The right vehicle to spread their message about hunger

This is hunger. 

It’s written in bold, black letters on the side of a massive, custom-made 18-wheeler that will travel cross-country over the next 10 months to spread a message about the prevalence of hunger in the United States. It will make stops in cities like San Francisco, Chicago and New York — but first, it’s in Los Angeles, visiting local synagogues, colleges and community centers through Dec. 18. 

Although the truck’s exterior is a statement piece in itself, the real exhibition, called “This Is Hunger,” lies inside, free and open to the public. When visitors enter the 53-foot-long big rig — commissioned by nonprofit MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger — they are greeted by a long wooden table and 30 wooden chairs. 

“Essentially, we thought that sitting at a shared table was really the most natural thing to do,” said creative director and content developer Marni Gittleman. 

At first glance, it looks like an empty dinner table, but once patrons fill up the seats, the room darkens and a 14-minute film commences. The movie is a product of artist Barbara Grover’s on-the-road documentation of Americans struggling with hunger, which took years to collect. 

“Initially, I was photographing and interviewing people and not really sure what would come of it, but I knew I had to capture their voices,” Grover told the Journal. “I would go into the homes of strangers and they would sit down and they would tell me things they’re embarrassed to tell their friends. And they trusted me enough to know that I would use their words with integrity and respect and dignity. And that’s big.” 

The result is a starkly intimate series of portraits and narrations. Faces are projected onto screens at either end of the table, so it’s as if they, too, are sitting there. They are young and old, Black and white. They say things like, “We have to make the food last,” and “Don’t ever think this can’t happen to you.” At the
end of the film, the question is projected onto the table in hand-written script: “Will you be the change?” 

The film is just one aspect of the exhibition. Gittleman said it can be divided into two acts: “the shared table experience” and the active engagement experience. The latter, she said, is “where you can sign a petition, where you can take a social media selfie to get the message out there, where you can sign up for the MAZON mailing list, and where you can immerse yourself in the challenge of planning a meal for $1.40 [the national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) average benefit per meal].” 

Designed by members of the creative team that developed Noah’s Ark at the Skirball Cultural Center, the entire exhibition in the truck lasts 45 minutes. It was the job of Gittleman, who worked on Noah’s Ark, to organize the content into one cohesive experience. 

“I inherited a collection of photographs and very personal stories that we had to curate into a conversation,” she said. “I think the key to this design was actually the simplicity.” 

Gittleman said she and her creative team wanted the content to do the talking: “We wanted the people to speak for themselves.” 

Abby Leibman, president and CEO of MAZON, added, “We don’t really think about it as an art exhibition. It’s really using photography and storytelling to bring social justice into the world. I don’t know what to call it, but it’s some cross between social justice, activism and art.”

Over the past three years, MAZON has been working on this particular project, investing approximately $1.7 million to get the show up and rolling. Originally, MAZON wanted “This Is Hunger” to be a traveling exhibition that was shipped, installed and taken down at different venues. 

“But when we really started thinking about the goal and how we were wanting to rally America, we thought maybe there’s a way we can combine the transport system, the venue and the exhibit,” Gittleman said. So they customized and built a trailer from scratch.

The exhibition launched on Nov. 16 at Smashbox Studios in Culver City and continued its tour the next day, stopping at Temple Israel of Hollywood. Future stops in the Los Angeles area include Santa Monica College (Nov. 23 to Dec. 1) and Temple Judea in Tarzana (Dec. 2-6), then University Synagogue in Irvine, Agoura Hills/Calabasas Community Center and Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills. 

For Grover, who had promised her interviewees that their voices would be heard, seeing the exhibition-on-wheels come to fruition meant something very profound. “For me, it’s fulfilling this promise I made to these people that they would be speaking to America.”

MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger’s “This Is Hunger” exhibition will be in the greater Los Angeles area through Dec. 18. For tickets and information, visit 

What would Leonard Fein say?

I was hunting around for a writer who could dive into the chaos that is Ferguson, Mo., and emerge with a thoughtful column.

That’s when I realized how much I miss Leonard Fein.

I have no doubt that had Fein not died on Aug. 14 at the age of 80, I would have had an email in my inbox with the usual subject line: “New filing from Leonard Fein.”

For a generation, Fein was the pre-eminent liberal voice of American Jewry.  He wrote a weekly column in The Forward and appeared regularly in the pages of the Jewish Journal.  Along the way, Fein also founded Moment Magazine and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. For a life lived in the trenches of activism, he could easily say, “Dayenu!” — any one of those would have been enough.

I often turned to Fein, not because he was predictably liberal, but because he was predictably thoughtful. He didn’t adhere to slogans or the party line, like so many of his neocon rivals. His interest was in wrestling with opposing truths and divining where the compass of Jewish history, ethics and responsibility pointed.

There’s no way of knowing what he would have made of the police shooting of Michael Brown and the riots and militaristic police response that followed.  But Fein, who came of age during the civil rights movement, consistently pushed a retreating Jewish community to see the black struggle for equality and justice as a continuation of its own.

“And because we are Jews, and not white, and not black, we must see to it, as a community, that we do not come to act as whites,” Fein wrote in a 1970 column titled “Blacks, Jews and Utopia.” “Not only because it is forbidden us, not only because we of all people ought to know better, but because we shall cut ourselves off from our own future if we do. And because we are Jews, it is too much to insist that there ought, indeed, be a special relationship between us and Negroes, a relationship based not upon a common enemy, not upon a common history, but based instead upon a common purpose, the purpose of teaching America at long last what pluralism is all about.”

For a man so committed to Judaism’s “liberation theology,” Fein bloomed during Passover, and it was then that you could most often find his voice in these pages. For him, the holiday of freedom spoke to us directly through the ages, compelling us to obliterate whatever oppression blighted our modern world. In one memorable column, he talked of hosting a Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Eisa, who left his dermatology practice to work in Darfur among the victims of sexual violence.

“Much of seder time is devoted to making slavery real,” Fein wrote in 2012, “to ensuring that all of us see ourselves, our very selves, as having passed from slavery to freedom. This we accomplish, when we do, through a fierce act of imagination. Yet even when we seek not only to go back in time but to bring slavery in all its forms forward, to our own time, we deal mostly in abstractions. It helps to be able, as this Pesach we were, to break matzah with a flesh and blood eyewitness to both slavery and freedom. It enlarges us.”

Fein’s columns were a reminder, a scold, that the continuity of Jewish life is less important than the content.

As Fein wrote in Reform Judaism Magazine, “What would Judaism be without a fundamental commitment to defending the poor and the helpless?”

In his later years, his columns focused more and more on Israel. His deepest conviction was that the occupation subverted the best values of Judaism and the future of Zionism.

 I believe that Fein’s liberal critique, rooted in his love of Israel, reflected the majority of American Jewish opinion.

“There are people on the Left whose assaults on Israel are so brutal that they make me feel at one with the settlers,” he wrote in 2010. “My concern is with the very large swath of Jews who do care, many of them deeply, about Israel’s safety, and believe that Israel’s own policies contribute to its increasing isolation in the world.”

Fein never wanted to see Israel or Judaism isolated from the world. For him, the larger purpose of Jewish particularism was to serve the universal, to make the entire world a better place. 

“There is, however, one more question, a question whose answer cannot be evaded,” he said in a speech to Stanford University students in 1997. “It is the question that our faith imposes on us, for as you will recall, the truths of religion are not contained in the answers it offers, but in the questions it asks. …

 “Here then, religion’s most insistent, most urgent question: What will you do? That question does not call for speculation; it calls for commitment, it calls for action.”

Judaism lived correctly, Fein’s Judaism, is not parochial. It is as concerned with the death of Michael Brown as it is with the knowledge of ritual and text.  It points us to care for one another, for our community, as a path to embracing the world. Judaism done right, doesn’t make us more Jewish, it makes us more human.  As Leonard Fein would have said, it enlarges us.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Statement from Moment Magazine on the passing of Moment founder Leonard Fein

It is with great sadness that we announce that Moment Magazine founder and founding editor Leonard “Leibel” Fein passed away at the age of 80 yesterday. Leibel was the visionary behind the creation of Moment, and his passion inspired every page from the inaugural issue in 1975 through 1986.

“Leibel was a man of chesed—deep kindness—who dedicated his life to the Jewish community, State of Israel and the world, and never lost that abiding passion,” says Moment editor and publisher Nadine Epstein. “Not only was he a great man of letters, he was a true activist, and that is a rare combination. Whatever he did, whether it was found a magazine, write columns and books at a prolific rate, found MAZON; A Jewish Response to Jewish Hunger and the National Council of Jewish Literacy, and fight on behalf of causes such as Americans for Peace Now, he gave his mind and his heart. Leibel’s passing is a great loss for me personally, for Moment, and for all of us.”

All of us here at Moment are grateful for Leibel’s support over the years and are are proud to continue to publish the magazine he founded.

Remembering Leonard Fein

Like so many people I know, my first introduction to Leonard “Leibel” Fein was as a younger activist in the Jewish community who heard him speak and suddenly heard articulated with a passion and a brilliance that I could never have attempted, all the reasons why I wanted to change the world.

Leibel was first and foremost a visionary – someone who saw what was broken in our world and saw with equal clarity how to repair it. More important, he was a man who knew how to make real that vision – to give it life, to bring not only inspiration but hope to people who struggle against terrible circumstances. MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, is surely the remarkable legacy of his vision and his determination to see it realized.

Leibel was not only the visionary founder of MAZON – he was our inspiration, our touchstone, our mentor, our friend.

When I joined MAZON in 2011 as its President & CEO, Leibel took me out to dinner during my first week on the job. I was so nervous. It’s not just that I was going to have dinner with a man who was a luminary among Jewish thinkers and writers, someone I venerated and who seemed larger than life to me, but he had asked me to share MY vision for the future of MAZON.

Those who know Leibel will not be surprised to learn that he picked an amazing restaurant – one of those cool, hip new takes on old cuisine and we spent the first 10 minutes of our time together talking about food – Leibel had a passion for life and all its pleasures, and his pleasure was infectious. I felt at ease at once. As we spoke about MAZON, its founding, his original vision, the challenges and opportunities of the years since then and what I hoped to do in the future, he lit up. His excitement for new ideas, his openness to directions he had not yet contemplated for his “baby” and his support for me and my vision was overwhelming. He put his trust in me – no small thing for me to realize of course and a powerful demonstration of why he was such a great man – he mentored and appreciated others. He saw the potential in me and in so many of my colleagues in the Jewish social justice world. He never felt threatened by encouraging leadership in others, he saw it as the means to achieving all he hoped to see in his lifetime.

As news of his death spread, I have heard from dozens of leaders of organizations across the United States who credit him as their inspiration, their guide, their role model – not just at the outset of their careers but this week, last month, last year. He never stopped writing, teaching and prodding all of us to do more, to be more, to live our Jewish ideals in all we do. Leibel leaves behind an incomparable legacy of commitment to creating a just world, motivated not simply by doing what’s “right,” but by his belief that working to make the world a better place was an inherently “Jewish” thing to do.

I feel both the privilege and the obligation to make certain that I am all that I can be, and that MAZON lives up to the vision Leibel had for it in 1985. His confidence in me will sustain me in these days of loss and inspire me in the years to come. I will miss him.

May his memory be for a blessing. 

Leonard Fein, progressive activist and writer, dead at 80

Leonard Fein, a towering figure in Jewish progressive thought and action, died Aug. 14. He was 80.

 “Leibel” as he was universally addressed, was a prolific writer, a professor at Brandeis University and the creator of organizations and institutions that have left a lasting imprint on Jewish and general community life.

He and Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom founded MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger in 1987, which is headquartered in Los Angeles, The two men were friends for 40 years, and Schulweis recalled “many happy moments” with the man he knew as “a genuine idealist, a man of prophetic vision and integrity, who never calculated whether any of his actions would benefit him personally.”

Abby Leibman, the present CEO and president of MAZON, characterized Fein as “a true visionary, who turned his visions into reality…His commitment to social justice extended to all, regardless of faith and nationality.”

In 1981, Fein was one of the founding members of Americans for Peace Now and continued as an active board member throughout his life. A statement released by APN lauded Fein as “a combination of philosopher and reformer, organizer and agitator, truth-teller and joke-teller, irrepressible idealist and hard-boiled realist and one of the finest men we have had the honor to know.”

Among his many other contributions and accomplishments, Fein, together with Elie Wiesel, founded Moment Magazine in 1975 and set up the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy in 1997.

A companion in many of these endeavors, particularly MAZON and Americans for Peace Now, was Prof. Gerald Bubis, a colleague of 50 years standing.

“Leibel was not afraid to speak up, challenge authority or confront the establishment, while relishing his role as a curmudgeon,” Bubis said. Despite personal family tragedies, Fein pursued his heavy schedule as speaker, writer and organizer, Bubis added.

Fein’s influence and impact on thought leaders was multiplied through his frequent columns in The Forward, New York Times, New Republic, Los Angeles Times and The Nation.

Giving Tuesday: Will it be the latest craze?

First came Black Friday, then Small Business Saturday, then Cyber Monday and now – Giving Tuesday. In its second year, Giving Tuesday takes place online on Tuesday, Dec. 3, with Jewish nonprofits, among others, hoping to raise money for their various causes.

From helping low-income Holocaust survivors, to feeding hungry seniors, Jewish organizations are participating in what has been proclaimed a national day of charity, and which aims to provide an alternative to the consumerist frenzy of the shopping days it follows.

“Giving Tuesday provides a sense of balance to that, especially after a weekend when it’s all about consumerism,” said Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “As we close out that weekend, we think about others, people who may never have the opportunity to engage in that kind of lavish purchasing, but for whom we as Americans have a tremendous amount of concern. It’s a way of pulling them into this experience, and reminding them and ourselves that it’s not always about being acquisitive, it’s also about giving back.”

Mazon hopes to raise $10,000 to help hungry seniors tomorrow.

“For us, the focus will be on seniors who are struggling with food insecurity,” Leibman said. 

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is using the day to focus on raising funds for impoverished and low-income Los Angeles Holocaust survivors, roughly 30-percent of L.A.’s 10,000 survivors, according to a press release issued Monday by the L.A. Federation.

Federation’s goal is to raise $20,000 on Giving Tuesday, to “provide 1,000 hours of home services – such as transportation to medical appointments, bathing, meal preparation, shopping for basic necessities and other care,” the release states.

“These services are what allow frails seniors to stay in their homes.”

Approximately 8,000 organizations have partnered with New York’s 92nd Street Y, which is “the catalyst and incubator for Giving Tuesday,” according to the Web site  

Giving Tuesday is a “a campaign to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. It celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations,” according to the project’s official Web site.

As part of the preparations, development staff at organizations such as Mazon participated in webinars focused on topics such as how to make Giving Tuesday successful, best practices for online fundraising and more.

Another local participant is New Community Jewish High School, which is taking advantage of Giving Tuesday to raise money for an endowment to fund student scholarships.

In addition, the Jewish nonprofit startup Jumpstart has convened a panel discussion – titled “Faith+GivingTuesday+SocialGood,” which will be held Tuesday at the USC Caruso Catholic Center at 1 p.m., exploring the meaning of charitable giving in America. Participants from the Jewish community include City Controller Ron Galperin; Jumpstart CEO Shawn Landres; Devorah Brous, founder and executive director of Netiya; and Allison Lee, executive director of American Jewish World Service-L.A.

Israel, too, is getting in the mix. On Dec. 31, the Jewish state holds its inaugural and Giving Tuesday-inspired project, GivingTuesday Israel. Produced by IsraelGives, which helps Israeli organizations fundraise online, it aims to be the biggest day of online fundraising in the country’s history.

For more information about Jewish-L.A.’s various Giving Tuesday campaigns, visit the websites of Mazon; L.A. Federation and New Jew.

For more information about Jumpstart’s discussion, visit

If you are a Jewish organization in Los Angeles that is participating in Giving Tuesday would like to be included here, please contact

Faith and Uncertainty

A very senior professor from a very distinguished university sought me out last week, ostensibly to talk about international human rights. His specific interest, he said, was in the relative absence of Jews from the ongoing struggle to advance humanitarian concerns. But the issue that ended up taking most of our time was: Why Jewish? That is, if one wants to do battle with, say, hunger, why not contribute directly to Oxfam rather than bother to create a whole new institutional framework — such as, in this case, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. And so on down the long line of policy issues. 

I offered several responses, none of which seemed to persuade my interlocutor. First, there’s the nature of American society — more specifically, of the voluntary sector. In America, that sector relies heavily on faith-based agencies and organizations. The Catholic Charitable Bureau of the Archdiocese of Boston, for example, disbursed more than $31 million for program services in 2012. The Evangelical Lutheran Church provided $681,000 to do battle with hunger. And so on. There are, to be sure, many secular organizations that engage in “good works” (health-related organizations in particular), but the voluntary sector would be substantially diminished were the faith-based organizations to bow out of the ongoing pursuit of justice. 

Second, many of the faith-based organizations insist that charitable work is intrinsic to their weltanschauung. They are not inclined to drop their own commitments, to fold them into a faceless universalism.

There we come to the heart of the matter. The curious professor evidently sees the world as a set of choices between particularism and universalism, and when the problem is framed in those terms, it is easy to “vote” for universalism. My father often raised the same issue, wondering why Jews should march in protest of the Vietnam War under a specifically Jewish banner. Why not join the polyglot horde? 

To which I’d reply that, taken to its logical conclusion, he would address war, poverty, torture and so forth as citizens, not as Jews, leaving the Jewish agenda bereft of concern for the most urgent problems on the human agenda. Care about such problems? Then go across the street and join the others. And come back “home” when it’s time to deal with the trivial questions: the new contract for the rabbi, the paving of the synagogue parking lot. 

The professor’s error, and my father’s, is the assumption they make that there’s a neat division between the particular and the universal, as contrasted with the position — my position, in fact — that life is most interesting when we acknowledge the tension between the two and choose to live with that tension intact.

Here’s a ready illustration of what I mean: We are familiar with the tension between im ein ani li, mi li — if I am not for myself, who will be for me — on the one hand, and im ani l’atzmi mah ani — if I am only for myself, what am I? Imagine that those two perceptions were not sequential but were meant to be heard simultaneously. Nor are we permitted to be disabled by the tension, for they are immediately followed by v’im lo achshav eimatei — if not now, when? We are bound to act, even if we are pulled in opposing directions, even if the choice is fuzzier than we’d like.

We are fallible. “Justice” is not self-defining, and those who in any particular situation come to different conclusions regarding where a commitment to justice points may be acting with the purest of motives. So it is; life is filled with tough and often ambiguous choices. Yet we must choose, our uncertainty intact. For: If not now, when? 

One consequent problem is that once we’ve chosen, we tend to act with much greater certainty than we felt just before we chose. Nature abhors a vacuum, and politics does not take kindly to “yes, but …” The search for certainty, or a reasonable facsimile, is a natural phenomenon, often leading to dissonance. 

What Judaism offers is respect for the tension. It provides no solution to the tension. It joins the particular and the universal, asks of us that we do our best at balancing their differing claims, and move on. We are in search of a way to get beyond the bloodless and passionless universalism of the multinational corporation and the empty and vulgar universalism of the mass media, on the one hand, and beyond modernity’s nemesis, as well, the bloody and all-too-passionate particularism of the ethnos, of the clan, of the nation. We are in search of a road that restores to our lives a sense of transcendent purpose, even as our chronic uncertainty remains intact.

Transcendence and uncertainty make awkward shipmates, but there it is, the real world with all its honey, with all its thorns. 

Leonard Fein has written and advocated for progressive Jewish causes since the 1960s. In 1974 he founded Moment magazine, the journal of Jewish ideas, and in 1985 he founded MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

Mazon doling out $3 million in grants to fight hunger

Mazon said it has awarded more than $3 million in grants for 2011 to agencies dedicated to fighting hunger.

The grant recipients announced Tuesday by the Jewish nonprofit organization included about two dozen organizations from around the world, including Israel, South Africa, Ethiopia and Haiti, and several hundred from more than 40 states in America.

“Our grants help agencies rise to the challenge of feeding their hungry neighbors, and expanding access to government safety-net programs that shield families from some of the worst effects of the recession,” Mazon grants director Mia Hubbard said in a news release.

Religious and secular organizations, including Christian and Jewish charities, received grants.

The latest awards bring the total amount that Mazon has doled out in grants to more than $53 million, the release said.

Abby Leibman to lead MAZON

Abby Leibman, who has served in a leadership capacity at several nonprofit organizations, has been named president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

Leibman, the co-founder and executive director for the past 12 years of the California Women’s Law Center, has an extensive background in advocacy in the nonprofit and state government arenas.

She has served in a leadership capacity at such nonprofit organizations as Jewish World Watch, Jewish Family Service, California Women Lawyers, the American Jewish Congress, the West Hollywood Human Services Commission, the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles and the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

Leibman teaches courses on advocacy, justice and civil rights as adjunct faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles and the American Jewish University.

MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is a national nonprofit organization working to prevent and alleviate hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States, Israel and some developing nations.

“The need for MAZON—its advocacy, its policy work and its grant making—is more critical than ever before in our lifetime,” Leibman said. “I look forward to building on MAZON’s remarkable achievements and bringing my passion for advocacy and justice to the struggle to end hunger.”

Briefs: Rabbi Woody Allen; Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem case nears decision

Rabbi’s Billboard Run Cut Short

The Holy Rabbi is gone. For a week, his face graced a billboard above Alvarado Street and Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park. The black hat, long beard and sidelocks belonged to Woody Allen, poached from a scene in “Annie Hall.” Beside his face, the Yiddish words in Hebrew letters read “der heyliker rebe” (the holy rabbi).

The billboard put up by American Apparel — another like it ran concurrently on the Lower East Side in Manhattan — represented a break from the Los Angeles-based clothing line’s overtly sexual attitude. The company’s advertisements typically feature young women in brightly colored cotton underwear.

When the billboards went up earlier this month, it seemed the trendy clothing line had found religion.

“Woody Allen is our spiritual leader,” company spokeswoman Alex Spunt said.

But that is all she’d say.

And now the billboards are gone. A spokesman for the actor said he was unaware of the billboard design before it was posted. The blog Jewlicious, was reporting that Allen’s attorney demanded that the company take the image down.

The billboards here and in New York were lowered Monday morning, replaced in Echo Park with a more familiar American Apparel ad: a pubescent-looking woman in striped stockings, panties and a white tank top, lying on a white sheet and blowing bubblegum.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer
Photo courtesy LA Curbed

Court Arguments End in Case Over Disputed Jerusalem Site for Museum of Tolerance

Israel’s High Court of Justice (Supreme Court) has finally heard the last of the impassioned pleadings, and a decision seems near on whether the Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance will rise in the heart of Jerusalem.

It’s been three years to the month since high Israeli and California dignitaries picked up shovels and broke ground for the $200 million project and more than 16 months that the case has been before the court. During that time, the dispute surrounding the museum’s future has touched on all the easily inflamed religious and political sensitivities of the Arab-Jewish conflict.

Construction on the complex, designed by architect Frank Gehry, had barely begun when two Palestinian advocacy groups petitioned for a halt because the museum would sit atop the historic Mamilla Cemetery.

Workmen excavating the site in early 2006 unearthed bones and partial skeletons from the old Muslim cemetery, also known as the Maman Allah Cemetery. There is agreement among all parties that Muslims have been buried at the site for many centuries and that bodies may possibly lie five layers deep.

The Wiesenthal Center and the Jerusalem municipality have offered to renovate a nearby neglected Muslim cemetery and rebury the affected remains there.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, who initiated the Jerusalem project as founding dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has argued that the site has been used for decades as a parking lot and underground garage and that an Islamic court had ruled that the old cemetery had lost its scared character.

Hier, who in developing the Wiesenthal Center and its Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance into one of the most influential global Jewish organizations, has never shied away from a conflict. He is convinced that the Israeli court will rule in his favor.

“We have a compelling case, which is both legally and morally right,” Hier said in an interview last week.

He said that Palestinian claims to land ownership would affect not only the three-acre site for the museum, but a much larger area that includes Jerusalem’s Independence Park and the Palace Hotel.

“We are fully supported by 200 friends of the court briefs, by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Jerusalem Mayor Uriel Lupolianski,” he said.

However, the other side also has strong supporters, including both Palestinian leaders and prominent Israeli politicians.

Hier does not even like to entertain the possibility that he might lose, but the rabbi promised that “he would accept any ruling by the High Court.”

In the meanwhile, the delay in construction has cost the Wiesenthal Center about $1.5 million, and any restriction on land use allocated for the museum site would force a complete redesign of the original plans.

“The city hall in Amman, Jordan, and structures in other Arab countries have been built on abandoned Muslim cemeteries,” Hier said.

“We cannot be held to a higher standard than the Muslims hold themselves.”

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Shalhevet Students Organize Street Fair to Raise Funds for Israel Social Causes

Students at Shalhevet High School are throwing an Israeli Street Festival on Sunday, with all proceeds going to benefit social causes in Israel. Offering rides, a petting zoo, games, kosher food and shopping, organizers hope that whole families will turn out for a day of Israeli-themed fun. Pop stars Evan and Jaron will be performing, among other entertainers.

Maxine Renzer, a Shalhevet 10th-grader who is co-chairing the event, said sponsorship has already covered all the costs, so all revenue will go directly to Israeli charities. Once the committee members tally up the take, they will vote on whether to give it all to one charity or divide it up among a few. The event is co-sponsored by StandWithUs, NCSY and Bnei Akiva youth group. Renzer said it hasn’t been any problem to get Shalhevet students volunteer to staff the event.

“Everyone is very pro-Israel here,” Renzer said. “It’s getting everyone very excited and raising the school spirit.”

The fair will take place May 20, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. at Shalhevet, 910 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 930-9333.

Jewish Free Loan Association Creates Program to Assist Nursing Students

The Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) has created a program to provide nursing students annual interest-free loans of up to $10,000.

The Circuit

Sober and Proud

A cache of L.A. A-Listers joined attorney Robert Shapiro and his wife Linell to kick-off the first ever observance of Sober Day USA: A Day of Awareness poolside at the Standard Hotel.

“We want to show America that everyone can have fun without artificial enhancements such as alcohol and drugs and is a poignant way to honor my son, Brent,” Robert Shapiro said.

The Brent Shapiro Foundation, which embraces everyone struggling with addiction, was created in memory of the Shapiros’ son who died last October. At the event, the Shapiros introduced new Public Service Announcements that will enhance public awareness of this widespread problem and prove drugs and alcohol don’t have to play a part in celebration or everyday life.

Prove it they did with a night overflowing with delicious foods and a crowd of well-wishers on hand to support them including Diana (Call Me Miss) Ross, John Tesh and Connie Selleca, boxing’s first lady Jackie Kallan, Jacqueline Smith, uber-hairdresser Jose Eber and Paris Hilton were among the celebs that partied hardy in an alcohol-free, drug-free and goodie-laden environment.

Taste the Politics

Spring has sprung and that means politics is one again in the air. OK, so it doesn’t smell like roses, but the upcoming primary in June is a heated and important race for Angelenos. The last weekend in April saw Young Israel sponsoring a “meet the candidates” forum to prepare for decision-making time; and Chris and Jamie McGurk opened their Beverly Hills home to a debate between Abbe Land and Mike Feuer vying for Paul Koretz’s Assembly seat. The event, sponsored by the Society of Young Philanthropists, was filled with interested spectators who digested the political rhetoric with an ample supply of delicious snacks and goodies to make it all very palatable.

Candidates answered questions fielded by moderator and organizer Steven Fenton, who said,”It was a wonderful afternoon with a good turnout. It was nice that people wanted to support the schools and hear from the candidates. I was delighted to see so many students engaging in the political process. “

A fundraiser for Secretary of State candidate Debra Bowen was held at the home of Lillian and Stuart Raffels to fete Bowen and her supporters. Bowen spoke about the challenges of the office and her numerous qualifications to a packed house fressing, schmoozing and wishing her the best. I say good luck to all and watch your waistlines … it’s a dangerous time of year, they feed you into submission. Well it works for me.

Happy Birthday MAZON

It was a happy occasion when MAZON turned 20 years old and announced its new slate for the board of directors. Rabbi Arnold Rachlis of University Synagogue in Irvine assumed the position of chair of the board and Joel E. Jacob of West Bloomfield, Mich. was appointed to vice chair.

“For the last 20 years, MAZON’s staff and board members have been committed to the fight for those who are hungry,” Dr. H. Eric Schockman, president of MAZON said. “With continued support from our donors, MAZON will not stop working until hungry families are able to live a more nutritious life.”

MAZON was founded in 1985 as a national nonprofit organization to raise funding from the Jewish community allocating it to organizations that alleviate and prevent hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds.

For more information on MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, visit

Community Briefs

Hier, Pope Talk at Vatican

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

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

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

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

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

Weiss Fine Lowered

The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission has lowered a fine against City Councilman Jack Weiss from $25,200 to $4,800 for violations during his 2001 campaign for the Fifth District council seat.

Weiss whose Westside district stretches from Pico-Robertson to Sherman Oaks, appealed the larger fine, which led to a non-binding independent review. Administrative Law Judge Timothy Thomas wrote that the size of the original penalty would do, “little public good,” and that it could not be proven that Weiss intended to deceive voters.

Weiss’ campaign had failed to file numerous campaign mailers with the commission and failed to report some campaign expenses, the commission said.

The four-member panel voted 3-1 this month for the lowered fine, with the dissenting vote from commission member and retired Los Angeles Times journalist Bill Boyarsky.

“I thought that it was a serious offense,” said Boyarsky, who’s also a contributing columnist to The Journal. “The purpose of the law is to create a central file where anyone can see these mailers before the election. And not filing them is a violation of an important law.”

Also speaking against the lowered fines was retired state senator Tom Hayden, whom Weiss defeated in that campaign by 359 votes.

Weiss, a former federal prosecutor, declined to comment. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Grants Help ‘Food Insecure’

The Jewish anti-hunger group MAZON is distributing more than $266,000 in grants to 28 hunger relief agencies throughout California to combat what MAZON officials call, “food insecure households.”

MAZON’s fall grant cycle comes in the wake of the West Los Angeles-based group’s extensive work with Hurricane Katrina relief agencies. The hurricane effort led to a rise in donations targeted for hurricane victims. But MAZON’s latest grants focus on pressing needs in this state.

“People give to MAZON because they realize that hunger is a major problem facing children and adults across this country,” said Rabbi Arnold Rachlis, the MAZON board vice-chair and leader of University Synagogue in Irvine.

“The problem is getting worse rather than better as the safety next for the poor gets shredded,” Rachlis said. “And people understand that children can’t learn in school if they can’t have breakfast.”

Grant recipients include Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles and Northern California’s Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center ($5,000 each); the St. Joseph Center food bank in Venice ($15,000); the Westside Food Bank ($8,000). The legal aid group Public Counsel received $22,000 for its homelessness-prevention project, and the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness received $16,000. — DF

Temple Speaker Angers Muslims

A local Islamic activist group has complained about a controversial Yom Kippur speaker at the Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills.

The California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has objected to the temple hosting author Robert Spencer, author of the nonfiction bestseller “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)” (Regnery, 2005).

Spencer was one of three afternoon speakers who followed the main Yom Kippur speech by U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at the old Wilshire Theater, which the temple bought and is converting to its permanent home.

A Nov. 8 CAIR press release focused not on Spencer’s speech but his Web site,, and comments on that site’s unmonitored forums, which were not made by Spencer.

Temple of the Arts Rabbi David Baron defended the invitation.

“We do tend to bring in controversial authors to discuss their findings,” Baron said. “Nowhere did he ever call to … kill or harm or maim any Muslim. I never would allow that. Our intent was to take an honest, sober look at extremist elements that need to be marginalized.”

But Spencer’s mere presence at Baron’s synagogue condoned “Islamophobia,” said Hussam Ayloush, CAIR’s Anaheim-based regional executive director: “It’s almost like, how would the Jewish community [react] if a mosque invites David Duke to come and talk about Judaism?”

Baron, in turn, said he was surprised that the CAIR Web site had not posted any condemnation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent comment that Israel ought to be “wiped off the map.”

“I find that very troubling,” said Baron, who added that he is willing to host a Muslim speaker.

Ayloush told The Journal that the comments of the Iranian president were “not acceptable,” but he also criticized Baron for linking the issues, saying, “That is a lame excuse.” — DF


Jewish Giving is Still Looking Good

When the stock market entered bear territory last month, individual investors weren’t the only ones taking note. The continued softening of the market can also have a major effect on nonprofit organizations, many of which have benefited greatly from an exceptional run during the past five years.

While it’s still too early to tell how the recent changes will affect Jewish nonprofits in Los Angeles, fundraisers at some of the city’s largest philanthropic organizations say they’re not worried yet.

The Jewish Federation’s annual United Jewish Fund campaign is "off to its best start in seven years," according to William S. Bernstein, Federation’s executive vice president for financial resource development. He said giving has already increased 15 percent, and the campaign reached the $26-million mark — more then half its goal — a month and a half earlier than it did last year.

Not suffering either is the American Jewish Committee (AJC). "We are right on schedule," said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, Western regional director of the AJC. The organization is "raising about the same as last year, which was our best year ever — over $2 million in Los Angeles," he said.

Likewise, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is having a "banner year," with 100 new synagogues having joined its Passover campaign, said H. Eric Schockman, MAZON’s new executive director. Organizations that emphasize planned giving — like the American Society for Technion–Israel Institute of Technology and the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles — say they are also performing strongly this year.

One factor making these Jewish organizations hopeful is that the last several years weren’t just good, they were very good. During the three years from the start of 1997 to the end of 1999, the nation’s largest charities experienced double-digit percentage increases in giving, according to a September 2000 report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

"There’s been huge growth in private foundations that give to Jewish causes," said Evan Mendelson, executive director of the Jewish Funders Network, an organization that brings together Jewish donors across the country to collaborate on their giving. In 1998, she said, there were 3,000 U.S. private foundations that gave to Jewish causes, and today there are 5,000, and that doesn’t even count the supporting foundations and donor-advised funds that are run by individual Federations and community foundations. The accumulated assets of these funds topped $6.2 billion in 1998, although the percentage given to Jewish organizations varies.

"There is a tremendous amount of new money that’s secured into foundations," said the AJC’s Greenebaum. "They may not be making the same interest rate that they were … but those foundations will be giving in perpetuity."

A February survey in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, however, found that nearly half the country’s largest foundations expected giving to remain flat in 2001. Slightly more said their assets shrank over the last year. In Los Angeles, it’s too early to predict what will happen to the local foundations, the stock market and the economy overall, said Marvin I. Schotland, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation, a $325-million endowment that helps Jewish donors with tax and estate planning and philanthropic giving. What he and other leaders say is that during times of financial uncertainty, people give more strategically; they think about which organizations are best equipped to fulfill the passions they believe in.

"Passions and commitments don’t come and go based on economic circumstances," Schotland said. "They’re based on what you feel deep down in your heart or your gut. Economic circumstances merely allow you to fulfill those commitments."

Schockman agrees that donors are more selective when the economy sags. But he points to the tradition of tzedakah and says that, when it comes to giving, "Jews behave differently…. If the economy bottoms out, Jews will still give. I think they will give to organizations they feel comfortable with, who have good track records, whose administrative overheads are within guidelines of nonprofit management and who they trust." Most leaders agree that a nonprofit’s best protection against an economic downturn is planning, a clearly defined mission and a good track record. A large endowment doesn’t hurt, either.

"The next couple of years are going to be challenging for charitable organizations," Schotland said. "The better-run organizations and those whose missions resonate will come through the process more easily and with less trauma than those that are not."

"It’s a little like the pharaoh’s dream — there are the fat cows and the skinny cows. Part of fundraising is to do as well as you can in good years and as well as you can in the not-so-good years," said Greenebaum of the AJC. "I think people are not convinced that the economy is, long-term, so unhealthy that it has completely altered how people are giving right now. Many, many, many people are vastly better off than they were 10 years ago, so they may still be giving at a higher rate."

The Federation’s Bernstein agrees. "Although the economy and market have declined somewhat in the last year, the accumulated wealth of the community … still leaves contributors with significant flexibility in terms of how they wish to spend their charitable dollars," he said.

While a large amount of money has been created, it would be a mistake to believe that everyone has benefited. "There’s 31 million people who go to bed hungry every day, and 12 million of them are children," said Schockman. "Stock market or no stock market, there’s an epidemic out there of hungry people. We have not seen a diminution, even in the good times."

While tzedakah inspires giving, so do tax deductions. One tax of concern to fundraisers is the estate tax, sometimes called the death tax, which enables people to reduce the taxable value of their assets when they die by leaving a portion of it to charities. The tax encouraged the creation of many major foundations, such as Hughes, Mellon, Ford, and MacArthur.

If the Bush administration eliminates the estate tax, nonprofits stand to lose a large incentive for giving. Like the economy, the future of the estate tax remains an unknown. But a cause that speaks to donors’ hearts and checkbooks is the best protection against the hazards of both.

"The longer you’ve been involved with a cause, then the stronger you feel about it," said Diane Siegel, executive director, Western region, of the American Society for Technion. "It becomes part of your life and something you want to do, regardless of tax benefits."