Tel Aviv cheers new subway, bemoans its construction


In 2011, when Los Angeles shut down a stretch of one of its busiest highways for a weekend of repairs, residents braced for a traffic jam “of biblical proportions.” Similar sentiments preceded the start of construction on Tel Aviv’s long-awaited light rail system last Sunday.

But rather than a few days of inconvenience, city officials warned that construction will likely cause extensive auto congestion in the center of Israel, already the country’s busiest corridor, for years to come.

“Switch to public transportation,” Brig. Gen. Yoram Ohayon, deputy commander of the Tel Aviv District police advised commuters at a press conference. “It will be easier to get to Tel Aviv and to move about inside it that way.”

The Tel Aviv rail system would be a welcome relief for the approximately half a million cars that flood the city daily from surrounding suburbs, and ultimately mitigate what has become a citywide parking lot of honking cars and buses navigating narrow one-way streets or feeding into a handful of major thoroughfares during rush hour.

But to make shakshuka, you’ve got to break a few eggs. And to give Tel Aviv a light rail system, you have to make a few traffic jams – and blow up a bridge or two.

So far, traffic in the city hasn’t been as bad as some feared during the first week of construction.

But officials expect that to change when several major junctions are closed in the near future, and in particular later this month when the 39-year-old Maariv Bridge is demolished to make room for the new Carlebach underground light rail station that will rise on its ruins.

However necessary the project may be, don’t expect Israelis to bear it quietly.

Business owners have bemoaned the disruption to parking, as well as the inevitable dust, debris and noise that drive away customers – not to mention a fear of invading rats.

One proprietor told Haaretz that the hundreds of thousands of shekels he had invested in his restaurant would go down the drain because of the deterrence to prospective diners. A local barber complained that, despite the financial losses he would incur, the city is not granting rebates on taxes or rent.

“Of course I’m happy that there’ll be a train,” he said. “But it’s at my expense.”

Another owner in the area took a more practical view, placing the country’s expenditures on this project in the context of Israel’s other expensive endeavors: “Let’s deal with this for a few years and in the end we’ll get something,” he said. “Not like the last war in which we invested money and came out with nothing.”

Officials working on the rail system’s initial Red Line, comprising 10 underground stations, said the area affected by increased traffic could span a radius of more than 25 miles — reaching as far north as the city of Netanya, Ashdod to the south and Modi’in to the east — an exacerbate an already overtaxed network of highways and roads.

Last week, NTA, the company charged with the execution of the system, also announced plans for the forthcoming Green Line, connecting Tel Aviv to Herzliya in the north and Holon in the south, with stops at Tel Aviv University and municipal business districts. (The plans are subject to pubic comment, and are pending approval.)

The Tel Aviv light rail project has been a pipe dream of residents and politicians in the coastal city for nearly two decades, with signs around town declaring the start of construction now comically out of date.

Jerusalem’s light rail system, which opened over budget in the fall of 2011, faced its own set of challenges and controversy, along with hope that it might unite a culturally divided city (a hope that was diminished after riots last summer).

NTA has released maps of the proposed transit lines and a list of benefits to the denizens of Tel Aviv, which include a reduction in pollution and a quicker, more efficient trip to work.

The government and NTA hope to alleviate some of the gridlock by adjusting traffic patterns, adding parking lots outside of town and expanding park-and-ride options (though some say not nearly enough), widening bus lanes and cracking down on private cars catching a ride on those dedicated bus lanes.

Adding to the effort to ease congestion, Israel Railways is planning to ramp up train service during peak hours, and additional buses have been added to the city’s arsenal.

The Tel Aviv police force is also preparing for the seismic shift in the city’s traffic habits by beefing up its staff by 160 officers to oversee the construction, Haaretz reported. Additionally, it will increase the number of workers at its call center to handle the expected onslaught of complaints.

Meanwhile, the Red Line, running between Petach Tikva and Bat Yam, is slated to open in 2021.

Measure R2: Synagogues, museums, transit supporters unite to step on the gas!


What unites more Angelenos than a Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup victory? Distaste for the 405 Freeway. The Sepulveda Pass, in particular, which has undergone a massive construction project in recent years, still retains the ability to turn into a parking lot at any hour of the day. And yet numerous major institutions line the path of and rely upon this thoroughfare between the Westside of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. 

Now some of those institutions, including Leo Baeck Temple, the Getty Museum, California State University, Northridge, and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) have made an unlikely alliance, banding together in support of a radical mass transit overhaul of the trek through the hills.

In an unprecedented show of solidarity, representatives of these institutions and dozens of others from across Los Angeles County gathered on June 8 at the Marvin Braude San Fernando Valley Constituent Service Center in Van Nuys to discuss how to move forward to significantly expand public transportation in the region. Co-officiating the Sunday afternoon meeting — and pledging his own support — was Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. 

“We’ve all had it with the impossibility of traveling from place to place in this town,” Rabbi Ken Chasen of Leo Baeck Temple said in the day’s introductory remarks. “We are ready — and hungry — for change.”

That change could take the form of a 2016 ballot measure to raise funds for light rail projects in all corners of the county, including a much-championed line that would travel through the Sepulveda Pass and down to LAX. The proposed initiative, nicknamed Measure R2, would build on the work of 2008’s Measure R to plug gaps in L.A.’s existing mass transit system. 

But the point of the June 8 meeting was not only to review the elements of the proposal. The group’s ultimate goal was loftier: to rally stakeholders to address the economic and social setbacks L.A. could continue to suffer unless its diverse constituents learn to work — and speak — together. 

“In order to bring the kind of growth and change to our county that we want and need, we have to begin by understanding and investing in one another,” Chasen said. “This is the start of that conversation.”

Actually, it was a continuation. The seeds for this collaboration were planted four years ago, when Leo Baeck, with help from Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, co-director of Just Congregations — a social justice initiative of the Reform movement — began the process of community organizing. A team of leaders spearheaded a “listening campaign” in which members of the congregation participated in some 300 conversations, during which they “really listened hard to what matters to people, what fires them up, what they care about deeply,” Kolin said. 

One major topic that emerged was the economy, specifically job creation. At the same time, mobility was on the minds of many Leo Baeck members, and for good reason — situated in a cleft of the Sepulveda Pass, the synagogue abuts the notoriously congested 405 Freeway, where ongoing construction has kept some worshippers from reaching the location on time for years. “On a Friday evening, when worship starts, it’s a very difficult place to get to,” Chasen said. 

Some congregants talked about how hard it is to drive to synagogue. Others living in the neighborhood said they had experienced difficulty reaching loved ones in the hospital because of traffic. One told a story about missing a crucial job interview despite leaving in plenty of time, because it took him two hours to inch from the Valley to the Westside. 

“Our quality of life is destroyed by this lack of adequate infrastructure,” said Rabbi Rachel Timoner of Leo Baeck. “Because we haven’t been able to get our act together as a county, some parents can’t see their own children before they go to bed.”

Their answer: Build a train. In 2012, Leo Baeck, a member of the broad-based organizing network OneLA-IAF, began reaching out to other congregations to drum up support for the idea. Project leaders also learned that the transportation-focused nonprofit Move LA already was drafting a light rail proposal and suggested a partnership. 

With the mayoral race underway, Leo Baeck invited the candidates to a town hall-style forum to talk about the personal toll of L.A.’s famous gridlock. The candidates returned to the synagogue in February 2013 for a follow-up discussion. About 1,000 attendees from institutions across L.A. packed the room. There, Leo Baeck and OneLA-IAF organizers asked for commitments from each of the candidates: If elected mayor, would you meet with us within your first 100 days in office? Would you collaborate with us on transportation issues? Would you co-convene a meeting to hear stakeholders’ desires to get ahead?

On all counts, Garcetti has so far upheld his “yes.” Leo Baeck leaders have met with the mayor’s office monthly since late last year, hashing out a strategy to build support for Measure R2. Based on that strategy, Leo Baeck and OneLA-IAF have met with dozens of stakeholders up and down the 405 corridor to hear their traffic concerns and ask for their backing. “They all, 100 percent, said, ‘We agree — this is a gigantic unmet need in our city and county, and we need to do something about it,’ ” Timoner said. 

As for the mayor’s pledge to co-convene a meeting, that day arrived June 8. 

More than 100 people representing L.A. County businesses, schools, faith communities, government councils and labor organizations filled the meeting room, with several marveling that they had never partnered on an issue before. “It is truly rare that all of these corners of Los Angeles come together for any purpose,” Chasen said, calling the event “a grand opportunity.”

Participating institutions included UCLA, Mattel Inc., Los Angeles World Airports, Milken Community Schools, and more than a dozen churches and synagogues, including Temple Judea, Temple Isaiah and Temple Beth Am. Attendees came from the San Fernando Valley, the San Gabriel Valley, South Los Angeles, the South Bay, the Gateway Cities and the Westside.

The 405 corridor is “a crucial piece of the transit puzzle that we all need to work together to solve in order to make this region what it can be,” said Leo Baeck and OneLA-IAF member Eric Stockel. “Traffic is a barrier to jobs, to careers, to economic growth, to protecting the environment, to community and to fulfilled lives. It is, in the end, a barrier to justice.”

Luz de la Cruz, a congregant of Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Pacoima, described how her daily bus commute to Westwood could sometimes take 3 1/2 hours, depriving her of meaningful time with her four children. 

Garcetti said he appreciated the chance to hear personal stories illustrating “the human impact of the billions of dollars and the millions of hours we lose every single year because of our inability to solve this problem.”

In a moment of levity, he also quipped, “As a Jew, it’s great to see so many Jews talking about traffic — probably the most since the Exodus.”

Garcetti’s presence wasn’t just symbolic; the L.A. mayor serves as incoming vice chair of the board of directors that governs the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which ultimately will decide if Measure R2 makes it onto the 2016 ballot. He also has the power to appoint three new MTA members, whose views could influence the decision. 

Denny Zane, executive director of Move LA, believes the measure has a fighting chance. The proposal calls for a half-cent sales tax that would raise about $90 billion over 45 years for a transit plan that Zane called a “congestion buster.” Among dozens of projects, the measure could fund an extension of the Crenshaw Line to Hollywood, an extension of the Red Line to Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport, the conversion of the Orange Line to light rail, and a rail line from Sylmar in the north San Fernando Valley to LAX — including a tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass that could also hold toll roads and rapid buses. The plan would create tens of thousands of jobs and apprenticeships.

Nothing is set in stone, Zane said. The current proposal is just a framework for people to “kick around and learn from and modify and tell us what they think,” he explained. “It’s a serious proposal, but it’s a discussion piece. We’re pretty confident that the categories and levels of funding involved are realistic.” The measure would require two-thirds of the vote to pass, so months of deliberations over language and funding lie ahead. 

Meanwhile, Zane said, Leo Baeck and OneLA-IAF have been crucial partners. “We have a lot of fun and a good dialogue,” he said. “They’re effective and energetic. They pull together important meetings — they’re always working.”

Jewish leadership on the issue of transportation might come as a surprise to some. “Who would think that the Jews would build a train?” mused Kolin. “But it’s deeply in our values.”

“The Torah teaches us to love the stranger,” Timoner added. “This is about connecting us to one another — relating to each other face to face instead of bumper to bumper.”

For the next nine months, stakeholders will do outreach in their communities, holding forums to educate members of the public about the boons of a more comprehensive mass transit system. Next spring, the group hopes to reconvene with a clearer list of priorities for the county transportation map. 

There are still concerns to resolve. MTA board member John Fasana cautioned that county residents might have to “open our minds” about nontraditional methods of financing, such as congestion pricing. And some residents worried that unless affordable housing is built near transit stops, they could be priced out of their neighborhoods. “The rent is going to increase, and this is already a poor community,” said Rosy Cruz, a member of St. Agnes Parish, near USC. “If these big things are coming up, we’re going to get displaced.” 

On June 20, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a state budget that could funnel nearly $1 billion into affordable housing over the next six years, potentially alleviating some of these fears. 

Organizers are hopeful that the county can reach a consensus. “We want to be able to speak with one voice,” Timoner said. “Our main goal is that when this measure is written, it’s written in a transparent and democratic way with the voices of the people
included.”

Carmageddon: The world will end


Accommodating the shut-down, Jewishly


Due to road closures during the demolition of the Mulholland Bridge on “Carmageddon” weekend, the two major arts institutions located closest to the bridge — the Getty Center and the Skirball Cultural Center, both in the Sepulveda Pass — will be closed on Saturday, July 16, and Sunday, July 17. 

The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, and the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., will open for normal business hours on Friday, July 15: the Getty from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and the Skirball galleries, cafe and gift shop from noon to 5 p.m. 

In addition, on Friday at 8 p.m., the Skirball will proceed with its slated L.A. Theatre Works performance of David Ives’ “New Jerusalem, The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656.” The play, starring Billy Crudup and Hector Elizondo, is expected to run about 90 minutes, ending around 9:30 p.m., a theater spokesperson said. 

“People returning to the Valley will be able to drive north on Sepulveda Boulevard at that time and pick up the 405 below the 101 freeway. Those heading south will be able to access the freeway from the on-ramp.” 

Weekend matinees were rescheduled to Thursday, July 13, and Friday, July 14, both at 2:30 p.m., with reduced ticket prices offered. For more up-to-date information, call (310) 827-0889 or visit latw.org.

Both the Getty Center and the Skirball, which are closed to the public on Mondays, will reopen for business as usual on Tuesday, July 19.  For more up-to-date information, visit getty.edu and skirball.org. 

The Museum of Tolerance, located at 9786 W. Pico Blvd., will open during its normal business hours over the weekend. For up-to-date information, call (310) 553-8403.

Synagogues located near the Mulholland Bridge have likewise made changes to their schedules for the weekend. Here’s a rundown of the scheduling changes:

Stephen S. Wise Temple’s Friday night services will start as usual at 6:15 p.m., but will take place in the Plotkin Chapel instead of the Westwood Sanctuary. The synagogue’s Saturday morning services will be held at Milken Community High School’s beit midrash, located at 15800 Zeldins Way, at 10 a.m. Stephen S. Wise is located at 15550 Stephen S. Wise Drive, off Mulholland Drive. For more information, call (310) 889-2300. 

Leo Baeck Temple’s Friday night service has been canceled. The synagogue is providing congregants with a virtual Shabbat kit — containing recipes, Shabbat table songs, video of the rabbi and cantor leading blessings, educational activities for kids and families to do together and more. Leo Baeck is located at 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd., parallel to the 405 freeway. For more information, call (310) 476-2861. 

University Synagogue’s Friday night service will start at 5 p.m., instead of the usual 7:30 p.m, and will be a short service. The Saturday morning Torah study and service will take place at the usual times, 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., respectively. University Synagogue is located at 11960 W. Sunset Blvd. For more information, call (310) 472-1255. 

Ohr HaTorah’s Saturday service has been canceled. The synagogue will webcast a service, streamed live on ohrhatorah.org, beginning at 9 a.m. from a private residence, led by Rabbi Mordecai Finley. The synagogue does not offer Friday night services. The synagogue is located at 11827 Venice Blvd. For more information, call (310) 915-5200. 

American Jewish University and Valley Beth Shalom have not altered their schedules for the weekend.

Massive 405 Freeway project respects the boundaries of a Jewish tradition


Metro and Caltrans are working with Orthodox Jews to ensure that the upcoming “Carmageddon” will not affect their eruz, latimes.com reports.

Like just about everybody else, Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles have their issues with the 405 Freeway widening project. Unlike most people, however, their primary concern is not necessarily the impending closure of a stretch of the freeway on the July 16-17 weekend.

Their problem is that the 405 construction project keeps messing up their eruv.

Some explanation is probably in order.

An eruv is a ritual enclosure surrounding a neighborhood. It can be a fence, a wall, a piece of string — or a freeway. And it must be unbroken.

Its purpose is legalistic, a loophole, some might say. It allows observant Jews to perform certain actions on the Sabbath — carry a tray of food or push a baby stroller, for example — that Jewish law prohibits in public on that day.

Read more at latimes.com.

VideoJew’s VideoGuide to L.A. #2 — Driving from here to there


VideoJew Jay Firestone is back with the second ‘volume’ in his VideoGuide to L.A.  This week—driving.

Pico-Olympic traffic plan on hold after judge’s decision


Granting a temporary victory to neighborhood councils, a judge today ordered the City of Los Angeles to conduct a new environmental impact report (EIR) before implementing the Pico-Olympic traffic plan.

For the last six months, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Councilman Jack Weiss have been promoting a three-phase plan to change traffic through portions of the city and Beverly Hills. But a preliminary injunction filed by the Greater West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce (GWLACC), which has served as a spokesperson for its member businesses as well as numerous homeowners groups, has stopped the plan.

“The city of Los Angeles is ordered to fully comply with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act by conducting an appropriate, complete and comprehensive environmental study for the project,” Superior Court Judge John Torribio worte in his decision. “Respondents are restrained from any actions in furtherance of the project unless the resulting document has been prepared, publically circulated, and approved in a manner required by law.”

Jack Weiss said, “While still looking closely at the decision, I’m inclined to move forward with the environmental review to get it done as quickly as possible to relieve traffic in West L.A.”

Heschel Day School West gets OK, but future still looks clouded


After a protracted and often contentious battle, Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School West got the green light in late November to build a permanent school on a bucolic, 72-acre site adjacent to Agoura Hills when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved its application for a conditional-use permit.

A final consent hearing will be scheduled as soon as the draft document outlining more than 29 conditions and modifications is finalized, according to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose Third District governs the now-vacant parcel nestled in a rolling meadow abutting the Santa Monica Mountains, just north of the Ventura Freeway and east of the Chesebro Road exit.

“We have imposed conditions on this school that we have never imposed on any other school,” Yaroslavsky said. For example, Heschel must contribute approximately $3.5 million for traffic mitigation and comply with stringent fire, safety, noise and community compatibility requirements.

However, instead of rejoicing and preparing to kick off a new capital campaign to fund the project, Heschel West faces continued opposition from the city of Agoura Hills, which will shoulder the traffic and safety burdens of the new school but lacks direct jurisdiction over the neighboring unincorporated land.

Additionally, Heschel faces a possible lawsuit from the Old Agoura Homeowners Association, representing the nearby community of about 420 families, which wants to protect its equestrian way of life and which has fought the project since the beginning.

“Arduous is the word,” said Heschel West board member Rick Wentz, who is in charge of land entitlements, in describing the drawn-out battle.

Wentz has been involved with the project since before the land was purchased in 1997 for $1.6 million by a group of Heschel West families. Since then, he said, the school has spent more than $2 million on consultants, studies and entitlements. In addition, he and other school representatives have also looked at hundreds of alternative properties over the last eight years, none of them acceptable.

Heschel West was founded in 1994 with 14 kindergarten students. Today, the school serves 199 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade on its crowded temporary campus off Liberty Canyon Road. Its middle school, currently merged with Kadima Hebrew Academy, is housed on Kadima’s West Hills campus.

According to Wentz, the school has fully complied with all environmental and zoning requirements, including the legal restrictions of the North Area Plan, which regulates development within much of the unincorporated area of the Santa Monica Mountains.

“All the issues raised by our opposition have all been looked at and addressed and approved by neutral officials charged with the protection of public health and safety,” Wentz said.

Additionally, the school has made concessions to meet the community’s concerns about safety, traffic and quality of life.

The new school, consisting of nine permanent buildings that will eventually house up to 750 students in grades pre-kindergarten through eight, will be built on 14 acres. Another 29 acres will be dedicated permanently to the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority to protect the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Corridor.

The school itself will be set back 300 feet or more from the nearest private property line and is designed to blend in with the aesthetics of Old Agoura, with buildings no more than two stories tall and residential rather than institutional in appearance, with wooden siding and gray shake roofs. Overall, the school is adopting an equestrian theme, designating street names such as Oak Lane and Sycamore Circle, planting natural shrubs and oak trees and putting in a split-rail fence.

In addition to appearance, traffic is another major concern to the city of Agoura Hills and to the Old Agoura Homeowners Association. But both Wentz and Yaroslavsky stress that Heschel will be accessed directly off the Ventura Freeway’s Chesebro exit, alleviating most of the traffic through Agoura Hills.

The school is also committed to paying millions of dollars toward traffic mitigation, including installing a traffic light or a roundabout right at the off-ramp adjacent to the school’s Canwood Street entrance. That determination will be made by the state Department of Transportation, and without approval for either, the school will be limited to 391 students.

Fire is also an issue, especially in terms of evacuating the Old Agoura community and all its animals in an emergency, a difficult and laborious undertaking. However, Wentz said the school is ameliorating the situation in several ways.

First, the school’s landscaping, made up of different zones of plants with different burning capacities, will be designed to slow down a fire.

Second, while advance notice is generally given to evacuate in case of fire, the school will contain a “shelter in place,” a large concrete area with oxygen and other supplies, where students and staff can wait out the fire if necessary. “It’s much safer to go to shelter in place than try to evacuate in cars,” Wentz said.

And with the school constructing a new entrance road off Canwood, adjacent to the freeway exit at Chesebro, as well as an emergency exit that connects farther north off Chesebro, the school is, in effect, creating an additional exit that Old Agoura residents can use in the event of fire or other emergency.

Agoura Hills City Manager Greg Ramirez remains concerned that parents will still converge on the school to pick up their children, despite having a shelter in place and a police guard at the school’s entrance.

“They all have to get on the freeway or cross the bridge at Chesebro,” he said.

Despite concerns regarding fire and other safety issues and despite having to work through the Board of Supervisors, given the land’s location in unincorporated Los Angeles County, Ramirez said that city officials have been recently feeling more comfortable that their concerns are being taken seriously both by the Board of Supervisors and Heschel representatives.

“We’re never going to get what we would like, but that’s part of life,” Ramirez said.

Street fight


The Brooklyn-born activist rose from his seat, walked slowly to the microphone, cleared his throat, and in front of a couple of hundred fellow activists assembled in an auditorium on a chilly Wednesday night, expressed his righteous indignation.

“We are tired of being used as stepping stones!” he bellowed to the delight of the crowd. “Enough is enough. It’s time for our voice to be heard!”

Was the man referring to the abuse of Israel at the United Nations?

Was he expressing outrage at how thousands of Jews displaced from their homes in Gaza two years ago have had their lives turned upside down, while bombs keep falling on Sderot?

What was this man so passionate about?

Actually, he was talking about the parking and traffic situation on Pico and Olympic boulevards.

He was fuming that he and other residents were not consulted before the city announced their plan to relieve the ever-worsening traffic on those boulevards.

You see, a few months ago, the city decided it was time to finally show some action on this particular problem. The plan that was announced in November by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Councilman Jack Weiss at an outdoor press conference in November had three phases, the first being the most controversial: restrict the parking on Pico and Olympic boulevards during the peak traffic hours.

For storefront merchants who depend on street traffic and who contribute plenty in taxes and fees, that was the last thing they needed.

Take Julien Bohbot, owner of Delice Bakery in Pico-Robertson, who was sitting next to me at the Wednesday town hall meeting. Most of his customers use street parking on Pico, and the 3-7 p.m. time period is his busiest. If the city makes parking illegal during that time, he can’t see how his business will survive.

The meeting was full of angry business owners and residents like Bohbot, and it was clear that the man who got up to speak, Jay Handal, was their hero.

Handal heads the Greater West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. He was so passionate and knowledgeable about his cause, I felt I was listening to Alan Dershowitz defending Israel.

A few days later, I decided to track him down at the Italian restaurant in Brentwood he has owned for 21 years, San Gennaro.

It turns out that Handal is not only upset at Villaraigosa and Weiss for the way they “ambushed” the neighborhoods with their press conference, he’s also upset at the local media, particularly the Los Angeles Times, for not giving enough voice to the neighborhoods’ grievances.

He does have kind words for councilman and former television host Bill Rosendhal, who arranged the town hall meeting and who is helping residents and small business merchants get their day in court.

Handal thinks it’ll be an uphill battle to stop the city’s plan, because, as he says, Villaraigosa and Weiss now have egg on their face, and it’s not easy for politicians to admit they’re wrong.

Are they wrong? Well, the fact that the Department of Transportation and a mayoral representative are now appearing at a series of town hall meetings to explain their plans and listen to people’s concerns is a sign that they could have handled it better in the first place.

But Handal also thinks their proposals are misguided. He thinks restricting parking won’t solve anything because it will encourage even more traffic on those boulevards, while hurting businesses — which in the end only lowers the city’s revenues. At the meeting, he got a rousing applause when he brought up the idea of starting with phase two — retiming of traffic lights — and leaving the street parking alone until more impact studies are done.

The real problem, he told me, is that the city of Santa Monica overdeveloped their business sector without a corresponding increase in housing. This has resulted in a huge increase in eastbound traffic on Pico and Olympic; and since Venice and Washington boulevards are underused, he thinks encouraging people to use those boulevards would be smarter.

But all those ideas are peanuts compared to what Handal dreams about for the future.

On Sunday, he told me about this dream, which he is working on with a group of activists, and which he believes will redefine the city of Los Angeles: High-speed, comfortable, pollution-free, magnetic-levitation monorails.

No kidding. He showed me plans. Instead of costing $7 billion like the city’s much-touted “Subway to the Sea,” and taking until the year 2030 to extend the current subway from Western to La Cienega, the monorail would cost $1.75 billion, go from the ocean to Union Station and could be completed in five years.

As he sees it, the monorail would rise majestically above Pico Boulevard (or any other major east-west artery) and would be a major tourist attraction. He talks about having fancy cafes in these monorails, first-class cabins with express service to downtown, convenient stops for shoppers and commuters, and, eventually, expanding the monorail to other parts of Los Angeles to reduce the congestion and get people to places like LAX without any hassles.

Handal is livid that these kind of creative ideas get so little attention. When I ask him why, he replies in his thick Brooklyn accent: “Just follow the money.” Powerful unions and big business, he says, have a vested interest in lucrative projects like $7 billion subways, and politicians hungry for election money listen to them.

But Handal is not deterred. His passion never ends.

Frankly, I don’t often meet people who go gaga over stuff like parking studies and the timing of traffic lights. But I confess, when I saw Handal get so passionate about the monorail idea and his vision for the city I love, it gave me a little thrill.

Maybe I’ll go to the next town hall meeting. Mr. Mayor, are you listening?

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Pico-Robertson to mayor — let our parking stay


Terry Ring Schonwald used to be the owner of Nick’s Coffee Shop on Pico near LaCienega.

That was until the city decided to restrict parking on Pico Blvd. because of construction, which lasted from 1994 until 1997. The lack of parking, she said, caused such a loss of customers that she was forced to sell her business.

“We couldn’t subsidize it anymore, because there was no way to get there,” said Schonwald, a former leader of the South Robertson Neighborhood Council. And now she believes the same thing will happen to other business owners as the city of Los Angeles considers steps to make Pico and Olympic boulevards into faster-flowing thoroughfares. As part of the plan, restricted parking is once again on the table.

“When they take the parking off Pico, they will put the small businesses out of business,” Schonwald said.

On Dec. 18, she was one of a number of business people, residents and religious leaders who voiced concern about the Olympic-West, Pico-East Traffic Initiative at a meeting with representatives of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s and Councilman Jack Weiss’ offices. The meeting was not open to the press.

People in the largely observant Jewish neighborhood known as Pico-Robertson — a residential neighborhood that is also home to many small specialty kosher restaurants, supermarkets, synagogues and yeshivas — are worried that changing Pico will hurt business and ruin the character of the neighborhood.

The mayor, with the support of Weiss, revealed the plan last month to the surprise of many residents and local politicians. This month, city officials are holding meetings with locals to explain the initiative, which they say offers a quick and relatively inexpensive solution to reducing traffic congestion in the city. They expect to begin implementing the plan in January.

There is much confusion about the initiative, which is often mistaken for an earlier proposal in April by Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky to turn Pico and Olympic into opposing one-way streets. That proposal was evaluated by the L.A. Department of Transportation and rejected because elements were “found not to be feasible,” according to a Nov. 19 Department of Transportation memo to the City Council. Instead, the current initiative focuses on alleviating rush-hour traffic on Pico and Olympic along the seven-mile stretch between Centinela and La Brea avenues (or perhaps only as far as Fairfax Avenue) in three phases.

Phase one would eliminate parking on Pico and Olympic, probably between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. and between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The second phase would change the timing of the traffic lights to move traffic faster.

The third phase would provide “preferential directional flow operation,” which means creating three lanes of westward traffic on Olympic, with one lane of eastward flow for local traffic, and the reverse on Pico, with limited turning options to favor the preferential directional flow on each street.

Weiss said he expects the impact on the neighborhood of the first phase, which will cost $300,000, to be minimal.

“It’s a very modest proposal. It will restrict rush-hour parking along those portions of Pico and Olympic that don’t already have restricted parking. Most already have,” Weiss, who was not at the meeting, said in a separate interview.

It will be an improvement on the current situation, Jonathan Powell, press aide to the mayor, said in an interview. “Restrictions are inconsistent — in some places there are no parking restrictions, and there are bottlenecks all over the place — all we’re going to be doing we’re making some of those restrictions consistent.”

The plan is for the first two phases to be implemented in January. The third would begin six months later and would cost an additional $1.5 million. No part of the proposal requires approval from the City Council, according to the mayor’s office.

According to the city’s Department of Transportation (LADOT), the first two phases would improve traffic by two minutes in the morning and seven minutes in the afternoon on Pico and would reduce traffic by one minute in the morning and four minutes in the afternoon on Olympic.

Based on a simulation between Centinela and Century Park East (which is west of the Pico-Roberston neighborhood), and extrapolated to La Brea, LADOT estimates that phase two would reduce rush hour travel time by an additional seven minutes.

“The Olympic-West and Pico-East plan was developed by significant study, and it reflects the smart and safe way to reduce traffic,” the mayor’s press aide said.

Nevertheless, many are unconvinced that the change is worthwhile: “You want to give me two miles an hour so I can lose those wonderful places I shop and eat, where I do my business on Pico?” Schonwald said. “Give me a break!”

LADOT says the plan, which is intended to reduce traffic on the 10 Freeway and thereby alleviate traffic throughout the city, will bring a 45 percent improvement in traffic and relieve congestion throughout the city.

Yet many residents and most business owners in Pico-Robertson (from about Roxbury Drive to La Cienega Boulevard) insist this religious neighborhood is different from the rest of the city and the initiative could adversely affect the neighborhood’s character.

The primary issue is a dispute over new restrictions on parking. There is no way to know how many spots could be lost, because already restrictions are spotty in the area along Pico.

On a recent late Friday morning in Pico-Robertson, when many people in Los Angeles were at work, Pico Boulevard had more of a weekend feel. Shoppers rushed through stores like Pico Glatt and Elat Bakery, stocking up for Shabbat, when the stores would close and the sidewalks would teem with religious residents going to shul and to community members’ homes.

Local traffic is not exactly the problem here, because it moves, albeit erratically, with people cutting over to drop off and pick up passengers or slide into the rare available street parking spot or wait in line for one of the few parking lots.

City of L.A. Report Card: Mayor Villagairosa and the Jewish community at midterm


Antonio Villaraigosa is coming up to halftime in his first term as mayor of Los Angeles. This is as good a time as any to assess the direction of his mayoralty and its implications for the Jewish community.

There is a natural comparison to be made between Villaraigosa and former L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, but the differences are significant as well. In the world of coalition politics, Bradley was the Los Angeles Jewish community’s first love.

As the city’s first African American mayor, Bradley depended heavily on Jewish support, both in votes and in campaign money. The African American-Jewish relationship was at the heart of the Bradley coalition and marked the coming of age of both communities in the previously white, conservative politics of Los Angeles.

Villaraigosa was elected in a different time, and his relationship to the Jewish community, while significant, is substantially different from Bradley’s. Like Bradley, Villaraigosa brought a community — Latinos — to the center stage after years in the political shadows. Like Bradley, Villaraigosa drew votes from white liberals, particularly Jews. But Villaraigosa’s rise came in an era when the liberal Democratic forces had largely vanquished the old white conservative regime, and his mayoral opponents were all Democrats or progressive Republicans.

Jews no longer had a reactionary Sam Yorty to vote against. They had a Latino progressive, but also a Democratic James K. Hahn or Jewish moderate centrists like Bob Hertzberg and Steve Soboroff.

Jews did not represent the only critical mass for Villaraigosa’s victory, as they had for Bradley. The shift of African American voters from Hahn between 2001 and 2005 probably made a bigger difference in the outcome. Nonetheless Jewish and white liberal voters played an important role. In 2001, Villaraigosa was locked in a tight primary and had to break out of a competition with another Latino Democrat, Xavier Becerra, who had alienated some Jewish voters on the issue of Israel. By drawing on his long ties to the liberal Westside, Villaraigosa moved up in the pre-election polls, and when he put some distance between himself and Becerra, Latino voters poured into his camp as the Latino candidate most likely to win. That surge drove him into the 2001 runoff election against Hahn.

The Jewish community remains a potent force in Los Angeles politics and government, even though there are only two Jewish elected officials at City Hall (5th district councilman Jack Weiss and Controller Laura Chick). County supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky is a major power in town, as are Jewish Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), Howard Berman (D-Mission Hills), Jane Harman (D-South Bay) and Adam Schiff (D-Burbank). The Jewish community has been looking to increase its ties to Latino and Asian American communities, and to navigate effectively in the highly diverse politics of this city. Villaraigosa, a dedicated practitioner of coalition politics, and well known in the Jewish community, is a natural ally in this endeavor.

Villaraigosa has added to his long history with the Los Angeles Jewish community by forging close ties with Weiss and Chick. Waxman eased the federal ban on a “subway to the sea” up Wilshire Boulevard. And until his recent tiff with Yaroslavsky over bus fares, their relationship had been good (Zev having endorsed Antonio for mayor in 2005.) Even Beverly Hills chimed in, easing its opposition to public transportation through its stretch of Wilshire Boulevard.

Villaraigosa’s Energizer Bunny constant-motion approach has made him lots of new political friends. He elevated the power of his office when he took on some of the toughest problems of the city, from environment to traffic, to housing, to gangs, to police and, most of all, the schools. Now he is entering the “big slog” period when he will have to select issues to focus on and make sure that he gets some big results.

Some of these issues are particularly acute for Jewish voters. Jews are intensely concerned about education, even with only a small number of children in the public schools. Jews can be found on all three sides of the complex power struggle over the LAUSD. Jewish school board members, Jewish teachers’ union leaders and Jewish school reformers have all been part of the mix. Villaraigosa won control of a school board majority by backing a Jewish candidate in the San Fernando Valley who beat an incumbent in May. His ability to reform the governance and operations of the school district will be closely watched.

But nothing is likely to be more perilous or potentially successful than the linked issues of traffic and growth. Bradley found this out all too well when his downtown building boom spilled over onto the Westside and into the Valley, causing growth to accelerate and traffic to snarl. He faced a major, if temporary, decline in his support among Jews not because of ethnic or racial issues, but simply on the issue of growth.

Villaraigosa has pledged to make a major dent in public transportation and traffic, and those two matters will be closely watched on the Westside especially, but also in the Valley. His conflict with Yaroslavsky over MTA bus fares may presage tougher days ahead as he seeks to build financial and political support for the subway to the sea. And even if that project moves ahead, there will be major political complications from the physical changes that will have to be undertaken. Anything to reduce traffic congestion that is low-cost and quick to implement may help reduce some of the inevitable backlash to any change in these dense streets.

Even with these daunting challenges, there is reason to be optimistic about Villaraigosa’s next two years. He has made strong appointments to run City departments, and he has enough political support to make tough choices. At the end of the day, though, it may all come down to building coalitions and avoiding traffic jams.

Raphael Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton. He writes a monthly column for The Journal.

God Is in the Details — Even in the Busy Carpool Lane


Preparation for the High Holidays means engaging in cheshbon hanefesh, accounting of the soul. This includes taking a personal inventory of your own behavior and
the lessons you may unwittingly be teaching your children. In Judaism, God is in the details, and one of the most important details is everyday courtesy.


The rabbis teach that respectfulness and courtesy are redeeming virtues, even when the Jewish people do not fulfill the other precepts of the Torah. They call these practices derech eretz, and say: “A Torah scholar who does not have derech eretz is worse than a dead animal.”

Whoa, Nelly. In our competitive, overscheduled world, we so often get in the habit of looking for shortcuts and finding creative justifications for breaking rules and putting our own needs ahead of those of the community, that it’s easy to forget that our children are watching.

You need look no further than the carpool drop-off lane at your child’s school to know exactly what I’m talking about. Rudeness is so rampant, that administrators nationwide are forced to write parents letters begging them to be polite and follow the rules. I know, because I have a collection of these letters. They range from moving sermons to stand-up comedy routines, but all have a shared goal: to convince parents — those same parents who so badly want children to follow rules at home — to follow carpool rules that are designed for safety, efficiency and fairness.

All of us do things we don’t want our children to emulate, more often than we realize and often in undramatic, everyday ways. The High Holidays are a good time to switch gears and to find ways to practice derech eretz, beginning with the details of daily living.

Our sages have plenty of suggestions on how to do this. The rules are as sensitive, countercultural and ethically sharp today as they were 2,000 years ago. Here are some of my personal favorites. Many of these laws come from “Guide to Derech Eretz” (Feldheim, 1993), an introduction to the subject, by Rabbi Shaul Wagschal:

  • To protect a rabbi from possible embarrassment, you shouldn’t ask a question if you suspect he may not know the answer.
  • Invite guests to Shabbat dinner by Wednesday, so they won’t think the invitation is an afterthought.
  • In the days before locks, people were required to knock on the door of their own house so that they wouldn’t startle those already home. The proof text? God stood by the portal of the Garden of Eden and summoned Adam, as the verse says, “And the Lord called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?'”
  • Laws of lashon hara prohibit gossip, even in its most subtle, peripheral form, called avak lashon hara, the dust of gossip. For example, the rabbis warn us never to praise anyone too highly, because too much praise can invite the other person to compare the image you’re presenting to his own.
  • If the court sentences a man to death by hanging, one must never say to one of his relatives, “Hang up the towel,” because the word “hang” evokes shameful memories.
  • When the rabbis noted that the rich brought their bikkurim, or first fruit offerings, in silver bowls and the poor in woven baskets, they instituted a “baskets-only” rule.
  • When dancing on certain holidays, some of the daughters of the rich exchanged dresses with the daughters of the poor in order that the latter would not be embarrassed.

To these venerable laws I would like to add three suggestions of my own that will give parents frequent opportunities to teach by example.

  1. A parent must lay down his or her phone when greeting his child. The laws of derech eretz state that when in public, you should try to greet others as soon as you spot them, so they won’t think you’re ignoring them or trying to avoid them.

    Your child deserves as much consideration. Get off the cellphone before they get in the car. If the phone rings during the first few minutes of your greeting, don’t answer it. Think of the phone as the snake in the garden. It’s an alluring temptation to always connect, but the caller knows how to leave a message. If you don’t answer the phone immediately, your child gets a message, too — that greeting someone in person takes precedence over any other activity.

  2. It is forbidden to cut ahead in the carpool line. Why? Because it is a theft of time. The Babylonian Talmud explores the problem of two boats simultaneously approaching a bottleneck in a river. If it is impossible for both to pass together, they should compromise in the following way: One boat goes first, and the captain of this boat compensates the second boat for the time that it lost waiting. What is your compensation for waiting your turn in the carpool lane?

    The knowledge that you are teaching your child patience and courtesy.

  3. A mother or father shall not fib on a child’s behalf, not even to maintain the purity of the college transcript. In my travels to schools around the country, I hear stunning examples of parents who commit unethical acts in the name of helping their children — the father who signed his daughter’s name to an e-mail he wrote to her English teacher contesting a grade; the mother who rewrote her son’s college application essay without his knowledge; the parents who research and even write their children’s papers for them.

The rabbis say that one should not break a promise to a child, because doing so will teach the child to lie. If you tweak the rules for your children, you are breaking the agreement you made with them when they were young. Back then, you taught them to tell the truth. When they see your hypocrisy, they will lose respect for you, imitate your behavior or both.

Jewish law provides rules that are meant to be followed, even when your daughter absolutely must get to the orthodontist on time, even when you’re tempted to say, “Just this once.”

The commandment to honor one’s parents helps elevate the laws of derech eretz to prominence in our High Holiday inventory. We can ask, “Do I deserve the reverence of my child? Am I the kind of parent my child can learn from and be proud of?”

Whatever motivates you — your entry ticket to the gates of heaven, how your children will treat your grandchildren or your child’s next letter of recommendation — this is the time to think about not only crimes but misdemeanors and, if we are right by the rabbis, even dust.

Wendy Mogel is a clinical psychologist. She is the author of “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teaching to Raise Self-Reliant Children.” She is currently writing a book for parents of teenagers, “The Blessing of a B Minus.”

‘Oy Vey’ Such a Sign


A traffic sign with the words, “Leaving Brooklyn Oy Vey!” went up on the Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn into Manhattan. The city’s Department of Transportation approved the sign earlier this month, after rejecting an earlier request from Borough President Marty Markowitz.

“The beauty is, every ethnic group knows it,” Markowitz said of the expression.

 

But Officer, It’s Yontif!


Worried about getting a parking ticket while you’re praying for your soul? Don’t fret. You can take as long as you want in synagogue this Rosh Hashanah, because Los Angeles’ normally overzealous traffic cops will be off your back.

City Councilman Jack Weiss has used his diplomatic muscle to have all parking restrictions in the 5th District relaxed over the high holidays to accommodate synagogue-goers. The relaxed parking laws will be in effect from 4 p.m, Friday, Sept. 26 to 11 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 28; from 4 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 5 through to midnight, Tuesday, Oct. 7; from 4 p.m., Friday, Oct. 10 through to 11 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 12; and from 4 p.m., Friday, Oct. 17 through to 2 a.m., Monday, Oct. 20.

For more information or to check whether your synagogue’s street is in the 5th District, you can call Field Deputy Adeena Bleich on (310) 289-0353.

Road Rage


Let’s say it’s Friday night and I want to see the guy I’ve been dating for four months or so. Let’s call him Romeo.

I leave Koreatown full of romantic anticipation. I’m listening to some old-school disco on the car radio. I turn it up. I’m thinking maybe we’ll see a movie, grab a burrito, sit on his couch drinking Scotch and making up stupid nicknames for each other.

La Brea is a little clogged. I see road construction lights ahead and a closed lane. Four lights go by, and I’m still on the same street. I turn down the radio.

They say women forget the pain of childbirth so they’ll want to have another child. Similarly, I forget just how long it takes to get to the 10 West from Hollywood. I forget just how awful Friday night traffic is so I can leave my house again the next Friday night. Road amnesia protects me from becoming the type of shut-in that gets into fights with some guy named Sassytrousers14 on an Internet message board dedicated to world cheeses.

It all comes back to me as I sit in my car on the freeway, trapped like a hostage. The festive music is jarring now. I switch to NPR and take to sighing.

I get off the freeway only to find the streets of Santa Monica bustling. Marauding gangs seem to be wandering by foot all around the Third Street Promenade.

I look for parking, circling and circling until the sound of NPR becomes like a knife in my brain, and I turn it off. Finally, I decide to park in a nearby hotel lot, risking a tow.

I’m meeting a friend the next morning for Pilates in Laurel Canyon, and I suddenly realize I’ve forgotten my workout clothes. Life is a complicated fiasco, and it’s all Romeo’s fault.

By the time I get to his door, I’m not happy, and I’m not even neutral. I’m starting the evening in a goodwill deficit. One wrong move and the resentment bomb I’ve built over months of this crazy commute will detonate.

Location is a huge relationship issue in this vast city with no feasible public transportation. It must be taken into account. Can a couple separated by freeways and 45 minutes survive? Allow me to submit that urban sprawl isn’t just bad for the environment, it’s brutal on dating.

Take Romeo and me. We’re star-crossed lovers from two different area codes, perhaps doomed. He can’t just cruise by on foot and scale my balcony in the moonlight. He’s got to sit in traffic just like I do, mumbling, "It is the 10 East, and Juliet is the sun."

Every date brings questions: Whose apartment will it be? (My friend Anne says it should always be the one with the nicest sheets.) How often do you see each other when the convenience barriers are so plentiful? Is someone keeping score of who commutes the most?

What’s more, the dating timeline is thrown off by distance. You end up spending entire weekends together just to avoid a few extra trips across town. The whole thing intensifies unnaturally.

And don’t be seduced by the fantasy of the midpoint. You say, "Let’s meet in the middle," and it sounds like a good idea, but there’s never anything in the middle. Beware the sort of compromise that leads to nights driving around Culver City looking for signs of life.

It seems petty, the problem of a few extra miles and some traffic, but believe me, the issue becomes epic. If I start slacking on my Santa Monica duty, Romeo is convinced the relationship means nothing to me.

It’s not just a drive anymore. It’s a vehicle for proving I’m not his selfish ex-girlfriend who couldn’t be bothered to spend the night at his place. It’s a battleground where feelings get hurt and parking tickets multiply. It’s coming home to a surly cat who has registered his disapproval of my absence by leaving me the gift of feline waste on my pillow.

If it’s meant to be, all of this shouldn’t matter, right? It’s just difficult to gauge whether someone is your destiny in a fog of nuisance-filled voyages.

There’s a Yiddish saying, "If a man is destined to drown, he will drown even in a spoonful of water." I guess the converse of that axiom would be, "If a couple is meant to swim, they will do so even in a bucket full of bother." I believe that.

If you’re trying to have a relationship across the 405 or the 101, maybe waking up to rush hour is a sort of love crucible. If you can walk through that and not blame each other, you might be on to something.

Trafficking in Futility


Trafficking in Futility

I was caught in the cruel cogs of a heartless machine. I was stripped of my humanity and dignity. I was without representation or recourse.

I was in traffic court.

Before my little run-in with Santa Monica’s finest, I believed in justice. I was sure that a judge, once presented with the “truth,” would revoke my ticket and the accompanying $280 fine. Sure, the light wasn’t green when I entered that intersection to make a left turn, but neither was it red. So I put on my most presentable outfit, took the afternoon off from work and prepared to clear up the matter once and for all.

I had hoped that the ticketing officer would be a no-show, giving me an automatic victory. But there she was, sitting in the front row of the courtroom, trading weight-lifting tips with two of her associates. She looked swaggeringly confident, propping her elbows atop the wooden bench and laughing as she tightened her blond ponytail. I started to wonder if this was such a good idea.

When it was my turn to testify, I nervously told my story and stressed my heretofore pristine driving record. Things were looking good. Until my cop took the stand. Apparently, she had arrived early, creating an intricate three-color diagram of the intersection to which she expertly referred during her terse description of my misdeeds.

The judge asked me to draw the position of my car on the officer’s diagram. Looking at the vexing grid of lines and squiggles, I knew I was finished.

“Your honor,” I said, “I’m not good with…spatial relations.”

After some pathetic attempts to place my car in space with a red marker, I could see my case weaken like a soggy grocery bag giving way to a spent jar of Ragu. Looking back, I’m pretty sure my rendering had the vehicle hovering above the street like something out of “Blade Runner.”

“The citation stands,” the judge barked. When I tried to inquire as to her reasoning, she banged down her gavel, and that was that.

I left court in tears.

I had heard stories, which I now think of as urban myths, of people beating the system. All I could think, as I sat on a nearby bench, staring at the ocean and choking down a melted ice cream sundae, was that my fate had been sealed before I walked through the door. I never had a chance. I felt like an idiot for even trying, and I felt even worse for crying over a stupid ticket. Why had I bothered?

My friend, who had come along for moral support, tried to cheer me up, singing, “I fought the law and the law won,” and referring to the People’s Republic of Santa Monica. I just wanted to drop out of society, hole up somewhere and write my manifesto.

Bureaucracies are a notoriously frustrating fact of life. We all have to deal with the IRS, the DMV and countless others.

The other day, I heard a scientist on the radio talking about his concept of “fuzzy logic,” the idea that logical conclusions aren’t always binary. I thought about traffic court, how the function of a bureaucracy is to draw a black-and-white line through what’s often a gray and fuzzy place.

That same day, I noticed an instructional video at the store, “How To Fight a Traffic Ticket.” The cardboard box was worn from so many rentals. I picked it up and realized that there must be a universal appeal to beating the system, to getting the black-and-white line to fall in your favor, to gaining some small measure of control over something unwieldy.

I also realized that there’s not much point.

There are people who devise schemes to ascertain their officer’s day off and hack through the required paper work to schedule their trials for that day. Others exercise a defendant’s right to recuse their judge, claiming bias and winning a new trial on a new day. One can win, I suppose, but it’s a lot of trouble for a little satisfaction.

You have to choose your battles. There are important issues to fight for, causes to champion, occasions to stand up for yourself when you know you’re right. Traffic court? Suck it up and write a check. Case closed.


Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething contributing writer for The Jewish Journal.

Read a previous week’s column by Teresa Strasser:

Reaching New Haights

Enlightened Teresa Vs. The Princess of Doom

A Few Words About My Mail

Is This a Bad Time?

Looking for a Few Good Therapists

Israel and the Cure for Teenage Angst

Driving Miss Lazy

Tossing My Cookies

T emporarily Yours

Notes from the Village of the Damned

Kissing A Lot of Frogs