Calendar: February 21-27


SAT | FEB 21

“RELIEF”

David Abir’s solo exhibition culminates in this final installation, and even if you haven’t seen the first three parts of the series, “Relief” isn’t to be missed. Based around a fictional historical narrative, the piece is like a visual-architectural “symphony,” using both geometric sculptures and shapes as well as reinterpretations of music by Mahler and Brahms. Also in the space is Israeli artist Miri Chais’ multimedia project that focuses on themes of technology in contemporary society. Tonight features a panel discussion with the artists. 4 p.m. Free. Exhibition runs through March 7. Shulamit Gallery, 17 N. Venice Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 281-0961. ” target=”_blank”>lacma.org.


SUN | FEB 22

JEWISH DISABILITY AWARENESS AND INCLUSION MONTH

For families with children, teens and adults with special needs, this month is all about support, empowerment and inclusion. Join the community and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for a day of fun activities, including sensory games, sports and musical performances. $5 per family (includes raffle ticket). Noon-3 p.m. Camp Max Straus, 1041 Shirlyjean St., Glendale. (818) 957-4900. TUE | FEB 24

GAME DAY

The Super Bowl might be over, but the games don’t have to end! The University Women of American Jewish University invite you to bring your game face as well as your friends’ faces for a day of mahjong, Pan, Scrabble, Bridge, Bingo and more. Not to worry — if you don’t come with a team, you’ll get to join a brand-new one upon arrival. There will be fun prizes, and lunch is included. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. $40 (members), $45 (nonmembers). American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel-Air. (310) 440-1283. estherblau@aol.com to RSVP. 


WED | FEB 25

“FOLKSONGS OF MODERNITY: A JUDEO-SPANISH PERSPECTIVE”

Sounds a little like an oxymoron, no? Where does a folk song, whose very nature is days of yore, fit into contemporary times? Professor of musicology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Edwin Seroussi posits that today’s touristic excursions, pilgrimages and fieldtrips to ruins sites are actually analogous to the performance and modern consumption of folksongs. Mark Kligman moderates. 4 p.m. Free. Room 314 at Royce Hall at UCLA, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 267-5327. 


THUR | FEB 26

ERIC GARCETTI AND “AIRPLANE!”

He’s a jazz pianist, a Rhodes scholar, our mayor and a fan of the 1980 classic comedy about an ill-fated journey from L.A. to Chicago featuring, but not limited to, an inflatable doll and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing the role of pilot. The mayor will sit down with KCRW’s Madeleine Brand (host of “Press Play”) to talk about why this is his pick for favorite movie, what the film means to him and his personal definition of funny. 7 p.m. Free. The Million Dollar Theatre, 307 S. Broadway, Los Angeles.

Typhoon Haiyan: How you can help


In response to the devastation wreaked on the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan, which hit land on Nov. 8, killing thousands and obliterating whole towns and villages, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has set up the Philippines Typhoon Relief Fund.

The solicitation for donations went live on Monday, Nov. 11, on the Federation website, jewishla.org, according to Mitch Hamerman, Federation’s senior vice president of communications and marketing.

The L.A. Federation’s response is only one example of local Jewry attempting to reach out to Filipinos suffering in the aftermath of the largest storm surge in modern history, despite the absence of a sizable Jewish population on the Southeast Asian island country. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has already sent emergency teams, and the Israeli nonprofit IsraAID has dispatched a team of humanitarian workers. The L.A. Federation is working with both organizations.

“We know our community wants to take action in this time of crisis,” a statement issued by Federation said.

On Monday, members of Congregation B’nai David-Judea in Pico-Robertson received an email from Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky asking for donations to IsraAID.

“We're all aware of the horrible death and destruction that occurred in the Philippines over the weekend. There is a special connection, as you may know between the Philippines and the State of Israel,” Kanefsky wrote, emphasizing that members of the Filipino community often are the healthcare workers who care for elderly Israelis.

Israel’s reaction to the storm has been robust, with the Israel Defense Forces and Magen David Adom both promising aid. Israeli consul general in Los Angeles David Siegel estimated that “several hundred” people, representing the Israeli government and Israeli non-government organizations, may join the relief effort in the Philippines.

“We’re very happy to do this, and I think you’ll see Israel put not insignificant resources into this, both in aid and in the representatives that we send,” he said. As a leader in trauma medicine, Israel is expert at responding in the immediate aftermath of mass casualty events. And helping another country in need fulfills the obligation of tikkun olam, Siegel said.

“Whenever there is a humanitarian disaster, we’re poised to be the first, if not one of the first, to provide immediate aid,” Siegel said.

Additionally, The United Kingdom’s World Jewish Relief organization has said it plans to offer help, and a fund launched by American Jewish World Service is providing support to local Filipino-run groups on the ground in the Philippines.

Philippine typhoon death toll to rise as rescuers reach remote areas


Rescue workers were trying to reach towns and villages in the central Philippines on Tuesday that were cut off by a powerful typhoon in an operation that could reveal the full extent of the loss of life and devastation from the disaster.

Officials in Tacloban, which bore the brunt of one of the strongest storms ever recorded when it slammed into the Philippines on Friday, have said the death toll could be 10,000 in their city alone.

Compounding the misery for survivors, a depression is due to bring rain to the central and southern Philippines on Tuesday, the weather bureau said.

“I think what worries us the most is that there are so many areas where we have no information from, and when we have this silence, it usually means the damage is even worse,” said Joseph Curry of the U.S. organization Catholic Relief Services.

The “sheer size of the emergency” in the wake of the typhoon was testing relief efforts, he told NBC's “Today” program on Monday, speaking from Manila.

[Typhoon Haiyan: How you can help]

John Ging, director of operations at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said “many places are strewn with dead bodies” that need to be buried quickly to prevent the outbreak of a public health disaster.

“We're sadly expecting the worst as we get more and more access,” Ging, speaking to reporters at the United Nations in New York, said.

President Benigno Aquino declared a state of national calamity and deployed hundreds of soldiers in Tacloban to quell looting. Tacloban's administration appeared to be in disarray as city and hospital workers focused on saving their own families and securing food.

Nevertheless, relief supplies were getting into the city four days after Typhoon Haiyan turned the once-vibrant port of 220,000 into a corpse-choked wasteland.

Aid trucks from the airport struggled to enter because of the stream of people and vehicles leaving. On motorbikes, trucks or by foot, people clogged the road to the airport, holding scarves to their faces to blot out the stench of bodies.

Hundreds have left on cargo planes to the capital Manila or the second-biggest city of Cebu, with many more sleeping rough overnight at the wrecked terminal building.

Reuters journalists travelled into the city on a government aid truck which was guarded by soldiers with assault rifles. “It's risky,” said Jewel Ray Marcia, an army lieutenant. “People are angry. They are going out of their minds.”

RELIEF EFFORTS PICKING UP

International relief efforts have begun to accelerate, with dozens of countries and organizations pledging tens of millions of dollars in aid.

Operations have been hampered because roads, airports and bridges were destroyed or covered in wreckage by surging waves and winds of up to 235 mph.

About 660,000 people were displaced and many have no access to food, water or medicine, the United Nations said.

U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos, who is travelling to the Philippines, released $25 million for aid relief on Monday from the U.N. Central Emergency Response Fund.

Amos and the Philippines government are due to launch an appeal and action plan on Tuesday to deal with the disaster.

Aquino's declaration of a state of national calamity will allow the government to use state funds for relief and to control prices. He said the government had set aside 18.7 billion pesos ($432.97 million) for rehabilitation.

Additional U.S. military forces also arrived in the Philippines on Monday to bolster relief efforts, officials said, with U.S. military cargo planes transporting food, medical supplies and water for victims.

Other U.S. aircraft were positioning to assist the Philippines, with U.S. forces operating out of Villamor Air Base in Manila and in Tacloban.

DEATH TOLL EXPECTED TO RISE

Rescuers have yet to reach remote parts of the coast, such as Guiuan, a town in eastern Samar province with a population of 40,000 that was largely destroyed.

The typhoon also leveled Basey, a seaside town in Samar province about 10 km (6 miles) across a bay from Tacloban in Leyte province. About 2,000 people were missing in Basey, said the governor of Samar province.

The damage to the coconut- and rice-growing region was expected to amount to more than 3 billion pesos ($69 million), Citi Research said in a report, with “massive losses” for private property.

Residents of Tacloban, 580 km (360 miles) southeast of Manila, told terrifying accounts of being swept away by a wall of water, revealing a city that had been hopelessly unprepared for a storm of Haiyan's power.

Most of the damage and deaths were caused by waves that inundated towns, washed ships ashore and swept away villages in scenes reminiscent of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Jean Mae Amande, 22, said she was washed several kilometers from her home by the surge of water. The current ripped her out to sea before pushing her back to shore where she was able to cling to a tree and grab a rope thrown from a boat.

An old man who had been swimming with her died when his neck was gashed by an iron roof, she said.

“It's a miracle that the ship was there,” Amande said.

Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco and Karen Lema in Manila, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Dean Yates; Editing by Janet Lawrence

Jewish organizations to deliver 20,000 pounds of food to Oklahoma


In the wake of the disastrous tornado in Oklahoma, The National Council of Young Israel has joined with the Masbia organizations, as well as with Agri Star Meat & Poultry LLC to provide 20,000 pounds of foods for the relief effort. 

The Jewish Journal previously reported that the Chabad Community Center of Southern Oklahoma was taking in those whose homes were ruined in the tornado, and that subsequent to the disaster many Jewish organizations were collection donations for victims. Yet, this is the largest Jewish effort so far.

[Relief effort: How you can help]

Masbia, a New York based network of soup kitchens regularly serves meals to those without food, and in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, fed over 3,000 people. For Oklahoma, Masbia decided to raise the requisite funds for the shipping of the food from Agri Star Meat & Poultry. Once NCYI learned of the joint efforts of Masbia and Agri Star Meat & Poultry, it began to help raise the money for delivery. Previously, NCYI worked with Masbia after Hurricane Sandy. Agri Star has a facillity in Postville, Iowa where the food will be shipped initially, and then from there to Oklahoma.

“Food is most essential to victims of disaster,” said Alexander Rappaport, the founder of Masbia. “Food cannot bring back any loses, but it helps them keep it together. We found during our on the ground Sandy relief work, the victims need food, the first-responders need food, the volunteers need food. You never can forget the smile on their faces when you arrive with food.”

Repair the World offering grants to encourage Sandy relief


The Jewish service group Repair the World is offering micro-grants to encourage students to volunteer for Hurricane Sandy relief.

The grants, which will range from $1,000 to $5,000, are intended to cover expenses for volunteers willing to spend at least 200 hours helping storm victims.

“We want young Jews across North America to dedicate themselves to hands-on volunteerism where it is most needed on the ground, responding to short-, medium- and long-term needs,” said Will Berkovitz, Repair the World's interim CEO.

The grants are supported by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

In Sandy’s aftermath, N.Y.’s UJA federation releasing $10 million in emergency aid


UJA-Federation of Greater New York released $10 million in Hurricane Sandy emergency relief aid to its network agencies and synagogues.

The agency made the funds available on Monday morning; its board of directors had decided unanimously to make the money available in a special session the previous evening.

“The emotional and economic impact, especially on the isolated elderly and the poor, is acute and will remain so for a long time,” the agency said in a statement Monday.

UJA-Federation had set up a Hurricane Sandy relief fund shortly after the storm hit on Oct. 29.

The week before Sandy struck the greater New York area, the federation raised a record $45 million at its annual campaign kickoff event.

Relief funds assisting Colorado fire victims


As residents of Colorado Springs return to their homes following widespread wild fires, U.S. Jewish communities are raising money for relief funds.

The Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, in conjunction with local synagogues, community organizations and national partners, has launched the Colorado Fire Relief Fund to help victims, firefighters, first responders and others affected by the fires.

Jewish federations have been directing donors to the Colorado Fire Relief Fund online or to send checks with the notation “Colorado Fire Relief Fund” to Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, 300 S. Dahlia, Suite 300, Denver, CO 80246.

All the donations to the Colorado Fire Relief Fund will go to directly combat the fire and help victims. There will be no administrative fees taken out of these funds, according to a Jewish Federations of North America statement.

Chabad-Lubavitch of Colorado Springs also has set up a relief fund.

Federations raise $1,349,000 in Japan relief


Jewish federations throughout North America have raised $1,349,000 to help Japan recover from last month’s massive earthquake and tsunami.

The federations’ Japan, Hawaii and Pacific Relief Fund, opened immediately following the earthquake and resultant tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, has collected the money to support relief and recovery efforts in the damaged areas.

The Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella group of the federation movement, has directly raised more than $187,000 through online, mobile and mailed donations.

Several individual federations also have opened funds, which have yielded nearly $680,000 in combined donations. As of April 8, the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and the UJA-Federation of New York have raised more than $125,000 each, while the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s fundraising has totaled more than $100,000.

The Emergency Committee of The Jewish Federations of North America voted April 8 to allocate $125,000 of the funds raised to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which is supporting victims on the ground in Japan through local humanitarian organizations. The allocation is on top of an allocation last month of $135,000. The committee also made an allocation to the Israeli humanitarian umbrella group IsraAID to support their efforts on the ground – specifically in the area of creating Child Friendly spaces.

“The Jewish Federations stand ready to respond to disaster with the strength of our collective action, to ensure that the funds contributed by generous donors are put to work in the most effective way possible,” said Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America. “Working in partnership with our trusted overseas partner, JDC, we can be sure that these funds will have the greatest impact where they are needed most in Japan.”

Tunisia condemns Israeli assistance offer to its Jews


Tunisia’s government condemned an Israeli government decision to offer extra financial assistance to Tunisian Jews wishing to immigrate to Israel.

The approval of the new program amounts to interference in Tunisia’s domestic affairs and “an attempt by Israel to tarnish the post-revolutionary image of Tunisia,” Tunisia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, the Associated Press reported.

Under the plan approved at a Cabinet meeting Sunday, Tunisian immigrants will receive special financial assistance of more than $9,000 in addition to the usual aid provided to new immigrants.

“We know that there is real distress among the Jews of Tunisia, many of whom would like to immigrate to Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the meeting. “We will increase the absorption basket in order to allow them to do so.

“Israel is the state of the Jews. It worries about Jews wherever they are—those who are here and those who would like to come here.”

Minister Sofa Landver said, “The Government of Israel must see to the needs of new immigrants who arrive here hastily from Tunisia, without sufficient advance preparation like other immigrants. This proposal, which was formulated along with the Jewish Agency, is designed to ease, and answer, the difficulties for the families that, given the sensitive situation, decided to come here.”

About 1,500 Jews are living in Tunisia. Some 1,100 live in Djerba, with the rest in the capital city of Tunis.

Ten Tunisian Jews made aliyah to Israel with the help of the Jewish Agency in late January amid political upheaval and violence that led to the overthrow of Tunisian President Zein el-Abbadin Bin Ali.

Japan earthquake relief: How you can help


In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Japan, the organized Jewish world is lining up support for the rescue and relief effort in the region.

Here are ways you can help:

” title=”American Joint Distribution Committee” target=”_blank”>American Joint Distribution Committee
You may give by mail or phone:
Check payable to JDC, please specify the program name
Attn: JDC
P.O. Box 530
132 East 43rd Street
New York, NY 10017
(212) 687-6200

” title=”Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago” target=”_blank”>Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago


For more information on how you can help visit ” title=”Jewish groups mobilizing response to massive Japan earthquake and tsunami” target=”_blank”>Jewish groups mobilizing response to massive Japan earthquake and tsunami

Jewish organizations are mobilizing their responses to the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on Friday.

IsraAid, an Israel-based coordinating organization for 17 Israeli and Jewish humanitarian groups, said Friday that it has two teams of rescue personnel, emergency medical officers and water pollution specialists ready to deploy to Japan but was looking for ways to reach the affected area.

Clinton: Palestinian Relief Aimed at Statehood


The United States will use Palestinian emergency relief as a platform toward a two-state solution, Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

The U.S. secretary of state formally announced the U.S. contribution of $900 million at an international donors’ conference Monday in the Egyptian resort Sharm el-Sheik aimed at reconstructing Gaza.

Some 80 countries and international organizations are participating in the conference, which plans to raise at least $2.8 billion.

Clinton said she saw the initiative, in the wake of Gaza’s devastation after its Hamas overlords launched a war against Israel, as having short-term and long-term goals.

“It is not enough just to respond to the immediate needs of the Palestinian people,” she said. “Our response to today’s crisis in Gaza cannot be separated from our broader efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace. Only by acting now can we turn this crisis into an opportunity that moves us closer to our shared goals.”

Clinton emphasized that the partner in this effort was the moderate Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Hamas drove out Abbas loyalists in a bloody coup in the summer of 2007. Hamas was not invited to the conference, according to reports.

“They are offering their people the option of a peaceful, independent and more prosperous future, not the violence and false choices of extremists whose tactics—including rocket attacks that continue to this day—only will lead to more hardship and suffering,” Clinton said. “These attacks must stop.”

Clinton added that the U.S. assistance had been “designed in coordination” with the P.A. government.

“We have worked with the Palestinian Authority to install safeguards that will ensure that our funding is only used where, and for whom, it is
intended and does not end up in the wrong hands,” she said.

Also at the conference, Clinton said she was not optimistic that Iran would respond positively to a U.S. offer of engagement.

“We’re under no illusions; our eyes are wide open,” she told United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan about the prospect ofdirect talks with Iran, according to an account from a senior State Department official provided to The New York Times.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak opened the conference by stating that his country’s main priority is helping Israel and the Palestinians reach a truce. He also called on the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and Hamas to form a unity government. Abbas told the donor countries that they must urge Israel’s new government to commit to a two-state solution and respect agreements signed by previous
governments.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked Palestinians to back Abbas and proposed a summit to revive peace in theMiddle East to be held in Europe this spring. Sarkozy has notably negotiated for peace in the region through his working relationship with leaders close to Hamas, such as Syria’s Bashar Assad.

To “countries who have links to Hamas,” Sarkozy warned, “you have a particular responsibility to demand that Hamas join President Abbas, whose path toward peace is the only one that will produce results,” reported Reuters.

Just Injustice


As we draw nearer to the High Holy Days and lists of classes, seminars and workshops pop up on synagogues’ bulletins and Web sites, a saying of a very wise man comes to mind. He said that it is easier to study Talmud for 70 consecutive years than to change one character trait. In this week’s parsha, Ki Tetze, this concept is taken to the extreme. Anyone who reads the opening chapter of the parsha with a 21st-century mentality is utterly shocked by the seemingly atavistic and even barbaric attitude the Torah shows.

One is the case of the captive woman, in which the Torah allows soldiers to bring home captive enemy women and marry them. The second example is that of the rebellious son, in which the Torah sanctions the death penalty for a teenager who does not obey his parents and engages in hedonistic activities.

How can the Torah, people ask, be so cruel toward the captive women or the rebellious son? Wouldn’t it be better to ban the practice of capturing women for marriage and to find a way to settle the differences of the rebellious son and his parents without using the electric chair?

The answer is that there is no other way, because human nature is not easily changed. In the captive woman’s case there is recognition of the tremendously detrimental effect going to war has on our morals and values. The absolute power of having the ability to determine who shall live and who shall die, can absolutely corrupt the soldier’s soul, be it the most innocent, pure and tender soul ever. Throughout the ages, conquering armies the world over raped, tortured and killed civilians, wreaking havoc in their path, and that trend doesn’t seem likely to change in the future (remember Abu Ghraib, Haditha, etc.).

Instead of trying to uproot this tendency, the Torah goes around it. It allows the soldier to bring the captured woman back home and to marry her after she mourns her parents for a month. No longer in the heat of the battle, experiencing for a whole month the agony of his captive — and maybe also having to face his wife-to-be’s wrath — tying the knot doesn’t seem like such a good idea. Then the Torah tells the disappointed soldier to let the woman go free, not to sell her and not to cause her any more suffering. So what seemed to be a license to inhumane behavior turns out to be a genuine concern about morality and human dignity.

The case of the rebellious son plays out on a totally different level, where the Torah actually tricks the parents into revealing their personal lives to the court. Consider for a moment that these parents are willing to bring their child to justice for being a glutton, binging and maybe talking back to them (“Don’t you use that tone with me, young man!”), and demand for him the death penalty. What would have happened if they did not have that option? Their child would probably join the statistics of hundreds of thousands of kids who are reported annually as physically, sexually and emotionally abused by their parents. If the court would not execute him for them, the parents were probably capable of doing it themselves. And what child would want to live with parents like these?

The solution the Torah presents us with is brilliant in its simplicity. The parents are told that they can bring their defiant teenage son to court, where he will receive his punishment. The judges, meanwhile, find myriad reasons to reject the parents’ plea; a procedure the rabbis solidified by setting rules that require the parents to look alike, talk in sync and more. As a result, there was never an execution, God forbid, of a rebellious child. But the untold part of the verdict, which had to remain hidden from the public lest it lose its power, is that the court would take custody of the child and relieve him of his dreadful parents. Thus the Torah established the first family service system with an extremely sophisticated filter — the parents themselves. In that manner the Torah avoids the all-too-familiar problem of social workers, who forcefully separate families because of fraudulent reports or misjudging families of a lower socioeconomic level.

In both cases, what seemed a preposterous violation of human rights turns out to be an attempt to bypass our negative character traits in order to provide immediate remedy. The quest to actually change those traits is lifelong and one that it should never be too late to embark on.

Haim Ovadia is now the rabbi of Congregation Magen David of Beverly Hills.

Nation & World Briefs


Israel Reports Bird Flu Cases

Israel confirmed its first contagion by a deadly strain of avian flu. The Agriculture Ministry officially announced Monday that a virus that killed turkeys and chickens at three Negev farms was H5N1, a virulent strain that has spread across Europe, Africa and parts of Asia over the past three years.

The virus can kill humans if contracted from poultry, and scientists fear it could mutate and become directly communicable between people. However, the ministry said the outbreak, which prompted mass culling of poultry, was under control.

Families of Palestinian ‘Martyrs’ Receive UAE Funds

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has given money to families of Palestinian “martyrs” killed or injured in the intifada. The money to the families of both civilians and militants was provided through the UAE’s Red Crescent Society, The New York Times reported.

In at least one case, the money went to the family of a member of Islamic Jihad who was killed in clashes with Israel. The documents were provided to The Times by Gary Osen, a U.S. lawyer who is working on legal cases for U.S. victims of Palestinian terrorism.

The UAE is a federation of states that includes Dubai, where a government-owned company recently said it would sell its port-security operations to a U.S. firm, following an outcry about allowing a UAE-owned company to oversee security at U.S. ports.

EU Donates $78 Million for Palestinian Relief

The European Union donated $78 million for Palestinian relief. The sum, given to the United Nations on Monday for disbursement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, was cast by the EU as an ad-hoc gesture that was not meant to undermine the 25-nation bloc’s calls for Hamas, which won a majority in January’s Palestinian Authority elections, to moderate its stance on Israel.

The EU has said its annual aid program of hundreds of millions of dollars for the Palestinians could be curbed or cut completely unless Hamas renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel’s right to exist and accepts past Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.

Lithuanian Trial of Accused Nazi Collaborator Begins

The L.A.-based Simon Wiesenthal Center called upon Lithuanian authorities to expedite the trial of Nazi collaborator Algimantas Dailide, which began Sunday in Vilnius.

The center’s Israel director, Efraim Zuroff, expressed hope that “the delay of justice and absence of punishment that characterized the cases of Dailide’s superiors” in the Lithuanian security police, Alexandras Lileikis and Kazys Gimzauskas, would not recur in this case.

Dailide moved to the United States in 1950 and lived here until he was ordered deported in 2002 for his service in the Saugumas, the Nazi-sponsored Lithuanian security police for the Vilna Ghetto. No one has been convicted of Nazi-era war crimes in Lithuania since the country became independent in 1991.

Pollard Loses Court Bid for Access to Classified Data

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Jonathan Pollard’s petition for access to classified information used to convict him. A former U.S. Navy analyst, Pollard is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison for spying for Israel.

On Monday, the high court rejected Pollard’s request for a hearing on a petition for his attorneys to receive access to the evidence to bolster Pollard’s argument for clemency. A hearing would not have affected Pollard’s conviction.

Rabbi Calls for Creation of World Religions Organization

One of Israel’s chief rabbis called for an international organization of religions. Yona Metzger, Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi, called Sunday for a “United Nations of religious groups” as the second World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace opened in Seville, Spain, the BBC reported. About 150 rabbis and imams are taking part in the conference.

Also speaking at the three-day meeting, Rabbi Israel Singer of the World Jewish Congress’ Policy Council rejected the idea that Jewish-Muslim tensions lie at the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He added that “religious crusaders” like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “must be exposed for what they are: impostors.”

Meanwhile, a group of Jews, Muslims and Christians is making a solidarity trek across North Africa. The 10-member interfaith team, sponsored by the peacemaking group, Breaking the Ice, set off from Jerusalem on March 7 for a four-week journey scheduled to end in Tripoli, Libya. Among those taking part in the 3,400-mile trek is a retired Israeli fighter pilot; a former body double for Saddam Hussein’s late son, Udai; a Palestinian accounting student; a New York firefighter, and a representative from Iran.

Michigan University Group Urges Israel Divestment

More than 40 professors and staff members at the University of Michigan presented a letter supporting divestment from Israel. Submitted online and to university regents last Friday, the letter argued that the school’s financial involvements in Israel posed “serious moral or ethical questions.”

During South Africa’s apartheid, university regents voted to divest stock of companies doing business with the nation, and some Jewish observers worry that they will do the same now with Israel-related stocks.

Backers of divestment say the move will pressure Israel not to violate Palestinian human rights, but opponents say it ignores the reality that Israel is responding to Palestinian terrorist attacks.

3 Beat Jew in Paris; Police Arrest Suspects in Attack

A Jewish man was attacked in his car in a Paris suburb. Sunday’s attack was carried out by three men of African and North African origin, according to the Office of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism.

The three forced the man to stop his car and forcibly removed him from the vehicle, allegedly calling him a Jew in Arabic. The man was thrown to the ground and beaten. His attackers fled when another car passed by.

The victim managed to get his attackers’ license plate number and go to the police station to press charges. The three men were then located and arrested.

Israeli Boxer Wins Prize

An Israeli boxer won a world heavyweight prize. Russian-born Roman Greenberg, 23, defeated Alex Vassilev in six rounds last Saturday at the IBO Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship in Monte Carlo. Now based in London, Greenberg has enjoyed 22 straight wins in his mostly amateur career.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Staff Loyalties Stir Concern Over Work


There may be no greater test of the United Nations’ vaunted neutrality than to be a Palestinian staffer of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip or West Bank.

UNRWA has 12,000-plus employees in those areas — where it’s the second-largest employer after the Palestinian Authority — and similar numbers in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. In all, more than 99 percent of its staff members are Palestinian. No other U.N. agency boasts such an overwhelming ratio of local to foreign field staff. Nine of 10 UNRWA employees are themselves refugees, according to the agency’s definition of a refugee.

UNRWA employees and their families in the Palestinian territories go through everything that society at large endures, which during the intifada meant the self-described “daily humiliations” of restricted movement, material deprivation and Israeli anti-terrorist raids. Nevertheless, UNRWA employees must sign a code of conduct that compels them to avoid actions that “may adversely affect on their status, or on the integrity, independence and impartiality which are required by that status.”

Realistically, though, some observers ask: Would it be surprising if UNRWA employees were to loathe Israel and embrace the Palestinian cause — and have it influence their work?

Some of UNRWA’s harsher critics speak as if the agency were actively complicit in terrorism, but others say the situation isn’t black and white. With lawlessness, intimidation and violence now widespread — UNRWA itself has relocated some international staff from Gaza to Jerusalem — Palestinian staff members may simply find it prudent to avert their eyes from the militancy around them.

UNRWA officials note that the U.N. General Assembly never gave the agency policing or intelligence-gathering responsibilities in its camps. Moreover, UNRWA officials say, it could be dangerous to ask too many questions about what’s going on around them.

Yet staff certainly can make a difference, said Astrid Van Genderen Stort, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which takes care of the world’s 19 million non-Palestinian refugees.

In some cases, Van Genderen Stort said, UNHCR teams with local military, police or foreign peacekeepers to look out for armed elements stirring up trouble. In other cases, camp residents have established something of a “nightwatch.”

“It’s not that we have intelligence on the ground or that they’re spying on their neighbors, but they know who’s in their community and they keep an eye out,” said Van Genderen Stort, who recently worked in Liberia’s refugee camps. “We, of course, want to help only those who are refugees and in need of help. We don’t want to be an agency that helps rebels who go out at night and fight.”

When it comes to UNRWA, at least some staffers seem to share their clients’ more extreme views. The UNRWA teachers union, for example, reportedly is dominated by members affiliated with Hamas, listed as a terrorist organization in much of the West. Observers have cited numerous instances where suicide bombers and other terrorists were glorified in UNRWA schools, whether through graffiti on school walls or posters in the classrooms. In one incident, Hamas convened a July 2001 conference in an UNRWA junior high school in Gaza’s Jabalya refugee camp.

“The road to Palestine passes through the blood of the fallen, and these fallen have written history with parts of their flesh and their bodies,” UNRWA teacher, Saheil Alhinadi, said in praise of “martyrdom,” a euphemism for suicide terrorism.

Former UNRWA chief Peter Hansen got into hot water in October 2004, when he told Canadian television, “I’m sure there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll, and I don’t see that as a crime. Hamas as a political organization does not mean that every member is a militant, and we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another.”

Hansen later explained in an interview that he meant Hamas sympathizers, not members.

“Don’t judge people by what you think they may or may not believe,” he said. “Judge them by what they do, in their actions and in their behavior. And there we get back to the very strict behavior code we have in the agency for what staff members are to do and not to do in their behavior.”

Israel, however, says the question isn’t just staff members’ political allegiances but, sometimes, their actions. In recent years, Israel has arrested dozens of UNRWA staffers — 31 from mid-2004 to mid-2005 alone, according to UNRWA — for alleged involvement in terrorism and other activities. Most are released within days or weeks without charges — but not all.

Nahed Attalah, an UNRWA official arrested by Israeli forces in 2002, reportedly confessed to using his U.N. travel permit and his UNRWA car to transport terrorists to attack sites and to entering Syria and Lebanon to arrange weapons purchases for terrorist groups.

In August 2002, Israel arrested UNRWA ambulance driver Nidal Abd Al Fatah Abdallah Nazal, whom officials later said confessed to being a Hamas member and using his ambulance to transport arms and messages to Hamas activists.

In 2003, Israel convicted three staffers: A Hamas member got 32 months for having a machine gun and delivering chemicals to a bombmaker, an Islamic Jihad member received two and a half years for possessing materials for possible use in explosives and a third person was sentenced to seven and a half years for shooting a gun and firebombing an Israeli bus.

In May 2004, Israeli television showed gunmen piling into an UNRWA ambulance.

UNRWA officials said it’s unfair to tarnish an organization of thousands for the actions of a few. They also claimed the Israeli judicial system is biased, with UNRWA denied access to both detainees and the evidence against them — so they’re skeptical about staff arrests and convictions.

Even a former Israeli diplomat chastised his government’s policy of claiming it has a smoking gun that proves UNRWA’s terrorist links, then withholding the evidence on grounds of “national security.” That fuels speculation that Israel doesn’t have the goods, the diplomat said.

“When the U.N. asks for proof and Israel says it’s classified, to me that’s like not having any evidence at all,” the official, who requested anonymity, said in an interview.

The most notorious instance occurred in early October 2004, when Israel announced it had footage of a Kassam rocket being loaded into an UNRWA ambulance. UNRWA asserted that the object in question was a rolled-up stretcher. After further scrutiny, Israel conceded it had blundered — It was indeed a stretcher. But the incident reflected how, after years of tension with UNRWA, Israel was inclined to believe the worst about the agency.

Even UNRWA leaders, however, admit their camps are heavily militarized.

“Of course I don’t condone it, but it’s a fact of life,” Hansen said of the presence of heavily armed militants at an agency function, according to the Associated Press. “Look around the camp. We can’t stop it. We don’t have guns.”

As Hansen later confided to the Danish paper, Politiken, “Who in this camp dares to speak up against an armed man?”

Though U.N. resolutions require armed elements to steer clear of refugee camps, Karen Koning AbuZayd, an UNRWA official, conceded in an August 2002 Jerusalem Report that expelling gunmen from the camps would be “difficult in this region.”

In Gaza and the West Bank, everything is “upside down. The refugees are the armed elements,” said AbuZayd, who at the time of the interview was Hansen’s deputy and who has now succeeded him.

Then there are instances of Palestinian violence that target UNRWA itself.

Last August, three UNRWA staffers — two Europeans and a Palestinian — were kidnapped in the Khan Younis camp in Gaza by what UNRWA described as a “militant group.” UNRWA protested, and the staffers were released unharmed later in the day.

Last New Year’s Day, Palestinians firebombed the U.N. club in Gaza City, which flies the UNRWA flag and is said to be the only establishment in town that serves alcohol, drawing the ire of Islamic fundamentalists. The club’s guard was tied up and beaten.

UNRWA staffers who venture into the fray may risk repercussions.

In April 2004, Israel’s assassination of Hamas leaders Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Abdel-Aziz Rantissi sparked an outpouring of emotion among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

According to The Daily Star of Beirut, the UNRWA chief in Lebanon, Richard Cook, ordered his staff to go into agency schools and tear down posters glorifying “martyrdom.” Refugee leaders declared Cook persona non grata and reportedly barred him briefly from the camps.

“We have to take the safety of our staff into account,” AbuZayd explained to the Jerusalem Report in her 2002 interview. “If we were to ask our staff to do certain things, we realize that would get them into big trouble.”

At the very least, the United States expects UNRWA to speak up. Washington is UNRWA’s largest donor, providing about 30 percent of the agency’s roughly $400 million budget in both 2004 and 2005. Section 301(c) of the 1961 U.S. Foreign Assistance Act compels UNRWA to “take all possible measures to assure that no part of the U.S. contribution shall be used to furnish assistance to any refugee who is receiving military training as a member of the so-called Palestine Liberation Army or any other guerrilla type organization or who has engaged in any act of terrorism.”

That pressure to vet seems to make the UNRWA hierarchy squirm.

In a November 2003 report, the U.S. General Accounting Office noted that UNRWA balked at the obligation to report what staff members see and hear, “owing to concerns for its staff’s safety” and the “inability to verify beneficiary responses.”

UNRWA’s lawyers countered with a proposal that staffers not “knowingly” provide assistance to those involved with terrorist activities — a standard that critics say sets the bar too high, allowing for plausible deniability. But UNRWA’s request that Congress clarify the meaning of “all possible measures” is a cop out, said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Committee on International Relations’ Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee.

“The representatives of this U.N. agency will argue that they cannot account for their employees’ activities, given the large number of Palestinians on their payrolls,” Ros-Lehtinen said in an interview. “If they are not exerting oversight over what is taking place in the institutions run by their agency, then the U.S. must exert strict oversight over its contributions to this agency.”

UNRWA camps also have seen a slew of “workplace accidents,” a euphemism for bombs that explode prematurely as terrorists prepare them.

“We talked to UNRWA about it, that if it happens that’s prima facie evidence the person was a terrorist,” a State Department official said in an interview. “But UNRWA’s lawyer says, ‘Well, not really. It’s not a terrorist act simply to make a bomb.’ We say that’s really getting into the weeds legally. We don’t know what other purposes they would be constructing a bomb for, and they fall into our definition for what ought to be excluded. UNRWA agreed in the end, and one reason they did, frankly, is we’re the biggest donors, and they don’t want to get into a spat with us.”

Camps Spotlight Double Standard


Armed gunmen roamed freely in U.N. refugee camps. They stockpiled weapons, recruited refugees and launched cross-border attacks.

In response, opposing forces attacked the camps, aiming for the gunmen — but sometimes cutting down civilians in the process.

The international community was troubled both by the instability fomented and the thought of the beleaguered refugees — exploited within the camps, denied a truly safe haven, then caught in the crossfire.

So the United Nations took action.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan produced a pair of landmark reports singling out the militarization of refugee camps as a cause of conflict and insecurity. He called for the “separation of armed elements from refugee populations” to maintain the camps’ civilian character. And he outlined several steps to police the camps.

The U.N. Security Council followed suit in 1998 with Resolution 1208, defending the sanctity of refugee camps and criminalizing their militarization.

What was the source of this international concern — the Palestinian camps in Gaza and the West Bank? No, it was Africa in the mid-1990s, when civil wars in Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia and elsewhere unleashed torrents of refugees across the continent.

To defenders of Israel, the scenario described above sounds familiar. They question why the world body has never applied Resolution 1208 to the 27 U.N. refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which were a prime source of attacks during the violent Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000.

Security Council resolutions carry the weight of international law — and Resolution 1208 makes note of the fact that it should be universally applied.

The question of the Palestinian exception to 1208 is more than theoretical. Despite moves toward reform in other areas, the U.N. General Assembly is unlikely to make any changes to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides relief and social services to the majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Thus, an appeal to the Security Council to apply Resolution 1208 may be a viable option if, as some predict, the intifada is renewed and terrorists again use UNRWA camps to plan and launch attacks against Israel.

Annan underscored the universality of Resolution 1208 in March 2001, when reports of similar abuses emerged from refugee camps in West Timor.

“Not separating combatants from civilians allows armed groups to take control of a camp and its population, politicizing their situation and gradually establishing a military culture within the camp,” Annan wrote. “The impact on the safety and security of both the refugees and the neighboring local population is severe. Entire camp populations can be held hostage by militias that operate freely in the camps, spread terror, press-gang civilians, including children, into serving their forces.”

Yet Annan hasn’t voiced similar outrage regarding Palestinian militancy in UNRWA camps.

For example, on Oct. 6, 2002, Palestinians in the Khan Yunis camp in Gaza launched a mortar attack on a Jewish settlement. The next day, Israel fired a missile from a helicopter gunship, killing 14 people, among them accused militants and civilians.

On Oct. 8, Annan issued a statement deploring Israel’s “military attack in civilian areas” and the Jewish state’s “reckless disregard” for civilian life. However, he ignored the fact that the original mortar attack was launched from among civilians, settling for a bland “appeal to both sides to halt all violent and provocative acts.”

One Jewish group lodged a protest with the U.N. chief. Harry Reicher, at the time the U.N. representative for Agudath Israel World Organization, wrote Annan to contrast his outspokenness on West Timor with his “silence” on “the continuing strategy pursued by the leadership of the Palestinians of locating terrorists, as well as caches of their arms, in heavily populated civilian areas” and the “use of civilian men, women and children as human shields.”

UNRWA says it acknowledges Israel’s security needs and right to self-defense, but that civilian well-being should take priority.

An UNRWA defender agreed.

“Of course there are people trying to use these places, but having armed people inside the camps doesn’t legitimize Israel’s attacks on civilians,” said Raji Sourani, director of the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

Yet critics say that if UNRWA really is concerned about civilians, it should speak out against any action that endangers them — including Palestinian attacks launched from among civilians that provoke Israeli retaliation.

What could be more guaranteed to encourage the Palestinian use of refugees as human shields “than the certain knowledge that, if Palestinian civilians are tragically killed, it is Israel that will be blamed by the United Nations?” asked Reicher, a professor of international law at the University of Pennsylvania.

The militarization of UNRWA camps is not a recent revelation. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan accused UNRWA of allowing its Lebanese camps to become armed bastions of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Forced to investigate when Reagan threatened to withhold U.S. funding for the organization, UNRWA admitted that several camps indeed had been militarized.

While the Security Council hasn’t enforced 1208 in the Palestinian territories, it has applied pressure on terrorist Palestinian refugees elsewhere.

Resolution 1559, passed in September 2004, demanded that “foreign forces” — an allusion to Syria — withdraw from Lebanon. Syria finally did end its 29-year occupation last April, two months after being implicated in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Resolution 1559 also calls for the “disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias” — a reference to the pro-Syrian Hezbollah militia and to Palestinian terrorist groups in UNRWA’s 12 Lebanese camps. That part of 1559 has not been implemented.

After rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel in late December, Resolution 1559 once again gained the United Nation’s attention.

Al Qaeda claimed credit for the attack, reportedly its first on Israel. But some suggested it was carried out by Palestinian terrorists only loosely connected to Osama bin Laden’s global terrorist network.

The next day, Annan called on the Lebanese government “to extend its control over all its territory, to exert its monopoly on the use of force and to put an end to all such attacks.”

Still, from Israel’s perspective, militancy in UNRWA’s Lebanese camps is far less immediate a threat than militancy in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Some Palestinian supporters argue that Resolution 1208 shouldn’t apply to the West Bank — or, before Israel’s withdrawal last summer, to the Gaza Strip — because Palestinians there are engaged in “legitimate resistance to occupation.”

Israel’s defenders, though, say it’s a clear case of double standard.

“Here the U.N. has adopted clear criteria for how refugee camps are supposed to be maintained and consistently fails to apply its own law when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Dore Gold, Israel’s former U.N. ambassador and current president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. “One of the most compelling arguments for demonstrating how Israel is systematically denied the same rights and privileges given to other member states is the story of Resolution 1208.”

Resolution 1208 clearly should apply to UNRWA, said Astrid Van Genderen Stort, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which handles the world’s other 19.2 million refugees.

“The Israelis may say UNRWA is not protecting the camps well enough or that we can do a better security job, but I don’t think UNRWA would ever say 1208 doesn’t apply,” Van Genderen Stort said. “If UNRWA people knew there were terrorists firing weapons from the camps, they should remove these people from the camps. But I can’t speak for UNRWA; I’m not on the ground.”

In an interview, UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd acknowledged that Resolution 1208 officially applies to UNRWA camps but added that “it requires action to be taken by the authorities where the camps are located, not by the humanitarian agencies.”

“We don’t run camps; that is the responsibility of the sovereign governments and authorities wherever the camps are based,” she said. “It’s like asking, ‘What has Bethesda Hospital done to combat street gangs in Washington, D.C.?’ We do send situation reports to the U.N.’s security department and the office of the secretary-general. These are simple, straightforward factual accounts of clashes and other incidents.”

Yet a line needs to be drawn somewhere, Van Genderen Stort said.

“For me, a refugee camp is a place where people in need of protection or assistance can find it,” she said. “A refugee camp shouldn’t be a battleground or a place where criminals are hiding.”

If the intifada resumes and U.N. camps again become terrorist staging grounds, some pro-Israel activists say they’d revive a push for the Security Council to apply Resolution 1208 to UNRWA’s turf.

“I hope the U.N. will use the same standards to ensure the humanitarian nature of refugee camps in the Palestinian territories as they’ve mandated for the rest of the world,” said Felice Gaer, a human rights expert for the American Jewish Committee. “Exceptionalism for Palestinian refugee camps would be just another way of revealing the U.N. has often used a double standard when it comes to the Middle East conflict.”

If Resolution 1208 were applied, UNRWA would be obliged to report violations to the U.N. secretary-general, who would be obliged to deliver the information to the Security Council. Observers say it’s not inconceivable that, with their actions placed under the microscope, terrorists might be flushed from the camps, cut off from a prime source of recruits and denied a sanctuary from which to plan and launch attacks.

Given the political realities at the United Nations, that may be a pipe dream. But if nothing else, critics say, even the negative publicity might strike a symbolic blow.

 

History of UNRWA and Its Refugees


The U.N. General Assembly established the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in 1949 as a temporary agency focused on relief work for the Palestinians. It began operating in 1950.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became refugees in the war that began when the Palestinians and their Arab allies attacked the fledgling Jewish state the day after its formation in 1948.

Some were purposely flushed from their homes as Jewish forces sought to secure key roads and pacify areas from which Jewish communities had been attacked. Some were encouraged to leave by the Arab states, which told the refugees that they could return shortly to claim the spoils after the Jews were killed. Many simply fled what had become a combat zone.

The Palestinians constituted just one of many refugee populations in the years after World War II, and many outsiders expected their case to be the easiest of the post-war refugee crises to resolve. Many found shelter in neighboring countries that shared their language, religion and culture, and where many of them had blood ties.

The roughly equal number of Jewish refugees who fled or were expelled from the Muslim world during the same period were quickly resettled in Israel or in the West.

Unlike the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which serves the world’s other 19.2 million refugees, UNRWA was not tasked with finding solutions to the refugees’ plight.

Instead, UNRWA’s definition of refugee — which counted even migrants who had lived in the area for as little as two years — further expanded in the 1950s, when, in an unprecedented move, UNRWA included descendants of the original refugees. This was an expanded definition that UNHCR never adopted.

Thus, while other refugee groups have dwindled due to resettlement or death, the Palestinian refugee population, uniquely, continues to grow — from 914,000 registered refugees in 1950 to about 4.3 million today, roughly one-third of whom live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

This Time They’re Ready for the Wave


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Women’s Lib Rises in Wake of Disaster

Some 50 South Indian villagers are spread out along the sandy beach. Women clad in brightly colored saris converse in groups, while men repair fishing nets. Teenage boys playfully tackle each other.

Then, the residents of Vellakoil get some news from fellow clansmen: Dangerous weather is on the way.

A year ago, when the tsunami hit, 19 died in this village of less than 500; 14 were children. And everyone’s house and belongings were washed away.

This time, they are ready.

As the storm descends, men, women and children fan out, each with a task. Some run into the Sea of Bengal to save those stranded in the water. They use rafts and life preservers made of readily available local materials, such as empty plastic water bottles and bamboo branches. Using makeshift stretchers — blankets stretched across tied bamboo — others carry the injured to a first-aid station.

Welcome to an emergency preparedness exercise organized by an Indian nonprofit, with support from the American Jewish World Service (AJWS).

The effort was launched about a decade ago in another part of India, after a devastating earthquake, through Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), which stands for “self-learning through empowerment.”

Funds contributed after last December’s devastating tsunami are helping to pay for training and travel to make the program work. The idea is for villagers to help teach people from other villages, a concept central to the ideology of nonprofits funded by AJWS.

Vellakoil residents are serious about the drill. Beforehand, they proudly announce their duties — monitoring weather systems, performing first aid, documenting damage — to a group of visitors.

Of course, it’s hard to prepare for a tsunami that strikes on a clear day and sweeps inland across 4 kilometers of land, as happened here a year ago. But the planning already has paid dividends. Even though the region and the village suffered severe flooding during recent rains, residents successfully removed themselves and their belongings out of harm’s way.

This exercise begins and ends with villagers lined up along the beach, their arms outstretched as they pledge loyalty to their village and to each other.


In disaster drill, Vellakoil residents use supplies at hand — water bottles and bamboo — to fashion a rescue raft. Photo by Howard Blume

When they first performed the exercise about a month ago, at least one resident broke down in tears as memories resurfaced. Just two weeks before, a man who had lost two sons in the killer wave hanged himself. On this day, one woman recalls trying futilely to save two grandchildren.

For some, however, the emotions are beginning to subside. Several teenage boys wear excited smiles as they carry the “wounded” to safety.

Even psychological benefits are no small thing.

“Now we have confidence that we can escape,” says Kuppamanikkam, the woman who lost two grandchildren. “Now we no longer have to fear.”

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Women’s Lib Rises in Wake of Disaster


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This Time They’re Ready for the Wave

The two young, sari-clad women, one in blue and one in orange, stand in the thatched-roof meeting hall, take hold of the microphone and join their voices.

“We don’t need any fancy materials,” they croon by heart. “What we need is just some food to live. We don’t ask for a refrigerator, a TV or a car. We just need some small capital to start a business.”

The audience of women in the village of Alamarai Kuppam applaud with enthusiasm. The few men, seated or hovering around the edges, are more circumspect, but they, too, nod approvingly.

Call it women’s lib, post-tsunami-India style.

The outpouring of financial support that followed the 2004 tsunami has accelerated efforts to improve the lives of rural women — an initiative that goes well beyond helping families recover from the tsunami.

“This disaster has given us a space to create gender equality,” says Attapan, the director of Rural Organization for Society Education (ROSE). ROSE is among the Indian nonprofits supported by the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which focuses on international development based on the Jewish value of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

Before, says Attapan, many fishing villages functioned almost as closed societies, distrustful of outsiders, with women locked into traditional, subservient roles. It’s still a country of arranged marriages, and, in places, instances of girl infanticide and widow burning.

But in this region, when the tidal wave took everything, these villagers had to look outside for help. The women, it turned out, were eager for expanded roles. And many men quickly realized that not only could they benefit from the outsiders, who brought resources and new ideas, but also from the resourcefulness of their own spouses, daughters and mothers.

Attapan’s organization has worked with women from fishing villages to help them develop business skills, such as tailoring and growing and selling herbs.

The two singing women are performing the homemade anthem of an informal women’s “congress” from 14 villages that has gathered in Alamarai Kuppam under the auspices of the Ghandian Unit for Integrated Development (GUIDE). GUIDE is trying to make women politically powerful and to break down traditional Hindu class divisions.

The caste system, although officially abolished in 1949, remains a potent and denigrating social force. The mixture of castes among the women gathered in Alamarai Kuppam is striking: It includes Dalit participants, the group once known as untouchables; they still suffer pervasive discrimination.

At the meeting, women rise group by group to proclaim their successes.

“We stopped the men from making alcohol in our village,” one women says.

Another exclaims: “We made demands for tsunami relief and got it.”

“We got schools to reduce their fees,” a third says.

This activism is true and courageous feminism, says R. Vasantha, development consultant for GUIDE. “In traditional society, if a woman speaks out about a problem, especially a problem with an abusive husband, she is an immoral woman. These women will now go to a police station and file a case.”

A delegation of women from four villages recently demanded that a man reserve some property and inheritance for a second wife he had taken, as well as for the woman’s baby. And in Alamarai Kuppam, women and GUIDE workers went to the police to halt an arranged marriage between an unwilling 13-year-old and an older man who wanted a second wife.

The 13-year-old’s parents had made the deal for money. Villagers later raised money to help the family.

And, when it comes to the business theme of the homemade anthem, these women aren’t waiting for opportunity to come looking for them. They’ve opened fish stalls in nearby towns to sell the village catch. And they’re going to start an ice factory to keep their fish fresh and to sell ice to others.

Working with women, particularly educating them, is probably the “best single investment” that can be made in international development, said Michael Cohen, director of the New School for Social Research’s graduate program in international affairs in New York. “It helps on the income side and reduces the family size.”

Both elements, he added, are key to reducing rural poverty.

 

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Out of the Shadows


It is the middle of the night. I hear a strange sound in the living room.

Heart pounding, I get out of bed, grope awkwardly through darkness for the light switch … push up … nothing happens. I try another switch. No light. I feel desperately alone. My surroundings remain one shadowed mass of space … my terror grows…. Then I wake up.

I’ve been having this same, vivid nightmare for months.

Once fully conscious, I turn on the light and sigh relief into the illumination. Safe again in “reality,” I tour my apartment — gratefully able to see that all my stuff is in place. I return to bed and muster up the courage to turn off the lamp and re-enter the obscurity. I wish I still had my childhood nightlight — back when it was acceptable to be afraid of the dark.

Darkness is frightening. It is the realm of uncertainty, with everything enveloped in a state of unified oblivion. The world we call “real” — based on substance, physical existence and visible actuality — is nullified by the blackness of night. In this domain of the unknown, boundaries blur, imagination stirs and possibilities of reality broaden beyond confines of fact. Separate materials and individuals distinguishable with light mesh together into nothing, and when they do, we become insecure. When the possessions and relationships by which we define our selves disappear, we become unsure of who we are. As did Jacob.

“Vayira Ya’akov meod vayetzer lo.” Upon sending forth all his possessions in hopes of placating his estranged brother Esav, “Jacob was very afraid and distressed.” In other words, without his stuff around to define him, Jake freaked. He suffered a hard blow to his ego, throwing him into identity crisis.

See, the ego exists in material reality, where physical boundaries separate one thing from another. It believes that “I” exists independently from “you” — with both of us distinct from every thing else. As the product of our transition from infancy (where we feel interconnection and wholeness) into adulthood, it is based on our capacity to name: to define parts from the whole. Its identity is defined in opposition to and in relationship with an “other,” and it thrives on its control and possession over any thing distinct from its limited sense of self.

Jacob’s distress came from his enormous ego. It inspired his betrayal of his brother — for the prestige of a birthright — and a life prioritized by the accumulation of property. When forced to give it up, he began the struggle that always results from an ego-based existence: Jacob’s separate sense of self confronted the fear and loneliness at its source. He had tried (as we do today … with VIP passes and Ferraris rather than birthrights and oxen) to compensate for his sense of lacking by accumulating more material; now he had to confront his motivating force: the terror of isolation from living in a reality of separation.

Suddenly, he had nothing. He sent all his possessions and relations away; in the middle of the night, he was “left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he had not prevailed … he wrenched Jacob’s hip.”

In the dark domain of the unknown; of imagination and blurry boundaries, where definitions of separation that encourage the ego to call “reality” real blend back together into one space of nothing, a nameless man attacked Jacob’s exposed ego.

He fought as we all fight: against illusions of nothing that we make into “somethings” of value — to be possessed by our individual selves as compensation for insecurity and loneliness. Within the limitless blackness he struggled with his attachments to the world of limited materials; he battled his definitions of self as opposed to, and seeking ownership over, everything else. He wrestled the fear; the fallacies of scarcity and disconnection — dislodging his hip in the process. In the depths of shadow, he contested the very idea of separation, for there must be an “other” to fight against.

He combated the nightmare of isolation…. Then he woke up.

His spiritual self became conscious. His ego weakened, and he began to remember the Oneness. The realities of abundance and sustenance; the wholeness (shleimut — that allows for peaceful being. The Source, whose first act of creation was to bring forth light from darkness, again made Itself manifest in that most fundamental way. Dawn broke; the light switch worked; and his nameless adversary affirmed that Jacob had prevailed over “beings Divine and human” before Jacob returned him to the nothingness of night. The identity crisis was over, and he was renamed: Israel.

Last week I had the nightmare again, but rather than becoming fearful when the lights would not work, I walked into the darkness. I realized I could make my way just fine. I was free: to dance in it; to laugh; to disappear into the primordial unity of darkness, from where I could — in the image of my Creator — recreate. As He did in the beginning. From out of shadows: the light and love of a reality I choose to live. A reality where nothing is more valuable than any thing I feel separate from.

Then I asked my parents to buy me a nightlight for Chanukah … just in case.

Karen Dietsch is rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge.

 

A ‘Promise’ to Help Jews Overseas


A 100-year-old Jewish woman, whose closest relatives are dead, lives in a one-room walk-up apartment in the former Soviet republic of Moldova that she hasn’t walked out of in four years.

The thought of Klara Kogan, who exists on a paltry government pension, haunts Steven Schwager, executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which provides relief and welfare to Jews abroad.

“We owe it to those people” to care for them, said Schwager, whose group provides Kogan with a home-care worker — and her only human contact. “Those people could be us.”

Making the case for funding overseas needs has become increasingly difficult for the North American Jewish federation system, which raises money for local, national and international needs.

Jewish federations have increasingly put their campaign dollars toward local social service and educational needs; today, roughly 30 percent of funds raised by federations go overseas, down from 50 percent in earlier times.

But the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella group of the federation system, wants to change that.

At its annual conference held in Toronto in mid-November, the UJC heavily promoted “Operation Promise,” a special campaign to raise $160 million over three years primarily to finance the aliyah of an estimated 17,000 Ethiopians of Jewish descent known as the Falash Mura.

The funds will also go toward the absorption of Ethiopian Jews in Israel, caring for the Jewish elderly of the former Soviet Union and invigorating the identity of its Jewish youth.

Despite the fanfare around the special campaign, launched in September by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and endorsed by him via video conference at the General Assembly, there is real concern about how it will resonate with donors across North America.

But Carole Solomon, who chairs the Jewish Agency of Israel’s board of governors, said there was great urgency in expediting the aliyah of the Falash Mura and reuniting families.

“It’s our every expectation that they will provide the necessary funds to complete this chapter of Jewish history,” she said, referring to UJC and the federations.

The campaign comes amid another major development in the federation system’s overseas work — the creation of a new allocations system.

With the 1999 creation of the UJC — a merger of the Council of Jewish Federations, United Jewish Appeal and United Israel Appeal — came the Overseas Needs Assessment and Distribution Committee (ONAD), which comprised a cross-section of federation leaders to determine allocations overseas with the aim of increasing overseas dollars.

Fraught with politics and bureaucracy, the committee has cost several million dollars and has not substantially increased the allocation of overseas funds.

The system’s major overseas partners are the JDC and the Jewish Agency for Israel, which runs aliyah and Zionist education worldwide.

While the federations’ annual campaign, which tops $800 million, increased by 4 percent since 2000, dollars overseas have dropped by more than 4.5 percent since 2001.

The UJC board of trustees unanimously voted to replace ONAD with a system that allows the Jewish Agency and the JDC to hammer out their own agreement for the next two years. A group of federation officials will monitor the process and the UJC board must then approve the deal by the two agencies.

Some hope the new format — a modified return to pre-ONAD days, when the Jewish Agency and JDC negotiated their funds — will restore a spirit of cooperation to the process.

Others call the resolution a compromise document that will satisfy no one, and some lament the lack of minimum amounts required by federations to allocate overseas, given past shortfalls.

In fact, the critical issue of shoring up overseas funds remains in question.

“Nothing much will improve unless there’s an increase in overseas allocations, and that takes more than a document,” said Ellen Heller of Baltimore, the JDC’s president. “That takes advocacy.”

There is no formal advocacy committee, UJC President Howard Rieger told JTA. But the resolution allows for an aggressive approach to raising overseas funds, he said.

It asks federations to increase overseas giving, provides incentives for those that do and calls for the consideration of punitive measures against noncompliant federations.

For many local federation leaders, making the connection to overseas needs in general and Operation Promise in particular is tough amid so many competing local demands.

People don’t see overseas concerns as their responsibility because they have never seen the problems firsthand, said Michael Nissenson, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara

Federations are also facing increased local costs due to growing numbers and budgets of local agencies like day schools, said Steven Rakitt, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.

Still, Rakitt said that “sometimes a special campaign has a way of providing a laser focus,” suggesting the new campaign will generate additional funds overseas.

“We have a responsibility to Jews wherever they live and an elderly person who’s hungry in Atlanta or hungry in Belarus is our responsibility.”

Operation Promise has already raised $32 million in pledges, according to UJC officials.

Several federations are responding to the campaign by soliciting individual major donors rather than rolling out a massive campaign.

Privately, several officials said they didn’t want to conduct a “second-line campaign” because it would raise questions among donors, who understand that the annual campaign already funds these types of overseas needs.

The UJA-Federation of New York, which has been a leading proponent of the push to expedite the aliyah of the Falash Mura, has already appropriated $5.7 million to the cause.

John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of the New York federation, said his federation would provide an additional $18 million over the next three years for the other elements of Operation Promise.

“This is our way of fully participating in Operation Promise,” he said. Jay Sarver, a UJC board member from St. Louis and the budget and finance chairman of the Jewish Agency, said that although the needs of Operation Promise are contained in the federations’ annual campaign efforts, the urgency of the situation demands more funds in a shorter time frame.

In Cleveland, the community has already pledged nearly 90 percent of its goal to raise almost $6 million for Operation Promise, said Stephen Hoffman, president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland.

These pledges come on top of its annual campaign as well as a $137 million capital campaign.

Success comes “if you ask and you take the time to explain why you’re asking.”

Still, it may be a tough sell.

“It’s going to take some real strategic marketing and an incredibly intensive fund-raising effort to reach the $160 million goal, and if we don’t reach that goal the Jewish Agency and JDC are going to be in a tremendous debt situation,” said Richard Wexler, a UJC board member from Chicago.

Moshe Vigdor, director general of the Jewish Agency, said that “if we have less, we will be able to do less, unfortunately.”

But the aliyah operation is unlikely to be halted, even in a funding crisis, according to senior UJC and Jewish Agency officials.

“We have an obligation here,” Rieger said.

He noted that Ethiopia and Israel reached an agreement that officials say could prompt the Ethiopian immigration to begin in December.

The $100 million cost of funding the aliyah is broken down as follows: $23 million for preparing and educating the Jews before they immigrate, $40 million for their needs in Israeli absorption centers and $37 million for programs that integrate Ethiopians once they have moved out of the absorption centers, Vigdor said.

Zeev Bielski, the new chairman of the Jewish Agency, which will assume the bulk of responsibility for the education and preparation for the Falash Mura aliyah, said he hoped that the entire immigration would be completed by the end of 2007.

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Class Notes – Hurricane Heroes


Sarah Rose Isenberg had a sure-fire marketing plan and a product no one could object to. So the fact that she took in hundreds of dollars in a few hours wouldn’t be surprising — if she weren’t 7 years old.

In the days before her lemonade sale to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina, Isenberg went door to door in her Sherman Oaks neighborhood delivering hand-written letters inviting her neighbors to support those who lost their homes. On the letter she drew a picture of a hurricane.

On Sunday, Sept. 11, one neighbor who came with a $100 contribution said she’d put the letter up on the fridge. Another elderly woman came not only to drink lemonade, but to deliver a donation from another neighbor, who was too frail to come herself.

Isenberg donated her $609.97 to The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles’ hurricane relief fund.

Such kid-driven efforts have brought tears of pride to parents, educators and tzedakah recipients since Katrina struck.

At Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, kids filled 150 backpacks with new school supplies — and a small toy or candy — for children who had to settle in to new schools at a moment’s notice.

Kids at Pressman Academy in Los Angeles packed and sent 100 backpacks, while also donating 27 teddy bears they crafted at Build-a-Bear’s Westside Pavilion store, which discounted the donated bears. A schoolwide project at Pressman involved assembling and packing personal toiletry kits — a Ziploc bag with toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo and deodorant — to be sent to shelters.

Families absorbed locally at the Dream Center in Echo Park received welcome cards from students at Valley Beth Shalom day school. The student council also organized a walk-a-thon that raised $7,500 for Katrina victims.

Students at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy have collected more than $5,000 for a Katrina relief fund, through a student council cookie sale in the carpool line, weekend lemonade stands and donated proceeds from bar and bat mitzvah gifts.

As for Isenberg, she proved to have a knack for courteous follow-through as well as fundraising. Within a week, she’d delivered hand-written thank you notes to all her customers.

Early Childhood at Kadima

With their new, permanent facility now in operation for a year, Kadima Hebrew Academy in Woodland Hills initiated an early childhood program this fall. The new Early Childhood Center (ECC) serves children ages 2 and older. Previously, the school offered only a Pre-K class for 4-year-olds.

“This space enabled us to fulfill a vision we had all along of nurturing our future students and their families,” said Dr. Barbara Gereboff, head of school. “Research shows the importance of early-childhood education as pivotal to helping children.”

The center, which can accommodate 52 children, is fully enrolled.

The ECC facilities include an outdoor area where children can ride bikes, play on a jungle gym, plant in the garden or paint on easels.

“Kids learn all over,” said Hanna Livni, early childhood director, who described the space as an “outdoor classroom.” Inside, the rooms are filled with new furniture , toys and school supplies.

For more information, visit www.kadimaacademy.org or call (818) 346-0849. — Nancy Sokoler Steiner, Contributing Writer

You can reach Julie Gruenbaum Fax at julief@jewishjournal.com or (213) 368-1661, ext. 206.

Fundraiser to Benefit Storm Victims


This Sunday, September 18th!

LALA & MOE’S

Jewish Experience & The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Present:

LA Jewish Katrina Benefit

All Proceeds To Benefit Jewish Federation’s Hurricane Relief Fund

Featuring:

The Moshav Band

Comic Relief by:

Edgar Fox
Avi Leiberman
Plus Special Guests

Silent Auction, Special Prize Drawing, Kosher Food, And More!

Sunday September 18th 2005
3:00 – 7:00 PM
Westside Jewish Community Center
5870 W Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles Ca, 90036

$25 Adults
$15 Students & Families
Space is Limited

For More information Contact:

Danwitz@LMJE.org

Community Sponsors Include:

Anti-Defamation League
Aish Ha-Torah
Ashreinu
Congregation Beth Jacob
Congregation B’nei David Judea
Congregation Mogen David
Isralight
Jewish big brothers
Jflicks
Los Angeles Hillel Council
The Chai Center
The Westwood Kehilla
Young Israel of Century City
And Many More

 

Nation & World Briefs


Federation Sets Up Hurricane Fund

The United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh (UJF) has established a mailbox to accept donations for humanitarian aid for members of the Jewish and general communities impacted by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Western Florida.

Characterized by authorities as one of the most powerful hurricanes in U.S. history, Katrina battered Louisiana’s southeastern shore Monday morning, killing dozens, after first taking at least nine lives as it swept across South Florida on Thursday. Homes and businesses across the entire region have suffered massive damage.

The United Jewish Communities (UJC), UJF’s national partner agency, is working with federations in the affected regions. These federations are unprepared to handle donations and request that money be sent instead to such organizations as the UJF.

These federations will assess damage and help coordinate relief; UJC will serve as the conduit for distributing all funds collected by the Pittsburgh federation.

“When natural disasters have hit, the Jewish community has always been at the forefront of responding,” said Jeff Finkelstein, UJF president and CEO.”Just as our community reacted with such generosity to the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia last December, we anticipate an outpouring of concern once again from many in our community.

“Hurricane Katrina’s full impact is not yet fully realized,” he added, “and damages are already set in the billions. The emotional toll — and the damage to property and other tangibles — is likely to be well beyond anything we can imagine.”

For more information, visit www.ujfpittsburgh.org.

Terror Attack in Beersheba

After months of focusing on its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Israel returned to an all-too-familiar experience this week: Palestinian terror.

A suicide bomber wounded 20 people Sunday at the central bus station in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, the first such attack since the just-completed evacuation of settlements from Gaza and the northern West Bank.

It could have been bloodier. The bomber was blocked from boarding a bus, thanks to the vigilance of two guards who chased him away. Both were seriously hurt.

P.A. to Rename Settlements

The Palestinian Authority plans to rename Gaza Strip settlements after Yasser Arafat and Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Palestinian officials said this week that Arafat, the late Palestinian Authority president, and Yassin, the late founder of Hamas, were among the “martyrs” who would be honored in renaming the 21 settlements, most of which Israel built on empty land and which therefore did not have prior Arabic names. The Palestinian Authority is divided on a proposal to rename some settlements after suicide bombers, fearing that doing so risks alienating world opinion.

Gaza Protester Dies

An Israeli woman who set herself alight to protest the Gaza Strip withdrawal died. The 54-year-old West Bank resident succumbed Friday to injuries sustained Aug. 7 when she doused herself with kerosene and lit it at a police checkpoint outside Gaza. Police described the incident as a protest suicide. The woman was to be buried in her home settlement of Kedumim. She was the only Israeli fatality linked to the withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank, despite early predictions that the evacuation could spark bloodshed.

Kfar Darom Detainees Freed

Israel has freed scores of pro-settlement activists arrested during a violent Gaza Strip confrontation. A Beersheba court released the 175 detainees, almost a quarter of them minors, last week after they signed agreements not to take part in violent political protests. The decision to free the detainees, who were arrested after holing up on the roof of a synagogue in the Kfar Darom settlement last week as part of protests against the Gaza withdrawal, ran counter to earlier police pledges to see them prosecuted to the fullest extent.

Army to Eye Extremists

The Israeli army resolved to scrutinize extremists and potential terrorists among its conscripts. An internal military query into the Aug. 4 killing by an army deserter of four Israeli Arabs concluded Thursday that authorities failed to respond properly to warnings by the soldier’s family as well as an investigative reporter that he had become a right-wing extremist and was liable to resort to violence. Under the panel’s recommendations, which were accepted by top brass, the armed forces will work more closely with the Shin Bet’s Jewish Division, which monitors potential extremist threats. The army also will empower training officers to profile conscripts believed to have extremist political views and report them to higher authorities.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Clearing the Air About Allergies


Scary statistic to contemplate: About 10 to 15 percent of kids suffer from allergies, and the rate has been rising steadily for the past 20 years. Though no one knows why allergies are skyrocketing, we do know what causes them. Allergies are an immunological “overreaction” to a substance that enters the body through airborne particles such as pollen, skin contact, or ingested foods. Though this may sound quite simple, allergies are notoriously tricky to diagnose. The symptoms are remarkably diverse, varied in degree, and easy to confuse with other ailments.

1. If your child has cold symptoms that seem to drag on forever, allergies may be the real culprit. Does your child get endless but fever-free head colds — complete with sniffling, sneezing, itchy nose, watery eyes, and noisy mouth-breathing? Could be that she’s suffering from perennial allergic rhinitis, the body’s unhappy response to such year-round allergens as dust mites and animal dander.

How to handle: Talk to your pediatrician about whether your child should be evaluated by an allergist/immunologist; a skin test can identify what triggers your child’s symptoms. Once the results are in, you can work on minimizing the presence of the offending triggers. But unless you plan to lock your child in a mold-free closet for the rest of his life, complete elimination isn’t always possible. Over-the-counter oral antihistamines and decongestants can help, but they can be sedating. Ask your doctor whether the prescription drug Claritin, a nonsedating antihistamine, is an option; it’s approved for use by children age 6 and older.

2. If your child experiences these same symptoms, but they always strike in spring or summertime, you’re probably dealing with seasonal allergic rhinitis. Sometimes inaccurately called hay fever, this kind of allergy can actually be triggered by an array of pollens that become airborne as plants bloom. Need further help diagnosing your child? Look for this give-away, says Dr. June Engel, a biochemist and author of “The Complete Allergy Book”: Since your child’s nose will be itching like crazy, he may well do what’s known as “the allergic salute” — he’ll rub the palm of his hand upward against the tip of his nose to relieve the itching.

How to handle: Electric bills be damned: You may want to shut the windows and run air-conditioning during the height of the season to minimize pollen entering your home, says Dr. Francis V. Adams, pulmonary specialist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at New York University Medical School. Check with your pediatrician for advice on which antihistamines to try, and keep in mind that this medication actually prevents symptoms rather than cures them, so use them at the first hint of seasonal rhinitis.

3. Wheezing, coughing, tightness of the chest, and shortness of breath are usually hallmarks of asthma, an allergic condition in which the bronchial tubes narrow and the lungs become congested due to inflammation. Triggers may be anything from dust mites to mold to animal dander to cigarette smoke. Complicating matters still more, exercise has been known to bring on episodes, and in about 80 percent of cases, a viral infection will kick off the reaction. Typically, a child with asthma will experience his first symptoms before age 3.

How to handle: If your child wheezes or you have any other reason to suspect asthma, contact your pediatrician right away.

Obviously, you’ll want to keep your child away from the specific allergens and irritants as much as possible (warning: this may mean finding the family pet a new home). Beyond that, your child should have a bronchodilator spray available to be used whenever he feels wheezy and take an anti-inflammatory drug on a regular basis to keep his airways open. If your child ever seems to be struggling for breath and his medication doesn’t bring relief, bring him to the emergency room immediately.

4. When raised red patches crop up on your child’s skin, you’re probably dealing with hives. Hives can be an allergic reaction, commonly to an insect sting or food (peanuts, for instance).

How to handle: Of course, avoiding your child’s triggers is the best defense. But if your child is afflicted, be on the lookout for those cases of hives that can turn deadly: “If your kid brushes up against a tree and gets only a hive or two, it’s nothing to be concerned about; treat the itchiness with an over-the-counter oral antihistamine such as Benadryl,” says Dr. Jack Becker, chief of the allergy section at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. “But if all of a sudden he feels funny — that’s how a child will typically describe the sensation — has trouble breathing and is breaking out in hives all over, that’s extremely serious.”

This can progress to a potentially deadly condition known as anaphylactic shock, in which the tongue and throat swell up, cutting off the child’s air supply. If your child ever does show these symptoms, call for an ambulance immediately.

The deadly stage of the reaction might not hit until 10 hours later — when you mistakenly think everything’s back to normal. Also, get a Medic Alert bracelet or some other kind of identification that will let emergency workers know what the problem is in case you’re not present.

Beth Levine is a writer whose essays have appeared in Redbook, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, the Chicago Tribune, USA Weekend and Newsday.

 

Enemy Ties


 

I hadn’t been to a Tel Aviv bar for a while, and I was craving one. I had recently returned from a vacation to Los Angeles, where there were no worthwhile singles bars. Last call for alcohol in Los Angeles is 2 a.m., and a good Jewish girl like me prefers to pick up and be picked up by Jewish men.

That’s why Eliezer, a new bar on Ben Yehuda Street, was a relief for me and also for my friend, Tali, who had just returned from her native Melbourne. Inhaling the smoky air and swaying to the rock music, we reveled in the dozens of masculine men around us.

“Welcome to Israel,” we proudly toasted. “Where you know the men in the bars are Jewish.”

A beer and two vodka shots later, I let my guard down and scoped the scene, looking for hot prospects. Gradually a group of short, stubby men surrounded us. I sighed. None of them had been on my radar, but, nevertheless, we all danced and laughed and flirted.

Suddenly, a man in a gray shirt and gray tie walked in. I was not particularly attracted to him, but I noticed that his tie was practically strangling him. I gestured to him to take it off. We were in a bar, not a conference room.

Tali and I continued to dance and flirt, and the man in the tie passed us by, stiff-necked. I motioned to him again to take the thing off.

Finally, we headed out to go salsa dancing, and I noticed the man in the tie had taken it off and began waving it like a flag, signaling me over.

“Congratulations,” I said. “That’s much better.”

“Where are you from?” he said in an unidentifiable accent.

“I’m from Israel, but originally from L.A.,” I said. “Where are you from?”

“I’m Palestinian.”

“Oh,” I said. “Palestinian.”

No wonder he wore a tie to a bar. Israelis just don’t do that.

“Are you Jewish?” he asked.

“I’m very Jewish,” I said proudly.

There I was. Face to face with the enemy, in a Tel Aviv bar. I immediately recalled the Stage nightclub bombing in Tel Aviv a week earlier, and I looked for a backpack strapped to his waist, but he was strapless. I was safe, but I couldn’t help but provoke confrontation. I wasn’t about to be fake or polite or cordial just because he was Palestinian. A Tel Aviv bar, to me, did not provide sanctuary.

“You know, I’m very right wing,” I said.

I didn’t think he understood what I said or what I meant, or maybe he didn’t want a bar brawl, because he ignored my comment and instead asked me where I lived.

I almost made myself more explicit by adding: “If I were a soldier with a gun, and this were a battle line, I would shoot you. By the way, I entertain the idea of transfer.”

But I stopped myself. This was a bar, I reasoned. He wasn’t the enemy, he was a descendant of Abraham who wanted to break Islamic law and have a drink. I had to respect him for that. So I dropped the politics and told him I lived in Tel Aviv.

“Israeli women are hotter than Palestinian women, aren’t they?” I said, trying to find some common ground.

“No, no.”

“Why, do you like it when they are covered from head to toe, with those veils?”

“Well, women in Ramallah are not so hot. Yes, Israelians are hot,” he said awkwardly.

It seemed like that was the first time he used “hot” in that context.

I told him I had to go, and he presented his tie and said: “For you.”

“What?” I said. “I can’t take this.”

At first, I felt bad. It looked expensive, and don’t most Palestinians live in dire poverty?

Then I thought about the implications: I take this tie, and my hands are tied. I’d forever have to remember that one night a Palestinian gave me an expensive tie, and that he was nice to me. I’d have to question all my stereotypes and generalizations, and recognize that there are good, normal, generous Palestinians who just want peace, who just want to be my friend, who just want some fun.

I couldn’t take the tie.

But then I looked down at its elegant striped pattern. It would look smashing with a white tank and hip hugging jeans, I thought. He insisted, so I gracefully accepted.

“Thank you,” I said, smiling, and blew him a kiss.

As we sauntered out, Tali, a pro-peace activist, said, “You see, they’re not all bad. You’ll switch sides.”

“Hmm,” I said. “Maybe.”

As long as I felt good and stylish with the tie on, I couldn’t resent the fashion benefactor or his people.

I woke up the next morning, both me and the tie hungover in bed, alone.

I glared at it, frightened. Is this the first step toward my own private reconciliation with the Palestinians? If I keep it, is it a personal symbol of possible peace? Or should I just burn the thing?

Eventually, I hung it in my closet as the accessory that will forever go down in my wardrobe as “the tie the Palestinian gave me.” It’s not an enemy tie I’m ready to make, but it’s an enemy tie I’m ready to wear.

A friend told me that wearing a tie is a proven pick-up technique. It worked well for Abbas. Maybe it’ll work for me.

I’ll wear it next time I go to a bar. And when I do, I’ll use it to pick up and tie up a hot Jewish Israeli man, and I’ll have a Palestinian to thank for it.

Maybe then we could start talking about reconciliation.

Orit Arfa is a writer living in Israel.

 

Teen Called ‘Amiga de Cuba’


Since traveling to Cuba several times with her mother, who organizes relief missions for Cuban Jews through her travel agency, Daniella Gruber has returned home changed by the experience.

"Both Daniella and I will never forget the images in our minds of these old Jews, some who are Holocaust survivors, living in dingy rooms with chunks of ceiling falling down, bursting into tears when we delivered bags of food," said her mother Roe Gruber, who enrolled her daughter in Spanish classes one summer at the University of Havana.

For the last five years, Daniella, 16, has followed her mother’s example and tapped school families, her synagogue and a retirement community to collect medicines, clothes, hygiene products and school supplies for Cuba’s Jews, as well as for a children’s hospital and several orphanages. Her latest campaign is a shoe drive for mentally handicapped teens in a Havana orphanage.

"Watching her over the years doing all this organizing, promoting, collecting and sorting has been amazing," said Gruber, who thinks her daughter’s values differ from typical, self-absorbed teens.

In a surprise at a school awards assembly last month, the 11th grader at Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School received national recognition from B’nai B’rith International’s Cuban Relief Committee in Pittsburgh. The Amiga de Cuba youth award was created especially for her to spotlight her unusual example and hopefully to serve as an inspiration to others, said Stan Cohen, the committee’s chairman, who has organized 23 relief missions to Cuba from B’nai B’rith chapters worldwide since 1995.

"She’s obviously a great girl," Cohen said.

School principal Howard Haas, who presented the award, said, "She exemplifies what we want for every student at Tarbut — to be a role model."

The New SAT: Not So Scary


A small note appears at the bottom of the College Board’s Web site (www.collegeboard.com) concerning the SAT II: Writing Test: "When the new SAT is introduced in March 2005, it will include a writing section with content similar to the SAT II: Writing Test. For this reason, the SAT II: Writing Test will no longer be offered after Jan. 22, 2005."

Whether you are a parent or a teenager, this statement should let you breathe a sigh of relief.

The new SAT, scheduled to be administered next spring to this year’s high school sophomores, will include higher level math, a new essay section and the loss of analogies, among other changes. The writing section will be graded separately, on the same 200-800 point scale, making the total possible now 2,400, and adding 45 minutes to the three-hour test.

No wonder kids and parents across the country are nervous for their futures. "It’s hard when you’re the pioneer group to test it out," said Myra Meskin, a sophomore at Milken Community High School.

Indeed, pioneers are exactly what they are. Everyone involved in the SAT will have a year of experimentation, from the students, to the schools, to test preparation companies. Every study guide will become instantly outdated.

Considering the pressure in the Jewish community to excel and get into college, the thought of pioneering the new SAT can be very daunting. With hours of homework a day, extracurricular activities and competition becoming tougher, the new SAT has created "a bit of a stir," said Daniel Katon, sophomore at Harvard-Westlake. Katon, a well-spoken varsity football player, has been preparing for the SAT on and off since he was in middle school. He says he’s a good writer, and is now looking forward to the new SAT.

The College Board, the organization that administers the test, has not reinvented the wheel, and most of the anxiety is unwarranted. Universities have always required that students submit not just SAT scores, but also at least three higher level SAT II scores, including the math and writing SAT II tests. In fact, UCLA’s Web site tells prospective students that "the SAT II subject tests are designed to be closely related to the high school curriculum. For this reason, a student’s performance on the SAT II tests tends to be a better indicator of his/her achievement in a given academic subject. Consequently, we give SAT II scores more consideration in the review process."

To put it simply, the new SAT will bundle within it many of the topics older kids had to do anyway.

"I imagine the standards will be the same, that is, the grading rubric will be similar," said Holly Westergren, a reader for the SAT II who’s training for the new SAT.

Sample questions she’s seen are very similar to the SAT II.

That’s good news for many educators.

"Teachers have been excited about the changes," said Tami Gelb, college counselor at Yeshiva University High School.

They’ve sent teachers to College Board conferences to learn about the new SAT, and are working hard to emphasize more writing in the classroom.

"The writing sample shows a given student’s ability to express themselves," she said.

Joe Blassberg, co-director of College Counseling at Milken, agrees: "The changes are positive changes and it’s probably going to test students more reliably than in the past." Blassberg

said Milken’s writing has always been "very intensive, always at the highest level."

For many students, there’s room for optimism.

Take Shannon Pournazarian, a sophomore at Viewpoint. She’s studying journalism, and believes the writing section will give her an advantage.

"I love writing, and I’m not really good at standardized tests, but expressing myself will give me the edge," she said. "I’m pretty happy, because I don’t particularly like the analogies, and I think the essay is more critical for college."

Pournazarian’s mother, Gilda, agrees, but has her reservations. She worries about her daughter being in the first wave of students taking the test. After attending a packed parent information session at Viewpoint she has mixed feelings about the essay.

"This could be great for [Shannon] but we don’t know who will be grading [the essays]," she said.

Neil Kramer, dean of faculty at the New Community Jewish High School, wonders the same thing. With the College Board hiring new readers to grade the essays, he’s not sure how reliable the scores will be. Some students have wondered out loud if their futures will be decided based on the mood of the reader.

Westergren, the SAT II reader, cautions against that fear.

"They do make an attempt to be sure that the grading is fairly holistic," she said. "They encourage us to ‘read supportively,’ keeping in mind the time limitations the kids are under and the pressures they feel to do well."

So what is Westergren’s advice to an aspiring SAT taker wanting the best score? She recommends getting very good at organizing and learning how to balance the pre-writing with the writing within the 25-minute time period. Creativity is allowed, but, she cautions, most students find it hard to support their points, be structurally correct and be creative as well.

"It’s better to be dry and correct than to be creative and all over the map," she said.


Ian Simpson is the owner of Integrated Learning, which specializes in tutoring for the SAT.

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 www.mazon.org 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.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Laemmle Theatres serves up more Jewish documentariesthis weekend under the banner of their cleverly titled screening series “Bagelsand Docs.” At Laemmle Monica, early risers can catch “Undying Love,” a film thatrecounts the stories of young couples whose relationships were affected by WorldWar II. “Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good,” and “Ruthie and Connie: Every Roomin the House” will also be shown as part of the morning screening series thisweekend, at the Laemmle Fallbrook and Sunset 5, respectively. Bagels notincluded. www.laemmle.com

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Sunday

Short and stout? Think again. Encouraging a reexamination of such houseware stereotypes, Long Beach Museum of Art unveils its new exhibition today, “Teapots Everywhere.” Designs by Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring are just two of the more than 250 mold-breaking variations featured in the show. Other contributors include Cindy Sherman, Ron Nagle and Tony Marsh, promising kettles in every size, shape and material imaginable.11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Sunday). Runs through Sept. 14. $5 (general), $4 (students and seniors), free (children under 12 and for everyone on the first Friday of the month). 2300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. (562) 439-2119.”Mona Lisa/Van Gogh” by Noi Volkoy.

Monday

Zehava Ben lends her unique voice and singing style totwo new CDs that manage to feature many of the same Israeli standards and, atthe same time, sound completely different. In “Beit Avi” (“My Father’s House”)Ben is accompanied by the Symphonic Orchestra of Hadera, lending a soulful,classic Mediterranean sound to songs like “Hanasich Hakatan” (“The LittlePrince”) and “Zemer Noge” (“Sentimental Tune”). In “Laroz Variations,” Ben’spairing with top Israeli electronic music producer Haim Laroz adds trance beatsfor a world-fusion treatment of those same melodies and others. $15-$17. www.israel-music.com

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Tuesday

The tale begins when Ivy League-educated Richard Rubin takes a job as a reporter in the small Mississippi town of Greenwood. Part coming-of-age story, part courtroom drama, “Confederacy of Silence: A True Tale of the New Old South” dispels some assumptions about the New South just as it corroborates others, and is out in paperback this month.Atria Books, $14.

Wednesday

Do you aspire to hobnob, but can’t afford thegrand-a-plate dinners quite yet? Benefiting Lifeline to Argentina, an emergencyrelief project that helps Argentine Jews, Charity Stars sponsors an artexhibition and wine tasting on the beach in Santa Monica. At $25 a ticket (inadvance), it’s a good deed you can afford, plus excellent preparation forplayers-in-training. 7:30-10:30 p.m. $25 (in advance), $35 (at the door).Hamilton Galleries, 1431 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 936-5674 orcharitystars@yahoo.com

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Thursday

Grab a date and head out for good jazz and good food tonight. Steve March Torme (as in Mel Torme’s offspring) performs at The Vic in Santa Monica, the upstairs part of the romantic Victorian. Expect some old standards like “Blue Skies” and “Stardust,” both from his new album “The Essence of Love.” Just be sure to make a reservation. That’s the only way you’ll find out the password required to gain entry to this modern-day speakeasy.8 p.m. and 10 p.m. $10 (cover). 2640 Main St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (888) 367-5299.

Friday

Jennifer Maisel’s “The Last Seder” tells the story of a family’s last gathering before the father, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, will be placed in a care facility. Through the course of the play, the ritual of the seder becomes a channel for the family’s healing. Having helped launch the careers of playwrights like Christopher Durang and Wendy Wasserstein, the Ensemble Studio Theatre (through their West Coast branch, “The L.A. Project”) presents a staged reading of this new play tonight and Sunday.8 p.m. (June 27 and 29). $10. Theatre/Theater, 6425 Hollywood Blvd., fourth floor, Hollywood. (213) 368-9552.

Argentina


To visit Argentina today is to see with your own eyes the tragedy these people are facing.

Imagine living in a country where you experience the following:

You have worked hard for years, and every month you add to your savings in a dollar account held at a major international bank (i.e. Citibank or equal). You placed your savings in this dollar account to be safe from currency fluctuations that are so frequent in South American countries. One day, you get a letter from your bank saying that your account has been changed from a dollar account to a peso account — transferred without your permission. You are outraged because you understand that last year the peso was equal to the dollar i.e. one peso equaling $1, yet today, it takes nearly four pesos to equal $1, thus your lifetime savings account has taken a huge hit. Later, another letter arrives that says you can only withdraw a limited amount per month from this peso account.

You appeal to the bank and hear, "Sorry, but this is government policy." You go to the politicians and hear, "Sorry, economic conditions demanded this action." There is such political turmoil that their congress didn’t meet for five straight weeks due to lack of a quorum and four presidents resigned within two weeks. You go to the courts with your dollar agreement in hand and get a total runaround. The net effect is countrywide anger.

Many banks in Buenos Aires have their first two-floor exteriors covered with plywood to ward off flying bricks and other evidence of the seething public rage. The Argentine government owes $135 billion to the IMF and the world bank, with little chance of ever repaying this staggering amount. In addition, over the past 45 years, 15 of the 19 agreements with the IMF have been broken, and thus, Argentina has zero credibility for further borrowings.

The net effect of this economic and political chaos has been the destruction of the middle-class. The official unemployment rate is 21 percent, but the unofficial estimate is 35 percent. Of the 200,000 Jews in the country, 80 percent are small businessmen or professionals and their lives have been devastated. An estimated 40,000 Jews are living below the poverty line and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is serving more than 30,000. The JDC reported that last year 1,000 Jews left for Israel, and this year the number is approaching 6,000, with three times that number seeking refuge wherever in the world they gain admittance.

Heart-wrenching stories are heard everywhere. Rosa and Bernardo are in their 60s, came originally from Eastern Europe and have lived in Buenos Aires for 30 years. Bernardo has a heart problem, cannot walk and requires Rosa’s full-time attention. They were evicted from their residence, unable to pay their rent. JDC pays their rooming-house rent and Rosa comes to the JDC soup kitchen every day and takes the lunch, offered by JDC, to her husband. Bernardo is too ill to emigrate, so they just exist — day by day.

Enrique is a lawyer who came to Buenos Aires in 1940. His wife recently died and his youngest child has Down syndrome and can’t walk. The economic crisis in the past two years forced him to layoff all his employees and he ultimately had to close his practice. He still has to support his youngest daughter, and his friends do what they can to help him with expenses. He has been coming to the soup kitchen for a regular hot lunch paid by JDC, but he refused to have his picture taken — feeling so ashamed of his situation.

Melina Fiszerman is fortunate. She has a secure, responsible position with the JDC in Buenos Aires and is getting an advanced degree in economics. Yet, Melina, 25, is also threatened by the personal and political anguish surrounding her. Argentina is a dangerous place and she lives with the risks of random kidnappings on major streets and frequent, violent civil unrest. When we visited her in November, I asked her why she stays in Argentina.

She responded, "This is my country and my people. I love this country. Buenos Aires is a beautiful city, and this is my home. I am optimistic about the future."

How can Melina be optimistic surrounded by such chaos? She is young, which helps. But much more than her youth is her knowledge and belief in the historic ability of Jews to survive. As American Jews living in our blessed country, it is our privilege and responsibility to help people like Melina and those thousands of Jews in Argentina who are living such painful, difficult lives. We cannot change the politics or economics of Argentina. But we can help by sending our dollars for Argentine relief.


Richard S. Gunther is on the board of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.