French board favors returning seven looted paintings

A French restitution committee reportedly has recommended returning seven valuable paintings looted by the Nazis during the Holocaust from two Jewish families.

The paintings are currently part of various collections in France, including the Louvre in Paris. and the museums of Tours, Saint-Étienne and Agen, but the CIVS Holocaust restitution committee determined in December that they belonged to the Wiener and Neumann families and should be returned to them, according to an article published on Feb. 13 in Le Monde.

The decision by the CIVS committee was kept under wraps until now because of the “sensitivity” of the matter, Le Monde reported, adding that the restitution would be the largest of its kind since 2000.

The paintings are the works of Alessandro Longui, Sebastiano Ricci, Gaspare Diziani, Salavtor Francesco Fontebasso, Gaetano Gandolfi, François-Charles Palko, and Pieter Jansz van Asch.

Six of the works belonged to Richard Neumann, an Austrian industrialist who escaped the extermination of Jews by fleeing to Cuba with his wife and daughter. The seventh painting is the property of the descendants of Josef Weiner, a banker from Prague, murdered by the Nazis in 1942.

Tom Selldorf, a grandson of Neumann living in the United States, is quoted as telling Le Monde that the family “does not wish to make momey from the paintings but to pass on to our sons and grandsons the love my grandfather had for the arts.”

CIVS – or Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation Resulting from the Anti-Semitic Legislation in Force during the Occupation, by its full English name – was set up in 1999 as an advisory governmental board.

Parents Don’t Kid About Day Schools

After extensive research, campus tours, a detailed application and an interview, Aidan Buckner was recently accepted into the school of his choice. While his parents may have done the legwork, it is Aidan who will enter kindergarten at the Ronald and Trana Labowe Family Day School at Adat Ari El in Valley Village this fall. The 5 1/2-year-old seems unfazed by the upcoming transition, but for his parents, the news marks the end of a long journey.

“We put Aidan on the wait list at Adat Ari El and Valley Beth Shalom when we moved [to Sherman Oaks] when he was 1 1¼2,” remembers Denise Buckner, Aidan’s mom. Since that time, Buckner has gone to numerous day school open houses over the years, sat in on classes and spent countless hours making school-related phone calls.

“I [visited the schools] every year because I felt every year I learned more about who my son was and what kind of person he was,” Buckner said.

Like many Jewish parents in the Southland, Buckner knew she wanted her child to attend Jewish day school, but the process of selecting a school and getting in proved nerve-wracking at times.

With the shaky reputation of local public schools around Los Angeles, many families look to day schools for a solid education. While Jewish schools are eager to accommodate young students, class size limits can make the process feel cutthroat.

Samara Fabrick, a licensed clinical social worker on the Westside, remembers the competitive vibe she felt last year when looking at schools for her 6-year-old son Zachary.

“I kept having to remind myself that we’re not talking about Columbia. We’re not talking about Tufts. This is kindergarten,” said Fabrick, whose son now attends the Geri and Richard Brawerman Elementary School of Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

While her son was accepted to both schools where the family applied, Fabrick’s worries were not completely unfounded, as many schools cannot take every applicant.

“We have only 40 spaces [for kindergarten] and this year we had over 80 applications,” said Maxine Keith, the assistant head of school and director of admissions at Whilshire Boulevard’s Brawerman Elementary.

In addition, since siblings of current students and children from Wilshire’s preschool have priority, it is clear that not everyone is a shoo-in.

Psychologist Lisa Lainer recalls the stress of waiting to see if her daughter, Sophie, now 6, got accepted to Sinai Akiba Academy at Sinai Temple last year. Even through Sophie attended Sinai’s preschool, more preschoolers than there were available spots in the day school kindergarten program that year.

“In part, we felt confident that she’d get in, but then there’s there anxiety of ‘What if I’m wrong?'” Lainer said.

For the Reform and Conservative day schools in Los Angeles, applications are usually due in December and the admissions decision letters usually go out in March. For the Orthodox day schools, admissions are on a rolling basis and most students enter in preschool rather than kindergarten. At Maimonides Academy about 80 percent to 90 percent of the students come through the early childhood program. “We sometimes tell parents to make sure they get in on the preschool level because the classes are jampacked and may be closed by the time pre-one rolls around,” principal Rabbi Karmi Gross said.

Even though many day schools continue to fill up quickly, there is actually a decline in the number of Jewish children in the United States. According to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-2001, only 20 percent of the U.S. Jewish population is 18 and younger, a number that has decreased in the last 10 years. As a result, the number of kindergartners in Los Angeles Jewish day schools has decreased over the last few years, as well.

While getting in can be anxiety-provoking, parents seem to feel the stress is worth it in the end.

“I’m exceedingly happy,” Fabrick said. “We made a great choice and Zach is getting a great education.”

Buckner is excited for Aidan to start kindergarten in September.

“I’m hoping that going to a values-based school is going to change who my son is for the better,” she said.

Habush Wrapped Life in L.A. History

Jerry Freedman Habush led excursions through historic Jewish Los Angeles as vice president of tours at the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California (JHS) for more than 20 years. In recent months, Habush’s commitment slowed, but not from a waning passion. He was receiving chemotherapy for cancer that spread through his pancreas, liver and lungs. Habush died on July 29 at age 60.

In June, Habush told The Journal, "People are astonished to learn that there were once eight synagogues south of the 10 freeway and east of Vermont [Avenue]."

It was Habush’s passion to know such facts — but not his job. Habush, a veteran educator and community and media relations executive, served with the local Jewish culture conservator on a volunteer basis.

Before his illness, Habush never tired of taking tourists to Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s third site in Koreatown and "watching people’s jaws drop because it’s so overwhelmingly huge and beautiful."

His tours included such landmarks as the original downtown site of Wilshire Boulevard Temple (originally Congregation B’nai Brith), "the oldest shul, built in 1862," Breed Street Shul and the Presbyterian church occupying the old Sinai Temple site.

Boyle Heights, location of the latter two destinations, was once home to "the panoply of different kinds of Jews" that included immigrants, gangsters, Zionists and communists, and gave birth to institutions such as Union Bank, City of Hope, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Jewish Home for the Aging and the original Canter’s deli.

"Boyle Heights is an attraction out of nostalgia," Habush said, "even if they didn’t come from there, their parents came from there."

Originally from Chicago, Habush moved to Los Angeles as a youth, where he grew up in North Hollywood and went to Grant High School. A 1966 graduate of UC Berkeley, Habush received his master’s degree in U.S. history from UCLA in 1968.

"That’s all I ever intended to do was to teach U.S. history," said Habush, who in addition to teaching history at UCLA, taught part-time at Los Angeles Valley College

He also worked for two years as a Hillel director at L.A. City College — the last non-rabbi to do so — and served as a youth worker while living in Los Feliz.

Habush, who once spent four months living on a kibbutz with his Valley-bred wife, Audrey, divided his career between working in education and public relations. He worked as associate executive director for the National Conference of Christians and Jews and as a public affairs consultant, specializing in community and media relations, for clients such as the Jewish Community Relations Committee of The Jewish Federation, the University of Judaism, and Stephen S. Wise Temple for more than a decade.

"I always put a lot on intergroup relations," Habush said. "My main professional goal was intercommunity, interethnic, interreligious."

Habush began his association with the JHS 14 years ago — about the same time Stephen Sass, now JHS president, came aboard.

"We were the only ones under 60 on the board," he recalled. "Little by little, we’ve brought in younger people."

Habush gave Sass the lion’s share of the credit for not only keeping the JHS relevant, but keeping it going.

"It would’ve collapsed without him," Habush said.

Habush honed some unwritten philosophies while training JHS docents.

"It’s got to be something that you love or you’ll never do a good job," Habush said. "If you get to feel that you’re going to work on a Sunday, you shouldn’t be doing it."

A big prerequisite: one must really revel in imparting Jewish history.

Habush really enjoyed "helping people understand and appreciate their history; to appreciate that Jews lived in South Central, East L.A."

"L.A. is the most colorful place in the world," Habush continued. "And the diversity within the L.A. Jewish community mirrors the diversity of L.A."

"Besides Jerry’s concern for his family’s welfare, his greatest wish was that the JHS tour program, which he nurtured for so long, continue to flourish," Sass wrote in a July 29 letter informing the community of Habush’s passing. "In accordance with Jerry’s wishes, the Freedman Habush Fund [established in 2003 by JHS] will support the ongoing recruitment and training of future generations of tour leaders, the development of educational materials and outreach to children, teens and young adults."

"May Jerry’s memory be for a blessing," ended Sass’s statement.

Funeral services were held on July 31 at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary. Habush is survived by wife, Audrey; daughters, Gabriela and Rachel; and sister, Ferne.

For information on the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California, call (323) 761-8950.

Pedaling Through the Past

Rob Paperno, whose paternal heritage goes back to Livorno, Italy, left the family restaurant business in Los Angeles seven years ago (remember the Oak Tree Deli in Encino?) to devote himself to the great passion of his life- a bicycling exploration of his Jewish heritage.

Since then he has developed bicycle tours of Tuscany, Italy, a region that has been a continuous home to Jews for 700 years; of Provence, where Jews have flourished since the time of the medieval popes; of the Czech Republic, where Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague created the Golem; and Mississippi, where Jews have been entrenched since the Civil War.

The series of innovative biking tours is developed by his Historical Cycling International, a recent entry in the growing field of Jewish-oriented travel services.

Each of the weeklong trips is limited to a dozen participants, accompanied by two experienced guides and a guest lecturer or historian. HCI provides 21-speed hybrid bicycles and a support van for each day’s run, which varies from 15 to 40 miles. Participants of all cycling levels and abilities are welcome. Accommodations are in four- and five-star hotels, and meals are on a similarly high level, with emphasis on regional cooking.

HCI’s tours for the rest of 2000 include the following: