the city lights, she said.

"People sort of felt reasonably positive about it," viewing it as a "pause in their hurried lives," she said.

The wedding of Eli and Debbie Savage, a young Orthodox couple in Toronto, was due to begin Thursday evening soon after the lights went out. It went ahead as scheduled. Some 350 wedding guests ate a festive meal warmed on gas stoves, and danced to music played on a grand piano that had been wheeled into the banquet hall. A hotel generator supplied a bit of backup lighting and air conditioning, as well as temporary power for a video camera. Some guests arrived as much as two hours late because of gridlocked traffic in the streets. But most stayed late, realizing it made more sense to enjoy the celebration rather than struggle to get home.

"When they were there, they really couldn’t go anywhere," Savage said. "So people were thinking that they might as well just stay and enjoy. I’ve never seen so much spirit and electricity in the room."

After a night of dancing, the newlyweds were obliged to climb 10 flights of stairs to their honeymoon suite with candles in hand.

A candlelit photo of the Savages appeared on the front page of The Globe and Mail’s Saturday edition under the headlines "With Glowing Hearts" and "How the wedding sparks flew against a backdrop of darkness."

Guests commented that it had been one of the best weddings they had ever attended.

JTA correspondent Bill Gladstone in Toronto contributed to this story. Material also came from the Akron Jewish News and the Detroit Jewish News.

Center Responds to Critical News Story

Since its beginning in 1977 as a one-man institution dedicated to Holocaust remembrance, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is now perhaps among the most visible and vocal Jewish voices in the United States.

It bills itself as an international human rights organization, claims more than 400,000 family memberships, maintains offices in eight U.S. and foreign cities and its purview now includes Middle East affairs, fighting anti-Semitism anywhere, tolerance education and tracking hate sites on the Internet.

Its high profile — spurred by an aggressive and media-savvy leadership — makes the Wiesenthal Center an inviting target.

Recently, the LA Weekly published charges that reflected some earlier criticisms, though mostly voiced in private, of the center and its founder and dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier.

The alternative newspaper claimed that the center, though a private institution, was receiving substantial and scarce state funds, to the detriment of worthy causes with less skillful lobbyists.

Citing public records, the paper then noted critically that Hier received a salary of more than $400,000 in 2001, and that his wife and two sons were also on the center payroll, drawing substantial salaries. The inference of rampant nepotism was inevitable.

The newspaper article drew some spirited comments from Journal readers.

One member of the center and its Museum of Tolerance, who asked not to be identified, wrote to the editor regarding the reported salaries, saying, "That looks pretty bad! I’m pissed — and as a Jewish community professional, I’m doubly pissed."

The Journal looked into the allegations and was given the full cooperation of the Wiesenthal Center, which operates on an annual budget of $32 million. The center is in the midst of two capital funds campaigns, totaling $215 million, for its New York and Jerusalem Museums of Tolerance.

Hier released the following salary figures as of June 2003, not yet audited or filed with the IRS. Hier received $350,877 in salary and $105,271 in benefits, pension and insurance. His wife Marlene, the center’s membership director, received a salary of $258,899 and benefits of $52,472.

Hier’s son, Alan (Avi), who is in charge of negotiations and planning for the massive Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, received a salary of $134,417 and $16,710 in benefits, while son, Rabbi Aaron (Ari), director of the Jewish Studies Institute at the center, received a salary of $86,092 and $8,976 in benefits.

Samuel Belzberg, the longtime chairman of the center’s board of trustees, acknowledged that having four Hiers on the payroll looks, from the outside, "a little bit nonkosher," adding quickly, "but it’s 100 percent kosher."

The man most responsible for setting compensation levels for the center staff is Ira A. Lipman, who chairs the trustees’ three-person nominating and human resources committee. He is the owner and CEO of Guardsmark, one of the country’s leading security services, with $468 million in annual revenue and employing 18,000 people.

Speaking as a veteran business executive and lay leader of the United Way, Lipman said that before approving salaries, his committee surveys comparable Jewish and non-Jewish organizations and checks the IRS filings of museums, universities and similar institutions.

"Rabbi Hier is basically the CEO of the fastest-growing Jewish membership organization in the world," he said. "I can tell you unequivocally that a number of national Jewish organizations pay their professional heads higher salaries. If Rabbi Hier went to work for a public company, he would command a salary two or three times higher."

"This is a well-run and conscientious organization or I wouldn’t be part of it," Lipman added. "I know that when rabbis Hier and [Associate Dean Abraham] Cooper fly overseas, they take red-eye specials and look for the deepest discounts."

Lipman was equally emphatic that the salary of Marlene Hier reflected the value of her work, not nepotism. A former teacher of statistical analysis at a Canadian university, Marlene Hier is credited by Lipman with creating and directing a "fantastic" direct-mail campaign mainly responsible for the center’s large membership and for bringing in $12 million a year.

Rabbi Meyer May, the center’s executive director, has supervised the work of Ari Hier at the Jewish Studies Institute.

"Ari shares the work ethic of his father and mother," May said. "He is judged as any other professional in this organization and certainly gets no special privileges or considerations."

Larry Mizel is the center trustee overseeing the Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance project. The board chairman and CEO of a Denver-based home-building company, with annual revenue of $2.5 billion, Mizel evaluates the performance of Avi Hier.

"Avi coordinates a $150 million project, one of the most important private undertakings in Israel, and is steering it through the complex Israeli bureaucracy," Mizel said. "He is very capable and we are fortunate to have a person of his caliber. The fact that he shares the commitment of the Hier family is a plus, not a negative."

The Circuit

Power Lunch

"One land, one people, one bond."

A powerful slogan for any organization, but all the more powerful coming from State of Israel Bonds, which held its "Women of Power" annual spring luncheon, organized by Israel Bonds’ Golda Meir Club, at the Four Seasons Hotel.

This year’s gifted females in the spotlight: Grammy-nominated pianist sister act Mona Golabek and Renee Golabek-Kaye, overachieving Jewish community volunteer Annette Shapiro and Michele Bohbot, who with life partner and business partner Marc Bohbot, forged a fashion empire with their Bisou Bisou label.

More than 200 people packed the luncheon, which was a who’s who of Mrs. Hollywood: Marilyn Hall, wife of "Let’s Make a Deal" host Monty, and Shirley Turtletaub, wife of veteran TV producer Saul Turtletaub and mother of feature film director Jon Turtletaub. And, of course, there was the grand dame herself, beloved emcee Rhea Kohan, wife of veteran TV writer Buzz and mother of "Will & Grace" co-creator David, who kept the crowd in stitches with her verbal sleight of hand.

Kohan wasted no time skewering the other end of women with power: Heidi Fleiss, Monica Lewinsky and Anna Nicole Smith.

Shapiro, who has contributed to the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation, The Jewish Federation and Beit T’Shuvah, was visibly moved by her honor. She thanked husband, Leonard, for supporting her volunteer efforts in the Jewish community over the years.

"My husband and I," Shapiro said, "we share our 55th anniversary within a month of the State of Israel."

The Fez, Morocco-born Bohbot, who moved to Los Angeles from Paris in 1987 and helped build a company that nets $80 million annually and has 350 employees, touched on the anti-Semitism she encountered in both Morocco and France. The mother of seven shared her Jewish pride with the room and her glee with her husband, who was in the audience waiting with a bouquet.

Before performing at the function, Golabek and Golabek-Kaye told the poignant story of how parents Michel and Lisa, through good fortune, survived the Holocaust to find each other. The sisters said that their mother, before she passed away, urged them to always use their talents, as Mona put it, "In service of your people, in service of Israel and for the betterment of mankind."

Carole Shnier, who is on the committee to organize Israel Bonds’ fall mother-daughter fashion show, has enjoyed being active with the organization since 1997.

"It’s been rewarding in terms of meeting interesting people," Shnier said, adding that she believes in the cause — supporting Israel.

Investing in Israel Bonds is an investment in Israel’s economy, stressed organizers. The champions of State of Israel Bonds — the Western region’s own women of power, including club President Beverly Cohen and Women’s Division Director Myrtle Sitowitz — explained the mechanics of how contributing to the organization multiplies financial support for Israel. For example, buying bonds at a $750 annual investment over five years translates into $100,000 windfall for various areas of Israel’s infrastructure.

Also in attendance: Iris Rothstein, luncheon co-chair with Hall; Joyce Black; Diane Glaser; Marilyn Ziering; Rosalie Zalis; Beverly Hills Courier publisher March Schwartz; and Mr. Blackwell, whose introduction made everybody in the room just a tad fashion conscious.

Big Mack

The American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Los Angeles chapter honored John Mack, the Los Angeles Urban League’s president since 1969, with the C.I. Neumann Lifetime Achievement Award at its 58th annual meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Both organizations have been "successful in making Los Angeles a more livable city for all people," said Peter Weil, AJC chapter president.

During his acceptance speech, Mack emphasized that no one group has a monopoly on virtue or vice. Reducing the city’s growing violence is not just a "problem for African Americans or the poor," he said. "We need everyone to be involved."

Mack believes that geographic divides compound Los Angeles’ problems and that there is a need to redouble efforts to get to know each other.

"Mutual respect can get us through the difficult times," Mack told The Circuit, adding that he would like to see Angelenos "reinvigorate the enthusiasm of the Tom Bradley era."

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism, delivered the keynote address on the future of interfaith work. He said that while religious pluralism challenges us on a deep philosophical level, it’s crucial to learn the traditions of others in a city with such tremendous diversity.

"You need to learn to get along," Dorff said. "Interfaith relations are not just a matter of not killing each other."

Also in attendance: City Council members Bernard Parks, Jack Weiss and Wendy Gruel; City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo; Police Chief William Bratton; Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Rabbi Harvey Fields; Julie Korenstein, Board of Education president; KTLA reporter Larry McCormick, and Dr. Steven Windmueller, director of the Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Jewish Churchgoers on the Rise

It’s Sunday morning at the Church of Ocean Park, a Methodist church in Santa Monica that strangely lacks overt Christian insignia: there are no crosses or crucified Jesuses decorating the walls, but the stained-glass windows do picture a bearded figure tending to a flock of sheep, with a shaft of light illuminating his head.

Some 30 casually dressed people of varying ages sit in chairs arranged in two semicircles facing the Rev. Sandy Richards, who is discussing Lazarus, a character who appears in one of Jesus’ parables to teach Christians that the poor deserve our respect, not neglect. The service continues with hymns, tearful discussion of the morning’s topic (suffering) and “bread,” a ritual where a loaf of bread is shared among the congregants.

It’s all par for the course for another Sunday at church, except for the fact that at least one-third of these churchgoers are Jews. These aren’t Jews who have converted to Christianity. They still identify as Jews, and although some are intermarried, others are not. Many of them belong to a synagogue as well as the church, but most view the church as their first choice as a locus for spirituality and community, identifying with the congregation’s strong commitment to social justice.

According to the American Jewish Identity Survey (2001), coordinated by the Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Center of City University of New York, only 18 percent of the American Jewish population is affiliated with Jewish organizations, and out of 5.3 million Jews, 1.36 million are estimated to be adherents of a religion other than Judaism. The Jews at the Church of Ocean Park have not turned their back on Judaism, but their enthused participation in the church raises questions for the Jewish community about what should be the appropriate response to religious assimilation.

The church was established in 1898 as a small beachside church, but by the 1970s, it had only a handful of very old congregants. It experienced a revival in that same period, when the Rev. Jim Conn (Richards’ predecessor) started Sunday night happenings, which attracted young people who got together to dance and discuss their opposition to the Vietnam War. The community grew, and the church got involved in Santa Monica political issues — such as rent control and saving the pier. Today, the church is well-known for its participation in the living-wage movement, and, although it is Christian, it sees itself as having a “progressive definition of Christianity,” according to Richards, which allows people of different faiths to partake in its services.

“I don’t ask that people make a hard allegiance [to Christianity],” Richards said. “You can be as Jewish as can be, and you may be offended from time to time, but we are all there together, and the diversity is part of our identity.”

“The church is a group of people who are very committed to being in community with one another,” said Beth Leder-Pack, a Jew who has been attending the church since 1990. “My definition of God is basically being in community and doing good works here on earth, and the Church of Ocean Park really lives out those values. I really love Judaism, but I have never considered leaving the church, and it is true that I have never felt that a synagogue brings me all that I need.”

Leder-Pack’s sentiments are shared by many of the Jewish churchgoers. Although they admit that their choice of Sunday activity causes shock among their Jewish friends and family, they say that the feel more at home in the Church of Ocean Park than they do at any synagogue.

For its part, the church has made concessions to its Jewish members. In deference to the people of other faiths, Richards no longer practices communion at the church. On occasion, the church brings in people like Cantor Steve Puzarne of Breeyah (a synagogue revival organization) to give classes on Jewish music, and this Passover, Puzarne conducted a seder at the church.

The Jewish presence in the church, Puzarne said, is a rebellion against Jewish materialism. He added that the Jewish community needs a concerted outreach effort to reach Jews who have stepped away from the faith by either attending church or by intermarrying.

“Synagogues have become so associated with big money, catering to the big machers [wealthy people], and building one huge edifice after another,” he said. “There is a gluttony of self-indulgence around the bar mitzvah, and whatever philosophies we proclaim, we are not walking the walk.”

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, the founder and West Coast director of Jews for Judaism, an anti-missionary organization, called Jewish affiliation with Christian organizations an epidemic.

“This is a horrific trend of the Jewish community,” he said. “I think it is a wake-up call when we hear these things, and we need to figure out what they are doing right and what we are doing wrong. Judaism is a beautiful, spiritual, fulfilling religion. If we value Jewish survival as a people, we have to double our efforts to make Judaism more spiritual and more welcoming to people.”

Moving Beyond Ladies Who Lunch

Dorraine Gilbert is happily married. But she hasn’t forgotten what life was like when she wasn’t.

During the five years after she was divorced from her first husband, the enthusiastic 57-year-old recalls returning to Hadassah. She had hoped that the organization would provide her with an outlet for support and friendship like it had done in the past.

But while Gilbert was a life member of Hadassah, she remembers feeling out of place among the mostly married membership.

Now that she is remarried, Gilbert is helping to make Hadassah more welcoming for other single women.

"I didn’t want anybody else to experience that," said Gilbert, who is currently the Israel, Zionist and international affairs chair for Hadassah Southern California (HSC). "I felt that Hadassah should be there no matter what your age or your position in life…. Hadassah is a place for everybody."

Gilbert and her own Metro region Bat Yam group — which was founded last October and currently includes 90 married and unmarried members — have founded a singles circle. Open to women of all ages who have never married or who have divorced, Gilbert hopes that the group will offer single women an opportunity to network and establish friendships that will be beneficial in the future.

Bat Yam’s efforts follow a trend of volunteer organizations trying to entice younger members to replace an aging membership. In doing so, groups like Hadassah must change their image to counter old stereotypes. Historically viewed as an organization for older, married women, Hadassah now has a wide variety of options for women who don’t fit the mold.

Miriam Erdosi, membership and group development specialist for HSC, hopes to rebuff the myths that Hadassah is only for elderly women.

"There are women in our age range who don’t know what Hadassah is," said Erdosi, 30. "They’re like, ‘Oh, I think my grandmother belonged. I think I’m a life member…. Aren’t all the women in their 80s?’ These women are not in their 80s. They’re young leaders; vibrant professional people."

Members of HSC’s 82 existing groups range in age from 24 to 100 years old. The youngest group, Ahavah, consists of young professionals in their mid-20s and early 30s. While all of the girls currently in the group are single, Erdosi says that meeting a mate is not the group’s goal.

"There are opportunities for the women to meet their friend’s friends, but that’s not the focus of the group," Erdosi said. "The focus is making a difference for Israel and being a part of the Jewish community, and if they happen to meet someone — fabulous."

HSC’s West Los Angeles-based Chalom group consists of women mostly in their 30s and 40s, most of whom are married and have young children, while Aviva, a Covina-based group, is made up of women predominately in their late 40s.

Susan Rifelli, incoming membership chair for Bat Yam, joined Gilbert in her venture to create a singles group within Hadassah after Gilbert set her up on a "blind date" with her girlfriend, Sandy, who couldn’t find someone to go with her to an art show. The women have become good friends ever since.

Rifelli hopes that the organization will help other women create meaningful relationships with each other.

"The reason we think it’s a good idea is so we can network with each other," said Rifelli, 50. "For instance, one of my title officers — I’m a realtor — gave me two tickets to a concert at Staples Center tomorrow night. I’ve got to find someone to go with me. I don’t have a guy to bring as a date. So I’ll either bring a single woman client or I’ll bring somebody from Hadassah."

But attracting a younger — sometimes single — membership may pose a challenge for Hadassah considering its previous track record. It’s not that Hadassah hasn’t tried having a singles group in Los Angeles. At one time, Vanguard, Hadassah’s national singles program "comprised of singles groups that bring together Jewish men and women, ages 22-39, for cultural, spiritual, social and fundraising activities" was active in Los Angeles. Vanguard, however, was unsuccessful in the Los Angeles market — a failure that Hadassah leaders attribute to a high level of competition in the city’s oversaturated singles market.

Rifelli, however, believes that Bat Yam’s singles circle will survive because it is stands apart from typical singles groups.

"Believe me, when women get dressed and go to a singles event, even if two girlfriends go together, they’re not focusing on each other. They are focusing on who the men are out there," said Rifelli, who is single. "They’re not developing a friendship with the woman they’re with."

On June 1, Rifelli will host Bat Yam’s first singles circle event, and she says the event — which will feature guest speaker June Walker, incoming National Hadassah president — will be an exception to the rule of singles event.

"How many singles events do you know that are not completely centered around the possibility of meeting a man? This is not one of them," Rifelli said.

For more information on the Bat Yam or the singles circle, call (310) 649-5533.

Haitian Songs

The following piece was written after a recent trip to Haiti, during which a delegation from MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger was hosted by the Lambi Fund, one of MAZON’S longtime grantees.

It starts with a song. Soft at first, then louder, like slow rolling thunder, gentle harmonies that keep time with the clapping of hands.

Soon there will be time for serious talk — of politics, hard labor and the struggle to find food — but for now there is only the music.

Every Haitian man, woman and child knows this music, and during a recent trip to Haiti, I came to know it, too. I was there to visit several grass-roots organizations that help Haitians — most of them poor, many of them hungry — develop the skills they need to improve their everyday lives.

Haiti is a startling place. By all accounts is seems to be the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Driving around, I found a vast, barren wasteland, what you’d expect to find on a desolate moonscape or in some futuristic science fiction movie. Plagued by years of war, famine and political mismanagement, the country has been stripped of its natural resources, and with them its industry. Electricity is undependable, and running water an unheard of luxury. With mile after mile of nothing but rocky dirt road, Haiti seems like a place without hope, and certainly a place without a viable future.

And yet, five minutes into a conversation with a Haitian woman, I realized my first impression was wrong. I visited a grain mill in the center of the country, where local women bring their corn. In Haiti, women bear the brunt of the work burden. They are responsible for milling grain and working as vendors at local markets, while simultaneously tending to the needs of their families. The mill represents a significant improvement for the women who use it, and who previously had to walk great distances to process grain for family meals.

Despite their heavy loads, the women I met bubbled over with enthusiasm. These were not bitter, defeated women resigned to a life of poverty. In fact, the women — and the men — were decidedly upbeat. They recognized that they were poor but not powerless, and that systemic change would have to start with them.

Take Marie-Carmel. A 35-year-old mother of three, she understood what it would take to turn her fortunes around. When we were first introduced, she didn’t hesitate to make her views known.

"The politicians will do what they will," she said dismissively. Then she pointed to the mill and said, "This is my president. This is what I believe in."

In the face of extreme poverty, Haitians retain a tremendous sense of dignity. They may be dressing in rags caked with mud and clinging to machetes, but their children are spotless, wearing immaculate school uniforms and clutching battered books. Like parents all over the world, Haitian parents will sacrifice everything to give their kids a chance at a better life.

Several days into my trip, I drove through a torrential downpour to visit an agricultural site in a mountaintop village. After my visit, I climbed back into a rickety van with threadbare tires and began to descend the mountain, which was rapidly deteriorating into sludge. Several miles outside the village, the van sunk into the mud and was stuck. Within the hour, what seemed like the entire village had descended to help me. There was a sense among these people of the need for collective action, of getting around a problem and solving it. As I stood getting soaked, pushing the van out of the muck side by side Haitian men, women and children, I understood how poverty (unpaved roads, decrepit transportation) can be a physical obstacle to getting things done. But I also felt inspired by a sense of community and possibility.

For weeks leading up to my trip, I wondered what relevance all of this could have for the American Jewish community. For me, the question was more than academic, since I’ve dedicated the past several years of my life to raising funds from the Jewish community and distributing them to fight hunger in our country and around the world. How does Haiti affect Jews when it is a country with so few of us?

I found my answer in the faces of the Haitian men and women I was fortunate enough to meet. We are a people consumed by a vision of a more perfect world, and we are a people, many of us blessed with abundance, who can help build it. As Jews committed to tikkun olam, we send food to poverty stricken Haitians for the same reason we teach inner-city children to read and provide housing assistance for new immigrants in this country. We do it because we believe in kevod ha’beriyot, the respect due to every being. MAZON, the anti-hunger organization I head, was founded with this in mind, and shaped by the principle that Jews don’t discriminate.

Every meeting I attended in Haiti started with a song, and every song told a story. As I’ve replayed the lyrics in my head, I’ve become more convinced that the stories hold a lesson for us as Jews. It’s true that we have our own stories and songs. But ever since I’ve been back from Haiti, it’s struck me that it is the overlap, where our stories meet, where the real work gets done.

H. Eric Schockman is the executive
director of MAZON. For more information on MAZON, call (310) 442-0020 or visit

Pumping Up the Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obviously, that could hurt federations across the country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American Jews and Saddam: A Lesson from the 1930s?

Should American Jews support U.S. military action to remove
Saddam Hussein from power? This question, which is the focus of so much
discussion in the Jewish community today, echoes a dilemma
that wracked American Jewry during the 1930s.

American public opinion during the 1930s strongly opposed
any U.S. action against Nazi Germany. A 1937 poll found that 71 percent of
Americans thought America was wrong to have entered World War I; many believed
the United States had been tricked into the conflict by greedy weapons
manufacturers. The hardships of the Great Depression further intensified the
view that domestic concerns required America’s full attention, and that the
country could not spare any resources for overseas matters.

  While most Americans found Hitler’s totalitarian ways
distasteful, they could not yet see any compelling reason to consider going to
war against Nazi Germany, which seemed to be just one in a vast and
ever-increasing array of unsavory regimes. Gallup polls during 1940-41 found
only about one-tenth of Americans willing to go to war for any other reason
than to fend off an invasion of the United States itself.

Many American Jews felt differently. They hoped the United
States would take action against Hitler, not only because of the Nazis’
persecution of the Jews, but because they realized that Hitler was a threat to
the entire free world. But they feared being perceived as warmongers. Thus a
leading Jewish organization, the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee),
declined to sponsor a U.S. speaking tour by Winston Churchill in 1937, fearing
that its involvement might be seen as evidence of a plot “to involve the United
States in the European mess,” as one AJCommittee official put it.

Palestine Labor Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion, visiting
the United States in 1940, was disappointed to find Jewish leaders reluctant to
speak out. One told him: “If I stand up and demand American aid for Britain,
people will say after the war that the dirty Jews got us into it, that it was a
Jewish war, that it was for their sakes that our sons died in battle.”
Ben-Gurion recalled: “This fear I found in almost all [American] Zionist

Trying to dispel the impression that Jews favored U.S.
military action against Nazi Germany, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, the foremost
American Jewish leader of that era, wrote to a non-Jewish colleague in 1941:
“[N]o Jew on earth has asked any nation to take up arms against Hitler.”

Wise’s statement was something of an exaggeration. While
Jewish organizations, such as Wise’s American Jewish Congress, refrained from
urging U.S. military action against the Nazis, a number of prominent Jewish
individuals did speak out.

While the America First movement campaigned for
isolationism, those favoring action against Hitler established the Fight for
Freedom committee, which soon attracted the support of numerous prominent
Americans. Fight for Freedom’s supporters included many Hollywood figures, such
as Tallulah Bankhead, Helen Hayes, Burgess Meredith, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. —
and such prominent Jews as Irving Berlin, Ethel Merman, Jack Benny, Eddie
Cantor, Oscar Hammerstein (of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame), George Jessel and
Ben Hecht. New York governor Herbert Lehmann, one of the most prominent Jews in
American politics, backed Fight for Freedom, as did James Warburg and Edward
Warburg, of the famous banking family.

In fact, James Warburg was Fight for Freedom’s spokesman in
a public debate in 1941 with the arch-isolationist Charles Lindbergh, which was
held at Madison Square Garden and broadcast on radio nationwide. Refusing to be
intimidated by accusations that Jews were dragging America into a conflict with
Germany, Warburg bluntly told the aviation hero: “Jew or Gentile, an American
can say only this to Charles Lindbergh: Your second nonstop flight has taken
you to a strange destination.”

Still, Warburg and the other Jewish supporters of Fight for
Freedom were a minority in the Jewish community. While many Jews privately
sympathized with Fight for Freedom, not many were willing to do so publicly.

Perhaps it is not surprising that in the 1930s and early
1940s, many American Jews were unwilling to call for U.S. action against
Hitler. It was a generation comprised largely of immigrants or children of
immigrants. They were not yet fully comfortable in American society, and the
prevalence of anti-Semitism during those years naturally intensified Jewish

But much has changed in the past 60 years. The degree to
which Jews and Judaism have become an accepted part of American culture and
society is exemplified by the nomination of a Jew — and a self-described
practicing Jew, at that — as the Democratic candidate for vice-president three
years ago. Given this reality, one would not expect American Jews in 2003 to be
cowed into silence by the fear of provoking accusations of “Jewish

It remains to be seen to what extent American Jews will
publicly support U.S. action to oust Saddam Hussein. Their decision will be
colored, in part, by powerful historical memories — memories of how an earlier
generation allowed itself to be intimidated, and how the world’s reluctance to
confront Hitler helped pave the way for Nazi aggression, World War II and the
Holocaust. Â

Dr. Rafael Medoff is visiting scholar in the Jewish studies
program at the State University of New York-Purchase College. His latest book
is “A Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust” (New Press,
2002), coauthored with David S. Wyman.

Hadassah Encourages Women to ‘Check Out’ Program

Janine McMillion was 29 when she married, entered her third year of law school and was diagnosed with breast
cancer. Today, the Huntington Beach resident is an employment lawyer, whose
survival story was the centerpiece of “Check It Out,” an early-detection
program for youth put on by Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization.

The program was instigated by Adena Kaufman, 34, of Aliso
Viejo, compelled to action by the loss of a girlhood friend to breast cancer in
2001. “It’s made me grateful to be alive,” she said.

The December event for the Bureau of Jewish Education’s
TALIT students was the first presentation in Orange County by Hadassah, which
introduced the program in Texas a decade ago. About 90 girls and their mothers
attended the program at Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom. They received bags
stuffed with brochures, an anatomically correct breast model with simulated
lumps, instruction on self-examination and genetic risk factors.

“Nobody ever explained that to me before,” 15-year-old
Daniella Gruber told her mother, Roe, afterward.

“She got something out of it,” Gruber’s mother said.

Despite winning a $5,900 grant in December 2001 from the
Susan G. Komen Foundation to present the program free to 2,000 students,
Hadassah’s Long Beach-Orange County chapter has, so far, found few takers.

“We’ve had a difficult time getting into public schools,”
said Michelle Shahon, director of the 3,200-member Costa Mesa-based group, “If
you teach them good life habits early on, that’s the best method of early
detection,” she said.

Shahon intends to seek an extension of the grant and keep
knocking on doors.

Tackling the Future

When Steven Spielberg, fresh off the astonishing global impact of his film, “Schindler’s List,” established the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation in 1994, he outlined its mission.

“Our hope is that the archive will be a resource so enduring that 50, 100 or even 500 years from now, people around the world will learn directly from survivors and witnesses about the atrocities of the Holocaust — what it means to survive and how our very humanity depends upon the practice of tolerance and mutual respect.”

Time will tell whether so visionary a task can be realized, but the accomplishments of the past eight years augur well for the future.

During that time, the Shoah Foundation’s interviewers in 57 countries have videotaped the testimonies of close to 52,000 Jews and others who either survived concentration camps, were in hiding during the Holocaust, lived under Nazi rule or rescued Nazi victims.

The total raw record runs 117,000 hours. If a single viewer were to scan the videos 24 hours a day, it would take more than 13 years to finish the job.

With its initial goal accomplished, the Shoah Foundation faces two mammoth tasks, one short-term, the other for the indefinite future.

The first job calls for the cataloguing and indexing of the testimonies, using state-of-the-art technology, 25,000 keywords and scores of researchers familiar with 32 languages. Last year, the National Science Foundation awarded a $7.5 million grant to the Shoah Foundation to help develop advanced speech-recognition software.

So far, 17,000 individual testimonies, each usually two hours long with some running up to five hours, have been catalogued. Douglas Greenberg, president and CEO of the Shoah Foundation, expects that the task will be completed by the end of 2005.

Even as the indexing continues, the Shoah Foundation has culled the hoard of testimonies to produce eight documentaries, including the 1998 Oscar winner, “The Last Days,” an additional five foreign-language documentaries and two educational CD-ROMS, one in German, for high school students.

In recent months, the Shoah Foundation has established partnerships with state archives and museums in Italy, Holland and Germany for the organizing and distribution of testimonies, including those of Sinti and Roma victims of the Nazi campaign against Gypsies.

In the United States, the first regional collection of testimonies available for viewing at a public library opened in Charleston, S.C., and plans are to set up similar centers in 20 other smaller cities.

Greenberg said he hoped to finalize a collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League to tie in with its tolerance education programs in U.S. high schools. A similar cooperation is anticipated with Great Britain’s Holocaust Education Trust to reach students in approximately 2,500 schools in that country.

In October, the Tapper Research and Testing Center was opened to house the foundation’s visual history archive and serve as a high-tech center for scholarly investigations and on-site classroom. Both the foundation and research center are located at Universal Studios.

In line with Spielberg’s centuries-long perspective of its task, the Shoah Foundation last year embarked on a second, and perhaps its most daunting, challenge: “To overcome prejudice, intolerance and bigotry — and the suffering they cause — through the educational use of the foundation’s visual history testimonies.”

Given new global manifestations of anti-Semitism and continuing ethnic and religious strife around the world, Greenberg acknowledged that the new mission goal was akin to “trying to climb Mount Everest barefoot and in my underwear.”

However, he added that “we know that 6 million Jews were killed one at a time, that the survivors survived one at a time and that we collected our testimonies one at a time. I believe we can change the world one person at a time.”

The Shoah Foundation has enjoyed largely unstinting praise in the media and within the Jewish community.

“The gathering of more than 50,000 testimonies is a monumental accomplishment which assures the survivors a certain immortality,” noted Holocaust scholar Dr. Michael Berenbaum, a former president and CEO of the Shoah Foundation.

There are few outspoken critics of the organization, perhaps due to the intrinsic merit of the project, as well as reluctance to cross Spielberg, arguably the most influential filmmaker in Hollywood history and currently its foremost Jewish personality.

Initial concerns by older and smaller centers for Holocaust testimonies in this country and abroad that they would be marginalized by Spielberg’s money and clout seem to have been largely allayed.

However, some off-the-record warnings point to a potential “clash of cultures” between the Shoah Foundation’s announced goal of making the testimonies widely available and the “Hollywood culture” of retaining private ownership of its products.

Another concern is whether the touted technology to fully catalogue and make available the vast material for easy access will prove adequate and affordable.

“This whole field of technology hasn’t taken off as hoped,” said one observer. “They [the Shoah Foundation] hoped to catch the technology on the upswing but are caught in its downsizing.”

Perhaps the most serious reservation speaks to the foundation’s mission “to overcome prejudice, intolerance and bigotry.”

“So its goal is not just to inform people but ultimately to change their behavior and motivation,” said one skeptic. “That’s a pretty highfalutin aim.”

Speaking on the record from a business meeting in Paris, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, warmly praised the long-standing cooperation between the Shoah Foundation and the Wiesenthal Center, and the “historical achievement” by Spielberg and his professional staff in attaining, through the 52,000 interviews, “a profound reach back in memory.”

However, the Wiesenthal Center, as one of the first designated repositories for the testimonies, has been disappointed that the planned high-speed accessibility and delivery system has not been realized.

Despite the best efforts of everyone involved, the basically low-tech format of the transmission presents difficulties for the average visitor, Cooper said.

As its stands now, he added, the collected material is, and will be, invaluable to researchers and family members, but without major advances in editing and transmission, will be of limited use to the average person.

Foundation Honors

At its Dec. 5 gala dinner, Shoah Foundation founder Steven Spielberg and host Sir Ben Kingsley honored three board members who were present at the creation and have played leading roles since.

The new Ambassadors for Humanity are Gerald Breslauer and Mickey Rutman, co-founders of the business management firm bearing their names, and prominent Beverly Hills attorney Bruce Ramer.

The fundraiser was expected to yield in excess of $500,000 toward the foundation’s 2003 budget of $10 million. “It’s a rough year for all nonprofit organizations, the whole environment is much more difficult than two years ago,” said Douglas Greenberg, foundation president and CEO.

Since its startup eight years ago, the foundation has received and spent approximately $100 million.

Greenberg said that the cost of cataloguing and indexing the testimonies will run from $8 million to $10 million. He said it would cost $150 million, if not for in-house technological breakthroughs. — TT

Networking for Jobs

It’s been nearly two years since David Lorch had a job. Currently, the former pricing analyst for an Orange County high-tech firm attends networking events near his home in Laguna Hills, does volunteer work for his shul, Congregation Eilat in Mission Viejo, and tries to maintain his hope.

With the job market showing little or no signs of improvement, Lorch is hoping to start a new networking group through his synagogue that is focused specifically on helping unemployed Jews find work. Such organizations have taken off at a handful of congregations in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the dismal job market is already considered a crisis in the Jewish community. Lorch is hoping to draw from the experiences of his peers in Silicon Valley in crafting a network of his own.

"It’s one thing to have a general group, but I think a focused group of Jews helping Jews could be more powerful, more beneficial," Lorch said. "So far, the standard stuff hasn’t worked."

Rabbi Sheldon Lewis of Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto said his Conservative synagogue was a natural place for out-of-work congregants to base their support and networking activities. Their 1-year-old Project Full Employment, holds two monthly meetings and maintains an e-mail group for job leads that has attracted more than 300 members.

"I think in a community like a synagogue, we have a deep stake in each other’s welfare," Lewis said. "If we’re not ready to act in a time like this, then when?"

Lewis, a 30-year veteran of Silicon Valley, said the current economic downturn is the worst he has ever seen. At Kol Emeth, a congregation-wide appeal for job leads was part of the Yom Kippur services this year.

"I’m still finding out about people in the congregation who have been quietly facing this challenge. There are even families in which two bread-winners are unemployed together," Lewis said. "The toll is immense. I’ve seen tensions in marriages, drained self-esteem and the loss of hope."

Jill Kulick lost her job as a vice president of human resources when her Silicon Valley start-up company folded more than a year ago. Now, in addition to looking for a job, she organizes the networking group at Congregation Beth Am, a Reform synagogue in Los Altos Hills, at which an estimated 8 percent of adult congregants are out of work.

"It’s very lonely to be out there without a job," she said. "The common thread is that all of us are professionals who three years ago were in great demand. You go from a feeling of true competency and professionalism to where people don’t give you the time of day."

Like Kulick, many unemployed Jewish professionals find structure and a sense of purpose by getting more involved in their synagogues. For example, when Congregation Beth Am’s vice president of finance needed some help, Kulick knew of three unemployed chief financial officers she could call on. "I said here are our people, and they all said great, we’d love to get involved."

After a year of setting up guest speakers for the synagogue’s job networking group, Kulick and fellow organizers have shifted their focus toward establishing more personal connections between the 1,800-family congregation’s unemployed members and their fellow congregants who are in the position to help them make contacts and find job leads.

A recent dessert reception at Beth Am brought about 50 out-of-work congregants together with more than a dozen "movers and shakers" from the congregation’s own ranks. After each person briefly told their story, the group split into smaller networking units and shared resumes and suggestions.

"They got to meet with a whole constituency who never had come together as a community before," Kulick said.

Shifting Gears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get a CLUE to Help the Poor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"At least 13 percent of Jews in the Los Angeles area make below $10,000 a year," said Flam, citing the Federation study, "When we spoke with Jewish leaders, they knew nothing about them." Part of the reason Jews and Jewish leaders have not been aware of the problem of Jewish poverty has been that poor Jews are often not affiliated with the larger Jewish community. "It costs a lot of money to be affiliated," Flam noted.

Goodman noticed another reason for the lack of awareness, "The problem of our not recognizing [Jewish poverty] stems from generalizations — really, internalized anti-Semitism. We believe that all Jews are wealthy." The study, which Shubowitz expects to be finished by the end of October, will be publicized by CLUE; the Board of Rabbis of Southern California has also expressed interest in distributing it.

The three CLUE interns said that when they spoke to congregations, "Jews didn’t know what was going on. Frequently people are shocked," Flam said, "Usually once people understand what’s going on, we get a strong response."

With awareness raised, and their summer internships over, the CLUE alumni continue to work to turn concern into action. "Is it deliverance or DiGiorno?" Goodman asked, "Do we wait for God or do we make justice at home?"

Married to Israel

Call it a shopping trip. Lou and Trudy Kestenbaum came to Israel last month on a Jewish National Fund (JNF) mission to spend money, as well as to follow up on how the money they’ve already spent in the Jewish state is doing.

Lou Kestenbaum made his fortune in construction and then plastics, and now that he’s retired, he spends a lot of his time giving it away. "Now I work for mitzvot," he says.

The Kestenbaums give sizable gifts through an organization called Shelters for Israel, a Los Angeles-based group founded in 1948 by Hungarian Holocaust survivors like themselves. The Shelters organization, with nearly 500 members, may be the most streamlined charitable organization on the planet: It has no office, no overhead and gets all its work done on a volunteer basis while, in the last 15 years alone, earmarking some $10 million for Israel projects.

"We’re one of the biggest secrets in L.A.," says Lou Kestenbaum, naming a few of Shelters for Israel’s undertakings: a Jordan Valley day-care center for handicapped elderly that the Kestenbaums helped to dedicate on this trip; an elder- care center in Haifa, due to be completed in three months; a community center in the Arava on which construction has just begun, plus kindergartens, libraries, day-care centers — 35 projects in all.

"We start with seeing what Israel’s needs are," Lou Kestenbaum explains. "We’re married to Israel."

"And also to each other," his wife adds.

Trudy Kestenbaum is especially active in the JNF Sapphire Women’s group, through which the Kestenbaums have also made major gifts, including a recent donation to underwrite the infrastructure for a new town, called Zukkim, in the Arava. They have also made sizable private gifts, donating an ambulance to Magen David Adom and a playground near the Haifa zoo.

Their current trip partly centered on the dedication of a new Jewish National Fund reservoir at Kibbutz Affikim, south of Lake Kinneret, for which the Kestenbaums donated $300,000. The water shortage in Israel has reached critical proportions, Lou points out, and, he adds, it’s a problem that is not going to solve itself. "If you give a man a fish, you feed him once," he quotes. "But if you teach him to fish, you feed him forever. A reservoir is not just a hole in the ground with a lot of water in it," he says. "It changes people’s lives."

He points out what the nearly 1 million cubic meter reservoir at Affikim will contribute: a commercial fish farm (carp, trout and whitefish) that will produce income for the kibbutz and food for Israelis, water for agriculture and a general "greening" that will improve the quality of life for all the area’s inhabitants. Reservoirs can also catch and hold rainwater or usable waste water for recycling, making a double impact by protecting the environment while adding to the water supply.

Israel now has about 100 reservoirs around the country, with JNF aiming at creating 100 more in the next five years. With Israel’s need for water obvious and even desperate — the country, whose annual water deficit equals 25 percent of its total water use, is currently suffering the worst drought in its recorded history, according to JNF — the couple, "went shopping for another reservoir to raise funds for," Lou Kestenbaum says.

As part of the JNF mission, which included a handful of other Angelenos, the Kestenbaums toured sites in Israel and heard talks by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Daniel Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel. Lou Kestenbaum, whose comprehensive collection of Israeli stamps is both widely known and extremely valuable, also took time to visit the Israel Philatelic Museum in Tel Aviv, of which he is a founder.

Nothing if not energetic, he is eager to see another brainchild of his come to birth in Los Angeles. Starting with this year’s JNF annual banquet, scheduled for Oct. 27, two community figures, not the usual single individual, will be honored each year — an Ashkenazi and a Persian. "It’s a way of bringing the communities together," explains Lou Kestenbaum, whose business connections with Iranian Jews were a steppingstone to conceiving and implementing the idea. He is this year’s Ashkenazi honoree; the Persian is Dr. Jamshed Maddahi.

The Kestenbaums, who have two grown children and two grandchildren, have been married for 57 years. "And I’d buy another 57 with this guy," says Trudy Kestenbaum fondly, jerking her thumb at her husband. Apparently, she thinks that her husband, like the state of Israel, is a good investment.

Be Careful With ‘Terrorism’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Programs Continue at Valley JCCs

Programs will continue at the various Jewish Community Centers (JCC) around the San Fernanado Valley, albeit not all under the same umbrella. The new North Valley Jewish Community Center, Inc., (NVJCC) a nonprofit organization created after the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) divested itself from the Granada Hills site, is still in negotiations to purchase the site, and is temporarily relegated to using only part of the property. But it still opened its summer camp July 1 with 10 children.

The organization hoped to use the entire property by September, NVJCC board member Andrea Goodstein said, noting that discussions with the JCCGLA toward that end were going well.

As for the other two Valley centers, the West Valley JCC is fully functioning and remaining a part of JCCGLA for the time being, according to JCCGLA Executive Vice President Nina Lieberman Giladi. Valley Cities JCC’s preschool ended the school year with an enrollment of more than 100 children, Giladi said, so both the site’s preschool and after-school programs will open in the fall as usual. Programs for seniors at Valley Cities are also continuing in a limited fashion, despite the cuts made following the JCCGLA’s declaration of near bankruptcy last December.

Enrollment has begun for preschool and after school programs at the NVJCC with a message line set up for both at (818) 594-4075. — Wendy J. Madnick, Contributing Writer

West Valley Community Health ExpoDebuts

Shomrei Torah Synagogue will join forces with co-sponsors Temple Aliyah, Valley Outreach Synagogue and the West Valley Jewish Community Center to present the very first West Valley Community Health Expo, a daylong fundraiser benefiting Magen David Adom West, on Aug. 4.

The concept behind the Health Expo evolved as a vehicle for an idea of Shomrei Torah’s Rabbi Richard Camras to raise the $54,900 needed to purchase an ambulance for Israel. The Expo will feature a variety of medical screenings, a blood drive and health- and safety-related exhibits. Scheduled speakers include: Judy Ziedler, who will lecture on the joys of kosher cooking; Jerry Guon, liver transplant recipient, who will speak on Jewish perspective on organ donation; Dr. Rena Falk, of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, who will talk about genetic screening; and representatives of Stroller Power, a group that teaches exercise workouts for new moms.

“I’m hoping that people will come to the Expo to learn about their own health,” said Nedra Weinreich, Health Expo Committee chair, “as well as do something that will help the health of those in Israel. You can help save lives here and as well in Israel.”

West Valley Community Health Expo will take place from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Aug. 4 at Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. Blood drives will be held from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free, but donations will be encouraged. For information, call (818) 346-2721; or visit

— Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Shop ‘Til You Drop

Need a crock pot? Or would you prefer to donate your old one? If so, you’ll want to know that one of the San Fernando Valley’s most popular thrift shops has moved. The National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW/LA) celebrated the opening of its Canoga Park store on June 11.

The store replaces the one previously located in Reseda. Harriet Baron, executive director of NCJW/LA, said she hopes the change will attract even more customers and donors.

“Quite simply, we felt that there was a market in the West Valley we were not reaching,” Baron said. “We know we have many constituents there.”

Baron said the new location has the advantage of being within the radius of a stretch of antique stores and thrift shops. The Canoga Park store is more spacious than its predecessor, with furniture housed on one side of the store and racks of clothing, mostly for women, on the right. There is a limited amount of children’s clothing but plenty of bric-a-brac for the kitchen and the prices are very reasonable. The store is easy to spot from the street due to its distinctive blue-and-white mural. The mural is based on an original design by Burton Morris in Pittsburgh, Pa., and was painted by a local artist known as Chase, who does all of his artwork for NCJW using spray paint.

Altogether, NCJW operates six thrift shops.

The store is located at 21716 Sherman Way. Hours of operation are 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (Monday through Saturday) and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Sunday). For more information, call (818) 710-7206. — WM

How the West Was Jewish

Historical figure Solomon Heydenfeldt, a Jewish justice on the California Supreme Court from the Gold Rush era, ruled on California water laws and cases involving religious freedom. Donning black-and-purple robes, an old-fashioned bow tie and his best southern accent, law professor Peter Reich brought Heydenfeldt to life for fourth-graders at Valley Beth Shalom Harold M. Schulweis Day School in Encino this past spring.

As the school’s fourth-grade social studies curriculum includes the California Gold Rush, Reich’s presentation brought a Jewish element to the study of American history during this period.

For the last 12 years, Reich has taught property and environmental law at Whittier College, as well as a legal history class at UC Irvine. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

Pico Settles Oil Suit

After two years of legal and political wrangling, concerned residents and BreitBurn Energy have entered into a settlement agreement that will allow for expanded oil-extraction operations at the corner of Pico Boulevard and Doheny Drive.

Neighbors for a Safe Environment (NASE), the organization that has waged a political and legal battle against BreitBurn’s proposed around-the-clock operations in the heavily Jewish area, agreed to a settlement stipulating that BreitBurn will pay up to $150,000 for NASE to obtain experts to carry out emissions analysis and risk assessment. BreitBurn will also pay $65,000 for NASE’s legal fees, and $25,000 for NASE’s additional expenses and ongoing activity.

"We’re not happy to have a 24-7 oil drilling operation in the middle of our neighborhood, but given that it is legal, at least we need to make sure that what they are doing is going to be safe and not going to impinge on the health of the people who live here," says Rae Drazin, a leader of NASE.

NASE entered into the settlement after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge in May handed NASE a partial victory. NASE had sued BreitBurn and the City of Los Angeles for approving a faulty environmental impact report (EIR), claiming that the EIR never measured the actual emissions currently at the site, and therefore couldn’t accurately predict what the expanded operations would produce.

The Superior Court judge found in NASE’s favor concerning the issue of late-night noise, but did not find in its favor on air pollution, NASE’s main concern.

With the settlement, "we’re going to actually be able to determine once and for all whether there are any health hazards associated with the expanded production," says Drazin. "A true risk assessment will be done, and then, based on that, if everything is fine and totally nonthreatening, as BreitBurn has said, then we will be very assured. If there are going to be problems and things to be concerned about, then we are going to pursue that in every kind of capacity we have."

The settlement provides funds for NASE to hire a consultant to determine what emissions are being produced at the site by the oil extraction, maintenance and cleaning. The consultant’s report will be delivered to a toxicologist, who will determine if the emissions pose a risk to the surrounding population.

There are several schools within blocks of the site, including Canfield Elementary, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy and Chabad’s preschool and girls’ elementary and high schools.

The settlement also stipulates that managerial-level staff of the Department of Building and Safety will be available 24 hours a day to receive complaints of noise or odors.

Throughout the process, BreitBurn has maintained the $6-million modernization project would reduce emissions by 90 percent.

The project will increase output from 1,200 to 3,000 barrels of oil a day by increasing the workover operations needed for maintenance from 10 days a month at present to 24 hours a day year-round, except on all Jewish and legal holidays. BreitBurn will replace the mobile diesel workover rig now used with a 129-foot, electrically powered derrick to perform regular maintenance on the site’s 69 wells. BreitBurn will also raise the perimeter wall from 12 feet to 25 feet and enclose most of the operations in soundproof structures.

"The proposed modernization is an improvement to the environment and to the air quality, and if the community wants additional assurances as the project proceeds, we are very confident that the EIR is 100 percent accurate," says Howard Sunkin of Cerell Associates, the public relations firm representing BreitBurn.

NASE says it will stay on top of both BreitBurn and the city, since NASE has said it considers the city’s enforcement protocol, spread out among several different agencies, to be ineffective.

"The settlement was entered into mainly because we ran out of financial resources to pursue anything further in the courts," Drazin says, adding: "My feeling is that when this neighborhood sees that 129-foot tower looming over their houses, they are going to be very upset, and wonder why this happened in the first place."