Following apology from Spanish festival, Matisyahu confirms he will perform after all

After being re-invited, American Jewish reggae star Matisyahu confirmed he will perform at a Spanish music festival.

On Friday, two days after the Rototom SunSplash Festival apologized for canceling his performance in the face of pressure from the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Matisyahu announced on Facebook that he will perform there Saturday.

In his Facebook post, the singer wrote, “Today music wins. Freedom of expression wins.” Describing his feeling that he “was being used as a pawn for political convenience,” Matisyahu explained that, “It is my deep conviction however that acceptance and the ability for rebirth allow us to move forward.”

He added that the “incredible outpouring of worldwide support from fans and organizations who rose up as one to protest the intrusion of politics into a borderless celebration of music has been humbling.”

Matisyahu is not Israeli, but was apparently singled out by BDS activists because he was the only Jewish performer on the festival roster. Last week, after he ignored requests that he issue a statement declaring his support for Palestinian statehood, the festival cancelled his act. That sparked condemnation from Jewish organizations, the government of Spain and Matisyahu himself, who wrote on his Facebook page Monday that the festival organizers’ behavior had been “appalling and offensive.”

In a lengthy apology posted on Facebook Wednesday, festival organizers wrote, “Rototom Sunsplash rejects anti-Semitism and any form of discrimination towards the Jewish community.“
The statement said that the cancellation came due to pressure from the BDS movement, citing a “campaign of pressure, coercion and threats” against it that stoked fears the festival would be disrupted and “prevented the organization from reasoning clearly.”

Matisyahu ousted from Spanish festival for not endorsing Palestinian state

Matisyahu was disinvited from a Spanish music festival because he would not publicly endorse Palestinian statehood.

The Jewish-American reggae singer was scheduled to perform Aug. 22 at the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Benicassim, near Barcelona. But his show was canceled after he refused to release a public statement backing a Palestinian state, according to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, which called the disinvitation a case of “anti-Semitic cowardice.”

The organizers had been pressured to disinvite Matisyahu by activists promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement against Israel, the report said.

“As Spaniards, we are ashamed of the organizers,” the Spanish federation’s statement said. “In this case, the BDS Movement employed all its anti-Semitic arsenal against the participation on Matthew Paul Miller,” using Matisyahu’s full name.

Matisyahu, a former Hasid, was the only festival performer asked to endorse a Palestinian state because he is Jewish, the federation said.

“Such acts violate fundamental human rights guaranteed by our constitution,” the statement said. According to the El Pais newspaper, other musicians threatened to cancel their performances unless Matisyahu made the declaration.

Matisyahu is not an Israeli citizen.

In a Facebook post Saturday about the decision, Rototom mentioned its “sensitivity to Palestine, its people and the occupation of its territory by Israel.”

Israelis, Palestinians vie for Latino support during Pope’s visit

The first Latin American pope brought a wave of Latino love with him on his trip to the Holy Land last weekend.

At Pope Francis’ public prayer at Manger Square on May 25 in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, near the site where Jesus is believed to have been born, Spanish was being spoken almost as much as Arabic. Flags from Argentina and Spain flew alongside those of the Palestinian Authority and the Vatican.

Francisco Primero, te quiere el mundo entero! (Francis the First, the whole world loves you!) a group of Spanish tourists chanted as they rushed the square, surrounded by giddy Palestinian schoolchildren. And then, louder: “Viva El Papa! (Long live the Pope!)

On the walls of stone buildings above the tourists, Palestinian Museum officials had hung mural-sized posters mixing images from classic Christian paintings with photos of Palestinian suffering. In one, a re-mixed “Madonna in the Meadow” showed the Virgin Mary huddling with Baby Jesus under the infamous separation wall that now divides Israel and the West Bank. In another, “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas,” the saint’s hand was replaced by a Palestinian’s holding out his ID for an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint.

“Welcome to Palestine,” a huge banner proclaimed on the local mosque. “The detainees in the occupations prisons are pleading for freedom and dignity.”

So began Day One of the “Hasbara Superbowl” between Israelis and Palestinians, in which the ultimate prize was support of the international Christian community — and, in particular, Christian Latinos.

Joseph Hyman, president and founder of the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy, made the Superbowl comparison back during the first-ever Israel Summit last January, where 17 pro-Israel organizations were vying for funding from some 100 philanthropists. The star of the summit, Hyman said, was Fuente Latina, an organization that assists Spanish-language media looking to cover Israel and the region. The organization needed a funding boost to provide extra resources during the Pope’s much-anticipated visit to the Holy Land.

Its pitch was a no-brainer. Latinos form the largest minority in the United States — this year, they even surpassed non-Hispanic whites in California.

And in the University of California system, where impassioned debates over whether to divest from Israel have been pushing student-government meetings late into the night (as at many other campuses across the U.S.), more Latino students than white students have been accepted for fall 2014.

That’s not to mention the 21 countries that make up Latin America — whose population is 90 percent Christian, and mostly Catholic, like the pope — plus Spain and Portugal.

Fuente Latina’s director, Leah Soibel, an American with Argentinian parents, founded the organization in December 2012 after working seven years at The Israel Project, another nonprofit that aims to improve Israel’s image abroad. “We’ve been preparing for weeks,” she said in an interview a few days before the Pope’s arrival. “It’s going to be 72 hours of madness when he’s here. A lot of people are going to be watching — all eyes on Jerusalem.”

Even more than his predecessors, Pope Francis has captured hearts beyond the Catholic world: A pop-culture icon for his focus on the disenfranchised and his willingness to break molds of papal opulence, Francis was named 2013’s “Person of the Year” by Time Magazine. He speaks tirelessly of the importance of inter-religious dialogue and of putting social justice before capitalism. At a press conference in Jerusalem arranged by Fuente Latina, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the leader of Argentina’s Jewish community and one of the pope’s closest friends, called him “probably the most influential person in the world.” 

Soibel said that the three employees at Fuente Latina normally process 50 to 100 requests in a month. In contrast, during the Pope’s visit, the organization was providing heavy assistance to about 300 media outlets.

Fuente Latina connected reporters with Spanish-speaking experts in Israel, arranged press conferences — most notably, the one with Rabbi Skorka, who co-authored the pope’s book on inter-religious dialogue — and took them on helicopter rides across Israel.

On one such sky tour, Soibel explained the reality on the ground to reporters from Mexico and Columbia, with an emphasis on Israel’s reasoning for building the separation wall and the fear experienced by Israelis near the border. The group also touched down in Sderot to tour a police exhibit of rockets that have been fired from Gaza. “When they don’t feel they’re getting enough attention, they begin to send rockets again,” Soibel said of the terrorists in Gaza.

Fuente Latina Director Leah Soibel with a case of rockets fired on Israel from Gaza. Photo by Simone Wilson

Later, the Mexican reporter wrote in an online piece for her news site, Religión Confidencial, that although the pope would observe the separation wall, in many Israeli cities he would also observe minimal separation — places where Jews, Christians and Muslims live in peaceful coexistence.

Jewish philanthropy leader Hyman said of the helicopter rides: “For journalists to look at the size of Israel and understand its nature, it lends a sensitivity to why Israel is so concerned on the existential front.”

The Vatican also pulled its weight in the battle for public opinion. The pope’s visit was the picture of balance: He ate lunch with Palestinian refugees and spontaneously stepped down from his Popemobile to pray at the separation wall in Bethlehem, which is covered in anti-Israel graffiti. On the other side of the Green Line, he laid a wreath on the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, and blessed a group of gravely ill Christian Arab-Israeli children (at the request of Israel’s branch of the Make-A-Wish Foundation).

The pope also stopped for an instantly iconic photo of three very different Argentinians — the heads of Argentina’s Jewish, Catholic and Muslim communities — hugging at the Western Wall.

“He will try to balance,” Rabbi Skorka said in advance of the pope’s visit at the Fuente Latina press conference. “This is going to be his policy in his speeches and in his acts. Total balance, this is what he is.” 

But while Pope Francis tried to spread his love evenly, Israeli and Palestinian heads of state fought for the upper hand. After the pope’s stop at the separation wall, Israeli Prime Minister Benjaman Netanyah steered him toward a Jerusalem memorial for Israeli victims of terrorism, so he could pray there, too. And both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas argued in their welcoming speeches that life is better for Christians under their jurisdiction.

Abbas condemned “the settlement enterprise, and daily attacks on places of worship including churches and mosques.” He also emphasized his willingness to “work together to strengthen the Palestinian indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land, especially in Jerusalem.”

Netanyahu, meanwhile, told the pope: “The rights of Christians in this state are protected. To my sorrow, that doesn’t happen in other places in the Middle East. … Palestinian terrorists not only hurt us, they also harm Christians.”

Rima Saba, an American-educated Palestinian and “staunch Catholic” from Ramallah, spoke to the Journal in the crowd at the Bethlehem rally — the pope’s only public, open-air event while in the Holy Land. “This is an international, historical moment,” Saba said. “It means a lot for Palestine and its people. This is the land of Jesus Christ, but it also carries a lot of meaning and emotion for us as Palestinians. The fact that [the Pope] chose to come to Palestine first shows he really has clarity of vision, vis à vis the Palestinian question — that we are refugees, that we have been tortured and evicted.”

An increasingly popular annual conference called “Christ at the Checkpoint,” a project of the Bethlehem Bible College, has tried to loosen Israel’s monopoly on Evangelical Christian financial and moral support abroad.

“With every passing month, more evidence is emerging that these anti-Israel Christians are succeeding in reaching beyond the evangelical left and are influencing the mainstream,” David Brog, executive director of Christians United For Israel (CUFI), wrote after this year’s conference. “In particular, they are penetrating the evangelical world at its soft underbelly: the millennial generation.”

OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano, author of the “¡Ask a Mexican!” column and an advocate of Jewish-Latino relations, agreed that although Israel has wooed many members of the Latino political class, it's losing them at college level: “In the Latin market in general, but especially in the U.S. and among young people, the Palestinians are definitely winning the battle.”

According to Arellano, the “brown people oppressed by white oppressors” narrative is easy for pro-Palestine groups to sell to young Latinos going through their “leftist years where they love all revolutionary causes.”

He said this stems from the reality that “the Israel question registers not a blip for Latinos — not until one side of the other comes to them with their perspective. Kind of like, ‘We’re yours, whoever gets to us first.’”

Pope Francis drives by a crowd holding Palestinian flags in Bethlehem. Photo by Simone Wilson

Separate polls conducted by The Israel Project and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) over the past few years have shown that U.S. Latinos, in particular, are somewhat of a blank slate when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“There’s a lack of awareness” about the region among Latinos in the U.S., Soibel said. “They have more pressing issues, like immigration, health care, economy. We know very well that Israel is down the list of things that matter personally to them.”

But as Latinos become more politically and economically empowered in America, said Dina Siegel Vann, director of the Latino and Latin American Institute at AJC, “they’re slowly but surely becoming a very influential and important group, which will have an impact on decision-making in this country. So it’s important to us that they understand what Israel is about. That they understand we are partners.”

Geraldo Rivera, a columnist for Fox News Latino, likewise pointed out in 2011 that Israel would not be a state, nor would Palestine enjoy “non-member state” status at the United Nations, if not for the Latin American voting block.

“Relations between Latin America and Israel are starting to look like a budding love affair,” World Politics Review commentator Frida Ghitis wrote in February following a wave of cross-globe visits between Israeli and Latin American leaders.

“Israel and Latin America have discovered each other — or, to be precise, a portion of Latin America has,” she added. “Latin America is increasingly falling into two separate camps, and it is one of those camps that has found an affinity for Israel.”

Speaking to the Journal at the pope’s prayer rally at Manger Square, most religious tourists from Spain and Latin America distanced themselves from the Israel-Palestine issue, refusing to take a stance.

“It’s very complicated,” said Laura Rodriguez, a Catholic visitor from Spain. “There’s no one truth about it.”

Also in the crowd was Buenos Aires politician Lidia Saya, who said she had traveled to Bethlehem with a group of 60 dignitaries, including Argentinian religious leaders Father Pepe Di Paola and Rabbi Alejandro Avruj. “The grand majority of us [Argentinians] don’t understand the conflict. The grand majority don’t have a position,” she said. However, “coming here, and having to go through a checkpoint just to get to the plaza — I can see that it’s very bad for the citizens.”

Argentinian journalist Nelson Castro interviews religious tourists from Argentina in Bethlehem. Photo by Simone Wilson

Carlos Boselle, also from Buenos Aires, was on a tour with around 70 Catholics from across Latin America. He said that many Israelis and Palestinians had tried to argue their position to him. Although he called the Israelis “big fanatics,” he said he understood that “Israel has its reasons” for building the separation wall. “They’re protecting their rights, too.”

Another group of sunburned Argentinians heading back through the checkpoint at the end of the day looked rather shell-shocked when all the Palestinians were pulled off the bus and examined for 20 minutes before they could continue on to Jerusalem.

According to Vann at the AJC, missing this prime era for Latino outreach could have big consequences. 

“It could go one way, or it could go the other way,” Vann said. “Because there’s a lack of information out there [about Israel], you have an incredible opportunity, if you do it correctly in a strategic way, to inform. … There’s a sense of urgency and a small window of opportunity to make a difference before Latinos truly become empowered.”

AJC, as well as the Anti-Defamation League, runs dozens of Israel tours for Latino politicians, faith leaders, culture-makers and other dignitaries. But other organizations, like Fuente Latina, have taken a more back-channel approach to reach a greater audience.

“As this area began to heat up in terms of the Arab Spring, which was widely covered by the Latino media — Syria, Egypt, ongoing issues here in Israel — there was a growing demand” for Spanish-language press resources in the region, Soibel said.

And with the pope’s visit to Israel, demand flew off the charts — opening new opportunities for Latino outreach. “When you have a journalist that is taking one stance versus another stance, it’s about making that personal connection,” Soibel added. “That’s why the language is so important.”

Growing the fruits of peace in El Salvador

Don Israel speaks no English, and I speak almost no Spanish. But I understood him well enough to realize that, as I began to plant one of the mango trees that would be placed in his field that day,  he obviously thought I was doing it wrong. Our mutual patience eventually conquered our communication barrier, though, and with time, I learned and understood. We went on to plant about a dozen mango trees together that morning.

Don Israel’s small parcel of land is in a rural village in the Lempa River region of El Salvador. I was there as part of a delegation sent by American Jewish World Service (AJWS), consisting of 16 extraordinary young people training to be rabbis, educators or leaders of Jewish nonprofits. (I was honored to be the scholar-in-residence for the group.) For 10 days, we labored alongside our hosts, planting trees, digging irrigation ditches and building latrines. But it became obvious fairly early on that our primary mission there was not to work (we were, after all, a fairly inexperienced work bunch), but rather to learn and to understand, as human beings and as Jews. Patience turned out to be our most important asset, as the story of the Lempa River region took time to comprehend. And though there is still much more to know, I left with at least the outline of a story of war and peace, of exile and return, of anxiety and hope, and of human courage and nobility. It is a story that has enriched my religious life and has expanded my sense of religious duty.

The story begins with an event that I had been embarrassingly ignorant about, the vicious civil war that wracked El Salvador through the 1980s. And although I had done some reading about it in anticipation of this trip, the event was still remote and emotionally inaccessible. But this changed suddenly and dramatically on our very first afternoon, as we gathered beneath the thatched-roof courtyard just outside Chungo Fuentes’ home. Fuentes is the bearer of the story, the embodiment of the memory.

Fuentes’ part of the story is rooted in the political dissent that had been growing throughout the 1970s among El Salvador’s lower economic classes. The dissent was fueled by bitter resentment against the military-backed government under whose rule the great majority of the country’s land was owned by fewer than 20 wealthy families, leaving much of the population struggling for sustenance. The Catholic Church became a major organizer of the political protest movement, whose voice was thwarted through the government’s rigging of elections, and the military’s tactics of physical intimidation and violence. The 1980 assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, a highly influential figure in the protest movement, helped to spark an all-out civil war between leftist guerilla groups and the Salvadoran military. Many rural villages whose civilian residents were sympathetic to the guerillas came under attack at the hands of military death squads, who killed indiscriminately, and who, in December 1981, carried out a horrific massacre of civilians at the village of El Mozote. (“Report of the U.N. Truth Commission on El Salvador” is an excellent source of further information.)

As this was unfolding, Fuentes led a group of nearly 1,000 villagers across the border into Honduras, and from there to the mountains of Panama, where they were granted political asylum. As he recounts the story for us, Fuentes speaks of the faith they all had that this exile would be temporary, and that they would return to their homeland one day. That day came 10 years later, in 1992, when the two sides signed a peace accord in which the government, among other things, agreed to distribute land to the common people, including Fuentes and his fellow refugees.

It is worth noting that all of us in the group reflexively drew parallels between the story we were hearing and our own national story. It was only the following week that we realized that we were far from the first to make the connection. The massive mural in town depicting the story dedicates one panel to the oppression at the hand of the government. It prominently features an image of the Egyptian pyramids.

As dramatic as it was, though, it was not primarily a story of war that we had come to El Salvador to learn and understand, rather a story of how people recover from war. It took time and required patience for the details of this story to come together, but when it did, what we learned is that recovery only happens when people on the ground are able to summon up the very best of what makes us human, and when people from the outside bring their core moral and religious convictions to bear on the situation of strangers.

The peace accords were far from a panacea. Yes, men and women now came to the Lempa River region to claim their new parcels of land. But as many of these men and women had been on opposite sides of the fighting, distrust and the potential for further violence came with them. In addition to which, no one had money to invest in farming, and nobody was trained in modern agricultural methods. The area lacked even the most basic infrastructure — to this day, in fact, most of the roads are unpaved, streetlights are few, there are no sanitation or postal services, and the nearest hospital is an hour and a half away — and on top of all of that, the new landowners were living, without any evacuation plan, right next to a river that regularly overflowed its banks. I can still see Fuentes holding his palm to his waist when he described the devastating floods of this past October.

That people aren’t fighting and aren’t starving in the Lempa River region today is due to a small group of residents who convened right after the war, pledging to create a peace zone in which grievances could be aired, but also that a commitment to putting aside past differences in the name of community-building would prevail. They pledged to go from village to village to hear what people most needed and also to enlist them in a voluntary cooperative through which they would become trained in sustainable methods of farming and environmental protection. They also would agree to work collectively to market their agricultural output, thus maximizing profit for all. They drew up an evacuation plan for the next flood (last October they succeeded in evacuating 7,000 people, losing not one soul to the disaster). A parallel women’s group created an NGO that provided micro-loans for war widows, enabling them to purchase livestock. (Today it provides all kinds of economic and social services to the women of the region.) People, scarred by years of poverty and war,  with every reason to be untrusting and suspicious of one another, instead formed a democratic, self-governing organization to forge a better life for everyone. Two of the organization’s directors today serve in El Salvador’s parliament.

But this is only one half of the story.

The other part is that none of this could have unfolded without outside help. There was plenty of evidence on the ground of the impact of USAID, most dramatically in the person of our local guide, Chema Argueta, who was plucked as a high school senior from a poor fishing village on the Jiquilisco Bay, trained for two years in Portland, Ore., in the management of natural resources, and returned to his community where he today humbly leads the effort to preserve the bay’s mangrove ecosystem, thus securing the future for the bay’s fisherman and their families. And then there was the ubiquitous presence of the AJWS, which has been making grants for community organizations in the Lempa River region for decades. One group after another gratefully acknowledged AJWS’ impact. It’s difficult to describe, by the way, the sense of pride we felt each time AJWS was mentioned by people who otherwise would never have had any contact with Jews, but who now know us as a compassionate, smart and forward-looking humanitarian partner. 

And this is the other half of the story we had come to learn: that visionary outsiders empower visionaries on the ground. It can’t happen any other way.

Torah study was woven through our 10 days in the country. Within our group we learned and analyzed texts concerning the halachic responsibility to respond to human beings in crisis, the imperative to extend justice to the disadvantaged, the command to preserve the dignity of those who are receiving aid, and the very complex question as to where tzedakah directed toward the wider human community fits within our tzedakah obligation toward our fellow Jews. As leaders and future leaders of Jewish institutions, we all intuitively understood how important this latter question is.

The story of the Lempa River region is far from over. Next year, hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. economic development aid will flow into El Salvador through the Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC). Local leaders are worried, though, that the MCC’s requirement that the recipient government invest the funds in a manner that will attract international private sector investment (not a bad plan in and of itself) might undermine their work by creating incentives and pressures on farmers to grow crops that will bring short-term profits but long-term soil depletion, or to sell their parcels to larger land owners, which will ultimately land them back where they were before the war. Good news might be bad news. Everything is complicated.

And of course, as the autumn approaches, everyone there will be keeping a wary eye on the water level in the Lempa.

On the plane ride home, I thought a lot about Don Israel, Chungo Fuentes,  Chema Argueta, and the many other men and women we met. I thought about the nobility of their common struggle, the fragility of their gains and the vulnerability of their livelihoods. And about the wise teaching of Rabbi Tarfon, who taught that while it is not ours to complete the task, we are not free to desist from it either.

For more information about American Jewish World Service, visit

Yosef Kanefsky is senior rabbi at B’nai David-Judea (, a Modern Orthodox congregation in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

Latinos, Jews to Join in Historic Boyle Heights Celebration

The Jewish and Latino communities will join Sunday at Fiesta Shalom, celebrating their joint past, present and future ties and the achievements of the State of Israel since its independence.

A combination of street fair, live music and dance, food booths, interactive workshops, exhibits, children’s activities and a few rousing speeches, the fiesta will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and play out, appropriately, in front of the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights.

It was at the historic synagogue that the Israeli flag was hoisted for the first time in Los Angeles on May 15, 1948, the day after the Jewish state declared its independence.

For nostalgia buffs, there will be a one-time return of Canter’s Deli, a Boyle Heights institution before it moved west to Fairfax.

Stressing Jewish/Israeli and Latino connections will be Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Sheriff Lee Baca, Israel Consul General Yaakov Dayan, LA City Councilman Jose Huizar of Boyle Heights and John Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

For the first time, the Jewish Journal and the Spanish-language daily La Opinion have jointly published a bilingual English-Spanish insert in their May 15 editions, with both publications looking toward future collaborations.

Planning for the fiesta started last year, shortly after Dayan took up his diplomatic post in Los Angeles and advanced the idea in a meeting between Huizar and Gil Artzyeli, the Israeli deputy consul general.

“As a Latino growing up in Boyle Heights, I know very well about the community’s storied Jewish and Latino histories,” Huizar said. “Fiesta Shalom gives us the unique opportunity to come together to celebrate these two cultures that have been so influential in making Boyle Heights the vibrant community that it is today.”

Boyle Heights evolved into Los Angeles’ largest shtetl in the five years following World War I, when the city’s Jewish population rose from 19,000 to 45,000, and remained predominant until the late 1940s.

Before the Jewish exodus westward after World War II, Boyle Heights boasted 27 synagogues and shtiebels. The Breed Street Shul, formally Congregation Talmud Torah, was the jewel in the crown and is now being restored, after years of neglect, at the initiative of the Jewish Historical Society.
In those earlier days, Brooklyn Street, the main thoroughfare, was lined with stores advertising their wares in Yiddish, and the “official” Jewish bordello stood at the corner of First St. and Boyle Ave.

As a growing number of Latinos, as well as African-Americans and Asians, moved in, Boyle Heights became a vibrantly diverse community, as Rosalie Turrola, a high school counselor and life-long resident of Boyle Heights, recalled.

“I remember everyone lighting candles on Friday nights, and I loved the potato pancakes,” she told The Journal. “I had a nice neighbor who always called me ‘a shayne maidele’ [a pretty girl].”

Fiesta Shalom has a couple of historical antecedents. In 1894, Max Mayberg organized the first Fiesta de Los Angeles, featuring a carnival and parade, to make the city’s multi-ethnic citizenry forget the economic miseries of the 1893 Depression.

In the late 1940s, the Soto-Michigan Jewish Community Center in Boyle Heights pioneered the Jewish community’s outreach to other ethnic groups through the Friendship Festival, which brought together 12,000 “Mexicans, Japanese, Negro and Jewish youths in a cooperative venture,” wrote historian George Sanchez.

In its modern incarnation, Consul General Dayan said, “Fiesta Shalom will, we hope, send the message of unity and mutual support between communities and Israel from Los Angeles to the entire United States.” The Jewish Federation’s Fishel noted that “the festivities in Boyle Heights celebrate the many community projects that are strengthening bonds between the Latino and Jewish communities throughout Los Angeles.”

Among the sponsors of Fiesta Shalom are the Israeli consulate and tourism office, Jewish Federation, El Al, Jewish Journal, Canter’s Deli and various Latino organizations and officials.

There is no admission charge for the event at 247 N. Breed St. For location, directions and parking spaces go to

How Do We Do It?

I was late getting home from mymeeting the other night. Too late to help my daughter prepare for herSpanish quiz. Too late to massage her shoulders after softballpractice. “Do Not Disturb,” read the sign on her door. Hernight-stand light was on, but Samantha was already asleep.

Disregarding her warning sign, I entered, andpulled the covers over her. “Sweet dreams,” I whispered, and I kissedher forehead. I knew from our car-phone talk that she had had a goodday. Still, until I saw Samantha myself, her hair neatly pulled backwith a barrette, I could not rest. At nearly 16, my daughter isaccustomed to making her own meals, putting herself to bed. Thebalance of power has shifted: I need the good-night kiss more thanshe does.

I’ve been a single parent a long time now. I knowa lot about it. When Jewish organizations need a speaker on singleparenting, they often ask me — and I’ll be at the Westside JewishCommunity Center this Sunday for the daylong conference, “CreatingFamily Life as a Single Parent,” sponsored by Jewish Family Service’snew Jewish Single Parent Network (818-762-8800.)

Fifteen percent of all Jewish households withchildren under 16 are single-parent, according to the soon-to-bereleased Los Angeles Jewish community population survey. That’s aboutone in six. We may have fewer teen pregnancies than the surroundingmainstream community, but lots of divorce, lots of widowhood, lots ofsingle parents by choice.

And the questions I’m asked most often are: “Howdo you do it?” “How do you make choices about the child’s welfarewithout someone to bat the ideas around with?” “How do you play goodcop/bad cop by yourself?” “How do you get any time for yourself aftera long day’s work?” “How do you retain a social life that doesn’tleave the child feeling excluded?”

The single answer to all of these issues changeswith time. Raising a child alone is so overwhelming “There’s noschool for parenting,” my mother used to tell me, and single parentsare even more in the dark. Whipped about in the heady winds of achild’s emotions, I’ve had no one else to provide an anchor. Yet,somehow, homework gets done, new Adidas get bought. We get throughthe school semester. We get over our tantrums. We get our hugs. I getby, with a little help from my friends.

I’m not kidding. Some nights I can’t bear theweight of the worry. And some days I have to kvell out loud. Ineither case, I talk: to the pillow, or to Marika, Jane or Willie. Orto God. I hold back nothing. My advice to single parents is: Pickyour friends wisely. Forget the meaning of shame. And learn themeaning of pride.

It’s about pride that I want to make a specialpoint. A single parent’s life is generally deemed to be one of pity,sadness, handicap. The prevailing attitude of our synagogues andorganizations, and of married couples who belong to them, is that wesingle parents are “broken,” while they, of course, are “intact.” Ina series of focus groups sponsored by Jewish Family Service in LosAngeles, single parents reported that they felt “unwelcome” in Jewishlife. There’s a bias toward the nuclear family; anyone who doesn’tconform is a challenge and a threat to community norms.

Perhaps it goes back to the biblical commandmentof caring for the widow and orphan, but single parents carry, inaddition to extraordinary financial and emotional obligations, aweighty psychological burden to prove their wholeness. The Jewishsingle parent is regarded as a war veteran, like the one-legged guywho stands on the highway with a tin cup. Battle-scarred, needinghelp.

Wrong! The aura of handicap that hangs over singlefamilies not only hurts parents, who ache with a sense of their owninadequacy, but it destroys the burgeoning confidence of Jewishchildren.

There are plenty of stumbling blocks in a parent’slife; let’s get rid of the crazy ones. We have to see single parentsfor who they are: strong, tireless, persevering and role models ofselfless love.

The community, rather, could honor us not withpity but with support, including low-cost synagogue membership andb’nai mitzvah fees, and scholarships for summer camp. But the biggestboon to single parents would come when the Jewish world begins toredefine “family” according to the realities of today. After all, theLos Angeles community survey demonstrates that only 23 percent of allJewish households are in the traditional “Leave it to Beaver” mode:Mom, Dad, kids.

Well, my house is part of the new majority. Ididn’t exactly plan to raise my child alone, but, even so, it is arewarding life. I was lucky to do her bat mitzvah alone, without aspouse to argue with over “how Jewish” it would be. I have vacationswith my daughter each year that are the envy of many two-parentfamilies. We have closeness and intimacy and friendship. I love her,and she’s still talking to me, so I can’t be doing too bad ajob.

I’m a single parent, sure. Glad of it.

Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of TheJewish Journal. She hosts the Jewish community chat Thursday eveningsat 8 p.m. on American Online. Her e-mail address

All rights reserved by author.


January 30, 1998One by One byOne


January 30, 1998TheDaughter


January 23, 1998Babysitters NoMore


January 16, 1998FalseAlarms


November 28, 1997As AmericanAs…


November 21, 1997The ThirteenWants


November 14, 1997Music to MyEars


November 7, 1997Four Takes on50


October 31, 1997ChallengingHernandez


October 24, 1997CommonGround


October 17, 1997Taking Off theMask


October 10, 1997Life’s a MixedBag


October 3, 1997And Now ForSomething Completely Different


September 26, 1997An OpenHeart


September 19, 1997My BronxTale


September 12, 1997 — Of Goddesses andSaints


August 22, 1997 — Who is Not a Jew


August 15, 1997 — A LegendaryFriendship


July 25, 1997 — A Perfect Orange


July 18, 1997 — News of Our Own


July 11, 1997 — Celluloid Heroes


July 4, 1997 — Meet theSeekowitzes


June 27, 1997 — The Facts of Life


June 20, 1997 — Reality Bites



Soup, Sandwiches

At left, from right, Al and Jean Langer with their son, Norm; Above, a mural in the back of the restaurant; Below, one of Langer’s venerable waitresses serves their famous sandwiches to a hungry crowd.

Photos by Ruth Stroud

Amid a blizzard of Spanish-language signs for passport photos, discount shoes and wedding gowns, Langer’s Delicatessen & Restaurant sits proudly at the corner of Alvarado and 7th streets, the location it has occupied for the past 50 years. The hours are shorter — 8 to 4, Monday through Saturday, closed Sundays — and the price for a pastrami on rye is certainly higher — $7.50, versus a quarter in 1947. The conversation emanating from the brown naugahyde booths is as often in Spanish as in English. And the Ramparts police substation across the street keeps a close watch on the multiethnic parade of humanity that mills about the busy intersection, once the hub of a lively Jewish neighborhood, second only to Boyle Heights.

The restaurant’s founders, Al and Jean Langer, 84 and 82, respectively, and their son, Norm, 52, who runs the place (with a constant pipeline of advice from his parents), don’t plan on closing up shop any time soon. In fact, they are celebrating the deli’s 50th anniversary — officially last Tuesday, June 17 — with a month-long contest, culminating in a drawing for $7,000 in cash and other prizes on July 1. In Los Angeles, “there aren’t a lot of restaurants and institutions that have survived that long and still have their doors open,” Norm said.

The opening of the Red Line in 1993 was a lifesaver. For a token round-trip tab of 50 cents, the subway line’s last stop was across the street from MacArthur Park, just a few steps from Langer’s. “We were almost ready to close,” Jean said. But the media blitz surrounding the MTA line helped entice crowds similar to those in the restaurant’s heyday, in the ’60s and ’70s. (In those days, Philharmonic- and theatergoers and the bar crowd kept the place hopping until the wee hours.)

The Red Line’s steep price hike to $2.70 round trip has been a bit prohibitive, the Langers said, and the bad press about crime in the area a few years back didn’t help. “In 50 years, we’ve had some broken windows, but no holdups and robberies,” Al said. The police have solved, or at least lessened, the crime problems tremendously, added Norm. “I’m not saying it’s Beverly Hills, but it’s been fantastic,” he said.

During a typical lunch hour, Langer’s bustles with activity. The booths fill with downtown lawyers and businessmen in suits and ties, as well as with more casually dressed residents of the nearby low-income apartments.

One morning before the rush begins in earnest, the Langers take some time to reminisce about their first 50 years. Actually, Al Langer begins his tale several decades before opening day, when he was a 12-year-old kid in Newark, N.J. To earn some money for his bar mitzvah, he went to work in a local delicatessen, later honing his talents in the Catskills and picking up an indispensable sandwich-making skill that he passed on to Norm.

“I don’t know how to make a bowl of soup,” says Al, spry and fit-looking in a salmon-colored polo shirt and dark pants and, obviously, still proud to call himself “a deli man.” “But I can handle a knife. You can’t be taught that.”

In Los Angeles, where he moved to in 1937, Langer went to work at Lax’s, a deli on Hollywood Boulevard, where he met Jean. A Chicago native, she had come out to Los Angeles a married woman and was working as a waitress at Lax’s. “For a Jewish girl, to be a waitress in those days was a shonda [a shame],” she said. “I told everyone I was working as a cashier.”

After Jean was widowed, she and Al were married on April 20, 1941. Two children, Norm in 1944 and Laurie in 1951, followed.

Following his discharge from the Army in 1943, Al borrowed $500 and opened a deli on 8th Street. Within two years, he walked away with $31,000 and invested it in English ceramic teapots. He lost all except $3,000, which he wisely put back in the deli business. He bought an 18-foot-long restaurant with three windows, at the corner of Alvarado and 7th. It had three booths, two tables and a counter — 35 seats altogether. Jean handled cooking and the books, and Al took care of the rest.

“He said to me, ‘The kitchen is yours,'” Jean said. “I said, ‘You meshugenah! I’ve never cooked for anyone but you.’ He said, ‘You’ll learn.'”

Langer’s took over a liquor store, then a Crocker Citizens Bank, expanding to 140 seats by 1967. It had 50 employees on the payroll and stayed open until 3 in the morning on weekends, 1 a.m. during the week. Over the years, numbers of local and national celebrities and politicos have passed through the glass double doors: George Segal, Jack Lord, Buddy Hackett, Mayor Richard Riordan, Zev Yaroslavsky, Jackie Goldberg and Gil Garcetti have all been there. Shecky Greene used to come in. And somewhere in a scrapbook, Norm has a picture of his 5-foot-5 father standing next to the towering basketball great Wilt Chamberlain.

Langer’s also used to cater weddings, Christmas parties, brises and other events. They still do funerals and parties for long-time clients, but not much else in the special-events department.

Norm, who began working at Langer’s at age 17, remembers riding the swan boats at MacArthur Park, going to the movies next door and bowling down the street. Jean would take time out to sunbathe in the park. “I wouldn’t set foot in there today,” she said.

Still, Langer’s is hanging in there. It was featured last week on KABC Talkradio, Fox TV, KTLA and in the Los Angeles Times in honor of its 50th. Neither Norm’s two grown children nor his sister’s two, pictured as tykes in photos hanging on the deli walls, are likely to go into the family business. But Norm isn’t planning on leaving any time soon. And even though his parents don’t work at the restaurant on a daily basis anymore, their son doesn’t do anything without consulting them, and vice versa. That “100-percent communication” and respect has been the secret of survival for Langer’s, Norm said. That, and the food, of course, which earned Zagat’s rating as the No. 1 deli for seven consecutive years, including one rave review that said the pastrami “was worth risking your life over.”

Well, worth a visit to Langer’s Deli anyway.