Fareed Zakaria’s Analysis of the State of the World

Photo by Tom Moorehouse.

Should American democracy ever vanish, it will end — like the world in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” — “not with a bang but a whimper.”

That somber warning was sounded by one of America’s top journalists, Fareed Zakaria, while delivering the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA last week.

Zakaria, 54, born in India and a self-described “nonpracticing Muslim,” is the host of the eponymous Sunday morning CNN television program, frequent contributor to The Washington Post, and, in the judgment of Esquire magazine, “the most influential foreign policy advisor of his generation.”

The annual Pearl lecture, usually given by a top journalist or veteran public figure, commemorates the life and brutal murder of the young Wall Street Journal bureau chief by Islamic extremists in Pakistan in 2002.

The remembrance of Pearl’s death melded with the gist of Zakaria’s warning that this country’s and the world’s democratic values are endangered not by the “bang” of a fascist or communist takeover, but rather the “whimper” of a gradual erosion of long-held standards and ideals.

The erosion is a worldwide phenomenon, but if anyone currently embodies the threat, said Zakaria, it is Donald Trump by virtue of his position as president of the United States and his gradual chipping away of various traditions of behavior and civility.

The world’s democratic values are endangered not by a “bang” but by a “whimper” of a gradual erosion of long-held standards and ideals.

What we are seeing under Trump, he observed, is the collapse of the Republican Party as a gatekeeper of democracy, and the question is whether government agencies will be able to preserve their independence.

Markers in the erosion of standards are the nondisclosure of Trump’s tax returns and an almost daily demeaning of the media, Zakaria said. He warned that future presidents would now find it much easier to ignore past standards and taboos.

During some 90 minutes of stand-up analysis, one-on-one interview with professor Kal Raustiala, director of the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, and questions from the audience, Zakaria displayed a preternatural grasp of international affairs.

On China: Through a “Make China Great Again” policy, the country’s leaders are raising China’s global standing through economic, rather than military, power.

On Russia: It is now a “spoiler state,” which feels that it gave away too much after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the country also has an interest in economic stability, which, for instance, affects the price of its oil exports.

On North Korea: Its regime is playing a clever game of deterrence. It will take serious work, not flippant insults, to strike a balance with Kim Jong Un’s regime.

In a rare note of optimism, Zakaria said that despite some chaos at the top, American institutions were still robust, although he particularly deplored the decline of a vibrant local press on the state and municipal levels.

There are, however, also worrying signs elsewhere. Turkey “has become the world’s leading jailer of journalists,” he observed; Hungary and Poland are slowly destroying a free press through economic and financial pressures; and even in England and Israel, there are attempts to limit press freedom.

Zakaria was introduced by Rabbi Aaron Lerner, director of the co-sponsoring Yitzak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life and by UCLA professor Judea Pearl, who with his wife, Ruth, heads the Daniel Pearl Foundation, commemorating their slain son.

Judea Pearl is also a world authority in computer science and artificial intelligence, and even showed his biblical chops by quoting, in Hebrew and English — from the biblical Prophet Zechariah (no relation to the evening’s speaker).

Mezuzah Vandalized and Rededicated at UCLA

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

A rededication of a mezuzah was held at UCLA on Jan. 18 after a vandalism incident during which a mezuzah was removed from the door of the school’s Undergraduate Students Association Council president.

The president, Arielle Mokhtarzadeh, described in a Jan. 10 Facebook post how she returned from winter break to find that the mezuzah adorning her office in Kerckhoff Hall had been taken down. Mokhtarzadeh noted that it was “the second time in two years that Mezuzah has been stolen from doorpost the Office of the President.”

“The fact that you felt the need to vandalize my office under the cover of darkness shows that you and your actions do not represent this community, which has no tolerance for your intolerance,” Mokhtarzadeh wrote. “We know all too well that there are costs associated with championing certain identities in our current political climate. We cannot afford to let that reality become our reality, for the day students at UCLA begin to feel that there are costs associated with being themselves at this University is the day we, as a community, forfeit the right to call ourselves one in the first place.”

In response to the incident, a rededication of a new mezuzah was held in front of Mokhtarzadeh’s office. UCLA Chabad Rabbi Dovid Gurevich, who presided over the event, declared in a speech, “You can steal a mezuzah, but not God.

“You cannot steal the faith and resilience, especially of the Jewish people, who have been around long enough to overcome all kinds of adversity and challenge,” he said.

Gurevich also praised Mokhtarzadeh for “her amazing leadership.”

“She really exemplifies the best of the best, and her leadership is very inspiring to us,” Gurevich said.

Gurevich explained that there are two key parts to the mezuzah: It states in Hebrew that “God is our Lord, God is one” and that good, divine deeds are done “with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.”

“Arielle’s leadership is with all her heart, with all her soul and with all her mind, and she really, really goes out of her way to be positive, to be proactive,” Gurevich said, “and that’s why it’s very important to make this positive stand here, so this thing should not happen again. It should only be positive happenings throughout UCLA, throughout campuses, not only for the Jewish students but for everyone. People should learn tolerance, people should learn to respect each other’s cultures and beliefs.”

According to the Daily Bruin, Mokhtarzadeh said she’s working to get security cameras installed on the third floor of Kerckhoff Hall to ensure that such incidents don’t happen again. Investigators have not named any suspects yet and the incident is being investigated as a possible hate crime.

Students Supporting Israel at UCLA (SSI), UCLA Hillel and Bruins for Israel will host an event to discuss anti-Semitism on campus.

“We plan to stand strong in the face of anti-Semitism, just as we have in the past,” SSI President Hirmand Sarafian told the Daily Bruin.

UCLA gained national attention when a provocative editorial cartoon featuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was published in the Daily Bruin in 2017, and in 2015, when a member of the student council’s judicial board asked a Jewish nominee for student council if she would be “able to maintain an unbiased view” despite her faith.

As Mokhtarzadeh explained in her Facebook post, mezuzahs are important because they speak “to fundamental Jewish values like education and accountability for one’s actions.”

“Mezuzahs have marked the doorposts of Jewish homes for generations; demonstrating dedication to our Jewish traditions, exhibiting pride in our Jewish identities, and expressing defiance against those who pressured Jews to hide or cast away their identities,” Mokhtarzadeh wrote. “I grew up hearing stories about my grandparents’ childhoods in Iran where they were forced to put their Mezuzahs on the inside of their doorposts, rather of than the outside. What better way to honor the sacrifices and experiences of my grandparents and parents than to proudly express my Jewish identity in a way they never could. Imagine my utter disappointment to see that the reality they feared most had happened in our very own Kerckhoff Hall.”

Hebrew Literary Journal in Danger of Shutting Down

Photo courtesy of Lev Hakak

In his office on the third floor of UCLA’s Humanities Building, professor Lev Hakak proudly displays copies of Hador (“The Generation”), believed to be the only Hebrew literary periodical currently published in the United States.

Founded by Hakak in 2006, each yearly issue is filled with more than 200 pages of poems, essays, book chapters, literary reviews, stories and commentary — all in Hebrew. Most of the contributors live in the U.S., and some of the pieces are written by celebrated authors and thinkers like A.B. Yehoshua and Yigal Schwartz.

But this year’s installment of Hador, which came out in June, may be its last.

Since Hador’s inception, the endeavor has been supported primarily by annual grants of $8,000 from the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, a New York-based organization whose mission includes promoting Jewish studies. That funding is set to end this year, according to Littauer’s program director, Alan Divack, who told the Journal that its board decided to stop funding literary projects and instead “focus on educational and medical institutions,” some of them in Israel.

The other source of funding for Hador comes in the form of $3,000 to $3,500 per year from Herb Neuman, an East Coast real estate developer and devotee of Hebrew. Hakak said he has made “limited efforts” to raise funds for the periodical but without success. With few prospects for replacing Hador’s financial backing, Hakak said he is dismayed at what could be its imminent demise.

“Once Hador disappears, there will no longer be any Hebrew-language literary journal published in the U.S.” — Lev Hakak

“Once Hador disappears,” Hakak said, “there will no longer be any Hebrew-language literary journal published in the U.S. There are authors published in it who have a hard time publishing in Israel, making the contacts. It’s not easy to travel to Israel and become part of the [Hebrew] literary scene, even though [some of Hador’s writers] are major scholars and very good poets, so it’s good for them to have a periodical here in the U.S. that publishes their work.”

Perhaps the only reason Hador made it this long on such a modest budget is because Hakak, who serves both as editor and publisher, has donated many hours of unpaid labor to the project. For the UCLA professor, Hador has been nothing less than a labor of love.

Hakak’s fondness for Hebrew was instilled at an early age. In 1951, when he was 7, he and his family fled Iraq and moved to Israel, a country struggling to absorb hundreds of thousands of new immigrants. Once there, the Hakak family lived in tents and shacks, in areas with meager facilities. When he arrived at the transit camp in Nahalat Yehuda, Hakak said his knowledge of Hebrew was limited, but like many youngsters immersed in a world they want to be a part of, he devoured the language of his new country.

“I loved Hebrew literature,” Hakak said. “I used to sit behind the shack where we lived and read any book I could find.”

It wasn’t long before Hakak was writing poems in Hebrew and getting his work published in Israeli publications as a teenager. He received a bachelor’s degree in Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a doctorate in modern Hebrew literature from UCLA. After teaching for two years at UC Berkeley — where he met his wife, Carole — Hakak returned to UCLA, where he has been a professor of Hebrew language and literature since 1976.

Hakak’s scholarly work often has focused on Hebrew stories, poems, fables and essays written by Mizrachi Jews who, like Hakak himself, are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardic, and whose ancestors lived in the Middle East for hundreds, even thousands, of years. The professor has written more than a dozen books about Hebrew literature and been honored with numerous accolades, including the Friedman Award for Contribution to Hebrew Culture in America.

But Hador has been Hakak’s pet project. He pointed out that besides a sizable community of Israelis in the U.S., for whom Hebrew is the mother tongue, there also are many American Jews who know the language and appreciate Hebrew literature.

“Here we have almost the same number of Jews as in Israel,” Hakak said, “so we [should] have a literary magazine that represents American Jewry’s love for Hebrew. The continued existence of Hador would make a statement that Hebrew literature is alive and well in America.”

Are Jewish College Students Privileged?

Photo from Flickr/Tony Webster.

I sometimes joke that if there’s anything I’ve learned in three years at UCLA, it’s how to spell “privilege” without spell-check.

In the age of identity politics, the concept of group-based privilege frames nearly every political discussion on college campuses, from debates on immigration to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The idea is that nearly all of us benefit from some combination of unearned, identity-based advantages embedded in American socio-historical structures. People must “check their privilege,” or adjust their everyday behavior accordingly, by trying to dismantle the structures that give their identity groups a leg up.

This shift in political language poses crucial questions for Jewish students: Do Jews have privilege in America, despite persistent anti-Semitism? If so, what are we doing with that privilege?

Our answers could determine whether we are included within progressive campus circles, which generally regard checking one’s privilege as a signal of solidarity with other marginalized students.

The question of whether Jews have white privilege surfaced in June, when light-skinned Israeli actress Gal Gadot starred in the film “Wonder Woman,” and again in early August when white supremacists chanted anti-Semitic slurs at a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

In his Jewish Journal column about Gadot’s casting, Shmuel Rosner asked, in perhaps one of the most pronounced examples of the generational gap in Jewish priorities, “Who cares if Gadot is white?”

The answer to that question is, of course, college students — including the Jewish ones who reject the very pretense of the progressive expectation that we recognize our privilege. These students claim it’s an insult to say Jews benefit from white privilege in this country when anti-Semitism has often relegated us to otherness.

In 2014, Tal Fortgang, a Jewish freshman at Princeton, appeared on Fox News regarding an article he wrote, “Checking My Privilege,” in his campus conservative magazine. Fortgang argued that accusations of white privilege erased the reality of anti-Semitic oppression his Jewish ancestors faced in Nazi Germany.

“Perhaps it was the privilege my great-grandmother and those five great-aunts and uncles I never knew had of being shot into an open grave outside their hometown,” Fortgang wrote. “Maybe that’s my privilege.”

Other Jewish students feel the burden of Jewish privilege on their shoulders — even more so when it goes unrecognized by the larger community. Prior to this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, UCLA student leader Rafael Sands penned an op-ed to the Jewish Journal called, “Why I’m Skipping AIPAC This Year.”

Sands explained the moral conflict he felt as an American Jew: Yes, Jews face anti-Semitism, sometimes subtly and other times hideously,  but Jews also have come a long way — succeeding at getting our foot in the door of American politics (AIPAC’s magnitude a case in point) and, by extension, American privilege.

We must consider the need to reckon with the Jewish place in the narrative of American white privilege.

Inviting Donald Trump and Mike Pence to speak at AIPAC represented American Jewish complicity in the administration’s ban on Muslim immigration, animosity toward undocumented people and hostility to reproductive choice, Sands wrote.

I hope my non-Jewish peers agree that it was refreshing to hear such remarks from a Jewish UCLA leader. The work of justice requires, before anything else, that we address our flaws.

This is not to say there isn’t a serious need for progressives to grant more legitimacy to claims of anti-Semitism, which sometimes seem to get thrust outside the circle of real oppressions. We should never have to choose between condemning anti-Semitism and supporting social justice movements.

In our own community, though, we must consider the need to reckon with the Jewish place in the narrative of American white privilege, the reality that some Jewish people and institutions have been reluctant to do so, and a progressive alliance that’s not going to wait for us while we figure all of this out.

If Jewish students want to be true partners to our progressive peers, it is our responsibility to check our privilege — even if, at times, we’re unsure what we will find.

Gabriella Kamran is a third-year communications and gender studies student at UCLA.

‘David’s Quilt’ Is Made From New Jewish Music

Screenshot from YouTube

There are enough unforgettable stories about David — the biblical poet, warrior and king — to fill several seasons of “Game of Thrones.” The story of David and Goliath even was referenced during a recent World Series broadcast. But what about the narratives that unfold with the likes of Bathsheba, Amnon, the Witch of Endor, Michal, Saul and Jonathan, too?

Selected strands of David’s wide-ranging story have been musically woven into “David’s Quilt,” an oratorio in 18 episodes by 15 Los Angeles-based composers, which premieres Nov. 5 at Stephen Wise Temple in Bel Air.

The project, begun two years ago by Valley Beth Shalom Cantor Phil Baron, found its way to UCLA music professor Mark Kligman, who helped shepherd it to completion. Now the free concert (reservations required) will kick off a two-day UCLA conference on Nov. 6-7, “American Culture and the Jewish Experience in Music,” which explores the ways European-Jewish sensibilities responded to American opportunity, transforming both cultures.

“We need to see Jewish music as a living entity.” – Mark Kligman

“Premiering a work like ‘David’s Quilt’ anchors our conference in the creative environment of Los Angeles,” said Kligman, who holds the Mickey Katz Chair in Jewish Music at UCLA. “It’s also a wonderful opportunity to create new music. We need to see Jewish music as a living entity, not just something in the past.”

For Baron, the biblical David’s flaws and inconsistencies make him one of the most approachable of the Bible’s heroes — and perfect for such an ambitious musical treatment.

“David is humanized through his imperfections,” Baron said. “He’s so much more than the stories of David and Goliath or Bathsheba. With the exception of Moses, there’s never been a character quite so large in our tradition.”

Baron said the styles of music in the piece vary widely. “We told the composers to write in the style of you, and that worked,” he said.

Like the oratorio, the two-day conference presents a quilt-like variety of topics and voices. On Nov. 6, David Lefkowitz, UCLA professor of composition, will lead a discussion “Jews and the L.A. Music Industry.” Another session delves into the extraordinary Milken Archive of Jewish Music with “Discovering a World of American Jewish Music,” a talk by the archive’s curator, Jeff Janeczko.

Subsequent sessions feature Judah Cohen of Indiana University looking at singing societies and choral music in the 19th-century American synagogue. Cohen also will lead a distinguished panel of scholars speaking on the significance and afterlife of the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Professor Daniel Goldmark of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland will explore what Jewish music sounded like in early 20th-century media. In another session, Goldmark will tackle the legacy of “The Jazz Singer,” the 1927 film about a cantor’s son who makes it big on Broadway, with a presentation looking at the notable films, cartoons and television shows inspired by the popular film.

“American pop culture is still drawing on the same basic musical palette of themes established in the 1910s and ’20s, themes for Native Americans, Jews, for most ethnicities,” Goldmark said.

The conference concludes on Nov. 7 with a re-creation of an April 24, 1945, chamber concert organized by musicologist Anneliese Landau at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. Works by Jewish émigré composers in L.A. — including Ernst Toch, Arnold Schoenberg and Louis Gruenberg — will be performed by UCLA music students at Royce Hall, with commentary by musicologist Lily Hirsch, who is completing a biography of Landau, who died in 1991.

“The 1945 concert was an incredibly political concert,” Hirsch said. “[Landau] was a champion of contemporary music with a keen sense of justice. To her, these composers deserved a platform. Re-creating the concert is important because it focuses attention on this remarkable woman and the history of musical politics in the United States.”

UCLA’s Kligman, who also directs the Lowell Milken Fund for American Jewish Music, said the conference is intended as “a comfortable hybrid of accessible and academic,” designed to inform and enlighten both the public and the UCLA community. Although the conference covers a lot of ground, Kligman said there’s no one answer as to what American-Jewish music is.

“Jewish music in America has yet to become a discipline,” he said. “It’s many different kinds of things, redefined and used in different ways. It’s an exciting arena.”

Anti-Fascist Activists Shut Down UCLA Free Speech Panel

Royce Hall at UCLA

A UCLA panel titled “What Is Civil Discourse? Challenging Hate Speech in a Free Society” was forced to move to another room when members of the activist group Refuse Fascism shouted down panelists during the Q-and-A session.

The Oct. 17 event, presented by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Los Angeles Times, took place during “Free Speech 101: UCLA’s Week on Freedom of Speech.” Holocaust historian Edna Friedberg moderated the panel, which included L.A. Times Deputy Editorial Page Editor Jon Healey, UCLA School of Law professor Eugene Volokh and Rachel Brown, executive director of the nonprofit Over Zero, which focuses on resisting violence.

During the presentation portion of the event, which drew about 50 people, panelists discussed issues such as the meaning of the term “hate speech,” the role of technology in the rapid spread of incitement and whether social media platforms like Facebook have the responsibility to moderate extremism on their sites. Friedberg drew parallels between the current dynamics surrounding campus political speech and Nazi propaganda strategies.

“It’s not a coincidence that Nazi book burnings took place [on college campuses],” she said. “They knew college students were susceptible to their ideas.”

When panelists opened the forum an hour later to questions from the audience, fifth-year UCLA geography student and Refuse Fascism member Tala Deloria was the first to take the microphone.

“This panel is bull—-,” she said. “There is a fascist in the White House, and you’re normalizing it by talking about [hate speech] in the abstract. People are dying in the streets.”

Deloria continued speaking over Friedberg’s requests that she give other audience members a turn, prompting event operators to cut off her microphone and campus security to urge her to leave the venue. Deloria sat down in the auditorium aisle to resist her removal and accused a security guard of twisting her arm.

Three audience members affiliated with Refuse Fascism rose to join Deloria, chanting, “No Trump, no KKK, no Fascist U.S.A.” One activist offered the audience flyers advertising Refuse Fascism’s Nov. 4 march in downtown Los Angeles.

“We don’t only say, ‘Never Again’ about Jews,” explained UCLA graduate and Refuse Fascism member Luna Hernandez. “We say, ‘Never Again’ for everyone.”

Several audience members booed and cursed at the anti-fascist activists. Healy attempted to take an audience question but was drowned out by the chanting.

“This is a prime example of uncivil speech,” Friedberg said to the disrupters.

Event organizers announced that the Q-and-A would move to the room next door. There, panelists took uninterrupted audience questions about topics including controversial speakers on university campuses and Google’s decision to fire employee James Damore following his statements about the company’s diversity initiatives.

The Refuse Fascism activists remained outside the room to discuss the event with attendees.

“We’re Jewish, we’re gay and we hate Trump, too,” one audience member told Deloria before the Q-and-A resumed. “But we want to hear what these people have to say about how we can resist him.”

Deloria said in an interview that she did not enter the event with the intention to protest, but the panelists’ defense of speech rights for people like Charles Murray, a social science researcher who has been accused of scientific racism, put her over the edge.

“The disruption … opened up conversation in a way that I’ve rarely seen at a public program” — Edna Friedberg

“My heart didn’t let me sit there while they normalized death,” she said.

Refuse Fascism is a grass-roots, protest-oriented group seeking to drive President Donald Trump from power, according to its website.

Friedberg said she considered the event a success — not in spite of the disruption, but in part because of it.

“Look, it’s never good when conversation is shut down,” she said. “But I actually feel that the disruption in the audience tonight opened up conversation in a way that I’ve rarely seen at a public program. People were speaking from the heart.”

Friedberg said she was particularly grateful to hear honest inquiries from students, whose questions spanned the many perspectives regarding freedom of speech.

“Part of the reason that the [Holocaust Memorial Museum] seeks out partners like UCLA is to be present on a college campus,” she said. “It shows that our history is relevant.”

How My Muslim Journey Led Me to Study Jews

I never envisaged that my life journey would take me to study the Jews of my southern Moroccan oases and North Africa. Growing up as a practicing Muslim in a Moroccan village, I never could have imagined that I would, one day, do research with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on Vichy and Nazi policies in North Africa, or that I would become affiliated with the UCLA Center of Jewish Studies, one of the oldest centers in the United States, and become a member of the Association for Jewish Studies.

How did this happen to a Muslim Moroccan boy?

One starting point is that I experienced discrimination in my youth. In southern Morocco, where I grew up, race is a factor in determining social and economic status. The Haratine, who have a darker skin color and are seen as socially inferior, farmed lands owned by the local Maraboutic families known as Shurfa (historically light-skinned). For decades, my father served these families as a day laborer. I grew up affected by this.

When I began my research on Jews, on a few occasions I was called a Falashi (Black Jew from Ethiopia), signaling that I was not only breaking rules by studying Jews but also highlighting my lower social status as a dark-skinned Muslim.

But the more I learned about Jews and the more opposition I received, the more I wanted to continue. Maybe subconsciously, I identified with the foibles of a minority. But there was something else: I also was moved by the deep attachment that Moroccan Jews have for their Moroccan heritage and the positive feelings toward Mohammed V as a righteous king for protecting Jews during World War II. This helped me persevere and overcome personal and professional obstacles.

Still, I have to say I got lucky. My parents, illiterate and with no comfortable income, raised a family of four sons and four daughters on subsistence farming and herding. Having a child who would end up earning a doctorate in socio-cultural anthropology in the United States was never part of their agenda. But I was always thirsty for knowledge, and my educational ambition got the attention of some prominent people in Morocco. Their support gave me my first break and my perseverance did the rest.

In my first year in graduate school at the University of Arizona, I struggled to come to terms with the option of specializing on the Jews of Morocco. I knew that going back home with a degree with a limited audience would be a big risk, especially in the context of a negative political environment over the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

What kept me going was becoming immersed in the amazing story of the Jews of Morocco. Moroccan Jews worldwide represent one of the largest Jewish communities of the Arab world. Despite the politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict, most of them remain deeply connected to their Moroccan homeland. While fewer than 4,000 Jews currently live in Morocco, Jewish shrines and cemeteries are protected and maintained by the local Arab population and the government.

In my studies, I wanted to tell a Muslim story about living with Jews as neighbors. My book, “Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco,” was an attempt to describe Jewish life in the southeastern Moroccan region based on Muslim generational memories. I tried to make the point that, in Morocco at least, you cannot study Jews without factoring in Muslim participation in Jewish life and Jewish-Muslim relations. 

The Moroccan Jewish tradition of Mimouna — in which Jews create a magical neighborhood feast on the last night of Passover — is a good example of the relationship of mutual respect and co-existence that existed, and continues to exist, between Muslims and Jews.

As a historical anthropologist, I was exposed over the years to strong cultural connections between Moroccan Jews and Muslims. Attending Shabbat dinners, I recognized Moroccan cuisine that I enjoyed at home. Visiting synagogues in Marrakech, France or Los Angeles, I heard sounds that reminded me of recitation of the Quran in the mosque. Researching a shrine such as Baba Sale in Netivot, Israel, I remembered the days when my village would travel to Muslim shrines.

I have come to recognize that in their language, food, music and rituals, many Moroccan Jews have preserved their Moroccan identity, no matter where they live. As I continue my research, it is this deep cultural connection, above all, that will nourish my journey. 

AOMAR BOUM is associate professor and vice chair of undergraduate studies in the anthropology department at UCLA.

Top 15 Jewish Los Angeles stories of 5777

The Jewish year 5777 wasn’t eventful only on the national stage. Here in Los Angeles, the Jewish community had its share of notable controversies and causes for celebration.

The following are 15 local stories that had L.A. Jews talking this year.

Danielle Berrin recalls her assault by Ari Shavit (October 2016)

In a courageous cover story, Jewish Journal senior writer Danielle Berrin detailed how a prominent Israeli journalist, later named as Ari Shavit, groped and propositioned her during a professional interview. Berrin related her experience to the universal prevalence of sexual assault, an issue that emerged in the public spotlight when a video surfaced of then-presidential nominee Donald Trump making lewd comments about women to Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood.” Shavit admitted he was the subject of Berrin’s story several days after it was published, apologized and resigned from his positions at Israel’s Haaretz newspaper and Channel 10 TV.

In highlighting the gendered endemic of sexual assault and the stigma of speaking out, Berrin, who later was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club, began the Jewish New Year with a timely call for justice.

Jewish Family Service CEO Paul Castro announces retirement (October 2016)

Paul Castro

Paul Castro, CEO of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), announced Oct. 13 that he would leave his post in December 2017 after 35 years at the nonprofit. Castro is not Jewish, but that never interfered with his leadership on JFS projects like the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program, the Israel Levin Senior Adult Center and the Westside Jewish Community Center’s Social Day Care Center for seniors and people with disabilities. During his tenure as CEO, Castro raised $17 million of the $25 million needed to rebuild the JFS Lois and Richard Gunther Center, the future hub of JFS outreach.

On Sep. 12, 2017, another prominent Jewish community leader announced his retirement: American Jewish University President Robert Wexler will step down at the end of the academic term, after 25 years at the school. Under his stewardship, the university opened the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in 1996 and merged with Brandeis-Bardin. Wexler is credited with overseeing numerous campus construction projects and growing the university’s endowment from $5 million to more than $100 million.

Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Marvin Hier delivers benediction at Trump inauguration (January 2017)

Rabbi Marvin Hier


Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, stirred controversy when he offered an original prayer and a blessing to President Donald Trump at his Jan. 20 inauguration. Hier, who performed the invocation alongside various faith leaders, defended his decision by stating a peaceful transition of power is “the trademark of democracy.”

Rabbi Sharon Brous

IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous speaks at D.C. Women’s March (January 2017)

The day after the inauguration, 3.3 million women in 500 American cities marched in protest of Trump’s presidency and in favor of universal human rights. Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR delivered a speech at the Washington, D.C., Women’s March that referenced the Exodus story of Shifrah and Puah, two rebellious Egyptian midwives who defied Pharaoh’s orders to kill Hebrew firstborns. On the largest single-day protest in American history, Brous appealed to spiritual unity and shared humanity.

Photo by Rob Eshman

Jews join immigration ban protests at LAX (January 2017)

Following Trump’s executive order that shut the United States’ doors on refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, Jews joined thousands of Los Angeles natives who gathered at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in protest. A number of signs at the protest highlighted harmony between Muslims and Jews, or drew comparisons between the refugee ban and Hitler’s early strategies.

B’nai David-Judea disobeys OU ban on female clergy (February 2017)

In the face of a Feb. 3 Orthodox Union (OU) policy statement that opposed the inclusion of women in Orthodox clergy, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of Orthodox Pico-Robertson synagogue B’nai David-Judea issued a defiant response: Clergy member Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn would be offering the drasha that Shabbat. Kanefsky referred to the ways “women have vastly increased the amount of Torah study, Mitzvah observance and spiritual sensitivity within their respective Orthodox congregations,” and criticized the OU for “imposing one perspective on all of its member synagogues.”

Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz

Colorful L.A. rabbi known as ‘Schwartzie’ dies at 71 (February 2017)

The red-bearded rabbi who wore rainbow suspenders and set up Jewish astrology readings on the Venice Boardwalk died on Feb. 8. Rabbi Shlomo “Schwartzie” Schwartz was the founder and director of Chai Center, a Jewish nonprofit outreach organization in Los Angeles that engages Jews through weekly Shabbat dinners, free High Holy Days services and other events.

Cartoon in UCLA student newspaper denounced as anti-Semitic (February 2017)

UCLA cartoon

Outrage erupted on UCLA’s campus when the Daily Bruin published a cartoon that struck many as anti-Semitic. The cartoon depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing in front of the Ten Commandments, with one caption stating, “Israel passes law seizing any Palestinian land,” and another suggesting Israel would follow its “stealing” with murder. The Daily Bruin issued an apology for the cartoon, which even drew a denunciation from a pro-Palestine group on campus.

Leah Adler, restaurateur and mother of Steven Spielberg, dies at 97 (February 2017)

Leah Adler

Leah Adler might have been best known as film director Steven Spielberg’s mother, but she earned her own renown in the Los Angeles Jewish community as the owner of kosher restaurant The Milky Way on Pico Boulevard Adler, who died Feb. 21, was a former concert pianist from Cincinnati who enjoyed chatting with restaurant patrons about kosher cuisine and providing life advice. Some might recognize her from the 1994 Academy Awards, when Spielberg kissed her and described her as his lucky charm while accepting the best director Oscar for “Schindler’s List.”

JCCs receive bomb threats amid national scare (February 2017)

Westside JCC


The Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC) became one of more than 100 JCCs and Jewish day schools across the country to receive bomb threats over the phone in 2017. Among the other targets was the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach, which received a hoax threat Jan. 31 that prompted the evacuation of approximately 300 seniors, parents and children. The Los Angeles Police Department evacuated the Westside JCC and searched the premises, but the threat was a false alarm. Four months later, University Synagogue of Brentwood and both Wilshire Boulevard Temple campuses also were shut down due to online bomb threats, none of which materialized.

Stephen Miller

Exploring Jewish Trump aide Stephen Miller’s L.A. roots (March 2017)

Stephen Miller began his work with the Trump campaign in 2016 as a “warmup act” before the presidential candidate took the stage at rallies. Later, as senior adviser to the president, Miller worked closely with Stephen Bannon to craft the executive order banning refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. Given Miller’s zealously nationalistic political rhetoric, it surprised many to discover he is the great-grandson of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. The Jewish Journal profiled Miller’s youth as a congregant of liberal-leaning Los Angeles synagogues and a graduate of Santa Monica High School.

Politicizing the pulpit (June 2017)

When Sinai Temple Senior Rabbi David Wolpe argued in a Jewish Journal article that rabbis should refrain from expressing political opinions in their sermons, he ignited a debate that engaged rabbis and community members from every corner of Los Angeles. Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom, Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs and IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous all penned responses in the Journal challenging Wolpe’s apolitical position and questioning the possibility of drawing a line between politics and Torah. Wolpe’s article gave rise to a sort of symposium that considered a rabbi’s moral responsibility amid a politically turbulent year.

Marilyn Hall

Marilyn Hall, wife of Monty Hall, dies at 90 (June 2017)

Actress, writer, producer and philanthropist Marilyn Hall died June 5 at the age of 90. Hall, wife of game show host Monty Hall, produced documentaries for Jewish institutions such as Brandeis University, the United Jewish Welfare Fund and Tel Aviv University. Her roster of accomplishments also includes producing  two Emmy-winning TV movies and co-writing “The Celebrity Kosher Cookbook.”

Westwood flyers warn of new Hezbollah-inspired group (July 2017)

Iranian Jews were on edge when they discovered flyers in Westwood’s Persian Square district announcing the inception of a group calling itself the “Army of Hezbollah in America.” The handbill, written in Farsi, vowed to avenge any U.S. military action in the Persian Gulf with terrorist attacks on American soil. It also denounced the influence of the “Zionist media.” The Los Angeles Police Department said it turned over information about the flyer to the FBI for investigation.

Izak Parviz Nazarian

Iranian-Jewish philanthropist Izak Parviz Nazarian dies at 88 (August 2017)

Izak Parviz Nazarian, co-founder of investment firm Omninet and former board member of technology company Qualcomm, died on Aug. 23 at age 88. After a difficult childhood in Iran, Nazarian fought with the Haganah in Italy and joined Israeli troops in the War of Independence. Nazarian immigrated to Los Angeles after the Iranian Revolution, where he built a successful technology empire with his brother, Younes. A passionately pro-Israel philanthropist, Nazarian founded the Citizens’ Empowerment Center in Israel, a nonprofit dedicated to reforming Israel’s electoral system.

Art, history converge in Grunwald archive

Fred Grunwald’s collection included Pablo Picasso’s “Winged Bull Watched by Four Children.” Photos courtesy of Hammer Museum

On an early May morning in the mid-1930s, Gestapo officials barged into Fred Grunwald’s apartment building near Düsseldorf, demanding of the landlady, “Where is the Jew?”

Once inside the businessman’s home, the officers declared that because he was a leader of the local B’nai B’rith lodge, they would search his apartment and arrest him. They promptly tore apart the master bedroom, in the process seizing eight to 10 portfolios of Grunwald’s treasured collection of print artworks from an antique cabinet.

When Grunwald returned home after his arrest, he found that about 500 of his prints had been taken, including works by two of the most renowned German expressionists, Edvard Munch and Ernst Ludwig Kirschner. (The prints were never returned.)

Grunwald, who died in 1964, went on to amass an even more impressive collection after immigrating in 1939 to the United States, where he became a successful clothing manufacturer.

Pieces donated from his world-class collection in 1956 established what is now the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts at UCLA, currently housed at the Hammer Museum in Westwood. Now, information about the Grunwald family and a digital archive of their collection are available on a website created by the museum, “Loss and Restitution: The Story of the Grunwald Family Collection,” which went online last month.

“It’s important for research for art historians, curators, people interested in the history of early Los Angeles collections, the history of the Holocaust and Germany, and the emigres who came from that country,” said Cynthia Burlingham, director of UCLA’s Grunwald Center.

The archive, one of several digital initiatives to be funded with the help of a $500,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, includes in-depth essays about Grunwald, official documents and some 1,500 images from his collection at UCLA. Many of the images are of 19th and 20th century French, German and American prints, as well as Japanese woodblock prints.

Erich Heckel’s “The Dead Woman” (1912), for instance, depicts a deceased, half-naked woman in bed, as two men mourn her in the foreground, all rendered in stark black and white. Woodcuts by another German artist, Gabriele Münter, mostly from around the turn of the 20th century, feature cityscapes and domestic scenes somewhat less raw than works by her fellow expressionists. There are pieces by Marc Chagall, Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso, whose “Winged Bull Watched by Four Children” (1934) centers on a swirling image of a winged bovine.

“Grunwald collected very intelligently,” Burlingham said. “He looked at very interesting artists who did excellent work; he bought good examples of their work that were in excellent condition. He also looked at the best artists — Picasso, for example — even though in some of his notes he bemoans the fact that he couldn’t collect certain Picassos because they were too expensive.”

The Grunwald family (from left): Ernest, Lotte, Fred and Trude.

Grunwald further became one of a group of émigré collectors who helped nurture the budding arts scene in Los Angeles decades ago.

The archive, in part, seeks to answer the question, “Who was Fred Grunwald?” said Philip Leers, the Hammer’s project manager for digital initiatives.

According to an essay by the collector’s son, Ernest Grunwald, who died in 2002, his father was born into a middle-class family in Dusseldorf. As a young man, he was drafted into the German army and, while fighting in World War I, shattered the bones in his left leg. During a two-year hospital convalescence, when his limb was amputated at the knee, Grunwald developed an avid interest in German graphic art, “which eloquently expressed the bitter anger of the artists after the First World War,” Ernest Grunwald wrote.

According to another account, Grunwald began collecting prints almost immediately after he was discharged from the hospital — initially, works by German artists such as painter, printmaker and sculptor Käthe Kollwitz, and the Jewish printmaker and painter Max Liebermann. The archive presents Kollwitz’s 1924 work “Germany’s Children Are Starving,” in which plaintive children appear to beg for food, holding up empty bowls.

In 1930, the senior Grunwald established his own shirt-collar business, which did well during the early Nazi period. But after his home was raided about five years later, he realized the Third Reich had become too dangerous for Jews. In August 1938, he hid jewelry inside moving boxes as the family anxiously awaited visas to immigrate to the United States.

Grunwald was arrested three months later, on the day after Kristallnacht, the anti-Jewish attack that signaled the start of the Holocaust. It was only through the intervention of a Gestapo officer who noticed Grunwald’s war injury that the businessman was released. After a former employee unsuccessfully attempted to blackmail him, Grunwald, his wife and two children boarded a boat for the United States.

His post-war collecting was “systematic and voracious,” according to an archive essay by scholar and archive lead researcher Leslie Cozzi. During the late 1950s, Grunwald filed restitution claims with the German government and eventually was awarded 125,000 German marks (about $75,000 today) for the theft of his pre-war art collection.

Grunwald spent his restitution money on acquiring even more works by both foreign and local artists.

“He’s part of a wider 20th-century circle of cultured individuals who really are responsible for many of the major cultural institutions in this city,” Burlingham said.

Visit the Grunwald digital archive at hammer.ucla.edu.

UCLA named America’s third best campus for Jews

Royce Hall at UCLA

The Forward named UCLA the third best college in the United States for Jewish life, behind only Cornell University and University of Pennsylvania.

The ranking was part of the Jewish newspaper’s first ever college guide, which weighed universities using a formula that factored in the categories of academics, Jewish life and Israel, listing the top 18. Factored into UCLA’s score were its many Jewish organizations, the availability of kosher food and its Jewish studies program .

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, said the school’s thriving Jewish life is a result of the bottom-up model employed by some of the 20 or 25 Jewish clubs and organizations that exist on campus, most prominently by Hillel.

“We’re probably going towards a decade of student leaders who have been fully empowered to run a great Jewish community, and as a result that’s exactly what they do,” he said.

UCLA scored high on the Forward ranking for academics and Jewish life, but its score flagged when it came to Israel, with nine points out of a possible 20. In recent years, the school has been the site of several high-profile incidents where Israel’s reputation came under fire, such as a student government resolution in 2014 calling for divestment from Israel.

But Lerner said those events are exceptions to a campus environment that otherwise embraces its Jewish students.

“It doesn’t define the student experience,” he told the Journal. “It’s incidental, not endemic.”

UCLA hits the right notes in new course in klezmer music

The Klezmer Music Ensemble at UCLA has nine members and is looking to add more. Current members are (top row, from left) Michel Klein, Niccolo Scolieri, Amy Law, Tyler Bailie, Ethan Eshkol and Sam Robertson, and (bottom row, from left) Simone Salmon, Nicholas Nissim Nati and Julia Harnoy. Photo courtesty of Michel Klein

From southeastern Europe in the 16th century to … UCLA in 2017?

With its clarinets, accordion, trombone and trumpet, the Klezmer Music Ensemble at UCLA has emerged this year from a class in the Herb Alpert School of Music, Department of Ethnomusicology, and the group is breathing new life into music that originated in southeastern Europe and spread throughout Europe where Jewish populations were present. The UCLA group, which is available for performances, is made up of nine students with a passion for the genre, and fewer than half of them are Jewish.

The UCLA course was started by Mark Kligman, the Mickey Katz Endowed Chair in Jewish Music, and Michel Klein, the ensemble’s leader, and it studies a variety of recordings, from pre-World War II European klezmer to contemporary experimental music. Although it’s a UCLA course, it’s not restricted to university students; anyone who is attracted to klezmer-style music is welcome.

“In addition to seeing it as an offshoot of Mickey Katz’s musical life, which was very much infused with klezmer music, it was important for the sake of Jewish music to have this ensemble available on campus,” Klein said.

The class is scheduled to be offered in the academic year ahead, an encouraging sign for its returning members and leader.

“I think it would be cool for the ensemble to get more performances outside UCLA in the future out in the community,” said Sam Robertson, the group’s accordionist. “Mainly because that means more performance opportunities and we get to interact with more people interested in the music.”

As the group continues into its first full year in the fall 2017, it is expected to perform at least three concerts in the UCLA music library.

“I see really good things,” Klein said. “Last year, we had the ensemble for winter and spring quarter. Next year, the ensemble will be active for the full year, which opens up the door to really exciting possibilities. I’d like to expand our ensemble, including more members with a broader diversity of instruments, as well as to explore the subtler elements of the klezmer genre and style.”

Some students, such as Robertson, have been members of other klezmer groups and were eager to join the ensemble when the class became available.

“I played accordion before the ensemble. I started when I was 11, so I’ve been playing for about nine years now,” Robertson said. “I was originally interested because I liked Greek and Russian music. Now I mostly play Eastern European and Middle Eastern music on [the accordion].”

The ensemble had its first public concert on June 4 at the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights as part of the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies exhibit “From Brooklyn Ave to Cesar Chavez: Jewish Histories in Multiethnic Boyle Heights.” More than 200 people attended.

Although the neighborhood’s once-thriving Jewish community has long since moved west, the performance brought back the kind of community celebrations that were typical in Boyle Heights, where the temple, built in 1915, once was home to three minyans each morning.

As the ensemble played, a dance circle formed and visitors stomped their feet. The set list included instrumental and lyrical pieces, belted out by Nicholas Nissim Nati, including a traditional horah.

Klein said he was pleased with the performance and the energy that the audience contributed to the group’s music.

“There is a certain element to this music that necessitates audience participation: clapping, singing along, dancing, etc.,” he said. “Klezmer music was never meant to be a formalized music meant for viewing like classical music was. It was primarily music that accompanied the dancing at weddings and other joyous occasions. In a certain sense, the audience stops being an audience and becomes part of the music-making process.”

Ensemble members said they valued how much the audience appreciated them.

“I always enjoy performances like that where we get to play klezmer for audiences that are familiar with the music, like the one in Boyle Heights,” Robertson said. “They know how to respond and dance to it.”

Israeli-born T.J. Leaf makes a bit of history in NBA draft

T.J. Leaf

At the 2017 NBA draft, all eyes seemingly were on UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, the passing wizard with the brash, headline-grabbing father, who was selected second overall by his hometown team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

But in Israel, knowledgeable fans were more interested in what would happen to one of Ball’s college teammates, the only Israeli-born player projected to hear his name called on draft night.

When the Indiana Pacers went on the clock in the first round with the 18th overall pick — a fortuitous number for any Jews watching — a little bit of history was made.

T.J. Leaf, a 20-year-old, 6-foot-10 freshman out of UCLA, became the second Israeli-born player to hear his name called by the commissioner and receive the coveted congratulatory handshake, during the June 22 draft, held in Brooklyn. He was born in Tel Aviv, where his father was playing professional basketball at the time.

In 2009, Omri Casspi, who currently is on the Minnesota Timberwolves, his sixth team, became the first Israeli-born player to be drafted. The only other Israeli to play in the NBA was Gal Mekel, who currently plays for Maccabi Tel Aviv. He had brief stints with the Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans, but signed as a free agent and was not drafted.

Pacers president Kevin Pritchard told reporters at Leaf’s introductory press conference, held in Indianapolis the day after the draft, that he has high hopes for the young prospect.

“He works out three times a day; he’s committed to winning,” Pritchard said. “We feel like we got a top-10 pick in this kid, and when you’re picking 18, that’s pretty good. Whatever his ceiling is as a player, he’s going to get there.”

During his one and only season at UCLA, Leaf flourished, leading the Bruins in scoring with 16.3 points per game and helping them reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

“He’s shown that he has a terrific skill set,” UCLA head coach Steve Alford said in a statement to the Journal. “The Pacers have a very talented young player coming into their program, and we can’t wait to watch him at the next level.”

Leaf’s father, Brad, also was selected by the Pacers decades earlier — in the seventh round of the 1982 NBA draft. He was cut during training camp but went on to have a successful career overseas, playing in Israel’s top league for 17 years.

“Brad was a very good ballplayer in Israel,” Israeli basketball legend Tal Brody said. “He did very well in leading his Galil Elyon team; just an excellent player in the league. The Israeli basketball world knows Brad for sure. Everybody liked him as a player and as a person. He had a very good career.”

T.J. is not Jewish but has dual citizenship. The Leafs moved back to the United States soon after T.J. was born, but he played for Israel’s under-18 junior national team in 2015, winning tournament MVP honors at an International Basketball Federation (FIBA) competition in Austria.

“Brad apparently worked with T.J. and
developed him into a very good player,” Brody said.

In an interview with The New York Times in February, Brad, who couldn’t be reached by the Journal, said his exposure to the European style of play favored in Israel inspired him to develop T.J. into an all-around player, not just a traditional back-to-the-basket big man.

“I just kept on having him play on the perimeter,” said Brad, who coached T.J. in pre-high school summer leagues and then at Foothills Christian High School outside of San Diego. “Guard skills — like over in Europe, like I was accustomed to.”

Brody, who forever will be revered in Israeli basketball circles for spurning the NBA to help grow the sport in Israel and leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to EuroLeague glory in the late 1970s, told the Journal that Brad’s legacy should help T.J. develop a following in Israel.

“The majority of people here in Israel probably don’t know T.J. himself or probably never saw him play, but there’s a percentage who love basketball and most likely watched some of his UCLA games at 2 or 3 in the morning,” Brody said. “But everyone knows his father very well. Once it was written in the papers here, they knew the name Leaf. A lot of people involved with basketball here are very excited to have a third player in the NBA.”

UCLA Jewish history professor hired as Center for Jewish History CEO

David Myers

David Myers, the Sady and Ludwig Kahn professor of Jewish history at UCLA and the director of the UCLA Luskin Center for history and policy, has been named CEO and president of the Center for Jewish History in New York City, effective July 1.

“I burn with passion to study Jewish history,” Myers said. “It’s what I love doing. I am blessed beyond imagination to be able to do this, to be able to study Jewish history, which is ceaselessly fascinating.”

Myers, 56, a Journal contributor, will remain on the faculty of UCLA, his academic home for 25 years. He will live in Los Angeles during the 2017-2018 academic year and will then move to New York.

He has written extensively on modern Jewish intellectual and cultural history and earned a PhD in Jewish history from Columbia University in 1991. He began as a lecturer at UCLA that same year.

Myers and his wife, Nomi Stoizenberg, a USC law professor, live in Pico-Robertson. They are the parents of three daughters, two of whom live in New York.

At the Center for Jewish History, Myers will oversee what is the largest archive of the modern Jewish experience outside of Israel. Dedicated to history, culture and art, the museum is a collaborative home for five partner organizations: American Jewish Historical Society; American Sephardi Federation; Leo Baeck Institute; Yeshiva University Museum and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

Myers expressed remorse about leaving UCLA but said it was time for him to move onto the next chapter in his career.

“I love UCLA, it’s been an extraordinary place to be and work and grow, and I could easily have decided not to make this move,” he said. “But I find the opportunity and challenge to be so exciting, it seemed like this was the time to try something new.”

Debating the BDS movement’s immorality

IfNotNow protesters outside the 2017 AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C. Photo by Ron Kampeas

If the Jewish people ever needed an icon for their sworn enemies, a litmus test that distinguishes those who oppose the core of Israel’s existence from those who have other reasons to criticize the Jewish state, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has given it to us. It has managed to galvanize the Jewish community into an unprecedented wave of unity in opposition to this threat.

A May 22 debate sponsored by the UCLA Debate Union was unique, in that the issue was not the effects of BDS actions but the morality of their aims. I took part in this debate, and I would like to share with readers a summary of my arguments. What follows is an edited version of my remarks:

Dear Friends,

I have not spoken to this debate club before, and I am glad to do so on this occasion because I see it as a historic moment.

For more than 10 years now, we have been witnessing BDS supporters roaming the campus with their megaphones and slander machines, accusing Israel of every imaginable crime, from apartheid to child molesting — accusing, accusing and accusing.

Today, for the first time in the history of UCLA, we see BDS itself on the accused bench, with its deceitful tactics, immoral ideology and anti-peace stance brought to trial.

It is a historic moment.

BDS is not a new phenomenon; it is a brainchild of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, who in April 1936 started the Arab Rejectionist movement (under the auspices of the Arab Higher Committee), and the first thing he did was to launch a boycott of Jewish agricultural products and a general strike against Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine from war-bound Europe.

The 1936 manifesto of the rejectionist movement was very similar to what BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti presented here at UCLA on Jan. 15, 2014. It was brutal in its simplicity: Jews are not entitled to any form of self-determination in any part of Palestine, not even the size of a postage stamp — end of discussion!

Here is where BDS earns its distinct immoral character: denying one people rights to a homeland, rights that are granted to all others. This amounts to discrimination based on national identity, which in standard English vocabulary would be labeled “bigotry,” if not “racism.”

This rejectionist ideology has dominated the Arab mindset from 1936 to this very day — BDS is only its latest symptom. It explains why Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spends so much time at UNESCO trying to erase Jewish history, why Palestinian children sing “There is no such thing as Israel,” and why their hosts and educators on official Palestinian TV applaud them with “Bravo! Bravo!” It also explains why the Israeli peace camp has such a hard time convincing the majority of Israelis that despite what they see without end in Palestinian schools, there still are some partners for peace among the Palestinians.

The mufti’s boycott of 1936 scored one major “victory” for the Palestinians. The British government succumbed to mass Arab unrest and prevented European Jewish refugees from entering Palestine. My grandparents were among those seeking refuge; they perished in Auschwitz in 1942.

This, ironically, was the last victory of Arab rejectionism. For eight decades, rejectionism has led the Palestinian people from one disaster to another. It led them to reject a Palestinian state in 1937 and 1947; it drove them to attack Israel in 1948, with the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) as a consequence; it led them to reject land-for-peace proposals in Khartoum in 1967, which gave rise to the settlement movement; and it prevented them from accepting any of the peace offers made since. Rejectionism negates the very notion of “end of conflict.”

Today, rejectionism is the No. 1 obstacle to Palestinian statehood. The total absence of peace education in Palestinian schools and media gives Israelis fairly good reasons to question the ability of Palestinian leadership to honor any peace agreement, however favorable. No country can come to life that openly seeks the elimination of its neighbor.

Back to the moral side of rejectionism. In 2014, BDS’ Barghouti stood here at UCLA and proclaimed, “Jews are not a people, and the U.N. principle to self-determination does not apply to them.” Barghouti made no effort to hide the racist foundations of BDS ideology, but we should keep them in mind as we consider the question before us tonight: Is BDS moral?

I would like to move now from the history of Zionophobic rejectionism to its current aims and tactics. The leaders of the BDS movement do not hide their real purpose. In every conversation with them, they admit their ultimate goal is not to end the occupation, and surely not to promote peace or coexistence, but to delegitimize Israel in the international arena, isolate her, and eventually bring about her collapse.

What most people fail to realize is that BDS is not interested in boycotting, either, because it knows a boycott cannot achieve any meaningful level of success. Show me one respectable university that would go along with this childish, anti-academic idea. Indeed, 150 university presidents came out immediately in opposition to boycott. And just last week, we saw all 50 U.S. governors deploring BDS as “incompatible with American values.” Not just “academic values” but “American values.”

So, if not boycott, what are they trying to achieve on campus? The idea is to bombard university campuses with an endless stream of proposals for anti-Israel resolutions. The charges may vary from season to season, the authors may rotate, and it matters not whether a resolution passes or fails, nor whether it is condemned or hailed. The victory lies in having a stage, a microphone and a finger pointing at Israel, saying, “On trial.” It is only a matter of time before innocent students, mostly the gullible and uninformed, start chanting, “On trial.” The effect will be felt when these students graduate and become the next generation of American policymakers. A more immediate goal, of course, is bullying pro-coexistence voices into silence.

A common hypocrisy among BDS advocates is to present themselves to new audiences as seekers of universal justice, while whitewashing or downplaying their ultimate goal of putting an end to Israel. They even coined fancy names for that end: “one-state solution” or “a state for all its citizens”— a delusional setting of wolves protecting sheep to the sound of progressive slogans, totally oblivious to Middle East realities. Noam Chomsky, a staunch critic of Israel, called this strategy of BDS “hypocrisy crying to heaven.” And Norman Finkelstein, not a warmer friend of Israel, called it “a hypocritical dishonest cult led by dishonest gurus.”

Maintaining this dishonesty, however, is crucial for BDS survival; any attempt to distance itself from the goal of eliminating Israel would cost BDS its vital support base among Palestinians.

I believe everyone would like to find out from BDS supporters how peace can emerge between two partners, one insisting on seeing the other dead and the other insisting on staying alive, no matter how glamorous the coffin.

Leaving behind this logical impossibility, I believe we should strive for a more realistic vision of peace: two states for two peoples, equally legitimate and equally indigenous.

And we must start with the latter.

JUDEA PEARL is Chancellor’s Professor of Computer Science and Statistics at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

BDS debate at UCLA breaks no new ground

Royce Hall at UCLA

campus debate on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on May 22 at UCLA offered little in the way of new ideas or understanding, as representatives on each side held to their well-established positions.

An audience of about 100 students and adults listened and made clear their sentiments — with cheers and boos — as professors Judea Pearl and Saree Makdisi were the featured speakers for their respective sides.

Both stated personal connections to their positions at the two-hour event, organized and moderated by the UCLA Debate Union.

Although the debate was devoid of references to President Donald Trump’s trip to Israel and lacked formal consequences for the BDS campaign at UCLA, it did provide a view into how American universities have become both training ground and battleground for advocacy on Middle East issues.

While Makdisi, who is of Palestinian descent, took most of the speaking time for the pro-BDS side, Pearl shared his time with Philippe Assouline, a doctoral student who teaches an Israeli history course at the university.

“Jewish students are being forced to choose between pride in their people — due pride — and acceptance on campus,” Assouline said in the anti-BDS side’s opening remarks.

Pearl, a computer-science professor and father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl called the BDS movement a “slander machine” with “small character,” and argued that its unwillingness to compromise impeded the peace process.

“Rejectionism is the main obstacle to the two-state solution,” Pearl said. “No country can come to life that seeks the elimination of its neighbors.”

The BDS movement originated in 2005 as a broad international boycott on Israeli products and has gained the most traction on American college campuses, particularly on University of California (UC) campuses. It has been a defining political issue at UCLA in recent years as student government elections have become a proxy war for supporters of Israel and Palestine beyond the school.

The movement aims to force Israel to accede to various demands for Palestinian human rights, including Israel’s withdrawal from West Bank settlements and the dismantling of the security barrier at the Green Line.

In November 2014, UCLA’s undergraduate student government became the fifth UC campus to pass a resolution in favor of BDS. The motion called for the school to divest any endowment funds from companies that do business with the Israeli government or military.

“BDS is moral because it’s a time-honored, effective and nonviolent method for people of goodwill to contest the injustice of states that have proven themselves unresponsive to other modes of persuasion,” said Makdisi, who teaches English literature. He presented a history of Palestinians’ expulsion from their homes in 1948 and asserted that Israeli leaders, anticipating the forthcoming refugee crisis, uprooted them anyway.

He also suggested that there is no such thing as an Israeli nationality, countering Pearl’s argument that Israelis and Palestinians are “equally indigenous” and therefore equally deserve statehood.

The debate provided an opportunity for new voices to join the fray. A pair of students on each side served as the undercards, displaying a range of experience and methodology as they laid the groundwork for the professors, who were given nine minutes each to the students’ seven.

There was plenty for the engaged but divided crowd to cheer and scoff at. The loudest reaction of the night was a chorus of long groans and derisive laughter as Makdisi asked in his closing argument, “You hear the language of, ‘Oh, my God, the Arabs will outnumber us,’ and ‘Oh, my God, the Jews will become a minority.’ What’s so bad about being a minority?”

The Debate Union’s faculty adviser, who was moderating the debate, asked for order to allow Makdisi to continue. 

Film festival to honor documentarian Marcel Ophuls

Filmmaker Marcel Ophuls at the Mill Valley Film Festival in October 2015. Photo by Tommy Lau/JTA

German-born director Marcel Ophuls has dedicated his career to shattering cultural myths about the darkest moments of the 20th century. His documentaries, some more than four hours long, stand as reminders of the human capacity for bravery, cowardice and indifference in the face of evil.

Ophuls, the son of Hollywood director Max Ophuls, attended Hollywood High School and Occidental College. He’s now 89 and lives in a village in the French Pyrénées, but he plans to return to Los Angeles for “Shadows of the 20th Century: Ophuls Film Festival,” scheduled for June 1-8 at UCLA and other venues. The series of screenings and discussions will feature the filmmaker in conversation with Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan, scholars and students.

Ophuls’ best-known documentaries address the desire for justice and the denial of responsibility in a trilogy of Holocaust-themed films: “The Sorrow and the Pity” (1969), about France’s occupation during World War II; “The Memory of Justice” (1976), about the Nuremberg Trials; and “Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie,” a portrait of the Nazi war criminal for which Ophuls won the 1989 Academy Award for best documentary.

Unlike a journalist who might attempt to remain unbiased, Ophuls has a clear point of view in his interviews.

“All of the documentaries I’ve made are controversial and they’re always highly subjective,” he said in a phone interview. “They are based on my opinions and sometimes my moods. I’m the man behind the camera. … I don’t hide my feelings and I don’t hide my convictions.”

Ophuls’ current project, “Unpleasant Truths,” which focuses on the Israel-Palestine conflict, is entangled in financial and legal troubles and may never be completed. He’s currently dealing with a court case involving his former co-director, Israeli filmmaker Eyal Sivan, while trying to raise money to edit the footage he already has.

“I consider Gaza to be a concentration camp,” Ophuls said. “For Jews who consider themselves right-wing Jews, a state that has become not only right-wing but militaristic and authoritarian, the idea that Jews who consider themselves to be the heirs of the Shoah … to bomb what I consider a concentration camp, seemed to me scandalous.”

The movie originated out of a conversation over a decade ago between Ophuls and French director Jean-Luc Godard. They discussed collaborating on the film, Ophuls said, but Godard lost interest. The film actually begins with a scene in which Ophuls fails to convince Godard to go with him to Tel Aviv, to collaborate on the film.

Ophuls began his career as a feature film director, achieving some success with his 1963 comedy debut “Banana Peel,” a detective film starring Jeanne Moreau and Jean-Paul Belmondo. A follow-up two years later, “Fire at Will,” was a box office flop. He turned to documentaries, focusing first on the Munich crisis of 1938 (“Munich”) and then on France under Nazi occupation with “The Sorrow and the Pity.”

The two-part 1969 documentary, 4 1/2 hours long, examined the Vichy government through archival footage and interviews with former German officers, French collaborators, resistance fighters and residents of the small French city of Clermont-Ferrand.

In one scene, a local merchant named Marius is interviewed about a small advertisement he placed in a newspaper, in which he declared himself “100% pure French.” The ad appeared in 1940, after the Vichy government voluntarily adopted laws that excluded Jews from certain jobs and stripped them of basic rights. When Ophuls asked him why, Marius explained that he was Catholic, but his surname, Klein, led some people to accuse him of being Jewish. Even as Marius insists he’s not racist, by publicly denying his perceived Jewishness he is revealed to be complicit in the anti-Semitism of the time.

“The Sorrow and the Pity” was originally banned in France, and it took a dozen years for French TV to broadcast the film. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 1971 for best documentary.

The film is also referenced in Woody Allen’s 1977 classic “Annie Hall,” in which Allen’s Alvy Singer asks Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall to go see “The Sorrow and the Pity” at the theater. She tells him, “I‘m not in the mood to see a four-hour documentary on Nazis.” Later, after they break up, Singer describes a feeling of triumph after learning that she took her new boyfriend to see the movie.

Ophuls’ films show the capacity for heroism as well as barbarity. One of the characters in “The Memory of Justice” is a nurse charged with committing horrifying crimes, such as injecting gasoline into Jewish concentration camp inmates.

“That was the whole point, in my opinion, of the Nuremberg trials, was to condemn people” for inflicting suffering that went beyond Nazi commands,” Ophuls said.

“They thought they were legitimized because they could do anything in that situation,” said Andreas-Benjamin Seyfert, Ophuls’ grandson and co-organizer of the film festival. “He’s trying to show the whole spectrum of what humans can be, rather than just saying evil can be banal, as Hannah Arendt was showing. [Arendt, a Jewish political theorist, reported on the Adolf Eichmann trial and wrote a book, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,” in which she argued that ordinary people’s evil acts often result from conformance to mass opinion, without reflection upon the consequences of their actions.] He shows it can be very special to be evil. … Klaus Barbie was no Eichmann, he was a torturer … and that takes a certain kind of mind as well.”

Another person in “The Memory of Justice” is Albert Speer, Hitler’s chief architect and later the Third Reich’s minister of armaments. Speer accepted moral responsibility at Nuremberg and served 20 years in prison. When Ophuls interviews him in the film, Speer comes off as sophisticated and likable.

“For me, [Speer] is the embodiment of evil, because he comes through as a good and gentle person,” said Paul Dominik Kurek, who runs a film screening series at UCLA and organized the Ophuls festival with Seyfert.

With the apparent recent rise in anti-Semitism coinciding with the gradual loss of Holocaust survivors, are people forgetting the lessons of the Holocaust? Perhaps, Ophuls said, but “I think that forgetting about the Shoah once in a while is not such a bad thing.”

“It is not a terribly good thing for the psyche to identify — especially if you have feelings that you’re unique — to identify all your life with the victims of a genocide. I think it’s important to remember that there have been other genocides — the Armenians and in Rwanda.

“We Jews may be unique in some ways. I think we are, actually. I’m rather proud of being Jewish. … I don’t believe in the chosen people, but I think we’re remarkable.”

Ophuls’ probing curiosity challenges a reductionist attitude toward history. He shows that war can be complicated, and that people don’t always act bravely. That perspective is summarized in “The Sorrow and the Pity,” when former British Prime Minister Anthony Eden tells Ophuls, “One who has not suffered the horrors of an occupying power has no right to judge a nation that has.”

By not resorting to abstractions or offering easy answers, he shows that the truth is more complicated than we would like to think.

“We all have a different approach to the truth,” Ophuls said, “and if there’s one thing I really don’t like, in documentaries in particular … I don’t like truth merchants. I don’t like people that think they have a monopoly on the truth and their job is to tell other people what the truth is.”

“Shadows of the 20th Century: Ophuls Film Festival” will take place June 1-8 at various locations on the UCLA campus and around Los Angeles. The keynote on June 5 at 4 p.m. in the Luskin Conference Center will feature Marcel Ophuls in conversation with Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan. For more information, go to cjs.ucla.edu.

Jewish, homeless and alone: One tale of grief on L.A.’s streets

On a Sunday last December, Joe Wedner leaves a church service carrying fruit from a free food pantry. Photos by Eitan Arom

For Joe Wedner, theology is well-worn territory. God and His workings are among the trains of thought that keep Joe’s mind chugging, often in a broad and frenzied circle. At the center of that theology is a paradox that causes Joe a fair amount of strife.

Joe is 77, stooped and bearded. He’s a Jew by birth, but in practice, at least since 2013, he honors every faith — Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. — without discrimination or distinction. His face betrays the weatherworn quality of someone who has spent years living on the streets, and he carries an air of all-consuming tragedy.

“I cry a lot — so I’m sorry — but I’ve never been locked up for crying,” he told me the first time we sat down together, in January 2016 at Native Foods Café, a vegan restaurant in Westwood.

He sat in front of a heaping pile of beans, grains and vegetables, his pushcart parked next to our table. Overflowing with pieces of cardboard and extra jackets, the cart held the sum of his worldly possessions.

Vegan cuisine was Joe’s idea. He avoids processed foods and animal products, not for ethical or health reasons, but religious ones. When a waiter stopped by our table, Joe pointed to his food and asked, “Is this the most natural, unchanged-from-God whole food that we got?”

God pervades Joe’s existence.

“There is no place that God is not,” he told me. “God is everyplace. God is in every belief. God is in every emotion.”

His relationship with the Almighty is perhaps Joe’s one remaining comfort in this world, although even that relationship is not without strain. According to Joe, two activities offer him any sort of solace from the unrelenting fear and anxiety that rule his day-to-day existence: religion and sex. Since Joe is homeless and elderly, it’s not easy for him to find sexual partners, so religion is all that remains in any practical sense. Every week, when he has the time, he attends as many religious and spiritual services as he can.

But his God, he insists, is not a particularly benevolent one. The paradox at the heart of Joe’s theology is that although God is everywhere, He is a maniac.

“God can do the impossible,” he explained to me. “He can give absolute, total freedom and still prevent man from sinning and leaving Him, and therefore He can prevent suffering. Why doesn’t He prevent suffering? Because He’s mentally ill. He’s seriously mentally ill, and we are His image and likeness, and we are mentally ill.”

When it comes to his own mental illness, Joe makes no secret. In his second email to me, shortly after we first met, he wrote, “I thought you might be interested in the attached information.” It was a psychiatric report diagnosing him with bipolar disorder, for which he refuses medication. He also admits to being delusional and cripplingly paranoid.

[To give or not to give? Experts weigh in]

For Joe, delusion bleeds freely into reality and vice versa. Consider his present life plan: Joe is taking UCLA Extension courses on the entertainment industry, hoping to land a high-paying job and strike it rich. The basis for his plan is his conviction that education is the key to income. Although that makes enough sense, his plan to strike it rich stretches credulity.

Yet Joe sticks to his plan doggedly, even if it means forgoing a roof over his head.

Joe has been homeless for four years, a condition that puts him in the category of “chronically homeless” — those homeless for a year or more due to debility. He is less an anomaly than a poster boy for the definition: By the latest count, 61 percent of the roughly 13,000 people who are chronically homeless in Los Angeles County are mentally ill, about 8,000 people total, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

If there is an anomaly to Joe, it’s his religious background.

In 2014, the Pew Research Center ranked Jews as the most financially successful religious group in America. Only 16 percent claimed a family income of less than $30,000 a year.

Tanya Tull, a homelessness policy pioneer and CEO of Partnering for Change, said in addition to Jews living on the street, many others eke out an existence in deplorable conditions in cramped apartments in poor neighborhoods like MacArthur Park and Mid-City. She cited as one example a 71-year-old retired Jewish man who spends more than 80 percent of his Social Security payments on rent in a studio apartment in Pico Union, where he experiences regular power outages and struggles to treat a chronic pulmonary condition.

Some local impoverished Jews are clients of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and its partner organizations. Federation estimates that together, the groups help about 20,000 Jews living in poverty, providing them with free kosher meals and grant assistance for housing, paired with case management.

But that number reflects only those whom they help.

“There are more people out there — Joe is a perfect example — who are not accessing these services,” Lori Klein, Federation’s senior vice president for its Caring for Jews in Need program, told the Journal.

Federation estimated that 50,000 Jews lived in poverty in Los Angeles in 2014, the latest year for which data are available. More than 600,000 Jews live in the Greater Los Angeles area.

Klein suggested that Joe call a central access hotline of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, which directs people experiencing financial instability to appropriate resources.

Joe said he called in April, but found that the services it offered were more or less the same as those he already was getting from a Kaiser Permanente social worker. As for housing, Joe, it turns out, has other priorities.

I first met Joe when I showed up for an assignment at jumu’ah, the Muslim prayer service offered Friday evenings at UCLA. I was early and found Joe sitting on a metal folding chair in the hallway outside the prayer room with the demeanor of someone who didn’t have anywhere else to be.

After services, I took down his email address. Joe checks his email frequently — somewhere among the loose cardboard and plastic bags in his cart was a laptop that he’d had since 2013. (It’s since been stolen; he now returns emails via public computers at UCLA.)

It turns out that Joe has little to hide and, by his estimation, much to gain from an interview.

“The more you tell the better,” he told me at Native Foods. “My psychiatrist does not disagree that my whole problem is a girlfriend deficiency, and I’m trying to get that out there.”

It was only much later in the interview that I learned he has a wife and daughter — but that hasn’t interrupted his other plans. Joe is interested in obeying all of God’s commandments, including to “be fruitful and multiply.”

“I need a lot of girlfriends,” he said, without a hint of irony or jest. “So I want to put that out there, just in case there might be somebody like me, that also wants a lot of children, a female. Because … I’m a panhandler, and a panhandler knows if you say the same thing to enough people, no matter what it is you’re saying, if you say it to enough people, you find a few, one or a few, that’ll agree with you.”

With Joe, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between delusion and what could be described merely as misplaced priorities. His desire to have children is motivated not just by the joy of sex but also by the conviction that children represent “eternal life and salvation from death.” But whether Joe should father a child at 77, with no means to support one, is a consideration he ignores. He remains enthusiastic in pursuing his goal.

In the middle of the conversation, a young woman approached our table to express interest in the interview. Joe’s demeanor changed instantly. His eyes lit up, and he began talking more quickly, almost frantically. It occurred to me that he was putting on a show.

“You could sit down,” he told the young woman. “You could sit down and listen to me. If you’ve gotta go — want my email address? I’m an extremely interesting person. You’ll never find anybody running around loose more mentally ill than me.”

Joseph Leo Wedner was born on Feb. 2, 1940, in Detroit.

His father was born to an Orthodox family near Sanok, Poland. His mother, an American, was what Joe called a “three-day Jew,” someone who attended synagogue approximately three days a year. They had one other son, John, since deceased.

At 13, Joe became a bar mitzvah at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, a Conservative synagogue near Detroit. He recalls his trips to his father’s shul with fondness if also with a bit of detachment, saying, “That was very nice, people talking with their creator, praying and asking to not get sick with colds or anything else.”

But even at a young age, Judaism didn’t quite do it for him. He remembers, as a 5-year-old, being beset with a paralyzing fear that his faith couldn’t extinguish. He recalled his envy when he saw a glow-in-the-dark crucifix hanging over the bed of a grade-school friend.

“I thought, ‘Man, oh, man, everybody’s lucky except me. I gotta have horrible, terrible nightmares ’cause I’m scared of school. Why can’t I go to Catholic school and have that crucifix hanging by my bed?’ ” he said.

His family life was dysfunctional, he said: “That’s what our family does, is yell at one another. Big ones yell at the little ones.”

But Joe managed to hold things together and graduate from a local college, enrolling in medical school at the University of Michigan. Soon, though, his mental health began to slip, as it would at crucial moments in his future. He described struggling with paranoia so severe that he didn’t think he could make it in medical school. When things got bad, he went to see the dean.

“I told him, ‘I’m going to flunk out anyway, I’ll never get through this, it’s too hard, and I’m afraid of the American Nazi party. I’m going to Israel,’ ” he recalled.

His experience in Habonim Labor Zionist Youth as a teen in Detroit had convinced him that a Jew could live happily only in a socially just environment in Israel. So in January 1964, he left for Israel, landing at Kibbutz Sarid in Israel’s north.

It didn’t quite play out the way he had hoped. Instead of working, he “slept and ate all day and chased the tourist girls,” he said. He was kicked out, and he fell in with some hippies — or maybe they were secret police. Joe can’t be sure.

His new friends taught him to play guitar and beg on the street. After a stint in Abu Kabir Prison in Tel Aviv on narcotics charges — “all the hippies were doing narcotics,” he said — he felt disillusioned and left the country the year after he arrived.

From there, Joe tramped through Europe and the Middle East, his first experience with vagrancy. But, in 1968, he was back in the United States, and over much of the next four decades earned a living wage subsisting on odd jobs and help from his mother as he moved from place to place, with stints in New York, California, Washington state and Hawaii. Things weren’t always great, but there was a roof over his head. And then came Josie.

It was 2004. Joe had been living in the Philippines for about a year, living off the interest from an inheritance from his mother, when his psychiatrist suggested he hire a live-in maid because he hadn’t cleaned his Manila apartment in more than a year.

Josie showed up at his door. “Right from the beginning, we fell in love,” he said.

They were married a short while later. Their daughter was born in 2006, and a year later, they moved to Loma Linda in San Bernardino County, where they lived in a “very small, but very comfortable apartment.” The marriage was a rocky one, which he blames on his own upbringing.

“My family is dysfunctional, extremely, is as dysfunctional as a family can be without actually flying apart,” he said. “It was always screaming, weeping, crying, insulting, criticizing etc., so I did that to my wife, whose family never did that.”

In 2011, they traveled to Josie’s hometown, Zamboanga City, in the Philippines, moving from apartment to apartment. Josie started a few businesses, but they all failed. By 2013, he recalls, she told him, “Get me back in the USA, I don’t like it here.” He flew to Los Angeles, with plans for her to follow later — but no plan of where to stay once he left the airport.

Even living on the street, Joe was sending money back to Josie from his Supplemental Security Income, a federal program for the elderly, blind and disabled. After a while, he couldn’t afford to continue. “I heard from her when she needed money and then, when I stopped sending her money, I haven’t heard from her,” Joe said. She last contacted him in December. I reached out to Josie through email and Facebook, but she did not respond.

Nonetheless, Joe is keen to bring his wife to the U.S. While his strategy may be a doubtful one, he persists: To earn a visa for Josie, he needs to demonstrate to Immigration and Customs Enforcement that he can support her. Thus, his coursework at UCLA.

Sevgi Cacina, a film student at UCLA Extension who is making a documentary about Joe, first approached him after she saw him pitch his skills as an actor and producer at networking events. The crowd typically doesn’t know what to make of Joe, but one thing is certain, she said: “He’s not joking.”

He’s even enlisted some help. Screenwriter Brooks Elms said Joe enrolled in an online course that Elms taught through UCLA Extension in 2015, during which Joe diligently completed each assignment. After the course concluded, the students invited Elms to lunch in Westwood.

“Joe came to that lunch, rolled his cart right there from the street, and asked how he could get a movie made,” Elms wrote in an email. “I asked why he was even spending money on a film class when he could be spending it on basic survival needs, and he was determined to learn about the film business and make something happen that way.”

Elms said he’s now helping Joe make a film about Joe’s life on the streets.

“We plan [to] post it online with hopes it will bring him some much-needed income,” Elms wrote.

Until that happens, Joe remains on the street and sleeps in a sleeping bag in Westwood. Mostly, he’s tenacious about his plan, but sometimes his resolve lapses.

“This is as close to work as I got, giving an interview for a lunch,” he said at the vegan joint, “which is extremely disconcerting to me, because now I’m afraid I’ll never get my wife and daughter back.”

Joe’s separation from his wife and daughter is “an overwhelming tragedy that pervades my being every moment. … It causes anxiety, depression and every bad feeling.” Any kind of spiritual activity, from Mass to a 12-step meeting, relieves the pain of those feelings.

One day, on a visit to the Seventh-day Adventist church in Santa Monica — which he calls “Simcha Monica” — he ran into a Chabad missionary near the church.

As a lapsed Jew with a spotty relationship to the tribe, he was nervous about allowing the rabbi to lay tefillin on him. So he thought about it, and prayed about it, and decided he’d better drop by a Chabad.

“If I’m striving for God to help me, in everything, then I got no better or worse chance at the Chabad Lubavitch synagogue than I got anyplace else, so I’ll go,” he said. “So I started going. The more I went, the more I started feeling that … if I know what’s good for me, I better add Roman Catholic and Muslim to the places I pray.”

Basileia Community church elder Bill Horst bows his head and prays for Joe Wedner after a service in Hollywood.

Joe’s schedule for religious services is noncommittal and wide-ranging, though it leans Christian. Perhaps his favorite place to pray is a Christian congregation called the Basileia Community, which meets in a Baptist church in Hollywood. At one point, he was going twice a week, on Tuesdays and Sundays, while attending Roman Catholic services on Mondays and Thursdays and Chabad or Seventh-day Adventist services on Saturdays.

Lately, school has interfered with his attendance, and he’s often forced to stay around UCLA for services. One Sunday in December, I agreed to drive him to Basileia. We met on the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Le Conte Avenue with boisterous crowds of students surging by. He looked even smaller than I remembered, dressed in two coats and too-long pants that he’d rolled up at the cuff over a scuffed pair of brown loafers.

I loaded his pushcart, with its one broken wheel, into my car, and we set off for church.

On the way, I decided to raise the issue of permanent supportive housing — apartments made available by the city and county expressly for chronically homeless and mentally ill individuals like Joe. Los Angeles voters recently passed Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond that earmarks most of the funds precisely for building this type of housing. Joe conceded that it would be nice to have a toilet of his own, and the privacy to have company.

But “it might not be around here,” he speculated as we turned onto Wilshire Boulevard. “Then I’d have to wait for a bus and ride the bus and wait for a bus back … then it would slow down my saving up that $60,000 I need to show to get my wife over here.”

By now his foot was tapping violently enough to shake the car. The topic clearly made him anxious.

His thoughts are scattered, with a tendency to trail off or pivot wildly. On occasion, an unrelated question will reveal a heretofore-unexplored saga in Joe’s life.

By the time we reached Basileia, a question about his wife inadvertently had revealed details of the money he had inherited from his mother: Between 1984 and 2007, he said, he played the stock market, growing $250,000 into more than $800,000 at one point and living off the interest. When the market crashed 10 years ago, Joe said his bank account flat-lined.

As we walked into the church, people were schmoozing around a light buffet. Joe wasted no time in loading up a plate with fruit and breakfast rolls. It had been some time since he had been here, and several people approached him to say hello. A massive man with a kind face and a blond bun, the drummer in the congregation’s music ensemble, greeted Joe with a fist-bump.

Explaining my presence there as a Jewish Journal reporter, I mentioned that Joe was Jewish.

“I didn’t know you were Jewish, Joe!” a fellow churchgoer interjected.

I was mortified for outing him, but Joe was unfazed.

“I’m all things,” he explained.

For Joe, God is in every religion, all beliefs, indiscriminately and without exception. He likes Basileia for its inclusiveness and the kindness of his members. But it has no monopoly on his faith.

The band started to play and the hymns began to flow. “Holy Spirit, come fill this place!” the congregants sang, sitting in a semicircle under the exposed rafters of the tall, gabled roof.

The gathering was a dressed-down affair, community-oriented and progressive. The room flickered softly with the glow of candles and Christmas lights, and a plain, wooden cross overlooked the scene.

While the music played, Joe crossed his legs and tilted his head downward, staring just past his interlaced fingers, his white beard fanning out over his UCLA Extension T-shirt. The pastor, Suz Born, a bespectacled woman with a soft voice and the measured demeanor of a kindergarten teacher, kneeled next to him with her hands raised in the air.

Joe Wedner shows off a T-shirt reflecting his enrollment in UCLA Extension while standing on a corner in Westwood in December.

Soon, the music slowed to three or four chords repeated on an acoustic guitar. The frenzied foot tapping that had shaken my car had slowed to a soft, irregular beat.

When the service broke up, he stuck around to chat with friends and acquaintances, indulging them in detailed explanations of his theology. “The only reasonable conclusion is that God is mentally ill,” I overheard him saying.

He shares his theory widely, even if to awkward laughs or kind dismissals. It doesn’t earn him many friends. The Roman Catholics and Seventh-day Adventists say he’s blaspheming God. He says they’re blaspheming God by calling his truth blasphemy, since truth is God.

After services ended, church elder Bill Horst sat beside Joe to pray with him, resting his head on his hand and concentrating intensely. Later, Horst told me he prays for Joe to experience the mental soundness that often eludes him and to find a way off the streets.

Horst said that despite “packaging that’s a little tricky to get past,” Joe gets along OK at Basileia. At one point, he was making sexual overtures to single women there in a way that made them uncomfortable, Horst said — but church leaders sat him down and asked him to respect certain boundaries, and to his credit, he did.

“Someone can have a meaningful relationship with someone like Joe even if they find that difficult to imagine,” Horst told me on the phone later. “There is something real and coherent and worthwhile there if you’re willing to look for it.”

As people began to file out of the church, Joe headed to a basement room to pick up some donated food. He made a beeline for the fruits and vegetables. “There’s salad over here, boyfriend,” a homeless woman called out to him. But the salads were of the prepacked grocery store variety, and some had meat in them, so he passed over them. Even with his dietary restrictions, food is the least of his worries. Between panhandling and food banks, he has plenty. If he lacks for something, it’s not provisions but companionship.

“I need friends,” he said at Basileia. “My family is gone, so I need friends. Inshallah” — if God wills it.

Joe’s first serious brush with Christianity came during a lockup in Washington State Penitentiary in January 1978, when he was 37. He’d enrolled in a university-level accounting course in Tacoma, Wash., hoping it would set him on a path to quick riches. But he was failing and frustrated. One day, he decided somebody was driving too fast down his street, so he took out a loaded .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun and brandished it, yelling, on his porch. He was imprisoned for 25 months before his mother, an attorney, managed to get his sentence vacated on a technicality.

Prison was not a welcoming place. “The guards were unfriendly and the prisoners were even more unfriendly,” he said.

The only people who would speak with him were the missionaries.

“The Christian missionaries were there every day. I saw Jewish missionaries there once the whole 25 months I was there,” he said. “So naturally, I read the Christian Bible — a few times.”

He acquainted himself well with the text and continues to read and reread it. He keeps one in his pushcart. These days, one of Joe’s favorite verses to quote is the Man of Sorrows in Isaiah 53: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

It’s not hard to puzzle out why he’s so fond of the verse. On the one hand, it’s easy to imagine Joe as Isaiah’s outcast, “pierced for our transgressions … crushed for our iniquities.”

On the other hand, it’s a potent illustration of a capricious and unsparing God, doling out suffering: Why would any but a mentally ill God cause one man to suffer for all the rest?

And so, my question for Joe was, why go to such great lengths to worship a God he believes — fervently — to be insane? Joe’s theology and his delusions often are baroque, but they’re pieced together from pieces of simple, direct logic. To my spiritual question came a pragmatic answer.

On weeks he goes to prayer services and reads from the Bible, he said, “things coincidentally or not coincidentally go better. And so I just keep doing it.”

’40s protester sees Trump-era parallels

Gerald L.K. Smith, left, and Bernard A. Doman on April 16, 1942

In November 1943, June Sale, a UCLA student, was part of a demonstration at Los Angeles Polytechnic High School against Gerald L.K. Smith, the most prominent anti-Semite of the time.

Listening to the speeches inside the auditorium, she recalled recently, “I became nauseated and teary. I decided to leave.  As I got to the foyer of the auditorium, a police officer arrested me, told me I was disturbing the meeting and walked me to the police paddy wagon.”

I learned of her long-ago bust in one of the emails she sends to friends, often writing of her anger over where President Donald Trump is taking the country. I was intrigued by the story of her arrest, and by the picture she included of herself talking to her lawyer before going on trial, which appeared in the now-defunct Los Angeles Daily News (the one that folded in 1954, not the current Woodland Hills-based newspaper). I wanted to know more. So my wife, Nancy, and I talked with her early in April over lunch at her home above Sunset Boulevard. We have been friends since we met June and her late husband, Sam, on Barbara Isenberg’s London theater tour several years ago.

As she told the story of her life, I saw that it reflected an almost forgotten era of Jewish Los Angeles, when anti-Semitism was rampant and a beleaguered Jewish community pondered how to fight it. “It was just something that happened to me over and over again,” she recalled of the anti-Semitism of her high school days in Pasadena.

June was born at White Memorial Hospital in Boyle Heights in 1924. Boyle Heights was then home to immigrants of many ethnicities and a hotbed of Jewish progressive politics.  Her parents, Ben and Bertha Solnit, were immigrants from a town on the Russian-Polish border. Ben learned the shoe business from the bottom up and grew prosperous. When their son was ill with bronchitis, his pediatrician advised them to move to a hotter, drier place. They chose Sierra Madre, near Pasadena, a center for right-wing politics and one of several communities riddled with anti Semitism.

Although Jews were among the founders of Los Angeles in the 19th century, Midwesterners who made the growing city a white Protestant conservative place soon outnumbered them. Restrictive covenants kept Jews — and African-Americans, Asians and Latinos — from some neighborhoods. Clubs would not admit Jews nor would fancy downtown law firms hire them.

In high school, June said, “all my friends who were not Jewish joined sororities and they were told not to talk to me.”   When she was elected president of a student YWCA group in junior high school, a vice principal said she could not accept the job because the group recited Christian prayers and Jews could not join them.

The Solnits wouldn’t take it. “I’m a better citizen then you’ll ever be,” Bertha Solnit told another school vice principal when he refused to permit June to use transfer credits to graduate and lectured Bertha on what he considered the citizenship obligations of immigrants. 

Their determination to fight anti-Semitism, as well as their liberal political views, put the Solnits firmly in the ranks of pro-labor, progressive Jews — usually immigrants or children of immigrants. They were at odds with more politically conservative Jews who wanted to get along with the city’s Republican powers and didn’t approve of the liberal activists’ confrontational tactics with anti-Semites.

June accompanied her father to meetings of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, which was helping anti-Franco forces in the Spanish Civil War and campaigning to rescue Jews and other victims of Hitler. President Harry S. Truman’s Justice Department later blacklisted the committee, an action overturned by the Supreme Court.

“The grown-ups were passionate, worried and concerned,” June wrote of the meetings. “The discussions were often difficult for me to comprehend, but I do remember the point of the gatherings was to find ways to bring refugees from Spain and Europe to safety. [President Franklin] Roosevelt had turned away Jews trying to escape the Holocaust and refugees from Spain were not welcome here.”

Liberal outrage was intense when Gerald L.K. Smith spoke at Poly High in 1943. Sam and June had married and he was overseas with the Army Air Corps. June, still at UCLA, had been on a union picket line during a strike against the studios. Impressed with her demeanor, one of the strike captains, a man named Irving, asked her to join a labor-sponsored demonstration against Smith.

After her arrest, she said, “I was greeted in the paddy wagon by other ‘disturbers’ and we were whisked off to jail. The women were placed in cells with prostitutes who had been arrested. Irving had observed my arrest and soon came to my rescue. He was able to pay my bail and I was released early in the morning. Believing I would be the first person out of the dungeon, I took everyone’s phone number on a piece of toilet paper (the guard loaned us a pencil) so I could call a contact and tell what had happened.”

All of the charges were dismissed. “The police were required to identify us and they couldn’t,” she wrote in an email. “Strangely enough, we all looked quite different from the time we were arrested.”

She concluded her email about her arrest by saying, “You may ask why I bring this moment in my history up at this time. Well, I think we are headed for rough and difficult times as we face the Trump years. America First was a theme of the thirties, anti-Semitism is on the rise, the rich are getting richer, the middle class is disappearing and the poor are getting poorer. We must organize against this growing threat of ‘America First.’ ”

June graduated from UCLA. She and Sam raised a family and generously supported progressive causes, no matter how unpopular. She became a preschool teacher, started Los Angeles’ first Head Start program and was in charge of child care services at UCLA for 10 years. Then for 18 years, she was a court-appointed special advocate, going from court to court, home to home, looking after the welfare of some of the 35,000 children in the Los Angeles County foster care program.

“When you get old, gray and sleepless, you may find, as I do, that your memories of days gone by keep you company,” she wrote.

Her memories keep us company, too. The issues have changed. The immigrants are no longer Jewish refugees, but Latinos and those fleeing war-torn Muslim-majority nations. Episodes of anti-Semitism are increasing. But the challenges remain the same as they were when June Sale joined the picket line at Poly High.

BILL BOYARSKY is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Israelis to teach choreography, media arts at UCLA

Royce Hall 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.”n

Is Zionism a bad word?

With characteristic poise, Rabbi David Wolpe turned to the three panelists onstage at Sinai Temple on a recent Wednesday evening, in front of a sellout crowd of some 250 people.

“I’m going to start with a quick yes-or-no question,” he began. “Do you believe that people under 35 are less attached to the State of Israel than they were 30 years ago?”

On either side of me were Rabbi Sarah Bassin, 34, of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, and Sam Yebri, 35, a lawyer, accomplished leaders in their respective Jewish communities, progressive and Persian. Each answered immediately in the affirmative. And then there was me — the only millennial on the panel, feeling intellectually outmatched, my headset pressing uncomfortably into the back of my skull.

“Yes,” I answered quickly.

And yet, in my mind, I was already hedging, picking at the very premise of the question. I scribbled the phrase “less attached” on the legal pad perched on my knee and frowned at it. Of course my generation is less attached to Israel. Is a parent less attached to an 18-year-old child than to a defenseless toddler taking its first steps into the world?

That’s the difference the past 30 years have wrought for Israel: from a state struggling out of its uncertain beginnings to a proud and mighty nation. Over the generations, the meaning of the word “Israel” has changed, and consequently, inevitably, so has the meaning of the word “Zionism.”

“No one in the Jewish community supported a Palestinian state — I mean, no one, post-1967,” Wolpe said at the March 15 panel about young Zionists, sponsored by Hadassah and the Jewish Journal. “Then, a Palestinian state became orthodoxy. Everybody in the Jewish community supported a Palestinian state. Now, it’s becoming unorthodox again.”

The pendulum has swung wildly and often. What began in Europe as a movement of socialists and atheists to re-establish a Jewish homeland these days often feels monopolized by the religious right.

“Instead of creating bridges, we are contributing to the conflict between East and West by our stupid desire to have more.”
—A.B. Yehoshua, Israeli author

Each generation defines and redefines Zionism to suit its needs and circumstances. It’s a task that becomes more and more difficult, as each passing year is another separating today’s youth from the movement’s inception.

By the time I enrolled at UCLA, Zionism was read in many circles as a type of extremism. “Really?” an editor at the UCLA Daily Bruin once said to me after I professed to being a Zionist. “I didn’t expect that.” I read his meaning well enough: How could a person who seems to be reasonable also be a Zionist?

It used to be that the definition was a simpler and easier one, dictated by ironclad concerns of Jewish continuance and survival. Such was the case, for instance, in the Galician shtetl where my paternal grandfather was born, where Zionism meant young people training together in preparation to cultivate the land that would shortly become their only refuge.

In 1939, my great uncle, Mordechai Arom, was one such youth, preparing to join his brother, my grandfather Shmuel, in Mandatory Palestine, when their mother took ill. Mordechai was ready to stay in Poland to care for his dying mother, but she called him to her bedside and commanded him to go. With her dying act, she became the matriarch of a Zionist tradition that still holds. The first day Mordechai arrived in Palestine, he received a telegram that she’d died. His first week in the Holy Land was spent sitting shivah for his mother.

For my grandfather Shmuel, in the years after the war, Zionism meant building an observant congregation in Rishon LeZion even while questioning the God that sent his relatives to be slaughtered en masse. He died in 1964, struck by a car while collecting alms for the temple, later named Neve Shmuel in his honor.

Zionism intruded on my mother at Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, on June 10, 1967, when news came over the radio in Mr. Cameron’s 12th-grade history class that Israeli troops had taken the Western Wall plaza. My mother was visibly emotional, so the teacher dismissed her to the library, where she wept.

After college, she got on an airplane — for the first time ever — and flew to Jerusalem, not knowing a soul in Israel, not a cousin, not a second cousin, nobody. She stayed for two years. “As soon as I knew there was a State of Israel, I knew I had to go,” she said.

Those years marked an inflection point for Zionism. It had started almost a century earlier as a whisper, an outlandish notion popularized by Theodor Herzl, a peripatetic journalist and self-identified atheist. It began, if you will, as a bad word, denounced by much of the Jewish establishment as a Messianic affectation. In 1880, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the founder of Hebrew Union College, wrote, “We want no Jewish princes, and no Jewish country or government.”

“Zionism demands a publicly recognized and legally secured homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people. This platform is unchangeable.”
—Theodor Herzl, father of modern Zionism

Of course, the attainment of such a country in 1948 changed everything. My mother was born three years later, and the first 16 years of her life were marked by an aspirational Zionism, with Israel as the David to an Arab Goliath.

That Zionism reached its high point in 1967, with Israel’s astonishing victory in the Six-Day War. Then, Israel enjoyed the world’s admiration. Today, pro-Palestinian activists, including thousands of Jews, see 1967 as the beginning of the occupation — the moment the Jewish people went from oppressed to oppressor.

That unlikely triumph has come back to haunt the conscience of American Jewish youth, who have never known any Zionism other than one of victory and strength.

Meanwhile, the 80-year history of flight, toil and fear of death that my parents and grandparents experienced as Zionism is regularly obliterated by the reductionist slogans of pro-Palestinian groups and their allies, for whom a Zionist is an occupier, Jews are the White Man and oppression in Palestine is no different from oppression in Ferguson, Mo.

Nearly half a century after my mother graduated from UCLA, African-American activist Amy Hunter was invited by Students for Justice in Palestine to speak at UCLA’s campus as part of Palestine Awareness Week.

“We will not be free here in the United States if they are not free in Palestine,” she told a small but diverse audience, their fingers snapping in agreement. “I’m clear about that.”

It’s not as if the “Zionism-is-racism” equivalence is news. My mom remembers campus leftists asserting as much in the early 1970s. In response, she and her Hillel buddies walked around with pins that read, “I am a Zionist.”

Those pins still might be a good idea today. In 2017, campus Zionists face a movement that bills itself as a global liberation struggle. In the parlance of that struggle, “Zionist” is a slur, and the connections and political opinions it suggests have become so toxic as to discourage its use, even among many who ostensibly support Jewish statehood. Imagine if people who don’t eat meat balked at calling themselves vegetarians.

Among the reasons for my invitation to speak at Sinai Temple are the many conversations I have in the course of my reporting with members of the Jewish far left, including the group IfNotNow, a diffuse network of young Jews openly challenging the Jewish establishment for its support of the status quo in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

It’s neither the largest nor the most influential pro-Palestinian Jewish group, but it’s the newest and, because of its confrontational approach, perhaps the most worrisome for mainstream Jewish organizations. Lately, I’ve taken to asking members of IfNotNow if they consider themselves to be Zionists.

Unanimously, they decline to be quoted by name and then give variations of the same answer: I’ve moved past the term. It doesn’t apply. It’s beside the point. I don’t identify either way.

These young people are neither Zionist nor anti-Zionist — they’re post-Zionist.

In fact, IfNotNow and its constituency seem to be in the minority of young people in that they care about Israel at all. A Pew Research Cemter poll in 2013 found that among Jews 18 to 29 years old, 32 percent said caring about Israel is essential to being Jewish, compared with 53 percent of Jews age 65 and older.

Within that slice of young Jews, there is, of course, a considerable range of opinion. Among such groups as IfNotNow and J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace, caring means advocating a Palestinian state for the sake of maintaining a Jewish one.

But on the other hand, when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee convenes its annual policy conference later this month in Washington, D.C., you can bet there will be plenty of Jewish youth in attendance for whom caring about Israel means something very different. Just ask Ron Krudo, executive director of campus affairs for the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, which is active on high school and college campuses across the country. Notwithstanding anti-Israel sentiment, students “are excited to share their stories of being a proud Zionist, and what Zionism means to them.”

“Even on some of these tougher campuses, you can always find a student who’s inspired to take action and be a voice,” said Krudo, 26.

Yet the fact remains that most young Jews can’t be bothered to care, or at least don’t feel their Judaism compels them to. For many, the question of Zionism is so fraught with contradiction that it’s much easier just to swear it off entirely.

I’m not immune to my generation’s ambivalence on the matter of Jewish nationalism. In the vocabulary of my education on a liberal campus, the word “nationalist” is likely to follow the word “white” or “militant” or “ultra.” In other words, mine is a Zionism that’s not without reservations.

“Let no American imagine that Zionism is inconsistent with patriotism. Multiple loyalties are objectionable only if they are inconsistent.”
— Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis

But to say that I’m post-Zionist would be tantamount to saying that I’m post-Jewish — which is simple and easy but altogether untrue. The struggle for Jewish nationhood was written into my biography long before I was born.

After all, if it weren’t for the itinerant Zionism that motivated my grandfather Shmuel to drag his wife, the daughter of a cultured and well-to-do German-Jewish family, to hardscrabble Palestine, where they slept in tents and toiled without end, it might very well have been somebody else’s byline on this story; I may well have never been born. Israel is the center of gravity for world Jewry. You may object to its pull, but you simply can’t free yourself from its orbit.

To be sure, mine is not the blustering, self-assured Zionism of my parents. Even having this conversation with my mother sets her singing an interminable series of Israeli folk songs. Recently, standing in her kitchen, I pressed her on whether she truly believes that God gave us all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. “Listen,” she replied, “I don’t know who gave it to us, but it’s ours.”

I’m not so sure about that. But that doesn’t mean we’re not part of the same movement, she and I, the same multigenerational struggle for identity and soil. The panel at Sinai Temple landed repeatedly on the idea of “big-tent Zionism.” The tent has to be big enough for my parents and me.

Sometimes, that prospect feels doubtful. But nothing could be more necessary for the continuance of the movement. If Zionism is little more than a narrow political creed, it can be shouted down or reasoned away. What ultimately will win over the next generation of Zionists is what Yebri called “the beautiful aspect and miraculous magical aspect of Zionism.”

The miracle, in short, is that in 80 years, we have moved from total disempowerment to a position of such security and strength that we can argue bitterly among ourselves about what to do with it. It’s a compelling narrative, if we can capitalize on it.

“One of the strongest indicators of having a strong Jewish identity, beyond campus and education and peer trips to Israel, is a Jewish grandparent that identifies strongly with his or her Judaism, and I would submit that follows for Zionism,” Yebri told the crowd at Sinai Temple. “So if you’re a parent or a grandparent in this room who feels strongly about Israel … don’t delegate it to school or a book or Birthright, because by that point it’s too late.”

I suspect that many of the Jewish youth who have distanced themselves from Zionism aren’t as familiar with the Zionist narrative of their forebears as they are with today’s more politically charged definitions. If they were, they might be more likely to adopt it, baggage and all. It is, after all, an enthralling story, with no small share of heroes and martyrs.

A decade after sitting shivah for his mother, Mordechai, my great uncle, closed out his own life by sacrificing it to the Zionist cause — cut down while defending his village in Gush Etzion during the War of Independence. This, before Green Lines and settlement blocs and two-state solutions.

If the next Jewish generation wants to be part of a global struggle for liberation, then it may as well be our own. 

A cartoon protest threatens to redefine free-speech

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

There are few countries in the world – perhaps a few Islamic countries, India, Ireland – that define themselves for the world as being inextricably identified with their majority religion as Israel.  Israel is the “Jewish” state.  It wants to be seen as the Jewish state.  In certain arenas – say in negotiations with Palestinian entities – it demands to be acknowledged as the Jewish state.  I make no judgments about that. 

But if you’re going to identify as Jewish, seriously Jewish, there’s no way you can separate that identity from the Torah.  It’s the primary source of our learning, the blueprint for how Jews are supposed to live as a community, the foundation of the Jewish people.  And what more basic element could there be in the Torah than “The Ten Commandments,” mentioned twice in the Torah:  Exodus 20:2, and repeated in Deuteronomy 5:6, and of which “Thou shalt not steal” is number eight (acknowledging that this can vary with interpretations – just as there are a number of interpretations of what “steal” exactly means).  “Steal” might mean steal another person – kidnapping.  It might mean taking what doesn’t belong to you.  It might mean a lot of things, but there is so much in our teachings, including about a dozen mitzvoth regarding respecting private properties and just due process, not to mention the Tenth Commandment regarding coveting the possession of others, that we all pretty much get the picture. 

So if the Ten Commandments and other mitzvot are at least one of the cornerstones of the Torah, and the Torah is the foundation of Judaism, and Israel is the Jewish state, then someone who decides to draw a political cartoon using the Ten Commandments to criticize Israeli policy would appear to be on pretty solid ground.  That’s what a UCLA contributing cartoonist, Felipe Bris Abejón did when he published a cartoon in the “Daily Bruin” newspaper, a cartoon now notorious for having been criticized as anti-Semitic and withdrawn by the paper with apologies.  The cartoon  in question, shows Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, standing in front of two commandments, one (listed as #6) with a word crossed off:  “Though shalt not steal” and another (listed as #7) “Thou shalt not kill.”  The caption says, “Israel passes law seizing any Palestinian land,” and Netanyahu is saying, “#7 is next.” 

The caption, of course, refers to the Netanyahu controlled Knesset recently passing a law retroactively legalizing both housing and  makeshift “outposts,” at the time illegally built on Palestinian land and bringing them under Israeli sovereignty.  Some are recent; some go back decades.  Palestinian landowners would have to accept either “alternate plots” or financial compensation.  Clearly the “Regularization Law,” doesn’t mean “any Palestinian land.”  On the other hand, it does look a lot like theft of the weaker party by the stronger – never a good marketing image.  You can say it’s not theft because compensation is involved, but if someone 6’ 8” and 275 pounds, with a gun, stopped you on the street, took your watch, and offered you fifty bucks for it, take it or leave it, you’d probably still want to call a cop.  The law has been vigorously opposed by the opposition in Israel and will be appealed to its Supreme Court.   

Netanyahu’s threat to do the same thing with number seven – killing – is more problematic.  That commandment is usually meant to mean, thou shalt not murder, and once again, there are is a raft of commentary on this commandment.  To attribute to the Prime Minister the intention to implement as law, a policy to murder or in some way kill (the implication being Palestinians) is going pretty far, although there are those – and not just bizarre outliers – who would argue that this has been de facto policy for some time. 

The cartoon was strongly protested and condemned by various groups – some calling it anti-Semitic – including the anti-Defamation League, campus organizations, and even state legislators.  The ADL called it “deeply offensive….and impugning core Jewish beliefs.”  Many were outraged that the cartoon “mixed politics with religion.”  Danny Siegel, president of UCLA’s Undergraduate Student Association Council, declared in a statement: “As a Jewish student at UCLA, I am disgusted by the anti-Semitic claim in my school newspaper that the Israeli government is purposefully using my Jewish faith to justify policy matter.”

But is that what it was doing, and is the cartoon anti-Semitic?  To me the cartoon isn’t using Jewish faith to justify policy – quite the opposite.  It’s pointing out that policy is violating tenets of Jewish faith.  It doesn’t say that Judaism calls for theft and murder; it cries out that Judaism abhors theft and murder at a fundamental level, and any attempt to legitimize it through acts of law are extremely troubling and should be scrutinized in the cold, harsh sunshine of First Amendment exposure. 

As for anti-Semitic, does the cartoon call for the destruction of the Jewish people – the spurious argument by those who label the BDS movement (which I categorically reject as wrong and wrong-headed) anti-Semitic?  No, it does not?  Does it equate Netanyahu with all Jewish people or even all Israelis?  No, it does not?  Does it equate Judaism with the abandonment of it’s mitzvot?  No, it does not.  Rather it accuses the Prime Minister of having somehow lost his way as the head of the state he so aggressively insists is Jewish, an accusation made in a variety of arguments by the opposition in his own country. 

Condemnation of the cartoon decried the fact that Abejón dragged religion into his commentary, but how can mixing politics with religion be out of bounds when discussing Israeli settlement policy, when the entire settlement history is inextricably entwined, from day one, with religious fervor and aspiration.  Somehow, the very use of religion, despite the fact that Israel identifies its very existence as religiously-based, is a taboo crossing into forbidden territory.  No one chose to defend the cornerstone of American democracy – free speech. 

Yes, Jewish history is unique.  Yes, we have been persecuted since the days of Sinai, and yes, in particular for our religion.  But that doesn’t not inoculate either Israel or Judaism from pointed and aggressive argument, and it does not allow for increasingly self-serving definitions of anti-Semitism.  The effort to steadily and relentless expand the definition of anti-Semitic, in confrontation with free speech, does not do us credit, just as the equally steady and relentless effort to equate criticism of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism does Jews equal harm.  The “I know it when I see it” argument was dubious when used to define pornography; it is not improved when a certain segment of our demographic is allowed to define anti-Semitism for everyone, particularly public educational institutions – where the marketplace of ideas should most energetically flourish. 

The “Daily Bruin” quickly apologized and more. “This was a mistake that should have been caught at any point in the process, and it didn’t get caught,” said editor-in-chief, Tanya Walters. Was it?  Apparently no one thought so as it went to press.  I’m assuming a lot of people saw it.  I’m sure what they thought they saw was edgy, provocative commentary, not beyond-the-pale anti-Semitism.  Criticism that reminds us of our roots, our heritage, our connection to God may be uncomfortable – perhaps should be uncomfortable.  But it’s not illegal, not anti-Semitic, and should not be suppressed. 

Mitch Paradise is a writer, producer and teacher living in Los Angeles. 

Letters to the editor: Fear of Muslims, praise for Bret Stephens, quiet Trump supporters

Photo from Pexels.

‘Kapos’ and Auschwitz

I read the letter from a survivor indicating that all “kapos” at Auschwitz were of the German criminal groups assigned to Auschwitz (Letters, Feb. 24). With all due respect, and I hesitate to take historical issue with survivors whose act of witness I revere, but I must. While that may have been true of his experience, it is not true of Auschwitz and certainly not of other camps.

Michael Berenbaum, Director of Sigi Ziering Institute, American Jewish University via email

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

My husband is not afraid of heights. He is not afraid of snakes. And he is not afraid of the sun (“The Rabbi Speaks Out,” Feb. 10). But, he is very scared of Muslims — Muslim mentality and Muslim savagery. I know because I have heard him repeat it daily for the past 46 years. 

He is afraid of Muslims because as a child living as a Jew among them, he was already witness to many atrocities committed by them.

Your mother-in-law’s aunts and uncles and cousins were murdered in the Holocaust, as were mine, but my husband’s kin were slaughtered in the streets of Algiers by Muslims.

Yes, Jews have been refugees and immigrants and have been given safe haven, myself included.

But Jews do not terrorize. Jews do not massacre. Jews do not create havoc worldwide.

I am proud of my husband because, unlike many North American Jews who either suffer from short-term memory or are brainwashed, he always remembers the inhumanity and is never afraid of being politically incorrect.

He is not afraid of speaking out against Muslims, the perpetrators of so much repeated evil against the Jews and against the world.

Naomi Atlani via email

Smart Words About Trump

I read your article on Bret Stephens taking on Donald Trump (“Five Dumb Words,” Feb. 24.) I have never been so moved. This put everything in perspective.

I want everyone I know to see this, even though I know true Trump supporters would make an excuse that this is liberal BS. They will not hear it.

Thank you for publishing this and do not stop.

Sherry Pollack via email

Daily Bruin Cartoon

I can see how some people would find the editorial cartoon that appeared in the Daily Bruin offensive, but as a Jew I believe it’s important not to assume that cartoons and articles critical of Israeli policies are necessarily either anti-Israel or anti-Semitic (“Bruin Cartoon Assailed as Anti-Semitic,” Feb. 17). I protested vigorously against the policies of the United States during the Vietnam War and approved of cartoons and articles that did the same. However, I certainly was/am not anti-American. Likewise, many of us who decry the continued building of settlements that encroach on Palestinian land are against this Israeli policy, but are not against Israel and are not anti-Semitic.

Barbara Bilson via email

No Bull From Suissa

Recently, I was introduced to David Suissa in a restaurant. When he asked me which side I am on, I responded, “On the right side: the left.” Thus, one might surmise that I often disagree with his views. However, in his recent column (“Is Trump Worse Than a Liar?” Feb. 24) he hit the nail on the head regarding Donald Trump. To summarize, he explains how bullshit is the greater enemy of truth than lies. While liars know, but manipulate the truth, bullshitters are unanchored to the truth and create “alternate realities.” I would go a step further. Although I am neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist, I believe that a tenuous connection to reality is usually diagnosed as schizophrenia. The more common term is madness. May God have mercy on us all.  

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

Instigating the ‘Haters’

While I agree with the nuances covered by Shmuel Rosner (“Spite Doesn’t Make Trump Anti-Semitic,” Feb. 24), unless one has been and still is like a proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, Trump’s vitriol, rhetoric and hate encourages haters to act out. Yes, some are anti-Semitic.

Whether or not he is a friend of Israel and has a daughter and grandchildren who are Jewish, actions have consequences and his are the worst ever in the White House.

Bottom line: Anti-Semitism is on the rise due to his comments and lack of respect for all.

Warren J. Potash, Moorpark

Silent Support for Trump

The demonizing of Donald Trump in the Jewish Journal will solidify his victory in the 2020 election, as it did in 2016. Unlike the liberal opposition, unlike the Democratic opposition, the backers of Trump are a quiet lot. They do not send hate letters, they do not burn office buildings, they respect the U.S. Constitution, they do not denigrate the founding fathers, but their determination to restore the values that enabled us to defeat the enemies of freedom in World War II will again prevail, thanks to them.

Philip Springer, Pacific Palisades

Letters to the Editor: Daily Bruin Cartoon, David Friedman and ‘Kapos,’ Federation Stance

Misreading UCLA Cartoon

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

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

I disagree with my assemblyman Richard Bloom’s depiction of UCLA’s Daily Bruin cartoon as anti-Semitic (“Bruin Cartoon Assailed as Anti-Semitic,” Feb. 17). The cartoon is not mocking the Jewish faith but mocking the prime minister of Israel for disgracing the foundational values of Judaism and other religions in his support for a law retroactively legalizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

As a newly elected California Democratic Party delegate in Bloom’s 50th Assembly District, I find public intimidation of the student journalists unsettling, particularly at a time when the far right of Israel is looking for cover to annex the entire West Bank and President Donald Trump is viciously attacking journalists.

In light of the most recent bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers, it behooves us all to focus on real anti-Semitism and not confuse the public or detract from ascendant hate speech and actions that threaten Jews, Muslims and people of color.

Marcy Winograd, Santa Monica

‘Kapos’ and David Friedman

With the current “kapo” controversy, I feel compelled to provide a clarification (“The Case Against David Friedman,” Feb. 17). It is understandable that Rob Eshman’s or David Friedman’s generation obviously had no exposure to actual kapos and only had diminished understanding of the actual facts.

As a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau-Buchenwald, I would like to make this correction: In Auschwitz-Birkenau, and most other concentration camps, kapos were German nationals. Almost all were German criminals serving life sentences. They were transferred from German prisons to the camps to empty many prisons in Germany. The vacancies were utilized for minor criminals with short-term sentences. Also other “undesirables” the Nazis could not afford to put into concentration camps because they could reveal the truth once they were released.

Jews were rarely trusted to execute the Germans’ commands, primarily because they did not speak or understand German. They also possibly were suspected to be too lenient.

Henry Oste via email

With the utmost respect, I beg to differ with Rob Eshman’s analysis of the case of David Friedman as our prospective United States Ambassador to Israel. Maybe we need another bulldog like Donald Trump in the guise of a hard-liner named David Friedman to be the solution.

I hope the readers of the Jewish Journal will continue to send in letters to the editor representing all spectrums of our diverse Jewish and non-Jewish community, and continue to donate to our great newspaper that glues us together instead of dividing us.

Richard Bernstein, Los Angeles

Federation Stance Ignores Teachings of Torah

I am both distressed and saddened by the report in the Jewish Journal that The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has decided to remain quiet with regard to current immigration issues (“Federation Stays Neutral on Trump Order, Despite Pressure,” Feb. 17).

To run away from taking a position because of “politics” is absurd. For us, it should not be a political issue; rather, it is an issue of decency in a Jewish context.

Does our holy Torah not say 36 times to help the stranger? That’s more, incidentally, than any other single reference made as we read and study it each year.

Does our tradition also not say “silence is agreement”?

And so, with 65 million immigrants in the world, we cannot spare even a word of objection to the issue?

I know we can do much better because in past generations, we have.

Irving Cramer, Venice, Calif.

As president battles press, public loses

President Donald Trump takes questions during a news conference at the White House on Feb. 16. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Journalism is no place for the sensitive. So when President Donald Trump said the press “is the enemy of the American people,” I didn’t retreat to a crying couch or whine.

I saw it as a warning from one enemy to another. We’re not the enemy of the American people. Rather, the press is the enemy of Trump, just as he is the enemy of journalists.

The press wants to know about his secretive dealings with Russia, his plan to dismantle Obamacare, what he intends to do about immigrants and other matters.  This isn’t idle curiosity or an effort to take down Trump. It’s the job of journalists to tell the American people what’s going on.

Trump opposes that. He is trying to silence reporters with the powerful tools he has at hand, possibly even prosecuting reporters and their sources in the manner of dictator-President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. To Trump, news is what he spews out, as he did at his interminable press conference earlier in the month.

Thus there is no chance of détente between the enemy camps. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to readers to explain what reporters do and why it is important to people.

My workweek is divided between writing for the Jewish Journal, the websites Truthdig and LAObserved and the UCLA quarterly Blueprint. I am also working on a memoir, “An American Journalist.” I’ll give you a few examples of what I do.

My columns for the Journal deal mostly with Jewish community news; I try to dig into the community and find good works that have been ignored. I discover them through a web of contacts built up over the years. For example, during the recession, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles led me to the new Jewish unemployed, often professional people who had been donors to charities but now depended on them. This gave me a view of the recession not seen in most mainstream publications. A column on rising rents facing elderly Jewish tenants took me to three Jewish social service agencies and to the representative of a developer seeking a rent increase.

Truthdig is different. It is a progressive website featuring national and international news. I express my liberal opinions but try to back them up with reporting. When Bernie Sanders’ national campaign staff did not return calls, I looked up the local campaign operation on Facebook, finding events and people who told me what was happening in the campaign. To write about the recent Women’s March, I pushed my way into a packed Metrorail train and through downtown crowds, interviewing people and shooting pictures with my iPhone, an effort I thought was pretty good for an 82-year-old.

This is conventional newsgathering. Reporters, if they stay in the business, enjoy the challenge. And they know the skills and determination developed in finding and writing about recipients of a Jewish charity are the same ones required in finding praiseworthy public-spirited citizens and officials — and nailing crooked campaign donors at city halls and the Capitol in Sacramento. Reporters are put to their greatest test in penetrating the maze of elected officials and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., experts in obfuscating.

Documents help penetrate the maze. So do interviews with officials, elected and non-elected. Part of a reporter’s skill is getting such people to talk — and to tell the truth. But sometimes it is too dangerous for these sources to risk their jobs. Yet the information is too important to remain hidden. So the official leaks it to a reporter with the promise of confidentiality.

The promise isn’t given lightly. The reporter must find out if the source is truthful — not an easy task. The source must trust the reporter enough to believe he or she will go to jail to protect his or her confidentiality.

Some leaks are self-serving. They are a great way to sideline a career rival. And that seems to be at the heart of some of the leaks from this unruly administration. But a growing number of news accounts indicate that many leaks come from intelligence officials and others concerned with dealings Trump and his staff had with the Russians before and after the inauguration. That’s serious. It’s the reason, I think, Trump has labeled the press an enemy of the American people.

But here’s my point: Turning the public against the press is a threat to democracy.  “If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and, many times, adversarial press,” said Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.  “And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictatorships get started.”

The public, if one poll is to be believed, narrowly says the Trump administration is more believable than the press. The survey, by Fox News, also showed a sharp partisan split with Republicans trusting Trump over the media by a wide margin, and Democrats similarly backing the press over Trump.

Hopefully, more McCains will emerge among the Republican majority in Congress. Until that happens, reporters had better remain insensitive to Trump and his talk of enemies as they push ahead in a search for the truth.

BILL BOYARSKY is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Israeli Chamber Project sets sights small for UCLA program

The Israeli Chamber Project, with Carmit Zori on violin and Assaff Weisman on piano, visits UCLA. Photos courtesy The Israeli Chamber Project

When members of the Israeli Chamber Project take the stage at the Jan Popper Theater in UCLA’s Schoenberg Music Building on Feb. 26, their interactions may provide a timely, if unintentional, example for U.S. residents and elected officials to follow amid today’s divisive political culture.

The ensemble’s leaderless music-making process — in the words of one of its pianists, Assaff Weisman — is comparable to the flexibility that successful politics demands.

“The ever-changing role of who leads a piece requires consensus and great respect for each other,” Weisman said. “When we’re on stage, we share in the duties of leadership to make a cohesive whole. Everybody contributes.”

Founded in 2008, the Project consists of distinguished 30-something musicians who get together throughout the year for chamber concerts and educational and outreach programs in Israel, the U.S. and other countries. It currently has 11 members, plus guest artists, who are deployed in different numbers and configurations depending on the program.

At UCLA, three Project members — Weisman, Carmit Zori on violin and Sivan Magen on harp — will take turns performing duets by J. S. Bach, Sebastian Currier, Carlos Salzedo, Claude Debussy and Béla Bartók.

Weisman, who offstage leads the group as its executive director, said “project” is the important word in its name. “We see our mission as ongoing, not finite,” he said. “We’re all about bringing music to as wide a public as possible.”

The UCLA concert, which will begin with Bach’s early 18th-century Sonata for Harpsichord and Violin in B Minor (BMV 1014), arranged for harp by Magen, follows the ensemble’s usual innovative programming of old and new music, except that this time it is traveling light.

“We’re doing a series of duos, which is unusual for us,” Weisman said. “We usually travel with a bigger group.”

Currier’s “Night Time” Suite for harp and violin from 2000, which follows Bach’s sonata, has a special place in the ensemble’s repertory — they performed it for their debut at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in 2012.

“The suite’s five short movements traverse different stages of the night,” Weisman said. “They are restless, quietly introspective pieces full of mystery.”

Weisman said he is especially excited about Salzedo’s 1922 Sonata for Harp and Piano. Indeed, the program at UCLA should be a feast for lovers of that ethereal instrument. Salzedo, a French harpist, pianist, composer and conductor from a Sephardic family, who died in 1961, also founded the harp program at the Institute of Musical Art in New York, which became The Juilliard School.

“There are not many works for harp and piano, and this is one of the best,” Weisman said. “It hardly ever gets performed. We try to take risks, and whether we’re performing old or new music, we push the envelope when we can.”

The idea for the Project came from its founder, Tibi Cziger, an Israeli clarinetist who is now its artistic director. Cziger, like Weisman, began his music studies in Israel and continued them at Juilliard.

“There was little to no support for the arts in Israel, so Tibi saw another way for us to develop our careers and address the musical brain-drain at home,” Weisman said. “Our mission became to give back to the places where we started — Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Haifa area — and to address a situation where musicians are compelled to find a career path elsewhere.”

Weisman recalled the group’s first tour of Israel, during which the musicians found themselves performing a folk piece by Bartók in a small jazz club in the middle of the Negev Desert.

“Children came with their parents and grandparents, and they sat on the floor,” Weisman said. “There was an upright piano that didn’t function well, but I made do. We played Bartók’s ‘Contrasts,’ a trio for clarinet, violin and piano. They were engaged. We saw that as proof that even a challenging piece can go over well in the strangest places.”

As cultural ambassadors, the ensemble has worked with a diverse cross-section of Israeli society, including the Orthodox, Israeli Arabs and Russian immigrants. Its impact and excellence was recognized in 2011 when it was named the winner of the Israeli Ministry of Culture Outstanding Ensemble Award.

In addition to their performances, the Project’s members also give master classes throughout Israel, as well as in the U.S. and Canada. In 2016, the group made its debut in China.

Another part of the group’s mission is supporting the next generation of composers by commissioning new works. In June, it will perform the premiere of a clarinet quintet by Menachem Wiesenberg, and in 2018 it will debut a new work for harp, strings and clarinet by Gilad Cohen.

After its performance at UCLA, the ensemble is scheduled to travel to Israel for a series of concerts from March 21-25, to New York for concerts in April, then back to Israel for a tour in June.

Weisman said the focus of the ensemble’s work and discussions in Israel is usually centered on music, not politics.

“Our interactions with all segments of Israel’s diverse society have always been filled with mutual respect and understanding,” Weisman said. “I find people are happy to leave politics at the door. But by focusing on music, we can, at least momentarily, break down some of the barriers of cultural identity, language and religion.”

The Israeli Chamber Project performs Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. as part of the free Chamber Music at the Clark series at the Jan Popper Theater in the Schoenberg Music Building at UCLA, 445 Charles E. Young Drive, East. Tickets are awarded by lottery. For information on how to enter the lottery, go to 1718.ucla.edu/lottery-info.

Jason Fenton, youngest fighter for Israel, dies at 85

Jason Fenton, shown at 16 in Israel in 1948

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 in UCLA student paper denounced as anti-Semitic

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

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.”

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

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

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.

UCLA grads team to fight on-campus anti-Semitism

Royce Hall at UCLA

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.”