Royce Hall at UCLA

BDS debate at UCLA breaks no new ground


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. 

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

Film festival to honor documentarian Marcel Ophuls


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.”

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

’40s protester sees Trump-era parallels


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).

Royce Hall at UCLA

Israelis to teach choreography, media arts at UCLA


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Zionism a bad word?


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

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

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

“Yes,” I answered quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A cartoon protest threatens to redefine free-speech


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Photo from Pexels.

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


‘Kapos’ and Auschwitz

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

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

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naomi Atlani via email

Smart Words About Trump

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

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

Thank you for publishing this and do not stop.

Sherry Pollack via email

Daily Bruin Cartoon

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

Barbara Bilson via email

No Bull From Suissa

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

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

Instigating the ‘Haters’

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

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

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

Warren J. Potash, Moorpark

Silent Support for Trump

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

Philip Springer, Pacific Palisades

Courtesy of Pexels.

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


Misreading UCLA Cartoon

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

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

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

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

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

Marcy Winograd, Santa Monica

‘Kapos’ and David Friedman

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

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

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

Henry Oste via email

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

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

Richard Bernstein, Los Angeles

Federation Stance Ignores Teachings of Torah

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irving Cramer, Venice, Calif.

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

As president battles press, public loses


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Israeli Chamber Project sets sights small for UCLA program


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jason Fenton, shown at 16 in Israel in 1948

Jason Fenton, youngest fighter for Israel, dies at 85


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cartoon in UCLA student paper denounced as anti-Semitic


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Who were the victims of the Nazis?

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

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

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

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

Why the emphasis on Six Million Jews?

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

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

Three reasons:

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

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

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

Should not all victims of Nazism be remembered?

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

So what was singular about the murder of the Jews?

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

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

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

Why kill the Jews?

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

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

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

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

Royce Hall at UCLA

UCLA grads team to fight on-campus anti-Semitism


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish patients taking new look at rhinoplasty


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 years and 30 big changes


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

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

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

1. Embracing LGBT Jews

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

2. King Juan Carlos Comes to L.A.

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

3. Intermarriage: To Worry or Not to Worry?

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

4. The Rise of Iranian and Russian Jewish Immigrants

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

5. A Growing Orthodoxy 

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

6. The New Israelis

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

7. Logging On for Love

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

8. Oy, Did We Have Mail!

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

9. Women of valor and power

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

10. Higher Ratings for Jewish Identity in Hollywood

30 Something

30 Something

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

11. The New Jewish Side of Town

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

12. New museums to look forward — and back

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

13. Mazel Tov, It’s Mitzvah Day!

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

14. The Day Rabin Died

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

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

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

16. American Jewish University Goes Big

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

17. Got Kosher? Yup.

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

18. The Dodgers Go Blue and White

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

19. Harold Schulweis z’l

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

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

20. The Rise of Mega-Synagogues AND Upstart Congregations

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

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

21. A Jewish Approach to…

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

22. The First Intifada, 1987-1991

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

23.  The Winning Campaigns of Jewish Candidates

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

24. The Fall and Revival of Jewish Centers

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

25. Moving Westward and Beyond

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

26. From Delis to Mainstream Dining

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

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

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

28. Federation: From Umbrella to Innovation

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

29. Saving Jewish Buildings

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

30. School Choice

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

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


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

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

Maya Aharon, 30

Holocaust education

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

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

Alex Banayan, 24

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

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

Rachel Bloom, 29

rachelbloomActress, writer, showrunner

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

— Danielle Berrin, Senior Writer

Ben Bram, 29

Music producer

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


Justin Brezhnev, 24

Nonprofit head

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

— Olga Grigoryants, Contributing Writer


Jamie Feiler, 23

Rebecca Hutman, 22

Marissa Lepor, 22

Holocaust educators

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

— Elyse Glickman, Contributing Writer

Jeffrey Greller, 29

Virtual reality agent

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

Alana Haim, 25

Este Haim, 30

Danielle Haim, 27

Musicians

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

David Hertzberg, 26

Composer

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

— Julie Bien, Contributing Writer

Sara Kramer, 30

Sarah Hymanson, 30

Chefs

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

Rachelle Yadegar, 23

Judith Iloulian, 26

Fashion designers

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

Noey Jacobson, 26

Singer-songwriter

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

Jacob Jonas, 24

Choreographer/director

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

Jack Stratton, 29

Theo Katzman, 30

Musicians

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

Ty Jacob “T.J.” Leaf; 19

Athlete

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

Noah Lee, 18

Youth leader

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

Tiffany Matloob, 27

Entrepreneur

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

Arya Marvazy, 30

LGBT advocate

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

Shanel Melamed, 28

Nonprofit head

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

Avi Oved, 23

Student activist

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

Ben Platt, 23

Actor

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

Chloe Pourmorady, 26

Musician

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

Sean Rad, 30

Entrepreneur

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

Zan Romanoff, 30

Novelist

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

Josh Rosen, 19

Athlete

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

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

– Oren Peleg

Leeav Sofer, 26

Musician

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

Hailee Steinfeld, 20

Actress, model, singer

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

Rachel Sumekh, 25

Nonprofit director

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

— Avishay Artsy, Contributing Writer

Brocha Yemini, 24

Chaya Israily, 24

Volunteers

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

Simone Zimmerman, 26

Activist

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

30 under 30: Josh Rosen


Passing the competition

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

That might change soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israelis to teach choreography, media arts at UCLA


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israelis to teach choreography, media arts at UCLA


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UCLA to house large archive of Sephardic culture


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

This situation is about to change. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Justin Zaghi: An ounce of prevention


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sara Zaghi: Helping the homeless through jean therapy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethan Youssefzadeh: Filling a gap in Jewish education


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Waters takes stage at UCLA before controversial film screening


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work of art makes ‘Jewish statement’ in UCLA dispute


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They heard me immediately,” Pollock said.

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

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

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

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

UCLA exhibition recalls Jewish glory days in Boyle Heights


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which do you love more: Football or America?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wanted: United student voice on campuses


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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