French National Assembly approves $60 million Holocaust reparations fund

The French National Assembly voted to approve the creation of a $60 million fund to compensate Holocaust victims transported to Nazi camps by the state railroad SNCF.

The fund, to be administered by the United States, would compensate foreign nationals and also protect France against lawsuits filed in the United States.

The lower house of the French Parliament approved the fund on Wednesday. The French conservative opposition abstained from the vote, according to Reuters.

The fund redresses longstanding claims by survivors who were otherwise unable to obtain reparations limited to French nationals through the French pension system.

Compensation will be available to non-French nationals who are citizens of the United States and any other country that does not have a bilateral reparations agreement with France. Belgium, Poland, Britain, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have such agreements.

Surviving spouses and the estates of survivors will also be eligible. The fund could ultimately pay out to several thousand people or estates.

The plan could affect bills under consideration in a number of U.S. state legislatures that would ban any dealings with SNCF, a major exporter of rail cars, until it agreed to address lawsuits.

The French Senate will vote on the bill on July 9.

SNCF trains transported 76,000 Jews and other prisoners from the suburbs of Paris to the German border from 1942 to 1944.

Owned by the French government, SNCF says it has acknowledged the role that its wartime management played in collaborating with the Nazis and given public apologies. It also has supported memorial efforts and research of the Holocaust in France.

Palestine National Orchestra debuts

The Palestine National Orchestra performed for the first time in the Palestinian Authority and in Israel.

The orchestra made its debut in Ramallah, and then performed in eastern Jerusalem over the weekend and in Haifa on Sunday night.

“Today an orchestra, tomorrow a state,” Suhail Khoury, director of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, wrote in the program, according to the French news agency AFP.

Said, a Palestinian American and an advocate for the Palestinian cause, was a professor at Columbia University. He died in 2003.

“Today we are witnessing the birth of the Palestine National Orchestra at a time when the Palestinian struggle for independence is passing through one of its most critical and difficult moments,” Khoury also wrote. “We musicians truly believe that a state is not only about buildings and roads, but most importantly it is about its people, their values, their arts and their cumulative cultural identity.”

Each concert began with the Palestinian national anthem, AFP reported.

Nation & World Briefs

Ambulances Services Seal Deal

Israeli and Palestinian ambulance services signed an agreement they hope will ease Israel’s accession to the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement. Under Monday’s pact signed between Magen David Adom and the Palestinian Red Crescent in Geneva, Palestinian ambulances are guaranteed speedier passage through West Bank checkpoints. The move is seen as key to mollifying Arab signatories to the 1949 Geneva Conventions who might otherwise have voted against a resolution, to be discussed next week, that would introduce a nondenominational red diamond emblem to the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, as Muslim states refuse to recognize the red Star of David. Swiss officials voiced confidence that the resolution would pass votes Dec. 5 and 6.

Kadima for Palestinian State

Ariel Sharon’s new political party accepts that a Palestinian state will arise alongside Israel. The Kadima party platform, published Monday, calls for “maximum security and assuring that Israel be a Jewish national home and that another state that shall arise be demilitarized, with terrorists disarmed.” The Israeli prime minister long opposed the idea of a Palestinian state before accepting it in recent years. Addressing members of his new faction in the Knesset, Sharon said he would not rule out a future coalition with his former party, Likud, even if it is led by his right-wing rival Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I favor achieving the broadest possible unity,” Sharon said.

Israel, Germany in Holocaust Grave Probe

Israel is helping German police identify the recently discovered remains of 34 Holocaust victims. The skeletons were uncovered last September in a suburb of Stuttgart that was formerly the site of the Echterdingen concentration camp. German authorities, who have a manifest of the camp’s inmates, turned to Israel for help in identifying the bodies. Yad Vashem said Sunday it would search its Holocaust archive for information that could be of use.

“This is a very rare case a mass grave with a relatively small number of bodies, accompanied by an orderly list of Jewish prisoners who were kept there at the time,” said Nadia Cohen of Yad Vashem’s information department. “All of this allows us to turn to our database in hope of identifying some of those buried there.”

Mubarak Calls Sharon Peacemaker

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said only Ariel Sharon can bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Sharon, of all the Israeli politicians, is the only one capable of achieving peace with the Palestinians,” Mubarak said last weekend in an interview with Spain’s ABC newspaper. “He has the ability to take difficult decisions, commit to what he says and carry it out.”

Mubarak praised Sharon’s decision last week to quit the Likud party.

“I think Sharon is serious in his efforts to achieve peace. The recent progress in Israel confirms this. He has left his own party to build another more centrist one, driven by his discontent with the rigid attitudes of his party on the peace process,” he said.

Asked about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ failure to crack down on terrorist groups as required by the U.S.-led “road map” for peace, Mubarak counseled a wait-and-see attitude.

“You can’t demand now that the Palestinians disarm Hamas; it would complicate the situation,” he said. “The president is working seriously to stop the anarchy but he must be given time.”

Russian Bill Causes Alarm

Some Russian Jewish activists voiced concern that a new Russian bill on nonprofit organizations would harm Jewish groups. The bill that passed the Russian Duma on Nov. 23 would place nonprofits under greater state scrutiny. The measure could also prevent foreign nonprofits from operating branches in the country and force Russian nonprofits to reject money from abroad.

“The bill will make our life so much harder. We don’t know yet how we would operate,” said a top manager — who spoke anonymously — for a private Moscow nonprofit organization that spends most of its foreign donation money on Jewish projects.

The bill now requires two more readings in the parliament, expected to take place by the end of the year, before President Vladimir Putin can sign it into law. The lion’s share of the funding currently spent on Jewish causes in Russia comes from overseas charity sources.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


Nation & World Briefs

Reform Criticizes Iraq War

The Reform movement passed a resolution criticizing the handling of the Iraq war and seeking a partial troop withdrawal. At its biennial in Houston, The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) on Friday became the first Jewish denomination to speak out against the war. The resolution, launched at the behest of several congregations, called for more transparency and a clear exit strategy, including a partial troop withdrawal after Iraq’s parliamentary elections next month.

“This is not a just war,” Vietnam veteran Michael Rankin of Arlington, Va. said in calling for the resolution’s passage. “Was it worth the billions of dollars it cost, when the world so desperately needs food and health care for the poorest of the poor?”

Delegates had been expecting a heated, prolonged discussion prior to the vote, but less than a dozen people lined up to address the issue, and URJ officials cut off debate quickly. The measure passed overwhelmingly by a voice vote.

House Presses Saudis on Textbooks

A congressional committee has called on Saudi Arabia to reform its textbooks. Textbooks that “foster intolerance, ignorance, and anti-Semitic, anti-American, and anti-Western views” make students “prime recruiting targets of terrorists and other extremist groups,” said the resolution that the U.S. House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee referred to the full House last week.

Zarqawi: Jordan Bombings Targeted Israelis

The terrorists who struck Amman’s Radisson Hotel last week were targeting Israeli intelligence officials, terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi said. In an audio recording, Zarqawi claimed the Radisson bomber hit a hall in which the Israelis were meeting but accidentally killed scores of Jordanians, Ha’aretz reported.

“Our martyred brother’s target was halls being used at the time by intelligence officers from some of the infidel crusader nations and their lackeys,” he said. “God knows we chose these hotels only after more than two months of close observation [that proved] that these hotels had become headquarters for the Israeli and American intelligence.”

Zarqawi said Jordan was deliberately hiding Israeli and American deaths. He also threatened to decapitate Jordan’s King Abdullah II. His claim about Israeli intelligence officials is widely believed to be baseless.

E.U. OKs Border Job

The European Union authorized monitors for the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Under an agreement reached this week, the European Union will send a unit of monitors to the Rafah border terminal so Palestinians can leave and enter Gaza. The Palestinian Authority hopes that a total of 50-70 monitors ultimately will be posted at Rafah. The European Union also said it would send observers to Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections in January.

Group Blasts Ukrainian University

The Simon Wiesenthal Center called on Ukraine to rescind the accreditation of a Ukrainian university that backed a call by Iran’s president to destroy Israel. The university, known as MAUP, is known for its anti-Semitic publications.

“By supporting Ahmadinejad’s threat to Israel, MAUP’s consistent Jew-baiting now culminated in an endorsement of genocide,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The international community criticized Ahmadinejad’s comments.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency


Teens Team Up for J-Serve

Youngsters across the Southland and beyond banded together April 17 to participate in J-Serve 2005, the first-ever national day of service for Jewish teens. J-Serve, designed to correspond with Youth Service America’s National Youth Service Day, offers Jewish teens a way to get involved in tikkun olam projects in their local communities.

United Synagogue Youth’s (USY) Far West Region put more than 100 teens to work in food pantries and soup kitchens in Los Angeles, Redondo Beach, San Diego, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Tayla Silver, a Palos Verdes high school senior and the region’s social action vice president, researched and coordinated numerous volunteer opportunities for USY members in order to give them a more personal experience with this year’s educational theme of homelessness and hunger.

“It’s important for us to have hands-on experience in … projects to see how organizations work, and why our participation makes a difference for the people we’re helping,” Silver said.

She donated her time at Project Chicken Soup in Los Angeles, a Federation program that provides kosher meals and groceries to homebound AIDS patients. The volunteers started at dawn preparing meals, and then spent the afternoon delivering food and groceries, in addition to visiting with the recipients.

“I think it was incredibly valuable for us to help people face to face,” Silver said. “Meeting the people we were serving raised our awareness to a much higher level.”

In Redondo Beach, USY joined forces with the South Bay Federation’s Arachim, a program that provides eight- and ninth-graders with a series of opportunities to perform mitzvot. Fifty teens from five South Bay synagogues worked with SOVA packing Passover boxes and stocking shelves at a local food pantry.

Ami Berlin, youth activities director at Congregation Ner Tamid in Palos Verdes, was delighted to have her USY chapter participate.

“Our kids need to see that there are people who need help in their own communities,” she said. “This project made that a reality.”

Fly the Mitzvah Skies


El Al, Israel’s national airline, is the only airline that keeps kosher, observes Shabbat and even gives out doughnuts on Chanukah, but recently it has been doing other mitzvot as well.

On Nov. 3 Edith Krygier boarded an El Al flight to Los Angeles in Tel Aviv because she wanted to visit her children and grandchildren who live here. The plane stopped in Toronto, and as Krygier was standing on the jetway waiting to board again, she suffered a stroke and collapsed just a few feet from the aircraft door.

El Al immediately called an ambulance and got Krygier to the hospital, and in the meantime it also called David, Irit and Karen Krygier — Edith’s children in Los Angeles, and helped them get on a plane to Toronto. In Toronto, the El Al staff sat by Edith’s bed until her children got there, while other staff helped shuttle the children to the hospital. Stanley Morais, El Al’s general manager in Toronto, even visited Edith in hospital just to see how she was doing.

“Even the doctor and the medical staff commented that they had never seen anything like it,” David Krygier said.

Thanks to El Al’s quick action, Edith was able to recover from her stroke quickly and without side effects.

But that’s not all. In early December, some rabbis from the National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) boarded an El Al plane in New York carrying some bulky but holy hand luggage — Sefer Torahs. They were six torahs in all, the final installment of 100 torahs that NCYI brought to Israel over the past three years to donate to IDF soldiers. Not only did El Al not charge freight costs for the Torahs, but they allowed those carrying the Torahs to board first so that they could put them into closets, or on free seats if there were any available.

“From the beginning, El Al was unlike any other airline,” said Sheryl Stein, El Al’s U.S. manager of advertising and public relations. “It’s an extension of the spirit of Israel.”


Efforts Under Way to Raise Aid Funds


Local and national Jewish organizations have mobilized to help tsunami victims and invite the community to participate, as well.


American Jewish World Service partners with 22 non-government and community-based organizations in the regions affected by the tsunami and is working with them to provide emergency relief, including food, water, shelter and medicine, as well as long-term recovery and development support. 45 W. 36th St., 10th floor, New York, NY, 10018. (800) 889-7146.

Chabad House in Thailand is the only Jewish service agency in the country dealing with the catastrophe. Its three houses in Thailand have been converted into crisis centers for survivors, offering food, shelter, money for clothes and counseling, as well as free international phone calls and Internet use for survivors to contact loved ones. Write checks to American Friends of Chabad of Thailand, 96 Thanon Rambuttri, Bangkok, Thailand 10200.

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) will allocate funds it raises to partner organizations on the ground in South Asia. JDC: South Asia Tsunami Relief, Box 321, 847A Second Ave., New York, NY, 10017.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has established a special emergency fund for Southeast Asia disaster relief. All donations will be disbursed to humanitarian organizations working on the ground in the affected areas. Make checks payable to The Jewish Federation and write “Southeast Asia Relief Fund” on the memo line: 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048. (323) 761-8200.

Magen David Adom. The Israeli Red Cross has been sending medics, medical supplies and experts on body identification to Sri Lanka and Thailand. It has set up a special fund for those who wish to contribute.


The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring: Sunday, Jan. 16, 3 p.m. Tsunami benefit concert featuring classical Indian music and dance. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

Congregation Or Ami: Sunday, Jan. 30, 4-6 p.m. “Music of Or Ami” concert series presents pianist-composer Aaron Meyer, accompanied by Doug Cotler on guitar, flutist Toby Caplan-Stonefield and others. A portion of ticket sales will benefit tsunami victims. $12. 26115 Mureau Road, Calabasas. (818) 880-4880.


Temple Kol Tikvah: Friday, Jan. 7, 7 p.m. Pastor Biworo Adinata of Gereja Bethel Indonesia of Los Angeles will address the congregation and community about how to help Indonesian tsunami victims. 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.

The following organizations are collecting donations for the American Jewish World Service:

Orthodox Union,

Valley Beth Shalom, (818) 782-2281.

Pressman Academy, (310) 652-7353.


The Nation and The World


Jews up Sudan Effort

Jewish groups will launch an educational program for at-risk Sudanese children. The program will take place in Chad, home to more than 200,000 people made refugees by Janjaweed terrorists backed by the Sudanese government. The $100,000 program is funded through a grant to the Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief by the American Jewish World Service, the State of Israel, the UJA-Federation of New York, Union of Reform Judaism and United Jewish Communities of Metrowest, N.J.

Israeli Coalition Close

Ariel Sharon hopes to unveil Israel’s new government next week. Political sources said Monday that talks between the Israeli prime minister’s Likud Party and the influential Orthodox party Shas were close to fruition and that a new, broad coalition would be in place within a week. The main opposition Labor Party already is on board, though it remains unclear how many Cabinet portfolios it will get. Media reports said Sharon had wooed Shas by vowing to undo anti-religious legislation pursued by his former coalition partner, the secularist Shinui Party. Another religious party, United Torah Judaism, may also join the government in a bid by Sharon to offset Labor’s bargaining power.

Prisoner Release Seen

Israel plans to release dozens of Palestinian security prisoners. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Cabinet decided Sunday to create a ministerial committee that would decide which prisoners will go free and when, on condition none is serving time for terrorist attacks that killed Israelis. Jerusalem officials said the move was part of an agreement with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak under which Azzam Azzam, an Israeli accused of espionage, was granted early release from a Cairo prison last week.

Doctors Strike for Safety

Israeli doctors went on a one-day strike to protest a wave of attacks on hospital staff. Sunday’s action was declared after relatives of an elderly patient at a Tel Aviv hospital set upon and moderately injured her doctor last week. Authorities also have reported 47 attacks on Magen David Adom ambulance crews over the past year. Under the strike, only emergency care was provided at the nation’s hospitals. Health Minister Danny Naveh vowed to undertake legislation toughening laws against violence in medical institutions.

Study: Immigrants an Asset

A new study found that recent North American immigrants to Israel are a major economic asset to the Jewish state. Each adult North American immigrant represents about $200,000 in value to the Israeli economy upon his or her arrival, according to a study commissioned by Nefesh & Nefesh, a grassroots organization that encourages North American aliyah. The findings of the report and the announcement that almost 3,000 North American Jews immigrated to Israel in 2004 a 20 percent increase from last year – were presented at a news conference Tuesday sponsored by Nefesh & Nefesh and the Jewish Agency for Israel, which works with the private group.

Jewish Music Gets Grammy Nods

A Jewish music organization received two Grammy nominations. The Milken Archive of American Jewish Music received nods in the best small-ensemble performance category for its “Wyner: The Mirror; Passover Offering, Tants un Maysele;” and for David Frost for classical producer of the year, for five Milken CDs: “Adolphe: Ladino Songs;” “Brubeck: Gates of Justice;” “Genesis Suite;” “Jewish Operas Vol. 1;” and “Wyner: The Mirror; Passover Offering, Tants un Maysele.” The Milken Archive began releasing music in 2003.

French Ban Hezbollah Station

A French court ordered a satellite company to cease broadcasts from Hezbollah’s TV station. In its decision Monday, the Council of State, France’s highest administrative court, gave the Eutelstat satellite provider 48 hours to end the broadcasts. Failure to do so would result in a fine of around $6,500 for every day the channel continues to broadcast. Eutelstat hosts the channel, which broadcasts throughout the 25-member European Union. Among various claims in recent Al-Manar programs was the accusation that Jews spread AIDS in Arab countries. In the ruling, the court said that Al-Manar programs “fall within a militant perspective which includes anti-Semitic connotations.”

The American Jewish Committee recently wrote to U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow asking that Al-Manar be banned in the United States under existing counterterrorism legislation or by executive order.

Jews Take Sides on Commandments Case

Several Jewish groups are taking sides on a pending case at the U.S. Supreme Court on the public display of the Ten Commandments. A coalition of Jewish groups filed an amicus brief Monday on the case, Van Orden v. Perry, which involves a granite monument on the Texas State Capitol grounds. The brief suggests the monument violates the separation of church and state and shows an “unacceptable preference for Judeo-Christian faiths.” The brief is authored by the American Jewish Congress and signed by the American Jewish Committee, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Union of Reform Judaism, Americans for Religious Liberty and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. A separate brief submitted Monday by the Anti-Defamation League also asks the court to rule the commandments are unconstitutional; Hadassah also weighed in. The National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs, which represents the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, is expected to file a brief in the near future supporting the display as constitutional and endorsing its religious pronouncements.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


Campers Display the Write Stuff

Almost every summer day, the Malibu Post Office receives a large amount of mail from the several hundred Jewish campers at Camp Hess Kramer and Camp JCA Shalom, a lot of them letters home written by girls.

When the 13-year-old girls at Hess Kramer’s Cabin Rachel were asked if girls enjoy writing letters more than boys, the entire cabin shouted, “Yes!”

Letters from Jewish summer camps have not changed much since 1963, when Allan Sherman recorded the classic song, “Hello Muddah! Hello Faddah!” Kids still write about what they had for lunch, what their cabin is like and their bunkmates. Though a national Web site allows one-way e-mails from parents to kids, Jewish summer camps still expect campers to write their folks the old-fashioned way — with pen, paper, stamps and envelopes.

“This is my seventh year going to camp; last year, I had to write like one every week, and the year before, I tried to write one every couple of days,” said Hess Kramer veteran, Aaron, at 14 a part of the hipster crew at Cabin Jerry (actually Cabin Jeremiah). “Each year, I’ve written like less and less. We’ve matured, and we can handle being away from our family better.”

The girls of Cabin Rachel know that quality paper is a must for a nice letter home.

“I have Winnie the Pooh stationery,” Megan, 13, said.

“Polka-dots,” a friend said.

“Hello Kitty,” another volunteered.

One girl had two sets of stationery, and another had six.

“Boys don’t even know what a letter is,” Leah, 13, said.

“I really like to write long letters, because I can’t talk to them over the phone,” Carly, 13, said. “I love to tell my parents like everything that … I’ve done in the day.”

Care packages from home included shirts and candy.

“Girls love stuff,” said Blake, 13, whose parents sent her Cosmo Girl, now part of the Cabin Rachel library of Teen People, Teen Vogue, Seventeen, etc.

“The more I write, the more stuff I get,” one girl said .

In a world of junk mail overflowing in real and electronic mailboxes, Sara, 16, a Hess Kramer counselor in training, said, “There’s something about getting a letter that’s addressed to you.”

“E-mail gets annoying,” Carly said, “but letters, like they don’t get old.”

With so much Jewish summer camp mail flowing into the Malibu Post Office, “sometimes letters go out and take a week to get places,” said Howard Kaplan, Hess Kramer executive director.

One solution for concerned parents is the Web site, through which parents can send their kids e-mails, but their kids can only reply by regular mail.

While the Wilshire Boulevard Temple-run Hess Kramer hugs the Ventura County line near Malibu’s northern beaches, Camp JCA Shalom is close but requires a nerve-testing drive through empty, mountainous stretches of Mulholland Highway.

Once past its large Hebrew script gate greeting, Camp JCA Shalom has an almost hippie-like casualness. Jewish kids from throughout the Western United States converge at the camp, many wearing or making Grateful Dead-inspired tie-dyed shirts.

Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute, which runs Camp JCA Shalom, said a rule of thumb with camp letter writing is that if kids are not writing to their parents every day, that may be a sign that they are busy and happy.

Here, too, middle school-age girls rule Camp JCA Shalom’s letter-writing culture. The nondenominational camp also finds some campers writing in Cyrillic script. Of the 11 girls in this summer’s Cabin G-5 Survivors, six were from Ukrainian or Russian Jewish families.

“I wrote about five letters in Russian,” said Diana, 12, who had just received a one-page letter written alternately by her mother and father.

Among the 10- and 11-year-old boys in Cabin B-4 Shizzles, postcards were preferred over letters, partly to avoid wasting time during summer camp’s short but memorable window of fun.

“We’re brothers for three weeks,” Austin 10, said. “Everyone in our cabin is like our family, our second family.”

“We’re never homesick!” shouted another B-4 Shizzles camper.

In Cabin G-5 Survivors, Mylan, 12, wrote 10 letters in three weeks. “I’ve written some to my parents so they don’t worry about me,” she explained.

Alissa, also 12, said she writes her own letters, but said that for her younger brother who’s also at the camp, “my mom has to pre-write all the letters and put stamps on them — he writes the letters but [not] the envelopes.”

That afternoon’s mail call included a letter from Alissa’s parents — about one-and-a-half ink-jet-printed pages. Spilling out of the envelope as she opened it were small silver and blue Star of David stickers, which she shared with her camp friends.

Democratic Races Poses Hard Choices

Jewish voters are an important constituency in national elections, concentrated in such electoral vote-rich states as California, New York, Florida and Illinois. However, they are even more important in the struggle for the Democratic presidential nomination, comprising an important share of the vote in key Democratic primaries. For Jewish Democrats, the 2004 nomination race is providing some very difficult choices.

While a majority of Jewish voters are Democrats, they are not always pleased with the most liberal choice on the menu. That dynamic is multiplied when Jewish voters question the commitment of the candidate to core Jewish concerns: opposition to anti-Semitism and support for Israel.

If the Democrats nominate a presidential candidate who is a strong supporter of core Jewish issues, the Democrats should be able to count on Jewish voters against President Bush, a very conservative Republican incumbent. On most issues, Bush offers almost nothing to Jewish voters. He is pro-life on abortion and extremely conservative on just about everything else.

But Bush has worked hard to woo the most pro-Israel elements in the Jewish community with his largely uncritical support of the Likud Party’s approach to diplomacy and with his vision of remaking the map of the Middle East. For that reason alone, Democrats cannot take Jewish voters for granted in 2004.

Jewish voters view national security issues through a special lens. To Jews, an America strong in world affairs is a critical element in Israel’s survival. A guilty, cautious America is not good for Israel.

While Jews are unlikely to be impressed by Bush’s swaggering, unilateralist foreign policy, Jewish voters will not be comfortable with a weak United States that equivocates in its support of Israel. If America as bully is the only strong America being offered, it may be a reluctant but appealing choice.

In both 1972 and 1980, Jewish voters strayed from their historic loyalty to Democratic presidential candidates. In 1972, George McGovern was seen as weak on foreign policy. By contrast, Richard Nixon’s strong support of Israel pulled some Jewish voters away from the Democrats.

In 1980, Jimmy Carter, despite his great success in the Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, was seen by many Jewish voters as trying too hard for "balance" in the Middle East. He lost a bloc of Jewish voters to a more pro-Israel candidate, Ronald Reagan.

With Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 1992 and 1996, the Democrats restored Jewish support to nearly FDR levels. Both were centrists, with strong records of support for Israel.

President George H.W. Bush had unnerved Jews by portraying himself as the victim of a pro-Israel lobby, and anti-Jewish comments attributed to presidential adviser James Baker added to the negative impression.

Unlike his father, the current president will leave no daylight between himself and Israel’s government. Therefore, Democrats have to be particularly sure to hew to the Clinton-Gore approach that begins with strong support for Israel but a more nuanced, diplomatic approach to Middle East politics than Bush offers. Let Bush have the far right on Israel, and let the Democrats hold the center and the left.

For this reason, the surge of Howard Dean to the leadership of the Democratic field is disturbing to some Democratic activists. Dean is a genuine phenomenon, born of the reluctance of Democratic leaders in Washington, D.C., to aggressively challenge Bush after he took power in 2001.

A steaming, boiling well of grass-roots rage at Bush has been left to stew for three years, without a voice in the nation’s capitol. Dean was the only candidate to grab hold of that feeling, and he is riding its power into a nearly commanding position in the nominating race.

Dean’s comment that the United States "ought not to take sides" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may have been meant as a contrast with Bush’s hard-line approach, but to many Jewish voters, it will smack of McGovern and Carter. Dean’s comments earned him an unusual rebuke from 34 members of Congress. If he is going to avoid taking the party to another landslide defeat, Dean will have to more fully develop these early views and to understand how words like "balanced" resonate with Jewish voters.

The rest of the field has plenty of choices with whom Jewish voters will be comfortable: Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Rep. Dick Gephardt, Sen. John Kerry and retired Gen. Wesley Clark. It seems quite trendy this year to have Jewish relatives: Kerry’s grandfather, Clark’s father, Dean’s wife and of course Lieberman’s whole family.

But right now there are too many candidates to effectively block Dean. If one alternative to Dean emerges once the primaries are under way, then Jewish voters may become pivotal in determining the nomination.

In Florida, Clinton dispatched Paul Tsongas in 1992 by letting elderly Jewish voters know about his opponent’s views on Social Security and Medicare. The Medicare issue may also hurt Dean, but he is much stronger than Tsongas, and there is no Clinton in the race.

Any alternative to Dean, however, must be able to energize the Democratic grass roots as powerfully as Dean has, by a scathing attack on the Bush administration, while maintaining the Clinton-Gore center-left stance on foreign policy and the Mideast. Electability, alone. will not be enough and has surely been insufficient for Lieberman.

Even if Dean wins the nomination, it is not too late for him to avoid being tarred with the brush of McGovernism. He can work hard to reassure Jewish voters — and, in fact, all voters — of his stance on foreign policy and the Mideast. A strong America, but not a bullying unilateralist America, is still an appealing vision that a Democrat can run on.

While Jewish votes are not enough to hand the presidency to a Democrat, no Democrat will even be competitive if Jewish voters are lukewarm or worse. How the Democratic candidates deal with the Jewish community will tell us a lot about whether they are ready to take power from the Republicans in 2004.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political science professor at California State University, Fullerton.

No Jewish Child Left Behind

Amid the troubling statistics of the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, there is one genuinely positive trend. The percentage of children in Jewish day schools is the highest it’s ever been. Twenty-nine percent of Jewish children today have attended a day school at some point.

Many Jewish parents have recognized that a day school education can give their kids the strong identity and sense of rootedness that they need to navigate an increasingly complex world.

There is no greater measure of a grass-roots phenomenon than the fact that such a large percentage of Jews are willing to shell out upwards of $10,000 to $15,000 (after taxes) a year from their own pockets to finance their children’s Jewish education. The current generation of young parents is trying to embrace day schools as never before. Sadly, however, everyone cannot afford day school. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish children whose families are not religiously committed or very rich are still being left behind. They just don’t have enough money to pay the high cost of day school tuition.

As young families try to vote with their feet; communal philanthropies are woefully lagging far behind.

Notwithstanding the countless commissions that have produced endless dialogue and flatulent institutional rhetoric, there has been no massive infusion of cash to help boost this positive trend in Jewish life. Philanthropies shrug their collective shoulders and claim that there are other existing priorities that must be met. Meanwhile, they are failing to cultivate this healthy new shoot of Jewish life.

Funding Jewish education can no longer be borne solely by the parents. As tuitions are doubling every eight years, fewer and fewer families can afford to educate their children Jewishly. The user-payer model of teaching our children about their heritage is bankrupt.

It is in the entire Jewish community’s self interest to have the next generation of Jewish children literate in our heritage, history and understanding of Torah values. Statistics have conclusively illustrated that children of intermarried and assimilated families do not support Jewish institutional life. Lack of adequate Jewish education funding is becoming a spiritual euthanasia. If existing philanthropies will not or cannot redirect funds to help our own children, new options must be sought and pursued.

In an attempt to solve this extraordinary funding crisis, a movement is fomenting across North America. The idea is simple and direct: Establish locally controlled and managed Superfunds for Jewish Education and Continuity (SJEC) that would raise money to provide scholarship funds for all students in that community. The raised money would be distributed in only one of two avenues.


• The scholarship money would be distributed on a pro rata basis to all of the day schools in the local area, based on their respective enrollment in kindergarten through 12th grade.


• The donor can designate a particular school or schools. The donor’s request would always be honored and would take precedence over the first option.

As an added encouragement for people to give, each superfund would have an affiliated Ben Gamla Society of donors which would match every donation with an additional 10 percent incentive gift. The goal is very simple: Every Jewish child should be able to attend a high quality day school that has an affordable tuition, irrespective of the family’s stream of religious affiliation or financial resources.

In Chicago, SJEC has just begun to organize and commitments to establish the Ben Gamla Society of Chicago have already been made to match 10 percent of a $2 million scholarship fund.

Critics will argue that we don’t need another Jewish fundraising organization. While it is true that the existing philanthropies provide much-needed assistance in many deserving areas of social welfare, the costs of education are not being adequately served. And it is unlikely that existing philanthropies will commence a systemic overhaul of their funding priorities. Most institutions are too entrenched in their political culture to rethink themselves; however, business cannot continue as usual.

Others will argue that day schools are an Orthodox issue. But increasing enrollment in community day schools over the last decade belies this claim. In addition, distinguishing users by denomination is discriminatory and inflammatory.

We must recognize that every Jewish child deserves a chance to love their Jewishness and that it is a communal responsibility to provide our children with those educational opportunities. If we don’t, for most of us, intensive Jewish education will only be available to the rich.

George D. Hanus is chairman of the Jewish Broadcasting Network.

Helluva Ball Club

First in war. First in peace. Last in the American League. —
Legendary pundit remark about the old Washington Senators (later the Texas
Rangers, formerly owned by President Bush).

There is something about baseball, war and
commanders-in-chief that eternally binds us to our national pastime. Presidents
want the baseball teams to play, and the fans want to take their minds off of
wars, economic problems and domestic troubles. So it’s a win-win situation.

Such is baseball, where hope springs eternal. It is FDR
throwing out one of his 11 first pitches on opening day during the Great
Depression and later during World War II. A confident JFK in 1963 — just six
months after the Cuban Missile Crisis and seven months before his assassination
— is seen smiling in a famous photo tossing out the first pitch in Washington.

No matter how intense world affairs are, there is something
comforting and consistent about baseball, and it even gives the president a
moment of relief from pressing issues.

For this die-hard Angels fan, 2002 helped me through a most
difficult period in my own life. The Angels captured their first World Series
title. I could now fully understand why even presidents have found it so
necessary to take a moment to enjoy this relaxing, yet emotion-filled sport.

I have followed the Angels since they were known as the Los
Angeles Angels and played in Dodger Stadium. There are not too many of us who
have rooted for President Richard Nixon’s favorite team.

Even fewer Jews — and they love their baseball anywhere,
anytime — dared trek to the then very WASPish and John Birch Society Orange
County in the early years to see the Angels. The team moved to Anaheim (a city
named by a German Jewish landowner in honor of a burg in his native country) in
1966, when the trees were orange, the people white and Disneyland was the
greatest place on Earth.

The only angels Jews have faith in are Michael, Gabriel,
Raphael and Uriel from our bedtime prayers. From the perspective of the Jewish
baseball fan, his or her loyalty has mostly belonged to the Dodgers.

Arguably, they have traditionally been Jewish America’s
team. When they played in Brooklyn, they had more than a million Jews pulling
for them.

They appealed to the Jews’ love of the underdog and
seemingly had the only fans to yell with joy about the arrival of the first
black major league player — Jackie Robinson — who made his debut significantly
on Passover Eve 1947, the festival of freedom from bondage.

A decade later and a transfer to Los Angeles, along comes a
shy, soft-spoken lefty named Sandy Koufax. He was a representative of
everything a Jewish fan most admired. He was handsome with his pronounced left
dimple, intelligent, tall and a mensch on and off the field.

 A proud Jew, Koufax wouldn’t pitch in the first game of the
World Series in 1965 because it fell on Yom Kippur. He made up for his
adherence to a higher calling in synagogue by pitching brilliantly on just two
days’ rest between starts to give the Dodgers the championship.

Then the unthinkable happened. Koufax broke his covenant
with the Dodgers in February over an untrue gossip item that appeared in a New
York newspaper that happens to also be owned by the same company that controls
the Dodgers. That piece angered Koufax, not to mention his legion of loyal

So what are Jewish fans to do about the divorce between
Koufax and the Dodgers? Short of a Shawn Green 50-homer season, fans might want
to look down I-5 and take a serious look at my Angels.

It may seem like eating brisket on white bread, but there
are a lot of hidden Jewish Angel connections both now and in their virtually
unknown past.

The media played up the fact that the Angels are playing for
the “Singing Cowboy in the Sky,” the late Gene Autry, their longtime owner who
could never quite bring the team to the pennant.

That was until a new owner came in 1999 from the Magic
Kingdom. Michael D. Eisner, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Co., who grew
up in Manhattan rooting for the Yankees, bought the Angels. He completely
overhauled the team like the prince in the “Beauty and the Beast.” This team is
a Walt Disney production all the way.

Last year’s team included two Jewish players — pitchers Al
Levine and Scott Schoeneweis. To give you an idea of how significant a
milestone this is, most teams don’t have even one Jewish player. The most Jews
a team has ever had on its roster at one time was four (the Los Angeles Dodgers
once had three — Sandy Koufax and the brothers Larry and Norm Sherry from

If Major League Baseball had been more willing to just say
no to then-Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley in 1960, a group of high-profile
Jewish investors — not Autry — would have been the original owners of the
Angels. Angel fans would probably not have had to wait so long for a pennant.

Here’s the inside story: In 1960, Hank Greenberg, another
prominent Jewish baseball star from an earlier era, put a syndicate together to
establish and purchase a Los Angeles-based American League expansion team.
O’Malley, the Dodgers’ owner, feared Greenberg and didn’t want an American
League team in Los Angeles at all.

Greenberg would have put together a ball club that would
seriously compete against the Dodgers in a short time on both the playing field
and at the box office, and O’Malley knew it. As an executive, Greenberg helped
bring a world championship to Cleveland in 1948 and a pennant to the Chicago
White Sox in 1959.

From 1958-60, O’Malley’s Dodgers were broadcast on Gene
Autry’s radio station, 710 AM, but O’Malley complained he couldn’t hear the
games from his Los Angeles-area mountaintop home.

That ended O’Malley’s and Autry’s radio partnership but not
their “friendship.” O’Malley quietly arranged with the lords of baseball to transfer
the ownership option of the nascent Angels to an owner that couldn’t win. Thus,
Greenberg was “traded” for Autry.

The Angels would never seriously compete against O’Malley’s

So, as it says in Ecclesiastes, “futility of futilities.”
Years of near misses, last-place finishes, murders, suicides, sudden deaths of
players and guns in the clubhouse between feuding teammates became the norm.

While I am not suggesting that Jewish fans change their
allegiance (I like the Dodgers, too), people should realize that Autry’s Angels
actually had more Jewish players and executives in their history, even though
it didn’t help:


Jewish Vodka Rocks in Russia

As Russia celebratesthe 500th year of its unofficial national beverage, Yevreskaya Vodka — or Jewish Vodka — is succeeding with Russians by emphasizing Jewish religion and culture. Yevreskaya sells in Moscow at about $2 for a pint — a medium-priced vodka by local standards. The Urozhai distillery, located in a village five miles outside of Moscow, first put Yevreskaya on the market six years ago.

Sales have been brisk since then, distillery managers say.

“This is one of our most popular brands,” said Valery Gorbatenkov, brand director of the distillery. Urozhai also makes cheaper brands and some premium vodkas that compete for the high end of the Russian market.

Yevreskaya is the distillery’s only brand produced under rabbinical supervision. There are several other kosher vodkas produced by a distillery in Birobidzhan — which Stalin declared an autonomous Jewish region in 1934 — but none sell as well as Yevreskaya.

In fact, most rabbis agree that all unflavored vodkas are kosher.

“People like to buy kosher vodka, though many people would buy vodka without kosher supervision,” said Pinchas Goldschmidt, Moscow’s chief rabbi, who issues kosher certification for Yevreskaya.

Yevreskaya features its rabbinical approval and “Jewish content” as part of its marketing strategy. The words “Jewish” and “kosher” are the central elements of the bottle’s design.

The white labels are laden with Jewish symbols and imagery — Hebrew letters, a menorah, a photo of the interior of the Moscow Choral Synagogue and another photo of an Orthodox rabbi and a Jew in a white yarmulke standing next to the portrait of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Gera Benkovich, a Moscow businessman, credits himself with the idea that launched Yevreskaya. A few years ago, he noticed that a guest at a party he was attending, an Orthodox rabbi, didn’t drink the vodka that was being served.

So he suggested the idea of a kosher brand to a Jewish friend, Yuri Manilov, president of the Urozhai distillery.

Like all traditional unflavored brands, Yevreskaya is made from grain spirits and spring water.

At the traditional 40 percent alcohol, it is more mellow that some other brands in its category, the distillery workers say, because of one ingredient not found in most other vodkas: dry bread extract — kosher, of course — purchased through a Moscow synagogue.

“We have noticed such an interest in our kosher production that we have started thinking about expanding this line,” Gorbatenkov said.

The distillery has recently registered its rights to a new vodka label — appropriately called L’Chaim.

Tough Times for the Religious Right

It may be the worst of times for Christian right groups — which could be good news for Jewish leaders.

The Christian Coalition, once a surging force in state and national politics, is in disarray, and a leadership vacuum threatens the group’s hard-won gains. In the 106th Congress, there’s clear evidence of slippage, and the candidates who have targeted conservative Christian voters in the race for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination can’t seem to climb out of the single digits.

But while the religious right is down, it’s not out, warn political scientists and political activists alike. The setbacks of the past two years could turn 2000 into a make-or-break year for the movement. Already, there are indications that leaders of major groups are planning to go all out next year to reverse their slide.

There has been an unremitting stream of bad news for this righteous army — self-righteous, critics contend. It lost big last year when Congress failed to pass a school-prayer constitutional amendment, a top priority for the Christian Coalition and others.

Religious conservatives tied up funding for the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund by attaching anti-abortion language to appropriations bills, but they were surprisingly unsuccessful in passing legislation to curb abortion here.

School vouchers, a goal they share with some Orthodox Jewish groups, edged forward slightly, but the major strides that religious leaders and their congressional flock expected failed to materialize.

Republicans lost ground in last year’s congressional elections, in part because of a widespread backlash against the most extreme elements of the Christian right and their friends in the Republican leadership. The November debacle triggered this year’s wave of change in the GOP, including the rising influence of a cadre of pragmatic Republican governors interested less in political sermonizing than in governing.

The shift is also reflected in the early handicapping of the 2000 presidential nomination battle.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, conservative but also pragmatic, is a clear front-runner; Sen. John Ashcroft, R- Mo., the early favorite of many Christian right leaders, dropped out months ago. Other candidates with strong support in that political sector, including columnist Pat Buchanan, Family Research Council director Gary Bauer, magazine magnate Steve Forbes and former Vice President Dan Quayle are stuck at the bottom of the opinion surveys — way at the bottom.

The failure of the effort to impeach President Clinton was so demoralizing that Free Congress Foundation President Paul Weyrich urged followers to drop out of politics entirely and focus instead on building their communities from within.

John Green, a University of Akron political scientist who studies the religious right, said: “There is a strong sense of disarray within the movement. We see it in the internal problems the Christian Coalition is facing and in the increasing conflict among groups.”

The Christian right has been hurt by the absence of strong leaders capable of uniting feuding groups and extending the movement’s appeal, he said, and by the failure to distinguish between the legitimate social critics in the religious right ranks and the outright zanies.

But it would be a mistake to write these groups off, Green warned.

“I don’t think the game is over, but it could be after 2000,” he said. “Many of the activists really believe that will be the make-or-break year. They’re willing to give the strategy they’ve been following for two decades one more chance.”

If the Republicans lose Congress and fail to gain control of the White House next year, he said, “many in the movement will probably decide to follow Weyrich’s advice and go back to saving souls instead of playing politics.”

But he pointed to last week’s announcement that the Christian Coalition will spend an unprecedented $21 million on the 2000 elections and distribute 75 million voters guides as evidence that key leaders do not intend to go down without a fight.

“Weyrich is saying it’s time to drop out, but Robertson is saying, we’re having a bad year, so let’s dig in and do better,” he said.

The Christian Coalition and other groups remain strong in many state capitals, where their grass-roots networks have focused more on nitty-gritty issues such as education policy and taxes, and they still have a strong fund-raising base.

In Congress, Green said, the reduced Republican margin and the fear of a voter backlash make it even less likely the religious conservatives will pass some of the key items on their legislative agenda.

“The [congressional] leadership is very intent on showing they can produce things that voters want — which means staying away from the divisive social issues,” he said.

But Jewish activists say even a fragmented, battered Christian right could cook up some Capitol Hill surprises this year, especially if they limit themselves to smaller initiatives.

“We shouldn’t forget that they continue to have attentive audiences in the top House and Senate leaders,” said David Harris, Washington representative for the American Jewish Congress. “When you start to look away, that’s the moment they become the most dangerous.”

The Visitor

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is due in town next week for critical discussions on Palestinian statehood. As usual, his arrival will touch off fierce debate in the Jewish world and rhetorical barrages from Capitol Hill.

Washington sources say a deal is in the works to defer a unilateral statehood declaration on May 4, when the Oslo interim period expires. Arafat will reportedly settle for a U.S. promise to press hard for implementation of October’s Wye River agreement and for accelerated final-status talks — but only after the May 17 elections in Israel and the creation of a new government.

There will be no concrete U.S. promise to support statehood at a later date, sources here say.

The Resolution

In the midst of the complex statehood negotiations, Congress was busy fast-tracking a resolution that restates long-standing U.S. policy which opposes a unilateral declaration. The nonbinding measure passed the Senate by a 98-1 vote last week; House passage was expected early this week. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) termed passage a “great victory,” and said that it would reinforce “the most fundamental principle of the peace process — that peace must be achieved through direct negotiations, not unilateral actions,” according to executive director Howard Kohr.

But pro-peace-process activists termed the resolution a pre-emptive strike aimed at crippling the administration’s ability to mediate.

“There’s nothing new about such one-sided rhetoric,” said Thomas Smerling, Washington director for the Israel Policy Forum, a pro-peace-process group. “The only new thing is the attempt to sell it as crucial for the peace process.”

Critics of the congressional action pointed out that even though the resolution condemned only a unilateral declaration, numerous newspaper and wire-service stories ran headlines that suggested that lawmakers had shut the door on any process which would result in Palestinian statehood.

In the Zone

Natan Sharansky, Israel’s Trade and Industry minister, came to Washington this week with a overloaded to-do list. Right at the top: the announcement of a second duty-free trade zone along the border between Israel and Jordan. That means that goods manufactured in the Gateway Industrial Park, one of the tangible benefits of the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty, can enter this country duty-free.

The first “Qualifying Industrial Zone,” in Irbid, Jordan, “now includes more than 50 factories, including a textile factory with a direct American stake,” said U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky at Monday’s signing.

Sharansky also inked an agreement to expand cooperation between the two countries in the fight against price-fixing and other illegal trade practices.

That’s a particularly sensitive area because of
growing conflict over charges the Israeli government has not done enough to stop compact disk and software piracy.

Facing Off

Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov is due in Washington next week for a round of meetings, and he’ll be greeted by Jewish groups upset about resurgent anti-Semitism in his country.

During his visit this week, Sharansky, a former prisoner of conscience, urged stronger American action in response to resurgent anti-Semitism in Russia.

That plea will be reinforced by a number of Jewish groups. On Thursday, a delegation of Jewish officials, led by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, were to meet with the Russian leader.

“We plan to raise all of the relevant issues, from the rise in anti-Semitism to the ongoing problems of the transfer of military technology to Iran,” said Mark Levin, NCSJ’s executive director.

Quayle’s Obstacle

Former Vice President Dan Quayle is hot on the trail of the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, and lining up Jewish support and Jewish money is part of his early strategy.

But that could be difficult after this week’s announcement of the co-chairs of his campaign organization. Leading the list: John Sununu, White House chief of staff under President Bush. During the Bush administration, Sununu, an Arab-American, was regarded in pro-Israel circles as a major opponent of their agenda.

As governor of New Hampshire, Sununu was the only state chief executive who refused to sign a proclamation that called for repeal of the United Nations’ “Zionism as racism” resolution.

The other top co-chair is Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., also an Arab-American. In contrast, Abraham has been helpful to Jewish groups and is regarded as a strong supporter of Israel.

Another top member of the Quayle team: Gov. Kirk Fordice of Mississippi. Fordice, you may recall, ran afoul of Jewish groups in 1992, when he stated flatly that the United States is a Christian nation, just as Israel is a Jewish state.

When fellow Republican governors tried to temper his statement by talking about Judeo-Christian values, Fordice reportedly bristled, telling the Washington Times, “If I wanted to do that, I would have done it.”

Fordice, along with several GOP congressional leaders, has also been linked to the Council of Concerned Citizens, described by critics as a white supremacist group.