Nefesh B’Nefesh cuts staff, salaries

The aliyah organization Nefesh B’Nefesh says it has slashed18 percent of its staff and is cutting the salaries of its remaining employees.

The organization last week made across-the-board cuts of 15 employees. Salary cuts were instituted at all levels as well, according to Yael Katsman, NBN marketing and communications director. The cuts were first reported Thursday in Haaretz.

Services to olim will not be affected, Katsman stressed.

Katsman told JTA that the global financial climate so far in 2011 required NBN to make the cuts.

NBN receives funding from the Israeli government for each immigrant it brings to Israel. It does some fundraising, in the form of targeting major donors to sponsor planeloads of olim and other programs. Though it has not done any grassroots funding, “as we grow and grow the fundraising has to grow also,” Katsman said.

The staff and salary restructuring is a way to make sure that “the most money possible goes to the olim,” she added.

NBN works in partnership with the Jewish Agency to bring olim from North America and Britain to Israel. It also provides assistance to the olim, including job counseling, once they arrive in Israel.

Haaretz reported last week that the Jewish Agency is looking at restructuring its departments, which would include closing the Aliyah Department and transferring its field of operation to operational and program units.

Jewish organizations mostly at ease with Obama appointees

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Barack Obama’s “team of rivals” is turning into a collection well known to the Jewish community, which should comfort those who expressed apprehension about who the president-elect would appoint to his Cabinet.

Obama is fulfilling pledges he made during a grueling election campaign by reaching out to notables in both parties with deep wells of experience.

While Obama has yet to announce his foreign policy team formally — he publicized his economic team Monday — a welter of leaks has lined up U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as secretary of state and former NATO commander Gen. James Jones as his national security adviser.

Some Jewish observers are uneasy over who might prevail in a rivalry between Clinton, who is seen as pro-Israel, and Jones, about whom some Jewish observers have expressed reservations.

Steve Rosen, the former AIPAC foreign policy chief who now writes a blog hosted by the Middle East Forum, has raised concerns about Jones that have redounded in the conservative Jewish world through e-mails. Rosen’s piece on Jones was titled “Jones to be National Security Adviser; wrote harsh report on Israel.”

Condoleezza Rice, the current secretary of state, added Jones last year to her team of generals monitoring the “road map” peace plan launched by President Bush in 2003. Jones reportedly wanted to publish a report that was harshly critical of Israel’s failure to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian security force and to allow more freedom of movement for the Palestinians.

But the report, which was never published, also was tough on the Palestinian force, expressing doubts about its readiness to meet Israeli expectations that it would contain terrorism. And in public forums and as NATO’s commander in chief, Jones has been friendly to Israel and its regional security concerns.

As for Clinton, her deep ties to the pro-Israel community date back to her days as the first lady of Arkansas, when she gained an admiration for the Jewish nation after introducing Israeli early childhood programs in Arkansas.

She endured some criticism from pro-Israel groups while her husband was president — for her infamous embrace of Yasser Arafat’s wife and for being a stalking horse for Palestinian statehood, floating the idea without President Clinton’s administration formally proposing it — but as a U.S. senator Clinton has been solidly pro-Israel, emphasizing the need for Palestinians to temper incitement against Israel as a precondition for peace.

Her likely deputy will be James Steinberg, a deputy national security adviser under President Clinton. Deputy secretaries of state often serve as day-to-day point men in dealings with the Middle East, and Steinberg’s record is reassuring to the pro-Israel establishment. He has advocated an increased role for Arab states in helping to create conditions for a Palestinian state, long the position of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Some in the pro-Israel community have expressed concerns about others who might make it into Obama’s inner circle, noting that after the election it emerged that Obama had been speaking frequently with Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to the first President Bush who supports making eastern Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state and advocates putting an international peacekeeping force in the West Bank.

In an Op-Ed column in the Washington Post of Nov. 21, Scowcroft argued in favor of those positions in a piece that was co-authored by Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser and a longtime critic of the pro-Israel lobby.

But Steven Spiegel, a UCLA political scientist who advises the Israel Policy Forum, said the fact that Scowcroft and Brzezinski felt they needed to make their case in a newspaper rather than privately to Obama demonstrates that they don’t have the president-elect’s ear when it comes to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

“If Scowcroft was sure the president-elect was on his side, he wouldn’t be taking this public,” Spiegel said.

Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Obama’s deliberative style means that he’s unlikely to press Israel into an accelerated peace process, especially with Hamas terrorists still controlling the Gaza Strip and making a comprehensive deal unworkable.

“He’s very pragmatic, during the campaign and in his appointments,” Reich said of Obama. “For those who want him from day one to put two feet in the peace process, it’s not going to happen. It’s going to be deliberate; nothing’s going to happen overnight.”

Obama’s emphasis will be the economic crisis, Spiegel said. On foreign policy, he said, Obama is deliberatively choosing people who will have the independence to handle the international stage, but without drama: Clinton as diplomat, Jones as a tough-minded coordinator.

“What these appointments suggest to me is that he’s got to solve his economic problems first and foremost,” Spiegel said.

It was “ridiculous” to worry about Jones, he said, with a Cabinet that includes Clinton and a White House that has as senior advisers Rahm Emanuel and David Axelord — both of whom are deeply pro-Israel.

Meanwhile, Obama’s domestic choices have been widely praised among Jewish groups.

The United Jewish Communities federation umbrella organization has issued several news releases hailing Obama’s appointments, including the selection of former Sen. Tom Daschle as secretary of Health and Human Services and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as chief of Homeland Security.

By contrast, over the past several years the UJC criticized the Bush administration for starving federal entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Obama also pledged during the campaign to move away from Democratic Party dogma when it comes to church-state issues, favoring, for instance, vouchers for families who send their children to private schools, including parochial schools.

The Jewish community is divided on the voucher issue and is waiting to see what Obama’s education appointments augur.

However, the Orthodox Union already has praised two appointments announced Monday to the White House’s Domestic Policy Council: The incoming director of the council, Melody Barnes, and her deputy, Heather Higginbottom, are both former Senate staffers who helped author legislation protecting religious rights in the work place and in federal institutions.

Teacher Shortage

There is no summertime lull at schools for Jewish education.

Even as day campers toting towel-stuffed beach bags invade day schools and synagogue religious classrooms, administrators are spending their summer scrambling to fill staff vacancies for September, at a time when qualified Judaic and Hebrew instructors are difficult to find.

The shortage stems from an increasing demand statewide for public school teachers, a shift in Israel’s economy and what some suggest is a failure of planning by Reform and Conservative movements.

In addition, Orange County presents its own set of difficulties for recruiting, given the region’s description by one educator as “Jewishly disadvantaged.”

“People involved in Jewish teaching want an active Jewish community,” says Eve Fein, director of Rancho Santa Margarita’s Morasha Jewish Day School, who recently filled two staff positions by tapping existing residents.

“We have pockets of it here, but to create Jewish life here takes more work,” she said. “You can have a terrific impact, but to take a leap to Orange County is a challenge in itself.”

Fortuitously for administrators, the proliferation of Jewish day schools during the ’70s and ’80s coincided with economic doldrums in Israel. Religious school administrators, too, were happy to staff classrooms with Israeli-born teachers seeking better job opportunities in the U.S.

Not so the last decade.

“During the high-tech boom, we hardly saw an Israeli teacher at all,” says Yonaton Shultz, personnel services director for the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education. Today, he says, the initial waves of Israeli immigrants are nearing retirement, and recent Jewish education graduates prefer jobs as administrators, for which benefits are better than in teaching. “Where is the next batch?” he asks.

Unlike secular recruiters, who resort to signing bonuses and housing subsidies to lure candidates, such enticements are rarely offered for Jewish jobs.

Even so, religious school directors are devising clever inducements for teachers, who typically work part-time. These include reduced religious school tuition for their children and free temple membership.

Some solve their recruiting difficulties under their own roof. “You have to keep your antenna up,” says Joanne Mercer, religious education director at Newport Beach’s Temple Bat Yahm, which this fall will hold 10 sessions each of Hebrew and Judaic study for 350 students. Mercer is a former public school teacher and long-time Sunday school teacher, who was named acting director to fill a vacancy and assumed the post in 1991.

Transforming congregants who hunger for personal Jewish growth into qualified teachers is a pet recruitment project of Joan S. Kaye, director of the Orange County Bureau of Jewish Education. In 1994, she received a five-year, $200,000 grant to devise a program to train and mentor congregants on teaching in a Jewish school.

This summer, Kaye herself is seeking an assistant director to succeed Jay Lewis, who after seven years in the county was named Hillel executive director at the University of Kansas. Kaye has posted a job description at, a Web site started last October.

Passion alone, though, is no substitute for the perquisites accorded professionals. “Being a Jewish educator wasn’t viewed as a real job,” says Shultz, who reports that 50 percent of day school teachers lacked benefits in 1987.

No longer is that the case as competitive pressure forced day schools to shift hiring to full-time staff, instead of part-timers, he says. To stay competitive, some day schools are offering pension benefits. “That’s going to make it a long-term field,” he predicts.

This month, a new effort to fill the day school administrative pipeline starts by subsidizing 10 graduate students enrolled in a leadership training program at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and at the Hebrew Union College-Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

Eight other campuses, which have yet to be identified, are also expected to offer the program, says Paul Flexner, human resources vice president for the Jewish Education Service of North America, the Jewish Federation’s educational arm. Students will receive a $25,000 stipend, health insurance and 12 graduate credits, about a third necessary to complete a master’s degree.

“Come Sept. 3, almost every classroom will have a teacher,” Flexner says. In a cautionary note to parents, though, he adds, “That doesn’t mean they have any training or experience.”

JFS Picks Up Several JCC Services

Effective Jan. 1, Jewish Family Service (JFS) will take over some key JCC services — SOVA Kosher Food Pantry, Israel Levin Senior Adult Center, and Westside JCC’s Social Day Care Center for seniors and people with disabilities. At the annual JCCGLA meeting, Jewish Federation President John Fishel told The Journal that his outreach organization wants to preserve the continuity of these JCC programs.

"We’ve been discussion since summer with the Centers about these programs," JFS Executive Director Paul Castro told The Journal. Castro’s agency has spent the last few months exploring operational, budgetary, funding and other issues pertaining to the programs. "Fortunately we’ve gotten those issues to a level where we feel comfortable taking them over," Castro said.

He added that SOVA’s staff will be maintained for now, with a Federation allocation of $125,000 slated for the first six months "with understanding that it would be annualized" pending a business plan that JFS will provide in the spring. In assuming the Venice-based Israel Levin Center, JFS will keep the current staff.

The most fiscally stable of the three programs will be Social Day Care. JFS has secured a Department of Aging grant through the city of Los Angeles that amounts to $185,000 per year over four years. The annual $185,000 grant does not include Federation allocations earmarked for this program. For the time being, the program will remain at Westside JCC. However JFS is currently looking for an alternative site to prepare in case Westside closes by July.

"We’re looking forward to bringing them into the JFS family and we believe these programs will be a good fit for the services we provide," Castro said of Israel Levin Center and Social Day Care. "While the food bank is new to us, many of our clients have experience with SOVA."

In addition to JFS pitching in to relieve JCCGLA, Federation agencies Jewish Free Loan and Jewish Vocational Service will assist recently laid-off Federation employees with interest free loans and job-hunting assistance, respectively.

Federation Lay-Offs Total 30

The streamlining continues at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the city’s biggest nonprofit outreach organization. A total of 30 positions were cut; 20 union and 10 nonunion. In the past month, buzz among Federation employees was that anywhere from 30 to 40 positions would be cut from all three local Federation outlets.

The Journal has learned that dismissed employees include Senior Associate Campaign Director Lee Rosenblum; ACCESS Chair A.J. Adelman; Campaign’s Danny Nathanson and Mark Friedman; lower-rung employees of the Jewish Community Relations department; as well as personnel in Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, communications and other departments.

Federation Marketing and Communications Director Craig Prizant said that 30 is the final total on the lay-offs.

A Federation insider observed that, due to union rules, union employees with seniority have the option of taking other union workers’ positions. However, the process is based on seniority and not based on whether these employees are right for the job. Union employees get bumped to the lowest positions — those at the bottom with no seniority lose their jobs.

"It was pretty much across the board; not one specific area they came out of," said Prizant. "It’s tied into the reports on the economy. We chose to take an administrative cut versus the money allocations in the agencies. We’ve chosen to cut ourselves rather than to cut into the most vulnerable communities."

In addition to the economy, Prizant pegs post-Sept. 11 hikes in security, health and insurance costs as deciding lay-off factors.

The job cuts, according to Prizant, will save the local Federation system roughly $3 million.

"We are a family here and we are taking caring of our own," said Prizant, in reference to offering the laid-off employees services from Jewish Vocational Service, Jewish Family Service and other Federation agencies.

Federation Chairman Todd Morgan described The Federation’s decision to downsize as "unpalatable in the short term to maintain the vision of the long term."

"It’s a tough situation," Prizant added. "People are not totally surprised. You don’t have to be a genius to see the economy. When it happens to you, it’s very difficult. As John [Fishel, The Federation’s president,] said, it’s the most difficult thing he’s had to go through in his career."

Heartbreak Hotel?

Left, an anti-union poster evoking Nazism that upset labor andJewish communal leaders, such as Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels (above)who spoke at a pro-union press conference at the hotel. Also picturedis state Sen. Tom Hayden, just left of the podium.

The Miramar Sheraton Hotel is one of the jewels of Santa Monica.It sits astride a full block on Ocean Avenue and looks west, over thePalisades and the blue Pacific. Inside, there are lush gardens, aluxurious swimming pool and tanned guests who look as if they areemblems of Southern California.

The hotel is where President Clinton has often stayed duringvisits to Los Angeles.

And the Miramar Sheraton is the only Santa Monica hotel that isunionized.

But, alas, Eden is beginning to falter: Hotel officials recentlyentered into conflict with Local 814 of the Hotel Employees andRestaurant Employees Union. According to some, they have attempted tointimidate workers, most of whom are Latino, into voting “no” for theunion in an upcoming decertification election.

One of the hotel’s tactics has set off alarm bells not only amongunion representatives but among leaders of the Jewish community.

Last week, according to critics, a 3-by-4-foot color posterdepicting a union organizer as a Nazi was posted beside the employeetime clock. The cartoon figure had military garb, a Hitlerianmustache, black riding boots, a union armband and pockets stuffedwith greenbacks. The character is pointing to a blackboard upon whichthere are slogans in Spanish, such as “Pay dues to the union.”

The hotel representatives, of course, see no connection betweenthe figure and the Nazis, let alone Hitler.

Not so, say several Jewish and Santa Monica civic leaders. Lastweek, a group of them angrily marched into the hotel and across theexpanse of marble floor, stood in front of the reception desk. Theydemanded to speak to someone in charge. Among the demonstrators wereRabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom; Rabbi Jeffrey Marx ofSha’arei Am: The Santa Monica Synagogue; Rick Chertoff of the JewishLabor Committee; Richard Bloom of Friends of Sunset Park; SantaMonica City Councilmember Michael Feinstein; peace activist JerryRubin; and a dozen others.

The somewhat befuddled young woman behind the reception desk onlysmiled nervously and said that she didn’t know anything about theissue. An impeccably coifed young man then sternly stated that thevisitors were impeding his guests and that they would have to move.Finally, two policemen arrived but were soon satisfied that thevisitors were peaceful.

The demonstrators then carried on a press conference in the humiddrizzle outside the hotel, making indignant statements to the media.

The confrontation didn’t seem to shake Comess-Daniels, who spokeof the biblical mandate to protect the worker.

Marx said that the poster trivialized the Holocaust and flew inthe face of the Jewish history of union organizing.

The poster “surpasses the normal sleaze we see associated withthese kinds of campaigns,” Feinstein said. “I am offended as a humanbeing and as a Jew.”

In a written statement, hotel officials denied the charges ofintimidation and refuted the claim that the cartoon figure was meantto resemble a Nazi. They called that allegation “ridiculous,offensive [and] untrue.”

“However, for anyone in the community who found this imageoffensive, we apologize,” the statement says.

The Journal was unable to reach hotel general manager BillWorcester, but he told the Los Angeles Times, “The real issue is, doour employees want to continue to be represented by Local 814?”

For Gail Escobar, who is Jewish and a waitress at the hotel’supscale Grille restaurant, the answer is an emphatic “yes.”

Escobar, 35, who grew up in Santa Monica, said that she was hiredby the hotel two years ago, when she needed more income to supporther 5-year-old son, Kevin. She was drawn to the Miramar Sheratonbecause the union ensured her full health benefits, which recentlyproved crucial when her husband required major eye surgery.

Escobar joined the union’s organizing committee this past springto help workers keep their benefits and a bargaining voice. But shesaid that she has been unnerved by the tense, mandatory anti-unionmeetings she has had to attend with the other employees. (Worcestertold the Times that the meetings were “informational only.”)

“If we lose the union, I’m almost 100 percent sure they’ll fireme,” the waitress said. “I’ve been way too vocal.”

But Escobar and the other employees at least enjoyed one coup lastweek. After the rabbis’ press conference, the hotel took down theegregious poster.

The union vote took place on Oct. 1, after The Journal went topress this week. Also as The Journal went to press, CongregationKehillat Ma’arav was planning to go ahead with its High Holidayservices at the Miramar Sheraton. There was not enough time to changevenues, a source said.

UJ Layoffs

The last days of the Passover holiday brought a shocking message to 14 faculty and staff members at the University of Judaism: They’re laid off.

Among those whose contracts will not be renewed this June are Rabbi David Ackerman, associate dean of the Fingerhut School of Education; Dean of Students Jill Landesberg; and Director of Student Jewish Life Betty Brasky.

At press time, The Jewish Journal could not confirm the names of other employees whose contracts will not be renewed.

The layoff, substantial at an institution with fewer than 100 faculty and staff members, came against a backdrop of continuing money problems for the school.

Several weeks ago, the administration circulated a message to staff, informing them that the university had a $2 million deficit. Department heads were asked to cut their budgets by 10 percent, and officials held an open meeting to discuss other cost-cutting measures at the 200-student school.

“We had known there were serious budgetary problems, and we were told there would have to be layoffs,” said Ackerman. “I just didn’t expect to be one of them.”

Four years ago, a similar round of layoffs, also the result of a budget crisis, provoked outrage within the university as well as in the larger Jewish community.

The current round was met with a much more subdued response. Those laid off were informed of their termination in meetings with Vice President, Administration, Mark Bookman on the Thursday or Friday before the long holiday vacation that included the Sabbath and the last two days of Passover. (Many were still unreachable as The Journal went to press).

Rabbi Daniel Gordis, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, and University President Dr. Robert Wexler were not in town at the time of the layoffs.

Bookman had not returned The Journal’s calls by press time.

When asked Wednesday morning to comment on the layoffs, the university’s PR department said that it hadn’t heard of any taking place.

The University of Judaism, long a center of Jewish learning in Los Angeles, is home to an undergraduate liberal arts program and graduate schools in rabbinic studies and education.

Those affiliated with the university acknowledge that laying off valued staff is always a last resort.

“It’s always perceived as anti-Jewish not to take care of your own,” said University Regent Alan Bloch. But, said Bloch, the drastic measure was a “matter of survival.”

At least one person associated with the school was openly critical.

“A Jewish institution that believes it teaches Jewish values has to act in accordance with those values,” said Rabbi Jane Litman, who has taught at the Bel Air campus.

In a telephone interview, Litman took the UJ to task for laying off well-regarded staffers in the midst of the Passover holiday and well into the academic year.

“I don’t think it shows much sensitivity,” she said. “They are decent people, and they feel very betrayed.”

But others, including some of those laid off, said that they understand the university had little choice.

Although the school made headlines last year, when it received a $22 million donation from the Ziegler family for its rabbinical school, administrators say that money is being allocated at $2.2 million per year over 10 years — not enough to get the university through its crisis.

“I guess they had no choice,” said Brasky, one of those laid off.

Statement on the Budget

By Dr. Robert Wexler

The 1990s continues to be a decade of downsizing at many private colleges around the country. The primary cause is the precipitous rise in expense budgets during the past 20 years, accompanied by tuition costs that have increased at a pace much beyond the rate of general inflation. Students and their parents complain that they are no longer willing to accept the burden of underwriting the continual expansion of campus programs.

Colleges are becoming leaner and more cost conscious. In this regard, the University of Judaism is no exception. In order to reduce our expenses, we have embarked on a rigorous program of self-examination and cost-cutting. This includes a reduction in the size of our administration, accomplished through the consolidation of several staff positions. We have also instituted a variety of financial controls intended to limit spending.

We deeply regret the fact that downsizing inevitably causes hardship to employees whose jobs are eliminated and to their families. We will do whatever we can to ease their transition, while recognizing the personal unhappiness that regrettably results.

The board of directors and the administration of the University of Judaism understand their responsibility to our students to provide them with a quality education while keeping tuition at the lowest level possible. We also consider ourselves the guardians of the funds provided by our donors and acknowledge our duty to use those funds as wisely and efficiently as possible.

Dr. Robert Wexler is president of the University of Judaism.