Top 15 Jewish Los Angeles stories of 5777


The Jewish year 5777 wasn’t eventful only on the national stage. Here in Los Angeles, the Jewish community had its share of notable controversies and causes for celebration.

The following are 15 local stories that had L.A. Jews talking this year.

Danielle Berrin recalls her assault by Ari Shavit (October 2016)

In a courageous cover story, Jewish Journal senior writer Danielle Berrin detailed how a prominent Israeli journalist, later named as Ari Shavit, groped and propositioned her during a professional interview. Berrin related her experience to the universal prevalence of sexual assault, an issue that emerged in the public spotlight when a video surfaced of then-presidential nominee Donald Trump making lewd comments about women to Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood.” Shavit admitted he was the subject of Berrin’s story several days after it was published, apologized and resigned from his positions at Israel’s Haaretz newspaper and Channel 10 TV.

In highlighting the gendered endemic of sexual assault and the stigma of speaking out, Berrin, who later was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club, began the Jewish New Year with a timely call for justice.

Jewish Family Service CEO Paul Castro announces retirement (October 2016)

Paul Castro

Paul Castro, CEO of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), announced Oct. 13 that he would leave his post in December 2017 after 35 years at the nonprofit. Castro is not Jewish, but that never interfered with his leadership on JFS projects like the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program, the Israel Levin Senior Adult Center and the Westside Jewish Community Center’s Social Day Care Center for seniors and people with disabilities. During his tenure as CEO, Castro raised $17 million of the $25 million needed to rebuild the JFS Lois and Richard Gunther Center, the future hub of JFS outreach.

On Sep. 12, 2017, another prominent Jewish community leader announced his retirement: American Jewish University President Robert Wexler will step down at the end of the academic term, after 25 years at the school. Under his stewardship, the university opened the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in 1996 and merged with Brandeis-Bardin. Wexler is credited with overseeing numerous campus construction projects and growing the university’s endowment from $5 million to more than $100 million.

Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Marvin Hier delivers benediction at Trump inauguration (January 2017)

Rabbi Marvin Hier

 

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, stirred controversy when he offered an original prayer and a blessing to President Donald Trump at his Jan. 20 inauguration. Hier, who performed the invocation alongside various faith leaders, defended his decision by stating a peaceful transition of power is “the trademark of democracy.”

Rabbi Sharon Brous

IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous speaks at D.C. Women’s March (January 2017)

The day after the inauguration, 3.3 million women in 500 American cities marched in protest of Trump’s presidency and in favor of universal human rights. Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR delivered a speech at the Washington, D.C., Women’s March that referenced the Exodus story of Shifrah and Puah, two rebellious Egyptian midwives who defied Pharaoh’s orders to kill Hebrew firstborns. On the largest single-day protest in American history, Brous appealed to spiritual unity and shared humanity.

Photo by Rob Eshman

Jews join immigration ban protests at LAX (January 2017)

Following Trump’s executive order that shut the United States’ doors on refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, Jews joined thousands of Los Angeles natives who gathered at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in protest. A number of signs at the protest highlighted harmony between Muslims and Jews, or drew comparisons between the refugee ban and Hitler’s early strategies.

B’nai David-Judea disobeys OU ban on female clergy (February 2017)

In the face of a Feb. 3 Orthodox Union (OU) policy statement that opposed the inclusion of women in Orthodox clergy, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of Orthodox Pico-Robertson synagogue B’nai David-Judea issued a defiant response: Clergy member Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn would be offering the drasha that Shabbat. Kanefsky referred to the ways “women have vastly increased the amount of Torah study, Mitzvah observance and spiritual sensitivity within their respective Orthodox congregations,” and criticized the OU for “imposing one perspective on all of its member synagogues.”

Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz

Colorful L.A. rabbi known as ‘Schwartzie’ dies at 71 (February 2017)

The red-bearded rabbi who wore rainbow suspenders and set up Jewish astrology readings on the Venice Boardwalk died on Feb. 8. Rabbi Shlomo “Schwartzie” Schwartz was the founder and director of Chai Center, a Jewish nonprofit outreach organization in Los Angeles that engages Jews through weekly Shabbat dinners, free High Holy Days services and other events.

Cartoon in UCLA student newspaper denounced as anti-Semitic (February 2017)

UCLA cartoon

Outrage erupted on UCLA’s campus when the Daily Bruin published a cartoon that struck many as anti-Semitic. The cartoon depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing in front of the Ten Commandments, with one caption stating, “Israel passes law seizing any Palestinian land,” and another suggesting Israel would follow its “stealing” with murder. The Daily Bruin issued an apology for the cartoon, which even drew a denunciation from a pro-Palestine group on campus.

Leah Adler, restaurateur and mother of Steven Spielberg, dies at 97 (February 2017)

Leah Adler

Leah Adler might have been best known as film director Steven Spielberg’s mother, but she earned her own renown in the Los Angeles Jewish community as the owner of kosher restaurant The Milky Way on Pico Boulevard Adler, who died Feb. 21, was a former concert pianist from Cincinnati who enjoyed chatting with restaurant patrons about kosher cuisine and providing life advice. Some might recognize her from the 1994 Academy Awards, when Spielberg kissed her and described her as his lucky charm while accepting the best director Oscar for “Schindler’s List.”

JCCs receive bomb threats amid national scare (February 2017)

Westside JCC

 

The Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC) became one of more than 100 JCCs and Jewish day schools across the country to receive bomb threats over the phone in 2017. Among the other targets was the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach, which received a hoax threat Jan. 31 that prompted the evacuation of approximately 300 seniors, parents and children. The Los Angeles Police Department evacuated the Westside JCC and searched the premises, but the threat was a false alarm. Four months later, University Synagogue of Brentwood and both Wilshire Boulevard Temple campuses also were shut down due to online bomb threats, none of which materialized.

Stephen Miller

Exploring Jewish Trump aide Stephen Miller’s L.A. roots (March 2017)

Stephen Miller began his work with the Trump campaign in 2016 as a “warmup act” before the presidential candidate took the stage at rallies. Later, as senior adviser to the president, Miller worked closely with Stephen Bannon to craft the executive order banning refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. Given Miller’s zealously nationalistic political rhetoric, it surprised many to discover he is the great-grandson of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. The Jewish Journal profiled Miller’s youth as a congregant of liberal-leaning Los Angeles synagogues and a graduate of Santa Monica High School.

Politicizing the pulpit (June 2017)

When Sinai Temple Senior Rabbi David Wolpe argued in a Jewish Journal article that rabbis should refrain from expressing political opinions in their sermons, he ignited a debate that engaged rabbis and community members from every corner of Los Angeles. Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom, Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs and IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous all penned responses in the Journal challenging Wolpe’s apolitical position and questioning the possibility of drawing a line between politics and Torah. Wolpe’s article gave rise to a sort of symposium that considered a rabbi’s moral responsibility amid a politically turbulent year.

Marilyn Hall

Marilyn Hall, wife of Monty Hall, dies at 90 (June 2017)

Actress, writer, producer and philanthropist Marilyn Hall died June 5 at the age of 90. Hall, wife of game show host Monty Hall, produced documentaries for Jewish institutions such as Brandeis University, the United Jewish Welfare Fund and Tel Aviv University. Her roster of accomplishments also includes producing  two Emmy-winning TV movies and co-writing “The Celebrity Kosher Cookbook.”

Westwood flyers warn of new Hezbollah-inspired group (July 2017)

Iranian Jews were on edge when they discovered flyers in Westwood’s Persian Square district announcing the inception of a group calling itself the “Army of Hezbollah in America.” The handbill, written in Farsi, vowed to avenge any U.S. military action in the Persian Gulf with terrorist attacks on American soil. It also denounced the influence of the “Zionist media.” The Los Angeles Police Department said it turned over information about the flyer to the FBI for investigation.

Izak Parviz Nazarian

Iranian-Jewish philanthropist Izak Parviz Nazarian dies at 88 (August 2017)

Izak Parviz Nazarian, co-founder of investment firm Omninet and former board member of technology company Qualcomm, died on Aug. 23 at age 88. After a difficult childhood in Iran, Nazarian fought with the Haganah in Italy and joined Israeli troops in the War of Independence. Nazarian immigrated to Los Angeles after the Iranian Revolution, where he built a successful technology empire with his brother, Younes. A passionately pro-Israel philanthropist, Nazarian founded the Citizens’ Empowerment Center in Israel, a nonprofit dedicated to reforming Israel’s electoral system.

Stephen Miller arriving at Trump Tower in New York, Jan. 9, 2017. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Stephen Miller in running for White House communications director


White House policy adviser Stephen Miller reportedly is under consideration to be White House communications director.

He would replace Anthony Scaramucci, who was let go in part because of an obscenity-laden interview he gave to The New Yorker magazine late last month. Scaramucci wasn’t set to formally take the job until Aug. 15, but had been working in the position for 10 days when he was effectively fired.

The effort to find a successor to Scaramucci is still in the name-gathering process, and Miller is not the only top contender, the news website Axios reported Saturday.

Miller raised his profile last week after telling CNN’s Jim Acosta during a White House news conference that a famous poem by Jewish writer Emma Lazarus praising the Statue of Liberty as a beacon for new immigrants “doesn’t matter” since it was attached to the site years after the statue was erected.

Axios reported that White House top strategic adviser Stephen Bannon likes the idea of Miller for the job, and said Miller was the hero of the West Wing after he attacked Acosta as a “cosmopolitan” for his views on immigration.

Miller, who is Jewish and the descendant of immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island, is known as a proponent of what Bannon calls “economic nationalism.”

Miller has been called “one of the chief architects” behind the executive order that temporarily banned citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries and indefinitely banned Syrian refugees from entering the United States. He also has ties to David Horowitz, founder of a right-wing think tank that “combats the efforts of the radical left and its Islamist allies to destroy American values and disarm this country as it attempts to defend itself in a time of terror.”

White House senior policy advisor Stephen Miller discusses immigration policy at the daily press briefing at the White House on Aug. 2. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Stephen Miller and Julia Hahn have a past


We already discovered that Special Assistant to the President Stephen Miller wouldn’t be living in the United States, pushing a law to cut legal immigration by half, if not for liberal immigration laws that allowed his great-grandfather Sam Glosser into this country in the first place.

The fact is, his family tree would have withered and died long ago—in the pogroms, in the Holocaust, in the gulag – if at the turn of the century the United States didn’t allow his poor, non-English-speaking great-grandfather in.

That bit of irony doesn’t on its own make the law Miller pushed in front of a suitably skeptical press corps last Wednesday bad policy. The reason the bill won’t work — why it will actually hurt American workers and American productivity — can  be found in his own family history.

In fact, it’s all about family.

The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment, or RAISE Act, replaces a system that favors immigrants with relatives already here with a “merit-based” system that grants legal residency green cards based on skills, education and English language ability. Under the bill, immigrants could no longer sponsor visas for extended family members and adult children.

If your aim is to halve the number of legal immigrants to the United States, cutting out family visas should do the trick. In 2014, fully 64 percent of immigrants admitted with legal residency were immediate relatives of American citizens or sponsored by family members

But if the aim of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) and David Perdue (R-GA), is to strengthen the economy, local communities and the country, it’s a big mistake.

Why should Miller of all people know that? Because of his family, the Glossers.

Nison (Max) Miller, Stephen Miller’s great-grandfather, was denied naturalization in 1932 on account of “Ignorance.”

Wolf Glosser, Miller’s great-great grandfather, escaped poverty and persecution in Russia and came to Ellis Island on January 7, 1903 aboard the German ship the S.S. Moltke. He had $8.00 in his pocket.

How did Wolf survive? His brother-in-law, Samuel Levine, who had already established himself in New York, helped him get started with a pushcart in the Lower East Side. Soon Wolf’s son Nathan joined him, escaping the misery of Poland. The two migrated up to Pennsylvania, where Wolf’s brother Moses had started a business. Nathan liked Johnstown, he stayed, and Morris Cohen, another Jewish immigrant, loaned him $200 to buy Cohen’s tailor shop, where Nathan was working.

Wolf joined Nathan. Then, on July 9, 1906, Saul, Bella, their mother Bessie and 13-year-old Sam Glosser sailed to America to join their family, and work in the business.

Sam, who was Stephen Miller’s great-grandfather, would eventually run Glossers Department Store—which went on to serve and employ thousands of Americans for generations.

As Robert Jeschonek writes in Long Live Glosser’s, had this Russian Jewish family not been reunited in America, “We might never have had that institution at the heart of our community for eighty years.”

That history shows two fallacies in the RAISE Act.

Limiting family immigration is bad business. Immigrants don’t just build America, families and communities build America.

Cultural and familial ties matter in business because they lower transaction costs, the sociologist Joel Kotkin wrote in Forbes, “Tribal loyalty fosters trust. Cultural affinity supercharges communication. Reading a contract is useful, but you also need to be able to read people. Even as free trade and electronic communications bring the world closer together, kinship still counts. Indians in Silicon Valley team up with other Indians; Chinese-Americans do business with Taiwan and Shanghai.”

In his book Tribes, Kotkin demonstrated how Jewish immigrants tossed into a hostile diaspora, spurned as “elitists” and “cosmopolitans,” were able to thrive: by using trusted bonds of family and community to create strong businesses.

He quotes Ibn Khaldun, a 14th-century Arab historian: “Only tribes held together by a group feeling can survive in a desert.”

By cutting family visas, you cut off the very thing businesses and communities need to grow strong. There is plenty of evidence to show that immigrant families and the ethno-religious tribes they belong to don’t take jobs, but, like the Glosser brothers, create jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, about 90 percent of American businesses are family-owned or controlled.

If Miller et. al. want to switch to a point system, fine—but family and even tribal relations must count.

The other fallacy is that immigrants should speak English. Again, look at the Glossers: they arrived not speaking a word, and they did just fine.

A point system that accurately predicts which immigrants will succeed and contribute to American society could be a fine thing indeed. But as the conservative The Federalist pointed out, if it really works– then why limit immigration at all? Would Tom Cotton really mind if Arkansas, which is ranked #43 for business in the country, imported 50,000 young Sam Glossers?

Aside from Miller, there’s another RAISE Act booster whose family history also demonstrates the proposed law’s flaws.

In 1906 a young Russian Jew named Hyman Korman fled poverty and anti-Semitism in his home country and immigrated to the United States– which took him in.

Hyman settled northeast of Philadelphia. After 14 years, Hyman, according to the editors of Philadelphia Jewish Life, was “still mastering English.” But when a new road sliced through his farm, he saw an opportunity. He bought up surrounding land and began building houses for the expanding city. He turned to family members and fellow Russian Jews to grow the business.

The Kormans grew into one of America’s wealthiest and most philanthropic families. They married with the Honickmans, another incredible Jewish immigrant family success story. Businesswoman and philanthropist Lynne Honickman is the grandmother of Special Assistant to the President Julia Hahn, the former Breitbart staffer who teamed with Miller at the White House to support and promote the RAISE Act. What’s with these two?

Of course there should be effective immigration standards and laws. But Miller and Hahn are both the offspring of very wealthy families because government officials let their extended families in, and because they didn’t use poor English as a reason to deny naturalization.

Well, sort of. It turns out that Miller’s great-grandfather on his father’s side, Nison (Max) Miller, first applied for naturalization in Detroit in 1932. On Nov. 14 of that year he received his reply: “The said petition is hereby denied.”

The officer only stated a one-word reason: “Ignorance.”

Order of Court denying Nison Miller naturalization in 1932.

White House senior policy advisor Stephen Miller discusses immigration policy at the daily press briefing at the White House on Aug. 2. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

White House aide Stephen Miller doesn’t think the Statue of Liberty has much to do with immigration


Isabel Belarsky arrived in New York in 1930 fleeing anti-Semitic persecution in Russia. Eighty-one years later, she recalled what it was like, as an immigrant, to see the Statue of Liberty as her ship approached New York Harbor.

“It was a wonderful sight,” she told CNN in 2011.
Sorry, Isabel: If you think Lady Liberty was welcoming immigrants like you, the Trump administration thinks you may have have misinterpreted her message.
Explaining President Trump’s immigration policies Wednesday, White House aide Stephen Miller told reporters that the famous pro-immigration poem associated with the Statue of Liberty “doesn’t matter” since it was attached to the site years after the statue was erected.

The poem, “The New Colossus,” was written by the Jewish poet Emma Lazarus in 1883, eight years after construction began on the statue and three years before its dedication. It includes lines long associated with America’s embrace of immigrants: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

When CNN’s Jim Acosta asked Miller whether a new immigration bill favoring English-speaking applicants and vetting potential immigrants according to their skill sets is “keeping with American tradition” and the spirit of the Lazarus poem, Miller said that the poem doesn’t matter since it was “added later” to the statue.

“I don’t want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty and lighting in the world; it’s a symbol of American liberty lighting the world,” Miller argued. “The poem that you’re referring to was added later. It’s not actually part of the Statue of Liberty.”

Although not an immigrant herself, Lazarus, the daughter of a family that traced its roots to America’s first Portuguese Jewish settlers, wrote the poem about the statue and in response to what her biographer, Esther Schor, called the “pain of the world’s exiles.” Although a plaque inscribed with the poem wasn’t placed at the site until 1903 — six years after Lazarus’ death at age 38 — its message and the statue’s orientation near what would become, starting in 1892, the nation’s busiest entry point for new immigrants became inseparable.

“The Statue of Liberty was not conceived and sculpted as a symbol of immigration, but it quickly became so as immigrant ships passed under the torch and the shining face, heading toward Ellis Island,” wrote John T. Cunningham in a history of nearby Ellis Island. “However, it was [Lazarus’s poem] that permanently stamped on Miss Liberty the role of unofficial greeter of incoming immigrants.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson were among the presidents who gave pro-immigration speeches at the base of the statue.

Twitter wasn’t kind to Miller’s appraisal of the poem. “WHAT?!! advisor Stephen Miller says Emma Lazarus poem on Statue of Liberty ‘meaningless.’ Stephen, you are a Statue of Arrogance,” tweeted the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect.

Peter Sagal — host of the NPR quiz show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” — seemed flabbergasted by Miller’s assertion (which, to be fair, is technically true).

And some termed it ironic that Miller’s own great-grandfather, Sam Glosser, immigrated to America from his native Belarus.

And if the statue is no longer what Lazarus called the “Mother of Exiles,” someone may want to notify the National Park Service: Its web site refers to Lady Liberty as “The Immigrant’s Statue.”

White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller (center) with fellow White House aides in Washington, D.C. Photo by Reuters/Carlos Barria.

From Hebrew school to halls of power: Stephen Miller’s unlikely journey


When Stephen Miller began to crop up in headlines last spring as a member of then-candidate Donald Trump’s inner circle, those who knew him as the scion of a Jewish household in Santa Monica were intrigued — but for the most part unsurprised.

As far back as Hebrew school, his classmates pegged him as a young contrarian. Some now suggest that his journey as an impassioned evangelist for the right, which eventually landed him a West Wing office, began as a rebellion against Santa Monica’s bleeding heart, multiculturalist and heavily Jewish left.

News reports identify Miller, 31, as a principal author of Trump’s draconian immigration measures, including the executive order the president signed in late January targeting immigrants from Muslim-majority countries. These politics are generally reviled in the liberal circles of his Jewish upbringing — such as at Beth Shir Shalom, where he went to Hebrew school, and which describes itself online as a “Progressive Reform Synagogue,” and at The Santa Monica Synagogue, a Reform temple where he was confirmed in 10th grade.

At The Santa Monica Synagogue, members skew liberal, especially when it comes to immigration, said Rabbi Jeffrey Marx, the temple’s longtime rabbi. The confirmation course itself — taught by Marx once a week on Tuesday evenings — sought to instill empathy and respect for the other, the rabbi said.

“We certainly did our best here to teach him the ethical standards of Judaism,” Marx said. “He certainly didn’t grow up not having that knowledge base.”

Miller, who now holds the title of senior policy adviser to the president, first gained nationwide attention as the hype man who would pump up audiences before  Trump’s appearances at campaign events. His national profile peaked during a Feb. 12 round of the Sunday talk shows, where he struck an authoritarian note that rankled many liberal West Coasters.

“The powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned,” he told John Dickerson of “Face the Nation” on CBS, discussing the president’s first abortive attempt at a travel ban.

Long before that, though, Miller was the middle child in a Jewish real estate family with immigrant roots, and far more interested in “Star Trek” than politics.

His mother, Miriam, who came to Los Angeles as a social worker, grew up in the well-to-do Glosser family of New Deal Democrats in Johnstown, Pa. Her grandparents were Eastern European immigrants. Stephen’s father, Michael, is a Stanford-trained lawyer who pivoted into real estate management. Peers described the elder Miller as a Jewish community leader, who served in board posts for a number of philanthropic organizations, including on the national board of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and the board of directors of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Together the couple owns and operates a real estate investment company that controls 2,500 residential units from Pico Rivera to Valley Village.

The Millers also have given generously over the years: From 2013 to 2014, the family donated $25,000 to the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science, a research university south of Tel Aviv, tax documents show. Other recipients of their largesse include the Republican Jewish Coalition and Stanford Law School.

Repeated requests for interviews with Stephen Miller and his parents went unanswered.

Over the years, the family appears to have moved from temple to temple, spending time at The Santa Monica Synagogue, also known has Sha’arei Am, Beth Shir Shalom and Kehillat Ma’arav, a Conservative shul near the 10 Freeway. Each congregation is notable for the liberal politics of its members — but Michael Miller was different.

Steven Windmueller, professor emeritus at HUC-JIR, has known Miller since both men were involved with the now-defunct L.A. Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), where Windmueller was director and Michael Miller co-chaired the Western Region, which included Santa Monica and much of the Westside. Windmueller said Miller was “rather conservative in his political outlook” and not particularly shy about it.

But even those who differ from him politically described Michael Miller as a mensch. “He was a great guy to work with,” said Michael Hirschfeld, who took over the directorship of the JCRC after Windmueller left in 1995. “He was committed, he was loyal, he was respectful — he was an all-around good guy.”

Images of Stephen Miller from the 2003 Santa Monica High School yearbook; far right, Stephen with his younger brother Jacob in “Star Trek” garb. Photos by Eitan Arom.

 

Early on, young Stephen Miller veered away from the progressive ethos of the temples where he grew up.

Even in Hebrew school at Beth Shir Shalom, Miller was something of a budding provocateur, according to a classmate who asked not to be named so he could speak freely. Though he wasn’t the full-blown contrarian he would become in high school, Miller seemed to enjoy getting a rise out of people, the classmate recalled.

“He was not very concerned with being well liked,” he said.

Another Hebrew school classmate, Sophie Goldstein, said classes encouraged debate — an area where Miller thrived — over Torah tractates and other aspects of the religion.

Once, Goldstein said, the class of about seven or eight kids was discussing how to deal fairly with the sole remaining slice of a pizza pie, when Miller decided to end the debate.

“We’re all talking and talking about it. In the middle of this discussion, Stephen slaps his open hand down on the middle of the slice of pizza,” she recalled. “And of course nobody would touch this pizza slice after he put his greasy 13-year-old paw on it.”

But at that time, politics were on the far backburner for Miller, according to those who knew him. Jason Islas, now a Santa Monica-based journalist, bonded with Miller as a preteen over their shared Trekkie inclinations. Islas said throughout their time together at Lincoln Middle School, world events were far less important for Miller than, for instance, his obsession with Capt. Kirk.

Then, in the early 1990s, the real estate market soured and the Millers downsized from a house on a tree-lined street in the well-to-do neighborhood north of Montana Avenue to a somewhat smaller one in a less affluent area of Santa Monica, off a busy stretch of Pico Boulevard.

The move came just before Stephen entered high school. Islas recalls Miller breaking off the friendship around that time — because, as he says Miller told him, Islas is Latino.

Soon, Miller developed a reputation as a rabble-rouser at Santa Monica High School. He rallied against what he saw as rampant anti-Americanism, decried Spanish-language bulletins, lobbied hard for daily recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance and fought to bring conservative speakers to the overwhelmingly liberal school. A video from the time shows him getting booed offstage during a student government campaign speech, wearing a self-assured grin, for suggesting students shouldn’t have to clean up after themselves since janitors are paid to do so.

Since then, Miller has often defined his ideology in opposition to what he has called the “racial left.” In his high school yearbook, he quotes President Theodore Roosevelt: “There can be no fifty-fifty Americanism in this country.”

“He thought of himself as an anti-establishment figure in an area where the establishment was very progressive on economic and ethnic and racial diversity,” Islas said of Miller’s upbringing.

“We certainly did our best here to teach him the ethical standards of Judaism. He certainly didn’t grow up not having that knowledge base.”

— Rabbi Jeffrey Marx, The Santa Monica Synagogue

Islas speculated that Miller’s ideology had its roots in a “teenage rebellion” against his liberal surroundings.

“This is a particular strand of conservatism that can only be created in a place where the predominant paradigm is wealthy, liberal identity politics,” he said.

Miller has said as much in interviews with the media.

“When we think of nonconformity, we tend to imagine kids in the ’60s rebelling against ‘the system,’ ” he told the Los Angeles Times in January. “This was my system. My establishment was a dogmatic educational system that often uniformly expressed a single point of view.”

Among Miller’s battles with the administration at Santa Monica High School was his fight to bring conservative author David Horowitz, founder of the Sherman Oaks-based David Horowitz Freedom Center, to speak on campus.

Administrators at first denied Miller’s request, but later gave in. After his speech, Horowitz stayed in touch with the young man, who came to see him as a mentor. Horowitz credited the teen with a great deal of chutzpah for standing up to hostile teachers and administrators.

“I even thought at the time, ‘This is a very bright young man, but how’s he going to get recommendations for college out of these people?’ ” Horowitz told the Journal in a phone interview.

The two men share more than their conservative ideas and distaste for liberal identity politics. Both strayed far from the political norms in their hometowns.

Horowitz, 78, grew up in a communist family in a hardscrabble neighborhood of Queens, where the Jewish community held President Franklin Roosevelt to be as sacred as any sage rabbi. He said his background growing up among leftists shaped his particular brand of politics, and he suspects the same is true for Miller.

Whereas conservatives tend to approach politics pragmatically, liberals bring a certain missionary zeal, he said. When the liberal political style is applied to conservative ideas, you get somebody like Miller.

“You learn a certain style of politics when you’re on the left, and if you take it over into the right, it comes out as hardball,” Horowitz said.

He also speculated that Miller’s experience dealing with the ire of his classmates inoculated him early on to the hectoring of political opponents who might name him a racist or a xenophobe. And indeed, by the beginning of his senior year at Duke University, Miller would recall with nonchalance being labeled a racist, writing in the school paper that “my skin, in addition to being somewhat pasty, is also very thick.”

“Once you break with the left, they want to kill you,” Horowitz said. “So you learn to survive.”

By the time Miller arrived in Johnstown, Pa., for a campaign event just 18 days before the presidential election and mounted the stage to the sound of a thrumming bass and fast-paced rock-’n’-roll drumbeat, his act was smooth, well practiced. He beamed at the audience, wearing a gray suit, skinny tie and pocket square.

cov-miller-standing

Photo by of Gage Skidmore via WikiCommons.

 

From Duke, Miller had landed jobs with various Republican politicians, such as Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and David Brat of Virginia. He’d worked with Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, now the attorney general, to defeat the bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration reform bill in 2014.

In Johnstown, looking the part of the Washington operative he had by then become, he would nonetheless rail against the government elite, singling out Trump as the last beacon of hope for working-class Americans.

But this campaign stop was somewhat different from the dozens that preceded it. Miller’s mother grew up here during a better time, before Bethlehem Steel, the town’s major employer, went under.

The Glossers first arrived in Johnstown at the turn of the 20th century after fleeing Cossacks and conscription in Antopol, Belarus. As the family established itself, more relatives moved in, until they were a sizable contingent of the town’s population. The Glosser Brothers tailoring shop became Glosser Brothers Department Store on Main Street, and the family thrived. Stephen’s grandfather, Isadore “Izzy” Glosser, was an executive in the family business, serving also as president of Beth Sholom Congregation, the town’s only synagogue. As a kid, young Stephen would travel to the town of some 20,000 each summer to visit his grandparents.

“Johnstown, to me, represents, if you look at the history of this amazing place, what is possible for America when our government, as it once did, puts the American people first,” he told the enthusiastic crowd.

What he failed to mention was that the entire Johnstown wing of his family were Roosevelt stalwarts, New Deal Democrats almost to a man, according to Larry Glosser, a cousin of Miriam Miller.

“I found it strange when I heard that he was Miriam’s son,” Glosser said in an interview with the Journal.

Other than one of his younger brothers, Glosser doesn’t know of anybody in his family who shares Miller’s conservative leanings.

“How would you like it if a family member became the face of white nativism in this country?” Glosser said. “I’m glad he doesn’t have my last name.”

Glosser said he eventually grew apart from Miriam, and doesn’t have any distinct memory of meeting Stephen at all. Discovering his cousin’s name in the news has led to some puzzlement among the extended Glosser clan, in private conversations and on Facebook.

“With all familial affection I wish Stephen career success and personal happiness, however I cannot endorse his political preferences,” Miller’s uncle, David Glosser, wrote in a public post that criticized Trump’s rhetoric.

And while others who knew him in his Santa Monica days found Miller’s new role strange, it also seemed somehow fitting. The Hebrew school classmate who preferred to remain anonymous said he first recalls hearing about Miller’s ascendancy on Facebook.

“I was like, ‘Whoa, Stephen is, like, writing Trump’s speeches,’ ” he said. “That’s crazy — but totally unsurprising.”

President Donald Trump at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on Feb. 21. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Getty Images

Jewish groups seek action from Trump to match his words on anti-Semitism


He hates it, he really hates it. Now what’s he going to do about it?

President Donald Trump on Tuesday culminated three weeks of missed opportunities to condemn anti-Semitism and doubling down on missed opportunities to condemn anti-Semitism with a statement unequivocally condemning anti-Semitism.

“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community at community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” Trump said Tuesday after touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Message back from a Jewish community longing to hear these words: Great. Now how do you plan on dealing with the problem?

“Glad @POTUS stated #antisemitism is horrible,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League CEO, said on Twitter, using the acronym for president of the United States. “Now need @whitehouse to share plans on how to ‘stop’ it. ADL ready to help.”

Greenblatt’s “whaddya got” posture pervaded the organized Jewish community.

David Harris, the American Jewish Committee CEO, explained why Jewish groups that might otherwise have welcomed a simple statement of intent to combat anti-Semitism were sounding a more skeptical tone.

“To date, the administration’s response has been disappointing, to say the least,” Harris said in an email to JTA.

“We’ve only just reached the stage today — thankfully, if belatedly — of hearing President Trump acknowledge the issue and call it by its rightful name — anti-Semitism,” he said.

“For reasons that escape me, until now it’s been about generic words like ‘hatred’ and ‘intolerance,’ or about the President defending himself against non-existent charges that he’s an anti-Semite. It’s elementary: to combat a problem you first have to define it, and the definition of this particular problem is anti-Semitism, pure and simple. Then you need a robust plan of action. Let’s hope it will be forthcoming — and soon.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which has been supportive of Trump, called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to establish a task force to track down the perpetrator of bomb threats against Jewish community centers, and said Trump must “outline his Administration’s plan to combat surging anti-Semitism.”

Of the major groups who commented, the Orthodox Union seemed the most inclined to declare “case closed.”

“We appreciate that President Trump spoke directly to this matter. The words of a President of the United States carry great weight and it is important that Mr. Trump addressed the American Jewish community and all our fellow Americans at this time,” the O.U. said in a statement about Trump and the bomb threats. “We appreciate that the FBI and Department of Justice are investigating these incidents and the ‘possible civil rights violations’ they entail. We also appreciate the work of the Department of Homeland Security that supports the safety of our Jewish community institutions.”

The Jewish community has been grappling with how the new president deals with anti-Semitism since Jan. 27, when the White House marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day with a statement that noted “victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust,” but did not mention the Jews.

What at first seemed like an oversight soon calcified into suspicion that it was part of a worldview, as White House officials doubled down on the omission, condescending to explain to their critics that one must be inclusive in marking an event that uniquely targeted Jews for elimination.

Officials calling critics of the statement “asinine” and “pathetic” didn’t help, nor did the revelation that a bid by the State Department to mention Jews in a statement was rebuffed by the White House.

Fueling suspicion that there was more to the omissions than clumsy oversight was the presence on Trump’s staff of top advisers like Stephen Bannon, Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka, who emerged from a political culture of European-style nationalism that rejects what it terms “identity politics” and argues that minority complaints about discrimination are overstated.

The White House visit last week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented an opportunity to make amends, and at first it seemed Trump was game.

“The State of Israel is a symbol to the world of resilience in the face of oppression,” Trump said in prepared remarks at a joint Feb. 15 news conference with Netanyahu. “I can think of no other state that’s gone through what they’ve gone — and of survival in the face of genocide. We will never forget what the Jewish people have endured.”

So there it was: “genocide” and “Jewish people” adjacent. All was good.

For about 20 minutes.

An Israeli reporter asked Trump about the spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, and whether the president believed it had anything to do with Trump’s rhetoric.

Trump replied by noting the breadth of his Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton and a statement expressing love for his Jewish daughter, Ivanka; her husband, Jared Kushner, and their grandchildren.

It became weirder the next day at a news conference when a friendly reporter, Jake Turx from the haredi Orthodox Ami magazine, reassured Trump that no one in his community thought the president was an anti-Semite.

Turx proceeded to ask what Trump was planning to do about the waves of bomb threats against Jewish community centers that have severely disrupted Jewish life in North America.

Trump would not allow Turx to complete his question and launched a broadside against the baffled reporter and anyone else who suggested that he was anti-Semitic. Trump called Turx “a liar” and said he hated the question.

What turned Trump and led to his statement Tuesday morning?

His spokesman, Sean Spicer, would not say, except that Trump thought a tour of the African-American museum was an appropriate occasion to expound against hate and discrimination. Trump’s remarks were prepared.

Two precipitating factors may have been the fourth wave of bomb threats on Monday against JCCs, coupled with massive vandalism at a St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery. The White House may have wanted to head off a new round of criticism that it was ignoring anti-Semitism, especially as Jewish groups were heading to Twitter with impatient calls for a strong denunciation from the president.

Another factor may have been Ivanka. Whereas the press office’s initial statement Monday night on the JCC threats again omitted any mention of Jews, Ivanka Trump followed it up with a tweet that at least alluded to Jews, adding to her call for religious tolerance the hashtag “JCC.”

Trump’s erstwhile targets also sensed an opportunity to hit back: Clinton, who infrequently pronounces on issues of the day – and has been oblique when she does pronounce – directly challenged Trump on Twitter to speak out. Muslim groups, targeted by Trump’s rhetoric, raised funds for a reward for the perpetrator of the threat and to repair the toppled headstones at the cemetery.

Calls by Jewish groups for actual plans, and not statements, were not the only sign that Trump’s remarks were unlikely to allay tensions.

Spicer opened his briefing with reporters on Tuesday by repeating Trump’s words, and delivering an impassioned plea for Americans to visit the African-American museum and its National Mall companion, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He then turned combative.

“’Is he going to denounce this one, is he going to denounce this one?’” he asked, mocking reporters. “At some point the question is asked and answered!”

(Spicer also responded to the U.S.-based Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, which issued a statement mocking Trump’s statement as a “pathetic asterisk of condescension.” He said of the group: “I wish that they had praised the president for his leadership in this area. And I think that hopefully as time continues to go by they recognize his commitment to civil rights, to voting rights, to equality for all Americans.”)

Trump’s Democratic critics weren’t letting go either. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., running for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, peppered his Twitter feed with follow-up questions for Trump.

“Why has it taken @realDonaldTrump so long to even say the word ‘anti-Semitism?’” Ellison wondered. “Perhaps it has something to do with placating his base?”

Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., whose bid earlier this month to force a vote on his resolution emphasizing that the Holocaust targeted the Jews was blocked by Republicans, said Trump needed to be more consistent in his condemnations.

“Trump’s statement is long overdue and doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what needs to be done,” he said in a statement.

Letters to the editor: Responses to immigrants and Trump, Journal’s 30th anniversary, Stephen Miller on Stephen Miller


Iranian Jews and Trump

I enjoyed reading Gina Nahai’s column (“Trump’s in the Torah,” Feb. 3). I am an immigrant of the post-World War II era. I, as well as most of my fellow immigrants, was grateful for the opportunity to live in a civil society. Most of us felt that liberal democracy gave us, as well as the rest of the nation, the opportunity for a better life and to thrive.

This has not been true of most of the later immigrants from despotic regimes. Nahai describes the situation among the Iranian-Jewish community. I also notice similar attitudes among the immigrants from the former USSR.

What is it about those who escaped despotism but admire autocracy? The general feeling that I get is they believe that allowing freedom of action and tolerance of opposing opinions are signs of weakness. They feel that leaders who allow dissent are foolish and taken advantage of.

What is so good about intolerance and autocracy that it prompted them to escape? How well has it worked out for the countries that adopted these ideologies?

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

30 Years and Counting

Thank you Jewish Journal for 30 years of diverse thought and opinion! I’m saddened by the nasty comments against Rob Eshman’s columns, particularly letters in response to “Thank You, Obama” (Jan. 20). It’s important for differing opinions to be expressed — through civility.

May your/our Jewish Journal continue in strength and diversity! 

Robin Siegal via email

Congratulations on the Journal’s 30th anniversary. I am thrilled you continue to make it a great paper providing a real service to the Jewish community.

Gordon Gelfond, Beverly Hills

Rob Eshman: Agree or Disagree?

The omission of Jews from the Trump administration’s Holocaust statement cannot be defended as Rob Eshman makes clear (“A Holocaust Without Jews,” Feb. 3). But we would be well advised to watch what he does, because saying the right thing is no indication that actually doing the right or smart thing is likely to follow.

Let us hope, for example, that Trump’s Middle East policies and his handling of Iran will help control the fires lit in the Middle East during the Obama administration and that are still raging. 

Stupidity abounds in politics. Let us hope Trump learns more quickly than the previous administration.

Julia Lutch via email

I read Rob Eshman’s workout of Stephen Miller’s ancestry (“Stephen Miller, Meet Your Immigrant Great-Grandfather,” Aug. 12). My name is Stephen Miller and my ancestry is similar to my namesake’s.

My Jewish grandparents came to the U.S. from Romania and Poland and Austria to escape persecution. I disagree with my namesake on the question of immigration. In my book “Walking New York: Reflections of American Writers from Walt Whitman to Teju Cole,” I talk about how New York has been revitalized by immigration. The immigration policies espoused by my namesake are deplorable. I usually vote Republican, but not in this past election. Trump is a disaster — and so is my namesake.

Stephen Miller via email

Douglas Mirell rightly believes that repeal of the Johnson Amendment would be an attack on the wall separating church and state, and that we need to cover our ears and ignore President Trump’s call for doing away with it (“Preserving the Barrier Between Church and State,” Feb. 10). 

On the other hand, Rob Eshman’s column in the same issue (“The Rabbi Speaks Out”), which described Rabbi Naomi Levy’s rebuke of Trump from the pulpit over the Muslim travel ban, demonstrates how criticism of the president by the clergy could mount were Trump to succeed in his efforts. I am pretty sure this is not the result he has in mind. 

Joan Watson via email

Trump and Nazism

Generally, I read [Dennis] Prager’s column when I haven’t had my cup of coffee and I need a jolt to wake me up.  His column about progressives trivializing Hitler, Nazism and Auschwitz got my juices flowing (“Progressives Now Trivializing Hitler, Nazism, Auschwitz,” Feb. 10). The purported examples he cites as support pale in comparison to a glaring omission on his part. President Donald Trump’s Holocaust Remembrance Day Proclamation fails to mention its impact on the Jewish people. If Prager is incapable of criticizing Trump and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer for their insensitivity to the Holocaust’s impact on the Jewish people, then he lacks any moral authority to berate those who fail to see the world through his eyes.

Andrew C. Sigal, Valley Village

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller, meet your immigrant great-grandfather


I am fascinated by Stephen Miller.

He is the 30-year-old wunderkind political adviser in the campaign of Donald J. Trump whose job has been to whip up the crowd prior to Trump taking the stage.

[MORE: How Stephen Miller became Stephen Miller]

[MORE: Stephen Miller and Julia Hahn Have a Past]

Miller’s powerful lines, the ones that really froth the mob, all revolve around immigration. To stoke the emotions, he repeatedly references the brutal murder of Kate Steinle at the hands of an illegal immigrant.

“How many children are dead because of our sanctuary cities?” he asks. “Don’t ever, ever let anyone tell you that you’re not a good person because you want to secure the border!”

And then, playing John the Baptist to Jesus, Miller says, “I have some good news for you, folks, I have some fabulous news.” And he brings on, that’s right, Donald the Savior.

According to a long profile of Miller by Julia Ioffe in Politico, Miller is fast becoming the forward face of the Trump campaign. His former boss, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, said he can’t think of anyone as valuable to a presidential campaign since Karl Rove. When Trump brought Miller on board, Ann Coulter, America’s blondest race-baiter, tweeted, “I’m in heaven!”

But what stopped me short in Ioffe’s report was this biographical tidbit: Stephen Miller grew up in Santa Monica, in a Jewish family.

Cue the record scratch. What? I doubted the Family Miller came over on the Mayflower, and I was positive they weren’t here to greet the boat. Could it be this young anti-immigrant leader is the descendent of immigrants? With the help of attorney and genealogy whiz E. Randol Schoenberg, I had my answer. On his mother’s side, Miller is a Glosser — and you could write a book on the Glossers. In fact, someone did.

For $19.99, I bought the Kindle edition of “Long Live Glossers” by Robert  Jeschonek, a history of Pennsylvania’s first family of retail.

“Imagine living in a place where armed Cossacks ride through the streets, looking to cripple or kill you,” Chapter 3 begins.

And so it was Wolf Lieb Glotzer and his wife, Bessie, sought to flee “dreary, scary” Antopol, in Belarus. On Jan. 7, 1903, Wolf arrived in New York aboard the German ship S.S. Motke with $8 in his pocket. He was eventually joined by his son, Natan, a tailor, and his brother Moses, who had arrived earlier, having escaped conscription in the czar’s army. On a visit to Uncle Moses, Natan stopped in Johnstown, Pa., and fell in love with the place. He found work as a tailor and soon bought the shop.

You know the rest. Glossers expanded. More family, including brother Sam, joined in, and Glosser Bros. eventually grew into a chain of dozens of stores, becoming a beloved part of the community before eventually closing. And so it was: Sam Glosser begat Isadore, whose grandson is, yes, Stephen Miller.

By becoming Trump’s anti-immigrant avatar, Miller demonstrates that in America, truly anything is possible: The great-grandson of a desperate refugee can grow up to shill for the demagogue bent on keeping desperate refugees like his great-grandfather out.

But it’s different now, you say. Miller’s forebears came here legally, and Trump is not about stopping legal immigration.

Well, false. Last week at a rally in Portland, Maine, Trump attacked legal immigration from countries that are “prone to terrorism,” including Somalia, Morocco. Uzbekistan, the Philippines, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan.

“We’re letting people come in from terrorist nations that shouldn’t be allowed because you can’t vet them,” Trump said, according to The Washington Post. He warned the crowd of “outsiders pouring into our country.”

(How a Trump administration will handle immigration from Israel, where far more terrorist acts are committed than in Morocco, is anyone’s guess.)

And for Miller to say his family came to America “legally” is simply a ruse. There was no illegal immigration at the turn of the century, because all non-Asian immigration was essentially legal until the 1920s.

Then, as now, angry voices fought to keep these immigrants out. They organized the Immigration Restriction League, focused on shutting the ports to swarthy Italians and Jews.

“The floodgates are open,” wrote one anti-immigrant newspaper editor as the Eastern European Jews docked in New York. “The horde of $9.60 steerage slime is being siphoned upon us from Continental mud tanks.”

Such sentiments led to the Immigration Quota Act of 1924 — which effectively shut the door to Jewish immigration on the eve of the Holocaust.

Miller’s stump speech taps into that same, ever-present strain in the American body politic. But when an American Jew turns on immigrants, there is a whiff of head-scratching hypocrisy, if not something more clinical. It is taking the side of people who, in a historical blink of the eye, would have met your own great-grandparents at the docks with stones and spitballs.

It is taking a fixable problem like immigration reform and making it intractable by stoking anti-immigrant fear and hate, by calling for a ban on an entire religion, by demeaning the sons and daughters of immigrants by race — all things Miller and his boss are doing.  The goal of that behavior isn’t to fix a broken system, but to score political points off it.

So Miller will scream the name of Kate Steinle’s murderer but never mention, say, Antonio Diaz Chacon — an illegal immigrant who, in 2011, chased down and tackled a child molester who had just abducted a 6-year-old girl.

Most immigrants, illegal or not, come to America to live secure, prosperous lives. Most are no different than Natan and Sam Glosser.

Thank God the anti-immigrant demagogues of 1900 didn’t get their way.   The Glosser brothers would have been left to molder in some Belorusian shtetl, where fate would have given them the choice of Hitler or Stalin.  And Stephen Miller would never have been born.

But he was. He had the blessing of being born the great-grandson of Jewish immigrants, and not the child of today’s refugees, who only want the same chance Sam Glosser once had to make themselves, and America, great.

ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

+