Lawsuit accusing Israel of genocide to be filed in Argentina

An Argentine lawyer said he will file a lawsuit in federal court in Buenos Aires accusing Israel of crimes against humanity and genocide.

Carlos Slepoy told Pagina/12, a Buenos Aires newspaper, in an interview published Tuesday that the suit will be filed in the coming days in response to Israel’s 50-day operation in Gaza this summer. The suit is in conjunction with the American Association of Jurists.

The suit singles out specific Israeli leaders as being responsible both directly and non-directly for the alleged crimes, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz  and Likud lawmaker Moshe Feiglin, according to Pagina/12.

“The disproportionate number of forces and the large number of [Palestinian] victims reveals the huge crime; we will provide to the court a list with names and ages of the Palestinian kids murdered“ said Slepoy, who successfully opened in Argentina a trial about crimes committed in Spain during the government of Francisco Franco, who was the dictator of Spain from 1939 to his death in 1975.

Slepoy said he hoped that Gaza victims and human rights groups representing Gazans would join the suit.

In July, the American Association of Jurists issued a statement “strongly condemning the criminal aggression of Israel against Gaza and the occupation of Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem.”

Benjamin Reznik: L.A. based lawyer who takes on Goliath

Among land-use attorneys working in Los Angeles, Benjamin Reznik is better known than most, perhaps because of his success at suing the City of Los Angeles. In 2009, the partner in the firm of Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP told the Los Angeles Times he had probably sued the City of Los Angeles about five or six times a year.

Reznik, 61, leads a 15-lawyer team that focuses on government, land use, environment and energy cases, and he has represented major clients, many who have changed to the shape and skyline of the city. A little more than a decade ago, Reznik helped one developer get more than 3,000 apartments approved downtown. 

So how did this powerhouse attorney come to be in Los Angeles’ City Hall on two successive days in June, arguing on behalf of a partially built Chabad synagogue in Sherman Oaks that will have a capacity of about 200 people, and will stand barely two-stories tall? 

“I believe that these kinds of institutions belong in neighborhoods and they’re very difficult to get approved,” Reznik said, sitting in his corner office in Century City. Reznik describes himself as “not a good board-member type person,” so he said he instead chooses to support Jewish communities by offering to help them gain approval, occasionally dealing with neighborhood opposition, often working on a voluntary basis or for reduced rates. 

He’s worked with a number of synagogues, including the one where he and his family are members, Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. He’s worked with other Chabad communities, and in Chabad of Sherman Oaks’ case, though the scores of religious Jews in the community who came to the two hearings certainly helped persuade the Los Angeles City Council to allow the project to go forward, Reznik’s simple testimony, which focused on what the law allowed, no doubt prepared the ground for the approval. 

Reznik doesn’t consider himself an ideologue or a “rabid property rights advocate”; there are certain clients he won’t take on, and though he’s usually representing the interests of builders, he has argued on behalf of clients who oppose developments, as well. Reznik pointed out the windows at a neighboring vacant lot on Avenue of the Stars, where a developer is seeking permission to build more office space than the current city plan allows. The owners of every adjacent office building teamed to hire Reznik’s firm to oppose that effort. 

“There’s a balance between community and development,” Reznik said. 

So-called NIMBY activists — the acronym stands for “Not In My Back Yard” — regularly oppose the building of senior residential facilities, a stance that Reznik said was not in line with the needs of the whole community. 

“I don’t think we have to house all our elderly on major boulevards,” Reznik said, “just because that way the neighborhood doesn’t have to see them.” Rather, Reznik said, there should be some consideration to having such facilities built in residential neighborhoods, which are, of course, the neighborhoods where those people grew up and lived. 

“I think those are Jewish issues,” Reznik added.

Reznik began his own law practice in the San Fernando Valley by taking on the kinds of clients who couldn’t pay the rates that firms like JMBM charge, and he still sees himself as something of an upstart — even when representing developers who might appear to have tremendous resources and power at their disposal. 

“Compared to the city, the developer is David and the city is Goliath,” Reznik said. “The city’s resources are endless.”

In September, Reznik was in the familiar position of arguing against a Los Angeles city attorney in court, this time at a hearing regarding a planned single-family project in the exclusive neighborhood of Benedict Canyon. Reznik’s client, a Saudi prince, has faced relentless opposition from a billionaire couple who once tried to buy the property, and September’s hearing was aimed at forcing the city to drop a technical objection holding up the project. 

That, Reznik explained, “is why so many of my cases ended up in court — because that’s where my client can get a fair hearing with the politics removed.”

Reznik hasn’t met this particular client — he deals with an intermediary — but he’s fairly certain that, ironic though it might seem, the Saudi prince is aware that the lawyer representing him is not only Jewish, but an Israeli-born Jew who is fluent in Hebrew. 

“I’m sure I was vetted,” said Reznik, who has Hebrew listed as his foreign language on his resume.  

Born in Haifa in 1951, Reznik said his parents came to Israel from Poland after the Holocaust. His father, who survived by “hustling on the black-market routes in Russia” as a young teenager, selling coffee, tea and tobacco, worked as a truck driver in Israel. 

But he was ambitious, and in December 1960, when Reznik was 9, the family moved to the United States. After a few years in Rochester, N.Y., they moved to Los Angeles in 1962. Reznik’s father bought an interest in a liquor store in South Central — Reznik worked there as a stock boy during summers and when he wasn’t in school — and managed to send his children to college and law school on the proceeds. 

Reznik went to UCLA as an undergraduate — he met his wife, Janice Kamenir-Reznik, at the Hillel there — and then on to USC for law school. The Rezniks have, over the years, gotten involved in a number of political causes — they were active in the movement to free Soviet Jewry — and Janice went on to become the founding president of Jewish World Watch. 

Not surprisingly, starting in 1975, when they helped recruit volunteers for Zev Yaroslavsky’s successful campaign for Los Angeles City Council, the Rezniks have also involved themselves in supporting candidates running for various offices. They recently held a fundraiser for Jackie Lacey, who is running for Los Angeles County district attorney. 

And the Rezniks, who built up their practice in the Valley together, look like they’re about to have one more lawyer in the family; their youngest son just started law school. 

Reznik, when he was just starting out, said he went into business for himself, in part because he enjoyed all different aspects of legal work, but also because he had a good deal of his father’s independent personality in him. So I asked if — in 2012, in today’s economy — a young lawyer, like his son, could set up shop on his own and have the kind of success Reznik has. 

“Absolutely; clients are rate-sensitive,” Reznik said, thinking back to his own experience of taking on the clients who were priced out of bigger firms. “You just have to work, really, really hard.”

Kenneth Feinberg: The 9/11 mediator who listens

When massive tragedy strikes in the United States, when half a dozen or a score or thousands of people are killed in a single incident, when disaster hits a region, Kenneth Feinberg often gets a call.

The Washington attorney is perhaps best known for his work as the administrator of the fund that paid restitution to the families of 9/11 victims and the one that compensated individuals and businesses harmed by the BP Oil spill in 2010, but his phone rings on all sorts of unhappy occasions, most recently in the wake of the shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple in August.

They call Feinberg because he has made a career in mediation, dealing with particularly complicated situations involving death, environmental disaster and financial upheaval. They call him because he’s been called “Solomonic” on more than a few occasions — a label that Feinberg rejects — and because he has demonstrated an ability to exercise and implement good, fair judgments.

But as Jews around the world, Feinberg included, prepare for another season of holidays centered on the theme of judgment, it’s notable that a major element of Feinberg’s process is something deceptively simple: He listens.

“When you have face-to-face meetings, you give victims an opportunity to vent, and they welcome that opportunity to vent,” Feinberg said, speaking to the Journal by phone from his Washington, D.C., office in August. “I find that these one-on-one meetings are very important in convincing claimants in grief about the bona fides of the program that you’re trying to run.”

Feinberg was referring to the more than 900 meetings he had in the aftermath of 9/11 with families of victims, a process he repeated in administering a much smaller fund compensating the victims injured and families of victims killed in the 2007 shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech. In both cases, Feinberg remembered that most of the people who chose to meet with him did not talk about dollars and cents, but came to tell stories, sometimes with photo albums and mementos in hand, “in order to validate — on the record, in writing, face-to-face — the memory, the good works of a lost loved one.”

In compensating individuals in the wake of tragedy, Feinberg has found the meetings to be essential, because they show that somebody is listening.

“There is an individual — not a bureaucratic device, but there is an actual human being listening to what I have to say about my dead wife or husband or brother or sister, son or daughter,” he said.

Individual meetings aren’t always possible, particularly when dealing with large numbers of claimants who have all suffered different kinds of damages, as Feinberg did when he administered the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which paid out more than $6.14 billion from BP to more than 500,000 claimants from all 50 states and 38 foreign countries.

But in many instances, direct listening in face-to-face meetings can have a strategic purpose, as well. In his role as the U.S. Treasury Department’s “pay czar,” tasked with setting the compensation of 175 high-ranking executives at the largest of the financial firms bailed out by the American taxpayers in 2009, Feinberg heard petitions from CEOs, CFOs and their lawyers.

That role was a distinct reversal for Feinberg. “There I was fixing the compensation of alleged, not victims, but perpetrators, who had caused the 2009 financial meltdown,” Feinberg said.

Which is why, as he wrote in his book “Who Gets What: Fair Compensation After Tragedy and Financial Upheaval,” published by Public Affairs earlier this year, one of the ground rules Feinberg set for the meetings with the executives of bailed-out companies was that they had to take place in Washington, D.C.

The Tribute in Light is illuminated marking the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, on Sept. 10. Photo by REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

“As an experienced mediator, I knew the importance of conducting meetings in the most effective venue,” Feinberg wrote. The “lavish and imposing” Treasury Building fit his aim perfectly, making immediately clear to the corporate officials “that they were up against a formidable negotiating partner — the federal government.”

In their own ways, the meetings Feinberg had with the companies’ officials didn’t focus on money — or at least not the immediate exchange value of money.

As the “special master” of an office in the Treasury Department overseeing executive compensation, Feinberg and his staff were dictating to these seven companies the exact amount they could pay their top employees. The goal was to balance the interests of the executives and the firms, who wanted to be able to compete on hiring with other corporations, against those of the taxpayers and congress, who had loaned these companies billions of dollars and wanted that money repaid as quickly as possible and in full but who also wouldn’t tolerate excessively lavish compensation.

In the meetings with executives, Feinberg said that the conversations were never about money or material gain — “I need money to buy another summer home, I need money to send my kinds to private school” — but instead were about compensation as a “litmus test of self-worth or integrity or contribution to society.”

“ ‘Look, Mr. Feinberg,’ ” Feinberg said, recalling the executives’ emotional pleas, “ ‘what you’re paying me demeans my value to society, it demeans my value to the community, to my family. You are getting very personal; you are reducing my compensation, thereby diminishing my overall self worth.’ ”

Feinberg’s ultimate decisions were, in his words, “very cold and calculating.”

“I looked at statistics governing compensation — what is a CFO worth, or a CEO worth — studied the competitive pay scale of others similarly situated, looked at what incentives should be incorporated into a compensation package, and calculated the actual awards,” he said.

In administering the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund — which Feinberg said is still the most challenging assignment he’s ever faced — Feinberg’s meetings were very different. They took place all over the country, often in the offices of law firms. And while the meetings were essential to convincing some of the families of victims (particularly those of the wealthier victims) to join the fund and not litigate their claims in court, it’s clear that the emotional tenor made them difficult for Feinberg.

“Unless you have a heart of stone, you can’t remain dispassionate,” he said. “You try and … limit the impact of that emotion, but you cannot help but be affected by the death and tragedy involved.”

And, Feinberg learned, people react differently — unpredictably, even — to tragedy. The group meetings he held for victims’ families in California, Feinberg said, were “very touchy-feely,” particularly in contrast to the meetings he’d held in New York and Virginia.

“Everybody wanted to hold hands and pray collectively and to reinforce each other,” Feinberg recalled.

And if half of the families of 9/11 victims decided that the tragedy had “ended, once and for all, any belief they may have had in God or religion or an afterlife,” the other half, Feinberg said, told him that “the tragedies reinforced their religion and their beliefs.”

“Do not attempt to predict human nature,” Feinberg said.

Feinberg doesn’t keep in touch with the families of victims, nor does he have a particular way of commemorating the anniversary of 9/11. This year, on the 11th anniversary of the attacks, Feinberg was scheduled to speak at a conference organized by an insurance group in Canada.

On Rosh Hashanah, Feinberg said, he would be thinking about the future, not the past.

“I think about the year to come, in hopes that I and my family can enjoy health and happiness,” Feinberg said. “And on Yom Kippur, I sort of muse and reflect on the year gone by and what I could’ve done differently, or better.”

Feinberg described himself as “a believer,” so it seemed fair to ask him whether he feels that there is a listener to his prayers.

“I don’t put it in those terms, is someone listening,” Feinberg replied. “I’m hoping that — by raising the level of thought to a conscious level, so that I’m actually reflecting on the past and the future — I’m listening. And I think that’s what’s important.”

Citing Trayvon Martin case, lawyers seek change of venue in Baltimore assault

Lawyers for two Baltimore Jewish brothers accused of beating a black teenager requested that the trial be moved out of the city because of perceived similarities between the case and the death of Trayvon Martin.

Avi and Eliyahu Werdesheim are accused of beating a 15-year-old male in November 2010. Eliyahu Werdesheim, now 24, was a member of Shomrim, a Jewish neighborhood watch group, at the time of the incident.

According to a police account, Eliyahu Werdesheim told the teen, “You don’t belong around here,” while his brother, now 21, threw the boy to the ground, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Lawyers for the Werdesheims claimed Monday that their clients should be tried somewhere else because black community leaders in Baltimore have linked the case with the death of Martin, a black teen from Florida who was shot by a neighborhood watch patrolman named George Zimmerman. Zimmerman is being tried for second-degree murder, and the case has received widespread national attention.

“Both involve young African-American males walking along on public thoroughfares who supposedly were accosted by one or more Caucasian members of citizen patrol groups who felt they didn’t belong in the area, and allegedly subjected to unprovoked attacks,” the defense lawyers’ motion said, according to the newspaper.

The motion adds that the Werdesheims’ case has “ignited a firestorm of controversy, recriminations and protests in the greater Baltimore metropolitan region and has served to polarize various segments of the community.”

Prosecutors in the Werdesheims’ trial say it should go forward because the two incidents are separate.

Lawyer for Leiby Kletzky’s alleged murderer: My client is insane

A lawyer for the man who confessed to killing 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky said the confession was coerced and his client is insane.

Howard Greenberg, an attorney for Levi Aron, said during a hearing Monday in New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn that he will prove that Aron is not guilty by reason of insanity in the July murder.

Aron appeared in court through a video conference. He reportedly did not move or say a word during the hearing, according to the New York Post.

A psychological exam found Aron competent to stand trial, although he has admitted to hearing voices. Aron pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and kidnapping.

Aron is charged with murdering Leiby near his Brooklyn home. He said he picked up the haredi Orthodox boy in his car when the boy became lost while walking home from camp for the first time and asking for directions. Aron said he panicked after the boy was reported missing.

Parts of Leiby’s dismembered body were found in Aron’s freezer.

A Kristallnacht lesson for our generation

It was Nov. 9 – Kristallnacht, the night of “broken glass” – when hundreds of Jewish businesses and virtually every synagogue throughout Germany and Austria were set ablaze.

On that terrible night in 1938, my father, Sol, ran into a burning synagogue near his home in Vienna and rescued a Torah that would otherwise have been consumed by the flames. He and his brother, Morris Brafman, carried that Torah halfway around the world, ultimately bringing it to the United States, where it was restored and is currently in a yeshiva in Far Rockaway, Queens, N.Y., in an ark dedicated to the memory of my father and his wife of 55 years, my mother Rose.

My father, my mother and my father’s brother were among the fortunate few who reached the United States. Like many European Jewish refugees, the Brafman brothers built a successful life in their new country, but never forgot the powerful and tragic events of that terrible night that so dramatically reshaped their lives.

In our home around the Shabbat dinner table, the conversation frequently included passionate discussions about what the Nazis did to our people – and even more passionate discussions about the failure of much of the international community to do anything about it. My father and uncle also were troubled by the lack of an adequate response from the American Jewish community to the Holocaust.

In Elie Wiesel’s book “The Jews of Silence,” one of the earliest writings about the persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union, Wiesel refers to them as Jews of silence not only because they were held prisoner by the Soviet Union but because they were prevented from speaking out about religious matters. In one of the most haunting statements in the book, Wiesel observes that Jews in the free world who failed to protest against the persecution of Soviet Jewry were also Jews of silence.

My father and his brother were determined to put an end to the silence. Having lived through the “abandonment of the Jews,” words borrowed from the title of David S. Wyman’s landmark book, they were concerned about the persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union. They vowed to make certain there would be no second such abandonment.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, reports began reaching the West about the mistreatment of Jews by the Soviet government. Synagogues were closed down, the study of the Hebrew language was outlawed, Soviet publications were filled with anti-Semitism, and asking for permission to emigrate to Israel assured a one-way ticket to a prison or forced labor camp in Siberia.

These were the years before American Jewry mobilized in protest – before the huge rallies, before we wore wristbands with names of refuseniks, before we set an empty chair at our Passover seder table to symbolize the Russian Jews who were not permitted to celebrate the holiday.

This was 20 years earlier. In a small Manhattan office, the Brafman brothers established the International League for the Repatriation of Russian Jews, recognizing the legal right of any citizen of the world to be permitted to repatriate to his or her homeland. They were not lawyers, but it was they who put forward, for the first time, the important legal argument that since the State of Israel was the homeland of all Jews, the Soviet Union was violating international law by refusing to allow Jews to emigrate to Israel.

Day after day, year after year, in a lonely battle, these two brave men along with a small handful of heroic colleagues wrote editorials, circulated petitions and enlisted concerned government officials who made the issue of Soviet Jewry public. They persisted in their efforts, until it became an international issue that could not be ignored.

My uncle and my father understood that before they could get people interested in a problem, they first had to make them aware of the problem. So too they understood that as far as the world was concerned, Jewish blood was considered cheap and that only by pressuring public officials in the United States, who would in turn pressure public officials in the Soviet Union, could they ultimately persuade the Soviet Union that the battle to keep Jews prisoner was not worth it and that allowing Jews to emigrate to Israel was a legal solution to what had become a growing international issue.

As we all know, their work and the work of so many other heroes of the struggle for Soviet Jewry ultimately paid enormous dividends – because eventually, the Soviet Union recognized the right of Jews to emigrate to Israel. Millions of Jews from the Soviet Union were freed. Many went to Israel, others to the United States, where today in both countries they are raising proud Jewish families, free to practice their religion and enjoy their heritage with dignity.

What began as a terrible destructive blaze on Kristallnacht 69 years ago became a blazing lifetime pursuit for two men who refused to be Jews of silence and to abandon their Soviet brothers and sisters as so many of their European brothers and sisters had been abandoned many years before.

Benjamin Brafman is a member of the board of directors of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. This article, based on his remarks in November 2007 at an institute conference held at the Fordham University School of Law, New York, is reprinted with permission of The Wyman Institute.

A lawyer’s personal investment in Mideast peace

Josef Avesar is a soft-spoken lawyer with a wife and four children, but for the past six years he has spent most of his time and a considerable amount of his own money on an all-consuming project: to establish an Israeli-Palestinian Confederation (IPC) and break the interminable impasse between the two groups.

Unlike another dreamer, Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism who in 1897 foresaw, amid widespread derision, that in 50 years there would be a Jewish state, Avesar is more circumspect in his predictions.

In 2006, speaking before a UCLA audience, Avesar asserted that his vision had a 5 percent chance of becoming reality in his lifetime, but he was more optimistic in a recent interview.

“I am 57 years old, and I believe that there’s now a 50 percent chance of realizing my goal in my lifetime,” he said. “In 100 years, the chances of success are 100 percent.”

Meanwhile, Avesar is taking some concrete steps. Following an initial convention in 2008, he has scheduled another convention in Jerusalem in 2011 in the run-up to an election of the IPC president, vice president and legislature.

Election day is set for Dec. 12, 2012, about a month after a similar election in the United States.

To the numerous skeptics and scoffers of his idea, Avesar responds, “What have we got to lose? For more than 60 years, every other plan has failed. You don’t go back to the same surgeon if all his previous patients have died.

Avesar has drawn up a lengthy constitution for the planned confederation, which draws heavily on the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights and whose key elements include:

• Israel and the Palestinian territories (or state) are to be divided into 300 districts, with each district sending one delegate to the legislature. In each district, Jews can vote for an Arab candidate, and vice versa.
• To pass a law will require approval of 55 percent of the Israeli legislators and 55 percent of the Arab representatives. If neither the established Israeli nor Palestinian government exercises its veto power, the legislation will become law.
• Both the two top executives and the legislators will run for four-year terms. If the president is an Israeli, the vice president must be Palestinian, and the two will rotate after two years.

Given all the limitations and safeguards, what could a confederation actually accomplish?

One of Avesar’s basic premises is that Israelis and Palestinians, working together within a parliamentary framework, can eventually develop a sense of trust and learn to disagree without resorting to violence.

In practice, IPC would serve as a mechanism for establishing mutually beneficial infrastructure projects, hospitals, airports, monetary systems and so forth.

For instance, the confederation plan calls for joint construction of utility grids for water, electricity, trains and highways connecting Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

Last June, Avesar and his allies started calling for future presidential and parliamentary candidates to register, mainly through the Internet. He hopes to have some 1,500 candidates, about five in each of the 300 districts, ready to compete by the December 2012 election date.

As of mid-December 2010, some 221 men and women had thrown their hats into the ring, with Palestinian candidates outnumbering Israeli hopefuls by about 3-to-1.

The imbalance comes as something of a surprise to Avesar. He speculates that Arabs are more disillusioned with the status quo, as well as with Hamas and Fatah, than are Jews, who feel that there is no great need to fix the present situation.

Most notable among the Palestinian candidates for the IPC presidency is Hanna Siniora, publisher of the Jerusalem Times and a member of the Palestinian National Council.

It is fairly easy to punch holes in Avesar’s vision and to dismiss the whole enterprise as quixotic. One of the most likely stumbling blocks would be the attitudes of the current Israeli and Palestinian leaders, who would just as soon do without a “third government.”

In one of his pamphlets, Avesar writes, “What happens if the Israeli or Palestinian governments object to the [IPC] elections?” To which he answers, in part:

“If we are able to achieve the voting of both the Israelis and Palestinians and to get international support, we will be able to pass legislation of an important nature. We believe that the Israeli and Palestinian governments will understand the great service and opportunity we can provide to their people and eventually will support our government.”

Others are less optimistic. During the UCLA panel discussion, Gen. Shlomo Gazit, former head of military intelligence, argued that “the Oslo agreement failed because we postponed the political issues. Dealing with economic or environmental issues first is putting the cart before the horse.”

Professor Nancy Gallagher, who chairs the Middle East history program at University of California, Santa Barbara, took a middle ground. “This plan is not yet ready for prime time,” she said, “ but bold and radical ideas are always welcome, even if they seem naïve.”

Gallagher recalled that the various iterations of the confederation idea have a lengthy history; one was proposed by India in a minority report to the 1947 United Nations partition plan for Palestine.

Most positive toward the idea was Saleem H. Ali, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Vermont and a professional mediator. A native of Pakistan, Ali urged putting economic before political problems, suggesting that there are “different ways to climb a mountain.”

Avesar was born in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan into an Iraqi Jewish family that had immigrated in 1936. His father, who worked for the British authorities in both Iraq and Palestine, had been farsighted enough to buy some land in Tel Aviv during a previous visit, in 1929.

One of Josef Avesar’s formative experiences as a 9-year-old boy was the rescue of his sister from drowning by an Arab fisherman and then bringing some chocolate to the rescuer as a way to thank him.

“That was a very emotional experience for me,” Avesar recounted. “I came to realize that the Palestinians were people like us.”

He thinks that Jews like himself, whose families came from Arab countries, have a “special relationship” with Palestinians, which is missing in the mainly Ashkenazi Israeli government.

If family background has shaped Avesar’s attitude toward the Mideast conflict, so has his professional experience.

“In my work in personal injury litigation, I see that the parties in the dispute get so involved emotionally in their points of difference that they can’t see the larger picture,” he said.

“What I try to do is to have one side give some indication of trust, and then the other side will usually reciprocate.”

Avesar lacks the resources for a full-fledged campaign, and he is spreading the word mainly through media interviews and the Internet, where he has set up a Web site,, and a second one,, for the 2012 election.

During the last three years, his dream has become his chief occupation, and he estimates that he would be $750,000 richer today if he had instead devoted similar time and effort to his law practice.

He doesn’t have to look beyond his family and circle of friends for critics. His German-born wife, Gilda, whom he met while both were serving in the Israeli army, not infrequently comments about her husband’s “crazy idea.”

Two prominent academicians, asked for their comments last month, were also critical, though in more reserved language.

Harvard law professor Alan M. Dershowitz, who had initially seen some merit in Avesar’s idea, wrote in an e-mail, “Why try to federate countries that are so different? A more logical federation would be the West Bank and Jordan, or Gaza with Egypt.

“Has any comparable federation ever worked? It’s merely a gimmick leading to a one-state solution, which would mark the end of Israel.”

Political scientist Steven L. Spiegel, director of the UCLA Center for Middle East Development, wrote, in part, “I do not believe an Israeli/Palestinian confederation would be viable.

“Having two states, and then a “third government … would only confuse the efforts to achieve a viable peace, bureaucratically, ideologically and politically.

“However, the possibility of cooperation on the economic and social fronts between Israel, a future Palestinian state, and also possibly Jordan has long been discussed and would be desirable after a final settlement between Israel and Palestine.”

But Avesar also can point to some prominent supporters. He cited an enthusiastic endorsement from former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and encouraging words from former President Bill Clinton.

In addition, he has engaged in discussions with a long list of American, Israeli and Palestinian thinkers, spanning the political spectrum.

In any case, nothing is likely to deter Avesar from his quest. “Some of my friends spend their money and time on golf, or buying a Ferrari,” he said. “I might as well put that into something I enjoy doing.”

Who is Roger Diamond?

Put yourself in the shoes of this Jewish man. You’re a lawyer representing the interests of a strip club called Skins, which has been in a long, drawn-out battle with the city and neighborhood groups to operate their club at the southern tip of the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, several blocks from Hamilton High School.

It’s a cold Monday night in late January, and you are facing about 600 angry people — residents, parents, neighborhood activists, teachers, a few rabbis — who have gathered in the Hamilton High auditorium to express their outrage. The battle has come down to the wire: This will be the final town meeting before a decision is made in a few weeks on whether Skins is entitled to get a permanent police permit.

I arrive early and find a seat in the front row. The atmosphere reminds me a little of what it felt like when I arrived early at a boxing match in Las Vegas: people milling around, conversations kept short, security guards asking loud questions, a reporter in the corner interviewing someone who looks important, people rushing to get seats�” and everyone expecting fireworks.

The official who chairs the meeting starts by summarizing the people’s concerns about having a strip club in their neighborhood — risk of drugs, prostitution, gang violence, traffic congestion, etc.�” and then invites Roger Diamond, the lawyer representing Skins, to respond.

It’s one man against 600.

In his rumpled beige suit, Diamond walks over to the microphone. His eyes are intense and defiant. He starts by raising a couple of legal technicalities, which doesn’t go over well with the audience. Then, a few feet from where I’m sitting, he starts to strip.

That’s right, he starts to strip.

He throws his suit jacket to the floor, and as he starts taking off his shirt — to the loud gasps and heckling of an astonished crowd and the repeated calls from the hearing officer of “You are out of order, Mr. Diamond!” — all I can think of is: My God, I’m in the middle of a Tom Wolfe novel.

After a few minutes, the heckling and boos got so loud that Diamond decides to stop before his trousers come down, but not before everyone saw what is on his T-Shirt: the logo of Hamilton High, where he graduated some 45 years ago. Diamond was trying to make the point, he told us, that when he attended that very same high school, there was a lot of discrimination against people who were “unpopular,” like blacks and gays. Strip clubs might be unpopular, he shouted, but what makes America great is that it protects the rights of everyone, even the tasteless, the vulgar and the unpopular.

His words had no effect on the hostile audience, except to precipitate his concluding remarks — namely, that his client had followed every regulation in the book and that the negative effects of the strip club were grossly exaggerated.

His strange performance did have an effect on me, though, so a few days later, I tracked him down in his old-school, cluttered office on Main Street in Santa Monica.

I got to know a quirky, passionate Los Angeles native who never dreamed he’d become a counsel to skin merchants nationwide and the reviled bête noir of neighborhood groups everywhere.

Diamond, who graduated from UCLA Law School in 1966, stumbled on the adult industry when he was engaged in a one-man crusade against air polluters in 1969. While employed at a major law firm, he filed, on his own, a class-action suit against 294 smog-producing companies such as General Motors, Texaco and Union Carbide. Because some of the companies were clients of his law firm, this created a conflict and he had to quit his cushy job and go off on his own. At the time, he and his wife had one daughter and his wife was pregnant with their second child.

Looking to pay the bills, Diamond’s secretary showed him an ad in the L.A. Free Press for “a young aggressive attorney” needed to “fight an injustice.” It was for an adult bookstore owner in East Los Angeles being prosecuted for a misdemeanor battery. Diamond took the case, fought it all the way to the State Supreme Court and won. That started his career in the adult world.

But while he was making a name for himself defending some of society’s unseemly elements, he never stopped fighting for his pet causes. For 20 years he successfully fought off-shore oil drilling; he helped get the state’s first propositions to ban indoor smoking on the ballot in 1978 and 1980; and he wrote the Clean Environment Act, which was voted down in 1972.

While we were sitting in his legal library, Diamond, a trim, youthful-looking 66-year-old who comes to work in sneakers, kept jumping from his seat to pull out another book of records from the Appellate Courts, either to prove a point or show me the numerous precedents he’d helped establish. His passion for legal complexities was no less than what I’ve seen with talmudic scholars.

After three hours of absorbing his fascination with legal rights and the protection of the environment, I couldn’t resist asking him if he saw a contradiction in his work, since one can easily argue that strip clubs contribute to a different type of pollution — that of the mind.

I don’t think he appreciated my question, but he finessed it by saying that we have a choice in life to keep our minds clean or polluted, but we cannot choose whether or not to breathe polluted air. His focus on the tangible and his deep faith in the first-amendment right of free speech might lead you to believe that Diamond doesn’t give much weight to things like speech pollution.

But when I asked him if there was something in his youth that presaged his interest in defending the unpopular, he recalled a homely looking Jewish kid in grade school named Jerry Solomon. Everyone in school would torment Solomon by calling him “Horseface.”

Everyone, that is, except for his only friend: Roger Diamond.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and He can be reached at

Jack Gindi, American Jewish University philanthropist, dies at 83

Jack Gindi, real estate developer, lawyer, philanthropist and Jewish community benefactor, died Saturday, Aug. 4, at 83, following a prolonged illness.

Known primarily for his philanthropy with American Jewish University (formerly the University of Judaism), where an auditorium bears his family name, Gindi gave to a variety of Jewish educational and service organizations around Southern California.

Gindi was born in Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish community in 1923. At the age of 12, he and his family moved to Detroit. After graduating from the University of Michigan, Gindi served more than three years in the U.S. Air Force. According to a 2004 Jewish Community Foundation profile, Gindi met Rachel Harary during one of many weekends spent at his uncle’s home in Brooklyn.

Following his military service, Gindi entered University of Michigan’s law school and completed his degree in 1948. Gindi and Harary married soon after and moved to Los Angeles, where he began a highly successful career in business and real estate.

Gindi became involved with the University of Judaism in 1963, spending more than 40 years with the institution, most of that time as a board member.

The university’s Moses E. Gindi Auditorium is named for his father, and the Gindis sponsor the library’s microfilm collection, which contains the manuscript collection of the Jewish Theological Seminary; Ha’aretz, Israel’s major newspaper, from 1919 to 1970, and issues of the London Jewish Chronicle from 1841 to 1982.

“He had remarkable mind … if there was a problem, he could always tell you [the answer],” said Dr. Robert Wexler, university president since 1992. “When you met Jack, you became part of a whole family.”

Jack and Rachel Gindi credited their parents and their upbringing for inspiring their commitment to tzedakah (charity).

“The roots of our giving were really formulated in the Syrian community in Brooklyn, where everyone is raised to give charity,” Rachel Gindi told the Jewish Community Foundation in 2004. “It wasn’t big money that we learned to give; it was a part of what we had. Jack and I have tried to instill in our children the values that we learned from our parents at a young age.”

The Gindis’ philanthropy included the American Jewish University, Maimonides Academy (formerly Sephardic Hebrew Academy), YULA Girls High School, the Jewish Home for the Aging and Camp Ramah of California. Another organization, the Gimmel Foundation, provides enrichment programs for underprivileged children in several development towns in Israel.

In 1986, the Gindis and their children began working with the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. In conjunction with staff from the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, they helped develop the At Risk Youth Prevention and Intervention Program, which identifies at-risk children, trains school administrators, decreases high-risk behaviors in children through support services and connects families and children with appropriate resources.

Despite the large amount of money the Gindis have donated over the years through the Jack E. and Rachel Gindi Foundation, they shunned the spotlight. The family granted an interview to Jewish Community Foundation to highlight the importance of intergenerational philanthropy.

“We learned that philanthropy is a part of life,” son Joseph Gindi said, “that it’s expected of us.”

“They transmitted down to us that philanthropy is a wonderful thing to be involved in,” daughter Betsy said. “It’s not a burden.”

That love of giving even extends to the Gindis’ 19 grandchildren, who are involved in such organizations as Tomchei Shabbat, preparing and delivering food for Shabbat to families who would otherwise go without, and the Etta Israel Center, which works with developmentally challenged youth and their families.

“[Jack] was willing to listen and re-think the way he did things,” Wexler said. “If there was something new, a new idea or way of doing things, he was interested.”

Gindi is survived by his wife, Rachel “Rae,” whom he had been married to for almost 60 years; children, Elie (Sharon), Joseph (Julia), Betsy (Simon) and Alan (Barbara); 19 grandchildren, and many friends.

Services were held on Sunday, Aug. 5 at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. Gindi was buried at Har HaMenuchot Cemetery in Jerusalem this week.

Lawyer makes case for answering rabbinical school call

Kenneth Klee is living the American dream.

He is a nationally recognized bankruptcy lawyer, founding partner of Klee, Tuchin, Bogdanoff & Stern and was named one of the top 100 lawyers in California by the Los Angeles Daily Journal. A tenured law professor at UCLA, he lectures nationwide and has held a named professorship at Harvard Law School.

He is also writing a book on bankruptcy, due out in 2008, and he serves as an expert witness or consultant in such high-profile bankruptcy cases as Adelphia Communications and Enron.

And yet despite these avocations, the 40-something Klee said he felt there was something missing in his life. He’s now studying for his smicha, or ordination, as a rabbi, which he intends to compliment his sideline as a spiritual counselor.

Klee earned his law degree from Harvard University in 1974, and started teaching at UCLA as an adjunct professor in 1979. From 1995 to 1996, Klee taught at Harvard Law School as the Robert Braucher Visiting Professor From Practice, and then joined UCLA full time the following year.

In 1997, he also began studying energy healing techniques, like reiki and pranic. He soon formalized his efforts by establishing the Klee Ministry, a side business that offers a variety of meditative and energy healing treatments.

Energy healing doesn’t always sit well with medical professionals, but the practice is increasingly finding a place in the mainstream and some local hospitals, like UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital, seek to compliment a traditional approach to medicine with one that some might brand New Age.

Energy healing has been around for thousands of years. Centered on the concept of a life force, known as chi in Chinese medicine or doshas in Ayurveda, healers claim they can change the direction of this energy to aid the body in healing.

In addition to his legal practice and teaching, Klee also counsels people who are in physical, mental or social pain, which he confessed seems “incongruous for a type-A lawyer/professor.”

Klee said that his wife, Doreen, “came along kicking and screaming as she saw the teacher/attorney she had married turn into a healer-minister” after helping her with health problems on three separate occasions. He added that his two computer programmer sons, ages 32 and 34, are very accepting, but they “think their father is strange.”

As he became more and more involved in his healing practice, Klee found he wanted to tap into the Jewish mysticism of kabbalah and learn more about spiritual counseling. Klee grew up in a secular Jewish family. While confirmed at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, he had never studied Hebrew nor became a bar mitzvah.

His quest brought him first to Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist congregation in Pacific Palisades, and eventually led him to enroll in the Academy for Jewish Religion, California (AJR/CA), where he is now studying to become a rabbi.

Unlike traditional rabbinic seminaries, AJR/CA has attracted students like Klee who want to add a spiritual dimension to their careers. Although he has no ambition to become a pulpit rabbi, Klee is studying Hebrew in order to be able to read traditional texts in their original language. He is willing to do this because he believes that his rabbinic training and Jewish learning will make him a better counselor.

Among the 66 students currently enrolled in the school are lawyers, professors and even a screenwriter.

“Spirituality is an integral part of the AJR,” said Rabbi Stan Levy, the academy’s president, who added that the school is “the ultimate merger to bring spirituality into the day-to-day.”
Levy considers Klee “the perfect embodiment of two different dimensions,” he said.

Klee has since become a member of the Orthodox Westwood Village Shul and the Conservative congregation Adat Shalom, where his wife introduced him to Lev Eisha, Hebrew for Heart of a Woman, a women’s spiritual community that he says is filled with “so much spirituality, singing and dancing.”

Of the program at AJR/CA, Klee said that his rabbinic studies have given him “valuable insights” into his professional career as a lawyer and teacher. He has been deeply affected by his study of the prophets and the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel, whom he credits with having had a “very significant” impact on him.

In light of his otherwise busy schedule as an attorney, teacher and healer, Klee said he’s going to give his ordination plenty of time and attention.

“I don’t mind working hard and I think I have a lot of time,” he said. “I don’t expect to get my smicha for several years; I’m not in a hurry.”

Sex and The 30-Something Professional

Before David Rouda became a stage director and writer, he was an internationally ranked rower who placed 17th in the 1999 World Rowing Championships. Rouda, who started training as a sculler at 13, won six Gold Medals at the Maccabee Games and just missed qualifying for the 2000 Olympics.

The discipline he brought to rowing informed his years as a lawyer and his current work as a dramatist, whose plays “Pomp & Circumstance” and “Sperm Warfare” are being staged at the Matrix Theater. While these two one-acts do seem to go on a bit long, they both feature a great deal of humor and revolve around the issues of 30-something men as they attempt to make it in the worlds of law and business.

The set of “Pomp & Circumstance” is a courtroom, surrounded by two law offices. Like David E. Kelley and many lawyers before him, Rouda knows his way around a trial scene, but he also knows his way around the Bible and Jewish law. Perhaps the funniest part of “Pomp & Circumstance” is the denouement when an Orthodox Jew who has been victimized by Viagra becomes entranced by the Song of Songs, which he recites for his sex-starved wife.

Rouda says he grew up “Reform, meaning I had a Christmas tree,” but he understands the Talmudic distinctions regarding a Jewish marriage. He also understands what it’s like being a single guy dating older women in San Francisco, where he lives as a fourth-generation San Franciscan.
“Sperm Warfare” focuses on a couple seeking in-vitro fertilization. Like “Pomp & Circumstance,” it deals with phallic concerns. At one point, the lead refers to himself as “an emasculated hermaphro-dad.”

Rouda might overdo it on occasion when his characters complete each others’ sentences with a flourish of alliteration, but he will make you laugh with lines like, “You’re not just a sperm dispenser to me.”

The 40-year-old playwright, who has a degree in rhetoric from UC Berkeley and a law degree from the University of San Francisco, says that one of his frustrations with law was spending “two years of drudgery” and then “right before the premiere” the other side settles out of court and “you don’t get to show” your work to anyone.

Rouda is now based in Los Angeles and the Matrix shows mark his Hollywood premiere. He still has a home in San Francisco but he says that being a writer isn’t so easy in the Bay Area: “In San Francisco, it’s outside the scope of what other people are doing.”

“Pomp & Circumstance” and “Sperm Warfare” play through April 15 at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. For reservations, call (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Matrix Theatre
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Who needs law school? Just marry a lawyer!

First, let me say that by the time I announced to my family that I was actually getting married, at the already questionable child-bearing age of 34, they would have been
ecstatic had I said I was marrying a Martian.

The fact that Larry was a lawyer, on the partner track at a reputable Los Angeles law firm, was a bonus. The fact that he was a Jewish lawyer, strongly identified as a Member of the Tribe and actively engaged in the community, was beyond their wildest hopes.

But, hey, what do you think happens when you meet your future spouse at a Jewish Federation-sponsored gala singles dance at Hillcrest Country Club?

I’ll tell you.

You have three tables or more of lawyers at your wedding. At ours, even the rabbi who performed the ceremony, Ben Zion Bergman, was a licensed lawyer.
And, after almost 24 years of marriage, here’s what else happens.

I can tell you that there’s no contract that can’t be broken, that the law is not always just and that gift certificates and gift cards in California cannot expire (see California Code § 1749.45 — 1794.6).

I can also tell you about Regulation Z (the federal Truth in Lending law), about the legal doctrine of estoppel and about movie-slate financing for hedge funds investing in films (well, maybe I’m reaching here).

In short, I’m pretty much a practicing lawyer myself.

Sure, I sat for the Law School Admission Test back in 1980 and even progressed as far as requesting applications from several Southern California law schools. But I didn’t need to endure the rigors of a constitutional law class to learn about separation of church and state as outlined in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

And I didn’t need to spend three months holed up with a California Bar Exam review tutorial and another three months nervously awaiting the Bar Exam results before I could evict a tenant who wasn’t paying rent or sue a savings and loan in Small Claims Court for a consumer fraud violation.

Nope, I just needed to marry Larry.

Now I can look up any law I need on and then check my legal interpretation with my resident expert. And here’s the best part: no hourly rate to pay. There’s only the small price of feigning interest when, after answering my question, he goes didactic on me, printing out a compendium of relevant case summaries that he expects me to enthusiastically read.

But in our litigation-driven society, having a bona fide lawyer on “’til-death-do-us-part” retainer can be a handy asset. Larry can expertly negotiate any sale, be it house, car or mortgage refinance; he can read and understand the small print on any document (without glasses, no less), and he can make all investment and insurance decisions.

But what’s the downside? Surely, there’s a reason for all those lawyer jokes.
In other words, what’s it like — day after day, year after year — trying to have discussions with someone who is trained and gets paid for poking holes in any argument? Who reads articles word by painstaking word with one hand guiding a ruler underneath each line and the other hand holding a red pen? And who seamlessly inserts phrases such as nunc pro tunc and res ipsa loquitor into what passes for normal conversation?

That’s the key phrase: normal conversation. Can you just chitchat over morning coffee with someone who is reputedly aggressive, analytic and always watching the clock? With someone who values objectivity and reason over emotion and intuition? Who listens carefully to a complicated and long-deliberated observation and then matter of factly responds, “That makes no sense.”

“What makes no sense?” I ask.

“Look, why would someone do that?” he invariably says, pointing out that he’s trained to ferret out the motivation behind any action.

“So,” I answer, using my own keen rebuttal skills, “who cares.” After all, just because his clients pay large sums of money for his advice and then actually follow it, I’m not obligated to do the same.

And that’s the secret. Different strokes. While Larry resorts to what I lovingly call his “lawyer tricks,” relentlessly bombarding me with logical arguments and making normal marital melees an impossibility, I rely on irrationality. And that makes perfect sense. After all, Larry is a JD (juris doctor) and I’m an INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling and judgmental person, based on the Myers-Briggs typology test).

But opposites attract. They even complement each other. And I have to say that it’s been my left-brained, logical and level-headed husband who has ethically enlightened me.

It’s Larry, contrary to the cutthroat and merciless legal stereotype, who has taught me about the sanctity of human life, the cruelty of sarcasm and ridicule, the power of kindness, the virtue of patience and the paramount importance of family.

It’s also Larry who’s taught me that journalists need their spouses’ permission to quote them in print (I learned that one the hard way) and that, yes, spouses can sue spouses (so far, this has not been necessary).

And it’s Larry who has already carefully vetted this column and, in accordance with the Communication Act’s equal opportunity provision, is probably already drafting his response. It will be titled. “I Married a Journalist.”

Look for it in your local legal newspaper.

Freelance writer Jane Ulman lives in Encino, where lawyer-marriages are legal.

Writer spins thrillers from his own undercover adventures

Jet lag launched Haggai Carmon into his career as an author. The international lawyer found himself in a small, unheated hotel room in a remote country he won’t identify. He was on U.S. government assignment, collecting intelligence on a violent criminal organization, but his security cover had been blown, and he was advised by Interpol not to leave his hotel room.

Tired, but too scared to sleep, Carmon sat at a child-sized desk with his laptop computer and spun 100 pages of a thriller based on, but disguising, his experiences. Those first 100 pages became the basis for “Triple Identity,” the first in a series of three thrillers featuring Dan Gordon, a lawyer and former Mossad agent working for the U.S. Department of Justice.

“I always finish what I start,” Carmon, 61, said in an interview in his Manhattan law office.

Published last year, “Triple Identity” was reissued in paperback and is now in stores. Meanwhile, his latest novel, “The Red Syndrome,” was recently published (Steerforth Press) and the third book in the ongoing series, “Chameleon,” will be published next year.

The foreword to the first book is written anonymously by a retired member of the Mossad’s top echelon, who quotes a line from Proverbs as the organization’s motto, “For by deception thou shalt make thy war,” emphasizing the war of minds, not weapons. Knesset member Efraim Sneh pens the foreword to “The Red Syndrome.”

“The Red Syndrome” involves Dan Gordon in an international money-laundering case that radiates from some Russian mobsters in Brooklyn. His investigations unravel a much larger case than his boss at the Justice Department imagined, one involving international bioterrorism, with the United States threatened by an Iranian-based group called the Slaves of Allah. The case is assigned to the CIA, and Gordon — always the independent-minded thinker and analyst — joins a multiagency team on the terrorists’ trail.

The novel is full of layers of espionage, betrayal, a touch of romance, blackmail, kidnapping, high-tech tools and quick thinking. The reader follows the case from Gordon’s point of view, sensing his suspicions, but Gordon stays out ahead of the reader.

Carmon has mastered his genre well, creating an intriguing, suspenseful, smart plot that makes for timely and compelling reading. At a time of much upheaval in the world, Carmon is clear about good and evil.

“The forces of evil are relentless,” Carmon said, admitting that he writes fiction with a pro-democracy, pro-Israel message. “The world, in particular the Jewish people, should not be indifferent. I always suggest believing the enemy. In 1923, Hitler outlined what he was going to do and nobody believed him. The Iranian prime minister says that he wants to wipe Israel off of the map. We should believe him and be ready. Our worst enemy is complacency.”

Carmon’s own investigations have involved many countries, sometimes up to 20, and many millions, sometimes a billion, dollars. He said that his supervisors have told him that whenever he touches a case, it suddenly becomes interesting; that some serious matters touching on national security, or sometimes megafraud, are discovered.

The lawyer evades most questions about similarities between himself and his character, although at times they sound like doubles. Both state unequivocally that they never give up.

“The books are inspired by my work, but it’s not real. Some of it happened, and I changed names and places,” he said. Carmon is quick to point out that he “never served in the Mossad. Dan Gordon did.”

“Dan Gordon was trained in the Mossad to think in a certain way,” Carmon said. “In law school, I, too, was trained to think in a certain way. I remember talking with government agents who were surprised that I knew to look under a certain stone. I don’t know whether it’s intuition, training or experience. In life, things are never as they seem.”

He pointed out that his books have many Jewish elements and values. Benny Friedman, the character who heads the international office of the Mossad, is an Orthodox Jew who, “at the end of the day, comes out as the smartest of them all.

“I don’t write crime stories. I write about historical events that I was personally involved with. This is not routine police work. Not Ellery Queen, not Agatha Christie. I write from the perspective of an insider,” Carmon said.

His father was a writer, or rather he was a farmhand turned banker, who was born in Belarus and eventually served as president of a small bank in Israel. Writing was something he did on the side. At the age of 57, he published his first book and subsequently wrote several others.

The first book his father published was on the eve of Carmon’s bar mitzvah and was dedicated to him. Carmon re-published the book on his father’s 100th birthday, when Carmon’s oldest son became a bar mitzvah. The elder Carmon’s books were about Eastern wisdom, Chinese poetry, short stories and fables.

Carmon grew up amid privilege in Tel Aviv. After high school, he served in the Israeli air force and was in active combat. He graduated from Tel Aviv University, where he studied political science in the developing world. After completing law school, he became active politically in Israel, serving as unpaid adviser to Shimon Peres, simultaneously pursuing a career in international law. He became known as a problem solver.

In 1985, Carmon began working for the U.S. Department of Justice, first on matters related to the litigation of civil cases in Israel and later on other issues related to international asset recovery.

At a book party earlier this month in Washington, D.C., co-hosted by Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon, Carmon’s former supervisor, David Epstein, former director of the Justice Department’s Office of Foreign Litigation, spoke.

Epstein and Carmon worked together for 18 years, and Epstein acknowledged that he was the basis for the fictional David Stone, director of the office of international asset recovery and money laundering. Epstein said that what went on in the field was often “stranger than fiction.”

Carmon has faced frequent threats and tells a story of the time he was assaulted on the job. He was severely beaten up after obtaining bank documents in an unnamed Central European country. Soaked in blood, he knew he had to leave the country, so he went directly to the airport and caught a flight to Reykjavik, Iceland, quickly explaining to airline agents that he had been in a car accident and that the other guy was seriously hurt.

Book review: The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide

Divorce attorneys. Are there two dirtier words in the English language? Thoughts of them conjure up images of circling human sharks, cold-blooded assassins and profiteers feasting on the misery of others. Turning to them for suggestions on how to stay married would seem about as useful as seeking out Donald Trump for tips on humility or former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair for advice on journalistic ethics.
Sometimes, though, the conventional wisdom misses the mark. Drawing on interviews with 100 prominent divorce attorneys nationwide, author and former practicing attorney Wendy Jaffe has written an interesting and illuminating work called, “The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide to Staying Married.” Apparently, those with ringside seats in divorce court, a place where couples venture to shred their wedding vows and one another, have a special insight into how not to behave in marriage.
In her book, Jaffe outlines how to diagnose and treat myriad union-killers, ranging from no-sex marriages to infidelity to unrealistic expectations. Beyond that, she argues that many couples who end up in divorce court could have, and should have, worked harder to save their unions.
In Jaffe’s view, marriage, except in cases of physical or verbal abuse and untreated drug and alcohol addiction, is worth fighting for. She argues that the fact that about half of all marriages in the United States don’t last is less a reflection of widespread incompatibility than an indictment of a disposable American culture that encourages folks to trade in their old-but-perfectly good cars, computers and, yes, even spouses for newer, fresher models. All too often, Jaffe argues, mates in the process of shedding their significant others come to realize too late that they’ve made a terrible mistake, especially when children are involved. The grass might appear greener elsewhere, but that, like a waterhole in the desert, is often only a mirage. The proof: Two of three second marriages end in divorce.
Jaffe’s starts her book detailing all the ways sex can kill a marriage. Why start with sex?
“It is rare that someone who is having good and regular sex will come to me for a divorce,” says Miami family law attorney Maurice Kutner, one of several lawyers Jaffe quotes.
Couples having infrequent intimate relations should beware, Jaffe warns. Sex, she writes, is an integral part of most marriages, and its absence augurs poorly for their survival. There are myriad reasons why married couples’ love lives can cool, including familiarity and the exhaustion of parenthood. Still, a no-sex marriage is far from the norm. As Jaffe notes, just because married spouses have stopped making love with one another doesn’t mean they have stopped making love.

Take the case of Steve and Linda, one of several case studies Jaffe sprinkles throughout her book. The couple married in their mid-20s, had three kids in six years and moved to the ‘burbs. To the outside world, they appeared to have the perfect union. However, behind the smiles, Linda felt increasingly disconnected from her spouse, and her interest in intimacy dwindled markedly with the birth of her children. Over time, Steve also became more disenchanted, especially after his wife rejected repeated requests to discuss her waning drive with a gynecologist. Steve eventually left a “shocked” Linda for a work colleague.
So what to do if sex begins to vanish from the bedroom? Jaffe suggests the road to recovery begins with recognition.
“Even if sex is not important to you,” she writes, “you have to realize that it might be extremely important to your spouse, and that it is a significant cause of divorce.”
Throughout the book, Jaffe encourages readers to consult a therapist. She also offers a helpful list of reference books readers might want to peruse.Infidelity is another sex-related marriage-killer with which Jaffe grapples. On the upside, she argues persuasively that many marriages can withstand cheating. If both spouses figure out what caused the straying and address the problem; if the victim spouse can forgive the affair; and if the adulterous husband or wife truly recommits to the marriage — a lot of ifs — the couple might salvage the union. On the downside, Internet chat rooms and dating services have made it easier than ever for bored spouses to find a playmate.
Many marriages, Jaffe writes, are in trouble even before they begin. That’s because one or both partners bring unrealistic expectations to the altar.
Couples who expect the romance and fires of passion to burn indefinitely set themselves up for their marriage to flameout. Similarly, men and women who believe marriage will magically transform their significant other are deluding themselves. Her insane jealousy won’t suddenly vanish, just as his verbal abuse and alcoholism won’t disappear. The bottom line: What you see is generally what you get. A caveat, though: People often do change over the course of a marriage, for better or for worse, Jaffe says.
Even those who’ve never married, as well as people considering getting hitched for the second or third time, could benefit from “The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide.”
Jaffe and the attorneys she interviewed counsel against getting married at a young age. A little life experience, they argue, allows a person to grow up and figure out what they want from themselves and from a prospective spouse. It is no surprise, Jaffe writes, that Oklahoma, despite its location at the heart of the Bible Belt, has the second-highest divorce rate, according to 1990 stats. The reason: One of the lowest average ages for first marriages, at 22 for women and 24 for men.
As for remarriage, Jaffe warns against the “clone syndrome.” That is, finding a new spouse with a similar personality to the person just left behind. To avoid making the same mistakes again and again, such as repeatedly hooking up with alcoholics, Jaffe suggests seeing a therapist to “understand why your marriage broke down and how your selection of your spouse played a part in it.”
Jaffe’s book makes a surprisingly good read, considering that many lawyers tend to write in a turgid, tangled legalese. Still, Jaffe does trip up a few times.The lawyer in her devotes an entire section to prenuptial agreements. She argues that men and women with substantial assets need to protect them. Rational?

Young Lawyer Has a Ball With Bet Tzedek

As a young summer associate with a Los Angeles law firm, Jeffrey Sklar looked forward to attending his first Justice Ball. He wanted to see ’80s icon Billy Idol do the “Rebel Yell” live. He wanted to hang out with other young attorneys and law students. He wasn’t going for any high-minded motives.

Back in 2000, Sklar, like most of the 20- and 30-somethings who go to the annual Justice Ball, had only the vaguest notion of what Bet Tzedek, the event’s sponsor and a local Jewish legal-aid outfit, does. That would soon change.

Sklar, an attorney at Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan LLP, went to the Ball and partied with friends. He also listened as Bet Tzedek executives briefly took the stage and talked up their organization and its need for dedicated volunteers to help society’s most vulnerable achieve a degree of justice. Their message resonated with Sklar, who, as a young boy, remembers dropping coins into his family’s tzedekah box. Now, six years later, Sklar is a regular legal volunteer, he’s helped recruit other lawyer friends to volunteer time, and he’s helping to plan this year’s event, which will take place July 8 at the Hollywood Palladium, featuring the Go-Go’s.

Founded in 1997, the Justice Ball has grown into one of the nation’s most successful nonprofit fundraisers/parties targeting young professionals, Jews and non-Jews alike. Over the past nine years, more than 16,000 attorneys, financiers and others have attended the soirees, and scores of them have gone on to become Bet Tzedek contributors and volunteers. Some, like Sklar, have gone on to serve on Bet Tzedek’s Justice Ball planning committee and even on to the board of directors, making the event more than just a fundraiser — it’s an important gateway to the organization.

“The Justice Ball is absolutely a good way for young blood to get involved,” said Bet Tzedek board member Brette Simon, a law partner at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP whose first exposure to the legal aid society came from attending the mega-parties.

To date, Justice Balls have raised more than $3.2 million in ticket sales and corporate sponsorships, said Randall Kaplan, the Justice Ball’s creator and cofounder of high-tech giant Akamai Technologies, Inc. Last year’s event raised $425,000, or nearly 8 percent of Bet Tzedek’s $5.5 million budget, Executive Director Mitch Kamin said. This year, the 10th anniversary gala is expected to be even bigger. Hopes are the popular L.A. Go-Go’s will draw more than 3,000 revelers and raise as much as $500,000, Kamin said.

“Everyone in the philanthropic world is puzzling over how you engage the truly young generation of professionals who haven’t been necessarily taught by their parents that giving is part of their religious or social responsibility,” Kamin said. “This is a chance for us to introduce ourselves to them, give them initial exposure to Bet Tzedek and raise their consciousness.”

Bet Tzedek’s success at reaching the coveted demographic of young Jewish professionals comes as other Jewish organizations are struggling to do the same. Faced with the growing competition from non-Jewish nonprofits, Jewish charities are grappling with a generation that, because of intermarriage and assimilation, often considers itself more American than Jewish, experts said. With young Jews standing to inherit billions over the next 20 years, finding a way to appeal to their generosity is perhaps the greatest challenge faced by Jewish charities.

In Los Angeles, Bet Tzedek is not alone in its success in appealing to this group. Young leadership initiatives at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, including its Young Leadership Division and the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund of Los Angeles, now account for about $5 million, or nearly 5 percent of The Federation’s annual campaign, said Craig Prizant, The Federation’s executive vice president for financial resource development.

Still, The Federation’s strong showing appears to be the exception rather than the rule in the organized Jewish world. Simply put, the stodgy chicken-dinner fundraisers favored by so many Jewish philanthropies fail to bring young movers-and-shakers to the table. The MTV generation would rather rock ‘n’ roll all night long.

The Justice Ball gives them a chance to do just that, along with learning a thing or two about Bet Tzedek’s mission of offering free legal aid to the poor, sick, elderly and homeless.

Soon after his first Justice Ball, Sklar joined the group’s planning committee. Like others touched by Justice Balls before him, he went on to volunteer his legal services to Bet Tzedek, including assisting a Holocaust survivor obtain restitution from the Hungarian government.

“As a lawyer, you make a decent living. You get to sit up here in real tall buildings with a real nice view. You get to drive a real nice car,” he said. “So the bottom line is you need to give back, you have to get back. This is a great way for me to do so.”

For more information on the Justice Ball, visit


‘Top Gun’ Lawyer Aims to Aid Likud

The latest, and certainly most colorful, addition to the ranks of the local Likud leadership is Beverly Hills lawyer Myles L. Berman.

He is better known to citizens facing drunk driving charges — and to connoisseurs of advertising slogans — as The Top Gun DUI Defense Attorney, but these days, it’s the defense of Israel that is uppermost on his mind.

Last June, fed up with what he considers the failure of established organizations to involve the American Jewish and Israeli expatriate communities, he founded the Beverly Hills Chapter of the American Friends of Likud.

So far, he has recruited 11 upscale families, drawn primarily from the Iranian Jewish community, to which his wife, Mitra belongs. The members make up in financial clout what they lack in numbers, with a combined worth of over $1 billion, according to Berman.

Born into a strongly Democratic family but later a founder of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Berman, at 51, is a man of strong physique and opinions.

“I am fed up with intermarriage and with rabbis who reach out to gay and intermarried couples,” he said during an interview in his spacious Sunset Boulevard office.

A member of Sinai Temple, Berman fears that “to some extent, rabbis and lay leaders are unable to instill Jewish identity” into their constituents.

Currently, Berman is focusing his considerable energies on two primary issues:

One is to assure the election from America of a large pro-Likud slate for the upcoming quadrennial Congress of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), dubbed “The Parliament of the Jewish People,” and his own election to the No. 5 spot on the slate.

He is concerned, he said, that so few American Jews realize the importance of June elections for the WZO Congress, which plays a major role in determining relations between Israel and the Diaspora, the running of the Jewish Agency and the dispersal of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Berman’s second immediate goal is to persuade the Israeli government and Knesset to allow Israeli citizens living abroad to vote in Israeli elections.

“It matters to both Israel and American Jewry what the expatriates say and do,” he observed.

Berman has “grabbed [the two issues] in my teeth,” he said. With Berman that means putting his money and advertising savvy behind the effort. Indeed, his penchant for publicity elicits knowing smiles even from fellow Likudniks.

Berman is laying out $50,000 of his own money to place his messages on Israeli cable TV programs popular with Israeli expats, and in the Anglo-Jewish and Hebrew-language press in the United States.

“I hope the efforts will further my ultimate aim of bridging the gap between Israeli leaders and American Jews,” Berman said.

Any Jew over 18 is eligible to vote for delegates to the Congress of the World Zionist Organization online or via mail by Feb. 15. For details, go to or phone (888) 657-8850. The Congress will meet June 19-22 in Jerusalem.


The Nation and The World


New Anti-Semitism Report

The U.S. State Department praised the work of European governments against anti-Semitism, but said law enforcement must do more to respond to anti-Semitic crimes. The State Department�(tm)s report addressing anti-Semitic incidents around the world – slated for release Wednesday and obtained in advance by JTA – comes after Congress passed a law last year mandating increased monitoring of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere. The report says recent anti-Semitism has come from traditional anti-Jewish prejudice in Europe, along with anti-Israel sentiment “that crosses the line between objective criticism of Israeli policies and anti-Semitism.” It also cites anti-Jewish sentiment among Muslims in Europe, and spillover criticism of the United States and globalization.

Holocaust Lawyer Charged

A lawyer involved in the lawsuit against Swiss banks for Holocaust-era accounts was charged with misappropriating funds from two survivors. The Office of Attorney Ethics in New Jersey, the investigative arm of the New Jersey Supreme Court, charged last month that Ed Fagan, one of the lead attorneys in the case that resulted in a $1.25 billion settlement, transferred funds from the survivors�(tm) accounts to pay off debts. Fagan has yet to respond to the charges, which were first reported by the Black Star News.

Peruvian Community Gets Rabbi

An “emerging Jewish” community in Peru now has a rabbi and Jewish educator. The Jewish professionals serving the community in Trujillo are courtesy of the Israel-based Shavei Israel group. The community dates back to the mid-1960s, when several hundred Peruvian Catholics decided to live as Jews. Some 300 members of the community have already moved to Israel.

WJC Faces Informal Probe

New York�(tm)s attorney general has launched a preliminary inquiry into allegations that the World Jewish Congress (WJC) mishandled its finances. In a statement, the group said it promised to cooperate with the informal probe launched recently by Eliot Spitzer. Officials with the group have said issues of financial transparency, which have roiled the organization in recent months, will be laid to rest at a meeting next week in Brussels. At the meeting, Stephen Herbits is expected to be nominated to the post of secretary-general, and the organization�(tm)s president, Edgar Bronfman, is expected to be re-elected.

Abuse in Ethiopia?

A North American Jewish group was accused of abusing Ethiopian Jews waiting to immigrate to Israel. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, some people living and working in Ethiopia accused the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) of refusing to distribute food to the Falash Mura at the group�(tm)s Addis Ababa compound; of treating Ethiopians employed in a sewing facility like slave laborers; of threatening those who cry foul at their treatment; and of dispatching a thug to rough people up. NACOEJ denied the accusations, insisting the claims were born of a labor dispute between the organization and some school teachers that NACOEJ fired and who were refused permission to immigrate by Israel. NACOEJ�(tm)s executive director, Barbara Ribakove Gordon, told the Post that, as a result of some Ethiopian trouble-makers, the group had to shut down its school in Addis Ababa, which also served as its food-distribution hub, for three weeks, and that the group was unable to operate the program during that time. Some 300 Falash Mura Ethiopians whose Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity but who now have returned to Jewish practice immigrate to Israel each month, and thousands more are waiting.

Vatican: Don�(tm)t Return Survivor Kids

The Vatican instructed French churches that protected Jewish children during the Holocaust not to return the young Jews to their families at war�(tm)s end. According to a letter from Nov. 20, 1946, published this week in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the wartime pope, Pius XII, said that children who had been baptized while in the church�(tm)s guardianship should not be reunited with surviving members of their families, Ha�(tm)aretz reported. “The documents indicate that the Vatican completely ignored the Holocaust and murder of Jews,” Amos Luzzatto, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, was quoted as saying in Ha�(tm)aretz. “There is a sticking to theological arguments as though this were an ordinary situation, when in practice these children were not entrusted to churches to convert to Christianity but to save them from murder.” The pope�(tm)s letter was sent to Angelo Roncalli the Vatican representative in Paris who later became Pope John XXIII who shortly thereafter told Israel�(tm)s then-chief rabbi that Roncalli�(tm)s authority could be used to return such children to their families.

Clerics Talk Reconciliation

Rabbis and imams opened a three-day peace conference in Brussels. Around 100 clerics attended the symposium, which began Monday under the auspices of Belgium�(tm)s King Albert II and the Hommes de Parole Foundation.

“For the first time, two religions that have been too often used as a pretext for war will be used to achieve peace,” the event�(tm)s Web site said. Rabbi Michael Melchior, a left-wing Israeli politician and Norway�(tm)s chief rabbi, said Jews had as much to learn from the conference as Muslims.

“There are religious leaders on both sides who incite to violence in the name of religion,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “And that must be stopped.” The attending imams came from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sao Paulo Jews Face Missionaries

Brazil�(tm)s largest Jewish community published a guide to combat missionary activities. Supported by the U.S.-based organization Jews for Judaism, the Sao Paulo State Jewish Federation published an online guide on its Portuguese language Web site,, to teach Jews how to resist Jews for Jesus and other Christian missionaries. Some 60,000 Jews, one-half of Brazilian Jewry, live in Sao Paulo.

Farewell, Foie Gras

Israeli geese farmers were given three months to stop force-feeding their livestock, a step in making foie gras. On Monday, the Knesset�(tm)s Education and Culture Committee upheld a High Court of Justice ban, as of April 1, on the controversial practice of force-feeding geese. The decision was a triumph for animal-rights activists and a snub to the Agriculture Ministry, which had argued that a humane method of feeding could be devised.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


The Class of ’93

As students around the Southland graduate and move beyond high school, The Journal sought out some of the outstanding Jewish high school seniors of 10 years ago, talking with five of the 13 valedictorians of the Class of 1993. Current grads can take solace that these five 28-year-olds are proof that there is life after high school.

Mitchell Berger

Chatsworth High School

When Mitch Berger headed to the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of ’93, he was intent on shedding his high school identity.

“I was tired of being known as the valedictorian guy and the smart guy,” said Berger, who was also voted Most Likely to Succeed. While the ambitious student admitted to getting a much-needed break from his high school reputation, his intelligence paid off. He is simultaneously pursuing a career in medicine and a doctorate at Penn.

“My current research is in breast cancer and biochemistry,” the articulate scholar said. “I’m certainly interested in oncology, but I’m not sure what I want to do yet.” Berger expects to get his doctorate in December and graduate from medical school in spring 2005.

But living so far from home bothers him. “I miss spending holidays with my family,” admitted Berger, who is considering moving back to Los Angeles someday. In the meantime, he is enjoying another aspect of his life, saying, “I’m still single, but I’m in a very serious relationship.”

Michelle (Avidor) Taus

Herzl School

Michelle Taus believes in soulmates and believes she has found one in her husband, Jimmy Taus. “I’m very lucky,” gushed the former straight-A scholar and student body president, who married her beshert (destined) in 2000.

Taus laughed at the memory of being voted Most Spirited back in high school, but her tone changed to one of sadness, when she talked about the now-defunct Herzl School, which closed in 1996 due to financial troubles.

These days, Taus is back in the classroom on her way to becoming an occupational therapist. She recently completed her master’s degree at USC and is finishing her internship at an elementary school.

“I’m working with children with autism, learning disabilities and ADD [attention deficit disorder],” said the Pico-Doheny area resident. She hopes to get a job in the Los Angeles school system.

After high school, Taus went to UC Santa Barbara, but left after the first quarter when her sister died. She completed her undergraduate work in social science at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. She still has a strong connection to Israel, where her mother and brother currently reside.

Taus’ future goals include starting a family. “I would love to raise my kids Jewish,” she said. “It’s something I’m very connected to.”

Bradley Gerszt

Valley Torah, Boys

Ten years ago, Bradley Gerszt thought he wanted to be a patent or criminal defense lawyer. But after spending three years in Israel — two studying at yeshivas and one at Bar-Ilan University — he found himself back in Los Angeles, finishing his degree in business economics at UCLA.

“After college, it was an option to go to law school, but I got a good job,” Gerszt said.

The career-altering investment banking job led Gerszt to his current endeavor as an independent real estate investor. “I liked the world of finance and investing, and real estate brings those things together,” he explained.

Besides carving out a career, Gerszt spent a great deal of time working with Jewish volunteer groups, running a Jewish youth group and teaching both bar and bat mitzvah classes and adult Jewish education.

The Brentwood resident is single and happy to be back in Los Angeles with his family. He is very focused on his career and developing his business. “I’d like to build on what I have and move into other states,” he said.

Julie (Yarmo) Mencer

Valley Torah, Girls

It was 9 p.m. in Baltimore and Julie Mencer had just put her children to bed. “I can still hear my 2-year-old, but she’ll be asleep soon,” assured the confident parent. Mencer should know — she has four children, ranging in age from 6 years old to 4 months.

It’s not surprising that the former valedictorian and student body president of Valley Torah, Girls, has such a large family, because she alluded to her love of children back in 1993.

After graduation, Mencer attended Seminar Yerushalayim in Israel for a year. Upon returning to Los Angeles, she changed her plans to go to Stern College in New York, when she was offered a teaching job at Emek Hebrew Academy, her alma mater.

While teaching, she took classes at California State University Northridge and realized that her ambition of becoming a pediatrician had faded.

“I remember sitting in a biology class and thinking, I love biology, but teaching is in my genes,” said Mencer, whose mother is an educator.

Since then, Mencer has taught kindergarten at day schools in London, San Jose and Baltimore, because her husband’s high-tech public relations career has required the family to move frequently.

Mencer is still in touch with her Valley Torah teachers. “Whenever I had a baby, I called the principal,” she giggled. She still looks to her Valley Torah and Emek teachers as role models and hopes to go into school administration in the future.

James Jacob Finsten

Palm Springs High School

Even with his busy school schedule, Jim Finsten admitted that he often thinks of the summers he spent as a teenager at Camp Alonim at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute. “I credit them with making me think about being a Jew every day,” said the USC law student, who expects to graduate in May 2004.

After getting his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Stanford University (both in public policy), Finsten spent time in Israel. “I learned some Hebrew, worked in a high-tech venture capital firm for a summer and then went to kibbutz and broke rocks in a concrete factory,” said the future lawyer, who is currently a summer associate at the law firm of Arnold & Porter. Finsten is looking forward to finishing law school.

Looking back on the past 10 years, the Westwood bachelor is grateful for the time he spent in Israel. “I’m glad I got a chance to learn Hebrew and be there before the infifada got started. It had a profound effect on me.”

Hadassah Encourages Women to ‘Check Out’ Program

Janine McMillion was 29 when she married, entered her third year of law school and was diagnosed with breast
cancer. Today, the Huntington Beach resident is an employment lawyer, whose
survival story was the centerpiece of “Check It Out,” an early-detection
program for youth put on by Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization.

The program was instigated by Adena Kaufman, 34, of Aliso
Viejo, compelled to action by the loss of a girlhood friend to breast cancer in
2001. “It’s made me grateful to be alive,” she said.

The December event for the Bureau of Jewish Education’s
TALIT students was the first presentation in Orange County by Hadassah, which
introduced the program in Texas a decade ago. About 90 girls and their mothers
attended the program at Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom. They received bags
stuffed with brochures, an anatomically correct breast model with simulated
lumps, instruction on self-examination and genetic risk factors.

“Nobody ever explained that to me before,” 15-year-old
Daniella Gruber told her mother, Roe, afterward.

“She got something out of it,” Gruber’s mother said.

Despite winning a $5,900 grant in December 2001 from the
Susan G. Komen Foundation to present the program free to 2,000 students,
Hadassah’s Long Beach-Orange County chapter has, so far, found few takers.

“We’ve had a difficult time getting into public schools,”
said Michelle Shahon, director of the 3,200-member Costa Mesa-based group, “If
you teach them good life habits early on, that’s the best method of early
detection,” she said.

Shahon intends to seek an extension of the grant and keep
knocking on doors.

Gambling Goodman

Oscar Goodman sure likes his Beefeater.

So much so that this Las Vegas mayor had proposed to become a spokesman for the gin company for $100,000. The money, Goodman promised, would go to the city coffers.

On a November Friday afternoon, just a day after news of the Beefeater negotiations leaked out (actually, Goodman himself announced it at his weekly press conference), the mayor’s phone is ringing off the hook. "When I said you weren’t available, a reporter told me, ‘What if I bring a bottle of Beefeater?’" Goodman’s aide tells him. "I said, ‘Well, why didn’t you say that earlier?’ You might have actually done it!" They both laugh, but the aide isn’t joking, and neither is the mayor: Goodman takes his Beefeater seriously, especially if representing the company would help bankroll his dream of making downtown thrive.

Goodman, who before he took the non-partisan position of mayor in 1999, was best known as the defense lawyer for the mob including clients like Meyer Lansky and Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro. He states with pride that he played himself in the movie "Casino." "Life is very short. You have to have a good time every second," the mayor says.

In the serious post-Sept. 11 world where Las Vegas tourism was hit by the fear of travel and the city suffered minor terrorist threats, the mayor hasn’t changed his plans. "I’m not going to allow the enemy to affect our way of doing things," he says. "Everyone is supposed to be having a good time in Vegas. That’s what we’re here for."

And that’s what his constituents most love — and his critics most hate: Goodman’s ability to have a good time, his flair for the theatrical and his talent for controversy. This year, readers of the Las Vegas Review-Journal voted Hizzoner both their Favorite Local Politician and Most Colorful Character. Lookswise, he’s nothing outstanding; in his suit he could be any other 62-year-old successful Jewish lawyer you see at the Conservative synagogue. But when he opens his mouth — which he does more often then not — his features take on a life of their own, giving the word "colorful" more color.

"Whoa, look at this jerk, right over, what an idiot. He fell right on his head, he’s probably dead." From the car the mayor is laughing at a guy who ran across the highway.

We are on our way to a furniture store opening — yes, a furniture store opening — because … well, it’s a long story. But it’s been a long day for Goodman ("brutal," he says), starting with a prayer breakfast, a speaking engagement to nurses, then a four-hour meeting working on an arena proposal for downtown. "It’s just one thing after another, but that’s what mayors do," he says, as the phone rings and someone on the other end threatens a lawsuit.

"Man, he’s a paranoid jerk, who if he wants to do business with the city sure started off on the wrong foot. He’s got a long, hard way to go with me," Goodman tells the caller. After the call is finished he says, "The only thing that people don’t realize is that when they threaten me with a lawsuit, I relish it. I mean, that’s what I did for 35 years as a lawyer. So if they say lawsuit, I say, take your best shot."

And this is all before five o’clock, the time for a drink or a bet at the tables.

If some mayors have the personality of their cities — like gruff, tough Rudolph Giuliani is New York — then Las Vegas has finally met its match.

"City residents have been longing for an elected leader with this kind of moxie," a Las Vegas Sun columnist wrote recently. "Finally we have a mayor who can promote Las Vegas the way it should be promoted — as Sin City…. Yes, you’ve got to love the mayor of Las Vegas. God bless him."

The columnist was blessing the mayor’s bid, in March, to be the spokesman for Tanqueray instead of his beloved Beefeater. Why the defection? Beefeater would only cough up $25,000, and Goodman wanted his original asking price of $100,000, so he cut off negotiations with Beefeater. A third unnamed company has also entered negotiations this month, and they hope to close the deal with someone soon.

This is not the only one of Goodman’s highfalutin ideas which might end in success: on Monday, they signed a deed to the post office in order to turn it into a Mob museum. Other ideas include bringing to Vegas Hollywood studios, a major league team (he got a minor league hockey team instead) and a top-notch medical center. Last week, downtown saw the opening of a $100 million dollar entertainment complex.

Goodman doesn’t lack for causes. He takes on the casino establishment for not supporting the entire city (note: his downtown projects) and politicians in Washington for proposing the nearby Yucca mountain as a nuclear-waste dump. The homeless accuse him of being heartless for suggesting that they be rounded up and bused to an abandoned prison or pushed farther toward the Pacific Ocean, and the 19 or so synagogues in the area vie for his time, but never ask him for something he won’t deliver. "They don’t mess with the mayor in Las Vegas. Nobody asks me anything that would make me angry. They want me to be a happy mayor."

When Oscar Goodman came to Las Vegas 37 years ago, fresh from law school in Philadelphia, there was only one synagogue (his Conservative one) and more churches per capita than any city in the world. Since then, the Jewish community has flourished to more than 75,000.

Goodman, who raised four children here with his wife of 37 years, says that his Jewish values have made him the person he is today. "I was raised by a very ethical, moral mother and father. They were parents who were supposed to be honored. Kabed et aviycha v’et imecha," he says, quoting the Hebrew commandment of honoring your parents. "They installed certain values. I’m not sure that had I not been Jewish that I would have had that kind of upbringing."

Drinking? Gambling? Jewish values?

"I think some of the greatest Jews in history have gambled and drunk. Shoot, that’s part of Judaism, as far as I was concerned," Goodman says in his own defense.

"I used to remember going to my grandfather’s house, and the gambling was a little different. During the holidays we used to play — it was like bowling but with hazelnuts, and you would win money … and the afikomen? That’s gambling.

"Drinking, the first thing you did when you walked into my grandfather’s home, he said ‘Do you want some schnapps?’" he recalls.

"So I’m following a long line of degenerate Jews in being the mayor of Las Vegas."

The Secret History

"The Woman Who Laughed at God: The Untold History of the Jewish People," by Jonathan Kirsch (Viking Press, $14.95).

Jonathan Kirsch lives a double life that many lawyers only dream of.

An attorney specializing in the field of publishing law by day, he is also the best-selling author of several books on Jewish history and thought, including the 1997 book, "The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible," and popular biographies of King David and Moses.

Kirsch speaks with the thoughtfulness of someone who has greatly considered the various angles on the subject on which he is speaking. On this occasion, he is speaking about his latest book, "The Woman Who Laughed at God: The Untold History of the Jewish People," an overview of Jewish history that attempts to reconcile what Kirsch describes as his "part-Labor Zionist, part-traditionally observant" Jewish background.

From the story of Sarah laughing at God when he promised her a son in old age (the idea behind the book’s title), to the iconoclasm of thinkers like Sigmund Freud, the book identifies the strain of questioning and adaptability in Jewish history that has allowed Judaism to survive and flourish.

Jewish Journal: What do you mean by "The Untold History of the Jewish People?"

Jonathan Kirsch: I want to express a very simple idea — at the heart of Jewish religious tradition, at the very beginning of the Torah, we are given as a role model a woman who is audacious, spontaneous, bold and even impulsive. Sarah encounters God with sheer chutzpah, and is not punished for it. Reprimanded, but not punished. So, for any Jew who feels that the proper stance towards God as recommended by the Torah is one of meekness and submission and blind obedience, they are overlooking what I would argue are some of the core values of Judaism as expressed in Torah.

So, the woman who laughed at God obviously is the matriarch Sarah, who laughs when she overheard God promising her a child in advanced old age. Sarah shows what I think of as an endearing and refreshing audacity, and symbolizes to me a spirit in Judaism of daring that has translated itself into a spirit of innovation and invention, which is the core value of Judaism and what has sustained Judaism for over 3,000 years. This is the theme of my book — what has sustained Judaism through reinvention after reinvention are the Jewish men and women who felt empowered [to make those reinventions]. The rabbinical Judaism we practice now is itself an innovation of the kind of biblical Judaism which came before it.

JJ: You spend much of the book examining biblical stories about people who had the audacity you speak of, both toward God and their fellow Jews.

JK: I am viewing Judaism as a contest between tradition and counter-tradition. Eventually, however, one doesn’t suppress or replace the other — they blend. The dissident views are never fully exterminated, but are assimilated into what it means to be Jewish. There has always been a conflict in Judaism between those who are "purifiers" and those who are "diversifiers."

That idea comes up again and again in Jewish history. The Mitnagdim [supporters of rabbinical Judaism] thought they were better Jews than the Chasidim [supporters of an ecstatic and mystical movment in Judaism], and in some circles, I would venture to say they still do. There’s an irony there because if you took the 90 percent of American [Jews], who are not very religious at all, the Mitnagdim and the Chasidim have much more in common with each other than with any secular or assimilated Jews. And yet they still find reasons to excoriate each other. Why? Because they each feel that they are the more authentic Jew.

JJ: Your book was written pre-Sept. 11, but it contains a very intriguing comparison of Judah and the Maccabees to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Why did you make the comparison, and would you reconsider the analogy post-Sept. 11?

JK: The reason Thomas L. Thompson, whose theory I quote about this, likens the Maccabees to the Taliban is because the Maccabees were fundamentalists who were willing to resort to violence against their co-religionists to enforce the strictest practice of faith. This is another example of why I call my book "The Untold History of the Jews," because most of us were raised to look at the Maccabees as freedom fighters. Chanukah has become the symbol of how Judaism is equivalent to Christian practice. This is a false idea in the actual history of the Maccabees.

The Maccabees fought against assimilation. Their most bitter enemies were not the Syrians — they had a much hotter war against their fellow secular, Hellenized Jews. The Maccabees, or their followers, would go from village to village in the land of Judah, and any Jew who had failed to be circumcised, they would forcibly circumcise. They were willing to go beyond rhetoric and enforce religious law. That is why Thompson compares the Maccabees to the Taliban. I don’t back away from it at all. I think it is an illuminating way for us to look back across history.

Inside Dating

When “Inside Schwartz” creator Stephen Engel was in college, dating was relatively easy. He’d meet a girl in class, hang out — and presto! — he had a girlfriend.

But when Engel’s college flame dumped him when he was 25, the Jewish writer entered alien territory: the singles scene. “I didn’t have a lot of experience formally calling women and asking them out,” he says. “I’d never been ‘fixed up.’ I’d never been on a blind date. I had some horrific experiences.”

At the time, Engel, a self-professed “sports nut,” wished he could bring in sports analysts for advice. “I wished we could do instant replays to examine the body language,” he says. “It would be like, ‘She’s sitting on the couch, her arms are crossed, so does she or doesn’t she want me to make a pass?'”

The now happily married Engel, has turned his past wishful thinking into an NBC sitcom, “Inside Schwartz,” about a recently dumped sports nut with a parrot named Larry Bird and lots of bad dates. Like Engel at 25, Adam Schwartz (played by Breckin Meyer of “Rat Race” and “Road Trip”) imagines sports figures analyzing his love life. When a blind date announces she has four kids, an umpire blows a whistle and shouts, “Too many players on the field!” When Schwartz pines for his ex, Hall of Famer Dick Butkus pops up and advises, “Trust me, Adam, it’s over.” When Schwartz’s Jewish best friend, Julie Hermann (played by Jewish actress Miriam Shor) gazes into his eyes, Butkus razzes him to kiss her (he doesn’t listen).

While the 20-something Engel was a lawyer and wannabe writer, Schwartz is a wannabe sportscaster stuck working for his dad. He doesn’t get much help from his agent, William Morris (Dondre Whitfield), an African American who uses Yiddishisms like bubbaleh, “because that’s how he thinks agents talk,” Engel says.

Engel is not the first Jewish writer to make a gag of his life; but unlike “Seinfeld” and “Mad About You” characters, who were Jewish by innuendo, Schwartz makes his heritage clear in the first couple of minutes of the pilot. And while most TV shows pair Jewish characters with gentile love interests — ostensibly for dramatic conflict — “Schwartz” may be the first sitcom in which two appealing young Jews generate romantic tension.

For Engel, the reason is simple. “I’m Jewish, and the character is basically an exaggerated version of me,” he says.

Growing up Reform in New Rochelle, N.Y., the now 40-year-old Engel was as sports-obsessed as Schwartz. He shot hoops daily, fantasizing that he was a Knicks star and that sports announcer Marv Albert broadcast his every move. Every time a car drove past the hoop in his driveway, he assumed it was a Knicks scout. “If I missed the basket, I was, like, devastated,” says Engel, who at 5′ 9″ was too short to play on his high school team.

At Tufts, the budding comedy writer made the Hillel team and taught a comedy writing course, but decided to attend NYU law school to please his parents. “I spent most of my 20s trying to convince my dad that I didn’t want to be an attorney,” says Engel, who wrote screenplays on weekends and got his first break penning a comedy for producer Joel Silver.

By 1991, he’d snagged a full-time writing job on HBO’s “Dream On,” though he was too terrified to imagine Albert announcing his ditching of law with a trademark “Yessssss!”

Nevertheless, Engel went on to co-executive produce “Dream On,” serve as a consultant for “Mad About You” and create the short-lived CBS series “Work With Me,” about married attorneys who are forced into the same practice.

“Inside Schwartz” came about when Engel decided to experiment with the sitcom format and thought it would be funny to merge the grandiose field of sports with a person’s private life. “Sports coverage is so pompous,” he says, with a laugh. “It’s like they’re talking about gladiators going into battle.”

“Schwartz” also allows Engel to poke fun at his dates from hell — and the talent agency that refused to sign him. Schwartz’s hack agent, named after the William Morris agency, “carries himself like Mark Ovitz but has the client list of Broadway Danny Rose,” Engel says.

To satisfy NBC attorneys, the character must always introduce himself as “William Morris, not affiliated with the William Morris Agency, the largest talent agency in the world.”

Engel’s talent agency is Creative Artists Agency. “I could have named the character that, but it wouldn’t have been as funny,” he says.

“Inside Schwartz” debuts Thursday, Sept. 20 at 8:30 p.m. on NBC.

Advice From the Trenches

The statistics haven’t changed much in the close to 30 years I’ve been in practice. About 50 percent of all American marriages end in divorce. As a family law attorney, I work with people every day who are giving up on their dreams of marital bliss. And in many cases — for my client and for the well-being of children involved — ending the marriage is a good idea. Marriages that break up because of untreated physical abuse, gambling, drug and alcohol problems, and infidelity are often damaged beyond repair. In those cases it’s usually best for everyone concerned if the marriage is dissolved, allowing the innocent spouse to move on with his or her life.

But then there are the other cases, the marriages where the differences are not truly irreconcilable, where love still remains, although buried under misunderstandings, neglect or just the stress of daily living. In these cases, the problems may not be insurmountable. In the past four years, I have sent more than 100 couples to communication skills counseling instead of the courtroom. Of those couples, 60 percent have reconciled, many having fallen back in love (yes, it’s possible), deciding together to give their marriage another chance.

I’m not worried about putting myself out of business. Unfortunately, divorce will always be with us. And although I may be a divorce attorney, I am also a wife, mother and grandmother. Preserving intimate relationships is fundamental to our happiness as individuals and as a society in general. Since I see relationships being destroyed every day, I think I have more insight than the average person about why relationships break up. Based on my experience, I’ve developed what I call the “10 Commandments for a Healthy Marriage or Relationship”:

1. Prioritize Your Partner Above Career, Friends and Housework.

Remember the third entity in this relationship: the marriage itself. I see so many cases where people are so busy with work or the children that they simply do not pay attention to their partners. In our busy lives, something has to give. It may be the dirt on top of the refrigerator or the overtime at work, but it should never be your partner. If one person consistently takes a back seat to the kids, a career, housework, whatever, he or she will start to think “What am I doing here?” and be tempted to move on.

2. Share Responsibilities.

Busy people can do anything, but not everything. If one spouse takes on all the responsibilities with the household, the kids, the social obligations, and so forth, ultimately that will backfire. Hostility and resentment are two big factors that lead to divorce court.

3. Make Dates With Your Spouse and Keep Them.

Your time and energy are finite. If you extend yourself in a million directions, you won’t have much left to give. Remember the feeling of being special to each other. Always keep in mind that there are three aspects of your relationship: you, your partner and the marriage. The marriage must be a priority, or you and your partner will suffer.

4. Let Go.

If you’re the type of person who has to do everything yourself “or else it won’t be done right,” you’re doing your spouse a disservice. By not allowing partners to contribute, to handle things their way, spouses are telling them, in effect, that they do not matter, that they are incompetent and can’t be depended upon. Those are dangerous messages to send to someone you’re supposed to love.

5. Create Space for Yourself.

Everyone needs privacy. The fact that you are married shouldn’t preclude the need for your own space. Take some quiet time alone during the day; even a few minutes makes a difference. Encourage your spouse to do the same. If you are so dependent on the other person that he or she starts to feel smothered, you’re asking for trouble.

6. Communicate.

A partnership is based on knowledge, on sharing, on knowing the little things. This doesn’t mean dumping the trash of the day, but it does mean communicating what has occurred that is important, frightening or cheerful. Understand that this sharing does not necessarily invite suggestions on how the problems could have been better handled; instead, it offers another shoulder to help bear the burdens of the day. And don’t forget to compliment each other. Something as simple as “You cooked a great meal,” really means a lot. We compliment other people, so why not each other?

7. Create a Mutual Interest.

Partners can grow apart as they build separate careers and cultivate separate hobbies. Find something that interests you both, such as skiing, antiquing, religion, concerts, politics or even watching sports together. In many long-term marriages, where there are no common interests or goals, the parties grow apart and become like two strangers on a bus. This does not mean that you each can’t have diverse interests that you do not share; it just reiterates the importance of that third entity, the marriage.

8. Take Care of Yourself Every Day.

No one is as important as you are. If you are not healthy or happy, nothing else works. Recreation really means re-creation, and everyone needs it. An unhealthy life style creates stress and anger. Little things like exercise, a relaxing bath, or even lunch with a friend can make the time with your partner more worthwhile. If you want your partner to respect you, you have to show respect for yourself.

9. Direct Your Anger Appropriately.

If you are angry with your boss or your business partner, don’t take it out on your spouse. It is okay to share the anger with your loved one, but don’t lose sight of the source of that anger. If your spouse is angry with someone other than you, give him or her an opportunity to express that anger without becoming defensive. Anger, at times, is appropriate, but its expression should be limited in time and always be directed at the appropriate person or incident.

10. Plan Escape Time Together.

Everyone needs to get away. Plan an escape — a few days, overnight, even just an evening out — so the two of you can remember why you got married in the first place. Without this time to gain perspective and refresh the marriage, it is easy to get bogged down in the everyday details of life.

I may be a divorce attorney, but I’m a romantic at heart. If more people followed my “10 Commandments,” I’d have a few less clients in my office. And that would be just fine with me.

Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin is a partner with Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen and a past chair of the American Bar Association’s Family Law Section.

Whose Money?

Since 1996, Jewish groups and their lawyers have gone to the mat with the likes of the Germans, the Swiss and the French, extracting $9 billion in restitution for the evil wrought in Europe by Nazi forces and their collaborators.

While the entire process is gradually winding down, a few more battles loom: with the Austrian government, with museums holding looted art-work and with the U.S. companies whose wartime German subsidiaries profited from slave labor.

But the clash that promises to be particularly wrenching will actually pit Jew against Jew: what to do with the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in “residual” funds, those without direct heirs or claimants.

On Sept. 11, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) will formally announce the creation of a foundation – tentatively named the Foundation for the Jewish People – that will determine the spending priorities.The foundation was actually established in June in Jerusalem, but the WJC chose to announce it at a gala event in New York to honor the politicians who have played a key role in restitution, including President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The foundation board will be made up of representatives of various Jewish organizations, Holocaust survivor groups and the Israeli government. Among the ideas floated are funding Jewish and Holocaust education, restoring Jewish communities in Europe or building Holocaust museums and memorials, said Elan Steinberg, WJC’s executive director.

“The Nazis sought to wipe out not only the Jewish people but Jewish communities and Judaism itself,” Steinberg said.

“Obviously, this has been 50 years too slow,” he added. “But I think the issue we have to address, are now forced to address, is to ensure that how these residual assets are used reflects the best interests of the Jewish people as a whole.”

Many Holocaust survivors vehemently disagree.

While they support the general need for education, commemoration, documentation and research, they believe there are more pressing needs: health care for the 250,000 survivors worldwide, including 130,000 in the United States. An estimated 1,000 survivors die each month.

“Yes, money should be spent for Jewish education and culture, but that is the obligation of klal Yisrael – of all Jews,” said Roman Kent, a survivor who serves as chairman of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and vice-president of the Claims Conference.

“But to me, this money has one specific purpose,” Kent said. “All of it should go to the survivors. As long as there are still survivors who are old and sick and needy, they are the first obligation.”

The $9 billion figure is a bit misleading, and most of it is already spoken for, according to the WJC’s Steinberg.

Per an agreement reached with Germany in July, $5.2 billion will go to some 1.25 million forced and slave laborers. In real terms, Jewish laborers will receive 30 percent of the sum, with 140,000 slave laborers collecting up to $7,500 apiece.

Of the $1.25 billion from the Swiss banks, $200 million went into a humanitarian fund for the 250,000 Jewish survivors around the world. Lump-sum payments ranged from $500 to $1,400. In the United States, nearly $30 million was allocated to more than 60,000 survivors, or $502 apiece.

According to Steinberg, France has committed to $700 million; Holland, $400 million; German insurers, $350 million-plus; various settlements for stolen artwork amount to $200 million; Italian insurer Assicurazioni Generali, $150 million; Norway, about $70 million; and Great Britain, roughly $50 million.In addition, in negotiations with the Claims Conference in the 1950s, Germany agreed to pay annual pensions to some 85,000 survivors. That total has run to nearly $50 billion and about $500 million a year.The Claims Conference is also responsible for selling off unclaimed property from the former East Germany, which now generates close to $80 million per year.

Twenty percent is allo-cated for Holocaust-related research and documentation, while 80 percent goes for social welfare programs for survivors in the former Soviet Union, Israel and the United States. This includes home care assistance for 18,000 survivors in all three regions and 3 million hot meals and 800,000 food packages per year in the former Soviet Union, said Gideon Taylor, the conference’s executive vice-president.

“We’ve been able to make a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” Taylor said. “The question is, how do we use the limited resources available from restitution to help the neediest survivors all around the world? It’s what our allocations process grapples with: balancing resources with competing needs.”

Taylor concedes that not everyone will come away satisfied.

But what lies at the heart of this intracommunal debate are two contentious issues: Who are the rightful heirs to all that was lost in Europe, and who has the right to decide how the money should be spent?

Holocaust survivors and their advocates say the stolen property and assets lost did not in fact belong to “the Jewish people as a whole” but to European Jewish communities and individuals. Furthermore, they say, it is the survivors, and they alone, who are entitled to decide the spending priorities, not the groups that negotiated on their behalf.

“We’re not going to be around forever,” said Joe Sachs, co-chairman of the Florida Survivors Coa-lition. “Let’s give these people their due. Just a little justice. A little peace of mind from their health care problems in their last few years.”

Laborers File Suit for Wartime Injustices

Jews who worked as slave laborers during the Nazi era are one step closer to receiving some measure of compensation for their ordeal.

After months of torturous negotiations, an agreement has been reached to establish a $5.2 billion fund for these victims of the Holocaust, according to several lawyers and Jewish officials involved in the talks.

The money will come from Germany, a group of German companies, and U.S. companies whose German subsidiaries used slave labor during the war, said Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which was among the groups negotiating on behalf of the laborers.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is slated to be in Berlin on Friday for the announcement of the agreement.

An issue still to be decided — which may prove as contentious as the negotiations themselves — is the process of distributing the funds to survivors.

The allocation “is still being discussed,” Taylor said.

The German offer would affect some 250,000 concentration camp survivors — 135,000 of them Jewish — who were enslaved by German companies during the war.

It would also compensate between 475,000 and 1.2 million non-Jewish forced laborers from Central and Eastern Europe who were deported and sent to work in Germany.

Payments would also go to other victims who never received reparations.

In addition to the $5.2 billion, claims against German insurers being handled by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Claims also are expected to be included in the fund, though this part of the agreement remained unclear.

The commission, which is headed by former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, was scheduled to meet Wednesday in London.

“We hope that this will be a much delayed measure of justice for Holocaust survivors,” Taylor said.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, who is representing the United States in the negotiations, declined Tuesday to give any details about the agreement before making a formal announcement Friday, according to his office.

The agreement came after months of difficult negotiations.

During the past several days, there was a flurry of activity. On Monday, lawyers for survivors reduced their demand to $5.7 billion. Earlier in the talks, the lawyers had demanded $28 billion. Germany and the group of German companies recently offered $4.2 billion to create the fund.

With the latest — and much reduced — demand from the victims’ representatives, the German side increased its offer and a compromise was achieved.

Michael Witti, an attorney for survivors based in Munich, said Tuesday that even with an agreement, there would be “no feeling of victory on the side of the victims.”

“You can never repay people for what they suffered,” he said.

A similar sentiment was expressed by survivor Hans Frankenthal, 73, who for 22 months during the war worked as a slave laborer at an armaments factory in the Mauthausen concentration camp and at I.G. Farben’s chemical factory near Auschwitz.

An agreement would mean a “guarantee that there would be no more suits,” said Frankenthal. “But you can’t take away” the history of the war.

Frankenthal, who recently published his memoirs, never received any compensation for his years of slave labor.

So far, 17 German firms have signed on to the industry initiative, and about 60 are considering doing so, according to industry spokesman Wolfgang Gibowski.

Among the U.S. firms with German subsidiaries that employed slave labor, a spokesman for Opel AG, the German branch of General Motors, said on Monday that Opel would join the industry fund.

Though the amount of the contribution has not been decided, “we are confessing our responsibility,” Opel spokesman Bruno Seifert said on Monday.

A Ford spokesman told reporters Monday that the company is one of some 200 companies with German operations that are considering taking part in the industry fund.

Publicity over the slave labor issue has achieved mixed results in Germany.

On one hand, a recent opinion poll suggested that the wrangling over money had caused latent German anti-Semitism to resurface.

On the other hand, some Germans have reacted with disgust to the news that many existing German companies whose predecessors used slave laborers are not joining the compensation fund.

A German newspaper this week published a letter from one reader, who hoped that “many, many people will boycott the products” of those German firms unwilling to participate in the fund.

“I for one don’t need any Bahlsen cookies or AGFA film or WFM tableware, nor Miele washing machines.”

JTA correspondent Toby Axelrod in Berlin contributed to this report.