Jewish DNC staffer, 27, killed near his home


A young Jewish staffer for the Democratic National Committee was shot dead in an apparent robbery near his home in Washington, D.C.

Seth Conrad Rich, 27, was shot early Sunday morning in the Bloomingdale neighborhood, near the Capitol, about a block from his home.

Police in announcing the killing did not ascribe a motive, but his father, Joel, told the Washington Post that the police believe his son may have been the victim of a botched robbery.

“He wanted to make a difference,” Joel Rich told the newspaper.

Seth Rich, the voter expansion data director for the DNC, worked on databases to help voters identify polling stations, the Washington Post reported. Colleagues told JTA that he was also engaged in Jewish outreach.

“Our hearts are broken with the loss of one of our DNC family members over the weekend,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the DNC chairwoman, said in a statement. “Seth Rich was a dedicated, selfless public servant who worked tirelessly to protect the most sacred right we share as Americans – the right to vote. He saw the great potential of our nation and believed that, together, we can make the world a better place.”

Rich, a native of Omaha, Nebraska, was the boating education director and staff programming director at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin in 2011, according to his LinkedIn profile.

“Seth communicated proactively to facilitate the success of the campers with special needs who were in his class and went above and beyond to provide opportunities for all of my campers to participate successfully in the boating program,” said a reference on the LinkedIn site from the camp’s special needs head, Talia Kravitz.

A colleague and friend, speaking anonymously, said Rich was proud of his Jewish upbringing in Omaha.

LAPD investigating robbery in Pico-Robertson


The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is investigating an incident involving a stolen pickup truck and a stolen purse in the Pico-Robertson area. 

Around 12:30 pm, a suspect, who LAPD described as a “black male, six-feet-tall and weighing 180-lbs, wearing blue jeans and a dark shirt,” allegedly mugged a woman, who has not been identified, near Pico boulevard and Crest drive.

He “jumped out of a stolen car,” before approaching the woman and stealing her purse, K-9 Platoon LAPD Sgt. Scott Davis told the Journal. The suspect remains “outstanding,” Davis said.

Police arrived to the scene immediately, responding to a telephone call from the victim, but not before the suspect took off on foot. Despite searching approximately 20 backyards of homes in the area for the suspect–with police closing off streets around between Pico boulevard and Cashio street, and Crest drive and Livonia avenue–police were unable to find the suspect.

Several K-9 dogs assisted with the manhunt, and police ordered residents to remain inside during the search.

The car was stolen from outside the West Los Angeles area. 

At approximately 4:30, police were inspecting the stolen vehicle, which the suspect had left behind in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, Davis said. 

Davis hopes the car will lead authorities to the suspect. 

“Hopefully his prints or his DNA will come back and we will be able to apprehend the suspect at a later date,” Davis said. “That will make everyone feel better about that.” 

Jewish Beverly Hills couple robbed at gunpoint


A quiet Shabbat dinner at the Beverly Hills home of Samuel and Diana Hirt was interrupted May 30 when, after answering knocks at their front door, the couple were overrun by three masked intruders, one of whom shot Diana Hirt in the leg, according to police and a family friend.

The three men, at least one of whom brandished a handgun, led the older couple through the house, took valuables, shot Hirt in the leg, and tied up her and Samuel Hirt before fleeing eastbound on Doheny Road in a vehicle, the Beverly Hills Police Department said.

After struggling to untie himself, Samuel Hirt rushed to the phone and called the police. He and his wife were taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where the latter is still recovering from what is said to be a non-life-threatening wound.

Rabbi Mordechai Kirschenbaum of Chabad in the Hills, which leads a regular minyan at the Hirt home in Trousdale Estates, said he first heard about the burglary when he was walking up to the couple’s house the following morning, expecting to lead Shabbat services. He had been there the night before, leading the Shabbat evening minyan, which let out at 7:30 p.m., only one hour before the home invasion.

“When I walked up with my kids, we were greeted by a television crew,” Kirschenbaum told the Journal. “Suddenly people started coming out of their houses. They were crying and upset.”

Kirschenbaum immediately walked to the hospital to find out what happened.

“They said [to the intruders], ‘Take whatever you need. Please just leave us alone,” Kirschenbaum said, relating his conversation with Samuel Hirt. “They have a sefer Torah [Torah scroll] in their house. They were laughing that that's the most valuable thing they have at home.” The burglars did not steal the Torah.

He said that Diana Hirt is expected to make a full recovery.

“It blows my mind,” Kirschenbaum added. “They are the nicest, kindest people. Everybody loves them.”

Police spokesman Lt. Lincoln Hoshino said no one is in custody and police are still trying to identify suspects.

“We don't have a whole lot,” Hoshino said. “We are working on it.”

Guerilla filmmaker brings verite ‘Pleasure’ to robbery


Josh Safdie is riding high. He has just returned from the south of France, where his first feature, “The Pleasure of Being Robbed,” had the distinction of being the only American entry in the Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. “I asked them out of curiosity what other American films were chosen, and they said that ours was the only American entry,” the 24-year-old filmmaker said.

“I thought maybe this was some political ploy for France to further embarrass America, but actually they thought the movie represented freedom. When we were making it, I never thought that this is going to be a movie about freedom, but they thought the film represented the American independent spirit of yesteryear.”

This was not the director’s first trip to the French Riviera. “I went to Cannes when I was 8 years old, with my father,” Safdie recalled. “We ended up renting a Jet Ski, and we ran out of gas out in the middle of the Mediterranean, so my memory of Cannes was being stuck in the Mediterranean waiting for a boat. And it’s pretty much the same experience going to the festival, being stuck in the middle of this big sea of people waiting for a boat to come. But it was nice.”

“The Pleasure of Being Robbed” follows the daily exploits of Eleonore, a lost young woman who steals compulsively, seemingly without thought or reason. Whether it’s purses, a bag full of kittens, car keys or grapes from a fruit vendor — Eleonore feels compelled to grab it.

The 16 mm film is shot in a cinema verite style, much like the early films of John Cassavetes, and although it seems largely improvised, Safdie was working from a script.

Television: Will Shabbat dinner drama hold ‘Nine’ viewers captive?


Rabbi Kates and his wife, Sheryl, recently invited their doctor-son and his girlfriend of two years to Shabbat dinner. Nothing too out of the ordinary there — unless you consider the fact that the couple is not married, although the young woman is pregnant and they broke up during a 52-hour crisis where they were held hostage at a bank. And did we mention the Shabbat dinner took place on a soundstage and the rabbi’s wife is played by JoBeth Williams?
You gotta love sweeps month!

The new series, “The Nine,” created by siblings Hank (“Without a Trace”) and K.J. Steinberg (“Judging Amy”), tells the story of nine strangers at a L.A. bank and a robbery that will “only take five minutes” — until, in TV fashion, something goes horribly wrong. The flashbacks — very small ones that lead every episode — only hint to the whole story of what happened during the 52-hour standoff.

This month, the ABC drama will air something rare in the world of television: a Shabbat dinner complete with accurately pronounced blessings, nonstereotypical portrayals of Jewish parents who don’t kvetch throughout a scene and a cutie-patootie (read: not nebbishy) Jewish doctor played by Scott Wolf (“Party of Five”). His Judaism wasn’t put out there as a passing mention, neither was it over-the-top, as many sitcoms are apt to do.

In the first episode, we learned of Dr. Jeremy Kates’ religious background after a funeral for one of the hostages who was killed in the bank. (As a result of the hostage situation, the survivors create a sort of “family.”)
“Jews bring food,” he tells mourning younger sister Franny Rios (Camille Guaty), as he hands her a very large basket. “It’s what we do … helps stuff down our feelings.”

In stark contrast to past TV seasons, “The Nine” joins only a handful of curret shows (all dramas) — including CBS’s “3 lbs.”; NBC’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and “Heroes,” and ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” — with characters who have proclaimed their Jewishness. (Oddly enough, the overtly Jewish sitcom character is pretty MIA right now.)

The folks at ABC describe the plot of “The Nine” as “one of hope and rebirth, as the characters continue to re-invent themselves in a positive way or are haunted by fateful decisions from which they’re still struggling to recover.”

The audience finds out what decisions haunt Jeremy and his pregnant girlfriend, hospital social worker Lizzie Miller (Jessica Collins), in the sixth episode, airing Nov. 22, titled, “The Outsiders.” Lizzie doesn’t tell Jeremy she’s pregnant until days after the hostage situation — although the two had been talking about getting engaged beforehand.

Yes, Jeremy is a flawed character (he sleeps with Franny after the funeral), but it is a TV show and, as Rabbi Paul Kipnes, of Reform Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, said, “Everybody has tsuris, otherwise it wouldn’t be interesting. [Jeremy] is an accomplished Jewish doctor, bright, handsome, outgoing, confident — and profoundly human.”

Kipnes, a big fan of the show, said the Kates’ portrayal of a Jewish family “was refreshing. [In the previews,] I saw something about Shabbat and thought, ‘This was good.’ [Jeremy] has lunch with his mom, who is not neurotic and doesn’t shriek, shout ‘oy gevalt’ or pressure him,” Kipnes continued. “She speaks to him out of love. His father starts to pressure him a little bit during Shabbat dinner, but then he just stops and listens … this is not Woody Allen.”

When Jeremy does tell his parents that Lizzie is pregnant, his father replies, “I’m at once overjoyed and heartbroken.”

The guilt resting on Jeremy’s shoulders is immense. First, his impatience with an ATM line led him to bring Lizzie with him into the bank (tinted windows prevented those outside from seeing the situation unfold inside). Second, when two of the hostages are shot, he is unable to save either of them – and we later see how this effects his post-hostage surgeries.

Further, the group was taken hostage on a Friday, and Jeremy tells Lizzie as they sit terrified in the bank, “My parents will be expecting us for Friday night dinner.” Jeremy also can’t seem to open up to his parents, who want so much to know what happened.

“We have a crisis, and then its over,” Kipnes said. “And in a sense, the world and family and friends want people to get back to life. After a tragedy, we have to create a new normal.”

“The Nine’s” clever writing and flushed-out characters will draw you in if you start watching. And despite the dark storyline, the show itself does have moments of humor, as when Jeremy offers to help Franny deal with a situation at her nephew’s Catholic school.

“I’m Jewish,” he tells her. “I have no fear of nuns.”

“The Nine” airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. If you want to catch up, you can watch past episodes online.

For more information on “The Nine,” or to watch episodes for free, visit www.abc.com.

Faults and Failures


Last February, the head of the Mossad lost his cell phone. He left it in his car — that’s right, the head of Israel’s renowned top secret spy agency left his cell phone in his car. When he returned, he found someone had bashed his windows and stolen it. On it were the numbers of, well, everyone on whom Israel’s security and defense relies.

“The robbers reportedly broke into the car when it was parked in Tel Aviv and could easily have planted a bomb had they wanted,” Israeli Army Radio reported.

Mossad chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Meir Dagan contacted his cellular service company and had the phone’s memory erased, so in the end all he suffered was embarrassment and of course the royal pain of reprogramming a new cell.

I recall this story as the nation awaits the report of The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, also known as the 9/11 Commission. This is the bipartisan effort President George W. Bush’s White House initially opposed, but eventually chartered under pressure from the families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. The committee has already made public certain pieces of the report, and has made clear that we should expect no shocking, other-foot-dropping revelations when the full report is released July 21.

Open societies thrive on open inquiry. Saudi Arabia held no public independent hearings into why so many Sept. 11 hijackers devolved from its soil. But Israel’s intelligence community has regularly been the subject of commissions, reports, restructuring and open criticism.

The most well-known example is the Agranat Inquiry Commission, which investigated why Israel was caught by surprise by Arab armies in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

“For the nation as a whole, the major instrument of therapy was an inquiry commission,” writes Abraham Rabinovich in his recent and gripping, “The Yom Kippur War” (Schocken, 2004). It was clear to then-Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan that only such a commission could “restore public confidence in the government and the army” — even though both leaders knew full well their own necks were at stake, too. Within three weeks of the cease-fire, the five-member commission began its work. Within the year, its findings called for six high-level resignations, including that of Eli Zeira as chief of intelligence.

There is no indication that the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation will be anywhere near as far-reaching, or as finger-pointing. For postwar Israelis, accountability was therapeutic. For post-Sept. 11 Americans, the language of therapy has replaced actual accountability. Former CIA Director George Tenet left his post even as the president heaped him with praises. Analysts whose analysis was clearly wrong, politicians whose reactions were clearly lethargic — we are told they all tried their best or did their darndest. Listening to the president and many Democrats as well, I began to wonder what they were protecting: our country or George Tenet’s self-esteem?

The Agranat Commission did not seek vengeance, nor did it make innocents of wrongdoers.

Beyond assigning blame, Agranat also sought structural changes in the Israeli intelligence community. Such will also be the main focus of the 9/11 Commission.

“The system is broken,” Rep. Jane Harman (D-El Segundo) told me, emphatically, when I met her a month ago at her field office.

Harman, a centrist Democrat, is a ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee and helped spearhead all House actions in response to the Sept. 11 attacks as ranking member on the panel’s Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security.

Speaking of the intelligence failures that led up to our invasion of Iraq, she said, “Having now carefully studied the intelligence the intelligence was wrong…. This was a screw up, yes.”

The same system helped keep us in the dark about Sept. 11. “Sept. 11 was a failure to connect the dots,” Harmon said. “With Iraq and WMD, there were too few dots connected to the wrong conclusion.”

Harmon said she supports what is expected to be a centerpiece of the 9/11 report: the appointment of a director of national intelligence, who will coordinate intelligence gatherings from some 15 different agencies with a combined budget of more than $30 billion.

Interestingly enough, Israel’s Agranat Commission called for just such a post, as have numerous Israeli commissions and reports looking into the country’s intelligence lapses over the years. The most recent recommendation came this year in the Steinetz Report, which investigated the failure of Israeli intelligence to accurately assess Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons and missile delivery systems.

But Israel has never followed through on this recommendation, and there’s no indication that the American public will clamor for that change now.

“Israeli national security decision making could probably benefit from the presence of such an adviser,” wrote security analyst Yossi Alpher, “But at the end of the day, no intelligence service is immune to failure.”

Harmon and others will have to convince us how adding more names to a flow chart will make us safer. Without a stronger culture of accountability — people made to feel bad, even, yes, fired — I doubt it will. Meanwhile, I keep thinking of that top-security cell phone, and how even the best intelligence experts can leave us a car window away from disaster.

A Tale of Two Cities


On Oct. 14, Joseph Javaheri, a Jewish man from Pico-Robertson was tending the counter at Avalon Discount, a grocery-slash-everything store in the area patrolled by the LAPD’s Newton Division — considered Los Angeles’ third worst neighborhood in terms of crime.

At 8 p.m., closing time, Javaheri, 59, had already locked one of the security gates, and was in the process of locking the other, when two black males in their mid-20s forced their way into the store. One lingered at the entrance; the other dived across the counter and stuck his hand in the open cash register, pulling out a fistful of cash. He jumped back toward the entrance, which was only a couple of feet away from the register. As he and his accomplice started to make their getaway, Javaheri accosted them in an effort to get the cash back, according to some sources. One of the men took out a handgun and shot Javaheri at point-blank range in the chest.

Javaheri was dead. The men got away with less than $100. The murderers remain at large.

For those incubated in the middle-class comfort of West Los Angeles, gang violence is often just a recurring headline in the Los Angeles Times, but Javaheri’s murder is a reminder — to the Jewish community at least — that the effects of South Los Angeles’ festering mess of crime are not quarantined. While the problems of South Los Angeles — such as poverty, unemployment, gang violence, drugs, illegal weapons — are many and the solutions few, many Jewish groups feel that ignoring them is only to our detriment, and that it is a religious imperative for the Jews of West Los Angeles to move out of their comfort zone and start taking responsibility for the larger community that they live in for the good of the city.

In 1990, crossed the Iranian border illegally, under threat of death, in order to join his wife, Farideh, and four children who had immigrated to the States two years earlier from Iran. Javaheri was traditional. He educated all his children at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles. He was a hard-working man, and spent many years working in Avalon Discount, until his children convinced him that it was not safe there, and so instead he joined the fabric business of his oldest son, Payam. But, with three children of marriageable age (his second daughter, Parisa, is already married with two children), Javaheri decided that his family would need extra cash for the potential celebrations. He took on a second job, returning at night to Avalon Discount, albeit to a different location according to Shawn Soleimani, the lawyer hired by the family to investigate whether there is a civil case against the store owners, the property owners and possibly the city for inadequate security.

“My father wanted us to be happy, and he always went out of his way to provide us with everything,” said Zacharia, Javaheri’s 25-year-old son. “His family always came first, and he always had a lev tov [a good heart] and he leaves behind a shem tov [a good name].”

But Javaheri’s murder also leaves behind a number of questions — why did this senseless murder of a good man have to happen? Why were there not policeman tending the heavily trafficked area where Avalon Discount was located? Why did the 20-year-old men think that robbery and murder were acceptable behaviors? And why was this not an isolated incident? Javaheri’s murder was the 42nd for Newton Division since the beginning of the year. His store was the 800th property robbed in the area in the same time frame. Although those statistics are horrifying, this is only the third-worst neighborhood in Los Angeles. Newton Division patrols Compton and Watts, where gang violence prevails in a far greater way, and where murders and robberies happen more frequently. Thus, the question becomes: Why isn’t anybody doing anything about it?

“After a month of reading the front page of [people being killed] in Iraq, the Congo and Afghanistan, and then turning to the California section and seeing on page six that there were 12 people killed over the weekend, I was wondering why isn’t this a front-page story,” asked Gary Ratner, executive director of the American Jewish Congress’s Pacific Southwest region. “People travel 10,000 miles because they are concerned about human rights violations, but they don’t seem to be concerned about what is happening in their own backyards.”

Ratner is now trying to raise $50,000 for gang intervention programs in South Los Angeles. He is working with the Rev. Leonard Jackson, the assistant pastor at the First AME Church of Los Angeles, on a violence intervention program, and his organization is also joining up with the Progressive Jewish Alliance’s (PJA) Jewish Community Justice Project, which trains community volunteers to be mediators who go out to the violent parts of the city and put juvenile first-time offenders, their parents and the victims of the crime together in a room and get them to agree to some kind of settlement of the case.

“Statistics show that 50 percent of kids who go through this mediation are not recidivist,” said Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the PJA. “We don’t have any delusions of grandeur about the program, but we do know that it works on an individual level.”

Both Ratner and Sokatch told The Journal that they believed that Jews have a moral obligation to be concerned with what is happening in the larger community. Other groups have also taken on the challenge — KOREH L.A. tries to better educate the children in all neighborhoods of Los Angeles by increasing levels of literacy, MAZON and Wilshire Boulevard Temple have pantries where the poorest families in the city can pick up food.

“Jews have an obligation to turn outward and be guided by our ethics in working to build a better community for everybody,” Sokatch said.

But if mediation and intervention programs are going to work to overhaul South Los Angeles, they need to be conducted on a much bigger scale.

“We need help here,” 9th District City Councilwoman Jan Perry. “I was at a press conference two months ago, where kids on skid row told adults that they were sick of having to walk to school through the violence, condoms and syringes. In some ways, people in other parts of the city are divorced from the level of violence that occurs. The very fact that this is the first time you are calling me should tell you something.”

Perry is working on a number of projects to improve the neighborhood. She increased the amount of reward money (now $25,000) that is offered to people who provide information that will help solve violent crimes. She has negotiated a new $500,000 soccer turf to be built so that youths aged 9-15 could have an outlet in sport, instead of crime; affordable home ownership programs; and a new $19.5 million shopping center to be built that has a local hiring goal of 50 percent for new permanent jobs. The idea of all of these programs is to make residents of South Los Angeles feel invested in their community so that they will look after it.

South Los Angeles is a part of town bereft of all the corporate landmarks that those on the westside take for granted like Ralphs, Gap or Barnes & Noble. Instead, the streets are populated with decrepit, no name-liquor stores, beauty parlors and lunch trucks. On a Sunday night, the small strip mall where Avalon Discount is located was hopping with families washing their clothes at the laundromat, people eating at the doughnut shop and buying last minute groceries at the bodega. Children were ambling around near one homeless man lying on the pavement with his grimy quilt pulled high over his head; a homeless woman was mumbling loudly about a man who attacked her. Most people approached for interviews only spoke Spanish. One 14-year-old African American girl told The Journal that she was not aware that a murder had happened in the store next to where she was sitting, but she had seen a murder victim herself one morning as she was walking to school.

“We need more police here,” said the girl, who did not want to give her name. “And they need to be staying in the street corners, not circling around.”

A greater police presence in the area is something that many people think is vital to keeping crime down, but funds for more police are hard to come by. Fifth District City Councilman Jack Weiss told the Journal that he thinks a large part of the problem is that many police resources go in tending to false burglar alarms on the Westside.

“Only 6 percent of the homes in Los Angeles have private burglar alarms, and 90 percent of the time when the alarms go off it is a false alarm,” said Weiss, who has tried, unsuccessfully, to change the response policy of the Los Angeles Police Department at City Council meetings.

Perry concurred with Weiss that more police are needed.

“If I had to send a message to the people who might read this article, it would be to please impress upon all of your government and elected officials to seek funding for additional police,” she said. “We are being disproportionately affected in this district.”

Currently, the Javaheri family is waiting for their father’s killers to be bought to justice, but they also wanted to make sure that their father’s legacy was publicized. Ironically, what their father believed in most was something that his own murder belied completely.

“My father hated sinat chinam,” said Zacharia Javaheri, referring to the biblical injunction against senseless hatred. “He was always concerned about bringing about ahavat chinam [unconditional love], so we need to fill up the big gap that he left by increasing our kindness and charity.”

And perhaps some of that charity should find its way south of 10 freeway.

“We should never, ever, turn our back on the larger community,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City. “We have an obligation to help.”

“The extremes of rich and poor are only getting more extreme in Los Angeles,” Weiss said. “We live in a town that embodies the tale of two cities.”