Morgan Muses


The close of Todd Morgan’s tenure as chairman of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles could not have come at a more chaotic time: post-Sept. 11, with the umbrella outreach nonprofit still reeling from recent layoffs and its much publicized and scrutinized role in L.A.’s Jewish Community Centers crisis.

"Running your own business is much easier than running a charitable institution," Morgan said. "Here at The Federation, it’s a process. You have a lot of constituents.

"It’s more frustrating to affect change. It’s not a quiet business. It’s very complex, and there’s a lot of moving parts, and at every quarter there’s another emergency. It’s a very challenging institution. Like working at an emergency in a hospital. You never know what’s going to happen the next day."

Did he achieve his goals over a two-year term?

Morgan, with trademark candor, put it bluntly: "I have not accomplished everything I wanted to. It was one of the more meaningful experiences in my life. My only regret is that I couldn’t have done more."

Which is not to say that he feels like a failure. Morgan has done much to revitalize The Federation’s inner sanctum.

"My goal was to bring it into the modern world," he said. "To give it a tuneup so that it’d be more appropriate for the next generation. We changed the complexion of the board.

"We brought the average age down 15 years younger. But I’m still not satisfied. It needs to continue to change. The more important issue is to get the next generation more involved," he said.

Coming aboard at 2000’s debut, Morgan knew that to assure The Federation’s future and to impact the way the nonprofit outreach organization was perceived, he would have to get more youth involved in programming and decision making.

"Part of the deal with the old guard was to give me free reign and make it entrepreneurial," the 54-year-old Morgan said. "It’s absolutely critical for my generation and younger to play a significant role in guiding The Federation’s future. A lot of people out there have an obligation and duty to give back."

Part of his plan to reinvigorate The Federation was to bring in more support from entertainment industry Jews. "I’m disappointed that the entertainment community did not step up to the plate," Morgan said.

Another of Morgan’s ideas that did not reach fruition was the Jewish Community Campus, a $40 million Jewish community center complex on the Westside. Because of a weak economy, the concept, which only reached predevelopment, was shelved before Sept. 11. However, Morgan does not rule it out in the future.

"All of this is possible," he said. "All we need to do is to light up the Jewish community here and convince them that they have a responsibility and an obligation to take care of our people. Because if they don’t, who will?"

Yet Morgan is a pragmatic man. His practical worldview has established the CEO of the Century City-based Bel Air Investment as a business world success story, and he understands that grand gestures are not completed overnight.

"It’s like turning a supertanker around," Morgan said. "It’s turning."

Morgan credited the tireless support and partnership of his wife as an ingredient to this success. Cheri Morgan, a prominent co-chair of The Federation’s recent Addiction Conference, is vice chair for the United Jewish Fund, associate general campaign chair for 2001 and past chair of the Women’s Campaign of The Federation.

"Cheri’s my secret weapon," Morgan said. "My wife works tremendously hard. Both for Beit T’Shuvah and for The Federation. She’s got the heart the size of a skyscraper."

"This experience has brought great meaning for my life," Morgan said. "It’s been a great stabilizer. It’s so easy to get caught up in career. Anyone who has become involved with Federation life, it’s enriched their life."

"Every time we forget and become too affluent and assimilated," he continued, "something comes back and bites us in the rear. We need to take care of our people."

LETTERSUJ Layoffs


It appears that The Jewish Journal, in its haste to publish an article about “doings” at the University of Judaism, was prepared to forgo a great deal of accuracy. Most of the information reported in “UJ Layoffs” (May 2) was incorrect, including the actual number of layoffs (fewer than three), the amount of the deficit, the size of our staff, Dr. Wexler’s supposed absence from Los Angeles (he actually spoke to The Journal’s editor-at-large) and the assumptions made about our rabbinical school endowment. Furthermore, none of the individuals quoted in the article were in a position to know about University finances or decision- making processes.

Unfortunately, The Journal was ready to sacrifice the privacy of three talented professionals by publishing their names. Ironically, it is still quite possible that all, or some of, the three will be with us next year.

After-the-fact corrections mean little once misstatements are published, and the harm done to institutions and to individuals is not easily repaired.

Robert Wexler

President

Francis Maas

Chairman of the Board

Robert Eshman responds:

Any inaccuracies in the story are my responsibility, and I apologize for them. However, it is important to note the following facts:

1) The layoffs at the University of Judaism provoked anxiety and dismay among many in the UJ community, and I believed that The Journal had no choice but to write about them in a timely manner. Because of the long Passover holiday, I had limited time to report the story.

2) Among the many people I interviewed in preparation for the story were a dean, a person closely affiliated with the University, a Hillel director, a university regent and the UJ’s PR director. I relied on these sources for the facts and figures I used.

3) I must point out that the PR director refused to confirm or deny the facts and figures, or even provide proper spelling of the names of people involved. She also had no knowledge of any layoffs.

4) I made numerous, increasingly frantic and, ultimately, futile attempts to reach President Wexler or Vice President for Administration Mark Bookman. Each time I called, I left word that we intended to run the story, that we were on a 2 p.m. deadline, and that I very much wanted their point of view.

5) I wrote that President Wexler “was not in town at the time of the layoffs” (during the long weekend). Obviously, I knew he was in town by Wednesday — I tried all morning and afternoon to reach him.

6) What I consider the most egregious charge — that I “sacrificed the privacy” of individuals — confounds me. The people whose stories I reported spoke with me at length and on-the-record. Being laid off for them was a source of some anger and some dismay, but hardly a source of shame or embarrassment, as President Wexler and Chairman Maas seem to imply.

7) If I misreported the number of layoffs, it was because I conflated those laid off with people who were informed late in the academic year their contracts for various UJ posts would not be renewed. I know this number is higher than “fewer than three.”

8) Again, there is no excuse for the facts I did get wrong. However, I also understand that President Wexler and Chairman Maas do not dispute the major revelations of my story: that a round of surprising layoffs did occur, that neither Wexler nor Rabbi Gordis did the actual laying off, that the layoffs came about as a result of long-talked-about financial problems, and that the UJ had to do what it must to stay viable.


American Mensch

Thank you for the excellent article by Michael Berenbaum (“Jackie & Campy,” April 18). I have one little problem with the remembrance cited from Duke Snider, regarding Jackie Robinson’s participation in two sports, baseball and track, on the same day, between games of a doubleheader, at Pasadena City College.

Those of us who attended UCLA with Jackie (1939-1941), remember the incident, a single affair, as occurring in the Spring of 1940 or ’41. There was a track meet at Spaulding Field, on the campus, and a baseball game at Sawtelle, across the street from the west side of the campus. Jackie did leave the baseball field for a short time to run across Veteran Avenue in time to participate in the long jump, his specialty at that time. As I remember the story, he didn’t have time to change to his track clothes, but won the event anyway wearing his baseball uniform.

Perhaps some of your other readers will remember the story as I do. Thanks again for a timely article about a real American mensch.

Robert E. Green

Sherman Oaks


Mercer vs. Miscikowski

Marlene Adler Marks wrote a provocative column (“The Jewish Vote,” April 11), with some wise insights into the elements at play in the Riordan-Hayden campaign. However, she misses the mark by a stupefying margin on the Miscikowski-Mercer campaign when she writes that they are “…two women so similar in political views and credentials that some voters could not tell them apart.”

Cindy Miscikowski — with an impeccable record in zoning, planning, public safety, environmental concerns and administration — ran an immaculately decent capaign, dealing with matters of concern to the entire 11th District. Georgia Mercer, with an appalling disregard for the truth, and a willingness to deal in innuendo and outright lies, ran an attack-dog campaign, ignoring the issues because she has neither the academic training nor the on-the-job experience to deal with those issues.

Where are Mercer’s credentials in government? She claims to be ” an outsider,” but the fact is, she’s been an insider for a long time. She was an insider during the Bradley administration. She’s been an insider in the Riordan administration. She stood with the insiders in support of allowing councilmembers to raise their slush fund from $10,000 to $75,000 apiece while Miscikowski stood against that, as the voters did. Mercer served briefly as Mayor Riordan’s representative in the San Fernando Valley. During that time, she cannot point to one initiative taken, one action that resulted in positive change, one problem solved to make the Valley a better place to live.

On the other hand, it was Miscikowski who put together the city-state-federal homeowners group that built the post office in Tarzana. It was Miscikowski who fought for the Quimby funds to purchase park land in the Santa Monica Mountains. It was Miscikowski who went to Sacramento to press for, and get, the Big Wild Park for Los Angeles. It was Miscikowski who directed the fight to close the one-hour motels on Ventura and Van Nuys boulevards. It was Miscikowski who, as the councilman’s representative, acted to stop the developers from building what would have become a traffic nightmare on Havenhurst and Ventura in the Valley, etc., etc.

I enjoy and respect Ms. Marks’ work. I read her column religiously. However, sometimes she makes mistakes. And saying that Mercer and Miscikowski are “similar in political views and credentials” is one doozy of a mistake.

Ernie Frankel

Los Angeles


In Love With Israel

I recently returned from a month-long mission of chizuk (strength) and solidarity to Israel. For the first week, I joined up with a group of about 30 people from the New York area, Canada and Texas. I was the only one from the West Coast. We visited many of the West Bank settlements, in a very intensive program, meeting with, and having serious discussions with, residents and leaders, including members of the Knesset. We visited Hebron, Kiryat Arba, Efrat, Shiloh, Bet El, Gush Katif, and then, on to other places such as Jerusalem.

After about a week, most of the group left Israel for their return flight home. I remained in Israel, on my own for another three weeks. For me, that period was even more intensive and inspiring than the first week. My center of operations was Bet El, from where I travelled to many parts of Israel. I came to feel the pulse of the country.

People really wanted to share their strength and courage at this time in Israel’s history. Upon reflection, I believe I received much more in return. I tried to live as close as I could to the average Israeli resident for those weeks. I used the public transporation system everywhere and found it splendid in service, and I have a new respect for its bus drivers. I walked a great deal too, as I feel that is a very good way to see the country and its people.

I felt greatly elevated — emotionally, spiritually and physically. I visited Ashkelon, Tel Aviv, Rishon LeZion, Haifa, kibbutzim and other places. I felt at home… better than home. My only regret was that I had to leave.

If I was asked if I would go to Israel now, since the latest incident in Israel [the March 21 suicide bomb attack at a Tel Aviv cafe], I would not hesitate for a moment. We Jews, who have been blessed with an independent Israel, should give serious thought to making aliyah. Israel is our home… our real home.

Bernard Nichols

Los Angeles


Wheelchair Drive

The Skirball Cultural Center and Wheels for Humanity will be collecting wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, baby car seats, commodes and strollers Sat., May 17, at the Skirball Cultural Center. Recycled wheelchairs will be refurbished and distributed in 11 poor nations. Hours for drop off are 9 a.m.-noon. (818) 766-8000.

UJ Layoffs


The last days of the Passover holiday brought a shocking message to 14 faculty and staff members at the University of Judaism: They’re laid off.

Among those whose contracts will not be renewed this June are Rabbi David Ackerman, associate dean of the Fingerhut School of Education; Dean of Students Jill Landesberg; and Director of Student Jewish Life Betty Brasky.

At press time, The Jewish Journal could not confirm the names of other employees whose contracts will not be renewed.

The layoff, substantial at an institution with fewer than 100 faculty and staff members, came against a backdrop of continuing money problems for the school.

Several weeks ago, the administration circulated a message to staff, informing them that the university had a $2 million deficit. Department heads were asked to cut their budgets by 10 percent, and officials held an open meeting to discuss other cost-cutting measures at the 200-student school.

“We had known there were serious budgetary problems, and we were told there would have to be layoffs,” said Ackerman. “I just didn’t expect to be one of them.”

Four years ago, a similar round of layoffs, also the result of a budget crisis, provoked outrage within the university as well as in the larger Jewish community.

The current round was met with a much more subdued response. Those laid off were informed of their termination in meetings with Vice President, Administration, Mark Bookman on the Thursday or Friday before the long holiday vacation that included the Sabbath and the last two days of Passover. (Many were still unreachable as The Journal went to press).

Rabbi Daniel Gordis, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, and University President Dr. Robert Wexler were not in town at the time of the layoffs.

Bookman had not returned The Journal’s calls by press time.

When asked Wednesday morning to comment on the layoffs, the university’s PR department said that it hadn’t heard of any taking place.

The University of Judaism, long a center of Jewish learning in Los Angeles, is home to an undergraduate liberal arts program and graduate schools in rabbinic studies and education.

Those affiliated with the university acknowledge that laying off valued staff is always a last resort.

“It’s always perceived as anti-Jewish not to take care of your own,” said University Regent Alan Bloch. But, said Bloch, the drastic measure was a “matter of survival.”

At least one person associated with the school was openly critical.

“A Jewish institution that believes it teaches Jewish values has to act in accordance with those values,” said Rabbi Jane Litman, who has taught at the Bel Air campus.

In a telephone interview, Litman took the UJ to task for laying off well-regarded staffers in the midst of the Passover holiday and well into the academic year.

“I don’t think it shows much sensitivity,” she said. “They are decent people, and they feel very betrayed.”

But others, including some of those laid off, said that they understand the university had little choice.

Although the school made headlines last year, when it received a $22 million donation from the Ziegler family for its rabbinical school, administrators say that money is being allocated at $2.2 million per year over 10 years — not enough to get the university through its crisis.

“I guess they had no choice,” said Brasky, one of those laid off.


Statement on the Budget

By Dr. Robert Wexler

The 1990s continues to be a decade of downsizing at many private colleges around the country. The primary cause is the precipitous rise in expense budgets during the past 20 years, accompanied by tuition costs that have increased at a pace much beyond the rate of general inflation. Students and their parents complain that they are no longer willing to accept the burden of underwriting the continual expansion of campus programs.

Colleges are becoming leaner and more cost conscious. In this regard, the University of Judaism is no exception. In order to reduce our expenses, we have embarked on a rigorous program of self-examination and cost-cutting. This includes a reduction in the size of our administration, accomplished through the consolidation of several staff positions. We have also instituted a variety of financial controls intended to limit spending.

We deeply regret the fact that downsizing inevitably causes hardship to employees whose jobs are eliminated and to their families. We will do whatever we can to ease their transition, while recognizing the personal unhappiness that regrettably results.

The board of directors and the administration of the University of Judaism understand their responsibility to our students to provide them with a quality education while keeping tuition at the lowest level possible. We also consider ourselves the guardians of the funds provided by our donors and acknowledge our duty to use those funds as wisely and efficiently as possible.


Dr. Robert Wexler is president of the University of Judaism.