B’nai Brith’s new chief visits L.A.; ‘Messenger’ unites local readers


New B’nai B’rith Head Launches Term in Southland

The new president of B’nai B’rith International will make Los Angeles his first official stop of his presidency when he speaks at Sinai Temple on the evening of Dec. 7.Moishe Smith, a B’nai B’rith veteran with more than 30 years experience at the organization, said he is coming to the Southland to show his respect for and introduce himself to the community. At Sinai, Smith will discuss Israel and the Middle East, reflecting his interest in international relations. During his three decades with B’nai B’rith, Smith has held a variety of positions, including chair of the International Council, senior international vice president, and, most recently, chair of the executive.

Smith, a Canadian and the first non-American to lead 163-year-old B’nai B’rith, replaces Joel Kaplan. He will serve a three-year term.

Smith told The Journal that “making sure Israel is supported from every corner of the world” is a top priority. With the Jewish state under siege from Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran and other enemies, Smith said B’nai B’rith and other Jewish organizations have an obligation to “speak out for Israel.”

Under his leadership, Smith said the organization will continue pressuring the United Nations to reform itself and shed its anti-Israel bias. Toward that end, Smith said organization leaders will “dialogue” with the democratic U.N. members and others.

B’nai B’rith has 100,000 members and donors in the United States and 150,000 worldwide. The organization calls itself a national and global leader in the area of U.N. reform, international affairs and Jewish identity, among other issues.

The event begins at 7 p.m. and is open to the public. For more information, contact Lyndia Lowy of B’nai B’rith at (310) 871-0847, or visit www.sinaitemple.org.

— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

‘Messenger’ Unites L.A. Readers

“One People One Book” usually refers to the Jews and the Torah, but the in Board of Rabbis of Southern California’s communitywide program it refers to a piece of literature participating synagogue members will read for the next six months.

On Dec. 13, “One People One Book: A Citywide Year of Learning,” will launch its second annual program, this time studying Eli Wiesel’s 1976 “The Messenger of God,” where Wiesel reinterprets biblical figures. Some 21 synagogues will participate.

Last year’s “One People One Book” program, which had 300 people attend the opening, which focused on “As a Driven Leaf” by Milton Steinberg, the novelization of the Talmud’s only heretic, Elisha Ben Abuya.

Why one book for six months?

“The notion is that we pick a book that lends itself to a year of learning,” says Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis. He said that last year’s book dealt with powerful themes such as secular vs. sacred, messianism, faith and practice.

For each book, the Board of Rabbis prepares a curriculum for readers to discuss, but there is no particular format to the “One People One Book,” program. Some people will meet in groups like a book club, others will discuss it with their rabbi in synagogue and some will learn with a partner. There will be an opening event on Dec. 13 and closing event on May 9.At the opening session, professor Menhaz M. Afridi and Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky will discuss Moses in “The Passion of Prophet: Moses in the Torah and the Qu’ran.”

The opening session will take place at the University of Judaism’s Gindi Auditorium, Dec. 13, 7-9 p.m. 15600 Mulholland Drive. For more information, call (323) 761-8600.

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Students Weigh in on Education Improvements

Students shared ideas for improving education with a panel of public officials at the Museum of Tolerance on Nov. 30. Jasmin Ramirez, 17, took the stage first to present a proposal on behalf of about 100 students involved in the California Association of Student Councils, a student-led organization dedicated to cultivating leaders.

“There’s poor quality of food in our schools and a lack of variety,” said Ramirez, who recommended conducting a widespread survey asking students about the quality of food at school and testing their knowledge of nutritional health.

Listening and taking notes were state Senate majority leader Gloria Romero; Democratic state Assemblymembers Mike Feuer, Paul Krekorian and Kevin de Leon; local district Superintendent James Morris; and Los Angeles Deputy Mayor for Education Ramon C. Cortines.

The officials advised students to think about the costs associated with the proposed survey and consider what would be done with the results. They also commended Ramirez and her peers for thinking creatively about how to solve a real problem.

“What you and the students have done today is absolutely brilliant,” de Leon said.Next, Chris Delgado, 16, suggested that teacher quality could be improved if students were involved in the teacher evaluation process.

“Be careful that your approach is not taken as an attack on teachers,” de Leon cautioned.Cortines added: “I don’t think you realize how powerful you are. I think it’s time that you mobilize yourself and visit with teachers unions.”

After the two proposals were presented and discussed, legislators and students mingled. Feuer congratulated his son, Aaron, who orchestrated the event.

“It was a success,” said Aaron Feuer, 15.

— Sarah Price Brown, Contributing Writer

Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make Me a Donation Match


Call him a personal shopper, a matchmaker or a boutique investment adviser. However he is described, Joseph Hyman is trying to chart a new course in the world of Jewish philanthropy. A longtime Jewish organizational professional and fundraiser, Hyman last year launched the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy (CEJP) to support and advise philanthropists who are considering major gifts to Jewish and Israel-related causes.

Hyman acts as the middle man between donors and organizations, working with philanthropists to understand their particular interests, then he hits the pavement to locate worthwhile organizations that meet their philanthropic requirements.

The center’s goal is simple: to attract dollars to Jewish groups that might otherwise have gone elsewhere.

“If successful, we believe that CEJP will help to create a new paradigm in Jewish giving,” said Hyman, who is going public about his organization for the first time. “One that empowers and inspires a new generation of philanthropists to participate because they want to, not because they have to.”

His endeavor comes at a time when wealthy American Jews make a disproportionately high number of large gifts in United States but overwhelmingly make them to non-Jewish institutions. It also comes as philanthropists are increasingly looking to have a say in exactly where their dollars go.

The approach seems to be working.

Since its launch 19 months ago, the center already has facilitated more than $10 million in philanthropic donations to Jewish and Israel-related causes. Recipients include some well-known projects, such as Birthright Israel, which provides free, 10-day trips to Israel for young Jewish adults. They also include some lesser-known ones, including Meshi, a center in Israel offering the parents of special-needs children a break from child care, and Project Kesher, a group devoted to Jewish education and advocacy for women in the former Soviet Union.
“CEJP is revolutionary,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president and founder of The Israel Project, which has received two six-figure, multiyear commitments from donors working with the center.

“What it is doing,” she said, “is taking the desires of the philanthropists to heart and saying, ‘What is the outcome that you want? What is the investment that you want to make so that you can make positive change? And what’s the most cost-effective, reliable way to achieve those goals?'”

“There are people out there who are not giving to the level that they’re capable of giving,” said Adam Frieman, a longtime investment banker on Wall Street and a financial sponsor of the new center, said, Some portion of that group would give meaningfully more if somebody were able to connect with them on a personal level and make the giving personal.”

Hyman hopes that his efforts to eliminate much of the work involved in finding worthy causes will attract new dollars to Jewish groups.

“Beginning with the creation of Birthright about 10 years ago, it has been a core group of committed Jewish philanthropists who have challenged the community to move forward,” said Hyman, who stresses that his work is meant to complement that of the federations and other more traditional fundraising arms, not replace them.

“We are now beginning to see a new generation of megadonors emerge whose support is crucial to our future.”

The center today is working with nine North American philanthropists, including real estate developers, senior management of Fortune 500 companies and hedge fund managers, according to Hyman. And while all have donated to Jewish causes before, some now are giving at a much higher level.

Hyman likens the philanthropists “to world-class athletes who, with the proper support and coaching, can become Olympic gold medalists.”

Donor-advised funds are not new, say philanthropy insiders, and in fact have become increasingly popular over the last number of years in Jewish philanthropic circles.

However, said Sue Dickman, executive vice president of The Jewish Communal Fund, which facilitates and promotes charitable giving through donor-advised funds, the center is doing something different.

“What we do and what other donor-advised funds do is simply facilitate people’s philanthropy,” she said. “We don’t provide advice and input into the direction of their philanthropy. What Joe does is help people think strategically about their philanthropy and maximize the input that they can have.”

Other Jewish groups, notably the Jewish Funders Network, offer some donor advice. And several organizations are doing similar work in the general philanthropic world – among them the Wealth and Giving Forum, Rockefeller Advisory Services and the Philanthropic Initiative in Boston.

The center is also seen as attractive because it is supported by investors and does not charge for its work. Donors say that for this reason, they feel the group’s advice is objective.

“We felt that he could offer us something that we needed” because Hyman is “not connected to any particular organization but very well connected in the greater Jewish community both here in the U.S. and in Israel,” said the administrator of a private family foundation in the Chicago area, who requested anonymity for reasons of privacy.

Nearly two years ago, shortly before the center was launched, Hyman sat down with a Chicago-based private investor Robert Sklare to chat about philanthropy. They spent about 10 hours talking, Sklare said, discussing the Jewish philanthropic interests he and his wife, Yadelle, shared, the areas that got them excited and the problems they hoped to help solve. Then Hyman got to work tracking down a series of organizations that fit their bill.

Several did. In fact, Sklare said, since then, he’s donated a “substantial” amount of money to Israel-related organizations – certainly more than he’d have given had he never met Hyman.

He has since funded, among other groups, Birthright Israel; Karev, an after-school enrichment program for inner-city youngsters in Ashkelon, and Meitarim, a group of pluralistic schools that attempt to bridge the gap between religious and secular students.

According to Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, general philanthropy has nearly doubled in the last decade, and the growth of Hyman’s center reflects that trend.

“I think we’re going to see more and more different kinds of approaches to specialize it, make it more strategic, capture it,” he said. “This is the first one that is specifically aimed at Jewish philanthropy.”

Still, asked if this sort of philanthropy is the wave of the future, Solomon demurred.

“It’s hard to know what would have happened had CEJP not been there,” he said. “Would that money have gone to different Jewish organizations? To general charities? Would it have been given at all? While helping to direct millions of dollars is very impressive, it’s hard to know what would have happened had it not been there.”

Rabbi Irving Greenberg, president of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation, said that Michael Steinhardt, a megadonor to Jewish causes, was not initially convinced about Hyman’s efforts, but after he demonstrated that “he had a little bit of a track record, Michael became a funder.”

“I think it’s very significant,” Greenberg said of Hyman’s approach. “My guess is that this has not only got legs, but that this is the wave of the future.”

‘L-Words’ in a J World


The 2000 book “Best Lesbian Erotica” includes Jewish writer Joan Nestle’s short story and its provocative, leave-nothing-to-the-imagination title referencing sex with World War II pinup Rita Hayworth.

“Desire and passion are a very big part of my life. I am a Jewish woman and I refuse to give up that part of my territory,” said the 63-year-old author of short stories in the anthologies “Queers Jews” “The Oy of Sex” and “Friday the Rabbi Wore Lace.”

It is two decades of work from such writers that is being honored Sunday at the USC-affiliated gay and lesbian ONE Institute & Archives. The event celebrates ONE’s long-running Lesbian Writers Series and also coincides with the institute’s Feb. 29-April 10 photo exhibit, “Image from Sapphic L.A.’s Photography Community.”

Nestle is one of many Jewish lesbian writers with work catalogued at ONE, an archive similar to New York’s Lesbian Herstory Archive, which Nestle co-founded in 1973.

“I’m a secular Jew, but memory is how I live the history of the Jewish people as I know it,” she told The Journal.

Other Jewish writers to be highlighted at Sunday’s retrospective include Alice Bloch, Elizabeth Nonas and Robin Podolsky, an aide to state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles).

For writer Sarah Schulman, crafting stories about her sexual identity has isolated her from prominent publishers.

“It’s not because I’m Jewish, it’s the gay part,” Schulman said. “It’s very hard to know what I would do if I felt free. I’ve had so many problems with censorship that I write very defensively at this point.”

For a lesbian writer, she said, isolation also can be felt through Judaism’s family-centric institutions.

“Women are supposed to reproduce the Jewish culture,” Schulman said. “It’s one of the few cultures that has no role for single people.”

Nestle said Schulman seeks, and deserves, popular acclaim that older Jewish lesbian writers like her are not as drawn to.

“She has a sense of entitlement that is perhaps much more healthy than mine,” Nestle said. “I’ve never been really bothered by competing identities but I don’t expect my work to be ‘mainstream.'”

“20 Years of L-Words!” will be held Sunday, March 28 , 2
p.m.-4 p.m. ONE Institute & Archives, 909 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles. For
more information, call (213) 741-0094 or visit

Your Letters


Piece of the Pie

Tom Tugend’s article led me to fantasize that if I were a secular Jewish millionaire, what would I do to mitigate the present feverish global anti-Semitism (“Why Aren’t Jews Giving to Jews?” June 27)? I certainly would not give a dime to organizations that are in existence solely to perpetuate Jews and Jewish causes. This would only confirm what the anti-Semites say: Jews are clannish and self-serving.

Martin J. Weisman, Westlake Village

The Jewish Journal’s brilliant cover story, “Why Aren’t Jews Giving to Jews?,” points out that “mega-rich” Jews give only 6 percent of their donations to Jewish causes.

Just think if the super-rich Jews gave just 10 percent of their donations — not income, but donations — to Jewish causes. Next year, for example, David Geffen’s $20 million gift would pay for two new loaded Jewish Community Centers, complete with teen services, pool, gym, senior center and retirement community. Eli Broad’s $33 million gift would pay for 10 — count ’em 10 — new 250-student Jewish day schools, with lower tuition, since parents wouldn’t need to pay money into a building fund.

Try to imagine our community after five years of tithing donations — I know, it’s too good to be true.

Nathan D. Wirtschafter, Encino

R.B. Kitaj

I wanted to comment on your piece on the painter R.B. Kitaj (“Kitaj the ‘Diasporist,'” June 20). I was fortunate to see the retrospective of his work both here and in London and appreciated enormously the text next to many of his paintings. In fact, I remember being so incredibly moved by one of the paintings, “The Orientalist,” that I stood in the gallery, I’m not even sure for how long, with tears streaming down my face.

When a painting moves you to that degree, it says a lot about the painter. I wish Kitaj good fortune on his return home and look forward to seeing his exhibition at Venice’s LA Louver Gallery.

Jo Ann Burton, Los Angeles

Brunch Davidians

As a former Brunch Davidian (June 20), I applaud [Rob] Eshman’s conclusion on the ‘Big Idea’ Jewish leadership should have: Judaism. Next should be a discussion of why be Jewish in the first place?

I have chosen to take Judaism seriously and have used Dennis Prager’s writings and taped lectures to learn about it.

One cannot be a serious Jew by default of birth, eating at a deli or uttering a Yiddish term.

Rabbis need to conduct services that teach as much as provide for worship. Cantors need to find ways and music to get their audience to become engaged and daven as a congregation. Maybe The Jewish Journal could spare a page to teach the basics on a weekly basis?

Chuck Mayper, Camarillo

ADD Fast Lane

Perhaps it is because I am so enmeshed within the community of families with children who have invisible disabilities, that I don’t see this abuse of labels happening (“ADD, ADHD — Life in the Fast Lane,” June 20). All of our kids have real and serious issues to contend with and need these opportunities mentioned in her article, such as untimed SATs and Special Needs passes.

Our kids have diagnoses such as Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and, yes, severe ADHD, among others. An article such as [Wendy] Mogel’s actually sets us back, because it just fuels the anger of the neurotypical population, who feel that our kids are taking away from their kids in terms of services and by getting certain accommodations. It also makes us sound like a bunch of whiners who will do anything just to get our kids ahead in this world.

I am sure there are people out there who abuse diagnoses in order to receive accommodations, but my guess is that they are not the majority. Please don’t ruin it and make it any harder for us parents of children with real special needs. We’ve been through enough already.

Ellen Jannol, Valley Glen

Are We Sea Turtles?

I have no problem with the Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) limiting loans earmarked for fertility treatment to only Jews (“Loans Give Hope to Infertile Couple,” June 13). There are only 16 million Jews worldwide in existence. If we were a sea turtle or panda, we would be declared an endangered species.

Furthermore, the origin of the JFLA is that it is a benevolent society for Jews. In many ways, the Jewish community has failed to prioritize its services to Jews, such as Bet Tzedek. There are many Jews that could benefit from the Jewish community if we would focus our efforts on Jews and not the plight of others.

Sydni Bender, Culver City

Correction

In “Cancer Crusader, Takes on Oil, School” (June 27), the suit filed by Masry & Vititoe on June 9 is a direct action lawsuit. Additionally, Lori Moss’ MRI two months ago “did not look suspicious.”

+