‘Irvine 11’ students found guilty [UPDATE: SENTENCING]


[UPDATED: 3:00 p.m.]  This story has been updated to add the recent sentencing of the convicted students.

After two days of deliberation, the jury in the “Irvine 11” case returned a verdict. An Orange County jury on Friday found 10 Muslim students guilty of two misdemeanors, conspiring to and then disrupting a speech given on Feb. 8, 2010, by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine.

As the verdict was read Friday morning, several women broke down in tears and others walked out of Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson’s courtroom. As the gallery showed a great deal of emotion, the students remained calm and had no reaction.

Two hours later, Wilson sentenced each of the 10 defendants to three years of informal probation and 53 hours of community service.

Popularly known as “Irvine 11” — charges against an 11th co-defendant were tentatively dropped — the case has stirred a heated and sensitive debate on free-speech rights. On one side, Orange County Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner argued that Oren was “shut down.” On the other, six defense attorneys argued that the students acted within the law and were exercising their right to free speech.

Reem Salahi, one of the defense attorneys, representing two of the students, said, “This is merely an admonition to be polite. But in America, we don’t prosecute people for being impolite.”

Orange County Jewish Federation & Family Services President and CEO Shalom C. Elcott said, “The verdict reaffirms that the Muslim Student Union’s planned and systematic use of disruptions to trample on the free speech of others crossed the moral, social and intellectual line of civility and tolerance. While we accept the right and requirement of a public institution to provide an unfettered forum for diverse points of view, we do not, nor will we ever, support ‘hate speech.’ ”

Shalom said he will continue to advocate for “constructive dialogue in place of the hateful rhetoric that’s been used under the guise of free speech. It is counterproductive to any and all efforts to ensure the free exchange of ideas.”

Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council, disagrees with Shalom, calling the “Irvine 11” guilty verdict the “death of democracy in our country.”

Ameena Qazi of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said, “When history books are written and this case comes to its final conclusion … the ‘Irvine 11’ will stand alongside other civil rights heroes.

“We were remaining optimistic and hopeful that justice would prevail … I hope that this case goes forward and that free speech prevails at the end of the day. At this point, we’re all losing — we’re all losing our rights.”

Verdict reached in 'Irvine 11' case [UPDATE]


UPDATE [11:45 a.m.] All 10 students found guilty on two misdemeanor counts of conspiring to and then disrupting a speech given by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine on Feb. 8, 2010. Sentencing will follow later today.

Wednesday, Sept. 21.
After two days of closing arguments, the fate of 10 Muslim students has been handed over to an Orange County Superior Court jury, who began deliberations today.

The students — eight currently at UC Irvine and three UC Riverside graduates — are charged with two misdemeanor counts of conspiring to and then disrupting a speech given by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine on Feb. 8, 2010, and could face a sentence ranging from a year in jail to probation with community service and fines.

The case, which began Sept. 7, boiled down to closing arguments on Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 19-20, from six defense attorneys and the prosecution.

Popularly known as “Irvine 11,” the case has stirred a heated and sensitive debate on free speech rights, which each attorney spent considerable time discussing.

On one side, the Orange County district attorney’s office is contending that the 10 students on trial — charges against an 11th co-defendant were tentatively dropped — prevented Oren from speaking freely. They are contending that freedom does have limits, specifically when “it imposes on someone else’s freedoms.”

“The right to free speech is not absolute,” Deputy District Attorney Dan Wagner said before a packed courtroom of nearly 200, with more waiting in the hall on Monday. “If hecklers’ vetoes were allowed, then nobody, nobody, none of us would have the right to free speech.”

The defense argued that the students acted within the law by doing what other demonstrators have done on college campuses across the United States, including at UC Irvine.

“This is merely an admonition to be polite,” Reem Salahi, a defense attorney representing two of the students, said. “But in America, we don’t prosecute people for being impolite.”

Dan Stormer, another defense attorney, stayed along these same lines saying, “Being rude may be unpleasant, but it’s not unlawful.”

Defense attorney Jacqueline Goodman went so far as to liken the 10 students to Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez.

“It’s rude, absolutely,” Goodman said, referring to the 10 disruptions made by the students. “These are people who stood up because their conscience demanded it. The government wants you to call them criminals. They’re using all their might to call these extraordinary young men — these heroes — criminals.”

Although Oren did complete his speech, a planned question-and-answer session was cut from the program. The district attorney attributes this to the time lost because of “disruptions.”

The facts in the case are not in dispute — both sides agreed that the students planned and executed last February’s protest and were then escorted out and arrested by security officials.

Deputy D.A. Wagner said the subject chosen by the students in their protest was irrelevant. He said it not only infringed on the rights of Oren himself, but also on the rights of the 700 people in attendance that night.

The students could have stood up and yelled, “Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse!” Wagner said, and the result would have been the same. “Once the rules are getting broken like that, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Yes, that’s anarchy. I suppose that’s where they want to go.”

The students’ plan, carefully crafted, drafted and laid out, was intended to halt Oren from speaking, Wagner said.

“The plan was to shut Oren down,” he said. “The plan was to shut the event down. And that is exactly what the students and their disruptions did. They shut it down.”

But the defense argued that the students’ actions were of “normal custom for such an event” when they stood, one by one, and read a statement from a notecard. The defense stated that the students had no intention of “shutting down” the speech.

Near the end of Salahi’s argument, she wanted to share a personal story unrelated to the trial, but Wagner objected and Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson said she couldn’t proceed.

She paused for a moment, then told the jury, “I can’t tell you the story — I got shut down,” to thunderous applause and cheering from the courtroom.

This outburst caused Wilson to warn those in attendance that he “would clear the courtroom if there was another outburst from the public.”

So were the students exercising their right to free speech or were the students indeed breaking the law?

Wagner stated strongly that the students did indeed break the law, adding that the rules for the event were laid out clearly by both the moderator and chancellor.

“The rules were clear, and made crystal clear as the night went on,” he said. “It was always [their] plan to break the rules. They never intended on following the rules.”

Wagner used video clips of university officials pleading with demonstrators to behave, and showed numerous e-mails sent between students and the Muslim Student union planning the disruption and discussing the possibility of arrest and potential punishment as evidence that the students “knew the risk of their action and proceeded anyway.”

But defense attorney Dan Stormer said the students had the right to protest and plan a protest. Although “being rude may be unpleasant, it is not unlawful,” he said.

“You may not like what I have to say, but you gotta love the fact that I have the right to say it,” Stormer said.

The case, Wagner said, is about the students acting as censors to prevent a free flow of ideas, and he pointed out to the jury that the “right to free speech is not absolute.”

“Who is the censor in this case?” Wagner asked the jurors. “Right there — 10 of them.”

Related

Mosques organize prayer for 'Irvine 11'
'Irvine 11' plead not guilty in Oren incident
'Irvine 11' wants D.A. removed from case
Drop charges against 'Irvine 11,' Jewish faculty urges

Letters to the Editor: President Obama, Muslim Americans, Sarah Palin, Independence Day Festival


Listen to President Obama

It is ironic that Judea Pearl wrote this article on the eve of perhaps the worst foreign policy speech on Israel and the Middle East in American history (“Words Matter — Obama’s Next Challenge,” May 20). His phrase “Words Matter” tells it all. The words in this case, were all wrong.

Obama’s appeal to the Jewish public seems to be that he is the proverbial underdog, heralding a new era of tolerance and compassion. We associate him with the disenfranchised because of the color of his skin. I understand that. But Obama’s record on the Middle East is clear; his support for Israel is fraught with conditions that put Israel on a path to destruction.

Victoria Talbot
via e-mail


Achieving Better Treatment for Muslim Americans

David Lehrer and Joe Hicks question the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s assessment that “Muslim Americans have suffered a 10-year span of nasty, irrational anti-Muslim attitudes and actions in this country resulting in ‘alienation and psychological ghettoization’ ”(“Right Goal — Wrong Strategy,” May 13).

In fact, hateful crimes and bigoted attitudes toward Muslims continue unabated in this country. According to a 2010 Gallup poll, nearly one-third of Americans (31 percent) say their opinion of Islam is “not favorable at all” in sharp contrast to Americans’ views of Christianity and Judaism, which are far more likely to be “very favorable.”

Attitudes impact actions: Last August, a college student stabbed a New York City cabdriver after the cabbie confirmed he was Muslim, and a man urinated on prayer rugs at a mosque, shouting anti-Muslim slurs; in May 2010, an Islamic center in Jacksonville, Fla., was bombed; last year, a California mosque was vandalized with graffiti that referenced Ground Zero; in February 2010, a mosque in Nashville, Tenn., was spray painted “Muslims go home” in bright red paint and a letter left behind called Muslims “the enemy”; and barely two months ago, Pastor Terry Jones presided over the burning of a Quran in Gainesville, Fla. These ugly incidents should ring all too familiar to Jews.

Hicks and Lehrer imply that acts of violence committed by some Muslims might understandably lead us to relax our “commitment to tolerance.” But blaming all for the actions of some is the essence of prejudice and collective guilt. As a people who have suffered from guilt by association, we must oppose it when it is visited upon others.

The authors also point out that reported hate crimes against Jews are more numerous than those against Muslims. Anti-Semitic views and acts are unacceptable and should be opposed by all. However, while we too were once seen in mainstream circles as foreign interlopers incapable of becoming American, today our rights to build houses of worship and practice our religion are not under sustained attack in the United States. Not so for Muslim Americans who across the nation — including here in Southern California — have faced ugly opposition to their First Amendment rights to build mosques and worship peacefully.

Well-meaning observers like Lehrer and Hicks should remember the most repeated mitzvah in the Torah — “Remember the stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt” — and should join with others in the Jewish community and their allies in condemning all acts of hatred and intolerance.

Stephen Rohde, president
Elissa Barrett, executive director
Eric Greene, regional director Progressive Jewish Alliance


Another View of Solitary Confinement

While Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz’s humanitarian concerns, overcrowding statistics and biblical references all have merit, he is leaving out a large part of the equation that leads to the decisions to house certain inmates this way (“Solitary Confinement: When Solitude Is No Longer a Virtue,” May 20). Other than some very high-profile cases such as “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski who are housed in Supermax facilities simply due to their celebrity, a great many of these inmates are simply too unruly to live in the general inmate populations because they have repeatedly attacked staff members and assaulted other inmates. Correctional officers, and in some cases the inmate’s former cell partners, have been injured or murdered over extremely trivial offenses. Correction officials do not take the inmate populations of these Supermax facilities lightly, as the facilities are the most costly to build and operate, and they are continually trying to “promote” the inmates back to general inmate populations when they demonstrate better behavior.

John Rico
via e-mail


A Journey on Arab Street

I wanted to commend you on your thoughtful and incisive piece on the Arab street (“Street Smarts,” May 20). While I am sure the piece provoked some strong reactions, I thought it was a balanced and realistic take on the practical implications of the Arab spring both for Israel and the region as a whole.

Hoyt Hilsman
via e-mail


The Lightning Rod Sarah Palin

While it is egregious that Sarah Palin continues to be basically a windless weather vane of political nonwisdom (“Palin, Trump Don’t Excite Jewish Republicans,” May 13), I would say that Jennifer Rubin and Bill Kristol — in addition to criticizing Palin — might want to step back and examine why they were so eagerly supportive of her in the first place.

Scott Lenz
Los Angeles


A Better Tomorrow

Joe Hicks and David Lehrer’s statistics may be cited for support but not for illumination (Right Goal — Wrong Strategy,” May 13). They may count people’s attitudes toward Muslims but they cannot count our collective dreams for a better tomorrow for our friends and family. Hicks and Lehrer are scaring us with their nightmares. Fear is a debilitating force where our common humanity is concerned. It will not have the last word.

Rabbi Steven Jacobs
via e-mail


The Border Wars

What people have to keep in mind is that no matter what Israel’s Arab neighbors say today, most have shown they can’t be trusted (“Words Matter — Obama’s Next Challenge,” May 20). Israel gave up Gaza, a forced disruption of so many Jewish communities, only to have Gazans elect Hamas to lead them and turn Gaza into the source of constant missile attacks against Israel. Now Hamas will be part of the “united” Palestine’s government. No matter what is promised, can anyone believe they will ever accept Israel’s existence? Israel gave up the Sinai for a signed peace treaty, and now Egypt is threatening to abandon that treaty. And the idea of giving back the Golan Heights, which, under Syrian control, continually bombed the Jewish homes, schools and school buses below, killing so many civilians, is a non-starter. The Arab spring may exchange autocrats for fundamentalist sharia governments who are even more dangerous to Israel and to the West. The fact is, the Palestinians have never accepted any Israeli borders, either in 1948 or 1967. Obama’s timing of this route to “peace” is perfect. He is either the stupidest man on earth or truly sides with the Muslims.

Noelle Donfeld
via e-mail


A Palestinian State

It is expected in September there will be a U.N. resolution for the creation of an independent country for the Palestinians. The members of the U.N. who will be voting, including the United States, will be considering the creation of a country whose charter and leaders openly state their goal to destroy another U.N. member. The Palestinian leaders and its current key faction, Hamas, again and again call for destruction of the State of Israel.

It would be hypocritical and dangerous for the United Nations (and the United States) to agree to the creation of a country that would legitimize a stated goal to destroy another U.N. member. The U.N. should not tolerate, let alone approve, any entity to become a country intent on destroying another U.N. member. One could only imagine what other groups could exploit, under the United Nations endorsement if there is a Palestinian country created with the current stated goal of the leaders of the Palestinian entity.

The United Nations (and the United States) must insist that the Palestinian entity agree to Israel’s right to exist before approving any U.N. resolution to create an independent country for the Palestinians.

Alan Warshaw
Palo Alto


Lighter Look at Diplomatic Meeting

If President Obama had called Prime Minister Netanyahu prior to their meeting, with Bob Newhart playing Netanyahu:

Hello, Mr. President. Thanks for giving me your recommendations in advance on how to move the peace talks along. What? You want the borders to revert to the 1967 lines? Then Israel should be able to deal with the Palestinians? You are aware, sir, that Israel would now have to negotiate with Hamas. You don’t think that’s a problem? Even though Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and calls for Israel’s complete destruction? I’m a little uncomfortable with that. Oh, we would all sign an agreement. And you think that would bind the Palestinians? You do, because you would have the agreement signed in front of a notary. And you held a séance and Neville Chamberlain said there will be peace in our time.

Reverting to the 1967 borders would put thousands of Israeli’s at risk. What if the Palestinians attack us? We shouldn’t worry because you think you could convince Congress to pay for the installation of an alarm system in each Israeli home. That could be a big job, sir, are their alarm companies that could handle that? You recommend the Islamic Brotherhood Alarm Co. That ‘s not too reassuring to us, Mr. President. Oh, they have a motto — “We aim to please.” Exactly what might they be aiming sir, possibly rockets? The radicals seem to like to use Israel citizens for target practice. It helps them feel like brave warriors. If they did launch rockets towards Israel, Israel would have to aggressively retaliate. You don’t recommend that? It would be bad for Israel PR? And you plan on talking to the Taliban and you will put in a good word for us. That’s supposed to make us feel better?

This all could be a tough sell back home, Mr. President. I will have to get back to you. I know you would like this finalized before the next presidential election, but please don’t call me, I’ll call you.

Michael A. Gesas
Beverly Hills


Two-way Street

Rob Eshman is onto something (“Street Smarts,” May 20). The Arab spring has made a big difference in the Middle East. As Rob notes, Arabs and Muslims are people, too; they want economic opportunity, free speech and honest government. There is “an awakening of nonviolent Palestinian protest.”

He exhorts Israel to “think and act fast.” Israel needs to innovate; they must address the future. And therein lies a great opportunity for Israel to use its outstanding assets to gain the respect and admiration of the Arab/Muslim world and, indeed, people all over the world. It is an opportunity for the State of Israel to establish peaceful, harmonious relations with its neighbors.

The assets I refer to are not its armed might but rather Israel’s demonstrated ability to develop industries and resources, to build an economically viable, highly successful nation.

My vision: The State of Israel announces to the world that it stands ready to help ¬— yes, help — its neighboring Arab/Muslim countries that desire to improve the economic status and living conditions of its people. With financial support from wealthy Arab nations (such as Saudi Arabia), Israel will provide the manpower, the know-how and guidance to help the Palestinians and Egyptians to develop new industries, create new jobs, and build their infrastructures and educational resources so their people can live happier, healthier lives — in peace and harmony with all other nations.

Yes, this represents a major paradigm shift. It will take determination. There may be objections and obstacles to overcome; but it can be done. The benefits could be earth-shaking … and change world history for the better.

George Epstein
Los Angeles


Your editorial this week, Mr. Robert Eshman, has enough chutzpah in it to provoke me into responding at the beginning of my first reading of your writing (“Street Smarts,” May 20). I doubt whether you can outclass the chutzpah of our president this past week, but your sanitation of the Mavi Marmara passengers by calling them people, and your sympathetic portrayal of the nakba suggests a naivete which I doubt you have. It didn’t take a gun to slay Goliath as sticks and stones do wreak havoc as witnessed by the Mavi Marmara passengers who were armed with clubs. Please, you may editorialize all you want to but don’t assume all your readers are on to you, there are some very impressionable minds that may even be swayed by your rhetoric, language is very powerful, too many anti-Israel chutzpaniks take to task Israel for not willingly agreeing to succumb to her own annihilation. Peace now will only succeed if Israel remains strong. Study your history. For shame

Toby Willner
Los Angeles


Stepping Out

I couldn’t disagree with Dennis Prager more (“Dancing With the Rabbis?” April 15). I am a conservative and agree with 99 percent of Dennis’ views, but in this one he got it all wrong. Participating in this event did not make the rabbi equal to us, just merely another human being who wanted to have some fun. Now that it is over, I still respect our rabbi. I just now know that he can’t dance!

Paul Goldman
via e-mail


Bring Back Israel Independence Day Festival

Rob’s right — the absence of the festival is a great loss to the greater L.A. Jewish community and a reflection of a fracturing of our communal leadership (“I Miss Us,” May 13). The Federation, the Israel Leadership Council and Yoram Gutman will, hopefully, get their act together (and maybe reach out to some other potential supporters) so we can gather at Woodley Park or some other appropriate venue next year. It’s a bit of a shandah that Irvine and Santa Barbara can put on impressive Yom HaAtzmaut parties while L.A. drops the ball.

Rabbi Gil Kollin
via email


Sad about the festival at Woodley Park, so come up to Santa Barbara’s Oak Park and celebrate with us.

Judy Mannaberg-Goldman
Santa Barbara


Film Preview

Wow, how do we get this film to South Florida (“Yoya’s Promise,” May 13)?

herri Gross
via email

Roger Cohen’s Dialogue with the Iran Jewish Community


For video footage of the dialogue, click here.

There was no clean knockout when New York Times columnist Roger Cohen faced off against some 400 members of the local Iranian Jewish and Bahai communities last week, but spectators were treated to some vigorous rhetorical sparring and nimble footwork.

Last month, Cohen, a British-born Jewish journalist, returned from a reportorial visit to Iran and wrote a column for the Times headlined “What Iran’s Jews Say.”

In the city of Esfahan, in central Iran, Cohen talked to a handful of Jews, who are among the 25,000 remaining in Iran out of a one-time community of 100,000. Cohen reported that the Jews were “living, working and worshipping in relative tranquility.”

Despite the Holocaust denials and rants by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about wiping Israel off the map, “as a Jew, I have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran,” Cohen wrote.

To some 30,000 Iranian Jews living in Los Angeles who had uprooted themselves from their ancient homeland, Cohen’s evaluation was dangerously naïve at best and a mockery of their own experiences at worst.

They inundated Cohen and the New York Times with letters and e-mails, and the columnist agreed to fly to Los Angeles to address his critics at Sinai Temple, which has a large proportion of Iranian congregants.

What could have been a highly emotional face-off went well, thanks largely to the audience’s restraint during Cohen’s lengthy presentation and Rabbi David Wolpe’s insistence on decorum during the more emotional question-and-answer period.

Cohen started by expanding on the main points of his earlier column:

* Labeling Iran a totalitarian regime ready to destroy Israel and then the West’s infidels is a “grotesque caricature.”
* Iranians are a proud people, but pay little attention to the regime’s propaganda and incitements. To compare the situation in Iran to an impending holocaust “dishonors the memory of six million victims.”
* Iran’s leadership is mainly pragmatic and primarily concerned with assuring its own survival.
* Iran is the most democratic state in the Middle East, outside Israel, and is against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
* An attack on Iran by Israel or the United States would be a global disaster. “Force is the unthinkable option,” Cohen said, and mutually respectful negotiations are the only answer.
* Although he counts himself as “a strong supporter of Israel,” Cohen believes that Israel “overplayed its hand in Lebanon and Gaza” and that Hamas and Hizbollah are “established political forces,” that cannot be eliminated by military means.

The audience politely applauded Cohen at the end of the talk, but when Wolpe opened the dialogue, some sparks – leavened by humor – were ignited.

Wolpe to Cohen: “You draw a distinction between the Iranian people and their rulers, but Iran has a long history of anti-Semitism…the Iranian government has republished the notorious anti-Semitic forgery ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ and your New York Times column ran in the Teheran Post.

Cohen: “Then they stole my column.”

Wolpe: “That shows that it was worth stealing.”

Finally, it was the audience’s turn to confront Cohen directly, and the questions ranged from thoughtful to bitter.

“Were you paid by the Iranian government for your trip?” asked one audience member. “No,” said Cohen, though he paid an Iranian “agency” $150 a day for the services of a translator, who acknowledged that he would have to file a report on Cohen’s doings with the authorities.

Wolpe interjected that Cohen had paid for his own trip to speak at Sinai Temple.

Several questioners wondered how Cohen could take the answers of fearful Iranian Jews at face value, especially with a government translator at his side.

Cohen responded that he recognized the possibility of self-censorship by those he talked to, “but that doesn’t mean that nothing they said is of any value.”

Some of the sharpest questions came from the Bahai community, seven of whose leaders in Iran were recently imprisoned as alleged Israeli spies.

Cohen said he had not spoken to the Bahais, but was aware of their plight.

Despite his stout defense, it became obvious that Cohen was affected by the direct or implied criticism of his views by a knowledgeable audience.

“I feel your anger, indignation and pain,” he said. “I think that at some level you retain a love of country [Iran]. But I hope you will give some thought to what I have said.”

A sampling of audience reactions after the talk revealed little indication that Cohen’s request was acceptable.

“He didn’t understand the geopolitical situation, and he doesn’t know what he is talking about,” commented Jasmin Niku, a 22-year old law student.

Two veteran community leaders, who rarely see eye-to-eye but have excellent contacts inside Iran, also expressed strong reservations.

“In Iran, Jews are pawns of the regime, which will go to great lengths to persuade outsiders, like Cohen, who know little about the history of the Jewish community, that everything is just fine,” said George Haroonian.

Sam Kermanian was particularly disappointed, after spending two hours one-on-one with Cohen earlier in the day, trying to explain the real situation in Iran.

Kermanian, who is active in the Center for the Promotion of Democracy, based in Iran, said that the Teheran government is adamantly anti-American, whatever the sentiments of its people.

“If Cohen has come to a different conclusion, after talking to four or five Jews through an interpreter,” added Kermanian, “then he has been deceived.”

Related Stories:
Video from the Dialogue
Roger and Me
Roger Cohen speaks with Iranian Jews at Sinai Temple
Roger Cohen’s Reaction

A shul grows in Dixie — Insha’Allah


With Wal-Mart attracting a huge number of minority religious groups to Arkansas, it is not surprising that Fayetteville is becoming increasingly diverse.

And while this ongoing change is felt in many ways, the most distinct may be the recent push by Temple Shalom to build the first synagogue in the history of the city, and the fact that the pro bono builder is a Muslim.

Fadil Bayyari, a Palestinian and a general contractor in Springdale, Ark., has already built two churches and the first mosque in Fayetteville. Now he’s donating his time to help Temple Shalom complete its first building, waiving the contractor fees customarily associated with most building projects. He heard about the synagogue plan through his participation with the Rotary Club.

“I was born and raised in the West Bank,” said Bayyari. “I’ve been in the U.S. for 36 years and northwest Arkansas for 27…. I respect other peoples’ ways of life, other peoples’ religion.”

“We’re children of God, every one of us,” he added. “I’ve been brought up that way and … I raise my kids that way — to respect other peoples’ cultures and religion. And in my heart I decided I’m going to help them.”

Up until now, Temple Shalom rented space for its meetings. However, Jacob Adler felt that wasn’t good enough, citing myriad benefits to having a dedicated structure.

“We hope that [a building] will spur further growth,” said Adler, who is a philosophy professor at the University of Arkansas and works part-time as Temple Shalom’s only rabbi.

Although the fundraising isn’t complete, the congregation is hoping to begin construction soon, Adler said, adding that Bayyari’s offer makes things easier.

“It makes a big difference,” he said. “I’m sure we’d build the building eventually anyway. This probably means we can do it a little bit sooner. It’s certainly a big difference, a big contribution, and we’re really grateful to him.”

Temple Shalom already strives to integrate with other faiths in the area, for instance, by trading child-care duties.

“We share child care with one of the local churches, so on Easter we provide child care for them and on our High Holidays they provide child care for us,” Adler said.

“Some events we’re able to do with other religions and some are distinctively Jewish, but in a place where we’re such a small group [we] don’t want to isolate ourselves.”

Temple President Bill Feldman hopes that a dedicated space will allow for even more interaction.

“We’ll have a bigger arena to be able to have activities. Right now, we’re kind of cramped,” he said. “What we’re hoping is that with a bigger facility we’ll be able to … accommodate larger numbers of people for activities that might [include] many faiths. Presently, we have such a small facility we’re only able to host activities for our own group.”

The construction of the first Jewish temple in Fayetteville is certainly a sign of increasing religious diversity, while Bayyari’s involvement indicates the prospering interfaith relationship in the area. And while Jews and some other minorities still make up an even smaller percentage of the people in Arkansas that the national average, throughout the rest of the United States, such developments lead one to question whether this will always be the case.

“I’m hoping that what we’re doing here will be an example for others to follow around the U.S., and maybe this will be taken back to … Palestine and Israel,” Bayyari said. “If we get along with each other here, respect each other, and have wonderful relationships, then maybe they want to do the same. They’ve had wars for centuries. Maybe it’s about time to build up some good will and respect for each other’s way of life.”


This article first appeared in the Fayetteville Free Weekly.

Despite past sparks, Al-Marayati wants Jewish dialogue


It’s a Saturday morning, and Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), is playing basketball with a group of friends. He pounces on loose balls, wrestles away rebounds and knows just when to feed a teammate a perfectly telegraphed pass for an easy layup.

“He gives it 110 percent and leaves everything behind,” said his friend and occasional teammate, Ramsey Hakim, who also serves on the MPAC board. “He’s quite the competitor.”

Al-Marayati’s game, marked by a kind of intensity and focus rare among weekend warriors, reveals the kind of guy he is — in his work as a leader and spokesman of the local and national Muslim community — and as well as in his play. Simply put, he plays to win.

Over the past two decades, the Iraqi-born, American-reared Al-Marayati, 46, has helped grow MPAC from a start-up advocacy operation founded in 1988 by Dr. Maher Hathout, past chair of the Islamic Center of Southern California, into one of the country’s leading Muslim political groups, with offices here and in Washington, D.C. He has traveled the country, met with the president and other political leaders and written opinion pieces for the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Washington Post and other publications, advocating a more moderate vision of the Muslim world, and, in particular, of American Muslims.

He talks of a faith that encourages equality between the sexes, of Muslim integration into American society and of respect for and partnerships between Jews and Christians. Al-Marayati has also fought to combat what he calls “Islamophobia” wherever it crops up.

“I want my children to have a future of hope, a future where they can contribute positively to American society as Muslims,” Al-Marayati said. “I don’t want a future of prejudice, fear and victimization.”

In the process, Al-Marayati has become “one of the major mainstream American Muslim leaders,” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights group.

Al-Marayati has met with President Bush three times, as well as with FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, on the subject of counterterrorism, and he has testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on the need for the government to work with, rather than shut down, Islamic charities aiding poor Muslims around the world. On Jan. 8, Al-Marayati and other Muslim leaders conferred with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in his Washington office about the need to counter anti-Islamic sentiment so as not to alienate young Muslims.

“I told Attorney General Gonzales that the way to discourage radicalization is to promote integration, which is a joint responsibility of government and community-based organizations like ours,” Al-Marayati said in the deep, sonorous voice that is one part of what makes this rising star of the Muslim community sound statesmanlike.

During an interview at MPAC’s L.A. office, Al-Marayati comes across as serious and even a bit distant. With the din of ringing phones and staff members’ voices in the background, he maintains eye contact at all times. Dressed in a well-tailored suit, the trim Al-Marayati eschews small talk and answers questions deliberately, choosing his words with care. He cites as inspirations Green Bay Packers’ legend Vince Lombardi’s commitment to winning and teaching, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dedication to civil rights and fairness.

Al-Marayati’s biggest influence, he says without hesitation, is the Prophet Muhammad, whom he calls the “epitome of compassion, mercy and justice.”

Despite Al-Marayati’s commitment to interfaith dialogue and his open-door policy, even to critics, many in the Jewish community remain deeply suspicious of him.

On Sept. 11, 2001, just hours after the terror attacks, Al-Marayati hypothesized on a radio program that Israel might have orchestrated them “because, I think, this diverts attention from what’s happening in the Palestinian territories, so that they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies.”

Months later in April 2002, Al-Marayati appeared on the CNBC show, “Alan Keyes Is Making Sense.” During the interview, he told the host that “the country that introduced terrorism in the region is Israel. The root cause of terrorism is the illegal Israeli settlements.”

Although Al-Marayati said he subsequently personally apologized to many Jewish leaders for his Sept. 11 remarks, the damage had been done: The multiorganizational Muslim-Jewish Dialogue that Al-Marayati had helped create just a few years earlier lay in ruins, with other participants outraged by his remarks and remaining suspicious of him ever since.

“I won’t work with him, because I don’t trust him,” Rabbi John Rosove, senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood, said last week in a phone conversation. Rosove was among those who quit the Muslim-Jewish Dialogue soon after Al-Marayati made his initial Sept. 11 remarks.

Al-Marayati does have some friends in the Jewish community. Among them is Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who is Jewish. Schiff has worked with Al-Marayati for years on interfaith issues and said he has found him to be a dedicated partner.
“We both believe that by sharing insights and strengthening voices of tolerance, we can find common ground in improving the quality of life for the entire community,” the congressman said.

Al-Marayati said the hostility from segments of the Jewish community continues to surprise him. MPAC, he said, has gone on record as supporting the two-state solution and has condemned suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism, regardless of the perpetrators.

“I’m committed to dialogue emanating from the best traditions of Judaism and Islam,” Al-Marayati said. “It pains me to hear comments questioning my commitment. As I’ve stated before repeatedly, the door remains open, especially to those who have those criticisms.”

Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), a Los Angeles-based social justice organization, said Al-Marayati has repeatedly lent support to him in times of distress. For example, moments after the shootings at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle by a gunman upset by Israel, Al-Marayati called him to express his sorrow and concern, Sokatch said. Al-Marayati asked Sokatch whether there was anything MPAC could do to show solidarity with the Jewish community.

“He always reaches out,” Sokatch said.

Breaking new ground: Jewish, Muslim groups’ program encourages leaders to see the ‘other’ as friend


Is it possible for Los Angeles Jews and Muslims to talk to one another, to share peacefully at the table?

This is the question that some leaders of both groups locally are asking themselves.

These are the ones who are willing to keep trying, despite the enmity in the Middle East and despite a history of conflict among some leaders in the Jewish and Muslim communities here. Early next month, a new effort jointly organized by the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) will be unveiled.

It will not be the first attempt.

Little more than a decade ago, in the warm afterglow of the Oslo accords, a group of Jewish and Muslim leaders in Los Angeles regularly met and talked together in formal and informal groups. Known as the Muslim-Jewish Dialogue, this group of leaders from several organizations hoped to forge a new understanding between the two communities and model the kind of peace moderates on both sides were hoping for in the Middle East.

But despite early optimism, world events got in the way, and the conversation was repeatedly interrupted by news of terror attacks, Israeli settlements and mistrust borne from the faltering Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Then came Sept. 11, 2001.

In the aftermath of that day, with the Western world’s frightened eyes turned on the Muslim community, Los Angeles, too, saw relations between Jewish and Muslim leaders descend into a cross-fire of accusations and distrust. As a result, the official dialogue petered out, becoming largely moribund by 2002.

Local Jewish-Muslim relations, seen for a brief moment as a paragon of interfaith cooperation, continued to deteriorate to such an extent that a few months ago,much of the organized Jewish community united to protest the honoring of MPAC founder, Dr. Maher Hathout, with a prestigious award from the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission.

Symbolically, Hathout’s supporters — not all of them Muslims — sat one on side of the room during hearings over his suitability for the honor, while his mostly Jewish detractors sat on the other side. Hathout got to keep the award.

Daniel Sokatch, who began participating in the dialogue in 2000 after joining the PJA, a social activist group, thought there had to be a better way. As PJA executive director, he was frustrated to see local Jewish-Muslim relationships constantly held hostage by events taking place thousands of miles away.

Sokatch focused on how much Jews and Muslims here have in common, including traditions that emphasize the need to build a better world.

Recently, Sokatch has been working with Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of MPAC, the Los Angeles-based policy advocacy organization, and in early February, PJA and MPAC will unveil NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.

The program aims to encourage a new cadre of Jewish and Muslim leaders to see the “other” as a friend, said Aziza Hasan, MPAC interfaith program coordinator.

The plan for NewGround is to bring together as many as 30 Jews and Muslims who are in their 20s and 30s for a period of 10 months. Initially, participants will meet with only their own colleagues to confront their prejudices.

When the two groups join together, they will discuss issues ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to immigration to homelessness.

Working with trained mediators, they will also learn how to communicate honestly. Finally, participants will join forces on a yet-to-be-determined civic improvement project, such as homelessness or poverty, said Malka Fenyvesi, PJA interfaith program coordinator.

“I’m delighted, impressed and grateful that such visionary leaders are doing this,” said the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector at All Saints Church in Pasadena and a self-described friend of both Sokatch and Al-Marayati. “I think this offers great promise for Jews and Muslims to come together.”

Rabbi Steven Jacobs, founder of the new Rabbi Jacobs Progressive Faith Foundation and rabbi emeritus at Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, called the PJA-MPAC initiative “groundbreaking.”

He added: “There’s too much demonization going on, and this program will help break down the fear that exists in both communities.”

Not everyone shares that enthusiasm. Some Jewish leaders question the wisdom of working with MPAC, which they see as unremittingly hostile to Israel and “disingenuous, pretending to be something they’re not,” in the words of Roz Rothstein, executive director of StandWithUs, an Israel advocacy group.

The roots of the distrust hark back to just hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, when Al-Marayati went on a radio talk show and suggested that Israel might be behind the attacks, because, he said, “I think this diverts attention from what’s happening in the Palestinian territories, so that they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies.”

Although Al-Marayati has said he later apologized to some Jewish leaders for his remarks, many in the Jewish community continue to distrust both Al-Marayati and MPAC and will have nothing to do with them.

Terrorism expert Steven Emerson, author of “American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us” and a former senior editor at U.S. News & World Report, said he believes MPAC is a “front group, a public relations group for radical Islam.”

PJA, Emerson believes, is being used by MPAC to confer legitimacy on an organization that, he said, hopes to spread Islam and undermine American support for Israel.

Al-Marayati, for his part, said many Muslims regard Emerson as a cynical “profiteer,” who fans fears about Islam for personal gain. Emerson’s characterization of MPAC as radical, Al-Marayati said, ignores the group’s goal of integrating Muslims into mainstream American society, its condemnation of terrorism and support of the two-state solution.

Still, many Jews pay close attention to Emerson’s pronouncements. Following the announcement in July of the county’s award to MPAC founder Hathout, Emerson wrote a harshly critical article for New Republic Online, depicting Hathout, former chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California, as an apologist for terror groups and strident critic of Israel, who once publicly characterized the Jewish state as “a racist, apartheid state.”

In response, Jewish groups, ranging from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to the Zionist Organization of America to the American Jewish Committee to StandWithUs, joined forces against Hathout.

Jewish and Muslim students at USC share dorm and friendships


The fact that the Taj Mahal was built by a Muslim Mughal is news to one Jewish student, who asked not to be named. The student and Asad Hasnat, a sophomore from Pakistan, have been talking about architecture in India during one of the weekly Monday Munchies socials put together for the Shalom-Muslim floor in USC's Parkside Apartments, where both live.

Theirs is a fairly typical exchange between students on a campus as large and diverse as USC's. But at a time when Jews and Muslims in other parts of the world aren't having much luck learning from one another, the conversation and the setting for it are both quietly revolutionary. Here Jewish and Muslim students live together in harmony.

Levran and Hasnat are parked on the sofa in Alnatour's apartment. Nobody's watching the television, which flickers and hums in the background, and some of the guys are clumped around a counter loaded with ice cream and cookies like a pack of young lions taking their time with a fresh kill.

“Back then the Mughals ruled everything,” Hasnat said. “They were civilization in India.”

Levran nods, taking in the new information.

Rabbi Susan Laemmle, dean of Religious Life at USC, says the name “Shalom Housing” came to her about a decade ago, when she was head of USC Hillel. Several students had sought her advice about finding a way to keep kosher while living on campus.

“None of the dining halls served kosher food,” Laemmle said, “and finding dorms with individual kitchens seemed like a good way to help observant students who still wanted to be part of campus life.”

Soon after Laemmle moved from her role at Hillel to become dean, a group of Muslim students enlisted her help with a similar project. Laemmle worked with Ken Taylor in USC's Office of Residential and Greek Life to find space to create a Muslim floor. As it happened, a wing of the residential hall where Shalom Housing had been established was available.

“The original concept was not a Jewish-Muslim floor,” Taylor said. “That was the creature of the [Resident Advisors] and the students themselves.”

Alana Bubis and Sahar Alnatour, the floor's RAs, are the unassuming but earnest current stewards of this legacy. Bubis, a junior majoring in business and film studies, is a California native, like most of the residents on the Jewish wing of the floor.

“The Muslim wing is more international,” she said, “and it has more guys. There are more girls on the Jewish wing.”

There are 50 students on the coed floor. Two men or two women share each room. A handful of students who are neither Jewish nor Muslim also choose to live on the floor.

“A lot of people keep coming back,” said Bubis, who's marking her second year as a resident.

It's year three for Alnatour, whose family moved to the United States from Kuwait after the end of the first Gulf War.

“As a freshman, you have something in common with the people who live around you,” Alnatour said, explaining why she was attracted to the floor. Although she laughs when she recalls her surprise at learning she would have Jewish neighbors, too.

“It's not very clear in the housing brochure that the Muslim and Jewish wings are together,” Bubis said.

The fact that USC's Shalom-Muslim floor has evolved both organically and unofficially means that, like Alnatour, many of the students who arrive on move-in day are surprised when they meet some of their neighbors.

Traditions like Monday Munchies and the floor's open-door policy — if your door's open, company's welcome — are designed to help newcomers quickly adapt to the novel environment.

And both the temperament of the current generation of students and the culture of the floor tend to discourage the kind of fiery debates over politics that would disrupt the mellow culture of the floor.

“Politics never comes up,” said Amir Yassai, a junior from Orange County. “I think it has to do with the fact that people my age are more open-minded.”

When he returned to school soon after last summer's conflict between Israel and Hezbollah had subsided, Yassai's Iranian-born parents asked him whether there was any tension on the floor.

“It was hard for them to believe it just isn't an issue,” Yassai said.

Still, some residents perceive an underlying tension on the floor — not between Jews and Muslims, but between the ardor that attracts students to the community and the tacit détente that helps to sustain it.

“It's true that people stay away from political conversation,” said Hasan Qazi, a biology major whose parents immigrated to the United States from Pakistan. “But that doesn't mean that people don't hold deep political convictions. Everyone chooses to live here because they're passionate about their identity as Muslims or Jews.”

Laemmle describes this situation as “the elephant on the Shalom-Muslim floor.”

“Eventually I think students will find a way to engage each other at that level,” she said. “If you build a tradition of trust, political discussion can be safer.”

Bubis and Alnatour have already laid the foundation for what could become the next stage in the growth of USC's Shalom-Muslim Floor. Together they've successfully lobbied for a greater selection of kosher and halal food at a nearby dining hall. The precedent of that small collaboration could help other residents of this quietly revolutionary community find common ground in a passionate, ice cream fueled conversation on some future Monday.

If Laemmle's elephant analogy is apt, it's likely just a matter of time.

Letters to the Editor


L.A. Wealth

In the May 19, 2006, issue of The Jewish Journal, Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman noted that “of the 50 wealthiest Angelenos, 27 are Jewish” and further went on to say that their total wealth was on the order of $61.8 billion. As an engineer and hence a numbers guy, I figure that’s an average of nearly $2.3 billion per billionaire.

We L.A. Jews come from all sorts of backgrounds from virtually every corner of the globe and every affiliation from ultra-Orthodox to nonobservant. But in every Jewish heart and soul there must exist a bond that unites us all. I mention this after reading the dichotomy of the 27 wealthy Jewish Angelenos and the thousands of Holocaust survivors subsisting in Southern California on roughly $1,000 per month in Marc Ballon’s “Poverty Stricken” (Nov. 24)I was not personally on the list that Mr. Eshman refers to, and I don’t live in an affluent area like Brentwood or Bel Air, but I’d gladly send Ms. Zucker $250 to move. But of course that’s not the point.It seems to me that if we, as Jews, are to put any value at all on the principles of tzedakah (charitable giving) and tikkun olam (heal the world), we need to start at home by “never again” seeing articles that describe a wheelchair-bound Holocaust survivor’s inability to get $250 to move from Hemet to Palm Springs.

When Mr. Ballon quotes Todd Morgan as saying that philanthropists would gladly give to a Holocaust museum but not to the victims, I have to ask what’s wrong with this picture. With the hundreds of billions of dollars shared by L.A.’s affluent Jews, one would hope that some small percentage of this wealth could be earmarked to ensure that not only Southern California’s Holocaust victims, but all elderly Jews, can live in dignity for the last 10 or 20 years of their lives.

Ralph Krongold
Kagel Canyon

Confederation

The article in your issue of Nov. 3 by Josef Avesar, explaining the concept of an Israeli-Palestinian confederation, is a thoughtful, clear, concise yet comprehensive plan for relations between the Palestinian and Israeli states that so many hope to see peacefully coexisting (“Mideast Solution: A Confederation). A great deal of careful, creative and balanced effort has been invested by the IPC to foster an open dialogue on mechanisims by which current and future problems could be resolved. When the time is right, this proposal fully merits close consideration by the parties.

Ambassador Edward L. Peck
Former Chief of Mission in Iraq

The idea of an even loose confederation needs the agreement, and the good will of both sides. Early Arab rejectionism made impossible the overtures of left and liberal Jewish leaders to get along and create a binational state.

This conflict is a burden on both sides and should be put to an end in a reasonable and honorable way. Extremism will not be the solution. Extremes are the only solutions coming from the Arab side.

S. Lifshitz
Israel

I received a copy of the article by Josef Avesar on the formation of an Israel-Palestinian confederation (“Mideast Solution: A Confederation,” Nov. 3). This is a well written article with detailed proposals. In fact it is similar to the EU, where it functions well.The problem, of course, is to get the two partners to agree, and Mr. Avesar will have to come up with a workable plan to initiate discussions on how to take make this plan a reality.

Max Yas,
Victoria, B.C.

L.A. Times

Bill Boyarsky, like his former bosses at the L.A.Times and apparently the Chicago Tribune, just doesn’t get it (“Times Faces Tough Job,” Nov. 17). The paper keeps losing readers, and they think it’s because they had to cut a few staff members or hadn’t changed the front page format for a few years.

Boyarsky speaks about connecting with “the widely dispersed Latino, Chinese American, Korean American, Armenian, Russian, Persian, Pakistani and Indian immigrant communities….” That’s because when liberals speak about diversity, they inevitably break people down by pigmentation, sexual orientation or country of origin.

What the Times lacks is diversity of thought and opinion. It’s become little more than the mouthpiece for the DNC.

Only a fool would think it’s a mere coincidence that in a city that is, say, 40 percent conservative, the paper has lost approximately 40 percent of its circulation over the past six years.

Burt Prelutsky
North Hills

Davening at Aishhhhhh

It’s funny how people like David Suissa, with uncontrollable urges to shmooze in synagogues during services, somehow manage to keep quiet when sitting in theaters during movie screenings (“Davening at Aishhhhhh,” Nov. 17).

I guess they consider disrupting people’s entertainment from Hollywood a greater sin than disrupting their communication with God.

Daniel Iltis
Los Angeles

In David Suissa’s article, “Davening at Aishhhhhh'” he begins by stating, “It’s Shabbat, and you’ve come to pray.” After reading his opinion, I couldn’t help wondering what part of pray doesn’t Suissa understand. And more importantly, just who does he think he is praying to. The “shhhh” is a friendly reminder to know who he is standing before.

On Shabbat, the shul is quite full. Does Suissa realize that conversations are very distracting to the congregants around him?The next time Suissa comes to Aish Hatorah, there is a 10 a.m. class on prayer, where speaking and questions are encouraged. After the class, he can shmooze with the whole congregation and then get set up with a family for a delectable lunch with song and Torah discussions.

Jon Sher
Los Angeles

David Suissa responds: I am amazed at how some people are taking my light-hearted ribbing of Aish so seriously, so let me just say this: One of the leaders of Aish told me that they love this kind of stuff, because it spurs them on to constantly upgrade and freshen up what they do (in this case, their davening), no matter how good it already is.

This person, like many others, got the serious point of my article, which applies to every shul in the world: The better the davening and the melodies, the less you have to go shhhh. In other words, no shmoozing should be a result, not a rule. Was that serious enough for you?

Venice’s Eruv

I love the Orthodox community. I believe they are doing an important service for all Jews. However, this particular community is asking the government to participate and, in essence, promote an aspect of special religious need (“Carry On! Venice Gets an Eruv,” Nov. 24).Putting an “invisible wire” around a few miles of West Los Angeles is a glaring error when it comes to the separation of church and state, or in this case, synagogue and state.

Maher Hathout — partner for peace or anti-Semite in centrist clothing?


To progressive Jews, he is a partner for peace and a moderate Muslim in a world darkened by Islamic extremism. To conservative Jews, he is a strident anti-Israel critic, perhaps even a closet anti-Semite, masquerading as a centrist.
 

Dr. Maher Hathout, like no other local Muslim leader in recent memory, has divided the Jewish community, exposing fissures between Jews who fervently believe in reviving the frayed Jewish-Muslim dialogue and those who have lost faith.

 
The chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California and senior adviser to the national Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Hathout became a lightening rod for criticism soon after the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission tapped him in July for the prestigious John Allen Buggs Award for excellence in human relations, which he is slated to receive next month.

 
Following the announcement, terrorism expert Steven Emerson penned an article published in New Republic Online depicting the Egyptian-born cardiologist, who immigrated to the United States in 1971 and is a U.S. citizen, as an apologist for terror groups and a strident critic of the Jewish state. In his piece, Emerson points to Hathout’s past attacks on Israel, including publicly characterizing the country as “a racist, apartheid” state, as his accusation that “the United States is also under Israeli occupation.”

 
These remarks, which Hathout says were made in the context of criticizing the Israeli government, Emerson argues are actually code words for anti-Semitism, and should disqualify Hathout from receiving an award established to promote positive race and human relations in multicultural Los Angeles County.

 
Hathout, in an interview with The Jewish Journal, said he has no intention of withdrawing. To do so, he said, would reward the forces of intolerance and intimidation.

 
At a Sept. 11 commission meeting convened to allow for public comment about the proposed award, Hathout said that “probably my words were harsh” at times, but that he stands by his statements. Hathout said he had no problem with the Israeli people but only with their government. He has helped to organize interfaith services and has traveled to Israel on joint missions in the past.

 
After the publication of Emerson’s article, three major Jewish groups, the American Jewish Committee, the Zionist Organization of America and StandWithUs, criticized Hathout and questioned the commission’s decision to honor him. On Sept. 11, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles joined the trio.

 
Hathout’s “words regrettably create the very fissures and divides that the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission is seeking to repair,” Los Angeles Federation President John Fishel said in a speech before the commission meeting.
Rabbi John Borak, director of inter-religious affairs at the L.A. chapter of the American Jewish Committee said that the fact that someone with Hathout’s opinions is considered a moderate Muslim shows why Muslim-Jewish dialogue has faltered in recent years.

 
“The Muslim community doesn’t have honest brokers,” Borak said in an interview before the meeting on Monday. “They say they’re for peace, but their actions don’t accord with that. [Hathout] is an example of that.”

 
Yet some Jews who have worked closely over the years with Hathout dismiss the criticism as mean-spirited and counterproductive. His defenders include rabbis and political activists, among others, who characterize him as a moderate Muslim who opposes Muslim extremism and favors tolerance and inclusion. They argue that intemperate remarks about Israel should not be justification to marginalize him.
“He’s a man who’s demonstrated in every way his commitment to what is humane,” said Rabbi Leonard Beerman, the retired founding rabbi of Leo Baeck Temple in West Los Angeles. “He’s a moderate in the Muslim world. If we can’t embrace him, we’re left twisting in the wind.”

 
Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs, rabbi emeritus at Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, argued that Hathout’s humanity and decency was especially evident at a 2002 Jewish-Muslim Passover seder he and Hathout helped organize.

 
Hathout called the seder one of the most moving religious experiences of his life, Jacobs said.

 
“If I felt [Hathout] was an extremist prone to violence and approved of things that are antithetical to Jews, I wouldn’t be here,” Jacobs said at a Sept. 8 press conference at the Islamic Center, which attracted more than 20 prominent local religious leaders who support Hathout.

 
Appearing three days later before the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, a confident and resolute Hathout said he has worked tirelessly to promote dialogue and diversity. Attempting to allay concerns over his past remarks, he told the commission and the emotionally charged audience of 100 that he supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestianian confict, as well as Israel’s right to exist, and that he has long condemned suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism as antithetical to the Quran’s teachings.

 
At the same time, Hathout remained steadfast in his criticisms of Israel. The retired cardiologist defended his right to criticize the president and Congress of the United States, as well as the state of Israel, and he said he would continue to do so long as he saw injustices. He said he believes that it is only his sharp comments about the Jewish state that have created the pressure on the human relations commission to rescind.

 
“There’s a storm of hate raised to a hurricane directed to me, my name, and, I guess, to you,” Hathout told the commissioners. “You can be sure if I had been talking about Canada or Brazil, we would not have such a hurricane.”

 
The human relations commission, after listening to nearly 50 speakers in a two and half hour meeting, decided to postpone a decision on what, if anything, to do about Hathout’s award until its next meeting on Sept. 18.

 
Some of Hathout’s critics used their time before the commissioners to raise questions about the nomination process. Normally, a commission subcommittee accepts nominations for the award and the full commission accepts the nomination. The county supervisors themselves have no vote in the matter.
According to sources, ordinarily commissioners themselves put forward names. In this instance, Hathout’s name was put forward by MPAC Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati. Al-Marayati represented that Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky supported Hathout’s nomination, though both men have said they never took a position.

Q & A With Ehud Danoch


Ehud Danoch, who has served as consul general of Israel in Los Angeles since October 2004, has been working round the clock since fighting first broke out between Israel and its neighbors in late June. The situation was prompted first by the capture of one soldier, which led to an outbreak of fighting in Gaza, followed by the capture of two additional soldiers by Hezbollah in Lebanon, where Israel’s greatest conflict in decades has ensued.

Ehud Danoch
Danoch’s consulate position covers California, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, and he has been working with communities throughout the region. This week, he spoke with The Journal about what the consulate is doing in response to the ongoing crisis, what the American Jewish community can do and how the actions here affect Israel.

Jewish Journal: You spoke at Sunday’s rally, which saw thousands of people gather in front of the Israeli consulate in support of Israel. What purpose do you think the rally served?

Ehud Danoch: It was a great rally; the presence of [Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger] and the leaders of the different Jewish communities in Los Angeles shows great support to the State of Israel and to the people of Israel. It is something that the State of Israel needs to hear, that the significant communities in the United States support Israel. It was all over the media in Israel. To see the Jewish community and the different organizations coming together warms the heart during this time.

JJ: What can the Jews do that goes beyond just rallying?

ED: The different Jewish communities in the United States are taking action. Not only rallying – San Diego’s rally had 2,500 people and Orange County had 1,500 – but communities are also having briefings, rabbis are briefing their congregations in synagogues, some people are writing op-eds in the newspapers. Federations all over are being interviewed by the media. Everything that has to do with public relations is important, because unfortunately, terrorists and Hamas are getting [media] support from radical Muslim organizations in the United States.

It’s not an easy situation in Israel. People are not going to work in the north; they are abandoning their homes, their jobs – it’s traumatic. The federations are donating money to take kids from the north to the center of the country.
People should do what they feel. We are here to help facilitate everything.

JJ: What else can people do? Are there opportunities to volunteer?

ED: We received a few phone calls from Israelis here who want to go back and do their 30 days of reserve duty in Israel. We will check with Israel on their need for volunteers. Many delegations from different synagogues and organizations are going to Israel, donating money to specific causes.

JJ: What do you tell people who are planning to travel to Israel or to send their kids to Israel?

ED: To come to Israel. Not to cancel their trip. Yes, they are launching missiles in the north, but whoever comes can go to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the rest of Israel. Everyone in Israel is very excited when there are delegations coming to Israel, especially from the U.S. Israelis really love and appreciate Americans.

JJ: Right now, public opinion has been unusually favorable toward Israel’s actions, but do you fear that it might shift as the conflict continues?

ED: What is the choice but to support Israel? To support Hezbollah? Hamas? We’re working very hard now on the public relations front. You are beginning to hear criticism, and it isn’t something we want. After all, Israel, a free country, a democracy, is fighting for its existence.

The media should take Israel as a role model of a country that fights terrorism, because unfortunately, terrorism is not only in the Middle East, it’s a global phenomenon. The media is showing personal stories of people coming from Lebanon, but it’s important to know that in Israel, there are 250,000 people in shelters, 3 million under the threat of rockets. There are soldiers dead and wounded, and all the media should report these stories.

JJ: What do you say to people who feel Israel is overreacting to the crisis?

ED: I don’t accept it. When it comes to fighting terrorist organizations, there’s a need for tough action. And it’s important to understand that Hezbollah is not an organization, it’s an army of terrorists. We have specific objectives: to bring our soldiers home and disarm Hezbollah, and that’s good for the region and the world. When it comes to global terrorism, it sends a message to terrorist organizations worldwide that they do not have any immunity. If the free world will not win in this war, chaos will take place.

JJ: As the consul general, as an Israeli, what have you learned about American Jews, especially in this time of crisis?

ED: I’m an Israeli; I’ve lived abroad over eight years, but what I saw recently, what I watched unfold is that when the American Jewish community feels that Israel is in difficult times, crucial times, then everyone comes together. The different organizations work together, people are calling in and asking, every day, “What do you need from us? What can we do?” That is beautiful to see.

In the end, the State of Israel is something that belongs to the Jewish people; the Jewish community is a sacred community that we have to hold close to our hearts.

Letters 06-16-2006


Is It Kosher?
I applaud and appreciate that you were ready to take off the gloves and attack what merits attack, but I fear you left one on (“But Is It Kosher?” June 9). You were too much of a gentleman.

I understand that you were courageously tilting against the strongest and wealthiest single entity in the Jewish world, second only to the state of Israel: the kashrut entity. Think of all the products that bear the kosher seal — from my delicious Oreo cookies to my bottled spring water (water?) to my milk from Ralph’s. Think of the add-on for personal supervision on the premise by mashgihim at all the kosher events in town. Consider the kosher wine industry, and the Passover product annual gouging orgy, and I come to a guesstimate that we are talking about millions, perhaps billions of dollars in profits for some people somewhere.

Understand, I benefit from the many reassurances that I am consuming kosher products. If along the way some of those involved are misleading me, the transgression is on their heads.

However, the issue of money leads me to another excellent article in the same Journal: the problem of funding Jewish education, especially day schools, so as not to deny such schooling to those who cannot meet the high cost (“The Middle Class Squeeze”).

What I am proposing now is that the collective Orthodox community take the huge profits from kashrut in which we are all consumers, and feed that money back into education. It happens that the majority of all-day schools are Orthodox and it would behoove the Orthodox community to investigate what is happening with all the enormous profits in the kashrut industry which they have arrogated unto themselves and hopefully are reporting every penny to the IRS.

As to misconduct, which always seems to happen in huge human endeavors, let the Jewish community not be guilty of suppressing information and sheltering misconduct in the religious establishment as some other great religious establishments are doing.

There, Rob Eshman, I have taken off both gloves, and I hope that from the pivotal position you have in L.A. Jewry’s primary information source you will succeed where I have not in elevating the sacred regulation of kashrut to what it should be, namely: to guarantee to all Jewish children whose families devoutly wish to provide them with a high quality, deeply Jewish-rooted education, the opportunity to receive it at our hands.

Rabbi Jacob Pressman
Rabbi Emeritus
Temple Beth Am

It seems that “kosher” has devolved into a mere technicality, a trend which needs to be reversed. Jewish law forbids cruelty to animals, as they are part of God’s creation. We now know that the OU heksher does not signify a cruelty-free slaughter. We are forced to awaken from our slumber of ignorance and indifference.

We must follow the lead of Whole Foods and not buy Rubashkin’s products. (There are other kosher brands available.) And we must do this until kosher means kosher once again.

Sue Roth
Los Angeles

Bravo to editor-in-chief Rob Eshman for bringing up the controversial subject of meat labeled “kosher” but which derives from animals treated inhumanely in plants where workers are exploited. There is significant room for improvement in another segment of the kosher industry, as well — prepared foods. I have long struggled to feed my children healthy kosher food. It’s not easy! There is not one brand of kosher chicken broth that doesn’t contain MSG. The one brand of kosher powdered chicken broth without MSG contains partially hydrogenated oils, also known as “transfats,” which are now universally understood to be the most unhealthy fat of all and which have recently been cut out of the recipes from most major brands of baked goods. Almost every “kosher for Passover” cake, brownie or cookie mix available in the supermarkets and kosher markets I shopped in this year also contained transfats.

Feeding our Jewish children healthy kosher food we can feel good about shouldn’t be such a struggle. How about it, Maneshevitz and Streits? Why not remove the unhealthful additives and sell us foods that are truly “kosher”?

Stephanie Gold
Los Angeles

Welcoming Converts
The non-Jewish spouses of Jews often feel unwelcome in Jewish circles. Synagogues ostracize them. Rabbis ignore them. Families insult them. Spouses call them by ugly names. It’s no wonder that they don’t explore the possibility of becoming Jewish.

If Jews are proud of our Jewish tradition, then we should practice our values of generosity, kindness, warmth and inclusiveness with the non-Jews who are close to our community. Why drive pro-Jewish partners away?

I appreciated The Journal’s cover story on June 2 about “Court Seeks to Ease Way for Conversions.” It demonstrates a concrete way in which a unique transdenominational beit din is genuinely welcoming candidates for conversion into the total Jewish community. This community beit din will not embarrass or harass the non-Jews who seek to join the Jewish people.

Ninety Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist rabbis are associated with the Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din (www.scbetdin.us). People can rely upon these rabbis to provide sensitive and constructive paths into conversion.

Rabbi Jerrold Goldstein
Secretary
Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din of Southern California

The Journal’s articles on conversion were excellent. During my years of experience with converts to Judaism, I have discovered the reason that so many converts backslide or no longer show the interest in Judaism they once had is because of the indifference and apathy their Jewish spouses have toward Judaism and its traditions. When one converts to Judaism, he or she is excited to celebrate Shabbat and Jewish holidays, go to synagogue weekly and keep some level of kosher observance. Unfortunately, after the conversion has taken place, the Jewish spouse thinks their former non-Jewish partner has now become “too Jewish” and discourages observance so that the convert’s enthusiasm for Judaism is dampened.

In our program, we encourage the Jewish partner to take our class with the potential convert, but many times the Jewish partner for various reasons refuses to enroll. However, when the Jewish and non-Jewish partners take our class together, they get closer, more knowledgeable and observant of Judaism. At the end of our program we have not only converted the non-Jew to Judaism, but also the Jewish partner, as well.

Rabbi Neal Weinberg
Director and Instructor
Judith and Louis Miller
Introduction to Judaism Program
University of Judaism

As a convert to Judaism, I was reassured to read your series of articles on those like me who chose to become Jews (“Did It Stick?” June 2). A lapsed Catholic with many Jewish friends growing up on Long Island, early on I was attracted to the ethics and worldly focus of Judaism. Following a course of study at Temple Emanuel in New York City, I converted in 1967 and my first wife and I raised our three children in the Jewish tradition.

In 1992, on the eve of her bat mitzvah, my youngest daughter asked if I would be bar mitzvahed with her. That glorious day came to pass at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, with Rabbi Harvey Fields observing that in the 130 year history of the temple, there was no record of a father and daughter having a b’nai mitzvah. At the party afterward, when Tessa and I greeted everyone, I said that I had checked around the room and I was the only person who had had a First Holy Communion and a bar mitzvah.

In my life in Los Angeles with my wife Wendy, inspired by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA and through my work with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, enriched by interfaith activities, Judaism has strengthened and complemented my struggle for civil liberties, human rights, peace and justice.

Stephen F Rohde
Los Angeles

Middle-Class Squeeze
Are education tax credits (let alone publicly funded school vouchers) so politically anathema to the Jewish community that they escape mention in a 3,000 word article subtitled “What Can Be Done to Make Jewish Day Schools More Affordable?” (June 9)?

Tax credit schemes avoid elements typically cited as objectionable by opponents of voucher plans. No money is conveyed by the government to private schools, either directly or indirectly. Since every dollar allocated to qualifying recipients is the product of a voluntary contribution, it cannot be argued that “my tax dollars are underwriting the operation of schools whose purposes I do not support.” And as for those who argue that tax credits divert scarce resources from public education, cannot the same be said of Jewish day school enrollment?

If supporting and augmenting enrollment in our Jewish day schools is regarded as a fitting community priority, on what grounds are education tax credits viewed as treif?

Dr. Ron Reynolds
Van Nuys

Each year, the Jewish community bemoans the high cost of a day school education, while touting its value with subjective quotes such as “Population studies have shown that day school alumni are more likely to retain a lifelong affiliation rate with Judaism and to educate their own kids Jewishly.” Objective statistics somehow are never included to support those claims.

In fact, commitment to Judaism stems from the home, not the school. If it appears that day school graduates are more dedicated, the likelihood is that they come from homes where Jewish values and observance are a priority. Those same graduates, had they attended supplemental schools, would be just as likely to become stalwart adult members of the Jewish community, without having impoverished their families in the process.

Despite the wonderful work being done by people like Miriam Prum-Hess, there will never be enough money to enable the vast majority of middle class families to utilize day schools. That’s because there are other very worthy causes, such as caring for the elderly, indigents, immigrants and the Land of Israel, that also deserve additional funding.

Unlike those other causes though, there is a day school alternative∑ the supplemental school. Supplemental schools are far more affordable, can usually provide financial assistance, and offer classes for kindergarten through 12th grade. Synagogues generally provide the kindergarten through seventh grade components, while community schools such as the Los Angeles Hebrew High School (LAAHS), offer classes for students in eighth through 12th grade. On June 12, LAHHS will graduate 68 students from its five-year program. This is its 55th graduating class.

Regretfully, during the past decade, many synagogues have downsized their Hebrew school programs from three days per week to two days or less, deeming them unattractive to committed families. Returning those programs back to their initial stature will provide middle-class families with a viable alternative that won‚t drive them to the poor house.

The Jewish community must refocus its efforts and resources to bolster supplemental education. Synagogues must revisit the curricula of their schools to assure that their students receive a rigorous and robust Jewish education. Finally, the Bureau of Jewish Education must raise its standards for accreditation of supplemental schools. Once synagogue-based Hebrew schools provide the level of Jewish education that they did in their glory days, middle-class families will no longer find it necessary to make great financial sacrifices when raising children, and a quality Jewish education will be accessible for all.

Leonard M. Solomon
Trustee
Los Angeles Hebrew High School

UCLA Palestine Week
As a student leader at UCLA, I was disappointed with the coverage of the recent campus anti-Zionism Awareness week (“UCLA Jews, Muslims Alter Protest Tactics” June 2). Unfortunately, the article implied that Jewish and Muslim students were the only major campus groups involved in these events and avoided discussion of the recent positive steps toward dialogue between our respective communities.

June 2, at noon, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) along with Hillel and other student communities of faith, assembled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for distribution to the homeless on skid row. That evening, members of MSA joined our community at Hillel for Shabbat Shavuot featuring a discussion with Dr. Nayer Ali on Islam. On June 5, MSA and the UCLA Jewish Student Union (JSU) broke bread together at an event marking the first time kosher/halal meals have been available to dormitory residents at UCLA, due to the successful year-long campaign organized by leadership of both JSU and MSA.

For the alarmists of our community, there exists a fervently anti-Zionist and often anti-Semitic campus community more numerous and less nuanced than our Muslim cousins. Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA), a sponsor of UCLA’s anti-Zionism week, and other Mexican-American empowerment groups see the Israel/Palestinian conflict as white male oppressors asserting their dominance over women and children of color and draw parallels between the occupation of Palestine and the occupation of Aztlán (Southwestern U.S. ceded after the Mexican-American War). Chicana/o students tend to invoke charges of deicide grounded in the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic tradition and have been more vocally anti-Semitic, claiming the “Jews are the criminals” responsible for the plight of immigrant communities at a rally in April, for example.

We, as the Los Angeles Jewish community, have an obligation to promote education and dialogue efforts reaching the Chicana/o community and other communities of color who tend to have less nuance and far more misconceptions about Jews and Israel than members of the Arab and Muslim communities.

Andy Green
President Emeritus
Hillel at UCLA (2005-2006)

The Finkelstein Syndrome
Roz Rothstein’s article on the anti-Semitic Jew, [Norman] Finkelstein , highlights a major lapse in common knowledge abou Jewish history (“Beware the Finklestein Syndrome,” June 9). While every effort is made to inform the world about the Holocaust, very little information is disseminated about the history of lies and hate against the Jews, or its relationship to the Holocaust.( I have seen history books that devote two pages to Anne Frank, but fail to mention that Jews were patriotic Germans and no threat to Germany)

Theobald of Cambridge, a 12th century apostate to Catholicism, created the “blood libel” which has lasted to this day and caused thousands of Jewish deaths. If there was general awareness of the history of hatred against the Jews, then when people hear a Finkelstein, they can wonder, is he a whistleblower or a modern day Theobald? Those who wish to spread vicious lies against Jews today, do not convert to another religion; their venom is more credible when they remain Jews, especially if they can claim to be from a family of survivors .

Ronnie Lampert
Los Angles

Polish Holocaust
I note the reference in the article on the academic achievements of young Kenny Gotlieb that he is a grandson of a survivor of the “Polish Holocaust” (“Seniors’ Deeds Pave Path for Future,” June 9). Excuse me, but can someone explain to me what is a “Polish Holocaust?”?Is this suggesting that the majority of Holocaust victims were Poles? Or is it supposed to imply that the Holocaust was created by Poles? Surely neither of these. Is it supposed to mean that the Holocaust largely took place in Poland occupied by Nazi Germany? If so, then please say so. I am afraid that this constant coupling of the word “Holocaust” with the word “Poland” makes the young people of today forget that the author of the Holocaust was Nazi Germany whose armies conquered most of Europe and imposed the genocide of the Jews throughout the continent. So please call it the Nazi Holocaust or the European Holocaust, or best of all, just “The Holocaust” (for there was only one) and not “Polish Holocaust.”

Wiktor Moszczynski
Via e-mail

Da Vinci Code
Enjoyed your articles of the DaVinci Code, but only the first three gospels of the New Testament (Mathew, Mark and Luke) are synoptic gospels. They are synoptic because they are similar to each other and different from the writings of the fourth gospel of John.

Brett Thompson
Via e-mail

Correction
In “Seniors’ Deeds Pave Path for Future,” (June 9) Ruben Zweiban was sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys).

 

Letters


Muslim Majority

Salam Al-Marayati’s apologetics miss the mark entirely (“Don’t Ignore the Quiet Majority of Muslims,” Feb. 17). In the wake of the mass violence throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia, it is impossible to argue that a small, extremist element, “a handful of reckless Muslims” in Al-Marayati’s words, is responsible for weeks of mayhem. Tens of thousands of rioters have rampaged, killed, and looted with governments either abetting or unable to control the violence. They are not a tiny fringe. And they are not reacting to alleged anti-Muslim bias in Europe, as Al-Marayati tries to argue.

Whether the rioters and their silent supporters represent the majority of Muslims or a sizable minority is debatable, but one conclusion is certain: They and the intolerant strain of Islam they adhere to threaten all who disagree with them.

Linda Abraham
Los Angeles

The op-ed of Salam Al-Marayati is a well-articulated presentation that falls short of explaining the “civilized response” of U.S. Muslims to the caricatures of Mohammad. It is difficult to accept the representation that “free thinking is a cornerstone of Islamic law” when the essence of Islam is submission to Allah and violations of fundamental Sharia law are dealt with by dismemberment, stoning and decapitation.

Most troubling is the accusation that racism and bigotry in Europe are disguised as freedom of expression or democracy. Yet, many instances of quite the opposite is being reported — Muslims who choose to live in their own communities, following Sharia law in their dealings with each other, even if it contravenes the law of their adopted countries.

Quiet Muslims will be ignored until they speak up loudly against the violent actions of their fellow Muslims.

Aggie R. Hoffman
Los Angeles

School Pesticides

Thank you for your wonderful and important article about Robina Suwol and AB 405 (“Parent Wins School Pesticide Battle,” Feb. 10). Suwol is a tireless worker for our children’s health. Unfortunately, you did not mention that she and others helped to establish the Integrated Pest Management Team in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). This team, which has been operating for about five years, is one of the leaders in the country in minimizing the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides in our schools. LAUSD should be recognized for their pioneering spirit.

Dr. Cathie Lippman
The Lippman Center for Optimal Health
Beverly Hills

Cartoon Controversy

Hurray for The Journal! Although lacking the courage to print the riot-provoking cartoons, the honesty of the stated reasons for not doing so was refreshing (“Drawn to Controversy,” Feb. 10). That’s more than can be said for most of the country’s major news outlets.

Kenny Laitin
Via e-mail

Jack Abramoff

Over three decades ago, Equity Funding Corp., a Century City-based financial conglomerate, was forced into bankruptcy due to massive fraud and embezzlement. The trustee surmised that approximately 60 employees (about 10 percent of the workforce) were involved in some level, in the illegal activities (“Sympathy for the Devil,” Jan. 27).

Twenty-two of them, mostly Jewish, pleaded guilty to participation in the conspiracy.

Although both my wife and I were employees, we were neither involved nor knowledgeable, primarily because we joined the corporation long after the fraudulent activities began. Nonetheless, I’ve often wondered what I would have done, had I been asked to assist in the illegal activities.

The point is that given the opportunity, many otherwise honest people are easily seduced into immoral activities that they sincerely regret after the fact. Most of Equity Funding’s conspirators are truly repentant.

Because of that experience, I truly believe that men like Jack Abramoff are sincerely remorseful. So while it is important that they pay for their crimes, it is also important we accept their apologies at face value and practice forgiveness.

Leonard M. Solomon
Los Angeles

Kosher Gourmet

I was impressed with the excellent article in The Journal titled, “Oxnard Kosher Dining is a Sur Thing”(Feb. 3).

I did however take issue with one of the authors’ comments: “Kosher gourmet sounds like an oxymoron.”

Apparently the authors of this article have never sampled the food at Pat’s Restaurant on Pico Boulevard, or sampled the cuisine of Pat’s catering or Brenda’s catering, among others. Far from being an oxymoron, kosher gourmet has been alive and well in Los Angeles for many, many years!

Martin Shandling
Los Angeles

Military Hitch

I was stimulated by the recent article on Rabbi David Lapp (“Rabbi Ending Long Hitch in Military,” Feb. 17), which focused on his ability to bring all major branches of Judaism to work together to support the needs of Jewish soldiers.

I am wondering whether there might be other important areas in which such cooperation can occur, and whether Rabbi Lapp’s experience might suggest how that cooperation can be brought about to the benefit of the entire Jewish community.

Barry H. Steiner
Department of Political Science,
Cal State Long Beach

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684

 

A Historic Event


It was a remarkable sight: the president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan sitting on a New York dais alongside leaders of the American Jewish community and Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations — while eating a kosher dinner beneath a blue-and-white banner reading: “Council for World Jewry.”

It was all the more notable, considering the significant personal risk the appearance must have entailed for Pervez Musharraf, who has been the subject of several recent assassination attempts at the hands of Muslim extremists who are violently anti-Israel and anti-America.

There was near-unanimous agreement among Jews and Pakistanis at Saturday night’s event that Musharraf’s mere presence before an audience of Jewish officials represented a potentially historic step in Muslim-Jewish relations. For his landmark gesture, the Pakistani general received a series of standing ovations.

“I would never have imagined that a Muslim, a president of Pakistan and, more than that, a man in uniform would ever get such a warm reception from the Jewish community,” Musharraf said as he ascended the platform to excited applause.

Beyond the novelty of the appearance, however, Musharraf’s half-hour speech met with disappointment from some Jewish leaders who found his remarks rich in hyperbole but poor in specific proposals.

“If we waited 100 years [to hold this meeting] it would have been even more historic, but what is it we have achieved?” asked Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “In his world, in his culture, in his environment, this is a major step. From our perspective, it isn’t.”

Some lamented that Musharraf said little beyond his previous comments about establishing relations with Israel, which he again conditioned on future actions by Israel, culminating in the establishment of a Palestinian state. Musharraf’s address followed closely his brief encounter last week with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the sidelines of the United Nations World Summit and a recent meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries, which do not have full diplomatic ties.

Still, said Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress — whose Council for World Jewry sponsored the event — given Musharraf’s domestic political constraints, Jews should not underestimate what he was able to offer.

“It is not helpful for us to be critical of a Muslim leader who, given his political pressures, comes to speak to us and doesn’t give us everything we want at that moment in time,” Rosen said. “We couldn’t have expected that he would have announced last night that he would immediately begin normalizing relations with Israel. It wasn’t a real expectation.”

Challenged by Foxman to show more leadership by moving to formalize Israeli-Pakistani relations right away, Musharraf responded that “57 years of hatred, bitterness, animosity cannot be undone so fast.”

“It is my sincere judgment that this is not the time to do it,” he said. “We need to be very patient. I need some more reasons and rationale. I need some more support” to be able to convince the Pakistani people to go along with the move.

Israel’s foreign minister, for his part, said he looked favorably on the meeting as a step in what he acknowledged could be a “long process” toward full ties.

“The time has come, I believe, to have full diplomatic relations with all of these” moderate Muslim countries, Silvan Shalom told Jewish journalists this week. “I believe that many of them are close. They’re always looking for the appropriate time.”

Shalom did not attend the Musharraf event.

Musharraf spoke about religious similarities between Muslims and Jews and characterized recent hostility between the two groups as an aberration against a background of historical coexistence. He further earned plaudits for insisting that terrorism “cannot be condoned for any cause.”

While he referred to “Schindler’s List” and praised Sharon for the recent Gaza Strip withdrawal, Musharraf upset many in the audience by insisting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a root cause of world terrorism, and that Pakistan won’t forge diplomatic ties with Israel until the Palestinians have a state — essentially giving the Palestinians a veto over the entire process, several Jewish leaders noted afterward.

“Palestine has been at the heart of troubles in the Middle East,” Musharraf said. “I have no doubt whatsoever that any attempt to shy away or ignore the root causes of terrorism is shutting one’s eyes to reality and is a sure recipe for failure.”

That sentiment struck a raw nerve among many Jews in the audience, who lamented that Muslim nations for too long have tried to lay the blame for many of the world’s ills on Israel.

“The root cause of terrorism is the same as the root cause of Nazism: simply, the hatred of Jews through teaching hatred of Jews,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Musharraf also called on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and respect other faiths’ attachment to Jerusalem. He did not express any corresponding demands on the Palestinian side.

“Israel must come to terms with geopolitical reality and let justice prevail for the Palestinians,” Musharraf said. “They want their own independent state, and they must get it.”

Since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Pakistan has had something of an image problem in the West. Daniel Pearl, a Jewish reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped and decapitated by terrorists in Pakistan; Osama bin Laden is thought to be in hiding somewhere along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border; a Pakistani nuclear scientist was discovered to have supplied nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea, and Pakistan’s extensive network of religious schools has been accused of spreading a radically violent and anti-Western version of Islam.

Many in the audience saw Musharraf’s decision to address a Jewish audience as a public relations move, rather than the reflection of a serious desire for detente. Like many in the Muslim world, Musharraf views the American Jewish community as key to securing political influence along the Beltway, some said.

Musharraf didn’t do much to dispel this impression.

“I feel privileged to be speaking to so many members of what is probably the most distinguished and influential community in the United States,” he said.

But Mossadaq Chughtai, director of the Pakistani American Liaison Center, which runs the Congressional Pakistan Caucus, dismissed this line of thinking.

“We have good standing with Congress” and the White House, he said, noting that President Bush has hosted Musharraf at Camp David. “Not as good as AIPAC, but we’re making strides,” Chughtai said, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Still, many considered the symbolism of the event key. Unlike Palestinian leaders, who often have made conciliatory statements to foreign leaders in English, while urging their constituents to war in Arabic, Musharraf spoke before a full contingent of Pakistani media beaming his words back home, where they are likely to be controversial.

For Dr. Abdul Rehman, an officer of the MMSI mosque in Staten Island, N.Y., Musharraf’s appearance gives the “green light” to Muslims to work toward cooperation and dialogue with Jews.

Berel Lazar, one of Russia’s chief rabbis, thought Musharraf was “very sincere” and praised him for not making grand promises that he would not be able to fulfill.

“There’s no question he will have a hard time explaining to his people what he’s doing and trying to bring them along,” Lazar said. “On the other hand, he didn’t give any kind of time frame” for normalizing ties with Israel.

At the least, the event led to immediate interreligious dialogue in the hallways: Lazar was seen chatting and posing for photos with Imam Ghulam Rasul of the MMSI mosque and invited mosque leaders to visit him if they’re in Moscow.

Pakistani television reporters pulled Israelis and American Jews aside for interviews to be broadcast in Pakistan.

“I think the event was very significant,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Something that hopefully can be built upon.”

Michael Arnold contributed to this report.

Letters


Inner Sanctum

Being a Mormon, I really liked your article “The Inner Sanctum” (Sept. 2), however, there is some information you received, that I am not sure you understood correctly. It’s the question of “literal truth.” While we do believe that the Book of Mormon is historically true (that is, it talks about events that really took place and people who really lived — we don’t take it as mythopoeia), we don’t think that it is inerrant true.

The title page of the Book itself says that there could be errors of men in it.

As Mormons, we do not believe that man can be infallible, and therefore we cannot understand something inerrant. As soon as God communicates with us, he has to speak in a way we understand. Hence, the church’s second prophet, Brigham Young, said that he doesn’t know of an inerrant revelation, nor does he believe that such could be possible.

René A. Krywult
Vienna, Austria

Armed and President

Let’s see … you rarely feature a woman in a Jewish Journal cover story, but this week you managed to do so and you pick one who is an NRA president (“She’s Armed and President,” Sept. 2). I presume none of the women in the community who work for positive, socially responsible, peaceful, meaningful and enriching causes were available for an interview. (The exception being, Roberta Schiller, quoted in the article in opposition to Sandra Froman’s advocacy of private gun ownership.) Maybe it’s just me; perhaps there just aren’t enough firearms lying around out there — or armed individuals, with or without a permit to carry.

J. Levitt
North Hollywood

Sandra Froman opposes restrictions on gun sales and makes a strong case for women’s need to have guns for protection against predatory men. OK, let’s require gun shops to demand every customer present an ID, plus a doctor’s certification that the applicant is female.

Macy Baum
via e-mail

In your cover story about Sandra Froman, your writers quote Roberta Shiller saying, “The idea that just because you have a gun, it will make you safe is just untrue.” Runyan and Ivri should check the validity of statements before allowing someone to use their story to misrepresent the truth.

According to The Department of Justice’s own National Institute of Justice study, titled “Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms,” it is estimated that 1.5 million Americans use guns for defensive purposes every year.

The article cites further misstatements by “gun control” advocates and presents a totally different perspective than Schiller.

Phil Blum
Los Angeles

Christian Zionists

In the Sept. 2 issue of The Jewish Journal, James D. Besser wrote a very negatively biased and short-sighted article regarding Christian Zionists (“Links to Christian Zionists Pose Peril”). Besser’s polarized commentary, replete with many unfounded statements, sought to influence the readers to view Christian Zionists as an element that threatens the life blood of Israel.

Christians who believe in a Jewish Israel have, many times, sacrificed their own livelihoods in the communities in which they lived/live and given of their own life blood to help Jews escape certain annihilation not only during the Holocaust, but during the times in which we now live, waiting the coming of Moshiach.

Chana Leah Mendelsohn
Los Angeles

The ‘Other’

David Myers exhorts us to have sympathy for various other people besides those whom we saw evicted from their homes in Gaza (“Show Gaza Sympathies to the Other,” Aug. 26).

Unfortunately, at this point in time, this goal is entirely unreachable and totally unrealistic. Judaism does not teach us to “Love your enemy” and until proven otherwise, the Arabs must be considered our enemies.

A neighbor is someone with whom you live, if not in harmony, then at least in civility. When will we be able to consider the possibility that that we can engage the “other” in the manner Myers would like?

Dr. George Lebovitz
Los Angeles

Honest Reporting

I was intrigued by the remark made by Walid Al-Saqaf in the Aug. 26 Jewish Journal editorial by Rob Eshman (“Honest Reporting”). The Yemeni journalist said that journalists can pressure Arab and Muslim leaders to “level with their people” and confront the region’s real problems — the lack of development and the dearth of democracy and accountability. What interested me was the idea that journalists had the power to influence leaders.

But journalism is no longer the proud profession that it was, dedicated to the truth. Just as in Nazi Germany, it has become the tool of a country’s leaders, whether the leader be a sheik or a Texas rancher, and I doubt any journalists today are ever going to try to pressure any leaders or even to devote themselves to the truth again.

Mal Cohen
Woodland Hills

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684

 

Abraham’s ‘Children’ Connect at Seder


Rare is the Passover seder that includes an Islamic call to prayer. But in the middle of this interfaith celebration, Muslim guests excused themselves momentarily from the third-floor banquet hall of Wilshire Boulevard Temple to pray in the hallway outside.

Jews in attendance watched curiously, but respectfully. The Muslims then returned to the seder, where they participated curiously, and just as respectfully.

The symbolism was not lost on temple member Eric Ritter.

“I see all these smiling faces trying to bridge the divide,” said Ritter, a city planner accompanied by his wife, Nancy, and their 19-year-old son, Zack. “I just like the idea that my temple is trying to reach out to the Islamic community, and they in turn are reciprocating.”

Last week, Ritter was among some 80 people, about evenly split between Muslims and Jews, at “A Seder for Our Time: The Children of Abraham Celebrate Passover.”

Jointly sponsored by the temple and the Islamic Center of Southern California, the April 29 event grew out of an 11-day interfaith trip to Israel and the West Bank in February. That trip brought together 14 Christians, 15 Muslims and 15 Jews.

Less than three months later, the seder, organized by Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein, gathered some of the same group again. The 28-page, customized haggadah incorporated interfaith candle-lighting Jewish rituals as well as a Muslim perspective. One passage stated, “In ancient days, Pharaoh was evil to all his subjects, whether Israelite or not.”

The script also broadened the interpretation of the parsley on the seder plate.

“When I look at parsley,” said a Muslim speaker, “I’m reminded of the beauty of the earth. Allah has created a world in which plants nourish our bodies and delight our eyes.”

The haggadah, in its discussion of narrow spaces, also spoke to the experience of Muslims in post-Sept. 11 America, where innocent Muslims have frequently been treated as outsiders or even as the enemy.

Grape juice was substituted for wine out of deference to the Muslim guests, and the ritual hand-washing was compared to Muslims’ preprayer cleansing with water.

Years of Israeli-Arab conflicts and tension between Islam and Judaism cannot be erased with shared visions and the power of parsley, but these participants were doing what they could.

“Maybe the little connections made here will have a rippling effect all the way to the Middle East, Israel and Palestine,” Ritter said.

Dana Ostroff, one of the 15 Jews on the interfaith trip to Israel, said the entire traveling group “has really just stayed united. We didn’t just co-exist, but we became a family.”

Another guest was Victoria Blum, a Jew-by-choice. This seder was the first for Blum’s 18-month-old daughter, Gia, whom Blum adopted in China.

“There’s so much hope right now with what’s going on in Israel,” Blum said. “It’s the first time you feel that peace could be reached.”

Sudanese American Tony Budri, a Muslim, attended with his sister and their father.

“There is no disparity between us,” said Budri, a 22-year-old student at UC Irvine. “We are all under one God. Maybe it’s a different denomination, but the same basic rules. You can’t really judge a religion by its followers, you judge it by its scripture.”

Cairo physician Abd El Fattah Shawki came to the seder while visiting his daughter in Southern California.

Interfaith relations are very important, said the 78-year-old doctor. He pointed out that most people of faith in the Middle East “live in peace together, as believers.”

Letters


 

Not Funny

While I appreciate The Journal’s attempt at Purim humor, as a long time and very proud shtreimel wearer, I was saddened by your cover of Michael Jackson, currently under indictment and on trial for [alleged] child molestation (Purim Cover, March 25). As a senior bureau chaplain for the Los Angeles Police Department and chief of operations for Hatzolah Rescue Team, I, unfortunately, have witnessed too much pain and suffering of children (and adults) at the hands of sexual predators.

A shtreimel situated on the head of our governor, mayor or even the latest Hollywood macher (not currently under indictment) would have garnered a prominent position on our shteilbel’s bulletin board.

Rabbi Chaim Kolodny
LAPD Senior Bureau Chaplain

Hahn Gossip

I wish to correct an error made in “Newsroom Rebellion Silences Gossip About Mayor’s Family,” April 1 (“Newsroom Rebellion Silences Gossip About Mayor’s Family,” Apr. 1). It simply is not true that any L.A. Weekly reporters have refused to pursue a line of questioning or potential story pertaining in any way to the mayor’s race. As a general policy, we do not discuss stories we may or may not be working on, and the issue at hand is no exception.

Alan Mittelstaedt
News Editor
L.A. Weekly

Editor’s note: The Journal stands by its story.

Campus Turmoil

Thank you very much for your concern about the strength and well-being of the Jewish community at UCI, but your concern may be unjustified (“Campus Turmoil,” March 11). Your article was correct, in that there is hostility toward the Jewish population, but you seemed to have left out the fact that we, the Jewish community, are fighting back, peacefully. You made mention of a certain speaker brought by the Muslim Student Union, but you conveniently didn’t mention either of the two articles in the major UCI newspaper (The New University) or the one in the conservative newspaper (The Irvine Review) that responded to the speaker, and criticized the judgment of the Muslim Student Union in bringing him to UCI. Your article appeared much later than any of these three, and not mentioning any of them brings the true intent of this article under question.

The truth is, that since this speaker came, there has been a great response by the Jewish community, and the UCI community as a whole. Hillel, Alpha Epsilon Pi (the Jewish fraternity) and Alpha Epsilon Phi (the Jewish sorority) all partnered in support of the Blue and White Day, which occurred shortly after the speaker, and at least a month before your article was published. The Jewish organizations mentioned above, along with other organizations, also sponsored the visit of the bombed bus No. 19, along with speakers at its side, which also happened before the publishing of your article, but was not mentioned.

Since your article was published, I have seen a response from the readers of your newspaper, and it is not good. It has brought light on to a topic that we, as a community are working to correct, and it did nothing to help our community in that endeavor. I have heard parents of high school students tell their children they can’t apply to UCI because of your article, and this hurts the Jewish community more than anything the Muslim Student Union could ever do to us. Without a steady influx of Jewish students into UCI, the attacks by the Muslim Student Union will only grow stronger, as we will have less people to respond and defend ourselves. Without new Jewish students, we will have a stagnation of ideas, and new ones will be few and far between.

At UCI, we have done our best to foster a Jewish community, and through Hillel and both Jewish Greek organizations, we have begun to do this. With a brand new Jewish Community Center and Hillel center within five minutes from campus, there is a place for us to go and hang out. We organize a kosher lunch every Wednesday and a Shabbat dinner every Friday night, both of which have an amazing attendance, bolstered by the support of all three Jewish organizations.

Every other week, we show a movie from Israel with Israeli food, and it, too, is attended with the support of all three organizations. This year, for the first time, there is a tremendous support for Israel in the editorial section of The New University, something that hasn’t generally occurred in the past. From what I am told, UCI is much better off now than it has been in recent history, and it might have been a better help for your newspaper to highlight the progress we have made, rather than a few setbacks to that progress.

Alex Chazen
New University Staff Writer
Alpha Epsilon Pi Member

Right to Die

So we should err on the side of preserving life when the facts are not clear? What President Bush said would seem more heartfelt if he was not so quick to go to war, costing untold numbers of lives to noncombatant Iraqis and American soldiers alike (“Jewish Ethical Views Differ on Schiavo,” March 25). The facts were unclear, as he and many have professed, regarding Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, and it is still not clear how it was presumed that they are enemy combatants in the U.S. war on terror.

Similarly, capital cases, where parties are put to death and given scant additional review, during his Texas governorship, would seem to qualify as situations where the facts are not clear, and one may choose to err on the side of preserving life. Genetic analysis, as an aid in reviews and reversals of capital cases in the last two decades, proves this quite effectively. It seems obvious to me that this proclamation, seen in this light, rings of hypocrisy, and demonstrates how cynical and pandering the administration is in taking sanctimonious stands such as these.

Dr. Mark Dreskin
Pasadena

I find Judy Gruen’s article on end of life issues it a bit offensive, simplistic and also inaccurate (“Spiritual Help Can Benefit Hopelessly Ill,” April 1). First off, for every intellectual crackpot like the Princeton professor she refers to trying to “eliminate the possibilities for the dramatically ill or infirm,” there are hundreds if not thousands of bioethicists, including rabbis and other clergymen, writing and working in hospitals and hospices to cope with the increasingly and incredibly complex issues related to the end of life. Anyone who has ever spoken to a doctor knows that for many considerations, including the prosaic one of acting to avoid potential liabilities, hospitals and hospices are slow to hasten the death of a patient.

We both know where we stand on the Oregon law. I did a little research on The Netherlands, in fact the legal progression has been to progressively limit the cases in which the law prevents euthanasia. A comprehensive study I found in the British medical journal, The Lancet (equivalent to the New England Journal of Medicine in the United States), found a minimal increase in the percent of all deaths in the country that were by euthanasia increased by .8 percent between the law’s enactment in 1991 and 1995; an increase of .2 percent occurred between 1995 and 2001. The number of deaths by nontreatment decisions showed no increase between 1995 and 2001; there was no increase in explicit requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide during that time. The number of doctors who were ever involved in the ending of life without the patient’s explicit request (one assumes this includes cases where it was done at the family’s explicit request absent that of the patient) declined from 27 percent in 1990 to 13 percent in 2001. This hardly indicates a trend toward widespread “killing of patients.” The authors of this comprehensive study in The Netherlands reach a conclusion diametrically opposed to Gruen’s rhetoric given the advances in medical technology and techniques to prolong. The authors found “the absence of a rise in the proportion of nontreatment decisions [read such actions as removing medical devices] after 1995 surprising.”

The Netherlands has a lower infant mortality rate than the United States, which has the dubious distinction of being No. 1 in that category among countries in the developed world. Perhaps we in this country have something to learn from The Netherlands about the dignity of life and utilitarian economic decisions on health care. Unlike Gruen’s idle speculation of what may occur in some brave new world, government health care policies today in our country contribute to the deaths of countless children each year, now.

The Oregon law on euthanasia is quite restrictive. I suspect Gruen has not taken the trouble to read it.

The Oregon Death With Dignity Act states the following:

An adult who is capable, is a resident of Oregon, and has been determined by the attending physician and consulting physician to be suffering from a terminal disease, and who has voluntarily expressed his or her wish to die, may make a written request for medication for the purpose of ending his or her life in a humane and dignified manner in accordance with ORS 127.800 to 127.897. (Task Force to Improve the Care of Terminally Ill Oregonians, 1998, p. 57)

Other sections of the law are designed to provide safeguards for the practice. For example, two unrelated persons must witness the written request; there must be a consulting physician; the patient must make an informed decision; the attending or consulting physician can request a referral to a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist if they suspect that a psychiatric condition or depression may be causing impaired decision-making; and family notification is recommended.

I also found Gruen’s attitudes toward the “proper” actions by family members to be quite judgmental and simplistic. If anything, the growth of hospices has shown that society has moved toward easing an individual’s final days, not a rush to end their lives. While Gruen might have chosen how her mother spent her final days, who is she to speculate that when a family acting with the wishes of the suffering patient decides that it is time for the pain allow the bodily life to come to a close “negate the guiding hand of Hashem”? Right now, my aunt lies on her deathbed and refuses food. If after years of conscientious caring and almost daily visits by my cousin, who is only concerned with her having no severe pain, declines to attach a feeding tube, is she missing a “transcendent moment” at her mother’s passing? Did the millions around the world who prayed in the moments surrounding the pope’s death miss a “transcendent moment” because in his final days the pope declined to be brought to the hospital and at some point in his final hours those around him chose not to continue any extraordinary means to keep him alive?

Jewish tradition teaches that the nefesh (soul) continues on long after it leaves the physical body. One hopes that the tragic case of Terri Schiavo spurs many to have a frank, intimate discussion with their loved ones about the exceedingly complex issues related to the end of physical life. And that no outsider, be he politician, religious leader or self- proclaimed advocate for the “culture of life,” dictate or simplistically judge their decisions on this most complex matter. That would truly be honoring Hashem.

Lawrence Weinman
Los Angeles

According to your article, Rabbi Avi Shafran stated that Terri Schiavo was not in a state of goses, the edge of death (“Jewish Ethical Views Differ on Schiavo,” March 25). But how did he know that? Did he know her medical history? According to reports, she had severe brain damage (although she was not considered brain dead), and the base of her brain was slowly filling with spinal fluid, which eventually killed her.

That being the case, how close to death does a person have to be to be declared in a state of goses?

That also means that it is possible the rabbi’s basic incorrect assumption allowed time to arrive at a conclusion, which is incorrect. Or, at least, did not allow him to explore another aspect of this issue.

The other question, not fully addressed in the article is the Jewish issue on a living will. Schiavo’s husband maintains that she told him that she would not want to live this way. It took him a long time to prove his point, but apparently, at last, he prevailed. In Jewish law what form does a living will have to be? Can it be verbal? How many people have to vouch for the verbal statement? In Jewish law is it just the husband? Two or more people? Or, does Jewish law recognize a living will at all, written or verbal? According to Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, as quoted in the article, a living will is irrelevant. Is that true?

Gary M. Barnbaum
Woodland Hills

As opposed to Judy Gruen, I do not believe in the beauty of suffering.

She accuses doctors, “bureaucrats” and family of trying to eliminate the “mess and expense” of the “inconveniently ill.” How outrageous of her! After my 90-year old mother had a stroke, I faced the terrible responsibility of deciding whether to continue a feeding tube. Mom could no longer speak or swallow. After a week of misery, I believe she said to herself “enough is enough.” Mom fell into a coma and died peacefully.

I would soon have decided against the tube. There was no love or compassion in having this spirited, independent woman, at her age, continue to suffer.

Gruen tells about a friend who brought a young man out of a coma by reading him psalms. Most of us in life-and-death situations must be more pragmatic. Otherwise, we are in danger of skidding on the slippery path so beloved of the neocons: the culture of life. Whether Gruen intends it or not, that path leads to the destruction of abortion rights and the curtailment of stem cell research.

Gruen should stick to frilly hats and comedy writing. She is out of her depth here.

Cynthia Lawrence
Toluca Lake

Here and Gone

I read about the swift departure of Rabbi Issac Jeret from Brandeis-Bardin Institute with puzzlement (“Here and Gone,” Apr. 1). Here was a seemingly dedicated clergyman committing to a challenge of a lifetime. Stepping into a storied legacy of Shlomo Bardin; charged and energized to steer a thriving Jewish Institute toward four generations of Jewish outreach. His commitment lasted 10 months. His tenure was shorter than the search to secure his services. I think the admonition was to lay down in green pastures, not to continue to look for them.

I read about a temple that seemingly pursued their target without regard to the morality of their actions. They seem the perfect 21st century moral role model: Pursue your goal at any cost, succeed without regard to damage caused to others, win at any price. Moral relativism has been accepted by religious institutions.

The challenge facing all Jewish institutions in the 21st century is relevance and guidance. In this instance the actions of the protagonists appear to mirror the moral morass of general society, demonstrating little leadership or interest in igniting a beacon to all. It would seem appropriate to demonstrate adherence to our tradition, and make restitution to Brandeis-Bardin Institute.

Bill Kabaker
Via e-mail

Counter Culture

Thanks for your article on Zucky’s (“Zucky’s Counter Culture,” Apr. 1). I have very fond memories of the place and the people. I am positive we can all live better with out the food. We could all eat healthy. I grew up in Ocean Park and remember the original location. Please let your readers know if there is anything we can do to help them save the structure. Very disappointed to find out there was an attempt to limit Jewish merchants. I am 72 years old and will never think of Santa Monica the same. I still have a menu from the old Zucky’s restaurant.

Sanford Nadlman
Los Angeles

Burden of Truth

It is my opinion that any historian who denies the occurrences, in his lifetime, of the most heinous acts of murder in history, that are well documented and even admitted to by the perpetrators, and also so adjudicated by high courts of law, is a liar, cheat, distorter of facts and history (“Letters,” March 11). His “professionalism and craft,” integrity and credibility is dubious, because once a liar.

Moreover, an academic or whoever, who defends such an historian is not far removed from the one he is defending, and does not enjoy my admiration.

David Brook
Professor of Life and Survival
University of Buchenwalk Koncentrations
Lager, Germany

Absent Husbands

Thank you for publishing Jane Ulman’s well-researched and important article (“Women Still Struggle to Have It All,” April 1). She describes accurately how frustrating it is for most women to be carrying too much of the load in their families.

But she left out a key part of the story — what if the husbands did more to improve the fairness and daily teamwork in their home life? During the past several years while I was researching my new book “Wake Up or Break Up:The 8 Crucial Steps to Strengthening Your Relationship,” I came across hundreds of inspiring examples (especially among Jewish couples) where women were less stressed and more fulfilled because their husbands were doing a much better job of helping out with kids, chores, weekly planning meetings and daily supportive listening and brainstorming.

In the marriages where men do decide to be mensches, it’s amazing how much less arguing and burnout there is. I urge every couple who cares about fairness and a good relationship to start getting creative and finding positive ways to share the load. It can be done!

Leonard Felder
West Los Angeles

Joseph Aaron

As a Jewish publisher, already in my 92nd year, I have read more than my share of calumnious articles. But Joseph Aaron’s Op-Ed was especially vicious — not merely because of his nasty attacks on Edgar Bronfman, who has done so much on behalf of Holocaust survivors like me, but also for its bizarre misrepresentation of Isi Leibler. Leibler “a man of integrity and honor?” (“Listen to What the Machers Are Saying,” March 25). Are we talking about the same Leibler whose boundless ego and penchant for communal intrigue are legendary among Australian Jews?

Close to 40 years ago, Leibler successfully conspired to put the newspaper of which I was publisher — The Australian Jewish Herald — out of business. Why? Because on Leibler’s very own recommendation I had taken aboard a columnist by the name of Mark Brahm. An erudite Orthodox intellectual, Brahm was, at times, highly critical of Israel’s policies toward the Arabs. As a committed Zionist, yet one who deeply believes in freedom of the press, I was willing to allow his views to be heard even though I knew they were not popular. Somewhere along the line Leibler realized that Brahm’s views were the diametric opposite of his own and he demanded that I sack the controversial columnist.

I told Leibler that while I disagreed — in fact, strongly disagreed — with Brahm’s ideas, the man did have a right to air his views. For the record, those ideas were little different, than what one hears in mainstream Israeli political discourse today.

That I would not comply with Leibler’s order was too much for the Australian Jewish dictator to bear. He promptly ordered a boycott of my paper forbidding Jewish community institutions from advertising in the pages of the Herald and the Yiddish weekly I published. In a few short weeks my paper — which I had built up from a moribund eight-page bulletin, to a lively 40-page weekly — was driven out of business. This affair swiftly became a cause celebre in Australia and made headlines in the non-Jewish press.

I enjoyed the public support of leading intellectuals and politicians in Australia, both Jewish and non-Jewish, but it was to no avail. Leibler had a virtual stranglehold on the Jewish community and, sad to say, Australian Jews cowered in fear. Many of them agreed with my position, and told me as much in private, but they dared not say so in public! So on Tisha b’Av 1968, weeks before we were to celebrate the paper’s 90th birthday, I had to pull the plug — and the rest, as they say, is history.

Nearly four decades later, Leibler decided that because he couldn’t call the shots in the World Jewish Congress (WJC), the best thing to do would be to bring down that venerable organization — and actually destroy it in the process. No matter that what he did was grist for anti-Semitic mills. No matter that he had no real evidence of any wrongdoing. These days, you only have to hint that someone has done something wrong to tarnish a good name. And because of this reckless egomaniac, the WJC found itself having to fight off all kinds of scurrilous attacks from people who love to see the Yidden at war with one another. That is why Leibler is now the star of so many anti-Semitic hate sheets and is a hero to Jewish muckrakers like Joseph Aaron. But presumably, none of that is important to him. Like a spoiled child, the 70-year old Leibler is used to having his own way and is oblivious to all other considerations.

In my possession is a letter to me from my good friend Nahum Goldmann, who Aaron hails, but upon whom Leibler wrote a vituperative attack in the pages of my paper. When in 1967 I asked Goldmann whether he wished to counter the critique, the great Jewish leader wrote: “I have not the slightest wish to reply to the utterances of Mr. Leibler. For some time already I have given up reacting to the attacks of some of the Australian representatives because of their lack of manners and the form in which they gloat in their criticisms.”

Thanks to the likes of Aaron, Leibler is still gloating. What a shanda!

David Lederman
Israel

Praise Scientists

The Journal has a very interesting advertisement (“Jewry Role in Human Affairs”). In this ad, short biographies of outstanding scientists and inventors of Jewish origin appear from time to time. It is important to give tribute to the great minds of Jewish nation.

I don’t object that it is necessary to write about art and charity, travel and politics, Torah and kabbalah, music and spirituality, but existing apparent neglect of science in mass media is undeserved, unreasonable and inefficient for society. Such articles about science and technology will give readers knowledge necessary to better understand contemporary situation and future perspectives. In addition, many of those who work in science and technology have interesting personalities and/or life stories.

Dr. Mark Burgin
Via e-mail

When Jews Lose

I recently read your article lamenting Bob Hertzberg’s failure to advance through Los Angeles’ mayoral primary (“When Jews Lose,” March 18).

Before worrying about the implications of the Jewish community not having a representative as a mayor of Los Angeles, I think it’s also important to look at Hertzberg the candidate.

Early in the primary season I received an e-mail from Hertzberg’s office with a 10-point talking list regarding what he wanted to do with Los Angeles. Initially I appreciated the marketing of it as a great starting point for a plan to improve some problems in Los Angeles.

However, when I read Hertzberg’s plans regarding the environment that consisted simply of not doing road construction during rush hours, the paucity of Hertzberg’s ideas was apparent. When he sent an e-mail telling everyone of his support for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to break up the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), his campaign was finished.

Schwarzenegger is the governor who has reneged with California educators to the tune of 4 billion of the last two years. How is breaking up the LAUSD and cutting 4 billion out of the education budget supposed to help California? Maybe it could, but neither Schwarzenegger nor Hertzberg cared to explain.

Meanwhile, Arnold has raised 50 million on unspecified campaign/campaign initiatives. I thought he had enough money to be able to govern without it? But I digress. Hertzberg lost the election because of his lack of ideas and his thoughtless alignment with Schwarzenegger as all things good for California.

P.S. I thought Hertzberg was a Democrat…

Zachary S. Brooks
Via e-mail

I have participated in many elections during my lifetime. I do not decide on a candidate because he or she is of my ethnic background or my religion. I consider his ability to lead and his experience to administrate any number of people and his or her ethical background. Los Angeles is a very big city with citizens of many different backgrounds. We need someone who has proven that he is capable to administer this city. It is my opinion that no one person or group is all right or all wrong and we should decide if the candidate is able to make decisions that are going to be the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

I am a regular reader of The Journal and I am hoping that this runoff re-election will be free of unnecessary contentions.

Polly S. Hertz
Los Angeles

Campus Turmoil

Regarding your “Campus Turmoil” cover story, I find it rather telling that Muslim students at UC Irvine and other American campuses are so vehement in their protest against Zionism (their politically correct term for Judaism and Jews) and Zionist (Jewish) influence and “control” (March 11). Compare that intense fervor with the nearly total silence of American Muslims after Sept. 11. There were no criticisms of or protests against their fellow Muslims who so hideously attacked the United States, killing nearly 3,000 innocent people.

It is quite clear to any objective observer that Muslim students in America support the goals of the worldwide Muslim offensive against everyone and everything that does not conform to Muslim doctrine.

Richard Saunders
North Hollywood

Terri Schiavo

I am not obsessed with religious doctrine and practice (“Jewish Ethical Views Differ on Schiavo,” March 25). I am an ex-liberal and Democrat. But, a phrase from the past plays loudly in my head, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Sorry, but “they” cannot be forgiven for they knew exactly what they were doing when they obsessively and stubbornly pressed ahead with their suspect hidden agenda that resulted in the state-sponsored execution of innocent Schiavo. Those undeserving of forgiveness are also the “limp-wristed” “girlie-men” types who pulled the covers over their head to protect themselves from political fallout. Those undeserving of forgiveness include those who made politically “watered-down” attempts to save one innocent American life.

More specifically, “they” are supporters and practitioners of the law/legal system that obsessively paved the way for the barbaric execution of an innocent, disabled woman. They are people of power who “heroically” ducked the issue to save their political careers. They are the ghoulish and perverted advocates who arrogantly and obsessively drooled at the thought of bringing this disabled woman to the altar of the “blessed” and “peaceful” priests of euthanasia (attorney George Felos, a deranged Hemlock society neurologist, the morally twisted ACLU….). They are represented by the allegedly adulterous and bigamist husband who cruelly wrenched Terri Schiavo from the caring hands of her biological family for suspected personal gain. They are the media and the legal/medical apologists that tried to calm and soothe the passion against Terri Schiavo’s state-sponsored execution with legalese and justification that seemingly made her execution appear so reasonable.

Is it not an irony that another Schindler [Terri Schiavo’s maiden name], a German businessman, risked his life and fortune to add those slated for the Nazi crematoriums to his famous “Schindler’s List,” the list that saved a thousand or so innocent from the legal, state-sponsored executions of the Third Reich. Yet, the most powerful politicians in our nation could not and would not save one innocent life from the obsessed and dedicated federal bench and Floridians bent on consummating the execution of Terri Schiavo. It took a reformed Nazi supporter, turned humanitarian, to save thousands from cruel and unusual/inhumane punishment when he faced risk to his person and fortune (and he did lose his fortune). But, professed American humanitarians of power could not bravely set aside their fortune (political) to step forward and add Terri Schiavo to a “Schindler’s List,” when no risk to their life existed. How truly shameful!

No, those of political power and others that let Terri Schiavo or did little or nothing to stop it cannot be forgiven when they are weighed against one reformed Nazi, Schindler, who faced death and lost his fortune as he passionately protected lives from the law of the Third Reich; law that justified and promoted euthanasia against the innocent of Germany and Europe.

We, as nation have moved one large step backward toward confirming the precedents set for life and death as advocated by the Third Reich, and one major step forward to trashing the lessons of the post-Nazi Nuremberg trials. We have soiled our undergarments, and it is very doubtful that this stain will ever be removed.

Joel Katzman
La Jolla

 

Building Bridges to Arab Town


Pop culture lovers don’t need a map to find Mickey’s Toontown. But Alam’s Arab Town?

Little-known even in Orange County and not yet granted official recognition, Arab Town is located in West Anaheim, not far from Disneyland.

Arabic signage and billboards in the strip malls lining Ball Road and Brookhurst Avenue attest to the area’s concentration of Arab-owned small businesses. Restaurants, bakeries, boutiques and halal (the Muslim equivalent of kosher) butcher shops teem with a multinational immigrant clientele, many of them swathed in head scarves and long skirts. Patrons come from throughout Southern California, homesick for familiar foods, smells and cultural norms of their homelands.

The emerging ethnic commercial district, akin to better-established Little Saigon in Westminster and Los Angeles’ Koreatown, is further evidence of the county’s evolution from suburbia into a more diverse, urban environment.

Yet, Arab Town’s virtual anonymity outside the immigrant community — even by Anaheim city officials — shows that demographic diversity falls short of inclusiveness. The biblical cousins, Jews and Arabs, inhabit different worlds — even here.

That figurative distance has increased in recent years, as attitudes between the two communities have intensified because of the intifada and the Sept. 11 attacks. Still, some bridges exist.

According to the 2000 census, 3,500 of Anaheim’s 328,000 residents are of Arab ancestry. Each year since 1995, the small merchants of Arab Town — 10-square miles bisected by Brookhurst between Interstates 5 and 22 — have put on one of the county’s largest cultural events. The Arab American festival, attended by 65,000 last year, is scheduled for Sept. 19-21 in Garden Grove.

Arab Town is the capitalist creation of a natural promoter, Ahmad Alam, who some describe as the area’s unofficial mayor. The Lebanese-born mortgage broker and publisher of The Arab World, an Arabic/English-language weekly newspaper, has included a map of Arab Town and list of mosques and merchants in each weekly edition since 2000.

“You can get whatever you want here as in the Middle East,” said Alam, who lives in Yorba Linda with his wife and son, Rashid.

“When we started, it was empty,” said Alam, who now estimates the area supports 600 Arab-owned businesses, such as Sinbad Travel and Al-Hakima Bookstore. To be sure, Alam’s Arab Town ambitions received a jump-start from $6 billion in recent public works improvements by Anaheim to accommodate Disneyland’s second-park expansion.

Alam figures the area would need 100,000 Arab residents for The Arab World — its 20,000 copies distributed free — to become a daily. “We want to have a very big and strong community,” Alam said. “We all moved here looking for a better life; we didn’t like the politics back home.”

An anti-Arab Sept. 11 backlash undercut his optimism. His unease deepened after his son, Rashid, was injured in a February hate crime.

Last month in a hotel in Arab Town’s southern end, 700 people attended a Muslim Public Affairs Council fundraiser honoring the parents of Rachel Corrie, a political activist crushed to death March 16 by an Israeli military bulldozer while she was trying to halt the destruction of a Palestinian home. Speakers compared Corrie to protesters in a long tradition of civil disobedience, including Rosa Parks’ black civil rights stand in the South and the young man blocking a tank’s path in Beijing’s Tienanmen Square.

“She made a light we can all follow; people who stand for human decency,” said Maher Hathout, an adviser to the Los Angeles-based group, which organized the event to benefit the International Solidarity Movement. Its members act as human shields and have since been barred from entering Israel.

“Bring freedom to Palestine and Israel and an end to the enmity between these people,” Rachel’s mother, Cindy Corrie, pleaded. “Then her death will have had some purpose.”

If a plea for peaceful coexistence from Arab Town seems surprising, it reflects the distance between two communities with common aims living in the same but separate worlds.

Nearly three years of violence between Israelis and Palestinians has eroded one of the highest-profile local efforts to establish rapport between the county’s Arabs and Jews. An interfaith dialogue among leaders begun by the county Human Relations Commission during the late ’80s was discontinued in recent years.

“We cannot separate events from the Middle East from what happens here,” said Haitham (Danny) Bundakji, a police chaplain in Garden Grove and a spokesman for that city’s Islamic Society of Orange County, which operates a mosque and school. “Sometimes there are painful moments. We stop calling each other.”

“It was going nicely and then it ended,” said Rabbi Bernard King, who headed Irvine’s Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot for 30 years. “There was sensitivity over Israel.”

Attitudes should be shaped by the examples of interfaith collaborations in local neighborhoods, said Dr. Muzammil Siddiqui, imam and director of the Garden Grove mosque.

“We should influence them, instead of letting them influence us,” he said.

Bundakji accompanied King and others on an interfaith trip to Jordan and Israel, documented in 1999 by a Los Angeles Times photographer. Both grieved over graves of children lost to violence on both sides.

“The first phone call after Sept. 11 was from a rabbi offering help,” said Bundakji, also a member of the National Conference for Community Justice. “That didn’t happen before.”

Two months later, King spoke at the Garden Grove mosque, a first by a rabbi.

Their friendship evolved from a deliberate Arab-Jewish dialogue sparked by the 1985 bombing death in Santa Ana of Alex Odeh, the regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

“It was contentious,” said Rusty Kennedy, director of the Human Relations Commission. “It’s gotten tougher now. The relations between organizations are extremely strained.”

He estimated that communication between Jews and Arabs locally is at low ebb.

The commission purposely tried to go beyond Arabs and Jews by drawing differing nationalities into a series of tolerance-building talks spawned after Sept. 11 called “Living Room Dialogues.” Its “Healing the Hate” forum on May 29, to evaluate community responsiveness to the hate crime against Alam’s son, Rashid, also looked at the outcome of a cross burning at the home of Greg and Evelyn Harris, who are African American.

“This might be a propitious time to start dialogue,” said King, shortly after President Bush’s meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials and before the latest escalation in violence. “I believe the Jewish community would want that dialogue. I’m not sure we’ve received it in return. The Jewish community has given up the effort. Maybe this is the time.”

Ever an optimist, King added, “We need projects to do together, sweat and laugh and cry together.”

He is not alone. Some others are moving beyond words to deeds. Last month, a south county group of 75 Muslims, Jews and Christians, led by their respective clergy, met at 6 a.m. in San Diego.

In a single day, the volunteer laborers hammered, painted and erected a small house for a Tijuana family, a project of Corazon Inc. of Laguna Hills, which in 25 years has built 750 simple homes throughout Baja California.

The collaboration, begun after Sept. 11, 2001, was the second house-raising by the group, which included Aliso Viejo’s Temple Beth El, Mission Viejo’s mosque and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Laguna Beach.

“The imam, rabbi and minister gave the keys to the mom and her three kids,” said Sabiha Khan, a spokeswoman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, located in Anaheim’s Arab Town, who wielded a hammer at the event.

Despite waking at 2 a.m. and returning home exhausted at 11 p.m., Khan said the common endeavor by three faiths created friendships.

“I got to meet so many people,” she said. “It was very heart-warming.”

Another on-the-ground example took place earlier this spring. Three student council veterans of Irvine’s Jewish day school explained student governance to their peers at an Irvine Muslim school, which was just establishing a student council. After dispensing with the serious discussion, the students took up a more typical subject: TV shows.

“They got together on a very human level,” said Howard Haas, upper school principal of Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School.

“I wanted it to be more of a coincidence; it didn’t have to be a time to talk about differences,” said Omar Ezzeldine, director of New Horizon Elementary School. “We need to treat each other as people. Differences will be resolved with time.”

The two private school officials, joined by peers from UC Irvine and the public school district, took part in the inaugural meeting of an intracity education exchange, a novel idea initiated last month by Irvine City Councilwoman Beth Krom. Its objectives have yet to be fully defined.

“If we can’t get together in the city of Irvine, there’s no hope in the world,” Haas said.

A Pulpit for Peace


In the aftermath of Sept. 11, America experienced an ugly anti-Arab backlash. Thousands of Middle Easterners living in the United States were verbally harassed, beaten or worse because of their ethnicity or religion. Some pilots forced swarthy passengers off their planes because their skin made them suspect; the U.S. government, in its zeal to prevent new attacks, jailed hundreds of Arab and Muslim immigrants without formally charging them or granting them access to an attorney. Many were later deported for minor visa infractions.

Against this highly charged backdrop, Rabbi Allen Krause did what he does best to tamp down the anxiety level. A fervent believer in the power of interfaith and inter-cultural dialogue, the head rabbi of Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo invited a Jewish and Egyptian comedian to perform at his temple before a mixed audience of Jews, Muslims and Christians. Worried about the safety of Orange County’s Muslims, he offered to have members of his congregation guard their local day schools. Krause even invited a Palestinian to Temple Beth El to talk about his people’s suffering under Israeli occupation.

“What we’re trying to do is build a world that is a more decent place,” Krause said in his book-lined office. “I’m doing what I can do. I don’t know whether I’m having an impact, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying.”

For more than three decades, Krause has been at the forefront of the interfaith movement, using his pulpit to call for a kinder, gentler world. But his dovish views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have rankled some in the Jewish community.

In 1993, he founded the popular Religious Diversity Faire, an annual event where Orange County’s Jews, Baha’is, Muslims, Christians and members of other faiths meet to learn about one another’s religions. He and other clergy recently led an interfaith group to Mexico to build houses for impoverished Mexicans. Krause has stood alongside other area religious leaders to publicly decry a vicious attack on an Arab American high school student in Yorba Linda and a cross burning in Anaheim.

Krause’s fight for tolerance has won him kudos. On June 21, the Baha’is of Aliso Viejo honored him and as a “Model of Unity” in the community. In March, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism recognized Temple Beth El for its commitment to social justice for participating in the so-called “Living Room Dialogue” with area Muslims and Christians after Sept. 11.

Krause’s example has also spurred others to action. Temple Beth El member Sande Hart said his success in knocking down cultural and religious barriers encouraged her to co-found Sarah, a year old interfaith women’s group in Orange County.

“His commitment to building bridges in the community has been nothing but an inspiration for me,” said Hart, whose group now has a total of 80 Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Baha’i members.

However, Krause’s criticism of Israel — a country he both loves as the Jewish homeland and decries for its treatment of Palestinians — has made the professorial-looking, 63-year-old a controversial figure in some quarters. Although most in his congregation respect his views, a few have dropped out because of his politics, Temple Beth El President Cindy Mirsky said.

Krause is no stranger to controversy.

In 1972, days after Palestinian terrorists murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, Krause suggested during a memorial service that “we need to address the illness and not the symptom. And the illness is how the Palestinians are treated in the Middle East.” Afterward, he received death threats.

Krause’s views haven’t changed all that much since then. He worries that Israel could become as oppressive as apartheid-era South Africa if the Jewish State continues to disenfranchise Palestinians. And, in the absence of a state where Palestinians might resettle, he worries that Israel’s Arab population could outnumber its Jewish population within decades, a demographic time bomb that threatens the very essence of the Jewish State.

“From our experience, Rabbi Krause has been a good friend to the American Muslim community,” said Ra’id Faraj, the public relations director with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Southern California, who spoke about the plight of the Palestinians at Temple Beth El. “He is an individual who the community appreciates for his efforts to promote more dialogue and better understanding.”

Some Orange County rabbis are less enthusiastic.

“I think he’s a man with noble intentions, a fine man,” said Rabbi David Eliezrie of Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen in Yorba Linda. “But I think his support of groups within the Arab community can be dangerous to Israel, because I think the true intentions of those groups is far from peaceful.”

Rabbi Joel Landau of Beth Jacob Congregation in Irvine said that Krause’s sensitivity and belief that all people long for peace, quiet and harmony blind him to the harsh realities of the Middle East. Landau, who opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, said his friend fails to see the “cancer that exists in the Arab community that functions on a totally different wavelength than we do in the Western world.”

Krause said he will continue to stand up for his beliefs. But his interfaith efforts and activism only tell part of the story.

Under his direction, Temple Beth El has experienced an explosion in membership. About 660 families now belong to the synagogue, up from 125 when Krause first came on board in 1984. Demographics account for some of that growth, but Krause’s emphasis on Jewish education, along with his accessibility and commitment, have surely fueled the boom, Mirsky said.

As an example of Krause’s decency, Mirsky said he made the long drive from Aliso Viejo to Fullerton to spend an hour and a half by her side when her husband underwent back surgery. The rabbi also visited her after her infant son had an operation a couple years back.

“He’s very interested in getting to know you, even though he’s a busy guy,” she said.

Krause is also interested in educating as many as young Jews as possible. With 600 students, Temple Beth El now has the largest religious program in both the county and Long Beach, he said. An estimated 130 children are expected to enroll in early childhood development programs this fall, triple the number of only two years ago.

“This ties the kids in very closely to their religious roots, and they leave here going off to college with a real solid foundation,” he said.

In recent years, two students have gone on to train as rabbis and another earned a master’s degree in Jewish education, he added.

Krause said he was raised in a home free of bigotry at a time when anti-Semitism and racism were prevalent. Feeling like an outsider during his high school years in the 1950s in Westchester, he developed a compassion and empathy for the underdog, an attitude that has fueled his passion for interfaith under-

standing.

Around the same time, he became excited about Judaism. The late Rabbi Mordecai Soloff of Temple Israel in Westchester touched him with his intellect, honesty and willingness to speak out. Soloff also introduced the young Krause to the Jewish commandment of tikkun olam (heal the world), a value he continues to hold dear to this day.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in history with highest honors from UCLA in 1961, Krause went on to earn another bachelor’s degree from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles. He was later ordained at Cincinnati’s HUC-JIR in 1967.

Krause did doctoral work in American history at both the University of Chicago and UC Berkeley but never completed his dissertation. While a rabbi in Northern California, Krause leveraged his academic training by becoming an assistant professor in the religious studies department at California State University San Jose.

Joining Temple Beth El in the mid-1980s, it quickly became apparent to Krause that the synagogue needed a new home. Nearly a decade later, he relocated it to a 3.5-acre site. However, portable units served as offices, classrooms and even the sanctuary. Krause knew he had to do better or risk having members defect to other, newer temples. So he went about raising money to secure yet another home for Temple Beth El.

In 2002, Krause finally realized his dream when the temple took over a converted 65,000-square-foot building, the former headquarters of a security company. The cost: $15.5 million. The new Temple Beth El features a children’s library, a museum of Jewish history and indoor lights that resemble street lamps found in Jerusalem. The synagogue even has an outdoor basketball court for religious school students.

Walking through his temple, Krause said he had no intention of censoring himself or ending the fight for social justice.

“That’s one of the great things of being a rabbi. You have a platform to be able to make your voice heard to change the world,” he said. “We all can do it, but it’s a little easier when you’re a clergyman.”

Memories of Iraq


His Hebrew name is David, but he still goes by his Arabic
nickname of Naji. At 82, he sits at a table at the Luxe Hotel in Los Angeles
and recalls a life and a civilization now gone, an Iraq that will never be
again.

“When I left Baghdad in 1951,” Naji Harkham recalled of the
day he left for Israel, “I left with tears in my eyes. To me, Baghdad was good.
I had so many Muslim friends who didn’t want me to leave.”

To someone used to tales of Jewish refugees, particularly
from Eastern Europe, the notion of a sorrowful parting from exile seems
extraordinary. But in Iraq, indeed in much of the Near East, Jews did not see
themselves as the kind of marginal, oft-victimized community of shtetl lore.

These Jews, to a remarkable and often forgotten extent, were
very much at home in the predominately Islamic cities of the Middle East. In
places like Baghdad, Casablanca, Cairo and, until only two decades ago, Tehran,
Jews felt very much at home, tolerated, even highly respected members of
ancient communities.

So although many of us would welcome the toppling of Saddam
Hussein, even at the cost of destroying a good piece of Baghdad, we might also
say a prayer for the memory of better times, when Jews flourished in the
Islamic world and, perhaps, hope that someday, Muslims will recognize the
benefits that tolerance brings.

For those like Harkham, who remember these earlier times,
there still remains a kind of pride in the longevity and accomplishments of the
Jews in these countries. In Iraq, for example, the Jewish community can trace
its roots back to the Babylonian captivity — except that we often forget that a
large portion of those exiles chose to stay behind in that cradle of urban
civilization. From there, they wrote the Talmud and built much of what is now
considered the foundations of Jewish law.

This is not to say that being a Jew in the Middle East was
always easy. Powerless and then stateless, they were forced to live within the
rules set by the dominant rulers — the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Arabs and
Turks. Yet, in comparison with their brethren who were stuck in Europe after
the fall of Rome, those in the ancient East had it relatively good.

This was particularly true after the rise of Islam. Mohammed
clearly was divided about the Jews. Their monotheistic theology and legalism
appealed, even inspired his religious formation. On the other hand, their
obstinate refusal to accept his revelation infuriated him.

Ultimately, he consigned Jews to a kind of purgatory. As
dhimmis (people of the book), they could be tolerated in Muslim society but
only as a kind of tax-paying, second-class citizens.

Given the choice between rule by Muslims or intolerant Roman
Catholic or Orthodox rulers, many Jews, as well as some smaller Christian
sects, naturally favored the Arab ascendancy. They are believed, by some
historians, to have aided the seventh century Arab conquest of both Jerusalem
and Damascus from the Byzantine rulers.

Compared to European norms, Islamic policy to the Jews was
enormously enlightened, and their material conditions also improved. Under the
rule of the new Islamic empire, Jewish traders conducted commerce from Spain
and Egypt to China.

The generally tolerant religious policy of the Arab and
Persian Muslims, and later the Ottoman Turks, toward other faiths accelerated
this expansion. Although highly restricted in terms of inheritance and
intermarriage, Jews, Christians and others enjoyed official protection and
often gained prominence not only in commerce but also the arts, science and
even public administration.

Of course, this was not a totally integrated society.
Throughout much of the first millennium and beyond of Islam, many cities had
significant Jewish, Christian and, in Iran, Zoroastrian quarters. This
persisted in Iran, noted California State University Los Angeles geographer Ali
Modarres, until the 1970s.

“Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians dominated whole
neighborhoods, ” said Modarres, who has studied Islamic urbanism for a
generation.

Yet these were not ghettoes in the classic European sense.
They constituted integral parts of the urban landscape. “There were Jewish
synagogues and nothing was hidden,” Modarres said. “When I was in school, my
Jewish classmates were Persians first, Jews second.”

To be sure, there were occasional outbreaks of persecution
in most Islamic countries. But in the best of cases, such as in the
Cordoba-based Islamic kingdom in Spain, or under the Safavids in Persia, Jews
flourished to an extent not seen till the contemporary United States. As the
16th century Persian Jewish poet Imrani wrote:

“Had not your favor been granted to guide me,

Who would have ever opened this closed door before me?

As you brought me to a foreign land,

You bestowed upon me milk and sugar.”

In the aftermath of the Inquisition in Spain, the Islamic
world provided a larger refuge than the more celebrated Netherlands. To the
Ottomans, still competing for supremacy against Christian Europe, Jews were
seen as an economically advantaged population that could provide their Empire
with a cadre of skilled workers, including cartographers, swordsmiths and
metallurgists.

Indeed the sultan was astounded by his good fortune in
receiving thousands of Spanish refugees.

“And you call this man, the king of Spain, a politically
wise King, he who impoverishes his kingdom and enriches ours?” asked Bejazet
II, whose descendants would be treated by Jewish physicians for the next
several centuries. “I receive the Jews with open arms.”

Even in the last century, as the Ottoman Turkish regime fell
apart, Jews in places like Iraq continued to flourish. Under the British-backed
regime that replaced the Ottomans after World War I, young Jews like Harkham 
believed that they had a bright future in what was, after all, their homeland.
King Faisal I, who ruled until his death in 1933, described the Jews as “the
sword of the country,” because he saw them as a critical element in the
country’s modernization.

“It was easier to be a Muslim, for sure,” Harkham recalled,
“but it was not too bad to be a Jew either.”

Iraq’s Jews, who numbered approximately 130,000 by the
1940s, were prominent as doctors, lawyers and administrators, as well as
merchants who dominated the import and export business. Most Jews certainly did
not see their future as Israel or the United States, Harkham explained. Indeed
they started to speculate massively in what would later become “new Baghdad,”
an extension the old caliphal city and still a part of the current metropolis.

For a young man growing up at the time, it seemed natural to
play with Muslim friends, have them stay with his family or he to stay at 
their’s. It was also not strange to go to public school, where, among other
things, he learned to memorize the Koran by heart or later, as he did, enter
government service or even the army to serve the kingdom.

Yet by the early 1940s, he recalled, there were signs of
trouble, the ramifications of which are still with us today. In 1941, a group
of army officers and politicians, headed by Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, briefly
seized power. Allied to the Germans, they espoused a kind of Arab nationalism
that saw no place for Jews in Iraq.

For the first time, in modern history there were
state-sanctioned pogroms in Iraq, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Only the intervention
of the British and the restoration of the royal regime prevented the permanent
dislocation of the Iraqi Jews.

Although defeated by British power, Al-Gaylani represented a
new prototype. His ideology — Arab nationalism, anti-Semitism, totalitarianism
— remains the bulwark of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist Party regime today, which
now celebrates him as a hero.

Under the current regime, Al-Gaylani’s narrow, intolerant
world view has been extended to other parts of Iraq’s polyglot population,
including nearly a million Persians who were driven out in the early 1970s and
the Kurds, whose brutal suppression continues to this day.

The final chapter for the Jews of Iraq, ironically, was
opened by the very event that European-descended Jews saw as their salvation —
the founding of Israel. Once the Zionist state was formed, the position of Jews
in the Arab countries quickly became untenable. The best the government, which
had once been friendly to the Jews, could offer was a one-way passport out of
the country to Israel.

For many sophisticated Jews of Iraq and other Middle Eastern
countries, this was not an ideal choice. “I did not want to leave the country,”
Harkham said. “I did not want to live in Palestine.”

Yet for Harkham, Israel was the only harbor, even if not a
favored one. Capitalistic, cosmopolitan and raised in exile, many preferred to
go somewhere other than what was to them socialistic and somewhat
claustrophobic Zionist state. Eventually, like many educated Jews from Muslim
countries, Harkham took his family elsewhere, settling in Sydney.

Most of his children, including Yuri, the founder of the
Jonathan Martin and Hype women’s fashion houses, later re-emigrated to Los
Angeles, which along with London, has the largest Iraqi Diaspora communities
outside Israel.

Later, these Jews — bearers of traditions from the Islamic
lands — were joined by tens of thousands of others, those fleeing the
theological regime in Iran. Those Persians, even more than the former Iraqis,
Moroccans and Syrians, also brought a piece of the Islamic world with them.
Their mixed memories conserve a world once the nurturer of Jews.

For some, particularly the older generation, these memories
still matter. Even now, Harkham hopes somehow to get back to Baghdad, both to
see his old Muslim friends and revisit places where so much Jewish history was
created. Perhaps, he prays, he will come on the heels of America’s arms,
perhaps to help reconstruct a piece of the past and a spirit of tolerance that
once existed along the banks of the Tigris.

“I would go back there to visit,” he said, “to go back to
the land of the prophets, where Ezra is buried. There is big history there. A
part of the Jewish people still lies there.”  

Battle of the Iranians


After an evening of social drinking and dancing at a well-publicized Persian Night at the Goodbar nightclub in West Hollywood, some 20 young Iranian Muslims followed two young Iranian Jews into the street and, amidst shouts of “F–k the Jews, Kill the Jews,” attacked the two.

The incident, shocking in itself, raises larger questions about the relationships between the Iranian Muslim community in Southern California, estimated at anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million, and the Iranian Jewish community of 30,000, each the largest of its kind in the United States.

(In the following story, references to “Jews” mean Jews of Iranian descent, and “Muslims” stand for Muslims of Iranian descent.)

The Attack

Goodbar, at Doheny Drive and Sunset Boulevard, a frequent target of neighbors’ complaints, had been booked, in advance of Yom Kippur, for three Jewish birthday parties on Saturday night, Sept. 14.

There were about 200 young people at the club throughout the evening, said manager Ivan Urlich, but he sensed no tensions and the place closed at 2 a.m. Sunday morning.

“Usually, when there is a fight, it starts in the club and we throw out the troublemakers,” Urlich said. “But this time, there was no trouble inside.”

Fareed Kanani and his friend Michael Kashany, both 25, left the club shortly before 2 a.m.

“We were walking and turned around and saw between 15 to 20 guys following us,” Kanani recalled. “They asked us, ‘Are you Jewish?’ and I said, ‘That’s irrelevant.’ Then they started shouting, in Farsi and English, ‘We’ll kill all the Jews,’ and started punching us.”

Kanani stands 6 feet 3 inches and Kashany is 6 feet tall; both are in pretty good shape and fought back as best they could. “These guys weren’t drunk, and they really wanted to kill us,” Kanani said.

After some 10 minutes of fighting, the two Jews made a break for a nearby high-rise apartment, where they were shielded by a security guard until the police arrived.

Sheriff’s deputies arrested five Muslims, but Kashany and Kanani could identify only two, Daoud Mohammed Mavid and Mohammed Hassan Aref, as among the attackers.

The two Muslims were arrested and booked on a charge of assault with intent to inflict great bodily injury and committing a hate crime. They posted bail at $55,000 each.

Detective Scott Petz of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s office said that he is still checking for additional suspects. He will submit the case to the district attorney in about two weeks, while Mavid and Aref will be arraigned Nov. 18.

Kanani suffered a broken nose and Kashany cuts and bruises. “We’re both strong physically and psychologically, but the thought that they actually wanted to kill us is a very scary thought, a very disturbing thought,” Kanani said.

“It’s been a great shock, but I wouldn’t blame all Muslims,” Kashany said. “I’m really cool with some Muslims, but they also have their punks and extremists.”

The Jewish View

There are strong generational differences in both the Muslim and Jewish communities, according to Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations (CIAJO).

Within the older generation, there is still the shared experience of living together in the old country, and strong ties to the homeland.

“However, in the generation born in America, the young Muslims are more Muslim than Iranian, and the young Jews are more Jewish than Iranian,” Dayanim said.

“I believe that there has been an increase in fundamentalist Islamic activity in Los Angeles and Orange County, which has led to greater anti-Semitism,” he said.

Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, sees the relationship between Muslims and Jews as generally good.

“We meet and work together at the Iranian Center and Rotary Club and we go to the same concerts and restaurants,” he said. One distinctive difference, though, is that the Jews have organized a social and administrative structure much faster and better than the Muslims.

George Haroonian, the CIAJO president, observed that, “Muslims are not used to seeing Jews openly assert their Jewishness. In Iran, we kept a very low profile.”

At the regional office of the Anti-Defamation League, Associate Director Marjan Keypour Greenblatt reported a growing number of incidents between Iranian Jews and Muslims.

“The cases are not as virulent as attacks by white supremacists, but they do show the need for community leaders to pay close attention to the problem of anti-Semitism.”

The Muslim View

Dr. Sadegh Namazikhah, president of the Iranian Muslim Association of North America, said he doesn’t like people who turn their personal problems into religious and community confrontations.

“Suppose you have a Jewish and Muslim person as business partners. They have a fight over a business matter, but then try to make it into a fight between the two communities,” he said.

As for the West Hollywood incident, “The kids go to a nightclub, they have too much alcohol, they have a fight, but they have no right to make it into a religious problem.”

Namazikhah, a dentist and recently retired USC faculty member, said that “some of his best friends are Jewish” and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has aroused certain sensitivities among local Muslims and Jews.

“I hope we can stay away from this topic,” he said. “There is no way one side here can convince the other, and we can’t solve the problem of the Middle East here.”

A Muslim who serves as a Beverly Hills commissioner, but asked that his name not be used, agrees that the American-born Muslims and Jews differ greatly from their Iranian-born parents.

Surprisingly, he thinks that the Jewish community has retained closer cultural and linguistic ties with Iran than their Muslim counterparts.

He ascribed that phenomenon to the more cohesive Jewish religious practice, in which even young people attend and participate in the Farsi services.

“I see many more children and young people in the synagogue than in the mosque,” the commissioner said. “I talk to Jewish kids and they speak Farsi as if they were born in Iran. My kids grew up on the East Coast, they went to American schools and they refuse to speak Farsi.”

On Campus

The generally conciliatory picture of Jewish-Muslim relations painted by community leaders is sharply contradicted by two Jewish students at UCLA.

“The relationship has changed completely since the intifada started two years ago,” said 24-year-old history major David Yadegav.

“There was always anti-Semitism [by the Muslims], but it was hidden,” he said. “Now we are witnessing their true feelings. When we held an Israel support rally, the Muslims showed up with Hamas headbands.”

Yadegav believes that the anti-Semitism is also fueled by the success, financial and otherwise, of the Iranian Jewish community in Los Angeles, as compared to the Muslims. “There’s a lot of envy,” he said.

Yoav Sarras, 22, also majoring in history, is on the board of the Persian American Jewish Organization, which represents some 400 Jewish students on campus. (For some reason, the older generation considers itself “Iranian,” and the younger generation “Persian.”)

Sarras pretty much agrees with Yadegav’s take on the situation.

“You would think that on a college campus we would be able to build bridges between us, but unfortunately that’s not the case,” he said. “Maybe the old resentments and jealousies have only become stronger with the situation in the Middle East.”

Be Careful With ‘Terrorism’


The LAX shooting on the Fourth of July was another test of Muslim-Jewish relations.

Some Jewish leaders complained that Los Angeles Muslims did not denounce the shooting. That some people didn’t hear it, and then accused Muslims of remaining silent, seems to be a common problem in many public pronouncements Muslims make these days. It is not an issue of transmission by Muslims, but of reception by others.

Another problem for the Muslim community, and other ethnic/religious groups in America, is the definition and application of "terrorism" in violent crimes.

As we await the conclusion of the FBI’s investigation in the LAX shooting on the Fourth of July, we are witnessing a sudden attack on law enforcement’s definition of terrorism. If the investigators conclude that the shooting incident involved terrorism, let’s all accept it and move on. If they maintain that it was an isolated incident, expect a widening of the debate on the methodology on classification of violent acts.

At the root of that debate, I believe, is the deeper problem of how our society has politicized and exploited violence and its painful aftermath.

When police charged the Jewish Defense League’s Irv Rubin last fall with attempting to bomb our office, the King Fahd mosque in Culver City and the office of Congressman Darryl Issa, the federal authorities avoided calling it terrorism. It was a bomb plot and the charges centered on the possession of explosives. The president did not issue any statement to the nation as he did for the LAX shooting. In fact, the Jewish Defense League is still not listed as a terrorist organization. Where were the brave voices speaking out against political correctness then?

In another landmark case reported in The New York Times on June 24, a federal judge dismissed charges against seven members of the Mujahedeen El Khalq (MEK), a pro-Marxist terrorist organization established to overthrow the current Iranian regime. The group was charged with aiding terrorist groups by soliciting donations at airports. The judge asserted that MEK’s civil rights were violated when they could not defend themselves against the State Department’s assertion that they were a terrorist group in the agency’s listing. Members of Congress even passed a resolution in solidarity with the MEK after the Clinton administration placed the group on its terrorist list. Congress was never accused of aiding and abetting terrorists.

Should the same standard apply for the three American Muslim charities shut down last fall as a result of the government’s freeze of their assets? Of course, the MEK story did not stir up any debate, because these terrorists are working for the Western geopolitical interests against a Muslim country. Selective justice is injustice — it does not help us in the war on terror and continues to project the image that the United States is anti-Islam.

Other cases involving violence against ethnic groups could have been used as political footballs. An Egyptian storeowner was killed weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, but the authorities did not classify it as a hate crime or a terrorist attack. The U.S. Government never considered it terrorism when black churches were torched throughout the South.

If a group of Muslims were caught storing arms to ship to the Kashmiris, for example, I’m sure there would be a national uproar about it as another chapter in the war on terror. It’s not just a matter of arresting and prosecuting the criminals, but how it is played out in the court of public opinion that leaves deep impressions in our society.

American Jews celebrate the fact that their children defer going to college in order to serve in the Israeli army, but American Muslims are chastised if they recruit any of their youth to join the Palestinians, or are called terrorist sympathizers for giving money to the refugees of war-torn countries.

Whether violence is committed by groups or individuals, our job as leaders in the Muslim and Jewish communities is to diminish — not exacerbate hatred; there is an alarming trend from those who jump on opportunities to score more political points against one another at the expense of human relations.

I can understand the hysteria surrounding the Middle East conflict. Public policymaking is not the place for allowing that hysteria to influence serious decisions.

Emotionalism has negatively impacted Muslim-Jewish dialogue throughout the United States and in Los Angeles. But those who have managed to endure these oppositional forces will, in the long-run, be the pioneers of fostering mutual trust between the two communities. Those who have left the dialogue usually have done so in a circus atmosphere to demonstrate zeal to the right-wing members of their constituencies.

We passed the test from the LAX shooting, because of the leadership of a handful of Muslims and Jews, but more tests will follow. We all have to deal with the realities of extremism today and the violent acts emanating from it.

A violent crime that takes the life of innocent people is bad enough. But to be so adamant about, and outraged over, the labeling of the crime does not serve anyone’s interest. To the valiant spokespeople who want to promote the war on terrorism in their selective application of terrorism: Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. And then you will have to recoil to your corners when the double-edged sword of the terrorism debate swings the other way.

Shooting in Cheviot Hills


A dispute between two groups of young Persian men, one Jewish, one Muslim, erupted in a shooting at Cheviot Hills Park the night of June 3.

Approximately 40 young men gathered in a back parking lot at the park, reportedly to resolve an ongoing dispute. Witnesses interviewed by police say the two groups had agreed before meeting not to bring any weapons. But a verbal argument quickly escalated into a brawl, and at around 10:30 p.m., shots were fired.

The shooting is reportedly the result of an ongoing dispute between two small Persian groups in Westwood — one Jewish, the other Muslim. Witnesses interviewed by police described arguments and a fistfight over the past few weeks and an alleged incident in which the group of Muslim men spit on a rabbi in Westwood.

The victim’s brother, Aaron Sinai, says he and the victim first met the suspected shooter about two months ago, during a weekend basketball game at Emerson Middle School’s courts, where an argument broke out over who would play next. The animosity between the Muslim and Jewish groups reportedly escalated over the following weeks, culminating in the spitting on the rabbi and finally the shooting.

The park’s field supervisor, Sean Caster, was at the park removing bases from the baseball fields when he noticed the fight and went to call 911. While waiting to be connected, Caster reported hearing at least three gunshots. Caster, a former lance corporal in the Marine Corps, identified the first two shots as "small arms," most likely a .25-caliber handgun, and the third "sounded like a shotgun." Caster rushed to clear other patrons out of the park, and, seeing a group carrying the wounded man, drove the victim in a golf cart to the front parking lot, where he was taken by ambulance to UCLA Medical Center.

Suspected shooter Jansha Cohen, 25, arrested by police at the park and positively identified by numerous witnesses, has been charged with attempted murder. He is being held on $2 million bail and is scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing on Jan. 19.

Victim Farzad Sinai, 19, who is Jewish, is in stable condition, after suffering two bullet wounds in the chest, one of which punctured his stomach and liver.

LAPD Detective Jim Willis says the accused shooter has official identification with the name of Cohen. However, Aaron Sinai told The Journal that he does not believe the suspect’s name is really Cohen. Police and Sinai agree that shooting suspect has multiple tattoos on his arms and chest. Sinai claims that at least one of the tattoos features Arabic writing. Attempts to confirm this at press time were not successful.

Willis recovered a handgun at the park, which is being tested to determine if it is the weapon used in the shooting. Willis believes that the incident in the park is an isolated one. "We’ve tried to connect it to a lot of other things going on, but this is not related to any other incident." The detective also said that the shooting was not being investigated as a hate crime, and that neither the Jewish nor Muslim groups of young men were "recognized criminal street gangs."

City Councilman Jack Weiss, whose 5th District includes parts of Westwood and Cheviot Hills, though it curves around the park, is concerned that the incident may signal a developing problem. "This is a Westside story straight out of ‘West Side Story’ — that’s really bizarre. Tensions may be high in other areas, other parts of the world, but I don’t believe this is representative of the level of tension in Los Angeles," Weiss said. He added that his office would continue to monitor the investigation to determine whether the violence was part of a larger conflict.

Charter Schools or Terrorist Front?


The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is investigating a link between a troubled system of charter schools in California and the Muslim terrorist organization Al-Fuqra.

Earlier this month, the ADL, through its San Francisco office, urged state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin to suspend funding and investigate the activities of GateWay Academy charter schools, claiming that the schools were linked to a terrorist network and that the organization has been violating constitutional law regarding the separation of church and state for government-funded education.

Coincidentally, yet apparently unrelated to the investigation, the Fresno Unified School District, which holds the charter for GateWay Academy’s 11 sites, voted unanimously Jan. 16 to revoke the charter, citing as support for its decision GateWay’s own documents showing that the institution was $1.3 million in debt. The board’s action cuts off all state funding for GateWay.

In addition, according to the Fresno Bee, "a 3-inch-thick district compliance report alleged that the charter schools operated in buildings without fire inspections, hired employees without required background checks, submitted questionable attendance records and failed to complete an itemized financial report."

GateWay Academy received its charter in 1998 and was supposed to open for the 1999-2000 school year but did not begin until the fall of 2000. At its peak, the schools claimed a total of about 1,000 students at 14 sites between Sunnyvale and Pomona.

However, according to Ilene Cubanski, administrator of California’s District Organization and Charter Schools Office, enrollment has dropped to 265. Cubanski also reported that during its 18 months of operation, the GateWay Academy charter schools had received more than $2 million in state funds, including a $250,000 loan.

Eastin expressed her support for Fresno Unified School District’s decision, saying, "The state has an obligation to protect taxpayer dollars and ensure that they be used both wisely and according to state law."

Regarding the ADL’s allegations of the school’s misconduct, contacts at Eastin’s office said they were not conducting any further investigation at this time.

The schools first came to the attention of the ADL late last summer.

"An article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle which indicated there were problems at the schools," said Jonathan Bernstein, director of the ADL’s San Francisco office. "In the article, they talked about [one of] the schools being located in a compound outside Fresno. That was enough for us to raise our eyebrows and start checking."

The ADL discovered the school in question was located at Baladullah, in the foothills near Fresno, and said to be an armed compound run under the auspices of the Muslims of the Americas (MOA), reportedly a virulently anti-Semitic, anti-Christian and anti-homosexual group. According to Bernstein, the MOA has been linked with Al-Fuqra, a terrorist organization that has committed firebombings and several murders in the United States and whose membership includes suspects in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

"We’ve been watching Al-Fuqra for a while," Bernstein said. He described the group as a secretive Muslim sect whose adherents were primarily African American.

"They operate out of several armed compounds around the country," he said. "Its members are on the young side and tend to come from the inner city. Many at the Fresno complex are from Los Angeles.

"They will tell you they are there to get away from the material world into a simpler life and to devote themselves to Islam, but many of the members are tied to all kinds of criminal behavior, and their literature [shows] clearly that they hate Zionists, feminists, Hindus, Christians and Americans."

In addition to concerns about the MOA acting as a front for Al-Fuqra, the ADL also objected to the GateWay schools for promoting religion in the classroom. According to reports, students would study Islam and pray in class with teachers.

"It comes down to these two issues, [that] we do not think it is right for taxpayers to support religious proselytizing, nor should they have to support a group tied to terrorist organizations," Bernstein said. "In terms of the school, there’s not as much to do now that they won’t be getting any more state funding. But we will continue to monitor the situation and work with lawmakers and other officials."

Israelis for Israel


Amidst a sea of Israeli and American flags and elongated balloons decorated with the Star of David, more than 1,000 Israeli residents of Los Angeles rallied in front of the Federal Building in Westwood on Oct. 15 to demonstrate support for their native country in the face of heightened violence and confrontations.

The mood, placards and songs at the noontime rally, watchfully monitored by police, sheriff’s deputies and private security personnel, reflected more a longing for peace than hatred of Palestinians or Arabs.

“Live and Let Live,” read one sign, while others urged “Put Down the Rocks” and “Stones Also Kill.” Only a small contingent from the Jewish Defense League demanded “Death to Arab Terrorists.”A steady stream of cars along Wilshire Boulevard noisily complied with the request “Honk to Support Israel.”

Demonstrators were confined to the sidewalk in front of the Federal Building because the rally’s sponsor, the Council of Israeli Organizations, could not obtain permits in time to access the building’s grounds or to set up a stage and sound system.

After an hour, however, police relented and the crowd quickly swarmed across the grassy grounds, set up an impromptu stage and formed hora dancing circles to the accompaniment of an accordion player. Several young Chabadniks circulated with palm fronds and citrons to mark the second day of Sukkot.

Israeli Consul General Yuval Rotem told the crowd that “At the end of the day, the Palestinians must understand that we, the Jewish people of Israel, are in our homes and that we are here to stay. …We will have to learn to live side by side.”

Across the street, some 25 Arab counter demonstrators, more than half of them women wearing head scarves, held signs proclaiming “Over 50 Percent of Palestinians Killed are Under 18” and “$5 Billion in Aid Goes to Israel Every Year.”

Their spokesman, who identified himself as Ahmed Shama, said that “Barak and Arafat are responsible for the killings. Both have sold out the Palestinians.”

Earlier last week, some 600 people joined in an Israel support rally at the West Valley Jewish Community Center on Oct. 12, while on Oct. 14, several hundred Palestinians and other Arabs demonstrated in front of the Federal Building.

On Oct. 16, a community-wide rally, sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and other organizations, was held at Sinai Temple in Westwood.

The same evening, Israelis and other Hebrew-speaking Angelenos were updated on the Middle East situation by Consul General Rotem at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.

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