Letters to the Editor: New Journal Layout, Prayer, and Israel

New Look, New Content

I cannot adequately express how impressed I am with the new “Back and Forth” feature. Civil but serious, it sharply helps amplify and elucidate the perspectives of the quality voices that participate and teaches us stiff-necked readers things we would otherwise be unlikely listen to. A Kiddush HaShem to the fullest — what a wonderful way to model meaningful engagement between parts of our community and beyond. Thank you, thank you, thank you for embodying a core Jewish value with such deep, universal worth.

Kol hakavod!

Michael Feldman via email

Kudos on the new layout and typeface of the Journal. Big improvement. But as a boomer feminist, I found two recent columns written by women personally disturbing. The first was about flirting, which I at first dismissed simply as a “fluff” piece (“Why I Miss Flirting,” Nov. 10). In the second column, a mother proudly says she encourages her son to be “strong enough to be kind” (“My Son, the Maccabee,” Nov. 10). My alarm bells went off. I personally have seen men who were attracted to a damsel in distress become physically aggressive when that same woman becomes assertive. I also know of college football players (arguably men’s men) who have been convicted of rape.

Since these Journal columns have been published, more and more influential men have been outed for their alleged inappropriate sexual behavior with young men and women. Actor Richard Dreyfuss, when recently confronted, actually tried to excuse his alleged behavior by issuing a statement of direct relevance to both of these Journal  columns. He writes: “I value and respect women. … I became … the kind of performative masculine man my father had modeled for me to be. … I flirted with all women. … But I am not an assaulter. … I remember trying to kiss [his accuser] as part of what I thought was a consensual seduction ritual. … I am horrified and bewildered to discover that it wasn’t consensual. I didn’t get it.”

Women have worked too hard and too long in the fight to gain equality and independence. I hope we aren’t being asked to start all over again.

Sharon Alexander, Torrance

Building Bridges in a Time of Chaos

Thank you, Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn and the Jews United for Democracy and Justice, for your inspiring compilation “After Charlottesville” (advertising supplement, Oct. 20). Not only do you bring together teachings from the vast spectrum of Jewish leaders, sages and religious persuasions, but you also include teachings from non-Jewish leaders and traditions. By doing this, you are helping us to realize the relevancy and importance of striving to sing all four songs as written by Rabbi A.Y. Kook: the song of the individual, the song of the nation, the song of humanity, and the song of all existence. In this time of chaos, we must push ourselves beyond our ordinary boundaries, build bridges and learn from each other. It is only with an open, probing mind that we can elevate our community as well as our nation.

Also, thank you, David Suissa, for creating a forum where spirituality and practical matters can attain the perfect balance!

Mina Friedler via email

Prayers Alone Won’t Cure Society’s Ills

Ben Shapiro wrote a recent column about the power of prayer in the aftermath of the recent mass shooting in Texas (“Don’t Dismiss the Power of Prayer,” Nov. 10). One of the purposes of prayer in such cases is to provide comfort and consolation to the relatives of the victims because absolutely nothing can bring victims back to life. No human action can do that.

The unprecedented number of mass shootings during past several years shows there is a serious problem in society. Both sides agree on that. It’s obvious from Shapiro’s words that he doesn’t understand what is causing “a tsunami of rage,” neither has he the slightest idea where to look for the root causes of those events. Mr. Shapiro, with political power and authority comes the huge responsibility of providing peace and security to millions of people. The inability to fulfill that responsibility is what is causing the tsunami of rage. Such tragic events are not part of God’s plan. Period. They’re part of society, designed by humans. One thing I know in my profession: When there’s a problem with a building, we architects and civil engineers roll up our sleeves and begin to look for what’s causing the problem. And if we find out it is in the foundation, the last thing we would do is to offer a prayer. Even the most thoughtful prayer cannot do the job. Only hard work by experienced people can.

Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angeles

Inappropriate Topic in Torah Portion

Rather than commenting on the parsha, the extremist Open Orthodox rabbi unleashed a screed against the Orthodox Union (OU) for not aiding and abetting his agenda to promote practices that all halachic leadership of Modern Orthodoxy agrees is out of bounds (“Parsha: Chayei Sara,” Nov. 10). May the OU find the strength to remove these heretical congregations from their midst.

Saul Newman via email

Historic Evidence of Israel’s Roots 

Thank you for Judea Pearl’s story (“The Balfour Declaration at 100 and How It Redefined Indigenous People,” Nov. 10) lauding the declaration’s tacit recognition of the Jewish people’s status as the indigenous population of Eretz Israel.

It bears emphasis that the Jewish claim to indigenous status in Israel is not just a matter not of faith, but of historical fact confirmed by archaeology and science. The Merneptah Stele, inscribed on behalf of the eponymous Egyptian pharaoh (and son of Ramses II) around 1208 B.C.E., attests to the presence of a people called “Israel” in Canaan. The Tel Dan Stele, which celebrates an Aramean victory over Israel in the 800s B.C.E., mentions Judah’s royal “House of David.” Assyrian sculptures dating from 841 B.C. and 701 B.C.E., respectively, both on display in the British Museum in London, depict the Israelite King Jehu and the Assyrian siege of Lachish in ancient Judah. The Assyrian royal annals’ account of the siege declares Judah’s king Hezekiah trapped “like a caged bird” in Jerusalem, paralleling the biblical account. And population genetics studies confirm the connection of present-day Jews to an ancestral home in the Levant and the continuity of the Jewish people from ancient to present times.

Rome eventually destroyed the Jewish kingdom in a war from 66-73 C.E. and dispersed its people, but Jews never forfeited the right to return home or to reconstitute a Jewish state.

Stephen A. Silver, San Francisco

Israelis Trying to Do the Right Thing

I am a 15-year-old freshman at YULA Boys High School. I was thrilled to see “Teaching Math to Israel’s ‘Invisibles’ ” (Oct. 27) in the Journal because this story shows that Israel helps every race and religion — even Arabs — who constantly try to eradicate the Jewish state. This is also one of the many proofs that if any race or religion is in need of help, Israel is the first to offer its help. People who are not Jewish who read this story can see how the people of Israel care about everyone and are trying to be peaceful with everyone, even groups of people that try to terrorize the world. This story really has inspired me to be more involved in defending Israel when people accuse Israel of treating Arabs poorly. It especially bothers me when the media publish negative and untrue information about Israel. I love that this newspaper published very positive things about Israel. I hope other people get inspired like I did.

Daniel Dallal, Los Angeles

I strongly agree with what Shai Gul does and it will inspire others to reach out to people who need help. When most people run into situations like Shai Gul did, they most likely will run away from these problems. However, Shai did just the opposite, helping to educate people in that poor city. He conveyed kindness and empathy. He taught the “invisibles” to not be so invisible and to take a leap forward in life. By giving them this push, he managed to give them jobs and a basic education to build on. Shai Gul is an inspiration for people around the world. He should keep up what he does so others can be influenced and follow his tracks.

Eitan Ulitzky via email

Week of November 16, 2017

To Rob, with love

When my friend Rob Eshman suggested I write a weekly neighborhood column in the Jewish Journal in August 2006, my immediate response was, “How can I do it every week? I can’t write about the same neighborhood week after week.”

His response: “So write about whatever you’re passionate about that week.”

Those words have stayed with me ever since, and whenever I wasn’t sure what to write about on any given week, I just followed Rob’s advice.

Well, now that I have to fill Rob’s pretty considerable shoes as the Journal’s publisher and editor-in-chief, I will try to do the same.

My first issue in my new role will be next week’s Sukkot issue. I approach this moment with some trepidation. Already, from my experience of just the past two weeks, I can tell you it is a huge amount of work to produce quality journalism every week.

When I started a spiritual magazine many years ago called OLAM, we had months to put it together. We could agonize for weeks over the articles, the writers, the images, the design, everything. Will I have as much time to agonize at the Jewish Journal? Not a chance. Will I try to be as meticulous? Yes. Wish me luck.

Producing a weekly community paper is, above all, an enormous responsibility. The eyes of a community are on you, on every word and on every image. The more I get into it, the more appreciation I have for what Rob did over the past 17 years as editor-in-chief, week in and week out.

First, I’m learning that everyone thinks they’re Ernest Hemingway, everyone has a piece that absolutely must be published. Rob knew how to manage sticky situations like this — where you want to be honest without hurting people’s feelings — with class and grace. Will I have the same grace? I don’t know. I’ll try.

Second, many readers get angry when they read content with which they disagree. Rob had this remarkable willingness to publish letters to the editor that completely reamed his own paper. Will I be as fearless? I don’t know. I’ll try.

Third, Rob was a journalist at heart. He loved news. He loved everything that would advance a story. He loved stories, period. Will I be as great a journalist and storyteller? I don’t know. I’ll try.

One of Rob’s great contributions to the Journal and to our community is his appreciation for diverse voices. I know from experience. Occasionally, I would send him an op-ed from another writer that I knew he would sharply disagree with, and I’d get this kind of response: “I disagree with it, but it’s well written and well argued.” And more often than not, he’d publish it.

You can never underestimate this talent. At a time when the nation has been as polarized as ever, when people are repulsed by views they disagree with, when disagreements easily turn into animosity, it takes guts to publish stuff you completely disagree with.

Will I have that same courage? I don’t know. I’ll try.

One thing I do know is this: If there is one thing that has bonded Rob and me over the years, it is our love of fresh and different voices, our love of trying new things, our love of shaking things up and keeping readers on their toes.

In fact, when he first brought up the idea that I take over his role, one thing he said was, “Hey, maybe the place can use some new blood.”

Am I that new blood? I don’t know. I certainly hope so.

What I can tell you is that Rob had a genius for constantly providing that new blood. His eyes and ears and taste buds were always open for something new to share with readers. If he tasted something he liked at my Shabbat table, he’d show up at my home the following week and film my mother making her famous galettes.

It is that openness I will miss the most. Those impromptu conversations in our offices about movies, food (always food), the Jewish community (don’t ask), a new book, Israeli politics (always polite), a new person we met, a cool event we attended or that was coming up, a story about one of our kids … there were always new stories to share.

Will I continue to follow Rob’s lead and tell all those new stories with fairness and passion? I’m not Hemingway, but I’ll try.

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

Rob Eshman stands in front of his favorite Jewish Journal cover, which never ran. Photo by Lynn Pelkey

The last column

So this is goodbye.

I walked into the offices of the Jewish Journal 23 years ago, and it’s time for me to walk out.

As I announced a month ago, I’ll be stepping down as editor-in-chief and publisher as of Sept. 29 and moving on to the next chapter of my life, focusing full time on writing and teaching, and being open to new possibilities as well. If the urge to return to a regular column proves irresistible, you’ll have to find me elsewhere. So this is my last column as editor. I’m truly touched by the numerous kind letters and Facebook posts from people who say they will miss me. For those of you who won’t miss me, I’m glad I could finally make you happy.

A while ago, I realized I had better move on before it was too late. The Journal has been my home since 1994, and it was time to leave home. Twenty-three years. The voice in my head kept nagging, “If not now, when?”

When I told my therapist maybe this was all just a midlife crisis, he raised an eyebrow. “Rob, you’re 57. Midlife?”

As my friends and family (and therapist) can attest, I’ve struggled with this decision. It didn’t come as an epiphany but as a gnawing sense that I had given this place my all, and it was time to stretch myself in new ways.

Each Yom Kippur, we come face to face with our mortality. The liturgy urges us to make good our vows and repair our wrongs before the closing of the gates. And each Yom Kippur for many years, I sat in services and struggled with the reality that the gates are closing, and I had to decide. I would recite the Al Chet prayer, which asks God to forgive us a litany a sins. I would get to the last one — “For the mistakes we committed before You through confusion of the heart” — and beat my breast extra hard. The rabbis understood how indecision could paralyze us, stifling our potential.

In her new book, Rabbi Naomi Levy (who also happens to be my wife) tells how the rabbis believed that an angel hovers over every living thing, every blade of grass, whispering, “Grow! Grow!” Since I first read that passage, the angel’s voice has only grown louder. By last year, that still small voice — kol d’mama daka — was screaming.

Still, I wavered. Letting go of this job turns out to be really hard. It has given me a public platform, a voice. It has taken me around the world: Poland, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Morocco, Germany, France, England, Mexico and, of course, Israel. It has brought me into the vice president’s mansion and the White House — twice — and enabled me to meet and speak with intellectuals, diplomats, artists, writers, actors, activists, rabbis, educators, politicians and world leaders. It has put me on stages from Encino to Oxford, to speak with people like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Tony Kushner, Ehud Barak, Amos Oz and the brave Muslim journalists whom the Journal has hosted as Daniel Pearl Fellows.

It has paid me to do what I would do for free: keep up with current events, learn all that I can about Judaism, Los Angeles, politics, food and Israel. It has put me into the heart of the Los Angeles Jewish community at a remarkable time, when we Jews are freer, more secure and more powerful than at any other time in our history. It also put me into journalism during a thrilling moment, when the future of media changes weekly, and when what began as a small community paper can now, with the click of a button, have an impact on people around the world.

Maybe I should stop with this litany before I change my mind, but ultimately, those are just the perks of a fascinating job. I am under no illusions about what really made my role so rewarding.

First, you.

When I say the Journal has been my home, I mean you readers have been like family. You are smart, caring, engaged and opinionated. Not for a second did I ever feel I was writing into a void — and, on occasion, I wished I were. “Eshman is a total moron when it comes to Israel,” a letter writer wrote last week. I’ve been doing this so long and have developed such a thick skin, I actually took it as a compliment. Hey, he didn’t say about everything, just Israel.

I’ve always been keenly aware the Journal serves one of the world’s largest and most diverse Jewish communities. As our online presence has grown, so has our community of readers, from L.A. to Tel Aviv to New York to Tehran. My goal has been to make the Journal the easiest and most interesting place for all these disparate voices to meet, to argue factually and honestly, to understand one another if not to agree. I’ve met or spoken with thousands of you over the years and I take comfort in knowing the Journal, 30 years after its founding, remains the one place where all of our many voices can gather and be heard, day after day, week after week. Even as online media catered more and more to ideological ghettos, the Journal remained committed to reflecting the broadest array of views.

My other deep sense of fulfillment comes from having been part of the Jewish Journal board and staff. I was fortunate to work under three chairs of TRIBE Media, the nonprofit that publishes the Journal: Stanley Hirsh, Irwin Field and Peter Lowy. All three fiercely respected the Journal’s editorial independence. Stanley tapped me to be editor and Irwin devoted himself selflessly to the Journal for years. Peter came in at a dire moment and has stuck by the Journal’s side ever since — he continues to be a selfless supporter and loyal defender. If anything, I often felt that if we weren’t raising a ruckus, we were letting Peter down. To me personally, he is a role model for fearlessness and generosity. If you have received any benefit from this enterprise, Peter Lowy deserves more credit than he will ever take.

I’ve appreciated all of our board members over the years, but I owe four of them special thanks. Uri Herscher believed in this paper when the recession had all but finished it off. His commitment to local, independent Jewish press, his moral authority and his wisdom helped bring it back to life. Uri continues to be a mentor and inspiration to me, as he is to so many. Art Bilger was part of the original rescue squad and saw us through very hard times with insight and creativity. Michael Parks, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former editor of the Los Angeles Times, has always been an unflappable editorial sounding board for me. Jonathan Kirsch has acted as the Journal’s pro bono counsel for 30 years. His expertise has been an important part of the Journal’s success, and occasionally its salvation. Tough stories often make for tough enemies. Jonathan Kirsch is our shield.

As for the staff, what can I say? There’s a word for an editor without a staff — it’s called a blogger. An enormous amount of work goes into putting out a weekly paper and a constantly updated website. That work is unceasing, always under deadline with never enough time or money. Whether it’s Tom Tugend, who fled Nazi Berlin and fought in three wars — and still reports for us — or our newest interns, the people who do this work on the advertising, production, administrative and editorial sides are the paper. They are an extraordinary group of people, from all different faiths and backgrounds. I’ll take full blame for any criticism you may have of this paper, but any compliments must be shared with them.

Six years ago, when I asked David Suissa to join the paper, I knew that there were few people in L.A. who share his passion for Jewish life combined with his commitment to fine journalism and an intense creativity. Three years ago, when I first told David I was thinking of leaving, he said, “No!” David can be very persuasive, so no it was, and I’m grateful I stayed. These past few years have been the most exciting.

I know there are Suissa people out there and Eshman people, but as David takes the reins, I want you to know that I am a Suissa person. I am sure under David this enterprise will go from strength to strength.

There is a second “staff” that also has been a blessing: my family. Raising a family in the Jewish community while reporting on the Jewish community has been tricky at times, and often personally hard for them. To protect their privacy, I chose to write about my son, Adi, and daughter, Noa, very sparingly in this space, but know that is in inverse proportion to the amount of room they take up in my heart and soul. Adi and Noa have been my constant joy and inspiration.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in those decades, it’s that nothing is as important to individual success as community. Yes, the community can offer connections and a leg up. But it also will be there when you fall.

My wife Naomi approaches Jewish learning and practice with utter commitment and total joy. She doesn’t just inspire me, she revives my faith when the politics of communal life can sometimes sour it. Being married to a brilliant rabbi and writer has also helped me fool you into thinking I know far more than I do.   

My parents, Aaron and Sari Eshman, are my role models for community and caring. My dad was born in 1927 in Los Angeles, where his father, Louis, was on the original medical staff of what was then Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. I have vivid childhood memories of Mom and Dad heading off to charity events and volunteering for Cedars, Vista Del Mar and other organizations. Like so many of their contemporaries, they have left this city and its Jewish community far better than they found it. I hope I have been a worthy link in the chain.

That chain includes my predecessors at the paper. Founding editor Gene Lichtenstein set an example of journalistic excellence I have tried to emulate. The cover of the first issue on Feb. 28, 1986,  featured a story on Jews and the school busing controversy. Clearly this was never going to be a paper content to run puff pieces.

Gene accepted men-seeking-men ads long before mainstream papers did. After he left, we were the first Jewish paper to run cover stories on gay marriage and transgender Jews. Religion that doesn’t wrestle with contemporary issues belongs in a museum, not a newspaper.

In the pantheon of columnists I most admire — William Safire, Peggy Noonan, Tom Friedman, Steve Lopez, Bret Stephens, Nick Kristof, Jeffrey Goldberg — I put the late Marlene Adler Marks on the highest pedestal. She was a dear colleague who died too young, and could never be replaced.

When I started at the Journal, almost all Jewish papers were exactly what the late Rabbi Stephen S. Wise called them: “weaklies.” They were parochial community organs. The lead  story of one such paper that arrived in our offices back then was, “Jewish Community Center Gets New Deck.” And yes, the entire cover photo was of a wooden deck. This is some business I’m in, I thought.

Today, Jewish journalism is in a golden age: The Jewish Journal, The Forward, The New York Jewish Week, Moment, Tablet, JTA, not to mention The Times of Israel and Haaretz (let’s face it, they’re pretty Jewish) are attracting great talent, breaking stories, providing deep insights and playing a leading role in shaping communal and international conversation. I am indebted to and often in awe of my colleagues in this corner of the journalism world. Of course, Jewish journalism still is, compared with the big guys, a small endeavor. But Jews also are small in number — and that hasn’t stopped us from making a difference. So can our media. Please support it.

I can’t tell you I’m not a little scared. I will miss being in regular contact with the remarkable people who make up this community, many of whom have become dear friends. I have this recurring, chilling thought that nothing will work out and I’ll be the guy at home in my pajamas writing those cranky letters to the editor, instead of the guy at the office who selects which ones to print.

But there’s some comfort, excitement and strength in being open to the uncertainty. That’s the lesson of Yom Kippur:  We know our days are numbered, that life is a passing shadow, and so we resolve to make changes today — haYom! the liturgy repeats — because the future is beyond our control. 

Last week, I was talking all this over with an older and far wiser attorney friend over lunch. I said I’d heard a life transition can be like a trapeze — sometimes you have to let go of one bar before the next appears. “Well,” he said, “as long as there’s a net.”

At first, I gulped. Oh, damn, I thought, he’s right. What was I thinking?

But then I remembered, I have a net, and so do you. It’s called community. It’s the reason this paper exists and thrives, it’s the reason I’ve been doing this job for 23 years.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in those decades, it’s that nothing is as important to individual success as community. Yes, the community can offer connections and a leg up. But it also will be there when you fall. It’s there for you when you get sick or a loved one dies, and it’s there for you to celebrate your successes and your joys. They say journalism is the first draft of history. But journalism’s true purpose isn’t to record history; it’s to strengthen community. No matter what comes next — trapeze bar or net — I am proud to have helped the Journal fulfill that role.

Over the years, many letter writers have accused me of being overly optimistic. Guilty. This was never the column to turn to if you wanted to read the same old dire warnings about how the Jews are disappearing, anti-Semites are everywhere, the younger generation is lost, Israel and the Palestinians are doomed, and every other gloomy prediction that passes as realism.

But it is impossible to do what I’ve done for the past two decades and not be optimistic. I leave this job with a deep sense of the abiding power of community and tradition and the ability of Judaism to meet the challenges of an unpredictable and often cruel world. To be a Jewish journalist is to see an ancient faith renewed in real time in the real world, in all its variety, abundance — and endurance.

Just this week, I was planning an upcoming trip to Berlin for a conference. When I told my wife I was thinking of finally visiting Auschwitz, a place neither of us has ever been, she became  upset.

“Please don’t go to Auschwitz without me,” she said.

The instant she said it, we had to laugh. Seventy-five years ago, who would have thought?

To this day, that somewhat over-the-top 2003 video of Israeli jets flying over Auschwitz still moves me. The weak can become powerful. Refugees can find a home. In a matter of years, enemies can become allies. Things change, often for the good.

But among all that change, the need for spirituality and tradition abides. Just last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg posted a photo of him and his wife celebrating Shabbat with their baby daughter, Max. They gave Max a 100-year-old Kiddush Cup that belonged to her great-great-grandfather.

No amount of money or power, no new technology and no social upheaval can erase our deeply human need for meaning, connection and purpose. Judaism has helped people meet those needs for millennia. After 5,778 years, the burden of proof is on the pessimists. Judaism will evolve, of course, but as long as it changes to meet these eternal human needs, it will endure.

So, now comes the time for my personal evolution. I do hope we can keep in touch. After all, I plan on staying in L.A. and, more than likely, remaining Jewish.  This Yom Kippur, you definitely will find me in shul, thankful for having made my decision, grateful for the past 23 years, and eager to open new gates as the old ones close.

In the meantime, I wish you a sweet and healthy New Year. Serving you has been my deepest honor. May you come to know all the blessings that being part of your life has brought me.

If you’d like to keep in touch with Rob Eshman, send an email to robeshman@gmail.com. You also can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism, and on his public Facebook page. Rob will still blog at foodaism.com — without a staff.

I Love You Rob Eshman

It was announced today that Rob Eshman is stepping down from his post as editor-in-chief and publisher of the Jewish Journal. When I read the news my heart paused, then I sighed, then I was sad for me, then I was happy for him, then I stared at the picture accompanying the announcement and thought about how much I love this wonderful man, and will miss him as my boss.

Important to note that my remarkable Rabbi, Naomi Levy, is married to Rob and I love her just as much, so there is no shame in professing my love for this great man. As I begin my ninth year as a writer at the Jewish Journal, I owe everything to Rob. He not only heard my voice through my writing, but fought for others to hear it, even when some wanted me to be quiet. I have built a wonderful life as a writer and I will forever be grateful to the man who started it all for me.

Rob Eshman is my hero for a lot of reasons. He loves his family in a way that makes me believe in love. He comments on my writing in a way that makes me want to do better. He inspires me to be a more informed Jew. He makes me laugh, and think, and hope, and pray. I am a better writer for having worked alongside him and will forever been honored to have been taken under his wing.

To the divine Rob Eshman, you are amazing and I am happy for you. I wish you nothing but good things on your new adventure. I look forward to buying your cookbook and seeing you in temple. You are a wonderful journalist, an exceptional human being, and I love you. Always have, and always will. Mazel Tov Mr. Eshman. Be happy, be safe, and always keep the faith.



Rob Eshman, longtime Jewish Journal editor-in-chief and publisher, to leave post for writing projects

Rob Eshman

Rob Eshman, longtime editor-in-chief and publisher of the Jewish Journal, has announced he will be leaving his position on September 26.

Eshman, who has written and sold two movie projects while at the Journal, said that after 23 years at the paper, he wants to switch the focus of his career to full-time writing. He will be working on a food book—Eshman writes the blog “Foodaism”—and another movie project.

“I couldn’t be prouder of what the Journal has become,” Eshman said. “And I am honored and grateful to have been a part of it. I will always love this paper, its staff and this community.”

Peter Lowy, chairman of TRIBE Media, which produces the Jewish Journal, said that current President David Suissa will be stepping into Eshman’s role.

“Rob has been integral to the Journal and the Jewish community,” Lowy said. “He brought curiosity, intellect, and a sense of humor to his work.  Most of all he cares passionately about journalism and Judaism—and he showed that every week.”

Lowy said Eshman approached him in late July to begin discussing the move, and together with Suissa they worked toward a smooth transition.

“What makes the Journal great is a great staff, its board, and the community we serve,” Eshman said. “Those will remain the constants of the Jewish Journal.”

The Journal combines news of the 600,000-person LA Jewish community –the third largest in the world after New York and Tel Aviv–with commentary, features and national and international news.  It publishes 50,000 print copies each week in Los Angeles, and updates jewishjournal.com, one of the world’s most widely-read Jewish news sites, throughout the day.

In 1994, Eshman arrived at the Journal after working as a freelance journalist in San Francisco and Jerusalem. The paper’s founding editor, Gene Lichtenstein, hired him as a reporter. At the time the Journal was a print-only publication. The Journal was independently incorporated but distributed via the Federation membership list.

Eshman became Managing Editor in 1997. In 2000, then-Chairman Stanley Hirsch named him Editor-in-Chief.

As editor, Eshman expanded the reach of jewishjournal.com from 4000 unique visitors to upwards of 4 million today. He brought on a greater mix of political and religious voices. He also overhauled the print circulation model, completely dropping Federation distribution and making the Journal a free weekly, distributed throughout the city. Then-chairman Irwin Field was instrumental in seeing these changes through, Eshman said.

“I wanted to reach every Jew,” Eshman said, “especially those who weren’t connected to the organized community. I realized a good Jewish paper was the easiest way into Jewish connection, and I wanted to make it even easier.” 

In 2009, the Journal, like most newspapers in the country, fell into dire financial straits. Eshman turned to Lowy, CEO of Westfield Corp. to rescue the company and help steer it through the double blow that the Internet and the recession dealt the industry. With a handful of other philanthropists, Lowy formed a new board and came on as Chairman. A year later, Eshman tapped Suissa, formerly the founder of Suissa/Miller Advertising and editor and publisher of OLAM Magazine, to run the Journal’s business side. At that time, Eshman was named Publisher as well.

In the process, Eshman chose a new name for the company –TRIBE—to reflect the its growing multi-media nature and broader mission. These moves ensured the paper’s survival, and eventual growth.

“David Suissa brought his passion and creative genius to the paper, and has been an invaluable partner,” Eshman said.

While Eshman leans left and Suissa right, the two wrote often-opposing columns and the Journal came even more to reflect—and combine—strongly divergent voices that would otherwise stay secluded in separate media bubbles.

During the 2016 Iran nuclear deal, which Eshman supported and Suissa opposed, their ability to spar publicly while maintaining a close friendship and partnership drew media attention.

L.A. Jewish Journal’s heads spar over Iran deal, but stay friendly,” read a headline in the Times of Israel.

Under Eshman, the Journal has won numerous press and community awards. It has expanded across other media platforms, including video. Its livecast of the Nashuva congregation’s Kol Nidre service draws 75,000 viewers each year, making it the world’s most-watched High Holiday service.

Asked to name highlights of his tenure, Eshman pointed to two. In 2015, Islamic terrorists in Paris massacred the staff at Charlie Hebdo magazine for printing cartoons they found offensive. The Journal renamed the Jan. 16 masthead of the paper, “Jewish Hebdo,” and ran the offending cartoons inside.

A year later, Eshman oversaw the first poll of American Jewish opinion during the Iran nuclear deal. It found most American Jews supported a deal that the vast majority of Jewish organizations, as well as Israel’s Prime Minister, opposed. The results reverberated internationally, and the White House acknowledged the Jewish Journal as “One of the most widely read Jewish publications online.”  

“To go from a small locally-circulated newspaper to a media company that reaches millions around the world, and has an impact on the great debates of our time while still serving its core readers with the kind of independent journalism that serves and builds community–that’s very gratifying,” said Eshman. “But it wasn’t at all just me. It was us.”

Eshman credits his past managing editors Amy Klein and Howard Blume, former executive editor Susan Freudenheim, and current managing editor Ryan Smith—as well as a slew of talented writers—as instrumental to the Journal’s editorial accomplishments.

Eshman, 57, is a native of Encino, CA and a graduate of Dartmouth College. He is married to Rabbi Naomi Levy, an author and founder of Nashuva. They have two children, Adi and Noa.

During his tenure at the Journal, Eshman, a member of the Writers Guild of America, wrote and sold a feature film screenplay and a multi-part television project. He also created the food blog, “Foodaism,” named one of L.A.’s best food blogs, and created and taught “Food, Media and Culture” at USC Annenberg School of Communication, where he will continue to teach. He has served on several non-profit boards, including, at present, The Miracle Project.

“We wish Rob well and look forward to an exciting future with David building off the base that Rob and his team has built,” said Lowy.

Eshman pointed out that there has been at least one Jewish newspaper in Los Angeles since the first one was founded in 1870. 

“I was so honored to serve this community and be part of that history,” he said. “And it goes on.”



Who is a Finalist for the Southern California Journalism Awards?

Lisa Niver is a finalist for the Southern California Journalism AwardsI am a finalist in two categories for the Southern California Journalism Awards! I am so honored and excited. Thank you to everyone who has supported me in my writing career.

What are the Southern California Journalism Awards?

The 59th Southern California Journalism Awards honor the best in broadcast, print and online media. There were 1200 entries for the 2017 awards.

From LA Press Club: “The Southern California Journalism Awards were born during the Cold War, when Los Angeles journalism was dominated by the city’s many newspapers. Television was in its infancy. Developments like all-news radio were still years away. Women journalists were rare in mainstream media. Minorities, even rarer.

Today we see greater diversity in the newsroom and in the ways we provide information. The Press Club has been striving to embrace Internet journalists and bloggers–clearly the wave of the future.

The Southern California Journalism Awards, now celebrating 59 years of recognizing high-caliber journalism, continues to call attention to the Los Angeles area’s fine journalists while promoting excellence in new and emerging media.”

Lisa Niver is a finalist for the Southern California Journalism AwardsWhen and Where are the Southern California Journalism Awards?

I will be going to the ceremony at the Biltmore on June 25, 2017 and sitting at The Jewish Journal table.

What articles are you nominated for? I am nominated in two categories


*Brad A. Johnson, Bradajohnson.net, “Trout Fishing and the Yearning for Peace in Kashmir”

*Todd Krainin, Reason, “Gurgaon: India’s Private City”

*Lisa Niver, Mountain Travel Sobek, “Mongolia: Land of Dunes & Moonrises

*Gwynedd Stuart, L.A. Weekly, “How to Go to Disneyland as an Adult and Not Want to


*Susan Valot, KCRW, “For the Curious: A Visit to the Oldest Juniper Tree in America”


*Patricia Bunin, Southern California News Group, “When Nothing Special Moments Are


*Tom Hoffarth, Los Angeles Daily News, “Vin Scully’s Final Call”

*Lisa Niver, The Jewish Journal, “A Journey to Freedom Over Three Passovers

*Jon Regardie, Los Angeles Downtown News, “David Without a Slingshot (Yet)”

*Sharon Smith, Downey Patriot, The Problem With Senior Housing”

Who are the 2017 Special Honorees?

* Andrea Mitchell, NBC News — Joseph M. Quinn Award for Lifetime Achievement

* Jake Tapper, CNN — Presidents Award for Impact on Media

* Daniel Berehulak, Photojournalist — Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism

*Jaime Jarrin, Dodgers Broadcaster — Bill Rosendahl Public Service Award for Contribution to Civic Life

Thank you for all of your support! Lisa Niver

Are you wondering how to get started as a travel writer?

The 13th We Said Go Travel Writing Competition is open! Share a story about where you find freedom and get started today. Maybe you will be sitting next to me at a future writing award ceremony. You never know what will happen next in your journey. You do get to decide if you want to participate. I hope you will join in! We are looking forward to reading about your adventures.

Video: Lisa’s interview on The Jet Set

See this article on Sheknows

From left: Michael Robin, Melanie Zoey Weinstein, Marnina Wirtschafter and Jaclyn Beck sing a politically themed song parody of “Seasons of Love” as part of IKAR’s Purim celebration. Photo by Len Muroff.

Moving and Shaking: L.A. celebrates Purim, IDF soldiers celebrated, Elon Gold reignites Jewish comedy


Mayim Bialik suited up for the Velcro wall at Valley Beth Shalom’s March 12 Purim carnival. Photo courtesy of Mayim Bialik.

Los Angeles Jews celebrated Purim across the city and around the world on March 11 and 12.

On the Westside, Shtibl Minyan and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills held “Hamilton”-themed shpiels, “Hamalkah: A Purim Musical” and “Esther: A Purim Musical,” respectively. Temple Isaiah hosted “The Late Late Show Purim,” with Rabbi Joel Nickerson playing talk show host James Grogger and featuring characters from the Purim story as his guests. At Temple Beth Am, senior staff and interns dressed as either Little Orphan Annie or her dog, Sandy, to convey the message that “the sun will come out tomorrow.” Aish Los Angeles held a jungle-themed Purim party for young adults ages 21 to 32 at Morry’s Fireplace.

Venturing to Club Fais Do-Do, IKAR held a combination Megillah reading and shpiel, featuring slides with funny images. Between chapters, the shpiel team screened a number of video shorts, including “IKARaoke,” starring “Royal Pains” actor Mark Feuerstein. The spiel ended with a politically themed song parody of “Seasons of Love” (from the musical “Rent”). Costumes, too, skewed political, with Rabbi Sharon Brous dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

Festivities continued Sunday around the region, with carnivals at Temple Judea, Temple Isaiah and Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), among other places. At VBS, actress Mayim Bialik (“The Big Bang Theory”) was one of the carnival-goers who suited up for the Velcro wall.

In Israel, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, was spotted dancing after a Megillah reading at the Tel Aviv Hilton with his son, Avi Hier, and Andrew Friedman, president of Congregation Bais Naftoli.

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

Soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles as part of Lev Chayal “Trip of a Lifetime” gather around businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz (top row, seventh from left, seated). Photo by Debra Halperin Photography.

Soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles as part of Lev Chayal “Trip of a Lifetime” gather around
businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz (top row, seventh from left, seated). Photo by Debra Halperin Photography.

Lev Chayal held its second annual “Toast to Our Heroes” party on March 4 at The Mark for Events on Pico Boulevard. The party honored 10 Israel Defense Forces soldiers who were wounded during hostilities with Hamas in Gaza in 2014.

Lev Chayal, which translates to “Heart of a Soldier,” is a group dedicaxted to honoring wounded Israeli soldiers by offering them free leisure trips to Los Angeles. Chaya Israily and Brocha Yemini founded the group in 2016 under the auspices of the Chabad Israel Center.

The black-tie evening coincided with the second trip for soldiers sponsored by Lev Chayal. During their 10-day tour of Los Angeles, dubbed “The Trip of a Lifetime,” the soldiers attended a Lakers game, toured the headquarters of dating app Tinder and visited the Getty Villa museum, among other attractions.

Businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz donated the use of the event space and paid for a significant amount of the event’s expenses.

Some 200 people attended the event, which raised nearly $50,000. Lev Chayal is preparing for the next trip for soldiers in December.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

Alan Dershowitz and Roz Rothstein at “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference. Photo courtesy of StandwithUs.

Alan Dershowitz and Roz Rothstein at “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference. Photo courtesy of StandwithUs.

More than 250 people participated in the “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference on March 4-6, organized by the group StandWithUs, which focused on countering the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Supported by the Diane Shulman and Roger Richman Israel Education Fund, the conference at the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport drew students, professionals and activists from the United States, Canada and Israel. Attendees and members of StandWithUs, a nonprofit pro-Israel organization, shared their experiences with the BDS movement and the tactics they have used to challenge it on college campuses and other places.

“Today, you can’t say anything about minorities, about gay people, about Palestinians, about Muslims or about Arabs,” said Harvard University law professor emeritus and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz. “But when you put a shoe on the other foot, you can say analogous things about the nation-state of the Jewish people, about the Jewish lobby, and ultimately about Jews.”

He said college campuses should “demand a single standard” that is fairly applied to both sides.

“Whatever the left says is hate speech against them, we must demand that that be deemed hate speech against us on the other side,” Dershowitz said.

Other guest speakers included Judea Pearl, father of late Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl; Yaki Lopez, consul for political affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles; and Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.

Hannah Karpin, 17, StandWithUs High School Intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, said the conference enabled her to learn more about the BDS movement.

“I think it should be acknowledged as an anti-Semitic movement,” said Karpin, who is planning to attend college next year. “It was shocking to hear that some recognizable organizations were behind the BDS movement.”

— Olga Grigoryants, Contributing Writer


Elon Gold. Photo by Ryan Torok.

Comedian Elon Gold performed at a Purim comedy concert at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on March 9, during which he talked about why Israel is the nipple of the Middle East breast (Gold said Israel is the most sensitive area and he doesn’t get to visit it as much he would like) and acted as Abraham negotiating with God over how much should be cut off during a circumcision (with God sounding like Marlon Brando and Abraham like Woody Allen).

Gold is Modern Orthodox and his material focused almost exclusively on the Jewish experience. He asked at one point if any gentiles were in the crowd. When nobody raised a hand, he insisted there were a couple of goy but they were hiding. He then asked the non-Jews how it felt for them to be the ones hiding.

Alex Edelman, a stand-up comedian who opened the show, gleaned material from his Jewish upbringing and did an eight-minute bit about the year his family celebrated Christmas, much to the chagrin of his yeshiva teacher.

The several hundred attendees included Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife, rebbetzin Rachel Bookstein; Jacob Segal, co-chair of the Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce; David Suissa, president of TRIBE Media Corp., and his daughter, Tova; and Scott Jacobs of JooTube.

On a more serious note, Gold took the opportunity to denounce the anti-Semitism that has been on the rise over the past couple of months, with Jewish community centers being targeted with bomb threats and several Jewish cemeteries vandalized.

“You mess with the Jews, you lose,” Gold said.

From left: FIDF Chairman Ari Ryan and FIDF board members Francesca Ruzin and Michael Spector. Photo courtesy of S&N Photography.

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) held its Young Leadership Western Region Spring Mixer on March 9 at the Nightingale Plaza dance club on La Cienega Boulevard.

Some 650 young donors mingled over cocktails under violet lighting as house music blared, celebrating the work FIDF has done to support Israeli troops. Life-size posters of IDF soldiers in uniform beamed at the guests.

For an extra $18 above the $36 ticket price, attendees were able to send a Purim gift package to an IDF soldier.

The event, chaired by Danielle Moses, Mimi Paley, Francesca Ruzin and Miles Soboroff, raised more than $41,000 for FIDF.

In 2016, FIDF supported, by its own count, 66,000 soldiers, veterans and bereaved family members, including 14,500 through educational programming, 2,800 through assistance to so-called lone soldiers who don’t have immediate family in Israel, and 8,000 soldiers needing financial assistance.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


Michael Janofsky

Michael Janofsky, a former correspondent for The New York Times and more recently managing editor of LA School Report, has joined the Jewish Journal as an assistant editor. Janofsky was a sportswriter, national correspondent and Washington, D.C. reporter over 24 years with the paper. After moving to Los Angeles in 2006, he worked as a speechwriter for the dean of UCLA’s business school and a freelance writer and editor before joining the Journal.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 


Calendar: March 10-16, 2017



cal-casablancaNoah Isenberg and Monika Henreid discuss Isenberg’s new book, “We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie.” Its focus is the award-winning film that was released in 1942 featuring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and a memorable supporting cast. Isenberg, a film historian, reveals the myths and realities behind “Casablanca’s” production. Through extensive research and interviews with filmmakers, film critics, family members of the cast and crew, and die-hard fans, Isenberg reveals why the film remains so revered. He also focuses on the major role that refugees from Hitler’s Europe played in the production (many cast members were immigrants). The book is filled with fresh insights into “Casablanca’s” creation, production and legacy. 3 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. booksoup.com.



Shalom Hanoch and Moshe Levi perform their final show in the United States. 8 p.m. $100. The Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. israeliamerican.org/shalom.



cal-born-survivorsWendy Holden chronicled the stories of three young mothers who were torn from their families by the Nazis in her powerful book “Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope.” The three women were strangers, but all a few months pregnant and in need of help to keep it a secret from their Nazi captors. Despite the odds, they all defied death to give their children life. Meet one of the Holocaust survivors, Hana Berger Moran. 7:30 p.m. Free; registration required at ushmm.org/events/holden-losangeles. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 556-3222. ushmm.org.



cal-david-wolpeAs the debate over Israel rages on across college campuses and in living rooms throughout the United States, is “Zionist” still a term of support for Israel, or is it now a loaded term? How do younger Americans interpret “Zionism”? Join the Jewish Journal and Hadassah’s Defining Zionism program as we explore how tomorrow’s leaders are thinking about and engaging with the Jewish state, and how their relationship with Israel differs from that of previous generations. Moderated by Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe; Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Rabbi Sarah Bassin; 30 Years After co-founder Sam Yebri; and Jewish Journal staff writer Eitan Arom. 7 p.m. $10 in advance; $15 at the door. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. hadassah.org/jewishjournal.


How does our Jewish tradition understand the concept and practice of mercy and how do we live up to this ideal, which is one of the highest qualities we look for in a human being? Rabbi Steven Silver will discuss “Catholic and Jewish Concepts of Forgiveness.” After lunch, there will be a screening of “Stolen Summer,” a Project Greenlight film about a young Catholic boy who goes on a quest to help a dying Jewish friend get into heaven. 11 a.m. $14; $12 for members. The Rosenberg Cultural Center at Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 316-8444. templemenorah.org.


Harkham-GAON Academy (at the Westside Jewish Community Center) is hosting this event for high school juniors and seniors to gain insight into Jewish life opportunities at college campuses across the country. The event will include a panel of experts on Jewish life at college with the opportunity to ask questions. You will also hear about challenges Jewish college students face. 6:30 p.m. Free. Harkham-GAON Academy, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 556-0663.


In response to the recent wave of bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers nationwide, and the vandalism at multiple Jewish cemeteries across the country, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles will hold a town hall addressing security issues at Jewish sites. Los Angeles Police Department officials and senior representatives from the FBI will speak. 5 p.m. RSVP required at SLoughmiller@JewishLA.org; no walk-ins. The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.



cal-FabrizioLelliFabrizio Lelli will discuss the extraordinary spiritual rebirth of contemporary Judaism by comparing it with other intellectually significant phases of Apulian Judaism in the past. Lelli studies the history of Apulian Jewish culture, concentrating on written and oral testimonies of former Jewish refugees who were in transit camps in the region of Apulia. Lelli teaches at the University of Salento in Italy. Sponsored by UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies. 4 p.m. Free. Pre-registration required at cjsrsvp@humnet.ucla.edu or (310) 267-5327. UCLA, 314 Royce Hall, Los Angeles. humnet.ucla.edu.

Letters to the editor: Response to women’s march, Obama goodbye, and Journal at 30

Women’s March Was About Moving Forward

Jan. 21 was a wonderful example of women and men marching peacefully with great dignity so their voices might be heard.

My environmentalist daughter in the Bay Area marched; my pregnant younger daughter, son and husband marched in Brooklyn. I marched with friends in Los Angeles, proud to be an American.

We will not move backward in time and tolerate anything less than progress forward. We will not lose our right to make healthy choices about our bodies.

Marilyn Stolzman, Calabasas

Emotions About Obama, Run High

Judging by the letters you are getting that chide Rob Eshman’s reverent goodbye to President Barack Obama (“Thank You, Obama,” Jan. 20), it appears that your Jewish readers are beginning to wake up. We should thank Obama for showing the Jews how mistaken they were in voting for him with all his underhanded anti-Israel handiwork.

Chuck Colton, Sherman Oaks

Hal-e-Jew-Ya to Fran P. Jackson’s letter (Jan. 27) about former (thank God) President Obama! He was the worst president America has ever known, and thank God we have a brilliant man like Donald Trump as our president! Shabbat shalom to the very interesting Jewish Journal! I am a visitor from Manhattan, and even if I wasn’t Jewish, I would love reading your great magazine!

Sandy Kane Brodsky via email

Three Decades of Jewish Journalism

I enjoyed Tom Tugend’s feature story on the 30 years of the Jewish Journal (“A Paper Evolves and Innovates,” Jan. 27) with some sense of nostalgia.

My first “real” job was with the B’nai B’rith Messenger in 1977. The world was different then. But Jewish journalism was still a very challenging and rewarding profession, just as it is today. I salute the Jewish Journal for 30 years of providing thought-provoking ideas that impact our community.

The one omission I think Tugend made was not devoting a little more space to the early Jewish editors who “set the table” for the banquet that the Jewish Journal would eventually become. At the very least to name people like Joseph Jonah Cummins and Gil Thompson of the Messenger, Manny Chait of the Jewish Community Bulletin (which gave birth to the Journal), Herb Brin and a young guy with dark hair named Tugend at the Heritage.

Tom Tugend is and has been a treasure for this Jewish community.

Ron Solomon, Beverly Hills

Intentionally Omitting the Jews

I completely agree with Rob Eshman’s concept that President Donald Trump’s omission of the Jews from his Holocaust speech was intentional so that he would not alienate his large anti-Jewish base (“A Holocaust Without Jews,” Feb. 3). And I am tired of hearing that Trump can be forgiven because his daughter and son-in-law are Jewish. I have yet to see evidence that Trump arranged his daughter’s shidduch (dating, being wooed by and marrying an Orthodox Jew) nor that he was delighted that it happened. Yes, now that he has a bright son-in-law, he is using him, just like an Arab head of state uses a Jewish surgeon.

Martin A. Brower, Corona del  Mar

Letters to the editor

Thanks … but No Thanks?

Thank you, Rob Eshman, for writing what is in so many of our hearts (“Thank You, Obama,” Jan. 20). Well done, but missing one paragraph:

Thank you, Obama, for selecting Joe and Jill Biden, also fine people, who set the bar as high as you and Michelle did as examples for our nation and our youth.  

Again, Rob, a fine and important column.

Pam Pacht via email

I thank you for your “Thank You, Obama” column, and sadly say thank you to the departed Mr. and Mrs. Obama, who graced us with intelligence, wit, kindness and style. Which makes it even more difficult to face our current president, who lacks exactly those qualities.

Rick Edelstein, Los Angeles

Rob Eshman’s column overlooks many of the highly problematic issues of Obama’s presidency. To say that, “In my lifetime, there has never been an administration so free from personal and professional moral stain,” is to look at the world through rose-colored glasses, to say the least.

Obama can be credited with deporting more immigrants than any of his recent predecessors, expanding military operations in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, and granting more powers to the executive branch, which makes the Trump administration so frightening.

Aaron L. White, Los Angeles

For too many years, the Jewish Journal has been, thanks to Rob Eshman, a Democrat Party publishing organ. Naively, I always thought that the Journal’s mission was to represent all of Los Angeles’ Jewish community’s schools of thought and politics. Marginalizing readers who are not “left of center” will ultimately guarantee the demise of this publication. It is high time for the board to choose a nonpartisan editor with an inclusive world view. Let Eshman embark on his anti-Trump campaign elsewhere.

Ron Rutberg via email  

Rob Eshman should be ashamed of himself and resign as editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal.

Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for more than 3,000 years, since King David moved it from Hebron (where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried) to Jerusalem.

It has been our capital long before Berlin, London, Moscow or Washington, D.C.

Why are you so fearful about establishing its rightful position among the nations of the world?

What can the Arabs do to us that they haven’t already tried? What can the world do to us that Hitler hasn’t already done?

Eshman: Resign.

Betzalel “Bitzy” N. Eichenbaum, Encino

Eshman’s expressions of gratitude have almost brought tears to my eyes but vomit to my mouth.

Keep up the good work, Rob. Your popularity is soaring in Gaza, Jenin and Ramallah.

Giorgio Berrin, Lake Balboa  

It’s hard to believe that a publisher could write such gratuitous fantasies about the Obama administration’s past achievements. There is no doubt that many readers would find this article offensive and misleading. Eshman’s blind admiration of Obama’s “accomplishments” is biased, one-sided, politically wrong and far from Jewish interests.

Fortunately, in the same edition, the Jewish Journal had a sense of balance by publishing the excellent opinion piece by contributor Larry Greenfield (“A Legacy of O,” Jan. 20) describing the true Obama disasters.

I urge all readers to read his op-ed.

Alex Chazanas via email 

This has been such an ugly campaign that it’s no wonder the ugliness continues. Larry Greenfield’s piece on the Obama years surpasses even the alt-right distortions. I was shocked to read this in the Jewish Journal. 

Theresa McGowan, Santa Monica

Opposing Trump

David Suissa (“When Values Divide Us,” Dec. 23) draws a false comparison between those who hate Obama and those who oppose Trump. While I can’t speak for his Shabbat guests, Trump’s ubiquitous lying, hateful speech and winks to racists must be opposed. Yes, Mr. Suissa, these violate Jewish values. The hatred of Obama is, at best, partisan politics and, at worst, latent racism.

Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, Washington, D.C.

Photo from Pexels.

Jewish law versus Jewish journalism

Can traditional Jewish law sanction journalism? Can journalism be practiced by people who look to halachah as their guide for daily living?

At first, these seem like absurd questions. The profession of journalism is entirely about the public sharing of information — the good, the bad and the ugly. Halachah (Jewish law), on the other hand, demands that we be extremely circumspect about sharing information about others, even positive information.

Halachah contains broad prohibitions against being a talebearer. “Do not go about as a talebearer among your people,” reads the verse in Leviticus. Furthermore, Jewish law forbids lashon harah — literally, evil speech, or speaking badly of others. That alone would seem to severely limit the range of what a contemporary journalist could write.

So the question as to whether journalism — in particular investigative journalism within the Jewish community — can be practiced within the bounds of halachah seems almost nonsensical. On the face of it, the answer is: Of course not.

Yet journalism thrives in almost all Jewish communities, including, of course, this one. And how would one tell talented Jewish journalists that their passion for journalism and their passion for Judaism were simply incompatible? That would not only cast aspersions upon all of the Jewish journalists in the field, but it would present halachah as a system of thought and law that has nothing to say about one of the central institutions in our lives, one of the pillars of democratic, free society.

Yet the task of meshing journalism and Jewish law is anything but simple.

Consider the Lanner case. In 2000, The New York Jewish Week published a series of landmark reports on the abuse of Jewish students by their headmaster, Rabbi Baruch Lanner. Had journalists abided by what was then regarded as the correct interpretation of Jewish law, the reporters and editors would have been obligated to keep the information and the lurid details out of the public eye for as long as possible, instead sharing it only with those individuals who exerted direct influence over Lanner. But many of those individuals, we later learned, were unwilling or unable to stop his abuse. The decision of The New York Jewish Week to publish the story, and to reject the halachic interpretation that regarded public exposure as a last resort to be exercised only when all else has failed, not only stopped the abuse, it single-handedly placed the issue of sexual abuse in school and youth group settings squarely into the communal conversation, leading to far-reaching systemic change in how the community thinks and acts.

The task of meshing journalism and Jewish law is anything but simple.

“Theoretically, one should not want to try people in the newspaper,” said Rabbi Yosef Blau, who sat on the special commission that investigated the Lanner case. “But in a practical sense, in the present time, the newspapers have proven to be a very effective tool … in forcing the community to confront the issues, rather than to stay in denial.”

Unfortunately, events over the past decade have demonstrated the unimpeachable truth of Blau’s words time and time again. Over the past 30 years, the Jewish Journal has published numerous stories that exposed the untoward acts of rabbis, leaders and institutions — stories that caused shame and grief at the time, but which, like the Lanner story, resulted in positive change, or at least greater awareness.

But it is clearly insufficient to tell Jewish journalists that, like Pinchas of old, their work requires them to violate halachic norms in the moment, and to then hope that the significance of their reporting ultimately secures them a pardon. And, in truth, none of us should accept the conclusion that halachah has no means of prescriptively affirming the value of a profession that we intuitively understand to be vital to maintaining the ethical fortitude of our community.

More recently, scholars such as Rabbi Aryeh Klapper, the dean of the Center for Modern Torah Leadership, have been endeavoring to articulate a more workable and cogent way to speak about the relationship between halachah and journalism. Klapper demonstrates that halachah maintains different expectations for individuals on the one hand, and public systems that support the communal welfare on the other. Individuals are expected to make a precise cost-benefit analysis in every single instance in which their actions will cause harm to another person, and are typically required to err on the side of inaction. But systems or institutions that the community counts on to preserve the common good are granted more leeway. They are required to have and to enforce a code of ethics anchored in halachic imperatives and values, but the individuals working within that system are free — indeed are required — to pursue the communal interest as their highest priority.

Klapper includes responsible, ethical journalism as falling solidly within the category of systems that the community needs and desires, so that the community’s interests are served. As long as the journalistic organ has a proper code of ethics, its writers and reporters can and must do their work. Klapper’s conceptual breakthrough is premised on the idea that while journalism may not have existed when classical halachah was formulated, this does not at all mean that it cannot be understood and appreciated in halachic categories, and practiced by people who are Jewish journalists in the finest sense of both words.

None of this is to say that there aren’t legitimate dilemmas and potential pitfalls aplenty. The temptation to abuse the power of the pen is ever-present and no less irresistible than any other pleasurable vice. And this is precisely why it is so important that we have meaningful and workable halachic frameworks for journalism, and never create the impression that the twain shall never meet.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky is senior rabbi at B’nai David Judea, an Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles. He contributes to the blog Morethodoxy at jewishjournal.com.

Jewish Journal nominated for 11 Los Angeles Press Club awards

Dear Friend,

On behalf of the Board of Tribe Media Corp., I am proud to share with you that the Jewish Journal has just been named an 11-time finalist for the 58th Annual Southern California Journalism Awards hosted by the Los Angeles Press Club. The awards will be announced at a ceremony later this month.

This is a tremendous achievement for our small, highly dedicated staff, which works tirelessly to connect, inform and inspire, providing unique, top-notch news and insightful commentary on the most pressing issues for the Jewish community – locally, nationally and internationally.

For these prestigious awards, we compete directly against all the other top news organizations locally, including the Los Angeles Times, and our showing spotlights our journalistic excellence. 

It's also important to note this comes at a cost. And someone who benefits from the Journal, you can be a part of making it happen. Just like your local public radio and television station, The Journal, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization, relies on the generous support of readers like you to provide the reporting worthy of these Press Club honors. 

That is why I am asking you to honor the hardworking editors, reporters, and staff of the Jewish Journal by making a contribution today

Of special note: The Jewish Journal has been singled out for the design of its powerful “Jewish Hebdo” edition, published in January 2015 following the Paris terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Kosher supermarket.

The other Jewish Journal finalists include:

– Senior Writer Jared Sichel for Print Journalist of the Year;

– Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman in the “Commentary” and “Columnist” categories;

– TRIBE Media Corp. President David Suissa in the “Columnist” category;

– Bi-weekly columnist Marty Kaplan in the “Commentary” and “Columnist” categories;

– Arts and Entertainment Editor Naomi Pfefferman in the “Entertainment News or Features” category for her chilling article on the film “Son of Saul;”

– Contributing writer Julie Gruenbaum Fax in the “Investigative/Series” category for her sensitive, multi-part story on transgender Jews, the first of its kind in the world of Jewish press;

– Political columnist Raphael Sonenshein in the “Commentary” category;

– Contributing writer Tom Teicholz in the “Entertainment Journalist” category. 

As the Journal celebrates its 30th anniversary, I want to encourage you to contribute.

Now more than ever, let's applaud the tradition of quality, independent Jewish journalism whose reach across our community and beyond is simply unparalleled. Please join me in supporting the Jewish Journal today.

Thank you.

Peter Lowy
Board Chair, Tribe Media Corp.

Yes, I want to support the award-winning work of the Jewish Journal. Click here to make a tax-deductable donation online.  You can also mail your donation to 3250 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 1250 Los Angeles, CA 90010, or call 213-368-1661 ext 131

A tale of two shadchens

My parents came from Shiraz, Iran. The little English they spoke had a strong “FOB” (fresh off the boat) accent, which the class clowns could impeccably impersonate. My father worked two jobs — as a rabbi at a shul, Ohel Moshe Synagogue, and in Anaheim, 26 miles from home, commissioning car parts in a junkyard.  My mother worked three jobs — as a nightly mikveh lady, elder caretaker and mother. Ashamed of my parents’ struggles, I distanced myself from my inherited culture and stopped speaking Farsi.

Like many others who fled their homeland, my parents felt most comfortable in their ethnic Persian-Jewish enclave. To them, the obvious choice was to send me to Bais Chana High School (now Ohel Chana), a religious Jewish school for girls in Pico-Robertson. As the oldest of four children born to hard-working immigrants, I dared not voice my desire of attending another school that would have a stronger secular education. I already felt guilty enough for their sacrifices. 

[” target=”_blank”>Click here to make a tax-deductable donation online.  You can also mail your donation to 3250 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 1250 Los Angeles, CA 90010, or call 213-368-1661 ext 131

The moral and intellectual state of the Jewish left

There is at least one thing about which my critics and I can agree: The very many responses — published in the Jewish Journal and elsewhere (The Forward, Huffington Post and various blogs) — to my Dec. 4 column titled “The Torah and the Transgendered” are an excellent measure of the moral and intellectual state of the American-Jewish left.

My critics and I recognize that all these rabbis, including the head of the Reform rabbinate, all these Jewish professors and all the Jewish laypeople who attacked me and my column represent the American-Jewish left, and are therefore a fine indicator of the moral and intellectual state of the American-Jewish left.

Let’s see what that state is.

Before doing so, however, one important caveat. Although many may call themselves liberals, I am discussing the left, not traditional liberals. It is vital to recall that there was a very long period when “liberal” and “left” were not only not synonymous, they were frequently at odds with each other. For example, liberals were fiercely anti-communist, and the left wasn’t (it was anti-anti-communist). Similarly, the left regarded America — as it does today — as essentially a racist, sexist, xenophobic and imperialistic country, while liberals thought America, though not perfect, was and is the greatest country ever created.

[RELATED: A response to Dennis Prager]

Here then are some of the characteristics of the American-Jewish left that stand out from the responses:

First, the low intellectual state.

Jews and the left generally pride themselves in valuing the life of the mind. But the left (with, of course, some individual exceptions) is actually anti-intellectual. The proof is the contemporary university where ideology has replaced intellectual inquiry. As Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Bret Stephens (a secular Jew with a graduate degree from the London School of Economics) succinctly put it recently in his Wall Street Journal column, “American academia is, by and large, idiotic.”

Why? Because leftists, not traditional liberals, have taken over the universities. 

There are few intellectual arguments in the scores of responses to my column. The vast majority of the rhetoric is about how bigoted a person I am.

In fact, nearly all the responses actually betrayed an unwillingness (or perhaps even an inability) to dialogue intellectually. When not condemning me as an individual, they discussed accepting transgender individuals in Jewish life — which I happen to support, believe it or not. But my column had nothing to do with accepting transgender individuals either as people or as Jews. It was about the blurring of male-female distinction in society, and how much the Torah (and later Judaism) values distinctions, including the male-female distinction.

This blurring of the male-female distinction has me very worried about the future because I do not believe that the abolition of “he” and “she,” as more and more universities now recommend, is a healthy thing. I do not believe that it is good that boys are elected high school homecoming queens — because queens are female and kings are male; or that anatomical males should be naked in high school girls’ locker rooms. I do not believe it is healthy for children when parents raise them with no gender, leaving it to the children to determine their gender as they grow up. And I do not believe that the widespread progressive dismissal of the need for both a father and a mother — given how little the sexes differ, who needs a parent of each sex? — is good for society.

This societal denial of the significance of male and female, this blurring of genders, and Judaism’s opposition to such blurring was the subject of my column. Yet that subject was either missed or ignored by virtually every responder, who wrote as if in preprogrammed mode, “bigot,” “non-inclusive,” “intolerant,” “transphobic,” “hateful” and, one after another, described the Torah as saying essentially anything a person (on the left) wants it to say.

Which brings us to characteristic No. 2:

Instead of intellectual discourse, what we have is the dismissal of the decency of the left’s opponents. If you oppose the left, you are rarely debated. Instead you are dismissed as sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, racist, bigoted and spewing hatred. And that’s only a partial list. Instead of debating us, the left morally dismisses us as unworthy of debate.

For example, Rabbi Sharon Brous wrote that “Prager is a self-appointed community provocateur — a role he seems to enjoy.” 

The idea that I deeply and sincerely care about people (including the transgendered), about Jews and Judaism, about children and about their future is one that Rabbi Brous cannot entertain. Because then my ideas would have to be responded to, whereas if I am just “a self-appointed community provocateur,” I don’t merit a reasoned response to a reasonable column.

FYI to Rabbi Brous: I was a leader in the fight to save Soviet Jewry, and I wrote, with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, one of the most widely read English-language introductions to Judaism ever published, before you were born. I have lectured to more Jews than almost any living Jew. I have brought innumerable Jews to Judaism, and innumerable non-Jews to an appreciation of Jews. And you demean these 40 years of service to Jews as those of “a self-appointed community provocateur.”

By dismissing opponents’ decency, those on the left feel no need to confront our arguments. At the end of my second column responding to my critics, I invited any or all of the responders to a public dialogue organized by the Jewish Journal with proceeds divided among the charities of our choice. No one thus far has accepted the invitation. The reason is that the left lives in an intellectual bubble, and therefore isn’t used to being intellectually challenged.

Third, and finally, there is a willingness to make up falsehoods in the service of progressive ideals. Thus, the head of the Reform rabbinate (the Central Conference of American Rabbis) wrote, “Sadly the Jewish Journal has a long history of publishing Prager’s vitriol and personal attacks on hard-working and devoted rabbis.” 

That is, as I wrote in my response column, a lie. There is no such history, let alone long history. My call for her to back up her charge or retract it has thus far been met with silence.

And yet another rabbi wrote:

“The first thing we learn about ourselves in Bereshit/Genesis is that we are created in the image of God and that zachar u’nikeva bara otam (male and female God created it (the human).”

To make her point, this rabbi simply decided to mistranslate one of the two words she cited from the Torah. Bara otam means “created them,” not “created it.” 

I have devoted all this time and effort to this subject for many reasons. One is, as I wrote above, my fears for the next generation. 

Another is that pre-adolescent children are now encouraged to adopt a transgender identity when in most cases, gender dysphoria is only a passing phase. 

As sex researcher Debra W. Soh wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal:

“Research has shown that most gender dysphoric children outgrow their dysphoria, and do so by adolescence: Most will grow up to be happy, gay adults, and some, like myself, to be happy, straight adults.

“Waiting until a child has reached cognitive maturity before making these sorts of decisions would make the most sense. But this is an unpopular stance, and scientists and clinicians who support it are vilified, not because science — which should be our guiding beacon — disproves it, but because it has been deemed insensitive and at odds with the current ideology.”

And my other reason for all this writing is to provide Jewish historians of the future a picture of the moral and intellectual state of progressive Judaism in the early 21st century — in the progressives’ own words.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

At L.A. Jewish Journal, president and publisher face off on Iran deal — and stay friendly

Open up the pages of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal these days, and you’re likely to find vigorous debate about the Iran deal.

And that’s just between the newspaper’s president, David Suissa, and its publisher and editor-in-chief, Rob Eshman.

The two have been going head-to-head on the nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran in column after column for the month since it was announced on July 14.

“A flawed deal will make America and Israel safer than a failed deal,” Eshman wrote in his latest Jewish Journal column, published Monday. “We need to accept it and focus on strengthening our position vis-à-vis Iran in every way possible, including increased aid to Israel.”

Now here’s Suissa, in one of his recent weekly columns, writing about the deal: “It’s full of nasty surprises … I don’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat, this fine print stinks.”

But if you think Suissa and Eshman are battling it out in the halls of the Jewish Journal’s offices or that someone’s job is on the line, think again. Both men say they benefit from and respect the other’s perspective.

“I love the fact that we have diametrically opposed positions in the same paper,” said Suissa, who as president of TRIBE Media Corp. oversees the Jewish Journal’s business operations.

“I respect Rob tremendously; I love the way he writes,” Suissa told JTA. “We’re very much on the same page in terms of wanting to have a paper that includes the broadest possible range of views. We really try to put our money where our mouth is. I piss off one half of the community, and he pisses off the other half.”

Eshman said: “Yes, it is unusual that the two people who are the most prominent voices of the paper disagree on Iran. Then again, we disagree on a lot of issues — and I think that is what sets the Jewish Journal apart from other Jewish (and non-Jewish) media companies.”

He noted that the paper presents viewpoints ranging from the hard-right of the Zionist Organization of America to the far left of Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that the Anti-Defamation League has called one of America’s Top 10 anti-Israel groups.

“We really treat our paper and websites as true community forums, and if you have a smart, original and well-written opinion, you are in the community,” Eshman said.

As for his disagreements with Suissa, Eshman said hashing them out is often the most fun he has during the day. In any case, Suissa is a partner, not a boss. Both men answer only to TRIBE’s board, which has not once interfered with editorial matters, according to Eshman.

In their columns, too, each has been careful to urge respect for the other side.

“Even though I am for the deal, I fully respect the opinions of people who have come to another conclusion — that’s why you can turn the page of this newspaper or scroll our website and find columnists who disagree with me,” Eshman wrote in his column on Monday.

Suissa echoed that in his column on Tuesday: “It’s important not to demonize the proponents of the deal, who also want what’s best for America, Israel and the world. I may see things differently than they do, but I can’t impugn their motives.”

With so much public vitriol being exchanged between opponents and supporters of the Iran deal, including in the Jewish community, perhaps something can be learned from the comity at the Jewish Journal.

Letters to the Editor: Obama, Iran and Jews in Egypt

Connect. Inform. Inspire.

Over lunch, I read the April 10 issue of the Jewish Journal cover to cover. The articles were informative, inspiring and gave me pause. The Iran framework offerings pushed me in all directions to think, rethink and re-rethink my position. I found plenty of Jewish delicious teachings too on Passover and more. I’m going to be contemplating Michelle K. Wolf’s insights on self-determination and its implications for how we treat Jews with challenges. I could go on and on.

Bravo, Rob Eshman. Yes, I enjoyed your editorial (as I always do, whether I agree or not), but more so the issue is praiseworthy as a whole. 

I suppose some would call for ex-communication for the lack of kvetching in this email to a publisher/editor-in-chief, but I am resolute. The issue demands I kvell

Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Congregation Or Ami

Skeptics Unite

I haven’t practiced psychology for several years but I still know denial when I see it (“Maybe Obama Knows What He’s Doing,” April 10).

First, Eshman tries to convince us — and himself — that the Iran deal will be good for Israel, despite Iran’s explicit intention of wiping Israel off the map. Then, David Lehrer, like Eshman a well-meaning, sincere gentleman, tries to convince us that our failure to be alarmed by anti-Semitism during a period of burgeoning anti-Semitism is evidence of ethnic maturity.

Really, guys?

Jonathan Kellerman, Beverly Hills


I hope Eshman is right, but I just do not believe in the foreign policy wherewithal of this president. Barack Obama may have been correct in 2003 in opposing the Iraq war (something few Democrats were opposed to at the time; both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry voted in favor of it), but undoing George W. Bush’s foreign policy is not a foreign policy. Obama needed to understand that he had to take the world as he found it in 2009. He took a victory in Iraq and turned it into a defeat.  

When Eshman said, “But there also is evidence that Iranian insiders are eager to find a way to abandon the long and costly push for nuclear weapons without admitting as much to the Iranian people — who have paid an enormous price for such folly,” I must be missing something. I read everyone from Jeffrey Goldberg to Bret Stephens to Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, and I have not seen anyone say that. 

I know Israelis do not think as he does. They are totally perplexed how a passionate committed Jew such as Eshman can support Obama. Frankly, I understand their views more than I understand his.  

We are going to have to wait for the verdict of history, but I find it hard to believe that this is beneficial.

Douglas J. Workman, Los Angeles  


Eshman is absolutely delusional.

How can he believe that this totally incompetent fool who belonged to an openly anti-Semitic church is pro-Israel? He never was and never will be. J Street is a fraudulent organization that pretends to be pro-Israel but undercuts them at every turn. Jews are absurd to be Democrats anyway, but to vote for Barack Obama, who is obviously pro-Islam and particularly pro-Iran? Obama is worse than Jimmy Carter!
Yes, I am Jewish.

Lee Tabin via email

What’s Missing

In regards to Rob Eshman’s “Let My People Stay” opinion piece in the April 3 issue, my husband and I were very much in agreement with the opinion presented. But lacking in the piece, and in the Journal in general, is the information regarding the ways in which “Jewish communities … can target these groups …” as well as methods for “supporting those Muslims speaking out against the status quo and the extremists within their own communities.” Who are these people and organizations? Is the Journal featuring their stories with any regularity? Perhaps it should be.

Cherie McDermott via email

He Who Helps Himself

Regarding Dennis Prager’s article “If God Took the Jews Out of Egypt … ” (April 10), this is the first time I’ve read something that actually helps me understand evil, why God allows it and our role as human beings to act in preventing it or in some way mitigating it. His explanation of why we also are to remember God having taken us out of bondage spoke to me. God not acting in the face of evil, since that time, doesn’t mean he doesn’t love us or is powerless to act, but as Prager says, “… a moment’s reflection should make it pretty clear that this would end human free will.” I’m struck with the fact that I — we — must act, and not wait for him to do so.

Jerry W. Cohen, Los Angeles

Doctors strike back after anti-Israel letter in Lancet, pressure publisher Elsevier

Angered by a controversial, anti-Israel letter published in late July by the respected medical journal The Lancet, doctors in North America and Europe are calling on academic publishing giant Reed Elsevier to reform its editorial policy. The question is whether Elsevier will listen.

An online petition started by Toronto endocrinologist Daniel Drucker on Oct. 10 had garnered more than 1,500 signatures as of the afternoon of Oct. 15, with prominent doctors throughout the United States, Canada, Israel and Great Britain expressing their dismay. Included on the list, posted on 

Crossword: August 22-28, 2014

Crossword Puzzle and Answers: June 18-24

Why we write

On Monday, I gave a talk to visiting young Israelis on a subject near and dear to my heart: Just what is the Jewish Journal?

These Israelis were next-generation leaders, here in Los Angeles as part of the KOLOT program, which exposes secular Israelis to Jewish tradition, something Jews in the Holy Land can manage to miss learning about in their country’s public schools.  

I met them at the newly refurbished Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Jewish newspapers, I explained, are the least-appreciated, least-understood and often most-despised institution in Jewish life. To be a Jewish journalist — bearer of bad news, muckraker, gadfly, thorn and nudge — is often to be a minority within a minority, a Jew among Jews.

But Jewish papers have been integral to successful Jewish communities. The first modern one, the Gazeta de Amsterdam, launched in 1675, just 70 years after the first newspaper of any kind. There were Jewish papers in all 13 American colonies and a national Jewish paper, called The Jew, beginning in 1823. L.A.’s first Jewish paper, the German-language Süd-Californische Post, was founded in 1874, when there were only 300 Jews among the city’s 5,500 residents.   

Why? Because as Jews disperse, they need an institution that gathers their stories, that keeps them informed and, when necessary, sets a communal agenda.

And in a free country, there’s another important role. As waves of Jewish immigrants came to America at the turn of the century, the great Jewish Daily Forward taught a generation of Jews to be Americans — how to find work and fit in. Today, the role of the Jewish paper has flipped. One of its larger purposes is to teach Americans to be Jews: to connect them to a larger community, to provide a window into Jewish life and learning in a very secular world.

You would think, in a modern world, the demand for Jewish media would decline. The opposite is happening. The Jewish Journal’s print circulation is up, and jewishjournal.com now reaches close to 1.5 million people around the world each month through its Web site and mobile apps. Old Jewish media outlets like The Forward and JTA — formerly the Jewish Telegraphic Agency — have been revitalized; new ones, from The Times of Israel to tabletmag.org to eJewishPhilanthropy.com, are popping up constantly. One reason is that the issues and ideas Jews care about have become the issues and ideas the world cares about: Terrorism. Fundamentalism. The Middle East. The role of religion in politics. How to meld tradition with modernity. 

But even more important, in an uncertain world, people yearn for connection, tradition and community. And the first place they look for it — as with anything these days — is the Web.

But, the young tech-savvy Israelis wondered, if Jews can connect on Facebook or Instagram, isn’t that enough? It’s not, any more than WhatsApp can replace The New York Times. There still has to be somebody out there gathering stories, reporting them to the highest-possible standards, providing the most thoughtful and well-edited opinions, and reaching out to as broad an audience as possible, with no greater motive than to connect, inform and inspire.

What the Web offers is a way for Jewish media to reach — for the first time — not just every Jew, but everyone. This is a remarkable moment in Jewish history, when we have the freedom, power and ability to present Jewish life and learning to an unlimited audience. Nothing, I believe, will have a greater impact on the next phase of Jewish history than how we use that potential.

That’s the challenge I left to the young Israelis, one that the (mostly) young staff at the Jewish Journal has already taken on.

As for me, you will not see my column in this space for the next four months. After 19 years at the Jewish Journal, including 12 years as editor-in-chief and two years as publisher, as well, I am taking a four-month sabbatical. I’ll be working on a writing project that needs a bit more focus than I can squeeze in around the long hours that we all put in to make the Journal what it is. 

If I can be allowed one parting request, it is this: Support the Jewish Journal.  As I told the visiting Israelis, no other Los Angeles Jewish institution reaches as many Jews on a daily and weekly basis. No other institution tells and records our communal story. No other institution reaches as many Jews otherwise uninvolved in community life. For that matter, because we distribute free and on the streets and over the Web, no other L.A. Jewish institution reaches as many non-Jews each and every week.

For all that outreach, the Journal is the rare Jewish nonprofit institution that earns 90 percent of its revenue on its own, through the hard work of our advertising and subscription staff. But that extra 10 percent provides the crucial funds we need to invest in bringing the Jewish world to you, to grow and change along with our community and with the new resources of technology. For that, we very much need you to make a tax-deductible contribution, annually and generously, at jewishjournal.com.

This last part isn’t what I talked about with the Israelis — I’m just asking you. But as I did say to them, shalom v’lhitraot — goodbye, and see you later.

Chanukah at the White House

My new favorite way to celebrate Chanukah is lighting candles with Barack Obama.

The White House Chanukah Party was held Dec 5, a day after Chanukah.  It was my first time attending the annual event, which President George W. Bush began in 2001.  I don’t expect it’s one of those experiences I’ll ever get used to.

This year the White House held two Chanuka parties, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, each for about 400 invited guests. 

Why in this year did Obama dip twice?

“Frankly,” one long time guest, a well-known pundit, told me,  “he needs Jewish support,” 

The evening party began at 6 pm.  We lined up outside the East Wing and proceeded slowly through three stations of security.

The doors to the East Wing were ringed in gold wreaths. A Marine guard greeted us, and we made our way down a hallway lined with family pictures of Christmases past—the Clintons, the Bushes, the  Obamas– those families.

The rooms inside were a Christmas fantasy.   The first tree was decorated with gold stars, to honor service men and women killed in the line of duty.  Guests stopped and wrote personal holiday notes to soldiers.

As we entered, the a capella group Pizmon, composed of students from Columbia and Jewish Theological Seminary, sang Hebrew songs.  Large oil portraits of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson looked down.

Story continues after the video.

Inside, more trees — so many trees! — and bunting and crèches.  The effect was warm and festive, not gaudy. Each room was a small museum of presidential portraits, American art, rare books. 

In the two larger rooms, four buffet tables bore endless platters of grilled vegetables, tabouli salad, chicken galantine, pastries and of course crisp latkes, each the size of a Kennedy half dollar. Rabbi Levi Shemtov supervised the White House kitchen for the event, making it kosher. Lamb was specially butchered to produce thick, lollipop-sized chops, each seared until just pink, and exquisitely tender.

“I think I ate a whole flock,” said one guest.

Rabbi Shemtov also oversaw the installation of the giant menorah on the Mall. We stood in front of the curved bay window in the Red Room and the bearded Lubavitch rabbi pointed it out to me, shining in the distance.  Two feet behind us in the center of the room rose a massive decorated Christmas tree. 

Most Jewish events are fundraisers, heavy on donors, or conferences, heavy on professionals, or services, heavy on rabbis.  At the White House Chanukkah, they all come together.  I spotted journalists (Jeffrey Goldberg and David Makovsky),  academics (Norman Ornstein and Dr. Arnold Eisen), rabbis (Capers Funnye, Shmuely Yakelovitz, David Ingber, Noah Farkas, Sharon Brous), Jewish professionals (Rachel Levin, Malcolm Hoenlein), professional atheletes (Craig Breslow  of the Boston Red Sox, the Houston Rockets’ Omri Casspi), Israeli Americans (Adam Milstein), cookbook author Joan Nathan, consultant Steve Rabinowitz, all four Jewish Supreme Court Justices, Congressman Henry Waxman and Brad Sherman, former congressmen Robert Wexler and Howard Berman, and White House staffers (Special Assistant to the President Jonathan Greenblatt and Matt Nosanchuk, the new Director of Jewish Outreach as well as many lay community leaders and donors.

There were rabbis of all denominations, from Lubavitch to Reconstructionist, and Jews of all political stripes. To get such a diverse group of Jews together and celebrating under one roof you’d have to be, well, President of the United States.

“You’re not exactly a fan,” one woman said to her husband as they posed in the Obama’s entryway.   

The husband took a few steps until he was beneath a portrait of former First Lady Laura Bush.

“Here,” he said, “now take the picture.”

Before the President and First Lady Michelle Obama entered and after they left, the most well-known face in the room was the man standing by a Christmas tree in the State Dining room, surrounded by a admirers:  Larry David.  The other celebrity in the crowd was Joshua Malina, who came with his wife Melissa Merwin. Malina  currently stars in the White House centered-drama Scandals.   

“You must have been here before,” a guest asked Malina, who rose to fame in another White House drama,  “The West Wing.”

“No,” he said, “I only get to meet fake Presidents.”

A Marine guard stepped away from her official duties, broke out a big smile and asked for a photo beside Malina.   

The biggest celebrities entered the Grand Foyer at about 8 pm. Between the first celebration and the evening one, news came that Nelson Mandela had died, and Obama’s remarks quickly moved to remembering his personal hero.

“Tonight our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family,” he said.  They mourn a moral giant who sought to bring about justice, not only in South Africa but he inspired people around the world to do that. The idea that every human being deserves dignity and the notion that justice shall prevail.”

“Yes!” — an audience member interjected.

“A Supreme Court justice just said that,” the President pointed out.

“Over the last eight days Jews around the world have gathered with friends and family to light the menorah and tell the story of a miracle, of a people who surmounted overwhelming odds, to reclaim their homeland and the right to practice their religion. …We light these candles tonight to remind us we’re still writing the chapters of that story today.”

Obama tied the spirit of Chanukah to the need to remain vigilant in the face of oppression.

“We need to partner with our allies that share those values, including the state of Israel,” Obama said.   “Together with our Israeli friends we’re determined that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.”

The crowd greeted this with cheers and applause, and the President continued.

“For the first time in a decade we have stopped the progress of Iran’s nuclear program,” he continued. “The toughest of our sanctions will remain in place, that’s good for us, that’s good for Israel.  Over the next months, we’re going to continue our diplomacy, to reach a comprehensive solution. And through it all, as always, our commitment to Israel and its security will remain ironclad and unshakable.”

The President then introduced the brass menorah.  It was rescued from a synagogue destroyed by Nazis in the  former Czechoslovakia.  Surrounded by the ornate Christmas decorations, it looked especially humble.

A rabbi who is also an army chaplain led the Shechechyanu and a Chanuka blessing  that did not include the traditional words for the actual lighting of the candles. A conclave of Orthodox rabbis meeting in an adjacent room had earlier decided on the best way to approach the post-Chanuka candle-lighting.

Two Holocaust survivors joined the President in lighting the candles.  The crowd spontaneously began singing “Maoz Tsur”—Rock of Ages.  The President beamed.

In a lighter mood afterwards, he showed off a turkey-shaped menorah that had been given to him at the afternoon ceremony.  He explained that Chanuka and Thanksgiving won’t coincide for another 70,000 years. 

“We call this a ‘Menurkey,” he said.   

At his Chanukah parties,  President  Bush would stand two hours in an actual receiving line, and each guest got a picture.   In years past, Obama came down for the blessings, said a few remarks and left—ten minutes tops.  The feedback from the crowd that made the pilgrimage-slash-schlep to shake his hand was that this did more harm than good.

“Obama got the message,” said one repeat guest.

This time, after the ceremony, Obama descended the podium and shook hands with guests who crowded toward him from behind a cordon.  He spent a half hour making his way around a semi-circle, disappeared behind some doors for a few minutes, then reappeared and crossed the room, speaking with more guests, shaking more hands.

The political reasons aren’t hard to fathom.  The President needs the Jewish community on his side to back him on his current talks with Iran, and on whatever negotiations he may still attempt between Israel and the Palestinians.

And if his drive to reduce rising inequality in America is his professed rest-of-term agenda, he will find natural allies among the mostly well-heeled Chanuka celebrants who traditionally vote liberal on social justice issues.

Earlier that day I toured the Newseum, which had an exhibit on newspaper coverage of the Freedom Summer, when black and white students went South to register black voters and encountered vicious beatings and racism together. Now, I thought, look who’s President.  And look who is singing “Maoz Tsur” in the White House, just  few feet from Bess Truman's piano.

I suppose nothing in Washington operates in a politics-free zone, but it would be cynical, too cynical, to write that evening off as just politics.   There was true hospitality, true thanksgiving, and a bit of the miraculous.

When my turn came to face Obama amid the crush,  we shook hands and I said, “Thank you, Mr. President.”  And I meant it. I really did.


Rob Eshman is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Tribe Media Corp. Follow him  @foodaism.

My Judaism: Millennials speak out following Pew poll

The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project issued its “Portrait of Jewish Americans” on Oct. 1, setting off alarms throughout the Jewish community about the future of Jewish life. Among the greatest concerns is this statement: “Among Jews in the youngest generation of U.S. adults — the Millennials — 68% identify as Jews by religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture.” 

To hear the voices behind the statistics, the Journal invited Millennials to speak for themselves about what it means to them to be American Jews. Each tells a different story: 


The recently released Pew survey distinguishes between “Jews by religion” and “Jews of no religion” — otherwise called secular or cultural Jews. I tried to determine which of these two kinds of Jews I am, but neither term felt quite right, and I grew increasingly confused and frustrated as I delved deeper into the survey results and found, for example, that 16 percent of Jews by religion don’t believe in God, and 18 percent of Jews of no religion do believe in God.

Ultimately, I realized that the source of my frustration was that I was searching for clarity instead of accepting complexity. My relationship with Judaism is continually changing and full of unresolved questions. Like many of the Jews surveyed, I defy straightforward classification. So perhaps I’m better off describing my Jewish identity piecemeal, as opposed to trying to categorize myself within a binary.

Like 40 percent of Jews by religion and 20 percent of Jews of no religion, I identify with the Reform movement. I attended Hebrew school for eight years, although there was many a Sunday morning when I wanted to stay in bed, and many a Wednesday afternoon when I longed to be at play rehearsal instead of trudging through the Ve-ahavta. During my bat mitzvah, I gave a speech about trying to come to terms with the hypocrisy of the Jews becoming slave owners shortly after escaping slavery in Egypt. I (usually) fast on Yom Kippur, infrequently attend religious services and have a (Hebrew) tattoo. And I don’t believe in God.

This is the first time I’ve written that, and acknowledging it feels liberating, necessary and a little bit terrifying. Liberating and necessary because it’s central to my religious identity and terrifying because inside of me there lives the shadow of my younger self: a girl who always wrote G-d, panicked at the thought of accidentally dropping a siddur on the ground and desperately wanted to believe but was hounded by uncertainty.

Although I don’t believe in God, there are few things in life that I find more soothing — and spiritual, even—than reciting the Shema. I’m well aware of the contradiction. But when I recite the Shema, though I don’t feel a connection to God, I do feel a profound connection to the generations of Jews who came before me, who recited these very same words. I feel comforted by a sense of community and humbled by the history of the Jewish people and their strength of spirit. The Book of Genesis says God created man in his image, but I think it’s the other way around. Perhaps what I’m praying to, what I believe in, is a God that comes from and exists within the human spirit.

I arguably fit within the trend of decreasing religiousness among young Jewish Americans, but I will not be among the growing number of Jews raising children without religion. I know with certainty very few things about my future, but I know that when I have children — if I have children, which I hope I will — they will be raised as Jews, in a Reform community.

For this decision, I credit my parents and my upbringing in a Reform congregation that presented me with a religion open to interpretation and adaptation, where thoughtful inquiry was encouraged, and doubt was acknowledged and accepted.

I want my (hypothetical future) children to learn about Jewish history and values, and to feel connected to and a part of the Jewish community. And when it comes to God and religious belief, I want to empower them with the tools to ask their own questions and the freedom to decide for themselves what being a Jew means to them — just as my parents did for me. And I can only hope that they, in turn, will someday do the same for their children.

Isabel Kaplan is working on her second novel, a screenplay and a nonfiction book about arson and murders in the 1930s.


My home life was not typical of an Orthodox household. We kept kosher, went to shul and observed major holidays. But if you sat in hashkama minyan between my father and grandfather, you were treated to very unorthodox commentary. “Pesach and Chag He’Aviv were two different holidays,” my grandfather would mutter during Torah reading. Or my father, during the haftorah: “See how the rabbis ruined Judaism?” I was raised to be suspicious of Orthodoxy, even though it was what my parents had chosen for me.

In yeshiva, my suspicions were ignored. The big issues — biblical criticism, Darwinism, theodicy — were decided before discussion began. Biblical criticism was an anti-Semitic canard; Darwinism and creationism were seamlessly compatible; and the Holocaust was inexplicable, hence, irrelevant. We had no time for these nuisances anyway, not with nine periods of Gemara a week. Thus, we spent more time agonizing over talmudic minutiae than over the justifications for its existence.

Judaism was about prescribed ritual, end of story. We attended Shacharit every morning, while the principal stood facing us on a stage at the front of the room, scanning, screaming and shuckling. If you talked, he screamed. If you dozed, he screamed. If you sat when it was time to stand, he screamed. After awhile, I began to associate halachah with two things: fear and coercion.

But college was where my loyalties were really tested. There, you chose your lifestyle, and if you chose Orthodoxy, you were forced to make sacrifices. I began asking myself why I was sacrificing this or that and started thinking seriously about what the answers I’d been given amounted to — obscurantism, sophistry, superstition. It wasn’t about temptation; it was about what I was being tempted away from.

And then there was the temptress. Forget for a moment things like sex and cheeseburgers. In college, there’s this shattering encounter with Western wisdom for which yeshiva students are utterly unprepared. I remember my first Kant class, in particular, taught by the best professor I ever had, a steely-haired German fellow with a thundering voice.

The arguments were incredibly complex, but they had a vivid, irresistible logic to them. I had this sense of bumping up against a transcendent intellect, the Transcendent Intellect. All this other junk in the Jewish tradition, all the pitifully tenuous logic, all the willful distortions — none of that could be divine. Judaism couldn’t offer anything this complex or compelling. So what was it all worth?

After college, I spent a year at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem trying to find out. There were nuances to Judaism that my yeshivas had obscured or overlooked. The Bible could be complex when it wasn’t read through Rashi. And if you viewed halachah as an evolving ethical system, more of the minutiae started to make sense. But even Pardes didn’t have enough of the answers. And there was a lot of time spent apologizing for indefensible norms and notions. What was more, it was too little, too late.

I met with a teacher after the program ended and told her I was done with Judaism. Why, she wondered, couldn’t I discard the bad in Judaism while retaining the good?

Say you were wronged by someone you loved, a girlfriend who treated you badly, not once or twice, but for the whole of your relationship. You made a clean break. Then your friend comes along and reminds you of all the good times. Why can’t you look the girl up every once in awhile? Why can’t you hold on to what still works? But of course you can’t. The wounds are too raw, and the good and bad are all mixed up inside you. You can’t be friends, at least not for a few years. And maybe longer. Maybe you can never be friends.

Daniel Schwartz is a freelance writer studying screenwriting at UCLA. He blogs at WhotheEffisJeff.


When I sat down to write this piece, I found myself at a bit of a loss. How do I define my “Jewish journey” when I feel I’m still at the start of it? Feeling overwhelmed, I did what many a writer has done before me — turned on my television. A little “SNL” would surely inspire, no? Ironically, during the “Weekend Update” segment, Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy came on. Lo and behold, this was the inspiration I was searching for! As I laughed and rewound and laughed some more, I found myself a bit unsettled by what unfolded. The sketch was fairly simple; it was Jacob explaining to Seth Meyers, Cecily Strong and the rest of the audience what he had done the previous evening. Jacob told Seth:

“We celebrated the Jewish holiday of Shabbat! And since my bubbe was over, we acted like we celebrated every week!”

Jacob went on to explain Shabbos and why we as Jews celebrate it, but I couldn’t get that line out of my head. It brought me right back to my own youth. A little background: My family is Jewish on both sides; my parents came from highly observant homes. They immigrated from South Africa in the late 1970s, eventually settling in Los Angeles by way of places including Texas, Nebraska and Northern California. The physical practice of our familial Judaism, however, was varied in my youth. We had one mezuzah, Friday night dinners somewhere between once and three times a month (much like Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy), and attended temple on High Holy Days only when I became a teenager. This was after a botched attempt at a bat mitzvah, as my training was interrupted by a relocation to San Diego. In San Diego, my friends looked to me as highly Jewish, since I attended the Orthodox synagogue on the holidays — but I didn’t understand any part of the prayers being spoken. However, that immigrant mentality that so pervades my family strongly informed my understanding of what it is to be Jewish and allowed me to feel confident in calling myself a Jew.

Currently, I’m more observant than I was growing up, but I’m definitely not someone you would call strict or even highly knowledgeable about the traditions of the religion with which I strongly identify. I’m spiritual and believe in God, yet sometimes I find myself struggling through basic Bible stories. I know Bruegel the Elder did a painting of the Tower of Babel — but I’m not totally sure what the details of that story are. I feel the tenet of community within Judaism, and Judaism in Southern California, in particular, has always seemed an important one, at least to me. More than anything, that sense of belonging, of being strangers in a strange land, has lent itself to the formation of my Jewish identity.

When I relocated back to Los Angeles, a city of immigrants in its own right, to pursue a career in entertainment, I became even more confused with where my Judaism fit into my life. I’m almost certain the people I surround myself with, both personally and professionally, strongly identify me as Jewish. But again — where was this coming from? I don’t have that answer. And yet the sense of community, above all else, remains. I feel comfortable knowing many in this industry and I share a religion and the associated values that are instilled (whether culturally or through study). Maybe it will become clearer as my education grows and my journey continues. Until then, I’ll try to follow some sage wisdom that Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy relayed to Seth and Cecily:

“Moving forward as an adult in the Jewish community, I promise to fulfill the following commandments: Perform mitzvot, or good deeds; study Torah; and some day, visit Israel, even though I have nightmares about it!”

Courtney Batzofin currently works for a small production company and freelances for several publications.


It took being the anonymous target of someone’s shabbily aimed rocket for me to truly internalize my Jewish identity —one I’ve historically had a complicated relationship with, despite being heir to many generations of Diaspora Jews.

Let’s be clear: I have an affinity for kishka and kugel that no gentile would quite understand, as well as an unwavering opinion about hamentashen — apricot is the best.

But I do not practice Judaism in the religious sense. Of course, I’ve been to many a Kol Nidre service, and there isn’t a Passover in memory that hasn’t included Manischewitz, gefilte fish and some bread of affliction. 

Despite that, I’ve always been highly self-conscious of my brand of “pick-your-own” Judaism. 

Then I went to Israel for the first time in 2010, on a two-week Birthright trip, and everything changed. Instead of a distinct discomfort with my religion, I felt proud of my cultural heritage. I found I could engage with my inherited traditions without having to buy into a belief system that I could not completely reconcile with my own worldview.

I returned to Israel in the summer of 2011 to film my thesis documentary about the social protests sweeping through the region. I witnessed tens of thousands of Israelis rallying together for social change — more Jews than I’d ever seen in one place, all participating in something that wasn’t about Judaism. Religion was simply a side note to the politics at hand.

For the duration of that trip, I stayed in Sderot, a city 2 kilometers east of Gaza City that has been a flashpoint for the ongoing regional conflict. Sure enough, while I was there, qassam rockets were launched targeting Sderot; bombs were dropped on Gaza, and a terrorist attack on an Israeli bus occurred in the Sinai.

After the third or fourth time that I felt the reverberations of bombs one weekend, I had a moment of extreme clarity. I realized the rocket-launchers on the other side of the border wanted me dead because I’m here, and probably Jewish. They didn’t know me, but they’d sure be happy if they hit me. 

And then I thought about the kid over there in Gaza who was thinking, “You, bomb-dropping Israelis, don’t care if you destroy my home and my family in your quest for retaliation.”

The insanity of the situation — the fact that most people on both sides of this volley of weaponry were probably thinking the same thing, “What the hell did I personally do to you?” — demolished any shred of inclination toward true religious observance that I’ve ever had: God and the scenario at hand were mutually exclusive. But it also reinforced my cultural identity as a Jew. Not just in my own eyes, but in the eyes of strangers as well. 

My heritage is undeniable. My unruly, curly hair gives me away as a Jew if my judicious sprinkling of Yiddish words hasn’t already — and so does the tattoo of a hamsa that I got inked onto my shoulder in Tel Aviv in 2010. The irony is not lost on me.

It’s important to me to make clear to the world (and to the pearl-clutching religious folks who are lamenting the loss of “the secular youth”):

Have no doubt — I am 25 years old, and I am Jewish. 

Julie Bien is the blog manager and a contributing writer at the Jewish Journal.


About seven years ago, in the middle of a discussion with my father about Judaism, I said, “I’m not sure I believe in God.” 

“You don’t believe, or you aren’t sure if you believe?” he responded.

“Agnostic,” I replied.

I was well on my way to becoming part of the 10 percent of Jews raised in the Conservative movement who now identify with no denomination, as outlined in the just-released Pew Research Center study of American Jews. Although I was becoming less religious, even at that time I was hardly on the path to becoming a Jew of no religion (7 percent of Jews raised Conservative) or not identifying as Jewish (also 10 percent). There was too much that I enjoyed about Judaism.

As a child, my warmest Jewish moments came spending Saturday afternoons with some of my closest friends, who were Orthodox, and when I occasionally spent holidays with Orthodox relatives in Connecticut.
Yet by the time I enrolled as a freshman at Tulane University, in 2008, had I given my Jewish standing any thought at all at that point, I probably would have assumed that since I was on my own for the first time in a city with plenty of distractions (New Orleans), the odds of increasing my observance while in college were low.

Then, one Friday night early in fall semester, after attending a play in the French Quarter with one of my classes, I decided to stop by the Chabad at Tulane for dessert. It was warm and comfortable. So much so that I felt at ease challenging the rabbi with plenty of questions (or problems) I had with Judaism.

Soon after that, my Friday night routine included going to Chabad for Shabbat and then going out with friends. As I made new friends at Chabad and became close with the rabbi’s family, I regularly studied with him, and witnessing the warmth of an observant Jewish home again made Shabbat a fun day — even if I hadn’t entertained the possibility of fully observing it.

Shabbat became a weekly source of pleasure, so as a rising sophomore, I decided to observe the weekly holy day the way Orthodox Jews do. Not because I felt it was my obligation, but because I enjoyed those 25 hours more when I was acting Orthodox.

Among the non-observant, Shabbat is often viewed as a day on which you can’t do stuff. You can’t use your phone; you can’t use your computer; you can’t drive; you can’t watch movies. For me, however, dedicating an entire day to spending time with God, friends and community is warmer, more pleasurable and provides more meaning than making Saturday just like Sunday. 

If Pew had called me when I was a freshman, I would have labeled myself an unaffiliated Jew, among about 30 percent of American Jewry, according to Pew. Perhaps that is not a healthy trend for the future of Judaism. But what those numbers don’t reveal are the stories like mine: What portion of that 30 percent is actually growing religiously and doing things (learning, lighting Shabbat candles, cooking holiday meals with other students) that they have never regularly done? Maybe non-affiliation isn’t a problem, when there’s also an opportunity for being welcomed into increased religious involvement in Jewish groups like Chabad and Hillel.

Now, as a self-identifying observant Jew (can I call myself Modern Orthodox if I still eat tuna subs at Subway?), I know that those days that I “unintentionally” spent observing Jewish law on many Shabbats and holidays were, at least in part, my way of bringing more enjoyment into my life. That’s a compelling case for observance. 

Jared Sichel is a staff writer at the Jewish Journal.


I graduated from college in 2009, a year when even the administration couldn’t pretend to be optimistic about our chances of success in the job market. The university president gloomily addressed us, and our parents, about the economic climate and the declining worth of our pricey degrees. We were, essentially, patted gently on the shoulder and told there was nothing more they could do for us now, so we should go with God. 

Every generation feels it alone has been marked out for uncertainty and turmoil, but for us, the adults of the world seemed to agree with that assessment: Nothing will ever be the same, they said, and we can’t tell you what will happen next. 

Of course, eventually, we all got jobs, though it took longer than we wanted it to, and the future is still and always will be uncertain. It happened that my jobs have been Jewish ones, in large part because I left Connecticut, where I’d gone to school, to come back to Los Angeles, where it doesn’t snow, and where my Jewish parents have Jewish friends. 

I promise this is not a mercenary story.

Since graduation, I have been a substitute teacher at a Jewish elementary school and a freelance writer for a Jewish newspaper, and next week I will start a position as the program coordinator at a Jewish community center. My goyish friends think this is hilarious. The Jews, as a rule, seem to get it.

I think it helps that I went to a Jewish elementary school: I learned the Hebrew alphabet alongside the English one, and I know the rituals and the prayers like the seasons, like myself. It wouldn’t be fall without Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, or spring without the complicated misery of Passover and trying to explain to non-Jews why I can’t eat that, or that, or … anything, actually, sorry. 

But really I think what has happened is that I’ve always believed, always felt myself to be faithful, and what I’ve gotten through these jobs is a structured way to remain involved in the community. It’s easy to drift away and tell yourself you’re still a Jew at heart; I’ve been lucky to have so many opportunities to keep in practice at something that goes beyond the parts that involve faith.

It doesn’t hurt that I like ritual and that I love being part of a community; I left Connecticut for a lot of reasons, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that loneliness was among them. I had friends, of course, close ones whom I loved dearly, but I did not have any kind of family out there.

In June, my grandmother died, and my family’s chavurah, a group we’ve been a part of since I was 12 — a collection of families whose daughters are like my sisters — came over to our house for a shivah minyan. Jews do not suffer grief alone; we gather our loved ones to us, we say familiar prayers and move slowly through the stages of mourning. 

In December, we’ll host a wedding shower for one of those girls. It will be in the same living room where we held the minyan, and where we celebrated before our bat mitzvahs, well over a decade ago. 

Whether you think you live in trying times, the future is always uncertain. The promise of ritual is that there will always be something familiar there for you, an action to perform and a ceremony to repeat. The promise of community is that you will have someone to go through those motions with you. I practice my Judaism because it provides me with continuity and with comfort, through the hard times and on to the good ones. 

Zan Romanoff is a frequent contributor to the Jewish Journal and is about to begin a position as program director at the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center.


Three types of students walk past the Union of Jewish Students table during student organization fairs at UC San Diego, where I am a junior. The first, non-Jews, approach our table, ask what we do and then walk away. The second group, the USY and Hebrew school alumni, excitedly ask us when our next event will be. Then, finally, there are the folks who glance at the Star of David on our banner, the lulav and etrog on the table or the yarmulke on my head and then walk away hurriedly in a manner such that we can only understand them to be non-identifying Jews.

Findings from the new Pew Research Center survey on Jews in America indicate that this third group of students may be the fastest-growing demographic. At UCSD, a campus of more than 20,000 undergraduates — 8 percent of whom are estimated to be “Jewish” — this trend is visibly affecting the number of Jewish students who are involved in Jewish life. Meanwhile, the identifying and practicing Jewish students here and across the country are working to ensure the stability and growth of the Jewish community.

Granted, it’s no easy task to be a shomer Shabbat Jew keeping strict kosher, on a campus with little in the way of kosher amenities, while living with four non-Jewish housemates. I might be described as an observant or Modern Orthodox Jew, but, in my experience, it is far too simplistic to boil down religious Judaism to just who eats what and on what days. For many of us, community is the core value of Judaism. Our campus’ Jewish leadership is constantly working to strengthen both the number of people in our community and the quality of the services and amenities available to us. 

For me, the notion of the Jewish People is hybridization of the Jewish and the People. Our community needs our common faith, values and practice, while Judaism can only exist via a community in which it is followed. The founder of cultural Zionism, Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg — better known as Ahad Ha’am — is attributed as having said, “More than the Jewish people have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jewish people.” This is the focal reason I stick with the religious practices of my upbringing. Not only to further my own spirituality, but to assure the continuity of our community.

At UCSD and college campuses nationwide, the Jewish people are at a turning point. Dozens of campuses host annual Israel Apartheid Weeks, and the Anti-Defamation League reported in July that anti-Semitic incidents on campuses had tripled in 2012, even as overall anti-Semitism is on the decline. Jews and pro-Israel advocates have been on the defensive, needing to respond to attacks and criticisms from anti-Zionist groups and, in some cases, anti-Jewish activities. In a way, these outside groups are dictating the Jewish life and activity on campus. 

However, we college students now have the opportunity to define what our community is about. Now is the time to celebrate our culture, heritage and faith — and not only act in response to others. Those who choose not to participate will do what they want, but the future leadership of the Jewish People, is ready to engage, grow and thrive — regardless of what any survey may tell us. 

Zev Hurwitz, a graduate of Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles, is a junior at UC San Diego, managing editor of the UCSD Guardian newspaper and president of United Jewish Observance on campus.

The Gospel according to Aslan [Q&A]

Reza Aslan, author of the best-selling “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” spoke with Jewish Journal book editor Jonathan Kirsch by phone from Portland, Ore., where Aslan was part of a national book tour. This interview took place just a few days after Aslan’s attention-getting appearance on Fox News.

Jonathan Kirsch: Did you feel some trepidation, not only as a Muslim, but as a public figure who has taken on the role of explaining the Islamic world to Westerners, in writing a book about Jesus?

Reza Aslan: Honestly, not in the slightest. It’s true that I have made a name for myself in writing and talking about Islam. That’s the religion that people most want to talk about nowadays, but that’s not my educational background. My background is in the study of religions, and especially Western religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam. “Zealot” is a book that I had intended to write all along. I understood that some people would regard it as an attack on Christianity. But I had already written a book about Islam that overturns a lot of orthodoxies, “No god But God,” and I was prepared.

JK: The Fox News interviewer seemed to assume Christian readers would resent the fact that a Muslim writer has dared to point out the difference between, as you put it, “the Jesus of the Gospels and the Jesus of history.” Has that turned out to be true?

RA: One of the very interesting things that has happened as a result of this book is the response I have gotten from Christian readers who, for the first time, realized what it meant to say, as orthodox Christianity does, that Jesus is fully God and fully human. When you go to church, all you hear about is the “fully God” part. To think about the Gospel story as though it was written about a person, rather than a god, is to open up a whole new level of spiritual understanding. I have had numerous e-mails and conversations with Christian readers that this book on Jesus the man has actually strengthened their faith in Jesus Christ.


A self-written obituary: A Majority of One

(Yehuda Lev was a columnist for the Jewish Journal from its founding in 1986, until 1993. This column was filed on Feb. 22, 2008; Yehuda Lev died on Aug. 3, 2013 in Providence, R.I. He was 86. His full obituary can be found at jewishjournal.com, along with an appreciation.)

This column, which you will recognize as an obituary if the editors remember to frame the accompanying photo in black, came about as follows.

Me: We devote entirely too much space in this newspaper to obituaries.

Editor: In a community paper they are very important.

Me: When my turn comes, keep it brief.

Editor: Will two lines be enough?

Me: Two lines?

Editor: Tell you what. Why don't you write your own?

And so I have.

Yehuda Lev, 86, has died after a long illness in Providence, of closing out a life filled with contradictions and unanswered questions. During his final years, in retirement in Rhode Island, he never appeared in public without his multicolored Bukharan kippah which, combined with his full, white beard, gave him the distinguished appearance of a learned, Sephardic rabbi. In reality he was not a rabbi and had little regard for organized religion of any sort, explaining that he preferred to learn the truth about the hereafter by himself rather than rely on second-hand reports.

[Related: Remembering Yehuda Lev]

Nor was he all that learned. His attempts at securing an education were best summed up by his request to be included in the Guinness Book of Records as the only person ever to fail statistics in three of the finest universities in the country, Cornell, Chicago and Stanford. The fact that he managed to eke out graduate degrees from the latter two institutions was trumped by his widow, Dr. Rosemarie Pegueros, who claimed that one Ph.D. outranked two M.As.

Lev was very much involved in the lives of his four children, three by his first wife, Idell, a violin teacher with whom he remained on good terms, and the fourth by his second wife, an associate professor of Latin American History and Women's Studies at University of Rhode Island. His oldest son, Daniel, is director of the nuclear medicine department of Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. His second son, David, is a classical cellist and orchestral manager of the Los Angeles Opera Company. His older daughter, Dafna, is a violin teacher and his younger daughter, Ariela, is making a career in law and government service.

The greatest satisfaction of his life came from their maturing into loving, honest and concerned adults.

Other than his family, Lev's main passion in life was Israel, in whose creation he played a minor role, first in Europe with the “illegal” pre-state immigration to Palestine, then in the Israeli Army during its War of Independence and finally, after a period of kibbutz life, as a journalist with the Israel State Radio in Jerusalem. One of his four children once asked him about his contributions to the founding of the state, and he pointed out that if he had joined the family business in New York instead of wandering far afield, not a single word would have been written differently in any history of Israel.

[Related: Yehuda Lev, Jewish journalist and columnist, 86]

Like every affair of the heart, this romance had its ups and downs. Of late, Lev felt somewhat estranged due to differences of opinion about some of the policies followed by Israel's governments. But he never lost faith in his beloved and was certain that eventually common sense and a Jewish sense of justice would prevail and the ship of state, at present leaning more to the right than he preferred, would regain its balance and retain its sense of purpose.

Lev's life spanned decades during which tremendous societal and technological changes occurred. The latter he never mastered; to his death the computer remained a malevolent enemy that stubbornly refused to comply with his demands and served him mainly as a glorified typewriter.

To the former he adjusted well. In his youth, he shared the common acceptance of injustices meted out to women, gays, minorities, the underprivileged and others who were denied equality and opportunity. As he practiced his profession of journalism in Europe, Israel and the United States, he came to see the world very differently and tried to use his facility with words to right some of the wrongs he encountered, both in the Jewish community and on the larger world stage. He took on religious and political extremists in his column, “A Majority of One,” which he wrote for a quarter century in Los Angeles and Providence although, often as not, he discovered that the printed word could not cure the ills he denounced; education was a far more potent weapon.

In a rare moment of introspection, Lev once suggested to his wife an epitaph that will suffice to close this brief farewell.

When he was needed, he was there.


Update: Dr. Daniel Low is now vice chair of physics at the UCLA Center for Radiation Oncology. David Low is a classical cellist and studio musician, but no longer connected with the Los Angeles Opera Company.

Jewish Journal receives top honors at 55th Annual SoCal Journalism Awards

The Jewish Journal won top honors in three categories at the Los Angeles Press Club’s 55th Southern California Journalism Awards ceremony, which took place June 23 at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Jewish Journal columnist Marty Kaplan, who pens a bi-weekly column on a wide range of topics, from politics to science, received the award for Best Columnist. Reporter Danielle Berrin was honored with Best Individual Blog and critic Tom Teicholz garnered first prize for Entertainment Reviews/Criticism/Columns.   

Berrin’s Hollywood Jew blog, which appears on jewishjournal.com, was recognized for two entries: “Should ‘Girls’ Just Get Married” and “Wrong to be Funny About Anne Frank?

Teicholz was recognized for an arts column titled “Lessons from Arthur Schnitzler’s Vienna,” about the late-19th/early 20th century playwright and essayist .

The Jewish Journal, with a weekly circulation of 50,000, competes against other large publications including the Los Angeles Times and the L.A. Weekly, as well as online media like The Wrap and Hollywood Reporter.

The banquet also honored the legendary comedy writer and actor Carl Reiner, who received the President’s Award for lifetime achievement; NBC sportscaster Fred Roggin, who received the Joseph M. Quinn Award; Los Angeles Downtown News publisher Sue Laris, who received the Public Service Award; and journalist Sandra Rodriguez Nieto of Juarez, Mexico, who was honored with the The Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism.

The Jewish Journal was recognized with seven finalist nominations and took home a total of five awards:  Rob Eshman, the Journal’s editor-in-chief and publisher, won second place for columnist,  Kaplan also picked up a second place award for Entertainment Reviews/Criticism/Columns,  and columnist Raphael J. Sonenshein received Third Place for Political Commentary.

In awarding Kaplan for Best Column, the judges wrote: “Like a boxer, [Kaplan] is relentless, coming after you with crisp language and rhetorical combinations, whether the subject is Chris Christie or global warming. Embrace Kaplan’s points or totally discard them, you’ll almost certainly stay in the ring with him until the end.”

Of Berrin, the judges wrote,  “She carefully infuses strong, well-written commentary with her personality and insight, all within the lively online platform blogs provide.”

And of Teicholz, the judges’ comments included: “His reviews are informative and engaging.”

Parade, day of unity mark Lag B’Omer

Two major community events marked the relatively minor holiday of Lag B’Omer on April 28, bringing some bombast — and thousands of people — to local celebrations.

In Pico-Robertson, Pico Boulevard was transformed into a pedestrian’s paradise for Jews from across Southern California while Thousand Oaks welcomed people for a Jewish Day of Unity.

“The Great Parade” on Pico restricted the road to foot, bike and (lots of) stroller traffic between Doheny Drive and Livonia Avenue, organized by Rabbi Chaim Cunin’s Chabad of California along with more than a dozen other Chabads, the Jewish Journal and its parent company, TRIBE Media Corp.

Festivities kicked off at 10:30 a.m. with musical performances by Israeli artist and former “Les Misérables” Broadway performer Dudu Fisher, Sam Glaser, shofar musical artist David Zasloff and the Cheder Menachem Boys Choir.

Until late evening, Pico became a Jewish summer carnival, with families streaming in and out and clowns dancing in the streets. The sound of games filled the air, along with the smell of kosher eats. 

Jonathan Abesera, who rode with two of his children on the Chabad SOLA (South La Cienega) parade float, said it felt like putting on a huge Jewish party in the center of Los Angeles.

“Look at this. It’s beautiful to see how we closed off the street,” Abesera said. “All the other people who are not even involved, who are not even Jewish — how impressed they are.” 

The parade, which resembled a slice of kosher Mardi Gras in Pico-Robertson, featured bagpipes, 9/11 tribute cars, “Trinidad drummers” and even the inauguration of the world’s first “Mitzvah Cable Car,” a restored San Francisco cable car purchased by the Chabad of San Francisco and trucked into Los Angeles the night before the festival.

In Thousand Oaks, Chabad leaders from the Conejo Valley and Ventura County focused on ways to get the larger Jewish community to celebrate the holiday together.

“Two months ago, some of the Chabad centers around the Conejo Valley and Ventura County got to talking and discussed how in the past we all did our own events for Lag B’Omer in local parks,” explained Rabbi Dov Muchnik, who with his wife Racheli, serves as co-director of the Chabad of Oxnard. “However, because the theme of Lag B’Omer is Jewish unity, we realized this was the perfect occasion for all of our communities to get together.

The result was the first Jewish Day of Unity, held at Thousand Oaks High School, where people gathered to commemorate the 33rd day after Passover, which some say marks the end of an ancient plague and the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

“This event is not specifically Chabad,” said Devorah Heidingsfeld, an event organizer and co-director of Chabad of Moorpark. “Instead, we removed all the labels and made it just about Jews as a greater extended family.”

The Day of Unity, whose highlights included performances by the band Moshav and Chazzan Pablo Duek of Temple Etz Chaim, offered everything from a children’s choir and orchestra to fire jugglers. There was other typical festival fare, too: rides, food and vendors for products and services ranging from self-defense classes to international tour organizers. 

Sylvia Wildfire, a Conejo resident since 1997, said the event made her proud to be part of the area’s Jewish community.

“The one thing I love is looking around and seeing so many people here,” she said. “This is amazing, to see different branches of the community coming out, supporting each other and interacting.”

Event co-organizer Auna Simon engaged children in arts and crafts, designing cards for Israeli soldiers to show their support for their efforts on behalf of protecting Israel.  

As 5-year-old Michael Beck put his finishing touches on his portrait of an Israeli soldier, his mother, Miri Beck, said, “It is amazing to see so many people coming together to relax and enjoy the day as well as connect.”

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Doheny Kosher scandal: What took RCC so long? [UPDATED]

[UPDATE, MARCH 28] Rabbi Yakov Vann, the RCC's director of Kashrut Services, said in an email to The Journal on Thursday that the RCC is reviewing “all aspects of its protocols” and considering “all information relating to what took place at Doheny Meats.” Vann said the RCC will release a full statement on Friday.

[MARCH 27] The Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) abruptly revoked its certification from Doheny Glatt Kosher Meats on March 24, but the RCC, Los Angeles’s leading kosher oversight agency, had first heard about the distributor’s suspicious practices years earlier.

Eric Agaki, an investigator who had been independently monitoring Doheny’s warehouse on Pico Boulevard and another location in the San Fernando Valley for the past six months, told KTLA on Sunday that he had discovered the company was selling meat as Glatt Kosher that had not been certified as such.

In an interview with The Jewish Journal on Wednesday, Agaki said that so far, he could only prove the 53-year-old company had been selling its customers meat that was kosher, but not “glatt kosher,” a higher standard.

But Agaki said that he doubted the meat allegedly repackaged and sold by Doheny was kosher by any standard.

“We think that they were packed with treyf, just regular meat,” Agaki said.

Agaki captured video and physical evidence that he said showed Doheny’s owner was reusing boxes from Agri Star Meat and Poultry, a glatt kosher meat processor, packing them with non-glatt kosher-certified meat, and then resealing them with fraudulent tape and labels that said “Aaron’s Best,” an Agri Star brand.

The investigator’s findings were first reported by KTLA on March 24, the day the RCC revoked Doheny’s certification. But Daryl Schwartz, the owner of Kosher Club, a retailer and distributor of kosher meats that closed its doors on Pico in 2011 after more than 20 years in business, told The Journal that he had known years earlier about everything Agaki later found.

Schwartz also said that, as early as 2010, he reported seeing the empty boxes, fraudulent labels and fraudulent tape to Rabbi Nissim Davidi, the RCC’s kashrut administrator.

“It was numerous times over the years,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz said he got the same response each time.

“He [Davidi] said, ‘I’ll look into it,’” Schwartz said.

Whether Davidi or anyone in the RCC investigated the suspicious practices Doheny is not yet known.

The RCC’s office is closed until April 4, when Passover ends; attempts to reach multiple RCC staff members by phone and email on Wednesday evening after sundown were unsuccessful.

Doheny’s owner, Michael Engelman, has owned and operated a retail shop in the neighborhood of Pico-Robertson “for over 30 years,” according to the company’s Web site. Everything about that store, from its white enamel refrigerated display case to the white butcher paper in which cuts of meat came wrapped, lent Doheny an upscale ambience absent from other glatt kosher butchers in the neighborhood.

That feeling, coupled with the belief that the meat sold by Doheny was both kosher and organic, may have helped retail customers justify paying Engelman’s premium prices, and helped Doheny become the premier retailer to kosher consumers in this densely populated Jewish neighborhood.

All of that changed on the evening of Sunday March 24 when the RCC, and many Orthodox synagogues in the neighborhood, sent out emails announcing that the RCC had, as of 3 p.m. that day, “removed its kosher supervision, for cause, from Doheny Kosher Meats.”

“The community Rabbis,” the email continued, “upon consultation with a nationally recognized halachic authority, have determined that any meat and poultry purchased at Doheny Kosher Meats through today (until 3pm), is permitted to be eaten and can be enjoyed on Yom Tov.”

Doheny’s retail sales were only part of Engelman’s business. As one of just a handful of distributors of kosher meat in Los Angeles, Doheny’s list of commercial clients stretched from the city to the Valley and reportedly included caterers who worked in the area’s finest hotels, high-end long-term residential facilities as well as other kosher-certified retailers.

“When I shut down the Kosher Club,” Schwartz said, “Doheny started selling to the Beverly Hilton.”

“From me, they [the Beverly Hilton] were buying Rubashkin,” Schwartz continued, referring to the former owners of the glatt kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, which was shut down following an immigration raid in 2008. “From Doheny,” Schwartz said, “your guess is as good as mine.”

Hershey Friedman, the CEO of Agri Star, which now owns and operates the Postville plant, told YeshivaWorldNews in a statement on Monday that the allegations against Doheny were “very disturbing and inexcusable.”

“Agristar had no knowledge of this alleged misuse of its labels, and should these allegations prove to be true, Agristar will discontinue any further relationship with this customer,” Friedman’s statement continued.

“Agristar prides itself in its relentless pursuit of the highest standards of kashrus,” Friedman’s statement continued, “and will use all means at its disposal to prevent a reoccurrence of this unfortunate and illegal behavior.”

Among his findings, Agaki said, are about “5,000 stickers,” labeling the contents as produced and packed by Agri Star. Agaki said he obtained those stickers on Sunday from a relative of Engelman’s outside a non-RCC certified meat distributor located in Reseda.

Agaki also said he obtained the printing plates used to make those fraudulent labels from that same individual.

Whether Engelman and Doheny in fact did anything illegal remains to be seen. An employee at Doheny’s retail shop told The Journal on Monday that Engelman would speak to the allegations after the Passover holiday. Agaki, meanwhile, said that he had conveyed his findings to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The evidence uncovered by Agaki’s investigation appears to have led the RCC to revoke Doheny’s certification, but according to the 41-year-old, Israeli-born private investigator, it was conducted without the knowledge or cooperation of the kosher certification agency.

“It’s a mitzvah,” Agaki said, explaining that while he usually charges $125-per-hour for his services, he had spent about 150 hours since August 2012, working on this investigation on an unpaid basis.

“My client,” he added, “is upstairs.”

CUFI role in Hagel opposition shows conservatives’ resolve to stop confirmation

Chuck Hagel has made strides in his bid to secure Senate confirmation as defense secretary, winning the endorsement of leading Jewish Democratic senators and meeting with the leaders of major American Jewish groups.

But conservative pro-Israel opposition remains fierce, bolstered by the pivotal role being played by Christians United For Israel, the Texas-based group founded by Pastor John Hagee.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the first senator to come out against Hagel’s nomination, did so at Hagee’s behest, both men revealed on Monday.

CUFI’s affiliated Action Fund also has rallied hundreds of Christian pastors and leaders to Washington this week to lobby against the former Nebraska senator’s bid to succeed Leon Panetta.

And on Tuesday, as the pastors were swarming Senate offices, CUFI published four ads in states where Democratic senators are thought to be vulnerable in 2014: Arkansas, Louisiana, Colorado and North Carolina.

“We pray you vote against confirming Senator Hagel,” said the ads, addressed to each state's senators.

“These are states in which we believe our opposition to the Hagel nomination is deeply and widely held, and we believe that it is crucial that these senators be made aware of where so many of their constituents stand on this nomination,” David Brog, CUFI’s executive director, told JTA in an email.

At a gathering Monday for more than 400 Christian activists from 46 states who came to Washington for the anti-Hagel lobbying, Hagee revealed that he had asked Cornyn to oppose Hagel weeks before President Obama had made the nomination public.

“The next morning, Senator Cornyn called the Washington Post and made a courageous stand to oppose the Hagel nomination, which is detrimental both to America and Israel,” Hagee said.

The stated opposition of Cornyn, the minority whip, helped spur other Republicans to oppose Hagel, a Republican who served in the U.S. Senate from 1997 to 2008. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, has since said he is opposed, as have a number of other Republicans.

In his remarks Monday, Cornyn went over Hagel's much-reported past remarks: describing a “Jewish lobby” that “intimidates” lawmakers; advocating direct outreach to groups like Hamas and Hezbollah; and expressing skepticism of unilateral sanctions on Iran and the use of a military strike to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“I cannot support a nominee for defense secretary who suggests we should be tougher on Israel and more lenient on Iran,” Cornyn said.

Hagel has walked back many of these positions and apologized for the “Jewish lobby” remark. But Cornyn said he believed they were part of what he called a “confirmation conversion.”

In his efforts to tamp down the pro-Israel opposition to his nomination, Hagel has won support from some of the leading Jewish pro-Israel Democrats in the Senate: Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee, as well as Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

The Vietnam War hero also has the support of liberal Jewish groups, including Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum and J Street. On Wednesday, J Street was set to join Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a veteran and a member of the Armed Services Committee, on a conference call backing Hagel.

Hagel also has met with leaders of centrist pro-Israel groups, several of which had expressed concerns about his candidacy, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The groups described the meeting as “an important opportunity for a serious and thorough discussion.”

Democrats control 55 of the Senate's 100 seats and sources close to Hagel have said he is hoping that his longstanding friendships with some Senate Republicans will be enough to get the 60 votes necessary to avoid a filibuster.

Meanwhile, conservative Jewish groups have worked to keep up the pressure.

Last week, the Republican Jewish Coalition posted a web video featuring Democrats and Jewish organizational leaders expressing concern about Hagel. The Emergency Committee for Israel similarly ran a full-page ad in the New York Times on Jan. 15. The Zionist Organization of America is lobbying Senate offices.

Sheldon Adelson, one of the GOP’s most generous donors and an RJC board member, has called senators directly to make the case against Hagel.

“We've made a strategic decision to gin up as much support among our leaders to reach out to the folks,” said Matt Brooks, the RJC’s executive director.