Shmuley Boteach invites congressional foe to Shabbat dinner


Rabbi Shumley Boteach invited his opponent in a New Jersey congressional race to Shabbat dinner.

Boteach, the Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in northern New Jersey’s 9th District, made an open invitation to Rep. Bill Pascrell, a Democrat, asking the veteran lawmaker to join in “the weekly Jewish tradition of a Shabbat meal.”

“Every Friday night at our Sabbath table my wife and I host all kinds of people,” Boteach said in his letter, which was published in The Jewish Press. “We love having guests and it would be my honor for us to host you and your family either this coming Friday night or whenever it may suit you, although sooner would be better than later.”

Pascrell’s chief of staff, Ben Rich, told The Hill congressional newspaper that his boss “would gladly accept an invitation to Shabbat dinner.”

The campaign leading to the November election is expected to include a focus on Israel in the predominantly Jewish district.

Pascrell easily defeated Rep. Steve Rothman in a Democratic primary this month pitting two pro-Israel candidates. Rothman, who had changed districts, was seen as an important pro-Israel player because of his position on the armed services subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Barney Frank, author of Wall Street reform, to retire


U.S. Representative Barney Frank, a Democrat who helped to craft the landmark overhaul of financial regulations that bears his name, will not seek re-election in 2012, his office said on Monday.

Frank, 71, one of the most outspoken liberals in Congress, will hold a 1 p.m. EST news conference to discuss the decision, according to his office.

He has represented his Massachusetts district since 1981, and is known for his detailed knowledge of banking and housing regulations, as well as his acerbic wit.

“Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in it,” he told a detractor in 2009.

He was one of the first openly gay politicians to serve at a national level.

Democrats expect to retain control of Frank’s seat as they try to win back control of the House of Representatives in the November 2012 elections.

Frank has said to several aides that he did not want to die in Congress. He has indicated that he would be interested in heading up the Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to media reports.

With then-Senator Christopher Dodd, Frank led a comprehensive overhaul of Wall Street regulations following the 2007-2009 financial crisis. The Dodd-Frank Act, passed in 2010 with little Republican support, was one of the most ambitious legislative efforts of Obama’s first term in office.

Frank’s departure will deprive Democrats of the law’s chief defender at a time when Wall Street and Republican lawmakers are trying to dilute its impact.

Republican presidential candidates argue that it is placing new burdens on the economy while the unemployment rate is stuck at 9 percent, and have vowed to repeal the law even as regulators are still putting it into effect.

Frank has fended off efforts to weaken the law’s consumer protections, but has shown an openness to some of the banking industry’s complaints. Earlier this year, for example, he said a new crackdown on debit-card fees was too harsh.

FEW FRIENDS ON WALL STREET

Still, he will not be missed on Wall Street.

“I think they will cheer that he has taken himself out of the running. I don’t think he had many fans on the Street,” said Ken Polcari, managing director of ICAP Equities.

An advocate of affordable housing, Frank would have had a hand in efforts to reshape the government-owned mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

House Republicans have been trying to unwind the enterprises, but the administration and other policymakers have warned against removing support too quickly given the weak state of the housing market.

Representative Maxine Waters, an even more vocal critic of Wall Street, is next in line to succeed Frank as the top Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, which oversees the economy, housing finance, and the Federal Reserve and other major financial regulators.

Waters faces an ethics investigation following allegations that she broke House rules by trying in 2008 to help a bank in which her husband served on the board of directors.

Frank survived an ethics scandal in 1989 after he admitted hiring a prostitute as a personal aide. Frank apologized and said he had never used official funds.

Democrats say they expect to hold on to Frank’s seat. President Barack Obama in 2008 won 61 percent of the vote in the district, which stretches from upscale Boston suburbs to Fall River, a blue-collar fishing town.

But the district has become more conservative after it was redrawn this year, and one Republican said Frank’s retirement gives his party a better chance of victory in a state where all House seats are currently held by Democrats. The Massachusetts delegation will fall to nine from ten in the 2012 election.

“There is no obvious heir to the throne on the Democratic side. And on the Republican side Sean Bielat who challenged him in 2010 could make a very strong contender,” Republican strategist Todd Domke said.

Frank won 54 percent of the vote in 2010 against Bielat, a political unknown.

James Segel, a former aide, said Frank felt that he had accomplished what he wanted to accomplish in Congress and enjoyed it less now that Democrats do not control the House.

Frank, who publicly acknowledged his homosexuality in 1987, told Reuters in March that he would like to write a history of the gay-rights movement.

Additional reporting by Dave Clarke, Rachelle Younglai and Richard Cowan in Washington, Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Boston and Charles Mikolajczak in New York; Editing by Bill Trott and Vicki Allen

Congress passes funding until March


Congress passed a procedural resolution that sustains government funding until March.

The “continuing resolution” passed Tuesday includes the $2.75 billion in annual defense assistance for Israel. It passed 79-16 in the Senate and 193-165 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

It maintains government funding at 2010 levels. Failure to pass it would have meant that the government would run out of money by midnight.

The Republican minority in the Senate had used parliamentary procedures to block spending bills, in part because Republicans are set to retake the House in January and the party wants to use its new power to slash spending as soon as possible.

Jewish groups are apprehensive that the new Congress will slash “earmarks” for representatives’ districts, which include funding for programs for the poor and elderly favored by the groups.

Additionally, pro-Israel groups are reaching out to new members to keep foreign aid funding at current levels.

Democrats have made it clear they will make funding for Israel a key issue in pusshing back against overall GOP attempts to slash spending in the new Congress.

“The incoming Republican leadership has sent disturbing signals about the future of aid to Israel with its calls for across the board budget cuts without regard to the impact on U.S. allies and interests around the world,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the outgoing chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement.

House approves funding bill including Iron Dome missile system


The U.S. House of Representatives included missile defense assistance for Israel in a massive funding bill.

Included in the $1.1 trillion bill passed Wednesday was $205 million for Iron Dome, a new Israeli short-range missile defense system aimed at containing rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, as well as $200 million for existing joint U.S.-Israel missile defense programs like the Arrow.

“This was a priority of Congress and President Obama, and it is the first funding of its kind for this important short-range rocket and artillery shell defense system,” said Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), who as a defense appropriator helped craft the bill. “This is only the latest example that when it comes to defense, military and intelligence cooperation, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel has never been stronger.”

The Democratic-led House passed the “continuing resolution” 212-206 along partisan lines, mostly as a means of funding the federal government at 2010 levels because the U.S. Senate has failed to pass any appropriations bill.

Senate Republicans, using minority prerogatives, have blocked passage of spending bills as they seek a greater say in the wake of midterm elections in which Democrats will lose control of the House as of January.

Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are now working to pass an omnibus spending bill for 2011 that would incorporate moneys in the “continuing resolution” as well as other funds in President Obama’s budget, including the $3 billion Israel otherwise receives annually in defense assistance.

House of Representatives mourns fire losses


The U.S. House of Representatives mourned the loss of life in Israel’s worst-ever forest fire and pledged to support assistance.

The nonbinding resolution passed unanimously Tuesday “mourns the loss of life and extends condolences to the families affected by the fire in northern Israel” and “supports the Obama Administration’s offer of, and rapid efforts to provide, United States fire fighting assistance to Israel in response to this disaster.”

The resolution, which was sponsored by outgoing Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.), also recognized other countries that have assisted, including Turkey. Pro-Israel lawmakers in recent months have criticized Turkey for its deteriorating ties with Israel.

Fight the Minotaur in the Tax Labyrinth


This past September, the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles, the Zimmer Children’s Museum and representatives of more than 70 other organizations attended a seminar for nonprofits that I conducted at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Like many taxpayers, nonprofit organizations need guidance to comprehend the labyrinth of federal and state tax laws. With the exception of accountants and attorneys, few people absorb the millions of words that make up state and federal tax codes, including rules and regulations. In addition, many nonprofits cannot afford the expense of maintaining counsel to steer them through the thicket of tax laws.

To facilitate seminars that provide vital tax information to nonprofits, I enlist experienced speakers from various federal, state and local agencies to break down our complex tax system into easily understood component parts. At The Federation seminar, experts discussed provisions of the state and federal tax codes that apply to nonprofit organizations, as well as laws that specifically govern their activities.

A rabbi who attended the meeting was unaware that an exemption from sales tax exists for sales of meals and food products furnished or served by any religious organization at a social gathering it hosts. To his delight, the rabbi discovered that the synagogue was eligible for a refund of hundreds of dollars of sales tax reimbursement paid to several restaurants (Revenue & Taxation Code, Section 6363.5).

Marina Arevalo-Martinez, an accountant at the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic, took a particular interest in raffles. She heard one presenter say that under Penal Code Section 320.5 “no eligible organization can hold a raffle unless it has registered with the [state] attorney general’s office to hold raffles.” Arevalo-Martinez also learned that an eligible organization must use at least 90 percent of all gross receipts from raffle ticket sales for charitable or beneficial purposes.

The Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic constantly looks for ways to raise money, and Arevalo-Martinez said the information will enable the agency to sponsor raffles while adhering to the letter of the law.

Federation President John Fishel said, “The seminar provided the staff of The Jewish Federation and the staff of our affiliated agencies with vital information on reporting and compliance.”

But the reality is that in today’s fast-paced environment not every nonprofit organization or charitable contributor has the time to attend a seminar. With this in mind, here are some tax tips from the Board of Equalization and the Franchise Tax Board you might find useful.

Franchise and Income Tax Tips for Donors

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• Confirm that the recipient of your gift is a valid charity before you give. You can do so by looking up the charity on the IRS Web site (” target=”_blank”>www.boe.ca.gov, which features sales and tax rates by county, frequently asked questions, a list of publications, and an online tutorial for sales and use tax.

John Chiang is chair of the California State Board of Equalization and member of the Franchise Tax Board.

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Remember the Roots of the JCCs


Talk about irony.

With the theme "JCCs as Community Builders," representatives from Jewish community centers from throughout the continent will gather at the Century Plaza for four days beginning April 21 for the Jewish Community Centers (JCC) of North America’s 2002 Biennial conference.

This, as Los Angeles’ Jewish Community Centers (JCC) face their worst financial and organizational crisis ever; when, at latest count, three centers are facing closure and the sale of their properties; when, The Jewish Federation and L.A. JCCs are locked in an internecine battle in the press and on their Web sites, and when, leadership of the individual centers feels it has no choice but to pursue autonomy, while the rest of the community looks on with dismay, bewilderment or indifference.

"JCCs as Community Builders." One of the centers slated to be closed, North Valley, is just achieving a sense of healing among its members after receiving international attention three years ago, when five people were wounded there during an anti-Semitic shooting. Another, Silver Lake-Los Feliz, is one of the few outposts of Jewish life and stability in its neighborhood and has served its community for more than 50 years, surviving an attempt to close it 25 years ago.

Sadly, Los Angeles could serve as the case study for a session on "JCCs and Crisis Management."

While the magnitude of the current situation is unprecedented, at various times during its colorful, more than century-long history, Los Angeles’ JCC movement has suffered from inadequate funding and insufficient interest, as well as a struggle for autonomy between neighborhood centers and the central JCC association, and between the central JCC association and The Jewish Federation. In recent months, when JCC members and friends marched outside The Federation building to protest the planned closures, they were walking in the well-worn footsteps of several generations.

It all began with Emil Harris. Born in Prussia in 1839, Harris came to the United States in 1853. After living in New York and San Francisco, he moved to Los Angeles in 1869, got a job as a barkeep and quickly became involved in civic life.

Harris joined the Los Angeles Police Department and acquired a well-deserved reputation for brilliance as a detective. He was honored by the Chinese community for trying to head off the tragic events of 1871, when 20 Chinese residents were massacred downtown. In 1878, Harris was appointed Los Angeles’ first, and so far only, Jewish chief of police.

With his younger brother, Max, Harris became one of the prime movers in the 1887 founding of Los Angeles’ Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA), forerunner of the Jewish community centers movement, which began in Baltimore in 1854. Two hundred and fifty attended the opening banquet, whose reception committee was chaired by Harris, and whose active members were some of the most promising young leaders in the community.

Between 1880 and 1887, Los Angeles was undergoing a transition, with a population growth from 11,000 to 100,000, and a municipal culture shift from a Spanish-Mexican-Western frontier town to Midwest provincial. Unlike the pioneer period, Jews were no longer welcome in the social clubs, like the Jonathan and Los Angeles Athletic, and their children were not invited to dances and other activities. In such times, the YMHA would seem to take on even greater importance, but by 1889, it ceased to exist, perhaps due to an economic downturn and the departure of its founders.

Nonetheless, the population as a whole, and the Jewish population in particular, continued to increase. An influx of Yiddish-speaking, Eastern European-born, working-class Jews, many of them health seekers, caused the Jewish population to grow from 2,500 at the turn of the 20th century to 10,000 by 1912.

In 1911, the Educational Alliance was organized by members of the National Council of Jewish Women for "the moral education and social welfare of the Jewish immigrant," echoing the then-prevailing attitude of noblesse oblige toward assimilation of "greenhorns." The women acquired a building on Temple Street near the present site of the Music Center and renamed their enterprise the Jewish Alliance.

That same year, 1915, a new YMHA was organized, but its members wanted an independent identity and space and stayed away from the Jewish Alliance building. Noting the generous support enjoyed by YMCA, the YMHA members asked if "we Jews are not interested in the Jewish welfare of our boys, young men and adults … there is definitely something wrong in our system, our Jewish body politic."

Simultaneously, the Yiddish-speaking newcomers were moving to East Los Angeles. Los Angeles’ first Jewish community center, the Modern Hebrew School and Social Center, later renamed Soto-Michigan, opened in Boyle Heights in 1924.

"Skipping from area to area, housed in inadequate facilities, always lagging far behind Los Angeles’ phenomenal Jewish population expansion, the centers offered a sorry picture in 1942," noted a 1957 article in Southwest Jewry.

As a result, based on the findings of a National Jewish Welfare Board study of Los Angeles, a centralized Jewish Centers Association (JCA) was established in 1943, with two other centers — West Adams and Beverly-Fairfax — in addition to Soto-Michigan in Boyle Heights and Menorah in City Terrace, reflecting the growth of Jewish neighborhoods beyond the Eastside.

The establishment of JCA was really a new model, because the only other association of its kind at the time was in Boston. It was mandated by The Federation in order to raise personnel standards, provide oversight of funding and provide services on a centralized basis. Not surprisingly there was tension between the individual centers, desirous of autonomy from JCA, and JCA, which, although dependent on it financially, wanted autonomy from The Federation.

The 1957 article in Southwest Jewry continued:

"The JCA facilities, more adequate than they were in 1942, are, because of budget limitations, not yet sufficient to meet the demand of Los Angeles’ growing population. It is our confident prediction, however, that in the years ahead, proper provision will be made to meet all the group work needs of our expanding community."

By the time those words were written, Menorah Center, with its strong Zionist-based, religious-cultural approach, was closed by JCA in 1952 over the angry opposition of local residents, and consolidated with the Soto-Michigan Center, which was more intercultural in its programming. Soto-Michigan’s closure was not long deferred. In both cases, while the overall Eastside Jewish population was diminishing, neither Soto-Michigan nor Menorah had experienced substantial drops in membership.

By then, however, Soto-Michigan had been under attack for several years as a hotbed of subversive, left wing radicalism by state Sen. Jack Tenney, a right-wing Republican and anti-Communist who chaired California’s un-American Activities Committee. As Deborah Dash Moore wrote in her 1994 book, "To the Golden Cities: Pursuing the American Dream in Miami and L.A.": "Amalgamation of the two Jewish community centers serving the Eastside involved more than administrative efficiency … through a reorganization of staff and center board members, also eliminated many radicals and progressives."

Arguably, similar to the situation today, the closure of the Eastside centers, and later West Adams, served to destabilize the Jewish character and culture of those neighborhoods. Centers served as anchors; when Jews saw their community failing to invest in services where they lived, they got the message, intentional or not, that they no longer lived in a Jewish neighborhood.

Looking at more recent history, it is important to note that several Los Angeles JCCs resulted not from the top-down initiatives of professionals, but from grass-roots efforts by isolated Jews in new neighborhoods who banded together to create a locus of Jewish identity for themselves and their children.

Hollywood-Los Feliz JCC, now Silver Lake-Los Feliz JCC, began when Jewish residents of Los Feliz experienced anti-Semitism at a 1936 PTA meeting. By 1951, they had built the current home of the center on Sunset Boulevard and Bates Avenue. Valley Cities JCC began with the self-help efforts of parents who began a day camp — Camp Akiba — in North Hollywood Park in 1950 and then a second weekend camp–Camp Fress-und-Shpiel ("eat and play").

In the early 1970s, a joint JCA-Federation study identified many identical demographic, financial, programmatic, membership and facilities issues facing the community today. As a result, funding was eliminated in 1976 for Hollywood-Los Feliz JCC (which had 841 members at that point, a statistic that would be the envy of all Los Angeles centers today) and for the Israel Levin Senior Adult Center, later the subject of "Number Our Days," the Academy Award-winning documentary based on the work of the late Barbara Myerhoff.

Activists picketed outside The Federation, reversing those decisions, and both centers remain open today, making a difference in the lives of thousands in the intervening years. Unfortunately, in hindsight, few other concrete actions were taken in the past three decades to avert the current situation.

The crisis facing JCCs in America’s second largest Jewish community does not appear on the formal agenda of the Biennial conference. But in informal sessions — in the hallways and coffee klatches where real learning takes place — perhaps new hope and ideas can be gleaned that can help us to put our house back in order and rebuild our community once our guests return home.