Iran: What Now? A Panel Discussion on the Nuclear Deal


The Jewish Journal held a debate on the Iran nuclear deal on Aug. 2, 2015.


Mel Levine / Former U.S. Representative
Dalia Dassa Kaye / Iran Expert, RAND
Omri Ceren / The Israel Project


David Suissa / TRIBE Media Corp. & Jewish Journal President

Sponsored by The Jewish Federation, Beth Jacob and the Jewish Journal

Panel: In Israel, will the future be hope or fear?

A post-Israeli election panel on the future of Israel. Featuring Rob Eshman, David Suissa and Shmuel Rosner. Moderated by Susan Freudenheim.

Panel votes to recognize West Bank college as full university

The West Bank will have its first full university, pending the go-ahead of the Israeli military.

The Ariel University Center on Tuesday was recognized as a full university by the Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education, which handles educational concerns in the West Bank. The center, which has more than 10,000 students, Jewish and Arab, would be called Ariel University.

The 11-2 vote came despite a recommendation against approval by the planning and budget committee of Israel’s Council for Higher Education, as well as opposition from the country’s other seven universities and public figures who objected to upgrading a college located in the West Bank.

The final authorization for making the Ariel center a university will be made by the Israel Defense Forces’ central commander in the West Bank, Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon. According to The Jerusalem Post, Alon is expected to back up the Judea and Samaria council’s decision.

The Judea and Samaria council was established in 1997 after the Council for Higher Education refused to discuss academic issues concerning the West Bank, according to Haaretz.

On Sunday, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz announced that his ministry would earmark extra funds for the Ariel University Center, so that it would not cut into the funding of Israel’s other universities. Steinitz said he will ask the government to grant an allocation of some $5 million to $7.5 million for the next two fiscal years, with plans to increase the sum in future years.

Last month, the presidents of Israel’s universities called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent the establishment of an eighth research university in Israel, citing a scarcity of resources. In a letter to Netanyahu, the presidents said that an eighth university would deal a “fatal blow to the higher education system in general, and the universities in particular.”

In 2007, the Ariel academic center was granted temporary recognition as a so-called university center, and to reexamine its status within five years. Ariel, with a population of about 20,000, is located southwest of the Palestinian city of Nablus.

Israeli panel backs legalizing settler outposts

A government-appointed committee on Monday proposed granting official status to dozens of unauthorized settler outposts in the West Bank, challenging the world view that Israeli settlement there is illegal.

The non-binding legal opinion, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had sought, could be used by the right-wing leader to address criticism at home and abroad of his declared plans to build more homes for Jews on land Palestinians want for a state.

Three months ago, his governing coalition drew Palestinian and international condemnation when it retroactively legalized three West Bank outposts built without official sanction.

But the panel, chaired by a former Israeli Supreme Court justice who has written pro-settlement opinions from the bench, reaffirmed Israel’s long-held view that the West Bank is not occupied territory and that settling Jews there is legal.

The opinion, yet to be formally accepted by the government and swiftly disputed by the Palestinians, flew in the face of a World Court ruling that all settlements are illegal because of their location on occupied land.

The Israeli committee disputed that ruling, arguing Israel’s control of the West Bank does not constitute occupation as no country had sovereignty over the territory when it was captured from Jordan in a 1967 war.

“Therefore, according to international law, Israelis have the legal right to settle in Judea and Samaria and the establishment of settlements cannot, in and of itself, be considered to be illegal,” it said, using the Biblical names for the West Bank.

Jordan captured the West Bank, which had been part of British-mandated Palestine, in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and annexed it in a move that never won international recognition.

Israel has built some 120 settlements in the West Bank. Dozens of unauthorized outposts, which past Israeli governments had pledged to remove, have also gone up in the territory.


Palestinians say the enclaves will deny them a viable and contiguous state, a view that has won wide international support. Their peace talks with Israel collapsed in 2010 over the settlement issue.

“All settlements are illegal according to international law and international resolutions,” Nabil Abu Rdeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said of the committee’s report.

“The Israeli government must cease settlement activity and curb settler attacks and adhere to international resolutions if it wants to achieve peace,” Abu Rdeineh added.

Addressing the issue of unsanctioned settlement outposts, the committee echoed a 2005 government report in determining that they had been established “with the knowledge, encouragement and tacit agreement of the most senior political level”.

But unlike the 2005 document, which said quiet government support and funding for unauthorized settlements were illegal, the new report recommended expanding them.

The time had come, it said, to complete formal “planning and zoning procedures” and to set the “municipal jurisdiction” of each outpost, taking into consideration their growing populations.

“Pending completion of those proceedings and examination of the possibility of granting valid building permits, the state is advised to avoid carrying out demolition orders,” the panel said.

Yariv Oppenheimer of the anti-settlement group Peace Now said the panel had “delivered the goods” for the Israeli right.

“The legal world is a wonderful one, just choose a position and you will always be able to find a legal expert who can defend it,” he said on Army Radio. “The committee has forgotten that there are 2.5 million stateless Palestinians under Israeli military rule.”

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Andrew Osborn

Six writers, six ways to reveal truths

On May 23, Valley Beth Shalom hosted an event designed to inspire the creation of new Jewish comedy and drama, and encourage the ongoing tradition of Jewish creativity and invention. Moderated by VBS Senior Rabbi Ed Feinstein, the program was a presentation of the synagogue’s Jewish Writers Roundtable, a group of about 10 members. Over the course of the evening, six of these writers—including Sarah Goldfinger (executive producer/writer, “CSI,” “Hawaii Five-O”), Michael Halperin (writer and TV executive), Jamie Pachino (screenwriter and writer, “Fairly Legal”), Stephanie Liss (playwright and writer, “On Holy Ground”) Ronda Spinak (artistic director and co-founder of the Jewish Women’s Theatre), and Lynn Roth (executive producer/writer, “The Paper Chase”)—all shared excerpts from recent works in which they reflected on contemporary Jewish life. Set before symbolic stained glass windows and a well-lit ark, the pieces read throughout the evening addressed Jewish faith and tradition at important moments in Jewish history and daily life. In just an hour and a half, the audience eavesdropped in a women’s bathroom at a wedding (Goldfinger), hid in Warsaw during the Holocaust (Halperin), heard an unconventional mother’s speech at a bar mitzvah (Pachino), escaped Tehran during the violent overthrow of the shah (Liss), explored the experiences of female rabbis (Spinak) and watched as Sigmund Freud came to terms with the changing state of Vienna for a Jew like himself (Roth).

The main motivations behind the evening, Feinstein said, were to “create a place for Jewish artists and art within the community,” and to “use theater as a mode of sharing ideas.” Stories, Feinstein pointed out, can create community through shared anxieties, values and reflections on the Jewish condition. Storytelling, Feinstein said, “is elemental to being a human being,” and the six pieces heard that evening portrayed moments in Judaism in which individuals are tested, but ultimately triumph.

Just as important as the Jewish spirit of creativity that Feinstein hoped the audience would take away from the evening was the notion that the writers should leave with the understanding that “the community appreciates their work.”

In his opening remarks about the evening, Feinstein explained that in Jewish tradition the “revelation of ultimate truth is through a book,” and that in this tradition of literacy as a spiritual element, the “people who assemble words share in the creation of the world.” Feinstein said he hopes to hold similar events in the future in order to open more eyes to new Jewish writing as well as to learn how to incorporate drama into synagogue life.

20 years after the L.A. Riots: Where are we now?

On April 29, 1992, the acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers involved in the beating of Rodney King, an African-American man, triggered riots in Los Angeles that resulted in more than 50 dead, thousands injured and some $1 billion in property damage.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles Riots, The Jewish Journal invited to our offices nine prominent L.A.-based civil rights activists. We asked them to reflect as a group on two questions: Are we better off than we were 20 years ago? Could what happened in 1992 happen again here?

The result was an often-heated 90-minute conversation that vividly demonstrated the passions that the riots and the issues they raised still evoke in this city.

Panelist photos by Dan Kacvinski. Connie Rice photo courtesy of the Advancement Project.

JDC staffer to chair Obama’s faith-based panel

President Obama named a top American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee official as chairman of his faith-based council, as well as a top Conservative rabbi to the council.

Susan Stern, the government affairs adviser to the JDC, will chair the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, a Feb. 4 White House announcement said.

“We are incredibly proud that Susie has been recognized by President Obama for her unparalleled leadership and lifelong devotion to repairing the world, contributing to America’s future, and improving Jewish lives around the globe,” JDC CEO Steven Schwager said in a statement.

Another of the 12 appointees is Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.

One of the appointees, Lynne Hybels, has been active in Middle East peace advocacy through the Willow Creek Community Church.

The advisory council is the outcome of White House-led sessions last year with an array of religious leaders, including from the Jewish community.

Obama sought to continue President George W. Bush’s efforts to devolve community assistance to faith-based groups while reinforcing constitutional separations between church and state.

LIVE VIDEO: Diversity and LGBT Inclusion in the Jewish World

UPDATE: This a recording of a live broadcast which aired Sunday night, March 1, 2009.

On Sunday night, March 1, will broadcast LIVE from the American Jewish University. Tune in at 7 p.m. to watch a panel discussion from the “Welcoming Synagogues Project: Strategic Convening.” 

Introductions by Dr. Joel L. Kushner, Director, Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Gregg Drinkwater, Executive Director, Jewish Mosaic. 

Moderated by Dr. Caryn Aviv, Research Director, Jewish Mosaic; Posen Lecturer in Secular Jewish Culture, Center for Judaic Studies, University of Denver.  The panel will discuss diversity and LGBT inclusion in the Jewish community, emphasizing success stories, challenges, and lessons learned.

If you are having difficulties viewing the feed, try refreshing the page.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

The evening’s panelists will include:

Rabbi Denise Eger – Congregation Kol Ami
Dr. Bernard Schlager – Interim Deputy Director and Development Director for the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CGLS)
Rabbi Harold Schulweis – Congregation Valley Beth Shalom
Rev. Rebecca Voelkel – Program Director for the Institute for Welcoming Resources

This program is co-sponsored by the ” title=”Jewish Mosaic”>Jewish Mosaic.


For updates on more live broadcasts, sign up

Reasons to book it to UCLA

Political provocateur Gore Vidal, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, industrialist Lee Iacocca, fantasy maven Ray Bradbury, Los Angeles crime novelist Lee Ellroy and Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua.Add more than 700 additional authors, readings, performances and panels, and you get a sense of the scope of the 12th annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books — the largest event of its kind on the West Coast — which will take place April 28 and 29 at UCLA.

At least 130,000 patrons are expected to check out the diverse fare, which will include discussions on subjects ranging from terrorism to true-crime novels; cheekily titled panels such as, “Food Fight: When Did Eating Get Controversial?”; and a ceremony honoring this year’s Times Book Prizes nominees (finalists include Yehoshua for his “A Woman in Jerusalem,” and Daniel Mendelsohn for “The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million”). Here’s a sampling of other events that may be of interest to people of the book:

Author: Peter Orner, book prize finalist
Panel: “Fiction: Jumping Off the Page”
Time: Noon, April 28
Orner — who won the Goldberg Prize for Jewish Fiction for his “Esther Stories” (2001) — will discuss his new novel, “The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo,” which draws on his own experience in Namibia in the early 1990s. The fictional story revolves around a Jewish teacher who falls in love with a beautiful, enigmatic veteran of the country’s war with South Africa, set against the backdrop of a barren, semi-desert landscape.

Author: Jeffrey Goldberg, book prize finalist
Panel: “Current Interest: Profiles in Terror”
Time: 2 p.m., April 28
In his memoir, “Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide,” Goldberg — a veteran of The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine — chronicles his unusual relationship with a devout Muslim during his service as a military policeman in the Israeli Army in 1990.

Author: Lucinda Franks
Panel: “Memoir: Hidden Truths”
Time: 2:30 p.m., April 28
Franks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, explores her father’s secret past in “My Father’s Secret War”; which she began researching when she discovered a Nazi cap in a sealed box he had hidden.

Author: Neal Gabler, book prize finalist
Panel: “Biography: 20th Century Lives”
Time: 3:30 p.m., April 28
Gabler, who tackled Jewish movie moguls in “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews invented Hollywood,” dissects another pop culture auteur in “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.” The biography posits that Disney was as childlike, indefatigable and “pathologically optimistic” as Mickey Mouse, The Observer (England) noted.

Organization: Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles
Booth: No. 535, near Haines Hall
Time: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., April 29
Six featured authors will include Jewish origami expert Joel David Stern, Susan Goldman Rubin on a Jewish financier of the American Revolution (“Haym Solomon, American Patriot”) and Rabbi Aaron Parry (“Idiot’s Guide to Talmud/Holy Scripture”).

Author: Nancy Silverton
Event: Cooking stage
Time: 2 p.m., April 29
Silverton — one of Los Angeles’ premiere chefs (and proprietor of the popular new restaurant Pizzeria Mozza) — will demonstrate layman-friendly recipes from her new book, “A Twist of the Wrist: Quick Flavorful Meals With Ingredients from Jars, Cans, Bags, and Boxes.”

For more festival information, visit of books.

$2 million due now: “Parenting Services Rendered”

“The Bill From My Father” by Bernard Cooper (Simon & Schuster, $24).


Needed: Rational Discussion

When David Lauter, the deputy foreign editor of the Los Angeles Times, began speaking to a crowd of about 400 at a Women’s Alliance for Israel program last
week, it was clear that most of the audience was out for his scalp, and not even the yarmulke he was wearing could save him.

Lauter was on a panel discussing news coverage of Israel’s battle against Hezbollah. I was also on the panel, seated next to Lauter, who is a friend and was a longtime colleague when I worked at the Times.

He is a highly intelligent, soft-spoken, logical man who thinks before he speaks. He is also an observant Jew.

That meant nothing to this crowd. Neither did his intelligence and logic. They booed when he tried to explain his paper’s coverage. When they weren’t booing, they talked among themselves, paying no attention to Lauter. To this bunch, the world outside their own community was a vast and hostile conspiracy against them and against Israel.

I’ve spoken to many groups all over Los Angeles during extremely volatile times. I’ve never seen such rudeness, narrow mindedness and just plain boorishness.

Nothing Lauter said warranted such a response. He told how the coverage began, with him and the foreign editor, Marjorie Miller, organizing the Times foreign correspondents the day the conflict began.

The regulars needed help. A couple of the correspondents were already arranging their transportation to Israel. Miller and Lauter dispatched more to deal with the unexpected story.

This crowd wasn’t interested in these details. Nor did they want to know of the courage of these correspondents, who willingly head into danger — and stay there. This crowd probably had no idea of how many correspondents have been killed in Iraq. These deaths are a clear warning that the same thing could happen to some of the reporters in Lebanon or Israel.

The questions were unrelentingly hostile. They weren’t questions, in fact. They were attacks. And when Lauter tried to answer them, there were more boos.
When he sat down, I told him that this bunch was out for blood. Later, he said felt there was a hard core of haters, “but I don’t think they were the majority.”

I don’t know about that. Hostility seemed to extend through the room, back to the far edges where my wife and cousin were seated.

And at the end of the program, Lauter announced to the crowd that he would stick around and answer more questions.

“Several people came up to me and said they appreciated my being there, but they said so quietly, not exposing themselves to the crowd,” Lauter told me later.
Not blessed with Lauter’s patience, I left angry and stayed mad all the next day.

In the first place, the Times’ coverage is excellent. It’s fair. The reporters and editors strive for balance in the writing and editing of stories and the placement of the stories and the powerful pictures.

This does not mean it is perfect. Putting out a daily paper is an imperfect business. Think about putting that thing together every day with deadlines. I did it for years, the last three as city editor of the Times. When I went home at night, I wondered how we did it. In the process, mistakes are made. Reporters get things wrong. Editors make bad choices. Journalists live — or should live — in constant awareness of their fallibility.

But the Women’s Alliance for Israel event illustrates a bigger issue that extends far beyond the reliability and honesty of the Times coverage: Why can’t we have a rational discussion of Israel and the war in Lebanon?

In my modest presentation — I thought it best to bore these people rather than anger them — I noted that never before in history was so much information available in so many forms of media.

In the morning, I read three papers called the Times — the Los Angeles, New York and Financial. When writing, I take breaks to read Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post and the DEBKA Report, all from Israel, plus take a look at the Guardian to check out the anti-Israel thoughts of the British left wing. All that, plus my lifelong support of Israel, shapes my opinions.

With this information overload, sometimes it is hard for me to make up my mind. Sometimes, I actually have to think.

I would have enjoyed a rational discussion of the media, in general, and the Times, specifically. I have talked to many anti-Times audiences. People hear me out, argue and exchange ideas. They concede a point. I concede a point. We all leave the room better informed.

This group did not want to be better informed. They preferred to get their information from e-mails circulated by like-minded friends, interest groups and, of course, by watching Fox. Any mention of this network, by the way, got a lot of applause.

But as this war continues, we’ve got to reach out and talk to people who don’t agree with us. If we won’t listen to fellow Jews, particularly those as well informed as Lauter, how can we convince anyone of the rightness of our cause?

Bill Boyarsky’s monthly column on Jews and civic life returns this week. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at

Who Wants to Be Israel’s Ambassador?


Quiet on the set,” shouts a production assistant, and silence falls over the fake marble floor of a studio designed to look like a conference room in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel.

As a makeup artist dabs more powder on the forehead of Yaakov Perry, former head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service, the contestants on Israel’s hit reality show, “The Ambassador,” adjust their dark, tailored suits, clutch leather attache cases and eye each other nervously.

The cameras roll and Nahman Shai, the thin, bespectacled former Israeli army spokesman who is one of the show’s three judges, looks up and says in a voice as serious as war, “It’s time to decide.”

The time has come to vote another contestant off of the show, which features 14 young Israelis competing to be chosen as the best person to promote Israel’s image abroad. The show taps into Israel’s desire to be better understood on the international stage, and to replace the army generals and stiff government spokesmen on CNN’s screens with engaging, telegenic young people who might more easily win sympathy for Israel’s side in its conflict with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world.

Shai notes that Israel has been defending its right to exist since the state was born. “The Ambassador” has brought that task into the living rooms of Israelis, who for the first time are discussing such questions as how Israel should best explain its decision to build the security fence to the world at large.

On each slickly produced episode, the contestants are presented with a different challenge, ranging from debating the Israel-Arab conflict before an audience of Cambridge University students to meeting with real-life ambassadors to conducting television interviews with French and Arab journalists.

In between the serious parts, there are also reminders that this is reality television after all, with all the requisite backbiting, scheming and personality politics.

The contestants, all between 24 and 30 years old, include lawyers, business students, an Ethiopian immigrant and both religious and secular Jews. Selected from a pool of thousands of applicants, they are attractive and well-spoken in both Hebrew and English.

Like Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice,” at the end of every episode of “The Ambassador,” the panel of judges kicks another contestant off the show. The winner will be rewarded with a yearlong job at Israel at Heart, a New York-based organization that promotes Israel’s image.

“You watch the way Israel is seen around the world and it hurts,” said Joey Low, the American millionaire who founded Israel at Heart, explaining why he agreed to the producer’s request that he provide the prize.

Yael Ben-Dov, 27, one of the show’s finalists, acknowledged the difficulty of explaining to the world images that seem to show Israel as the aggressor.

“We need to let people see the whole picture, to let people know the facts before they judge us,” Ben-Dov said.


The World, Observed

The moment former Sen. Gary Hart told the audience at theMilken Institute’s Global Conference that America is “at a crossroads,” Abe Zarem leaned over to me and said, “He’s wrong.”

There were 1,500 people sitting in the audience listening toa panel tussle over the United States’ role in the world. For a conference thatannually attracts the world’s financial and academic elite, the seating at theBeverly Hilton was refreshingly democratic: no place cards, sit almost anywhereyou like. So I found myself between Charlie Woo, the innovator behind downtown Los Angeles’ Toy Town district, and Zarem, inventor, professor, entrepreneur,thinker.

“Crossroads is not the right word,” Zarem told me,correcting Hart, “because at a crossroads you pick a direction and you knowwhere you’re going. We’re at a cloverleaf. When you turn off a cloverleaf youdon’t know where you’re going.”

He’s right, and the better metaphor explains why MichaelMilken hosts his annual conference. Business leaders and others pay $1,900 ahead for three days of seminars, lectures and shmoozing, hoping to get a peakbehind the curves. The presenters are Nobel and Pulitzer Prize laureates,chiefs of finance, politics and academia, and, in Milken’s words, “about 40 peoplewho are paid to do nothing but think.”

The attendees seemed to break down along the “not mutuallyexclusive” lines of the intellectually curious, the portfolio warriors huntingopportunity and the elbow-rubbers, who figured that what works for Milken mightwork for them, too — George S. Kaufman called that “gelt by association.”

Milken’s genius has always been at mining capital markets tofind undiscovered value. In the 1980s, he restructured the corporate world byfocusing on financial markets. After legal battles and a jail term about whichhis official conference biography is admirably up front, his focus has expandedto other forms of undervalued capital, human and social.

Laying bare these veins of capital enables individuals andgovernments to unleash what Milken called “the most powerful force in theuniverse: compound interest.” (Milken claimed Albert Einstein said this aboutcompound interest, but Einstein authority Alice Calaprice has said he probablydidn’t.)

Milken, who was elected cheerleader at Birmingham HighSchool in the early 1960s, is cheerleading still, filling the dais with anenergy that wouldn’t be out of place at a human potential seminar. But — andthis is all to his credit — this was a conference devoted to the potential of humanity — and if in uncorking that potential some people profited, good for them, goodfor us all.

So, Monday evening’s panel discussion offered a hopeful viewof humanity’s potential. Moderated by Milken, the discussion featured NobelLaureate Robert Fagan, biologist Paul Ehrlich, futurist Alvin Toffler andlinguist Steven Pinker.

Fagan said that the obvious next source of unleashableenergy lay Far East.

“The most important economic event is the emergence ofChina,” Fagan said. “By 2030, the Chinese economy will be bigger than theeconomies of America and Europe put together.”

Other speakers on the panel agreed, and the presence ofentrepreneurs like Woo, founder of the Megatoys corporation, was all the proofthey needed. Drawing on a network of Asian contacts, Woo, 47, built the toydistrict downtown from a single $140,000 warehouse into an area that employsmore than 4,000 people, boasts revenues estimated at roughly $500 million ayear and controls the distribution of some 60 percent of the $12 billion intoys sold to American retailers. China is the new plastics.

Toffler said that the current economic meltdown is a hiccupin the “knowledge revolution,” what he called the “Third Wave” of humandevelopment after the agrarian and Industrial revolutions.

“Between 1750 and 1950 there were 27 financial crises inAmerica and England,” Toffler said. “None of them stopped the IndustrialRevolution.”

What stands in our way, Ehrlich warned, is our careless useof natural resources and the fact that a full third of the world still lives inpoverty. “The current system is unsustainable,” he said.

But Pinker and the others stressed humanity’s adaptability,our ability to innovate our way out of problems. By the evening’s end, evenEhrlich offered hope that “humanity, as smart as we are, will get smart enoughto save our butts.”

On Tuesday evening the “Big Picture” narrowed to focus on”America’s Role in the World.” This discussion featured William Bennett, formersecretary of education; Robert Bartley, editor emeritus of The Wall StreetJournal; Hart; and Stephan Richter, publisher and editor-in-chief of TheGlobalist. Despite King’s vain efforts to expand it, the debate swirled aboutthe current war. It became clear that so many of the big questions Americafaces — what we stand for, how we are to exercise our power, whether the worldwill fear us, hate us, respect us or all three — are being played out now inthe sands and cities of Iraq.

The conference provided a time to take a step back from anda more distant perspective on these unknowns, just before we turn off thecloverleaf.  

Open Door

UCLA Hillel recently held one of its first gay-themed programs in years. But with the initiator of the program about to depart, the effort to reach out to gay students may lose steam.

The program, Trembling Before God, presented a panel of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis to explore Judaism and homosexuality, drawing an audience of about 80 students and community members.

While UCLA Hillel’s programs generally target specific groups of Jews, such as Persians or Russians, or Jews in fraternities or sororities, the gay community has often been left out.

“UCLA has quite an active gay and lesbian group, and a lot of the students there are Jewish. But [they] feel ostracized from the Jewish community for reasons that aren’t really appropriate and ideas that aren’t really Jewish,” said Roee Ruttenberg, the UCLA graduate who put the program together.

Ruttenberg, who has worked part time at Hillel since he graduated last year, is planning to leave for graduate school next year.

“It’s not that Hillel [at UCLA] is not supportive, it’s just that there’s no active outreach,” said Ronni L. Sanlo, director of UCLA’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Campus Resource Center.

Panelist Rabbi Benay Lappe, one of the Conservative movement’s first openly lesbian rabbis, said: “Too many LGBT Jews pass a synagogue and say, ‘That’s not my place … because God says I’m not OK.’ That’s simply not true.”

Orthodox Rabbi David Rue, senior justice of the Los Angeles Beis Din (rabbinic court) delineated an approach more tolerant than the standard Orthodox one. “It doesn’t matter which commandments someone violates. It is viewed, as far as Orthodoxy, in the same way: There’s no such thing as a person that doesn’t violate at least some of them sometimes,” he said. “The way Jews relate to someone that is homosexual should be no different from the way they relate to anyone else.”

UCLA Hillel’s director, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, told the audience, “Hillel is obligated to make all Jewish students feel comfortable … and take them seriously, in spite of the fact that they have made some choices that are challenging to normative Judaism.”

student Melanie Henderson said, “Rabbi Chaim really seems to want to be okay with us GLBT Jews. He was uncomfortable, but honest enough to do it publicly.” Reform Rabbi Lisa Edwards of Los Angeles’ Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), the world’s oldest gay and lesbian synagogue, and Conservative Rabbi J.B. Sacks-Rosen of Congregation Shaarei Torah in Arcadia also appeared on the panel.

After attending the event, UCLA sophomore Adam Levy said he was “definitely more inclined to participate” in Hillel, because he felt welcome as a gay man and a Jew who is not very observant. “Jews know what it’s like to be on the outside,” he said. “It’s important for Judaism to understand the frustration of the closet.”

Since Ruttenberg is leaving, it’s too early to tell if UCLA Hillel will build on its momentum; its new LGBT group is little more than an e-mail list. Next year, nevertheless, UCLA Hillel will add a seat on its student board for an LGBT community liaison.

“Of course we want to do more such programs, but some of it will depend on who’s working here,” Seidler-Feller said.

At USC, despite a rich history of programming with the LGBT community, Hillel also faces a similar leadership vacuum, and for the first time in several years it did not sponsor its annual “Queer Seder” during Passover this spring.

“I’m definitely not giving up,” said Rabbi Jonathan Klein, USC Hillel director, who has met with other campus leaders to stimulate LGBT programming. “I think it’s really important that we have it here.”

“Trembling Before God,” a new documentary about gay Orthodox Jews, will screen on Los Angeles July 19 this summer at Outfest, (323) 960-0636.