Conservative responsa approves selling, renting to non-Jews


Up to 50 Conservative rabbis signed on to a religious responsa that says it is permissible to rent or sell homes to non-Jews in Israel.

The statement, issued Monday, counters a rabbinic ruling signed by about 50 Israeli municipal rabbis that prohibits the same.

Written by Schechter Institute President Rabbi David Golinkin, it examines the issue from biblical sources to modern opinions.

It concluded: “(A)ccording to Jewish law, it is perfectly permissible to sell or rent houses to non-Jews in the Land of Israel for all of the reasons cited.

“Finally, if we are concerned that certain areas of the country such as the Galilee need more Jews, we must achieve that by Zionist education, not by discrimination. If there is concern that blocks of apartments are being bought up by Iran and Saudi Arabia, then the government of Israel must deal with this national problem.”

Accountability


As usual, it started out with questions.

“Where do you work? What do you do? Have you been on any trips lately?”

I was all for talking about myself, what I do, where I’ve been, where I’m going. But then it got personal.

“Are you renting? How much do you pay per month?”

Real estate is a touchy subject. But it’s one that anyone in any major city discusses. I used to feel guilty about renting a place, what with everyone and their mother owning property, but now with the subprime mortgage rates and the housing market crash, I feel smugly superior that I didn’t fall prey to the greed. Yes, I rent! Isn’t that great?

And then it got really personal.

“And are you still single?”

It was that one word that really got to me. Still Single. Still. As if I hadn’t accomplished anything in the last year. As if I hadn’t published articles, essays — been on NPR, for God’s sake! — influenced people with my writing. As if I hadn’t started teaching at a university, traveled around the world, lost 10 pounds, learned how to surf, counseled countless friends and family members through countless crises. It all had been erased to nothing — nothing! — with that one question: “Are you still single?”

OK, so what if it was my accountant who was doing the asking?

For the last six years I’ve been doing my taxes with this seemingly sweet older lady. She is tall, white-haired and stooped over, with blue eyes that might be described as kindly if you’ve never sat down with her for a tax interview. If you had, you might say her eyes were steely blue and her demeanor hawkish. The woman, God help her, will ferret out any and every possible deduction known to mankind. Especially if you’re an artist, which many of her clients are. Why, then every activity you do, from reading newspapers to traveling, to meeting with people to anything that might have a direct influence on your art is fair game.

(But, Mr. I.R.S., if you’re reading this, she and her firm are totally and completely legal. Case in point, many of my seemingly “social” interactions are part of my writing. Most of them are, since I write about myself.)

But deductions are not the point. The point is that when she asks me if I’m still single — she has to ask me, it’s part of her job — it chafes. It brings up a lot of issues for me. Am I still single? Am I in the same job as last year? The same house? The very same life? What have I done with the last 12 months of my life that we can tell the I.R.S.?

I imagine my accountant saying, “They’re going to audit you because everything in your life sounds suspiciously similar to last year and beyond!”

Mind you, she asks, “Are you still single?” in the same tone she asks, “Are you still driving a Volkswagen?” and “Are you still subscribing to The New York Times? And The New York Review of Books? (I let the latter lapse because it was just too dense, and there’s no one in L.A. bars to discuss it with.)

But as I answer, “Yes, still single. Same job. Same car, same house,” in my mind I picture others who file with her from year to year, making dozens of changes and updates to their files: Change of name (married), change of residence (bought a house), change of mortgage (paid in full), sale of stocks (to pay for house), number of dependents (one, two, three).

Look, it’s not necessarily any cheaper to file as a married person than as a single person.

But we’re not talking about money here (Mr. I.R.S., I definitely am talking about lots of money from you!). We’re talking more than financial accountability. We’re talking life accountability.

I know in Judaism we review our year on Rosh Hashanah, and we tally up our good deeds and bad deeds before Yom Kippur. For our superficial — or more worldly — deeds, we use the Gregorian New Year to make resolutions. On our birthdays, we take stock, using the number of years as a measuring stick.

But on all those occasions it’s possible to fudge a bit. To make things look better than they are (“OK, so I wasn’t such a bad Jew this year — even though this is my first time in synagogue, I did give tzedakah to every homeless person who asked …”). In the run-up to April 15, though, it’s hard to lie. (Actually, it’s criminal.) It’s all laid out there in front of you in stacks of paper that you’ve finally separated, organized, catalogued and filed.

Still writing. Still renting. Still driving a VW. And yes, still, ahem, single.

It’s all naked and exposed before my accountant. But that’s what frustrates me so. There is so much beyond those cut-and-dried numbers. There’s poetry behind the columns. “Romeo and Juliet” can’t be summed up as, “Both Capulet and Montague family have one less dependent this year.”

And neither can my life. I may not be married yet, but I’ve met dozens of wonderful people — men and women — this year. I’ve deepened my relationships to dozens I’ve already known, been to fabulous places and, most importantly, learned so many new life lessons: on how to love, how to be loved, whom to love, whom to leave and to whom to give a second chance.

And these things can’t be measured on paper. No matter who — my accountant, my parents, my relatives, my so-called friends — is asking.

City Voice: Condo conversions cause casualties


Late one afternoon, I visited an apartment house in Pico-Robertson, where the tenants are uneasily contemplating a fate increasingly familiar to renters – the
conversion of their building to condominiums.

I talked to Mary Ellen Satterfield, Brenda Lara and Rachel Minkove, who rent apartments in the building and will have to move if it turns condo.

They are perfect examples of how the middle class is being squeezed out by the wave of condo conversions sweeping through the city, particularly in areas with large Jewish populations. Larry Gross of the Coalition for Economic Survival, which represents tenants, said the highest rate of conversions are occurring from Pico-Robertson through the Westside and in the southwest San Fernando Valley. These areas are the heart of Jewish Los Angeles.

Satterfield is a portfolio administrator for a financial company. Lara is assistant principal in a Los Angeles public elementary school in Echo Park. Minkove is a fifth-grade teacher at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy. Their rents range from $850 to $1,680 a month.

“It’s affordable housing,” said Lara, about what they can afford. She’s lived there 13 years, Satterfield 10 and Minkove one.

The apartment house, located on Holt Avenue just north of Pico Boulevard, is a Los Angeles classic known as a “dingbat.”

You’ve seen them. Perhaps you even live in one. The dingbat is so typically Los Angeles, that in 1971 it attracted the attention of the famous architectural scholar Reyner Banham, who wrote of them in his book, “Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies.”

He described the form as “a two-story walk-up apartment block developed back over the full depth of the site and stuccoed over…. Round the back, away from the public gaze, they display simple rectangular forms and flush smooth surfaces. Skinny steel columns and simple box balconies and extensive overhangs to shelter four or five cars.”

The apartment house where I interviewed Satterfield, Lara and Minkove fit the description perfectly, except the cars are in front, just as they were at the Brentwood dingbat our family lived in many years ago.

Some of the dingbats are really weird, especially the embellishments on the facades. “Everything is there,” Banham wrote, “from Tacoburger Aztec to Wavy-line Moderne, from Cod Cape Cod to unsupported Jaoul vaults, from Gourmet Mansardic to Polynesian gabled and – even in extremity – modern architecture.”

Many a ranch house and bungalow have been torn down to make way for the dingbats. Odd as they are, they became part of the L.A. scene and, as more people flooded in and open space gave way to density, the dingbats provided a home for those uninterested in home ownership or unable to buy one.

In the case of the apartment house on Holt, as with others in Pico-Robertson, the building provided a sense of community, ethnic diversity and a mixture of young and old.

“Our building is a melting pot,” Lara said. “It’s a nice feeling. You come here, and you feel a sense of community.” Or as Minkove put it, “Everyone looks out for each other.”

That sense of community didn’t help when the tenants received a message from the city Planning Department, informing them that the landlord had applied for permission to tear down their building and one next door to permit construction of a 15-unit condominium project.

The tenants had to read through the 24 pages to figure out the message, and even then they were still not quite sure, because the heading on the document said that it was for approval “of a tentative tract map.”

Figuring out the Planning Department language is difficult even for someone like me, who used to write about city agencies for a living. But the tenants soon realized that this one meant their building would be torn down. They tried to find out what was going on and how they could protest.

“We all started out in a state of panic,” Satterfield said. The tenants contacted the office of their councilman, Jack Weiss, and groups representing tenants.

The tenants wanted to know when they would have to move and what they could do to prevent it.

A Weiss staff member asked for a delay in the approval process. Satterfield and other tenants called City Hall.

“You can get six different people in the city and get six different answers,” she said.

I wasn’t surprised. That’s City Hall. Big campaign contributors get an answer in minutes when they call City Hall. And they usually get the answer they want.

As of now, the tenants are in limbo. The project apparently is headed for approval. It may or may not happen, depending on the whim of the building owner.

This is happening all over the city. Each project is examined by the Planning Department, Building and Safety, the Fire Department, the school district, the Department of Water and Power, the Bureau of Street Lighting and the Bureau of Sanitation. As long as a project follows their rules, it’s OK.

Instead of letting these projects coast through the bureaucracy, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council should make preservation of middle-class and low-income rental housing a top city priority. The priority should be written into law.

I often write about this issue because it is determining the shape of our Jewish community. Pico-Robertson is a great neighborhood, with its mixture of young, middle-age and older renters who shop in local markets, eat at local restaurants and pray in neighborhood synagogues. Condo conversions are threatening this way of life.

Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.