State Budget Crisis Threatens Jewish Social Service Programs

Four Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles programs that serve the elderly, disabled and frail may end up casualties of the state budget crisis, which leapt to a new level of urgency Tuesday as California lawmakers failed to pass budget revisions before a July 1 deadline.

More than $4 million in state funding for JFS could be zeroed out if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has his way; budgets currently working their way through legislative committees also require significant cuts on top of previous cuts made during last September’s budget negotiations. If no budget compromise is reached in the legislature before California runs out of money, JFS could be forced to close down programs that aim to keep indigent elderly and disabled clients out of institutions, and another that gives shelter to victims of domestic abuse.

JFS fears clients’ lives are in the balance.

Huge portions of the state’s social service network are in jeopardy. Even best-case scenarios significantly cut programs that serve the poor, disabled, elderly, ill and abused, and most recipients in programs throughout the state will see cuts in multiple resources they access.

“We have long said that we like to see ourselves as an important part of the safety net,” said Paul Castro, CEO and executive director of JFS, a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “As a result of all this the safety net is going to be broken. Where in prior years when the net was broken we had been in a position to catch people if they fell through, our best hope now is to just help break the fall, because we aren’t going to be able to catch them.”

Schwarzenegger and the legislature passed an 18-month budget last February that had been meant to remain in effect through June 2010. But California’s declining revenues and the failure of the May 19 propositions to free up initiative-locked dollars rendered the February budget worthless, a situation lawmakers failed to remedy when they couldn’t come to agreement on budget revisions by July 1. A gap of $25.3 billion now lingers, on top of the $15 billion in cuts made in February.

JFS has received notice that Medi-Cal funded programs will continue to be paid through July, though other budget areas may receive IOUs from State Controller John Chiang that the state started issuing July 2.

Still, JFS is bracing for the worst. It is prepared to begin informing clients of potential closures; lay-off notices that it hopes it won’t have to implement already went out to staff; and JFS and the union that represents most of its staff have agreed to a 45-day closure of affected agencies so it can regroup if funding disappears.

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Don’t Discard Liberal Jewish Groups

Gary Wexler levels the charges that Americans for Peace Now (APN), along with other organizations associated with American Jewish liberals, are obsolete. He writes that
we are ignoring the “real” threats facing Israel such as those emanating from Syria and Iran, that we are out of touch with the mainstream for questioning the efficacy of Israel’s current military actions in Lebanon and Gaza, that we are wrong to believe a peace partner exists on the other side and that our “knee-jerk” reactions and inability to recognize and react to the redefining of American Jewish support for Israel will prove to be our ultimate downfall.

While Wexler may be ready to discard Peace Now and APN at this difficult juncture, that choice is not so for a great many others, as indicated by the 250 people who attended the program on July 24 in Los Angeles to discuss the current situation (causing a venue change from a private home to a large auditorium).
Based on his comments, it seems that Wexler has lost sight of the vision and values of Peace Now — which itself arose from the security establishment — and Americans for Peace Now (APN).

Both are Jewish, Zionist organizations that recognize that real security for Israel is a function of not only a strong military, but also a commitment to achieving peace with her neighbors. Neither are pacifist organizations, impatient to criticize any and every military action undertaken by the state of Israel.

On the contrary, Peace Now and APN, like all supporters of Israel, recognize Israel’s right and responsibility to defend itself against terrorism and regional existential threats. We support the maintenance of a strong IDF with real deterrent capability. At the same time, we believe that we have the right and the obligation to raise questions and even protest when we believe Israeli actions are destructive to Israel’s own security interests.

The second intifada put a violent exclamation point on the ultimate failure of the Oslo peace process to achieve a comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It forced much soul-searching within the Israeli peace camp and its supporters in the United States.

However, through it all, a broad consensus within Israel, and supported by the American Jewish community, emerged around some basic points: Resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict is vital to Israel’s security and national interests, and to do so requires a “two-state solution;” and, ultimately, it is in Israel’s best interests to forge peace agreements with all of her neighbors, in addition to Egypt and Jordan.

In essence, the once revolutionary Peace Now agenda — supporting negotiations with the Palestinians, arguing that Israel’s security and long-term viability as a Jewish, democratic state are a function of both a strong military and of determined efforts to achieve peace, supporting the relinquishing of some territory and accepting the establishment of a Palestinian state — has now become largely mainstream.

A given Israeli on the street in Tel Aviv or American Jew in a synagogue in Los Angeles may not self-identify as a supporter of Peace Now, but odds are that if one were to probe his views, they would find that this is in fact more or less what he believes. This is not a coincidence or chance occurrence, and illustrates the fact that as Wexler said, the liberal/left label regarding Israeli politics does not have the same meaning as it might have in the past.

The current Israeli drive for “realignment” and “separation” is organically linked to the idea of a two-state solution, which requires a physical separation between the Israeli and Palestinian populations. Last year’s painful “disengagement” from Gaza and part of the West Bank — involving the long-overdue evacuation of settlements — was widely supported by Israelis, who recognize that settlements are an obstacle to achieving this goal of separation.

Once again, a core Peace Now position long viewed as revolutionary has quietly entered the mainstream in Israel and among American Jews. Over time, we expect that mainstream Israel and American Jews will also catch up with us regarding two related issues: unilateralism, which we view as an insufficient policy for achieving long-term security since it leaves Israel without a negotiated agreement and accompanying security guarantees and undermines potential moderate Palestinian partners for such agreements; and continued expansion of settlements, which is antithetical to achieving real separation and the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.

In facing the most serious existential threats to Israel, Peace Now and APN believe that Israel is best able to face these threats — most notably Iran — when it is not forced to divert precious military resources to resolvable and avoidable conflict, and when its actions in these conflicts are not unnecessarily galvanizing widespread hatred and resentment of Israel.

Serious, productive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would do more than any IDF intervention to promote stability — as was clearly evident during the heyday of the Oslo process in the mid-1990s. Similarly, progress on the Israel-Palestinian track would go a long way to promoting better relations with states throughout the region and would deny extremists a potent rallying point.

As to the question of whether there are partners for peace, APN and Peace Now believe that Israel does not have the luxury of waiting for the perfect partners to appear and in the meantime refusing to talk to anyone else. As Moshe Dayan famously stated, “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” History has shown that partners emerge when conditions are ripe and the interests of each side coincide enough that partnerships which seemed improbable at best a short while before are forged, as happened in 1978 between Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

What will become of the current status of relations or lack thereof between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership depends upon a great many factors, but to rule out negotiations is to give up on a political process and leave only use of force.

And this brings us to the current day and the discussion of Israel’s military campaigns against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

As the moderator of the July 2 event, reading Wexler’s recollection of the evening makes me feel as if we were not in the same room. All the speakers at the forum affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself and pursue those that plan and participate in doing it harm.

All agreed that the by crossing into sovereign Israeli territory and killing and capturing Israeli soldiers, Hezbollah and Hamas committed gross provocations to which Israel had every right to respond. However, there were legitimate differences of opinion over whether Israel’s military response has been appropriate, with particular concern that the response has reached the point of diminishing returns. This was a Zionist, pro-Israel discussion, undertaken by individuals who are deeply committed to Israel’s existence and security.

For decades, the Zionist peace camp in Israel and the United States has bravely taken the lead in asking the hard questions and shouldering the burden of positions based on what we know is true, rather than what is easy or popular. We weathered criticism in the past for our convictions, and no doubt we will weather the criticism now. We do so for the sake of Israel.

Letters to the Editor

Mideast Situation

I write to you out of deep concern regarding the Bush administration’s failure to meet the challenge of dealing with the violence in the Middle East (Cover Story, July 21).

Secretary of State [Condoleeza] Rice went to Rome with violence raging in southern Lebanon and Gaza, and missiles raining on northern Israel. She left Rome without any plan for improving the situation or preventing further escalation.

The United States held off intervening in this conflict for far too long, with the administration arguing that it would not engage until the moment was right for success. But having decided that the moment had come, and with so much at stake for America, Israel, Lebanon and the entire region, Secretary Rice should have left Rome with something in hand.

We expect more from American diplomacy.

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels
Los Angeles

Standing With Israel

I urge that you seek to maintain Jewish unity in these days of crisis. Deference to the Jewish Left is divisive. Ignore it. You have a job to do to maintain Jewish morale. I’m an octogenerian and I don’t expect to be here too long. Israel must be victorious. I’m expecting to see it. Am Ysroel Chai.

Jerry Green
Los Angeles

Torah Portion

While Rabbi Lisa Edwards is free to reinterpret Leviticus to advocate that which the Bible specifically forbids, it is specious of her to argue that it is “causeless hatred” for Torah-true Jerusalemites to protest the deliberate provocation that her colleagues attempted to foist on the Holy City (“Commemorating Sorrows,” July 28).

One could contend it is “causeless hatred” to foist ones agenda on others.

S. Newman
Los Angeles

Response to Michael Steinhardt

Michael Steinhardt (“It May Be Time to Change Goals, Ideas on Philanthropy,” July 28) suggested that the decline in Jewish philanthropy during that past 20 years is due to a “loss of connection to Jewish roots.”

When I consider this problem and its cause, I think of an address by Dr. Jacob Neusner given at Yale in 2000 (“If Ideas Mattered: The Intellectual Crisis of Jewish-American Life”).

Regarding the problem, Neusner states:

“Having used up the intellectual capital of a half-century ago, American Jewry has run out of ideas. It debates matters of practicality, issues of mere continuity. It argues about how to persuade the coming generation to continue the received enterprise of Jewry, not how to assess the worth and truth of that enterprise.”

Regarding the cause, Neusner states:

“Where does the blame lie? It lies with the rabbinical seminaries that have produced a rabbinate without Torah. The rabbinical schools are somnolent; not much happens in them. The rabbinical seminaries are backwaters, out of the mainstream of contemporary Judaic debate.”

Jews will reconnect to the community if and when our institutions and leaders offer relevant and compelling reasons to do so.

Marsha Plafkin Hurwitz
Los Angeles

Make a Match

I read with interest the July 28 article “Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make Me a Donation Match” regarding Joseph Hyman’s new Center for Entrepreneurial Philanthropy and its description as both “revolutionary” and charting “a new course.”

Knowing The Jewish Journal endeavors to be a resource to its readers, I was certain you’d want to know that while Hyman’s initiative may be novel or the first of its kind on the East Coast, that’s certainly not the case here on the West Coast. A similar resource has existed locally since 2001 in the form of the Family Foundation Center within the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles.Our organization created the center, directed by Susan Grinel, specifically to assist funders — whether they are a donor at the Jewish Community Foundation or not — with maximizing the impact of their philanthropic endeavors.

The center offers comprehensive services and programs that enable funders to identify their charitable passions and prioritize their grantmaking, selecting causes and issues that resonate with them at a personal level. Its educational offerings, provided by national philanthropic experts particularly in the highly topical area of intergenerational giving, enlighten families on how to effectively stimulate and involve their children and grandchildren in charitable pursuits.

In this vein, the center organizes the annual Community Youth Foundation, through which selected high-school students learn how to identify and research worthy charitable programs, conduct field studies and then, as a committee, dispense $10,000 in grants funded by The Foundation.

Perhaps most importantly, since its inception, the center has helped to facilitate the distribution of millions of charitable dollars to causes locally, as well as in Israel, through its advisory work with funders.

I applaud Hyman’s good work. We are only on the forward edge of enlightening, educating and spurring passionate, committed philanthropists to sustain Jewish causes at home and in Israel. Much work still lies ahead.

Marvin I. Schotland
President & CEO
Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles

Dodger Dog

Tell Robert Jaffee that his article on Jamie McCourt had an error (“Jamie McCourt Proves She’s an Artful Dodger President,” July 21): Cesar Izturis has been with the Dodgers for more than three years. Remember, it’s “speed and accuracy.”

By the way, does Izturis mean “I have problems” in Yiddish?

Mark Troy
Via e-mail

Mideast Fighting

We are all deeply saddened by the tragic loss of 4 UN Observers in South Lebanon, and in Ireland we think of the 48 men we lost there in our long commitment from 1978 to 2001, one of whom, Pvt. Kevin Joyce, has never been returned for burial by his Hezbollah kidnappers.

Two points are worth recalling at this point.

Firstly, Canada lost four men in 2002 in Afghanistan due to mistaken fire by a U.S. pilot, and the Israelis have also lost men [in both Gaza and Lebanon] recently at the hands of their own forces. In Ireland, our Gardai in their crack SWAT “Emergency Response Unit” have also known such mishaps, and in Northern Ireland, many such tragic incidents happened, with RUC killing one RUC officer and two army; while the British Army accidentally killed one each from the RUC, RUC Reserve and UDR — and seven of their own. That is 13 such deaths.

These incidents, like many involving civilian losses close to military targets, occur either due to the unavoidable “fog of war,” or to human or equipment failure. However tragic, they are not malicious.

Secondly, the distinguished, recently retired Canadian Maj-Gen Lewis W. Mac Kenzie, 66, a veteran of nine U.N. tours, and U.N. chief of staff in 1992 in Yugoslavia at the time of the Siege of Sarajevo, wrote a book in 1993, “Peacekeeper,” about his experience. He was a friend and former Battalion colleague of the Canadian U.N. Observer who lost his life, and received a recent e-mail from this colleague that Hezbollah were firing from close to that UN post. Such an experienced and senior witness as MacKenzie is indeed credible. That information explains how this tragedy could happen, and also recalls the recent comment of Jan Egeland of the UN about Hezbollah’s “cowardly blending” with the civilians population.

Such abusing of unarmed U.N. Observers, women and children by Hezbollah is not new, and their primary responsibility needs to be fully recognized.

Tom Carew
Dublin, Ireland

I know that some children in Lebanon have been killed and others wounded and for that I am truly sorry. However, I am very tired of hearing about innocent Lebanese civilians. Let’s face the facts. The Lebanese are in violation of U.N. Resolution 1559, which says that the Lebanese government is to dismantle terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. Not only was this not done but Hezbollah members were voted into government offices by the “innocent” people.

Even now, when they are having their lives disrupted by the conflict, they support Hezbollah. I have not heard one person being interviewed in Lebanon condemn Hezbollah for starting the conflict. They blame Israel: Israel should have released 1,000 prisoners for the two kidnapped soldiers. Israel should forget about the soldiers and the 17-year-old boy who were murdered by Hezbollah. Israel should not have responded to the rockets being fired into major cities forcing innocent Israelis into bomb shelters and killing and wounding others. Not a word about the fact that Hezbollah started the conflict and is hiding out in populated areas using the Lebanese civilians as shields. How innocent are people who support terrorists?

Tobi Ruth Love
Thousand Oaks

Thank you for the very powerful cover photo of the Israeli soldiers and “moment of truth. (Cover story, July 20). we have copies up in our offices and have made copies for many people. Please God this picture will inspire people to say tehilim (our secret weapon) to help Israel. And, we hope that this cover photo begins a time of more substantive, positive Jewish content in your paper.

Joshua Spiegelman

The dismantling of the Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, would be a major blow against global terrorism, rogue states Syria and Iran and possibly even Iran’s nuclear plans. But, if Hezbollah emerges intact as a fighting force, Israel and the global war on terrorism would suffer significantly. Saudi Arabia (and other moderate Arab states) issued a rare condemnation of Hezbollah as they fear the ramifications of it’s strength. Much of the Middle East has been engulfed by Islamic radicalism. Israel must remain strong as Democracy’s bulwark against the tide.

Harry Grunstein

Rabbi Grater

I enjoy your weekly Torah reading and particularly the various interpretations of the text that are given by rabbis of differing denominations. I was very disappointed in last week’s column by Rabbi Joshua Grater who essentially used the Torah as a political attack on the president and his policies (“Power of Vows,” July 21). I feel that this is not appropriate.

The Journal provides many articles about politics from various points of view. For many of your readers, I am certain that this weekly column provides the only, or at least one of few, Torah education opportunities. People who are not knowledgeable are left with the impression that the Torah has given its imprimatur to this rabbi’s politics.

“How can we trust a leader who lies in regard to the highest level of commitment, war and Peace?”

When Howard Dean says this sort of thing, people expect it of him. When a rabbi publicly calls someone a liar in the name of the Torah, this only demeans the status of the rabbinate and the Torah itself in many eyes.

The Sages write that there are 70 “faces” to the Torah, implying that there are many ways to interpret the written word. I would not like to see your usually excellent column be lowered to the level of “dueling rabbis.” Your readers are, for the most part, well-educated and intelligent. The rabbi should make his point and let the reader draw his own conclusions. Let’s try to use the Torah as a unifying force in our community rather than a divisive one and save the politics for columns that are labeled “Political Commentary” rather than “Torah Portion.”

Dr. George Lebovitz
Los Angeles

It seems that Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater should take his own counsel. In his article he writes that he and his wife are trying to teach their children the power of words, both positive and negative, and “the power of the word is what matters here.” Yet just a few paragraphs later he libels our public leaders.

As a rabbi, he is undoubtedly aware of the Jewish prohibition against lashon hara, including the injunction against speaking negatively about someone, even when true. When I reflected back on his article after having read it the first time, I thought that he had made the statement, “Bush lied.” It was only after rereading that I discovered that those words were not part of what he had written, though the message was so clear that my memory told me otherwise.

He continued by stating that the federal government made false promises during the Katrina Crisis, and bragged about the local Board of Rabbis of Southern California. So what’s so wrong with people taking care of people? We certainly can’t expect the federal government to do it all. That is the beauty of communities, with people helping people.

  • Lashon hara is inappropriate for anyone, even more inappropriate for a Jew.
  • Lashon hara is inappropriate for anyone, even more inappropriate for a leader.
  • Lashon hara is inappropriate for anyone, and especially inappropriate for a Jewish leader.

Rebecca J. Evers
North Long Beach

Face It: Judaism Is Not Hip

This Rosh Hashanah I am praying to escape the tyranny of hip. Hip is infiltrating Jewish life like a migrating plume of acrid smoke meandering its way through our collective body and soul.

I know hip well. I know its insidious nature. I have seen its effect and its damage. I was surrounded by hip. I was taken in by hip. I yearned for hip. I searched for hip. I saw people’s lives and identities consumed by hip. Twenty years of my professional life were spent in the palaces of hip.

I was an advertising agency copywriter and creative director. I was trained to be one of the manufacturers of hip. I would sit in offices and create hip, and then watch all those people lust after the creations. I reveled in hip.

And then one day, it all came crashing down.

There was no earth-shattering event. It was just a moment of realization.

In the ad biz, you win awards for creating hip images. That’s all hip is. An image. A fleeting image. You can’t really describe hip. You can’t put your finger on what it is. What’s hip today is not hip tomorrow. You often here people say, “She’s the hippest person around.”

What does that mean? Nothing.

Absolutely nothing. When I happily left the ad agency business, I used to tell people, “It’s the ultimate liberation. I no longer have to direct my energies into the shallow, ridiculous waters of hip.”

I found salvation from hip in the Jewish world. It was a world of content. Meaning. Real connections to people, the earth, the heavens. It gave me roots into the universe in a way hip could never do.

It was such a refreshing departure from where I had been that I was determined to bring my professional skills into the Jewish world — as well as into other nonprofit organizations.

For years, it allowed me to escape even hearing the word “hip.” Then, hip began to seep out into a few Jewish crevices and corners.

Today, hip is everywhere in the Jewish organizational world. Federations want to be hip. Hillels want to be hip. Israel wants to be hip. Chabad wants to be hip. Aish HaTorah wants to be hip. Synagogues want to be hip. Day schools want to be hip. Jewish publications want to be hip. And the Jewish foundation world is clamoring to create and fund hip.

It used to be that Hollywood was going to be the magic bullet that would save the Jewish organizational world. Now Hollywood has been replaced by hip. At least Hollywood was concrete. It meant a person. Spielberg. Streisand. Seinfeld. But can someone please define or concretize hip?

What is this all about? If Judaism’s image — its brand — has become tarnished, is hip going to save it? Is this the point to which we involved Jews have arrived?

Hip is powerful. As a marketer of Jewish life, I am watching our leaders grapple and bow down to its power.

I am not denying that we have a problem in Jewish life with the products we offer and the images we create. Most are lackluster at best.

But if we think that hip is the solution, we are demeaning the essence of Judaism. We are trivializing its soul. We are convoluting Judaism as much as “haimish” has convoluted it for the past few generations.

Haimish was always an excuse for not being professional. As long as the organization was haimish, it believed it had fulfilled its mission.

Much the same mistake is happening with hip. If the organization is hip, if the offering is perceived as hip, then today the organization believes it is fulfilling its mission.

Hip is not about meaning. Hip is not about depth. Hip is not about the soul. Hip is not about connection to human beings and the world.

Hip is about shallow. Hip is about self-absorption. Hip is about today, this minute. Hip is not about the past and it is certainly not about the future.

This Rosh Hashanah, Jewish organizations need to realize that Judaism is not hip. It’s never going to be hip. It is not supposed to be hip. Judaism has too much depth to ever be hip. Judaism must be perceived as the antidote to hip. The products Judaism offers must be the escape from shallow hip. They must be the refuge, the other road, the real thing.

If we believe that the Jewish masses are looking for hip, there are plenty of places they can fill that need. They can go to the Gap. Now, that’s hip.

During the coming High Holidays, grant us justice and kindness. V’hoshiyainu — save us … from the tyranny of hip.

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


Disaster Exposes Government Failures

President Bush and Congress talk a good game when it comes to homeland security, but the tragic truth is that the country is less able to cope with disasters than before Sept. 11, 2001. The proof is on the flood-ravaged streets of New Orleans, where an unprecedented natural disaster quickly produced violent anarchy and a flaccid government response that multiplied the suffering.

For all the money thrown at preparing for massive terror attacks and other disasters, the new Department of Homeland Security looked more like a Third World bureaucracy, as armed gangs roamed the city and people died for lack of food, water, sanitation and medical supplies.

If a hurricane turned New Orleans into Haiti, imagine the impact of a nuclear detonation in Washington or New York. And it’s hard to argue that years of tax cuts and corresponding reductions in important programs didn’t severely impair the ability of government agencies at every level to respond, compounding the misery of the drowned city’s most vulnerable residents.

That fact will put Jewish organizations to the test in the next few months, as Congress and the administration consider new tax and spending priorities. Put simply, it may be time for reticent Jewish leaders to abandon the comfort of silence and directly address policies that threaten the future of the nation.

In the shocking aftermath of Katrina, Americans were digesting numerous lessons, many centered on the failure of government at every level and politicians in both parties to address basic needs.

Skyrocketing gas prices and the threat of shortages, as old refineries and oil terminals along the stricken Gulf Coast went out of service, pointed to the nation’s abject failure to craft a practical, forward-looking energy policy, despite past oil shocks and the threat of terrorism against oil facilities.

Oil companies have been reaping record profits, but not investing heavily in new capacity; political interests have prevented tough new mileage standards, as the nation’s love affair with gas-guzzlers continues unabated. The result is a nation whose economy and way of life continue to depend on a fragile energy lifeline easily disrupted by natural or manmade disasters.

That poses a long-term threat to U.S.-Israel relations, as well, because it increases America’s dependence on supplier nations that are implacably hostile to the Jewish state.

The disaster also pointed to the reality that billions of dollars in homeland security spending have left the nation no more secure than before Sept. 11.

From the start, the idea of homeland security turned into a supersized boondoggle. Jurisdictions and programs with strong political backers got piles of money; others were left strapped, and need was rarely a factor. Everybody played the game. Political payoff blended with real need until it was almost impossible to sort out what was what.

Giant bureaucracies were created, but with blurry lines of command and vast tangles of red tape. Planning was slipshod and unrealistic.

Top officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) didn’t even know what was being reported on television at the height of the emergency. FEMA Director Michael Brown is a political appointee without a scrap of disaster experience.

How many other leaders of the new Homeland Security bureaucracy were hired for reasons of cronyism, not competence?

Another lesson of New Orleans may center on a conservative political philosophy that is systematically working to “starve the beast” of the federal government.

While claiming national security is their top priority, the Republican administration and Congress have steadily been reducing funding for even the agencies that are supposed to deal with such crises, including FEMA, as well as countless agencies that address the needs of the poor and the sick.

Bush says more tax cuts are needed to spur the economy, but leading GOP theorists are more honest, expressing the view that cuts will help them do what they haven’t been able to do over the decades: cut even big entitlement programs like Medicaid and slash and ultimately kill countless other health and human service programs.

Katrina revealed some of the costs of that policy: first responders who couldn’t respond, agencies without the resources to prepare for the hurricane as it approached and a decayed social service infrastructure that left the poor to fend for themselves once it struck.

New tax cuts as the nation struggles to meet the costs of rescue, cleanup and rebuilding — even as it continues to fight two expensive wars — will vastly compound the problem.

For five years, most Jewish organizations have stood on the sidelines as this assault on domestic programs intensified because of a lack of consensus on tax policy and a fear of antagonizing the administration and Congress, not to mention big communal donors.

Hurricane Katrina and its horrific aftershocks reveal that reticence for what it is: an excuse to avoid controversy, not a response to the needs of the Jewish community or the nation at large.

Events of the past week demand a major reevaluation of the nation’s approach to homeland security and disaster preparedness. Just as importantly, they demand a re-examination of tax and spending policies that are rendering the federal government increasingly impotent.




Not Funny

While I appreciate The Journal’s attempt at Purim humor, as a long time and very proud shtreimel wearer, I was saddened by your cover of Michael Jackson, currently under indictment and on trial for [alleged] child molestation (Purim Cover, March 25). As a senior bureau chaplain for the Los Angeles Police Department and chief of operations for Hatzolah Rescue Team, I, unfortunately, have witnessed too much pain and suffering of children (and adults) at the hands of sexual predators.

A shtreimel situated on the head of our governor, mayor or even the latest Hollywood macher (not currently under indictment) would have garnered a prominent position on our shteilbel’s bulletin board.

Rabbi Chaim Kolodny
LAPD Senior Bureau Chaplain

Hahn Gossip

I wish to correct an error made in “Newsroom Rebellion Silences Gossip About Mayor’s Family,” April 1 (“Newsroom Rebellion Silences Gossip About Mayor’s Family,” Apr. 1). It simply is not true that any L.A. Weekly reporters have refused to pursue a line of questioning or potential story pertaining in any way to the mayor’s race. As a general policy, we do not discuss stories we may or may not be working on, and the issue at hand is no exception.

Alan Mittelstaedt
News Editor
L.A. Weekly

Editor’s note: The Journal stands by its story.

Campus Turmoil

Thank you very much for your concern about the strength and well-being of the Jewish community at UCI, but your concern may be unjustified (“Campus Turmoil,” March 11). Your article was correct, in that there is hostility toward the Jewish population, but you seemed to have left out the fact that we, the Jewish community, are fighting back, peacefully. You made mention of a certain speaker brought by the Muslim Student Union, but you conveniently didn’t mention either of the two articles in the major UCI newspaper (The New University) or the one in the conservative newspaper (The Irvine Review) that responded to the speaker, and criticized the judgment of the Muslim Student Union in bringing him to UCI. Your article appeared much later than any of these three, and not mentioning any of them brings the true intent of this article under question.

The truth is, that since this speaker came, there has been a great response by the Jewish community, and the UCI community as a whole. Hillel, Alpha Epsilon Pi (the Jewish fraternity) and Alpha Epsilon Phi (the Jewish sorority) all partnered in support of the Blue and White Day, which occurred shortly after the speaker, and at least a month before your article was published. The Jewish organizations mentioned above, along with other organizations, also sponsored the visit of the bombed bus No. 19, along with speakers at its side, which also happened before the publishing of your article, but was not mentioned.

Since your article was published, I have seen a response from the readers of your newspaper, and it is not good. It has brought light on to a topic that we, as a community are working to correct, and it did nothing to help our community in that endeavor. I have heard parents of high school students tell their children they can’t apply to UCI because of your article, and this hurts the Jewish community more than anything the Muslim Student Union could ever do to us. Without a steady influx of Jewish students into UCI, the attacks by the Muslim Student Union will only grow stronger, as we will have less people to respond and defend ourselves. Without new Jewish students, we will have a stagnation of ideas, and new ones will be few and far between.

At UCI, we have done our best to foster a Jewish community, and through Hillel and both Jewish Greek organizations, we have begun to do this. With a brand new Jewish Community Center and Hillel center within five minutes from campus, there is a place for us to go and hang out. We organize a kosher lunch every Wednesday and a Shabbat dinner every Friday night, both of which have an amazing attendance, bolstered by the support of all three Jewish organizations.

Every other week, we show a movie from Israel with Israeli food, and it, too, is attended with the support of all three organizations. This year, for the first time, there is a tremendous support for Israel in the editorial section of The New University, something that hasn’t generally occurred in the past. From what I am told, UCI is much better off now than it has been in recent history, and it might have been a better help for your newspaper to highlight the progress we have made, rather than a few setbacks to that progress.

Alex Chazen
New University Staff Writer
Alpha Epsilon Pi Member

Right to Die

So we should err on the side of preserving life when the facts are not clear? What President Bush said would seem more heartfelt if he was not so quick to go to war, costing untold numbers of lives to noncombatant Iraqis and American soldiers alike (“Jewish Ethical Views Differ on Schiavo,” March 25). The facts were unclear, as he and many have professed, regarding Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, and it is still not clear how it was presumed that they are enemy combatants in the U.S. war on terror.

Similarly, capital cases, where parties are put to death and given scant additional review, during his Texas governorship, would seem to qualify as situations where the facts are not clear, and one may choose to err on the side of preserving life. Genetic analysis, as an aid in reviews and reversals of capital cases in the last two decades, proves this quite effectively. It seems obvious to me that this proclamation, seen in this light, rings of hypocrisy, and demonstrates how cynical and pandering the administration is in taking sanctimonious stands such as these.

Dr. Mark Dreskin

I find Judy Gruen’s article on end of life issues it a bit offensive, simplistic and also inaccurate (“Spiritual Help Can Benefit Hopelessly Ill,” April 1). First off, for every intellectual crackpot like the Princeton professor she refers to trying to “eliminate the possibilities for the dramatically ill or infirm,” there are hundreds if not thousands of bioethicists, including rabbis and other clergymen, writing and working in hospitals and hospices to cope with the increasingly and incredibly complex issues related to the end of life. Anyone who has ever spoken to a doctor knows that for many considerations, including the prosaic one of acting to avoid potential liabilities, hospitals and hospices are slow to hasten the death of a patient.

We both know where we stand on the Oregon law. I did a little research on The Netherlands, in fact the legal progression has been to progressively limit the cases in which the law prevents euthanasia. A comprehensive study I found in the British medical journal, The Lancet (equivalent to the New England Journal of Medicine in the United States), found a minimal increase in the percent of all deaths in the country that were by euthanasia increased by .8 percent between the law’s enactment in 1991 and 1995; an increase of .2 percent occurred between 1995 and 2001. The number of deaths by nontreatment decisions showed no increase between 1995 and 2001; there was no increase in explicit requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide during that time. The number of doctors who were ever involved in the ending of life without the patient’s explicit request (one assumes this includes cases where it was done at the family’s explicit request absent that of the patient) declined from 27 percent in 1990 to 13 percent in 2001. This hardly indicates a trend toward widespread “killing of patients.” The authors of this comprehensive study in The Netherlands reach a conclusion diametrically opposed to Gruen’s rhetoric given the advances in medical technology and techniques to prolong. The authors found “the absence of a rise in the proportion of nontreatment decisions [read such actions as removing medical devices] after 1995 surprising.”

The Netherlands has a lower infant mortality rate than the United States, which has the dubious distinction of being No. 1 in that category among countries in the developed world. Perhaps we in this country have something to learn from The Netherlands about the dignity of life and utilitarian economic decisions on health care. Unlike Gruen’s idle speculation of what may occur in some brave new world, government health care policies today in our country contribute to the deaths of countless children each year, now.

The Oregon law on euthanasia is quite restrictive. I suspect Gruen has not taken the trouble to read it.

The Oregon Death With Dignity Act states the following:

An adult who is capable, is a resident of Oregon, and has been determined by the attending physician and consulting physician to be suffering from a terminal disease, and who has voluntarily expressed his or her wish to die, may make a written request for medication for the purpose of ending his or her life in a humane and dignified manner in accordance with ORS 127.800 to 127.897. (Task Force to Improve the Care of Terminally Ill Oregonians, 1998, p. 57)

Other sections of the law are designed to provide safeguards for the practice. For example, two unrelated persons must witness the written request; there must be a consulting physician; the patient must make an informed decision; the attending or consulting physician can request a referral to a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist if they suspect that a psychiatric condition or depression may be causing impaired decision-making; and family notification is recommended.

I also found Gruen’s attitudes toward the “proper” actions by family members to be quite judgmental and simplistic. If anything, the growth of hospices has shown that society has moved toward easing an individual’s final days, not a rush to end their lives. While Gruen might have chosen how her mother spent her final days, who is she to speculate that when a family acting with the wishes of the suffering patient decides that it is time for the pain allow the bodily life to come to a close “negate the guiding hand of Hashem”? Right now, my aunt lies on her deathbed and refuses food. If after years of conscientious caring and almost daily visits by my cousin, who is only concerned with her having no severe pain, declines to attach a feeding tube, is she missing a “transcendent moment” at her mother’s passing? Did the millions around the world who prayed in the moments surrounding the pope’s death miss a “transcendent moment” because in his final days the pope declined to be brought to the hospital and at some point in his final hours those around him chose not to continue any extraordinary means to keep him alive?

Jewish tradition teaches that the nefesh (soul) continues on long after it leaves the physical body. One hopes that the tragic case of Terri Schiavo spurs many to have a frank, intimate discussion with their loved ones about the exceedingly complex issues related to the end of physical life. And that no outsider, be he politician, religious leader or self- proclaimed advocate for the “culture of life,” dictate or simplistically judge their decisions on this most complex matter. That would truly be honoring Hashem.

Lawrence Weinman
Los Angeles

According to your article, Rabbi Avi Shafran stated that Terri Schiavo was not in a state of goses, the edge of death (“Jewish Ethical Views Differ on Schiavo,” March 25). But how did he know that? Did he know her medical history? According to reports, she had severe brain damage (although she was not considered brain dead), and the base of her brain was slowly filling with spinal fluid, which eventually killed her.

That being the case, how close to death does a person have to be to be declared in a state of goses?

That also means that it is possible the rabbi’s basic incorrect assumption allowed time to arrive at a conclusion, which is incorrect. Or, at least, did not allow him to explore another aspect of this issue.

The other question, not fully addressed in the article is the Jewish issue on a living will. Schiavo’s husband maintains that she told him that she would not want to live this way. It took him a long time to prove his point, but apparently, at last, he prevailed. In Jewish law what form does a living will have to be? Can it be verbal? How many people have to vouch for the verbal statement? In Jewish law is it just the husband? Two or more people? Or, does Jewish law recognize a living will at all, written or verbal? According to Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, as quoted in the article, a living will is irrelevant. Is that true?

Gary M. Barnbaum
Woodland Hills

As opposed to Judy Gruen, I do not believe in the beauty of suffering.

She accuses doctors, “bureaucrats” and family of trying to eliminate the “mess and expense” of the “inconveniently ill.” How outrageous of her! After my 90-year old mother had a stroke, I faced the terrible responsibility of deciding whether to continue a feeding tube. Mom could no longer speak or swallow. After a week of misery, I believe she said to herself “enough is enough.” Mom fell into a coma and died peacefully.

I would soon have decided against the tube. There was no love or compassion in having this spirited, independent woman, at her age, continue to suffer.

Gruen tells about a friend who brought a young man out of a coma by reading him psalms. Most of us in life-and-death situations must be more pragmatic. Otherwise, we are in danger of skidding on the slippery path so beloved of the neocons: the culture of life. Whether Gruen intends it or not, that path leads to the destruction of abortion rights and the curtailment of stem cell research.

Gruen should stick to frilly hats and comedy writing. She is out of her depth here.

Cynthia Lawrence
Toluca Lake

Here and Gone

I read about the swift departure of Rabbi Issac Jeret from Brandeis-Bardin Institute with puzzlement (“Here and Gone,” Apr. 1). Here was a seemingly dedicated clergyman committing to a challenge of a lifetime. Stepping into a storied legacy of Shlomo Bardin; charged and energized to steer a thriving Jewish Institute toward four generations of Jewish outreach. His commitment lasted 10 months. His tenure was shorter than the search to secure his services. I think the admonition was to lay down in green pastures, not to continue to look for them.

I read about a temple that seemingly pursued their target without regard to the morality of their actions. They seem the perfect 21st century moral role model: Pursue your goal at any cost, succeed without regard to damage caused to others, win at any price. Moral relativism has been accepted by religious institutions.

The challenge facing all Jewish institutions in the 21st century is relevance and guidance. In this instance the actions of the protagonists appear to mirror the moral morass of general society, demonstrating little leadership or interest in igniting a beacon to all. It would seem appropriate to demonstrate adherence to our tradition, and make restitution to Brandeis-Bardin Institute.

Bill Kabaker
Via e-mail

Counter Culture

Thanks for your article on Zucky’s (“Zucky’s Counter Culture,” Apr. 1). I have very fond memories of the place and the people. I am positive we can all live better with out the food. We could all eat healthy. I grew up in Ocean Park and remember the original location. Please let your readers know if there is anything we can do to help them save the structure. Very disappointed to find out there was an attempt to limit Jewish merchants. I am 72 years old and will never think of Santa Monica the same. I still have a menu from the old Zucky’s restaurant.

Sanford Nadlman
Los Angeles

Burden of Truth

It is my opinion that any historian who denies the occurrences, in his lifetime, of the most heinous acts of murder in history, that are well documented and even admitted to by the perpetrators, and also so adjudicated by high courts of law, is a liar, cheat, distorter of facts and history (“Letters,” March 11). His “professionalism and craft,” integrity and credibility is dubious, because once a liar.

Moreover, an academic or whoever, who defends such an historian is not far removed from the one he is defending, and does not enjoy my admiration.

David Brook
Professor of Life and Survival
University of Buchenwalk Koncentrations
Lager, Germany

Absent Husbands

Thank you for publishing Jane Ulman’s well-researched and important article (“Women Still Struggle to Have It All,” April 1). She describes accurately how frustrating it is for most women to be carrying too much of the load in their families.

But she left out a key part of the story — what if the husbands did more to improve the fairness and daily teamwork in their home life? During the past several years while I was researching my new book “Wake Up or Break Up:The 8 Crucial Steps to Strengthening Your Relationship,” I came across hundreds of inspiring examples (especially among Jewish couples) where women were less stressed and more fulfilled because their husbands were doing a much better job of helping out with kids, chores, weekly planning meetings and daily supportive listening and brainstorming.

In the marriages where men do decide to be mensches, it’s amazing how much less arguing and burnout there is. I urge every couple who cares about fairness and a good relationship to start getting creative and finding positive ways to share the load. It can be done!

Leonard Felder
West Los Angeles

Joseph Aaron

As a Jewish publisher, already in my 92nd year, I have read more than my share of calumnious articles. But Joseph Aaron’s Op-Ed was especially vicious — not merely because of his nasty attacks on Edgar Bronfman, who has done so much on behalf of Holocaust survivors like me, but also for its bizarre misrepresentation of Isi Leibler. Leibler “a man of integrity and honor?” (“Listen to What the Machers Are Saying,” March 25). Are we talking about the same Leibler whose boundless ego and penchant for communal intrigue are legendary among Australian Jews?

Close to 40 years ago, Leibler successfully conspired to put the newspaper of which I was publisher — The Australian Jewish Herald — out of business. Why? Because on Leibler’s very own recommendation I had taken aboard a columnist by the name of Mark Brahm. An erudite Orthodox intellectual, Brahm was, at times, highly critical of Israel’s policies toward the Arabs. As a committed Zionist, yet one who deeply believes in freedom of the press, I was willing to allow his views to be heard even though I knew they were not popular. Somewhere along the line Leibler realized that Brahm’s views were the diametric opposite of his own and he demanded that I sack the controversial columnist.

I told Leibler that while I disagreed — in fact, strongly disagreed — with Brahm’s ideas, the man did have a right to air his views. For the record, those ideas were little different, than what one hears in mainstream Israeli political discourse today.

That I would not comply with Leibler’s order was too much for the Australian Jewish dictator to bear. He promptly ordered a boycott of my paper forbidding Jewish community institutions from advertising in the pages of the Herald and the Yiddish weekly I published. In a few short weeks my paper — which I had built up from a moribund eight-page bulletin, to a lively 40-page weekly — was driven out of business. This affair swiftly became a cause celebre in Australia and made headlines in the non-Jewish press.

I enjoyed the public support of leading intellectuals and politicians in Australia, both Jewish and non-Jewish, but it was to no avail. Leibler had a virtual stranglehold on the Jewish community and, sad to say, Australian Jews cowered in fear. Many of them agreed with my position, and told me as much in private, but they dared not say so in public! So on Tisha b’Av 1968, weeks before we were to celebrate the paper’s 90th birthday, I had to pull the plug — and the rest, as they say, is history.

Nearly four decades later, Leibler decided that because he couldn’t call the shots in the World Jewish Congress (WJC), the best thing to do would be to bring down that venerable organization — and actually destroy it in the process. No matter that what he did was grist for anti-Semitic mills. No matter that he had no real evidence of any wrongdoing. These days, you only have to hint that someone has done something wrong to tarnish a good name. And because of this reckless egomaniac, the WJC found itself having to fight off all kinds of scurrilous attacks from people who love to see the Yidden at war with one another. That is why Leibler is now the star of so many anti-Semitic hate sheets and is a hero to Jewish muckrakers like Joseph Aaron. But presumably, none of that is important to him. Like a spoiled child, the 70-year old Leibler is used to having his own way and is oblivious to all other considerations.

In my possession is a letter to me from my good friend Nahum Goldmann, who Aaron hails, but upon whom Leibler wrote a vituperative attack in the pages of my paper. When in 1967 I asked Goldmann whether he wished to counter the critique, the great Jewish leader wrote: “I have not the slightest wish to reply to the utterances of Mr. Leibler. For some time already I have given up reacting to the attacks of some of the Australian representatives because of their lack of manners and the form in which they gloat in their criticisms.”

Thanks to the likes of Aaron, Leibler is still gloating. What a shanda!

David Lederman

Praise Scientists

The Journal has a very interesting advertisement (“Jewry Role in Human Affairs”). In this ad, short biographies of outstanding scientists and inventors of Jewish origin appear from time to time. It is important to give tribute to the great minds of Jewish nation.

I don’t object that it is necessary to write about art and charity, travel and politics, Torah and kabbalah, music and spirituality, but existing apparent neglect of science in mass media is undeserved, unreasonable and inefficient for society. Such articles about science and technology will give readers knowledge necessary to better understand contemporary situation and future perspectives. In addition, many of those who work in science and technology have interesting personalities and/or life stories.

Dr. Mark Burgin
Via e-mail

When Jews Lose

I recently read your article lamenting Bob Hertzberg’s failure to advance through Los Angeles’ mayoral primary (“When Jews Lose,” March 18).

Before worrying about the implications of the Jewish community not having a representative as a mayor of Los Angeles, I think it’s also important to look at Hertzberg the candidate.

Early in the primary season I received an e-mail from Hertzberg’s office with a 10-point talking list regarding what he wanted to do with Los Angeles. Initially I appreciated the marketing of it as a great starting point for a plan to improve some problems in Los Angeles.

However, when I read Hertzberg’s plans regarding the environment that consisted simply of not doing road construction during rush hours, the paucity of Hertzberg’s ideas was apparent. When he sent an e-mail telling everyone of his support for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to break up the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), his campaign was finished.

Schwarzenegger is the governor who has reneged with California educators to the tune of 4 billion of the last two years. How is breaking up the LAUSD and cutting 4 billion out of the education budget supposed to help California? Maybe it could, but neither Schwarzenegger nor Hertzberg cared to explain.

Meanwhile, Arnold has raised 50 million on unspecified campaign/campaign initiatives. I thought he had enough money to be able to govern without it? But I digress. Hertzberg lost the election because of his lack of ideas and his thoughtless alignment with Schwarzenegger as all things good for California.

P.S. I thought Hertzberg was a Democrat…

Zachary S. Brooks
Via e-mail

I have participated in many elections during my lifetime. I do not decide on a candidate because he or she is of my ethnic background or my religion. I consider his ability to lead and his experience to administrate any number of people and his or her ethical background. Los Angeles is a very big city with citizens of many different backgrounds. We need someone who has proven that he is capable to administer this city. It is my opinion that no one person or group is all right or all wrong and we should decide if the candidate is able to make decisions that are going to be the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

I am a regular reader of The Journal and I am hoping that this runoff re-election will be free of unnecessary contentions.

Polly S. Hertz
Los Angeles

Campus Turmoil

Regarding your “Campus Turmoil” cover story, I find it rather telling that Muslim students at UC Irvine and other American campuses are so vehement in their protest against Zionism (their politically correct term for Judaism and Jews) and Zionist (Jewish) influence and “control” (March 11). Compare that intense fervor with the nearly total silence of American Muslims after Sept. 11. There were no criticisms of or protests against their fellow Muslims who so hideously attacked the United States, killing nearly 3,000 innocent people.

It is quite clear to any objective observer that Muslim students in America support the goals of the worldwide Muslim offensive against everyone and everything that does not conform to Muslim doctrine.

Richard Saunders
North Hollywood

Terri Schiavo

I am not obsessed with religious doctrine and practice (“Jewish Ethical Views Differ on Schiavo,” March 25). I am an ex-liberal and Democrat. But, a phrase from the past plays loudly in my head, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Sorry, but “they” cannot be forgiven for they knew exactly what they were doing when they obsessively and stubbornly pressed ahead with their suspect hidden agenda that resulted in the state-sponsored execution of innocent Schiavo. Those undeserving of forgiveness are also the “limp-wristed” “girlie-men” types who pulled the covers over their head to protect themselves from political fallout. Those undeserving of forgiveness include those who made politically “watered-down” attempts to save one innocent American life.

More specifically, “they” are supporters and practitioners of the law/legal system that obsessively paved the way for the barbaric execution of an innocent, disabled woman. They are people of power who “heroically” ducked the issue to save their political careers. They are the ghoulish and perverted advocates who arrogantly and obsessively drooled at the thought of bringing this disabled woman to the altar of the “blessed” and “peaceful” priests of euthanasia (attorney George Felos, a deranged Hemlock society neurologist, the morally twisted ACLU….). They are represented by the allegedly adulterous and bigamist husband who cruelly wrenched Terri Schiavo from the caring hands of her biological family for suspected personal gain. They are the media and the legal/medical apologists that tried to calm and soothe the passion against Terri Schiavo’s state-sponsored execution with legalese and justification that seemingly made her execution appear so reasonable.

Is it not an irony that another Schindler [Terri Schiavo’s maiden name], a German businessman, risked his life and fortune to add those slated for the Nazi crematoriums to his famous “Schindler’s List,” the list that saved a thousand or so innocent from the legal, state-sponsored executions of the Third Reich. Yet, the most powerful politicians in our nation could not and would not save one innocent life from the obsessed and dedicated federal bench and Floridians bent on consummating the execution of Terri Schiavo. It took a reformed Nazi supporter, turned humanitarian, to save thousands from cruel and unusual/inhumane punishment when he faced risk to his person and fortune (and he did lose his fortune). But, professed American humanitarians of power could not bravely set aside their fortune (political) to step forward and add Terri Schiavo to a “Schindler’s List,” when no risk to their life existed. How truly shameful!

No, those of political power and others that let Terri Schiavo or did little or nothing to stop it cannot be forgiven when they are weighed against one reformed Nazi, Schindler, who faced death and lost his fortune as he passionately protected lives from the law of the Third Reich; law that justified and promoted euthanasia against the innocent of Germany and Europe.

We, as nation have moved one large step backward toward confirming the precedents set for life and death as advocated by the Third Reich, and one major step forward to trashing the lessons of the post-Nazi Nuremberg trials. We have soiled our undergarments, and it is very doubtful that this stain will ever be removed.

Joel Katzman
La Jolla


Efforts Under Way to Raise Aid Funds


Local and national Jewish organizations have mobilized to help tsunami victims and invite the community to participate, as well.


American Jewish World Service partners with 22 non-government and community-based organizations in the regions affected by the tsunami and is working with them to provide emergency relief, including food, water, shelter and medicine, as well as long-term recovery and development support. 45 W. 36th St., 10th floor, New York, NY, 10018. (800) 889-7146.

Chabad House in Thailand is the only Jewish service agency in the country dealing with the catastrophe. Its three houses in Thailand have been converted into crisis centers for survivors, offering food, shelter, money for clothes and counseling, as well as free international phone calls and Internet use for survivors to contact loved ones. Write checks to American Friends of Chabad of Thailand, 96 Thanon Rambuttri, Bangkok, Thailand 10200.

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) will allocate funds it raises to partner organizations on the ground in South Asia. JDC: South Asia Tsunami Relief, Box 321, 847A Second Ave., New York, NY, 10017.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has established a special emergency fund for Southeast Asia disaster relief. All donations will be disbursed to humanitarian organizations working on the ground in the affected areas. Make checks payable to The Jewish Federation and write “Southeast Asia Relief Fund” on the memo line: 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048. (323) 761-8200.

Magen David Adom. The Israeli Red Cross has been sending medics, medical supplies and experts on body identification to Sri Lanka and Thailand. It has set up a special fund for those who wish to contribute.


The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring: Sunday, Jan. 16, 3 p.m. Tsunami benefit concert featuring classical Indian music and dance. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

Congregation Or Ami: Sunday, Jan. 30, 4-6 p.m. “Music of Or Ami” concert series presents pianist-composer Aaron Meyer, accompanied by Doug Cotler on guitar, flutist Toby Caplan-Stonefield and others. A portion of ticket sales will benefit tsunami victims. $12. 26115 Mureau Road, Calabasas. (818) 880-4880.


Temple Kol Tikvah: Friday, Jan. 7, 7 p.m. Pastor Biworo Adinata of Gereja Bethel Indonesia of Los Angeles will address the congregation and community about how to help Indonesian tsunami victims. 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.

The following organizations are collecting donations for the American Jewish World Service:

Orthodox Union,

Valley Beth Shalom, (818) 782-2281.

Pressman Academy, (310) 652-7353.


Federation Vows to Help Jewish Poor

Jews have long had a reputation as being among the most successful minority groups in the country. For the most part, they are. But as a new report from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles makes clear, not all Southland Jews live large. While some big machers tool around in BMWs and inhabit Beverly Hills and Brentwood mansions, thousands of less-fortunate community members struggle just to survive.

About one in five local Jews, or 104,000 out of 520,000, earn less than $25,000 annually. An estimated 7 percent live below the poverty line, compared to 5 percent nationally, according to a study titled “Alleviating Jewish Poverty in Los Angeles.” In greater Fairfax, an area with a high concentration of seniors and immigrants, an estimated one in three Jewish households lives in poverty.

“There’s an enormous number of Jews who live at or below the poverty line, and I think it will shock many members of our community to see how many people just scrape by,” Federation President John Fishel said.

In light of the stark findings, The Federation plans to make fighting Jewish poverty an even bigger priority, Fishel said. The agency has already allocated funds to Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) to hire new employees to focus on the need of the working poor. Around the country, Jewish agencies have undertaken several ambitious programs. In Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Jewish Family Service helps poor clients pay outstanding utility bills. In New York, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, has built four buildings for the elderly poor with federal funds.

Jews in Southern California have a harder time eking out a living than their counterparts in other U.S. cities. Los Angeles ranks only behind San Francisco and New York as the nation’s most expensive city. Skyrocketing rents, health care and other costs mean poor Jews can afford little beyond the basic necessities, the report said. And the situation appears to be getting worse. The cost of a one-bedroom apartment in most Jewish neighborhoods is $900 to $1,200 per month, putting it beyond the reach of the poor and many working poor.

Based on the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) poverty study, the disabled account for 48 percent of the Jewish poor, refugees and immigrants make up 22 percent, non-college educated are 12 percent, seniors older than 65 comprise 9 percent, single-parent homes are 8 percent, and 1 percent is classified as other.

Ironically, some local Jews working for Jewish nonprofit organizations fall into the ranks of the Jewish poor. At a time when executives at the L.A. Federation and other agencies earn upward of $200,000, plus benefits, nearly 20 percent of the 450 full- and part-time unionized workers at Jewish Family Service (JFS), the Federation and five other Jewish agencies earned less than $20,000 as of the beginning of 2004. Many Jewish day school teaching assistants also make less than $20,000.

In preparing its poverty report, the L.A. Federation collected no new data locally. Instead, the agency based its findings on a Jewish population study commissioned in 1997 and a 2000-2001 survey by the NJPS. That the L.A. Federation conducted no recent random samples undermines the credibility of its study, said Pini Herman, a demographer and author of the 1997 L.A. Jewish Population Survey.

“It looks like they grabbed their numbers out of thin air,” said Herman, who was not consulted for the new survey. “The data fails to account for mortality, migration and movement up and down the economic ladder. I think it is intellectually dishonest.”

Fishel said he stood behind The Federation’s study, adding that he thought information from the 1997 data was still relevant.

The increased patronage of SOVA by local Jews reflects how much tougher things have become for them, said Paul Castro, executive director of JFS, the food bank’s operator. About 1,000 Jews visit SOVA twice monthly for free groceries, a 15 percent increase from last year and a 100 percent hike since 2002, he said.

“From the street level, the economy doesn’t look like it’s getting any better,” Castro said. “It’s getting worse.”

At JVS, demand for job training and job placement services by poor Jewish refugees and immigrants has jumped by about 10 percent annually over the past four years, said Vivian Seigel, JVS chief executive and president.

A scholarship program for Jewish men and women in L.A. County living at or below the poverty line has also experienced a surge in interest. This year, about 500 young men and women applied for the higher education stipends, up from 350 last year, she said. Skyrocketing tuition costs, combined with surging rents and insurance costs, have placed a heavy financial burden on poor aspiring college students.

“They’re being pushed down,” Seigel said.

The poor are not the only Jews experiencing financial hardships. The report said an ostensibly middle-class family of two working adults and three school-age children must earn $79,750 to cover living and Jewish community expenses, which include religious school, two weeks of day camp and one month of residential camp. Parents wanting to send their children to Jewish day school would have to come up with another $20,400 per year.

“There are significant numbers of Jews in Los Angeles who can’t make ends meet because of the high costs of living [here] and often find that the costs of Jewish affiliation is beyond their reach,” the report said.

Wal-Mart Stops Selling Hate

Bowing to mounting pressure from Jewish groups, Wal-Mart has decided to stop selling “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” at its Web site.
The Sept. 21 announcement by the world’s largest retailers came just days after the Simon Wiesenthal Center began publicizing that Wal-Mart recently began selling the anti-Semitic tract that has fomented hatred toward Jews for more than a century.

In a Sept. 8 letter, Wiesenthal Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said he found it difficult to believe that Wal-Mart would market such anti-Jewish propaganda in the post Sept. 11 world. Cooper asked Wal-Mart to immediately cease selling the forged document, penned by members of the Russian czar’s secret police claiming that Jews want to take over the world
Wal-Mart initially seemed defiant, releasing a Sept. 21 statement saying it responded to consumers’ preferences by providing a large selection of books at low prices. Wal-Mart’s Website also suggested the Protocols might be genuine.
If valid, “it might cause some of us to keep a wary eye on world affairs,” the site said. “We neither support nor deny its message, we simply make it available for those who wish a copy.”

Later that day, Wal-Mart reversed itself after receiving calls from Jewish organizations and Jewish journalists penning stories on the controversy.
“Based on significant feedback … we made a business decision to remove this book,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Amy Colella said in a release.

Prior to Wal-Mart’s decision, several local nonprofit executives criticized the retailer’s judgment. Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney of the ACLU of Southern California, said he found it odd that Wal-Mart refused to carry Maxim, Stuff and other “racy” magazines but sold “Protocols.”

“Wal-Mart is basically saying that a disproved anti-Semitic tract is more consistent with the image it wants to convey to the public than magazines with scantily clad celebrities in bikinis,” he said.

Several booksellers carry “Protocols,” including online retailers,, and The Barnes & Noble site carries a statement by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) debunking the tract. Amazon, which also features the ADL position, goes further, calling the book “one of the most infamous, and tragically influential examples of racist propaganda ever written.”

Is FBI Watching Other Groups?

New twists and turns in the case of alleged wrongdoing by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have left many in the Jewish community baffled.

A week after allegations first broke suggesting that AIPAC was involved in the exchange of classified information from the Pentagon to Israeli officials, new reports suggest FBI investigators have been monitoring the pro-Israel lobby for more than two years.

The first question many in the Jewish community are asking is, "Why?"

"We’re pitching in the dark," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "We haven’t seen a shred of evidence."

Much remains unknown about the origins of the investigation, hurting Jewish groups’ ability to respond and defend one of the most prominent organizations in the community.

While they work to exonerate AIPAC in the public eye, Jewish leaders say they also must make sure the issue won’t affect the way they do business. Groups worry that they, too, could be targeted for investigation or left to deal with potentially changed perceptions of the organized American Jewish community.

Jewish leaders said talks are ongoing as to new ways to defend AIPAC and the Jewish community in both public and private contexts.

Quietly, there is deep concern in Jewish circles about the effect the investigation will have, no matter how it plays out, on Jewish groups’ ability to function. With the summer ending and many people in Washington returning to work, the next few weeks will be an important test for how the organized Jewish community is perceived in the capital.

"It really has done a considerable amount of harm, no matter what the outcome is," said Barry Jacobs, director of strategic studies at the American Jewish Committee.

Chief among the concerns is whether other Jewish entities might be under investigation without their knowledge, or are being monitored in relation to this case.

"If they are watching AIPAC, how many other Jewish organizations are they watching as well?" asked Tom Neumann, executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).

Confident they have nothing to hide, Jewish leaders say they won’t change the way they do business. But the case could serve as a guide to reinforce to Jewish officials the need to play by the rules on security matters.

Beyond security concerns, Jewish leaders worry that now they may be seen differently when they walk into a room with governmental officials or people unfamiliar with different groups in the community.

"They don’t necessarily know the difference between AIPAC and JCPA and the federations," said Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Congressional officials say they’ll take a wait-and-see approach toward AIPAC, but are skeptical about the investigation. One Democratic congressional aide said if the issue under scrutiny was a policy discussion about Iran, as has been reported, the line between legal and illegal dialogue is pretty thin.

Publicly, Jewish leaders remain solidly behind AIPAC. Several Jewish organizations have released statements supporting the work AIPAC has done over the years, and most others have expressed similar thoughts when asked by reporters.

AIPAC is one of the best-known Jewish organizations in the country, respected for its strong ties to government officials, especially members of Congress. While some Jewish groups resent AIPAC’s ability to set the Jewish community’s agenda on Middle East matters, or don’t always agree with its tactics, there is strong sentiment that any negative attention for AIPAC will hurt all Jewish groups’ efforts.

Some Jewish leaders say the initial feeling in the community was that it was better not to speak out — not because of a lack of support for AIPAC but in hopes of minimizing media coverage of the story. But now that more than 300 articles already have been written on the issue in American newspapers, that thinking has changed.

Jewish leaders now are minimizing the investigation, suggesting it can’t be of real merit because it has been going on for two years without arrests. They also note that if there were merit to the case it’s unlikely that President Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice would have addressed the group after the investigation was launched. Rice reportedly was aware of the investigation.

If the FBI is pursuing an intelligence investigation, as is believed, and not a criminal investigation, it’s hard to know what launched it. The guidelines for that type of investigation are classified, a former senior FBI official said.

He said it would be normal for the investigation to go on for a long time without arrests, though it would have be to reviewed and adjudicated internally at the FBI or Justice Department.

"AIPAC is not a soft target," the official said. "To launch an investigation against AIPAC, you are going to have to have some credible information to go with it."

Once an investigation is launched, its direction can be tailored by people who might be out to prove — because of bias or in the interest of catching a big fish — that AIPAC acted illegally, Jewish leaders said.

There also is concern that the saga may not have a succinct end.

It may be difficult to learn when the investigation into AIPAC is completed, if no charges are filed, and its exact origins — information Jewish leaders say would be useful in clearing the name of AIPAC and the community in general.

"I don’t think there is a great deal of trust in an investigation in this political climate," said Rosenthal of the JCPA. "I hope we find out the facts and find out why someone would start this story."

For now, theories abound. Some suggest anti-Semitic or anti-Israel entities within the government are propelling the investigation forward or leaking it to the media. Others suggest that opponents of the war in Iraq are trying to tie some of its key architects — so-called "neoconservatives" in the Pentagon — to Israel and to possible dual loyalties.

AIPAC is hoping to weather the storm by proving its strength as an organization. In an appeal to contributors Tuesday, AIPAC leaders said decisionmakers in Washington will look at AIPAC’s financial strength to gauge its overall viability.

"We cannot abide any suggestion that American citizens should be perceived as being involved in illegal activities simply for seeking to participate in the decisions of their elected leaders, or the officials who work for them," read the letter, signed by AIPAC’s president, Bernice Manocherian, and executive director, Howard Kohr. "That is our right as citizens of the greatest democracy in the history of mankind. That is a right we will proudly exercise. That is a right we will staunchly defend."

An Unkosher Affair

“Enjoy your dessert,” Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra Maestro Zubin Mehta told benefactors at a dinner following a performance at Disney Concert Hall last month, “although I’m sure it will be pareve.” Mehta assumed that after a meal serving meat, a non-dairy dessert would follow, according to the laws of kashrut.

“It’s not pareve!” someone called out from the audience.

“It’s not?” Mehta said.

Mehta might not have been so surprised if he had attended more Jewish functions in Los Angeles, where many Jewish organizations are inconsistent at making their official functions adhere to the laws of kashrut.

Just this week, at the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) luncheon for combating hate, held at the Skirball Cultural Center, a reporter was told the luncheon was kosher and later found out it might not have been.

To go kosher or not to go kosher — it doesn’t seem to be a major question for Jewish organizations here in Los Angeles.

While there are plenty of Jewish groups in the city that have a policy to only serve kosher food at their events — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jewish Home for the Aging, the Los Angles Hillel Council and American Red Magen David for Israel, to name a few — there are others whose policy regarding kosher is an irresolute one. The ADL, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, B’nai B’rith and Hadassah all say they endeavor to make the majority of their events kosher, but they will still hold events in venues that do not have kosher caterers and will not accommodate outside food being brought in. At such events these organizations serve dairy, or kosher-style food — in other words, no pork or shellfish, but nothing that a rabbi supervises.

Why not serve kosher at a Jewish event? Some organization leaders cite cost as a factor. In some venues, like the Millennium Biltmore Hotel where The Federation is going to be holding its “The Return to Passion: A Call to Action” young leadership conference this weekend, kosher food is available, but it costs significantly more than the kosher-style continental breakfast and lunch that the conference organizers chose to keep the cost down.

At the Skirball Center, events with rabbinical supervision, which need to be specially requested, cost $8 more per head. Nevertheless, these organizations will provide a strictly kosher meal at a non-kosher event if someone requests it.

Others cite venue as a factor. For example, country clubs — which are not kosher — do not allow outside catering.

Community leaders say that this inconsistent approach to kashrut marginalizes those who are strictly kosher.

“Serving ‘kosher style’ is like serving a Hindu a hamburger with an OU on it. It means absolutely nothing,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein of Project Next Step. While serving non-kosher food might be expedient or cost-effective, it also may backfire in the face of organizations that hope to attract and serve the entire Jewish community.

“I was seriously considering going to the ‘Return to Passion’ conference until someone told me that it was not going to be kosher,” said Yechiel Hoffman, 25, an entertainment consultant who lives in Pico-Robertson. “By not arranging kosher food to be available for the entire conference, The Federation is telling the Orthodox community that they are outside of Federation interests, that we are not their constituency. For a leadership conference, it is very sad that they seem to be saying that they don’t want our future leaders to come from the Orthodox community.”

Craig Prizant, the senior vice president for financial resource development at The Federation, said that The Federation tries to be inclusive.

“We always strive for our events to be kosher; we always try to be inclusive of everybody,” he said, “but those [events] that aren’t kosher are dairy.”

Many organizers of the events say that they have little incentive to change their policy and make everything kosher because their constituents do not demand it. In Los Angeles, some American Jewish Committee (AJC) events are kosher style, because that is all their constituents require. In New York, however, all AJC events are glatt kosher, because those members call for it.

In Los Angeles, spokespeople from B’nai B’rith and the ADL told The Journal that they would reconsider their kosher-style policy if enough people complained about it.

“We would hope that [our kashrut policy] would not prevent strictly kosher Jews from joining the ADL,” said Alison Mayersohn, associate director of the ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region. “But if kosher was becoming a consistent issue, then we would re-address our policy.”

Still, many say that for Jewish organizations to be truly inclusive, kosher needs to be a necessity, not an adjunct.

“If you go to these [nonkosher] events and receive a different meal, you feel like a second-class citizen, an afterthought,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City. “There are many Jews who keep kosher and they are not all strictly Orthodox-observant Jews, and you are excluding them as soon as you serve nonkosher. You are making a statement that the dietary laws of our faith are not important.

“I promote and encourage [my congregants] to be totally committed and involved with the [wider] community,” he continued. “But if the community doesn’t want to accommodate them — then what should they do? Not everyone can eat nonkosher, but everyone can eat kosher.”

Should We Shun 80 Million Friends of Israel?

One of the more unusual characters in Jewish literature appears in the Book of Esther. The palace guard Charbonah originally plays a part inHaman’s conspiracy to slaughter the Jews and dispossess 0them of their property. But somewhere along the way, he experiences a change of heart, turns double agent and informs on his co-conspirators.

We remember Charbonah today in a piyut (prayer) as a man to be remembered for his righteousness. Rav Joseph Soloveitchik explains that Charbonah deserves his status, because even those with initially suspect intentions can produce good deeds.

What the great rabbi might also have added is that in times of grave crisis, the Jewish people must accept help whenever it is offered. For many years, the Jews inclined toward causes natural to our temperament, forming alliances with American blacks, environmentalists and human rights groups.

But has there been a payback? When Jews felt their own cherished causes under assault, have the groups we once joined in a spirit of brotherhood responded in kind?

The record is not comforting. Black leaders, such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have used their platforms to launch ugly attacks against Jews and Israel. The Democratic left has been less than enthusiastic in its support of Israel over the past two and half years, and its record in Congress is nothing if not middling.

Human rights groups regularly castigate Israel but pay scant attention to the deplorable state of human rights in the countries ringing Israel. The recent humiliation suffered by Michael Lerner — a doyen of the Jewish far left — who was prohibited from addressing an anti-war demonstration in San Francisico, because of his pro-Israel leanings, represents only the tip of a very real and deep-seated anti-Semitism in radical circles.

Conversely, it has been the Christian right that has proven itself to be in the vanguard of protecting Jewish interests. The outpouring of support for Israel from the Christian right has been extraordinary. Yet a constant stream of warnings issued within our own community cautions us to avoid these same Christians, because of an agenda that is unconnected to Israel’s welfare.

That proselytism is an item on the Christian right’s agenda is something no one in the evangelical Christian community denies. Certainly, we cannot and will not tolerate missionaries in our communities attempting to convert our youth. This must be made clear.

But does it mean we turn our backs on 70 million to 80 million Americans whose commitment to Israel’s survival is not only unimpeachable but vital to its welfare? These representatives of the American right, after all, form the core constituency of the most favorable American administration Israel has ever experienced.

This was clearly demonstrated on April 15, 2002, the day 200,000 people descended on Washington in a display of overwhelming support for Israel. Among those multitudes were thousands of Black Christians from the East Coast, white Christians from the South and evangelical Christians from the West. All came voluntarily. All paid for their own transportation.

The failure of the Jewish community to embrace the Christian right is all the more troubling when we remember the great lengths we have gone to cultivate such organizations as the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Muslim Alliance, Muslims whom we convinced ourselves were moderates. It has been a grave disappointment.

Instead of vigorously condemning suicide bombings and terrorism, both groups have become apologists for these acts of base inhumanity. Even more troubling is evidence provided by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations showing that 80 percent of the mosques in this country are controlled by the Wahaabi sect – most of which receive direct financial support from Saudi Arabia.

Christians all over the world are feeling the same brunt of radical Islam. In the Sudan, Lebanon, Indonesia and in the historical heartland of Christianity itself, murder, arson, rape and intimidation are the tools used by Islamists to eradicate or ethnic cleanse Christian communities that have, in many cases, lived side by side with Muslim communities for 1,000 years.

Isn’t it now then appropriate to be asking the question why we give legitimacy to those groups which don’t deserve our support and shun those that do?

Have we forgotten that among the hundreds of delegates at the first Zionist Congresses at the turn of the 20th century were dozens of evangelical Christians, including major philanthropists and well-known politicians? Have we forgotten how British Protestant evangelicalism and the 19th century activism of such men as Lord Shaftesbury and Sir Laurence Oliphant combined to drive the eventual promulgation of Britain’s Balfour Declaration in 1917?

We should never forget that during our long history, men and women whom we once suspected as adversaries often transformed into allies and even into trusted partners. We are too few in number and have too many enemies to reject a hand offered in friendship. When we recognize that the owner of that hand must also endure the same struggles and ordeals as ourselves, there should no longer be any doubt in our minds.

Rabbi Steven A. Weil is the senior rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies in Los Angeles

Revitalizing the Core

We live in an extraordinarily diverse and pluralistic city. It is in our Jewish DNA to want to participate in making the world a better place. It is also in our self-interest to live in a place where the societal needs are being adequately addressed. That is why The Jewish Federation must aggressively reposition itself as a compelling player in the field of community relations with a strong Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC). To do so at a time when financial resources are limited is a challenge, but it is certainly doable if we tap into the abundant creative energy in our community.

The Federation is committed to a strong and vibrant JCRC.

Engaging residents of our community to impact the "urban agenda" is the objective. But the agenda of the organized Jewish community must be redefined in a thoughtful, targeted and strategic way to successfully mobilize human resources beyond the core of active, identified Jews. This important core must be supplemented with participation from the scores of involved, but often assimilated Jews. The opportunities for leveraging individuals who burn with a passion for tikkun olam (healing the world) is not only possible but necessary.

Last week we began to engage people about what a future JCRC will look like.

The Federation will work to build a community relations agenda that enhances the decades of intergroup and interfaith activity that has made the JCRC so vital an institution to the organized Jewish community. It is a portal through which Jews will walk if they feel it can make a difference. Thus, it is vital for the JCRC to become a more active outlet for a broader group of volunteers.

The JCRC has a base of strength from which to grow. KOREH L.A., the Jewish response to illiteracy, is a magnificent example of volunteer action. With the continuing generosity of the Winnick Family Foundation, KOREH L.A. has become the largest volunteer children’s literacy project of its type in Los Angeles, helping children in our public schools learn to read. Through the support of the Jewish Community Foundation, The Holy Land Democracy Project is working with children in Catholic schools to educate them about Israel.

So why stop there? Let’s consider a range of other programs directed at children in schools. This would provide a compelling example of the Jewish community’s engagement in an area of concern to all. We can, with planning and action, build extraordinary bridges to the Latino and other ethnic communities around issues of this type.

The extraordinary government-relations work of the Los Angeles JCRC in Washington, D.C., and in Sacramento has led to the granting of funds for California’s first Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), has staved off Medi-Cal cuts for some of our local agencies’ critical programs and has led to the adoption of stronger hate crime legislation.

Beyond the critical service we provide in maintaining public support for essential programs of our agencies, we can engage these agencies in the creation of the new JCRC agenda.

Jewish Angelenos participate in disproportionate numbers as leaders in organizations addressing public education, health, welfare and even the environment. Our goal is to engage these activists so that they see that the JCRC is relevant to their interests. We live in a place where people do not always communicate or cooperate with others who care deeply about the same societal goals. The JCRC must reach out to a broader base of influential Jews to exchange ideas, successes and failures and to strategize about the communal urban agenda.

Where are the opportunities to engage more volunteers? Virtually every synagogue has a social action committee. Let’s create a mechanism to tap into these powerhouses. And how about a plan to take the younger leaders of our community and broaden their involvement? The College Campus Initiative, a collaboration of the JCRC, Hillel and the Shalom Nature Institute, provides college students on seven local college campuses with exciting social action opportunities, as well as training in Israel advocacy. The New Leaders Project gives Jewish young professionals an opportunity to learn about the broader Los Angeles community and to develop leadership skills. These are great examples of the good works of the JCRC. Let’s figure out the tactics to use the graduates of these training programs to be the leaders of the JCRC today.

Last week we met with members of the JCRC to discuss its future. They reminded us of the proud history of JCRC in protecting our interests and serving as the leading framework for the voice of Los Angeles Jewry to the broader community. The opportunities to once again revitalize and expand with meaningful action exist. The recent work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force of this Federation recognizes the need to narrow the focus of our activities in order to ensure impact, while bringing resources to those activities. Let’s make the urban agenda of this organization the centerpiece of the new JCRC. And let’s create a positive force for substantive action. I believe that the resources to implement that force, human and financial, will be a communal priority.

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

Jews Embrace Life in the Conejo Valley

It took me 15 years of living on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley to find what I was looking for — a Jewish lifestyle in Los Angeles fit for my family.

It has been seven years — although it seems a lot longer — since my family and I moved from the San Fernando Valley to the Conejo Valley. The Conejo Valley stretches from the hills of Calabasas in the West San Fernando Valley to the Camarillo grade, encompassing the cities of Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park. It is part L.A. County and part Ventura County.

This area of Los Angeles is not that well-known by Jews on the Westside, but year after year, more and more Jews are migrating westward. Starting in Boyle Heights, then through Fairfax, Beverly Hills, the Westside and into the San Fernando Valley, Jews in Los Angeles have left a trail steeped in tradition, success and community involvement. And, now, as this westward migration continues through Woodland Hills and West Hills and into Calabasas and the Conejo Valley, we expect nothing less from our Jewish leadership.

At last count the Conejo Valley has two Reform temples, two Conservative temples, one modern Orthodox synagogue, five Chabad houses and a Jewish day school, a small JCC/preschool, a kosher makolet (grocery store), a glatt kosher pizza place, a glatt kosher restaurant and a Judaica store. A kosher bakery is on the way. If you’re a Reconstructionist, you will be accommodated with a 10-minute drive over the hill into Malibu. (We joined Temple Beth Haverim, a small temple in Agoura Hills housed in an industrial park that used to rent classrooms at the local public elementary school for Hebrew school. It turned out that, after school, at least five kids in my eldest son’s public school class walk down the hall into his Hebrew school class.)

Many Jewish organizations are now focusing their efforts on the West Valley and Conejo Valley. These organizations include some of Hadassah fastest-growing groups, the New Community Jewish High School located at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, and the Kadima Hebrew Academy in Woodland Hills. Heschel West Day School — now located in a temporary location in Agoura Hills — is looking forward to moving into its new location, also located in Agoura Hills, the land for which has already been purchased.

The largest contingent of Los Angeles Hebrew High School this past year has come from the Conejo Valley (including Calabasas and parts West), accounting for more than 200 of the 500 students. So it is not surprising that next year’s Sunday campus of Hebrew High will be at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, where they will have almost one-third more classrooms than their current home at the University of Judaism. Hebrew High will be busing the students from the Westside.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles conducted an extensive study in the early ’90s showing that the Conejo Valley is one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the country. They could have saved some money by asking me. Living here, you really feel the migration of Jews to the area. You see the “for sale” sign going up around the corner. Then, a month later, you see the moving trucks, only to be followed days later by the comforting appearance of the mezuzah.

My family and I moved to the Conejo Valley for the typical reasons: safer neighborhoods, better schools and, yes, to be around other Jews like us. I consider that move to be the best thing I have done for my family. I have never met anyone who has made the move who regrets it. Yes, for those who work in downtown Los Angeles, it’s a bit of a shlep, but the rewards outweigh any of the downsides, by far.

On the behalf of the extended Jewish family of the Conejo Valley, I invite you to come join us in celebrating Jewish life and values in this thriving Jewish area called the Conejo Valley.

Peter Fehler is vice president of communications at Temple Beth Haverim and can be reached at

Kosher Pig-Out

Imagine if hitting the restaurants was a mitzvah. For one day, at least, it will be. Finally, the guilt-free excuse to overeat you’ve been looking for. On May 4, the Sunday before Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day), Eat-4-Israel, a campaign created by yeshiva high schoolers, will do just that — encourage people to patronize participating kosher restaurants. The restaurants will donate 10 percent of the day’s gross receipts to their choice of seven Israel-based humanitarian organizations that are endorsed by the campaign: Hatzolah, Bet Ashanti, Ezer Mizion, Save Our Soldiers, Yad Eliezer, Yad Sarah and ZAKA.

Eat-4-Israel was the brainchild of Monique Grunberger, a high school senior at the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, who developed the idea with two local Yeshiva University of Los Angeles students, Yitz Novak and Zvi Smith.

“I was getting fed up,” said Grunberger, who in March was frustrated by the underwhelming response to a pro-Israel letter-writing campaign she aimed at senators on Capitol Hill.

In two months time, the trio of 18-year-olds enlisted a roster of North American restaurants, mostly Los Angeles-based businesses, including Pico-Robertson area destinations — Jeff’s Gourmet, Nagila Pizza and Chick ‘N Chow — and Pizza World and Mr. Pickles Deli in greater Los Angeles.

The high schoolers partnered with several organizations — including StandWithUs, UCLA Hillel, the Zionist Organization of America, Far West United Synagogue Youth, West Coast National Council of Synagogue Youth, HaBonim Dror and the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-AMCHA — to promote the event. Smith also noted that the Bureau of Jewish Education, a Jewish Federation beneficiary agency, will contribute a $1,000 Israel Teen Leadership Seminar Grant, which will go toward advertising costs.

Grunberger, Novak and Smith — all of whom will be studying together in Israel next year — have short-term and long-term goals for Eat-4-Israel.

“Other than raising at least $10,000 for Israel,” Grunberger said, “I would like to see Jewish communities where this event is taking place come together, no matter what denomination, to help Israel. I would like to see this as an annual event.”

“The most basic reward of putting this together has been the experience of working with the community,” Smith added. “But it’s also very fulfilling to represent Israel. It’s nice to see that no matter where we are, we can stand with Israel.”

Eat-4-Israel will take place on Sunday, May 4. For a complete list of participating restaurants, go to .

Crisis Manager

On March 11, Paul S. Nussbaum trudged down the driveway in
his bathrobe, picked up the Los Angeles Times and headed back into his house —
part of his early morning routine. Moments later his wife handed him a fruit
protein shake, he cracked open the paper and pulled out the business section.

Nussbaum was “astounded and dumbfounded” by what he saw.
Under a headline that read, “Wells Refuses Belgium Claim,” Nussbaum learned
that Wells Fargo & Co. said it would not contribute $267,000 to a war
reparations fund for Belgian Jews, making it the only financial institution of
22 banks named in the $59 million settlement to balk at paying. Wells Fargo
argued that it had no legal obligation, because it had inherited the liability
through its acquisition of a small Belgium bank.

For Nussbaum, the son of two Holocaust survivors, the bank’s
actions came as a double shock. For one thing, Wells Fargo had cultivated a
great deal of good will in the Jewish community by contributing hundreds of
thousands of dollars to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jewish Family Service
(JFS) and other Jewish organizations. For another, Nussbaum, 46, is senior vice
president for Wells Fargo in Beverly Hills.

Turning to his wife, Nussbaum said: “The bank has done
something incredibly stupid that I have to deal with.”

And he did.

A day later, after a barrage of calls by Nussbaum to senior
executives at Wells Fargo and Jewish leaders, the bank said it would pay the
reparations. In a statement, Wells Fargo Chief Executive Dick Kovacevich
apologized to the Jewish community and called the Holocaust “the worst form of
discrimination and violation of human rights.”

The bank’s quick reversal probably minimized long-term
damage to its business interests and reputation. It also reflected the
crisis-management skills of Nussbaum, a Jewish philanthropist who has spent
much of his corporate career guiding organizations through roiled waters.

Although they sometimes cause him sleepless nights and an
upset stomach, difficult times bring out Nussbaum’s most analytical and
creative side, he said. Like a general calmly barking orders as bullets whiz
by, Nussbaum said he becomes ever more focused in a crisis, when his
“just-fix-it” personality kicks in.

During his career, he has helped clean up the portfolio of a
faltering savings in loan, put in 80-hour weeks to help Orange County tame its
budget to emerge from bankruptcy and single-handedly revived Wells Fargo’s
regional commercial banking office on the Westside.

In 1984, Nussbaum joined American Savings & Loan, just
as panicky investors had withdrawn $6.8 billion in one of the biggest bank runs
in history. Over the next five years, Nussbaum, working in conjunction with
then-American Savings CEO William J. Popejoy, helped the institution collect as
much as possible on its bad loans and remove them from the company’s books.
Nussbaum said his efforts saved taxpayers billions.

Later, he joined Wells Fargo. In 1995, the bank gave him a
paid leave so that he could serve as an adviser to his mentor Popejoy, then-CEO
of bankrupt Orange County. At first viewed suspiciously as a Popejoy lackey,
Nussbaum won over a lot of skeptics with his long hours and dedication toward
making the county solvent, experts said.

Nussbaum was part of a group of officials who slashed the
county’s budget 41 percent.  Although Nussbaum left after only five months,
Popejoy said, “I don’t think anyone made a bigger contribution that helped the
county regain its footing. Paul was one of the unsung heroes.”

Four years ago, Wells Fargo asked Nussbaum to reopen a
commercial banking office in Beverly Hills that had been shuttered during an
earlier consolidation. Starting from scratch, he has built a team of 16 people
and increased by fourfold the number of Wells Fargo loans to Westside companies
and individuals.

“I think Paul has done an exemplary job of establishing us
in a market we had tried to break into in the past but had been largely
unsuccessful,” said Paul Watson, Wells Fargo head of commercial and corporate
banking. “He’s a good banker and very involved with the community. When you put
that together, you have a successful formula.”

Nussbaum’s commitment to business is matched only by his
community activism. A board member at JFS, the Wiesenthal Center and Stephen S.
Wise Temple, he has encouraged Wells Fargo to donate hundreds of thousands of
dollars to those and other groups, including $150,000 this year to JFS.

Mark Berns, past president of Stephen S. Wise, said Nussbaum
makes contributions to the temple, both big and small. Recently, Nussbaum volunteered
to cook food all afternoon “over hot flames and in the sun” at a Purim festival
that raised $40,000, Berns said.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, has known
Nussbaum for seven years. He said the banker’s efforts to coax Wells Fargo to
pay the reparations reflect Nussbaum’s deep commitment to Jewish values.

“I think he saved the bank a lot of heartache by making such
a big fuss,” Hier said. “He did the right thing.” 

Match Lights Way for Terror Victim Aid

Israeli soldier Monique Goldwasser was not expected to live
after a Palestinian bus driver deliberately struck her and other soldiers while
they waited at a bus stop on Feb. 14, 2001.

“I thought, ‘If Monique lives, I’ll become the voice and
face of all victims of terror in Israel,'” her mother, Sharon Evans, vowed.

Evans founded Adopt-a-Family, a project of the Coalition
Against Terror, a nonprofit organization that matches Jewish organizations
worldwide. As terrorism in Israel reaches an all-time high, Los Angeles
communities have found that adopting victims of terror and their families has
allowed them to support Israelis both financially and emotionally.

Stephen S. Wise’s Young Congregation raised thousands of
dollars for Goldwasser’s recovery and has kept in touch with her. After 17
operations, the former dancer, whose left leg is paralyzed, came to Los Angeles
with Evans to tell her story and walk in the 5K Walk (3.3-mile) portion of the
Los Angeles Marathon on March 2 with her benefactors.

Members of the Young Congregation and StandWithUs, a
pro-Israel advocacy group, joined her in the walk.

While her limp is noticeable, Goldwasser’s radiant smile,
sparkling eyes and positive outlook downplay her handicap. “I never thought I’d
be able to do something like this walk,” she said.

Around the city, communities treat their adoptees like one
of their own.

Rifka Ben Daniel, director of Judaic studies at Abraham
Joshua Heschel Day School West in Agoura, contacted the Adopt-a-Family program
last year; the school raised nearly $20,000 last April through a jog-a-thon and
was able to adopt three Israeli families. Throughout the academic year,
students send gifts and cards to the families and call them on their birthdays.
Ben Daniel is in contact with all three families, offering emotional support
whenever it is needed.

“It empowers the children to think that they can help
somebody in Israel,” said Ben Daniel, who met all three families when she visited
Jerusalem last December.

Across town, students at Maimonides Academy in West Los
Angeles adopted the Hadad family, who lost their wife and mother in a bus
bombing in Haifa. The students raised $5,000 so that the father could buy a car
to take his two young children to school.

“We were hoping [the students] would feel connected to some
of the victims in Israel and know they are directly helping these children,”
said Marlene Kahan, one of the school’s PTA presidents. To reinforce the
emotional connection, the school raised money to fly the father and the two
children to Los Angeles for Passover this year. While they are here, they will
spend time with different Maimonides families.

The Young Israel of Century City was the first shul in the United
States to participate in Adopt-a-Family. Rabbi Elazar Muskin and his
congregation raised more than $40,000 for the Har-Sinai family in Susiya.
Muskin has led three missions to Israel to visit the Har-Sinais, whose husband
and father was murdered by terrorists.

“When you meet with [the family] in person and they know who
[you] are, it makes an emotional connection,” he said.

Rick Fishbein, the unofficial Los Angeles coordinator of
Adopt-a-Family, helps the 20-30 Israeli families adopted by Los Angeles
residents communicate with their benefactors.

Through the Wexner Heritage Foundation, a nationwide Jewish
leadership group, Fishbein and his Los Angeles Wexner counterparts have adopted
a family whose teenage daughter was injured in the Ben Yehuda Promenade
bombing. In addition to supporting the family, Fishbein spends two to three
hours each week talking to various Israeli adoptive families by telephone.

“It’s very therapeutic for the victims to talk to someone
who is not a part of the drama,” he said.

For more information on Adopt-a-Family, e-mail or contact Rifka Ben Daniel at (818) 707-2365.

A Single Problem

Look, I know you’re busy. What with the spouse, the
children, the job, the synagogue, the gym, the board meetings, the dinners —
it’s hard to find a moment in your day, your week, your
month, your life.  But allow me a moment of your time to point your attention
to an issue maybe you haven’t thought about in awhile: Singles.

Specifically, Jewish singles. Jewish communal life is
structured so that you probably don’t associate much with this sector of
society, and therefore, you don’t think about it much; not out of malice, but
hey, there’s only so many issues to which one can devote one’s heart.

Maybe you believe singles are not your problem (something
that you could thankfully stop thinking about once you got married) but if
you’ve ever found yourself asking the following questions —

1) Why is my child moving to the East Coast?

2) What can we do about the intermarriage problem?

3) How can we involve younger people in

— then you have inadvertently been thinking about one of the
biggest unspoken issues facing the Jewish community today.

Consider this: 30 percent of Jewish households contain one
person, (compared to 26 percent in the general population), according to 2002
National Jewish Population Survey. Singles now represent a significant sector
of the Jewish population. Much like the coveted 18-25-year-old demographic
audience TV advertisers are always seeking, Jewish singles should be should be
the prime target of all Jewish communities. Yet, for some reason it’s not.
We’re not.

You know how it goes: there are certain specific events
devoted to singles (those reviled “singles events”), but for the most part, the
Jewish community is segregated. Synagogues, on both the East and West Coasts,
are either/or: You attend Friday Night Live/B’nai Jeshrun/Lincoln Square until
you get married, and then, you self-segregate, moving yourself off to the
Valley/New Jersey (insert suburb here). Outta sight, outta mind.

It’s no secret that Jewish communal life is geared toward
families. But the world today is comprised more of the nontraditional family,
and it’s time the community caught up. It’s more than just the singles. It’s
the childless couples, the divorced parents, the single-parent families. An
unmarried woman from my synagogue in Brooklyn — the one your parents always
warned you about turning into (“Look at X, such a shame”) — admitted that one
of the reasons she adopted a child was to gain acceptance in the community. She
said that it’s much easier to invite a mother and daughter to Shabbat lunch
than it is to have a 40-something year old woman on her own.

Many people on their own shy away from belonging to
synagogues and organizations because they feel like they don’t fit in. Yes,
there are efforts by rabbis and educators and institutions in this city. But
not enough. Many singles achieve their prime connection to Judaism through the
Internet: JDate, Frumster, Jewish Cafe — you name it — these Web sites are so
popular precisely because they fill a void, creating the community that single
Jews often lack. 

But there’s a problem with these types of communities, and
with these types of events that only serve the singles community. For example,
the outreach organization Aish HaTorah recently debated closing down its
innovative “Speeddating” program — where single Jews meet other at seven-minute
musical chairs-like parties — because some felt it wasn’t modest enough, simply
serving as a matchmaking event. For now, the program is remaining open, but the
debate highlights a problem for so many singles events/young leadership events,
regardless of the religious level of the sponsoring organization: they often
lack content. What good is a party — even if the proceeds go to a good cause —
if you can’t hook attendees into getting involved in something more than
finding a husband? 

Matrimony cannot be the only goal of an event, or even a
community, even one built so strongly on family values.

Today is Valentine’s Day, which although is not at all a
Jewish holiday (see Tu B’Av — this year on Aug. 13 — for our version of a love
fest) it is an extremely hard one to ignore, especially if you’re in the
business of looking for a mate. The Hallmark blitz reminds many people that
they are alone, and in the Jewish community, I’m not sure it has to be that
way: single or not, every Jew should be made to feel welcome in the community.

Perhaps our tradition does not prepare us  for dealing with
non-traditional families, but our future must.

“Making Shabbat dinner, going to synagogue, celebrating the
holidays –they’re not impossible to do alone,” a recent singles’ columnist
wrote in this paper, “but they’re much much easier when you have a partner.” 

Community is a tremendous resource: it provides sustenance,
faith, joy, comfort, companionship, love, connectedness and continuity. Should
it be denied to the people who need it most?  

World Briefs

U.S. to Reduce Sinai Presence

The United States has convinced Israel and Egypt to accept an immediate cut in the American presence in the Sinai, JTA has learned. According to an Israeli official, the United States will continue to lead the Multinational Force and Observers — established under the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt — but the American presence will be significantly reduced. Israel and Egypt rejected an earlier idea proposed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to reduce the U.S. presence to as few as 26 men. Under U.S. pressure, the two countries submitted a joint counterproposal in which the American presence will be more than “nominal,” but significantly fewer than the current 900 men, the Israeli official said. The plan, which has not yet been made public, received U.S. government approval Tuesday.

Presidents Conference Rejects

Meretz USA’s bid to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations was rejected. Tuesday’s vote at a meeting of the umbrella group of American Jewry came after the conference’s membership committee recommended rejecting Meretz USA, saying it has too small a budget and scope of impact. However, some conference members say the 17-14 vote was political. The conference leadership “really doesn’t want us on board,” said Charney Bromberg, executive director of Meretz USA, a peace and civil rights group associated with the left-wing Israeli political party. The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, which applied for adjunct membership and was recommended for admission by the Presidents Conference’s membership committee, also was rejected.

Court Won’t OK Firing

A U.S. court refused to approve a Florida’s university plan to fire a Palestinian professor who is accused of having ties to terrorism. On Monday, the court recommended that the dispute between the University of South Florida and Sami Al-Arian be submitted to binding arbitration. A spokesperson for the university said the school is still deciding how to proceed. Critics of Al-Arian, who is suspended from his tenured position, say he raised money for terrorist groups, brought terrorists into the United States and established groups that support terror. Al-Arian denies the charges.

Statue Honors Wartime Hero

A statue was unveiled in Los Angeles honoring a late Japanese diplomat serving in wartime Lithuania who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. The statue of Chiune Sugihara was dedicated last Friday in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district. Jewish, Japanese and Lithuanian officials were among those attending the ceremony.

No U.S. Tax on Shoah Restitution

President Bush on Tuesday signed a law excluding Holocaust restitution payments from federal tax. The Holocaust Restitution Tax Fairness Act of 2002 passed Congress earlier this year.

Rabin Assassin Testifies

Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin testified in the trial of a former Shin Bet operative. Yigal Amir appeared Wednesday at the trial of Avishai Raviv, an undercover agent accused of knowing in advance about the 1995 assassination but failing to prevent it. Amir testified that he never told Raviv he intended to murder Rabin, but did say that someone should kill the prime minister. Amir also testified that among the people who heard him make the remark was legislator Benny Elon, leader of the far-right Moledet Party. Elon denied the accusation: “I don’t know what is going on in Amir’s twisted mind,” he said. “Seven years ago he assassinated the prime minister, and today he’s trying to perform character assassination.”

Hamas Associates Arrested

Four brothers have been arrested in Dallas for alleged ties to Hamas. The four, who work for the InfoCom computer company, were arrested Wednesday, according to WFAA-TV in Dallas. They were accused of having fundraising ties to Hamas and the Holy Land Foundation, a charity closed last year after the Treasury Department claimed it funneled funds to Hamas. Attorney General John Ashcroft is expected to comment on the arrests Wednesday afternoon.

Light and Thanks

I spent most of this past week at the United Jewish Communities (UJC) General Assembly (GA), the annual gathering which, this year, brought nearly 4,000 Jewish communal representatives (and journalists) from North America, Israel and elsewhere overseas.

The GA is part sales seminar, part pep rally, part continuing education, and major schmoozefest. This year, it was also something else: befuddling. Spend a half-hour in the hallways between sessions and you get a sense of the intensity and vigor of contemporary Jewish life. A charged-up communal leader from Knoxville, Tenn., told me the Jewish community there is strong and active. The rabbi from Austin, Texas boasted of a beautiful, multimillion dollar new Jewish Community Center campus. The lay leader from Tulsa, Okla., said Jews there were active and involved, and activists from Boston, Chicago and New York talked a mile a minute about new projects, new organizations, new ventures.

But then there are the actual, big lectures, the plenary sessions that are meant to rally and inspire the troops. They are lugubrious: anti-Semitism in Europe, on campus, in Canada. Terror here and abroad. Crisis in Israel, in Argentina, in the economy. Outside the meeting rooms, strength and vigor; inside, doom and gloom. Outside, Candide; inside, Cassandra.

As one speaker went on (and on) about the tragedies confronting the Jews, I ducked into the hallway, where I bumped into Mort Klein, the head of the Zionist Organization of America. "What is this guy talking about?" said Klein. "On and on and on, all these tales of woe." He wasn’t being callous — he’s as aware of the tragedies as we all are — he just wanted to hear a call to action. Ease up on the hysteria and give it a little inspiration — and a little reality check.

The very people listening to the tales of woe are the very same lay and staff leaders whose fundraising efforts place UJC as the highest-ranking Jewish philanthropic organization in the United States, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. They have access to the worlds of media, government and business unprecedented in the history of the Jewish people. They are, by almost any measure, stronger and more vibrant than at any other time in their history. As I write this it’s past midnight on the third day of the convention, the hotel lobby is still noisy with animated GA conversation, and a giant electronic scroll board over Center City reads, "WELCOME UNITED JEWISH COMMUNITIES!" Hardly the signposts of imminent doom.

Events are terrible, as the brutal Jerusalem bus bombing that Thursday morning showed. Israelis suffer daily under the fear and the reality of terror.

But even that reality doesn’t begin to describe the remarkable fact of Israel, its resilience and the daily achievements of its people. To cement Israelis in the American Jewish mind as nothing but victims-in-waiting is to demean the country and its people. To worry ourselves silly about media bias when the vast majority of news outlets editorialize in favor of Israel is almost indecently ignorant. To demand Jewry uncritically support Israel in these times, as some speakers did, negates Jewish and Zionist history. After all, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon couldn’t address the GA in person not because of pressing security concerns but because he is locked in a fierce election battle.

My sense is that most of the participants gathered information in the meeting rooms — and some of it was hopeful and upbeat — but a sense of perspective in the hallways.

The Thanksgiving/Chanukah doubleheader arrives then just in time. "Judaism is the religion of optimism," Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, author and spiritual leader of The Temple in Atlanta, told our contributing writer Rahel Musleah. "It’s about increasing the light." He reminds us that we’ve fashioned a holiday in which each night, we bring more light into the world. "The light gets stronger and serves as a weapon against the darkness," he said.

It demeans no one’s suffering — and there has been too much this past year — to also count our blessings. Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Chanukah.

Web ‘Guerrilla’

Jewish organizations are increasingly relying on the Internet as a way to augment or even launch fundraising and publicity efforts.

Updates about the situation in Israel fill e-mail inboxes on a daily basis and financial appeals line the homepages of Federation Web sites across the nation.

Locally, the Internet has been a crucial tool for nascent Jewish groups. For example, the grass-roots campaign to save the Jewish Community Centers was quick to establish a Web presence (, and the pro-Israel groups StandWithUs ( and the Council of Israeli Community ( both organized almost exclusively online.

According to Michael Levine, author of the best-selling "Guerrilla P.R." (HarperCollins, 1993) and head of the entertainment publicity firm Levine Communications (, the Internet permanently altered the way people approach PR.

The low-cost, near-instantaneous nature of the Internet makes it easier to get a message out, Levine says. Something that used to take five days to mail now only takes five seconds. But it’s crucial, he warns, that the intended audience is receptive to the message being delivered online.

In "Guerrilla P.R. Wired: Waging a Successful Publicity Campaign Online, Offline, and Everywhere in Between," (McGraw-Hill, 2002) Levine addresses the changing nature of publicity by giving his primer a crucial 21st century upgrade.

"The metabolism of the world has changed more in the last 10 years than in 1,000, but human nature hasn’t changed at all. To change is not easy, so people are very resistant," said Levine, who doesn’t hide the fact that he himself did not quickly jump on board the Internet revolution.

"I was very resistant when it came to embracing the computer. I was scared. I was lazy. Two things you have to get over for ‘Guerrilla P.R.’"

In his first book, Levine detailed how anyone can use the same techniques that Fortune 500 companies employ in multimillion-dollar campaigns, but for little or no money. His "Tiffany Theory" explored how publicity is like gift-wrapping: a gift delivered in a box from Tiffany’s will have a higher perceived value than one in a plain box or in no box at all. In "Wired," Levine expounds on this theory: delivering your message online adds a "perceived value and cachet," he writes.

Levine opens "Wired" with a quick-and-dirty orientation of "Guerrilla" basics for PR newbies. Faster than a DSL connection, he explains the Internet, the Web and e-mail, including Netiquette crucial to getting your message out ("There is a fine line between upkeep and harassment where e-mail is concerned.").

"Wired" doesn’t delve into HTML or Java lessons, but focuses instead on dispensing advice of what works online: keep it simple, fun and attractive with a clear message.

Also, Web site setup and promotion shouldn’t exhaust a nonprofit’s budget in order to make an impact.

"Wired" looks at Howie and Lori Levine, who have spent very little on their Web site, ASPEN, an online network devoted to children diagnosed with Asperger syndrome ( The do-it-yourself couple bought a book on HTML, found a Web host for $250 a year and listed their site on search engines for free. The Levines also print the Web address on all promotional material. Since 1998, the site has had over 300,000 hits.

Later chapters address such need-to-know topics as the fine art of getting press attention and the importance of damage control.

While the digital age has made publicity more complicated than the good ol’ pre-Internet days, Levine says that the innovators who have the brains to get there first are the ones who reap the rewards on the virtual homestead.

"The Internet has increased the demands," Levine said, "but it’s increased the opportunities as well."

World Brifs

Beit Jalla Action Postponed

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

Palestinian Militants Arrested

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

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

Israeli Astronaut Set for 2002

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

Stem Cell Reaction Mixed

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

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

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

U.N. Alters Zionism Resolution

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

Israel’s Nude Offensive

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

Jews Teach for America

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

Five Jews Killed in Crash

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

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

Two N.Y. Rabbis Sentenced

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

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

Shoah Denier Offers Deal

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

Russian Leader Slammed

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

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

British Group Warns of Attacks

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

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

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

Shining Examples

A physician might be queen of the operating room, or a lawyer king of the courtroom, but put them up on a bimah, and without some serious background, they’ll feel fumbling, foreign and clueless.

And if that’s the case, chances are they’ll avoid feeling stupid by avoiding the bimah, or the synagogue, altogether.

The Board of Rabbis of Southern California and a coalition of synagogues and community organizations have just received a $50,000 grant to help remedy that through an adult education program called Lomed L.A.

"Many people stay away from synagogues or are less involved because they don’t have the basic vocabulary of Jewish life," said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis. "The goal of this program is to instill within adult Jews basic Jewish literacy."

Lomed L.A. involves synagogues of all denominations, the L.A. campus of Hebrew Union College, and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and its Council on Jewish Life, all under the leadership of the Board of Rabbis, also a Federation agency. The program will train knowledgeable lay leaders to teach classes or tutor on practical subjects, such as how to follow along for Friday night services, how to chant the Torah portion or how to lead an entire service. Classes, set to start next fall, will be held six nights a week all over the city.

"I can’t think of anything more important to do as a community," Diamond said. "One of the greatest precepts we have is the mitzvah of talmud Torah — continuous Jewish learning."

Participating synagogues include Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Valley Beth Shalom, Adat Ari El, Beth Jacob Congregation, B’nai David-Judea, Kehillat Ma’arav, Congregation Ner Tamid of the South Bay, Kehillat Israel, Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, Sinai Temple, Stephen S. Wise Temple, Temple Aliyah, Temple Beth Am and Temple Judea.

Lomed L.A. is one component of Kochav: The L.A. Jewish Living Network, the program that received the grant from Synagogue Transformation and Renewal (STAR).

The other component is No’am, roughly translated as serenity, a networking and idea-sharing consortium which will allow synagogue leaders to share creative and successful approaches to spirituality, healing, prayers and celebration. Still in the early stages of formation, No’am may include a resource directory, retreats and seminars for rabbis.

"There are some incredibly cutting-edge projects going on in L.A., and we want to begin sharing that with each other and other people," Diamond said. The Board of Rabbis will work with Jewish Family Services on No’am, and Diamond hopes it will encourage synagogues to "take a holistic approach to Jewish life."

Kochav, Hebrew for star, is one of 25 new efforts to benefit from STAR, a new $18-million philanthropy that hopes to help synagogues reach — and positively impact — more American Jews.

STAR is allocating a total of $565,750 this year, in amounts ranging from $10,000 to $50,000. All the grant recipients must raise matching funds, and all the programs funded are collaborative efforts among more than one stream of Judaism.

The philanthropy, one of several new initiatives focusing on synagogue transformation, was founded in December 1999 by mega-donors Charles Schusterman, Michael Steinhardt and Edgar Bronfman.

Although Schusterman died in late December and the organization has not yet found an executive director, STAR is nonetheless moving forward with the projects it announced at a special gathering in September.

Metivta: A Center for Contemplative Judaism, based in West L.A., received a $10,000 grant to expand its Spirituality Institute. The institute will now offer to lay people what it has already offered to rabbis worldwide: a venue for understanding and following their own spiritual paths, which they can then pursue in their own synagogues.

"Metivta is all about not only encouraging people to discover and deepen their own spiritual practice but about trying to make the Jewish world have more open arms to people who are out there trying to follow spiritual practices," said Judith Gordon, Metivta’s executive director.

The STAR grant will allow Metivta to develop a program for lay leaders from Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills and Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades. A group of about 30 will meet for seminars and discussion about once a month.

"Hopefully these participants will be able to be agents of change within their own synagogues and provide a setting that will make spiritual practice easier for other congregants," Gordon said, adding that the Institute is eager to enroll other synagogues in the program.

Along with participating in both Kochav and the Spirituality Institute, Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Pacific Palisades, received a $10,000 grant to explore the possibility of creating, a virtual synagogue capable of embracing individuals at all stages of Jewish learning through creative uses of emerging technologies.

In addition to awarding grants, STAR also is meeting with leaders of the religious movements to determine whether their synagogues need consultants to help them improve, and if so, how best to train them.

STAR is also bringing together a group of 25 rabbis to design something called Star Tech, Internet-based professional development courses for rabbis.

So far 170 rabbis have expressed interest in participating, said Sanford Cardin, executive director of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

For both the consultants and the Internet project, STAR will work closely with the religious movements and not compete with services they already offer, Cardin said.

That approach may in part be an effort to overcome some bad feelings that surfaced at STAR’s summit for a hand-picked group of 150 Jewish leaders, when Steinhardt ruffled feathers with a declaration that the Reform and Conservative movements were "accidents of history."

At that event several rabbis and communal professionals privately bristled at the philanthropists’ blunt criticisms of synagogues but nonetheless expressed hope that the new initiative would draw needed attention and funds to congregational life.

At the time, several critics questioned whether STAR’s grants would draw many proposals, since it allowed only a month for applicants to put such proposals together, required that all projects involve more than one stream of Judaism and obligated them to pull together matching funds in five weeks.

The matching fund requirement is to ensure that the projects have local support, Cardin said.

In the end, with 140 proposals requesting almost $7 million, STAR appears to have suffered no shortage of interest.

Some grantees said STAR’s requirement that different organizations collaborate on projects has already spurred them to develop better relationships with other organizations.

STAR is a remedy for the fact that "in the synagogue world, we don’t generally think about what’s going on in the next community," Diamond said. STAR has "helped us think outside the box" and "given us added incentive to think this way," he added.

Other beneficiaries in the recent round of grants are:

The SAGE Leadership Institute in Boston, a multisynagogue effort to provide a yearlong educational and leadership training for Jews in their 20’s;

Lilmode V’Laasote, a communal learning cooperative in which newly ordained Orthodox rabbis conduct workshops and serve as educational resources to the Jewish community of Boca Raton, Fla.; and

Panim Online, a demonstration project in Seattle to create customized Web sites for four synagogues, train congregational staff to maintain and market their sites and launch at least three mini-courses on the Internet.

The Circuit

If the multitude of Jewish events are any indication, the holidays hit hard this season. To paraphrase Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song,” here’s a list of organizations that are Jewish, just like you and me…

Various divisions of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles celebrated with a slew of functions. The Federation’s Ben Gurion Society held a private cocktail reception at Christie’s.

The Skirball Cultural Center was the spot for the ACCESS Chanukah party, where scores of singles scored latkes and libations.

The Real Estate and Construction Division hosted a “McLaughlin Group”-style debate of industry analysts, moderated by George Smith, on the very CBS soundstage that is home (fittingly enough) to “The Price is Right.” Event chair Michael Brody called the evening “a look at the state of real estate, where it’s been and where’s it’s going. “

The ramifications of Asia’s economic crisis on the United States was the topic of Laura D’Andrea Tyson’s address to the Fashion Industries Division crowd at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. One of President Clinton’s top economic advisors, Tyson traced the economic virus from its beginnings in Thailand and then reassured the handwringers and worrywarts in the audience that, while the country may be in for a slowdown, America should weather the storm without spiraling into deep recession