September 23, 2018

UCLA Confirms Hosting of National SJP Conference

Photo from Flickr.

After being initially unsure if they were hosting the National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) conference in November, UCLA has confirmed to the Journal that they are in fact hosting the conference.

In a statement sent to the Journal via email, UCLA Associate Director of Media Relations and Public Outreach Ricardo Vazquez wrote:

“As a public university, UCLA is bound by the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech for each of the more than 1,200 registered student organizations on campus, regardless of whether the ideas they express are controversial or offensive.

Use of campus space by a student organization such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) does not mean that UCLA endorses the event or agrees with the views expressed by the event organizers. For example, UCLA and the University of California Regents continue to firmly oppose boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

Especially in a university setting, controversial topics should be discussed thoughtfully and respectfully, free from demonization, insult or ethnic bias. UCLA holds participants at campus events organized by registered student groups to the standards of behavior set forth in the UCLA Student Code of Conduct and applicable laws, and is committed to ensuring the safety of all of our students.

In addition to a vibrant Jewish life, for which UCLA was recently praised by the Forward newspaper as the #1 campus for Jewish life on the West Coast and #3 in the nation, we are proud of the intellectual and cultural links UC, including UCLA’s Center for Israeli Studies, maintains with Israel. Israeli speakers regularly visit campus and UCLA schools, departments and institutes maintain active student and faculty exchange programs with Israeli institutions.”

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) started a petition calling on UCLA to reverse their decision.

“Despite the notorious anti-Semitic rhetoric used by this group, UCLA is facilitating the conference by hosting the three-day summit on its campus,” the petition states. “SJP’s conference is designed to instill hatred towards and intolerance while proliferating lies about Israel. SJP creates an unsafe campus environment for students regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, political affiliations, or religious beliefs, but disproportionately affects Jewish students.”

The petition cited an SJP member threatening to physical harm Zionists on campus at Stanford and the disruption of a UCLA Students Supporting Israel (SSI) event in May as examples.

“We urge UCLA to reconsider allowing itself to be a platform for SJP, which is built on pillars of racism, lies, intimidation, and bigotry,” the petition concludes.

Jonathan Harris, executive director for the Israeli-American Council (IAC) for Action, said in a press release that SJP “encourages discrimination against Israelis based on their nationality.”

“It doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots: this group encourages anti-Semitism,” Harris said. “This conference for hate threatens the 10,000 Jewish students currently at UCLA. The UCLA leadership should be ashamed for hosting this vile, hateful group.”

Before the decision was official, UCLA Chancellor Professor of Computer Science Judea Pearl sent a letter to Vice Chancellors Monroe Gorden and Maria Blandizzi that read in part:

The organization in question as a matter of its own policies violates university protocols and hampers free speech of others as a strategy.  Thus, for example, the Conference description, as posted on the SJP website, states with pride of accomplishment:

“Other instances of our perseverance include disruptions
     of pro-war, Zionist, and racist guest speakers”

SJP is here boasting about, and suggesting a continuation of the disruptive tactics it adopted in the past  year. (Among other things, statements such as these constitute evidence of the organization’s encouragement of and involvement in the May 17 disruption that should be relevant in the ongoing investigation.)  Statements such as these also border on incitement to violence and should be seen as encouraging violation of the university code of conduct, as well as the norms of civil discourse UCLA aspires to achieve on our campus. Allowing the National SJP Conference to be held at UCLA in the current environment, with these disruptive free speech/violating tactics having been recently used and still being advocated by their organization will be interpreted by many as condoning rather than condemning and prohibiting the use of such reprehensible tactics.

This organization which attacks Zionism as racism itself uses the most racist and vile language and violates the basic norms of civility on campus.  It is a destructive organization that is committed to sowing discord and uses the campus as a locale to advance its radical political aims which is not a negotiated and peaceful settlement of an historic conflict but rather the de-legitimatization and the destruction of the State of Israel. 

UCLA Jewish Fraternity Faces Lawsuit Over Alleged Sexual Assault

Photo from Facebook.

UCLA’s Alpha Rho chapter of Jewish fraternity Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) is currently facing a lawsuit by a female student who claims that one of its members sexually assaulted her and the fraternity did nothing about it.

According to the lawsuit, filed by the Foundation for Accountability in Higher Education and Keith A. Fink & Associates on August 10, the student – who wanted to keep her name anonymous – was at a party hosted by Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) on August 12, 2016. The defendant, Blake Lobato of ZBT, allegedly pressured her to consume voluminous amounts of alcohol at the party. Eventually, the student became too exhausted and left the party with a group of friends.

However, according to the lawsuit, as the student left the party, she noticed she was too intoxicated to walk properly, so she went back to the party, which she hoped “would end soon.” She encountered Lobato again on her way back to the party, who encouraged her to spend the night at the ZBT house, where he provided her with a bed to sleep alone.

The student alleges that while she was sleeping inebriated and drifting “in and out of consciousness,” Lobato “forcefully removed her shirt and pushed her body down to unfasten her shorts.” The student protested and attempted to resist Lobato’s actions to no avail, and she says Lobato forcefully penetrated her without her consent – twice.

The student says that she felt “excruciating physical pain” for days after the alleged assault happened, and that she had to see a therapist in order to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

She went to ZBT’s president at the time, who is not named in the court documents, and described to him what Lobato allegedly did to her. The president responded by saying he believed her, but the fraternity did not investigate or reprimand Lobato. The student kept pressing the issue, resulting in Irving Chase, a lawyer and board member of ZBT, to handle the matter.

Chase allegedly disbelieved the student’s allegations against Lobato, insisting that no ZBT member would engage in such actions and he urged her not to bring the matter to UCLA. Chase eventually told the student the fraternity would investigate the matter.

The student later learned after telling her friends about Lobato’s alleged assault that he had allegedly raped another female student in 2015, who is also not identified in the court documents.

“Both women are members of the same sorority; both women were drinking at fraternity parties prior to the assaults; Lobato offered to walk both women home prior to the assaults but instead took them to his room; both assaults occurred in Lobato’s room, and in his bed; Lobato ignored them telling him ‘no’ and making comments like, ‘you know you want this’; LOBATO attempted to or did orally copulate them, without their consent, prior to penetrating them; LOBATO first penetrated them while positioned above them and then physically turned them over and penetrated them from behind, without their consent; LOBATO’s conduct was aggressive and forceful; and both women were unable to find their underwear after the encounter,” the lawsuit states.

Both women confronted ZBT’s president, but he reportedly gave them “the runaround.” The student then confronted Chase about the investigation, but he replied that he was unable to render a verdict on the matter. When ZBT installed a new president, the student told him about Lobato’s actions against them, and the president pledged to remove Lobato as a member. The fraternity never reported the assault to UCLA’s Title IX office, the lawsuit alleges.

After taking a class on Title IX, the student decided to report the alleged rape to the university’s Title IX office. The student claims that Lobato threatened to kill her and that he was frequently “lingering outside her sorority house window.”

Lobato was eventually expelled from the fraternity in January 2017 after the student filed the report, but “he continued to affiliate himself with ZBT to no objection from ZBT or its members.” He was expelled from UCLA in November 2017 and currently resides in Ohio.

In sum, ZBT faces allegations of negligence, and Lobato faces allegations of assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress in the lawsuit. SAE and UCLA’s Interfraternity Council (IFC) also face allegations of negligence, as the lawsuit argues that they’re liable for serving alcohol to minors and failing to establish proper safety measures.

UCLA’s ZBT chapter has not responded to the Journal’s request for comment. ZBT and SAE told The Daily Bruin that it was not their policy to comment on “pending or threatening litigation.”

The full court documents can be seen on The Daily Bruin.

UCLA Unsure About Hosting Anti-Zionist Conference in November

Photo from Public Domain Pictures.

National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) announced on their website that UCLA’s SJP chapter will be hosting the national SJP conference in November. However, when the Jewish Journal contacted UCLA, they had not yet confirmed that the conference would be happening on campus.

Algemeiner first reported that UCLA would be hosting the conference, linking to National SJP’s announcement, which states: “Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA will be hosting the 8th annual National Students for Justice in Palestine Conference on November 16-18, 2018 in Los Angeles, CA.”

 But Ricardo Vazquez, UCLA’s associate director of media relations, told the Journal in an email that UCLA had first learned about the conference in a Facebook post on August 21.

“We [are] working to verify the information in the Facebook post,” Vazquez wrote. “SJP is a student group, and most students are still away from campus until we start the fall quarter in late September. To clarify again: This would be an SJP-sponsored event that the organization plans to host on campus.”

UCLA’s SJP and National SJP decried Zionism in the announcement as “perverse in all aspects of Palestinian life and aims to destroy Palestinian existence and culture.”

“With the Nakba and the Naksa, relentless attacks on Gaza, cementing apartheid into law, and the everyday oppression of Palestinians at all levels of life, it may seem at times like all hope of seeing a free Palestine has been diminished,” SJP UCLA and National SJP wrote on the National SJP website. “And yet, Palestinians have persevered through the generations by means of their resistance and resilience.”

They also referred to Zionism as “ethnic cleansing, destruction, mass expulsion, apartheid, and death” and that it “can be destroyed” and said that they would discuss divestment campaigns as one of the ways they can be active on college campuses.

UCLA’s Students Supporting Israel (SSI) chapter called on UCLA to deny SJP from being allowed to host their conference on campus in light of the May 17 disruption of an SSI event.

“SJP clearly aimed for the destruction of our event, the denial of our free speech, and the negation of the academic freedoms which our university stands for, a similar pattern of action used by them on US campuses time after time,” UCLA SSI wrote on Facebook. “While for some the events of May 17th are well in the past or act as merely a reminder of the growing prevalence of anti-Semitism Zionophobia across university campuses, for us, SJP across the country serves as an organization that denies freedom of speech and uses violent methods to silence their opponents, methods that lead to bullying and violence.”

They added that the SJP conference aims “to further subject our university to their racist, hateful, and Zionophobic tactics and messages.”

“Zionism is the national movement of the Jewish people that called for Jewish sovereignty and led to the establishment of the state of Israel,” UCLA’s SSI wrote. “Zionists believe in the return of an ancient and indigenous people into their homeland after a millennia, and the right of the Jewish people to finally become masters of their own destiny. Today, decades after the Jewish people have returned to their homeland to established a Jewish, indigenous, and democratic state, those who support the existence of Israel face anti-Semitism and Zionophobic attacks and disruptions against them on college campuses, and those efforts are greatly led by SJP.”

The post concluded with the call for the UCLA administration to “take the appropriate actions in not allowing a well-known hate group like SJP to host their national conference on our campus.”

“In doing so, the administration will set a national example that denial of free speech, disruption, intimidation of students, and violence will not be tolerated in the academic community,” UCLA’s SSI wrote.

UCLA professor Judea Pearl had a similar reaction.

“My students and colleagues at UCLA express revulsion and indignation at the idea that our campus will be hosting a racist Zionophobic conference aimed at the destruction of the Jewish homeland,” Pearl said in a statement sent to the Journal. “Israel is a cherished symbol of identity to thousands of students on this campus, and sponsoring a blunt Zionophobic conference at their face is telling them they are not welcome at the University of California. Zionophobic racism is still racism.”

“We plead with the Chancellor to react to this proposed conference the same way he would react to any racist conference, be it Islamophobic or white-supremacist.”

When asked about how UCLA would address concerns of pro-Israel students about the SJP conference, Vazquez responded:

UCLA is bound by the First Amendment, which protects everyone’s right to express their ideas, even those that are controversial or unpopular. UCLA officials condemned the disruption of the ‘Indigenous Peoples Unite’ event on May 17, activating UCLA’s student conduct process and forwarding complaints filed by students to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, which is now reviewing the matter. UCLA remains committed to protecting all of our students, regardless of their religious or ethnic identities or political beliefs. We will hold everyone to the same standards and continue to work to foster an environment where everyone’s rights are protected. Today we are proud that UCLA has many intellectual and cultural links to Jewish and Israeli institutions. Many UCLA schools, departments, and institutes have active student and faculty exchange programs with Israel and we have study abroad programs at the Hebrew University, the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Technion.”

As of publication time, neither UCLA’s SJP nor National SJP had responded to the Journal’s request for comment.

Rabbi Aaron Lerner: How Bad Is It for Pro-Israel Students at UCLA?

UCLA Hillel Rabbi Aaron Lerner shares the ups and downs of being a pro-Israel activist on one of the world’s most famous college campuses.

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Check out this episode!

L.A. City Attorney Mulls Prosecution of Anti-Israel Disruptors of UCLA Event

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It began as yet another frustrating example of a university refusing to take swift action in a case of aggressive disruption of a pro-Israel event. The belligerent shutdown of a Students Supporting Israel panel discussion occurred at UCLA on May 17, 2018. That incident has skyrocketed to become the most important potential prosecution of anti-Israel campus disruption in the nation since the Irvine 11. A top Los Angeles City attorney is now actively reviewing the file of evidence and police complaints for possible prosecution under state laws that criminalize the disruption of public meetings, as well as other related statutes.

In the now well-known case, on May 17, Students Supporting Israel gathered in a UCLA function room for a panel discussion titled Indigenous Peoples Unite. Disruptors–suddenly and loudly–stormed into the room mid-session. One person tore down the students’ flag, demonstratively pulled away a desk placard, and cursed threateningly close to the face of a panelist. With bullhorns, whistles, staged dancing, and slogan shouting, the event was shut down. The disruption and nose-to-nose intimidation of the students attending the SSI event was documented in a video, beginning at minute 41.

Although the UCLA administration publicly promised a referral to prosecutors, no such action was taken against the various protestors — both students and non-students, because UCLA campus police were awaiting formal complaints by the intimidated students. Only after such a formal police report is filed do police investigate and determine if a referral to prosecutors is called for. Then, prosecutors weigh the evidence and decide if prosecution is warranted. All students contacted by this reporter stated they did not know they were entitled to make a police report.

After media revelations about UCLA’s inaction, two Jewish groups sprang into action–the Louis D. Brandeis Center, headed by constitutional attorney Alyza Lewin, and the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Center, headed by attorney Yael Lerman. The Washington-based Brandeis Center flew its attorney, Aviva Vogelstein, to Los Angeles. Together, Lerman and Vogelstein personally escorted numerous students as well as one member of the community into the UCLA police department where they all filed formal written and verbal complaints.

One such police complaint, obtained by this reporter, was filed by a community member in the room during the event, Laura Leve Cohen, a major donor to the UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies, where she serves as an advisory board member. Cohen’s complaint opens with the words: “Have you ever been confronted by an angry mob and not able to leave? I hadn’t.  Until Thursday evening, May 17th, 2018 … Midway through the presentation, an angry, out-of-control mob stormed into the classroom, shouting and chanting. Simply put, we were trapped by a crowd of student protestors, surrounded on all sides, and unable to leave the room.”

After processing the collection of complaints, the UCLA police department opened Case 18-1206, assigning it to one of its seasoned detectives, Selby Arsena. Detective Arsena has racked up a many-years-long track record investigating campus violence. One of these included a 2011 stabbing case that resulted in a 12-year prison sentence.

In mid-July, Arsena delivered his file to Los Angeles City prosecutors at their Pacific Branch, located in a curved building also known as “the Airport Courthouse,” near Los Angeles International Airport. Quickly, the case was assigned to the office’s assistant supervising attorney, Spencer Hart, a highly-regarded prosecutor with experience in high-profile cases. One notable Hart prosecution involved jail time for a student found guilty false imprisonment at UCLA. A source in the prosecutor’s office characterized Hart’s record of successful prosecutions as one which earned “the No. 2 position in the office.”

Both Arsena and Hart declined to comment for this article.

Just a few days after case 18-206 landed on Hart’s desk, he was emailed a seven-page letter, submitted jointly by the Brandeis Center and the StandWithUs legal center, a copy of which was obtained by this reporter. The joint letter was a polished and detailed review of the evidence, legal precedent, and case law.

“There is strong California precedent to prosecute and convict disruptors who violate criminal law in their attempt to silence speakers on campus,” the letter asserted. It continued, “In a similar fact pattern in 2011, a jury convicted ten student members of the Muslim Student Union of a misdemeanor for disrupting former Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, in a coordinated effort at a public event at the University of California-Irvine (“UC Irvine”) … [later] upheld by a panel of three Orange County Superior Court judges. We believe that the facts in the case before you, Criminal Report #18-1206, merit similar prosecution and would result in similar convictions.”

The Brandeis-SWU letter specified the alleged potential criminal violations Brandeis and SWU had previously itemized in a letter to UCLA administrators: “§ 403 – disturbance of an assembly or meeting, § 415 – disturbing the peace; § 182 – criminal conspiracy to do the aforementioned’” and added two more based on additional research: “§ 242 – battery; § 664 – unsuccessful attempt to commit battery; and § 594 – vandalism.” The letter is jointly signed by Lewin, Vogelstein, and Lerman, the three of which have become the most active in the effort to see the matter prosecuted.

Lewin commented: “This disruption was egregious and unlawfuland must be properly prosecuted.”

While Lewin, Vogelstein, and Lerman have led the effort to have police reports filed and argued for prosecution, numerous Jewish and pro-Israel organizations have voiced support for the idea. Just days after the disruption, the Zionist Organization of America’s legal department sent a letter to UCLA insisting that a violation of state criminal law was clear.

If prosecutions and convictions result from the May 17 UCLA event shut-down disruption, it is expected to help define the criminal limits of such disruptions at campuses across the nation.

Edwin Black is the award-wining New York Times bestselling author of IBM and the Holocaust as Financing the Flames.

UCLA Responds: Letter to the Editor

UCLA Students File Criminal Complaints Against Anti-Israel Disruptors

Justin Feldman after filing police report 6-11-18. Photo courtesy of StandWithUs

Criminal complaints are now being filed by students following the belligerent disruption of a May 17, 2018 Students Supporting Israel [SSI] event at University of California Los Angeles. At least a half-dozen students announced they would visit the UCLA police department to file formal complaints reporting criminal disruption of a meeting, as well as disturbing the peace and conspiracy.

The move follows media disclosures that the UCLA was reneging on the public pledge by two chancellors in the Daily Bruin —bolstered by a statement for the record by a university spokesman — to refer the belligerent May 17 incident to prosecutors.

The disruption and nose-to-nose intimidation of the students attending the May 17 SSI event at UCLA was documented in a video, beginning at minute 41. Disruptors suddenly and loudly stormed into the room mid-session. One person tore down a flag, demonstratively pulled away a desk placard, and cursed threateningly close to the face of a panelist. With bullhorns, whistles, staged dancing, and slogan shouting, the event was shut down.

The Louis Brandeis D. Center, led by attorney Alyza Lewin, along with Director of Legal Initiatives Aviva Vogelstein and three law students in the UCLA Brandeis chapter, dispatched a letter to the university asserting that the disruption crossed the line into misdemeanor violations of the California criminal code. They cited Title 11, section 403 (which covers deliberate disruption of a public meeting —successfully used to convict the so-called Irvine 11), section 415 (which covers malicious disturbance of the peace), and section 182 (which forbids any conspiracy to violate the other sections).

At the same time, two UCLA chancellors, Jerry Kang and Monroe Gorden, penned an official denunciation of the incident that was published in the Daily Bruin campus newspaper. Their statement promised, “For those outsiders who disrupted the event, we will refer all evidence of wrongdoing to local prosecutors to determine whether they have broken the law.”  Bolstering the chancellors, university spokesman Tad Tamberg confirmed, “the off-campus people who have been identified … have been arrested previously and are known to the police here and have been referred to the prosecutor’s office.” He added, that a proper police investigation had already been done. “You don’t send something to the prosecutor’s office without first investigating it,” he stated. The involved UCLA students were to be referred to university discipline rather than prosecutors, the university stated.

It was not clear why UCLA students, who potentially broke the law, would not receive the same referral to prosecutors as outsiders for the same conduct.

The case then took a strange and unexplained twist. Three weeks after the event, in an email, Tamberg clarified, “There were no arrests, nor did anyone file a police report or complaint regarding the May 17 disruption, hence there was no police investigation.” Tamberg explained his prior assurance about a referral to prosecutors actually involved the disruption of an earlier, completely unrelated February 26, 2018 event with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Prosecutors and police assert that without the filing of actual police complaints, no investigation or referral to the prosecutor can take place. None of the disrupted students contacted said they had filed a report, with two saying they did not even know they had the right to file such a complaint. Hence, no action could be taken.

After the media disclosure, numerous students stepped forward to file complaints. The first was Justin Feldman, president of the SSI chapter at Santa Monica College, enrolled at UCLA for the fall semester. Feldman stated he feared for his personal safety during the incident. On June 11, Feldman, who had previously completed a StandWithUs [SWU] high school training program, appeared at the UCLA police department accompanied by Yael Lerman, SWU legal director, to formally file his complaint.

More than a few of the students harassed during the May 17 event were trepidatious about filing a police report. But, according to Lerman, the police made the whole process “comfortable,” acting “helpful and respectful.” After a short wait at the station, officers Robert Chavez and Lowell Rose escorted Feldman into a small room where his report was taken during an hour-long interview in what Lerman described as an “unrushed” session.

Lerman credited Feldman for his actions. “What Justin did in filing was critical in moving the process forward. The [UCLA] administration has known about this for weeks and has chosen not to move this forward. So now the students have to.”

After emerging from the police station, Feldman stated, “I feel empowered.” He added, “I feel it is so important for students to take matters into our own hands, and not leave them to bureaucratic measures.” Feldman stated that “most students simply do not know about the process and what measures can be taken to hold people accountable.” “Justin’s courage will serve to empower other students at universities across the country who will realize that students can help move justice forward when administrations can’t or won’t,” added Roz Rothstein, cofounder and CEO of StandWithUs.

A campus police spokesperson assured that the department would investigate all complaints in the matter. Feldman’s complaint is just the beginning. At press time, Alyza Lewin, COO of Louis D. Brandeis Center in Washington, D.C., had dispatched its director of legal initiatives, Aviva Vogelstein, and a law clerk to fly to Los Angeles to meet with numerous other students who are scheduled to file complaints. Law students in the UCLA Brandeis chapter will observe the process. The police currently are reviewing a list of 10 individuals who allegedly perpetrated the disruption, along with screen captures of their text messages and social media statements. One such message urged disruptors “to shut it down.”

Within 24 hours of Feldman’s complaint, UCLA confirmed that the matter would indeed be referred to prosecutors. “UCPD has reviewed the video of the May 17 disruption, and is investigating the information in the incident report for any new evidence about the disruption that it may contain,” stated university spokesman Tamberg. He added, “UCPD will forward the incident report to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office.” A prosecutor has already been assigned. Tamberg stated UCPD “will discuss both the report and the video with the prosecuting attorney in July, when that person returns from leave.”

“This case is a turning point for all students across the country,” asserts SWU’s Rothstein. Lewin of the Brandeis Center agreed stating, “Students across the country now recognize the importance of promptly reporting incidents like these to the police.”

Edwin Black is the New York Times bestselling author of IBM and the Holocaust and Financing the Flames.

Pro-Israel Groups Pursue Criminal Aspects of Disruptions

Photo from Flickr.

Disruptions of pro-Israel events by anti-Israel groups continue to intensify into physical aggression and violence across campuses and even into the community. As a result, Jewish and pro-Israel groups have started to explore the criminal aspects of such incidents.

The invasion, disruption, and nose-to-nose intimidation of a May 17, 2018 Students Supporting Israel [SSI] event at the University of California, Los Angeles was one several red lines recently crossed for pro-Israel groups and many in the human rights community. The small UCLA gathering, dubbed “Indigenous Peoples Unite,” brought Kurdish, Armenian, and Israeli individuals to discuss their common bonds.

As shown in this video, beginning at minute 41, disruptors suddenly and loudly stormed into the room mid-session. One person grabbed a flag, demonstratively pulled away a desk placard, and threateningly cursed close to the face of a panelist. With bullhorns, whistles, staged dancing, and slogan shouting, intimidation brought the event to a halt.

The May 17, 2018 UCLA incident hit a nerve among some Jewish leaders. Previous Jewish and pro-Israel responses have long focused on formal requests for administrative relief, petitions, and public statements. Few of those efforts seem to have slowed the escalation of disruptive tactics. After the UCLA event, several Jewish and pro-Israel groups began considering responses based on Title 11 of California’s criminal code that might apply to such conduct—not as an exceptional response, as it was for the Irvine 11 who disrupted an Israeli diplomat’s speech, but as a new rule of thumb in California.

Title 11, Sec. 403 concerns disruption of public meetings. The statute reads: “Every person who, without authority of law, willfully disturbs or breaks up any assembly or meeting that is not unlawful in its character … is guilty of a misdemeanor.” This was the very statute used to successfully prosecute and convict the so-called “Irvine 11,” who disrupted an Israeli diplomat in UC Irvine with mere shouts—much less severe than the physical intimidation seen at UCLA.

Title 11, Sec. 415 involves disturbing the peace. The statute calls for not more than 90 days jail time for “any person who maliciously and willfully disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise” and also “any person who uses offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.” The May 17, 2018 video documents that is what happened in this case.

Title 11, Sec. 182, a conspiracy statute, can be invoked when “two or more persons conspire to commit any crime.” A digital message marked “urgent,” a screen shot of which has been obtained by this reporter, was circulated via the “Arts & Activism Alliance” message group. The message urged disruptors “to protest Students Supporting Israel’s ‘Indigenous Peoples Unite’ event happening this evening. We are going to shut it down.”

Interviews with students attending the SSI rally reveal that several felt intimidated and even feared for their physical safety during the disruption. For example, one of the three panelists, SSI chapter president Hirmand Sarafian, confirmed that he felt physically threatened “throughout the whole thing, from the beginning to the end.” At one point when protestors were vehemently banging on the doors, Sarafian said, he felt “trapped.”On May 24, 2018, conscious of the potential criminal conduct which had unfolded on their campus, two UCLA chancellors, Jerry Kang and Monroe Gorden, penned an official denunciation of the incident which was published in the Daily Bruin campus newspaper. Kang is a highly regarded legal expert. The statement was clear: “the panelists and audience felt silenced and intimidated. Thankfully, no one was physically hurt.” Drawing a distinction between protest and intimidation, the chancellors asserted, “It is one thing to persuade through evidence and argument; it is quite another to interrupt with intimidation.” The chancellors promised, “For those outsiders who disrupted the event, we will refer all evidence of wrongdoing to local prosecutors to determine whether they have broken the law. For those who are members of our own community, clear transgressions of university policy will also be addressed appropriately.”

It was not clear why UCLA students who potentially broke the law would not receive the same referral to prosecutors as outsiders for the same conduct. Kang did not respond to a request for clarification.

At the same time as the UCLA chancellors were drafting their statement, three UCLA law students at the local chapter of the Louis D. Brandeis Center, a Washington D.C.-based human rights organization, were penning their own letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block, specifying potential criminal conduct. Page 3 of their letter specifies: “The students and outside disruptors potentially violated various provisions of the California Penal Code, including but not limited to: § 403 – disturbance of an assembly or meeting, § 415 – disturbing the peace, and § 182 – criminal conspiracy to do the afore­mentioned.” The law students cited case law, and details of the disruption. They concluded, “It appears that all the required elements of a § 403 violation are met.”

The law students’ letter was reviewed and then co-signed by constitutional lawyer Alyza Lewin, now COO of the Brandeis Center. The letter was delivered to Chancellor Block on official Brandeis Center letterhead.

UCLA is not eager to discuss the matter. When contacted, University spokesman Tad Tamberg repeatedly ruled out any questions. But he did state, “the off-campus people who have been identified … have been arrested previously and are known to the police here and have been referred to the prosecutor’s office.” He added, that a proper police investigation was, in fact, done. “You don’t send something to the prosecutor’s office without first investigating it,” he stated.

But some three weeks after the public promises in the Daily Bruin, the confirmation by the University spokesman, and the Brandeis Center letter, no investigative or referral action has been taken.

To initiate a criminal referral, a complaint or police report must be filed with local police—that is the UCLA campus police. Only then do the police investigate. Only after any investigation will the police send their case to the city attorney for a decision on prosecution. None of the students contacted said they had filed a report, with two saying they did not even know they had the right to file such a complaint. The UCLA administration has not filed a complaint.

UCLA police confirm that no investigation has taken place, and no referral to the prosecutor has been made because no one has reported a complaint. Even though the UCLA police were present during the fracas and escorted the protestors out, campus police insist they cannot investigate without a formal complaint. The LA city prosecutor confirms that the May 17, 2018 disruption “is not one of the incidents that our office is currently evaluating for filing purposes.”

The contradiction between the public promise by the chancellors in the Daily Bruin and Tamberg’s assurance that “the off-campus people have been referred to the prosecutor’s office” in the face of police and prosecutor denials could not be explained.

But then, the case took a strange and unexplained twist. Tamberg issued a clarification. While no action has been taken on the May 17 disruption, UCLA police did forward the videotape of the May 17 event to the city prosecutor in connection with two previous unrelated cases, campus sources say.

When asked again whether the “referral” to the police and prosecutors had actually occurred, Tamberg clarified he was not referring to the May 17 SSI case, but to a separate incident on February 26, 2018, involving Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who appeared at UCLA and was briefly heckled by protestors who police forcibly removed and arrested. After the Mnuchin incident, the protestors were served with a “stay away” order, under Title 11, Sec 626.67 of the penal code which empowers university personnel to administratively demand non-students stay off campus. Jail time is prescribed for violators. Essentially, these are “campus bans” backed by the force of law. In this case, a banned student from the Mnuchin event returned for the March 5, 2018, appearance by former intelligence officer Chelsea Manning, convicted of espionage. One banned protestor was arrested on sight. While taking no action on the May 17 disruption against SSI, the university is using the May 17 video to bolster prosecution efforts on the Mnuchin case.

Tamberg, in an email, confirmed, “There were no arrests, nor did anyone file a police report or complaint regarding the May 17 disruption, hence there was no police investigation. However, UCLA PD shared video of the disruption with the L.A. city attorney, who is considering filing five misdemeanor charges against individuals from off campus who disrupted Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s talk at UCLA on Feb. 26. That incident resulted in a seven‐day stay away order against one of the off campus arrestees, who was subsequently rearrested when that person showed up at a talk by Chelsea Manning at UCLA on March 5. UCPD sent video of the May 17 disruption to the L.A. city attorney with the request that the city attorney consider the actions of May 17 in deciding whether to file charges concerning the previous incidents of Feb. 26 and March 5.”

Tamberg repeatedly declined to respond to questions about why the May 17 incident was not being investigated. UCLA police refused to answer further questions, referring all inquiries to Tamberg. From all appearances, police decisions are not being controlled solely by the police, but also by UCLA public relations. A senior UCLA police source explained, “we coordinate with them closely.”

Lewin at Brandeis Center insisted, “If there is a criminal violation, it should be investigated.”

While the attack against SSI has stalled, Jewish and pro-Israel organizations are increasingly turning to the criminal code in matters of extreme disruption.

When the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York staged its June 3, 2018 Celebrate Israel, “We had six people, each paired with a representative of the NYPD legal team,” says director Noam Gilboord. He added, “This was primarily for disruption.” In this case, he reports, “There were no major disruptions, no incidents, no arrests.” But Gilboord says, “All assaults, disruption, and violence should be reported to the proper authorities or law enforcement.” Other Jewish and pro-Israel organizations echoed that sentiment.

However, in the case of the May 17, 2018 UCLA incident, no prosecution is pending because no one has reported it to the police, neither the students nor the university.

Edwin Black is the New York Times bestselling author of IBM and the Holocaust and Financing the Flames.

UCEAP Reverses Decision to Cancel Israel Event

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The UC Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) has reversed their decision to cancel a June 2 event celebrating Israel’s 50th anniversary.

The description of the event on their website now states, “UCEAP will host a reception marking 50 years of educational partnership with Hebrew University on the originally scheduled date, June 2, at UCLA. Please excuse any confusion about the occurrence or timing of this event. We hope you will join us as we honor this milestone of academic collaboration and mutual benefit.”

As the Journal has previously reported, UCEAP had initially announced that they were canceling the event due to alumni questioning the decision to host the event in light of the recent violence in Gaza. Rabbi Aaron Lerner, the executive director of UCLA’s Hillel, had told the Journal in an email that the event was going to happen anyway “in spite of political grandstanding.”

UCLA professor Judea Pearl told the Journal in an email that such questions from alumni tend to happen with Israel event.

“I am glad the administration has reversed its decision and I hope it sends a clear message that programs at UCLA are judged by their academic merits, not by BDS agenda,” Pearl wrote.

UCEAP has not responded to the Journal’s request for comment.

UCLA and Other College Campuses Across the Country Celebrate Israel’s 70th Birthday

Yom Ha’atzmaut is particularly special this year as Israel celebrates its 70th year of existence. College campuses across the country have been celebrating by throwing various birthday parties for Israel.

According to a press release from the Celebrate 70 campaign, the celebrations started on April 2 and will continue until April 26. By that time, there will have been events taking place at 73 college campuses in the United States and Canada that will feature a Tel Aviv-esque beach party theme.

“For years, BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] has worked to slander Israel and attack its supporters on campus,” Andrew Borans, the executive director of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), said in the press release. “On this special birthday, we will counter this hate by bringing to life the fun, passion, and inspiration that emanates from Israel’s people and vibrant culture.”

One such campus was UCLA, which held its Celebrate 70 event on April 14 during UCLA’s Bruin Day, an event tailored to prospective students and their families to learn more about the school and the programs it has to offer. Julian Markowitz, AEPi’s Director of Israel Engagement, told the Journal in a phone interview that around 250-300 people attended the Celebrate 70 event.

“We gave out a couple hundred ice creams to students, prospective students [and] their families, we displayed with great pride our Israel-themed surfboards and surf arts, we set up our surf shack-style furniture and décor, and we invited local students to partake in our celebration,” Markowitz said.

There were no anti-Israel BDS protests in response to the Celebrate 70 party on campus. Markowitz speculated that this was because any counterprotests would have been a bad look for the anti-Israel crowd.

“The way we framed our message was so overwhelmingly positive that it would have been very challenging for them to oppose it and not look like meanies,” Markowitz said, adding that he had chosen the idea of a beach-themed party because it was “universally positive.”

“Everyone likes a birthday party,” Markowitz said. “Everyone likes the beach, surfing, and surfboard[s].”

Borans told the Journal in a phone interview that thus far there have yet to be any counterprotests to the Celebrate 70 events across the country, even on campuses like Wayne State University that have anti-Semitic organizations on campus.

“I was concerned about some violence, I was concerned that people would get mad, and… zero. Zero of that,” Borans said.

Borans added that the Celebrate 70 events have given AEPi and other pro-Israel groups the opportunity to educate students and prospective students about Israel’s advancements in technology, humanitarian efforts and how they respect the rights of minorities.

“We gave it to people and they were like, ‘Wow, is this really the case?’” Borans said. “A lot of eyes lit up.”

Borans believes that by the end of April 26, they will have reached 50,000 to 80,000 students.

“We’re thrilled,” Borans said. “There’s never been anything like this attempted before.”

More information about the Celebrate 70 campaign can be found at​.

Letters to the Editor: Trump and Anti-Semitism, UCLA Professor and Gaza Border Clash

Trump and Anti-Semitism

The Anti-Defamation League reports that global anti-Semitism is increasing. I believe that President Donald Trump is the cause. I believe Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” indicates that Sheldon Adelson paid Trump a huge sum of money to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It was just another payoff to Trump’s financial contributors. They pay Trump for government jobs and influence to increase their wealth, regardless of how it harms the public. In my opinion, global anti-Semitism will be mitigated only when Israel unilaterally creates a Palestinian state.

Martin J. Weisman, Westlake Village

A Seat at Yamit’s Table

I love Yamit Behar Wood’s recipes and the stories about her family in Bulgaria.

Her fish (“The Sephardic Answer to Gefilte Fish,” Feb. 9) is very similar to the Friday night one my grandmother used to make, but we hardly knew about salmon in Morocco! She made it with white fish, “alosa” or seabream, a very delicate Mediterranean fish that goes particularly well with that sauce (sorry I don’t know the English name for “alosa,” which sadly has a lot of bones but is so tasty).

As for her leek and beef patties (“Passover Meal Prep: Leek and Beef Patties,” March 16), steaming would allow the vegetable to keep its taste better, rather than the boiling method.

Keep up the good work and happy Passover!

Danielle Abitbol via email

UCLA Professor Ousted

After punishment by a formal agreement with the UCLA administration, professor Gabriel Piterberg resumed his legitimate tenured position only to be hounded off the campus by a mob and a cowardly administration (“ULCA Ousts Professor Over Harrasment Claims,” March 23). I would think the Journal would be against mobs.

Wayne Johnson, Santa Monica

The Councilman and the Rothschilds

Bravo to Democrat Trayon White for his apology in blaming a recent snowstorm on the Jews (“D.C. Councilman Apologizes for Blaming Snowstorm on Jews,” March 23).

But who voted for this man who blamed the Rothschilds for creating “natural disasters”? We need to be discerning who we elect. While intellect does not necessarily make one a good person, it sure helps in making a good leader.

Judith N. Cohen, Valley Village

He Doesn’t Miss the ’60s

Having come of age in the ’60s and been a willing participant in the protests of the anti-war movement while at a university, I realize as a senior citizen today that the era should not be thought of as “romantic” in the least.

In her column “Why I Miss the ’60s” (March 30), Dahlia Scheindlin refers to the era as one of solidarity. That was hardly the case. The reality was it was a terribly divisive time in our nation’s history. I marvel at the fact that a “movement” comprising of the likes of pacifists like David Dellinger, loonies like Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, those sworn to violence like the Black Panthers, and draft evader David Harris, who persuaded others to go to federal prisons for five years for burning their draft cards, could be termed a movement at all.

Rather, the leaders of said “movement” merely chewed up and spit out those of us who were naive enough to ride along so they could further their own egotistical adventures. In the end, they didn’t give a hoot about the rest of us. Better to have gone to Vietnam.

Marc Yablonka via email

Friendship Circle

Kudos to the high school student who wrote “Ethan and Me” (March 16). Her fresh perspective on volunteering for Friendship Circle was delightful and engaging. May other high school students read her column and may it resonate with them to do the same and contact Friendship Circle. This is coming from an adult who has cerebral palsy. Boy, I wish they had Friendship Circle during my youth. The impact must be tremendous for both recipients and givers.

May this fine organization go from strength to strength.

Susan Cohn, Redding

The Back Story of Israeli-Palestinian conflict

In her column “Our Better Angels” (March 30), Danielle Berrin blames both sides equally in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which ignores facts and history. This may make her feel open-minded and fair, but it’s not true and hurts Israel.

Both sides don’t teach their children to commit murder and pay successful terrorists; only the Palestinians do. When the world offered partition plans in 1937 and ’47, the Israelis accepted both; the Arabs rejected both. Israel has made a number of good-faith offers; the Palestinians have rejected them all. Finally, Israel made peace with Jordan and Egypt, painfully uprooting Sinai settlements, while the Palestinians have made peace with no one, not even one another.

Israel isn’t perfect, but failure to make peace is clearly more the Palestinians’ fault.

Rueben Gordon, Encino 

The Value of Genetic Testing

In a story about Dr. Beth Karlan and her most recent efforts focused on hereditary cancer in the Ashkenazi-Jewish community, she emphasized that knowledge is power (“Genetic Testing Could Be Life-Saving for Ashkenazi Jews,” March 23). The BRCA Founder OutReach (BFOR) study shows us that knowledge can save lives and be a helpful tool in preventing BRCA-related cancers in our families and communities.

This is an exciting step forward that empowers us to own our health. Karlan reminded us of the importance of exploring our medical family history and participating in groundbreaking medical research, not only as individuals but also for our communities. It is through the awareness and education of building a family tree and interviewing older generations that we can obtain information to make important life decisions.

This is a cause that GeneTestNow has been focused on for years; as such, we fully support Karlan’s efforts. Determining your carrier status can prevent cancer and save lives. We endorse screening for recessive conditions in individuals of all ethnic backgrounds. Recessive conditions generally do not affect the health of an individual but give information about risk for disease in his or her children.

In that spirit, we also endorse testing for BRCA mutations as this information before marriage, pre-conception, or at any point in life can provide the gift of information and options to create a healthy family, for both parents and children.

Sharon Glaser, Jerry Factor Co-founders,

Driving in Rainy Los Angeles

The Donald Trump-esque temper tantrum of a column by Ilana Angel was an unsightly blemish on an otherwise wonderful issue of the Journal (“Rainy Los Angeles,” March 30).
To equate yourself with a New York City cab driver implies that you are a rude and aggressive driver. To say you are “fearless and able to handle all kinds of weather” is another clue that contrary to what the writer believes, she is most likely not a good, courteous driver, either.

Most drivers in Los Angeles are not natives, anyway. Most of us come from different states and countries. Yes, many drivers here are bad, but we deal with it and soldier on. If that is too much for you, please do us a favor and move back to Canada.

Chris Reiff, Ventura

Gaza Border Clash

The U.N.’s uproar about Israeli forces killing at least 16 Gazan Arabs trying to violently force their way into Israel is disingenuous. Ten terrorists were identified so far among the dead. When combatants hide among civilians, it’s worse than using human shields; it amounts to using bait for the international news media to heap wrath on the Jews.

Action Group for Palestinians of Syria reports that 23 Palestinians were killed in that country’s civil war during March 2018 alone. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, the body count for Arab Palestinians is 3,685. Nobody complains to the U.N. about these killings or the massacre by Syrian government forces and their allies, such as Hezbollah and Iran, of hundreds of thousands of Arabs.

It seems that the only time people care about dead Arabs is when they are killed while trying to murder Jews or overrun the Jewish state. Author Ayn Rand once said, “In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.” She was right.

Desmond Tuck via email


‘Parkland Students Share Their Stories,’ March 30:

Stop confusing regulation and removal … they are two different things. Also, be aware that no security officer has ever prevented a shooting at a school when a kid is driven to lash out against one or more peers. Also, instead of pouring money into arming staff at schools, return all the funding that has been slashed for preventive programs including counseling and psych services, community outreach, parenting supports, etc. Those reduce the number of shootings.

Michelle Skigen

‘A Haggadah for Every Taste,’ March 30:

As a non-Jew, I just learned something quite new. I was aware of the Passover storytelling of the haggadah but always thought it was standard and unaltered or unalterable as in holy writ. I had no idea of the room available for telling the same story in differing ways. Very interesting!

Keith Harrison

‘Why I Miss the ’60s,’ March 30:

The real and present danger in school is from bullying. According to the CDC, 4,400 students commit suicide each year due to bullying.

Leonard Holtz

March for Our Lives could perhaps better be looked at as a watershed moment, a catalytic event preceding the many changes we need, promoted by our future leaders.

Terry Godfrey

‘In a Secular Passover, Jews Are Nothing Special,’ March 30:

Jews are here to accomplish big things and little everyday things to improve the world. I’m dismayed that you don’t know this.

Bob Manosky

Passover is about faith. No faith — no meaning.

Joseph Crews

Ben Shapiro’s opinion on how secular Jews should mark Passover is worth as much as mine on how religious Jews should do it. Nothing.

Eugene Kalinsky

‘The Seder of Repairing Ourselves,” March 30:

Very akin to “Be the change you wish to see …” This is so very important because this feeds the collective consciousness of the world.

Barbara Jordan Wampler

Mayim Bialik to Deliver UCLA Commencement

Mayim Bialik. Courtesy of UCLA.

Maybe expressing an unpopular viewpoint could be the theme of Mayim Bialik’s forthcoming commencement address at UCLA.

On April 4, the public university announced its selection of the “The Big Bang Theory” actress and UCLA neuroscientist alumna as the distinguished alumna speaker for the UCLA College commencement on June 15.

“Dr. Bialik embodies the values of a Bruin,” UCLA College Senior Dean Patricia Turner said in a statement. “Throughout her career, she has shown how hard work, determination and civic duty can lead to success. I know that our graduates will be inspired by her story as they set out to make their own mark in the world.”

What she will talk about when she addresses both commencement ceremonies, scheduled for 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., in Pauley Pavilion, remains to be seen, but the experience of expressing challenging opinions during challenging times would be appropriate. Throughout her career, Bialik has never shied from supporting Israel. And following the publication of her 2017 New York Times essay, “Being a Feminist in Harvey Weinstein’s World,” she demonstrated an ability to deal with backlash among those who accused her of victim blaming.

Bialik became a household name portraying the title character in the hit 1990s sitcom, “Blossom.”

After “Blossom” ended in 1995, Bialik enrolled at UCLA. While there, she was active at the campus Hillel, founding a women’s Rosh Chodesh group and participating in Hillel High Holiday services.

She is an observant Jew.

She earned her degree from UCLA in 2000, and her doctorate in 2007, before returning to the screen.

“I had no health insurance and missed performing and making people laugh,” she said in the aforementioned 2017 New York Times piece of her return to acting.

Since 2010, she has appeared on the popular CBS sitcom, “The Big Bang Theory.” She plays Amy Farrah Fowler, a neurobiologist who is romantically involved with Jim Parsons’ Sheldon Cooper.

Israel Basher Leaves UCLA After Sexual Harassment Charges

Photo from YouTube.

The once respected academic career of UCLA historian Gabriel Piterberg has come to an apparent end, not because of his unrelenting hostility toward Israel and Zionism, but due to long-standing sexual harassment charges by two women students.

While Piterberg has denied the accusations, UCLA authorities last week capped a five-year investigation by concluding that he had violated the university’s sexual harassment policy.

As a result, Piterberg agreed to leave UCLA, forego any future employment on any University of California campus and forfeit any future emeritus status, office space and other academic privileges, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday(3/13).

The charges against Piterberg dated back to 2013, when two female graduate students complained to UCLA authorities that the professor had harassed them over many years by making offensive sexual comments, pressing himself against their bodies and forcing his tongue into their mouths.

Piterberg has rejected all requests for media interviews.

Piterberg became a member of the UCLA history faculty in 1999. He soon became a controversial figure on campus, though not for his alleged sexual proclivities.

According to his own resume, Piterberg was born in Buenos Aires but grew up in Israel. He served in the Israeli army in the early 1980s and saw action against the forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in southern Lebanon.

After his army discharge, he studied and received academic degrees – all with highest honors – from Tel Aviv University in Middle East history and political science, and a Ph.D. degree from Oxford University, where his research focused on the history of the Ottoman Empire.

Subsequently he taught at England’s University of Durham and at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

After arriving at UCLA, Piterberg seemed set for a bright academic career, advancing to a full professorship in 2008 and in 2013 becoming director of the Gustav von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies.

At seminars and in specialized scholarly publications Piterberg soon earned a reputation as an unrelenting critic of the creation and existence of Israel.

Until the sexual harassment charges against Piterberg became public, his fellow history professors – like most academics – were loath to criticize a colleague for his opinions, however offensive.

An exception on the UCLA campus was Judea Pearl, a professor of computer science, director of the Cognitive Systems Laboratory and considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on artificial intelligence.

He and his wife Ruth are also co-founders of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, created in memory of their son, a journalist murdered by Islamic extremists in Pakistan in 2002.

Judea Pearl has shown no reluctance to express his abhorrence of Piterberg’s views. He believes that Piterberg’s “scholarly” contributions can be summed up as “bash Israel as viciously as you can, someone might listen and take it seriously.”

Pearl added that “Piterberg belongs to a group of extreme left so-called ‘historians,’ who see their role as the re-interpretation of history to fit their political agenda.

“His agenda is to malign Zionism…which he sees as an organic part of ‘white settler colonialism,’ the 19th century effort by European powers to create societies in their own image by dispossessing the indigenous people…He even attributes Nazi origins and Nazi ideologies to most Zionist leaders.”

Asked what might have turned Piterberg from an Israeli soldier and brilliant student into a bitter foe of the Jewish state, Pearl answered that he was at a loss for an answer.

Meanwhile, the two women students, Kristen Glasgow and Nefertiti Takla, found the UCLA administration less than eager to pursue their case and in 2015 they filed a lawsuit against the University of California.

Although the two women were granted some monetary compensation and Piterberg was told to talk to students only with his office doors open, he continued in his teaching capacity.

But by 2016 campus opinion turned against Piterberg, with large student protests and a petition by 38 history professors complained that “students, staff and faculty must contend with the presence of a harasser in our midst.”

Finally, 10 years after Glasgow’s first humiliating encounter with Piterberg, she learned her harasser had lost his job. She described her reaction on learning the news to the Los Angeles Times as “I cried, I laughed, I screamed. It was 10 years and 10,000 pounds of weight off my shoulders.”

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

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

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).