Heads of young innovative Jewish organizations debrief L.A. Jews on their work


As part of their visit to Los Angeles last week, the outgoing class of Joshua Venture Fellows, all leaders of innovative Jewish organizations that are less than five years old, spent a few hours one evening talking to a group of L.A. Jews.

At an event co-presented by Jumpstart and LimmudLA, the fellows presented the work of their own organizations. Headquartered around the country, their nonprofits engage in work that ranges from the very hands-on, to the heady, to the overtly political, to the radically reductive. 

For a few hours on May 8, though, the fellows functioned as the hub of a self-contained ecosystem of Jewish innovation that popped up in a shared office space in Culver City. The approximately 80 (mostly young) Angelenos who joined the (also youngish) fellows included leaders of more established Jewish organizations, aspiring Jewish innovators, and staff members from Jewish Community Foundation and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

It was both an opportunity for the Joshua Venture Group, the New York-based organization that funds the two-year fellowships, to present the fellows to Los Angeles and a chance for the fellows themselves to seek out partners to help advance their work.

While the crowd talked, noshed, networked and (occasionally) Tweeted, the fellows themselves made clear their awareness that they were coming up to the end of two years of both training and exposure to other Jewish resources for innovation, as well as grants from the Joshua Venture Group to each of their organizations of up to $100,000.

“We are working on replacing that funding,” said Rabbi Ari Weiss, executive director of the Modern Orthodox social justice nonprofit Uri L’Tzedek. In addition to the Joshua fellowship, Weiss and Uri L’Tzedek have been supported by other organizations, including getting funding, office space and other resources from Bikkurim over the last four years.

Weiss said the organization is stronger today than it was before those programs invested in it.

“I think we’re a much more mature organization, having been in this ecosystem, he said.

This year, more Angelenos than ever get Passover aid from local agencies


This year, more than 1,000 Los Angeles families in need received food from organizations that provide assistance specifically for Passover.

During the weeks leading up to the first seder, on April 6, visitors to distribution sites set up by agencies, synagogues and organizations took home essentials for the holiday — wine, grape juice, matzah, gefilte fish, horseradish, eggs and more — so that they could have seders and kosher food for the eight days of the holiday.

Low-income families received assistance from Tomchei Shabbos, Global Kindness, Valley Beth Shalom, JFS/SOVA, the Israeli Leadership Council, the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) and elsewhere. Social workers from Jewish Family Service, a nonsectarian social service agency, referred many individuals and families in need to food-giving agencies. Tomchei Shabbos, which provides donations of kosher food to Los Angeles Orthodox families weekly, served additional families for Passover.

The majority of recipients this year were people who’ve lost their jobs in the recent recession, including, said Rabbi Yona Landau, executive director of Tomchei Shabbos,  “people who got sick and couldn’t work, people who were abandoned, women who were abandoned by their husbands and they have to care of the family themselves.

“There’s a lot of different cases,” Landau said. “If they didn’t get our food, they wouldn’t have any food.”

Others receiving food assistance for Passover included immigrant families of Persian, Israeli and Russian descent; seniors with disabilities; and some divorcees, all facing major financial challenges, according to Debbie Alden, a board member of Valley Beth Shalom’s Sisterhood and Nouriel Cohen, CFO of Global Kindness. Many of the recipients were formerly volunteers at these agencies and organizations — people who used to be middle-class — but are now reliant on charity.

“We had people who were donating to us a little bit, and now they are asking, which is really sad,” said Shahla Javdan, president of the IAJF.

Because of privacy concerns, no recipient families gave their names for interviews.

On the night of April 2, an elderly woman living in West Hollywood receiving a delivery from two volunteers in their 20s, told of her problems with sciatica. “Not well,” she replied to a volunteer who asked how she was doing as they brought the food into her home.

Tomchei Shabbos volunteers delivered some of the food for Passover to recipients’ homes. Some requested that the food be left at their doorsteps.

Other recipients parked at the curb at Pico Boulevard and Weatherly Drive, the site of the organization’s storefront, waited to receive the boxes filled with produce, which they loaded into the backseats of their minivans and the trunks of their sedans with the help of eager volunteers.

Tomchei boxes were marked with only families’ initials so as not to give away their identities. Valley Beth Shalom’s distributors employed a similar method for their food giveaway.

In the days leading up to Passover, people strapped for cash shopped at Pico-Robertson grocery stores Elat Market and Glatt Mart using food coupons from the IAJF. The stores cooperated with the IAJF, selling $25 and $50 coupons at a 25 percent discount to the IAJF, which then distributed the coupons to community members.

SOVA, a program of Jewish Family Service, differentiated Passover packages for Ashkenazi and Sephardic families. Ashkenazi families received gefilte fish and horseradish, while Sephardic families received rice and dates in addition to matzah ball soup mix, macaroons, eggs, walnuts and matzah.

“They will be able to do a nice seder with what they receive,” Fred Summers, director of operations at JFS/SOVA, said. “Some of the things will last longer than one night, [but] it will probably not be an eight-day supply.

The numbers of those in need might surprise some. JFS/SOVA provided for approximately 700 individuals and families for Passover, according to Summers. Tomchei Shabbos served around 600 families, estimated Landau. VBS distributed 124 boxes filled with Passover items, Global Kindness helped nearly 350 families, the Israeli Leadership Council provided assistance for more than 100 families, and the IAJF distributed between $30,000 and $50,000 in food coupons, Javdan said.

More families requested Passover food this year than in previous years, Javdan, Landau and Cohen all said, and the agencies couldn’t meet all the demand. Despite news reports that the economy is improving and new jobs are being created each month, Cohen said more people are in need this year than ever before. “Not only for Passover, but for other holidays also.”

State Budget Crisis Threatens Jewish Social Service Programs


Four Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles programs that serve the elderly, disabled and frail may end up casualties of the state budget crisis, which leapt to a new level of urgency Tuesday as California lawmakers failed to pass budget revisions before a July 1 deadline.

More than $4 million in state funding for JFS could be zeroed out if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has his way; budgets currently working their way through legislative committees also require significant cuts on top of previous cuts made during last September’s budget negotiations. If no budget compromise is reached in the legislature before California runs out of money, JFS could be forced to close down programs that aim to keep indigent elderly and disabled clients out of institutions, and another that gives shelter to victims of domestic abuse.

JFS fears clients’ lives are in the balance.

Huge portions of the state’s social service network are in jeopardy. Even best-case scenarios significantly cut programs that serve the poor, disabled, elderly, ill and abused, and most recipients in programs throughout the state will see cuts in multiple resources they access.

“We have long said that we like to see ourselves as an important part of the safety net,” said Paul Castro, CEO and executive director of JFS, a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “As a result of all this the safety net is going to be broken. Where in prior years when the net was broken we had been in a position to catch people if they fell through, our best hope now is to just help break the fall, because we aren’t going to be able to catch them.”

Schwarzenegger and the legislature passed an 18-month budget last February that had been meant to remain in effect through June 2010. But California’s declining revenues and the failure of the May 19 propositions to free up initiative-locked dollars rendered the February budget worthless, a situation lawmakers failed to remedy when they couldn’t come to agreement on budget revisions by July 1. A gap of $25.3 billion now lingers, on top of the $15 billion in cuts made in February.

JFS has received notice that Medi-Cal funded programs will continue to be paid through July, though other budget areas may receive IOUs from State Controller John Chiang that the state started issuing July 2.

Still, JFS is bracing for the worst. It is prepared to begin informing clients of potential closures; lay-off notices that it hopes it won’t have to implement already went out to staff; and JFS and the union that represents most of its staff have agreed to a 45-day closure of affected agencies so it can regroup if funding disappears.

The largest JFS program targeted is ” title=”http://www.sco.ca.gov/5935.html” target=”_blank”>http://www.sco.ca.gov/5935.html

Left-Leaning Jewish Groups Out-of-Touch Now


It is time that we American Jewish liberals who have been left leaning about our politics regarding Israel begin to review the support we give to the organizations that have
been leading us.

They are proving themselves obsolete, outdated and out-of-touch. Since the beginning of the intifada they have been making mistakes. But a week ago Tuesday night I believe they committed public suicide at a Town Hall meeting at Westside JCC sponsored by Americans for Peace Now and Brit Tzedek V’Shalom.

At a time when the vast majority of Israelis and Diaspora Jews are united about supporting Israeli actions in Lebanon, the two organizations believed they were assuming a courageous left voice manifesting Jewish values as they echoed the critics’ disproportionate force argument. Then they moved on to call for a truce. Next, they suggested that we begin a Jewish fund for the Lebanese victims of Israeli bombings. This creative proposal received much head nodding followed by a promise of initial funding from a member of the audience.

A former American born Knesset member who now lives in San Francisco, droned on in academic monotone for nearly half an hour, presenting future disastrous scenarios that are certain to result from Israel’s present actions.

Through lamentations more profound than reciting Echa on Tisha B’Av, the two organizations innocently forgot to delve into the real threats of the Syria/Iran axis; the difference between the war in Lebanon and the one in Gaza; Hezbollah’s aim to destroy Israel; the kidnapping of IDF soldiers on sovereign Israeli soil; the unprovoked attacks on Haifa as well as cities, towns and settlements throughout the North; Israel’s unilateral moves to hand back Southern Lebanon and Gaza; and a host of other insignificant events and actions.

As a former board member of both local and national Americans for Peace Now, an organization that at one time defined my heart, my soul and my passionate cause, I can no longer support the organization. When the last intifada began, I suggested to its leaders in Israel that perhaps the Peace Now’s logic had been flawed. They always claimed and we enthusiastically supported their belief that their dialogues between Jews and Arabs and the relationships that resulted were to be the pylons that held up the bridges if there was ever too much weight upon them. “Well,” I remember saying, “those bridges have collapsed and the pylons became insignificant as braces.” They were horrified at my blasphemous thinking.

Yet, for me that realization was the beginning of a journey away from those with whom I had traveled the deep and challenging roads of liberal Israeli politics for over 25 years. I no longer believed that there were real negotiating partners. Through work I had done for the Ford Foundation in Israel, meeting both their Jewish and Arab grantees, I realized that while the Jews talked of creating peace, the Palestinians talked of establishing a state.

For Jews, creating peace and establishing a Palestinian state, was one and the same. The Palestinians I interviewed never talked about peace. For them establishing their state was not in the same breath as creating peace. Further, there was not one Arab, when I asked him or her about suicide bombers, who could ever outright condemn the action. But they could all tell me, “You need to understand why this happens.”

So now, does this mean I am no longer liberal/left? Regarding Israeli politics, I don’t know what those labels mean today. Given current realities, do they have any relevance?

The entire Israeli political spectrum and the ways American Jews demonstrate their support is redefining itself. It would be best right now if along with action, we study and watch the situation, so we can reform, regroup and rethink what the thinking and the infrastructures should be. If we hold on to old knee-jerk reactions and the way everything has been, we will be left totally ineffective.

Americans for Peace Now and Brit Tzedek V’Shalom have to stop what they are now doing and be part of this redefinition. Until they do the hard work of critical thinking and ask themselves the unsettling questions that may possibly crumble cracked foundations upon which they stand, they will be like the Pied Piper leading their liberal/left children into the drowning sea.

Gary Wexler is the founder and president of L.A.-based Passion Marketing and a former board member of the local and Americans for Peace Now,

Don’t Discard Liberal Jewish Groups


Gary Wexler levels the charges that Americans for Peace Now (APN), along with other organizations associated with American Jewish liberals, are obsolete. He writes that
we are ignoring the “real” threats facing Israel such as those emanating from Syria and Iran, that we are out of touch with the mainstream for questioning the efficacy of Israel’s current military actions in Lebanon and Gaza, that we are wrong to believe a peace partner exists on the other side and that our “knee-jerk” reactions and inability to recognize and react to the redefining of American Jewish support for Israel will prove to be our ultimate downfall.

While Wexler may be ready to discard Peace Now and APN at this difficult juncture, that choice is not so for a great many others, as indicated by the 250 people who attended the program on July 24 in Los Angeles to discuss the current situation (causing a venue change from a private home to a large auditorium).
Based on his comments, it seems that Wexler has lost sight of the vision and values of Peace Now — which itself arose from the security establishment — and Americans for Peace Now (APN).

Both are Jewish, Zionist organizations that recognize that real security for Israel is a function of not only a strong military, but also a commitment to achieving peace with her neighbors. Neither are pacifist organizations, impatient to criticize any and every military action undertaken by the state of Israel.

On the contrary, Peace Now and APN, like all supporters of Israel, recognize Israel’s right and responsibility to defend itself against terrorism and regional existential threats. We support the maintenance of a strong IDF with real deterrent capability. At the same time, we believe that we have the right and the obligation to raise questions and even protest when we believe Israeli actions are destructive to Israel’s own security interests.

The second intifada put a violent exclamation point on the ultimate failure of the Oslo peace process to achieve a comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It forced much soul-searching within the Israeli peace camp and its supporters in the United States.

However, through it all, a broad consensus within Israel, and supported by the American Jewish community, emerged around some basic points: Resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict is vital to Israel’s security and national interests, and to do so requires a “two-state solution;” and, ultimately, it is in Israel’s best interests to forge peace agreements with all of her neighbors, in addition to Egypt and Jordan.

In essence, the once revolutionary Peace Now agenda — supporting negotiations with the Palestinians, arguing that Israel’s security and long-term viability as a Jewish, democratic state are a function of both a strong military and of determined efforts to achieve peace, supporting the relinquishing of some territory and accepting the establishment of a Palestinian state — has now become largely mainstream.

A given Israeli on the street in Tel Aviv or American Jew in a synagogue in Los Angeles may not self-identify as a supporter of Peace Now, but odds are that if one were to probe his views, they would find that this is in fact more or less what he believes. This is not a coincidence or chance occurrence, and illustrates the fact that as Wexler said, the liberal/left label regarding Israeli politics does not have the same meaning as it might have in the past.

The current Israeli drive for “realignment” and “separation” is organically linked to the idea of a two-state solution, which requires a physical separation between the Israeli and Palestinian populations. Last year’s painful “disengagement” from Gaza and part of the West Bank — involving the long-overdue evacuation of settlements — was widely supported by Israelis, who recognize that settlements are an obstacle to achieving this goal of separation.

Once again, a core Peace Now position long viewed as revolutionary has quietly entered the mainstream in Israel and among American Jews. Over time, we expect that mainstream Israel and American Jews will also catch up with us regarding two related issues: unilateralism, which we view as an insufficient policy for achieving long-term security since it leaves Israel without a negotiated agreement and accompanying security guarantees and undermines potential moderate Palestinian partners for such agreements; and continued expansion of settlements, which is antithetical to achieving real separation and the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.

In facing the most serious existential threats to Israel, Peace Now and APN believe that Israel is best able to face these threats — most notably Iran — when it is not forced to divert precious military resources to resolvable and avoidable conflict, and when its actions in these conflicts are not unnecessarily galvanizing widespread hatred and resentment of Israel.

Serious, productive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would do more than any IDF intervention to promote stability — as was clearly evident during the heyday of the Oslo process in the mid-1990s. Similarly, progress on the Israel-Palestinian track would go a long way to promoting better relations with states throughout the region and would deny extremists a potent rallying point.

As to the question of whether there are partners for peace, APN and Peace Now believe that Israel does not have the luxury of waiting for the perfect partners to appear and in the meantime refusing to talk to anyone else. As Moshe Dayan famously stated, “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” History has shown that partners emerge when conditions are ripe and the interests of each side coincide enough that partnerships which seemed improbable at best a short while before are forged, as happened in 1978 between Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

What will become of the current status of relations or lack thereof between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership depends upon a great many factors, but to rule out negotiations is to give up on a political process and leave only use of force.

And this brings us to the current day and the discussion of Israel’s military campaigns against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

As the moderator of the July 2 event, reading Wexler’s recollection of the evening makes me feel as if we were not in the same room. All the speakers at the forum affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself and pursue those that plan and participate in doing it harm.

All agreed that the by crossing into sovereign Israeli territory and killing and capturing Israeli soldiers, Hezbollah and Hamas committed gross provocations to which Israel had every right to respond. However, there were legitimate differences of opinion over whether Israel’s military response has been appropriate, with particular concern that the response has reached the point of diminishing returns. This was a Zionist, pro-Israel discussion, undertaken by individuals who are deeply committed to Israel’s existence and security.

For decades, the Zionist peace camp in Israel and the United States has bravely taken the lead in asking the hard questions and shouldering the burden of positions based on what we know is true, rather than what is easy or popular. We weathered criticism in the past for our convictions, and no doubt we will weather the criticism now. We do so for the sake of Israel.

Letters to the Editor


Mideast Situation

I write to you out of deep concern regarding the Bush administration’s failure to meet the challenge of dealing with the violence in the Middle East (Cover Story, July 21).

Secretary of State [Condoleeza] Rice went to Rome with violence raging in southern Lebanon and Gaza, and missiles raining on northern Israel. She left Rome without any plan for improving the situation or preventing further escalation.

The United States held off intervening in this conflict for far too long, with the administration arguing that it would not engage until the moment was right for success. But having decided that the moment had come, and with so much at stake for America, Israel, Lebanon and the entire region, Secretary Rice should have left Rome with something in hand.

We expect more from American diplomacy.

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels
Los Angeles

Standing With Israel

I urge that you seek to maintain Jewish unity in these days of crisis. Deference to the Jewish Left is divisive. Ignore it. You have a job to do to maintain Jewish morale. I’m an octogenerian and I don’t expect to be here too long. Israel must be victorious. I’m expecting to see it. Am Ysroel Chai.

Jerry Green
Los Angeles

Torah Portion

While Rabbi Lisa Edwards is free to reinterpret Leviticus to advocate that which the Bible specifically forbids, it is specious of her to argue that it is “causeless hatred” for Torah-true Jerusalemites to protest the deliberate provocation that her colleagues attempted to foist on the Holy City (“Commemorating Sorrows,” July 28).

One could contend it is “causeless hatred” to foist ones agenda on others.

S. Newman
Los Angeles

Response to Michael Steinhardt

Michael Steinhardt (“It May Be Time to Change Goals, Ideas on Philanthropy,” July 28) suggested that the decline in Jewish philanthropy during that past 20 years is due to a “loss of connection to Jewish roots.”

When I consider this problem and its cause, I think of an address by Dr. Jacob Neusner given at Yale in 2000 (“If Ideas Mattered: The Intellectual Crisis of Jewish-American Life”).

Regarding the problem, Neusner states:

“Having used up the intellectual capital of a half-century ago, American Jewry has run out of ideas. It debates matters of practicality, issues of mere continuity. It argues about how to persuade the coming generation to continue the received enterprise of Jewry, not how to assess the worth and truth of that enterprise.”

Regarding the cause, Neusner states:

“Where does the blame lie? It lies with the rabbinical seminaries that have produced a rabbinate without Torah. The rabbinical schools are somnolent; not much happens in them. The rabbinical seminaries are backwaters, out of the mainstream of contemporary Judaic debate.”

Jews will reconnect to the community if and when our institutions and leaders offer relevant and compelling reasons to do so.

Marsha Plafkin Hurwitz
Los Angeles

Make a Match

I read with interest the July 28 article “Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make Me a Donation Match” regarding Joseph Hyman’s new Center for Entrepreneurial Philanthropy and its description as both “revolutionary” and charting “a new course.”

Knowing The Jewish Journal endeavors to be a resource to its readers, I was certain you’d want to know that while Hyman’s initiative may be novel or the first of its kind on the East Coast, that’s certainly not the case here on the West Coast. A similar resource has existed locally since 2001 in the form of the Family Foundation Center within the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles.Our organization created the center, directed by Susan Grinel, specifically to assist funders — whether they are a donor at the Jewish Community Foundation or not — with maximizing the impact of their philanthropic endeavors.

The center offers comprehensive services and programs that enable funders to identify their charitable passions and prioritize their grantmaking, selecting causes and issues that resonate with them at a personal level. Its educational offerings, provided by national philanthropic experts particularly in the highly topical area of intergenerational giving, enlighten families on how to effectively stimulate and involve their children and grandchildren in charitable pursuits.

In this vein, the center organizes the annual Community Youth Foundation, through which selected high-school students learn how to identify and research worthy charitable programs, conduct field studies and then, as a committee, dispense $10,000 in grants funded by The Foundation.

Perhaps most importantly, since its inception, the center has helped to facilitate the distribution of millions of charitable dollars to causes locally, as well as in Israel, through its advisory work with funders.

I applaud Hyman’s good work. We are only on the forward edge of enlightening, educating and spurring passionate, committed philanthropists to sustain Jewish causes at home and in Israel. Much work still lies ahead.

Marvin I. Schotland
President & CEO
Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles

Dodger Dog

Tell Robert Jaffee that his article on Jamie McCourt had an error (“Jamie McCourt Proves She’s an Artful Dodger President,” July 21): Cesar Izturis has been with the Dodgers for more than three years. Remember, it’s “speed and accuracy.”

By the way, does Izturis mean “I have problems” in Yiddish?

Mark Troy
Via e-mail

Mideast Fighting

We are all deeply saddened by the tragic loss of 4 UN Observers in South Lebanon, and in Ireland we think of the 48 men we lost there in our long commitment from 1978 to 2001, one of whom, Pvt. Kevin Joyce, has never been returned for burial by his Hezbollah kidnappers.

Two points are worth recalling at this point.

Firstly, Canada lost four men in 2002 in Afghanistan due to mistaken fire by a U.S. pilot, and the Israelis have also lost men [in both Gaza and Lebanon] recently at the hands of their own forces. In Ireland, our Gardai in their crack SWAT “Emergency Response Unit” have also known such mishaps, and in Northern Ireland, many such tragic incidents happened, with RUC killing one RUC officer and two army; while the British Army accidentally killed one each from the RUC, RUC Reserve and UDR — and seven of their own. That is 13 such deaths.

These incidents, like many involving civilian losses close to military targets, occur either due to the unavoidable “fog of war,” or to human or equipment failure. However tragic, they are not malicious.

Secondly, the distinguished, recently retired Canadian Maj-Gen Lewis W. Mac Kenzie, 66, a veteran of nine U.N. tours, and U.N. chief of staff in 1992 in Yugoslavia at the time of the Siege of Sarajevo, wrote a book in 1993, “Peacekeeper,” about his experience. He was a friend and former Battalion colleague of the Canadian U.N. Observer who lost his life, and received a recent e-mail from this colleague that Hezbollah were firing from close to that UN post. Such an experienced and senior witness as MacKenzie is indeed credible. That information explains how this tragedy could happen, and also recalls the recent comment of Jan Egeland of the UN about Hezbollah’s “cowardly blending” with the civilians population.

Such abusing of unarmed U.N. Observers, women and children by Hezbollah is not new, and their primary responsibility needs to be fully recognized.

Tom Carew
Dublin, Ireland

I know that some children in Lebanon have been killed and others wounded and for that I am truly sorry. However, I am very tired of hearing about innocent Lebanese civilians. Let’s face the facts. The Lebanese are in violation of U.N. Resolution 1559, which says that the Lebanese government is to dismantle terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. Not only was this not done but Hezbollah members were voted into government offices by the “innocent” people.

Even now, when they are having their lives disrupted by the conflict, they support Hezbollah. I have not heard one person being interviewed in Lebanon condemn Hezbollah for starting the conflict. They blame Israel: Israel should have released 1,000 prisoners for the two kidnapped soldiers. Israel should forget about the soldiers and the 17-year-old boy who were murdered by Hezbollah. Israel should not have responded to the rockets being fired into major cities forcing innocent Israelis into bomb shelters and killing and wounding others. Not a word about the fact that Hezbollah started the conflict and is hiding out in populated areas using the Lebanese civilians as shields. How innocent are people who support terrorists?

Tobi Ruth Love
Thousand Oaks

Thank you for the very powerful cover photo of the Israeli soldiers and “moment of truth. (Cover story, July 20). we have copies up in our offices and have made copies for many people. Please God this picture will inspire people to say tehilim (our secret weapon) to help Israel. And, we hope that this cover photo begins a time of more substantive, positive Jewish content in your paper.

Joshua Spiegelman
Sylmar

The dismantling of the Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, would be a major blow against global terrorism, rogue states Syria and Iran and possibly even Iran’s nuclear plans. But, if Hezbollah emerges intact as a fighting force, Israel and the global war on terrorism would suffer significantly. Saudi Arabia (and other moderate Arab states) issued a rare condemnation of Hezbollah as they fear the ramifications of it’s strength. Much of the Middle East has been engulfed by Islamic radicalism. Israel must remain strong as Democracy’s bulwark against the tide.

Harry Grunstein
Quebec

Rabbi Grater

I enjoy your weekly Torah reading and particularly the various interpretations of the text that are given by rabbis of differing denominations. I was very disappointed in last week’s column by Rabbi Joshua Grater who essentially used the Torah as a political attack on the president and his policies (“Power of Vows,” July 21). I feel that this is not appropriate.

The Journal provides many articles about politics from various points of view. For many of your readers, I am certain that this weekly column provides the only, or at least one of few, Torah education opportunities. People who are not knowledgeable are left with the impression that the Torah has given its imprimatur to this rabbi’s politics.

“How can we trust a leader who lies in regard to the highest level of commitment, war and Peace?”

When Howard Dean says this sort of thing, people expect it of him. When a rabbi publicly calls someone a liar in the name of the Torah, this only demeans the status of the rabbinate and the Torah itself in many eyes.

The Sages write that there are 70 “faces” to the Torah, implying that there are many ways to interpret the written word. I would not like to see your usually excellent column be lowered to the level of “dueling rabbis.” Your readers are, for the most part, well-educated and intelligent. The rabbi should make his point and let the reader draw his own conclusions. Let’s try to use the Torah as a unifying force in our community rather than a divisive one and save the politics for columns that are labeled “Political Commentary” rather than “Torah Portion.”

Dr. George Lebovitz
Los Angeles

It seems that Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater should take his own counsel. In his article he writes that he and his wife are trying to teach their children the power of words, both positive and negative, and “the power of the word is what matters here.” Yet just a few paragraphs later he libels our public leaders.

As a rabbi, he is undoubtedly aware of the Jewish prohibition against lashon hara, including the injunction against speaking negatively about someone, even when true. When I reflected back on his article after having read it the first time, I thought that he had made the statement, “Bush lied.” It was only after rereading that I discovered that those words were not part of what he had written, though the message was so clear that my memory told me otherwise.

He continued by stating that the federal government made false promises during the Katrina Crisis, and bragged about the local Board of Rabbis of Southern California. So what’s so wrong with people taking care of people? We certainly can’t expect the federal government to do it all. That is the beauty of communities, with people helping people.

  • Lashon hara is inappropriate for anyone, even more inappropriate for a Jew.
  • Lashon hara is inappropriate for anyone, even more inappropriate for a leader.
  • Lashon hara is inappropriate for anyone, and especially inappropriate for a Jewish leader.

Rebecca J. Evers
North Long Beach

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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Face It: Judaism Is Not Hip


This Rosh Hashanah I am praying to escape the tyranny of hip. Hip is infiltrating Jewish life like a migrating plume of acrid smoke meandering its way through our collective body and soul.

I know hip well. I know its insidious nature. I have seen its effect and its damage. I was surrounded by hip. I was taken in by hip. I yearned for hip. I searched for hip. I saw people’s lives and identities consumed by hip. Twenty years of my professional life were spent in the palaces of hip.

I was an advertising agency copywriter and creative director. I was trained to be one of the manufacturers of hip. I would sit in offices and create hip, and then watch all those people lust after the creations. I reveled in hip.

And then one day, it all came crashing down.

There was no earth-shattering event. It was just a moment of realization.

In the ad biz, you win awards for creating hip images. That’s all hip is. An image. A fleeting image. You can’t really describe hip. You can’t put your finger on what it is. What’s hip today is not hip tomorrow. You often here people say, “She’s the hippest person around.”

What does that mean? Nothing.

Absolutely nothing. When I happily left the ad agency business, I used to tell people, “It’s the ultimate liberation. I no longer have to direct my energies into the shallow, ridiculous waters of hip.”

I found salvation from hip in the Jewish world. It was a world of content. Meaning. Real connections to people, the earth, the heavens. It gave me roots into the universe in a way hip could never do.

It was such a refreshing departure from where I had been that I was determined to bring my professional skills into the Jewish world — as well as into other nonprofit organizations.

For years, it allowed me to escape even hearing the word “hip.” Then, hip began to seep out into a few Jewish crevices and corners.

Today, hip is everywhere in the Jewish organizational world. Federations want to be hip. Hillels want to be hip. Israel wants to be hip. Chabad wants to be hip. Aish HaTorah wants to be hip. Synagogues want to be hip. Day schools want to be hip. Jewish publications want to be hip. And the Jewish foundation world is clamoring to create and fund hip.

It used to be that Hollywood was going to be the magic bullet that would save the Jewish organizational world. Now Hollywood has been replaced by hip. At least Hollywood was concrete. It meant a person. Spielberg. Streisand. Seinfeld. But can someone please define or concretize hip?

What is this all about? If Judaism’s image — its brand — has become tarnished, is hip going to save it? Is this the point to which we involved Jews have arrived?

Hip is powerful. As a marketer of Jewish life, I am watching our leaders grapple and bow down to its power.

I am not denying that we have a problem in Jewish life with the products we offer and the images we create. Most are lackluster at best.

But if we think that hip is the solution, we are demeaning the essence of Judaism. We are trivializing its soul. We are convoluting Judaism as much as “haimish” has convoluted it for the past few generations.

Haimish was always an excuse for not being professional. As long as the organization was haimish, it believed it had fulfilled its mission.

Much the same mistake is happening with hip. If the organization is hip, if the offering is perceived as hip, then today the organization believes it is fulfilling its mission.

Hip is not about meaning. Hip is not about depth. Hip is not about the soul. Hip is not about connection to human beings and the world.

Hip is about shallow. Hip is about self-absorption. Hip is about today, this minute. Hip is not about the past and it is certainly not about the future.

This Rosh Hashanah, Jewish organizations need to realize that Judaism is not hip. It’s never going to be hip. It is not supposed to be hip. Judaism has too much depth to ever be hip. Judaism must be perceived as the antidote to hip. The products Judaism offers must be the escape from shallow hip. They must be the refuge, the other road, the real thing.

If we believe that the Jewish masses are looking for hip, there are plenty of places they can fill that need. They can go to the Gap. Now, that’s hip.

During the coming High Holidays, grant us justice and kindness. V’hoshiyainu — save us … from the tyranny of hip.

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

 

Disaster Exposes Government Failures


President Bush and Congress talk a good game when it comes to homeland security, but the tragic truth is that the country is less able to cope with disasters than before Sept. 11, 2001. The proof is on the flood-ravaged streets of New Orleans, where an unprecedented natural disaster quickly produced violent anarchy and a flaccid government response that multiplied the suffering.

For all the money thrown at preparing for massive terror attacks and other disasters, the new Department of Homeland Security looked more like a Third World bureaucracy, as armed gangs roamed the city and people died for lack of food, water, sanitation and medical supplies.

If a hurricane turned New Orleans into Haiti, imagine the impact of a nuclear detonation in Washington or New York. And it’s hard to argue that years of tax cuts and corresponding reductions in important programs didn’t severely impair the ability of government agencies at every level to respond, compounding the misery of the drowned city’s most vulnerable residents.

That fact will put Jewish organizations to the test in the next few months, as Congress and the administration consider new tax and spending priorities. Put simply, it may be time for reticent Jewish leaders to abandon the comfort of silence and directly address policies that threaten the future of the nation.

In the shocking aftermath of Katrina, Americans were digesting numerous lessons, many centered on the failure of government at every level and politicians in both parties to address basic needs.

Skyrocketing gas prices and the threat of shortages, as old refineries and oil terminals along the stricken Gulf Coast went out of service, pointed to the nation’s abject failure to craft a practical, forward-looking energy policy, despite past oil shocks and the threat of terrorism against oil facilities.

Oil companies have been reaping record profits, but not investing heavily in new capacity; political interests have prevented tough new mileage standards, as the nation’s love affair with gas-guzzlers continues unabated. The result is a nation whose economy and way of life continue to depend on a fragile energy lifeline easily disrupted by natural or manmade disasters.

That poses a long-term threat to U.S.-Israel relations, as well, because it increases America’s dependence on supplier nations that are implacably hostile to the Jewish state.

The disaster also pointed to the reality that billions of dollars in homeland security spending have left the nation no more secure than before Sept. 11.

From the start, the idea of homeland security turned into a supersized boondoggle. Jurisdictions and programs with strong political backers got piles of money; others were left strapped, and need was rarely a factor. Everybody played the game. Political payoff blended with real need until it was almost impossible to sort out what was what.

Giant bureaucracies were created, but with blurry lines of command and vast tangles of red tape. Planning was slipshod and unrealistic.

Top officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) didn’t even know what was being reported on television at the height of the emergency. FEMA Director Michael Brown is a political appointee without a scrap of disaster experience.

How many other leaders of the new Homeland Security bureaucracy were hired for reasons of cronyism, not competence?

Another lesson of New Orleans may center on a conservative political philosophy that is systematically working to “starve the beast” of the federal government.

While claiming national security is their top priority, the Republican administration and Congress have steadily been reducing funding for even the agencies that are supposed to deal with such crises, including FEMA, as well as countless agencies that address the needs of the poor and the sick.

Bush says more tax cuts are needed to spur the economy, but leading GOP theorists are more honest, expressing the view that cuts will help them do what they haven’t been able to do over the decades: cut even big entitlement programs like Medicaid and slash and ultimately kill countless other health and human service programs.

Katrina revealed some of the costs of that policy: first responders who couldn’t respond, agencies without the resources to prepare for the hurricane as it approached and a decayed social service infrastructure that left the poor to fend for themselves once it struck.

New tax cuts as the nation struggles to meet the costs of rescue, cleanup and rebuilding — even as it continues to fight two expensive wars — will vastly compound the problem.

For five years, most Jewish organizations have stood on the sidelines as this assault on domestic programs intensified because of a lack of consensus on tax policy and a fear of antagonizing the administration and Congress, not to mention big communal donors.

Hurricane Katrina and its horrific aftershocks reveal that reticence for what it is: an excuse to avoid controversy, not a response to the needs of the Jewish community or the nation at large.

Events of the past week demand a major reevaluation of the nation’s approach to homeland security and disaster preparedness. Just as importantly, they demand a re-examination of tax and spending policies that are rendering the federal government increasingly impotent.

 

List, Muslim Gangs Prompt Terror Probe


An investigation into alleged home-grown Muslim extremists has yielded another arrest and prompted law-enforcement agencies and Jewish institutions to tighten security as the Jewish High Holidays approach.

The probe by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has apparently broadened with last month’s arrest of Hamad Riaz Samana, a 21-year-old Pakistani student at Santa Monica College. Samana was taken into custody with no fanfare and information about him did not appear in published accounts for about two weeks.

In all, more than 200 federal and local counter-terrorism agents are probing for links between possible planned attacks on local Israeli and Jewish targets and the activities of Islamic gangs in California prisons.

Reflecting a heightened focus on security, the regional chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, working with federal and local authorities, will hold a security briefing for Jewish institutions on Sept. 15.

Samana and the two other men previously arrested attended the same mosque in Inglewood. Authorities are looking into whether one or more of the suspects planned a shooting spree at Jewish targets allegedly included on a list found in the possessions of one of the suspects.

So far, the lengthy and highly secretive investigation has led to the arrest of a Pakistani national and two Black Muslim converts.

The case started mundanely in mid-July when Torrance police arrested Levar Haney Washington, 25, and Gregory Vernon Patterson, 21, as suspects in a string of gas station robberies.

A search of Washington’s apartment turned up what police described as “jihadist” literature, bulletproof vests and an address list of some two-dozen Jewish and non-Jewish Los Angeles sites.

Two separate entries referred to the “headquarters of Zion,” listing the address of the Israeli consulate and the El Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles International Airport, the site of a shooting rampage in 2002 by an Egyptian immigrant who killed two Israeli Americans.

Also listed were two synagogues and a number of California National Guard recruiting stations.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the probe also is targeting California’s New Folsom state prison, where Washington converted to Islam while serving a term for assault and battery.

A particular focus is a group called Jamiyyat Ul Islam Is Saheeh (JIS), roughly translated as the Assembly of Authentic Islam.

According to gang specialists, JIS has operated at the Old and New Folsom prisons for five years and is the smaller of two Islamic gangs active in California prisons.

Counter-terrorism officials have long seen prisons as likely breeding grounds for homegrown Islamic extremist groups, who could plot attacks in the United States without any direct links to overseas networks.

Earlier this year, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Intelligence Committee that “prisons continue to be fertile ground for extremists who exploit both a prisoner’s conversion to Islam while still in prison, as well as their socioeconomic status and placement in the community upon their release.”

Authorities also are looking into the circumstances surrounding Patterson’s work at a duty-free gift shop at the airport’s international terminal, which also houses the El Al ticket counter, the Times reported. Although he’s a suspect in the alleged gas station holdups, Patterson has no criminal record.

All parties in the investigation have been extremely tight-lipped. The FBI declined comment, prison authorities said they could not speak about “disruptive groups,” and the Israeli consulate did not “wish to elaborate at this time.”

At a recent Los Angeles press conference, heads of local Islamic organizations and Islamic prison chaplains complained that FBI leaks to the media on unproven allegations were eroding the cooperative relationship between themselves and law-enforcement agencies.

These Muslims leaders included representatives of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. They stressed the peaceful nature of their faith and asserted that Muslim chaplains working in prisons were among the best lines of defense against extremists who might be recruiting behind bars.

Representatives of Jewish organizations and institutions interested in attending the ADL security briefing on Sept. 15 should respond by Sept. 8 to Lucinda Inganni at (310) 446-8000, ext. 261, or e-mail linganni@adl.org.

 

Terror Victims Help Other Survivors


Yaffa Elharar, from Afula in northern Israel, has spent days outside a courtroom in the summer heat of Tampa, Fla., holding a photo of an attractive teenage girl and a sign proclaiming “The Blood of Our Children Calls for Justice.”

Elharar is in the United States as a possible witness in the ongoing trial of Sami Al-Arian, accused of heading a Florida support group for Palestinian terrorists.

The photo is of her daughter, Maya, killed in 1994 at age 18, when a suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden car into a bus stop crowded with students.

Convicting accused terrorists is one part of Elharar’s mission, which began with her daughter’s death. The other, more central effort is helping the survivors of terror attacks and their families. To that end, Yaffa and her husband, Michel, set up the Organization of Victims of Terror in Israel in 1994, a few months after their family tragedy.

The couple recently stopped in Los Angeles to help launch a local branch of the nonprofit organization.

Another group that does similar work in the United States and Europe is One Family. That organization has distributed $13 million to some 2,500 families. It, too, is now setting up an office in Los Angeles.

Other groups focus on special needs, such as psychological aid for traumatized persons or working with parents who have lost children. The Maccabi World Union has launched Project Tikva to help rehabilitate terror victims through sports. Among the participants is Olympic swimming great Mark Spitz.

One of the main fundraisers, the Fund for Terror Victims, has distributed $18 million to nearly 3,000 families over the last four years. But this effort, which is part of the Jewish Agency for Israel, will shut down in December. Organizers cite a drop in terrorist bombings.

For the two groups set to open offices in Los Angeles, however, the need remains pressing.

Since the beginning of the second intifada on Sept. 9, 2000 to the present, a total of 1,063 Israeli civilians and soldiers have been killed and 7,376 injured in terrorist attacks, according to the official count by the Israel Defense Forces.

These figures, extrapolated to the population of the United States, would be the equivalent of the U.S. suffering close to 400,000 casualties from terrorist attacks.

One goal of the victim-aid groups has been to spread awareness of the suffering of families through national memorial services and centers.

“We found that the acts of the perpetrators were on the front page, and the names of the victims on the back page,” Yaffa Elharar said.

Her husband, who retired to devote himself full time to the organization, oversees free legal consultations, vocational training and cultural and social activities. The nonprofit also assists orphans in celebrating bar mitzvahs and widows with the weddings of their children.

The Elharars’ daughter died while trying to shield a 13-year-old girl. She was among eight killed and 52 wounded in the attack.

In Israel, the National Insurance Institute and the Jewish Agency have been providing basic living and rehabilitation allotments for wounded civilians and for stricken families.

What was lacking, said Yaffa Elharar, was adequate person-to-person emotional and psychological support for both the injured and their families.

The East Coast director of One Family knows firsthand about her clients’

experiences.

Sarri Singer, the daughter of New Jersey state Sen. Robert Singer, was working in Jerusalem two years ago and riding on a No. 14 bus, when a terrorist, disguised as a pious Jew, came aboard. He blew himself up, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100.

It wasn’t Sarri’s first encounter with terror. On Sept. 11, she was working in New York at the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, when the two hijacked planes plowed into the World Trade Center, only two blocks from her office.

While recuperating from shrapnel wounds received during the bus bombing, she started volunteering at the One Family office in Israel, and last year assumed her present American post. One Family was founded and is headed by Marc Belzberg of the philanthropic Belzberg family of Vancouver and Los Angeles. Among the organization’s main projects for victim families are camps for kids, retreats for parents, Big Brother and Big Sister programs, an orphan fund and a Simcha Fund for weddings.

“We are dealing, among other concerns, with 826 kids who lost a mother or father to terror, and 28 youths who have lost both parents,” Belzberg said.

Belzberg is troubled by the decision of the decision of the Jewish Agency to discontinue its fund for victims. The result is likely to mean heavier responsibilities for private groups like his, he said.

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For terror-victim aid groups setting up in Los Angeles:

•Organization of Victims of Terror in Israel (www.terror.co.il). Local contact is Raphael Ortasse (RAYSPACE@aol.com).

•One Family, contact Bari Holtzman (bari@onefamilyfund.org)

Other support organizations listed by the Israeli government and other sources, include:

•Almagor Terror Victims Association (www.terrorvictims.com)

•NAVAH (www.navah.org.il)

•ZAKA (www.zakausa.org)

•All4Israel (www.all4israel.org)

•Project Tikvah (contact Simone@maccabiah17.com)

 

A Bigger Sunday


At the risk of sounding like a cranky old-timer, the Jewish festivals of yore — the ’70s and ’80s — had a distinctive communitywide feel to them. The festival that was once held in Rancho Park drew thousands of people from across the communal spectrum — young, old, Orthodox, Reform, Israeli, American, rich, poor.

Part of the celebration was a morning march through the city, the marchers waving flags and accruing donations for Israeli charities for each mile they walked. The booths reflected the entire spectrum of Jewish involvement, and the entertainment — David Broza, Theodore Bikel — had a multigenerational, cross-cultural appeal.

“It was amazing,” said Temple Aliyah’s Rabbi Stuart Vogel of the Rancho Park Jewish Festival — affirming my nostalgia. “The whole Jewish community turned out.”

“We’d start at 8 a.m., walking,” recalled Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. “Everyone was there for the cause. You grew up in your little enclave — your synagogue, community center — then you all came to this. It was a very unifying event.”

That was clearly not the case Sunday, May 15, at the Israel Festival in Woodley Park in Van Nuys.

To be fair, by most measures, the Woodley Park gathering was a success. Putting together any Jewish event on that scale is like herding cats in a hurry, and the organizers did a praiseworthy job, pulling off a well-run, well-attended event.

At least 30,000 turned out on the hottest Sunday afternoon of the year. I wandered around, taking in the humanity: the anti-Gaza-withdrawal group in their bright orange T-shirts placed with something like black humor next to the booth of Americans for Peace Now, their political nemeses. The black-clad Chabadniks offering passersby the chance to lay tefillin, as Israeli beauties wearing barely anything paraded close by. Everyone pausing to look skyward as a parachute team swirled down from the sky trailing American and Israeli flags. The Latino servers at the Cafe Tel Aviv serving ex-pat Israelis their cafe hafooks, almost just like in the old country.

If you were there, chances are you would have enjoyed yourself.

But, chances are, you weren’t there.

The crowd was largely Israeli, by some estimates 90 percent. On a day when the entire Jewish community could have been represented, most weren’t. I spotted just a couple of rabbis there. The community activists and organizations heads who attended showed up primarily to work — they couldn’t not be there. The El Cab crowd, the Hillcrest crowd, the masses of non-Israelis who used to swarm Rancho Park, they just didn’t show. (If you were one of the few present from those communities, go ahead and write your rebuttal, but you were the exception.)

Many organizations and synagogues even scheduled competing events. Chief among them was Big Sunday. Big Sunday, a wildly successful mitzvah day-for-the-masses, was founded by David Levinson as a volunteer program of Temple Israel of Hollywood. It has now grown to include dozens of synagogues and non-Jewish institutions. Last Sunday its 7,000-plus volunteers fanned out across the city to do everything from cleaning the L.A. River to singing for seniors. Last year I did a Big Sunday project in the morning and the Israel Festival in the afternoon. This year I could only do one.

The truth is, most people who pick choose one or the other, limiting the reach of either. For all the bigness of Big Sunday and the Israel Festival, in terms of drawing the entire spectrum of the Jewish community, both could be bigger.

Part of the reality is that the L.A. Jewish community has changed drastically since the Rancho Park days. Back then, the Persian, Israeli, Russian and Orthodox Jewish communities were smaller. Now each can sustain its own festival.

The community of yore was also more cohesive. Partly this was demographics: A more homogenous L.A. Jewish world remained largely unified around a core of temples and service organizations as well as a shared post-World War II perspective of how things were and ought to be.

I wonder, too, if the idea of marching with the Israeli flag began to be less dreamy and more politically freighted in the years following Israel’s incursion into Lebanon War and the Palestinian intifadas. Now Jewish and non-Jewish protesters would swarm over such a march like June bugs on an unscreened porch.

The result is an Israel Festival that has supplanted the annual communitywide Jewish festival without really substituting for it. The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance joined forces with the Israel Festival this year in hopes of blending the disparate communities, but clearly more work and time is needed for that to happen.

“I really feel sort of split about the festival,” said Bouskila, who grew up in West Hollywood but served in the Israel Defense Forces. “The Israeli side of me felt very at home. The American Jewish side of me felt, ‘Where is the American Jewish community?’

“Are they not part of this? Why can’t the entire Jewish community be there?”

The long-term effects of this seem obvious — a declining sense of attachment to Israel on the one hand, and a declining sense of belonging to a broader local Jewish community on the other.

But the optimist in me wants to believe this, too, will pass. If, for now, groups of us are separating out, more comfortable apart than together, perhaps the next generation will realize the value of a larger unified community and come together.

I noticed in this paper a report that Israel Television is launching its own version of the popular American reality show, “The Bachelor,” in which 15 single Israeli women will compete for the heart of an eligible Jewish American male.

Maybe that’s just where we’re at, we Israeli and American Jews — not married, not divorced, yet still interested in dating.

 

Letters


 

Not Funny

While I appreciate The Journal’s attempt at Purim humor, as a long time and very proud shtreimel wearer, I was saddened by your cover of Michael Jackson, currently under indictment and on trial for [alleged] child molestation (Purim Cover, March 25). As a senior bureau chaplain for the Los Angeles Police Department and chief of operations for Hatzolah Rescue Team, I, unfortunately, have witnessed too much pain and suffering of children (and adults) at the hands of sexual predators.

A shtreimel situated on the head of our governor, mayor or even the latest Hollywood macher (not currently under indictment) would have garnered a prominent position on our shteilbel’s bulletin board.

Rabbi Chaim Kolodny
LAPD Senior Bureau Chaplain

Hahn Gossip

I wish to correct an error made in “Newsroom Rebellion Silences Gossip About Mayor’s Family,” April 1 (“Newsroom Rebellion Silences Gossip About Mayor’s Family,” Apr. 1). It simply is not true that any L.A. Weekly reporters have refused to pursue a line of questioning or potential story pertaining in any way to the mayor’s race. As a general policy, we do not discuss stories we may or may not be working on, and the issue at hand is no exception.

Alan Mittelstaedt
News Editor
L.A. Weekly

Editor’s note: The Journal stands by its story.

Campus Turmoil

Thank you very much for your concern about the strength and well-being of the Jewish community at UCI, but your concern may be unjustified (“Campus Turmoil,” March 11). Your article was correct, in that there is hostility toward the Jewish population, but you seemed to have left out the fact that we, the Jewish community, are fighting back, peacefully. You made mention of a certain speaker brought by the Muslim Student Union, but you conveniently didn’t mention either of the two articles in the major UCI newspaper (The New University) or the one in the conservative newspaper (The Irvine Review) that responded to the speaker, and criticized the judgment of the Muslim Student Union in bringing him to UCI. Your article appeared much later than any of these three, and not mentioning any of them brings the true intent of this article under question.

The truth is, that since this speaker came, there has been a great response by the Jewish community, and the UCI community as a whole. Hillel, Alpha Epsilon Pi (the Jewish fraternity) and Alpha Epsilon Phi (the Jewish sorority) all partnered in support of the Blue and White Day, which occurred shortly after the speaker, and at least a month before your article was published. The Jewish organizations mentioned above, along with other organizations, also sponsored the visit of the bombed bus No. 19, along with speakers at its side, which also happened before the publishing of your article, but was not mentioned.

Since your article was published, I have seen a response from the readers of your newspaper, and it is not good. It has brought light on to a topic that we, as a community are working to correct, and it did nothing to help our community in that endeavor. I have heard parents of high school students tell their children they can’t apply to UCI because of your article, and this hurts the Jewish community more than anything the Muslim Student Union could ever do to us. Without a steady influx of Jewish students into UCI, the attacks by the Muslim Student Union will only grow stronger, as we will have less people to respond and defend ourselves. Without new Jewish students, we will have a stagnation of ideas, and new ones will be few and far between.

At UCI, we have done our best to foster a Jewish community, and through Hillel and both Jewish Greek organizations, we have begun to do this. With a brand new Jewish Community Center and Hillel center within five minutes from campus, there is a place for us to go and hang out. We organize a kosher lunch every Wednesday and a Shabbat dinner every Friday night, both of which have an amazing attendance, bolstered by the support of all three Jewish organizations.

Every other week, we show a movie from Israel with Israeli food, and it, too, is attended with the support of all three organizations. This year, for the first time, there is a tremendous support for Israel in the editorial section of The New University, something that hasn’t generally occurred in the past. From what I am told, UCI is much better off now than it has been in recent history, and it might have been a better help for your newspaper to highlight the progress we have made, rather than a few setbacks to that progress.

Alex Chazen
New University Staff Writer
Alpha Epsilon Pi Member

Right to Die

So we should err on the side of preserving life when the facts are not clear? What President Bush said would seem more heartfelt if he was not so quick to go to war, costing untold numbers of lives to noncombatant Iraqis and American soldiers alike (“Jewish Ethical Views Differ on Schiavo,” March 25). The facts were unclear, as he and many have professed, regarding Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, and it is still not clear how it was presumed that they are enemy combatants in the U.S. war on terror.

Similarly, capital cases, where parties are put to death and given scant additional review, during his Texas governorship, would seem to qualify as situations where the facts are not clear, and one may choose to err on the side of preserving life. Genetic analysis, as an aid in reviews and reversals of capital cases in the last two decades, proves this quite effectively. It seems obvious to me that this proclamation, seen in this light, rings of hypocrisy, and demonstrates how cynical and pandering the administration is in taking sanctimonious stands such as these.

Dr. Mark Dreskin
Pasadena

I find Judy Gruen’s article on end of life issues it a bit offensive, simplistic and also inaccurate (“Spiritual Help Can Benefit Hopelessly Ill,” April 1). First off, for every intellectual crackpot like the Princeton professor she refers to trying to “eliminate the possibilities for the dramatically ill or infirm,” there are hundreds if not thousands of bioethicists, including rabbis and other clergymen, writing and working in hospitals and hospices to cope with the increasingly and incredibly complex issues related to the end of life. Anyone who has ever spoken to a doctor knows that for many considerations, including the prosaic one of acting to avoid potential liabilities, hospitals and hospices are slow to hasten the death of a patient.

We both know where we stand on the Oregon law. I did a little research on The Netherlands, in fact the legal progression has been to progressively limit the cases in which the law prevents euthanasia. A comprehensive study I found in the British medical journal, The Lancet (equivalent to the New England Journal of Medicine in the United States), found a minimal increase in the percent of all deaths in the country that were by euthanasia increased by .8 percent between the law’s enactment in 1991 and 1995; an increase of .2 percent occurred between 1995 and 2001. The number of deaths by nontreatment decisions showed no increase between 1995 and 2001; there was no increase in explicit requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide during that time. The number of doctors who were ever involved in the ending of life without the patient’s explicit request (one assumes this includes cases where it was done at the family’s explicit request absent that of the patient) declined from 27 percent in 1990 to 13 percent in 2001. This hardly indicates a trend toward widespread “killing of patients.” The authors of this comprehensive study in The Netherlands reach a conclusion diametrically opposed to Gruen’s rhetoric given the advances in medical technology and techniques to prolong. The authors found “the absence of a rise in the proportion of nontreatment decisions [read such actions as removing medical devices] after 1995 surprising.”

The Netherlands has a lower infant mortality rate than the United States, which has the dubious distinction of being No. 1 in that category among countries in the developed world. Perhaps we in this country have something to learn from The Netherlands about the dignity of life and utilitarian economic decisions on health care. Unlike Gruen’s idle speculation of what may occur in some brave new world, government health care policies today in our country contribute to the deaths of countless children each year, now.

The Oregon law on euthanasia is quite restrictive. I suspect Gruen has not taken the trouble to read it.

The Oregon Death With Dignity Act states the following:

An adult who is capable, is a resident of Oregon, and has been determined by the attending physician and consulting physician to be suffering from a terminal disease, and who has voluntarily expressed his or her wish to die, may make a written request for medication for the purpose of ending his or her life in a humane and dignified manner in accordance with ORS 127.800 to 127.897. (Task Force to Improve the Care of Terminally Ill Oregonians, 1998, p. 57)

Other sections of the law are designed to provide safeguards for the practice. For example, two unrelated persons must witness the written request; there must be a consulting physician; the patient must make an informed decision; the attending or consulting physician can request a referral to a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist if they suspect that a psychiatric condition or depression may be causing impaired decision-making; and family notification is recommended.

I also found Gruen’s attitudes toward the “proper” actions by family members to be quite judgmental and simplistic. If anything, the growth of hospices has shown that society has moved toward easing an individual’s final days, not a rush to end their lives. While Gruen might have chosen how her mother spent her final days, who is she to speculate that when a family acting with the wishes of the suffering patient decides that it is time for the pain allow the bodily life to come to a close “negate the guiding hand of Hashem”? Right now, my aunt lies on her deathbed and refuses food. If after years of conscientious caring and almost daily visits by my cousin, who is only concerned with her having no severe pain, declines to attach a feeding tube, is she missing a “transcendent moment” at her mother’s passing? Did the millions around the world who prayed in the moments surrounding the pope’s death miss a “transcendent moment” because in his final days the pope declined to be brought to the hospital and at some point in his final hours those around him chose not to continue any extraordinary means to keep him alive?

Jewish tradition teaches that the nefesh (soul) continues on long after it leaves the physical body. One hopes that the tragic case of Terri Schiavo spurs many to have a frank, intimate discussion with their loved ones about the exceedingly complex issues related to the end of physical life. And that no outsider, be he politician, religious leader or self- proclaimed advocate for the “culture of life,” dictate or simplistically judge their decisions on this most complex matter. That would truly be honoring Hashem.

Lawrence Weinman
Los Angeles

According to your article, Rabbi Avi Shafran stated that Terri Schiavo was not in a state of goses, the edge of death (“Jewish Ethical Views Differ on Schiavo,” March 25). But how did he know that? Did he know her medical history? According to reports, she had severe brain damage (although she was not considered brain dead), and the base of her brain was slowly filling with spinal fluid, which eventually killed her.

That being the case, how close to death does a person have to be to be declared in a state of goses?

That also means that it is possible the rabbi’s basic incorrect assumption allowed time to arrive at a conclusion, which is incorrect. Or, at least, did not allow him to explore another aspect of this issue.

The other question, not fully addressed in the article is the Jewish issue on a living will. Schiavo’s husband maintains that she told him that she would not want to live this way. It took him a long time to prove his point, but apparently, at last, he prevailed. In Jewish law what form does a living will have to be? Can it be verbal? How many people have to vouch for the verbal statement? In Jewish law is it just the husband? Two or more people? Or, does Jewish law recognize a living will at all, written or verbal? According to Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, as quoted in the article, a living will is irrelevant. Is that true?

Gary M. Barnbaum
Woodland Hills

As opposed to Judy Gruen, I do not believe in the beauty of suffering.

She accuses doctors, “bureaucrats” and family of trying to eliminate the “mess and expense” of the “inconveniently ill.” How outrageous of her! After my 90-year old mother had a stroke, I faced the terrible responsibility of deciding whether to continue a feeding tube. Mom could no longer speak or swallow. After a week of misery, I believe she said to herself “enough is enough.” Mom fell into a coma and died peacefully.

I would soon have decided against the tube. There was no love or compassion in having this spirited, independent woman, at her age, continue to suffer.

Gruen tells about a friend who brought a young man out of a coma by reading him psalms. Most of us in life-and-death situations must be more pragmatic. Otherwise, we are in danger of skidding on the slippery path so beloved of the neocons: the culture of life. Whether Gruen intends it or not, that path leads to the destruction of abortion rights and the curtailment of stem cell research.

Gruen should stick to frilly hats and comedy writing. She is out of her depth here.

Cynthia Lawrence
Toluca Lake

Here and Gone

I read about the swift departure of Rabbi Issac Jeret from Brandeis-Bardin Institute with puzzlement (“Here and Gone,” Apr. 1). Here was a seemingly dedicated clergyman committing to a challenge of a lifetime. Stepping into a storied legacy of Shlomo Bardin; charged and energized to steer a thriving Jewish Institute toward four generations of Jewish outreach. His commitment lasted 10 months. His tenure was shorter than the search to secure his services. I think the admonition was to lay down in green pastures, not to continue to look for them.

I read about a temple that seemingly pursued their target without regard to the morality of their actions. They seem the perfect 21st century moral role model: Pursue your goal at any cost, succeed without regard to damage caused to others, win at any price. Moral relativism has been accepted by religious institutions.

The challenge facing all Jewish institutions in the 21st century is relevance and guidance. In this instance the actions of the protagonists appear to mirror the moral morass of general society, demonstrating little leadership or interest in igniting a beacon to all. It would seem appropriate to demonstrate adherence to our tradition, and make restitution to Brandeis-Bardin Institute.

Bill Kabaker
Via e-mail

Counter Culture

Thanks for your article on Zucky’s (“Zucky’s Counter Culture,” Apr. 1). I have very fond memories of the place and the people. I am positive we can all live better with out the food. We could all eat healthy. I grew up in Ocean Park and remember the original location. Please let your readers know if there is anything we can do to help them save the structure. Very disappointed to find out there was an attempt to limit Jewish merchants. I am 72 years old and will never think of Santa Monica the same. I still have a menu from the old Zucky’s restaurant.

Sanford Nadlman
Los Angeles

Burden of Truth

It is my opinion that any historian who denies the occurrences, in his lifetime, of the most heinous acts of murder in history, that are well documented and even admitted to by the perpetrators, and also so adjudicated by high courts of law, is a liar, cheat, distorter of facts and history (“Letters,” March 11). His “professionalism and craft,” integrity and credibility is dubious, because once a liar.

Moreover, an academic or whoever, who defends such an historian is not far removed from the one he is defending, and does not enjoy my admiration.

David Brook
Professor of Life and Survival
University of Buchenwalk Koncentrations
Lager, Germany

Absent Husbands

Thank you for publishing Jane Ulman’s well-researched and important article (“Women Still Struggle to Have It All,” April 1). She describes accurately how frustrating it is for most women to be carrying too much of the load in their families.

But she left out a key part of the story — what if the husbands did more to improve the fairness and daily teamwork in their home life? During the past several years while I was researching my new book “Wake Up or Break Up:The 8 Crucial Steps to Strengthening Your Relationship,” I came across hundreds of inspiring examples (especially among Jewish couples) where women were less stressed and more fulfilled because their husbands were doing a much better job of helping out with kids, chores, weekly planning meetings and daily supportive listening and brainstorming.

In the marriages where men do decide to be mensches, it’s amazing how much less arguing and burnout there is. I urge every couple who cares about fairness and a good relationship to start getting creative and finding positive ways to share the load. It can be done!

Leonard Felder
West Los Angeles

Joseph Aaron

As a Jewish publisher, already in my 92nd year, I have read more than my share of calumnious articles. But Joseph Aaron’s Op-Ed was especially vicious — not merely because of his nasty attacks on Edgar Bronfman, who has done so much on behalf of Holocaust survivors like me, but also for its bizarre misrepresentation of Isi Leibler. Leibler “a man of integrity and honor?” (“Listen to What the Machers Are Saying,” March 25). Are we talking about the same Leibler whose boundless ego and penchant for communal intrigue are legendary among Australian Jews?

Close to 40 years ago, Leibler successfully conspired to put the newspaper of which I was publisher — The Australian Jewish Herald — out of business. Why? Because on Leibler’s very own recommendation I had taken aboard a columnist by the name of Mark Brahm. An erudite Orthodox intellectual, Brahm was, at times, highly critical of Israel’s policies toward the Arabs. As a committed Zionist, yet one who deeply believes in freedom of the press, I was willing to allow his views to be heard even though I knew they were not popular. Somewhere along the line Leibler realized that Brahm’s views were the diametric opposite of his own and he demanded that I sack the controversial columnist.

I told Leibler that while I disagreed — in fact, strongly disagreed — with Brahm’s ideas, the man did have a right to air his views. For the record, those ideas were little different, than what one hears in mainstream Israeli political discourse today.

That I would not comply with Leibler’s order was too much for the Australian Jewish dictator to bear. He promptly ordered a boycott of my paper forbidding Jewish community institutions from advertising in the pages of the Herald and the Yiddish weekly I published. In a few short weeks my paper — which I had built up from a moribund eight-page bulletin, to a lively 40-page weekly — was driven out of business. This affair swiftly became a cause celebre in Australia and made headlines in the non-Jewish press.

I enjoyed the public support of leading intellectuals and politicians in Australia, both Jewish and non-Jewish, but it was to no avail. Leibler had a virtual stranglehold on the Jewish community and, sad to say, Australian Jews cowered in fear. Many of them agreed with my position, and told me as much in private, but they dared not say so in public! So on Tisha b’Av 1968, weeks before we were to celebrate the paper’s 90th birthday, I had to pull the plug — and the rest, as they say, is history.

Nearly four decades later, Leibler decided that because he couldn’t call the shots in the World Jewish Congress (WJC), the best thing to do would be to bring down that venerable organization — and actually destroy it in the process. No matter that what he did was grist for anti-Semitic mills. No matter that he had no real evidence of any wrongdoing. These days, you only have to hint that someone has done something wrong to tarnish a good name. And because of this reckless egomaniac, the WJC found itself having to fight off all kinds of scurrilous attacks from people who love to see the Yidden at war with one another. That is why Leibler is now the star of so many anti-Semitic hate sheets and is a hero to Jewish muckrakers like Joseph Aaron. But presumably, none of that is important to him. Like a spoiled child, the 70-year old Leibler is used to having his own way and is oblivious to all other considerations.

In my possession is a letter to me from my good friend Nahum Goldmann, who Aaron hails, but upon whom Leibler wrote a vituperative attack in the pages of my paper. When in 1967 I asked Goldmann whether he wished to counter the critique, the great Jewish leader wrote: “I have not the slightest wish to reply to the utterances of Mr. Leibler. For some time already I have given up reacting to the attacks of some of the Australian representatives because of their lack of manners and the form in which they gloat in their criticisms.”

Thanks to the likes of Aaron, Leibler is still gloating. What a shanda!

David Lederman
Israel

Praise Scientists

The Journal has a very interesting advertisement (“Jewry Role in Human Affairs”). In this ad, short biographies of outstanding scientists and inventors of Jewish origin appear from time to time. It is important to give tribute to the great minds of Jewish nation.

I don’t object that it is necessary to write about art and charity, travel and politics, Torah and kabbalah, music and spirituality, but existing apparent neglect of science in mass media is undeserved, unreasonable and inefficient for society. Such articles about science and technology will give readers knowledge necessary to better understand contemporary situation and future perspectives. In addition, many of those who work in science and technology have interesting personalities and/or life stories.

Dr. Mark Burgin
Via e-mail

When Jews Lose

I recently read your article lamenting Bob Hertzberg’s failure to advance through Los Angeles’ mayoral primary (“When Jews Lose,” March 18).

Before worrying about the implications of the Jewish community not having a representative as a mayor of Los Angeles, I think it’s also important to look at Hertzberg the candidate.

Early in the primary season I received an e-mail from Hertzberg’s office with a 10-point talking list regarding what he wanted to do with Los Angeles. Initially I appreciated the marketing of it as a great starting point for a plan to improve some problems in Los Angeles.

However, when I read Hertzberg’s plans regarding the environment that consisted simply of not doing road construction during rush hours, the paucity of Hertzberg’s ideas was apparent. When he sent an e-mail telling everyone of his support for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to break up the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), his campaign was finished.

Schwarzenegger is the governor who has reneged with California educators to the tune of 4 billion of the last two years. How is breaking up the LAUSD and cutting 4 billion out of the education budget supposed to help California? Maybe it could, but neither Schwarzenegger nor Hertzberg cared to explain.

Meanwhile, Arnold has raised 50 million on unspecified campaign/campaign initiatives. I thought he had enough money to be able to govern without it? But I digress. Hertzberg lost the election because of his lack of ideas and his thoughtless alignment with Schwarzenegger as all things good for California.

P.S. I thought Hertzberg was a Democrat…

Zachary S. Brooks
Via e-mail

I have participated in many elections during my lifetime. I do not decide on a candidate because he or she is of my ethnic background or my religion. I consider his ability to lead and his experience to administrate any number of people and his or her ethical background. Los Angeles is a very big city with citizens of many different backgrounds. We need someone who has proven that he is capable to administer this city. It is my opinion that no one person or group is all right or all wrong and we should decide if the candidate is able to make decisions that are going to be the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

I am a regular reader of The Journal and I am hoping that this runoff re-election will be free of unnecessary contentions.

Polly S. Hertz
Los Angeles

Campus Turmoil

Regarding your “Campus Turmoil” cover story, I find it rather telling that Muslim students at UC Irvine and other American campuses are so vehement in their protest against Zionism (their politically correct term for Judaism and Jews) and Zionist (Jewish) influence and “control” (March 11). Compare that intense fervor with the nearly total silence of American Muslims after Sept. 11. There were no criticisms of or protests against their fellow Muslims who so hideously attacked the United States, killing nearly 3,000 innocent people.

It is quite clear to any objective observer that Muslim students in America support the goals of the worldwide Muslim offensive against everyone and everything that does not conform to Muslim doctrine.

Richard Saunders
North Hollywood

Terri Schiavo

I am not obsessed with religious doctrine and practice (“Jewish Ethical Views Differ on Schiavo,” March 25). I am an ex-liberal and Democrat. But, a phrase from the past plays loudly in my head, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Sorry, but “they” cannot be forgiven for they knew exactly what they were doing when they obsessively and stubbornly pressed ahead with their suspect hidden agenda that resulted in the state-sponsored execution of innocent Schiavo. Those undeserving of forgiveness are also the “limp-wristed” “girlie-men” types who pulled the covers over their head to protect themselves from political fallout. Those undeserving of forgiveness include those who made politically “watered-down” attempts to save one innocent American life.

More specifically, “they” are supporters and practitioners of the law/legal system that obsessively paved the way for the barbaric execution of an innocent, disabled woman. They are people of power who “heroically” ducked the issue to save their political careers. They are the ghoulish and perverted advocates who arrogantly and obsessively drooled at the thought of bringing this disabled woman to the altar of the “blessed” and “peaceful” priests of euthanasia (attorney George Felos, a deranged Hemlock society neurologist, the morally twisted ACLU….). They are represented by the allegedly adulterous and bigamist husband who cruelly wrenched Terri Schiavo from the caring hands of her biological family for suspected personal gain. They are the media and the legal/medical apologists that tried to calm and soothe the passion against Terri Schiavo’s state-sponsored execution with legalese and justification that seemingly made her execution appear so reasonable.

Is it not an irony that another Schindler [Terri Schiavo’s maiden name], a German businessman, risked his life and fortune to add those slated for the Nazi crematoriums to his famous “Schindler’s List,” the list that saved a thousand or so innocent from the legal, state-sponsored executions of the Third Reich. Yet, the most powerful politicians in our nation could not and would not save one innocent life from the obsessed and dedicated federal bench and Floridians bent on consummating the execution of Terri Schiavo. It took a reformed Nazi supporter, turned humanitarian, to save thousands from cruel and unusual/inhumane punishment when he faced risk to his person and fortune (and he did lose his fortune). But, professed American humanitarians of power could not bravely set aside their fortune (political) to step forward and add Terri Schiavo to a “Schindler’s List,” when no risk to their life existed. How truly shameful!

No, those of political power and others that let Terri Schiavo or did little or nothing to stop it cannot be forgiven when they are weighed against one reformed Nazi, Schindler, who faced death and lost his fortune as he passionately protected lives from the law of the Third Reich; law that justified and promoted euthanasia against the innocent of Germany and Europe.

We, as nation have moved one large step backward toward confirming the precedents set for life and death as advocated by the Third Reich, and one major step forward to trashing the lessons of the post-Nazi Nuremberg trials. We have soiled our undergarments, and it is very doubtful that this stain will ever be removed.

Joel Katzman
La Jolla

 

Efforts Under Way to Raise Aid Funds


 

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

DONATE DIRECTLY:

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

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

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

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

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

ATTEND A BENEFIT:

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

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

LEARN MORE:

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

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

Orthodox Union, www.ou.org/forms/tsunami3.htm.

Valley Beth Shalom, (818) 782-2281.

Pressman Academy, (310) 652-7353.

 

The Graves Of Sudan


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With Thanksgiving here and Chanukah just around the corner, most of us are reflecting on all there is to be thankful for, embracing our freedom as Jews and Americans. As we share our thanks this year and celebrate the holidays, it is my hope that more American Jews will think of those who are denied what we have come to expect as basic human rights, particularly those who are suffering from genocidal campaigns in Darfur, Sudan.

In this remote region, more than 1.5 million African tribal farmers have been violently driven from their homes by the government of Sudan and the militias they armed, called Janjaweed (evil men on horseback). Despite repeated calls from humanitarian organizations and U.N. agencies warning of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today, there continues to be a systematic program of expulsion, rape and murderous violence that has taken at least 100,000 lives.

As Jews, we have an increased moral obligation to respond, to speak out and take action against ethnic cleansing. The epithet “never again” must not be reserved for Jews alone, but in fact, Jews must be the guardians of this call for action, highly sensitive and responsive to all attempts by any people to annihilate another people.

I went to Darfur in August to bear witness, to assess humanitarian needs and to ensure that funds provided by the American Jewish community are being and will be used effectively. I met many of the displaced farmers and listened to their chilling stories.

The government bombed their villages; men on horses rode in, often yelling ethnic slurs and shooting wildly. They stole; they raped; they killed. They stuffed wells with dead bodies or carcasses and burned villages to the ground.

I met Fatima; her five children were all ill with life-threatening diarrhea. I met a 10-year-old boy — clinging to the leg of a medical assistant — who saw his parents and two brothers shot dead.

I met the mother of twins who gave birth the day the militia came to her village. She saw her brother, aunt and uncle killed but managed to escape with her family, her newborn babies tucked into a straw mat.

They and over a million others fled in terror and came gradually to camps being set up to receive them — now about 158 camps scattered throughout Darfur (a region the size of California) containing tens of thousands of families packed into tent cities, fighting hunger, illness, displacement, boredom and depression. People whose simple agricultural life had allowed them to remain self-sufficient, now have no means of support.

Currently, the situation is deteriorating. The populations coming into the camps keep growing, and there is not enough food. There are too many cases of dehydration, malnutrition and deadly diarrhea.

Living in close quarters like this breeds its own set of sanitation, physical and mental health problems. Mortality rates — already at about 10,000 a month — could rise suddenly.

Some of the Janjaweed have been outfitted by the government as “police” to provide “security” for the camps. Women still disappear or are raped when they venture out to collect firewood to use for cooking or to sell to buy food.

The U.S. Congress labeled the crisis genocide in July, and the Bush administration followed suit in September, but members of the U.N. Security Council, particularly Russia, China and Algeria, continue to block sanctions and other strong actions, creating deadlines and weak resolutions that are unenforceable and unheeded. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan reported that security is declining and violence is on the upsurge.

In a reversal that demonstrates that international pressure can make a difference, the Sudanese government reluctantly agreed to allow 3,000 African Union troops to monitor the tenuous cease-fire and escort aid convoys, but they have no mandate to protect civilians. The Sudanese army and police continue to attack camps and forcibly relocate internally displaced people.

Recent reports describe government forces burning shelters, smashing water pipes, beating and shooting people and refusing access to aid agencies. On Nov. 8, the Sudanese government signed a historical peace agreement, accepting a no-fly zone over the region and promising to disarm the Janjaweed and improve access to aid. The next day, more violence was reported in camps.

The United Nations is conducting an investigation to determine whether the crisis constitutes genocide. This marks the first time in the history of the Security Council that Article 8 of the Genocide Convention has been invoked, which is a most welcome occurrence, but it is not enough by itself. By the time the assessment is complete, at least another 30,000 people will be dead.

Confronted with the realities of a grim future, we must increase pressure on the U.S. government and international community to persuade the Security Council to do what must be done to end the violence and suffering. Sudan must be forced to improve access to the camps for humanitarian aid workers and supplies, and it must be sanctioned until the Janjaweed is disarmed and the region is secured.

The African Union troops must be given an expanded mandate under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter to protect civilians. Should the no-fly zone over Darfur be violated, enforcement by NATO forces must be authorized.

Additional humanitarian aid is desperately needed. Governments must do their part to ensure that the U.N. humanitarian programs are functioning at full capacity and meeting the vast needs. Support from individuals to nongovernmental organizations providing humanitarian assistance is also essential.

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) launched a Sudan Emergency Appeal in April to help meet these needs. To date, $500,000 has been raised to rehabilitate water sources, construct sanitation facilities and provide therapeutic feeding centers to care for the thousands of malnourished children. I surveyed these programs when I was there and left overwhelmingly satisfied that lives are being saved.

As a result of my assessment, AJWS is also providing educational and recreational materials and programs for orphaned children, zinc treatment for children suffering from diarrhea and because rape is being used as a strategic weapon against women and their families, we are providing reproductive health care and addressing the consequences of sexual violence against women. Financial support for these ongoing efforts is critical.

The Jewish response is growing. The Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, comprised of 45 national Jewish organizations, created a Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief that has raised about $170,000, and the Reform movement has spearheaded its own campaign, raising about $120,000. A number of Jewish organizations have joined us as members of the Save Darfur Coalition, a broadly diverse group of more than 100 faith-based and humanitarian organizations advocating for the people of Darfur, and other Jewish organizations are responding with humanitarian aid.

Until conditions are established that permit the voluntary, safe and dignified return of those displaced by the conflict and violators of human rights are held accountable, our diligence must not wane.

Leviticus teaches, “Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” This holiday season, let us celebrate with our loved ones, but let us also resolve to do all that we can to end human suffering and prevent genocide whenever, wherever and to whomever it occurs.

Ruth W. Messinger is the president and executive director of American Jewish World Service, an international development and emergency relief organization. For more information, to make a donation or take action, visit

Federation Vows to Help Jewish Poor


Jews have long had a reputation as being among the most successful minority groups in the country. For the most part, they are. But as a new report from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles makes clear, not all Southland Jews live large. While some big machers tool around in BMWs and inhabit Beverly Hills and Brentwood mansions, thousands of less-fortunate community members struggle just to survive.

About one in five local Jews, or 104,000 out of 520,000, earn less than $25,000 annually. An estimated 7 percent live below the poverty line, compared to 5 percent nationally, according to a study titled “Alleviating Jewish Poverty in Los Angeles.” In greater Fairfax, an area with a high concentration of seniors and immigrants, an estimated one in three Jewish households lives in poverty.

“There’s an enormous number of Jews who live at or below the poverty line, and I think it will shock many members of our community to see how many people just scrape by,” Federation President John Fishel said.

In light of the stark findings, The Federation plans to make fighting Jewish poverty an even bigger priority, Fishel said. The agency has already allocated funds to Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) to hire new employees to focus on the need of the working poor. Around the country, Jewish agencies have undertaken several ambitious programs. In Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Jewish Family Service helps poor clients pay outstanding utility bills. In New York, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, has built four buildings for the elderly poor with federal funds.

Jews in Southern California have a harder time eking out a living than their counterparts in other U.S. cities. Los Angeles ranks only behind San Francisco and New York as the nation’s most expensive city. Skyrocketing rents, health care and other costs mean poor Jews can afford little beyond the basic necessities, the report said. And the situation appears to be getting worse. The cost of a one-bedroom apartment in most Jewish neighborhoods is $900 to $1,200 per month, putting it beyond the reach of the poor and many working poor.

Based on the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) poverty study, the disabled account for 48 percent of the Jewish poor, refugees and immigrants make up 22 percent, non-college educated are 12 percent, seniors older than 65 comprise 9 percent, single-parent homes are 8 percent, and 1 percent is classified as other.

Ironically, some local Jews working for Jewish nonprofit organizations fall into the ranks of the Jewish poor. At a time when executives at the L.A. Federation and other agencies earn upward of $200,000, plus benefits, nearly 20 percent of the 450 full- and part-time unionized workers at Jewish Family Service (JFS), the Federation and five other Jewish agencies earned less than $20,000 as of the beginning of 2004. Many Jewish day school teaching assistants also make less than $20,000.

In preparing its poverty report, the L.A. Federation collected no new data locally. Instead, the agency based its findings on a Jewish population study commissioned in 1997 and a 2000-2001 survey by the NJPS. That the L.A. Federation conducted no recent random samples undermines the credibility of its study, said Pini Herman, a demographer and author of the 1997 L.A. Jewish Population Survey.

“It looks like they grabbed their numbers out of thin air,” said Herman, who was not consulted for the new survey. “The data fails to account for mortality, migration and movement up and down the economic ladder. I think it is intellectually dishonest.”

Fishel said he stood behind The Federation’s study, adding that he thought information from the 1997 data was still relevant.

The increased patronage of SOVA by local Jews reflects how much tougher things have become for them, said Paul Castro, executive director of JFS, the food bank’s operator. About 1,000 Jews visit SOVA twice monthly for free groceries, a 15 percent increase from last year and a 100 percent hike since 2002, he said.

“From the street level, the economy doesn’t look like it’s getting any better,” Castro said. “It’s getting worse.”

At JVS, demand for job training and job placement services by poor Jewish refugees and immigrants has jumped by about 10 percent annually over the past four years, said Vivian Seigel, JVS chief executive and president.

A scholarship program for Jewish men and women in L.A. County living at or below the poverty line has also experienced a surge in interest. This year, about 500 young men and women applied for the higher education stipends, up from 350 last year, she said. Skyrocketing tuition costs, combined with surging rents and insurance costs, have placed a heavy financial burden on poor aspiring college students.

“They’re being pushed down,” Seigel said.

The poor are not the only Jews experiencing financial hardships. The report said an ostensibly middle-class family of two working adults and three school-age children must earn $79,750 to cover living and Jewish community expenses, which include religious school, two weeks of day camp and one month of residential camp. Parents wanting to send their children to Jewish day school would have to come up with another $20,400 per year.

“There are significant numbers of Jews in Los Angeles who can’t make ends meet because of the high costs of living [here] and often find that the costs of Jewish affiliation is beyond their reach,” the report said.

Wal-Mart Stops Selling Hate


Bowing to mounting pressure from Jewish groups, Wal-Mart has decided to stop selling “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” at its Web site.
The Sept. 21 announcement by the world’s largest retailers came just days after the Simon Wiesenthal Center began publicizing that Wal-Mart recently began selling the anti-Semitic tract that has fomented hatred toward Jews for more than a century.

In a Sept. 8 letter, Wiesenthal Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said he found it difficult to believe that Wal-Mart would market such anti-Jewish propaganda in the post Sept. 11 world. Cooper asked Wal-Mart to immediately cease selling the forged document, penned by members of the Russian czar’s secret police claiming that Jews want to take over the world
Wal-Mart initially seemed defiant, releasing a Sept. 21 statement saying it responded to consumers’ preferences by providing a large selection of books at low prices. Wal-Mart’s Website also suggested the Protocols might be genuine.
If valid, “it might cause some of us to keep a wary eye on world affairs,” the site said. “We neither support nor deny its message, we simply make it available for those who wish a copy.”

Later that day, Wal-Mart reversed itself after receiving calls from Jewish organizations and Jewish journalists penning stories on the controversy.
“Based on significant feedback … we made a business decision to remove this book,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Amy Colella said in a release.

Prior to Wal-Mart’s decision, several local nonprofit executives criticized the retailer’s judgment. Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney of the ACLU of Southern California, said he found it odd that Wal-Mart refused to carry Maxim, Stuff and other “racy” magazines but sold “Protocols.”

“Wal-Mart is basically saying that a disproved anti-Semitic tract is more consistent with the image it wants to convey to the public than magazines with scantily clad celebrities in bikinis,” he said.

Several booksellers carry “Protocols,” including online retailers amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Borders.com and buy.com. The Barnes & Noble site carries a statement by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) debunking the tract. Amazon, which also features the ADL position, goes further, calling the book “one of the most infamous, and tragically influential examples of racist propaganda ever written.”

Is FBI Watching Other Groups?


New twists and turns in the case of alleged wrongdoing by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have left many in the Jewish community baffled.

A week after allegations first broke suggesting that AIPAC was involved in the exchange of classified information from the Pentagon to Israeli officials, new reports suggest FBI investigators have been monitoring the pro-Israel lobby for more than two years.

The first question many in the Jewish community are asking is, "Why?"

"We’re pitching in the dark," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "We haven’t seen a shred of evidence."

Much remains unknown about the origins of the investigation, hurting Jewish groups’ ability to respond and defend one of the most prominent organizations in the community.

While they work to exonerate AIPAC in the public eye, Jewish leaders say they also must make sure the issue won’t affect the way they do business. Groups worry that they, too, could be targeted for investigation or left to deal with potentially changed perceptions of the organized American Jewish community.

Jewish leaders said talks are ongoing as to new ways to defend AIPAC and the Jewish community in both public and private contexts.

Quietly, there is deep concern in Jewish circles about the effect the investigation will have, no matter how it plays out, on Jewish groups’ ability to function. With the summer ending and many people in Washington returning to work, the next few weeks will be an important test for how the organized Jewish community is perceived in the capital.

"It really has done a considerable amount of harm, no matter what the outcome is," said Barry Jacobs, director of strategic studies at the American Jewish Committee.

Chief among the concerns is whether other Jewish entities might be under investigation without their knowledge, or are being monitored in relation to this case.

"If they are watching AIPAC, how many other Jewish organizations are they watching as well?" asked Tom Neumann, executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).

Confident they have nothing to hide, Jewish leaders say they won’t change the way they do business. But the case could serve as a guide to reinforce to Jewish officials the need to play by the rules on security matters.

Beyond security concerns, Jewish leaders worry that now they may be seen differently when they walk into a room with governmental officials or people unfamiliar with different groups in the community.

"They don’t necessarily know the difference between AIPAC and JCPA and the federations," said Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Congressional officials say they’ll take a wait-and-see approach toward AIPAC, but are skeptical about the investigation. One Democratic congressional aide said if the issue under scrutiny was a policy discussion about Iran, as has been reported, the line between legal and illegal dialogue is pretty thin.

Publicly, Jewish leaders remain solidly behind AIPAC. Several Jewish organizations have released statements supporting the work AIPAC has done over the years, and most others have expressed similar thoughts when asked by reporters.

AIPAC is one of the best-known Jewish organizations in the country, respected for its strong ties to government officials, especially members of Congress. While some Jewish groups resent AIPAC’s ability to set the Jewish community’s agenda on Middle East matters, or don’t always agree with its tactics, there is strong sentiment that any negative attention for AIPAC will hurt all Jewish groups’ efforts.

Some Jewish leaders say the initial feeling in the community was that it was better not to speak out — not because of a lack of support for AIPAC but in hopes of minimizing media coverage of the story. But now that more than 300 articles already have been written on the issue in American newspapers, that thinking has changed.

Jewish leaders now are minimizing the investigation, suggesting it can’t be of real merit because it has been going on for two years without arrests. They also note that if there were merit to the case it’s unlikely that President Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice would have addressed the group after the investigation was launched. Rice reportedly was aware of the investigation.

If the FBI is pursuing an intelligence investigation, as is believed, and not a criminal investigation, it’s hard to know what launched it. The guidelines for that type of investigation are classified, a former senior FBI official said.

He said it would be normal for the investigation to go on for a long time without arrests, though it would have be to reviewed and adjudicated internally at the FBI or Justice Department.

"AIPAC is not a soft target," the official said. "To launch an investigation against AIPAC, you are going to have to have some credible information to go with it."

Once an investigation is launched, its direction can be tailored by people who might be out to prove — because of bias or in the interest of catching a big fish — that AIPAC acted illegally, Jewish leaders said.

There also is concern that the saga may not have a succinct end.

It may be difficult to learn when the investigation into AIPAC is completed, if no charges are filed, and its exact origins — information Jewish leaders say would be useful in clearing the name of AIPAC and the community in general.

"I don’t think there is a great deal of trust in an investigation in this political climate," said Rosenthal of the JCPA. "I hope we find out the facts and find out why someone would start this story."

For now, theories abound. Some suggest anti-Semitic or anti-Israel entities within the government are propelling the investigation forward or leaking it to the media. Others suggest that opponents of the war in Iraq are trying to tie some of its key architects — so-called "neoconservatives" in the Pentagon — to Israel and to possible dual loyalties.

AIPAC is hoping to weather the storm by proving its strength as an organization. In an appeal to contributors Tuesday, AIPAC leaders said decisionmakers in Washington will look at AIPAC’s financial strength to gauge its overall viability.

"We cannot abide any suggestion that American citizens should be perceived as being involved in illegal activities simply for seeking to participate in the decisions of their elected leaders, or the officials who work for them," read the letter, signed by AIPAC’s president, Bernice Manocherian, and executive director, Howard Kohr. "That is our right as citizens of the greatest democracy in the history of mankind. That is a right we will proudly exercise. That is a right we will staunchly defend."

Ethnic Cleansing in Sudan Is Still Genocide


As early as March of this year, humanitarian organizations were issuing warnings of ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Sudan. For a long time these warnings continued to be ignored by most of the mainstream and Jewish media, and Americans remain virtually unaware of the atrocities occurring there. Are we Jews to do nothing when we know better?

While most of the media and our elected officials have been ignoring the world’s largest humanitarian crisis today, African tribal farmers in Darfur, Sudan, have been displaced, murdered, raped, tortured, starved and kidnapped by Sudanese government-backed militias known as Janjaweed whose sole purpose is to rid the region of its black population.

As Jews, we have an increased moral obligation to respond, to speak out and take action against ethnic cleansing regardless of the ethnicity, race or religion of the people being victimized. Such lessons we learned only too well from the Holocaust. Furthermore, Leviticus teaches, “Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of your neighbors.” Jerry Fowler, director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience recently returned from the region and described its horrors, and the Committee has issued its second ever genocide warning (www.ushmm.org/conscience).

Currently, the United States government is pondering whether or not to label the Darfur atrocities as genocide. While our government contemplates the political ramifications of the accusation of genocide, villages are being razed; women and girls are systematically raped and branded; men and children are brutally slaughtered. Murdered children and livestock have been thrown in wells to deliberately poison water supplies. Damns have been blown-up, water pumps destroyed, schools, houses, clinics and even mosques burned, though the perpetrators, like their victims, are Muslim.

The purpose is to drive the ethnic Africans from the region. The brutal violence has resulted in over 30,000 deaths and the displacement of as many as two million Darfurians. An estimated 200,000 refugees have crossed the border into Chad, and only in the past few weeks have humanitarian agencies had access to limited portions of the affected region.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) estimates that a minimum of 350,000 people will die even if humanitarian aid reaches the affected populations. As many as a million people could die if aid is withheld or unavailable.

The world avoided using the word “genocide” when 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Our government avoided using the term in Rwanda 10 years ago when 800,000 people of the Tutsi minority were slaughtered in 100 days by their government. Are we to repeat history or make it?

American Jews responded in Bosnia; we must respond in Sudan. We can prevent these atrocities from occurring and we can prevent a million people from dying.

The Jewish response is growing. Since April, American Jewish World Service has been providing essential humanitarian services to many of the affected populations in Darfur and Chad. The Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, an umbrella coalition comprised of 45 national Jewish organizations, has asked each member organization to urge their constituents to act (www.jcdr.org). The Reform Movement, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Anti- Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and Jewish Council on Public Affairs have all issued statements.

And there is renewed hope this week in increased action as members of Congress begin to respond as a result of these pleas, and Secretary of State Colin Powell and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan visit the region.

As Jews who know firsthand the consequences of silence from the international community, we must do all that we can to prevent or stop deliberate attempts to annihilate any people. We must respond with aid and advocacy, both of which can be addressed quickly and efficiently through the American Jewish World Service Web site: www.ajws.org.

So call it what you want — genocide, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity — but do respond while there is still time to save as many lives as we can.


Ruth W. Messinger is the president of American Jewish World Service, an international development and emergency relief organization.

Congress Weighs Nonprofit Security


These days, U.S. airports, federal buildings and transportation hubs are protected by surveillance and armed guards. But what about everything else? What about the cash-strapped nonprofits like temples, schools and community centers whose ethnicity or religious affiliation might make them a potential target?

Some federal legislators have expressed concern that these so-called "soft targets" are going to need extra protection.

The High Risk Nonprofit Security Enhancement Act of 2004 currently before Congress would allocate $100 million in grants and up to $250 million in government-guaranteed loans for security improvements to nonprofit organizations in 2005, with similar amounts in 2006 and 2007, along with $50 million in grants to law enforcement.

The $350 million in assistance to nonprofits would pay for security firms to install better infrastructure, such as concrete barriers, metal detectors and video cameras, and to provide expert training for the nonprofits’ staff on operating the equipment.

"Any time [the nation goes] to Orange Alert, we hear estimates that in large urban areas like Los Angeles it can cost law enforcement up to a million dollars [per] day to comply with the additional security requirements," said Julia Massimino, spokeswoman for Rep. Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood), one of the local co-sponsors of the House bill. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) is also a co-sponsor.

With law enforcement unable to simultaneously patrol all possible threat sites, the hope is that nonprofits would be able to better defend themselves by using the funds for technological improvements.

The pool of nonprofits that would be eligible for the funds is anticipated to be quite large. It would ultimately be determined by the Homeland Security secretary.

The bill pointedly does not provide funds for nonprofits to purchase any improvement that "would … [be] reasonably necessary due to nonterrorist threats." However, making that distinction could prove complicated in some cases.

Threats or prior violence directed against an organization by terrorists would be a factor in a decision on eligibility, as would having high "symbolic value" as a target or other information that the secretary would choose to accept.

"It is subjective," said Robyn Judelson, United Jewish Communities public affairs director, one of the most ardent supporters of the bill. "It will be up to the secretary of Homeland Security to determine how far to draw the net. As times change, what may be a high risk today may not be the case in a few months or [vice versa]. We wanted the funds to be there for the secretary to make that decision."

"Nonprofits protect our health [and the] social, religious and educational services provided to Americans, and we have to do what we can to protect them in a different way than is set up in for-profit [organizations] or airplanes," Judelson said of the special needs facing nonprofits.

Because of the U.S. economic problems of the past few years, grants and donations for nonprofits have been steadily drying up, making extra expenditures on security difficult.

David Rosenberg, a local security consultant with The Centurion Group, a subsidiary of Centurion Security Inc., noted that over half of his clients are nonprofit organizations conceivably at risk from international terrorism.

"Anything that’s happening globally affects us on a local level," Rosenberg explained. "There was the firebombing of a Jewish day school in Montreal recently, [and] that immediately affected our local clients, and we will step up our security."

He noted, however, that the biggest spike in demand for security services among Los Angeles-area nonprofits came after the North Valley Jewish Community Center shooting in August 1999, rather than after Sept. 11.

"You have to be prepared for anything from an earthquake to a terrorist attack, because there’s no way of knowing," Rosenberg said. "I personally am more concerned about domestic terrorism than international terrorism."

While home-grown violence may be far more common than international attacks, the bill before Congress is not designed to combat it. The security enhancements the bill would provide, however, may nevertheless do so as an unintended consequence.

Perhaps a more fundamental gap in the legislation is a lack of money specifically earmarked for salaries of hired guards who are not existing employees of a nonprofit organization.

"I’m a big advocate of using video cameras, but who’s watching the screen? Everybody who works in a synagogue, for example, is responsible for security, but you [still] want at least one specialist at the location who can respond to whatever emergency arises," Rosenberg said of the limitations of training a nonprofit’s existing staff.

"[For example,] who’s going to operate the metal detectors? And if you find a weapon on somebody, who’s going to ensure that that person doesn’t get inside the structure? I can’t imagine somebody who’s a security professional saying all you need is environmental changes — that’s a wild thought," Rosenberg said.

There is wide agreement, however, that nonprofits do need more protection than they currently have, and infrastructure enhancements are one step in that direction.

The House bill making its way through the Judiciary Committee has 21 co-sponsors. The identical Senate version has eight co-sponsors in the Governmental Affairs Committee. Little overt opposition to the bill has materialized.

"Everybody’s having a difficult time financially, and that just trickles down to nonprofits," Rosenberg said. "Donations are down, but many synagogues have had to add additional security."

"We’re at a point now where it could be dangerous to practice your religion," he said. "It may be dangerous to give your children a Jewish education. So in order to exercise those freedoms, we’re going to have to put precautions in place."

Sorority Hopes to Join AEPhi Family


I’m sitting in Gina’s Pizza, the local hotspot for members of UC Irvine’s Greeks. The chatter gets progressively louder through the two hours I’m with Epsilon Phi’s in-coming and out-going presidents, Becca Wolfson and Melissa Scholten. The smell of greasy pizza and sub sandwiches hangs in the air. Fraternity brothers talk with food in their mouths. There is literally no room to walk. All the seats inside and on the patio are taken. Crowds of college kids stand to enjoy their slice.

What does it take for a group of Jewish girls to become part of this vertiginous secular sphere of social events?

A whole lot of chutzpah.

It’s not because they’re unwelcome — they are very welcome, indeed — it’s because they’re brand new.

The Greek system, to which the collective of fraternities and sororities at UCI are often referred, includes four main associations, under which about 30 fraternal organizations exist.

Sororities and fraternities provide for their members friendship, leadership, scholarship and service. Memberships in these associations are for a lifetime.

The young women of Epsilon Phi have been making themselves a presence on UCI’s campus since Jan. 9, 2003. Beginning with seven sisters, they have grown into a 26-member sorority, which hopes to someday soon have ties to national sorority Alpha Epsilon Phi.

Melissa, one of seven founders and last year’s chapter president, told me about forming the sorority: "I started asking people [at Hillel] why there wasn’t a Jewish sorority," she said, between bites of her sub sandwich. "The answer was no one had ever started one."

Melissa did her research and found a few national Jewish sororities. She felt Alpha Epsilon Phi had the strongest remaining ties to Judaism.

"Initially, I didn’t know which way to go — from the bottom up or the top down," she said, describing the formation of the chapter. "I wanted to do something that worked for right now. So we, the founders, decided to start a local chapter that would affiliate nationally later."

So Melissa and her six sisters founded the local Epsilon Phi, which is affiliated only with UC Irvine’s campus. They also joined the National Panhellenic Conference, a century-old, national collective of sororities, as an associate member.

Ashley Dye, Greek adviser at UCI, commends the women of Epsilon Phi on their decision to affiliate as an associate member.

"They’ve really connected with other sororities, learned a lot from them as well as met a lot of new people," Dye said. "Like every new group, they’ve had a lot of growing pains and challenges, but I think they’ve done a really good job."

As their chapter grows, the women of Epsilon Phi would like to merge with National Panhellenic sorority Alpha Epsilon Phi, which began in 1909 at Barnard College, at Columbia University in New York. There are more than 100 chapters of Alpha Epsilon Phi across the country, eight chapters in California at campuses including USC, UCLA and CSU Long Beach.

"Like all National Panhellenic Sororities, Alpha Epsilon Phi gives women the opportunity to develop skills, provides camaraderie and adds another dimension to their college experience that special interest clubs cannot provide," said Bonnie Wunsch, executive director of the national sorority.

In addition to swearing in a new president at their winter retreat, the sisters also made hamantaschen and held a havdallah service. Jewish traditions are integrated into the sorority, but it’s identity is not tied to the faith.

"[Alpha Epsilon Phi] is not a religious organization as such, but we give respect to the heritage and history of the founders," Wunsch said.

Founder Helen Phillips was especially instrumental in organizing the sorority. She had no mother, sisters or brothers, and was the only one of the founders that lived in Barnard’s dormitories. According to the sorority’s Web site, www.aephi.org, "It was [Helen’s] idea and her persistence more than anything else that brought Alpha Epsilon Phi into existence."

"The sorority accepts women of all religious and ethnic backgrounds, but it also is a place where Jewish women can come to feel at home," Wunsch said.

The young women of Epsilon Phi reached a major milestone during winter quarter at UCI. Their first elected chapter president, Becca, has taken leadership.

Becca was among the "Amazing Alpha" pledge class — the first group of girls to be recruited by the founders. Before taking the office of president in her chapter, she served as social chair, the coordinator of activities between her chapter and other sororities and

fraternities.

"It’s a huge transition, going from social chair and sunshine girl to president," she said. "But, as president, I know what the positions entail. It’s nice to know and have that experience."

Becca planned a cocktail party hosted by Epsilon Phi. Her sisters are also looking forward to spring quarter intramural sports to be played with other sororities.

As for recruiting new members? Word of mouth seems to be the most effective way.

As Becca, Melissa and I squeeze our way through the exit at Gina’s, they stop and say goodbye to a few fellow Greeks. In a crowd like this, word of mouth won’t be hard to come by.

The Silent Minority


If there had been any doubts that I was in another country, they were erased when the first reviews of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" began to appear in the London press.

While there was a mixture of praise and repugnance (just like the United States), with negative voices drowning out the affirmative ones, film critics and reviewers in London generally bypassed the Jews in their deconstruction of the film.

Missing in most of the reviews was any recognition of Jewish concerns — except, of course, in the pages of the Jewish Chronicle, the community’s local weekly newspaper, which devoted several issues to describing the responses of the editor, the columnists and the community: A terrible, inaccurate and anti-Semitic film, they argued. That community apparently is small enough to be hidden from view — 300,000 out of a population of 58 million with two-thirds living in greater London, and a large percentage of that number secular and unaffiliated. The end result is that Britain’s affiliated Jews are not a significant enough presence in society to merit concern. We are, to quote one Jewish community leader, simply invisible.

This has its ironic side today. Jews have made incredible strides within Britain over the past 40 years. Ever since Margaret Thatcher’s days as the Tory Prime Minister of Great Britain in the 1980s, Jews have taken on an active role in the British establishment: They figured prominently in Thatcher’s Cabinet, and began to play an increasingly significant role at the bar and the judiciary, as well as in publishing, science and the press. Today, to everyone’s astonishment (in the Jewish community) the leader of the Conservative Party and perhaps the next prime minister, Michael Howard, is Jewish; as is Michael Grade, the newly appointed director of the powerful BBC; while Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former foreign secretary who, after seven years away from politics, has returned and is expected to rejoin the Conservatives in Parliament. How invisible can that be?

The problem is that nothing comparable to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) or the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations or the Anti-Defamation League exists in Great Britain. There is little Jewish political clout. The organized Jewish community is represented by a Board of Deputies, which consists of synagogue and organizational leaders. But it is not a commanding lobby group with powerful ties to the political institutions of the nation.

Nor is there a sense within the national press and television stations that Jewish issues are part and parcel of the national political dialogue. When BBC 4 aired a television program that discussed in detail Jewish anxieties and criticism of Gibson’s "The Passion," the footage was filled with clips from the U.S. showing prominent American Jewish figures, such as Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, speaking out against the film. Indeed, one telling newspaper review featured a critic who explained that he took along a Jewish friend to the film’s screening, but then was baffled when the friend complained that some scenes were anti-Semitic. The reviewer did not like the film, but failed to understand how anyone could view it as directed against the Jews.

Perhaps that explains the intellectual attack that appeared in The Spectator, a conservative weekly opinion magazine.

"It’s not between Christians and Jews," critic Mark Steyn wrote, "but between believing Christians and the broader post-Christian culture."

What post-Christians wanted, he explained with a sly wink, was a wimpy Jesus who died so our sins could be licensed. Gibson’s film about Jesus the Redeemer was instead for those Christians who read the Bible as God’s word; for those "red meat" Christians who took the New Testament as the literal truth.

Many clergymen reserved cinema seats in advance and bought tickets for their congregations. Their hope was that the film would inject vitality into Christian worship and, in the process, bring people back to the church. They seemed unaware of Jewish fears and needs. In a limited way, some of their hopes were borne out. The film was a smash hit in England, breaking box office records — though nothing to compare with the commercial success in the United States.

There is a rueful lesson of sorts for me in all of this. I have felt, along with others, that at times American Jewish organizations have been strident on the issues of anti-Semitism, Israel and other Jewish fears. They have often helped foster a cultural identity based on victimization. The alternative in Great Britain appears to be inclusion and integration in place of a collective Jewish voice. The richness of a Jewish identity and cultural memory is there in England for those who choose affiliation — but it is not accompanied by a strong political presence. In the United States — for better or ill — we appear to have it both ways.


Gene Lichtenstein is the founding editor of The Jewish Journal.

Shuls, Day Schools Push for Security Aid


Should synagogues and Jewish day schools get federal tax dollars to help them beef up security to meet the rising terror threat?

That debate is playing out in congressional offices in Washington and communal boardrooms in New York as lawmakers begin work on a measure that would provide up to $100 million to help vulnerable nonprofit organizations cope with the expensive quest for security.

The issue raises thorny church-state and practical concerns. In addition, it represents a huge public relations challenge for the Jewish organizations that played a major role in the bill’s introduction.

The threat is real, and the money is needed, but it will take more than need to convince Congress, beset by budget woes that may leave many priorities underfunded, to sign on the dotted line.

For Jewish institutions, the threat is obvious. They are among the soft targets that U.S. intelligence officials say are on Al Qaeda’s hit list. In case anybody needed reminding, the apparent arson at a Montreal school punctuated the point.

As the war in Iraq gets messier and Islamic rage grows, there are indications that other terror groups could get in on the act, directing their demented armies of martyrs to U.S. cities. At the top of the list is Hezbollah, which has already demonstrated a willingness to go beyond the Middle East in seeking Jewish targets.

Jewish leaders face a staggering financial burden as anxious communities across the country struggle to meet the security challenge. With federal homeland security funding soaring, Washington was the obvious place to look. But that effort quickly produced the inevitable church-state debate.

Some Jewish groups worried that providing government payments to overtly religious groups like churches and synagogues would set a precedent that advocates of religious school funding would drive through with a truck. Strict church-state separationists also worried that funding for security upgrades would be challenged in court, providing a particularly unfavorable test case that could make it easier for a divided Supreme Court to rule in favor of direct funding for religious groups.

It’s one thing to bar funds for parochial school education, another to bar the money needed to protect houses of worship against suicide bombings. An unfavorable decision by the high court could transform the church-state debate in America, the separationists worried.

The separation issue was mostly solved when Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) worked out a compromise that would require the Department of Homeland Security to deal directly with contractors, so that no funds would go directly to religious groups. But the Senate bill was disrupted when a lead GOP sponsor, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kans.), balked at the church-state compromise.

Harder to deal with are some of the political and public relations issues.

For all the increase in homeland security funding, there are growing concerns that basic services, including first responders like police, fire and rescue departments, are still woefully underfunded.

Congress is facing mushrooming deficits exacerbated by the tremendous costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; overall, the level of funding for homeland security has not come near the level of pious rhetoric coming from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. There is growing conflict over how that money is allocated, as well, including disputes over the relative shares going to big cities and smaller communities.

How will the public react if Jewish day schools get money for closed-circuit cameras and additional police protection, while local fire departments complain that they still don’t have the money to buy hazardous materials suits and radiation detectors?

That isn’t to say that helping those institutions is inappropriate. But the fight for federal money for synagogues and other religious institutions will be difficult and fraught with complications. To avoid them, Jewish leaders will have to be at the forefront of efforts to expand the overall homeland security pie.

A homeland security drive that is seen as strictly self-serving will fail, both legislatively and in terms of community relations. If Jewish leaders want money for schools and synagogues, they’ll also have to be prominent in the fight for more money for local first responders.

Regardless of the outcome in Congress, Jewish institutions are going to have to do a much better job raising money through philanthropic channels. Assuming the $100 million is approved, hundreds of synagogues, Jewish centers and schools are likely to apply — and thousands of other vulnerable nonprofits, religious and nonreligious. In the end, the payout to each successful applicant is likely to be relatively small.

The hard question for Jewish leaders is this: Will those small sums justify the public perception of a prosperous Jewish community going to the federal government with palms extended, when police and fire departments say they are on a starvation diet?

But the stakes in the security race are enormous; it would be reckless for Jewish leaders to turn away from the possibility of even modest federal contributions to the effort.

It’s a tricky balancing act; to keep from falling, Jewish leaders will have to be smart, proactive and sensitive to the needs of the nation, not just a vulnerable Jewish community.

An Unkosher Affair


“Enjoy your dessert,” Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra Maestro Zubin Mehta told benefactors at a dinner following a performance at Disney Concert Hall last month, “although I’m sure it will be pareve.” Mehta assumed that after a meal serving meat, a non-dairy dessert would follow, according to the laws of kashrut.

“It’s not pareve!” someone called out from the audience.

“It’s not?” Mehta said.

Mehta might not have been so surprised if he had attended more Jewish functions in Los Angeles, where many Jewish organizations are inconsistent at making their official functions adhere to the laws of kashrut.

Just this week, at the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) luncheon for combating hate, held at the Skirball Cultural Center, a reporter was told the luncheon was kosher and later found out it might not have been.

To go kosher or not to go kosher — it doesn’t seem to be a major question for Jewish organizations here in Los Angeles.

While there are plenty of Jewish groups in the city that have a policy to only serve kosher food at their events — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jewish Home for the Aging, the Los Angles Hillel Council and American Red Magen David for Israel, to name a few — there are others whose policy regarding kosher is an irresolute one. The ADL, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, B’nai B’rith and Hadassah all say they endeavor to make the majority of their events kosher, but they will still hold events in venues that do not have kosher caterers and will not accommodate outside food being brought in. At such events these organizations serve dairy, or kosher-style food — in other words, no pork or shellfish, but nothing that a rabbi supervises.

Why not serve kosher at a Jewish event? Some organization leaders cite cost as a factor. In some venues, like the Millennium Biltmore Hotel where The Federation is going to be holding its “The Return to Passion: A Call to Action” young leadership conference this weekend, kosher food is available, but it costs significantly more than the kosher-style continental breakfast and lunch that the conference organizers chose to keep the cost down.

At the Skirball Center, events with rabbinical supervision, which need to be specially requested, cost $8 more per head. Nevertheless, these organizations will provide a strictly kosher meal at a non-kosher event if someone requests it.

Others cite venue as a factor. For example, country clubs — which are not kosher — do not allow outside catering.

Community leaders say that this inconsistent approach to kashrut marginalizes those who are strictly kosher.

“Serving ‘kosher style’ is like serving a Hindu a hamburger with an OU on it. It means absolutely nothing,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein of Project Next Step. While serving non-kosher food might be expedient or cost-effective, it also may backfire in the face of organizations that hope to attract and serve the entire Jewish community.

“I was seriously considering going to the ‘Return to Passion’ conference until someone told me that it was not going to be kosher,” said Yechiel Hoffman, 25, an entertainment consultant who lives in Pico-Robertson. “By not arranging kosher food to be available for the entire conference, The Federation is telling the Orthodox community that they are outside of Federation interests, that we are not their constituency. For a leadership conference, it is very sad that they seem to be saying that they don’t want our future leaders to come from the Orthodox community.”

Craig Prizant, the senior vice president for financial resource development at The Federation, said that The Federation tries to be inclusive.

“We always strive for our events to be kosher; we always try to be inclusive of everybody,” he said, “but those [events] that aren’t kosher are dairy.”

Many organizers of the events say that they have little incentive to change their policy and make everything kosher because their constituents do not demand it. In Los Angeles, some American Jewish Committee (AJC) events are kosher style, because that is all their constituents require. In New York, however, all AJC events are glatt kosher, because those members call for it.

In Los Angeles, spokespeople from B’nai B’rith and the ADL told The Journal that they would reconsider their kosher-style policy if enough people complained about it.

“We would hope that [our kashrut policy] would not prevent strictly kosher Jews from joining the ADL,” said Alison Mayersohn, associate director of the ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region. “But if kosher was becoming a consistent issue, then we would re-address our policy.”

Still, many say that for Jewish organizations to be truly inclusive, kosher needs to be a necessity, not an adjunct.

“If you go to these [nonkosher] events and receive a different meal, you feel like a second-class citizen, an afterthought,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City. “There are many Jews who keep kosher and they are not all strictly Orthodox-observant Jews, and you are excluding them as soon as you serve nonkosher. You are making a statement that the dietary laws of our faith are not important.

“I promote and encourage [my congregants] to be totally committed and involved with the [wider] community,” he continued. “But if the community doesn’t want to accommodate them — then what should they do? Not everyone can eat nonkosher, but everyone can eat kosher.”

Pressure on Aiding Ethiopians Grows


Increased pressure from officials of American Jewish organizations is driving preliminary talks on a new deal to bring thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel before famine takes a heavy toll on the community remaining in Ethiopia.

Coming on the eve of a federation-sponsored trip to Ethiopia, federation leaders, advocates for Ethiopian Jews, representatives of Jewish humanitarian groups and Israeli government officials met recently in Jerusalem to discuss new ways of expediting the emigration process for thousands of Falash Mura left in Ethiopia. The Falash Mura are Ethiopians whose Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity, often under social pressure, but who have resumed practicing Judaism and whose Jewishness is accepted by all three major Jewish religious denominations, including Israel’s chief rabbinate.

Critics of deals to bring the Falash Mura to Israel charge that many of those left in Ethiopia are claiming Jewish ancestry merely to escape the famine and hardship of Africa.

In a landmark decision last February, Israel’s Cabinet voted to immediately verify the Jewish ancestry of approximately 19,000 Falash Mura so that they could be brought to Israel. Since 1998, Israel has absorbed about 2,500 Falash Mura immigrants annually.

In the months since the Cabinet decision, however, little action has been taken, and the verification process has stalled, prompting advocates for Ethiopian Jewry to blame Israel Interior Minister Avraham Poraz for foot- dragging. Poraz, who is responsible for implementing the Cabinet decision, declined to comment on the issue.

At the heart of the debate is the exact number of Falash Mura left in Ethiopia and the cost to Israel of absorbing the immigrants.

Participants said the closed-door meeting in Jerusalem on Oct. 23 was the first time an agreement was proposed with the potential to satisfy both skeptical Israeli officials like Poraz — who fear that bringing the Falash Mura to Israel will open the floodgates to an unknown number of Ethiopian immigrants with dubious claims to Jewish ancestry — and Jewish activists seeking to rescue Ethiopian Jews from famine and bring them to the Jewish homeland.

"At the meeting, a proposal was brought to the table that reasonable people believe should satisfy all reasonable objections to the issue," said one participant, who asked not to be identified. That view was confirmed by other participants of the meeting, most of whom refused to comment publicly about the discussions.

The preliminary proposal raised at the meeting would involve expediting the Falash Mura emigration, while guaranteeing that no more than those already accounted for are allowed to come to Israel under the process. U.S. Jewish groups would help bankroll the Falash Mura’s absorption in Israel, and the Jewish humanitarian groups working in Ethiopia would shut down operations there.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), one of only two Jewish groups running relief operations in Ethiopia, said it would welcome such a deal.

"We would be happy to close down if the Falash Mura issue were resolved," said Amir Shaviv, JDC assistant executive vice president. "We’re there to maintain medical services. If these people were to go to Israel, we wouldn’t need to be there anymore."

The exact details of the proposed agreement have yet to be worked out, and it remains to be seen how quickly a deal could be implemented or whether, in fact, there exists sufficient political will to see a deal through. Until a deal is worked out to enforce the Cabinet decision, Ethiopia advocates said, the risks of death and disease for the thousands remaining in Ethiopia are growing.

"The Falash Mura have always lived in the most deplorable of conditions, and now there is famine and a malaria epidemic, which is probably the most virulent in history," said Ricki Lieberman, chief operating officer and director of public affairs at the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ).

"I hope that all of these factors are coming together to make the Israeli government understand that it must act effectively and quickly, and that the American Jewish community must help NACOEJ feed and help this community stay alive until they can get to Israel," she said.

The conference helps run relief compounds for the Falash Mura in Addis Ababa and Gondar. The group provides food and Jewish education at the compounds, and the JDC provides medical care and nutritional support for children. The groups do not provide the Falash Mura — most of whom came to the cities from remote villages in hopes of emigrating to Israel — with housing.

In Israel, advocates for the Ethiopians are pursuing legal action to force Poraz to accelerate the emigration process. But the prospect of an agreement raised at the recent meeting between Poraz, Jewish humanitarian groups working in Ethiopia and U.S. federation leaders could render such a move superfluous.

Those at the Oct. 23 meeting included Poraz; Stephen Hoffman, the president of the United Jewish Communities (UJC) federation umbrella group; Sallai Meridor, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel; and Shai Hermesh, the group’s treasurer; NACOEJ officials; representatives of the New York and Philadelphia Jewish federations; JDC representatives; and others.

Participants said the meeting was convened at the request of Hoffman, who is facing pressure from Jewish federations to push Israeli officials on the issue. Hoffman declined to comment for this story.

"The federation world is trying to push UJC to advocate on behalf of the Falash Mura," said Sheryl Fox Adler, director of Israel and other international concerns at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. "When the famine really started to take hold in Ethiopia, many in our community became concerned."

Some U.S. federation leaders are planning to visit Ethiopia on a fact-finding mission this month. Observers said the heightened interest by American Jewish federation leaders on the Falash Mura is helping propel action by the Israeli government — and, specifically, by Poraz.

"Now he’s not facing a fringe group like NACOEJ but the weight of the American Jewish community," said one participant in the Oct. 23 meeting. "That’s a sea change. That was not the case before this meeting."

Earlier this year, several U.S. congressmen admonished Poraz on the issue, including Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).

When 4,000 Falash Mura were brought to Israel in 1998, many officials thought they constituted the last group of Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia, said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and a board member of the Jewish Agency and the JDC. Eckstein attended the Oct. 23 meeting. However, another 14,000 people turned up at the compounds in Addis Ababa and Gondar, and the Jewish relief operations in Ethiopia continued.

In 1999, government surveyors counted 26,000 people served by the compounds, but a few thousand have since emigrated to Israel. Estimates of the number of Falash Mura left in Ethiopia range from 15,000 to 24,000, with about 19,000 at the compounds.

February’s Cabinet decision followed rulings by leading Israeli rabbis that the Falash Mura are Jewish. It called for bringing the Falash Mura to Israel not under the Law of Return — which grants automatic citizenship to Jews, their children and grandchildren — but under the seldom-used Law of Entry, which has been used to grant citizenship to foreigners for humanitarian reasons and family reunification. That move enabled Israel to impose a requirement on the would-be immigrants to prove maternal linkage to Jewish ancestry; hence the need to verify their claims of Jewishness.

The Finance Ministry estimated that it costs $100,000 to absorb each Ethiopian immigrant, meaning that it would cost more than $2 billion to absorb all the Falash Mura currently at the compounds in Ethiopia. Shlomo Molla, a Jewish Agency consultant on Ethiopian immigration, said the estimated costs are highly inflated. Others say the figure is closer to $25,000 per immigrant.

In any case, advocates said, the cost would be borne over many years, U.S. Jewish groups would offer assistance and Israel has enough money, even with its current recession, to absorb the immigrants.

"It’s not a question of money," Eckstein said. "If these people are brought, the government certainly is going to look to groups like the UJC and the worldwide Jewish community for assistance."

Irwin Cotler, a member of Canada’s Parliament and a long-time legal adviser to Ethiopian Jews, was at the Oct. 23 meeting. He said the question at stake is, "Will it happen through an agreement now to bring them with all deliberate speed, or only after another series of court cases, and more people die and more kids are undernourished. That is the moral choice before us."

Prepping Campuses for Anti-Israel Surge


When Ross Neihaus exited his chemistry class three days after the start of UCLA’s fall quarter, he saw the words “Anti-Zionist and Proud” scrawled in chalk on the wall of an adjacent building. Such a statement coming so early in the quarter was a surprise to the fourth-year biology major, but not a shock.

“I expect this to be my toughest year in college,” said Neihaus, the president of Bruins for Israel, UCLA’s pro-Israel group. “We are concerned that what will be said this year will be nastier, more radical and essentially more anti-Semitic.”

Like Neihaus, many pro-Israel students and organizations are bracing themselves for a torrent of anti-Israel activity this year. While the war in Iraq brought a lessening of anti-Israel rhetoric on campus during the 2002-2003 school year, many experts believe that the anti-Israel movement will gain momentum during 2003-2004.

“This year, a confluence of political dynamics and an escalation of violence in and around Israel will set parameters for a tremendous upsurge of anti-Israel campus activity,” said Jonathan Kessler, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee leadership development director, during a Sept. 11 briefing.

Pro-Israel campus organizations are taking precautionary measures and making sure that students are prepared.

Many Jewish organizations are focusing on education as their primary weapon in the battle on campus. While positive Israel programming, such as Israel Week, was last year’s tactic of choice, Jewish organizations speculate that students will need to address some difficult and complex questions this year.

The Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) brought Natan Sharansky, Israel’s minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs, to speak at 13 East Coast campuses in September to debunk myths that Israel is a violator of human rights. (Sharansky is scheduled to appear at West Coast campuses in the near future.)

“It’s difficult for Jewish students and people who are involved in organizations that promote human rights to hear allegations made against Israel and not know how the respond,” ICC Director Wayne Firestone said.

Locally, the pro-Israel grass-roots organization StandWithUs launched two campaigns to provide students with accurate information. The first, United For Freedom (united4freedom.com), is a multicultural panel of speakers that tours campuses speaking about Israel from different perspectives. The second, Stand4fact.org, which is expected to launch this semester, is a Web site that looks at speeches given by anti-Israel speakers and deconstructs them with facts.

StandWithUs is also planning an advocacy conference on Nov. 16 in partnership with the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles to teach students how to respond to anti-Israel activity.

“It’s just not enough anymore for students to say ‘I’m Jewish and I’m proud of Israel,’ because it’s hard to feel that way in the current campus climate without knowing the facts,” said Esther Renzer, president of StandWithUs. “Students need content material to fight this battle.”&’9;

In addition to educating students locally, many Jewish organizations plan to encourage the education of students in Israel.

Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life will launch a pilot leadership mission to Israel in December that will focus on 360 students chosen from across the country who have been to the Jewish state previously.

The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles also plans to send local students on a leadership mission to Israel in December.

While education is the main push, the proactive activities of last year have not completely gone out of style. In fact, students at Rutgers University Hillel chose to respond to the third annual National Student Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement, originally scheduled to take place on their campus this month. Named Israel Inspires, the campaign is a yearlong effort to “show that Israel is more than just politics and conflict,” but rather “the land and the people who inspire it all the time”

Since Hillel students began planning their campaign, however, the pro-Palestinian conference has been making headlines across the country, ever since New Jersey Solidarity, the original host of the conference, branched off to form their own conference at Rutgers — a split that some believe is due to the fact that New Jersey Solidarity is too militant for the Palestine Solidarity Movement.

In the meantime, the Ohio State University Committee for Justice in Palestine offered to host the national conference on their campus while New Jersey Solidarity held their conference at Rutgers from Oct. 9-12, even though university administrators canceled the conference claiming that organizers had missed a paperwork deadline. Despite the controversy, Israel Inspires kicked off their campaign with a rally of pro-Israel speakers, live music and free food from Oct. 9-12.

Locally, student campus groups plan to continue doing positive Israel programming as well. Both UCLA’s Bruins for Israel and USC’s SC Students for Israel are planning Israel Weeks in an effort to start school off on a pro-Israel tone and make Jewish students feel at home.

“We want to make people feel good about Israel before they experience what I think is going to happen the rest of the year,” Neihaus said.

Should We Shun 80 Million Friends of Israel?


One of the more unusual characters in Jewish literature appears in the Book of Esther. The palace guard Charbonah originally plays a part inHaman’s conspiracy to slaughter the Jews and dispossess 0them of their property. But somewhere along the way, he experiences a change of heart, turns double agent and informs on his co-conspirators.

We remember Charbonah today in a piyut (prayer) as a man to be remembered for his righteousness. Rav Joseph Soloveitchik explains that Charbonah deserves his status, because even those with initially suspect intentions can produce good deeds.

What the great rabbi might also have added is that in times of grave crisis, the Jewish people must accept help whenever it is offered. For many years, the Jews inclined toward causes natural to our temperament, forming alliances with American blacks, environmentalists and human rights groups.

But has there been a payback? When Jews felt their own cherished causes under assault, have the groups we once joined in a spirit of brotherhood responded in kind?

The record is not comforting. Black leaders, such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have used their platforms to launch ugly attacks against Jews and Israel. The Democratic left has been less than enthusiastic in its support of Israel over the past two and half years, and its record in Congress is nothing if not middling.

Human rights groups regularly castigate Israel but pay scant attention to the deplorable state of human rights in the countries ringing Israel. The recent humiliation suffered by Michael Lerner — a doyen of the Jewish far left — who was prohibited from addressing an anti-war demonstration in San Francisico, because of his pro-Israel leanings, represents only the tip of a very real and deep-seated anti-Semitism in radical circles.

Conversely, it has been the Christian right that has proven itself to be in the vanguard of protecting Jewish interests. The outpouring of support for Israel from the Christian right has been extraordinary. Yet a constant stream of warnings issued within our own community cautions us to avoid these same Christians, because of an agenda that is unconnected to Israel’s welfare.

That proselytism is an item on the Christian right’s agenda is something no one in the evangelical Christian community denies. Certainly, we cannot and will not tolerate missionaries in our communities attempting to convert our youth. This must be made clear.

But does it mean we turn our backs on 70 million to 80 million Americans whose commitment to Israel’s survival is not only unimpeachable but vital to its welfare? These representatives of the American right, after all, form the core constituency of the most favorable American administration Israel has ever experienced.

This was clearly demonstrated on April 15, 2002, the day 200,000 people descended on Washington in a display of overwhelming support for Israel. Among those multitudes were thousands of Black Christians from the East Coast, white Christians from the South and evangelical Christians from the West. All came voluntarily. All paid for their own transportation.

The failure of the Jewish community to embrace the Christian right is all the more troubling when we remember the great lengths we have gone to cultivate such organizations as the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Muslim Alliance, Muslims whom we convinced ourselves were moderates. It has been a grave disappointment.

Instead of vigorously condemning suicide bombings and terrorism, both groups have become apologists for these acts of base inhumanity. Even more troubling is evidence provided by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations showing that 80 percent of the mosques in this country are controlled by the Wahaabi sect – most of which receive direct financial support from Saudi Arabia.

Christians all over the world are feeling the same brunt of radical Islam. In the Sudan, Lebanon, Indonesia and in the historical heartland of Christianity itself, murder, arson, rape and intimidation are the tools used by Islamists to eradicate or ethnic cleanse Christian communities that have, in many cases, lived side by side with Muslim communities for 1,000 years.

Isn’t it now then appropriate to be asking the question why we give legitimacy to those groups which don’t deserve our support and shun those that do?

Have we forgotten that among the hundreds of delegates at the first Zionist Congresses at the turn of the 20th century were dozens of evangelical Christians, including major philanthropists and well-known politicians? Have we forgotten how British Protestant evangelicalism and the 19th century activism of such men as Lord Shaftesbury and Sir Laurence Oliphant combined to drive the eventual promulgation of Britain’s Balfour Declaration in 1917?

We should never forget that during our long history, men and women whom we once suspected as adversaries often transformed into allies and even into trusted partners. We are too few in number and have too many enemies to reject a hand offered in friendship. When we recognize that the owner of that hand must also endure the same struggles and ordeals as ourselves, there should no longer be any doubt in our minds.


Rabbi Steven A. Weil is the senior rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies in Los Angeles

Revitalizing the Core


We live in an extraordinarily diverse and pluralistic city. It is in our Jewish DNA to want to participate in making the world a better place. It is also in our self-interest to live in a place where the societal needs are being adequately addressed. That is why The Jewish Federation must aggressively reposition itself as a compelling player in the field of community relations with a strong Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC). To do so at a time when financial resources are limited is a challenge, but it is certainly doable if we tap into the abundant creative energy in our community.

The Federation is committed to a strong and vibrant JCRC.

Engaging residents of our community to impact the "urban agenda" is the objective. But the agenda of the organized Jewish community must be redefined in a thoughtful, targeted and strategic way to successfully mobilize human resources beyond the core of active, identified Jews. This important core must be supplemented with participation from the scores of involved, but often assimilated Jews. The opportunities for leveraging individuals who burn with a passion for tikkun olam (healing the world) is not only possible but necessary.

Last week we began to engage people about what a future JCRC will look like.

The Federation will work to build a community relations agenda that enhances the decades of intergroup and interfaith activity that has made the JCRC so vital an institution to the organized Jewish community. It is a portal through which Jews will walk if they feel it can make a difference. Thus, it is vital for the JCRC to become a more active outlet for a broader group of volunteers.

The JCRC has a base of strength from which to grow. KOREH L.A., the Jewish response to illiteracy, is a magnificent example of volunteer action. With the continuing generosity of the Winnick Family Foundation, KOREH L.A. has become the largest volunteer children’s literacy project of its type in Los Angeles, helping children in our public schools learn to read. Through the support of the Jewish Community Foundation, The Holy Land Democracy Project is working with children in Catholic schools to educate them about Israel.

So why stop there? Let’s consider a range of other programs directed at children in schools. This would provide a compelling example of the Jewish community’s engagement in an area of concern to all. We can, with planning and action, build extraordinary bridges to the Latino and other ethnic communities around issues of this type.

The extraordinary government-relations work of the Los Angeles JCRC in Washington, D.C., and in Sacramento has led to the granting of funds for California’s first Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), has staved off Medi-Cal cuts for some of our local agencies’ critical programs and has led to the adoption of stronger hate crime legislation.

Beyond the critical service we provide in maintaining public support for essential programs of our agencies, we can engage these agencies in the creation of the new JCRC agenda.

Jewish Angelenos participate in disproportionate numbers as leaders in organizations addressing public education, health, welfare and even the environment. Our goal is to engage these activists so that they see that the JCRC is relevant to their interests. We live in a place where people do not always communicate or cooperate with others who care deeply about the same societal goals. The JCRC must reach out to a broader base of influential Jews to exchange ideas, successes and failures and to strategize about the communal urban agenda.

Where are the opportunities to engage more volunteers? Virtually every synagogue has a social action committee. Let’s create a mechanism to tap into these powerhouses. And how about a plan to take the younger leaders of our community and broaden their involvement? The College Campus Initiative, a collaboration of the JCRC, Hillel and the Shalom Nature Institute, provides college students on seven local college campuses with exciting social action opportunities, as well as training in Israel advocacy. The New Leaders Project gives Jewish young professionals an opportunity to learn about the broader Los Angeles community and to develop leadership skills. These are great examples of the good works of the JCRC. Let’s figure out the tactics to use the graduates of these training programs to be the leaders of the JCRC today.

Last week we met with members of the JCRC to discuss its future. They reminded us of the proud history of JCRC in protecting our interests and serving as the leading framework for the voice of Los Angeles Jewry to the broader community. The opportunities to once again revitalize and expand with meaningful action exist. The recent work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force of this Federation recognizes the need to narrow the focus of our activities in order to ensure impact, while bringing resources to those activities. Let’s make the urban agenda of this organization the centerpiece of the new JCRC. And let’s create a positive force for substantive action. I believe that the resources to implement that force, human and financial, will be a communal priority.


John Fishel is president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

A Voice of Democracy Where None Exists


Tashbih Sayyed believes in democracy as a way of life. He can be counted among the few Muslims in America who believe that modernism, free-thinking and education are keys to rid Muslims from the morass of extremism.

Sayyed was the keynote speaker at a two-hour discussion on the Middle East crisis during a July 27 Laguna Beach Havurah gathering at a private residence in Monarch Bay.

The discussion, organized by Rabbi Stuart Altshuler, head of Congregation Eilat in Mission Viejo, explored ideas and exchanged views on how to tackle the growing fanaticism in Islam and how to alert the Muslim world that their biggest enemies — imams and emirs — lie within.

“I have to challenge the enemy of Muslims, the enemy of Islam, who is also the enemy of Israel and enemy of [the] USA,” said Sayyed, who once served in Pakistan’s government and is now editor of Pakistan Today.

Sayyed also blamed the United States and its Western partners for installing corrupt dictators in the Islamic world and giving them billions of dollars in aid.

Due to a lack of education and social services in the Middle East, according to Sayyed, Arab and Muslims are trying to qualify for eternity by doing what they determined to be God’s work, which is to make war on those who ignore or question divine authority.

For extremists it is not about killing Jews per se, but a means to purchase a heaven filled with women, he said.

Sayyed, who has been harassed and threatened by fellow Muslims, spoke out vehemently against some Islamic rights organizations in the United States. He said such organizations — many of which are funded with Saudi money — should be banned.

He also said the time had come for the United States to be vigilant at mosques and other Islamic institutions where Saudi-funded literature is being distributed and Saudi Arabia’s Whabisim is spread, in the name of Islam, to the mostly peaceful and educated North American Muslim community.

Sayyed also said he strongly opposes the creation of a separate homeland for Palestinians, saying that another Islamic state is not going to help Muslims, Islam and the world when so many other Islamic countries are already failing to do good. He said he feels this way not out of favoritism for the Jewish state, but because a Palestinian nation is just not ready for a separate country.

It will just be another state on the world map, spreading the message of hate, he said.

Sayyed added that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who can easily pass as a personal stenographer of Yasser Arafat, could hardly be an example of leadership and that the world was just wasting time dealing with him. However, Sayyed couldn’t elaborate on whom among Palestinians to deal with.

For more information about Tashbih Sayyed, e-mail Rabbi
Stuart Altshuler at eilatrabbi@yahoo.com .

Sharon’s Dilemma: Which Peace Move?


It has become a familiar equation: Hope for progress toward peace leads not to a drop in Palestinian terror attacks but to their acceleration. Throughout the 1990s, Palestinian terrorists often tried to sabotage the peace process by stepping up their attacks whenever progress seemed likely.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon finds himself in a quandary: Does he halt recent momentum toward peace talks until the new Palestinian Authority prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, proves that he is willing to confront the terror groups? Or, as the international community is demanding, does Israel make concessions to show Palestinians that Abbas’ stated opposition to terror can pay dividends?

With Abbas in office less than a month, members of Sharon’s inner circle already are expressing doubts about whether the Palestinian can deliver. They believe the concessions that they already have made toward Abbas — such as easing restrictions on Palestinians’ movement in the West Bank — directly contributed to the renewed wave of attacks.

Senior Palestinian officials argue that Sharon has yet to give the embattled Abbas the concessions he needs to persuade Palestinian terrorists to agree to a cease-fire that could breathe life into the "road map" to Israeli-Palestinian peace, which the United States presented to the two sides late last month. On both sides, there is uncertainty over how much time and energy the United States is prepared to invest to make the road map work.

Sharon had hoped that Abbas’ installation on April 29 would presage a drop in Palestinian terror and at least some initial political movement. But a new wave of suicide bombings, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s incessant machinations against Abbas and open defiance of Abbas by terrorist groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade have led Israeli officials privately to pronounce Abbas too weak to deal with Palestinian terrorism or take the peace process forward.

Arafat and the terrorists are using the bombings not only to hit at Israel but also to make Abbas’ position untenable, the officials say. Abbas "finds himself in an awkward position that the man who appears to be in charge there, Yasser Arafat, is in collusion with the terrorist organizations, because he has a common interest to make the peace talks fail," explained Avi Pazner an Israeli government spokesman.

In a three-hour meeting between the two prime ministers May 17, the first at such a high level since the Palestinian intifada erupted in September 2000, Sharon offered to withdraw Israeli troops from the northern Gaza Strip, allowing Abbas’ forces to take control and show that they could maintain peace and quiet.

Over the last several months, the area has been used to fire Kassam rockets and mortar shells at nearby Israeli towns and villages, especially the Negev town of Sderot. It also is the area in which Mohammed Dahlan, the new Palestinian Authority minister responsible for security, is strongest.

Sharon also offered to withdraw from Palestinian city centers as soon as Abbas and Dahlan felt ready to take over.

In both cases, Israeli officials said, the Palestinians "found excuses" to decline, insisting that Israel formally accept the road map first.

These exchanges reveal a fundamental difference in approach: Sharon wants to see Abbas taking over wherever possible and, if necessary, using force to impose his will on the terrorists. Abbas says he is not yet strong enough and wants to bring about an end to terror through an agreement, rather than confrontation, with the terrorist groups.

The renewed attacks don’t "mean that Sharon won’t meet with Abbas again, but you will certainly understand that you can have no meaningful progress as long as blood is running in the streets," Pazner said.

Abbas urged Sharon to give him time to negotiate a hudna, or cease-fire, with the terrorist groups, saying he could succeed if Israel stopped its counterterror raids and targeted killings of terrorist leaders. What he had in mind was a yearlong cease-fire that would allow Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate without the threat or use of force, Abbas explained.

Dahlan added that it would take about a year to rehabilitate the Palestinian Authority security forces, after which they would be in a position to force the militants to adhere to an extended cease-fire. Until the Abbas meeting, Sharon had opposed this approach on the grounds that the militants would simply use the cease-fire to regroup before launching a new round of terror.

However, Palestinian sources said Sharon intimated at the meeting that if a cease-fire is achieved, he would be ready to give the approach a chance. If true, this constitutes a major change in the Israeli position.

Sharon’s dilemma is how to continue fighting terror without undermining Abbas to such an extent that he will be too weak either to negotiate a cease-fire or use force against terrorists.

Getting the balance right will not be easy: If Israel continues targeted killings and major raids, Palestinians may see Abbas as a straw man who has not eased their suffering. If Sharon holds back, on the other hand, Hamas may be encouraged to launch even bigger attacks on the assumption that Israel will not retaliate.

Another major Israeli dilemma is what to do about Arafat. His alleged role in encouraging terror and deliberately undermining Abbas has led to renewed calls for his expulsion. Three government ministers from Sharon’s Likud Party — Dan Naveh, Yisrael Katz and Tzachi Hanegbi — maintain that there will be no effective cease-fire as long as Arafat is around.

Sharon for now is against expelling Arafat. In a Cabinet meeting March 18, Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, army chief of staff, argued that Arafat would be more dangerous jetting around Europe playing for international sympathy than confined to his headquarters in Ramallah.

More than Arafat, though, it is the ongoing terror that constitutes the biggest threat to the road map and Abbas’ chances of success. According to Israeli security officials, there have been almost 50 attempted attacks in the three weeks since Abbas took office. Five attacks in a space of two days early this week left 11 Israelis dead and scores wounded.

Hamas terror threatens not only Israel and the road map but Abbas himself, especially after some Hamas leaders charged that Abbas is considering trading the Palestinian refugees’ demand to return to homes they abandoned inside Israel 55 years ago for Israeli acceptance of the road map.

Osama Hamdan, a Hamas representative in Lebanon, issued an open threat last weekend: "Anyone who bargains over the refugees’ right of return is bargaining over his neck."

Given the new wave of terror, many Israeli and Palestinian analysts agree that only a major U.S. effort can save the road map, and they are not optimistic. Reuven Paz, an expert on fundamentalist terror at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, said that "without a strong American lead, there will simply be more of the same: terror, counterterror and indecisive meetings between Sharon and Abbas."

Other Israeli pundits argue that Sharon willingness to cancel a crucial meeting this week with President Bush because of the bombings does not augur well. They believe it shows that Sharon, worried about possible U.S. pressure on the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is stalling — and that Bush, with an eye on the Jewish vote as he moves into an election year, may allow Sharon to go on playing for time.

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