Farmer’s Market Case Heads to Court

A downtown Los Angeles courtroom this week relived the horrid 2003 crash in which the tranquil Santa Monica Farmers Market was shattered when 86-year-old George Russell Weller’s foot hit the accelerator of his 1992 Buick and the speeding car killed 10 people.

Superior Court Judge Katherine Mader will determine if Weller, now 87, will stand trial on 10 felony counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, to which Weller pleaded not guilty last January. A California Highway Patrol report said Weller was taking nausea-inducing prescription medication that could have made him confuse the accelerator with the brake just before the July 16, 2003 accident, but crash investigators also stated that Weller’s eyes were open and that his hands here were “on the steering wheel at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock position.”

Weller’s attorneys believe an undiagnosed heart condition may have contributed to the accident. The 10 victims included Jewish shoppers such as 70-year-old Movsha Hoffman, 63-year-old Molok Ghoulian Nabatian and her 7-year-old grandson, Brandon David Esfahani. Among the 63 injured was octogenarian Shamsi Khani, who broke her neck in three places and both her legs but recovered and still attends services at Westwood’s Sinai Temple. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Hate Crimes High in California

Hate crimes in the United States were just about at the same level in 2003 as in the preceding year, and well below the record figures of 2001, according to the annual FBI report released Oct.25. Anti-Semitic incidents were actually down by a miniscule fraction, with 927 in 2003 compared to 931 in 2002.

California, by far the most populous state, accounted for one of every five hate crimes reported in the country.

Nevertheless, the 7,489 nationwide cases of hate-motivated violence and vandalism in 2003 leave no room for complacence, the Anti-Defamation League warned.

As in previous years, violence and vandalism against black citizens and institutions, representing more than one-third of all hate crimes nationally, topped the statistics. Among the 1,300 hate crimes motivated by religious bias, 69 percent were anti-Jewish and 11.5 percent anti-Muslim. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jews, Christians Join in Solidarity Thanks to Nexus

Nearly 1,000 Jews and Christians came together on Oct. 14 for a “solidarity gathering” at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel Air. The event was sponsored by Israel-Christian Nexus, alliance of Southern California’s pro-Israel Christians.

“We stand with you. We pray with you and thank you for your increasing trust,” said Rev. Jack Hayford, the longtime pastor of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, to the Jews in attendance. Hayford, who is visiting Israel this week, has been an articulate advocate of Christian Zionism.

This year’s gathering was co-sponsored by 52 Christian and Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Supporters reacted angrily to charges that many of the Christians involved in the conference were also active in conversion efforts aimed at Jews and in supporting Jews for Jesus.

“Are we going to put everyone under a microscope and check if he is kosher?” said retired Israeli general and Israel-Christian Nexus president Shimon Erem. “The time has come to stop this stupidity!”

Stephen S. Wise Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin criticized liberal Christians in the Presbyterian and Episcopalian churches for recently advocating divestment from Israel-allied companies.

“What moral blindness on the face of [those] Christians!” said Zeldin, who added that liberal, mainline Protestants often allied with Palestinian liberation movements are distinct from evangelicals who, “at least know the difference between the victim and the perpetrator.”

“Alliances such as this are important for us right now,” said Roz Rothstein of StandWithUs, a local pro-Israel advocacy group. She said that these people will fight against divestment from other Christian groups.”

Critics of the event pointed to a gathering to be held later this year as proof that Israel’s supporters have not disavowed active missionary activities. On Dec. 3, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden near Palm Springs will host, “The Road to Jerusalem,” a Friday afternoon stadium gathering whose organizers state that it will allow “Christians to publicly affirm our Jewish roots, distinctions and oneness in Jesus.”

The free event promises “special festive Hebrew music and dancers,” two Christian-trained “rabbis” involved with Jews for Jesus and Messianic Jews, and an ex-Catskills singer. Hayford will also be speaking.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Pacific Southwest Region issued a statement on Oct. 22 expressing concern about the “Road to Jerusalem” event: “We do not support targeted prostelyzation of Jews — the planned event could very well serve to legitimize fraudulent ideas about Judaism.” — DF