Obama and Villaraigosa: The not-so-odd couple

At President Barack Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress a week ago, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sat in an honored seat near first lady Michelle Obama.

The path that brought Villaraigosa from an outspoken advocate in the Hillary Clinton campaign of 2008 (and, some say, the doghouse with the Obama team) to his prime seat in the Capitol offers an intriguing story of shared interests, coinciding ambitions and changing political dynamics.

There are obvious similarities between these two men. Both had to surmount significant early challenges in order to rise to their current prominence. Both spent time as grass-roots organizers. Both represent “firsts” for minority politicians, and both know the possibilities and unique obstacles such candidates face. They stand at two ends of a new dynamic of black-Latino relations — an African American president elected with Latino support and a Latino mayor elected with African American backing. But, aside from all this, as personalities, they are very different.

The mayor experienced grievous political and personal damage through the breakup of his marriage due to an affair, and he would be the first to say that he is a flawed human being. Yet his peripatetic personality and his pursuit of big goals — such as ambitious growth in police hiring and his 30/10 plan to expedite mass transportation — have provided a foundation for a political comeback. Villaraigosa was re-elected in 2009. Termed out in two years, he has now begun dipping his feet into statewide and national waters as president of the United States Conference of Mayors and by giving speeches about the future of the Democratic Party. The mercurial Villaraigosa may yet crash and burn, but he will definitely fly close to the sun. While some do not trust the mayor as a person, it is hard to dismiss his significant accomplishments in office.

Obama, on the other hand, is seen as the world’s most stable guy. Voters like and trust him, even in hard times. His steady, calm personality has made him a formidable professional in foreign policy. Nevertheless, in the face of the domestic economic crisis that has enveloped his presidency, his distant, professorial, avowedly bipartisan, and often-cautious approach has brought him and his party to the verge of political catastrophe. Obama will never crash and burn by flying close to the sun, but he may collapse from a lack of drive or thirst for getting things done no matter what is in the way.

Back in 2008, Villaraigosa supported Clinton against Obama in the epic Democratic nomination battle. He was in tune with Latino voters, who heavily supported the former first lady. Near the end of the primaries, the Clinton-Obama struggle became extremely tense, as the Clinton camp hinted that Latinos and white Democrats would be unlikely to support Obama should he become the nominee. In a much quoted line, one of Clinton’s pollsters, Sergio Bendixen, told a reporter that “the Hispanic voter — and I want to say this very carefully — has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates.”

When Obama won the nomination, Villaraigosa nevertheless immediately began to work hard for Obama in the general election. Rumors persisted that the mayor was on the outs with the Obama camp, especially when he was not invited to speak at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. It would make sense that the Obama people would respond first to those who had supported him all along, and Villaraigosa had to work his way in.

The Clinton people’s predictions about Latinos were dead wrong. Latinos came out and voted heavily for Obama, helping him carry Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida. Villaraigosa’s own experience provided the best explanation of what had happened. Latino voters knew and trusted the Clintons and had to learn to trust the new black guy. It was a lesson Villaraigosa himself confronted when black voters who had known and trusted the Hahns then had to learn to trust the new Latino guy.

In the first two years of his presidency, Obama got much legislation passed, including the health care plan. So, early on, Obama seemed to be a sure bet for re-election. Latinos gave high approval ratings to the president.

But the bottom fell out in 2010, as Obama showed little flair for the political work of maintaining his base of support, while his advisers focused his attention instead on the illusory “independents” (at least as brilliant a strategy as searching for unicorns and moderate Republicans). The White House’s disdain for the Democratic base drove down party turnout in the 2010 races and demoralized even the president’s supporters. After the Democrats lost the House in 2010, along with many state houses, Obama’s prospects worsened. His approval ratings among white Democrats, among Jews and even among African Americans all have shown declines.

No drop has been bigger than the president’s support among Latinos. The Gallup Poll found that between June 2009 and August 2011, approval of Obama among Latinos fell from 78 to 48 percent, the largest decline of any group. Latino voters are urgently concerned with the economy and with education, as working people seeking to make it into the middle class. While Latinos are divided on how to deal with illegal immigration (despite the stereotypes), they react strongly against what seem to be unfair policies that target Latino immigrants, including those who are undocumented.

As part of his strategy to win Republican support for immigration reform, Obama greatly expanded deportations on the erroneous assumption that Republicans only opposed immigration reform because he had not compromised enough. As immigration activists raged, the White House dithered. In July, Obama told immigration activists that he could not do anything without Congress, and that they should concentrate their efforts on influencing Republicans.

On the jobs and public investment fronts, Obama’s focus on the deficit and the national debt, aimed at independent voters, offered little to Latinos, who like most Americans want the focus to be on spurring job growth and on education and other public purposes.

Obama’s first step back from the brink came in the form of an announcement that the White House could, indeed, do something without Congress, which is to re-examine the cases of 300,000 people slated for deportations, to focus priority on criminals. Latino and immigrant-rights groups were very pleased. Further, last week’s big speech, with its emphasis on jobs and public investment, should appeal strongly to Latinos.

And that’s where the Los Angeles mayor comes in.

Villaraigosa has been a major advocate for urban transportation and has won support for it from key Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. His idea is to get a bridge loan for Los Angeles’ transportation construction from the federal government and to use the sales tax revenue voters approved in 2008, in a campaign he led, to pay it back. He has been seeking a federal commitment, to date with limited success. Now there is much greater incentive, and it looks like there is a confluence of interests. With the president finally pushing an aggressive jobs agenda, fast-track transportation projects like those proposed by Villaraigosa can make things happen. Normally, cities don’t get much love from the federal government, but in times like these, there is no better place to quickly invest lots of jobs-producing funding than a metropolis with lots and lots of willing and able workers and big things to build.

If Villaraigosa (along with other local officials around the country) can help Obama restore a bit of his lost support, the polls and the president’s prospects could start to look better than they do today. And if greater public investment occurs as the White House moves its focus consistently and effectively onto jobs, there is every reason to think that some of that effort will help Los Angeles. This odd couple of breakthrough politicians may yet make an effective team.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is chair of the Division of Politics, Administration and Justice at California State University, Fullerton.

History disproves myth that founding Zionists were naive

We are often told, mostly by anti-Israel propagandists, that the early Zionists’ attitude toward the indigenous Arab population in Palestine was laden with ignorance, naivete, denial, contempt, abuse and outright oppression. Afif Safieh, the PLO representative to the United States, tells audiences on campus after campus: “[Palestinians] have suffered three successive denials — a denial of their mere physical existence, a denial of their national rights and, the most morally disturbing, a denied recognition of their pain and suffering.”

The slogans “Land without a people to a people without land” and “Palestinians? Who?” continue to be quoted today by enemies of coexistence as a proof of those alleged denials and of Zionism’s ingrained and irredeemable disrespect for Arabs, both as people and as a nation.

This is sheer nonsense.

On Israel’s 60th birthday, it is time we set the record straight: The Zionist movement may have erred in many ways, but contempt, naivete and denial were not among its errors.

I’m looking at my “History of Zionism” bookshelf, and I find it loaded with books and pamphlets, apparently unavailable in English, which record a history of understanding, respect and persistent attempts at reaching mutual recognition with the Arabs of Palestine since the beginning of the 20th century.

Here are a few shiny gems from this dusty bookshelf:

Ben-Gurion and Our Arab Brethren

During World War I, David Ben-Gurion, who would become the first prime minister of Israel, spent three years in New York, from 1915 to 1918, having been exiled from Palestine “for conspiring against Ottoman rule.”

He spent most of this time organizing (with Y. Ben Zvi) the He-Halutz youth movement, but, as he was also an ardent scholar and historian, he also found time to conduct research at the public library and published an interesting treatise “on the origin of the Falahin,” in the summer of 1917, a few months before the Balfour Declaration.

In this treatise, Ben-Gurion advances an elaborate cultural-demographic theory that the Falahin (the Arab peasants in Eretz Israel), are none others than our lost brethren — descendants of Jews who remained in Eretz Israel after the Roman expulsion and were forcibly converted to Islam after the Muslim conquest (638 AD). In Ben-Gurion’s words:

The greater majority and main structures of the Muslim Falahin in Western
Erez Israel present to us one racial strand and a whole ethnic unit, and there is no doubt that much Jewish blood flows in their veins — the blood of those Jewish farmers, “lay persons,” who chose in the travesty of times to abandon their faith in order to remain on their land.

To the best of my knowledge, Ben-Gurion’s theory was proven wrong. DNA analysis shows indigenous Palestinians to be the likely descendants of Arab tribesmen that migrated north from the Arabian (now Saudi) Peninsula in the wake of the conquering Muslim armies. Ben-Gurion’s theory, nevertheless, shows a genuine attempt to hypothesize an ancestral kinship with the Arab population in order to bridge cultural and religious gaps, and thus prepare an atmosphere of trust.

If this is not respect, what is?

If this is not an outreach, nothing is.

Ben-Gurion and Palestinian Rights

In 1918, Israel Zangwill, author of the influential novel “Children of the Ghetto” (1892) and an on-off Zionist, wrote an article suggesting that the Arabs should be persuaded to “trek” (i.e., to be “transferred”) from Palestine. Ben-Gurion was quick to react and distance the Zionist movement from any such notion. In an article published that year in the Yiddish newspaper Yiddishe Kemper (titled “The Rights of the Jews and Others in Eretz Israel”) Ben-Gurion ridicules Zangwill and makes his position unequivocal:

Eretz Israel is not an empty country … west of Jordan alone houses three quarter of a million people. On no account must we injure the rights of the inhabitants. Only “Ghetto Dreamers” like Zangwill can imagine that Eretz Israel will be given to the Jews with the added right of dispossessing the current inhabitants of the country. This is not the mission of Zionism. Had Zionism to aspire to inherit the place of these inhabitants — it would be nothing but a dangerous utopia and an empty, damaging and reactionary dream….


With heartfelt admiration and great interest, we are viewing today the current war of liberation conducted by the ancient Arabic nation.

We see how the scattered Arab forces are being united under the good will of Western governments and other peace-loving nations, and how, from the mist of war there emerge new and immense political possibilities. We see again the formation of a strong and united Arab political body, freshly renovated and aiming to renovate the great tradition of Arab science and literature that are so close to our heart.

This kinship found its glorious expression particularly in the Spanish period of the Hebrew-Arabic development, when our greatest authors wrote and thought in the Arabic language, as well as in Hebrew.

(Translated from Weizmann’s book “Dvarim,” vol. 1 Tel Aviv, 1936, p. 99.)

And, as if contemplating postmodern complaints that Zionism, while promising Palestinians human and civil rights, denied them national rights, Weizmann wastes no time dispelling this allegation and writes:

We don’t need more gabfests on diversity

The details of the ugly dustup between a leading local Jewish philanthropist, Daphna Ziman, and the local African American head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Rev. Eric Lee, are still at issue. Ziman disseminated her account of the encounter in a widely distributed e-mail. She claimed that Lee gave a speech at a local fraternity function rife with anti-Semitic statements. Lee strenuously denied the charges, and no independent corroboration exists.

But what is of greater interest than what actually transpired at the Kappa Alpha Psi gathering is the response from the leadership of our community to Lee’s remarks and what that portends for intergroup relations in this city.

Predictably, the civil rights leadership of our communities seems to be responding to the incident just as they have in the past — with dialogue groups and resurrected “roundtables” aimed at convincing participants of the value of diversity and of our historic and present commonalities.

What ought to distinguish the response of today from those in the 1970s and 1990s is the context of our very changed society.

Society has caught up and passed well beyond dialogue groups and the need to justify and rationalize the value of diversity. Every major study conducted in this field has revealed an amazing attitude of acceptance of differences by today’s young people. As Morley Winograd and Michael Hais observe in their just-published book, “Millennial Makeover,” “the great diversity of the Millennial Generation [born between 1982 and 2003] and its experiences growing up in a multiracial society is reflected in their relatively color-blind attitudes on racial relations.”

The Pew Center concluded in its multiple surveys of millennials that “they are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, race and homosexuality.” One example documented by the Pew Center (dealing with a historically incendiary issue) found that that between 1987 and 2003, attitudes toward interracial dating among 18-25-year-olds underwent a sea change — those approving such activity rose from 56 percent to 89 percent. Those completely agreeing with interracial dating rose from 20 percent to 64 percent.

The data of a profound change in attitudes is incontestable and is manifested across racial and religious lines. The Reboot study of millennials, “OMG! How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era,” found that today’s youth are “fully integrated into diverse social networks. While previous generations often lived in homogenous religious communities, among Generation Y [born 1980-2000], only 7 percent of youth report that all their friends are the same religion as themselves. Even the most religious youth maintain diverse networks of peers.”

The study oversampled Jewish and black youth to confirm their findings.

Even the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) study of anti-Semitic attitudes indicates a decline in anti-Semitic attitudes among the African American population, historically among the most problematic cohort it surveys. Unfortunately, the ADL study does not disaggregate data for younger blacks and their attitudes.

If one believes the myriad studies that confirm the exceptionally positive trends of the new generation, how should one respond to the Lee incident? More dialogue groups that devolve into vehicles to preach to the converted seems to be what we have in store for us. The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission and its friends will be busy singing the same old songs.

What ought to inform any actions that grow out of the Lee-Ziman incident is the profound change that has taken and is taking place around us. Young people today don’t need a “coalition” to talk about how to live together — they do it 24/7. Their world isn’t circumscribed by their faith, their race or their ethnicity.

Nor should we trudge out the old nostrums and activities and think that the Lees of the world will change their version of history or their attitudes — nor should we really care. They are not the future, and their historical notions are virtually irrelevant.

Our communities’ leadership has to absorb the reality that the next generation of open-minded young people sees diversity as a plus, not as a burden to be overcome. We need to offer them activities that confirm their positive outlook and involve them in doing, not talking, about things, much as Temple Israel’s Big Sunday program does — people working together as equals, improving our community for everyone. We don’t need more gabfests or sessions of self-flagellation.

Millennials believe that they live in an exciting time, two-thirds rate their lives as “excellent or pretty good,” let’s give them reason to confirm those positive attitudes.

David A. Lehrer is president and Joe R. Hicks vice president of Community Advocates Inc. (www.cai-la.org), a Los Angeles-based human relations organization headed by former mayor Richard J. Riordan.

City Voice: Yaroslavsky takes on developers in push for affordable housing

In defending middle-class neighborhoods, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky is taking on an issue that reaches to the heart of Los Angeles’ ethnic, political and class divide.

All those matters are involved in a dispute over a new city development ordinance that eases restrictions on big residential buildings in such areas. This ordinance was passed to meet the requirements of a 2005 state law ordering cities to allow more dense development to create housing.

The question of preserving middle-class neighborhoods while also building affordable housing affects a huge part of Los Angeles, from the dense and impoverished Latino neighborhoods of Central Los Angeles to middle-class Jewish areas in West Los Angeles and the western San Fernando Valley. It includes the Jewish neighborhoods of Fairfax and Pico-Robertson as well as multiethnic Venice, long targeted for heavy development.

Yaroslavsky, once a Los Angeles city councilman, surrendered his role in city affairs when he was elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 1994. As a council member, he had been co-author of a successful ballot measure that scaled back development in residential areas. The measure, Proposition U, co-sponsored by the late Councilman Marvin Braude and passed in 1986, was a successful effort to outmaneuver the land developers and their lobbyists who, then as now, have huge clout at City Hall. The measure reduced density by limiting the size of many business and residential projects. Supervisors don’t have power over development within cities, so Yaroslavsky’s election to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors should have taken him out of the game.

But in 2005, the Legislature passed and the governor signed the measure designed to stimulate housing construction. It did this by telling cities to put aside zoning and other planning limitations if developers agree to include some low- and moderate-priced apartments in their projects.

Los Angeles and other cities were required to implement the state law with their own municipal ordinances.

Even though he was a supervisor with no jurisdiction over the matter, Yaroslavsky, a Los Angeles resident who has retained a strong political following in the city, stepped into the negotiations over the proposed implementation ordinance. He persuaded City Council members to modify the proposal. The council and Yaroslavsky agreed on modifications designed to limit teardowns of apartments in residential neighborhoods and other steps to preserve such communities.

With those modifications, the Los Angeles City Council recently passed and the mayor signed the ordinance implementing the state law. Under the ordinance, the city permits a builder to go 35 percent over zoning limits if 11 percent of the units are set aside for low-income residents or 30 percent are moderately priced.

But Yaroslavsky still was not satisfied. He objected to giving developers permission to build larger structures if they include low- and middle-income units. This, he said, was a bonus for developers. “L.A. doesn’t need to offer development bonuses allowing taller and bigger buildings” to create more affordable housing, Yaroslavsky wrote in a Sunday Opinion article for the Los Angeles Times. But with the state law and the city ordinance implementing this practice firmly in the books, there doesn’t seem much Yaroslavsky can do now, short of starting an initiative campaign.

His entrance into the fight has prompted speculation that he is interested in running for mayor, an office he sought years ago when he was in the council.

CityBeat’s Alan Mittelstaedt asked Yaroslavsky about the speculation after the supervisor discussed the development controversy at Emma Schafer’s Public Affairs Forum, a monthly gathering of political and government insiders.

“If I were running for mayor, you’d know about it.” Yaroslavsky said. “Most of the talk about me running for mayor has been emanating out of City Hall from people who are trying to marginalize some of these policy issues by reducing them to political tiffs when, in fact, they’re substantive policy issues. I’m not going to keep my mouth shut when I see my neighborhood affected by what the city does. And as a former city councilmember, I’m not going to sit back quietly and watch 20 years of my work product dismantled without a fight. This has nothing to do with running for office.”

Advocates of more affordable housing say the state and city laws are needed by neighborhoods such as Pico-Union and MacArthur Park just west of downtown Los Angeles, where Latino immigrants, some here illegally, crowd into old apartments and live in incredibly bad conditions. Those walking from Langer’s parking lot to the restaurant for a pastrami sandwich may not know they are passing through one of America’s most densely packed slums.

These same advocates say the council’s decision to ease development restrictions will make affordable housing available throughout the city. Some Pico-Union and MacArthur Park residents could then afford to move westward or into the San Fernando Valley.

This possibility complicates the dispute, however, bringing in issues of race and class.

Although the demographics of parts of Los Angeles, such as the San Fernando Valley, are changing, much of Los Angeles remains segregated by race and income. Building low-income units in West Los Angeles and the West Valley would change the pattern. Poor Latino immigrants could move into Fairfax and Pico-Robertson.

The politically correct news media and political community do not mention this aspect of the dispute, but it’s important.

But it is also important to consider the desires of middle-class L.A. residents to preserve neighborhoods that are part of the fabric of Los Angeles.

This dispute will be a big factor the city election in 2009 when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is expected to seek a second term. Right now the mayor is playing both sides of the issue.

He favors more housing construction, especially of the affordable kind. He’s developer friendly, approving of the commercial and residential units that were going up around the city at a brisk rate before the credit crisis slowed construction.

But Villaraigosa has also become an advocate for neighborhoods and has worked hard to strengthen his ties with Jewish communities around the city.

I would be surprised if Yaroslavsky runs against him. He can remain supervisor until 2014 when term limits force him out. Supervisors run virtually unopposed. Why give up a low-stress job for the heat of the mayor’s office?

But Villaraigosa, even without strong opposition, will have to contend in his re-election campaign with the powerful forces shaping the dispute over neighborhoods and development.

You have the right to shut up

Did you hear about the local court in Israel that sentenced a newspaper editor and a reporter to a year in jail for criticizing the prime minister? Or how about the 100 menwho were arrested at a private party in Tel Aviv because they were “dancing and behaving like women”? Or the Israeli court in Haifa that ruled that the testimony of a man is worth twice that of a woman?

You probably haven’t heard, because these abuses didn’t happen in Israel.They happened in Israel’s neighborhood, in countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and as you might imagine, there are plenty more where those came from.

What does any of this have to do with a column about the Pico-Robertson neighborhood? This week I feel like going a little broader.

There’s a controversy that has bubbled up in the Jewish world today around this question: Is it good for Israel when Jews go public with harsh criticism of Israel?

One recent example is a Jewish group that has been presenting on college campuses a stinging, single-minded and, in the eyes of many, exaggerated critique of the Israeli army. Presumably, this type of collective soul-searching demonstrates the Jewish values of fairness and good faith and ought to generate some goodwill in return.

Of course, Jewish criticism against Israel or its policies is nothing new — but not all criticism is created equal. Criticism that rails against the corruption in Israel’s government, for instance, is an example of a political system trying to clean up its act to better serve its people.

But Jewish criticism that publicly undermines Israel’s morality and ability to defend itself is another matter, and it can backfire.

If we keep “confessing” to an already hostile world, for example, that we are too harsh in defending ourselves, should we be surprised if that same world concludes that we deserve to be punished — that we had all this terrorism coming?

And if this public self-criticism happens only on our side — because the other side doesn’t allow it — aren’t we creating a false reality that puts inordinate responsibility on Israel for whatever goes wrong? When we complain that Israel’s global brand image is worse than that of murderous regimes, isn’t our public self-flagellation at least partly to blame?

In short, shouldn’t supporters of Israel be more careful with what it allows its enemies to hear?

As I write these words, I feel like an 80-year-old World War II veteran who spends his days looking at his medals. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can make you more exhaustingly boring and unsophisticated today than suggesting for one second that a Jew should watch his mouth.

For the Jews who don’t think twice before criticizing Israel in public, there’s no such thing as a bad debate. Go ahead and trash the Israeli army over civilian casualties, watch the enemy exploit this weakness to create even more civilian casualties and then let’s all celebrate the beginning of a “terribly important” debate.

Jews who are careful about not helping the enemy don’t have this fetish for debate. They see their home being broken into by people about to hurt their kids. Then, as they look at the faces of their frightened children, they have a choice to make: Do they argue with their spouse — in front of the burglars — about who was supposed to call that security company to install the new alarm, or do they figure out a way to protect their children and leave the debate on the alarm for later, in private?

These Jews’ mouths might be shut, but their eyes are wide open. They see that when Israel tried to give its enemy what it said it wanted (example: Gaza), things got even worse. They believe in peace, but not suicide, and they believe that in times of danger, knowing when to be discrete can be just as courageous as knowing when to speak out.

This is their guiding question: Does an enemy who wants to kill my family deserve to see all my insecurities?

So clearly, despite the ingrained Jewish habit of self-criticism, there are millions of Jews today who don’t think it’s a great idea to villify the Israeli army in front of American and pro-Palestinian college students.

Instead of buying you good will, it’s more likely to buy you bad PR.

Having said all that, in our collective obsession with Israel, Jews of all political stripes have missed a major opportunity: shining a light on the rest of Israel’s neighborhood.

While the world’s press records every Israeli mistake, millions of Arabs are being silently persecuted across the Middle East — gays who are arrested for being gay, women who are humiliated for being women, reporters who are attacked for reporting, Christians who are persecuted for being religious, poets who are jailed for writing the wrong poems.

Where is the outrage? Where are the “Breaking the Silence” campus road shows? Where is the liberal support for these Arab victims of human rights abuse who don’t have a fraction of the freedoms that Arabs in Israel enjoy?

The notion of shutting Jewish mouths is a moot point — nobody can shut a Jew up. If a Jew exercises the freedom to shut up, it’s a personal choice, and it’s usually for good reason.

But for all you progressive Jews out there who believe it’s in the grand Jewish tradition to always speak out, there are 300 million Arabs who don’t live in the vicinity of Israel, and who could surely use a road show.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Gangs of N.Y. — and L.A.

The gang violence that has recently wracked parts of Los Angeles compels me to ask this question: Where are all the Jewish gangs?

I’m not being cute.

There was a time in history when America’s worst gangs were Jewish. From 1880 through the dawn of Prohibition, New York’s Lower East Side was synonymous with thugs, thieves, gambling and prostitution. That part of our collective memory we’ve understandably underemphasized: Just what did Tevye the Milkman’s daughters have to do to survive in the Golden Land?

“Along with upright unionists like David Dubinsky and his ILGWU [International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union], there were shlammers [goons], like Gyp “The Blood” Horowitz, Kid Twist and “Dopey” Benny Fine, armed with lead pipes, chains, knucks and guns, who constituted the vast and bloody mercenary army of the labor wars,” Mike Bookman, the author of a 2000 novel of the period, “God’s Rat,” told me.

Indeed, as Albert Fried documents in “The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Gangster in America” (Columbia, 1993), the Lower East Side of Yiddish theater, warm bialys, firebrand politics and hard-working immigrants was also rife with pimps, addicts and thugs — all Jewish.

The “demonically cruel” Dutch Schultz? His mother knew him as Arthur Flegenheimer.

And it wasn’t just New York. Jewish gangs were the terror of turn-of-the-century Cleveland, Minneapolis, Chicago and Detroit, where Hastings Street, wrote Fried, “spawned a farrago of teenage Jewish street gangs.” The cops called it “Little Jerusalem.”

These days, to point out the obvious, Jewish gangs are not such a problem. Sure there’s an Israeli Ecstasy ring here and a Russian prostitution ring there, but you can walk the mean streets of Brentwood, Sherman Oaks or Pico-Robertson and not have to worry about crossing paths with some turf-protecting boychiks sporting blue-and-white do-rags and Hebrew bling.

Jewish kids who want to go gangsta have only one outlet: rap parodies on YouTube.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with other boys their age. Over the past month, gang violence between Latinos and blacks in the Harbor Gateway area resulted in the murder of 14-year-old Cheryl Green. Last Saturday, Latino gang members shot a 34-year-old black man in front of his daughters as he waited for them to meet a friend for a birthday sleepover.

“This is part of a tit-for-tat killing spree that has been going on for a decade,” said Joe Hicks, who, when he was executive director of the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, spent a good part of his time in Harbor Gateway. “But something has definitely shifted into another gear that has gotten people pretty alarmed.”

Across the city, some 269 lives were cut short by gang-related violence in 2006.

The Green murder prompted an outpouring of community grief and outrage and a good amount of political posturing. It also focused attention on a report, prepared by Los Angeles civil rights attorney Connie Rice, that calls for a $1 billion “Marshall Plan” to improve the lives of kids vulnerable to gangs.

A billion may not seem like a lot — in Iraq, we’ve spent $323 billion and only succeeded in starting gang wars — but many observers want to, wisely, take a step back before rushing in with the checks.

“Harbor Gateway is a 2-mile area as desolate as you can find,” said Hicks, who is now co-director of Community Advocates. “You do need to bring additional services to the community. But if you build a basketball court or a Boys & Girls Club, the gang would immediately claim that. It would decide who’s able to play checkers or shoot hoops.”

Hicks’ experience, backed up by police, is that there are a limited number of really bad apples in any gang. When these “shot callers” were arrested and locked up in the mid-1990s, the situation improved, Hicks said.

“First, law enforcement has to get tough,” he said. “Lock up people for doing bad stuff. Second, convert peripheral gang members. Third, work on the younger generation with community development and activities.”

This struck me as sensible and straightforward, with this caveat: It’s not just gang culture that’s sick, it’s our culture.

When the L.A. Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez spent time with members of the 204th Street Gang, he found older men with steady jobs who commuted to gang bang.

“If it was about race, why are they killing each other?” he asked me. “Their primary identity is not their ethnicity, it is ‘us against the outsiders.’ It’s all about posturing and pride.” And their music and entertainment reaffirms their choice. “Mainstream culture glorifies criminality,” Rodriguez said.

Any solution or set of solutions is bound to fail if we as a society don’t consistently send a very simple message: gang behavior is bad.The era of Jewish gangs faded as most of the original gangsters aged and a new generation of Jewish youth found better outlets for their testosterone.

One crucial brake on their behavior? According to Fried, it was good old-fashioned shame. In 1912, as violence among Jewish gangs reached its peak, the Jewish community reacted with almost unanimous disgust.

“The Jewish community turned in on itself, confronting itself as never before,” Fried writes. He quotes the editor of a Yiddish newspaper, expressing the common outrage of the day: “The divine word, ‘I choose you among the people of the earth,’ ends up this way.”

Jewish gangsters who sought to elevate themselves by accruing wealth and inspiring fear found themselves objects of communal derision and disgust. Compare that reaction with today’s popular entertainment that too often idealizes and romanticizes gangsters.

“We have to find ways to erode the culture at root of urban America, the gangster hip-hop ethos,” Hicks said.

How to pay for Hicks’ beefed-up police and Rice’s “Marshall Plan”?What about a sin tax on black and Latino artists who partake in that glorification, and Jewish and non-Jewish agents, marketers, record labels and corporations who profit from their artistry?

OK, maybe a tax isn’t realistic. Then again, shame doesn’t seem to be working either.

A Mensch

A month ago I lost my wallet.

I had just picked my son up from day school at 5 p.m., run an errand, then returned to pick up my daughter, whose religiousschool classes got out at 6:30 p.m.

It was one of those days. My wife was out of town on a work trip, and between my own job and drop-offs and pick-ups, I’d logged about 100 miles, and the day wasn’t over.

I had until 7 p.m. to make it to the auto shop to switch cars, and the clock was still ticking on dinner and baths and bedtime. That last sequence of “Good Fellas” where Ray Liotta has to do a drug deal, launder cash, run family errands and avoid the Feds? That was me, without the drugs, cash and cops.

Trying to shave a minute off deadline, I parked a block from the school, ran at a dead heat up La Cienega Boulevard, grabbed my daughter and power-walked back to the car. Then off through rush hour traffic to Miller Honda, where I arrived as the giant metal garage doors were rolling shut. I hurried to pay for my repairs — without my wallet.

It wasn’t gone, I told myself. It was black, my seats were black and the sun had set. I searched. The kids searched. Small hands went in and out of seat cracks. It took me a good two minutes to go from bemused to perplexed to frantic.

Forget the 100 bucks. What about the credit cards? The driver’s license? The identity theft. The hours on the phone navigating voice commands. A crazed thief showing up at our home address. My ATM card somewhere on its way to Vegas.

I drove back to the school. By cellphone I alerted the security personnel there, who quickly scanned the sidewalk and came up empty-handed. I traced my steps and found nothing.

“If you dropped it in the hallway,” one guard comforted me, “whoever finds it will give it to us. If you dropped it on the street, forget it.”

Of course he was right. It was dark. That section of La Cienega hosted a stream of transient foot traffic from the bus stop to 7-Eleven to dark alleys where pickpockets warmed their hands around trash can fires kindled with the useless receipts from emptied wallets … or so I imagined. I was, at that point, without hope.

And my kids, hungry and tired, were aching for food, which I had no money to pay for.

Just before I left school, I had the idea to call my work phone. Who knows? There was a message, which I’ve saved: “Hi Rob. This is Michael. I’ve found your wallet. Give me a call. I’m sure you’re probably looking for it.”

I pulled over and called. The young man on the other end of the line gave me his address, which turned out to be on Corning Avenue, the next block over. He was waiting out front when I swung around.

I rushed out to shake his hand, to thank him. I thrust a reward at him, which surprised and slightly embarrassed him. Somehow I figured words weren’t enough.

When I drove back to school to thank the security guards and share the good news, they were astonished.

“In this city,” said one of them, “That’s one in a million.”

They asked how old he was. Around 20. They asked what color he was. I said black. They shook their heads. From their faces, I could see their stereotypes melting about as gently as nuclear fuel rods.

A little while later I called Michael Evans to thank him a bit less breathlessly.

On the one hand, he didn’t cure cancer or rescue an endangered species or rush into a burning building. On the other hand, he found a wallet full of cash on a dark street, made the effort to contact the owner, and returned it. No big deal? Not if it were your wallet.

Michael told me he is 22. He was born in New York City and moved out here when he was 10. His parents died when he was 4 — not a subject he wanted to delve into — and he was raised by his grandmother, a retired schoolteacher. She’s 92 now, and Michael decided to live with her to watch after her.

Michael attended Carthay Circle Elementary, Hamilton High and Los Angeles City College. He works as an accountant in Burbank for Smith Mandel and Associates.

The night we met, he was walking up La Cienega toward the 7-Eleven to buy his grandmother a newspaper when he saw my wallet.

“I thought I might as well go and help this person,” he told me, verbally shrugging off the whole incident. “It’s not inconvenient, and I’d want somebody to do the same thing for me.”

He searched out my business card, called me and e-mailed me. “I don’t think it was too much trouble to go and do that.”

I told him what the security guards said, that in a city like this, he’s one in a million.

He laughed.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” he said. “There really was no other option.”

This is the second year The Jewish Journal has compiled a list of our “Top Ten Mensches.” Let other magazines slobber over the 50 Sexiest or the 400 Richest or the 20 Most Influential. Rich, sexy and powerful are easy. Mensch is hard.

How hard? You could make all those other lists and still not qualify for ours. There are three crowns, says the Pirke Avot, the crown of the law, which is knowledge; the crown of royalty, which is power and wealth, and the crown of priesthood, which is holiness.

But the crown of a good name surpasses them all.

Thus, Michael Evans.

Is everyone weird?

After three months of a hopeful re-entry into dating life — Internet, setups, chance meetings — I had to hang it up. It had started out just fine. Possibilities were popping up
with flash-frame, Internet-inspired regularity and, suddenly, my 40s had seemed inspired by the twinkling of new romance opportunities.


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There was the crazy writer and father of two who adored his sons, the straight-but-cute doctor who loved his work, the music producer who was quirky, brilliant and charming, and the extreme sports guy who pursued like a prince.

But just 12 weeks after starting down these promising paths, I had crawled back into the wallflower-solitude of my I’m-not-dating-anymore closet.

What sent me into high-security hiding was not the effort of dating.

I actually like that part. (Though, God knows, Internet dating can be a black hole of a cottage industry that consumes hours, the way “The Blob” consumed whole towns.) Time vortex noted, I still enjoy the newness of trying on new energies and the grace-filled possibilities inherent in dating new men.

But the problem is — truly from my heart I have to say this — everybody’s weird. Everyone seems to have issues. And not just little issues, either.

And though I suppose we’re all weird or skewed or tweaked or somewhat bent in some way or other — especially after 40 — it’s still not a wise dating strategy to mistake those fabulously flowing bright-red-flags for a welcome parade.

So when the 40-ish, cha-cha-cha writer introduced me to his son, told me he was “playing for keeps,” then casually mentioned that he was already sleeping with a woman in San Francisco, I felt it best to run for the hills.

When the cute-but-straight-looking doctor (Dr. Drag-His-Feet, my girlfriends dubbed him) picked me up in his Ferrari, told me for the ninth unsolicited time that he wasn’t gay and announced that he was looking for a woman who looked like Kate Beckinsale, I felt it best to stop going to the hardware store for milk. The boy didn’t have the goods.

When the music producer, the extreme sports guy, the guy from my friend’s softball game and the date who said he was 5- foot-10 but was really 5-foot-5 each in turn revealed what was weird enough to read “STOP! WARNING!” — I just lost my will to work at this, threw in the towel and gave up.

I’m not saying (and how dull to take such a stance at this point, anyway?) that every man in L.A. is weird. I could certainly make a case for royally weird and skewed women in this town, too. But what happens when I’m drawing one slightly awry (all right, bent) experience after the other? Is it me? Is it them? Is it just that one has to sift through a lot of dross to get to the one gleaming, precious stone?

I’d love to say that this is an L.A. thing. But who cares? This is where I live. I’m not one to denigrate my town (which I like for the most part), nor one to take the God-looking-down stance of “Yes, my child, there’s partnering available for everyone — but not for you fools that try to date in L.A.”

But here’s the rub: If I’m drawing man after man with twisted little “isms,” I have to stop and ask myself why I keep attracting them. Damn them, but all of those seminar-inspired relationship books have actually made some impact on my psyche, and that well-themed what-you’re-drawing-is-a-reflection-of-where-you’re-at idea is totally haunting me.

So in the midst of the dating pool, I’ve had to step out, dry off, re-evaluate what I’m looking for, where I might find that and take a long, hard look at the messages I’m putting out.

It’s my opinion that none of us who are single at 40 are rocket scientists at love (or we wouldn’t be so uncomfortably solitary in the first place), so drawing the weird requires a little seaside introspection, a new charting of the waves and a definite refocusing of the ship’s trajectory.

My ex-husband, when asked, will say that the reason he doesn’t date is “everybody’s got so much baggage that I just can’t take it.” And though that may be a middle-age, 21st-century realism that probably includes all of us, I still believe in love after 40.

My wise girlfriend likes to say, “We late bloomers get to have happy endings, too.”

So as I prepare to check my own baggage on the shore and dive into the deep seas one more time, I pray for the courage (in a world of imminent land mines) to avoid the weird, and to believe that possibly in the process, I can find peace and happiness in the arms of the true, the solid, the faith-filled and the devoted.

May my late-bloomer happy-ending find me — and find me soon.

JoAnneh Nagler is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She writes articles, philanthropic proposals and her folk-pop CD, “I Burn,” is online at www.cdbaby.com.

With Friends Like These…

I didn’t show up to see Jimmy Carter sign any of his other 20 books, but I have a feeling none of those signings drew quite the crowd of the one Monday night in Pasadena.

At the other appearances, I bet there weren’t angry protestors from the Jewish Defense League waving signs saying: “WORST PRESIDENT EVER!” and counterdemonstrators — mostly from a group called “LA Jews for Peace” marching under signs saying “PEACE NOT APARTHEID!”

At the other signings, I bet a security guard didn’t have to ask three attractive dark-haired young women holding an Israeli flag to step back from the entrance to Vroman’s Bookstore, where the 39th president was inside signing books. I asked one of them what organization they represented.

“We’re our own group,” she said. “Call us Shirlee, Aviva and Michele United.”

Carter was scheduled to start signing copies of “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” (Simon and Schuster 2006) at 7 p.m. By 1 pm the store had sold every book and had passed out all 1,800 tickets. Ticketholders stomped their feet in the chilly night in a line that ran down Colorado, around the block and back up.

“It’s a big one,” said a cashier. “But we had more for Howard Stern.”

Sure, a lot of the people showed up for the celebrity factor — parents taking their young children to see a real president; many people holding any of the Carter oeuvre just to score an autograph, a “good Christmas gift,” said one elderly lady.

But the television news trucks, the young woman in kaffiyehs passing out flyers demanding a “Just Peace in Palestine,” the heated arguments by the magazine racks over who started the Six-Day War — the general circus-like atmosphere was solely due to the partisan passions the book has stirred.

“He’s right on the money,” said Bob, a middle-aged studio musician in a coat and tie waiting in line. “I think he’s being kind in calling it ‘apartheid’ and not ‘genocide.'”

I have a feeling the protestors — pro and con and just plain strange — will be following Carter for as long as the 82-year-old former president is out flacking “Palestine: Peace or Apartheid.”

Write a factually sloppy, unfairly partisan polemic about a complex and sensitive issue and you get just what you’d expect: controversy at every whistle stop, major face time with Larry King and a book that shoots up the best-seller list. By Tuesday there wasn’t a copy to be had at a single L.A. bookstore. It’s like “A Million Little Pieces” for the foreign policy set.

I read the book and found it remarkably shallow. Carter’s bottom line: Israel is to blame. America, urged on by the “Jewish lobby,” is the co-conspirator.

By now numerous intelligent, detailed critiques of the book are available — The Journal printed Alan Dershowitz’s dissection several weeks ago — and former friends and allies of Carter have distanced themselves from this book.

Professor Kenneth Stein resigned his post from the Carter Center last week. The book, he wrote, “is replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments.”

On Monday, I phoned Los Angeles attorney Ed Sanders to get his reaction.

When Carter was President, Sanders was his liaison to the Jewish community. He flew seven missions to the Middle East. Sanders was with Carter at Camp David and was an official witness to the Camp David Accords.

“I bet I know what you’re calling about,” Sanders said.

He said he hadn’t read the book — he still can’t find a copy to buy — but he read an op-ed Carter published in The Los Angeles Times summarizing his arguments and has followed the controversy closely. And his reaction?

“I’m shocked and dismayed,” he said. “It’s unacceptable.”

Sanders can’t understand why Carter couldn’t at the very least present the Israeli argument for the barrier it has erected between the country proper and the Palestinian territories. “The wall is being erected because Israeli citizens were being murdered,” Sanders said.

He is flabbergasted that Carter could present the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as little more than a kindly old man, when it was Arafat’s duplicitous, kleptocratic rule that helped derail peace efforts and destabilize Palestinian society.

“Arafat couldn’t make a deal if his life depended on it,” Sanders said.

Sanders was the national president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee when he resigned to serve the president. Doesn’t that prove Carter’s point on the influence of the pro-Israel lobby or, as Carter now repeatedly refers to it, “the Jewish lobby?”

Sanders doesn’t see it that way: “There was never any restraint on a discussion of the facts.”

That discussion led to the Camp David Accords, an outstanding legacy of peace. But Carter evidently sees no difference between the late Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, who came to Jerusalem to make peace in full recognition of Israel, and the leaders of Hamas who have at most offered Israel a cease-fire on the way to Armegeddon. Between Hamas and Egypt, Sanders said, “there is a difference.”

Dismay and disappointment are Sander’s gentlemanly, judicious way of saying the book is a huge missed opportunity. What’s so disappointing to me is that by the last thin chapter, Carter finally proposes the best possible course for Israel: a two-state solution that recognizes Israel’s security and allows the Palestinian a viable state.

But one-sided diatribes don’t engender the kind of debate that can help bring that solution closer. Israel is far from perfect, and its policies in the West Bank and Gaza have, as the conservative Ha’aretz columnist Shmuel Rosner pointed out, amounted to apartheid. But Israel’s enemies are far from blameless in this tragic history, and in his book, Carter all but sanctifies their heinous methods and awful aims. A fair deal can’t begin from a false premise.

“This book,” Sanders said, “doesn’t help.”

Attention, menschen! CAIR; Michael Richards; Shoah survivors

In 2005, The Journal profiled 10 “Mensches of the Year ” and it became one of our most popular and widely appreciated cover stories. We plan to make this an annual feature … and we’d love your help.If you know someone whose great work on behalf of others goes unsung, who doesn’t get paid for what he or she does (or doesn’t get paid near enough), whose life is the embodiment of the values of tzedakah — please pass their name and contact info to us with a very brief sentence or two describing why they should be featured as one of our 10 mensches of 2006.

Send your nominations to: letters@jewishjournal.com. Names must be received Dec. 15 in order to be considered.


Your publication of the inflammatory rhetoric of CAIR-L.A.’s Executive Director Hussam Ayloush as if it were a reliable source of fact or reasonable opinion makes one question your editorial judgment (“Letters, Nov. 17).

It is very peculiar that Ayloush and his organization, who claim to promote “dialogue, mutual respect and trust and cooperation,” would resort to ad-hominem attacks against Steven Emerson, actually calling him “America’s most vicious Islamophobe.” Moreover, incitement and provocation are not constructive tactics. If CAIR is truly serious about promoting mutual understanding, Ayloush would not have written a letter that clearly defeats CAIR’s stated objectives. Furthermore, the letter serves as a form of psychological warfare, which attempts to erode the credibility, trust and reputation of Emerson with your readers and the general public.

Based on Ayloush’s unfair characterization of Emerson, it appears that he and CAIR have one primary objective, which is to discredit and silence anyone who dares to identify terrorists who happen to be connected to a radical Islamist network. This should be of great concern to the entire community, Christian, Muslim and Jewish alike.

Margo Itskowitch
Beverly Hills

The Survivors

“The Forgotten Survivors” (Nov. 24) raises some crucial issues for the Jewish community, which must decide if it will make a concerted effort to endow the last days of these victims of Nazism with a greater measure of dignity and peace.

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) established the Holocaust Survivor Services program of the Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Los Angeles more than a decade ago. Last year, the Claims Conference allocated approximately $1.5 million to JFS, from various sources of Holocaust restitution funding. This financial support is absolutely critical to the work of JFS in assisting and supporting needy Jewish victims of Nazism.However, the Claims Conference needs partners in this endeavor. It is important for the larger Jewish community to recognize the need and to respond.

Hillary Kessler-Godin
Director of Communications
Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany

Thank you for remembering “The Forgotten Survivors” in this week’s cover story. We at New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) agree that it is our responsibility to offer support and companionship to impoverished Holocaust survivors, both locally and worldwide.

We have recently joined in a collaborative effort with a local organization called The Survivor Mitzvah Project, which sends money and letters to survivors living in Eastern Europe. This project is both educational and philanthropic, offering a unique exchange between the American Jewish community, and Jewish individuals living in their original Eastern European hometowns. Their stories give us singular insight into the vast changes of Jewish life in Eastern Europe before, during and after World War II.

Students in Russian and Yiddish classes at NCJHS are volunteering their time to translate letters to and from the survivors in Eastern Europe, enabling international Jewish friendships to form. We are incredibly proud of these young people and encourage the community to get involved with the Survivor Mitzvah Project, as well as the local organizations listed in the original article, through zzmail@sbcglobal.net or (800) 905-6160.Hannah Pollin
Yiddish Teacher
Lisa Ansell
Head of World Languages
New Community Jewish High School

I estimate that in Los Angeles 47 percent of Holocaust survivors, or more than 4,000 survivors, are currently living in poverty. During the past eight years, the L.A. community has experienced a significant increase in the proportion of Holocaust survivors in poverty from the 32 percent in poverty found in my 1997 research, that was cited in the cover story by The Jewish Federation, to 45 percent of L.A. holocaust survivors in poverty, as compared to 35 percent of Holocaust survivors in poverty nationally in 2005.

An additional $1,000 a year allocated to each impoverished Holocaust survivor in our community would cost $4 million, and during the next 10 years progressively less, as the median age of Holocaust survivors is 81. [For a Federation] that raises $55 million dollars a year and boasts more than $600 million in its Jewish Community Foundation, this would be a good initial gesture of concern for this regrettable situation where the most traumatized and weakest among us grow poorer as they grow older.

Pini Herman
Phillips & Herman
Demographic Research

Thank you for your Nov. 24 cover story “The Forgotten Survivors,” which recognized the vital work of Jewish Family Service (JFS) and others in assisting the aging and impoverished Holocaust survivors in our community.

We are deeply grateful to The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany for its generous and crucial support of our JFS/Holocaust Survivor Services program. In our last fiscal year, the Claims Conference provided $1.5 million to help us meet the needs of survivors living in Los Angeles. We are also appreciative of the ongoing support by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and The Morgan Aging with Dignity Fund that helps us maintain and sustain our work with survivors of the Holocaust.

We encourage the entire community to continue to support us in this important mission.

L.A. Times in turmoil: is it good for the Jews?

Thinking about the mess at the Los Angeles Times, I can’t help but raise the question we usually bring to matters great and small. How does it affect the Jews?

The paper is going through hard times. The owner, Tribune Co., unhappy with the paper’s substantial profits, ordered publisher Jeffery Johnson and editor Dean Baquet to make big cuts. When they refused, Johnson was forced out. Baquet is hanging on, trying to forestall the inevitable.

For this particular Jew, it’s a sad time. I worked there more than 30 years. I retired in 2001, and I still have friends at the paper. I talked a lot to two of them last week and shared their worries over their futures and those of their families. It’s also sad to read the paper, to see it shrink, to watch the editorial staff drop from 1,200 to 940 and, likely, eventually to Chicago’s goal of about 800.

Why is this bad for the Jews? It’s bad because as residents of the Southland, we have a long and great tradition of civic activism, going back to early in the 20th century and continuing today in homeowner groups, neighborhood councils, public school support organizations, political parties, sports leagues and all the other activities that permit this sprawling area to function.

Because of their intense activism, Jews have been among the paper’s most devoted readers and fiercest critics. A substantial part of the paper’s circulation base has long been in the broad Jewish belt extending from the Westside through the West Valley.

Granted, the base has dwindled. Each year, I see fewer copies of the Times in front yards in my Westside neighborhood early in the morning. Some of the losses come from exsubscribers who now get their news on line. Other former Times subscribers are single-issue Jews who abandoned the paper after parsing every story about Israel, looking for imagined bias or anti-Semitism.

But a large number of us remain. For us, and for everyone else, a strong Times is important because it is one of the few institutions that holds this vast region together.

When I went to work there in 1970, covering politics, I was overwhelmed by the geographic immensity of my beat. In those ancient days, before the Global Positioning System, I was given a thick book known as a Thomas Guide, and I used its maps to navigate through the neighborhoods of Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Valley, through Watts and Reseda, from Malibu to Boyle Heights.

Everywhere I went, the Times was a big deal. It connected these diverse regions, saw things in a regional way and championed regional solutions to the problems of the Southland, whether they were smog, education, health care or transportation.

As I began at the Times, less than a decade had passed since Otis Chandler had raised the paper from its long years as a right-wing rag to a publication of national renown. Jews, who had been brought up to read the old Daily News and to scorn the Times, had become loyal Times subscribers, depending on the paper for news of the state Capitol, their city halls, their freeways and their schools.

Public affairs was just part of the package, not as interesting to many readers as the sports pages and Jim Murray. And not as vital to many as the stories produced by the foreign staff, the Washington bureau and correspondents around the country. And not as important to many as news of movies, food, music, books, galleries and other aspects of the arts.

The secret of the Times’ success was the package, putting it all together. No matter what their interests, we knew our readers had something in common — they were readers, and they found something in the paper to interest them.

Now the management of the Tribune Co. is tearing up the package or at least diminishing it.
You can see it in the paper. The sports section grows thinner. I can get more and better sports news from the Web. The front section is squeezed for space, as is the California section.

This means that reporters who dig up good stories have to fight for a place in a paper that can barely find enough room for daily news. And as the staff shrinks, the remaining reporters are spending their time catching up with fast-moving events, rather than digging below the surface.

This is the way to lose readers. And as space and staff dwindles, the Times will no longer be able to exercise its function as the one regional voice of the Southland. Our problems are regional. What happens in a school in Carson has an impact on one in the Valley. The closing of an emergency ward in Inglewood will have a direct affect on emergency care on the Westside. If the paper can’t cover this — extensively as the news breaks, as well as with in-depth investigative reporting, both of which take substantial resources — we all lose.

This is why the dismantling of the once great Los Angeles Times is bad for the Jews and everyone else.

Bill Boyarsky’s column on Jews and civic life appears each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

Letters to the Editor

Rabbi Baron

Interesting that Rabbi David Baron said his invitation to Mel Gibson to speak at his temple on Yom Kippur was not a publicity stunt (“Three Groups Respond to Gibson’s Request for Meeting,” Aug. 11). Why then did I receive a form letter within two hours of sending the rabbi an e-mail expressing my aggravation at that very invitation? The form letter is addressed not to me, but “To Those Who Are Concerned About the Mel Gibson Invitation to Apologize.” Baron obviously hoped, and anticipated, that this handout to Gibson would bring a lot of attention; otherwise, why would he have had a form letter at the ready before there had yet been any response at all? And how was the invitation to Gibson made public in the first place? Baron wanted all the attention, which he got, without having to face the music, so he fled.

Jeff Weinstock

Ed Note: See Rabbi Baron’s op-ed column in this issue.

Star Power

Great article, but you may want to exercise a little more control over your cover art (“Star Power,” Aug. 26).

When did The Jewish Journal decide to “unilaterally” give back the West Bank and the Golan Heights?

It may be a subtle “mistake” in art direction, but the hash marks across the vibrant communities in the West Bank and the omission of the Golan are particularly insensitive as Israel continues its fight for it’s very existence. Recent events should have taught us all that the fight is not about “the territories.”

Hopefully your artist was being “creative” and not putting forth a political opinion that represents the editorial stance of The Jewish Journal.

Barry S. Weiss
Valley Village

RJC’s Israel Ads

I want to compliment the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) for their recent ads in The Jewish Journal (Aug. 18 and Aug. 25). The first correctly thanked President Bush for his stalwart support of Israel which was then under vicious attack by Iranian supplied Hezbollah terrorists.

The second pointed out that the Democratic Party has growing and influential leftist voices who not only rejected pro-Israel leader Sen. Joe Lieberman, but are increasingly hostile to bipartisan consensus in support of the Jewish state.Votes and polls do not lie. The vast majority of dissenters from congressional resolutions in support of Israel are Democrats. The majority of anti-Israel voices today on college campuses, in blogs and in our communities are left/liberal, not right/conservative. I have no doubt that American Jews will increasingly reward the GOP.

David Shacter
Los Angeles

The ad on your inside cover from The Republican Jewish Coalition disgusts me. Joe Lieberman was not defeated because of his support for Israel, but because of his continuing support of the most incompetent and corrupt president in the history of the United States.

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party supported Lieberman. It was the voting public, fed up with the disastrous war in Iraq and Lieberman’s blind support for it, that led to his defeat.

The “radical left” has hardly taken over the Democratic Party, and Cindy Sheehan is not a spokesperson for party policy.

No Democratic president would stand by and allow Hezbollah rockets to rain down on Haifa. Nor would they have started a war with Iraq that has ended up strengthening Iran and weakening both the United States and Israel.

Finally, it is the Republican Party that envisions the United States as a Christian theocracy. I cannot understand how any Jew could proudly align themselves with these people.

Barry Wendell
North Hollywood

Bill Boyarsky

I was at the event where Bill Boyarsky and David Lauter spoke for the Woman’s Alliance for Israel Program (“Needed: Rational Discussion,” Aug. 18). However, Boyarsky is incorrect in his assumptions about us going after Lauter’s scalp.We wanted much more from Lauter. We wanted an explanation on why the Los Angeles Times has difficulty in using the word terrorist, instead of “militant.” Instead of giving us a logical answer, he bored us with his explanation of the “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” jive, and that the L.A. Times assumes that its readers can discern the difference.

We booed because we are not the radical “right-wing” DEBKA readers, as Boyarsky implied. This was a slap in the face to any Republicans that were in the audience. We booed because we are not stupid. We expected an intellectual dialogue, but we were hit with criticisms of the Bush regime, a “not my president” attitude, and the moral explanation that because reporters put themselves in the line of fire they do a good job.

Well, my son is in the army in Israel; he puts himself in the line of fire, and he has no problems distinguishing between a terrorist and a freedom fighter. And to top it off, to make comments about FOX — the one channel that does not make excuses for suicide bombers — and assume this as our only source of information was a slap in the face to the many activists who work hard daily, educating, discussing, working and fighting for Israel. I am one of those people who was insulted by the attacks on the right, the convoluted answers and the lack of respect that Boyarsky gave us that night and in his column.

This is the reason why I find the L.A. Times irrelevant in their reporting. They refuse to listen to more than 400 subscribers and former subscribers, and the stats on their readership should be a wake-up call, not an excuse to use their political bias to win arguments.

Allyson Rowen Taylor
Associate Director
American Jewish Congress, Western Region

Israel P.R.

Are there any Jews in advertising? It’s a silly question, but given the pathetic state of Israeli public relations, one might wonder. Israel desperately needs a top-notch public relations campaign immediately, to reinforce the support of sympathetic Americans and win over those who are apathetic or ignorant regarding the Jewish state.

Remember the old ad campaign, “Come to Israel, come stay with friends…”? In those halcyon days, Israel just needed tourism; now, Israel needs renewed American commitment to its survival against the dedicated, dug-in Hezbollah and Hamas armies, who threaten its existence like a growing pack of wolves. America is Israel’s only reliable friend in the world, but it might not always be so.Most American Jews take Israel’s righteousness and survival for granted, but our stoic, fatal silence about Israeli greatness and appeal must end; Israel’s very survival may depend on it.

We know that Israel is the only multicultural nation in the Mideast, where all religions are respected (Muslims are elected to Parliament), where women are treated equally to men, and gays enjoy tolerance, but many Americans, and others, do not. Some great Jew, with the talent, influence and connections of, say, a Steven Spielberg or Rabbi Marvin Hier, or others of equal capability, must take the helm and reverse this public relations defeat.

Why is Hezbollah enjoying the laurels of victory for such a ruinous fiasco? Partially, it’s because they did win. Little Israel never before had to fight an army with such a death-wish commitment. What will happen when other young Arabs, anxious to die for their cause, join their ranks? How many rockets can Israeli cities endure before they become unlivable? The northern third of Israel is already a mess. But Hezbollah’s most important victory was in publicity. Israel has failed to make the case against Hezbollah tactics and for its own existence to America and the world! We must convince our fellow Americans that Hezbollah represents Arab terrorism and Israel is the front line against it. I would love to do it myself, and I’m anxious to be part of the team, but I’m just an anonymous high school teacher; all I can do is convince a person of stature to rise to the task now!

It will be a horrible irony if Israel loses in the court of public opinion, if Jews fail to make their case, the one field in which no one denies them proverbial brilliance. Some great Jew must pick up the phone, call the Israeli embassy, and offer their services to establish the team and organize the public relations effort. It is not hyperbole to suggest that this is a call of biblical proportion. All Jews know in their guts that young Israel is existentially threatened like never before.

The great Persian Empire has risen up and told the world its plan. We must rally our fellow Americans now.

We need a leader.

Rueben Gordon
North Hollywood

Truth in Media

Josef Goebbels, Nazi minister of information, astutely observed that, if you tell a big enough lie, long enough, people will believe it — for no alternative report is provided. American news media daily bombard us with the nonexistent expertise of journalists and consultants — who concur with the media’s editorial position. They state that it is the very existence of Israel and/or U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East that is the source of Islamist animus to the west. Rudimentary knowledge of history readily dispels such tripe.

The first U.S. interaction with Islamists occurred in 1805, when President Thomas Jefferson dispatched troops to Morocco to stop Barbary Pirate attacks on Americans (“The Pirate Coast” by Richard Zacks, 2006).

The Islamic Brotherhood, founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hassa al-Banna, espouses global Muslim conquest, supports violence against civilians and is the philosophical father of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

This reality long pre-dates the existence of Israel or modern-day U.S. policy in the Middle East, but you will never learn that from our news media. Certainly the media can be a valuable check against the tyranny of the government, but who will protect us from the tyranny of the press?

Fred Korr
Los Angeles

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Jewish Journal September 1, 2006

A Harvest of Conflict

Developer Ralph Horowitz made no secret of his intense displeasure with the 350 mostly Latino farmers who squatted on his 14-acre parcel at 41st and Alameda streets in South Los Angeles. As he saw it, the farmers who cultivated avocados, squash, tomatoes and other produce on individual family plots without paying him were squatters who, in effect, stole from him.

Before Horowitz finally evicted the farmers and their supporters last week, he also had to endure celebrities railing against him and demonstrators showing up at his home — not to mention the expense of thousands of dollars in legal fees spent on enforcing his property rights.

But Horowitz hauled out the most explosive grievance at the 59th minute of the 11th hour in the standoff. Speaking to a Los Angeles Times reporter last week, Horowitz said he refused to reward a group that included people who had made anti-Semitic remarks about him.

“Even if they raised $100 million, this group could not buy this property,” Horowitz told NBC4 in a separate interview. “It’s not about money. It’s about I don’t like their cause and I don’t like their conduct. So there’s no price I would sell it to them for.”

Horowitz, who declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story, also has talked of being infuriated by an Internet site that accused him of being part of a “Jewish Mafia” that controls Los Angeles.

The South Central Farmers group and supporters have emphatically denied engaging in anti-Jewish posturing, noting that many in their ranks are Jewish, including rabbis. They accuse Horowitz of playing the anti-Semitism card to divert criticism from him and to splinter an alliance of Westside Jews, environmentalists and South L.A. farmers that coalesced around saving the farm.

“I believe Horowitz thought he was getting a lot of bad press, and sometimes people believe that if you attack you can take the issue away from those people who are questioning what you’re doing,” said Dan Stormer, a civil rights attorney who’s representing the farmers. “The best defense is a good offense.”

Other observers say that Horowitz had plenty to be aggrieved about, and studies suggest that anti-Semitism is a real problem among Latinos. But evidence of actual anti-Semitism on the part of the farmers or leaders is slim or even nonexistent.

The recent battle over what many call the largest urban farm in the nation captured headlines around the world, pitting Horowitz against poor Latino farmers and do-gooder celebrities. With last week’s eviction looming, entertainers such as ’60s folk icon Joan Baez and actors Danny Glover, Martin Sheen and Laura Dern visited the farm site to show support. As pressure mounted and the bulldozers began rolling, many hoped Horowitz would buckle and sell the property, especially after Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he helped cobble together a $16.3 million offer for the land — a bid that apparently met the asking price. (Some insiders say the complicated proposal would have demanded substantial good faith from Horowitz, such as a provision that would have required him to borrow $6 million against the property with the expectation of getting reimbursed within 18 months.)

In the end, though, Horowitz walked away from a deal that would have made him a media hero, one that would have allowed the farmers to continue growing their fruits and vegetables that, supporters say, some relied on for sustenance.

Why didn’t he sell? Horowitz told several media outlets that his anger toward farmers for squatting on his land and vilifying him had so alienated him that he wouldn’t sell to them for any price. He “disliked from the beginning,” he said, “the activists, the movie stars, the anarchists and the hard-nosed group.”

He also pointed out a land trust that offered to purchase the land had missed a deadline.

But what about the anti-Semitism bombshell — which is bound to reverberate through the Jewish community, while also raising questions about Horowitz’s timing and motives?

It’s not difficult to find implied and explicit anti-Semitism linked to the cause of the South Central farmers.

La Voz de Aztlan, a Web site that describes itself as “a totally independent news service,” offered that “Not many people are aware that Los Angeles has a powerful ‘Jewish Mafia’ that is in cahoots with the Los Angeles Police Department and many local elected politicians. … Through ‘backroom deals’ and collusion with certain Jewish L.A. City Council members, Ralph Horowitz was given ownership of the land and he has now placed an ‘eviction notice’ on the entrance to the farm.”

The AfroCubaWeb site linked to the La Voz story and in its summary added the word “sinister” in front of “Jewish land developer Ralph Horowitz.”

Such radical sites are widely dismissed as marginal and irrelevant, but a handful of arguably anti-Semitic posts also appeared on the leftie site la.indymedia.org. A poster who called himself “Farmboy” referred to “WHORE-witz”; “Susan” wrote: “There was a time in this country when Jews were also kept down. Do you remember that? It appears, Mr. Horowitz, that you’ve forgotten what prejudice is like. If it’s not about the money, then what is it about, Mr. Horowitz?”

Another poster submitted a picture of a Molotov cocktail and suggested it was time to use them.

Horowitz’s charges of anti-Semitism come at a time when Latino anti-Semitism in the United States has reached worrying levels. According to a 2005 Anti-Defamation League (ADL) survey, 19 percent of American-born Latinos hold anti-Semitic beliefs, while 35 percent of foreign-born Latinos have such views. For Americans at large, the number for those with anti-Semitic views is 14 percent.

ADL National Director Abraham Foxman has said Latino anti-Semitism stems from anti-Jewish teachings in the schools, churches and communities of Latin countries.

But is anti-Semitism the issue at the South L.A. farm? The local ADL branch has received no complaints alleging anti-Semitism on the part of the farmers or their supporters, said Alison Mayersohn, spokesperson for the ADL, Pacific Southwest Region.

The farmers and their allies explicitly disassociated themselves from anti-Semitism when word reached them that that Horowitz believed they had posted anti-Semitic comments on their Web site and/or linked to an anti-Semitic site. Both charges were untrue, and group leaders faxed a letter to Horowitz on June 9 — days before the eviction — to tell him that they condemned anti-Semitism.

“We have never engaged in such descriptions and would support you in speaking out against anti-Semitism,” the missive said. “In addition, many of the supporters of the South Central Farmers are Jewish.”

L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose Ninth District includes the urban farm, acknowledged that there have been ad homonym attacks on Horowitz, but she observed no anti-Semitism from anyone associated with the farm. Perry, who is African American and Jewish, has faced intense criticism herself for suggesting that the site could be used to generate local jobs and needed tax revenue.

Horowitz, apparently, could not be mollified. His enmity for the farmers and their supporters only grew after learning that anti-Semitic printouts from La Voz de Aztlan had circulated by unknown sources at L.A. City Hall. That Web site, which Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has called “venomous,” has no official or unofficial connection with the farmers.

Even so, the injection of anti-Semitism into the dispute by third parties apparently set Horowitz off. Rabbi Levi Cunin of Chabad of Malibu, who spoke with Horowitz by phone in a failed bid at bridging the gap between the two sides, said the developer expressed upset at being characterized as a stereotypical Jewish landlord.

In Cunin’s opinion, “it was a very complicated puzzle and [anti-Semitism] was just a part of it,” he said. Horowitz “was vilified strongly, and I think he felt very, very hurt by the way this was all dealt with.”

Farmer Alberto Tlatoa, 20, said Horowitz’s charges of anti-Semitism represented nothing less than the cynical attempt of a victimizer trying to portray himself as victim. Looking tired and dispirited two days after the forced eviction, he pointed to torn branches and twisted plants where his family’s three peach trees, squash and other fruits and vegetables once flourished.

“I want to call on him to look into his heart,” said Tlatoa, wearing a shirt bearing the message, “South Central Farmers Feeding Families.” “These are families just trying to survive, to feed their kids, to keep them away from gangs. That is not a crime.”

Stormer, the farmers’ attorney, said that he wouldn’t have represented them if he’d detected any anti-Semitism. Stormer says he will continue to pursue litigation to undo the eviction. His next appearance in court is scheduled for July 12, when he intends to challenge the city’s below-market sale of the property to Horowitz in 2003.

The tussle over the land dates back before 1986, when the city seized Horowitz’s land using the eminent domain process. Officials hoped to build a trash incinerator on the site, but community opposition derailed that project. After the 1992 riots, the city leased the land to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which began allowing people to cultivate the land. After a series of bruising court battles, Horowitz regained possession of his land in 2003 for about $5 million — a price well-below market level but close to what the city had paid him 17 years earlier. (As part of the deal, Horowitz agreed to donate 2.6 acres for a community soccer field.) Farmer supporters challenged the legality of the sale and continue to do so, characterizing it as a backroom sweetheart deal.

Insiders said Horowitz was initially open to working out a deal but lost interest after repeated attacks on his character. He also told several media outlets that he paid more than $25,000 per month to maintain the property but received not a penny from the squatting farmers.

Leaders of the farmers have recently come under scrutiny for alleged wrongdoing and intimidation. The L.A. Weekly reported allegations that the leaders evicted fellow farmers, even though they lacked legal authority, while also allegedly collecting “donations” from farmers. The leaders have denied the charges, saying those evicted had illegally subleased plots for personal gain.

Meanwhile, those sympathetic to Horowitz’s position have included Mark Williams, an African American board member of Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles. Williams accused “radical” farmer activists of both bad faith and race baiting over the history of the conflict. He said that it was his mother, activist Juanita Tate, who had originally helped broker a deal with the city for the farmers to use the land while it lay fallow, provided that the farmers would vacate when needed on 30 days notice.

That day arrived when the city agreed to return the land to Horowitz. Tate took the position that the farmers should abide by the agreement. In response, she was cast, said Williams, as “a black woman hostile to the new Latin majority in our community.”

Williams said that the attacks devastated Tate, the long-time executive director of Concerned Citizens, which community members founded in 1986 to block the proposed incinerator project. Tate died in 2004.

But resisting an eviction does not make the farmers racist or anti-Semitic, supporters said. In the weeks following the judge’s order to leave in late May, activists and celebrities built an encampment at the farm, including a kitchen, medic station and art space. A “sacred space” also appeared, which featured a menorah and other holy and spiritual relics, supporter Sarah Coffey said.

“The community that has been built here isn’t about race, religion or color,” she said. “It’s about sustainability and connectedness to the land.”

As last week’s eviction approached, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa amplified his effort to broker a solution that would have preserved the green space, which stands out in an industrial area — and in a city that is short on accessible urban parkland. Working with the Annenberg Foundation and Trust for Public Land, the mayor helped put together a deal that he thought would meet Horowitz’s asking price, said Darryl Ryan, the mayor’s press deputy.

Much to Villaraigosa’s chagrin, Horowitz torpedoed the deal, Ryan said.

“I think when it came down to it, Mr. Horowitz didn’t want to sell the land to the farmers,” he said. “Mr. Horowitz didn’t like the way they were treating him.”

Neither the mayor nor his staff members witnessed any anti-Semitism directed at Horowitz by the farmers or their supporters during their involvement, Ryan added.

The city has allocated a 7.8-acre site at 111th Street and Avalon Boulevard that would accommodate some 200 garden plots. Thirty displaced farmers already have begun cultivating the land. Some of the farmers remain dissatisfied with the substitute location for a variety of reasons. The city is looking for other potential garden sites as well.

Farm supporters hope beyond hope that somehow they will prevail in their struggle to regain the use of Horowitz’s property, although the odds appear dim at best.

As things stand, many of the avocado and peach trees have been cut down, along with the photogenic walnut tree in which actress Daryl Hannah had perched.

But has more been lost than an urban garden?

Horowitz’s “unfounded” charges of anti-Semitism have generated an anti-Jewish backlash among some Latinos, said Tezozomoc, an elected co-leader of the South L.A. farmers. The farmers, he said, feel angry about the developer’s besmirching them.

But others see continued good relations between the two ethnic groups.

“The dust-up over the garden is not going to have any serious impact on Latino-Jewish relations,” said David Lehrer, president of Community Advocates, Inc., an L.A.-based consulting group that focus on improving ties between the city’s diverse communities. “There are other more profound and deep-seated issues that could cause friction, but the garden isn’t one of them.”



Mensches, Menschen

The plural of “mensch” has always been “menschen” (“Mensches: Some Big-Hearted Angelenos You Would Be Proud to Know,” Jan. 6). Come Purim, will we read about “hamentasches”?

I was impressed, though, by the dedication of those featured in the accompanying article.

Ruth L. Brown
Los Angeles

I do not profess to be a Yiddish linguist, but I learned my Yiddish in the Sholem Aleichem Folk Shul in Perth Amboy, N.J., about 65 years ago, where everyone knew that the plural of “mensch” was “menschen.” Please tell me whether or not I’m correct.

Marv Frankel
Los Angeles

Ed. Note: According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the plural of “mensch” is either “mensches” or “menschen.” We chose the style closer to English, but feel free to come by and discuss it over some beigelech and blintschikes.

Interfaith Celebrations

We were disappointed by your editorial/news story, “Tis Never the Season for Chrismukkah” (Dec. 23), with its premise that interfaith or intercultural celebrations shouldn’t be tolerated.

The predictable seasonal staple about how children are confused by joint celebrations provided no evidence to support that conclusion. It was a missed opportunity.

Instead of probing how Jewish communities can respond sensitively to the growing number of intercultural or interfaith families, it adopted the contemptuous tone articulated by Rabbi Harold Schulweis, who dismisses those who want to combine holidays as “totally ignorant,” misguided and misinformed. By disparaging and discounting non-Jewish members of intermarried families, Jewish leaders put their heads in the sand and push them away.

In our secular Jewish organization, the Sholem Community (www.sholem.org), we’ve welcomed intercultural families who have been made to feel uncomfortable at synagogues.

We don’t ask non-Jewish family members to reject their backgrounds. We discuss how family members can honor each other’s heritages with respect and understanding. We explore common cultural themes in seasonal festivals, and we’ve seen how families can observe loving and warm, respectful celebrations.

This approach doesn’t work for everyone but is appropriate for people whose outlook is cultural and secular. Instead of the my-way-or-the-highway approach, families who honor each other’s cultures and traditions can enrich their own experiences, their humanity and connect themselves and their loved ones to their Jewishness.

Jeffrey Kaye
Katherine James
Alan Blumenfeld
The Sholem Community

IRS Charge

In his opinion piece, “IRS Errs on Endorsing Candidate Charge” (Jan. 6), Rabbi John Rosove correctly observes that the Tax Code prohibits, at the risk of loss of tax exemption, intervention by synagogues and other charities “in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

It does not prohibit all political activities. Charities, including synagogues, can take positions on legislation — that is lobby — so long as their lobbying activity is not substantial. (Positions on initiatives and referenda, as well as positions on nominees to the federal judiciary, are considered lobbying.) Moreover, these organizations can take positions on questions of public policy without limit.

Thus, even had Rabbi Rosove named leaders in his erev Rosh Hashanah sermon in October 2005, he would not have violated the campaign prohibition, since no election was looming. Nonetheless, since he did not mention any leader’s name, Rabbi Rosove could have offered this same sermon just days before an election without any violation of the prohibition.

In unofficial guidance, the IRS has treated discussions of issues of public policy without mention of candidates’ names as falling outside of the category of campaign intervention.

Ellen Aprill
Past President
Temple Israel of Hollywood
John E. Anderson Professor of Tax Law
Loyola Law School

Orthodox Women

I write in response to Amy Klein’s thoughtful article on “Orthodox But Not Monolithic” (Jan. 6). While your reporter generally presented both the spirit and the substance of my remarks on the issue of women in Orthodox Jewish communal life, I was misquoted as stating that no women currently serve on the board of the Orthodox Union (OU).

While I noted that there are currently no women officers in the OU, I did not suggest that there aren’t any women board members. I know better than that. My wife, Vivian, is one of the most active members of the OU’s Board of Governors.

David Luchins
OU National Vice President

Illegal Immigration

Like every apologist for illegal immigration, Rob Eshman makes a case for “assimilation” of the undocumented, while ignoring the wholesale violation of our laws and sovereignty that got us into a fiscal and social quagmire (“The Slop Sink,” Dec. 30).

According to the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., the net cost of public benefits and services for illegal immigrants in California is $10 billion a year — a structured deficit that no one in Sacramento is willing to address. L.A. County public hospitals lose $340 million a year providing uncompensated care for undocumented immigrants.

Here’s the kicker: The proposed Totalization Agreement with Mexico will provide Social Security benefits to Mexican nationals and, by extension, illegal immigrants. The price tag: $345 billion over 20 years.

Les Hammer
Los Angeles

Winter Break

Jennifer Garmaise’s article (“Taking Winter Break on Jewish Time,” Dec. 30) did not address the logistical and economic impact that shifting winter vacations to late January has on families of moderate means. Far from “disrupting vacation plans,” moving winter vacation from late December poses a serious challenge to parents who work outside the Jewish community, particularly single parents and those families where both parents must work in order to make ends meet.

Many of these parents hoard their sick leave and vacation time in order to take off for Yom Tov. Taking a week off in January (when alternative forms of child care are not available) in order to care for children out of school poses a financial hardship and, sometimes, a barrier to employment altogether. It is also difficult to see what educational or religious benefit the children gain from this week.

Giving the children a week’s break at Chanukah (as is done in Israel) would not completely solve the child care issue, but at least it has a logical Jewish rationale. Starting winter break on Dec. 26 would comply with Rabbi Feinstein’s ruling, while alleviating the child care situation.

Offering affordable day camps would also go a long way toward addressing the needs of ordinary working parents who sacrifice in order to send their children to Orthodox Jewish day schools.

Miriam Caiden
Los Angeles


Teacher Class on Mideast Stirs Doubt

An upcoming course on the Middle East for public school teachers has gotten the attention of Jewish organizations for its allegedly unfair tilt toward a pro-Palestinian viewpoint.

Titled “Teaching About the Middle East,” the professional development course, which earns participants points toward salary increases, will be given Oct. 14, 15 and 17 at the Wilshire District headquarters of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the L.A. teachers union.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) will send an observer to monitor the sessions. Spokeswomen for both the ADL and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said their organizations are looking into the matter, but withholding judgment.

The heightened scrutiny arises from the complaints of Paul Kujawsky, a teacher at Germain Street Elementary School in Chatsworth and past president of Democrats for Israel. A routine listing of the workshop caught his eye, and on Sept. 1, Kujawsky sent a formal, three-page letter, headed “Propaganda, Not Education” to Superintendent Roy Romer of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and UTLA President A.J. Duffy.

The letter listed two primary observations and allegations:

The course is funded by the Middle East Teacher Resource Project, an arm of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). The Quaker organization has a long, honorable history of pacifism and aiding refugees (including this reporter’s parents), but is considered by many in the Jewish community as leaning consistently toward a pro-Palestinian perspective.

“Overall, the AFSC’s position is that the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict is the result of European imperialism, not Arab or Muslim refusal to admit that the Jews have any historic or legal right to sovereignty,” wrote Kujawsky, who is undeniably and unapologetically pro-Israel.

The initiators and administrators of the workshop have denied any bias, and have rejected Kujawsky’s request that the course be reorganized or dropped. However, the course leader said that she was sufficiently concerned to seek a pro-Israel speaker for a session on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The course has been officially vetted and accredited by LAUSD, with input by the teachers union. In 16 class hours, it strives to deal with the Middle East’s people, art, food, music, literature and cultural stereotypes, as well as Arab Americans, Muslim women and the veil, wars and conflicts, oil strategy, nonviolence, human rights and peace movements.

For better or worse, what the teachers learn will influence what they pass on to their students. At least 40 teachers have enrolled.

In the opinion of Kujawsky, “The Quakers’ goal is to end the Israeli occupation, not to end the Arab war against Israel,” he said in an interview.

Shan Cretin, the Friends Committee regional director in Pasadena, objected to attempts to “politicize” either the teachers’ course or the Quakers’ position on the Middle East, which, she said, is to work toward a nonviolent resolution.

“This workshop grows out of our larger concerns for peace in the Middle East,” she said. “In the wake of 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, we believe that students need to know more about Arab and Muslim culture, history and politics to become informed citizens. This is not a workshop focusing mainly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Cretin, who worked with Israelis and Palestinians on health care programs in the mid-90s, acknowledged that “many of our speakers have ties to Arab organizations, but given the topics that are to be the focus of the workshop, this does not seem so surprising.”

The course was deemed appropriate by Ronni Ephraim, LAUSD’s chief instructional officer for elementary schools. She readily provided documents on the course, and explained how it was approved by a three-person committee that included a Jewish member.

The course was proposed and put together by Linda Tubach, an LAUSD staffer in instructional support service who is active in UTLA.

Tubach’s involvement is one concern cited in Kujawsky’s letter. He submitted that Tubach serves on the advisory board of Cafe Intifada, whose Web site states that it raises funds for “cultural programs in Palestine, highlighting the current plight of the Palestinian people.”

Tubach said she was part of the now-inactive advisory board two years ago, when she was involved in a Cafe Intifada pen pal writing project involving American teachers and Palestinian students, but that she no longer had any connections with the organization.

She said that she proposed the course as “a basic survey of Middle Eastern culture, religion and government … and it is our intention to have dialogues and discussions representing all points of view.”

Nevertheless, she became concerned enough about any real or perceived imbalance to ask Deanna Armbruster, who is leading the session on “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” to team up with an advocate of the Israeli viewpoint.

Armbruster is the executive director of American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahab Al-Salam, a community in central Israel, whose 350 Arab and Jewish adults and children live together, study in the same school and share civic responsibilities.

“I’m very passionate about understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of human experiences,” said Armbruster, and her book, “Tears in the Holy Land,” is based on this passion.

Armbruster, a volunteer with the Friends Committee’s Middle East Peace Education Program, said that the Quaker organization “strives for a better understanding of both the Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints, but it tends to delve more deeply into Palestinian issues and the problems they face” — especially in light of a widespread presumption that the Israeli side gets more favorable exposure, thanks to strong Jewish advocacy.

For his part, Kujawsky perceives a bias in the affiliation of some of the instructors, some of whom have ties to Palestinian organizations.

Among the workshop’s instructors is attorney Ban al-Wardi, who is president of the Los Angeles-Orange County Chapter of the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee. He will lead the session on “The U.S. and the Middle East: Before and After 9/11.”

The session on “Middle Eastern Cooking, Music and Literature” will be taught by Sami Asmar, who is a NASA physicist and an expert on Middle East music and literature.

None of the assurances of balance and fairness have satisfied Kujawsky.

“This is not a question of Jew vs. Arab, it’s about truthfulness in teaching,” he said.


Vote Confirms Westside, Valley Split


The mayoral primary on March 8 reconfirmed the existence of a political gap within the Los Angeles Jewish community between Jews who live on the Westside and those who live in the Valley.

According to the Los Angeles Times exit poll, Bob Hertzberg carried Valley Jews (6 percent of all voters) with 56 percent of the vote, to 18 percent for Antonio Villaraigosa and 12 percent for Mayor James Hahn. Among Westside Jews (5 percent of all voters), Hertzberg barely edged Villaraigosa, 37 to 36 percent, with Hahn at getting 20 percent.

Overall, Hertzberg took nearly half the Jewish vote (47 percent) to Villaraigosa’s 27 percent and Hahn’s 17 percent. Despite his Jewish support, Hertzberg finished third and failed to make the runoff.

He thereby continued the pattern set in 1993 and 2001 by Jewish candidates who did very well among Jews in the mayoral primary but fell behind the two leading contenders. In 2001, it was Steve Soboroff and Joel Wachs; in 1993, it was Richard Katz and Wachs.

In the post-Tom Bradley era, Jewish candidates for mayor are tending to run on the Richard Riordan base of Republicans, Valley voters and conservatives. I just presented a paper to fellow political scientists with my colleague, California State University, Fullerton geographer Mark Drayse, that shows a very strong overlap between the Hertzberg and Soboroff coalitions. This coalition provides a significant base of support among whites, but may fall short of citywide success in a city in which the Republican share of the vote has dropped 50 percent in the last decade.

The gap between Westside and Valley Jewish voters goes back at least to the busing controversy of the late 1970s. Overall, Los Angeles Jews, wherever they lived, were enthusiastic supporters of Bradley and his liberal biracial coalition. Bradley largely stayed out of the busing battles.

But school busing divided Westside Jews, many of whom favored busing but were not much affected by it, from Valley Jews, who provided key support for the anti-busing movement. Since then, citywide candidates with a somewhat less liberal leaning have done well with Valley Jewish voters. Meanwhile, liberal candidates continued to win in the high-turnout Westside, a pattern continued by the emerging Villaraigosa coalition.

We should not overestimate the Valley-Westside gap. Both voted heavily for the Jewish candidate in the primary. Both provided many votes for Villaraigosa and for Hahn in both 2001 and 2005. The gap is far smaller than that between white Democrats, which includes most L.A. Jews, and white Republicans.

But clearly, the emphasis in the Valley is on moderate politics, compared to a more liberal version on the Westside. Valley Jews are cross-pressured; they are as overwhelmingly Democratic as Westside Jews, but have reservations about the more urban liberal agenda.

While the split among Jewish voters might play a role in the lack of success of Jewish mayoral candidates, a bigger issue is the extremely low minority support they have received. Hertzberg received only 5 percent of African American votes and 6 percent of Latinos, though a surprising 12 percent among Asian Americans.

The electorate in the 2005 primary was slightly more liberal, more Latino, more Asian and more African American than four years before, and less white and less Jewish. Without minority support, no one, Jewish or non-Jewish, can be elected mayor of Los Angeles.

The center-right model, moreover, is not the only way for a Jewish candidate to run citywide. Both Laura Chick, the former Valley council member who won as city controller in 2001 and 2005, and Mike Feuer, who was nearly elected city attorney in 2001, ran more progressive-center campaigns than either Hertzberg or Soboroff. (Of course, neither faced a strong African American and Latino candidate at the same time, as did Hertzberg in 2005.)

Both won huge majorities of Jewish voters (with no Westside-Valley gap) but also did very well in minority communities. Had Feuer won half instead of 41 percent of the African American vote, he might have been elected.

Some will blame the division among Jewish voters as the reason it is hard to elect a Jewish mayor. I think this is wrongheaded.

First, it is extremely hard for anyone to win a citywide election, let alone the mayoralty, in this diverse city. Second, the Jewish role in Los Angeles politics does not depend on having a Jewish mayor. It depends on being valued by all competing forces in the city.

As the city electorate becomes less white and more diverse, Jewish voters, with their relatively high turnout and generally progressive (if not always liberal) stance, will be much sought after, even if they present two overlapping faces, one moderate and one liberal, to potential allies.

If a Jewish mayor does arise, he or she will have to win far more than Jewish voters, indeed, more than white voters, and that in itself will make such a candidate more than a representative of the Jewish community. That Jewish candidate might be a liberal appealing to the Westside or a moderate appealing to the Valley.

But from the very start of the campaign, such a candidate will have to work nonstop to reach out to minority voters. Minority votes might not be available until the runoff, if there are strong minority candidates in the primary, but the ground must be laid.

The reconnection of the Jewish political community, whether starting in the Valley or the Westside, into the heart and soul of Los Angeles’ minority communities will be a fine and appropriate reminder of the long years of mutual trust and effort during the Bradley years.

Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton, was the Election Day political consultant for the Los Angeles Times’ exit poll.


Community Briefs


Prepare to Be Redistricted

Welcome to the political New Year in California, where the partisan warfare begins as soon as the champagne runs out. Most of the aggravation at the moment is revolving around Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s broken promise to public schools – but there’s a far deeper political debate brewing, as well.

The issue is redistricting, included as one of the Republican governor’s four main points of reform in his recent State of the State address. Essentially, the question is whether to take away the power of politicians to strike deals with each other on how their own districts are drawn. For Jewish Los Angeles and its familiar political faces, that could mean landing in a new Assembly, state Senate or congressional district with a new representative.

Schwarzenegger points to the fact that not a single congressional seat changed parties in the 2004 elections because both parties colluded to carve out safe regions for themselves to mutual advantage.

Redistricting is only supposed to happen once a decade after each census, but Schwarzenegger can’t wait that long to fight for the people, so he’s backing a state constitutional amendment introduced by Bakersfield Republican Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy. The amendment would put redistricting in the hands of a commission of retired judges.

Some Democrats, like Westside state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, are accusing Schwarzenegger of trying to pull a Tom DeLay-style Texas power grab, where midcensus Republican redistricting netted the GOP four extra House of Representative seats in 2004.

But California is not Texas, and some local Jewish Democrats are not worried.

“I waiver between indifference and welcoming it,” Rep. Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood) told The Journal.

Berman’s two criteria for supporting redistricting by a committee of judges are that they do not take into consideration any political data on citizens when drawing the maps, and that they do not try to achieve any partisan result.

“There may be some inconveniences for existing Democratic incumbents, but in the end a fair and legal redistricting is going to more likely help my party than hurt it,” Berman said.

With Democrats firmly in control of California (Arnie excepted), Berman said redistricting would be far more dangerous to GOP incumbents.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) agrees, saying that there are senior Republican congressmen who could be in electoral trouble if their districts are redrawn: “This is chiefly a Democratic state.”

Sherman estimated that if every district were a microcosm of the state as a whole, Democrats would win all 53, “with the exception of those where Republicans could recruit a candidate with 22-inch biceps.”

Sherman’s major concern on the issue is the sheer cost of re-educating the public about who their representatives are.

And as for Los Angeles’ Jewish communities, Berman said that they can rest assured that whichever district and representatives they end up with will “be quite responsive” to their needs, whether or not they are Jewish.

Mayoral Debate: Different Place, Same Themes

On Jan. 13, a snarling traffic jam surrounded Temple Beth Am on the Westside. Inside, the five major L.A. mayoral candidates debated public policy just out of earshot of furious commuters.

All of the substantive questions that night were provided by the Jewish audience on tiny slips of paper read by the moderator (who, not incidentally, was late because she got stuck in traffic).

Familiar themes repeated themselves: Mayor James Hahn emphasizing decreasing violent crime, Councilman Bernard Parks accusing Hahn of corruption, state Sen. Richard Alarcon promoting his government ethics initiative, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg preaching innovation in government and Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa riding his wave of optimism.

The candidates were discouraged from addressing each other directly because there was no opportunity for rebuttal. This was a forum for the people.

On the particularly apropos issue of mediating L.A. traffic, Hahn uninspiringly told the crowd that “we all have to recognize there’s no magic bullet…. There’s a lot of little things.”

Villaraigosa spoke of extending mass transit rail to the ocean, though the MTA reports that just reaching to Culver City will take until 2010.

Hertzberg seemed to have the most thoughtful traffic plan in his Commuter’s Bill of Rights, which focuses on putting L.A. commerce and industry on a more dispersed schedule rather than the usual sunrise-sunset gridlock. Whether he could actually enact those provisions as mayor, such as keeping heavy trucks off the road during rush hour, is another question.

On the issue of the local economy, Parks blasted Hahn’s administration for failing to attract more large business headquarters. He said Los Angeles, which has none, pales in comparison to Atlanta, which boasts 30. Alarcon took the opposite tack, saying, “We cannot acquiesce to multinational corporations,” but rather ensure that the L.A. working class has decent wages.

The widest diversity of opinion came on the topic of crime. Parks, a former police chief, said the LAPD enjoys too many perks for too little work, Hahn said the LAPD needs more money and Hertzberg accused the mayor of wastefulness in asking for more funds when only 3 percent of all new city income since 2001 was spent on police.

New Math for Population Growth

A huge and growing Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, popularized in Israel as the “demographic bomb,” reinforces the notion that much of the territories are untenable for Israel to retain.

But now, even as disengagement proceeds, Los Angeles businessman Bennett Zimmerman and a team of researchers are claiming that only 2.4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza combined – about 1 million fewer than leading Israeli demographers had projected and 1.4 million fewer than the Palestinians claim.

Bennett’s report is making the rounds at Republican bastions like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.

The new study focuses on several supposed mistakes in the previous data. Among the differences in the new study: It prefers Palestinian Ministry of Health birth records over statistical projections, it claims to find a high level of emigration from the territories and it found a case of double counting, where 210,000 Jerusalem Arabs who were already counted in Israel’s population survey were included in the P.A. survey.

“If you look at the reports of [demographers] Arnon Soffer or Sergio Della Pergola, they use numbers issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics [PBS] in their forecasts,” Zimmerman said. “We say that the projection from the PBS didn’t come to be.”

The study has not gone unnoticed by other researchers in the field. Demographer Della Pergola spoke to The Journal from Israel: “I gladly acknowledge that the effects of international migration should be computed, but there are very limited possibilities for absorption of Palestinians abroad.”

The main discussion is about fertility, said Della Pergola. He questioned the quality of the Ministry of Health records, which point to fewer births.

“The U.N. has shown that it is much better to prefer a [statistical] model when actual data collection is totally inadequate,” he said.

He noted there has been a long tradition of underreporting “vital events” like births by the Palestinians.

And as for the fertility rate, Della Pergola said that Zimmerman’s team used Jordan as a model (which has low average birthrate) for the Palestinians, rather than the Israeli Arab model (which is much higher).

Zimmerman said his team was simply trying to audit the existing data.

“Ours was a question of verification,” he said.

Della Pergola isn’t buying it: “I find here an attempt to fit the data to their preconceptions. It is based on total ignorance of the scientific literature.”


Your Letters

Federation Pension

Reading the article, “Federation Faces Underfunded Pension,” in your July 30 issue, I found it to be needlessly alarmist and selective in providing facts on a highly complex subject. Most disturbing is the inaccurate lead. The Federation is absolutely not directing funds away from social services to fund its pension.

Pension policy within The Federation system is guided by professional actuarial opinions. The Jewish Federation is fortunate to have a lay retirement committee made up of experienced volunteers, including those who are well-versed in investments, actuarial science and pension plan management.

The article presents a misleading picture by comparing the L.A. experience to the plans at other selected federations. Comparing the financing of defined-benefit plans to defined-contribution plans is like comparing apples to oranges

For example, the Atlanta plan covers 60 employees. Boston has not had a defined-benefit plan since 1992. Even those federations with defined-benefit plans represented in the article and charts cover only direct federation employees and in smaller Jewish communities. On the other hand, the L.A. plan covers almost 1,000 current members, of which less than 20 percent are Federation employees. Many of the non-Federation employees’ salaries are funded by third-party sources, including public funding, not through the United Jewish Fund.

Federation and its affiliated agencies are well aware of the need for cost control. This is reflected in our annual balanced budget. By the same token, we all offer human services. High-quality human service programs are a function of recruiting and maintaining quality personnel. Personnel costs normally reflect 80 percent of the costs at human service agencies.

Using limited community resources allowed the community to avoid further reductions in program staff and to ensure that the best and brightest staff remained during the horrible recession of 1992-1993. No organization was ever forced to close services or avoid expansion of their programs to their participation in The Federation pension plan. It is a major distortion to suggest this.

Obviously, no one disagrees that it is urgent to examine the future philosophy and benefit structure of the pension plan. That is why Federation, on behalf of itself and its agencies, has put a proposal on the table in negotiations with the union to move to a defined-contribution plan for new employees.

I wonder if The Journal did more to confuse the public on a tremendously complex issue through its selective reporting and innuendo in the article.

John Fishel, President The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Faith and Folly

I am a physician and a clinical professor of pediatrics at Loma Linda University who, like Rob Eshman, maintains a firm belief in the merits of stem cell research (“Faith and Folly,” July 30).

Stem cell research will continue regardless of President Bush’s current position, since the companies involved are multinational and research will be conducted abroad until the issue is sorted out in the United States. Some will move their labs to locations where they can carry out this most-needed research.

The United States is not the only country involved in this area. Validated discoveries, which translate into new cures, will be available to the world.

The research will get done. But even if that was not the case, is this the most pressing issue before us today?

I was also an elected delegate to the 2000 Democratic National Convention, but since Sept. 11, I am relieved that my opinion was not persuasive.

I believe the war on terror is the most important issue facing our country today.

I disagree with Eshman’s statement that, with regard to Israel, “most Jews would be hard-pressed to find a lot of light between the president’s position and John Kerry’s.”

Bush has a proven record of action, denying the so-called “right of return,” supporting the isolation of Yasser Arafat, supporting Israel’s right of self-defense, etc.

Politicians can say anything and not be held accountable for broken promises. Kerry — who feels so strongly about appeasing France, the European Union and the United Nations, who refuse to support Israel and sanction only Israel in a world full of corruption and inhumanity — cannot be relied upon to defend Israel to the degree that the Bush administration has demonstrated.

There was no mention of Israel in Kerry’s speech at the Democratic Convention.

Dr. Charles J. Hyman, Redlands

Contrary to Rob Eshman’s argument, stem cell research will not be the key deciding factor for the Jewish vote in the upcoming election. It would serve the readers well to be informed that stem cell research is still in its infancy.

President Bush is the first president to provide the federal funds for it, while at the same time limiting such funding, pending review of the relevant issues involved.

Dr. Ron Saldra, Founding Member Beverly Hills Jewish Republicans


Our cover story “Rebirth in Russia”(Aug. 6), neglected to state that the writer’s trip was sponsored by Chabad, whose activities were largely the subject of the story as well. The Journal’s policy is to always disclose such relationships. We regret the omission.

Bill Seeks to Cure Health-Care Plague

“Whoever enlarges on the telling of the deliverance from Egypt, that person is praiseworthy.” These words, included in the Passover seder, which will soon be read by Jews all over the world, remind us that the story of Exodus is meant to be applied to our lives today.

The Bible tells us that Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh again and again, telling him that God said to let the people go. But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. He refused to free the Israelites, and God afflicted Egypt with plagues.

After each plague, every one worse than the one before, Pharaoh’s counselors begged him to change his mind. But Pharaoh’s hardened heart interfered with his reason. Even though he brought nothing but calamity on his country, he would not accept the changes that were needed to make the suffering stop.

Today we are beset with a series of health-care plagues, each seeming worse than the one before. The number of Californians without health-care insurance coverage hovers between 6 million and 7 million people — that’s about one in five of us. About 85 percent of those people are working in jobs where health care is not provided. Nationwide, health-care costs are the second largest cause of personal bankruptcy.

For those people who do have health-care coverage, premiums, co-pays and out-pocket-expenses due to lack of adequate coverage are out of control. There is an over-reliance on emergency-room care by the uninsured, as well as the underinsured, who often wait so long to seek care, their once-treatable chronic condition has worsened.

Treatable high blood pressure leads to strokes; diabetics discover their condition only after a coma. This results in pain for the patients and their families, and, since emergency-room treatment is much more expensive than preventive care, there is an increased burden on California’s health-care budget.

Hospitals, doctors and clinics are passing on the costs of treating patients who cannot pay their bills to those patients who are insured. Insurance companies drive up the costs of premiums for hospitals and cut back on reimbursements. In some cases, hospitals are seriously considering shutting down.

Jewish tradition is clear about the importance of health care as a shared social concern. Maimonides put health care first on his list of the 10 most important communal services that a city had to offer to its residents.

As Conservative Rabbi Elliot Dorff reminds us in his teachings, Jewish tradition says that it is a positive commandment to save the life of a person in danger from illness, as it falls under the general obligation of saving life: “Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of your fellow,” (Leviticus 19:16).

So great is the mitzvah of saving life that Jews are directed to violate the Sabbath to fulfill it. The Shulchan Arucha calls for communities to take financial responsibility for those unable to pay for health care themselves.

In 1976, the Reform movement’s Central Congress of American Rabbis adopted a resolution, affirmed in 1991, in favor of “universal access to health care benefits, including access to primary and acute health care, immunization services, early diagnostic and treatment programs, provider and consumer education, programs of extended care and rehabilitation, mental health and health and wellness promotion. Such a program should provide for education, training and retraining of health-care workers, as well as just compensation and affirmative action in hiring. An effective plan will provide for cost containment, equitable financing and assure quality of services.”

That resolution could have served as a model for Senate Bill 921, a comprehensive health-care reform bill that I introduced last year, and which, after having passed the state Senate, is now up for consideration by the Assembly.

Senate Bill 921 will put no new burden on the state’s General Fund. In fact, it will save billions of dollars in health-care costs by reducing the 25-27 percent of every California health-care dollar that is now spent on administration to between 3-5 percent.

Senate Bill 921 will save that money by creating a single, streamlined claims and reimbursement system in place of the fractured, hodgepodge of public and private systems we have now. It will replace all of our current inflated premiums, deductibles and co-pays with a single means-based premium that each of us can afford, while covering everyone under the same generous and flexible plan, which includes medical, dental, vision, mental health service and prescription drug coverage. Senate Bill 921 will also provide every Californian with the freedom to choose his or her own health-care providers.

Senate Bill 921 also relieves employers of the exclusive responsibility for their employees’ health coverage. Like individuals, businesses will be assessed a means-based premium as their only contribution to this plan. Like individuals, businesses will pay what they can afford, and they will find themselves on a level playing field with regard to health-coverage expenses.

They will also find their expenses for workers’ compensation dropping dramatically, because this bill folds the medical portion of workers’ comp into the state insurance plan. This deep reform will save money for employers, while improving actual care for people who are injured.

Senate Bill 921 will provide every Californian with prescription drug coverage, because it mandates the state to buy pharmaceutical drugs and durable medical equipment directly from the companies, in bulk.

In this season, as we approach our time to celebrate the Exodus of the people of Israel from their confinement in Mitzrayim, we have an opportunity to reflect on the tight spots we find ourselves in today and how we can free ourselves. One of the saddest things about Pharaoh’s hardened heart is that it would not let him see that the compassionate option really was the most sensible option as well.

State Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) represents the 23rd Senate District. She and other experts will take part in Zey Gezunt, a panel on health care, SB 921, on March 18 at 7 p.m. at Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd. Los Angeles. The forum is free. For more information, call (310) 441 9084.

Revitalizing the Core

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

The Federation is committed to a strong and vibrant JCRC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reality Recall

The summer television season’s newest reality show, "The California Gubernatorial Race," kicked off last week with almost enough twists and turns to make regular viewers of reality TV pay attention to politics.

"It’s beginning to look like ‘Last Comic Standing,’" a Jewish community leader said. And that was before she knew that the astute and hilarious comedian D.L. Hughley had officially entered the race, upping the punch-line quota even more.

I could list the candidates here, but I only have 850 words, and in any case, the race has been all over the national media, proving the axiom that if you ignore a problem long enough — California state politics — it will eventually take over your life.

Jewish voters, as Raphael Sonnenshein writes in the first of his regular monthly columns for us (see page 9), will play an important part in this race, far out of proportion to their numbers in the state. Just shy of 3 percent of California’s population, we represent an estimated 5 percent of the state’s registered voters. In a race that analysts predict will hinge on a minority of votes, a minority’s voting bloc will be crucial.

Our political contributions will wield influence as well. Nationally, American Jews account for more than half of the large individual contributors to the Democratic Party, and between 20 to 30 percent of the contributors to the Republican Party in recent years. That is why supporters of Republican governors past and Democratic governor present could all argue that their man was responsive to Jewish concerns, however narrowly or broadly those are defined.

In fact, the mainstream moderate candidates have a bipartisan Jewish appeal. That goes for columnist Arianna Huffington, running as an independent.

"Jews may not have an opinion on her, but some of her biggest supporters happen to be Jews," said a close acquaintance of Huffington. It was telling that when Huffington’s called on supporters to attend her press conference at A Place Called Home in South Los Angeles, her e-mail included only two sets of driving directions: from the South Bay and from the Westside.

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger has long-standing connections to the activist Jewish community through the Simon Wiesenthal Center. His moderate politics and pro-entertainment industry stance will certainly appeal to moderate, pro-industry Jews. His challenge for educated voters: talk substance.

On the Democratic side, the buzz among L.A. Jewry’s largely Democratic voters is that many, if not a majority, would have swung happily toward (Republican) Richard Riordan. Sen. Dianne Feinstein would have come in a winner, too — she’d get more votes for president among L.A. Jews than any of the current crop of candidates.

But with Feinstein and Riordan out of the race, loyal Democratic Jews face the same hold-your-nose choice that all Democrats do. When The Jewish Journal published a cover story several weeks ago whose headline was, "Why Jews Won’t Dump Davis," we received hundreds of angry letters, e-mails and phone calls from Jews, many of them Democrats, who were eager to do just that. Someone from the Davis camp asked me why we didn’t publish any pro-Davis letters, and I told him the truth: We didn’t get any.

The thrust of the article (whose headline, mea culpa, was a tad misleading) was that as unhappy as Jews are with Davis’ performance as a governor, they found the recall and the people behind it even more off-putting. Reporter Marc Ballon found that even so, many Jews would vote for the recall if Riordan’s or Feinstein’s names appeared on the ballot.

An important lesson is that Jews are more centrist and moderate than just plain old liberal. A nonpartisan Ipsos/Cook Political Report Poll completed last March indicates American Jews remain strongly Democratic, with 64 percent of those surveyed describing themselves as Democrats and 26 percent describing themselves as Republicans. (While 46 percent of all Americans would definitely vote for Bush, for instance, only 25 percent of American Jews would do so.)

But large Jewish turnouts for Ronald Reagan and Riordan are evidence that, at voting time, Jews are more Prag-mocrat than Democrat. While the Republican Party is attracting increasing numbers of true believers among Jews, the Jews who remain Democrat don’t want to sacrifice their sense of independence and pragmatism to a party label. That’s why a Riordan scores well among Jews and why a Davis, a standard issue Dem, rates so poorly.

What about the loyal Democrats? "My strategy for Oct. 7?" said a ferociously liberal Jew about the date of the recall. "Hold on to the statehouse, hold on to the statehouse, hold on to the statehouse."

As sickened as they are by the recall, they don’t want to see Republicans, any Republican, use it to wrest control of the governor’s office. So this man also said he’d abandon Davis if a stronger candidate — Feinstein or Leon Panetta, for instance — came around.

At this point, in other words, winning is all that matters. And that’s a sentiment too many of his prior supporters believe Davis understands all too well.

Your Letters

The Sadat Legacy

The Jewish Journal must be praised for publishing that very eloquent article by Yuval Rotem, the consul general of the State of Israel (“The Sadat Legacy: 25 Years Later,” Dec. 13).

But I must take issue with Rotem on one point. In the paragraph where he states that peace with the Palestinians will only come about when an enlightened leader emerges from the warring factions that lead them, and that Israel will surrender the occupied territories to them if they accept Israel and Jews in general.

I strongly disagree.

As long as Palestinian-inspired instability continues to exist in the Middle East, Israel must never surrender its sovereignty to anyone for whatever reason.

Dario Witer, Reseda

A ‘Final’ Decision

This entire feud has been instrumental in desecrating God’s name. Does Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin really need another building? (“A ‘Final’ Decision Courts Trouble,” Dec. 13.) Our rabbis are supposed to model kindness, piety and righteousness. I see none of this being emulated by Cunin if the motivating drive behind this feud is money and property. Cunin’s mixed seating telethons bring in millions. The Torah, as I learned it, does not allow one to diverge from the law for money in this manner. From where I sit, I only see one more man using God to practice capitalism, not religion.

Edward Andrews, Los Angeles

Up a Tree Looking for a Home

South Bay goes beyond Palos Verdes, like Lomita, where you may find trees, affordable houses and a Jewish Orthodox Oasis: Chabad of South Bay — with daily minyanim, Torah classes, a Jewish school, a library, a mikvah and much more for an intensive religious life (“Up a Tree Looking for a Home” Dec. 13).

Dr. Jorge Weil, Los Angeles


The L.A. Jewish community has lost a rare spiritual leader of exceptional insight in Metivta’s financial crisis, (“Severe Financial Crisis Hits Metivta,” Dec. 13). Rabbi Rami Shapiro is a master teacher whose insights nourish the spirit and promote critical thinking in the best Jewish tradition. His poems and prayers are included in the liturgy of siddurim all across the country. It is unaccountable, and sad, that Los Angeles is unable to support this most authentically contemplative center of Jewish spiritual practice.

As a Metivta supporter with an ongoing daily contemplative practice, the absence of Shapiro and Judy Gordon leaves a huge hole in our community resources.

Catherine Klatzker, North Hollywood Shoah Foundation

I was fortunate enough to cover the Shoah Foundation annual banquet on Dec. 5 (“Tackling the Future,” Dec. 6). As a 16-year-old professional journalist I was not emotionally prepared for the evening. When I arrived I was escorted to an area where I was allowed to access, by way of computers, testimonies of Holocaust survivors. I was given the opportunity to personally interview some survivors who attended the event. They told me about their experiences and showed me their personal photographs that were taken at the camps. As a product of Jewish day schools, I learned about the Holocaust, but listening to survivors’ testimonies really made a durable impression. For me, the evening ended with an interview with Steven Spielberg who explained to me that the Shoah Foundation started out as a project, but it is now becoming an institution. I truly believe that by providing access to these personal accounts of the Holocaust, we are building a more tolerant and more humane generation.

Fred Medill, Beverly Hills

Henry Kissinger

The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, Southern California District, has addressed a letter to Dr. Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism (UJ), questioning the propriety of inviting Henry Kissinger to speak on Jan. 13 under UJ auspices (“Hit Lecture Series Tries New Format,” Dec. 6).

Normally, we would not challenge another Jewish institution about whom it invites as a speaker. But Kissinger is globally regarded as a war criminal and mass murderer. He is wanted for questioning in several countries: Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, East Timor. Here is a man known for a career of destabilizing and overthrowing legitimate governments, secret bombings, foreign invasions — secretly, because American sponsorship would have been too embarrassing to publicly acknowledge.

Kissinger has the blood of millions of people on his hands. What positive purpose is served now, in our multicultural city, by the UJ presenting this man as someone with the integrity and vision worthy of our Jewish traditions and institutions?

We are embarrassed, as Jews, and as United States and global citizens, that anyone would care to celebrate his career. Mass murder is not entertainment.

Eric A. Gordon, Director Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring

The Lure of Extremism

As these words are written, Irv Rubin, the national chairman of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) lies in a coma, the apparent victim of self-inflicted wounds.

Having known Irv and the activities of the local JDL for over a quarter-century, it is an appropriate time to reflect on what animated someone like Irv to expend his prodigious energies in what were often pointless and counterproductive activities. For a man who was rational, and with whom one could discuss cause and effect and the logic of doing things one way (the non-inflammatory way) as opposed to another, it always amazed me how he would invariably choose the wrong path.

Whether choosing to picket the home of Tom Metzger in rural Fallbrook, when Metzger was a candidate for Congress in the early 1980s or choosing to defy the desires of the local community (Jews and non-Jews) by physically confronting a march of the pathetic remnant of the Aryan Nations in northern Idaho in the mid-90s, Irv was usually less concerned about the effect of what he did than the act of doing it and the publicity that ensued.

In following that modus operandi, Irv betrayed an attitude and world view that could only be described as extremist. Irv felt good picketing in front of Metzger’s home and got attention; Metzger was, after all, a bigot and head of the California Ku Klux Klan. But, as I remember asking Irv at the time, in trying to dissuade him from demonstrating, how many votes did he think that his presence would generate for Metzger? A 6-foot-plus Jewish militant coming down from Los Angeles and harassing a neighbor was hardly a political adviser’s recommendation on how to defeat Metzger’s bid in rural north San Diego County.

Irv understood — but he went and did his thing anyway. He had a different agenda than actually impacting the vote in the Metzger election. That same conflicted set of priorities played itself out time and time again.

In the days after Buford Furrow’s attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center and his murder of Joseph Ileto, there was an unprecedented rally against hate attended by thousands of Angelenos. Then-Attorney General Janet Reno, Gov. Gray Davis, former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan and representatives of virtually every ethnic, racial and religious community were there. The only disruptive voice was Irv’s. He screamed and yelled while the governor and attorney general spoke, complaining about gun control legislation. How ironic that in a setting of unity and harmony — and in the wake of profound tragedy — his would be the lone voice of disharmony.

A review of Irv’s public life reflects his inability to free himself from the lure of extremism and the attention that it generates. Other than a brief period two decades ago when he ran for the Republican nomination for the Assembly and thought that, with some moderation, he might actually get elected, his career was one that had a disturbing symbiosis with extremism.

In every group, perhaps minority groups more than others because of the legitimate grievances that they often have, there is a constituency for a leader that brooks no compromise and offers "in your face" rhetoric to the rest of the world.

Whether Louis Farrakhan for the African American community, Meir Kahane and Irv for the Jews or the leaders of the hate-filled Nation of Aztlan in the Latino community, there is a small-but-solid core of folks who relish a militant leader who tells them, "I’m standing up for you and I don’t give a damn what they think." The "they" changes, but the tone, intensity and message don’t.

Irv played to that constituency in the Jewish community with occasional success. To the extent that other organizations in the Jewish community were seen as vocal — even militant — and effective, it cut into his audience. No wonder that he spent a significant amount of his energy attacking Jewish defense organizations — he had to discredit his perceived competition.

As Irv’s constituency got smaller, his need to act out and demonstrate his continued vitality and usefulness became even greater. No wonder that the crime of which he recently stood accused happened at the end of his career when his following was, literally, microscopic. He desperately needed to prove his relevance, no matter the manner.

The tragedy of Irv’s career is that his energy could have been put to useful purpose. The hours of picketing and harassing and the thought given to one enterprise after another might have borne fruit had they been directed toward positive ends. Perhaps a lesson for us all.

The Friends of Irv Rubin are organizing a prayer vigil for him at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17, at County-USC Medical Center, 1200 N. State St., Los Angeles. Those coming should bring a candle.

David A. Lehrer is president of Community Advocates Inc., a newly formed human relations organization in Los Angeles with former L.A. Mayor Richard J. Riordan as its chairman and Joe R. Hicks as its vice president.

Pigeons Fly Coop in New ‘Couple’

Somehow, during a misspent youth, I failed to catch Neil Simon’s "The Odd Couple" as a 1963 stage play, the subsequent movie with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, or the TV series with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall.

Thus I could accept the present Geffen Playhouse production of "Oscar and Felix: A New Look at The Odd Couple," reincarnated by Simon himself, on its own terms, unencumbered by the recollections of past performances and stars.

Judging by some reviews of the current play, such ignorance may be bliss, and to me and the rest of the audience, the sturdy underpinnings of the basic plot line easily carried au courant references to cell phones, e-mail and béarnaise sauce.

Intact is the disastrous mispairing of the ultimate slob, Oscar Madison, with neatness freak Felix Unger, temporarily sharing an apartment after having been kicked out by their respective wives.

The big, shambling John Larroquette ("Night Court"), a master of the long stare and double-take, is alternately grumpy and hilarious as Oscar. Joe Regalbuto ("Murphy Brown") is a tad too prissy as Felix, but maybe that’s what it takes to drive Oscar up the wall.

In a major change, Simon has replaced the British Pigeon sisters of the original with the Spanish Costazuela sisters as the lust objects of Oscar’s desires.

The girls (Maria Conchita Alonso and Alex Meneses) barely seem to know enough English to master arrival and departure times, but their bodies speak eloquently enough. The ensuing mispronunciation and dialect jokes may not be the height of sophisticated wit, but the audience loved them.

"Oscar and Felix" runs through July 21 at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. Ticket prices range from $28 to $46. For information, call (310) 208-5454.

Israel Morals Match Rand Ideology

If an individual, and a fictional one at that, can be a microcosm of a state, then Israel and Howard Roark, the legendary architect of Ayn Rand’s classic “The Fountainhead,” may have a lot in common.

Sound far-fetched? Not according to the Ayn Rand Institute, which ever since Sept. 11 has undertaken significant efforts to morally defend Israel. The institute, based in Marina del Rey, was created in 1985 (three years after Rand’s death), to advance her philosophy of reason, individualism and capitalism as portrayed by the heroes in her novels.

“Israel represents the core values that the institute is fighting for — freedom and individual rights,” says Dr. Yaron Brook, director of the Ayn Rand Institute, who lectured on “The Moral Case for Supporting Israel” at UCLA on April 17. “We believe that you have to care about Israel if you care about Western values.”

Through lectures at university campuses across the United States, television and radio interviews, editorials and now a newsletter on their Web site, the Ayn Rand Institute seeks to influence public opinion, and particularly American policy, toward unequivocally siding with Israel.

The views of the writers and speakers are, in Israeli political terms, right wing but with rationale far different than that of, say, a religious settler. The institute views Israel as a battleground of ideas, where the battle is between two value systems: reason, individualism and self-interest versus mysticism, collectivism and self-sacrifice, respectively. This is not unlike the battle illustrated by the story of Roark, who was constantly, and in exaggerated proportions, denounced by contemporary intellectuals, the media and other architects for acting in his own self-interest and according to his independent reasoning.

Brook believes that the anti-Israel sentiment across the world does not necessarily stem from mere anti-Semitism or fear of Arab wrath, but the ideas espoused by modern intelligentsia, who embrace, what Rand liked to call, the ethical code of “altruism.”

“Altruism tells you, as Christianity does, ‘The meek shall inherit the earth,’ and the biggest sin of altruism is acting in self-interest,” Brook explains. “The weak and suffering, who must not have acted out of self-interest, are virtuous. Israel, by being strong and successful, must be the villain.”

In modern terms, “altruism” is expressed in such trends such as “multiculturalism,” which gives all cultures legitimacy, including totalitarian regimes, and “moral pragmatism,” which applauds compromise between two disparate value systems as a means of reconciliation.

“If you don’t have moral absolutes, then what Israel does is viewed as bad as any terrorist act,” Brook says. “An act of terror is termed ‘freedom-fighting’ because freedom doesn’t mean anything.”

The Ayn Rand Institute is committed to undoing the moral sanction that world leaders, and even the United States, give to acts of Palestinian terror, but Brook believes that Israel is often its own worst enemy. He aims some of his harshest criticism at Israeli intellectuals and government leaders.

“Israel’s biggest enemies are in Israeli universities, just as America’s greatest enemies are in the university,” Brook says. “Average Israeli citizens are much less morally assured as they were years ago, because what they’re being taught in schools is post-modern, post-Zionist revisionist.”

Brook, who grew-up in Israel and moved to the United States in 1987, also lectures on the origins of Israeli left-wing ideology. A state under Yasser Arafat, in Brook’s opinion, will be a cruel dictatorship and, at worst, a terrorist state. “What Israel needs to be is Howard Roark,” says Brook. “Roark did what he needed to do to preserve his self-integrity.”

Is there a happy ending for Israel? Brook has some reservations.

“Philosophy drives the world. The reason why Rand’s heroes have a happy ending is because they were philosophically consistent. They suffered a lot, but their principles made them victorious. What Israel needs is a philosophical revolution.”

Brook will address the Middle East in his lecture
titled, “The World in Crisis,” at UCLA on May 13 at 7:30 p.m., as part of a
five-day event hosted by C-SPAN dedicated to Ayn Rand and “The Fountainhead.”
For more information visit www.aynrand.org .

This Year in Orange County

Next year in Jerusalem.” We spoke these words at the end of our Passover seders, as we always do. But this year, we winced as we recited the familiar formula. Today, the ancient Jewish desire for a homeland is colliding with the modern Arab desire to deny the Jews a homeland in a battle that features suicide bombers, F-15s and automatic weapons.

So we hedge. I hear it in shul after services on Saturday morning. I hear it hanging around the nosh table at Jewish events and standing around the playground waiting to pick the kids up from day school. I hear myself saying it at home: “We were hoping to go to Israel this summer, but the way things are now….”

Next year in Jerusalem. This year, maybe Hawaii.

Our lack of enthusiasm is understandable. It’s not as though tourists are immune to the suffering: 9-month-old Avia Malka, whose family was visiting from South Africa, was murdered in Netanya by a Palestinian terrorist on March 9.

And we’re not just frustrated tourists: we’re horrified onlookers. Ambulances with Hebrew letters, bathing the surrounding carnage in red strobe lights, fill our TV screens. Soldiers weep — my God, those kids are soldiers? — as their comrades are carried off. There’s no use rationalizing that an average person in Israel is less likely to be killed (unless he’s behind the wheel) than an average person in Los Angeles: we don’t suffer through a parade of horrifying visuals from Los Angeles each night on the news.

Next year in Jerusalem. This year, safe at home.

As if the actual tragedy of attacks on pregnant mothers and infants weren’t bad enough, we’re regularly insulted by the coverage of the atrocities in the mainstream press. The names of Tracy Wilkinson and Mary Curtius, who cover Israel for the Los Angeles Times, are rarely uttered by O.C. Jews without an accompanying epithet. The Register runs hot and cold, depending on whose wire coverage they pick up for the day: Reuters, bad; The New York Times, good, or, anyway, not as bad.

Indeed, while the events in Israel seem to leave O.C. Jews with a deer-in-the-headlights helplessness, the coverage of those events drives us to an uncontrolled rage. Can you say “CNN” without a sneer?

Has your previous disdain of the Fox News Network turned into a giddy crush on Bill O’Reilly? As Americans, we demand objective reporting; as Jews, we know biased, slanted coverage of Israel when we see it.

Next year in Jerusalem. This year, in front of the computer, pecking out letters to the editor.

OK, we may feel we have some influence on the press. But can we possibly have any effect on the main event, the ongoing nightmare in Israel?

As a community, definitely. Our combined efforts have started to bear fruit in the attitudes of our neighbors and the actions of our president. As the death toll mounts, though, it is easy to feel despair, to decide that nothing I can do as an individual can possibly make a difference. It is in those low moments that I remind myself that I cannot stand by and watch as vicious and evil thugs, taught from birth to hate and trained from childhood to kill, take the lives of Jewish children.

Make no mistake: it is the children they are targeting. Near Tekoa, two 13-year-old boys were abducted and beaten to death as they hiked in the hills. On the Ben Yehuda Street mall, no victim was over the age of 21. At the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv, teenage girls formed the majority of the victims. The list is sickeningly long.

So I can’t sit still. Neither could Susan Glass, president of the Orange County chapter of the American Jewish Committee. Glass, who is also active locally in the Federation and Jewish Family Service, participated in a Federation Solidarity Mission to Israel in December. Although this was her sixth trip to the country, Glass saw the tragedies there as a call to action. “I felt I had to go,” she told me.

Like others who have visited during the year-and-a-half Palestinian campaign of terror, Glass was received with warmth and gratitude by Israelis who don’t always enjoy a reputation for either. “They know it’s not easy” for Americans to visit during this time, she said. “Seeing how much they appreciate our visit, you get solid evidence that the visit is important to them.”

Important to them, yes, but also important for us. There has been a Jewish state throughout my lifetime: will there be one for my grandchildren? And what will I tell those grandchildren when they ask me what I did to make a difference when Israel’s existence was at stake, when Jewish blood was being spilled?

Next year in Jerusalem. This year, on the phone, at the keyboard, standing at rallies, calling congressmen, e-mailing senators, writing letters, organizing, speaking, demonstrating … and yes, perhaps, for the sake of my future grandchildren, if only for a week or two: This year in Jerusalem.

E. Scott Menter is an Orange County businessman and writer.

Exodus Revisited

Life was interesting for Rabbi David Wolpe in 2001.

It’s not every year that a man has an ad taken out against him in The Jewish Journal by six well-respected rabbis, accusing him of "threaten[ing] our spiritual continuity by attempting to diminish our faith and sever the roots that bind us to it," and also gets named by The Forward as one of the Top 50 most influential people in the Jewish community.

During the past year, Wolpe, the spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, has been both vilified and lauded for his Passover sermon in which he questioned the truth of the Book of Exodus, as most of his congregants, indeed most of the Jewish world, had come to know it. His statements were recorded by Los Angeles Times reporter Teresa Watanabe, who quoted Wolpe as saying, "Virtually every modern archeologist who has investigated the story of the Exodus, with very few exceptions, agrees that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all."

To say such declarations did not sit well with the rabbi’s Orthodox brethren is an understatement. The controversy evoked by the Los Angeles Times article about the sermon crossed not only interdenominational boundaries locally, but drew strong responses from across the United States and in Israel.

Many congregational rabbis were actually grateful. Instead of the usual, "We were taken out of Egypt and therefore must help the poor, homeless, suffering world Jewry…" sermons they try to make compelling year in and year out, suddenly there was a topic to dive into with gusto.

If indeed, the Exodus did not happen as stated in the Torah, what does that mean for the Passover seder, for the veracity of the Torah, for Israel and Judaism?

The debate raged among everyday congregants and world-renowned scholars. It spilled onto the pages of Moment magazine, in which Wolpe responded to an attack by Hershel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archaeological Review, who in turn rebutted Wolpe as follows:

"…The only aspect of the Biblical account that Rabbi Wolpe legitimately questioned on archeological grounds was the claim that 600,000 Israelite men (plus women and children, for a total of 2 or 3 million) crossed the desert. This is a gross exaggeration, I agree. But if Rabbi Wolpe had simply said this straight out-and-out, his sermon would not have garnered the publicity it did."

Even as recently as a few weeks ago, New York Times reporter Michael Massing made a point in his article about the Conservative movement’s new chumash, Etz Hayim, to bring up Wolpe’s "litany of disillusion" about the Torah.

In truth, Wolpe said that he was only stating what Orthodox Jews had always claimed Conservative Jews believed.

"Part of the outrage was artificial, because the Orthodox have said for years that Conservative Jews treat the Torah as a human document," Wolpe said. "We do, and I said it, and they said, how dare you say such a thing? So that was part of it."

Wolpe said his primary motivation in writing the sermon, was that he wanted to avoid the tendency of many rabbis to hide their knowledge and opinions from their congregants, believing that they would not be able to handle the information.

"A nationally important rabbi with whom I spoke after the sermon said to me, ‘Why did you do this?’ And I said, ‘Because I don’t wish to treat my congregation as children.’ To which he said, ‘But they are children,’" Wolpe recalled, shaking his head.

"I think that is how a lot of rabbis think of their congregants," he continued. "I have had many rabbis say to me, I won’t bring you to my congregation to discuss this because it would undermine my religious position. That to me is a species of intellectual timidity that is unfortunate and even destructive."

Following the sermon and subsequent press, Wolpe said he got a call from a woman in Palm Beach, Fla., who told him that a couple of years ago she went to Israel on an archeological dig, and the archeologist said to her the same things that Wolpe said in his sermon.

"She said, ‘I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. But now it’s two years later, and my faith has deepened, so stick with it,’" the rabbi reported.

"I didn’t want my congregants to hear about this first at UCLA and to come back to me and say, ‘Rabbi, either you’re ignorant or you’re hiding. Why didn’t you tell us about this?’ I wanted them to know you can know this and still be a faithful Jew," Wolpe said.

Although the rabbi’s intentions were good, his characterization of belief in the divine origin of the Torah as blind faith angered some colleagues, particularly those in the Orthodox rabbinate. Rabbi Elazar Muskin, leader of Young Israel of Century City, said after listening to the tape of Wolpe’s sermon that he felt compelled to confront the rabbi.

"I told him I took umbrage with the implication that Orthodox belief is blind belief; that it is an infantile stance, while those who believe in biblical criticism are the intellectuals, the enlightened ones," Muskin said. "To say that the Orthodox belief is that of the Dark Ages is just fallacious.

"We have been dealing with the same questions [as Bible scholars] for centuries, from the writing of the Talmud to the present day," said Muskin, who was part of a panel discussing biblical criticism March 20 at Valley Beth Shalom.

Over time, the controversy has died down somewhat. Muskin said he did not believe the incident created any lasting rift between Conservative and Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles.

Wolpe noted that "all the dire predictions about what this would do to my synagogue were wrong. We still get over 1,000 people every Shabbos morning, and to my knowledge, not a single family resigned over this issue. I think that’s because even though many were challenged, they know that we don’t keep our children Jewish by keeping them in the dark."

Even congregants who dispute Wolpe’s point of view said that for the most part, the congregation stood by the rabbi.

"There are those who disagreed and those who stopped coming, but I don’t know anyone who has left the synagogue," said Sean Nass, a Sinai Temple member.

Nass was present for the initial sermon and said it was "jolting, to say the least." He said he was brought up in Iran to see the Torah as the link between God and humans.

"Then here you are all of a sudden with a prominent rabbi saying the link is deeper than the Torah, that you have to have deeper faith," he said. "It was very unsettling."

Nass, who is enrolled in Wolpe’s class, "Beyond Exodus," that expands on the ideas raised by last year’s sermon, said he believed that the rabbi’s only mistake was in his approach to the material.

"Rabbi Wolpe fell into a trap," he said. "His problem is he is brilliant, and sometimes when brilliant people talk to the masses, what they say could go over the masses’ heads. I think if he had built up to [these ideas] over five or six sermons, he wouldn’t have met with such a strong reaction."

Wolpe concluded that on a personal level, standing up and stating his beliefs has been a powerful experience.

"Churchill said, after the Boer War, ‘There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result.’ I sort of feel the same way, that it was very bracing to see that all this could happen, and when it was over, I was still here," he said. "If it happens again, I’m not afraid of it."