Jewish groups condemn racism, anti-Semitism in 2016 campaign


The Anti-Defamation League and 27 other Jewish social justice organizations penned a forceful open letter imploring political candidates to put an end to the racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia they say has emerged in this year’s campaign.

Although the letter released Thursday does not mention a candidate by name, it comes during a week in which Donald Trump has fended off charges of sharing a tweet, perceived by some as anti-Semitic, that originated on a far-right internet bulletin board. The letter also alludes to affronts to Muslims, Syrian refugees and Mexicans, all of whom have been singled out by the presumptive Republican candidate during his presidential campaign.

“We are deeply concerned by suggestions that Muslim Americans should be targeted by law enforcement, simply because of their faith,” according to the letter. “We object to hurtful characterizations of entire ethnic groups as criminals. We are pained by anti-Semitic epithets hurled at Jewish Americans on social media.”

Organized by the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, a coalition of  Jewish organizations, the open letter’s signers include HIAS, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, National Council of Jewish Women, and groups representing the Conservative and Reconstuctionist denominations.

“We share a belief that public figures, including those who aspire to hold elected office in service to people of all races and religions, have a responsibility to forcefully and unequivocally condemn these dangerous phenomena,” the letter said.

The letter invokes the experiences of Jews to emphasize the danger of allowing prejudice to spread through the words of public figures.

“The Jewish community knows all too well what can happen when particular religious or ethnic groups become the focus of invective. We have witnessed the dangerous acts that can follow verbal expressions of hate,” it said.

The 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations among the signatories are not permitted to be directly involved with political activism nor show partisanship, although they may engage in advocacy on behalf of their principles.

“This letter is not about left or right, it’s about Jewish and American values,” Abby Levine, director of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, told JTA. “If any Jewish person in this country doesn’t understand, doesn’t at least acknowledge this concern and shock at what’s happening in our country, they are just not being honest about our community and our society.”

9 iconic sites that celebrate American Jewish history


Monday is Independence Day in the U.S. That means it’s time for many Americans to take a day off, watch some fireworks and grill large amounts of meat to enjoy with friends and family.

Of course, the 4th of July — which commemorates the adoption by the Continental Congress of the Declaration of Independence — is one of the most important dates in American history. And since that day in 1776, Jews have made their mark on the U.S. in myriad ways. So why not take a moment to celebrate the history of Jewish people on these shores?

Granted, the American Jewish story may be a complicated, sprawling one. Still, some special sites manage to symbolize decades of Jewish struggle, migration and triumph — from the birthplaces of cultural icons to the earliest examples of houses of worship.

If you’re not already on vacation as you read this, you may not want to join the 43 million Americans who are expected to hit the highways this holiday weekend. But good news: There’s still nine weeks left of summer; plenty of time to squeeze in a road trip or two. So for those feeling adventurous, here are nine places to visit that best connect the Jewish story to the American story.

Lower East Side Tenement MuseumNew York, New York

A view of the front of the Tenement Museum. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

A trip to Ellis Island may tell you how your ancestors arrived in the United States, but a visit to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum may show you how they lived. The narrow, five-story apartment building at 97 Orchard Street preserves an era when almost 240,000 people crowded into each square mile of the Manhattan neighborhood. Between 1880 and 1924, nearly 75 percent of the 2.5 million mostly Ashkenazi Jews who came to the United States took up residence on the Lower East Side.

Among the museum’s three restored apartments is one recreating the 1878 home of the Gumpertz family, Jewish immigrants from Prussia. The three-room, walk-through flat — tiny front parlor, kitchen, combination living room-bedroom — shows where Nathalie Gumpertz raised her four young children while making dresses to keep them clothed and fed. (Gumpertz passed away in 1894 at age 58.) Some of the museum’s guided tours include costumed actors who reenact daily life from the period.

The museum, a National Historic Site, recalls the poverty and struggles of immigrants, as well as a period during which “America was a safety valve and a haven, a place of renewal and a source for support” for Eastern European Jews, as Irving Howe wrote.

Touro Synagogue, Newport, Rhode Island

A view inside the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The oldest synagogue building in North America is the Touro Synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island, which dates to 1763.

The congregation’s history is a rich one: A newly elected President George Washington famously wrote a letter to the synagogue’s warden in 1790 declaring that the U.S. government “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance…May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants.” The letter remains one of the earliest emblems of American religious liberty and the separation of religion and state.

The synagogue, built by Spanish and Portuguese Jewish immigrants (and renovated in 2006), has been in the news recently: Congregation Jeshuat Israel, which worships at the synagogue, wanted to sell some valuable, historic ornaments that adorn their Torah scroll. Congregation Shearith Israel in New York, which has acted as Touro Synagogue’s financial trustee for over 200 years, tried to stop the sale. In May, a federal court sidedwith the hometown congregation.

Debates aside, the building still holds Orthodox services and offers tours each week.

Temple Beth Sholom, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania

During his storied career, Frank Lloyd Wright designed only one synagogue: the futuristic, pyramidal Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park, Penn. The striking National Historic Landmark features an outdoor fountain, two sanctuaries and a complex array of geometrical designs in its walls and ceiling.

Aside from being an architectural masterpiece, the building is also an emblem of 20th-century suburbanization and the Jewish attempt at assimilation into white middle- and upper-class America. After World War II, government policies aimed at reducing the cost of suburban construction — along with expanding highways and the booming auto industry — brought whites out of cities in massive numbers. Jews joined the migration, hoping to move beyond their past as immigrant outsiders who were often excluded from bastions of privilege, like universities, country clubs and, sometimes, jobs.

The Beth Sholom congregation began in northern Philadelphia in 1919 but moved to Elkins Park in the 1950s (the final Wright-designed synagogue was not completed until just after his death, in 1959). It has continued to serve its Conservative congregation ever since.

Gomez Mill House, Newburgh, New York

The mill wheel at the historic Gomez Mill House in Newburgh, New York. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

A Sephardic merchant named Luis Moses Gomez, whose family had been forced out of Spain during the Inquisition, bought 1,000 acres of land in Newburgh, New York in 1714. He and his two sons, Jacob and Daniel, became well-known traders in New York and eventually accumulated 2,400 acres of land. They built a trading house made of stone and an adjacent mill next to a creek that became known as “Jew’s Creek.” The family traded timber and lime with Algonquin Native Americans, travelers and local residents.

Today, the Gomez Mill House remains one of American Jewish history’s best-kept secrets and is likely the oldest Jewish site in North America. Subsequent owners, such as the Dutch colonist Wolfert Acker and 19th-century landowner William Henry Armstrong, built multiple floors on top of the original house structure, but it remains a pristine historical artifact. School children visit every year to experience what SUNY professor Harry Stonebeck has called “a most dramatic and irreplaceable incarnation of American history.”

Beth Jacob Cemetery, Galveston, Texas

The island city of Galveston is known as Texas’s beachy tourist destination on the Gulf of Mexico. But it was also one of the first havens for Jews in North America.

A Portuguese-Jewish merchant named Jao de la Porta financed one of the first European settlements on Galveston in 1816 and the French-Jewish pirate Jean Lafitte took over the island the next year during the Mexican War of Independence. Lafitte turned it into a pirate colony and smuggling base until he lost control of it in 1821.

Several decades later, Galveston would become one of the largest Jewish communities in the country. By the turn of the 20th century, after anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe spurred a wave of Jewish immigration to the United States, East Coast cities like New York were already becoming crowded and unsanitary. In response, with the aid of New York financier Jacob Schiff and the Galveston Jewish community’s Reform rabbi, Henry Cohen, the Galveston Movement plan was launched in 1907. Through 1914, the plan diverted over 10,000 Jewish immigrants to Galveston — about a third of the number who immigrated to the then British Mandate of Palestine during the same period.

Eventually, many of these immigrants moved away to different cities. But the Jewish community’s imprint lives on: The Conservative synagogue Congregation Beth Jacob, with its historic cemetery, remains active, as does Congregation B’nai Israel, the oldest Reform synagogue in Texas.

Canter’s Deli, Los Angeles, California

Depending on whom you ask, the American Jewish deli has been arguably as important a meeting place for Jews as the American synagogue — perhaps even more important. For many religious and secular Jews of Hollywood’s Golden Age and beyond (from Arthur Miller to Henry Winkler to Michael Mann) Canter’s Deli in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles has been a lasting link to their Jewish roots.

Canter’s is also a symbol of American Jewish culture’s westward migration. When the Jersey City deli owned by Ben Canter and his two brothers failed after the stock market crash of 1929, the Canters moved west like many other Jews who were hoping for a fresh start. Now, having been featured in Jewy shows such as “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Transparent,” the deli is as prominent a symbol as any of “Jewish L.A.” While the city’s homegrown culture is sometimes maligned as an imitation of New York’s, it has clearly taken on a flavor of its own.

The Art Deco restaurant is a monument in its own right, with a famously entrancing autumn leaf-patterned ceiling and a neon sign from the 1950s — and by L.A. standards, that’s practically ancient.

Congregation Mikveh Israel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Congregration Mikveh Israel is the oldest continuous congregation in the U.S. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia calls itself the “Synagogue of the American Revolution,” and with good reason: Founded by Spanish and Portuguese traders in the 1740s, the synagogue served as a refuge for Jews from New York, Richmond, Charleston and Savannah during the War of Independence. Haym Solomon, who helped finance the war, and the Gratz brothers, who supplied the Continental Army, were members.

Now the oldest continuous congregation in the United States, the synagogue still holds fast to the Spanish-Portuguese traditions of its founders, and honors the legacies of Sephardic Jews who formed the original Jewish communities in the New World.

Today, you can tour the building it has occupied since 1976 — close to its original site, and not far from the exceptional National Museum of American Jewish History — and you’ll be shown a white marble ark enclosure dating from 1859, a kohane’s ceremonial chair donated in 1816 by dentist and “bleeder” Moses Lopez and an oak reader’s lectern that may date back to 1782, when the congregation was in its first building.

Bob Dylan’s childhood home, Hibbing, Minnesota

Has there been a more iconic Jewish artist or storyteller than Bob Dylan? The man born Robert Zimmerman and nicknamed “The Bard” has connected generations of Jews to the history of American music, paving the way for the success of other Jewish folk songwriters, from Paul Simon to Leonard Cohen. His story — from the small  town of Hibbing, Minnesota to the clubs of New York City’s Greenwich Village — is an unlikely Jewish but quintessentially American one.

The annual Dylan Days festival (a celebration complete with tours of Dylan’s former home in Hibbing) ended in 2014 and Zimmy’s Restaurant, which was decorated with Dylan paraphernalia, shuttered the same year. But Duluth, the city where Dylan was born, still holds a Dylan Fest, which includes a bus tour of Hibbing — the town only 90 minutes away, where the singer formed his first bands and covered songs by the likes of Elvis Presley and Little Richard.

The house is privately owned but there’s nothing stopping you from passing by to take an exterior pic or two —  then move on, like a rolling stone.

Congregation Sherith Israel, San Francisco, California

A view of Temple Sherith Israel in San Francisco, California. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

For more than 150 years, Americans have been going west to embrace the new — or, at least, escape the old.

Driving the point home is a monumental stained-glass window in the Spanish revival main sanctuary of Sherith Israel in San Francisco, a Reform temple that survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (and served, for 18 months after that disaster, as the city’s courthouse). The synagogue was established by Jewish pioneers during California’s Gold Rush, and the current building was consecrated in 1905.

The window shows Moses and the Israelites on the way to Sinai. Look closely, though, and you’ll see that’s not the Wilderness of Sinai in the background — it’s El Capitan, the iconic towering cliff in the Yosemite Valley. The 200 families who founded the synagogue weren’t turning their backs on tradition; the window is a midrash  — an alternative biblical story — that conflates the Jewish yearning for a promised land with the American dream of new beginnings.

Jewish researchers dispute some Pew religion survey data


American Jews are adopting and discarding their Jewish identities with increasing rapidity in a country that is becoming less white and less Christian, according to a new study of religious affiliation in the United States.

But just hours after the study’s publication Monday, Jewish demographers already were disputing some of the findings on Jews, contending that the sample is too small to draw meaningful conclusions.

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, shows how Jews fit into a national religious mosaic that is shifting at ever-increasing speed.

It shows that more than one-quarter — 28 percent — of Americans have left the faith in which they were raised and either joined a different faith or profess no faith at all.

Some of the findings about Jews, including the high income and educational levels, came as no surprise, as they mirror the results of earlier Jewish-only population studies.

The Pew study is the largest, most in-depth survey of American religious beliefs and behaviors, putting numbers to what religious experts have long believed was happening, Pew officials say. The last time the U.S. Census asked questions about religion was in 1957.

More than 35,000 of America’s 225 million adults were interviewed, including 682 Jews. A second report based on the same data, describing America’s religious practices and beliefs, will be released in late April, followed by a third report on social and political views later in the summer.

Leading Jewish demographers, including those who worked on the National Jewish Population Studies (NJPS) of 1990 and 2000-2001, dispute some of the Pew data relating to American Jewry, particularly the figures about converts to and from Judaism.

“While we can learn a lot from this kind of survey in a general sense, in terms of Jews per se we have to be cautious because they’re such a small part of the sample,” said Jonathon Ament, assistant director of research at the United Jewish Communities and senior project adviser on the 2000-2001 NJPS. The NJPS survey included 4,523 respondents.

With fewer than 700 Jewish respondents and a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 points that Ament calls “quite high,” he said the Pew report should be “taken with a grain of salt” when it comes to its conclusions about American Jewish adults.

Pew researchers take umbrage at that suggestion, saying the sample size is statistically sound.

“From a purely statistical viewpoint, the study should be taken seriously,” said John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum. “We have every confidence that the Jews in our study are representative of Jews nationwide.”

Finding the total number of Jews has often been a source of controversy within the Jewish community. The Pew study arrives at its own numbers, suggesting the continuing difficulty of defining who is a Jew.

Pew counted an estimated 3.8 million Jews, or 1.7 percent of the total American adult population. The NJPS counted 4.1 million Jewish adults out of a total Jewish population of 5.2 million.

Some thought the NJPS underestimated the Jewish population, including Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, which offered its own estimate of 6 million to 6.4 million.

But it was the findings on converts to and from Judaism, which involve controversial definitions — including “who is a Jew” — that drew the most skepticism among Jewish demographers.

According to the Pew study, 15 percent of America’s nearly 4 million Jewish adults were not raised as Jews. That means, Pew researchers said, they either converted to Judaism or embraced the Judaism of one of their parents or grandparents.

The study also reports that 9 percent of adults who were raised Jewish now profess another faith. Four percent of those former Jews are now Protestant, about half of them evangelicals; 1 percent are Catholic, and nearly 5 percent belong to a non-Christian faith, ranging from Islam to Buddhism to a new age religion.

Still, the report found that Jews and Hindus are the most successful at retaining their people.

More than 84 percent of those who were raised Hindu still identify as Hindu, followed by 76 percent of those raised Jewish who say they are Jewish today; 14 percent of those raised Jewish now identify with no organized religion.

Judaism, Catholicism and Hinduism are the three faith groups filled with the highest percentage of born followers. Eighty-five percent of today’s Jewish adults were raised as Jews vs. the 15 percent of today’s Jews who have joined the community. Ninety percent of today’s Hindu adults were born and raised Hindu, along with 89 percent of Catholics.

Other highlights of the Pew report include:

  • Jews are tied with Mormons as the sixth-largest faith group, each claiming 1.7 percent of the country’s adult population.
  • The largest faith group is evangelical Protestants (26.3 percent), followed by Catholics (23.9 percent), mainline Protestants (18.1 percent), unaffiliated (16.1 percent) and members of historically black churches (6.9 percent).
  • There are twice as many adult Jews as adult Muslims.
  • Jews rank fourth among religious groups most likely to marry in the faith. According to Pew, 69 percent of married Jews are married to another Jew — the same figure reported by the 2000 NJPS. Of the 31 percent of Jews married to someone of a different faith or no faith, the largest percentage, 12 percent, are married to Catholics. The faith groups most likely to marry their own are Hindus, Mormons and Catholics.
  • America’s slim Protestant majority of 51 percent will soon disappear as the country continues to become less white and less Christian.
  • Those who say they are unaffiliated comprise the fastest growing “faith” group today, followed by nondenominational Protestants, who are largely evangelicals.
  • The faith communities most heavily comprised of people who have switched affiliation include the unaffiliated, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of other faiths and nontraditional Christian sects.
  • The most highly educated faith communities are Hindus (48 percent with post-graduate degrees), followed by Jews (35 percent), compared to the national average of 10 percent.
  • Two percent of America’s 1.57 million Buddhists were raised Jewish.

    When it comes to drawing a Jewish picture from the Pew study, it’s difficult to compare the results to the National Jewish Population Study because it is rare to find the exact same questions or categories in both studies.

In addition, the NJPS and other Jewish-sponsored population studies use a combination of self-identification and behavioral questions to arrive at a nuanced understanding of who is a Jew, whereas the Pew report allowed respondents to declare their own religious identity.

The conversion figures offered by the Pew study differ from those of other Jewish studies. The 1990 NJPS showed that 180,000 people had converted to Judaism, comprising 3 percent of the total Jewish population. The 2000-2001 NJPS did not report the number of converts to Judaism, so it’s impossible to make comparison with the Pew report’s statement that 15 percent of today’s Jewish adults were not raised Jewish.

“What does ‘raised Jewish’ mean?” asks demographer Bruce Phillips of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who worked on the 2000-2001 NJPS. “To you and me it might mean someone went to Hebrew school,” but the respondents answering the Pew study were not asked to elaborate.

Similarly, the 1990 NJPS showed that 210,000 Jews had converted out of Judaism, representing nearly 4 percent of American Jewry. By the time of the 2000-2001 NJPS, that figure had risen to just above 5 percent, along with an additional 7.6 percent who said they had left Judaism for no religion.

The NJPS total of 12.6 percent is less than the 23 percent of Jews who told Pew researchers that they now professed no religion or had joined another faith. But some of that difference can be ascribed to definitions used by the study organizers.

Pew researchers acknowledge these “definitional issues,” said Green, a senior researcher on the project.

But that was not the focus of the Pew study.

“Our purpose was to look at religion in America quite broadly,” Green said.

The study was concerned with measuring how much movement there is into and out of faith groups, rather than in describing exactly what those faith-shifters are discarding and adopting or why.

“We’re not really measuring conversion,” Green said, “we’re measuring change.”

On Second Thought


This week, I will sit on my porch, gaze at the pergola and see in its place a bamboo mat. I will remind myself of the biblical commandment, “in a sukkah you shall sit seven days.” And I will then, as I work my way through the interminable “three day yom tov” look up at the Southern California sky, through my bamboo mat, plastic apples and leaves and other kindergarten decorations, and ask, “Why do we do eight days?”

The story goes, as my rabbis taught me in yeshiva, that the Jews in Jerusalem would light a fire on the hilltop when they saw the new moon each month. Fire after fire upon hilltop after hilltop would be lit in succession, eventually making their way to the top of the Mulholland Drive of Babylon. By the time the fire was seen by the people in the valleys of Babylon, Jews scratched their heads in collective confusion as to whether the new moon was today or yesterday. And since time traveled fast in the land of Israel but inevitably slowed once we were no longer blessed by the land (OK, my rabbis did not teach me that, but it was strongly implied), Jews did not know precisely which day was the first of the month, so as a result Jews observed an extra day of Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot to avoid the chance they were violating the chag. Which is why in Israel, there is one day of yom tov at the beginning and end of Sukkot and Pesach, and everywhere else they observe two days of yom tov.

But hey, today, we have, can you believe, Hebrew calendars, electricity, airplanes and even this thing called the Internet, and time is simple to tell and the dawn of the new moon is pretty easy to decipher. Even if you live in smoggy Los Angeles. So, then, why the need for the two days?

This question often becomes a bigger subject for discussion in a year like this, when the chag starts on Wednesday night, and the two-day yom tov becomes three when you add in Shabbat. By the time Saturday afternoon rolls around, the feeling is, “I cannot wait for the yom to end and this is no longer tov.”

I first grappled with this question the year I spent in yeshiva in Israel after high school. On the first night of Sukkot, the rabbis explained the different permutations possible for us Americans spending “just” a year in the Holy Land (or as it is commonly referred to this time of the year — the place to do “one day”).They talked about how you can do one day or two days, while emphasizing that one day is for those fortunate ones who are committed to living in Israel. For those observing two days, the opinion from the rabbis was to not observe two days but do what was called famously, “a day and a half,” where you prayed like it was not the chag but you were not to turn on lights or do any other forbidden activity.

I sat there, studiously listening to all of the options. After all, I was studying in a yeshiva and took my religion seriously. A day and a half? Odd, but it seemed like a logical compromise in a yeshiva world where every question had a talmudic answer. But as the sun set on the first day and I returned to my room about to observe the “day and a half,” I opened my door, heard music blaring from a nearby Israeli room, looked at the light switch and turned it on without a moment’s hesitation and knowing full well aliyah was not in my plans at that time.

It was at that moment that I had clarity. Two days? A day and a half? Ridiculous. Every time we hear the rabbis talk about what the Torah says, we listen, but here the Torah says seven days for Sukkot and Pesach and we do eight. Huh?

The truth is, the rabbis don’t have a good answer for continuing to observe a second day. So, why not change it? Ay, there’s the rub. Have you ever met an Orthodox rabbi who would admit change is a good thing?

This is where the Law of Return really can play a role. We get on a plane to Israel, declare ourselves citizens of the Jewish State and then — voila — we can observe one day. A friend of mine is doing just that. And who can argue with him? I have friends, devout Orthodox rabbis, who live in Israel but when they are here, tell me, always in a hushed tone, “yeah, the second day I checked my e-mail.” Another solution, although a little more expensive but becoming more popular, is to buy land in Israel. Rabbis have held that if you own land in Israel you can observe one day. Anyone interested in a one-one hundredth share of an apartment? Or better yet, buy a piece of the desert on the way to Eilat. Land is cheap. We can get in now.

I don’t pretend to hope for change from the rabbinate. Instead, maybe we should just all boycott the second day of shul. Do the “day and a half” thing. Here in Los Angeles. Stay home. Sleep late, enjoy your coffee and leisurely read the paper. If there is no minyan, maybe then they will get the idea. Unless of course, the new moon really isn’t when we thought. Then, well, I guess we would just have to Google it.

Joshua Metzger is at an online video start-up in Los Angeles. He has also written two plays, the first of which was selected for development at the National Playwrights Conference. He attended Jewish day schools in New York City.

Saluting Jewish World War II Vets


When Jules Berlinsky took basic training in the South during World War II, his commanding officer said to him, “You don’t look Jewish. You don’t have horns.”

“He was serious,” said Berlinsky, 92, who was in the Army’s Spearhead Division. “He was on the ignorant side. He didn’t heckle us too much but he just let us know that we were different from him.”

Berlinsky is one of the 31 war veterans who reside at the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA), and will be honored on Dec. 7 at the JHA’s Wells Fargo Walk of Ages IV fundraiser.

Dec. 7 is also Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, a date that — in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words — “will live in infamy,” when, in 1941, the Japanese launched their attack on Pearl Harbor, hurling the United States into the war.

Approximately 550,000 Jewish Americans served in the armed forces during World War II, about 4.23 percent of the total number of troops. Both Roosevelt and General Douglas MacArthur praised their bravery specifically. During the war, 52,000 Jewish soldiers received an award or decoration of some kind and 11,000 were killed.

Now, close to 60 years after World War II, veterans of the conflict have aged and their numbers are dwindling, but despite current ambivalence toward American war-like nature, America’s participation in World War II and relative success in making the world “safe for democracy” is never questioned.

“Since it was the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, we felt that doing this [honoring the veterans] would be fantastic,” said Shelly Markman, the Walk’s chair. “We opened it up not only to Jewish war veterans but to all war veterans. These people have given us freedom and the opportunity to make a living and raise a family and I think we should be thankful to them.”

At the JHA, a group of eight veterans (seven men, one woman), gathered to talk to The Journal about their experiences of being Jewish and in the armed forces during World War II. Several use walkers or canes; their speech, though sharp, is slow. They take out photographs of themselves in uniform looking young and handsome, confident and strong. One rolls up his sleeve to reveal a tattoo that a native etched on his skin with a palm frond and soot on a Pacific island during the war.

“Do you remember your serial number?” they ask each other. “Do you remember your rifle number? Do you remember that cigarettes cost us $2 a carton but we would sell them for $15?”

With time’s erosion of memory, their war experiences become reductive; a list of places stationed, and certain important events. But their recollection of being Jewish in the service — and the prejudice, ignorance, and the sense of being different that accompanied that — remains strong.

“I was in a battalion of 1,200 men,” said Ellis Simon, 80, who was in the Marines. “And there were two Jews, but we weren’t that friendly with each other. The other guy — his name was Hochberg, and he was a wuss. He got picked on mainly because he was a Jew. I wore a Jewish star, but I never had any trouble because I was a tough kid and I wouldn’t stand for that. One of the soldiers called me ‘Dirty Jew’ and I fought him.”

Berlinsky remembers a time when there was “a rumpus” in the chow hall.

“I got up to see what was wrong and this young Jewish guy from Brooklyn called Marty Cohen said ‘they’re trying to kill me. They are putting bacon in with the eggs there!,'” Berlinsky said. “I said ‘Marty, they’re not trying to kill you.’ This same fellow Marty had two twin sisters who would visit the camp and bring us salami and herring. It smelled so beautiful to us, but for those who were non-Jewish, it was a terrible smell. They couldn’t stand it.”

For Josie Joffe, the Army bought out strengths she never knew she had. “I became a sergeant major through no fault of my own,” she said. “I was a very quiet person and they had to teach me to shout commands. We used to take part in parades to welcome the troops and we would tend to wounded British pilots at a rest homes. We were a whole Jewish group and one day we heard one of the soldiers remark about the ‘bloody Jews’ so we never went back after that.”

Now of course, World War II and the struggle to liberate Europe and defeat Japan seem light years away and condensed into roundtable anecdotes, but for these men and women the armed forces experience doesn’t disappear.

Said Simon, “Once a marine always a marine.”

The Walk will take place on Dec. 7 at the JHA’s
Eisenberg Village Campus at 18855 Victory Blvd., Reseda. Registration begins at
7 a.m.; walk begins at 8:30 a.m. Comedian Don Rickles will serve as honorary
chair of the Walk. For more information, call (818) 774-3100 or visit www.walkofages.kintera.org .

A magazine with attitude


She’s young, sexy, defiant and Jewish. And now, journalist Jennifer Bleyer has created a magazine that is … well, young, sexy, defiant and Jewish.

HEEB, out nationwide Feb. 5, promises to be for young Jewish Americans what Los Angeles-based Giant Robot magazine has been for young Asian Americans: a smart, postmodern celebration of cultural kitsch that subverts and reclaims stereotypes (for HEEB, that begins with its very title). A Neil Diamond centerfold, an examination of the “Jewish Afro” and a showdown between actors Steven Seagal and George Segal based on cultural relevance are some of the features that appear in the glossy quarterly’s debut.

HEEB’s 26-year-old editor grew up the cornfed, Midwest-bred daughter of Ashkenazi parents with Russian-Austrian heritage. While Bleyer enjoyed Hebrew day school, she was the mischievous kid calling up Dominos and having pepperoni pizzas delivered to class.

Bleyer says she is aware that HEEB emerges at a time when the mainstream magazine industry is suffering. Last year, industry advertising revenues fell 10 percent. Mademoiselle folded. Even Tina Brown could not keep the just-nixed, Miramax-backed Talk magazine on people’s lips.

The young, hip, Jewish niche has fared even worse. Since the mid-1990s, a half dozen attempts to repackage Jewish culture as “edgy” and “happening ” failed to go the distance.

What separates HEEB from that ilk is that it is both less pretentious and more sophisticated than its predecessors. Bleyer’s tongue-in-cheek humor permeates the first issue, from the rap

DJ-spoofing cover to CDs reviewed by somebody’s grandparents. HEEB also benefits from full-color, high-end production values and a playful visual and verbal aesthetic that is less forced than the defunct art-house Jewish mag Davka. Which makes sense, given that Bleyer — who produced the punk ‘zine (short for magazine), Mazeltov Cocktail, while attending Columbia — has built her journalism career supplying investigative pieces to periodicals, including SPIN magazine.

Initial funding for HEEB — $60,000 — comes from a grant from the San Francisco-based Joshua Venture, a fellowship for young entrepreneurs whose backers include Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation.

Ultimately, Bleyer does not feel that her irreverent publication rebels against the established Jewish community. Rather, it’s another slice of that same babke.

“Jews in this country are not monolithic,” she says. “In the end we’re a bunch of kids having fun. I’m still a punk rocker. I’m just working with a bigger budget.”

For information, visit www.heebmagazine.com .

Rabbi Lau Headlines at O.U. Conference


Urging religious dialogue as a means to achieve peace, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Israel, addressed a crowd of 500 at the West Coast convention of the Orthodox Union Dec. 20.

Held at the Peltz Theater of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the inaugural event began five days of programs designed to help Jews cope and understand their place as Jewish Americans in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Other convention events included a talk by radio commentator Dennis Prager on Islamic-Jewish hatred and an address by Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center on the global view of the war on terrorism.

Lau, who came to Los Angeles as a special guest of the convention, has held the position of chief rabbi for nine years. At a press conference at the Wiesenthal Center the next day, Rabbi Marvin Heir said Lau “is unique in the sense that he has reached out to the Muslim community and the Christian community and can speak firsthand about the elusive peace that refuses to come to Israel but is not Israel’s fault.”

Lau then took the podium and spoke about his attempts to meet with Arab religious leaders and he noted his frustration that his many attempts at dialogue with Arab religious leaders, such as Sheik Yassin of Hamas, had been rebuffed.

Lau said that peace would not occur through government negotiations but rather through education, religion and the media. He urged Los Angeles Jews to visit Israel as a show of support, and he also said that if peace could not be achieved within Israel, perhaps it could be achieved by Jewish and Muslim leaders of major cities in the Diaspora forming committees for dialogue and understanding.

“In my opinion, religion can be — must be — a bridge for understanding and peace, and not a gap,” he said. — Gaby Wenig, Contributing Writer