Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, and former L.A. Mayor and current California gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa meet in Los Angeles. They had a private conversation about Israel and other topics. Photo courtesy of Congregation Mogen David Rabbi Yehuda Moses

Moving & Shaking: Top Israeli Sephardic Rabbi Visits L.A.; Tribute Paid to Leonard Cohen


Israel’s chief Sephardic rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, visited Los Angeles from Nov. 21-26 and met with many community members and leaders, including former L.A. mayor and current gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa.

During a meeting in the rabbi’s hotel room, Villaraigosa, who is running in the 2018 California gubernatorial race, asked the Hebrew-speaking rabbi for a blessing. The two leaders also discussed pluralism issues facing Israel in light of the Reform movement’s efforts to create a mixed prayer space at the Western Wall.

“It was a very interesting conversation,” Congregation Mogen David Rabbi Yehuda Moses said. “I was in the room. I thought it would be a two-minute conversation. It was a 15-minute conversation.”

Yosef’s trip was coordinated by Moses, who received rabbinic ordination from Yosef’s late father, former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel Ovadia Yosef. It was the first time Yosef visited Los Angeles since his appointment in 2013.

The chief rabbi, author of books on Jewish law important to the Sephardic and Mizrahi communities, also met with Chabad of California Rabbi Baruch Shlomo Cunin; Rabbi David Zargari of Torat Hayim; Nessah Congregation Chief Rabbi David Shofet; and Rabbi Netanel Louie of the Eretz Cultural Center.

Yosef also spoke to about 700 representatives of the Sephardic community at the Eretz Cultural Center in Tarzana. “He strengthened the whole community,”
Moses said.

From left: Limmud FSU co-founders Sandra Cahn and Chaim Chesler, Israeli Minister Ofir Akunis and singer Mike Burstyn at the event “Leonard Cohen and Judaism” at Hillel at UCLA. Photo by Eli Mandelbaum

A Nov. 14 event at Hillel at UCLA lauded the late singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and his Jewish roots. “Leonard Cohen and Judaism” was hosted by the organization Limmud FSU and included speeches touting Cohen’s legacy and the singing of his hit song “Hallelujah” by actor-singer Mike Burstyn.

Cohen died on Nov. 7, 2016, in his Los Angeles home at the age of 82.

Limmud FSU, an organization dedicated to connecting Jews from the former Soviet Union with their roots, hosted the event in part because of Cohen’s Eastern European heritage. Chaim Chessler, the organization’s founder, pointed out that Cohen’s mother and paternal grandfather were from the region.

The event included a rendition of “Promise,” an unreleased song by Cohen that was performed by local musician Willie Aron, who co-produced it.

“When the world is false, I won’t say it’s true,” Aron sang. “When the darkness comes, I’ll be there with you.”

Speeches addressed Cohen’s connection with Judaism and the liturgical roots in many of his lyrics.

Cohen taught that “in order for us to be whole, we have to realize the shadow, the darkness, and not hide from it,” said Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, president of the Academy for Jewish Religion California, a transdenominational seminary that shares a building with Hillel.

Ofir Akunis, a Likud member of the Knesset and Israeli minister of science, technology and space, also spoke at the event, calling Cohen “one of the greatest artists of all time” and applauding his “tight connections to the Jewish people.” Akunis referenced Cohen’s 1973 trip to Israel to perform for soldiers during the Yom Kippur War as a sign of the artist’s connection with the Jewish state.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director emeritus of Hillel at UCLA, praised Cohen’s ability to combine Judaism and universalism. “Cohen translated Judaism through music,” he said, “and ask any musician, music transcends boundaries. … He was our rebbe.”

Eitan Arom, Senior Writer

Zane Buzby (right), founder of the Survivor Mitzvah Project, was honored Nov. 27 by the Mensch International Foundation, founded by Steven Geiger. Photo courtesy of the Mensch International Foundation

The Mensch International Foundation honored four community members with the Mensch Award on Nov. 27 at Sinai Temple.

The honorees were Michael Berenbaum, professor of Jewish Studies at American Jewish University; Zane Buzby, founder of the Survivor Mitzvah Project; former Sinai Temple Rabbi Zvi Dershowitz, who served there for 47 years; and Meir Fenigstein, president and founder of the Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles.

“The first award I received was the Silver Angel Award, 37 years ago,” Berenbaum said. “I told my mother about it and she said, ‘I already know you are an angel, but now you should try to be a mensch.’ And here I am today, a real mensch.”

Steven Geiger established the foundation 15 years ago in Hungary, where he was born. The organization’s goal is to raise money to support Holocaust survivors in need and to combat anti-Semitism and stereotyping through education.

Geiger has named many well-known figures as recipients of the Mensch Award, including former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and former president of Israel Yitzhak Navon.

Actress Frances Fisher introduced Buzby, an actress, film director and philanthropist who then screened a short video documenting the harsh conditions facing Holocaust survivors living in
Eastern Europe.

“I founded the Survivor Mitzvah Project to change their lives, but they are the ones who changed mine,” she said.

Dershowitz was born in Czechoslovakia in 1928 and fled the country with his family 33 days before the Nazi invasion. The family settled in New York City. Dershowitz, who also served as a chaplain in the Southern California prison system for many years, said the award actually “belongs to my parents, who were the real mensches.”

Fenigstein was moved to tears as he recalled his parents, both of whom were Holocaust survivors. “Their love and support gave me the energy to follow
my passion, and I’m here because of them,” he said. “They would have been very proud of me if they saw me
here today.”

The event commemorated the 70th anniversary of United Nations Resolution 181, which was passed by the U.N. General Assembly on Nov. 29, 1947, and called for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states.

A panel discussion about the U.N. resolution followed the award ceremony. The speakers were Berenbaum, UCLA professor Judea Pearl, Chapman University law professor Michael Bazyler and Rabbi Moshe Kushman.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

From left: Jewish National Fund (JNF) L.A. board members Barak Lurie and Doug Williams attend the annual JNF breakfast, which they co-chaired. Photo courtesy of Jewish National Fund

More than 1,000 invited guests attended the sold-out 12th annual Jewish National Fund (JNF) Los Angeles Breakfast for Israel on Nov. 28 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.

Guest speakers included author and radio commentator Larry Elder and Chemi Shalev, senior columnist and U.S. analyst for the Israeli Haaretz newspaper. The topic was “Media Bias & Israel.” More than 60 table captains and partner organizations helped to bring a cross section of
civic and Jewish community members to the event.

Additional participants in the program included Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg and event co-chairs Douglas Williams and Barak Lurie.

JNF is a nonprofit organization focused on alleviating Israel’s water shortage, promoting education, maintaining more than 250,000 acres of forest in Israel,
and more.

Roman Catholic Priest Father Patrick Desbois (left), author of “The Holocaust by Bullets,” appeared in conversation with Heritage Retreats’ Rabbi Mordechai Kreitenberg. Photo courtesy of Miller Ink

Humanitarian and Roman Catholic priest Father Patrick Desbois appeared in conversation with Heritage Retreats’ Rabbi Mordechai Kreitenberg and philanthropist Mitchell Julis at the Museum of Tolerance’s Peltz Theater on Nov. 7.

Desbois, president of Yahad-In Unum, an organization dedicated to identifying and commemorating sites of Jewish mass executions in Eastern Europe during World War II, shared his experiences documenting genocides and educating for their prevention.

“It is a big challenge to be a believer in God while living with open eyes, but it is part of that belief to cry out,” said Desbois, author of “The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews.” “Searching for these victims who are waiting to be found is an act of faith.”

The panel opened with a video introducing Desbois’ work and contextualizing its importance in light of contemporary anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. A Q-and-A session with the audience followed the discussion.

Heritage Retreats, which provides young Jewish adults with an opportunity to engage with Judaism in outdoor wilderness settings, organized the event.

The group plans to lead trips to Poland, where participants will visit the massacre sites identified by Desbois and meet witnesses whom he has interviewed near Krakow.

California state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (left) and Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Noah Farkas attend a Sukkot bagel brunch and legislative update at a sukkah set up in Hertzberg's Van Nuys home. Photo by Barri Worth Girvan.

Moving & Shaking: Sukkot Brunch to Address Homelessness, Jewish Teen LGBT forum, John Lithgow emcees Friends of Sheba gala


California State Sen. Robert (Bob) Hertzberg’s Oct. 8 Sukkot brunch and legislative update drew about 30 Jewish social justice leaders.

Guests gathered inside a sukkah at his Van Nuys home as Hertzberg, a member of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, discussed a package of housing bills written to address the state’s homeless crisis and his commitment to reforming the cash bail system, which he said undermines the American idea of the presumption of innocence.

Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Noah Farkas also attended and was a guest speaker. He drew connections between the fragility symbolized by the sukkah and the situation facing the homeless. He also discussed the symbolism behind the lulav and the etrog, two of the four species used during the holiday of Sukkot, which was Oct. 4-11.

Barri Worth Girvan, Hertzberg’s district director, welcomed guests and asked everyone to introduce themselves as one big family.

Artwork from San Fernando Valley synagogues Temple Beth Hillel and Adat Ari El, which are located in Hertzberg’s legislative district, decorated the sukkah.

From left: Teenagers Yoni Kollin, Sunshine Schneider, Maccabee Raileanu and Anthony Palomera participated in a JQ International Forum, “Today’s Teens: Voices of Queer and Ally Youth.” Photo by Anna Michele Falzetta.

 

The Teen JQSA (Jewish Queer Straight Alliance), the first communitywide youth group in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning (LGBTQ) and ally Jewish teens ages 13-18, held an Oct. 8 panel titled “Today’s Teens: Voices of Queer and Ally Youth” at the West Hollywood City Council chambers.

JQ International, Builders of Jewish Education and the city of West Hollywood organized the event. Teen JQSA is a JQ International program.

Panelists Maccabee Raileanu, Yoni Kollin, Sunshine Schneider, Anthony Palomera and Emma Aronoff-Aspaturian discussed challenges facing LGBTQ youth.

“I just want my administrators and directors and adults in my corner of the Jewish community to realize what they’re really asking when they ask for queer teens to be their own advocates,” said Raileanu, a longtime JQSA participant and El Camino Real Charter High School senior. “I want them to step into the shoes of the people they’re talking to, because then I think a lot of changes will happen. They will realize how scary and how weird and uncomfortable that experience can be, and they’ll step up as the adults in the situation and realize what they’re working with.”  

Social media personality Stephanie Frosch, known on YouTube and Instagram as ElloSteph, moderated.

The gathering drew about 50 attendees, including JQ staff members Asher Gellis, Arya Marvazy, Anna Goodman and David Kazdan, and Temple Judea Rabbi Samuel Spector.

Organizations that partnered with JQ to make the event possible included Congregation Kol Ami, Hebrew Helpers, the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, Kol Tikvah, IKAR, Adat Ari El and Camp Lightbulb, an overnight summer camp for LGBTQ young people.

JQ has been engaging in teen health and wellness work thanks in part to a grant from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and its L.A. Jewish Teen Initiative.

Alyse Golden Berkley, the new board president of the Jewish National Fund Greater Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Jewish National Fund.

 

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) Greater Los Angeles has named Alyse Golden Berkley as its board president.

Berkley succeeds Matt Fragner, who has served as JNF regional president for the past two years.

A JNF Oct. 16 press release announcing Berkley’s appointment said she is a “proud Zionist and active within the Jewish community.”

In a 2016 video, Berkley said her life changed after participating in a five-day JNF mission to Eilat.

“I actually could see the difference that I could make in my lifetime for Israel,” she said. “I could make a difference and I could improve the life of Israelis. Now, I devote pretty much close to full time volunteering for the Jewish National Fund, which is my pleasure, my honor.”

In a statement, JNF Greater Los Angeles Executive Director Lou Rosenberg welcomed the new regional president.

“We are very excited to have Alyse assume the leadership of Greater Los Angeles,” he said.

According to its website, JNF is the “single largest provider of Zionist programs in the U.S. Its work is divided into seven program areas: Forestry and green innovations, water solutions, community building, Zionist education and advocacy, research and development, heritage sites, and disabilities and special needs.”

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Rabbi Emerita Laura Geller was named a Next Avenue Top 50 Influencer in Aging for 2017.

 

Next Avenue, a journalism website focused on America’s booming older population, has named Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Rabbi Emerita Laura Geller as one of its Top 50 Influencers in Aging for 2017.

Next Avenue recognized Geller for her efforts in creating Next Stage: Boomers & Beyond, an initiative designed to address the needs of community members who are 50 and older, and her more recent venture founding ChaiVillageLA, a partnership between Temple Emanuel and Temple Isaiah that enables people to age in place as they grow older.

Working in partnership with public television organizations, including PBS, Next Avenue divides its coverage into five areas: health and well-being; caregiving; money and security; work and purpose; and living and learning.

Geller, the third woman to become a rabbi in the Reform movement upon her ordination in 1976, was the only Jewish clergy member named to this year’s list. She made baby boomers a focus of her pulpit before her retirement in 2016, even speaking about it from the bimah during the High Holy Days.

Geller served at Temple Emanuel for 22 years. She currently is working with her husband, Richard Siegel, on a book titled “Getting Good at Getting Older: A Jewish Catalog for a New Age.”

Based on a statement she provided to Next Avenue regarding one thing she would change about aging in America, Geller said, “I would encourage the creation of religious and secular rituals to mark transitions in the journey of growing older, whether closing a family home, becoming a grandparent, reaffirming marital vows, sharing ethical wills or beginning new adventures. Marking transformations provide spiritual and practical guides for growth, connection and wise aging.”

Entertainment executive David Geffen has pledged $150 million to the building LACMA campaign. Photo by Bruce Weber

 

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has received a $150 million pledge from Jewish philanthropist and entertainment executive David Geffen toward the museum’s new galleries, raising the fundraising total for the Building LACMA campaign to $450 million. The campaign goal is $650 million.

In a press release, LACMA described the donation as “the largest single cash gift from an individual in the museum’s history. … [T]he new Peter Zumthor-designed building will be called the David Geffen Galleries in honor of his extraordinary gift.”

The David Geffen Galleries will replace four of the museum’s current seven buildings.

“At a time when federal funding for the arts is threatened, it’s important that we foster public-private partnerships, like this one, to support arts and cultural institutions,” Geffen said in a statement. “We must ensure that the public, everyone, has access to these venerable institutions. I am proud to partner with the County and other members of the community in helping LACMA move this remarkable project from vision to reality. Together, we can and must make sure every person has access to the arts.”

LACMA CEO and Director Michael Govan said Geffen’s gift is an unprecedented gesture of dedication to the exhibition of the arts in Los Angeles.

“David’s commitment demonstrates his belief in the power of art museums to reach a broad and diverse public and create significant civic benefit,” Govan said.

LACMA board of trustees co-chairs Elaine Wynn, a Jewish businesswoman who co-founded Mirage Resorts and Wynn Resorts, and Jewish-American businessman Tony Ressler also expressed gratitude for Geffen’s contribution.

Geffen, 74, is a movie and music mogul who founded Asylum and Geffen records and co-founded DreamWorks SKG with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. The son of parents who met in what was then Palestine, his estimated net worth is $7.8 billion.

From left: Friends of Sheba Medical Center Executive Director Nina Lieberman, honoree Shannon Massachi and gala emcee John Lithgow. Photo courtesy of Friends of Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.

 

Actor John Lithgow hosted the Friends of Sheba Medical Center’s 47th anniversary gala, “Embracing Our Future,” on Oct. 15 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

Philanthropists Robert and Beverly Cohen co-chaired the event, which drew 725 guests and raised more than $2.5 million for the medical center in Tel Hashomer, Israel. The funds will be used to support Sheba Medical Center’s new neonatology center. Sheba’s Department of Neonatology and Neonatal Intensive Care is one of the largest in Israel and births approximately 170,000 babies annually, including those born prematurely or requiring intensive care treatment.

Keynote speaker Dr. Tzipi Strauss, chief of neonatology at Sheba Medical Center, discussed Sheba’s work in advancing neonatal care.

Meanwhile, Lithgow presented Shannon Massachi, an e-commerce entrepreneur who has helped promote and advance Sheba’s medical research and pediatric neuro-oncology work, with the Laurel of Leadership award. After dinner, the Ruth Flinkman-Marandy and Ben Marandy family received the Professor Mordechai Shani Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of their support for education, art, research, health, Israel and Sheba Medical Center.

Attendees included Marilyn Ziering, who announced a $1 million donation; Max Webb; Soraya and Younes Nazarian; Stanley Black; Jean and Jerry Friedman; and Dina Leeds.

Lithgow’s appearance included the reading of an original fairy tale about the life-saving work of the medical center, written by Hollywood writer and producer Jeff Astrof. The fairy tale featured a tiger and a goat — natural enemies — meeting and becoming friends through their life-saving treatment at Sheba Medical Center.

— Esther Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

A 3-D model of Jerusalem was made possible by Larry and Sunny Russ. Photos courtesy of Jewish National Fund

A victory in fight to preserve Ammunition Hill


One of the most sacred military sites in Israel’s history, left crumbling for years, is a now a gleaming attraction that helps tell the dramatic story of what happened there during Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, thanks in part to the family of Larry Russ, a Los Angeles philanthropist with deep ties to Israel and its past.

Ammunition Hill’s significance goes back to June 6, 1967, when, in the dead of night, roughly 350 Israeli soldiers accomplished something many thought was impossible — they captured the heavily fortified military base in Jordanian-occupied East Jerusalem.

The Jordanians, who had seized control of the British-built bunkers and trenches on the hill during the 1948 war — cutting off Mount Scopus and the Hadassah Medical Center — were fierce fighters, but the Israelis, who were literally fighting for their country’s survival, prevailed within several hours. 

Thirty-six Israeli soldiers and 71 Jordanians were killed in the battle, one of the fiercest of the Six-Day War. Ammunition Hill became a national memorial site in 1987.

Over the years, the number of visitors to the site did not increase, reaching a point in 2005 where the Israeli government decided to shutter it for a day because of a lack of funds. The Ammunition Hill-National Heritage & Memorial Site organization urgently reached out to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) for help.

That’s when Rami Ganor, JNF’s former Ammunition Hill liaison, approached Russ, a lawyer, L.A.-based JNF board member and philanthropist, to support this process.

“JNF knew it had to act,” said Yoel Rosby, the current liaison. “Ammunition Hill is a pearl in Jerusalem’s history. Closing it would be like closing Gettysburg.”

Russ was intrigued.

“Rami knew I was a child of Holocaust survivors and had a big family in Israel,” he said in an interview. “There are more Russes in Israel than the U.S.” 

Further impetus came from Shimon “Katcha” Cahaner, who was the deputy battalion commander in one of the two brigades that captured Ammunition Hill. After his commander was wounded, Cahaner brought his troops into the Old City. Cahaner joined up with the JNF to save the site.

“Katcha came to Los Angeles to raise funds to improve Ammunition Hill,” Russ recalled. “He said he wanted to build a geographic table that showed the dividing line between what was then Israel and Jordan. That sounded doable, and I made a commitment. Then he said, ‘Maybe there should be a cover over it because it gets hot in the summer.’ ”

At the request of Cahaner and JNF, Russ and his wife, Sunny, visited Jerusalem, where they met with historians, an architect and soldiers who had fought at Ammunition Hill and their families.

“We were crying, it was so emotional,” Russ recalled. “We said, ‘How can we not do this?’ ”

Today Ammunition Hill is a sprawling complex with a state-of-the art visitors center, a museum as well as the original bunkers. It is especially popular with school children, who can climb on a tank or explore the trenches.

The Russes supported the creation of a theater and a sophisticated 3-D map “City Line” table that shows how Jerusalem was divided, East from West, and lights up at different points to indicate landmarks and battle sites. They also sponsored the creation of a film that includes rare footage obtained from the Israeli air force of the battle for Ammunition Hill as well as Israeli troops hanging a flag from a section of the Temple Mount after they captured it. Soldiers who fought in the battle retrace their steps along with their children and grandchildren.

Russ noted that the site already offered a film but that it was a half-hour long — too long for most visiting schoolchildren to sit through, and less than ideal when more than one group was visiting the site.

An original armored vehicle and tank used in the 1967 battle for Ammunition Hill are on display.

An original armored vehicle and tank used in the 1967 battle for Ammunition Hill are on display.

More recently, the JNF asked the couple if they would finance renovations of the bunkers and crumbling trenches as well as new lighting.

At Ammunition Hill, Rosby noted that the site’s 40 bunkers and nearly 1,000 feet of trenches, were built a century ago to protect the munitions cache of the British Mandate.

“They were falling apart and had to be strengthened from the bottom up, to be able to remain standing for another 100 years to ensure that millions of visitors can experience and learn from the heroic battle for Ammunition Hill.”

Now that pathway lighting has been installed, visitors can visit the site at night and get a feel for the challenges Israel’s soldiers faced in the near pitch darkness in 1967.

Also thanks to the Russes, the sprawling field has what Rosby calls “field classrooms” — places for group members to sit and listen during a tour.

Rosby, Russ and Phillip Yankofsky, another Jewish community leader from L.A. and a Six-Day War veteran, appeared as panelists in March at JNF’s inaugural San Fernando Valley Breakfast for Israel, which focused on the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

Russ, who is recognized as a member of JNF’s World Chairman’s Council — meaning that he’s made a lifetime contribution of $1 million or more — said the American branch of the family feels a sense of duty to contribute to Ammunition Hill.

“My family in Israel fought in every war. I wanted to create something that would last and be something our children and grandchildren look at and realize we are a part of,” he said. “I also wanted to recognize the people of Israel and the families who have sacrificed so much. And finally, I wanted to honor our family who perished in the Holocaust.”

Mission accomplished: In 2005, the number of visitors to Ammunition Hill had fallen to 74,000. Last year, there were 354,000.

Russ said it has given his family “joy” to learn of the huge uptick in visitors, especially schoolchildren and soldiers, who visit Ammunition Hill on a daily basis, making it now a must-see venue on any trip to Israel.

From left: Lou Rosenberg, the L.A. executive director of JNF; Peter Kurz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball; and Sharon Freedman. Photo courtesy of Jewish National Fund

Israeli baseball pursues its dream of fields with L.A. fundraiser


“The cliché is true. If you build it, they will come,” Peter Kurz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball (IAB), said at the Los Angeles Sports Museum on April 27.

He, of course, was evoking the words of Ray Liotta, playing the ghost of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” as he tells Kevin Coster’s character to build a baseball diamond in his Iowa cornfield.

Kurz might not be hearing voices, but his organization is teaming up with Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) Project Baseball to transform some of Israel’s dilapidated lots into new fields to meet the needs of an upstart baseball culture.

“There are about a thousand kids playing baseball in Israel, but we have a serious lack of fields,” Kurz said. “We have one good field in Israel in Petah Tikvah, where our national team plays and practices, but we need other fields.”

Riding the wave of momentum created in March by the Israeli national team going 4-2 overall and qualifying for the second round in the World Baseball Classic, the IAB and JNF hosted a fundraiser dubbed “Build a Field of Dreams.” Nearly 80 people, mostly baseball junkies, paid $250 each to admire the L.A. Sports Museum’s vast memorabilia collection, pose in a green screen photo booth, munch on Cracker Jack and participate in a silent auction to raise funds for a new field in Beit Shemesh.

Los Angeles Dodgers Director of Player Development Gabe Kapler, a former major leaguer, was scheduled to speak but a last-minute scouting assignment called him away.

“If the Dodgers could hit, he’d be here,” Kurz joked, surrounded by many patrons clad in Dodger blue.

A two-minute video played for guests illustrated the current situation in Beit Shemesh, where baseball-loving kids play on rocky, weed-infested fields in nearby kibbutzim and moshavim.

“In Beit Shemesh, we have 150 kids playing, but if we had a field in the middle of the city, I’d have 300 or 400 kids, without a problem,” Kurz said.

Kurz, who lives in Israel with his family, told the Journal his organization would like to see ground broken on the Beit Shemesh field by the end of the year, followed by six months of construction. The IAB hopes to raise a third of the $1.7 million cost through donors in the United States with Beit Shemesh’s municipality prepared cover the rest.

Lou Rosenberg, Los Angeles’ executive director of JNF and the lead on its Project Baseball task force, said the need for fields in Israel existed well before the national team reached the final eight in the WBC tournament. But his organization, in conjunction with the IAB, is taking full advantage of the team’s success.

“Project Baseball is a niche sort of interest,” Rosenberg said, wearing his pin-striped Valley Beth Shalom softball league uniform. “There was always this need, but the WBC has definitely helped get the word out to people who are interested in this and get things going like this event tonight. We have a lot more ideas to keep the momentum going and get us in front of the right people.”

Rosenburg and Kurz are hoping to find someone to be for baseball in Israel what Robert Kraft, the Jewish owner of the New England Patriots, is for American football there. Last year, Kraft donated $6 million to build a sports complex in Jerusalem to expand football culture in Israel.

Days before the fundraiser in Los Angeles, Kurz met in Milwaukee with former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, a meeting Kurz had sought for 10 years. During his 23 years as commissioner, Selig pushed to expand the sport’s international appeal.

“I showed him how much interest there is in baseball in Israel and how wonderful the whole WBC experience was, and that we need help to get more fields built,” Kurz said of his conversation with Selig, who is Jewish.

Kurz told the Journal that Selig promised to help the IAB connect with Jewish major league team owners like Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox, Fred Wilpon of the New York Mets and Ted Lerner of the Washington Nationals.

Jonathan Fishman, 16, came to the fundraiser with his dad, Jeffrey Fishman, to learn more about baseball in Israel. Jonathan, who wore a Jackie Robinson Dodgers throwback jersey, plays third base for Shalhevet High School. He said he was compelled to come after seeing Jewish ballplayers shock the world in the WBC.

“It made me really proud. It was cool to see,” he said. “Hopefully, we get to see more Jewish ballplayers making those kind of contributions.”

At JNF water summit, agreement on next steps, but when will L.A. act?


This scene, it seems, repeats itself every few months in Los Angeles: Politicians, city agencies, water experts and environmentalists convene, agree that California — particularly Los Angeles County — is doing a poor job of implementing proven solutions to solving water shortages, and then ask when the government will get serious about things.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

The Jewish National Fund’s California-Israel Water Summit, held March 2 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, attempted to break this cycle. The conference included an array of speakers and panelists from across the environmental, technological and political spectrum, and featured Seth Siegel, author of the recent book “Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World.” 

During his morning address, Siegel connected California’s water needs with the nation’s general cynicism in regard to government, and said a breakthrough could restore people’s trust.

“The more government can deliver on its promises, the more people will trust government to do other things. Water is a good place to start,” he said. “The very good news is that Israel has spent decades developing a solution for this problem. The world can avoid the worst of a potential water scarcity crisis by being more like Israel, at least in terms of water.”

During a morning panel, UCLA’s associate vice chancellor for environment and sustainability, Mark Gold, said the last four years of drought in California “have told us very clearly that the way we’re managing water is just not sustainable.” 

“We have to move. We have no choice,” Gold said.

Gold’s panel was moderated by David Nahai, former CEO of the L.A. Department of Water & Power, and featured city and state officials, including Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplies about 2 billion gallons of water a day for 19 million people across Southern California.

The summit’s overall message was simple: Solutions are out there — places such as Israel, Australia and even Orange County have proven it by implementing a cocktail of wastewater purification, rainwater capture and even the expensive desalination route that San Diego County recently launched.

But these opportunities continue to be sidelined in most of California, for now. Heather Repenning, commissioner of the L.A. Department of Public Works, said during the morning panel that most of the 350 million gallons of wastewater the agency treats daily is pushed into the ocean.

“It’s obviously a missed opportunity,” she said.

The answer to that problem, as TreePeople founder and president Andy Lipkis has said for years, is that wastewater purification (also known as “toilet to tap”) and rainwater capture make more sense than a system that pumps about 80 percent of rainwater to the sea, and imports about 90 percent of the water it consumes from hundreds of miles away.

“Rainfall in Los Angeles actually represents about half the water we need,” Lipkis said on an afternoon panel moderated by Rob Eshman, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal. “When it rains 1 inch in Los Angeles, we throw away 3.8 billion gallons of capturable rain water.”

That panel also included City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield; Brian Peck, who is Gov. Jerry Brown’s deputy director of international affairs and business development; and Dillon Hosier, the Israeli-American Council’s head lobbyist and former senior advisor to David Siegel, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles.

Israel, which is arguably the world’s leader in water conservation technology, was held up at the summit as a model for how California — which has similar climates and topographies to the Jewish state — can address severe water shortages and poor policy decisions exacerbated by a four-year drought. 

“If you could just go over there and put it in place here, we’d be done with these kind of conferences,” Eshman said to the panel. “We could move on from this problem, which they’ve already solved in Israel.”

So what’s the hold up? Why hasn’t California replicated Israel’s water solutions? 

Well, in some places, it already has. The Western Hemisphere’s largest desalination plant in Carlsbad, just north of San Diego, came on line in late 2015 and was built and designed by Poseidon Water and IDE Technologies, an Israeli desalination company. That $1 billion plant, which is adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, provides about 50 million gallons of clean drinking water to a service area of about 3.2 million people. And because it’s not dependent on rain, snow or groundwater aquifers, it’s a “drought-proof” supply, which is also reflected by the fact that it’s the most expensive method of water supply, at about $2,000 for every 326,000 gallons.

Orange County, meanwhile, has one of the largest wastewater purification systems in the world, producing up to 100 million gallons of drinking water per day. Even Los Angeles, which relies overwhelmingly on imported water, has the West Basin Municipal Water District, which provides purified wastewater to 17 coastal cities in L.A. County.

And while implementation of Israeli-style water technologies is still more or less just a topic of discussion in Los Angeles, there’s hope that things like the memorandum of understanding signed between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Brown in early 2014 will help build momentum for tangible action. The same is true of more local water agreements, including those between Beverly Hills and L.A. County and Israel.

But how far can Israeli solutions go in California? Gold and Lipkis believe the relatively expensive route of desalination means it should be used only as a last resort in Los Angeles. Lipkis said that reverse osmosis, the key purification process used in desalination, is also used for wastewater purification, but is far cheaper when not cleaning seawater. 

“Israel’s loaded with good solutions — they don’t all apply here,” Lipkis said. “Desalinating seawater is the last thing you do.”

In addition to advising lawmakers and agencies on water policy, Lipkis sees water education as the other major key to translating the consensuses reached at summits like these into government policy.

“We have to radically increase literacy,” Lipkis said. “We’re fairly impenetrable right now. There are lots of government policies and rules that are stopping it. We have to create the market for policy change.”

The drought, he suggested, has helped create that market: “Before the drought, there were thousands of people in California who cared about water. All of a sudden there are 40 million of us.”

JNF reveals finances for first time, holds $2 billion in land


The Jewish National Fund, releasing its finances for the first time, revealed that it owned $2 billion of land as of last year.

The JNF report comes amid recent criticism of the group’s quasigovernmental status that allows it to avoid state comptroller audits and official oversight, Haaretz reported. Yair Lapid, a Knesset member and former finance member, called JNF a corrupt organization in February.

The report shows that the JNF, which does not receive support from the Israeli government but enjoys tax-exempt status, generated $567 million in revenue last year, including $35 million in donations. About $20.2 million of the donations came from North America, the J reported.

“The publication of the JNF financial report is a major step toward revealing the fund’s activities to the wider public and provides a final answer to the false and disingenuous claims about a lack of transparency,” the JNF said in a statement quoted by Haaretz.

The JNF, which was founded in 1901 to develop land in prestate Israel, controls about 13 percent of the land in Israel. It has kept its finances under wraps for years despite attempts to redefine its status as a public-benefit corporation that would be forced to reveal its records. A Knesset bill aimed at making the organization more transparent was rejected last week, the Times of Israel reported.

Haaretz noted that the average salary for JNF’s 950 employees worldwide was nearly $80,000. The organization, also known as Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, allotted $21.3 million for educational purposes and donated $15.1 million to the World Zionist Organization.

Moving and shaking: FIDF Gala, Texas Hold’em Poker Classic, Our House and more


Hollywood A-listers Barbra Streisand, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Pamela Anderson were among those who attended the eighth annual Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region Gala on Nov. 6; the event raised an unprecedented $33 million to fund the educational, cultural, social and economic needs of IDF soldiers and their families.

In the purple-lit ballroom of the Beverly Hilton hotel, a cocktail reception was followed by a three-course dinner and a program emceed by political analyst and best-selling author Monica Crowley.

Notable donors included Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison; brothers Maurice and Paul Marciano of Guess Inc.; event chairs Cheryl and Haim Saban; casino mogul billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam; New York Giants’ Chairman Steve Tisch; and Dell Inc. founder Michael Dell and his wife, Susan.

Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean — whose band canceled its performances in Israel this past summer during the Gaza war but will play three sold-out shows there next year — made a donation as well. 

Judy and Bud Levin donated $5,000 on behalf of their son, Cpl. Max Levin, a Lone Soldier and New Community Jewish High School graduate who was injured during Operation Protective Edge. 

Entertainment included David Foster and Friends, The Tenors and, for the finale, Ricky Martin.

Aside from the glitz and glamour, the gala had plenty of serious moments. One IDF first lieutenant took the stage and said, “This summer, too many [IDF soldiers] made the ultimate sacrifice.” His twin brother, 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, was one of 66 fallen soldiers. 

“Every single one of them is a hero,” Haim Saban said. 

— Tess Cutler, Contributing Writer


Actor Jason Alexander (“Seinfeld”) and Teri Hatcher (“Desperate Housewives”) were among the famous faces who turned out for Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) second annual Texas Hold’em Poker Classic on Oct. 26 at the Commerce Casino.

From left: Josh Neufeld, Jim Hess, Teri Hatcher, Jason Alexander and Rob Schiller competed in the Jewish National Fund’s second annual Texas Hold’em Poker Classic. Photo courtesy of JNF

“For a second time, this event was really well run, a lot of fun and has tremendous growth potential,” Alexander said in a press release. “I look forward to playing with JNF again.”

The event drew nearly 100 attendees, who each paid $200 to buy into the pot. Poker stars Josh Neufeld and Jim Hess were among the participants, as was Hollywood director Rob Schiller (“The King of Queens”). 

The fundraiser helped collect $54,000 for JNF Project Baseball, which, according to the JNF website, is focused on building state-of-the-art baseball and softball fields across Israel. The organization’s mission is developing Israeli land and infrastructure.

JNF associate director Lou Rosenberg deemed the event a success. “We are extremely pleased at the level of excitement and positive response within the community that this event generated, and we believe it will go a long way toward building the foundation of an annual event that should double in size for next year,” he said in a press release.


The Women of Reform Judaism’s (WRJ) Pacific District has named Phyllis Bigelson, a member of Temple Ahavat Shalom (TAS) in Northridge, as its president. 

“It was either move up or out,” Bigelson, 62, said of her appointment. “It’s something I really enjoy.” 

Temple Ahavat Shalom Cantor Jen Roher (left) and new WRJ president and Ahavat Shalom congregant Phyllis Bigelson, who was installed Oct. 25. Photo by Sheri Langer/WRJ Pacific District

Bigelson previously served as vice president of the WRJ Pacific District. Her installation ceremony, held at the Hilton Pasadena on Oct. 25, was a highlight of the WRJ Pacific District Convention. Musician Julie Silver, TAS Rabbi Barry Lutz and WRJ Vice President Sarah Charney participated. TAS Cantor Jen Roher was part of the day’s events as well.

The mother of two and grandmother of four succeeds Ellen Bick of Congregation Beth Israel based in Portland, Ore. Judie Shor-Ning of Albuquerque, N.M., the vice president of WRJ Pacific District, will succeed Bigelson in two years. 

When not working on behalf of Reform women, Bigelson, along with her husband, William, run the CPA firm William Bigelson CPA Inc. The two have been married for 44 years. 

More than 170 attendees turned out to the multiday conference, whose theme was “Dreams to Reality: Planning the Next 100 Years.” Bigelson served as the event chair, Lillian Burkenheim Silver was program chair, Rachel Fabulich and Flo Cohen were local area arrangement co-chairs, Cher Krichmar was workshop chair, and Jackie Zev was budget chair. 

WRJ provides training, assistance and support for sisterhood organizations around the country. The Pacific District includes 57 sisterhoods that collectively serve more than 7,500 women throughout California, Nevada, Arizona and several other states, as well as British Columbia.


Our House’s House of Hope gala, at the Skirball Cultural Center on Nov. 1, raised $640,000 for the nonprofit California-based grief support center.

Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe and Sheri Rapaport, Our House board chair and recipient of the Founder’s Award. Photo by Vivien Bes

The event spotlighted Sheri Rapaport, the organization’s board chair and recipient of the Founder’s Award, in recognition of her “contributions to the advancement of Our House’s mission,” a press release said. 

Additional honorees included the Wells Fargo Foundation and the Primetime Emmy-winning HBO documentary “One Last Hug: Three Days at Grief Camp” (2014). Jonathan Weedman, senior vice president of the Wells Fargo Foundation, accepted the Good Grief Award on behalf of the foundation. Greg DeHart, producer of “One Last Hug”; Paul Freedman, producer-director; and Lauren Schneider, associate producer and Our House clinical director, received the H.U.G. (Helping Understand Grief) Award on behalf of the film. 

“These award recipients were recognized for their work in helping grieving children, teens and adults embark on their journey to hope and healing,” a press release said.

The 2013 Good Grief Award recipient, Melissa Rivers, daughter of late comedian Joan Rivers, emceed the event, along with TV personality Andrew Krasny. Rivers acknowledged the passing of her mother and her commitment to the organization that honored her just last year.

“It’s unbelievable that within the year that I was honored and became an ambassador for Our House Grief Support Center that I was hit by the sudden death of my mother. Our House has taken on an even greater significance in my life, and I am so grateful that everyone has access to the support that they provide,” Rivers said in a release.

The gala featured Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood delivering opening remarks and leading a prayer before the commencement of the program. 

Our House was founded in 1993 by Jo-Ann Lautman.

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

Interview with Avigdor Lieberman: ‘About our PR, I completely agree, it is very, very bad’


The meteoric rise of Israel’s Russian-speaking, Moldova-born immigrant and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman may be proof, as he told an admiring Jewish National Fund (JNF) crowd in Los Angeles on Sept. 15, that Israel is more like America than even America.

Not quite a pristine Cinderella story, though, at 56, Lieberman is as notable for his political successes as for the political and media controversies that surround him.

When Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly offered Lieberman the option of switching to either the minister of defense or finance in 2012, Tzipi Livni, who used to hold Lieberman’s current post in the Foreign Ministry, was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying that his becoming Defense Minister would be “an existential threat to the State of Israel.”

Lieberman, 56, signed on for a second term as Foreign Minister in the coalition government led by Netanyahu’s Likud and his own Yisrael Beiteinu party. And to Livni’s chagrin, Lieberman’s political fortunes may be headed north, perhaps one day as far north as Prime Minister—at least if he can continue to emerge unscathed from the occasional scandals that involve his name (see: his off-the-record trip to Vienna last weekend to meet with businessman Martin Schlaff, as reported by Haaretz.)

The so-called “Lieberman Plan” that he proposed in 2004 would have redrawn Israeli and Palestinian borders so that many Israeli-Arabs would be included in an eventual Palestinian state—and likely lose their Israeli citizenship. In March, an internal Foreign Ministry legal brief argued that such a move would be legal if the Israeli-Arabs consented and if they did not become stateless.

In 2006, he likened Arab-Israeli Knesset members who met with Hamas to Nazi collaborators who were executed for their crimes. The Arab-Israeli collaborators, Lieberman said at the time, should meet the same fate.

Willing to speak his mind, Lieberman — as he told the Journal in an interview shortly after his address to JNF — prefers to be honest, even if it means damaging his (and thus the Israeli government’s) reputation in international media. As he admitted to the JNF crowd, somewhat surprisingly, Israel is lacking in the media relations department: “First of all, about our hasbara, about our PR, I completely agree — it is very, very bad.”

How much that has to do with his insistence on speaking his mind, well, that’s a question he addressed in the interview.

In fact, during his address, there were two points where he appeared to have fun with the monstrous role that he, and often Israel, are assigned in world opinion. Nine minutes into his 30-minute speech, when he was discussing the importance of religious education for Jewish children in the United States, three young female protestors from the left-wing group CODEPINK stood up and shouted, “What about the children in the schools in Gaza!” Security — and the crowd’s boos — quickly put an end to their interruption.

Smiling, Lieberman joked that he “was surprised that this provocation took so much time.” Perhaps he is used to anti-Israel protestors hijacking his speeches before the nine-minute mark.

Later in the address, the Foreign Minister played devil’s advocate, suggesting that even if he really were the bad guy that he is painted as, and even if politicians such as him are roadblocks to peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians, then why haven’t “nice guys” like Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak been able to reach peace? The answer, as Lieberman implied, is that Palestinian leaders, from Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas, aren’t interested.

In the interview, Lieberman was careful to not overly criticize Netanyahu and played down Netanyahu’s frosty relationship with the Obama Administration. When asked about Israel’s poor PR, he indicated—in a quite unsatisfactory response — that Israel has too many other budgetary concerns to allocate what’s needed for effective marketing, but countered that he feels the government did a sufficient job of justifying its Gaza operation.

An edited version of the interview follows:

Jewish Journal: Looking back on the war in Gaza, what would you like to have been done differently?

Avigdor Lieberman: They [Hamas] survived, they are in power and they continue to run the Gaza Strip. It was the third operation in the last five-and-a-half years and as long as Hamas remains in power it’s only a matter of time until we will launch the next operation because Hamas will impose on us the next operation.

JJ: Would it be different if the Palestinian Authority ran Gaza?

Lieberman: Israel never interferes in the domestic issues of any other country. It’s not our matter, it’s not our policy. Hamas fired rockets on Israel; Hamas kidnapped our teenage boys and it’s impossible to accept the reality when you have rockets on Tel Aviv or on Jerusalem or in the south of Israel. You cannot imagine rockets on L.A. or on New York. I don’t know any other country [that] would accept this reality. It’s not [a matter of] who’s in power in Gaza but [what matters is that there are] no military capabilities; no missiles; no tunnels.

JJ: If Hamas were toppled, then what?

Lieberman: It’s their choice, the choice of the people of Gaza to create the real peace or at least to create conditions of coexistence. Every country, every government — our first obligation is to provide security and safety for our citizens.

JJ: You said in your address to JNF that Israel’s PR is not good. What do you think is the reason?

Lieberman: I think it’s impossible for our budget. Because today it’s also first of all a matter of money. We devote very small money because we are facing too many challenges around the whole region — Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Hamas, [Islamic] Jihad, ISIS. Everything is burning, we are in the midst of an ocean of bloodshed and violence. We have priorities but still despite … I think that we have succeeded to explain our position. Everybody knows the reason for the last operation; everything started with the kidnapping of the three boys and their execution. Hamas started with rockets on Israel; they used the civilian population as human shields.

JJ: Does it bother you that much of the international media view you as extreme right-wing and people like you as the cause of the conflict?

Lieberman: It’s impossible to handle all the prejudiced views with people that have their vision without any background. Even if I agree [with my critics] that I am a bad guy and radical and a settler and everything, why since the Oslo agreement [has peace not been achieved with] so many “good guys” in power? Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert … Ehud Barak was ready to divide Jerusalem and to evacuate all settlers. Sharon undertook the same process called disengagement; evacuated 21 settlements and we transferred more than 10,000 Jews — and what is the bottom line?

JJ: Do you not care that the sound bytes that you say to the media are then used around the world to basically hurt Israel’s image?

Lieberman: I don’t think so. I think that the best policy is to say the truth.

JJ: Are you concerned about the American-Israeli relationship? It has appeared to be very cold of late. Will it continue?

Lieberman: I think it’s a misunderstanding. It’s very stable. Our relations [have been] based since the first day on many, many factors. First of all we are sharing the same values and second, of course, it’s the ties between the Jewish community in Israel and [in America]; it’s strategic interest and military cooperation between the United States and Israel. At the end of the day Americans know that the ones they really can trust in all the Middle East, it’s only Israel.

JJ: Is there comfort within the Israeli government over the cooperation with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan?

Lieberman: [This is] the first time that the moderate Arab countries and leaders understand that the real threat for them is not Israel, is not Zionism and is not Jews — it’s the radical Islamic wing … What we’ve seen over the last meetings and discussions within [the] Arab League and between Arab leaders and the Western world — there are three issues. First of all it’s the Iranian threat, it’s [the] Muslim Brotherhood and [it’s] the spillover from the Syrian crisis.

JJ: Follwing Gaza do you have faith in the Prime Minister’s ability to lead the country?

Lieberman: First of all, he’s the leader and I supported him during the last election and during the coalition negotiations. I think I have a right to my opinion and of course he has a right to his opinion. He has a majority in cabinet and I respect the democratic decision. It’s impossible always to be with the majority in coalition government, especially when it’s a very complicated coalition.

For Israelis in the western Negev, each day is ‘Russian Roulette’


When the tzeva adom, red alert, screams its siren as Yasmine Parda eats out in Ashkelon at her favorite restaurant, she waits and hopes for the best—no rocket shelters are reachable by foot within the siren’s reported 15-second warning interval.

“We sit in the restaurant and wait,” said the 27-year-old secretary as she stopped for a few moments along Yig’al Alon Street in Sderot on Aug. 14, the morning after a five-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was announced.

Paya Amirov, Parda’s friend, described her life as a game of “Russian Roulette”—she can’t know whether the next minute, hour, or day will be quiet or chaotic, with the ever-present possibility of needing to drop everything and run from scorching metal and shrapnel that falls from the sky shortly after being fired from the neighboring Gaza Strip.

Michal Tweeto, who lives on Moshav Tkuma, a community next to Gaza, with her husband and three children, brought two of her kids—Tova, 5, and Avraham, 3—to a massive indoor playground and community center in Sderot so they could enjoy some respite for the day. In recent weeks, the kids have barely been able to leave the house. And even during this ceasefire, there’s no guarantee of safety.

“My kids are afraid. That’s the biggest problem for me,” Tweeto said. “I’m more afraid from the trauma than from the rockets.”

At the $5 million, 21,000-square-foot facility, which was built by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in 2009, recreation rooms and play areas double as bomb shelters, giving parents like Tweeto the peace of mind that they enjoyed before 2001, when rocket fire from neighboring Gaza became a regular occurrence.

Located in an old warehouse on the eastern edge of Sderot, the facility has basketball courts, a café, computers and a small movie theater. On a recent visit, the happy screams of children playing rang through the air as parents sat at tables and socialized with each other.

This $5 million, 21,000 square foot indoor rec center in Sderot was built by the Jewish National Fund in 2009 as a response to rocket fire.

Just one mile away from the indoor playground, another stark reminder of life here, particularly for children, is made apparent by a large structure on an outdoor playground on Ha-Rakefet Street. Artfully built into the playground, the structure looks like a large friendly snake with a hollowed out interior play area.

This snake-like structure on an outdoor playground doubles as a bomb shelter.

Approaching it, though, a sign on it reads in Hebrew: “When the tzeva adom sounds, you have to enter under my protection beyond the orange line.”

This sign at an outdoor Sderot playground tells children to enter the inside of what is a playful looking snake if they hear the “red alert” siren.

Moshe and Linor Barsheshet, Netivot residents who came for the day to the indoor JNF playground with their two children, Haddas and Yonatan, left home for Beit Shemesh during the war and returned during the first cease fire two weeks ago.

Government officials asked residents in the south to return home, expecting that the cease-fire would hold—Hamas broke it on the morning of Aug. 8, firing a volley of rockets over the border and further shattering the confidence of many locals.

“It’s impossible to leave the house,” Moshe said.

Arnold Rosenblum, who came to Israel five years ago from Russia, recently moved to Sderot to enroll at Sapir College. Walking in the downtown shopping area, Rosenblum, 23, sat down for a few minutes to speak with a reporter.

“What can I say?” Rosenblum said, asked how the rockets and sirens have impacted his life. “We are getting used to this. First time is very hard and you really think maybe you should leave Sderot.”

After that initial shock, though, he said, the regular interruptions just become normal. “I say like this: if I made a choice to live here, no Hamas, no someone else can make me change my choice.”

During parts July and August, when classes at Sapir were cancelled due to the war in Gaza, Rosenblum worked at a plastics factory in town. He said that, during work, if the siren rang, people would have 13 seconds to find the nearest bomb shelter—he said that by the time the red alert goes off, two seconds have already been shaved off from the 15.

When he is home during the siren, he said his two and three-year-old nephews and nieces panic amidst the rush to get to a shelter.

“Everyone is screaming. Everyone is crying,” Rosenblum said, adding glumly when asked about the current lull in fighting: “It’s very sad.”

Hesitant to offer his opinion on the war and on the government’s decision, for now, to halt its operation, Rosenblum instead offered some dark humor:

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin asks God, ‘What do you think? When is it going to be the end of terrorism in Chechnya?”

“Not in your [presidential] term,” God said.

“[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu asks God,” said Rosenblum. “‘What do you think? When is it going to be quiet in Gaza?’”

“God said, ‘Not in my term.’”

Stop Prawer-Begin plan for Bedouin resettlement


The Negev Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran is where I first learned about what it means to be rooted, to be devoted to something with steadfastness. It is here that I learned the true impact of Jewish National Fund (JNF) afforestation on the Bedouin, which is far from JNF’s whitewashed and spit-shined-glossy version. Rayid Abu Alkeean, an Israeli Bedouin, partnered with Bustan, an environmental justice organization that I founded, to host delegations on dozens of our Negev Unplugged Tours in his village, where we learned about Bedouin traditional life unplugged from the nation’s electricity grid, and from Israel’s democracy. 

Imagine serving in the Israel Defense Forces and having your home demolished by the government in front of your children. Next, imagine being billed for the demolition. Imagine watching religious Jews building a barbed wire fence to stake a claim to the hilltop just above your home. Hiran and Kasif, two Jewish-only religious towns slated to be built on the lands of Rayid’s village, were just approved. 

Fortunately, the Knesset vote on the controversial Prawer-Begin Plan to resettle the Negev Bedouin has been postponed for the next one to two months. We must urge Israeli officials to take this discriminatory plan off the table and encourage them to adopt the Alternative Master Plan (AMP) developed by Bedouin leadership and Jewish planners of the human rights non-governmental organization Bimkom. The AMP will delimit territorial boundaries on historical village lands. It will enable formal village planning and access to the full basket of rights and services afforded Jewish villages and towns — housing, clinics, roads, waste removal and schools. We must make every effort to advance this alternative plan and promote sustainable economic development for all residents of the Negev.  

[UPDATE: How to begin after Prawer-Begin]

Here’s why it is in the best interest of every Jew in the Negev and the Diaspora to stop the Prawer Plan. 

• Because it is morally unconscionable to uproot this Negev Arab minority from their homes and against their will.

• Because token symbolic gestures aimed at recognition, such as granting formal ownership over less than 2 percent of historic Bedouin lands to some while denying the rest to the vast majority of others, simply won’t work. The Prawer Plan will dispossess some 40,000 Bedouin, requiring entire villages to be demolished wholesale. 

• Because squeezing the remaining lands that have not yet been confiscated from the Bedouin population and urging them to live as neighbors with Jewish homesteaders and families that replace them will deepen already existing social cleavages. 

• Because it will lead to violence. Today the youth in Bedouin villages act on behalf of a civilian population of 200,000 Negev Arabs that has been marginalized, criminalized and pauperized for decades. “Days of Rage” protests and vigils are surging to increasingly high levels of tension in what is now front and center stage of Israel’s ongoing land conflict. By declaring a civilian population a national security threat, the government further alienates and even catalyzes an already enraged and disenfranchised minority into the streets. Many believe that despite the intentions of community elders to organize nonviolently, there is no further incentive to do so. 

• Because living off the grid is hard, but the unrecognized Bedouin prefer that to losing their lands. Most “unrecognized villagers” have consistently resisted running water and electricity to power their computers and washing machines, preferring to stay on their lands rather than be holed up in cities with different and sometimes clashing familial clans, and pushed into wage labor —– when it is even available — at the expense of their traditional cultural pursuits. Unrecognized Bedouin have organized however haphazardly and have used nonviolent but futile tactics to have their land rights recognized by the Israeli courts. More than 100,000 Bedouin continue to resist being transferred into impoverished townships that are drug-riddled pits of crime. They fight to keep their lands because even in recognized towns, Bedouin are denied building permits, basic infrastructure and services. 

• Because we’ve learned from villages like Al-Arakib and Umm el-Hiran, among others, that coercion is not sustainable. To try to rip Negev Arabs from their lands will only make them, and more of us, more resolute. 

• Because the northern Negev is already a toxic tinderbox. Most Negev Arabs and Bedouin have been relocated into a triangle of territory in the northern Negev between Beer-Sheva, Arad and Dimona that has been zoned to encircle them  to prevent further construction. 

The conflict between Bedouin and the State of Israel is about land, resources and control. Investment in developing Jewish towns and demolishing Arab villages happens most aggressively in Arab areas of the Negev and the Galilee, battlefields of Israel’s demographic war to create a Jewish majority in every region of Israel.  One tactic is to break apart contiguous Bedouin villages and to concentrate the maximum number of Bedouin onto the minimum amount of territory. 

Like Rayid, head of the village council of al-Sira, Khalil el Amor resists the Prawer Plan. His entire village is slated for demolition. I spoke with Khalil yesterday. He said, “I am a teacher, and finishing school to become a lawyer. As a child, I would return home from school to tend our flock and help my mother milk the animals until dark. I would light a lantern and start my homework. I want my granddaughter Siraj (meaning “lantern”) to have the choice to tend a flock. If I stay on my village lands, I dream of inviting tourists to learn about our traditions and our changing Bedouin culture.” Rather than give up the land, and give up the lantern, Khalil holds steadfast. 

The AMP is a viable way for Negev Arabs like Khalil and Rayid to showcase their village culture to tourists and to earn livable incomes rather than masquerading as traditional Bedouin for Jewish-owned tourist companies that romanticize their culture if they’ll pretend to be shepherds for a photo-op on a camel. If Prawer passes, that is all our children will know about Bedouin culture.

Israeli UN ambassador sees opportunities


For Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, the Iranian nuclear threat is real, the hostility coming from the United Nations is enduring, and Palestinian calls for two states are disingenuous.

Yet, he said at a Dec. 11 breakfast hosted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, the turmoil playing out in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, presents Israel with “amazing opportunities” and potential new alliances.

Beyond the fears that Israel and Saudi Arabia share about a nuclear Iran, Prosor said that the Shiite-Sunni divide that is playing itself out in the Syrian civil war “allows us to do things which are a bit different.” Yet on matters of Israeli security, Prosor added, “I cannot go into that.”

Prosor was enthusiastically welcomed by a crowd of about1,300 at the event, which JNF opened to the public. Upon entering to a raucous applause, he joked, “It sounds much better than the [U.N.] General Assembly,” referring to the hostile stance that many members of the U.N. take towards Israel.

He began his remarks by outlining Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s concerns about the recent six-month interim deal reached between Iran and the Western powers, known as the P5+1, which requires Iran to limit enrichment and freeze most of its centrifuges for six months, while at the same time being allowed to keep all of its existing nuclear infrastructure intact.

In return, Western powers have agreed to roll back what is expected to be about $7 billion in economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Prosor said he fears that while nuclear inspectors and Western governments are focused on Iran’s enrichment capabilities over the next six months, Iran will focus on the weaponization and delivery aspects of its nuclear program.

“They are amazing negotiators,” Prosor said of the Iranians. “Internally, nothing has changed in the quest for a nuclear program.”

But, he added, from his vantage point in the United Nations he sees fissures developing among Muslim nations, some caused by Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.

Referring to allegations that in 2011 Iran plotted to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, in a Washington, D.C., restaurant, Prosor said he saw the current Saudi ambassador to the U.N. accuse Iran of the assassination attempt on the floor of the General Assembly.

Then, Prosor went on, “The Iranian ambassador stands up and trashes the Saudi ambassador.”

Finally, Prosor said, the Syrian ambassador stood up, addressing the Saudi ambassador, and said, “You cut the throats of people with swords—who are you to talk?”

Smiling, Prosor said that he welcomes the current enmity among Muslim nations that more typically focus their animosity on Israel.

“I say, ‘Continue, gentlemen.’”

Hunting for the perfect (JNF) Christmas tree—in Israel


Winding up and down the rows of Arizona brush trees, Jason Heeney sees slim pickings for Christmas.

“This tree would be hard to put the star on,” Heeney says. “It’s totally flat, like a smushed nose.”

The Michigan native and his friend, native Parisian Emie Genty, have driven an hour from their homes in Tel Aviv for what has become an annual tradition: the Christmas tree hunt at a Jewish National Fund forest. For about $20 apiece, they and anyone else can buy a subsidized tree this week, courtesy of JNF. The buyers include Christian Arabs, Russians, tourists and curious Israeli Jews.

The trees resemble the conifers traditionally used as Christmas trees in America, though they are a bit sparser, paler and shorter at an average of 6 feet high.

JNF’s director of VIP ceremonies and protocol, Andy Michelson, estimates that individuals, embassies and Israeli churches will buy nearly 1,000 trees this year — a 20 percent increase over last year because of a new Internet advertising campaign. The program has existed for almost 20 years, and the forest here has about 3,000 trees. JNF maintains a similar forest in northern Israel.

Approximately 150,000 Christians – four-fifths of them Arabs – live in Israel.

Though the tree distribution program costs thousands of dollars, Michelson said American Jewish supporters of JNF should not be upset that their money is going for something that benefits Christians in Israel.

“Our projects are for all people living in Israel, so when we build a park, we build it for everyone, regardless of whether they’re Jewish, Christian or Muslim,” he said, adding that many of JNF’s donors are non-Jews from Europe.

“They see Israel doing this, and it creates a good feeling and peace between people,” said Maor Malka, a JNF tour guide and firefighter who has staffed the distribution for two years. “We also increase awareness of JNF.”

JNF is best known for planting trees, not chopping them down. Michelson said the four-inch stumps left from the Christmas trees regenerate quickly, in as little as two years.

That was disappointing for Heeney, who was looking for a bigger tree — maybe eight feet high. Examining tree after tree — “No, no, no, no, no” — he lamented that “the branches are really flimsy, not like a Christmas tree” in the United States. It’s harder to hang decorations on these, he says.

Heeney, who is married to a native Israeli, grew up on a farm and as a child his family would visit the nearby forest and chop down a tree as Dec. 25 approached. Since moving to Tel Aviv 2 1/2 years ago, he has maintained American Christmas traditions. He hosts a family dinner with his in-laws on Christmas Eve and a party for friends the next day with gifts and carols.

“It’s strange celebrating Christmas in Israel,” he says. “In the U.S. it’s a national cultural event. There’s a change in the way people interact with each other, the generosity of spirit, plus the lights. It’s pretty. I miss the snow.”

Not all of the customers in Givat Yeshayahu — in central Israel, just south of Jerusalem’s suburbs — had Christmas on their minds. Miriam, originally from Moscow, was helping a friend buy a tree for New Year’s, a Russian tradition. She had bought plastic trees in years past, but found the JNF offer on the Internet this year.

“It’s not connected to religion; we like to decorate the tree,” she said. “We don’t do it on a holiday and we don’t sing Merry Christmas.”

Miriam found a tree she liked, as did Heeney and Genty, who squeezed three of them into their sedan following a 45-minute search. But not all the customers were happy with the selection. One man walked back to his car after looking for only a few minutes.

“I have something like this in my yard,” he said.

Opinion: JNF should plant trees, not uproot families


As a child, I proudly brought my spare change to Hebrew school to drop in the little blue boxes. With this money, my teachers told me, the Jewish National Fund would plant trees in Israel. I never imagined that these nickels and dimes would also help to evict Palestinians from their homes.

Last week, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America called on the Jewish National Fund and its partner organizations to issue a public statement that they will no longer evict Palestinians from their homes in eastern Jerusalem.

In November, RHR-NA mobilized American Jews to write nearly 1,500 letters to Russell Robinson, CEO of the Jewish National Fund of America, asking him to stop a JNF subsidiary from evicting the Sumarin family from their home in Silwan, a neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem. The eviction would have allowed the home to be transferred to Elad, a settler organization that aims to Judaize eastern Jerusalem. The Absentee Property Law, which was the legal basis for this eviction, allows the State of Israel to take possession of eastern Jerusalem properties whose owners were not physically present when Israel first took control of the area in 1967. In the case of the Sumarin family, the children of the original owner were declared absentees even though other members of the family were living in the home at the time.

Though JNF responded to the uproar among American Jews and halted the eviction of the Sumarins, the organization and its subsidiaries are currently pursuing other evictions.

It’s time for JNF once and for all to end its policy of evicting families.

This is not ultimately a story about whether a few families can stay in their homes. What happens in Silwan may determine whether a peaceful solution remains possible. What happens in Silwan speaks to the the moral and democratic soul of Israel. And the crisis in Silwan opens our eyes to the role that American money plays in perpetuating the conflict.

By moving into Silwan and other eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, ideological settlers are putting facts on the ground that make peace more difficult. Visiting Silwan last November, I saw the homes of recent Jewish settlers standing next to the homes of longtime Palestinian residents. These Jewish homes sported Israeli flags, guard booths, barbed wire and sky-high fences. The settlers walk through the streets carrying rifles. The juxtaposition between these fortified houses and the more modest ones of their neighbors serves as an answer to those who ask why Jews can’t live anywhere in Jerusalem. This is not an attempt at peaceful coexistence; it is an armed takeover that threatens the very possibility of peace. 

I’m deeply concerned as well about the moral and democratic soul of Israel. I believe strongly that Israel has the potential to live up to the very best of Jewish values, and to be the “light unto the nations” to which its founders aspired. Jewish history teaches us the pain of being expelled from one’s home. And Jewish law sets up strong protections against seizing property without cause and without incontrovertible evidence. I am proud that Israel’s Declaration of Independence commits to “ensur[ing] complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” I pray that we will realize this vision soon.

Settler organizations argue that the Absentee Property Law simply allows for the return to Jewish hands of property owned by Jews before 1948, but the argument fails the test of fairness and democracy. First, the properties are not being returned to the families who left after the partition of Jerusalem but rather into the hands of settlers with an ideological desire to Judaize the area and transfer Palestinians out. Second, there is, of course, no parallel law allowing Palestinians to reclaim ownership of homes that their families owned before 1948. Such a law would mean the end of many western Jerusalem neighborhoods that are now Jewish, and even of Israel as we know it.

Finally, the situation in Silwan has opened many of our eyes to the role of American Jewish money. It makes the news when mega-donors like Sheldon Adelson, Irving Moskowitz or Ira Rennert invest millions of dollars into building new settlements or financing Jewish enclaves in Palestinian neighborhoods. But those of us who give money to “neutral” organizations, such as JNF, may believe that we are only helping to plant trees, contribute to economic development or even support Jewish-Arab cooperation projects. Our donations to JNF do support such praiseworthy activities. At the same time, these contributions support the uprooting of Palestinian families, the development of settlements, the forced displacement of Bedouin Israeli citizens and other activities that violate human rights.

In the world of Israel politics, very little is neutral. Adelson and other right-wing billionaires invest in projects that reflect their vision of Israel. Those of us who believe in building a country that reflects the best of Jewish and democratic values must similarly invest in work that reflects our vision of what Israel should be.

I hope that JNF will retain the trust of American Jews who support peace and justice. I therefore call on JNF to end policies that set up roadblocks to peace.

(Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America.)

Rabbis thank countries that helped with forest fires


Conservative movement rabbis thanked envoys from countries that helped Israel douse forest fires, including some that now have difficult relations with the Jewish state.

Washington-area rabbis Stuart Weinblatt, who directs Israel policy for the Rabbinical Assembly, the rabbinical arm of the Conservative movement, and Jack Moline, who directs the group’s public policy, met in recent weeks with envoys from all 16 of the countries that assisted Israel during last December’s devastating fires in the Carmel Forest, as well as with the Palestine Liberation Organization envoy.

The envoys were presented with Jewish National Fund certificates representing trees planted in their nation’s honor.

“The rabbis spoke with the ambassadors about the importance of the relationship of their country and Israel and encouraged continued cooperation and support,” a statement from Moline and Weinblatt said. “Each meeting was unique, but all of the diplomats expressed sincere gratitude for the gesture as well as the outpouring of thanks and good will expressed by the Jewish community.”

Among the representatives visited by the rabbis, the PLO and Turkey have all but cut off diplomatic dialogue with Israel over recent disputes related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The conflict also has affected relations with Egypt, Jordan and Russia.

Israel gifts pope with olive tree


An olive tree more than 200 years old grown near Nazareth was sent as a gift from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Pope Benedict XVI.

The tree will be planted Wednesday during a ceremony at Viale Degli Ulivi, or Olive Tree Boulevard, in the Vatican Gardens.

According to Netanyahu, the tree symbolizes the blooming friendship between Israel and the Vatican, and it represents the aspiration to foster peace and brotherhood between peoples and religions. The gift follows the prime minister’s recent visit to the Vatican Museum.

Keren Kayemeth L’Yisrael, the Jewish National Fund, selected and shipped the tree to Ravenna Port in Italy. JNF World Chairman Effi Stenzler will attend the ceremony.

Deadly Israeli wildfire draws U.S., Los Angeles support


The ” title=”Friends of Israel Firefighters (FIF)” target=”_blank”>Friends of Israel Firefighters (FIF), are leading efforts to raise funds to supply Israel’s beleaguered and aging firefighting force with the equipment it needs to battle the out-of-control

HOW YOU CAN HELP

” title=”http://www.jnf.org/work-we-do/our-projects/security/friends-of-israel-firefighters.html” target=”_blank”>Friends of Israel Firefighters

” title=”http://www.jewishla.org/israelwildfires” target=”_blank”>Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

” title=”Orthodox Union” target=”_blank”>Israeli Leadership Council

” title=”Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles” target=”_blank”>Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is also currently gathering information and raising funds to send directly to Israel. http://www.jewishla.org/israelwildfires

Briefs: Olmert tells OU Jerusalem not negotiable; Temple Mount digging may cause problems


Olmert to OU: Jerusalem Not On Table

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised Orthodox Jewish leaders that Jerusalem is not up for discussion in forthcoming negotiations with the Palestinians.

In response to a letter from the Orthodox Union (OU) insisting that Olmert not cede portions of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority, Rachael Risby-Raz, Olmert’s diaspora affairs adviser, said the prime minister would keep the city united. The OU wrote to Olmert following a speech Monday in which he appeared to suggest he was willing to consider ceding parts of the city to the Palestinians.

“The issue of Jerusalem is currently not under negotiations with the Palestinians,” Risby-Raz wrote. “We assure you, however, that in any future settlement, the prime minister will strengthen the Jewish character of Jerusalem, enhance its Jewish majority, and keep Jerusalem as the eternal, united and internationally recognized capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

Despite the reassurance, the OU still found Olmert’s commitment unsatisfactory, noting that in light of his comments “and in light of the unparalleled significance to all Jews of the fate of the holy city, we must ask Prime Minister Olmert to be more explicit about his intentions and commitment to keep Jerusalem as the ‘eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish People,'” a statement from President Stephen Savitsky said.

On Monday, Olmert questioned the inclusion of certain Arab areas within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem — a remark the Israeli media construed as signaling his willingness to part with certain parts of the city.

Jew Is Oldest Nobel Recipient

Leonid Hurwicz, 90, became the oldest recipient of a Nobel Prize. Hurwicz, professor emeritus of the University of Minnesota, will share the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science with economists Roger Myerson, a professor at the University of Chicago, and Eric Maskin, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., both 56.

They were awarded Monday for their work in mechanism design theory, a field initiated by Hurwicz and developed further by his co-honorees. Hurwicz was born in Russia and grew up in Poland, where his parents fled after the outbreak of World War I. He was studying in Geneva when World War II broke out and was forced to move to Portugual. His parents and brother were interned in Soviet labor camps.

The three economists will share the $1.56 million prize money.

Temple Mount Digging Contested

Israel’s decision to resume digging near the Temple Mount could spark riots, the Israeli Cabinet’s only Arab member said.

The archaeological excavations, which are required in order to construct a new pedestrian walkway to the holy site, have been put on hold for two weeks after a letter appealing the decision was filed with the Cabinet secretary by Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle, the Cabinet’s lone Arab member.

Majadle’s letter noted the possibility of rioting. Palestinians have charged that Israel is using the work near the Mughrabi Gate, halted since June, to foil the November peace conference in Annapolis, Md.

The new walkway will replace one damaged last winter. When the work began in February the Muslim world was up in arms, charging that Israel was trying to damage the foundation of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aksa mosques.

Israeli Survivors Get More Money

Israeli government allowances for Holocaust survivors will rise to more than 10 times their current levels. Some survivors of ghettos and concentration camps will receive a monthly stipend of more than $250 by 2009, Israel Radio reported.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced an additional $371 million for needy senior citizens and Holocaust survivors at a news conference Monday.

The allocations will be based on age and need. Some of the money will also help survivors who escaped areas under Nazi rule and did not spend time in ghettos and concentration camps. An estimated 240,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel.

Dump JNF, Activists Tell Brown

Palestinian activists are calling on British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to disassociate himself from the Jewish National Fund (JNF). In a letter to Brown, the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign demanded that he resign as a patron of the Jewish National Fund-U.K. The group said JNF’s discriminatory practice of not selling land to Arabs was a blight on the prime minister’s reputation.

Brown became a JNF-U.K. patron shortly after his election last June. The activist group appears to be capitalizing on the fact that Brown is running poorly in political polls.

It also will ask the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator to review whether the JNF’s Scottish branch violates the country’s charitable laws. Other JNF-U.K. patrons include former Prime Minister Tony Blair, opposition leader David Cameron and Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of Britain.

Olmert Plans France, U.K. Visit

Ehud Olmert will hold high-level talks in France and Britain. The Israeli prime minister is scheduled to visit Paris and London on Oct. 22 and 23 before returning home. Olmert will meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Political sources said he will likely lobby for their support ahead of next month’s Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in Annapolis, Md.

Olmert last visited the key European countries in June 2006 after he had broached selective Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank. That “realignment plan,” while supported abroad, had to be shelved after the Lebanon war.

Rabin Assassin to Be a Father

Yitzhak Rabin’s jailed assassin, Yigal Amir, is about to become a father. Larissa Trimbobbler, who married Amir in a proxy prison wedding ceremony and won rights to conjugal visits, will give birth to their first child imminently, family sources said Monday. According to Ha’aretz, the child is a boy.

Amir, who is serving a life prison sentence with no chance of parole for killing Prime Minister Rabin in 1995, has asked Israeli authorities for permission to attend the circumcision.

Yediot Achronot reported that Trimbobbler scheduled the pregnancy in hope the birth will take place next week on the Hebrew anniversary of Rabin’s assassination. She denied it.

“You can’t plan these things,” Trimbobbler told Israel Radio.

The prospect of Amir having children has drawn censure from across Israel’s political spectrum, though civil liberties groups argue he should not be denied family rights granted to other jailed felons.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Briefs: U.S. House approves Iran divestment; Olmert real estate deals probed; Barghouti seen leading


House Votes to Sanction Iran

The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to toughen sanctions against Iran. The Iran Counter-Proliferation Act bans American firms from using foreign subsidiaries to bypass current sanctions against Iran’s energy sector; bans nuclear dealings with entities that trade with Iran’s nuclear sector, a measure that would cut off nuclear cooperation with Russia; bans free-trade agreements with countries investing in Iran; and tightens the president’s ability to waive the sanctions.

The 397-16 vote was well ahead of the 290 votes the House would need to override a presidential veto, but the bill’s companion in the Senate is stalled and likely won’t be considered this year. The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee strongly praised the bill’s passage as a step toward discouraging Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons ambitions.

“To change Iran’s course, the United States and the international community must use every economic, diplomatic and political tool available,” AIPAC said in a statement. “U.S. sanctions have already helped to discourage investment in and banking cooperation with Iran, and further international action may be able to persuade the Iranian government to comply with its international obligations.” The bill was initiated by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), the Jewish chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Olmert Probed on Real Estate

Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz on Monday ordered an investigation into prime minister Ehud Olmert’s purchase of a house in Jerusalem after a state audit suggested the price was unreasonably low. That raised suspicion that Olmert was put in a position of returning favors to the property’s former owner. The Prime Minister’s Office called the probe “gratuitous.” Olmert, who is under investigation in two other affairs, has denied all wrongdoing. Many of the suspicions against him originate with State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, whom the prime minister has accused of conducting a witch hunt.

Clinton’s Jewish Donors Meet

The Clinton Jewish Leadership Finance Council launched two days of discussions in Washington on Tuesday. A minimum $10,000 contribution to JACPAC, a Jewish political action committee, was required to attend. Those who qualified discussed strategy, reaching unaffiliated Jewish voters and foreign policy. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is the current front-runner for the Democratic presidential candidacy.

Barghouti Seen Leading Palestinians

Marwan Barghouti is the next leader of the Palestinian people, a senior Israeli official said. National Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Tuesday that Israel, which jailed Barghouti, a charismatic Fatah lawmaker and terrorist, for life in 2003, should now consider freeing him as a means of offsetting the influence of Islamist Hamas.

“Anyone who has the safety of life in Israel in mind knows there is no alternative to releasing Marwan Barghouti because he is the strongest party on the Palestinian side,” Ben-Eliezer told Army Radio. “In my humble opinion, this man will be the next leader of the Palestinians. For us he is a murderer, but Arafat was no less a murderer than he, and yet Rabin extended his hand to him. We have to think differently and make an effort in this direction.”

Ben-Eliezer said any clemency for Barghouti should be conditioned on the release by Hamas of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held hostage in the Gaza Strip since June 2006. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ruled out releasing Barghouti. But political sources recently revealed that Olmert’s predecessor, Ariel Sharon, proposed letting the Fatah leader go in exchange for the United States granting an early release to jailed Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. Washington rebuffed that idea.

Israel to Fund Aliyah Groups

Nefesh B’Nefesh, the United States-based aliyah organization, and Ami, a French aliyah organization, will now receive about $1,000 per immigrant directly from Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Immigrant Absorption Minister Ya’acov Edri supported Sunday’s funding decision. The organizations, which previously received some funding through the Jewish Agency, are seeking to become wholly independent.

Non-Jews Can Lease JNF land

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) told Israel’s High Court on Monday it will lease land to non-Jews. The court delayed a ruling for three months on whether the JNF should be obligated to lease land to non-Jews in order to give the organization time to reach an agreement with state Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. In the meantime, the JNF and the Israel Lands Authority agreed to formalize an interim land-swap agreement wherein the JNF will be compensated with land from the ILA whenever the JNF leases land to non-Jews. This arrangement ensures that the amount of Jewish-owned land in Israel remains the same, a spokeswoman for JNF said. JNF owns 13 percent of Israel’s land, or about 650,000 acres, some in high population areas. The High Court case stems from a petition filed in 2004 by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. Adalah said it would appeal JNF’s about-face Monday and instead seek a precedent-setting ruling to cement the JNF’s obligation to lease land on a religion-blind basis.

Barenboim Named U.N. Peace Envoy

Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim joins a Jordanian princess, a Brazilian writer and a Japanese-American violinist as Messengers of Peace for the United Nations, a post in which he will promote peace around the world, The Associated Press reported. The foursome were to be honored Friday in a ceremony marking the International Day of Peace. A world-renowned conductor and pianist, Barenboim co-founded an orchestra bringing together young Israeli and Arab musicians. He recently initiated a music education project in the territories.

Report: Madonna Eyes Tel Aviv Apartment

Madonna, who spent Rosh Hashanah in Israel along with fellow kabbalah enthusiasts, has voiced interest in a luxury residential complex going up in northern Tel Aviv, Yediot Achronot reported Sunday. Prices for apartments there begin at $1 million. Other prospective clients include Steven Spielberg, the daily added. When Madonna was in Israel two years ago, local media reported that she might buy a house in Rosh Pina, a village near the mystical town of Safed.

YouTube Contest Aims to Boost Israel’s Image

The Israeli consulate in New York has launched a video competition on YouTube to boost Israel’s image. The best videos will be aired Oct. 11 at Madison Square Garden in New York, when Israel’s perennial basketball champion Maccabi Tel Aviv plays the New York Knicks. Fans will watch the clips on the arena’s giant screens and choose their favorite. The winner will win a round-trip ticket to or from New York and two tickets to a Knicks game. The game will help raise funds for Migdal Or, an organization that helps thousands of children from broken homes. To participate in the video competition, which ends Sept. 30, upload a 30-second clip to YouTube and send a link to www.isrealli.org/maccabitelaviv/. David Saranga, the consulate’s media attache, initiated the project. “We chose YouTube as a platform because by doing it we also increase the amount of positive videos about Israel,” he said. “Today a search for the term ‘Israel’ yields many inciting clips.”

Israeli Arabs prove to be part of the problem, not part of the solution


Like the rest of my circle of Israelis, who have seen war as kids and soldiers and then, as undergraduates, attended peace rallies before establishing families and joining the middle
class, I also assumed that Israel’s Arabs were part of the solution.

We met them on campus, in classes and dorms, and they seemed like reasonable people, eager like the rest of us to graduate and make the most of themselves. A day will come, we thought listening to their fluent Hebrew, when they will serve as a bridge between us and the rest of the Middle East. For as Toufiq Toubi, the longtime Knesset member from Nazareth once said of himself, theirs was the tragedy of those whose people were at war with their country. We were sure that to them, it was not we the Jews who were the anathema but the conflict itself — a dispute that had to be resolved rather than won.

Until September 2000.

That month, in my case a mere several weeks after I gullibly and publicly called for a compromise even on Jerusalem, an Israeli Arab mob stoned passing cars and torched cars, trucks, bus stops, banks, post offices and traffic lights across the Galilee. Not only was all that carnage accompanied by the most virulently anti-Israeli rhetoric, it happened as Palestinians in the territories were launching an uprising that would later climax in half a decade of suicide bombings not seen since the thick of pre-1967 Israel. It was at least reminiscent of Israel’s worst strategic nightmare: war from within and without.

Israel’s response to that Israeli Arab violence was harsh — excessively harsh, according to a government commission of inquiry. Yet that’s exactly where the debate concerning Israel’s Arab minority becomes so frustrating, because this is where Israel’s detractors conveniently change the subject from “why” to “how,” from the Israeli Arab plot against the Jewish state to its consequent treatment by Israel.

The crux of the debate is what Israel’s Arabs make of the very idea of a Jewish state in the ancestral land of the Jews. And our conclusion since the fall of 2000 has been — as the famously dovish TV journalist Amnon Abramowitz put it at the time — that while we pro-Oslo Israelis were devising two states for two peoples, our Arab counterparts, on both sides of the Green Line, were contemplating two states for one people: the Palestinians.

Down in the field, a small but increasing number of Israeli Arabs have participated in terror attacks, including driving suicide bombers to their destinations and, in some cases, performing the bombings themselves. At the same time, the Israeli Arab community’s elected leaders are attempting to hammer away at the idea of a Jewish state: They demand the abolition of the Law of Return, seek the alteration of the national anthem and hide behind a seemingly innocent apron, like the quest for a country of all its citizens.

The tactics deployed in this well-crafted assault are as simple as they are cunning: diversion and deceit. The diversion is in the systematic changing of the subject from the real aim, which is Israel’s extinction, to issues that Jews care deeply about, like freedom of expression, right of ownership or equality before the law. The deceit is in the fact that all this crusading energy disappears once one leaves Israel’s borders. They fail to demand rights and freedoms for those living under Arab rule throughout the Middle East.

In other words, Israeli Arab leaders hail Western values only when it helps undermine the Jewish state but otherwise do not believe in them.

This is the context in which the attack on the Jewish National Fund (JNF) comes.

Established in 1901 as the Zionist organization’s arm for purchasing real estate in the Promised Land, the JNF epitomized Zionism’s unique blending of vision, pragmatism and diligence. The respect with which it treated even a toddler’s penny has unified Jews, the enthusiasm with which it embraced even the most forlorn acre of wasteland impressed Arabs and the resourcefulness with which it forested barren mountains and irrigated parched deserts has inspired environmentalists worldwide.

Portraying the JNF as part of the problem is so absurd that this portrayal itself indeed is part of the problem. Never mind that the JNF doesn’t focus on land distribution — it focuses on development — while the Israel Land Authority deals with leasing. Yet the JNF is a voluntary organization whose raison d’etre is indeed to make the land of Israel available for Jews. As long as Israel’s right to be Jewish is threatened the way it is by the Israeli Arab community’s current leadership, the JNF’s mission statement remains morally valid and strategically vital.

There was a time when Israelis like me honestly believed in the imminent emergence of a new Middle East, one where people, goods, capital and ideas would transcend borders as naturally as they do in North America and Western Europe. We have since been disillusioned — by Middle Eastern despotism, Palestinian violence and Israeli Arab deceit.

The day when we Israeli Jews can roam the Middle East as freely as Italians roam Europe and purchase real estate in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia or Syria as freely as New Yorkers do in Ontario, Canada, has yet to arrive. Worse, the effort to deprive us of what land we have has yet to abate.

Now one can say, “But Israeli Arabs are Israeli citizens,” and I so much want to say, “Gosh, that’s so true.” But the truth is that Israeli Arab leaders are for now identifying with and actively assisting Israel’s enemies, and we Jews have yet to consolidate our grip on the country our parents have built, so that in the future, no Jew will be landless.

Amotz Asa-El is a lecturer at the Shalem Center’s Institute for Philosophy, Politics and Religion. He is the author of the “Diaspora and the Lost Tribes of Israel” and former executive editor of the Jerusalem Post.

Community Briefs


They All Hallelued

When the creators of Hallelu picked Oct. 20 as the date for the concert celebrating the Jewish spirit, they might not have realized that the day fell on the eighth anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Yet, when Carlebach’s daughter, Neshama, pointed out that fact during her performance, the coincidence sat well with the nearly 5,000 people who filled the Universal Amphitheatre. The celebration of sacred community, prayer and song seemed the perfect tribute to the memory of the man who changed the way Jews pray and sing.

Hallelu, produced by Craig Taubman of Craig ‘n Co. and sponsored by Synagogue 2000, “exceeded all expectations,” said Ron Wolfson, co-founder of Synagogue 2000, a transdenominational effort to bring renewed spirit, structure and study to shuls. At the University of Judaism the next day, more than 100 synagogue and community leaders attended a conference and created a task force to explore how to bring Synagogue 2000 to Los Angeles. Hallelu’s goal of bringing 45 synagogues together as one community seemed to have succeeded, as each of the dozen or so acts that took the stage had the audience swaying, singing and dancing along.

Rick Recht brought the crowd to its feet with “Od Yavo Shalom,” (Peace will Still Come) and Theodore Bikel brought in a note of nostalgia withhis Yiddish ballad from the Soviet Jewish underground. A choir of local cantors expressed the sense of mutual gratitude between synagogue professionals and congregants with its Mi Sheberach, and chains of dancing women took to the aisles for Debbie Friedman’s “Miriam’s Song.” The only false note came from some well-intentioned dramatic performances that fell flat amid the real attraction — some of the best Jewish music and most talented performers around today.

By the time the glowsticks came out for the final ensemble performance of the signature “Hallelu,” a choir of 5,000 filled the amphitheater with a sound and sight that will linger for some time. For more information on Synagogue 2000, visit www.s2k.org. — Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

Mofaz Comes to Town

Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, former chief of the General Staff Israel Defense Forces (IDF), was honored by the Western Regional Office of the Friends of the IDF on Oct. 10 at Sinai Temple. The organization paid tribute to Mofaz’s 36 years of military service and promoted support for the IDF among the Los Angeles Jewish community.

“When you take an active role in supporting the IDF you are supporting Israel itself,” Yuval Rotem, consul general of Israel, told an audience of some 800 people.

Mofaz said that they brought with them representatives of all the families who have made the ultimate sacrifice. “Together we have a special obligation to the families of these soldiers. We share the pain, their legacy. We bare their scars — we must continue the fight war after war.”

Mofaz expressed support for a U.S. war against Iraq. “If Saddam is allowed to continue amassing weapons of mass destruction, the security and stability of our world will be shaken,” he said

Mofaz was also certain about Israel’s future. “We will win the war against terror, and our goal is to bring back the Palestinians to the negotiation table. Negotiations will take place when the Palestinians will fight successfully against terrorism and will choose a different leader who will take them in a different direction,” he said. — Gaby Wenig, Contributing Writer

The Water Boys

The L.A. chapter of Jewish National Fund (JNF) is adopting a water reservoir in Livnim in northern Israel. Lou Kestenbaum and Dr. Jamshid Maddahi will co-chair the yearlong $1.5 million campaign. The pair — to be honored by JNF on Oct. 27 — will kick off their fundraising effort at this year’s “Tree of Life” gala here in Los Angeles.

Established in 1901, JNF has planted more than 220 million trees, built more than 120 dams and reservoirs, developed more than 250,000 acres of land and created more than 400 parks. Once completed, the Livnim Reservoir will help 13 northern Israel farming communities, including several Israeli Arab villages.

“We’re talking about recycled waste water,” said Sam Perchik, director of JNF’s L.A. branch. “So many times a year the reservoir will be replenished without getting fresh rainwater. The idea is to furnish the farmers with recycled waters, this way it relieves water for domestic use.”

Israelis consume 528 million gallons of water a year, derived from two aquifers and the Sea of Galilee. However, the water supply currently hovers at about 423 million gallons, according to Perchik.

Seventy percent of Israel’s water goes to agriculture, but the government cut the supply to farmers by 60 percent, even as a drought continues.

Both local chairs share a deep kinship with Israel. Originally from Tehran, Madahhi, professor of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology, Nuclear Medicine and Radiology Science at the UCLA School of Medicine, trained Israeli physicians while working at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (1977-1990). “My affinity with Israel goes back to my childhood,” said Madahhi. “I remember even from my first visit in the early 1960s [at age 10] that all of the conflict in the region was about water. I think water is important to peace in Israel. The foundation for the peace with Jordan was centered around water.”

Madahhi was instrumental of establishing the first Israeli Positron Emission Tomography (PET) center at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem. Through UCLA, Madahhi continues to train Israeli doctors. He is also director of Nuclear Cardiology and Clinical PET at the Biomedical Imaging Institute in Los Angeles

Kestenbaum and his wife Trudy are Holocaust survivors. They came to Pittsburgh in 1947, where Kestenbaum became a developer. In 1962, Kestenbaum moved to Los Angeles, where he started a very successful flexible packaging business. Now retired, Kestenbaum devotes his time to Jewish causes, including Shelters For Israel, and Los Angeles’ JNF, where he chairs its board of directors.

“JNF is a particularly special to me,” said Kestenbaum, “because of their objectives. They’re nonpolitical, and it benefits all of Israel.”

The Jewish National Fund’s “Tree of Life” Dinner will be held on Oct. 27 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. For information, call (323) 964-1400; for information on planting trees in Israel, call (800) 542-8733. — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Hadassah Comes to L.A.

Professor Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director general of Hadassah Medical Center, visited Los Angeles on Oct. 4-6 as part of a weeklong tour of North American Hadassah chapters, including Hadassah Southern California. The Los Angeles stop was part of a capital campaign effort for a new state-of-the-art hospital building, which will be equipped to counter biological and chemical threats. The 60-bed facility will cost $30 million.

“During the terror attacks of the last two years, we have treated 2,000 people, which is more than 50 percent of all the victims of terror in Israel,” said Mor-Yosef, 51, who oversees the operation of Hadassah’s two Jerusalem-area hospitals.

Because of the intifada, security at the hospital has become a prime concern. “We can’t shield the hospital,” Mor-Yosef said. “It’s not an army base. There are 20,000 people — Jews, Arabs — passing through the hospital each day. But we’ve increased our security budget up to $1 million in the last two years.”

Hadassah Southern California and National Hadassah Organization will hold its annual Women of Distinction Gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Nov. 3. For information on the gala, call (310) 479-3200. — MA

JNF Honors Eight


In a tribute to eight of its members, among them Holocaust survivors, a rabbi and two doctors, the Jewish National Fund will hold a 100th anniversary dinner Sept. 19 at the Hyatt Regency in Long Beach. The honorees include:

Miles and Esther Sterling of Aliso Viejo. She is a Holocaust survivor, charter member of Garden Grove’s Jewish senior center and regional chair of JNF’s Sapphire Society. He a member of JNF’s board since 2000.

Joseph and Marjorie Hess have both served in JNF leadership positions. Raised by an English family, Joseph came to England via the Kindertransport, which spirited Jewish children out of Germany prior to World War II. He retired from the U.S. space program.

Longtime members Rabbi Sydney and Eleanor Guthman. He is chaplain of the Long Beach Veterans Administration Medical Center and rabbi emeritus of Long Beach’s Temple Beth Zion Sinai.

Drs. Michael B. and Wendy Groner Strauss. He is a retired Naval Reserve captain, expert in undersea medicine and is a Long Beach orthopedic surgeon. She is a hospital pharmacist, consultant to a community clinic and activist in several national Jewish groups.

Car Alarm


You’ve read the newspaper ads or heard the pitches on the radio:Donate your old car to our worthy charity, which aidsorphans/immigrants/homeless/the halt and the lame, and enjoy agenerous tax write-off.

The American Red Cross is doing it, as is the National KidneyFoundation, Jewish Family Service, Jewish National Fund and Chabad.

And then there are the Jewish Foundation for Learning and theSouthern California Jewish Center. Never heard of them? Neither hasthe Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles or the Jewish CommunityCenters Association, so The Jewish Journal decided to do a littlechecking.

We called 1-800-362-2558 and asked the operator at the JewishFoundation for Learning for the name of the foundation’s director. Wewere referred to Carol Ruth Silver in San Francisco, although herphone number was unavailable. It wasn’t difficult to track downSilver, an attorney and former county supervisor who over the pastyear has served as the feisty spokeswoman for the Jewish EducationalCenter and as chair of its board of directors.

At its peak, the JEC ran one of the largest and most lucrativeused-car auction programs in the nation. It is now bankrupt, afterthe state attorney general’s office accused its founders, RabbiBentzion and Mattie Pil, of fraud, tax evasion and divertingcharitable funds to buy a house and stage a $40,000 bar mitzvah fortheir son. The Pils have denied any wrongdoing.

One of the JEC’s major programs was the Schneerson Hebrew DaySchool, which had an enrollment of 140 children, Silver said in aphone interview.

The Orthodox day school, now teaching 25 to 40 kids and housed ina Conservative synagogue, was not included in the bankruptcyproceedings. It is operating, legitimately, under the JewishFoundation for Learning auspices, as a “religious nonprofit”organization, with Silver, again, as chair of the board of directors.

The legal distinction between the school and the defunct JEC isimportant, explained state Deputy Attorney General Belinda Johns, whofiled the case against the JEC.

The JEC was classified as a “public benefit corporation” becauseits services extended to the general community, and it was thereforesubject to oversight by the attorney general. However, due to someastute lobbying, according to Johns, “religious nonprofits” areexempt from oversight by state authorities.

The Schneerson Day School is not affiliated with Chabad butfollows the teachings of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi MenachemMendel Schneerson, said Silver. However, following objections byChabad to the use of the rebbe’s name, the day school changed itsname to Torah Day School.

It is the Torah Day School that is the main beneficiary of theJewish Foundation for Learning’s car sales, although Silver is alsotrying to resurrect some other JEC programs, which, she saidbitterly, “were destroyed by the attorney general.” These includedEnglish-as-a-second-language classes for Russian immigrants and akosher nutrition program for the elderly.

Silver said that she didn’t know how many cars were processed whenthe defunct JEC solicited donations under its own name, but that thecar auctions provided the bulk of JEC’s $2 million annual budget.

(According to state documents, JEC’s income actually amounted to$8.54 million in fiscal year 1996, almost all of it from car sales.Only $1.46 million, or 17 percent, of this income was spent oncharitable programs, the Jewish Bulletin of Northern Californiareported.)

The Jewish Foundation for Learning car drive was launched onlyrecently, mainly in the Los Angeles area, and “we hope to get enoughdonations by the end of the year to survive,” said Silver.

It took a bit more digging to find the Southern California JewishCenter, which has been running radio appeals for car donations forabout a year.

A phone call to 1-800-936-HOPE was answered by “Linda,” who couldonly give a post office box as the center’s address and identifiedthe director as Rabbi Shimon Kay. Linda wouldn’t give out Kay’s phonenumber but said that he would call back and send a brochure.

After a week’s silence, we called again and, this time, told Lindathat we were preparing an article for The Jewish Journal.

A few hours later, Kay called and quickly demystified the SouthernCalifornia Jewish Center as the fund-raising arm of the WestwoodSephardic Center, which is listed in the phone book.

A few days later, we dropped in unannounced at the center onWestwood Boulevard. We were greeted hospitably by Kay, to allappearances, a sincere and harassed young rabbi, who turned to thecar-donation pitch in some desperation to keep his operation going.

In a modest two-story building, the center squeezes in a day-carecenter for about 25 children, an upstairs synagogue shtiebl, twomakeshift Hebrew-school classes, and a tiny outdoor play yard.

The 32-year-old rabbi, a native New Yorker, said that he waseducated at the Chabad yeshiva. In 1990, he was sent to Los Angelesby the Lubavitcher rebbe, although he now has no formal ties to theChabad organization.

The Sephardic Center, serving mainly Iranian immigrants, with asprinkling of Moroccans, Israelis and Russians, started off well andattracted substantial private donations. It hit hard times two yearsago, when Kay lost the lease on a much larger facility.

Attempts to raise funds from established secular or religiousJewish organizations came to nothing, and Kay finally turned to thecar-donation program as a saving moneymaker.

Kay said that he had no exact figures on how much of his annual$300,000 budget is provided by the car program. But he estimated thatdespite constantly rising costs for radio spots, about 70 percent ofthe profits are plowed back into his programs.

That is considerably better than the 20 percent of profits usuallyoffered by commercial middlemen, which is one reason Kay handles thecar donations himself. On an average, he gets about five to six carsa day — not a bad showing, given the intense competition.

Kay appeared somewhat ill at ease when asked why he didn’t run thecar program under the Westwood Sephardic Center’s own name. “It’seasier to remember the name of the Southern California JewishCenter,” he said at one point, adding later, “I don’t want to makeothers jealous; I don’t want too much publicity.”

Johns, of the attorney general’s office, specializes in charitablefund-raising cases, and she has some advice for potential donors.

One is to check out whether an organization actually conducts theprograms it advertises, which may require a fair amount of research.In any case, she agrees that probably some 90 percent of donors careonly about the tax deduction rather than the charity’s particularcause.

Also make sure that the title of the car is properly and quicklytransferred, Johns counsels. Not infrequently, a charity allows anemployee to drive the car under the old owner’s title, and many adonor has received parking and traffic tickets months after givingthe car away.

The attorney general’s office has just compiled a useful brochureon charitable solicitations, which can be obtained by writing to theAG Public Inquiry Unit, P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA94244-2550.

 

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