Homelessness: God of second chances


I remember watching a video with my kids when they were little called “Jonah: A Veggie Tales Adventure.” Jonah is portrayed as a reserved and cautious asparagus, with a whole host of vegetable sidekicks that make up the rest of the story. The story was fairly representative of the story in the Bible, but I was most interested in one scene in particular. After Jonah is tossed overboard and swallowed by the big fish, he has an encounter in the belly of the fish that speaks to the heart of Biblical theology. Remember, all the characters are vegetables and this is animated! Upon asking himself why God is doing this to him, Jonah is uplifted by an entire gospel choir of endless carrots and broccoli telling him “God is a God of second chances.” They were singing it from their hearts and souls (sing a little gospel!), and they reminded Jonah that God is a God of mercy and compassion, one of justice and righteousness, but most importantly, God is a God of second chances.
I have been thinking about that phrase these days, asking myself how that theology applies to our lives and our world today, particularly around the scourge of homelessness in the nation, and in Los Angeles county.  ‘God is a God of second chances’ calls us to not be complacent or satisfied when things are not as good as they could be, when we have not reached goals that are attainable, when we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Being in the midst of that spiritual time between Passover and Shavuot, these liminal days between slavery and revelation, I recall that Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel reminded us that the plague of darkness is always lurking; the teaching of Moses and the Exodus is universal and eternal. That is why we tell the story every year. God is a God of second chances: that is the miracle of being human, the immense glory and responsibility of taking life seriously. Heschel said, “We have forgotten the meaning of being human and the deep responsibility involved in just being alive. Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” But that is no problem. We all want to be. The real problem, Biblically speaking, is how to be and how not to be; that is our challenge, and it is what makes the difference between the human and the animal.” (“Choose Life,”Moral Grandeur, pg. 252)
Homelessness, poverty and hunger, all problems that can be solved, continue to deprive millions of people in the world, including nearly half a million in the United States, and almost 47,000 in LA county, a better life for lack of commitment of the wealthiest nations. We continue to propose national budgets that increase spending for defense and security, while cutting social services and funds to take care of our most vulnerable citizens. Nobody wants to be homeless or poor or unemployed; yes, there are people who continue to make mistakes and aren’t able to get their lives back on track, even after help, but God is a God of second chances. And, every day, at the agency I lead, Friends in Deed, I see homeless and at-risk men, women and children who are only seeking that second chance to have a home, a job, a life that they see those who walk by them on the streets, ignore them or chastise them, have for themselves. The people we serve want to get back on their feet, and thanks to the work of our partner agencies, amazing congregational volunteers, and our staff, we are helping many people to rise back up into the community. The priorities that we set as a nation, primarily in our budgets and financial commitments, must reflect our highest ideals. At the moment, these ideals appear to be military and defense. When we vote for compassion and caring for the vulnerable, as many other nations do, our priorities might come into line with our highest ideals. Certainly we need to defend our nation, and take care of the men and women who serve, but we can do that while also creating programs and services to support the most vulnerable. A $1 trillion budget should have room for both, no?
We must find a way to raise ourselves above the culture of individualism that has taken hold of our country, reminding ourselves that we are all inter-connected in this life, now more than ever.
I am encouraged by the recent passing of Measure H, a minimal 1/4 cent tax increase, a vote by this community to take care of the most vulnerable. I know that it only passed by a razor thin majority, but now that we have the $355 million for ten years coming to our communities, we have the real opportunity to house many of our homeless neighbors, offer services that will educate, support and track those folks getting back into self-sufficiency. Permanent supportive housing, bridge housing, case management services, navigation through the immense bureaucracy, vocational training, mental health care and other vital needs, are now going to be available to those of us doing this work on the ground, each and every day. I am grateful for the passage of this measure, and I can only pray that the work we do, to better our communities and society, will make the 1/4 cent tax increase seem worth it in the long run. I am proud of LA county residents for taking responsibility to take care of our own.
The Torah of love and compassion, the Torah that commands us to care for those who are less fortunate, this Torah needs to be elevated higher, bringing us higher in the process. I continue to hear that we are ‘one nation under God…” but where are the religious convictions that demand we spend money and time and resources on those who need it most, which is what a compassionate nation is truly about? Jeremiah reminds us, “Woe to those who build their house with unfairness and their upper chambers with injustice; Woe to those who make their fellow human being work without pay and does not give them a fair wage.” (Jer. 22:13) We are in the midst of that “woe,” but you know what? We have the capacity and ability to get out of it. We have the capacity and ability to create a world where everyone has a home, access to food and medical needs, can get a good education and make their way in the world. We must find a way to raise ourselves above the culture of individualism that has taken hold of our country, reminding ourselves that we are all inter-connected in this life, now more than ever.
The most amazing part of this struggle is that we have power to make it happen; God operates through us in this world and God has given us the power of free-will — God is waiting for us to respond. This is the message that Dr. King tried to teach us, if only we would listen. Dr. King called us to be extremists for love, extremists for justice, extremists for hope, extremists for peace. He called for a creative extremism to better our world. But we are stubborn.  And as Heschel said, “One of the dreadful aspects of today’s existence is that we seem to be doing things we hate to do.” (Choose Life, pg. 253) I pray that we have the courage to recognize the great potential in this generation, one that, while requiring sacrifice, has the capacity to bring about the world to come right here on Earth. Or at least give it a running start.
God is a God of second chances and it is time to take God up on that offer.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater is the Executive Director of Friends in Deed, a faith-based homeless and poverty agency in Pasadena, CA. www.friendsindeedpas.org
A lawn sign distributed by Greater Pasadena Jews for Justice. Photo courtesy of Peter Dreier.

Synagogue members take action after board stymies refugee banner


Driving around Pasadena, you might spot one of as many as 250 lawn signs that read, in all capital letters, “Immigrants & Refugees Welcome” along with a quote from Leviticus: “We Must Not Stand Idly By.”

But the signs are as much about one local synagogue’s struggle over Jewish leadership as they are about welcoming the stranger.

The signs, advertising a group called Greater Pasadena Jews for Justice, represent a breakaway movement from the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center (PJTC) after the synagogue’s board failed to approve a banner with similar language.

The push to hang a banner on a large masonry wall outside the temple came as liberal Jewish groups across the country mobilized in opposition to President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order restricting refugee admissions.

As protesters descended on the nation’s airports, about 30 synagogue members gathered on a Sunday morning, Jan. 29, to puzzle out how to respond, according to Peter Dreier, who drafted a mission statement for the group. The idea, he said, was to “give a Jewish voice in Pasadena to the outrage against what’s going on in the country.”

They held a series of Sunday meetings throughout February and formed a list of suggestions, outlined in a petition signed by nearly 150 temple members. The petition asked the synagogue’s board to revive a social justice committee that had been defunct for about a decade, and to approve an education series about “immigration law and the impact of current federal policies toward immigrants and refugees.”

It also asked for a banner, funded by congregants, facing Altadena Drive, that would have read, “We were all once immigrants or refugees. ‘Do not stand idly by’ — Leviticus 19:16.”

The board gave a green light to the group’s suggestions — except for the banner. The board declined to endorse the signage at a Feb. 27 meeting on a tie vote of its 13 members, with one abstaining, according to people who were present at the meeting.

“We were shocked,” said Dreier, 68, a public policy professor at Occidental College. “They seemed to be running the temple like it was a corporation, not a democracy — like they knew what was best.”

Since the board meeting, the social justice committee has been operating at full steam, for instance sending members to the April 16 “Tax March” and securing an April 20 appearance by Pasadena Congresswoman Judy Chu. But some congregants felt that by nixing the banner, the board had stymied an expression of Jewish values.

“It’s important that we make statements as a Jewish community,” synagogue member Ed Honowitz said. “And so, yeah, I felt that it was a lost opportunity to have an impact and take a stand as our local Jewish organization.”

Board members who voted against the banner declined to comment.

“It’s not appropriate to air congregational issues with the Jewish Journal,” said board member and past president Faith Segal.

Jeff Landau, the board’s current president, also declined to comment, citing synagogue policy.

But others who were present say the board members who opposed the banner were concerned about jeopardizing the synagogue’s security, and about making a statement that didn’t necessarily reflect all of its members.

Advocates of the signage say chasing unanimity is a recipe for paralysis.

“If we have to wait until there’s unambiguous unanimity on every issue, nobody’s ever going to make a statement, no organization is ever going to take a stand,” said Rabbi Marvin Gross, who heads the synagogue’s new social justice committee.

Ruth Several, a longtime PJTC board member who introduced the motion to hang the banner, said that while she disagrees with her fellow board members who blocked her motion, the temple is putting the disagreement behind it.

“I’m quite uncomfortable with the fact that we didn’t put it up,” she said. “But I’m dealing with it. I’m not going anywhere. I’m still supportive of the board and our temple.”

After the board rejected the banner, though, some synagogue members took initiative on their own. Social justice committee members ordered lawn signs with similar language and began to distribute them just in time for Passover.

Dreier said since the lawn signs are distributed over a wide area around Pasadena, they might actually be more visible than a banner.

He still believes the board members were wrong to reject the signage.

“Some board members claimed that the ideas on the banner were too political,” he said. “But we believe that the words on the banner were simply statements of Jewish values.”

Rabbi finds a higher calling in L.A.’s homeless population


Rabbi Marvin Gross’ congregants include Los Angeles County’s poorest, most neglected and most scorned — the homeless.

As chief executive officer of Union Station Homeless Services, Gross and his staff find housing, medical and psychological care, and help locate training programs and jobs for homeless women, men and children in the San Gabriel Valley. These suburbs are not usually associated with the tents and tarpaulins of the street encampments on Los Angeles’ Skid Row or those under the Hollywood, 405 and other freeways. It shows how far homelessness has extended and how deep it reaches into society. 

“I look at the people at Union Station, in a way, as my congregation,” said Gross, 68, who was rabbi of Temple Sinai of Glendale for 7 1/2 years. 

I met him while doing columns on the homeless for the website Truthdig. Union Station is one of the nonprofit organizations on the streets every day fighting a fast-growing onslaught of homelessness that has not been given much attention from any level of government. Volunteers from All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena started Union Station in 1973. 

“It was founded on Union Street in Old Pasadena, which was then a slum,” Gross said. The volunteers named their project after the street. “They decided to put up a little a storefront to provide kindness and a haven to the men who lived in the flophouses in Old Pasadena.”

The situation has gotten a lot worse since then. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty estimates that, in the United States, 2.5 million to 3.5 million sleep in shelters, temporary transitional housing and on sidewalks, in parks, underneath freeways, and on buses and trains. The center estimates that an additional 7.4 million live with relatives or friends after losing their own homes. These figures, the center said, “are far from exact,” coming from several sources, each with their own way of counting the homeless. But they reflect the depth of the problem. 

There are 25,686 homeless in the city of Los Angeles, the largest city in Los Angeles County, where the homeless number 44,359, according to the annual homeless census taken by Los Angeles County and nonprofit agencies. 

As the homeless situation worsened, Gross got involved. He had been an activist while on the pulpit, active in the efforts to limit nuclear arms and and as an advocate for many social justice issues. “I got a little restless,” he said. He resigned from his rabbi’s post, “and I started to work for Sen. [Alan] Cranston when he ran for re-election in 1986. I believed in him and all his positions on Israel, Soviet Jewry, the nuclear arms race.” From there, Gross went to work for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. 

He was encouraged to apply for the post of leading Union Station by the Rev. George Regas, rector of All Saints, whom he met while working with the interfaith center at the church on ways to limit the arms race. 

“We have been able to serve many more people in many more ways since I took over,” he said. “We [then] had one facility, one program, 22 staff people, a budget of $930,000 a year and strong support from the community, which continues today. Today, we have 10 major programs. We have five sites in Pasadena. We have 90 employees; we continue to have a great board of directors, hundreds if not more community volunteers, and our budget is about $8 million in this current year.”

The complexity of the organization’s task is illustrated by Gross’ analysis of the homeless. A common view of the homeless is that they are hopeless addicts, mentally ill or both. Gross and others in homeless relief say the picture isn’t so simple.

 “We have seen changes in the demography of who is homeless in this area,” he said. “When I came to Union Station, it was mostly men and a few women. They were white, Black and brown. Mostly white and Black. And now we have almost as many single women as we do men. We’ve had a huge increase in families over the years.

“Everyone has a different story, but basically the families are single mothers — single mothers with very limited job skills. Sometimes they have their own personal problems with drug abuse or other kinds of addiction or mental illness. Sometimes, it’s two-parent families, sometimes a father with kids, people who are low income, maybe because of the recession. They were unable to pay their rent and were evicted. Sometimes they have children with special needs who require extra support. Maybe they live with a sister or an aunt, and that gets old and then they’re living in a car. We’ve had families who lived in cars and [went] from church parking lot to church parking lot, then onto the street.”

I recently saw close up how Gross reaches his congregation of the homeless. I spent a morning with Logan Siler, 31, an outreach worker for Union Station Homeless Services. His job is to cruise the streets of Pasadena in a van, always on the lookout for someone who might be homeless. He knows the spots under freeway overpasses and parking lots where they gather. Or he sees one or two on the streets. 

His task is to engage them in conversation, learn their stories and fill out a long questionnaire, probing their histories of homelessness, illness, family status and other personal details. At day’s end, Siler enters the information in a countywide database. On a 1-to-10 scale, the homeless are rated on the seriousness of their conditions. Those most in need of help are given a higher priority for scarce housing. Housing, usually in apartments, is found by Union Station and other nonprofits, which have stepped in as government has stepped out.

On this day, Siler spotted a man near the 210 Freeway, standing alone — slender, middle-aged, wearing shorts and a blue sweatshirt. The outreach worker, who previously worked with young people in San Francisco’s Haight, pulled over. He motioned me to stand aside so he could talk to the man privately. He gave him a bag lunch and began chatting in a friendly manner. They sat down on the sidewalk in the shade of the freeway overpass. They were there for a half hour while Siler filled out the questionnaire and told the man about the services available at Union Station. Hopefully, he went there.

That’s how Gross and his staff do their jobs, sometimes one homeless person at a time. It’s tough and frustrating work, but in a time when homelessness has become a neglected national tragedy, their efforts are as important as anything a rabbi can do. 

Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Muslim Public Affairs Council’s conference draws hundreds to Pasadena church


When All Saints Church in Pasadena announced that it would host the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s (MPAC) 12th annual convention as part of its efforts toward “interfaith peacemaking,” the Episcopal church that was founded in 1883 became the target of hate mail and attacks. 

In a post on its Web site, the Institute on Religion & Democracy, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing “Christian orthodoxy,” described the event as “Islamists … taking advantage of naïve Christians with a desire to show off their tolerance.”

In the days leading up to the Dec. 15 conference, MPAC leaders and their interfaith allies spoke out against what they saw as unfair attacks by those motivated by an unwarranted fear of Muslims. The Los Angeles Times, in an editorial that appeared on Dec. 13, defended MPAC, noting that the organization has “generally taken moderate stances on international issues and has regularly denounced major acts of terrorism around the globe.” It called All Saints’ decision to host MPAC’s gathering “something of a mitzvah.”

And yet, speaking to the crowd of about 400 Muslims and non-Muslims who gathered in All Saints’ main sanctuary for the day’s final panel, Dr. Maher Hathout, MPAC’s co-founder and senior adviser, urged members of his faith to look inward for the causes of Islamophobia. 

“The other is afraid of us; part of this fear, probably, is our responsibility,” Hathout said, sitting on a panel of leaders from four different faiths. 

“Generally speaking,” he continued, “the public is not jumping to be afraid of Muslims. But certain events happen and certain ‘lawyers’ of Islam, if you will, did not represent the case well. And so it is a shared responsibility.”

Some opponents of MPAC have argued that Hathout himself bears some of that responsibility, considering the statements he made in the late 1990s and early 2000s both defending Hezbollah as an organization “fighting to liberate their land” and sharply criticizing Israel. 

But aside from a handful of protesters who were at All Saints at the start of the day, such voices were not to be heard in Pasadena at the conference. The day’s final panel, titled “Faith, Authority & Freedom,” saw Hathout joined by All Saints’ rector, the Rev. Ed Bacon; Rabbi Sarah Bassin of the Muslim-Jewish partnering organization NewGround; and Niranjan Singh Khalsa of the Khalsa Care Foundation of the Sikh community.

Together they discussed a broad range of challenging topics: How far should freedom of speech extend? How should a religious minority deal with the presence of extremists within its own ranks? Should non-Muslims in America be concerned about the possibility of Sharia, or Islamic law, being incorporated or imposed on communities in the United States? 

Katy Hall, a member of All Saints who attended the daylong conference, appreciated the chance to hear such questions addressed. 

“I loved the fact that people are coming together in a very public way and giving a forum for all of us to be able to hear that conversation,” Hall said.

Wind closes synagogues, schools


Gusts that peaked at 97 miles per hour whipped through the Los Angeles area Wednesday night, downing trees and power lines and leaving some synagogues and Jewish schools with minor damage and no power.

Hardest hit was the Pasadena area, where the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, B’nai Simcha Community Preschool in Arcadia and the Weizmann Day School all remained closed on Thursday. The mayor of Pasadena declared a state of emergency for the area.

The unusually fierce Santa Ana winds sent a tree crashing through the bedroom of the home of a Mount Washington member of Chabad of Pasadena, but the family was not hurt, according to Rabbi Chaim Hanoka of Chabad of Pasadena. Trees branches and debris were scattered around the Chabad building, but Hanoka did not detect any damage to the building, though he saw danger in live wires that dangled over some streets on Thursday. Many fires were reported in the area.

[Photo by Rabbi Joshua Grater

At Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center (PJTC), large tree limbs and branches littered the grounds, roof shingles had been lifted off, and a chain-link fence came down.  The window in the school principal’s office was blown out, but no structural damage occurred.

The synagogue lost power around 9 p.m. Wednesday night, it leader, Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, said that if power were not restored by Friday morning, he would be forced to cancel Shabbat services.

“We were supposed to have a big Shabbat dinner tomorrow night, but now we have 15 pounds of chicken rotting in the refrigerator,” Grater said.

A 60-foot tree in front of Grater’s home was completely uprooted, he said.

The Weizmann Day School, an independent Jewish elementary school with an enrollment of 67 children that rents space from PJTC, informed parents Wednesday night that the school would likely be closed the next day, according to principal Lisa Feldman. At 6:30 a.m. Thursday, another message – sent via a room-parent phone tree, as well as texts, Twitter, emails and Facebook – confirmed that the school would be closed Thursday. A teacher stood outside the school at drop-off time just in case some without power didn’t get the message, but no parents showed up, Feldman said. Pasadena public schools and about 10 other school districts in the area also were closed Thursday.

Photo by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

Hanoka of Chabad said he had delivered food to several families who were without power and were trapped in their homes by toppled trees.

Around 300,000 Southern California residents were without power as of Thursday afternoon.

In Los Angeles, large trees splayed across several streets in the Pico-Robertson area. Maimonides Academy had a felled tree in its yard, and no power in the half of the school that resides in West Hollywood, while the half of the building on property in the City of Los Angeles had power.

Eitan Trabin, executive director of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, said he is grateful that there was no serious damage to the temple and no one was hurt, especially seeing what had occurred around the neighborhood.

Trabin said, however, that he is bracing for more winds forecast through Friday.

“Whatever progress they make now in repairs and cleanup might be set back with the winds tonight,” Trabin said.

Pasadena temple gets Argentina’s first woman cantor


Cantor Ruth Berman Harris has been earning paychecks for leading services since she was 15, years before a cantorial school even existed in her native Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“I think it was what I was born to be,” she said. “I became a bat mitzvah, and I never left the synagogue.”

Which particular synagogue has changed over the years, though — from Argentina to Israel to the United States. In August, Harris joined Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, a Conservative congregation serving 500 member families through campuses in Pasadena and Arcadia.

“She’s made an immediate connection,” said temple president Matt Ober. “She has experienced very different synagogues in very different places and has a keen understanding of human nature and people and what people need to be able to pray more deeply and be more connected to spirituality, and that’s what we all kind of seek.”

Harris, 40, said that she’s been influenced by each of her geographic and cultural stops on the way to Southern California.

“Who I am in the core understanding of what a cantor should be, I got it from growing up in Argentina,” she said. “The vision of the chazzan being an emissary of the congregation instead of a performer is something embedded in the fiber of who I am. We don’t perform; we daven.”

Harris said that when she began leading services in Buenos Aires as a teenager, she was the first female in the country to do so. She wasn’t ordained until 1996, after the Rabbinical Seminary of Latin America started its cantorial program.

Most congregants were supportive of having a woman as a spiritual leader, she said.

“Some people thought it was a little bizarre, but, for the most part, people were very welcoming,” she said.

After Harris moved to Israel in 1996, she studied at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem and led services at three synagogues.

Harris said her experience in Israel taught her that Hebrew is a language that is vibrant and alive. It’s a lesson that remains evident as she effortlessly sprinkles Hebrew words into everyday conversation. (No slouch when it comes to linguistics, Harris is fluent in English, Spanish and Hebrew, and can understand and sing in Yiddish and Ladino.)

Her time in Israel also connected her to Jewish culture and continuity in a very real sense.

“Israel gave me a sense of belonging to a bigger picture,” she said.

But splitting her time among three shuls made it impossible to put down roots in any one of them. So her family made the decision in 2001 to move to America, where she served congregations in Wisconsin and Arizona before coming to Pasadena.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater is thrilled to have her.

“She’s amazing,” he said. “She energizes a room when she walks into it.”

Just as important, Grater said they already have established a strong partnership.

“We both believe in participatory prayer,” he said. “Our vision of prayer, of a deep and meaningful and rich prayer experience, is something that I cherish. … She can now be the voice for that.”

Already,  Harris, a mother of three, said she feels at home at the Pasadena synagogue.

“I think I’ve been preparing and growing and professionally developing to be able to arrive at this partnership, which is ultimately what I’ve always wanted,” she said.

And there’s another bonus to landing where she has.

“Looking at the beautiful mountains, it pretty much feels as close to God as I can be.”

Big Thinking


In the few courses that I have taken and books that I have read on management, one of the main components of success is the ability to engage in “big
visioning” or “blue sky” thinking. By not letting barriers, restrictions or even reality get in the way, we must find ways — and have leaders who inspire any given group — to imagine a future of their dreams, a future that looks radically different from the present, a future that can be reached for by all.

Without this kind of big thinking, an organization, family, nation, religion or individual will find itself being left behind, stuck in the rut of the unimaginative. From seminal thinkers like Peter Drucker and Edwin Friedman, we have learned these lessons. And in this week’s parsha, I would argue that the Torah offers itself as one of the original voices on the subject of “big thinking.”

Parshat Behar teaches us two big lessons:

First, the shmitah, the seventh year of rest for the fields, a Shabbat for the land, reminds us that however much we feel in charge of this glorious Earth, it is really God’s land. “Li kol ha’aretz,” the Torah says, “All the land is Mine.”

And second, the Torah instructs us that the 50th year is the Jubilee, the year of the shofar, the year where the biggest idea possible — true freedom for all human beings, release from slavery, debt and financial suffering, and the ability to reclaim lost property, lost dignity and new life — is envisioned.

I understand the Torah to be providing us a remarkable opportunity to bring holiness and God’s divine presence into our world today. The ideas in Behar, like Kedoshim a few weeks ago, remind me that God commands us to reach for the highest ideals possible, the holiest ways possible and the most fair, just and equitable society imaginable. We should never let failure to achieve these goals stop us from continually striving to reach them.

Similar to Shabbat, we are to “sanctify” the Jubilee year, make it holy through our actions. It is not a mere observance or a passing moment but rather an active engagement of will and energy, changing our behavior to bring holiness into the world. We are to proclaim, to call out “liberty, freedom” in the land.

In a section regarding the Jubilee, “ukratem d’ror ba’aretz, l’chol yoshvehah” (proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants) (Leviticus 25:10), scholars understand the word “d’ror” to stem from an ancient Akkadian word, “anduraru,” which refers to an edict issued by Mesopotamian kings when they have ascended the throne. As a gesture of royal benevolence and power, they would proclaim a moratorium on debts and indenture, thereby releasing those bound by servitude.

The release of debt is such a crucial aspect of being free, as one who is indebted to another remains under their power, under their constriction; it is humiliating and debilitating. Whether it is an individual who is saddled by credit card debt, student loan debt (I know about that one), health insurance debt or another kind of debt or it is a nation that has been crippled by national debt to another nation (like many African countries), the Torah is teaching us this week that no person, no nation can or should be in debt forever.

And in a fascinating addition to this idea, the “Pnei Yehoshua,” the work of Rav Yaakov Yehoshua Falk, an 18th century master, teaches that “the Jubilee year brings freedom not only to the slaves but also to the slave owners, freeing them from the dehumanizing situation of having such power over other human beings.”

We bring God into the world when we free ourselves of controlling others’ destinies, for that is God’s role, not ours.

Today, we need the big thinking of the Jubilee more than ever. With our nation in tremendous debt, both as individuals and collectively, we have become addicted to credit, which has ruined so many people. Wealthy nations lord over poorer nations loans that can never be paid back, which has left millions of people in collective debt, with their countries unable to climb out from under the mountain.

Debt relief, a hot topic a few years back, is still necessary if we are ever to level the playing field among nations. The Torah is reminding us this week that nobody deserves to be in debt forever; nobody deserves to be punished forever; everyone deserves to receive mercy and benevolence, a trait of God with which we human beings have always struggled.

Are things better than they once were? Absolutely, for many.

Yet, today, for the first time in history, we have enough resources to feed, clothe, house and educate every person on Earth in every nation. Dr. Jeffrey Sachs has been brilliantly teaching about this for some time now.

We need a global Jubilee, one that restarts the clock for us all, bringing us all into the 21st century, sharing the wealth, distributing fairly and wisely and releasing the debt. Let us proclaim “dror la’aretz,” a liberty and freedom throughout all lands. This is big thinking. This is dynamic dreaming. This is holy action.

Let us bring the mercy of God into this world through our hands. And when someone says, “We can’t do this; it is not possible,” let us remind that person, and all of us, of one of the deepest teachings of Pirke Avot: “It is not up to us to finish the job, but neither are we ever free to stop trying.”

For the sake of our children, for the sake of our world, the Jubilee is one big idea worth trying.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater is the spiritual leader of Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center (www.pjtc.net). He also serves as national secretary of Brit Tzedek V’shalom, corresponding secretary of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California and on the board of Jewish World Watch. He welcomes your comments at rabbijoshua@pjtc.net.

Through the looking glass with Friends of Sabeel


Covering a meeting of Friends of Sabeel is a strange experience. “Strange” as in walking through the looking glass and encountering a reverse universe on the other side.

While we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence, they are mourning six decades of the nakba, the Palestinian “catastrophe” of 1948.

Where we see resolute defenders of the Jewish people, they see cruel persecutors of a downtrodden minority.

We quote the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his support of Israel and friendship for the Jewish people. They cite him as saying that the oppressed must take their rights back from the oppressor.

A recent meeting at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena was hosted by the Southern California chapter of Friends of Sabeel, which supports the work and aims of the Nazareth-based Sabeel movement and the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.

According to the organization’s brochure, “Sabeel is an Arabic word which means ‘the way’ and recalls the Christians of first-century Palestine, who were called ‘the people of the way.'”

Founded by Palestinian Christian church leaders 18 years ago, Sabeel draws its support from predominantly Protestant churches and their congregants in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain and Scandinavian countries.

Sabeel is hardly a mass movement. According to Darrel Meyers, a retired Van Nuys Presbyterian minister and co-chair of the Southern California chapter, there are no dues-paying members, but about 300 names on his mailing list in Los Angeles and San Diego.

About 75 people, predominantly white and middle-aged Christians, with a smattering of Jews, attended the meeting in Pasadena.

Sabeel’s influence, however, seems to exceed its small number, partly through cooperation with some 50 like-minded organizations listed in its brochure, and partly through its persistent push for boycotts and divestment measures against Israel by mainline churches.

The primary speakers were two Jewish women, who addressed the audience with the passion and conviction of those who first had to throw off the shackles of ancestral beliefs before discovering the truth through long, painful struggle.

Judging from audience questions and suggestions, the speakers were preaching to the choir. As in most ideology-based groups, there seemed to be a considerable gap between the rather moderately phrased goals of the mission statement and the more militant attitudes of its followers.

Officially, Sabeel describes itself as a nonviolent “international peace movement initiated by Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land, who seek a just peace based on two states — Palestine and Israel, as defined by international law and existing United Nations resolutions.”

However, the two speakers, both self-avowed “anti-Zionists,” moved well beyond the two-state solution to advocate a single “democratic” country of Arabs and Jews, which would welcome back all “Palestinian refugees” who wish to return.

Anna Baltzer, the first speaker, is an animated, 28-year old woman, author of “Witness in Palestine — A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories,” and granddaughter of a refugee from the Holocaust.

She noted that American Christians may fear that their criticism of Israel would be labeled as anti-Semitism and urged her listeners to define themselves not as pro-Palestinian, but as pro-human rights.

In a mighty semantic leap, she told her Christian listeners that “Jesus lived under Roman occupation and now Palestinians still live under occupation.”

The second speaker, Marcy Winograd, is a public school teacher and co-founder of L.A. Jews for Peace, which claims a server list of about 100 names.

She explained her advocacy for a single Arab-Jewish state by saying, “We are not talking about ‘destroying’ Israel, but about a transformation to a one-state solution.”

Among Winograd’s targets is the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, and she urged pressure on school boards to stop transporting students there on educational trips.

She claimed that the museum’s Holocaust exhibits are used for pro-Israel lobbying and demanded exhibit space for the Palestinian nakba.

The windup speaker was the Rev. Monica Styron, a Presbyterian minister from Sonoma, who announced plans for the upcoming seventh International Sabeel Conference, from Nov. 12 to 19, in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Ramle and Nazareth, with side trips to “decimated Arab villages.”

The theme of the conference is “Beyond Remembrance: Facing Challenges of the Future Sixty Years After the Nakba,” and Styron promised dialogues with Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Audience comments and suggestions were perhaps more revealing than the speeches, including the following sampling:

  • Establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the Holy Land, on the model of post-apartheid South Africa.
  • Bring empty suitcases to work in support of an alleged plan by Palestinians in Lebanon to march on the Israeli border carrying suitcases.
  • “Israel and the Zionists don’t care what we say here. But they scream if we can apply political and economic pressure.”
  • “Tell the Israelis to choose peace over war and light over power.”
  • “I’m Jewish and have been an anti-Zionist for 40 years. There is increasing anti-Zionism in the Jewish community, especially in Southern California … Jewish youth, in particular, is open to enlightenment.”

The only exception to the litany of anti-Israel charges came from an elderly gentleman, born in Korea, who suggested that if people wanted to see what a real occupation was all about they should try living under Japanese domination.

When the man was gently upbraided for his heresy, he responded plaintively, “But I like the Jewish people.”

After the meeting, Baltzer, the initial speaker, sat down for a brief interview. On her business card, she lists herself as a “Teacher, Writer, Activist,” and her resume includes graduation from Columbia University, linguistic research in Turkey as a Fulbright Fellow and the Web site www.AnnaintheMiddleEast.com.

An intelligent, outgoing young woman, she said she had evolved over the past five years from protesting the “occupation” to anti-Zionism, shocked by Israeli human-rights violations.

She is busy as a full-time speaker at churches and on college campuses, and her May 1-14 calendar listed 13 speaking engagements, from Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert to UCLA. Being Jewish is a definite advantage in her line of work, Baltzer said, making her a much more credible anti-Zionist than Palestinian speakers.

She has experienced little harassment for her controversial views, she said, though plenty of “offensive” e-mail, while mainstream Jews tend to label her as “naïve” or “brainwashed.”

At least while speaking to a Jewish reporter, she allowed that she could understand the “other” point of view, such as the Israeli fear of terrorism.

For expressing such soft-hearted sentiments, she said, “I have received criticism from the left.”

Paper pieces for peace


An ancient Japanese legend holds that anyone who folds 1,000 origami cranes will be granted a wish. If three L.A.-area day schools were to get one, it might be for peace and understanding.

Pasadena's Weizmann Jewish day school hosted an interfaith origami session on Tuesday, May 6, inviting students from the Muslim New Horizon School in Pasadena and the Episcopal St. Mark's School in Altadena to participate in the annual Origami Peace Tree Project, an international celebration of coexistence through the precise and relaxing practice of paper folding.

The three schools meet several times throughout the school year to participate in collective singing and cross-cultural activities. This latest project will be sent to Jerusalem, which is hosting the Peace Tree Project for the first time this year. The art will be displayed as a canopy resting atop the point, or crease, where the Jewish, Muslim and Christian quarters meet in the Old City.

The festival, which began in 2000 as a Russian family's demonstration of peace, has since become an international declaration of tolerance and friendship. This year, the project visits Italy in addition to Jerusalem, although Israel's hosting will specifically highlight the Jewish-Christian-Muslim relationship. In recent years, the project has visited Brazil, Poland and India.

“You don't need language to fold, just a folding language as you look at each other and smile,” said Miri Golan, manager of the Israeli Origami Center, the parent organization of the Folding Together Origami Project, a program that unites Israeli and Palestinian children and serves as the official host of the Peace Tree Project in Jerusalem.

Origami expert, author and community member Joel Stern helped organize the schools' cooperation alongside Lisa Feldman, head of school for Weizmann. Stern, a friend of Golan's, was searching for appropriate schools to work with when he was informed of the already progressive relationship among the three schools.

The gathering was essentially a microcosm for the larger festival, which will bring 800 children of the three faiths to the Old City for special origami workshops at the end of July.

Although the project has a religious focus, one of the main criteria for submitting origami is that the art bears no religious ideology. Organizers want to keep the display as secular as possible — no stars, crescents, crosses or angels.

One reason the Japanese art form works so well is because of its neutrality to the three religions, Golan explained.

The three schools' contribution will have a special place at the Peace Tree Project, said Golan, who was thrilled by Stern's unique approach.

“The goals are to actively and symbolically demonstrate that people, regardless of their ethnic origins, can find common grounds for friendship, ” Stern said.

Students from the three schools seemed to agree.

“It's a good experience I'll keep for a while,” said Yusef Trad, a New Horizon eighth-grader.

Robert Cartwright, a sixth-grader at St. Mark's, enjoyed the opportunity to interact with “kids who are so similar to us,” he said.

Weizmann sixth-grader Adam Latham said the event was “good for meeting new friends and learning about one another's religion.”

‘Pieces’ fall into place for Israeli actress


“I long for the loss of memory,” grieves Jakob, the central character in “Fugitive Pieces,” a sensitive, at times wrenching, film based on the best-selling novel by Canadian poet Anne Michaels and directed by her countryman, Jeremy Podeswa, the son of Holocaust survivors.

But he is fated to remember.

Now a successful young novelist in Canada, Jakob remembers the day in 1942 when he was 9 years old and Nazi soldiers burst into his house in Poland. Thrust into a hiding place by his parents, Jakob watches as the soldiers murder his parents and abduct his teenage sister, Bella.

When the soldiers leave, Jakob runs blindly into the woods, digs a hole and hides himself under layers of leaves.

He is discovered by a visiting Greek archaeologist, who smuggles the Jakob out of Poland and hides the boy on his native island of Zakynthos, also occupied by the Germans.

After the war, the archaeologist accepts a teaching position at a Canadian university and takes along Jakob, who, by the 1960s, has become a talented but tormented young man.

Jakob flashes back again and again to the killing fields of Poland, he hunts obsessively for his sister and he speaks to the dead. He marries a beautiful young woman who tries to “normalize” him through her love, but Jakob is emotionally too numbed to accept the gift.


The trailer

It is only when he meets Michaela, a Russian immigrant who understands and accepts his trauma and pain, that Jakob comes to terms with his past and rejoins the present.

The adult Jakob is played by Stephen Dillane, a classically trained British actor, while Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer portrays the intelligent, understanding Michaela.

It is a plum role for Zurer, one of the few Israeli thespians who have managed to combine solid careers in both Hollywood and her native land.

She was born and grew up as a self-described “shy girl” in Tel Aviv, got the acting bug when she accompanied a friend to an audition, went to drama school, and, after roles in various films, scored an Israeli Academy Award for the title role in “Nina’s Tragedies.”

In 1996, she arrived in America, but she returns to Israel frequently for acting stints, such as in the TV phenomenon, “BeTipul.” Her character, Na’ama, has been transformed into Laura in “In Treatment,” the current American version on HBO.

Zurer’s first English-speaking role was as the wife of the Mossad team leader in Steven Spielberg’s “Munich.” She is featured in the recently released “Vantage Point,” and has the lead female role in the upcoming “Adam Resurrected.”

“I would like a dual career in Israel and America, but it is not easy to manage,” Zurer said in a hotel poolside interview, speaking with a slight accent which she is trying to erase by studying with a speech coach.

For one, the 38-year-old actress, married to fellow Israeli Gilad Londovski, has a 3-year old son, Liad, and a sideline as a book illustrator.

Zurer is in a rare position to compare moviemaking in Israel and the United States from an actor’s perspective.

She applauds the professional advances made by Israeli filmmakers over the past decade and the wider opportunities to alternate between stage and film roles.

“The main difference between American and Israeli movies is the scale of money,” Zurer said. “On a $1 million to $2 million budget, including a government subsidy, not every movie has to be a hit to break even, so that takes some pressure off.

On the other hand, with a bare-bones budget, “you need to work faster in Israel,” she added. “You don’t have the luxury of reshooting a scene over and over, until you nail it just so.”

Like her American sisters in Hollywood, Zurer laments that there are few good scripts written for women, and she hopes, in the future, to perhaps work as a writer and director.

In the meanwhile, as she juggles motherhood, emotional ties and careers in two cities 8,000 miles apart, Zurer sighs, “I guess everything is a trade-off.”

“Fugitive Pieces” opens May 2 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles, Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, and Town Center 5 in Encino.

Voice of reason in a sea of insanity, Jewish Dodgers, Prager, archaeologists, politicians and peace


Food Issues

Rob Eshman’s article about food issues is a voice of reason in a sea of insanity (“Food Issues,” April 11).

Much of the meaning behind the holiday is in its simplicity, as Rob indicates. Changing one’s diet for seven or eight days obviously extends beyond the seders. Unfortunately, it is getting swept under the table with the increasing availability of processed foods just like what we eat the remainder of the year.

Fortunately, we have the opportunity to choose between our day-to-day excessive commercialism or changing our lives for a week and truly appreciating the simplicity and freedom that we normally associate with Pesach.

Ed Rivkin
Cherry Hill, N.J.

Ziman and Lee

I realize that bad news always travels faster than good news — especially with today’s technology(“Four Questions,” April 18).

But the simple and difficult question you asked — is it true — still needs to be answered.

Whatever the answer is, it will say a lot about everyone involved. As you wrote, there will probably be multiple versions of what was exactly said. I think seeing all of them, or at least the generally accepted versions, will be quite revealing.

Philippe Shepnick
via e-mail

Two facts stick out from the Daphna Ziman controversy: She is a strong supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton that included Ziman’s hosting fundraisers for her, and she gratuitously connected Sen. Barack Obama with the Rev. Eric Lee’s alleged vitriolic remarks he has vehemently denied.

She then sent out her version of what he said in an attempt to persuade as many as she knew in the Jewish community to oppose Sen. Obama. Pure and simple, it was just another political hit piece. Hopefully it has not worked.

George Magit
Northridge

Jewish Dodgers

I enjoyed Robert David Jaffee’s history of Jewish baseball players on the Los Angeles Dodgers (“Dodgers Hit Grand Slam in History of Jewish Players,” April 18).

However, I would like to correct him regarding one of the players that he stated was “hailed by some as Jews even though they are not.”

Scott Radinsky is the son of a Jewish mother and Polish father. He considers himself a Jew much in the way Mike Lieberthal identifies himself.

Ephraim Moxson
Co-Publisher
Jewish Sports Review
Los Angeles


Period slide show set to Jimmy Durante’s 1963 Sandy Koufax tribute “Dandy Sandy”

Marriage Equality

I am grateful for your publishing the article highlighting Jews for marriage equality (“Battle for Gay Marriage Rights Gains Jewish Support,” April 11).

As a Conservative rabbi, I signed the petition, and I stand fully behind the work of the commission and its desire to bring equality and justice to the many gay and lesbian couples seeking to enter into the sanctity of marriage with all of the rights and privileges that come with that covenant.

Judaism has constantly evolved, and I agree fully with Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a pioneer and leader on this issue, when he teaches that this is a landmark time in the state of Judaism, a time that will require the will and commitment of dedicated Jews to bring yet another group of outsiders into the fold of Jewish life.

Some of the arguments made today against bringing homosexuals into the mainstream of Jewish life are the same arguments made 20 years ago in the Conservative movement regarding women. We overcame those hurdles, and we have started to overcome the current hurdles. Because we are all created in the image of God, all Jews deserve full access to the Torah and equal rights in civic life, as well.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center

Dennis Prager Ad

Yes, Dennis — I’m a Democrat that fights for carbon dioxide emissions control (Advertisement, April 18).

Had you and your Republican ilk been fighting for that, rather than fighting for more oil around the world, our dependence on your black gold may not be such that we’d need to be sucking it out of places where we are so resented for our presence alone.

Corporate evil — that is what you do not fight!

Kenny Halpern
Oxnard

As a respected nationwide figure and a proponent of moral belief systems, I consider Prager to have a heavy responsibility to present meaningful, well-analyzed arguments.

After reading his ad, “I Used to Be a Democrat,” I was sorely disappointed with the weakening of his own position by the juxtaposition of evil and CO2 emissions.

The implication that being against destroying the earth is tantamount to considering that is more important than nazism, communism and terrorism is absurd and totally unfair. These two hideous problems are not comparable, and one should not have to choose between them to be righteous.

Diane Rowe
Santa Monica

How sad it was to read this full-page ad and realize that Dennis Prager would rather be associated with a presidential aspirant who actively sought the endorsement of the Rev. Hagee and all the hate and bitterness he represents and stands for then remain identified with the true inheritors of the Lincoln legacy, the contemporary progressive movement.

And when he goes on to say that Republicans are for the preservation of liberal values, well, he might as well consider going to an open mike night at the Comedy Club!

Saul Goldfarb
Oak Park

Web Editor: The Prager ad did not appear online @ JewishJournal.com

Passover Ponderings

As I participated in seders this year, I imagined the early years of the Jews in Egypt. They didn’t come as slaves but came looking for subsistence. They came looking for the opportunity to feed their families.

Butt out


I’m always leery when Jewish groups ride in from out of town to try to save us from the bad guys. We have plenty of sharp-eyed Jewish defense groups locally who can tussle on our behalf. It’s just a bit condescending to think we rubes, out in America’s second-largest Jewish city, don’t know how and when to fight. Or whom.

For the past couple of weeks, the Boston-based pro-Israel media watchdog group CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) has been riling up rabbis, congregants and any Jew with an e-mail address to pressure the All-Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena to cancel the appearance of a prominent Palestinian activist, the Rev. Naim Ateek.

Ateek, an Israeli Arab who lives in Jerusalem, is scheduled to speak at the liberal church Feb. 15-16. As founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center and its sister organization in the United States, Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), Ateek has championed the cause of nonviolent resistance to Israel in the West Bank. His writings are numerous and explicit: Ateek wants an end to occupation according to U.N. Resolution 242, and reconciliation between Israel and a Palestinian state.

“We want Israel to live in peace and security within its pre-1967 borders,” he said in a sermon at Boston’s Old South Church last year. “At the same time we want justice for the Palestinians in accordance with international law and the creation of a Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside the state of Israel. There is no other way.”

CAMERA and other Jewish organizations vehemently protested Ateek’s appearance in Boston and elsewhere. Their critique focuses less on his vision of a future settlement than on his language and methods. In his sermons and writings, Ateek uses imagery that portrays Palestinians as suffering under Israel as Jesus and the early Christians suffered — raising disturbing images of the ancient anti-Semitic canard of deicide. He has also championed comparisons of Israel to apartheid South Africa and has promoted divestment as a nonviolent tool to bring pressure upon Israel.

These are disturbing tactics and unsettling words. But, man, it sure beats Hamas. It beats Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the armed wing of Fatah by a mile. I’ll take a man who writes that the occupation is the equivalent of the stone blocking “Christ’s tomb” and that “The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily,” over a suicide bomber any day. This is an opponent you can debate, propogandize and educate.

This is the Palestinian resistance that, had it taken root in the Palestinian body politic 45 years ago instead of that cancer called Arafat, the history of that region would have been much different, much better.

So, CAMERA, I admire you, I respect your work, but butt out. Get back on your white horse and go rescue some other Jews.

Besides choosing the wrong enemy here, you risk unraveling longstanding local relationships that have taken much time and care to knit together.

“CAMERA is trying to paint All Saints as an anti-Semitic organzation that is against the State of Israel,” the Rev. Ed Bacon, leader of All Saints, told me. “That is far from the truth. What we are trying to do is teach people to be sophisticated about how they talk about these issues. I’m not sympathetic with Sabeel to the exclusion of the right of the state of Israel to exist.”

Bacon and the local Episcopal diocese, which also supports Ateek’s efforts, have been more than open to the entreaties of the local Jewish community. In late 2004, responding to concerns of local Jewish leaders and its own wisdom, the diocese voted to bypass a resolution put forward by activists to divest church funds from companies doing business with Israel.

Los Angeles Episcopal Bishop Jon Bruno has been to Israel nine times. A former beat cop and pro-football player, he doesn’t need to be schooled by Jewish activists on Israeli geography or the importance of security. And it was Bruno who, in April 2005, stepped in and helped the Silver Lake Jewish Community Center buy its $2.1 million property when every Jewish organization said no.

But what about balance? If Ateek is allowed to criticize Israel, shouldn’t pro-Israel activists demand equal time? (Never mind that many of the most damning things Ateek often says are direct quotes from Israeli soldiers, politicians and journalists, who just haven’t learned to be as uniform in their opinions as American Jews).

Ideally, yes, there would be debate and rebuttal. But in the real world grownups hear strong opinions all the time and judge them against past and future information. That’s why most Jewish groups don’t invite Palestinians to their lectures.

Still, the Rev. Bacon has invited pro-Israel activist Daniel Sokatch of the Progressive Jewish Alliance to address his congregation this Sunday.

“The message the liberal churches get from the Jewish community on Israel is, ‘You’re either with us or against us,'” Sokatch said to me by phone. “I think there’s a third way. But we have become hypersensitive on our side.”

Now, there’s awful evidence that the Palestinian state Ateek is fighting for will be anything but hospitable to Palestinian Christians. Last October, Rami Khader Ayyad, the 32-year-old director of Gaza’s only Christian bookstore, was shot in the head and stabbed numerous times by Islamic fundamentalists. A month earlier, a masked attacker beat an 80- year-old Christian Palestinian woman in Gaza, calling her an “infidel.” Since the Palestinian Authority took over control of Bethlehem, Christians have emigrated en masse.

But that’s Ateek’s problem. If he believes in the power of nonviolence to win over a Palestinian population educated for generations in hatred and intolerance, good luck to him.

Meanwhile, I, for one, want to hear what the man has to say. I believe Israel is strong enough to withstand the rhetoric of a 70-year-old cleric dedicated to nonviolent coexistence.

If it’s not, even CAMERA can’t save us.

Can Pasadena become a ‘city of justice?’


I sometimes wonder what the Prophet Isaiah would think about Pasadena.

It was Isaiah whose words we just read this past Yom Kippur.

God, speaking through Isaiah, says, “Do you think the fast that I demand this day is to bow down your head like a bulrush? No! The fast I demand is that you feed the poor, house the homeless, clothe the naked, and break off the handcuffs on your prisoners.”

In other words, it is not enough to feel guilty and ask for forgiveness. It is not enough to mouth platitudes about fairness, compassion and justice. We have to act on those beliefs.

We are a world-class city, well known for the Rose Bowl, our cultural institutions, colleges and our science-oriented institutions like Cal Tech and JPL. What many people don’t realize is that Pasadena, with 146,000 people, is also a city with many problems — poverty, violent crime, racial tensions and widening inequality.

Pasadena is proud of its history and has a strong commitment to preserve its older buildings. But I’m not sure it has the same commitment to protect its older citizens, or to provide for its young children, or to help lift its working poor out of poverty.

We like to think of ourselves as a compassionate city that cares about its needy. But are we really?

What would it mean for Pasadena to be a “city of justice”?

There are five pillars that comprise a city of justice:

1) A city with a strong economy that fulfills the American dream of fair wages and benefits in return for hard work.

2) A city that provides decent housing for a wide mix of families from different income groups and diverse racial and cultural backgrounds.

3) A city with a first-class, well-funded school system that guarantees every student an opportunity to fulfill his or her potential.

4) A healthy city, where people can breathe clean air, where everyone, especially children, has access to health care and where people feel safe in their homes and safe in the streets.

5) A city with a strong sense of community, where people participate actively in their civic, neighborhood and religious institutions; where they feel their voices are heard by the political decision makers; and where people feel part of something bigger than themselves — something transcendent, even spiritual.

How close is Pasadena to becoming a real city of justice?

Pasadena is the most unequal city in California. The income of households near the top ($255,106) is 12 times greater than the income of those near the bottom ($21,277). This is the widest gap among the 36 California cities with more than 140,000 people.

In Pasadena, the wealthiest 5 percent of all households — those with household incomes above $255,106 — have over one-quarter (25.1 percent) of the all the income in the city. Among California’s 36 largest cities, only Los Angeles has a greater concentration of income among the richest households (26.1 percent).

In contrast, the poorest one-fifth of Pasadena households — those with incomes below $21,277 — combined have only 2.8 percent of total residents’ income. Those in the next poorest one-fifth — with household incomes between $21,277 and $46,375 — bring home only 7.6 percent of Pasadena’s incomes. Only in San Francisco and Oakland do the poor have a smaller share of the income.

Pasadena is thus a tale of two cities. Gentrification is exacerbating the gap between rich and poor.

Between 2005 and 2006, Pasadena’s median household income increased from $51,233 in 2005 to $59,301 in 2006 — a dramatic 15.7 percent boost in just one year. This jump in income is not because Pasadena’s existing residents got big pay raises from generous employers. It is because the people moving to Pasadena are increasingly those with high incomes, while those with low incomes are being pushed out of the city.

In other words, the city’s prosperity is not being widely shared, but is instead pitting the affluent against the poor and working class for the city’s scarce housing.

Since 1999, the number of households under $10,000 has declined by 30 percent. The number of households with incomes over $200,000 has increased by 54 percent.

Moreover, gentrification is not simply a matter of market forces. It is a matter of the city’s public policy. Almost all the housing that our city government has been approving is expensive luxury condos and apartments.

This has been exacerbated by the accelerating number of affordable apartments being converted to expensive condominiums or being torn down by city-approved demolition. Condo conversions don’t add any new units. They simply make the existing units more expensive, feed gentrification and push out the poor.

More than half (54 percent) of Pasadena’s population are renters. Half of them pay more than 30 percent of their incomes for rent. Among low-income renters, the situation is even more serious. Among the 7,684 households with incomes below $20,000, almost all — 89 percent — pay more than 30 percent of household income for rent.

But the shortage of affordable housing isn’t confined to the poorest households. Among households with incomes between $20,000 and $35,000, 78.3 percent pay more than 30 percent of household income for rent.

Gentrification may be good for a handful of developers, but it isn’t good for most residents or for the city’s business climate. Pasadena housing costs are skyrocketing beyond what most working families — including schoolteachers, nurses and nurses’ aides, bus drivers, security guards, secretaries, janitors, child care providers, retail clerks, computer programmers, lab assistants and others — can afford.

When working families spend almost half their incomes for rent or mortgages, they have little left over to spend in the Pasadena economy, hurting local businesses. Moreover, local employers are having difficulty finding employees who live in the city. Long commutes into Pasadena exacerbate traffic congestion and pollution.

This is a major reason for the decline in enrollment in Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) schools. PUSD’s declining enrollment and budget problems are due in large part to the displacement of the poor, not the flight of the middle class.

Sitcom superstars, sultry songstresses, literary diamonds


Saturday

Bob Saget will forever be remembered as Danny Tanner from “Full House.” Now, instead of guiding the household with his wise advice and calm demeanor, Saget is exposing the sitcom family’s sexual exploits on cable television. “Bob Saget: That Ain’t Right” was taped in front of a packed audience at New York University and will debut on HBO tonight. His wildly inappropriate stand-up comedy routine covers such dirty ground as animal sex, snuff videos, prison and the personal sex lives of his former “House” mates. Although his sense of humor might make your rabbi blush, word on the street is that he is very entertaining. And a mensch.

10-11 p.m. Also, Aug. 30, Aug. 31, Sept. 4, Sept. 7, Sept. 10 and Sept. 20.

Sunday

You’ve heard of Christmas in July … now you can have Chanukah in August! Grab your gelt and head to Thousand Oaks to take part in the creation of a real holiday treat cooked up by Harvey Shield, Richard Jarboe and Chayim Ben Ze’ev. “Maccabeat!” is a rockin’ musical take on the story of Judah the Maccabee and his cooler-than-thou Greek rivals. Forbidden lovers Judah and Allura force two different cultures to confront and learn from one another. A heated battle ensues and, well, you already know the rest of this tale. Hebrew hotties, Jerusalem Valley girls and a biblical boy band — it’s the Chanukkah story like you’ve never seen it before!

Part of the Thousand Oaks Festival of New Musicals, Aug. 25-26. 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. $24 (two-day pass includes admission to all four staged readings plus workshops, discussions and a festival party.) Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. For tickets call Ticketmaster, (213) 480-3232. ” border = ‘0’ vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Sophie Millman” >

Sophie Millman’s golden blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes and delicate facial features recall the old days of Hollywood glamour. But this 24-year-old Russian Israeli Canadian beauty is no aspiring actress. She’s a jazz singer with a dark chocolate voice that’s set to take the U.S. by storm. Millman is touring New York and California in support of her new album, “Make Someone Happy,” and the predictions from jazz critics are that she’ll be making lots of music lovers very happy. Swoon to this chanteuse’s infectious crooning in “Rocket Love,” “Fever” and the particularly meaningful “Eli, Eli,” written by the Jewish Hungarian poet Hannah Senesh, who sacrificed her life to save her family from the Nazis.

8:30 p.m. $15. Catalina Jazz Club, 6725 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 466-2210. ” border = ‘0’ vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Edward Schwarzschild’ >
“The Family Diamond” is a collection of jewels. Literary gems, that is. Early reviews for Edward Schwarzschild’s second novel, comprised of nine short stories, have been sparkling: “each story is as satisfying as a full moon,” writes one author. “An achingly beautiful collection,” writes another. To see the value of the diamonds with your own eyes, visit Dutton’s tonight and meet the author, his wife and maybe the rest of his family too.

7 p.m. Free. Dutton’s Brentwood Books, 11975 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 476-6263. ” border = ‘0’ vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Dinah Berland”

If you’re a (Jewish) bookworm, this is your week! Not one, but two more book readings are taking place tonight. In Pasadena, teenybopper idol turned television director Robby Benson reads and discusses “Who Stole the Funny?” The satirical novel parodies the world of sitcoms and gives a behind-the-scenes look at the ditsy stars, meddling money-men and sexual escapades that Benson witnessed firsthand while directing more than 100 episodes of “Ellen,” “Friends,” “Dharma & Greg” and other hit shows. Back at Dutton’s, Dinah Berland covers a very different Jewish topic: prayers. She’ll be signing “Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda’s Book of Prayers for Jewish Women,” a restoration of a cherished 19th century prayer book.

Benson: 7 p.m. Free. Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. ” border = ‘0’ vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Clare Burson” >

Awarded one of 12 Six Points Fellowships for Emerging Jewish Artists in April, Tennessee native Clare Burson is hard at work on “Invisible Ink,” a 10-song album of original Jewish music infused with Southern Americana. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t diligently promoting her recent release “Thieves,” which showcases her warm voice and songwriting talents. She’ll be hitting up all the big towns, including ours, this summer and fall.

8 p.m. $8. Tangiers, 2138 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 666-8666.

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday, July 1
In time for summertime, the Skirball has rekindled its weekly Café Z live music series. Take advantage today, and head down to groove to Elliott Caine Quintet’s Afro-Cuban jazz beats. According to Caine’s Web site, KCRW’s Bo Leibowitz described him as a “terrific trumpet player, bandleader and composer … deserving of wider recognition.”

Noon-2 p.m. Free. Zeidler’s Café, Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

 

Sunday, July 2
Miami City Ballet whoops it up for its 20th anniversary, with its tour of performances of signature pieces by Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine and Twyla Tharp. Included are Robbins’ classic “Fancy Free,” which was the inspiration for the musical, “On the Town,” and Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” accompanied, as you might’ve guessed, by songs by the blue-eyed crooner.

June 30-July 2. $25-$95. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500

Monday, July 3
Shaken or stirred, the martini is more than a drink today. It is a symbol. Sculptor Thomas Mann asked artists to riff on it, reinterpreting the conical glass’ shape and context. “The Martini Show” premiered in New Orleans as a benefit for Craft Emergency Relief Fund. It runs here at Altered Space Gallery, through July 24.

Contemporary art+craft+design, 1221 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. (310) 452-8121

Tuesday, July 4
What goes great with burgers and dogs? Your radio dial tuned to 89.9 KCRW-FM. Its special Independence Day programming features “a day of music by American artists who embrace the spirit of independence.” The lineup of musical patriots includes Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Roy Orbison, Patti Smith and the Dixie Chicks. The presentations feature music as well as interview clips and other materials.

89.9 KCRW-F, ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Wednesday, July 5
Collapsing just moments after a performance of his stirring trio, “In memoriam Dmitri Shostakovich,” at the Jewish Music Commission concert last month, professor Joseph Dorfman was unable to be revived. He died at age 65. In his memory, a concert will be held this evening at Valley Beth Shalom, to benefit the newly founded fund in his name.

7:30 p.m. Free (general), $15 (reserved seats). 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. R.S.V.P., (818) 788-6000.

Thursday, July 6
Gay lovers struggle to deal with their oppressive societies against the backdrop of World War II France in the case of “A Love to Hide (Un Amour à Taire),” and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the case of “Zero Degrees of Separation.” The two films are part of this year’s Outfest 24th Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which begins today.

Times, prices and screening venues vary by film. Abovementioned films screen at Directors Guild Theatre, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.

Friday, July 7
More lovers caught on opposite sides of the political fence emerge in the film, “Only Human.” Opening today, the Spanish production tells the farcical tale of Jewish Leni, who brings home her boyfriend, Rafi, to meet the folks. But madness ensues when they find out Rafi is Palestinian.

Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino. (818) 981-9811. Laemmle One Colorado, Pasadena. (626) 744-1244. www.laemmle.com” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Transplant Recipient Will Parade Success


Like many native Angelenos, Ilene Feder has never been to the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena. However, the Studio City resident not only will be attending the New Year’s day festivities on Monday, Jan. 2, for the 118th Rose Parade, but will have a vantage point few get to experience: She’ll be riding on a float.

Feder is one of 23 individuals from throughout the country who will ride on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float, representing organ and tissue recipients, living organ donors and donor family members. The float’s theme is “Life Transformed.”

In 1995, Feder, then a 40-year-old international flight attendant, led a healthy, active lifestyle that included skiing, running and scuba diving. Following a routine checkup that showed elevated liver enzyme levels, she was diagnosed with a rare blood disease.

The condition caused a clot in the artery that supplied blood to her liver. Feder underwent surgery to bypass the blockage, but within nine months, it was clear that her liver was shutting down.

When her doctor told her that she would need a liver transplant, “I flipped out,” Feder said. “But the support that I had from the transplant community and from my family saved me. I got heaps and heaps of information that I didn’t get from my doctors.”

Now Feder, who received a donated liver in August 1996, reaches out to others who are awaiting or have received a transplant. She helped start local chapters of the Transplant Recipient International Organization (TRIO) in Westlake Village and Sherman Oaks and became an ambassador for OneLegacy, the transplant network serving the greater Los Angeles area. She has also spoken at various synagogues and organizations to promote organ donor awareness.

Although Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism sanction — and in fact advocate — organ donation, Feder believes that some may retain misconceptions about Judaism’s view.

“People think you need to be buried whole, but it’s a mitzvah to donate an organ,” Feder said. “It makes me feel good that my religion backs my convictions.”

Feder’s transplant has enabled her to resume an active lifestyle. Although she has less stamina than she had before getting sick, she has since traveled to such locales as Israel and China. She’s also attended the Transplant Winter Olympics. And, of course, she’s getting ready for her role on Jan. 2.

“I’m practicing my Princess Di wave,” she said. “I’ve got it down.”

The Rose Parade, with the theme, “It’s Magical,” will take place on Monday, Jan. 2, at 8 a.m. and will air on several local TV stations.

On Tuesday, Jan. 10, the Santa Ana/Tustin group of Hadassah of Long Beach/Orange County will host “Pikuah Nefesh — to Save a Life,” a program discussing the Jewish view of organ and tissue donation. The event will feature Rabbi Ken Millhander of Temple Beth Tikvah in Fullerton; Sharon Zepel, mother of a teenage donor; and organ recipient Lynda Trachtman. For event location and more information, call (714) 545-7162.

The Real World: Warlord


Imagine an Uzbek warlord who takes time between mortar attacks to remove his clothes and display his manhood in the bunker. Now, imagine that he willingly does this for a camera operator, who films the chieftain and his family for an “Osbournes”-meets-“Sopranos” reality-TV show.

It sounds almost plausible in the age of “The Apprentice” and “Survivor.” But, in fact, this is the setup for a fictional reality-TV show at the heart of Peter Lefcourt’s new novel, “The Manhattan Beach Project” (Simon & Schuster, $24).

Lefcourt, who quips that he is “a card-carrying Jew,” will discuss his latest social satire at the Jewish Book Festival, which will run from Oct. 30 through Dec. 11. The event is organized by the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys and will feature a wide range of writers.

It will kick off with Bruce Bauman discussing “And the Word Was,” his debut novel about the aftermath of a Columbine-type tragedy on the life of a doctor. Also appearing will be Ursula Bacon, author of “Shanghai Diary,” a memoir about a young girl’s journey from Europe to Shanghai at the time of the Holocaust.

Bookended by scenes at a Debtors Anonymous meeting, “The Manhattan Beach Project” takes off when a bankrupt CIA agent convinces a down-on-his-luck producer — a fellow debtor — to pitch a reality-TV series about the daily activities of a warlord in the former Soviet Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan. The warlord has the typical dysfunctional family: a mistress, an angry wife who never leaves her room, a lesbian daughter, one teenage son who is an onanist and another who joins the Taliban. Unbeknownst to the producer, the rogue agent has turned the warlord’s basement into a safe house for pirated videos, the ultimate no-no in Hollywood.

With or without a Jewish theme, “The Manhattan Beach Project” skewers Hollywood the way Tom Wolfe lampooned Wall Street in “Bonfire of the Vanities.” Lefcourt shows the callowness of these show biz Masters of the Universe.

Over the past 30 years, Lefcourt has written and produced television dramas like “Cagney & Lacey” and miniseries like “The Women of Windsor,” but it’s his novels that most closely reflect his comic sensibility. His best-known prior book, “The Dreyfus Affair,” depicts with dark humor a gay romance set in homophobia-ridden big league baseball.

“The Dreyfus Affair” has been optioned several times by movie studios but never produced, so Lefcourt is intimately familiar with the reptilian nature of Hollywood executives in the mold of Sammy Glick, and the difficulties in getting a project green-lighted.

Lefcourt cites no particular inspiration for “The Manhattan Beach Project,” but says that he was “so attached to” producer Charlie Berns, hero of his first sardonic novel on Hollywood, “The Deal,” that he wanted to bring him back. Berns, an erstwhile Oscar-winning film honcho, resurrects his career in “The Manhattan Beach Project” by entering the world of reality TV, which Lefcourt calls “the crack cocaine of the TV business. It’s addictive, debilitating and noninformative…. It seems to have peaked, but it will be with us, in one form or another, for a long time, like a flu epidemic.”

“The Manhattan Beach Project’s” overarching metaphor, show biz as a top-secret, clandestine society, where anyone can be whacked, has always been apt, particularly in recent times. He’s no fan of Michael Eisner and his ilk, and concludes his acknowledgments by sarcastically thanking Eisner for “going down with the ship.”

Would Mikey have green-lighted “Warlord”? According to Lefcourt, Eisner would have “yellow-lit it” — keeping it at arm’s length “in case it blew up in his face.”

Peter Lefcourt will read and discuss his book on Sunday, Nov. 20, at 2:30 p.m. at Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, 1434 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena.

Also at the festival: The Jewish Journal will co-sponsor a Nov. 30 event with author Ruth Andrew Ellenson, editor of “The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt.” For festival information call (626) 967-3656.

A Case for Pasadena


Most people are surprised, even flabbergasted, to learn that there is a sizeable Jewish community in Pasadena, one that has been here for well over a century.

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and I had never been to Pasadena. I knew little about it — mostly that the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl were there; I had no idea how close it was to Woodland Hills, where I lived. And I certainly didn’t think about if there were Jews there.

Pasadena is located in the San Gabriel Valley — or what locals call the “Other Valley” — and it’s surrounded by the San Gabriel Mountains. It sits at the foot of Mount Wilson, home to the observatory where Albert Einstein worked during his stay at Cal Tech. It’s also home to Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the leading U.S. center for robotic exploration of the solar system, which offers us a connection to space, science and some of the best minds in the world.

Jews first came to Pasadena at the turn of the 20th century, not long after the city was founded. Jewish women formed an aid society, and the men formed a congregation. Meetings first took place in congregants’ homes, and High Holiday services were held in the Union Labor Temple. In 1920, Temple B’nai Israel incorporated and established a presence on Hudson and Walnut streets, and from 1925 to 1932 the congregation grew from 60 families to 207 families. In 1940, the congregation moved to its present location on North Altadena Drive.

When Rabbi Max Vorspan arrived to head the congregation 1947, he encouraged the Pasadena Jewish community to reconstitute itself as the Jewish Community of Pasadena, with Temple B’nai Israel, B’nai B’rith Men and Women, Hadassah and ORT as constituent organizations. The congregation adopted the name “Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center” (PJTC). Vorspan went on to become the University of Judaism’s dean in 1952.

When I took over the rabbinic leadership of PJTC two years ago, I learned not only about the amazing cultural, social and natural wonders of Pasadena, but also about the awesome Jewish community here: It’s one that has a solid base and an incredible potential for dynamic growth.

In addition to PJTC, there is also a Chabad of Pasadena. All different kinds of Jews live here — and are moving here in large numbers.

The area features a wonderful preschool, B’nai Simcha Jewish Community Preschool, which cares for 70 children ages 2-6, and is located a short drive down the road in Arcadia. On the PJTC campus is an accredited day school, the Chaim Weizmann Community Day School, which has recently been awarded a science and arts grant for its work with Eaton Canyon Reserve, as well as a city of Pasadena Unity Award, for its Daniel Pearl program bringing together Jewish, Christian and Muslim children.

PJTC is currently home to almost 400 families, with many young families joining every month. We have a vibrant and nationally recognized religious school, the Louis B. Silver Religious School, with more than 175 kids.

I am using my experiences from my time at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan to bring innovative prayer experiences to PJTC. We have “Shabbat B’lev,” Shabbat of the Heart, featuring musicians who create an incredibly deep and passionate Shabbat evening service. PJTC is also engaged in social justice programs, including acting as one of three host synagogues for a May 26 program focusing on the Sudan, partnering with Longfellow Elementary in an extensive tutoring and mentoring program, serving monthly meals at our local homeless shelter and raising money to build a reservoir in Israel.

I constantly hear from people who are interested in moving to a more open and expansive part of town. Given how crowded the San Fernando Valley and the Westside are — Pasadena is set to explode to become the next major Jewish community in Los Angeles.

With a greater number of committed Jews moving here, we will have the chance to open kosher restaurants and markets, which are currently not available. The saying promises, “build it, and they shall come,” but in this case, I think we need to build it together.

I can see a time in the next 10 to 15 years when Pasadena will take its rightful place as the newest — yet oldest — addition to Jewish Los Angeles. I foresee a future when people will mention Pasadena’s Jewish community alongside Jewish neighborhoods like Pico-Robertson, Fairfax and Valley Village. Of course, given how often Pasadena is compared to the San Fernando Valley, our Jewish community may be known as the “other Jewish neighborhood.”

For more information on PJTC, visit

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, May 21

Ah, love. We get a heaping helping of it at the Getty’s “Love Story Weekend,” which continues today. Hear noted actors read short stories by noted writers — Regina King reads Charles Johnson, Alec Baldwin reads John Updike and William H. Macy reads Etgar Keret.

May 20-22. $15-$20. 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300.

Sunday, May 22

Klezmer fuses with Middle Eastern rhythms in Yuval Ron and Sha-Rone Kushnir’s new performance of original music and stories, “The Legend of Baal Shem.” Sponsored by the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity and a grant by the city of West Hollywood, the free concert honors West Hollywood’s large Russian Jewish immigrant community with a focus on the Ukranian-born founder of Chasidism, the Baal Shem Tov.

4 p.m. Free. West Hollywood Park and Recreation Auditorium, 647 San Vicente Blvd. (323) 658-5824.

Monday, May 23

Richard Nanes’ classical crossover music has been performed by the London Philharmonic and at Lincoln Center, with his “Symphony No. 3, The Holocaust” world premiering at the Kiev International Music Festival. You’ve heard his music on the Bravo Network, and possibly on EWTN (the Global Catholic Network). But for those who want to own his “Symphony No. 3, The Holocaust,” the opportunity has just now arrived. It’s available on video and CD through the Web.

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Tuesday, May 24

Gary Baseman’s illustrations have appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone and on the cover of the New Yorker. This month, however, you need look no further than our own fair city. “Gary Baseman: For the Love of Toby” opens this month at Billy Shire Fine Arts, featuring cartoonish depictions of the lovable cat Toby in different curious and sometimes naughty situations. Base man indeed!

Noon-6 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.). 5790 Washington Blvd., Culver City. (323) 297-0600.

Wednesday, May 25

Sunday marked the opening of UCLA Hillel’s Dortot Center for Creativity in the Arts’ new photography exhibit, “Resistance and Rescue in Denmark,” by Judy Ellis Glickman. But for those who missed it, the show continues through June 30. The images depict the history of the rescue of Danish Jewry during the Nazi occupation.

Free. 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081.

Thursday, May 26

Jewish music mixes with Latin beats in this evening’s Skirball concert featuring Septeto Roberto Rodriguez. Rodriguez and his band perform songs from his latest album, “Baila! Gitano Baila!” and the public gains free admission to the Skirball’s exhibits, including “Einstein,” before the show.

7:30 p.m. $15-$25. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Friday, May 27

Chuck Goldstone has mused on everything from PC vs. Mac users to the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, and now has a new book of humorous writings out titled, “This Book Is Not a Toy!: Friendly Advice on How to Avoid Death and Other Inconveniences.” If you missed him yesterday at Dutton’s in Brentwood, he reads some of his silliness in person today at Vroman’s Pasadena.

7 p.m. Vroman’s, 695 E. Colorado Blvd. Pasadena. (626) 449-5320.

Your Letters


PETA Profanes Holocaust?

Dr. Joel Geiderman (“Campaign by PETA Profanes Holocaust,” Sept. 19) should read “Eternal Treblinka” by Charles Patterson, a history scholar who devotes much of his book to explaining that it is because the Nazis equated Jews with animals that they were so easily able to murder them.

The Nazis weren’t killing other humans, according to their logic. As many people are aware, the first and most necessary thing one has to do to rationalize killing other humans is to dehumanize them by calling them animals. Equating factory farming to the Holocaust does not insult the memory of those who died; it shows us that we can honor and serve their memories by understanding the clear and direct connection between animal slaughter and human slaughter and, by doing so, help build a future where either one would be not only unthinkable but completely rejected by all humans and animals alike.

Sam and Andrea Zollman , Los Angeles

When Adolf Otto Eichmann was captured, he was asked how he could have ordered the torture of children. His answer: “They were only Jews” (“Animal Activists Gone Wild” Sept. 19). As a vegetarian, I often hear, “It’s only an animal” to defend cruel practices in the meat industries. As a Jew, these words haunt me. My empathy for one group does not diminish my compassion for another. Cannot the mantra “Never Again” encompass every being?

Jayn Brotman, Cincinnati, Ohio

Single Conspiracy

With the High Holidays so close, I’m surprised that Carin Davis overlooked synagogue dues (“Single Conspiracy,” Sept. 19). The dues for singles are almost always more than half the dues for couples or families.

David Wincelberg, Beverly Hills

Pasadena Jews

I appreciate the coverage of the growing Jewish synagogue presence in Pasadena (“Diversity Blooms in the Land of Roses,” Sept. 19). I’d like to encourage you and your readers to investigate another treasure of rich historic interest to the earliest roots of Los Angeles’ Jewish community — Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock.

Founded in 1929, Temple Beth Israel has held Shabbat morning services for an amazing 74 years without interruption! Guided by a dedicated group of senior members, including the current president, Henry Leventon of Eagle Rock, the temple has served as a unique Jewish oasis in the demographically rich environment of East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley.

Will Not Let You Go

In your Sept. 12, article, “Will Not Let You Go,” a father forbade his 15-year-old daughter from studying this year in Israel. “Would you send your kids to Israel right now?” he asked. For our family, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

In 2001, we sent our 14- and 16-year-old sons to the American accredited Pardes Chana Boarding High School in Israel and it was the best gift we ever gave our children. Here in Los Angeles, their life revolved around computer games, television and the refrigerator. In Israel, they experienced a year of authentic childhood and learned the true meaning of friendship.

One son enjoyed Israel so much that he elected to remain another year and completed 11th grade at Kibbutz Beit HaShita’s American High School, also under the auspices of the Jewish Agency for Israel Department for Jewish Zionist Education.

Unfortunately, both of these programs have been terminated indefinitely due to insufficient student enrollment and lack of parental support. Our 11th-grade daughter had enthusiastically anticipated studying this year at Beit Ha Shita. What a shame that these unique wonderful, educational programs have been forced to close their doors — such a loss for our daughter and other high school students!

Linda and Shalom Oferm, Los Angeles

Jewish Trojans

As a 1942 graduate of the USC Law School, and despite of surname conferred on my paternal grandfather by a British immigration inspector, a Jew long active in Jewish community affairs, I have read with great interest Rachel Brand’s piece in the Aug. 22 issue of the Journal (“Jewish Trojans — Oxymoron No More”). While applauding the article, I am compelled to dispel the reported rumor that in the von KleidSmid era at USC there was a Jewish quota of one at the law school.

During the period 1939-1942, when I was enrolled, the percentage of Jews in the law school student body exceeded the percentage of Jews in Southern California. Jewish students were prominent. Art Manella, later one of the leading tax lawyers in the country, was editor-in-chief of Southern California Law Review in 1941. I followed in that office in the 1942 year. Of the four assistants editors in 1942, one was Richard Lavine, later a distinguished Superior Court judge. Indeed no end of prominent Jewish lawyers and judges attended USC Law School in the period discussed in Brand’s article.

Robert Thompson, La Jolla

Corrections

The Whizin Center for the Jewish Future was incorrectly identified in the Sept. 12 interview with Ron Wolfson, “An Experience Worth the Price of Admission.”

Diversity Blooms in the Land of Roses


"Are there really Jews in Pasadena?" is the question asked of Pasadena Jews, despite the fact that the Pasadena Jewish community is one of the oldest in Los Angeles.

But today that question is asked less frequently. What was once a blue-blood enclave is now becoming a more ethnic-friendly place, and the Jewish community, while not exactly thriving, is definitely growing.

With a new young rabbi at the 83-year-old Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center (PJTC), who has ambitious plans to expand the community’s influence, and a Chabad House that is building a mikvah and renovating its property to accommodate the scores who will attend High Holiday services there, Jewish life in Pasadena no longer need be a source of surprise.

Home to the Rose Bowl, Pasadena is a tony suburb northeast of Los Angeles. It is located in the San Gabriel Valley, a place that for years accommodated hostility toward blacks and Jews. The American Nazi Party had its headquarters in nearby El Monte. The virulently right-wing John Birch Society made its home in neighboring San Marino. In Pasadena there was a "gentleman’s agreement" among real-estate agents not to sell property to Jews in certain neighborhoods, according to Steve Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Los Angeles.

Jews have had a presence in Pasadena since the late 1800s, yet many of the few thousand who lived there preferred to go unnoticed. Even the PJTC, which for years was the only Jewish organization in Pasadena, didn’t want to be "too Jewish." It affiliated with the Conservative movement, but was reluctant to impose standards of Shabbat and kashrut observance on its members.

"There was also a perception that the areas east of Los Angeles were places that Jews could go and disappear, and I am sure that happened in terms of affiliation and identification," Sass said.

But things started to change in the latter part of the 20th century. Not only did anti-Semitism die down, but Jewish identity became more fashionable. Now, Pasadena is slowly starting to establish itself as an alternative Jewish address to the city and the Valley. It is no longer solely a home to those with old money — now it attracts Yuppies, many of them Jewish, with good jobs at places like the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the City of Hope Medical Center, Caltech and Occidental College.

"I think that Pasadena has a serious potential of becoming an attractive Jewish community, even in the eyes of those living on the Westside, and even among Orthodox Jews," said Rabbi Chaim Hanoka of the Pasadena Chabad House, which is currently embarking on a $350,000 renovation project. "I am always getting calls from people living on the Westside, inquiring about moving here. It is just a matter of time."

Joshua Levine Grater, the new rabbi at PJTC, said that he hopes that the Pasadena community will not only become more observant, but will form stronger alliances with the city and valley communities.

"If we can raise the level of awareness [of kashrut] then there is no reason that kosher businesses can’t come here," said Grater, who started work at PTJC in the middle of August.

Grater plans to attract city attention to Pasadena with scholars-in-residence programs and lecture series.

Both PJTC and the Chabad community said that a large percentage of their congregants are professionals working at JPL or City of Hope, and that there is a lot of room for their communities to grow because of the large number of unaffiliated Jews in Pasadena.

Hanoka moved to Pasadena eight years ago from Los Angeles. His first Pasadena event was free High Holiday services in a hotel. He came knowing no one, and he advertised his services in the local papers. To his surprise, more than 150 people showed up. This year, Hanoka is expecting 200 people for the High Holidays, and he also has plans to build a mikvah and to get more kosher food available in Pasadena.

"There has certainly been growth in terms of numbers, and over time a number of the families became observant," Hanoka said. "And then a number of them moved. As much as I would have liked them to stay, currently we don’t have enough for them religiously. But we are growing, and we will continue to grow."

Grater said that he wants to incorporate his interest in sports, popular music and nature into his religious platform, and encourage his congregation to do things "more and more with the Jewish lens."

"We would like to grow, and one of the main reasons I came here is that I saw the potential," he said. "More people are moving to this area, and when they come here and see a beautiful space, a vibrant Hebrew school and committed people, they will want to learn and pray — and do."

For information on PTJC, call (626) 798-1161. For information on Chabad of Pasadena, call (626) 564-8820.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Big into cantorial music? Is this ever your weekend! Head over to the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center’s (PTJC) “Cantors in Concert.” (No worries, they’ve probably cleared out all of the Rose Parade mess by now.) Or, for you West Valley-ites, wait till tomorrow and swing by Valley Circle Boulevard (aka Synagogue Row) for The Cantor’s Assembly Western Region’s “Kol Libeinu: The Voice of the Heart” at Temple Aliyah. They’re two variations on a theme, with both concerts featuring cantors Henry Rosenblum, Yonah Kliger, Eva Robbins and Judy Sofer, as well as the PJTC Chamber Choir.

8 p.m. $36-$108. Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, (626)798-1161 or www.pjtc.net.

7 p.m. $10-$20. Temple Aliyah, (818) 346-3545.

Sunday

PJTC’s got it goin’ on this weekend. Today, it’s the cheapest ticket to the homeland you’ll find. (Good news for those of us whose checkbooks are still recovering from Chanukah.) Actually, it’s a lecture/workshop on the “Music, Poetry and Dance of Modern Israel.” So you can take in some Israeli culture without spending a lot of dough. (And speaking of dough, bagel breakfast is also included.)

10 a.m. $5. 1434 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena. R.S.V.P., (626) 798-1161.

Monday

The guy’s worked with everyone from Tom Waits to Norah Jones to Willie Nelson as part of Tin Hat Trio. But this time, musician Rob Burger is going it alone with his debut solo album “Lost Photograph.” Well, almost alone. He does get some accompaniment from bassist Greg Cohen and percussionist Kenny Wollesen on the CD that’s been described as “part klez-soul, part tango groove, part film-music.” The fact that he can play instruments as varied as the accordion, the glockenspiel and the claviola makes us all the more curious to check out this new release.

$15. www.tzadik.com.

Tuesday

Tu B’What? Tu B’Shevat, silly. And if you or your kids aren’t familiar with this holiday, today’s the perfect day to learn. Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel sponsors “Shalom Time” at Borders in Westwood. The monthly story time features interactive activities including songs, finger plays, puppetry and stories. January’s theme is “Tu B’Shevat: Jewish Arbor Day.” Here’s a hint: It’s all about the trees, people.

1360 Westwood Blvd., Westwood. (310) 441-5024.

Wednesday

Happy Birthday, Elvis! Turns out there are two extraordinary lives to celebrate today. The University of Judaism’s Department of Continuing Education presents “About Anne: A Diary in Dance,” a drama inspired by the diary of Anne Frank. Choreographer Laura Gorenstein Miller and the Helios Dance Theater have been praised by the Los Angeles Times and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Our suggestion: Take in the show today, then head home for some fried peanut butter ‘n ‘nanner sammiches.

2 p.m. (Also plays Jan. 9, 11 and 12. Times vary.) $30-$35. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1547.

Thursday

Non-Jewish playwright John O’Keefe’s bold choice to write about the Holocaust seems to have paid off. “Times Like These” tells the story of a famous Jewish actress banned from the stage in Nazi Germany, and how she prevails with the help of her actor-husband. The play’s first run just ended in November. This weekend, it reopens at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble. You can catch a preview tonight.

8 p.m. Runs through Feb. 23. $15 (previews), $20.50-$30 (general). Discounts available. 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055.

Friday

She’s funny, she’s female, she’s Rita Rudner. The Jewish comedienne takes the stage tonight only at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. If anyone’s ever sent you one of those “fabulous female”-type e-mails, chances are you’ve read some of Rita’s lines. She thinks Judge Judy should be president and Barbie should be fattened-up. A stand-up gal, indeed.

8 p.m. $40-$50. 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. (800) 300-4345.

Rose Queen for a Day


It took 50 years, but this New Year’s Day a childhood dream and mother’s fantasy is about to come true.

I was born on Jan. 1, 1953. Dwight D. Eisenhower prepared to assume the presidency, American troops remained in Korea and newspapers heralded mine as Los Angeles County’s first recorded birth. In glad recognition of this event, producers of the popular TV tearjerker "Queen for a Day" presented my mother with a miniature silver tea set.

But throughout my childhood, thanks to my mother’s unwavering love and her gift for the fanciful, I dreamed of a far greater notoriety than gifts of precious metal, or being the first to enter the world at an interesting moment, could provide.

I dreamed of being the Rose Parade queen.

While this dream may seem especially whimsical for a Jewish girl growing up then in Los Angeles’ Fairfax district, it made perfect sense to my mother and me. After all, every year my birthday fell on New Year’s Day. And on every birthday, a lavish parade with rose-covered floats was held in my honor. Or so my mother told me.

From the time I was born, my mother told me that mine was the most special birthday. When my father died suddenly of a heart attack when I was only 5 years old, her proclamation took on a deep — and healing — meaning.

To be the child of a single mother was something of a stigma in the 1950s — when television portrayed only intact families with strong father figures. The sting of every schoolmate’s inquiry as to, "What does your father do?" was greatly lessened by my mother’s assurance that the most magical, wonderful parade around was held every year for me. It also guaranteed my status as a continuing treasure in her life — born 11 years after my parents married, and long after they had accepted that they could not have children.

So every Jan. 1, surrounded by friends and family, we did not celebrate New Year’s Day, but honored Phyllis’ birthday. I donned the new red velvet dress that my aunt sent me annually from her home in Canada, styled my hair to perfection and waved, queen-like, to the television while we all relished the floats.

As a teenager, I pleaded that we move to Pasadena so I could compete to be the real Rose Queen. Although my mother never included living in Pasadena as part of the fantasy, I continued to dream. Every year I visited the floats with my mother, then my husband, Mark, and, eventually, my daughters, Lauren and Julia. The one year my daughters didn’t join, I wept.

Last year, as I enjoyed the parade with them and my husband on the occasion of my 49th birthday, I determined that the next year I had to actually be in the parade.

So I wrote a letter to some of the Tournament of Roses officials. Touched by my story, they shared it with Larry Crain, president of Charisma Floats, and designer Raul Rodriguez of the coveted Queen’s Float.

Every year, tournament officials are deluged with requests from aspiring parade participants; apparently, Crain was moved by my request — maybe it was the power of family traditions and teaching children that, through the kindness and efforts of others, dreams can come true. For while my mother understood the value of traditions that are handed down through the generations, she also understood the beauty of creating your own.

So Crain arranged a "Queen for a Day" opportunity. In a red velvet dress and bejeweled tiara with my daughters as princesses and the media in attendance, I was photographed on the Queen’s Float. I held a scepter covered with just the right number of deep-red roses, answered reporter’s questions and waved royally to the cameras.

One writer noted that the float on that day was a "far cry from the many-splendored creation it will become." But I was unfazed by the absence of thousands of fragrant roses or the fact that the unadorned float was parked in a stark, white tent. Being photographed was a dream come true — viable proof that the parade was my personal birthday present.

How fitting that the theme of this year’s 114th Tournament of Roses parade is "Children’s Dreams, Wishes and Imagination." I was instilled with confidence by a mother who raised me on a department store clerk’s salary, but who provided me with a life rich in love and imagination.

That evening, my mother — in very frail health at age 86 — chuckled while she watched the local TV news coverage. And, like a child unwilling for a magical day to end, I reluctantly removed my tiara.

On Jan. 1, 2003 — my 50th birthday –that photograph will be placed on the float for the ride down Colorado Boulevard that I’ve always wanted to take. Millions of parade-watchers will see a beautiful young queen waving to the crowd, but my mother and I will know it’s really me.


Phyllis Folb is principal of The Phylmar Group Media Relations, a firm that specializes in the arts, education and nonprofit organizations.

Purim Magic and Minutia


Late one night last week, Rabbi Chaim Hanoka stood talking to David Angel in a large, almost empty parking lot, well past the appointed hour that each man had expected to get into his car and drive home. Hanoka was attempting to unravel the mathematical complexities of how Purim falls in Adar Bet, or the second month of Adar, this year, making 2000 a leap year, not only in the solar calendar but in the lunar, or Jewish calendar, as well.

Hanoka, a cheerful young man in a black hat, and the director of Chabad of Pasadena, was explaining all this outside the campus of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center (PJTC) after a fruitful planning meeting for the community Purim carnival, that both he and Angel had earlier attended. Angel, a stout, friendly man, who could be easily mistaken for a lumberjack, grasped the implications of the two leap years immediately, which, no doubt, will help him in figuring out the odds for the ping-pong ball toss next week. Angel, who is a member of Temple Beth David, was brought in last year to sit on the committee, and now finds himself in a permanent, lifelong position (not that he asked); Hanoka came along a few years ago when Chabad got started in Pasadena.

The committee, which has been meeting around a large rectangular table in the Center library since January, is one among thousands that meets this time of year to select, and perfect, the games and booths that will appear at Purim carnivals around the country. In Pasadena, the carnival has been celebrated as a community event for the past 20 years, rotating each year to a different synagogue, “Which means that the community isn’t split up in six different directions,” explained Edeena Gordon of PJTC, a member of the committee. Rochelle Coombs of Congregation Shaari Torah, still remembered the days of her childhood, during the ’60s, when the carnival was only at PJTC, but now supported — with her time and her money — the group approach.

The carnival, which commands about 500 fun-loving participants will offer the usual stress-releasing booths and games. “Most of the booths are to get out your aggressions,” Hanoka ventured. When asked, though, what karaoke or the lollipop toss had to do with Purim, Angel spoke for the group: “There is a little connection to Purim in all of the booths,” he said, such as the Vashti ring toss, the knock-down-Haman ball toss, the Queen Esther karaoke experience, and so on and so forth. The sisterhoods from the participating temples, Coombs was eager to add, were making the hamantaschen.

The committee, which by now is working together as smoothly as a well-oiled grogger, had a pretty good grasp of the difficulties and last-minute tie-ups that lay before them. During the meeting, the smallest minutia was presented and discussed: Were the churros kosher? Adrienne Matros of PJTC’s Weizmann Community Day School said they were. Matros, whose father works at the West Co. Bakery, which is donating all the churros, explained it was a matter of the dough… and the bakery. Gordon, who commanded the north end of the table, was satisfied with their qualifications but was stuck on how many churros to order. “A couple thousand,” Rabbi Hanoka calculated, from the other end, “Just get rid of them before Pesach.” When Combs announced that Congregation Sharri Torah’s youth group wanted to do a karaoke booth instead of the usual dart balloons, the meeting room erupted: “Why is it one or the other?” “The more the merrier.” Finally a conciliatory Angel came through, “Okay, okay,” he said, taking a swig of his Coke, “we’ll take the dart balloons.” Shirli Cohen, the youth and seniors director at PJTC, supported his decision: “It’s not hard, it’s easy, well, it’s hard to win, but not hard to run.”

A zillion more mundane details were gone over that night, and still the committee worked on. Perhaps, I thought, not entirely unselfishly, it’s not such a bad thing that the planning committees of the world are confined to musty meeting halls, with ancient maps of Palestine on their walls, so that children — and those of us who still act like children — can partake of the magic that is this holiday.

Final on the agenda was the dunk tank: The temple kids were so excited about being the “victims” in the tank that it occurred to the committee that they might be able to charge them to participate. “The Tom Sawyer approach,” Angel mused, “‘You want to whitewash this wall?'” This idea so delighted those sitting around the table that they momentarily lost focus and drifted off into their own magical worlds before returning to reality. “How often do you think the kids are going to get dunked?” Gordon asked, in a practical, no-nonsense voice. The committee agreed it depended on the adult who was in charge, his sense of humor and who was inside the booth, “If you don’t like the kid… beeeep!” a voice cackled, somewhere off in the distance. Moved by the spirit, and the increasingly late hour, the committee landed on the idea that if they could convince their rabbis to get into the water, they could make a small fortune. Turning to Rabbi Hanoka, Matros asked if he wouldn’t mind taking a dip in the tank, “With a swim suit it wouldn’t be so bad,” she said. “If I’m going in there,” Hanoka said firmly, “it’s $500 a ticket.” The thought stopped the committee dead in its tracks: “Do rabbis wear swim suits?”

PJCT’s Purim Carnival will be held March 19 from noon to 3 pm. 1434 N. Altadena Dr., Pasadena, (626) 798-1161.

More Purim Stories:

The Purim mitzvah of giving food, mishloach manot, gets an L.A. twist.

A personal perspective on Esther’s legacy.

Children’s books for Purim.

Don’t let the holiday pass you by! Find an event to attend in our Purim listings.

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