In reversal, new Ashkelon ER will not be moved

Israel’s prime minister decided not to relocate the site of a new protected emergency room in southern Israel despite the presence of ancient graves.

Benjamin Netanyahu announced the decision Monday, a day after Israel’s Cabinet gave him the authority to determine whether or not to relocate Barzilai Medical Center’s planned underground emergency room in Ashkelon, which is within range of Gaza’s rockets. The graves, which Israel antiquities experts have said are likely pagan, will be dug up and moved, Netanyahu announced.

The Cabinet last month had approved by one vote a plan to relocate the hospital’s planned ER to a site farther away because ancient graves were found on the site, and ultra-Orthodox, or haredim, opposed building the ER on an ancient gravesite. The Cabinet vote sparked a public outcry in Israel; the cost of moving the emergency room to the new site would have been an additional $42 million, according to estimates.

As a result of the outcry, Netanyahu appointed a task force to reevaluate the decision.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, a haredi lawmaker from the United Torah Judaism Party, initiated the ER’s site change after the discovery of the bones on the site set aside for the new emergency room. Experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority assured Litzman that the bones are pagan or Christian and may be moved, but Litzman says they are Jewish.

France’s Dangerous Cocktail

On July 18, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon festively proposed to “all the Jews of France” “to move to Israel immediately … because in France today, one of the wildest forms of anti-Semitism is spreading.”

Sharon is wrong — not in his concern about a real rise in anti-Semitism in France, but because he explains it too simplistically.

Ten percent of the French population is of Muslim origin. Most are not fundamentalists who feel solidarity with the Hamas suicide bomb campaigns.

Those who attack the Jews are a tiny minority, and that is a reassuring fact. But they are forging alliances with other anti-Semitic movements, and that is a disturbing fact.

On French campuses — as well as on other European and American campuses — leftist anti-Semitism is rife. This anti-Semitism, under the guise of anti-Zionism, turns the Palestinians into the cutting edge in the fight against imperialism, capitalism and globalization.

For the fashionable rebels, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat equals Che Guevara, and to the same extent, Sharon equals Hitler. This is the source of the increasing delegitimization of a country that allows a “Nazi” to head it.

Classical anti-Semitism, from the days of the [French] Vichy and Petain regime (1940-1945), is clandestinely lifting its head, mainly in the circles of old France. We should remember the attack of the French ambassador in London against that “s—–y little country, Israel. Why should the world be in danger of World War III because of those people?”

The ambassador, who served as spokesman for the foreign minister under former President Francois Mitterand, was sharply attacked in the British press but made no apology. His words, as opposed to those of Sharon last month, were not considered “unacceptable.” He is concluding his career as the French ambassador to Algeria, a very desirable job.

When Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi suggested including Russia, Turkey and Israel in Europe, the reply he received from the French was: Why Israel? “There is no geographic connection [that is true], no historical or cultural connection between Israel and Europe.”

This statement is the height of ignorance

There is a well-known joke: “Tomorrow we will kill the Jews and the bikers.” To which the punch line is: “Why the bikers?”

The disappearance of Israel would cause few tears in Paris.

Unfortunately, the present situation is linking the three ways of ostracizing the Jews and is thereby mixing a dangerous cocktail.

The fundamentalists are very warmly received by the good souls who oppose globalization. It seems that the politically correct protesters have found the new “deprived masses” in the intifadists — a substitute for the workers that they will never enlist.

From the extreme right to the extreme left, all of political France thundered against intervention in Iraq — rank-and-file militants, members of Parliament, trade union activists, ministers and government leaders.

“Bush, Sharon — murderers,” shouts the street. “Sharon, Bush — contempt for international law,” declare the salons.

The rise of anti-Semitism, which is far from being a simple consequence of the intifada, is the twin of the anti-American wave that has landed on Europe since Sept. 11 and has flooded it since the war in Iraq. And since political France almost unanimously judges the American and Israeli leaders as violators of the law, it is not at all surprising that the fans of Hamas are running around happy and in a good mood in France, which identifies only two major enemies: Bush and Sharon.

But Sharon should be told: Refrain from unnecessary panic. The time has not come for Frenchmen of Jewish origin to lock their suitcases “as quickly as possible” in order to flee to Israel. France is not going through Kristallnacht. It is going through a rising wave of angry and pretentious foolishness. That happens occasionally in soft democracies.

The wave is also licking at other shores, and every citizen with common sense, whether Jewish or not, has an obligation to treat this contagious mental illness in his own home.

Andre Glucksmann is a philosopher. Reprinted with permission Ha’aretz. © 2004

Opportunities and Changes Abound

This month, as I started my work with the American Jewish Committee (AJC), my wife’s father, Sol, celebrated his 90th birthday with his friends at Leisure World of Laguna Woods. Like many of us, Sol is a transplant to Orange County from Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and finally reaching this day at Leisure World.

We are a people that move as life changes. For Sol, this has been a fortunate journey, and he has his community to support him. For the rest of us, finding our place in a community of transplants can be a challenge.

Although Sol is close by, Marilyn and I are now transplants and need to rebuild our Jewish roots and lives within this community. As we settle in, a number of interesting challenges face us.

First, the geography of Orange County is vast, and the Jewish community is spread out over many miles. Without a central location, the Jewish community has clustered in various parts of the county.

In response, our synagogues and day schools have become central beacons and are clearly enjoying a growth and renaissance that rivals any city in the country. In addition, the new Samueli Jewish Campus will give us a strong central place in which to participate and serve as an identifiable central Jewish point in our vast county.

Certainly, I realize that part of my work at the AJC will be to tie together common threads throughout our Jewish community. For 40 years, The AJC has been an active part of this community, building relationships, participating in the growth of the community and working for Jewish continuity.

Our programs have informed and enriched our Jewish population, while its educational materials and services have helped a community of transplants living in a widespread geographic area to coalesce and strengthen Jewish identity.

Secondly, this is not the same Orange County as when Sol was living in Brooklyn. Population growth, industrial development and the dramatic rise in ethnic groups have created a more diverse and complex community than our fathers would have ever imagined. For example, the population of Santa Ana is 70 percent Latino, and Westminster has one of the largest Vietnamese populations in the country. This diversity is a wonderful opportunity for us to develop better relations with different communities.

With the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education — which helped desegregate public schools in this country — approaching next spring, this is great opportunity to support public education and build stronger ties with the Latino community.

In 1946, the Mendez family tried to enroll their children in a Westminster school, but were told that they had to attend a different school because they were dark skinned and had Latino names. The Mendez family sued and won both their case and the appeal. At that time, the governor was Earl Warren, who would become chief justice of the Supreme Court.

In 1954, Warren wrote the opinion in Brown vs. Board of Education, which had part of its origin with the Mendez family.

With the high affiliation rate of Latinos with the Catholic Church, this is also an opportunity to highlight and renew our commitment to our dialogue with the Catholic community. For many years, the AJC, along with other Jewish organizations and synagogues, has been actively looking at common interests and needs between the two religious communities.

Thirdly, we, as many other parts of the country, are encountering a barrage of misinformation and hatred toward Israel. Much of our population finds itself unprepared for this attack and is searching for positive ways to respond. Educational materials and forums are essential for Jews struggling to respond.

Above all, we must find ways to not only counter the flow of propaganda and misleading words, but also to help people to connect with the Israeli people, and the beauty and depth of its culture, arts and accomplishments of its society. As with interreligious affairs, the AJC has worked closely with other organizations, both in the community and on college campuses, to win the hearts and minds of our community to support the people of Israel.

So, as I survey the Jewish community of Orange County, there is great excitement and energy within the Jewish community and great need for the unique resources of the AJC.

Sol’s 90th birthday was a great success. His family and friends gathered around him to celebrate and marvel at such a milestone.

Interestingly, between the toasts and well-wishing, they reminisced about their own experiences. They sat as transplants to Orange County after decades of migration and movement with a sense of community and Jewish identity.

Sol and company are good models for Marilyn and I, as we have become transplants searching for our place in this county. And, more than that, it helps us hear the stories of other ethnic and religious groups, reminding us how important it is to embrace the diversity and pluralistic society that Orange County has become.

Rabbi Marc S. Dworkin is executive director of the American Jewish Committee, Orange County chapter.

The Art of Giving

Call me short-sighted and atavistic, but I believe one of the most encouraging bits of news I heard last week was the decision by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to suspend its renovation.

The bad news is Los Angeles will have to wait indefinitely to have a splashier namesake art museum, a Getty-by-the-Tar Pits. The good news is the major donors, many of whom are Jewish, now might be swayed to move some of that museum money over into other communal needs.

Just over one year ago, the museum unveiled a bold plan to overhaul and expand the Wilshire Boulevard institution, according to an architectural design by Rem Koolhaas of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The renovation, which would have involved a downstairs plaza and redesigned upstairs galleries under a tent-like roof, was expected to cost upwards of $400 million.

This is not to take joy in LACMA’s disappointment. I am all in favor of visionary new buildings — that’s one of the benefits of living in a great city — and I am very much pro-LACMA. I’ve spent many hours there, meandering through the galleries, attending special programs, concerts and screenings.

Not long ago, I wandered off through an upstairs gallery and came face to face with Magritte’s "Le Trahaison des Images," the renowned image of a pipe with, "Ceci n’est pas un pipe," (This is not a pipe) inscribed below. Anywhere else, I would have fought crowds for a glance at the landmark work. At LACMA, there it was, with no hoopla, no line, just great art.

That has always been my experience at the museum, so I was among those who questioned why donors, along with L.A. taxpayers through last November’s ballot Measure A, needed to cough up close to a half-billion dollars to renew buildings that were, at most, 37 years old.

Evidently, I wasn’t alone. As the economy wended its way south, people smarter and far, far wealthier than myself came to the same conclusion. I am speaking of the people in a position to make a lead gift to the museum project of $5 million-$50 million. It wasn’t that their portfolios dipped below the poverty line, just that they came to the assessment that the crowd of donors behind them had shrunk, along with the Dow.

But if LACMA’s big plans have disappeared for now, much of the money that was eager to back it hasn’t. And the fact is, many of LACMA’s potential lead donors are Jewish. That’s hardly surprising. The art world in Los Angeles has been funded by Jewish Angelenos out of all proportion to their numbers in this city.

Jewish artists escaping Nazi persecution invigorated the postwar art scene. Jewish donors, looking to take a place among the non-Jewish elite and committed to creating a cultural center, contributed large sums to everything from the UCLA Hammer Museum to the Norton Simon to MOCA to the Music Center to the new Disney Concert Hall.


But with the Koolhaas expansion on hold, is it right to hope that the millions of Jewish donor dollars ready to fund that project could now flow elsewhere? Are our Jewish leaders scanning the list of LACMA donors and preparing their appeals? I hope so.

I hope so, because I can think of several areas where millions would make a big difference in our part of the L.A. community.

Take health and human services. Facing state and federal budget cuts, agencies that reach out to elderly or indigent Jews and non-Jews will need significant increases in private donations over the coming year. Otherwise, the people who suffer most in a weak economy will suffer even more.

Then there’s Jewish Community Centers. As Marc Ballon reported last week, the system that serves as a gateway for so many into Jewish life is in dire need of fixing. The Westside JCC, which serves a middle-class and immigrant community, could rebuild and flourish with a lot less than $300 million. JCC services in less populated Jewish areas and new campuses in growing areas can ensure a steady flow of new families and new energy into L.A. Jewish life for decades to come.

Jewish camps, religious schools and day schools are other effective ways of promoting meaningful values and traditions for the next generation, but these institutions are becoming unaffordable to an increasing number of families. Other cities have far-reaching scholarship programs for Jewish schools and camps, often started by just one donor. We need it, too.

These are just a few examples of places where the Jewish community could greatly benefit from the kind of largesse slated for LACMA. Smart money goes where it’s most needed. If a half-billion dollar, tent-covered museum were a pressing necessity, it would be under construction this very moment. Now it’s time for advocates to make their pitch that, while a museum’s expansion can be put on indefinite hold, Jewish communal needs can’t be.

All of us, big and small donors alike, speak of the importance of Jewish community. But unless we give — give as much as possible — what we end up with is, like Magritte’s pipe, not real community, but only its unreal image.

Koala Makes Aliyah

Ben-Gurion Airport welcomed a new Israeli, and a rather furry one at that.

Didgee, a koala, made aliyah from Melbourne, Australia, but he won’t be the only Aussie in his new home. Cindy and Mindy, two cute koala girls who made aliyah from the Melbourne Zoo in February, already have been resettled in the park.

Upon his arrival, Israeli authorities put Didgee in quarantine for six weeks. When his isolation ends, he will meet his prospective mates, and they can kick back in the Beit Shean valley and talk about the old days in Sydney and Melbourne.

It’s estimated that Didgee has been photographed more than 10,000 times by enthusiastic tourists in Australia. He will have some time to rest and recuperate from his trip before delighting the 80,000 annual visitors to Gan Garoo, a four-acre park fully recognized by the Australian Wildlife Authority. Gan Garoo is a little slice of Australia in the middle of Israel, which even has a plaque in memory of the Australian athletes who lost their lives when a bridge collapsed during the opening ceremony of the 1997 Maccabiah Games, said Gan Garoo administrator Yehuda Gat, who started the park.

Australia does not export many koalas and they need special care, said Chandi De Alwis, Melbourne Zoo’s native mammal expert.

"However, they have bred very successfully overseas and I hope Gan Garoo will be home to many generations," De Alwis said. "They are delightful animals, loved by park visitors. In these difficult times, I hope they will bring some joy to the troubled Israelis."

Koalas are not really bears but rather marsupials, like kangaroos. They are born after 34 days gestation, and live in their mother’s pouches until they are almost 6 months old.

However, Didgee will be a little confused: In Australia it’s spring, the koalas’ mating season, but it’s autumn in Israel.

"They will adjust and when spring comes round, Cindy and Mindy should have no worries, mate," De Alwis said.

Didgee is looking forward to the day he can leave the quarantine cage to snuggle up with his two Sheilas in the shade of a eucalyptus tree, and learn to say "Shalom" as well as "G’day."