Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi to step down as Israel Project head


Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the founder and president of The Israel Project, said she will leave the advocacy group by July 1.

In statements Wednesday, the 10-year-old group and Mizrahi said reorganization and management training helped set the stage for her departure. The Israel Project is seeking a CEO to replace her.

Mizrahi had announced in 2007 that she would step down for family reasons, but rescinded the decision within months after the board said it could not find an adequate replacement.

The Israel Project seeks to garner fairer and more positive coverage of Israel through non-confrontational outreach to journalists.

Since 2007, the group has expanded considerably and now employs 75 people worldwide, with outreach to Europe, Latin America and the Arab world as well as the United States.

Among its initiatives, The Israel Project has become well known for its TV ads on cable news networks during political conventions emphasizing Israeli peace efforts and projects.

The Israel Project statement said Mizrahi “plans to establish a communications consultancy focusing on advocating for the rights and needs of special needs children.” She will retain an advisory role.

Stan Levy: The exact opposite of founder’s syndrome


Stan Levy, a lawyer with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, sat down with a journalist at the firm’s offices in West Los Angeles on a Monday afternoon earlier this month. At one point during the conversation, Levy threw out a few favorite quotations, one of which concerned the difference between the law and justice.

The quote came from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s 1962 book, “The Prophets.”

“ ‘An act of injustice is condemned not because the law is broken,’ ” Levy said, “ ‘but because a person has been hurt.’ ”

It’s the rare commercial litigator who quotes Heschel, and rarer still to find one who can say that the 20th century Jewish philosopher was one of his teachers.

But Levy, who turns 70 this month, is a special kind of lawyer, and not just because he’s also an ordained rabbi. Levy has had, by any accounting, a unique and remarkably productive career. As a lawyer, he helped found three public interest law firms in Los Angeles while maintaining a successful commercial practice. As a rabbi, Levy founded a congregation that is still going strong in its fifth decade, and a rabbinical and cantorial school that will celebrate its 10th anniversary this month.

Levy managed the careers of a handful of recording artists and managed to raise a family, too — and last month, this multifaceted man was honored at a black-tie dinner in New York City as one of the recipients of The American Lawyer magazine’s 2011 “Lifetime Achiever” award.

“To me, the real honor is having done the work,” Levy said, in a humble fashion that those who know him say is typical.

“He’s truly a renaissance person,” Mitchell Kamin said of Levy. Now a litigator in private practice, Kamin spent eight years leading the Jewish legal services agency Bet Tzedek, which Levy co-founded in 1974.

But Kamin, who grew up as a close childhood friend of Levy’s oldest son, said his first impression of Levy was as a “young lawyer and manager of rock and jazz musicians.”

“I used to hang out at his house, listen to great music, and he would take us to concerts,” Kamin said.

Years later, in 1994, Levy — the rabbi — married Kamin and his wife. But it was when Kamin was hired as Bet Tzedek’s executive director in 2003 that he truly saw the extent of Levy’s humility and openness to that which others have to contribute.

“There’s a condition known as ‘founder’s syndrome,’ ” Kamin said, referring to a tendency among those who establish organizations to hold onto control for too long and become resistant to change. “Stan was the exact opposite of that in every way.”

For evidence of Levy’s success as a founder, one need only look to the long line of successful organizations he’s left in his wake.

In addition to Bet Tzedek, Levy was involved in the founding of two other public-interest law firms, both of which are still operating. In 1968, Levy, who was just two years out of the law school at UCLA, joined the Western Center on Law and Poverty, a firm focused on class-action litigation. He later served as its second executive director, overseeing 54 attorneys.

Then, in 1970 — before his 30th birthday, for those keeping track — Levy helped launch another public interest firm, now known as the Public Counsel Law Center. As its founding executive director, Levy set up the organization’s structure, financing and mission, and today Public Counsel is the largest pro bono firm in the country, counting more than 32,000 low-income clients in 2010.

Wearing his rabbi hat — this past Sukkot, it was a large, multicolored, thick-gauged knitted kippah — Levy established B’nai Horin in 1968. The spiritually centered congregation, whose name translates as “Children of Freedom,” has never had a building nor has it been affiliated with a particular movement, yet is still going strong, drawing hundreds to its High Holy Days services and b’nai mitzvah, and a smaller but dedicated core group to its monthly Shabbat morning services.

Levy founded the congregation even before he had been ordained as a rabbi through the ALEPH — Alliance for Jewish Renewal rabbinical program. But his experience as a rabbi was so fulfilling, he figured he probably wasn’t the only professional who would jump at the chance to become one. So, in 2001, Levy co-founded the transdenominational Academy of Jewish Religion (AJR), California, which ordains rabbis, cantors and chaplains.

“He’s a can-do person, almost to the degree that you think he’s living in his imagination rather than reality,” Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, the president of AJR, said of Levy. “Ninety percent of the time, it does become true reality.”

“There are plenty of lawyers who are complete workaholics and are extremely dedicated to their clients,” said Robin Sparkman, editor-in-chief of The American Lawyer, explaining Levy’s selection as a “Lifetime Achiever.” “This award is actually broader than that. The recipients both have to be great lawyers and have to have done things for the general good in their careers, as well.”

In nine years, the magazine has given “Lifetime Achiever” awards to a U.S. senator, two secretaries of state and, this year, to former Vice President Walter Mondale.

Levy, Sparkman said, was an easy choice.

“He founded three public interest law firms,” she said. “He’s a rabbi. He’s a record executive. And he’s a great lawyer.”

Levy has worn enough hats to fill the shelves of a walk-in closet. His profile on the firm’s Web site mentions a four-year stint in the 1990s as general counsel for the Guess? clothing company, and his profile in the September issue of The American Lawyer notes his representation in the 1980s of uninsured depositors in a case against their failed bank, but in person Levy seemed more interested in talking about the public interest and pro bono cases he’s been involved with over the years.

While he was running Public Counsel, the firm helped break “an unwritten but absolute firm rule” that prohibited minorities from hosting shows on radio or television stations. “They could be guests, but they couldn’t be hosts,” Levy said. “We broke that color barrier in the media.”

It was his recent work with Bet Tzedek in creating the Holocaust Survivors Justice Network that drew national attention.

For about 10 months in 2008, Levy worked pro bono — and basically full time — with two staff lawyers at Bet Tzedek to create an international network of more than 5,000 attorneys and paralegals.

The goal was to help as many individual survivors as possible fill out a specific German government pension form. The project may sound bureaucratic and mundane, but behind the alphabet soup of German government acronyms and complex filing guidelines, the volunteers were helping survivors qualify for German government pensions, compensation for the so-called “voluntary work” they had performed during the Holocaust in ghettos under Nazi control.

Since the network was launched in May 2008, its impact has been impressive — and easily quantifiable. As of September 2011, it has helped 2,200 survivors around the world secure more than $11 million in reparation payments from the German government. Over the next five years, the total payout to survivors eligible for the pensions could end up being close to $200 million. In 2009, Levy accepted the American Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award on behalf of the network.

That Levy was loaned by his firm to Bet Tzedek came, Levy said, as a complete surprise — and not just to him.

Kamin, who was executive director of Bet Tzedek at the time, had asked Manatt’s director of pro bono work, Cristin Zeisler, if the firm could spare someone to help Bet Tzedek launch the Holocaust Survivors Justice Network.

Kamin was expecting “a paralegal or a junior associate to help us get the program off the ground,” he said. “We were completely blown away when I got a call from Stan, saying, ‘I’m the guy.’ ”

“He was basically volunteering full time with the organization he founded on this new initiative, and was instrumental to its success,” Kamin said.  “That’s the kind of guy he is.”

Levy is also the kind of guy people turn to when they’re searching for words of wisdom.

“I had to preside over a service for a staff member who died,” said California State Assemblyman Mike Feuer, thinking back to something that happened while he was executive director of Bet Tzedek. “I wanted to find just the right words from Jewish tradition to invoke. I turned to Stan.”

Levy’s preferred primary sources extend far beyond traditional Jewish texts, though.

Ask him about his accomplishments, about his service to the community, and Levy will almost certainly downplay the importance of his qualifications — law degree, rabbinical ordination and prestigious national awards — and insist that all must serve, no matter their position in society.

During his conversation with The Journal, Levy relied on the words of a Christian pastor and of a prominent Muslim-American to make these twin points.

“You need to have a heart full of love and of compassion and of kindness, but anybody can serve,” said Levy, paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr. “You don’t need a Ph.D. to serve, you don’t need to make your subject and your predicate consistent, you just have to want to do something to try to help other people.”

For Levy, it is King who teaches that anybody can serve, and Muhammad Ali who teaches that everybody must.

“Muhammad Ali, after one of his championship fights — and this is in the mid-’70s — went to an old-age home in New York,” Levy said. “I’m pretty sure it was a Jewish old-age home, and he gave them a very large contribution. And someone asked him why, and his response was, “Service to others is the rent I pay for my room here on Earth.”

Levy has been urging those in the legal profession to serve others for his entire 46-year career. He makes the case that it’s the right thing to do, sure — but also reminds his colleagues that the experience is tremendously rewarding.

“For me, personally,” Levy said, “the feeling of bringing some meaning and purpose in my own life through service to others, and also having had a very successful commercial private practice career, has just felt wonderful.

“That sense of gratitude, for the opportunity to be of service, is everything in the world to me.”

Marilyn Harran: A Modern Righteous Gentile


Marilyn Harran

Barri Evins

Alex Baum

Betty Neymark

Eve Marcus

Fran Rosenfield

Marilyn Harran

Noah Bleich

Rebecca Levinson

Yehoram Uziel

Yoram Hassid

As a young assistant professor at New York’s Barnard College in the mid-1970s, historian Marilyn Harran befriended one of the school’s maintenance workers. One day the man asked Harran to look at some of his wife’s artworks.
“Why not?” she remembers thinking.

Unbeknownst to her, his wife was a Holocaust survivor whose charcoal drawings depicted the horrors she had witnessed. A rendering of dead babies’ bodies being stacked like lumber underscored for Harran the Holocaust’s horror and brutality. From that moment on, she made a personal mission of bringing the Shoah to light out of the dark recesses of hidden nightmares. For Harran, who is Protestant, keeping these memories alive is nothing less than a human imperative.

“I want to create a generation that never believes some people are more human than others,” she said.

A diminutive woman with an easy laugh, Harran, now 58, is a professor at Chapman University in Orange, which is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ. Over the past two decades, largely through her efforts, Chapman has come to offer several courses on the Holocaust; it also hosts annual lectures on the subject and even offers a minor in Holocaust history.

In 2000, Chapman opened the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education and established the Stern Chair in Holocaust Education, which Harran holds.

In April 2005, again at Harran’s instigation, Chapman opened the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library. The renowned Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Eli Wiesel, after two years of coaxing by Harran, attended the library’s dedication ceremony.

With the help of her supporters, Harran “has been able to place awareness of the Holocaust at the center of Chapman’s intellectual life, and, perhaps even more remarkably, as a topic of regular attention and concern in Orange County,” said David N. Myers, a professor of Jewish history and director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies.

William Elperin, an attorney and president of the “1939” Club, an organization for Holocaust survivors and descendants that has supported many of Harran’s endeavors, goes even farther in his praise.

“She is the person most responsible for transforming Orange County from a Holocaust denial center to a Holocaust education center,” Elperin said.

Sitting in her Chapman office surrounded by books and a photo of Wiesel, her hero, Harran said she spends about 100 hours per week on Holocaust-related activities. She teaches three classes on the subject, arranges for guest lecturers and oversees her students’ work on an ambitious survivor project she hopes will lead to publication of a book detailing survivors’ experiences. She also participated in the publication of “The Holocaust Chronicle: A History in Words and Pictures,” which has sold 200,000 copies.

Looking forward, Harran dreams of establishing a visiting scholars’ program at the university and growing the Holocaust library’s small collection, although raising the needed money might prove difficult, she said, given her distaste for fundraising.

Harran admits her “obsession” with the Holocaust has taken a toll on her personal life, but she believes it’s a small price to pay. She hopes that maintaining a focus on the Holocaust might encourage students and others to speak up against present-day atrocities in Darfur and elsewhere.

Still, she wonders whether she has done enough.

“I hope I’ve made a contribution,” Harran said.

Arnold stops at Jewish Home for Aging; Cal GOP says ad campaign worked; North Valley JCC shooting la


One Special Stop on the Campaign Trail

Even when the gubernatorial election was just two days away, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger found time to talk to a large group of senior citizens at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda.

After arriving nearly an hour late, the governor was met with applause and a few cries of “Arnold!” Along with his wife, Maria Shriver, the governor stopped to shake hands on the way to the microphone. Perfectly coiffed and sporting a suit with no tie, the governor seemed relaxed, if rushed, as he told the crowd that he had attended a memorial for the five firefighters killed in the Esperanza fire.Towering over a sea of seated white heads as he spoke, Schwarzenegger recapped his first term in office, talked about the economy and briefly derided the federal government: “They’re all fighting, the Democrats and Republicans, but in Sacramento we all get along now.”

He made a special attempt to bond with his audience as well, reminding them that he was an immigrant to the United States, and that all his successes were due to his move to California. As usual, he found time to mention his past as a Hollywood star, though he refrained from quoting any of his movies. At one point, he did mention Sugar Ray Robinson, a former middleweight boxing champion, as a mentor who gave him $500 at the beginning of his career. Though he talked at length about his own experiences as an immigrant, he never discussed any current immigration issues.

Schwarzenegger also reminded everyone that his first visit outside the country as governor had been to Israel, and that he had attended the pro-Israel rallies, which was met with more applause.

Shriver also spoke, saying that she had been to the Jewish Home on five or six occasions, and that she had brought her children’s schools there on field trips.

The two held a brief Q-and-A session after the 15-minute talk, fielding questions about social security, which the governor said was a matter for the federal government.

As the governor and the first lady exited the room they were besieged by photographers and fans.

The Jewish Home’s residents voiced varying opinions. Tauba Grischkan, an immigrant who came to the U.S. from Lithuania shortly after World War II expressed satisfaction with Schwarzenegger.

“I like him,” she said. “He’s a good man.”

Mort Symans, another resident, had some reservations about Schwarzenegger.

“He said some wonderful things, but the only problem is, he is a Republican talking like a Democrat,” Symans noted. “He has a Republican ideology and he’s trying to talk with the mouth of a Democrat.”

— Alex Collins-Shotwell, Contributing Writer

California Republicans Report Ads Drew New Members

Three hundred new members joined the California Republican Jewish Coalition in September and October, the largest two-month gain in the group’s history, according to Larry Greenfield the group’s director. Membership is now nearly 7,500 members, up from 2,000 just two and a half years ago, Greenfield said.

The membership boost came on the heels of 11 national RJC ads that argued that Democratic support for Israel is weakening. One ad, which ran in The Jewish Journal, suggested that Ned Lamont’s Connecticut primary victory over Sen. Joseph Lieberman reflected a Democratic shift away from the party’s historically strong support of the Jewish state. Another ad spotlighted a number of opinion polls, including one from the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg, which found Republicans more sympathetic toward Israel than Democrats.

The RJC spots have “generated a tremendous response for our organization,” said Greenfield, who, along with RJC California Chair Joel Geiderman, served among Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s statewide re-election campaign co-chairs.

Howard Welinsky, chair of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles, and other Democratic leaders have denounced the RJC’s ad campaign for distorting strong Democratic support for the Jewish state and for undermining bipartisanship.

The ads notwithstanding, Welinsky believes that the overwhelmingly majority of Jews have and will continue to vote Democratic, because “the values and convictions of the Democratic Party and American Jews are very much in sync.”— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Suit: Gun Shop Mishandled Shooter

A gun shop did not adequately vet a white supremacist jailed for life after a shooting attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, a lawsuit contends. The family of Joseph Ileto, a Philippine-born postal worker shot dead by Buford Furrow shortly after Furrow’s 1999 attack on the JCC filed a wrongful death suit Thursday against the Loaner Too pawn shop in Seattle.

The family’s lawyer, Mike Withey, contends that the shop failed to require Furrow to fill out a federal form that would have disqualified him from purchasing a pistol because he was a convicted felon who had spent time in a mental institution.

Three children, a receptionist and a teenage counselor were injured in Furrow’s shooting attack on the center. Withey also filed a $15 million claim in August on behalf of families of five children injured or traumatized in the attack against the Washington state corrections authority, which was supervising Burrow at the time.

— Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Jewish day schools short-change kids with special needs


Adam is pushing the strings of his tzitzit through a small hole on the side of his desk.

“If you don’t want to finish your work now, that’s OK,” his teacher, Chau Ly tells him. “You can do it later.”
“It’s easy. I just don’t feel like it,” answers Adam (not his real name).

He looks at the language arts workbook open in front of him, then flips it to examine the bar code. He wants to tell Ms. Ly about the cat next door. Ms. Ly, sitting right across from him, tells him he can do that when he finishes his assignment.
She begins to read him the next question.

He pulls at some rubber on his sneaker and says, “I don’t need help, it’s easy.”

Ms. Ly sits back. Adam, an 11-year-old with learning and emotional disorders, begins to work quietly.

Finally, he finishes his assignment. Ms. Ly adds up the points he’s earned for doing things like getting his head into the assignment and working independently, and sets the timer for his break.

He chooses to spend his time exchanging cat stories with Ms. Ly.

Adam is one of 12 students in Kol Hanearim, an organization that sponsors small classes in three local day schools for children with learning disabilities and emotional disorders such as attention deficit, oppositional behavior, depression or obsessive compulsive disorder. The kids spend part of the time in their own classroom and part of the time mainstreamed in regular classes. They also join their grade level for lunch, recess, art, PE and other activities.

The classes were founded last year by mothers of kids who had been either asked to leave a Jewish day school, or who chose to leave on their own. Their decision to stay and make something new is part of a slowly emerging trend toward integrating diverse learners into the Jewish day school milieu — a move that everyone agrees has been too slow in coming, and has hardly begun to reach the students who need it.

For years, resources for kids with special needs have been scarce in Los Angeles’ day schools.

While supplemental Jewish education programs — camps, Hebrew schools, Shabbatons and parties — have provided wonderful Jewish experiences to the region’s special needs kids during the last 10 to 20 years, other cities seem to be making greater strides with their day school populations.

Parents who want their special needs children immersed in a Jewish environment on a daily basis often have to fend for themselves with minimal school support. Those able to afford it have hired tutors and shadows, which has not always been a successful solution. More often, parents have had to make the difficult choice to take the kids out of Jewish schools.

For parents in the Orthodox community, the decision to pull a kid out of day school means not only forfeiting a vital environment and education, but has social consequences, as well. Since the majority of Orthodox children attend day school, the child will be excluded from social circles, further marginalizing him or her.

With the explosion of day school attendance in the non-Orthodox sectors over the last 15 years, that decision is equally painful for Conservative and Reform parents who hoped to solidify a child’s identity with an intense Jewish experience.
About 10 percent of the general population has a disability, and the Bureau of Jewish Education estimates that between 700 and 800 children with disabilities are in Los Angeles’ 37 day schools, which serve 10,000 kids.

Over the past several years, schools and programs have opened up to teaching a more diverse array of learners in Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and community schools.

“There is a growing awareness that day schools need to be accessible to the widest range of students possible, and schools are working hard to refine their mission statements and to make sure that whatever their aspirations are to work in this area, that they find the financial and human resources to make it successful,” said Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. The Boston-based group recently published a best practices report from day schools across the country.

Adam’s mother says her son, who previously attended Vista Del Mar’s Julia Ann Singer Center, a school near Culver City for children with severe emotional, learning and developmental disorders, has worked his way from a first-grade reading level to a fourth-grade reading level at Kol Hanearim. Whereas before he was surrounded by other kids with behavioral challenges, now he has nonchallenged children to model behaviors for him.

He is no longer embarrassed to wear a kippah and tzitzit, and can participate in class cooking projects without worrying about kashrut. He now asks to go to shul every Shabbat, and he even sings Hebrew songs in the shower.

While singing in the shower may seem like a silly benchmark, a positive or negative day school experience can have lifelong impact on a child’s Jewish identity.

One woman who contacted Kol Hanearim told the story of her son, now grown, who had been thrown out of yeshiva and told he would never amount to anything. Today, he is working toward a master’s degree in physics and is engaged to a non-Jewish woman.

Slammed Doors, New Opportunities

Kol Hanearim started its classes last academic year, soon after, Sharon Gindi was told that day school was no place for her son. She found that there were no good options for him within the Jewish community.

She got in touch with Kol Hanearim, a group of parents who had coalesced a few years before to offer Jewish programming to their children, who had left day schools. They had already met with principals in hopes of figuring out how to start classes for special-needs kids in day schools. But after two years, those meetings had gotten nowhere.

“I looked at my husband, and I said, ‘ All we need is a classroom and a teacher? How hard can this be?'” said Gindi, who will be speaking on this topic at a session at the United Jewish Community’s General Assembly here this week. So she skipped over the organizational meandering and immediately got down to details.

A Circle of Friends


For several weeks, I had been visiting Nathan, a 6-year-old boy diagnosed with autism. We had been brought together through the Conejo Valley Friendship Circle, an organization that extends warmth to families in the community that have children with special needs.

Nathan was unable to verbally communicate any of his ideas, wishes or thoughts, despite numerous psychiatrists, speech therapists and trained counselors who tried to improve his speaking abilities.

At our weekly play dates, I began to mimic and articulate many words to Nathan, even though I felt that it would have a minimal impact on him. For instance, when he wished to continue jumping on the trampoline, I would repeat the words “more” and “again” to him. After several weeks, and to my great surprise and satisfaction, Nathan said his first word … “more.”

One could imagine what raced through my mind. Here, a naive and sometimes foolish 15-year-old boy was able to accomplish in a few short weeks what dozens of therapists and psychologists could not accomplish in six years.

But even more fun and gratifying was the friendship we began to develop. Never in my life had I witnessed anything as pure as watching Nathan ride a bike or the joy he would express while jumping on a trampoline. He became more than a friend … he became my companion. I felt that he was the only individual that didn’t judge me. All he asked was that I come to his house once a week and play with him.

The Friendship Circle has changed, and in a way, rewritten the way I view my life. Like many other teenagers, before I joined the Friendship Circle, I found my life to be ordinary, tedious and mundane. I found that my soul was constantly yearning for a more meaningful existence. In the beginning, I joined the organization in order to acquire community service hours and perhaps impress some college that I planned to apply to in the future. Unknown to me at the time, I would soon fall in love with the organization.

The Conejo Valley Friendship Circle began in 2003 to offer volunteers services, events and support to special-needs families: 125 families with special-needs kids throughout the Conejo and West San Fernando valleys participate, and 250 teenagers are volunteers. On March 26, 600 people gathered at Agoura High School for a walk-a-thon and family fun day to benefit the Friendship Circle. The special-needs kids and their families walked the first lap of the 5K walk, and then the rest of us joined. We raised $80,000 for Friendship Circle programs.

Every Friendship Circle event is special in its own way; whether it is the weekly Fitness Center program or the annual Purim Carnival, each event brings a distinctive dimension to the program. Children, parents and volunteers together unite and form a bond unlike any other friendship or companionship. Within our own communities, we form a small neighborhood of trustworthy friends that care not only for the benefit of themselves but also take the time to realize the good that they can bring to the world.

The core program, Friends at Home, is the one that brought us together. Every member within the organization is assigned to a particular family, whom he or she befriends and visits once a week. At the outset, I was impressed with the professionalism the organization allowed me to acquire. “Friends at Home” and meeting Nathan helped me understand how one person can have a deep and significant impact.

The Friendship Circle puts individuals in a situation where they can and will make a difference. Although every situation cannot be as intense and gratifying as my own, I am certain that each individual the organization touches is affected in a deep, momentous manner. Each volunteer becomes a part of their child’s life — an important part, a part that cannot be replaced by any trained guide or psychologist. Every kid needs a friend; the Friendship Circle strives to give each child that is in need a friend; and teenage volunteers have their soul touched in a sentimental, life-changing way.

As much as every child needs a friend, it is evident that teenagers need a friend, too. I’m not referring to the friend that you take to the mall or go to a party with, but everyone needs a real friend. A friend that will not judge will not hate and will not disappoint … a friend that will not ask anything of you but your friendship. Everyone needs a “Friendship Circle” friend.

For more information about the Friendship Circle of the Conejo Valley, call (818) 865-2233 or visit

Requests Swamp Israel Trip Program


Birthright Israel has received many more applications for its upcoming trips than it has spaces available. Approximately 14,000 young Jews applied for 8,000 spots in the program’s spring/summer trips this year in just the first 12 hours of registration Feb. 8.

The organization provides free trips to Israel for Jews ages 18 to 26. In the six years since its founding, Birthright has brought 98,000 people from 45 countries to Israel. The upcoming trip will include the program’s 100,000th participant.

“The level of demand is unprecedented and well exceeds our financial capability to accommodate the majority of those who currently wish to go on Taglit-Birthright Israel trips,” said Susie Gelman, Birthright Israel Foundation chair.

Taglit is the Hebrew name for the program.

“As Taglit-Birthright Israel grows rapidly and develops into a community-supported organization, we hope that our friends will support us in enabling more young Jews to participate in the Taglit-Birthright Israel experience, so that we can send the 100,000th participant and plan for the next 100,000,” Gelman said.

Big Sunday Gets Big Boost From City


Big Sunday began in 1999 with 300 Jewish volunteers devoted to a day of good works. That was impressive in a city notorious for lack of civic involvement — but that was just the beginning.

What started as Mitzvah Day for congregants of Temple Israel of Hollywood gradually spread across the city and beyond the Jewish community, with 8,000 participants from all socio-economic and religious backgrounds working on 150 different projects last year. Now the event has taken another big leap — suddenly, Big Sunday is the business of the city of Los Angeles.

This year, Los Angeles assumes the headline role in sponsoring the May 7 event. The planning began officially last week at Temple Israel. About 170 attended, including about 30 representatives of city government, among them Larry Frank, deputy mayor of neighborhood and community services.

Frank said that the mayor’s office would “like to help the whole city do what you’ve been doing for the past seven years.”

“We want this to be as big as the marathon, as big as the Grammys,” he said. “We want everyone to be able to participate.”

This year, as a result of the city partnership, event founder David Levinson expects as many as 25,000 volunteers.

“Do the math,” he said at the planning meeting. “We had 8,000 last year. Mayor Villaraigosa’s citywide day of service in October drew 7,500. That’s already over 15,000.”

The variety of projects last year was diverse, ranging from bathing rescued basset hounds to furnishing apartments for the homeless. Some volunteers painted murals and planted a garden at Grand View Elementary School in Mar Vista, while another crew in the kitchen made casseroles to freeze and distribute to AIDS victims.

“My honest belief is that everyone wants to help and everyone can help,” said Levinson, a playwright and TV writer who still chairs the event.

“If someone says they can’t make it because they have a 1-year-old, I tell them to bring [the baby] to a nursing home. All she has to do is breathe, and she’ll make the residents happy,” Levinson said. “We had a blind theater group washing cars. At a party we threw for low-income seniors, one of the activities was making silk flowers for shut-ins at a nursing home.

“It’s not about the haves helping the have-nots,” he explained. “It’s about everyone working together.”

Last year’s participants hailed from more than 100 synagogues (all denominations from Reform to Orthodox to Reconstructionist), churches, schools, offices and clubs, as well as hundreds of individuals and families. They worked on almost 150 different projects from Acton to Anaheim.

As book captain, Racelle Schaefer, a Temple Israel member who has volunteered every year, spends months organizing book drives at schools.

“We also get donations of new children’s books from Houghton Mifflin,” she said. “Last year we distributed over 8,000 books throughout the city on Big Sunday.”

Corporate, private and organizational donors underwrite the day, including Temple Israel. The budget this year is $450,000. The city’s participation will include providing security, busing and street closures. Additional donors are both welcomed and needed, Levinson said.

“I have absolutely no idea how we’ll pay for it this year,” he added. “It’s a cliff-hanger, but we always figure something out.”

An improved Web site will make coordination easier. Volunteers can click on a listed project and get an automatic confirmation, map, contact person and any special instructions.

“I see Big Sunday as an appetizer platter for volunteers,” said Sherry Marks, vice chair and volunteer coordinator. “There are hundreds of worthy nonprofits that need our people. If you wanted, you could start at 7 a.m. and work at four or five different sites during the day.

“You could make meals at a shelter, take senior citizens out to tea or provide makeovers for women who are re-entering the work force,” she continued. “[The volunteering] often works as a catalyst, getting people to make an ongoing commitment to a particular organization.”

For more information visit www.bigsunday.org

 

Russian City Gets New JCC


At a time when Jewish Community Centers in the West frequently struggle to survive in prosperous communities with lots of Jews, the small Russian port city of Arkhangelsk near the Arctic Circle is on the verge of getting a brand-new JCC. A local businessman had pledged to build and fund the facility for a Jewish community of fewer than 2,000 people.

The current JCC building is located on the edge of town — one floor above a blood transfusion clinic. It is tiny and in disrepair; building materials and a few wheelchairs dusty from neglect clutter a hallway connecting its five small rooms. This space houses a library that doubles as a kitchen, two offices and a meeting room.

Anatoly Obermeister, a local Jewish businessman, decided to improve the situation. “We need something that we can call our own and a place where we know we will always be able to stay,” he said.

Obermeister, president of the construction and development firm ASTRA, plans to offer the ground floor — about 6,000 square feet — of a new housing project in the center of town for use as a Jewish community center that could include a restaurant, clinic, school and other social services.

Nothing is left of the two synagogues that were built after the arrival of Jewish merchants and soldiers in the army during the 19th century. The wooden buildings fell into ruin and were scrapped after their closures during communist times.

Outside funding assistance for the new JCC would be welcomed for consideration, but Obermeister prefers that the community should not have to rely on outside sources to support itself — something that rarely happens in Jewish communities anywhere in Russia, where Jewish life still largely relies on the generosity of foreign donors.

In recent years, the Arkhangelsk Jewish community has seen an involvement of international Jewish organizations. Like almost everywhere across the region, Chabad, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel have all assumed some role in this remote Russian Jewish community.

This involvement means an increase in Jewish social support and cultural life for Arkhangelsk’s Jews. However, the increase in Jewish identification also has led many local Jews to emigrate.

Since the Jewish Agency first opened a center here in 1998, the community has seen a heavy flow of Jews moving to Israel, said Lilya Martinova, coordinator for the St. Petersburg department of the Jewish Agency, which handles communities in northwestern Russia.

“Ten to 15 people make aliyah to Israel every year from the Arkhangelsk area,” said Igor Prober, director of the local Hesed Avraham welfare center.

For a community the size of Arkhangelsk, that is a considerable number.

The Arkhangelsk Jewish community is a branch of the Federation of Jewish Communities — a Chabad-sponsored organization. It, along with the JDC and local donors, helps fund various educational and social programs, including a tiny Sunday school of about 15 participants and a youth club.

Although the JDC-operated Hesed Avraham is thriving in its work of assisting the elderly, local Jewish leaders don’t think the future of the small Jewish community has much of a chance.

Yet, though Jewish activity should be declining, it may, in fact, be gaining momentum. Many Jews are leaving, but many are also coming out of the woodwork. Those with some Jewish heritage are finding their way to the evolving community and are becoming active participants.

“When they become interested in their identity, the half- and quarter-Jews become very active in Jewish cultural life — usually much more active than the full-blooded Jews,” Prober said.

 

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?


 

To try to figure out all the volunteer projects social worker Karen Gilman is involved in — and where she finds the time to do them all — is to sift through a complex maze of stories of individuals who need help, or organizations that need help, or a volunteer staff that needs organization, or funds or whatever she can give.

For her job, Gilman is a social worker, who deals with parents of developmentally disabled children ranging in age up to 3.

“Some of my work-work interferes with my volunteer work,” she joked.

That volunteer work is vast. She served as the sisterhood president of Temple Israel of Hollywood and currently co-chairs its AIDS lunch project, which distributes food once a month. Gilman is also social action chair for the Western Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, which presents the women’s positions on legislative policy.

She also works with Shane’s Inspiration, a nonprofit group that creates handicapped-accessible playgrounds around Los Angeles, and serves on the Special Olympics Mini Meet committee, as well as Fiesta Familiar, a yearly training program for parents of children with disabilities.

There’s more — like volunteering at her temple gift shop and working with the day school children on volunteer projects — but the real questions are: How does she do it? How does she not get burned out?

By way of an answer, she tells stories of second-graders who donated money anonymously so a poor person could celebrate Purim, the school lunch lady who called her to find out what to do for a severely lactose-intolerant child on pizza day and the parents who advocate for their children and “turn their pain in something for their families. That keeps us going,” she said, although even the mere question of what motivates her is curious to her.

“Once in a while, someone will do something out of the kindness of their hearts for someone else,” she said. “When you’re able to pull together the research and make something happen for someone, and they can utilize the resources, it’s gratifying.”

That’s Gilman’s main motivation. She was raised by socially conscious and politically active parents and grandparents in Chicago.

“They set the stage that this was the right thing to do,” she said.

“She doesn’t seek the limelight,” said Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood. “She really does it modestly. She just cares a lot — she knows she has the ability, and she knows a mitzvah and how to do it.”

That’s why the temple decided to surprise her by honoring her — only her — last year.

“They really shouldn’t have done it,” Gilman said, more embarrassed than upset. “Everyone works together on all these projects, and no one person is more deserving than another for praise. The highest form of giving charity is doing so anonymously, so it’s not really good to draw attention to oneself in one’s charitable work.”

For Gilman, volunteering is a team effort, one that requires motivating others to join her: “They are doing something good together with their friends, you get to spend a great time together with your community and it will make you feel good. People love giving anonymously and selflessly. Usually, Jewish people are easy to convince. They usually understand the concept of charity pretty well.”

Karen Gilman

MORE MENSCHES

Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis


 

There’s a worn American flag hanging in the second-story window of Moshe Salem’s stately Valley Village home.

Which is strange if you think about it, since much of Salem’s existence is centered around Israel. He’s Israeli, his wife is Israeli, as are their four kids. Most of his friends in the Valley are Israeli, and for the last three years, he’s been volunteering as the president of the Council of Israeli Communities (CIC), a small organization that wants to serve as the central representation of Israelis in Los Angeles — an endeavor that has not quite come to fruition just yet.

There’s more of Israel inside these huge mahogany oak doors, which open onto a marble floor and thick, ivory columns: The walls flanking the entryway are decorated with dozens of colorful hamsas, hand-shaped amulets that ostensibly protect against evil; in the corner of the two story-high living room is a tarnished silver Middle Eastern tea set and several hookahs, and, of course, there’s Moshe himself, the 45-year-old advocate for Israel and for Israelis in America.

Although the organization originally began in 2001 as a pro-Israel advocacy group, when other organizations like StandWithUs began to effectively fill that role, the CIC changed direction to try to foster a relationship between Israelis and Israel, its culture and values.

After he became president of the CIC in 2002 — a term that ends in February — Salem began working three to four hours a day on CIC projects, such as hosting speakers, sing-alongs, holiday activities; working with The Federation and Jewish Agency; organizing events like the recent Rabin memorial at the University of Judaism; or inviting Israeli soldiers to talk about Israel’s care in the execution of missions.

“There is a great need for one central Israeli organization,” says Gal Shor, editor-in-chief of Shalom L.A., a Hebrew newspaper here. Shor does not believe the CIC has fulfilled that role yet, due to a membership of 5,000 out of the estimated 200,000 Israelis in Los Angeles and a lack of funding, but he says Salem has been tireless in his work.

“One good thing about him is that he’s trying. He does give his time and effort,” Shor says.

When he’s not at the CIC, Salem runs his diamond business, which he started a few years after he came to California in 1981. Like many Israelis here, Salem originally came to America to make some money, never intending to stay. But after a wife, four children and years of what he calls “living on the fence” — about whether to return to Israel or not — Salem has come to terms with the fact that they’re probably not going back to Bat Yam. Which makes it all the more important for him to try to forge a connection between Israelis and Israel.

“People ask me, ‘Why are you doing this, giving your time, your money?’ (Time away from work is money),” he said. “You have more substance in your life rather than just getting up in the morning, going to parties, going to the movies,” he said.

On a personal level, he said, he does it for his children, too: “I think my kids observe a lot. When they see an article in the Israeli papers, or when we have a gathering at the house, it enriches their life. I think, I hope, I pray that I’m embedding in them Jewish Israeli values that way.”

On a more global level, he said that somebody has to do the work that he is doing.

“If everybody says, ‘I can’t do it, I’m too busy,’ then who would do this? If nobody would do these things, then what you’re doing is emptying the community life from any cultural or spiritual values,” he said. “A community that does not have spiritual and cultural values is a doomed community.”

Moshe Salem

MORE MENSCHES

Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

Fight the Minotaur in the Tax Labyrinth


This past September, the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles, the Zimmer Children’s Museum and representatives of more than 70 other organizations attended a seminar for nonprofits that I conducted at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Like many taxpayers, nonprofit organizations need guidance to comprehend the labyrinth of federal and state tax laws. With the exception of accountants and attorneys, few people absorb the millions of words that make up state and federal tax codes, including rules and regulations. In addition, many nonprofits cannot afford the expense of maintaining counsel to steer them through the thicket of tax laws.

To facilitate seminars that provide vital tax information to nonprofits, I enlist experienced speakers from various federal, state and local agencies to break down our complex tax system into easily understood component parts. At The Federation seminar, experts discussed provisions of the state and federal tax codes that apply to nonprofit organizations, as well as laws that specifically govern their activities.

A rabbi who attended the meeting was unaware that an exemption from sales tax exists for sales of meals and food products furnished or served by any religious organization at a social gathering it hosts. To his delight, the rabbi discovered that the synagogue was eligible for a refund of hundreds of dollars of sales tax reimbursement paid to several restaurants (Revenue & Taxation Code, Section 6363.5).

Marina Arevalo-Martinez, an accountant at the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic, took a particular interest in raffles. She heard one presenter say that under Penal Code Section 320.5 “no eligible organization can hold a raffle unless it has registered with the [state] attorney general’s office to hold raffles.” Arevalo-Martinez also learned that an eligible organization must use at least 90 percent of all gross receipts from raffle ticket sales for charitable or beneficial purposes.

The Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic constantly looks for ways to raise money, and Arevalo-Martinez said the information will enable the agency to sponsor raffles while adhering to the letter of the law.

Federation President John Fishel said, “The seminar provided the staff of The Jewish Federation and the staff of our affiliated agencies with vital information on reporting and compliance.”

But the reality is that in today’s fast-paced environment not every nonprofit organization or charitable contributor has the time to attend a seminar. With this in mind, here are some tax tips from the Board of Equalization and the Franchise Tax Board you might find useful.

Franchise and Income Tax Tips for Donors

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• Confirm that the recipient of your gift is a valid charity before you give. You can do so by looking up the charity on the IRS Web site (” target=”_blank”>www.boe.ca.gov, which features sales and tax rates by county, frequently asked questions, a list of publications, and an online tutorial for sales and use tax.

John Chiang is chair of the California State Board of Equalization and member of the Franchise Tax Board.

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AIPAC Is Guilty — But Not of Spying


 

As some 1,250 delegates gather in Los Angeles under the banner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to celebrate the deepening ties between the United States and Israel and to strengthen those ties through political activities, I am mindful of two who will not be there.

Two former AIPAC staffers, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, will be back in Washington preparing for their January trial, which could be completed on the eve of AIPAC’s National Policy Conference in March. The timing is ironic given the loyal, instrumental roles that Rosen and Weissman played for AIPAC, and given the extent to which AIPAC has deserted them both.

These two individuals, in fact, deserve the unqualified support of both AIPAC and the Jewish community for their service to Jews and Israel — and also because they are, to all appearances, innocent of any wrongdoing. The current criminal indictment arises out of nothing more than law enforcement entrapment. But even putting that aside, the former AIPAC staffers still acted in a logical, defensible and ethical matter. Jews should be rising to their defense, but there is, so far, only a shameful silence.

Rosen, a longtime Washington lobbyist, was the chief of AIPAC foreign-policy staff. Weissman was a specialist on Iraq. No one who knew Rosen would argue that he was the soul of AIPAC or its most visible public face, but all who came close to the organization swiftly understood that Rosen was its brains.

It was he who shaped the concept of Israel as a strategic ally of the United States, refashioning American support for Israel from that of a big brother assisting a poor relation to a genuine, mutually beneficial partnership.

It was he who shifted AIPAC from an organization that was solely centered on Congress to one that also lobbied the president, his officers and his advisers — in Democratic and Republican administrations alike — as well as the think tanks and policy wonks.

Rosen recognized that he ruffled too many feathers to be out front. So he groomed protégés to assume that role. He mentored one so well that he became the head of AIPAC; another became the first Jew to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

One cannot overestimate his importance to the organization and his contribution to it over the past two decades.

One did not have to agree with his politics or AIPAC’s — as I certainly did not — to recognize the genius: While everyone was focusing on Iraq, he was concerned about Iran and North Korea. Anyone in his position traffics in information, seeking to understand what is known, attempting to fathom what is on the mind of government officials both in the United States and abroad.

What happened with Rosen and Weissman is simple enough. They were set up.

They are victims of a sting operation that relied on government analyst Lawrence Franklin, a compromised source who was in trouble for allegedly keeping unauthorized classified information at home. In order to win a more lenient sentence, he carried out an FBI plan to tell Rosen and Weissman about “secret information” that Israeli operatives were to be attacked in Iraq. Lives were seemingly at stake. Real lives, Jewish lives of people allied with the United States and presumably working in Iraq with the knowledge and consent of the United States, in alliance with the United States. Remember, this information came from a U.S. government analyst. And they had every reason to presume that he was giving them information both with permission and for a purpose.

Not surprisingly, Rosen and Weissman tried to check this information out. At one point, they apparently sought to see what a journalist covering Iraq knew. They also warned Israeli officials of the clear and immediate danger to their operatives. We now know that Franklin’s information was false and manufactured, with the specific goal of ensnaring Rosen and Weissman.

Of course that wasn’t the impression created when CBS broke its sensational account on Aug. 27, 2004, courtesy of a leak from either the FBI and/or Department of Justice.

Elements of the evidence remain shrouded in secrecy — the defendants are currently challenging the government’s attempts to conceal their own statements made on wiretaps.

Why would the U.S. government obstruct the defense in this way?

One plausible explanation is that Rosen and Weissman will recognize the circumstances in which their words were recorded and hence understand the scope of the federal surveillance — not just of them but also of those with whom they were in contact. One wonders: Does the U.S. typically spy on Israeli diplomats or diplomats of other countries?

We shall soon learn whether the government will drop the charges rather than reveal its evidence. The surveillance apparently lasted for five years and yielded such meager results that the defendants had to be entrapped into committing an alleged crime. If they were really up to something, investigators should have found it without the FBI having to engage in a Hollywood-style stunt — fictionalizing a scenario and manufacturing a crime.

This is not the Jonathon Pollard Affair redux. Pollard was a paid agent of the Israeli government who transmitted classified information to Israel. And unlike with the legal principle at stake in the Valerie Plame case, there was no possibility that lives would have been endangered by this leak; no sources were compromised. Unlike Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, Rosen and Weissman wanted to save lives, not weaken political opponents.

Yet AIPAC has run for cover; so have too many Jews. Some members of AIPAC’s own leadership are under the impression that the organization has actively defended its former employees. The word on the street, however, is that Rosen and Weissman have been hung out to dry. AIPAC bylaws require that the organization cover their legal defense, yet Rosen’s lawyers and Weissman’s lawyers have not been paid in many months. A reporters committee has come out against the indictment; a scientific group has challenged the secrecy provisions. But unless I’ve missed something, American Jewish organizations have been virtually mute.

We should be outraged by the setup!

We should be outraged by the selective prosecution — Rosen and Weissman are the first to be charged under the provision of the law being cited. Maybe it’s truly AIPAC and the vaunted American-Israeli alliance that is on trial or that is the actual target.

So why the hushed, muted tones of organizational leaders?

I leave it to their able lawyers to make the legal case for Rosen and Weissman, but the moral case also is compelling. From the standpoint of Jewish principles and tradition, the saving of human lives is an essential.

The Bush administration — or at least some within it — seems determined to crack down on the dissemination of government information, even if it impedes the public’s right to know or the right of citizens to participate in the process.

The Jewish community should not be timid in taking a different view. We dare not be sidelined.

Michael Berenbaum is adjunct professor of theology at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute, whose mission is to explore the ethical and religious implications of the Holocaust.

 

 

 

 

 


All About AIPAC


How to Polish a Tarnished Image

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad AIPAC?

Looking for a Shining Star

Summit Tackles Iran Nukes, College Strife

Sarah’s Tent to Fete Feminist Scholar


Driving down Wilshire Boulevard about 35 years ago, Savina J. Teubal saw the bumper sticker that changed her life.

“It was one of those ‘Question Authority’ bumper stickers that were popular in the early ’70s,” she recalled. “Up until that point, I had been aware of the injustice in other people’s lives. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask questions about my own life.”

The 79-year-old Teubal considers herself a prime example “of what you can become if you do question authority.” A feminist scholar and innovator of Jewish ritual, Teubal will be honored on Aug. 28 by Sarah’s Tent, the organization she founded to promote creative Jewish spirituality.

The event, which will include an appearance by musician Debbie Friedman, will also kick off two initiatives in tribute to Teubal, who is ill with lung cancer. In Teubal’s name, Sarah’s Tent will both endow a chair for feminist Jewish scholarship at the Academy for Jewish Religion and present an annual Jewish Women Achievement Award. For Teubal, the chair is particularly important, “because there’s loads of feminist writings now, but not enough of them get taught,” she said.

Teubal has been hailed as being consistently on the cutting edge of feminism and spirituality. Whether it’s her books about the biblical Sarah and Hagar, or initiating The Mikveh Ladies ritual, which consisted of women gathering for honest, life-affirming discussion in her Santa Monica hot tub, Teubal “has always been so grounded in both scholarship and creativity,” said Marcia Cohn Spiegel, a writer and community activist.

“She’s also so encouraging and nurturing to other people,” she added. “What she’s done to push Jewish women forward is extraordinary.”

Born in Manchester, England, Teubal grew up in Buenos Aires. Her family belonged to an affluent, tight-knit community of Syrian Jews, and Teubal described having “an Arabic upbringing at home and a British upbringing at school.”

With her three older brothers, she received private Hebrew lessons, and remembers the day her father asked the tutor how his children fared.

“The teacher went into some rapture on an essay I had written about Abraham, and I remember my father saying, “Never mind the girl,'” she recalled.

Teubal’s parents did not allow her to attend college or pursue a career, so to leave home, she married and moved with her husband to England in 1953. That same year, she published a book of short stories in Spanish, the product of writing for years in her parents’ house.

“Writing was the one thing no one could stop me from doing,” she said in her crisp British accent, while sitting on the living room couch in her Santa Monica home.

While in England, Teubal and her husband divorced, despite her father’s threat to cut her off. To support herself, she worked as a chauffeur for several years, before relocating to Mexico and then to the United States. By the time she arrived in Los Angeles, “it was the 1960s, and my life took off,” she said.

Teubal dove headfirst into the “feminist revolution” and eventually became active in Beth Chayim Chadashim, the world’s first gay and lesbian synagogue. Increasingly, she found herself interested in religion and the ancient Near East.

To finally obtain a college education, Teubal enrolled in a university-without-walls program; she received her doctorate from International College at 41. This allowed her to be mentored by Rutgers scholar Raphael Patai, while doing coursework in Los Angeles.

Taking her dissertation a step further, Teubal published “Sarah the Priestess: The First Matriarch of Genesis” in 1984, followed by the 1990 “Hagar the Egyptian,” reprinted in 1997 as “Ancient Sisterhood: The Lost Tradition of Hagar and Sarah.”

She broke ground writing about biblical women long before Anita Diamant’s novel, “The Red Tent,” made the best-seller lists. But Teubal also helped develop new Jewish rituals. Most notably, her Simchat Hochmah, which she created in 1986 in honor of her 60th birthday, celebrated the transition from adult to elder. It has been adopted by women all over the country and became the subject of a documentary.

“I was upset with the way people treated old age, as if death doesn’t happen in America,” she said.

“Savina has dedicated her life to understanding and freeing women from the limitations that have been imposed upon them,” said Rabbi Miriam Glazer, a literature professor at the University of Judaism who’s known Teubal for 25 years. “She’s also a true, independent scholar who has the courage to go where her imagination leads her and the academic discipline to follow through.”

After years of informally gathering people together for Shabbat services, study sessions and experimental rituals, Teubal co-founded Sarah’s Tent with Rabbi Judith Halevy in 1994. The organization has attracted both men and women to classes, retreats and holiday celebrations. In the past few months, Teubal has received an outpouring of phone calls and e-mails from its members.

“I didn’t realize how many people I influenced until I got sick,” she said.

“I can look back and feel very proud of what I’ve done,” said Teubal, who is currently at work on a novel about the biblical Bathsheba. “Had I followed some other, more traditional path, I wouldn’t have been able to free my imagination.”

Sarah’s Tent will honor Savina J. Teubal on Sunday, Aug. 28, at 6:30 p.m. at Kehillat Israel, 16019 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. Tickets are $36. For more information, visit www.sarahstent.org.

Sacred Words Come Naturally


Ellen Bernstein has been called the birth mother of the Jewish environmental movement. In 1988, she founded Shomrei Adamah (Keepers of the Earth), the first national Jewish environmental organization, and since leaving the group in 1996 has been an educator, consultant and writer. Her new book, “The Splendor of Creation: A Biblical Ecology” (Pilgrim Press), is a gem, beautifully written and produced. While it is inherently a narrative about ecological issues as framed by the first chapter of Genesis, it is really a deeper poetic work about being alive to life’s wonders, feeling connected to creation and to the Creator.

Although Bernstein is a person of action, her goal is not so much to foster activism as to help people gain appreciation of the environment as well as Judaism. Readers will learn about nature and experience what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called “radical amazement.” Bernstein, one of the few Jewish authors besides Evan Eisenberg who writes lyrically about nature, describes seeing with the soul and cultivating intimacy with the earth.

“Genesis I is particularly beautiful and poetic,” she says. “I was inspired … to contextualize environment in a totally different way.”

In seven chapters, each devoted to a day of creation, Bernstein weaves biblical text, midrash, the writings of naturalists and autobiography. In her chapter “Water, Earth and Plants: The Third Day,” she gracefully slips from talking about the physical qualities of water to its natural flow to open-heartedness in a few paragraphs.

While growing up in what she describes as a lackluster Jewish environment in New England, Bernstein sought solace and adventure in the woods. After pursuing environmental studies at Berkeley, she studied Eastern religions but revisited the Bible in search of wisdom she might have missed. She came to realize that “ecology and the Bible were using different languages to describe the same thing…. Both teach humility, modesty, kindness to all beings, a reverence for life and … that the earth is sacred and mysterious,” she writes.

In the 10 years it took Bernstein to complete “Creation,” she studied theologians such as Nachmanides and the 19th-century German Orthodox Rabbi Raphael Hirsch, “who expressed an uncanny ecological perspective,” she says.

As she was writing, she heard the words of the 11th-century philosopher Rabbi Bahya ibn Pakuda: “Meditation on creation is obligatory. You should try to understand both the smallest and greatest of God’s creatures.”

 

Failed Joshua Venture’s Serious Failings


 

Now that it has been “formally put to death and buried,” as one of its grantees told me, I feel free to speak out about the Joshua Venture, a supposed breakthrough organization, subsidizing the ideas of nonprofit professionals who will be leading the next generation of Jewish life.

I don’t know the intricacies of what happened that brought it to its final demise. I don’t even know all the details of how it worked when it was alive. I do know that when I dealt with its 14 20-30-something-aged grantees last year, it was the worst professional experience I have had since my company, Passion Marketing for Issues and Causes, began servicing the Jewish and nonprofit world.

The purpose of the Joshua Venture is something like this:

It was founded by several foundations in Jewish life to enable young social entrepreneurs (that means nonprofit start-ups) to receive funding and two-years of support, seminars, tools (that means training), mentoring and advice.

What I found out it basically meant is that they chose a group of creative and brilliant young Jews, many whom were committed to building edgy nonprofits in the Jewish world, who were coddled, handed monetary support on a silver platter, catered to, spoiled and allowed to believe that they were privileged and beyond socially acceptable behavioral norms.

I learned these realities the hard way. Initially, I was impressed and excited to be working with the grantees of the Joshua Venture. I already knew some of them. Several were great young people doing extraordinary new work in Jewish life.

There was the founder of J-Dub Records, bringing a new, hip style of Jewish music touching the lives of thousands of young, uninvolved Jews, opening a door for them into a Judaism from which they felt distant and alienated.

There was the founder of the Ayecha Resource Organization, an organization promoting the diversity of Jewish life, founded by a firebrand young Jewish woman who was a proud African American.

There was Sharsheret, supporting the needs of young, Jewish women dealing with breast cancer, founded by a young cancer survivor.

There were performance artists, filmmakers, political activists, intellectuals and others, forming an eclectic mix of dynamic personalities, committed to building their generation’s idea of a new Jewish world.

Joshua Ventures had contacted me about being one of their mentors. They asked if I could plan a full-day seminar for their grantees, teaching them the principles of marketing their causes for funding, advocacy and participation.

I was so excited to work with these people and help them further their ideas that I required my entire staff of 14 people to attend the seminar, positioning them to work as one-on-one mentors with each of the grantees. We prepared for weeks, working way beyond the hours for which Joshua Ventures was paying. I was happy to give the cause our time and a full day of 14 extraordinary professionals.

We arrived that morning to the seminar pumped up and ready to dive in with the grantees. I was prepared to work with them until midnight, if need be.

After an introduction from their professional, I stood up to convey our excitement at being with them and laid out the day’s schedule. Next, the head of our account service team, took the floor to begin the first part of the morning’s program.

He was just a few minutes into his presentation, when I noticed there was a buzz among the grantees. One young woman stands and says to me, “We believe your company is gender challenged. So far, we have heard from you and then another man. Why aren’t the women presenting?”

Not yet clued in, I nicely explained that there would be many women presenting, but that the way it worked out, the first two presentations were from men.

We continued, and then there was another buzz and interruption.

“We don’t like your methodology of presenting, as if you and your company are the center of knowledge. Your presentation model is outdated. You should be asking us what we know and then basing your presentation around our knowledge.”

I stopped and looked at their professional and their lay leader. Neither said a word. I waited to see if any of the other grantees would open their mouths to balance the critics. None did.

At the break, their professional informed me that the grantees tended to “eat up each professional that presented to them.” She further explained that this was par for the course.

(Today, as I recall this story, it reminds me of the report by Michael Jackson’s housekeeper telling the press how the kids at Neverland were allowed to run amok, without any supervision.)

The criticisms continued to fly. Finally, having reached my limit, I told them how excited we were to work with them, but as I listened to them, I was concerned about the values and behavior of the community they wanted to build. I then said that I believed through the grants they received that they had been empowered by the program and that they misconstrued this empowerment to feel entitled.

“You are taking away our safe space,” I was told by one of the grantees. “We’re supposed to be given safe space.”

As professionals, we stupidly continued to work with them through the entire day. We should have left. I should have publicly ripped up their check as a closing ceremony.

About two months later, I received a phone call from the professional, offering me a too-late and very weak apology. None of the funders, who had all heard about this fiasco, all of with whom I have worked very well over the years, ever called to ask about the experience.

The Joshua Venture raises many questions. There are numerous other programs in Jewish life, which are also handing the world on a silver platter to a new generation of Jews. The funders and their advisers have determined that free trips, free conferences, free hotel rooms, in addition to scholarships, fellowships, meetings with the rich and famous, study sessions with the brilliant, along with the awarding of cash, prizes and other untold privileges, not to mention the very deliberate creation of a new, selected elite class, are the methodology to perpetuate a vibrant and meaningful Jewish world.

And they may very well be right. But, several years into this new culture of privileged perpetuation, the late Joshua Venture is showing us that the methodology is also creating a sense of entitlement that is growing out of control.

I don’t believe that the programs should stop. But I do believe they must include some courses or sessions on values and humility, while demanding that the participants carry certain levels of responsibility. They must also include codes of conduct and expectations of gratitude, as well as an understanding that their participation does not place them above the community — or above amcha — the people.

The foundations of the Jewish world that fund these programs have stepped up to the plate to infuse Jewish life with a vibrancy and relevancy in a way the Jewish world has never worked before. They are to be thanked and praised.

But as they pursue the evaluations of their funding — as they all do, they must also question whether or not there is a critical issue of respect missing from the programs they are creating.

Gary Wexler is the owner of Passion Marketing for Issues and Causes based in Los Angeles.

 

WWI Huns Spark His Passion for Exercise


 

I learned about gymnastics from the German soldiers occupying Lithuania during World War I. I used to watch them swinging on the parallels and the rings. I would go home and try it myself. I took wood from one of our factories and made parallel bars in our backyard.

One day, when I was 10, my grandfather found me practicing on the parallels. He said, “What do you want to be, a ‘comediant?'”

They would call us “comediants,” because we would swing from bars and stand on our hands. The older generation didn’t approve. Jews weren’t used to physical education; they were used to studying.

I joined the Maccabi organization when I was 16. It was a sports club with a Zionist philosophy. The goal was to build a strong youth who would be able to fight for Eretz Yisrael.

In my town, Seraij, we had about 60 members: boys and girls from age 9 to their 20s. We rented a hall where we did gymnastics. We met every day, every evening.

We spoke Hebrew, and we took courses in Hebrew language. Lecturers came and spoke to us in Hebrew about the importance of sports and gymnastics. We had a slogan: Nefesh briah b’guf barih, a sound mind in a healthy body.

Every year, we had a festival. We would march through the streets with a band playing music. Some Maccabi members would ride horses. Then the townspeople would come to the big hall, and we would have an exhibition. We would do gymnastics and weightlifting and lecture on the importance of physical education.

Mostly, we competed against other Maccabi teams. But we also competed against other organizations and non-Jewish teams. We would perform for the townspeople, young and old, to raise money.

Sometimes, I would find a play in the library. If not, I would write a play myself. We would then perform a little drama and do exercises to music on stage. Afterward, everyone would dance until 4 o’clock in the morning.

I became the chairman of our Maccabi club soon after I joined…. I had done gymnastics at my high school, which was one of the first Hebrew-speaking schools. I also taught myself by reading literature in German, because there were no Hebrew books on physical education.

It was my job to go to towns and organize the youth into Maccabi clubs. I would explain to the people that physical education was important — just as important for the girls as for the boys.

The Maccabi Central Committee chose seven people to represent Lithuania in the Maccabiah games. I was the only one chosen to compete in the 100-meter dash. To prepare for the competition, I ran every day in an open field that the Maccabi had rented. I ran plenty, a few hours a day.

But I had to make a living, too. I would come home late from Maccabi meetings. In the morning, my grandfather would come looking for me, because customers would be lined up outside our flour mill, waiting for me to open the gates.

In 1932, I traveled with the Lithuanian team to Palestine. I took a train from Lithuania through Germany and France. Then, I sailed from Marseilles on a ship called the Patria. When we landed in Jaffa, Palestine, the harbor wasn’t deep enough for the ship. So everyone got onto small boats, which carried us to shore.

It was very exciting to step onto Palestine. The Maccabiah was the first Jewish event in Palestine for people from the Diaspora in 2000 years. There were tens of thousands of people there.

Some of the Jews who had known me in Lithuania and had moved to Palestine saw me marching in the opening ceremonies. They called my name and yelled, “You should come visit us!” The Americans and the Germans won all the awards. All I got was a certificate.

I spent about two weeks visiting relatives in Palestine after the games. One woman from our team decided to stay in Palestine, because she was a Zionist. I didn’t want to stay. I saw Arabs in Jerusalem riding horses and waving swords and yelling. And I had to go back to Lithuania to work.

When I came back, I lectured about the games. In 1935, I was invited to inspect Maccabi organizations all over Lithuania and to organize new groups in cities that didn’t have any Maccabi clubs. I did this until 1937, when I left for the United Sates.

The Maccabi made going-away parties for me, because I had organized new branches and invigorated others. I was celebrating, because I knew I would live.

My older brother, Meyer, who had been in the United States, came back to Lithuania to get me. We went to the American consul together to try to get a visa. I was sitting there while Meyer was speaking with the official behind a closed door. When Meyer opened the door and nodded his head yes, he got a visa for me, I said, “Ah, I’m alive.”

I left behind my mother; my brother, Aaron, and his wife and two sons; my sister, Paula, and her husband and two sons; my grandfather, grandmother, uncles, aunts, cousins — maybe 25 members of my family. I’m the only one left from the whole family.

In the United States, I didn’t play sports. It wasn’t so easy here. I had to work very hard. I worked at a meat factory until 10 p.m. every night. This was my exercise, my hard work.

The following story by Hillel Price, 99, was told to his granddaughter, Journal contributing writer Sarah Price Brown.

 

Q & A With Wilda Spalding


Open Wilda Spalding’s “little black book,” and you’ll discover a code of ethics — written in part by Eleanor Roosevelt and adopted by the United Nations in 1948: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Spalding, who will be at the University of Judaism on Oct. 26, has been a human rights activist at the United Nations in Geneva for more than 30 years. She has campaigned for indigenous people, children, the disabled and others and founded the International Human Rights Consortium, a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote the spirit of the Universal Declaration by honoring human rights advocates. Spalding is a member of congregation B’nai Horin, which holds services outdoors in gardens.

Jewish Journal: What will you speak about at the University of Judaism?

Wilda Spalding: The title of the talk is “Powerful Pixels of Peace: The Individual, the Nation and the United Nations.” Your screen on your computer or your television is made up of pixels. If one of them isn’t on, your television or your computer doesn’t work. That’s how important each one of us is. I want [listeners] to get really connected with themselves and the pretext of the individual and the different forms that can take — individual couples, individual communities, individual nations. One of the forms is the United Nations. I want them to go away feeling their beauty, their specialness, their uniqueness and their power.

JJ: Do Jews have a particular interest in human rights?

WS: A Jew is a living human rights Universal Declaration. By the covenant with Hashem — by the act of creation — they’re called to be the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. From the beginning, the declaration was born from the horrors of World War II.

JJ: How did you get involved with the United Nations?

WS: My mother was in San Francisco at the time of the signing [of the United Nations Charter in 1945], and I was in her womb. Through the amniotic fluid, I heard it, and I went, “Yes! This is for me.” For me, it’s about purpose and enabling people to feel their full dignity and respect. This is a place where people gather to try to do that.

JJ: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has said, “The U.N. Human Rights Commission promotes anti-Israel, anti-Semitic resolutions.” Do you agree?

WS: I’m in the Commission and have been for many, many years as a senior NGO [nongovernmental organization] participant. Israel as a nation is one thing, and Israel in what it’s doing in other areas of the world in terms of humanitarian work, in terms of being involved in HIV/AIDS, in its work in Senegal [is another thing]. Israel is doing a lot of very exciting and wonderful things. And that does show up in other places.

JJ: In September 2001, the United Nations hosted in Durban, South Africa, “The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.” The conference was called anti-Semitic and the United States government boycotted it. Do you think it was anti-Semitic?

WS: It was not anti-Semitic in the sense that it was not anti-Islam. No, it was anti-Israeli. And the fact that, that came through was really indicative of the pain that the world community is feeling and may be turning on the United States in a very similar way.

JJ: Peter Hansen, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), recently said in an interview that UNRWA in Gaza knowingly hires members of Hamas. Israel has called for Hansen’s resignation. Do you think Hansen should resign?

WS: When there is an organization or a club, which is all the U.N. is — it’s a dues-paying club — if you’re not a member of that club, you may not want to join that club, you may not like that club. You may want to criticize that club’s rules. But then how do you get that club to go to the ethical place you’d like it to? By being angry at it? By criticizing it? By not joining it?

If people want UNRWA to be different, then they need to start working at UNRWA.

Is it better that you have the people working for you, so that you can keep an eye on them and integrate them into something positive, or is it better to leave them alone, giving them 10 hours a day to make a bomb?

JJ: What’s something practical that the Los Angeles community can do to improve the state of human rights?

WS: The community is made up of individuals. The first thing all of us have to do is go inside ourselves, clean out the fear. Why are we always pitting ourselves us against them? Why do we fall into the trap of dualism? Is God two? No. God is echad [one].

We have tremendous capacity within ourselves, no matter our situation. Take a look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ask yourself, if you had all the money and all the staff in the world, what one thing would you do?

Wilda Spalding will speak Tuesday, Oct. 26, at 10:45 a.m. after a 10 a.m. reception at the University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. $10. For more information, call (310) 440-1283, ext 283.

Israeli Docs Save Third World Hearts


Inside the Mnaje Mojo hospital — “one coconut” in Swahili — it was absolute chaos. The place was teeming with people and I had to push my way through what seemed a never-ending crowd to get to the small room at the end of the corridor.

When I opened the door to the pitch-black chamber, the only light I saw came from a computer monitor in the back. In the top right hand corner of the screen I read the words, “Save a Child’s Heart.”

Two white men sat huddled together, focused intently on the screen, while a black woman wearing a burka sat on a bed holding an infant.

These are the moments that make me proud to be a part of the Jewish people.

The men, Drs. Uri Katz and Lior Sassoun, were Israeli Jewish physicians from the Save A Child’s Heart organization, through which the pair travels around the world examining children with congenital heart problems and bringing them back to Israel for free surgeries and treatment. I was in Zanzibar volunteering for the group.

The organization — now the largest project in the world providing urgently needed, pediatric cardiac surgery and follow-up care for children from third world and developing countries free of charge — was founded in 1995, by American-born Israeli pediatric cardiac surgeon Ami Cohen.

Here we were in Zanzibar, a tiny Muslim island in the tropics off the coast of Tanzania, working in a hospital with virtually no suitable equipment and a poorly trained and overworked medical staff. All they had was the portable echo machine — manufactured in Israel — and their hands to treat many potential pediatric cardiac surgical cases.

And now they had the Israelis.

Lines of hopeful families extended out the door, through the hallway, into the pediatric ward, down the stairs and out into the main hospital courtyard.

They were all responding to an announcement on Zanzibari radio earlier in the week inviting parents to bring children suffering from heart problems to be examined by two heart specialists from Israel.

Occasionally, Katz and Sassoun peered out of the exam room to check just how many patients remained to be seen. This was going to be a long week — the Israeli heart doctors committed themselves to examining every single child who showed up at the hospital.

The long lines were nothing new for these doctors. In fact, the duo — as well as other Save a Child’s Heart staff — has become accustomed to such crowds after traveling around the world in search of candidates for cost-free heart procedures at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, south of Tel Aviv.

Since its inception, the group’s staff has operated on nearly 1,000 children ranging in age from infants to teenagers. Patients, who are selected without regard to race or religion, have come from nations around the world, including China, Ethiopia, Moldova, Ghana, Jordan, Nigeria and Tanzania, as well as Zanzibar.

Nearly 40 percent of Save a Child’s Heart’s pediatric cases come from the Palestinian Authority.

In addition to the actual cardiac care and surgeries in Israel, the group has an outreach training program for medical personnel from participating countries.

Doctors and nurses are brought to Israel for in-depth training, and Save’s staff travel overseas to educate and perform surgeries in cooperation with local personnel. The group’s ultimate goal is to make partner countries self-sufficient in performing cardiac surgeries on their children.

On this particular mission to Zanzibar, the doctors were also examining children on whom they had operated in the past to see how they had progressed since their surgeries.

Still, the primary purpose of this trip to East Africa was to select new cases to bring back with them for operations.

I was especially excited to see the post-operative children: I had observed, firsthand, the open heart surgeries of several of these Zanzibari children one year before in Israel.

When I said goodbye to those kids in Holon more than 12 months ago, never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would see them again on their native island — and certainly not good as new.

It was easy to identify the post-op children: When the doctor finished examining them, these little kids would say, “todah rabah” and “l’hitraot” — thank you very much and goodbye, in Hebrew — the words they had learned during their stays in the Israeli hospital.

More apparent, however, were the physical changes. I recognized the faces of children who had arrived in Israel as skin and bones, on the verge of death due to complications from their respective heart problems.

But since their surgeries, many of these children had gained 20-30 pounds and generally looked more energetic.

As an aspiring physician, it was fascinating for me to observe these doctors at work. They graciously explained to me how to read the echo machine and how properly to listen to the patient’s heart and lungs to pinpoint the exact nature of the heart problem.

It was incredible to witness how these experts, after just a few seconds of listening to the heart, before even looking at the echo, were able to diagnose a particular kind of heart murmur, a broken valve, a battered-up septum, a missing ventricle or a malfunctioning artery.

Yet, there were some agonizing moments during those few days. Like the 17-year-old girl the doctor diagnosed with Esptein’s Heart syndrome, a fatal heart disease that is uncorrectable.

This particular girl had developed terrible secondary complications from her heart problems that were clearly affecting her day-to-day living. She was unable to move on her own and had extreme difficulty breathing. The doctors told me that it was a miracle that she had lived this long, but she only had a few months left.

When the doctors sat with the family and explained that the prognosis was not good and their team would be unable to help, I was in tears. Like with so many other children these doctors have come across in these developing countries, if the kids had access to regular health care, perhaps their lives could have been spared with early detection and intervention. But now that their diseases had matured, the situation was beyond repair.

Yet, perhaps the most amazing aspect of my experience in Zanzibar and the Save a Child’s Heart endeavor in general, was watching how, when Katz and Sassoun examined a child, they were indifferent to what the kid or his mother was wearing, whether the child’s name was Abdullah Muhammed or Abrahim Rantissi Jr.

All they saw was a ticking a heart on an echo machine that desperately needed fixing.

For more information on the Save A Child’s Heart organization, visit www.saveachildsheart.com.

Argentina BombingAcquittal Stirs Furor


On July 18, 1994, Paola Czyzewski was at the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires when terrorists bombed it, killing the 21-year-old law student and 84 other people.

Ten years later, the Czyzewski family — like most of the victims’ relatives — did not go to an Argentine federal courthouse last week to hear that the only people accused so far in the attack — locals named as accessories — had been acquitted.

"We had dinner at home," said Luis Czyzewski, the victim’s father. "The atmosphere was tense. I received the news badly. We somehow expected a conviction."

The Argentine Jewish community scheduled a demonstration Wednesday in Buenos Aires against the acquittals. All of the local Jewish groups, some of which have been at odds over strategies to find those responsible for the attack, sponsored the rally.

Ten years after the worst terrorist attack in Argentina’s history and the biggest anti-Semitic attack since World War II, no one has been brought to justice — and there isn’t any tangible proof about how the building was bombed.

The court record will be officially presented Oct. 29. However, in parts of it that were made available after the verdict was announced, the judges declared that a van was used to bomb the building but said the way the investigation was carried out made it impossible to find the defendants guilty.

The three federal court judges decided unanimously to let the defendants go free, but called for an investigation of the politicians, legislators, judges, prosecutors and lawyers allegedly involved in derailing the investigation.

Ruben Beraja, former leader of the Jewish community’s DAIA political umbrella group, and DAIA’s lawyer, Marta Nercellas, are among those to be investigated.

Also facing investigation are former Argentine Vice President Carlos Alvarez, ex-Internal Affairs Minister Carlos Corach, investigative judge Juan Jose Galeano — who was in charge of the case for nine and a half years — and prosecutors, intelligence service leaders and legislators who formed a special commission to investigate the AMIA bombing and a previous 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy.

Czyzewski said he was surprised that the court "seemed to have forgotten former President Carlos Menem," whom many have accused of derailing the investigation to protect the state security services or even Iran. Menem has denied the accusations.

Members of the Jewish community were devastated by the acquittal.

"This is the consecration of impunity," said Laura Ginsberg, a member of Apemia, a relatives group. "It’s a judiciary regression. It’s the evidence of impunity of state terrorism,"

AMIA President Abraham Kaul left the courtroom by a side door to avoid the media.

"The fact that a democratic country cannot find justice for such an attack is something of strong concern," Kaul said.

Jorge Kirszenbaum, DAIA’s acting president, said, "We feel very bad. We will study how to appeal the sentence."

DAIA members appeared bitter after learning that the group’s lawyer will be investigated.

Not all Jews saw the acquittal similarly.

"I feel angry, but I think the verdict is fair," said Adriana Reisfeld, a member of a Memoria Activa, a group that has demonstrated in front of the courthouse every week for the past decade. "The whole process was so compromised,"

In a court balcony, a dozen or so journalists shared files with relatives of four police officers who were among the defendants. Their happiness at the acquittal contrasted with the anguish showed by two Jewish grandmothers.

"I wouldn’t be able to stand this if I hadn’t taken sedative pills," Eugenia Szejer said.

After the verdict, former AMIA employee Enrique Lubinsky thanked AMIA’s lawyer, Juan Jose Avila, for his efforts. It was seen as a condolence.

Sergio Widder, the Latin American representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the verdict "is for Jews the confirmation of Argentine society’s failure to find justice. The way the investigation was done made it impossible to find the truth, and that’s a shame for Argentina."

To Baruj Zaidenknop, executive director of ORT Argentina, "the feeling is of absolute frustration. What confidence can we have in this country, in Argentine institutions? What are the guidelines for Argentine Jews?"

Eliahu Toker, a Jewish writer and poet, said the verdict is not in itself anti-Semitic, but that "it affects Argentina, it shows the lack of justice, the muddy way things are done in this country."

President Nestor Kirchner’s government had said before the verdict that it was ready to support investigations against former government and judiciary leaders to find the reasons for the investigation’s failure. Government sources said Kirchner hoped such a step would save his international image.

La Nacion newspaper posted an online poll to find out if readers agreed with the sentence. Initially, 73 percent of respondents said they disagreed with the acquittal, and 88 percent believed justice would never be done.

On Sept. 2, Familiares de las Victims, another group of victims’ relatives, decided it would attempt to take the case to an international court — though it has not decided where.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) also issued a statement calling on the Argentine government to fully investigate the attack and prosecute those responsible.

"We continue to be frustrated that the perpetrators of the heinous attack have not been brought to justice," the ADL said in a statement.

The American Jewish Committee, which hosted Kirchner at the group’s annual dinner in May, said the decision should prompt the Argentine government to redouble its efforts to do justice.

"The world is watching and waiting for justice to be served at last," the organization said in a statement.

Jewish Arsonist Worked for Paris Center


French Jewish leaders fear they may have cried wolf once too often after a Jew was arrested in connection with the well-publicized arson of a Jewish community center in central Paris.

Paris police say a 52-year-old Jewish man arrested Monday morning in connection with the Aug. 22 torching of the Judaeo-Spanish social center in the capital’s 11th district is the principal suspect in the arson.

Police said the man, identified only as "Raphael B." and described as unstable, is a former caretaker at the institution who had received free meals in return for his volunteer activities.

It is believed that the center wanted to part company with the man, provoking what police think was an act of vengeance.

Investigators found keys to the center at the man’s former rented apartment. This discovery tied in with earlier evidence, including the fact that the burned building’s front door was damaged from the inside during the arson, rather than being forced from the exterior.

The arrest shocked community leaders who had successfully mobilized the French political establishment to condemn what appeared to be an anti-Semitic attack.

Moise Cohen, president of the Paris Consistoire — the country’s principal Jewish religious group and the organization that owns the burned building — was sharply critical of community leaders he said had reacted "without taking the necessary precautions."

"From the beginning we thought this wasn’t normal," Cohen said. "The building is in a very quiet neighborhood and there was no indication on the outside that it was a former synagogue. From the start of the investigation, the police thought it was someone connected to the institution."

Cohen was equally scathing about politicians "who fear they’re going to be accused of not doing enough" to tackle anti-Semitism — though in part they have become zealous in their condemnations following stinging criticism that they weren’t taking anti-Semitism seriously enough.

In the aftermath of the attack, Jewish leaders sought to link the incident to recent cases in which judges had been lenient with anti-Semitic offenders.

The Jewish community could have been excused had its cries of anti-Semitism been isolated to one attack that turned out to have different motives. But the recent arson is only the latest example of politicians and community leaders reacting to an event with horror, only to have to ask questions later.

In July, an incident in which a young woman claimed she and her baby were attacked on a suburban train drew fierce condemnations from politicians and religious leaders — until it was discovered that the woman had made up the story.

Similarly, the recent knifing of a yeshiva student in the Paris suburbs also apparently was not motivated by anti-Semitism. And police still are investigating claims by a rabbi that he was stabbed outside his synagogue in January 2003, as reports allege that the rabbi may have stabbed himself.

Less in the media spotlight is the burning last November of an unoccupied annex of a Jewish school in the Parisian suburb of Gagny. It looks less and less likely that the incident was motivated by anti-Semitism.

Nevertheless, for Jewish organizations and for the government, these cases are merely isolated incidents in a tide of nearly 300 reported acts of anti-Semitism in France since the beginning of 2004.

Roger Benarroch, vice president of the CRIF umbrella organization of French Jewry, said that last week’s arson and the reaction to it should "not cause us to lose sight of the essential, that the climate of anti-Semitism makes these things credible."

But he admitted that such events "give our detractors, and the anti-Semites, an excuse to doubt us."

Similar comments came from France’s Union of Jewish Students, a group in the vanguard of the fight against anti-Semitism.

However, certain groups were critical of what they regard as Israel’s exploitation of the arson incident, which came just weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called on French Jews to leave the country "immediately" because of rising anti-Semitism.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom flew hastily to Paris to hold talks with government officials and Jewish leaders following the arson, and to visit the destroyed center.

Benarroch sharply criticized the visit, saying that "the Israelis should be more careful" and "shouldn’t meddle in the internal affairs of the community."

However, Shalom last week was considerably more nuanced about the arson attack than many community leaders.

Visiting the burned-out building, Shalom told reporters "we should leave the French authorities to conduct their investigation." He added that it was "of little importance what happened here when we know that during the last six months there have been more than 170 anti-Semitic incidents [in France].

The Consistoire’s Cohen, though, issued a warning to the Jewish community.

"Sixty years after the Shoah, every anti-Semitic incident rightly goes to the community’s head," he said. "When you cry wolf, you need to be very careful and ever vigilant. We are becoming less and less credible."

Islamic Group Uses Jewish Sect as Tool


The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) recently announced that "in an effort to foster better cooperation between Muslims and Jews," its Southern California chapter, along with several California mosques and branches of the Muslim Student Association, would sponsor a speaking tour by "the renowned Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, director of Neturei Karta."

CAIR claimed that its association with Weiss’ group would improve interfaith dialogue and "focus on ways for Muslims and Jews to cooperate, in order to challenge racism, injustice and those who attempt to divide us along religious lines."

In fact, CAIR’s sponsorship of the tour, which occurred last month, had nothing to do with improving dialogue or facilitating understanding — just the opposite.

Neturei Karta is a tiny, ultra-Orthodox Jewish group that advocates the dismantling of Israel. It has justified suicide bombings and blamed the Holocaust on "Zionists."

Its rabbis have spoken publicly at an anti-Israel rally under the banner of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist organization. After Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and leader of the terrorist group Hamas, was killed in an Israeli military action, Weiss memorialized Yassin at a New York ceremony.

During its tour, the group appeared at several colleges and universities. On the UC Irvine campus, it reiterated its support for suicide bombing, suggesting that Palestinian terrorism was the moral equivalent of Israel’s efforts to protect its citizens.

In effect, by sponsoring Neturei Karta, CAIR was able to advocate for the destruction of Israel without having to say so. Moreover, by using a Jewish group as its mouthpiece, CAIR sought to insulate itself against charges of anti-Semitism and posture as a broad-minded civil rights organization.

If this were true, though, if CAIR were actually interested in "foster[ing] better cooperation between Muslims and Jews," why is the only Jewish group it endorses a fringe sect denounced by virtually every Jewish organization? Why is CAIR’s sole Jewish ally committed not merely to the dissolution of the Jewish state but also amenable to violence against its citizens?

Those who have followed CAIR were not surprised by its involvement with Neturei Karta. CAIR was founded by leaders of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), an anti-Semitic, Chicago-based organization that has directly coordinated its activities in the United States with the leadership Hamas, according to the FBI. IAP regularly distributed communiques from Hamas — notices that openly called for a global jihad against Jews.

Since its founding, CAIR has refused to condemn Palestinian terrorist organizations by name. Indeed, when the Hamas militant Musa abu Marzuq was arrested, the group said, "This decision raises the concern that our judicial system has been kidnapped by Israeli interests." CAIR has called U.S. legislation and enforcement regarding terrorism "Zionist inspired."

While CAIR may be dedicated to securing liberty and justice for some Americans, its growing presence in the mainstream overshadows its continued willingness to offer a megaphone to conspiratorial Israel-bashers, like former Illinois Rep. Paul Findley, who says U.S. foreign policy "is made in Israel," and Bill Baker, former chairman of an anti-Semitic political party, who has written that "Zionist Jews" in America have "dual loyalty, first to the State of Israel."

During this period of increased tensions, it is vital that Muslim and Jewish groups work together to safeguard minority rights and to speak with one voice against terrorism, whatever its provenance. As long as CAIR supports groups like Neturei Karta and excuses terrorist attacks against Israel, it cannot be seriously counted as a member of the civil rights community.


Kevin O’Grady is associate director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Orange County/Long Beach regional office. He can be contacted at kogrady@adl.org.

Adding Mitzvah Multiplies Simcha


Sometimes the smallest details are the ones that make the biggest impression. You remember the pretty napkins or the mints with dessert. You remember the bride walking down the aisle with both her parents instead of just her father. You remember the way the bat mitzvah girl wore a hand-made yarmulke.

Chances are you don’t remember the decoration color scheme or what was served as a main course for dinner. But if a mitzvah project is part of the celebration, it will be one of the details noticed and appreciated no matter how small the effort.

When Debra Nielbulski came back from a family gathering in St. Louis, she remembered the unusual centerpieces on the tables at a family brunch. The beautifully decorated baskets of food served a dual purpose: as centerpieces and a mitzvah project.

Nielbulski has brought the idea back to Seattle. She put together a committee and created the fund-raising project that has been supporting the Jewish Family Service Food Bank for many years. The project has grown geographically over the years, with similar efforts in cities around the nation. Some families continue to put together the baskets on their own and donate the food to a food bank of their choice. On a related theme, depending on the time of year, baskets of school supplies or socks and other necessities would be appropriate for b’nai mitzvah decorations. How pretty the mitzvah is remains up to the family, so decorating the social hall with baskets instead of flowers doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your color scheme. You can even pay a private basket company to put the donation centerpieces together in an attractive way. Be sure to hang a pretty tag from the basket explaining where the food or other items will be donated.

Tables are the place to look for another celebration mitzvah project. One detail to think about while you are planning your simcha is what to do with extra food after the event. A number of organizations are interested in sharing your leftovers with others. For more information, look in the yellow pages for food banks and homeless shelters and ask any one of them if they take donations of party leftovers and if they know which organization does. In many cities, an organization will come to the synagogue or hotel to pick up the extra food that never made it to the table. In other places, you will have to drive the trays over to your local homeless shelter, but think of all the hungry people who will share your simcha with this simple effort. And don’t let anyone try to convince you that donations like this are illegal. You cannot be held liable for the food you donate, as long as it didn’t sit on someone’s plate first.

The national Jewish organization MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger offers another simple way to help the hungry while you are celebrating a joyous family occasion.

MAZON encourages families to donate 3 percent of the cost of their simcha to help feed the hungry. MAZON funds projects that deliver meals to the homebound, provides food to kosher kitchens, offers nutritional counseling for low-income women with children, and advocates for long-term solutions to hunger.

“MAZON is, of course, responsive to hunger among Jews; but in keeping with the best of our traditions, it also responds to all who are in need,” explains a MAZON pamphlet. The organization was founded in 1985 to “build a bridge between Jews who enjoy the blessings of abundance, and the millions of children and adults who are hungry, or who live at the very edge of hunger, each day.”

The MAZON Web site points out that more than 33 million Americans — including 12 million children — are hungry or at the very edge of hunger. The organization can be reached by calling (310) 442-0020, by visiting www.mazon.org or by writing to MAZON at 1990 S. Bundy Dr., Suite 260, Los Angeles, CA 90025-5232.

For brides who have no real plans to wear their beautiful wedding gowns again, a mitzvah project in Israel might appeal to you. The Rabbanit Bracha Kapach gives used wedding dresses to brides who cannot afford their own, in addition to a wide variety of other relief projects she conducts in Jerusalem. Danny Siegel in his book, “Mitzvahs” (Town House, 1990) suggests sending your wedding dress to the rabbanit in the hands of a friend who is visiting Israel. The rabbanit also needs wedding rings. You can contact her at 12 Lod St., Jerusalem, 249-296.

This is only a small sample of the many possible mitzvah projects a family might do to celebrate a wedding or bat mitzvah. For additional ideas, ask your rabbi or read Siegel’s book.


Donna Gordon Blankinship is a freelance writer living in Seattle.

Buy It Now


It continues to baffle me why anybody who cares about the future of Jewish communal life in Los Angeleswould seriously contemplate closing the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center (JCC).

Here is a vibrant center, serving about 1,000 people each week, in the midst of a large and growing Jewish population eager for center services, on a piece of highly desirable real estate that has been bought and paid for. We should be arguing over how much to expand Valley Cities JCC, not whether to close it.

The center is slated to be shut and sold by June 30 so that its owner, Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), can get its financial house in order. The organization owes The Jewish Federation $2.2 million, and the agency must make good on $1 million in its special fund and owes banks $450,000.

JCCGLA already sold off Bay Cities JCC, holds the ax over the head of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center and is itself facing dissolution.

From the very beginning of the centers crisis, the debate has never veered far from the bottom line. I understand the logic. I’ve heard eloquent voices argue the case for fiscal responsibility, but precious few powerful voices argue the case for more communal generosity on the JCC’s behalf.

One can argue that the Jewish community is moving west, and that it is time to abandon the old neighborhoods and cut our institutional losses. Such steps were necessary in the past. The shuttering of the Menorah Center near Boyle Heights in 1953 provoked outrage over an action that, in retrospect, looks visionary.

But East San Fernando Valley isn’t dying. Driving along Burbank you pass busy kosher markets and Israeli-owned restaurants, and run into the massive campus of Adat Ari El synagogue and the thriving Orthodox neighborhoods of North Hollywood.

A needs and assessment priority report prepared for Valley Cities JCC determined that the center sits amid a Jewish population of 30,000-40,000 people. It is made up of American as well as Israeli, Russian and Persian Jews, many of whom are recent immigrants. About 60 percent of the children enrolled at Valley Cities are Israeli American. They are eager for a Jewish home away for home, a way to integrate into the larger Jewish community, a Jewish place for their children and seniors to play and learn.

I’ve never been convinced that the philanthropists who raise and allocate the bulk of the Jewish communal charitable dollars in this city, and the leadership they speak with, truly believe in the future of the JCC movement. They, along with a few rabbis and others, have told me they believe centers are over — although many of these people themselves usually came to Jewish life through involvement in a JCC.

The evidence contradicts the naysayers.

Across the country JCCs are booming, even in cities where they face competition from mega-synagogues, health clubs and public after-school programs. JCCs reach 1.7 million Jews, 28 percent of the entire U.S. Jewish population, according to a new report for the JCC Association of North America. That’s more than the Reform movement itself can claim. Are L.A. Jews that different? Of course not. A successful Jewish community has many doors of entry.

The JCC Association, which is on the cusp of a major national ad campaign to strengthen the centers, also found that successful communities teamed JCCs with other organizations — federations, synagogues, agencies — to collaborate on programming and services. Closing the actual JCC buildings then renting other facilities to deliver JCC-ish services seems ingenious and synergistic now, but would inevitably weaken the sense of a Jewish “home away from home” that is at the heart of the center movement’s appeal. Better all parties synergize now to work hard with potential donors, bankruptcy attorneys, bankers and agencies to figure out a way to buy Valley Cities from JCCGLA.

I spent last Tuesday morning at Valley Cities, saw its classrooms and playgrounds filled with children, its auditorium the site of a large gathering of local seniors debating anti-Semitism in Europe.The local demand for center services, despite repeated threats of imminent closure, has actually increased. Members have raised $30,000 in mostly small donations since the troubles began — Valley Cities Director Marla Minden won’t cash the checks until the center’s survival is assured — and have organized bake sales, carnivals and letter-writing campaigns (including to The Journal).

More importantly, a younger and more astute leadership has come on board, and shows the kind of acumen that given a chance could turn the place around.

The folks at Valley Cities are not sophisticated fundraisers. Not one of their members sits on the board of The Federation, and none of them are lunching or golfing where the big money is raised. (They hadn’t even thought to turn to the Jewish Community Foundation, with its $470 million in assets.) This particular JCC serves a less-affluent Jewish population, many of whom are among the 16-20 percent of Los Angeles’ poor Jews. Last year Valley Cities gave out a good chunk of its budget in scholarships.

“Just because Jews don’t have money doesn’t mean they don’t deserve these services,” Valley Cities President Michael Brezner said. “There will be a huge void in this community if and when this center disappears.”

A member of the center sent me a postcard that echoes Brezner’s feelings.

“The Jewish Center gave me a very good childhood. And they also helped my family pay to send me and my brother to camp while my mother was in the hospital,” the 14-year-old boy wrote me. “It would be very sad if the JCC closed.”

Sad, yes, and short-sighted.

Vocational Service Gains Career Center


To Vivian Seigel, Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) is a living, breathing entity that must grow with the times or risk irrelevance. That’s why the organization she heads announced in April that it had acquired a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that, like JVS, provides an array of counseling services to a nonsectarian population.

In the process, JVS will expand its client base to 24,000 from 14,000. It will also add five new locations in the area, including Marina del Rey and Antelope Valley, bringing its total to 16 centers.

Career Planning Center (CPC), which has an annual budget of more than $4 million, will be managed by JVS and led by JVS chief executive Seigel but remain autonomous. The alliance follows the announced retirement of CPC founder and CEO Eleanor Hoskins, who wanted to ensure CPC’s survival by joining forces with JVS.

"This enhances the availability of career and employment services to members of the community, including businesses," said Seigel, a 49-year-old mother of two. "Our services complement and enhance one another."

No Federation money will go toward supporting CPC, which is funded by government agencies, Seigel said. Negotiations between the two groups lasted for about six months, she added.

Change has been a constant at JVS since Seigel assumed the top spot in 1996. At the time, the agency had 45 staff people, a budget of $1 million and helped about 5,000 people annually with career planning, job searches and other services. Post-acquisition, JVS and CPC will have a combined staff of 125 and a $9.5 million budget.

Seigel, who first joined JVS in 1977 as a rehabilitation therapist, said she has worked hard to make sure her agency met the needs of all the community. With nearly 60 percent of its clients now coming from the ranks of middle management and above, the agency has rolled out several initiatives in recent years administering to the casualties of the new economy.

To help promising nascent businesses succeed, JVS recently partnered with the Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) to create the Microenterprise Loan Program. Employees of JVS will help entrepreneurs draft business plans and give them marketing and technical counseling to increase their chances of landing a JFLA loan of up to $20,000. The goal: Help small companies become bigger companies that employ lots of people and fuel the local economy, Finkel said.

Mark Meltzer, JFLA executive director, said Seigel’s professionalism, intelligence and good relationship with her board and the community at large have helped her "come up through the ranks and build the agency beautifully."

Working closely with Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, Seigel has received a $100,000 funding commitment this year from the city. Weiss said he is a big fan of Seigel and the agency she runs.

"JVS is important because it’s not a handout," the councilman said. "It’s a hand up."

Weiss should know. One of his "most successful" staff members got her start in elective politics through a JVS program.

Fortuna Benudiz Ippoliti, a Weiss field deputy at his Sherman Oaks office, said she decided in 2000 to re-enter the workforce after an absence of more than a decade. Failing to land a good job on her own, the 52-year-old mother of two turned to JVS, which helped her polish her resume and gave her career counseling.

Ippoliti’s enthusiasm and intellect led JVS to select her for the WoMentoring program, which, given her interest in politics, paired her with a City Council candidate. Ippoliti worked on the campaign for two months, doing everything from fundraising to planning events.

Although her candidate lost, Ippoliti said the political bug had bitten her. More important, she rediscovered her self-confidence thanks to her four months with JVS.

"I didn’t know where to turn," Ippoliti said. "I was totally lost. I needed somebody to tell me to put this foot in front of that foot. That’s what JVS did. They gave me direction. They held my hand. They gave me a hug. I don’t know what I would have done without them."

After JVS, Ippoliti went back to school at CSUN after dropping out of college nearly 30 years earlier. Just before her second semester, she got a call from Weiss’ then-chief of staff, whom Ippoliti had met years earlier. The chief of staff, impressed by Ippoliti’s recent political experience, hired her as a field director, a job Ippoliti held while attending classes and raising two children.

In May, 2003, Ippoliti, a Sephardic Jew, graduated with high honors and delivered the commencement speech. She spoke about never giving up on one’s dreams.

Charities Ask L.A. to Help Israel’s Poor


Ask Abraham Israel about hungry people in Israel and he gets exasperated.

“The situation is pathetic,” said Israel, the founder of Hazon Yeshaya, a charity that supports seven soup kitchens. “It’s terrible, terrible, terrible. We’re feeding 5,000 people a day. For Passover we needed to give 12,000 families food packages.”

And according to Israel, the situation is only getting worse.

A couple of years ago, the Los Angeles community raised upward of $19 million for The Federation’s Jews in Crisis campaign, with most of the money going to charities that helped victims of terror. Now many Los Angeles congregations are responding to other victims of terror — the Israeli poor.

According to Haaretz newspaper, one in five Israelis lives below the poverty line. The Israeli poor might not have been wounded by suicide bombs, but they are suffering as a result of Israel’s ailing economy. Hazon Yeshaya is among several charities, like Yad Eliezer, Keren Yismach Moshe, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Israel Chesed Fund and Meals4Israel, that help Israel’s indigent population. These charities are now increasing their Los Angeles presence to raise more money to meet the growing need for their services.

“I go maybe four or five times a year to Los Angeles, and it’s growing in leaps and bounds,” said Israel, who receives support from Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, Nessah Synagogue, Sinai Temple and the Saban Foundation, among others. “About 20 percent of our budget [which in 2003 was $3.2 million] comes from Los Angeles. It’s a very important city for us.”

Yad Eliezer is another organization working to increase its Los Angeles fundraising. The organization provides food and social services to more than 7,000 families in Israel and runs programs that give baby formula to 1,600 poor mothers. Yad Eliezer currently raises 75 percent of its $12 million budget in the states, with a small portion of that coming from Los Angeles. Six months ago Yad Eliezer upped its Los Angeles presence when Eli Joshua, a retired businessman living in Glendale began fundraising for the organization and received support from Temple Israel of Hollywood and Chabad of Glendale.

But while most agree that these and other charities provide a necessary service, some congregations are reluctant to view Israel’s hunger problem as a strictly Jewish issue. Joshua initially approached Wilshire Boulevard Temple for support, but they rebuffed him when they realized that Yad Eliezer only helps Jewish people, and does not donate food to Arabs.

“I have a lot of respect for Yad Eliezer, and I hope that in the future they will also take a broader view of hunger in Israel,” said Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. “We, as a liberal Jewish community, understand that poverty is a worldwide concern, and we see [the situation in Israel] as not a problem of religious identity by as a human problem.”

Instead of supporting Yad Eliezer, the Temple donated funds to MAZON, a nondenominational charity based in Los Angeles that supports hungry people all over the world, and earmarked the funds for Israel. In 2003, MAZON donated $130,000 to Israeli charities, but in keeping with its charitable tenets stopped short of giving to any organization that only helped the Jewish poor.

The Israeli government is upset about the increased focus on Israel’s hungry. In June 2003, The Forward newspaper reported that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon downplayed the problem of hungry people in Israel and launched into Diaspora organizations that used images of Israel’s poor and hungry to raise funds.

However, groups raising funds say that there is real need in Israel. Hazon Yeshaya’s Israel told The Journal that he expects his budget to double this year to $6 million in response to growing demand.

David Suissa started Meals4Israel, a Los Angeles based charity that gives money to existing Israeli soup kitchens, when he read reports about the number of hungry people. Meals4Israel soup kitchens currently feed 60,000 people a month.

Federation President John Fishel posted a letter about the problem to the group’s Web site, raising the question of whether the group “should address the growing hunger and poverty in Israel with whatever resources our community can muster.” He noted that The Federation had sent funds to support food pantries and distribution of food packages in Israel.

“Young Israel of Century City’s Tzedaka fund gave over $250,000 last year, and 60 or 70 percent of that went to Israel,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin, whose congregation gives money to four charities that support poor people in Israel. “Last year we gave $1,000 to Keren Yeshoshua V’Yisroel. This year [the charity] asked — begged — for $2,000. There are a lot more people approaching them and asking for funds.”

“I think [the poverty] is understandably downplayed by the government because in any country it makes the government look bad that there are hungry people for whom social services are not adequate,” Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple said. “But the private organizations are absolutely essential. The thought of people going hungry in Israel is a painful one, and it is incumbent on us to do what we can.”

For more information, visit the following Web sites:
Hazon Yeshaya, www.hazonyeshaya.org; Yad Eliezer, www.yadeliezer.org;
Meals4Israel, www.meals4israel.com; Keren Yismach Moshe, www.yismachm.com; and
MAZON, www.mazon.org .

A Thaw in Relations


Who says that Israelis and Palestinians can’t work together?
On New Year’s Day, a group of Israelis and Palestinians embarked on a 35-day
expedition to Antarctica that culminated in the scaling and naming of an
unexplored mountain.

The group, Breaking the Ice, was honored this month for
diplomacy through sport by Search for Common Ground, a nonprofit organization
dedicated to conflict resolution.

“[I] felt paralyzed not being able to do anything,” said Heskel
Nathaniel, an Israeli living in Germany who launched the project in order to
make a contribution to peace. Nathaniel teamed up with an Israeli climber
friend, Doron Erel, to assemble the expedition.

Through their connections, including Israeli journalists
working in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they found four Israelis and four
Palestinians willing to sail from the southern tip of Chile through the  Drake
Passage to Antarctica. They also organized an eight-person support crew,
including a physician, mountain guides and cameramen to produce a documentary.

The hikers included an Ethiopian Israeli who had lost most
of her family trekking across Sudan en route to Israel, a Palestinian from Jerusalem
who had been jailed for attacking Israeli troops with Molotov cocktails and a
lawyer who served in an elite Israeli army commando unit. Despite their
differences, members of the team knew how to “treat each other as human
beings,” said Olfat Haider, an Israeli Arab from Haifa.

But the expedition had plenty of rough spots. Crossing the
Drake Passage, which Nathaniel calls the “largest ships’ graveyard in the
world,” meant enduring waves nearly 50 feet high and winds up to 80 mph. Almost
everyone became seasick and two participants suffered bruises as the boat was
tossed around.

There also were political battles, like the one that
occurred when Nasser Quass, the Palestinian who had been in an Israeli jail,
said Jews have no claim to the Temple Mount.

“We were completely insulted,” Nathaniel said.

Avihu Shoshani, the Israeli lawyer who often butted heads
with Quass, was furious. Haider began to cry.

The parties separated, avoiding each other until the next
evening, when they had to continue navigating, Nathaniel said.

Now, with the trek behind them, Breaking the Ice leaders are
working to turn the event into an annual program — though not to Antarctica.
The next trip, slated for March 2005, will be a camel trek across the Sahara Desert
for Jews and Arabs from several countries.

The group also hopes to inspire children with the example of
bold adventurers who will symbolize a “new kind of hero,” Nathaniel said. He
explained that the group plans ultimately to create programs to instill
friendship among children from countries of conflict.

For more information about the program
and to read a diary of the trip, go to 

Q & A With Robby Berman


Robby Berman was a journalist living in Israel writing about organ donation when he came across some alarming facts: Out of 200 people who were declared brain-stem dead in a given year, only 70 families agreed to organ donation — giving Israel the lowest percentage of organ donors in the Western world. So while 130 Israelis in that year were buried with viable organs, 114 died waiting to receive organs. The No. 1 reason that both religious and secular Israelis gave for not donating organs was that halacha (Jewish law) forbids it — a common misconception rooted in superstitions and a misconstruing of halacha. That information was enough to make Berman, 37, quit his writing job to found and direct the Halachic Organ Donor Society (HODS). Created in December 2001, the organization has reached more than 8,000 people worldwide.

The Jewish Journal: This issue has been in the news since 20-year-old Alisa Flatow was killed in a terrorist attack in Gaza in 1995 and her family donated her organs. Have you seen a turnaround in the superstitions or a change in the numbers?

Robby Berman: Alisa Flatow was the first blip on the radar of Orthodox Jewish consciousness that perhaps organ donation was supported by halacha. But that blip went off the screen as fast as it went on. J.J. Greenberg’s donation last year was also noted by the public [Greenberg was killed in Israel after his bicycle was struck by a truck that ran a red light], but there has been no long-term change in our educational programming about this critical issue. I will lecture and spend an hour explaining how the Torah supports organ donation and they say, “Yes, yes, yes,” and then they walk out and say, “….Still, I think Jews don’t do that.”

JJ: Have you been successful in turning that around?

RB: We’ve had some incredible successes and also some failures. We have recruited dozens of Orthodox rabbis and over 1,000 laypeople who have registered for the HODS organ donor card. We have distributed 10,000 educational brochures in English and 5,000 in Hebrew. Overall awareness of this issue is growing. There also has been an increase over the past two years in organ donation from Orthodox Jews.

Where I haven’t been successful is in cultivating the necessary resources to take this project to the next level. Major funds are needed to embark on an educational advertising campaign in the major Jewish population centers — New York, L.A., Chicago, Florida — but that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and I have not been able to raise that.

JJ: The difficulty in raising funds may be related to what holds people back from dealing with organ donation — the unwillingness to confront issues of death and dying.

RB: Right. Who wants to talk about dying? There are all those emotional issues attached. I think to a large extent people hide behind the skirt of halacha and use it as an excuse. We try to educate those who are truly concerned about halacha and for those that use it as an excuse, HODS hopefully takes away their excuse.

JJ: What are the halachic issues involved?

RB: Most rabbis will agree that to donate organs from a dead person is a mitzvah. The Torah has three prohibitions concerning a cadaver: You can’t mutilate, get benefit from or delay burial of a body, but all rabbis agree that to save a life you can do those things.

The legitimate halachic issue is defining when a person is considered dead. There are rabbis, such as Reb Elyashiv in Jerusalem, who believe that as long as a person’s heart is still beating — such as someone who is brain-stem dead on a respirator — the person is alive. He does not allow donation from a brain-stem dead person because he believes the person is alive and you would be killing him. Others, such as the chief rabbinate of Israel and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, hold that brain-stem death is halachically death and therefore not only could you donate organs, but you should.

JJ: Do HODS donor cards reflect those halachic issues?

RB: Ours is the only donor card in the world that allows people to choose between these two options. One can indicate the willingness to donate either after brain-stem death or, alternatively, after irreversible cessation of heartbeat. [From a medical perspective the latter option is not optimal because once the heart stops beating certain organs become less viable for transplant.]

JJ: What strategies have you found effective in breaking down the emotional obstacles?

RB: When we stop talking in abstract numbers and start showing faces and real people. Our Web site shows 22-year-old L.A. resident Ariel Avrech, who died this year waiting for a lung transplant. We show a number of Orthodox Jews who died in accidents and had their organs donated…. And, more importantly, we have pictures of people whose lives were saved by receiving organs. These people would be dead if not for organ donation. That has a powerful pull on people.

Robby Berman will speak Saturday, March 20, 10:30 a.m.
at Kehillat Yavneh, 5353 W. Third Street, and 11:15 a.m. at Shaarei Tefila, 7269
Beverly Blvd. To register for a HODS organ donor card or to access more
information, go to www.hods.org  or call (212) 213-5087.

Learning Reshaped at Europe’s Limmud


Two Jews, three opinions. That old adage may explain a lot about communal strife, but for a precious few days in the English Midlands, a multitude of Jewish opinions were welcomed at an educational conference that is a paragon of communal harmony.

Now in its 23rd year, the Limmud Conference is Europe’s largest and perhaps the Jewish world’s most influential educational event, attracting over 2,300 participants and 370 speakers from across the globe.

Remarkably, for an international residential conference of such scale and depth, all but one of its organizers are volunteers.

Limmud, which means learning in Hebrew, is a name that for many in the Jewish and non-Jewish educational world has become synonymous with an inclusive, bottom-up approach to education.

"It’s all about the grass roots. Hierarchies just don’t exist," explained Clive Lawton, Limmud’s executive director and co-founder.

A highly respected educator and occasionally controversial community spokesman, Lawton volunteers for Limmud both at the conference and throughout the year, when the group organizes smaller educational and social events.

Lawton says Jewish educators in North America can learn from Limmud as a model for a "Festival of Learning."

"For once, I think Europe is taking the lead in Jewish education, and North America has a lot of catching up to do to adapt from a top-heavy structure of learning," Lawton said. "We let the participants decide what they want to do. We have no ideological or political position, apart from ‘It’s good for Jews to learn.’"

Over four days in late December at Nottingham University’s campus — which Limmudniks take over, dormitories, classrooms and all — singles, couples and families were given the opportunity to explore diverse facets of Jewish life.

The approach of "learning for the people by the people" results in a dizzying array of sessions and speakers, ranging from bull sessions about passages from the Zohar to the rabbinical response to the Internet.

Agenda appears to be a dirty word at Limmud.

With more than 900 sessions — on topics ranging from Jewish law’s perspective on organ donation to Israeli politics — the conference caters even to the most esoteric interests.

Listening to the excited chatter at the kibbutz-style meals, where participants, speakers and organizers sit, gossip and debate together, many seemed to be getting caught up in the buzz.

"Just went to a fascinating shiur [lecture] on God’s covenant with Abraham — but have got to rush, want to get a good seat for the Sephardi cooking workshop," one participant said hurriedly to another in a typical mealtime exchange.

Such is the range of age, nationality and denomination at the conference that it’s nearly impossible to define the typical Limmudnik.

"That’s the key to Limmud’s success: It’s determinedly pluralistic," said Daniel Silverstein, a conference participant, performer and volunteer.

Silverstein, director of Culanu Center, a cultural and social center at Cambridge University, sings the praises of the conference’s philosophy — literally.

After spending much of the day helping to look after the many young children at to the conference, Silverstein rapped about Jewish pride with Emunah, a group that plays hip-hop and drum-and-bass music for Limmud’s late-night audiences.

"What’s really amazing is that friends of mine who are not religious came to the conference, and they got as much out of it as my Orthodox friends," Silverstein said. "I challenge anybody not to find some Jewish inspiration here."

So confident are Limmud’s volunteers that participants will gain from the conference that the organization promises in its mission statement, "Wherever you find yourself, Limmud will take you one step further on your Jewish journey."

More than half of those who attend the conference or other Limmud events — held in the United Kingdom, Holland and Israel, and soon in Toronto and New York — end up returning.

The speakers range from thinkers such as Rabbi Norman Lamm, the Torah scholar and chancellor of New York’s Yeshiva University, and Rabbi Natan Lopes Cardozo, to Nimrod Barkan, the senior policy adviser of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and Jennifer Bleyer, founder of the alternative Jewish magazine Heeb.

The conference also offered an entire day focused on the Jewish community’s relations with the Islamic world.

Prominent European Muslim figures came to debate and share jokes with Jewish members of panel discussions and seminars. Even controversial views — such as the Muslim perception of Israel — were treated with respect.

For the Muslim speakers, many of whom brought young families, the opportunity to meet and eat together left a lasting impression.

"We feel welcomed and know we are among good friends," said Fuad Nahdi, editor of Q-News, an influential London-based Muslim magazine.

Bused from one campus building to another, conference participants said they felt as if they were in a high-energy cocoon.

"You know, I have no idea what’s happening in the outside world," an Israeli professor told an American colleague on the way to one session. "And frankly, I don’t want to."

No one seemed to mind that there was not a television or a newspaper — apart from the London Jewish Chronicle — to be found on campus.

By the end of the conference, which fell on New Year’s Day, participants exuded a sense of achievement, both as individuals and a community.

"I’ve never been so excited to be Jewish," said Wendy Bergman, a grandmother from the tiny Jewish community of Newcastle in northern England. "I’m somewhere between the higher ground and the clouds."

Grappling With Competing Needs


While most participants at the North American Jewish federation system’s annual conference were happy just to be in Israel this week, the network’s decision makers were grappling with another matter — funding for overseas partners.

The issue has become so contentious, in fact, that Israel’s prime minister decided to step in.

In a Sunday afternoon meeting with representatives of the United Jewish Communities (UJC) committee that decides overseas funding priorities, participants said Ariel Sharon said, “You are my guests, so I am asking you to make Israel your No. 1 priority for funding. If you weren’t my guests, I would demand it.”

The message comes as the UJC, the federation umbrella organization, prepares to determine allocations to its two main overseas beneficiaries: the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which aids distressed Jews overseas, and the Jewish Agency for Israel, which runs immigration and absorption in Israel and Zionist education worldwide.

It also comes amid increasing concern that local federations, focused more on local needs, are allocating fewer dollars to overseas needs in general — below the allocation recommendations that the UJC’s Overseas Needs Assessment and Distribution Committee (ONAD) has been submitting to UJC’s member federations.

For decades, the federation system has followed a 75/25 split in funding the Jewish Agency and the JDC, with 75 percent going to the Jewish Agency.

With aliyah down, however, ONAD recently recommended allocating an additional $13 million to the JDC, possibly altering the customary division.

Last year, according to the JDC, the UJC provided it with roughly $45 million, a few million short of the amount promised.

The Jewish Agency said the UJC provided it with $143 million, $20 million short of what was promised.

The General Assembly, which has drawn some 4,000 lay and professional leaders of federations from all over North America, falls between two important developments on the matter. Earlier this month, ONAD issued new overseas recommendations, and a vote on the issue is scheduled for Dec. 8.

Some say Sharon’s appeal — essentially for Jewish Agency funding — came at the behest of the agency’s chairman, Sallai Meridor.

Asked how Sharon’s pitch might influence ONAD’s decision, the committee chairman, Steven Klinghoffer, said, “It will be interesting to watch how they respond.”

He also said that ONAD’s recommendations are “not determinative of any kind of outcome,” and that more funds for the JDC wouldn’t necessarily mean less for the Jewish Agency.

“There’s a lot of different ways to skin the cat,” Klinghoffer said.

One member of ONAD, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Sharon’s remarks were not helpful.

“It was almost like blackmail,” she said. “I was truly offended by his remarks.” Sharon was “talking to a group of very dedicated leaders in the Jewish community who have never abandoned Israel,” she said. “To say that you owe us is not the way to win friends and influence people, as far as I’m concerned.”

But Sharon isn’t the only one using the gathering of North Americans to lobby for the Jewish Agency, which ostensibly has more to lose than the JDC in the upcoming ONAD decision.

In his remarks at the Jewish Agency’s opening plenary last Friday, Meridor spoke of the “serious challenge” of obtaining enough funds from American Jewry for immigration and absorption in Israel’s current economic climate.

He called it “close to a miracle” that the Jewish Agency was bringing some 20,000 immigrants to Israel this year, and claimed that many more are awaiting the chance to make aliyah.

For its part, the JDC says it is not campaigning for funds at the conference.

“I’m not lobbying people. Absolutely not,” said Steven Schwager, JDC’s executive vice president. “The JDC has put its faith in the ONAD process.”

He said the 18 communities involved in the ONAD process “will review all the information that has been presented and all of the facts and will consider all of the site visits that they made and will come to a fair and appropriate conclusion.”

Still, talk about overseas funding has been a steady undercurrent at the General Assembly, figuring prominently in meetings and in corridor conversation among decision makers.

In addition, delegates spent the day on Tuesday visiting a variety of programs throughout the country, from social-service programs for new immigrants to educational programs, many of which get at least part of their funding from the North American federation system via the Jewish Agency or the JDC.

At a meeting of the UJC’s board of governors and delegate assembly on Monday, the group pledged to continue funding its overseas beneficiaries and to “increase its efforts in the advocacy for allocations in support of overseas needs.”

This appeared to be a nod to the common gripe that the system doesn’t push hard enough for funds for its overseas partners.

Some fault the federation system for allegedly establishing a competition between the JDC and the Jewish Agency and failing to create an overseas advocacy committee to secure enough funds for both groups.

Klinghoffer admits that the process is fraught with “friction and difficulty” and “political land mines,” but says it is “designed to meet the needs of the Jewish people throughout the world.”

Indeed, at the last meeting of the UJC’s executive committee, in Chicago in September, board chairman Robert Goldberg called ONAD a “failure.”

ONAD was created when the Council of Jewish Federations, the United Jewish Appeal and the United Israel Appeal merged to form the UJC four years ago. The establishment of ONAD was an attempt to reverse a trend of decreased giving to overseas needs. That hasn’t happened, however. The system has delayed establishing an advocacy committee to encourage federations to give to the UJC’s overseas partners. And because several federations did not comply with ONAD recommendations, the UJC has fallen short on the amount it planned to provide the groups.

That has caused the JDC to do its own advocacy work: Schwager has visited individual federations around North America, encouraging them to allocate more for overseas needs.

Some observers say the ONAD process has cost the UJC dearly in terms of the time and energy of its professionals and the financial strain on its overseas agencies.

ONAD was scheduled for an initial review after five years, a juncture that is quickly approaching. Some say it’s simply a matter of making overseas needs a priority. Others anticipate reform, if not a complete overhaul, at that time.