Norway passes act that enshrines brit milah


The leader of Norway’s Jewish community praised his country’s parliament for passing an act enshrining ritual circumcision for boys.

“The act changes the paradigm of the debate about ritual circumcision in Norway in a very positive way and is therefore very significant,” Ervin Kohn, president of the Jewish Community in Oslo, told JTA Friday. “I am proud of my parliament and country for making the right decision, that will put norway on the path to becoming a place where neonatal circumcision is a common practice, like in the united States.”

The act was adopted last week in a vote by the Standing Committee on Health and Care Services of the Stortig, the Norwegian parliament. Submitted by Health Minister Bent Hoie amid a polarizing debate about the legal status of non-medical circumcision of boys under 18, the draft act was aimed at establishing practices that would settle the legal question around the custom, Hoie said.

The Act on Ritual Circumcision of Boys does, however, places limitations on the custom, which is known among Jews as Brith Milah and is performed on Jewish babies at the age of eight days. It stipulates that the procedure must be performed under the supervision and in the presence of a licensed physician, but it may be physically carried out by other persons.

Only two of the committee’s 20 members opposed passing the act, said Kohn, whose community has several hundred members.

Sweden, where some 20,000 Jews live, passed similar legislation in 2001.

The passage of the act comes amid a campaign by secularists and other activists in Scandinavia — including the children welfare ombudsmen of all Nordic countries — to ban ritual circumcision because they say it violates children’s rights to physical integrity and is comparable to female genital mutilation.

Far-right groups in Norway and elsewhere in Scandinavia, meanwhile, oppose the custom also on the grounds that they regard it as a foreign element in Nordic societies, which they say are under threat from immigration from Muslim countries.

The Mensch List: A magical ability to conjure up fun


California “Super Lawyer”/magician Stephen M. Levine likes to joke that he can make legal troubles disappear. Ditto for rabbits and quarters.

Unfortunately, he can’t make the same promise about the troubles facing all of the people he meets through his volunteer performances — sick kids at a children’s hospital, aging amputees at a Veterans Administration (VA) campus.

“It tugs at you,” Levine, a father of two, said. “You wonder, are they going to be around next year?”

But the Agoura Hills resident — also known as Stephen the Spectacular — does what he can to at least bring a smile to their faces. Despite working full time as a real estate and business trial lawyer, he regularly trades in his briefcase for a magic wand.

“I do it because I love performing for the kids,” Levine said. “I enjoy it — to make people feel good, to give them that sense of wonderment.”

Sometimes he is paid when he performs, but Levine believes it’s important to give back, too. A member of the Magic Castle’s outreach committee, he was among those who strolled through a group of 4,000 veterans, active-duty personnel and their families, doing magic for nearly five hours during a recent holiday event — only to leave for another charity event. 

Adept at stage, parlor and close-up magic, Levine has opened his bag of tricks for schools, synagogues, senior living facilities, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the VA, an autism support group and other places. Sometimes he’s there to help with fundraising, other times he just wants to spread a little fun.

Don’t assume Levine’s work is only about catering to kids. These days, parents and grandparents may need to believe in a little magic, too.

“Adults, I think, want to believe more, especially in these times. They want to be able to suspend reality,” he said.

Levine, 50, grew up on Long Island in New York, where he first got into magic as a preteen. He gave it up when he went to college, only to rediscover the skill much later as a means of calming his then-3-year-old daughter.

These days, he’s well practiced. He can make your body levitate and your head disappear. 

Perhaps his best tricks, though, have nothing to do with magic. At The New Shul of the Conejo in Agoura Hills, for example, he founded the Men’s Club and is currently the group’s president. In this capacity, he’s helped initiate things like family hikes and single-malt scotch tastings.

“For a lot of guys, especially ones that work, it gives them a sense of camaraderie and community,” he said.

And as the head of Friends of the Agoura Hills Library, he’s helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years by assisting with its used-book store, the Book Cellar. That money pays for periodicals, programming and more.

No need to thank Levine for any of this, though. Really. He remembers some veterans in wheelchairs who once tried.

“I said, ‘No. Thank you. I appreciate what you did for this country.’ ”

Immigration bill: For nannies and caregivers, legal status isn’t enough


At 2 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, Amelia Barnachea waited in a copy shop in downtown Los Angeles, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. “I’m exercising,” the diminutive Filipina-American home health aide explained, looking very spry for her 72 years. 

Barnachea, who officially retired years ago, had spent the previous 18 hours filling in for a friend who was responsible for an ailing white woman only a few years Barnachea’s senior. 

Barnachea said she’d been awake almost the entire time. 

“I had to feed her. The place was dirty, so I had to clean. I had to cook something for her to eat,” Barnachea said. “That’s the work of an aide.”

Domestic work is often fluid, and the treatment of workers varies depending on their bosses. But federal laws that grant basic protections to almost all other workers in the United States — minimum wage requirements, for instance, and laws governing overtime pay — don’t apply to elder-care workers like Barnachea. Some workers don’t even get a standard meal break.

“Right now, some of our members have to pull food out of their pockets and eat whenever they can,” said Aquilina Soriano, executive director of the Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California. “There are some employers who don’t want them to sit down even for a moment.”

[Related: The proposed reforms, rights and regulations]

On June 27, the U.S. Senate approved an immigration bill that would bring 11 million people living illegally in the United States out from the shadows; should it become law, the bill would grant provisional legalized status to millions of people, including hundreds of thousands of domestic workers, offering them a path to citizenship. Legalized status would also bring with it other concrete benefits, including the ability to visit family members abroad and to get a driver’s license.

Activists aren’t popping champagne yet, as it’s not clear whether the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will pass similar legislation and allow the Senate’s bill to take effect. What’s more, advocates for domestic workers’ rights are also acutely aware that even if the Senate bill were to become law, without additional changes to existing state laws and federal regulations newly legalized domestic workers could still find themselves stuck working in a shadow economy. 

“Should immigration reform be enacted into law, it will be a tremendously positive change in the lives of these people and for our country,” said Hadar Susskind, director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, who also runs the progressive Jewish group’s political action committee. “At the same time, home care workers who are here legally, or are citizens, face a huge array of challenges.” 

Rabbi Heather Miller, center, sounds a shofar at a 24-hour vigil that began on June 26, one day before the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

’The standards are basically not governed by law’

Bend the Arc was one of a number of Jewish groups actively lobbying for passage of the Senate version of comprehensive immigration reform. Others include the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which has devoted significant resources to organizing Jews behind immigration reform and published a handbook in 2012 titled “Immigration Reform: A Jewish Issue?” In it, AJC invokes economics, national security and demographic power politics to make the case that Jews should get behind reform. 

To persuade Jews to get involved with an issue that will mostly benefit non-Jews, the AJC brochure also leans heavily on the Jewish history of immigration to the United States and on biblical and talmudic texts. 

Yet while immigration reform advocates ask Jews to think about what today’s laws might have meant for their grandparents and great-grandparents a century ago, domestic workers’ rights advocates are asking Jews to consider what today’s laws mean for the people who clean their homes, care for their children and look out for their aging parents.

U.S. labor law doesn’t do much to protect domestic workers. Household employers are explicitly exempted from laws that apply in other workplaces, and where laws do exist they regularly go unheeded and unenforced. 

“The standards are basically not governed by law,” said Kevin Kish, director of the employment rights project for the legal aid nonprofit Bet Tzedek. “They’re governed by community standards.”

Over the years, Bet Tzedek has represented victims of the most egregious abuse — including one woman brought from Peru to Los Angeles by a professor as a housekeeper. The professor then confiscated her passport and forbade her from leaving the house, then beat her and threatened her family. When the worker made efforts to contact Bet Tzedek, her employer attempted to get her deported back to Peru. 

[Related: Modern slavery — Answering the cry]

Such stories of brutality toward domestic workers are rare, but the lesser abuses also add up: Those who work behind the closed doors of private homes typically earn low wages and rarely receive the benefits afforded other employees. They also work in environments that can be hazardous, and they must endure abuses of power with little recourse to act. 

These were the findings of the Center for Urban Economic Development (CUED) at the University of Illinois at Chicago in its 2012 survey of more than 2,000 nannies, housecleaners and caregivers in 14 cities across the United States. Thirty-five percent of workers reported working long hours with no breaks, nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of the workers surveyed reported being paid less than minimum wage ($8 an hour in California), and only 9 percent reported having a written contract with their employers. Nineteen percent of workers said they had been subjected to threats or verbal abuse on the job. 

Undocumented domestic workers, who made up 36 percent of the survey’s respondents, were markedly worse off than their counterparts. Median wages for those without legal status were found to be 17 percent lower than those of U.S. citizens employed in households.

The survey results suggest that even household employers who adhere to the models of common practice in their communities may in fact be breaking existing laws. 

Although there’s no way of documenting this, it’s commonly believed that the overwhelming majority of household employers — some estimate between 80 and 95 percent — do not pay taxes on wages paid to household employees. Indeed, fewer than 9 percent of the domestic workers surveyed by CUED in 2012 reported that their employers pay into Social Security on their behalf. 

And while current California law does not require that caregivers get breaks or overtime pay, some household employees — including housekeepers — are entitled to such benefits.

Nevertheless, Kish said, many employers ignore these laws as well. 

’These people, their lives depend upon this wage’

Lately, some Jewish communities have been devoting increased attention to this issue. Last month, Bet Tzedek’s Kish participated in a conversation with Rav Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea about what California law and Jewish law require of employers vis-à-vis their household employees. 

On some subjects — the prompt payment of wages, for instance — Jewish law is unambiguous. 

“These people, their lives depend upon this wage, and that’s why you have to be so particular — so machmir (stringent), really — about making sure that you’re paying people on time,” Kanefsky told a reporter, a few weeks after he covered the topic at a Shabbat afternoon program on June 1. 

This commandment can be traced back to a verse in Deuteronomy: “Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it.” Yet the 2012 survey found that 23 percent of household employees said they had been paid late on at least one occasion in the past year. Ten percent said that during that same period, they had been paid less than what they were owed — or nothing at all. 

Kanefsky also took on a more nuanced question: From the standpoint of halachah (Jewish law), when may an employer cancel an agreement to engage an employee’s services? 

The Talmud addresses this in terms of agricultural workers, but Kanefsky applied the biblical text to the present day. If a parent comes home early from work and wants to send the nanny home, Kanefsky told me that halachah requires the full day’s wages be paid to the worker. If a family goes on vacation and expects an employee to be available for them upon their return, they have “some degree of financial obligation” to that employee for the wages that would have been paid during that time. 

“The only circumstance under which the employer is not committed to pay the wage,” Kanefsky said, “is if, (a) what happened is a completely unpredictable ’act of God’ and the employer did everything in his or her power to ensure that the work would be there, and (b) that the person didn’t commence work.”

Interestingly, Kanefsky said that he and his congregants agreed in advance that they would not address questions of immigration. 

“At least for our first go-round, we felt that we wanted to talk about the issues that people would come and engage with and not with issues that they would be squirming in their seats about,” Kanefsky said. 

Nonetheless, Bet Tzedek’s Kish, who is not Jewish, said he was surprised by the high standard for behavior Kanefsky espoused to the 40 members of his congregation who attended the program in early June.  

When employers and domestic workers hash out their responsibilities to one another, Kish said, “A lot of the negotiation doesn’t refer to law or what’s written in the labor code. It’s, ’What do your friends do? What does your family do? What do people in your community do?’ “

’Be a mensch’

It’s not clear how many Jews are asking such questions at all. Rabbi Jonathan Rosenberg of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, the largest Orthodox synagogue in the San Fernando Valley, said that the questions his congregants ask about domestic workers are focused less on wages and more often concern questions about “what a non-Jewish worker inside the home is allowed to do with regard to matters of observance.” 

Rabbi Jonathan Bernhard of Adat Ari El, a Conservative synagogue in Valley Village, said he has been asked by congregants — infrequently — what Jewish tradition has to say about domestic employees. Most of the time, he said, they’re not asking about immigration issues, even if they are employing people who don’t have authorization to work in this country. 

Those who do come with questions, Bernhard said, mostly want to talk about wages and vacations, and, in his experience, most appear to “already know the answers” to the questions they’re asking.

“What I would say is, ’Look, be a mensch. Now we have to figure out what that looks like in this situation,’ ” he said. “But that’s really what they’re looking for. They want to be a mensch.”

Such rabbinic guidance may be sufficient for individual cases, but domestic workers and the activists working on their behalf are trying to broaden accountability among employers and inject more specificity into these kinds of discussions. The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), was developed with input from household employees and would grant certain basic rights to domestic workers that they don’t have at present. 

“Right now, nannies and caregivers do not have the right to overtime pay, do not have the right to meals and rest breaks,” Soriano of the Pilipino Workers Center said. “This creates the situation where they are working around the clock and being compensated very little.”

Soriano’s group is a member of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), which has been advocating for bills of rights for domestic workers in a number of states, including California. Other Jewish and interfaith groups, including the L.A.-based Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, have gotten involved in these state-specific efforts, as well. 

NDWA, together with Bend the Arc and the New York-based Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, are members of the Caring Across Generations movement, which is pushing President Barack Obama to approve new regulations formulated by the Department of Labor that will extend minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers. 

Photo by Dan Kacvinski

Ammiano’s bill, AB 241, would grant to California’s domestic workers these and a handful of other rights. On May 29, the California Assembly voted 45-25 to approve the bill; the State Senate’s Industrial and Labor Relations Committee also approved the bill in a hearing on the bill on June 26. 

It’s the second time the legislation is making its way through Sacramento; in 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, citing concerns about the “economic and human impact” of the bill on those who are cared for by domestic workers. 

Should the State Senate pass the bill and the governor sign it — and Carlos Alcala, Ammiano’s communications director, said it’s hard to predict which way Brown will go on this issue — California would join New York and Hawaii in adopting an explicit bill of rights for domestic workers. 

Each one of those bills has its own particular language and protections. The Hawaii law specifically protects breastfeeding employees against discrimination; the California bill introduced in the last legislative session granted workers permission to use the kitchen in the home “without charge or deduction from pay.”

“That would be a little problematic for us,” said Irving Lebovics, chair of the California branch of Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox advocacy organization. As written, the law looked as though it might have compelled Orthodox employers to allow employees to use their kosher kitchens. 

Language was added to the bill the first time around, Lebovics said, that exempted employers with specific food allergies or dietary restrictions from allowing their workers to use their kitchens. That language has been replicated in the current bill. 

As for the question of how non-Jewish workers should eat in kosher-observant households, Lebovics called it a “non-issue.” 

“We’ll go the extra mile to make sure they have what to eat,” he said. “If somebody wants something that’s not kosher, they’re free to eat it. Just not inside the house.”

But what some Orthodox Jews see as a non-issue appears to have been experienced by some domestic workers as an insult. 

One afternoon last month, I listened as a number of domestic workers, including some who have worked for Jewish families, spoke about their experiences. They all said they feel particularly vulnerable — either because they are not in this country legally or because they feared for their jobs and for future employment — and all asked that their names not be included in this article. One, who I’ll call L, recalled an unpleasant experience with the Jewish family that employed her mother in the 1990s. 

The mother in this family didn’t just prohibit L’s mother from eating non-kosher food in the house, but extended the ban into the backyard. L had been visiting her mother at the time, and she told me she remembered watching as her mother’s Jewish employer snatched food away from them, threw it across the backyard, and then forced L’s mother to go clean it up. 

Another woman told me that she had heard stories of domestic workers being forced by their kosher-observant Jewish employers to eat their lunches outside, or in the family’s garage.

Whether these anecdotes represent common practice among observant Jewish employers is impossible to ascertain, but Rabbi Nachman Abend, associate director at the Chabad of North Hollywood for the past seven years, said he hadn’t heard of any situations in which employees perceived kosher laws as insulting. 

“I would say most people respect religion, and most people, if you take the time to explain it to them, not only do they not take offense, but they appreciate it very much,” Abend said. 

’I almost cried. It had been so long since I had heard any words of appreciation.’

Abend’s own family employs a domestic worker — he and his wife have five children, including twin babies — and when he gets questions from members of his community, he offers guidance not so much from Jewish law but from his own practice. 

“I don’t know if they’re asking me as a Jewish legal authority or as a rabbi, friend and mentor,” Abend said. “I give general advice. So if somebody asks me if they should pay their nanny for July 4, or whatever national holiday is coming up, I say, ’I do.’ “

This question — how should a person treat his mother’s caregiver or her child’s nanny? — appears to be on the minds of many people these days, and on the minds of Jews, in particular. 

A parents group in a wealthy neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., has been conducting annual surveys of “nanny compensation” that cover everything from the range of hourly wages to whether “major Jewish holidays” are paid holidays for nannies. 

Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Association, a group started in 2010 by (mostly Jewish) employers of nannies, caregivers and housekeepers, issued guidelines to help other domestic employers foster “dignified and respectful working conditions” in their homes. 

So I asked Soriano, whose group represents more than 600 Filipina caregivers and other domestic employees, what advice she would give to domestic employers looking to be good bosses. First, Soriano urged employers to value their employee’s time, and to understand the power imbalance between employees and their employers. 

“Sometimes,” she continued, “when an employer is asking an employee to work, it’s not easy for the domestic worker to say no — even if they have other obligations at that time.”

Soriano went on: “It’s really about how they’re treated, as well. They’re not servants; they’re whole human beings, with families. If they’re being treated as if they’re not a whole person a lot of the time, I know from our members that really makes them feel bad.”

One of the domestic workers who spoke with me earlier this month, whom I’ll call S, said she had once quit a job she didn’t like, but it was only after her next employer thanked her for work she had done that she realized how unhappy she had been while working for her prior boss. 

“I almost cried,” S said. “It had been so long since I had heard any words of appreciation.”

Nothing in California’s proposed domestic worker’s bill of rights entitles a worker to receive thanks from her employer. But the bill would require employers to pay overtime and grant meal and rest breaks to all of their domestic employees. And while there’s no guarantee that  this new law will be followed any more widely than the existing ones, activists feel hopeful that the bill of rights could function as a starting point to educate domestic employers about how to treat their workers. 

Amelia Barnachea is working on the effort to pass the bill of rights in California. But just before she headed home for some (long-overdue) rest, she offered a philosophical explanation of what makes for a good working relationship. 

“If there is love and care [between an aide and her patient], you can work for a long time,” she said. “If there is none of those, just money, you can’t stay long. You cannot work for money alone.”

German state of Berlin declares circumcision legal


The state of Berlin declared circumcision legal.

Berlin became the first of Germany's 16 states to declare the practice legal following a Cologne court ruling in June that non-medical circumcisions on children amounted to a criminal offense, according to the German news agency DPA. National legislation is pending to legalize circumcision.

The state of Berlin has authorized only doctors, and not mohels, to perform circumcisions; the national legislation could authorize mohels. The state also required that parents be informed of the procedure’s medical risks before consenting, and that doctors do everything possible during the procedure to reduce pain and limit bleeding.

June’s court ruling has led many doctors to stop performing circumcisions in order to avoid being prosecuted. Two rabbis have had complaints brought against them based on the ruling, though one complaint was dropped last week.

Rob Eshman: Who will protect us from the NRA?


The National Rifle Association (NRA) claims it exists to protect our rights. My question is this: Who will protect us from the NRA?

The gun lobby is not responsible for the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colo., last week that has so far claimed 12 victims. 

But its consistent and effective efforts to thwart common-sense laws to reduce gun deaths have turned the NRA into a public health threat. To the mayhem of Aurora, it adds its own brand of madness.

I’m not saying the NRA doesn’t have a right to do what it does. I’m not saying gun laws are a panacea that will stop spree killings or gun deaths — more on that below. I’m saying that by standing up to the NRA and passing a handful of sensible gun laws, we can prevent thousands of gun-related deaths each year.

I say this as a former NRA member. I still enjoy shooting guns, and I probably know more about them than your average concealed-carry diehard. There are Red Staters who drive Leafs and Blue Staters who shoot skeet. We can have both guns and common sense in this country – right now we only have the former.  

“Aurora was a tragedy,” Adam Winkler, author of the book “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” told me by phone when I called him just four days after the shooting. “But since Aurora, 240 people have died from guns in this country. Two hundred and forty.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, guns claim 35 victims each day in this country — a statistic that does not include suicides (as Winkler’s number did). About 86,000 people are either killed or wounded by firearms each year, of which 12,612 people die. That means that 10 days after Aurora, guns will have killed another 350 people.

The key to driving these numbers down, Winkler said, is to enact federal laws that address the most egregious flaws in gun legislation.

Winkler, like me, is not anti-gun. He’s a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, a Westside native (and yes, the son of legendary film producer Irwin Winkler) who has focused his considerable intellect on the Second Amendment, which has resulted in America’s patchwork of state laws regarding guns. Because of the inconsistencies across state lines, restrictions are bound to be ineffective, as guns are easy to conceal and transport.

I asked Winkler to name one or two federal laws that sensible people and courageous politicians could support.

He suggested new laws aimed at improving criminal background checks to make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to buy guns. New federal laws should also require these checks for all gun sales. Right now, they only apply to sales by licensed gun dealers, who only account for 60 percent of all gun sales. That means 40 percent of all gun sales—via private parties and gun shows, for example—take place with no background check.

That’s a good place to start, President Obama.

Even such a law, Winkler acknowledged, still might not prevent the next Aurora. Twisted men (it is almost always men) intent on killing will find a way to procure one of the 200 million guns in this country, as well as the millions of large-capacity ammunition magazines.

People who really want to wreak havoc will find a way. Norway has strict gun laws, yet still one of the worst mass shootings in history took place there a year ago this week. And in America, the problem of violence goes far beyond guns. Our homicide rate is four times that of France and the United Kingdom — the highest of any advanced democracy. Switzerland and Israel both have a high percentage of gun ownership but low or negligible amounts of gun-related homicide.

The causes of such carnage may be spiritual, sociological, economic, historical or all of the above. 

But smart, universal background checks could save two or three or five lives each week.

“You could say you’re just addressing the margins,” Winkler said, “but those margins are human lives.”

To save those lives, people have to funnel their outrage over Aurora into two things: contributions and votes.

“Gun control supporters don’t do that,” Winkler pointed out. “Gun control opponents do that.”

He’s right. The NRA, whose founding vision has been hijacked by people with a maximalist agenda, is flourishing. Meanwhile, gun control advocacy organizations flounder. Last May, the Los Angeles-based Women Against Gun Violence held a fundraiser honoring New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, and the event brought in much less money than expected. Foundation grants have also slacked off, the group’s executive director, Margot Bennett, told me. The economy may be partly to blame, but so are politicians from across the spectrum who lack the courage to confront the NRA, and people like you and me who have given up the fight.

The annual budget of Women Against Gun Violence is $300,000. The NRA’s annual budget? $220 million.

“Mayor Bloomberg said we need more leadership on this issue,” Winkler told me. “But he’s got it exactly backwards. We don’t need more leadership, we need more followership.”

This is a fight between those willing to sacrifice American lives for a maximalist political agenda, and those who want to find the right balance between our constitutional rights and the sanctity of human life. 

To all those in favor of balance: It’s time to step up.

Israeli panel: West Bank settlements, outposts legal under int’l law


West Bank settlements are legal under international law, according to an Israeli committee set up to review the legal status of West Bank land.

The Levy Committee, which was formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and headed by former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, said in its 89-page report released late Sunday that “Israel does not meet the criteria of ‘military occupation’ as defined under international law” in the West Bank, and that therefore settlements and West Bank outposts are legal.

The report recommends changing the legal regulations concerning Jewish settlement in the West Bank in the areas of zoning, demolitions and building.

The committee calls for the legalization of all outposts and allowing landowners to register land in the West Bank under their own names, as well as allowing people who built homes on Palestinian-owned land to pay compensation to the alleged owners if the construction was made in good faith.

It accepted the legal opinion of the right wing in determining that Israel is not an occupying power on the West Bank, saying that the West Bank was never a legitimate part of any surrounding country, including Jordan. “(N)o other legal entity has ever had its sovereignty over the area cemented under international law,” the report said.

In addition, there is no place in international law stating that it is illegal for Jews to live in the West Bank, the committee wrote.

The findings of the committee are subject to the review and approval of Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.

Netanyahu established the committee in January after settler leaders called for a response to the 2005 Sasson Report on illegal outposts, which concluded that more than 100 West Bank settlements and outposts constructed from the 1990s and forward were illegal.

Netanyahu says he wants to legalize West Bank outposts


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will submit a plan to legalize several West Bank outposts and avoid the demolition of another.

At Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said he asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to “find a solution” for the Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El “that would obviate the need for demolition.” The government had previously agreed to evacuate the illegal outpost by May.

Netanyahu also told the ministers that he will submit, with the recommendation of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a plan to legalize the outposts of Bruchin, Sansana and Rechalim, which are said to be built on private Palestinian land.

The announcement came as Jewish settlers who last week occupied a house in Hebron near the Cave of the Patriarch were evacuated by Israeli security forces.

Opinion: Israel has a legal case for striking Iran


In a world where nuclear weapons could soon be in the hands of a rogue nation like Iran, an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be fully justified. Despite its ban on aggressive war, Article 51 of the United Nations Charter clearly recognizes a state’s inherent right of self-defense. Thus, Israel has full authority to act unilaterally or collectively in its self-defense.

Yet Article 51 does not create the right to self-defense; it is an inherent right of all states under customary international law. Hence, determining when self-defense is appropriate lies, as it always has, with each state.

Under the charter, however, the U.N. Security Council is charged with lifting the burden of individual national self-defense and taking appropriate steps to restore international peace and security. One must recognize, however, that the muscular Security Council envisioned in the charter has never materialized. As such, threatened states are almost always required to make their own decisions and bear their own burdens.

Article 51 allows Israel to use aggressive force against Iran’s nuclear program if an “armed attack” occurs. Its plain language is satisfied when one state has used armed force to attack another state. Under customary international law, a preemptive strike is also permitted when an armed attack is imminent.

Thus an Israeli attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities would be legitimate for two reasons.

First, Iran already is conducting armed attacks under the plain meaning of Article 51 through Islamist terrorist surrogates Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, so a de facto state of war exists between Israel and Iran.

Second, even if one questions whether armed attacks have occurred (by discounting Iran’s use of surrogates), Iran’s development of weapons of mass destruction constitutes an imminent, existential threat to Israel.

Under customary international law, the Article 51 “armed attack” requirement that evokes a right of self-defense can occur when a state perceives that such an attack is “immediately impending and inevitable.” Thus, rather than waiting for an actual attack, a state may execute a preemptive strike on the hostile state.

Historically, two elements must be met to legitimize a preemptive strike: proportionality and necessity.

The necessity element is where attention is usually focused. The acting state must have exhausted all other alternatives of dealing with the problem, and the threat from the hostile state must be imminent. As with most preemptive strikes, imminence related to necessity will be the most contested issue in deciding the strike’s legality.

The traditional definition for imminent is when there is “some outward act that initiates the attempt to harm such that the actual harm is close at hand.” Historically an attack was considered imminent when a state could see the mobilization of enemy armed forces preparing for attack. However, according to the modern trend in international legal thought regarding imminent, the threatened attack must be perceived as “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” The hostile state must be about to launch an attack and not merely in the “preparatory stages of such an attack.”

Yet even the more “modern” definition has lagged the development of technology, particularly of WMDs and their rapid means of delivery. Under the historic definition, Israel likely would be required to wait until nuclear warheads were attached to missiles and about to be launched. But by then it would be too late. Failure to stop Iran before it reaches such a point invites disaster because of the potential destruction were such an attack to succeed.

The concept of imminence must be flexible over time, and the definition of “imminent attack” must be adaptable to modern warfare, since the traditional definition fails to account for the lethality and danger of WMDs.

If Israel deems that Iran is actively preparing for a nuclear attack against the State of Israel (an opinion amply supported by Iran’s continuous bellicose threats) and that failure to act would put Israel in grave danger of being unable to prevent that attack, the threat against Israel would in fact be imminent. As such, Israel would be justified in making a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, as long as the attack were proportional and Israel had exhausted all other meaningful alternatives.

While the general rule in international law is that a state may not initiate aggressive war toward another state, an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would not qualify as aggressive war; it would simply reflect Israel’s inherent right to self-defense.

Jay Sekulow is chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, based in Washington. Robert Ash is the group’s senior counsel.

Picks for rabbinical judges’ panel riles Israeli women’s groups


Women’s and human rights groups in Israel criticized the Israel Bar Association’s decision not to appoint any women to a committee that appoints rabbinical judges.

In its selections Tuesday for the Appointments Committee for Rabbinical Judges, the bar association for the first time in 12 years did not have any female representatives on the panel picking rabbinical judges, or dayanim.

The committee elects judges to the country’s 12 regional rabbinical courts, which are responsible for matters including divorce.

The appointment of two males to the committee reportedly came about as part of a political deal struck with the bar association’s haredi Orthodox faction despite a written promise from Yuri Geiron, the head of the bar association’s largest internal faction, to the International Coalition for Agunah Rights to appoint a woman to replace the woman who was being rotated off the committee, The Jerusalem Post reported.

“The lack of female representation deepens the outrageous [religious and gender] imbalance that exists on the committee, which also includes only three non-haredi members,” Batya Kehane, director of the women’s divorce rights organization Mavoi Satum, told The Jerusalem Post. “The rabbinical courts are a state institution which are supposed to serve the general public.”

Turkey vows to take legal action against Israel


Turkey said on Friday it will seek to prosecute all Israelis responsible for crimes committed during an Israeli raid on a ship bound for the Gaza Strip that killed nine Turks in May 2010.

“Turkey will take legal actions against the Israeli soldiers and all other officials responsible for the crimes committed and pursue the matter resolutely,” Turkey’s embassy in Washington said in a statement.

The threat follows a U.N. report that confirmed the legality of Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza but said Israel had used unreasonable force in the raid. Both Turkey and Israel disputed some of the conclusions of the so-called Palmer Report.

The names of the Israeli marines involved in the raid have not been released, so only ranking commanders overseeing the operation could be identified if Turkey follows through with the legal action.

The full text of the U.N. report, which was leaked on Thursday, was delivered to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office on Friday and will soon be officially published, U.N. spokesman Eduardo del Buey told reporters.

Del Buey would not comment on the contents of the report before its official release, though he said one purpose of setting up the U.N. inquiry headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer was to bring Israel and Turkey closer together.

However, Turkey’s expulsion of Israeli diplomats and determination to pursue legal action suggested that the Palmer Report has only deepened the divide between Ankara and its one-time ally.

“Turkey challenges certain conclusions of the Palmer Report, which we believe will not serve the goal of stability and peace, particularly in our region,” Turkey’s embassy said.

“Turkey also reaffirms that relations between Turkey and Israel will not normalize as long as Israel does not apologize and refuses to pay compensation for what it has done.”

The statement reiterated Ankara’s view that the Israeli blockade of Gaza was illegal.

Israel rejects the conclusion that the Israeli military used excessive force during the raid on the Mavi Marmara, the largest in a flotilla of six ships that the crew said were delivering aid to Palestinians in Gaza.

The report’s release had been delayed repeatedly to allow for ultimately fruitless rapprochement talks between Israel and Turkey, whose relations were chilled by the incident on May 31 last year.

The report was originally expected to be completed in February. But Turkey and Israel were never able to agree on what happened and what the conclusions of the report should be, diplomats and U.N. officials said. As a result, one U.N. official said, the report is not a “consensus document.”

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; editing by Christopher Wilson

U.N. panel’s report says Gaza blockade was legal


A long-awaited U.N. report on a May 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound ship that killed nine Turks says that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

The report by a panel of investigators, which was due to be released on Friday but was leaked in full to the Times, also said that Israeli commandos faced “organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers.”

It also had some criticism of Israel. It said the amount of force used by the Israelis on board the Mavi Marmara, the largest in a flotilla of six ships that the crew said were delivering aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, was “excessive and unreasonable.”

The release of the so-called Palmer report was delayed repeatedly to allow for Israeli-Turkish rapprochement talks. Washington has been concerned at the rift between two countries that had been strategic partners in an increasingly stormy Middle East.

The report, prepared by a U.N. panel headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, was originally expected to be completed in February.

But the Turks and Israelis were never able to reach an agreement on what happened and what the conclusions of the report should be, diplomats and U.N. officials said. As a result, one U.N. official said, the report is not a “consensus document.”

Israel, however, expressed some satisfaction.

“The bottom line is that the Israeli actions were legal,” a senior Israeli official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “It (the report) says the naval blockade was legal under international law.”

It is also significant that the report confirmed Israel’s right to search ships in international waters, the official said. He said he hoped Israel and Turkey could put the flotilla incident behind them and rebuild their once-strong ties.

“I hope that we (Israel and Turkey) can … go forward forward in our relationship,” he said.

The Israeli foreign ministry, however, declined to provide any official reaction to the report.

“We will only make a public comment once the report is officially released,” ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

Turkey’s U.N. mission had no immediate reaction either.

Ankara has demanded that Israel apologize for the raid, but the Israeli government has made clear it will not issue a formal apology.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced regret over the killings, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a centrist in the conservative coalition government, has stirred debate inside the cabinet by proposing Israel offer a diluted apology in hope of restoring ties with Turkey, once an important Muslim ally.

Barak had also thought such a step would help indemnify Israel’s navy personnel against lawsuits abroad.

Israel calls its Gaza blockade a precaution against arms reaching Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas by sea. Palestinians and their supporters say the blockade is illegal collective punishment, a view some U.N. officials have echoed.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau, additional reporting by Mayaan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Eric Walsh

U.N. panel faults both sides in Gaza flotilla clash


A long-awaited U.N. report on an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound ship that killed nine Turks declares that Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal, but that the Jewish state used unreasonable force.

The report, made public Thursday, said Israeli commandos faced “organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers” in the incident last year.

But in criticism of Israel, it said the amount of force used by the Israelis on board the Mavi Marmara, the largest in a flotilla of six ships that the crew said were delivering aid to Palestinians in Gaza, was “excessive and unreasonable.”

In comments that considerably weakened the force of the report, the Israeli and Turkish members of the four-man panel that wrote it said they disagreed with key findings. The Turkish panelist dissociated himself from some conclusions.

Israel calls its Gaza blockade a precaution against arms reaching Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas by sea. Palestinians and their supporters say the blockade is illegal collective punishment, a view some U.N. officials have echoed.

The report, prepared by a panel headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, is expected to be formally handed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Friday and was due to be released then. But the New York Times posted on its website Thursday a copy it had obtained.

The report’s release was delayed repeatedly to allow for ultimately fruitless rapprochement talks between Israel and Turkey, whose relations were badly affected by the incident on May 31 last year.

The United States has been concerned about the rift between two countries that had been strategic partners in an increasingly stormy Middle East.

The report was originally expected to be completed in February. But Turkey and Israel were never able to agree on what happened and what the conclusions of the report should be, diplomats and U.N. officials said. As a result, one U.N. official said, the report is not a “consensus document.”

RIGHT TO SEARCH

The report said Israel’s blockade of Hamas-run Gaza, “was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.”

The flotilla “acted recklessly” in trying to breach the blockade and there were “serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives” of the organizers, the 105-page document said.

But it said “Israel’s decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable.”

Israeli panelist Joseph Ciechanover said in an appendix that he did not agree with that judgment since Israeli soldiers had acted in self-defense.

Turkish panelist Ozdem Sanberk, in a separate appendix, disputed that the blockade was legal or that the flotilla had acted wrongly. “I reject and dissociate myself from the relevant parts and paragraphs of the report,” he wrote.

While Israel had no immediate formal comment, one senior Israeli official expressed some satisfaction. “The bottom line is that the Israeli actions were legal,” he told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

It was also significant that the report confirmed Israel’s right to search ships in international waters, the official said. He said he hoped Israel and Turkey could put the flotilla incident behind them and rebuild their once-strong ties.

Turkey’s U.N. mission had no immediate reaction. Ankara has demanded that Israel apologize for the raid, but the Israeli government has made clear it will not issue a formal apology.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced regret over the killings. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a centrist in the conservative coalition government, has stirred debate inside the cabinet by proposing Israel offer a diluted apology in hope of restoring ties with Turkey, once an important Muslim ally.

Barak had also thought such a step would help indemnify Israel’s navy personnel against lawsuits abroad.

Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations and Mayaan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Todd Eastham

Pico-Robertson’s pot prince


In a way, medical marijuana dispensary owner Matthew Cohen is just another small businessman.

For the past five years, he has been working diligently to grow his shop, The Natural Way of L.A., located on Pico just east of Fairfax. Cohen claims to carry the best-quality product in the world, which he says is very important to his clients, many of whom are fellow Jews with discerning taste.

“Jews know good pot,” Cohen said.

Cohen’s shop is one of nine dispensaries active within a mile and a half of the intersection of Pico and Robertson as of press time this week. Like all dispensaries, Natural Way is a nonprofit, and in that highly competitive market, it hasn’t made money yet. Cohen, 43, says that he will “lose less than ever” in 2010, partly thanks to a new ordinance that put some of his competitors out of business.

Cohen relies on quality to distinguish his shop, but he has tried to cater to his fellow Jews, too. He used to carry kosher marijuana-impregnated “edibles,” and although he says he has “many obviously Jewish patients,” he hasn’t carried that product line in awhile. “It did nothing for us,” Cohen said — although the kosher-for-Passover chocolate-covered matzah made with weed was a hit (no pun intended), as were the marijuana macaroons. “They were labeled pareve,” Cohen said. “I’m not sure which rabbi was in charge of that.”

But he insists quality product is of the foremost importance. “The Dutch have been playing catch-up for the past five or six years,” Cohen says with considerable salesmanship bravado, and thanks to his years of growing experience, Cohen’s pot sells out before the next batch is ready to harvest. He believes that he has helped make Los Angeles into the new Amsterdam: “For 10 days every month, we have the finest pot in L.A.,” Cohen said of the product he grows, “which means we have the finest pot in California, the finest pot in the United States, and I can promise you, the finest pot in the world.”

Cohen is a fast-talker, an engaging storyteller and a user of his own medicine — taking marijuana to treat the chronic pain he has suffered from since 2001. Before opening Natural Way of L.A. in 2005, he held a few different jobs, including running a network of veterinary hospitals, working as a radio sportscaster and as Major League Soccer’s first vice president of sales. He later headed the sales staff for the LA Galaxy soccer team.

Wearing mesh shorts and black high-top Nikes when this reporter came to meet with him, Cohen clearly has left the executive suite behind, although his sales patter is still polished and convincing, especially when he talks about the people who grow his pot. Cohen estimates that he’s set up grow rooms for 120 to 130 people in the past two years.

Marijuana buds ready to be sold. Photo by Dan Kacvinski.

“You can get your first harvest from that room in 90 days,” Cohen said. “We set you up with the Cadillac of systems — lights, an airflow system, the works — and it will grow diamond-quality pot.” Cohen charges $5,500 to set up a 144-square-foot grow room, which can produce three or four harvests of 4 pounds each. Cohen buys back quality bud for $3,000 a pound. Even though grossing $36,000 a year out of a spare bedroom sounds great, Cohen takes care to explain that growing pot is hard — but rewarding — work. “You’re gonna feel really good,” Cohen said, “like a real farmer — even though you’re sitting in Century City.”

Cohen estimates that 45 percent of what he sells is grown locally, either in people’s homes or on site at the dispensary, and he’d like to raise that figure to 80 to 90 percent, especially in light of the Los Angeles City Council ordinance that went into effect June 7. That ordinance, which forced three-quarters of the city’s marijuana dispensaries to close, also outlined regulations for the remaining dispensaries, including a requirement that they grow their product on site. “Every real dispensary should be adding lights as fast as they can,” Cohen said, referring to the high-powered lights used in indoor grow rooms, “because the ordinance makes clear for the very first time that we have to grow 100 percent of our medicine.”

What Cohen calls a “real dispensary” — one that grows its own marijuana — has been the exception rather than the rule. He estimates there are between 50 and 80 “real quality dispensaries” in the city growing their own pot. The rest — at one point, there were as many as 600 across the city, by some estimates — don’t grow any of their own stuff. “None of the Russian-owned dispensaries, the Armenian-owned, the Israeli-owned — they don’t grow any of their own pot,” Cohen said. “They’re buying their pot from vendors.”

The ordinance dictated that every dispensary that opened in Los Angeles after November 2007 — some 437 shops — had to close, and by now many already have shut their doors. At one point, 15 dispensaries were located in the Pico-Robertson area. Six appear to have closed, most of them in the past four months, since the ordinance went into effect. Of the nine that remain, only Natural Way of L.A. has been declared eligible to stay open. Many dispensaries are contesting the ordinance in court.

Cohen chalks up his continued legal status to having good lawyers who could comply with the “dirty little tricks in the ordinance,” and to the fact that Natural Way is, with 3,000 active patients, smaller than many other shops. Cohen stayed small because he has never sold to what he calls “the fastest-growing group of patients,” namely, 18- to 21-year-olds.

One reason Cohen doesn’t sell to patients under 21? “I’m a dad,” he said. (His daughter is 8.)

The City Council ordinance is, in practical terms, far more important for the future of marijuana in Los Angeles than the much more widely discussed Proposition 19, the ballot measure that would legalize marijuana for recreational use. Nevertheless, Cohen, who’s a bit of a pot policy wonk, has a lot to say about the proposition.

“I am going to be happy and disappointed whichever way it goes,” Cohen said. “And what I mean is, if it’s voted in — and right now it’s polling ahead, I’m very surprised — if it passes, there is the huge, huge bounce that the entire marijuana issue gets. Legalization, medicalization, everything about marijuana would get shoved right to the forefront, nationwide.”

Cohen plans to vote against the measure because he believes access to medical marijuana will be restricted rather than improved as a result of Proposition 19. “The right thing for marijuana users, both medical and nonmedical,” Cohen said, “is for this to not pass.”

But, Cohen added, “The right thing to push forward marijuana legal reform is for this to pass, because it’s going to push forward the cause across the country.”

Public Court Battle Erupts Over Possession of Torahs


Rita Pauker wants her Torah scrolls back. After years of asking and begging, she has resorted to the courts to reclaim ownership of four Torah scrolls she says were owned by her husband. She wants to bequeath them to their nephews, who are Orthodox pulpit rabbis.

Rabbi Samuel Ohana says the Torah scrolls are not hers to take back — they belong to his small North Hollywood synagogue, which has used them regularly since Rabbi Norman Pauker, Rita’s late husband, turned them over to him more than 10 years ago.

In January, a Los Angeles beit din (rabbinic tribunal) ruled in favor of Pauker, saying the Torah scrolls belong to Pauker and that Ohana should turn them over to her within 30 days. Ohana has not complied with the order — which both parties signed as legally binding arbitration — so on Feb. 19, Pauker’s attorney, Baruch Cohen, filed a petition with the Superior Court of California to confirm the arbitration and enforce the ruling.

Ohana and his pro bono attorney, G. Scott Sobel, say the decision rendered by the panel of three rabbis of the Rabbinical Council of California is “inadequate and mistaken.” Ohana had appealed the ruling to the Beit Din Hagadol — the supreme rabbinical court in Jerusalem — on Feb. 16, and on March 2 asked the Superior Court to undo the arbitration award and stay the petition, pending a response from the Jerusalem beit din.

The matter will be heard in Judge Zaven V. Sinanian’s downtown court on April 3.

The feud has elevated, in an unusually public and rancorous way, with accusations of misconduct, sharply worded e-mails and demands for apologies. Some of the most respected rabbis in Los Angeles have been accused of incompetence.

“I would mortgage my house if I had to to get those Torahs back,” Pauker said in her North Hollywood home. “It’s like watching someone steal your car out of your driveway and you’re locked in the house screaming, ‘They’re stealing my car!’”

For his part, Ohana disputes the very notion that the scrolls belong to Pauker, questioning whether they ever were family scrolls. Besides, he said, Torahs are owned by a community, not by a rabbi, a donor or anyone else.

“Sifrei Torah are not like money to change hands — with Sifrei Torah you have to know where they are going,” said Ohana, standing near the tapestry-covered central bima where the Torahs are read every Shabbat in his Sephardic Orthodox synagogue. About 30 people attend weekly services at the small Burbank Boulevard storefront, which is wedged in a shallow strip mall next to a doughnut shop and legal services office. Ohana, 73, is not paid for his work.

A Right to Appeal?

The four scrolls, hand-inked on vellum — one of which is pasul, or unkosher for use — are valued at around $100,000, but both parties say it is not a matter of money.

Pauker’s attorney says the beit din’s decision is legally binding, and the arbitration agreement leaves no room for appeal, either to a rabbinic court or a secular court.

Sobel argues that the language in the beit din contract does not preclude an appeal and that appeals are an inherent component of Jewish law, dating back to Moses’ legal system of higher and lower courts in the desert.

Jewish legal scholars, however, say that system was abandoned two millennia ago with the Temple’s destruction. Since then, no beit din has jurisdiction over another beit din’s ruling.

“There is no appeals process in Jewish law,” said Rabbi Michael Broyde, academic director of the law and religion program at Emory University and a judge on the Beth Din of America. Individual batei din can include within their procedures systems for appeal, he says, but absent that, there is no presumption of a right to appeal.

Rabbi Avrohom Union, executive director of the RCC beit din, confirms that the only appeal it allows is to ask the RCC itself to reconsider — which Sobel did and the RCC declined. Union and the other rabbis involved declined further comment on the unresolved case.

In addition, Broyde — who has no knowledge of this case but was commenting on legal and halachic procedures in general — said appeal is very rarely an option in American law for decisions rendered in binding arbitration.

Broyde says secular courts annul arbitration only when gross misconduct is involved — bribery, blatant bias or if the arbitrator is closely related to a litigant. In addition, a secular court cannot determine whether a Jewish court violated Jewish law and procedure, which is what Sobel claims in his brief.

Sobel is pushing forward, saying the beit din ignored crucial evidence and that beit din judge Rabbi Nachum Sauer, one of the top Orthodox decisors in Los Angeles, should have recused himself from the case because he was quoted in a 2007 Daily News article about the dispute — an article Ohana says he didn’t know about.

Cohen counters that the article was attached to a brief Cohen sent to Ohana two weeks before the case went to the beit din. By signing the arbitration agreement, Cohen says, Ohana agreed to Sauer’s participation.

Whose Torahs Are They?

The beit din’s terse decision in favor of Pauker does not elucidate how it arrived at its conclusions. The hearing was not recorded, but interviews with Pauker, Ohana, their attorneys and other parties paint a picture of the case and its history.

The late Rabbi Pauker, who was previously a rabbi in Brooklyn and at Temple Judea in Los Angeles, purchased a shul from Rabbi Max Leader, opening Valley Congregation Mishkan Israel around 1975. The Orthodox congregation had a small Shabbat minyan — about 40 or so regulars — in a rented location in North Hollywood. Pauker’s High Holy Days services attracted about 400 people and were held at the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center until he retired in 1996.

Rabbi Pauker’s Sherman Oaks accountant, Stuart Zimmerman, said that the rabbi had an arrangement where any revenue that came in would go to run the shul and the remainder would be his salary. Pauker brought four Torah scrolls to the congregation.

Rita Pauker says the scrolls had been donated by the rabbi’s father to a synagogue in the Bronx, and when the neighborhood changed and the shul closed, the Torahs went to the son. Zimmerman said he had the same recollection for the origin of some, if not all, of the scrolls.

Ohana, who appeared before the beit din without an attorney, argued that at least some of the Torahs did not come from the Bronx. He showed the beit din photos of the wooden staves upon which the Torah is rolled. A Hebrew calligraphied inscription encircles one handle, saying the Torah was dedicated in Los Angeles in the 1950s by the Bender family in memory of their daughter.

Ohana and his attorney believe the case can set a dangerous precedent about the ownership of Torah scrolls, which they say are not owned by a rabbi but by a community.

“The rabbi is questioning whether he has the right to turn them over to Mrs. Pauker,” Sobel said. “He represents the community, and he believes the community owns the Sifrei Torah.”

‘Shul for Sale’

When Pauker was ready to retire in the mid-1990s, he tried to sell the congregation — the name, the membership list, some assets — but didn’t find a buyer. Ohana, who worked in business at the time, co-led High Holy Days services with Pauker in 1994, and in 1995 he took over the services, at the same time he ran a Sephardic minyan in another room he rented at the Jewish center. That arrangement fizzled by the next year, because Ohana wanted only separate gender seating, and Pauker had allowed both separate and mixed seating.

The nature of the relationship between Ohana and Rabbi Pauker is unclear. Ohana claims to have been a member of Pauker’s shul and to have served as an unpaid assistant rabbi there for 25 years, stepping in when Pauker was away or ill.

But Rita Pauker says Ohana was never an assistant rabbi and didn’t regularly attend Mishkan Israel. She says the two were professional acquaintances.

“So help me God, this man had nothing to do with our synagogue,” Pauker said.

Two people who were members of Mishkan Israel starting in the mid-1980s — one of them the High Holy Days cantor, who worked closely with Rabbi Pauker — confirmed Rita Pauker’s account, saying Ohana neither attended nor led the shul.

Pauker says that Ohana also missed her husband’s funeral, at which he was supposed to play a role. At the beit din hearing, Ohana said he would have given the Torahs back to Rabbi Pauker, because he was a mensch, but not to Rita Pauker, according to Cohen’s brief. Ohana later said he meant that if Rabbi Pauker had asked for the Torah scrolls to use for his own services, he would surely have complied.

A hard-to-decipher document handwritten by Rabbi Pauker from around 1994 (it is not dated) is headed, “Shul for Sale,” and has the name “Rabbi Gabbai” on the top. It lists the assets of Pauker’s shul, and on one page says, “Torahs for two years 1995 & 1996, insured by Samuel Ohana.” The document has on it Ohana’s signature.

Rita Pauker says this means the Torahs were on loan for two years.

Ohana says the document was Pauker’s personal memo. He says the only agreement he made about the Torahs was to insure them through his business for the two years while he led Pauker’s services at the Jewish center. He claims his signature was pasted onto Pauker’s memo from the one he signed regarding the insurance.

Unable to sell his congregation, Pauker gave Ohana all of his prayer books, his prayer shawls and some furniture. Ohana opened his congregation in July 1997, and he called it Beth Midrash Mishkan Israel in honor of Rabbi Pauker, he says. But the two shuls did not merge, nor was Mishkan Israel turned over to Ohana. Valley Congregation Mishkan Israel is still listed with the IRS as a nonprofit institution.

Ohana says the Torahs went back to Pauker’s garage — after the two years they were used at the Jewish center — until 1998, when Pauker asked Ohana to take them, because, Ohana says, Pauker told him he felt guilty “they were collecting dust” in his garage.

Rita Pauker says Ohana had the Torahs the whole time.

A Decision, Spurned

Soon after Pauker died in 2002, his widow asked Ohana for the Torahs — a development Ohana says surprised him. Pauker says Ohana kept assuring her he would give the Torahs back — he made arrangements then canceled them, told her he was going to Israel to get other Torahs, set deadlines then let them pass. At one point, she says, Ohana offered to give her a monthly stipend in exchange for the Torahs, which she refused.

Pauker tried reporting Ohana to the police, who advised her to get an attorney to pursue it as a civil matter. Pauker sought assistance from attorney Jeffrey Bohrer, one of Mishkan Israel’s members, who helped her but was reluctant to go to court, since it was a matter suited for a beit din.

Last June, Pauker retained Cohen, who has experience before both civil and religious courts.

In June 2008, Rabbis Sauer, Union and Gershon Bess heard the case.

Both parties signed a contract agreeing to abide by the outcome of the binding arbitration. On Jan. 19, the rabbis issued their ruling: Ohana was to return the Torahs to Pauker within 30 days.

Soon after, Ohana retained Sobel. Sobel and Cohen exchanged and rejected settlement offers and several sharply worded letters. Sobel helped Ohana draft a letter to the assistant to the chief rabbi in Israel, asking for an appeal on the matter, based in part on Sauer’s alleged bias (the appeal does not mention that Ohana also claims that Sauer offered him a verbal opinion on the matter, allegedly saying the scrolls were Ohana’s).

The appeal, written in Hebrew, enumerates allegations of how the RCC beit din ignored crucial evidence — the donor’s inscription indicating the Torah’s Los Angeles origins, the allegedly tampered documents and the fact that Ohana’s shul is a successor to Pauker’s and entitled to its assets. Ohana also claims that because he used the Torahs for so long, he holds a chazakah — a halachic concept that gives default ownership to one who has retained possession of a disputed object for a length of time.

Legal scholar Broyde says that the concept of chazakah does not apply here — long-term use does not transfer ownership for a borrowed item.

But whether or when the Jerusalem court will hear these arguments — and if it does, whether its jurisdiction will be recognized — remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, as the attorneys fight this out in court, both Ohana and Pauker are suffering the emotional consequences.

“It’s been hammered out; it’s been dealt with for six months,” Pauker said in exasperation. “This man is a fiction writer — he has no side. He really doesn’t. I have nothing to gain from this — nothing to gain, except stopping a robbery.”

And Ohana says he would rather be tending to his congregation, or to his own bet din, where he deals with conversions and other issues. “I take care of weddings and funerals — that should be my devotion,” Ohana said. “Why are they coming with this? Why does it bother her to have these [Torahs] in my congregation?” l

Teriton tenants win battle to stay in historic apartment complex


After a three-year battle with alleged religious nonprofit Or Khaim Hashalom, tenants of the historic 28-unit Teriton Apartments in Santa Monica have won the right to remain in or return to their apartments for up to seven years under their former rent-controlled leases, according to a settlement made public Dec. 4. Jurisdiction will be returned to the Santa Monica Rent Control Board.

Tenants have also received monetary restitution from Or Khaim Hashalom, negotiated individually and confidentially. Additionally, the nonprofit must adopt a comprehensive, written fair-housing policy and provide training for property managers. In addition, its IRS status, donations and applications and rental agreements must be monitored for three years by the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office.

“This is really a wonderful outcome,” said Dan Zaidman, whose mother, Nathalie, 93, has lived in the complex for 40 years and has become both physically and mentally impaired. “To move her right now would have been very traumatic.”

Approximately 10 of the tenants affected by the ruling, including Zaidman, are currently living at the Teriton. Another, Kaveh Zal, has returned to the building.

The controversy began in November 2005, when owners Rouhollah Esmailzadeh and others, who had purchased the building in April 2005 for an estimated $10.5 million, obtained a demolition permit. The action triggered a routine review by the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission of the three-story garden apartment building designed by architect Sanford Kent in 1949, which sits on almost an acre at 130-142 San Vicente Blvd.

The following April, in a scheme Santa Monica Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades described as “odd, complicated and, hopefully, one of a kind,” tenants received notice that religious nonprofit Or Khaim Hashalom, which had incorporated only three months earlier, had purchased the building.

The organization, under spiritual head Rabbi Hertzl Illulian, sought to evict the tenants, demolish the building and build up to 40 luxury condominiums, as well as provide housing for Jewish refugees from the Middle East.

Multiple hearings and lawsuits ensued, with the tenants claiming that the mission of the nonprofit violated their civil rights according to 42:405 of the Fair Housing Act. They were represented by attorney Christopher Brainard.

The Santa Monica city attorney’s consumer protection unit concurrently filed a lawsuit against Or Khaim Hashalom; its legal representative, attorney Rosario Perry; and others for alleged discriminatory practices, including “terminating their tenancies because of their race, religion and national origin.”

Meanwhile, the Teriton was unanimously declared a historic landmark by the Landmarks Commission on Nov. 13, 2006. That decision was upheld by the Santa Monica City Council on June 12, 2007, when the council rejected an appeal by Or Khaim Hashalom, claiming it was exempt from landmarking under California Government Code Section 3736(c), which allows an organization to alter or destroy historical buildings under certain conditions, including economic hardship or hindrance of religious mission.

Eventually, after Or Khaim Hashalom failed to have the discrimination lawsuits dismissed, a series of negotiations with parties from both cases followed, with retired Judge Robert Altman mediating.

Separately, Or Khaim Hashalom filed suit against the city of Santa Monica, challenging the City Council’s designation of the Teriton Apartments as a historic landmark. On Oct. 15, 2008, Judge James C. Chalfont denied that claim.

Or Khaim Hashalom has appealed the judgment, with a ruling expected in about a year, according to the group’s legal representative, Perry, who also serves as secretary of its board of directors. Tenants’ attorney Brainard believes the designation will not be overturned.

The building was put up for sale on Nov. 15, 2008, at an undisclosed price. Any potential buyer would be obligated to honor the terms of the settlement, according to Brainard.

Or Khaim Hashalom’s Rabbi Illulian remains optimistic. “We lost a lot of money, a lot of time, energy and hopes, but we don’t give up,” he said.



For previous stories on the Teriton:

Teriton ‘landmark’ status upheld but residents still face eviction

Santa Monica apartment building at center of battle receives ‘landmark’ status

Fate of Santa Monica apartment building embroils rabbi and residents in legal battle



Conservative Supreme Court rulings vex Jewish advocacy groups


Following a string of conservative rulings in the closing weeks of this year’s Supreme Court session, some Jewish officials are suggesting that they may be forced to abandon their decades-long strategy of relying on the courts to protect liberal gains on a host of issues.

For decades, many Jewish groups counted on the top court to correct what they saw as the excesses of legislatures and chief executives across the country. But with the close of the court’s first full term with two recent conservative arrivals, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, Jewish groups say the situation has reversed itself.

Not only has the Supreme Court thoroughly abandoned a decades-old tradition of upholding the liberal gains of the 1950s and 1960s, it has become the premier bulwark of conservatism now that Democrats have retaken Congress and the White House is weakened to the point of impotency.

“To put it in historical perspective, we were quite sanguine when cases would come up, with the sense we would get a decision in our favor,” said Jeff Sinensky, legal counsel to the American Jewish Committee. “Looking forward, it’s likely that the majority, now headed by Justice John Roberts and with Justice Samuel Alito coming on the court, have a fundamentally different perspective than the Jewish community.”

Sinensky and others cite four decisions that have especially roiled the community over the last year since Alito replaced Sandra Day O’Connor, who carefully hewed to the center, as the court’s swing vote on several hot-button issues:

  • The court ruled in April that a ban on late-term abortions did not violate a woman’s right to privacy, rolling back in part the gains of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
  • In May, the court imposed a tough 180-day limitation on an employee’s right to claim pay discrimination.
  • Last month, a 5-4 majority of the justices ordered school districts in Seattle and Louisville, Ky. to end voluntary busing programs that sought to integrate schools that had become segregated through demographic trends.
  • Also last month, the court ruled that taxpayers have no standing to stop the executive branch from spending federal funds on faith-based programs, a decision that would hamper efforts by Jewish groups to wage legal challenges on such matters.

Not every Jewish group was unhappy with those decisions. Two Orthodox groups, the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, praised the ruling on faith-based programs. In fact, Agudath argued that it didn’t go far enough, saying it should have eliminated challenges to congressionally mandated religious spending as well.

“There’s not a whole lot of logic for the distinction between executive branch decisions and congressional decisions,” said David Zweibel, Agudath’s general counsel.

Agudath also praised the abortion decision, but Zweibel stressed that the Orthodox community was not necessarily embracing a more conservative court. He noted that Orthodox lawyers in the past had been on the “liberal” side of arguments, for instance in expanding laws combating discrimination.

“To say we’re conservative or liberal is wrong,” Zweibel said.

For most of the Jewish communal stalwarts on jurisprudence, “disappointment” was the term that kept cropping up to describe the recently completed Supreme Court term.

“We were 0-for-3 this term,” said Michael Lieberman, the Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), referring to the ADL’s three friend-of-the-court briefs: the abortion case, the taxpayer case and the desegregation case.

According to Lieberman, the significance of the cases ran deeper than the losses. In each of the three cases he cited, the Supreme Court had gone out of its way to reverse lower court rulings.

“It’s really going to be important going forward to pick our forums,” Lieberman said. “The court system may not be the best way to vindicate rights going forward.”

That prospect, of an activist conservative court seeking to correct what it perceives to be a liberal taint on jurisprudence, led other Jewish groups to the same conclusion.

“There’s a concern about finding the right cases to bring to the court,” said Mark Pelavin, the associate director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. He cited the faith-based funding case, Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation.

“The Hein case is a great example of how a case is not necessarily one that the litigators would have chosen as the first case on the president’s faith-based initiative,” Pelavin said.

Jewish groups signed on as friends of the court in the case because of the potential that the justices would overturn precedent, Lieberman said, but generally believed the case was not worth the risk — a sense vindicated by the court’s finding. As a result of the decision, Lieberman said, only those people directly affected by funding for faith groups could challenge the law.

“What you’re asking for is someone who is among the least, the lost, someone with an alcohol addiction, a drug addition, someone who has no job, to come forward,” he said. “It’s so unlikely that someone falling through the safety net is going to say, ‘I need that methadone treatment program, but I resent saying a prayer for it.'”

Another strategy is to advocate for legislation on the local, state and federal levels tailored to circumvent the court’s reasoning. “It may be that a local ordinance is the next way to protect the workplace,” Lieberman said. “It may be state law, it may be Congress or the executive branch.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a Jewish liberal who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, said he expects to take a legislative-based approach to dealing with the court’s ruling that employees seeking to file lawsuits charging discrimination in pay, must do so with the 180-day period.

“Congress must make its intent clear: Anti-discrimination laws must be strengthened — not weakened,” said Nadler, the chairman of the civil liberties subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives, in introducing legislation last week that would expand the 180-day limit.

Sammie Moshenberg, who directs the Washington office of the National Council of Jewish Women, said her organization’s strategy of directly opposing some judicial candidates has been vindicated.

Despite their concerns about the direction of the court, some other Jewish groups opted not to oppose President Bush’s judicial nominees, arguing that a president deserves leeway in placing his or her preferences on the court.

In 2001, according to Moshenberg, when NCJW first started opposing judicial nominees, “We said these people serve for a lifetime [and] make incredibly important decisions that affect us for the rest of our lives.'”

The federal bench and the Supreme Court, Moshenberg said, “have really been the backstop for our constitutional rights throughout history.”

Yoram Hassid: The Man in the Middle


Yoram Hassid
Barri Evins

Alex Baum

Betty Neymark

Eve Marcus

Fran Rosenfield

Marilyn Harran

Noah Bleich

Rebecca Levinson

Yehoram Uziel

Yoram Hassid

For the past 20 years, Yoram Hassid, a 60-something financially successful general contractor, has been quietly helping scores of local Jews — in particular Iranian Jews — avoid the courtrooms, acting as an unpaid mediator in disputes over everything from multimillion dollar real estate deals to challenging family conflicts.

“I’m not a storyteller, I’m only here to help solve people’s problems,” replies a humble Hassid when asked how many people he has aided or how much money he has had his clients donate to international Jewish charities in lieu of receiving fees for his services.

Hassid started as a mediator in the Iranian American Jewish Federation’s committee to help the community resolve business troubles outside of the court system, but now volunteers his mediation services alone. After the death of the committee’s chairman, Davood Ghodsian, Hassid and other committee volunteers a few years ago formed the Arbitration and Mediation Committee, an independent mediation group based in Beverly Hills.

Hassid said that he primarily handles cases of misunderstandings between the parties, rather than intentional fraud, because in the latter, one of the parties is unlikely to agree to attend mediation sessions.

“I’ve had success in resolving 80 percent of the cases that have come to me, where I was able to convince both parties to accept a mutual settlement,” Hassid said.

But he refuses to take all the credit for his successes, and he said local rabbis, community leaders and even attorneys have been instrumental in referring cases to him and providing support during mediation sessions.

“He knows the ‘bazaar mentality’ from Iran and is able to speak with people with that in mind,” said Noah P., an L.A. area real estate broker and former Hassid client, who did not want to give his name for business reasons.

“Getting the money was not important to me, but I will forever be grateful to him because of the fact that he voluntarily came forward to help me and spent a substantial amount of time on my case when others were not able to do so”.

“Mr. Hassid has been very instrumental in resolving several tough cases which others have not been able to conclude,” said Rabbi David Shofet of the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills. “His activities are a blessing for many who might otherwise land in the court system and we are grateful for his help.”

The American litigation process was initially an unfamiliar concept to Iranian Jews, who for centuries in Iran resolved business disputes with the aid of elders in their communities. In Iran, their cases were heard by community leaders, and all parties were persuaded to find a fair compromise, since Jews often did not have recourse of going to the country’s Muslim-dominated courts.

While Hassid has never had any formal legal education, four of his six children are now attorneys.

“The first thing he has is an incredible ability to go inside the heads of both the parties and understand their perspectives; this is not a gift that everyone has,” said Hassid’s daughter, Yifat, a Century City attorney. “He also has an uncanny ability to skip through all the great nonsense and force the parties to get to the heart of matter with the goal of finding a solution.”

The Arbitration and Mediation Committee can be reached at (310) 860-1826.

More Information on Getting That Visa


Visa Violations

The U.S. government estimates that about 40 percent of people who are in this country illegally arrived on a legal visa but lost their legal status either by overstaying or otherwise violating the terms of their visa. These are sometimes referred to as “nonimmigrant overstayers.”

Nonimmigrant overstayers include those who came here on a student visa (F-1 or M-1 visa, depending on the type of studies pursued) or their family’s visa (F-2 or M-2). Others come on a tourist visa (B-2) or temporary business visa (B-1).

Another visa commonly used by nonimmigrant overstayers is the H-series visa (H-1, H-2, etc.), which permits those with specialty occupations to enter the country, as well as their families, who enter with an H-4 visa. Another visa commonly used is the R-1, those permitted to enter the United States as “religious workers” and their spouses and children, who enter with an R-2 visa.

All of the above-cited visas are violated if the bearers remain in the United States in a different status from that stipulated in the visa, or if they stay beyond the valid period.

Aid for Those Who Overstay

There are a number of agencies that can help people who are here illegally and would like to talk with someone without fear of being arrested or deported.

Here is a partial list:

  • HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, offers a variety of services and acts as advocates for migrants’ rights. Their main office is in New York, 333 Seventh Ave., 16th floor, New York, NY 10001-5004. (212) 967-4100, (212) 613-1409 or (800) 442-714. www.hias.org.
  • In Southern California, Public Counsel has a program called Immigrants’ Rights Project, which offers a variety of services. Public Counsel, P.O. Box 76900, Los Angeles, CA 90076. (213) 385-2977. Their office is located at 610 Ardmore Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90005, and their phone number at that office is (213) 385-9089. They accept appointments only, no walk-ins. www.publiccounsel.org.
  • Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) offers a variety of services. They are located at 5228 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90022. For more information, call (213) 640-3883 or visit www.lafla.org.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union also offers aid at 1616 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026. (213) 977-9500. www.aclu-sc.org

There are also many private attorneys and legal firms that offer services to those in this situation. L.A. newspapers in Spanish, Hebrew, Russian and other languages all have ads for immigration attorneys who are experienced in dealing with cases involving nonimmigrant overstayers and other immigrant issues.

The Circuit


 

By Michael Aushenker

“Mr. Rickles, I’m with the Jewish Journal.”

“That’s your problem.”

So went my exchange with “Mr. Warmth” — comedianDon Rickles — at the Century Plaza Hotel.

With wife Barbara by his side, the legendaryRickles was on hand to pay tribute to an icon in another field –longtime friend and Loeb & Loeb attorney Harvey L. Silbert. Alongwith California Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk, Silbert was theguest of honor of the 50th Annual Legal Services Dinner.

Sponsored by the Jewish Federation’s LegalServices Division, the gala banquet attracted many of the city’spracticing elite. But anyone expecting a roomful of rowdy, rivallegal eagles pounding drinks like gavels may have been disappointedat the level of camaraderie and respect circulating the pre-banquetcocktail reception. As Chair Bradley Pizer put it, the benefit dinneris “a crucial part of our campaign to broaden participation among thelegal community, especially the next generation of Jewishleaders.”

Chair Andrew Caine echoed Pizer’s sentiments,labeling the event a bridge between the young and old guard, an ideathat wasn’t lost on the thirtysomething advocates inattendance.

“The Legal Services Division creates an instantunderstanding and familiarity with other young lawyers,” saidattorney Barak Lurie, of Danning, Gill, Diamond & Kollitz. “I cantalk shop. I feel so strongly connected to the Jewishcommunity…while at the same time enjoying my profession. Itenriches my Jewish background.”

“I work six days a week. I would not have theopportunity to meet other attorneys in the community [were it not forfunctions like these],” said fellow UCLA law grad David B.Felsenthal.

Jeffrey A. Kaye, who practices corporate law withSheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, declared the dinner “aworthy, important event, drawing from the incredible pool the Jewishcommunity has to offer.” Intellectual-property specialist DavidBen-Meir agreed. This evening was a rare chance for the Lyon &Lyon attorney to catch up with peers such as Kaye.

The opinion from the senior set seemed inaccordance with their youthful protégés. Donald Etra,prominent criminal defense attorney and former Legal ServicesDivision chair, praised the wonderful turnout, deeming the annualevent “always a wonderful night for the Jewish and legal communityalike.”

Following the reception, guests packed the banquethall, where a roast beef brisket buffet and a night of networkingawaited those in attendance.

Onstage, Justice Mosk exacted wry comic commentaryas he traced back the history of Jews in the United States judiciary.And former Legal Services Division chair Stanley Gage brought themeaning of tzedakah home with vivid examples of disadvantaged peoplebenefited by the Federation’s work: the “bubbe from Moscow” who foundherself stripped of her job and home; the young barrister who losthis license because of drug addiction, and turned to the UnitedJewish Fund to help him find rehabilitation through Torah teachings;the large numbers living well below poverty level all over the world.Gage urged his audience to contribute generously and help theorganization reach its $50 million goal.

Poignant pleas notwithstanding, it was Don Rickleswho shined the brightest, working the room like it was the Sands.Nothing was sacred, as Rickles opened with a deadpan “Shalom…thisis the highlight of my career.” The veteran comedian went on to roastthe honorees and comically assault every institution in sight.

Regarding the evening:

“What a great night. I could have been in amillion other places.”

Regarding the roomful of lawyers:

“I look around, and I see no one here who’s biggerthan I am!”

On the topic of Israel:

“The last time we [visited], we played a gamecalled “Duck!”

In reference to Mount Sinai:

“My mom’s name is up there. My name’s up therewith pride. And Alan King’s name is up there, which really upsetsme.”

On his Orthodox upbringing in Jackson Heights,Long Island:

“We used to hang out in front of White Castle andbelch at the cantor as he sang, ‘Yom Kipuuuuuur!'”

Despite all the jesting, Rickles revealed asincere side, articulating his pride to be a Jew and a supporter ofthe Federation. And he demonstrated his respect for Silbert, who hashelped Rickles and his wife immeasurably over the years. Ricklesproved a tough act to follow for the satirical political quartet TheForeman, who closed the event with their topical ditties.


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