Clash at California capitol leaves at least 10 injured


At least 10 people were injured at a rally outside the California state capitol in Sacramento on Sunday as members of a white supremacist group clashed with counter-protesters, authorities said.

The melee erupted during a rally staged by the Traditionalist Worker Party, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist extremist group.

One of its leaders, Matt Parrott, said the party had called the demonstration in part to protest against violence that has broken out outside recent rallies by Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

The incident may fuel concerns about the potential for violent protests outside the major party conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia this summer and in the run-up to the Nov. 8 presidential election.

“With the eyes of the world's media on both Philadelphia and Cleveland, no doubt there will be significant protests,” said Democratic strategist Steve Schale. “The extreme rhetoric, combined with the nonstop media attention, does encourage these kinds of events.”

In Sacramento, when the white supremacists arrived at the capitol building at about noon on Sunday, “counter-protesters immediately ran in – hundreds of people – and they engaged in a fight,” said George Granada, a spokesman for the Capitol Protection Service division of the California Highway Patrol.

In announcing the counter-protest, a group called Anti-Fascist Action Sacramento said on its website that it had a “moral duty” to deny a platform for “Nazis from all over the West Coast” to voice their views.

“We have a right to self defense. That is why we have to shut them down,” Yvette Felarca, a counter-protester wearing a white bandage on her head, told reporters after the clash.

The Sacramento Fire Department said 10 patients were treated at area hospitals for multiple stabbing and laceration wounds.

None of the injuries were life-threatening and there were no immediate reports of arrests, Granada said. The building was placed on lockdown.

Matthew Heimbach, chairman of Traditionalist Worker Party, said his group had expected violence even though it planned a peaceful rally and had a permit.

“We were there to support nationalism. We are white nationalists,” Heimbach told Reuters. “We were there to take a stand.”

Representatives of the Sacramento police could not be reached immediately for further comment.

Video footage on social media showed dozens of people, some of them wearing masks and wielding what appeared to be wooden bats, racing across the capitol grounds and attacking others.

Photos on social media showed emergency officials treating a victim on the grass in the area as police officers stood guard.

The melee comes about four months after four people were stabbed during a scuffle between members of the Ku Klux Klan and counter-protesters near a KKK rally in Anaheim, California.

In recent months Trump has blamed “professional agitators” and “thugs” for violence that has broken out at many of the Republican candidate's rallies.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, last month, anti-Trump protesters threw rocks and bottles at police officers who responded with pepper spray. A month earlier, some 20 demonstrators were arrested outside a Trump rally in Costa Mesa, California. 

Man rips down swastika display in Sacramento


A non-Jewish man tore down a swastika display from a home in Sacramento.

“I felt compelled to do what I did,” Robert Dixon was quoted as saying by the Sacramento Bee on Tuesday after ripping down the display the previous night in the suburban River Park neighborhood.

The display featured American and Israeli flags adorned with swastikas. Dixon left a Palestinian flag flying, the Bee reported.

State lawmakers had been working to have the display removed through legal channels since it was erected several weeks ago.

Dixon told the newspaper that he and the homeowner exchanged a few words as Dixon tore down the display.

“I called him a coward and he called me a violent extremist something,” Dixon said.

On Tuesday, the homeowner posted a new sign written in blue letters reading, “Terrorism? Violent Intolerant Extremism fanatical heretical authoritarian racist.”

Dixon said he also protested at the University of California, Davis, in January after the student senate adopted a resolution calling for the University of California to divest from companies doing business with Israel.

On Monday night, hundreds gathered in Sacramento on the steps of the California state capitol for a rallyagainst anti-Semitism and recent anti-Semitic incidents.

Sacramento approves sister-city relationship with Ashkelon despite opposition


Sacramento City Council voted unanimously to approve a sister-city relationship with Ashkelon, despite opposition from pro-Palestinian organizations.

The Tuesday night vote came after testimony from opponents and supporters, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Some of the 250 spectators crowded into council chambers held Israeli flags; others wore T-shirts reading, “Got human rights? Palestinians don’t,” or carried signs that read that read “I am a Palestinian Sacramentan, therefore I cannot visit Ashkelon on a sister-city delegation.”

The California capital already has a sister-city relationship with nine cities, including what it calls “Bethlehem, Palestine,” and has been discussing adding an Israeli town for several years. The council twinned with Bethlehem in 2009 and at the time agreed to choose a city from Israel as well.

The sister-city program involves cultural, educational and people-to-people exchanges.

Groups that opposed the twinning included No Human Rights, No Sister City; Palestinian Americans for Peace; and the Sacramento Jewish Voice for Peace. Stand With Us and Christians United For Israel circulated letters and petitions in support of the plan.

Editorial Cartoon: The Sacramento Chainsaw Massacre


The Berlin Wall of education


The first line in the letter I received from my local school district screamed: “Our children need your help now!” Apparently, the district is facing yet another round of budget cuts from Sacramento and is turning to parents to “raise at least $1,000,000 by the end of March … TO PROTECT TEACHER JOBS.”

To emphasize the urgency of the request, a news release with the dramatic headline “Schools in State of Financial Emergency” from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson was enclosed with the donation request letter. The news release explained, “There’s simply no other way to describe it: This is an emergency. … We have 174 districts teetering on the financial brink. If this isn’t an emergency, I don’t know what is.”

If you’re the parent of a child in a public school and haven’t received a similar letter yet, I suspect you will soon.

I dutifully sent a substantial check to the Save Our Schools fund. However, the truth of the matter is I don’t want to protect every teacher’s job. In fact, based on the experiences I have had to date, I only want to protect around three out of four of their jobs, but teacher tenure rules make it nearly impossible to fire an ineffective teacher.

Under current California law, the process to dismiss a “permanent certificated employee” consists of about a dozen separate stages culminating in a Superior Court case and then a trip to the Court of Appeal. Even Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines acknowledged, “Too many ineffective teachers are falling into tenured positions — the equivalent of jobs for life.” Not surprisingly, school districts rarely even attempt to terminate a teacher, and then only in cases where the teacher’s behavior is egregious. Sadly, simply being a teacher who can’t teach does not constitute “egregious” behavior. (This explains why between 1995 and 2005, only 112 Los Angeles tenured teachers out of 43,000 faced termination.)

Let me interrupt this litany of statistics with a personal story. Last year, my then-11-year-old son had a young, stellar English teacher. Or, as Jake put it, “Ms. B. was the best teacher I have ever had.” When I saw this bright, engaging, creative teacher in action at Back to School Night, I could see why she won my son’s best-teacher award. Fast-forward to last year’s budget cuts, and this excellent low-teacher-on-the-totem-pole received a pink slip. Her students hastily arranged lemonade stands to raise money to “Save Ms. B.,” but because the teachers union rules value seniority over performance, Ms. B. lost her job while far less talented teachers were retained.

There is this unspoken assumption underlying the teachers union’s fixation with treating unequal teachers equally that it is impossible to objectively distinguish between good and bad teachers. Yet, somehow we have no problem discerning the difference between good and bad doctors, gardeners, baby-sitters, accountants, friends, television shows and spouses. Ask anyone to name the exceptional teachers they were privileged to study under over the course of their lifetime, and I guarantee they will rattle off a list in an instant. Even a bunch of sixth-graders were able to figure out that something about Ms. B. was unique. I find it ironic that a group of people who spend their careers grading others refuse to be graded.

If the majority of teachers are good, and a minority are bad, why raise a stink? Because the evidence that bad teachers damage all of our students is overwhelming.

“If an ineffective teacher isn’t dealt with, children can be harmed. They don’t just bounce back,’’ said William Sanders, a senior research fellow with the University of North Carolina and founder of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System.

Eric Hanushek, senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and an expert on education policy concurs: “Let’s say in elementary school, you have one bad teacher. It’s one-twelfth of a student’s education … and a few bad teachers can put you quite a ways back — so much so that you might have trouble catching up. The difference between a good and a bad teacher is one year of learning in an academic year. A good teacher can get 1.5 years of learning growth; a bad teacher gets .5 years of learning growth. If you get a few bad teachers in a row, a student’s life is altered dramatically.

“Teachers are faced with classes that are very heterogeneous — some students are very behind, and some students are way ahead. … The future of the school is hurt because you mix these students up, and when paired with a bad teacher, they end up dragging everyone to average.”

Our schools play teacher roulette each year, and because it is politically incorrect to say that teachers should be subject to the same rules of employment as the rest of us — reward excellence, fire the incompetent, enact reasonable safeguards to prevent capricious terminations — we let them play.

Today, I am writing another check — to StudentsFirst, an organization started by Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public schools, dedicated to putting “students’ needs before those of special interests.”

Tenure has become the Berlin Wall of education: a seemingly impenetrable barrier constructed and maintained by the 325,000 members of the California Teachers Association. It is time for the 12 million California public school parents to form a union of our own. It is time to say to the California teachers union: “Tear down this wall.”

The Siege of Sacramento’s Castle Incumbent


I hear you knocking


State Assembly hopeful is a political and personal bridge builder


When Robert J. Blumenfield was 12, he covered the 1980 Democratic and Republican conventions as a reporter for a youth-oriented magazine, and he has been hooked on politics since.

In June, Blumenfield, 40, always addressed as Bob, won the Democratic primary to represent the 40th Assembly District in Sacramento, which in this heavily Democratic enclave in the San Fernando Valley is considered tantamount to election.

The Journal met with the candidate in a quiet coffee shop, close to the Van Nuys office of veteran Congressman Howard Berman, where Blumenfield’s multiple duties as district director include serving as liaison to the Jewish community.

To Blumenfield’s own surprise, he won the primary outright by 53 percent against three opponents in an Assembly district that includes Van Nuys, Northridge, Canoga Park and Woodland Hills.

The campaign to succeed the termed-out incumbent Lloyd Levine was acrimonious, fueled by chief opponent Stuart Waldman’s charges that Blumenfield’s father and Berman had funneled large contributions to the winning candidate through a nominally independent committee.

With national attention focused at the time on the Democratic presidential contest between Sen. Barack Obama, the first viable black presidential candidate, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, local political and social analysts took a special interest in Blumenfield’s family life.

His wife, Kafi, is black, has a law degree from UCLA and is now president and CEO of Liberty Hill, a foundation working for social, racial and economic equality in Los Angeles County.

Bill Boyarsky, a Journal columnist, moderated a debate among the Assembly candidates at a synagogue and filed a report on truthdig.com.

“Bob Blumenfield is white, Jewish and chairs the Valley Advisory Board of the Anti-Defamation League,” Boyarsky wrote. “His wife is African American. They live across the street from his parents. She was in the audience at the synagogue. Twenty-five years ago, this would have been impossible.”

Then, pointing to Obama’s campaign, Boyarsky observed, “It could be that race relations in America are taking a new turn, unfamiliar to those of us who see everything through the prism of mid- and late- 20th century conflict.”

Kafi Blumenfield touched on the same topic, though suggesting that the “new turn” still had some way to go.

Speaking at Liberty Hill’s Upton Sinclair dinner, she reminisced, “After I arrived in Los Angeles, I met a wonderful man. His name is Bob Blumenfield. We got married…. We have a beautiful baby, who I hope is home asleep right now.

“Last month, I was trying to find a part-time baby sitter, and I got a call from our search agency. ‘Mrs. Blumenfield,’ the agent said, ‘would you hire a black?’

“Bob and I face a lot of challenges building bridges between his heritage and mine. Our daughter, Nia, will also face challenges of dealing with racism and anti-Semitism…. What community does my daughter belong to? She is black, and she’s Jewish. At her day care center, the kids speak Spanish.”

Nia is now two-and-a-half years old and, said her father, is being raised “100 percent Jewish and 100 percent African American.”

To cement the Jewish part, Nia had a baby conversion ceremony, conducted by a Reform rabbi. A little later, the parents held a baby naming ceremony for “Ruth” at the 212-year- old Hebrew Congregation Synagogue in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, where some of the mother’s relatives live.

Asked how the respective families felt about the marriage, Bob Blumenfield said, “The reaction was generally positive, but there were a few hiccups. Our parents were very supportive.”

On the campaign trail, the interracial aspect tended to be a plus rather than a minus, and during debates the most hostile remark came from a questioner who wanted to know whether Blumenfield was loyal to the United States or to Israel.

Blumenfield was born in Brooklyn, but was raised in Scarsdale and celebrated his bar mitzvah at Beth Am Shalom, which he described as a Conservative/Reconstructionist temple. His father is a still-practicing psychiatrist and his mother a social worker.

“It was a mixed marriage,” said Blumenfield. “My father was a Republican and my mother a Democrat.” Eventually, mother and son brought the father over to their side.

After graduating from Duke University with a degree in public policy, Blumenfield headed for the nation’s capital in 1989 and landed a job as an aide to Sen. Bill Bradley, a New Jersey Democrat.

He moved on to become legislative director of Berman’s office in Washington and, following the 1994 Northridge earthquake, focused on getting emergency relief for the stricken area.

Blumenfield got an even closer look at Los Angeles politics as government affairs director for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy between 1996 and 2000.

“It’s there I got to know a lot of political leaders, like Zev [Yaroslavsky] and Antonio [Villaraigosa], and also learned the difference between Sacramento and Washington politics,” he said.

Blumenfield made another switch in 2000 (“All my life decisions seem to coincide with presidential election cycles,” he observed) and became the district director for Berman’s congressional office in Van Nuys.

Surrounded by politics and politicians, Blumenfield had considered for a long time running for public office. After establishing a family, persuading his parents to leave the East Coast, and joining Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, he felt “rooted enough” to run for the Assembly seat.

If elected, one of his top priorities will be California’s “quality of life,” especially in upgrading the state’s infrastructure. “Every one dollar invested in infrastructure adds seven times that amount to the general economy,” he said.

Fundamentally, though, “everything begins and ends with the budget,” Blumenfield said, and he advocates eliminating the requirement for a two-thirds majority to pass the state budget, moving from a one-year to a two-year budget cycle and possible modifications of Proposition 13.

His Republican opponent in November is Armineh Chelebian, whose parents came to the United States from Iran in 1978 and who is of Armenian descent.

She is an accountant and describes herself as a mother, grandmother, pro-Israel and an optimist used to overcoming obstacles. “I am not a partisan politician,” she said. “I want to focus on the issues and serve the community.”

The Journal asked Howard Welinsky, the dean of Southern California Democrats and chair of Democrats for Israel, for his evaluation of Blumenfield.

Welinsky, who campaigned actively for Blumenfield in the primary, described the candidate as “very smart, experienced and thoughtful … in today’s world of blogs, it’s very hard to find someone like him.”

Welinsky added, “I favor candidates who are versed in public policy but realize that it takes politics to achieve their goals. Bob is one of the few who combines these qualities.”

A dangerous and precedent-setting intrusion


The next few weeks will be the moment of truth for Assembly Bill 624, the so-called, “Foundation Diversity and Transparency Act,” as it comes before the state Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee chaired by State Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles).

The bill is an unprecedented intrusion by government into the realm of charitable giving. While purporting to promote “transparency” in terms of who is giving to whom, in fact it is the first step in setting government-mandated priorities as to where charitable dollars should go.

The Greenlining Institute, a decidedly left-of-center Berkeley-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to “empower communities of color,” are the drafters of this bill. Greenlining claims only to want to track where large foundations’ dollars go. It has rarely discussed what the real motivation behind AB 624 is — to ultimately direct where charitable dollars go. In a televised discussion of the bill last year, Greenlining Institute’s associate director, Orson Aguilar, made a telling admission:

“We think that foundations have a lot of power in society today. So what we want is to make sure that foundation dollars are reaching our communities so that’s basically what we’re asking for … equal dollar amounts.”

As the first step in that effort, Greenlining’s bill mandates that the race, ethnicity and gender of large foundations’ staff and board members must be made public, as well as the race, ethnicity and sexual orientation of the board and staff of grantee organizations and of every business contact that the foundations have. (AB 624 passed the state Assembly in January; that iteration of the bill required that foundations survey everyone on their boards and staffs to determine their sexual orientation — i.e. lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual — and make that public, too.)

If the Bush administration had proposed such a line of inquiry, it would have been rightly castigated as inappropriate government snooping.

This is bad policy, and it will ultimately drive our largest foundations to set up shop outside of California. Many of these foundations are resistant to demanding of their staff, grantees and business contacts the kind of intrusive, private information that bill requires.

The bill has other serious legal and policy deficiencies, beyond what it portends in terms of future government policies.

The Nonprofit and Unincorporated Organizations Committee of the State Bar of California has weighed in twice on this legislation. In its most recent opinion, it concluded that the bill is unconstitutional, burdensome on foundations, poorly drafted and invasive of privacy. There is no equivocation in its analysis; the bill has fatal flaws.

What’s disturbing is that the bill is totally unneeded. Despite the bill’s implications, the universe of the underserved is not defined by race, ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation. The poor and disadvantaged come in all sizes, shapes, colors and sexual orientations, and most large foundations take their charitable giving seriously.

The bill, by identifying certain groups as the ones that need to be reported on, sends a message that the designated groups are the ones that matter and government is watching. As the Greenlining Institute has baldly said, foundations need “to be held accountable for their giving.”

Greenlining doesn’t simply favor certain segments of society; it manifests open contempt for those causes it doesn’t favor. Its executive director, John Gamboa, has derisively dismissed contributions to “elite universities and the opera” as “pet causes.”

AB 624’s reporting requirements amount to crass identity politics — harming those who aren’t among the select and, ultimately, benefiting those who are.

Interestingly, the statistical “data” proffered by the Greenlining Institute over the past year to justify the need for their bill, alleges that just 3 percent (or more recently the claim is 3.6 percent) of foundation giving went to minority-led organizations in California, and that only 10 percent went to benefit low-income communities.

Although few eyebrows have been raised as Greenlining repeated its claims again and again, Greenlining’s data — the rationale on which its legislation is predicated — is as fatally flawed as the bill. An independent study of its research by George Mason University’s Statistical Assessment Service concluded that the Greenlining’s research “contains several analytical problems, involving sampling strategies, data collection, operational definition, and data analysis. As it is, the foundation community seem ‘set up to fail’ by the comparisons used in the report.” After that critique, there isn’t much left for Greenlining, or its supporters, to hang their hat on.

Nevertheless, despite its manifest flaws and being based on erroneous and skewed research, Assembly Bill 624 sailed through the state Assembly in a virtual party-line vote in January of this year — every Democrat voted for it, every Republican, save one, opposed it. The fear of being “politically incorrect” apparently trumped common sense.

Students at UC Berkeley, hardly a bastion of conservative or libertarian thought, editorialized on AB 624, in the campus newspaper, The Daily Californian, and got it right, “AB 624, however, is less an effective treatment for pervasive inequality than a horrendous intrusion by the state into the affairs of private institutions.”

Hopefully, our legislators will think twice before reflexively voting for a measure that will do far more harm than good.

David A. Lehrer is president and Joe R. Hicks vice president of Community Advocates Inc. (www.cai-la.org), a Los Angeles-based human relations organization headed by former mayor Richard J. Riordan.

Sacramento PBS TV affiliate won’t run anti-Semitism documentary


David Hosley thinks a scene in which a group of devious Jews slash the throat of a young boy in a ritual slaughter to cull his blood for Passover matzah is not the type of thing that should be shown on television.

Yitzhak Santis thinks it’s exactly what we should be seeing. Santis is the director of Middle Eastern affairs for the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council.

But Hosley is the general manager of a TV station, the PBS affiliate KVIE in Sacramento. So his word goes.

Hosley passed on running the documentary, “Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence,” which most Public Broadcasting stations ran in early January, including Los Angeles’ KCET, which ran it on Jan. 8. The film, narrated by Judy Woodruff, provides a history of the hatred of Jews in the Christian West and Muslim East, accompanied by historical cartoons depicting the Jew as “Christ killer,” bloodsucker, ravisher of virgins and plotter of world domination.

Hosley defended his decision, which he said was a difficult one and came only after input from a board of station employees, professors and local religious leaders, including a rabbi, imam and Christian ministers.

“I am interested in the topic, but I’m looking for a program that lives up to its title and is well made,” said Hosley, a documentary filmmaker himself and the station’s general manager for the past eight years.

Hosley said the film, produced by Andrew Goldberg, was journalistically problematic. He claimed that its rapid cuts and interviews with unseen, off-screen questioners left it unclear if the young Arabs being questioned were stating their heartfelt opinions or repeating stories they’d heard. He also complained that the film spent far too long revisiting the history of European anti-Semitism in the 20th century. As for the ritual slaughter scene — an excerpt from a Syrian TV drama — he and his panel felt it was blunt, gory and the message could have been made without the depiction of a boy’s throat being slashed.

Hosley said his panel told him the film would do “more harm than good” for the relationships among Sacramento’s various religious groups.

“I’m very familiar with this program and I couldn’t disagree more,” said Santis of Hosley’s argument. “If you really want to understand the incitement that is being made in Arab and Muslim media, the fact that it is so dramatic and gruesome really demonstrates the level of demonization of Jews that’s going on. I have a copy of that [clip] and I’ve shown it to audiences here and people do close their eyes and I have heard gasps.

“I use it as a wake-up call,” Santis said. “This is using 21st century technology to perpetuate the blood libel and people should be made aware of that.”

Along with a bevy of letters both supporting and denouncing the documentary, PBS ombudsman Michael Getler wrote a largely supportive entry on behalf of “Anti-Semitism” on the PBS Web site.

“This struck me as just the thing Public TV ought to be doing,” he wrote in a Thursday, Jan. 11 posting on PBS.org. “It is unlikely that any diverse audience will ever say that you got this subject just right, but producers need to take a shot at it. Its value, I thought, was in explaining the evolution of anti-Semitism, the original Christian and European role and the differences with Islam, and in exposing to American audiences the kind of hate-filled imagery about Jews that is broadcast and publicly stated in many Arab countries that Americans are unaware of and that the American media rarely captures and broadcasts if they see it.”

Hosley said he that it was far from a rebellious act to not run the documentary, as each national program offered is presented at the discretion of the individual affiliate. Hosley estimates he’s rejected more than 100 hours of nonrequired programming over the past year. And of the roughly 50 largest PBS affiliates, 18 did not run “Anti-Semitism” in the time slot PBS central had earmarked for it, if at all.

In place of “Anti-Semitism” Hosley ran a documentary about America’s oil dependence and the nation’s relationship with oil-producing nations.

A Hard Rain


 

In the winter of 1861-1862, the skies in California let loose, unleashing torrents of water around the state. In Los Angeles, rain fell for 28 straight days, pushing the Los Angeles River higher and higher until a waist-high wall of water jumped its banks, ripping away everything in its path.

My great-great-grandfather, Isaias Hellman, who was 19 at the time, got caught in the turgid waters. He had arrived from Bavaria three years earlier — part of a group of Jews who left their small town in Reckendorf — to work as a clerk in a dry-goods store owned by his two older cousins. The store was set in a row of shops in Bell’s Row, a two-story block-long commercial building on the southeast corner of Aliso and Los Angeles streets. The Row had long been the favored location for the pueblo’s sizable group of Jewish merchants. Many early settlers who would later play crucial roles in transforming the small town into a modern American city had their first stores there, including Isaiah and Samuel Hellman, Solomon Lazard, Philip Sichel, Wolf Kalisher, Henry Wartenberg and others.

The surging waters from the Los Angeles River rushed through the small downtown, carrying driftwood, mud and sand as it enveloped the row of shops. Hellman, who not long before had made his home in the store’s back room, rushed with his two cousins to salvage any goods they could. As the three men started to grab shoes, books, tobacco and other goods, the saturated adobe walls started to crumble and they were forced to flee.

When the floodwaters receded, Los Angeles had been transformed. The façade of the Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, which had stood sentinel in the Plaza for 40 years, melted away, its straw and mud bricks unable to withstand the water’s onslaught. The cascading river ripped out thousands of grapevines. Sand lay a foot thick over once-fertile orchards. Roads became so impassable that Los Angeles went without mail for five consecutive weeks.

The entire state suffered that year. From early November to the end of January, 37 inches of rain fell in San Francisco. Rain and melting snow turned the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys into an inland sea, 250-300 miles long and 20-60 miles wide. When the rain stopped, it made the news: “On Tuesday last the sun made its appearance,” The Los Angeles Star noted. “The phenomenon lasted several minutes and was witnessed by a great number of persons.”

The heavy rains were followed by two years of drought, years of sun and wind so relentless the grasses that covered the valleys and gentle hills running from Los Angeles to the ocean 20 miles away turned a brittle brown. Most of the cattle that roamed the hills began to die and travelers taking the stage from the port of San Pedro to Los Angeles saw hills heaped with decaying carcasses. The number of cows in the county dropped from 70,000 to 20,000.

Weather has always been an important determinant in Los Angeles’ history. The twin effects of floods and drought from 1861-1864 completely finished off whatever remained of the rancho way of life, where dons reigned over thousands of acres of land and huge herds of cattle. Many of the Spanish Californios were forced to sell their land to stay solvent, opening the way for the rise of the Yankee economy. The disasters also ruined many small businesses, including that of Hellman’s cousins. It changed the city’s architecture as businessmen replaced adobe buildings with brick structures.

But those living in Southern California regarded the disasters as aberrant and moved quickly to repair the damage. The Hellman cousins and other affected merchants relocated their businesses and learned an important lesson about frontier life: to succeed, one had to be flexible and change with the ever-evolving economy. Soon boosters began promoting the region as a place like no other, blessed by sun and fertile soil and ease of life. The rains hit hard again in 1884, when more than 38 inches caused widespread flooding, but by that time most of America thought of Los Angeles as a Mediterranean paradise. Trainloads of settlers poured in, lured by the promise of a golden life. By 1890, more than 50,000 people lived in the city.

By that time my great-great-grandfather had spent 31 years in Los Angeles and had watched it transform from a dusty pueblo where fewer than 300 people spoke English to a bustling city. As the city grew, he prospered, eventually becoming one of the region’s largest landowners and a major investor in the city’s water and gas companies. He was president of the Farmers and Merchants Bank for 45 years, lending funds to Harrison Gray Otis to buy the Los Angeles Times and to Henry Huntington to build the trolley cars that eventually crisscrossed Los Angeles. He helped build the city’s first temple, B’nai B’rith.

But from the time of the 1862 rains, he always kept a close eye on the weather, frequently noting it in his letters and diaries. He knew that living in Los Angeles meant floods and droughts and even earthquakes, but he didn’t let those threats defeat him. California had become his home and he refused to let nature push him away.

Frances Dinkelspiel has been delving into the history of Jews in California for the past few years as part of her biography of Isaias W. Hellman. A former reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, Dinkelspiel’s freel-ance work has appeared in the New York Times, People, San Francisco Magazine and other venues. She can be reached at FDinkelspiel@yahoo.com.

 

A Stand in Sacramento


Letters are good, said an old Sacramento hand, phone calls are good, faxes are good, but for real impact, nothing beats face-to-face meetings with legislators.

Putting the advice into practice, more than 200 Jewish activists from across California gathered in the state capital earlier this month for an update on current issues and an intensive afternoon lobbying assembly members and senators.

They had been convened for the annual mission to Sacramento by the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC), which describes itself as the oldest and largest statewide coalition of Jewish community organizations in the United States.

Before getting down to business, mission members, joined by 13 legislators, honored two of the most recognizable names in Jewish Los Angeles.

David Lehrer, former regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, received the Earl Raab Award for 27 years of civil and human rights advocacy.

His proud mother, Trude Lehrer, reflected the general consensus when she declared firmly, "He deserves it!"

Paul Koretz, representing the 42nd Assembly District, whose constituency in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles and the southeast Valley claims to be the most Jewish in the state, bestowed his district’s Woman of the Year award on one of the community’s true grande dames, Carmen Warschaw.

After a crash course in lobbying etiquette by JPAC’s chair Barbara Yaroslavsky, association Director Coby King and legislative advocate Cliff Berg ("stay on the message," "don’t argue with the legislator"), mission members divided into 15 teams, each assigned to meet with two legislators.

This year, JPAC sought legislative support for four issues and programs:

  • The Linkage Program, which enables adults, who, because of age or disability, would have difficulty living independently, to remain in their homes. Jewish Family Service agencies in both Southern and Northern California are among the 36 contractors who administer the program.

  • The Naturalization Services Program, which assists legal immigrants in obtaining U.S. citizenship.

  • The Hate Crimes Victims Justice Act, which would strengthen the hands of prosecutors and establish multiagency hate crime working groups in counties facing the highest levels of violence.

  • Solidarity with Israel, as expressed through an Assembly resolution urging President Bush and Congress "to remain steadfast in their support of Israel" and condemning "all acts of terrorism, including the recent wave of suicide bombings and the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians." The resolution was adopted unanimously the next day.

One team met with Democratic Sen. Sheila Kuehl of Santa Monica, generally considered one the smartest and most liberal solons in town, who gave the visitors a quick lesson in practical politics.

With the all-important budget hearings in the home stretch, and the state facing a $22 billion deficit, even the worthiest proposal faced tough scrutiny in the appropriate budget subcommittees, advised Kuehl. In almost all cases, the subcommittee’s recommendation is then rubber-stamped by the full Legislature.

"Try to support bills that don’t cost anything, or very little," Kuehl suggested. "Everything is in competition with everything else, and if you add something here, you have to cut something there."

Armanda Susskind, an environmental lawyer, met with Democratic Assembly members Marco Firebaugh (Los Angeles), chair of the Latino Caucus, and Jenny Oropeza (Long Beach).

"I think the meeting was important in building bridges between the Jewish and Latino communities," Susskind observed. "We have many friends in the Legislature, but they may not be too familiar with communal Jewish issues."

While the citizen lobbyists made their best cases for the linkages, naturalization and anti-hate crime bills, it was obvious that for most of the men and women who had come to Sacramento, the emotional trigger was the solidarity with Israel resolution.

When Rabbi David Woznica, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ recently appointed executive vice president for Jewish affairs, gave a punchy pep talk at a breakfast meeting, the line greeted with the most enthusiastic applause was, "I am so proud of Israel."

Attorney Howard Hoffenberg said, "I’m here mainly because of what’s been happening in Israel…. Our generation has an obligation to make Israel thrive. We can’t drop the ball now."

Teacher Ruth Reich, an activist with the Standwithus.com grass-roots organization, said she was participating to back the Israel solidarity resolution and to promote pro-Israel initiatives on college campuses.

Northridge attorney Alphonse Sanchez and his wife, Judie Levin-Sanchez, affirmed that "we’re motivated by events in Israel." The general proceedings were enlivened by the participation of 31 middle and high school students, all members of the youTHink program, initiated by Esther Netter of the Zimmer Children’s Museum.

Twenty were from Shalhevet High School and another 11, representing an ethnic rainbow, were from public schools. They lobbied legislators on issues ranging from inequities in the school system to racial profiling.

Asked why they had come, one eighth-grader responded, "If we want social justice, we need to know how the system works."

A constant presence, night and day, was Assembly Speaker Emeritus Robert Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks), who left no person, regardless of age or gender, unhugged.

"Your presence here makes all the difference," he said. "You have put the face of the Jewish community before the Legislature."

A Look Back


When I was 16, my family moved from Santa Monica to Sacramento. I had just finished my first year at Santa Monica High School and had been selected to play drums with the school’s jazz band in the Hollywood Bowl (which I did the night before we moved). I was certainly not looking forward to leaving all my friends behind — and everything I had grown up with — to move to a strange new place where I knew no one. But my dad had a new job, so move we did.

What I could never have known at the time, as I sat glumly in the back seat of my parents car on that long drive to a new, unknown life, was that Sacramento would provide me with some of the greatest experiences of my life. Because I moved to Sacramento, I became very involved with the local synagogue youth group so I could meet new friends and ended up being elected president, going to leadership institutes at Jewish camps in California, and then in New York, and started on the road that led me to become a rabbi.

Because I moved to Sacramento, I found a remarkable drum and percussion teacher, through whom I got my first professional job as a drummer at 16. A year later, I was invited to join the Sacramento Symphony Orchestra, where I soon became the youngest principal percussionist in its history. I also had the privilege of performing all over California on tour with Germany’s leading electronic composer, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and became involved with some of the leading avant-garde composers in America. I remember looking back on the move to Sacramento later in life and saying, “I guess there really was a plan for my life, and I just didn’t know it at the time.”

This week’s Torah portion tells a similar tale about Joseph and his forced relocation to Egypt. Of course in Joseph’s story, his brothers are so jealous that they throw him in a pit and then sell him into slavery. After a series of ups and downs, Joseph rises to become second-in-command of all Egypt, and is responsible for saving his country and others from starvation during the great seven-year famine. The famine forces his brothers to seek food in Egypt, where they end up standing in front of Joseph — whom they don’t recognize — and pleading with him for their lives.

In one of the most poignant moments in the Torah, Joseph can’t hold back the emotion that is welling up inside of him and finally reveals himself — to their great shock and fear. In doing so, he tells them what human beings have so often said: “There was a purpose to what happened to me, and none of us knew it at the time.” And in so saying, Joseph extended the hand of forgiveness to his brothers.

But it’s more than that. Joseph, in this passage, did what we humans probably do best. He took the otherwise random experiences of his life, and he created a sense of meaning and purpose out of them. All of us do that. We look back at our experiences with a kind of spiritual 20/20 hindsight, and we choose what those experiences mean.

Joseph is a beautiful model for each of us. Each of us has the chance, over and over in our lives, to transcend difficult experiences of the past and to find a renewed sense of purpose and meaning in our relationships, struggles, triumphs and even tragedies. Perhaps that is the real lesson of this portion: that we are not trapped by the past; that we are not doomed to attach only one set of meanings to what happens to us and to the choices that we make.

As you look back over the past year and accept the challenge to find new meanings, perhaps you can forgive those who were the cause of petty hurts and injuries and find a renewed sense of your own vision of who you are and why you are here in the first place.


Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben is senior rabbi of Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation in Pacific Palisades and president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

Anti-SemitesPlead Guilty to Firebombing


Two brothers, both self-proclaimed anti-Semites and white supremacists, pleaded guilty Sept. 7 to firebombing three synagogues in the Sacramento area two years ago.

Benjamin Matthew Williams, 33, considered the instigator in the attacks, faces 30 years in federal prison. His brother, James Tyler Williams, 31, is to receive 18 to 21 years when sentence is pronounced in November.

The torching of the three synagogues in the pre-dawn hours of June 18 marked the opening of the 1999 “summer of hate,” which included an arson attack on a Sacramento abortion clinic, also admitted by the Williams brothers. Subsequent months saw a shooting spree that wounded five at the North Valley Jewish Community Center, and a white supremacist’s killing rampage in the Midwest.

Following their conviction in federal court on the firebombings, the Williams brothers will be tried in state court for the killing of a gay couple, two weeks after the Sacramento arsons. Prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty.

Hardest hit by the synagogue attacks was Congregation B’nai Israel, a Reform temple, which last year celebrated its 150th anniversary, and which sustained more than $1 million in damages.

Substantial damage was also suffered by Congregation Beth Shalom, also Reform, in suburban Carmichael, and Kenesset Israel Torah Center, an Orthodox synagogue.

In a news conference following the guilty pleas, Louis Anapolsky, president of B’nai Israel at the time of the arson, said, “The wounds that were inflicted, which ran so deep, today are beginning to heal.”

At two of the synagogues, the perpetrators left leaflets proclaiming that the “International Jew World Order” and the “International Jewsmedia” started the war in Kosovo.

While he was held in prison, the voluble elder Williams initiated a series of press interviews in which he declared his readiness to be executed as a “Christian martyr,” whose death would spur increased attacks on Jews, homosexuals and various minority groups.

Following the synagogue attacks, a unity rally of all faiths and races in Sacramento drew 5,000 people and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the shuls repair their buildings.

By a coincidence in timing, Gov. Gray Davis appeared two days before the guilty pleas at Congregation B’nai Israel. He chose the venue to sign into law a bill prohibiting insurance companies from canceling, fail to renew, or raise premiums on policies of organizations filing claims based on hate crimes.

The bill was introduced after Congregation B’nai Israel was denied renewal of its property insurance after filing a claim for $1 million in damages sustained during the firebombing.

The new law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2002, and protects religious, educational and nonprofit institutions and organizations that have suffered losses due to hate crimes.

“The damage done by hate crimes cannot be measured solely in terms of physical injury or dollars and cents,” Tamar Galatzan, Western States associate counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, said. “When an insurance company blames the victim for being targeted — by cancelling or not renewing a policy — the perpetrator’s message of hate and exclusion is reinforced.”

White Hate Group Strongly Suspected in Synagogue Fires


As investigators hone in on an “abundance of evidence” culled from the scenes of the June 18 arson attacks on three Sacramento-area synagogues, signs point increasingly to a white supremacist group.

Federal agents are tracking a number of hate groups with chapters in the area. High on the list is an Illinois-based organization called the World Church of the Creator, which has five active units operating out of Sacramento.

World Church fliers were left at two of the three torched sites, according to FBI officials. During Yom HaShoah services in April, similar fliers were left at one of the burned synagogues, Reform Congregation Beth Shalom in nearby Carmichael.

At 3:24 a.m. on Friday, June 18, flames tore through the library of Sacramento’s Congregation B’nai Israel, destroying 5,000 books and 300 videos on Jewish culture and history. Minutes later, arsonists struck Beth Shalom and Kenesset Israel Torah Center. Combined damages may top $1 million.

FBI officials refused to comment on the role of the white supremacist group in this investigation or on possible connections to other reported hate crimes in Sacramento. But agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said they have not ruled out the World Church or two other groups, the Posse Comitatus and the National Alliance, which the Anti-Defamation League has tagged “the most dangerous hate group in the U.S. today.”

However, according to Jonathan Bernstein, director of the ADL’s Central Pacific region, the World Church is “directly linked. They left their fliers there.”

While ADL officials stopped short of accusing World Church members of perpetrating the predawn arsons, they point out that the literature recovered from the crime scene blames the “International Jewsmedia” for the war in Kosovo — a current theme among white supremacist groups.

Although he denied responsibility for the attacks, World Church leader Matt Hale told a Sacramento Bee reporter: “We can’t condemn it. We believe the Jews have perpetrated far more atrocities on non-Jews than the other way around. Our response is they should look in the mirror to see who is responsible.”

Hale insisted that his organization does not “persuade people by burning buildings. It’s counterproductive,” he told the Sacramento Bee.

But Bernstein said the group “has been tied to some very serious incidents.” The ADL’s Internet Monitoring Unit has been tracking the group for several months.

Those incidents include the murder of an African-American serviceman in 1991 and the vicious beating of a father and his son by 11 skinheads in Miami last year.

A World Church flier found Friday at the Kenesset Israel Torah Center claims: “We are Slavs, we will never allow the International Jew World Order to take our Land [sic]. The fake Albanian refugee crisis was manufactured by the International Jewsmedia to justify the terrorizing, the bestial bombing of our Yugoslavia back into the dark ages.”

In an April 1999 issue of the World Church’s monthly newsletter, Hale decried the NATO bombing of Kosovo as part of a Jewish campaign for world domination.

The World Church has active members in Auburn, Bakersfield, Carmichael, Citrus Heights, Hayward, Napa and Sacramento, including the Frontier Women, a Sacramento-based auxiliary unit, according to an extensive ADL investigative report.

Although Hale, 27, has said, “We neither condone violence or unlawful activities, promote or incite them,” the group’s own Web site describes World Church as an organization of “skinheads,” whose “battle cry” is “Rahowa,” an acronym for racial holy war.

Members of the same group left anti-Semitic fliers on cars at UC Davis and area high schools in April 1998, and “about 30 skinheads in this area have been linked with some very violent acts,” Bernstein said.

The World Church actually rejects Christianity; the World Church’s founder, Ben Klassen, has said Christianity was “concocted” by Jews “for the very purpose of mongreling and destroying the white race.”

As part of the investigation into the arson, agents are tracking individuals who are known to have visited numerous area synagogues in recent weeks.

“We had a visit,” said Kenesset Israel’s president, Steve Haberfeld. “A dark-haired guy, ruddy complexion. None of us were sure what to make of it.”

Two men, one in his 50s and the other around 20, also paid a call on a nearby Orthodox synagogue.

“They were asking funny questions like, ‘Where are the services? When is this, where is that?'” said Rabbi Yosef Langer, leader of Chabad of San Francisco, discussing two mysterious visitors who showed up at a Sacramento Orthodox congregation when he visited on Shavuot. They also asked, “So, where’s the Jewish flag?”

FBI Special Agent Nick Rossi cautioned against making too swift an assumption of guilt: “Even though they may eventually be proven to be connected to the individuals responsible for the fires, [the fliers] may contain misstatements about the group or its motives.”

More than 100 agents from six agencies are working on the case, including the FBI, the ATF and Sacramento’s police, sheriff’s and fire departments, as well as the American River Fire District.

Damage to the Reform B’nai Israel has been estimated at $800,000. The Reform Beth Shalom, where perpetrators broke in and set fire to the bimah, suffered $100,000 in damages. It appears the attackers tried to burn the temple down, but a sprinkler system halted the blaze from spreading. Damage to the smaller Orthodox Kenesset Israel has been set at $30,000.


How to aid Sacramento-area

synagogues hit by arson

A number of civic and community organizations are collecting funds for the three damaged Sacramento-area synagogues. In addition, agencies are seeking information about the perpetrators:

* The North American Board of Rabbis, through its Northern California affiliate, is posting a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the arson attacks.

* In addition, Sacramento bounty hunter Leonard Padilla is offering $25,000, and businessman Michael Swebner, an Israeli immigrant, is offering $10,000.

* To contribute to a reward fund, send checks payable to “KOVR 13 Hates Crimes Fund” to Hate Crimes Reward Fund, c/o KOVR 13, 2713 KOVR Dr., West Sacramento, CA 95605. Information: (916) 374-1313.

Those with information about the fires are encouraged to call one of two toll-free hot lines:

* FBI hot line: (800) 435-7883.

* Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms hot line: (888) ATF-FIRE.

The following organizations are seeking donations:

* Checks payable to the Unity Fund can be sent to the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region, 2351 Wyda Way, Sacramento, CA 95825. (916) 486-0906.

* B’nai B’rith has established a fund to help with the restoration. Write to Sacramento Synagogues, Disaster Relief, B’nai B’rith International, 1640 Rhode Island Ave., N.W., Washington, DC, 20036.

* Donations or expressions of good will can be sent directly to the three affected synagogues. Do not call, since the buildings remain closed.

Congregation Beth Shalom, 4746 El Camino Ave., Carmichael, CA 95608. Attn: Rabbi Joseph Melamed.

Congregation B’nai Israel, 3600 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95818. Attn: Rabbi Brad Bloom

Kenesset Israel Torah Center, 1024 Morse Ave., Sacramento, CA 95864. Attn: Rabbi Stuart Rosen.


Rebecca Rosen Lum writes for the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California.

‘United Against Hate’


Under a giant banner that read “Sacramento United Against Hate,” some 4,500 citizens of all faiths and colors dedicated themselves to the fight against bigotry as their answer to coordinated arson attacks on three local synagogues.

More than 2,500 people crammed into the Community Center Theater Monday night, and 2,000 more listened in an adjacent auditorium, during a 2 1/2-hour rally that participants described as “electric” and “the most emotional experience of my life.”

The audience rose to its feet as California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante declared, “Tonight all of us belong to the three synagogues,” and as Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna said, “When I hear of synagogues burning, then I am a Jew.”

There were more standing ovations as the representative of an African-American housing association presented the first $10,000 check for a proposed municipal museum of tolerance, and as Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, stated that, in future years, Sacramento would be held up as a model of how a community must respond to bigotry.

Not far from the emotion-filled scene, more than 100 federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI were painstakingly combing the three synagogue sites for evidence to link the hate crimes to their perpetrators.

Last Friday’s pre-dawn attacks targeted Congregation B’nai Israel and Congregation Beth Shalom, both Reform temples, and the Kenesset Israel Torah Center, an Orthodox synagogue. Total damage was estimated at close to $1 million.

Up Front


The Jerusalem Jazz Band
At the Dixieland Jubilee in Sacramento, the annual super bowl of jazz, the band that got the most ecstatic reception a couple of years ago was cradled a few thousand miles east of New Orleans.

It was the Jerusalem Jazz Band, whose members hail each other by such fine old Southern names as Boris, Mika, Shmulik, Stanislav and Aaron.

“This band is hot, confident and slick, without losing an interpretive freshness,” wrote the jazz critic for the Sacramento Union. “[Band leader Boris] Gammer can scat sing like Louis Armstrong, but he’s best at jamming, freilach style, on the clarinet. There are hints of Klezmer in the tunes, which make them special. But this group could probably play the telephone book, and people would want to get up and dance.”

After this Memorial Day weekend’s Sacramento festival, the Jerusalem Jazz Band will stop over for a one-night stand in Los Angeles, on Tuesday, May 27, performing at the Veterans Wadsworth Theatre.

All proceeds will go to the Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa and the Habonim leadership program in Israel.

As to the group’s enthusiastic reception in Sacramento, Aaron Chankin, who plays the tenor sax and is a native Angeleno, said, “First, we got a lot of attention because we were considered sort of exotic, but they came back because of the quality of our playing.”

He describes the group’s special sound as “Dixie-freilach,” which lends a distinctive Yiddish inflection of their rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and a dose of Dixie to “Rabbi Elimelech.”

Gammer, the band’s leader, arranger, clarinet and saxophone player, was a musical prodigy in his native Riga, Latvia, and formed a prize-winning combo at age 17. He went on to win 18 Soviet and international jazz awards before emigrating to Israel.

He has performed with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea and Michael Brecker, and also teaches at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem.

Three other band members are from the former Soviet Union, two are Israeli sabras, with Chankin as the only American.

The May 27 event is co-sponsored by the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, himself a Habonim alumnus, is the honorary chair.

Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster outlets and the UCLA Central Ticket Office, at (310) 825-2101. For further information, call the Habonim office at (213) 655-6576. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor


Tolerance, Please

Can’t we all just get along? We don’t mean Jews and African-Americans, or Jews and Christians, or Jews and Arabs. We’re talking about Jews and Jews. From the political and religious extremists in Israel to the Chassids in New York who decided a majority of us don’t practice real Judaism, the Tribe seems more and more like Jung’s tail-eating serpent, minus the regeneration. We’re just attacking ourselves to death.

Anyway, here in Los Angeles, three upcoming events are slated to deal head-on with the issues of tolerance and diversity within Judaism.

* Sunday, May 25: Nine rabbis — three Reform, three Conservative and three Orthodox– will meet at Beverly Hills High School for a “Day of Healing and Learning.” The idea is to bring the movements together through the study of our tradition. (Hmm, tell that to the Reconstructionists.) Scheduled to participate are rabbis Richard Levy, Harvey Fields, Harold Schulweis, Abner Weiss, Levi Meier, Yossi Kanefsky and two more Conservative rabbis. The event is co-sponsored by the three movements and the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 388-2401.

* Monday, June 2: The UCLA Hillel Council will present a town meeting entitled “Who Is a Jew? Who Is a Rabbi? In Pursuit of Jewish Unity.” Honoring the memory of Jerry Weber, the panel discussion will feature Rabbis Yosef Kanefsky (Orthodox), Ed Feinstein (Conservative) and Richard Levy (Reform). Arriving early for tickets and a good seat is recommended — issues don’t get much more heated, or topical, than this. For more information, call UCLA Hillel at (310) 208-3081.

* Tuesday, June 3: The Chazak Circle and the Maimonides Society of the Valley Alliance/Jewish Federation will present a talk and response on “American and Israeli Jews: A Shared History, a Shared Future?” with Avraham Infeld, founding director of the Melitz Institute for Zionist Education, and Yoav Ben Horin, associate director of the Wilstein Institute for Jewish Policy Studies. The event will take place at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus. For information, call (818) 587-3200.


Goodbye Bronze, Hello Iron

According to Jerry Berman, no period in human history is as dramatic or important as the 50-year span between 1225 and 1175 B.C.E.

We know that’s hard to believe, considering that the last two years alone have brought such cataclysmic events as O.J. Simpson’s acquittal and The Jewish Journal’s format change, but consider Berman’s proof text: the Torah itself.

“If you want to understand the context of the biblical world, you have to understand the end of the Bronze age,” says Berman, who is executive director of the California Museum of Ancient Art.

The world that emerged at the end of the Bronze Age produced the Bible, he says, and you can’t understand the latter without understanding the former.

In that short 50-year blink of human history, virtually all established city states and empires were wiped out. Goodbye, Hatzor; so long, Ugarit, Knossos and Troy. Egypt suffered a devastating attack, and the Hittite empire collapsed. Why? Was it famine, earthquake or sudden changes in the technology of warfare that did in these empires?

Around the same time, in the lithic hills of Judea and Samaria, a certain people begin settling down, developing their own style of housing and pottery. Archaeologists call these ancestors of Einstein, Spielberg and you “proto-Israelites.” In 1207, the first extra-biblical mention is made of “Israel” on a stele commemorating Israel’s defeat in battle.

Where did the proto-Israelites come from? Were they displaced Canaanites, part of an agrarian social-reform movement, as some scholars believe? Were they a distinct ethnic group at all?

And what of those other post-Bronze Age people, the Philistines, who themselves would figure in the biblical narrative? Were they Philistine, as popular belief would have it, or the sophisticated creators of an artful and urbane civilization?

You can learn the answers to these questions from two of the world’s leading experts on the subject. On Tuesday, May 27, Dr. William Dever of the University of Arizona will speak on the origins of early Israel. On June 3, Tammi Schneider, associate professor of Old Testament Studies at Claremont Graduate School, will speak on the development of Philistine culture. Both lectures, part of a series on the end of the Bronze Age sponsored by the museum, will take place at the Gallery Theatre in Barnsdall Park, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Tickets for the lectures are $18 for non-museum members. Call (818) 762-5500 for more information. n