Bernie Sanders picked as a headlining speaker at Democratic convention

Bernie Sanders will be a headlining speaker at the Democratic convention.

Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont and the first Jewish candidate to win major party nominating contests, will speak the first night, July 25, as will Michelle Obama, the first lady.

Last week, Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton, who won the Democrats’ presidential nomination. A prime speaking slot was one of his conditions for the endorsement, as well as the inclusion in the platform of some of his campaign planks, including a $15 minimum wage, Wall Street regulatory reforms and an overhaul of campaign finance.

Also speaking, according to the convention press office, are President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton. Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of the presumptive and former president, will speak on July 28, the last night of the convention, prior to Hillary Clinton.

House Republicans in chaos as favorite McCarthy quits Speaker race

Republicans in Congress were plunged into turmoil on Thursday when California Representative Kevin McCarthy, considered the favorite to succeed House Speaker John Boehner, surprisingly dropped out of the race, throwing the party's ability to govern into question.

McCarthy, the No. 2 Republican in the House, had competition from more conservative lawmakers who felt marginalized under Boehner's leadership. The election for Speaker was postponed until further notice, House Republican Conference spokesman Nate Hodson said.

Meanwhile, one House Republican, moderate Representative Charlie Dent, said he expected Boehner to stay on the job until the leadership question is settled. Boehner is scheduled to retire on Oct. 30.

“McCarthy said he was dropping out of the race because he did not think he could unify a splintered caucus, Republicans said. “We were stunned,” Representative Tim Helskamp said.

The upheaval comes weeks before the United States is due to reach the limits of its borrowing authority. Congress faces a difficult vote to raise the debt limit to avoid a possible default, and lawmakers are also struggling to reach a deal with President Barack Obama, a Democrat, on spending levels before government funding runs out on Dec. 11.

McCarthy was elected to Congress from California in 2006 and had been one of Boehner's lieutenants in House Republican leadership since 2011. He has been majority leader since August 2014.

He had faced two challengers, Representatives Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Daniel Webster of Florida.

Webster had drawn the backing of the House Freedom Caucus, a bloc of about 40 conservatives. These Tea Party-aligned members noted that Webster, 66, led efforts that “empowered” individual lawmakers while he was speaker of the Florida House from 1996 to 1998.

In several closed-door meetings this week, McCarthy told them he would not be like Boehner, some lawmakers said afterward, but few seem to have found this convincing.

Boehner announced last month he would leave Congress down effective Oct. 30 after nearly five years as speaker that were marked by internal party battles.

McCarthy's ability to effectively communicate Republican initiatives was called into question last week when he made a connection between a special House committee investigating a 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's falling public opinion poll numbers.

Clinton was secretary of state during that attack and Republicans in the past year have been denying allegations from Democrats that the special House committee was created mainly as a forum for attacking Clinton.

Anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller barred from speaking at Jewish Federation headquarters

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles barred anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller from delivering a previously scheduled speech at its Wilshire Boulevard headquarters on June 24.

Geller, who is Jewish, had been set to address the Western Region of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) with a speech titled “Islamic Jew Hatred: The Root Cause of the Failure to Achieve Peace.” The Sunday morning event, announced in early June, was abruptly canceled just hours before it was to take place.

The event was later moved to another location, the Mark in Pico-Robertson, but not before the 30 would-be attendees stood in protest on the sidewalk in front of Federation headquarters holding signs reading, “Jews! Don’t Silence Other Jews! Shame on the Jewish Federation.”

“I’m a proud, fierce Zionist,” Geller told the crowd, decrying the decision to cancel her event. “And the take-away from this is that Zionists are not welcome at L.A. Jewish Federation.”

According to ZOA National Vice Chairman Steven Goldberg, who said he spoke with Los Angeles’ Federation President Jay Sanderson early on the morning of June 24, the reason for the cancellation was fear that local Muslim groups might protest outside the building.

“They need spinal implants,” Goldberg said of Federation leaders, noting the absence of protesters.

A statement from a coalition of Muslim, Christian and Jewish groups condemning Federation for hosting the event had circulated via e-mail on the afternoon of June 23. A second statement, commending Federation for the cancellation of the event, was circulated by the same group the next morning.

Explaining the move, Federation Chairman of the Board Richard Sandler said on June 26 that the decision to bar the event was based entirely on safety concerns. “Unfortunately, due to the processes regarding non-Federation events in the building that we had in place at the time, we only became aware of the possibility of protests and counter-protests at the building late Saturday,” Sandler said in an interview. “Due solely to the fact that the Zimmer Children’s Museum has its greatest amount of traffic on Sunday, we made a decision, to protect the safety of children, to request ZOA to move the event.

“ZOA did nothing against our processes,” Sandler said. “As a result of this, we are now reviewing our processes to avoid such a situation in the future.”

ZOA has been a tenant at Federation headquarters for less than a year, and ZOA’s local executive director, Orit Arfa, said she had filed an official request to use a board room in the building about a month in advance of the Geller event. ZOA also requested the event be listed on the Jewish Federation’s own Web site. Both requests, Arfa said, were approved.

Geller, who blogs at, is known for her strident criticism of all things Muslim. She first gained national prominence in 2010 when she led opposition to a proposed Islamic cultural center in New York’s Lower Manhattan, and she has since supported efforts in other cities to oppose mosque construction. She told The New York Times in 2010 that she does not believe in the existence of a “moderate” Islam, and that “a moderate Muslim is a secular Muslim.”

The resulting publicity has made Geller perhaps the best-known anti-Muslim activist in the United States, and she has drawn the criticism of organizations that track hate groups and hate speech.

Stop the Islamization of America (SOIA), a group co-founded by Geller in 2010, has been branded a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Center on Extremism, said in an interview on June 22 that while his group and others have concerns about radical Muslim individuals and groups, Geller goes further, to the point of xenophobia.

“The difference between [Geller and] legitimate criticism about the very serious threat of radical Islam,” Segal said, “is that she vilifies the entire Islamic faith by making assertions that there are conspiracies against American values inherent in Islam.”

Geller hinted at the threats she perceives in her remarks at another local event she organized on June 23, the day before the Federation barred her from entering through its doors.

“You are at war, and you are the soldier,” Geller told a crowd of about 200 people who had come to a hotel in Manhattan Beach to hear from a panel of former Muslims. The event was designed as a protest to an event being held simultaneously less than three miles away by the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA).

“We have an Islamophilic president,” Geller said, and described the upcoming U.S. presidential election as a crucial moment. “Afterward, I think we’re going to have to go underground. I’m not overstating it. We live in a very, very dangerous time.”

Meanwhile, at the nearby Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, about 500 Muslim men, women and children could be found in the parking lot outside, eating ice cream, Indian food or Fuddrucker’s cheeseburgers made with halal meat.

The program for CAIR-LA’s “A Summer Night for Civil Rights” included a pair of comedians and a few musical acts, separated by a short intermission, when the entire crowd filed out of the auditorium and into an adjacent courtyard for the prayer that takes place at sunset. Men and women, standing separately, removed their shoes and stood at the edges of long strips of butcher paper taped to the concrete. The prayers, conducted in Arabic, took about 10 minutes.

“The people behind Islamophobia are being exposed,” CAIR-LA Executive Director Hussam Ayloush told the crowd, noting that groups like his are pushing back against those who target Muslims. “Muslims are becoming, I guess, assertive, proud, courageous and standing up for their rights and standing up for their identity.”

In an interview on June 25, Ayloush said that he hadn’t known Geller was Jewish until last week, and that his group had initially intended to say nothing about her June 23 counter-protest. 

“When we found out that she was actually speaking at The Jewish Federation, which is a mainstream organization, we couldn’t ignore that anymore,” Ayloush said.

Indeed, Geller, who on June 23 referred to the CAIR-LA event as “A Sumer Night for Islamic Supremacy,” has not been CAIR’s only critic. ADL’s Web site includes a full description of CAIR’s refusal “to unequivocally condemn by name Hezbollah and Palestinian terror organizations,” as well as citations of statements by Ayloush calling for an end to Zionism, likening it to the apartheid regime in South Africa and declaring it to be “a political ideology whose tentacles are rooted in racism.”

But, said the ADL’s Segal, CAIR’s background does not justify the kinds of verbal and written attacks Geller has launched against Islam as a whole and the way she has painted all religious American Muslims as extremists.

“The fact that Pamela Geller also notes the fact that CAIR has these issues, that doesn’t mean that the other things she says about Muslims as a whole are legitimate,” Segal said.

Ayloush, for his part, said that CAIR-LA’s primary aim is to secure the civil rights of American Muslims, and that he stands by his criticism of Zionism, which, he said, “certainly helped deal with the plight of the Jewish people in Europe after the Holocaust and World War II, but, unfortunately, it came at the expense of creating a new plight for the Palestinian people.”

Ayloush, who praised the ADL for taking a strong stance against Geller, called the criticisms of his group by the ADL “ironic,” and cited the opposition of the group’s longtime national director, Abe Foxman, to the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan in 2010.

“While CAIR has been at the forefront of defending the rights of Muslims, Jews and all other religious minorities in America, ADL was at the forefront of opposing the right of Muslims to build a mosque in New York.”

It was CAIR-LA that circulated the statement on June 23 from an interfaith coalition that included five other Muslim groups, one progressive Christian group and two leftist Jewish groups — the Los Angeles chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace and LA Jews for Peace — condemning Federation’s decision to give a platform to Geller. The group also circulated a second statement the next day commending the Federation’s decision to prevent the event from taking place.

Salam Al-Maryati is president in Los Angeles of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which took part in the interfaith coalition. He said on June 25 that while he is happy to engage with Jewish groups, even groups like the ZOA, he appreciated Federation’s cancellation of the event, which he saw as taking a stand against Geller.

“Let’s start to make distinctions between those who are passionate, and maybe even emotional at times, from extremists who are promoting ideological violence between our communities,” Al-Maryati said.

Asked whether the ZOA endorses Geller’s views on Islam, Goldberg, the national vice chair, demurred and said Geller should have been free to speak at Los Angeles’ Jewish Federation headquarters.

“Even if you disagree, let her speak here,” Goldberg said. “What’s the harm? What’s the harm of freedom of speech?”

Geller has addressed at least one other ZOA chapter in the past, a speech to the Philadelphia chapter in March 2012, which, according to her blog, took place without incident at the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

Straus, re-elected as Texas speaker, rips attacks on faith

Joe Straus, overwhelmingly reelected speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, strongly repudiated attacks on his Jewish faith.

“Attacks on people’s religious beliefs have no place in this House,” Straus, a Republican, said Tuesday after winning the vote 132-15, according to reports filed via Twitter by KPRC, a Houston NBC affiliate.

The KPRC reporter, Mary Benton, said Straus was given a standing ovation.

A small group of backers of his opponents had said that the post should go to a “Christian conservative.”

His rivals distanced themselves from such language, saying they were running against Straus because of his relative moderation and not because of his religious beliefs.

Straus won the speakership, considered the state’s second most powerful post, two years ago in part because of his ability to work with Democrats.

Brouhaha in Texas House a Jewish test case for Tea Party

In Texas, the Tea Party passed its first Jewish test even before its legislators had been sworn in.

Deeply conservative forces in the Lone Star State firmly repudiated the effort by evangelical Christians to unseat the powerful Jewish speaker of the Texas House of Representatives because he wasn’t a “true Christian conservative.”

Speaker Joe Straus still faces opposition from his right flank because of his relatively moderate views, but his opponents have made clear that Straus’ Judaism is not a factor in the Jan. 11 race to be speaker.

“There is absolutely no place for religious bigotry in the race for Texas speaker, and I categorically condemn such action,” Rep. Ken Paxton, one of Straus’ two challengers in the race, said in a statement to the Houston-area Jewish Herald Voice. “Furthermore, it is just as shameful for anyone to imply that I would ever condone this type of behavior.”

State Rep. Warren Chisum, Straus’ other challenger, wrote him directly.

“I assure you that those sorts of attacks on a man’s religion have absolutely no place in the race for speaker,” he said. “I absolutely reject all such attacks or insinuations.”

The controversy in Texas was important because Jews nationally had been watching it as a test case to see whether the Tea Party’s deeply conservative base was receptive to anti-Jewish ferment. The considerable Christian rhetoric in the Tea Party movement has stoked some concern among Jews, particularly as candidates from the movement cited Scripture in explaining their opposition to abortion, church-state separation and the teaching of evolution.

As it turned out, the strong response against statements singling out Straus for being Jewish were a relief, said Fred Zeidman, the most prominent Jewish Republican in Texas after Straus. Straus had turned to Zeidman to manage the crisis as soon as it emerged in e-mails from a small cadre of grass-roots conservatives. Straus’ office did not respond to interview requests for this story.

“The big fear was, what are the elected guys going to do knowing this is their base,” Zeidman told JTA. “But they didn’t take the bait—everybody either spoke up or stood down. Nobody followed the lead of this guy in Lumberton.”

“This guy in Lumberton,” a small town in east Texas, was Peter Morrison, who in a newsletter that reaches much of the state‘s GOP leadership noted that Chisum and Paxton “are Christians and true conservatives.”

Morrison wasn’t the only Straus opponent calling attention to his religion.

“Straus is going down in Jesus’ name,” the Dallas Morning News quoted one Republican e-mailer as saying.

Ken Myers, the chairman of the Tea Party in Kaufman County, in sending a mass e-mail in support of a prominent state House critic of Straus, Rep. Bryan Hughes, wrote that “We finally found a Christian conservative who decided not to be pushed around by the Joe Straus thugs.”

Kaufman County, in suburban Dallas, coincidentally is named for David Kaufman, the first Jewish speaker of the Texas House—in the 1840s, when it was a republic.

On Nov. 30, The Texas Observer published an e-mail exchange among members of the state’s Republican Executive Committee in which committee member John Cook launched a salvo against Straus’ faith.

“We elected a House with Christian, conservative values,” he wrote, referring to the supermajority that Tea Party conservatives had helped win for Republicans in the state House. “We now want a true Christian conservative running it.”

But other executive committee members repudiated Cook, and Straus now claims the support of 79 Republican members of the 150-member House, as well as 49 Democrats.

Some Tea Party members said the issue wasn’t that Straus was Jewish, but that the term Christian was being misapplied or misunderstood.

“I think people have been intellectually lazy in using ‘Christian’ and ‘conservative’ interchangeably,” Felicia Cravens, a Houston Tea Party founder, told Fox News. “And there’s a lot of that in Texas.”

Straus, whose wife and children are Christian but who is active in San Antonio’s Jewish community, seemed unfazed by the flare-up.

“Our country was founded on the rock of religious freedom and the Judeo-Christian values of the dignity and worth of every individual,” he told the Jewish Herald-Voice. “At its core, America believes in the freedom of every individual to worship as his or her conscience dictates, and it would be most unfortunate for anyone to suggest someone is more or less qualified for public office based on his or her faith.”

Straus faces a strong challenge from his right flank precisely because he has proven able to work with Democrats. The House was almost evenly divided in 2009 when he was elected speaker—the second most powerful position in the state because of the power to shape the legislative agenda. Straus angered conservatives with his successful challenge of longtime speaker Tom Craddick.

Straus’ moderation—and the challenge he is brooking from his right flank—reflects the other challenge facing the Jewish community as Tea Party conservatives assert their strength both in state Legislatures and in Congress. Straus has voted against restricting late-term abortions or gay adoption rights.

The bottom line, said Marlene Gorin, director of the Dallas-area Jewish Community Relations Council, was that the outbursts of anti-Semitism disappeared as suddenly as they had appeared.

“It came out of the blue—we have excellent relationships with all the legislators,” she said. “Even to bring it up was disgusting, but I think now it is behind us.”

Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik meets with local leaders

On a break from her duties as Speaker of the Knesset, Dalia Itzik joined L.A. influentials for a dinner reception hosted by The American Friends of the Citizens’ Empowerment Center in Israel (CECI). The event, which took place at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Shapour Sedaghat, included Jacob Dayan, the consul general of Israel in Los Angeles; professor Izzy Borovich, chairman of El Al Airlines; Izak Parviz Nazarian, president of CECI; Beny Alagem, and local leaders of American Jewish Committee, AIPAC, Jewish National Fund and Magbit Foundation.

Noteworthy sessions and events at the G.A.

10 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Tour of the Skirball Cultural Center
Note: Tour leaves from Westin Bonaventure and returns to the L.A. Convention Center.

2:30 p.m.
Opening Plenary: “One People, One Destiny, One Great Day in November”
Greetings: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
Keynote Speaker: Israel Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni

4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
Breakout Session: “We Are Not Alone: Allies in Making the Case for Israel”
Speakers: Joe Hicks, vice president of Community Advocates, Inc., and former executive director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission; Randy Neal, California regional director, Christians United for Israel; and Nancy Coonis, superintendent of Secondary Schools for the L.A. Archdiocese

4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Jewish Learning: Activism and Social Justice”
Speaker: Rabbi Miriyam Glazer of the University of Judaism

8:30 a.m.-9:45 a.m.
Plenary: “The Jewish Future: Where We Are as a People”
Moderator: Dr. Beryl Geber, associate executive vice president of policy development, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los AngelesSpeakers: Rabbi Norman Cohen, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; Dr. Arnold Eisen, chancellor-elect of the Jewish Theological Seminary; and Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University in New York

10:15 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
Plenary: “Emerging Global Realities and the Challenge of Radical Islam”
Speakers: Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International; and Bernard-Henri Lévy, author of “Who Killed Daniel Pearl?” and “American Vertigo: Traveling in the Footsteps of Tocqueville”

2:15 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Media Lessons Learned From the War”

Speakers: Aviv Shir-On, deputy director general for media and public affairs, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Jeffrey Goldberg, New Yorker staff writer and author, “Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide;” and Irit Atsmon, former Deputy IDF spokesman

2:15 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Anti-Zionism as the New Anti-Semitism”
Moderator: Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center
Speakers: Steven Emerson, executive director of The Investigative Project; Aviva Raz-Shechter, director, Department of Anti-Semitism & Holocaust Issues, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Charles Small, director, Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, Yale University

3:45 p.m.-5 p.m.
Plenary: “Challenges of the Jewish People at the Beginning of the 21st Century”
Speaker: Likud Chairman and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Dr. Irwin Cotler, Canadian MP

8:15 p.m.- 10 p.m.
Event: “A Once in a Lifetime Evening at Walt Disney Concert Hall”

Background: The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music will co-host a concert of Jewish music at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The program will include selections by Leonard Bernstein and Kurt Weill. Performers include Theodore Bikel, Leonard Nimoy, Cantor Alberto Mizrahi, an 85-member chorus and members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, led by conductor Gerard Schwarz.

8:30 a.m.-10 a.m.
Plenary: “Challenges and Opportunities: Israel 2006”
Moderator: Judge Ellen M. Heller, president, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Speakers: Israel Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog and Israel Education Minister Yuli Tamir
Special Guest: Moshe Oofnik, Sesame Street Workshop

2:30 p.m.-4 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Understanding Islam: Current Trends”
Speakers: Menahem Milson, professor of Arabic studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and chairman of The Middle East Media Research Institute; Norman Stillman, professor and chair of Judaic history, University of Oklahoma; Irshad Manji, author, “The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith”

2:30 p.m.-4 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Working to Save Darfur”
Speakers: John Fishel, president, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, co-founder, Jewish World Watch; and Ruth Messinger, president/executive director, American Jewish World Service

4:15 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
Plenary: “The New Frontlines: Facing the Future Together”
Keynote Speaker: Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

8:30 a.m.-Noon
Meeting: “Translating the GA Into Action: Open Board of Trustees & Delegate Assembly Forum”
Goal: Coming up with an action plan based on issues addressed at GA.

Wandering Jew – New Year’s in Vienna

About six years ago at the University of Texas, I was asked to be the guest speaker for Shabbat 1,000, an event where 1,000 Jewish students are served full-course traditional Shabbat meals for free. There are no prayer services.

They must have an interesting orientation program for this unique venue, because everyone shows up on time for the Shabbat meal. Everyone is told beforehand that the only thing they need to do is to be quiet for the 15-minute sermon by the rabbi, and since a microphone is not used because of Shabbat, and the local campus rabbi couldn’t project a speech loud enough to be heard in the huge, high-ceilinged dining room, they needed someone with a built-in “PA” system. I’m used to projecting in precisely this type of venue, so they “rented” me to give that 15-minute sermon.

While in Austin, I met a young, good-looking, single, charismatic Aussie working in Jewish “outreach.” We hung out for the weekend and became fast friends. I came home and told my wife that the Aussie was destined for greatness in outreach.

Six years later, this young man, now married with two kids, had founded the European Center for Jewish Students. He had planned a New Year’s Eve weekend in Austria at the prestigious Vienna Hilton Hotel, and almost 300 students had R.S.V.P.’d. They came from 13 countries, hungry for fellowship with Jews their own age.

My Aussie friend, Yossi Waks, remembered bar-hopping with me in Austin, looking to kidnap Jewish students. He had been working in Europe for two years and realized that for the event to be a success, he needed a wild and crazy guy/rabbi.

My wife, Olivia, and I went to Vienna to excite and inspire, and we came away deeply moved by the students. Between Thursday night and Sunday morning we got to meet dozens of individuals and heard their personal stories.

The age range was from 18 to 26. There was the smashing blonde from Warsaw who worked for Polish television. Two years ago, her mother became seriously ill and told her, at age 22, that she was Jewish and then gave her a necklace with a Jewish Star that had belonged to her bubbe (the blonde’s great-grandma). Since then, she has been passionately driven to find out about her Judaism and had begun to get involved in the religion in a serious way.

Then there was the student from Geneva whose mom had married a Jew, then began to take on some traditions and slowly started dragging her hubby to temple. The student developed an interest when she was 15 and converted formally at age 18, went on birthright at 20 and was now 22 and hungry for any tidbit about Torah and practice.

The two vivacious roommates from Rome and Milan were clueless and had come to party for New Year’s, but Olivia zeroed in on them, and Sunday morning at the grand farewell they were almost crying to have to part from their new “rabbi.”

There was also a large contingent originally from Russia who had come to Europe as children with their parents. They all spoke German, but at their own table they easily moved to Russian. On Friday night after all the programs, I went to the lobby after midnight and saw about 100 of our group still shmoozing. Many of the students were smoking and talking on their cellphones — still wearing their kippahs! It was a unique sight.

I walked out of the Friday night Shabbat meal for a few minutes into the lobby. I saw a family sitting together — an older man with his wife and their two adult children. As I passed by with my kippah on, the man gave me the most beautiful smile. It certainly seemed like he wanted to say hello, although in Europe it’s just not PC to approach strangers and begin a conversation. Since I’m not from Europe and don’t abide by their rules, I approached them and his smile grew even broader. He was ecstatic that I came over; he spoke Yiddish, so I got the whole story.

He was originally from Vienna. When he was 16 and the Nazis took over the city, both he and his father were arrested for the crime of being Juden and sent to Dachau. The war had not officially started yet — it was pre-“Final Solution” — and since he was only 16, he was sent back home. His father actually also came back home after four months. They then fled to Brazil.

Now he was in his 70s, and it was the first time that he had returned to Vienna to visit. He was a guest in the Hilton (by “accident”) and was in the lobby watching the parade of beautiful Jewish college kids traipsing around in their Shabbat best.

Of course we shlepped him and his family back into the ballroom and made them eat the amazing Shabbat banquet meal with all of us inside. He then told me, crying, that this was his first Shabbat meal since he left Vienna 60 years ago. It was a very emotional scene.

Saturday night was New Year’s Eve, and the five-star Hilton Grand Ballroom was outfitted for a formal ball. Yossi had brought in a seven-piece Israeli band from Amsterdam.

At the crucial moment of 11:45 p.m., when the folks were jockeying for position for the traditional kiss, the band suddenly stopped. I had the unforgettable honor of going up on stage and speaking for a maximum two minutes and then publicly lighting the Chanukah menorah.

Only 10 percent there knew the “Maoz Tzur,” but everybody was very up for the New Year’s Eve/Chanukah experience.

I had always thought that European Jewry was dead (and almost forgotten). However it looks like there’s enough for me to do there that I (verbally) signed a lifetime contract for the New Year’s Eve gig in Europe.

For an outreach rabbi, it’s a gold mine of ripe and ready, interested and enthusiastic 20-somethings, a demographic we don’t see in this country.

Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz is in the midst of celebrating his 60th birthday.> He is director of the Chai Center.


Clinton Talks at UJ Series

The United States must stay involved in the Middle East peace process, even when it appears to be failing, former President Bill Clinton urged more than 6,000 listeners Monday evening.

Even though the United States may risk its prestige in an unsuccessful effort, “We will be judged by what we tried. It is better to try and fail than not to try at all,” Clinton said.

The former president was the lead-off speaker in a University of Judaism lecture series and was enthusiastically greeted by an audience that filled every place in the 6,200-seat Universal Amphitheatre.

Looking back at his own strenuous efforts to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Clinton said, “I did my best, and perhaps when I failed, I made it worse.”

On the eve of a visit to the Middle East, Clinton pledged that “We will never stand by and let Israel be destroyed…. Those who seek this objective cannot achieve it.”

Clinton will visit Israel later this month to receive an honorary degree from Tel Aviv University. He will also give a speech on the Middle East peace process Jan. 20 in Tel Aviv and participate in the opening of the Clinton Center for American Studies at the university, which will teach U.S. history, culture and political science.

The former president, looking fit and relaxed, devoted most of his talk to the causes of international terrorism, which he termed the “dark side of globalization,” and the disparities between rich and poor nations.

However, in a question-and-answer session with Dr. Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism, Clinton addressed topics of special Jewish interest.

Why did the Camp David meeting with Yasser Arafat and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak in July 2000 fail? Wexler asked.

“I don’t know,” answered Clinton. “The Palestinians got 95 percent of what they wanted…. Perhaps Arafat didn’t want to be the target of assassination.

“If Arafat and Barak had had one year to slug it out, perhaps they would have gotten somewhere,” he said.

Clinton noted that he had been invited to the world racism conference in Durban, South Africa, last fall, but decided against going because he feared it would turn into an anti-Israel sideshow.

But he argued that anti-Semitism was not a primary focus of the conference.

Most developing nations believe that the Palestinians “are getting the shaft” and used the conference to show their displeasure with the United States and Israel, he said.

What happened at Durban, he added, was a display “more of ignorance than anti-Semitism, and more of sympathy with the Palestinians than hatred of Jews.”

Asked to explain the overwhelming electoral support he had enjoyed among African Americans and Jews, Clinton said that both communities “have a finely tuned sensibility of who is for them and who is against them.”

The assertion was echoed by Peter Lowy, president of the UJ Board of Trustees, who introduced Clinton as a personal friend. “No American president has worked harder for peace,” Lowy said.

The next speaker will be former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, to be followed by political strategist James Carville. The series ends with Barak.

Gady Levy, the UJ’s dean of continuing education, opened the evening by recounting how each of the four speakers offered remarkable life stories. “This,” he said, leaving his prepared speech, “is very exciting.”

Virtual Schmooze

We all hear rumblings about a global community, but a global schmooze? That’s just what the Jewish Community Centers of North America, in conjunction with the 92nd Street Y in New York City, propose to execute. Starting on Sun., March 11, the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles will host an innovative new lecture series through Kallah — a program sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and supported by the Charles and Dora Mesnick Cultural Arts Fund — by bringing such speakers as Alan Dershowitz, Elie Wiesel and Anne Roiphe to you live, via satellite. The lectures will be broadcast from the 92nd Street Y in New York City directly to JCCs across the nation, allowing participants to ask questions to their lecturers in real time for what is being termed a "virtual gathering."

The nation will be linked with the stage in New York via e-mail and fax, so that while the speakers hold the stage in Manhattan, members of the audience, regardless of geographic location, can participate as if they were sitting in the first row. Scheduled during the Hebrew months of Elul and Adar, a traditional time of gathering and Judaic study, the programs are designed to experience and celebrate Jewish learning and create community despite geographic divides. "Jewish education should take advantage of modernity to reconnect the Jewish people with their Jewish heritage," said Jonathan Fass, the Jewish education specialist for the JCCs of Greater Los Angeles.

Radio personality Dennis Prager, who is currently broadcasting on KRLA and who will be participating in the March 11 event, said the format is appealing because "when you have Jews in public life who have very different positions on issues, it’s a good and rare opportunity to hear them confront each publicly." The national format is especially appealing because "none of the issues are geographically specific, so it’s good to give them a national format," he added.

Fass explained the JCCs’ desire to participate as being motivated by a desire to innovate Jewish education. "Kallah is innovative because all of North American Jewry can participate in Jewish learning together, each community can learn from its neighbor community, and the Los Angeles Jewish community can connect with the greater North American Jewish community."

Participating in the event is also a way in which the JCC hopes to redefine itself. "The Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles is redefining itself as an Jewish organization with a renewed commitment to the Jewish growth of Los Angeles," Fass said. "Our agency recognized Jewish education is a fundamental component of Jewish growth. We believe Kallah is an adult Jewish education opportunity with widespread appeal to the entire community, and so we joined other Jewish community centers throughout North America in supporting the program."

Fass added that there are also technical challenges to the broadcast. "In Los Angeles, we will be receiving the broadcasts with the assistance of Globecast, a national communications company. The Jewish community centers have never used technology like this before in community programs, but we are confident that these programs will run smoothly."

"The Future of North American Jewry" will be led by law professor Alan Dershowitz, radio personality Dennis Prager, author Anne Roiphe and Rabbi David Woznica on Sun., March 11, 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the West Valley Jewish Community Center. Additional events will be held at the Museum of Tolerance: Tues., March 20, "Great Jewish Thinkers," 6-8 p.m.; Sun., March 25, "An Evening with Elie Wiesel," 4:30-6:30 p.m. Each event is $6. For tickets or more information, contact the Westside JCC at (323) 938-2531 x 2207 or the Museum of Tolerance at (310) 772-2452.

Soldiers and Students

Noam Zissman, 21, a convoy commander from Ra’anana, and Moran Kalinsky, 20, a deputy company commander from Holon, sit in their Israeli officers’ uniforms at Johnny Rockets on Melrose. They have just arrived in Los Angeles after more than a week of nonstop travel across the U.S., and they won’t even have time to order a plate of fries before they have to rush across town.

Moran and Noam are booked solid as speakers for Achva, a program sponsored by the Israeli consulate’s Office of Academic Affairs that each year brings two IDF officers to speak to Americans about life in Israel. The speakers for Achva (Hebrew for “brotherhood”) generally meet with university students, as the closeness in age of the Israeli soldiers and American students reinforces both similarities and differences. Given the violence in Israel, interest in this year’s program is especially high..

Zissman has firsthand experience with that violence. A member of the elite Givati Brigade, he led a demolition unit stationed in Netzarim, in the Gaza Strip, which was the first Israeli unit to come under fire in the current fighting. One of the men under Zissman’s command, David Biri, was killed in the ambush. Zissman was shot in the leg. When he speaks to American students, he tells them, “the media doesn’t always show the right picture. So much [is] ‘the brutal Israelis.’ I tell them when, under what circumstances, we open fire.”

Kalinsky agrees that the Achva program helps to correct misunderstandings. “A lot of questions to me have been about the thing going on in Israel, about the politics,” she says. “I don’t think in last year’s program they dealt with that. It’s very important, but not the first goal of this program. I want to tell people about life in Israel. Most people are very sympathetic to us; Jewish and not Jewish, they understand the media doesn’t show the right picture.”

Before they head off to UCLA, the Achva soldiers note how important American support is to their work. “I knew, but didn’t know how much, the Jews here are organized to support Israel,” says Kalinsky. Zissman adds, “As a soldier, the e-mail, the letters, the packages we receive, they mean a lot to us.”

Preparing for a Presidential Visit

There was a lot of behind-the-scenes activity last Sunday on Sony Pictures Studios’ Main Street set, but this was no movie production. In the days leading up to a Democratic National Convention (DNC) kick-off reception, representatives of several major Jewish organizations were racing to accommodate thousands of delegates, elected officials and members of the press. Adding tension to the entire proceeding: As preparations approached the 11th hour, a keynote speaker for the event was unconfirmed.

“It was quite an experience. Four organizations getting together, not knowing who our main attraction’s going to be until very close to the last minute,” said Michael Hirschfeld, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Committee, a department of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Hirschfeld was among the 100 volunteers from the four organizations – the Washington, D.C.-based American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the National Jewish Democratic Council, United Jewish Communities, and UJC’s local affiliate, L.A.’s Jewish Federation – putting in long days to work out the reception’s logistics.

Ironically, the original guest speaker clinched for the event was Sen. Joseph Lieberman, according to Ken Bricker, spokesman for AIPAC, the event’s lead sponsor. As Bricker told The Journal, “things changed when he was picked for the vice-president nomination and had to campaign nationally.” And while Bricker added that AIPAC “was thrilled to have a Jewish nominee for second-highest office in the land,” the reality was that time was working against them, and they still didn’t have their speaker.

In recent weeks, Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic Party’s nominee for the 2000 presidential race, was the scheduled speaker. However, due to scheduling complications, Gore had to cancel. According to John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the entire situation was in flux until last Friday.

Then, just days before the reception, AIPAC invited President Bill Clinton. AIPAC has always been in good stand-ing with the Clinton Administration. Clinton has spoken twice at AIPAC annual conferences, while Gore has addressed the other six. Bricker said, “L.A. is an incredibly important region” and “we would like to raise our profile within the local Jewish community.” Toward this goal, he believed that AIPAC would greatly benefit from an appearance by the Clintons, which would inevitably increase AIPAC membership.

For three long days, the prospect of having Clinton speak remained an iffy proposition. Then the president finally committed.

And to AIPAC’s delight, he informed the organization that he would be bring-ing Hillary.Ultimately, the AIPAC/Clinton connection is mutually beneficial. Clin-ton knows that if a final deal is struck in the Middle East peace process, even if it arrives following his days in the White House, AIPAC will be crucial to lobby-ing Congress for a financial package (AIPAC previously helped the president strike a $3-billion financial package for Israel and $1.8 billion following the Wye Accord). Then there is Hillary Clinton’s New York Senate race, in which the first lady needs to raise her approval rate to 52 percent among voting Jews to win. So the Sony-based reception would definitely become as much a political instrument as a party.

Fishel told The Journal that Clinton’s participation came about as the result of some major league teamwork: “We did this as a unified front as four major Jewish organizational bodies.””Considering the short time frame, we were fortunate enough to get the president and the first lady,” Fishel said. “At the same time, it increased the complexities.”

Indeed, with the president and the first lady of the United States attending, the ante was greatly raised and the pressure heightened. Security issues would have to be reexamined, as RSVPs for the reception doubled following the announcement of Clinton’s arrival. Secret Service agents spent three hours just prior to the reception sweeping the Culver City backlot to ensure the safety of the first couple and everyone else in attendance.

The Jewish Federation played an in-strumental role in synchronizing safety measures with the Secret Service and Sony security personnel. Federation also helped plan programming and parking details, invite thousands of delegates and community leaders, accommodate 200 members of the press and prepare for potential demonstrators. Of the 100 volun-teers involved in staging the re-ception, half came from Federation.

The participation of the Clintons at the reception was indeed a coup for all involved – it was the sole nonfundraising event that the first couple agreed to speak at, aside from the convention itself.

To everyone’s relief, the event, which attracted nearly 4,000 people, somehow came together smoothly. L.A. Federation chairman Todd Morgan gives Fishel, Hirschfeld and the entire Federation staff “tremendous credit” for the reception’s success, deemed the happening “a world class event for the Jews of Los Angeles. When have we had an event of that size where the president and the first lady spoke? The people were just mesmerized and even waited an extra hour in the heat for his arrival.”

Indeed, with the exception of the delay, and an elderly woman felled by heat exhaustion (she was attend-ed to and is now all right), there were few glitches in pulling off the program. Outside the studio gates, a small but vocal group of about 30 young Muslim activists protested American-Israeli ties, but the demonstration went over peace-fully and without incident. A source close to the proceedings pegged the reception’s cost at about $100,000. In terms of entertainment and catering, this was not, by any means, a decadent affair, but money definitely went into extra measures, particularly security.

“It’s a tribute to the organiza-tional bodies involved that we were able to mobilize everyone quickly,” Fishel said. “It allowed us to put on exciting and good event that people enjoyed immensely.”

Hugs From Hertzberg

Robert M. (Bob) Hertzberg will be sworn in as speaker of the California Assembly, the state’s second most powerful political post, at 9:30 a.m. on April 13.

The ceremony was originally scheduled for April 26, but, he notes, “I looked at the Jewish calendar and said, I can’t do this, that’s the seventh day of Passover.”

Hertzberg is ensconced in a booth at a fast-food chicken place on Beverly Drive, talking rapidly and taking slow bites of a late lunch. He has come from a meeting with Israel Consul-General Yuval Rotem and is heading for an appointment with Hollywood power player Michael Ovitz.

The 45-year old speaker-elect is young, energetic, forward-looking and attuned to the digital age.

Yet he retains some of the characteristics of the traditional politician. He is a hearty man, who hugs people on the slightest provocation. (“I call him Bobby Hugsberg,” says a close friend, outgoing speaker Antonio Villaraigosa.)

More to the point, Hertzberg is a master consensus- and coalition-builder, proven when the Democratic legislator was unanimously elected speaker by the usually partisan assembly.

Whether by chance or instinct, Hertzberg cut his political teeth by apprenticing himself to politicians who personified the ethnic diversities that characterize California’s population and political life.

After an introduction through his father, a prominent constitutional lawyer, Hertzberg first worked with Mervyn Dymally during his successful 1974 run for lieutenant governor. He followed by enlisting in the congressional campaign of another African-American politician, Julian Dixon.

Although Hertzberg still works with the legislative Black Caucus — whose number and influence have been declining — and the rising Asian community, his main coalition-building efforts have been focused on present and future Latino office holders.

In a state with 11 million Latinos, one-third of the population now and projected to become a majority within 25 years, it doesn’t require too much prescience on the part of a Jewish politician nowadays to seek Latino allies.

The difference is that Hertzberg started cultivating and working with Latinos more than 20 years ago, when they had barely begun to sense their future power.

The alliance extends to his personal life through his marriage to Cynthia Ann Telles, a physician, teacher and former city ethics commissioner.

Her father served as U.S. ambassador to various Latin-American countries under three Democratic presidents, and she is an influential Los Angeles Latina in her own right.

Characteristically, Hertzberg and Telles met at a trans-ethnic political party eight years ago, when they served as co-chairs of a Jewish National Fund dinner honoring then-dean of Latino politicians, Congressman Ed Roybal.

It’s the second marriage for both of them, with Hertzberg bringing two sons to the union, and Telles one. His boys, David and Daniel, attend day school at Stephen S. Wise Temple, and her boy, Raymond, is enrolled at St. Paul’s parochial school in Westwood.

The two parents have also found a solution to the Christmas/Chanukah dilemma. “We celebrate both,” says Hertzberg.

Although the representation of Jews serving on the Los Angeles City Council and Board of Education greatly exceeds their percentage in the general population, Hertzberg is concerned about the future, and not just because of shifting demographics.

“I’m worried about the Jewish community staying involved in urban and state issues, which we must do to remain a viable coalition partner,” says Hertzberg. “I spend a lot of time trying to convince Jewish kids to go into politics. It’s not easy when they can make a lot of money in the dot com world. Maybe after they’ve made their pile, some will jump into politics.”

Hertzberg thinks that one of the biggest challenges facing California is to close the “digital divide” between those in step with the new technology and those being left behind.

“The world is being reinvented, and so are newspapers and government,” he declares. “This is not the time to sit on your tochis.”

Hertzberg estimates that he puts in an average 100-hour work week, but he shuttles between Sacramento and his Sherman Oaks home two or three times a week. He tries to reserve Friday night and much of the weekend for his family, with Saturday evening dedicated to his spouse as “wifey night.”

If he can find the time, Hertzberg hopes to finish a popular history of Los Angeles, with lots of photos and vignettes. “It’s such a fascinating place,” he says. “Did you know that during the Civil War, Catalina was occupied by the Union army?”

Hertzberg gets high marks for his relationship to the Jewish community from Michael Hirschfeld, director of The Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee. The two men are planning a trip to Israel for legislators, to be led by Hertzberg.

But public policy analyst and columnist Gregory Rodriguez expresses some skepticism that Hertzberg’s vision of a Jewish-Latino partnership responds to reality.

The WASP elite has largely abandoned the city, Rodriguez reasons. Its place has been taken de facto by a “reluctant” Jewish elite, that doesn’t really want to acknowledge its true power.

Waiting in the wings is the “aspiring” elite of Latinos, but, warns Rodriguez, just because Jewish and Latino politicians work together doesn’t mean the grass-roots Latino community is being reached.

He sees a major disconnect between Latino legislators and the people they represent. In a recent poll, only some 6 percent of Latinos could identify Villaraigosa, arguably the most prominent Latino politician in California.

“Bridge building between communities is all very well, but let’s not mistake ties between legislators as reality,” says Rodriguez, who is a fellow with the New American Foundation.

Congressman Xavier Becerra is an old friend of Hertzberg and suggests jokingly that his hugging prowess points to some Latino blood coursing through the speaker’s veins.

Becerra rates the Latino-Jewish coalition in Congress as quite effective, and credits it with persuading the White House not to buttress a dictatorial regime during the civil war in El Salvador.

The congressman grants that there will be competition between Jews and Latinos for public office, but, he says, “That’s democracy, not hostility.”

Urban analyst Joel Kotkin evaluates Latino-Jewish cooperation in California as more realistic than “the obsession of Jews in the northeastern states with Black-Jewish relations.

“Latinos and Jews now live cheek by jowl, especially in the San Fernando Valley,” Kotkin says, and they interact closely in the garment and service industries. “Walk into a Jewish deli, and 90 percent of the workers are Latinos,” he says.

African-American State Sen. Kevin Murray, whose district includes large chunks of Orthodox and Russian immigrant Jews in the Pico-Robertson area, as well as the Jewish Federation building and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, does not believe that the black-Jewish coalition is dead.

“It may not be as close as during Mayor Tom Bradley’s time, but the Black Caucus in Congress is still the Jews’ best ally in supporting Israel,” he says.

Even Murray acknowledges that the “political landscape is changing” due to the growing number of Latinos, but he believes that it will take another generation before there is a real shift in the balance of political power.

Robert M. Hertzberg (D) will be sworn in as speaker of the California Assembly on April 13.

Coastal Voters Could Pick New House Speaker

The independent voters in Venice, Torrance and San Pedro may determine the next Speaker of the United States House of Representatives on November 6, 2000.

Freshman Congressman Steven Kuykendall, narrowly elected as a pro-choice Republican in 1998, plans to be re-elected in the 36th Congressional District. Former Congresswoman Jane Harman, defeated in her bid to become California’s first female Governor in 1998, would like to take back her old seat. Both national political parties would like to control the House of Representatives, which the Republicans currently dominate by a five vote margin — and there are expected to be fewer than 30 closely contested races.

So big money will flow like the Pacific tides in this race. As Kuykendall said in an interview with the Journal, “Nobody is going to go without money.” Kuykendall spent $800,000 winning the seat in 1998, and Harman spent over a million keeping it in 1996 as a Democrat. Both candidates have voted for campaign finance reform, but both candidates are also considered excellent fundraisers.

But there’s a hitch. California’s 36th Congressional district stretches along the coastline from Torrance and San Pedro in the south to Venice Beach in the north, and includes both the Los Angeles International Airport, the Port of Los Angeles and Catalina Island. It’s 342,000 registered voters are among the least ideological, party-label driven voters in the nation. The district includes 3 percent more registered Republicans than Democrats.

“It’s not a district for a traditional Democrat or traditional Republican, but one for an effective independent,” notes Harman. Back when Ross Perot was effective, he polled over 20 percent of the vote in 1992 on the Reform Party ticket.

According to Kuykendall, the highlights of his first year include pushing Congressional leaders to focus on balancing the budget and adding amendments to proposed tax cut legislation. Kuykendall also helped pass legislation to redredge the Marina Del Rey Harbor and reduce traffic congestion around Los Angeles Airport. The incumbent also promotes himself as moderate with a bipartisan approach to appeal to fiscally conservative, socially moderate district voters, many of whom are Jewish.

But Harman will no doubt remind the district’s Jewish voters of her “incredible” final week in Congress. Harman flew to Israel with President Clinton on Air Force One, witnessed the PLO change its charter to recognize Israel, and cast four votes against Clinton’s impeachment. As an influential moderate Congressional representative from a swing district, she played a role in and held a front row seat to those historical events.

It’s understandable that Harman, a moderate known for her interest in military issues and foreign affairs, wants to represent the 36th Congressional district again. But she won a razor thin victory against Gingrich protégé Susan Brooks in 1994, and she’ll have another tough fight this time around. Both Harman and Kuykendall have cultivated close working relationships with the district’s leading businesses such as Hughes Electronics, Northrop Grumman, and Los Angeles International Airport.

Harman, who used to describe herself as one half of the House’s Jewish Women’s Caucus, hopes to rejoin an expanded caucus after the 2000 election. The strong support of Governor Gray Davis and the Democratic National Committee for her former Congressional seat remains another reason for Harman’s confidence in her comeback campaign. Analysts believe that Democrats have an excellent opportunity to win back control of the House of Representatives in November 2000 elections — especially if Harman can wage a successful comeback.

Whether she can depends on how ably she can differentiate herself from her moderate opponent in the minds of voters. “Kuykendall is a decent man,” says Harman. “I differ with him, however, on a number of issues.”

A prime example, according to Harman, was Kuykendall’s vote against a bipartisan HMO reform bill. The Norwood-Dingell bill would have established a Bill of Rights for HMO patients including the right to sue HMOs, prohibited physician gag orders and restored the right to choose a physician. Although 67 Republican Congressional members crossed party lines to support Norwood-Dingell, Kuykendall voted against the HMO reforms.

Responds Kuykendall: “I voted for two other versions allowing individuals to sue HMOs just before. I was just concerned that small businesses might be held responsible. We don’t want to discourage small businesses from providing health insurance.”

Campaign finance reform is another critical issue for Harman. “I voted for the earlier and stronger version of McCain/Feingold,” notes Harman. “I also co-introduced a bill to challenge the Supreme Court’s decision that giving money is a form of free speech.” Common Cause, the good- government organization that lobbies for campaign finance reform, supports challenging that controversial decision to reduce the role of money and special interests in politics.

Yet the concentration of so many export industries also lead to both Harman and Kuykendall focusing a great deal of attention to trade issues. “I’m a free- trade Democrat,” says Harman who voted against NAFTA, but for GATT. “The US interests in the global economy need to be explained.”

“It is my considered judgment that the South Bay will flourish under reasonable and reliable trading rules,” concludes Harman based on personal experience. Sidney Harman, Jane’s husband, owns Harman International, a premium audio systems manufacturer headquartered in Martinsville, Indiana, that has plants in the United States and Europe. Worldwide exports have been a key factor in the company’s expansion in the last decade. Kuykendall has also supported recent trade agreements, including legislation to increase exports from Africa. Trade, however, remains controversial in the district’s voters.

Harman, an experienced campaigner and lobbyist, believes that the World Trade Organization has created some of its own public relations problems by being excessively secret. “Obviously anything called the World Trade Organization will be misportrayed.” In hindsight, Harman believes it would have been better if the Seattle conference had not been held. Harman supports China’s admission to the WTO, and believes that sometimes quiet negotiations among trading partners will lead to better results than public disputes.

America’s continuing prosperity and power, according to both candidates, rests on expanding trade and maintaining a strong military. “The military budgets have been declining for 14, 15 years,” notes Kuykendall. “We need to replace military equipment and spend more to improve recruitment and have a better retention.” Congressman Kuykendall serves on the Armed Services, the Science and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committees of the House.

The daughter of a refugee physician from Nazi Germany, Harman also supports modernizing the American military. Harman’s vigorous support for a missile defense system lead the left-leaning magazine Mother Jones to put her on their “Dirty Dozen” list in 1996. Defense contractors are important industries and major employers in the 36th district, and the relatively affluent district includes an estimated 13 percent military veterans. Harman sat on the House Security Committee and developed a reputation as an expert on military intelligence.

Perhaps the importance of America’s superpower status can best be seen in the Mideast. “I want Israel to be secure,” said Harmon. “And I want the United States to do whatever it can to make that happen.”

Writing a New Chapter

Writing a New Chapter

The People of the Book is the

Los Angeles area’s first attempt at a Jewish book festival

By Naomi Pfefferman, Senior Writer



For years, Rabbi Harold Schulweis was perplexed by the question,Why isn’t there a Jewish book festival in Los Angeles?

To promote his own books, the Valley Beth Shalom rabbi made therounds of Jewish fairs in smaller cities, from San Diego toRochester, N.Y. He saw Art Buchwald in St. Louis, Philip Roth andSaul Bellow in Detroit.

But now Schulweis can look forward to sharing his works in his ownback yard, as People of the Book: The Five Valley Jewish BookFestival comes to the San Fernando, and surrounding valleys. Thefestival, which runs from Dec. 4 to 14, is spearheaded by the WestValley Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Federation/Valley Allianceand Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, Adult and Children’sServices, and sponsored by a wide variety of synagogues andorganizations.

There will be more than 40 speakers in some 25 events, from TempleBeth Haverim in Agoura Hills to Adat Ari El in North Hollywood. RabbiBob Alper, author of the comedy tape “Bob Alper: Rabbi/Stand Up Comic(Really),” will tout himself as the only rabbi who is also a comedianon purpose. Dr. Michael Bar-Zohar will discuss his latest book,”Bitter Scent,” the account of French Nazi infiltration into L’Oreal.

For Nick Del Calzo, of “The Triumphant Spirit,” the topic will beHolocaust survivors who forged new lives with new families afterWorld War II. Chef Ethel Hofman, a colleague of Julia Child’s, willshare “Everyday Cooking for the Jewish Home,” which, in her case, isnot so everyday. Hofman, who can make anyone a balabusta, grew up inthe only Jewish household in the remote Shetland Islands of Scotland.

The hub of the festival is the Bernard Milken Jewish CommunityCampus in West Hills, where a boardroom will be transformed into abookstore filled with about 1,000 Jewish titles. On Dec. 14, theground floor will house CyberFest, featuring a wide range of computerhardware and software and Judaic Internet web sites. On display inthe upstairs Finegood Gallery will be “Women of the Book,” anexhibition of 86 artists who have created highly personal, oftentactile artist books, utilizing paper, glass, even handkerchiefs.Nearby, My Jewish Discovery Place will host a traveling exhibit wherechildren can explore different alphabets and learn about the work ofa scribe.

Festival coordinator Seville Porush of the WVJCC, a former teacherin secular and Jewish day schools, “knows how to cut throughbureaucratic red tape,” one observer says.

For years, no-nonsense, down-to-earth Porush had agreed withSchulweis that Los Angeles “had the population to pull off a bookfair.” Perhaps it was longer in coming because Los Angeles is a filmtown, a city without the cultural roots of the East, she says.

But today, with the founding of the Skirball Cultural Center andseveral Jewish theaters, Jewish Los Angeles seems to have come of ageculturally. As for taking a chance on a book fair, Porush cites theline from the quirky film “Field of Dreams”: “If you build it, theywill come.”

Actually pulling off the fair, however, was hardly easy; Porushworked late hours for months, trying to whip up the event fromscratch. Along the way, she had the help of Festival Chair ElanaZimmerman; Program Chair David Epstein, himself a Jewish publisher;six librarians; and a some-25-person steering committee. Together,they polled existing Jewish book festival directors, attended the LosAngeles Times Festival of Books — and decided what they did not wantin a fair.

“Many seemed to emphasize selling books, while we wanted toemphasize transmitting Jewish culture,” Porush says.

“We wanted to highlight local authors because this is a communityevent,” Epstein says.

Thus, the decision was made “not to include anything any groupwould find unpalatable,” Porush says; the organizers therefore passedon one book that is harshly critical of the Orthodox community.

Money also played a role in shaping the content of the festival.Despite securing more than $60,000 from sources such as the JewishFederation/Valley Alliance, the Jewish Community Foundation and theJewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles Charles Mesnick Fund,the budget wasn’t fat enough to pay the five-figures commanded bycelebrity authors. And, alas, organizers discovered too late thatthey had scheduled the fair after November, which is Jewish bookmonth and the time Jewish publishers send their authors on publicitytours.

Nevertheless, with several dozen enthusiastic volunteers, Porushlearned how to “get the biggest bang for the buck.” She studied listsof all the Jewish publishing houses, subscribed to Publisher’s Weeklyand put out feelers at a major bookseller’s convention in Chicago.

From other festival directors, she learned what works, whatdoesn’t, and she finally succeeded with a lot of help from herfriends and neighbors.

CompUSA, which has new offices in Woodland Hills, organized theCyberFest, while Barnes & Noble Booksellers secured books for thefair. Synagogues that already had scheduled book-related events cameforward to become part of the festival. (Temple Aliyah in WoodlandHills, for example, had previously slated Rabbi Lawrence Kushner fora scholar-in-residence weekend.) Temples throughout the area offeredthe use of their auditoriums and classrooms.

Ask why there aren’t any events in the city, and Porush says, “Iwork in the Valley, I live in the Valley, and we at the WVJCC workside by side with the Valley Alliance.” Ask whether city folk willdrive over the hill to attend the festival, and, again, Porush isdirect: The committee worked hard to schedule speakers who willappeal to a broad spectrum of Angelenos, from teens to singles toseniors.

Schulweis will appear with Rabbis Daniel Gordis, David Wolpe andIsaiah Zeldin to discuss Jewish identity in the 21st century. Therewill be a Jewish spirituality program, a poetry reading, a children’sbreakfast and a seminar on Jews of the West. In “Jews Don’t DoSports?” Joseph Siegman, author of “Jewish Sports Legends,” willdebunk the myth.

Porush, meanwhile, admits that she is anxious about the festivalturnout. So far, several hundred people have signed up for tickets,but she’s hoping to attract 20,000 to the bookstore and combinedevents.

“The first time around, you’re always nervous,” she says. “But Ihave a good feeling because I keep hearing good feedback from peoplewho don’t owe me anything. My hope is that we’ll draw a reasonablerepresentation of the community to every event. If this year is asuccess, we will have a good track record for the next time.”

For tickets, information, or to volunteer at the festival (theyreally need volunteers), call (818) 587-3619.


When They Were Kings

By Robert Eshman, Associate Editor

“When Boxing Was a Jewish Sport” (Praeger Publishers,$24.95) by Allen Bodner; foreward by Budd Schulberg


During the first half of this century, Jews were the dominantethnic group in professional boxing, earning 26 world championshiptitles between 1910 and 1940. Fight cards were filled with such namesas Benny Leonard, Barney Ross, Lew Tendler, Bernie Friedkin, HerbieKronowitz and Artie Levine — who flattened the great Sugar RayRobinson in a 1946 Cleveland bout with what Robinson later recalledas “the hardest punch I was ever hit [with].”

Allen Bodner, the author of the brightly written, fascinating”When Boxing Was a Jewish Sport,” knows that today’s readers mightfind it hard to imagine a time when Jews wore Everlast to work. (Infact, Bodner reveals, Everlast, as well as Ring magazine andStillman’s Gym, was founded by Jews).

But, as Bodner explains and Budd Schulberg underscores in hiselegant foreward, the sport has always been a first rung in animmigrant or minority group’s ladder out of poverty. Jews replacedthe Irish and Italians in the ring, and later gave way to blacks andLatinos.

Bodner, whose father was a fighter and then a fight manager,delves into the lives of the Jewish boxers. He follows their careersfrom their childhoods in traditional homes in crowded slums –hotbeds of Jewish crime and gangs — to endless rounds of $5 amateurfights. The good ones moved up — none but Charlie Gellman everstopped for college — until they hit the big time, the $50,000matches at the Garden.

While these athletes became a source of real pride for generationsof less muscly Jewish boys, the parents often reacted with uttershame. “A charpeh un a shandeh!” the great Benny Leonard’s motherexclaimed when informed her son was a prizefighter.

Then Leonard, who changed his name from Leiner to avoidembarrassing his family, came home one day with $35 in prize money.

“Vos is dos?” his father asked angrily.

“That’s what I got for the fight,” Benny said.

“For one fight? For one night?” his father asked. “When are yougoing to fight again?”

Their stories do not end in the ring, and Bodner — in what aresome of the book’s most poignant passages — traces the full arc ofthese men’s lives. Some prospered; most didn’t. They formed a supportgroup, Ring 8, to help retired boxers keep in touch with formerfriends, foes and the glorious, long-gone past.

The Joy of Schmoozing

By Sandee Brawarsky

“Schmoozing: The Private Conversations of American Jews”(Perigee, $13) by Joshua Halberstam


In “The Joys of Yiddish,” Leo Rosten explains that schmoozederives from the Hebrew “shmuos” — things heard. Both verb and noun,the word, which Rosten describes as “heart-to-heart chitchat,” hasentered American lingo; it even appears in The New York Times.

Philosopher and author Joshua Halberstam is a world-classschmoozer. With a fine-tuned ability to listen (and eavesdrop), heseems to have an open heart and mind. An interview with him about hislatest book, “Schmoozing: The Private Conversations of American Jews”(Perigee, $13), easily becomes a long and engaging conversation aboutmany subjects.

Another key to great schmoozing is access, and Halberstam, avisiting scholar in philosophy at NYU who also coordinates the policyforum at Teacher’s College, has that too. The son of a distinguishedChassidic family related to the Belz, Dinov and Sanz dynasties,Halberstam grew up in Boro Park. His paternal grandfather was thefirst Chassidic rebbe in Boro Park; his maternal grandmother, now102, counsels rebbes and has seen her grandchildren havegrandchildren. Halberstam did his rabbinical studies at Kollel ChaimBerlin and received a Ph.D. in philosophy from NYU.

Now 50, Halberstam left the Chassidic community in the 1960s,although, as he explains, “Boro Park is still home.” But it’s nolonger his intellectual home, and he lives on Manhattan’s Upper WestSide. He favors blue jeans over all-black. He attends synagogueregularly, but does not classify himself by any denomination.

In researching the book, Halberstam spoke with Jews from aroundthe country, in English, Yiddish and Hebrew, from the ferventlyOrthodox to atheists; he found that they share more common groundthan they realize. “Jews talk a lot,” he says, so it wasn’t difficultto get them to schmooze. His conversation partners are “those whojoin in because it matters. The conversation is not trivial — itdefines, in a fundamental way, who we are.”

This is the talk behind closed doors — conversations about money,intelligence, sex, male-female relations, self-image, non-Jews andmore. Halberstam reports that the conversations would have been verydifferent if they were on camera. “There’s polite conversation on theOp-Ed pages of newspapers, but that doesn’t reflect what I’ve beenhearing in the back tables of shuls, at dinners.” He notes that evensecular Jews have “lingering Jewish notions,” which color theirperceptions.

In private, Halberstam says, Jews count Jewish names among theNobel prize winners and members of the Forbes 400 and name Jewishactors, and even those against intermarriage express some smugsatisfaction when someone such as Jacqueline Kennedy is involved witha Jew. About ecumenicism, Jews might publicly engage in interfaithdialogues but privately express little interest in learning about thetheology of non-Jews — “they just don’t want to get beaten up.”

In “Jews Talk About Money,” Halberstam quotes several Jews whodisagree about Jews’ relationship with money and the public displayof wealth. For some, there are still potential pogroms around thecorner, others believe that habits of consumption are causing Jews tolose their soul, and one man expresses frustration at “this exercisein Jewish self-flagellation”: “When Jews don’t make money, theycomplain. When Jews do make money, they complain. Enough already withthis gelt guilt.” The author puts the discussion in a historicalcontext, pointing out that Judaism never considered poverty a virtue.

Talking about Jewish traitors — “the enemies within” — is a wayto get to the community’s core beliefs, Halberstam explains. AmongJews across the spectrum, he finds agreement that the mosttreacherous groups are Jews for Jesus, Holocaust deniers and thoseJews who seek the destruction of Israel. Halberstam’s conversationsconfirm that American Jews are complicated — and interesting.

What else do Jews need to be talking about? Halberstam suggestsquestions of Jewish leadership (“We have Jewish leaders with nofollowers — we don’t know if that’s a sign of health or a problem”);the divisions between everyday and spiritual lives; whether and howmuch to enrich Jewish culture with the surrounding world. Moreover,”American Jews need to ask themselves which values have sustainedthem in the past and which values they want to sustain in the centuryahead.”

He’s wary of anyone making predictions about the future of theAmerican Jewish community, and he believes that looking at numbersdoesn’t tell the whole story. “The doom scenarios are destructive,”he says. “The Jews have a history of burying their undertakers.”

He admits that the conversation would be enriched if more Jewsknew about Judaism, noting, paradoxically, that this is a time whenthere’s more Jewish learning than ever — more Jews are familiar withthe Talmud — and also more Jewish ignorance, with few able to speaka Jewish language. He also urges people to “stop screaming” and togive each other space. “It’s not easy to figure out how to be Jewishin America and to be honest about it,” he says.

Recalling an important lesson he learned from one of his NYUprofessors, he says that when asked what the best conversation he hadever had was, he described — “being a good yeshiva boy” –adversarial arguments. His teacher countered that the best were whenthe parties agreed, not disagreed, and worked on an answer together.”I’m finally beginning to realize that he’s right.” Jews will havethe best conversations, he says, “when we realize we’re talkingbecause we’re on the same side.”

The author of “Everyday Ethics” and a forthcoming book on themeaning of work in Americans’ lives, Halberstam aims to bringphilosophical issues to a broad audience. His writing style has abreeziness and sense of humor, layered with serious ideas.”Schmoozing” makes for great reading.

Sandee Brawarsky is a book critic who lives in New York.

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One Man’s Obsession

By Rabbi Jack Riemer

“An Obsession With Anne Frank: Meyer Levin and theDiary” (University of California Press, $l5.95) by LawrenceGraver

It is too bad that Meyer Levin is not remembered for “The OldBunch,” which was a major novel about growing up in Chicago duringthe Depression. And it is too bad that he is not remembered for “TheGolden Mountain,” which was one of the first books to introduceChassidism to America, or for “Yehuda,” which was the first novelabout kibbutz life to come to this country.

And, surely, he deserves to be appreciated for “The Illegals” andfor “My Father’s House,” the two films that brought the reality ofthe journey of the Jews of Europe to the closed gates of Palestineafter the war to the attention of so many.

These books and films and his other novels have long since beenremaindered or gone out of print or been relegated to the bins ofhistory.

And what Levin is most remembered for now is the 30-year war thathe fought against Lillian Hellman, Kermit Bloomgarten and,eventually, Otto Frank himself for the rights to produce his ownversion of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

But if this is to be his lot, then he is at least fortunate inhaving a diligent historian to record the battle.

Lawrence Graver has gone through the papers of Meyer Levin,Tereska Torres Levin, the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Whartonand Garrison, and the others who were involved in this long,drawn-out battle, and has written a book that is sympathetic,although not uncritical.

The story is of interest not just because of Meyer Levin and notjust because of Anne Frank but for what it can tell us about life inthis country during the 1950s and what it can tell us about theconflict between Judaism and assimilation, universalism andparticularism, commercial interests and morality, on Broadway, in themedia, in the legal profession and in Jewish life of that time.

Levin deserves undeniable credit for being one of the first tonotice the power and the value of Anne Frank’s diary.

When he first entered the concentration camps, shortly after thewar, he was overwhelmed by the horror of what he saw there, and hewrote that no outsider, no one who had not lived through what thesepeople did, could possibly tell the tale, but that he hoped thatsomeday “a teller would arise from among themselves” who could dojustice to the topic.

When his wife gave him a gift of the French copy of the diary, hefelt that that teller had arisen, and he immediately set out to dowhat he could to bring the book to the attention of the world.

He wrote to Otto Frank and offered his services in finding anAmerican publisher, and he pointed out that the book might even havethe potential to be a movie or a play someday.

From that point on, the facts are debatable. Levin claimed thatFrank had given him legal rights — to be his agent, to take the bookto publishers and to producers, and to do a dramatic version of it.

Frank claimed that there was no such legal contract, that Levinwas only a volunteer who promised to help, and that he alone had thelegal right to make contracts for the book or for the play.

Frank, on the advice of Lillian Hellman and others, ended uprejecting the version of the diary that Levin wrote.

They said that it was because his version was not suitable; Levinsaid that it was because his version was too Jewish, and that, asassimilated Jews themselves, they were eager to de-Judaize the storyin order to make it more of a commercial success.

And so began years of fighting, in court and out, with Levintrying to win, in letters to the editor and in passionate editorials,what he was unable to win in court.

He made a binding agreement that his version of the play would notbe staged and then reneged on it and had it put on in Israel. He alsotried to organize a petition campaign to have it put on in America.It became, as he himself admitted, the great obsession of his life.

He saw those on the other side as persecutors, not only of him butof all that he believed in and stood for and represented — Jewishself-respect, Jewish continuity, the authenticity of Anna Frank’sbook, and more.

He was laughed at by the Broadway elite and not supported by mostof the Jewish establishment.

And he ended his days, feeling betrayed, his one great opportunityfor lasting fame stolen from him, and Anne Frank’s opportunity forJewish witness stolen from her.

When we look back on the dispute from the perspective of our owntime, we must feel a measure of sympathy for Levin, for one man’sobsession is another man’s cause.

In retrospect, I think it is now clear that he was a more faithfulguardian of this girl’s legacy than were those who staged her diary.

Word has it that we are about to have a new version appear onBroadway — this time a musical!

Her name is the best known of all the children who perished in theHolocaust, but the play that purports to tell her tale is — to saythe least — not the whole story.

The darker side of her situation is downplayed; her innocence andnaiveté are highlighted while her ambivalence toward hermother and her sexual awakening are minimized. And, above all, herfaith in human goodness is stressed, and her Jewishness, even withthe famous Chanukah scene, is not taken seriously. Levin was notwrong in his fundamental assertion, and the Jews of the l950s whowere too timid or too ambivalent to back him in his protest were.

For this reason alone, this book is well worth reading.

Rabbi Jack Riemer of Congregation Beth Tikvah in Boca Raton,Fla., is the editor of “Wrestling with the Angels” and co-editor of”So That Your Values Love On.”

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