The ‘religionization’ of Israel is troubling, but the fears about it are hysterical


Religionization! Religionization! To read the newspaper headlines in Israel, to view its documentary films and attend its expert panels with academics, a stranger might think that upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport, he or she will have arrived at nothing less than a Hebrew-speaking version of Iran.

According to those who fear for Israel’s Jewish and democratic future, religionization (“ha’datah” in Hebrew) is everywhere. Within Israel’s educational system, right-wing and religious ministers are infusing class curricula with religious content. The justice system in the country increasingly includes judges and other senior level officials who are religious, and are threatening, so it appears, to implement “Hebrew” law. Israel’s communications sector is suddenly being overrun by men wearing skull caps, who are bringing their worldviews and values from home to the workplace. The chief of police is religious as well. And at what point will the people’s army transform into God’s army?

In such an atmosphere, the use of any Jewish content in official government statements; any attempt by a religious person to stand up for her rights; the celebration of any Jewish holiday at any secular school anywhere, and every mention of God within the context of the Israel Defense Forces is more proof that religion is taking over our lives — that we are in the throes of a terrible process of religionization.

The reality, however, is clearly different from this perception. Tel Aviv is not Tehran. Neither is it Jerusalem. The IDF is fighting for the country and its people, not God. Israel’s educational system is not rediscovering religion en masse. And while the Israeli public is most certainly changing, it’s actually doing so in the direction of secularization. The status quo in the country between religion and state is long since dead. Commercial and leisure activities during the Sabbath are more widespread today than in the past and homosexual couples are receiving official recognition. All this in spite of the fact that for 30 years there has existed an ultra-religious veto, overtly or covertly, within the government.

Shuki Friedman (Israel Democracy Institute)

Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. I, as well as many citizens, religious and secular, believe that these two characteristics are critical to the country’s existence. Just as Israel’s Jewish image and identity must be cultivated, so must its democratic character and liberal and humanistic values. And no, there is no contradiction between Jewish and democratic.

The exact balance between these values is not gospel. Neither is it the exclusive knowledge of the religious or secular. Even the Supreme Court, which has occasionally had to rule on these issues, has often done so mechanically. How then can we determine the location of the golden mean? Only through public discussion that is serious and open to all. Only by listening to one another and being willing to understand the value of creating a synthesis between these two values, and acknowledging the need to sometimes compromise. Only then will it be possible for the unique and valuable combination – a Jewish and democratic state – to thrive.

Nevertheless, critics of religionization talk about it as if it is a demon uniquely threatening Israel’s culture and society. This is the easy way out for politicians, activists, members of the media and the academy. When there is a common enemy that is as threatening as the religious demon it is much easier to close ranks, hiding together behind the issue.

Yet demonizing religion comes with a price. And the price is high. The price is the suppression of all public debate on this and related issues. The price is the stifling of every serious attempt to address in an open and comprehensive manner the topic of religion and state, and the relationship between Judaism and democracy. Fear-mongering over the religious demon leads to exaggerated, hysterical descriptions that occur whenever an attempt is made to add a Jewish dimension to the Israeli public sphere, or to promote the expression of Jewish spiritual treasures not only inside of synagogues but within Israeli life itself.

The hysteria over this issue is dragging us straight to the bottom. Instead of dialogue, we are being subjected to a cacophony of screaming from all sides. This demon must be put back in the closet, which should then be buried deep in the ground. In place of this demon, the public sphere will be filled with serious and meaningful dialogue on the Jewish and democratic values of Israel.

(Shuki Friedman is the director of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Center for Religion, Nation and State and a law professor at Peres Academic Center.)

Sheldon Adelson-owned newspaper costs Israel in freedom-of-the-press ranking


A freedom-of-the-press watchdog cited the Sheldon Adelson-owned Israel Hayom daily in downgrading Israel’s status from “free” to “partly free.”

“Israel declined due to the growing impact of Yisrael Hayom, whose owner-subsidized business model endangered the stability of other media outlets, and the unchecked expansion of paid content — some of it government funded — whose nature was not clearly identified to the public” in major media outlets, including the popular Ynet news site, said the report  published Wednesday by Freedom House.

The 2016 report on 195 countries gave Israel a score of 32 in terms of press freedom, directly behind Italy, which was also termed “partly free,” as are all other countries with a score lower than 30. The United States was ranked “free” with a score of 21.

Turkey, where journalists are routinely jailed and occasionally tortured for publishing content deemed insulting to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, maintained its “not free” status and dropped six points to 71.

The report listed 86 countries as free, 59 as partly free and 50 as not free in press coverage.

In its 2015 report on Israel, Freedom House said “Israel Hayom is owned and subsidized by Sheldon Adelson, a wealthy American businessman who is openly aligned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his conservative Likud Party.” Israeli critics say the newspaper is pro-government.

Israel’s downgrade is biased and “incomprehensible,” columnist Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post wrote Tuesday in an article titled “Freedom House Drinks Anti-Israel Kool-Aid.”

The story quotes Robert Ruby, director of communications for Freedom House, as explaining that the first factor behind the downgrade is the “economic influence of Israel Hayom, which is distributed free of charge” and “has affected the economic model and stability of other publications.” The second factor at play, he said, is “the dramatic growth of paid government advertising unlabeled as such, appearing to be news content.”

Ruby added that Israel, “like some other democracies, has hovered on the line between ‘free’ and ‘partly free’ for several years.”

Asked whether Israel’s rating would improve if it banned Israel Hayom, Ruby answered this would be “a serious infringement of press freedom.”

Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser under George W. Bush, told Rubin: “Israel Hayom was founded in 2007 to provide Israelis an alternative to the left-leaning press. It has become the widest circulation newspaper in the country, not just because it is free but because so many Israelis want an alternative view.

“To say that Israel is suddenly only ‘partly free’ because it now has a popular center-right newspaper is malicious and ignorant.”

Ruby denied allegations of bias against Israel by Freedom House.

The report also notes that media outlets in Israel “are subject to military censorship and gag orders, and journalists often face travel restrictions.”

Freedom House’s website says its “primary funding comes from USAID and the U.S. State Department, as well as from other democratic governments — Canada, the EU, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden.”

Sheldon Adelson’s attorney: Billionaire does not own Israel Hayom daily newspaper


An attorney for Sheldon Adelson told Israel’s Supreme Court that the billionaire casino magnate does not own the daily newspaper Israel Hayom.

At a hearing Monday in the Supreme Court, attorney Avigdor Klagsbald disclosed for the first time that the newspaper is owned by an Adelson relative. Adelson has been cited frequently in media reports as the newspaper’s owner, including by JTA.

The question of Adelson’s ownership of Israel Hayom, a right-wing newspaper widely considered to be a mouthpiece for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, came up during an appeal of a Jerusalem District Court ruling on a Freedom of Information petition.

Klagsbald said the ruling should be vacated because it may be based on incorrect facts – including the misconception that Adelson owns Israel Hayom, Haaretz reported.

An article in December in the Las Vegas Review Journal, which a media group owned by Adelson and his children purchased late last year, noted the Israeli newspaper is run by Sivan Ochshorn Dumont, a daughter of Adelson’s wife, Miriam, from a prior marriage. However, it identifies Sheldon Adelson as the owner.

Student newspaper finalist for national prize


On Sept. 21, the day the space shuttle Endeavour flew past local landmarks on its way to Los Angeles International Airport, every media outlet in the city had dispatched multiple reporters to look to the skies.

The Boiling Point, Shalhevet High School’s student newspaper, which was recently named a finalist in the National Scholastic Press Association’s competitive Pacemaker contest, was no exception. 

Members of the editorial staff were positioned on the school’s roof, hoping to catch a glimpse of the retired shuttle’s last flight. Others, among them the newspaper’s faculty adviser, Joelle Keene, had traveled to a rooftop in Beverly Hills in case that spot offered a better view. 

“Just another day in the life of The Boiling Point,” said Keene, speaking to the Journal by phone while waiting for the shuttle to make an appearance. 

Producing a newspaper in a 160-student, Modern Orthodox, private high school — one that covers local, national, even international stories – can be a daunting task. But that’s precisely what the paper’s 30-person staff sets out to do between five and eight times every school year. 

After Santa Monica College announced — and later shelved — a planned tuition program that would have charged higher prices for certain classes than for others, The Boiling Point wrote about how the move would have affected Shalhevet alumni. 

When a cheating scandal in New York made headlines and led administrators of standardized tests to implement tighter security measures, a staff writer for The Boiling Point reported that the move could have the unintended consequence of making it more difficult for Shalhevet students — and other Sunday test-takers — to register for the exam. 

And in the wake of reports that devoutly religious men in Israel had harassed and spat at an 8-year-old Modern Orthodox girl because of how she was dressed, Editor-In-Chief Leila Miller wrote a long story about Charedim in Los Angeles, pulling back the curtain on a slice of the city that most Jews — let alone high school students — never see.

All three of those stories — along with sports coverage, a feature about depression, even a restaurant review — were in The Boiling Point’s June 2012 issue. 

From its underground offices, where staffers are known to spend six hours (or more) each day in the week before going to press, The Boiling Point has a record of winning recognition for individual stories, Keene said. She cited a number of national Story-of-the-Year awards and honorable mentions writers have won in the nine years she’s been serving as the paper’s adviser. 

But for The Boiling Point, which is produced on a budget of about $9,000 annually, to be named as a finalist for the Pacemaker, student journalism’s highest honor, represents a new level of collaborative achievement. 

“It’s everybody’s work,” said Keene, who holds a master’s in journalism from Columbia University and has won national, state and local awards for her reporting with a number of newspapers. “It’s the person who makes sure that there’s a line under every photo, and that the photo credit is correct.” 

The Boiling Point is one of nine finalists competing in the broadsheet category for newspapers of 17 pages or more, a category that includes papers from larger and better-known schools, including Harvard-Westlake. 

The winners in all categories will be announced on Nov. 17 at the Fall National High School Journalism Convention in San Antonio. Keene said some of the student journalists will travel to the convention, but she was unsure whether they would be able to accept the award in person, should they win. The ceremony takes place on Shabbat, and the school’s rabbis hadn’t decided whether accepting an award would be appropriate.

Shh! Don’t talk about sex at Yeshiva University


It wasn’t your typical college sex scandal. There were no accusations of molestation, inappropriate faculty-student relationships or date rape charges.

Instead, the precipitating incident was the publication by a student-run newspaper of a female student’s first-person account of a premarital sexual encounter.

But this is Yeshiva University, an Orthodox institution where the campuses for men and women are separated by approximately 10 miles, and the story’s publication in the YU Beacon newspaper prompted an intense, open discussion of a topic normally considered taboo in this conservative college community.

Following a cascade of negative comments by online readers of the piece, titled “How Do I Even Begin To Explain This?” the student council elected to withdraw its funding from the newspaper and several editors resigned. Meanwhile, stories about the clash between freedom of expression and fealty to Orthodox Judaism’s emphasis on modesty appeared in news outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Yeshiva University officials issued a statement noting that the decision about de-funding the Beacon was made by students, but Y.U. officials declined to be interviewed by JTA about sexual health practices at the school.

The university’s reticence to talk publicly about student sexual activity extends beyond the pages of student publications. A review of the Health & Wellness section of the school’s website found no discussion of contraception or other relevant information, and several students—including the anonymous author—said the school had not provided them with any sort of orientation on health issues related to sexual activity.

That’s not to say student health services doesn’t provide students with guidance or resources—it does—but the university’s low-key approach to sexual health issues stands in stark contrast to the approach of many U.S. colleges.

“The information should be available,” said Lisa Maldonado, the executive director of the New York-based Reproductive Health Access Project. “If you look at the data of who is having the most unintended pregnancies, it’s young women in their 20s.”

Sarah Lazaros, 21, a senior at YU’s Stern College for Women, said it’s clear why Yeshiva doesn’t have such material available online.

Having information on the website “would go against a lot of what the university stands for, which is total devotion to Jewish law. A lot of potential students would see that and not come to the university,” Lazaros said. “I think the main reason is that they don’t want to encourage these behaviors.”

Several YU students interviewed by JTA said it’s a mistake to pretend that the university’s students are not sexually active.

The sex essay “addresses something that we don’t often talk about in the Orthodox Jewish community, especially at YU,” Simi Lampert, 22, the Beacon’s editor, told JTA.

The Beacon, an independent, online newspaper launched in January by students at Yeshiva’s men’s and women’s colleges, will continue to publish, albeit without funding from the student council.

Lampert said she saw the story’s publication as an opportunity to start a conversation about sex among YU students.

“You have someone like me who went to a coed high school, has had boyfriends and has no intention of waiting until marriage for intercourse,” said S.B., a freshman at Stern who, like others interviewed for this story, asked to be identified only by her initials. “I don’t think anyone should go around denying that there are students having sex because that is not reality.”

The author of the Beacon story, a 20-year-old Stern student with the initials L.P., said her essay was true. She said she penned the piece, which was published in the literary section, where fiction and nonfiction appear, to help resolve her own complicated feelings about the experience.

“I was really kind of distraught about the whole thing,” L.P. said, her voice cracking.

Maintaining the appearance of the typical Orthodox Stern girl, L.P. said she felt like she could not talk to her friends about her night in the hotel room.

“It’s not like it was expected of me by how I dress,” she said. “I wear skirts. I do that whole song and dance.”

L.P. complained that the culture of the Orthodox institution makes it difficult to take effective safeguards when engaging in intercourse. When her period was late in coming after her sexual encounter, L.P. said she was worried about pregnancy even though she and her partner had used contraception.

Panicked, she went to Stern’s Health & Wellness Center, where she said she was counseled nonjudgmentally and asked for and received a pregnancy test.

“They’ll have a conversation with you about sex,” she said. “They’ll talk to you about the risks of being sexually active.”

Responding to a JTA inquiry about the contraceptive and counseling options available to students, YU’s senior director of media relations, Mayer Fertig, referred to the website of the Health & Wellness center. The site does not list contraceptives, Plan B or pregnancy tests as an available resource, unlike the websites of other major universities, and students say that Stern College doesn’t explicitly inform students that there are pregnancy tests and counseling about sexually transmitted infection available in the university system.

“From what I know, there is no information that has been made very accessible in terms of contraception, rape or pregnancy,” S.B. said.

Many Stern students hail from Orthodox institutions and thus are unlikely to have picked up knowledge about condom usage, pregnancy or the risks of disease transmission from their high schools.

Tamar, a senior at Stern who asked that her last name not be used, said she could recall just one event in her three years on campus in which women’s sexuality and health was discussed. As for contraceptives, she said, “It’s not something that’s talked about.”

Lazaros, a women’s studies major, said that a student-run women’s studies society on campus once brought a sex therapist to the college to speak. She also said the Health & Wellness Center does not provide a broad spectrum of services, probably because of limited demand and the school’s small size.

While L.P.’s essay did not go into much detail about the sexual encounter, several YU students described how their friends at the school attempt to skirt the Orthodox ban on premarital intercourse by being sexually active in others ways.

M.H., 27, who graduated from Yeshiva College in 2007, told JTA that he engaged in oral sex with girls from Stern and talked with friends about their similar exploits.

“I know that they were definitely hooking up—oral sex, kissing, touching,” he said. “I found that it was much harder to get a religious girl to actually have sexual intercourse because they place a premium on virginity.”

In public, at least, the rule at Yeshiva remains unchanged, students say.

“I know couples that behind closed doors, they’ll cuddle or they’ll make out,” L.P. said. “But when it comes to sitting in the student lounge, they sit five feet apart.”

Ex-soldier Anat Kamm enters prison for stealing classified documents


Former Israeli soldier Anat Kamm, who turned classified military documents over to a reporter, entered jail to begin her 4 1/2-year sentence.

Kamm reported to the Neve Tirza prison in Ramle on Tuesday morning. The Israeli Supreme Court denied her appeal last week to delay the sentence until her appeal of its length was completed.

The sentence and 18-month probation meted out last month in Tel Aviv District Court was well below the 15 years requested by prosecutors. Her two-year house arrest will not be counted as time served.

Kamm was convicted in February of collecting, holding and passing on classified information without authorization. She had been charged originally with espionage, but the charge was dropped as part of a plea bargain. Kamm was arrested in late 2009 or early 2010.

Kamm admitted to stealing about 2,000 documents, hundreds identified as classified or top secret, which she downloaded on to two discs, while serving her mandatory military service in the Israeli army’s Central Command. She turned the information over to Haaretz reporter Uri Blau, who wrote stories based on the information that were approved by the military censor. The stories led to a search for Blau’s source

Following her military service, Kamm was a media reporter for Walla, an online news site that at the time was partly owned by Haaretz.

“I didn’t have the chance to change some of the things that I found important to change during my military service, and I thought that by exposing these [materials] I would make a change,” Kamm is quoted as saying in the police documents. “It was important for me to bring the IDF’s policy to public knowledge.”

Jews trying to interfere, Malaysian newspaper warns


The Malaysian government-backed newspaper said in an editorial that foreign Jewish groups will try to use a current push for reform to interfere in the country.

“At a time when the drumbeats in the name of human rights are getting boisterous, it will give the best opportunity for pro-Jewish groups to interfere in any Muslims countries,” the Utusan Malaysia daily said in an editorial Monday. “Muslims and Malaysians should not allow any party, especially the Jews, to discreetly interfere in the country’s administration.

“The success and prosperity of Malaysia as a model Islamic nation has created jealousy to a certain country and this is made worse by Malaysia’s firm stand in fighting against violence by the Jews in Palestine,” the editorial continues. “The Jews will find ways to destroy our prosperity and well-being.

“We probably think that this is a misplaced concern, but we must not forget the fate of certain countries which have been victims of the hidden hands,” it concludes.

The editorial does not provide evidence of a Jewish plot.

Malaysia has no diplomatic ties with Israel and supports the Palestinian cause.

Some 20,000 people marched in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur on July 9 demanding electoral reform.

Briefs: Shalom to ‘Shalom L.A;’ Israeli gymnast visits; Shaliach for Tehrangeles


L.A. Israeli Newspaper Closes Shop

Shalom L.A., the Hebrew-language newsweekly that catered to Los Angeles’ large Israeli community, ceased production last month after 19 years. The paper had been largely subsidized by its owners, Isaac and Miri Shepher, until they transferred ownership to editor Moshe Barzilai in November.

“We basically donated it to him,” Miri Shepher said. “But he didn’t have the money to continue. He held out for four weeks, and then that is it.”

Barzilai said he is talking with a few investors about reorganizing and re-launching the weekly, which advertised a readership of 45,000 but did not provide audited circulation numbers. Barzilai declined further comment.

Shepher, who with her husband owns Encino-based Life Alert, said that every month the paper was in the red, costing her family more money than she could tabulate.

“I don’t want to know either. Lots of millions,” she said. “I should have donated the money to the State of Israel instead.”

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Israeli Olympic Gymnastics Hopeful Coming to Los Angeles
Irina Risenson Corbeil


With a suitcase full of ribbons, clubs and ropes, the Israeli national rhythmic gymnastics champion is heading for Los Angeles, where she will compete in the LA Lights Tournament of Champions Jan. 24-27 in Culver City.

Hungarian-born Irina Risenzon, 19, placed seventh in the 2007 world championship in Patras, Greece, in September, making her the first Israeli to qualify for the Olympics in rhythmic gymnastics.

Rhythmic gymnastics combines acrobatics, ballet and athleticism in five events, in which gymnasts slink and scamper across the floor with hula hoops, balls, clubs, jump ropes and the most famous of the rhythmic apparatus, the ribbon stick that snakes and swirls through the air.

Rhythmic gymnasts train and stretch to develop the hand-eye coordination, grace and exceptional flexibility — feet and head often meet — required for the sport, which has been an Olympic event since the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games.

Risenzon, from the Holon municipal team, has placed in the top 10 in world events for the past several years and is a serious contender for the title at the Beijing Olympics this summer. The Israeli team placed sixth all around in a ranking round in Beijing last month.

Risenzon has become a star in Israel, especially in her hometown of Holon, which is building a training center in her honor. A junior level gymnast from Israel will also be competing in LA Lights, the last major competition before the Olympics. Last year, Risenzon placed third all-around at LA Lights, which is hosted by the Los Angeles School of Gymnastics in Culver City.

Competitors from 14 countries, including 2004 Olympic champions and the current Russian world champions, will compete at the Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium, 4117 Overland Ave. The Olympic level gymnasts will compete Saturday, Jan. 26, from 4 to 8 p.m. The finals will be held Sunday, Jan. 27, from 4 to 8 p.m.

The public is invited to meet the top 10 competitors at an event at the American Girl Place at The Grove on Thursday, Jan. 24, from 3:30 to 5:50 p.m.

For the competition schedule and tickets, visit http://www.lalights2008.com. For more information, visit http://www.rhythmic.co.il/

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Iranian Jews Get First Shaliach From Israel

Los Angeles’ Iranian Jewish community received its first Israeli shaliach (emissary) in November. Maccabi World Union’s Nave Chupkov will work out of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana for the next two years. Sponsored by Neria Yomtoubian Foundation and Eretz-SIAMAK, Chupkov’s mission is to help encourage Judaism and reinforce support for Israel among young Jews in the Iranian American community, as well as the wider Jewish community.

“My goals are to build a tradition for young people to attend our events on the Jewish holidays, develop leadership skills and also encourage young professionals to attend our trips that combine fun and education,” Chupkov said.

For his part, Chupkov has had some success attracting many young Iranian Jews to his events during December and has trips to Big Bear and Israel planned for the coming months.

“I am very excited about working in the Persian community, and the warmth I’ve received from them is incredible,” Chupkov said.

Eretz-SIAMAK will host a Tu B’Shevat brunch and tree-planting event on Jan. 20. For more information, call Chupkov at (818) 342-9303.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Kids Invited to Develop Israel Ad Campaign

Israel’s Ministry of Tourism is asking American children to help develop its latest publicity material. To help promote Israel’s 60th anniversary, kids are invited to design an image for a postcard that will serve as an invitation to festivities surrounding the anniversary.

The 6-by-9 inch image can be done in a variety of media — from crayon to collage — and should reflect what it means for Israel to be 60 years old and why people should visit. Winners will receive a prize package of Israeli goodies and have their essays published in Babaganewz magazine and Web site. Entries must be received by Feb. 8.

For official rules and entry form, visit http://www.babaganewz.com/thebigdraw.

— JGF

Leadership Fellowships

Graduate students in business or public administration interested in working for the Jewish community are eligible for fellowships sponsored by Professional Leaders Project (PLP), a 3-year-old organization dedicated to helping young people develop as lay professionals and lay leaders in the Jewish community. In addition to financial support, the 10 fellows will receive mentoring and access to Jewish organization.

“We expect the PLP fellows to galvanize the American Jewish community and to challenge the status quo,” said Arianna Jeret, executive director of the PLP Academic Fellows program. “We are not content to merely train competent professionals; we want to develop successful leaders.”

Fellowships are now available. For information, visit http://www.jewishleaders.net.

— JGF

Jewish Learning Academy Expands Mommy and Me Program

The Jewish Learning Academy, a Chabad organization on Pico Boulevard, is expanding its Mommy and Me program offering music, movement, art and drama in Jewish environment. Kreative Kids, for children aged 3 month to 3 years, will hold an open house Sunday, Jan. 13, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., and classes begin Jan. 22.

For more information, visit http://www.jlaonline.org.

— JGF

Sam Zell is one tough Jew


Happily for them, most of the old-time Los Angeles anti-Semites who used to hang out at the downtown California Club are either dead or too old to care that a Jew is on the verge of
owning the L.A. Times.

Not just any Jew. Sam Zell looks as though he’s one tough Jew, probably even tougher than the old California Clubbers who stole the water from the Owens Valley and got rich in sneaky San Fernando Valley land deals.

Zell, a billionaire Chicago real estate developer, is the apparent winner in the battle for control of the Tribune Co., owner of the Times, the Chicago Tribune, several other newspapers, television stations, etc. The deal heavily burdens the company with debt and makes the employees his partner in the enterprise through creation of an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP).

Another Jew, David Geffen, is waiting in the wings, hoping to be either Zell’s joint-venture partner or to buy the Times from him.

However it turns out, we’ll probably have a Jew in charge of the Times, which was once one of old Los Angeles’ most famous WASP institutions. What a great day for old L.A. Jews with long memories of country clubs and downtown clubs that banned them; restrictive covenants that kept them out of certain fancy neighborhoods; anti-Semitic fraternities and sororities at USC and UCLA and law firms that never seemed able to find a place for a smart Jewish attorney. They also may have memories of the old Times, which, while not anti-Semitic, was a perfect reflection of the conservative Republican WASP culture of Los Angeles’ upper classes.

This culture would have had no room for Zell, a University of Michigan alum with a bachelor’s degree in 1963, a law degree in 1966 and a membership in Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity.

I’ve never met Zell. But I got some insight from a story by Chicago Tribune reporters Michael Oneal and David Greising that noted, “Zell is known for his explosive, often profane outbursts, but colleagues say he is typically calm, focused and to the point.”

Then I watched a video of him being interviewed by the business editors and reporters of the Tribune. He was unlike any Times boss I ever met. He wore a striped sport shirt without tie or T-shirt and the kind of blue sport coat you’d buy at Target and wear with jeans. In fact, he likes jeans — and motorcycles.

In the video, he smiled a bit and talked about his Tribune deal in a relaxed, confident manner, not at all intimidated by the reporters. Why should he be? He’s a billionaire. They’re just reporters.

The most revealing moment in the interview came when one of the reporters asked Zell why he put together the deal.

“Because nobody has ever done it before,” he said. “The true test of an entrepreneur is someone who spends his life constantly testing his limits. The definition of an idiot is someone who has reached his goals.”

The deal, he said, “isn’t going to change my lifestyle, no matter what happens.” Then, in a moment that should be pondered by Tribune employees across the country, he said to the reporters, “It’s likely to change yours significantly.”

Did he mean they’d make a lot of money from their ESOP? Or will they see their retirement dollars fly away, Enron fashion? Or maybe, they’ll get laid off.

Zell’s family fled Poland the day before the Nazis invaded. An article in Dividend Alumni magazine, a publication of the University of Michigan’s business school, tells how Zell’s father, Bernard Zell, a grain broker, led his wife and young daughter on an 18-month journey across the Soviet Union to Japan and arrived in the United States in 1941. Sam was born that year.

“There’s this Yiddish word, derechertz, and it means respect,” Zell told Dividend Alumni writer James Tobin. “My father and mother, particularly my father, brought us up with the premise that respect was non-negotiable. Love was optional. I’m not saying this in a bad way. It was: ‘I want you to love me. But you have to respect me.’
“My dad was very, very strong and very confident. I had to be very confident and strong to succeed in his shadow.”

Forbes.com said his net worth is $4.5 billion. He began by buying a bunch of magazines, including Playboy, after his yeshiva classes in Chicago, taking them back to the suburbs on the train and selling them at a big markup to fellow students at his suburban school. In college, he got into property ownership and development. He could spot what was undervalued and make money from it. Thus he is perfect for the newspaper business, considered by Wall Street to be in terminal decline.

Many of us can relate to the Zell story, although ours probably does not have a billion- dollar outcome. The story is our heritage — fleeing from terror, making a difficult journey to the New World, struggling against all odds.

This was not the story told by most of those at the top levels of the Times when I got there in 1970. I was invited to luncheons for dignitaries in the most exclusive executive dining room. Everyone ate slowly and talked quietly. Silences were broken by the clink of expensive silverware. Nobody asked the dignitaries rude questions. I learned to eat slowly and not talk with my hands.

But the old Times was disappearing. Jews moved into top positions. As the years went on, one of our publishers was Dave Laventhol. We had a Jewish managing editor, a Jewish national editor and many other Jewish editors and reporters.

More than that, the grand lady of the Times, Dorothy Chandler, who was a daughter of a Long Beach merchant family and not part of the L.A. establishment, had made friends with Westside Jews. She was building the Music Center and figured that the culture-loving Jewish community would help finance the place. She helped Jews join the L.A. mainstream.

City Voice: L.A. Times faces tough job


One day at lunch with a group of reporters and editors, Dave Laventhol, then the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, was musing that journalists had become elitist,
separated from their communities, maybe even too educated.

Was my bachelor’s degree suddenly an encumbrance?

“Is it OK if you went to college but didn’t pay attention?” I asked. But after a moment’s thought, I understood what Dave was saying.

Reporters, the lifeblood of newspapers, must be connected to the communities they cover.

This is an especially difficult job here because there are so many communities. As the Times’ Tim Rutten said in his “Regarding Media” column last week, the paper must connect with the widely dispersed Latino, Chinese American, Korean American, Armenian, Russian, Persian, Pakistani and Indian immigrant communities and their Americanized children. He also noted that “the Times circulation area is home to an African American middle class that rivals that of Atlanta and to an extraordinarily loyal Jewish readership that demands sophisticated news coverage from Washington and the Middle East.”

This is very difficult to do, and none of us who have tried have succeeded completely. Part of the reason is the size and diversity of the Times’ market. Part of it is related to the structure of the paper and the nature of reporters. None of it has anything to do with bigotry, racism or anti-Semitism among the staff.

Some of you will not believe my last point. Certainly not the reader who e-mailed me: “My friend: The L.A. Times anti-Israel propaganda is not imagined. I stopped reading the paper because it frightened me to the core. It sounded like Passion plays the Russian Orthodox priests used to foment hatred against Jews at Easter. We know that Jewish patronage made the paper. And now we will bring it down by ignoring it.”

I replied, “I don’t know about the Passion play analogy. And when I was there, I didn’t see too many Cossacks running through the newsroom raping Jewish women. Yes, we had Jewish women there, plus a Jewish publisher, a Jewish managing editor, other Jewish reporters and editors.”

If you agree with this reader, read no more.

Part of the coverage problem lies in the reporters themselves. Dave wasn’t exactly correct when he said they had become elitists, especially here. There are so many rich, flashy people in L.A. — law, entertainment and other businesses — that the journalists, with their long-stagnating pay, are in the middle class. Some are in the upper reaches, but still not worth a maitre d’s notice.

Yet, because of their education, background and leadership, too many reporters fail to dig into the many facets of Southland life. Most reporters and editors are secularists in an area where religion is important to so many. Most are far from the immigrant experience in a Southland filled with immigrants. Most are well educated and seek the company of the same kind of people.

When I started at the Oakland Tribune in the 1950s, a newspaper was essentially a blue-collar business. A substantial part of the staff had not gone to college. Those that had usually worked their way through.

We were overworked, underpaid and screamed at by a frightening assistant managing editor, Mr. Norton. We resembled our blue-collar city, and we felt at home in the bars, restaurants, police stations and schools, which many of us had attended.

Still, even the most rarified, wine-sipping Stanford grad should be able to pull news from a hostile, high school grad cop. Charm and cunning overcome many an obstacle, but only if the reporters are out on the street using such skills. And this is one of the Times’ great failures.

Cost-cutting has dismantled the large structure created to cover the sprawling area. Long gone are special editions on the Westside, the Inland Empire, the San Gabriel Valley, Southeast Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. The Orange County edition was sharply reduced. Nothing has filled the gap.

Another reason for the failure is the Times’ philosophy of local reporting.

Glory goes to elite investigative teams, rather than to reporters who prowl dangerous neighborhoods for a story on gang killings, as Times reporter Andrew Blankstein did recently in a story about the area east of Robertson Boulevard, or to those who explore the foibles and oddities of our many communities, as Bob Pool does.

Yet it is this kind of reporting and storytelling that connect the paper to readers. Steve Lopez’s column is great because he is a tireless explorer of the city, as well as being a terrific writer. In Bob Sipchen’s “School Me” column and blog in the paper and on the Times Web site, students, teachers and administrators are real people — not the usual cardboard characters you find in the Times. It helps that Bob is an L.A. public schools parent.

A new editor came aboard the Times this week, joining his fellow Chicagoan, the new publisher. They should increase the local reporting staff, put more reporters on the street and have them follow the advice of Sam Smith, the populist, old school editor of the Progressive Review, who said, “The basic rules of good journalism in any time are fairly simple: Tell the story right, tell it well and, in the words of the late New Yorker editor, Harold Ross, ‘If you can’t be funny, be interesting.'”


Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

The Lichtenstein Formula for a Jewish Paper


“The role of a Jewish newspaper is to connect the Jewish community, not to unify it,” said Gene Lichtenstein, founding editor of The Journal.

During his nearly 15-year tenure, which ended in 2000, Lichtenstein’s formula was to hire good, independent writers and columnists who could produce articles that raised the interest, and frequently the hackles, of both professional and peripheral Jews.

“I wanted stories that people would discuss and argue about the following day,” Lichtenstein said during a lengthy interview at his home near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

This concept doesn’t seem so revolutionary now, but it went counter to the tradition of most American Jewish weeklies in decades past.

The purpose of those publications was precisely to unify their communities in material and moral support of their federations, which usually financed the papers, and other Jewish and Israeli causes. A basic rule was to avoid criticism and controversy.

In that sense, Lichtenstein was an odd, even risky, choice as editor, and his selection split the then Jewish Federation Council, he recalls.

When Lichtenstein visited Los Angeles in 1985 to court his future wife, Jocelyn, the city’s Jews had the unusual choice of three competing weeklies.

They were the venerable B’nai B’rith Messenger, the maverick Heritage, both independently owned, and the Jewish Community Bulletin, the official Federation organ.

Much of The Federation’s leadership was dissatisfied with the coverage of all three papers and decided to explore a new format with a new editor to replace its own Bulletin.

At this point, Lichtenstein remembers, he was contacted by Ethel Narvid, a key player in Democratic and city politics, on behalf of a Federation committee appointed to find a new editor to shape a new paper.

Lichtenstein, the grandson of Russian immigrants, had a resume combining experience as psychologist, journalist and academic.

He had worked for The New York Times, Fortune, London Economist and as literary editor at Esquire, where his contributors included the likes of Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.

On the academic side, he had served as chairman of the journalism department at the University of Rhode Island and taught courses in mass communications at USC and UC Berkeley.

Perhaps equally important for the position at hand, he had started a newspaper in the Boston area, the Jewish Journal of the Northshore.

As he recalls it, in his first interview with The Federation committee, chaired by attorney Richard Volpert, Lichtenstein outlined his concept for the new paper.

“I wanted an American newspaper, Jewish but connected to the larger world,” he said. “It wouldn’t just reflect the viewpoint of The Federation or be mainly about fundraising. It wouldn’t print only favorable stories about the Jewish community and Israel.”

In addition, he would insist on good writing, and the contributions of columnists would be central to the paper.

After that presentation, Lichtenstein thought that his chances of getting the job were pretty slim, and he and Jocelyn went on a vacation trip to London.

To his surprise, “I got a midnight call from Volpert and he offered me the editorship,” Lichtenstein said.

Shortly afterward, Narvid gave a lunch at her home for some old friends, including Los Angeles Times labor editor Harry Bernstein and this reporter, to introduce Lichtenstein.

“Harry told me that I was kidding myself if I thought The Federation would let me put out an independent paper, and you backed him up,” Lichtenstein reminded me.

Despite the prediction, The Federation committee and larger Federation board of directors agreed, in the face of considerable internal opposition, to establish an independent Journal, to advance a $660,000 loan for its operation, and to pay a subsidy to mail the paper to each of its 52,000 donors.

There had been two other finalists for the editor’s job, Yehuda Lev, an outspoken, liberal journalist, and Marlene Adler Marks, a talented writer active in politics and feminist issues.

Lev and Marks were the first editor/reporters hired, soon joined by such early staffers as Tom Waldman, Sheldon Teitelbaum, Joe Domanick and Naomi Pfefferman.

The first slim issue of The Jewish Journal appeared on Feb. 28, 1986, with Volpert, whom the often-critical Lichtenstein praised for “a real standout job,” as the first publisher.

Early issues won kudos for lively writing, outraged criticism by some Federation leaders and Jewish organizations, and a weak response from advertisers.

Within one year, the paper was hemorrhaging money, and some influential Federation leaders demanded that in the future they approve all major stories and editorials. Lichtenstein refused and, in a committee vote, carried the day by a narrow margin.

However, there was enough dissatisfaction with the editorial and business performance of The Journal that The Federation invited Charles Buerger, publisher of six successful East Coast Jewish papers, to buy out The Journal.

Buerger made a “low- ball” offer, then raised the stakes, but “to my astonishment,” The Federation decided not to sell, Lichtenstein said.

Nevertheless, by June 1987, the paper had run through the $660,000 lent by The Federation and faced an early demise.

At his point, major Federation leaders, with Edward Brennglass, Stanley Hirsh and Osiah Goren in the lead, rode to the rescue, putting up their own money to repay the loan. The Journal lived to fight another day.

Brennglass took over as publisher for the next 11 years, the paper established a solid reputation and actually started to make a profit. After Brennglass’ death, Hirsh, an influential businessman and Democratic heavyweight, became publisher in 1997.

However, by the year 2000, strong editorial and personality differences between publisher and editor-in-chief led to a parting point. Lichtenstein resigned and was succeeded by the managing editor, Rob Eshman.

Looking back on his 15-year tenure, Lichtenstein said he had “a wonderful time,” which included reporting trips to Israel, Germany, Hungary and Croatia.

“I think we put out a pretty good paper, though not as good as it could have been,” he reminisced. Part of the problem was a running conflict between himself and Federation leaders, which, he acknowledged, were partly his fault.

“I was really always an outsider, with one foot in the community, and one foot outside,” he said. In addition, “I believe that a Jewish weekly belongs to the editor and staff, and it is the editor’s job to make the staff realize that the paper belongs to them.

“That is hard for some organizational leaders to accept,” Lichtenstein added in an understatement.

His major contributions, Lichtenstein said, were to publish as many diverse viewpoints as possible, recruit talented writers and columnists and insist, at all times, on good writing.

True to his initial inspiration, “I tried to put out a paper that was part of America and the world,” he said.

“I’ve met some Jews, very wealthy and powerful Jews, who embrace Jewish victimhood, who told me that you can never trust a gentile,” Lichtenstein said. “I don’t champion that. I believe that the walls we build around ourselves are only in our minds.”

The “victim” mindset is encouraged by many Jewish organizations, Lichtenstein said, “which wave the flag of anti-Semitism to keep their members loyal and to raise funds.”

For Lichtenstein, there is a busy life after journalism. While he still writes, he has returned to his first profession as psychologist and is the director of mental health and social services for 26 clinics of the Aegis Institute, which specializes in the treatment of opiate addicts.

In addition, he has established a private practice, which includes family and marriage counseling.

He draws a distinction between core committed Jews, who go to synagogue and contribute to Jewish causes, and the “integrated” Jew on the periphery of the organized community.

“It is not the job of the American Jewish press to ‘convert’ the integrated Jew,” he said. “Our job is to open a dialogue with him.”

 

Love ‘n’ Bloomers


The tomb of a venerated rabbi has become the apparent final resting place for the underwear of hundreds of Israeli women looking for husbands.

Israel’s Maariv newspaper reports that authorities have collected around 400 pairs of knickers and bras from the grilles of the tomb’s window and on nearby trees.

According to believers, an unmarried person will meet his or her soulmate and marry within a year after visiting the grave of Rabbi Yenothan Ben Uziel in northern Israel.

But as for leaving undies behind at the tomb, that’s going way too far, say local clerics, who want to nix that ritual.

In fact, Rabbi Israel Deri, who has jurisdiction over protecting holy sites in the north, suggested to Maariv that would-be romantics risk a sort of love curse if they insist on dropping off their unmentionables.

“Having consulted with the chief rabbis, I can say with certainty that not only are these women guilty of a profanity, but they will also never gain benediction,” Deri said.

 

Tribe


Back when I was working at a newspaper in New York, my editors and I tried to come up with a teen-sounding headline for a story on voting for our new teen section.

“How about ‘Gettin’ Out the Vote’?” my editor offered.

As if dropping a “g” off the end of the word is all one needs to do to appeal to teens.

I knew then, and I know now, that to really speak to teens, you just have to be one.

Adults can affect any sort of teenish language they want; they can claim to understand how the teenage mind works, to get the issues teens are thinking about. But teens know a fake when they see it.

That is why The Jewish Journal has decided to hand this page over to teenagers. Once a month, we will choose columns, feature articles or news stories submitted by teens in grades 9-12.

As you can see on this page, Natalie Goodis, a junior at Marlborough High School, has inaugurated the page with a column about how her experience in Eastern Europe and Israel changed her.

Here’s your chance. Write an article about what a teenager has to weigh when deciding whether to date only Jews. Send us your thoughts on evolution vs. creationism. Tell us about what you think about Ariel Sharon, about this country’s hurricane response, about your grandmother. Describe an event at your school that moved the whole student body to action.

The topics are up to you; the voice is yours.

We hope the monthly page is just the beginning. We want teens to talk to us — to have some input into what their peers should be writing about. That is why we are creating a Jewish Journal Teen Advisory Committee. (How would that look on a college resume?) The committee will meet several times a year to determine what topics you want covered in these pages, and to get your feedback on where things should go.

Being a teenager is intense. It is when you form your values, you solidify lifelong relationships, you choose a path for your future. Most teens are profoundly aware of just how pivotal these years are, and a lot of teens have something to say about it.

If you’re one of them, we’re waiting to hear from you. This is your chance to help more than 100,000 Jewish adults get a glimpse into your world.

Action Items:

  • Articles: First-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words — submitted as an attachment to an e-mail.
  • Jewish Journal Teen Advisory Committee: Send your name, age, school and up to 200 words on why you should be on the Jewish Journal Teen Advisory Committee.

Ground Rules

Fast and Loose With Facts at Ha’aretz


 

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz, a favorite of the intelligentsia in Israel and the West, and widely cited by the North American press, is frequently referred to as “Israel’s New York Times.” But a New York Times it is not.

Since the Jayson Blair scandal, the state-side Gray Lady has stepped-up its commitment to accountability, hiring public editor Daniel Okrent, who rigorously investigates complaints about the paper’s reports, dialogues with readers about their concerns and diligently ensures that the necessary corrections run.

Don’t expect comparable accountability at Ha’aretz, which describes itself as “an independent newspaper with a broadly liberal outlook,” but which allows its writers to espouse extremist views unfettered by the facts.

Why, exactly, should this Tel Aviv media outlet be of concern to Boston-based CAMERA, whose mission is to promote an accurate and balanced press in North America?

As Eric Weiner, former Jerusalem bureau chief for National Public Radio, once told a Palestinian media symposium, he began every working day by scanning local papers for stories. He leaned especially on what he termed the “very respectable newspaper” Ha’aretz. He is not alone. This September, Ha’aretz was cited by the Western press corps more than five dozen times.

And, for a close-to-home example as to why Ha’aretz’s prominence in Western media outlets is our problem, readers may recall the July 30 column in this newspaper by Ha’aretz writer Gideon Levy (“If the Situation Were Reversed”). The column, which originally appeared in the July 18 issue of Ha’aretz, was filled with factual errors, both substantive and incidental.

Levy claimed that Golda Meir “said that after what the Nazis did to us, we can do whatever we want.”

Challenged for a source for the virulent quote, Levy acknowledged in an Aug. 12 e-mail he had none.

“Therefore we dropped the quotation in the original version in Hebrew and by mistake it was printed in the English version,” he stated.

Neither CAMERA nor the editor of The Jewish Journal were able to obtain a correction from Levy or Ha’aretz.

That’s not all. Arguing that Israelis are utterly indifferent to Palestinian suffering, Levy cited the killing of Ibrahim Halfalla, an elderly Palestinian in Gaza, and claimed that Yediot Achronot “didn’t bother to run the story at all.” In fact, Yediot deplored the killing in a hard-hitting editorial July 14. Again no correction.

Levy also misinforms when he alleged “our Education Ministry announces that it will not permit Arabs to attend Jewish schools in Haifa….” However, the decision regarding where particular students attend particular schools is the responsibility of the Municipality, not the Education Ministry. Last academic year, parents of students at the Arabic public schools had lobbied the Municipality for improvements. After negotiations, the improvements were agreed to. At no point did the Ministry or Municipality prohibit Arab attendance in Haifa’s Jewish schools.

Levy’s journalism is likewise substandard when he stated as fact: “Last week settlers poisoned a well at Atawana, in the southern Mount Hebron region, and the police are investigating.”

Indeed, the police were investigating the poisoning of a well with dead chickens but they had not determined that settlers were the culprit. Palestinians accused settlers, and the police suspected settlers, but it was not a foregone conclusion as Levy asserted.

For instance, The Jerusalem Post quoted a police officer: “We are also investigating the possibility that the chickens were thrown inside the well as part of an inner Palestinian dispute.”

Unfortunately, nobody at Ha’aretz is investigating how Levy’s numerous errors, many of them egregious, made it into print, despite the fact that CAMERA and The Journal both provided editors with the substantive counterpoint.

The newspaper’s silence regarding Levy’s defamatory distortions is no surprise in light of the observation of Nahum Barnea of Yediot Achronot, who wrote about Israeli reporters who flunk the “lynching test.”

These are writers who refused to criticize Palestinians even when two Israeli reservists were brutally lynched in Ramallah by a Palestinian crowd. They are: Amira Hass, Akiva Eldar and Levy, all from Ha’aretz.

In November 2000, Barnea wrote: “And then the lynching test came, and before it the test of the shooting and fire bombs of the Tanzim fighters, and before it the test of the violations of the Oslo agreement by Arafat, and it turns out that the support of some of the prominent reporters [for Palestinian positions] is absolute. … They have a mission.”

We at CAMERA also have a mission. And as long as Ha’aretz continues to shape — and distort — Western news reports, that Israeli media outlet is fair game for this American outfit.

Tamar Sternthal is senior research analyst for CAMERA.

 

The Nation and The World


Powell Heads to Israel

Secretary of State Colin Powell is slated to travel to Israel. Powell will hold talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials next Sunday and Monday, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department announced. The talks are expected to focus on how to restart peace talks following the death of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. On Tuesday, President Bush named current Nation Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to replace Powell, who resigned this week.

Israel, NATO Grow Closer

Israel could take part in NATO military exercises for the first time. NATO officials have asked Israel to take part in exercises, as well as anti-terror activities such as patrols in the Mediterranean, Ha�(tm)aretz reported. Israel�(tm)s inclusion is part of efforts to increase the treaty group�(tm)s “Mediterranean dialogue.” The dialogue includes six Muslim nations: Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania.

Jerusalem Post Gets New Owner

A Canadian media company and an Israeli media group appear set to take over the Jerusalem Post. CanWest Global Communications Corp. and the Mirkaei Tikshoret Group each will own 50 percent of the newspaper, as well as the Jerusalem Report magazine and other properties, according to media reports. The sale by Hollinger International group is believed to be for $13.2 million. Hollinger paid $21.5 million for the newspaper, which it acquired in two stages in 1989 and 1990. Hollinger International has been selling off its holdings after Conrad Black, its CEO, resigned amid an internal investigation that found that Black and others stole tens of millions of dollars from the company. Black has denied any impropriety. Mirkaei Tikshoret has holdings that include TV and radio stations, as well as daily newspapers in Russian and magazines in Hebrew and Russian.

Nazi Salutes Lead to Probe

Five men were placed under judicial investigation for giving Nazi salutes at a concentration camp in France. The men, aged between 22 and 27, were shown on police film giving the salutes earlier this year at Struthof, a Nazi concentration camp near the German border where close to 20,000 political prisoners from across Europe died during World War II. The men were placed under criminal investigation over the weekend by a magistrate in the southeastern city of Grenoble for aggravated violation of a monument. They are also likely to face charges in connection with obscene behavior at a Christian cemetery in the Grenoble region.

Israelis Accused of Operating Spy Drones

French media accused Israeli mercenaries of operating spy drones in the war-torn Ivory Coast. Israeli security sources on Wednesday denied the TF1 television report, but confirmed that a private Israeli company had supplied unmanned aerial vehicles to Ivorian forces. Ivorian forces have attacked French troops in the African country this month. According to the sources, Israel stopped supplying UAVs to the Ivory Coast after unrest erupted. But Jerusalem sources had no immediate comment on a report in the French newspaper Le Monde that 46 Israelis had run an intelligence-gathering center for the Ivorian military.

ICHEIC Cuts Ties With Generali Fund

The commission handling Holocaust-era insurance claims has cut ties with an Israel-based fund. The International Commission of Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC) severed ties earlier this month with the Generali Trust Fund, claiming it was not meeting ICHEIC�(tm)s timetable and was unable to improve the quality of its work. Mara Rudman, ICHEIC�(tm)s COO, said all claims being processed by the trust fund, which was established to handle prewar claims taken out by Italian insurance company Generali, will be processed by Generali itself. Meeting in Washington on Tuesday, ICHEIC rolled out plans to cease operations at the end of 2005.

UJC Honors Goldman, Cardin in Ohio

Two legendary and beloved Jewish communal leaders received special honors at the United Jewish Communities�(tm) General Assembly (G.A.) in Cleveland. The Jewish Communal Service Association of North America paid tribute at a G.A. breakfast to Ralph Goldman, executive vice president emeritus of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, in honor of his 90th birthday and lifetime of service to world Jewry. The organization also dedicated a special edition of its Journal of Jewish Communal Service to Shoshana Cardin, who has chaired numerous major national Jewish organizations and umbrella groups.

Russian Jewish Group Gets New Leader

Vladimir Slutsker was unanimously approved as president of the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC). The presidium of the charity group on Tuesday approved the banker, a Kabbalah enthusiast and member of the upper house of Russia�(tm)s Parliament. The RJC�(tm)s former president, Yevgeny Satanovsky, will remain within the group�(tm)s leadership, overseeing its charity projects, while Slutsker is expected to take over financial matters, religious policy and public relations.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Federation to End Donor Subscriptions


Starting next year, Jewish Journal readers who received their weekly newspaper by donating to The Jewish Federation will still be able to get it, but not as part of their Federation donation.

Readers will be able to subscribe directly to The Journal for home delivery, or pick it up for free at distribution sites around Los Angeles.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2005, The Federation will no longer purchase 20,000 annual Journal subscriptions for its donors.

The change in this 18-year relationship comes as The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles launches a unique and unprecedented plan to distribute some 110,000 copies of its weekly newspaper in the greater Los Angeles area.

"By 2006, we intend to be the largest circulation Jewish community weekly in North America," Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman said.

As part of its plan, The Journal will rely largely on free distribution and paid private subscriptions. Until now, The Journal has been able to pay cheap third-class postage rates, allowing it to charge $30 per subscription. Under U.S. Postal Service regulations, a company must pay first-class postage if it distributes a majority of papers for free. First- class postage for weekly delivery is $60 per year.

The Jewish Journal will be running a series of ads to alert readers to its new distribution system.

The distribution plan is unique among North America’s 135 Jewish community papers. But Eshman says it suits a community that is in itself unique. "L.A. Jewry is dispersed, diverse and at the cutting edge of American Jewish life," Eshman said, "and we want our paper to reach and reflect all parts of it."

Journal Chief Operating Officer Kimber Sax said the change could initially cost the Journal, a nonprofit, "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in lost revenue.

On the upside, she said, giving away The Journal is expected to double the paper’s circulation to 110,000 by 2006. Sax and Eshman are confident the increased penetration will make the paper more attractive to advertisers hungry to reach the affluent Jewish community.

"Our vision is that everywhere you go in greater Los Angeles County, whether you’re in Arcadia, Conejo, Encino, San Gabriel or Torrance, you’re going to see The Jewish Journal," Sax said.

Eshman said the new goal challenges the paper to improve the quality to grow readership. Toward that end, The Journal has hired new writers and launched editions in Orange County and Conejo Valley. The paper just hired an in-house Web director to overhaul its Web site, which should be unveiled by October.

"Our goal is to be the largest Jewish newspaper in the country and among the best," Eshman said.

The Journal will become one of only a handful of Jewish papers nationwide neither owned by nor selling thousands of subscriptions to federations, said Neil Rubin, senior editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times and former president of the American Jewish Press Association. He estimated that about 85 percent of Jewish papers have formal financial ties with the philanthropic bodies, including the Cleveland Jewish News and the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, which are federation-owned. Such arrangements help keep some publications afloat by guaranteeing paid circulation, he said.

However, Rubin said at the very least these relationships create the appearance of conflicts of interest.

With federation papers, "you’re not really doing journalism. You’re self-censoring or you’re being censured, which isn’t healthy for the Jewish community," said Rubin, whose Baltimore Jewish Times is independent.

Relations between the Los Angeles Federation and Journal occasionally became frosty after stories critical of the organization ran in the paper. Both Federation President John Fishel and Journal Editor Eshman deny these occasional conflicts played any role in the impending separation.

Eshman said the philanthropic organization no longer could afford subscriptions at a time of dramatically increasing operating costs and only slightly higher fund raising. He said the split might have been driven by cost-cutting recommendations made by an internal Federation task force.

Fishel said The Journal’s decision to give away most of its papers necessitated the separation. With The Journal’s decision to giveaway most copies, subscriptions will cost more than The Federation wants to spend, Fishel said.

Still, he said he hoped Federation members would continue to pick up The Journal, which has served the community well.

"I think The Journal has improved dramatically over the last decade," he said.

Irv “Kup” Kupcinet


Irv Kupcinet, the legendary Chicago Sun-Times columnist for 60 years, died Monday, Nov. 10 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. With him were his son, Jerry Kupcinet, and grandchildren, Kari Kupcient Kriser and David Kupcinet. He was hospitalized Sunday after suffering from shortness of breath, and doctors later determined he had pneumonia. He was 91.

From Hollywood stars to sports legends, from U.S. presidents and heads of state, to the man and woman on the street, Kup talked to everyone.

His “Kup’s Column” was an institution at the Sun-Times since the day the newspaper began in 1948, and before then the column appeared in the Chicago Times, where Kup was hired as a sports writer in 1935. At one point it was syndicated to 100 newspapers. His last column appeared Nov. 6, 2003.

He was host on the pioneering, late-night Saturday television show “At Random,” and then later, “Kup’s Show,” devoted to the “lively art of conversation.”

Kup was a tireless worker for charities — including the Variety Club of Chicago and Little City; hosting the Irv Kupcinet Open Celebrity Golf Tournament and the old Harvest Moon Ball; conducting the annual Purple Heart Cruise outings for wounded veterans for 50 years after 1945; and as the original and perennial Chicago host of the annual Cerebral Palsy telethon.

He also raised huge sums for Israeli organizations, especially the Weizmann Institute of Science. He traveled to Israel (then Palestine) in 1947 to report on the plight of Jews trying to flee the aftermath of the Holocaust. In Israel’s Judean Mountains, the Irv Kupcinet Forest now grows on what was barren land before 1960.

This past May, broadcaster and journalist Larry King emceed a star-studded evening of live and video entertainment in Chicago honoring the 60th Anniversary of “Kup’s Column.” The evening was a benefit for one of Kup’s and his late wife, Essee’s, favorite charities, The Chicago Academy for the Arts.

Just two weeks ago, Kup agreed to become a Chicago co-chair of a January fundraising event in Los Angeles sponsored the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Kup was a loving father to son, Jerry (Sue) of Los Angeles, and daughter, the late Karyn “Cookie”; adoring grandfather of Kari (Brad) Kriser and David; great-grandfather of Sam and Amaya Kriser; and fond brother-in-law to Sofia (the late Leonard) Solomon.

Services were held Nov. 12, at Temple Sholom of Chicago. Interment was at Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie.

In lieu of flowers, memorials in his name may be made to The Chicago Academy For The Arts, 1010 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60622 or to the Karyn Kupcinet School at The Weitzman Institute, 79 W. Monroe St., Suite 1111, Chicago, IL 60603. — Cheryl J. Lewin Assoc. Public Relations, Chicago

British Writer Snubs Pro-Israel Letters


A British newspaper columnist who admits that he ignores pro-Israel letters to the editor if the writer has a Jewish name will not be punished, the country’s media watchdog has decided.

Richard Ingrams, a columnist for the Observer newspaper, made the remark last month in a column criticizing Barbara Amiel, a journalist and the wife of Jerusalem Post proprietor Conrad Black.

"I have developed a habit when confronted by letters to the editor in support of the Israeli government to look at the signature to see if the writer has a Jewish name. If so, I tend not to read it," Ingrams wrote in his July 13 column.

The Observer received about 50 letters and e-mails in response to the column, including one from the Board of Deputies, the umbrella organization that represents most British Jews.

Neville Nagler, the director general of the board, called Ingrams’ position "quite unacceptable."

"If a Jewish person chooses to support the Israeli government, this does not make his argument any less legitimate than a non-Jewish person’s," Nagler wrote. "It is deeply worrying that a journalist of your paper is so willing to blind himself to one side of this sad conflict."

Another person who complained to the paper about the column pointed out that many Jews are highly critical of Israel.

"Ingrams would thus exclude names such as [Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag and David Grossman — all fierce critics of Israeli policy –] from the public debate on Israel, on much the same ethnic principle as Jews were once blackballed from certain gentlemen’s clubs," R.J. Chisholm wrote.

The Observer’s own journalist employed to investigate reader complaints admitted that the piece was "inflammatory" and "bigoted."

"I agree with a reader who pointed out that Ingrams’ piece displayed such a degree of prejudice against Jews that it will be impossible ever again to take seriously anything he writes about Israel," journalist Stephen Pritchard wrote on Aug. 3.

But the Press Complaints Commission, which received two formal complaints about the piece, has decided not to take action against Ingrams.

"It is clear there has been no breach of the code" governing newspapers, commission spokesman Stephen Abell told Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Complaints were filed on two grounds, he explained: accuracy and discrimination.

The column did not breach the accuracy clause because it was clearly labeled opinion, rather than news, Abell said. And the code’s discrimination clause applies only to named individuals, not to groups, he said.

"[Ingrams] wasn’t naming individuals, he was making a point about a group," Abell said.

The column might have been offensive, he said, but that is not a violation of newspaper guidelines.

"Matters of taste and offensiveness aren’t covered by the code," he said.

Norman Lebrecht, a former columnist for Britain’s Jewish Chronicle newspaper, supported the commission’s decision.

He called it a matter of courtesy to read one’s mail, adding, "If a columnist chooses to be discourteous, that isn’t a matter for the Press Complaints Commission."

"There is no anti-Semitism" in Ingrams’ refusal to read mail from Jews in support of Israel, he told JTA.

The reaction to the column stemmed from anxiety in the Jewish community, Lebrecht said.

"There is an awful lot of nervousness in the community at the moment, [and the complaints] are a manifestation of that," he said.

In May, the Press Complaints Commission rejected a complaint that a cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon eating a baby was anti-Semitic. The commission said it based its decision on the grounds that the cartoon criticized Sharon’s policies, not his religion.

Stanley Hirsh


I first met Stanley Hirsh in 1984 when he stopped by tovisit an after-school program in Jerusalem where I was working as a counselor.The kids and I were playing a game of basketball on a cracked blacktop court.

After watching from the fence for a while, Stanley called meover and introduced himself. I assumed he was going to congratulate me forhelping the indigent immigrant children of Israel.

“How can someone as tall as you,” he asked, “stink so bad atbasketball?”

Hirsh was several handfuls of human being. He belonged to avanishing generation of Jewish philanthropists, self-made men (they were mostlymen) whose drive, talent, luck and brazenness made them rich. They were tough,sometimes even gruff, and yet exceedingly generous. Their philanthropy arosefrom the same impulse as their wealth. They wanted to make the most, and givethe most.

Stanley’s involvement with The Journal came toward the endof a long life of achievement and giving. But he showed great, youthfulenthusiasm for this paper. He shared a vision of a newspaper that could serveas a kind of hub for an increasingly diverse and far-flung community. Hesupported decisions that greatly increased The Journal’s size and distribution.He supported editorial content that was tough, fair and compassionate.

We at The Jewish Journal mourn his loss, and extend our deepestcondolences to his family. 

Many Angry Voices


The old joke says, "For every two Jews, you have three opinions." So is it possible that, as members of the Jewish political left complained in an ad on the back page of this newspaper on Nov. 22, "In the name of unity in a time of crisis, the great Jewish tradition of vibrant and open debate has given way to a single voice"?

One of the main organizers of that "One Community, Many Voices" statement, UCLA professor David N. Myers, said of current Jewish political discourse that "the default assumption is that you support the present policies of the Israeli government, and hold Israel free of responsibility for the situation, or you’re against us."

In a now well-known incident, conservative political commentator Avi Davis, senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies, compared Jews critical of Israel to those who collaborated with the Nazis. In an essay titled "The Jewish People’s Fifth Column," Davis wrote, "When I hear these men and women justify their condemnation of Israel as an outgrowth of their Jewish humanism, I am reminded of the infamous Judenraten of the Holocaust." Davis has apologized for the comments, but the essay remains posted on the Freeman Center’s Web site. Davis could not be reached for comment.

Myers said he began to feel that anyone expressing disagreement with Israeli policies was no longer accepted in the Jewish community. "I began to ask people, ‘Aren’t we the community?’" he said. "The drift can be summarized as ‘support for Israel is support for the policies of the current Israeli government; anything less is traitorous.’ Symptomatic of this is the rise to significance of StandWithUs."

Indeed, StandWithUs founder and executive director Roz Rothstein worries that signatories to that open letter are "airing dirty laundry…. This is not the time to look as though we are all split up. Those of us who are hesitant to criticize Israel right now are hesitant because Israel has a knife at her throat. Their position is, ‘we’re strong enough to criticize Israel now.’ We really would disagree with that."

"I always feel everybody has a good heart," she said. "Everybody believes in peace, whether left, right or center. The difference is in how we would achieve peace."

On the political left, she said, "Some people may be more idealistic. In a perfect world, maybe a dialogue with evil would be possible."

Still, some mainstream leaders in the Los Angeles Jewish community take exception to the idea that the community does not tolerate criticism. Mark Karlan, who co-chairs the Israel Task Force, which coordinates local pro-Israel activities of major Jewish organizations, said, "The ad itself is manifest evidence that those who want to criticize can do so." He says if the signatories of the Many Voices letter feel disenfranchised, "I think that’s just the truthful reality of the Jewish community today; most don’t want to listen to criticism of Israel now."

Daniel Sokatch, a signer of the letter and executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, disagreed, "It’s less that people can’t speak, it is the notion that people are being bullied and intimidated intellectually by people who don’t want them to say those things." For many, one of the most controversial points of the "One Community, Many Voices" letter had little to do with Israel. While acknowledging "a number of disturbing incidents directed against Jews in this country, especially on college campuses," the letter went on to state, "However, we see little evidence that anti-Semitism poses a serious danger to Jewish life in America."

"We’re not interested in waiting until Jewish life in America is in danger," Rothstein said.

Karlan goes for another dire metaphor: "I think that’s not an inaccurate statement. But the bottom line is, anti-Semitism is raging throughout the world. We cannot let our guard down. It could hit us the way Sept. 11 did."

In the end, the debate centers on whether the extreme danger to the lives of Israeli citizens translates to a danger to the existence of the state of Israel itself. Myers and others on the left say their criticism is of the current government’s policies, but, "We all believe we’re with Israel as much as anyone." Other voices in the community disagree. Many voices.

Why Some Jews Hate the L.A. Times


On April 1, Los Angeles County children’s social worker Jules Weingart sent the Los Angeles Times a letter protesting its predilection for calling Palestinian suicide-bombers "militants." As a courtesy, Weingart attached a list of normative definitions of the terms "militant," "terrorism," "terror" and "extremist."

On April 18, Weingart received a response from Times Readers Representative Jamie Gold. "The word terrorist is not applied to combatants in Israel," Gold informed Weingart on behalf of the newspaper, "because it is considered a politically loaded word."

That this is some perverse form of political correctness, few can doubt. But as Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center has asked repeatedly over the last year, "Political correctness for whom — suicide-bombers?"

Foreign Editor Simon Li, meanwhile, sent an automated e-mail message to Weingart, indicating that he was out of the office until April 22. Li, who has long attracted resentment for what many perceive as his imperious stance toward critics of the Times’ coverage of Israel, concluded his e-mail with: "And if it’s a complaint about our alleged anti-Israel bias, thank you, but I’ve received so many, that mere repetition only serves to dilute the impact of your protest."

The Times announced on Tuesday that Li was stepping down as foreign editor to be replaced by former Mideast correspondent Marjorie Miller.

Even so, given such a history of editorial policy, is it any wonder that the local Jewish community sometimes finds itself skating perilously close to hysteria when it comes to the Times?

In recent weeks, the Times has been the target of several distinct readership revolts. In mid-April, the grass-roots group StandWithUs organized a 10-day boycott on home subscriptions. It was an attempt to get the paper’s attention without actually abandoning it, said a founding member, who for fear of retribution asked to be called Ruth.

"We loved the Times," Ruth said, "and we want to love it again. But when the only two reporters in the region charged with covering Israel deliver a pro-Palestinian spin day after day after day — I don’t need the Times. I can get Al Jazeera instead."

Concurrently, several local synagogues, including Beth Jacob, Stephen S. Wise and Valley Beth Shalom, urged a more modest one-day delivery stoppage on Israel’s Independence Day, April 17.

A cursory review of Internet discussion groups reveals a pervasive belief that there is a direct link between this tame and limited expression of disquiet and the Times’ failure to report on the community’s celebration of Israeli Independence Day, one of the largest ethnic gatherings of the year.

The Times’ editorial department told irate members of the community through a reader’s representative that (a) the assignment to cover the festival had gone to the international desk, which decided that since the event was receiving coverage in Israel, there was no reason to do so here; (b) that the one reporter it reserved for such events had attended a memorial for Daniel Pearl (less than a mile away) instead; and (c) the e-mail flagging the Independence Day ceremonies had disappeared.

In a letter to reader Michael Zarrabian, who complained about the dearth of coverage, the Times’ Gold wrote: "In any other year, for almost any other country celebrating its independence here in L.A., I could tell you that the answer would be that the paper cannot possibly cover all of these celebratory events that take place on any given weekend in the five counties that the Los Angeles Times serves. However, given the circumstances in the world today, that editorial decision to not cover this seems questionable."

However, the damage was done. Large numbers of Jewish subscribers from across the domestic and Israeli political spectrum have cancelled their subscriptions. On April 18, two days before the conclusion of the StandWithUs boycott, Bill O’Reilly of the Fox News Channel’s "The O’Reilly Factor" announced that 1,000 people had stopped delivery of the paper. According to StandWithUs, however, an internal document recently spirited out of the Times’ headquarters and into the hands of a competing newspaper reported that number of cancellations climbed to more than 6,000 last week alone. The Times would not confirm that number.

Times Senior Editor David Lauter defended his paper’s record April 28 at Temple Beth Am. The event, sponsored by the temple’s Brotherhood, drew a capacity crowd of about 100 . Several audience members waved clippings of offending articles at Lauter, demanding explanations. (For Lauter’s defense, see p. 7. )

Jewish communities in Minneapolis, Chicago, Boston and New York have registered grievances against their papers’ coverage of the Middle East. The protests were notable for the fact that the protesters came from across the political spectrum. In Los Angeles, concern for Israel and dislike of the Times has united Jews over the past months as few issues have.

Mention the Los Angeles Times to attorney Eric Menyuk, 42, of Agoura Hills, for example, and he vents his anger: "Their hypocrisy is almost beyond belief," he said, "and I’m a lawyer. If we are supposed to tolerate the killing of innocents in Kabul because we’re going after the Taliban — if the Times has no trouble calling Al Qaeda terrorists — then why do they make excuses for Palestinians, who dressed as Israeli soldiers go door-to-door shooting 5-year-olds?"

Sandy Beim, a member of Valley Beth Shalom who is active on the Valley congregation’s computer discussion board, said she did not cancel her subscription to the Times. However, she does have some sense that the community’s unhappiness may have registered with the paper.

"The layout of headlines and photos, especially on the front page, seems so much more even-handed then was the situation as recently as one week ago," she said. "If this is the product of boycotts or a general shift in reporting, I do not know. There is the probability that the boycott and threat of further and enlargement of this boycott movement contributed to this ‘new’ L.A. Times editing policy."

Mainstream community leaders said they sympathize with public dissatisfaction with the Times, but said a boycott is only one way of expressing dissatisfaction. "There are other ways," said Los Angeles Federation President John Fishel, noting that people should write letters to the editor about errors or misreporting. Over the years, Fishel said they have met with the editorial board to discuss the community’s concerns, and they are trying to set up another meeting soon.

Other community members suspect the efficacy of boycotts. "About a year ago, there was an attempt to boycott Radio Station KABC in an attempt to get conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder off the air," said boycott sympathizer Barry Lowenkron. "That didn’t work either."

David and Goliath and David


You want media bias? I’ll give you media bias. Here’s one big city newspaper’s account of the Israeli incursion into the Jenin refugee camp: “Jenin camp looks like the scene of a crime. Its concrete rubble and tortured metal evokes another horror half a world away in New York, smaller in scale, but every bit as repellent in its particulars.”

That’s from the London newspaper The Guardian. The Los Angeles Times, in contrast, ran a long, two-page investigation into what happened in Jenin. It reported the evidence of terrorism that led to Israel’s decision to go in. It documented the precise and risky manner by which the Israeli army chose to carry out its operation. It recounted the fear of the soldiers and refugees, the killing of innocent Palestinians (that’s part of the story) and it investigated the wildly inflated stories of Palestinian propagandists and found them lacking.

It was a good — but as Dan Gordon reveals on page 10, not perfect — report, done under difficult wartime circumstances. Along with it, the Times editorialized against Palestinian claims of the camp’s innocence. “In tiny rooms,” the editors wrote last week, “men packed gunpowder and fertilizer into canisters that some bomber would use to blow apart Israeli men, women and children.”

If that’s their Guardian, and this is our Times, why are so many Jews so enraged at the folks at First and Spring?

As Sheldon Teitelbaum reports on page 10, Jewish community anger toward the Times has only increased since The Journal’s first story on May 25, 2001 investigating the paper’s Israel coverage. The outrage peaked nearly a year later on April 22, when the Times, alone among major L.A. media outlets, neglected to report on the Israel Festival, which drew between 30,000-40,000 people to Woodley Park the previous day.

Last Sunday, a week after that festival, Times Senior Editor David Lauter presented his point of view on the controversy at a panel discussion, “The Media and Israel,” at Temple Beth Am. I was on the panel, along with Matt Chazinov. Chazinov is foreign editor of the Orange County Register and, like Lauter and me, a member of Beth Am.

But the discussion wasn’t about “the media.” It was about the Times. Lauter tried deflecting some of the criticisms up front, in an opening statement.

“We simplify,” he said. “We condense. In the interest of clarity, we sacrifice nuance.” Such is the nature of journalism, and people who know the most, and care the most, about a given subject are most likely to notice what the editors left out. A frequent omission is context and history.

“Journalism is only the first rough draft of history,” Chazinov reminded the crowd.

But they were not assuaged.

Lauter cited studies demonstrating that people who are partisan about one side or another almost always feel news coverage is slanted against their side. He said the Times fields numerous complaints of pro-Israel bias from the Arab community. “It is not possible for the coverage to be biased in both directions,” he said.

The crowd was not assuaged.

Lauter continued: Foreign correspondents are most often generalists, not regional experts. Operating under demanding conditions, buffeted by the spin from competing points of view, they work hard to balance, to fact check and verify reports. And despite their best intentions, they sometimes make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, said Lauter, but, “when we make a mistake, we publish it and show it to 2 million readers.”

The crowd brought up specifics: a subhead that used the word “vicious” to describe an Israeli action. (Lauter said that was a mistake, and the copy editor who wrote it was chastised.) A photo of a Chassidic rabbi that misrepresented the majority of people who showed up for a pro-Israel rally. (A mistake, said Lauter, and the photo editor was chastised.) The failure to cover the April 21 rally. (A big mistake, said Lauter, and the people responsible were chastised.) These mistakes and more “do not necessarily represent bias,” Lauter said. (Though I have to say there do seem to be quite a few goofs for a paper that aspires to greatness.)

Rabbi Joel Rembaum raised the question of whether Foreign Editor Simon Li wasn’t responsible for some of the least-appreciated headlines, photos and captions. Lauter said that Li, who was singled out in The Journal’s reporting on the Times last year, is a superior, dedicated editor who is simply not adept at handling readers’ complaints.

That may be true, but the end result, for many readers, is an air of aloofness and unresponsiveness surrounding the Times. People would be even more impressed, I imagine, if Times editors would come out of their compound and talk more often. In Chicago, Tribune editors held two open meetings at which Jews upset with Israel coverage voiced their complaints. Editors at the Trib’s subsidiary, the Times, have been less than forthcoming.

(At press time, The Journal learned that Li had stepped down as Times foreign editor. Former Mideast correspondent Marjorie Miller will take his place.)

If anything, said Lauter, American newspapers are biased in favor of Israel. He pointed to a sympathetic profile the Times ran in April of an Israeli woman soldier. “When was the last time you read a story [in the Times] about the bravery of a Palestinian fighter?” he asked. Editors, like the rest of us, see the world through a certain framework. The American press sees Israel as a sometimes flawed, democratic nation facing people who resort to violence and terror in their essentially just fight for nationhood, he said. “If you believe media coverage influences public opinion,” Lauter said, “it’s hard to square consistent support for Israel with allegations of media bias.”

What Lauter did not directly address was the fact that despite their pro-Israel “framework,” journalists almost always root for the underdog, and almost all have a bias against Israel’s permanent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza The bias against occupation does influence coverage — my opinion, not Lauter’s.

Nevertheless, audience members were perhaps a bit more mollified at this point. They were impressed that their specific complaints had made an impact on Times editors. Specific complaints get attention. The more general and hot-headed the gripe, Lauter said, the more likely it was to be shelved. He was referring, not too obliquely, to a litany of grievances sent to the Times by StandWithUs.

Toward the end of the discussion, one woman in the audience admitted that she preferred the old days when the press portrayed Israel as David and the Arabs were Goliath. Lauter was nonplussed. “Ninety-nine percent of the time Goliath wins,” he said. “So stick with Goliath.”

The Heritage Folds


After nearly a half-century run and years of financial difficulties, the Heritage Southwest Jewish Press called it quits with its Sept. 28 issue.

Founding editor-in-chief and current publisher Herb Brin defined the Heritage through his firsthand, colloquial style of reporting. Across his colorful career, the tough-as-nails journalist hounded a Croatian Nazi residing in Seal Beach, infiltrated the Aryan Nations compound in Idaho, and personally covered the Eichmann and Klaus Barbie trials abroad. While rival weeklies, such as the B’nai B’rith Messenger and the Jewish Voice, fell by the wayside, the Heritage prevailed.

Brin’s intense, first-person style won his paper many accolades, including several American Jewish Press Association Rockower Awards. A hardened champion of Israel, Brin and his newspaper often fought for social justice and Zionist causes such as Soviet Jewry.

Now 86, Brin relinquished the weekly’s day-to-day operation to son Dan in 1979 while he himself concentrated on writing editorials.

Brin senior started the Heritage in 1954 on the back of an anti-Semitic incident while he was a reporter at the Los Angeles Times. One evening, Brin returned to Times Mirror Square to find hundreds of Jews gathered in front of City Hall for a David Ben-Gurion visit. A fellow Times writer cracked, "They oughta drop a bomb on those people." That defining moment sealed Brin’s destiny — he quit the Times to serve "those people" — his people.

Brin mortgaged his La Canada Flintridge home to open Heritage’s original L.A. offices, (the editorial and advertising offices later moved to the Valley), and expanded the paper’s reach to Orange County, the Central Valley, and San Diego. Dan Brin told The Journal that, no sooner had Noonan’s swan song editorial hit the stands, he got a call from four investors, with whom he is currently in talks with. Dan hopes to get the Heritage’s local edition back on its feet in a few weeks.

"I would like to invest more into an editorial budget," he said.

Meanwhile, the San Diego edition will continue, co-published by Senior Associate Editor Don Harrison.

Over the years, the page count dwindled from 24 pages at its peak to 12 pages (in its last issue), and there were many times when the paper almost folded.

"We’re struggling," Dan told The Journal earlier this year. "But I’m not a quitter, and neither is my father."

Unfortunately, fiscal realities finally took its toll.

"The Heritage was a feisty and lively part of the community for several decades when the rest of the Jewish newspaper scene in L.A. was pretty much a wasteland," said Journal Contributing Editor Tom Tugend, who also wrote for the Heritage for more than 30 years (until 1993). "Herb never backed away from a good fight."

Journalists Behaving Badly


Shortly before or perhaps just after World War II, actor Kirk Douglas asked Dorothy Buffum Chandler why the Los Angeles Times seemed to pander so wantonly to the anti-Semitism then still rampant among many of the city’s more refined elites.

“Why, darling?” cooed the doyenne of the Chandler newspaper dynasty. “We do it because it sells papers.”

To be sure, that was then and this is now. And certainly within the Jewish community here, there aren’t many who could seriously contend that the Times has assumed the mantle of Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent.

Now, however, is also one of those times when the State of Israel and its supporters in this country find themselves mired in yet another interminable and, in media terms, possibly no-win conflict. And like the first intifada and the concurrent Lebanon imbroglio, the so-called Al-Aksa Intifada boils down to yet another media-perceived mismatch between the plucky Palestinian David and a brutal and foolhardy Israeli Goliath.

Thanks to the electronic media, the defining image for this still low-intensity conflict will likely remain (barring further occurrences so patently horrible my own imagination buckles at their prospect) that of the Palestinian father trying to shield his 12-year-old son from a fatal hail of Israeli automatic fire. The sequence is searing; moreover, it is real, and no amount of discussion over television news’ inherent failure to provide context can detract from the fact that everyone saw it and no one can forget it.

Newspapers in the digital age now find themselves left with the difficult task of providing the context and meaning of these often disturbing images. Hence the continued furor among those impassioned by events in the Middle East over how well — and how fairly — they manage to cover the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recently found in a survey that 56 percent of major newspaper editorials took a strong pro-Israel stance, suggesting that the American print media have come out during this latest flare-up with strong statements of support for the Jewish state and considerable criticism of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian people for orchestrating the violence now engulfing the region.

“Contrary to the prevailing assumptions about media coverage of the Middle East conflict,” ADL National Chairman Glen A. Tobias and National Director Abe Foxman said, “newspapers in the United States by and large support Israel’s position in the conflict. The false depiction of this as a David-and-Goliath battle, with Israel Defense Forces targeting innocent, unarmed civilians, apparently doesn’t hold weight with the vast majority of American newspapers.”

Local Jewish, Israeli and media-watch organizations assessing the Times’ performance speak more of a mixed bag. Coverage by the paper’s two on-the-ground correspondents, they suggest, has in large part been balanced and extensive, although lapses are hardly rare.

Often, however, their work appears to be undermined by a foreign desk that has not evinced quite the same care and consideration in its choice of headlines, photos and captions, which are frequently the first and sometimes the only items a reader will peruse. That same desk, readers have attested, has not responded openly, if at all, to their concerns and has been slow to set in place a systematic and timely corrections procedure.

Significant swaths of the community who read this newspaper and the Los Angeles Times, though, are even less thrilled by the Times’ coverage so far, and some people are nearly up in arms. And it does no good at all to argue that compared with The New York Times, CNN and National Public Radio, the Times sits squarely in what Pat Buchanan would have called the rah-rah bleachers cheering for the Israeli home team.

As Dr. Larry Eisenberg, president of the West Coast Orthodox Union (OU), explained, “We don’t necessarily read the other papers. But if there are, say, 8 million people in the city proper, and say, 1 million of them read &’9;&’9;the Times, we are probably overrepresented in that group &’9;of readers. And we don’t always like what we see.”

Probably the most pugnacious of the present gaggle of media watch-hounds with a pro-Israel agenda is the Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA). For the most part, newspaper editors in this country greet news of CAMERA’s attentions with the aplomb of torture victims about to have their thumbnails snatched out. Surprisingly, CAMERA’s assessment of the Los Angeles Times, conveyed to us by its executive director, Andrea Levin, is measured.

In the macro sense, Levin says, the Times has missed some key stories, notably those addressing ongoing Palestinian incitement against Israel and Jews, the premeditated nature of the uprising and efforts by the Islamic Waqf in Jerusalem to destroy ancient Jewish artifacts uncovered on or near the Temple Mount.

Some of the paper’s “skewed” choices of photographs, headlines and captions, moreover, have caused heartburn. But Levin awards high marks to Jerusalem correspondent Tracy Wilkinson, whose work she characterizes (in contrast to that of her predecessor, Marjorie Miller) as largely accurate and balanced. Typical of Wilkinson’s opus, she says, was her March 30, 2001, report on events during a particularly grim week of bombings and riots.

Among the paper’s misses, Levin cites a story by Rebecca Trounson attesting that the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo was built on Arab land captured in 1967, although the land had originally been owned by Jews who lost it to Jordan in 1948. A piece on the Bush-Sharon meeting last March, meanwhile, focused on the diverging views of the two leaders, when, in fact, most other reportage of the summit spoke almost exclusively on the confluence of opinion they witnessed in Washington.

Particularly irksome, both to Levin and to many individual readers, has been the Times’ resort to “pejorative labeling and editorializing language,” or, as Eisenberg more aptly puts it, “name-calling,” much of it directed against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Such disparagement has become so pervasive within American print media that once-staunch peaceniks, for whom the name Sharon had long been anathema, now find themselves impelled to rush to the beleaguered premier’s defense.

In many articles, Sharon’s name is inevitably preceded by the terms “right-wing,” “hard-line” or “arch-hawk.” Mention is invariably made of his past military confrontations (both with Arabs and with his own commanders); of the extent to which he is loathed by his Arab counterparts; and of his removal from the Defense portfolio after an Israeli commission of inquiry found him indirectly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacres perpetrated by Lebanese Christians. “Sharon the Butcher” has become a commonplace epithet.

All this would be well and good, critics say, if the other principals in the story were afforded equivalent treatment. Alas, who can recall comparable references in the Times to “the anti-Semitic dictator Assad,” “the arch-terrorist and agreement-breaching Nobel laureate peace-maker Arafat,” “the murderous Palestinian ‘statesman’ Marwan Barghouti,” “the invariably mendacious Hanan Ashrawi,” or the “incendiary and perennially disloyal Arab Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi?”

Levin contrasts the paper’s foreign desk, and editor Simon Li, whom she faults for not addressing substantive issues and complaints and for being loath to systematically acknowledge and correct errors in fact, with the paper’s op-ed desk and its editor, Bob Berger, who does correct errors in statement by featured writers. One example of such rectitude, she says, was a piece by James Ron that Berger determined was indeed defamatory of Sharon.

Several sources told The Jewish Journal that Li — who did not respond to requests for an interview — does not regard those errors brought to his attention as particularly egregious and does not always regard the complainants as legitimate spokespeople for Israel or the Jewish community.

Meirav Eilon Shahar, the current Israeli consul for communications and public affairs, said that though Li has always been approachable and congenial, “he may not always share our concerns or perspectives.”

Possibly because they realize that they and the Times are probably all here for the long haul, local Jewish organizations, and even the normally ultra-vigilant Simon Wiesenthal Center and the ADL, speak of the Times’ coverage in similarly careful, measured terms.

The ADL’s David Lehrer, for instance, characterizes some of the paper’s coverage as problematic.

“Almost by the nature of the events,” he told The Jewish Journal, “what is occurring is happening to the Palestinians, so the headline and guts of the story is about the actions taken by the Israelis in response to the provocation, which is more newsworthy.”

“What gets hidden or buried is what provoked the response, whether it’s the Molotov cocktail or the stone-throwing or the shelling in Gilo. And the response tends to be stronger because Israel is a government and has to protect its citizens. The very construct of the story therefore gives people pause. It’s not a pleasant story to report, and I think the Times too often falls into that trap, although it may be unavoidable.”

Although cognizant of the paper’s lapses, the Wiesenthal Center’s deputy director, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, is quick to point out that the Times’ coverage “is far from the worst in the United States.”

He says that he does not believe the Times or its reporters and editors have an ax to grind. And he urges readers to recall, quoting Israeli television Arab-affairs correspondent Ehud Ya’ari, that “virtually every foreign correspondent is at the mercy and guidance of Palestinians when they cross into their territory. That certainly impacts on all coverage by foreign media….”

Some of the most insistent cries of foul have come from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, whose top brass, including Board Chairman Todd Morgan, President John R. Fishel, Jewish Community Relations Committee Chairman Ozzie Goren and several others, met three weeks ago with top Times representatives for a gloves-off exchange of views.

On the agenda, Morgan told The Journal, were two issues: the Times’ failure, or at least reticence, either to cover Federation activities and programs or to use its resources for background information; and what Morgan describes as the paper’s “unbalanced” coverage of Israeli affairs, which he and many others within the organization believe has been strongly weighted toward the Palestinian viewpoint.

“We were particularly concerned with some of the headlines, which in our assessment have often been inflammatory,” he said. “We were told, of course, that the people who write the headlines are not the same people who write the articles. All in all, though, I think we had a good meeting. The Times people with whom we met listened to our criticisms and I think took them to heart. They said they were trying to be balanced and that they would be somewhat more sensitive in their word choice.”

In Israel as in the United States, of course, writers may write, with few exceptions, quite as they please. But in the West Bank and Gaza, they may only write about what the Palestinian Authority lets them cover. And even then, as evidenced by the sordid episode involving the Italian television team that apologized for releasing footage of the bloody lynching of two Israeli reservists who stumbled into Palestinian territory, some kinds of coverage can result in a news agency’s blacklisting — or worse.

For some local readers, however, such considerations serve as no consolation, nor would they likely be moved by the fact that Palestinian media watchdog groups have excoriated the Times and other publications for their ostensibly pro-Israel stance. The OU’s Larry Eisenberg would like, for instance, to run a word-frequency program that might cough up statistics on how often the term “Israeli” is accompanied by the word “intransigence.”

Perhaps more to the point, though, Eisenberg would like the Times to find some way to convey that this was one fight Israel never wanted. Or that the Palestinians chose it over a deal that would have given them far more territory and political recognition than anyone on either side ever imagined might be in the offing.

“There is a sense of equivalency in [Los Angeles Times reports of] the deaths of Palestinians and Jews,” he said. “The Times speaks of Palestinian victims of the latest violence. Rarely do they bring out the idea that Palestinians are often killed when they go out of their way to send their kids to the Israeli checkpoint to attack the soldiers there, as was the case until two or three weeks ago. No one came to their houses and shot into them.

“The Israelis, in contrast, are being killed in cold blood by people lying in ambush,” Eisenberg continued. “Instead, the [media] seem to be keeping a body count. There are more Palestinian bodies than Israeli bodies, so the fight is inherently mismatched, and something is fundamentally amiss.”

Times deputy readers’ representative Davilynn Furlow knows people are unhappy, although she says the paper takes some refuge in the old chestnut excuse that if readers at both ends of the conflict are unhappy, it must be doing something right.

“We all react to things based on our own experiences,” she told The Journal, “and some things we totally look over if they’re not what we want to see.”

“A number of readers we hear from have ties to Israel and have visited or heard from friends and family, and they get that perspective, whereas our reporters are there, but they can’t be everywhere at once,” she said.

“I can honestly say I believe there is no bias in the reporting,” Furlow added. “And if you look at the coverage over time, that becomes clear. That is not to say that on one day if you focus on the fact that Israelis have driven tanks into a Palestinian encampment it might look as if we’re being sympathetic to the Palestinians. But when the Palestinians are lobbing mortars into Israel, we may look like we’re being sympathetic to the Israelis, when we are just trying to report.”

Ultimately, the Wiesenthal Center’s Cooper said, this is probably not the time to burn bridges — or newspapers. “But it is a time,” he says, “to deal directly and fairly with the facts.”

“Everyone knows that there are ongoing significant changes at the Times,” he said. “One long-overdue step is to professionalize the correction policy like at The New York Times, so when there is a factual error, it can be acknowledged in a timely manner, without the need for major emotional outbursts from the community. More professionalism in this one area could help to lower the temperature all the way around.

“I hope that the new team running the paper will be a bit more cognizant that this is the second-largest Jewish community in the world, and that Intifada II is an ugly, personal war that impacts directly on the loved ones and friends of the Times’ readers. This doesn’t mean they should alter their coverage. But more sensitivity to our community wouldn’t hurt.”

Sheldon Teitelbaum may be e-mailed at sheli@earthlink.net

Everyone Loves a Wandering Jew


It was more than a bit jarring to flip to the Los Angeles Times May 5 opinion-editorial pages and be confronted by a Magen David displayed prominently above the lead editorial, topped by the banner, “Rebuilding the Temple.”

This is the Los Angeles Times we’re talking about, a paper whose editorial pronouncements have not, to be charitable, leaned toward Israel.

Nor has the Times displayed particular sensitivity when reporting about local Jewish issues. Though the paper seems to leap at every opportunity to publish puff pieces about Islam, Buddhism and the New Age movement-of-the-week, it chose to demean Judaism by giving front-page, Passover-eve coverage to the views of yet another wave of historical revisionists — archaeological theorizers denying that the Exodus ever took place, thereby effecting a wholesale negation of three millennia of Jewish history and disconnecting the Jewish people from the land of Israel.

When the six-pointed star appears on the op-ed pages of the Times, it’s usually an anti-Israel device in one of Paul Conrad’s cartoons.

When the Times does deign to acknowledge that Jews (17 percent of our city and rising) are a component of Los Angeles’ polyethnic quilt, the nod generally manifests itself as one of those patronizing Rosh Hashanah brisket recipes in the food section. (How long before the next wave of revisionist crackpots avers that Rosh Hashanah never existed?)

Rebuilding the Temple? Could the Times be coming around? Then I read the editorial and everything fell into place.

The “temple” in question was the Breed Street Shul; the Star of David was the centerpiece of the synagogue’s facade, and the editorial’s purpose was to pump for a bill pending in the California legislature that would provide one million dollars to help renovate the once-thriving but long-vacant Boyle Heights landmark and turn it into a multiuse community center.

For those of us who remember when daily minyans still convened in the Breed Street Shul and recall how assiduously gentle, Los Angeles-born Rabbi Noah Ganzweig and his late son Mordechai labored to keep the sanctuary operative, the graffiti-scarred shell that was once Congregation Talmud Torah has nothing to do with living, breathing Judaism. On the contrary, it is a sad relic, a citadel of nostalgia in a once-thriving Jewish neighborhood now conspicuously devoid of Jews.

Maybe that’s why the Times likes the idea of replacing the house of worship with a secular institution: by supporting the preservation of the merest whiff of Jewish nostalgia without having to be encumbered by the pesky presence of Jews, the Times editorial board can allow itself to feel welcoming and tolerant.

Israel, on the other hand, is the anti-nostalgia, the embodiment of a strong, assertive, sometimes rude, but conspicuously living Judaism. By its very existence, Israel puts the lie to the anti-Semitic canard that the alleged killers of Christ will be doomed to wander the world and will never merit a homeland.

Which may be why the Times, and much of the non-Jewish world, has so much trouble with Israel.

An affection for Jewish memorials coexisting with ambivalence or antipathy toward Jews is nothing new. In contemporary Poland, anti-Semitism thrives in the absence of a Jewish citizenry, but standing-room-only crowds flock to a Yitzhak Perlman klezmer concert. Heck, I’ve hit the bestseller list in Poland. Simultaneous with Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jewish people, the Nazi leader set about confiscating and stockpiling huge stores of Jewish religious objects. Hitler wasn’t motivated by a love for menorahs, mezuzahs and Torah scrolls. His plan was to create a museum to a dead culture that would serve as the crowning glory of the Final Solution.

Hitler failed, but minor-league versions of such mausoleums do exist. A few years ago I visited a former synagogue in Toledo, Spain, that had once served as El Greco’s home and was turned into a “Jewish museum,” complete with ritual objects in glass cases and descriptive labels implying that these shiny gewgaws were archaeological relics with no practical use. Witnessing Judaism buried alive that way was a truly repellent experience, and several of my traveling companions who were Holocaust survivors voiced their anger to the Spanish tour guide. Perplexed by their reaction, she responded, “What’s the problem? The Jews can visit the museum, too.” (The Spanish have a long way to go in terms of cultural sensitivity. Another guide on the same tour intoned, “We kicked the Jews out in 1492, and that was a terrible thing, because the Jews really know how to move the money around.” And in the window of a gift shop outside of Madrid, I spied miniature dolls of the Grand Inquisitor, Franco, Mussolini and Hitler.)

Nor are Jews the only victims of cruel triumphalism. In Queensland, Australia, I visited a “Native Cultural Center,” where a brief newsreel recounting the genocide of the aborigines was followed by a live show featuring a half-dozen dispirited and hostile dark-skinned young men demonstrating “native crafts.” Every toot of the didgeridoo resonated tragically. I left the theater in tears.

Don’t get me wrong. Renovating the Breed Street Shul isn’t a bad idea. On the contrary. Los Angeles has been woefully lax about preserving its architectural history, and the synagogue is a proud exemplar of such. And, if properly done, the resultant community center could serve as a testament to the once-thriving Jewish presence in East Los Angeles rather than the worst kind of tokenism.

What is wrong, however, is amplifying Jewish echoes while failing to understand the cultural and national aspirations of a living, breathing people just too stubborn to wander its way into oblivion.

A Community’s Voice Lost


In February 1997, the L.A. Jewish Voice, a weekly published by Selwin Gerber and a group of investors, threw down the gauntlet in the arena of Los Angeles’ Jewish press. With high-end production values, the Voice (no relation to Samuel Gach’s Jewish Voice newspaper) boasted some impressive celebrity covers — Monty Hall, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Howard Stern — and challenged the established Jewish press with a personable, pop-culture edge. The Voice’s Pico-Robertson offices housed an energetic staff , including several future Jewish Journal employees — Religion Editor Julie Gruenbaum Fax, former Calendar Editor William Yelles and this reporter.

"It didn’t fit into any of the categories," says Fax, then the Voice’s managing editor. People’s Palette, for instance, provided a poetry/art corner for readers.

Voice editor Ari Noonan, now a writer for Heritage Southwest Jewish Press, had high hopes for the new publication.

"Our mission was 50 percent to lead a community in the direction it should go and 50 percent to reflect what it is," he now recalls.

The mission was short-lived. By the afternoon of April 18, Fax, eyes moist from emotion, entered the Voice’s production room. She notified employees, hard at work on the next issue, that it would be the last.

Insiders pinned the Voice’s abrupt end on poor budgeting, high production values, and overzealous expansion (55,000 copies a week distributed all over L.A. County). Crumpled copies of that last issue (Leonard Nimoy on the cover) lingered in bright yellow distribution boxes for weeks. The Voice had lasted 11 issues.

News Machers


Joseph Jonah Cummins was a complex man. A prominent Hollywood attorney, the powerful, opinionated Cummins represented Errol Flynn and Bette Davis and lived next door to Milton Berle and Jack Benny. He simultaneously was deeply devoted to Jewish issues; across five decades, Cummins helmed the city’s then-preeminent Jewish newspaper, the B’nai B’rith Messenger.

"He didn’t need the newspaper," said Ted Sandler, 77, the Messenger’s managing editor from 1961 to 1979. "He used to say, ‘I have more money than I can use.’ "

But Cummins cared deeply about his community, and with the wealth and prestige he represented, every individual and organization who needed help passed through the Messenger’s offices. Sandler recalled, "When Marvin Hier came to town, he saw me and Joe. When Shlomo Cunin came to town, the first person he came to was Joseph Cummins."

Cummins was typical of the men who ran L.A.’s Jewish press in its early days. The papers reflected the strong-willed, outspoken, sometimes volatile individuals who ran them; hands-on publisher-editors such as Cummins, the Jewish Voice’s Samuel Gach and Heritage Southwest Jewish Press’ Herb Brin.

To chart the history from those men to this paper, as it celebrates its 15th anniversary with this issue, is to see the growth of the L.A. Jewish community and of the very notion of Jewish journalism. Over time, the newspaper field grew in complexity and spread geographically, but not without enduring, like the local Jewish populace itself, some wrenching growing pains.

L.A.’s Jewish Press:The Early Years

During the mid-19th century, the center of Pacific Coast Jewish life was not L.A. but San Francisco, where several Jewish papers flourished. While Conrad Jacoby had established the German-language Sud Californische Post, it was not until spring 1897 that L.A. had an English-language Jewish paper, started by Santa Ana printer Lionel Edwards. One year after founding a broadsheet called Emanu-El, he hired Victor Harris as its editor. It was customary to name a city’s Jewish paper after the dominant congregation in town, so Harris renamed Emanu-El the B’nai B’rith Messenger, after what is now Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

But it wasn’t until Cummins took over as its second publisher that the Messenger gained momentum. Cummins hailed from an Orthodox Johnstown, Pa. family. He arrived in L.A. in May 1924 after acquiring several publications, including the Detroit Jewish Chronicle.

"We had superb columnists," said Sandler, nostalgic for writers such as Lenny Leader and humorist Dave Weissman. Sandler first met Cummins while working as editor of the Jersey Journal and joined the Messenger when his Atlantic City paper, the Jewish Record, folded.

"Out here, the community was much more alive, alert, interested in trying new things," said Sandler, now a consultant for the American Friends of Tel-Aviv University.

Throughout the 1940s, the Messenger’s major competition was the Jewish Voice (no affiliation to 1997’s version). When Detroit native Gach took over the Voice, he reduced its Yiddish content to one page in favor of English-language prose. Gach’s periodical was basically a rudimentary crazy quilt of Jewish Telegraphic Agency stories and social announcements, but he did introduce quirky features, such as the entertainment column Dot’s Dashes and original gag cartoons. Gach’s own column, In The Know, was a lively discourse on current affairs.

"I enjoyed the Voice," Sandler said of the Messenger’s competition. "It was a typographical mess. Sam’s column was very pro-labor, very left-wing."

In other words, the Voice was the political polar opposite of the Messenger. Cummins fortified his empire by purchasing a string of rivals, including the Studio City-based Valley Jewish News, and he reluctantly bought the Jewish Voice out of principle, after Gach sold it in the mid-1970s to non-Jewish management. "Joe said, ‘No Jewish paper should be run by Catholics,’" Sandler recalled.

Not everyone is a fan of Cummins. Ari Noonan, current editor of Heritage, said the Messenger/Voice era was the nadir for Jewish journalism — "pretty much flat event and calendar-type coverage." Heritage founder Brin remembers Cummins as an "arrogant" and "vindictive" man. Brin became the target of a bitter personal attack by the Messenger, which evolved into a libel case after Cummins used his editorials to paint Brin as a Communist for hiring a writer from a socialist publication.

"Joe and I had a falling out at the end," Sandler admitted, explaining that Cummins’ health had deteriorated. Sandler still has respect for a man who transcended personal politics to extend a hand to disparate people and institutions within the community, even those whose methods he deplored. Cummins even invited longtime rival Gach to continue his In the Know column in the Messenger following the Voice’s dissolution. Gach declined.

The Heritage: Jewish Journalism Becomes Personal

As Jewish journalism entered the 1950s and 1960s, postwar anti-Semitism and Israel became hot-button issues, as reflected by papers such as the Beverly Hill Zionist — launched on Crescent Drive by Rabbi Joseph Jasin in 1959 — which echoed the ideals of Theodore Herzl.

The Zionist was short-lived, but another paper from that time has survived. This year marked the 47th anniversary of what is now Heritage Southwest Jewish Press. While Heritage has featured valuable contributors over the decades, there is no question that this newspaper is the vision of one man: Herb Brin.

Today, Heritage’s modest San Fernando Valley offices are lined with many municipal and organizational awards, evidence of Brin’s passion for community. Now 86, Brin earned these honors virtually single-handedly through a personal and colloquial style of reporting.

"He truly is a one-man crusade, a Jewish Paul Revere warning the community," said Noonan, whose own colorful brand of journalism is a stylistic heir to Brin’s.

Brin founded Heritage in 1954 as a reaction to a specific incident during his L.A. Times days. Brin stepped onto Times Mirror Square one evening to find hundreds of Jews gathered in front of City Hall to hear a visiting David Ben-Gurion speak. As Brin took in the proceedings, a colleague cracked, "They oughta drop a bomb on those people." That defining moment sealed Brin’s destiny — he quit the Times to serve "those people."

"There wasn’t a newspaper in America that didn’t know what Hitler was doing," Brin said, "and they buried the stories. This was a time that called on greatness, and we didn’t have it in Jewish journalism."

Brin mortgaged his Flintridge home to open Heritage’s original Vermont Avenue offices, eventually expanding the paper’s reach to Orange County, San Diego and the Central Valley. What Heritage lacked in staff, Brin made up for with lively reporting. He covered the Adolf Eichmann and Klaus Barbie trials; spent four decades hounding Seal Beach retiree Andrija Artukovic, the former head of a Croatian Nazi puppet government that doomed thousands of Jews; infiltrated the Aryan Nations’ Idaho compound, from which he walked away with T-shirts and mugs, and published a slew of Ku Klux Klan code words in his paper.

Brin’s intense, first-person stylings won him an American Jewish Press Association’s (AJPA) Rockower Award by the 1970s. Yet as defiantly independent as Brin’s newspaper was, many Jewish organizational leaders felt that both Heritage and the Messenger were not adequately covering L.A.’s burgeoning Jewish community.

Battle Over the Bulletin

In the mid-1970s, The Jewish Federation began to consider turning its biweekly Jewish Community Bulletin into a weekly, community-wide newspaper. Longtime rivals Messenger and Heritage banded together to combat what they perceived as a threat by the Federation to dominate the Jewish press in Los Angeles. (Even so, Cummins and Brin were still embroiled in a bitter libel suit.) At issue was a Federation subscriber list of more than 76,000 homes, which at the time totaled circulation of all the other Jewish papers combined. Making things stickier was the Federation’s past failed attempts to purchase both papers.

Brin and Cummins declared war on the Federation, and even the AJPA condemned the organization’s move, labeling it an attempt "to drive these private newspapers out of existence." Many believed a Federation-backed paper would amount to a weekly summation of its press releases and spell the end of independent journalism.

But Bulletin managing editor Manuel Chait countered that the other papers were not comprehensive enough. Osias Goren, a Jewish Journal co-founder and longtime Federation participant, said, "If they didn’t succeed when we were the Bulletin, what made them feel they would succeed otherwise?"

Many meetings were held at the Federation, where the papers sent representatives to debate the proposed move. Brin now regards the emotionally charged debates as "absolutely devastating. I couldn’t believe that in the aftermath of the Holocaust, we would be engaged in such an exchange."

Ultimately, all parties involved survived the dark times intact, albeit not unchanged. Cummins passed away shortly after, and the Messenger, after changing hands and redubbing itself the L.A. Jewish Times, quietly disintegrated by the end of the 1990s.

"We’re struggling," Dan Brin — Herb’s son and the Heritage’s managing editor of two decades — told The Journal with unvarnished candor, admitting that his paper almost folded on several occasions. "But I’m not a quitter, and neither is my father."

As for the Bulletin, after much internal discussion and a yearlong study spearheaded by Richard Volpert, the newsletter was discontinued in favor of establishing an independent community paper.

Enter The Journal

In the very first issue of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles on Feb. 28, 1986, Volpert, its founding publisher, stated, "The newspaper seeks to cover the whole Jewish community and do it well. While not a source of daily news, our primary goals are to inform and educate our readers, to be editorially independent, and to achieve financial self-sufficiency in the next several years."

At times this was easier said than done.

The Journal’s founding editor-in-chief, Gene Lichtenstein, said he originally came to L.A. from Boston in 1985 "to court a woman" (now his wife, Jocelyn). He was mulling over whether to remain here when he was approached by Ethel Narvid, a coordinator for the Federation-appointed committee in charge of establishing The Journal. Lichtenstein had been recommended based on his extensive magazine experience and his creation of The Jewish Journal of the North Shore for a Boston-area federation. Lichtenstein pitched his vision for The Journal, with one stipulation: he wanted complete editorial independence.

In September 1985, Lichtenstein returned from vacation to learn that he had won the post over some stiff competition, including journalist Yehuda Lev. Lichtenstein secured The Journal’s Koreatown offices and a staff that included writers Tom Waldman, Joe Domanick and Sheldon Teitelbaum (who recently returned to the Journal). Lichtenstein also made some eyebrow-raising hires.

"To Gene’s eternal credit, he hired his rival as associate editor," said Lev, a contributing Journal editor through June 1993. "Not many people would have done that."

Lichtenstein sought Lev because he wanted "to get good writers that would be the spine of the paper."

But Lichtenstein’s literary sensibility won him many detractors, who felt that he exercised such tendencies at the expense of genuine Jewish content. Lichtenstein is the first to admit that "I didn’t know L.A. at all" when he first arrived. However, he strived to raise the bar of Jewish journalism beyond what was too often a parochial medium. This meant going outside of the box, such as with Domanick, who is not Jewish but was hired out of USC on the strength of an article on Jewish-black relations.

Domanick, now a widely published journalist, said, "The Journal gave me an opportunity to flex my writing and reporting chops. It gave me confidence that someone like Gene, who had worked at Esquire, liked my piece."

Domanick also recalls "a struggle to make it a real newspaper, as opposed to something that kind of promoted The Jewish Federation." Independence was something that the Journal’s founding fathers grappled with from the beginning. Lev, in his column "A Majority of One" (rescued from a short-lived newspaper he launched in the 1980s), caused much controversy with his unabashed criticism of community sacred cows. But Lev’s column was one way The Journal distanced itself from the Bulletin’s mouthpiece stigma. Of course, The Journal’s connection with the Federation was real — the paper was the culmination of a yearlong Federation report, built on funding advanced by The Jewish Federation-Council.

The union of Lichtenstein and The Jewish Journal board (which overlapped with Federation boards), was often an uneasy marriage. But there was no denying that The Journal flourished under Lichtenstein’s leadership.

Jewish newspapers from other cities began making overtures to purchase The Journal. Goren recalled, "In an attempt to keep the paper local and not have it be sold as part of a major newspaper empire, Ed Brennglass, Stanley Hirsh and I formed a group that would keep the paper local, buy it off from the Federation, pay off the $685,000 debt the Bulletin owed to the Federation by borrowing the money on a personal level from City National Bank, and to take it independent with the purpose of being a community newspaper."

After Brennglass passed away, Hirsh took over as publisher.

By the mid-1990s, the Journal shed its shaky financial state and began to become profitable. Lichtenstein, with then-managing editor Marlene Adler Marks and his eventual successor as editor-in-chief, Rob Eshman, were working to fine-tune the paper to reflect its diverse readership. In the process of hiring quality writers such as Tom Tugend and Arts and Entertainment Editor Naomi Pfefferman, Lichtenstein opened doors for female columnists — Marks, Teresa Strasser, Jane Ulman — in a manner unprecedented locally. And when The Journal lacked Orthodox viewpoints, Lichtenstein found writers such as David Margulies and hired Julie Fax as religion editor.

"There is always room for improvement," said Lichtenstein, who left The Journal last September to pursue other interests. "But I think we moved a long way toward creating the paper I had in mind."

As The Journal grew, so did the community’s journalistic output. Phil Blazer began numerous media enterprises, such as Israel Today. Iranian-, Russian- and Hebrew-speaking Jews established periodicals in their native languages. And direct competitors to The Journal appeared, such as The Jewish Voice. Founded in February 1997 by Selwyn Gerber and a group of investors, the Voice published 11 issues before folding.

The Journal survived, and perhaps gained from such competition. In the past year alone, the weekly’s ad pages have grown by 20 percent and the paper’s circulation has jumped to 80,000. Last year, it won five Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism. "Our goals are very simple," said editor-in-chief Rob Eshman. "We are going to get bigger and better."

Granted, some lament the days when L.A.’s papers were reflections of powerful, idiosyncratic editorial voices. "The Messenger is dead. It shouldn’t be," Sandler said.

Yet other veterans — such as Journal contributing editor Tom Tugend (whose substantial Jewish press experience includes reporting for Heritage from 1957 to 1993) and Noonan, now writing for Heritage — believe that the field of Jewish journalism has vastly improved since the days of what Tugend calls "the bar mitzvah sheets."

"L.A. opinions did not materialize in the press until the late 1980s," Noonan said, and Gene was instrumental in that. He brought the perspective of not only an outsider, but a sophisticated, intelligent New Yorker. He emphasized the importance of putting down on paper impressions rather than just quotes. That was the birth of interesting Jewish journalism in L.A."

Tugend added, "Overall, there’s been a dramatic change in all Jewish papers over the last 25 years." For instance, New York’s coverage of the Baruch Lanner case, he said, would never have happened three decades ago. He also believes that the journalism will improve as newspapers beholden to a parent organization maintain an impartial relationship analogous to a mainstream paper with City Hall. "The closer we can get to that ideal, the more credible we become," Tugend said.

Goren believes that The Journal has fulfilled its original mandate. Sure, The Journal still generates criticism, he said, "but the paper is open to every spectrum — political, social, and community-wise. Your opinion is heard. If it’s respectably written, it will get in. And I’m most proud of that fact."

Steve Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California, assisted in locating historical information.

Beginnings and Endings


Every newspaper editor knows that one day he will have to step down. He may put the idea out of mind or revel in denial. But the thought is always there, loitering out of sight. Departure may come suddenly by way of death, illness or age. Or it may spring up with the changes that appear everywhere, while the editor persists in remaining unchanged and, therefore, out of step. Or there may simply, and unexpectedly, be an offer he can’t refuse.

That time for stepping down apparently has arrived for me. This is my last week at The Jewish Journal and these words are something of a farewell.

I started this newspaper 15 years ago in September 1985, finding office space, hiring and training a staff, designing a prototype for what was to become The Jewish Journal. I was determined to hire people who could write well and who were capable of finding a voice within these pages. Reporting could be taught and learned. And so in the early years we had Yehuda Lev and Marlene Marks and David Margolis who, in turn, were followed by Rob Eshman and, in more recent times, by J.J. Goldberg and Teresa Strasser and Jane Ulman.

The first issue appeared February 28, 1986.

It was clear to me that accurate, informed and insightful writing from the Mideast was going to be essential, so I negotiated with The New York Times for the rights to reprint their chief mideast correspondent, Tom Friedman, who reported from Jerusalem. We needed additional coverage as well, so on one of my trips to Israel, I arranged for Eric Silver, a British-born Israeli citizen and veteran journalist, to cover the scene for us. Eric had written for The London Observer and Time magazine and, more recently, for The Jerusalem Report. He knew Israel well, having lived there more than 20 years. He was knowledgeable, possessed good judgment and could write with concision and grace.

A rule I set for myself was that since this was a community paper, The Journal’s door would always be open and telephone calls returned. One day a young, determined psychologist pressed her case in person. She wanted to write an advice column. I was less than enthusiastic. She persisted. Just give me a chance, she pleaded.

Okay, I said, but here are the guidelines: no psychological jargon; no sitting in the “catbird seat” pronouncing from on high. And, oh yes, I added, I want you to tell the complaining letter writer to pull up his or her socks; no sentimentalizing; no happy solutions for happy problems. And an occasional crack across the wrist, when it is called for, would also be nice to see in print from time to time, I concluded.To my astonishment, she followed my instructions to the letter, and thus began Dear Deborah.

It’ s an old axiom in journalism that a newspaper’s editor and its publisher must share a common set of goals. Their perception, their way of seeing things, needs to overlap if not reflect a kind of mirror image of one another. It helps as well if there is respect on both sides.

For about the past six or seven months, there has been a widening gap between The Journal’s publisher and me. When such a gap becomes irreparable, as ours has, one party has to leave. Given that the publisher is the owner of this newspaper and I am an employee, it has always been evident to me which one of us would go. Rob Eshman, who has been a remarkable managing editor these past years, will assume the role of editor-in-chief, commencing with this issue.

I appear to have landed on my feet and will be writing about the current presidential election campaign for The Forward, a national Jewish newspaper based in New York. (So you can read my writing there.) I will continue to reside in Los Angeles. There really is little time for regrets. At the moment, I am looking to join the candidates on at least one of their trips. After the election, I hope to remain with The Forward as their West Coast editor/writer. In short, I am still part of this community.

A final word: Everyone on a newspaper is expendable. Replacements can always be found. But not so for the paper’s readers. You are not expendable. To the degree that you have followed us each week, calling to criticize for errors in a story or simply for perceived errors of judgment; or have written to commend us for bringing you a particular news account, or just for the level of writing you found in these pages, I will remain ever grateful. It has been a wonderful 15 years.

We Jews are eJews


If you can read this, you can Web surf. That’s the conclusion of a recent survey conducted by Mediamark Research, Inc., for the Joseph Jacobs Organization’s Jewish Publications Network. The survey found that people who read Jewish newspapers (that’s you, now) are more likely than not to own a computer and surf the Web. Here’s the facts:By the way, you can read this same story online at our Web site: www. jewishjournal.com.

colorPercentage of American adults who own a computer: 44.5

colorPercentage of people who read a Jewish publication and own a computer: 69

colorPercentage of people who read their local Jewish publication who own a computer: 73

colorPercentage of American adults who have used the Internet within the past month: 34

colorPercentage of people who read a Jewish publication who have used the Internet within the past month: 61

Political Disputes at the Jerusalem Post


Every time Tom Rose, chief executive and publisher of the Jerusalem Post, leaves his office at the newspaper, he passes by a bright yellow sign posted on his wall that screams “Tom Rose Go Home.” The sign is proof that he has no illusions about what his employees think of him, Rose jokes.

Many journalists at the newspaper believe that what they call the ruthless managerial tactics Rose has deployed since joining the newspaper in 1998 could spell disaster for an institution that has been Israel’s venerable voice to the outside world for decades.

Yet Rose remains sanguine when discussing plans to wrap up a labor dispute and push through sweeping job cuts. At the same time, he is trying to lead the paper past a turbulent time during which two senior editors have recently resigned.

“There really has not been a dramatic shakeup here in a long time,” Rose said, talking about plans to streamline the financially troubled newspaper. “The issue is really grow or die — and we choose the former.”

The recent unrest is the latest tumultuous chapter at the Post since it was taken over by Hollinger International, the Canadian newspaper conglomerate, in 1989.

Following the takeover, as the newspaper’s editorial line shifted from left toward center-right, more than two dozen journalists resigned. Many left to create the Jerusalem Report, today a bi-monthly magazine that also has been bought out by Hollinger to bolster an English-language media powerhouse in Israel. Yet the real trigger for the Post’s tricky situation today is competition.

For decades since its founding in 1932, the Jerusalem Post, known in pre-state days as the Palestine Post, was a monopoly in the small market for English speakers in Israel, today totaling about 150,000. But in 1997, Ha’aretz, a leading Hebrew daily newspaper, launched an English-language version together with the International Herald Tribune.

Although Rose says circulation has increased slightly since then, now that English-speaking Israelis, tourists and Internet readers have a choice, the Post has been challenged to improve. Both newspapers have strengths and weaknesses. Many readers consider Ha’aretz to be a premier source of scoops and higher quality analysis. But as a translated newspaper it is often not reader-friendly and is riddled with errors. It also has a left editorial line.

The Jerusalem Post is considered by many to be Israel’s English-language journal of record, though not always at the cutting edge of the political and business news fronts. According to Rose, its editorial line is strategically positioned at the center-right to capture the large number of right-wing English speakers in Israel without alienating readers of other political persuasions.

However, the recent resignations of centrists Hirsh Goodman, editorial vice chairman after nearly two years, and David Makovsky, executive editor after just five months, have led some observers to wonder whether the Post is poised to shift further rightward.

Goodman, who had initially left the Post when Hollinger took over to become editor in chief of the Jerusalem Report, says he stepped down for personal reasons. But Makovsky, who declined to comment for the record, is said to have resigned over an editorial dispute. Makovsky, a veteran diplomatic journalist, has reported in the past for the Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz.

During his tenure, Makovsky had been asked to publish a regular opinion column by David Bar-Illan, a former editor of the Jerusalem Post who served as media adviser to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the front page. In the international newspaper industry, opinion columns are rarely positioned so prominently.

More recently, say Makovsky’s supporters, he was asked to write an editorial opposing the peace process with Syria. He also felt that the sweeping job cuts Rose planned to implement would cripple the newspaper and irrevocably damage its quality.

Rose rejected reports of an editorial dispute as “totally untrue” and added: “The editorial line has not changed and will not change.”

Jeff Barak, Makovsky’s predecessor, who is considered left of center, is poised to fill one of the vacant senior editorial positions later this year, Rose said.

Meanwhile, Rose is faced with labor problems that are no less daunting than the editorial issues. At the end of 1999, Post journalists who were on a collective union contract launched a series of demonstrations against Rose’s plans to change their contracts, which expired last month. They said the changes, which would make it easier to dismiss union employees, would leave them vulnerable to management and compromise their editorial standards.

“For a journalist, living in fear of losing your job for any reason is extremely problematic because one of the reasons for being dismissed can be that you’ve offended a client or a friend or a crony of the publisher,” said Esther Hecht, a union activist who works at the Post.

Hecht also warned that plans to cut the workforce dramatically would be catastrophic. “This paper has a very long history as the paper of record in English and Israel’s window to the world,” she said. “If the staff is cut to the point that there are not enough people to cover major beats, and the coverage and editing is done by people who don’t know the country because they just got off the boat, the paper cannot do its job properly.”

As the two sides work out a new contract, last week, Rose told the Post’s editorial staff that the newspaper was about to embark upon the equivalent of “basketball tryouts.” Post insiders say up to 35 percent of the newspaper’s 55 editorial employees may find themselves off the team, and union members are believed to be blacklisted.

Rose defends the job cuts, saying since the newspaper spends an unsustainably high amount of money on bloated contracts to union journalists.

“The whole issue is how to best position this paper in business for the future,” Rose said, promising that the Jerusalem Post will become a better-written newspaper that is more focused on issues of concern to English- speaking readers.

Post insiders say the plan may also include new agreements to buy outside content such as the recent launch of pages from The Wall Street Journal, and possibly, an agreement with an overseas Jewish newspaper such as the Forward.

But while some nonunion journalists think the cuts could position the newspaper for a brighter future, many remain completely confused by the strategy and say the plans remain shrouded in a thick fog.

Rose’s success or failure in clearing up that fog and leading the Post into the new millennium could impact not only the newspaper’s employees and reputation, but thousands of English-reading news junkies from Israel and abroad alike.

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