Are Muslims Endangered?

Heightened ethnic and religious hatred might be rearing its ugly head in California — but some politicians are eager to stand in its way.

State Assemblymember Judy Chu introduced and saw passage of Assembly Joint Resolution (AJR) 64 in early April. The resolution condemns hate crimes against “Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, South Asian Americans and Sikh Americans.”

“The fact that hate crimes and discrimination continue to be perpetrated against American Muslims, Arabs, South Asians and Sikhs at a higher number than ever before is unacceptable,” wrote Chu in AJR 64.

Chu spoke about the resolution at a joint press conference on April 2 with a major supporter, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). A representative from Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s office and community leaders from the ethnic groups mentioned in the resolution also attended.

California is the first state whose legislature has passed such a resolution condemning discrimination against Arabs and Muslims.

The resolution has also received some Jewish support.

“We’ve written a letter to the author expressing our support for the resolution, and we support any action taken publicly by our leaders to denounce hate crimes,” said Amanda Susskind, director of the Pacific Southwest Region of the Anti-Defamation League. “I would hope that Muslim activist groups like CAIR would reciprocate and denounce the rise in global anti-Semitism as well.”

Susskind, her own organization no stranger to working publicly against all manner of hate crimes, noted that the true importance of resolutions like AJR 64 is to send a “countervailing message” that hate is not endorsed by the society at large.

In support of the claim that acts of discrimination against Muslims are occurring “at a higher number than ever before,” CAIR also released a study on May 3 called “Unpatriotic Acts” which noted that the number of reported anti-Muslim incidents tripled between 2003 and 2002.

“Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim in Arizona, New York, California, and New Jersey experienced the greatest increase in reported incidents, ranging from a jump of 233 [in California] to 584 percent [in Arizona],” according to a statement released by CAIR about the report.

CAIR’s data also claims that U.S. government policies such as those under the PATRIOT Act negatively and disproportionately affect Arab, South Asian and Muslim communities.

As with any study of self-reported incidents, many other variables could affect the numbers, such as increased reporting or increased attention to harassment. But regardless of the specific numbers in any such study, Susskind also emphasized that simply the act of reporting a hate incident is important because it reinforces the belief in the community that there are in fact groups actively working against the hatred.

Redlands, a Cross and the ACLU

It seems time for the City of Redlands to remove a cross from the public sphere.

Since 1963, Redlands has sported the same official seal on everything from its police badges to its business cards to its city vehicles. One corner of that emblem displayed a glowing cross and church. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California received anonymous complaints about the appropriateness of the image from two local residents and sent a letter on March 11 to the city asking that the design be changed.

“[The City of Redlands was] a public entity with a sectarian religious symbol prominently displayed on its seal, and that violates the establishment clause [of the First Amendment],” said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU and author of the letter to the city.

“If it said, ‘In God we trust’ it might be a closer call, but if, as in the Redlands seal, it has a Latin cross glowing and hovering above a church, I think the message that Christianity is being endorsed is unmistakable,” Wizner said.

The City of Redlands, already facing a $1.2 million budget shortfall this fiscal year, chose not to fight the ACLU in court after reviewing the strong precedent against it.

“[The city] realized that the only loser if they fought this would be the taxpayer,” Wizner said.

If it had pursued the matter in court and lost, Redlands would have had to pay both sides’ legal fees.

Even the Alliance Defense Fund, a group which openly derides the ACLU’s positions on practically every issue, declined to assist the City of Redlands to fight the ACLU in this case due to the long odds of success. Though some local Christian private school students protested, the city has already moved forward with a plan to replace the picture of a church and cross with one of a home and star.

Despite the City Council’s work to remove the iconography from all city seals by the April 30 deadline, Redlands Mayor Susan Peppler still hoped to placate a group of vocal dissenters who support the public display of the cross. She said she would explore alternatives to fight the ACLU — so long as they don’t cost the city any money.

Reaction Mixed on Riordan’s School

Expect big changes in California’s educational system. Gov. Schwarzenegger’s appointed secretary of education (and former L.A Mayor) Richard Riordan has been pushing the advancement of so-called “micro-spending” initiatives in California public schools, devolving control over 80 percent to 90 percent of a school’s money from the district office to the school’s principal.

His plans are largely based on the thinking of a former adviser from his mayoral days, William Ouchi. Ouchi’s 2003 book “Making Schools Work” examines school districts with and without micro-spending programs and concludes that children benefit with more local control.

The plan has met with some criticism, especially for its lack of emphasis on actually increasing the funds available to poorer schools. John Perez, United Teachers Los Angeles president, has publicly stated ambivalence toward the plan, which he believes misses the major points necessary to improve education: increased funding for poor schools and decreased class sizes.

Should Riordan’s restructuring of California public education funding succeed, public schools will function under a radically different funding system. Jewish parents may want re-examine their stake in public schools, for better or for worse.

“The latest demographic study that the Jewish Federation ran of the Jewish population here in Los Angeles indicated that 64 percent of Jewish children of school age in the Federation area were attending public schools,” said Gil Graff, executive director of The Bureau of Jewish Education.

Graff is not convinced, however, that public micro-spending will impact Jewish private school enrollment. Though the plan will ideally lead to higher achievement for students, Graff said that many Jewish parents routinely choose to forgo excellent public facilities elsewhere in the country, “not because they consider the public education to be of poor quality, but because they consider it to be lacking in Jewish education, which is what they’re seeking.”

Graff added that even in districts where there is a fair amount of local power, unlike in the sprawling LAUSD, many Jewish parents distinctly seek that religious and cultural background only possible at a Jewish private school. Nonetheless, Graff emphasized the common-sense notion that all Californians, including Jews, have a massive stake in the future success of public education in California.

Though Riordan has been speaking about the merits of micro-spending power since his appointment as California’s Secretary of Education in November of 2003, no specific timetable has been made public. It seems likely that many portions of the plan will have to be approved by the California legislature.

Teacher Shortage

There is no summertime lull at schools for Jewish education.

Even as day campers toting towel-stuffed beach bags invade day schools and synagogue religious classrooms, administrators are spending their summer scrambling to fill staff vacancies for September, at a time when qualified Judaic and Hebrew instructors are difficult to find.

The shortage stems from an increasing demand statewide for public school teachers, a shift in Israel’s economy and what some suggest is a failure of planning by Reform and Conservative movements.

In addition, Orange County presents its own set of difficulties for recruiting, given the region’s description by one educator as “Jewishly disadvantaged.”

“People involved in Jewish teaching want an active Jewish community,” says Eve Fein, director of Rancho Santa Margarita’s Morasha Jewish Day School, who recently filled two staff positions by tapping existing residents.

“We have pockets of it here, but to create Jewish life here takes more work,” she said. “You can have a terrific impact, but to take a leap to Orange County is a challenge in itself.”

Fortuitously for administrators, the proliferation of Jewish day schools during the ’70s and ’80s coincided with economic doldrums in Israel. Religious school administrators, too, were happy to staff classrooms with Israeli-born teachers seeking better job opportunities in the U.S.

Not so the last decade.

“During the high-tech boom, we hardly saw an Israeli teacher at all,” says Yonaton Shultz, personnel services director for the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education. Today, he says, the initial waves of Israeli immigrants are nearing retirement, and recent Jewish education graduates prefer jobs as administrators, for which benefits are better than in teaching. “Where is the next batch?” he asks.

Unlike secular recruiters, who resort to signing bonuses and housing subsidies to lure candidates, such enticements are rarely offered for Jewish jobs.

Even so, religious school directors are devising clever inducements for teachers, who typically work part-time. These include reduced religious school tuition for their children and free temple membership.

Some solve their recruiting difficulties under their own roof. “You have to keep your antenna up,” says Joanne Mercer, religious education director at Newport Beach’s Temple Bat Yahm, which this fall will hold 10 sessions each of Hebrew and Judaic study for 350 students. Mercer is a former public school teacher and long-time Sunday school teacher, who was named acting director to fill a vacancy and assumed the post in 1991.

Transforming congregants who hunger for personal Jewish growth into qualified teachers is a pet recruitment project of Joan S. Kaye, director of the Orange County Bureau of Jewish Education. In 1994, she received a five-year, $200,000 grant to devise a program to train and mentor congregants on teaching in a Jewish school.

This summer, Kaye herself is seeking an assistant director to succeed Jay Lewis, who after seven years in the county was named Hillel executive director at the University of Kansas. Kaye has posted a job description at, a Web site started last October.

Passion alone, though, is no substitute for the perquisites accorded professionals. “Being a Jewish educator wasn’t viewed as a real job,” says Shultz, who reports that 50 percent of day school teachers lacked benefits in 1987.

No longer is that the case as competitive pressure forced day schools to shift hiring to full-time staff, instead of part-timers, he says. To stay competitive, some day schools are offering pension benefits. “That’s going to make it a long-term field,” he predicts.

This month, a new effort to fill the day school administrative pipeline starts by subsidizing 10 graduate students enrolled in a leadership training program at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and at the Hebrew Union College-Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

Eight other campuses, which have yet to be identified, are also expected to offer the program, says Paul Flexner, human resources vice president for the Jewish Education Service of North America, the Jewish Federation’s educational arm. Students will receive a $25,000 stipend, health insurance and 12 graduate credits, about a third necessary to complete a master’s degree.

“Come Sept. 3, almost every classroom will have a teacher,” Flexner says. In a cautionary note to parents, though, he adds, “That doesn’t mean they have any training or experience.”