Nevis’ Jewish Past a Tropical Treasure


Savvy travelers in need of a getaway come to the Caribbean island of Nevis to relax at restored sugar plantations, like the Montpelier Inn, or the opulent Four Seasons. Celebrity visitors have included Michael Douglas, Oprah Winfrey and Princess Diana, who immediately fled to the island to relax after her breakup with Prince Charles.

Tourists soak up the sun on the island’s beaches and watch for whales, snorkel in the crystal-clear turquoise sea and hike its lush hills listening to the chatter of green vervet monkeys. Nevis is home to 10,000 people, and charming Caribbean gingerbread-style buildings along downtown Charleston’s tiny main street evokes the feeling of “Gulliver’s Travels” as tourists visit area shops and restaurants.

This Leeward Island destination, known as the “Queen of the Caribbees,” was also once home to dozens of hard-working Jews whose story makes up a little-known chapter of Caribbean Jewish history. It’s been centuries since a Jewish community has called Nevis home, but references to the “Jews’ School” and the “Jewish Temple” remain a colorful part of island folklore.

“Nevis has a remarkable story to tell of a community that used to be,” said David Rollinson, a local historian who conducts Jewish tours of the island. “The cemetery is all that’s left now and it continues to give us valuable insight into the lives of the Jews of Nevis.”

Sitting southeast of Puerto Rico, Nevis is the smaller sister island to neighboring St. Kitts (a 20-minute ferry ride), which tends to be more rough and tumble. Nevis is nearly 7 miles in diameter and was first spotted by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the New World. Columbus called the island Nieves, the Spanish word for “snows,” because the islands volcanic peaks reminded him of the snow-capped Pyrenees.

By the mid-1600s, Nevis’ sugarcane industry made it a Caribbean powerhouse. Sephardic Jews expelled from Brazil by the Portuguese were drawn to the island. And by the early 1700s, one-quarter of the Caucasian population in Charleston were Jewish.

The Colonial period brought about a synagogue, but the exact date of its construction is unknown. A school followed, which was attended by the non-Jewish son of U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton, who was born on the island in 1757.

By the end of the 18th century, the sugar industry went bust and the Jewish families moved away in search of new jobs, leaving behind their stores and homes. The synagogue and school were closed. Today, the only visible reminders of that once-vibrant community are the 19 surviving grave markers in the Nevis Jewish Cemetery.

Scholars and archaeologists from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have long been fascinated with Nevis’ Jewish history. Funds from various organizations, like the Commonwealth Jewish Council, have been able to piece together a picture of what Jewish life was like from the clues in the cemetery.

Located on Government Road, a few minutes from the pier in Charleston, the cemetery stands in the middle of what once was the Jewish neighborhood. Grave markers, inscribed in Portuguese, Hebrew and English, date from 1650 to 1768 and bear names like Marache, Pinheiro, Mendez, Lobatto and Cohen. However, on some the writing is barely legible. Forty more burial sites, without markers, were identified some 20 years ago by a survey done on the grounds.

Rededicated in 1971 after a Philadelphia couple organized the cleanup and restorations of the gravestones, today the cemetery’s sacred grounds are carefully manicured by the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society.

“It’s a very emotional experience for people who come here,” said Rollinson, who watches as tourists quietly place stones on the above ground tombstones as a show of respect. “It’s an emotional experience for me, too.”

Across the street is a narrow vine-covered laneway the locals still call “Jews Walk” or “Jews Alley” which may have led to the Jewish school and kitty-corner from the cemetery is a typical Caribbean clapboard house that was built on the land where the synagogue once stood. Details about the school are sketchy but Dutch archives indicate the synagogue was built in 1684. Sadly, not an artifact has been recovered; historians believe the congregants took the valuables with them when they left the island.

Nevis’ library features some of the best local history books, including books on the area’s Jewish history, and offers the cheapest Internet connections on the island.

To the Nevisians, this area will always be “the Jewish neighborhood.” Some old-timers even remember their great-great-grandparents talking about the Jews who used to live there.

“It’s important none of us forget about those families all those years ago,” said T.C. Claxton, a British expat who has been driving a taxi on the island for 30 years. “Future generations have a lot to learn from this past.”

For more information about Nevis, visit

Jews of the Midnight Sun


Each year, our congregation visits a different corner of the Jewish world. This year we traveled to Scandinavia and our first stop was Stockholm, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Sweden is green and vibrant and its capital city is surrounded by water. Many of us took a 10-minute ferry to Old Town each day and sat in cafes that have been in continuous use since the 1700s.

On television, which isn’t dubbed in order to promote English, we watched reruns of “Saturday Night Live” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The Swedes have a little trouble understanding Linda Richman being farklempt, but they seem to enjoy urban Jewish shtick.

Swedes tend to be extremely attractive and friendly, neither overly competitive nor driven. They also speak excellent English. As my Swedish cousin told me: “When you have a language that nobody else in the world speaks, you have to learn English well.”

Like most Scandinavian countries, Swedes are taxed above 50 percent, but they get 85 percent of their salary at retirement and are provided with health and welfare benefits throughout their lives. However, immigration is challenging their ability to be so generous.

Scandinavian Jews are well-integrated into the population, but they have to struggle to preserve Jewish life. Each major community is small — a few synagogues, a school, an old age home and a small Jewish Community Center. In Stockholm, the major synagogue has mixed seating, a rabbi originally from Buffalo and a few-dozen regular attendees. Families tax themselves about 3 percent of an average salary to belong to the community — and about 800 do.

Journalist Peter Wolodarski, 26, spoke to us of the keen interest that young Jews have in Jewish issues and Israel, but they just can’t find their place in the much-too-traditional organized Jewish community. He also addressed the issues of European anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and contrasted the pre- and post-Holocaust views of Jews.

Quoting Israeli author Amos Oz, Wolodarski reminded us that, before the Shoah, Jews were told to leave Europe and go to Palestine. Today, too many Europeans believe that Europe and Israel share no history or culture and that Jews now need to leave “Palestine.” “Don’t be here” and “don’t be there” can lead to “don’t be.” Israel’s rejection by the European Union, when Israel is actually more European than Turkey, struck Wolodarski as ironic, as did Poland’s present pro-Israel stance, since Poland is now anti-Soviet and the Soviets were anti-Zionist.

Our guide, Dr. David Fisher, a professor of Jewish studies at Uppsala University, was a wellspring of facts and figures. For instance, in 18th-century Sweden, Jews who converted to Christianity on a given Sunday could take home what was in the church collection plate that day. Despite the incentive, few converted.

By 1870, there were only 800 Swedish Jews, but 25 percent of the major stores in Stockholm were Jewishly owned. These Jews were quite charitable to hospitals and museums, and they even built a synagogue much larger than they could use to emphasize their importance in the community.

During World War II, Sweden was officially neutral, but it traded with both sides. Those whom we met in Norway and Denmark condemned this amoral approach, but all acknowledged Sweden’s role in saving Danish Jewry. In October 1943, during the 10 days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, most Danish Jews were rescued by the Danish Resistance who sent them across the Oresund in fishing boats to Sweden.

During and after the Holocaust, hundreds of German refugees came to Sweden, which to this day, like all Scandinavian countries, grant asylum to political refugees. But, because these refugees were different, they weren’t always welcomed by the well-established and integrated Swedish Jewish community, and many failed to join synagogues or the kehilla (community structure).

The Jewish community is quite elderly — one funeral a day, but not even one marriage a month. At the Jewish community center, we sang, spoke and visited with a Holocaust survivors group, at their weekly oneg Shabbat (now in its 20th year), and we met some of those immigrants, who never felt comfortable in the religious community. Languages abounded that day — Yiddish, Russian, Polish, German and Hebrew. Our cantor sang in Yiddish, Hebrew and Ladino, I was asked to speak about Reconstructionism, and others in our group played the piano or conversed in the mamaloshen. It was a deeply satisfying mutual mitzvah and simcha that we shared with each other.

At Uppsala University, one of Europe’s oldest, the medieval church still depicts, in stone, Jews sucking from a pig. Swedish law doesn’t allow its removal for historical reasons, although it’s clearly anti-Semitic. Today’s anti-Semitism doesn’t come from Swedish Lutherans, but from radicals in a Muslim population of 350,000, all of whom arrived in the last 30 to 40 years.

Muslim immigration is a worry throughout Europe. Many come, as guest workers, but others are children, sent by their parents, claiming to be orphans. Then, once they are given to a Muslim foster family, “they discover” 20 relatives back home, who then have the right to immigrate.

Muslim triumphalism and Sept. 11 terrorism have combined to frighten Scandinavians who are now caught between a philosophy of open borders and the reality of different races, religions and cultures changing their progressive European society. With 350,000 Muslims and only 25,000 Jews, the Jewish community is worried, too.

“We’re just wild about Harry” was our pervasive feeling in Norway, because we spent a week with Harry Rodner, a former oil company executive, and now a marvelous guide. Sophisticated and menschlich, Harry’s family contributed the funds for Oslo’s synagogue. Norway is now the richest country per capita in Europe because of North Sea oil and salaries (and expenses) are 30 percent higher than in the rest of Western Europe.

Like all good guides, Harry shared more than facts; he told us wonderfully fascinating stories of Norway and its Jews, including his own. Harry introduced us to the Vigeland Sculpture Park — a must — representing 20 years of an artist’s creativity, in which Vigeland evoked powerful images of love and hate — within families, between lovers and in human striving. The National Gallery and Munch Museum were also artistic experiences of the highest order and we realized how little we knew about the cultural contributions of Scandinavia to Western Civilization.

Our first stop in Oslo was the Holocaust Memorial, honoring the memories of 750 Norwegian Jews who were murdered. There are only 1,000 Jews in Oslo today, so imagine the great pain of such a loss. Unlike many other countries, Jews and Muslims work together with Christians in an interfaith council, but there are serious problems with Muslim fundamentalists in Norway, as well.

A Christian hero to Jews was Henrik Wergeland, who vigorously promoted the legal and civic equality for Jews in the 18th century. To honor his memory, the Jewish community erected a large marker over his grave in the shape of a havdalah spice box.

Oslo was also the site of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords that offered such hope a few years ago as well as the place where the Nobel Peace Prize is presented each year (the other Nobels are given in Stockholm). Near that site, another Holocaust Memorial powerfully stands — empty Shabbat dinner chairs facing the dock from which Jews were deported. Fortunately, half of Norway’s Jews were saved by the Norwegian Resistance and each year, the Jewish community sends its 13-year-olds on a bar mitzvah march to walk the refugee trails to Sweden, remembering and re-enacting one of the major escape routes.

At the lovely shul, one of the most northern in the world, we joined in a circle for a havdalah service, singing songs and prayers calling for a more utopian world. Interestingly, we were told that there are many converts to Judaism in Norway because of marriage or due to the “coldness” of Norwegian Lutheranism.

For many of us, the fjords were a highlight. Formed by glaciers, these bays flow through the mountains, below skies that constantly change color from blue to gray to black. We saw rainbows and waterfalls and felt at peace in the overwhelming glory of nature. I have never seen a more unusual sky, and it’s one that’s found in so many Norwegian paintings. We stayed in a hotel not unlike a smaller version of San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado, sipping tea on the porch and flashing back a century, while enjoying Norwegian pianist Age Kristofferson, playing Edvard Grieg’s music and telling us his life story.

Imagine a society in which a composer is a national hero, and you gain some insight into Norwegians. By the way, Grieg, whose music we played as we traveled through the fjords, was such an outspoken advocate for freeing Dreyfus that he refused to play in France during the Dreyfus affair.

In Norway, we also learned about trolls and how they’re not little and cute, but big with tails and possess up to seven heads. They only go out at night and during the day live in caves because sunlight makes them explode. So, we were told, if you see a big guy with multiple heads, he’s not a Norwegian. Moreover, never tell a Norwegian that you saw a troll with eight heads — he won’t believe you; seven is the limit.

In beautiful Bergen, a city of narrow townhouses, cobblestone streets and a colorful wharf, we ate lots of fish. Actually, we ate fish a lot throughout our tour and lox almost every day for breakfast. Although there are few bagels and little cream cheese, the main source of income for the Jewish community isn’t North Sea oil, but lox, since the rabbi is the mashglach/kashrut supervisor of the lox factories.

The Bergen Design Museum was also a highlight, in which furniture and other everyday functional household items were transformed into art. There’s a cosmopolitan joie de vie in Bergen and its citizens are know as the “Latins of Scandinavia,” because of their warmth and zest for life.

Like the Swedes, Norwegians are optimistic and warm, albeit a bit reserved initially. When an irreplaceable and historic wooden Stave Church was burnt down (by a satanic cult, no less), instead of mourning it as a tragedy, Norwegians saw it as an opportunity to build a new church that would be the “newest Stave Church built in Norway.” Talk about seeing the glass half full!

Or consider the story of one of our speakers, Wolfgang Pintzka, who displayed a “curious lack of bitterness,” in his own words, at his life story. In his book, “From Siberia to the Synagogue,” well known in Norway and Germany and soon to be published in English, Pintzka describes his Jewish father in Germany, who was Aryanized by Hitler, since he was a sports car designer and was needed to design tanks.

Pintzka, who survived Hitler and Stalin, was sent to Siberia at the age of 16 to work in the mines. The Russians punished him with a 25-year sentence for belonging to the Hitler Youth.

In the camp library, Pintzka found a book of Brechtian plays, banned by Hitler, but available under the communists. So he directed his first play in Siberia, was pardoned by Stalin after five years and then became the foremost director of Brecht in East Germany. In 1984, because of their cultural status, Pintzka was allowed to leave East Germany. He moved to Oslo, converted to Judaism with his wife and children (in Jerusalem) and is now a leading member of the Oslo Jewish community and a former president of B’nai B’rith. Next year, Wolfgang will be directing Brecht’s Jewish play, “Refugee Talks,” in Oslo.

We will never forget the Danes and they, of course, will forever merit our highest respect and gratitude. No country did more for its Jews, rescuing nearly all of them in the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Students and fisherman, people who knew Jews in Copenhagen and those in villages who never met one, all joined together because “it was the right thing to do; it wasn’t a big deal; we couldn’t look at ourselves if we did any less,” according to our guide, Grette, as well as everyone with whom we talked.

The most well-known story of the Danish rescue isn’t factually true — King Christian X never wore a yellow star, because Danish Jews didn’t have to do so. But the important part of that famous story is that he would have, if the Jews had been forced to comply. That’s the way the Danes were and are.

Even more, non-Jewish Danes maintained the homes of their Jewish neighbors, sent food packages to those in concentration camps and, when the war ended, even business competitors welcomed the Jews back.

Are the Danes philo-Semites? In Copenhagen, a number of churches even have God’s name, YHWH, in Hebrew engraved above their front doors, in gratitude for Jewish financial help during a major 18th-century war.

Moreover, one of our guides, Gitta, was a non-Jewish Israeli tour guide, whose daughter and sister underwent Orthodox conversions in Jerusalem. Like so many in Europe, Gitta had some Jewish ancestry four generations ago, and so, out of curiosity, she visited Israel and stayed for 20 years!

Denmark is remarkably safe and sane. It has strict gun laws and little crime. In fact, few people use locks on the ubiquitous bikes one sees, and the city even allows people to rent a bike for a whole year for a deposit of only $8, which is even returned at the end of the year.

“We live the way we want life to be,” Grette said, “by standing up for a certain kind of reality, we create it.”

On the last day of our trip to Sweden, Norway and Denmark at our closing circle, our travelers spoke about what they liked best. Majestic fjords, impressive Embassy visits, fascinating speakers and deeply spiritual experiences were high on the list. But everyone realized the greatest benefit of “traveling Jewish,” deepening personal relationships around the world and having experiences unavailable to those traveling on other kinds of tours.

Most of all, we realized that when we travel abroad, and visit our fellow Jews, it’s a kind of homecoming. Everything and everyone feels both new and familiar, for traveling to distant lands to have new experiences is also a way of meeting and finding ourselves.

Arnold Rachlis is rabbi of University Synagogue in Irvine.


Bill Tackles Life Insurance Blacklist

New York state legislators are trying to prevent insurance companies from blacklisting travelers to Israel so that they cannot obtain life insurance coverage.

Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York Assembly, and Assemblyman Peter Grannis unveiled a bill Jan. 15 that would bar state insurance firms from denying life insurance to anyone who has traveled to Israel.

"I don’t know what Israel travel means: Is it risky lifestyle?" Silver said. "Does this smack of anti-Semitism? Does it smack of participation in an Arab boycott?"

Their move came in response to a recent Jewish Telegraphic Agency report that several major insurance companies around the country are refusing to issue life insurance policies to applicants who recently have visited Israel or, in some cases, to those who plan to travel to Israel or 27 other nations for which the State Department has issued a travel advisory.

The New York bill is aimed solely at insurers that "discriminate" against those who already have been to Israel, Silver said, in part because he has not heard of policy applications asking about future travel plans.

Several top insurance companies, including Allstate, State Farm and TIAA-CREF, recently said that they won’t underwrite life insurance policies for people planning to visit Israel or other U.S.-designated hot spots, because they consider such travel too high-risk.

Meanwhile, a young public relations professional in Washington reported that Fidelity Investments denied his otherwise trouble-free application for insurance, because he had visited Israel in 2002.

Officials with Jewish organizations said they had heard of similar cases over the past year. They said the story sparked yet more reports of recent rejections of Jews who had gone to Israel.

"After the story broke, other people told us about it, but they’d never talked about it because they were embarrassed," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Hoenlein could not say how many people complained but said they were all from New York. Silver said he also received three complaints. At a recent news conference, the legislator introduced one such case, that of Dennis Rapps of the Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs.

In the wake of the report, Hoenlein approached Silver, who in 1996 had introduced similar legislation when the New York-based Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. denied life insurance to a senior member of the Orthodox Union (OU) who often visited Israel. In that case, Metropolitan scrapped its policy, and the legislation never reached a vote. But Silver and Grannis’ spokesman, Peter Newell, said they expect the current bill to easily win support in the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

Silver also said he would bring the bill to other state insurance commissioners and the National Conference of Insurance Legislators in hopes that the New York bill can serve as a model for other states.

Hoenlein and senior officials of other Jewish groups said they would welcome such national attention, in part because they fear insurance red-lining could threaten U.S. travel to Israel at time when the Jewish State can’t afford a further drop in tourism.

"Our community is committed to tourism to Israel, and no one should have to suffer this kind of discrimination," said Betty Ehrenberg, director of international affairs and communal relations for the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs in Washington.

If such denials "are more widely imposed," Hoenlein said, "people are not going to risk not getting life insurance by going to Israel."

Sarina Roffe, director of communications for the Jewish National Fund, reported that she also was a victim of the boycott on hot spots. Roffe said she recently attempted to switch her life insurance policy with John Hancock Insurance and Financial Services but was rejected, because she had visited Israel within the past two years.

"Within 20 minutes, my agent called and said, ‘You’re out,’" she said. "You just don’t think of Israel as an extreme place. You just don’t think it’s going to affect you."

The agent also told her that "no one" in the insurance industry is "writing policies for anyone who has been to Israel," Roffe said.

Hispanic Tourists Top Israel Wish List

Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, facing a 50 percent drop in tourism since the intifada began three years ago, is making an aggressive push into a fresh territory of potential new tourists: Hispanic Evangelical Christians.

"We need you in Israel — we want you to visit our wonderful state, the land of the Bible," said Noam Matas, the ministry’s Los Angeles-based Western United States director, as he stood before about 90 Hispanic ministers and families at a Saturday morning Christian breakfast meeting in Pomona.

As Matas quoted the Bible’s Psalms 102 — "You will rise and be merciful to Zion. It is time to be kind to her" — he then immediately heard it in Spanish. The crowd at the Shilo Hilltop Suites hotel nodded in agreement.

This bilingual pitch for the Holy Land is part of continuing efforts by Israel and its U.S. advocates to seek support for Israel among nonliberal groups not traditionally aligned with American Jews. On Oct. 2, about 2,000 Jews and Christians came to Bel Air’s Stephen S. Wise Temple for an evening "solidarity gathering" run by The Israel-Christian Nexus, a local Jewish community-supported outreach between Jews and conservative Christians. The same travel brochures handed out that night were distributed by Matas at the Nov. 1 Hispanic community breakfast sponsored by the International Bible Society.

There, a standard Israel tourism video was shown but with Spanish-language dubbing and phrases like "exciting" translated to "emoción."

An Evangelical American woman says on camera: "It’s so wonderful to see the place that God loves more than any other place on the earth. He didn’t choose Florida."

This month, Jerusalem archaeologist Dan Bahat will speak to Evangelical ministers at Israeli-sponsored lunches and dinners in Pasadena, Santa Barbara, Irvine and Ontario, discussing new archaeological findings at the Western Wall tunnel.

"Jesus sells everywhere," said the Rev. Fernando Tamara, the 32-year-old, Peruvian-born Orange County-based Assembly of God preacher who translated the breakfast speech by Matas. "For us, the United States is a bridge [to Israel]. In this group here, we’ve already committed, to back up the nation of Israel."

Outside the ministers’ breakfast, a woman hugged her toddler son, Joshua, the two having moved to Santa Ana a month ago from northern Mexico so they could be with her minister husband at his new congregation. She said she wants to visit Israel to be "where my Lord was."

The International Bible Society’s breakfast outreach included a 16-page, single-spaced list of names of Hispanic ministers and church leaders from 900 Southern California churches whose congregants are eager to make apolitical, spiritual pilgrimages.

The tourism ministry recently saw 30 of Seattle’s Evangelical ministers travel to Israel, all spurred by one pastor.

"We came to him and said, ‘Look, this is the time to go to Israel,’" Matas said.

Another 25-30 Los Angeles-based conservative Korean Presbyterian pastors will be traveling soon, and about 30 Hispanic preachers will travel to Israel next spring on a pastors-only trip with Colorado-based Arvada Travel.

The Assembly of God and Calvary Chapel churches are uniquely interested in visiting Israel, braving the terrorist threats and flying east.

"They’re still going to Israel," said Matas, who added that Roman Catholics are not being targeted for tourism since Catholic visitors peaked around Pope John Paul II’s 2000 trip to Israel. "They love Israel, they care about Israel. They just don’t go as much as they did."

Some Jews are concerned about pro-Israel alliances with conservative Protestants, some of whom advocate converting Jews. But such activities are of no interest to Hispanics like Tamara, whose Evangelical Christianity is distinct from fundamentalist Christians like Southern Baptists (though Baptists currently are not seeking Jewish converts).

Tamara said he opposes Jewish conversion out of respect.

Many mainline Protestants and liberal Catholics also have allied themselves so forcefully with Palestinians that Israeli tourism officials know their budget cannot be spent on them; every dollar must count to fight a tourism drop-off that saw the ministry recently shutter its Dallas and Chicago offices. Unlike liberal Protestants, whose churches dwindle as Latino congregations grow, most conservative Hispanic Protestants view Israel as sacred, a place to be protected rather than condemned for defending itself.

"Let God handle that situation," Tamara said. "We pray every day for Jerusalem."

Though Tamara said he and other Hispanic preachers are neutral on the Israel-Arab conflict, he later said that when the subject comes up, a typical ministers’ response is, "Which group do you elect [to support] — Palestine or Israel? We will say Israelis."

Community Briefs

6 Million Remembered Nun’s the Word on Mother’sDay

It’s not every day or even every year that a Jewish organization honors a Catholic nun — but naming her Community Mother of the Year seems odd for a Jewish organization. This year, the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA) is honoring Sister Jennie Lechtenberg, founder and executive director of the PUENTE Learning Center in Los Angeles, at the JHA annual “World’s Largest Mother’s Day” event. “We really wanted someone who has done something incredible [in the] community — and Sister [Jennie] has helped so many children, she really could be a mother,” said Dan Rosenson, committee chair for the event.

At the event, winners will be announced for JHA’s “Why My Mom Is the Best” essay contest, sponsored by Wells Fargo Bank. This year’s contest drew responses from 214 pupils at 37 local elementary schools. Some of the themes addressed in this year’s winning essays were heartbreaking. Two children wrote about mothers fighting breast cancer, one first-grade girl, Gabriela Fernandez, wrote about how her mother, a cleaning lady, “works so hard to get her job back” and Fiana Eber, a fifth-grader at Stephen S. Wise, wrote about how her mother adopted her from the Ukraine last year.

Molly Forrest, chief executive officer of the JHA, said the Mother’s Day event is one of great importance to the residents. JHA currently cares for 800 people on its two campuses, about 90 percent of whom are women and about one-third of them in their 90s. Many of the women have survived their immediate family “and thus have no one to come for Mother’s Day,” Forrest said.

“We buy gifts for Mother’s Day, but the best gifts for these people is to see your faces, the faces of their family and of the community,” she said.

The ninth annual Jewish Home for the Aging Mother’s Day celebration, which includes brunch, will take place Sunday, May 11 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the home’s Eisenberg Village campus, 18855 Victory Blvd., Reseda. $15 (adults), $5 (children). For reservations, call (818) 774-3324. — Wendy J. Madnick, Contributing Writer

Silence of the Left

A prominent Israeli journalist expressed his dismay last week that in his travels along the West Coast, “I have heard no pro-peace voices in the American Jewish community.

“Even when I spoke at UC Berkeley, I could find no such voices,” said David Landau, who sits on the editorial board of the prestigious Ha’aretz daily newspaper and is editor of its English edition.

The British-born Landau, a former diplomatic correspondent and managing editor for The Jerusalem Post, addressed a faculty group at UCLA Hillel, and later a student audience on campus.

The central decision facing Israel, and by extension American Jewry, is how to deal with the “road map” for ending the intifada and setting Israelis and Palestinians on the long road to peace.

Though “very poorly put together,” the road map is crucial because it represents a concrete proposal on the table and can provide “the building bricks of real change,” he said. Landau warned that if the road map fails, the present situation continues and Israel doesn’t evacuate the territories, then Israel will face a demographic time bomb with Arabs outnumbering Jews in the Jewish State by 2008.

Israel’s course will depend almost entirely on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is in a near unassailable position after his overwhelming election victory and the disarray of the opposition, said Landau, whose kippa and beard gives him a certain rabbinical look.

Far from being just a rough-and-ready “bulldozer,” Sharon is “a very complex and very sophisticated person, who appreciates good music and good art,” Landau observed. But the prime minister is also a very hard man to read. “Even those close to Sharon don’t know what he will do,” said Landau. “He remains an enigma to us.”

David Landau will be speaking on “The Road map to Peace” at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel on May 10. For more information, call (310) 475-7311. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

HUC-JIR Sets Up New Institute for AdultEd

Most rabbis, cantors, educators and communal professionals have had no professional training for meeting the needs of adults seeking Jewish education — until now. This spring, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles established the Institute for Teaching Jewish Adults (ITJA). The continuing education program, which is the first of its kind in the United States, will train Jewish professionals and advanced lay leaders to reach out to the growing number of adults seeking Jewish literacy.

“Concerns over Jewish literacy and the need to develop an informed leadership are becoming commonplace in our community, affecting every family and synagogue,” said Dr. Diane Tickton Schuster, the director of the ITJA, who is also a visiting faculty member at HUC-JIR, an educator at the Institute for Informal Jewish Education at Brandeis University and in the counseling department at Cal State Fullerton.

“It is increasingly important that Jewish professionals who work with adults understand the learning needs of this highly diverse constituency and the best strategies for teaching them,” she said.

Currently, the new program has a pioneer class of six students, all rabbis. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

El Al Introduces Platinum Class

El Al recently replaced its Business Class with a new Platinum Business Class, offering increased personal service and comfort to passengers traveling on the airline’s 777 and 747-400 aircraft.

Each aircraft has been reconfigured, resulting in a 25 percent reduction in the number of seats and increased leg room for Platinum Business Class passengers. Each seat offers a laptop power outlet and personal lighting, as well as a personal TV monitor. Additional improvements include an increased number of flight attendants per passenger, more meal choices and courses and an extensive wine menu. At specific El Al Platinum Business Class counters check-in is expedited and travelers are allowed three pieces of luggage, compared to two in Coach. Platinum Business Class travelers are also allowed entry into luxurious airport-specific departure lounges, such as the LAX King David Lounge in the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

For those traveling to Israel on a full-fare PlatinumBusiness ticket, El Al offers a $250 roundtrip Platinum Business ticket tocompanions of Platinum Business ticket holders. For more information, visit . — Rachel Brand, Staff Writer

Indyk Predicts Ripple Effect of Saddam’sFall

The fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime will have a dramatic impact on the entire Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, veteran policymaker and diplomat Martin Indyk predicted in a speech in Los Angeles. As the first payoff of the coalition’s victory in Iraq, the governments of Iran and Syria “will be much more cautious and defensive, as will the terrorist groups they support, said Indyk, who shaped American policy toward Iraq during the Clinton administration and served twice as U.S. ambassador to Israel.

More basic changes will take a longer time.

“The fall of the most repressive regime in the region will have a ripple, not a domino, effect,” Indyk declared.

Delivering a long-scheduled lecture recently at UCLA’s Burkle Center for International Relations, Indyk also warned that unless two conditions were met, the promising prospects would be squandered. The first condition is the establishment of a representative Iraqi interim authority to guide the country’s reconstruction.

“We cannot impose an unpopular military regime,” Indyk said.

Secondly, President Bush’s administration must continue to be fully engaged in the Middle East and actively participate in a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As Clinton’s Middle East adviser on the National Security Council, Indyk was instrumental in changing U.S. policy toward Iraq from “containment” to “regime change” and helped negotiate the Israel-Jordan peace treaty. He is now director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Although Bush did not get involved in Israeli-Palestinian problems during the first two years of his term, Indyk thinks that the president will take a more active role now. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor