Belgian Jewish student ‘gassed’ with deodorant by classmates in showers, says mother

Belgian elementary school students are accused of anti-Semitic bullying of a Jewish classmate, whom they allegedly sprayed with deodorant while he was showering at school to simulate Nazi gas chambers.

The three students told their Jewish classmate they were “gassing” him during the incident, according to his mother.

The Jewish student was subjected to anti-Semitic abuse over the past two years at his elementary school in the Brussels suburb of Braine-le-Chateau, according to a statement Friday by the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism. All the involved students are now 12 years old.

The mother of the alleged victim filed a police complaint last week over the bullying, which she said her son detailed to her. Francis Brancart, an education board official, confirmed Thursday that his office was looking into the matter, which he said may require the opening of an independent inquiry, the news agency Belgareported. He said he could not confirm the veracity of the complaints.

The alleged incident in the showers happened early last year. The three students pressed the deodorant canisters’ nozzles to the boy’s body, his mother said, causing burns and skin irritations on his back. She said it was one of dozens of incidents in which her son was subjected to violence, anti-Semitic jokes and intimidation.

The student complained to faculty but his mother said the teacher in charge ignored the complaints, even after her son asked for and got permission to stay indoors during recess to avoid harassment.

“She downplayed the situation each time we complained,” the mother, who was not named in LBCA and Belga’s reporting, told LBCA of the teacher. “My son is graduating from elementary school and will leave the school, but I am taking these actions so that teachers and the school administration realize they cannot disregard this bullying.”

The principal told Belga she was surprised by the allegations, adding the student in question did not appear to be unhappy, his behavior had not changed over the past two years and he had maintained excellent scholastic performance.

The principal said the teacher handling the mother’s complaint did not relay the anti-Semitic character of the harassment to her. She said the three students involved in the deodorant incident were reprimanded for their behavior, which they said was part of a game.

LBCA president Joel Rubinfeld told Belga he interviewed other students who confirmed the anti-Semitic nature of the “gassing” incident and the recurrence of jokes and taunts referencing the Holocaust in the student’s bullying by the three other classmates.

The case reported last week is one of several recent anti-Semitic incidents in Belgium, including the bullying of a high school student who was forced to change schools amid alleged inaction by the institution where the harassment occurred. Last year, Belgian media reported on the online shaming by classmates of a pro-Israel high school student who also left the public education system for a Jewish school.

Such cases, Rubinfeld said last year, are turning Belgian schools into “Jew-free” zones.

12 plaintiffs join $380 million sex-abuse suit against Y.U.

Twelve former students joined a $380 million lawsuit against Yeshiva University for covering up sexual abuse at its high school.

The new plaintiffs’ names came out in court papers used in a hearing Tuesday in U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y., according to the New York Daily News, and bring to 31 the number of plaintiffs in the case.

Rabbi George Finkelstein and Macy Gordon, former staff members at Y.U.’s High School for Boys in Manhattan, as well as a youth volunteer, Richard Andron, have been accused of sexual abuse. Some of the cases allegedly took place as far back as the 1970s.

Finkelstein left the high school in 1995 and took a post at a Jewish school in Florida before moving to Israel. Gordon also lives in Israel and until recently was a teacher at the Orthodox Union’s Israel Center. Both men deny the charges. Andron has not issued a statement on the accusations.

The suit also names top members of Y.U.’s former administration, including Norman Lamm, its former president and chancellor.

Although the statute of limitations has passed on the cases, the alleged cover-up could negate the restrictions, according to Kevin Mulhearn, the plaintiffs’ attorney.

South African university distances itself from student boycott of Israel

Witwatersrand University in South Africa has distanced itself from a student association decision to boycott Israel.

In a statement released Monday, the university said that it does not share the initiative of the Wits Student Representative Council, adopted Aug. 31, which calls for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, and for further support of the annual Israel Apartheid Week.

''The Executive Committee of Convocation of the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg would like to distance itself from the views and opinions expressed by the Students’ Representative Council with regards to a boycott of Israel,” the statement read. “We, as a convocation, value the diverse views of all our members (i.e. academic staff and alumni) regardless of their race, religion, gender, culture, language, ideology or otherwise, provided that they do not exceed the limitations explicated in our Constitution. In our view, the diversity of people, programs and ideas is one the greatest strengths that makes studying at Wits an enriching experience.”

The South African Union of Jewish Students welcomed the statement from the Wits Executive Committee. Daniel Katzew, of the union, on Monday deplored the Student Representative Council decision, calling it ''a vicious and one-sided resolution aimed at shutting down all debate and discussion surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.'' The resolution by no means represents the majority of students at Wits, according to Katzew.

In a statement released Monday, the South African Union of Jewish Students condemned the resolution. ''The brazen pushing through of such a resolution does a serious disservice to all Wits students wishing to engage in discussion surrounding the conflict, as it effectively ends any dialogue on the issue. This is a new attempt to censor political viewpoints and this stands in direct contrast to the spirit of a liberal academic institution.”

''The veiled threat by the SRC to boycott not only Israel, but also to 'promote the BDS (Pro-Palestinian forum, promoting boycott against Israel) campaign in terms of academic and cultural institutions relating to Israel' is a bully-boy tactic to silence those with differing opinions on campus. Different and often opposing opinions do exist within the student population and SRC’s decision to impose their viewpoint on the entire student body is unjustified and not 'representative' of their students. Surely such fascist behavior has no place at Wits University – a university that has always prided itself on embracing diverse views and even dissenting opinions.”

Katzew said that he intends to meet with Student Representative Council representatives to further discuss the issue.

Wendy Kahn, national director of the South Africa Jewish Board of deputies, told JTA that the resolution is ''deeply disturbing,” as ''the SRC has chosen to silence debate on the Middle East situation by accepting this resolution.” According to Kahn, this resolution “compromises the principles of academic freedom that have always been such a cornerstone of the Wits ethos.”

Druse students return to Golan from Damascus

Dozens of Druse students studying in Syria returned to their Golan Heights homes.

The students, who had been studying at a university in Damascus, crossed from Syria into Israel on Tuesday through the Kuneitra crossing. They had received permission to return two weeks ago.

Their crossing was delayed after concerns by the ruling government of President Bashar Assad that the Druse students would assist the rebels’ cause, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Druse lawmaker Ayoub Kara, deputy minister for development of the Negev and Galilee from the Likud Party, assisted in the negotiations to return the students to Israel.

Kara’s office told the Post that he is facilitating aid to Syrian refugees and has been in contact with Syrian government officials considering defection.

Student apologizes for sporting Hitler look, offering Nazi salute on ‘Mustache Day’

A student at a Johannesburg private school who mimicked Adolf Hitler on “Moustache Day” and gave a Nazi salute has apologized, the school’s headmaster said.

Roger Cameron, headmaster of St. John’s College, in a letter that appears on the school’s website wrote that the boy, as well as the prefect who was managing the process, “have apologized for the insensitivity and hurt.” The letter also said that the school also “apologises unreservedly for the offense caused by this incident.

The boy had gone on stage recently sporting a mustache and hairstyle similar to Hitler and performed the Nazi salute. Most of the students laughed, and more than half stood up and returned the salute, according to reports.

A Jewish student at St. John’s, a Christian school for boys from nursery school to high school, wrote an emotional letter to Cameron saying that as a Jewish boy who lost family to the Nazis, he was disgusted, according to the Sunday Times of South Africa. The boy said he broke down after the incident and had to leave school early due to the “pain and hurt inside me.” He said he didn’t want the offending students to be sanctioned, but wanted them to understand that their behavior was unacceptable.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the community’s umbrella body, and the Johannesburg branch of the South African Holocaust and Genocide Centre met with the school administration on June 8. Cameron told the Times that the school had immediately begun the process of educating the boys about the incident that had caused “much distress and anger among staff, boys and our wider community.”

Wendy Kahn of the Board of Deputies said her group was working with the school “to find constructive ways to help teach pupils tolerance.”

Turning tragedy into prevention

Agoura High School senior Brian Hertz was shaken when a student at New Community Jewish High School died in a car accident in February 2010.

“I was just shocked because it was so awful,” he said.

Adir Vered was killed when the vehicle he was traveling in crashed into a parked car. At the time, the student was not wearing his seatbelt and had his head stuck out of an open window. Police said no drugs or alcohol were involved.

Hertz attended middle school with Adir, and although they were not close friends, the death still shook him.

The accident became a catalyst for X-Out Drunk Driving Day — an advocacy project Hertz co-founded as part of an assignment for his social-action class at Los Angeles Hebrew High School.

On June 8, X-Out Drunk Driving Day participants mark the back of their hands with Xs — a pledge “to not drive under the influence and to prevent other people from driving under the influence,” Hertz said.

L.A. Hebrew High has taught Hertz the importance of community, which has informed his belief that “we should all care for and respect each other,” he said.

“As a community, we should work together to fight [drunken driving],” he said.

More than 4,000 people made pledges during X-Out’s first year in 2010, encouraging Hertz to continue running the annual project.

Gearing up for this year’s effort, Hertz remains passionate about the campaign against drinking and driving, but he acknowledges that it’s difficult to get people to pay attention.

“You have to work hard to get people to listen to you, even if you’re saying something true,” he said.

Erica Solomon, Hertz’s Jewish civics teacher at L.A. Hebrew High and his adviser on the X-Out project, refers to him as a “compassionate” mentor and “leader.” 

“He understands that to make a difference in the world, one must invest of themselves and stay the course,” she said.

During his freshman and sophomore years, Hertz was a member of Agoura High School’s track team, and since his freshman year, he’s been a regular with the school’s ComedySportz team, a competitive improvisational comedy-training program.

“I like to be able to think on my feet,” he said, explaining his passion for improv.

This fall, Hertz will attend UCLA, where he plans to study biochemistry to prepare for a career in medicine.

“[I have] wanted to be a doctor since I was little,” he said. Last year, Hertz spent a day shadowing his uncle, an emergency room physician. “It was the coolest experience,” Hertz said excitedly.

For now, he has plenty to keep him occupied, with X-Out day approaching, graduation around the corner and making time for friends.

“Somehow I end up keeping myself busy,” he said.

Teacher arrested after Holocaust lesson goes awry

A South Carolina teacher was arrested on charges of assault and battery after trying to make a point during a lesson on the Holocaust.

Patricia Mulholland, a veteran seventh-grade social studies teacher at Bluffton Middle School, is accused of dragging a student from his seat by his collar and pushing him under a table while shouting “this is what the Nazis do to Jews.” The incident occurred last week.

The teacher said she was attempting to supplement a previous lesson on the Holocaust, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. Police reportedly have copies of videos made by some students on their cell phones of the teacher acting strangely before the incident, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Mulholland, who has been teaching in the district for 23 years, was placed on administrative leave with pay on April 26. The school district has launched an internal review.

It has not been reported whether or not the student is Jewish.

Student beaten outside Ozar Hatorah school in Paris

A Jewish boy reportedly was beaten outside the Ozar Hatorah school in Paris by youths shouting anti-Semitic epithets.

The incident occurred Monday outside the school, which the 12-year-old victim attends. He was not seriously injured.

The attack came a week after a gunman opened fire on the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, killing a rabbi and his two young sons, and the daughter of the school’s principal.

The boy in Paris reportedly was beaten about 100 yards away from the school, out of sight of police who have been guarding the school since last week’s attack in Toulouse.

Student sues UC Davis over Jewish fraternity hazing

A former University of California at Davis student has filed a lawsuit against the university. His claims include negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and creating a hostile educational environment — all stemming from the university’s refusal to address his complaints about hazing at a Jewish fraternity on campus.

According to the court papers filed on behalf of Ryan Clifford, he was forced to drink dangerous amounts of alcohol laced with drugs and was subjected to violent and sexual abuse. Clifford says that Alpha Epsilon Pi pledges were required to attend a retreat at Lake Tahoe, where senior members forced them to drink “inordinate amount of alcohol” laced with narcotics. Clifford says he was also forced to undress in front of everyone there and that some of the fraternity members touched his penis and made sexual comments. The lawsuit lists other instances of abuse, including one that resulted in Clifford’s suffering a broken bone requiring two orthopedic surgeries.

In addition, Clifford alleges that he was “specifically targeted for the harshest form of hazing, known as ‘ratfucking,’ because of his non-Jewish religious affiliation.”

Clifford says that the university did not initially respond to any of his complaints. Eventually, it did put AEPi on “conditional registration” status for seven month. Clifford claims, however, that the university did not monitor the fraternity and that the abusive behavior continued as before.

Eventually Clifford left the fraternity and filed suit against it. At that point, Clifford claims the university advised him to withdraw from his studies, despite his being only 6.5 credits away from graduation. Clifford did so and then sued the university.

Indiana University student still missing

Lauren Spierer, a sophomore at Indiana University, remains missing a week after disappearing on her way home from a sports bar.

Spierer’s case was featured June 11 on Fox’s “America’s Most Wanted.”

Spierer, 20, who is Jewish, has been missing since early on the morning of June 3. She was seen leaving an off-campus sports bar at 2 a.m. after spending the evening with friends. The bar is less than two blocks from her apartment in Bloomington.

Police reportedly have 10 “persons of interest” in the case, including her boyfriend and a male classmate. The classmate left the bar with Spierer and had a fight with other students outside her apartment building.

According to the roommate of the beaten-up classmate, Spierer accompanied the classmate home to a nearby apartment building following the encounter and then left. Spierer’s keys in a small coin purse were found in an alley next to her building.

Spierer’s parents, Robert and Charlene, flew to Bloomington from New York on June 4 to coordinate the search, which has included the campus, the town, and area woods and parks. Hundreds of volunteers have continued the search.

“Lauren is the light of our life, and our hearts are breaking,” Charlene Spierer said during a weekend news conference. “This is a continuous nightmare.”

Student files ‘hostile environment’ complaint against York

A York University student filed a complaint with Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal alleging the university tolerated an environment hostile to Jews.

Sammy Katz claims that he and other students were subject to physical and verbal abuse at a pro-Israel event on the university’s Toronto campus in February 2010.

York subsequently released video of the event that suggested the pro- and anti-Israel students at the fracas were evenly matched and that there was little or no physical confrontation.

In the complaint, released Thursday by Katz’s lawyers, the student claims he was subsequently vindicated in his claims and that York had “spun its own inaccurate version of the episode.”

Canadian universities have in recent years seen a flurry of tensions between pro- and anti-Israel groups.

A year ago, York expelled a student who allegedly advocated genocide against the Jews.

Last week, McGill University in Montreal launched an investigation of a student who allegedly tweeted a threat to shoot participants at a pro-Israel event.

Jewish student suing UC Berkeley for civil rights infringement

A student has brought a federal civil rights lawsuit against the University of California, Berkeley, saying the university did not protect her from being attacked because she is Jewish.

Lawyers for Jessica Felber, 20, say the case, filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., on March 4 against the university, the regents of the University of California and their ranking officials, is the first of its kind.

Her suit alleges that Husam Zakharia, a fellow student and the head of Students for Justice in Palestine, rammed into her with a metal cart because of the pro-Israel sign she was holding during a pro-Israel demonstration on the Berkeley campus on March 5, 2010.

The rally, organized by the student Zionist groupTikvah, was a counter to anti-Israel events being held that same week as part of Israel Apartheid Week.

Felber was treated for her injuries, and Zakharia was arrested for battery but later released.

The complaint alleges that the Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association, another pro-Palestinian group on campus, harass and attack Jewish students, and that the university knows about it and has not taken sufficient steps to protect its Jewish students.

The complaint further charges that university officials have tolerated “the growing cancer of a dangerous anti-Semitic climate on its campuses” that violates the rights of Jewish and other students “to enjoy a peaceful campus environment free from threats and intimidation.”

The suit calls for damages and a jury trial.

Pro-Israel and anti-Israel students have clashed before on the Berkeley campus. In November 2008, Zakharia was one of three student cited for battery in a physical altercation over displaying the Palestinian flag at a pro-Israel event.

Breaking News: American Student Stabbed in Jerusalem

An American Jewish student was stabbed in Jerusalem by three men believed to be Palestinians, according to reports.

The 19-year-old male student, said to be enrolled at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was admitted to the hospital after the incident late Saturday night with stab wounds to the face and neck. The student had asked the men for directions, police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told Ha’aretz.

On Sunday, a 20-year-old Israeli soldier managed to fight off an attacker in Jaffa, according to Ha’aretz. The attacker escaped and a manhunt is under way.

Honey, you’re home!

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Student gets into good university. Student obtains esteemed degree. Graduate flounders in unsteady job market; must confront the dreaded possibility of moving back in with her parents, Ima and Abba, whom I dearly love — and come college, was all too ready to leave.

We didn’t see it coming. After school I moved from Boston to Los Angeles with my then-boyfriend, landed a great job close to home and started referring to myself as an “adult.” It worked: the gas and electric bills got paid, my grungy old Converse sneakers became a landing pad for sleek black heels, and we ate well enough to stave off scurvy.

Even when my parents decided to pack up and join me in Los Angeles, the glowing specter of independence still seemed to loom just a few exits down the freeway.

Then everything changed.

My relationship went crunch with the credit market — I grew tired of investing subprime. It wasn’t long before my hours at work were slashed, too, and I began to have nightmares of showing up at my parents’ door with a suitcase.

It’s not like they wouldn’t understand. In fact, when I first called in January to sheepishly report that my job had been cut to part time and I’d need some help buying groceries, my mother suggested I move in with them “for now” with the excitement of a “Kadimanik” inviting her best friend over for a slumber party.

Which is what scares me.

Don’t get me wrong — my parents are wonderful. Growing up, they gave me a Solomon Schechter education; extra napkins in my lunchbox; lessons in ballet, piano and (reluctantly) driving; and the breathing room to move 3,000 miles across the country to start a life of my own. They even gave me eight months before moving into a ranch house a couple blocks down the street.

But something tells me that’s the closest we should get. It’s one thing to drive from Sherman Oaks to Encino on a Sunday morning to meet them at More Than Waffles; it’s another thing to roll out of bed and meet them at the kitchen table.

Ah, the kitchen….

Where so many home-cooked meals might await. Where I could open the fridge and grab an afternoon snack that isn’t ramen (an old habit that should have stopped with college tuition). Where I could enjoy unlimited access to Mom’s kugel and Dad’s matzah brei and, best of all, probably not have to lift a finger.

Adjoining the kitchen, the laundry room. I can almost hear Mom’s casual offer, called out in a singsong key as she passes the extra bedroom I’ve taken over, to wash my white load if I’m too busy. That, and if I need anything at Barnes and Noble, she’s heading over there later today. By the way, how am I doing on tampons?

Not having to vacuum. Not having to pay for cable. Not having to worry about dropping off a rent check on the first of every month.

As blissful as this all sounds, it’s also the point at which the daydream ends.

Something fundamental has changed since the last time I lived under my parents’ roof: I no longer need to be babied. And moving back in with them would mean I’d have to keep close watch on my independence skills to make sure they don’t melt away under Mom’s sure-to-be intense regimen of mothering.

Dating also poses a problem. Newly back on the singles scene, the last first-impression I’d want to make is a three-for-one deal — sign up for me, get my parents for free.

Hanging out at “my place” would mean being prisoners of the only 175-square-foot space in the house where we could get any, ahem, privacy. Otherwise we could cozy up to watch TV on the living room couch, a special, limited-edition model that — did I forget to mention? — comes equipped with two built-in chaperones.

I’d want any serious beau to meet my parents after at least a couple weeks, not when he drops me off after our first dinner-plus-movie outing. And even if the mischpacha didn’t come out to accost us at the car, the barely restrained refrains of “how did it go?” when I walked in would have me heading for that kugel-stocked fridge.

Still, the quandary remains: How do I make it in this dollar-hungry city alone?

The answer: Hire me. I’ll do laundry. I’ll vacuum. I’ll even be your personal kosher chef and make you matzah brei in the mornings (my own signature version). Anything to stave off an onset of that increasingly common condition striking 20-somethings everywhere — Childhood, Part Two.

If only they taught this stuff in school.

Rachel Heller is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and can be reached at

Letter from Jerusalem

Silent slideshow shows images of the funeral in Jerusalem

Condolence visits are part of a rabbi’s life, but no one ever taught us how to make nine visits in a 48-hour period.

We arrived in Israel on the morning of Tuesday, March 11, and left Israel the following night. Our mission, representing the Rabbinical Council of America, was to express solidarity with the families of the victims of the terror attack at yeshivat Mercaz Harav, comfort the injured in the hospitals and visit the yeshiva.

We were joined at different parts of our trip by Rabbi Joseph Pollack of Boston, Rabbis Milton Polin and Jay Karzen of Jerusalem, and Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University, and Rabbi Joshua Joseph, his chief-of-staff.

During our two days in Israel, we never heard anyone call for revenge. What we heard was a determination to enhance Torah study, prayer, concern for the welfare of the nation and a vision to double the Mercaz High School enrollment from 250 to 500. This, it was said, would be the appropriate answer to the terrorist’s destruction.

We immediately traveled to Ashdod to visit the family of Doron Meherte, 26. Meherte arrived in Israel from Ethiopia at the age of 8 during Operation Solomon. He was an outstanding Talmud student who was studying for the rabbinate.

Known for his keen concentration, Meherte did not even notice the terrorist entering the library and was the only student killed while sitting at his table immersed in his studies. The volume he was studying became saturated with his blood and was buried with him.

Ro’ie Roth, 16, of Elkana, was passionate about prayer and would often be the last in the yeshiva to complete his daily prayers.

Yonatan Eldar, 16, of Shiloh was part of a close-knit group of friends. Because of his great love for the land of Israel, he became an avid hiker.

Yehonadav Hirschfield, 19 of Kokhav Hashahar was the grandson and great-grandson of two prominent American rabbis. He had completed studying the entire Mishna 70 times, and on that fateful night, he was completing the Mishna once again.

Avraham Moses, 16, of Efrat, the son of American immigrants, was beloved in his community for his exceptional acts of kindness.

Segev Avihail, 15, of Neve Daniel, was a prolific writer at his very young age.

Yohai Lifshitz, 18, of Jerusalem, blessed with an analytical mind, spent his days and nights in the study hall.

Neria Cohen, 15, the youngest victim, was an eager student who wrote sophisticated questions to Israel’s leading rabbis.

At each home, we were received with warmth. Each family remarkably demonstrated an incredible spirit and an awe-inspiring faith. We were shown blood-stained and bullet-burned books that the boys had been studying, and we heard remarkable stories about each boy’s commitment to Torah and acts of kindness.

Each family expressed the feeling that they were not alone in their grief and that the entire Jewish nation was mourning with them. One father remarked that he received calls from all over the world.

Our trip included hospital visits to the three most seriously wounded boys. The oldest was a 26-year-old father of two who suffered a serious arm injury. The youngest was ninth-grader Nadav Samuel. Nadav calmly recounted his experience of being shot six times in his arms and legs while taking cover behind a bookcase.

The most gravely hurt boy was Naftali Sheetrit, 16, from long-suffering Sderot. At the time of our visit, he was in a medically induced coma, with serious abdominal and leg wounds. We met his family sitting outside the intensive-care unit next to an Arab family also waiting on a loved one.

The surgeon who operated on Naftali had rushed to the hospital when he heard about the attack. He was the first to open the door of the ambulance, and when he saw how grave Naftali’s situation was, he wheeled him into the operating room without scrubbing. The boy had to be resuscitated twice during the procedure.

Our call to Mercaz Harav, together with Yeshival University’s Joel, was very emotional. Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro, head of the yeshiva, gave us a walking tour of the library and a full description of the murderous attack. The signs of the horror were still visible. Contrary to press reports, the terrorist never had any association with the school.

Our brief visit reaffirmed our pride in Israel and its many unsung heroes. The boys who were murdered take their place among our nation’s martyrs, and the courageous survivors are a great inspiration.

Hershel Billet is the rabbi of Young Israel of Woodmere, N.Y. Elazar Muskin is the rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.

Briefs: AJCommittee lobbies Sacramento for fuel efficiency; West Coast Service Corps helps others

Delegation Speaks With Legislature About Fuel Efficiency

As prices at the pump continue their march toward $4 a gallon, about 40 members of the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee) traveled to Sacramento last week to discuss reducing fossil-fuel consumption to slow climate change and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

“Over a Barrel?” program attendees from AJCommittee’s Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and San Francisco chapters heard Sunday, March 2, from keynote speaker R. James Woolsey, former director of Central Intelligence Agency, and Robert Hertzberg, former speaker of the California Assembly. While Woolsey focused on the risks to American security caused by dependence on foreign oil, Hertzberg talked about possible legislation that would encourage the use of renewable energy and ways to lobby the Legislature.

“I wanted to give them the nuts and bolts, the strategy, of how we get to the goal,” said Hertzberg, now an environmental entrepreneur and a partner at the law firm Mayer Brown. “When you are in a situation like this, it is not about being right, about being correct, but it is about moving toward a common goal between right and left.

“When you talk about nuclear energy it upsets Democrats; when you talk about carbon taxes, it upsets Republicans. But there are a lot of ideas where there is common ground,” he said.

Joined by members of the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s staff, the delegation spent the following day discussing the implementation of California’s energy standards and fuel alternatives in a state notorious for its freeways. The group also met with 21 legislators, including the Senate majority and minority leaders, and urged lower oil consumption.

“We are putting our economy at serious risk as the price of oil continues to rise, and we are putting our security at serious risk because we are literally funding the war on terror from both sides,” said AJCommittee spokesman Eli Lipmen. “The goal was to really raise our profile on this issue, to encourage the state to implement some particular programs and focus not just on reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, which they are really good about, but coupling that with reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”

Energy independence is the only thing the Jewish community is in near unanimous agreement about the importance of, and for several years, AJCommittee has been a leading advocate. In 2006, the organization offered bonus checks to employees who purchased fuel-efficient vehicles and asked rabbis to connect the story of Chanukah with a campaign to reduce energy consumption, from replacing SUVs to using CFLs.

“This,” said Hertzberg, who has long been involved with AJC, “is the issue that is going to define our generation.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Yeshiva University Students Spend Break Doing Community Service

A group of 26 Yeshiva University students, including two Angelenos, spent their winter break putting their Jewish values to work doing community service Jan. 13-20.

Melissa Stieglitz, a first-year Yeshiva University student, distributed food and orange juice at Los Angeles’ Midnight Mission in “Jewish Life Coast to Coast: West Coast Service Corps,” a community service project funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. Participants spent the morning serving breakfast to more than 550 homeless men and women at the mission, which is the oldest soup kitchen in Los Angeles.

Another L.A. native traveled to Baan Kamklanga, a village in Thailand, through a program developed by the American Jewish World Service. While there, students lived alongside the natives, slept on straw mats in huts and helped build the foundation for a single-room school.

— Celia Soudry, Contributing Writer

Special-Needs Camp Honors Community Member

Etta Israel, a mid-Wilshire nonprofit organization for people with special needs, is renaming its summer camp in honor of the late Jack Gindi, renowned community leader and philanthropist.

The Etta Israel Center’s Gindi Family Camp, held at the YULA girls high school campus, incorporates traditional camp elements with therapeutic components to meet the needs of campers with developmental disabilities. The camp will expand its range of activities and programs, including elementary school-age and teenage divisions, through the continued support of the Gindi family.

Camp registration is currently open. For more information call, (818) 985-3882, ext. 225.

— Celia Soudry

UCLA students rally for captured Israeli soldiers

Some 300 UCLA students rallied Tuesday (Oct. 30) on campus to demand the safe return of three kidnapped Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and Gilad Shalit.

The noontime rally at Bruin Plaza, the traditional site for student protests, was part of about 1,000 similar events in 45 countries, organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel and the World Zionist Organization as World Solidarity Day.

Students, many wearing “Bruins for Israel” T-shirts, held placards with photos of the three abducted soldiers, wore plastic dogtags with their names, and waved small Israeli flags.

Others hoisted signs inscribed “We Want Peace, They Want War” and “One Year Is Too Long,” referring to the length of the soldiers’ imprisonment since they were kidnapped in the summer of 2006 by Hamas and Hizbollah terrorists.

Although previous pro-Israel demonstrations on campus have been interrupted by Muslim and pro-Palestinian groups, no threats were received this time, said Lian Kimia, a Bruins for Israel leader.

Joining the event were 60 eighth graders from Hebrew Hillel Academy, and older community members, among them Hy Avnesty, commander of the Jewish War Veterans’ Hollywood Post.

Speakers included Israel Consul General Yaakov Dayan, who denounced Iran as the leading sponsor of international terrorism, and John Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, who exhorted listeners not to forget the abducted soldiers and six other Israeli servicemen missing in action.

On the Irvine campus of the University of California, scene of repeated clashes between pro-Israel and Muslim factions, some 15 students conducted a video question-and-answer conference with Ehud Goldwasser’s wife Karnit, speaking from Israel.

Hillel spokesman Zvi Rabinovitch said a larger rally was being planned.

— By Tom Tugend. Contributing Editor

Briefs: Carter condemns, Ban meets, students protest

Carter: Israel backers demand ‘subservience’

Mideast peace is possible only with forceful U.S. engagement, former President Jimmy Carter said as he received the Ridenhour Courage Prize for speaking out on controversial topics. Carter — whose recent book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” infuriated much of the Jewish community with its allegedly one-sided presentation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — addressed some 400 people in Washington on April 4 as he received the award.

Carter lamented what he called a six-year lapse in substantial peace efforts by the United States and said the Bush administration and pro-Israel groups, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, prevent Americans from having a real debate on Middle East policy.”The American friends of Israel, who demand such subservience, are in many cases sincere and well-intentioned people; I know them,” Carter said. “But on this crucial issue, they are tragically mistaken. Their demands subvert America’s ability to bring to Israel what she most desperately needs and wants — peace and security within recognized borders.”

Rabbi Leonard Beerman, founder of the Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles and a member of committees such as the U.S. Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East, presented the award to Carter, saying his career had been fashioned “out of a persistent moral sensibility, even about the most sensitive and contentious issues, such as the rights of the Palestinians, for example.”

U.N.’s Ban meets With AJCommittee

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with American Jewish Committee leaders. The April 3 meeting focused on plans for peace in the Middle East, as well as Israel’s treatment at the United Nations.

“We welcomed the opportunity to engage Secretary-General Ban in a discussion of Middle East issues of utmost concern to the international community,” AJCommittee Executive Director David Harris said. “We were impressed by his deep commitment to advancing the search for peace in the region and his keen understanding of the challenges that need to be addressed in order to achieve progress.”

Among topics discussed in the 45-minute meeting were the recent Arab League summit in Riyadh, Ban’s recent visit to Israel and efforts to implement U.N. resolutions in Lebanon, including Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended last summer’s war between Israel and Hezbollah. The resolutions calls for Hezbollah to be disarmed and for the Lebanese government to assert its control in the south of the country. Ban also acknowledged the U.N. Human Rights Council’s obsessive focus on Israeli actions.

Jerusalem police clash with chametz protesters

Some 100 ultra-Orthodox youths protesting the sale of chametz in Jerusalem restaurants during Passover clashed with police. Following a rally Sunday in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim, the protesters sought to march toward Hillel Street, an area with a number of restaurants that sell chametz, or leavened bread products, and nonkosher meat. Police instructed the protesters to disperse.

After some protesters blocked the street, the police tried to disperse the crowd by force, which led a few of the demonstrators to throw rocks at the police.

Some 20 protesters reached Hillel Street; another group trying to reach the Nahalat Shiva promenade were blocked by police forces.

Israeli university students to strike over budget cuts, tuition hikes

Student associations at Israeli universities and colleges have planned a nationwide strike over budget cuts. The students are demanding that about $225 million in cuts to higher education be reversed and that the government not raise tuition. The strike was to begin Tuesday.

The strike will affect 250,000 students. According to the student associations, the planned strike has been coordinated with the lecturer associations and has the support of senior and junior faculty.

The Tel Aviv University Students’ Union announced that it will allow students to enter the campus in order to hand in papers and have access to the libraries. Classrooms, lecture halls and laboratories will all be locked and inaccessible in coordination with the faculty union.

Sen. Clinton seeks Polish restitution law

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) wrote to the Polish prime minister requesting that his country enact a restitution law for property confiscated during the Nazi and communist eras. Also signing the letter to Jaroslaw Kaczynski were Members of the Helsinki Commission.

The signers welcomed statements by Polish officials that they would work to pass legislation by the end of this year, but the commission expressed concerns that the victims have experienced numerous delays in their efforts to gain restitution.

Along with restitution or compensation, the commission’s recommendations include keeping burdens for filing a claim to a minimum, consistent involvement of the central government and the return of artwork to its rightful owners.

“The delay in resolving the property claims of elderly survivors and their family members has gone on for too long,” Clinton said.

The Helsinki Commission is a U.S. government agency that monitors and encourages compliance with the agreements of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as established by the Helsinki Accords. Thirty-five countries signed on to the accords in 1975.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Fate of Santa Monica apartment building embroils rabbi and residents in legal battle

One late afternoon in October 1978, Hertzel Illulian, a Chabad student from Brooklyn, was silently praying mincha outside the Intercontinental Hotel in Tehran. He took three steps back after reciting the Amidah, the service’s central prayer, and found himself surrounded by a wall of men, secret police dressed in street clothes.

They threatened to cart him off to jail, eventually dismissing him and taking a local Iranian Jew instead.

This was a period of massive unrest in Iran, as pro-Ayatollah Khomeini supporters engaged in often violent street demonstrations against the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who had imposed martial law and whose tanks and troops patrolled the streets. But Illulian, then 19, didn’t feel scared.

“I was courageous,” he said. “I had the purpose to save Jewish children.”

He was an official Chabad student shaliach, or emissary, working on behalf of the Brooklyn-based National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, and armed with the coveted blessing of Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneersohn. This was the beginning of his now-legendary mission to help transport about 3,000 young Jewish Persians, most ranging in age from 12 to 19, using I-20 student visas, from an increasingly dangerous Iran to safety in the United States.

Today, Illulian, a rabbi active in the Los Angeles Persian community, finds himself embroiled in a different kind of revolt. It’s taking place in the normally laid-back city of Santa Monica. And while the two factions aren’t lobbing Molotov cocktails or overturning and burning cars, emotions are running at a fever pitch, and angry accusations are being vehemently fired off in both directions.

On one side are the residents and supporters of the Teriton, a 28-unit, three-story garden apartment building designed by architect Sanford Kent in 1949, which sits on almost an acre at 130-142 San Vicente Blvd. It is around the corner from Ocean Avenue, across the street from Palisades Park and the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Built in the midcentury Modern Vernacular style, with a flat roof and smooth stucco exterior, it actually consists of two low-rise buildings surrounding an L-shaped landscaped courtyard. It was sold for an estimated $10.5 million last April.

On the other side is Or Khaim Hashalom, a nonprofit religious organization, whose name means Living Light of Peace, and which was incorporated last January. It allegedly purchased the building.

The members want to evict the existing tenants, tear down the building and replace it with 40 units, plus a synagogue and possibly a day care facility for refugees from the Middle East, according to real estate and land-use attorney Rosario Perry, the group’s spokesperson and lawyer. Illulian identifies as the organization’s spiritual leader.

In this current confrontation, as opposed to the life-threatening danger he experienced in Tehran over 30 years ago, Illulian appears less confident. “I didn’t know it was going to be such a thing,” he said.

On its face, this “thing” — first brought to light in a series of stories on The Rip Post, a blog and Web site written by veteran Los Angeles journalist Rip Rense — is a typical battle between developers and tenants, between advocates of free enterprise vs. supporters of slow or no growth.

But ever since a “notice for pending demolition permit” sign was posted without prior warning on the Teriton’s lawn on Nov. 10, 2005, both sides have mobilized forces and escalated the battle, invoking what many say are self-serving interpretations of city and state laws. The demolition sign was posted in November at the time of a sale that ultimately fell through.

Particularly perplexing is the role of Illulian. He is a rabbi so observant that he doesn’t eat or drink anything outside a kosher sukkah during the entire eight-day harvest festival. He is a rabbi so revered that Iranians he rescued in the late 1970s and early 1980s, such as Los Angeles attorney Philip Nassimi Alexander, utter accolades like, “He’s a great man, a truly great man.”

Yet as the rabbi of Or Khaim Hashalom, his new nonprofit organization, he is so vague and seemingly dismissive of what should be an exciting and worthwhile venture, that many people suspect its true mission may be less than magnanimous.

Here’s what’s happening (See timeline below for specific dates):

The tenants and their supporters are claiming that the Teriton is eligible to be designated a Santa Monica city landmark. If this occurs, residents such as 85-year-old Kit Snedaker, a former food and travel editor of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, who is retired and living on a fixed income and selling items on eBay to make ends meet, could remain in the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her cocker spaniel, Joe. So could Louis Scaduto, an architect who spent five years on a waiting list before he moved into the Teriton in 1997. Nathalie Zeidman, 91 and suffering from cancer, could also stay, as well as about 50 others, young and old, retired and working, some paying current market rates, others living in lower-cost rent-controlled apartments.

Building Battle Timeline

Nov. 10, 2005

“Notice for pending demolition permit” is posted on the Teriton’s lawn. K. Golshani and Asan Development are listed as the applicants. Because a building older than 40 years old is slated for demolition, it is automatically placed on the next city of Santa Monica Landmarks Commission meeting agenda.

Nov. 14, 2005

The Landmarks Commission, in its monthly meeting, reviews the Teriton’s eligibility. Chair Roger Genser requests the item be returned with more information. The demolition permit is subsequently withdrawn.

Jan. 30, 2006

Or Khaim Hashalom files with the California Secretary of State’s office as a religious nonprofit corporation.

April 2006

Tenants receive notice that Or Khaim Hashalom has purchased the Teriton and that rent checks should be made payable to Pacific Paradise Realty, the new management company. Kathy Golshani is listed as the contact.

July 2006

Landmarks Commission places Teriton on its July 10 meeting agenda.

July 7, 2006

Rosario Perry, attorney representing Or Khaim Hashalom, sends a letter to the Santa Monica city attorney declaring that under state law, Government Code Sections 37361 and 25373, the Teriton cannot be designated a landmark because it is owned by a religious nonprofit.

July 10, 2006

Representatives of both sides speak at the Landmarks Commission meeting. Barry Rosenbaum, senior land-use attorney for Santa Monica, points out that Or Khaim Hashalom has not yet held a mandated public forum but that the City Attorney’s Office will examine the statutes. Meanwhile, Landmarks Commissioners approve a motion to obtain more information on the Teriton property.

Aug. 11, 2006

Or Khaim Hashalom holds a public forum at the Gateway Hotel in Santa Monica to explain why the Teriton is exempt from landmark designation and to allow the public to respond.

Sept. 11, 2006

The Landmarks Commission unanimously votes to nominate the Teriton for landmark designation, pending further study. Perry announces that if the Teriton is approved as a landmark, he will file a lawsuit on behalf of his client.

Nov. 13, 2006

Landmarks Commission, on the basis of a more detailed historical assessment, as well as a recommendation from the Santa Monica Planning Division staff, will make a decision regarding the Teriton.

Landmark or Historic District Designation Criteria:

California Code Section 37361(c):

— JU

The Teriton, as a building more than 40 years old and slated for demolition, is automatically being evaluated for landmark status. That process began in November 2005. But whether it meets at least one of the six criteria necessary for landmark designation — from exemplifying elements of the city’s cultural history to representing a significant example of a notable architect’s work — is questionable.

An impartial preliminary historical assessment, prepared by an outside consultant selected by the city and presented at a Sept. 11 Landmarks Commission meeting, states: “Nonetheless, because of its lack of individual historical and architectural merit, the property does not appear eligible for local landmark designation and, therefore, no further investigation into its historical and/or architectural significance is warranted nor recommended at this time.”

Despite that, the Landmarks Commission nominated the Teriton for landmark status, pending a more detailed report, as well as a recommendation from the city Planning Department. Commission chair Roger Genser defended the decision, noting that the commission also relied on a 1983 report by noted architectural historian Paul Gleye, which points to the Teriton’s significance as part of the San Vicente Courtyard Apartment Historical District.

Concurrently, Or Khaim Hashalom, through lawyer Perry, is claiming that the Teriton is exempt from landmark designation under California law, because it is owned by a nonprofit religious entity. The statute (Government Code Section 37361(c)), which allows religious organizations to alter or destroy historic buildings, was passed in 1994 in response to a decision by the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco to close nine parish churches that had been damaged in an earthquake. It was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2001. The law has been used only once previously in Santa Monica, on behalf of the First Church of Christ Scientist, a pre-existing religious establishment, at Fifth and Arizona streets.

In a mandatory public hearing Aug. 11, Or Khaim Hashalom laid out its case. Perry, flanked by what he introduced as the organization’s executive committee — Illulian, another bearded rabbi in full Chasidic garb and five other kippah-wearing men — claimed economic hardship and an inability to pursue the nonprofit’s religious mission if the Teriton isn’t demolished and a larger building constructed.

Perry told the residents in attendance, “You are giving up your homes so people can come here, but we feel that you are more able to re-adjust to new housing than refugees from the Middle East.”

He entertained inquiries and comments from the audience. However, in response to specific questions about Or Khaim Hashalom, including its history, purpose and standing as an actual synagogue, Perry answered, “We are not here to answer questions about our organization.”

That’s the frustration. No one connected with Or Khaim Hashalom is forthcoming, and no factual and consistent information about the organization is available.

Various legal documents list three different addresses for Or Khaim Hashalom: Perry’s office, Illulian’s office and a lighting company on Jefferson Boulevard. On one deed of trust, Perry is listed as both the president and the secretary. On another, Rouhollah Esmailzadeh, the owner of the lighting company, signed as president. Illulian himself, after some hesitation, said he thought Or Khaim Hashalom’s president was “A.J.,” referring to Esmailzadeh’s son. He added, “I don’t know the technicalities. You have to ask Rosario [Perry].”

Many, like Teriton resident Scaduto, believe that Or Khaim Hashalom is “a blatant case of fraud.”

Rabbi Illulian’s response to this accusation was: “I think it’s unfair, just because people want to stay in this building and pay the price they paid 20 years ago. We’re doing everything within the system … legally, with God’s help.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Marx of Santa Monica Synagogue, who attended the hearing, was affronted by what he saw as a display of black-hatted rabbis paraded out to make a clear business venture look like a pious endeavor.

“Do they think everyone is an idiot?” he asked.

What about the claim of bringing in refugees? Illulian, who was raised in Milan, Italy, by parents born in Tehran, has a bona fide track record in this area. It was his idea to bring almost 3,000 young people out of Iran, working tirelessly from 1978 to about 1982 to accomplish it.

Sholem Hecht, rabbi of the Sephardic Jewish Congregation and Center in Queens, N.Y., who accompanied Illulian on his first trip to Tehran and assisted in the rescue, said, “There’s no question he played a very special role in the history of Iranian Jews in America.”

But in 1982, Illulian moved to Los Angeles, married and changed his focus. He became rabbi of Chabad Persian Synagogue in Westwood. Later, about six or seven years ago, he recollects, he founded and moved to JEM, Jewish Educational Movement, which is located in the former YMCA building Beverly Hills and which hosts a synagogue, as well as sports, educational and arts programs and camp experiences for youngsters. He is currently JEM’s rabbi.

Illulian is no longer affiliated with Chabad. According to Rabbi Chaim Cunin of Chabad of California, “He was dismissed some 10 years ago for personal reasons, which were not made public.” Cunin refused to elaborate. Illulian said he believes he was not dismissed.

Illulian has eight children ages, 14 to 24, and lives in Beverly Hills.

While he has worked in his family’s former furniture business in the past, he says he is a full-time rabbi. Still, he maintains an office in a medical building on Wilshire Boulevard near Crescent Heights Boulevard. Records from the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office show he purchased a commercial office building on Wilshire Boulevard in December 2005 for $4.4 million.

When questioned about his new plan to bring in refugees, Illulian is vague. But according to Rezvan Armian, a social worker at Jewish Family Service in Los Angeles who oversees Iranian immigration, individual people cannot resettle immigrants; it must be done through HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and the U.S. Department of State.

“Hertzel Illulian resettle? There is no way,” she said.

Illulian, however, claims he is helping small numbers of Jews escape from Iran and has been quietly doing this work since 1982. “I can’t say exactly what I’m doing, because I can’t endanger the lives of Jews in Iran,” he said.
So how are these ventures being financed? Who is paying for the claimed refugee rescue work? Who is funding the purchase of the Teriton? How does Or Khaim Hashalom expect to cover demolition and construction costs?

According to Illulian, the backers are supporters of Or Khaim Hashalom who wish to remain anonymous. Because it’s a religious nonprofit, the organization does not have to make its financial records public.

The building’s seller, Erwin Mieger, president of Teriton Investors LLC, said the buyer of the Teriton was a single individual. He also confirmed that the person who was trying to buy the building in November, when the notice of pending demolition sign was erected and before Or Khaim Hashalom was incorporated, was the same person who purchased it in April.

Dennis Golob, the Los Angeles attorney who represented Mieger’s company in the transaction, identified that buyer as Rouhallah Esmailzadeh, listed on one document as Or Khaim Hashalom’s president. Golob said he was unaware of the involvement of any religious organization. When told about Or Khaim Hashalom, he replied, “That’s really, really interesting.”

Or Khaim Hashalom, however, is the name listed as the owner in documents at the Assessor’s Office and the Recorder’s Office.

A number of roads also lead to a building on Westwood Boulevard. That’s the address of Novin Kathy Golshani, a real estate broker and owner of Pacific Paradise Realty, who represented the buyer in the transaction. She also requested the demolition permit, according to Santa Monica records.

Two people listed as local partners on Golshani’s Web site are also involved. An attorney at the same address, Douglas Weitzman, also represented the buyer. The name of a contractor, Asan Development, owned by Sasan Samimi, was also listed on the demolition permit request.

“So many buildings are torn down all the time, and there is no noise about it. I don’t know why this is such a big deal,” said Golshani, whose Web site promises, on its list of 10 commandments of real estate, “We shall walk away from any illegal and unethical transaction.”

Ultimately, the Teriton’s eligibility for landmark status will be decided by the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission at its Nov. 13 meeting. A determination on whether Or Khaim Hashalom fits the definition of a religious entity and meets the requirements necessary for landmark exemption will be decided separately by the City Attorney’s Office.

According to Barry Rosenbaum, city senior land-use attorney, “There are serious unresolved questions of whether the property owner is entitled to the protections of the statute.”

As for Illulian, he strongly prefers to focus on his early work in the late 1970s and early 1980s and on the thousands of Persian Jews whom he helped resettle both directly and indirectly and who are now living in Los Angeles. He sees himself as the man behind the extraordinary growth of “Tehrangeles.”

Illulian refers to the tumult surrounding the Teriton as “a little thing.” He said, “That’s not the important part of my life. I’d rather forget about it.”

Teriton resident Kit Snedaker, 85, with Cocker Spaniel Joe in her two-bedroom apartment in the Teriton. She has lived there since 1979.

New Year brings new hope to inmates

Daniel, a 24-year-old UCLA student, has gotten under my skin. I met him a month ago when I followed Rabbi Yossi Carron on his rounds through Men’s Central Jail
and Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles. Daniel had a few more days to serve on the six-month sentence he received after his was convicted of dealing methamphetamine to some of his fellow Bruins — most likely, his release date would fall just before or just after Rosh Hashanah.

When I learned Daniel would be celebrating his last day in jail during the New Year’s service Carron organized for his prison shul, I asked to tag along.
In a hallway at Men’s Central on a Tuesday afternoon, Carron and three rabbinical students are maneuvering a pair of rickety carts loaded with prayer books and a Rosh Hashanah feast past a prisoner-painted mural that depicts a SWAT team, guns raised, staring down passersby.

At one point, several packages of pita bread slide off the top of one of the loads. At the rear of the convoy, where a Torah scroll on loan from a Sephardic temple nestles under a tallit, someone makes a joke about Uzzah — the poor guy in 2 Samuel, chapter 6, who meets with God’s wrath when he touches the Ark to keep it from bouncing off an ox cart.

Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, is onhand, along with half a dozen volunteers. As the afternoon sun slants through broken windowpanes 20 feet above the concrete floor, this small group of Jews lays tablecloths and arranges flowers to transform a disused prison dining hall into sacred space.

Simon — his name, like those of other inmates, has been changed to protect his identity — is one of the first inmates to arrive. Now 30, he has lived on the streets or in jail since he was 15. His arms are inked with menacing skulls and demons, but the most affecting tattoo is a single teardrop on his left cheek — a memento he got when his time behind bars passed the five-year mark.

“I get out again in 33 days,” he says, adding that his first stop will be a drug treatment center in Torrance. “This time I’m staying out.”

Eventually the room holds about 20 inmates from Men’s Central and from Twin Towers Correctional Facility across the street.

“You have more rabbis and rabbis-to-be in this room than you’ll ever see again in your life,” Carron tells the men in his prison shul. “Mingle and make use of them.”

The soft buzz of friendly conversation fills the hall.

I manage to get in a few words with Daniel, who looks quietly jubilant.
“Man, this feels so good,” he tells me. “This is like the perfect way to end this experience. I’ve learned so much. It sounds strange, but I’m actually kind of grateful.”

At another table, Gary, an inmate whose hard years are etched onto a face that resembles a walnut, has recognized Pauline Lederer, a wheelchair-bound but sharp-witted nonagenarian who has been volunteering in Los Angeles County jails since the 1930s.

“I first met Pauline in 1983!” Gary exclaims.

After her conversation with Gary, Pauline says, “Things aren’t going well for him. Spending so much time in here is bad for the soul. It’s very sad, but I hope this helps.”

Soon Carron asks everyone to take a seat so that service can begin. Over the next hour, he weaves prayers recalling the Israelites’ liberation from bondage in Egypt with the traditional Rosh Hashana liturgy. Noam Raucher delivers a homily about how his experience shadowing Carron has shaped his understanding of teshuvah, and Alison Abrams opens the rosewood ark to read a passage from the Torah.

At the end of the service, Michael Chusid, a veteran of last year’s Rosh Hashanah celebration at Men’s Central, blows the shofar.

“Every generation has to overcome terrible suffering,” Carron says later, after the last of the roasted chicken and apple tart has disappeared. “What we’re doing on Rosh Hashanah is redeeming that holy spark within us, which is what happened when we crossed the Red Sea. It also points toward the freedom that I hope each of these guys will experience in some way in the New Year.”

Carron’s hope reminds me of Daniel, who’s marking the New Year and his newfound freedom by returning to a life that will be completely the same and totally different from the life he knew six months ago. Really, each day is like that — each day is the beginning of a new year. That’s easy to say, but hard to accept. In my own life, I’m starting to realize that, for now, it’s enough to move through each day as if I accepted it.

So whenever you happen to be reading this, Shana Tova.

For more on Rabbi Carron’s work, see

Spirit and Chocolate Top Temple Emanuel Installation

There was chocolate and music last week when Sue Brucker was installed as president of Temple Emanuel’s board of directors at Shabbat Unplugged. Amid the singing and Shabbat rituals, Brucker was applauded for her talents as a leader, and her commitment and dedication to getting any job, no matter the task, accomplished.

The services were filled with those who enjoy the upbeat Shabbat melodies of singing and celebration Temple Emanuel has become famous for. Known as a “go-to person,” Brucker is always the first to achieve any goal, take on any task and commit to any cause. Brucker, along with her mother-in-law Rita Brucker, will be honored at the Women of Sheba Achievement luncheon later this month and is the immediate past president for the Beverly Hills High School PTSA. She also received the Humanitarian of the Year from Amie Karen Cancer Society. Her husband Barry is on the Beverly Hills City Council and was the former president of the Beverly Hills School Board.

Big Fun in Big Apple

Leaving Los Angeles and spending a month at Yeshiva University (YU) in New York this summer was a fun and rewarding experience for five Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles (YULA) students. The teens met and mingled with other Orthodox students in New York City, taking in the sights and enjoying the Big Apple. The five students, Michael Bank and Jesse Katz of Los Angeles, Marlon Schwarcz of Beverly Hills, Joel Shuchatowitz of Tarzana, and Netanel Zilberstein of Encino stayed in dormitories on YU’s Wilf Campus in Washington Heights.

Students spent mornings studying Jewish topics, and in the afternoons chose between “The World of Finance and Investment,” a practical experience establishing and analyzing a portfolio of investments and working with traders, financial planners and entrepreneurs; “Explorations in Genetics and Molecular Biology,” a laboratory experience introducing students to the theory and techniques of molecular biology; and political science/pre-law, which exposed students to politics and law through the lens of current issues and by taking trips and hearing from speakers around New York City.

The YULA students toured the area attractions, including a Broadway show; the Museum of Natural History; Six Flags Great Adventure; a Mets game; a double-decker bus tour; a visit to the World Trade Center site; and a tour of YU’s campuses.

“It was great to have an opportunity to feel the YU experience,” said Zilberstein, the first of his siblings to go to college.

He said spending the month at YU took some of the mystery out of the college experience: “You get to feel like you are a college student, taking real college classes.”

Students also spent several days in the Washington, D.C. area, visiting the Capitol building, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Spy Museum and spending Shabbat in Silver Spring, Md.

“Many of the students are interested in YU, but want to see more than they would if they just came for a tour,” explained Aliza Stareshefsky, program director.
For more information about next year’s program, e-mail

Rabbi on Board

The Olympia Medical Center recently added Rabbi Karen L. Fox to its board of governors. The group is comprised of 15 community leaders and business executives, and recommends and implements hospital policy, promotes patient safety and performance improvement while helping provide quality patient care.
“We are honored to have someone with Rabbi Fox’s prominence join our board of governors,” board chairman Dr. Sharam Ravan said. “I know that she will be an asset to Olympia Medical Center as we grow to meet the needs of the community.”

Fox, who has served at Wilshire Boulevard Temple for nearly 20 years, graduated from UCLA in 1973. She earned a master’s degree in Hebrew letters from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and received her ordaination there in 1978. She earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology as well as a doctorate of divinity from Pepperdine University, and is a licensed marriage and family psychotherapist. She published a user-friendly guide to Jewish holidays title “Seasons for Celebration” and has authored numerous articles about women’s experiences and Jewish thought.

Kids Raise the ‘Roof’

The Children’s Civic Light Opera (CCLO), one of the Los Angeles area’s original and longest-established performing arts programs for youth, ages 7-17, celebrated its 19th year with a stellar production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Parents and friends shepped naches as 40 talented and dedicated kids rehearsed for eight weeks to present the Broadway-style production complete, with professional sets, costumes, sound, lighting and a live orchestra. Their show was a treat for theater-goers who sat awed by the kid’s spirited performances.

“‘Fiddler’ is a rare and beautiful gift,” CCLO’s founder and artistic director Diane Feldman Turen said. “It is an incredibly powerful piece of theater overflowing with an abundance of learning opportunities on multiple levels. Its universal themes allow us to address and examine the opposing forces that drive our lives and it’s wonderful that our ensemble can apply what they’re learning on the stage and off.”

More Information on Getting That Visa

Visa Violations

The U.S. government estimates that about 40 percent of people who are in this country illegally arrived on a legal visa but lost their legal status either by overstaying or otherwise violating the terms of their visa. These are sometimes referred to as “nonimmigrant overstayers.”

Nonimmigrant overstayers include those who came here on a student visa (F-1 or M-1 visa, depending on the type of studies pursued) or their family’s visa (F-2 or M-2). Others come on a tourist visa (B-2) or temporary business visa (B-1).

Another visa commonly used by nonimmigrant overstayers is the H-series visa (H-1, H-2, etc.), which permits those with specialty occupations to enter the country, as well as their families, who enter with an H-4 visa. Another visa commonly used is the R-1, those permitted to enter the United States as “religious workers” and their spouses and children, who enter with an R-2 visa.

All of the above-cited visas are violated if the bearers remain in the United States in a different status from that stipulated in the visa, or if they stay beyond the valid period.

Aid for Those Who Overstay

There are a number of agencies that can help people who are here illegally and would like to talk with someone without fear of being arrested or deported.

Here is a partial list:

  • HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, offers a variety of services and acts as advocates for migrants’ rights. Their main office is in New York, 333 Seventh Ave., 16th floor, New York, NY 10001-5004. (212) 967-4100, (212) 613-1409 or (800) 442-714.
  • In Southern California, Public Counsel has a program called Immigrants’ Rights Project, which offers a variety of services. Public Counsel, P.O. Box 76900, Los Angeles, CA 90076. (213) 385-2977. Their office is located at 610 Ardmore Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90005, and their phone number at that office is (213) 385-9089. They accept appointments only, no walk-ins.
  • Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) offers a variety of services. They are located at 5228 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90022. For more information, call (213) 640-3883 or visit
  • The American Civil Liberties Union also offers aid at 1616 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026. (213) 977-9500.

There are also many private attorneys and legal firms that offer services to those in this situation. L.A. newspapers in Spanish, Hebrew, Russian and other languages all have ads for immigration attorneys who are experienced in dealing with cases involving nonimmigrant overstayers and other immigrant issues.


The Reagan Library was the setting when more than 500 Jewish Republicans gathered to pay tribute to U.S. and Israeli armed forces.RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) set a powerful model of the necessity for firm resolve at this time of international crises.

Guests also heard from California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, Jewish Republican statewide candidate for insurance commissioner, and Tony Strickland, statewide candidate for controller.

After touring the library and taking photos on the impressive Air Force One at the musuem, guests enjoyed a kosher cocktail party and dinner.

Larry Greenfield, Republican Jewish Coalition’s California regional director, says what is motivating their membership is the quality of the conversation.”RJC members and guests consistently value an honest appraisal of the international situation and a realistic approach to a dangerous world that the Jewish community respects,” he said. “Support for a beleaguered Israel, concern about a UN that has broken its promises, and moral clarity about Islamo-Fascism all resonate with American Jews today.”

According to Greenfield, under RJC CA Chairman Joel Geiderman, the RJC would continue to focus on supporting Jewish college students and the need for “fair play.” The RJC has been working with other Jewish groups to confront anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism at universities.

“We have begun to mature as a Jewish political community. Those in attendance included current White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton, past and present Federal Reserve Chairmen Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke; and former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

“Many thoughtful Jewish Republicans are making a strong contribution rooted in Jewish values, both as, and with senior access to, American policymakers,” Greenfield said.

The Great Statesmen

Van Nuys High School American government students enjoyed an informative Q-and-A with Stanley Sheinbaum and Mike Farrell on June 8. The event, titled “14th Amendment Equal Protection Under the Law,” was the first in a series of discussions produced by California Safe Schools.

The two celebrated statesmen in the social justice community have been recognized for their humanitarian efforts: Sheinbaum for the protection of constitutional rights, education, public justice, human rights and international peace efforts; Farrell for his opposition to the death penalty and children’s rights. Farrell is also well-known for his portrayals of B.J. Hunnicutt on the long-running series “M*A*S*H” and as veterinarian Dr. James Hansen on the NBC drama “Providence.”

“It was inspiring to see the students so well versed in national, international and environmental issues. We look forward to replicating these programs for other students throughout the State and Country,” said Robina Suwol, executive director of California Safe Schools.

Both men were honored at the event with the California Safe Schools Humanitarian Award for their decades of service. The office of Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) joined in the celebration presenting additional awards to each. The event as moderated by David Allgood, Southern California director of the state’s League of Conservation Voters.

Fond of the New Rabbi

Native Angeleno Rabbi Devora Fond became the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Torah in Arcadia in July, following her recent ordination by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism (UJ). Fond received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC Santa Cruz in 1991, and a master’s degree in rabbinic studies from the UJ in 2002. She has served in a variety of capacities, including hospital chaplain at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, rabbinic intern at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley and educator and rabbinic intern at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles.

Fond feels called to serve God by helping Jews connect with themselves, others, God and Torah, and through working with people of all faiths to make this world a better place. Fond says she is enthusiastic about having the opportunity to build relationships with the people in her community: to touch other people’s lives and be touched by others. She is committed to reaching out to new members, leading spiritually meaningful and innovative services, and making Judaism come alive through creative programming and thought-provoking teaching.

All About Ethics

Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo nominated Helen Zukin, a lawyer in private practice and an active member of the State Bar of California, to the City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

“Helen’s skill as a lawyer and commitment to the highest ethical standards will be tremendous assets to the Ethics Commission,” Delgadillo said. “Her counsel and insight will serve the Commission well as it takes up the challenge of interpreting and implementing changes to our campaign finance laws, as well as maintain its critical role as city watchdog.”

Zukin, who also serves as a temporary judge in the Los Angeles County Superior Court system, served on the State Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation for nearly a decade. She has a long history of community and professional involvement, including membership on the Board of Governors for the Consumer Attorney’s Association of Los Angeles and as a trustee of the Jewish Community Foundation.

A civil litigator, Zukin’s practice has an emphasis on toxic torts, product liability and environmental property damage.

In addition to the city attorney, the mayor, controller, city council president and council president pro-tem each nominate one member to the five-member Ethics Commission. Commissioners serve staggered five-year terms, and are subject to review by the City Council’s Rules and Elections Committee, and to confirmation by the full L.A. City Council.

The commission was established in 1990 as part of a comprehensive package of local government ethics and campaign finance laws.

Promoting Jewish Learning

On a recent Friday afternoon, the chapel bells at Duke University chimed “Shalom Aleichem” as about 1,300 educators gathered for the 31st annual conference of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE).

Billed as “Jewish Literacy: A Learned Community and a Community of Learners,” CAJE 31 was a raw, messy, creative affair, with 20 sessions held every hour for five days on such wide-reaching topics as “God Shopping,” “The Jews of Sing-Sing,” “Assessing Our Relationship to Israel” and “Jews as Global Citizens.” Many of the sessions focused on teaching methodology, text-based learning and creative approaches to Judaism. Participants also met for in-depth discussions on every Jewish theme imaginable, all with the goal of energizing teachers and students for the coming year.

Teachers, storytellers, dancers, rabbis and teenagers training for future leadership positions ran through the southern heat across the sprawling campus looking for classrooms, some of which were buried two floors underground. They also browsed through Duke’s Bryan Center and an array of vendors displaying items such as teaching materials, custom-made crossword puzzles, jewelry and handmade Jewish arts and crafts.

Most of the sessions and evening keynote speeches addressed the issue of Jewish literacy, focusing on how being Jewishly literate means familiarity not just with texts, a bar mitzvah portion, Israeli history or Jewish dance, but with a stew of all those elements and much more.

In a session on adult learners led by Betsy Dolgin Katz, North American director of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, one participant said, “Something that changed my life was learning to read Torah at age 40.”

The session also focused on how much emphasis is placed on children’s preparation for b’nei mitzvah and becoming full participants in Jewish life, while parents might not have had an equivalent education and may feel left behind.

Cherie Koller-Fox, a founder of CAJE, held a session on the challenges young teachers face when deciding whether or not to enter the field of Jewish education at all. She encouraged them to assert themselves when asking for the salaries and support they would need to make a career in Jewish education work for them, and urged them to take the reins of CAJE for a new generation.

“CAJE looks old and decrepit, but it needs to be yours,” she told them. “You desperately need it, but it desperately needs you.”

A special session was held each night where teachers and community leaders discussed how to teach the war in Lebanon in the upcoming school year and shared personal feelings about Israel. Some educators stressed the importance of promoting a connection between children and Israel. One participant said, “They should identify with Israel like it’s their own home being bombed, because it is their home being bombed.” Another participant grew pensive over the thought that peace in the Middle East would truly not be achieved in his lifetime.

A few teachers worried that children would grow up with negative impressions of Israel due to media coverage or bias, while others expressed happiness that some of the myths about Israel as only a heroic nation might dissipate.

The war in Lebanon aside, some educators, especially from small communities, were happy to be surrounded by so many fellow travelers.

Ellen Ben-Naim, a teacher at Los Alamos Jewish Center in New Mexico that draws much of its congregation from the nearby research laboratory, said that in her school of 20 students, 7,000 feet up a mountain, even the rabbi is also a full-time physicist.

“This is like a mecca for me. Well, maybe that’s not the right word,” she said, adding that the diversity of Jewish life exhibited at CAJE astounded her. Back home, she said, “there is only one tent in town for everybody.”

Lynne Diwinsky, a teacher at the New City Jewish Center in New City, N.Y., enjoyed CAJE as a prelude to the school year.

“I see [CAJE] as a renewal. It happens right before Rosh Hashanah to get ready for the coming year,” she said. “I love the interchange with other professionals.”

Eliot Spack, CAJE’s outgoing executive director, said, “CAJE provides a recharging of their batteries,” referring to the educators who attend.

He called the conference “a celebration of Jewish teaching: “CAJE has inspired people not in a manipulative or proselytizing way, but it’s helped people come to grips with their own Judaism.”

Carolyn Starman Hessel, director of the Jewish Book Council and longtime CAJE-goer, said that making connections and being able to access new materials is important for educators.

“West of the Hudson River, where are people going to get this plethora of books and materials?” she asked.

Avraham Infeld, outgoing president of Hillel, delivered a fiery keynote address on the topic of Jewish identity. He said out of five legs of Judaism — memory, family, Sinai, the people and land of Israel and the Hebrew language — each Jew should learn three. That way, everyone would have at least one Jewish connection in common.

Infeld also mentioned a phrase his late father used to repeat that subtly echoed the conference’s theme: “A Jew has to know more today than he did yesterday.”

Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Week.

Do Day School Health Programs Make the Grade?

Twenty parents from the Emek Hebrew Academy in Valley Village have come on a chilly winter evening to hear Dr. Francine Kaufman, a national expert on diabetes and childhood obesity, talk about promoting children’s health. Although the school has 455 families, Rabbi Sholom Strajcher, the school’s dean, is not discouraged by the modest turnout.

“We have to change the culture…. It’s a challenge,” he said.

Strajcher (pronounced Striker) tells the group he’s been overweight since childhood.

“When I was growing up, no doctor or teacher ever mentioned my weight,” he said. “I am reaping the result of all those years.”

He is not alone. In fact, Strajcher’s students are even more likely to struggle with weight issues. According to the Institute of Medicine, an agency under the National Academy of Sciences, more than 9 million U.S. children above the age of 6 are considered overweight or obese. The litany of health consequences associated with obesity — diabetes, cancer and heart disease, to name a few — might result in today’s children becoming the first generation in American history with a lower life expectancy than their parents. For children born in 2000, their lifetime risk of developing diabetes exceeds 30 percent.

Many can name factors contributing to these alarming trends: An increase in sedentary activities, such as television and computers; greater demand for convenience foods; advertisements targeting kids with high-fat foods, and an environment that discourage walking and physical activity. Given the breadth of the problem, solutions require action on all levels of society — from government and business to schools and families. Jewish day schools, which may not see their role in the equation, have been slow to address these concerns.

But some have begun to take action.

Let’s Get Physical

At Jewish day schools, the demands of a dual curriculum coupled with limited outdoor space can cause physical education to take a back seat. This is decidedly not the case at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Day School. When Head of School Sheva Locke joined the Encino school four years ago, one of her first priorities was instituting an athletic program. The school now employs an athletic director and two full-time coaches who supervise physical education classes and activities at recess and lunch.

The athletic department also runs an extensive after-school team sports program. Kindergarteners through third-graders can join in a Junior Sports Club, while fourth- through sixth-graders can participate in competitive sports, including basketball, soccer, football and volleyball — and 98 percent of them do. The teams compete in the San Fernando Valley Private School League. VBS provides transportation to off-site games to make participation easier on parents and children.

“The focus was on getting as many children as possible to participate and to play,” Locke said. “The problem solving and goal setting that goes along with having a physical fitness program is equally as important.”

During the school day itself, VBS provides physical education twice a week, a figure fairly standard in the day school world. For students who don’t participate in after-school physical activities, that amount is woefully inadequate, according to physician Fran Kaufman, professor of pediatrics at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and head of the Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles.”

“Kids should be active for 60 minutes each day,” she said.

The state of California requires that children in first through sixth grade have a minimum of 200 minutes of physical education time per 10 days of school, which averages 20 minutes per day. In seventh through 12th grade, the time requirement doubles. (According to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, 51 percent of school districts reviewed failed to meet the state’s minimum requirement for physical education time.)

Those numbers fall far short of the 60 minutes daily recommended by Kaufman and the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And as Emek’s Strajcher points out, not all of that time involves being active.

“Even when kids are supposedly playing, how much of that time is spent waiting for a turn?” he asks.

At Maimonides Academy in West Hollywood, instructor Alan Rosen has designed a unique program where lessons on character and values are integrated into physical education. On the play area used by the elementary school students, circles painted on the blacktop list such values as responsibility, humility, effort and cooperation. The words are incorporated into songs and games, and are referred to in the course of regular physical activities.

“If it’s important, you find the time,” said Maimonides’ principal, Rabbi Karmi Gross. “Physical activity doesn’t have to be divorced from what else is being done.”

By the Book

Inside the classroom, the content and amount of wellness-related curriculum varies from school to school. An informal survey taken by the Bureau of Jewish Education of Los Angeles on nutrition education garnered responses from only 10 schools out of more than 30. Of those, half had no “formal” nutrition curriculum, and relied primarily on teacher-generated materials.

Because health is not a subject for which the state requires standardized testing, public school districts vary in the degree of emphasis they give the topic. Los Angeles Unified School District specifies knowledge and abilities that students are expected to master in grades four, seven, and high school.

In both public and private schools, a dedicated health class is generally taught in middle school. Seventh graders at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge take a health and life sciences class that focuses on the physiology and biology of the human body. An eighth-grade nutrition unit includes a screening of the school version of “Super Size Me,” in which the filmmaker traced his odyssey eating McDonald’s fare exclusively three times a day for one month, and how his body suffered as a result.

“We talk about individual choices and about society, and we discuss where responsibility lies,” said science teacher Liz Wenger. “We look at how society is changing the way we eat, such as not eating at home as much, and eating larger quantities and higher fat foods.”

The students calculate their own caloric intake and use a calorimeter to measure the amount of food energy in various foods. They also build pumps to replicate the heart and use stoppers to illustrate cholesterol build-up.

VBS employs a full-time nurse whose duties include teaching health-related lessons to all grade levels. At Milken Community High School, ninth graders take a class, designed with input from a health educator and a rabbi, which explores physical, social and emotional health as well as sexuality and tobacco, drug and alcohol abuse.

Ess, Ess Mein Kind

Learning about nutrition doesn’t necessarily translate into action. Most of the schools interviewed expressed concerns about the food they provided to students, not only through formal meal programs, but also informal means such as class parties or incentives.

Eating can be an emotionally charged issue given its integral role in Jewish practice. The ubiquity of food is illustrated in the oft-repeated definition of Jewish holidays:

They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.

“Every time we celebrate, we celebrate with food — and there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Emek’s Strajcher. The question is what kind of food and how much. He said that traditionally, when students began to learn the aleph-bet (Hebrew alphabet) in school, the rebbe would put a drop of honey on each letter so that the children would associate learning with sweetness. Even in the synagogue itself, congregants throw candy for auf-rufs (engagements), bar mitzvahs and other celebrations.

Some parents are troubled by the amount of sugary snacks given to their children.

Kaufman noted that packaged kosher snacks can be some of the worst offenders in terms of saturated fat content.

Last year, Emek parents formed a committee and worked with the school’s caterer and a nutritionist to improve the healthfulness of school lunches. Parent Amy Leibowitz, who spearheaded the committee, said it was a challenge to satisfy nutritional, budgetary and kashrut considerations simultaneously. The results included adding fruit and salad, subtracting dessert, serving foods that are baked instead of fried, serving leaner, lower-salt meat, and making water available at mealtimes. She said that classes now celebrate all the month’s birthdays at one time to limit the influx of sugary treats.

Maimonides also revised its lunch program, and modified the practice of using food as an incentive. Instead of giving Israeli chocolates as rewards, principal Gross now gives Israeli postcards.

“We’re not yet where we want to be,” he said. “But we’ll eventually get there.”
Vending machine soft drink sales — a tempting source of revenue for some schools — will likely decline due to a decision announced in May by the nation’s largest beverage distributors to discontinue selling beverages with more than 100 calories to schools. It is estimated that the practice will affect 87 percent of the public and private school market.

As schools grapple with decisions regarding food policies, Emek’s Strajcher says that they can look to Judaism for a model of dietary self control.

“Kashrut [shows us that] when it comes to food, there has to be a certain discipline,” he said.

And as Eileen Horowitz, principal at Temple Israel of Hollywood, noted, “The [mission] for a Jewish school is teaching how to make good choices. That applies to how we talk to a neighbor as well as what we put in our mouth.”

Just Do It

Some administrators cited the challenge of fitting in adequate time for physical activity and comprehensive health education on top of an already full dual curriculum.

“There’s tremendous pressure for time,” acknowledged Dr. Roxie Esterle, Heschel’s associate head of school. “It’s a very full day and it gets fuller and fuller,” she said, mentioning computers and technology as examples.

Secular schools also struggle with these issues. A recently released national report found that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was threatening physical education time because subjects that are not tested — including physical education — receive lower priority. In Los Angeles, 68 percent of high school students failed to meet recommended levels of physical activity according to a 2005 study by the CDC.

Yet, practicality dictates that schools take action on this issue: The California Department of Education states that healthy, active and well-nourished children are more likely to attend school and are more prepared and motivated to learn. The 2006 Shape of the Nation Report, issued jointly by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Heart Association, recommends that schools across the country “make physical education instruction the cornerstone of a comprehensive school physical activity program that also includes health education, elementary school recess, after-school physical activity clubs and intramurals, high school interscholastic athletics, walk/bike to school programs and staff wellness programs.”

Given that Judaism mandates the care of our bodies, Jewish day schools have an imperative to address these issues.

“If you’re not healthy, it’s hard to serve God with fullness,” Strajcher said. “Your soul can only do what it needs to do when your physical self is intact.”
He hopes to spare his students from facing the weight issues that have plagued him since childhood, and from the dire consequences which may result.

“If this is preventable and we can do something about it, it’s our obligation to do so,” he said.

Health Report Card for Schools

To determine how well your school promotes wellness, here are some questions to ask:

  1. How much physical education time is allotted?
  2. Is the physical education instructor certified?
  3. Are children actively engaged during physical education and recess?
  4. Does the school offer after-school activities or team sports?
  5. Do health lessons address nutrition and physical activity?
  6. What is the content of school lunches, and who determines this?
  7. Are fresh fruits and vegetables offered daily?
  8. Does the school have a policy on desserts and snacks?
  9. Is there a vending machine on campus? What does it offer?

Spectator – Spin-Doctors of the Revolution

Rachel Boynton, director of the documentary “Our Brand Is Crisis,” was excited when she first learned that American political consultants export their work globally.

While a student at Columbia School of Journalism, she saw a film about the history of 20th century nonviolent conflict that included a segment on how American consultants had gone to Chile in 1990 to produce TV ads for a successful campaign to end Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s long autocratic presidency.

“I thought to myself, ‘There’s my movie. I want to follow an American who is trying to run an ad campaign to oust a dictator,'” Boynton said in a telephone interview. “It seemed to epitomize a lot of things I think of as being fundamentally American — optimism, hubris, political idealism and the profit motive all wrapped up in one event.”

Raised by her Jewish lawyer mother, Esther, after her parents divorced when she was 9 months old, Boynton had already lived in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Denver, Ann Arbor and Paris by the time she was in graduate school. Her film’s subject also dovetailed with her undergraduate degree in international relations from Brown University.

After five years of work on “Crisis,” Boynton, 32, has finally completed her movie, which opens in Los Angeles on April 14. But it didn’t turn out as originally planned.

She documents the campaign waged by the liberal firm of Greenberg Carville (as in James Carville) Shrum (GCS) on behalf of the unpopular but reformist millionaire, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (a.k.a. “Goni”), who was attempting to return to office as president of Bolivia.

“I liked GCS because they were very idealistic about what they did,” Boynton said. “Most people expect to see political consultants being very mercenary. This firm professed to be idealistic about their work.”

Essentially the firm’s strategies for advertising, focus groups, polling and image-shaping worked in Bolivia. “Goni” won in 2002. But the rifts caused by the spirited election set in motion a bloody uprising that forced him to flee from office in 2004.

The turn of events left the firm’s Jeremy Rosner and Stan Greenberg — captured by Boynton in post-revolt interviews — feeling melancholy and disappointed. A revolution was not part of their plans.

“They had this American attitude because we live in a place that’s stable,” Boynton said. “That is not necessarily the normal course of things all across the world. We need to recognize our perspective is not universally shared.”

“Our Brand Is Crisis” opens April 14 at the Laemmle Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. For showtimes, call (323) 848-3500.


Forget School — Let’s Go March

OK, I’ll admit it: I was one of the half-million congesting downtown Los Angeles the weekend of the massive pro-immigrant rally. My mother, who also went along, did so because many of her friends were marching, and it was a great social occasion.

For me, it was an opportunity to interface with about four dozen other students and confirm my suspicion that few participants knew much about U.S. history and culture or, for that matter, even our nation’s immigrant history and culture.

The organizers of the march were the usual collection of “reconquistas” and multiculturalists who networked very effectively for weeks to get this turnout. I must have received at least a dozen e-mails every day from different friends and groups reminding me to put the event on my calendar. Others were barraged with telephone calls stating that it was an “obligation” to show up and be counted.

Part of me wishes the students who cut class on Monday of that week could be out in the streets every day — after school perhaps — to draw attention to this problem of immigration. It seems that the only time the issue invades the public consciousness is when it makes the evening news on television.

There are some serious issues to consider beyond the photo ops of students carrying Mexican flags. The immigration bill that passed the House has two obvious flaws: It makes felons out of people who have been living and working here for years, and it classifies as criminals members of churches, their clergy leaders and any other group or citizens who help immigrants.

I suspect that Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican who sponsored the bill, deliberately placed those clauses into his legislation so that he would have something to “give away” when the House and Senate versions arrive for compromise in a few weeks. Critics of the early Senate version claimed it is nothing but an amnesty procedure. Our president, Jorge Bush, is caught in the middle between the agribusiness interests that helped him finance his political career and the conservative wing of his Republican Party, which considers immigration to be a “lightening rod” issue (in the positive sense, for them) of the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Like most Americans, the immigrant story is my family’s story. My mother took the “coyote express” to Los Angeles two decades ago, because her family in Honduras had been swindled out of the family farm, and mom had to help support her parents and four siblings. Upon arrival, she immediately learned English and became a U.S. citizen at the first opportunity. Before long, she was assistant manager of a chain variety store.

Her story is a representative tale of striving and success in a city that was built by immigrants — including waves of Jewish immigrants.

When I entered Union Avenue Elementary, mom went over and insisted that I not be placed in any bilingual class but in English immersion instead. Before that, she had obtained for me a public library card and made certain that I used it constantly. We spoke nothing but English at home until I was 12, and I was not allowed to watch Spanish television, even though mom was addicted to the nightly novellas. She still is.

The point is this: The difference between the more than 60 percent of Hispanics who drop out of high school and the 5 percent who graduate from college has nothing to do with the schools, the teachers and especially the thousands of dollars per pupil poured into the educational black hole we call the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The almost universal ignorance of the students who were chanting “Si, se puede” as they marched up Broadway, in regards to the language, culture and political realities of their adopted nation, speaks volumes about the failure of most of their families to assimilate and therefore succeed in these difficult times of globalization and economic uncertainty.

The marches have created short-term sympathy for the illegal (excuse me — I mean undocumented) immigrants. But the net result will be to reinforce the perception of a vast majority of Americans that something needs to be done about out-of-control borders and the issue of sovereignty.

Jennifer Solis was student body president of Belmont High School in 2003-04; she’s now a pre-med student at Pasadena City College.


Cartoon Tension at UC Irvine

The showing of three cartoons of the prophet Muhammad at a conference last week on radical Islam at UC Irvine attracted a near-capacity crowd of about 400, including leaders of some local Jewish groups, while protesters demonstrated outside.

A palpable tension descended on the audience at the unveiling of the three cartoons, including one that depicted a bomb in a turban on the prophet Muhammad’s head. The printing of these cartoons — and several others — in a Danish newspaper prompted some Muslim religious leaders and governments to incite violent protests, which have sometimes turned deadly. The display at UC Irvine also included three anti-Semitic cartoons that have run in the Arab press.

The conference’s co-sponsors, the College Republicans and the conservative United American Committee, said they wanted to affirm the First Amendment and to stimulate an important discussion about the growing threat of radical Islam.

“We believe unfettered speech is the only way we can come to a better understanding of what’s going on in the world,” said Francis Barraza, treasurer of the College Republicans. “Things that are obscene, things that are crazy, things that are uncomfortable should be exposed. And they can’t be exposed if they’re shrouded.”

The Muslim Student Union vehemently complained to university officials about the showing on the grounds that the cartoons are an affront to Islam. Instead they held a raucous protest outside, where more than 350 Muslims prayed and carried signs against hate speech and in praise of Muhammad.

“As a civilization and a society, we speak of spreading world peace, democracy and compassion,” said Osman Umarji, a former Muslim Student Union president who now advises the group. “Inciting religious hatred goes against that and only seeks to polarize a world in which we need more understanding and compassion.”

No violence was reported, although a Muslim heckler and another audience member nearly came to blows during the panel discussion.

Some of the Jews in attendance accused the Muslim Student Union (MSU) of hypocrisy. They asserted that, over the years, the MSU has invited speakers to campus — over the objections of Jewish students and groups — whose attacks on Zionism crossed the line into anti-Semitism. The Muslim group has denied the charge, saying it opposes Israel and its oppression of Palestinians — not Judaism.

Jewish leaders called that a double standard.

“When hate speech is aimed at Jews, it’s OK,” said Gary Ratner, executive director of the local chapter of the American Jewish Congress. “But when they perceive hate speech aimed at Muslims, it’s not OK.”

Security was tight, with metal barriers separating protesters from those lined up to enter.

Inside, the commentary was hardly all about conciliation. The Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, president and founder of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, repeatedly called Islam an “evil religion,” although he said Muslims weren’t. Homeless activist Ted Hayes seemed to blame Muslims for selling Africans into slavery during a heated exchange with an audience member.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) declined an invitation to participate, citing the sponsorship by the United American Committee, which it finds objectionable, said CAIR spokeswoman Sabiha Khan.

Besides Ratner, other politically active Jews in attendance included Larry Greenfield, California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition; Roz Rothstein, executive director of the pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, and Allyson Taylor, associate director of the American Jewish Congress, Western Region.


Class Notes – National Nachas for Shalhevet

Shalhevet School is on a winning streak, bringing the Los Angeles yeshiva high school to national prominence in the areas of ethics, politics and sports.

Shalhevet is the only Jewish school and the only school in Los Angeles included in a national report on how to produce students who are not only intelligent, but have a sense of moral maturity.

The 14-year-old high school is one of 24 schools from across the country included in “Smart and Good High Schools: Integrating Excellence and Ethics for Success in School, Work and Beyond,” a 225-page report recently published by State University of New York College at Cortland.

Researchers spent time at Shalhevet to observe how it builds character in its students — for example, through its weekly town hall meetings and moral discussions that permeate the classroom and extracurricular activities.

“In a ‘Smart and Good High School,’ all things in the life of the school — routines, rituals, discipline, curriculum, co-curricular activities and unplanned ‘teachable moments’ — are intentionally utilized as opportunities to foster excellence and ethics,” the report reads.

Two seniors from last year, Leor Hackel and Sara Hoenig, served on the National Student Leaders Panel for the study.

Shalhevet also chalked up a win in Yeshiva University’s Model United Nations, where about 40 Jewish high schools faced off in debates on issues such as the crisis in Darfur, how to define terrorism and providing nutritional support to alleviate the HIV crisis in sub-Saharan Africa.

Shalhevet’s win continued a long Model U.N. crosstown rivalry with YULA High School, which came in second. In the last five years Shalhevet has placed first twice and YULA three times.

Phu Tranchi, adviser to the 14-member Shalhevet team, notes that aside from spending many hours preparing, students hone their persuasive abilities at town hall meetings.

And, Tranchi added, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we have great overlap between the Model U.N. and the drama club — they can really get up and put on a show.”

The same can be said for Shalhevet’s Lady Firehawks, who won first place in the Hillel Community School invitational basketball tournament in Florida last month, where teams from Jewish high schools across the country competed. This was the second consecutive year that the Lady Firehawks won the tournament. Tamar Rohatiner, a Shalhevet senior, won tournament MVP.

Sun Strong for Camp Ramah

Camp Ramah in Ojai will be getting some new décor atop the Gindi Dining Hall this summer — about 250 photovoltaic panels to generate enough solar energy to cut the camp’s energy bill by about $30,000 a year.

This is phase one of a three-part project that will eventually save the camp up to $75,000 a year and will reduce toxic emissions by approximately 15 million pounds of carbon dioxide, 37,800 pounds of nitrous oxide and 121,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide over the 50-year life of the installation.

The camp received a $500,000 gift from alumnus David Braun to begin construction on the $1.3 million project. Camp Ramah expects reliance on solar power to insulate tuition against future energy cost spikes.

“By both using and educating about solar energy during future encampments, we believe we will create generations of Jewish leaders who are environmentally conscious and who will seek to move more and more Jewish and non-Jewish institutions to environmentally friendly energy options,” said Ramah’s Executive Director Rabbi Daniel Greyber.

Greyber has been working with Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) to obtain IRS approval of a strategy to offer nonprofits the same tax incentives currently given to for-profit companies to build solar installations.

For more information about Camp Ramah or the solar energy project, call (310) 476-8571.

YULA Girls Face History

Facing History and Ourselves, a Boston-based organization dedicated to teaching morality and tolerance through the study of the Holocaust, will hold a seminar for teachers this summer at the YULA girls’ school. The five-day workshop will be geared toward, but not limited to, teachers at Orthodox schools.

“What I hope people come out with is a better way of teaching about this history and also a way to help students think about their own participation in the society in which they live,” said Jan Darsa, director of Jewish education at Facing History.

The conference runs June 25-30 and costs $500 for the first teacher and $400 per teacher after that. Applications are due April 15. For more information, contact Jan Darsa at (617) 735-1613, or visit

Jewish Peace Corps

Looking for a great summer experience of hard physical labor and few amenities? American Jewish World Service, an organization dedicated to sustainable development, will bring 16- to 25-year-olds to Africa, Central America and Asia to engage in tikkun olam, repairing the world, in the most literal sense.

The seven-week program couples intense physical work — building schools, water systems, homes and agricultural projects — with Jewish study and community experience.

The program is open to high school juniors and seniors, and adults 18-25. The application deadline is March 31. For more information, contact Sonia Gordon-Walinsky at (800) 889-7146, ext. 651, or visit

Prejudice Awareness Summit

More than 300 middle school students from area public and parochial school participated in a Prejudice Awareness Summit at the University of Judaism (UJ) last month. UJ undergraduates led the younger students in exercises that encouraged honest and open dialogue and allowed them to explore their own feelings about prejudice. Workshops focused on reducing harmful actions and developing techniques to resolve conflicts. For more information on the summit, call (310) 476-9777.


French Views Split on Halimi’s Murder

Some French remain convinced that the barbaric torture and murder of Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old Jew, was not an anti-Semitic hate crime.

The kidnap murder has been declared an anti-Semitic act by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy but also a violent crime whose motive was money. Since Halimi was found abandoned in a suburban train station Feb. 13 and died on the way to the hospital, the affair has been the talk of France.

The suspects reportedly told police they tried to kidnap Jews because “all Jews are rich,” and they put cigarettes out on Halimi’s face because “he was Jewish, and we don’t like Jews.”

“The fact that the suspects said that all Jews are rich does not mean a thing,” said Sylvain Francois, a French television video editor. “According to what we know now, I don’t think it was anti-Semitic. It was cheap, violent crime.”

“This was more an idiotic act than an anti-Semitic one,” commented Gerard LeMoelle, a French television journalist. “This is not classic anti-Semitism of the extreme right or the extreme left as we know it here in France, so it can’t be anti-Semitic.”

Terence Kenny, a champagne export director originally from New York, who lives in a small town about two hours east of Paris, said the French public is in denial but not itself anti-Semitic for being so.

“This crime is so over the top that the French are unable to see it as anti-Semitic,” Kenny said. “Nobody wants to believe that this can be going on here.”

He added that Jews and anti-Semitism are not a usual subject of conversation in small-town France, but “once you begin explaining this, people agree that it is anti-Semitic.”

Halimi was lured on a date with a girl who came to the cellphone store where he worked and was then kidnapped and tortured for three weeks by a gang of young people called “Barbarians” by the French press.

The alleged leader of the gang, Youssouf Fofana, has been extradited from the West African nation of Ivory Coast, where his parents were born. Most but not all of the suspects arrested by police are of Arab North African or black African Muslim origin.

Many Arabs born in France agree that the crime is indeed anti-Semitic. Saida Elidrissi, an assistant bank manager of Muslim Moroccan origin, said the notion that all Jews are rich is false and racist.

“If you replace the word Jewish with the word Arab, for me it would be clearly anti-Arab, so this is clearly anti-Semitic,” she said.

“When the alleged leader was interviewed in Ivory Coast, it struck me how calm and relaxed he was,” Elidrissi said. “He must be a real monster; so this is also a sick crime.”

There also was criticism for French attitudes.

“The French are cowards,” said Yacine Dahmani, a technician of Muslim Algerian origin born in the heavily North African Jewish and Arab district of Belleville in Paris. “These guys are anti-Semitic animals. The actions of some French have disgusted me.”

He also shook his head at the conditions in which the perpetrators of the crime were nurtured.

“The young people of North African and African origins born in the suburban housing projects live in cliches,” he said. “They really believe that Jews are all rich. Many of those young people are ignorant and live literally outside of society, but the French don’t want to deal with any of this.”

Like the recent Muslim riots in France, this case has underscored the sense of racial divide between some Gaullic French and French Muslims.

“These people are sick, and we French simply don’t want to deal with this,” said Chiapardelli Berengere, a city housing employee. “Our society is changing. These people are not French like I am French. The situation makes me angry.”

Some in the Jewish community say they are fed up with their non-Jewish countrymen.

“You can turn this around anyway you want, but the bottom line is that most French people do not give a damn,” said Michael Sebban, an author and high school philosophy teacher in a tough northern suburb of Paris.

“I know first-hand how ignorant some of the North African suburban kids are and how much they hate Jews,” Sebban said, “but I also know that my educated Arab friends know exactly what is going on. They know that most French people just don’t give a damn about Jews or Arabs.”

A French Jewish journalist counseled patience.

“There is little that Jews can do to deal with this French attitude [of anger and indifference],” said Meir Waintrater, editor in chief of L’Arche, a widely read French-language Jewish monthly. “People cannot feel that the official response is coming from pressure from the organized Jewish community. So for now, we have to sit back and let justice run its course.”

Rites Commemorate Death of Halimi

by Peter L. Rothholz
Contributing Writer

“Today is a day of mourning for us all” said Philippe Larrieu, the consul-general of France, at UCLA’s Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center last month. He was addressing about 60 members of the L.A. Jewish community who had come to memorialize Ilan Halimi, the 23-year-old French Jew who was kidnapped, tortured and brutally murdered in Paris in February.

Larrieu told the gathering that France is “fully committed” to eradicating anti-Semitism, which he characterized as a “negation” of the values of liberty, equality and fraternity.

David N. Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, reminded the gathering of the infamous 19th century French Dreyfus case, in which Alfred Dreyfus, a captain in the French army, was framed and imprisoned on an island as a result of anti-Semitism. Myers cautioned that “we must remain vigilant” and acknowledge that the death of Halimi is a result of anti-Semitism, which continues to be “a French problem.”

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director of UCLA Hillel, conducted the traditional Jewish memorial service. He challenged the leaders of all religions to raise their voices so that we can “transcend our differences and come together” in the cause of humanity.

Diana Tehrani, a third-year biology major spoke on behalf of the UCLA student body, expressing kinship with Halimi because of their similar ages. She said that she was “upset that it has taken so long for his death to be recognized as an act of anti-Semitism.”

Among those in attendance were several people originally from France. Ghislaine Afshani of Westwood, a native of Rheims and whose family still lives there, said that “a lot of people are in denial, but there is a lot of anti-Semitism in France.” She added, however, that she was “really happy” that the French government cares and that its top officials have spoken out about the Halimi case.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Evelyne Fodor, formerly from Lyons and now living in Hollywood, who commented that “these things make people feel uncomfortable, but we want to show that we are concerned, for this could have happened to anyone.”

Regardless of their origin, virtually all participants agreed with Tovah Dershowitz, wife of the former rabbi of Sinai Temple, who stressed the importance of being aware and speaking out against anti-Semitism whenever and wherever it exists.

Joshua Brumbach, a fourth-year UCLA student majoring in ancient Near-Eastern civilizations, said he was “very sad” that there were not more students present for the memorial. Doris Montrose of Woodland Hills, whose father was an Auschwitz survivor, compared the relatively small turnout to “the pre-Holocaust era, when people stuck their head in the ground and their butt in the air.”

The service was sponsored by the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center at UCLA and the consulate-general of France in Los Angeles.