Jason Fenton, shown at 16 in Israel in 1948

Jason Fenton, youngest fighter for Israel, dies at 85


Jason Fenton, who left his native London in 1948 to become the youngest foreign volunteer in Israel’s War of Independence, died on Jan.21, 2017 at 85 in Minneapolis after a lengthy battle with lung cancer.

The son of a rabbi, Fenton was an indefatigable champion of the Jewish people and Israel during more than 50 years in Los Angeles and Orange County and the last four years of his life in Minneapolis.

A talented writer and public speaker, Fenton regularly addressed audiences in synagogues, churches, public forums and classrooms.

He immigrated to the United States in 1956, received a Ph.D. degree at UCLA and then pursued a lengthy career as a professor of English and of Jewish history at community colleges and state universities, primarily in Orange County.

Following in the footsteps of his older brother Ivor Fenton, Jason clandestinely left England for Israel and there fought with the 4th Anti-Tank Unit, composed of volunteers from the world’s English-speaking countries. His service, under fire, was arguably the defining experience of his life. In addition to his many speaking engagements, he authored “Strength and Courage: The Untold Story of the MACHAL Volunteers Who Helped Win Israel’s War of Independence,” appeared in two documentaries, and frequently participated in TV interviews.

After moving to Minneapolis to be near his daughters, and despite advancing illness, Fenton taught a very popular continuing education course in Jewish Biblical History through the University of Minnesota.

Fenton is survived by three daughters, Mina Rush, Tamar Fenton and Suzanne Fenton, 11 grandchildren, one great-grandson and his former spouse, Judith Fenton. He had a profound influence on his daughters, who are all deeply involved in Jewish life as professionals and volunteers, and on their descendants. The family requests that any donations in Jason Fenton’s memory be directed to the Lone Soldiers Program (www.LoneSoldiercenter.com) or to Friends of the IDF (www.fidf.org).

Cartoon by undergraduate political science major Felipe Bris Abejon in the UCLA student newspaper The Daily Bruin.

Cartoon in UCLA student paper denounced as anti-Semitic


A political cartoon published in Monday’s edition of UCLA’s daily student newspaper, the Daily Bruin, that comments on settlement expansion in the West Bank has been condemned as anti-Semitic by organizations on and off campus — and has even been denounced by a pro-Palestine student group.

Drawn by UCLA student Felipe Bris Abejón, the cartoon shows Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing in front of the 10 Commandments. At the top of the frame, a caption states, “Israel passes law seizing any Palestinian land.” Below that, “#6 Thou shalt not steal” appears with the word “not” crossed-out with a red “x.”

Below that, the tablets are inscribed: “#7 Thou shalt not kill.” Netanyahu is depicted with a thought bubble saying “#7 is next.”

The cartoon — for which the Daily Bruin has since issued an apology — is commenting on a Feb. 6 legislation known as the “Regulation Bill” that could retroactively legalize roughly 4,000 homes built by Israeli settlers on private Palestinian land in the West Bank. The controversial bill is likely to be challenged in Israel’s High Court.

Danny Siegel, a fourth year student at UCLA who is student body president, said he was outraged by the cartoon.

“As a Jewish student and individual who is actively involved with a variety of Jewish organizations on campus, I was disgusted to see this anti-Semitism in my school’s newspaper,” Siegel said.

“While I’ll be the first to criticize the Regulation Bill, to criticize Israeli policy — policy that was created by a democratically elected government — by using Jewish biblical law as the basis for your criticism when you are not an expert in Judaism, it’s very problematic,” he added. “And then to use the faith to allude to Jews committing genocide as the next step — it’s not political, it’s anti-Semitic.”

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of UCLA’s chapter of Hillel, explained that the cartoon is part of a string of problematic incidents at UCLA.

“The cartoon Netanyahu’s jump to ‘killing’ smacks of the kind of ‘Israelis are hungry for blood’ statements which have come from BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] speakers here at UCLA for the past five years, including Omar Barghouti, who said that Israeli soldiers kill Palestinian babies ‘for sport.’ ”

Abejón, the artist behind the cartoon, has not responded to inquiries from the Journal. He is a former education and resources director for Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) but, according to Sarah Schmitt, board member and programming director for the organization, “This year [Abejón] was denied admission to the SJP Board because he had expressed views that were incongruent with those of SJP.”

The organization distanced itself from the cartoon in a statement that denies the artist’s affiliation with the group and reads, in part, “Although SJP has repeatedly condemned the policy of the Israeli government with regards to its oppression of Palestinians, it is not and has never been our intention to demonize the Jewish community … Students for Justice in Palestine condemns the publication of this cartoon, as we condemn all efforts to perpetuate stereotypes about any racial, ethnic or religious group.”

FULL STATEMENT http://dailybruin.com/2017/02/13/submission-sjp-condemns-db-editorial-cartoon/

The Daily Bruin’s editorial staff released an official statement on the matter on Monday. It stated, “As a newspaper, we take responsibility for our mistakes and apologize for them, so that’s what we’re doing here. Running this cartoon was an error that we deeply regret. It is wrong to use religion or religious tenets to criticize political policy. And it’s wrong to perpetuate harmful stereotypes — intentional or otherwise. We strive to understand the community that we cover. So as part of our ongoing education, we are reaching out to local religious leaders to help our staff understand the historical context behind these kinds of hurtful images.”

FULL STATEMENT: http://dailybruin.com/2017/02/13/editors-note-to-our-readers/

Lerner verified that the Daily Bruin specifically reached out to Hillel to conduct a workshop for its staff on anti-Semitism.

In the meantime, the cartoon made an impressions far beyond the campus borders.

California State Assembly member, Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) released a statement Monday evening criticizing the editors of the Daily Bruin for allowing the cartoon to run in a public university student paper.

“Criticizing a governmental action, in this particular case, Israeli settlement policies, is responsible journalism.  However, calling into question Jewish religious tenets is reckless, immature, and blatantly discriminatory,” he stated.

Bloom suggested the cartoon blatantly disregarded for University of California policy that states, “anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.”

The Anti-Defamation League offered similar sentiments in its response: “It is deeply offensive, not to mention incorrect, to suggest that the Israeli government is willfully changing the tenets of the Jewish faith to reflect a policy matter. It is one thing to criticize the recent decision regarding settlement made by the Netanyahu government (as many in Israel are doing). It is quite another to impugn core Jewish beliefs. This sort of generalization and stereotyping targets a particular religion and should not be condoned.”

Lerner said he understands that some people are unclear on the line between anti-Semitism and condemnation of Israeli policy, but he has a response at the ready.

“Some have questioned why the cartoon is anti-Semitic with a version of the following question: ‘Isn’t criticizing Israeli policy and asking Jews to live up to their own ethical standards allowed?’ I would answer that the cartoon crosses the line because it conflates a single Israeli Knesset action, which is likely to be overturned in Israel’s courts, with all Jews and our most sacred texts.”

Survivors attend a prayer and tribute ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27Photo by Agency Gazeta/Kuba Ociepa/Reuters

Why the White House is wrong about the Holocaust: Q-and-A with Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum


In seeking to create a teachable moment following the White House’s decision to withhold the mention of Jews from President Donald J. Trump’s statement honoring International Holocaust Memorial Day, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust asked noted Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum to describe not only his response to the statement, but also the reasons why it generated such strong opposition.

Berenbaum served as Deputy Director of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust (1979–1980), Project Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) (1988–1993), and Director of the USHMM’s Holocaust Research Institute (1993–1997). He played a leading role in the creation of the USHMM and the content of its permanent exhibition.

“The failure of the White House statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day to mention the Jews is troubling because it fails to grasp the full nature of the Holocaust,” Berenbaum said. “The statement of the President’s Press Secretary defending that statement misrepresents history and invents a new category of victims.”

Who were the victims of the Nazis?

Some were victimized for what they did: trade unionists, political dissidents, social democrats even Free Masons.

Some were victimized for what they refused to do. Jehovah’s Witnesses would not register for the draft, swear allegiance to the state or utter the words “Heil Hitler.”

Some were victimized for what they were. Roma and Sinti, pejoratively labeled as Gypsies, were considered asocials. Germans of special needs – mentally retarded, physically infirm, congenitally ill, mentally retarded or emotionally distraught German – Aryans non-Jews – were sent to their death, defined as “life unworthy of living” and “useless eaters.”

Jews were victimized for the fact that they were. It was sufficient to have Jewish grandparents irrespective of one’s faith or identity for the Nazi state and their collaborators to murder one as a Jew.

Why the emphasis on Six Million Jews?

It was the German state and the Nazi regime that decided upon the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” a euphemistic way of declaring the annihilation of the Jews – all Jews, everywhere, men, women and children. Four death camps – Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and Chelmno were dedicated also exclusively toward what the Nazis referred to as the extermination of the Jews. Millions of Jews were murdered in these camps, so were some 20,000 Roma and Sinti. It was the German state policy to rid the world of Jews, a policy that had no parallel in the Nazi universe.

Why are Jews sensitive – so sensitive or overly sensitive – to the omission of a specific mention to the Jews?

Three reasons:

1. During the Communist era, authorities throughout the communist world deliberately omitted all mention of the Jews, referring instead to the murder of their citizens without specifying that they were Jews. This decision obscured the nature of the crime and its reasons. It also let many collaborators, including collaborating government distort, their participation in the crime because Jews were not treated as citizens but as Jews, outsiders and no entitled to the protection of the state.

2. Jews were killed as Jews. They have every right to be remembered as Jews.

3. It gives Hitler and all who participated in the murder of the Jews a posthumous victory because they not only wanted to murder all the Jews but also to eradicate the memory of the crime. By erasing the memory of Jews, one assists in distorting the crime.

Should not all victims of Nazism be remembered?

Of course, all contemporary museums to the Holocaust include the memory of non-Jews murdered by the Nazis; because their inclusion is required to remained faithful to history and also because only be including the memory of all Nazi victims can we understand what was singular about the murder of the Jews.

So what was singular about the murder of the Jews?

– Scope
– Scale
– Duration
– Totality
– Methodology
– Purpose

The Holocaust engulfed 22 countries throughout Europe from France to Central Russia, from Norway in the North to North Africa in the South.

It was the intended policy of the Nazi German government to be rid of the Jews from German lands for 12 years, from the time that Hitler came to power to his dying day, indeed to the last hours of the war. First their intention was to be rid of the Jews by making it impossible for them to live in Germany. Therefore they would first be forced to leave, and then, after June 1941, they would be murdered, first by sending mobile killers to murder the Jews, and when that proved difficult and burdensome, by making the Jews mobile and sending them to stationary killing centers, factories of death, where assembly line procedures make for an efficient murder mechanism.

Why kill the Jews?

The murder of the Jews served no territorial purpose, was economically disruptive and burdensome to the war effort. The Jews were murdered because in the Nazi universe they were regarded as “cancerous” on German Society and their elimination first by evacuation and later by murder essential to the health of that society. Yale historian Timothy Snyder has recently written that Hitler lived in a world of dominance, the strong would either dominate or be destroyed. Thus, Jews were opposed for the values they brought into the world. Compassionate justice and assistance to the weak stood in the way of the natural order as perceived by Hitler; in nature, the powerful exercise their power without restraint. Hitler practiced social Darwinism at it most extreme. Jewish values were not only held by Jews but spread widely by Christians who revered Jesus.

The murder of the Jews was considered by the Macarthur Prize winning UCLA historian, Saul Friedlander, ”redemptive antisemitism.” The elimination of Jews would “save Germany.”

What was wrong with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s defense of the Statement?

The newly appointed Press Secretary invented a new category of victims. Had he asked – as any White House Press Secretary should ask — any knowledgeable historian would have told him German and Austrian male homosexuals were victimized by the Nazis. There is no evidence for the victimization of Lesbians, though undoubtedly so lesbians were victimized because they were Jew or fell into the other categories of victim groups.

Royce Hall at UCLA

UCLA grads team to fight on-campus anti-Semitism


A pair of UCLA alumnae have founded a local chapter of Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), part of a national organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism on college campuses and promoting dialogue regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.

It officially got its start in November, but it wasn’t until January that founders Joyce Craig and Michele Gendelman began a formal membership drive, highlighted by a letter that went out to a group made up mostly of alumni.

“We’ve joined a national effort that shares our goals: to address the continuing deterioration of civil discourse at UCLA and the pattern of intimidation leveled against students — whether pro-Israel or neutral — by pro-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and anti-Semitic factions,” the letter stated.

“Our collective and generous support of UCLA attests to our commitment to protect and preserve its reputation,” it also said. “Your voice along with ours will have significance to the Administration, and help to preserve civil discourse to our campus. There is strength in numbers. And, there is strength in alumni dollars.”

Craig declined to disclose how many people have joined the group, but she said in addition to registered UCLA alumni, university faculty, staff and parents of students are being accepted. Its goal is to work in collaboration with the student-run pro-Israel groups that are already doing “wonderful work” on campus, she added.

For Craig, a 1984 UCLA Law School graduate, the need for such an organization became apparent after the UC Davis chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi was vandalized with
swastikas in early 2015. At the time, Craig had two sons living in the Jewish fraternity
house, and one of them was a prominent Jewish leader on campus who served as a UC Davis senator fighting BDS initiatives
on campus.

An attorney mediator specializing in complex family and legacy disputes, Craig began looking into anti-Semitic activities on the campus of her alma mater, where she said she became aware of a rise in hate speech and anti-Semitism. A turning point for her was the much-publicized incident involving former UCLA Graduate Students Association President Milan Chatterjee, who alleged he was bullied by pro-BDS forces in 2015 after offering funding for a Diversity Caucus event on the condition that it not take a position on BDS.

Gendelman, a film and television writing professor at Los Angeles City College who lives in Sherman Oaks and graduated from UCLA in 1979, agreed that the climate on campus is volatile. They knew other alumni had similar concerns.

“While we knew alumni and donors had access to the chancellor and had brought concerns individually or in small groups, we learned that alumni were not formally organized,” Craig said.

That brought them to ACF, a New York-based nonprofit with 17 chapters associated with colleges across the country, including UC Davis, UC Berkeley and UC Riverside. The group works in partnership with the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs.

In one of the UCLA chapter’s first actions, members met with UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang to express a desire to work with the administration and outline intended discussion topics for the future. Craig, who was not at the meeting, said these include how the university will draw the line distinguishing between adherence to the language of the Principles Against Intolerance adopted by the UC regents and protection of students’ free speech rights.

Craig and Gendelman said they hope to help prepare and host an open town-hall discussion forum with Block, Kang, their designees and students. Per their offices, Block and Kang were unavailable to offer comment for this story.

While still in its infancy, ACF-UCLA heads coordinated with student leaders on campus to plan actions leading up to a Nov. 30 campus visit by Pink Floyd musician Roger Waters, an outspoken backer of BDS. Rogers attended a UCLA screening of “The Occupation of American Minds,” a documentary that claims to expose “Israel’s public relations war with the world. That screening was hosted by the Students for Justice in Palestine movement.

“In our view, that was a very good outcome wholly managed by students,” Craig said. “ACF’s ultimate goal is to organize and mobilize, to educate alumni and support UCLA’s administration, while being careful not to eclipse the most valued role of students in managing their campus.”

Gendelman feels strongly that the mobilization of alumni networks is vital toward efforts to curb anti-Semitic sentiments and anti-Israel incidents on campus be-cause of its outside perspective on campus affairs.

“Unlike students, who often feel pressured by peers, and professors alike and who have fear regarding grade reprisal, or professors who fear job or reputation reprisals, and unlike administrators who must cultivate relationships with current and prospective donors, alumni can offer an independent voice,” she said.

Jewish patients taking new look at rhinoplasty


Whether to assimilate or meet a specific standard of American beauty, generations of Jewish teens and young adults have turned to rhinoplasty and other cosmetic surgeries in hopes of improving their career, romantic prospects or social acceptance.

More recently, however, as Jewish patients redefine their notions of beauty, Los Angeles area Jewish plastic surgeons are changing the way they communicate with their patients about what cosmetic surgery — if any — should be done.

These doctors report they also are getting a new wave of Jewish baby boomer clients who have had second thoughts about rhinoplasties done earlier in their lives. Whether they acquired the “button” nose (a standard nose job “style” from the mid-20th century) or something a bit more natural done recently, they want to rediscover their identity by having their original nose reconstructed.

“It’s the Jennifer Grey effect,” Dr. Alexander Z. Rivkin explained, referring to the Jewish actress whose rhinoplasty affected her appearance dramatically. “[My patients] felt like they had lost their uniqueness, a part of their body that connected them to their family and heritage.”

“Mark,” a New York native and California transplant, experienced this effect. After finding success during the 1980s San Francisco tech boom, he decided to have a nose job, thinking it would enhance his status and acceptance in the comparatively less-Jewish milieu of the Bay Area.

“I used to have a Bob Dylan nose, not large but clearly Semitic,” he said. “After the nose job, my cousin told me I looked like an Episcopalian.”

health1Even after a successful procedure, Mark realized he no longer looked like himself. When a music industry job brought him to Los Angeles a few years later, he embraced the city’s larger Jewish community but felt guilty about his nose job. Fully comfortable in his Jewish skin, he found he wanted his old nose back.

The procedure, revision rhinoplasty, can cost from about $14,000 to $24,000, depending on the surgeon, location and specific techniques required. According to Mark’s Beverly Hills-based doctor, Behrooz Torkian, the rebuilding of ethnic features involves using grafts from cartilage elsewhere in the body, such as an ear or a piece of rib, to re-establish features of the nose that were removed. Reversal procedures, he said, are performed more often for Ashkenazi Jews who received “cookie cutter” noses that did not fit their faces in the days before computer imaging.

“Mark’s story resonated with me because I think the worst thing that can be done to a face is to change it in such a way that does not respect its original anatomy or the ethnic features of the face,” Torkian said.

Rivkin, a Westside surgeon and assistant clinical professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, started offering a less invasive and expensive alternative to revision rhinoplasty 13 years ago in response to Jewish patients who said they felt as if they had lost a critical part of themselves when they had their ethnic bump shaved down.

The procedure, which involves injected cosmetic fillers, ranges from $2,000 for a temporary procedure lasting up to 18 months to $4,000 for a “permanent” procedure, lasting 10 years or more.

health2Dr. Nima Shemirani, a Beverly Hills facial plastic surgeon, said although younger Jewish patients explore rhinoplasty and other procedures to fit Hollywood ideals of beauty, future generations will be more accepting of their natural ethnic features. He recommends beginning the “Why rhinoplasty?” conversation earlier in life with a board-certified practitioner, especially because revision rhinoplasty is always more complex than primary rhinoplasty, with double the healing time — especially for Middle Eastern and Sephardic Jews.

“A rhinoplasty can be more drastic for these patients and take away ethnic features which may be desirable as they get older,” Shemirani said. “Ashkenazi Jews have more Caucasian features and, therefore, a rhinoplasty can simply help enhance their looks without losing their ethnicity. Even so, we like to catch patients before they make the mistake of getting a nose that doesn’t match their face.”

Torkian pointed out that the standardized “button,” “cookie cutter” or “pixie” nose associated with baby boomer patients does not match up with many other Jewish features and, therefore, telegraphs that a procedure has been done.

However, with advances in preoperative imaging and surgical techniques, today’s primary and revision procedures reflect a more ethnically sensitive approach to the face as a whole. While these advances give the advantage to patients undergoing surgery for the first time, they also have sparked a
trend among patients who previously had not had the opportunity to avoid the “cookie cutter” nose.

“We live in a world in which cultural tolerance and religious sensitivity are greater than they have been in the past,” Torkian said. “I think the desire to keep some cultural or ethnic features is multifaceted and complex, but it appears that people generally are embracing their heritage, are proud of it, and want to ensure not to completely wipe it off of their faces.”

30 years and 30 big changes


In the Jewish Journal’s inaugural issue on Feb. 28, 1986, readers already could see it was not going to be their parents’ kind of Jewish newspaper. The Journal was different from its predecessor owned by the Jewish Federation, as well as the Orthodox-leaning B’nai B’rith Messenger and the crusading Jewish Heritage.

The new weekly, edited by Gene Lichtenstein, sent a message with its first cover story dedicated to anti-school busing and conservative Congresswoman Bobbi Fiedler, a former Los Angeles Unified School District board member. It was going to step outside the well-worn path of covering the status quo of Westside and Beverly Hills liberal politics, and broaden coverage to include a Jewish grassroots, right-leaning firebrand.

In the three decades since that edition, this broader approach — including news, features, opinions and eventually blogs from all points of L.A.’s Jewish communal compass — has been the newspaper’s guiding rule. Turning through old, bound volumes, with pages browned and edges foxed, the paper’s coverage presents a portrait of 30 years of change, growth and evolution within the local Jewish community. Here are 30 noteworthy topics and events that touched L.A. over the past 30 years, as reflected in the Journal’s pages.

1. Embracing LGBT Jews

Although a cover in 1986 announced the continuing conflict within Judaism over gay Jews, by 1998 a news feature detailed increased acceptance — and plans for the celebration of more than 25 years of the world’s first LGBT synagogue, Beth Chayim Chadashim. Getting over the shandah, the embarrassment, denominational Judaism began a serious conversation over transgender acceptance and rights, as reflected in another stirring cover story, this time in 2015.

2. King Juan Carlos Comes to L.A.

Almost half a millennium after the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, Spanish King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia visited Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel on Wilshire Boulevard to make peace on Oct. 1, 1987. “For the Sephardic Jews of Los Angeles, the gesture is one of historical dimension,” Rabbi Shelton J. Donnell wrote. The Journal went on to chart the growth of a large and vital Sephardic community in L.A.

3. Intermarriage: To Worry or Not to Worry?

Concerns about intermarriage go back all the way to the Torah. But when the 1997 L.A. Jewish Community Survey found the intermarriage rate among couples who were married in the five years ending in 1997 was 41 percent, well, it didn’t seem so bad to some people. That changed for many when the Pew Research Center reported in 2013 a rate of 58 percent nationwide — and 71 percent among non-Orthodox Jews.

4. The Rise of Iranian and Russian Jewish Immigrants

With the Iranian Jewish immigrant community at close to 17,000 by the late ’90s, we learned to love lavash, Persian cucumbers and late night simchas, while recognizing (if not understanding) Farsi in Pico Boulevard shop windows. As for immigrants from the former Soviet Union, more than 24,000 flocked to the area by the late ’80s. Apartment buildings in West Hollywood began to fill with Russian immigrant families, and Santa Monica Boulevard became dotted with Russian bakeries and storefront markets. Were they here to stay? Da.

5. A Growing Orthodoxy 

With all the new kosher restaurants on Pico and Ventura boulevards, it seemed clear by 2000 that the Orthodox community was booming. For the kosherly conscious, there was a clear increase in the availability of heckshered foods, as well as public displays of Yiddishkayt, such as Tu b’Shevat street fairs and car-mounted menorahs, and a massive influx of Orthodox families into previously WASP-y Hancock Park.

6. The New Israelis

Around town, we grew accustomed to hearing Ivrit spoken in restaurants, movie theater lines, folkdance spots like Café Danssa, and the Fairfax record store Hataklit (both now closed). By 2007, especially in the Valley, Israelis had “their own cafes, markets, dances and social and business networks,” according to a feature by Tom Tugend. Drawing that community together was the Israeli American Council, begun in 2006. The IAC fires up the largest L.A. Jewish gatherings of the year with the annual Celebrate Israel festival in Rancho Park.

7. Logging On for Love

The inaugural issue of the Journal chronicled the angst of making a Jewish match in a city expansive enough to be its own diaspora with “The Single Life” column. But that was old school. Jewish computer dating began here in the mid-1970s, and rebooted in 1997 with the founding of JDate by Joe and Nickie Shapira of Beverly Hills. Swiping right, in 2014, were Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, two of the Jewish founders of the dating app Tinder. But face-to-face love connections thrived at “Friday Night Live,” an innovative singles-oriented Sabbath service started in 1998 at Sinai Temple that drew up to 1,500 souls.

8. Oy, Did We Have Mail!

The first message on ARPANET, the predecessor to the internet, was sent by a UCLA team led by a Jewish professor, Leonard Kleinrock, in 1969, altering forever the way we give and gain news about our lives. Joining that widening stream, the Journal first went online in 1996, allowing it to cover breaking news, and eventually providing a means for readers to instantly comment, kvetch and post blogs. Now L.A. is home to numerous virtual Jewish sites, and every congregation and organization is a click away.

9. Women of valor and power

With the newly appointed director of Brandeis-Bardin Institute, Deborah Lipstadt, on the paper’s cover during its first year, the Journal set the tone for covering local Jewish women leaders making waves on a national scale. These have included rabbis such as Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, the first woman to lead a major metropolitan congregation; Naomi Levy, author and founder of Nashuva, and Sharon Brous, founder of IKAR.

10. Higher Ratings for Jewish Identity in Hollywood

30 Something

30 Something

gellersTV shows with clearly drawn Jewish characters such as “Thirtysomething,” “Seinfeld” and “Northern Exposure” reflected a growing hipness and ease of being Jewish. Los Angeles, with a large contingent of Jewish writers, producers, and showrunners, filled the culture with characters such as Monica and Ross Geller (“Friends”), Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Ari Gold (“Entourage”) and Howard Wolowitz (“The Big Bang Theory”), as well as cartoon characters Kyle Broflovski (“South Park”) and Krusty the Clown (“The Simpsons”). More recently, Maura Pfefferman (born “Morton”) of Amazon Prime’s “Transparent” gave us a transgender take on Jewish life.

11. The New Jewish Side of Town

In 2004, famed New York-based streetwear brand Supreme opened a large shop on Fairfax Avenue, just up the block from Canter’s deli, signaling a change to a traditionally Jewish neighborhood that was filling up with trendy skate clothing shops and galleries. As Fairfax turned full-hipster, younger observant Jews, especially those with families, were moving to Pico-Robertson, which was transforming into the Jewish side of town complete with new kosher restaurants, shuls and markets.

12. New museums to look forward — and back

The Torah commands Jews to “zachor,” to remember, and with the opening of the Museum of Tolerance in 1993, and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in Pan Pacific Park in 2010, we had two new places to look deeply into our painful past as a way to navigate the present. Looking to the future, the Zimmer Children’s Museum opened, helping to transmit and create Jewish memories for children and families. And in 1996, the Skirball Cultural Center opened in the Sepulveda Pass, connecting art and culture with Jewish vision and values.

13. Mazel Tov, It’s Mitzvah Day!

First held in 1999 as a project of Temple Israel of Hollywood, Mitzvah Day was an expression of tikkun olam as volunteers painted, repaired and renewed their city. Begun by TV, theater and movie writer David Levinson, the idea flowered into a community-wide event that drew thousands of participants, changing its name in 2003 to Big Sunday, eventually evolving into a weekend, and then in 2016, into a month of events, attracting up to 50,000 volunteers of all faiths.

14. The Day Rabin Died

Shot by a right-wing extremist while leaving a peace rally on Nov. 5, 1995, the assassination of the Israeli prime minister who negotiated the Oslo Accords — for which he shared the Nobel Peace Prize — reverberated throughout the community, sounding an ominous warning to leaders who wish not to learn war anymore. Some 10,000 people attended a massive memorial rally on a cordoned-off Wilshire Boulevard to mark the end of a man, and a dream.

15. ‘Fighting On’ at USC; Making UCLA Cool to Jews

usc-uclaIn the 1870s, Isaias W. Hellman, a German-Jewish businessman, banker and philanthropist was one of three men to donate the land for USC, which 100 years later was viewed as a home for WASP elitism. In 2002, a decade of increased inclusiveness at the school was reflected when Stanley Gold was appointed the university’s first Jewish chairman of the board of trustees. In 1972, UCLA was the first major American university to fund a Jewish newspaper, Ha’am, but by 2015 the school was getting headlines for a judicial board nominee being questioned over her Jewish background. In 2016, a student body president left the school alleging harassment by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. More hopefully, that same year, the school’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and the Mapping Jewish L.A. project celebrated the history of Boyle Heights with an exhibition.

16. American Jewish University Goes Big

In 2007, the University of Judaism merged with the 1,500-acre Brandeis-Bardin Institute, marrying two 60-year-old L.A. Jewish institutions into the American Jewish University. And when big names came through town, from Bill Clinton to Bill Maher, a likely stop was a speaking engagement through the American Jewish University’s Whizin Center for Continuing Education, which drew thousands.

17. Got Kosher? Yup.

challah-gotkosherBeyond the opening of kosher Mexican and Thai restaurants, Los Angeles saw the rollout of multiple trucks selling kosher tacos and another truck selling kosher Montreal egg rolls. Add in Jeff’s Gourmet Sausage Factory — now offering concessions at home Dodgers games — and the pretzel challah of Got Kosher? There was bad news in 2013, though, when the Journal reported a  scandal at Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat market after a private investigator videotaped the owner allegedly bringing unsupervised animal products into his store.

18. The Dodgers Go Blue and White

Long after Sandy Koufax and fellow Jewish Dodgers brothers Larry and Norm Sherry, who both attended Fairfax High, put on Dodger blue, fellow members of the tribe Stan Kasten (president and part-owner) and Andrew Friedman (president of baseball operations) joined the team. And in 2000, the year they got Jewish slugger Shawn Green, the team began heavily promoting Jewish Community Day.

19. Harold Schulweis z’l

The issue of Dec. 18, 2014, marked the passing of Valley Beth Shalom Senior Rabbi Harold Schulweis at age 89, calling him “the rabbi of rabbis.” Arriving at his Valley pulpit in 1970, Rabbi Schulweis went on to pioneer synagogue-based chavurah, counseling centers, and outreach to interfaith, gay and lesbian Jews and converts. A superb thinker and orator, he insisted upon connecting the Jewish world with the larger community worldwide through foundations and outreach organizations like Jewish World Watch.

“Harold Schulweis is a rabbi,” said Rabbi Uri Herscher, founding president and CEO of the Skirball Cultural Center. “This is a little like saying a Rembrandt is a painting. Or a Stradivarius is a violin. … He has, as much as any rabbi in our time, given Judaism meaning, relevance and renewed purpose.”

20. The Rise of Mega-Synagogues AND Upstart Congregations

Large congregations such as Stephen Wise Temple, Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, Temple Israel of Hollywood, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Leo Baeck Temple and Sinai Temple all thrived by doubling down on the full-service synagogue model.

At the same time, a 1982 guide to Jewish Los Angeles listed a few independent congregations, mostly Orthodox. In comparison, the 2016 Jewish Journal “City Guide” showed 16 independent, mostly nontraditional congregations, including Metivta, Open Temple, IKAR, Nashuva, Valley Outreach and Movable Minyan, taken together serving thousands of families. L.A.’s plethora of rabbinical seminaries — the Reform Movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Conservative Movement’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, which ordained its first class in 1999, and the Academy for Jewish Religion, CA (founded in 2000) — helped fuel their growth.

21. A Jewish Approach to…

As social awareness of issues like disabilities and addiction grew, so too did unique Jewish communal responses.  Beit T’Shuva, an innovative addiction treatment center, started 30 years ago and has grown to treat thousands.  And services for special needs greatly expanded to dozens of programs and organzations.

22. The First Intifada, 1987-1991

intifadaBesides the fact that no one knew it would be the first, the Journal did not know what to call it. It settled on, in 1987, the “hostility between the Palestinian youth and Israelis.” By 1989, a piece about the fear and hopelessness many were feeling in Israel, titled “Feeling helpless in the Intifada,” captured the anxiety of many Jewish Angelenos. The continuing conflict has led to the L.A. birth of Israel advocacy organizations like  StandWithUs and many, many rallies, op-eds and arguments.

23.  The Winning Campaigns of Jewish Candidates

For more than 50 years at the beginning of the 20th century, there was nary a Jewish city councilmember. That changed in 1953 with the election of 22-year-old Rosalind Wyman to the Fifth District seat, which includes the Westside and the Fairfax district. Now held by Paul Koretz, the seat has been Jewish ever since, with several who held the seat rising to higher office: Zev Yaroslavsky and Edmund D. Edelman to L.A. County Supervisor, and Michael Feuer to the State Assembly and position of L.A. City Attorney. Among numerous Jewish electeds, the highest profile is current Mayor Eric Garcetti.

24. The Fall and Revival of Jewish Centers

Disclosures of financial troubles and fiscal mismanagement within the former Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles in 2001 led to the closure of numerous centers, including Santa Monica’s Bay Cities JCC in 2002 and the Conejo Valley JCC in 2004. With pickets, posters and T-shirts, members of the Westside JCC rallied and eventually won independence, and the center in Silver Lake came back to booming life as well. A JCC continued in Long Beach and even though the JCC at Milken in West Hills closed in 2012 after Federation sold the property, the North Valley JCC was reborn as the Valley JCC in Woodland Hills.

25. Moving Westward and Beyond

The 1997 L.A. Jewish Community Survey was our statistical proof that we were moving westward, but the signs had long been there to read. New synagogues had opened in Simi Valley and the Conejo Valley, kosher markets and day schools too, and in 1997, Mount Sinai Memorial Park expanded to Simi Valley. By the new millennium, Jews were moving east as well — to Koreatown, Echo Park and downtown.

26. From Delis to Mainstream Dining

When Al Levy in 1886 first operated an Oyster Bar Pushcart, and later an Oyster House restaurant in downtown L.A., he was prying open the way for Jewish chefs and entrepreneurs to move into mainstream cuisine. Following in Levy’s footsteps, L.A. became home to the nation’s best family-owned delis, including Langer’s, Canter’s, Izzy’s, and Nate ’n Al.  Now, the city is home to chefs including Alma’s Ari Taymor, Mozza’s Nancy Silverton, Micah Wexler of Wexler’s Deli, and Jessica Koslow, owner of the always-hopping Sqirl, who made the cover of last year’s Passover issue.

27. A Local Legacy of “Schindler’s List”

A chance meeting in 1980 in a Beverly Hills leather shop between Australian author Thomas Keneally and the store’s owner, Leopold Page (Leopold Pfefferberg), who had survived the Holocaust due to Oskar Schindler, set in motion this movie, which won the Academy Award for best picture in 1994. Steven Spielberg directed the film, and at the Academy Award ceremony, he credited Page as the “catalyst for the film.” In 1994, Spielberg founded the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, dedicated to recording the video testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the Shoah.

28. Federation: From Umbrella to Innovation

The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles worked to transform itself from an umbrella group funding and coordinating Jewish social services and aid here and abroad to a social innovator in its own right. In 2010, the Journal covered the appointment of then-52-year-old Jay Sanderson as president, determined, he said, to “throw the doors open.” Since then, Federation has launched numerous projects aimed at drawing younger Jews, new leaders, the entertainment industry and unaffiliated Jews into communal life.

29. Saving Jewish Buildings

In a city that usually bulldozes and paves over its history, three acts serve as towering achievements in historical preservation. One was the rescue of the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights by Stephen Sass and the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California in 2000. Another was the purchase of the original home of Sinai Temple in the Pico Union neighborhood by singer-songwriter Craig Taubman in 2013. And a third was the $100 million restoration of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Koreatown. All serve not only the Jewish community, but local neighborhoods as well.

30. School Choice

In the early 1980s, if you wanted to attend a Los Angeles Jewish high school, there was only one choice: YULA, known as Yeshiva University of Los Angeles. By 1987, enrollment at the seven Jewish high schools in Los Angeles covered just 720 kids, about 100 of them in one non-Orthodox school, a predecessor to Milken Community High School. Today, more than 9,700 children attend 42 Jewish schools, with another 10,000 in supplementary Jewish schools, about 7,500 in early childhood programs, and thousands more in camps. Cost is still a concern, but online learning and other innovative programs offer opportunities to reach even more of the young generation — and keep Los Angeles Jewish life thriving for many, many years to come.

30 under 30: The remarkable young people changing the L.A. Jewish community


In historic terms, 30 years is the blink of an eye for the Jewish people. But here, in Los Angeles, it reflects an entire generation of thinkers, influencers, artists and entrepreneurs growing up and preparing to set the moral and cultural compass of tomorrow’s Jewish community in this town.

Thirty years ago, the Jewish Journal was born. Since then, the impressive people who make up this list came into the world and took it by storm. To be clear, these are just a cross section of the dynamic young people logging accomplishments beyond their years. But we believe the musicians, businessmen, actors and activists, all either raised in L.A. or living here, do justice to representing their impressive Jewish generation and bode well for the future.

Maya Aharon, 30

Holocaust education

mayaaharonAharon first got involved in March of the Living as a student at Milken Community High School in 2004; now she’s been responsible for sending some 200 students from more than 20 local high schools to Poland and Israel each year as director of March of the Living for Builders of Jewish Education in Los Angeles. The students visit concentration camps alongside Holocaust survivors. Aharon, who holds a Jewish studies degree from Indiana University, grew up as a camper and counselor at Camp Ramah in Ojai and continues to return there each summer to train senior camp staff.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

Alex Banayan, 24

Author, venture capitalistalex-banayan-headshot-smiling
Two days before Alex Banayan, 24, started his freshman year in college, he was determined to get on — and win — “The Price Is Right.”

He stayed up all night and read articles with tips for being one of the eight contestants picked out of the 300 people in the audience. He even researched the show’s casting producer and learned about how to win people over by making physical contact. Read Alex’s full profile.

Rachel Bloom, 29

rachelbloomActress, writer, showrunner

In 2010, Bloom burst upon the entertainment scene when she wrote, starred in and self-funded the viral music video “F— me, Ray Bradbury,” about a young woman’s sexual awakening through literature. Hollywood soon noticed this musical virtuoso on the make (Bloom is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts) and rewarded her with a big break: Today, Bloom is the star and co-creator of The CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” a romantic comedy-musical series that showcases women’s struggles and truths in all of their raw, awkward beauty, and which earned Bloom a 2016 Golden Globe award.

— Danielle Berrin, Senior Writer

Ben Bram, 29

Music producer

benbramThe Grammy-winning arranger from Brentwood is one of the masterminds behind Pentatonix, a hit a cappella group that performs songs from bands such as Daft Punk and which will perform for three nights at the Hollywood Bowl this summer. The son of local philanthropists Steve and Julie Bram, he attended the USC Thornton School of Music and has a resume that includes credits on the movie “Pitch Perfect” and its sequel, on which he Bram worked as the on-set music director, vocal coach and vocal arranger. He’s also worked on NBC’s “The Sing-Off.” — Ryan Torok, Staff Writer


Justin Brezhnev, 24

Nonprofit head

justin_brezhnev_picBrezhnev is the founder and chief executive of Hacker Fund, a nonprofit that throws hackathons for students to learn entrepreneurship and tech skills, empowering them to create social change. A graduate of UCLA in communication studies, Brezhnev also is a motivational speaker and founder of Silicon Beach Sports League, a nonprofit that encourages its members to socialize and stay fit. A second-degree black belt in judo, he is a former champion of a Soviet martial art and combat sport known as sambo.

— Olga Grigoryants, Contributing Writer


Jamie Feiler, 23

Rebecca Hutman, 22

Marissa Lepor, 22

Holocaust educators

feller-etcThe trio co-founded the Righteous Conversations Project in 2011 while they were juniors at Harvard-Westlake School. The organization, which has had more than 700 program participants, connects teens and young adults to Holocaust survivors through oral histories that inspire collaborative art projects, photography and filmmaking. Feiler’s grandmother, Helen Freeman, survived Auschwitz, and Lepor serves on the “3G” Third Generation Holocaust survivor board at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Hutman was the youngest national staffer on President  Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and interned for Vice President Joe Biden.

— Elyse Glickman, Contributing Writer

Jeffrey Greller, 29

Virtual reality agent

jeffreygrellerIn 2014, Greller put on an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and knew it was the future. The same year, he took over virtual reality and augmented reality strategy at Beverly Hills-based William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, one of the world’s largest and most influential talent agencies. The position puts him in the top echelon of a rapidly growing media industry. Last year, Greller, who graduated from USC in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, was one of seven agents named as Variety’s New Leaders in 2016. — EA

Alana Haim, 25

Este Haim, 30

Danielle Haim, 27

Musicians

30-haimThese sibling bandmates from the San Fernando Valley make up the band Haim. They began playing together as kids in a family band with their Israeli father, Mordechai. Things got serious upon the band’s 2013 debut release, “Days Are Gone.”  The acclaimed album features ’80s-style pop-rock and lyrics on hit songs “The Wire” and “Falling” exploring relationship woes relatable to 20-somethings. They’ve appeared on the stages of major music festivals and joined Taylor Swift’s list of BFFs. Their sophomore album reportedly features collaborations with Israeli-American Grammy-winning producer Ariel Rechtshaid. — RT

David Hertzberg, 26

Composer

davidhertzberg-photobyadammoskowitzThe son of San Fernando Valley State Sen. Bob Hertzberg is composer-in-residence for Opera Philadelphia and Music-Theatre Group. Hertzberg has two degrees from Juilliard (where he studied under the tutelage of Jewish composer Sam Adler) and has been described as a “gifted young composer … with a vibrantly personal style” by The New York Times. His music has been performed at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall, and by the likes of the New York City Opera, the Kansas City Symphony and the Pittsburgh Symphony.

— Julie Bien, Contributing Writer

Sara Kramer, 30

Sarah Hymanson, 30

Chefs

sarakramer-sarahhrymansonjpgA New York native and former Broadway performer, Kramer was named Eater’s NYC Chef of the Year in 2013. Both she and Hymanson worked at Glasserie in New York before coming to L.A., where they were named to Zagat’s 30-Under-30 Los Angeles list in 2015 after opening Madcapra, a casual falafel shop in Grand Central Market. The buzz generated earned them their big break when superstar restaurant group Jon & Vinny helped them start a second Middle Eastern-influenced restaurant,  Kismet, which just opened in Los Feliz. — EG

Rachelle Yadegar, 23

Judith Iloulian, 26

Fashion designers

rachelleyadegar-judithilloulianAbout a year and half ago, Yadegar was working in retail and her cousin, Iloulian, was buying clothing wholesale and selling it online. Then, over lunch one day, they decided to start a fashion brand that would cater to Orthodox Jewish tastes — that is, modest without sacrificing style and elegance. They began sketching designs on the back of a napkin for what would become their fashion brand, RaJu. Now, the brand is available online and in 20 retail locations from Los Angeles to Canada and London. — EA

Noey Jacobson, 26

Singer-songwriter

noeyjacobsonWhile at Yeshiva University in New York City, this Houston native joined the school’s 12-member a cappella group, the Maccabeats. With an eclectic mix of musical styles, the Modern Orthodox singers became an overnight sensation after their Chanukah video parody, “Candlelight,” went viral in 2010.  Jacobson performed with the group on six continents, including an appearance at the White House, before moving to L.A. in 2015.  Now he’s teaching at Shalhevet High School, where he’s also communications director, while continuing with the Maccabeats and embarking on a solo career, with a pop music album in the works.  — Naomi Pfefferman,
Arts & Entertainment Editor

Jacob Jonas, 24

Choreographer/director

jacob-jonas-photo-by-don-normanAt 13, Jonas began performing with the street dance troupe Calypso Tumblers on the Venice Beach boardwalk. He went on to accompany them on an international tour and, after being mentored by the legendary choreographer Donald Byrd, founded Jacob Jonas The Company. It creates original work based on real-life experiences by melding such diverse forms as breakdance, modern dance and ballet.  Film, photography and social media enhance Jonas’ work. He was named best new choreographer by Dance magazine two years ago and best new force in Los Angeles dance for 2016 by LA Weekly. — NP

Jack Stratton, 29

Theo Katzman, 30

Musicians

30-katz-jackKatzman of New York and Stratton of Ohio are two of the co-founders of the L.A.-based funk band Vulfpeck. The four-person band is a throwback to the era of great rhythm sections and has developed a strong following among millennial music fans, selling out shows at major venues nationwide and becoming a staple of large-scale music festivals such as Bonnaroo in Tennessee and Outside Lands in San Francisco. Vulfpeck was on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” after the release of their second album, “The Beautiful Game,” in October. — Julia R. Moss, Director of Community Engagement

Ty Jacob “T.J.” Leaf; 19

Athlete

leaf_tj_11As a 6-foot-10 forward on the nationally ranked UCLA Bruins basketball team, this Israeli-American has been lighting up Pauley Pavilion this season. The freshman is averaging nearly 17 points and nine rebounds per game. Born in Israel to a father, Brad, who played professional ball there. Leaf committed to the Bruins after playing at Foothills Christian High School in San Diego County, where he won All-America honors playing under his father. Before joining the Bruins, he played on behalf of Israel in the FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship league competition. — RT

Noah Lee, 18

Youth leader

noahleeBeverly Hills High School senior Noah Lee was elected international president of United Synagogue Youth (USY), the youth group of the Conservative movement, during the 66th annual USY international convention last year in Dallas. His term began the day after his Dec. 28 election and lasts one year. Lee, who attended day school at Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy as a child, said he is hopeful about the future of the Conservative movement, and that during his tenure, he intends to promote values such as inclusion and the giving of tzedakah. — RT

Tiffany Matloob, 27

Entrepreneur

tiffanymatloobMatloob always has been interested in entertainment, so it was a dream come true that after graduating from USC, she went on to work with celebrities like the Kardashians, Nick Cannon, Kelly Osbourne and Snooki, creating editorial and visual content for their online properties. Today, she is the owner of her own digital media company, Intelli Agency. Matloob also taught social media to students at Sinai Temple’s Chai School for Jewish teens, and runs a course on cause marketing at American Jewish University’s MBA program. — Kylie Ora Lobell, Contributing Writer

Arya Marvazy, 30

LGBT advocate

aryamarvazyAfter graduating from New York University with a master’s degree in organizational behavior, Marvazy began a career in human resources, including a stint as talent recruitment and professional development manager at Hillel International. But it wasn’t until he returned to Los Angeles after a decade that he found a job that truly merged his personal and professional lives. An Iranian American who is gay, Marvazy’s current work as assistant director for JQ International, a Jewish LGBT group, enables him to act as a resource for others in that community struggling with their sexual or gender identity. — EA

Shanel Melamed, 28

Nonprofit head

shanelmelamedMelamed was born in Los Angeles to parents who fled Iran shortly after the Islamic Revolution there. A graduate of USC, she took over the executive director position at 30 Years After in 2015. Her duties include helping to connect and educate more than 10,000 Iranian-Jewish young professionals in the U.S. and abroad, often through political and civic activities. She also facilitates the Legacy Project, a documentary short films project dedicated to preserving the history of Iranian-American Jews. — EG

Avi Oved, 23

Student activist

avi-oved-3Oved served as student regent on the University of California Board of Regents from 2015 to 2016, a nomination that saw pushback from pro-Palestinian elements in the UC system. In that role, Oved, an observant Jew, lobbied the regents to pass a statement of principles against intolerance that condemned anti-Semitism. He also pushed successfully for the creation of a new student adviser position on the board and brought visibility to middle-income students struggling to pay for their education. He begins law school at UCLA in August. — EA

Ben Platt, 23

Actor

benplattA 2011 graduate of Harvard-Westlake, Platt received a Teen Choice Award nomination for his role as the “Star Wars”-obsessed character Benji Applebaum in “Pitch Perfect.” In 2014, Platt put off attending Columbia University when he was cast in the role of Elder Cunningham in the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon.” Last year, Platt landed the lead in the new Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen,” for which he won an Obie Award during an off-Broadway production. Platt also has appeared in a number of other musicals, including “Caroline, or Change,” “Wonderland” and “Hair.” — JB

Chloe Pourmorady, 26

Musician

chloepourmoradyChloe Pourmorady picked up a violin at the age of 9 and hasn’t put it down since. The 26-year-old Los Angeles native, who went to Sinai Akiba Academy, started out in the school orchestra there playing Jewish music, then went on to study at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), where she got a degree in violin and played classical music in the chamber ensembles. Read Chloe’s full profile. – KOL

Sean Rad, 30

Entrepreneur

sean_rad_picRad is chairman of Tinder, an app that enables users to meet people for dating and friendship with just the swipe of a finger. According to the company’s website, Tinder users swipe 1.4 billion times and make 26 million matches per day. Rad, whose co-founders included fellow Milken Community High School alum Justin Mateen, attended the USC Marshall School of Business but dropped out early to focus on entrepreneurial opportunities. Rad also is the chairman of Swipe Ventures, Tinder’s branch that seeks to expand the company’s work through acquisitions and new investments. — OG

Zan Romanoff, 30

Novelist

zan_romanoff_picRomanoff’s first young adult novel, “A Song to Take the World Apart,” was named one of the best books of 2016 by SparkNotes. Her follow-up, “Grace and the Fever,” will be published by Knopf Books for Young Readers in May. A graduate of Yale University, Romanoff’s work as a freelance writer — often about feminism, television and the intersection between personality, technology and culture — has appeared in BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, Elle and Rolling Stone. Romanoff was the program coordinator at the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center for 2 1/2 years. — OG

Josh Rosen, 19

Athlete

30-josh-rosenThe Jewish quarterback in the modern era of the NFL is a rare breed. There have only been two: Jay Fiedler, a mostly unheralded eight-year veteran, and Sage Rosenfels, a career second-stringer. Not exactly the types to pile up records and invade living rooms with commercial appearances.

That might change soon. Read Josh’s full profile.

– Oren Peleg

Leeav Sofer, 26

Musician

leeavsoferSofer has performed at nationally recognized venues, preserved traditional Jewish music and given back to people in need. Founder and bandleader of Mostly Kosher, a Jewish folk music group that recently had a two-month residency at Disneyland as part of the Festival of Holidays, he plays multiple instruments. Sofer has a performance degree from the Bob Cole Conservatory at CSU Long Beach, and is co-founder and director of the Urban Voices Project, an adult music program and community choir for Skid Row residents. — KOL

Hailee Steinfeld, 20

Actress, model, singer

haileesteinfeld-photobythosrobsinsongettyimagesSan Fernando Valley native Steinfeld, who has appeared in more than a dozen films, received an Oscar nomination for her role in the 2010 remake of “True Grit.” She also was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her performance in the coming-of-age film “The Edge of Seventeen. As a model, Steinfeld has been the face of Miu Miu and Max Mara. And after covering the song “Flashlight” in “Pitch Perfect 2,” she was signed to Republic Records. Her most recent release, “Starving,” a collaboration with artists Grey and Zedd, peaked at No. 12 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. — JB

Rachel Sumekh, 25

Nonprofit director

rachel-sumekh-ss08In 2010, when she was an undergraduate at UCLA, Sumekh co-founded an organization to alleviate hunger in L.A. by asking students to donate their unused meal points. She’s since become executive director of that effort — now called Swipe Out Hunger — and expanded the program to 23 universities, providing more than 1.3 million meals. Included in this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 list of social entrepreneurs, she was invited to the White House in October for a tech summit. This year, she will participate in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ New Leaders Project.

— Avishay Artsy, Contributing Writer

Brocha Yemini, 24

Chaya Israily, 24

Volunteers

brochayemini-chayaisrailyThe 10 Israeli soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles in June with the fledgling organization Lev Chayal had been variously blown up, run over and crushed by rubble. One has his own death certificate as a souvenir of the time his heart stopped. But you wouldn’t know it to look at their smiling faces in photos taken at Knott’s Berry Farm, in the Dodgers dugout and posing on Hollywood Boulevard. The young men were enthusiastic and humbled by the experience — much like the two women responsible for bringing them there, Chaya Israily and Brocha Yemini. The plan was simple: Create an opportunity for wounded Israeli soldiers to come to L.A. and relax while enriching the local community through their presence and their stories. Since the June trip ended, Israily and Yemini have begun planning for another one in February.  Read Brocha and Chaya’s full profile. – EA

Simone Zimmerman, 26

Activist

simone-zimmermanSimone Zimmerman looks, on paper, like so many young Jewish professionals from Los Angeles: 10 summers at Camp Ramah in Ojai, leadership training in the United Synagogue Youth, a family that’s active in the community. In 2014, she was one of the founders of IfNotNow, a network of progressive millennial Jews that protests the Jewish establishment for what it sees as its commitment to the unacceptable status quo in the Palestinian territories. Then, in April, Zimmerman, then 25, found herself in charge of Jewish outreach for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Five days later, she was suspended after establishment figures including Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, and Abe Foxman, former head of the Anti-Defamation League, called for her ouster. Her experience earned huge visibility for IfNotNow, she said; it now boasts 700 leaders in eight cities, including Los Angeles. Read Simone’s full profile. – EA

30 under 30: Josh Rosen


Passing the competition

The Jewish quarterback in the modern era of the NFL is a rare breed. There have only been two: Jay Fiedler, a mostly unheralded eight-year veteran, and Sage Rosenfels, a career second-stringer. Not exactly the types to pile up records and invade living rooms with commercial appearances.

That might change soon.

There has never been a Jewish football player with the promise and potential of UCLA’s current starting quarterback, Josh Rosen, who turns 20 in February.

Already a projected top-10 pick in the 2018 NFL draft, Rosen is the son of a Jewish father and Quaker-Christian mother. His father, Charles Rosen, a spine surgeon, was a nationally ranked ice skater who nearly qualified for the Winter Olympics in the 1970s. His mother, Liz Lippincott, is a former journalist who captained the Princeton lacrosse team.

The tall, sandy-haired Southern California teen attended St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower. Coming out of Bosco, Rosen was the top-ranked passer in the nation’s 2015 high school class, according to Rivals.com, and the second-ranked player overall. He entered training camp at UCLA in the fall of 2015 and won the starting job as a true freshman, beating out incumbent junior Jerry Neuheisel.

After a freshman season that saw him named Pac-12 offensive freshman of the year (60 percent completion percentage, 3,670 yards and 23 touchdowns), Rosen was squarely on the radar of NFL scouts.

The 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound gunslinger has the prototypical mold NFL coaches dream about playing under center: tall enough to see over defenses, a frame with enough bulk to absorb hits, smooth mechanics, a strong and deadly arm, and coolness under fire.

Near the end of his freshman campaign, NFL media analyst Daniel Jeremiah took to Twitter to call Rosen “the most gifted QB in college football.” After last April’s draft in which the Los Angeles Rams took former Cal quarterback Jared Goff with the top overall pick, Rosen’s coach at UCLA, Jim Mora, said that had Rosen been eligible, he would have been selected ahead of Goff. (Players must be three years removed from high school before being eligible to enter the NFL draft.)

“I’m not comparing him to Peyton Manning in the NFL, but at this stage of his career — essentially the same point — he’s the same guy in terms of football intelligence and work ethic,” Mora said in a 2016 Sports Illustrated profile on Rosen. As an assistant coach for the New Orleans Saints in the NFL, Mora got to know Manning well during his high school playing days in the city.

Rosen’s sophomore season kicked off with realistic hopes of a Pac-12 title and Heisman Trophy consideration. However, all that optimism went out the window last October during a game against Arizona State when Rosen suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. The Bruins tumbled to a disappointing 4-8 record while Rosen went through intensive rehab.

The 2017 season is still months away, but Rosen will have a chance to reclaim his place among the top performers in the college ranks. With a big season, Rosen will up his profile just in time to ride some momentum all the way to the grand stage of the 2018 NFL draft, should he choose to forgo a senior season at UCLA.

Whether it’s in 2018 or 2019, Rosen hearing his name called by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on draft day and being handed the reins of an NFL franchise instantly could make him the highest-profile Jewish football star since … well, ever.

Israelis to teach choreography, media arts at UCLA


UCLA students will have the opportunity this spring to study with two leading Israeli artists who combine science with the movement of bodies. 

Choreographer Shahar Biniamini and media artist Daniel Landau are among 14 top Israeli artists coming to major U.S. universities during the current academic year, as part of the Schusterman Visiting Israeli Artists Program.

Biniamini has danced with Batsheva — The Young Ensemble and Batsheva Dance Company during the past decade. Since leaving it in 2013, he continues to teach and produce the Batsheva repertoire around the world. 

Biniamini is a teacher of the movement language Gaga, improvised dance developed by Batsheva’s artistic director Ohad Naharin that sometimes appears spastic, grotesque or even silly as a way to unlock thoughts and emotions. 

Biniamini, 28, says he first became interested in dance when he was 17 years old, after seeing the Naharin-choreographed piece “Shalosh.”

“I remember the sensation I had. Not necessarily that I wanted to be a dancer, but I wanted to be part of that thing that I saw,” Biniamini said in an interview over tea at Melrose Umbrella Co.  “It came out of nowhere, and my life changed completely.”

The other visiting Israeli artist, Landau, studied music composition and new media at the Royal Conservatory in the Netherlands. His artistic installations examine the relationship between the body and technology, and he’ll work with students in the UCLA Department of Media Arts using virtual reality.

The Visiting Israeli Artists program is an initiative of the Israel Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based academic institute. The program was founded in 2008 to bring modern Israeli artists and cultural leaders to North America for residencies at cultural organizations and academic centers. Since the program began, there have been 68 residencies featuring 78 artists at colleges and universities. 

“There are universities that we’re interested in bringing artists to, and sometimes that university wants to bring a specific artist or an artist in a certain field. And other times I meet an artist that has the talent and the teaching experience,” said Marge Goldwater, director of arts and cultural programs at the Israel Institute. “Sometimes I describe myself as a matchmaker.”

Soon after leaving Batsheva, Biniamini co-founded a research group, Tnuda, to explore the connection between science and movement. Composed of dancers, choreographers and scientists, it is based at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, a town south of Tel Aviv. He founded the group with Weizmann professor Atan Gross, who studies apoptosis, or programmed cell death.  

“[Gross] sees a link between the process of dance, with bodies transferring information from one body to another, and it gives him inspiration for new directions in research on why cells commit suicide for the benefit of the whole unit,” Biniamini said.

As an independent dancer and artist, Biniamini choreographs new pieces for theaters and companies. In one piece, “Flat,” created for Frontier Danceland in Singapore, he covered one dancer with blue dots. In another,  “Yama,” he covered Japanese dancers with red dots. 

“When I work with dancers, I like to see the body. I like to see the muscles, to see the body exposed,” he said. The idea was “to create a kind of uniform without disturbing the body.”

After working with UCLA students on an original choreographed piece this spring, he plans to work with GöteborgsOperans Danskompani in Gothenburg, Sweden; followed by a collaboration with Gauthier Dance, an ensemble in Stuttgart, Germany; and a workshop in Italy’s Tuscany region.

Biniamini has also produced videos, installations and sculptures that have been presented in theaters, museums and galleries around the world. 

“It’s always a running joke between us when we talk on the phone,” Goldwater said. “I say, ‘What continent am I talking to you on?’ ”

While in Los Angeles, Biniamini will also choreograph a new piece with former Batsheva dancer and artistic director Danielle Agami and her L.A.-based ensemble, Ate9 Dance Company.

Biniamini says his goal is to found a collective of choreographers and dancers and to continue bringing innovative dance to people all over the globe.

“It’s healthy, and it can save the world,” he said.

Landau, in addition to his artistic work, led the media studies department at Beit Berl Academic College near Tel Aviv from 2012 to 2016. At 43, he is a doctoral candidate at the Aalto Institute in Finland and a senior research fellow at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya. At UCLA, Landau will work alongside Eddo Stern, a world-renowned game designer and director of the UCLA Game Lab.  

Landau’s work has been featured at international venues, museums and festivals. He is the founder of “Oh-man, Oh-machine,” an art, science and technology platform that has included a conference, a laboratory and 36-hour-long “durational workshops” in which researchers, meeting in an
airplane hangar, talk about and experience the relationship between bodies and technology.

While in California, Landau will conduct a public lecture and performance at UCLA, Caltech and Stanford called “Time-Body Study,” which he describes as a “virtual reality experiment.”

“A person from the audience is invited on stage, and not only is he placed somewhere else, as virtual reality does, he is being re-embodied,” Landau said. “He finds himself in a body of a 7-year-old, a 40-year-old and an 80-year-old.”

The project, he said, is meant to show how virtual reality may change our relationship with our own bodies and how our “physical identity can be shifted into something else.”

Another of Landau’s areas of interest is post-humanism, which he describes as “an amazing philosophical framework to reconfigure this relationship between nature, humans and computers.”

One output of that interest is a short film about Henrietta Lacks, the African-American woman whose cancerous cell lines have been used by researchers for decades to develop cures for various diseases.

Another of Landau’s projects is called “One Dimensional Man,” a theatrical piece that combines projections of faces onto masks with dancers performing alongside them.

There is a political component to his work as well. Landau contends that the goal to become a more connected society has resulted in a surveillance state, with major corporations controlling the flow of information online. The “power networks” at play in social and political structures remains a major theme of his work since returning to Israel in 2006, after studying and making art in The Hague, Netherlands, for a decade. 

Living abroad for that long, Landau said, allowed him “to see different horizons which you just can’t from within Israeli society.”

Israelis to teach choreography, media arts at UCLA


UCLA students will have the opportunity this spring to study with two leading Israeli artists who combine science with the movement of bodies. 

Choreographer Shahar Biniamini and media artist Daniel Landau are among 14 top Israeli artists coming to major U.S. universities during the current academic year, as part of the Schusterman Visiting Israeli Artists Program.

Biniamini has danced with Batsheva — The Young Ensemble and Batsheva Dance Company during the past decade. Since leaving it in 2013, he continues to teach and produce the Batsheva repertoire around the world. 

Biniamini is a teacher of the movement language Gaga, improvised dance developed by Batsheva’s artistic director Ohad Naharin that sometimes appears spastic, grotesque or even silly as a way to unlock thoughts and emotions. 

Biniamini, 28, says he first became interested in dance when he was 17 years old, after seeing the Naharin-choreographed piece “Shalosh.”

“I remember the sensation I had. Not necessarily that I wanted to be a dancer, but I wanted to be part of that thing that I saw,” Biniamini said in an interview over tea at Melrose Umbrella Co.  “It came out of nowhere, and my life changed completely.”

The other visiting Israeli artist, Landau, studied music composition and new media at the Royal Conservatory in the Netherlands. His artistic installations examine the relationship between the body and technology, and he’ll work with students in the UCLA Department of Media Arts using virtual reality.

The Visiting Israeli Artists program is an initiative of the Israel Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based academic institute. The program was founded in 2008 to bring modern Israeli artists and cultural leaders to North America for residencies at cultural organizations and academic centers. Since the program began, there have been 68 residencies featuring 78 artists at colleges and universities. 

“There are universities that we’re interested in bringing artists to, and sometimes that university wants to bring a specific artist or an artist in a certain field. And other times I meet an artist that has the talent and the teaching experience,” said Marge Goldwater, director of arts and cultural programs at the Israel Institute. “Sometimes I describe myself as a matchmaker.”

Soon after leaving Batsheva, Biniamini co-founded a research group, Tnuda, to explore the connection between science and movement. Composed of dancers, choreographers and scientists, it is based at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, a town south of Tel Aviv. He founded the group with Weizmann professor Atan Gross, who studies apoptosis, or programmed cell death.  

“[Gross] sees a link between the process of dance, with bodies transferring information from one body to another, and it gives him inspiration for new directions in research on why cells commit suicide for the benefit of the whole unit,” Biniamini said.

As an independent dancer and artist, Biniamini choreographs new pieces for theaters and companies. In one piece, “Flat,” created for Frontier Danceland in Singapore, he covered one dancer with blue dots. In another,  “Yama,” he covered Japanese dancers with red dots. 

“When I work with dancers, I like to see the body. I like to see the muscles, to see the body exposed,” he said. The idea was “to create a kind of uniform without disturbing the body.”

After working with UCLA students on an original choreographed piece this spring, he plans to work with GöteborgsOperans Danskompani in Gothenburg, Sweden; followed by a collaboration with Gauthier Dance, an ensemble in Stuttgart, Germany; and a workshop in Italy’s Tuscany region.

Biniamini has also produced videos, installations and sculptures that have been presented in theaters, museums and galleries around the world. 

“It’s always a running joke between us when we talk on the phone,” Goldwater said. “I say, ‘What continent am I talking to you on?’ ”

While in Los Angeles, Biniamini will also choreograph a new piece with former Batsheva dancer and artistic director Danielle Agami and her L.A.-based ensemble, Ate9 Dance Company.

Biniamini says his goal is to found a collective of choreographers and dancers and to continue bringing innovative dance to people all over the globe.

“It’s healthy, and it can save the world,” he said.

Landau, in addition to his artistic work, led the media studies department at Beit Berl Academic College near Tel Aviv from 2012 to 2016. At 43, he is a doctoral candidate at the Aalto Institute in Finland and a senior research fellow at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya. At UCLA, Landau will work alongside Eddo Stern, a world-renowned game designer and director of the UCLA Game Lab.  

Landau’s work has been featured at international venues, museums and festivals. He is the founder of “Oh-man, Oh-machine,” an art, science and technology platform that has included a conference, a laboratory and 36-hour-long “durational workshops” in which researchers, meeting in an
airplane hangar, talk about and experience the relationship between bodies and technology.

While in California, Landau will conduct a public lecture and performance at UCLA, Caltech and Stanford called “Time-Body Study,” which he describes as a “virtual reality experiment.”

“A person from the audience is invited on stage, and not only is he placed somewhere else, as virtual reality does, he is being re-embodied,” Landau said. “He finds himself in a body of a 7-year-old, a 40-year-old and an 80-year-old.”

The project, he said, is meant to show how virtual reality may change our relationship with our own bodies and how our “physical identity can be shifted into something else.”

Another of Landau’s areas of interest is post-humanism, which he describes as “an amazing philosophical framework to reconfigure this relationship between nature, humans and computers.”

One output of that interest is a short film about Henrietta Lacks, the African-American woman whose cancerous cell lines have been used by researchers for decades to develop cures for various diseases.

Another of Landau’s projects is called “One Dimensional Man,” a theatrical piece that combines projections of faces onto masks with dancers performing alongside them.

There is a political component to his work as well. Landau contends that the goal to become a more connected society has resulted in a surveillance state, with major corporations controlling the flow of information online. The “power networks” at play in social and political structures remains a major theme of his work since returning to Israel in 2006, after studying and making art in The Hague, Netherlands, for a decade. 

Living abroad for that long, Landau said, allowed him “to see different horizons which you just can’t from within Israeli society.”

UCLA to house large archive of Sephardic culture


The history of European Jewry has been well organized and cataloged, but until now there has been no large-scale effort to gather documents and other materials pertaining to Sephardic Jewry around the Mediterranean, according to Sarah Abrevaya Stein, UCLA history professor and holder of the Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic studies. 

This situation is about to change. 

Stein heads the Sephardic Archive Initiative (SAI), which has partnered with the UCLA Library in housing what promises to be one of the world’s largest collections of materials relating to Sephardic life and history. Initially, the archive will focus on the rich history of the Ladino-speaking pioneers who settled in Los Angeles after emigrating from Turkey and the Balkans in the early part of the 20th century. Eventually, it will expand to include L.A.’s North African, Persian and other Middle Eastern Jewish communities.    

 “UCLA is the ideal institution to safeguard and steward a collection of such enormous significance,” Stein said. “We are in L.A., which is home to one of the oldest and largest Sephardic communities in the country, and we [at UCLA] have the world-class resources to pioneer a comprehensive and invaluable archive of Sephardic culture.” 

 SAI was launched in 2015 with the help of a grant from the Sady Kahn Trust. Also aided by other foundations, SAI has since acquired a trove of materials from Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel on Wilshire Boulevard, including many documents written in Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), the language of Jews exiled from Iberia more than 500 years ago.

Chris Silver, a UCLA doctoral student in Jewish history and SAI’s project manager, said the synagogue’s collection — institutional records, photos, research papers, newsletters, pamphlets, scrapbooks and newspaper clippings, as well as an audio-visual collection of reel-to-reel, cassette, and VHS tapes — initially was put together in 1981 by Maurice I. “Bob” Hattem, a descendant of one of the founding families of the L.A. Sephardic community. 

 “We’re looking to find more family collections,” Silver said, adding that anyone who has material can contact the project at sephardic@humnet.ucla.edu. “Documents [are] often buried in suitcases, in garages or under beds, waiting for someone to open them and to give them a voice.”

Stein said that while Hattem and Sephardic Temple were “good stewards” of these materials, moving them to the UCLA Library will preserve them for future generations. 

 “[Sephardic Temple] didn’t have the resources to catalog and archive these materials, or to digitize them,” Stein said. The aim of the project, Silver added, is to create an educational exhibit that is visually rich and historically informative. Though not all the materials can be digitized, many will be, and the archive will have an interactive feature available to users anywhere.

 “This is an education-driven project,” Stein said. “We hope it fuels scholarship by creating a repository of data for people who want to write about California history, about Sephardic history, about L.A. history. Because this history hasn’t been written, [scholars] will be able to come to UCLA’s special collection, consult its repository, and be able to produce narratives about Sephardic Jewish history and culture that will be used in the classroom.” 

Stein added that many in L.A.’s Sephardic community would like the younger generations to learn about its history. “This is especially true because the demographics of the community — and also of the Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel — have changed over the years,” she said. 

Both the community and the synagogue were founded by Ladino-speaking Jews, mostly from Greece, Turkey and Rhodes; today, the community includes Jews from North Africa and the Middle East, while Sephardic Temple is predominantly Persian-Jewish. 

Stein said that SAI’s special collections archive at UCLA will utilize “scholarly skills” to explore the L.A. Sephardic community’s rich stories. When Sephardic Temple celebrates its centenary in 2020, SAI will present some of those stories at the temple as part of that celebration.

Dr. Justin Zaghi: An ounce of prevention


When Justin Zaghi learned as a senior in college that a type of birth defect was much more prevalent in Nicaragua than in the United States, he wanted to know why. He also wanted to know what he could do about it. 

Those questions led him on a journey that continues today, to help reduce the incidence of preventable birth defects in Nicaragua and beyond.

Zaghi’s mission originated in 2008 at UCLA, where he saw a poster advertising Project Nicaragua, an effort to deliver medical supplies for children who have spina bifida. This birth defect involves failure of the bones of the spine to form normally, which causes damage to the brain, spine or spinal cord. Severe cases can cause serious health problems, including fluid on the brain, bladder and bowel issues and lower body paralysis. 

“I was a neuroscience major and Spanish minor, so I thought this would be a good way to combine my interests,” said Zaghi, 29, who is finishing his third and final year of residency in internal medicine at UCLA (and whose sister, Sara, also made this year’s Mensch list).

After he learned that spina bifida is five times more common in Nicaragua than in the United States, he and a friend formed a research group of seven undergraduates who met weekly to investigate the issue. They discovered the problem resulted from a deficiency in B vitamin folic acid, which can reduce the incidence of neural tube defects by up to 80 percent when taken before and during pregnancy, 

Zaghi, who grew up in Tarzana and attends Valley Beth Shalom, realized that fortifying a staple food with folic acid — as is done in the U.S. with breads, cereals and other grain products — could provide a solution. He contacted Dr. Antonio Largaespada, the former director of nutrition for Nicaragua’s Ministry of Health, learned that rice was the third-most commonly consumed food in that country and proposed that rice be fortified with folic acid.

The director convened a meeting with Zaghi, the current minister of health and other health leaders in the summer of 2009. Within two months, the Ministry of Health issued a national resolution requiring fortification of rice with folic acid and other vitamins. 

“It was invigorating to think that our work could contribute to such an important public health intervention,” said Zaghi, who credits the Jewish concept of tikkun olam for motivating his activism. “Whenever you try to help other people, you gain more than you give.”

 He soon found that implementation of the resolution would take more effort and many more years. There were logistical and other challenges, including getting the required technology to the smaller rice mills and providing financial resources to develop and execute the program. 

While pursuing a joint MD/MBA at Harvard, Zaghi recruited fellow student Barbara Trejos to join the effort, and the two traveled to Nicaragua to learn how to accelerate the process. They also applied for and received two grants, one for $250,000 from Saving Lives at Birth and a similar amount from Grand Challenges Canada. The funds will be used to help the Ministry of Health implement the measure, work with vitamin providers and rice vendors, and create a social marketing campaign to promote purchasing and consuming fortified rice.

Zaghi hopes to expand the program throughout Central America and ultimately to Asia. He already has done some outreach in Vietnam. 

Zaghi — co-founder of the Born Well Project (bornwell.org), which advocates for the prevention of neural tube defects through food fortification — said his work in this area “is probably the most transformative experience” of his life. 

“I realized that while taking care of patients one-on-one is very rewarding … understanding the bigger picture around health and affecting change on a systems level can … help hundreds, thousands or even millions of people at a time.”

Sara Zaghi: Helping the homeless through jean therapy


Sara Zaghi, a 19-year-old sophomore at UCLA, is committed to bettering the lives of homeless youth by providing them with something she believes everyone should have: a pair of jeans.

“Homeless teens don’t have the same clothes as everyone; they don’t fit in with everyone else. It’s not just about giving them jeans — which is important to help clothe them — but about battling these stereotypes about homelessness,” Zaghi said. “I think it’s important, a great way to give back, and I think it’s super easy, something everyone has and something everyone can do.”

January will mark six years since Zaghi started the citywide jeans collection drive as a partnership with Teens for Jeans, an initiative of the youth-oriented nonprofit dosomething.org, which says jeans are one of the most requested items among homeless youth. 

Working with 20 local businesses, 10 schools and major businesses, including Buffalo Exchange, a used clothing store chain, Zaghi has collected approximately 16,000 pairs of jeans in the past five years. She developed the idea as a freshman at Taft Charter High School in Woodland Hills, where she served on student government, edited the school newspaper and organized a fashion show.

“I was literally in, like, every club,” she said of her years at Taft.

Her focus on social change is not limited to helping the homeless. In 2014, again working with dosomething.org, she created the national campaign Shower Songs, a water conservation effort that involves compiling a five-minute playlist of songs and sharing the playlist with friends. The idea is to listen to music in the shower and reduce one’s showering time to the length of the playlist. 

“I’m, like, at 15 minutes, which is saying a lot,” she said. “I used to take really long showers.”

A resident of Tarzana and the youngest of three siblings (her brother Justin also made the Mensch List this year), Zaghi is a member of Valley Beth Shalom, where she’s become a leader in the temple’s United Synagogue Youth tikkun olam committee.

“Being involved in the Jewish community is really important to me, especially fulfilling tikkun olam,” said Zaghi, who currently is on the board of the Persian Community at Hillel at UCLA. “Our duty is to do mitzvot.”

Zaghi, who is studying communications at UCLA and hopes to work in entertainment pubic relations, interned last summer for Kris Jenner, matriarch of the Kardashian clan.

“I really look up to her,” Zaghi said of Jenner. “A lot of people think of the Kardashians in a bad light, but I truly think Kris is very smart in the way she has handled the family and their businesses in the past few years, and they really turned this one opportunity” — the reality show, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” —  “into a lifetime of success for the whole family.”

Zaghi’s family’s business, meanwhile, is Subway restaurants. Her father owns three, and Zaghi has helped out often in the stores.

“I’ve grown up with Subway,” she said.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Zaghi relaxes by watching “Shark Tank,” a reality show featuring entrepreneurs who pitch their ideas to successful business people.

How would she pitch her jeans drive to the panel of “sharks”?

“I would just pitch it as a very easy way to give back, and also there are a lot of opportunities for them to partner with any big businesses they have as a promotional social action campaign,” she said. “That’s the angle I would go with, especially since all the sharks have connections with clothing stores or teen brands, which could help us with the drive.”

Ethan Youssefzadeh: Filling a gap in Jewish education


Although he graduated from YULA Boys High School five years ago, Ethan Youssefzadeh is a familiar face to current students on campus — and to teens at several other schools and synagogues on the Westside.

The 22-year-old volunteer has run popular discussion groups about Jewish theology and ritual for the past three years, trying to impart wisdom to any young Jew in his community who will listen.  And he is doing that while studying for the MCAT exams, preparing to apply to medical school.  

“I want to be a doctor just as much as I want to inspire people to be faithful to their religion,” he said. 

His “Joy of Being a Jew” (JOBAJ) program, a weekly hourlong discussion forum, is held at his alma mater, as well as Beverly Hills High School and Link Kollel and Shul in Pico-Robertson.  In all, more than 100 young Jews participate, informally discussing matters of faith. 

The class at YULA on Mondays started three years ago with about 15 students — all boys — and has more than doubled since, Youssefzadeh said. About a year ago, he began teaching the same class on Tuesdays at Beverly Hills High School, a much bigger school, and about 75 boys and girls attend, he reported. 

Meetings are held in classrooms during lunchtime. Youssefzadeh, a lifelong member of Ahavat Shalom near his home in Pico-Robertson, lectures on topics such as “Why we pray” or “Is there a God?” then opens the floor to questions. He also makes his case for why students should consider a gap year between high school and college to study at a yeshiva in Israel, like he did. 

The recent UCLA graduate feels that his program fills a hole in Jewish education. “It shouldn’t just be rabbis who are doing the teaching in the Jewish community,” he said. “I just think it should also be people like me.” 

In high school, Youssefzadeh was student council president and helped lead the cross-country team. He was someone people turned to for guidance — a leader. “That’s what people kept telling me,” he said. However, he was searching for guidance in Judaic studies, questioning aspects of his faith, the logic behind certain rituals, and found turning to rabbis difficult. 

After high school, like many of his YULA peers, he spent an unforgettable year at a yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Old City. “My whole perception of Judaism changed,” he said. “I came back inspired. I found myself.”  Youssefzadeh now prays daily and has found a “more meaningful life.” 

Yarmulke clipped atop his head, Youssefzadeh often breaks into a smile mid-sentence. Perhaps it’s no surprise his JOBAJ program is reaching significant numbers of high school students — he’s not far removed from being one of them. 

To entice participation, Youssefzadeh even supplies lunch for meetings — pizza, burgers, kosher Chinese. He estimates that he has spent about $3,000 of his own money saved up from summers as a Jewish camp counselor. 

“The big advantage I have is that I’m young and I can relate,” he said. “They open up. Some of them might be afraid to say to a teacher or a rabbi, ‘I don’t know if I believe in God.’ The kids feel very comfortable with me and they really appreciate the class.”  

Until this past summer, he balanced teaching and speaking engagements at local synagogues — largely a result of the success of JOBAJ — with the hectic schedule of a college student. Since graduating from UCLA, he has been spending more than 25 hours per week studying for the MCAT and will apply to medical schools soon.

If Youssefzadeh starts medical school, he knows he will have to back away from his religion classes for a while; he is hopeful one of the teens in his classes or a JOBAJ alum will take over. But he knows it won’t be the end. Once he finishes his medical residency, he knows he wants “to dedicate time to outreach and inspiring the Jewish future.”

Roger Waters takes stage at UCLA before controversial film screening


Roger Waters, one of the founding members of Pink Floyd, had been scheduled to answer questions after last week’s screening of the documentary “The Occupation of the American Mind” at UCLA. The subject of the film, which he narrated, is media manipulation by pro-Israel forces — a topic on which the rock star has been outspoken.

Instead, Waters limited himself to a few short remarks before the film was shown. Members of the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which sponsored the Nov. 30 screening at the James Bridges Theater, said they had gotten wind of protests planned to disrupt his appearance.

“To get this movie shown at all is a monumental struggle. … They don’t want you to see it,” said Waters, a frequent critic of Israel. “Nobody wants you to see this film.”

After his brief remarks, Waters slipped out of the theater through a side door and the opening credits rolled. Yet, disruptions largely failed to materialize, despite fliers calling for a protest that were posted on Facebook by an anonymous group calling itself the Yad Yamin, Hebrew for “the right hand.” 

Signs outside the event warned that disruptions would not be tolerated, and student speakers implored audience members to stay respectfully quiet — which, for the most part, they did.

The film asserts that Israel benefits from “the most successful public relations campaign in U.S. history,” said Sut Jhally, the film’s executive producer and a communication professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who spoke with the Journal before attending the showing.

Jhally said he conceived of the UCLA screening as an “act of solidarity” after he heard that a group led by right-wing activist David Horowitz in May had hung posters around the university’s campus, naming and shaming students and faculty involved in pro-Palestinian activism. 

Jhally said he phoned a friend, history professor Robin Kelley — a UCLA faculty member named on the posters — and arranged for the screening, one week after the film opened in Brussels.

“This is kind of ground zero for attacks on Palestinian activists,” Jhally said of UCLA.

In the film, journalists, academics and pro-Palestinian advocates suggest Israel was founded on the dispossession of Arabs from their land, that the country benefits from a top-down propaganda campaign, and that Hamas — the Palestinian Islamic political party that governs the Gaza Strip — is not a terrorist organization. The documentary names pro-Israel groups such as Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, The David Project and The Israel Project as agents of a media spin machine.

At various points, scenes of Israeli security forces manhandling Palestinian Arabs are shown as eerie background music plays.

A few audience members clapped awkwardly when pro-Israel video clips screened — although for the purpose of setting up the filmmakers’ rebuttals (before the screening, this reporter heard Hebrew conversation coming from that section of the audience). But otherwise, protests largely failed to take place.

“Someone, we aren’t sure who, had tipped off the police in an effort to stop it,” a person professing to be a Yad Yamin organizer wrote in an email to the Journal on Dec. 1, the day after the screening. The writer declined to provide a name (and claimed not to be a UCLA student), saying the group adheres to a “policy of anonymity.”

“With police having been informed, many got cold feet,” the email writer said. “There was no support for [the protest] from Jewish student groups on campus and sadly galvanizing young Jews to do so seems to be a tall order.”

However, he added, “We are viewing this as a victory after all if it stopped Roger Waters from partaking in the Q-and-A.”

In a Dec. 1 email, Yacoub Kureh, UCLA board chair of SJP, wrote that it was unclear to the organizers why Waters left early.

Before the event, a group of pro-Israel student organizations, including Bruins for Israel (BFI), agreed not to protest the screening to avoid another contentious incident in an already tense campus climate, BFI President Arielle Mokhtarzadeh said at the screening. Any protest, she said, would come from non-students or students unaffiliated with the organized Jewish community.

But in an op-ed published the day after the screening in the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student newspaper, a group of some of the same pro-Israel organizations expressed disapproval of the film.

“The film is an intellectualization of the centuries-old, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that a group of powerful, manipulative and domination-obsessed Jews have gained control of politics and media through a combination of wealth, power, influence and deceit,” they wrote in a statement signed by BFI, Students Supporting Israel, the Bruin-Israel Public Affairs Committee and Hillel at UCLA.

“Our disappointment, however, is directed not only toward the creators of this film, but at the students who have pushed to screen it,” the op-ed continued. “In doing so, they have provided a platform for the legitimization of identity-based hatred.”

After the screening, Jhally took Waters’ place in an onstage Q-and-A session. But questions were posed via Twitter and written on scraps of paper, forestalling pointed questions or arguments from the audience.

Kureh, the moderator, chose a number of critical questions, including one from Mokhtarzadeh, the BFI president. But some presumably pro-Israel audience members were unsatisfied.

“Why not have an open Q-and-A?” a person yelled from the back half of the room, prompting some of the event’s student organizers to begin moving toward that part of the theater.

“This is not a forum for truth!” another shouted.

The organizers converged on the outspoken audience members, but after a moment of heated conversation the audience members were allowed to stay.

Work of art makes ‘Jewish statement’ in UCLA dispute


The tortured saga of a UCLA graduate student who left the campus due to what he called pressure from pro-Palestinian elements got a happy epilogue of sorts last week.

On Nov. 14, UCLA’s Anderson School of Management unveiled “Warsaw,” a 2011 art piece by financier-turned-artist Robert Weingarten, depicting the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, on a second-floor landing of the school’s Cornell Hall. The business school’s decision to display the piece averted a donor’s threat to pull his art collection of more than 20 pieces that hang in its halls as a result of the student controversy.

The events that led to the unveiling of “Warsaw” began when Milan Chatterjee, a UCLA law student and former president of the Graduate Student Association (GSA), decided over the summer to leave the university, citing harassment by the pro-Palestinian community. Chatterjee, who is Hindu, faced blowback after he made GSA funding for an event contingent on there being no discussion of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. 

His departure was spurred by a “hostile and unsafe campus climate,” he wrote to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block.

When J.P. Morgan executive David Pollock learned of Chatterjee’s decision to leave, he was ready to take back the art collection he and his wife, Lynn, had lent to the business school some five years before. They had planned to leave their art there in perpetuity. Pollock called Weingarten, an old friend who created the artwork in the collection already on loan to UCLA, to discuss the situation. In the car with Weingarten when he took the call on speakerphone was Steve Fink, who, along with his brother, is a large donor to UCLA.

Listening in on the conversation, Fink had an idea of what Pollock could do instead of pulling his art: Why not lend the business school an additional art piece, this one representing the Jewish experience, to be hung alongside the others?

“That was gonna make a statement,” Fink said at the unveiling. “A strong Jewish statement.”

Exactly a week later, Pollock called back Weingarten, who knew exactly which art piece fit the bill.

 “I said, ‘I have something exactly in mind,’ ” Weingarten told the Journal.

Weingarten decided to lend UCLA “Warsaw” to hang along with his other works in Pollock’s collection. 

In “Warsaw,” pictures of the ghetto uprising are overlaid on modern photographs of the Polish capital. Weingarten said he was inspired by a trip he took to the location of the ghetto, where there was “no reminder, virtually,” of what had taken place. His work allows the viewer to look through the present and into the past, he said. 

“You’re looking at a very thin layer that separates civility and society from hatred and horror,” he told the crowd of some two dozen that gathered for the unveiling.

Pollock said he was “100 percent” satisfied with the compromise, calling it a “win-win situation” for him and the university. 

Speaking at the unveiling, he pointed to previous incidents on UCLA’s campus, such as when student government representatives questioned a nominee for student office about her Jewish background in February 2015, as evidence of a pattern of anti-Israel intimidation at the school.

 “We have to push back in every capacity,” he told the Journal at the event.

Learning of Chatterjee’s situation, Pollock said, it seemed threatening to pull his art was his best means of pushing back. But when he dashed off an email to Anderson Dean Judy Olian, herself the daughter of Holocaust survivors, she responded with a “really heartfelt and sincere” note expressing her concern.

 “They heard me immediately,” Pollock said. 

Olian quickly agreed to the idea of incorporating a new piece of art that speaks to the Jewish historical narrative.

 “This is as much a part of the education of our students — who we think of as future leaders — as what they learn in the classroom,” she said at the unveiling.

In a campus conversation on BDS often characterized by dissension and distrust, the “Warsaw” episode was a rare instance of compromise.

 “It’s positive when community members and alumni find ways to stay engaged with the university even as they question its actions,” Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, wrote in an email. “That keeps them involved in the conversation and shows their devotion to UCLA, making it more likely that they will be able to create positive
change here.”

UCLA exhibition recalls Jewish glory days in Boyle Heights


Visitors to UCLA soon will be able to step back in time, to an era when Cesar Chavez Avenue was named Brooklyn Avenue, the delicatessens sold pickles out of barrels and Yiddish was a commonly spoken language. 

The UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies is celebrating its formal renaming and dedication with an exhibition devoted to the Jewish community of Boyle Heights from the 1920s to the 1950s. 

“From Brooklyn Avenue to Cesar Chavez: Jewish Histories in Multiethnic Boyle Heights” will be open at UCLA’s Royce Hall for a short run from Nov. 6-9. The pop-up exhibition will include a screening of the recent documentary “East LA Interchange” on Nov. 6, followed by a conversation between director Betsy Kalin and former Boyle Heights residents Leo Frumkin and Don Hodes.

UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies changed its name in March 2015 after receiving a $5 million gift from Alan D. Leve, a UCLA alumnus and the founder and president of Culver City-based Ohmega Technologies. Leve’s grandmother, Hinda Schonfeld (born Hinda Schacter), who died in 1941, was a beloved figure in the Jewish community of Boyle Heights. Leve’s parents and grandparents lived in Boyle Heights beginning in the late 1920s and were members of the Breed Street Shul, and Leve was born in the neighborhood. 

The UCLA endowments funded by Leve are meant to support undergraduate awards, graduate fellowships, and travel and research grants in Jewish studies. In addition, part of the gift established the Hinda and Jacob Schonfeld Boyle Heights Collection, whose launch is being marked by the current celebration. It will collaborate with the UCLA Library to gather and preserve artifacts and ephemera related to the history of Boyle Heights. 

“We seek out hidden reservoirs of materials and memories out in the community, and really try to place those historical materials in context, so that we are not only delivering easy access to those materials but we’re engaging them through scholarly questions,” said Caroline Luce, chief curator for UCLA’s Mapping Jewish L.A. project. 

The upcoming exhibition is part of the broader Mapping Jewish L.A. initiative, which has tracked how Jews have shaped the landscape of Southern California and how the region has impacted the Jewish community. 

In the 1930s, Boyle Heights was home to roughly 10,000 Jews, about a third of the city’s Jewish population and the highest concentration of Jews west of the Mississippi. But the population was also integrated in the community. It was one of the most multiethnic and diverse neighborhoods in Los Angeles, and anywhere the country, with large concentrations of Mexican, Japanese, Armenian, Italian, Russian and African-American residents. 

One of Luce’s ongoing projects is a mapping of the 1930 census in Boyle Heights to track residential patterns. Her research looks both at the Jewish history of the neighborhood and “how that diversity shaped and informed that Jewish history in ways that made it distinct from other immigrant neighborhoods elsewhere,” she said.

Another focus of the research that will appear in the exhibition is on health-seeking immigrants. Patients from around the country flocked here in search of relief from rheumatism, asthma and tuberculosis. City of Hope and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center both started as Jewish hospitals for tubercular patients. And before merging with Cedars of Lebanon, Mount Sinai hospital built an outpatient clinic in Boyle Heights, just a block from the Breed Street Shul.

Boyle Heights also was known as a hotbed of radical activism, with socialist, communist and anarchist thinkers and labor organizers living there. During the crackdown on communist-affiliated groups in the 1950s, many of these radicals destroyed any incriminating evidence. Luce says that has presented challenges in telling the story of the Jewish experience of Boyle Heights through surviving artifacts.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the stuff doesn’t get in there,” she said, “because there just aren’t historical documents and archival records that would allow us to tell those stories.”

“From Brooklyn Avenue to Cesar Chavez: Jewish Histories in Multiethnic Boyle Heights” includes displays relating to three organized protests in the neighborhood. One of them, in 1945, was organized to protest notoriously anti-Semitic and white supremacist preacher Gerald L.K. Smith, who was given a permit by the Los Angeles School Board to speak at Los Angeles Polytechnic High School. Frumkin, who was one of the student organizers, will speak at the UCLA exhibition. 

Among the artifacts that will be on display at UCLA are a Yiddish typewriter used to write articles for a communist Yiddish newspaper called Morgen Freiheit (Morning Freedom), the shtender (pulpit) from the Breed Street Shul, and a letter from actress Mae West, who gave money in the 1940s to the Los Angeles Jewish Home, whose first permanent structure was in Boyle Heights. 

Luce pushes back on the commonly held belief that Jewish residents of Boyle Heights were poor, unskilled immigrants who only spoke Yiddish. Many had already been in the United States for a decade or longer before settling there; they came with a fluency in English, enough wealth to buy homes in the hills of City Terrace, and soon became small-business owners or skilled craftsmen, she said.

“Life in Boyle Heights often involved home ownership, ownership of cars, and in some way it was more like life in the suburbs than it was like life in the densely crowded, urban, industrial neighborhoods where many of the Jewish immigrants who settled there had come from,” Luce said.

While Yiddish was a common language among Jews in the neighborhood, many could get by just fine with English. Continuing to speak their mama loshen, their mother tongue, and sending their children to Yiddish-language schools “was something very vital and important to them, to be preserved and maintained and cultivated,” Luce said. The popularity of Yiddish literature and Yiddish social clubs in Boyle Heights had more to do with maintaining a group identity, she said.

Also on display will be a sample of the petition that was sent to the city in 1954 to protest the route of the Golden State Freeway, written by a woman who had lived in the neighborhood since 1881. The signatories include people from a variety of ethnicities. Their appeal was rejected, and all of their homes were bulldozed and their families displaced. 

Freeway construction eventually displaced some 10,000 residents of Boyle Heights. The post-war era saw an exodus of Jews and other groups from the area, as racially restrictive housing covenants in previously all-white neighborhoods began to lift. From 1940 to 1955, the Jewish population in Boyle Heights declined by more than 72 percent.

The UCLA exhibition explains how the exodus from Boyle Heights caused the property tax base of the neighborhood to plummet. But just as the neighborhood banded together to oppose Nazism and fascism in the 1930s and ’40s, the mostly Latino residents of Boyle Heights joined together in the 1980s and ’90s to fight urban renewal projects. 

In 1994, Brooklyn Avenue was renamed Cesar Chavez Avenue, a signal that the Jewish era of the neighborhood was over. But even the new name hinted at the past. Chavez was trained as an organizer by the Community Service Organization, a Latino civil rights group that was established and funded with support from Jewish radical Saul Alinsky. It’s these types of stories, researched by Jewish studies scholars at UCLA, that illuminate the history of Boyle Heights — and of L.A.’s Jewish past.

“From Brooklyn Avenue to Cesar Chavez: Jewish Histories in Multiethnic Boyle Heights” will be held Nov. 6-9 at UCLA’s Royce Hall. For more information, visit this story at jewishjournal.com.

This article was made possible with support from California Humanities, a nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit

Which do you love more: Football or America?


I understand that there are American athletes, cheerleaders, members of bands in professional, college and even high school sports who believe — mistakenly — that America is so racist that they cannot, in good conscience, stand when the national anthem is played.

I also understand why the NFL and some college and professional teams allow this to take place. Cowardice is far more common than courage.

What is much more difficult to understand is why the majority of fans in the stadiums and watching on television continue to attend and to watch these sporting events. Why would people who love America, venerate the flag, and wish to honor those who have fought and died for that flag, continue to patronize any team that allows its players or others affiliated with the team to dishonor that flag and country?

There is only one possible answer: Such people value their seat at the stadium or watching the game at home more than they value honoring the country.

No one disputes the legal right of any player not to stand during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In America, you have the legal right to stomp on and burn the American flag. At the same time, however, any team or league has the right to set rules of conduct during a game. For example, no player is allowed to place the name of a candidate or to write a political message on his hat, helmet, or uniform.

Leagues and teams should make it clear that one of their employees’ obligations is to stand during the national anthem. But with few exceptions, when their players don’t, the leagues and the teams do nothing. And, saddest of all, few fans do anything. After all, how many fans are going to waste their expensive season tickets by leaving, or by not showing up at, a game? 

Yet, just imagine how powerful it would be if half, or even a quarter, of the stadium emptied out after players refused to stand for the national anthem. Or imagine if a significant percentage of TV viewers simply stopped watching this mockery of every American soldier, sailor and Marine who fought for, let alone died for, that flag. That would constitute a great moral and patriotic message — and quickly end this behavior.

Until then, however, the message being sent is that there is no price to be paid for public disdain toward the American flag and anthem. And when there is no price paid, the message sent is that what these players, cheerleaders and band members are doing is entirely acceptable.

More than acceptable — made famous. Time magazine, for example, featured the leader of the contempt-for-the-flag movement, San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick, on its cover. 

America, like Europe, is a society that is committing suicide. Those who have only contempt for the greatest country ever created dominate our news and entertainment media and teach this contempt to America’s young people at virtually every college in the country. This past month, every UCLA freshman was required to read a hate-America screed, “Between the World and Me,” by the radical Black nationalist writer Ta-Nehisi Coates.

This is how Coates is described by Joel Kotkin, a Presidential Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a lifelong Democrat (until this year, when he registered as an independent):

“To Coates, America itself seems irredeemable, its very essence tied to racial oppression and brutality. America is [about] . . . a legacy of ‘pillaging,’ the ‘destruction of families,’ ‘the rape of mothers,’ and countless other outrages. Today’s abusive police — and clearly some can be so described — are not outliers who should be punished but ‘are merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy.’ His alienation from America is so great that he admits to little sympathy for the victims of 9/11.” (Italics added.)

That’s the one book every UCLA freshman has to read this year — and the reading is followed by workshops on American racism, where students hear from UCLA professors such as Safiya Noble, professor in the graduate school of education, who tells them, “We must all think about who we are in the face of persistent anti-Blackness.”

Colin Kaepernick and others won’t stand for the flag that represents the least racist country in recorded history — the country to which far more Black Africans have immigrated voluntarily than ever arrived on a slave ship.

If you watch a game in person or on TV in which any player or other on-field participant refuses to stand during the national anthem, you have told everyone in your life, especially your kids, one of two things: either that you agree with not honoring America because it is such a bad country, or that football is more important than America.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Wanted: United student voice on campuses


What a new school year this is turning out to be.

Milan Chatterjee, the former Graduate Student Association president at UCLA, will be finishing his last year of law school at New York University, driven from his West Coast campus by what he calls a “hostile and unsafe campus environment.”

In a letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, Chatterjee, a Hindu Indian American, wrote, “Since November 2015 I have been relentlessly attacked, bullied and harassed by [anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions]-affiliated organizations and students.”

A Jewish student activist at Brown University, Benjamin Gladstone, complains that on his campus, Jewish students and their organizations have been prevented from working in coalitions because of their association with Israel — real or imagined. In one notorious case last year, LGBTQ activist Janet Mock canceled her appearance at Brown after an online petition opposed the lecture because it was sponsored, in part, by Hillel, the Jewish campus group — even though the event had nothing to do with Israel.

And north of the border, Molly Harris, a rising junior at McGill University in Montreal, reports that “many of my liberal peers, with whom I share so much common ground, have actively excluded Jewish students from their social-justice organizations” because of their association with Israel. She complains about frequent harassment of Jewish students and offers this chilling warning to incoming freshmen everywhere: “If you’re Jewish, you should probably also prepare yourself for the various forms of anti-Israel sentiment, and maybe even anti-Semitism.”

Never mind the debate about “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” — on many campuses one’s position on Israel has become a litmus test for acceptability. If you are on the “wrong” side of the issue — or thought to be — the campus can be a hostile place.

The Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) reports that in 2015-16, 185 campuses experienced 1,437 anti-Israel events, a 12 percent drop from the previous year. While Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns declined by 25 percent, from 44 to 33, there was an increase in “other forms of activism, such as attention-getting, visceral displays of anti-Israel sentiment. Campuses also saw a surge in disruptions of Israel-related events, during which anti-Israel activists attempted to silence lecturers and guest speakers.”

These tactics undermine the civility that is essential to the free exchange of ideas. In the service of creating a better, more peaceful world — starting with Israelis and Palestinians — anti-Israel groups are fostering campuses that alienate rather than unite. And, ironically, it is out of step with the Middle East today.

Israel is increasingly accepted across the Middle East, from Saudi Arabia to Morocco. Arab contacts with Israel, far from being a recent development, actually have a very long, if bumpy, history. Today, economic ties are growing while security and intelligence cooperation among Israeli and Palestinian, Egyptian, Jordanian and other Arab officials has become almost routine. In the face of nihilism and radical Islamism, Arab leaders are making common cause with Israel. Rather than seeking messianic prescriptions for peace, these Middle East realists are finding ways to cooperate to provide their people with stability and security in a region where misery, chaos and brutality are commonplace.

Anti-Israel advocates on campus are taking a different approach. Rather than finding ways to work with pro-Israel students to improve the region — from the humanitarian disaster of Syria to the ravages of ISIS to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — their tactics are alienating one important partner that cares deeply about the Middle East while turning off the majority of students who are indifferent to the plight of the region. At a time when American leadership is critically needed, a united student voice could send a powerful message to Washington, especially during a presidential transition year. Alas.

Instead, the generation now in college is witness to a microcosm of Middle East dysfunction in its own quads. These young Americans will become only more disenchanted by the Middle East. America will grow more distant from the region. No Middle Easterner will sleep better at night.

Students who truly want to help the Middle East should embrace the approach of a growing number of Arab and Israeli leaders: Muster the courage to overcome ideological divides and find practical, realistic avenues of cooperation. If they can’t make peace on campus, they won’t succeed in the Middle East.


David Pollock is the Kaufman Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the editor of its Fikra Forum blog. Jeff Rubin is the institute’s director of communications.

The Holocaust defense in the face of ‘Denial’


There was a time when the esteemed Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt would never have imagined that one of her books might be turned into a dramatic feature film.  But in 2000, a series of startling events unfolded for Lipstadt, beginning when British Holocaust denier David Irving announced that he was suing her for libel in the British courts.  He asserted that Lipstadt’s 1993 book, “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” had smeared him, damaging his reputation and livelihood.  

Irving eventually lost his case, and Lipstadt went on to write her 2005 memoir of the lawsuit, “Denial: Holocaust History on Trial” (previously published as “History on Trial: My Day in Court With a Holocaust Denier”).  The story of their courtroom battle was so dramatic, and the stakes of proving the verity of the Holocaust so high, that, several years later, Hollywood producers came calling on the Jewish scholar.  The result is Mick Jackson’s new film, “Denial,” the saga of Lipstadt’s courtroom ordeal and ultimate victory, starring Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt.

Having taught at UCLA and currently a professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Lipstadt is considered one of the nation’s leading experts on Holocaust denial. But back in the late 1980s, when some esteemed professors from Hebrew University suggested to Lipstadt that she should delve into the topic, she was initially hesitant. “I thought, ‘Why would people even believe that absurdity?’ ” Lipstadt said in a telephone interview during the film’s press day in New York. “Would someone ask a scientist to write about flat earth theory? … It just seemed over the top.” 

Even so, she agreed to explore the topic because of her respect for the Hebrew University professors, who viewed Holocaust denial as a new and insidious form of anti-Semitism. Six years later, her studies became the subject of her groundbreaking book, “Denying the Holocaust.”  

The tome revealed a disturbing trend of pseudo-historians who were manipulating history in an attempt to debunk the Shoah — creating the illusion that there is a valid “other side” to Holocaust history.

Weisz (left) and Deborah Lipstadt. Photo courtesy of EPK.TV

The denier who stood out as most dangerous among them was Irving, who had earned some favorable reviews in mainstream publications as well as scholarly esteem for his books about World War II and the Third Reich. In “Denying the Holocaust,” Lipstadt describes Irving as a “Hitler partisan wearing blinkers,” who distorted data in order to reach his “untenable” conclusions.

Irving argued that gas chambers were never used to systematically kill Jews; that there had never been a Third Reich plan to annihilate European Jewry; that Hitler was probably the biggest fan the Jews had in Nazi-occupied Europe and that Holocaust survivors were either liars or charlatans.

Before the libel trial, Irving had even shown up with a camera crew at one of Lipstadt’s lectures and declared that he would give $1,000 to anyone who could prove that Hitler ordered the extermination of the Jews. “He popped up in the back … and it was a pretty horrible moment,” Lipstadt told the Journal.

Early in the film, we see that interaction during the lecture, as well as Lipstadt responding to Irving that she does not debate deniers, just as she wouldn’t argue with someone who insists that Elvis is still alive.

Later in the movie, Lipstadt can be seen laughing when, in 1995, she receives a letter from her British publisher, Penguin UK, informing her that Irving intends to sue her for libel. The scholar doesn’t take the threat of  a lawsuit seriously, and promptly tosses the letter into the trash. 

But a year later, Irving indeed files suit in Britain, which puts Lipstadt in an unexpectedly difficult bind. In a United States courtroom, Irving would have been considered a public person and to win a libel suit would have had to prove Lipstadt maligned him with malicious intent. But in England, the reverse is the case: The burden of proof was on Lipstadt to show Irving deliberately distorted history because of his underlying anti-Semitism. In order to win, her legal team also had to prove that the Holocaust had, indeed, occurred.

In the film, as the trial gets underway, the bold, outspoken Lipstadt chafes at the fact that her attorneys will not let her testify, since their strategy is to focus on Irving alone. Nor will Holocaust survivors be allowed to give testimony, lest Irving — who is representing himself — traumatize them further. “People will say I’m a coward,” Lipstadt protests when she learns she will not be able to take the stand. “It’s the price [to] pay for winning,” one of her lawyers replies.  

Lipstadt suffers angst and sleepless nights throughout the grueling, three-month trial.

But her team’s strategy proves correct. As Judge Charles Gray reads from his verdict, he calls Irving “a right-wing, pro-Nazi polemicist” who persistently distorted historical evidence for ideological reasons.

In real life, as in the movie, Lipstadt was relieved and elated at the verdict. But, she said, she nevertheless had trepidations, some years later, when producers contacted her about turning her book “Denial” into a movie. “I said, ‘Before I give you the green light, you have to understand that this is a film about fighting for truth; you can’t pretty it up or fictionalize it,’ ” said Lipstadt, whose latest book, “Holocaust:  An American Understanding,” was published this summer. “And they heard me very clearly.” 

Screenwriter David Hare (“The Reader”) spent hours with Lipstadt before writing his script, which took all its courtroom dialogue directly from trial transcripts. And Weisz (“The Constant Gardener”) also hung out with the scholar in order to absorb her persona.

The actress was drawn to the role, in large part, because “it was in the end a very uplifting story about a woman’s fight for truth and justice, and a woman standing up to a bully,” Weisz said in a telephone interview from New York, where she lives with her husband, James Bond star Daniel Craig.

Weisz also wanted to play Lipstadt for personal reasons: “I’m not English, after all; my parents were refugees,” she said. Her Jewish-Hungarian father fled Budapest with his family in around 1938, when he was just 7. And her Austrian mother, daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, “had memories of being 5 years old and suddenly neighbors and kids stopped playing with her and speaking to her because she was half Jewish,” Weisz said.  Her mother’s family escaped Vienna to England two weeks before Germany’s invasion of Austria. Weisz’s mother later converted to Judaism before marrying the actress’ father, a prolific scientific inventor.  

Young Rachel grew up in the shadow of her parents’ wartime experiences. “If you and your family have to leave a country, even to find safety, it defines who you are for the rest of your days,” she said. “They talked about it all the time; it just became normal to me.”

Weisz went on to study English at Cambridge University, where she also fell in love with acting; she began her movie career performing in independent films such as “Stealing Beauty” (1996) and burst into stardom with her turn in the 1999 blockbuster “The Mummy,” opposite Brendan Fraser.

That same year she also performed in another film that drew on her Jewish heritage:  Istvan Szabo’s “Sunshine,” the saga of how anti-Semitism affects three generations of a Hungarian-Jewish family, including their experiences during the time of the Holocaust.

But Weisz had never visited Auschwitz-Birkenau until she took on the role of Lipstadt for “Denial.” She learned about the workings of the camp while reading some of Lipstadt’s books, but was not prepared for her emotions as she performed scenes outside Auschwitz’s perimeter. (Shooting feature films is prohibited inside the former camp). “I was struck by the level of industrialization — the systematic order and the lack of waste in terms of exploiting and using every part of the human body,” she said. “How incredibly organized it was, was very startling.”

Interior sections of Auschwitz were re-created on a set in England; for the scene in which Lipstadt recites the El Male Rachamim, the Jewish prayer for the dead, above a gas chamber, Weisz learned to how to say the Hebrew words of the Jewish prayer.  “It had undeniable power,” she said.

In another sequence, set in a camp barracks, Weisz passionately argues with her lead barrister, who is interested only in learning facts that can help him win the case, and not in memorializing the Holocaust. She tartly tells him to show some respect for the dead.

Lipstadt, who was on the set at the time, recalled that when Weisz finished shooting that scene, she said, “That wasn’t acting.”

As for actor Timothy Spall’s portrayal of Irving, Weisz said, “What he says is pretty shocking, but what was brilliant in his performance is that he had a certain charm.  There were moments when I almost felt sorry for him.”

Weisz said she believes the film is especially relevant today, given the racially charged rhetoric of presidential candidate Donald Trump and the escalation of anti-Semitism in Europe. But she disagrees with those who believe the verdict against Irving could dampen free speech among historians.  

“David Irving brought this lawsuit against Deborah,” she said.  “He was trying to censor her free speech.”

Denial” opens Sept. 30 in theaters in Los Angeles.

Time to get real on campus


What a new school year this is turning out to be.

Milan Chatterjee, the former Graduate Student Association president at UCLA, will be finishing his last year of law school at New York University, driven from his West Coast campus by what he calls a “hostile and unsafe campus environment.” In a letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, Chatterjee, a Hindu Indian-American, wrote, “Since November 2015 I have been relentlessly attacked, bullied and harassed by [anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions]-affiliated organizations and students.”

A Jewish student activist at Brown University, Benjamin Gladstone, complains that on his campus Jewish students and their organizations have been prevented from working in coalitions because of their association with Israel – real or imagined. In one notorious case last year, LGBTQ activist Janet Mock canceled her appearance at Brown after an online petition opposed the lecture because it was sponsored, in part, by Hillel, the Jewish campus group – even though the event had nothing to do with Israel.

And north of the border, Molly Harris, a rising junior at McGill University, reports that “many of my liberal peers, with whom I share so much common ground, have actively excluded Jewish students from their social-justice organizations” because of their association with Israel. She complains about frequent harassment of Jewish students and offers this chilling warning to incoming freshmen everywhere: “If you’re Jewish, you should probably also prepare yourself for the various forms of anti-Israel sentiment, and maybe even anti-Semitism.”

Never mind the debate about “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” – on many campuses one’s position on Israel has become a litmus test for acceptability. If you are on the wrong side of the issue – or thought to be — the campus can be a hostile place.

The Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) reports that in 2015-2016, 185 campuses experienced 1,437 anti-Israel events, a 12-percent drop from the previous year. While Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaigns declined by 25 percent, from 44 to 33, there was an increase in “other forms of activism, such as attention-getting, visceral displays of anti-Israel sentiment. Campuses also saw a surge in disrup­tions of Israel-related events, during which anti-Israel activists attempted to silence lecturers and guest speakers.” 

These tactics undermine the civility that is essential to the free exchange of ideas. In the service of creating a better, more peaceful world — starting with Israelis and Palestinians — anti-Israel groups are fostering campuses that alienate rather than unite. And, ironically, it is out of step with the Middle East today.

Israel is increasingly accepted across the Middle East, from Saudi Arabia to Morocco.  Arab contacts with Israel, far from being a recent development, actually have a very long if bumpy history. Today, economic ties are growing while security and intelligence cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian, Egyptian, Jordanian, and other Arab officials has become almost routine. In the face of nihilism and radical Islamism, Arab leaders are making common cause with Israel. Rather than seeking messianic prescriptions for peace, these Middle East realists are finding ways to cooperate to provide their people with stability and security in a region where misery, chaos, and brutality are commonplace.

Anti-Israel advocates on campus are taking a different approach. Rather than finding ways to work with pro-Israel students to improve the region — from the humanitarian disaster of Syria to the ravages of ISIS to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – their tactics are alienating one important partner that cares deeply about the Middle East while  turning off the majority of students who are indifferent to the plight of the region. At a time when American leadership is critically needed, a united student voice could send a powerful message to Washington, especially during a presidential transition year. Alas.

Instead, the generation now in college is witness to a microcosm of Middle East dysfunction in their own quads. These young Americans will only become more disenchanted by the Middle East. America will grow more distant from the region. No Middle Easterner will sleep better at night.

Students who truly want to help the Middle East should embrace the approach of a growing number of Arab and Israeli leaders: Muster the courage to overcome ideological divides and find practical, realistic avenues of cooperation. If they can’t make peace on campus, they won’t succeed in the Middle East.


David Pollock is the Kaufman Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near Policy and the editor of its Fikra Forum blog. Jeff Rubin is the Institute’s director of communications.

A BDS survival guide


Students at UCLA’s iFEST celebrate Israel.

Most high school graduates who head off to college expect to be confronted with something new — new living quarters, new roommates, new classes and maybe even some cool (if overpriced) school merchandise. 

But Jewish students these days likely will experience something else, too: the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

From groups holding Israel Apartheid Week activities on campus to formal votes by student groups in favor of divestment from Israel, the movement has become an in-your-face element of many of today’s colleges. This is especially true in the University of California system, where all but one of the campuses have voted to support BDS at some point in the past four years.

It can make for a hostile environment at times as tempers flare over passionately different ideologies pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether incoming Jewish students have a firm position on the issue or haven’t even thought about it, they should be ready to be in the middle of it. Here are some tips to help.

Brush up on your history

You may hear activists talk about Resolution 242 (the so-called “land-for-peace” resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council in 1967) and the massacre of Deir Yassin (a 1948 attack on a Palestinian Arab village by Zionist paramilitary groups). If those terms are hazy or nonexistent in your memory, then it may be in your best interest to learn more about the conflict. Read, watch debates online and ask questions. 

This applies to everyone, since even those who do not intend to fight BDS should be prepared to form a position on the conflict and deal with the controversy. 

StandWithUs (SWU), a pro-Israel education organization based in Los Angeles that provides support and guidance to campus organizations opposing BDS efforts, has numerous resources for students to educate themselves on the conflict on its website, standwithus.com. But students should also seek other perspectives by following current events and talking to those in the middle of the conflict when possible, according to SWU Director of Research and Campus Strategy Max Samarov. 

“I encourage people to take classes on the conflict and to read news from many different perspectives,” he said. “The reality is that depending on the news source you read, you’re going to get a different bias or point of view, so what has helped me a lot was staying in touch with current events from a lot of different perspectives. Also, get to know Israelis and Palestinians and try to hear personal narratives.”

Talk through disagreements

Instead of trying to talk over the other side, try talking to them.

 “People, especially students, should always seek to gain more understanding,” said Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA. “Dialogue doesn’t equal agreement. But the alternative is fighting and narrow-mindedness, and the Jewish tradition rejects closing ourselves off from people who dissent. In fact, the very basis of our tradition, the Talmud, is based on the conversations between people who disagreed.” 

It’s important to educate the vast majority of students who don’t know much about the conflict. Even a casual dining hall conversation might make a big difference.  

Lerner added, however, that staunch supporters of BDS — such as members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — comprise only a small minority of students on campus and changing their minds teeters between difficult to impossible. 

 “Be strategic, don’t waste time yelling at people who can’t be convinced,” he said. “On our campus, there are only a handful of dedicated SJP members. With their allies, they might constitute a few hundred students. Focus instead on the other 29,800 students. When SJP does something that warrants a response, respond forcefully.” 

So while it’s OK to let criticism on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians slide, don’t sit idly by as debate about BDS blends into anti-Semitism or questions Israel’s right to exist.

“Where I would draw the line is when someone in SJP or someone who supports BDS comes from a place that’s malicious,” Samarov said. “Where they don’t believe Israel has the right to exist or Jewish people don’t have right to self-determination. That’s the important thing to establish from the get-go.”

Join Jewish groups on campus 

Get involved in the local Hillel or Chabad, as well as other Jewish or pro-Israel groups your campus offers. These groups help students maintain a connection to Judaism and Israel, and also are sources to combat anti-Israel sentiment. 

Rachel Quinn, president of Southern California Students for Israel (SCSI) at USC, encourages all Jews on campus to join for a variety of reasons. “It is a huge educational and leadership benefit,” she said. “It is fun and you can meet other Jewish students, and we are all working toward a common goal, which is education about and celebration of Israel.” 

At USC, Quinn plans pro-Israel events throughout the year, often coordinating with leaders of other ethnic clubs through the university’s International Student Assembly, and other pro-Israel groups on campus. She also tries to involve Jewish students with Israel advocacy through “whatever their strengths or interests may be.”

According to Quinn, SJP and BDS are not very active at USC, especially when compared with UC colleges. There was a fear last year that SJP would hold an apartheid wall on the week of Yom HaShoah, she said, but it didn’t happen. For SCSI, the goal is for these groups to remain mild, Quinn said, while developing good relations with groups like the Muslim Student Union. 

Other schools have their own pro-Israel groups — such as UCLA’s Bruins for Israel (BFI)  — as well as their own challenges. 

At UCLA, for example, two separate BDS resolutions have been brought to the Student Association Council, failing the first time and passing the second. The experience shifted BFI’s approach to adversity on campus, according to its president, junior Arielle Mokhtarzadeh. 

In countering the first resolution, she said, “[We] mobilized the community to lobby members of the council before the meeting, to make public comments the night of the meeting, and to remain united, strong and respectful after the meeting.”   

This approach left the Jewish community emotionally exhausted, Mokhtarzadeh said. When another BDS resolution was brought to the council a year later, BFI decided to use a more collaborative tactic rather than a divisive one, through different projects that brought both sides together. 

An Israel “apartheid wall” at UC IrvinePhotos courtesy of StandWithUs.

“We rededicated ourselves to our community, to our values,” she said. “We taught the community about how they could get involved with several projects and initiatives that were working to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, in contrast to the BDS resolution, which was tearing our campus apart.” 

The pro-Israel group also dealt with a three-day Palestine Awareness Week, which included a panel with a sign reading “Zionism Is Racism.” During that span, BFI sought to ensure that Jewish students felt supported on campus and organized its own campaign titled #OneWishForPeace involving a social media campaign where students added banners to their profile pictures reading, “This Is What a Zionist Looks Like.”  

Look on the bright side

The Palestinian conflict is not the defining characteristic of Israel, nor should it be. Israel is a world leader in technology, cybersecurity, water, agriculture, and much more. For Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg, lasering in on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians undermines all of the country’s accomplishments.

“When it comes to Israel, to focus only on the conflict and to allow that alone to define what Israel is and stands for completely misses the mark,” he said. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complex and sensitive issue that needs to be addressed and resolved, but there is far more to Israel. Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, the only country in the region that has true freedom of speech, freedom of press — vibrant and open media — freedom of religion, women’s and LGBT rights, rule of law, and regularly scheduled elections where all parties accept the outcome. 

“Israel stands for tolerance, equality and respect for all cultures. We are very proud of our people and their accomplishments and the many lifesaving discoveries that are being continuously achieved in the fields of medicine, high-tech and innovation, and more. To speak of Israel only within the context of the conflict is to give only a fraction of her true picture and story, which is so much more.”

No matter how you decide to approach the subject, much is at stake, according to Shoham Nicolet, CEO of the Israeli-American Council.

“BDS is pursuing an agenda that extends far beyond Israel and the Middle East conflict,” he said, adding that BDS propagates anti-Semitic stereotypes, spreads anti-American ideas, and targets Israeli and Jewish students who have nothing to do with politics. “This is why I believe that getting educated about BDS is mandatory for any Jewish student and why it’s important that we communicate to the broader American public how this affects every citizen of the U.S.” 

Nonetheless, openly advocating for Israel on campus is not dangerous or risky, according to Lerner. 

“There is a proliferation of scary videos and articles on Facebook which lead our community to believe the campuses are somehow dangerous for Jewish students, but those posts are often recycling a handful of truly offensive incidents which have occurred on campuses over the past five years,” he said.

Moreover, it’s important to remember that many actions taken in support of the BDS movement are purely symbolic. What matters, Mokhtarzadeh said, is how to respond as a community. 

“BDS passed on our campus, and, no, the sky did not come tumbling down,” she said. “UCLA did not divest, nor did the UC. And the pro-Israel community is stronger today than ever before. BDS cannot and will not define us.”  

Controversy at UCLA spurs student transfer, complaint, criticism


Has the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel at UCLA gotten so bad that pro-Israel students don’t feel safe studying there anymore?

Milan Chatterjee, a former UCLA Graduate Students Association (GSA) president and third-year law student, sent a letter on Aug. 24 to university Chancellor Gene Block indicating that he is “leaving UCLA due to [a] hostile and unsafe campus climate.”

In an Aug. 30 phone interview from New York, Chatterjee told the Journal he would begin classes the following day at New York University School of Law.

“It’s really unfortunate,” he said of his departure. “I love UCLA, I think it’s a great school and I have lot of friends there. It has just become so hostile and unsafe, I can’t stay there anymore.”

Chatterjee, 27, is Indian-American Hindu and was president of the GSA during the 2015-16 academic year, during which time he made distribution of GSA funds for a Nov. 5 UCLA Diversity Caucus event contingent on its sponsors not associating with the divest-from-Israel movement. 

The move brought protests from BDS supporters, including the UCLA chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). That group advocated for the removal of Chatterjee from the presidency on the grounds that he violated a University of California policy that requires viewpoint neutrality in the distribution of campus funds. The GSA board of officers censured Chatterjee in April, and a June investigation by the UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) concluded that Chatterjee’s stipulation violated the policy.

In a statement sent to the Journal by UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vazquez, the university expressed disappointment at Chatterjee’s decision to leave but stood by the findings of the DPO report.

“Although we regret learning that Milan Chatterjee has chosen to finish his legal education at a different institution, UCLA firmly stands by its thorough and impartial investigation, which found that Chatterjee violated the university’s viewpoint neutrality policy,” the Aug. 31 statement says.

With the legal assistance of Peter Weil, managing partner at the Century City law firm Glaser Weil, Chatterjee has filed a complaint with UCLA, pursuant to “Student Grievances Regarding Violations of Anti-Discrimination Laws or University Policies on Discrimination.” In the Aug. 10 complaint, he charges that the university discriminated against him “because I refused to support an anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist activity, organization and position while serving as President of the UCLA Graduate Student Association.” The grievance was addressed to Dianne Tanjuaquio, the hearing coordinator and student affairs officer in the UCLA office of the dean of students.

Chatterjee’s complaint asks for immediate withdrawal of the DPO report, acknowledgment by DPO that he acted in good faith and a promise that he won’t be subject to any disciplinary action. For his final year of law school, Chatterjee will study at NYU under the status of a “visiting student” but still earn his degree from UCLA, he said. 

In UCLA’s Aug. 31 statement, the university reiterated its support for Israel while also defending the right of students to express positions critical of Israel: “Though the university does not support divestment from Israel, and remains proud of its numerous academic and cultural relationships with Israeli institutions, supporters and opponents of divestment remain free to advocate for their position as long as their conduct does not violate university policies.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he was troubled by events leading to Chatterjee’s decision to depart UCLA.

“We have tremendous respect for the institution, and it’s troubling that the past president of the GSA felt like he had to leave the university because of what he felt was a hostile, unsafe campus created in part because of these outspoken anti-Israel activists,” Greenblatt said in a phone interview. “Regardless of his views on the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, where there are deep, difficult issues, this student’s decision to leave UCLA because of these attacks is incredibly problematic.”

The Chatterjee affair is only the latest iteration of the BDS movement against Israel causing problems at UCLA, according to Josh Saidoff, a UCLA graduate student who has supported Chatterjee in the pages of the Daily Bruin, the UCLA campus newspaper, and is the son of pro-Israel philanthropist Naty Saidoff.

“What we’ve seen at UCLA is an attempt by BDS activists to use legal intimidation and other forms of social stigmatization to silence those who oppose BDS, and you only need to look back as far as what happened to Lauren Rogers and Sunny Singh to see that they’ve used the judicial process within student government to try to silence and marginalize and exclude those people who do not advocate on behalf of BDS,” the 36-year-old grad student said in a phone interview, referring to two non-Jewish students who were the focus of opposition campaigns by SJP after accepting trips to Israel from pro-Israel organizations. “So I was surprised that the university allowed itself to become complicit in this process because I think it’s part of a very clear pattern of intimidation used by the BDS activists on our campus.”

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, said “major [UCLA] donors” have called him and wanted more information about what happened with Chatterjee in the wake of his departure, but he said that no donors he knows have threatened to pull their gifts.

“I think most UCLA donors love UCLA, have UCLA’s best interest at heart and are not trying to threaten UCLA. They’re trying to help UCLA, trying to be involved in conversations with the university, want to be in conversation with students and professionals to understand what the right steps are,” Lerner said in a phone interview.

Those troubled by Chatterjee’s departure include David Pollock, a Los Angeles-based financial advisor, and his wife, Lynn, who have more than 20 pieces of their art collection on loan to the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Pollock told the Journal that he has contacted UCLA Anderson School Dean Judy Olian about the possibility of taking the artwork back in light of what has occurred with Chatterjee. 

“I was perfectly happy to have it there until this thing got me going,” Pollock said.

In a Sept. 5 statement, pro-Israel organization StandWithUs joined many major Jewish organizations in applauding Chatterjee for standing by his principles. “We commend Mr. Chatterjee for standing up for his beliefs in the face of intimidation, and hope that the attacks he has faced from anti-Israel extremists are taken as a testament to his principles, rather than a stain on his reputation,” the statement says.

Chatterjee’s stipulation was expressed in an Oct. 16 email to Manpreet Dhillon Brar, a UCLA graduate student and diversity caucus representative who did not respond to the Journal’s interview requests. Chatterjee said in the email that the caucus’ event must have “zero connection with ‘Divest from Israel’ or any equivalent movement/organization.” He said that he later clarified that the
caucus could not be affiliated with any position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
wThus, the stipulation was viewpoint neutral, he said.

Whatever the case, the caucus accepted the stipulation — as well as the $2,000 grant from the GSA. The Nov. 5 town hall organized by the caucus went off without any incident.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the school of law at UC Irvine, said in a Feb. 8 letter that stipulating that the caucus not associate with either side of the issue does not violate viewpoint neutrality. “I think it is clearly constitutional for the GSA to choose not to fund anything on this issue,” he said, “so long as it remains viewpoint neutral.” 

Jerry Kang, UCLA’s vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion and the author of a July 19 blog post on the UCLA website titled “Viewpoint Neutrality,” said there are more sides to the story and that supporters of divestment felt threatened by the law student’s actions.

“People on the other side of the political issue, they also feel harassed, threatened and retaliated [against],” Kang said in a phone interview. 

Kang’s statements were echoed by Rahim Kurwa, 29, a doctoral candidate in the UCLA sociology department and a member of UCLA’s chapter of SJP, which has argued that Chatterjee’s actions amounted to stifling free speech on campus. 

SJP, which during the process received legal assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union, Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights, posted the DPO report, which was confidential and omitted names, on its website. The Daily Bruin also linked to the report. Kang dismissed concerns expressed by some major Jewish organizations that the publication of the report violated Chatterjee’s privacy.

“This is obviously a matter of great public concern about a student-elected official using mandatory student fees, so it is a public record we had to release,” he said.

Despite how the whole affair may make things look to outsiders, Kurwa said in an email that pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students get along better on campus than people think they do.

“For the most part, the day-to-day interactions between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups on campus is much less dramatic and tense than it is portrayed by off-campus actors,” he said.

Still, Saidoff, who holds dual Israeli and American citizenship, said, “I can tell you that Milan has very good reason to not feel welcome here because he was targeted and scapegoated, because he was made into an object of derision and he has reason to not feel comfortable here.”

But, he added, “I feel OK here at UCLA.”

UCLA: No place for Jews?


UCLA Chancellor Block’s assertion that BDS ‘isn’t going to be sustained' on this campus’ has never appeared to be anything but lip service as UCLA succumbs to a virulent form of anti-Semitism that has a Hindu in its cross-hairs.

UCLA Graduate Law Student Milan Chatterjee was betrayed by UCLA, and that betrayal is moving like the Zika virus through UCLA’s active Jewish student population. Unlike Zika, this virus is selective and based solely on religious and social affiliation.  Although UCLA holds the antidote, they seem hesitant to use it.

At this point you may be scratching your head, and trying to figure out if ‘Chatterjee’ is a Jewish name.  It’s not.  Milan is Indian.  Milan is a Hindu.  Milan is as Jewish as the Maharishi is Irish – yet he is suffering the same fate as Jewish students who find themselves up against Students for Justice in Palestine and a cause that SJP champions called ‘BDS’.  This ‘movement’ urges foundations, corporations, educational institutions and individuals to ‘Boycott, Divest and Sanction’ Israel in retribution for the Palestinian conflict in that country.

[RELATED: UCLA as a place of thriving Jewish life]

Milan’s betrayal is a lesson in the adage that ‘no good deed goes unpunished’, and ironically, his betrayal is the harbinger for what is happening to Jewish students on campus, and has ultimately resulted in his being driven from UCLA – pilloried for his accidental involvement with a scurrilous, anti-Semitic movement that not only criticizes policy, but attacks opponents viciously.

At the time of his betrayal, Milan was President of UCLA’s Graduate Student’s Association (GSA), an organization that although part of the Associated Students of UCLA, works independently when it comes to its own rules and procedures.  In October of 2015, Milan received a direct funding request for a Town Hall event by a member of the UCLA student organization, Diversity Caucus (DC) – what appears to be, among other things, a front for the BDS Movement.  

The request seemed to be more about sponsorship for what may seem a hidden agenda, as DC did not go through the proper channels for funding.  It went straight to Milan, and demanded a $2,000 bequest knowing full well that the limit on such grants was $800. The request was nonetheless granted, with the stipulation that the GSA would not be funding any event organized by or actively connected with “Divest from Israel or any related movement/organization.” Knowing that some of the more rabid BDS supporters are known to go for the jugular by confronting and challenging Jewish students, GSA did not want to sponsor ‘a position that will alienate a significant portion of students.”

Milan made it explicitly clear to the Diversity Caucus representative through a phone call, in-person meeting, and email that this stipulation equally applied to advocates both for and against the BDS movement.  What’s fair is fair, and there was a concerted effort to avoid a situation that pitted student against student, for whatever cause.

The Diversity Caucus representative accepted the stipulation—in writing—without any objection. The town hall event was successfully held on November 5, 2015, and throwing caution to the wind, both sides of the BDS issue attended.  That should have been the end of the story, with maybe a thank-you note the only punctuation needed to end the event.

This however is where Milan’s nightmare began.  Instead of a thank you note, Milan was reprimanded by UCLA.  Reprimanded?  Strike that.  He was sanctioned, and made a scapegoat for the failings of UCLA to take a stand against hate speak.  

The hypocrisy of UCLA’s position was elevated in a letter dated February 9, 2016, L. Amy Blum, Interim Vice Chancellor of Legal Affairs stated “University policy requires student governments to allocate mandatory student fee funds on a viewpoint neutral basis.”  If that was University policy, it should have ended there.

It didn’t.

Soon after the event, Milan began to be hassled, bullied and harassed by SJP and the BDS movement. They enlisted Palestine Legal and the ACLU to launch a vicious PR attack against Milan, where they falsely accused him of engaging in “viewpoint discrimination.” Erwin Chemerinsky, one of America’s leading constitutional law scholars, and the American Center for Law and Justice, thoroughly debunked this accusation.  

Logic and thoughtful jurisprudence had no effect.  The fuse was lit, and Milan was handed a device that UCLA alone could disarm.  The campus’ Jewish community waited.

In the ensuing days, both SJP and pro-BDS activists launched several attempts to get Milan removed as GSA President, though they were not successful. Moreover, they enlisted pro-BDS blogs and publications to publish defamatory articles about Milan. SJP and pro-BDS activists also circulated a petition around the UCLA campus, and visited all the graduate school councils, where they continued to make defamatory accusations about Milan.

There was no way that the GSA cabinet was going to get involved in this, and in taking a step back, Milan fell over the cowering form of UCLA Chancellor Block, who scurried away and hid while Milan was pilloried in what became a public shaming.  It looks like the DC and SJP got their BDS face-off after all, on the back of a person whose only crime was assisting in getting a so-called diversity event funded.

In what seems a huge misapplication of UCLA policy, that states that even ‘chancellors shall adopt campus implementing regulations consistent with these policies’ – there was nothing coming in way of support of Milan or the Jewish students being affected by SJP and pro-BDS activists.  Chancellor Block’s voice was conspicuously silent, and was taken as tacit approval of BDS and its goals.

Facing a vicious, nine-month long campaign of attacks, Milan rapidly became the poster boy for religious oppression.  The irony that he’s not even close to being Jewish only shows that the tentacles of hate tend to wrap around anyone that crosses BDS.  

UCLA has suffered a history of anti-Semitism that lately has reached a fever pitch of hate and hypocrisy.  Led by a movement that would rather see a child die than provide life saving treatments courtesy of Israeli technology, the BDS’ers have provided Chancellor Block with a poetic double standard.  Had this been a group that went after a visible minority, they would have been quickly and rightly dispatched. Not so with BDS who only seems to direct their ire almost exclusively at pro-Israel and most likely Jewish, mostly white students.   It is that double standard that threatens every Jewish student on campus.

It was just a year ago that UCLA’s Student Council challenged undergraduate Rachel Beyda a seat on its Judicial Board based solely on her religion.  Rachel was Jewish.  Citing concerns that Rachel’s religion might affect her decision making abilities, the active practice of anti-Semitism became transparent, and — though she was eventually seated– it was clear it was infecting the upper echelons of UCLA student government.

Chancellor Block claimed in an articlel in the Jewish Journal that BDS ‘isn’t going to be sustained on this campus’.  He was right.  BDS is not merely sustained.  BDS is nurtured and fertilized by the silence of Chancellor Block and the UCLA hierarchy that can sound the alarm.

UCLA isn’t the only campus in the UC system whose Jewish community is at Defcon 2.  During a screening of the Israeli Defense Forces documentary “Beneath the Helmet’ at UC Irvine, a Jewish student was corralled and 10 UCI students were threatened by Students for Justice in Palestine.  A statement issued by The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB) recognized that what was happening at UC Irvine and at UCLA with Milan “suggests a pattern in which Jewish and non-Jewish students are under assault.”

Think back in history when Jews and those who spoke out in sympathy to their plight were publicly chastised.  This isn’t Weimar, Germany. This is Westwood, California.  

While Milan continued to be digitally drawn and quartered in leaked documents and furtive e-mails, UCLA again found themselves defending hate-speak to the detriment of Jewish students.

Lisa Marie Mendez is a UCLA Student who was employed at the UCLA Medical Center.  Lisa’s connection to Jews and cultural empathy was on full display in a Facebook rant.  In response to a pro-Israel post by Jewish actress Mayim Bialick, Lisa went off on a racial rant that focused on ‘fucking Zionist pigs’.  Not satisfied to leave it at that, Lisa left the following literary gem:  

Fucking Jews.  GTFOH with all your Zionist bullshit.  Crazy ass fucking troglodyte albino monsters of cultural destruction.  Fucking Jews.  GTFOH with your whiny bullshit.  Give the Palestinians back their land, go back to Poland or whatever freezer-state you’re from, and realize that faith does not constitute race.

In an effort to sound as lame as they could, UCLA issued a response as if this was a First Amendment issue.  It was more than that.

Mendez crossed a line that defined the level of care that a Jewish patient of UCLA Health could expect.  It doesn’t matter if Mendez was an anesthesiologist or if she sold fish sticks in the cafeteria – her white hot anti-Semitism was most certainly expressed at work, and probably to friends who shared her ignorance.  Regardless of her position, she created a hostile environment for Jewish patients and doctors.  

What was Chancellor Block’s response?  There was none.  

“He’s a wimp” complained a leading Jewish religious figure in Los Angeles.

The official response came from Josh Samuels, who was Mendez’s boss. In a mincing, apologetic attempt to support his employee, Samuels offered this:

“We must also keep in mind that the University cannot control the activities of individuals in their personal lives when not acting on behalf of the University, and that the First Amendment protects individual’s private speech, however reprehensible the University finds it.”

Dr. John Mazziotta, the Vice Chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences and CEO of UCLA Health System offered little more.

“The post absolutely does not represent the values of our health system or the believes of our campus community.  It displays insensitivity and ignorance of the history and racial diversity of the Jewish people and a lack of empathy.”

That’s it?  That’s his response to a racist rant that left no expletive unturned?  Would the response be the same had the author taken down African Americans, or Asians, or Muslims?

The double standard in practice at UCLA endangers every Jewish student.  

What do students think?  I asked a Jewish student if he ever felt ‘challenged’ by BDS:

“In one word, YES.”  The perception is that if you speak out against BDS, the backlash can threaten your education.  “They go after individuals to scare them from being vocal.”  Another student said ‘We feel attacked, constantly.”

And what of Milan Chatterjee?   Every day seems to bring more swipes at his personality and more attempts to destroy his reputation.

“I’m very disappointed that Chancellor Block and his administration did not provide me with any of the necessary support or guidance to overcome the harassment and bullying by BDS,” Milan said in a conversation that I had with him.

Milan has found support, and ironically it comes from one of the groups that he was neutral towards in the town hall event. The Jewish and Pro-Israel community has reached out to Milan.  As BDS attempts to destroy Milan, groups like the American Jewish Committee, Stand With Us, The American Center for Law and Justice, The Lawfare Project, the Zionist Organization of America, and the multi-cultural Israel Christian Nexus have embraced Milan and welcomed him with open arms into their communities.

As UCLA turns away from their responsibility to provide a safe environment for Jewish students, they continue to punish Milan.  Chancellor Block’s silence is deafening.  The potential for harm to Jewish students increases every day that this hate speech is not addressed.

Milan Chatterjee is a brave man who took a stand against taking a stand.  He will be paying for that decision for a long time.  If there is anything positive in this charade, it is the realization that anti-Semitism is a virulent form of hate that masquerades as social reform.  BDS is anti-Semitism.  Milan Chatterjee needn’t be Jewish to experience anti-Semitism.


Richard Stellar is the Co-Founder and COO of The Bestemming Project, Inc.

 

This opinion column was edited and updated September 3, 2016.

Outrage grows over UCLA discrimination case


Numerous major community organizations have joined the attorney of former UCLA Graduate Student Association (GSA) president Milan Chatterjee in denouncing a June 29 UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) finding that Chatterjee violated university policy by saying that he would not approve using organizational funds for an event that engaged with the divest-from-Israel issue.

An Aug. 15 letter, co-signed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Israeli American Council, StandWithUs and other groups, demanded that the university apologize to Chatterjee. It was addressed to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and copied to several elected officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

“We urge you to intervene immediately and put a stop to these activities,” the six-page letter states. “Mr. Chatterjee should be exonerated, apologized to, and permitted to finish law school in peace and to pursue his personal and professional goals without any unjust and undeserved blemishes on his academic record.”

Chatterjee’s attorney, Peter Weil, managing partner at the Los Angeles law firm Glaser Weil, expressed opposition to the DPO’s investigation in an earlier letter, dated July 28, that was addressed to UCLA Discrimination Prevention Officer Dion Raymond.

“The UCLA Administration has engaged in flawed and unfair investigative processes which, not surprisingly, has resulted in a flawed and erroneous conclusion,” Weil’s 15-page letter says. 

University officials responded in a statement saying, “The Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) conducted a thorough and impartial fact-finding investigation that included exhaustive interviews as well as careful reviews of meeting minutes and related documents, email correspondence, and applicable university regulations. All parties were able to provide evidence and no evidence offered by the parties was excluded.

The investigation found that the university’s viewpoint neutrality policy was violated. The purpose of the investigation was to determine whether a policy violation occurred.  The investigation did not examine or make findings about whether the former president of the Graduate Student Association (GSA) purposefully or knowingly violated policies. The university reaffirms its commitment to freedom of expression, association and debate. Given that student governments are learning environments where students are just beginning to exercise leadership and interpret regulations, the university has already committed to providing additional guidance for student government representatives on applicable university policies.”

Weil outlined numerous reasons in denouncing the findings, including that the University of California policy that Chatterjee was found to have violated — one requiring viewpoint neutral allocation of mandatory student fees — was unclear and not easily accessible to the student, nor were the workings of the DPO until it finally published a factsheet about itself midway through the investigation into Chatterjee, who is Hindu.

Provided to the Journal, Weil’s letter demands UCLA publicly rescind the “dangerous and fallacious” findings of the investigation, for the DPO to apologize to Chatterjee and for a “written acknowledgement … that he will not be subject to any disciplinary action in connection with the Stipulation.” 

Though the DPO report does not call for Chatterjee to face any disciplinary action, it has caused damage to Chatterjee, a rising third-year law student, Weil said.

“Mr. Chatterjee has experienced grave reputational harm as a result of the DPO’s actions … and will impact Mr. Chatterjee’s future career prospects as a California lawyer,” the letter says.

The letter follows the publication of a DPO investigation this summer concerning an incident that occurred during the 2015-16 academic school year, when the Diversity Caucus requested $2,000 from the GSA to offset the catering bill of a Nov. 5 town hall event. Chatterjee, then the president of the GSA, stipulated that the event, if it were to be sponsored by GSA, be free of associations with Israel divestment.

The caucus accepted the money and held the town hall event, with the GSA as a sponsor, and the event went off without incident. But the caucus contacted university officials to find out if Chatterjee’s stipulation violated university policy, and eventually filed a complaint with the DPO. 

Ultimately, the DPO determined that Chatterjee violated a University of California policy requiring student government organizations to provide support to campus organizations without regard to the viewpoints of the involved organizations. His actions amounted to viewpoint discrimination, the investigation concluded.

Jerry Kang, vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion at UCLA and a speaker at the November town hall, reaffirmed the finding of the DPO report, in a July 19 post appearing on the website of the office of UCLA Equity, Diversity and Inclusion titled “Viewpoint Neutrality.”

“The first Amendment frowns upon viewpoint discrimination when public actors distribute public monies,” Kang said. “Moreover, there’s clear UC Policy on point.” Kang said that he wanted to discuss this out of an interest in “transparency” and in tackling “challenges head-on.” He described divestment from Israel as a “hot button issue.” 

Also involved in the controversy has been the UCLA chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which supports divestment from Israel. The organization published the DPO’s confidential report on its website. Additionally, The Daily Bruin linked to the report in an article about the DPO finding.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Journal that the UCLA office’s finding sends a disturbing message: “You defend Israel today, you get in trouble.”


UPDATE: This story was changed to reflect a statement from UCLA that was not available for the print edition.

UCLA censures campus leader who tried to keep student group out of BDS fight


UCLA has reprimanded the former president of its Graduate Student Association for threatening to withhold funding for an event were it to promote divestment from Israel.

Jewish organizations this week criticized the investigation by the university’s Discrimination Prevention Office that concluded last month. The probe was spurred by complaints from Students for Justice in Palestine and the campus Diversity Caucus that law student Milan Chatterjee had violated students’ freedom of speech by putting stipulations on association funding.

Chatterjee, who is Hindu, threatened to rescind funding for a student town hall last November if pro-Palestinian groups used the occasion to promote divestment from Israel. He said his intention was to maintain the Graduate Student Association’s neutrality in political affairs.

The Discrimination Prevention Office found that Chatterjee acted “outside the authority of the presidency and cabinet to create policy and make funding decisions, among other findings,” the Daily Bruin reported.

UCLA policy requires that funding to student events be made without regard to the viewpoint of any registered organization.

Jewish groups accused the Discrimination Prevention Office of “targeting” Chatterjee.

The American Jewish Committee in Los Angeles said it was “deeply concerned” by the university’s ruling.

“The fact that a student official would be sanctioned for seeking to avoid embroiling the UCLA GSA in the fraught politics of the Middle East tells you all you need to know about the political agenda of his detractors and the cowardice of those that enable them,” the AJC wrote in a statement this week.

The Israeli-American Nexus, a Southern California organization affiliated with the the Israeli-American Council, said it was outraged by UCLA’s treatment of Chatterjee, charging that the university acted out of bias.

“It is very troubling when a public university sanctions a fair and balanced student leader for simply seeking to keep the UCLA GSA from being entangled in the complex issues of Middle East politics,” the IAX said in a news release. “When the policy was enacted by Milan in November 2015, the GSA Cabinet had voted unanimously in favor of it.”

Chatterjee is not expected to face any other consequences from the university.

Anti-Semitism unchanged in 2015, ADL says, but cause for worry remains


The number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States stayed roughly stable in 2015, rising 3 percent, according to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Despite the modest increase from 912 to 941 occurrences between 2014 and 2015, however, there are reasons to believe the reality is bleaker.

For one, observers inside the ADL were expecting a decline from 2014, when Israel’s war with Hamas was responsible for an uptick in global anti-Semitism, said Amanda Susskind, ADL director for the Pacific Southwest Region.

But moreover, the organization’s annual audit listing episodes of harassment, vandalism and assaults aimed at Jews showed that anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses rose significantly — nearly doubling from 47 to 90.

Susskind warned that the survey was neither scientific nor exhaustive, as it is compiled from events reported to the ADL as well as collaboration with law enforcement agencies rather than through a precise survey.

But she said the uptick in campus incidents could reflect “a normalizing of anti-Semitism through the lens of acceptable political speech.” In particular, she pointed to a

Physician-assisted death law raises hard questions for medical professionals


If a terminally ill patient requesting a prescription for aid-in-dying medication approaches Dr. Gary Schiller, a Reform Jew and hematologist with the UCLA Health System, Schiller already knows what he’ll answer.

“I will certainly not practice according to this law,” he said, referring to the California End of Life Options Act, which as of June 9 permits physician-assisted death under certain conditions.

Instead, Schiller would ask the patient some questions: Where does his or her desire to die come from? Would the patient be more comfortable with palliative treatment or hospice services? Does he or she want to withdraw from medical care?

“It will come up,” he explained. “Sometimes you give people narcotics to the point where you might hasten their death in the intent to control pain. But intent is everything. The intent to alleviate suffering is not equal to the intent to deliver death.”

California’s new legislation, like that of four other states, affirms the right of terminally ill adults diagnosed to live only six months or fewer to request, receive and self-ingest lethal medication. The patient must have full decision-making capacity and be deemed medically competent by two physicians. However, the law does not require health care providers, including physicians, nurses and entire facilities, to participate in the aid-in-dying process.

Support for this law grew after the highly publicized death of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who moved from California to Oregon in 2014 after being diagnosed with brain cancer so she could take advantage of Oregon’s aid-in-dying legislation. According to a February 2016 report by the Oregon Public Health Division, 991 Oregonians have died from intentionally ingesting prescribed lethal medication since the passage of state’s 1997 Death with Dignity Act.

Rabbis interviewed across Jewish movements agreed on the principle of pikuach nefesh, the preservation of human life, as the main reason to oppose physician-assisted death. While the majority maintained that physician-assisted death is halachically prohibited, a few identified extraordinary exceptions when taking into account other Jewish values.

Rabbi Dr. J. David Bleich, a Talmud professor at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, who has written extensively on Jewish bioethics, said that physician-assisted death is “a topic of which there is relatively little to say.”

“Suicide is not permissible nor is assisting in suicide permissible,” he said. “Absolutely no exceptions. The [terminally ill] patient should be kept from pain.”

Moreover, Modern Orthodox Rabbi Jason Weiner, who leads the chaplaincy team at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, explained it is possible to differentiate between physician-assisted death and a case where a terminally ill patient decides to stop taking medication.

“Jewish Law sometimes sees passive inaction (shev v’al taaseh) as being less prohibited than actively doing something, so there could be cases in which it would be permissible for a dying patient to forgo certain aggressive interventions or medications, with the approval of an experienced rabbi,” he said.

In agreement, Morateinu Alissa Thomas-Newborn, a clergy member at the Modern Orthodox congregation B’nai David-Judea, indicated that physician-assisted death is halachically prohibited and could be compared to murder.

“[T]he value of life, and more importantly, the value of God’s role in the giving and taking of life are tantamount in this prohibition,” she wrote in an email.

But Thomas-Newborn explained that there still exists a religious obligation to alleviate suffering for those at the end of their lives. She cited Rabbeinu Nissim, who allowed people as a means of attaining comfort to pray for the death of someone suffering from a terminal illness (Ran on Nedarim 40a), as well as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s approval for the withholding of medical interventions that only extend the pain of a terminal patient (Responsa Iggrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah, 174:3).

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, chairman of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, wrote a rabbinic ruling for the Conservative Movement in 1997 on assisted suicide. He says the law could be applied only in “very rare” cases where uncontrollable pain is the sole motivator behind a person’s request to die.

“Saving a life is the most important obligation except for three things — murder, adultery/incest and idolatry,” he said (Sanhedrin 74A). “Even during the Holocaust, you had these excruciating circumstances when people could have committed suicide but didn’t.”

“You get, in the tradition, a clear rule that you cannot hasten a person’s dying process or delay it, either,” Dorff said (Yoreh De’ah 339:1). In his ruling, he cited the talmudic story of Rabbi Hananyah ben Teradyion, who refused to expedite his own death by opening his mouth to breathe in fumes from flames when he was set on fire by the Romans.

Dorff also expressed concern for coercive pressures a terminally ill patient may face.

“Anytime you deal with assisted suicide, all kinds of factors come into play — a dad wants to leave money to his children, or children don’t want their dad to squander family money,” he said. “Part of the problem with assisted suicide is that often it’s not because there’s a medical reason, it’s because people don’t think anyone cares if they live or die.”

Rabbi David Teutsch, director for the Center for Jewish Ethics at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, said he doesn’t consider himself “explicitly bound” by halachah when addressing this issue.

“If a person is fatally ill or in a lot of unmanageable pain, that would be a justification in my mind to seek out a medicine to alleviate the pain or indignity,” he said. “The unconstrained notion of saving a life trumping all other concerns was developed at a time when medicine was extremely primitive. They certainly could not have looked ahead to life-preserving measures we find in any major hospital.”

To develop a policy with regard to the new law, Los Angeles Jewish Home, the largest Jewish senior living organization in California, has established a task force chaired by Dorff.

“Our main focus for that committee is to assure that whatever our policy is, it’s connected to our mission — which includes care related to Jewish values,” said Dr. Noachim Marco, chief medical officer of Los Angeles Jewish Home.

Notably, Cedar Sinai Park, the only Jewish senior-care home in Portland, Ore., does not have a policy regarding whether patients may take aid-in-dying medication on its premises, said CEO Sandra Simon. However, if residents choose to take a lethal dose, staff members may not participate.

Rabbi Carla Howard, a conservative rabbi who directs the Jewish Healing Center of Los Angeles, said the new law is “short-circuiting hospice.”

“Spiritual care is about showing up and being there for the person should they want to wrestle with this,” she said. “Some people are uncomfortable with the notion that they don’t get to run the show. Unfortunately, life is about that process and not knowing.”

Dr. Neil Wenger, who is Jewish and the director of the UCLA Health Ethics Center, said that at least initially, patients will not be permitted to take the drug inside UCLA hospitals in order to respect the views of staff members who disagree with the law.

“There is absolutely no pressure for that physician to prescribe medication,” he said. “We will help to facilitate finding other physicians who might be willing to prescribe under the circumstances.”

Even if UCLA hospitals never prescribe the medicine, Wenger thinks the discussion the law has sparked is imperative:

“[We need] to ask: Why is this patient [requesting] this medicine? Could I have found a support group for them? Referred them to a social worker? What is it that I could have done so they wouldn’t feel the need to request this medication?”

Forced to pick between observance and graduation, Jewish Bruins choose both


Aaron Ebriani was 11 when his father, Eli, died, and the event inspired him to honor his memory by fulfilling as many mitzvot as possible — and by helping others do the same.

So when he realized a few months ago that all of UCLA’s departmental graduations fell on Shabbat or the holiday of Shavuot, he saw a chance to commemorate his father by helping some fellow students keep the faith.  

“I jumped on it,” he said onstage June 9, standing in front of about 80 other Jewish undergraduates during a ceremony he instituted. “This entire graduation was done in [my father’s] name.” 

Ebriani’s realization was followed by a flurry of emails and hours of meetings to organize a Thursday afternoon graduation that Jewish students could attend without violating proscriptions against driving or carrying objects on a holiday.

To demonstrate the need for such an event, he circulated a petition to present to UCLA’s administration that gathered more than 300 signatures. Later, Rebecca Zaghi, a graduating senior who directed the event, went through each of the names on the petition to send an invitation via text message.

Although Shabbat-observant Jews could attend a class-wide graduation before dusk on June 10, they would have had to break Shabbat or Shavuot to attend the smaller ceremony in the following days associated with their individual majors.

“The whole idea was that departmental [graduations] are more small and intimate,” Zaghi told the Journal. “They’re the people that you’ve taken classes with and grown with.”

Statistics from UCLA and the Jewish student organization Hillel International suggest that most of the approximately 450 Jewish UCLA seniors did not attend the ceremony. But, using Hillel at UCLA’s status as a registered campus organization, along with $1,000 in Hillel funding, the June 9 graduation nearly filled each of the 505 seats in the auditorium of UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall with friends and families.

“You have 80 Jewish students who for the first time ever self-organized a graduation so that they could observe our traditions,” said Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA. “It’s amazing. It’s really amazing.”

Zaghi said that at her and Ebriani’s urging, UCLA administrators have made note of the next year when Shavuot would interfere with graduation — 2024 — and are taking steps to avoid the conflict. But she said now that the tradition has started, moving forward, “Why shouldn’t the Jewish community have their own graduation?”

“If it wasn’t for Shavuot and the whole conflict with graduation, none of us would be here today,” Ebriani said at the event. “So let’s take a moment to appreciate that.”

The ceremony began after the graduates filed in to “Pomp and Circumstance.” Then Heather Rosen, the UCLA student president, who is Jewish, called for a moment of silence for William Klug, the professor slain on campus the previous week in a murder-suicide, along with the four victims of a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv the day before. The sound of raucous cheers and air horns blown with abandon quickly died out as audience members bowed their heads.

Toward the end of the ceremony, when UCLA Dean of Students Maria Blandizzi asked the crowd to hold its applause until she finished conferring degrees, her request predictably fell on deaf ears, as celebratory cries and air horns sounded nearly throughout, despite a visibly irate usher who confiscated the noisemakers.

When Ebriani marched across the stage, it was a culmination not just of a UCLA degree, but also months spent to put the event together. “It really wasn’t the easiest thing,” he said in an interview the next day. “But I’m glad we did it.” 

So few safe places


I was just sitting down to write this column  — about the new political landscape in Israel and how this latest shift even further to the right challenges the pro-democracy camp in Israel — when my phone started buzzing. Even before the breaking news update came, texts from friends started flashing on my screen: Did you hear the news? There’s been a shooting at UCLA.

Like almost all of you reading this now, I take the news out of Israel very personally. Each awful new step in the seemingly endless cycle of violence blocks out everything else for a while. We scan the news for the names of people and places: Where did it happen? Are my friends and family safe? What happens now? It’s a disconcertingly familiar feeling, one I know many of us share.

And here in the U.S., the horrible and horribly predictable nightmare of gun violence provokes a similar set of responses. Last week’s shooting at UCLA hit particularly close to home: My kids were born on that campus, and for many years, we lived right down the street.

But far more upsetting was the fact that a group of New Israel Fund (NIF) leaders and supporters was meeting that morning at the UCLA Hillel, including NIF board member David N. Myers and International Council member Rabbi Sharon Brous. They and our other community members spent hours under lockdown, unsure of what was happening outside. I was texting them as the police searched for the shooter, and of course they were calm, cool and collected, and assured me that all was well.

But even as they presented a brave face to the world, our friends talked about the scourge of gun violence that plagues our country. And in the midst of what had to have been an upsetting ordeal, Brous posted this on her Facebook page: “I’m under lockdown @UCLA. Apparently 2 dead, active shooter at large. Would now be a good time to talk about #gunviolence? #UCLA.”

While it is an imperfect analogy, in many ways, gun violence in America — and the inability to discuss the issue productively, let alone take steps to solve the issue — feels like our intractable problem, our version of the debate in Israel about peace, terror, occupation and the settlement enterprise. In both countries, these are issues that bitterly polarize the population and inflame the debate.

In the U.S. and Israel, politicians who fear powerful lobbies avoid making the hard choices that would help both societies strive for a better, more peaceful future. No one doubts that the extreme settler lobby and the NRA represent minorities of the population, but everyone knows that both groups will stoop to anything to punish politicians who don’t toe the ideological line.

Worse, perhaps, is that both those who insist on the absolute right of anyone to own any gun, and those who propound the sacred need to hold onto every square inch of Israeli territory, base their arguments on what are, to almost all of us, “sacred” texts. We Americans value our Constitution, which includes the Second Amendment, with reverence and with the understanding that it is the one document that holds our heterogeneous, polyglot society together; it is our common political foundation.

As Jews, even if we are secular or liberal in our religious observance, the Torah and Jewish law and tradition occupy that sacred and unifying spot. And of course, the Torah tells us over and over that God has given us the land of Israel, that no other people have rights there and that we may use any means necessary, including violence, to grasp and hold onto that land.

But we are also progressives, and that means we believe societies can and should progress beyond the literal meaning of texts written in other times. We reject the idea that the Founding Fathers meant for every American to have the right to own a semi-automatic rifle with a magazine that holds 30 rounds in our dense urban surroundings. We reject the idea that the particularism of the Torah should be the guiding principle behind how we coexist in Israel with Palestinians, whose roots there are also broad and deep. To embrace the literal meaning of these important texts is to rely on reactionary anachronisms that endanger us all.

It seems to me that we must take a page out of my friend Sharon Brous’ playbook and engage in these discussions now, even when we are emotional and frightened and threatened by the dangers we see around us. In the wake of every public shooting, politicians who are afraid of the gun lobby speak in lockstep about “not exploiting this tragedy as an excuse for gun control.” In the wake of terrorist activity in Israel, or increased anti-Semitism, or new diplomatic maneuvers about multinational conferences, we are cautioned that the unity of the Jewish people and our backing for the policies of the Israeli government must be of paramount importance.

No. It is precisely now, when there is so much at stake and so few safe places — literally and politically — in which we can find refuge, that we must take a stand for our values. We Americans, Jews, Israelis, Palestinians — everyone — deserve safety and equality as citizens. Now is when we must speak out for the vision we share and for the progressive understanding that we as people and societies can and must evolve beyond fear and literalism, into a place that is safer and more peaceful for us and our children. 

Daniel Sokatch is the CEO of New Israel Fund.