Community Profile: Gerald Bubis


Gerald B. Bubis is 88, and he knows there are things he’ll never do again.

He’ll never travel to Israel again, for one, and after 46 trips, that’s a tough one to swallow. Then there’s the fact that this author and/or editor of 12 books and 200 articles on serving the Jewish community now has a tremor in his hand that prevents him from putting pen to paper. He also can’t drive anymore, and he can’t stand up long enough to wash dishes.

Despite all this, he’s not frail, and the clarity and wisdom he still possesses have provided him the blessing of being able to ponder how he wants to approach this late stage of life.

“I think of this more as a condition than as a stage,” Bubis said, sitting in an armchair in the living room of his Beverlywood condo. “This is the first time in your life you’re confronting the fact that this is really the end of the physical stage, and that’s different. Because there is this notion of it being Dec. 25 on the calendar, and it’s a matter of saying how will you spend that last week of your life.”

It’s a scenario the High Holy Days imposes on all worshippers, but for Bubis, as it is for many seniors, the question of what has filled his book of life and how it will close is not abstract, but an everyday reality.

He has made the decision that he will not allow himself room for regrets — neither about the past nor about what he can no longer do. Rather, he focuses on what he has accomplished and what he still can do. 

Bubis is the founding director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and was an early and ardent advocate for peace with the Palestinians. He is recognized nationally as an elder statesman, both in the peace camp and in the world of Jewish professionals.

In his earlier years, Bubis, who is still a broad 6 feet tall, was probably called strapping. Now, his hearty eyebrows and booming voice both have taken on the qualities of old age, and he moves slowly, with a walker. His health issues are profound: He takes two dozen pills a day to deal with legs that barely work, heart trouble, high blood pressure and episodes of pain on one side of his face that are so debilitating the condition is referred to as suicidal neuralgia. He’s had three bouts with thyroid cancer, and a serious car accident in February exacerbated issues with his legs and left vision in one eye impaired.

But Bubis is well aware of the tendencies of his age cohort, so to a genuine query of, “How are you?” Bubis will begin his answer by setting himself a time limit to update the essentials, and he promises that he will then move on to more interesting conversation.

 “You can either sink into a morass of depression or feeling sorry for yourself, or you say it is what it is, it can’t be any different,” Bubis said. “The people I admire most are the people who confront their limits and cope with them in ways that say, I still have my life, and I still have my pleasures. I still have my challenges, and if one part of my body is diminished or extinguished or involves some kind of coping or adjusting, so be it. I can’t do anything about it, but what I will do about it is, I will say ‘hineni,’ here I am, and how do I go forward?”

Jerry and Ruby, his wife of 64 years, still go to concerts and lectures regularly; they get together with friends often, and they are close with their two children and three grandchildren. They study and socialize with a chavurah they have been part of for 35 years, and have been members of Valley Beth Shalom for decades, but their once weekly attendance has become more sporadic since the car accident.

And Jerry still works. He mentors and consults with Jewish professionals several times a week and reliably holds court at Pat’s on Pico, where the lunch waiters know to pack up half his salad at the outset and to bring him biscotti with the bill.

Because he can no longer write, he is considering looking for funding to hire someone to help him transcribe his words into articles.

He has volumes of anecdotes to share, and while he is careful about his listeners’ time and patience, it doesn’t take much goading for him to unleash dependably gripping stories about camping in Yosemite or personal encounters with King Hussein.

Bubis says he is at peace with where he is now, because he allows himself the satisfaction — but not the fiction — that his life has been lived well.

“To me, it’s a nourishing thing to know that this stage has grown from all those other stages. I have been lucky enough to go through all the stages there are — by way of love and marriage, children, professional fulfillment and accomplishment and recognition,” Bubis said.

That’s not to say it’s been perfect. He’s got an ego, and he can get angry, he said. He said he was for too long married to his work, and didn’t always give Ruby or the children the time he should have.  

“My regrets are of my failing as a father and as a mate in the early days of our marriage,” he said. Today he has a strong relationship with his son, David, who is vice president for development for Bet Tzedek Legal Services, and his daughter, Deena Libman, a development officer at the San Diego Jewish Federation. Both David and Deena were Bubis’ students in graduate school at HUC-JIR, and, like their father, both also were awarded honorary doctorates from HUC-JIR. 

Dwelling on what wasn’t accomplished is a sure road to unhappiness, Bubis advises.

“Making peace with what you have accomplished, and not judging yourself for what you didn’t accomplish, is to me a very important attribute, which I believe a lot of people never acquire, but rather they have this restless dissatisfaction, and maybe in some cases depression, about what they wished would have happened that didn’t happen,” Bubis said. “But you can only be what you are capable of being at the time that you are that.”

Jerry and Ruby built their life from modest beginnings.

Bubis grew up in Winnipeg, and his parents divorced when he was 11, after his father fled to the United States after being caught embezzling. Jerry, his mother and his sister moved to Minnesota, where they lived with his mother’s parents, Orthodox immigrants from Minsk. 

As a teenager, he split his time between the Talmud Torah at the Jewish community center and loitering around the streets, shoplifting and pulling pranks. He had a lot of anger, he admits, and says he once went at his mother with a butcher knife and tied his sister up in the closet.

But his maternal grandfather was a true role model. He was a quiet and kind small property owner who established a synagogue and Jewish free loan in Minnesota, and during the Depression he would secretly leave food and coal for his tenants.

“I’ve always had two birds on my shoulder — my father and my grandfather, and each influenced me in his own way,” Bubis said. “As a result of my father, I vowed that I would try to be a person with a good name. And as a result of my grandfather, I had a model of a person who had a good name.”

Bubis enlisted in the Army during World War II as a combat engineer and was trained to remove land mines. He was about to be deployed overseas when he was plucked from his unit and sent back to the camp in Oregon to train other soldiers. A few months later, his entire unit was killed in Italy.

With injured feet, Bubis was discharged with a disability pension that paid his way through college and social work school. Two months after he left the military, he met Ruby at a Manitoba-Minnesota Hillel event and was smitten immediately.

“Having the luck of having a mate, a partner, for so long is in itself an incredible gift, because we grew up together,” Bubis said, looking across the room, where Ruby sat on a loveseat that, like most of their furniture, is a family heirloom. “The love, for me, grows and grows, and it grows even as the nature of how we relate is different than when we were young. And, for me, having the luck of a person who is on the one hand always my supervisor and a goad for keeping me focused, and on the other hand has kept me from ballooning up about myself and puffery about myself, that to me has been a tremendous help.”

Ruby, also a social worker, helped resettle refugees after World War II and later helped settle Soviet Jews in Los Angeles. Jerry worked as a camp director and a Federation executive before he founded the School of Jewish Communal Service and then became a professor at HUC-JIR.

After his recent car accident, which left Bubis laid up for months, he was stunned at the love that began to flow from across the globe and from those close by — people stepped in with meals, rides and visits.

“This has just been a shower of love and support from places I never, ever would have expected — e-mails and calls from former students all over the world. And it has been a tremendous experience to have the equivalent of my hesped [eulogy] while I’m alive — the equivalent of what people will say at my funeral. To me that is remarkably lucky.”

It is the knowledge that he has affected so many people that gives him peace now. 

“You never know what time is going to be. I live as if there will be time to get to our grandson’s smicha [ordination], which will be in two years. My wife comes from a long-lived strain of people. I believe she could live until 100. I have no relatives who lived past 87, so I’ve already passed them. And I’m at peace with that. It doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the future and wondering what will happen, but I really do feel peaceful.”

The business of spirituality


When Eric J. Diamond wants to understand something, he’s very methodical in how he goes about it. So when he was elected president of Sinai Temple in June, one of the first things Diamond did was to ask Howard Lesner, the synagogue’s executive director, to arrange for a tour of the building.

“I know the building very well. I’ve been in the building for 25 years,” Diamond, 50, said over a Friday morning breakfast in August. “But I don’t want to hear there’s a problem in a particular part of the building that I haven’t been to.”

So, Diamond said, he and Lesner and the building’s chief engineer will open every door and check every floor of the synagogue, from the roof to the sub-basement.

“Visualization is far better than hearing,” said Diamond, who works as chief operating officer of the real estate investment firm Hackman Capital Partners.

But make no mistake: This synagogue president, who wants to see every last square foot of a synagogue building that takes up a full city block, is no micromanager.

Diamond has ideas about how the synagogue can be run more efficiently and how vendor contracts might be renegotiated. He’s suggested that Sinai Temple up its membership recruitment efforts. But Diamond also insisted that he not have a mailbox in the synagogue office, because he doesn’t want anyone to expect that he’ll be there on a regular basis.

Brought up in Queens, N.Y., Diamond first came to Sinai Temple because an older fraternity brother got him a ticket there for the synagogue’s Rosh Hashanah student service. But it was the synagogue president at the time who got him to stick around.

In 1983, Diamond had just graduated from University of Virginia. He had been in Los Angeles for all of three weeks, living in the graduate-student dorms as a first-year law student at UCLA, when he headed to the gym inside Sinai Temple for the service.

“It came time for the sermon,” Diamond said, “and then-rabbinic student David Wolpe introduced Mr. Don Rickles, who was going to give the sermon on Rosh Hashanah.”

Rickles is best-known for the insults he used to hurl during his comedy acts — at audience members, hosts, anyone, really. But speaking to the student service in 1983, he wasn’t there to call anybody stupid (as he did when he roasted then-Gov. Ronald Reagan) or tell aging comedians how he never liked them (as he told Lucille Ball in 1974).

“He was charming without being funny,” Diamond said. “He was lighthearted, but his serious message was how excited he was to speak to a room of young Jews and how important it was for young Jews to remain involved in the community.”

The message resonated with Diamond: “I got involved in the Jewish community in part because of what Don Rickles had to say.”

And when Diamond became president, he wrote to Rickles, asking if he’d come and speak again on Rosh Hashanah, this time to Sinai’s ATID service, which is for young professionals.

Not too long afterward, “Mr. Warmth” called Diamond back.

“I said, Mr. Rickles, it’s so nice of you to call me,” Diamond recalled. “He says, ‘How could I not call you after that note you wrote me? It was like a haftarah, it was so beautiful.’ Those were his exact words.”

The occasional haftarah-quality note aside, Diamond knows that in a synagogue of nearly 2,000 member families, the feeling of belonging is, in part, the result of seemingly small touches.

“I hate getting letters that begin with ‘Dear Congregant,’ ” Diamond said. “I want a letter that says ‘Dear Eric,’ or ‘Dear Mr. and Mrs. Diamond.’ It’s part of being part of a community.”

And to facilitate that kind of personalization, Diamond said, Sinai Temple is in the process of collecting the information contained in seven different databases and integrating it into a single one.

“It’s very heavy in terms of when I talk about systems, procedures,” Diamond said, “but you can’t deliver the services that our members expect, that we want to provide, without an integrated database.”

But even as he pays attention to these operational details,  the business of keeping a synagogue running, Diamond remains focused on the big goal at Sinai Temple — providing a spiritual home for members of a community.

Which is why Diamond is so happy about the numbers of people who come to synagogue on otherwise ordinary Shabbat mornings — around 800 to 1,000 every week, by his count.

“Powerful is the word,” Diamond said. “It’s moving. It makes you feel part of a community. Standing in a three-quarters-empty room all by yourself doesn’t have that feeling.”

This article has been edited from the original version, which incorrectly stated that Don Rickles was the president of Sinai Temple in 1983. Aaron Fenton was president of the synagogue at the time.

Rob Eshman: Good Leaders


If Republicans want a primer on how to keep losing the Jewish vote, all they have to do is look at what happened in Washington this past week.

The go-to assumption of many people on the right is that American Jews follow a single, unthinking, liberal party line. This became clear to me when my son invited a friend of his to go target shooting with us last weekend.

“Shooting?” the friend said. “I thought you guys were Democrats.”

Most Jews, myself included, are neither knee-jerk liberals nor reactionary conservatives. But many people will try to assert otherwise. How else to explain the June 2011 Gallup poll that showed President Barack Obama’s approval rating among U.S. Jews at 60 percent? The poll revealed that Jews approved of the president’s performance at an average of 14 percentage points above the general public.

The reason you’ll most often hear Republicans offer for this phenomenon is that Jews are locked naively into their parents’ or even grandparents’ voting traditions, as if they haven’t read a newspaper since Franklin Delano Roosevelt died.

It’s true that since 1945 Jews have voted for the Democratic presidential candidate by percentages of up to 90 percent.

But if you poke at the numbers, you’ll find that the Republican candidate who received the largest percentage of the Jewish vote — Dwight D. Eisenhower (40 percent) — was the model Republican moderate.

And if you drill down to state and local races, you’ll find that Jewish voters often vote for moderate Republicans, such as former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan (50 percent in 1993 and 71 percent in 1997) and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (48 percent).

In other words, Jews are not liberal zombies. The record shows that they use their votes to reward candidates or parties they believe adhere not to certain labels, but to certain values.

The debate and vote over the debt ceiling, still dragging on as I write this, provides a step-by-step guide on how to alienate these voters.

Step 1: Let Ideology Trump Common Sense

Moderates, as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman pointed out, would debate the federal deficit in a thoughtful and deliberate fashion, exactly the way a business would take the time to review its budget. Extremists hold the nation’s credit rating hostage to a hurried, gun-to-the-head negotiation in order to get what they want. Linking the approval of an increased debt ceiling — which serves past commitments — to debate over future spending just defies logic.

Step 2: Assume We’re Stupid

Jewish voters are impassioned and informed. Is it a coincidence we are over-represented among the Pundit Class, left, right and center: Brooks, Friedman, Krugman, Krauthammer, Stephens, Podhoretz, Stewart, etc.? The Republicans who try to paint Obama as the progenitor of all our economic problems, ignoring the tax cuts, wars and deficits started by the previous administrations, sound like shills, not statesmen.

Step 3: Don’t Compromise

On CNN, Sen. Rand Paul (R- Ky.) told Anderson Cooper that his side had done all the compromising it could by allowing the nation to avoid default. That sounds just a tad extreme. Even the conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal took issue with the way the Republican center seemed to slouch fringeward.

“The same supposedly conservative Republicans and their talk radio minders may denounce this deal as a sellout,” The Wall Street Journal wrote on Aug. 1, “but we’ll be charitable and assume they’ve climbed so far out on the political ledge they don’t know how to climb back without admitting they were wrong. …

“The debt ceiling is a political hostage the GOP could never afford to shoot, and this deal is about the best Republicans could have hoped for given that the limit had to be raised. … Sooner or later the GOP had to give up the hostage.”

Hint: If your strategy involves the words “hostage” and “ledge,” you will probably alienate Jewish voters.

Step 4: Avoid Nuance

Jews understand that black and white is for cookies, not politics. Things aren’t so simple — paradox and unresolved questions are at the heart of the universe.  

It’s not guns versus butter, but balancing guns and butter, balancing the need for jobs with the need to contain spending, fine tuning the effectiveness of the free market and the rights of the individual with the needs of the larger society.

Step 5: Attack Government Itself

The anti-government meme that infuses so much of the Tea Party rhetoric is off-putting to people who have thrived and prospered under a strong federal government. If it’s not perfect, you improve it, you don’t shut it down.

“After the debt crisis ends, the democracy crisis must be tackled,” wrote Jacob S. Hacker and Oona A. Hathaway in The New York Times. “Nobody wins when our constitutional system falters: not the president, who gains unilateral power but loses a governing partner; not Congress, which gets to blame the president but risks irrelevance; and certainly not the American people, who have to bear the resulting dysfunction.”

You can certainly win elections without the Jewish vote. But the money and activism Jews bring to the table is helpful, especially in state and local elections, and in the primaries.

If Republicans want the kind of landslide Jewish numbers Democrats rack up, find candidates who promote strong, effective and fiscally sound government that provides security for the nation, opportunity to the entrepreneur and help to the needy.

If you think that’s impossible, read about FDR.

Where are the great American Jewish leaders?


We are living in a troubling and dangerous time, a time when we need courageous and insightful leaders more than at any point since the Holocaust. We are facing a potentially existential crisis for Israel and ultimately, I believe, for Jewish people worldwide. Yet our leaders for the most part have not responded in a forceful way.

Those among us who understand what is at stake must immediately light a fire under our current leaders. At the same time, we need to rethink the process of how we select our leaders and what we expect of them.

If we look squarely at the facts and are unflinchingly honest with ourselves, we will admit that we are confronted with substantial threats. Today we are experiencing two primary attacks. The Arab/Muslim/Persian drive to remove Israel as a Jewish state is a fact, as is the very real threat of catastrophe that a nuclear Iran poses to Israel.

The unsettling recent events in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and the entire Arab world add to the instability of Israel’s neighbors. Increasingly, radical Islamists, who interpret certain edicts of the Koran as instructing them to kill Jews, are directing their vitriol and hateful propaganda not solely at Israel but at the Jewish people as well. Anti-Israel sentiment is simply a new twist on an old canard. The hate has migrated from Christian religious anti-Semitism to Nazi racial anti-Semitism to Muslim political anti-Semitism and, finally, to a leftist, intellectual form of anti-Semitism under the guise of political correctness.

There is a frightening groundswell of negativity in the Western and Muslim worlds toward Israel and the Jews resulting from a deliberate, pernicious and astonishingly effective international propaganda campaign to delegitimize Israel by portraying it as a colonial implant and oppressive occupier. We have a situation in which Jews everywhere are experiencing a level of insecurity that has not existed since the 1940s.

Many would agree that Jewish leadership has a poor record when it comes to the perennial American Jewish problems of Jewish education, assimilation and confronting modernity. Most everyone also would agree that American Jewish leadership during the Holocaust was abysmal.

Why, then, have we ignored the lessons of that era? We certainly have the wherewithal—we have shown ourselves to be effective change agents and effective leaders in so many spheres outside of the Jewish world, from the media to medicine to the sciences to the arts and humanities. Where is our “Jewish genius”?

To all who would argue that we already have been responding, I submit that we have not. Mass assemblies within our communities with the stars of the Israeli lecture circuit and American political leaders might make American Jews feel good, but won’t make a difference—preaching to the converted never does.

American Jewish leadership does a reasonably good job running nursing homes, feeding the poor and housing the homeless. It is essentially a model forged in the prewar Ashkenazic communities of Europe and in the Sephardic world of the Levant, when the Jewish people were in effect powerless.

But when it comes to issues of exercising serious power to prevent another catastrophe in which the unthinkable can happen in an instant, our leaders have been impotent. They have adhered to an outdated model based on powerlessness despite the fact that, since the founding of the State of Israel, we now have power and a voice that potentially can be heard the world over.

I am not denying that we have an effective group in AIPAC, which does a phenomenal job of lobbying Congress. Paradoxically, however, no Jewish organization has succeeded when it comes to lobbying the Jewish people—and no organization has been successful in motivating the masses of Jews to action.

Where are our great, inspiring leaders who will be able to rally us, help us coalesce to work together for the good of the Jewish people and the world? Where is our Brandeis, our Martin Luther King Jr.? Where is our American Ben-Gurion or Jabotinsky?



Threats and insufficient response


We are running out of time. While the Arab leadership funded a well-thought-out campaign to sway the hearts and minds of the masses in Europe and the left in the United States; while they endowed chairs on college campuses and subsequently embedded like-minded professors sympathetic to their cause; we were marching at Israel Day parades singing “Am Yisrael Chai.”

While we were feeling warm and fuzzy, while we were asleep at the wheel, our enemies laid out and put into action a detailed and effective plan to destroy the State of Israel and the Jewish people. What they could not accomplish on the battlefield, they determined to carry out in the public arena.

We are now playing catch up—we finally realized what was going on and have been making a belated attempt to fight delegitimization and promote Israel studies on the campuses, but our efforts are nowhere near the scope that is necessary to effectively counter the momentum in place from our enemies’ efforts.  It is a case of too little, too late.

What are our leaders doing about these threats to the safety of Israel and the Jews? How loudly did our leaders protest when the world sided with the Turkish flotilla? How much is really being done about the Iran issue? Were our leaders vocal enough in response to the Goldstone report? And it staggers the mind how our leadership is not clamping down on some Jewish federations as they continue to fund organizations that espouse anti-Israel activities.

Considering our recent history, it seems inconceivable that our leaders are not more vociferous in their calls for justice and protection, are not organizing marches on Washington and putting unrelenting pressure on the president, are not coordinating a voice of truth to counter the growing threats. Quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy did not work during the Holocaust, and it won’t work now. The isolated voices of organizations like AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, the Zionist Organization of America and others are not enough. The groups that are pushing for sanctions are not doing enough.

We need our leaders to be louder and more forceful, and for their actions to have real results. They need to motivate not only Congress and the administration to take action, but also Jews as a whole from apathy into action. We need more in-your-face Jewish activism. And we also need to form real partnerships with those that wish us well, i.e., the Evangelicals.

Would today’s Jewish leadership have the wherewithal to call for Jewish civil disobedience if a nightmare scenario develops, as yesterday’s leaders should have but did not during the Shoah?

Of course, there are some very dedicated and inspired leaders among us. There are those who are speaking out, those who are trying to apply the lessons of the Soviet Jewry model, which was one of American Jewry’s successes (albeit only after impetus from the masses). But there are too few of them.

To understand, it helps to look back. The failure of American Jewish leadership during World War II was no doubt in part motivated by fear, by the conviction that not rocking the boat was the best course, by the desire to hold onto the relatively newfound security of living in America, a safe haven and an ocean away from the turmoil of Europe. During the Holocaust, there were grass-roots groups doing valiant work on behalf of Europe’s Jews that were essentially silenced by America’s mainstream Jewish leadership.

This is the legacy we have inherited. Our leaders today have additional reasons for choosing to keep silent. Raising the alarm about the threats to Israel runs the risk of being labeled a racist or Islamophobe. And certainly there are many leaders who simply don’t know what to do. As a consequence they are doing next to nothing.

We know from modern Jewish history that people, organizations and leadership can change. In the 1940s, despite the horrific news coming from Europe, a number of individuals, organizations and rabbis were and remained opposed to the establishment of the refuge of the State of Israel. Some Jews opposed the United States entering and prosecuting the war. In hindsight, their opposition was ghastly.

Yet when prompted by their constituents, organizations do change, as do their leaders. Although the American Jewish Committee was not enthusiastic about Zionism before the State of Israel was declared, today it is one of the leading advocates for Israel and the Jewish people.

Choosing our leaders

Finally, we must reconsider how we choose our leaders. Our decision-makers today, the ones on the boards guiding collective Jewish action, are predominantly consensus builders drawn from the moneyed class, many of whom are unschooled in Jewish history and ritual, often unappreciative of the mystique and grandeur of our heritage, and lacking a solid grasp of what is most beneficial for the Jewish people and for Israel. When they do act, they often make ill-considered decisions that lead to poor outcomes.

To continue to choose our leaders from the same subset year after year and expect different results is not rational.

We should choose our leaders with different criteria in mind. Leaders should be people who are independent, creative thinkers and committed doers. They should be people of conviction and vision with the moral courage to rock the boat. We need leadership that is more diverse in terms of age and range of experience.

Our leaders should include members of the clergy, the academy and the creative community—people who understand the lessons of history and believe that history has a purpose. They are the ones who can inject into our community the missing vitality, imagination and vision.

We are in dire need of leaders who are connected to core Jewish values and who are caring, have empathy, wisdom and a majestic vision to be part of the power structure. Their collective experience, combined with the acumen of some of the current leaders, should improve the process of decision-making and lead to better outcomes.

If we choose our leaders with these criteria in mind, we will increase the probability that charismatic and forceful leaders will arise.

We cannot afford to remain silent. It is up to us to speak up, motivate our current leaders and ultimately strengthen our leadership. That is our homework. Let us hope that there is still time.

(Aryeh Rubin, a JTA board member, is the managing partner of the Maot Group and the founder and director of Targum Shlishi.

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In the lions’ den: Federation women cap week in the Big Easy


Just down the road from where the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America had concluded a day earlier, more than a thousand of the federation system’s most generous women found a philanthropic sanctuary of their own.

At the Hilton Hotel here, the International Lion of Judah Conference drew about 1,100 of the women that the federation system refers to as “lions”—those who give at least $5,000 each year to the system—for a number of sessions dedicated to showcasing the best of what that system supports and highlighting some of the interesting projects women are running in the broader Jewish nonprofit world.

They told stories about strong women and mothers. And at a conference without men, the humor was decidedly female-centric: Comic Judy Gold, performing at its closing gala, got her biggest laugh in response to a joke involving a yeast infection and Passover.

The absence of men was vitally important to making the five-day event a success, said guests at the Nov. 10 closing gala at the Hilton.

“You can let your hair down more,” Shanny Morgenstern, the president of women’s philanthropy at the Kansas City federation, told JTA.

While annual campaigns have fallen across the country with the recession, women’s giving to the federation has held steady over the past two years, said Kim Fish, the senior director of national women’s philanthropy for the Jewish Federations of North America.

The lions made $19.1 million in pledges over the course of their conference—a 12 percent increase compared to their last get-together in late 2008, just before the recession took hold. In the Big Easy, their average gift was more than $17,000.

The Lion of Judah has become something of a cultural phenomenon within the federation world since Norma Wilson came up with the concept in Miami in 1972.

Her idea was to spur giving by rewarding women who gave $5,000 or more with a gold brooch featuring a roaring lion and a diamond eye. As the idea spread from federation to federation the lion evolved, with the diamond eye turning into a ruby for a gift of $10,000, a sapphire for $18,000 and an emerald for $25,000. The lion turns platinum if a woman has given a gift of more than $100,000—and if a woman endows her gift, the philanthropic feline gets a little gold torch to hold in its outstretched paw.

And while the GA, the annual conference for the federation system’s lay and professional leaders, is more about the system’s functionality, best practices and policy, the biannual Lion of Judah conference is strictly about fund raising—and instilling a sense of feminine camaraderie in some of the most generous benefactors of the multibillion-dollar per year charitable system.

“It’s about sisterhood,” Bari Freiden, a Lion from Kansas City, told JTA between sessions. “You are all the same because you are at a certain giving level or above no matter where you are from. You recognize a lion and all of a sudden you have a connection.”

The idea has worked—big time. The federations may do a better job of raising money from women than any other philanthropy, Jewish or not. About 17,000 women in the United States have become Lions, and they provide the core of the $180 million raised by the federations through their women’s philanthropy campaign.

All told, giving by women accounts for about 23 percent of the annual $900 million general campaign, according to Fish.

At federations like the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, the women’s campaign brings in about 40 percent of the organization’s overall annual campaign, according to Steve Rakitt, the federation’s president.

While some insiders openly wondered whether federations should have spent more time at the GA working on how to articulate their story more clearly, the system clearly knew how to pitch its Lions. Their conference this year was orchestrated to put the federations front and center, and to pull at the heartstrings of its participants.

Sessions ranging from “Slim Peace: Diet for a Peaceful Planet” to “Strong Women and ‘Lipstick’ Leadership” to “Business Women and Politics” generally avoided becoming bogged down in philanthropic theory, instead focusing on making the attendees aware of the more interesting programs being funded by the federations. The sessions told the stories of the programs through women’s voices.

For example, during one session, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee—one of the federation system’s two main overseas partners—focused on a woman it rescued from Georgia and another it saved from Bosnia. The session also highlighted the generosity of Anne Heyman, a major funder who worked with the JDC to establish the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda for orphans of the country’s genocide.

Each presentation drew more on the emotional than on nuts and bolts—and each included a pitch for the federation system.

Plenary sessions were more about positioning the federation and the Lion of Judah as not just organizations offering opportunities to donate to good works, but also venues for making friends and empowering women through philanthropy.

Having no men around was key, participants said.

“You can say things you wouldn’t necessarily say with men there,” said Morgenstern of the Kansas City federation. “If there would be men, the women would be less open to share.”

“It is an exclusive network both because it is women and the giving dollar amount,” said Freiden, a fellow Kansas City lion.

And while that included a bit of feminine high-jinks on Bourbon Street that both acknowledged, the conference all led up to a caucus closed not only to the press but also to all but the highest-level staff, at which the women poured out their hearts and opened their checkbooks.

After spending five days hearing about the power of the federations and of being women associated with the federations, the Lions broke into groups. The women sat in a circle and, one by one, told their stories about how their local federation had personally touched them.

The caucus became a tear-filled affair as the women related their intensely personal stories—and made financial pledges to their local federations, often disclosing the dollar amount or at least the percentage of increase over their last pledge, according to several participants.

Despite the success, some federation insiders say the model would need to be tweaked to attract a younger generation. This year the conference included a service project in which Lions, in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s PJ Library, handed out backpacks of books to underprivileged New Orleans children as the federations become convinced that service is the gateway to a younger generation.

But for now, the federations are banking on inspiring more giving through sisterhood.

“If you put women in a situation where there is abundance and where they can all succeed, they are incredibly cooperative and helpful to each other,” Freiden said. “Whereas if you are in a situation where you are taking from my cubs, they come out with their claws. Here it doesn’t hurt us to share good things. It helps us and we help each other.”

This article was adapted from The Fundermentalist newsletter; sign up at Fundermentalist.com.

For the love of Israel, health care and ‘Power Rangers’


Haim Saban is sitting at the head of the table in his conference room on the 26th floor of his Century City tower offices. Here, he is kingpin, an image strongly reinforced by where he sits, as well as the attentiveness of his traditionally dressed office butler, who ducks in and out of the meeting continuously, pouring Pellegrino and serving cappuccinos.

Saban wears a white dress shirt and black sport coat with thick gold buttons. He has a broad, brawny stature and a deep, sonorous voice. His 66-year-old face is full of the sharp etchings of time, which makes him appear expressive even when he is not displaying emotion. He is naturally authoritative, though this, too, is reinforced by the austere decor — a dark, wood-paneled office with sweeping city views, from the Wilshire Country Club immediately below to the hills and sea in the distance.

On this afternoon, Saban is meeting with a roomful of representatives from the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC) who have come hoping to draw from the well of their favorite sugar daddy.

Lesson No. 1 in how to pitch to a billionaire: Speak a common language — or two.

“B’ivrit or b’anglit [Hebrew or English]?” Marissa Sharpe, director of operations for the ILC asks Saban. She is about to pitch the ILC’s latest initiative, “Netina” (giving).

“Anglit,” Saban tells her.

“So, the idea behind Netina is to create bridges between the American Israelis and the Jewish Americans through volunteering,” Sharpe says. “The idea is to create a large community that will transcend all kinds of different opinions, because everybody believes in doing good. By April, we’re going to have a special event, and the only way to come to the event is by volunteering at least four hours.”

“There’s no such thing in the Jewish community,” adds Eli Tene, ILC co-chair and a member of its board of directors.

“What do you think about the concept?” asks Shoham Nicolet, the ILC’s executive director.

Saban sits quietly and upright, intensely attentive. “You know, it’s a great concept,” he says. “I like the idea that you’re tapping into primarily the Jewish and Israeli communities, but that you’re offering a service to not only Jewish causes, which I think is …

“It’s a must,” Tene interjects.

“Well, I wasn’t going to say ‘it’s a must,’ but you’re right in saying it’s a must. I think it’s very great for Israel’s image, and as we know, Israel totally unjustifiably has an image problem. So. from that point of view, I think …”

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” says Danny Alpert, the ILC’s other co-chair and a manufacturer of diamond jewelry. “But Israelis, too, have an image [problem], you understand? An image that they’re not giving back. Even in the Jewish community. That’s what we’re trying to change.”

Lesson No. 2: Ask for advice.

“What do you think are the challenges of this program?” Nicolet asks Saban.

“Challenge No. 1 is you gotta raise $382,000. That, you’re aware of — klum hadesh lecha [nothing new to you]. And I appreciate that you’re not here just to get my creative input, b’seder [OK]?”

Lesson No. 3: Don’t actually ask for the money; let the billionaire offer it.

“We’re not here to ask you for money, Haim, I’m being serious,” Nicolet says.

“Maybe not today,” Saban answers animatedly, his voice trilling with enthusiasm, “but eventually …!”

There is an eruption of laughter, and Saban, who is quick to sense an opportunity, showcases his good humor: “Eventually, Eli, at lunch, will generously pay, as he always fights to pay for lunches when we have our lunches on Fridays” — these gatherings are known within their circle as “Israeli parliament” — “and he’s going to say, ‘’Bo nishteh café [come, let’s drink a coffee].’ “

Lesson No. 4: Flattery will get you everywhere.

“Haim, I like very much the letter that you sent to Time [magazine],” Alpert says during a pause in the Hebrew banter. He is referring to the magazine’s recent cover story declaring, “Why Israelis Don’t Want Peace,” a subject that, not surprisingly, gets Saban’s blood boiling. 

“What I wrote was much tougher,” Saban said, explaining that the magazine’s editor, Richard Stengel, is not only Jewish, but a friend. “I e-mailed him and said, ‘Are you out of your friggin’ mind, Richard?! Are you crazy?? Why Israelis don’t want peace?!’ He said, ‘What are you talking about? We showed all these wonderful things about Israeli people hanging in the sun.’ I said, ‘If you read [the article], you read that basically Israelis are a bunch of beach bums! Maybe there are two or three Israelis that are like that, but the vast majority of Israelis don’t want peace? It is a distortion of reality.”

Israeli, Palestinian leaders pitch rare joint industrial project


Even as Israeli and Palestinian leaders argue about the conditions that must be in place for a return to the negotiating table, they are striking similar tones on the need for economic development.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad unveiled an economic plan last week intended to bring about a stable, independent Palestinian state within two years, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been talking for months about the need for an “economic peace.”

Some local Israeli and Palestinian officials aren’t waiting for the rhetoric to translate into action. They’re taking matters into their own hands.

This week, the Jewish mayor of a region in northern Israel adjacent to the West Bank announced a plan with the governor of the West Bank city of Jenin for a joint industrial zone, coexistence projects and a sports league that would bring together the region’s Israeli and Palestinian children.

“We believe that life in the Middle East can be different,” said Danny Atar, the Jewish mayor of the Gilboa Regional Council, a mountainous area of Israel of 22,000 people located between Jenin and the Israeli city of Beit Shean. “We’re taking responsibility and combining politics with economics. We are building an industrial park that will provide employment for 15,000 Palestinians and 2,000 Israelis.”

The plan is unusual not only because it represents a coordinated effort between local Israeli and Palestinian officials, but also because it involves the Palestinian governor of a city that until recently was known as the suicide-bomber capital of the West Bank and because the project is being supported by Jewish groups in the United States.

Jenin’s governor, Qadoura Qadoura, says now is the time for cooperation.

“No two people can live beside each other while one is prospering and the other is not,” he said.

Qadoura and Atar, along with Atar’s Israeli-Arab deputy, Eid Saleem, are on a U.S. tour this week trying to sell their idea to the Jewish public and win investors for the project.

The plan calls for establishing a joint Israel-Palestinian industrial park just inside the West Bank that will manufacture products such as olive oil and packaged salad greens to be exported to overseas markets via Israel. It also involves setting up cultural centers to teach Hebrew to Palestinians and Arabic to Israeli Jews, organizing women’s empowerment courses and holding sports tournaments for children from both communities.

“The plans are already all set up,” Atar said at a news conference Monday at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York. “It is in my own benefit as an Israeli that the Palestinians do well, and we hope that two years from now it will start operating. We will provide the infrastructure from the Israeli side, but this is their project. It is entirely up to them to make it succeed, and that makes all the difference.”

Robert Zwank, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Western Connecticut who organized the tour, says he hopes the plan will be extended to other parts of Israel and the West Bank.

“As a bottom-up initiative, it has to be supported by people in the private sector,” he said in a phone interview.

Seven years ago, few could have imagined Jenin as a model of coexistence. A hotbed of militancy from which Palestinian terrorist groups dispatched suicide bombers to strike Israeli cities, Jenin was the site of a 2002 Israeli army incursion that left many dead on both sides and leveled parts of the city’s refugee camp.

Now, however, Jenin is one of the places Palestinian and U.S. officials tout as a model of success for a revamped Palestinian security force, and even some Israeli officials speak of a changed atmosphere in the city.

“I can walk around Jenin without a guard, without any of Qadoura’s people,” Atar said. “It is now a paradigm of good security and good governance.”

Qadoura, a member of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party, says the project will help bolster moderates among Palestinians and weaken support for Hamas and its radicalism.

“We have our radicals and it is of concern, but when we have over 50 percent unemployment and 6,000 graduates without work, then they become targets for radicals,” Qadoura said.

This isn’t the first attempt at a joint Palestinian-Israeli industrial project. Perhaps the best known is the industrial park at the Erez Crossing, on the north end of the Gaza Strip. Once a thriving commercial area that provided employment for thousands of Palestinians, it now lies vacant following repeated attacks by Hamas on the facility.

At their meeting Monday in New York, Atar said his project would not suffer the same fate as the Erez park.

“This is not an intergovernmental project,” he said. “Our aim is to encourage the private sector to invest.”

Atar adds, “What other alternatives are there, to have nothing in the news but how many Palestinians or Israelis were killed?”

Stop and smell the roses in Pakistan


As an Egyptian whose country’s military dictators are either taken by God or an assassin’s bullet, I envy the Pakistani people’s ability to now use the term, “former president.”

As former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf contemplates how his friends in the U.S. administration dropped him quicker than you can say “hot freedom fries,” for those of us from the Muslim world — awash in military dictators who have friends in high places in Washington — his exit from Pakistan’s frenetic political stage is miraculous.

The naysayers will remind us of all the “ifs” and “buts” that remain for Pakistan. For starters, Musharraf’s two main rivals, who engineered the threatened impeachment elbowing him toward resignation — Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari — are nowhere near perfect leaders, especially since the only factor uniting them is now contemplating the real estate of exile sites in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Sharif — the former prime minister swept aside by Musharraf’s bloodless 1999 coup — was himself in exile until last year, when he returned home vowing political revenge. He wants to try Musharraf for treason. Meanwhile, Zardari, the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has taken a more conciliatory line.

They might disagree on Musharraf’s future, but what they do have in common is ignominious histories of corruption — a reminder that dictators like Musharraf are experts at stifling the life out of their country’s politics and leaving poor alternatives to their rules by coup d’état.

We will be reminded that the Taliban and Al Qaeda and all those other scary figures Musharraf dutifully fought as part of his card-carrying membership in the war on terror are now celebrating in every cave that straddles Pakistan’s troubled border with Afghanistan.

Last year, militant friends of the newly insurgent Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies slaughtered hundreds of Pakistanis in waves of suicide bombings across the country. But much like his fellow Muslim dictators befriended by Washington, Musharraf just perfected his technique of using them as Islamist bogeymen.

My country’s president, Hosni Mubarak, points to the Muslim Brotherhood. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas points to Hamas. But neither can beat having Osama bin Laden allegedly hiding somewhere in his country.

Although he presented himself as a secular leader, Musharraf gave free rein to those same Islamists that he was warning the West about, because they were a foil to Pakistan’s vibrant liberal community.

It’s unclear who will become Pakistan’s next president, but there’s no doubt that the ruling coalition’s challenges are many now that Musharraf is out of the picture: fighting inflation, reducing the gap between rich and poor and continuing to fight militancy in the nuclear-armed country. For Pakistan, politics has been a roller-coaster ride since its birth in 1947 as a partition from India.

But let’s stop for a moment and appreciate what has just happened in Pakistan: The constitution and the justice system of a Muslim country were about to impeach a sitting president who was once head of the armed forces. Rather than face such accountability, that president resigned.

To further put Pakistan’s achievement in context, consider that had he insisted on fighting impeachment, Musharraf faced charges of violating the constitution and gross misconduct. Why?

Because he imposed six weeks of emergency rule and fired dozens of judges last November, when the Supreme Court met to decide his eligibility to stand for re-election for a third term as president while still army chief.

Egypt has lived under emergency rule for each and every one of Mubarak’s four terms in power straddling 26 years. In 2006, his regime showed a similar allergy to an independent judiciary. Mubarak’s regime disciplined two senior judges and arrested and beat dozens of their supporters when the judges had the temerity to press for an inquiry into electoral fraud during the 2005 parliamentary elections, which Mubarak’s party swept. The elections were marred by violence, several deaths and plenty of intimidation.

Just like Musharraf, Mubarak recognized the dangers of an independent judiciary — which in many Muslim countries constitutes the most potent secular opposition. But don’t hold your breath for Mubarak’s impeachment any time soon.

“Let’s hope we can learn from this in Egypt,” my dad told me as we discussed Musharraf’s resignation. “It will tell our dictators, ‘You are not more powerful than the people.'”

It will also signal to our various dictators that no matter how tight you are with Washington, no matter how well you have managed to persuade your American friends that you’re the only thing that stands between them and Islamist lunatics, they will look away when your people have had it with you.

For years, Pakistan has been home to much that ails the Muslim world: coups, dictatorship, militancy and corruption. Let’s recognize it now as home to judges and lawyers who won their staredown with the dictator.

And let’s remind Sharif, Zardari and whoever becomes Pakistan’s next president: “Hey, those same judges and lawyers against whom Musharraf foolishly picked a fight and lost are there keeping an eye on you, too.”

To the people of Pakistan — I salute you!

Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning New York-based journalist and commentator and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues.

Arnold stops at Jewish Home for Aging; Cal GOP says ad campaign worked; North Valley JCC shooting la


One Special Stop on the Campaign Trail

Even when the gubernatorial election was just two days away, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger found time to talk to a large group of senior citizens at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda.

After arriving nearly an hour late, the governor was met with applause and a few cries of “Arnold!” Along with his wife, Maria Shriver, the governor stopped to shake hands on the way to the microphone. Perfectly coiffed and sporting a suit with no tie, the governor seemed relaxed, if rushed, as he told the crowd that he had attended a memorial for the five firefighters killed in the Esperanza fire.Towering over a sea of seated white heads as he spoke, Schwarzenegger recapped his first term in office, talked about the economy and briefly derided the federal government: “They’re all fighting, the Democrats and Republicans, but in Sacramento we all get along now.”

He made a special attempt to bond with his audience as well, reminding them that he was an immigrant to the United States, and that all his successes were due to his move to California. As usual, he found time to mention his past as a Hollywood star, though he refrained from quoting any of his movies. At one point, he did mention Sugar Ray Robinson, a former middleweight boxing champion, as a mentor who gave him $500 at the beginning of his career. Though he talked at length about his own experiences as an immigrant, he never discussed any current immigration issues.

Schwarzenegger also reminded everyone that his first visit outside the country as governor had been to Israel, and that he had attended the pro-Israel rallies, which was met with more applause.

Shriver also spoke, saying that she had been to the Jewish Home on five or six occasions, and that she had brought her children’s schools there on field trips.

The two held a brief Q-and-A session after the 15-minute talk, fielding questions about social security, which the governor said was a matter for the federal government.

As the governor and the first lady exited the room they were besieged by photographers and fans.

The Jewish Home’s residents voiced varying opinions. Tauba Grischkan, an immigrant who came to the U.S. from Lithuania shortly after World War II expressed satisfaction with Schwarzenegger.

“I like him,” she said. “He’s a good man.”

Mort Symans, another resident, had some reservations about Schwarzenegger.

“He said some wonderful things, but the only problem is, he is a Republican talking like a Democrat,” Symans noted. “He has a Republican ideology and he’s trying to talk with the mouth of a Democrat.”

— Alex Collins-Shotwell, Contributing Writer

California Republicans Report Ads Drew New Members

Three hundred new members joined the California Republican Jewish Coalition in September and October, the largest two-month gain in the group’s history, according to Larry Greenfield the group’s director. Membership is now nearly 7,500 members, up from 2,000 just two and a half years ago, Greenfield said.

The membership boost came on the heels of 11 national RJC ads that argued that Democratic support for Israel is weakening. One ad, which ran in The Jewish Journal, suggested that Ned Lamont’s Connecticut primary victory over Sen. Joseph Lieberman reflected a Democratic shift away from the party’s historically strong support of the Jewish state. Another ad spotlighted a number of opinion polls, including one from the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg, which found Republicans more sympathetic toward Israel than Democrats.

The RJC spots have “generated a tremendous response for our organization,” said Greenfield, who, along with RJC California Chair Joel Geiderman, served among Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s statewide re-election campaign co-chairs.

Howard Welinsky, chair of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles, and other Democratic leaders have denounced the RJC’s ad campaign for distorting strong Democratic support for the Jewish state and for undermining bipartisanship.

The ads notwithstanding, Welinsky believes that the overwhelmingly majority of Jews have and will continue to vote Democratic, because “the values and convictions of the Democratic Party and American Jews are very much in sync.”— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Suit: Gun Shop Mishandled Shooter

A gun shop did not adequately vet a white supremacist jailed for life after a shooting attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, a lawsuit contends. The family of Joseph Ileto, a Philippine-born postal worker shot dead by Buford Furrow shortly after Furrow’s 1999 attack on the JCC filed a wrongful death suit Thursday against the Loaner Too pawn shop in Seattle.

The family’s lawyer, Mike Withey, contends that the shop failed to require Furrow to fill out a federal form that would have disqualified him from purchasing a pistol because he was a convicted felon who had spent time in a mental institution.

Three children, a receptionist and a teenage counselor were injured in Furrow’s shooting attack on the center. Withey also filed a $15 million claim in August on behalf of families of five children injured or traumatized in the attack against the Washington state corrections authority, which was supervising Burrow at the time.

— Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Federations and Israeli leaders converge on L.A.


The 75th annual General Assembly (GA) of United Jewish Communities, which begins Sunday and continues through Wednesday, will feature prime ministers, award-winning journalists and celebrated academics, among the nearly 4,000 Jewish leaders expected to attend.

But the event’s biggest star will be Israel, a country nearly 8,000 miles away.

This year’s theme is “Together on the Frontline: One People, One Destiny,” which is meant to suggest the connectedness of Israelis and Diaspora Jews, as well as their shared concerns about Israel and the Jewish people. The most prominent Israeli officials are expected to appear, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni; Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog; Education Minister Uli Tamir; and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

The spotlight will also shine, to a lesser extent, on the local Jewish community and the city of Los Angeles, which is hosting the conference for the first time in 26 years.

An estimated 750 local volunteers have signed up to work the GA, and several prominent Jewish leaders, including West Coast Chabad head Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, talk show host Dennis Prager and Jewish World Watch co-founder Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, are slated to speak. To get a flavor of Jewish Los Angeles, tours are planned for the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance and the Skirball Cultural Center. The Federation will also co-host a concert of Jewish music at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Nov. 13.

“People are really pumped and excited about showing L.A. off as a world-class city and as a center of Jewish life,” said John Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, who will join Schulweis and American Jewish World Service Executive Director Ruth Messinger in a session about the genocide in Darfur.

The conference will be staged at the Los Angeles Convention Center downtown and is among the largest Jewish events in North America. In the aftermath of the summer’s conflicts, it will focus on all things Israel: the future of the Jewish state, its enemies, its relations with the Diaspora and the way that Israel is perceived on college campuses, among many other subjects.
Session topics include: “Israel on the North American Campus”; “What’s Next for Israel and the Palestinians?”; “Iran: What Are the Options?”; “Anti-Zionism as the New Anti-Semitism”; and “The Israel Economy: Investing in Israel Today.”

“There’s a greater need for the people of North America to connect with Israel and for the people of Israel to connect with North America,” said Michael Kotzin, the GA’s lead consultant for Israel programming and executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

Originally, the GA had been planned with a lighter theme, “Be With The Stars,” a reference both to the glitz and glam of Hollywood and to the Jewish big-wigs expected to attend the event. However, the war against Hezbollah and Hamas changed all that.

As a reflection of North American Jews’ concern about Israel, the United Jewish Communities’ (UJC) Israel Emergency Campaign has raised nearly $350 million since its creation in July. Equally important, Kotzin said, the Middle East crisis has reminded American Jews of their deep concern for the Jewish state. For Israelis, the Diaspora’s heartfelt reaction to their suffering has made them more appreciative of their special relationship with American and other Jews, he added.

Kotzin anticipates that the GA will inspire North American federation leaders to increase the number of missions to the Jewish state and to support new programming there. Given American Jews’ response to Israel’s difficulties this summer, he said, communal executives might raise more money in future annual campaigns by spotlighting how communal charitable dollars support overseas programming in Israel.

GA participants will discuss issues other than Israel during the four-day conference, including Jewish education, Ethiopian Jewry, ways to reach young philanthropists and the challenges facing Jews in the former Soviet Union. Non-Israel sessions include: “Working to Save Darfur,” “The Jewish Advocacy Agenda in Canada,” “What to Do When the Bucks Stop,” and “Connect to a Career with Meaning, Connect to Federation.”

The UJC represents 155 federations and 400 independent communities across North America. All events, including the concert at Disney Hall, are open to registered delegates and volunteers only.

“All of us will return home with new approaches, tools and inspiration for engagement, leadership and community building,” UJC Chair Robert Goldberg said.

For more information, visit www.ujc.org.

It’s hard to find good day school leaders these days


A dearth of leadership talent is affecting not only the likes of Yahoo! and Microsoft, it’s also wreaking havoc on the Jewish day school system as schools find it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain qualified heads.

Representatives from 11 Jewish educational organizations will meet next month at a think-tank at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York. Working with strategic planners and other Jewish and general education experts, they will look for solutions to what they describe as a crisis.

“As soon as you bring it up with those involved in Jewish education, it’s like bringing up the topic of in-laws with a group of married people — there are a lot of nodding heads,” said Nina Butler, an educational consultant at the Avi Chai Foundation. The foundation has a special focus on day school education, and is one of the think tank’s organizers.

To some extent, the day school system is a victim of its own success, said Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE).

“This is basically a story about the phenomenally rapid growth of the day school system in North America,” he said. “For the last couple of decades, the addition of new schools and the expansion of schools has put a tremendous demand on the Jewish community to supply leaders and teachers. The growth has outstripped the capacity.”

There are roughly 800 North American day schools, and 60 new schools have opened since PEJE, a collaboration of major philanthropists to improve Jewish education, started in 1997, Elkin said. The number of children in day schools has increased by 100,000 since 1982 to more than 200,000 today, according to a 2003 Avi Chai census.

Frances Urman, director of the Day School Leadership Training Institute, founded by Avi Chai and run out of JTS, said her office has seen a “tremendous” influx of calls from schools across the country looking to fill their top spots. Her office runs a 14-month fellowship to train prospective day school leaders.

Marvin Schick, a senior adviser to the Avi Chai Foundation, said finding heads of school isn’t the only issue — there’s also the problem of keeping them.

Schick recently completed research for a study into Jewish day school leadership. He sent out 500 questionnaires to Jewish heads of school and got 400 responses.

The study looked at career path, salary, job responsibilities, career satisfaction and other areas. The data won’t be ready for release for several months, but Schick said it shows that a “significant number” of Jewish heads of school are “new or fairly new” at their jobs.

Most started out as teachers without expecting to go into administrative work, he said, and one out of five continues to teach on top of other duties. Schick also found that job satisfaction is very high among heads of school, with 90 percent of those who returned the questionnaire reporting less than 1 percent job dissatisfaction.

Schick said it was “remarkable that there is so much movement in the field.”

Los Angeles, home to 37 day schools serving 10,000 K-12th grade students, has bucked the national trend and enjoyed healthy stability in retaining principals and headmasters, according to Gil Graff, executive director of the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education.

“School heads have been drawn from a variety of backgrounds, including both Jewish education and public and private school administration. Rare are the instances of appointment as head of a day school in L.A., absent previous experience in a senior role in educational administration,” Graff said.

Still, the national crisis is cause for concern.

“Los Angeles, however, represents 5 percent of the schools and students in the American day school universe. Ensuring that, nationally, there is a sufficient pool of well-qualified heads of Jewish day schools to serve the needs of an expanding number of institutions is vital to sustaining and furthering the momentum of the day school movement,” Graff said.

PEJE’s Elkin said the average retention rate for heads of Jewish schools is three to six years, hardly enough time for an educator to leave a mark. For the schools to be successful, they have to figure out how to raise that rate to six to nine years, Elkin said.

When principals do switch jobs, it’s often because they find better opportunities, advancement or a preferable location, said Schick, who noted that “very few were fired.”

Some of the difficulty stems from the fact that schools are popping up in small Jewish communities, such as Kerry, N.C. and Asheville, N.C., said Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK, an umbrella organization for the country’s 90 Jewish community schools.

Getting qualified people to leave bigger Jewish communities is often a problem, and getting them to stay when a job in a larger city opens up is difficult, he said.

A head of school functions like a CEO, maintaining curriculum and serving as liaison among the school’s board, faculty, parents and student body, while making sure that school finances are in check. Finding someone who is qualified to do all this — and who also has experience working at a Jewish school — is nearly impossible, Kramer said.

He added that about eight RAVSAK schools — about 10 percent of the schools in the system — look for new heads each year.

That’s why Debra Altshul-Stark, president of the board of the Milwaukee Jewish Day School, considers her school very lucky to have found a qualified applicant to take over as head of school this year. The founding headmaster of the 25-year-old school retired five years ago, and the school couldn’t find a qualified replacement.

The board decided to try a three-headed approach. That flopped, as did a model of two heads of school.

When the board decided to go back to a single-head model, Stark was wary, because the first search had been so disappointing. This time 25 candidates applied; one had the general educational and Jewish educational background — and wanted to move to Milwaukee.

Would Iranian Nukes Only Kill Jews?


Will Iran’s nukes only kill Jews?

That’s the question Palestinians should be asking themselves. Because the answer is no.

There is no way to make a nuclear bomb that just kills Jews. There is no way to “wipe Israel off the map,” as Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sworn to do in a nuclear armageddon, without wiping out the Palestinians, as well.

A nuclear fireball detonated over Jerusalem would kill a substantial fraction of the city’s half-million Jews — and the city’s quarter-million Palestinians. But not only lives would be destroyed. Next to the Kaaba in Mecca, the most sacred site to Sunni Muslims in the world is the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, which comprise the Haram esh-Sharif, the noble sanctuary on top of Temple Mount.

A nuke would turn the noble sanctuary into radioactive dust. This is what Iran’s terrorist leaders are threatening to do. So all you Palestinians, all you Sunni Muslims out there, wherever you are, get the picture: Wiping Israel off the map means wiping your sacred noble sanctuary off the map, as well. It’s an inescapable package deal.

The Palestinians have more to fear from a nuclear attack on Israel than the Jews. Iran might be able to build a handful of firecracker fission (atom bomb) nukes in the 10- to 20-kiloton range. Set any of these off in an above-ground airburst to maximize lethality, and the heat fries everyone within a mile radius. The neutrons travel not much more and gamma rays much less, killing folks with radiation poisoning within a radius of less than 2 miles.

In other words, the radiation effects are very localized. Anyone 5 miles away would just get a sunburn. The greatest danger more than a few miles away is flying glass from blown-out windows caused by the shock wave. (Avoiding the flying glass was the purpose of duck-and-cover practice of diving under school desks back in the ’50s.)

Any effective nuking of Israel would thus have to score multiple detonations in Israel’s population centers. There is no way to do this in a country the size of New Jersey without devastating the Palestinian population at least as much as the Israeli.

In any nuclear attack on Israel, Iran would have to make a choice: Use its handful of bombs to hit the population centers or hit the Zechariah nuclear missile base southeast of Tel Aviv. Iran cannot do both.

It will take multiple direct hits to incapacitate Zechariah, collapsing the underground tunnels for the TELs (transporter erector launchers). These launch the Jericho-2 missile with a range of 2,000 miles carrying a nuke far more lethal than an Iranian firecracker.

Israel has at least 200, and possibly as many as 400, nuclear warheads, many of which are fusion (hydrogen bombs) in the range of 150 kilotons, many times more destructive than whatever the Iranians come up with. The Jericho-2 can easily reach Tehran or any other location in Iran. A nuclear strike by Iran upon Israel could precipitate the nuclear retaliatory annihilation of Iran.

The mullahs need to realize the name of Zechariah was chosen with a purpose for Israel’s missile base. It is Hebrew for: “God remembers with a vengeance.”

It is Sunni Muslims who need to be terrified of a nuclear Iran. And indeed, Ahmadinejad’s wipe-off-the-map bluster may be misdirection, for he must know that Israel and the Jews would survive his attack, and he and his country would not survive theirs. It is then more likely that Ahmadinejad intends to be an 800-pound Shiite nuclear gorilla, pushing around the Sunnis of the Middle East.

Sunni Saudi Arabia — hated by Iran’s mullacracy — would be defenseless. So would Sunni Jordan — hated by the mullahs. So would Dubai and the emirates. So would Kuwait. Iran is going to aim its nukes at them. They either become colonial subjects of Iran — or (get ready for this) make a deal with Israel and be placed under the protection of an Israeli nuclear umbrella.

They could try this with another nuclear neighbor, and a Sunni Muslim one at that: Pakistan. But Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is devoted to protection from India, and it is limited (around 25 or so low-kiloton fission warheads). An Israeli umbrella may prove an irresistible option.

“We can protect you from Iran,” should be Israel’s message to Sunni Arabs from Ramallah to Riyadh. “The only price for our protection is peace between us.”

Jack Wheeler is the editor of To The Point at

Hier, Pope Talk at Vatican


During a private audience at the Vatican, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center urged Pope Benedict XVI this week to lead a “coalition of the good” against international terrorism and threats from Iran.

The pope did not respond directly to the plea by Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center’s founding dean, but asserted that “Christians and Jews can do much to enable coming generations to live in harmony and respect.”

He also expressed the hope that “this century will see our world emerge from the web of conflict and violence, and sow the seeds of for a future of reconciliation, justice and peace,” according to the Vatican news service.

For his part, Hier said in a phone call from Rome, “It is my belief, that the pontiff will make his mark in standing up to terrorism. I am also certain that he wants to strengthen relations with the Jewish people.”

The delegation included 40 trustees and other lay leaders of the Wiesenthal Center from across the United States, and the pope made a point to speak to each individually. He also blessed rosary beads brought by some delegates for Catholic friends back home.

 

Kerry’s Heritage


Seven years ago, then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright discovered that more than a dozen of her relatives had perished in the Nazi concentration camps because they, like Albright, were born Jewish.

Albright’s discovery raised an even larger question: How many other American leaders have actually been of Jewish descent, but because of records and memories eroded by time, they never knew it?

In the case of Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry — thought by many to be a Boston Brahmin — the answer to the question is a convoluted one. It follows a path from a small Czech village near the Polish border to a long-forgotten suicide in a posh Boston hotel. It is the story of a young man who abandoned his Jewish faith, his nation and his name to pursue the American dream.

The Village

In 1873, in the Czech hamlet Bennisch, there were not enough Jews to form a synagogue. But anti-Semitism and pogroms were still a fact of life, and it was into this world on May 10 that year that Fritz Kohn was born.

The son of Benedikt and Mathilde Kohn, he became a simple brewer. He married a Jew named Ida Lowe but grew dissatisfied with his place in Moravian society.

Most of the population were Catholic and spoke German. Jews often found themselves the victims of discrimination, and many posed as non-Jews under pressure to assimilate.

“It was easier to do business as a Christian,” said Prague genealogist Julius Miller. “But many Jews just stopped being Jewish during this period and had no belief at all.”

On March 17, 1902, Kohn took his wife and infant son, Erich, to a government office in Vienna, changed his family name to Kerry and renamed himself Frederick. On May 4, 1905, the family traveled to Genoa, Italy, and boarded a ship bound for the United States.

The steamer was configured to carry nearly 2,000 passengers in steerage. However, the Kerrys did not make the typical immigrant crossing. Instead, they traveled in first class, with only 29 other passengers who had names like Hale, Walker and Bridgeman.

The ship’s records suggest that Kohn was already actively obscuring his roots. Ellis Island records note that he identified his family as Austrian Germans, rather than as Jews from Bennisch. By the time he arrived in New York on May 18, 1905, he had left his Jewish heritage behind.

A New Life

By January 1906, the Kerrys had settled in Chicago. Once there, Kohn — now Kerry — quickly set out to live the American dream.

On June 21, 1907, he filed his initial citizenship papers. By 1908, he appeared in a business directory with an office in Chicago’s Loop and, in 1910, he made it into the Blue Book, a catalogue of notable Chicago residents.

He filed his naturalization petition on Feb. 6, 1911, listing an address in the tony Uptown district. Signing as a witness was famous State Street merchant Henry Lytton.

Kohn’s second petition witness, Frank Case, worked as a manager at Sears & Roebuck, and was also regarded as a well-known member of society. Kohn had been involved in the reorganization of Sears and, by 1912, ran an ad in a directory as a “business counselor” under the name, Frederick A. Kerry & Staff.

However for unknown reasons, Kohn left Chicago, settling in the prominent Boston suburb of Brookline where, in 1915, his wife gave birth to Richard, father of Sen. Kerry. He continued life as a merchant in the shoe business, seeing enough success to hire a live-in German servant girl, who appears in his household’s 1920 U.S. Census record.

The census offers a glimpse into lengths to which Kohn had hidden his lineage. Both he and his wife listed their native tongues as German — when, as Czech Jews, their first language would have been Yiddish. At this point, both had been devout Catholics for nearly 20 years — a fact that adds greater mystery to the events that were about to unfold.

On Nov. 15, 1921, at the age of 48, Kohn wrote his last will and testament. Six days later, he walked into the lobby washroom of the posh Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, put a revolver to his head and pulled the trigger.

Probate records show he was virtually bankrupt. Other reports suggested that Kohn may have been in failing health — he suffered from severe asthma — and that he may have recently received an inheritance, which he transferred to his wife before his suicide.

The gunshot that took Kohn’s life also silenced a family history for more than 50 years. It would take the notoriety of a U.S. senator running for president to bring the story back to life.

A Rising Star

Unlike Kohn, a peasant who climbed the social ladder into America’s privileged class, John Kerry was to the manner born. His father served as an Army pilot during World War II, before becoming a noted U.S. diplomat. His mother descended from two dyed-in-the-wool Massachusetts blue-blood families: the Forbes and Winthrop clans.

Kerry’s early years were the transient life of a diplomat’s son at exclusive boarding schools in Europe and New Hampshire. He attended Yale at about the same time as President Bush, but while Bush lived the fraternity life, Kerry became president of the school’s political group.

Upon graduation in 1966, Kerry followed his father’s military footsteps, volunteering for Vietnam. He was mustered out in 1969, after receiving the Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. However, he soon became a vocal antiwar protester, using his military experience to criticize the war, including testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 1971.

After graduating from law school in 1976, Kerry launched his political career, becoming Massachusetts lieutenant governor in 1982 under Michael Dukakis. He eventually ran for Senate in 1984, winning the seat vacated by Paul Tsongas.

The mystery of his family history continued. He learned from a relative that his grandmother had been born Jewish, but he knew virtually nothing about his grandfather. He eventually became so fixed on the subject that once, on a visit to Europe, he stopped in Vienna and called every Kerry in the phone book.

His office even contacted the regional Czech archives that, unknown to him, actually contained the original record of Kohn’s birth, but the senator never heard back. The bureau had stopped conducting searches for foreigners two years earlier.

The Mystery Revealed

In late 2002, rumors began to circulate that Kerry would seek the Democratic nomination for president. The Boston Globe’s editors solicited reporters for articles on Kerry’s life, and journalist Michael Kranish volunteered.

Kranish’s experience gave him a significant edge: He had recently spent four years piecing together his own family history. He knew that he’d need an overseas collaborator to check European records, so he hired prominent genealogist Felix Gundacker, an Austrian from the Institute for Historical Family Research.

Gundacker had developed a specialty in tracking the bloodlines of Jews in parts of what is now the Czech Republic. Eventually, he uncovered the document that detailed Frederick Kerry’s name change — the clue that would enable him to search for Fritz Kohn, the man’s birth name and the key to his past.

Had Kohn’s name been changed at Ellis Island, like so many other immigrants, it might have been lost in the fog of time. Because Kohn had changed his name before he immigrated — perhaps, ironically, to conceal his background — his origins could now be traced.

Gundacker only needed to find Kohn’s birth records. That took him to the Czech city of Opava, where vast regional records remained stored. One recordkeeper there, Jiri Stibor, opened letters each day from people around the globe seeking genealogical aid.

On June 20, 2002, Stibor received a letter in English from a man he only remembers as “Samuel C.” It carried the seal of a high-ranking Washington, D.C., official.

The letter related that Kerry was running for president and asked about a “Fritz Cohn.” However, the archives had stopped processing foreign requests, and the misspelling would have sidelined the search.

Stibor never forgot about the letter, the first he’d received from a prominent U.S. government official. So when Gundacker eventually visited his office, Stibor immediately remembered the request.

Both men began scouring the archive’s records, playing on Gundacker’s hunch that Kohn had been born Jewish. That meant extra time pursuing an additional, essential step.

“The Catholics at the time weren’t interested in keeping good records [of the Jews],” Stibor said. “I took note to find any entry in the books, and I couldn’t find him in the Catholic section. But if there were Jews in the town, they would be the last entries, at the end of the book.”

And that’s where it was — revealing a secret that Kohn had sought to hide a century earlier: the senator’s grandfather had been born a Czech Jew, in what is now the town of Horni Benesov. Gundacker phoned The Globe and told them he was “1,000 percent sure of it.”

No Trace of a Past

Kranish gathered the evidence and presented it to Kerry a short time later. Kerry could not contain his surprise.

“This was an incredible illumination,” Kerry explained. “It really connected the things I’d talked about for years but now understand even more personally.”

“I never really knew why my grandfather left Austria or why he underwent such personal transformation, but we do know many of the things that were happening under the old Hapsburg Empire,” the senator said. “We know what life was like for too many of them, and the ultimate turn for even greater tragedy it would take not much later.”

The Czech town’s current mayor said he has considered extending an invitation to Kerry to visit, although he added that there isn’t much to see. A box-shaped apartment building sits on the lot where Kohn’s house once stood. A small Jewish cemetery, where Benedikt and Mathilde Kohn were possibly buried, has vanished over time and the Kohn brewery is now the location of a discount sauna.

Such absence of history is typical of the Jewish immigrant experience, genealogist Miller said.

“People who left for America left all of their history,” he explained. “Grandparents and great-grandparents sometimes didn’t tell anything to anyone. In the 18th and 19th century, they wanted to leave their past behind.”

A Few Jews Focus on Props, Too


With a few notable exceptions, Jewish politicians, activists and community leaders are getting into the controversies over Propositions 53 and 54 late and lackadaisically, having focused most of their attention and fundraising efforts on the recall election.

Proposition 54, The Racial Privacy Initiative (RPI), backed by University of California regent Ward Connerly, bans the state from classifying people according to race, ethnicity, color, or national origin.

Supporters maintain it would move society closer to a color-blind society, while opponents maintain it would impede the collection of data needed to redress discrimination.

Though opponents claim it would also block collection of data that could be helpful in addressing genetically transmitted diseases such as Tay Sachs, which affects Ashkenzic Jews, supporters say the measure would not affect health-related issues. The state’s independent legislative analyst said the matter is unclear.

Among Jewish groups, the Anti-Defamation League and the Progressive Jewish Alliance oppose Proposition 54.

Jewish politicians including U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Con. Howard Berman (D-26th) and Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss oppose it as well.

The statewide Jewish Public Affairs Committee, a coalition of mostly Federation-based groups, has not taken a stand on RPI, though the San Jose/Silicon Valley Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) unanimously passed a resolution opposing it.

"There’s been a trend among JCRCs of not wanting to get involved in controversial measures," JPAC Director Coby King said. "Federations don’t see how taking a position benefits them."

For many groups, RPI brings dangerous echoes of the highly controversial Proposition 209, a 1996 initiative designed to dismantle state affirmative action programs based on sex or race. That ballot measure caused considerable division between liberal and more conservative Jews. "A lot of people feel [Proposition 54] is not worth the risk," King said.

Democrats for Israel’s Howard Welinsky said his organization follows the Democratic party position on such measures, and the party opposes it. Welinsky, who sits on the California Post-Secondary Education Commission, said Proposition 54, "will make it impossible to determine if there are civil rights violations or equal opportunity violations."

The Southern California chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition has not taken a position on RPI, said the chapter Chair Bruce Bialosky, because members have been so focused on the recall. But Bialosky, speaking for himself, said he would support it. "As long as we continue to classify people by race," he said, "we are going to continue to think of them by race."

If Proposition 54 is getting relatively attention, Proposition 53 is going positively unnoticed. If it passes in Tuesday’s recall election, Proposition 53 will set aside up to 3 percent of the annual state budget for repairs of California’s infrastructure of highways, hospitals and libraries.

"One of the tenets of the Jewish religion is to improve our community, to leave our community a better place than we found it," said State Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge). Richman, who is Jewish, helped create the legislation that later led to Proposition 53. "If California is going to be successful in the future, then we need to ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place," he said.

The measure’s supporters include the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the California Chamber of Commerce and Caprice Young, former Los Angeles Unified School District president. Opponents include the California Tax Reform Association and the Congress of California Seniors.

State Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) said he finds himself, "smack dab in the middle," about supporting Proposition 53, formerly known as the "Funds Dedicated for State and Local Infrastructure" state constitutional amendment.

"The basic concept is that we have not done enough and are not doing enough … to pay for the infrastructure needs of the state," Koretz said. "When you have a surplus, this would trigger some of that surplus money to go to infrastructure. It’s one of many initiatives that can strain a state budget left with fewer and fewer options. I see its pluses and its minuses."

On the left, Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) director Daniel Sokatch called Proposition 53, "another conservative, far-right fake fix-all. It’s not going to solve any problems, just shift the problems around."

Despite no formal endorsement, RJC of Southern California Executive Director Michael Wissot spoke supportively of Proposition 53.

Richman said Proposition 53 protects against pulling funds out of the state education budget and transferring that money to rebuild roads, hospitals, libraries and state buildings.

The assemblyman added that from the 1960s through the 1970s, California politicians regularly poured 15 percent to 20 percent of annual state budgets into building the state’s extensive freeway system — plus hospitals and libraries and other public entities to be covered by Proposition 53.

But since 1990, Richman said, "our state has spent two-tenths of 1 percent of the General Fund annually on infrastructure. There’s no question why our roads are congested why they’re crumbling. This money is specifically going to infrastructure projects and capital outlay, not for operations."

Koretz also noted that, "There are Jewish values, I would say, on both sides of this issue. It’s really a compelling case of what do you do right? We can never do everything right. It’s a question of are you more concerned about social services or are you more concern about the long-term effects of the state crumbling?"

"I’m actually leaning in favor of it," the assemblyman said. "I think the pluses and minuses are about equal. People need to think this through themselves."

Building the Future


When Jonathan Schulman went on a mission to Israel 1995, he
said his life was forever changed, because he started getting involved. “I got
engaged because there were opportunities for me to build on that experience,”
said Schulman, director of the recently established Young Leadership Program of
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Schulman, who is in his mid-30s, hoped that the other 61 Los
Angeles young Jewish leaders would be similarly inspired at the United Jewish
Community’s (UJC) Young Leadership Regional Conference, which took place March
7-9 at San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis Hotel.

While many in the Jewish establishment bemoan the lack of
involvement of young people and wonder how to get the next generation
interested, the conference attendance proved that many — 600 people from the
Western Region — are eager to become involved in the Jewish community and even
lead it.

“People want to be involved and appreciated and want to make
a difference,” Schulman said. “Some people are looking for social opportunities
or something more educational or to make a difference; all three of those
things can overlap.”

And overlap they did, at a weekend replete with lectures,
workshops, prayer services, meals and the after-hours hanging out, as
politicians, lay leaders and Jewish professionals gave guidance on how to make
a difference.

The conference’s theme was, “If you will it, it is no
dream.” Throughout the lectures, the conference stressed personal
responsibility and activism. The topics ranged from the practical to personal,
like “The Fine Art of Fearless Fundraising” and “How to be a Media Maven,” to
“From Humdrum to the Holy: How Can Jewish Values Transform Your Life?” and
“What’s So Funny About Being Single?”

“My hope is that you will pursue whatever it is that you
find meaningful and that you will institute change,” said Stephen Selig, UJC
national campaign chairman, at the opening event at The Congregation Emanu-El
in San Francisco.

For many young leaders, it was less about finding motivation
to take action and more about learning how to exercise their influence.

For the majority of the participants, Israel was first on
their agenda.

“There’s a lot of anti-Israel sentiment, and it’s hard to
know how to answer it,” said Gretchen Koplin of Minneapolis.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee led the effort
with workshops such as “Becoming Effective Advocates for Israel” and “Political
Action That Makes a Difference.”

Three participants who came to the conference from Israel
said they were touched by the eagerness to help.

“We’re stunned by it,” said Roni Madmoni, a representative
of the Partnership 2000 Israel Leadership Project, a community service program
in Israel. “Jews from all over the country coming together to help.”

“All the Jews here have quality of life, but they understand
that it wasn’t always,” the 27-year-old continued. “They understand that in
order to stay Jews and enjoy life, they have to keep Israel out of the water
… not drowning.”

The conference also provided an on-site opportunity to
record video messages to Israeli soldiers, staged a book drive for Israeli
children and conducted a Jewish bone marrow drive. In addition, there were
boutiques selling Israeli-made products.

“There’s a very action-oriented point of view,” said
Minneapolis resident Tali Veiner. “To hear these talks reminding us that you
can make a phone call, you can do XYZ, you can make a difference … it’s
important.”

As the weekend progressed, Jewish leaders continued to
prepare participants for the challenges that lay ahead, all the while posing
the ultimate challenge to take action within their own communities.

The weekend’s keynote speaker, radio talk show host Dennis
Prager, told participants, “We are living in a decisive time in human
history…. You, as an American Jew, are at the center of history, and I
suggest that you like it.”

Some participants were motivated by the speakers.

“We’re really in need for people to speak up for us,” said
Richard Aranow. “It’s important to connect with others; I’m hoping to arm
myself with more knowledge about what people think and how things work.”

Others enjoyed the networking opportunities.

 “In New York it’s easy to meet and talk with Jewish folks
every day,” said Keith Gottfield, an executive from Silicon Valley who moved
from New York two years ago.

The conference gave Gottfield a chance to meet people and
exchange views.

“It’s reassuring that there are channels in the West Coast
to be able to connect with the Jewish community on whatever level you want,” he
said.

But whatever aspect of the conference they enjoyed, most of
the participants left armed with awareness of the power of one.

“Each of us has hopes and dreams, and the beautiful thing,”Â
said Mark Wright, “is that we have the opportunity to make them come true.” Â

Pumping Up the Bottom Line


On Sunday, Feb. 23, 800 volunteers from across the Southland
will staff the phones from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. to raise money for the Jewish
Federation of Greater Los Angeles. They will try to coax extra money out of
existing donors and recruit new ones to the cause of Jewish giving.

Just a year ago, Super Sunday, as the single-day
extravaganza is known, raised $5 million to help the Federation underwrite the
15 recipient organizations it funds, including Jewish Vocational Service,
Jewish Family Service and Jewish Big Brothers.

This year, with the economy softening and the drums of war
beating ever louder, the charity faces an even greater challenge in making
Super Sunday 2003 super.

“These are difficult times for nonprofit organizations as
they try to build support for their programs,” said Eugene R. Tempel, executive
director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. “Many fundraisers
are having to work harder to raise the same amount of money as last year.”

In 2002, the Federation’s Annual Campaign brought in nearly
$42.5 million. That’s slightly 3 percent – $1 million – more than in 1997. (The
Federation raised an additional $20 million in 2002 for the Israeli Emergency
Campaign.) This year, the Federation expects to match or slightly exceed last
year’s Annual Campaign results.

The local Federation’s fundraising woes parallel those of
similar organizations across the country. The United Jewish Communities (UJC),
an umbrella group representing 156 community federations, raised about $851
million in 2001, nearly a 20 percent increase compared to 1996. At the same
time, the number of donors dipped by more than 58,000 to 651,000, a 9 percent
drop.

Federation giving has stalled nationally partly because
Jewish charities have focused too much time and attention on wealthy donors at
the expense of the larger community, UJC President Stephen Hoffman said. Also,
intermarriage and a low birthrate have shrunk the American Jewish population,
along with the potential donor base, by an estimated 250,000 over the past
decade to 5.25 million today, he added.

On the other hand, federations have successfully raised
millions in emergency campaigns for Israel and other causes and from
contributors earmarking their giving for specific causes, so-called
donor-advised funds, said Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish
& Community Research in San Francisco.

Still, “federations are not the central address for Jewish
givers that they once were, and it’s not going to change,” he said.

What has changed, said Tobin and others, is the nature of
Jewish philanthropy, and federations find themselves having to adapt quickly to
new trends and expectations.

Federations’ fundraising problems notwithstanding, American
Jews are more philanthropic than ever. It’s just that many now embrace a more
personalized approach to giving, experts said. Simply put: Givers increasingly
want direct control over how their dollars are spent and are willing to bypass
federations altogether to ensure that happens.

To that end, an enormous network of Jewish family
foundations have sprung up over the past five years, from about 2,500 to up to
8,000 today. These foundations control an estimated $25 billion in assets, said
Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, a 12-year-old
organization representing Jewish family foundations and independent givers.

Those foundations, which fund a variety of causes ranging
from education to the environment to AIDS research, have undoubtedly siphoned
money away from federations. And as wealth is transferred from aging
philanthropists to their children, the importance and number of Jewish
foundations is expected to rise, he said.

Many of those freshly minted givers probably won’t be giving
to traditional Jewish causes.

“Younger funders are far more likely to define Jewish giving
as a reflection of their Jewish values than giving to a cause with Jewish or
Israel in its name,” Charendoff said.

Obviously, that could hurt federations across the country.

Closer to home, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
faces several hurdles – some beyond its control – hampering its ability to
significantly boost donations.

Unlike Detroit, Boston and other older cities, the Jewish
community here is geographically dispersed and lacks cohesion, making it
difficult to reach. Wealthy Hollywood insiders have largely shunned federation
and other Jewish giving in favor of higher profile charitable causes like the
environment and animal rights. Jewish charities that attract large Hollywood
contributions, like the Simon Weisenthal Center and the American Friends of
Hebrew University, tend to have more of a single focus. Until recently, the
Southland’s large Russian Jewish and Persian Jewish immigrant populations
segregated themselves and gave little to Federation.

Still, the Federation bears some of the blame for its
problems, experts said.

Federations, including Los Angeles, have come under attack
for operating like remote bureaucracies more interested in filling their
coffers with cash from a handful of wealthy donors than in addressing the
spiritual and educational needs of the community at large.

“A federation should be more than just a fundraising
machine. It should be a Jew-making machine,” said Gerald Bubis, a former Los
Angeles Federation board member and founding director of the School of Jewish
Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
“Unfortunately, ours is a fundraising machine.”

Federation executives said fundraising is only a small part
of what the organization is all about and that it is working to tighten its
bond to the public. The organization recently formed a committee to examine how
it could improve operations and fundraising, and better serve the Jewish
community.

The Federation’s campaigns are “not fresh or new or
interesting. It’s the same stuff regurgitated about the poor and elderly
needing help,” said Irwin Daniels, a former board member. To dress up its
message and increase its relevance, the organization should hire an outside
marketing firm, he added.

Bill Bernstein, executive vice president of financial
resource development at the Federation, said the organization can only afford
to spend $1 million annually on advertising and marketing. He admitted that
financial constraints have hindered getting the word out.

“There are a lot of people who don’t know about us, and we’d
love to have more resources to convey our message and educate people on what we
do,” he said.

The local Federation’s efforts to cultivate future leaders
and donors among the community’s youth has fallen short over the past decade,
said a former fundraising executive at the Federation. The ex-employee, who was
laid off last year and asked to remain anonymous, said the organization has
failed to generate enough excitement among young Jews or clearly explain its
purpose.

In an attempt to address that, the Federation recently
inaugurated the Young Leadership Program. Designed to increase cooperation
among young Jews in the Federation’s entertainment, law and real estate
divisions, among others, it replaces Access Program, which fell short of
fundraising goals. Young Leadership’s strategy is still being formulated, but seminars,
dinners and concerts are planned, said Jonathan F. Shulman, directory of the
Young Leadership Program.

Given the increased competition for charitable dollars and
the Federation’s relatively flat fundraising, the organization must reinvent
itself to maintain its relevance.

“We better start thinking in a very radical sense about how
to engage more people in what we do,” Federation President John Fishel said.

Toward that end, The Federation has recently undertaken a
series of initiatives designed to broaden its donor base and heighten its role.

Fundraisers are now encouraged to go out and meet face to
face with donors. The visits serve to educate givers on what the Federation
does, get feedback and “make donors feel valued,” Fishel said.

To tap into the business community, the organization has
established the CEO Leadership Forum, which meets quarterly to discuss topics
of interest, including Jewish business ethics. The Federation’s Bernstein, who
has also begun soliciting gifts from big local corporations, said he hopes to
turn many of the 200 participating executives into givers.

One initiative that has borne fruit is the Los Angeles
Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund (LA-JVPF). Founded last year by Jewish
professionals in conjunction with the Federation, the self-funded group has
raised $250,000 and plans to award grants to new or existing nonprofits that
benefit Jews.

Although LA-JVPF members make the final decision on how to
earmark their funds, an example of the more hand-on approach to giving, the Federation
has benefited from its involvement: Several LA-JVPF participants have become
first-time Federation donors, having contributed more than $100,000 so far,
Bernstein said.

Its efforts notwithstanding, some consider the organization
a vestige of the past.

Its advocates are not so willing to write off an
organization that still ranks among larger charities in the city. Fishel said
the Federation is moving in the right direction and remains a vibrant,
important part of local Jewish life. If not for the Federation, Fishel asked,
then who would fund burials for indigent Jews or support poor pensioners in the
former Soviet Union?

Indeed, other federations have launched programs that have
become among the most-cutting edge in the nation.

The Boston Federation heavily subsidizes intensive adult
Jewish education to build a community of “Torah, tzedek [justice] and chesed
(kindness),” said Barry Shrage, president of the Boston Federation. Many Jews
participating in the program have increased their donations, he said.

The Boston Federation’s Annual Campaign jumped to $28.5
million last year, up nearly 24 percent since 1997.

In the Midwest, The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan
Detroit gives $500,000 annually to area synagogues and $2.5 million to local
Jewish day schools for scholarships, Chief Executive Bob Aronson said.

By contrast, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
gives about $100,000 to local temples and $2.35 million to day schools.

The Detroit organization is also seriously considering
giving Jewish newborns vouchers for free trips to Israel to “make a connection
between the Federation and family in a very personal way,” he said.

With a Jewish population of 80,000, or just 15 percent of
that of greater Los Angeles, it raised $30.6 million in last year’s Annual
Campaign, or 72 percent of the amount collected locally (Overall, Detroit
raised $20 million more than the Los Angeles’ Federation when adding the Israel
Emergency and other campaigns.)

The Detroit Federation’s attempts at community building
appear to have paid off, Aronson said.

“The more you can make yourself relevant to the community
and what people are doing in Jewish life,” he said, “the more you can get them
to contribute.”  

The Clergy of 1,000 ‘Faces’


"Rabbis: The Many Faces of Judaism," by George Kalinsky (Rizzoli International, $39.95).

It was 1962, and Marilyn Monroe had just died. So George Kalinsky did what he always did when something important happened — he visited a rabbi.

Kalinsky, now 60, recalled listening to a Shabbat sermon on Monroe’s impact on the world by the rabbi in his Long Island, N.Y., congregation. The rabbi described how Monroe had sought to become more than just a sex symbol, marrying playwright Arthur Miller and trying to grow intellectually.

"It was another insight on something that I got in a synagogue," Kalinsky said.

Whether it was for insight on Monroe, his wife’s cancer or the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Kalinsky has turned for guidance and insight throughout his life to the men and women of the rabbinate.

Now Kalinsky is hoping to shed some light on the rabbis’ world. He has collected 100 portraits of rabbis, spanning the ideological spectrum, in an unusual book titled, "Rabbis: The Many Faces of Judaism."

"Especially after Sept. 11, I wanted to show that there could be a unity of all denominations," he said. "I wanted to show the world what rabbis are like. I felt this was my mitzvah."

It’s not the kind of project you’d expect from someone like Kalinsky, the award-winning official photographer at New York’s Madison Square Garden and special photographer of the New York Mets and the Alvin Ailey Dance Company.

On a recent day, Kalinsky sat in a Manhattan office adorned with famous images from the worlds of sports and show business: a black-and-white photo of Muhammad Ali clowning at fellow boxer Joe Frazier’s training camp, singer Frank Sinatra ringside, singer Tony Bennett’s portrait and hockey star Wayne Gretzky on the ice.

Kalinsky counts among his friends celebrities such as film director Spike Lee, Los Angeles Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson and NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. However, he also has come to know many rabbis over the years. They range from Rabbi Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi, the chief rabbi of Kfar Chabad, Israel, to Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, who leads the gay and lesbian Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York.

Each of the 100 rabbis in the book contributed an essay, and actor Kirk Douglas and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) penned introductory pieces.

One of the participants, Rabbi Marc Schneier, who leads The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton, N.Y., said the book "shines a new light on the diversity of the rabbinate and how the rabbinate has changed."

Contrary to popular belief, many rabbis do not exclusively preach from the bimah, said Schneier, who also is president of the North American Boards of Rabbis. He said that increasingly, "fewer rabbis are preparing classic sermons, and more are preparing to lead discussions about a Torah portion either from the pulpit or in a classroom." On a larger stage, he added, the role of the rabbi is changing as rabbis teach Jewish studies in universities, lead Jewish lay organizations or become chaplains.

Among those Kalinsky photographed is Rabbi Jacob Goldstein of the Lubavitch movement. The rabbi is also known as Col. Goldstein, Jewish chaplain for the New York National Guard. Goldstein drove a tank during the Gulf War, and last Passover he led a seder aboard the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy for military personnel in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Goldstein and Kalinsky were to meet last year on Sept. 12 at the National Guard armory on Staten Island to stage a shot for the book. But at noon on Sept. 11, Kalinsky got a call from Goldstein, who was coughing into his cell phone at Ground Zero. Kalinsky arrived at the scene and captured one of the most dramatic images in the book: a wild-eyed Goldstein in combat gear in front of the smoking ruins of the World Trade Center.

As dust at the site clogged the rabbi’s throat, Kalinsky suggested that he leave. However, Kalinsky said Goldstein told him that he was on an important mission. Goldstein spent the next five months at Ground Zero ministering to Army personnel participating in the recovery effort.

It wasn’t the first time the events of Sept. 11 changed the path of the book. Kalinsky met Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of New York’s Congregation Mount Sinai, chaplain to the New York Fire Department, outside the 31st Street firehouse in the weeks after the attack.

It was the same firehouse where the Rev. Mychal Judge, the Catholic priest killed at Ground Zero, had been stationed. After Kalinsky photographed the rabbi and the company of firefighters, he said he nearly cried as he told the men that though he’d taken pictures of Ali, Michael Jordan and the pope, he considered the firefighters the true role models for our age. Each firefighter then hugged Kalinsky.

Sept. 11 has left an impact on the rabbinic world as well, Potasnik said. He’s noticed "more of a friendship" between rabbis of the different denominations since the attacks, and "a little more understanding of our human differences."

The book will help break down "preconceived notions" about rabbis, Potasnik said. Because many of the book’s subjects don’t wear typical rabbinic garb, it "will show you can’t define people by their appearance," he said.

While "Rabbis" defies conventional wisdom about Jewish religious teachers, Kalinsky said he took pains to paint "respectful" portraits of his subjects. He’d heard of one book of "off-the-wall" rabbi pictures, but wanted to take a different approach.

"Just do what you do, and I’ll photograph you," he told the rabbis. And he did. There’s Rabbi Niles Elliot Goldstein, founder of the New Shul in New York’s Greenwich Village, striking a karate pose on a New York City roof — the Twin Towers still visible in the background — and Ethiopian Jewish leader Rabbi Yosef Hadana clenching his fists in front of a stained-glass window.

It was while capturing a rabbi in action on a 1988 trip in the former Soviet Union that Kalinsky began conceiving of such a project. Kalinsky discovered an old rabbi hunched over a desk in the Moscow synagogue, his wife sitting opposite and an unidentified man sitting in the shadows.

It turned out that the mysterious observer was a KGB agent, whose job was to watch over the Jewish religious leader all day. The agent and rabbi never spoke. The photo later ran in The New York Times and generated a strong response, Kalinsky recalled, in part because it spoke about the lack of religious freedom in the Soviet Union.

Rabbis came into Kalinsky’s life again when his wife was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1994. He sought Rabbi Shalom Paltiel’s help, and the rabbi — with his own wife present — held Kalinsky’s wife’s hand while she lay in a coma. Though the doctors gave Kalinsky’s wife only a few months to live, she survived another year. The photo of Paltiel, of Chabad Congregation in Port Washington, N.Y., appears in the book.

Later, one rabbi told Kalinsky that he would "find an angel," and four years later, he fell in love and remarried. It was his second wife who convinced him to dedicate a book to rabbis.

Aided by Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C., and Lubavitch World Headquarters leader Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Kalinsky drafted a list of candidates and began contacting them.

Slowly, Kalinsky began meeting rabbis such as Rachamim Banin, the director of Chabad of Venice, Italy, whose picture in a gondola on a Venetian canal graces the book’s cover.

After several trips and 18 months of interviews, planning and shoots, Kalinsky finished taking most of his photographs. The vivid color shots will form a photographic tapestry for the coffee table-sized book.

This rabbinic mosaic shows that many rabbis are "not only spiritual leaders, but they are leaders of the Jewish people," Schneier said. "Each one is making their own contribution to the Jewish people."

Nobody Likes Saddam


So do you think America should go to war with Iraq?

The question is not idle.

This week, members of Congress and the Bush administration met with Jewish leaders in Washington to discuss President George W. Bush’s resolution on Iraq. While administration officials did not ask directly for Jewish support, some GOP congressmen did call for an active Jewish lobbying campaign on behalf of the Iraq resolution, reports our Washington correspondent James Besser.

Whether you approve or not, the groups who will lobby do so on your behalf. So now would be a good time to make up your mind, and make your voice heard.

Right now, it’s fair to say that the country’s 6.1 million Jews are of about that many minds when it comes to war with Iraq. Experts on both sides are hitting each other’s arguments back and forth like Venus and Serena.

There is no agreement on Iraq’s unconventional weapons capability. There is no agreement on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s willingness to use those weapons on a more powerful force rather than on, say, Kurdish children. There is no agreement on whether the aftermath of a successful "regime change" would plunge Iraq’s three large ethnic groups into murderous chaos or jump-start its highly literate and oppressed people toward democracy.

There is no agreement on whether America, in acting nearly unilaterally to attack Iraq, will alienate important allies and undermine the United Nations. Perhaps it will, by asserting its leadership, put both cowards and dictators on notice. There is no agreement on whether American forces can get rid of Hussein, and at what cost in American and innocent Iraqi lives. Some say ousting Iraq is the linchpin in America’s war on terror, others say it is a distraction.

Many Jews are inclined to agree with former Vice President Al Gore, whom they supported overwhelmingly for president in 2000. In a speech earlier this week in San Francisco, Gore bashed into Bush’s Iraq policy and called it a smoke screen for his failure to extirpate Al Qaeda. Or perhaps Jews would agree instead with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Gore’s former running mate. On Oct. 15, Lieberman said the United States must be "unflinching in our determination to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq before he, emboldened by Sept. 11, strikes at us with weapons of mass destruction." That’s right: he said it Oct. 15, 2001.

The sides in this debate do not split Democrat and Republican, left and right, hawkish and dovish. As numerous pundits have pointed out, many experts with actual combat experience oppose rushing into war, while many of the officials who favor it never saw a uniform, much less combat.

Israelis, who have seen much terror and war, support immediate American military action against Hussein. Perhaps more than any other country besides Iraq, Israel will feel the war’s effect. Some argue that war on Iraq will bring about an immediate and perhaps devastating attack on Israel. Other experts say the Iraqi threat to Israel will only increase, so better to stop it now.

With so much in dispute, are there any points of accord? Nobody likes Hussein. Experts agree that he is developing and stockpiling chemical and biological weapons, and at least trying to develop nuclear ones. But how soon will he be able to deliver these weapons, and, knowing the cost, why would Hussein, the consummate survivor, even want to? On these points, experts disagree.

No wonder, then, when GOP officials asked Jewish leaders to get behind the president’s resolution on Iraq, the leaders offered only qualified support for now. The board of the Union of American Hebrew Congregation voted in favor of U.S. action against Iraq, on the condition that the United States first try all possible diplomatic solutions and that Bush not act with explicit congressional support, Besser reported. The American Jewish Congress is working out a statement of support, as is The Conference of President of Major Jewish Organizations. The Conference represents 52 Jewish organizations nationwide and speaks to elected officials as the consensus voice of American Jewry. Its opinion in such sweeping policy matters can be important. Ideally, it reflects the positions of its member groups, which receive input from their constituents, like you.

But how do you go about deciding whether to support the Bush resolution or not? By turning to Bush. The president, in speeches, articles, interviews and especially in press conferences, needs to be as precise and as forthcoming as possible. He needs to provide, as Sen. Arlen Spector (R.-Pa.) has written, "information amplifying the specifics on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction; the precise details concerning U.N. efforts to conduct inspections in Iraq, and Iraq’s refusals; the type of a military action necessary to topple Hussein, including estimates of American casualties, and how a post-war regime in Iraq is envisioned."

The president has yet to do this, and the ball is in his court.

Shifting Gears


"It’s not someone else’s problem. It’s our problem." The problem Devorah Shubowitz is talking about: poverty.

Over the summer, Shubowitz worked with Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) to study the Jewish working poor in Los Angeles.

Through CLUE, more than 400 religious leaders throughout Los Angeles County have already helped hundreds of workers unionize for better wages, and helped refugees threatened with deportation to become citizens. Now the efforts of CLUE, and the Jewish interns who worked with the organization this summer, are focused on extending those successes, bringing awareness of the working poor to congregations throughout Los Angeles.

Shubowitz came to CLUE from New York, where she teaches at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, a center for women’s advanced study of classical Jewish texts. Mark Goodman and Jennifer Flam, rabbinical students at the University of Judaism, also worked with CLUE over the summer. In addition to studying the problem of the Jewish working poor in Los Angeles, their summer internship included helping organize Santa Monica residents of all faiths to support a living wage initiative for hotel workers, and reviving the "Sanctuary" movement of the 1980s.

With inspiration from the prophets (Goodman likes to quote from Jeremiah because, "All he ever talked about was ‘We must have done something wrong and you haven’t been good to other people,’") the Jewish interns at CLUE worked all summer with clergy and lay leaders of all faiths in support of social action. "It was a summer internship," Flam said, "but it’s a life’s work."

The big project for CLUE these days is on the November ballot in Santa Monica. Measure JJ, the Living Wage initiative, would increase wages for as many as 2,000 hotel workers in Santa Monica’s coastal tourist zone. In the wake of a Labor Day project called "Labor in the Pulpit," in which CLUE-affiliated clergy delivered sermons on the issue, the group plans to hold a get-out-the vote kickoff event on Sept. 22, featuring a performance by folk group Peter, Paul and Mary at Santa Monica City Hall. "CLUE is a bridge between both sides," Flam said, "We’re not bound to the unions, and there are ethical business owners who work with us."

For workers who have been lost their jobs for their unionizing or living wage efforts, CLUE is reviving the Sanctuary program, first used in the 1980s when thousands of workers were threatened with deportation, often back to repressive regimes. CLUE encourages clergy and congregations to publicly support the fired workers. "Even though people are not losing their lives this time, they are losing their livelihoods," Flam said of the program.

One of the biggest problems the CLUE interns faced in trying to bring Jewish congregations into the fight for economic justice was in presenting the working poor as a "Jewish" problem. Working with the Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, CLUE’s executive director, and local rabbis including Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom and Steven Carr Reuben of Kehillat Israel, CLUE’s interns supplemented their organizing efforts with a study of poverty among Jews in Los Angeles. They found that, "Poverty among working people also plagues the Jewish community here," Goodman said. And the solution requires more than money.

"The Jewish response to poverty has been more about giving than creating societal change," Shubowitz said. "The problem won’t be alleviated by giving people food."

To support that societal change, Shubowitz, Goodman and Flam undertook a study of Jewish working poor in Los Angeles. Starting with figures provided by a Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles study, they interviewed Jewish workers, counselors at Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles and local rabbis. They found Jewish workers, primarily immigrants from the Former Soviet Union or Israel, who worked solely for tips, or below the minimum wage, without any type of health insurance, even after years at the same jobs — the same conditions that non-Jewish low-wage workers face. "Our purpose has been to demonstrate the connection between Jewish poverty and poverty at large," Shubowitz said, "We have the same problems — immigration, lack of organization to fight this problem. It’s important the Jewish community get connected with other communities doing this work."

"At least 13 percent of Jews in the Los Angeles area make below $10,000 a year," said Flam, citing the Federation study, "When we



This year, the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, which has treated more than 500 victims of terrorist attacks, including those from the Passover massacre in Netanya, received $250,000 toward its intensive care trauma unit. Sheba Medical Center received $135,000 toward a portable ultrasound system. And Natal, an Israeli trauma center, received $200,000. All the funds came from L.A. Jews.

Over this past year, during which some of the most insidious and relentless suicide bombings in Israel’s history have occurred, these Israeli institutions, as well as dozens of others, have received — and will continue to receive — millions of dollars in emergency funds, thanks to Los Angeles’ Jewish community.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, through its Jews in Crisis (JIC) campaign, funneled emergency funding to Israel within a short window of time. A roster of emergency agencies and trauma centers, mostly based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, have received millions of dollars earmarked toward everything from hospitals to children’s education and bomb-sniffing dogs.

"Our goal was to raise $10 million for Israel as part of our share of the $300 million campaign nationwide [sponsored by United Jewish Committee of North America, the umbrella agency for all Jewish federations]," Herb Gelfand, chairman of Los Angeles’ successful JIC campaign, told The Journal. "We also wanted to raise $2 million for Argentina. We’ve raised $18 million. We’re over the national goal [by $8 million]."

In just a few months, The Federation’s JIC was able to bring together a windfall of contributions raised from the community, Federation-sponsored events and a plethora of parlor meetings — fundraising receptions held at the private homes of affluent Jewish individuals. But with the year winding down, The Federation is now shifting gears in its fundraising goals.

"It isn’t over," Gelfand said. "We’ll continue to raise [JIC] money, mainly through direct solicitations, but we’re moving into the end of the regular campaign, and we’re careful not to interfere with that, because the regular campaign feeds into The Federation’s core services and our constituents here and in Israel."

Ed Robin, who, along with Stanley Gold, is co-chair of the Israel and Overseas Committee at The Federation and is in charge of the JIC’s allocations process, said that JIC and the annual campaign are related.

"The general campaign funds the main social services — the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency," Robin said. "The needs we tried to fund with JIC were specifically toward the crisis."

The JIC’s success owes much to the parlor meetings, which became a galvanizing local phenomenon, particularly after the March 27 Passover massacre. Gelfand estimated that about half of JIC’s total came from parlor meetings.

"Contributors were very eager to do something," Robin said. "The JIC [through parlor meetings] gave them a tangible outlet to express their concern."

Gelfand credited The Federation’s Annette Shapiro and Fredi Rembaum for organizing the meetings. But a key element to JIC’s efficiency, organizers said, was The Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, unique to Los Angeles’ Federation, which lent the campaign its focus and cohesiveness.

The long-running partnership — a network of collaborations with Israeli scientists, schools and human service agencies, which until February was directed in Los Angeles by Rembaum — was able to identify Israel’s needs and rally JIC’s efforts by April, rather than June, when most federations organized their JIC campaigns.

In addition to parlor meetings, The Federation sponsored missions to Israel to generate awareness of JIC and its efforts, such as the early June entourage during which The Federation presented contributions to various agencies, singles missions and a late summer mission that sent actor-comedian Larry Miller and others to visit campers at the Jaffa Institute for the Advancement of Children.

Los Angeles’ humanitarian efforts, consolidated by The Federation through JIC, have provided substantial financial support for continuation of programs. The efforts represented an important statement of solidarity, according to spokespersons at the beneficiary agencies in Israel.

"The gift has been like receiving a dose of oxygen, because it will enable us to purchase essential equipment that we immediately need," said Talia Zaks, deputy executive director of ZAKA. She said the $87,000 that was received will go toward the volunteer-staffed organization, which provides first aid and collects body parts for proper Jewish burial after every terrorist attack. "This money will help us save as many lives as possible," she said.

The Jaffa Institute, which shelters underprivileged children, has worked with The Federation before. JIC raised $50,000 to help the institute build a security fence to prevent terrorists from penetrating its Beit Shemesh campus.

"My immediate reaction," said Dr. David Portowicz, Jaffa Institute’s chairman, "was that I could sleep better at night knowing that the 300 children in my charge are not exposed to the risk of a terrorist attack."

Akiva Holtzer, spokesman for Bikur Cholim Hospital, a public facility in Jerusalem, said that its $25,000 gift will go toward trauma center equipment.

"We appreciate the fact that Jewish people worldwide think about us and want to help us," Holtzer said. "The fund will help us provide better services."

"This was the largest gift we’ve received from any federation in North America," said Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, Natal director of development, of its $200,000 grant. "We were overwhelmed by the generosity of Los Angeles Jewry, and very encouraged by the effort made by the delegation of L.A Jews who visited us in June."

"The [JIC] campaign is providing direct support to nongovernmental agencies that are working directly with individuals," said Marty Karp, The Federation’s senior vice president for Israel and Overseas, who is based in Israel. "It is not only providing cash support to help individuals return to good health from physical injuries and psychological anguish, but is also helping those that support them."

Gelfand noted that this year’s general campaign, stimulated by JIC, is on the verge of being the strongest since 1990. "If things go where we expect it to go," Gelfand said, "we’ll raise $45 million in the general campaign, in addition to a $19 million Jews In Crisis campaign."

This would be an improvement over recent years, when the slowing of the economy and the dot-com crash affected The Federation’s fundraising, Gelfand added.

But with the success of this year’s emergency relief effort, will there be a need for a JIC campaign next year?

"It depends on what happens in Israel," Gelfand said. "About 50 of us are going to Israel in October, when we’ll get a better idea. Of course, there will always be a need. But let’s hope that the next six months will bring a relative calm.

"The community has responded extremely well and very generously, as it always does," he added.

Washington’s “What, Me Worry?” War


Finally, it’s over: the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in Washington and New York was a media extravaganza that provided a blend of remembrance, healing and strong TV ratings.

But there was a glaring gap. Despite the somber patriotism of the day, there were few hints that the American people understand the very real difficulties ahead, or the huge sacrifices it will take if the Bush administration is serious about an all-out war against terrorism.

Those lessons are ones that Israel’s citizens learned long ago, but they have yet to penetrate the American consciousness, despite last week’s self-congratulatory ceremonies. And the nation’s leaders are doing nothing to correct that misunderstanding. On the contrary, their politics-as-usual focus is sending exactly the opposite message.

A year ago, as the World Trade Center lay in ruins and the Pentagon still smoldered, President Bush rallied the nation with a promise to fight terrorist groups around the world and the nations that support them. And he warned that this new kind of war will require real sacrifices from the American people — noble words, but ones that have not been backed up with action.

The Bush administration and Congress have been loathe to face the real costs of this war, and in doing so, they are making it much harder to fight and win it. Energy dependence is one glaring example. Some of the key financiers and shelterers of the terrorists who have declared war on America are among our biggest oil suppliers, starting with Saudi Arabia.

But the Bush administration, with deep ties to the oil industry, has steadfastly avoided telling the American people the obvious truth: our addiction to oil-guzzling vehicles and an energy-profligate way of life means that we’re starting the fight against terrorism badly hobbled. There isn’t a hint that the administration wants consumers to turn down their thermostats or give up their monster SUVs. Will there be gas rationing, like during World War ll? Perish the thought.

Instead, the administration’s only answer is to demand the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to oil exploration and drilling, an action that even optimists concede would cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil only a little. But never mind, demanding sacrifice is politically risky.

The war on terrorism is also going to be extraordinarily expensive. But again, the message from the administration and Congress is: What, me worry?

Defense spending is soaring to pay for the current war in Afghanistan and the possible strike against Iraq. Spending on homeland security is putting another huge dent in the budget.

So are Americans being asked to support this war with higher taxes? Not on your life. In fact, Bush wants even deeper tax cuts, his all-purpose panacea for every economic problem.

The administration and Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike — are engaged in massive economic denial reminiscent of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s claim during the 1960s that the nation could have both guns and butter, and that the Vietnam War needn’t produce any new economic strains.

All of this sends a crystal clear message to the American people: sacrifice is for speeches, not everyday life. When politicians are unwilling to take the slightest political risk to meet the realities of this new kind of war, they shouldn’t expect the American people to rise to the occasion when they are asked to bite the bullet.

The administration’s growing emphasis on Iraq amplifies the problem. What was once viewed as a years-long, multifront battle against an elusive enemy has been redefined as a much more conventional war against an easily identifiable bogeyman.

How much harder can it be to defeat Saddam Hussein in 2002 than it was in 1991, when the Gulf War was about as cost-free a war as can be, at least from the American perspective? The result: Americans may be even less inclined to expect personal sacrifice as one cost of victory.

After Sept. 11, it was common to hear Americans express a new sympathy for Israel, because “we’ve experienced it now, too.” Hardly.

Virtually every Israeli knows someone personally touched by terror. Ordinary Israelis serve in the military reserves, and know that they will likely have to put their lives on the line to fight terror. They feel the pinch of a budget skewed to meet the demands of perpetual warfare.

Those are the realities of their fight against terror. In theory, America has launched an even more ambitious one. But the nation’s leaders, still consumed by politics as usual, are pretending otherwise. That refusal to be honest with the American people could seriously impede our war against terrorism, if, indeed, a serious war was ever their intent.

Groups Weigh Stance on Iraq


As the Bush administration seeks international support for an attack on Iraq, Jewish organizations are also crystallizing their positions.

In the next few weeks, Jewish groups are expected to meet with foreign leaders arriving in New York for the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly and anniversary commemorations of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) is planning to meet with leaders of more than 50 countries, including the foreign ministers of China, Russia and France. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is expected to meet with the Indian prime minister, as well as with leaders of Jordan, Argentina and the European Union. B’nai B’rith International will be meeting with foreign leaders as well.

American Jewish officials will seek international support for the war on terrorism and pressure for Palestinian reform. But many conversations are expected to delve into the major issue of the day: whether to attack Iraq to head off President Saddam Hussein’s efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

President Bush was slated to address the General Assembly on Thursday, and was expected to make the case for a U.S. attack. But most American Jewish groups have not yet decided where they stand on Iraq.

"Our policy is not to try and detail policy or recommend strategy," said David Harris, AJC’s executive director. "Our position is to hammer away that Saddam Hussein represents a clear danger to the rest of the world and something has to be done about it."

Harris said he does not want his organization to get ahead of the Bush administration by offering advice on what should or should not be done, but will express the need for some action.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, said his meetings would focus on other subjects, and that Iraq was not at the forefront of the Jewish community’s agenda. The Conference of Presidents’ members probably will not push a specific agenda on Iraq during their meetings with foreign leaders, but will gauge international opinion, Hoenlein said.

"We’re going to talk about it and we’re going to hear what they have to say," he said. He also will highlight the threat that Saddam poses, he said.

In the boardrooms and offices of most American Jewish groups, debate is continuing as to what should or should not be said on the Iraq issue. "This is a big one," Harris said. "This is not one you want to wing."

Hoenlein said he has engaged member organizations in small-group discussions about what the umbrella organization should say on the Iraq issue, and will hold a conference call with members after Bush’s U.N. speech. Hoenlein also has urged groups to have discussions within their own leadership and bring their thoughts to the table.

This approach toward formulating the Conference of Presidents’ position is unusual for the organization, which at times has been accused of taking stands without reaching a consensus of its membership, and of ignoring the viewpoints of more dovish members. Jewish leaders say the change in tactic reflects the seriousness of the issue at hand.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), said he agrees that "something needs to be done" about Hussein, but is not sure what exactly. The UAHC national leadership has not taken a formal position on the issue, and broach the subject when it meets in a few weeks, he said.

It is expected that many Jewish groups ultimately will support a U.S. attack on Iraq. Many analysts believe regime change in Iraq would reduce the security threat to Israel and remove a key Palestinian ally.

The Israeli government has expressed strong support for American efforts, which is likely to boost American Jewish support. But there is considerable concern that Iraq will hit Israel with biological or chemical weapons in retaliation for any attack by the United States, and Jewish groups may be hesitant to enthusiastically support military action that puts Israelis in immediate danger.

There also is concern among Jewish groups that Israel will be pressured to restrain itself and not respond to an attack from Iraq, as the United States demanded in the 1991 Gulf War. This time, however, Israel has been adamant that it will respond if attacked.

There also is a debate as to how vocal American Jewish groups should be if they support a war. Some contend that outspoken support could lead critics to describe a U.S. attack on Iraq as a fight on Israel’s behalf — as some critics did in 1991 — and that the Jewish community would be wiser to keep quiet during the debate.

Hopes Dashed for Release of ‘Iran 8’


Another Jewish New Year has come and gone, and eight Iranian Jewish prisoners remain locked up in Iran on charges they spied for Israel.

Some observers had tracked rumors last week that the Islamic regime, with its membership in President Bush’s “axis of evil,” might be rethinking some of its polcies — including a possible pardon for a group of pious Jews believed to have been wrongly jailed in the first place.

For the third straight year, the lone Jewish member of the Iranian Parliament, Maurice Motamed, took to the floor of the legislative body in advance of Rosh Hashana and appealed for freedom for the “Iran 10” — now down to eight, as two were released after serving their sentences. Their release failed to materialize, though the authorities reportedly permitted their families to visit them in prison last Friday night to celebrate a Rosh Hashana service together.

“We’d started seeing some changes with respect to attitudes toward religious minorities in general, and we were hoping this would translate into some actual movement on the ground,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary-general of the Iranian-American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles, a community that boasts some 40,000 Iranian Jews. “As far as we’re concerned, we always felt these people did not belong in prison, that the charges against them were wrong. We would welcome the pardoning of these prisoners as an excellent first step forward in a more equitable treatment of religious minority groups,” he said.

That the holiday passed without the prisoners’ release did not surprise more pessimistic Iran-watchers, who have long maintained that the mullahs in charge are tone deaf to international concerns and never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity at a goodwill gesture.

“I don’t think they’re smart enough to make these kinds of overtures,” said Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the L.A.-based Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations. “If they understood good PR work, they wouldn’t have put these men in jail to begin with — and they wouldn’t have landed in the ‘axis of evil.'”

Thirteen Iranian Jewish men were first arrested in January and March 1999 and eventually charged with spying for the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service. Their real offense, said American Jewish observers, was that their increasingly fervent brand of Orthodox Judaism became a source of irritation to the authorities. Most of the men were religious leaders and came from the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, said to be a bastion of religious conservatism in general. The arrests were believed intended to send a signal to the rest of the community.

But the issue was soon sucked into the vortex of the political dynamic at the time — a power struggle between conservative forces, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the reformist faction, led by President Mohammad Khatami, observers said.

The Islamists seized upon the issue to whip up anti-Israel fervor, which is often seen as a galvanizing factor among all Iranians.

After a year-plus in solitary confinement, in May 2000 the Jews were brought before Iran’s Revolutionary Court and delivered “confessions” that they had indeed spied for Mossad.

However, media and foreign observers were barred from the courtroom, the prosecutor served as judge and Israel denied it had any contact with the men. Most foreign diplomats and human-rights activists assailed the process as a sham.

There was initial fear the men might be executed. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, 17 Jews had been condemned to death, primarily for being accused spies. But three of the 13 were acquitted, with the 10 others convicted on July 1, 2000, on various national-security charges. They were sentenced to terms ranging from four to 13 years. The men appealed, and under international criticism, Tehran reduced the jail time in 2000 to two to nine years.

In March 2001, merchant Ramin Nemati Zadeh, who had taught religious school, was released after serving out his term. And this past January, a second Jew, Hebrew teacher Faramarz Kashi, completed his term. For the remaining eight, their lone hope seems to be a pardon from Khamenei.

Much of the Iranian Jewish community — both here and there — has become resigned to the fate of the prisoners.

“Iran now has too much to face besides this issue,” Dayanim said. “Unless Iran feels that releasing the prisoners will win them some kind of international brownie points, they will remain in prison and serve out their sentences.”

Indeed Iran’s greatest problem may come from within.

With unemployment said to be 14 percent — particularly hard-hit are the young and educated — and stifling social restrictions, the significant strata of university students are reportedly ever more restive and disappointed with Khatami’s promises of reform.

But it’s not only U.S. Jews who are keeping up the pressure. Foreign dignitaries visiting Tehran continue a steady drumbeat of criticism of Iran’s treatment of its minorities, including the Jews behind bars.

In late July, for example, Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy and security chief, listed the concerns that impede improved relations between Iran and Europe: disregard for human rights, a muzzled media, acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and meddling in the Middle East.

For its part, Washington has become increasingly concerned about Iran’s support for Palestinian terror groups. Iran has long been seen as aiding Islamic Jihad and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border. And in January, ties between Iran and the Palestinian Authority surfaced with the Israeli interception of the Karine-A, a ship carrying more than 50 tons of weapons from Iran to the Gaza Strip.

Bush’s now-famous “axis of evil” speech followed on Jan. 29.

Some in Washington suggest that Iran poses a much greater threat than Iraq.

If nothing else, Iran’s inclusion in the axis may be playing a part in Tehran’s recent rally to the defense of arch-nemesis Iraq as Iran seeks to form a united front against Israel and the United States. As relations began to thaw, however, some thorny issues of the past have resurfaced.

Iraq, for example, is home to an Iranian dissident group, while Iran shelters an anti-Iraq dissident group of its own. When regimes both asked for the other to boot out the opposition groups, it re-opened old wounds. The insults exchanged focused on which nation is truly in bed with the “Zionists.”

“You will not find a single episode in history when the Persians have cooperation with the Arabs against the Zionists,” said Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

To which Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi replied, in the words of the Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency: “Baghdad had become the supporter of the Zionist regime by waging a destructive war on Iran, sowing the seeds of discord among Muslim nations.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s intense focus on Israel’s actions against the Palestinians — coupled with the widely publicized arrest of the Shirazi Jews on spying charges — has fomented a hostile climate for the Jews remaining in Iran, Dayanim said.

An estimated 22,000 to 25,000 Jews remain in Iran, down from a peak of 100,000 or so before the 1979 revolution.

Dayanim said he has heard of Jewish children being beaten and harassed at school, with their fathers accused of being “Zionists.” “We’re actively engaged in efforts to increase emigration,” Dayanim said. Those efforts, though, are hindered by the fact Jews face obstacles in trying to liquidate their assets, he said.

Those seeking to immigrate to the United States also face greater scrutiny from American immigration and FBI officials once they get to the immigrant way station in Vienna, given new post-Sept. 11 restrictions.

Kermanian, meanwhile, remains somewhat optimistic about the future of Iran’s Jews. “Jews have lived in Iran for 2,500 years, always lived there as loyal citizens, and they loved their country,” he said. “Even though there were ups and downs, Iranians and Jews found a way to live together in peace and cooperation. I have no doubt that with some good will, those days will return.”

Strange BRU


Who’s taking a stand against Israel this week? Would you believe … the Bus Riders Union (BRU)?

On buses and trains, BRU leaders and members are distributing a two-page flyer with an essay titled “Let the Palestinian People Go!” that likens the BRU’s stance to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign against the Vietnam War, and twice compares the Palestinians’ situation to that of Jews in Nazi Germany.

BRU first took an official position “standing with the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation” in May, when the organization passed a resolution by BRU Director Eric Mann and the BRU planning commission decried “a racist and systematic program of mass extermination and colonial conquest by the Israeli government.”

The Los Angeles-based organization, founded in 1992 and claiming 3,000 members, defines itself as a “multiracial, working class-based membership organization working at the intersection of mass transit, the environment and air quality and civil rights.” The organization’s primary mission is improving the quality of bus service in Los Angeles.

In 1996, BRU won a federal consent decree giving it some control over the operations of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). In March of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the MTA seeking to end the consent decree.

The essay notes: “[T]he history of the past 54 years has been a series of Israeli incursions into Arab and Palestinian land.” The motion goes on to demand a “restoration of their homeland” and says, “Never again should the U.S. working class and all progressive people allow our government to use its weapons to support Israel’s expansionist and colonial rule in Palestine.”

Among the philanthropic donors supporting the work of the BRU, the Nathan Cummings Foundation (NCF), which is “rooted in the Jewish tradition and committed to democratic values and social justice,” according to its mission statement, and has contributed over $300,000 since 1996. In 2000, the foundation awarded $110,000 over three years to the BRU “to support advocacy for the purchase of replacement buses, the hiring of new MTA bus drivers and mechanics and the retirement of diesel buses,” according to the NCF Web site.

Stacy Han, program assistant for the NCF’s environment program, said the foundation was investigating the BRU statements and had no comment at press time.

For more information about the Bus Riders Union, visit www.busridersunion.org  or call (213) 387-2800. — Mike Levy, Staff Writer

Passing The Bar… Again


Some things are just better the second time around. For some, it’s marriage. For others, it’s childbirth or career. For Mel Guthman, a member of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, this was the case with his bar mitzvah — and well worth the 70-year wait.

"One of the reasons I wanted to do this a second time is because my first bar mitzvah was very sad," Guthman, 83, says. "My father had cancer of the esophagus, and he died four months later and nobody was in the mood to celebrate at all. I remember that the mood was very dreary."

Most people associate bar mitzvahs with boys turning 13. However, since the Torah gives a man’s life span as 70 years, living 13 years beyond that age has been considered, in Jewish tradition, something of a renaissance.

Guthman remembers his initial reaction when, as he approached his May 29 birthday, Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben and other Kehillat Israel leaders talked to him about staging a second bar mitzvah.

"I thought they were out of their mind," Guthman says.

But upon further reflection, Guthman pursued the idea. The reasons were personal, but also philosophical.

"Being Jewish has been really rough since Sept. 11 and I took real pride in being Jewish up on that bimah," Guthman says.

At first, Guthman wasn’t very comfortable with his Hebrew or his oratory skills. But with the help of Cantor Chaim Frankel and friend Jack Hirsh, he was ready within three months.

"He studied his bar mitzvah diligently," Frankel says. "He was one of my best students and the only student at that age. More importantly it wasn’t the studies — it’s the man who he is. This wasn’t just words for Mel Guthman, these were actions. This was a rite of passage for his commitment to continue his acts of kindness for the Jewish community."

"I was so confident with my Hebrew and these were all friends and I was really relaxed," Guthman says of bar mitzvah No. 2.

Bar mitzvah No. 1 occurred in Cincinnati, Ohio, from where Guthman, now retired from the mobile home industry, originally came to Los Angeles 57 years ago. Within a year, he met his wife, Laura. Since growing roots in Los Angeles, the Guthmans have been very philanthropically involved with the local Jewish community. They have been big supporters of Jewish Home for the Aging for more than two decades. They have also made substantial donations to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Jews in Crisis fund and participated in The Federation’s 1997 mission to Cuba.

"We’ve been travelers since we were married," Guthman says. "We’ve been around the world three times. In school, my best subjects were geography and history. In traveling, you get both of those."

On June 15, 116 relatives and friends came from around the country to celebrate Guthman’s big day, including his daughter, Julie Guthman, and 8-year-old granddaughter, Sierra, from Berkeley; his son, attorney and property manager Mitchell Guthman, and his sister, Ruthe Pearlman, who turned 89 this year and received her honorary doctorate last week from the Cincinnati Art Academy. They all watched as Guthman read from Parshat Behar-Behukotai.

"One of the highlights was when they asked me [and my family] to come up and they opened the ark," Laura Guthman says. "But during the time Mel was doing the Hebrew, I was a little tense."

"My wife arranged everything," says Guthman proudly. "She did a lot of work, including the guest list. She was very relieved when it was over," he says with a laugh.

"In all honesty, it exceeded my expectations very, very much," says Guthman’s wife. "It turned out to be one of the nicest bar mitzvahs despite the age of the bar mitzvah boy. I originally wasn’t too enthusiastic about the whole thing, but it turned out to be sensational."

So for Guthman, was the entire experience better the second time around?

"I was walking on air," he says.

Send in the Committees


As former Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks gears up for a City Council race, the campaign for his old job went into high gear last week with 47 candidates vying for the post.

Ethnic and community politics have added a level of complexity to the already difficult job of selecting one of the city’s most powerful unelected leaders.

The job of choosing three candidates to recommend to the mayor from among the 47 seeking the post falls to the five-member Police Commission. A 15-member blue-ribbon committee has been appointed to assist the commission by developing criteria for the selection. Mayor James Hahn will choose –and the City Council must confirm — the next chief. The blue-ribbon committee expects to develop a set of criteria by the end of August.

Since Parks’ ouster-retirement-political campaign started in May, the Police Commission has held seven town hall-style meetings across the city, seeking input on the qualifications for the next police chief. At the same time, a job search firm sought potential candidates from throughout the country.

Joe Gunn, Police Commission executive director, says race and community affiliations play, at most, a limited role in the selection. "We had town hall meetings all over L.A. — people want the best candidate," Gunn says. "People want someone who can reduce crime, establish community policing, increase morale and recruitment for the department. The commission is looking to pick the best candidate."

However, the anger of the African American community after Hahn refused to support Parks for a second term is just the latest in a series of LAPD issues where race has played a significant role. The riots following the 1992 acquittals of officers in the beating of Rodney King and the harassment of Latino immigrants uncovered in the Rampart Division scandal have helped make the community affiliations of the police chief an issue.

Creation of the blue-ribbon advisory committee appears to have taken these problems into consideration. An LAPD press release on the blue-ribbon committee carefully describes the community affiliations of many of its members. No less a voice of the local Jewish community than Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, serves on the committee. Cooper describes the panel as "a very representative group across the board, a very dedicated group of people giving their time for the city."

Also serving on the committee is Jeff Donfeld, an attorney and former staff assistant to President Richard M. Nixon. Donfeld helped write the legislation creating the office of the federal drug czar. The LAPD press release describes Donfeld as "a founding member of Chabad of Pacific Palisades."

Attorney Patricia Glaser, who serves on the board of American Friends of Hebrew University, also is on the committee. "I was asked to help on this committee by a man I respect very much, Jim Hahn," Glaser told The Journal, "I’m not sure how much good it will do. I’m not a big fan of committees. I’m not sure that it’s worthless, but I’m not sure it’s worthwhile, either."

Other committee members include the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the chair of Women Against Gun Violence and former presidents of the Korean American, Asian Pacific American and Mexican American Bar associations.

The competition for the police chief job is stiff, even among those few who have publicly acknowledged their interest. These public candidates include four current LAPD deputy chiefs and four commanders, a former New York City police commissioner and three former LAPD deputy chiefs who have gone on to lead other police departments (Mark Kroeker, Portland, Ore.; Rick Dinse, Salt Lake City; and Art Lopez, Oxnard). Kroeker, Lopez, and Deputy Chief David Gascon were each considered top candidates for the job in 1997, when then-Mayor Richard Riordan appointed Parks.

Police Commissioner Bert Boeckmann, the only remaining member of the 1997 board that recommended Parks, was also the only one at the time to vote for Kroeker over Parks.

Also in contention for the chief’s job is the LAPD officer perhaps best known to the Jewish community — Deputy Chief David Kalish. He was profiled in The Journal in August 1999, when he served as LAPD spokesman after the North Valley Jewish Community Center shootings.

On the ethnic politics involved in choosing a chief, Kalish told The Journal, "Clearly those will be issues of discussion, but at the end of the day, I believe the mayor will choose the best candidate."

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, founder of the anti-missionary group, Jews for Judaism, and a chaplain for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, says of Kalish, "In every instance where there have been threats to the Jewish community, he’s been right there, and he hasn’t sent people under him. He’s very active. He’s very proud of who he is as a Jew. That’s why I like him."

Barry M. Greenberg, former chairman of the Community Police Advisory Board, sent an unsolicited e-mail to The Jewish Journal, saying Kalish "deserves our encouragement, our consideration and, I believe, our support." Greenberg, who described himself as a "friend and supporter" of Kalish, said, "He won’t engage in politics. Won’t challenge the mayor for city power. Won’t attempt to serve as some sort of super-City Council member. He’ll just lead. Won’t that be a welcome change?"

Open France’s Eyes to Hatred


Although Shelley Ventura-Cohen had been to France several times before as a tourist with an interest in French culture,this visit — on an American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) mission to counteract French anti-Semitism — was unique.

"The difference was, that this time I went with passion," said the Los Angeles psychologist. "And I went with a spirit of connection to the French and Belgian Jews. Anti-Semitism in France affects Jews everywhere, and I went to France knowing that there had to be a determined and fitting anger about it, and a profound need for dialogue with the French government."

Ventura-Cohen was one of nine participants on the July mission, which also included L.A. residents Gary Ratner, executive director of the AJCongress Pacific Southwest Region; David Suissa of Suissa-Miller advertising agency, and founder and editor of OLAM magazine, and Dr. Steven Teitelbaum, AJCongress Pacific Southwest Region president. The mission was organized against a backdrop of 1,000 anti-Semitic incidents that had occurred in France since the start of the Al-Aksa intifada — incidents that appear as a hideous epilogue to a history that has sustained both Dreyfus and Vichy. The mission comprised of meetings with French government ministers, officials at the European Union, leaders of the French Jewish community, and French Jewish intellectual groups. Besides offering solidarity and support to French Jews, the aim of the mission was to probe and prod politicians, who for the past year had treated the problem of the growing number of anti-Semitic battery, harassment and vandalism incidents evasively, failing to take measures that acknowledged the seriousness of the problem.

"One had to call attention to the fact that the French government tolerated the ridiculousness of anti-Semitism," said AJCongress President Jack Rosen, who headed the mission.

The mission arrived in France at the dawn of a new government, and many of the politicians the group met with, while not willing to admit that anti-Semitism was a problem in France, were eager to cast blame on their predecessors for their laxity in dealing with anti-Semitic crimes. Both the minister of justice and the interior minister assured the group that there had been a decrease in incidents since the new government was elected, and that from now on, tougher sentences would be handed out. They all tried to dissuade the group of the notion that anti-Semitism was endemic to French society — they explained it instead as a problem that was isolated among the millions of disaffected Arab migrants from places like Algeria and Tunisia.

Others were more circumspect about the situation, and urged the AJCongress to be vigilant about taking action. "Don’t be lured by smiles and other pleasing talk from the government," warned Michel Gurfinkel, the editor of a French weekly. "You don’t have SS men walking down the street, but the situation is very bad. The country has gone over the border."

Pierre Lellouche, a Harvard-educated French parliamentarian, explained that what was happening in France was that a new kind of anti-Semitism was arising, one that was championed by the extreme left. "You have the media in Europe and in France beating down on Israel as a butcher every day, and a lot of the good-faith guys are absolutely convinced that the bad guys are the Jews and the good guys are the Arabs, which means that you can be openly anti-Semitic in France today, in the name of anti-racism," he said.

Lellouche is championing a bill that will make a crime out of anti-Semitic or racist intentions on acts of aggression or battery either on persons or property

The mission encountered hostility on the trip to the European Union in Brussels, which began with a meeting with officials from the office of Chris Patten, the European commissioner for external relations, who acknowledged that they agreed with Cherie Blair’s comments about the desperation of suicide bombers — they thought suicide bombings had achieved a lot for the Palestinians politically, and tried to convince the group that long tourist lines outside of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam surely proves that there is no anti-Semitism in Europe today. After a day of meetings at the European Union, which included friendlier dialogue with Javier Solana and other policy chiefs (they even served a kosher lunch) — the group got back on the bus to find that someone had placed a Palestinian flag there, a sign that the group’s presence was resented.

Despite the current situation, Jews have thrived over the years in France, which makes the problem of anti-Semitism all the more urgent to combat.

"There are 600,000 Jews in France today," said Stephane Friedfeld, who was the group’s French guide, "and as a Jew, I can say that there are problems, but I am proud to be Jewish in France today."

Be Careful With ‘Terrorism’


The LAX shooting on the Fourth of July was another test of Muslim-Jewish relations.

Some Jewish leaders complained that Los Angeles Muslims did not denounce the shooting. That some people didn’t hear it, and then accused Muslims of remaining silent, seems to be a common problem in many public pronouncements Muslims make these days. It is not an issue of transmission by Muslims, but of reception by others.

Another problem for the Muslim community, and other ethnic/religious groups in America, is the definition and application of "terrorism" in violent crimes.

As we await the conclusion of the FBI’s investigation in the LAX shooting on the Fourth of July, we are witnessing a sudden attack on law enforcement’s definition of terrorism. If the investigators conclude that the shooting incident involved terrorism, let’s all accept it and move on. If they maintain that it was an isolated incident, expect a widening of the debate on the methodology on classification of violent acts.

At the root of that debate, I believe, is the deeper problem of how our society has politicized and exploited violence and its painful aftermath.

When police charged the Jewish Defense League’s Irv Rubin last fall with attempting to bomb our office, the King Fahd mosque in Culver City and the office of Congressman Darryl Issa, the federal authorities avoided calling it terrorism. It was a bomb plot and the charges centered on the possession of explosives. The president did not issue any statement to the nation as he did for the LAX shooting. In fact, the Jewish Defense League is still not listed as a terrorist organization. Where were the brave voices speaking out against political correctness then?

In another landmark case reported in The New York Times on June 24, a federal judge dismissed charges against seven members of the Mujahedeen El Khalq (MEK), a pro-Marxist terrorist organization established to overthrow the current Iranian regime. The group was charged with aiding terrorist groups by soliciting donations at airports. The judge asserted that MEK’s civil rights were violated when they could not defend themselves against the State Department’s assertion that they were a terrorist group in the agency’s listing. Members of Congress even passed a resolution in solidarity with the MEK after the Clinton administration placed the group on its terrorist list. Congress was never accused of aiding and abetting terrorists.

Should the same standard apply for the three American Muslim charities shut down last fall as a result of the government’s freeze of their assets? Of course, the MEK story did not stir up any debate, because these terrorists are working for the Western geopolitical interests against a Muslim country. Selective justice is injustice — it does not help us in the war on terror and continues to project the image that the United States is anti-Islam.

Other cases involving violence against ethnic groups could have been used as political footballs. An Egyptian storeowner was killed weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, but the authorities did not classify it as a hate crime or a terrorist attack. The U.S. Government never considered it terrorism when black churches were torched throughout the South.

If a group of Muslims were caught storing arms to ship to the Kashmiris, for example, I’m sure there would be a national uproar about it as another chapter in the war on terror. It’s not just a matter of arresting and prosecuting the criminals, but how it is played out in the court of public opinion that leaves deep impressions in our society.

American Jews celebrate the fact that their children defer going to college in order to serve in the Israeli army, but American Muslims are chastised if they recruit any of their youth to join the Palestinians, or are called terrorist sympathizers for giving money to the refugees of war-torn countries.

Whether violence is committed by groups or individuals, our job as leaders in the Muslim and Jewish communities is to diminish — not exacerbate hatred; there is an alarming trend from those who jump on opportunities to score more political points against one another at the expense of human relations.

I can understand the hysteria surrounding the Middle East conflict. Public policymaking is not the place for allowing that hysteria to influence serious decisions.

Emotionalism has negatively impacted Muslim-Jewish dialogue throughout the United States and in Los Angeles. But those who have managed to endure these oppositional forces will, in the long-run, be the pioneers of fostering mutual trust between the two communities. Those who have left the dialogue usually have done so in a circus atmosphere to demonstrate zeal to the right-wing members of their constituencies.

We passed the test from the LAX shooting, because of the leadership of a handful of Muslims and Jews, but more tests will follow. We all have to deal with the realities of extremism today and the violent acts emanating from it.

A violent crime that takes the life of innocent people is bad enough. But to be so adamant about, and outraged over, the labeling of the crime does not serve anyone’s interest. To the valiant spokespeople who want to promote the war on terrorism in their selective application of terrorism: Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. And then you will have to recoil to your corners when the double-edged sword of the terrorism debate swings the other way.

Jewish Republicans in Orange County


Hoping to capitalize on President Bush’s support of Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) revived its local chapter. The group held its first organizational meeting last month at Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach — the county’s most Republican-registered city and home of the Lincoln Club for locally prominent GOP insiders.

More than 100 Jewish Republicans heard from Matt Brooks, national director of RJC, which in 1998 sponsored then-candidate George W. Bush on a trip to Israel. The interest group’s aim is to raise the awareness in elected officials about hot-button issues with American Jewry, says Scott E. Gluck, RJC’s California organizer and former campaign deputy to defeated gubernatorial candidate Richard Riordan.

An earlier local chapter atrophied without committed leaders, says one political activist. The local GOP lists 24 other politically aligned groups, including Republican Arab Americans and Korean Americans.

LAX Trail Cold


As the families of Victoria Hen and Yaakov Aminov continued their mourning during the 30-day sheloshim period, the FBI continued its tight-lipped investigation into their July 4 murder at the Los Angeles International Airport.

“There have been no new developments and we will not issue a statement until the conclusion of our investigation,” FBI spokeswoman Cheryl Mimura said.

Neither El Al Airlines, at whose airport counter Egyptian immigrant Hesham Mohamed Hadayet shot and killed the two victims, nor the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles, had any comment, pending the FBI’s report.

Aminov’s wife, Anat, and their five children, together with a son from his previous marriage, flew to Israel to bury their husband and father, and will not return until the end of Sheloshim on Aug. 4, said Rabbi David Adatto of Congregation Yad Avraham in North Hollywood.

The Hen family sat shiva for their daughter and sister at their home in Chatsworth, and are planning a communitywide sheloshim ceremony on Aug. 4 at Hen’s graveside at Eden Memorial Park.

Family spokesman Joseph Knoller received one unexpected call when Omar Ricci, chairman of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), asked whether he could meet with the Hen family to offer his condolences and express his shock and condemnation of a fellow Muslim’s murderous act. Knoller said that the family declined the visit as “premature” and inappropriate until Ricci rendered a public condemnation on television.

Ricci, whose parents are Italian and Pakistani, told The Journal: “I felt the need, as a husband and father, to visit the Hen family, regardless of the strife in the Middle East.”

Asked whether the Muslim community had been made aware of his condemnation, Ricci said that it had been posted on an extensive e-mail network, the primary means of communication among Los Angeles Muslims.

A higher level communication took place between Israeli and Muslim leaders in Los Angeles. MPAC Senior Adviser Dr. Maher Hatout wrote to Israel’s Consul General Yuval Rotem expressing his condolences to the families of the victims and reiterating the condemnation he made of the attack. Rotem was quoted in last week’s Journal saying that as far as he knew, the Muslim community had kept silent following the attack. “Such a statement is not only wrong,” Hatout wrote, “but also inflammatory.”

Rotem acknowledged Hatout’s condemnation in a return letter. “By immediately and unconditionally condemning acts of hatred and terror we are able to demonstrate … our commitment to peaceful coexistence,” he wrote.

The men cc’d their letters to Gov. Gray Davis, who thanked them in handwritten notes for their outreach efforts.

Meanwhile, the question of whether the killing represented an act of terrorism or an “isolated incident” remained unresolved. Israeli spokesmen, both in Los Angeles and Jerusalem, called on their long expertise to unhesitatingly define the act as a clear case of terrorism, while the FBI continued to look for motives and outside connections.

Local Jewish leaders this week took issue with The Los Angeles Times’ Sunday front page profile of Hadayet. The Times deployed three reporters and 10 contributing writers from Cairo to Orange County.

The general tone was indicated by the headline in The Times, “Those Who Knew LAX Killer Say Personal Agenda Died With Him,” and a kicker above the headline, quoting Hadayet’s wife, “There is nothing to suggest he was a bad person.”

The article traced Hadayet’s career from his life as a well-to-do banker in Cairo to a difficult time as an independent limousine operator in Irvine. After dozens of interviews, The Times reported that “the emerging consensus is that Hadayet was an ordinarily religious man with little appetite for politics, who opened fire on the El Al ticket counter, following a personal agenda that died with him.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, immediately fired off a letter to Times editor John Carroll, in which he took issue with the article’s tone and content and described it as a “whitewash.”

“There is zero perspective from the victims, from police or Jewish sources,” Cooper wrote. “When touching on [Hadayet’s] motivation, the article reads that he ‘occasionally mention a hatred for Jews … [but only from] a cultural perspective….’ What does ‘occasional’ hate mean — are there cultural hate crimes or cultural terrorist acts? Did the Times bother to report that the widow of the shooter told wire services, she did not believe he even committed the murder? Has the Times assigned any of its crack reporting team to see if this guy has links to terrorist movements? … Get a grip!”

Cooper’s anger at the Times was palpable in a phone interview. “If it were up to me,” he said, “I would advise the Jewish community to pick up its marbles and go elsewhere. Unfortunately, there is no elsewhere to go to.”

Throughout the last week, a large number of donations, mostly in small amounts, continued to flow to the memorial funds established by the victims’ families.

The need is direst for the large Aminov family, bereft of its breadwinner, Adatto said.


Program Remembers Israel’s Victims of Terror

The Jewish community will commemorate the lives and deaths of more than 500 victims of terror in Israel on Sunday July 21 at 11 a.m. at Stephen S. Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles.

Included among the victims are the 13 killed in Israel this week and two Angelenos shot on July 4 at LAX.

The program will include an address by Israeli Deputy Consul General Zvi Vapni, remarks by Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President John Fishel and an invocation by Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

In addition, families of some of the victims will speak and there will be a poetry reading.

A large board will display photos of the victims, and each person will be handed a card with the name of one victim and a pebble, to be placed on a table next to the photo display.

The commemoration is part of a national observance held in 20 American cities and is coordinated by the American Zionist Movement, according to Bernard Weisberg, chairman of the Los Angeles event.

Eight organizations are co-sponsoring the commemoration.

For security reasons, those planning to attend are required to phone (323) 655-2842 in advance and leave their names. Those who fail to do so, are requested to arrive early to clear security.