Businessman seeks new hearing in Coca-Cola lawsuit

A Jewish Canadian-Egyptian businessman wants a full U.S. appeals court to rehear his lawsuit against Coca-Cola for using his family’s property in Egypt.

Raphael Bigio and his family filed the brief Wednesday in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. He is suing the Coca-Cola Company headquartered in the United States for its use of family property in the Cairo suburbs that was confiscated by President Gamel Nasser in 1965 during his purges against Egyptian Jews.

Bigio is hoping to settle with the beverage giant for compensation for what he alleges is substantial profit. Coca-Cola Egypt had leased the property from the family following Nasser’s purge.

A three-judge panel of the New York-based appeals court dismissed the case in March on the grounds that the complaint did not contain sufficient evidence that Coca-Cola caused or directed Coca-Cola Egypt to build additional buildings on the property.

In a news statement distributed by his attorney, the Washington firm of Lewin & Lewin, Bigio said his family’s story is “one of flagrant abuse, first by an anti-Jewish government, then by a greedy corporate Goliath.”

Coca-Cola has said that an Egyptian state-owned company, not Coca-Cola, owns the property; that it is a minority stakeholder in the company that leases the land; and that the land was purchased lawfully from the Egyptian government.

Olmert indicted in Holyland scandal

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been indicted on bribery charges in one of Israel’s largest corruption scandals.

The indictment filed Thursday accuses Olmert of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes during the construction of the Holyland apartment project in Jerusalem when he was mayor of Jerusalem and then trade minister.

Seventeen other people were also indicted in the case, including Olmert’s former bureau chief Shula Zaken and former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski.

Olmert is currently on trial in three other cases: for allegedly paying for family vacations by double billing Jewish organizations through the Rishon Tours travel agency; for allegedly accepting envelopes full of cash from American businessman Morris Talansky; and for allegedly granting personal favors to attorney Uri Messer when he served as trade minister in the Investment Center case.

The ex-Israeli leader is charged with fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate records and tax evasion. He has pleaded not guilty on all charges.

Olmert is the first former Israeli prime minister to stand trial. He resigned as prime minister in September 2008 after police investigators recommended that he be indicted.

Nations’ archives launch Nazi-era property portal

A coalition of documentation preservation groups, including national archives from six nations, is launching a portal that accesses records on stolen Nazi-era cultural property.

The portal, called Holocaust International Resources, will be launched formally on Thursday at the National Archives in Washington but already is active online. It accesses material in the archives of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Ukraine.

Other participating bodies include the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the Commission for Looted Art in Europe.

Diaspora rabbis urge Israeli colleagues to speak out on rental ruling

Over 750 rabbis and cantors of all denominations signed a letter urging their Israeli colleagues to speak out against a ruling by 39 municipal rabbis banning renting to non-Jews.

“The recent halakhic ruling from community rabbis in Israel that forbids leasing apartments to non-Jews has caused great shock and pain in our communities,” said the letter, initiated by the New Israel Fund. “The attempt to root discriminatory policies based on religion or ethnicity in Torah is a painful distortion of our tradition.”

The letter, open for two days for signatures and released on Tuesday, concludes: “For the sake of our people, our Torah, and Israel, we beseech you to take a strong public stand and oppose those who misrepresent our tradition.”

Signatories include rabbis and cantors from the Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox streams, including Rabbi Marc D. Angel, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel, the historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York City; Rabbi Michael Lerner editor of Tikkun, a progressive Jewish and interfaith magazine based in Berkeley, California; Rabbi Leonard S. Levin, Jewish Theological Seminary Of America; Rabbi Rachel Cowan, director of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality; and Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, the first woman to become a Reconstructionist rabbi when she was ordained in 1974.

The bulk of the signatories are from the United States, with significant numbers from Canada and Britain and a smattering from small communities.

A number of rabbinical leaders in Israel have condemned the original ruling as has Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Israeli attorney general is looking into whether the rabbis who ruled against renting to non-Jews broke the law in their capacity as government employees.

For the Kids

Right a Wrong

The five daughters of Tzlophchad (say that 10 times fast!) went to Moses and said: "The law says that if a man dies his property goes to his sons. But our father doesn’t have any sons! What will become of all his property? Please change the law so that we can keep our father’s property in the family!"

Moses went to God and told him, and God changed the law.

The daughters of Tzlophchad stood up for something they believed in.

Is there something you think should be changed?

Maybe you want better food in the cafeteria at school!

OK to stand up for what you believe is right — you never know what mountains you may manage to move!

Book Review

Here is a book review by Ariel Schnitzer, a fifth-grader at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy
“Strudel Stories” is a great book for people who like learning about the past. It is about a large Jewish family of seven generations with stories from past to present. How did an apple turn to gold? Or, how did Bertie almost get sent back across the ocean to Russia? This book is full of happy times, sad times, disastrous times, all starting with a plate of strudel.
Author Joanne Rocklin’s memories of her family depicted in the “Stories” were humorous and yet real.

The Jewish Tax

Every April 15, we are reminded that many of the things we hold dear literally don’t come cheap. Democracy demands its pound of flesh, or its 30 percent, and on Tax Day the bill comes due.

According to demographer Pini Herman, the median Jewish household income in the greater Los Angeles area for 2000 was $57,100. The median Jewish household in Los Angeles has to work until March 24 to pay its federal taxes and until May 16 to pay off other income, property and sales taxes. That median Jewish family’s estimated total tax bill this year: $21,300.

On top of this, there’s the Jewish tax. Being Jewish may be wonderful, but it isn’t necessarily a bargain. "Jewish taxes" for a small $5,100 basket of Jewish services — temple membership, minimal Jewish education and recreation, modest Jewish organizational membership and charitable gifts, Jewish ritual events and Jewish articles — will keep the median Jewish household working until June 17 to pay off this "tax."

A larger basket of Jewish services (i.e. day school and camp for two children) can easily reach $22,000 a year in Los Angeles. That figure is unaffordable for those Jewish households at or below the median income level.

Indeed, the price of engaging in Jewish communal life has become daunting. Most synagogues, day schools and camps are willing to arrange scholarships or discounts, but sticker shock or shame often scares off potential members. Institutions and individuals have begun to take the problem seriously. Synagogue 2000, an organization leading naionwide synagogue transformation efforts, has begun encouraging alternative approaches to dues structures in attracting new members. In San Francisco, Temple Emanu-El is experimenting with voluntary dues.

Jewish day schools, which budget far less money per pupil than their public counterparts, are themselves struggling with deficits. The four year-old Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education is focusing on fostering the growth of new day schools, providing grants and fundraising expertise to the schools. A number of foundations, including Avi Chai, have experimented with providing tuition subsidies to encourage people who would not be eligible for financial aid to consider day schools.

For many, these changes cannot happen fast enough. They face rising bills now, especially as the bear market extends its grip to both end-users and potential donors.

Short-term answers are to appeal to donors to continue giving, and to encourage the efforts of places where participating in Jewish life is still relatively inexpensive and richly rewarding, such as museums, libraries and the Jewish Community Centers.

But for the longer term, we need to take steps to ensure that Jewish communal life does not become solely an upper-middle class entitlement. Other wealthy and resourceful communities have explored massively-funded regional endowments for day school tuitions. An endowment structure could also be used for synagogue memberships. It just might work– and contributions would be tax-deductible.