House approves permanent tax breaks for research, children


The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a massive tax bill that makes permanent and enhances tax credits to aid business research and development, the working poor, children and other temporary tax breaks.

The measure, passed with some support from Democrats, makes up the bulk of $680 billion worth of tax breaks over 10 years that are linked to a $1.1 trillion spending bill. The funding measure keeps federal government agencies open until Sept. 30, 2016 and lifts a four-decade-old ban on U.S. crude oil exports.

The House is expected to vote separately on the spending bill on Friday. The Senate is expected to combine the tax and spending bills and consider them in a single vote on Friday.

Is Obama George W. — or even Nixon? The secrecy factor


The Obama administration has in recent weeks suffered a 1-2-3 scandal outbreak:

– The Benghazi tragedy-as-fiasco gained legs when internal emails emerged suggesting a massaged timeline of who knew what, when;

– The IRS owned up to focusing on conservative groups in delaying approval for tax exempt status in the last election;

– The AP furiously revealed that for two months last year the Justice Department had tracked its phone calls, apparently in a bid to track down government leakers in a story about the thwarting of a Yemen-based terrorist plot.

So the emerging narrative is, is President Obama another George W. Bush or (gasp!) Richard Nixon? And will this finally lose him the liberals?

The Reform movement’s Religious Action Center is already on the record with fairly no-holds-barred outrage regarding the IRS story:

Reports that the IRS focused attention on applications for tax exempt status from groups with apparently politically conservative names and ideologies are deeply concerning. The IRS must establish neutral guidelines for its work that do not favor or disadvantage any political ideology. Abiding by these guidelines will ensure the IRS upholds the non-partisan status that is key to maintaining public trust in its work.

No individual or organization should incur extra attention from the IRS solely on the basis of political ideology and no entity should feel implicit or explicit pressure to alter its mission or actions based on fear of politically-motivated action from the IRS – or any other government agency.

We look forward to a full explanation from the IRS as to how this situation developed and how it will be prevented from occurring in the future.

Jon Stewart had fun last night with the 1-2-3 meme:

And naturally, we’re already deep into Nixon comparisons.

The Nixon years are an inverse of the old 1960s encomium: Anyone who misremembers them so badly can’t have lived through them. Nixon made rivals into enemies, tried to make enemies into criminals, and made the Constitution confetti along the way. Obama, so far, is a long way from there.

But the Bush comparisons seem to have legs, and not least because it has been Obama’s defenders who over the last couple of days have raised them. The Bush era IRS in 2004 went after the NAACP, they have noted, and the Bush administration sought New York Times and Washington Post phone records under the same terms that the Obama DOJ did the AP.

Which raises the question: How does this square with a president who campaigned on a vow not to be Bush, particularly as it related to government secrecy?

One caveat: The Bush administration sought to criminalize the gathering of information, not merely its leaking. It tried to set a precedent that ultimately would have criminalized the journalists in these cases, not just the leakers.

JTA covered the story, naturally enough — the “leakees” in this case were two former AIPAC staffers. And notably, one of Attorney General Eric Holder’s first acts was to shut the case down.

Jews push for Prop. 30


With recent polls showing that support has fallen below 50 percent for Proposition  30 — Gov. Jerry Brown’s temporary tax hike initiative that would help fund education across California — Jewish organizers working on behalf of the measure are working hard to convince Californians to approve the measure. 

“The funding that it will secure and the devastating cuts that it will prevent are reason enough for all Californians to get interested in Prop. 30,” Bend the Arc Southern California Regional Organizer Maya Barron said. “It’s really scary that the polling numbers are slipping.”

California’s 2012-13 budget plan includes $6 billion worth of “trigger cuts” that will take effect if Proposition 30 fails to gain passage. Proposition 30 would raise the income tax on individuals making more than $250,000 per year for seven years and would increase sales tax in California to 7.5 percent from 7.25 percent for four years. If voters reject the measure, K-12 schools, community colleges and the state university system would have to cut a combined $5.8 billion from their 2012-13 budget. LAUSD Superintendent John E. Deasy has said that if the proposition doesn’t pass, 15 days will be cut from the 2012-13 school year, beyond the five days of classes that already have been cut.

“The impact on education is so important, and will take effect at all levels,” Barron said. “Three weeks less of school in their public schools will make a significant difference in their lives.”

A poll conducted in mid-October by the University of Southern California for the Los Angeles Times showed that only 46 percent of Californians support Proposition 30, while 42 percent oppose it. 

Proponents of the measure, including the California Teachers Association, have spent nearly $62 million advocating for Proposition 30; opponents have spent almost $53 million, with more than half of that coming from investor Charles Munger Jr. 

Over the last month, Bend the Arc has held four house parties to talk about its recommendations for how to vote on the different California ballot measures, paying particular attention to Proposition 30. 

Opponents of Prop. 30 argue that the trigger cuts can be avoided. 

“The trigger cuts that are threatened are like a kidnapping plot,” Susan Shelley said at a debate about Proposition 30 held at Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills on Oct. 28. “They are not legally required; they are not mandatory.” 

Video of the event was posted on YouTube by Shelley, a Republican who ran for Congress in the West San Fernando Valley earlier this year with the endorsement of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a group that has spent more than $600,000 opposing Prop. 30. 

California Assembly Budget Chair Bob Blumenfield, who spoke in favor of Proposition 30 at the Woodland Hills debate, rejected Shelley’s assertion. 

Gov. Brown “is going to veto anything that we try to do to rejigger the triggers,” Blumenfield said.

Israel to delay transfer of tax revenue to Palestinians


Israel will delay the transfer of tax proceeds collected for the Palestinian Authority pending proof that the money will not go to the terrorist Hamas organization.

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Sunday that a routine transfer of $88 million will be delayed and that meetings scheduled for this week between his ministry and PA officials will not take place, according to reports.

The action is in response to last week’s announcement that the ruling Fatah Party of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, had reconciled and would form a unity government.

“The burden of proof lies with the Palestinian Authority to show that not even one shekel is given to Hamas and funds terror,” Steinitz told Army Radio. “Is it certain that none of the money will be transferred to a terror organization to purchase missiles and rockets?”

Israel collects taxes for the Palestinian Authority as part of the 1993 Oslo Accord. Tax revenues transfered to the PA from Israel amount to $1 billion to $1.4 billion annually, Ynet reported, citing an unnamed Treasury source.

“The agreement that was initialed recently between Hamas, which calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, and the Fatah movement must concern not only every Israeli, but all those in the world who aspire to see peace between us and our Palestinian neighbors,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the beginning of the regular Cabinet meeting. “Peace is possible only with those who want to live in peace alongside us and not with those who want to destroy us.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over the weekend that the United Nations should make a new Palestinian unity government recogntze Israel as a condition for cooperating with the government, Reuters reported.

Barak’s call to Ban came after the U.N. head said he welcomed the new cooperation between Fatah and Hamas.

Groups Back Obama Budget, Concerned About Tax Proposal


WASHINGTON (JTA)—More than 100 Jewish community organizations are backing President Obama’s 2010 budget while expressing “significant concerns,” but not opposing, a proposed decrease in the tax deduction for charitable contributions.

In a letter sent last week to Congress members, the organizations highlighted four specific Jewish communal priorities, including “comprehensive health care reform” that reduces costs while improving quality and access, and the reauthorization of child nutrition programs.

The groups also declared their support for various discretionary spending programs—including the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Community Development Block Grant, the Community Services Block Grant and the Social Services Block Grant—and urged the inclusion of funding for the National Housing Trust Fund to build, rehabilitate and preserve housing for low-income families.

“Now, more than ever,” the letter asserted, “this economic crisis requires a federal budget that balances the need for long-term fiscal discipline with the need to sustain critical services in this time of economic crisis.”

The March 19 letter also raised questions about one Obama administration proposal.

“Many in our community have significant concerns” with the Obama administration’s plans to partially finance healthcare reform by the deduction for charitable contributions, the letter said.

It urged the administration to consider the impact of the measure on nonprofit organizations.

Signatories to the letter, which was organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, included the United Jewish Communities, American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith International, National Council of Jewish Women and the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements, along with dozens of local community relations councils.

One group that did not sign was the Orthodox Union.

Public policy director Nathan Diament said the OU supported the measures endorsed in the letter but declined to sign on because the language objecting to the tax deduction change was not strong enough. Diament said the OU, which represents about 1,000 congregations and operates the largest kosher certification agency in the United States, wanted a “clear statement of opposition” to the reduction in the tax deduction.

JCPA’s Washington director, Hadar Susskind, said the letter took a moderate line because there was ³no community consensus² on the charitable deduction proposal. Some in the community were worried about it, but others believed it was good policy and unlikely to have much of an effect on nonprofit groups.

“There are varying opinions and nobody really knows what it’s going to do,” Susskind said, “but because it could have a negative impact, this was our attempt to express community concerns without implying opposition.”

Susskind said the issues emphasized in the letter were chosen because they are “big community priorities” that every agency involved in domestic policy cares about. They also encompass both short-term priorities—such as the child nutrition programs that are up for reauthorization this year—and longer-term goals such as health-care reform.

Briefs: Hamas kills off faux Mickey Mouse; Rabbi named to new British cabinet



Click for Hamas TV
Hamas Kills Off Its ‘Mickey Mouse’

Hamas plans to replace the Mickey Mouse look-alike that was killed off in its controversial children’s program.

Reuters this week quoted producers at Hamas’ Al-Aqsa Television as saying that Farfur, which drew international outrage by calling on young viewers to fight Israel and promote radical Islam, would be succeeded by other famous characters.

Farfur was a clone of the Walt Disney cartoon.

Farfur, the star of a show called “Tomorrow’s Pioneers,” suffered a grisly end last week at the hands of an actor posing as an Israeli security agent. Hamas said he had been “martyred.”

Chabad Creates Sderot Relief Fund

Yosef Eliezrie was counting the hours in isolation at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, where he was recovering from shingles and the lingering side effects of leukemia treatment. At the same time, he was thinking about the rockets falling on Sderot and wondering what he could do to help.

So he spoke with his father, Rabbi David Eliezrie, one of the main Chabad voices in Southern California. They decided to create the Chabad Sderot Relief Fund, and the younger Eliezrie set out to build a Web site where people could donate. It went live last week at www.helpsderot.com.

“It’s really something that is in my heart,” said Yosef, 21, who is coordinating the project. “I heard peoples’ stories and was devastated. I wanted to do what I could.”

Sderot, near the northern Gaza border, has been under a constant barrage of Qassam rockets. Last month, two Israelis were killed there by rocket fire. Money donated through the Web site will be sent to Chabad Sderot and used to distribute food, rebuild homes and fortify schools.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Contributing Writer

Israel Cracks Hamas Ring in Jerusalem

Eleven Palestinians from East Jerusalem are in custody on suspicion of raising money for Hamas terrorism and to enlist the support of Israeli Arabs, the Shin Bet announced Monday. The suspects — 10 of whom have Israeli identity cards — are accused of trying to establish virtual Hamas control of the Temple Mount by bankrolling renovations around two major Muslim shrines there. That was a direct threat to the prestige of Jordan, an Israeli ally that formally oversees the administration of the Temple Mount’s mosques. It was not immediately clear how the detainees would plead to the charges. Hamas declined comment.

Israel has stepped up its scrutiny on suspected Hamas activities in Jerusalem since the terrorist Islamist group swept Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006.

Katsav Complainant Considers Civil Suit

A woman who accused former Israeli President Moshe Katsav of rape is considering a civil suit. Complainant A., whose name has been withheld for privacy reasons, responded angrily to the attorney general’s plea bargain in which Katsav confessed to minor sexual misconduct in exchange for the dropping of rape charges. The complainant’s lawyer, Kinneret Barashi, said Tuesday that a claim for civil damages could be her client’s best recourse.

“We definitely disagree with the plea bargain and are considering this other option,” Barashi told Israel Radio.

Katsav has denied any wrongdoing in the affair.

Israel’s Finance Minister Quits Amid Probe

Israel’s finance minister formally quit over a fraud and embezzlement investigation against him. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert informed his Cabinet on Sunday that Abraham Hirchson told him he was relinquishing the finance portfolio. Hirchson took a leave of absence in April after police started probing allegations that he pocketed funds while in a previous post. Hirchson has denied wrongdoing. Leading candidates to replace him include Roni Bar-On, currently Israel’s interior minister, and former Justice Minister Haim Ramon.

But Ramon’s prospects have been clouded by his conviction on charges of sexual misconduct after he admitted to forcing a kiss last year on a female soldier.

Poll: Most Israelis Still Favor Two States

Most Israelis still would support a two-state peace settlement with the Palestinians despite recent events, a poll found. According to a Peace Index survey released this week by researchers at Tel Aviv University, 70 percent of Israeli Jews want to see a peace deal that would create a Palestinian state, though 55 percent believe it is not achievable at this time. The findings suggest that Israelis’ preference for a two-state settlement persists despite Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip last month, which prompted a dramatic split with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction. The poll found that 26.5 percent of respondents do not want a two-state solution. About 67 percent of respondents said Israeli moves to shore up Abbas should be conditioned on his security forces cracking down on terrorism.

The survey, conducted last week, had 580 respondents and a 4.5 percent margin of error.

Israel Begins PA Tax Handovers

Officials said Monday that Israel had transferred some $120 million to the new Palestinian Authority government set up by President Mahmoud Abbas after he broke with Hamas last month. Israel, which collects some $50 million in customs dues every month on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, began withholding the money after Hamas swept Palestinian Authority elections in January 2006. The funds have accrued and now amount to upward of $700 million. Israeli officials said they expect the remainder of the money to be handed over in stages over the next six months under a mechanism meant to ensure that none of it reaches Hamas.

Israel also said it will resume its monthly tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority this week.

British PM Appoints Rabbi

Britain’s new prime minister appointed Rabbi Dame Julia Neuberger to his Cabinet. Neuberger will advise Prime Minister Gordon Brown on issues relating to the voluntary sector, especially in the arena of public health services, the area on which she speaks for the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords.

The appointment was announced over the weekend as Brown unveiled the remainder of his Cabinet choices. As Britain’s first female rabbi to have her own congregation and synagogue, Neuberger is Britain’s best-known female rabbi.

Dutch Auschwitz Panel Wants Victims’ Wall

The Netherlands Auschwitz Committee wants to erect a Wall of Names listing the 110,000 Dutch murdered by the Nazis in concentration camps.

The committee wants the memorial to stand in the Wertheim Park in Amsterdam, near the Jan Wolkers Auschwitz monument. The wall, to be completed by 2009, would feature mostly the names of Jews but also would include resistance fighters and political prisoners, according to Dutch press reports.

Jewish U.S Soldier Buried

More than 1,000 mourners attended the funeral of a Jewish soldier from South Florida who was killed in Iraq.

U.S. Army Specialist Daniel Agami, 25, affectionately known in his unit as “G.I. Jew,” was killed in Baghdad on June 21 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.

Agami was buried last week with full military honors at the Star of David Cemetery in North Lauderdale, Fla. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal.

Agami was a graduate of the Hebrew Academy Community School in Margate. Rabbi Yossi Denburg, dean of the school, said at the funeral that Agami “kept kosher while in the Army, he slept with an American and Israeli flag over his bunk, his rifle had a sign titled ‘The Hebrew Hammer’ and he named the U.S. Army-issued yarmulke his ‘Combatika.’ “

The Hebrew Academy has set up a scholarship fund in Agami’s name.

Capt. Jared Purcell, an army public affairs officer in Baghdad, said that in addition to his role as a combat soldier, Agami was a mentor to orphaned children in Iraq.

Renewal Gathering Draws 700

Nearly 700 Jewish Renewal practitioners are attending the movement’s biannual international gathering this week in Albuquerque, N.M. They have come to pray, study and create a “sacred community” at the 13th biannual Aleph Kallah hosted by Aleph: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

Aleph’s executive director, Debra Kolodny, said there are 140 members of the Renewal rabbinic association, Ohalah, and 115 candidates enrolled in Aleph’s training program for rabbis, cantors and rabbinic pastors.

Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shelomi, the 88-year-old founder of Jewish Renewal, sent a taped address to the opening-night session.

Only 43 of the participants are non-American, hailing from a handful of other countries.

Abraham Klausner, Advocate for Survivors, Dies

Rabbi Abraham KlausnerRabbi Abraham Klausner, the first Jewish chaplain (photo, left) in the U.S. Army to enter Dachau after its liberation, died at age 92. Klausner died June 28 at his home in Santa Fe, N.M., several years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, his wife told The Associated Press. Klausner had been a leading advocate for Holocaust survivors, collecting and publishing lists of survivors in volumes called “Sharit ha-Platah,” or “Surviving Remnant,” to try to reconnect children of the Holocaust to their families.

“He saved the lives of thousands of Jewish survivors and brought them together as much as he could with any families that would still be alive,” his wife, Judith Klausner, said.

Born in 1915, Klausner was the leader of Temple Emanu-El in Yonkers, N.Y., for a quarter century, until he retired in 1989.

Study: ‘Nachas’ Pays Off

Researchers at Haifa University’s school of social work, having monitored 216 pairs of grandchildren and their grandparents, reported Tuesday that there was a definite “quid pro quo” element in the emotional interaction between the two groups.

“The study results reveal that not only did grandchildren who were taken care of by their grandparents express a desire to help, they were actually very involved in helping with day-to-day things like transportation, shopping, nursing care, emotional support and initiating visits,” the university said.

While granddaughters tend to express greater desire than their brothers to aid their grandparents, in actuality the sexes are equally helpful, the researchers found. They recommended that families treat grandchildren as a key factor in caring for elders.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Prop. 87 fuels high octane fight on oil production tax


In August 2006, the average price of gasoline in California was $3.20 per gallon. Today, with the summer demand faded, it still hovers at $2.60. Politicians and interest groups know that Californians want answers and solutions, and they also know that the election season is upon them.

Next month, California voters will take sides in what has been an epic battle over Proposition 87, called the Clean Energy Alternative Act.

The stakes include a proposed $4 billion state tax on oil production, which would be spent on development of alternative fuels and theoretically change the amount of oil California needs to import from the Middle East, especially for gasoline. California is the fourth-largest oil producing state in the United States and the No. 1 gasoline consumer.

On one side, Hollywood producer and prominent Jewish Democrat Steven Bing is backing the initiative. Against him stand the nation’s largest oil corporations. Weeks before Election Day, Proposition 87 is already at the center of a $105 million spending spree by partisans on both sides, breaking the record for any single initiative on a California ballot. Bing alone donated approximately $40 million.

On the other side are the oil companies, which claim the measure would force them to fund an unaccountable state handout.

The fundamental idea behind Proposition 87 is that corporations extracting oil from California lands would have to pay a new tax into a state account, called the California Energy Independence Fund. The complicated tax would vary, depending on the market price of a barrel of oil, but the most likely interpretation puts the new fee on a $70 barrel of California oil at about $2.17. Once $4 billion in taxes is collected this way, or after 10 years at the latest, the levy would cease to exist.

More than half of the anticipated $4 billion would be used to subsidize public vehicles, such as school buses and garbage trucks that run on alternative fuels, and to fund private research institutions to develop and manufacture new fuel sources. More than a quarter of the money would go to universities for work on renewable energy sources and to community colleges for vocational training in the field. The rest would fund alternative energy start-up companies and public education programs.

One major goal is a 25 percent reduction in petroleum use for transportation in the state over the next 10 years, but in general, the California Energy Alternatives Program Authority, which Proposition 87 would create, would have a great deal of discretion on spending. The measure contains numerous examples of the type of programs that could qualify for funding.

However, there are far fewer strict guidelines for what would be excluded. This is where the greatest problem with the measure lies, said Scott McDonald of the “No on 87” campaign.
“They have specifically excluded themselves from the state’s contracting and bidding regulations,” he said.

The law allows employees of grantee organizations to be members on the authority board, raising the potential for conflicts of interest.

“There are no specifics in the initiative,” McDonald told The Journal. “There’s no requirement that [the tax money] will be spent in California or the United States, for that matter.”
Beth Willon of the “Yes on 87” campaign responded that despite critics’ doubts, “none of the members of the [authority’s] board can make any money from this.” Despite the looseness of membership requirements of the authority under the law, she said, members of the authority and any entities that they control cannot directly receive funds from it.

Another concern of critics is how the tax could affect the behavior of oil companies. Though the law and the global economics of oil would prevent them from directly passing the cost of the tax onto Californians in gas price increases, they may opt to import more expensive foreign oil if the tax makes “marginal wells” in California even less profitable to drill, McDonald said.

The “Yes on 87” campaign has attacked all those claims, most recently with a TV ad featuring former Vice President Al Gore arguing that the fruits of the alternative fuel research funded by Proposition 87 will mean less dependence on foreign oil. In terms of marginally profitable wells, Proposition 87 seems to have foreseen the problem by enabling oil companies to deduct the new tax from their general corporate income taxes.

Latching onto the income tax concession like a sign of weakness, the “No on 87” campaign has in recent advertisements argued that withheld corporate income taxes would reduce available General Fund revenue for the state to spend on schools. The proposed tax deduction counters the prediction that the initiative would increase foreign oil imports due to lost oil profits, and with a potential impact of at most $14 million, it is not likely to impact the education budget, which for 2005-06 stood at $58 billion.

Advocates for the measure include high-profile Democratic Party supporters, such as former President Bill Clinton, Gore, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as the L.A. City Council by a 10-1 vote. The local Progressive Jewish Alliance also supports Proposition 87 and has issued a position statement arguing that even if the tax increases the cost of gasoline in the short run, the higher cost would only encourage more California consumer adoption of alternative fuels.

Proposition 87, however, aspires to affect the international oil market, so a look at California state politics is not the end of the story. Gal Luft is co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, but he spoke to The Journal on his own behalf as an energy expert. Luft said the real question is whether Proposition 87 can actually accomplish its objectives, given the economics of oil and what its cost would be on a global scale.

“I think the goal of a 25 percent reduction in [petroleum] consumption in California within 10 years is completely unachievable,” Luft told The Journal. “There’s no way, period.”
Luft scoffed at the billions of dollars allocated in Proposition 87 for research into alternative fuels.

Comedy director David Zucker goes to GOP? You can’t be serious!


David Zucker, the producer and director of “Airplane,” “The Naked Gun” and “Scary Movie 4,” embraced the Republican Party in 2004 and voted for President Bush, largely because of security concerns. Once a liberal activist and campaign adviser to President Bill Clinton, he made a low-budget anti-Kerry ad that ran mostly in Ohio and kept his political change-of-heart largely under Hollywood’s radar.
 
Not now.
 
Zucker sees threats to America and Israel mounting, and he believes the Democrats are unable or unwilling to confront those challenges, so he has decided to go public with his belief that the Democrats have lost their way. Starting Oct. 9, the first of two ads Zucker directed and co-wrote will begin running on the Internet in hopes of helping the Republicans retain control of the House in the November elections. Like his movies, Zucker’s edgy spots employ his trademark fast-paced, gag-a-second-slapstick humor that has made him the undisputed king of spoof.
 
But Zucker believes his Republican boosterism carries some professional risk, as well. Hollywood happily forgives druggy actors and boozy directors, Zucker said, “but I don’t think a Republican can be rehabbed.” Still, at 58, he has decided to take a high-profile stand.
 
Zucker’s first Internet ad spoofs the Democrats’ reputation as the party of tax-and-spend liberals. It opens with a shot of a couple peacefully sleeping in bed. A narrator’s voice interrupts the calm: “What if you woke up a year from today, the Democrats had taken over and you were able to see their new taxes?”
Suddenly, a man in a dark suit, the Democratic tax man, appears in the bedroom and holds out his hand for a payoff. He shows up again and again. He hits up a woman who has just given birth and even demands payment from her newborn. The 90-second spot ends with an army of ominous-looking Democratic tax men, briefcases in hand, marching down the street like some spooky army.
 
A second spot charging Democrats with being soft on foreign policy is expected to be posted soon.
 
Funded by pro-Republican, tax-exempt 527 groups, the ads will appear on YouTube, the Drudge Report and America Weakly, a new parody site run by the Republican National Committee (RNC) that purports to show what the country would look like under Democratic control. The RNC asked Zucker to make the spoof ads because of his “stellar reputation and high-quality production,” said Tara Wall, director of outreach communications.
 
Political strategist Arnold Steinberg thinks such ads “can be very effective” in making an impact. Although Steinberg had not seen Zucker’s Internet ads when he spoke to a reporter, he said humorous spots might generate lots of media coverage, thereby broadcasting Zucker’s message to a larger audience extending beyond the Internet.
 
Zucker’s foray into political advertising comes at a time when he is taking stock of himself. Having spent nearly 30 years spoofing police dramas, disaster flicks and horror films, beginning with the 1977 cult classic, “The Kentucky Fried Movie,” he now wants to turn his withering satirical eye to politics.
 
Without divulging too many details, Zucker said he plans to make a film lampooning politics, sandwiched between a superheroes spoof and “Scary Movie 5.”
 
“You have people like Michael Moore going into foreign countries saying Americans are the stupidest people in the world,” Zucker said. “I want to tell the real America story, that America is a force for good.”
 
Politics became deadly serious for Zucker on Sept. 11; he was disturbed by liberals who, he said, blamed America or spoke of root causes. Zucker said he found himself supporting Bush’s robust response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As time passed, he tired of listening to calls for “talk, talk, talk” and the United Nations to solve the world’s most tangled problems, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 
Despite his continued pro-choice, anti-nuclear power, pro-environmental beliefs, he found himself drawn to Republican national security policies. In 2004, he re-registered, made the anti-Kerry ad, appeared on a few talk shows to discuss his political conversion and “fell in with the dark side,” quipped his brother Jerry Zucker, director of “Ghost” and “Rat Race,” among other films.
 
“I still can’t believe I’m a Republican,” Zucker said. “There are just certain things ingrained in our Jewish roots. Our fathers voted for Roosevelt, and we voted for JFK, [Hubert] Humphrey and Clinton. But the Democratic Party has changed.”
 
He is not the only Jew to have defected to the Republican Party in the post-Sept. 11 world. Concerns about American national security and Israel have helped the Republican Jewish Coalition attract thousands of new members in recent years, RJC California director Larry Greenfield said.
 
Jews still vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, and the party is fighting back against the Republican strategy of portraying them as weak on terrorism or anti-Israel (see story, p. 17).
 
But in 2004, this state’s RJC had 2,000 members and three chapters. Today, it has 7,000 members and 10 chapters. Zucker will speak at a national RJC gathering in December.
 
Sitting in his Santa Monica office, Zucker exudes the calm and confidence that comes with age and success. He looks much younger than his years but not in that unnatural skin-stretched-tight-as-a-drum sort of way. Perhaps having a 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son keeps him youthful.
 
Alternately energetic and thoughtful, it quickly becomes clear that his actions are considered. Which is why he called his business manager before agreeing to make these new attack ads: He wanted to know whether he could afford a Hollywood shunning. The answer: “I’m OK as long as I don’t buy an $8-million mansion,” he said.
 
Surrounded by Davy Crockett memorabilia, including comic books, a framed first-edition autobiography and a rifle owned by the legendary 19th century American folk hero, Zucker said he admires Crockett’s willingness to speak out for his beliefs. In the early 1990s, Zucker spent two years working on a Crockett screenplay with University of New Mexico historian Paul Hutton. The historical drama never got made, much to Zucker’s chagrin.

Letters


Mensches, Menschen

The plural of “mensch” has always been “menschen” (“Mensches: Some Big-Hearted Angelenos You Would Be Proud to Know,” Jan. 6). Come Purim, will we read about “hamentasches”?

I was impressed, though, by the dedication of those featured in the accompanying article.

Ruth L. Brown
Los Angeles

I do not profess to be a Yiddish linguist, but I learned my Yiddish in the Sholem Aleichem Folk Shul in Perth Amboy, N.J., about 65 years ago, where everyone knew that the plural of “mensch” was “menschen.” Please tell me whether or not I’m correct.

Marv Frankel
Los Angeles

Ed. Note: According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the plural of “mensch” is either “mensches” or “menschen.” We chose the style closer to English, but feel free to come by and discuss it over some beigelech and blintschikes.

Interfaith Celebrations

We were disappointed by your editorial/news story, “Tis Never the Season for Chrismukkah” (Dec. 23), with its premise that interfaith or intercultural celebrations shouldn’t be tolerated.

The predictable seasonal staple about how children are confused by joint celebrations provided no evidence to support that conclusion. It was a missed opportunity.

Instead of probing how Jewish communities can respond sensitively to the growing number of intercultural or interfaith families, it adopted the contemptuous tone articulated by Rabbi Harold Schulweis, who dismisses those who want to combine holidays as “totally ignorant,” misguided and misinformed. By disparaging and discounting non-Jewish members of intermarried families, Jewish leaders put their heads in the sand and push them away.

In our secular Jewish organization, the Sholem Community (www.sholem.org), we’ve welcomed intercultural families who have been made to feel uncomfortable at synagogues.

We don’t ask non-Jewish family members to reject their backgrounds. We discuss how family members can honor each other’s heritages with respect and understanding. We explore common cultural themes in seasonal festivals, and we’ve seen how families can observe loving and warm, respectful celebrations.

This approach doesn’t work for everyone but is appropriate for people whose outlook is cultural and secular. Instead of the my-way-or-the-highway approach, families who honor each other’s cultures and traditions can enrich their own experiences, their humanity and connect themselves and their loved ones to their Jewishness.

Jeffrey Kaye
Katherine James
Alan Blumenfeld
The Sholem Community

IRS Charge

In his opinion piece, “IRS Errs on Endorsing Candidate Charge” (Jan. 6), Rabbi John Rosove correctly observes that the Tax Code prohibits, at the risk of loss of tax exemption, intervention by synagogues and other charities “in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

It does not prohibit all political activities. Charities, including synagogues, can take positions on legislation — that is lobby — so long as their lobbying activity is not substantial. (Positions on initiatives and referenda, as well as positions on nominees to the federal judiciary, are considered lobbying.) Moreover, these organizations can take positions on questions of public policy without limit.

Thus, even had Rabbi Rosove named leaders in his erev Rosh Hashanah sermon in October 2005, he would not have violated the campaign prohibition, since no election was looming. Nonetheless, since he did not mention any leader’s name, Rabbi Rosove could have offered this same sermon just days before an election without any violation of the prohibition.

In unofficial guidance, the IRS has treated discussions of issues of public policy without mention of candidates’ names as falling outside of the category of campaign intervention.

Ellen Aprill
Past President
Temple Israel of Hollywood
John E. Anderson Professor of Tax Law
Loyola Law School

Orthodox Women

I write in response to Amy Klein’s thoughtful article on “Orthodox But Not Monolithic” (Jan. 6). While your reporter generally presented both the spirit and the substance of my remarks on the issue of women in Orthodox Jewish communal life, I was misquoted as stating that no women currently serve on the board of the Orthodox Union (OU).

While I noted that there are currently no women officers in the OU, I did not suggest that there aren’t any women board members. I know better than that. My wife, Vivian, is one of the most active members of the OU’s Board of Governors.

David Luchins
OU National Vice President

Illegal Immigration

Like every apologist for illegal immigration, Rob Eshman makes a case for “assimilation” of the undocumented, while ignoring the wholesale violation of our laws and sovereignty that got us into a fiscal and social quagmire (“The Slop Sink,” Dec. 30).

According to the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., the net cost of public benefits and services for illegal immigrants in California is $10 billion a year — a structured deficit that no one in Sacramento is willing to address. L.A. County public hospitals lose $340 million a year providing uncompensated care for undocumented immigrants.

Here’s the kicker: The proposed Totalization Agreement with Mexico will provide Social Security benefits to Mexican nationals and, by extension, illegal immigrants. The price tag: $345 billion over 20 years.

Les Hammer
Los Angeles

Winter Break

Jennifer Garmaise’s article (“Taking Winter Break on Jewish Time,” Dec. 30) did not address the logistical and economic impact that shifting winter vacations to late January has on families of moderate means. Far from “disrupting vacation plans,” moving winter vacation from late December poses a serious challenge to parents who work outside the Jewish community, particularly single parents and those families where both parents must work in order to make ends meet.

Many of these parents hoard their sick leave and vacation time in order to take off for Yom Tov. Taking a week off in January (when alternative forms of child care are not available) in order to care for children out of school poses a financial hardship and, sometimes, a barrier to employment altogether. It is also difficult to see what educational or religious benefit the children gain from this week.

Giving the children a week’s break at Chanukah (as is done in Israel) would not completely solve the child care issue, but at least it has a logical Jewish rationale. Starting winter break on Dec. 26 would comply with Rabbi Feinstein’s ruling, while alleviating the child care situation.

Offering affordable day camps would also go a long way toward addressing the needs of ordinary working parents who sacrifice in order to send their children to Orthodox Jewish day schools.

Miriam Caiden
Los Angeles

 

Talmudic Tax Write-Off


 

Few people are eager to pick fights with the IRS. Michael Sklar, now well into his second voluntary tax lawsuit, is definitely an exception.

Sklar is an Orthodox father with several children in Jewish day school. His courtroom quest: to establish religious school costs as tax deductions.

It all comes down to the Church of Scientology. The Scientologists struck a deal with the IRS that has allowed them to count the cost of their spiritual “auditing sessions” as tax deductions since 1993. The Tax Code OKs this practice for any religious expense paid in exchange for intangible spiritual benefits (for example, it also works for High Holiday seats, church pew rents, tithes, etc.).

Sklar goes further and claims that Jewish day school is no different from the Scientologists’ spiritual auditing sessions, and should also be tax-deductible.

“The idea is that everybody should have the same benefit,” said Jeffrey Zuckerman, Sklar’s attorney.

“You get 25, 30 people, you put them in a classroom and you have a guy get up and instruct them in the tenets of the Church of Scientology,” Zuckerman said. “That strikes me, in a jurisprudential sense, as indistinguishable from a teacher instructing 25 kids in Torah.”

But even if one does equate the two activities, there are still questions about the dangers of pushing government even deeper into religious life simply to establish equity with the Scientologists.

“The comfort level that the Jewish community has in this society in good measure stems from the separation of church and state,” said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, executive director of the American Jewish Committee in Los Angeles. “It’s certainly clear to me that the Sklars are looking for a loophole,” said Greenebaum.

Interestingly, in 2002, Sklar voiced similar fears in this publication. “As a Jew, I was terrified by what [was] going on,” he said about the Scientologists’ deal. “The current Tax Code amounts to state-sponsored religion, and Jews never fare well under those circumstances.”

But today he seems to have taken parity with the Scientologists as his main concern instead.

“[Even] if we went back to nobody being able to take [the deduction], that would not accomplish anything because then the government would have gotten away with discrimination for 10 years,” Sklar said last week.

Mayoral Election: 102 Days and Counting

Bob Hertzberg’s campaign is rapidly emerging as the assault troop of the Los Angeles mayoral race.

The most recent example: An online petition demanding that the mayor participate in a KNBC televised debate at the Museum of Tolerance on Dec. 2.

Hertzberg writes on his Web site: “Jimmy Hahn is continuing to avoid debating me and my fellow challengers. I don’t know about you, but I am deeply offended by the fact that he is continuing to hide behind press releases.”

“The fact that the mayor is running for re-election, and has raised a ton of money to run TV commercials, but is refusing to stand up and defend his record, we believe is an insult to the voters,” said Matt Szabo, spokesperson for Hertzberg.

Hertzberg’s petition had been electronically signed by 456 people as of Nov. 18.

“Apparently the mayor decided that defending his record would be more damaging than refusing to show,” Szabo said.

The mayor said he simply has a scheduling conflict.

“We actually asked them if they’d be willing to do the debate on another night, but obviously they were not willing,” said Julie Wong, spokesperson for the Hahn campaign.

The debate was originally scheduled for October, but organizer Scott Regberg said it was postponed to avoid distraction with the presidential campaign — and because the mayor asked for another date then, as well.

The mayor has committed to attending another debate later in the month. Expectedly, the Hertzberg campaign is challenging Hahn on choosing to attend the debate three days before Christmas.

“Mayor Hahn will be at the Dec. 21 debate which will be held at the League of Conservation Voters,” Wong said.

She added that this won’t be the last time for a meeting between the candidates by any means.

“I think we’ll have plenty of opportunities for the mayor and others in the race to talk about their vision for L.A,” she said.

Hotel Union Asks Guests to ‘Check Out’

The union representing hotel workers from nine major companies in Los Angeles asked the public to boycott their employers on Nov. 11.

UNITE HERE (formerly the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union), Local 11 has been engaged in a battle with the Millennium Biltmore, Westin Bonaventure, Hyatt Regency, Wilshire Grand, Regent Beverly Wilshire, Century Plaza Hotel & Spa, St. Regis, Hyatt West Hollywood and Sheraton Universal since last spring.

One of the central disputes between the union and management is the controversial two-year contract. The union wants to renegotiate in 2006, when many other hotel unions nationwide will also be in contract negotiations.

Joining together in 2006 would put them in a much stronger position to bargain for benefits with the multinational hotel chains, rather than negotiating city by city.

The hotels oppose a two-year deal, saying the dispute is local and nationwide union contracts should have nothing to do with it.

In the meantime, with no contract between the L.A. workers and hotels in force, management has suspended the free health care workers had been receiving and began charging a fee.

The long-running dispute is beginning to attract political attention.

City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) and state Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) attended the Nov. 11 boycott announcement.

California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) has publicly called for a quick resolution, saying the clash could hurt the city’s economy.

Economy Project Crunches L.A. Numbers

Several weeks ago, a variety of newspapers published numbers from a recent report on the health of the Los Angeles economy. The report, called the LA Economy Project, was put together by the Milken Institute and the Economic Roundtable.

Their numbers showed that L.A. workers are at risk of being undereducated for the types of jobs that will be created here in the near future.

Problem is, the study wasn’t finished.

“It’s something that wasn’t supposed to happen for a while,” said Michael Klowden, executive director of the Milken Institute. “Part of the report is done. We’re finalizing the rest of it, but it was essentially incomplete information.”The partial information that was released indicated a huge gap between income levels for native English speakers compared to non-native English speaking immigrants. It showed that the majority of the working poor in the city are clustered around just a few low-paying industries like restaurants, construction and housekeeping.

Klowden said that the sections of the report on how to actually address this problem in terms of public policy are still unfinished. He added that matching the workforce numbers with business data hasn’t been done yet, either.

“The mayor’s office has really been interested in what our findings are,” said Klowden. Joy Chen, a former deputy mayor under Hahn, played a prominent role in the project. Klowden said that Hahn has publicly announced his plans to incorporate the LA Economy Project’s findings into his strategy for the city, and would like to have it “coordinated from their end.”

It’s unclear how exactly the statistics-laden numbers that were prematurely released reflected on Hahn when they made the rounds in the major newspapers. It’s also unclear whether the final report will be more favorable to Hahn or not.

But one thing is guaranteed: They will definitely be released in time for the mayoral election.

 

The Jewish Tax


Every April 15, we are reminded that many of the things we hold dear literally don’t come cheap. Democracy demands its pound of flesh, or its 30 percent, and on Tax Day the bill comes due.

According to demographer Pini Herman, the median Jewish household income in the greater Los Angeles area for 2000 was $57,100. The median Jewish household in Los Angeles has to work until March 24 to pay its federal taxes and until May 16 to pay off other income, property and sales taxes. That median Jewish family’s estimated total tax bill this year: $21,300.

On top of this, there’s the Jewish tax. Being Jewish may be wonderful, but it isn’t necessarily a bargain. "Jewish taxes" for a small $5,100 basket of Jewish services — temple membership, minimal Jewish education and recreation, modest Jewish organizational membership and charitable gifts, Jewish ritual events and Jewish articles — will keep the median Jewish household working until June 17 to pay off this "tax."

A larger basket of Jewish services (i.e. day school and camp for two children) can easily reach $22,000 a year in Los Angeles. That figure is unaffordable for those Jewish households at or below the median income level.

Indeed, the price of engaging in Jewish communal life has become daunting. Most synagogues, day schools and camps are willing to arrange scholarships or discounts, but sticker shock or shame often scares off potential members. Institutions and individuals have begun to take the problem seriously. Synagogue 2000, an organization leading naionwide synagogue transformation efforts, has begun encouraging alternative approaches to dues structures in attracting new members. In San Francisco, Temple Emanu-El is experimenting with voluntary dues.

Jewish day schools, which budget far less money per pupil than their public counterparts, are themselves struggling with deficits. The four year-old Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education is focusing on fostering the growth of new day schools, providing grants and fundraising expertise to the schools. A number of foundations, including Avi Chai, have experimented with providing tuition subsidies to encourage people who would not be eligible for financial aid to consider day schools.

For many, these changes cannot happen fast enough. They face rising bills now, especially as the bear market extends its grip to both end-users and potential donors.

Short-term answers are to appeal to donors to continue giving, and to encourage the efforts of places where participating in Jewish life is still relatively inexpensive and richly rewarding, such as museums, libraries and the Jewish Community Centers.

But for the longer term, we need to take steps to ensure that Jewish communal life does not become solely an upper-middle class entitlement. Other wealthy and resourceful communities have explored massively-funded regional endowments for day school tuitions. An endowment structure could also be used for synagogue memberships. It just might work– and contributions would be tax-deductible.

Charity Obstacle?


With tax cuts the talk of the town, Jewish philanthropic agencies are worried about another part of President Bush’s fiscal plan: the repeal of the estate tax.

Officials of many funds are concerned that charitable giving will suffer if the estate tax, which levies a high tax on the estates of recently deceased individuals, is repealed. Some are calling for reforming rather than ending the tax.

Marcia Hazan, trustee with Foster Family Foundation in San Diego, said she "absolutely" stands to gain if the tax is repealed, "but as my father always says, it’s a privilege to pay taxes. Particularly, I feel that way because I didn’t earn the money; he earned the money."

Hazan and other representatives of family foundations and philanthropies discussed the issue at a Jewish Funders Network meeting last week in Atlanta, where philanthropist Edith Everett called for reform of the estate tax. Everett suggested making adjustments for family farms and people with smaller estates but objected to a repeal.

Everett said that hundreds of people approached her and thanked her for speaking out. "There wasn’t a single person who said, even in a nice way, ‘I disagree,’" Everett said.

Everett and hundreds of other philanthropists, including William Gates, Sr., and George Soros, have signed a petition asking that the estate tax, which many believe serves as an incentive to leave one’s wealth to charity, be preserved. Responsible Wealth, a project that brings together people who are concerned about increasing economic inequality, are organizing the petition.

The Bush Administration argues that the estate tax, or so-called death tax, impedes economic growth because it levies another layer of taxes on people and creates a disincentive for seniors who want to save money for their children or grandchildren.

Only the wealthiest 2 percent of all estates pay any estate tax at all.

Some studies have estimated that repeal of the estate tax could reduce charitable gifts and bequests by close to $6 billion annually.

Jewish organizations have stayed quiet on the issue, worried about offending some of their biggest donors if they take an unpopular stance. United Jewish Communities, the North American Jewish community’s central fundraising and social services agency, has not taken a position.

Others close to the issue note that while no one gives to charities simply because of the estate tax, it does provide a powerful incentive. The warning, then, is that those contemplating charitable gifts will still give something if the tax is repealed but may give significantly less.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs is looking into the issue, and while the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations has not come out officially against the proposed change, its Commission on Social Action has spoken out against it.

Another major concern is lost revenue to the government, which could mean cuts in services and programs if the estate tax is repealed. Some estimates show that eliminating the estate tax would cut $28 billion from the government’s coffers.

The repeal of the estate tax is drawing more attacks than the rest of the 10-year, $1.6-trillion Bush plan for cutting taxes.

An executive at one Jewish nonprofit said she views the estate tax as a codification of Jewish beliefs into law.

"Tax cuts that benefit the wealthy are unfair and are not the best reflection of Jewish values," she said.

Car Alarm


You’ve read the newspaper ads or heard the pitches on the radio:Donate your old car to our worthy charity, which aidsorphans/immigrants/homeless/the halt and the lame, and enjoy agenerous tax write-off.

The American Red Cross is doing it, as is the National KidneyFoundation, Jewish Family Service, Jewish National Fund and Chabad.

And then there are the Jewish Foundation for Learning and theSouthern California Jewish Center. Never heard of them? Neither hasthe Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles or the Jewish CommunityCenters Association, so The Jewish Journal decided to do a littlechecking.

We called 1-800-362-2558 and asked the operator at the JewishFoundation for Learning for the name of the foundation’s director. Wewere referred to Carol Ruth Silver in San Francisco, although herphone number was unavailable. It wasn’t difficult to track downSilver, an attorney and former county supervisor who over the pastyear has served as the feisty spokeswoman for the Jewish EducationalCenter and as chair of its board of directors.

At its peak, the JEC ran one of the largest and most lucrativeused-car auction programs in the nation. It is now bankrupt, afterthe state attorney general’s office accused its founders, RabbiBentzion and Mattie Pil, of fraud, tax evasion and divertingcharitable funds to buy a house and stage a $40,000 bar mitzvah fortheir son. The Pils have denied any wrongdoing.

One of the JEC’s major programs was the Schneerson Hebrew DaySchool, which had an enrollment of 140 children, Silver said in aphone interview.

The Orthodox day school, now teaching 25 to 40 kids and housed ina Conservative synagogue, was not included in the bankruptcyproceedings. It is operating, legitimately, under the JewishFoundation for Learning auspices, as a “religious nonprofit”organization, with Silver, again, as chair of the board of directors.

The legal distinction between the school and the defunct JEC isimportant, explained state Deputy Attorney General Belinda Johns, whofiled the case against the JEC.

The JEC was classified as a “public benefit corporation” becauseits services extended to the general community, and it was thereforesubject to oversight by the attorney general. However, due to someastute lobbying, according to Johns, “religious nonprofits” areexempt from oversight by state authorities.

The Schneerson Day School is not affiliated with Chabad butfollows the teachings of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi MenachemMendel Schneerson, said Silver. However, following objections byChabad to the use of the rebbe’s name, the day school changed itsname to Torah Day School.

It is the Torah Day School that is the main beneficiary of theJewish Foundation for Learning’s car sales, although Silver is alsotrying to resurrect some other JEC programs, which, she saidbitterly, “were destroyed by the attorney general.” These includedEnglish-as-a-second-language classes for Russian immigrants and akosher nutrition program for the elderly.

Silver said that she didn’t know how many cars were processed whenthe defunct JEC solicited donations under its own name, but that thecar auctions provided the bulk of JEC’s $2 million annual budget.

(According to state documents, JEC’s income actually amounted to$8.54 million in fiscal year 1996, almost all of it from car sales.Only $1.46 million, or 17 percent, of this income was spent oncharitable programs, the Jewish Bulletin of Northern Californiareported.)

The Jewish Foundation for Learning car drive was launched onlyrecently, mainly in the Los Angeles area, and “we hope to get enoughdonations by the end of the year to survive,” said Silver.

It took a bit more digging to find the Southern California JewishCenter, which has been running radio appeals for car donations forabout a year.

A phone call to 1-800-936-HOPE was answered by “Linda,” who couldonly give a post office box as the center’s address and identifiedthe director as Rabbi Shimon Kay. Linda wouldn’t give out Kay’s phonenumber but said that he would call back and send a brochure.

After a week’s silence, we called again and, this time, told Lindathat we were preparing an article for The Jewish Journal.

A few hours later, Kay called and quickly demystified the SouthernCalifornia Jewish Center as the fund-raising arm of the WestwoodSephardic Center, which is listed in the phone book.

A few days later, we dropped in unannounced at the center onWestwood Boulevard. We were greeted hospitably by Kay, to allappearances, a sincere and harassed young rabbi, who turned to thecar-donation pitch in some desperation to keep his operation going.

In a modest two-story building, the center squeezes in a day-carecenter for about 25 children, an upstairs synagogue shtiebl, twomakeshift Hebrew-school classes, and a tiny outdoor play yard.

The 32-year-old rabbi, a native New Yorker, said that he waseducated at the Chabad yeshiva. In 1990, he was sent to Los Angelesby the Lubavitcher rebbe, although he now has no formal ties to theChabad organization.

The Sephardic Center, serving mainly Iranian immigrants, with asprinkling of Moroccans, Israelis and Russians, started off well andattracted substantial private donations. It hit hard times two yearsago, when Kay lost the lease on a much larger facility.

Attempts to raise funds from established secular or religiousJewish organizations came to nothing, and Kay finally turned to thecar-donation program as a saving moneymaker.

Kay said that he had no exact figures on how much of his annual$300,000 budget is provided by the car program. But he estimated thatdespite constantly rising costs for radio spots, about 70 percent ofthe profits are plowed back into his programs.

That is considerably better than the 20 percent of profits usuallyoffered by commercial middlemen, which is one reason Kay handles thecar donations himself. On an average, he gets about five to six carsa day — not a bad showing, given the intense competition.

Kay appeared somewhat ill at ease when asked why he didn’t run thecar program under the Westwood Sephardic Center’s own name. “It’seasier to remember the name of the Southern California JewishCenter,” he said at one point, adding later, “I don’t want to makeothers jealous; I don’t want too much publicity.”

Johns, of the attorney general’s office, specializes in charitablefund-raising cases, and she has some advice for potential donors.

One is to check out whether an organization actually conducts theprograms it advertises, which may require a fair amount of research.In any case, she agrees that probably some 90 percent of donors careonly about the tax deduction rather than the charity’s particularcause.

Also make sure that the title of the car is properly and quicklytransferred, Johns counsels. Not infrequently, a charity allows anemployee to drive the car under the old owner’s title, and many adonor has received parking and traffic tickets months after givingthe car away.

The attorney general’s office has just compiled a useful brochureon charitable solicitations, which can be obtained by writing to theAG Public Inquiry Unit, P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA94244-2550.

 

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