The Grand Design of Daniel Libeskind

It was in Poland’s primeval forests, where bison roamed amidst labyrinths of poplar and maple trees that Daniel Libeskind first began to understand concepts of land, space, shelter and natural resources, themes that would be the underpinnings of his career as an architect.

In his new book, “Breaking Ground: Adventures in Life and Architecture” (Riverhead), the world-renowned architect who designed the master plan for the World Trade Center site, describes his early life in Poland, Israel and the Bronx, and he speaks with eloquence and passion about the ideas behind his “overtly expressive” work.

“There are many worlds in my head,” he writes, “and I bring them all of them to the projects I work on.”

Although the 58-year-old Libeskind has now built three museums and has 35 projects underway around the world, he didn’t actually build anything until he was 52. Until then, as he writes, he was mostly interested in abstract concepts rather than the utilitarian aspects of architecture.

In Studio Daniel Libeskind’s conference room in lower Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson, the back wall is covered with architectural renderings of the World Trade Center project, and a windowsill is filled with three-dimensional models along with a scaled-down Statue of Liberty. Dressed in all black but for a lapel pin — an American flag draped over a New York apple — with his signature glasses framing his blue eyes, Libeskind is cheerful and well-spoken, his Polish Yiddish roots evident in the sound of his English, his New York present in his hard-to-keep-up-with pace.

“My first introduction to America,” he says, “was through my father giving an old pair of shoes on a train platform in Russia.”

Nachman Libeskind, who spent the war years as a prisoner in the Soviet Union, noticed a young refugee sobbing after he had been released from the gulag. It was bitter winter and the man’s shoes had been stolen while he slept; Libeskind gave him his spare pair. The man got to America first, and every year sent a package of chocolates, toys and comic books from Macy’s to Poland. Through copying the comics, Daniel Libeskind learned to draw.

In 1957, when Libeskind was 11, his family moved from Lodz to Israel, from the overall grayness of the Polish city to “the natural splendor of the cornfields and orange groves of Kibbutz Gvat” in the Jezreel Valley. He loved kibbutz life “even if the work was sometimes enervating and dull,” shifting swiftly from “city kid to serious participant in a real agrarian experiment.” For his mother though, who also survived life in the Soviet gulag as well as communist Poland, the collective lifestyle was less appealing, and she soon moved the family to Tel Aviv, reestablishing the corsetry business she had in Lodz.

From the first days, Libeskind was struck by the light in Israel, a quality he has never experienced elsewhere.

“Even now, when I visit Israel,” he writes, “as others kiss the earth, I stand in awe of the light. Some days I suspect that’s what people are really fighting over — not territory, but the light.”

As a young child, he showed advanced talent as a musician and was considered a child prodigy on the accordion. Awarded a scholarship by the America-Israel Culture Foundation, he played in recital in Tel Aviv alongside a young Itzhak Perlman, winner of the same award. One of the judges, Isaac Stern, told him that it was a shame that he hadn’t learn to play piano as he had gone as far as possible with the accordion. Libeskind thought it was too late to switch instruments — “my hands were used to playing vertically” — and switched to drawing.

The book is hardly a chronological memoir. Biographical details are revealed as Libeskind muses about design, building elements, sacred space, light and sound, a distinct sense of place and other ideas.

“The book reflects how I think,” he says. “An independent network with a unity. The hardest part of writing was to be able to weave the stories in a meaningful way, to have a spirit.”

He explains that he decided a write a book, amidst his many projects, because he was approached frequently by people who asked about his inspiration.

For many readers, the book will provide an “inside baseball” look at the competitive world of architecture. Libeskind doesn’t hold back on harsh views of some colleagues, and writes openly of his “forced marriage” to architect David Childs in working on the World Trade Center site.

Often the story comes back to his parents. The Libeskinds moved to the United States in 1959, arriving by ship, and he recalls his first sight of the Statue of Liberty, already feeling the great promise of America. He spent his teen years living in the Amalgamated Clothing Workers’ Union housing cooperative in the Bronx, on the Western end of the Grand Concourse — where a street was recently named in his honor. His mother, a direct descendent of Rabbi Loew of Prague, conjurer of the Golem, worked in the garment industry. In the evenings, she would tackle the live carp they kept in the bathtub until dinnertime and bake her husband’s favorite honey cake, all the while debating literature, history and philosophy with her son. It was his mother who pushed him toward architecture.

“You can always do art in architecture, but you can’t do architecture in art. You get two fish with the same hook,” she said.

His father, who worked in the printing business, guided him to “trust the invisible.” Some of the stories he retells about his father read like Chasidic tales, like when a thief in Israel returns their stolen belongings, remembering Nachman’s name from their time together in the gulag.

About his process he writes, “Sometimes my thoughts are triggered by a piece of music or a poem, or simply by the way light falls on a wall. Sometimes an idea comes to me from a light deep in my heart.”

He listens to the stones, as he understands that every public site is a place of history and memory. For Libeskind, memory is not nostalgia, but what drives the future, orienting people in space and time: “I try to build bridges into the future by staring clear-eyed into the past.”

After 12 years in Berlin, Libeskind is delighted to be back in New York City, living downtown with his wife and daughter; they also have two grown sons. He loves the city best at dawn, “the most mysterious part of the day. The romantics prefer sunset. I like the dawn.”

Libeskind is very much at ease in his Judaism, at home with Jewish culture and tradition. He says that he would be very interested in designing a synagogue.

“There’s something Jewish about committing yourself to something, to the ethics and deeper meaning of it, putting yourself completely into the heart and soul of it. That’s what we’re doing at Ground Zero and at other projects, and in this book too.”

‘Portrait’ Gets Fiction Award

The Jewish Book Council announced its 2004 Jewish Book Award for fiction, Marjorie Sandor for “Portrait of My Mother, Who Posed Nude in Wartime” (Sarabande Books), a collection of linked stories. The finalists are Jonathan Wilson for “A Palestine Affair” (Pantheon) and Joan Leegant for “An Hour in Paradise” (Norton).

The Men Who Built the World

“The Jewish Contribution to Modern Architecture, 1830-1930” by Fredric Bedoire (Ktav) is an insightful work of history and culture. The book focuses on the Jewish industrialists, bankers, merchants and philanthropists who pursued modern culture, and in collaboration with their architects — such figures as Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier — built significant buildings in Paris, Berlin, Vienna and other cities, including New York and Chicago. Bedoire provides historical background and then offers descriptions by city; he refers to Paris as the capital of the 19th century and Budapest as “Judapest.” For the author, Jewishness is an energizer of modern architecture, and he probes attitudes toward architecture and building.

He writes: “My intention is not to demonstrate a Jewish architecture, should any such thing exist, but to underscore the presence of Jewishness in European and American architecture of the 19th and early 20th centuries, to show that the Western world would have looked completely different without the Jews, and that many of the most intensified and complex formal manifestations of the age are directly related to the Jewish clientele.”

The book is also an interesting history of European Jews of the period. The author, a Swedish scholar, is a professor of the history of architecture in the Royal University of Fine Arts, Stockholm. Originally published in Swedish, this edition is published in translation in collaboration with Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden.

Adding Mitzvah Multiplies Simcha

Sometimes the smallest details are the ones that make the biggest impression. You remember the pretty napkins or the mints with dessert. You remember the bride walking down the aisle with both her parents instead of just her father. You remember the way the bat mitzvah girl wore a hand-made yarmulke.

Chances are you don’t remember the decoration color scheme or what was served as a main course for dinner. But if a mitzvah project is part of the celebration, it will be one of the details noticed and appreciated no matter how small the effort.

When Debra Nielbulski came back from a family gathering in St. Louis, she remembered the unusual centerpieces on the tables at a family brunch. The beautifully decorated baskets of food served a dual purpose: as centerpieces and a mitzvah project.

Nielbulski has brought the idea back to Seattle. She put together a committee and created the fund-raising project that has been supporting the Jewish Family Service Food Bank for many years. The project has grown geographically over the years, with similar efforts in cities around the nation. Some families continue to put together the baskets on their own and donate the food to a food bank of their choice. On a related theme, depending on the time of year, baskets of school supplies or socks and other necessities would be appropriate for b’nai mitzvah decorations. How pretty the mitzvah is remains up to the family, so decorating the social hall with baskets instead of flowers doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your color scheme. You can even pay a private basket company to put the donation centerpieces together in an attractive way. Be sure to hang a pretty tag from the basket explaining where the food or other items will be donated.

Tables are the place to look for another celebration mitzvah project. One detail to think about while you are planning your simcha is what to do with extra food after the event. A number of organizations are interested in sharing your leftovers with others. For more information, look in the yellow pages for food banks and homeless shelters and ask any one of them if they take donations of party leftovers and if they know which organization does. In many cities, an organization will come to the synagogue or hotel to pick up the extra food that never made it to the table. In other places, you will have to drive the trays over to your local homeless shelter, but think of all the hungry people who will share your simcha with this simple effort. And don’t let anyone try to convince you that donations like this are illegal. You cannot be held liable for the food you donate, as long as it didn’t sit on someone’s plate first.

The national Jewish organization MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger offers another simple way to help the hungry while you are celebrating a joyous family occasion.

MAZON encourages families to donate 3 percent of the cost of their simcha to help feed the hungry. MAZON funds projects that deliver meals to the homebound, provides food to kosher kitchens, offers nutritional counseling for low-income women with children, and advocates for long-term solutions to hunger.

“MAZON is, of course, responsive to hunger among Jews; but in keeping with the best of our traditions, it also responds to all who are in need,” explains a MAZON pamphlet. The organization was founded in 1985 to “build a bridge between Jews who enjoy the blessings of abundance, and the millions of children and adults who are hungry, or who live at the very edge of hunger, each day.”

The MAZON Web site points out that more than 33 million Americans — including 12 million children — are hungry or at the very edge of hunger. The organization can be reached by calling (310) 442-0020, by visiting or by writing to MAZON at 1990 S. Bundy Dr., Suite 260, Los Angeles, CA 90025-5232.

For brides who have no real plans to wear their beautiful wedding gowns again, a mitzvah project in Israel might appeal to you. The Rabbanit Bracha Kapach gives used wedding dresses to brides who cannot afford their own, in addition to a wide variety of other relief projects she conducts in Jerusalem. Danny Siegel in his book, “Mitzvahs” (Town House, 1990) suggests sending your wedding dress to the rabbanit in the hands of a friend who is visiting Israel. The rabbanit also needs wedding rings. You can contact her at 12 Lod St., Jerusalem, 249-296.

This is only a small sample of the many possible mitzvah projects a family might do to celebrate a wedding or bat mitzvah. For additional ideas, ask your rabbi or read Siegel’s book.

Donna Gordon Blankinship is a freelance writer living in Seattle.

DVD Set Showcases Legendary Producer

Over a period of 42 years, legendary producer Arthur Cohn has made only 12 films, of which half have been recognized with Academy Awards, giving the Swiss producer the highest batting average in the annals of the motion picture industry. This record has been recognized by the Hollywood Walk of Fame with a star for Cohn, the only foreign producer so honored.

Now, in an unprecedented collaboration, five major Hollywood film companies have joined to release a DVD set of 10 films by Cohn.

Among the six Oscar-winners in the nine-disk boxed set being released this month are the classic "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis," "Dangerous Moves" and the documentaries "One Day in September" and "American Dream."

As impressive as Cohn’s filmography is the decision by Sony, Paramount, Buena Vista, Universal and Miramax — normally intense competitors — to pool their copyrighted films into one DVD set.

"It’s as if Ford, BMW and Toyota decided to build one car together," observed one film critic.

Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, said that in his 23 years in the business, he had never heard of such a multistudio collaboration before.

"Normally, there would be endless discussions on how to put the deal together, how to split the profits, how to appropriate the credits and so forth," Barker said. "In this case, all this was less important than our shared love for Arthur’s movies and our admiration for the man."

"He is one of a dying breed of great film producers, who is meticulously involved in every phase of a movie and who will spend years to get the results he wants," Barker added. "Nowadays, they list 15 co-producers on a blockbuster, and you have no idea which producer did what."

Cohn is also a man of extraordinary persistence. "I finished ‘The Garden of the Finzi-Continis’ in 1971, and it was turned down by 36 distributors in Europe and America," he recalled. "It was only after the academy awarded it the Oscar for best foreign language film that it became an international hit."

Another indicator of the influence of Cohn’s movies is "One Day in September," a documentary on the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. It was only after the film came out that the German government finally agreed to compensate the families of the victims, Cohn said.

As a footnote, Cohn’s grandfather was the chief rabbi of Basel. Because of his friendship with Theodor Herzl, the first Zionist Congress was held in the Swiss city in 1897.

Cohn is currently working on two projects. One is "The Yellow Handkerchief," which he described as "an old-fashioned love story, without violence, sex or special effects." The other project is "The Ruined Map," based on the novel by the late Japanese writer, Kobo Abe ("The Woman in the Dunes").

Included in the DVD set, "Arthur Cohn Presents" are the following feature films and documentaries: "American Dream," "Behind the Sun," "Black and White in Color," "The Sky Above, the Mud Below," "A Brief Vacation," "Central Station," "Dangerous Moves," "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis," "One Day in September" and "Two Bits."

Bonus features include the short Holocaust documentary, "Children of the Night," and segments from Vittorio De Sica’s "Woman Times Seven," which Cohn also produced.

"Arthur Cohn Presents" is available in video stores and is distributed by Home Vision Entertainment at a list price of $199.95.

Jewish Charities Get Favorable Rating

If you’re concerned that the money you donate to Los Angeles Jewish charities is eaten up by administrative and fundraising costs, fear not.

Most Jewish charities in Los Angeles have a favorable rating for the amount of dollars spent on their projects compared to dollars spent on costs, according to Charity Navigator, a new philanthropic watchdog. The group assessed some 130 Jewish nonprofits, including seven from Los Angeles, among 2,500 charities across the United States. It then rated the groups based on the Form 990 tax returns that all nonprofit charities, except religious institutions, must provide annually to the IRS.

Charity Navigator evaluated the groups’ overall financial health, fundraising and organizational efficiency. The goal was to equip potential donors with enough detail to “make more intelligent giving decisions,” spokeswoman Sandra Miniutti said.

Independent analysis of charities and philanthropies remains relatively rare, so many in the Jewish philanthropic world welcome the extra focus.

Such data “should serve as a reminder to donors that it is not enough to find a cause that tugs at your heart strings,” said Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network. “We have to hold charities we care about to higher standards of efficiency, effectiveness and transparency.”

Among all kinds of charities, Jewish and non-Jewish, the median fundraising costs were about $.08 of every dollar, she said — “pretty good” compared to the most efficient charities. Those charities deemed the most efficient spent no more than $.10 cents, or 10 percent, to raise each dollar. It’s estimated that there are between $25 billion and $50 billion in assets in the coffers of U.S. Jewish philanthropies, from foundations and federations to nonprofits and pension funds.

What the watchdog calls religious charities range from museums to universities to the U.S.-based fundraising arms of Israeli institutions to Jewish federations and political groups. Each charity was assigned up to 70 points and up to four stars, with better scores going to those showing greater financial health and streamlined bureaucracies.

The Jewish groups ranked similarly to other nonprofits when it came to areas such as fundraising and program expenses, but ranked poorly regarding money in the bank.

Checked for their “working-capital ratio,” or how much cash each group would have left if fundraising dried up, Jewish charities had enough to last for only 3.6 months on average, compared to 8.3 months for non-Jewish charities. Such “liquid assets” could be cash, stocks or easily sellable property such as real estate. The Jewish charities ranked lower because they typically raise the bulk of their money around the High Holidays and at the end of the year, but don’t have cash on hand year-round, Miniutti said.

In Los Angeles, the top rated Jewish charities were Jewish Family Services (JFS), Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger and the Skirball Cultural Center, which were all awarded four stars, and 62, 63, and 68 points respectively. According to Charity Navigator, JFS spends only $.02 to raise every dollar, Mazon spends $.07 and the Skirball spends $.04.

The charity with the next highest rating was the Simon Wiesenthal Center which was awarded three stars and 53 points, and spends $.17 cents to raise every dollar. The Bureau of Jewish Education, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation were granted two stars.

Nationally, the top Jewish charity was the Shefa Fund, which won a four-star, 69-point rating. The fund, dedicated to advancing social responsibility through grants, spent $.04 cents to raise each dollar, according to its Form 990.

Jeffrey Dekro, president of the Shefa Fund, said his organization’s first-place ranking “is really consistent with the doctrine of our work.”

At the bottom of the Jewish heap sat the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah, which is dedicated to Jewish education and outreach. The group garnered only 19 points and zero stars, spending $.23 cents to raise each dollar.

In several cases, Charity Navigator ranked branches of the same charities separately because they were incorporated separately for nonprofit status and file different forms to the IRS. Aish HaTorah represented one such case, with its New York branch, which it says is dedicated to “wisdom for living,” gaining 53 points and three stars, spending only $.13 cents to bring in every dollar.

Irwin Katsof, the Los Angeles-based president of Aish HaTorah, said he couldn’t discuss the findings until he had studied them more closely.

“I’m not really going to comment until I’ve had a chance to analyze how they did it,” Katsof said.

Charendoff, whose Jewish Funders Network is an umbrella group for many of the more than 8,000 private Jewish family foundations in the United States, some of which were rated byc Navigator, said the rankings provide useful data but miss some subtleties.

While the rankings allow one to compare a range of similar charities for their efficiency, they offer only a snapshot that does not reflect an organization’s development over time.

Newer charities “may take a few years to achieve a balance between building the business and delivering the product,” he said.

The rankings also do not take into account the size of an organization, he added. A small foundation may have only one fundraising professional, accounting for a major share of its budget, compared to bigger organizations with more money and a few more fundraisers.

Charity Navigator’s rankings, compiled in August and updated Sept. 3, were based on federal reports from 2001 and 2002, but the group “looked back” to 1997 and 1998 to “calculate growth as well,” Miniutti said.

Other national Jewish nonprofits that got ranked for overall efficiency included Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, which ranked 10th, and the World Jewish Congress, which was listed 112th.

Staff Writer Gaby Wenig contributed to this report.

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.

From L.A. to Tel Aviv —

An Israeli girl and a Los Angeles girl celebrate their bat mitzvahs together in Tel Aviv. Two Holocaust survivors from the same European town rediscover each other during an intercontinental videoconference call. Financial experts from Los Angeles assist their Tel Aviv counterparts to float Israel’s first municipal bond issue. A Tel Aviv fusion theater production of “The Dybbuk” as a Japanese Noh play debuts in Los Angeles. Israeli and Los Angeles experts start cleaning up Tel Aviv’s polluted HaYarkon River.

The scope and effect of projects in Israel funded by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have always been broad. But the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, with its specialization in hands-on, people-to-people programming seeks to transcend mere philanthropy in order to change the attitudes of Jews in both cities and create a mutual stake in each other’s Jewish life.

Most Federation philanthropic money raised for Israel in Los Angeles is still entrusted to the Jewish Agency for disbursement, while some of it goes directly to fund specific pluralism and security-related Jews in Crisis projects in Israel (see sidebars). Programs undertaken through the partnership program, however, are different — partly staffed from Los Angeles, planned and managed jointly with personnel in Tel Aviv and often including exchanges of staff and students.

The result, say organizers, participants and even occasional Federation critics, is a remarkably successful program that may change the nature of Israel-Diaspora relations — for the better.


The partnership, with its education, health, human services, culture and economic projects, harks back to Project Renewal, a 1980s Jewish Agency program for funding urban renewal projects in selected Israeli neighborhoods. Under Project Renewal, the Israeli government provided infrastructure and housing, while Diaspora communities underwrote such capital projects as community and child-development centers.

Even then, North American federations, including Los Angeles, began to insist that social renewal was a necessary part of urban renewal. They also demanded oversight of social projects and the inclusion of local residents in decision-making and managing.

Los Angeles’ renewal projects thus included drug rehabilitation, as well as community centers in a poor Jerusalem area neighborhood; big brother-sister and tutoring projects, rebuilding of an ancient Roman amphitheater in the development town of Beit Shean, and clinics and school projects in Ajami-Lev Jaffa, a mixed Arab-Jewish area in Tel Aviv.

While meeting some of Israel’s needs, Project Renewal partly failed to satisfy Los Angeles planners’ and contributors’ growing preference for more directed giving and hands-on programming. “It was a colonial, lady bountiful approach, recalled Dr. Gerry Bubis, a Federation veteran.

In the mid-1990s, as the renewal projects were being absorbed by local Israeli municipalities, the Los Angeles Federation established a think tank, composed of both Federation personnel and Los Angeles immigrants in Israel, to consider how to use the skills and creativity of the Los Angeles community for future projects in the Jewish State. The old philanthropic model — “build us a park or a hospital and we’ll run it” — no longer seemed quite right.

When in 1998, Israel’s 50th anniversary year, the Jewish Agency announced its Partnership 2000 program, an umbrella under which Diaspora communities were called on to fund regional development projects in Israel, Los Angeles said yes — but no. The Federation insisted on being twinned not with a development town but with Tel Aviv, a metropolis whose sophistication and skills would match its own city.

And if the mercantile and cultural capital of the Pacific Coast was going to collaborate with the most sophisticated city in Israel, it wanted to do it partly on its own terms, establishing a peer relationship that would include professional, institutional and personal interactions and joint programming in the areas of the Federation’s priorities and expertise, especially education and social services. Cultural affairs and economic initiatives were added to the partnership later.

The idea was to affect the culture of both Jewish Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, to make the buzzwords “Israel-Diaspora relations” refer to something real.

The Jewish Agency objected to the loss of control over funds flowing through its pipeline, but The Federation persevered. After then-mayor of Tel Aviv Roni Milo appointed a committee to work with Los Angeles, the agency eventually gave its blessing.

From the first, the partnership’s steering committee of 15 lay and professional leaders from each side confronted significant differences in cultural expectations, organizational needs, basic assumptions and personal styles. The Tel Aviv people, explained Bubis, who currently serves on two partnership committees, were civil servants, unaware of the committee-consensus model by which The Federation makes decisions, while the Los Angeles contingent, as volunteers and professionals working for private agencies, had no idea how the Tel Aviv municipality operated.

One key element determined at those first meetings, at the insistence of Los Angeles, was that the partnership should include a Jewish-Israel component. Part of Los Angeles’ aim was “to make a relationship that would strengthen Jewish identity in both communities,” recalled Fredi Rembaum, who, as The Federation’s director of Israel-overseas relations for eight years, was instrumental in developing programming for the partnership.

The curriculum was designed to make Israel a more defined part of Jewish identity for Jewish students in Los Angeles, while being Jewish would be a component of Israeli identity for the Tel Aviv participants.

Semiannual steering committee meetings, alternating between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, as well as a communications network that includes videoconferencing and visits to each other’s communities continue to guide the partnership, whose main component areas are described below.


Education, with many projects planned and run through the Bureau of Jewish Education in Los Angeles, is the oldest and most developed component of the partnership. The most visible and probably the most successful of the partnership projects — what Ed Robbins, an initiator of the partnership, calls education’s flagship — is the twinning of 12 schools in Los Angeles with schools in Tel Aviv for programs that include organized, ongoing communication and student exchanges.

The twinned schools include many day schools in the Los Angeles area, as well as the public Calabasas High School, whose student population is two-thirds Jewish. At Calabasas, the focus is not on Jewish peoplehood but on Israel’s relationship to the United States.

Student exchanges have slowed because of the security situation in Israel, but joint programming in the schools continues to address the subject of Israel-Diaspora relations and Jewish identity. Los Angeles day school teachers continue to meet with their peers in Israel to develop joint curriculum.

It is noteworthy that the Israeli schools, backing away from the classic Zionist view that the Diaspora exists to provide money and immigrants for Israel, have been extremely eager to pursue the twinning relationship. In fact, Marty Karp, who directs The Federation’s Israel office, suggested this may be the first time that pedagogical issues relating to Jewish peoplehood are being worked out between a Diaspora and an Israeli community.

A related project that predated the school twinning, Distant Friends, began with a film in which Los Angeles high school students discuss Jewish life in their city and their own sense of Jewish identity. The film, with an accompanying curriculum on U.S. Jewish life and Israel-Diaspora relations, has been used in approximately 70 Tel Aviv high schools. The project is currently being turned around — a film about Tel Aviv students and their lives as Israelis and Jews will be included in the curriculum of Los Angeles Jewish schools.

In Tel Aviv, a high school forum brings 40 students from 12 Tel Aviv schools together weekly to discuss issues of Jewish identity and Israeli-Diaspora relationships. The program will be broadened with a counterpart group established in Los Angeles, leading to exchanges and communication between the groups.

In addition, the partnership sends shlichim (student ambassadors — most of them young men and women just past their army service) to be counselors at Los Angeles Jewish summer camps.

The work-study Teach and Study Program (TASP) offers university graduates the opportunity to teach English for two years in Tel Aviv schools, while earning a master’s degree from Tel Aviv University in teaching language, especially English as a second language. Each of the 14 current TASP interns — their numbers down from 27 last year due to the security situation — is responsible for the English-language development of a group of 15 Israeli children.

A joint UCLA-Tel Aviv University course in Jewish studies brings students together through videoconferencing.

Health and Human Services

The partnership’s health and human services committee brought together Los Angeles’ Jewish Family Service and Tel Aviv’s Department of Human Services to jointly identify target areas for social welfare projects, particularly family violence, emergency personnel management and services for seniors and Holocaust survivors. The collaboration has allowed professionals in both cities to learn and adapt models from the each other’s care and delivery systems.

Cafe Europa, a social and support program for Holocaust survivors developed in Los Angeles, has been adopted and adapted by Tel Aviv, where an average of 150 survivors now are drawn weekly to two sites for socializing and programs. The project also includes videoconferencing between survivors in both cities.

In one of the most moving moments of the partnership connection, two Holocaust survivors — one in Los Angeles and the other in Tel Aviv — both from the same town in Eastern Europe discovered each other during a group videoconference.

Another import from Los Angeles is the Wellness Community, which offers support groups, lectures, social and health-enhancing events to hundreds of cancer patients and their families in the Tel Aviv area. Using a Los Angeles model, a Wellness Community hospice has been established in Tel Aviv.

The Zug or Peret Marriage Project, based on the Making Marriage Work course at Los Angeles’ University of Judaism, has been set up in Tel Aviv.

The Sandwich Generation Women, offering support and empowerment for midlife women, now reaches approximately 3,000 in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa area.

The Beit Alochem center in Tel Aviv runs extensive social, cultural and psychological programming for disabled war veterans. It has now been expanded to include terror victims.

The Yad al Hadofek (friends to the elderly and homebound) program, modeled after a similar program run by Jewish Family Service, develops a cadre of volunteers who maintain regular contact with the elderly and homebound.

The Life Stories project uses tape, film and writing to document individual, family, neighborhood and community stories and trains individuals to handle the information gathering. The curriculum was developed in Tel Aviv and will soon be transferred for use in Los Angeles.

The Family Friends projects encourages senior citizen volunteers to adopt families with a disabled child. Other projects target domestic violence and violence against people with disabilities through educational programs in Tel Aviv workplaces.


As a center for the performing arts, Los Angeles has mounted a wide range of cultural collaborations and exchanges of artists with Tel Aviv, including performance projects and discussions in schools in both cities. The Inbal Ethnic Theater and Los Angeles’ Keshet Haim dance group collaborated on a project, as did the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony and the Tel Aviv University School of Music, among others.

The production of S. Ansky’s “The Dybbuk” in Japanese Noh style, featuring Tel Aviv actors, was directed by a Tel Aviv University professor, adapted by an expert on Japanese theater at UCLA, staged in Tel Aviv and then imported on video for showing in Los Angeles.

Curators from museums in Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Getty and the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, have been linked for joint programming and institutional exchanges.

A master class workshop in filmmaking, staffed from Los Angeles and presented at Tel Aviv University, has also brought some young Tel Aviv filmmakers to Los Angeles on internships in the film industry (see page 12).

Economic Initiatives

Economic initiatives, the most recent addition to the partnership, includes many projects that are still in the evaluation and planning stage that is expected to continue through 2003.

However, one project already under way, using financial expertise developed in Los Angeles, is helping Tel Aviv float the first municipal bond offering in Israel. The money will be used to create underground parking to relieve the city’s clogged thoroughfares.

Another ongoing project is a collaboration between businesspeople and environmentalists to clean up Tel Aviv’s badly polluted HaYarkon River.

A third large enterprise now being studied involves neighborhood revitalization in the Jaffa flea market area. Based on the model used in Los Angeles after the riots in the early 1990s, the Tel Aviv Genesis projects would combine urban investment and real estate development with community organizing, social welfare programs and small-business development.

About $1 million now flows from The Federation into the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, double the amount allocated in partnership’s first full year in 1998. The Federation anticipates increasing partnership allocations, however, the amount has not been revealed.

The partnership allocations comprise about 10 percent of The Federation’s funds earmarked for overseas use. Although there is perennial tension between overseas needs and local Jewish needs, no complaints have arisen about the allocations to the partnership. In fact, as Rembaum put it, a subsidiary goal of the partnership is to “blur the line” between support for Israel and support for the local community by doing both at the same time.

Has the Partnership Worked?

Federation personnel involved in the partnership seem convinced that it has been a great success. “Everyone is delighted where we’ve got to,” Federation President John Fishel proclaimed after an eight-hour steering committee evaluation meeting in Tel Aviv in October.

Yes, there are problems, Fishel acknowledged, naming “a certain fragmentation,” — too many small programs not connected to the mainstream partnership relationship. But even these, he insisted, putting a positive spin on it, merely indicate “opportunities for greater synergy.”

Lois Weinsaft, The Federation’s vice president for international planning, echoed Fishel, explaining that the partnership expects to “move away from smaller programs in order to concentrate money, energy and impact.”

On-the-ground appraisals from partnership personnel range from the evaluation by David Gill, the partnership’s Los Angeles chairman, that “everything worked” to first partnership chairman Herb Glazer’s acknowledgement, leavened with high grades overall, that some projects — he named several performance exchanges — simply “flopped.”

Meanwhile, even such critics of Federation programs and priorities as demographer Pini Herman voiced no criticism of the partnership in general. However, he did say that The Federation remains out of touch with local needs, while funding programs like the partnership, which provide overseas junkets for Federation executives and managers.

But Herman’s is a lone voice. Bubis, the founding director of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Relgion’s School of Jewish Communal Service and a Federation veteran who has sometimes voiced criticism of Federation programming, called the partnership “nothing short of spectacular — the leveraging of a relatively small amount of money for a remarkable payoff.”

In Tel Aviv, Los Angeles’ contribution has been warmly praised by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai. “I’ve seen how much it contributes to the city, how much impact it has,” Huldai said, naming summer camps, day-care centers, projects for the elderly. “We feel we have partners.”

The fact is that the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership is young and still developing. It may simply be too soon to know what works well or what the long-range effects of partnership will be. One major success, observers said, is not programmatic but the promotion of volunteerism and layperson involvement on the Tel Aviv side.

As for the success of the specific programs, themselves, most have not yet been officially evaluated — a deficiency that The Federation is aware needs to be remedied — and many programs will require long-range follow-up to determine their effect on individuals and the two communities.

Meanwhile, Fishel is full of ideas for future partnering: extended-day kindergartens in Tel Aviv, a Tel Aviv spinoff of Los Angeles’ Mommy and Me programs; sending graduate business students to Tel Aviv to help on economic projects; broadening the school exchanges and finding ways for engaging youth groups on both sides; increasing the scope of joint curriculums, and consulting with other federations to learn what they are doing in their partnerships.

Partnership is “infinite in its possibilities,” Fishel enthused. “The more you’re working together, the more opportunities for collaboration.”

With the sense of connection to Israel decreasing measurably in the U.S. Jewish community, the collaborative framework appears to offer a possibility for reconnection, as people on both sides go beyond philanthropy to work together on Jewish issues and communal problems.

David Margolis, who lives in a small village in the
Judean hills, can be reached through his Web site, .

Federation Directs Funds Overseas

Currently, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles allocates about $11.5 million of the approximately $40 million it collects annually to overseas projects. Most of the overseas funds — some $9.5 million — are funneled through the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group of North American federations, which divides the money between the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee on a 3-1 ratio.

Directed funds for "pluralism" programs amount to about $425,000. Funds for Jews in Crisis projects, which were raised in a separate one-time campaign, are funneled to projects in Israel without any administrative or fundraising costs deducted, a Federation spokesman said.

The Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership — allocations for which have doubled since its first budget year in 1998 — currently receives about $900,000 with an additional $300,000 earmarked for joint projects in Israel that are outside its formal structure. Another $100,000 goes to the partnership for administrative and programming needs from the Jewish Agency and the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation, respectively.

Funds Combat ‘Who Is a Jew’ Wars

In 1997, stimulated by the controversy over whether non-Orthodox converts would be registered as Jews by the Israeli government — the latest battle in the "who is a Jew?" wars — The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles began making funds available to what it calls "pluralism" projects. The projects are programs and activities aimed at stimulating religious pluralism and supporting "alternative" forms of Judaism in Israel, as well as increasing Jewish knowledge among Israel’s secular population.

In all, 15 pluralism projects are currently under way, funded directly from Los Angeles (not through the Jewish Agency) at a cost of about $425,000. While the projects are separate from the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, some are in Tel Aviv schools, providing an overlap of services — and possibly effects — with the partnership.

Pluralism projects also differ from partnership activities in that The Federation provides money but does not help to run the programs. While The Federation is careful to assert that pluralism money goes to programs, not movements, the distinction may be academic, because some of the programs funded are run by denominational institutions.

A representative sampling of last year’s pluralism grant recipients are:

  • Beit Daniel, a Reform synagogue and school that provides workshops and teacher training, especially before the holidays, in 15 secular Tel Aviv-area schools.
  • A Conservative movement bar/bat mitzvah training program for special-needs children.
  • The Kelman Center for Jewish Education at Tel Aviv University that helps teachers write their own curricula to bring Jewish texts and identity issues into the classroom.
  • The Reut Institute, an outgrowth of the coed Orthodox Reut School in Jerusalem, that develops curriculum and trains principals in pluralistic Jewish education.
  • Midreshet Iyun, a Conservative Learning Center, that runs a joint project with Tel Aviv University’s Jewish studies department, in which teachers study for master’s degrees in Jewish studies.
  • Bat Kol Bamidbar, which trains informal educators to teach Jewish values and heritage in Negev and Arava schools.
  • Orh Torah Stone Colleges, which prepares religious women to serve as advocates for women clients in Israel’s rabbinical courts.
  • The Tali Educational Fund, which provides Jewish studies in secular public schools.
  • Yesodot of Beit Morasha, which teaches the compatibility of traditional Judaism and democracy in Orthodox public schools.

Hands Off My Volcano

One evening not too long ago, I strolled through the science fair at a local middle school. The work of the students was not much in evidence, but the fingerprints of their parents were everywhere. No matter how often they are warned by teachers to let their children do the science projects, many parents just can’t let go. They’ve got to jump into the game, using the creaky excuse, “It’s for the sake of my child. Winning a prize here could mean a lot on that college application a few years down the line.”

There seems to be no limit to the parental interference — or subterfuge. I’ve been on a national speaking tour this year and have unearthed some alarming stories, even at wonderful schools. Some of the smartest, most devoted parents are using bizarre, often unethical, nearly illegal maneuvers in the name of protecting their child’s academic standing. A middle-school teacher told me he received an e-mail from a student demanding a point-by-point explanation of her grade on an English exam. Problem is, this was the student’s English teacher. He knew the girl’s writing style and vocabulary. He also knew her gentle nature. The teacher quickly figured out that the e-mail was not written by his student. That’s right, it was written by her dad.

Driven by anxiety that their children will not measure up, parents bend the rules and force their children to do the same. Some have confessed to me that they enroll their children in unnecessary tutoring or test-prep classes and urge them to keep it secret from the school.

Along with lessons in deviousness, children are learning from their parents that actions have consequences. That is, their teachers’ actions do. Frustrated teachers tell me that today’s parents have a very low tolerance for average grades. If a student receives a “C,” not on a report card but on a single test, it’s not uncommon for the parent to phone the teacher and issue a reprimand.

Even “C” students get the message: You are not responsible for your grade, your teacher is. If you don’t like it, it can be fixed — not by working harder, but by complaining.

Why are normally reasonable and ethical parents resorting to such extreme maneuvers? Stock wisdom says that nothing fundamental ever really changes, but our world is fundamentally different from the world we grew up in. The startling and rapid changes we see in the economy, in family life, in religious institutions, technology and education leave us breathless and excited, disoriented and anxious. As sensitive, protective parents, we want to armor our children with a thick layer of skills to prepare them for this uncertain future. We have convinced ourselves that they must excel at every level. If that means tilting the playing field, so be it. We’re ready. But what about our children?

Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotsk, the great, uncompromising Chassidic leader, once said, “If you truly wish your children to study Torah, study it yourself in their presence. They will follow your example. Otherwise, they will not themselves study Torah, but will simply instruct their children to do so.”

No parent wishes to leave a child with a legacy of lessons in lying and cheating. Quite the opposite. We care so much about teaching our children ethics and respect that we send them to religious school to study Jewish rules about being a good person. But our children learn far more from our actions than they do from any character-education curriculum. By teaching them to exaggerate, break rules, disrespect adults and be devious, we won’t end up with children armored for the future but with children armored only for a solitary climb to the top of the college-admissions pile. Once they are adults, the bad habits they learn from us are more likely to hurt them than to give them an edge.

When I look at all those science projects so clearly lacking the clumsy, painstaking touch of a young hand, I can almost see Mom or Dad toiling away, their child at their side, begging for a turn with the glue gun. But today’s determined (and fun-deprived) parents are not giving an inch. A papier-mâché volcano! Messy poster paints! Baking soda! Vinegar! Here’s an excuse to play and ensure a good grade for my child. The joy of creation, the satisfaction of doing all that hard work, maybe even the thrill of winning a ribbon — what parent can resist? For the sake of their children, more of them should.

Student Union

It all began with an idea for a building. Aron Hirt-Manheimer was a UCLA senior-year psychology major in 1969 when The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles proposed to buy a building for student activities. In light of a strong Hillel and Chabad presence on campus, “we felt that we didn’t need another building,” he recalled. “What we wanted was creative Jewish programming. They said, ‘Why don’t you propose something? And UCLA Hillel, under director [Rabbi] Richard Levy, will administer it.'”

The students came up with 10 projects, one of which was Hirt-Manheimer’s idea for Davka, a literary magazine that would serve as a forum of expression for the Jewish student body. Begun as a glorified pamphlet in 1970, it quickly evolved into a full-color magazine and is now a nationally distributed quarterly. (The magazine bears no relation to the 1990s Northern California magazine of the same name.)

“It was born in protest and grew out of a community,” Hirt-Manheimer said. “I felt that the establishment press wasn’t presenting a lot of the new ideas. I wanted something more visionary.”

Levy recalled, “Our feeling was that we were creating a forum for what was beginning to be a Jewish renaissance, before the term got national usage.”

Hirt-Manheimer served as editor or co-editor for six of the magazine’s seven years, and he credited frequent contributor Levy, now head of the School of Rabbinic Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), as key to making Davka happen.

In the first issue, a critique of the Jewish establishment headlined “The Ills of American Jewry” was not well-received by some Federation officials.

“They thought they had created a monster,” Hirt-Manheimer said. Nevertheless, Federation subsidized the student effort for most of its run and exercised no editorial control.

Looking through old issues now, it is apparent that this was very much a magazine of its day — preoccupied with social activism and regionally influenced schools of thought wrapped in Jewish pride and culture. With a press run of 3,000, it was a West Coast counterpart of Response, a cutting-edge Jewish publication in New York.

Typical headlines in Davka included “Jewish Education Via Transcendental Meditation” and “Israeli Education System Unfair to Oriental Jews.” The magazine boldly ventured into heady, sometimes controversial, territory that other Jewish periodicals refused to confront. It addressed women’s concerns, such as an expansion of female roles in Jewish ritual, and it took a hard stance on Vietnam (the first issue’s back cover screamed “End the War!”). Also noteworthy was the abundance of often socially &’9;conscious student poetry and art. A Hollywood edition featured a Richard Dreyfuss interview and an homage to the late Edward G. Robinson.

But by 1977, Davka could no longer maintain its $30,000 annual budget.

“Davka is dead,” Neil Reisner wrote in his final editorial. “It is a small loss, perhaps,” he commented, noting its circulation of 3,000. “One can only pray that something else will arise to fill the void.”

Despite its short run, the talent within its pages was impressive — Rachel Adler, now an HUC-JIR professor, who published her first piece in Davka; Mark Hurvitz, now a San Diego-based rabbi; Stephen Sass, now president of Jewish Historical Society of Southern California; and best-selling mystery author Jonathan Kellerman, who not only wrote articles but illustrated Davka’s first cover.

Levy saw Davka as part of a larger movement of Jewish rediscovery among American Jews, at a time when ethnic pride in general began to gain currency.

Hirt-Manheimer felt that Davka’s influence was on a national, not local, scale. He noted that the founding editors of Moment magazine used Davka as a model in creating their own successful publication.

Hirt-Manheimer went on to helm the Reform educational quarterly Keeping Posted for 12 years, then moving to Reform Judaism magazine, which he still oversees. On May 14, he will receive an honorary doctorate in Jewish education from HUC. But, he added, “It was on the strength of Davka that I was hired to edit these publications.”