Now Hear This!

The radio station plays hits by Jennifer Lopez and Madonna,
and invites listeners to comment on issues such as what they’d do if they
discovered a friend was taking drugs.

It’s the type of fare broadcast to young adults from Malibu
to Miami. Except the disc jockey is speaking Arabic, and the listeners are in
the Middle East.

Welcome to Radio Sawa, the brainchild of Norman J. Pattiz,
founder and chairman of the biggest radio network in the United States. Since
March of last year, Radio Sawa (which means together in Arabic) has been
broadcasting in Arabic around the clock in the Middle East, targeting listeners
under 30 years old, who make up 60 percent of the region’s population.

Radio Sawa broadcasts a mix of Western and Arabic pop music,
interspersed with news updates and analysis, interviews and opinion pieces.
Potentially, millions of listeners can access Radio Sawa via AM, FM and
shortwave frequencies, as well as on the Internet ( and on
digital radio satellite channels.

Pattiz, the founder of Westwood One, helped conceptualize
and launch Radio Sawa as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
The BBG oversees the government’s nonmilitary international broadcasting
services, such as the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

While serving on a committee charged with reviewing the 61
different languages in which programs are broadcast, “it became obvious that
what we were doing in the Middle East was insignificant at best,” said the
59-year-old Southern California native. Once Pattiz pointed out the deficiency,
he soon found himself chairman of the BBG’s Middle East Committee.

Returning from a fact-finding mission to the region, he told
the U.S. House Committee on International Relations, “We have a vital mission
to counter misinformation and messages of hate regarding the United States by
broadcasting truthful news and information and by faithfully representing our
country’s government and culture.”

 Polling of young adults in Amman, Jordan, last October
appears to indicate that the audience is listening. Forty-three percent of
respondents tuned in to Radio Sawa, more than any other station, and 25 percent
considered it their top source for news. Both figures were higher than those
received for any other station.

“I don’t know that we ever expected to get to these kinds of
numbers, but we certainly never expected to get to them that quickly,” said
Pattiz, noting that the percentages have increased since the October poll.

Pattiz acknowledged that Radio Sawa’s impact is “less
strong” with lower socio-economic groups than with “the more educated and more
affluent and those who have more of a connection with Western values. But we
have to start someplace,” he said.

Pattiz said that by presenting news objectively, Radio Sawa
more accurately represents the United States and its culture than other
available sources. For example, he noted that Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite TV
station in Qatar, recently aired a two-hour interview of former Ku Klux Klan
leader David Duke.

“This is who they chose to interview as a representative of
the people of the United States of America — David Duke. If that isn’t bone
chilling,” Pattiz said.

Like news regarding the United States, coverage of other
areas, including Israel, is intended to be presented without bias. Radio Sawa’s
news director is Mouafac Harb, a former Washington bureau chief for the
international Arabic daily newspaper, Al Hayat.

According to its Web site, one of Radio Sawa’s guiding
principles is that “the long-range interests of the United States are served by
communicating directly in Arabic with the peoples of the Middle East by radio.”
Pattiz echoes this sentiment.

“We’re certainly better off communicating with a major part
of the world where our efforts have been woefully inadequate,” he said. “If
they’re going to hate us, let them know who they’re hating, rather than just
blindly following a path that’s laid out by their government-controlled media.”

The BBG plans to expand on Sawa’s success on a number of
fronts. Soon, specific regions will receive their own individual programming
streams, with news and features of local interest delivered in regional

A new Farsi-language service, similar to Sawa, started up
last month in Iran. Plans are also underway for an Arabic-language satellite
television station to provide round-the-clock programming.

Pattiz is no stranger to Middle Eastern politics. As a
member of the Israel Policy Forum, an organization that promotes U.S. awareness
and involvement in the Middle East peace process, Pattiz has traveled to the
region to meet with Israeli and Jordanian leaders and has held a reception at
his home for Queen Noor of Jordan.

He also hosts monthly roundtable discussions at which
prominent community members meet with Israeli leaders, media representatives
and others with insights about the region.

Although his Radio Sawa efforts are performed on behalf of
the U.S. government, Pattiz acknowledged that promoting the free flow of
information in the Middle East benefits Israel, as well.

On the state level, Pattiz serves on the UC Board of
Regents. As a member of the board’s Investment Committee, he helps oversee
billions of dollars of university investments.

He expects to be part of a task force formed in response to
a controversial course description published for a UC Berkeley class, The
Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance. Pattiz said the task force will
“examine how this course description was allowed to be printed in the first
place, and look at the larger questions of academic freedom vs.

He also serves on the California Commission on Building for
the 21st Century, which looks at how the state should address future building
and infrastructure needs. Pattiz has served as president of the Broadcast
Education Association, trustee of the Museum of Television and Radio, is on the
the USC Annenberg School for Communication board and on the advisory board of
the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy.

At Westwood One, which he founded in 1974 as a one-room
operation, Pattiz spends much of his time conceptualizing projects and
arranging agreements with artists and recording companies to generate
entertainment programs for broadcast. The company has earned a reputation for
blockbuster entertainment programming, airing concerts by such megastars as
Barbra Streisand, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen.

His professional, political and philanthropic activities
keep Pattiz busy, and he said he likes it that way.

“I’ve got plenty of things to keep me busy,” he said. “But
they’re all things I find incredibly interesting and enjoyable. I’m not
complaining about any of it.”

Norman J. Pattiz will be the keynote speaker at CommUNITY
Kavod on Tuesday, Jan. 28, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Irvine. For
more information call (714) 755-5555.  

A Thanksgiving to Fill the Spirit

On the evening before Thanksgiving, my synagogue, Congregation Eilat in Mission Viejo, always gets together with a neighboring church, Shepherd of the Hills United Methodist, for an interfaith service. What is remarkable about this joint venture, and other pre-Thanksgiving services like it throughout the United States, is the fact that Jews and Christians can pray together under one roof.

My parents entered a church only for a neighbor’s wedding, funeral or other life-cycle event. On those rare occasions, they were invited guests, not participants.

My grandparents probably never entered a church. When they needed to pass by one, they would usually spit on the ground, and make sure to walk on the opposite side of the street.

My grandparents believed that entering a Christian house of worship contaminated them with bad luck. In addition to their superstition, they feared for their physical well-being. My grandparents knew that they could easily be harmed by church members, who erroneously learned in weekly sermons and in Sunday school lessons that "the Jews killed Christ."

Now, every year, on the evening before the national harvest festival, I take part in an event that my ancestors could never imagine happening: an interfaith service where prayers of friendship and thanksgiving are offered by both Jews and Christians, together as equal participants.

The event joyfully begins when Jewish congregants welcome their Christian neighbors, and sing, in Hebrew, Psalm 133: Hinay mah tov u’mah nayim, shevet achim gam yachad ("How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in harmony"). Church members respond, singing words from their hymn, "We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing…."

The service then proceeds with worshippers reading in unison a number of passages taken from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Talmud (the sacred literature of each faith’s tradition).

A clergy member brings the service to a close with a sermon. This year, when the service takes place at the church, the rabbi will deliver a message. Next year, when the service returns to the synagogue, the pastor will speak.

Many synagogue and church members feel this annual experience is esthetically the most beautiful worship service of the year. On no other occasion, including all of the other national holidays, are the values of democracy, freedom and pluralism more clearly expressed and represented. The service brings spiritual meaning to these values and the holiday, in general, that parades, football games, turkey dinners and even family gatherings do not capture.

The transcendence of history, though, particularly after Sept. 11, is the most impressive feature of the evening. What was a utopian or Messianic idea for my ancestors to contemplate has now become a yearly common occurrence. That transcendence, and the consequent hope it instills for the future, is perhaps the true blessing of Thanksgiving that we should appreciate.

Uniting Community

As the Jewish community gathers for the Valley Jewish Festival, we must ask ourselves whether there is, in fact, a Los Angeles Jewish community to speak of. If we define community as “a group of people defined by a geographical area,” then we can refer to the Jewish community of Los Angeles as such. But if we wish to imply that a community is “a cohesive yet diverse group bound together as one,” then I do not believe that Los Angeles fulfills this qualification.

This is not to say that we do not come together for the needs of our geographical community. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is the primary address of the geographical Los Angeles Jewish community. It strives to address our multifaceted needs, set an agenda and bring together diverse elements for some sense of unity. Its agencies, affiliates and myriad activities are to be commended for its monumental work.

But even The Federation has acknowledged that real community is not created by fiat or budgets. Much like the growth pains of Los Angeles that created the birth pains of a Valley-secessionist movement, The Federation wisely heard the Jewish voices of the Valley and created the Valley Alliance to address the unique needs of the “valleys” beyond the city limits.

It is more than just an administrative detail that half of the Jews of greater Los Angeles live north of Mulholland. And it is more than just an issue of equal representation. It is the knowledge that community is created through the tangible and meaningful connections between individuals and institutions. While it is essential that people establish relationships, equally important to the equation of community is for institutions to work together.

Just as it is difficult for someone to feel part of a synagogue community by coming once a year to services and being inundated by congregational mailings, a Jew in Los Angeles will not identity as a Jewish Los Angeleno simply by visiting a Jewish festival and reading The Jewish Journal.

If we really wish to provide a Jewish communal identity for the Jews of Los Angeles, we must divide into smaller communities and share more personal experiences. The congregants of my synagogue cannot possibly feel connected to every fellow Conservative synagogue member in Los Angeles, let alone the synagogue members of the other movements and the unaffiliated.

We need to divide the megatropolis of Los Angeles into neighborhoods. It was the neighborhoods of Boyle Heights and Fairfax that felt a sense of community, and today it is felt in the Pico-Robertson area. We must create, even if it is artificial, neighborhoods that help people feel this connection.

In the west San Fernando Valley we have begun to build what I believe should be the model for the entire area of greater Los Angeles. We have created rabbinic and lay task forces that meet on an ongoing basis to establish relationships and joint programs for “our community.”

Thanks to the vision of people like Jack Mayer, the executive director of the Valley Alliance, we bring together the leadership from synagogues, the Valley Alliance, the JCC and other Jewish agencies to utilize the strengths of each organization and meet the needs of the community.

During the past eight years, we have created many programs including Chanukah festivals and Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) programs. Temple Aliyah, Temple Solael (now Temple Judea), Shomrei Torah Synagogue and the Calabasas Shul have gathered together for several years to perform tashlich during the High Holy Days.

And this year, with a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, these synagogues, joined by Or Ami of Calabasas, participated in a joint educational program. The five-week Winter Kallah program brought together the congregants from across the spectrum of Jewish life, thereby breaking down the stereotypes about “Jews who don’t care” and “Jews who are intolerant.”

We have succeeded in creating our community because each organization is willing to surrender its individual ego for “our community.” Rather than viewing each other as competitors, we view each other as partners with a mission to serve the Jewish people. Too often territorialism or the desire for recognition creates boundaries to unity. There are still a couple of synagogues that do not participate actively in our programs. Sadly, I believe that they are so egocentrically motivated that their leadership and congregants hardly notice.

I would like to challenge Federation, the Southern California Board of Rabbis and all Jewish organizations to establish Jewish communities throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Where possible, I believe that these communities should be built around the neutral sites of Jewish Community Centers. Like the political districts designed for voter representation, we should sit down and devise an intelligent restructuring of Los Angeles Jewry into meaningful communities. The biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is a reminder of where community begins.

While the Valley Jewish Festival might acknowledge two distinct Jewish communities comprising “the city” and “the valley,” I believe that even these are too cumbersome and impersonal. Let us challenge our leaders to establish more personal communities that can better address our needs and provide the feeling of community we all dream of.