How to do Kapparot With Money


It’s easy to do the ancient Kapparot ritual in the comfort of your own home. The ritual is performed between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. All you need is some cash and the ritual worksheet below which is adapted from the Machzor.

Before Yom Kippur, gather those who want to do the ritual — your children, your self, your spouse, and anyone else who is interested — and have enough cash per person to make it a significant donation. I recommend that you use the same amount that is spent on a chicken, usually $18 or more. After performing Kapparot, the money is given to tzedakah, ideally to help feed people in need in your community.

Below is a sheet you can print out and use at home.

Wishing you a sweet and healthy New Year!

DOWNLOAD YOUR KAPPAROT WITH MONEY GUIDE

Managing money goes high-tech


Financial advisers and planners agree on at least one thing when it comes to retiring: Good money management is key to a comfortable retirement. That means keeping an eye on where your money is going and how your investments are doing. But if money management is not exactly your forte, don’t worry. There’s an app for that!

Arielle O’Shea, a staff writer for personal finance website NerdWallet, said it is worth doing the due diligence into these apps — shopping around and deciding what works best for each person. 

“You’re not tied to any of these apps for life,” she said. “Deleting your account information is pretty painless. But it’s definitely worth the time to use some of these services, which can help you save money or better manage it. Because every little bit helps, especially when you’re retiring and every penny counts.”

Here are some financial apps that can help as you hit retirement. (Unless otherwise mentioned, all apps are available for Android and Apple devices.)

” target=”_blank”>Mint (free) helps you consolidate all of your bank accounts, debit and credit card charges, your 401(k) account, and mortgage and loan accounts to track your income and spending. Using that data, the app creates personalized budgets to help maximize savings. Mint also will give you a free credit score if you provide your Social Security number. 

“This app is often called the best because it is so comprehensive,” said Lisa Gerstner, a contributing editor for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. “It gives a good snapshot of what’s going on [with your finances]. But on the flipside, there’s a lot going on there, so if you want something simpler, this may not be the app for you.”

A related app, ” target=”_blank”>Mvelopes is less comprehensive compared with Mint. After connecting with your bank accounts (you also can add offline accounts, like for cash), it takes your monthly income and creates a customizable budget based on national averages. Users then put money in virtual envelopes for allocated spending. With the free version, you can connect four bank accounts and have 25 envelopes for your budgets. The premier version ($95 annually) permits an unlimited number of bank accounts and envelopes.

” target=”_blank”>FileThis (free) enables you to keep all of the documents from each of your bank, insurance, mortgage, retirement and investment accounts in one location — a cloud drive of your choice. It also will track your bills and help manage your expenses. 

” target=”_blank”>Spending Tracker (free), which also is available on the iPhone. 

OTHER USEFUL APPS

” target=”_blank”>EyeReader ($1.99 on iPhone) uses your camera lens to magnify small text. Similar apps on Android devices include ” target=”_blank”>Screen Magnifier HD (free).

” target=”_blank”>Lifesum (free; premium version $9.99 per month or $46.99 per year) helps you meet your health goals, track your water and calorie intakes, and even share your progress on your social media accounts. 

Israel, top Latin American bank sign pact for R&D, trade


Israel signed a cooperation agreement with Inter-American Development Bank, the largest investment authority in Latin America and the Caribbean Islands.

The IDB funds some $12 billion in projects annually.

“Implementing the agreement will give Israeli companies access to partners in R&D and trade in the region,” said the Israeli Ministry of Economy’s Avi Hasson, who signed the agreement on Monday.

The agreement could allow a joint $5 million fund for subsidizing innovative projects involving Israeli companies in Latin America, assistance from the bank in making Israeli technologies accessible to organizations in Latin American countries, helping Israeli companies become involved in development programs that are funded by the bank, and funding industrial R&D cooperation.

According to the Israeli Ministry of Economy, Israeli exports to Latin America in 2014 were at $2.53 billion, excluding diamonds. The fields of machines and mechanical devices led with 40 percent of exports, followed by chemicals at 20 percent, then plastics and rubber at 6 percent.

Brazil was Israel’s main export destination in Latin America in 2014 at $915 million, comprising 36 percent of Israeli exports to the region. Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia and Chile were the next most significant export destinations.

Israel’s trade agreement with countries that belong to the South American joint market known as Mercosur — namely Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay — went into effect in June 2010, and in September 2011 with Argentina.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority are the only countries outside Latin America that enjoy a free trade agreement with Mercosur states.

In May 2014, the Netanyahu administration approved a three-year plan to strengthen its economic ties with five Latin American countries: Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and Central American Costa Rica.

“We are making a very concentrated and focused effort to vary our markets, from our previous dependence on the European market, to the growing Asian and Latin American markets, in which Israel needs to take a small market share and bring about growth, employment and social welfare in the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli Cabinet at the time.

Lawyer in Bank of China terrorism lawsuit to guide Gitmo closing


The Obama administration named as its official in charge of shutting down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility a lawyer representing the family of a teenager killed in Israel.

Lee Wolosky “will assume lead responsibility for arranging for the transfer of Guantanamo detainees abroad and for implementing transfer determinations, and overseeing the State Department’s participation in the periodic reviews of those detainees who are not approved for transfer,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday in a statement.

Wolosky, 46, was a lawyer for the parents of Daniel Wultz, an American teenager killed in a 2006 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. The Wultzes are suing the Bank of China, alleging that Israel intelligence a year before the killing had informed Chinese authorities of money transfers to terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

In a Miami Herald profile published Tuesday, Sheryl Wultz lavished praise on Wolosky.

“He has learned firsthand the havoc that terrorism wreaks on families, communities, countries and the world,” she told the newspaper. “Yet he also understands the need to work out reasonable resolutions to difficult issues.”

Wolosky will be on leave from his practice as a partner at the leading New York law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner while he works for the government.

Wolosky, a former staffer on the National Security Councils of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, assumes responsibility for making good on Obama’s pledge to empty the prison of 116 captives held without trial. The Bush administration opened the facility in 2002, months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, to house prisoners captured in the War on Terror.

The Republican-led Congress has fiercely resisted the closure of the enclave on U.S.-held land in Cuba, banning any effort to bring the captives to U.S. soil for trial and throwing up obstacles to transferring them to other countries.

Raising financially sensible kids


Spoiled children are made, not born — and there’s something you can do about that. 

That’s the message of New York Times “Your Money” columnist Ron Lieber’s new book, “The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who are Grounded, Generous and Smart about Money.” The 43-year-old’s belief that financial transparency in the household bodes well for a child’s future is at the crux of the 256-page book, which was published by Harper on Feb. 3 to positive reviews.

To that end, Lieber urges parents to speak candidly with their children about their finances, including how much they earn, how much money sits in their bank accounts and what thought processes precede spending decisions. In fact, Lieber told the Journal in a phone interview, it is parents’ responsibility to do so. 

“As parents, we’re in the grown-up creation business. We’re trying to wind them up and push them out in the world. And their job as kids is to be curious and ask questions about how that world works, and it’s hard to deny the fact that money is one of the most important forces driving human behavior and human decision-making,” Lieber said. 

“So not to answer those questions, not be upfront, not to narrate those decisions when it comes to money — particularly with teenagers — is to do a kid a disservice. They will go out and flounder their way through college and afterward, and they won’t be ready, and it’s not OK to send kids out in the world [with] a lack of financial readiness.”

As the father of a 9-year-old daughter, Lieber understands that these sorts of conversations can be awkward, but he stressed that they need to take place.

“One of the things parents should try and do more of is just narrating their financial decisions on an ongoing basis,” he said.

It makes more sense — and is more effective in raising financially sensible children —than just setting seemingly arbitrary rules about what kids can have and what they can’t have.  

“Most … families want to set some kind of limits, but the limits we are setting are all artificial ones, which is a tricky position to be in as a parent because you are drawing these lines and saying on one side of the line is overindulgence or spoiling or creating a sense of entitlement, and on the other side of the line we are not doing that and we are just being good, generous parents, and nobody knows where to draw that line,” he said. “It’s not like you get a manual when you have your first child.” 

On his website, Lieber positions his book as a practical guide to handling “the tooth fairy, allowance, chores, charity, saving, birthdays, holidays, cell phones, checking accounts, clothing, cars, part-time jobs and college,” all the while keeping an eye on maintaining and passing on important values. 

Lieber lives in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., where he serves on the board of his synagogue and is married to fellow New York Times writer Jodi Kantor (author of “The Obamas”). His previous books include the best-selling 1996 work “Taking Time Off,” which discusses the benefits of taking a break from education, and 1998’s “Upstart Start-Ups” for young entrepreneurs.

He admits to struggling with the challenges of how much to discuss money with his daughter — just like any parent might — but believes it is better to err on the side of too much information than not talk about it at all. 

Lieber’s approach in his new book to dealing with kids and money is resonating with the likes of Los Angeles clinical psychologist and author Wendy Mogel (“The Blessing of a B Minus”). 

“It’s the first really substantial book anybody has written [about] talking to kids about money and buying and spending in our consumer culture, and it’s just great,” Mogel told the Journal. “It’s a great source.”

Lieber was in Southern California promoting the new book during a February appearance at Viewpoint School, a private school in Calabasas. As a columnist for a major newspaper, it’s part of his job to venture out into local communities, where, he said, he constantly meets parents who are concerned about their children’s attitudes about money. He said it was a request to speak a couple of years ago that led to the writing of “The Opposite of Spoiled.”

“A bunch of parents came to me a couple years ago and said there were all these conversations in their community about who had more and who had less and how that came to be and whether it was fair, and it was happening in private schools and public schools, and they were noticing and asking complicated questions about it. They had seen I had sporadically written about this stuff in the newspaper, and they thought I could come to the schools and set everybody straight,” he said. 

“They invited me to speak, and I realized one thing everyone had in common is nobody wants to raise a spoiled child — that is something you as a parent do to them. They are not born that way; it’s a result of parenting. And once I figured that out, I figured … ‘If that is what we are trying to solve for, then what is the opposite of spoiled?’ ”

The book acknowledges there is no sufficient antonym for the word “spoiled,” but its author explained to the Journal what the phrase means to him:

“ ‘The Opposite of Spoiled’ is a constellation of values, virtues and character traits that add up to the decent, grounded children that we all want to push out in the world,” Lieber said. “It’s things like modesty and patience and truth and prudence and generosity and perspective, and I think a subset of perspective is gratitude for what you have, even if you don’t have as much as everyone else. … To me, it’s the opposite of being self-centered.” 

My year of street tzedakah


When I lived in Berkeley in the late ’60s and early ’70s, walking along Telegraph Avenue could be expensive if you gave to every panhandler who asked for spare change. Not that much has changed in all these years. The number of people asking for handouts is at least as great as it was, and perhaps more so. Given unemployment (mercifully down to 5.8 percent) and the underemployed, the historically low minimum wage, the federal cuts to food stamps for the working poor, and the incoming Republican Congress that is unlikely to act on behalf of the chronically poor and food-insecure people, it is no surprise that people asking for help on the street are ever-present.

What to do? Democrats in Congress who believe that the federal government should extend a helping hand, especially in difficult times, are slogging it out with a recalcitrant, hard-hearted, extremist Republican Party that cares little for “the least among these” (Matthew 25:40) despite their own Christian faith claims.

What about us? Do we give to the people on the street? Something to everyone, nothing to anyone, or sporadically when we feel like it?

I confess that, over the years, I have been alternately generous and tightfisted. Sometimes I open my wallet, but more often I walk by without responding, feeling guilty.

Last year, my friend Letty Cottin Pogrebin sent me a link to an op-ed she had just written for Moment Magazine called “The Politics and Ethics of Street Tzedakah.” After reading it, I felt especially ashamed of myself.

I decided, both for the sake of the person asking for help and for myself, that henceforth I would give to everyone asking me for assistance. Since then, I have given to virtually everyone I encountered who asked me for assistance. I keep dollar bills in my wallet for these people and give everyone $1, not very much in the grand scheme of things (I estimate that I have given out about $250-$300 this past year). The payoff, however, is great in human terms. The opportunity to connect heart to heart and soul to soul with a stranger in need is a benefit for both of us.

In each of the several hundred cases, the recipient usually responded gratefully: “Thank you, brother!” “God bless you!” “Have a great day!” They felt seen and respected. I felt I did the right thing. It was, in a limited way, a win-win, though my dollar gift did little to solve the great socioeconomic problems in our country.

None of those who panhandle wish to be doing so. I remember one young man walking through traffic held a sign that read, “This is humiliating to me, but I am hungry. Please help!”

To those who say skeptically that these people are scamming us, that they can do better standing at a busy intersection than by actually getting a job, I ask only that you put yourselves in their place and reflect on what it would have taken for someone to do what they are doing.

Regarding giving when we legitimately suspect fraud, Rabbi Chayim of Sanz (1793-1876) said:

“The merit of tzedakah is so great that I am happy to give to 100 beggars even if only one might actually be needy. Some people, however, act as if they are exempt from giving charity to 100 beggars in the event that one might be a fraud.” (Darkai Chaim, 1962, p. 137)

Maimonides reminds us, “One must never turn a poor person away empty-handed, even if you give him a dry fig.” (Mishneh Torah, “Gifts to the Poor” 7:7)

The obligation to give tzedakah includes everyone, without exception, even the poor who receive community funds and individual handouts (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 248:1). When the poor give, they realize that there are others worse off than themselves. 

According to surveys, the American-Jewish community is among the most generous communities in the country per capita. I am proud that our people give to all kinds of worthy causes, to alleviate suffering here and around the world, to the people and State of Israel, to local, national and international Jewish causes, to synagogues and food pantries, homeless programs, refugee organizations, universities, hospitals, art museums and symphony orchestras. We write checks because we know that Judaism requires it, because we know the heart of the stranger, the poor and oppressed, and in the interest of tikkun olam.

But how often do we give when we meet strangers on the street?

I decided a year ago that I am no longer walking by without giving. I pledged to myself to carry $1 bills at all times, and to give them whenever asked, not just for the sake of the other, but for my own sake as well.

Rabbi John Rosove is the senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood since 1988. He blogs at jewishjournal.com/rabbijohnrosovesblog

‘The Fame Lunches’: Daphne Merkin is still wishing for mother’s love


If you were the wild child among more submissive siblings, who refused to be silenced and cried continually, and fought with all the others about their glaring hypocrisies; chances are you were not your parents’ favorite child.  If you sometimes made disturbing comments about wishing to harm yourself while broadcasting to anyone who would listen your opinion about your parents’ deficiencies, you were probably the cause of much familial stress.  If the confusion that swirled around in your head escalated to the point where your parents sent you to a psychiatric facility when you were only 8 years old, you probably only grew more despondent.  By the time adolescence beckoned, the die was cast: You were known only as the anxious and nervous one, a little troubled girl who simply needed too much.

But what if you’re not.  Maybe you were just an exquisitely sensitive and creative little girl who was able to disarmingly articulate your family’s massive dysfunction.  Maybe not getting enough love from your mother and father was simply too much for you to bear.  Maybe you’re Daphne Merkin. 

Merkin, author of  “The Fame Lunches: On Wounded Icons, Money, Sex, the Brontes, and the Importance of Handbags” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), is an extremely engaging and empathetic writer.  She doesn’t allow herself to form fixed notions about others, but instead wrestles with how most of us choose to present ourselves to the outside world, along with the forces that have shaped our individual self-presentations.  She is acutely aware of the difficulties involved in all human relationships but also sees tenderness and beauty where others don’t even think to look.  Brought up in a Modern Orthodox, wealthy Jewish home in Manhattan, Merkin struggled with a father who had little patience for her and a mother who seemed overly concerned with the aesthetics of their home while ignoring the emotional turbulence lurking beneath it.  There was little talk about God or spiritual matters of any sort.  Their Judaism was expressed mostly by rituals and celebrations and life at the synagogue, which Merkin disliked since it seemed to her the men had all the good parts.  What she did enjoy was studying the Talmud, which stimulated her active mind with its never ending labyrinth of puzzling arguments.  But she studied privately and eventually gave it up.  As for God, he always either ignored or eluded her.

Mostly, she tried to get her mother’s attention, an exercise that resulted in repeated frustration and disappointment.  But Merkin never stopped trying.  She writes about her mother with an almost uncomfortable intensity, one that seems to elude her in other relationships.  Her mother passed away years ago, but is still dominant in her thoughts and misgivings.  She misses her. Perhaps misses what she never had.  They shared a turbulent relationship, but one that Merkin counted on, even though her mother continually disappointed her. The only possible gift bestowed upon Merkin from this ferocious attachment is that it seems to have imbued Merkin with the ability to look at others through a psychological lens that is filtered by kindness and compassion.

In “The Fame Lunches,” her new outstanding collection of essays, Merkin offers us her take on everything from the allure of lip gloss and its relationship to the demise of civilized society to vividly personal and perceptive essays that resulted from her lengthy interviews with everyone from Madonna to Kate Blanchett.  She tries to dissect the enduring legacy of Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana and Courtney Love while offering up thought-provoking pieces about the Bronte sisters, Bruno Bettelheim, and Henry Roth.  She allows space for her own meditations on mental illness, psychoanalysis and the hardships of mothering after divorce.  She is equally adept at highbrow and lowbrow subjects, because she is fascinated by both, and brings an observational sharpness to whatever she is writing about.  Some of the best pieces here have to do with the hunt for a perfect handbag, reality television, and the obsession women have with holding on to their beauty.

What amazes the reader about Merkin is how open her heart has remained, even with age and after several extreme episodes of emotional distress.  Her heart has not hardened, and that is truly a writer’s greatest asset.  She has written at great length in the New York Times about her over 40-year participation in psychoanalysis and its disappointments for her, but the miracle of Merkin is really her resilience in spite of her duress. She perseveres. She writes. She travels. She teaches. She mothers her beloved daughter. She confides in friends.  And, for the most part, she remains afloat.

In one of the most revealing pieces, she tells us about sending a letter to Woody Allen telling him about her adoration for him.  She included a poem for him that ended with these two short sad lines: “You are my funny man.  You know you can be sad with me.”  Woody wrote her back and encouraged her to keep writing.  This led to a friendship of sorts, where they would occasionally meet for lunch.  At one meal, she told him that she was feeling more depressed than usual.  Woody asked her all the appropriate follow-up questions in a clinical fashion and suggested she consider electroshock therapy.  She was furious with him.  She thought, “I don’t know what I had been hoping for — some version of come with me and I will cuddle you until your sadness goes away, not to get hooked up to electrodes, baby — but I was slightly stunned.  More than slightly, I understood he was trying to be helpful in his way but it fell so far short. …Shock therapy?  It wasn’t as thought I hadn’t heard of it or didn’t know people who benefited from it.  Still, how on earth did he conceive of me?  As a chronic mental patient, someone who was meant to sit on a thin hospital mattress and stare greyly into space.  Didn’t he know I was a writer with a future, a person given to creative descriptions of her own moods?  Shock therapy, indeed; I’d sooner try a spa.  It suddenly occurred to me, as I walked up Madison Avenue, that it might pay to be resilient, if this was all being vulnerable and skinless got you… .Indeed, maybe it was time to rethink this whole salvation business.  Or maybe I was less desperate, less teetering on the edge than I cared to admit.  Now that was a refreshing personality.”

There is a steeliness about her that allows her to see things clearly even in the throes of despair.  Merkin’s capacity to analyze her response to Allen’s well-intended advice demonstrates an inner resilience that has undoubtedly saved her many times over.  She knows firsthand the dark forces that can invade your psyche, but she also understands healing and reinvention and transformation.  There is no malice or bitchiness or vengeance present in her work; even towards those whom she knows have caused her the greatest harm.  Even when she senses people are being deceptive or manipulative, she does not castigate them. Instead, she seeks answers as to why she believes they feel they need to be inauthentic at a certain point in time.  She wants to understand, not attack.

For example, when writing about Mike Tyson and his new wife, she senses that Tyson is playing her.  She believes this is simply another incarnation of his continual act, which she describes as a “construction every bit as deliberate as he claims his Invincible Iron Mike persona was.”  Merkin does not challenge him directly about her perception but instead writes about how impressed she is that he is attempting to create a persona that is less violent and self-destructive than he has been in the past.  She wants him to succeed, although she recognizes the fragility of his battle.  Merkin reaches similar conclusions about Marilyn Monroe.  She wonders at first if Monroe was really the victim she is often portrayed to be, or a manipulator of the finest order.  She reviews her background, which includes severe maternal and paternal deprivation, mental illness, and bouts of terrible instability and depression.  She offers up compassion, as she does for Princess Diana, whom she describes as a “knot of contradictions: impossibly glamorous, yet disarmingly self effacing, bold, yet riddled with self-doubt, worldly yet naïve.”  

There are times when Merkin seems to get swept up in a dreamy romantic longing for a world that is less cruel and more forgiving.  On Charles and Diana’s failed union, she writes, “I find myself wondering how Diana’s life might have turned out if she and Charles had bonded over their shared lack of childhood, their virtual abandonment as children. …What would have happened if they had the patience (on his side) and endurance (on hers) to address their mutual longings for love and nurturance in each other?”

And I find myself wondering what Merkin’s life might have been like if she had received more of the nourishment she craved?  Would she have been a writer?  Would she have had an emotional radar as sharp and perceptive as hers is now?  Would she have been happier?  Does her exquisite artistry only come from having experienced such acute pain?  It’s hard to know.  What is clear is that she is one of our best narrative nonfiction writers.  Merkin’s voice is secular and modern and yet filled with some sort of ancient wisdom, and coupled with intellectual and emotional honesty, while maintaining a pureness of heart.  That is no easy feat.

She once wrote this about her mother in her semi-autobiographical novel “Enchantment”: “I want ­­– have always wanted — her to listen to me forever.”  I don’t think her mother could, or did, for reasons that remain mysterious, but we listen and will continue to do so.


Elaine Margolin is a frequent contributor of book reviews to the Jewish Journal and other publications.

Amidst celebrity, Daphne Merkin is wishing still for mother’s love


If you were the wild child among more submissive siblings, who refused to be silenced and cried continually, and fought with all the others about their glaring hypocrisies; chances are you were not your parents’ favorite child.  If you sometimes made disturbing comments about wishing to harm yourself while broadcasting to anyone who would listen your opinion about your parents’ deficiencies, you were probably the cause of much familial stress.  If the confusion that swirled around in your head escalated to the point where your parents sent you to a psychiatric facility when you were only 8 years old, you probably only grew more despondent.  By the time adolescence beckoned, the die was cast: You were known only as the anxious and nervous one, a little troubled girl who simply needed too much.

But what if you’re not.  Maybe you were just an exquisitely sensitive and creative little girl who was able to disarmingly articulate your family’s massive dysfunction.  Maybe not getting enough love from your mother and father was simply too much for you to bear.  Maybe you’re Daphne Merkin. 

Merkin, author of  “The Fame Lunches: On Wounded Icons, Money, Sex, the Brontes, and the Importance of Handbags” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), is an extremely engaging and empathetic writer.  She doesn’t allow herself to form fixed notions about others, but instead wrestles with how most of us choose to present ourselves to the outside world, along with the forces that have shaped our individual self-presentations.  She is acutely aware of the difficulties involved in all human relationships but also sees tenderness and beauty where others don’t even think to look.  Brought up in a Modern Orthodox, wealthy Jewish home in Manhattan, Merkin struggled with a father who had little patience for her and a mother who seemed overly concerned with the aesthetics of their home while ignoring the emotional turbulence lurking beneath it.  There was little talk about God or spiritual matters of any sort.  Their Judaism was expressed mostly by rituals and celebrations and life at the synagogue, which Merkin disliked since it seemed to her the men had all the good parts.  What she did enjoy was studying the Talmud, which stimulated her active mind with its never ending labyrinth of puzzling arguments.  But she studied privately and eventually gave it up.  As for God, he always either ignored or eluded her.

Mostly, she tried to get her mother’s attention, an exercise that resulted in repeated frustration and disappointment.  But Merkin never stopped trying.  She writes about her mother with an almost uncomfortable intensity, one that seems to elude her in other relationships.  Her mother passed away years ago, but is still dominant in her thoughts and misgivings.  She misses her. Perhaps misses what she never had.  They shared a turbulent relationship, but one that Merkin counted on, even though her mother continually disappointed her. The only possible gift bestowed upon Merkin from this ferocious attachment is that it seems to have imbued Merkin with the ability to look at others through a psychological lens that is filtered by kindness and compassion.

In “The Fame Lunches,” her new outstanding collection of essays, Merkin offers us her take on everything from the allure of lip gloss and its relationship to the demise of civilized society to vividly personal and perceptive essays that resulted from her lengthy interviews with everyone from Madonna to Kate Blanchett.  She tries to dissect the enduring legacy of Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana and Courtney Love while offering up thought-provoking pieces about the Bronte sisters, Bruno Bettelheim, and Henry Roth.  She allows space for her own meditations on mental illness, psychoanalysis and the hardships of mothering after divorce.  She is equally adept at highbrow and lowbrow subjects, because she is fascinated by both, and brings an observational sharpness to whatever she is writing about.  Some of the best pieces here have to do with the hunt for a perfect handbag, reality television, and the obsession women have with holding on to their beauty.

What amazes the reader about Merkin is how open her heart has remained, even with age and after several extreme episodes of emotional distress.  Her heart has not hardened, and that is truly a writer’s greatest asset.  She has written at great length in the New York Times about her over 40-year participation in psychoanalysis and its disappointments for her, but the miracle of Merkin is really her resilience in spite of her duress. She perseveres. She writes. She travels. She teaches. She mothers her beloved daughter. She confides in friends.  And, for the most part, she remains afloat.

In one of the most revealing pieces, she tells us about sending a letter to Woody Allen telling him about her adoration for him.  She included a poem for him that ended with these two short sad lines: “You are my funny man.  You know you can be sad with me.”  Woody wrote her back and encouraged her to keep writing.  This led to a friendship of sorts, where they would occasionally meet for lunch.  At one meal, she told him that she was feeling more depressed than usual.  Woody asked her all the appropriate follow-up questions in a clinical fashion and suggested she consider electroshock therapy.  She was furious with him.  She thought, “I don’t know what I had been hoping for — some version of come with me and I will cuddle you until your sadness goes away, not to get hooked up to electrodes, baby — but I was slightly stunned.  More than slightly, I understood he was trying to be helpful in his way but it fell so far short. …Shock therapy?  It wasn’t as thought I hadn’t heard of it or didn’t know people who benefited from it.  Still, how on earth did he conceive of me?  As a chronic mental patient, someone who was meant to sit on a thin hospital mattress and stare greyly into space.  Didn’t he know I was a writer with a future, a person given to creative descriptions of her own moods?  Shock therapy, indeed; I’d sooner try a spa.  It suddenly occurred to me, as I walked up Madison Avenue, that it might pay to be resilient, if this was all being vulnerable and skinless got you… .Indeed, maybe it was time to rethink this whole salvation business.  Or maybe I was less desperate, less teetering on the edge than I cared to admit.  Now that was a refreshing personality.”

There is a steeliness about her that allows her to see things clearly even in the throes of despair.  Merkin’s capacity to analyze her response to Allen’s well-intended advice demonstrates an inner resilience that has undoubtedly saved her many times over.  She knows firsthand the dark forces that can invade your psyche, but she also understands healing and reinvention and transformation.  There is no malice or bitchiness or vengeance present in her work; even towards those whom she knows have caused her the greatest harm.  Even when she senses people are being deceptive or manipulative, she does not castigate them. Instead, she seeks answers as to why she believes they feel they need to be inauthentic at a certain point in time.  She wants to understand, not attack.

For example, when writing about Mike Tyson and his new wife, she senses that Tyson is playing her.  She believes this is simply another incarnation of his continual act, which she describes as a “construction every bit as deliberate as he claims his Invincible Iron Mike persona was.”  Merkin does not challenge him directly about her perception but instead writes about how impressed she is that he is attempting to create a persona that is less violent and self-destructive than he has been in the past.  She wants him to succeed, although she recognizes the fragility of his battle.  Merkin reaches similar conclusions about Marilyn Monroe.  She wonders at first if Monroe was really the victim she is often portrayed to be, or a manipulator of the finest order.  She reviews her background, which includes severe maternal and paternal deprivation, mental illness, and bouts of terrible instability and depression.  She offers up compassion, as she does for Princess Diana, whom she describes as a “knot of contradictions: impossibly glamorous, yet disarmingly self effacing, bold, yet riddled with self-doubt, worldly yet naïve.” 

There are times when Merkin seems to get swept up in a dreamy romantic longing for a world that is less cruel and more forgiving.  On Charles and Diana’s failed union, she writes, “I find myself wondering how Diana’s life might have turned out if she and Charles had bonded over their shared lack of childhood, their virtual abandonment as children. …What would have happened if they had the patience (on his side) and endurance (on hers) to address their mutual longings for love and nurturance in each other?”

And I find myself wondering what Merkin’s life might have been like if she had received more of the nourishment she craved?  Would she have been a writer?  Would she have had an emotional radar as sharp and perceptive as hers is now?  Would she have been happier?  Does her exquisite artistry only come from having experienced such acute pain?  It’s hard to know.  What is clear is that she is one of our best narrative nonfiction writers.  Merkin’s voice is secular and modern and yet filled with some sort of ancient wisdom, and coupled with intellectual and emotional honesty, while maintaining a pureness of heart.  That is no easy feat. 

She once wrote this about her mother in her semi-autobiographical novel “Enchantment”: “I want ­­– have always wanted — her to listen to me forever.”  I don’t think her mother could, or did, for reasons that remain mysterious, but we listen and will continue to do so. 

Elaine Margolin is a frequent contributor of book reviews to the Jewish Journal and other publications.

Federation pension fund struggles


A retirement plan run by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is more than $25 million underfunded, according to financial statements filed in October. The statements say the pension fund, which holds savings for more than 2,000 employees working for eight different Jewish-affiliated organizations, hold assets equivalent to only 76.1 percent of its projected liabilities. Because that number is below 80 percent, the Internal Revenue Service considers the fund in “endangered status” or a “yellow zone.”

“The truth is, it’s very easy to see a big number and get alarmed,” Federation Chief Operating and Financial Officer Ivan Wolkind said when asked about the fund’s status. But, he said, “It’s almost where we need to be.”

Indeed, the fund’s position had been getting stronger, improved from 71.5 percent funded in 2009, to 76.4 percent in 2011. But the most recent disclosures showed a slight dip in 2012.

“It’s not cause for concern,” Wolkind said. “There are plans, in Detroit, that are 30 percent funded. We’re actually in a strong position.”

One might suggest that the City of Detroit, which recently filed for bankruptcy, represents an extreme point of comparison. Yet Jason Hsu, an adjunct professor at UCLA Anderson School of Management, said many state and municipal pension funds are less than 50 percent funded. 

In those cases, he said, “Unless the state or the city is able to come up with a significant amount of money, the likely outcome is there needs to be a major negotiation. And people are going to get reduced benefits.”

The Jewish Federation’s case is far less severe.

“It’s really not that bad,” said Mindy Gassman, a licensed pension actuary, although she added, “It’s not a perfect situation.”

Nearly two cents of every dollar contributed to the Jewish Federation in 2011 went into its employees’ retirement account. For two other of Los Angeles’ Jewish nonprofits that receive funding from Federation — Vista Del Mar and Bet Tzedek — that distribution was nearly five cents of every dollar. Over the last few years, each nonprofit has paid 16 cents of every dollar of payroll into the pension fund. Wolkind said Federation operates the fund as “one of the services [they] offer to the Jewish community.”

Eight L.A.-based Jewish nonprofit organizations participate in what’s called a defined benefit plan, meaning that each employee, upon retiring, will be entitled to a specific amount based on a formula of their highest salary, how old they are when they retire and how many years they worked for their organization. The nonprofits pay into the fund, and the money is invested in equities, bonds and elsewhere. If the fund does poorly, or if employee salaries go up too quickly, or if any number of other things go wrong, the plan can quickly become underfunded. 

Representatives from four of the six biggest nonprofits in the Federation pension plan — Bet Tzedek, Jewish Vocational Service, Aviva Family and Children’s Services, and Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services — all declined to comment for this article.

The Zimmer Children’s Museum, one of the smallest organizations participating, has only three employees in the plan, and therefore pays far less than Vista Del Mar and Federation. 

“It’s an amount that hits us,” said Esther Netter, the Zimmer museum’s CEO. “It isn’t inconsequential.” 

Jewish Family Service spokesman David Gershwin offered only this prepared statement: “Jewish Family Service pension contributions have been stable for the last few years. And JFS will continue to participate in the pension plan administered by the Jewish Federation.”

In fact, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles has been increasing its payments into the fund every year — nearly $1.4 million in 2012, $170,000 more than the year before. The amount that each organization contributes to the fund is pegged to employee salary — 16 percent of payroll, in recent years — and a rise in salaries is just one of what Wolkind said were numerous causes pushing up contributions. Another is the effort to close the gap between the amount of money the pension fund has and the amount of money it owes to future retirees. 

Bet Tzedek’s contribution rose more than $100,000, as well, to more than $520,000 in 2012 — a significant sum for an organization that takes in around $8 million a year in revenue. One source within the nonprofit told the Jewish Journal that Bet Tzedek board members are worried, but not too worried, about retirement costs. Their bigger concern, reflected in ongoing contract negotiations with their employees union, is the cost of employee health care, which is up to roughly $900,000 a year and shows no signs of letting up.

Projected retirement costs, at least, are expected to level off. In 2006, organizations that are part of the Federation’s retirement plan began enrolling new employees into a defined contribution plan — an example of which is a 401(k) — which pays money into a worker’s retirement account but has no fixed output and is, therefore, not put in danger of insolvency if the financial markets crash. Such plans don’t guarantee employees a set amount when they retire.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Regina Birdsell, president of the Center for Nonprofit Management. “Our sector doesn’t think about taking care of ourselves as much as we think about taking care of others. The donor community has very little tolerance for the overhead price rage. They want to know that all their money is helping the cause without thinking about the margins it takes for getting things done.”

Many pension funds invest about 60 percent of their assets in the stock market, which meant they were hit especially hard during the financial collapse of 2008. But what followed hit them just as hard: In an attempt to stabilize the economy, the U.S. Federal Reserve lowered interest rates as much as possible. That has increased retirement funds’ “liabilities,” which are essentially an estimate of how much money future pensions will cost the fund. The estimate goes up when interest rates are low, as it’s generally harder to get a decent return on your investment when rates are low. 

“It’s been a double whammy,” said Hsu, referring to the drop in stock prices followed by the slashing of the interest rate. “It’s increased the funding gap between liabilities and assets tremendously.”

And the Jewish Federation may not have all the options available to it that a private company might have to close the pension gap.

“The Federation has no way of doing what companies normally need to do — increase productivity,” said Gabe Kahn, a co-director of the Media, Economics and Entrepreneurship program at USC. “They’re a fundraising organization. They’re just shaking a tree and passing it around.”

Karnit Flug, first female Bank of Israel chief, eyeing economic inequality


Andromeda Hill is a beachfront complex of luxury apartments connected by tree-lined pathways that features such amenities as a spa and business center. Five minutes down the road is Ajami, a low-income neighborhood profiled in the 2009 film of the same name that remains one of this city’s poorer districts.

Such gaps in income have been of mounting concern to Israelis and are high on the agenda of Karnit Flug, the newly appointed governor of the Bank of Israel and the first woman to hold the post.

In two recent presentations, Flug has drawn attention to income inequality in Israel and its potentially adverse impact on social cohesion.

“Our ability to continue existing as a society that is both multifaceted and socially cohesive depends, among other things, on how employment develops in Arab society in the next few years,” Flug said at a government conference on Israel’s minorities last month. “If we know how to maximize the potential for increased growth and how to reduce the gaps, we will all — Jews and Arabs — be able to enjoy the fruits of this process.”

The Occupy protests that swept the world in 2011, decrying the exploitation of the “99 percent,” demonstrated that Israel is not alone among developed countries in facing large inequities in wealth distribution. But among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Israel ranked 30th in terms of wealth inequality.

A 2011 report from the OECD found that in 2008, Israel’s top 10 percent of earners earned 13 times more than the bottom tenth. The report recommended “creating more and better jobs that offer good career prospects and a real chance for people to escape poverty.”

Flug agrees. Israel’s high income inequality, she says, is a function of low educational attainment and high unemployment among Israel’s poorest communities — Arabs and haredi Orthodox Jews. The explosion of Israel’s high-tech sector in the mid-1980s created many jobs for highly educated employees but left behind the poor and unskilled.

“Inequality in disposable income distribution rose until 2006 before stabilizing at a very high level,” Flug said last week in a presentation at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel.

Growing the job market while maintaining a social safety net have been twin goals for Flug, who holds a doctorate in economics from Columbia University. After a four-year stint at the International Monetary Fund, Flug joined the Bank of Israel in 1988 and became its deputy governor in 2011, serving under the well-regarded Stanley Fischer, who departed earlier this year.

After a lengthy selection process in which Flug was passed over multiple times, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed her to the bank’s top post in October.

Flug has served on government committees on the defense budget, market competitiveness and the National Insurance Institute. She also served on the Trajtenberg Committee, which was tasked with formulating a response to widespread protests in 2011 over the rising cost of living.

The protests were partly a reaction to nearly a decade of privatization and cuts in public benefits. Founded on socialist values, Israel in its early years had a strong safety net and lionized the collectivist ideals of the kibbutz movement. But in the mid-1980s, Israel began to embrace free-market policies and privatize key state-owned companies. The outbreak of the second intifada by the Palestinians led to an economic crisis that prompted the government to cut entitlement spending.

The 2011 demonstrations called on the government to restore the safety net. In its report, the Trajtenberg Committee recommended various measures, including raising the capital gains tax, increasing government aid for housing and free early childhood education.

In her presentation at the Taub Center, Flug recommended against direct government transfer payments to poor citizens, but she is in favor of Israel’s negative income tax, which provides a tax credit to low wage earners. Flug believes the measure incentivizes work.

As governor, Flug’s ability to implement such policies is limited. Like the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, the Bank of Israel’s function is to set the country’s monetary policy. Taxes, subsidies and incentives for job creation are determined by the Israeli government.

But Flug could still have an impact. Jack Habib, director of the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, a think tank that researches poverty in Israel, said Flug could advocate for reforms that bolster Israel’s minorities.

“There’s a lot more attention paid to social issues, social inequality, poverty and disadvantaged groups,” Habib said. The Bank of Israel plays “an important role in putting these issues on the agenda of the government.”

Private Bank of California: It’s not just about the money


The signs of Richard Smith’s success precede him: His 25th-floor office on Santa Monica Boulevard overlooks Los Angeles Country Club’s golf greens to the north and the spread of the city’s business districts to the south. The dizzying height of his headquarters at The Private Bank of California is emphasized by floor-to-ceiling windows and the luxurious quiet that accompanies real money, the kind that pays for service so good it doesn’t rattle, only hums.

Smith says this is the secret to his career, and especially his success at Private Bank, which he co-founded in 2004 with partners that include Richard Pachulski, a well-known bankruptcy attorney, and Stuart Rubin, a real estate big shot. 

“It’s not retail,” he said of the work he does for high-net-worth individuals, business owners and others involved in business management, entertainment and real estate. No, The Private Bank of California is another level entirely: “It’s concierge.” 

Smith, 60, has had years to hone his philosophy and cultivate connections, which helped make The Private Bank of California attractive enough to be purchased last year by First PacTrust Bancorp Inc., which changed its name to Banc of California Inc. in July. Earlier this week, the entire company, including subsidiary banks, relaunched as Banc of California.

After receiving a degree in marketing and finance from the University of Denver, he spent two years at Manufacturers Hanover, a bank holding company then based in New York, before moving to California with his Los Angeles-born wife, Dana, in 1977.

It’s instructive to listen to Smith rattle off the list of institutions he’s worked at over the years, to hear the names of businesses created and swallowed by other businesses as a matter of course in the moneylending world. It is precisely the variability of the banking industry that excites Smith, who grew up in New York assuming that, like his grandfathers on both sides — and his father and his uncles — he would end up in the city’s garment industry. 

“But it wasn’t really that attractive to me, so as a [college] junior, I ended up meeting somebody in the banking business who convinced me that banking would be a good career,” he said. 

Smith was game, but he didn’t have high hopes. 

“I really thought I would be in it for a couple of years, and then I’d go work for one of my grandfathers,” he said. “Well, what are we now, 38 years later?”

Despite doing well in his college courses, he was initially pigeonholed back into the garment ghetto. 

“I did really well in my credit class learning how to be an analyst in the banking business, and I had the pick of the litter where I’d go,” he said. “And of all places, they found out I was Jewish and put me in the garment district!” 

Smith has never shied away from his Jewish identity. His wife works in Encino at Valley Beth Shalom in the Conservative congregation’s infant and toddler program, and the couple sent their children to Northridge’s Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, where Smith used to sit on the board. Smith also serves on the Zimmer Children’s Museum board.

Smith credits his Jewish upbringing, which was Conservative but not particularly observant, for instilling in him some of the values that have made him such a successful businessman and boss. Although Smith is at work more often than not — asked for a number of hours, he responded only “a lot” — he said he believes strongly in giving his employees time to enjoy their private lives and get involved in their communities. 

“I want them to have another life. I want them to be close to their families,” he said. “I try to get them involved in boards, charities. I want them to be involved philanthropically in something. … Giving back is something that I’ve been taught from the time I could understand, and I try to encourage my employees to do it because I think that it makes them better employees, because they’re happier.” 

Smith will take this ethos a step further in his new position as Banc of California’s president of private banking. He’s excited that Banc of California has hired former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to manage relationships between the bank and the community. Villaraigosa’s role, as strategic adviser to Banc of California’s chief executive officer, is to help create a community banking strategy that focuses on expanding home ownership as well as lending to entrepreneurs and creating service opportunities in the community. 

As for Smith, the proud grandfather to four grandchildren, he hopes to keep working as long as he feels valuable.

“If I were doing it just to be wealthy, I probably never would have done it,” he said of banking. “The money was not the issue, for sure. I always liked learning about different things. … To this day, it’s still my passion.”

The Won Percent


Five things you may not know about Jews and philanthropy


1. Many Jewish donors don’t call their values “Jewish.”

“People did not want to ascribe their Jewish values to giving,” said Lisa Farber Miller of the Rose Community Foundation, who observed the discussion of a focus group of donors in Denver, one of eight conducted as part of “Connected to Give.” “Their Jewish connections clearly made a difference, but they were really talking about how their family traditions, their grandmothers, their family members really influenced their giving.”

2. Young Jews give less to Jewish organizations than their elders – and they give to different kinds of Jewish nonprofits.

Only 72 percent of Jews under 40 donate to Jewish organizations –compared to 78 percent of Jews aged 40-64, and 81 percent of those 65 and over. When young Jews do give to Jewish organizations, they focus on education, international aid and the environment in greater numbers than older Jews. Older Jews, meanwhile, are more likely than the young to give to Jewish Federations and synagogue congregations.

[RELATED: Study reveals the who, what and where of Jewish giving]

3. Nevertheless, fundraisers ignore Boomers and older Jews at their own risk.

Very few older Jews have made provisions for Jewish charities in their wills, according to the Jumpstart study. “The fact that only 12 percent of higher-income Jews over 65 – we’re not talking about people who are 35 – have wills with bequests to Jewish charities, is a problem,” said Andres Spokoiny, president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network and a member of the “Connected to Give” steering committee. “At the same time,” Spokoiny added, “it’s low-hanging fruit.”

4. Less affluent Jews make all Jews look particularly generous.

Collectively, Jewish Americans may be more likely to give than their non-Jewish counterparts, but break down the data by income level, and it turns out that it’s the less well-off Jews – households earning less than $50,000 a year – who are out-giving non-Jews at the same income level.

“If you ask the average person who studies philanthropy, they would think that it’s the very high-income Jewish households that are driving the results,” said Una Osili, a professor of economics and philanthropic studies at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Osili, one of the study’s principal investigators, said that this apparent finding requires more analysis, but speculated that other kinds of support might be leading Jewish households at the bottom of the income spectrum to be more philanthropic than non-Jewish households with comparable incomes. Those Jewish families “might actually have wealth, and they also might have more networks, family networks” than non-Jewish families of similar economic status, Osili said.

“Or, they may be living off their assets rather than their incomes.”

5. The Orthodox are just different. “Hugely different,” said Steven M. Cohen, professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, which is why they were excluded from the data set that underlies the key findings in the first report from “Connected to Give.”

“They have far higher rates of Jewish social networks as manifest in Jewish spouses, friends, neighbors, and members of Jewish organized endeavors,” Cohen wrote in an email. “They have higher rates of subjective commitment to things Jewish. They experience more intensive and extensive periods of Jewish education however measured. Hence, their philanthropic giving to Jewish life is so much more extensive and generous than among the non-Orthodox.”

Future reporting looking at the Orthodox Jewish Americans captured in the Jumpstart data is in the works. 

Madonna top-earning celebrity trumping Spielberg, Forbes says


She's still the Material Girl.

Pop diva Madonna 55, is the world's top-earning celebrity, according to a Forbes list released on Monday, raking in an estimated $125 million in the past year, mainly from her $305 million-grossing MDNA tour, but helped by sales of clothing, fragrance and various investments.

Director Steven Spielberg, who had a big hit last year with “Lincoln,” was a distant second with earnings of $100 million in the year ended June 2013, most of which came from his catalog of past hits such as “E.T.” and “Jurassic Park,” which continue to bring in big bucks.

“Madonna's success, at age 55, just goes to show the incredible power of a successful music career,” Forbes reporter Dorothy Pomerantz said, noting that 27-year-old pop singer Lady Gaga has often been said to be channeling Madonna's four-decade-long career.

“The young star is certainly emulating Madonna when it come to raking in money,” Forbes said, with her $80 million in earnings largely from the singer's “Born This Way Ball” world tour, placing Gaga 10th on the list.

Forbes compiles its annual list of celebrity earnings using input from agents, managers, producers and others to calculate its estimates for each celebrity's entertainment-related earnings. The figures do not reflect tax deductions, agent fees or “the other expenses of being a celebrity.”

Madonna's top spot compares with her previous peak of $110 million in 2009, but falls short of the $165 million taken in by Oprah Winfrey in the previous year, Forbes said.

Talk show queen and media mogul Winfrey took a big pay cut this year according to Forbes, falling to No. 13 on the list with earnings of $77 million.

At No. 3 with earnings of $95 million in the past year was a three-way tie among “50 Shades of Grey” author E.L. James, radio shock jock Howard Stern and music and television producer Simon Cowell.

Others in the top 10 earners included TV host Glenn Beck, director Michael Bay of the “Transformers” franchise, and thriller novelist James Patterson, who Forbes said was now the best-selling author of all time.

Both Spielberg and Bay also made last year's top 10, though with significantly larger earnings.

The full list of top-earning celebrities can be viewed at www.forbes.com.

Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Eric Walsh

Wilshire Boulevard Temple: How do you raise $120 million?


Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s newly renovated sanctuary has been cleaned and fully restored. An extended bimah is more accessible for the first time. Photo © Tom Bonner 2013

Ask Rabbi Steven Z. Leder what the mission of Wilshire Boulevard Temple is, and he’ll tell you, “We make Jews.” The temple started making Jews two centuries ago, in 1862, when the country stood divided, engaged in Civil War, with Abraham Lincoln as the president of the United States. Then known as Congregation B’nai B’rith, it was located first at Temple Street and Broadway downtown, and then moved to a larger space at Ninth and Hope streets. Eventually, in 1929, the synagogue — now the oldest in Los Angeles — moved into its third historic home, on Wilshire Boulevard between Harvard and Hobart boulevards, dominating its portion of the city’s spine. 

Since its grand opening, the congregation has played a central role among Los Angeles’ Reform Jewish community, but over the years, the building’s façade and interior eroded, becoming dilapidated and outdated. When a legally blind congregant, Bea Boyd, called Leder to tell him the sanctuary’s bathrooms were disgustingly dirty, and when a 10-pound chunk of plaster fell from the ceiling in the middle of the night, Leder knew he had to take action. The result is a $160 million project, to be done in three phases, to restore the sanctuary to its former glory and, along the way, to add all sorts of new attributes to an expanded campus. 

Before he got started, however, Leder visited three respected and highly successful Los Angeles leaders, asking for advice. First, he went to Steven Sample, president of USC from 1991 to 2010, during which time he raised $3 billion for a school located in an area of Los Angeles that, as Leder put it, “No one believed in.” Second, Leder talked to Richard Riordan, mayor of Los Angeles from 1993 to 2001, because, Leder said, “He truly understands where Los Angles is heading.” And finally, Leder visited Uri Herscher, a rabbi and founder of the Skirball Cultural Center, who, according to Leder, is “one of the best rabbi fundraisers I have ever known.”

Through the encouragement of these three men, Leder gained confidence to move ahead. He brought on the renowned architect and congregant Brenda Levin to repair and enhance the neglected architectural gem, with its Byzantine dome and beautiful history-telling murals by Hugo Ballin that were commissioned by Warner Bros. studio chief Jack Warner. One of the congregation’s concerns, however, was the future of the neighborhood: Were there enough Jews in the Eastside area to sustain such a substantial investment? Leder said the guidance from Sample, Riordan and Herscher reaffirmed his belief that a resurgence was already taking place in the area and, more importantly, that if the passion and relationships established by the temple are real, the temple will succeed. 

Leder admits he never would have raised the more than $118 million that he has so far without his already strong and longstanding relationships with congregants. At the 2005 High Holy Days services, Leder announced the plans for the project in his sermon. His main message was that the sanctuary of Wilshire Boulevard Temple is at “the center of the center of the center.” In other words, the sanctuary is the core of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and it sits in a vital and diverse neighborhood essential to Los Angeles, which has the second-largest Jewish population in the United States. 

“We are the luckiest Jews to have ever lived,” Leder said. Yet he maintains this privilege and freedom comes with responsibility. He asks, “What will we do with this good fortune?” 

His answer: making Jews in various venues throughout the renovated Erika J. Glazer Family Campus of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The newly refreshed and glowing sanctuary will be unveiled to the congregation at Erev Rosh Hashanah services on Sept. 4 and throughout the Days of Awe. The temple plans to finish the remaining two phases of the project by 2020. Phase two entails a large-scale Tikkun Olam Center, staffed by professionals and congregants, which will provide the surrounding communities with a variety of social services, rooftop gym facilities, new courtyards for celebrations and other gatherings, the renovation of the temple’s two school buildings and a large parking garage. Phase three includes an office building with conference rooms, administrative offices, meeting places, an events center, a mikveh, cafe deli on site and a kosher kitchen. 

The temple’s renovation and transformation of an entire city block wouldn’t have been possible without the temple’s approximately 7,500 congregants; to date, an estimated 520 people among them have donated to the project at various levels.

For this article, the Journal had space to profile only a small selection of those donors, and this selection, all of whom gave generously, also gave graciously of their time to talk about their philanthropy and motives. There is an extensive list of other congregants who contributed significant sums to the temple’s new effort. Perhaps foremost among them is Erika Glazer, daughter of shopping mall developer Guilford Glazer, who will give a total of $36 million, $6 million for the Early Childhood Center and $30 million over 15 years to help cover the debt payments on the tax-free bond financing the next phase of the project. She also gave her name: What was formerly known as the Wilshire Boulevard Temple campus is now officially renamed the Erika J. Glazer Family Campus of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in honor of her gift. (Glazer was traveling and unavailable to speak with the Journal at this time.) Among the other major donors are Larry and Allison Berg, Janet Crown, Stephen and Peggy Davis, Marshall Geller, Uri Herscher, Bruce and Lilly Karatz, Tom and Barbara Leanse, Yehuda and Liz Naftali, past president of the board Rich Pachulski and wife Dana, Ellen Pansky, Larry Powell and wife Joyce, Rick and Debbie Powell, Reagan Silber and many more. A particularly fervent donor is Sandy Post, who entered kindergarten at Wilshire Boulevard some 83 years ago and remains a temple member today. 

Leder’s fundraising total so far is believed to be the largest amount of money any rabbi has ever raised in the United States. Leder says his success is all due to the community, and he refers to the donors as the “finest, most generous, visionary human beings you will ever meet.”



Bram Goldsmith
Restoration of Sanctuary’s Ark

Bram Goldsmith, who served as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of City National Bank and City National Corp. from 1975 to 1995, was raised in a middle-class Orthodox home in Chicago. His father immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1916 and, soon after, brought over Goldsmith’s mother and two older sisters. Goldsmith himself was born in the United States in 1923, and he remembers from his childhood the family’s staple pushke box, a tin can for alms, in their home. Although not wealthy, the Goldsmiths always put a portion of what they had into the pushke to be picked up by the Jewish National Fund and sent to Israel.

With that box, young Bram was taught early the importance of giving back, and philanthropy became a guiding principle throughout his life. 

“My personal work ethic starts with the issue of integrity and includes taking personal responsibility, being helpful to others, by being charitable with your contributions and your personal involvement,” he said during an interview at his City National Bank office in Beverly Hills. 

In keeping with this mission, Goldsmith has donated $1 million for the restoration of the ark in the Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s sanctuary, which he sees as the heart of the temple. The donation was made through the Goldsmith Family Foundation, which was established in 1960.

For 25 years, Goldsmith served as president and chief executive officer of Buckeye Realty and Management Corp., the largest privately owned commercial real estate development company in Southern California at the time. He then took over City National Bank and guided the company’s growth, increasing assets from $600 million to $3.3 billion. Now, City National Corp. has assets of $27.4 billion and operates in more than 70 locations around the country.

Goldsmith’s first act of philanthropy occurred rather spontaneously, in 1942, when he was a young man in college at the University of Illinois at Chicago. At a dinner for the United Jewish Welfare Fund that he attended with his father-in-law, Goldsmith pledged $100, an amount so large  for him at the time, it took him six months to pay it off. But it was the beginning of a commitment, and, he said, since moving to California in 1953, he has been “involved with the major Jewish philanthropic organizations in the community” here. Among them, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Wallis Annenberg Cultural Center Foundation, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Los Angeles United Jewish Fund Campaign, the United Jewish Appeal and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

As another Wilshire Boulevard Temple donor, Stanley Gold, put it, “Bram is the epitome of giving back to this community. In my opinion, he is the senior mensch in town.”

“I set a standard that all of us must encourage and respect every human being and do the right thing,” Goldsmith said.

A temple member since 1965, Goldsmith has been part of his five grandchildren’s bar and bat mitzvahs at Wilshire Boulevard and heard his granddaughter sing at Yom Kippur services. Goldsmith has seen the temple grow and change over almost 50 years, and has watched its role evolve in the Jewish world and Los Angeles at large. 

“I think that today, the temple has achieved a new level of respect and leadership in the community,” he said.

“The restoration of this facility to service the needs of Reform Judaism in greater L.A. is very critical,” he said. “A spiritual sanctuary, with thousands of members, represents a very strong foundation for the future education of kids, whom I consider to be most valuable.”

From putting a few cents in a pushke box to renovating Wilshire Boulevard’s sanctuary, Goldsmith continues to build upon his family’s tradition of giving.



Alan Berro
Bimah Accessibility Ramps

The lasting impact of a trip to Israel can be hard to measure, but for Alan Berro, Capital World Investors senior vice president and portfolio counselor, the experience went beyond connecting to the Jewish state. On a Wilshire Boulevard Temple trip there in 2007, Berro deepened his ties to his now-18-year-old son, Bailey, as well as to the synagogue’s Rabbi Steven Z. Leder and the 30 other congregants on the trip. In traveling the 7,000 miles to Israel, Berro discovered his community back home. 

The connection inspired Berro to become more involved in the congregation, which led to his underwriting the new ramps leading up to the bimah, enabling, for the first time, accessibility for all — young, old and the disabled. 

A member of Wilshire Boulevard Temple since 2000 and a current board trustee, Berro said, “Being Jewish is just part of who I am, and I’m proud of that. I really like being a member of a Reform congregation that’s more open and more inclusive.”

A Laguna Beach native, Berro moved back to Los Angeles in 1991 after living in Boston for seven years, arriving just in time for the Rodney King verdict riots in the spring of 1992. The chaos and destruction of neighborhoods during that time, which hit especially hard the Koreatown neighborhood surrounding the temple, made a deep impression on Berro. He has felt motivated ever since to play a part in community building.  

In 1998, Wilshire Boulevard Temple solidified the congregation with the addition of a new campus on the Westside, but Berro saw the importance of rehabilitating the historic location on Wilshire Boulevard and reinvesting in that neighborhood, as well. 

Berro said he especially supports the temple’s efforts to create the Tikkun Olam Center, which will serve people from the diverse surrounding neighborhood of all ages and denominations. 

“L.A. has been through some difficult times,” Berro said, adding, “I think the people who can afford to should try to help all parts of the city. We’re all here together; we’re not very far apart. This is just one more step in that direction.”

Berro attended UCLA as an undergraduate and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. He worked at Fidelity Investments before joining the Capital Group.  

Berro has served on the board of Inner-City Arts since 1998 and as chairman of the board of that skid-row arts education project for three years. He also has donated money to the California Science Center and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and in 2012 he joined the board of directors of the Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation at UCLA. Berro said he tries to extend his giving over a wide variety of areas, focusing on health, arts, education, religion and community.

Berro also said he views his contribution to Wilshire Boulevard Temple from a businessman’s point of view: “I see Wilshire Boulevard Temple as a pillar of the Jewish community in Los Angeles,” he said. “We’re really investing in a good place. … The fact we’re making a community and educational center will give a big return to the community.” 

“I hope my son becomes a member,” Berro said, “and that for each generation, hopefully, the cycle continues. I think we have a rich a beautiful history, and I’d like to keep it going.”


Every part of the temple’s exterior was repaired, including bringing back the original color. Photo © Tom Bonner 2013


Fred Sands
Sanctuary’s Triple Lancet Window

Los Angeles real estate mogul Fred Sands hesitates, on the verge of tears, as he explains his emotional connection to the Jewish people and religion. “I’m not aware I lost any relatives in the Holocaust, but the Holocaust is right here,” he said pointing to his heart. “It doesn’t go away.”

For Sands, the spiritual tie he feels to Judaism often remains inexplicable. To him, the important thing is how he responds to this deep-rooted connection. 

The persecution of his Jewish ancestors and the survival of the Jewish people despite the odds spur him to give back, and inspired his donation of $500,000 to Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s renovation of the sanctuary’s triple lancet window. 

“Rabbi Leder says you have to be a good ancestor. You’re not doing this for yourself; you’re also doing this for your heirs, future generations,” Sands said. 

A temple member for 10 years, Sands often has lunch with Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, seeking his advice. In this instance however, it was the rabbi who came to Sands for guidance. According to Leder, Sands was the fourth person he consulted before starting the restoration project .

Sands has lived in Los Angeles since the age of 7, and in 1969 he created Fred Sands Realtors, now California’s second largest and the United States’ seventh largest independent real estate company. After selling the company to Coldwell Banker in 2000, he formed the investment firm Vintage Capital Group. He now serves as chairman of Vintage Real Estate, LLC, and Vintage Fund Management, LLC. 

Many people encouraged Leder to sell the temple building, citing the large move of the Jewish population to the Westside. Sands, however, advised against that. He cited the increase of Jewish families and young couples living in Hancock Park, Los Feliz, Silver Lake and, more recently, an increasingly gentrified Echo Park — all neighborhoods close to the temple. 

“In urban planning, you discover when you study cities, a city starts at the core and works its way out. Ultimately the core rots, and then it starts all over again,” Sands said.

This is the evolution that is occurring in Los Angeles today, Sands said. Where Wilshire Boulevard Temple was once at the city’s core, and then was not, now that core is being rebuilt again, and the temple can play an integral part in the revitalization. 

“There’s a saying, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ They’ll be there,” Sands said. “The place is beautiful; people gravitate toward places like that. That’s a very vibrant community. No question, there’s going to be a resurgence.”

Sands even compares the temple’s rebirth to his own work with Vintage Capital Group, which buys rundown or underperforming shopping centers to improve them, and also focuses on turning around distressed companies and bankruptcies.   

For him, the artistic component is important, too. Sands is a founder, vice chairman and trustee of Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art and also serves as chair of the museum’s Investment Committee. He also serves on several boards, including those of the Los Angeles Opera, the Los Angeles Police Foundation and Chrysalis, an organization that aims to rehabilitate the homeless.Sands said he believes any type of renovation, whether for a city, temple, commercial mall or company, requires a kind of generosity and kinship. 

“We’re all in this together, rich and poor. It’s the right thing to do,” Sands said. “We’re supposed to be good people, to help other people. It’s part of life, giving back.”



Stanley Gold
Preschool Play Yard for Future Generations

Stanley Gold sits relaxed and content in his Beverly Hills home as he explains his involvement in Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s renovation plan. The Shamrock Holdings president and CEO — and recent chair of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — leans back, chewing on a cigar after finishing a summer salad for lunch, and describes his personal connection to the temple and his thoughts on its role in the greater Los Angeles community. Jocular and loquacious, Gold doesn’t hold back as he also describes his overall philosophy on philanthropy. 

He says Wilshire Boulevard Temple means so much more to him and his family than simply a historically and architecturally significant monument. For Gold, the 100-foot-by-100-foot sanctuary holds poignant memories of his son’s bar mitzvah and daughter’s bat mitzvah, and is the place where he’s established important friendships with the temple’s members, as well as its clergy. For the Gold family, Wilshire Boulevard is both a place of worship and a compassionate community. Gold and his wife, Ilene, have both served as members of the congregation’s board at various times during their four decades of membership. 

 “For the most part, we have given to places that have improved and bettered our lives. … Wilshire Boulevard fits that role perfectly,” Gold said. “They have helped us grow as a family, helped us raise our children and answered difficult questions.” To that end, the Golds have donated $2 million to help pay for and name a new play yard for the nursery school, which will be built later.

And while he acknowledges a strong personal connection, Gold said his reasons for donating also go far beyond that tie — he wants to support the temple’s role as a strong leader within the Jewish community as well as a gateway to the non-Jewish community. 

“I think we have a responsibility within the community. We need to be supportive of our neighbors and the non-Jewish world. I think the temple does that in a big way,” he said. 

Gold has seen the temple grow with changes in leadership, the building of the Audrey and Sidney Irmas Campus in West Los Angeles, and now the renovation of the new Erika J. Glazer Family Campus.

Gold said that with the expansion, he hopes the temple will continue to attract young, dynamic, growing and important families.

“We should never forget, as great as our buildings are, we are a People of the Book, not of the building, and that means we need to have new, interesting people to interpret that book and how it goes forward. I’m hoping the new facilities will attract such people,” Gold said. 

Gold added that he thinks all Jewish people have a responsibility to serve the rest of society, a viewpoint he himself tries to live by. 

Gold is a graduate of UCLA; he also has a degree from USC and completed postgraduate work at the University of Cambridge. He worked for the Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown law firm before becoming the president and CEO of Shamrock Holdings Inc., which is Roy E. Disney’s private investment company. He served on the Walt Disney Co.’s board of directors for more than 15 years, and donates money and gives his time to numerous Jewish and educational organizations. He served as chairman of the board at USC for six years, as chairman of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of religion for six years and chairman of Federation for two years.

 “I think the Jewish people have an important contribution to make to this society,” Gold said. “I think our values, our outlook on life, our goals are consonant with the American dream. … We improve the quality of society.” 

For Gold, this responsibility to contribute doesn’t only apply to Jews. 

 “I think it’s the job of everybody who’s on the earth to make the world a better place while you’re here,” he added. “Giving to organizations whose main focus is to enrich people and broaden people and show them opportunities is a way to make this place better. I give to those kinds of organizations,” he said. “I think I’m fulfilling what is my real duty for being here.”


The sanctuary’s ornate ceiling culminates in an oculus outlined by the words of the Shema. Photo © Tom Bonner 2013


Jonathan Mitchell
New Central Walkway

Jonathan Mitchell likes to crane his neck backward as he sits in the sanctuary of the historic Wilshire Boulevard Temple, taking time to look 100 feet upward at the omnipotent Byzantine dome, with its centerpiece oculus outlined by the words of the Shema. As the rest of the congregation closes their eyes in prayer, he likes to gaze above, in honor of the memory of his now-deceased mother, Beverly Mitchell.

When Mitchell was a boy, his mother would soothe him to sleep by chanting the Shema. That prayer evokes the memory of her comforting voice, especially, during the High Holy Days services in the resplendent sanctuary. Mitchell fixates on the words above, remembering as well how his mother would surreptitiously point at the dome when they went to services together. This clandestine moment between mother and son established a personal tradition amid the sea of fellow temple members whose eyes remained closed, unaware of what had transpired. 

This ritual, as well as the community he has found at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, inspired Mitchell to support the temple’s renovation and expansion project. Indeed, his family’s connection to the congregation reaches back generations: Both sets of his grandparents belonged to the temple, the temple confirmed both of his parents, the longtime stalwart Rabbi Edgar Magnin presided over the marriage of his parents and assisted in officiating Mitchell’s own bar mitzvah. Mitchell’s mother was also the first female member of the board.

Mitchell now heads the Edward D. and Anna Mitchell Family Foundation, named for his grandmother and for his grandfather, founder of the Beneficial Standard Life Insurance Co., and it was through the family foundation that he donated $1 million to build the campus’ new central walkway, which will be completed by summer 2016. The walkway will act as a main artery extending between the parking pavilion and sanctuary. 

“We had a tradition of going there on the High Holy Days,” Mitchell said during a conversation at his home in Beverly Hills “It was kind of a special time for the family to all be together; I always looked forward to it from that standpoint.”

Mitchell was born and raised in Los Angeles, and he now oversees his family’s investment portfolio and serves as president of the family foundation. He has also been a committed and generous supporter of organizations benefiting education and Israel. The Mitchell Family Foundation donated a major gift to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and established the Mitchell Academy of Science and Technology at the Milken Community High School. He has also given time and financial support to the Anti-Defamation League, Cedars-Sinai, the Music Center, Goodwill Industries, Sheba Medical Center and the Technion, to name a few. He also has served as a national officer and board member of AIPAC, ultimately becoming chairman of its Political Education Program, from 1995 to 1997, encouraging the building of relationships among government leaders and members of the Jewish community. 

“The keeper of the Jewish traditions is Israel. It’s the heart and soul of the Jewish people,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell first realized the importance of helping Jews in 1968, on a trip to Israel and Eastern Europe sponsored by the United Jewish Appeal (UJA). At the former Jewish ghetto in Eisenstadt, Austria, he met the only living Jew from among those who stayed there after World War II. When Mitchell asked why he hadn’t left the ghetto, the man explained that if he moved, Jewish life in Eisenstadt would come to an end. 

Mitchell especially remembers that moment, and how Rabbi Herbert Friedman, then the executive director of the UJA, sparked in him a drive to live by and support Jewish traditions: “Rabbi Friedman said it doesn’t matter how many Hitlers come and go. All of them put together cannot destroy the Jewish people. The only thing that can destroy the Jewish people is if we forget our traditions,” Mitchell recalled. 

This notion, Mitchell says, has governed his entire life and was the motivation behind donating to the synagogue. 

“I don’t want the end of the Jewish religion to ever happen in Los Angeles, and having an institution that’s substantial, financially strong, that makes a strong statement in the community, like Wilshire Boulevard Temple — that helps to keep the Jewish tradition alive in Los Angeles,” Mitchell said. “And I would like to see that continue forever.

“I believe that in the end people will look back and say we did the right thing.” 

And this year, with the dome fully restored and newly glowing up above, Mitchell might not be the only one craning his neck back to read the words of the Shema prayer.



Martha Karsh
Tikkun Olam Center

“Sharing just feels like the right thing to do.” Martha Karsh, a philanthropist and attorney, said as she reflected on why she chose to donate to Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s renovation and expansion plan. Karsh said she and her husband, Bruce Karsh, were particularly moved by the temple’s plan to reach out with social services for its surrounding neighborhood, practicing the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam — repairing the world. 

Karsh admits she didn’t need a lot of convincing to show her support. She said that along with the temple’s altruistic efforts, the preservation of the temple building “just spoke to us.”

Before the restoration began, Karsh toured the 1929 building and saw firsthand its neglected state, including portions of the ceiling in the main sanctuary that had fallen to the ground. Karsh described her emotional reaction to seeing the extraordinary structure eroding in front of her eyes.

“I’m really an architecture and preservationist buff,” she said. “I love that temple building.” 

Once the renovation of the sanctuary is completed, Wilshire Boulevard Temple plans to build the Tikkun Olam Center, which will provide a variety of free or low-cost services, including medical, dental, legal and food assistance, as well as mental health counseling and English classes, for anyone in need living in the greater Koreatown area — a multicultural neighborhood that includes many low-income residents. The Karsh family has given $5 million to fund the center in hopes of improving the quality of life for both Jewish and non-Jewish neighbors. 

Karsh said she and her husband felt most passionate about this particular outreach programming because of their ardent belief in helping others. Their three children have worked for the food pantry that the temple has operated for more than 25 years. 

“I feel like my Judaism is very much a part of me,” Karsh said. “Many of the things that guide the work I do are really governed by both democratic and Jewish principles. Tikkun olam, for example — you heal the world, you help others that are less fortunate than you,” Karsh said. “Those are things that are really a part of the fabric of our lives.”

Martha and Bruce Karsh met at University of Virginia School of Law in 1978. The couple moved to Sacramento in the early 1980s for Bruce to work as a clerk for now-Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Bruce later transitioned into money management, ultimately becoming president and co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, in 1995, which as of December 2012 managed $77.1 billion. Martha practiced law as a business litigator and counseling attorney. She also lectured at UCLA and volunteered at the Office of the County Counsel’s Department of Children and Family Services, earning volunteer-of-the-year in 1987. In 2009, she formed an architecture and design firm, Clark & Karsh, with architect Brad Clark. 

Even as they were working and raising their three children, the Karshes also created the Karsh Family Foundation, which has donated more than $120 million to a variety of philanthropic organizations, mostly ones involving education. 

Their philanthropic focus has been primarily on education, including giving to Duke University, University of Virginia, University of Pennsylvania, Teach For America and the Knowledge Is Power Program, and Martha Karsh said she believes education is key to bringing people together. She sees the Tikkun Olam Center as working to promote that goal, as well. 

“When you reach out to your neighbors, you build bridges — bridges of understanding and bridges of sharing. Those are the kind of bridges we need to have more of in the world,” Karsh said.

 “Part of the Jewish values, and just our personal values, are that you help people who are not as well off,” Karsh said. “What you’re doing is paying it forward. That’s why we’re doing it. That’s why it resonates with us.”



Audrey Irmas
The Irmas Family Courtyard

Well-known as among Los Angeles’ most important art collectors and arts philanthropists, Audrey Irmas discovers beauty wherever she goes — whether it’s a Roy Lichtenstein painting in her apartment or the artwork that adorns the walls of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple sanctuary.

Indeed, the sanctuary, built in 1929, is a work of art unto itself, with its audacious dome, resounding organ, delicate stained glass and more. However, for Irmas, one attribute in particular stands out: the Hugo Ballin murals. 

Irmas said she loves to look at, in particular, a portrait of Ruth Dubin, the wife of past Rabbi Maxwell Dubin. Draped in blue, Ruth poses on her knees, as if offering up something, but it’s a mystery as to what she’s offering. “I always kind of say hello to [Ruth] when I go. I feel very much at home,” Irmas said. “There’s something so beautiful and welcoming about the temple. I love it very much.” 

Irmas and her late husband, Sydney Irmas, are the third generation of the Irmas family to be members of the temple, and Irmas’ grandchildren constitute the fifth generation to belong to the congregation; indeed Audrey’s name, along with that of her husband grace the temple’s Westside campus, which opened in 1998. Now she has donated $5 million to create the Irmas Family Courtyard, which will include benches designed by the American artist Jenny Holzer.

When Irmas — who was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended Fairfax High School — was just a 20-year-old newlywed, she said, she took her first steps into the Wilshire Boulevard synagogue with her in-laws, when Sydney was out of town. She embraced the temple, sending her children to Sunday school there and attending services with her family — always sneaking a glance at the image of Ruth Dubin. 

It was in 1948, while a student at UCLA, that she met Sydney, who went on to become an attorney and investor. By 1983, the couple had formed the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Charitable Foundation, and since her husband’s passing in 1996, Irmas said, she has tried to address local, national and global problems through the foundation, as well as focus on women’s and children’s issues. The foundation also has donated money to USC, created the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Los Angeles Youth Center and the Sydney M. Irmas Therapeutic Living Center. Audrey Irmas also has served as president and chair of the board of the Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art and as chair of the Los Angeles Family Housing Corp. 

“I just feel that I am so fortunate. It’s just part of my background to give back. That’s just part of the family tradition,” she said.

She recalls, as a young girl during the Depression, witnessing her parents give $15 to charity. That donation, from more than 70 years ago, still influences her today, as she remembers how difficult times were for her family financially. 

She said there was no question that she would be a donor to the temple’s rebirth. She reflects back on the times she spent at the temple with her in-laws and said she is comforted by her children’s continuation of the tradition.

“We’re a clan. Jews are a clan, [and] I’m a member of that clan,” Irmas said. “Everybody is so excited about the new temple and the campus. It has reinvigorated the congregation.”

Irmas said she believes the temple’s project will rejuvenate what is already a thriving and tight-knit community. The High Holy Days services, in particular, are a time when she is reminded of the support and kindness she has received from the people who make up the congregation.  

“Usually, once a year, I’m invited to sit on the bimah and participate in the holiday readings. I love looking out to see all my friends from high school and my early marriage. We’re all sitting there together and worshiping. And it’s the temple that brings them together, that brings us together,” she said.


An early model of the campus expansion shows a preliminary vision for a Tikkun Olam Center on Sixth Street, at rear.

Israel’s austerity budget advances in Knesset


Israel’s Knesset approved the first reading of the 2013-14 state budget, which has been touted as closing socio-economic gaps in the country.

The budget, which cuts millions of dollars from the defense department, child benefits and transportation projects, was approved early Tuesday morning by a vote of 58-44.

It now moves to the Knesset Finance Committee for review and likely alterations before returning to the Knesset floor for approval on second and third readings.

The Knesset must approve the budget by the end of July or go to new elections.

Total spending in 2013 will be 388 billion shekels (nearly $108 billion), rising the next year to 408 billion shekels ($113.5 billion).

Along with the cuts, the austerity budget also increases income tax by 1.5 percent across the board.

“Rather than evading responsibility, we chose to do the responsible thing because Israel’s economy has no choice but to close the deficit as quickly as possible,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid said at the beginning of the budget debate Monday that stretched into the morning hours of Tuesday.

Many speeches by the opposition accused Lapid of harming the majority of Israelis with the budget proposal.

Israel bans illegal migrants from sending out money


The Knesset passed a measure barring illegal migrants from sending money out of Israel and limiting how much they can take when they leave.

Two amendments to the Law for the Prevention of Infiltration passed June 3 on second and third readings.

Under the measure, illegal migrants leaving Israel would be allowed to take with them no more than the sum of their minimum monthly salary multiplied by the number of months they have been in the country.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voted for the bill, according to a statement issued by his office.

“We have blocked the phenomenon of infiltration into Israel. Last month only two infiltrators crossed the border, as opposed to over 2,000 one year ago,” Netanyahu said in the statement.

“Now we are focusing on the infiltrators’ departure from Israel. Several thousand infiltrators have already left Israel, and we are continuing to work on repatriating the illegal work infiltrators already here.”

On June 2, Netanyahu called for the repatriation of illegal migrants’ days after a government attorney said Israel has reached an agreement with unnamed counties to repatriate migrants from Sudan and Eritrea.

Israel cannot deport Eritrean nationals because they could be killed or imprisoned. Sudanese nationals are not deported because Israel does not have diplomatic relations with Sudan.

Oklahoma tornado: How you can help


Jewish groups are joining the effort to help those displaced by the tornado in suburban Oklahoma City.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, announced Tuesday that his organization will collect donations and distribute them to the American Red Cross and others on the ground in Oklahoma.

“We are numb with grief, and yet inspired by the heroic resilience of the people of Oklahoma,” Jacobs said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those impacted by this horrific tragedy.

“As other needs arise, perhaps including volunteers to assist with the clean-up and rebuilding, we stand ready to help in any way possible.”

The Jewish Federations of North America also has started a fund to aid the relief effort of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City.

[Know of other Jewish relief efforts? Please comment below with information]

“Our hearts go out to all those who were in the path of this disaster and who are grieving the loss of their loved ones,” said Michael Siegal, chair of the JFNA Board of Trustees. “This was a terrible tragedy. The destruction of an elementary school filled with students and teachers was especially painful.”

B’nai B’rith International has opened its Flood, Tornado and Hurricane Disaster Relief Fund.

Meanwhile, the Chabad Community Center of Southern Oklahoma has opened its building as a shelter and is collecting supplies for those displaced by the tornado that hit Moore.

A mitzvah called shmooze


In a crummy economy, people are always looking for good investments — a promising stock, a real estate opportunity, a star mutual fund. It’s really not that different in the “mitzvah economy”— donors and do-gooders are also looking to squeeze the maximum amount of goodness out of every charity investment.

On that note, I’d like to share with you a mitzvah that has a ridiculously low investment and an incredibly high return.

It’s a mitzvah called shmooze.

I think of this mitzvah every time I’m stuck in freeway traffic and I call my mother in Montreal. Nine times out of 10, especially during the long winter months, the first words out of her mouth will be (in French): “Ah, mon fils, je pensait justement à toi!” (Oh, my son, I was just thinking of you!). 

You see, my mother has this quirk when it comes to phones: When she hears a ring, she always picks up. She’s not big on screening calls. She doesn’t make those quick calculations of whether such and such person is worth talking to. I’ve never asked her this, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she shmoozes with telemarketers who pitch her great deals on ink toners.

Ever since my father passed away 10 years ago, the ring of the phone in my mother’s home has come to symbolize the promise of human contact. Whereas for me it might mean an unwanted interruption, for my mother it is a welcomed trumpet that announces the interruption of loneliness. 

I try to interrupt that loneliness as often as I can. It helps that our conversations are light and breezy and require little concentration on my part. It’s as if we have this unwritten agreement that if she’ll go easy on me with the questions, I’ll stay on as long as she likes (or until I get to my “meeting”).

Sometimes I’ll be in a silly mood and make her crack up. I might tell her something funny one of my kids said. Occasionally, we might talk about a serious family matter, and she’ll weigh in with her suggestions (read: orders).

But typically, we’ll just shmooze about family stuff: How are the kids doing? (Baruch Hashem.) Is Noah getting taller? (I think so.) Who’s cooking for Shabbat? (I don’t know yet — probably Mia.) Did you tell the housekeeper you won’t need her next Wednesday? (I will, I promise.) Do you speak to your sister? (All the time.) And how about your brother? (Yes, on e-mail.)

From my end, I will lob back questions about her health (“How’s your knee?”) or I’ll ask about Shabbat plans (“Will you be with Judy, Sandra or Samy?”). Our favorite subject, of course, is travel, and it consists mostly of two questions: “When are you coming to Montreal?” and “When can you come to Los Angeles?” 

After about 15 minutes or so, we’re usually ready to wrap up. We throw in a few words of caution (Me: “Please watch the steps!” Her: “Please be careful!”), some tender sentiments (“Kiss everyone” and “I love you”), and, voilà, it’s, “Goodbye Meme, I’ll speak to you very soon.”

But as I run off to another meeting, Meme hangs up and goes back to an empty house.

The difference, though, is that now, in that empty house, the words of our conversation will echo pleasantly in her consciousness. She’ll be thinking about all the good stuff we talked about. That’s because words that interrupt loneliness have a time-release quality. They keep ringing gently in one’s ears long after the phone has stopped ringing.

I invest 15 minutes in sweet shmoozing, and, in return, I get hours of motherly joy. Wouldn’t you call that a good investment? 

The truth is, you don’t have to be related to someone to offer good conversation — in fact, it could be an advantage not to be related. So, I wonder: How many elderly Jews are there in our sprawling community who spend their days alone and could use a good shmooze?

Why not twin those elderly Jews with younger Jews who could put a spark in their day with some lively conversation? 

It’s a mitzvah that works both ways: The elderly have great wisdom and stories to share, which could enrich anyone’s day.

Los Angeles seems like the perfect city to try this idea out — there are plenty of elderly at home alone, and there’s certainly no shortage of cell phone-addicted shmoozers stuck in traffic.

The beauty is that it’s simple. No event planning, no shlepping — just a phone call. Multiply that by a few thousand calls and that’s a lot of loneliness interruption.

Every community can start their own schmooze project. You need a good organizer, of course, to recruit people and coordinate all the vetting. But the basic idea is not complicated: volunteer “shmoozers” get a short list of willing elderly “friends” to call on a regular basis.

In the meantime, don’t wait for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day to call your parents or grandparents, or anyone else you know who can use a good shmooze. Especially for people fighting loneliness, one little call can brighten up a whole day.

Like my mother would say, now that's a bargain.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer to step down


Stanley Fischer is stepping down from his position as governor of the Bank of Israel.

Fischer, 69,  will be leaving office on June 30 after serving eight years that included shepherding the Israeli economy through the global financial crisis of 2007-08. His term was scheduled to end in 2015.

He reportedly informed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of his decision on Tuesday, according to the bank. He is scheduled to hold a news conference on Wednesday morning to discuss his decision to leave.

Fischer said in a statement issued Tuesday by the bank that he was grateful for the opportunity to serve as the governor of the Bank of Israel, “especially during a challenging period that included the global economic crisis, a complex geo-political reality, and domestic social issues.”

In 2010, Fischer was named the world's best bank governor. Following the global economic woes of 2007-08, in September 2009, the Bank of Israel became the first bank in the developed world to raise its interest rates.

Fischer became an Israeli citizen when he assumed his position. He is known for his American-accented but nearly flawless Hebrew.

He previously served as chief economist at the World Bank.

Fischer earned a doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he also worked as a professor.

Netanyahu said Fischer played a major role in the economic growth of the State of Israel and in the achievements of the Israeli economy.

“His experience, his wisdom and his international connections opened a door to the economies of the world and assisted the Israeli economy in reaching many achievements during a period of global economic crisis,” Netanyahu said after meeting with Fischer.

Israeli markets cheer centrists’ election gains


Israeli markets rose on Wednesday on investor hopes that the outcome of the previous day's election means Benjamin Netanyahu will remain prime minister and ultra-Orthodox parties have no role in government.

The blue-chip Tel Aviv 25 index rose 1 percent to 1,204.65 points, near last week's year-high of 1,225.76, while the broader TA-100 index closed 0.9 percent higher.

Government bond prices gained as much as 0.5 percent and the shekel appreciated 0.4 percent to 3.722 per dollar from Monday's fixing of 3.738, near a 10-month peak.

“We will enjoy this for a few days,” said Zach Herzog, head of foreign sales at the Psagot brokerage. “The downside will be if the coalition talks drag on or if we see Labour or (ultra-Orthodox) Shas in serious talks to get involved.

“This can be a launching pad for a positive 2013,” he added.

Herzog said a coalition government more centrist than Netanyahu's current right-wing and religious administration would be better placed to impose needed budget cuts.

Ultra-Orthodox parties have traditionally demanded budget-draining state subsidies for their institutions in return for joining coalitions in Israel, where no one party has ever won a parliamentary majority on its own.

Results of Tuesday's parliamentary vote showed Netanyahu's right-wing Likud-Beitenu group emerging on top with 31 of parliament's 120 seats, albeit dropping sharply from the current 42 after voters shifted support to centrists focusing on Israelis' rising cost of living.

Yesh Atid, a new centrist party that has pledged to ease the burden of Israel's middle class, took 19 seats, one more than the number won by ultra-Orthodox parties.

If Yesh Atid's leader, former TV news anchor Yair Lapid, opts to join a Netanyahu coalition, along with the far-right Jewish Home party, the prime minister would likely control 61 seats, giving him a narrow parliamentary majority.

Netanyahu, however, has said he hopes to form as broad a government as possible, signaling the way was open for ultra-Orthodox factions to participate.

BUDGET DEFICIT

Netanyahu's reputations as a skilled economic operator was harmed just before the election when data showed Israel posted a budget deficit of 4.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2012 – more than double its initial target.

To meet a target of 3 percent in 2013, the government – which overspent heavily the past two years to keep its previous coalition partners happy – will have to find some 15 billion shekels ($4 billion) of cuts, as well as raising taxes.

Credit agency Fitch forecast the deficit reaching 3.8 percent of GDP this year, saying the stable outlook on its 'A' rating risked being downgraded in the event of “serious fiscal slippage”.

But a move towards the government's 60 percent debt-to-GDP target could result in positive ratings action, its sovereign ratings director Paul Gamble said in a report on Wednesday.

He also said the coalition talks would focus on budgetary issues and likely be time-consuming.

Psagot's Herzog said the market was also pleased that the centre-left Labour Party, whose leader, Shelly Yachimovich, has railed against capitalism during the election campaign, received just 15 seats, a poor than expected showing.

“In addition to the positive result that Netanyahu was re-elected as prime minister, you have a significant blow to the prestige to the anti-business candidate,” Herzog said.

A currency dealer at a large Israeli bank said most of Wednesday's dollar selling came from local rather than offshore customers. He said there was still a way for the dollar to fall before its next support level at 3.7050 shekels.

According to financial information services firm Markit, Israeli five-year credit default swaps – which insure against debt default – edged up 125 basis points from 123 on Monday. They had been at 156 basis points in November when military tensions escalated in the Gaza Strip.

Additional reporting by Tova Cohen and Carolyn Cohn; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, John Stonestreet

Editorial Cartoon: Quicksand deficit


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Israeli economics 101


Ofek Lavian has two passions: business and Israel, his native land.

What he felt that he was missing when he went to college at the University of Southern California was an opportunity to learn about his home country while interacting with people who shared his same interests in it.

“I found myself really struggling to find an organization on campus that was tailored to my passions,” said the 20-year-old, who moved to Silicon Valley when he was 4. “I found a lot that were related to Judaism were political, religious, and/or cultural. As a business major and an entrepreneur, I wanted to look at Israel through another lens.”

Then he heard about the TAMID Israel Investment Group, a multi-phased program on college campuses connecting American students with the Israeli economic landscape. It seemed like the perfect way to merge his interests and learn about them in a new way.

When Lavian, now a junior, helped start a chapter at USC in 2011, there were 25 members. By the end of this semester, the group expects to have 40. To set it up, Lavian received $3,500 in funding from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; now, all the funds are solicited from private donors.

The origins of TAMID date back to 2008, when a group dedicated to providing American students with access to Israeli businesses launched at the University of Michigan. Since then, it has expanded to eight other campuses across the country, including USC and the University of California, Berkeley. In the fall, a handful of others is expected to be added, one of which may be University of California, Los Angeles, according to Max Heller, TAMID’s executive director of business development.

The goal is to “further advance and strengthen the connection between the United States and Israel,” he said. “We pioneer the next generation of American commitment to Israel by reaching out by future leaders on campuses.”

Students studying business, entrepreneurship, economics and similar subjects are eligible to join TAMID when they are undergraduates. Those selected take one semester of education in the fall on general business principles and the relationship between the United States and Israel from an economic perspective. The education component is divided among member-driven presentations and lectures from venture capitalists, professors and individuals well-versed in Israel’s economic scene. 

Students showcase their research on certain aspects of business, and in the past they’ve hosted speeches on how the nuclear threat from Iran might affect Israeli businesses, as well as what changes might occur after the discovery of oil reserves in Israel. 

TAMID also gives students the opportunity either to invest in Israeli securities using money they raise from donors or do pro-bono consulting work for Israeli startups. 

During the summer, TAMID, which is based at the University of Michigan, hosts a fellowship trip to Israel. When it was first offered in 2010, five students went. There were eight in 2011, and last summer the number grew to 17. Students partook in internships in finance, energy sustainability and technology, and worked at various startups. Next summer, 40 fellows will have the chance to go and gain real world experience.

Although most of the students are Jewish, it is becoming diversified. Heller said that the larger a certain program grows, the more non-Jewish students get involved. The largest mix of students is currently at Michigan. 

“We pride ourselves on working with talented and motivated students,” Heller said.

Lavian started his own T-shirt business with a fellow fraternity brother called Campus Ink in fall 2010. But he wanted to meet other self-starters. Through TAMID, he’s accomplished this while learning about Israel’s contributions to alternative energy, medicine and technology.

Last summer, Lavian secured a venture capital internship in Tel Aviv and lived alongside the program’s other students from around the country. He also met with the entrepreneurs behind Doweet, which coordinates meet-ups with friends and event planning, and Peer5, a startup that focuses on helping video content providers deliver the best viewing experience. 

Now, USC consultants from TAMID are working with these companies. The students assist the startups with learning about the American economy and demographics, while they, in turn, have the chance to see what it takes to build a business. 

“[Since there are] 7 million people in Israel and [more than] 300 million in the United States, for any Israeli company to be successful, they need to have their target market be global or in the U.S.,” Lavian said. “A lot of them have the technology in Israel but they need to target the U.S. market. That’s where TAMID comes in.”

Avior Ovadya, 25, who came to America from Israel to attend college four years ago, has been in TAMID for one semester at USC. Unlike his classes, which focus on the U.S. market, TAMID meetings give him the opportunity to understand what’s happening in the Israeli business world. 

“Other than being a platform for students to learn about Israel, it’s also about understanding a little bit about what Israel is like, and why it’s such a pioneer in the technology field,” he said. “The group of people we have now is swell. They make our weekly meetings fun. We share everything from how our weeks were to our opinions on Israel.” 

Jared Fleitman, co-founder of USC’s TAMID program and current president, said his time spent with the group has been the most enriching he’s had at USC.

“I’ve met more contacts through developing the curriculum than through any of my coursework,” said Fleitman, who is majoring in mechanical engineering, economics and mathematics. “It’s very useful for me. It’s very positive and I feel like I am part of a special community here.”

Like Fleitman, Lavian said that he has learned more from the practical experience gained through TAMID than he ever did in a classroom. 

“Some things are really hard to learn in a classroom setting,” he said. “You need to get your hands dirty and your feet wet and do some hands-on learning. That’s exactly what TAMID does.” 

Money saving ideas: For richer, not poorer


Tying the knot doesn’t have to be synonymous with fastening a financial anchor around newlywed couples. It just requires great care, sufficient research and attention to detail.

Even with the best planning, however, it might be hard to believe you could pull off a dreamy wedding on a smart budget, given the average cost of a modern wedding. According to a recent report in USA Today, couples spend an average of $26,989 for their weddings. CostofWedding.com notes most couples spend between $19,223 and $32,039, not including the honeymoon. 

“Couples need to weigh their fantasy wedding against the financial realities of the fantasy wedding,” warns L.A.-based wedding planner Wayne Gurnick, who specializes in Jewish and kosher weddings. “We find that we are financial planners as much as event planners.”

Gurnick advises couples to engage in comparison-shopping for products and services, as the real goal should be getting the most value for the money. Even when couples have put together a budget, he points out that costs can still add up quickly if couples have not done their homework thoroughly.    

Here are several money-saving ideas to give couples a stronger start, according to Gurnick and fellow event planners Michele Schwartz, creator of TheModernJewishWedding.com, who boasts many L.A. clients; Los Angeles-based planner Sarajane Landun; and chef Jason Collis, an Oxnard resident and owner of Plated Events.

Food for Thought

Whether you choose to go the glatt kosher or kosher-style route with catering, there are several ways to stick to a budget without sacrificing flavor or being stingy.  

Many hotels will allow wedding parties to buy the use of  the entire kitchen, ideal for couples who have an affordable kosher caterer or a caterer through a family connection. In these cases, Gurnick says, the hotel provides the service staff, dishes and facilities, but allows outside caterers to use and prepare in their space.

Foodwise, consider serving heavy appetizers at the reception or stick with a dairy-based meal. Also, seated dinners are often less costly than buffets, as the hotel or caterer can account for the exact amount of food they need to prepare, Schwartz explains.

Instead of going the traditional cake route — which can run from $800 to $2,000 — Collis suggests trying a dessert table with a range of options for guests, along with a very small cake for the cake-cutting ceremony. 

Edible party favors that are part of the centerpiece can save money, too, according to Schwartz. A
cupcake bar and homemade party favors, such as preserves in pretty jars, are popular right now. Other examples of tasteful takeaways include personal cakes, teas and coffee, which can be packaged in do-it-yourself mason jars for added savings.

Location, Location, Location

Just as good movie-location scouts can sniff out ideal places to impart production value to an independent film, couples can find perfect backdrops for their nuptials and receptions without breaking the bank (after determining the size of the guest list, of course).

Look into city- or state-run venues, such as local beaches, parks, recreation centers, civic gardens and zoos. As each couple has its own unique personality, one of these nontraditional venues could be a perfect fit, Landun says.

Also, find a space that doesn’t require a lot of rentals and décor in order to spruce up the room.  Be able to work with what the venue already has in terms of chairs, linens, stage, etc., she says.

As for backyard weddings, they can save lots of money — if you get creative. Be forewarned, rental and décor costs may add up, and the backyard wedding can end up being more expensive due to the cost of bringing in tables, chairs, linens, dishes and other items, Gurnick says. 

No matter where the reception ends up, consider changing the “when.” Weekdays are less expensive than weekends and may be easier to negotiate with the venue, Landun says.  Think about getting married during non-peak times of the year instead of during peak season, which is generally the summer months.

Setting the Stage

Rather than go for broke on the décor — literally — with flowers, custom dance floors and pure silk linens, look for unusual alternatives. 

One hot new concept, Gurnick says, is a sophisticated picnic-style wedding where tables and chairs are replaced with beautiful, handcrafted quilts; elaborate gourmet picnic baskets take the place of a traditional sit-down meal. This also allows guests and the wedding party to dress in more casual attire.

According to Landun, reusing floral arrangements from the ceremony (chuppah, aisles) by putting them in the main reception area is cost-effective and eco-friendly. Collis directs couples to local growers and points out that neighborhood farmers markets can provide seasonal blooms. 

Bridesmaid bouquets can be used to line the edge of the sweetheart table, and the chuppah used in an outside ceremony can be recycled as a decoration for the bridal party table. 

It’s possible to save money on dance floors, too. Companies that provide custom portable dance floors may have a floor in stock made for another couple that can be rented at a fraction of the cost, Gurnick says.

Hidden Costs

Unexpected services beyond décor and food are just as important — and often expensive if they are not tracked carefully. That’s one reason why Schwartz says it’s worth it to invest in a planner who will help couples sniff out hidden costs, ask the right questions and negotiate contracts so there aren’t any surprises. 

Also, see if the venue can offer a self-parking arrangement. Self-parking costs typically run half that of a valet service, according to Gurnick.

Finally, he urges couples to keep in mind: Every 10 people added to a guest list incrementally adds a significant amount to the final tab. That’s 10 more people who will require newlyweds to spend money on meals, centerpieces and chairs. 

Avoiding the ‘Jewish fiscal cliff’


The main Capitol Hill sport these days (after obsessive coverage of the Petraeus scandal) is how the government can avoid the impending “fiscal cliff.” A similarly serious financial challenge lurks in the future of the Jewish community — namely, how do we better balance our books and continue to fund an engaging and vibrant Jewish community? We may not be running toward a cliff, but a long slide would leave us in the same place.

Unfortunately, the Jewish Fiscal Crisis (JFC) is more systemic and fragmented than even our government’s current dilemma and cannot be solved by fiat of raising taxes or cutting programs. Rather, the JFC will only be resolved through addressing three difficult issues:

1. How we are organized.

2. How we educate and motivate donors and collect monies.

3. How we deliver services through a complex structure of separate yet (ideally) nonduplicative organizations.

As a long-time participant and funder in Jewish life with a good sense of our history and our complicated communal psyche, I appreciate how fortunate we are relative to previous generations. The point of this commentary is not, “Woe is us.” Rather, the focus here is to present ideas and generate a discussion that leads to collaboration. These ideas are all rooted in my practical experience as a business strategist and nonprofit activist, and in a genuine concern that our community needs to develop strategies that increase overall communal resources for worthwhile initiatives, and generate and allocate our communal resources in the most efficient manner possible.

Background: The impending Jewish Fiscal Crisis explained

The Jewish community has always contended with some level of financial strain, but the situation has materially deteriorated due to numerous interrelated factors and trends, including:

1. Difficult macroeconomic times, which have increased demand for poverty services and annual subsidies (e.g., for synagogue membership and day school tuition).

2. Generational shift in funders, with groups like Avi Chai spending down and next generation mega-donors frequently focused on non-Jewish causes.

3. Limited growth to no growth in Federation ongoing campaigns (not including emergency disaster and crisis relief).

4. Continued inefficiencies as organizations duplicate services yet refuse to merge or coordinate.

5. Expanded reliance on “free” pricing practices (Birthright, PJ Library, Chabad, High Holy Days, etc.) spawning a communal entitlement psychology.

6. Inability to effectively leverage new technologies to materially lower operating and marketing cost structures.

7. Increased unaffiliation as individuals have weaker formal ties to religious organizations.

8. Lack of unity with certain funders and segments (e.g., ultra-Orthodox) with targeted giving on particular agenda and not broader needs.

Vision: Preserving our foundation while seeking innovation

To create the necessary economic foundation for the Nextgen Jewish community, we need a game-changing cooperative approach that disrupts the current economic paradigm while at the same time takes into account established organizations such as the UJA-Federation.

In this regard, the publishing industry serves as an instructive model of how to move forward. Publishers are investing heavily in innovation in the new world of e-books and online distribution while at the same time working to protect their core print businesses. Significant restructuring and mergers are just one visible manifestation of this dynamic process.

We should apply this separate-but-focused approach in the Jewish community. The Federation system and other large incumbent organizations are our printed books, and we need to ensure their continuing, valuable, bottom-line contribution. At the same time, we need to explore and master innovative “e-book” approaches in a way that does not jeopardize major components of the Jewish enterprise.

Plan: Alternative strategy group with focused initiatives

We will only achieve substantive improvement through a collaborative effort that leads to a select number of focused initiatives that ultimately disrupt and improve how the market system operates. Thus, the challenge is not just to envision and implement any one option, but also to achieve widespread community acceptance. With this goal in mind, we should empower a think-outside-of-the-box, Simpson-Bowles-style committee to brainstorm, create and help implement such game-changing initiatives.

The participants would need to include key funders and representatives of incumbent organizations with leadership by visionary participants inside the community — forward-thinking federations (Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston), philanthropic groups (Andrea & Charles Bronfman, Avi Chai or Schusterman Foundations), philanthropic resources (Jewish Funders Network) — as well as market-savvy outsiders (Steve Einhorn or Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn).

The critical ideas on the agenda for this group are not necessarily high-profile, exciting projects, but rather the spinach on the table. They may not be as fun to eat, but they will give the community the basic nutrients to increase resources across the board and allow donors to more efficiently allocate for our future.

Here are four initial ideas this committee should consider (more details are available on  jewishjournal.com):

Idea 1: A transparent marketplace

Our community needs to better collect and organize critical, baseline information on the financials, best practices and strategies/missions of Jewish nonprofit organizations. Information is power, and we need to make our donors smarter about their choices and allocations. Donors can’t maximize their efficiency if they can’t assess where the dollars are going and how they are being spent.

Idea 2: Empowered and informed donors

A “one-size-gives-all” mentality is no longer the only answer as donors become less focused on institutional fulfillment and more interested in individual giving based on personal interests. We need a charity information platform that educates, activates and connects the Jewish community and is a trusted source that provides independent, high-quality and conveniently accessible information. This is not just a stand-alone Web site but will be a larger initiative that includes online and offline elements, all designed to improve donor engagement.

Idea 3: Communal efficiency

There are many organizations working in similar areas that might benefit from a range of coordination and cooperation. More resources need to be devoted to helping organizations start joint-venture operations and merge where it makes sense. There should be a venture fund with access to experienced professionals to assist organizations with the leap to consolidation.

Idea 4: Jewish giving category campaign

Last but not least, we need to address how to increase the overall amount of money given to Jewish causes. This would be general campaign to generate awareness of the importance of Jewish giving and engage funders to increase their allocation to Jewish charities by addressing attitudes, the paradox of choice and informational requirements.

In the end, though, we need to keep in mind that we will not win over major sources of new money through a campaign, but rather through a thoughtful and organized approach to giving Jewishly. This will only be accomplished through the types of initiatives discussed in this article (and in more detail in the extended paper) and other ideas that arise through these discussions.


Mark Pearlman has served on numerous charitable boards. He created JInsider.com and most recently launched Sinai Live Books. On a professional basis, Pearlman is a business and marketing strategist focused primarily in the investment area.

Israel’s middle class increasingly squeezed


At Israeli weddings, gifts of china, silver and art are not welcome. Guests are expected to bring their checkbooks and contribute to a young couple’s purchase of their first home, often bought with substantial help from the newlyweds’ parents.

But a new report shows that only 65 percent of young couples in their 20s and 30s are able to buy a home, as compared with over 80 percent a decade ago.

These statistics are part of the State of the Nation Report 2011- 2012 published by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, which examines various aspects of Israel’s economy.

Director Dan Ben-David finds disturbing trends in Israel’s economy. “We are the ‘start-up nation’ with world-class universities, yet our productivity is falling further and further behind Western countries,” Ben-David told The Media Line.

While overall unemployment in Israel is relatively low, and employment rates among young and middle-aged Israeli men is much lower than in leading Western countries, tens of thousands of Orthodox yeshiva students receive government stipends for studying full-time instead of working.

Israel also has a lot of debt. The Taub Center found that the interest the country pays on its debt was more than its entire education budget last year, and double its health budget.

One bright sign is Israel’s national health care system. Almost all Israelis are members of one of four HMO’s and pay a percentage of their taxes for health insurance. Israeli Jews have one of the highest life expectancies in the world. However the report found that the number of hospital beds in Israel is continuing to drop, and is less than half the Western average.

The report also found that the government’s share of total health care spending in Israel has fallen, while private spending has risen.

“In essence, separate health care systems for the rich and for the poor have developed,” the report found.

Transportation is another problem. The congestion on Israel’s roads is 2.5 times higher than the Western average, although the number of cars per capita is much lower. Even though Israel has begun spending more money on its transportation infrastructure recently, traffic jams have gotten almost unbearable during rush hour.

But it is the plight of Israel’s middle class that economists find most disturbing.

Paul Rivlin, a professor of economics at Tel Aviv University, says the middle class is being squeezed all over the world. In Israel, he says, monopolies control important aspects of life.

“There is only one supplier of land because the State of Israel owns practically all of the land,” he told The Media Line. “There is only one supplier of cement. The food we buy is overwhelmingly sold or made or imported by monopolistic organizations that engage in price gouging.”

In the summer of 2011, socioeconomic demonstrations dubbed the “cottage cheese protests” swept the Jewish state. Hundreds of thousands, including Rivlin, went into the streets demanding lower food prices. Many items manufactured in Israel cost less when purchased abroad.

After those protests, prices of many commodities went down although they have crept up again over the past year. Rivlin says economic issues have often taken a back seat in Israel.

“The amount of time you can concentrate on social issues is limited because of security issues,” Rivlin said.

Taxes in Israel are also high, the income tax ranging from 10 percent to a whopping 48 percent.

“There have been some tax reforms that have benefited the bottom and the top, but the middle class still gets hit,” Rivlin says. “As you move up with moderate increases in income, you get pushed up into higher tax rates.”

“We are falling further and further behind in living standards and if we don’t do something soon, fewer Israelis will stay here,” Ben-David told The Media Line. “We are on some long-term social and economic trajectories that are simply unsustainable in the long run.”

In campaign for Jewish votes, GOP has the money, Dems have the history


In the battle for Jewish votes this November, both parties acknowledge the other’s advantage: Republicans have the money and Democrats have the history.

The funding disparity was evident on Sunday and Monday when the Republican Jewish Coalition rolled out major voter outreach bids in three major Jewish population centers: the suburbs of Cleveland and Philadelphia, and in Broward and Palm Beach counties in South Florida.

The operations included expensive mechanisms unheard of in any Jewish outreach operation for years, if ever: Banks of volunteers phoning voters identified beforehand by researchers through “microtargeting,” a system that uses market research and other factors to narrow respondents to those likeliest to switch their vote.

Volunteers also distributed leaflets to homes in suburbs with high Jewish concentrations.

The effort attracted hundreds of RJC volunteers from across the country to the three target areas in states that both parties have identified as having enough undecided Jewish voters who could decide the election. Among the volunteers were dozens of students whose hotel stays over the Sabbath were paid for by the RJC.

“This effort — both in terms of numbers of participants and scope of the effort — was unprecedented and historic,” the RJC's executive director, Matthew Brooks, told JTA in an email.

Democrats, slightly slackjawed, said they could never match the effort, which is part of an overall push that Brooks has priced at $6.5 million.

“We will be outspent,” acknowledged Robert Wexler, a former Florida congressman and one of the Obama campaign’s chief Jewish surrogates.

Democrats have said previously that they hope to raise $1 million to $2 million for their Jewish outreach efforts.

The RJC’s efforts in suburban Philadelphia were not without mishaps. Cellphones leased for the occasion did not work for hours on Sunday because the volunteers were housed in a lower-level hotel room that did not have reception. And some door-to-door canvassers were dropped off in areas such as Blue Bell that appeared to have few Jews and where houses were adorned with Christian symbols.

Striding along the broad paths leading to double doors in the wealthy neighborhood of Gladwyne, Carol Eberwein, a 70-year-old retiree sporting a white “RJC Victory Team” T-shirt, said she had not set foot in a synagogue for four years, infuriated with her fellow Jews for handing Obama a substantial majority.

“If these damned Jews vote for Obama” this year, she said, “I’m not likely to go back.”

The RJC’s outreach overall has won national attention. Its drive includes “My Buyer’s Remorse,” a TV ad campaign targeting swing states and featuring Jewish voters who supported Barack Obama in 2008 but are now voting against the president. The same theme appears on the leaflets that volunteers tucked into mailboxes on Sunday and Monday.

“We had high hopes for Barack Obama,” they say. “Now, we have only buyer’s remorse.”

Also featured in South Florida are billboards reading “Obama, Oy Vey!” and “Had enough?” Passers-by are directed to the “My Buyer’s Remorse” website.

Democratic outreach is considerably more modest. The National Jewish Democratic Council is canvassing the same areas with volunteers handing out postcards calling the Obama-Biden ticket “the choice of American Jews.”

The NJDC's president, David Harris, said his group could not match the RJC outreach, but that it was not necessary to do so because of the Democrats' traditional advantage among Jewish voters.

“We start from an inbuilt advantage, that since the New Deal the vast majority of American Jews have voted Democratic,” he said.

It’s a history that Republicans acknowledge, which is why the focus is on “microtargeting” the undecided Jews who, despite their relatively small percentage, could swing the vote in closely fought states.

“Our goal is to get to those leaners,” Brooks said two weeks ago in Tampa,  Fla., at the Republican National Convention when he first rolled out plans for the outreach blitz. Ultimately, he predicted, “the undecideds will shift dramatically.”

It’s an argument Democrats are taking seriously. Days after Brooks announced his plans, Ira Forman, the top Jewish outreach official for the Obama campaign, gave a PowerPoint presentation at the convention center in Charlotte, N.C., the site of the Democratic National Convention, in which he outlined what a 10 percent swing in the Jewish vote could cost Democrats. Obama is believed to have earned between 74 and 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008; Gallup tracking polls had him at 68 percent in July.

Should Obama’s Jewish support fall to 65 percent on Election Day, in Florida he could conceivably lose 83,500 votes, according to Forman’s chart; in Pennsylvania, 41,500 votes; and in Ohio, 19,000 votes.

In its outreach literature, the RJC stresses Israel and the threat of a nuclear Iran. The leaflet distributed to suburban homes this week is mostly about the Middle East, with the economy relegated to less than a third of the content.

By contrast, the NJDC handout is split evenly between the Middle East and other issues: the economy, health care reform and social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

Republicans recount well-known instances when Obama has differed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, particularly on what terms negotiations with the Palestinians should resume, and they note that Iran continues apace in its suspected attempt to build a nuclear weapon. Democrats note enhanced security cooperation with Israel, Iran’s increased isolation under Obama and the administration’s efforts to block anti-Israel efforts at the United Nations.

The emphasis on the economy and social issues makes sense for the Democrats because the gaps between Jews and Republicans are wider on domestic issues — something that the phone canvassers at the Radisson Valley Forge Hotel outside of Philadelphia discovered.

David Edman, 57, a health care consultant from Wayne, Pa., said the callers he reached on Sunday tended to want to talk more about the economy.

“It’s been about 50-50,” he said in terms of callers who were receptive to the RJC message.

“I talked to two people who said health care was their most important issue. They seemed elderly and they were leaning” toward Obama, Edman said. “I ask people to keep an open mind.”

Dara Fox, 46, a homemaker from Manassas, Va., who awoke at 4:30 a.m. to ride a bus in for the day, said she got nothing but answering machines and hang-ups after an hour of calls. She said she also encountered the economic argument against voting for Romney among her liberal Jewish friends in northern Virginia — another swing state where a shift in the Jewish vote could conceivably make the difference.

“I am at a complete loss as to how liberal Jews have taken Israel and put it in a separate bubble,” she said.

Democrats, however, are not sanguine about the prospect of Jewish voters compartmentalizing any concerns they have about Israel and focusing instead on areas of domestic agreement with Obama.

Echoing a common complaint among Obama’s closest Jewish backers, Wexler, speaking Monday to the B’nai B’rith International policy conference, said the question he hears from Jewish audiences that vexes him most is the “kishkes” question: Does Obama “get” Israel in his gut?

“I get done with the litany of 30 things the president has done for Israel, and then I get asked, ‘Yeah, Wexler, I know about all that, but in his kishkes does he really feel it?’ ” Wexler recounted, his voice rising in frustration. “Short of joining the IDF itself, I’m curious as to what President Obama could do to convince some in our community.”

U.S. nears deal for $1 billion in Egypt debt relief, a senior U.S. official says


The Obama administration is close to a deal with Egypt's new government for $1 billion in debt relief, a senior U.S. official said on Monday, as Washington seeks to help Cairo shore up its ailing economy in the aftermath of its pro-democracy uprising.

U.S. diplomats and negotiators for Egypt's new Islamist president Mohamed Mursi – who took office in June after the country's first free elections – were working to finalize an agreement, the official said.

Progress on the aid package, which had languished during Egypt's 18 months of political turmoil, appears to reflect a cautious easing of U.S. suspicions about Mursi and a desire to show economic goodwill to help keep the longstanding U.S.-Egyptian partnership from deteriorating further.

The United States was a close ally of Egypt under ousted autocratic President Hosni Mubarak and gives $1.3 billion in military aid a year to Egypt plus other assistance.

Obama ultimately called for Mubarak to step down as he faced mass protests in early 2011 but the U.S. president was criticized for taking too long to assert U.S. influence.

Washington, long wary of Islamists, shifted policy last year to open formal contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood, the group behind Mursi's win. Mursi formally resigned from the group after his victory.

Analysts say that one way the United States could influence the direction of policy in Egypt, a nation at the heart of Washington's regional policy since a peace treaty was signed with Israel in 1979, would be through economic support as Cairo tries to stave off a balance of payments and budget crisis.

Obama first pledged economic help for Cairo last year. Obstacles remained to completing the debt relief deal – which is reported to involve a mix of debt payment waivers and complicated “debt swaps” – and it was not immediately clear when an agreement might be announced.

But even as the negotiations proceeded in Cairo, Washington has also signaled its backing for a $4.8 billion loan that Egypt is seeking from the International Monetary Fund and which it hopes to secure by the end of the year to bolster its stricken economy. IMF chief Christine Lagarde visited Cairo last month to discuss the matter.

Egypt's military-appointed interim government had been negotiating a $3.2 billion package before it handed power to Mursi on June 30. Mursi's government then increased the request.

Lagarde said the IMF would look at fiscal, monetary and structural issues, promising that the IMF would be a partner in “an Egyptian journey” of economic reform.

Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Todd Eastham and Eric Walsh

Hungary, Claims Conference exchange harsh words over Holocaust money


The Claims Conference accused Hungary’s government of “depriving” Holocaust survivors through “disgraceful” and “deceitful tactics.”

The allegations came after Budapest demanded on Monday that the Claims Conference, an organization representing world Jewry in compensation talks on Holocaust-era crimes,” return” $12.6 million to Hungary’s treasury.

An announcement published on the website of the Hungarian Ministry of Public Administration and Justice cited “discriminatory” methods by the Claims Conference that had “failed to properly report” on expenditure. Hungary would give the Claims Conference no more funds until the issue is solved, the announcement said.

Claims Conference Executive Vice President Greg Schneider told JTA that this was the first time in the organization’s 62 years of operation “that a country has reneged when it came time to pay. We hope that intervention at the highest level in Hungary will resolve this issue for Hungarian survivors who need help.”

According to the Hungarian ministry, the money Hungary is demanding is part of $21 million pledged by the government in 2007 for the following five years for Holocaust survivors in Hungary and abroad. A new settlement was to be signed this year.

The money was transferred initially from the treasury to the Jewish Heritage of Hungary Public Endowment, or Mazsok—a committee of government officials and Jewish representatives. Mazsok transferred $12.6 million to the Claims Conference for distribution outside Hungary, the ministry said.

But the Claims Conference told JTA that the Hungarian government had failed to transfer $5.6 million of the $21 million pledged. In an email to JTA, the Claims Conference said it only spent approximately $8 million received from Hungary.

“As a result of such conduct, thousands of Holocaust survivors will, unfortunately, be deprived of the assistance they so desperately need and had reason to expect,” the Claims Conference added. It called Hungary’s allegations “disgraceful” and “deceitful tactics.”

In its statement, the Hungarian ministry said distribution of funds by the Claims Conference “was made on a far-from-equal footing, which represents discrimination to the detriment of Holocaust survivors living in Hungary.” Based on the report submitted by the Claims Conference to date, “it is impossible to identify the individuals eligible for compensation,” the ministry wrote on its website.

The Claims Conference, according to the email it sent JTA, gave Budapest a 400-page report containing the names of all recipients and how much they received.

“Every penny was transferred to a Hungarian survivor, not even one cent was spent on administration or any other expense,” the Claims Conference said.

The email also said that funding for Holocaust survivors stopped after 2010, when the Fidesz party came to power.

“We call upon Prime Minister Orban to intercede in order to help needy Hungarian survivors who happen to live outside of Hungary today and comply with international agreements,” it said.

Bank reaches $340 million settlement after hiding business with Iran


The British bank Standard Chartered has agreed to pay New York’s top banking regulator $340 million for covering up transactions with Iran in order to gain fees.

Earlier this month, New York’s Department of Financial Services accused the bank of concealing 60,000 transactions worth $250 billion from 2001 to 2010 that “left the U.S. financial system vulnerable to terrorists, weapons dealers, drug kingpins and corrupt regimes.”

The bank said in a statement Wednesday that that “well over 99.9 percent” of the questioned transactions with Iran complied with all regulations and that the few transactions that did not amounted to just $14 million.

Standard Chartered’s dealings with Iran are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Treasury and the Federal Reserve.

Standard Chartered said it “continues to engage constructively” with the other U.S. agencies and that none of its Iranian payments was on behalf of any designated terrorist group.

In addition to the $340 million settlement, the bank will be subject to two years of monitoring at its New York branch and will permanently install personnel to oversee and audit offshore monitoring.

A department hearing on the issue scheduled for Wednesday in New York City was adjourned. The date for the civil payment, which will go to the state’s general fund, has not been set.