Jews Must Choose


By what criteria should Jewish voters select Los Angeles’ next mayor? The March 8 election is looming as a referendum on first-term incumbent James K. Hahn.

As professor Raphael J. Sonenshein of California State University, Fullerton noted in an earlier Jewish Journal column, the Jewish community seems split mostly among three candidates.

More conservative, Valley-dwelling voters are especially drawn to attorney and former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg. Centrists, city employees and others closer to the power structure tend to favor Hahn. Westsiders and progressive Jews again may lean toward the charismatic last-minute loser of the 2001 campaign, Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa.

But splitting the vote is nothing new in this predominantly Democratic community. To some, the 25-year-old divisions over mandatory school busing remain unresolved. Recently, Republican upstart Arnold Schwarzenegger carried lots of Jewish voters in the Valley — many of whom had backed Valley secession.

For the undecided, what are the desiderata of a mayoral candidate?

“The most important thing is to get to the polls,” said Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel. “It’s sad in a way that this has to be stressed, but this is something that fewer and fewer people are doing.”

“While we pray for the peace of our city, it matters for Jews [to vote] in order to be a part of our larger community,” she continued. “Unfortunately, nowadays, not everyone takes this obligation for granted. This year is the 350th anniversary of the arrival of Jews in America; it needs to be remembered how since then we’ve earned the privilege of electing our leaders.”

Longtime Democratic powerhouse Carmen Warschaw doesn’t hesitate to take sides. She supports Hahn.

“He’s done a good job,” Warschaw said, “and the problems with his administration,” those reported grand jury investigations and so on, “are the same ones any large-size administration has.”

It also matters to her that Hahn is a longtime supporter of Israel and Jewish causes. Hahn’s term will be remembered for his defeat of Valley secession and his decision to hire Police Chief William Bratton.

Businessman and publisher David Abel is a self-described policy wonk going way back, but that’s just one reason he favors Hertzberg, who is similarly inclined. He sees Hertzberg as “someone who will fight for the survival of the community. This city is at a turning point.”

The voter needs to pick someone who can put the entire city before everything else, Abel said, adding, “Someone who can say ‘no’ to his friends and take on the local power centers.”

Los Angeles’ mayor lacks legal authority over the local school system. But Abel asserted that Jewish voters should expect the next mayor to confront and transform the ungainly Los Angeles Unified School District.

After sitting 18 months on the citizens advisory panel for the school bond, Abel said, he grew to doubt that city schools can be greatly improved in the school district’s present form.

“Reforming East Germany was easier,” he said.

As Abel sees it, it is the next mayor’s job to make this happen. This, added Abel, is the best way to maintain Los Angeles’ eroding middle-class population.

Villaraigosa is the choice of Washington-based commentator Harold Meyerson, who spent most of his career in Los Angeles and still writes about L.A. politics. He said voters should take a more affirmative view. He doesn’t see the L.A. middle segment as eroding, but potentially increasing: “Antonio Villaraigosa wants to build up the middle class.”

Meyerson envisions Villaraigosa helping to bring the low-wage worker into the middle class through city policies and negotiations that are pro-labor. Meyerson noted that Los Angeles is usually rated the nation’s top manufacturing city. So some of corporate America must already be accommodating itself to city hall’s social agenda.

Many union leaders have concluded that this social agenda has made progress under Hahn. That’s why most of the unions are endorsing the incumbent.

For his part, Hertzberg emphasizes what he calls the city’s negative attitude toward business. He implies that being aggressively pro-labor could cost the city jobs.

For Geller, these divides over crucial issues underscore the importance of the election to Jews and everyone else.

“These are not specifically Jewish issues,” she said. “But they affect everyone. They move beyond ethnic politics and make us one community. This is the most important thing for voters to remember.”

Marc B. Haefele is news editor of the Los Angeles Alternative Press and comments on local government for KPCC-FM.


Tale of Two Schools

Miss Smith, my third-grade teacher at Vollentine Grammar School, stood facing the class with her arm around my shoulders. She was a large woman the size of two or three of today’s fashion models, with gray hair pulled back from a ruddy, round face. All I knew of her personal life was that she was unwed, but mothered 25 third-grade kids. She lived in a small, neighboring town famous for its horse farms.

She looked out to her students, her eyes focused above them. I looked down.

I had just finished reciting a poem to the class and before I could return to my desk, Miss Smith was at my side.

"Children, Teddy is Jewish. And I like Jewish kids. Teddy’s people have made some major contributions to the South. How many of you know of Dr. Joseph Goldberger who cured pellagra? How many of you know about pellagra?"

Not one kid knew of Goldberger or pellagra, whereupon Miss Smith went on to tell her class how the Jewish doctor had deduced that this scourge of rural America was caused by a dietary deficiency.

She was a good storyteller and told the tale of Goldberger’s medical sleuthing with gusto.

"But his people [meaning mine and Dr. Goldberger’s] are having a bad time, ‘specially in Germany, because of an evil man named Hitler — a fiend in human form. Let’s show Teddy that we’re proud to live in America, where we’d just send the dog catcher to pick up a fleahound like Hitler."

The antichrist had come to destroy the faithful, she told the class, and naturally, he had started with the Lord’s people, the Jews. It was Armageddon time.

This kind of talk made me nervous. I’d never heard of Joseph Goldberger, either. I was only Teddy Roberts, third-grader in Vollentine Grammar School; not the visible representative of the Lord’s people or the Jewish race or even one of the major contestants in the battle of Armageddon.

"I like Jewish kids," she repeated. "It’s a shame we don’t have more of them in our class." The classroom was full of giggles because of Hitler and his fleas, I hoped, and not at me and the fact that in Tennessee Jews like me were as rare as polar bears. Miss Smith’s speeches made me uncomfortable — like singing Christmas carols. Why couldn’t she just take me into the cloakroom and explain my uniqueness?

But I did like the feel of her big hand on my shoulder. And maybe Miss Smith’s praises helped me with Betty Lou McKintosh, the prettiest girl in the third grade, whose blue eyes opened wide as she looked at me and Miss Smith at the head of the class. Afterward, we sang "America the Beautiful" and took the "Pledge of Allegiance." I wasn’t uncomfortable at all.

We Jewish kids of the ’30s and ’40s occupied a narrow niche in Southern juvenile society. We attended the same public schools as our Christian playmates, since Hebrew day schools were several decades in the future. In our double life, we went to their parties and we played neighborhood games with them — the kids in our grammar school classes. But we spent our Sunday mornings and three afternoons a week at Hebrew school with a different social set.

The Hebrew school term of imprisonment, as my friends and I saw it, was six years. Five years until bar mitzvah, then a year of postgraduate studies; it was obligatory. There was no parole, no time off for good behavior, no community service substitutions.

Mr. Levine, the warden of this institution, was my favorite teacher. He was also the synagogue cantor. Hebrew School teacher and cantor — it took two hats to make a living in those days. He always carried a ruler, though the only thing he’d ever measure in his life was the Hebrew vocabulary of his forgetful students. That ruler was for little boys with big mouths, and young athletes who were sleeping off — in his classroom — the fatigue of the lunchtime baseball game.

He was a virtuoso with a ruler. It was his baton that orchestrated a dozen or so hooligans into a functioning class. We learned. It was like teaching walruses to play a harmonica. Nothing was farther from our natural instincts than this 3,000-year-old language that had no relationship to Joe Dimaggio, Hank Greenberg, Sid Luckman or the girl next door, who, due to some enchantment in our brain and body, we just noticed was more than a substitute second baseman.

We were a reincarnation of the Philistines. We had no cultural interests, whatsoever. Somehow, Mr. Levine — a drillmaster in a crisp, brown suit with matching vest and tie — hiked us down the road of learning for the two to three years we were under his authority. His weapon — besides that artful ruler — was his pointed stare and the single epithet he used to perfection, "Dummy." It was not hurled as a degrading insult. It was simply a descriptor. If you couldn’t memorize 12 words in a week, you weren’t a slow learner, nor were you under-motivated. You were a dummy.

I was not a model student. I was a Philistine — a Canaanite who knew every detail of Babe Ruth’s records, but couldn’t tell you whether the Rambam had lived and studied in Memphis or Babylon. And what did he do? Contribute to the Talmud? Sell dry goods? Or make the freshest bagels in New York City? Find me a 9-year-old boy in Memphis, Tenn., in the 1940s who knew, and I’ll tell you when the Mashiach is coming.

Nobody liked Hebrew school. What was to like? Your Christian friends were on the playground kicking up dust and you were learning to say "David sees the tree" in Hebrew.

But I’ll never forget Cantor Levine — or Miss Smith, either.

Ted Roberts is a Jewish humorist and commentator whose work appears several Jewish papers, Disney Magazine, Hadassah, the Wall Street Journal and others. He lives in Huntsville, Ala.

The Value of a Day

The High Holidays are a time Jews reserve for themselves. They don’t seek the approval or participation of gentiles. What if African Americans stopped trying to get white people to celebrate with us and recognized that we have been essential in making this nation?

As a black teenager attending junior high school in Hollywood, I was awed by the Jewish High Holidays. This was in the late ’60s before Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday became a national holiday and before Kwanzaa had become a year-end holiday phenomenon for African Americans. When I saw the near-empty classrooms taught by substitute teachers on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I saw a people, a fellow minority, with a celebration of their own — a celebration of their history and their deeply cherished values. In the recesses of my psyche, I was envious.

As I continued my schooling, black pride blossomed. The contributions of African Americans were integrated into textbooks, and black people were depicted with increasing frequency on television and in movies. During that period, the observation of Kwanzaa gathered steam. By the time I graduated college, Kwanzaa celebrations were hosted by major mainstream institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History. And after a long struggle, King’s birthday was made a national holiday. My heart let out a tiny "whoopee," and my holiday envy subsided.

Recently, there’s been a campaign to make Juneteenth a national celebration. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when enslaved black men and women in Galveston, Texas, finally learned they had been freed under the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued more than two years earlier. Celebrations followed the reading of the proclamation, and that began a black tradition in Texas, where it is now a paid state holiday. It is officially recognized in some form by Florida, Oklahoma, Delaware, Idaho and Alaska. At least a dozen other states are considering legislation to officially recognize it in some way.

Yet, Juneteenth is still not treated with respect. The biggest insult came last year when President Bush celebrated Cinco de Mayo with a festival on the South Lawn, complete with mariachi music and folk dancers. But in June of last year, he issued a one-page letter honoring Juneteenth.

So Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston), wrote Bush saying, "Juneteenth is America’s second Independence Day." She added, "The 19th of June is an important day for all Americans to observe."

"Bravo to that salvo," I thought at first. But on second thought, I questioned whether African Americans should push for official recognition.

I began to think about the Jewish High Holidays. Granted, it is a religious observance and an imperfect analogy. That said, what impressed me was that it is a time when Jews simply vanished. The High Holidays are a time Jews reserve for themselves. They don’t seek the approval or participation of gentiles. What if African Americans choose a period of time, a day perhaps — June 19 being as good as any — when we simply vanish? Not a paid or unpaid federal or state holiday, not a holiday that receives any official recognition whatsoever. African Americans would have to take a personal day or vacation time. It seems the least we can do for the then-newly freed black men and women of Galveston.

Some would argue that mainstream America should be forced to recognize black contributions. Yet, I wonder if the country as a whole has been edified by the way Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been celebrated. Does the holiday really function as a time to commemorate King, or is it simply some time off, an opportunity to run errands or to catch up on the latest Stephen King novel?

White people have never been shy about appropriating as they see fit from black Americans. Perhaps, one day mainstream America will spontaneously give us our due. Until then, African American feelings might continue to get bruised when the White House issues a single-page letter in recognition of what is arguably one of the greatest events in American history. But perhaps it is better to endure that hurt than to have our contributions reduced to a Juneteenth summer sale.

Eric V. Copage, is the author of eight books, including, “Soul Food: Inspirational Stories for African Americans” (Hyperion, $11.95).

Funny Money

Scrip. You can’t join a synagogue or enroll your child in school without being hit up to buy it. Whether in the form of paper certificates, plastic gift cards or e-scrip online, this potent little fundraiser has become a major part of most nonprofit organizations’ annual budgets.

Scrip first became popular in the late 1980s with grocery and department stores, and is now available for everything from gasoline to The Gap. Organizations buy the gift certificates in denominations like $10, $25 or $100 at a discount, either straight from the company or through a scrip broker. They then sell the scrip, charging the full face value of the certificate and making a profit of up to 25 percent, depending on the type of scrip sold.

For larger organizations, scrip is a nice adjunct to standard fundraisers such as galas, luncheons and casino nights. Because of these and other resources, Valley Beth Shalom in Encino is one of the few synagogues that can afford to make scrip an optional part of its fundraising programs. The synagogue made a profit of $25,000 off the sale of scrip last year, according to bookkeeper Joyce Goldman.

"We haven’t wanted to get into requiring our members to buy scrip. When you have 1,600 to 1,700 households, the bookkeeping [for a scrip obligation] would be a nightmare," Goldman said. "We can make more on other things that are basically one-shot deals. But scrip does make money all year long, and for smaller shuls, it probably works better."

One of the smaller shuls that has seen enormous benefits from scrip is Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills. The synagogue, currently at 325 family units, raises almost as much as Valley Beth Shalom: about $20,000 a year, according to incoming Executive Director Karen Boyer.

"People have fun with it, because it’s like Monopoly money," Boyer said. "A lot of vendors have gift cards now, which is great, because the biggest complaint from older people in the congregation was that they didn’t like using [the paper certificates] because they felt it looked like they were on some kind of assistance. With gift cards, there’s not that kind of a judgment."

Many Jewish private schools like Emek Hebrew Academy in North Hollywood rely heavily on scrip, even making it a part of their tuition schedule.

"We’re using scrip so the tuition does not need to be raised," said Eva Rosenberg, who has headed the school’s scrip program for the past decade. "Parents can either buy scrip or pay [an additional] $200."

Rosenberg said the decline in the economy unfortunately has had an impact on fundraising through scrip. The school used to make $45,000 from scrip sales and now makes about $35,000, she said, attributing the difference to cuts in the percentages that vendors are willing to donate. For example, one clothing outlet used to give 15 percent of scrip sales back to the school but reduced that to 10 percent last year.

Most market scrip, however, has remained stable. The most popular scrip, according to bookkeepers at various schools and synagogues, is gift certificates for Ralphs grocery stores.

"We usually buy about $20,000 worth of Ralphs scrip every month," said Goldman. "We only make 5 percent off of most scrip, so you can imagine we have to sell a lot of scrip to make that $25,000."

The Ralphs market scrip program has been in place for about 15 years and generates $3 million annually in donations to synagogues, schools and other nonprofit agencies, according to spokesman Terry O’Neil.

"How we benefit is that the scrip can only be redeemed at a Ralphs or a Food 4 Less, so, hopefully, people who haven’t shopped with us will come in and see what we have to offer," O’Neil explained. "It also generates good will in the community."

In addition to Ralphs scrip, Boyer said the new e-scrip program through Vons is very popular.

"You sign up online, and then every time you buy groceries and use your Von’s or Pavilions card, they [the company] keep track, and then we get a quarterly contribution by check," Boyer said.

Ralphs parent corporation, Kroger Co., is also looking into creating an e-scrip program. But no matter what the form, or whether or not people object to being obligated to buy it, scrip is clearly here to stay.

"A lot of other sources of fundraising have dried up, and this is still here," O’Neil said. "Not everyone needs to buy wrapping paper or candy, but everybody has to buy groceries."

The Journey Within

Three in five adults report that their level of Jewish involvement has changed substantially over the course of their adult lives. Remarkably, their involvement is nearly as likely to have increased as to have declined.What’s constant is change. American Jews continually adapt and reinvent their identities throughout their adult lives.

Those are the most important findings in “Connections and Journeys,” a landmark study of Jewish identity scheduled for release next week by UJA-Federation of New York. Four years in the making, it’s one of the most complex looks ever at how American Jews form and re-form their Jewish identities.”The perspective taken in this study is that identity is the result of an ongoing process, rather than an entity that is fully acquired at some point in a person’s lifetime,” writes the author, Brandeis University social psychologist Bethamie Horowitz.

The study suggests that Jewish attachment is subject to many influences, from family attitudes to Jewish schooling, teenage programs and adult relationships. One of the most important, startlingly, is family stability; strained childhood relations with parents point strongly to declining adult Jewish attachment.Some of Horowitz’s findings will cause fireworks. Only 5 percent of respondents report being positively influenced by rabbis; 10 percent say rabbis have turned them off. As for Jewish schooling, it’s decisive only among Orthodox Jews. For others, crucial influences come later: youth groups, Israel visits, relationships, childbirth.

Most troubling, increases are mainly in feelings of Jewish attachment. What’s declining is Jewish practice. For traditionalists, at least, that’s what counts.

But most of all, Jews are in continual flux. “A person constructs a sense of Jewishness from his/her own mix of experiences, engagements, interactions and contexts,” Horowitz writes. “We see evidence of a more pliable, ‘personalized’ Jewish identity, which for many has more to do with personal meaning and expression than with communal expression.” A useful metaphor, she suggests, is “a salad bar.”To capture that dynamism, the study works in two dimensions. First, it “explores people’s current connections to Jewishness,” including what they do and how they feel. Second, it “examines people’s journeys – how people’s Jewish identities change and are influenced throughout the life course.”The study combined telephone surveys with one-on-one interviews and focus groups. In all, 1,504 subjects were included, all born in America after World War II. Ages ranged from 22 to 52.

All lived in the New York area, which could skew the findings. As a metropolitan area that’s fully 13 percent Jewish – and home to one-fourth of all American Jews – New York, Horowitz writes, “can serve as both an exception and a rule about American Jewish identity.”

Horowitz begins by dividing her subjects into three basic “modes” of Jewish identity: assimilated (she politely calls them “Otherwise Engaged”), “Intensively Engaged,” and “Mixed Engagement.” Each “mode” comprises almost exactly one-third of the population.

Divisions are based on survey responses in three categories: “Subjective Jewish Centrality” (pride in Jewishness, sense of belonging); “Ritual Practice” (candle-lighting, separate dishes), and “Cultural-Communal Behavior” (owning Jewish books, attending Jewish lectures).

What Horowitz does next is one of her most important innovations. She divides her three “identity modes” into seven subgroups, a Jewish equivalent of market segments. These become the building blocks for all that follows.

The “Otherwise Engaged” subdivide into “Really Indifferent” (nine percent of the total population, mainly young, male and single) and those “With Some Jewish Interest” (24 percent). Both show low involvement by every measure. The “Intensively Engaged” break down into Orthodox (16 percent) and Non-Orthodox (18 percent, mainly Conservative).

The “Mixed” group divides in three: “Subjectively Engaged” (7 percent), “Tradition-Oriented” (18 percent) and “Cultural-Communal Involvement” (14 percent). Each combines a high score in one engagement type – subjective feeling, ritual or cultural-communal activity – with a low score in other areas.Some subdivisions were a surprise, Horowitz writes. The Tradition-Oriented, with high ritual involvement, tend to be young, fourth-generation Americans. This suggests a quiet resurgence of religiosity.Then again, the most assimilated had been expected to subdivide into a group that was “outright hostile” and another that was essentially passive. Instead, Horowitz found, only 1 percent showed outright hostility, while fully 63 percent were “very positive.” Hence the division into “Really Indifferent” and “Some Interest.”

This led to one of her most important conclusions about contemporary Jewish identity: In contrast to past generations, “the range of emotion about being Jewish has shifted, from acceptance versus rejection to meaningfulness versus indifference.” Jews aren’t running away anymore. They just aren’t being drawn in.

Horowitz’s most ingenious advance, and her riskiest, is her analysis of types of changes Jews undergo. Using survey data asking how subjects acted and felt in childhood, she picks two indicators – Sabbath candle-lighting and Jewish pride – to compare individual Jewish “journeys.”

If the subjects’ memories are to be trusted, two-fifths haven’t changed much since they were 12. One-fifth maintain a “steady, low-intensity Jewish involvement” in attitude and behavior. Another fifth show a “steady, high-intensity” involvement.

The other 60 percent show clear movement. For one-sixth, 17 percent, involvement “lapses or decreases” in at least one dimension, with the other either lapsing or low. Another 10 percent show increasing involvement in one measure, with the other high or increasing.The largest group, one-third of the population, showed an “Interior” journey: rising subjective Jewish involvement, coupled with low or declining ritual practice.

Journeys were closely linked to Jewish denomination. Three-fourths of those raised Orthodox followed Steady-High or Increasing Journeys. Among those raised Conservative, one-fourth had High or Increasing journeys, while 44 percent were Interior. Among Reform Jews, one-tenth had High or Increasing journeys, 36 percent Interior and 55 percent Steady-Low or Lapsing journeys.This is risky stuff. We could be looking at nothing more than Jews who have stopped lighting Sabbath candles but think it’s O.K. Pessimists will look at this and see confirmation of a disintegrating Jewish community.

But Horowitz could be onto something big. Fully 70 percent of her subjects report low or declining ritual observance. Yet nearly as many, 63 percent, report high or increasing levels of subjective Jewish attachment. American Jewish identity “isn’t necessarily declining,” Horowitz writes. But it is changing, becoming more personal, more, well, Interior.

The challenge for the Jewish community is to begin understanding those market segments, to find ways of helping Jews grow. “Although people have journeys which can be very idiosyncratic,” Horowitz writes, “the Jewish community can develop pathways to help bolster people along the way.”