Visionary revisionary


saw it all in the mirror

of the chlorinated pool

world’s swimming under-painting

you in it

as moving

us,

future-to-past, a fugue;

if not

what you’d call

a God

then a name

a fear –

of being –

ordinary

Jake Marmer is a poet and performer. His debut collection, “Jazz Talmud,” was published by the Sheep Meadow Press earlier this year. For more information, see jakemarmer.wordpress.com

The story behind the Hotel Shangri-La anti-Semitism trial


It was late in the afternoon on Aug. 15, a Wednesday, when the jury delivered its verdict to a Santa Monica courtroom. The discrimination case that had been brought against the oceanfront boutique Hotel Shangri-La by a group of young Jews had been going on for nearly four weeks, and the jurors had taken five full days for their deliberations. It was so late in the day, in fact, that James Turken, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, and some of his clients who were still standing by, had to be let into the locked courthouse building in Santa Monica by a security guard.

And even though Turken was already hopeful that the jury’s prolonged deliberation might mean good news for his side, it wasn’t until the attorney took a seat in the courtroom that he found out for certain just how overwhelming their victory was.

A court employee had already begun reading the jury’s verdicts for each of the 18 individual plaintiffs, and, with each additional decision, the message became increasingly clear: The jury firmly believed Turken’s clients’ allegations that the hotel and its president, CEO and part-owner, Tehmina Adaya, had illegally discriminated against them, solely because they were Jewish.

The total amount in damages and statutory payments awarded to the plaintiffs on that day added up to about $1.2 million. On the following day, because the jury found the defendants had acted with “malice, oppression and fraud” against most of the plaintiffs, they would also impose a fine on Adaya and the hotel of $440,000 in punitive damages — bringing the size of the total penalties to more than $1.6 million.

But Turken was already elated on Wednesday.

“Home run,” Turken whispered to this reporter. “Home run.”

This story dates back to two years before, to July 11, 2010, when the plaintiffs, most of them affiliated with the Young Leadership Division of the local chapter of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), all attended a pool party organized by the group at the Shangri-La.

The group had made arrangements for the event through an event promoter, Scott Paletz, who had been bringing people to the hotel’s rooftop restaurant since March of that year. Starting at 11 a.m. on that Sunday, the FIDF group had been allotted a cordoned-off area on the pool’s deck, where members had installed a pair of banners announcing their presence. At a check-in table in the courtyard, a blue shirt was displayed with the word “Legacy,” the FIDF program the group was fundraising for that day. It’s a program that brings the young relatives of Israeli soldiers killed in the line of duty for a month-long stay at a summer camp in the U.S.

Adaya, 48, a Pakistani-born Muslim, was also at the pool that day, there to watch the World Cup final game in her cabana. After examining some of the FIDF group’s promotional literature, Adaya instructed members of her staff to take a number of actions against the group — including forcing the FIDF group to take down its banners, literature and other evidence of the organization’s presence. Many of the plaintiffs testified to seeing hotel security guards inform some of the FIDF guests, all easily identified by the blue promotional wristbands they were wearing, that they were not allowed to swim in the pool, or even dangle their feet into the water. The plaintiffs also alleged they heard from a hotel employee that Adaya had made comments about wanting to remove “the [expletive] Jews” from the hotel or the pool.

The hotel staff did not forcibly kick out the attendees of the FIDF party, but their actions, the plaintiffs said, ruined the party. Though it had been expected to last into the evening, the day ended when the plaintiffs left the hotel, around 5 p.m., according to testimony during the trial.

Many of the plaintiffs (most, but not all, of them Jews) also testified that they could not believe they were experiencing discrimination of this sort, at a chic hotel in Santa Monica, in 2010. But that’s precisely what they came to believe had happened, and they were able to convince the jury that Adaya and the hotel had violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a far-reaching California state law that outlaws discrimination on the basis of “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.”

The law entitles all Californians to “the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever,” and though it was adopted in 1959, a time when the most egregious forms of discrimination were directed against African Americans and other people of color, the statute clearly applies to religious groups, as well.

None of the legal experts interviewed for this article could point to a previous case in which the Unruh Act had been used to affirm the rights of Jews in the way that it was in the Shangri-La case, however. (One case, Sinai Memorial Chapel v. Dudler, had been brought in 1991 by a Jewish plaintiff and cited the Unruh Act, but in that instance the plaintiff was accusing other Jews of discriminating against her because she came from Russia.)

“I don’t think it makes new law, because it simply affirmed that there was a violation of existing law,” Turken said of the Shangri-La victory. “But do I think the case is important? Yeah, I think it’s important. My clients wanted the defendants held up to the world and found liable — and that happened.”

Built in 1939, the Art Deco Hotel Shangri-La is situated on the corner of Ocean and Arizona avenues, with a pool set in an interior courtyard, protected from any winds coming off the Pacific Ocean. The clean, white exterior of the 71-room facility glistens in the Southern California sunshine.

Tehmina Adaya’s father, Ahmad Adaya, purchased the hotel in 1983. Reading a March 2010 post on her blog, tamieadaya.com, one might imagine the Shangri-La to be the Santa Monica equivalent of the Chateau Marmont.

“I had the privilege of growing up in and around an LA institution that as Hollywood’s ocean front hotel had a long history of being a hideaway for high profile figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Bill Clinton, Tom Cruise, Diane Keaton, Madonna and Sean Penn,” Adaya wrote, not long after a $35-million renovation of the Shangri-La was completed in 2009.

But if the hotel does, in fact, aspire to a degree of exclusivity, some of the evidence presented in court appeared to belie that aim. When Adaya took the stand as a witness on Aug. 1, Turken asked her if a formal policy exists as to who is allowed to use the hotel’s pool. Adaya responded that a sign now stands on the pool deck informing visitors that only guests of the hotel and people who have rented cabanas are entitled to swim in the pool.

Asked whether such a sign was posted on the day of the FIDF event, however, Adaya responded, “I’m not sure.”

Attorneys defending Adaya and the Hotel Shangri-La maintained throughout the trial that the FIDF group had not made a formal arrangement with the hotel to hold its party there, and therefore the hotel and Adaya were justified in their actions.

Yet in cross-examination on the witness stand, Adaya retreated from some of her previous allegations about the plaintiffs. Adaya acknowledged that, contrary to the report prepared by the hotel’s head of security, the FIDF group was not behaving in a raucous manner. And when Turken asked Adaya about a lawsuit she had filed against his clients, in which she alleged that they had posted libelous and defamatory comments on various Web sites about her hotel following the ill-fated event, the hotel owner admitted that she had no evidence that it was Turken’s clients who posted the comments.

“But their friends did,” Adaya said.

Whether it was Adaya’s own apparent uncertainty about the Shangri-La’s policies — including those governing the relationship between the hotel and the separate company that in 2010 was running the hotel’s food and beverage concessions — that impacted the jury’s verdict, it is impossible to say. At the close of the trial, before jury deliberations, Adaya declined to speak to this reporter. Adaya also was not present in court when the verdict was announced, nor, despite a request by the court, did she appear to hear the additional penalties read on the following day. Follow-up requests for an interview with Adaya for this article, submitted to her representatives, were declined.

A number of members of the hotel staff were present in the courtroom representing her, accompanied by a recently hired communications counselor with a specialty in crisis communications. They spoke in her defense, saying she intends to appeal the ruling.

Ellen Adelman, chief business development officer at the Shangri-La for the past two years, said she had spoken to Adaya that morning, who, Adelman said, was “disappointed” with the verdict.

“I’ve worked for Tehmina Adaya for over two years, and I have always received the utmost respect from her,” Adelman, who is Jewish, said. Adelman described her boss as one of the “most open people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” and said that the hotel employs staff from “over 12 countries” and welcomed guests from “over 21 different countries” in July.

Standing next to Adelman was Miles Lozano, the hotel’s director of public relations and marketing. Lozano, too, is Jewish, a fact he also made sure to note in a conversation during the morning recess.

“I went to Crossroads School with [Adaya’s] children, her children attended my bar mitzvah,” said Lozano, who declined to state his age but appeared young enough that his bar mitzvah might not be such a distant memory. “I’ve always known Tehmina Adaya to be amazingly open-minded as far as religion or anything like that.”

As for the plans to appeal the ruling, Adelman said that Adaya “firmly believes in the judicial system, and she will appeal this.” Defense attorney Philip Black, meanwhile, wrote in an e-mail to this reporter on the day punitive damages were assessed that he was “mystified, perplexed and extremely disappointed in the jury.”

“Appeal expected,” Black added.

Israeli hotels showcase a summer medley of adventures


Spurred by a record-breaking number of foreign tourists who visited the Holy Land during the first quarter of 2012, Israel’s burgeoning hotel industry is gearing up for a busy summer tourism season by sprucing up their facilities and offering a variety of titillating vacation packages.

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the 752,000 foreign visitors who entered the country between January and March 2012, not only eclipsed last year’s figures by 2 percent, the first-quarter figures also represent a 1 percent increase over 2010, which Israel’s Ministry of Tourism declared was Israel’s best year ever for incoming tourism.

Despite the generally optimistic picture, many hotel managers aren’t assuming that North American Jewish tourists will reflexively book a vacation to Israel when there are myriad interesting destinations to choose from. In order to attract both veteran and new foreign tourists to their facilities, some of Israel’s best-known hotels have undergone a series of physical transformations in order to broaden their appeal, while others have focused on offering newfangled experiences to both couples and families with children.

Ilan Brenner, executive assistant manager of marketing and sales at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, said that the hotel’s staff knows its clients, and in a growing number of cases they have literally grown up with entire families.

“So when a new generation emerges, we already have a good idea about their needs. Both returning and new tourists are always searching for and asking about upgrades, so we are constantly adding incentives, whether it’s a free car, a multimedia game room for youngsters, new spa treatments, trendy gastronomic experiences in the dining room,” he said. 

Rafi Beeri, the Dan Hotel’s vice president of marketing and sales, said renovations at Dan properties have included some innovations. “The King David has undergone a major makeover with a new section of rooms and suites. At the Dan Carmel, which debuted in 1962, we have completed a top-to-bottom renovation [that] includes new executive rooms, which overlook Haifa Bay and the Carmel Mountains. With the Dan Jerusalem, which we acquired in 2010, we realized that renovating this huge hotel would have to be done in phases and feature some unique aspects.”

According to Beeri, the Dan Jerusalem highlights a unique hotel-within-a-hotel concept, where both guests and groups can benefit from more personalized services and amenities.

“It can be compared to an airline’s business-class environment,” he said. “We’ve upgraded a wing of 120 rooms, where guests or groups who wish to stay in this section will enjoy a separate check-in area, separate lounge and dining facilities, as well as a special staff that will cater to them in a more personalized manner.”

The Ramada Jerusalem Hotel has acquired a stellar reputation among families who seek discounted long-term vacation packages (from seven to 21 days) with a variety of summer activities for adults and children, including its “We Love Kids” program, which features daily entertainment for children, including magicians and petting zoos.

“During weekdays, we offer complimentary shuttle bus service to the Old City, which is an attraction for the parents. And, our outdoor American-style barbecues out by the pool area during August always attracts a large audience of both adults and children,” said Yacov Shaari, general manager of the Ramada Jerusalem Hotel. The growing Rimonim chain recently rebranded four of its upscale properties to create the “Royal Collection,” which includes the Royal Dead Sea, Rimonim Eilat, Ruth Rimonim Safed and Rimonim Galei Kinnereth. Each hotel accentuates contrasting experiences for the mind, body and soul.

“During the summer months, the Royal Dead Sea will feature special spa packages that include the hotel’s new Royal Lounge,” said Anat Aharon, Rimonim’s vice president of sales and marketing. “At the Ruth Rimonim in Safed, we invite guests to let their soul breathe amid the mystic beauty of the hotel’s Galilean surroundings. The hotel also features a wine cellar, where you can sample the best Israeli wines and enjoy small talk.”

At the Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel, where North American, British and French tourists converge during the summer months, the “accent” will be on indulging kids and parents alike.

“Last year, we opened a children’s pool. This year, we will complement it with a guarded kids’ playground with games and toys, where families can relax and enjoy the pool while their children are playing,” said Jean-Louis Ripoche, general manager of the Sheraton Tel Aviv. “During the summer, we will be extending breakfast hours in the dining room till noon, so couples and families can enjoy a longer, relaxed morning. After breakfast, we offer adults a free bicycle, so they can pedal around the seaside boardwalk area and beyond.”

It’s important to note that despite a 15 to 20 percent rise in the cost of airline tickets to Israel since last summer, many Israeli hotels have not raised their basic rates. Israeli hoteliers are cognizant of the fact that families are looking to maximize their vacation experience without blowing a hole in their budget.

Here is a guide to some of the hottest summer deals across Israel:

Inbal Jerusalem Hotel
July rates begin at $150 per person in a double room, based on a minimum five-night stay. The hotel’s Web site features several unique summer deals. Guests who book three consecutive nights in a “superior room” are entitled to a free car. Guests who book at least three consecutive nights in “executive rooms” or higher category are also entitled to a vehicle upgrade (such as Mazda 6). In August, the hotel’s popular Kids Club will feature a supervised multimedia game room and Gymboree. The Splash Bar situated poolside highlights an American-style barbecue menu as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages for adults and children. The hotel’s Mediterranean-accented Sofia restaurant has received rave reviews for the unique fish and pasta dishes served up by executive chef Moti Buchbut. 
inbalhotel.com.

Ramada Jerusalem Hotel
The hotel’s “We Love Kids” rates start at $198 based on a seven- to 14-night stay, including two adults and one child in a room (including breakfast). Rates are discounted even further based on stays exceeding 14 nights. Amenities include large indoor and outdoor pools, health club and sauna, as well as supervised summer children’s camps and a teen corner during July and August. This hotel highlights OU mehadrin glatt kosher cuisine.
jerusalemramada.com.

Dan Hotels
Rates for July and August for guests who book “Golden 7 Nights” at the King David start at $480 a night per room (per couple) based on a bed and breakfast excursion. The “Golden 7” special also includes pampering amenities such as free round-trip transportation between Ben-Gurion Airport and the hotel. Guests who stay a minimum of three nights are entitled to a free voucher to the Dan Lounge at Ben Gurion Airport on the day of their departure from Israel. At the Dan Jerusalem, guests who book a minimum of three nights in “deluxe rooms” will receive a free upgrade to “executive rooms,” which includes the use of the hotel’s new King David Executive Lounge.
danhotels.com.

Sheraton Tel Aviv
Hotel & Towers

The hotel is offering an “early bird package” starting from $370 per person with a minimum booking of five nights, or three nights non-refundable. The charge for a child in the room under the age of 17 is $30 per child. There is no charge for children under 3 years old. There is a limited promotion whereby guests who stay for a minimum of five nights between Aug. 5 and Aug. 25 will receive complimentary tickets to the world famous Cirque du Soleil, which will be playing Tel Aviv during August. Rates start from $400 a night based on double occupancy. The special deal can be booked direct via the hotel’s Web site.
sheratontelaviv.com.

Rimonim Hotels
Various deals are available for guests who book directly via the Web site. Rates vary for midweek and weekend vacations. At the Royal Dead Sea
guests staying in suites and preferred room types will enjoy a separate check-in at the lounge, private breakfast and dinner, as well as snacks and drinks during the day. Galei Kinnereth’s luxurious spa highlights a “domed Jacuzzi” overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The Rimonim Eilat’s “Serenity & Action” package includes a choice of two hot attractions for the whole family: IMAX Theater/Underwater Observatory/Ice & Space, when reserving for a minimum of three nights. The hotel’s “Romantic Serenity” deal for couples features pampering amenities such as, breakfast for two in your room, one gift dinner, spa treatment for both, as well as a 45-minute pedicure and manicure.
english.rimonim.com


Rimonim Royal Dead Sea pool

Phoenix Rises – Milken JCC Readies for Big Splash


The New JCC at Milken in West Hills, which was damaged but not destroyed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, has survived another peril and is looking toward a brighter future and a recovery of lost members.

Negotiators for the Jewish Community Center at the Bernard Milken Community Campus and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles confirmed Monday that they had reached full agreement, following nearly two years of frequently tense discussions.

The agreement’s key provision calls for a cost-sharing arrangement in the future operation of the four-acre Milken campus, which, besides the JCC and its recreational facilities, also houses offices of The Federation and its agencies.

Starting in 2010, the JCC will pay a rising percentage of the Milken campus budget, hitherto borne entirely by The Federation, leveling off at 65 percent by 2013. Projections for the total annual budget range from “well over $1 million” to $1.6 million.

Steve Rheuban, chairman of the Milken JCC board, and Richard Sandler, The Federation vice chairman, both declared the agreement a win-win solution.

The Federation, which owns the campus property, will be relieved of much of its financial burden.

The Milken JCC, in turn, is assured of its continuing tenancy as the “primary occupant” of the campus, as long as it pays its share of the cost, and can plan for the future on that basis.

Perhaps no one welcomes the resolution with greater joy than the young campers and the mature seniors who have been deprived of the JCC’s Olympic-sized swimming pool, shut down two years ago during an impasse between the two sides.

Following reconstruction of some of the facilities, the pool is scheduled to open in the early summer, said Paul Frishman, the JCC executive director.

When that happy day arrives, it will also reverse the precipitous decline in JCC membership, Rheuban hopes.

With the closing of the pool and uncertainty about JCC’s future, membership dropped from a peak of 1,500 to a current figure of 350, he said. In parallel, nursery school enrollment dropped from 125 to 70.

The roots of the Milken JCC go back to the West Valley JCC, which was founded in 1969 and bought the Milken campus, then a horse ranch, in 1976.

Subsequently, the site was deeded to The Jewish Federation, which put up $15 million to build up the campus, completed in 1987, and came up with additional funds to restore the buildings after the 1994 earthquake.

At one point, the protracted negotiations seemed near a breakdown, when the JCC was facing a $250,000 deficit but rejected a one-time bailout offer of $350,000 from The Federation.

Both JCC leaders and members balked at a condition of the bailout that they would have to surrender JCC’s right to remain as the major tenant of the campus.

But on Monday, both sides were eager to forget the past and look ahead to happier days.

“This outcome is a triumph for the community as a whole,” Rheuban said. “Both sides treated each other with respect, and I am pleased that we were able to get together.”

Sandler observed that “During some of the negotiations, you could hear horror stories from both sides, but that’s in the past. Now everyone wins and the best interests of the community are served.”

Frishman is busy planning for the future. He is aiming for an eventual membership of 2,000, including 100 nursery school kids in the fall.

With the pool in shape and new equipment for the fitness center, he anticipates an enrollment of some 200-300 kindergarten to eighth graders for the 10-week summer camp.

A major attraction for the summer camp will be the swimming school, conducted by Olympic gold medalist Lenny Krayzelberg.

Some 150-200 seniors, whom Frishman refers to as “active adults,” visit the JCC daily and consider it a second home. Frishman hopes to expand their activities, which include trips, musicals, discussion groups and card playing.

He envisions an upswing in the participation of young couples, as well, with the parents dropping off their toddlers at the nursery school and then heading for a workout at the fitness center.

Frishman also plans a further outreach, to involve the Russian and Israeli communities in JCC’s activities.

Resurrected Westside JCC gets a major facelift


The Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC) has announced plans for an Oct. 29 groundbreaking on its Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Aquatic Center, a $4 million renovation of the center’s pools and related areas. Four-time Olympic gold medalist Lenny Krayzelburg, who operates a swim school at the facility, will join community leaders, government officials and representatives of Lehrer Architects, the project’s designers, at the 3:30 p.m. event.

The aquatic renovation, scheduled to be completed by May 1, 2009, will honor the midcentury facility’s original design, which Los Angeles architect Michael Lehrer calls a “quintessential optimistic Southern California building that basks in sunshine and fresh air.”

The announcement is particularly welcome news to patrons and supporters of the JCC, who have been concerned about the center’s viability since a financial crisis threatened Los Angeles’ JCC system seven years ago. In recent years, the facility’s operators have implemented a new business model, which helped revive programs, increase membership and raise $8 million toward its larger goal — a $20 million master plan to extensively upgrade the complex.

A crisis among many of the local JCCs came to light in 2001, when a $2 million budget shortfall led the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) — the local JCCs’ parent organization — to consider closing several of its sites, including the Westside facility.

After closing the Conejo Valley JCC and Bay Cities JCC, JCCGLA initially kept the remaining centers open but drastically slashed operating budgets. Centers were forced to cut services and programs, lay off staff and, in the case of Westside JCC, shutter part of its facility.

Regrouping at the Westside JCC began within a year, according to Michael Kaminsky, president of its board. By September 2002, nursery school enrollment was increasing and some senior programs were reinstated. The center also instituted new fundraising avenues, such as its Celebrity Staged Play Reading series.

“The key for us in rebuilding the center was, and is, to put on programs of excellence,” Kaminsky said. “But we had to do so in a financially responsible way…. We couldn’t expand programming unless we were assured that it would pay for itself and generate additional revenue for the center,” he added.

So Westside JCC began partnering with outside organizations to bring in “high- quality, successful programs that fit with our mission,” Kaminsky said.

First, Krayzelburg — who swam at the center after emigrating from Ukraine with his family as a teen — opened his swim school there in 2005. He contributed $115,000 of the $250,000 needed to refurbish and reopen the pool. And while he operates the Lenny Krayzelburg Swim School — hiring staff, handling admissions, paying operating costs — he pays Westside JCC a fixed percentage of the school’s gross revenue.

“The program was so successful, programmatically and financially, that we decided to use it as a basis for other programs,” Kaminsky said.

Westside JCC has entered into similar partnerships with the Los Angeles School of Gymnastics, Segev and Sara’s Super Duper Arts Camp and the Gilbert Table Tennis Center.

The center has operated “quasi-independently” since 2003, became an independent nonprofit in 2005 and has run in the black every quarter since summer 2003, Kaminsky said. Funding from The Federation currently comprises about 9 percent of the center’s annual budget. In addition, an annual fundraising campaign regularly seeks grants from individuals and foundations for ongoing programs and this year is expected to raise approximately $250,000. On Sept. 18, the Jewish Community Centers Development Corporation (successor to JCCGLA) pledged $1 million to the capital campaign, bringing the total earmarked for the aquatic center to $3.3 million.

Facility usage has also risen from 7,700 monthly visits in 2005 to more than 12,000 in the first half of 2008. As many as 1,200 children take swim lessons each week, and another 200 people of all ages participate in lap swim, family swim or aqua-fit programs. While the increased traffic is exactly what the center’s operators hoped for, it has taken a toll on the aging facility.

Architect Lehrer said he believes “the building’s bones from the original design are fantastic,” so his goal has been to revive “the building’s original intention.”

His plan will restore original features that have been altered over the years (opening up patios that became offices, for example) and amplify the spacious, light-filled original architecture.

In the aquatic center, Lehrer’s design will open three of the four major walls. “Along the south wall, there will be 20-foot-high garage doors, which most days will be open to the out-of-doors; it will be more like an indoor-outdoor pool,” Lehrer said. The cross-ventilation and natural air, along with a natural salt purification and filtration system that uses less chlorine and fewer chemicals, will also make the facility greener, he added.

Kaminsky is optimistic that the center’s long-range goals can be met. The second of three planned phases will upgrade and renovate the main Olympic Boulevard building, and is estimated to cost between $8 million and $10 million.

“Basically, we’ve raised enough for phase one without borrowing any money … and we’re looking at coming out of phase one with over $4 million for the remaining work,” he said.

For Lehrer, the main challenge has been “to take limited resources and to do something of consequence, something catalytic and transformative” for an iconic piece of L.A. Jewish history.

“Westside JCC is central to the Jewish community — it’s emblematic of the community’s re-engagement in the heart of the city … in an area that is deliciously diverse, a real city,” he said.

And, Lehrer added, after more than 50 years of being “nearly loved to death,” the renovation will finally “allow the facility to sing again, in its fullest glory, and to make its contribution back to the city at large.”

Milken JCC board rejects Federation offer


The future of the The New JCC at Milken in West Hills, which serves thousands of Jews in the West Valley, including 125 preschoolers and 700 seniors, is still uncertain.

Despite a debt of $250,000 and the loss of nearly one-third of its members following the closure of its pool by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which owns the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, Milken JCC leaders chose to reject a bailout plan.

The proposal from The Federation would have required the center to surrender its right to be the major tenant on the 4-acre campus.

By a unanimous vote on Sunday, June 10, the New JCC at Milken’s executive board rejected a rescue-and-restructure plan proposed by The Federation. The plan would have provided the financially strapped center with a one-time supplemental allocation of $350,000 in return for signing a quitclaim deed relinquishing its historic right to the center.

“Nobody should believe we’re fighting for blood here against Federation. They are our brethren,” JCC Executive Board President Hal Sandler told a standing-room only crowd of almost 500 JCC members and supporters at an emergency meeting held on the Milken campus.

During the nearly two-hour gathering, members donated $54,000 toward the $250,000 needed to break even and confirmed the board’s vote by a near unanimous show of hands.

According to The Federation’s plan, the JCC could continue to operate in its present space, except for the now-closed pool and adjacent areas, until July 1, 2008. At that time, its space and budget could be greatly diminished if The Federation, currently “in discussions” with former tenant New Community Jewish High School, rents a substantial portion of the Milken campus to the school, with a possible option to buy.

Sandler and Steve Rheuban, a new center board member and former Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles president, explained that the board had no alternative but to reject the offer when The Federation refused to approve an addendum requesting a guarantee of nine early childhood education classrooms, parking for preschool parents, shared use of the gym and space for senior programs and JCC administration.

Sandler believes that if The Federation had signed the addendum, the JCC would more likely have agreed to the restructuring proposal.

Milken JCC board member Marty Hummel, who supported The Federation’s plan to
guarantee the center’s operation for one more year, changed his mind during
the meeting to allow for a unanimous vote. Afterward Hummel abruptly
resigned prior to the general meeting, where he spoke out against the vote.

Hummel and his wife, Jill, both cited concerns over their preschool child’s ability to attend the center next year. “My greatest concern is my child,” Jill Hummel said during the meeting. “If monies don’t come in there could be a chance the center might have to close for a few months. Where do these children go?”

Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon and vice president of planning Andrew Cushnir, neither of whom had authorization from The Federation’s board to approve the addendum, left the meeting after the JCC board turned down the proposal. In previous interviews, they have consistently reiterated The Federation’s support for continued services for seniors and preschoolers in the West Valley.

While the JCC has struggled financially for years, one ongoing stream of funding was cut on April 25 when The Federation closed the pool with little advance notice, citing possible mold problems. But even prior to this date, on April 11, The Federation had already requested and been issued a permit by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to demolish and fill in the pool, a step taken to cover all possible work scenarios, according to Dragon.

Dragon said the JCC’s financial difficulties predate the closing of the pool and the timing was merely coincidental. She and Cushnir maintain that the JCC, which is the third-largest local recipient of Federation funding, receives on average $1.3 million a year, including program funding, occasional supplemental allocations and “rent subvention,” which covers maintenance, utilities and security costs. The Federation provides 34 percent of the JCC’s budget, Dragon said, while nationally Federation support averages 12 to 15 percent of a JCC’s budget.

Up to now, the New JCC at Milken has avoided closure and selling off its property, the fate of many former Los Angeles JCCs, because of its unique history.

Founded in 1969 as the West Valley Jewish Community Center, it bought and moved to its current site, a former horse ranch consisting of a cottage and a converted garage on four and a half acres, in 1976. Unable to afford construction, the JCC parent organization, in a complicated deal signed in 1984 and reaffirmed in 2004, deeded the property to The Jewish Federation, retaining “primary use of the real property.”

The Federation purchased an adjoining acre and a half and raised the $15 million needed to build the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, completed in 1987 and refurbished in 1994 after the Northridge earthquake. In 1999, the $4.5 million Ferne Milken Youth & Sports Complex was dedicated, adding a 12,000-square-foot gymnasium, an Olympic-sized pool and a fitness center.

“We’re asking you to support us,” Sandler told Sunday’s audience. “This is your pool, this is your building, this is your center.”

Most members supported the JCC during the meeting, but voiced concerns about financial accountability, management, open communication and viability of the services, especially the preschool, summer camps and pool.

“We have a lot of financial problems and some mismanagement. Nobody’s denying that,” former JCC president Bonnie Rosenthal said.

She and many board members trace the JCC’s financial distress to the dissolution of the parent organization. “When JCCGLA broke up, we were left with a lot of debt,” she said.

Some, like Maureen Sloan, who joined with her husband for the pool and fitness center, felt betrayed by both the JCC and The Federation.

Briefs: The Milken JCC pool; Valley Cities JCC fundraiser; Iran divestment bill moving forward


Federation Asks Milken JCC to Relinquish Property Rights

With little notice, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles closed the Olympic-sized swimming pool at The New JCC at Milken on April 25, citing possible mold damage but having already been issued a permit on April 11 by the City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to demolish and fill in the pool.

Now The Federation appears to have more extensive plans for the financially troubled JCC, offering them a one-time supplemental allocation of $350,000 in return for signing a quitclaim deed relinquishing their historic right to be the major tenant on the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills.

After June 30, 2008, the JCC’s space and budget could be greatly diminished as The Federation intends to rent the space to former tenant New Community Jewish High School, giving them a substantial portion of the Milken campus.

In response to that proposal, which was faxed to the JCC on May 22, the JCC board of directors has scheduled a membership meeting on Sunday, June 10, 2 p.m., to present and vote on The Federation’s rescue plan. Prior to that meeting, however, JCC officials are hoping to raise $500,000, giving them the ability to consider other options.

“We have a lot of financial problems and some mismanagement. Nobody’s denying that,” former JCC president Bonnie Rosenthal said. “But we do serve people and it seems that Federation is not interested in the people we serve.”

Those people include 125 preschoolers, many from single-parent, working-parent and immigrant families who depend on the extended daycare hours. Additionally, the JCC serves more than 700 seniors who come for classes, cultural events and fitness programs.

Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon said that it is a coincidence that the pool closure happend at the same time as the JCC’s financial distress. She added that The Federation wants to see the best communal use of the property and intends to work with the JCC to continue a downsized version of its early childhood and senior programs.

Dragon and Andrew Cushnir, Federation vice president of planning, said that without signing the quitclaim deed, the JCC will not receive supplemental funding and, like all Federation agencies, must apply for a 2008 allocation, with no guarantee.

“The JCC is losing members in droves because of the pool closure and the lack of information that Federation is giving out,” said Marty Rosenthal, JCC treasurer and past president.

Meanwhile, the pool remains closed with no set demolition date.

— Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor

Valley Cities JCC Holds Fundraiser

In what could be a last hurrah, the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center (JCC) will hold a BBQ social on Sunday, June 10, 2-7 p.m., complete with a bounce house for children, face painting, bands and silent auction. The entrance fee is $10.

The center, which uses property owned by the Jewish Community Centers Development Corp., is facing closure as soon as June 15. The development corporation had agreed in principle to a Burbank philanthropist’s $2.7 million offer to buy the property and turn it over to Valley Cities JCC. But in April everything fell apart.

“We keep making them offers, and they just keep turning their backs on us,” said Michael Brezner, the center’s board chair. “They are not nice people.”

The BBQ is part fundraiser, part public relations initiative.

“We want people to know we are here. We want to stay,” said Lori Brockman, a concerned parent who helped organize the event.

Valley Cities JCC is in Sherman Oaks at 13164 Burbank Blvd. For more information, call (818) 786-6310.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer

Iran Divestment Bill Passes Assembly Appropriation Committee

[SACRAMENTO] — A proposed California State Assembly bill that would require state pension funds to divest an estimated $24 billion from more than 280 companies doing business with Iran, took one step closer to become law on May 31 after being approved by the Assembly’s Appropriation Committee.

The bill, also known as AB 221, was first introduced by freshman Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) and unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee on April 24. Anderson has said the primary goal of the legislation is to secure the California Public Employees Retirement and the State Teachers Retirement pensions with wise investment strategies, since both are valued at nearly $400 billion and funded by taxpayers.

AB 221 has received wide support from 14 national and state Jewish organizations and dozens of Los Angeles-based Iranian Muslim groups opposed to Iran’s regime, as an economic means to bring down the already crippled Iranian economy. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a Washington D.C.-based pro-Iran lobby as well as the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have been the only groups opposing AB 221. The Assembly will have a final vote on the bill in the first week of June and supporters said they expect it to become law by January 2008.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Briefs: Federation files for permit to demolish pool at New JCC at Milken; Big Sunday is a big succ


Federation files for permit to demolish pool at New JCC at Milken

Notices went up around The New JCC at Milken in mid-April that the pool in the West Hills facility would close on April 24, and documents obtained by The Journal indicate that the closure could possibly be permanent.

In an application filed on April 11 with the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Building and Safety, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which owns the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, requested a permit for plans to “demolish and fill in [the] existing pool.”

“The permit relates to possible work for the pool,” said Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon, who cited mold in the walls of the pool and locker room areas as the reason for the closure in an e-mail.

The e-mail also states that “the best long-term solution to this problem may be the repurposing of the pool area of the facility.”

Closure “is within the scope, but it has not been determined,” she said.

On April 18, Milken JCC’s Executive Director G. Anthony Flores, who as of this week is no longer employed with the center, sent a letter to members indicating that despite the center’s best efforts, the pool would close.

Nathan Gordon, 80, who regularly uses the Olympic-sized pool, which was dedicated in 1999, was shocked to receive the letter.

“All they said was there is another place where we could go to and show our card, and that was in Northridge at a YMCA, which I’m not going to do,” said Gordon, a retired U.S. immigration judge. “But no one seems to know what’s going to take place.”

Other fitness facilities at the center remain open.

— Adam Wills, Senior Editor

Big Sunday Is a big success

An estimated 50,000 volunteers fanned out to hundred of sites in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura and Riverside Counties on April 28 and 29 to paint and plant, cook and clean, educate and entertain for Big Sunday, the largest region-wide weekend of community service in the nation.

For the second year, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined forces with Big Sunday organizers, including Big Sunday chair David Levinson, the writer who founded the community service program in 1999 as a Mitzvah Day for Temple Israel of Hollywood. That first year 300 people showed up to work on 17 small restoration and cleanup projects.

This year, volunteers of all ages, religions, races and income levels — members of almost 200 synagogues, churches, mosques, schools, clubs and even beneficiary groups — could be seen throughout town wearing the classic T-shirts given as a gift to participants; they worked at close to 400 nonpolitical and nondenominational projects benefiting hundreds of nonprofits throughout Southern California. Last year’s Big Sunday, which took place on only one day, attracted 32,000 volunteers.

The Big Sunday Web site (www.bigsunday.org), developed to coordinate all the activities and sign-ups, received about 3.6 million hits during the month of April.

New this year was the Big Sunday Soccerfest, in which 1,000 soccer players, ages 9 to 14, from underprivileged communities gathered at Friendship Field in Griffith Park to learn soccer skills from professional coaches of Chivas USA, the L.A.-based professional soccer club. The youths, who had to complete a community service project in their own neighborhoods to participate, mingled with other teams, enjoyed refreshments and received autographs from Chivas players, as well as tickets to a Chivas home game.

In an unusual project, writers interviewed a preselected group of longtime Skid Row residents at the Volunteers of America Drop-in Center in downtown Los Angeles and recorded their life stories. Residents were also photographed by Mexican photographer Antonio Turk. Organizers hope to publish the finished stories and photographs, giving a new voice and face to America’s homeless.

Big Sunday volunteers also assisted at other major events taking place in Los Angeles the same weekend, including the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, held Saturday and Sunday at UCLA, and the Israel Independence Day Festival, which took place Sunday at Woodley Park in Encino.

Yoram Gutman, executive director of the Israel Independence Day Festival, believes that Big Sunday had an impact on attendance at his event, which he estimated at 25,000, down from 40,000 the previous year. Still, he complimented the 12 volunteers sent by Big Sunday as among the hardest working.

“Big Sunday is about everybody putting their best foot forward and that really happened this year,” Levinson said. “I’m exhausted, but I’m really thrilled.”

— Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor

Novelest Yehoshua wins big at book festival

Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction April 27 for “A Woman in Jerusalem” (Harcourt), a story of an unclaimed corpse of a victim of a suicide bombing that becomes a symbol for a collective Israeli numbness to civilian death during the second intifada. Yehoshua, who was unable to attend the ceremony at Royce Hall, appeared in a videotaped interview as the awards kicked off the 12th annual Times Festival of Books last weekend.

In addition, the winner in the biography category, Neal Gabler — who had previously tackled Jewish movie moguls in his book “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood” — won for his dissection of another pop culture auteur in “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination” (Alfred A. Knopf).

The prizes, which were granted in nine categories, marked the 27th anniversary of the Times awards.

— Naomi Pfefferman, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Community concert to benefit ailing rabbinical student

Los Angeles musicians Craig Taubman, Julie Silver and Chazzan Mike Stein will join together May 10 for “Voices of Healing,” a community concert in support of rabbinical student Joel Shickman.