Competing, Connecting Jewishly at Maccabi in O.C.

When the 2013 JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest kicks off Aug. 4 in Orange County, it is expected to attract more than 2,300 Jewish teens from around the world, making it the second-largest iteration of the annual events ever.

Officials expect 62 delegations to compete in 14 sports and eight arts specialties. More than 10,000 people, including athletes, artists, volunteers, host families, coaches and spectators, are anticipated to be on hand.

“We’re very fortunate that the folks at the Orange County JCC have the capacity to host and the willingness to provide [for] so many,” said Dan Deutsch, vice president of the JCC Maccabi Experience, which oversees the planning of the events. 

Among those participating in the events hosted by the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County in Irvine will be a delegation of 80 teenagers from the Westside Jewish Community Center, as well as an army of supporters. Another 70 youths are already in Austin, Texas, the other site of this year’s events, Westside JCC officials said. Activities in Austin began July 28.

The Los Angeles area sent only one delegation to this year’s Maccabi Games, unlike in the past when Westside JCC was joined by The JCC at Milken in West Hills. The latter closed at the end of June 2012 after The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles sold the campus on which it was located to New Community Jewish High School. As a result, Westside JCC was asked by the national office to absorb the San Fernando Valley group.

“We’ve got kids from Agoura Hills to the South Bay playing under one delegation,” said Elizabeth Green, coordinator of teen programs at Westside JCC.

The size of this year’s local delegation represents a significant increase from the first year that Westside JCC competed, in 2006, when only 13 athletes participated in boys basketball and swimming. It will send athletes in boys and girls basketball, baseball, boys and girls soccer, softball, girls volleyball, boys and girls swimming, and boys and girls tennis. It also will be sending two artists.

The JCC Maccabi Games — established in 1982 — may be the largest gathering of Jewish teens in the world, but it’s about more than winning, according to Alex Barry, 16, of Calabasas, who will be competing in the games for the third time.

“It’s about sports, but it’s less about sports than it is about making friends, so it’s really fun and it’s a cool experience to have,” he said. 

“I look forward to interacting and getting to know more people with the same interests as me from different places.” — Rachel Dean

The rising junior at Calabasas High School, who will be competing in track in the 200-, 400- and 800-meter events, said he looks forward to seeing the people he met from previous games. He said he has won multiple gold and silver medals in the past.

One purpose of the games is to help build relationships in the Jewish community and bring young people back in touch with their Jewish culture, according to Ronnel Conn, assistant executive director at the Westside JCC. 

“Getting people involved in these games is something that makes people feel good, Jewishly, ” he said. “It’s one of the few programs that I think is truly pluralistic in nature in terms of within the Jewish community across the spectrum. You have secular Jews all the way to Orthodox Jews, and this is a nice meeting point — and the meeting point is sports.” 

Several area athletes said they are eager to meet new people at the Orange County events, which conclude Aug. 9. They are expected to be largest since the games held in 1998 in Detroit, according to Deutsch. Orange County previously hosted the JCC Maccabi Games and a subsequent ArtsFest in 2007.

“I look forward to interacting and getting to know more people with the same interests as me from different places,” said Rachel Dean, 14, who lives in Westwood and will be attending Palisades Charter High School this fall. 

Dean is a swimmer, and this will be her second time competing in the Maccabi Games. She won two gold, a silver and a bronze medal while competing in the 2012 games in Houston, she said.

“I like how they incorporate Judaism into it but it’s not overpowering, and we have a lot of fun with it,” Dean said.

While sports may be the primary nature of the event, it is also about building relationships and bringing kids back to their Jewish roots at an age when they can easily drift away. The opening ceremony is one time where this really hits home with participants, according to Deutsch.

 “They have an epiphany that they are part of something much larger than their own Jewish community and that they’re part of the Jewish people,” Deutsch said.

JCC: New Jew breaks ground

Months after the former JCC at Milken closed its doors at the Bernard Milken Campus in West Hills, officials representing the property’s new owners — New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) — organized a ceremonial groundbreaking for its new campus.

“A lot of us have been working on this for many, many years,” said Harold Masor, past president and current finance chair at NCJHS. “We’re pretty darn excited about it. The biggest thing is having our own permanent home. That’s a real big plus for us.”

The event planned for Nov. 15 was meant to mark the official start of renovations to the school’s campus, slated to open in fall 2013. Two years after its 2002 inception at the Bernard Milken Campus, NCJHS moved to its current home at the Shomrei Torah Synagogue campus.

The development of the $36 million project will take place in phases, with science and technology taking precedence in terms of scheduling and funds, Masor said. In fact, an entire wing of the school’s campus — set up to accommodate wireless Internet — will be dedicated to the sciences.

Interior walls will be reconfigured to create new offices, including a large, collaborative teacher workspace and approximately 35 learning spaces for students. A renovation of the gymnasium’s basketball floor was finished in August.

In spite of the numerous renovations planned inside, there will not be any exterior structural changes to the building, located on the four-acre site of the Bernard Milken Campus on Vanowen Street. NCJHS purchased it from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in late 2010, and the JCC at Milken, which had been located there, closed June 30. 

Gensler, a global architecture and design, firm, is designing the project.

So far, Masor said, the school has raised $13 million in cash and pledges. Two million dollars has gone toward the down payment owed to the Federation, and NCJHS must pay $9 million more to the organization in the form of a loan.

Additionally, the school has committed to raise $4 million in order to receive approximately $2.2 million from the Jim Joseph Foundation, a grant-making organization that supports the education of Jewish youth and youth adults. That money will be used to fund tuition assistance for middle class families who would not normally qualify for assistance, Masor said.

There is more that officials would like to do if they can find the money. Ideas include building a “heart of the community”— a large space that would be used for assemblies, Jewish learning and which would accommodate a beit midrash (house of study). The construction of an arts wing also remains on the wish list.

When the school opens, everybody will happy with the result, Masor promised.

“It’s going to be beautiful. Kids and parents are going to be in awe when they see the property when we finish.”

What will happen when the JCC at Milken closes?

Jacques Hay knows that the end isn’t always the end.

When he learned that the JCC at Milken in West Hills will close on June 30 to become the home of New Community Jewish High School, he could have despaired. After all, Camp Chesed, the summer camp for Jewish children with special needs that he founded, had operated out of the location for 16 years.

“I’m not one for change,” he said. “I was heartbroken, but we have an excellent relationship with the people at New Jew, and I’m looking forward to building a relationship over there.”

For now, though, like many of the programs and organizations based at the site, Hay and Camp Chesed are moving on. The two-week camp has found a new home in Chatsworth at Egremont School, where there is a swimming pool and plenty of room to play sports.

The decision to close the JCC, which has more than 1,000 members but has struggled to stay out of the red, was precipitated by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ decision to sell the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, where the facility is located. In explaining the closure in February, JCC leaders said they could find no appropriate, affordable venue for it to use while the high school takes a year to renovate the property.

Its demise will leave the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC), which has no building of its own but provides programming at various locations, as the only JCC in the San Fernando Valley.

While JCC at Milken officials had hoped to continue its 80-student Early Childhood Center by moving to another location permanently, that never materialized, and it closed its doors earlier this month. To help families, the JCC hosted an open house with area preschools.

“The parents all attended, and everybody came and decided where they would go,” said Verna Fish, assistant executive director of the JCC. “I’m sure our children all found somewhere to go.”

The facility’s vibrant community for seniors will remain more intact. Most of those programs are moving to The Village at Northridge, a retirement community run by Senior Resource Group.

“They have welcomed us free of charge for all of our programs,” said Zita Kass, a Woodland Hills resident who has participated in senior groups related to books, current events and more.

She said the programs serve 200 people and cover a variety of topics, including Yiddish, finance and reading plays. Another popular offering, “Senior Shalom,” which includes food and entertainment, is moving to Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills.

Accepting the loss of the JCC won’t be easy for Kass, but at least her extended family of seniors won’t be dissolved.

“If you ask me if I’m still angry, I am,” she said. “But I’m delighted that we have an alternative. … People are very excited about the change. They’re so pleased that we were able to negotiate this.”

Jerry Wayne, executive director of the much smaller, 60-family NVJCC, said that group will do what it can to reach out to those affected. It offers numerous classes and activities and will send letters to members of the JCC at Milken after July 1 inviting them to participate.

Not everyone using the community center will have to relocate. The Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy, for example, will continue to offer lessons to hundreds of children on-site.

“We’ve been … negotiating with the high school to operate the academy there and remain on the campus,” said Krayzelburg, the academy’s founder and a four-time Olympic gold medalist. “We’re finalizing our terms … to continue to stay there and operate as we have been.”

Numerous community organizations, however, have had to search for new digs.

Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) is redirecting clients of its four-person career-services office to other area locations. The job club, in particular, will move to Sherman Oaks, just down the hall from an existing JVS office that serves refugee and immigrant clients and offers an at-risk youth program, said Katherine Moore, JVS vice president of communications.

With the location’s proximity to the 405 Freeway and numerous bus lines, she added that it should be very accessible to residents. The office is scheduled to open July 16.

“JVS’ commitment to our clients and jobseekers in the Valley remains constant,” she said. “The Valley remains a priority for us.”

Team Los Angeles, an award-winning team that competes in the JCC Maccabi Games, has been adopted by the Westside Jewish Community Center on Olympic Boulevard.

“Westside JCC just stepped up and said [they are] willing to make sure that there’s no loss of opportunity for teams in the Greater Los Angeles area to go to the Maccabi Games,” said Brian Greene, Westside JCC’s executive director.

Up to 140 youths have taken part in soccer, baseball, basketball, track and other sports for Team Los Angeles, according to Ari Cohen, JCC Maccabi Games delegation coordinator. It will be business as usual this year for Valley competitors —  teams already have formed and most practices can take place at local high schools, he said.

Next year’s structure — whether it involves a consolidation of teams or not — has yet to be determined, Greene said.

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) had offices on site and used classroom space as well. Staff now are located at the JFS Valley Storefront office on Victory Boulevard in North Hollywood; classes have been moved to Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, Temple Judea in Tarzana and Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village, and other temples have been welcoming as well, said Debbie Fox, senior director of children and family services for JFS.

The Jewish Free Loan Association’s office there already has relocated to Temple Judea. As for the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance, it is moving to Ventura Boulevard, where in September it will occupy 10,000 square feet of space that officials say is closer to high-usage populations in Tarzana and Encino.

“When a door closes, another one opens,” Federation President Jay Sanderson said. “This is a brand-new opening for the West Valley and for The Federation to move into a new building.”

He stressed that the sale of the campus property was meant to make the best use of a community asset and that there remained hope the JCC would continue and even thrive.

Although that didn’t happen, Carol Koransky, Federation executive vice president, said there remains much to celebrate about the upcoming changing of the guard.

“How exciting to have 400 teenagers in the building making it a center of Jewish life that will continue to make it grow into the future,” she said. “As much as I was thinking I was saying goodbye to things, it made me feel very positive. It’s not like we’re shutting down the doors in this building and saying goodbye to Jewish life.”

Scott Zimmerman, incoming president of the board of trustees at New Community Jewish High School, said excitement about the transition is high among staff, faculty and students, even though they won’t be moving from their current location at Shomrei Torah to their new home until next year. Construction should begin this fall to reconfigure the main building for classrooms, he said.

“We have a menu of things that we’d like to accomplish, and we’ll accomplish them as we raise enough money,” Zimmerman explained. “Our first priority is to build state-of-the-art classrooms. That means that you have to have a campus that has sophisticated connectivity and all sorts of modern media.”

So far, the school of 368 students has raised about $13 million, and the campaign’s goal is to raise “significantly more,” he said. When the work is complete, Zimmerman is hopeful that the site will once again be home to community activities.

“I think, with the passage of time, the community will come to see this as a very positive change for the Jewish community in the Valley,” he said. “The school aspires to be a jewel to the community, and I hope that within the bounds of what we’ve committed to our neighbors that we will be able to have certain programming at the facility that will make people happy and make people proud that we’re there.”

In some ways, though, the end is definitely the end. The JCC’s Fish may know this better than anyone. She has seen how it has become a second home to so many people, including local seniors and Israelis, whose Mati Center activities will move to Temple Aliyah in September. After 16 years working at the JCC at Milken — and even more time enjoying it as a parent — she is crushed by the fact that it will soon close forever.

“This has been very, very difficult. I never thought in my wildest dreams that this day would ever come,” she said. “My children were fortunate to grow up here. It breaks my heart
that my grandchildren won’t have the same opportunity.”

Phoenix Rises – Milken JCC Readies for Big Splash

The New JCC at Milken in West Hills, which was damaged but not destroyed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, has survived another peril and is looking toward a brighter future and a recovery of lost members.

Negotiators for the Jewish Community Center at the Bernard Milken Community Campus and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles confirmed Monday that they had reached full agreement, following nearly two years of frequently tense discussions.

The agreement’s key provision calls for a cost-sharing arrangement in the future operation of the four-acre Milken campus, which, besides the JCC and its recreational facilities, also houses offices of The Federation and its agencies.

Starting in 2010, the JCC will pay a rising percentage of the Milken campus budget, hitherto borne entirely by The Federation, leveling off at 65 percent by 2013. Projections for the total annual budget range from “well over $1 million” to $1.6 million.

Steve Rheuban, chairman of the Milken JCC board, and Richard Sandler, The Federation vice chairman, both declared the agreement a win-win solution.

The Federation, which owns the campus property, will be relieved of much of its financial burden.

The Milken JCC, in turn, is assured of its continuing tenancy as the “primary occupant” of the campus, as long as it pays its share of the cost, and can plan for the future on that basis.

Perhaps no one welcomes the resolution with greater joy than the young campers and the mature seniors who have been deprived of the JCC’s Olympic-sized swimming pool, shut down two years ago during an impasse between the two sides.

Following reconstruction of some of the facilities, the pool is scheduled to open in the early summer, said Paul Frishman, the JCC executive director.

When that happy day arrives, it will also reverse the precipitous decline in JCC membership, Rheuban hopes.

With the closing of the pool and uncertainty about JCC’s future, membership dropped from a peak of 1,500 to a current figure of 350, he said. In parallel, nursery school enrollment dropped from 125 to 70.

The roots of the Milken JCC go back to the West Valley JCC, which was founded in 1969 and bought the Milken campus, then a horse ranch, in 1976.

Subsequently, the site was deeded to The Jewish Federation, which put up $15 million to build up the campus, completed in 1987, and came up with additional funds to restore the buildings after the 1994 earthquake.

At one point, the protracted negotiations seemed near a breakdown, when the JCC was facing a $250,000 deficit but rejected a one-time bailout offer of $350,000 from The Federation.

Both JCC leaders and members balked at a condition of the bailout that they would have to surrender JCC’s right to remain as the major tenant of the campus.

But on Monday, both sides were eager to forget the past and look ahead to happier days.

“This outcome is a triumph for the community as a whole,” Rheuban said. “Both sides treated each other with respect, and I am pleased that we were able to get together.”

Sandler observed that “During some of the negotiations, you could hear horror stories from both sides, but that’s in the past. Now everyone wins and the best interests of the community are served.”

Frishman is busy planning for the future. He is aiming for an eventual membership of 2,000, including 100 nursery school kids in the fall.

With the pool in shape and new equipment for the fitness center, he anticipates an enrollment of some 200-300 kindergarten to eighth graders for the 10-week summer camp.

A major attraction for the summer camp will be the swimming school, conducted by Olympic gold medalist Lenny Krayzelberg.

Some 150-200 seniors, whom Frishman refers to as “active adults,” visit the JCC daily and consider it a second home. Frishman hopes to expand their activities, which include trips, musicals, discussion groups and card playing.

He envisions an upswing in the participation of young couples, as well, with the parents dropping off their toddlers at the nursery school and then heading for a workout at the fitness center.

Frishman also plans a further outreach, to involve the Russian and Israeli communities in JCC’s activities.

Milken JCC board rejects Federation offer

The future of the The New JCC at Milken in West Hills, which serves thousands of Jews in the West Valley, including 125 preschoolers and 700 seniors, is still uncertain.

Despite a debt of $250,000 and the loss of nearly one-third of its members following the closure of its pool by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which owns the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, Milken JCC leaders chose to reject a bailout plan.

The proposal from The Federation would have required the center to surrender its right to be the major tenant on the 4-acre campus.

By a unanimous vote on Sunday, June 10, the New JCC at Milken’s executive board rejected a rescue-and-restructure plan proposed by The Federation. The plan would have provided the financially strapped center with a one-time supplemental allocation of $350,000 in return for signing a quitclaim deed relinquishing its historic right to the center.

“Nobody should believe we’re fighting for blood here against Federation. They are our brethren,” JCC Executive Board President Hal Sandler told a standing-room only crowd of almost 500 JCC members and supporters at an emergency meeting held on the Milken campus.

During the nearly two-hour gathering, members donated $54,000 toward the $250,000 needed to break even and confirmed the board’s vote by a near unanimous show of hands.

According to The Federation’s plan, the JCC could continue to operate in its present space, except for the now-closed pool and adjacent areas, until July 1, 2008. At that time, its space and budget could be greatly diminished if The Federation, currently “in discussions” with former tenant New Community Jewish High School, rents a substantial portion of the Milken campus to the school, with a possible option to buy.

Sandler and Steve Rheuban, a new center board member and former Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles president, explained that the board had no alternative but to reject the offer when The Federation refused to approve an addendum requesting a guarantee of nine early childhood education classrooms, parking for preschool parents, shared use of the gym and space for senior programs and JCC administration.

Sandler believes that if The Federation had signed the addendum, the JCC would more likely have agreed to the restructuring proposal.

Milken JCC board member Marty Hummel, who supported The Federation’s plan to
guarantee the center’s operation for one more year, changed his mind during
the meeting to allow for a unanimous vote. Afterward Hummel abruptly
resigned prior to the general meeting, where he spoke out against the vote.

Hummel and his wife, Jill, both cited concerns over their preschool child’s ability to attend the center next year. “My greatest concern is my child,” Jill Hummel said during the meeting. “If monies don’t come in there could be a chance the center might have to close for a few months. Where do these children go?”

Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon and vice president of planning Andrew Cushnir, neither of whom had authorization from The Federation’s board to approve the addendum, left the meeting after the JCC board turned down the proposal. In previous interviews, they have consistently reiterated The Federation’s support for continued services for seniors and preschoolers in the West Valley.

While the JCC has struggled financially for years, one ongoing stream of funding was cut on April 25 when The Federation closed the pool with little advance notice, citing possible mold problems. But even prior to this date, on April 11, The Federation had already requested and been issued a permit by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to demolish and fill in the pool, a step taken to cover all possible work scenarios, according to Dragon.

Dragon said the JCC’s financial difficulties predate the closing of the pool and the timing was merely coincidental. She and Cushnir maintain that the JCC, which is the third-largest local recipient of Federation funding, receives on average $1.3 million a year, including program funding, occasional supplemental allocations and “rent subvention,” which covers maintenance, utilities and security costs. The Federation provides 34 percent of the JCC’s budget, Dragon said, while nationally Federation support averages 12 to 15 percent of a JCC’s budget.

Up to now, the New JCC at Milken has avoided closure and selling off its property, the fate of many former Los Angeles JCCs, because of its unique history.

Founded in 1969 as the West Valley Jewish Community Center, it bought and moved to its current site, a former horse ranch consisting of a cottage and a converted garage on four and a half acres, in 1976. Unable to afford construction, the JCC parent organization, in a complicated deal signed in 1984 and reaffirmed in 2004, deeded the property to The Jewish Federation, retaining “primary use of the real property.”

The Federation purchased an adjoining acre and a half and raised the $15 million needed to build the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, completed in 1987 and refurbished in 1994 after the Northridge earthquake. In 1999, the $4.5 million Ferne Milken Youth & Sports Complex was dedicated, adding a 12,000-square-foot gymnasium, an Olympic-sized pool and a fitness center.

“We’re asking you to support us,” Sandler told Sunday’s audience. “This is your pool, this is your building, this is your center.”

Most members supported the JCC during the meeting, but voiced concerns about financial accountability, management, open communication and viability of the services, especially the preschool, summer camps and pool.

“We have a lot of financial problems and some mismanagement. Nobody’s denying that,” former JCC president Bonnie Rosenthal said.

She and many board members trace the JCC’s financial distress to the dissolution of the parent organization. “When JCCGLA broke up, we were left with a lot of debt,” she said.

Some, like Maureen Sloan, who joined with her husband for the pool and fitness center, felt betrayed by both the JCC and The Federation.

Briefs: The Milken JCC pool; Valley Cities JCC fundraiser; Iran divestment bill moving forward

Federation Asks Milken JCC to Relinquish Property Rights

With little notice, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles closed the Olympic-sized swimming pool at The New JCC at Milken on April 25, citing possible mold damage but having already been issued a permit on April 11 by the City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to demolish and fill in the pool.

Now The Federation appears to have more extensive plans for the financially troubled JCC, offering them a one-time supplemental allocation of $350,000 in return for signing a quitclaim deed relinquishing their historic right to be the major tenant on the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills.

After June 30, 2008, the JCC’s space and budget could be greatly diminished as The Federation intends to rent the space to former tenant New Community Jewish High School, giving them a substantial portion of the Milken campus.

In response to that proposal, which was faxed to the JCC on May 22, the JCC board of directors has scheduled a membership meeting on Sunday, June 10, 2 p.m., to present and vote on The Federation’s rescue plan. Prior to that meeting, however, JCC officials are hoping to raise $500,000, giving them the ability to consider other options.

“We have a lot of financial problems and some mismanagement. Nobody’s denying that,” former JCC president Bonnie Rosenthal said. “But we do serve people and it seems that Federation is not interested in the people we serve.”

Those people include 125 preschoolers, many from single-parent, working-parent and immigrant families who depend on the extended daycare hours. Additionally, the JCC serves more than 700 seniors who come for classes, cultural events and fitness programs.

Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon said that it is a coincidence that the pool closure happend at the same time as the JCC’s financial distress. She added that The Federation wants to see the best communal use of the property and intends to work with the JCC to continue a downsized version of its early childhood and senior programs.

Dragon and Andrew Cushnir, Federation vice president of planning, said that without signing the quitclaim deed, the JCC will not receive supplemental funding and, like all Federation agencies, must apply for a 2008 allocation, with no guarantee.

“The JCC is losing members in droves because of the pool closure and the lack of information that Federation is giving out,” said Marty Rosenthal, JCC treasurer and past president.

Meanwhile, the pool remains closed with no set demolition date.

— Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor

Valley Cities JCC Holds Fundraiser

In what could be a last hurrah, the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center (JCC) will hold a BBQ social on Sunday, June 10, 2-7 p.m., complete with a bounce house for children, face painting, bands and silent auction. The entrance fee is $10.

The center, which uses property owned by the Jewish Community Centers Development Corp., is facing closure as soon as June 15. The development corporation had agreed in principle to a Burbank philanthropist’s $2.7 million offer to buy the property and turn it over to Valley Cities JCC. But in April everything fell apart.

“We keep making them offers, and they just keep turning their backs on us,” said Michael Brezner, the center’s board chair. “They are not nice people.”

The BBQ is part fundraiser, part public relations initiative.

“We want people to know we are here. We want to stay,” said Lori Brockman, a concerned parent who helped organize the event.

Valley Cities JCC is in Sherman Oaks at 13164 Burbank Blvd. For more information, call (818) 786-6310.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer

Iran Divestment Bill Passes Assembly Appropriation Committee

[SACRAMENTO] — A proposed California State Assembly bill that would require state pension funds to divest an estimated $24 billion from more than 280 companies doing business with Iran, took one step closer to become law on May 31 after being approved by the Assembly’s Appropriation Committee.

The bill, also known as AB 221, was first introduced by freshman Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) and unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee on April 24. Anderson has said the primary goal of the legislation is to secure the California Public Employees Retirement and the State Teachers Retirement pensions with wise investment strategies, since both are valued at nearly $400 billion and funded by taxpayers.

AB 221 has received wide support from 14 national and state Jewish organizations and dozens of Los Angeles-based Iranian Muslim groups opposed to Iran’s regime, as an economic means to bring down the already crippled Iranian economy. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a Washington D.C.-based pro-Iran lobby as well as the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have been the only groups opposing AB 221. The Assembly will have a final vote on the bill in the first week of June and supporters said they expect it to become law by January 2008.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer