Performers Go It Alone and Like It That Way
Jewish Groups Take Pro-Immigrant Stand
You didn’t see many Jews amid the sea of Mexican and American flags during the recent pro-immigrant rallies that filled city streets, but Jews and Jewish groups, in largely liberal Los Angeles, have been advocating on behalf of immigrants, mostly outside the view of television cameras.
Among local Jewish organizations, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been leading the way: Its regional branch has been developing and disseminating a pro-immigrant resolution for roughly six months. The resulting declaration, recently approved by the Pacific Southwest Region of the ADL, calls for humane treatment of illegal immigrants, while also accepting the need for “security precautions … necessary to protect the integrity of the United States border and the well-being of the American people.”
Sixteen local civil rights organizations and the Catholic church have signed on to the declaration, said Amanda Susskind, regional director of ADL. The declaration has been forwarded to L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, with the hope that the City Council, too, will endorse the nonbinding resolution. Signatories hope the declaration will work its way to other cities and to the state Legislature as well.
The ADL declaration is intentionally short on specifics. It does not get into details about the number of years or days per year an undocumented immigrant should work to get resident status or whether or not illegal immigrants should be required to learn English or submit to a criminal background check. Instead, the declaration condemns in broad terms “xenophobia and anti-immigrant bias as having no place in United States’ immigration policy” and also proposes the monitoring of extremist groups.
Other local Jewish organizations also have taken a pro-immigration stance, including the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA). Two rabbis affiliated with the organization were part of a delegation of clergy who recently spoke to congressmen in Washington to “present a moral agenda,” PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch said.
A signatory to the ADL declaration, the alliance “takes the position further,” said Sokatch, urging community leaders “to take a stand substantially similar to Cardinal [Roger] Mahony’s.”
Mahony has spoken out adamantly against House and Senate bills that would define illegal immigration as a felony and would also criminalize the actions of those organizations and people who help these immigrants.
Sokatch says that the PJA would advocate civil disobedience against such provisions, which are part of legislation proposed by Wisconsin Representative James Sensenbrenner and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).
“Any law that would cater to the worst, xenophobic elements,” Sokatch saus, “would require us to civilly disobey the law.”
Sokatch said that he did not attend the March 25 “Gran Marcha” because it was Shabbat, but he and his two daughters did attend another rally at UCLA, which included many non-Latinos, some Jews presumably among them.
The local branch of the American Jewish Congress also signed the ADL declaration. The national organization was expected to consider its own resolution on immigration at its national board meeting this week. Executive Director Neil Goldstein said that his organization is “strongly in favor of border controls,” but prefers the more pro-immigrant approach of legislation developed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“The historic position of Jews is that we are an immigrant people,” Goldstein says. “We support the idea of immigrants coming to America balanced with respect for the law and our border.”
Another local signatory to the ADL declaration is the legal aid group Bet Tzedek, which represents Latino immigrants through its employment-rights project. The organization aims to prevent discrimination against immigrants “whether they’re documented or not,” Bet Tzedek Executive Director Mitchell Kamin said.
An individual on the frontlines of a walkout was teacher Steve Zimmer, who runs intervention programs at Marshall High School. Zimmer, who is Jewish, marched with students to act as a “buffer” between the police and students. At the beginning of the day, he had no idea that he would end up walking with the students all the way from Silver Lake to City Hall, adding that he wore “wing tips much to my chagrin.”
Once the Marshall marchers, the vast majority of them Latino, reached the crest on Spring Street, they saw thousands of other students — estimates put the total at 40,000 — some from as far away as the San Gabriel Valley. Zimmer characterized the moment when his students spotted their peers as “jubilant.” Zimmer, who knows City Council President Garcetti, prevailed upon Garcetti to talk to the teens. Later, as widely reported, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke to them as well.
The leadership of United Teachers Los Angeles, the L.A. Unified teachers union, has passed a motion calling on teachers to have conversations with their students on immigration and to support students’ constitutional rights. The motion was proposed by Andy Griggs, who is Jewish, and it passed overwhelmingly, UTLA Treasurer David Goldberg said.
“We want to make sure students are safe and don’t get beat up,” Goldberg said.
Jeremy Forman, son of Lori and Scott Forman
Cartoon Riots Spark Sweet Backlash
In the wake of a Danish newspaper’s decision to publish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, Danish flags and embassies are beset by violent protesters in heavily Muslim countries. But a chocolate store in the windmill-filled, Danish American tourist village of Solvang has enjoyed a small spike in its mail-order business.
And it’s not just because of Valentine’s Day, though that always helps, said chocolatemaker Bent Pedersen.
“One comment was that they were buying in support of Denmark,” said Pedersen, who owns Ingeborg’s World Famous Danish Chocolates, which does a brisk business online from its Copenhagen Drive store.
Pedersen said that since anti-Danish rioting began, several people have called in long-distance orders and mentioned their desire to “buy Danish.” Consumers in heavily Muslim countries, in contrast, are boycotting Danish products, reportedly costing Danish business up to $1 million a day. In response, European and American free-speech supporters have been advocating a less well-known “Buy Danish” campaign.
Local law enforcement has, in recent days, become more focused on Solvang, which lies about 4 miles west of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, in case it should become a target. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department issued an advisory about the rioting overseas to deputies on patrol.
“We’re on a heightened state of awareness, but we’re not on tactical alert,” said sheriff’s Lt. Phil Willis, Solvang station commander.
The only possible local targeting of Danish interests appears to be online. Before the anti-cartoon protests began, Denmark’s L.A. consulate, along with Danish embassies and consulates worldwide, received thousands of e-mails about the cartoons, overloading the Danish Foreign Ministry’s Internet systems.
“They were of just a magnitude that did create some problems in our e-mails,” said a diplomat at Denmark’s embassy in Washington, D.C. “We got several thousand of them. They were not hostile necessarily. Some of them, the ones that we could identify as being from the U.S., were sort of 50/50.”
A Northridge-based Danish American newspaper has no plans to reprint the cartoons that originally were published last fall. “We don’t need all that controversy,” said Gert Madsen, editor-in-chief of the national weekly Bien.
Pedersen in Solvang appreciated the handful of pro-Danish chocolate orders, which ran about $50 each, but thought it odd to get phone requests all the way from Maryland.
“It still was strange,” Pedersen said of one of the Danish chocolate lovers. “I don’t know how he found us.”
Wandering Jew – A Relief to Laugh
Art Exhibit Links Trojans, Bruins
Divided between the USC and UCLA campuses, the latest art exhibition by the Jewish Artist Initiative (JAI), titled, “Makor/Source,” taps into the wellspring of Jewish life.
How fitting that Ruth Weisberg, USC dean of fine arts, would include her water-themed, mixed-media drawing, “Bound for Nowhere.” As a succession of hunched-over immigrant Jews board a boat headed back to Europe, the vessel, with its portholes and cables strewn like seaweed, appears to be a submarine. It is as if these passengers, who carry their belongings, ascend a gangway into an underwater graveyard.
Alternately, Weisberg, whose drawing features a muted brown or ocher color scheme, suggests that the immigrants may be “undergoing a sea change,” a salutary transmutation as they board the ship. She notes that the Jews in the drawing, though denied a visa to Palestine, ultimately may have been admitted to Israel after the country’s founding, the makor or source of a whole new chapter in the history of the Jewish people.
Barbara Drucker, UCLA art department chair, also contributed a work to the show, “Breadbox Stack No. 1,” in which seven bread boxes are tiered into a ramshackle, yet sturdy, tower. Is it a Tower of Babel surging at peril toward the heavens? Or is it, as Drucker proposes, an image both of life, as symbolized by the bread, and death, since modern-day Greeks use such boxes to store bones?
Drucker works from instinct. She did not set out to create something with a Jewish theme, but the bread boxes date from the 1920s and ’30s and recall the heyday of immigrant and first-generation Jews living in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights and the Lower East Side, yet another seminal moment in Jewish history.
JAI, which Weisberg calls the “brainchild” of the Jewish Community Foundation and USC’s Casden Institute, was formed, she said, to “act as a galvanizing force” for bringing Jewish culture to the community.
“Makor/Source” marks the first time that the Hillels of the two universities have collaborated on an exhibition. Roughly 20 local artists submitted works to the show, including collages, paintings and photographs.
Because the exhibition is based on a study of Jewish text, one of the most salient pieces is Joyce Dallal’s “Promises Made in a Language I Don’t Understand,” an ink-jet print of pieces of paper bunched into a ball. The image of crumpled paper might or might not refer to the Hebrew Bible. It’s hard to say, so indecipherable are the runes, yet the scraps, involuted as they are, do resemble a Torah being unscrolled.
Even if Hebrew, like all Indo-European tongues, comes from an original source, the endless permutations can create language barriers that are palpable, if less severe to the artist than humanity’s failings or God’s.
“Makor/Source” is at USC Hillel, 3300 S. Hoover St., (213) 747-9135, ext. 14. Opening reception is Sunday, Jan. 22, 3-5 p.m. “Makor/Source” is also at UCLA Hillel, 574 Hilgard Ave., (310) 208-3081. Both exhibits run through March 3.
7 Days in The Arts
Singles – Out of the Wilderness
Generally speaking, Ventura County is a lovely place. It has beautiful weather, decent air quality, low crime and renowned surfing spots.
It’s a nice place to look for antiques or raise a family.
It’s not so hot for Jewish singles.
I found myself moving there in 2002 for professional reasons related to my career as an editorial cartoonist.
To put it another way: There are more jobs playing pro football in the NFL than there are jobs in my field. And given that I’m lousy at football, I seized an opportunity to combine graphics and cartooning at the Ventura County Star in Ventura. I picked Camarillo as a compromise residence: close enough to commute; a tad closer to Los Angeles.
I soon learned that the heart of Ventura County — Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura — is nothing like Los Angeles, and does not really associate itself with Southern California. Local radio ads promote their locations on the “Central Coast” or in the “Tri-Counties.” Huh?
(A hint: Los Angeles is not one of the three.)
There’s no Jewish Community Center, no Judaica stores and only one sort of “real” deli, though it would never be confused with Art’s. The Jewish Journal doesn’t even distribute here.
Venturing into the local Jewish singles world, I learned … well, that there wasn’t one. No Israeli folkdance, no SpeedDating, no singles groups. Even basic aspects of dating Jews seemed challenging.
I discovered that the Conejo Grade — that long, engine-straining climb between the 23 Freeway and the Camarillo outlet mall — was more like the Berlin Wall for dating. East of it, Thousand Oaks (part of Ventura County) was still extended suburbia, still part of Los Angeles’ Jewish Federation. A few MTA buses go there, and its ZIP codes begin with “913” — almost like the Valley.
But down the hill on the other side, it’s a different story. Ventura’s Jewish Federation is tiny. The buses all seem to go to Santa Barbara; ZIP codes begin with “930,” and agricultural fields abound.
The handful of synagogues seem mostly full of soccer moms or older retirees, with almost nothing in between. But while my 30-to 50-mile treks to the Valley or Los Angeles for singles events led me to eligible women, they also led to the ultimate slam: geographic undesirability. As in: “Whoa, you’re way too far away. Sorry.”
In the play “Jewtopia” is a scene where one guy encourages his friend to expand his JDate searches beyond area codes 310 and 818 to include area code 805, eliciting a scream, “No way! I am not going to Thousand Oaks!”
I laughed, but thought, “And that’s merely the near side of Ventura County!”
My own JDate searches weren’t dissimilar. I was too far away to be worthwhile for any “818-er,” and there were few compatible “805-ers.”
A Ventura County Jewish Singles group bravely took life, but died after several months, caught between low turnout and a lack of volunteers. In this group, as well as with a small Santa Barbara one, it felt as though the same people came to every event.
But now, things have changed for me. One JDater has worked out, wonderfully, all the way to the altar. Even so, Roberta and I have just moved eastward, to Westlake Village (straddling the Ventura-L.A. County line), a move made possible by the upcoming relocation of my office.
And suddenly, a haimish world of possibilities has opened up. There’s Roxy’s Famous Deli to the west and Agoura Deli to the east. Not only is there a Gelson’s, but they actually carry The Jewish Journal, as does Whole Foods (neither of which exist on the flats of the Oxnard Plain). You can actually find Chanukah candles! They’ve heard of hamantaschen. There are homes nearby with mezuzahs. And the shlep to my family in the Valley or to my preferred shul, Makom Ohr Shalom in Encino, finally has become reasonable.
At the closing of escrow on the townhouse we’d just bought, the seller’s agent revealed a secret he’d been waiting to share, spoken in reverent tones: a new branch of Brent’s Deli will open soon … right here in Westlake Village!
OK. I guess I’m a lousy pioneer. I failed to conquer new territory for Jewish singles. I gave up on the outer boonies — though I’m sure those climes make for lovely homes for many Jewish families.
For that matter, I’ve given up on singlehood, too.
At last, the years of wandering in the wilderness, geographically and dating-wise, are over. I’ve made it to the Promised Land. And I’m not just talking about a good pastrami on rye.
Steve Greenberg contributes editorial cartoons, art and occasional writing to The Journal. His email address is email@example.com.
Jennifer Shulman and Elliot Samson
Zagat for Dating
“Where do you want to meet?” I ask my blind date on the phone for our last-minute get-together. I find it’s best to set up these things in haste, on the fly, soon after a phone call, so expectations are kept to the barest minimum. (And yet, somehow, no matter how low hopes seem to be, disappointment always seems possible.)
“How about the Coffee Bean on Wilshire?” he says. It’s a nice place, actually, for a Coffee Bean. With a fire pit outside and the cool ocean air wafting in from the water a dozen blocks away, it’s reminiscent of a perpetual fall night with chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But suddenly an image of my last date there pops into my mind. He was a very confident (read: obnoxious) Israeli, who confused our heated political debate for passion rather than loathing.
“You must like me,” the Israeli said after a time.
“Why’s that?” I wondered aloud, because I certainly did not.
“Because you’re still sitting here,” he concluded.
In his estimation, because the date had lasted longer than an hour, and I hadn’t fled like other women before me, I was smitten. So when he persisted in talking about politics despite my attempts to steer the conversation somewhere less conflicted, I considered throwing him in the fire pit next to us, but decided I’d not be able to lift his 200-pound frame. So I got up to leave.
“You said I could,” I explained over my shoulder on my way out.
So I tell my soon-to-be date, “Let’s not go to the Coffee Bean.”
When it comes to dating, much has been written about territorial acquisitions: How you should never date someone in your neighborhood because who will acquire the local hangouts after the breakup. (My last boyfriend was from the east side — way east — and when I saw him after the breakup at the Sunday Santa Monica market I wanted to shout, “Mine! This is my neighborhood! My territory! My settlement in the breakup proceedings!”)
Here in Los Angeles, our services are more important than our dates. (I learned this the hard way by dating my mechanic’s assistant — a budding screenwriter — and soon had to find a new mechanic. Not worth it.)
Maybe it sounds silly, but consider this: I am a woman who left New York City — a giant metropolis of millions of people and millions of square miles — just because it reminded me too much of my ex-boyfriend: That street in Times Square where he first surprised me and kissed me; that restaurant on 14th Street where he told me he needed some space; the green chess bench on the Lower East Side where he kissed me one last time and told me he wanted me back; that club on the Upper West Side, where, years later, after a broken engagement (his), he drunkenly confessed he still loved me; that cafe in the Village the next day where he denied it all and blamed it on the wine. In the end, it had seemed like the whole city was a backdrop — scenery created solely for our relationship — so when that was over, I fled. I just couldn’t bear it.
One of the beauties of Los Angeles is that it’s so big. (Come to think of it, I’ve almost never run into a former date here; I wonder if they were just imported here for that one evening with me…?) I don’t feel in danger of this city being ruined for me because of a relationship. But dating, that’s a different story. Do I really want to slowly but surely taint every restaurant and cafe in the city with a scene from my one-hit-wonders?
There are alternate strategies: You can inundate a place with so many dates that a particular bad one no longer stands out. Still, I can’t go to Casa Del Mar for a drink now because the ghosts of Dubious Gay Guy, Argumentative Man, This Was a Bad Idea Man and many more haunt the cavernous, beautiful room.
I’m not so cynical to say that all places are tainted by bad dates. Great dates can take a place out of the running, too: That awesome night at Canter’s where he and I stayed up till 3, 4, 5 a.m.? Who knows. I fell in love, I think, somewhere between the coleslaw and the kasha varnishkes, or maybe laughing at the ancient, bored waitress or out in the parking lot in front of a mural depicting the history of Jewish Los Angeles. I can’t go to Canter’s on a date anymore — or any of the other places I’ve left pieces of my heart — because of sweet nostalgia.
Am I too sentimental? Do I take mistake the background for the foreground? Humphrey Bogart said it best in “Casablanca:” “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine….”
But listen: a girl has got to dine out. So tonight after running through my Dating Zagat’s (Starbuck’s on Main Street, 22: Good lighting but “tedious conversationalist,” in the “nice outfit” was “mean to waitress” and “put me to sleep” despite “triple latte/no foam.”)
So I pick a sweet little cafe for writers and daters in Santa Monica with couches and cute little lamps and funny drinks like Creamsicles and Fudgesickles — in other words, a place I’d never need to go to again in case things don’t work out.
But go figure. My date is cute and he’s sweet and he’s hard to pin down into one neat little box — i.e., he’s an actual person, not just some bad date to sum up in a rating — and who knows what will happen in the future for us?
This sweet little cafe could become our place — or at least the place where we had our first date.
Oh brother, here we go again.
Alex Ritchey Sale
A Fistful of Scholars
Taking part in a local Jewish history conference came with a perk, the chance to tour the Autry National Center after closing. I circled twice through the current exhibit on the films of Sergio Leone, creator of the spaghetti Western. His films informed my fantasy life from the early 1970s until, say, marriage, and getting some alone time with Clint and his squint was priceless.
Leone, a native Roman filmmaker steeped in the vocabulary of the Hollywood Western, created movies that not only mythologized the Old West, but mythologized the Western itself. He added layers of artifice to what was already a tenuous historical endeavor. In so doing, he made great art, great entertainment — though not great history.
For that, I stepped away from Sergio and returned to the remarkable main event, the three-day conference devoted to “Jewish L.A. — Then and Now.” The historians who designed this gathering — the first of its kind, ever — were doing exactly what Leone did not. Instead of mythmaking or creating the architecture of a pseudo-world, they stripped away layers of supposition and unknowns, digging into the historical record to reveal minutiae, complexity and messiness.
It was about time.
In the great deli of American Jewish life, L.A. Jewry has long been the tongue sandwich — always on the menu, but never taken seriously.
We’re where a great number of Brooklyn’s, Manhattan’s, Boston’s and Chicago’s best and brightest end up. But the power center of American Jewry has always remained near where it all started 350 years ago, on the Eastern seaboard. I should say the putative power center, because as American and American Jewish population shifts south and west, the power of numbers is bound to go along with it.
The presenting organizations were the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, the Autry National Center and the Skirball Cultural Center. Professors David Myers of UCLA and the Autry’s Stephen Aron set out to redress academia’s oversight and East Coast myopia to tackle the most distinctive and important themes raised by the L.A. Jewish experience.
The first is simply the distinctive stories that we have collected since the first Jew, Jacob Frankfort, came to the pueblo in 1841. At the keynote panel, author and screenwriter Michael Tolkin, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), novelist Gina Nahai, Rabbi David Wolpe and critic Kenneth Turan traded L.A. stories, giving shape to the region’s uniqueness.
The diversity of L.A. Jewry, Tolkin said, mirrors the diversity of Los Angeles itself. This can be enriching, or sometimes, as Nahai pointed out, isolating.
“Each ethnic group lives in its own world,” she said.
Waxman’s grandparents survived the Kishniev pogrom and came to Los Angeles in 1920.
“Los Angeles is the most exciting Jewish community in world,” said the congressman. “People here aren’t pigeonholed as they are in the East. They can become part of the community right away.”
How Jews form community took up the rest of the conference, as panelists — mostly academics or other experts — looked at the forces that shaped L.A. Jewry: the qualities that make it like other minority cultures in Los Angeles and other Jewish communities, and those that set it apart.
One theme that emerged is the community’s diversity. The Jewish L.A. story is not just one of geographic dispersal, from downtown to Boyle Heights and the Eastside to the Westside, the San Fernando and Conejo Valleys. It is also one of ethnic and cultural absorption. The first leader of the Hebrew Benevolent Society, the precursor of all Jewish philanthropies, was, it turns out, a Sephardic immigrant named Samuel K. Labatt. Today’s Jewish community has grown largely due to an influx of Russian, Israeli and Iranian-born Jews. The key for these tribes-within-the-tribe, said Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, is to assimilate into the larger Jewish culture without losing distinct traditions.
Already, as UCLA scholar Nahid Pirnazar pointed out, Iranian immigrants are entering not just communal politics, but local civic life as well. In doing so they tread a familiar path: using their cultural base as a springboard to larger civic activism.
This path was the fitting subject of its own panel, which was composed of L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, author Joel Kotkin, political science professor Raphael Sonenshein and UCLA Associate Vice Chancellor Franklin Gilliam. They recounted the oft-told history of the black-Jewish coalition-building that brought Mayor Tom Bradley to power, and they discussed whether the same level of activism is likely in the future as a distinctive Jewish political bloc fractures. Kotkin said the more likely scenario is for Westside Jews to further distance themselves from more middle-class or conservative Jews in the Valley and elsewhere. Sonenshein disagreed, pointing out the significant degree of support Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa received from these supposedly more conservative, pocket-book minded Valley Jews.
The conference wound down the next day at UCLA, with a discussion among Jewish studies scholars titled, “Do We Need a New Paradigm? Los Angeles and the Narrative of American Jewish History.”
But the answer, by then, seemed self-evident. As John Gray, the Autry’s executive director, told me, it’s surprising no one had held such a conference until now. His center is in the midst of planning, with UCLA, an exhibition on Jewish Los Angeles in the not-too-distant future, to complement the center’s ongoing research efforts.
As Wolpe said at the opening session, “United States Jewish history is written from East to West. What would it be like if it were written from West to East?”
I can’t wait to find out.
Thanks for Everything
Activists Strategize on Hotel Contracts
The gala dinner was like many others at the Century Plaza Hotel, featuring festive centerpieces atop crisp tablecloths, well-dressed guests exchanging greetings and servers bustling about offering trays of beverages.
However, this event wasn’t actually inside the hotel. Set in front of the hotel on the Avenue of the Stars, which was blocked off, this banquet-in-the-street supported some 4,000 striking workers at seven Los Angeles hotels. The traffic-stopping April gathering was among a series of actions organized by a coalition of community groups, including the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), in support of an 11-month strike that ended in June.
The outcome was an important step forward for the union: It achieved a wage hike, continued health benefits and a short contract that will expire at nearly the same time as the contracts of other hotel workers in other parts of the country.
Last week saw the next round of activism — a transnational effort in support of hotel workers in eight cities fighting for a new contract in 2006.
On Wednesday, inspired by the success in Los Angeles, Jewish social justice organizations from the United States and Canada gathered at the hotel workers’ union headquarters just west of downtown. The strategy session was convened by New York-based Jewish Funds for Justice and Los Angeles’ Progressive Jewish Alliance. Representatives also attended from other Jewish organizations in Los Angeles, as well as from groups in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Paul, Washington, D.C. and Toronto. In mostly closed-door meetings, organizers discussed the tactics and the coalition building that worked in this year’s L.A. campaign and how the lessons would apply in other cities.
Organizers say that Jewish involvement has been a central fixture within the effort.
Jewish participation, particularly at the Century Plaza Hotel, was essential, said Maria Elena Durazo, president of the hotel workers local, UNITE HERE. The Century Plaza is sufficiently serious about Jewish clientele to maintain a sealed-off kosher kitchen, she said.
“There’s no doubt that if it had not been for the influence and the participation and the constant, constant communication of the Jewish organizations, the Century Plaza would not have settled,” Durazo said.
“The most important aspect of what we did there,” said Jaime Rapaport, the architect of PJA’s hotel worker support campaign, “was this national Jewish response to a campaign that’s addressing poverty.”
The national average median wage for housekeepers is $7.85 an hour, according to the union. Wages are higher where more hotels are organized: In New York, where hotels are 95 percent unionized, a housekeeper’s wages start at $19 an hour; in Los Angeles, with a 35 percent union density, housekeepers average $11.31.
“It’s not just about a contract fight,” UNITE HERE organizer Vivian Rothstein said. “It’s a national approach to address conditions for nonunion and union workers.”
But a hotel industry representative said the union activists are over-reaching with unrealistic demands and that they misrepresent how hotels treat their workers.
“The bulk of hotel workers are housekeepers. They make, under this contract, approximately $13.50 an hour,” said Fred Muir of the Hotel Employers Council, which represents seven unionized Los Angeles-area hotels. He points out that the contract also provides for a pension fund, paid health care and free meals at work.
The strategy on the hotel side has been to prevent union contracts across the country from expiring at the same time. Hotels gave ground on that issue in the last year. Beyond that, individual hotel chains have opposed union organizing and simply worked to hold down labor costs in a business environment that includes rising health-care costs.
The economics of the hotel industry are simple, Muir said. “How many rooms can you fill and how much can you charge for them? The money to pay everyone has to come from somewhere.”
Room rates in New York are twice what they are in Los Angeles, so workers in New York can be paid more than those in Los Angeles, he said.
The activists who gathered last week emphasized that they are trying to make their labor campaign about Jewish values. The meeting’s purpose was to link local Jewish groups to the union organizing in their cities, and, just as important, bring them together to develop “a common language, a common strategy, common goals that would enable us to speak in a louder and more aggregated voice,” said Daniel Sokatch of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. He wants to expand the notion of what constitutes “Jewish issues.”
“We want to put out there on the radar the notion that social justice is central to our identity as Jews,” he said.
The idea resonates with Simon Greer, who just six months ago took over as executive director of Jewish Funds for Justice. The foundation, which handles some $15 million annually, underwrote transportation and lodging costs for participants from the Jewish social justice organizations.
Greer said that the campaign seeks to boost hotel workers into the middle class. “As Jews in this country, the beneficiaries of America as an open society, we are obligated to do something for others in this society,” he said. “A piece of this is about how we reclaim justice as a centerpiece of Jewish identity in America.”
When Jews make choices that support social justice, he added, they are, in effect, expanding the notion of keeping kosher.
Dana Grueber and Brooke Temple
Teens Team Up for J-Serve
Youngsters across the Southland and beyond banded together April 17 to participate in J-Serve 2005, the first-ever national day of service for Jewish teens. J-Serve, designed to correspond with Youth Service America’s National Youth Service Day, offers Jewish teens a way to get involved in tikkun olam projects in their local communities.
United Synagogue Youth’s (USY) Far West Region put more than 100 teens to work in food pantries and soup kitchens in Los Angeles, Redondo Beach, San Diego, Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Tayla Silver, a Palos Verdes high school senior and the region’s social action vice president, researched and coordinated numerous volunteer opportunities for USY members in order to give them a more personal experience with this year’s educational theme of homelessness and hunger.
“It’s important for us to have hands-on experience in … projects to see how organizations work, and why our participation makes a difference for the people we’re helping,” Silver said.
She donated her time at Project Chicken Soup in Los Angeles, a Federation program that provides kosher meals and groceries to homebound AIDS patients. The volunteers started at dawn preparing meals, and then spent the afternoon delivering food and groceries, in addition to visiting with the recipients.
“I think it was incredibly valuable for us to help people face to face,” Silver said. “Meeting the people we were serving raised our awareness to a much higher level.”
In Redondo Beach, USY joined forces with the South Bay Federation’s Arachim, a program that provides eight- and ninth-graders with a series of opportunities to perform mitzvot. Fifty teens from five South Bay synagogues worked with SOVA packing Passover boxes and stocking shelves at a local food pantry.
Ami Berlin, youth activities director at Congregation Ner Tamid in Palos Verdes, was delighted to have her USY chapter participate.
“Our kids need to see that there are people who need help in their own communities,” she said. “This project made that a reality.”
How Funny Is Passover?
Efforts Under Way to Raise Aid Funds
Local and national Jewish organizations have mobilized to help tsunami victims and invite the community to participate, as well.
American Jewish World Service partners with 22 non-government and community-based organizations in the regions affected by the tsunami and is working with them to provide emergency relief, including food, water, shelter and medicine, as well as long-term recovery and development support. 45 W. 36th St., 10th floor, New York, NY, 10018. (800) 889-7146. www.ajws.org.
Chabad House in Thailand is the only Jewish service agency in the country dealing with the catastrophe. Its three houses in Thailand have been converted into crisis centers for survivors, offering food, shelter, money for clothes and counseling, as well as free international phone calls and Internet use for survivors to contact loved ones. Write checks to American Friends of Chabad of Thailand, 96 Thanon Rambuttri, Bangkok, Thailand 10200. www.chabadthailand.com.
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) will allocate funds it raises to partner organizations on the ground in South Asia. JDC: South Asia Tsunami Relief, Box 321, 847A Second Ave., New York, NY, 10017. www.jdc.org.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has established a special emergency fund for Southeast Asia disaster relief. All donations will be disbursed to humanitarian organizations working on the ground in the affected areas. Make checks payable to The Jewish Federation and write “Southeast Asia Relief Fund” on the memo line: 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048. (323) 761-8200.
Magen David Adom. The Israeli Red Cross has been sending medics, medical supplies and experts on body identification to Sri Lanka and Thailand. It has set up a special fund for those who wish to contribute. www.magendavidadom.org.
ATTEND A BENEFIT:
The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring: Sunday, Jan. 16, 3 p.m. Tsunami benefit concert featuring classical Indian music and dance. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007. www.circlesocal.com.
Congregation Or Ami: Sunday, Jan. 30, 4-6 p.m. “Music of Or Ami” concert series presents pianist-composer Aaron Meyer, accompanied by Doug Cotler on guitar, flutist Toby Caplan-Stonefield and others. A portion of ticket sales will benefit tsunami victims. $12. 26115 Mureau Road, Calabasas. (818) 880-4880.
Temple Kol Tikvah: Friday, Jan. 7, 7 p.m. Pastor Biworo Adinata of Gereja Bethel Indonesia of Los Angeles will address the congregation and community about how to help Indonesian tsunami victims. 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.
The following organizations are collecting donations for the American Jewish World Service:
Orthodox Union, www.ou.org/forms/tsunami3.htm.
Valley Beth Shalom, (818) 782-2281.
Pressman Academy, (310) 652-7353.
The Nation and The World
Jewish Poor Fear Stigma of Poverty
For Albert Osher, life was good. The co-owner of a Fairfax antique store that registered annual sales of $100,000, he enjoyed romantic dinners with his live-in girlfriend, theater and movies. To prepare for his impending retirement, the now-78-year-old New York native stashed away more than $100,000 in savings, a cushion that gave him a strong sense of financial security.
Like Osher, Linda (not her real name) lived well. Growing up on the Westside in a million-dollar home, the closest she ever came to poverty was when her Jewish youth group visited the occasional soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
After graduating from a University of California campus, Linda headed east to Washington, D.C., where she transformed herself from a political junkie into a political player. Between 1987 and 1993, she held several high-ranking positions on the staffs of prominent Democratic representatives and senators. Returning to Southern California to live closer to her family, Linda eventually parlayed her political skills into a local lobbying career.
On the surface, Osher and Linda would seem to make good poster children for ambitious, bright, successful Southland Jews. Dig a bit deeper, though, and the picture is less pretty. For different reasons, Osher and Linda found themselves in dire financial straits that threatened to plunge them into abject poverty.
That they both managed to pull themselves from the abyss in no way mitigates the real, albeit often-hidden, phenomena of Jewish poverty. A recent report by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles found that nearly one in five local Jews, or 104,000 out of 520,000, earns less than $25,000 a year, with 7 percent living beneath the poverty line. Los Angeles’ high cost of living makes it especially difficult on poor Jews, who often go without health insurance and are reluctant to ask for assistance.
“There’s a sense of shame and of not letting your peers know about your situation,” said Miriam Prum Hess, The Federation’s vice president for planning and allocations. “There’s a desire to make everything look OK. As a community, our challenge is to preserve people’s dignity and make it safe for them to receive needed services.”
Osher’s downward spiral began in the mid-1990s, when his live-in partner of nearly three decades, Sybil Kerns, fell ill. Wracked with diabetes, anemia and finally Alzheimer’s, she needed expensive in-home care and medicines only partially covered by insurance. To help out, Osher dipped into his savings and sold off Kerns’ antique doll collection for $30,000. Her care proved so costly, though, that he ended up going through all the money by the time Kerns died in 1999.
After her death, Osher found himself emotionally and financially spent. Nearly penniless, the proud entrepreneur took to eating free meals at friends’ and family’s homes and hitting them up for loans. Some nights, he said, he went to bed hungry.
To save what little money he had, Osher vacated the two-bedroom house he had rented with Kerns and moved into a small Fairfax apartment. His Social Security and disability checks bought some food but were not enough to cover the rent. His landlord soon evicted him.
Having exhausted his inner circle’s good will, Osher found himself on the streets. For an entire week, Osher, then in his 70s, spent his nights crisscrossing town on a bus, boarding at Melrose and getting off an hour and a half later at Santa Monica Beach. He would turn around and make the round-trip again and again and again.
“When you’re sitting alone on the bus or walking down the street late at night, you feel all alone,” Osher said. “It’s a terrible feeling.”
These days, he lives safely and securely at Villa Poinsettia in Hollywood, an assisted-living home that he discovered through a friend. Osher volunteers at the Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center five days a week, greeting folks as they drop by and helping them read.
His monthly Social Security and disability checks cover room and board and leave him with $100 in pocket money. However, Osher rarely spends much of it on himself. Perhaps remembering what it’s like to have nothing, he said he gives away what little he has.
“If a couple of people need a couple of bucks, I share it with them,” he said.
The story of 39-year-old Linda is less dramatic but no less illuminating about how quickly a person can lose their financial bearings.
So sure of her marketability was Linda that she had no reservations about quitting her well-paying lobbying job in late 2000, because of a personality conflict with a superior. With $5,000 in the bank, a strong resume and a Rolodex full of contacts, she jumped on a plane and vacationed in China. Linda figured it would take no more than two months to find new full-time work.
It took nearly three years.
As the U.S. economy struggled, so, too, did Linda. Her confidence gave way to concern which morphed into worry. Although she had no trouble landing interviews for government and other positions, she was unable to nail down a job. Employers, she said, had piles of resumes on their desks from qualified people just like her who desperately needed a job.
When she ran out of money, Linda took on a slew of part-time work. She tutored students in English and Hebrew, coached children’s sports, baby-sat cats and dogs and helped write and edit a college guide for overseas students.
Linda eventually cobbled together enough work to earn about $27,000 a year. Still, she had no sick leave, paid vacation or health insurance. Linda stopped eating out and bought everything on sale — when she could afford it. She had to drop out of synagogue, because she couldn’t afford the dues. In an ill-advised attempt to curtail spending, she took to skipping her prescription drugs.
Financially, Linda barely got by, living paycheck to paycheck. Then a crisis nearly bankrupted her.
In spring 2003, Linda felt an acute internal pain. Despite her intense discomfort, she put off visiting a doctor for several hours, because she had no health insurance.
Finally, she broke down and went to the emergency room. After three hours of tests, doctors ruled out appendicitis but could not identify her problem. As if that wasn’t reason enough to worry, they also handed her a $600 bill.
Linda, with nowhere to turn, asked her father for the money. Although relieved to pay off her debt, she said she experienced a certain amount of humiliation having to ask him for money in her late 30s.
She realizes she was lucky. Some poor people have no one to bail them out, and if her condition necessitated surgery, she could have slipped tens of thousands of dollars into debt.
Recently, Linda found a new job with benefits. She works in the admissions office of a Los Angeles college. Looking back, she still can’t believe that someone as educated and hard-working as she is ended up as part of the working poor.
“I have a good job, a 401(k). I guess I shoud feel happy,” Linda said. “But in the back of my mind, I’m a little worried. I kind of feel like I should run out to the UCLA job board and write down leads, just in case.”
The $45 Million Question
Irvine Orthodox Plan to Erect Eruv
Ten years ago, Sean and Linda Samuels moved to Irvine, home to both a Chabad center and the Modern Orthodox Beth Jacob Congregation, along with other synagogues.
As the couple grew more observant and had children, they wanted the family to be part of their journey, which, of course, included weekly walks to shul.
But how? Irvine had no eruv, an unbroken boundary that uses existing electrical lines and fencing to encircle a synagogue and neighboring homes, which, according to rabbinic law, encloses a “private” space where observant Jews may carry objects on the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays. Without an eruv, people who need to carry, or push strollers or wheelchairs, are stranded at home.
Sean Samuels, a Beth Jacob board member, was instrumental in the quest to erect Irvine’s eruv, which should be operational by Rosh Hashanah. His initiative underscores Irvine’s reputation for welcoming people of many faiths and how the Orthodox community aims for inclusiveness.
At least eight others eruvs are in the works around Southern California, too, a reflection of observant communities taking hold outside urban areas. With an estimated 5-mile perimeter, Irvine’s boundary is a triangle bordered by the San Diego Freeway between the Michaelson and University exits, and University and Harvard avenues.
“It’s going to make Irvine this whole new playground,” said Samuels, who still needed to raise two-thirds of the eruv’s projected cost, $27,000.
“Having an eruv is a huge attraction,” he said, claiming property values will increase within its boundaries because of demand by observant Jews. Howard Shapiro, the project manager of a 50-mile perimeter eruv in West Los Angeles completed in January 2003, is now consulting on eight projects regionally. Most are on the scale of Irvine’s, he said.
“An eruv becomes another sign the community is coming of age,” said Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, the West Coast director of the Orthodox Union, whose members are Modern Orthodox synagogues. “It’s a very important sign that people don’t look singularly in Pico-Robertson and North Hollywood,” he said, where eruvs have existed for at least 20 years.
The number of observant Jews and their proportion among American Jewry appears to be increasing, as does the potential for municipal clashes over eruvs.
An eruv is a modern phenomenon, Kalinsky said, which was unnecessary in Europe’s walled cities and enclosed ghettos, but were erected beginning 40 years ago in the New York area. The highest-profile and longest-running eruv battle divided Jew against Jew and sparked charges of anti-Semitism in Tenafly, N.J. Although the resulting court case focused on the legality of allowing a religious use of public property, proponents say the eruv’s critics, including some Reform Jews, exploited the constitution to bar Orthodox Jews from their neighborhood. Opponents of the eruv said their opposition was not based in anti-Semitism, rather in the fact that Orthodox Jews often spoiled community endeavors, such as public schooling (they send their children to private school) and local politics (they don’t participate).
Orange County’s Jewish denominations lack the rancor seen in Tenafly and other Eastern cities, said Benjamin Hubbard, chair of Cal State Fullerton’s comparative religions department. “Here, there is not the same history of bad will; interreligious feuding is the nastiest kind,” he said.
Without dissent, the eruv was approved on the consent calendar by the Irvine City Council on July 13. Even so, the project took two years to complete because of the number of public and private entities involved, including supervision by an eruv authority, Rabbi Gershon Bess of the Rabbinic Council of California, whose members are Orthodox rabbis. Besides stringing fishing line between 58 Edison poles, Bess required installation of five new poles and the addition of four poles to existing fences.
Samuels said Irvine’s Chabad is considering expanding the eruv to encircle its location in Woodbridge. The Chabad’s Rabbi Alter Tanenbaum could not be reached for comment.
While in some areas of Los Angeles an eruv tended to buoy property values in a flat market, Ethyl Krawitz is uncertain Irvine will experience such a phenomenon. “It’s only appealing to the very observant; it means nothing to anyone else,” said Krawitz, a RE/MAX Realtor in Irvine whose clientele is 80 percent Jewish.
Irvine’s new Jewish Community Center already is a more potent magnet, she said. Krawitz sees the JCC’s location influence housing decisions of people relocating to the area, as well as Jews relocating internally from Anaheim, Orange and San Juan Capistrano.
“It’s a wonderful draw,” she said.
To maintain the eruv, the line’s integrity will be checked weekly. Once the eruv is up, results will be disseminated by e-mail and at www.irvineeruv.org. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hope Is on the Menu at Cafe Ezra
King of Hearts Loves to Play Matchmaker
He’s not your typical yenta, he’s not JDate and he’s certainly not your grandmother’s cousin once removed, but Asher Aramnia loves making love connections for local Jewish singles.
With countless successful matches to his credit, Aramnia’s matchmaking activities through the Iranian Jewish Chronicle (Chashm Andaaz) magazine, which is operated by the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana, has become something of a unique surprise in the local Jewish community, where women traditionally help Jewish singles find their soulmates.
"I know people think this [matchmaking] is for women, but I don’t care about that. What’s important to me is the mitzvah of two single Jews finding the loves of their life," said the nearly 70-year-old Aramnia, who lives in Westwood and also works full time as a manager downtown.
In the past four years , the magazine’s Peyvand-e-Delha (Union of Hearts) program has helped bring together 25 Jewish couples from various cultural backgrounds who were single, divorced or widowed, Aramnia said.
"After they fill out an application, I personally and confidentially interview them," Aramnia said. "Our whole objective is to make sure that if anyone does get married, that it will last forever."
The Union of Hearts was the brainchild of the magazine’s publisher, Dariush Fakheri. He said he developed the program 12 years ago to enable divorced Iranian Jews in Southern California to meet and later expanded it to include other singles.
"This program was first called ‘Another Spring,’ and we wanted divorced Jews to make connection with each other, because there was a taboo for divorced people to remarry in our community," said Fakheri, who is also co-founder of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center.
While a one-time $100 membership fee is requested by the magazine to cover its program expenses, Aramnia said he does not get paid for introducing couples, and the magazine makes no money providing the service.
Every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Aramnia is busy working the phones at the Eretz-SIAMAK offices and often stays up late weeknights to keep in touch with the singles he has introduced and to meet with new ones.
"The secret to our success is not asking them what they want, but rather asking what they don’t want in a mate or would despise in a mate," Aramnia explained. "This allows us to better match up couples."
Top requests from single men participating in Union of Hearts are for women with beauty and good families, while single women frequently ask for men who are not stingy or liars, Aramnia said.
Information sought by Jewish singles in the program includes age, height, weight, hair color, number of children and their ages, alimony receipt or payment, religious observations, education, occupation, hobbies, drinking limits, turn offs, smoking and priorities in a companion, according to the application sheet.
In addition, Aramnia said he does extensive background checks on singles participating in the program and works closely with them to ensure compatibility and that their relationships last.
"They [participants] become like members of my family, like my son or daughter, and that enables them to open up to me and nothing is hidden," Aramnia said.
Aramnia, who has been married for nearly 50 years, said he was first drawn to introducing Jewish singles after seeing the collapse of many marriages and families.
"When a couple divorces with one or two children, the weight of the break up is on the children’s shoulders who are tremendously impacted," Aramnia said. "This breaks my heart, and I’m willing to do anything to prevent that from happening."
Individuals collaborating with Aramnia said his unique, youthful spirit and desire to help others has been the main reason for his success in getting couples together.
"He’s just an angel, he does this [matchmaking] out of pure love," Fakheri said. "The man is remarkable. He does so many great things, like personally visiting patients at Cedars-Sinai out of the blue on a weekend."
While the Union of Hearts program has primarily introduced local Iranian Jewish singles, Aramnia said he frequently introduces other Jews from elsewhere in the country, Europe, Mexico and even parts of South America.
"We’ve had a couple of successful marriages recently between Mexican and Iranian Jews. Their cultures and families are very similar," Aramnia said. "We also have a lot of Iranians [Jews] who want to marry Americans [Jews] in L.A."
Jewish seniors as old as 70 who are seeking companionship have also been paired up, Aramnia said. He said will continue introducing Jewish singles, because of the joy he sees from happy couples.
"The greatest satisfaction for me is getting invited to the wedding and seeing the couples stand under the chuppah or when they call me up to tell me about the birth of their child," Aramnia said.
For more information on Union of Hearts, call the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center (310) 843-9846.
Karmel Melamed is an L.A. freelance writer and can be contacted at email@example.com
Stan’s Donuts Mixes Flavor and Fame
A New Relationship
A relationship with a new city is like a relationship with a new guy. At first, you compare a lot — my ex had better nicknames for me; he made the bed in the morning. My ex was the one for me, and now I’m just marking time before becoming that old lady in line at the bagel shop who talks to her slippers.
You feel in your bones the sudden drop in comfort level with this new entity. You have to close the door when you pee. You have to explain who people are when you’re gossiping about them. You have to take it from the top. It’s a tedious process. And you wonder why we all know one of those couples who should have broken up a long time ago before they got in a rut and furnished it at IKEA.
Now, as for my comparison, settling into a new city can be similarly jarring. I’m not sure which I’ve done more of, but I know I’m not the only one with a trail of broken leases as long as her trail of broken relationships.
I’ve dug up and planted and dug up and replanted more roots than an obsessive-compulsive gardener.
And now I’m at it again, trying to make a go of it with this slick Pat Riley of a city called Manhattan. And as always, the relationship got off to a rough start, and I wanted nothing more than to go home. And my new therapist gave me her home number. And I didn’t know if I had lost my ability to start over.
It’s been six months since I relocated for work, "taking a break" from the love of my life, Los Angeles.
I didn’t want to love again, but it turns out we’re adaptable creatures. The other day, someone asked where to get a good cheesecake, and out of my mouth, smooth as ricotta, came "Junior’s in Brooklyn has the best. And they ship." And I let myself feel pretty good for knowing this, and for passing as a local more often than not, and for saying "Brooklyn" like I could tell you how to get there on the 4.
This city has won me over like a guy you go on a mercy date with but end up marrying because he remembers how you take your coffee and what size shoe you wear. It’s the little things that slowly weasel their way into your heart, that make you feel at home.
I have the name of a Chinese delivery place in my cellphone and need only speed dial my way to a dumpling delivery.
I hail a cab as easily as I used to parallel park.
I could tell you what cast members have been replaced in "Hairspray" on Broadway. I can find Broadway by foot.
Now I love my Lakers like Shaq loves his Escalade. Still, there’s something about finding your seat at Madison Square Garden that makes you feel like you’ve got this town wired. Sadly, you have to watch the Knicks once you get there, but if I can learn to love this city, maybe I can at least duty date its basketball team.
On the right night, I can climb out of my 400-square-foot apartment and sit on my fire escape and look down the block at doormen leaning on awning posts. I can watch little doggies in little sweaters strolling the Upper East Side, a neighborhood immortalized not only by "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" but also by famous fictional resident, Carrie Bradshaw.
I know how to describe a location as being "on 67 between one and two," instead of saying "on 67th Street between First and Second avenues." I know that Central Park starts on 59. Like I said, these are small things, but like the small apartments and small grocery store aisles here in the Big Apple, they grow on you.
Maybe that’s the only way to fall for a place as hard and humid and expensive and compressed as this one. You endure the hard parts so you can experience the simple pleasure of saying Brooklyn like you mean it.
How do you go from wanting to hurl yourself off the Staten Island Ferry to thinking you might just want to dock here for awhile? You let yourself. And having done so, I’m starting to think it might just be that simple with relationships, too. And here is the most deeply buried lead in the history of singles columns: I’ve got what some might call a "new boyfriend" in this new city (and by "some" I mean people without a crippling fear of commitment).
And that’s how I can tell you relocation is something that happens inside. It happens when you make up your mind to stop expecting a parade down Fifth Avenue and just let yourself stop and smell the toasted nuts on the corner.
Teresa Strasser writes from Manhattan where she is a feature reporter for Fox’s “Good Day Live.” She’s on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com.
Pariah or Trendy?
Splintered Persian Groups Merge
Long troubled by infighting, the Los Angeles Iranian Jewish community is working toward less conflict as three prominent Iranian Jewish organizations recently merged with the hope of speaking with one voice.
The Iranian-American Jewish Association (SIAMAK), Eretz Cultural Center and the Neria Yomtoubian Foundation came together under the banner of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center on Feb. 21 in Tarzana.
The merger of the three groups signifies a desire within the Iranian Jewish community for greater participation in the larger Jewish community and a desire to attract Jewish youth to its cause. After more than two decades in the Southland, Persian Jews are organizing to present a united front for their community.
“This is actually a historical event. I do not remember anything like this happening before, and I truly believe that this is a bridge to the future of our community,” said Manizheh Yomtoubian, founder of the Neria Yomtoubian Foundation.
SIAMAK co-founder Dariush Fakheri said he first approached Yomtoubian and Ruben Dokhanian, co-founder and president of Eretz Cultural Center, after he realized the true growth potential of the three separate organizations. The three leaders said that while they have encountered a variety of challenges from logistics to reorganizing their volunteer base in the merge, their primary desire has been to generate more interest in the Tarzana center.
“We have numerous volunteers who give their time, money and effort for the betterment of the community,” said Fakheri. “But we need new members who want to come along with us as we go through this transformation.”
Fakheri said it’s taken a long time for Iranian Jewish organizations to unite because the community has been trying to adapt since its arrival in Southern California nearly 25 years ago.
“You have to look at our situation from so many angles. We are the survivors of a revolution,” Fakheri said. “Our main goal was to survive, so we did whatever we had to do to reach that goal. Now our situation is way different than even a decade ago so we can do more by putting our resources together.”
Lisa Daftari, an editorial intern for SIAMAK’s monthly magazine, The Iranian Jewish Chronicle (“Chashm Andaaz”), said Yomtoubian is the ideal 21st century Jewish activist since she has preserved the memory of her late husband, Neria, by engaging in various activities that encourage young Jews to embrace their Jewish identities.
“Through the creation of Eretz-SIAMAK Center, Manizheh is now determined and able to fulfill both her dreams and Neria’s,” Daftari said. “Her commitment and optimism regarding this project is genuine and unmistakable”.
Yomtoubian has also been very active over the years in an effort to feed nearly 100 Iranian Jewish families living in poverty in Los Angeles by gathering food for them on a weekly basis, Daftari said.
Fakheri said that in the last decade, Yomtoubian has collaborated with SIAMAK — the oldest Iranian Jewish group in Los Angeles — to subsidize food, medical and educational expenses for these needy Iranian Jewish families.
Most notably in 2000, SIAMAK and the Council of Iranian-American Jews were at the forefront of bringing to the world’s attention the plight of 13 Iranian Jews who were arrested by Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime on false charges of treason and were in danger of being executed, Fakheri said.
SIAMAK has also had an international presence, donating $20,000 last year to the Jewish community in Argentina, sending medical aid to earthquake victims in India and Iran, as well as providing humanitarian support to Muslim refugees in war-torn Bosnia during the recent Balkan wars.
Several Iranian Jews living in Los Angeles said they were surprised at the bold move by the three Iranian Jewish groups merging, especially since in-fighting is commonplace among many Iranian Jewish groups.
Fakheri and Yomtoubian said that despite differences of opinion among the diverse local Iranian Jewish groups, the new Eretz-SIAMAK organization will continue to reach out to all Jews in order to be more proactive in community and Israel causes. The group will host a variety of Jewish-oriented programs, including adult and youth Hebrew classes, marriage workshops, yoga classes, singles Shabbatons and cooking classes.
Fakheri said he was particularly looking forwarding to collaborating with as many other local American Jewish groups as possible.
“I would like to see a greater intermingling of Iranian-born Jews and other Jewish communities in the U.S.,” Fakheri said. “We can collaborate more with one another and contribute a lot to each other because of our common Jewish bonds.”
For more information about Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center, call (310) 843-9846.
Q & A With Rabbi Isaac Jeret
Jewish Sportsmen?! No Joke
Why sit home and watch “SportsCenter” on TV when you can take part in a local sports highlight?
On Sunday, June 6, the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame will hold its annual induction banquet. Yes, there are enough extraordinary Jewish sportsmen and women in the Southland for a hall of fame. So wear your tux, but leave your Jewish sports jokes at the door.
To be held at the JCC at Milken, the black-tie optional affair will feature a silent auction and kosher dinner. The event will honor athletes, coaches, media personnel, officials and executives who have made significant contributions to the wide world of sports. Inductees are nominated by the public and selected by the Hall of Fame board of directors.
“We’re proud of this year’s inductees. They’ve each played an important role, not just in the sports community, but in the Jewish community,” said board member Jeff Marks.
The 2004 inductees include:
Sheldon Andrens (USC and silver glove-winning minor league baseball player), Jerry Simon (pro basketball player in Israel, earned college and Maccabiah honors), Anne Barber (world, national and Maccabiah lawn bowling champion), Bill Caplan (renowned boxing publicist and promoter), Dr. Ira Pauly (UCLA football star) and Bobby Frankel (Eclipse Award-winning, multichampion racehorse trainer).
Others are Stan Cline (celebrated sports artist), Marc Dellins (UCLA sports information director and associate athletic director), Derrick Hall (former Los Angeles Dodgers senior vice president of communications), Steve Hartman (radio and television sports reporter and host), Barry Lorge (former San Diego Union sports columnist and editor, named Tennis Writer of the Year), Ken Schwartz (national and Maccabiah fast-pitch softball champion) and Dara Torres (nine-time Olympic medal swimmer).
Also included: Stacy Margolin (Potter) (ranked college, national and world tennis player-turned coach), Carl Earn (top junior tennis star, pro player and head pro at Hillcrest Country Club), Richard Perelman (track and field event manager, reporter and statistician, ran press operations for 1984 Olympics) and Leland Faust (high school, college and Maccabiah water polo and swimming champion, currently in sports management).
The 2004 Pillar of Achievement award will be given to Dana and David Pump (owners of Double Pump basketball camps and clinics) and posthumously to Bill Libby (sports biographer, reporter and national Magazine Sportswriter of the Year).
Harvard-Westlake senior and school paper editor Steve Dunst will receive the Alan Malamud Scholarship for sportswriting. Dunst will study communications at Cal next year. Taft High School point guard and UCLA basketball recruit Jordan Farmer will be named Jewish High School Athlete of the Year.
In addition to sponsoring the JCC at Milken’s permanent Hall of Fame exhibit, the organization is in the process of creating a traveling exhibit to be displayed in local synagogues. The Hall of Fame also supports the World Maccabiah Games in Israel, JCC Maccabi Youth Games, Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles’ sports programs, as well as the Malamud scholarship.
“We look to support programs that use sports as a vehicle to build a Jewish identity in our community,” Marks said. “We’re always looking to form new partnerships and identify additional programs we can help.”
For more information on, go to
Holocaust Museum to Reopen Doors
Buy It Now
It continues to baffle me why anybody who cares about the future of Jewish communal life in Los Angeleswould seriously contemplate closing the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center (JCC).
Here is a vibrant center, serving about 1,000 people each week, in the midst of a large and growing Jewish population eager for center services, on a piece of highly desirable real estate that has been bought and paid for. We should be arguing over how much to expand Valley Cities JCC, not whether to close it.
The center is slated to be shut and sold by June 30 so that its owner, Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), can get its financial house in order. The organization owes The Jewish Federation $2.2 million, and the agency must make good on $1 million in its special fund and owes banks $450,000.
JCCGLA already sold off Bay Cities JCC, holds the ax over the head of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center and is itself facing dissolution.
From the very beginning of the centers crisis, the debate has never veered far from the bottom line. I understand the logic. I’ve heard eloquent voices argue the case for fiscal responsibility, but precious few powerful voices argue the case for more communal generosity on the JCC’s behalf.
One can argue that the Jewish community is moving west, and that it is time to abandon the old neighborhoods and cut our institutional losses. Such steps were necessary in the past. The shuttering of the Menorah Center near Boyle Heights in 1953 provoked outrage over an action that, in retrospect, looks visionary.
But East San Fernando Valley isn’t dying. Driving along Burbank you pass busy kosher markets and Israeli-owned restaurants, and run into the massive campus of Adat Ari El synagogue and the thriving Orthodox neighborhoods of North Hollywood.
A needs and assessment priority report prepared for Valley Cities JCC determined that the center sits amid a Jewish population of 30,000-40,000 people. It is made up of American as well as Israeli, Russian and Persian Jews, many of whom are recent immigrants. About 60 percent of the children enrolled at Valley Cities are Israeli American. They are eager for a Jewish home away for home, a way to integrate into the larger Jewish community, a Jewish place for their children and seniors to play and learn.
I’ve never been convinced that the philanthropists who raise and allocate the bulk of the Jewish communal charitable dollars in this city, and the leadership they speak with, truly believe in the future of the JCC movement. They, along with a few rabbis and others, have told me they believe centers are over — although many of these people themselves usually came to Jewish life through involvement in a JCC.
The evidence contradicts the naysayers.
Across the country JCCs are booming, even in cities where they face competition from mega-synagogues, health clubs and public after-school programs. JCCs reach 1.7 million Jews, 28 percent of the entire U.S. Jewish population, according to a new report for the JCC Association of North America. That’s more than the Reform movement itself can claim. Are L.A. Jews that different? Of course not. A successful Jewish community has many doors of entry.
The JCC Association, which is on the cusp of a major national ad campaign to strengthen the centers, also found that successful communities teamed JCCs with other organizations — federations, synagogues, agencies — to collaborate on programming and services. Closing the actual JCC buildings then renting other facilities to deliver JCC-ish services seems ingenious and synergistic now, but would inevitably weaken the sense of a Jewish “home away from home” that is at the heart of the center movement’s appeal. Better all parties synergize now to work hard with potential donors, bankruptcy attorneys, bankers and agencies to figure out a way to buy Valley Cities from JCCGLA.
I spent last Tuesday morning at Valley Cities, saw its classrooms and playgrounds filled with children, its auditorium the site of a large gathering of local seniors debating anti-Semitism in Europe.The local demand for center services, despite repeated threats of imminent closure, has actually increased. Members have raised $30,000 in mostly small donations since the troubles began — Valley Cities Director Marla Minden won’t cash the checks until the center’s survival is assured — and have organized bake sales, carnivals and letter-writing campaigns (including to The Journal).
More importantly, a younger and more astute leadership has come on board, and shows the kind of acumen that given a chance could turn the place around.
The folks at Valley Cities are not sophisticated fundraisers. Not one of their members sits on the board of The Federation, and none of them are lunching or golfing where the big money is raised. (They hadn’t even thought to turn to the Jewish Community Foundation, with its $470 million in assets.) This particular JCC serves a less-affluent Jewish population, many of whom are among the 16-20 percent of Los Angeles’ poor Jews. Last year Valley Cities gave out a good chunk of its budget in scholarships.
“Just because Jews don’t have money doesn’t mean they don’t deserve these services,” Valley Cities President Michael Brezner said. “There will be a huge void in this community if and when this center disappears.”
A member of the center sent me a postcard that echoes Brezner’s feelings.
“The Jewish Center gave me a very good childhood. And they also helped my family pay to send me and my brother to camp while my mother was in the hospital,” the 14-year-old boy wrote me. “It would be very sad if the JCC closed.”
Sad, yes, and short-sighted.
The Network of Terror
The catastrophic simultaneous terror bombings that rocked Madrid and sent the United States, Israel and other freedom-loving and freedom-seeking countries reeling symbolized more than a small victory of evil over righteousness.
It was the worse-case scenario for countries at the forefront of the battle against terror. It proved their publicly stated point: This truly is a battle for freedom and democracy worldwide.
But it proved much, much more.
And to distill the horror that claimed more than 200 lives and shattered thousands of others into good vs. evil is to simplify the issues. And that is not at all what policy and counterterrorism people are thinking.
They are looking at logistics and operations.
That’s what so deeply troubles the United States and Israel. The powers that be already knew the part about freedom and democracy. It is the new operational realities let loose by the Madrid bombings that are much harder to cope with and, ultimately, much harder to battle and destroy. There is relative security when the terrorists are in Iraq or in Afghanistan or the West Bank and Gaza. Security quickly evaporates when they insinuate within, right there in our streets.
This past year’s bombings in Morocco, multiple synagogue bombings in Istanbul and the multiple bombings in Ankara of the British banks and their embassy in Turkey, foreshadowed one of the biggest fears of combating terror: The collaboration between outside terrorists and inside terrorists. That fear has been realized.
These attacks were all predicated upon cooperation between insiders and outsiders. And they were a precursor, a trial run if you will, for an attack against even greater threats. Casablanca, Ankara and Istanbul are all Muslim cultures. It was relatively easy for the outside terrorists, also Muslim, to fit in, the distinctions between insider and outsider were easier to blur in places where extreme Islamic movements are commonplace. But to pull it off in Europe, that was a coup.
Europe is a threat to Muslim fundamentalist terrorists. It represents values antithetical to their motivation and cause. And terrorist attacks in Europe are a trial run for the even greater threat, actually, the greatest threat of all, America, where another attack is planned. In Europe and in America it is much more difficult to put together an effective operation exclusively with Muslims or with new Muslim immigrants as was done so successfully.
The best analysis suggests that the March 11 bombings were a collaborative effort between the outsider enemy of freedom, Al Qaeda, and locals within Spain. All indicators point in that direction. In this new world of terror and horror, the outsiders have the experience and the know-how to plan and activate large-scale terror attacks. The insiders, the locals as we call them, people who could never achieve such wide-scale carnage and gain such widespread notoriety on their own, become the means to the end. It is a mutual, beneficial, collaborative effort.
Contrary to general assumptions, over the years there has been little to no interaction between terrorists groups. The Japanese Red Brigade, for instance, was known as “terrorists for hire.” They could be commissioned to execute a terrorist operation on behalf of other terrorist organizations. That was also the case with Carlos, the infamous Jackal. But the Red Brigade and the Jackal were more like hit men than terrorists. When governments – like Iraq and Libya – gave money to terrorist groups, they were supporting and sponsoring the terrorists as an extension of themselves. As states, they could not freely act and attack certain enemies so they employed terrorists to accomplish their tactical goals.
What we are witnessing today is a new level in terrorist operations. It is one of the greatest contributions that Osama bin Ladin has brought to the world of terror, one of his greatest personal achievements.
In Madrid, the Bin Laden model was applied. It brought together disparate groups from opposite sides of the political spectrum. Training arm in arm were Marxists who reject all forms of any religion and totally reject the concept of God and Islamists for whom adherence to Allah’s commands is their very essence and being.
whom adherence to Allah’s commands is their very essence and being.
Al Qaeda is the “Ford Foundation of Terror” and it is Bin Laden’s doing. Their training is open to all who qualify. Americans, South Americans, Arabs, Asians, Europeans, Africans all take part in this new education. They receive training in weapons and in explosives, in smuggling and in intelligence gathering. They are taught how to make contacts with local people and even how to raise money and to be independent. Most importantly, they are taught how to stay under the radar of law enforcement so as not to be discovered before executing an operation. Graduates participate in periodic refresher courses and upon graduation, they even receive a box set of three CD discs, an encyclopedia of everything a terrorist needs to know.
Al Qaeda allows for essential contacts between individual terrorists and formal terrorist organizations – ringing the world with terrorists who have loose, but yet essential, bonds.
There are six essential reasons why Al Qaeda, the dean of all terrorist organizations, must rely on local, small terrorist organizations, to insure the success of their operation:
Al Qaeda needs:
- Real and sophisticated intelligence about the target, which only locals have.
- A good working knowledge of the local security apparatus; how they work and what they look like.
- To amass and store explosives, weapons, vehicles and tools to be used in their attack.
- To know how to maneuver – through traffic and through bureaucracy – in order to elude suspicion.
- Native-language skills in order to avoid triggering the curiosity of local contacts and dealers and other unsavory types who may support local tensions, but do not look kindly on outside terror.
- To be able to pull off a dry run-through of their plan without setting off any red flags.
All this can be accomplished with only a small cadre of locals.
It’s so easy to entice smaller terrorist organizations with big guns and big results.
It has become one of Israel’s biggest worries. Israel is fighting hard to stop Al Qaeda-trained people from entering the West Bank and Gaza and helping the locals achieve their goals and at the same time also achieve Al Qaeda’s goals. Al Qaeda needs only to assemble, place and train terrorist operatives for future bombing operations. Until now, many of the large bombs intended by Palestinian groups for use against Israel have been detected, inadvertently blown up during assembly or triggered and set off by Israel’s counterbombing scanners. But an increase in the scale and precision of Palestinian terror jointly with Al Qaeda would change the entire equation.
There have been two intelligence reports that I have received that reported Al Qaeda operatives entering and subsequently leaving Gaza and back to Lebanon. They came and went in order to help local Palestinians construct a strategy of terror and to help them assemble bombs that can be ignited by remote control and are strong enough to destroy Israeli tanks.
The United States worries similarly. It worries that people with the required terrorist training are already in position, just waiting for the pieces to fall into place – the necessary supplies and the contacts to put an attack into action.
Until Morocco, Turkey and now Spain, plans to counter these logistical and operational scenarios were thought of as an exercise in possibilities. From here on, it’s no exercise, it’s the probability. The clocks are ticking.
An entirely new approach to terror must be put in place internationally. Monitoring outsiders and sharing intelligence must be stepped up. It is imperative to follow the movements of and monitor certain religious leaders and their followers and to carefully listen to and study their teachings and preachings. Almost all of the current wave of terror is stimulated by the forces of extremist Islam.
We must admit that we are targets. Once we can do that, we can begin to take the necessary steps to protect ourselves. The forces of good are working hard, but in order to fight this threat, they must work even harder.
Hello, Israel Calling
Phones will be ringing in at least 5,000 Jewish homes around Orange County on March 14, when volunteers pitch in to help raise money for O.C.’s Jewish Federation, the umbrella fundraising organization that helps support a dozen Jewish agencies.
This year, though, Super Sunday dialing will be divvied up between about 75 local volunteers punching numbers in the morning from the Costa Mesa campus and Israelis, who will take the afternoon shift from across several time zones.
"It’s very special to get a call from Israel," said Marc Miller, who is campaign chair for the Federation, which develops programs to foster ties between Israel and the U.S. Jewish community. "I think it will change the dynamic of conversation."
"There is a substantial cost savings between using the Israel call center and renting extra lines for the Federation," campaign director Alissa Duel said. Several other federations have also tapped the call center provided by the IDC Corp., which is based in Newark, N.J. The 14-year-old company provides international phone service at a flat rate.
"Here’s an innovative way to build bonds with Israel" and give support to its ailing economy, Miller said.
Miller’s fundraising goal is to surpass last year’s record $2.25 million Federation campaign by 10 percent.
Avi Chai Grant Saves Birthright
Revitalizing the Core
We live in an extraordinarily diverse and pluralistic city. It is in our Jewish DNA to want to participate in making the world a better place. It is also in our self-interest to live in a place where the societal needs are being adequately addressed. That is why The Jewish Federation must aggressively reposition itself as a compelling player in the field of community relations with a strong Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC). To do so at a time when financial resources are limited is a challenge, but it is certainly doable if we tap into the abundant creative energy in our community.
The Federation is committed to a strong and vibrant JCRC.
Engaging residents of our community to impact the "urban agenda" is the objective. But the agenda of the organized Jewish community must be redefined in a thoughtful, targeted and strategic way to successfully mobilize human resources beyond the core of active, identified Jews. This important core must be supplemented with participation from the scores of involved, but often assimilated Jews. The opportunities for leveraging individuals who burn with a passion for tikkun olam (healing the world) is not only possible but necessary.
Last week we began to engage people about what a future JCRC will look like.
The Federation will work to build a community relations agenda that enhances the decades of intergroup and interfaith activity that has made the JCRC so vital an institution to the organized Jewish community. It is a portal through which Jews will walk if they feel it can make a difference. Thus, it is vital for the JCRC to become a more active outlet for a broader group of volunteers.
The JCRC has a base of strength from which to grow. KOREH L.A., the Jewish response to illiteracy, is a magnificent example of volunteer action. With the continuing generosity of the Winnick Family Foundation, KOREH L.A. has become the largest volunteer children’s literacy project of its type in Los Angeles, helping children in our public schools learn to read. Through the support of the Jewish Community Foundation, The Holy Land Democracy Project is working with children in Catholic schools to educate them about Israel.
So why stop there? Let’s consider a range of other programs directed at children in schools. This would provide a compelling example of the Jewish community’s engagement in an area of concern to all. We can, with planning and action, build extraordinary bridges to the Latino and other ethnic communities around issues of this type.
The extraordinary government-relations work of the Los Angeles JCRC in Washington, D.C., and in Sacramento has led to the granting of funds for California’s first Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), has staved off Medi-Cal cuts for some of our local agencies’ critical programs and has led to the adoption of stronger hate crime legislation.
Beyond the critical service we provide in maintaining public support for essential programs of our agencies, we can engage these agencies in the creation of the new JCRC agenda.
Jewish Angelenos participate in disproportionate numbers as leaders in organizations addressing public education, health, welfare and even the environment. Our goal is to engage these activists so that they see that the JCRC is relevant to their interests. We live in a place where people do not always communicate or cooperate with others who care deeply about the same societal goals. The JCRC must reach out to a broader base of influential Jews to exchange ideas, successes and failures and to strategize about the communal urban agenda.
Where are the opportunities to engage more volunteers? Virtually every synagogue has a social action committee. Let’s create a mechanism to tap into these powerhouses. And how about a plan to take the younger leaders of our community and broaden their involvement? The College Campus Initiative, a collaboration of the JCRC, Hillel and the Shalom Nature Institute, provides college students on seven local college campuses with exciting social action opportunities, as well as training in Israel advocacy. The New Leaders Project gives Jewish young professionals an opportunity to learn about the broader Los Angeles community and to develop leadership skills. These are great examples of the good works of the JCRC. Let’s figure out the tactics to use the graduates of these training programs to be the leaders of the JCRC today.
Last week we met with members of the JCRC to discuss its future. They reminded us of the proud history of JCRC in protecting our interests and serving as the leading framework for the voice of Los Angeles Jewry to the broader community. The opportunities to once again revitalize and expand with meaningful action exist. The recent work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force of this Federation recognizes the need to narrow the focus of our activities in order to ensure impact, while bringing resources to those activities. Let’s make the urban agenda of this organization the centerpiece of the new JCRC. And let’s create a positive force for substantive action. I believe that the resources to implement that force, human and financial, will be a communal priority.
John Fishel is president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
Our Heroes and Theirs
Valley Festival Draws Thousands
It was a sunny day in Woodland Hills — perhaps a little too sunny — but the heat did not stop the 11th biennial Los Angeles Jewish Festival from creating some heat of its own.
"More booths, more vendors, more of everything" is how festival co-chair Nancy Parris Moskowitz described this year’s gathering, sponsored by The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance and a host of Jewish organizations and corporate sponsors, which attracted a multiethnic group of some 30,000 people throughout the day. Moskowitz also welcomed the festival’s return to the Pierce College campus, where attendees benefited from "good parking, lots of access and lots of shade."
Ken Warner, Valley Alliance president, was proud that the festival’s $125,000 price tag "is not costing The Federation any money. We did this by asking businesses to contribute."
In keeping with this year’s social action theme, "World Jewry," Becquie Kishineff, who went on a mission to Argentina last November, enlisted the graphic art services of an unemployed Argentine Jew she had met for a special Jewish unity-themed jigsaw puzzle project sponsored by the Valley Alliance.
"He spent hundreds of hours working on it but he didn’t want to accept any money," Kishineff said. "There are people out there who still want to give."
And the festival gave its all in reflecting the diversity of Jewish Los Angeles. Among those occupying booths: Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks); organizations and nonprofits of every stripe from the Anti-Defamation League to StandWithUs and Million Mom March; Yiddish and Jewish culture societies; and grass-roots clubs, such as the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework.
"Part of our mission is to have a visible presence in the community," said Bill Rice of GaySantaBarbara.org, which hosted the Gay Cafe alongside food kiosks Klassic Knishes and Kosher Connection.
Judaica and art vendors ranged from a Shop for Israel shuk to local artists. The Main Stage showcased live music all day long, and kids had plenty of activities to choose from — everything from rock-climbing and Family Stage entertainment, to the Temple Beth Torah of Mar Vista booth, which offered kids a respite from the heat with some storytelling. Keith Levy, director of programs at Congregation B’nai Emet of Simi Valley, showed children such as Abby Leven, 10, of West Hills, how to play the shofar just in time for Rosh Hashanah.
Abby’s father, Paul Leven, who also brought his wife, Saralyn, and 12-year-old son, Aaron, summed up the festival’s appeal: "We like to see our friends and to check out the booths."
Hirschfeld Dismissal Shocks, Frustrates