Airport planned for Israel-Jordan border clouds neighborly ties


A new airport planned by Israel near its border with Jordan is clouding the usually businesslike relationship the two neighbors have built since making peace in 1994.

Due to open next April, Ilan & Asaf Ramon Airport at Timna, in Israel's desert south, will be 10 km (6 miles) from Jordan's King Hussein International Airport. They will serve Eilat and Aqaba, the adjacent Israeli and Jordanian resort cities on the Red Sea.

Citing worry the proximity could spell dangerous disruptions to its air corridors, Amman last year complained to the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Israel said Ramon would abide by ICAO regulations and pose no safety risk. The ICAO later said Israel and Jordan were addressing the matter directly “as one would expect from two countries with a peace treaty and a wide scope of cooperation in many fields”.

Israeli Transport Minister Yisrael Katz played down the dispute with Jordan, one of two Arab states with full ties with Israel.

“There is no confrontation,” he told Reuters in an interview. “There have been discussions (and) it was agreed that we will hold a professional-level meeting. The (Ramon) airport will open, and there will be coordination of air traffic.”

Jordan sounds less upbeat, however.

“We do not want to stand in the way of Israeli projects, but we have our concerns regarding our own airport, and there is also the matter of keeping the spirit of our peace agreement,” said a Jordanian official who declined to be identified.

The official was referring to a proposal, discussed in conjunction with the treaty, of building a jointIsraeli-Jordanian airport.

Katz said such a facility was an “option” that had gone unexercised. Opened in 1972, King Hussein underwent expansions after the 1994 peace accord to meet what the airport's website said was the rising demand of air traffic. Katz said Israel was therefore free to open Ramon on its side of the border.

 

TOURISM

Jordan's concern, he suggested, was over the prospective loss of tourists to Israel. Ramon will have a 3.6-km (2.2-mile) runway able to accommodate the largest airliners while King Hussein's runway length is a more limiting 3.1 km (1.9 miles).

King Hussein currently handles around four to six takeoffs and landings a day. Israel is planning for 10 times that capacity at Ramon.

“The thing is, this (Ramon) is a big international airport, representing a mass of tourists, which is seen as possibly competing with them in tourism and such things,” Katz said.

“We will propose to them that large planes that can't land there (King Hussein) will land here. I have no problem with people going to Aqaba from there (Ramon). They can cross at Arava crossing,” he said, referring to an overland border terminal north of Eilat, a 15-km (9-mile) drive from Ramon.

Peace with Israel was never popular among ordinary Jordanians, many of whom are Palestinian, and Amman officials sometimes lament what they see as the sluggish dividends from economic cooperation with their richer neighbor.

One Jordanian official based in the Aqaba area accused Israel of building Ramon airport to “market Petra” – the nearby archaeological wonder in Jordan – for excursions by tourists who would spend the bulk of their vacation in Eilat.

“We are protecting our national tourism industry from any invasion and from selling it illegally,” said the official, who also requested anonymity.

“Now we have imposed on those coming from the (Arava) crossing to either pay sixty dinars ($85) for a one-day (visa) or spend two nights in the kingdom,” with the fee refunded, the official said.

Eilat is currently served by a small municipal airport whose planned demolition will free up real estate within view of the beach.

Named after an Israeli astronaut lost in the 2003 space shuttle disaster and his eldest son, who died in a 2009 air force accident, Ramon is envisaged as an emergency alternative to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel's main international gateway. Ben Gurion was briefed shunned by most foreign carriers due to incoming Palestinian rockets during the 2014 Gaza war.

Dutch man offers money on Facebook to kill ‘devilish’ Jewish neighbor


A Dutch man in a Facebook post offered to pay 10,000 euros, or about $11,500, to anyone willing to kill his Jewish neighbor.

The man posted the message recently, along with anti-Semitic statements, in connection with his years-long quarrel with his apartment building neighbor, Gabriela Hirschberg, and her partner, The De Telegraaf daily reported. The report did not name the man.

“I have one desire in my life: To tear out this nest of devils,” he wrote in reference to Hirschberg’s apartment. Naming his neighbors, he added, “Each head is worth 10,000 euros to me.”

The Telegraaf did not specify the anti-Semitic statements the paper reported he attached to the message.

The neighbor also wrote: “Anyone may come along as long as I have the pleasure of punching the lights out.” Facebook followers offered to come and help find “a final solution” to the problem — language that echoes Nazi rhetoric about Jews during the Holocaust.

The two neighbors have been in conflict since 2009, when Hirschberg complained to police about the neighbor for excessive noise, The Telegraaf reported. They have since filed multiple complaints against each other, including for the destruction of property.

Hirschberg told the paper she sometimes sleeps away from her apartment out of fear of her neighbors, adding that the conflict has cost her one job and caused her so much stress that it is creating medical complications. She said she is “turning it around” and that he suspects she hacked his family’s email account.

A police detective is investigating the Facebook message, a spokesman told The Telegraaf.

Neighbors oppose Chabad expansion on Pico


Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, head of Chabad of California, has a dream — a block-long, five-story “village” on Pico Boulevard that would provide a girls day school and boarding school along with affordable, safe housing for Holocaust survivors and other elderly people and for teachers with large families.

On the ground floor, retail stores — such as “milchig” and “fleishig” commissaries, a pharmacy and a clothing store selling inexpensive, modest but fashionable clothing — would serve the residents as well as the community. Beneath the proposed almost 108,000 square-foot building, 80 feet in height, would be two levels of subterranean parking.

“It will make lives easier for people, including the people down the block,” Cunin said.

But for neighbors living in the vicinity of this one-block area on the north side of Pico Boulevard, bordered by Wetherly and Crest drives as well as a back alley, the project represents anything but a dream. They envision a nightmare — a structure too massive for the 28,000-square-foot parcel of land that they believe is certain to bring more noise, traffic and trash into an already congested area.

“I don’t want a monster built right behind my back yard. It destroys my privacy. It’s outrageous,” said Mike Rafi, who lives on Wetherly Drive, one house away from the alley behind the Chabad property.

The Master Use Permit Application that Chabad of California filed on Aug. 7, 2007, for property located from 9001 to 9041 W. Pico Blvd. calls for the four buildings currently occupying that block, which is owned by Chabad, to be demolished. The proposed mixed-use development complex would include seven retail stores on the ground level; a junior high school accommodating 225 girls and high school for 200 girls on the second floor; 25 dormitory rooms housing 100 girls on the third floor; and 31 residential condominiums, one to three bedrooms, on the third, fourth and fifth floors.



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Neighbors and community advocates brought their objections before the Land Use and Economic Development Committee of the South Robertson Neighborhoods Council at meetings held on Aug. 5 and Sept. 2. The neighborhood councils, created in 1999 by the new Los Angeles City Charter, serve as advisory bodies to city council members and the mayor but have no regulatory power.

Opponents focused on the scope of the project, claiming their point was illustrated by the number of variances that Chabad is seeking, including exemptions to zoning and building requirements stipulated by the Los Angeles Municipal Code and the West Los Angeles Community Plan.

These include Chabad’s request to build to a height of 80 feet instead of the mandated height of 45 feet. The organization is also asking for a floor-to-area ratio of 3.84 to 1 in lieu of the established 1.5 to 1, which pertains to the building’s total floor area in relation to lot size.

Additionally, Chabad wants approval to provide 71 parking spaces instead of the required 168 and also wants the mandated loading space to be waived.

Chabad attorney Benjamin Reznik, a partner at Jeffer, Mangels, Butler and Marmaro, maintained that the variances are necessary because of the limitations the commercial zones impose on a building’s square footage.

“L.A. was designed and built as a commuter city where all the major boulevards — Pico, Olympic — have shallow lots that don’t lend themselves to the ability to create a mixed-use village,” he said.

He added that the limitations concern traffic and that the impact, with students who are not allowed cars and with many elderly residents who don’t drive, will be controlled.

South Robertson Neighborhoods Council’s Land Use Committee members proposed that both sides appoint representatives to meet and attempt to work out some compromises regarding size. Meanwhile, because the project is currently undergoing review by the Los Angeles City Department of Planning, with the environmental impact report expected to be released in the next week or two, the committee also proposed sending a letter to City Planning stating its opposition to the requested variances.

The motion passed unanimously at the Sept. 10 South Robertson Neighborhoods Council board meeting, held at Hamilton High School’s cafeteria.

Four community members have been selected to participate in talks with Chabad, according to community advocate Lorrie Stone, and are waiting for the next step. Cunin also confirmed that Chabad staff members will take part.

Meanwhile, Stone expressed concern by many residents dating back to 2001, when Chabad’s variance requests were approved to build the pre-kindergarten through eighth grade Bais Chaya Mushka School in the block immediately west of the proposed project.

“The zoning code exists to give us livable neighborhoods,” Stone said, adding that Chabad is not enforcing conditions that were imposed on Bais Chaya Mushka.

“All drop off and pick up is supposed to be on school grounds, but parents are totally parking on neighborhood streets,” Stone said. “They bring snacks for their children and change diapers, leaving the trash and diapers on the sidewalks.”

Cunin has recently hired a full-time professional security guard to prevent any violations. At the same time, he suggested that the diapers could also be from a neighborhood daycare facility.

Attorney Joubin Nasseri, who has volunteered to serve on the mediation committee as a community member, hopes that the two visions — that of Chabad and that of the neighbors — can be resolved.

“The bottom line is that Chabad is going to build. The question is to what degree,” Nasseri said.

Clash of ‘right and right’ festers in Jordan Valley


A tragedy, as defined by Amos Oz, one of the Israel’s most outspoken advocates of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is “a clash between right and right.” In the northernmost corner of the West Bank, Oz’s maxim holds true; it is a place where wronged are pitted against wronged. Where the Israeli forced from Gaza meets the Palestinian pushed from his West Bank home.

The tiny settlement of Maskiyot, with just eight families, lies on a gentle rise overlooking the Jordan Valley. Since the Israeli government announced plans to expand the settlement in late July, this settler outpost and one-time army training facility, established in 1982, has emerged as a central symbol for the intractable road to peace between Palestinian and Israeli.

Maskiyot is one of more than 20 settlements in the 75-mile-long Jordan Valley. Date farms, Bedouin shacks and small hamlets break up the brown-and-gold landscape of craggy hills and dry plains. The valley accounts for 28.5 percent of the West Bank land mass controlled by Israel after the Six-Day War. It is sparsely populated, with no more than 6,000 Israeli settlers and 47,000 Palestinians, most of whom live in the ancient city of Jericho.

It is a land where Bedouins shepherd their goats and Palestinian farmers cultivate olives and raise chickens. It is also a place where Israel Defense Forces soldiers guard Israeli settlements surrounded by electric fences, razor wire and lights that face outward.

But more than the physical barriers that separate them, the residents of this valley stand on either side of an unbridgeable ideological chasm. The Palestinians bent on seeing the Israelis go, and the Israelis unwilling to.

Fathy Khdirat is the head of Jordan Valley Solidarity, a Palestinian grass-roots organization that works to publicize the progress of the Israeli presence in the valley. Khdirat sits in a car traveling to a friend’s farm in Al Farsiya, a small community sandwiched between Israeli settlements and military land.

“It is like a needle in your body,” he says, while passing the sign for Maskiyot. “You have to get rid of it as soon as possible.”

However, if Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak signs off on a plan to build 20 more homes just outside the current perimeter fence — and he has not yet said whether he will — Maskiyot could become a northern Jordan Valley fixture for years to come.

The announcement of the expansion elicited condemnation from the United Nations and many in the international community. Maskiyot would be the first new settlement built by the Israeli government since 1999, in contradiction to the guidelines of the all-but-dead “road map” for peace. Plans to expand the settlement in 2006 were frozen after similar criticism.

Yosi Chazut, Maskiyot’s manager, sits at a picnic table at the edge of the six small, pre-fabricated homes that form the nucleus of the tiny settlement. His family, like six of the eight other families living in Maskiyot, was forced from Gaza during the Israeli pullout in the summer of 2005. And although the 29-year-old says he wants peace, his confidence in his Palestinian neighbors was shaken by their actions after the Israeli government took the significant step of moving 8,500 Jewish families from Gaza.

“I gave up my home there, and what did we get in return?” he says. “We got Qassam attacks on Sderot. This [the Palestinians] is not a people that want peace. The purpose is to kick us out of this land and send us somewhere else.”

But Chazut’s future plans lie firmly in Maskiyot. He sees the tiny outpost growing into a 500-family hub of Jewish life in the northern Jordan Valley within 10 years.

He looks out over the bowl of land that sits below the settlement, where settlers have already planted palm and olive trees. The afternoon winds have picked up, whistling through the homes and barracks, alleviating the intense heat that pounds the valley throughout the day. Because of the harsh conditions, settlement in the Jordan Valley has been slower than in the heavily settled areas in the center of Israel, primarily around Jerusalem.

“I didn’t come to live here to stop the future peace plans,” he says. “But if the Arabs don’t want to live with me in peace, it is their problem, not mine. I am the strong one here.”

The argument over the Maskiyot and the Jordan Valley is one at the core of the existence of both Israel and a future Palestinian state.

For the many Israelis, the victory in 1967 and the expansion into the ancient lands of Judea and Samaria were the realization of the full Jewish state as described in the Bible: the Israel that the architects of Zionism had always dreamed of — one which extended from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.

But with a larger Israel came a price, most notably the demographic question of the Palestinians — 2.35 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. If Israel were to annex the land, the Jewish majority would be lost to the new Israeli citizens: Palestinians who have a much higher birthrate than Jewish Israelis.

Despite the “demographic time bomb,” settlers like Ephraim Bluth, who lives in a large settlement near Ramallah, don’t see divestment from the West Bank and the Jordan Valley as an option. A native New Yorker, Bluth, moved to Israel 37 years ago. He has eight children, all of whom served in the Israeli army, a fact he alludes to with pride.

There are three different camps of opinion over the question of the land gained in 1967, particularly the West Bank, according to Bluth. One group sees the territories as a strategic asset to be traded for peace, another sees them as a strategic liability, which must be given up, and then there is his constituency.

“I am from the camp that says the land of Israel, including those territories captured in 1967, are in fact a gift from God … this is ours, has been ours and with God’s help, always will be,” Bluth said.

ALTTEXTBut just as Bluth is confident of Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank, Khdirat is sure of its end.

“When the Israeli military jeeps leave, he [Chazut and all the settlers] will leave before them,” Khdirat says with a chuckle. “He have experience leaving from many place to the other. He left his homeland in Morocco maybe, or maybe Europe, and he left Sina [the Sinai Peninsula], and he left Gaza, and he will leave the Jordan Valley.”

But until the settlers leave, he sees them as a constant threat. Khdirat visits the farm of Jasser Daraghmeh, who says that the Israeli government has ordered the demolition of his home because it does not comply with Israeli building code.

“Even if they destroy our home, we will build a new one,” Daraghmeh says. “We will never leave.”

Daraghmeh’s farm is at the bottom of a valley hemmed in by land reserved for the Israeli military to the west and a string of settlements along the ridge to the east, including Maskiyot.

As dusk gives way to the deep blue of coming night, Daraghmeh invites Khdirat to sit with his father and a neighbor for tea. They recline around a small table in plastic chairs set on a dusty patch of ground. The lights of the settlements on the hills above flicker on, as bats flit in and out of the growing darkness on the valley floor. The afternoon winds that come up the valley and over the hills have died down completely.

The men tell stories of their sheep being shot from helicopters and of a brother being killed by a mortar shell. They talk of kin being pushed off the land, of the ever growing radius of the settlers’ fences. Whether some of the stories are exaggerated or entirely fabricated, the truth of their pain is clear. This is the tragedy of the place.

“We have been patient, but I don’t know what my children will do,” says Daraghmeh’s neighbor, Faiq Spah. His allusion is to a future of violence. For these men, like those living in the settlements, true co-existence seems impossible — the threshold for peace long passed, despite leaders on either side who say they are working toward it.

In complete blackness, their stories come to an end. The lights of the settlements gleam on the hills, and the farmers on the valley floor retire to their homes, black without electricity.

Mayor: Building inspectors need better training, sensitivity to block another Yom Kippur showdown


One year after an emotional incident in which city building inspectors sought to halt Kol Nidrei services for Orthodox worshippers at a Hancock Park service, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has followed up with a report with recommendations designed to increase sensitivity and prevent future problems.

The confrontation at the Yavneh Hebrew Academy in the Hancock Park area outraged the Orthodox community and its political supporters.

Triggering the incident was a series of anonymous phone calls from a neighbor of Yavneh, alerting the city Department of Building and Safety (DBS) to a probable violation, on Yom Kippur, of restriction governing the hours that Yavneh could use the facilities.

At 8 p.m., while Rabbi Daniel Korobkin was conducting Kol Nidrei services for some 200 worshippers, two inspectors walked into the lobby and told startled congregants that they had to vacate the premises immediately.

When told that worshippers would leave only if carried out by force, the inspectors left and the services continued.

The roots of the incident lay in a contentious nine-year feud between some residents of the upscale Hancock Park neighborhood and an influx of strict Orthodox families.

Villaraigosa, together with city councilmen, felt the heat from both sides and the mayor asked the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom “to independently review, pro bono, the events that occurred on Sept. 21, 2007…and to make recommendations.”

In a letter yesterday (Sept. 23) to DBS general manager Andrew A. Adelman, obtained exclusively by The Journal, Villaraigosa cited 12 findings and recommendations by the law firm and asked for a response by Nov. 7.

In general, the report found that DBS had not singled out the Orthodox community as such, but called for an improved inspection process within DBS, and better communications with the city planning department and with institutions, such as Yavneh, operating with certain restrictions under a conditional use permit.

Specifically, the report recommended continued “awareness seminars” for inspectors at the Museum of Tolerance, supplemented by a “cultural diversity” program, in addition to the following points.

Training to avoid conflicts while conducting building inspections.

Review of the policy under which DBS accepts anonymous complaints.

Avoid interrupting cultural or religious events.

Institutions operating under conditional use permits to appoint community liaisons, who would be notified of complaints before city officials take action.

Korobkin, the Yavneh spiritual leader, said he was very pleased with the mayor’s recommendations and that the fault for last year’s incident lay mainly in the way DBS was structured, as well as a certain lack ofsensitivity.

There is no chance that last year’s incident will be repeated, he said. For one, Kol Nidrei falls on a weekday this year, which allows for extended operating hours.

Korobkin also asserted that relations between Yavneh and its neighbors had improved over the last 12 months and that complaints came mainly from a hard core of seven to eight residents.

But future relations between Yavneh and the Hancock Park Homeowners Association, which includes a fair number of Jewish families, will bear watching.

No spokesperson for the homeowners was immediately available, but in the past they have persistently accused Yavneh of violating the terms of its conditional use permit and have initiated a number of court actions.

Although Yavneh is not located within his district, City Councilman Jack Weiss has been a vocal champion of the religious school.

He said that in the dispute, “justice is on the side of Yavneh – it’s not even close.”



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Chabad finds possible solution to land-use problem in Pacific Palisades


Two weeks ago, Rabbi Zushe Cunin, head of Chabad of Pacific Palisades, believed he would be facing a protracted and difficult battle before he might hear the joyous voices of youngsters playing at Chabad’s new location for Palisades Jewish Early Childhood Center in Pacific Palisades.

Since April, homeowners surrounding the school’s proposed new site, as well as officials of the nearby Getty Villa and the Mormon Church, have expressed strong opposition to the relocation to a leased vacant building off Los Liones Drive. The building sits on private property located below a ridge of expensive homes in the Castellammare Mesa area, adjacent to a Getty Villa service road and to property owned by the Mormon Church.

These opponents have voiced concerns about noise, safety and traffic. But more problematic — and a possible showstopper — they claim Chabad does not have the right to access the building via the Getty’s private service road, the church’s property or the hillside backyard of the building’s owner, off Bellino Drive.

But the recent discovery of a long-overlooked legal document could substantially alter the situation, potentially allowing for a public street to be constructed that would lead directly to the entrance of the proposed site.

“It’s major,” said Cunin, explaining that the public street would cross part of the Getty’s private road as well as portions of the Mormon Church’s parking lot. Chabad is preparing to have the area formally surveyed.

The document, “an irrevocable offer to dedicate,” which was recorded on Jan. 4, 1973, was uncovered during a preliminary title search on the Mormon Church property by David Lacy, founder of Senior Realty Advisors of Covina and himself a Mormon, who has been an adviser to Chabad for its real estate acquisitions for more than a decade.

The document designates a strip of land 25 feet long with variable widths that ends, according to Lacy, at the entrance to the 3,000 square-foot vacant building at the foot of a steep 1.64-acre hillside property belonging to longtime resident Gene Gladden. Chabad is renting this building from Gladden, having signed a three-year lease with a 20-year option last January.

Additionally, the 25-foot easement is shown crossing both the Getty Road and the Mormon property and is shown on a parcel map dated Jan. 19, 1973, which Lacy also found.

The controversy arose after Chabad of Pacific Palisades was forced to find a new preschool location when it received notice that the lease on the current Temescal Gateway Park site would end in June 2008. Cunin was making preliminary preparations on what he believed was the ideal new site for the preschool’s nature-based curriculum when, in early April, he received a letter from Getty Trust attorney Lori Fox denying Chabad access to the building via the Getty Villa’s private service road.

Additionally, members of the 141-family Castellamare Mesa Home Owners Association protested Chabad’s right to enter the property through Gladden’s hillside backyard off Bellino Drive. The Mormon Church also denied a request from Chabad to approach the building through its parking lot, which abuts Gladden’s property. Church officials cited inconvenience for its members as well as potential liability,

Cunin, along with real estate adviser Lacy, believes the potential public street could resolve the thorny access issue. But others, including Chabad’s attorney, Benjamin Reznik, a partner at Jeffer, Mangels, Butler and Marmaro, expressed caution.

“It is still being investigated,” Reznik said. “We have to look at it ourselves.”

Additionally, Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who has been meeting with the involved parties, said, “The city will obviously do its own research,” stating that it’s the city’s role to determine the validity of the claim.

For the Getty, according to Julie Jaskol, the Getty’s assistant director of media relations, the potential public roadway is a nonissue.

“It’s not actually an easement,” she said. “It’s an offer to dedicate that has been standing for 30-some years and that only covers part of the road.”

The history of this potential public street is complicated. According to Chabad adviser Lacy, it can be traced back to 1932, when the then-property owner, whose name is not known, placed certain easements on property owned in that area, providing for roadways, sanitation and utilities for possible future subdivision and development.

The easements were still in place when the consequent property owner, Garden Land Investment Corp., whom Lacy believes may have acquired the land in the 1950s, sold a three-acre parcel to the Mormon Church in 1970. As part of its conditional-use permit to construct the building, the Mormon Church agreed in the document, signed Jan. 4, 1973, to “an irrevocable offer to dedicate” to the city of Los Angeles an easement for public street purposes, should it ever be required.

The Mormon Church does not want to lose any more land, according to Keith Atkinson, West Coast spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Atkinson, who said he only recently learned about the 25-foot easement, claimed that if the public road were implemented, the church would lose up to 10 spaces in its parking lot, for which he believes the church must be compensated.

Over the years, the Mormon Church has granted two easements to the Getty Trust to use its land for a private roadway. Atkinson believes one was granted in the 1970s, for use by emergency vehicles. The other was granted in January 2001, when the Getty Villa was undergoing an extensive expansion and renovation. Atkinson said he believes Getty officials told Mormon Church representatives at that time that the construction of the paved and widened private road would make the city of Los Angeles less likely to request the full easement for the public street.

While many people question the feasibility of the city of Los Angeles financing a public street in that area, Lacy believes there are several good reasons that this might occur. For one, a public street, as opposed to the Getty Villa’s private service road, would offer additional street parking for visitors to Topanga State Park, located across the street from the Mormon Church. It would also improve access for fire trucks and other emergency vehicles in the area.

“It provides for cleaner use of the property,” Lacy said.

Chabad, Getty and neighbors square off over Palisades school plan


Rabbi Zushe Cunin, head of Chabad of Pacific Palisades for 16 years, is accustomed to “overcoming and embracing all challenges,” he said. But the uproar surrounding his plans to relocate Chabad’s Palisades Jewish Early Childhood Center to a vacant building off Los Liones Drive — in a canyon below an affluent Pacific Palisades neighborhood and off a service road leading to the Getty Villa — has surprised him.

In support of the school’s nature-based curriculum, Cunin, 38, believed he had found an ideal new location when he came upon an empty 3,000-square-foot former storage facility at the base of a hillside property. He tracked down the owner, longtime Pacific Palisades resident Gene Gladden, who agreed to lease the property to Chabad.


Cunin (photo) was making preparations to turn the site into a preschool, planning to open in September, when an attorney from the J. Paul Getty Trust sent a letter denying Chabad’s right to access the property via the Getty Villa’s service road.

Around the same time, members of the neighboring Castellammare Mesa Home Owners Association, which has 141 member families, began a flurry of e-mails and telephone exchanges questioning Chabad’s right to access the property alternatively through Gladden’s backyard off Bellino Drive and also raising concerns about other safety and noise issues.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl has become involved, as has the Palisades Mormon Church, to which Cunin turned with a request for access through the church’s parking lot.

This might seem just an ordinary land-use dispute with, on one side, a preschool hoping to operate in a residential area — which can be allowed with a conditional-use permit — and on the other objections from neighbors who don’t want increased noise and congestion. But there is a history of high-profile, contentious disputes in this neighborhood: The Getty weathered its own heated and drawn-out legal battle with local Pacific Palisades homeowner associations, which began in 1997 when it announced plans for an extensive renovation and expansion of the Getty Villa. The clash centered on plans for a outdoor amphitheater. The much-delayed opening of the Getty Villa didn’t happen until January 2006, following years of negotiation with neighborhood associations.

Enter Chabad, an organization whose name is a Hebrew acronym meaning wisdom, understanding and knowledge, and which, as part of Chabad-Lubavitch is one of the largest sects of Orthodox Judaism worldwide. Known for its evangelical outreach and zeal, Chabad has its own history of controversy in many circles.

Rabbi Cunin had been successfully operating Palisades Jewish Early Childhood Center in various locations in Temescal Gateway Park without conflict since the preschool was founded in 2000. The school enrolls approximately 50 children, ages 2 to 5, who, Cunin said, come primarily from Pacific Palisades and other Westside locations and from all levels of religious observance.

Last year the Santa Monica Conservancy, which oversees the park, voted to end the lease of the Chabad preschool as well as that of the private Little Dolphins preschool, ruling that public park area should no longer be walled off for private endeavors.

On Jan. 29, 2008, Cunin signed a three-year lease with a 20-year option on the building owned by Gladden, which sits near the service entrance to the Getty Villa, next door to the Mormon Church and across the road from Topanga State Park. Cunin began making some of the necessary renovations to the property.


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Everything went smoothly until April 2, when Getty Trust attorney Lori Fox informed Cunin that Chabad does not have the right to approach the building via a private Getty service road — which Chabad disputes. As a result, Cunin said, Chabad officials, teachers and workmen began accessing the property through Gladden’s driveway off Bellino Drive and down a steep stairway in Gladden’s backyard.

Neighbors became aware of the activity, as well as of the building, which was newly painted inside and staged with small tables and chairs. An outdoor area now sported playground equipment to enable prospective parents and state inspectors to better visualize the future preschool. Cunin believes that many residents assumed, erroneously, the preschool was already open for business.

Homeowners began an exchange of e-mails, and one homeowner, whose child had attended the school, contacted Cunin to clarify the school’s status. He assured her that he didn’t plan to use Gladden’s home as access for the school. She shared this information with the other neighbors.

Chabad’s attorney Benjamin Reznik, a partner at Jeffer, Mangels, Butler and Marmaro, argues that the preschool location is “brilliant.”

“It’s a building that’s safe and appropriate. It’s got a nice, flat garden around for the kids to play outdoors, and it’s got nice access: The parents can drive right up,” Reznik said.

The Getty, however, sees the site differently. Getty attorney Fox sent a memorandum to area homeowner associations on May 9 summarizing the Getty’s communications with Chabad and objections to the location.

“We have serious concerns about the proposed use of both the warehouse and access via our service road,” Fox stated in the memo, emphasizing safety concerns for the children.

The dispute over use of the service road is not surprising, given its complicated history.

Access along the service road to the Getty guard booth, which sits just above the driveway to the Gladden building, uses an easement granted by the Mormon Church, which bought its three-acre property in 1970 from a private developer, according to David Lacy, who founded Senior Realty Advisors of Covina, and who has assisted Chabad in property acquisitions for more than a decade. It was originally a dirt road, which the Getty paved and later widened, as required for its renovation.

But Gladden was granted the necessary permits in 1981, he said, to construct a building on the lower part of his property for recreation and storage. He also received permission from the Getty to access the building via the service road. Gladden subsequently rented the building to the Getty for 25 years for storage purposes, a lease which ended approximately six months ago, according to Gladden.

Because Gladden has been allowed access to his building for the last 26 years and because the Getty has never revoked that right, Lacy believes that Gladden as well as Chabad, as his representatives, “has a legal right to a prescriptive easement” on that property.

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.

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday the 2nd

This weekend represents a final opportunity to view two Skirball Center multimedia exhibitions. “Jewish Identity Project: New American Photography” presents photos, video and multimedia pieces by emerging and mid-career artists, exploring the theme of Jewish identity. “L.A. River Reborn” focuses in closer to home, on the Los Angeles River and the relationship between society and the environment.

Through Sept. 3. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. ” border = 0 align = left vspace = 6 hspace = 6 alt = “”>

Monday the 4th

This Labor Day the Workmen’s Circle hosts an opening reception for “Peter Whittenberg: Prints,” an exhibition of politically minded graphic art. The decidedly adult-only show features Whittenberger’s recurring character, Robert P. Vonruenhousen IV, who has male sex organs for a head, and represents what the artist feels is wrong with America today.

5-7 p.m. Free. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007. ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.thelikud.org.

Wednesday the 6th

Community spirit can be found at the Robertson Branch Library tonight. Families and kids of all ages are invited for “Neighbors Celebrating Neighbors: An Evening of Music and Stories.” The event features Uncle Ruthie Buell of KPFK, children’s book author Barney Saltzberg ,singer and recording artist Tiana Marquez and singer Tonyia Jor’dan.

6:30 p.m. Free. 1719 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 840-2147.

Thursday the 7th

The Academy does it short and sweet, this week. The Los Angeles International Short Film Festival, accredited by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is the largest fest of its kind. Included among this year’s films are “George Lucas in Love,” directed by Joe Nussbaum (“American Pie 5: The Naked Mile”) and “In God We Trust,” by Jason Reitman, director of “Thank You For Smoking” and son of director Ivan.

Sept. 5-14. ArcLight Cinemas, 6360 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. ” align = right vspace = 6 hspace = 6 border = 0 alt = “”>
Homage is paid to the brothers Gershwin in the 1983 Tony-winner “My One and Only.” Head to UCLA’s Freud Playhouse to see Reprise’s production of this “Funny Face” adaptation, that also includes Gershwin music from other sources.

Sept. 5-17. $60-$75 (single tickets), $165-$195 (season tickets). Macgowan Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 825-2101.

Chipping Away at Israel Support Endangers U.S.


I spent a fair amount of time in Israel in the late 1990s, traveling throughout the country. One of my many impressions of that nation was that there was a pervasive
desire by Israelis for a lasting, mutually beneficial peace with hostile neighbors.

At the time of my visit, I was a recovering ultraleftist who was open and generally sympathetic to the issues of Palestinians. But what is seared in my mind is the experience of sitting with a young woman during a lunchtime visit to a kibbutz near the Syrian border. On her lap sat her 3-year-old son and an automatic rifle was casually slung over her shoulder.

After a bit of polite chitchat, I asked her, “How are you going to be able to guarantee your son’s future with that weapon?”

She said guns could never do that. “Only a true and lasting peace with our neighbors can insure my child’s future” the woman told me.

I was thinking about that young Israeli as I watched rockets slam into Israel’s cities over the past few weeks.

Israel is getting lots of bad press these days. Easily influenced reporters from the BBC to CNN have made the argument — in one way or another — that this tiny Jewish state responded “disproportionately” to attacks from Hamas and Hezbollah — raids that killed Israeli soldiers and kidnapped others.

Parroting Hezbollah spokesmen, Israel’s Western opponents tell us that Israel has targeted civilians and United Nations personnel intentionally. This charge mimics the age-old anti-Semitic slur of Jewish blood lust, since those making this charge are hard pressed to explain how indiscriminately killing Arab civilians would serve Israel’s interests.

War is always a nasty affair — in this case complicated by terrorist operations that intentionally launch missiles from crowded urban neighborhoods, where innocent Lebanese civilians live. In other words, Iran-sponsored Hezbollah fighters cynically know that their actions will draw an immediate and deadly response, a reply that may mean death for innocent Lebanese civilians near the launch site. The resultant photos of death and destruction provide an all-important public relations advantage among willing Western media sources, as well as for the Al Jazeera network.

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz points out that in various wars with enemy forces, Israel has killed far fewer civilians in proportion to the number of its own civilians than any country engaged in a comparable war. Yet, Israel is cited by the merlot-sipping set as the prime example of human rights violations.

Arguments of this kind are made with vigor and conviction in places like France and in the capitals of other European Union countries, where anti-Semitism is rampant, but are made, as well, by many here at home. It is part of a larger and disturbing pattern.

In a recent open letter, Noam Chomsky, the high priest of America’s crypto-Marxists, argues that Israel is at fault for the current warfare and that the kidnapping of Israeli military personnel should not have been the cause of a war of this intensity (the overreaction argument) since Israel supposedly holds “approximately 10,000 [Palestinians] in Israeli jails.” According to this view, all Palestinians held in Israeli jails, whatever the number, are innocent victims of the Jewish state — therefore judged by Chomsky and his ilk to be “political prisoners.”

On the heels of this, top human rights officials at the United Nations have said that Israel’s bombing in Lebanon “might constitute war crimes,” while generally avoiding comment on the indiscriminate shelling of cities in northern Israel by Hezbollah rocket fire — intended only to kill and maim Jewish civilians.

Some argue that the views of America’s hard left are marginal, and others see the United Nations as the emperor with no clothes. However, there is an undeniable influence here that cannot be disregarded. Chomsky — along with Marx, Shakespeare and the Bible — is one of the 10 most-quoted sources in the humanities, and despite ongoing scandals, the United Nations remains to be considered by many Americans to be a voice for peace.

The United Nation’s unsavory role in places like the Congo, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Iraq remains unknown by many, although evidence from these places tells us that the United Nations may well be the world’s prime example of corruption, conciliation of dictatorships and moral timidity.

Giving new meaning to the word chutzpah, the United Nations has singled out the State of Israel for human rights condemnations more than any other nation in the world. This is more than a bit odd — since the world includes nations such as North Korea, Sudan and Cuba, among a host of others that ignore the concept of human rights.

Since 2000 in the United States, there has been an active and organized campaign by the radical left to promote divestment of city government, university, church and other investment portfolios from Israel and the companies that do business with that nation. The idea is to punish Israel for its policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — claimed to be oppressive and racist. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has been embroiled in its own internally controversial plan since 2004 to “divest from Israel” — all the while declaring uncritical “solidarity with Palestinian liberation.”

And if all of this were not enough to test one’s patience, the Southern California chapter of the ACLU has decided to honor Salam Al-Marayati with its Religious Freedom Award at the group’s upcoming garden party.

Just this past week, Al-Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, condemned the president for referring to “Islamo-fascism”; previously he had admonished journalists to “cease the use of Islamic terminology to explain this very clear political narrative” (referring to terrorist acts). He recently opined in the Los Angeles times that Hezbollah “is not just an army” and should be understood as a “massive political party and social welfare network.”

Terrorism with a smile? For this brand of “tolerant” thinking he gets a religious freedom award.

Obviously, it is not just leftists and Muslim or Arab American advocacy groups that blame Jews for almost everything. Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, Iraq’s parliament speaker, recently accused Jews of financing acts of violence in Iraq.
He said, “These acts [random killing and kidnappings] are not the work of Iraqis. I am sure that he who does this is a Jew and the son of a Jew.”

This kind of high-level bigotry raises questions about the future of Iraqi democracy and should — if Sept. 11 didn’t adequately do that — raise our antenna to the deadly serious nature of the international struggle against radical Islamism. The warfare in the Mideast reverberates close to home.

Is this simply Israel’s war to win or lose?

As William Kristol has pointed out, “Better to say that what’s under attack is liberal democratic civilization, whose leading representative right now happens to be the United States.” Israel can’t afford to lose this conflict, nor can we. Here at home, those who chip away at American’s resolve to support Israel are chipping away at our own freedoms.

Joe R. Hicks is a social critic, the vice president of Community Advocate. Inc. and a talk radio host in Los Angeles.

A School or a Shul?


Administrators at Yeshivat Yavneh knew that the “No Trespassing” signs wouldn’t go over well with neighbors, especially the ones who used to run their dogs on the plush green stretch that fronts the Third Street main entrance to the Orthodox day school.

But about two years ago they felt they had no choice.

Neighbors had been seen standing outside of Yavneh on Shabbat videotaping everyone who entered, to see whether Yavneh was violating permit stipulations limiting who can pray there on Saturdays. The videotaping was an affront both to the school’s religious sensibilities and to its sense of security.

To neighbors, the “No Trespassing” signs are yet another indication that the school has no desire to fit in.

Yavneh moved into the Tudor estate, which formerly housed the Whittier Law School, in 1999. The school has about 400 students in preschool through eighth grade, and insists it has worked hard to foster a good relationship with neighbors. But things have soured in the last few years, as Yavneh tests the strict limitations of its conditional-use permit.

One clause in that permit states that Yavneh may hold prayer services for its students as part of their religious education. Yavneh interpreted that to mean that the school could hold Shabbat services, on the weekend, for students and their families.

Neighbors say Yavneh has, in effect, established a full-service congregation — one that serves more than just students and their immediate families.

Yavneh maintains that nearly all of the 100-150 people who attend services on a regular Shabbat are students and their family members. At the same time, however, the school plans to request a permit change also allowing board members, alumni and others associated with Yavneh to daven there, but to cap the total number at 300. The current permit does not stipulate a limit. In addition, Yavneh will ask the Zoning Board to approve an 8-foot perimeter fence for general security in this post-Sept./11 world.

The Hancock Park Homeowners Association has come out against these requests, asking that Yavneh meet the original permit conditions.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, the head of Yavneh, is meeting regularly with neighbors, part of a conciliation effort by both sides.

 

How Can Right, Left Each Be So Sure?


Ed. Note: Former Jewish Journal Senior Writer David Margolis died July 17 at the age of 62 in Israel, where he had lived for the past 11 years. Most recently, Margolis wrote for The Jerusalem Report, where this column, one of his last, originally appeared.

Some months ago, at a kind of evening salon in a settlement just south of Jerusalem, I read a short story I’d written to a group of friends and acquaintances.

The story, called, “The Trapped Dog,” attempted to parse the complex and ambiguous relationship between residents of the small West Bank village where I live, about 40 minutes further south, and our nearest Arab neighbor, with whom the village has a fair amount of commerce.

I was proud of the story, which I thought caught the relationship accurately and subtly, giving correct weight to various currents of suspicion and friendship that — especially after four years of warfare between Palestinians and Israelis — characterize the association in both directions. My audience of about a dozen listened attentively, but to my shock, they turned out to be infuriated by the tale; apparently unanimously, they heard it as a left-wing tract overly sympathetic to the Arab — some of them because I did not question his right to own his piece of land and prosper on it.

Rather than the partly literary discussion I expected, the conversation devolved into a verbal assault in which I felt forced to defend my politics, not my story.

I felt shaken by this experience, since I liked all these people and knew them to be, in ordinary life, reasonable, sweet-tempered, concerned for others and generally nuanced in their responses to things, not (as they seemed that evening), incapable of rising above their fears or of knowing that not everything a character in a story says represents the author’s point of view.

Several weeks ago, as a gesture toward my continuing integration into Israeli life, I decided to have the story translated into Hebrew. The translator to whom I brought the English text gave me a second shock: After reading the story, she — a fiery leftist, it turned out, involved with organizations that fight for Palestinians against what she considers Israeli oppression — refused to take the job. She was infuriated and disgusted, she said, by the story’s horrifically right-wing point of view.

When I thought about it, I took this confluence of responses to “The Trapped Dog” as a kind of literary victory, one that reminded me of the poet Yeats’ remark, “If I would succeed, I must drive men mad.”

In my small way, I felt that I’d written something that engendered a bit of madness in people on both the left and right. Or, more likely, they were already nuts with politics to begin with. Still, I felt pleased to think that my story could make people of widely divergent views at least itchy and uncomfortable.

Their passionate intensity reminded me also of Yeats’ 1919 poem, “The Second Coming,” in which the poet envisions the post-World War world as a kind of negative second coming, an anti-apocalypse of destruction without redemption. There’s a hint of what Yeats calls the “rough beast” in political discourse in Israel now, with so much distrust and even hatred between political adversaries that an opposing opinion can seem not a nexus for discussion but another provocation.

My “victory” would not require driving my countrymen mad but just making a lot of them a lot less certain than they claim to be. How, in a forest as dark as the one in which Israelis and Palestinians have been lost together, can so many people insist that only one path — the one they’re on — leads to the light?

Reprinted with permission from The Jerusalem Report.

 

Roth’s ‘Kranky’ Little X-Mas


Tom Lehrer once noted that there were no American pop Chanukah tunes because Jewish composers were busy writing the nation’s sentimental Christmas and Easter favorites.

The observation came to mind when we talked to Joe Roth, about his movie “Christmas With the Kranks,” which opened Nov. 24.

Mr. and Mrs. Krank (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) live on Hemlock Street, famed for its great annual Yuletide decorations. So when the empty-nester Kranks decide to skip the tradition and head for some balmy Caribbean island instead, the neighbors rise in indignation.

Roth, head of Revolution Studio and former chairman of the Walt Disney and 20th Century Fox studios, selected and directed the movie, based on the John Grisham novel, “Skipping Christmas.”

He is also one of Hollywood’s more prominent Jews, who was recently honored by the American Jewish Committee.

The first time he was in the news was as a 10-year-old boy whose parents sued his Long Island public school for requiring Joe and his brother to recite the daily prayer prescribed by the state Board of Regents.

“It was a traumatic experience,” Roth said. “We were ostracized and someone burned a cross on our lawn.”

However, the Christmas film, he maintained, has really nothing to do with religion.

“I see Christmas as a cultural and family holiday,” he said, while the movie itself carries two main messages. It’s first about the sense of family and community that supercedes any particular holiday. Secondly, it’s a satire on the over-commercialization of Christmas.”

Roth said the large Jewish presence in Hollywood makes little difference in what movies are made or how they’re presented.

“The major studios are owned by faceless conglomerates, which believe only in the bottom line,” he said.

“Remember, we make products for mass audiences, for the 97 percent of Americans and 99 percent plus of the world’s movie-goers who are not Jewish,” he added.

Then what accounts for the large number of movies dealing with the Holocaust and the Nazi era, his interviewer persisted. Would they be produced if most of Hollywood’s decision makers were, say, Albanians?

“I think they would,” Roth responded, “because they are simply compelling stories.”

Yet, Roth draws one line.

“I would never make a movie with the least hint of anti-Semitism,” he said. “The fact that I grew up in a Jewish home informs my entire outlook.”

Israel Trip Reunites


The two men walk as one — in steady step, shoulder to shoulder, their words a torrent of Yiddish.

There is much to catch up on since the former neighbors and schoolmates last met. That was more than 60 years ago, when the transports, fear and separations that characterized Jewish life during World War II reached their Polish hometown.

Allen Greenstein, 78, is from Los Angeles; Haim Fligelman, 82, lives in Tel Aviv. The two old friends found each other again last week as they took their seats on a tour bus in Israel.

In their respective cities, they both attend Cafe Europa, a club for Holocaust survivors, where members gather for concerts, lectures, conversation and coffee. A group from the Los Angeles chapter currently is in Israel, touring the country and meeting their Tel Aviv counterparts. Members have been exchanging stories and looking for people linked to their past.

"We lived on the same street but have not seen each other since the war," a beaming Greenstein exclaimed. "So it was quite a surprise to meet him on the bus."

The two grew up in Opatow, a town with a large Jewish population before the war. They went to the same school and were members of the same Jewish youth group. Once the war began, many of the town’s Jewish youth, including both of them, were sent to work in munitions factories. They both spent the final months of the war in Buchenwald.

Both lost family members. Greenstein was one of 12 children, but only he and three others survived the war.

Today, Fligelman is a retired carpenter with 17 grandchildren.

"It helps relieve one’s nerves," he said of his weekly visits to the Tel Aviv Cafe Europa.

Cafe Europa first began in Los Angeles as a project of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and later became the model for the club of the same name in Tel Aviv. Both are funded by the Los Angeles Federation.

At first, connections between members were forged through letter-writing. Then technology stepped in, and several video conferences were held.

Last week, 14 members of the Los Angles club landed in Israel. This week, the groups are meeting face to face for the first time, traveling through the Judean Desert and the Galilee together. For this week’s commemoration of Yom HaShoah, they were scheduled to attend Israel’s official ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

At a Jerusalem hotel, members from both clubs met and exchanged life stories. They described their homes, neighborhoods and lives before the war, remembering those whom they were close to during the Holocaust and recalling liberation from the camps. They each wore name tags noting their names and hometowns.

Lidia Budgor of Los Angeles — originally from Lodz, Poland — leaned toward Hinda Sobol, who came to Israel from Lithuania. Budgor told Sobol about the affluent neighborhood where she grew up and of the courtyard at the family home.

"When I came back, after the war, it looked like a garbage can," she said, shaking her head.

Nearby, Sophie Hamburger of Los Angeles and Hella Konstabler of Tel Aviv exchanged stories. Tears filled Konstabler’s eyes as they discovered a connection: Konstabler became good friends in Israel with one of Hamburger’s cousins from Poland.

"I know her whole family," bubbled Konstabler, as the two, speaking in Yiddish, tried to trace the connection further. They patted each other’s hands and laughed.

Rena Drexler surveyed the scene. She survived three and a half years in Auschwitz and then settled in Los Angeles, where she and her husband opened a kosher deli in North Hollywood. They worked there for 45 years and built Drexler’s Deli into a thriving business.

"Everybody has a life story here," she said, in recounting her own story after the war. "I’m proud we accomplished so much."

After the war, "there was no one waiting for us. We married people. We did not know what love was; there was no romance, no graduation from school," she said, her voice beginning to trail off.

Her arm bears the scar where she had her tattooed concentration camp number removed.

"I did not want to see the number any more," Drexler said. "I wanted to live a free life."

Eva David, 77, also from Los Angeles, was in Israel hoping to meet a pair of sisters who she befriended as a girl in a Hungarian ghetto before her family and their family, the Daskals, were deported to Auschwitz on the same cattle car. She remembers boarding the train crammed with about 80 people and seeing a sign attached on the outer door: "Fit for eight horses."

On the train to Auschwitz, the two families sat next to one another on the floor. One of her final memories of her father is his pulling a bag of chocolates out of his pocket and distributing them to her, her sisters and the Daskal children. Her mother gestured for him to stop — he had his own children to feed — but he looked up and said, "But these are hungry children, too."

"This is the last recollection we have of our father," said David, who worked as a seamstress in Los Angeles. She said the youngest of the Daskal children were gassed upon arrival at Auschwitz.

"At least they went to their deaths with the sweet taste of chocolate in their mouths," she said.

Esther Fruchter, 81, was the only one to survive the war from her large Warsaw family, which included four siblings, parents, many cousins and aunts and uncles. This was her first trip to Israel.

"You could give me a ticket to London, Rome or Paris, but it is nothing to compare to being here in Jerusalem," she said. "Israel is our home. Thankfully, we have a country where we can stand with our heads held high."

Illusions of a Separate Peace


As you read this, a fence is going up to separate Israelis from Palestinians. For now, it is defined as temporary, for defensive purposes only. It encompasses, on its Israeli side, most of the settlements Israel has established in the occupied territories. It is not intended to determine the future border between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

"Good fences make good neighbors," wrote the poet Robert Frost. Israel and Palestine are certainly not good neighbors, and there is an urgent need, both in practice and in principle, to establish a border between them. I mean a border with defensive and barrier devices, open only at crossings established by mutual consent. Such a border will protect the two sides from each other, help stabilize their relations and, especially, require them to internalize, once and for all, the concept of a border. It’s a vague, elusive and problematic concept for both, since they’ve lived for the last 100 years without clear boundaries, with constant invasion, each within, on top of, over and under the other.

Yet it is very dangerous to establish such a border fence right now, unilaterally, without a peace agreement. It is yet another precipitate action aimed at giving the Israeli public a temporary illusion of security; its main effect will be to supply Israelis with a counterfeit replacement for a peace process.

There may well come a time — after both sides have attempted another serious and sincere move toward peace — when Israel will conclude that there really is no chance of peace in this generation. In such a case, Israel will have to withdraw from the occupied territories, evacuate almost all the settlements, shut itself behind a thick wall and prepare for an ongoing battle.

From my conversations with Palestinian leaders, however, I am convinced there still is a chance for peace. Most Israelis disagree. "There’s no one to make an agreement with!" they say. "Even Shimon Peres and the leaders of the left say that they are no longer willing to talk with Yasser Arafat, and in the meantime Israel must defend itself against terror somehow!"

But even if we assume that Arafat is not a negotiating partner — by the way, it certainly hasn’t been proved that Ariel Sharon is a partner — we need to examine the practical implications of building a barrier fence without an agreement. It is clear to everyone that such a fence will not prevent, for example, the Palestinians’ firing rockets and mortars from their territory into Israel. The Israeli Army will have to operate beyond the fence, in order to defend isolated Israeli settlements that will remain on the other side. It takes little imagination to realize what military complications this will bring.

The fence will not provide an appropriate military response to the complex situation in Jerusalem, in which Jews and Arabs rub shoulders each day. Quite the opposite. An attempt to detach East Jerusalem from the rest of the Palestinian territories is liable to turn the Arab city’s inhabitants to the use of terror, which they have mostly resisted so far.

The distress Israelis feel is plain and comprehensible. It derives from the inhuman cruelty of the suicide bombings and from the feeling that there is no way out, given the huge support for terrorism among Palestinians. But this distress cannot overcome my sense that the Israeli infatuation with the fence is the product of a psychological need. It is not a well-considered policy.

In establishing a fence unilaterally, Israel is throwing away the best card it has. It will be discarding this trump without receiving anything in return from the Palestinians. Last month in London, I heard Yasir Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian information minister, say in a conversation with Israelis from the peace camp that if Israel withdraws behind a fence, Palestinians will spend a day celebrating that most of the occupation has ended, and the next day will continue the intifada, in order to obtain the rest of their demands.

Those other demands are well known: Israeli withdrawal from 100 percent of the territories Israel occupied in the 1967 war; evacuation of all the settlements; Arab Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine; and acceptance of the principle of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return within Israel proper.

Yet there is today a good chance of resolving all these issues in negotiations. The Clinton plan proposes solutions for them; it has for all intents and purposes been accepted by both sides, even if neither is able to commence negotiations to put those solutions into practice. But if the demands of Palestinians are not resolved in negotiations, the fighting will continue. In fact, Palestinians may fight more fiercely if they feel their terror has forced Israel into a new ghetto.

Because it is so important, let me say it again: the establishment of a fence without an agreement means Israel will give up most of the occupied territories without the Palestinians giving up the right of return.

The establishment of a fence without peace also means that the fence will have to extend into the West Bank to encompass most of the settlements. But in building the fence to include the settlements, Israel will have to take in many Palestinian towns and villages that lie close to the settlements and to the roads that lead to them. According to some estimates, this will involve about 150,000 Palestinians. If we add the Arabs of East Jerusalem, the number of Palestinians on the Israeli side of the fence may well reach 400,000.

These people will not be Israeli citizens. Israel does not want them. They will have no clear legal status and will not be able to participate in elections. Does anyone seriously believe they will not turn to terrorism? When that happens, they will be inside the fence, not outside it, and they will have unobstructed passage to Israel’s city centers. Or will Israel confine them behind yet another, second fence?

Israel correctly fears giving Palestinians the right of return to within its borders. So it is hard to understand how Israel could be prepared to take in hundreds of thousands of hostile Palestinians by building a fence.

Another question: How will Israel’s Arab citizens feel? They are about one-sixth of the population. Many have ties to families in the Palestinian Authority lands. Will these ties be severed by the fence? Will Israel not be increasing the bitterness and frustration of this one-sixth of the citizenry, and will not this lead Israeli Arabs to adopt even more extreme positions at a time when their connection to their country has been growing more tenuous?

The fence’s major drawing power for most Israelis is that it has never been tried. So it can be believed in, for a while.

But the border between Israel and Palestine can be set only through full agreement by both sides. Such an agreement seems impossible today, but we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of despairing of it. I think it’s better to wait and live for a few more years without this fence of illusions. This wall will declare our absolute despair of reaching a peace agreement in our generation, of integrating a normal Israel into the region around it.

A wall will allow the extremists — who are all too numerous — to argue that there will be no one to talk to in the future. Putting the other out of sight will only make dehumanization easier and justify a more extreme struggle.

Israel must not be tempted by the fiction of security behind a wall. Instead, it must invest its energy in the recommencement of negotiations. If Arafat is unacceptable to Sharon and Bush, let those leaders explain to us how they can create a better situation. Until they can do so, they bear the responsibility — no less weighty than Arafat’s responsibility — for the immobility, the insensibility and the despair on both sides.


This article was translated from the Hebrew by Haim Watzman and originally appeared in The New York Times. David Grossman is the author, most recently, of "Be My Knife," a novel.

‘Neighbors’


Responding to widespread debate over Poles’ participation in a 1941 massacre of Jews, Poland’s political and religious leaders are calling on Polish citizens to confront their past.

“We have an obligation to honor the memory of the victims and to establish the truth,” Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek said Tuesday of the massacre in the small town of Jedwabne in northeastern Poland. “We need to confront the darkest facts in our history.”

Buzek and other leaders have pledged to commemorate the victims and urged a thorough investigation of the case.

Debate has raged in Poland since the publication last year of Polish-born American scholar Jan Gross’ book, “Neighbors.” In the book, Gross says that Polish villagers of Jedwabne — not the Nazis — murdered some 1,600 of their Jewish neighbors in July 1941 by herding them into a barn and setting it on fire.

The revelations in the book, which is due out soon in English, have sparked a reexamination of the Poles’ role during the Holocaust.

Some 3 million Polish Jews died in the genocide. A similar number of non-Jewish Poles were killed by the Nazis.

There have been numerous conferences, articles in the media and heated round-table discussions. A documentary on the case will be released next week.

An investigation launched last year by the Polish National Remembrance Institute has not yet been completed.

“There is no doubt that Poles participated in the crime,” Buzek said. “But the murder was done neither in the name of the nation nor in the name of the Polish state.”

“We object to the use of the Jedwabne case to spread false statements about the Polish co-responsibility for the Holocaust or on innate Polish anti-Semitism,” Buzek said. Nor, he added, “should all inhabitants of Jedwabne of today be reproached for a murder committed 60 years ago.”

Most of Jedwabne’s current 2,000 residents settled there after the war. Townspeople this week prepared an open letter that condemned the wartime atrocity but also said today’s residents should not bear the blame.

“You have to realize that asking the town to make peace with its past is tantamount to desecrating its deepest beliefs of patriotism and Catholicism,” Jedwabne’s mayor, Krzysztof Godlewski, told Reuters. “And this is difficult, especially since our town was probably not an isolated incident.”

President Aleksander Kwasniewski last week pledged to apologize publicly for the massacre.

“This should be done by the authorities of the Polish Republic,” he told Polish television. “The anniversary” of the massacre “on 10 July is a good day, and Jedwabne, because of the tragedy that took place there, is a proper place for that,” Kwasniewski said.

In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot, which was quoted in the Polish media, Kwasniewski called the Jedwabne case “an act of genocide which Poles from Jedwabne carried out against their Jewish neighbors,” adding that it was “an exceptionally bestial killing of innocent people.”

Kwasniewski, however, drew fire in the media for announcing the apology before a full investigation of the case was completed.

Poland’s leading Roman Catholic cardinal, Josef Glemp, called for a thorough investigation of “the causes of such barbaric and hateful attitudes of Poles toward Jews.”

He said that, after receiving a letter from Warsaw Rabbi Michael Schudrich, he would eagerly participate in “common prayers of Poles and Jews, either in front of the Ghetto Heroes’ Monument, in one of the churches or in the synagogue” to mourn the victims on the 60th anniversary of the massacre this summer.

At the same time, however, he also said he awaited the publication of Gross’s book in English “with anxiety, because the truth thereby revealed to Americans is expected to unleash Jewry’s sharp attacks on Poles.”