Sukkot on the streets — finding community amid temporary shelter


When he woke up from a six-month coma, Al Sabo (photo) found his life unraveled. His wife had attempted suicide, and his three children were in foster care. He had lost his job as the managing editor of a trade publication. He couldn’t walk.

After several months of rehabilitation, Sabo ended up on the streets of downtown Los Angeles. He was almost 60 years old, white, and had spent his life avoiding places like Skid Row.

On his first night without shelter, he lay on the cold concrete in the dark, terrified of what a group of young, predominantly black drug addicts might do to him if he fell asleep. As it turned out, what they did was help him survive.

“They watched over me. It was totally amazing,” he said. “They went out and hustled up food for me. They took care of me. It gave me a whole different perspective of who people here really are, and a new understanding of the problems they’re facing.”

Sabo slept on the street for two months. He learned how to create a makeshift shelter with cardboard and tarp. He learned that, in the most precarious of situations, people with very little are willing to give a lot.

Every night on Skid Row, 5,000 people pile onto shelter cots or erect their flimsy huts in the concrete desert of the city. Another 9,000 go to bed in the area’s residency hotels, hoping to still have a roof over their heads the next day. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, year-round they share their sukkot with each other and remind us that we have failed to do the same for them.

When Sabo’s disability check came, he was able to afford a room at the Frontier Hotel. The Frontier is less than one block away from where I live, in a loft on Main Street. But Sabo and I are separated by much more than the physical space between us.

I am part of the new downtown, a much-touted “revitalization” of L.A.’s urban core. When I tell people in other parts of the city where I live, they say things like, “I hear they’re really cleaning up the area.”

Sabo is part of the old downtown. He’s poor, disabled and doesn’t have anywhere else to go. When others talk about “cleaning up the area,” they are talking about getting rid of people like him.

ALTTEXTIn the last few years, gentrification has swept downtown Los Angeles. Developers set their sights on the area’s residency hotels, and city officials, eager to preside over the rejuvenation of a long-neglected city center, failed to protect those who for decades have called these hotels home. Countless residents have already been displaced. Thousands more, like Sabo, are trying to hang on.

Just three months after Sabo moved into the Frontier — a slum property by city standards — the building’s owner began converting the hotel’s 450 rooms into market-rate apartments.

Sabo, like most of his neighbors, had been paying $400 a month for a 150-square-foot room at the Frontier. He said he had problems with roaches and rats and didn’t have any heat in the winter. It was no bargain, but it was the cheapest rent in town.

Now the owner was ridding the hotel of tenants like Sabo, one floor at a time.

“They were not only converting the top floors into lofts, they built a separate entrance on Main Street because they didn’t want these people associating with the residents that were already there,” Sabo said. “They certainly didn’t want people that had been there for years to mix with the young yuppies that were coming into the lofts and paying a lot more money.”

The newer, wealthier residents entered the building through a grand, recently refurbished lobby with its own set of elevators. The old residents, most of them black and many disabled, entered from another side of the building, through a bleak, concrete chamber.

The Frontier was a microcosm of what was happening downtown. Block after city block featured advertisements for the new urban life. Old buildings were festooned with images of young white couples in modern interiors, a reminder to longtime residents that the new downtown would not include them.

These low-income residents felt they had been doubly neglected by the city: Before gentrification turned these blighted properties into valuable real estate, they said, the city departments in charge of enforcing fire codes and habitability laws turned a blind eye. When the evictions began, they said city officials failed to enforce state and local rent- control laws that would keep them from joining the ranks of the homeless.

Housing rights advocates and community members used to fight the city and downtown landlords to improve slum conditions. Now they were fighting just to keep people inside.

The Bristol Hotel, just a few blocks away from the Frontier and a stone’s throw from City Hall, was emptied in three days. Many of the tenants said they were evicted at gunpoint.

The Alexandria Hotel was purchased, with substantial help from the city, by a developer who evicted 100 tenants in the first year. Activists said some mentally disabled residents were simply locked out, and remaining tenants, many of them elderly, were stranded on top floors for days without working elevators or running water. The city officials who subsidized the renovation ignored countless pleas from tenants complaining of rampant abuses.

Orthodox youth not immune to high-risk lifestyles


A few weeks ago, Joel Bess gathered his group of 15 teenage boys and took them to the funeral of a 21-year-old who had died of an overdose. Like the teenagers, the youth who died was Orthodox and didn’t fit the yeshiva mold and wound up on a path of high-risk behavior.
After the funeral, Bess — the son of a prominent rabbi who spent his teenage years and beyond in a whirl of self-destruction — asked the boys to write their own epitaphs on pictures of blank tombstones.
 
“I wanted them to think about how people would remember them and what they would say about their lives,” said Bess, who is now 29, a father of three and has a strong relationship with his own father.
 
Bess knows how hard it is not to fit in, to fall and then to muster the strength to move toward health of body and soul.
 
“Almost all my friends ended up dead or in jail, and I’m trying to prevent that with these kids,” he said.
 
He has been meeting weekly with the boys for about nine months through Issues Anonymous, a group he helped found.
 

My son, the plumber. Amen.

 
On a hot abandoned Granada Hills playground surrounded by waves of wheat-colored brush, Rabbi Mayer Schmukler looks around and sees the future. Rather than the overgrown jungle gym and dusty rows of red Little Tikes cars at the site that once was the North Valley JCC, he sees a soccer field, a refurbished pool, maybe tennis courts behind the new dorm buildings.
 
Last year, Schmukler, a Chabad-trained rabbi, brought 15 boys to this eight-acre site to pilot JETS — Jewish Education Trade School. This year he’s got 35 boys praying, studying Torah and training to be carpenters, plumbers, chefs and elevator repairmen.
 
Schmukler is keenly aware that a Jewish vocational school faces some deeply ingrained prejudices.
 
“Everyone feels that if a Jewish kid has to become a plumber it’s a sad situation, that really he should be a lawyer or an accountant, or a rabbi,” Schmukler says.
 
But some kids aren’t cut out for academic rigor. Leaving them in a mismatched environment often leads them toward self-destructive paths to failure.
 
“We take kids that maybe have low self- esteem and show them they are good at something — or we make them good at something — and show them they can make it in this society,” said Schmukler with a smile that never leaves his eyes or his mouth, hidden though it is in his untamed beard.
 
JETS doesn’t take the most hard-core cases. Boys have to be drug-free for 12 months to get into the program, and there is mandatory drug testing every two weeks.
 
But some of his kids come from broken homes, or have emotional, learning or behavioral challenges. Most of them live on campus in classrooms converted into dorms.
 
JETS, an independent nonprofit, employs teachers, social workers, dorm counselors and a psychologist. Students get personal counseling, and classes in ethics and time management and organization as well as high-school equivalency preparatory classes.
 
It was the combination of industry and ethics that won Schmukler a California Regional Consortium for Engineering Advances in Technological Education grant and award from the National Science Foundation in May 2006.
 
Most of the trade classes are offered at College of the Canyons, an accredited community college in Santa Clarita that provides work force training.
 
Last year, the boys built a skateboarding ramp. This year, they’re building a house, from computer modeling to reading the blueprints to carpentry, plumbing, electricity and the finishings.
 
Some of the classes, such as cooking, take place at JETS. The school is building a state-of-the-art kosher kitchen, and hopes to open a kosher culinary school to the public.
On Shabbats when they stay in, boys prepare meals for each other. They have also taken trips to the Grand Canyon and Northern California.
 
Schmukler’s approach to discipline is to help the boys self-motivate. Smoking, for instance, is not prohibited. But boys can only smoke alone, and only in designated spots that might be a half-acre from the action. There is no wake up call in the morning — boys need alarm clocks to rouse themselves. Free time is scheduled up with classes in kickboxing or karate, and a whole set of bikes and the old JCC gym facilities are available to the guys.
 
Schmukler has bigger plans for the campus, and he is a strong fundraiser. He worked for years as the development director for Chabad’s Russian program, where he first set up teen centers in West Hollywood. JETS has an annual budget of about $1 million, and Schmukler works his connections well. He’s already raised $5 million for the purchase of the campus and got an adjacent parcel donated.
 
Schmukler is also giving space to the JCC for offices and some programming, and is working out further arrangements with them. He says he wants JETS to be a center for Jewish unity, especially because no one can forget the 1999 rampage by Buford O. Furrow, who wounded five people at this JCC and then killed postal worker Joseph Ileto.
 
“Because of that I really believe something positive has to come from here,” Schmukler says. “Judaism is positive, and if you open up with something positive, we’ve won.”
 
For more information, visit www.jetsschool.org or call (323) 228-5905.

 
— JGF

Issue Anonymous is one of several new programs that have emerged in the last few years to serve the Orthodox community, giving kids, their parents and local high schools more resources and options than have ever been available in Los Angeles.
 
At Issues Anonymous, the boys can express themselves freely — which they did on the blank tombstones.
 
“To our beloved son, we loved you and we wish we could have been there for you,” one of them wrote.
 
“He died on the road to recovery. He meant well and he tried hard. Had he lived longer he would have made some big differences. He will be missed by the select few that he touched.”
“We loved you, and we will miss you. You were a good friend, son and brother. You really were nice and smart.”
 
And then simply, “I hope I rest in peace.”
 
For these youths, the introspection and repentance of Yom Kippur is a full time, ongoing pursuit.
 
For nearly two decades, it has been an open secret in the Los Angeles Orthodox community that some kids are turned off by religious observance and high academic standards, and they end up turning to truancy, alcohol, unsafe sex or drugs.
 
Once on that path, many of the boys feel let down or pushed out by their schools, families or both. They feel hated by the community, and especially lost because they don’t feel they belong anywhere else. They call themselves screw-ups, and worse.
 
Some of them take a high school equivalency exam — or not — and get sent off to Israel or to yeshivas outside of Los Angeles. Some land in rehab, in jail, on the streets — or dead.
They are Sephardic, Ashekenazic and Persian. Their families are Chasidic and Modern Orthodox.
And to those who know them well, they are loveable boys who just need someone to believe in them.
 
“I think the community needs to embrace these kids with love,” says Debbie Fox, director of Jewish Family Service’s Aleinu Family Resource Center, who brought Bess in to start Issues Anonymous when four mothers approached her looking for help.
 
“I know that people are afraid that the kids will influence others. But that doesn’t mean we don’t create a place for them,” she said. “It means we need to look at how to balance things and how to do things safely and acknowledge that they are part of our community. We cannot sacrifice these kids — and they’re really beautiful kids.”
 
Los Angeles’ Orthodox community now offers some organized solutions for these boys — though none have been put forth for girls, even while most observers agree that, too, is needed.
 
The Jewish Educational Trade School (JETS), a vocational boarding school for boys who weren’t cut out for the academic rigor of yeshiva, started meeting last year at the North Valley Jewish Community Center. This year 35 boys spend part of each school day studying Torah and high school equivalency, and part of their day learning trades, such as elevator or air conditioning repair, or construction.
 
But JETS doesn’t take in the hard-core boys. Students have to have been drug-free for at least a year, and they are tested regularly.
 
Boys who are currently using drugs are welcome at Issues Anon and Aish Tamid, an organization Rabbi Avi Leibovic founded six years ago to provide a welcoming environment and support services.
 
Leibovic’s latest venture is Pardes/Plan B, a program that combines Torah study, outdoor adventure, counseling and high-school equivalency preparation. The program started in mid-September and, so far, the reports are positive.
 

Pardes: School, But Not
 
Pardes meets at Congregation Shaarei Tefila on Beverly Boulevard, where the boys pray every morning. Then they go out on a trip — hiking, bowling, boating — all the while imbibing bits of wisdom from their teacher, Rabbi Ari Guidry, and a social worker who has had years of experience with this population in New York.
 

“The rabbi is awesome,” says Aharon (boys names have been changed to protect their privacy). “He’s not like a typical rabbi. He knows how to treat us — like the humans that we are.”
Aharon has always been a good student and hopes to go to college; he is excited about the academic subjects being taught by End Result, an organization with great success in running classes in juvenile detention centers.
 

Aharon’s mother is glad he chose Pardes.
 

“Pardes is not going to be top-notch academic experience, but for me it is much more important that his soul is intact,” she said. “I believe that this year he can work on himself; he can set his own spiritual compass to know in which direction he needs to go to find true happiness in life.”
 

She is one of the mothers who approached Fox last year to start Issues Anon, after she realized that Aharon was doing drugs, taking the car out in the middle of the night when he was 14 or 15, and messing up in school.
 

“Anything I tried to do in terms of controlling him and where he was going and what he was doing didn’t work,” said Aharon’s mother, who also attends a parent support group offered by Aish Tamid.
 

Leibovic, a 33-year-old YULA graduate who can personally relate to what these kids are going through, was one of the first in Los Angeles to try to organize programs for this population. He started with post-high school young men and then expanded to the younger set.
 

Aish Tamid has Shabbat programs, career fairs, study groups and the popular Teen at the Bean, a weekly discussion and study session at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Beverly Boulevard.

 
Mostly, Leibovic, a father of six and a full-time attorney, has made himself and a growing staff of social workers and counselors available to the boys and their parents at all hours, giving individualized guidance about everything from rehab centers to family therapy to finding employment.
 

Leibovic is still trying to find funding for Pardes. Young men who have been through Aish Tamid programs donated a van worth $22,000. Pardes only has enrolled a half-dozen students.
Leibovic is hoping eventually to fill the van with 13 kids. He said he knows of about 10 kids in need who aren’t in any program, but are still holding out to get into one of the local yeshivas, which historically haven’t dealt well with these kids.
 

“There is no way that any one school can cater to all of the students we have in our community,” said Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, dean of Valley Torah High School. “A school’s job is to be as broad as possible and needs to see themselves as embracing and accommodating as they can be. But as good as a school can be, there is no way we can do it all.”
 

While high school principals are grateful for programs like Pardes and JETS, they know there is work to do in making such programs acceptable to the boys and their families.
 

“I think there is still a stigma in the eyes of the children about going to these schools,” said Rabbi Dovid Landesman, principal of YULA. “We have to work on the psychology to make kids accept that these schools are more suited to their needs, because I really think both of these schools [Pardes and JETS] are a bracha to the community.”
 

Issues Anon: Steak and Free Expression
 

Yossi has managed to stay at YULA through his senior year, with an inclusion aid to help him through Attention Deficit Disorder. He started smoking marijuana at summer camp after 10th grade, and then he started popping his dad’s Atavan and Valium.
 

“I really messed up my whole 11th grade year, but I was on drugs so I didn’t care,” he says.
He fights with his father, but has a close relationship with his mother. She got him into rehab, which allowed him to stay in school. Yossi’s been clean 90 days.
 

He attributes much of his success to Issues Anon, the Jewish Family Service Wednesday night group that Joel Bess runs with social worker Howie Shapiro.
 

“This is the one thing I look forward to every week, and it’s really helped me a lot,” says Yossi, at a recent dinner at La Gondola.
 

The boys were there to celebrate milestones — some had just started school, some were chalking up months of sobriety, some were just happy to still be getting up in the morning. (All of them were grateful for the glistening heaps of ribs and giant sized steaks on their plates.)
 

Some of the boys wear kippahs and some don’t, some have spiky coifs or buzz cuts, and several of them sport large Jewish stars around their necks and pants sagging well below their hips.
Regular meetings start with the boys jotting down an issue, all of which are then read aloud, without revealing the source, and discussed. The guys give each other advice about how to get through their issues.

 
Tonight, many of them note their sobriety counts — a year and half, 90 days, two months — “and I better start feeling some of those changes promised,” one of them quips to Bess.
“I threw out all of my stuff two weeks ago,” another announces, to the applause of the group.
“Damn, you should have given it to me,” another jokes.

 
“My mom kicked me out again,” a boy says quietly.

“Cool! Are you sleeping at my house tonight?” his friend asks hopefully.

 
Behind the jokes, the cursing and goofing off, the kids are there for each other.
“If you see these kids sitting in the back of the classroom goofing off, you get one impression,” says Shapiro, the social worker. “But when you hear them talking about what they don’t get from their parents or how they fell through the cracks, it’s really amazing the depth with which they can describe what they are feeling and what they need. But the school administration and the parents don’t see that depth. They just see the GPA and the drug use.”

 
The kids in the group have become close friends and relate easily to Bess, who runs a division of an infomercial company and has a hip style the kids are comfortable with. They call him or knock on his door at all hours, and he welcomes them.

 
“I feel like I can do things now. Before I wasn’t able to do anything,” says Zev, who has been clean for a year and half and is being schooled at a private home in the valley.
Zev is one of many siblings from a Chasidic home. He has an abusive father and a supportive mother. When he was only 9 or 10 years old, he got his first taste of weed in shul on Simchat Torah.
 

He’s 15 now but looks a lot older, with a scraggly beard, big eyes that hold your gaze, and a quiet voice.
 
He is a leader — several boys say it was Zev who got them started on drugs. Now, at Issues Anon meetings, they turn to him for support in staying sober. And it was Zev who instituted the idea of starting each meeting with gratitude — going around and saying something positive about your week, or your life.
 
Tonight, Yossi is proud of 90 days sober. And like the other boys around the table, his goals are basic.

 
“I just don’t want to f*** up anymore,” Yossi says. “I want to get my life together and to be able to go through stuff without relapsing. I just want to be able to function like a normal person.”
 

www.aishtamid.org (323) 634-0505
www.jfsla.org/aleinu (323) 761-8816

Other People’s Problems


If it wasn’t for the fact that America can’t chew gum and hold an election at the same time, politicians and the media would have been buzzing about what happened this week in Israel. Well, what happened? Dov Weisglass, a senior aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that Israel’s planned unilateral pullout from Gaza will put an end to new negotiations with the Palestinians.

“Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda,” he said.

In other words, that “road map” that President Bush has promoted as the singular initiative of his Israeli-Palestinian policy — forget about it.

“Dov Weisglass explained very nicely that Sharon is implementing the disengagement plan to ensure that a final, wider peace deal goes to hell,” opined Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Samet.

But did the diplomat mean exactly what he said? An American Jewish activist who opposes the prime minister’s Gaza pullout suggested to me that the Weisglass statement was a sop to the hard right. Lull your right wing into believing the withdrawal will concretize their dream of Greater Israel, suggested Mort Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, and perhaps they will go along with it.

Then again, Weisglass might have meant it. The Gaza withdrawal and the separation barrier on the West Bank would create a de facto Palestinian territory whose configurations would render viable statehood impossible.

This solution is brilliant except for one small fact: it won’t solve the problem.

This point was made abundantly clear in a presentation retired Israeli Adm. Ami Ayalon gave last month to members of the Pacific Council on International Policy here in Los Angeles.

The problem, Ayalon reminded the group, is that between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, the Arab population will shortly outnumber the Jewish population. Sharon’s maneuvering doesn’t create a peaceful settlement between two viable states, but an imposed arrangement by one state on a hostile population. If that population demands one person, one vote — Israel is a democracy after all — the Jewish state is finished.

“Time is running out on the window of opportunity,” Ayalon said. “In a few short years, the two-state option will not exist anymore, because of demography, and violence will prevail. If we don’t withdraw, we will have to choose between Jewish apartheid and transfer.”

Ayalon is compact and muscular with a tough, impatient manner. That is to say, he is Israeli. He spent 34 years in the Israeli navy, rising to commander-in-chief, and four years as director of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. Last year he joined with the Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh to found the People’s Voice Initiative, a grass-roots campaign for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.

The initiative, according to Ayalon, has gathered 150,000 Palestinian and 200,000 Israeli signatures on a simple six-point document that outlines a two-state solution (www.mifkad.org.il/en/).

“During the 12 months before the intifada broke out in 1999, we enjoyed security,” Ayalon said. “Only one Israeli was killed as a result of terror, whereas we have lost over 1,000 Israeli lives during the last three years. What was the reason for the collapse of security? It was not because the Shin Bet was better when I was in charge.”

Israel’s security is better now, in fact. What has changed became clear to Ayalon in a conversation with a Palestinian psychologist.

“He told me the Palestinians have won,” Ayalon said. “I asked him, how come? Are you crazy? You’ve lost so many people, you are losing your freedom, you are losing your dreams. He said, ‘Ami, you don’t understand us. Victory for us means seeing you suffer. And as long as we shall suffer, you will suffer. Finally, after 55 years, we are not the only ones who suffer in the Middle East, and this is victory for us.’ For me, this was something new that I had not previously understood. As long as the Palestinians don’t have hope, we shall not have security.”

Ayalon dismissed the idea that withdrawal and a fence alone could protect Israel — the very idea that Weisglass floated this week.

“In the long-run it will not give us the security we expect,” he told the Council. “They will dig tunnels, fire rockets and later missiles. It will only postpone conflict.”

The conflict has spawned a cottage industry in peace initiatives over the past years, from Geneva to Hollywood. Ayalon believes The People’s Voice to be the most realistic, simply because of its founders’ credentials, and the popular support the petition has garnered.

Still, several of the Council members around the table were skeptical that Yasser Arafat was any more a partner for peace now than he was during Oslo.

“Arafat is not a partner,” countered Ayalon, with refreshing non-peacenik bluntness. “But there are Palestinians who are pragmatic enough. If Palestinians on the street adopt it, this will give [leaders] permission to accept. Our leaders have become followers.”

Now Israel’s leader has begun to initiate what looked like thoughtful measures to reduce terror and increase the chances of a negotiated settlement. If these measures turn out to be the end of the road, not the beginning, Ayalon’s predictions may very well come true, and the present conflict will become the nightmare of yet another generation.

Israeli Tourists ‘Ugly’ No More


Leafing through travel books on Turkey at Tel Aviv’s L’Metayel (For the Traveler), veteran sojourner Ronen Lazar suggests how to curb the phenomenon of the "ugly Israeli" — the obnoxious Israeli tourist.

"There should be a law forbidding Israelis from going overseas for at least six months after they get out of the army," Lazar says.

He’s not altogether serious, of course, but as a veteran traveler at 31, he’s been pretty much all over the world, and has learned to stay away from young, wild Israelis traveling with, and in, packs.

Says Irit Gekler, 23, a clerk at L’Metayel who’s toured the Far East and Europe: "You see them swaggering around like they’re dealing with inferiors in some Third World country. They even treat adults like slaves. Older Israeli travelers don’t act like that all."

In recent years there have been horror stories coming out of the Greek Islands about bands of young Israeli tourists getting into fire extinguisher fights in hotel corridors, throwing watermelon rinds over the balcony, burning a bed — and defiantly cursing hotel employees who tried to get them to stop.

A sign at the entrance to a hotel on a Thai island reads: "ISRAELI NATIONALITY (sic) is not welcome to stay in this hotel, because they are problem makers. We cannot accept their behavior."

This is also the unwritten policy of several other hotels in the Far East and on the Greek Islands.

The signature of the "ugly Israeli" used to be the missing faucets in the sink of their hotel rooms. Now it’s literally the signatures of Israelis who’ve spray-painted their names on mountain ranges in the Rockies, in Thailand — even, according to the Yediot Aharonot newspaper — on a prison wall at Auschwitz.

Clearly, things have gotten out of hand. No other nationality is known for the kind of intolerable behavior associated with young Israelis. So L’Metayel has started a program called "Israel’s Good Will Ambassadors." Posters reminding travelers that they represent Israel abroad can be seen at Ben-Gurion Airport, travel agencies and other stopping-off spots en route overseas. Israelis at these places can pick up free packets of cheery postcards with "thank you" written in several languages — including, of course, Hebrew.

"Leave a thank you … because when you go overseas, you are Israel’s image," reads the recommendation.

The public service program, which is backed by numerous public and private bodies including the Foreign Ministry, tourism companies and public relations agencies, has begun teaching good traveling manners to youth groups going on Holocaust study visits to Poland. Reports are that these groups are much less rowdy than others.

The obvious question is whether the campaign might impress only Israeli travelers who already are appreciative, respective, neat and generally civilized overseas, while the "ugly Israelis" will shine it on. "That’s always a possibility," says Lazar, "but even if only the good travelers pass out the postcards, the people overseas will know that there are at least some good Israelis."

Who’s to Blame for Terror?


Like many hothead progressives around the world, I preach antiracism, teach multiculturalism and recognize the United States to be a politically and culturally imperialistic society.

Proper revolutionary that I am, I have no problem with guerrilla warfare against oppressive regimes, and I fully recognize that "terrorism" can be a political term used to invalidate the violent behavior of one group and justify that of another.

One might say I’m an all-around, groovy radical. And yet, I’ve got a major problem with compassion for Palestinian suicide bombers blowing up Israeli citizens.

Sure, progressive folk cluck in sympathy when the leg of an Israeli girl flies clear across a pizzeria or when the spine of an Israeli boy gets sliced by shrapnel. This sound of distress, however, often is accompanied by an undertone of accusation: It is Israel’s fault, the narrative goes, that these tragedies happen; by creating Palestinian desperation, Israel has created Palestinian terrorism.

Clearly, Palestinians are suffering, and their situation must be remedied — the sooner the better. The question is, who was responsible for creating their situation and who is accountable for remedying it?

The Arab world is called just that for a reason: Beginning in the Arabian Peninsula about 1,300 years ago, Arab Muslims launched a brutal campaign of invasion and conquest, taking over lands across the Middle East and North Africa. Throughout the region, Kurds, Persians, Berbers, Copts and Jews were forced to convert to Islam under the threat of death and in the name of Allah.

Jews were one of the few indigenous Middle Eastern peoples to resist conversion to Islam, the result being they were given the status of dhimmi — legally second-class, inferior people. In the best of circumstances, Jews were spared death but forced to endure an onslaught of humiliating legal restrictions — forced into ghettos, prohibited from owning land, prevented from entering numerous professions and forbidden from doing anything to physically or symbolically demonstrate equality with Arab Muslims.

When dhimmi laws were lax and Jews were allowed to participate to a greater degree in their society, the Jewish community would flourish, both socially and economically. On numerous occasions, however, the response to that success was a wave of harassment or massacre of Jews instigated by the government or the masses.

This dynamic meant that the Jews lived in a basic state of subservience: They could participate in the society around them, they could enjoy a certain degree of wealth and status and they could befriend their Arab Muslim neighbors, but they always had to know their place.

The Arab-Israel relationship and the current crisis occur in the greater context of a history in which Arab Muslims have oppressed Jews for 1,300 years. Most recently, anti-Jewish riots erupted throughout the Arab world in the 1930s and 1940s.

Jews were assaulted, tortured, murdered and forced to flee from their homes of thousands of years. Throughout the region, Jewish property was confiscated and nationalized, collectively worth hundreds of millions of dollars at the time.

Yet the world has never witnessed Middle Eastern and North African Jews blowing themselves up and taking scores of Arab innocents with them out of anger or desperation for what Arab states did to the Jewish people.

Despite the fact that there were 900,000 Jewish refugees from throughout the Middle East and North Africa, we do not even hear about a Middle Eastern/North African Jewish refugee problem today, because Israel absorbed most of the refugees. For decades, they and their children have been the majority of Israel’s Jewish population, with numbers as high as 70 percent.

To the contrary, Arab states did not absorb refugees from the war against Israel in 1948. Instead, they built squalid camps in the West Bank and Gaza — at the time controlled by Jordan and Egypt — and dumped the refugees in them, Arabs doomed to become pawns in a political war against Israel.

Countries such as Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Lebanon funded assaults against Israeli citizens instead of funding basic medical, educational and housing needs of Palestinian refugee families.

In 1967, Israel inherited the Palestinian refugee problem through a defensive war. When Israel tried to build housing for the refugees in Gaza, Arab states led votes against it in U.N. resolutions, because absorption would change the status of the refugees. But wasn’t that the moral objective?

Israel went on to give more money to the Palestinian refugees than all but three of the Arab states combined, prior to transferring responsibility of the territories to the Palestinian Authority in the mid-1990s. Israel built hospitals and educational institutions for Palestinians in the territories. Israel trained the Palestinian police force.

And yet, the 22 Arab states dominate both the land and the wealth of the region. So who is responsible for creating Palestinian desperation?

Tragically, the Arab propaganda war against Israel has been a brilliant success, laying on Israel all the blame for the Palestinian refugee problem. By refusing to hold Arab states accountable for their own actions, by feeling sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers instead of outrage at the Arab propaganda creating this phenomenon, the "progressive" movement continues to feed the never-ending cycle of violence in the Middle East.


Loolwa Khazzoom is the editor of “The
Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern
Jewish Heritage” (Seal Press), and she is an Israel correspondent for the Jewish
Telegraph Agency. You can find Khazzoom on the web at

Hot Property


My ex-boyfriend and I had been engaging in some very dangerous activities lately. At first it started out as a rekindled friendship.

And then it grew into dinner dates, late nights and long talks. Then we crossed the “just friends” boundaries and got intimate. But the most dangerous activity was yet to come.

Mr. Ex had just sold his condo, and was shopping for a new house. I had just bought a place and considered myself a bit of a pro at the whole house-hunting game, so I offered to help him look for houses — you know, be his “second eye” and “sounding board.” He gratefully accepted my offer. Armed with the Saturday Real Estate section, a vague list of requirements and an even vaguer price range, we headed off to find him his perfect home.

I am a Fixer-Upper. I like to find a home that has some unique charm and character, whose exterior is a little bit shoddy. Then I can put my personal stamp on the property, gussy it up and make it my own. Mr. Ex explained that he was looking for something that was already “Perfect,” and even though he couldn’t articulate what “Perfection” was, he would know it when he saw it.

The first few houses we looked at were absolutely dismal — complete teardowns. But then we found it — perfection. It was a two-story Cape Cod with a big backyard. Every room was bright and open, the kitchen was huge and inviting and the layout was planned with such precision that not a single cabinet was out of place. The instant I walked into the house, I fell in love.

We spent nearly two hours in that house, waltzing from room to room, getting acquainted with it, feeling it out. He joked that we would have to expand the closet to fit all in all my shoes. We talked about puppy proofing the yard. We discussed which of the four bedrooms would be his office and which would be “guest rooms.” But I started to wonder: Did he really intend all of those guest rooms to be guest rooms forever? Was he thinking that they would eventually serve another purpose — for say, children? I brushed these foolish thoughts out of my mind.

As the real estate agent raced over, my heart started giving me unusual and unprecedented signals. I felt, well, giddy. First off, I was potentially watching someone spend a boatload of money, which, as a shameless shopper, I found quite exhilarating. But then I wondered if I had misjudged what kind of person Mr. Ex was. Why was he buying a “family” house? Was he the “family man” type? The swirl of the domestic fantasies made me hazy.

I went home that night and came down with a serious case of the crazies. And I knew why. That afternoon, part of me started to think: “If 8,000 highly unlikely things happen, things might actually work out with this guy.”

And that night, the other, more reasonable part of me told the other half to shut up.

The next morning, I got on the phone with Mr. Ex and asked, “Well?”

“Well what?”

“Did you get the house?”

“Nah,” he sighed. “I decided not to get it.”

I was seriously shocked and almost affronted, even though I knew in my heart it was never going to be my house to begin with.

“But why?” I asked, “It was perfect!”

“Was it though? Was it really?”

“What were the flaws?” I implored.

Well, he couldn’t name any flaws. He admitted it was a) what he was looking for b) in his price range c) in his neighborhood and d) a flawless layout. So what was the problem?

“I don’t know,” he said, resigned. “How are you ever going to know what house is really ever going to be right?”

Realization struck. He had the perfect house. He grasped perfection — and then he let it go. Somehow, that house seemed really symbolic — and it seemed to symbolize me.

“I just don’t know if I’m ready,” he said, still talking about the house.

I had to agree.

That day, I took a tour around my new house, an airy and ancient Spanish cottage, with an antique fireplace, arched entryways and refinished wood floors. I stepped outside and took a good look at my backyard, gazing at the torn-up concrete, the half-finished deck and my uprooted shrubs. I like being a Fixer-Upper. But there are some projects that are too daunting, even for me. And I had a feeling that Mr. Ex was going to be one of them.


Lilla Zuckerman is the co-author of “Beauty Queen Blowout: Miss Adventure No. 2,” which will be released by Fireside in September.

Red Flag From Cupid


Oh, sure, it started promisingly enough. Rhonda and I had each seen the other’s photo and profile on a singles Web site, granted one another profile approval and were now talking on the phone for the first time.

Things were going pleasantly until Rhonda suggested that I choose a place for us to meet. I suggested a coffeehouse with outdoor tables at The Grove. She reacted unimpressed. I then mentioned a charming little place on Melrose Avenue with a Japanese tea garden in the back. She yawned. Finally, I offered a second Melrose locale — a quaint French cafe with outdoor porch seating and fabulous homemade desserts. The silence was deafening.

“Problem?” I inquired.

“Those places just aren’t very romantic,” she informed me.

Not very romantic? I was stunned. Did I miss something here? Is it our anniversary? It’s our first meeting, for crying out loud! We don’t even know if we have any in-person chemistry. I told Rhonda that, to me, any “romance” occurs as a function of the chemistry between the two people. And that chemistry happens (or doesn’t) whether the people are meeting at the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Ritz in Paris, or at Taco Bell in Pacoima. She mumbled an unconvinced, “I guess so,” told me she was on her cell phone in the car, about to park in her garage and would call me back as soon as she got in the house. I never heard back from her.

I briefly envisioned how I might have salvaged this particular relationship. A romantic gondola ride in the Venice canals, with me feeding her grapes while comparing the texture of her skin to velvet? But if it turned out there was no or very little chemistry, as is often the case, we’d merely be two people in a romantic setting, eager for the date to end. I just didn’t get it. What was she thinking?

And then it occurred to me that this whole episode with Rhonda had been a gift to me from Cupid. You see, sometimes Cupid allows weeks, months, even years to go by before your romantic partner reveals his or her dark side. The longer it takes for the reveal, the harder and more painful its effects on you when it all comes crashing down.

Other times, as with Rhonda, Cupid is kinder and allows the red flags to reveal themselves right from the start. So you’re privy to your partner’s deepest dysfunctions early on, in the harsh morning light of her true self. Her high-maintenance, humorless, judgmental, controlling, quick-tempered, dull, deceitful, insecure aspects rear their ugly heads. And at that point, you can decide if all her other wonderful qualities make up for this — or if you would be far better off heading for the hills.

What fascinates me about all this is that these red flags are revealed despite their owner’s intentions of putting a best foot forward during those first few all-important, making-a-good-impression encounters. Sometimes, thankfully, their true colors can’t help but slip through as merciful little advance relationship warnings (“The Crazies are coming! The Crazies are coming!”) thereby saving you all that time, money, effort and emotional involvement (and subsequent hurt) for however long you might have become involved with them before the bad stuff surfaced.

Therefore, I thank you, Rhonda. You did me a favor, and I wish you nothing but the best. I sincerely hope you meet that guy who will be able to suggest a first-date locale sufficiently romantic for your deepest needs and desires. All I ask is that once you’re seated with him at that charming seaside bistro on the French Riviera, with doves circling gently overhead and a strolling violinist playing “La Vie en Rose,” you’ll think of me kindly and wish me luck in my attempt to drum up a modicum of romance in some desolate Starbucks in Culver City.


Mark Miller is a comedy writer who has written for TV, movies and many celebrities, been a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, contributed to numerous national publications and produced a weekly comedic relationships feature for America Online. He can be reached at markmiller2000@attbi.com.

Jews Report Less Workplace Discrimination


Religious discrimination in the workplace may be less of a problem for Jews than for other religious minorities, according to a new nationwide study.

Of the nearly 675 people surveyed — most of whom are affiliated with one of five religious minorities in the United States — 66 percent said that some form of specific discriminatory behavior based on religion had occurred at their workplace, and one in five had either experienced religious discrimination themselves or knew of a coworker who did. The study was conducted by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding in New York. But Jewish respondents reported the lowest degree of discrimination — even lower than Christians — and the highest level of comfort on the job.

It is not clear from the study how many of those Jews surveyed are observant Jews.

Part of the reason for these findings is that most Jews in America are likely to have been living here for at least two generations, Georgette Bennett, the president of the 7-year-old Tanenbaum Center, explained at a recent news conference .

“Jews have been here longer than a great percentage of the sample,” of which 42 percent were foreign born, “and they tend to be assimilated into the larger culture,” Bennett said.

In the study, American-born workers were more comfortable on the job than foreign-born workers.

Indeed, the study grew out of an awareness that as more immigrants come to the United States from Asia and the Pacific Islands, India, Pakistan and Africa, the growing presence of minority religions is changing the face of the contemporary workplace.

The exploratory study conducted telephone interviews in the spring of 1999 among a sample designed to overrepresent five religious minorities in the United States: Judaism (102 people), Islam (102), Hinduism (107), Buddhism (103) and Shintoism (12).

Those questioned also included 188 Christians and 28 people who did not identify with any of the above-mentioned religions.

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