Berkeley Hillel leaders urge students to reconsider J Street rejection

Hillel leaders at the University of California, Berkeley, are urging the Jewish Student Union on campus to reconsider its rejection of J Street’s campus affiliate.

The Jewish Student Union, an umbrella body for UC Berkeley Jewish student groups, voted last month to deny membership to the school’s J Street U chapter.

“We respect the right of the Jewish Student Union, an organization sponsored by UC Berkeley student government, to make its own decisions, but we encourage JSU to reconsider its vote and include JStreetU as a member,” wrote Berkeley Hillel’s board president, Barbara Davis, and its executive director, Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, in a letter sent to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and to j. weekly, the San Francisco Bay Area’s Jewish newspaper.

They also wrote that the J Street U chapter will receive support from Berkeley Hillel, explaining that the dovish student group adheres to Hillel International’s Israel guidelines.

The Jewish Student Union’s Nov. 16 vote to exclude J Street garnered media attention and spurred commentary around the world. There were 10 votes against admitting J Street U, nine in favor and two abstentions; admission requires a two-thirds majority, according to j. weekly.

“J Street is not pro-Israel but an anti-Israel organization that, as part of the mainstream Jewish community, I could not support,” Jacob Lewis, co-president of the campus Israel activist group Tikvah, told j. weekly, explaining his opposition to admitting J Street U.

In an Op-Ed in the Forward newspaper, four leaders of UC Berkeley’s J Street U chapter wrote that the exclusion was “emblematic of a larger trend.”

“Even as pillars of the American Jewish establishment recognize the need to include J Street U and others like us in the broadening tent of pro-Israel advocacy, those on the right double their efforts to shut us out,” the four students wrote.

When Jews Lose


The narrow defeat of mayoral candidate Robert Hertzberg marked a signal defeat not only for Los Angeles but for the future of Jewish influence in Los Angeles. For the second time in four years, Los Angeles voters turned down a smart, moderate Jewish candidate — last time it was Steve Soboroff — for people whose primary affiliations lie with other interests and ethnic groups.

As occurred in Soboroff’s loss, the deathblow to Hertzberg’s spirited campaign came from his fellow landsmen, less than half of whom bothered to support him. In contrast, African Americans rallied in larger percentages for City Councilman Bernard Parks, as did Latinos, clearly the city’s ascendant group, in their backing for City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa.

The Jewish rejection of Hertzberg is all the more puzzling since, unlike the Republican Soboroff, he is a well-known Democrat with moderately liberal credentials. Hertzberg’s pro-business stance and positions on critical issues, such as traffic and the schools, should also have won him broader support.

To a large extent, the explanation for this defection lies in a continued, and growing, divide between two distinct groups of Jewish voters. On the one side are the more middle-class Jews, concentrated in the San Fernando Valley, who are more likely to run local businesses and would like to be able to send their kids to public schools. These largely secularly oriented Jews, although mostly registered Democrats, joined the more Orthodox, particularly in places like Pico-Robertson, in backing Hertzberg.

Where Hertzberg failed was with another large bloc of Jewish voters, the very liberal, generally more affluent constituencies that cluster largely on the Westside. These people split their vote evenly between Hertzberg and liberal heartthrob Villaraigosa.

Hertzberg adviser David Abel traces this to the Westside elite’s lack of interest in local affairs.

“The [Westside] Jews are losing any connection to local government and think only on the national level,” Abel said.

Whatever the reasons, Hertzberg’s campaign failed to mobilize the Westside. Perhaps Hertzberg’s pledge to address the underperforming Los Angles Unified School District (LAUSD) — with its horrific near 50 percent dropout rate — was less critical since so few Westsiders now send their kids to public schools, particularly past the primary grades. The fact that it is someone else’s kids, such as children of their nannies, who have to be subjected to LAUSD, no doubt makes a difference.

Political consultant Arnold Steinberg points out that many of these same voters, and politicians, also backed busing, which has probably expelled more Jewish families from Los Angeles — and particularly the Valley — than anything outside the 1992 riots. Wealthy liberals often enjoy a special immunity from the consequences of their politics.

So given these trends, what is the future of Jewish political power and place in Los Angeles? In the short term, the chances of electing a Jewish mayor are fairly remote, given the divisions in the community, and the growing dominance of Los Angeles by Latino politicians and public employee unions. At the same time, the Jewish vote as a percent of the city electorate is decreasing — down to 14 percent from highs of more than 20 a decade ago — and likely to keep doing so, as more families opt out of the city to settle in places with better schools and often more welcoming business climates.

“The demographic trends are limiting the options for Jewish politicians,” Steinberg said. A Jewish mayor could still be elected someday in the future, he suggested, but probably only if the city founders further under Hahn or a future Villaraigosa administration. Perhaps it will take a woman to do this, like clean-government maven Laura Chick.

In the immediate future, however, Jewish power in Los Angeles will likely be largely as a “swing” group, whose major power is as much measured by campaign contributions as votes. Whatever the fantasies of some left-leaning Jews, there is little reason to expect a Villaraigosa administration would revive something like the old Bradley multiracial coalition by substituting Latinos for African Americans.

This is improbable because things have changed so much over the past 30 years. In the early 1970s, Los Angeles still had a strong right wing that Jews could oppose without embracing far-left politics. Today, the right is all but dead in Los Angeles. At the same time, a Villaraigosa administration would rest on a bedrock of Latino power, including many talented professionals and savvy labor activists, whose numbers suggest little need for “coalition building” on an equal footing with a fractured, increasingly indifferent and shrinking, minority.

Instead, I expect that most Jews, particularly those in the Valley and places like Pico-Robertson, will do as Jews have done for centuries. They will retreat into their families and private businesses, scrap together the shekels to send their kids to private school or leave Dodge entirely. They will survive, and even thrive as individuals, but will likely never again be a central source of political power within the confines of a city that we have done so much to shape.

Joel Kotkin is an Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He is the author of “The City: A Global History” to be published by next month by Modern Library.



Lonnie was a matchmaker’s client from hell.

No bachelor was more adroit at saying "No, thanks" when told, "Have I got a girl for you." The 38-year-old Orthodox man still lived at home, waiting for a "woman of valor" to take him away. The community obliged, offering him a shortlist of nice Jewish girls.

Without so much as a shared cup of coffee, Lonnie stamped each "Return to Sender." Roxanne had hair like Medusa. Barb’s voice was mousy. Ellen was damaged goods. And Ruth. A fine specimen now — but look at her mother.

To be sure, Lonnie was ill-prepared for a contemporary professional woman, one who shaves her legs while tuned to "Sex in the City." "I don’t understand," he once shuddered, "how a man could marry someone who would kiss him before the wedding."

Large Jewish cities are replete with secular Lonnies. A few play for time and win the princess of their dreams. Others hold out indefinitely, collecting invitations addressed "and guest." The rest of us swallow hard and broaden our notion of "good enough." We stop weeding out; we start weeding in.

"Thou shalt not settle" keeps singles single, argued psychologist Judith Sills in her book "How to Stop Looking for Someone Perfect and Find Someone to Love." A die-hard bachelor will step into a roomful of eligible women and, in a blink, judge that 90 percent don’t make the cut. Instead, wrote Sills, he should see 90 percent as prospects.

We all know career bachelors — Singles Weekend regulars who insist they’re ready and willing to stand beneath the chuppah — with the right goddess. All they have to show for their "efforts" are more tick marks on their wall and more candles on their cake.

Fact is, men are drawn to beauty; we all have our standards. But some men’s standards are unforgivingly narrow — unless she has the face of a Victoria’s Secret model or is as endowed as the state of Texas.

Occasionally, when discussing the meat market with buddies, I’ll suggest a charming woman of our acquaintance. They’ll wince and, with a sheepish "I don’t think so," explain why she won’t do.

Their reasons range from the ridiculous to the sub-lame:

1. Her hair is too curly/short/frizzy/red. Men will turn down a prospect if her dead protein is the wrong shape, length, texture or hue. This from guys with male-pattern baldness.

2. Her accent/voice/laugh/sneeze makes me barf. "I’m sorry," confides a New Yawker, "but I can’t marry a woman who drawls." Hey, Yank: The war is over.

I can understand balking at a disagreeable voice. Once, I heard a shrill-voiced woman choosing eyeglasses with her husband. "Marge Simpson," I thought, "he must really love her." When she turned, I beheld a drop-dead beauty. Suddenly I was listening to a sultry voice-over for Chanel.

Guys: Give Ms. Shrill a chance. If she’s right for you, it won’t matter if she laughs like Elmer Fudd.

3. She’s two years older than I. Secure, are we?

4. She’s two inches taller than I. Secure, are we?

5. She’s eight inches shorter. Who’s being small?

6. She’s damaged goods. When I was single, a nebbishy roommate of 40 declined a date with a two-time divorcée. "Two-time loser," he explained. She’s unworthy of a no-time loser?

7. She’s fat. If there’s one trait that single men won’t abide, it’s excess avoirdupois. Even I plead guilty. "It’s not unfair," we explain. "She can choose to lose."

If only we could lose our punishing attitude.

Dennis Prager has met a Lonnie or two. As a rabbinic student in the ’70s, the Los Angeles-based talk-show host was often a guest for Friday night dinner. One night, young Dennis sat beside an Orthodox bachelor. Like Lonnie, this guest was a rare bird: over 30, but still single.

Not shy, Prager asked, "So why haven’t you married?"

"I haven’t met the woman of my dreams," the man of God replied.

"And who might she be?" pressed the cocky youth.

"A Playboy bunny who studies Talmud."

I shouldn’t be too hard on these guys. In my second singlehood, two names were floated my way: Myrna was too chubby; Helen too plain. One is now married with three beautiful children. The other, I hear, still lives not far from Lonnie.

Lonnie, are you still at home?

Technical writer Paul Franklin Stregevsky writes personal essays about family
life, relationships and values. His essays about encounters with strangers can
be found at

An Afternoon at the Motion Picture Retirement Home

They were actors, set designers, writers, studio secretaries, directors. Now they’re residents of the Motion Picture Retirement Home, a placid place tucked into a sleepy Woodland Hills neighborhood and dense with stories of Hollywood past.

I pull up a chair in the home’s sun-drenched dining room, designed to look like a studio cantina, and settle in to talk to some of the home’s residents. I want to hear their stories, but as someone just starting out here, I guess I also want to know if it was worth it.

“It’s been a tough road,” says Hal Riddle, 79. “I never encourage anyone to go into this business. There’s lots of rejection and heartbreak. I didn’t become a star. I didn’t become Elvis.”

Riddle, who moved into the home four years ago and has no family, knew he wanted to be an actor when he was 9 years old, sitting in a Kentucky movie house and watching a silent film.

“There was something up there that mesmerized me,” he explains.

After serving in the Navy, Riddle won a scholarship to the renowned Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. Every year, he performed in summer stock theater, rooming with Jack Lemmon in the summer of 1948, a friend with whom he still keeps in touch.

Riddle and pal James Dean, a fellow struggling actor, would earn pocket money testing stunts for “Beat the Clock,” a 1950s game show that paid the actors $5 a day.

At age 30, Riddle finally got a break, appearing in “Mr. Roberts” on Broadway. More roles followed, including his film debut in “The Cop Hater.” A few years later, he was invited to Hollywood to act in “Onion Head” with Andy Griffith. He has never left, appearing in scores of TV shows, commercials, soap operas and 16 films. Three of his films starred Elvis Presley.

The actor, a dapper man with perfectly wavy gray hair, applied to the Motion Picture Retirement Home when he had some health problems.

“I was still working, but I could see down the road. I needed security,” he says. “Here, we’re retired, but we’re still with our peers, we’re still connected to what we’ve done our whole lives. We’re still wanted.”

Pausing for a moment he adds: “I dreamed of money and fame, but look how Elvis ended up and where I am. I’m happy. How many people retire and live in a beautiful place like this?”

And how many people have stories like his to look back on, I think to myself. A gold watch and a pension are one thing, hanging out with James Dean is another.

Across the table is Pearl Smith, 85, who was a studio secretary for 33 years, working with such notables as Edith Head and Gloria Swanson. She was even responsible for renaming Bernard Schwartz, who her boss wanted to call Edwin Curtis. No, she said, he’s a Tony.

“We’re one family here. We speak the same language,” says Smith, her expressive eyebrows lifting. Like many of the residents, Smith’s career was the focus of her life. She never married.

Recently, Director Steven Spielberg visited the retirement home, and recognizing the former secretary, he ran over and gave Smith a huge hug. A photo of the two now hangs at the home, along with pictures of donors like George Burns and residents like Fayard Nicholas, of the tapping Nicholas Brothers.

Since it opened 58 years ago, the Motion Picture Retirement Home has been supported by donations from more than 1 million industry professionals. “We take care of our own,” is the home’s official motto.

According to Carol Pfannkuche, public affairs director at the home, those who succeed financially are happy to give back because they see their success as part of a team effort. Aaron Spelling, she tells me, stopped by and went out of his way to greet a former “Love Boat” script supervisor now living at the home.

Other than just shelter, the home offers support groups, holiday programs (including a Passover seder) and group dining to provide the socialization that is so often missing from the lives of seniors. An Alzheimer’s unit, courtesy of Kirk Douglas, provides a “wandering garden,” a safe place for the disoriented to enjoy the outdoors. A hospital cares for the very sick and dying.

I’m a little nervous to discuss the ‘D’ word, but I go ahead and ask Pfannkuche what happens to those who can’t afford funerals.

“We provide burial services,” she says. “Those who support the home would not want one of their own going without a proper burial.”

Driving away, some of my worries about the future are soothed, others are picked raw. My mind is back in time with James Dean and Gloria Swanson, as my Datsun wanders in search of the 101. Still, I know where I am, and now I know there’s a place I wouldn’t mind ending up.

Now it’s just the next 50 years I have to worry about.

Teresa Strasser is a 20-something who writes for the Jewish Journal

‘A Split Is Hovering Over Likud’

On the eve of his most testing American visit since he becamePrime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu was humiliated, live on prime-timetelevision, last Monday by the least likely of dissidents — theblue-collar ward party bosses of the Likud central committeeconvention.

Their quarrel, as one TV commentator put it, was not over policyor principle, peace or territory, synagogue and state, but over whoowns the grocery store. Others wrote of a mutiny, of a golem turningon its creator, even of a potential split in the Likud.

The 3,000 grass-roots activists rejected Netanyahu’s nominee tochair the party convention, the loyal, plodding health minister,Yehoshua Matza. The prime minister could live with that but not withtheir raucous refusal to postpone a vote on the way the Likud choosesits candidates for the Knesset. Last-minute efforts were being madeon Tuesday to persuade them to think again, but the damage was done.

In fact, the argument was less a matter of Netanyahu versus theactivists, who still hailed him as “Bibi, king of Israel,” than ofincumbent Knesset members and ministers versus the grass roots.Netanyahu was trapped in the middle. Bear with me while I explain.

Last time around, both Likud and Labor chose their candidates forprime minister and for the Knesset by American-style primaries.Previously, it was the central committee that picked the Likudrunners. To stay on the slate, Knesset members had to keep the wardbosses sweet. When the Likud was in power, as it has been for 16 ofthe last 20 years, they were repaid in the sweaty currency ofpolitics — government projects for their neighborhoods, jobs onpublic corporations, VIP guests glittering their daughters’ weddingsand sons’ bar mitzvahs.

The primaries deprived them of much of this patronage. Ministersand Knesset members could appeal over the heads of the local powerbrokers to the 200,000 registered Likud members, many of whom arenever seen from one election to the next and need not even be Likudvoters.

At the same time — and this is where the plot thickens — theuppity ministers and Knesset members insisted on demonstrating theirindependence from the party leader, who thought that direct electionof prime minister had made him omnipotent. If Netanyahu could abolishprimaries and revert to the old ways, he would, at one and the sametime, call his fractious colleagues to heal and cement his partybase.

The director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, AvigdorLieberman, is widely credited with orchestrating a campaign amongcentral committee members, the overwhelming majority of whom owetheir seats to him, to restore the old system.

At the beginning of November, however, Likud ministers joinedforces and insisted that Netanyahu stick to primaries. The primeminister, shaken by their unanimity, backed down, tactically atleast, agreeing to postpone the central committee vote for a fewmonths.

The trouble was that the convention delegates, sensing arestoration of their old power, refused to reverse themselves.Lieberman lost control. When a pale, incredulous Netanyahu appealedto them on Monday night for a coolheaded assessment of the respectivemerits of the two electoral systems, they jeered and shouted himdown. That wasn’t on their agenda.

Cheerleaders climbed onto chairs and led them in chanting, “No!no! Decide today!” They waved printed placards that called for “Powerto the central committee!” The burly leader of the insurrection,Yisrael Katz, who studied with Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi andonce worked for Ariel Sharon, loomed over the prime minister and toldhim bluntly that the convention would decide.

“They,” he reminded him, “are the ones who registered the 200,000voters, who bring them to the polls. It is due to their efforts thatthe prime minister, ministers and Knesset members are elected.”

Yossi Verter, Ha’aretz’s political correspondent, suggested that avisitor from another planet would have thought that Katz was primeminister and the wan figures at his side (Netanyahu and other Likudministers) were Katz’s cowering subordinates.

As commentator Bina Barzel wrote in the mass-circulation YediotAharonot: “This was the last thing Prime Minister Netanyahu needednow: a mutiny at the Likud convention, delegates standing updecisively to him and his leadership. These events highlightedNetanyahu’s isolation. He is isolated from ministers, who arealienated from him, and he is isolated vis-à-vis Knessetmembers and the party convention. It can no longer be concealed: Asplit is hovering over Likud.”

It may be premature to predict Netanyahu’s downfall or his party’sdemise. He has bounced back before. But these cumulative blows to hisauthority leave him limping. Neither he nor the leaders of AmericanJewry he faces in the United States can be confident that he speaksfor a united Likud, let alone for a united Israel.

Netanyahu Is Coming To Town

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is scheduled to be inLos Angeles on Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 17-18, for an intensive24-hour round of speeches and meetings.

Netanyahu will start out on Monday with a luncheon address to theLos Angeles World Affairs Council at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. In theafternoon, he will meet with some 250 leaders of the JewishFederation Council of Greater Los Angeles, AIPAC and Israel Bonds.

That evening, the prime minister will participate in acelebrity-studded fund-raiser for the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorahand confer the organization’s King David Award on actor Kirk Douglas.

Early Tuesday, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yaakov Neeman willtake part in an economic forum, co-sponsored by the Milken Institute,to explore the opportunities and challenges facing Israel’s economy.

The final stop on Netanyahu’s visit, before he returns to Israel,is the Simon Wiesenthal Center, where he will tour the Museum ofTolerance.

Earlier this week, Bobby Brown, Netanyahu’s adviser on Diasporaaffairs, was in Los Angeles to nail down details of the visit.

There has been some disappointment in Jerusalem that PresidentClinton was unwilling or unable to meet with Netanyahu in Washington.However, Clinton will be in Beverly Hills on Sunday evening for aRock the Vote benefit, and there is a possibility that the Americanand Israeli chief executives might get together on Monday.