U.S. national industrial union endorses BDS of Israel


A U.S. national industrial union accused Israel of ethnic cleansing and voted to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers union voted on the resolutions on Aug. 20 during its national convention, the union reported on its website Friday.

The resolutions involving Israel and the Palestinians were voted on as part of a series of resolution on foreign policy issues, including support for the Iran nuclear deal. The union said in a statement that it was the first U.S. national union to endorse BDS.

The union has nearly 37,000 members throughout the country.

The resolution on Palestine and Israel “points to Israel’s long history of violating the human rights of the Palestinians, starting with the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in 1947-48 that turned most of Palestine into the State of Israel,” according to the union. It also cites a statement issued by the union’s officers in 2014 condemning Israel’s war on Gaza.

The resolution also calls for cutting off U.S. aid to Israel as well as U.S. support for a peace settlement on the basis of self-determination for Palestinians and the right of return.

It endorses the worldwide BDS movement in order to “pressure Israel to end its apartheid over the Palestinians just as similar tactics helped to end South African apartheid in the 1980s.”

Union delegate Autumn Martinez, who said she met Palestinian trade unionists at the World Social Forum in Tunisia, said, “It’s absolutely disgusting what is going on. Free Palestine!”

Seaport battle looms as Israel plans new competition


Israel is betting its economic future on high-tech exports but faces a low-tech bottleneck in state-owned seaports subject to work stoppages and slowdowns because of the enormous strength of their unions.

All that may be about to change.

The government, for years unwilling to risk a confrontation that could paralyse trade given that 99 percent of exports and imports are transported by ship, last month pledged to end the monopolies of the two main ports of Ashdod and Haifa.

By introducing private piers to compete with the two ports, service would improve and prices would drop across the board, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

The port unions — possibly the most powerful in the country with just 2,400 workers earning double the average public sector salary — are likely to be severely weakened and may have to make concessions or face layoffs.

At a time when the middle class is squeezed by slow economic growth and high costs, there is little sympathy for their plight among average Israelis, let alone businessmen.

“Labour unions in the ports are very strong, very belligerent, very egotistical and are using their control of a key state property against the state,” said Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce.

The unions declined to speak with Reuters for this article and referred questions to the umbrella Histadrut labour federation.

But in a rare television interview in January, the head of the Ashdod union Alon Hassan defended the role of collective bargaining and the right to strike, protected by law, and said the port workers were misunderstood.

“I have no criminal background, and sadly, they point at me in the streets like some mafioso,” he told Israel's Channel 10.

“I see and hear and read that on the outside they don't like us, the port workers, and me specifically. That they paint me as an extortionist, a problematic person. Something I am not.”

The unions will not budge, he said: “I am protecting the workers' agreements that have been signed for tens of years. Fanatically. I am not open to unilateral attempts to breach such agreements.”

Cranes at the port of Haifa. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Articulating the government's position, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said simply: “Let there be war.”

NETANYAHU'S MANDATE

Netanyahu was reelected in January with a mandate to do whatever it takes to fix the moribund economy, which grew 3.2 percent in 2012, its slowest pace in three years. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis staged unprecedented nationwide protests in mid-2011 over high housing costs and soaring prices.

Netanyahu has placed the blame for the high cost of living on monopolies and cartels that prevent competition and began cracking down, starting with the country's most vital services.

On April 21 the government approved an open skies deal that liberalises aviation between Israel and Europe and is expected to bring in more foreign airlines and lower air fares. A two-day strike at flag carrier El Al and two smaller Israeli airlines ended with the government agreeing to pay a higher portion of the airlines' security costs.

Car importers and television operators are also in Netanyahu's sights.

Few groups wield as much power as the port workers, as gatekeepers for Israel's international commerce, however.

The Manufacturers Association of Israel said the country lost 25 million shekels ($7 million) directly and tens of millions more indirectly in a dispute at Ashdod port in April.

The workers, who held a 10-day slowdown in protest at a new rule requiring port navigators to stay on site throughout their shift even at quiet times, forced 32 cargo ships to wait hours off the coast.

Five ships were eventually redirected to Haifa about 80 miles (130 km) to the north and five others simply “took off”, the manufacturers' group said.

OLD FOES

Netanyahu has faced off with the port workers before. A decade ago, when the ports were run by a single government-owned company, ships wanting to dock in Israel were delayed an average of 17.4 hours, according to government statistics.

Then finance minister, Netanyahu in 2005 pushed through a reform that broke the ports into three units and a separate managing body called the Israel Ports Co, all still government-owned. The unions stopped work for one month before agreeing to the change.

The government at the time made clear this was considered only the first step toward total privatisation of the port system and two years later, Israel Shipyards began operating a small private port on a floating dock in Haifa.

Service has since improved. Container vessels in 2012 waited on average 3.7 hours to dock in Haifa, which handled 24 million tonnes, and 6.5 hours in Ashdod, which received 19.5 million tonnes. Israel Shipyards handled another 1.3 million tonnes.

But the wait time is still high by international standards.

Containers at the port of Haifa. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

“In most ports in world, the quays wait for the vessels and not the vessels wait for the quays. So anything above zero would not be acceptable,” Dov Frohlinger, chief operating officer of Israel Ports Co, told Reuters.

“What will happen to the waiting time in the next five to six years as cargo grows?”

Rafi Danieli, chief executive of Israel's biggest shipping company Zim, agreed the situation was substandard.

“In central and efficient ports in the world you work according to windows. You know exactly when to arrive and when to enter … In Israel, less so,” he said.

PROTECT THE WORKERS

In February, the state sold the rights to manage and operate the small Red Sea port of Eilat, which handles just 5 percent of the country's sea trade. Israeli firm Papo Maritime paid 120 million shekels for a 15-year deal, and it has the option to pay 105 million shekels more for an extra 10 years.

But in an example of the inflexibility of the system, negotiators had to reach an agreement with every one of the port's 120 workers, a government official told Reuters. Papo Maritime was the only bidder to hang on to the end.

Shortly after Eilat was privatised, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz outlined the rest of the plan: “Opposite each port, a private, competing pier must be built.”

The plans to build the piers, which will cost a little more than 4 billion shekels each, is awaiting final government approval. But Meir Shamra, who heads the Finance Ministry's privatisation unit, said the government was determined to make it happen.

Although no talks are currently underway, preliminary checks showed investors will come when the time is right, he said.

Avi Edri, who represents the port unions among the 800,000 public sector and other workers at the Histadrut federation, said his constituency “would never let it (competing private ports) happen”.

The unions want to explore the idea of forming a private company in which workers could own a minority stake, which would give them an incentive not to strike, Edri told Reuters. Shamra said the government might be open to the idea.

But the right to strike must remain inviolate, Edri said.

“Even if they gave a million shekels to each worker, the right to strike, or the right to unionise, or the right to protest is holy,” he said. “It is above all the money in the world.”

A worker sits as a crane unloads containers from a ship at the port of Haifa. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

$1 = 3.65 shekels. Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Sonya Hepinstall

European rabbis: Shechitah could come under legislative attack in EU


A prominent European rabbinical group has warned that kosher slaughter could come under further attack this year in European Union countries.

“Many European Jewish communities are not aware that shechitah could be put in danger,” Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, wrote Tuesday in an email sent to multiple recipients.

The danger, he wrote, stems from governments’ reliance “on deeply flawed, agenda-led research when making policy.”

Goldschmidt pointed out that EU member countries are required to replace domestic laws on religious slaughter by January 2013 with European Regulation 1099, a set of new regulations meant to ensure animals do not experience “unnecessary suffering” at or near the time of the slaughter.

While the regulations allow exception for religious slaughter, they also allow “a certain level of subsidiarity,” or discretion, to each member state.

Goldschmidt noted the planned change in Estonia’s laws on ritual slaughter.

Last week an Estonian government official told JTA that Estonia would change its current laws on religious slaughter because the rituals “do not take new scientific knowledge into account.” There was no plan to ban the practice, she said.

The official added the change would be based on the EU-funded DialRel report of 2010, which states that kosher slaughter, or shechitah, causes higher risk, pain and suffering in animals than methods that involve stunning. Jewish religious law requires animals to be conscious when their necks are cut.

“European governments are increasingly making reference to the DialRel project as part of their implementation of European Regulation 1099,” Goldschmidt said. “Faith communities rejected the methodology and findings of DialRel in 2010 when it failed to properly engage with them.”

The report “was mentioned in the context” of the Dutch Parliament’s 2011 vote to ban shechitah, Goldschmidt noted. The Dutch Senate scrapped the measure in June.

Shechitah is banned in Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. Along with Estonia, countries that impose post-cut stunning include Finland, Denmark and Austria.

Israel public sector strike ends


An Israeli public sector strike that has disrupted public transportation and closed banks, the stock market and government offices ended on Sunday with a new wage package for low-earning contract workers.

The Finance Ministry announced the deal with the Histadrut labour federation, which declared the strike that began on Wednesday was over.

The Histadrut had demanded the government hire 250,000 contract workers, such as cleaners and security guards, whose conditions are inferior to those directly on government payrolls.

Under the deal, those workers will not be hired by the state. Instead, they will get pay rises, be eligible for merit bonuses and their pension plans will be improved, according to the ministry statement. (Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Ari Rabinovitch

Israel public sector strike headed for third day


Israel’s banks, ports and stock market were closed in the second day of a general strike on Thursday that threatened to drag on for another 24 hours after negotiations between unions and government hit new obstacles.

The strike called by the Histadrut labor federation, an umbrella organization for hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, also halted trains and closed Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv for more than an hour.

The Treasury estimated economic damages from the strike as totaling as much as $500 million a day.

Histadrut wants the government to hire about 250,000 contract workers, such as cleaners and security guards, saying their employment conditions are inferior to workers directly on the public payroll.

The Finance Ministry said it cannot take on that many new workers but has offered to improve conditions by raising salaries by at least 20 percent and giving them more holiday.

Talks, which many hoped would settle the dispute, hit problems on Thursday afternoon when the union said Treasury negotiators asked it not to strike again for another four years.

“There is not a chance I would agree to that,” Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini told Israel’s Channel 10 television.

Eini said the strike may stretch into Friday, when most government offices are normally shut. Israel’s air and seaports would operate normally, Israel Radio said.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Andrew Heavens

Israeli workers launch massive strike


Israeli workers launched an open-ended general strike.

The strike launched Wednesday by the Histadrut, Israel’s main labor union, closed down the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, stopped trains across the country and caused major delays at Ben Gurion Airport. The crippling strike also affected hospitals, government offices and banks.

Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini and Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz met until late Tuesday in order to avoid the strike. Talks between the union and the government failed to reach agreement on including contract workers in labor agreements.

“A strike will not solve the problem of contract workers,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “It is possible to improve the conditions of contract workers without striking the economy and disrupting citizens’ lives. There is no magic solution to the employment problems that have been created here over decades; it is possible to resolve the issue through dialogue.”

Ben Gurion Airport was closed from 6 a.m. until noon under the Israel Labor Court’s conditions for allowing the strike to go forward. Most airlines rearranged their schedules to accommodate the closing times.

Israeli workers strike cut short by court


Israel’s main labor union ended a brief strike that shut down major sectors of the economy on Monday, following a labor court injunction that limited the action to just four hours.

The Histadrut Labour Federation, the umbrella body for hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, was looking to strike for as long as it took to reach an agreement with the government over the status of contract workers.

The union had threatened to shut down Israel’s airports, ports, banks and the stock market indefinitely, but accepted the court decision and limited the strike to Monday morning.

Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv was closed for two hours and about a dozen flights were delayed or canceled. An airports authority spokesman said operations were swiftly returning to normal.

The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange started trading about an hour late and will stay open an extra half hour.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called on the Histadrut to cancel the strike, which also affected trains, buses, universities, government ministries and municipalities.

The disagreement focused on the status of contract workers.

The Histadrut wants the government to provide full benefits to 250,000 contract workers—such as cleaners and security guards—who have worse terms than staff directly on government payrolls.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has said he was willing to accept “models from developed welfare states like Sweden, Finland and Holland” where he said such workers are employed through contractors, but they have better conditions.

The labor court instructed the parties to hold intensive talks to find a solution and report on progress by Thursday.

“We hope that the government and employers will use the days allotted by the court to hold real and serious negotiations to reach agreements,” Histadrut leader Ofer Eini said in a statement.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; editing by Philippa Fletcher

Israel union goes on strike, court limits scope


Israel’s main labor union declared a general strike on Monday, shutting down major sectors of the country’s economy, but a labor court intervened issuing an injunction that limited the strike to just four hours, officials said.

The Histadrut Labour Federation, the umbrella organization for hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, was looking to strike for as long as it took until an agreement was reached with the government over the status of workers employed through employment agencies.

The union had threatened to shut down Israel’s airports, ports, banks and the stock market indefinitely, but the group’s leaders said they would abide by a court decision to limit the strike to Monday morning. It would end at 10 a.m. (0800 GMT), local media reported.

Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv was supposed to be closed from 8 a.m. the Histadrut had said, leaving just a two hour window for disruptions. Other shutdowns began at 6 a.m. and will end at 10 a.m, following the ruling.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday had called on the Histadrut to cancel the planned strike, which would also include trains, buses, universities, government ministries and municipalities.

Last ditch efforts have failed to find an agreement over the status of contract workers supplied by employment agencies.

The Histadrut wants the government to hire some 250,000 contract workers, who have inferior working conditions than those directly on government payrolls. The Finance Ministry has agreed their employment terms need to improve.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch

Wis. governor’s plan threatens workers and Jewish values


More than 100 Jews from all three Madison synagogues gathered Feb. 25 to celebrate Shabbat with services in the Wisconsin State Capitol. Four Madison rabbis led the services for the community members who had crammed into the North Gallery.

Below us, the Capitol Rotunda was teeming with energy—protesters from all over the state were waving signs of opposition to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget repair bill.

Singing Shabbat psalms and reciting prayers, we had found a Jewish expression for our deepest values—values of community, education and justice; values of respecting the elderly and caring for the poor, the sick, the mentally ill and the disabled; values of discussion, debate and compromise.

The governor’s legislation threatens these values.

His budget repair bill has nothing to do with solving an emergency budget crisis, nor does it have to do with curbing the excesses of labor unions. This is about political power: Destroy the unions and you have destroyed a key institution representing the interests of the middle and working class.

If this were only about balancing the budget, there would be no need to strip workers of their right to organize or to ram through the legislation without negotiation, compromise or even debate.

Jewish support for the labor movement often stems from religious texts mandating workers’ rights. As the Torah states, “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer.” Or it stems from pride in our involvement and leadership in the labor movement in the early 20th century.

While Jewish opposition to Walker’s attempts to destroy labor unions is certainly rooted in these religious and secular ideals, it also centers on fundamental questions at the heart of our Jewish values: What kind of society do we want to live in? What kind of world do we want to leave to our children? How can we stand idly by when proposed legislation will devastate the very fabric of our communities?

Last week all eight rabbis in Madison representing the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements of Judaism signed on to a letter distributed to colleagues throughout the country that strongly opposes Walker’s proposed legislation. We have enjoyed deep and broad support for this letter because there is a significant consensus that the governor’s bill will have dreadful effects on our state.

Walker and his supporters have tried to pit the public sector and their unions against the private sector, which is largely not unionized. Yet we know that with this legislation we all lose. We all lose because his legislation will drastically reduce the quality of our public schools, state universities and park system, as well as our nursing homes, child care centers and hospitals.

This is an affront to our Jewish values. Far from being a coddled class, public employees are our teachers, bus drivers, prison guards, firefighters and police officers—the very heart of our communities. They are streaming into our Capitol day after day from around the state because their livelihood is in jeopardy.

It is not just the public employees who are protesting. The more than 70,000 people who converged on the Capitol on Feb. 26 were quite diverse: young and old, rural and urban, wealthy and poor. It is a testament to how deeply they care about our future. Their passion and commitment demonstrate our human capacity to raise our voices when people’s health, security and well-being are threatened and to work diligently to create a better world.

As Rabbi Hillel once said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?  And if not now, when?”

Laurie Zimmerman is the rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Madison, Wis.

Israel’s teacher strike highlights cracks in the system


As much as he’s been wanting to complete his master’s degree in history, David Graniewitz would rather be standing in front of a classroom, teaching history or English to junior high and high school students.

Instead Graniewitz, who has taught in Israeli secondary schools for almost 20 years, has spent the past couple of weeks glued to his kitchen table, focusing — or trying to focus — on his own studies.

“I like being with a class,” Graniewitz, a 46-year-old father of four, said in his homey apartment in the southern neighborhood of Talpiot, surrounded by mounds of folded laundry. “I’m finding being home difficult. It’s boring.”

Graniewitz is one of the more than 40,000 teachers taking part in a strike launched by the Secondary School Teachers Organization (SSTO) on Oct. 10 to demand higher wages and better working conditions. Organizers say the strike, which is affecting some 400 junior high schools and 1,200 high schools in the Jewish sector according to the Ministry of Education, could end tomorrow or last for months. The Arab sector joined the strike two weeks ago.

Some secondary school teachers, who belong to the Israel Teachers Union, are not on strike because their union forged a deal with the ministries of Finance and Education several months ago. The result is a hodgepodge of teaching hours and a great deal of confusion.

As of press time on Tuesday, SSTO and Israel’s education minister had resumed talks, with Union of Local Authorities serving as a mediator. While sources on both sides say the gaps remain large, the parties agreed to negotiate intensively to try to end the strike, Ha’aretz reported.

The Israeli public, which has been less than sympathetic to the demands of highly paid striking dockworkers and electric company employees, does not dispute that the country’s teachers are vastly underpaid and subjected to poor working conditions.

“Teachers in this country are getting shafted,” said Jody Zaviv, a Jerusalem property manager whose 14- and 16-year-old sons have been home due to the strike. “I’ve heard their average take-home pay is 4,000 to 6,000 shekels [roughly $1,000 to $1,500 a month] and you can’t raise a family on that. I hold it against the government for refusing to pay a decent wage.”

Teachers, in fact, may earn even less than the figures quoted by Zaviv, according to Keren Shaked, an SSTO spokeswoman.

“A new teacher earns about 3,300 shekels [$825 per month], minimum wage before taxes,” and this is after three years of university. Teachers working 20 years average less than 6,000 shekels [$1,489].”

Independent studies confirm that Israeli teachers earn very little compared to educators in other countries. A survey of 2005 wages conducted by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 30 countries placed Israeli teachers in 29th place, above Hungary but below Slovenia, Iceland, the Czech Republic and Mexico.

Further, data released by Central Bureau of Statistics in July 2007 revealed that Israeli teacher salaries averaged only $1,464 pretax per month, while the average overall Israeli salary was $1,968. Monthly salaries in the electric company averaged $4,537; $2,658 in the industrial sector; $2,259 in the transport field; $1,603 in the health field, and $911 in the catering and hospitality sector.

“Honestly, I don’t know why anyone would become a teacher,” said Shaked, a teacher. “The teachers colleges are crying out for students.”

With few exceptions, Shaked said, Israeli schools “look a lot like prisons. If there’s air conditioning it’s because the parents raised the money. During the past few years, the rate of violence and drugs and dropping out has skyrocketed. Slash money from the education budget and this is what happens.”

Shaked said budget cuts imposed during the tenure of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have meant that teachers who once taught history or the Bible several hours a week to a classroom of students are only allotted two to three hours weekly.

“Teachers may be teaching the same subject in five or seven or even 10 different classrooms” in order to fill their quota and make ends meet, Shaked said. “More students mean more papers to prepare and grade, more students and parents to meet.”

To take home $1,863 per month this past school year, Graniewitz, an immigrant from England, taught matriculation-level courses in three separate secondary schools.

“The city cut back the hours it was willing to pay, which meant that a syllabus that used to take six hours to impart has to be condensed into three hours. You can’t do this and also hold discussions and do group work. Today everything is geared at passing the bagrut [matriculation exams]. There’s no time to impart values. I know it sounds pretentious, but we’re here to educate.”

Graniewitz said the teaching environment has deteriorated in recent years.

“I’ve been teaching in a school in a poor neighborhood, and you would think parents would appreciate teachers for helping their children get out of their rut. That isn’t happening. The amount of antagonism and aggression is shocking. Every day is a struggle. You don’t know if someone is going to throw a firecracker through the door or if your car is going to be vandalized.”

Standing under the protest tent set up by striking teachers within shouting distance of the prime minister’s office, Yael Pulvermacher, a 38-year-old special-ed teacher, said the $1,043 she comes home with every month “isn’t even enough to pay for the music school my sixth-grader wants to attend. I left a high-tech job to go into teaching, but unless something dramatic happens I won’t be teaching next year.”

Despite the many challenges facing Israeli teachers, Graniewitz said he is aching to get back to teaching.

“It’s my fix,” he said, smiling broadly. “Even with the bad parts, I’d still like teaching kids in Israel more than I would in, say, America. Most of our problems are universal problems,” he said.

Berries, Pizza and a Smile


I walked into Trader Joe’s last Sunday and spent $54 on a gallon of milk. Truth be told, it was the strawberries, frozen pizza, extra dog treats, new kind of low-fat cheese and that tempting bottle of Prosecco wine that drove up the bill — none of which I’d intended to buy, and all of which I’ll use … someday. In other words, on this trip, like so many others, I turned a big chunk of disposable income over to Trader Joe’s — and not to Ralphs, Vons or Albertsons.

From October 2003 to February 2004, workers at those three supermarket chains went out on strike to ensure affordable health care, as well as to protect their pensions and job security. It was the longest strike in the history of the supermarket industry, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Web site, and the first major strike of the 21st century. At the end of 141 days, estimates say that the Big Three chains lost more than $2 billion. And in addition to lost wages during the strike, the workers lost a great deal more, having agreed to a two-tier system that allowed stores to bring in new hires at significantly lower wages and benefits.

As we read about the increasingly heated fight brewing now between 65,000 workers and management at those same chains, where union members last month authorized another strike, we’re once again told that it’s all about keeping costs low to prepare for the influx of the big-box stores like Wal-Mart. But the greater threat to the Big Three might be the better service we get at smaller neighborhood haunts, many of them locally owned. My family’s buying habits changed dramatically — and enduringly — as a result of the last strike.

Before 2004, I was a regular Ralphs shopper. We spent as much as $600 to $700 per month there for food and other household supplies. Now, if we spend one-tenth of that per month at the Big Three combined, it’s unusual. That’s because I became comfortable dividing my shopping among places that serve the customer by providing goods efficiently and still at a good price.

This often means several stops during the week — at Trader Joe’s, where we can get most of our staples, and Western Kosher on Fairfax Avenue (great hummus!), Smart & Final (cleaning supplies), the Sunday Hollywood Farmer’s Market (fruit and vegetables) and Mayfair (my favorite salad dressing).

It’s not hard to get over the convenience of the big stores when you get much better service in the smaller venues. I find, too, that it’s often a matter of stopping for a quick drop-in while making my other rounds, without going out of my way.

The issue for me came down to dealing as much as possible with businesses that care. At Mayfair there was no strike because a vow was made from the start to respect the new contract, whatever it might bring. At Trader Joe’s, workers like their jobs because it’s a fun place to work and the company offers benefits and good salaries.

The Big Three are continuing to look for ways to cut costs on their workers’ backs. Not satisfied with the two-tier system they established with the last contract, the owners want to create a third tier, which would even further pinch new hires.

At my favorite Trader Joe’s the other day, the woman ringing me up noticed that I’d picked up some items from the display at the store entrance.

“I guess it’s working,” she said, with evident pride in her voice.

She’d come in at 6 a.m. to set up a strawberry and wine display, and it was clearing out quickly. The day before, she said, the same space had been occupied by basil plants. She was happy with the job and that it made a difference. It was good marketing, but also attractive and seasonal. I fell under her spell.

But there was more to it than that — her sense of the fun of it. I asked her how long she’d been working for the company, and when she told me 13 years, I asked for her take on what was happening with the Big Three; she looked chagrined.

“No comparison,” she said, shaking her head and not wanting to elaborate.

I’m carefully watching the progress in the supermarket negotiations, but I’ve already moved on. The last strike broke my loyalty to the chains and my heart. Many of the employees I’d gotten to know at Ralphs, which I’d patronized for years, left my neighborhood store during their months on the picket lines. Perhaps they couldn’t afford to wait it out, perhaps they found other employment. When the strike was over, I tried to talk with a few clerks in the checkout lines, but they were reticent — working hard to keep the long lines flowing. No eye contact, no time to make a connection. I understand their pain, and I do care, so I’m not boycotting entirely. I still root for the union workers, but the fact is, the ones I know are mostly gone. Those who stayed have always seemed unsettled, insecure — and I hope their lot improves.

In stores where employees are happy, people can be people, and everyone wins. Workers take a moment to ask or answer a question, to engage the customer. That extra second to stop and smile comes easier, and if it’s not too prolonged, even those waiting in lines don’t seem to mind.

The Talmud teaches that we should respect those who work for us, even at our own expense. It makes good business sense. Because that extra smile of satisfaction often leads to the extra dollar spent — on that bottle of wine that wasn’t needed in the first place.

The funny thing is, shopping around has proved not only pleasant, but also just as economical. Because I totaled it up the other day, just to see how much that gallon of milk really cost me. And when I looked at my month’s bills, two years later, even with the extras, even though my money has gone elsewhere, my family’s monthly bill hadn’t really changed.

Rob Eshman is on assignment.

A night at the homeless shelter


545 San Pedro Street is an address I will never forget.

It is the Union Rescue Mission downtown, inhabited by homeless individuals that reside in their designated corners on Skid Row. My school, Milken Community High School, offered a community service experience for 21 students, and I found myself at the Union Rescue Mission.

During my three-day trip, I had the occasion to sleep in the mission, take a tour, speak with the residents, and serve and prepare food.
The Mission is a recovery center for drug and alcohol addicts, battered women and children. The facility utilizes the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, which encourages people to develop a relationship with God. It teaches individuals to change their beliefs, attitudes and choices. My own beliefs and attitudes were also changed as a result of this experience.

As I searched the dining room holding my tray, I spotted an older African American woman and joined her. I was struck by how focused she was on eating every bite of her meal.

“Hi, I’m Jackie, how are you doing today?”

She told me about her day but was more interested in finding out about me. I told her about my school, my favorite classes and my hobbies. I realized how many opportunities I take for granted. As soon as I mentioned sports, her eyes lit up and she was filled with enthusiasm. She told me about her family, her life and how she had always enjoyed school. She told her stories about sports and how she had received a volleyball scholarship.

Sadly, she chose the wrong path and as a result, her life became unmanageable. She became consumed with drug addiction and self-destructive behaviors. She abandoned her 5-year-old daughter for fear that she would have the same horrible life. I was speechless. The silence grew uncomfortable as I nervously began rambling on about my computer classes to fill the void. I knew at the end of our visit that this woman would remain in my memory bank forever. I realized that each choice we make impacts our future and our relationships with others.

During mealtime we had the opportunity to connect with someone outside of ourselves, sharing our stories and listening to others. I never fully understood how important the concept of a meal was. I realized that mealtime offered much needed support to those who suffered. It had the power to create a connection between people who were polar opposites. It gave me the opportunity to step into the shoes of someone I never would have met.

The next morning, I spotted my new friend as I got ready to return to my usual lifestyle. Little did she know what a lasting impression she had made. My views on those less fortunate had been changed forever.

My life-changing experience at the mission taught me that everyone is a diamond in the rough.

Jackie Greenspan graduated from Milken Community High School last year.


The this essay was written for the Service Learning awards given out by the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Sulam Center for Jewish Service Learning (julief@jewishjournal.com.

It happened one weekend … at the Sisterhood


“Something happens,” I was told across the “first timers” table Nov. 2 at BJ’s Restaurant in Woodland Hills. “When these women get together. I can’t explain it, but
something happens.”

The get-together was the 46th annual Biennial Assembly of the Women of Reform Judaism’s (WRJ) Pacific District (that’s the West Coast, plus Hawaii, Alaska and Vancouver). The woman talking to me was Sylvia Rose of University Synagogue in Los Angeles. She had a name badge around her neck that displayed a ribbon sporting a plethora of colored stickers — YES Fund (Youth, Education, Service), WUPJ (World Union of Progressive Judaism), JBI (Jewish Braille Institute) — symbolizing some of the myriad programs sponsored by the sisterhoods of WRJ. By the end of that weekend at the Woodland Hills Hilton, Rose would be inducted as one of six vice presidents for 2006-2008.

I looked around the party room 40 of us had taken over for the evening at a preassembly function. I was without question the youngest in the room (if you exclude the wait staff). At 28, I was the youngest person at the conference; as co-vice president of membership for my sisterhood, Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, I am the youngest woman on our board.

While my peers might have been spending their weekend partying, going to see “Borat” or enjoying a day at the beach, I was learning Torah, voting on policy changes and teaching women twice my age how to increase their sisterhood’s membership.

And I loved every minute of it!

I kept hearing over and over again that this “wasn’t your mother’s sisterhood” (of course, every time I heard that, I looked at the next table where my grandmother — the “e-mail chair” and former president of our sisterhood — was sitting).

I joined my sisterhood five years ago, after attending a sukkah party with my grandmother. Like most women who shared their experiences at the assembly, I started small — I volunteered my time on a committee. I was involved in a Jewish sorority in college and saw sisterhood as the next step up — minus the keggers, rush week and homecoming. So I went to some meetings, which led to more meetings, and today I co-chair that committee.

The women whom I now consider my good friends at first thought of me as “Char’s granddaughter from Chicago.” Now she’s known as “Shoshana’s grandma.”

The face of sisterhood is changing, yet a stigma remains. For all of the efforts of these articulate, intelligent, hard-working women, the word “sisterhood” still brings up images of old ladies wearing aprons as they set up the Shabbat Kiddush. It probably doesn’t help to point out to my contemporaries that all of the district officers inducted at the meeting were my mother’s age or older.

When I suggest joining sisterhood to my friends, who are in their 20s and 30s, they tell me they’ll join sisterhood “later” — and they come up with a slew of reasons why they don’t want to join now. But I’ve never been one to take no for an answer.

Complaint: I don’t have anything in common with these women.
Answer: How do you know unless you meet them? Our youngest member is 15; she and her mother are good friends of mine. Our oldest member is 95; she’s also a friend of mine.

Complaint: How will I meet guys my age hanging out at a sisterhood?
Answer: Um, hello. These women are mothers and grandmothers who have Jewish sons, grandsons and nephews.

Complaint: The programs are so boring. I don’t want to just sit around listening to speakers.
Answer: So join and change it. Our sisterhood has a group of young mothers of children in preschool and religious school who recently sponsored a bra fitting at Nordstrom before the store opened to shoppers — and brought in an OB/GYN to talk about breast cancer awareness.

Complaint: I don’t have time to be involved.
Answer: Really? Well can you make a phone call, fold an invitation or send out an e-mail? Bet you can.

Sisterhood is not for everyone: People who can’t stand other people won’t like it. But that’s about it.

These women offer an arm when you’ve twisted your ankle and a shoulder to cry on when you get bad news. They bring food when you can’t leave the house and tell jokes when you need a good laugh. They’ll argue with you when you want a good fight and support you 100 percent when you feel that no one else will. They raise money to send rabbis to school and to send Jewish kids to Jewish camps; they help the infrastructure of their synagogues and that of synagogues around the world.

WRJ is also the predominant sponsor of the new Women’s Torah Commentary that is being published next year (I saw a preview of the Chayei Sarah segment, and it looks awesome).

By Saturday, I wore an small Torah pin I had purchased at the “Faire and Share,” in support of the YES Fund. But I’m very proud that I join the ranks of those name-badge-wearing sisters who came before me.

Sylvia was right: These women get together and something happens. But I can’t really describe it either — I guess it is something you’ll have to see for yourself.

FYI: We’re taking over San Diego in December 2007.

Arrested development: Young Jewish activists voluntarily go to jail in support of union rights


Sarah Leiber Church and Laura Podolsky had big plans for the evening of Sept. 28 — getting arrested.

They were part of a protest march that took place along Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport aimed at hotels that allegedly have been preventing employees from unionizing. During the late afternoon, approximately 2,000 people marched down the major thoroughfare, cutting off traffic. In what has been called the largest act of civil disobedience in Los Angeles, more than 300 of those people later deliberately sat down in the street, were arrested and jailed for up to 24 hours.

Both Church and Podolsky say their Jewish heritage is an important motivation for their activism for labor rights.

“From a young age I learned there’s a really strong message [in Judaism] about the importance of standing up for justice, and the importance of being directly involved,” Podolsky said.

Both she and Church are members of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), a group dedicated to social justice in Los Angeles. Daniel Sokatch, executive director of PJA, estimates that the group had anywhere between 50 and 100 people present at the protest, and that about 10 of those were arrested.

One part of the PJA’s larger goal is to reexamine the meaning of “kosher” among the Jewish population of Los Angeles.

“We’re working to expand the definition of kosher for the Jewish community, to go beyond how food is prepared to how workers are treated in institutions,” said Jaime Rapaport, program director for PJA. For example, she said, “The LAX Hilton is not a kosher hotel. Their kitchen may be kosher, and they may serve kosher food, but the way they treat their workers is not kosher.”

Church, the PJA’s Bay Area program director, said the timing of the protest, during the holiest part of the year, added meaning to her participation.

“The time in the Jewish calendar was very important to me in making the decision to take the steps to risk arrest … it’s a time when you take stock of how you’ve treated people over the last year,” she said. “I can think of no better way to start off 5767 than by supporting hotel workers and hard-working immigrant families in their fight for dignity in the work place.”

The sentiment was echoed by many, including Rabbi Jason Van Leeuwen of B’nai Tikvah Congregation in Westchester,who presided over a blessing of the challah in front of the Westin Hotel — one of three blessings that took place: Christian, Muslim and Jewish. The challahs used were round, he said, “as a symbol for the cycle of the year, but also as a symbol of a message to the hotel management — what goes around comes around.”

Church said the religious service had been a highlight of the march.

“They said, ‘We give you bread for the journey,’ and passed out challahs to everyone. I remember hearing from some of the women later that the bread was just exactly what they needed, because they were feeling a little faint; they were feeling a little scared, frankly, and they said that having something to eat whether or not they were Jewish was really important to them.”

When the marching stopped, the sitting began. Those being arrested sat down on Century Boulevard — the main thoroughfare to LAX — where the police warned them that, unless they moved, they faced arrest. All wore matching shirts that read, “I am a human” in English and Spanish, echoing signs held at the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis. The 300 arrested offered no resistance as officers put them in plastic handcuffs.

En route to jail they sang songs.

“I wanted to lead songs in Hebrew and teach people, but it didn’t seem like the right environment,” Church said. “But we sang ‘We Shall Overcome,’ and we sang ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’ in English and Spanish.”

Even as they were arresting the protesters, many police seemed supportive of the action.

“I was speaking to one of them who was taking my fingerprints,” Church said, “and he said, ‘You know, I think I support what you’re doing.’ I said, ‘You’re unionized, right?’ And he said, ‘Oh yeah, and if we weren’t I’d want you all to be out on the streets.'”

This was a first arrest for both Church and Podolsky.

“Jail is cold, dingy and boring,” Podolsky said. “But I would do it a lot more, if it were necessary in order to stand up for these issues.”

Other arrestees shared cells with prostitutes or drug dealers.

Both Church and Podolsky spent the night in jail in South Central, released at 3:30 and 6:30 a.m., respectively.

Van Leeuwen agreed that the action was in accordance with Jewish teachings.
“The Torah repeatedly tells us that we should love the stranger; that they should be subject to laws and rights we’re subject to,” he said.

Though tired from a long march and a night spent in jail, everyone seemed in good spirits by Friday, proud of what they had accomplished.

“It was an incredible experience, and it was also an uncomfortable experience
… it’s something that I look back on with pride,” Church said.
Said Podolsky, simply, “It’s a good way to be Jewish.”

United Teachers Los Angeles just says ‘no’ to Israel divestment push by union commitee


Under a tidal wave of pressure from the local Jewish community, the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) has decided to deny use of its headquarters to a UTLA committee planning to host a meeting to discuss the launch of a local boycott of sanctions against and divestment from Israel.

 
In an release issued late on Oct. 5, UTLA President A.J. Duffy said he favored canceling the planned Oct. 14 pro-Palestinian gathering because it will “only polarize our union members and members of our community.”

 
However, the UTLA’s Human Rights Committee might still choose to hold the gathering elsewhere, even though Duffy has lobbied several committee members to scrap it, UTLA communications director Marla Eby said.

 
“It’s still up in the air,” she said.

 
The planned gathering would be sponsored by the Los Angeles chapter of a group called Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS), a new outfit that, according to its Website, includes author Noam Chomsky, who has been sharply critical of Israel, as well as revisionist historian Howard Zinn as board members and which has tight links with Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, a student-activist movement that peaked in the 1960s. The gathering is officially endorsed by the Los Angeles Palestine Labor Solidarity Committee and by Cafe Intifada.

 
Still, some Jewish leaders seemed to appreciate UTLA President Duffy’s efforts to put distance between the union and the Human Rights Committee.

 
“I’m proud of what the UTLA has done,” said Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of the western region of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress).

 
Earlier, Rowen Taylor had said that allowing such a meeting to take place on union property would give the appearance that that UTLA endorsed divestment and a boycott, which it does not.

 
A draft letter to Duffy from several Jewish groups, including the Zionist Organization of America, AJCongress, the Jewish Community Relations Committee and the Progressive Jewish Alliance, among others, thanks him for sending “a clear message that UTLA does not endorse the [Human Rights] Committee’s action.”

 
Leaders from several major local Jewish organizations met at the L.A. Federation on Oct. 4 to discuss how to respond to the planned event. Duffy also attended the two-hour gathering. Duffy, several participants said, told the group he is Jewish, supports Israel and sympathizes with their concerns. He told participants that UTLA’s 30-plus committees enjoy much autonomy and that their positions don’t necessarily reflect the union as a whole.

 
Duffy said, in the release, that he had removed UTLA’s Web link to the Human Rights Committee and that UTLA would review its procedures for granting use of its facilities to union committees. In an interview Oct. 5, Duffy added that he found the brouhaha a distraction.

 
“Let me put it this way, I’d rather be focusing 100 percent of my time to the contract negotiations going on, rather than this [meeting],” he said.

 
Duffy said he had received far more pro-Israel calls and e-mails than pro-Palestinian communication.

 
Representatives from UTLA’s Human Rights Committee declined to comment. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) said he believes the group is “made up of a fringe of anti-Semites.” The congressman added that perhaps UTLA should create a new committee for teachers supporting Israel.

 
The Human Rights Committee’s mission statement calls for “social justice and the peaceful resolution of conflict for its members and other staff, students, parents, the community, the nation, and the global economy.”

 
After learning about the planned anti-Israel meeting, local Jewish groups united in their condemnation, characterizing the event as anti-Semitic and criticizing the UTLA for initially allowing its headquarters to be used.

 
“This is worse than a black eye. This goes to the heart of [UTLA’s] credibility,” said Stephen Saltzman, western regional director of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), before the UTLA announced the gathering could not take place on its property. “This is the largest teachers’ union west of the Mississippi allowing itself to be used by extremist radicals who want to launch a campaign to attack the state of Israel and do so with the implied endorsement of the people teaching our children.”

 
Paul Kujawsky, vice president of the Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles, and a fifth-grade teacher at Germain Street Elementary Street in Chatsworth, said he thought UTLA could make better use of its time grappling with such important local issues as high-school drop-out rates.

 
“As a union member, I’m furious that we are attempting to have our own foreign policy when there are so many important educational issues to be addressed,” Kujawsky said before Duffy’s announcement.

 
A release put out by the Los Angeles Chapter of the Movement for a Democratic Society said the meeting’s purpose is to support the Palestinian people and call for a boycott, divestment and sanctions.

 
“When Israel was created in 1948, 75 percent of the Palestinians were forcibly dispossessed of their lands and forced into exile,” the release says, adding that “Israel’s apartheid and racist system of oppression closely resembles that which South Africa once had…” An MDS spokesman could not be reached for comment.

 
Amanda Susskind, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said the strategy for boycott, divestment and sanctions is really a “campaign for the elimination of the state of Israel, spearheaded by extremist groups who use the same hateful rhetoric as states like Iran and terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.”

 

News Briefs from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency


Technion Gets $25 Million Gift From Californian

A California philanthropist has donated $25 million to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. The gift from Lorry Lokey, founder and chairman of Business Wire, will be used to create a new combined life sciences and engineering center. The money came through the New York-based American Technion Society, which has raised more than $1.2 billion since its inception in 1940. “I feel that Israel has in the Technion an asset as valuable as MIT and Cal Tech combined,” Lokey said.

Technion Professor Aaron Ciechanover, a who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2004, will head the center.

U.S. Teachers Union Backs Israel

A major U.S. teachers union passed a pro-Israel resolution. Passed July 21 at the biennial convention of the American Federation of Teachers in Boston, the resolution supports Israel’s right to defend itself and condemns the “bombings, killings and kidnappings by Hezbollah and Hamas that precipitated the current crisis.”

The resolution also calls for the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which demands that Hezbollah be disarmed and calls for negotiations leading to a cease-fire.

Initiative Aims to Boost Israeli Tourism

A major U.S. Jewish umbrella group launched an initiative to bolster tourism to Israel during the conflict with Hezbollah.

The program, launched by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, allows tourists to place reservations, which will be valid for up to a year, in northern Israeli hotels and kibbutzim. It is intended to provide a “continuing stream” of income to Israeli tourism and the people who work in that industry, the group’s executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein, said Monday in a conference call with reporters.

Israel’s Hotel Association and the Tourism Ministry are participating in the effort, in cooperation with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Gaza Development Authority.

Jewish Lawmakers Honor Israeli Air Force

Several members of the U.S. House of Representatives attended a July 19 gathering honoring the Israel Air Force Center, an Israeli nonprofit that promotes ties between the Israeli air force and the international community.”There are difficult days ahead for Israel,” said Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo). “I can’t tell you how profoundly grateful we are to the Israeli air force for what it does 24 hours a day. Members of Congress who are friends of Israel are honored and privileged to do our little bit to assist.”

Other Jewish members attending included Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).

Saudis Warn of War

Saudi Arabia said Israeli actions could bring about a Middle East war.”Saudi Arabia warns everybody that if the peace option fails because of Israeli arrogance, there will be no other option but war,” Saudi King Abdullah was quoted as saying Tuesday, in reference to Israel’s offensives in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Saudi Arabia championed a 2002 regional peace proposal under which Israel would be recognized by the Arab world if it gave up territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and allowed a “right of return” for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Israel rejected the preconditions, which are seen as demographic suicide for the Jewish state. The chief of Israel’s military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that Syria had put its armed forces on high alert and that there was concern in Jerusalem that it could “misread the situation” an apparent reference to Syrian fears that it could come under attack from Israeli or U.S. forces.

Turkey Would Consider Lebanon Role

Turkey would consider a role in a stabilization force in southern Lebanon. “If and when called upon, we will be giving positive consideration to whichever way we contribute, including the stabilization force,” said Burak Akcapar, a counselor at the Turkish Embassy in Washington. Turkey is to play a prominent role at talks in Rome on Wednesday hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice aimed at ending the Israel-Lebanon crisis. Akcapar said it was too early to consider whether Turkey would take a leading role in such a force, but noted that Turkey had successfully led such forces in recent years in the Balkans and Afghanistan. “We have a major stake in maintaining stability in the region,” he said.

Ukrainians Hold Pro-Israel Rallies

Demonstrators in two Ukrainian cities rallied in a show of support for Israel. An estimated 2,000 people, some of them carrying Israeli flags and banners reading “Stop the Terror,” “Yes, Israel” and “Ukraine and Israel Together” demonstrated Monday in Kiev.

Israeli Ambassador Naomi Ben-Ami, the chief rabbis of Ukraine, and Jewish and Christian leaders took part in the rally. Also Monday, some 1,500 people attended a rally in support of Israel in the city of Dnepropetrovsk.

In a related development, Alexander Feldman, a Jewish member of Ukraine’s Parliament, collected some 50 signatures from lawmakers on a petition urging the Ukrainian leadership to publicly support Israel in the current conflict.Last week, hundred of demonstrators rallied in Kiev and some other Ukrainian cities to protest Israel’s military operation against Hezbollah.

Poll: Canadians Back Israel

Almost two-thirds of Canadians see Israel’s military action in Lebanon as completely or somewhat justified, according to a new poll.

A survey conducted for the CanWest News Service and Global National found that 64 percent of Canadians are sympathetic to the goals of Israel’s counterattack against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Sixty-three percent of the 1,023 Canadians polled said that if any side should be required to make a major compromise to attain a cease-fire, it should be “those who kidnapped the Israeli soldiers.”

Israeli Children Get Donated Toys

Children in northern Israel received toys donated from North America. Canadian philanthropist Gerry Schwartz and his wife, Heather Riesman, along with the Toys “R” Us chain, donated toys worth approximately $50,000 to children in the northern Israeli towns of Nahariya and Shlomi.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Nation World Briefs


Ground Troops in Gaza

Israel sent troops into the Gaza Strip for the first time since it withdrew from the territory. Commandos entered northern Gaza on Monday night and attacked a Palestinian squad about to launch a rocket into Israel. Four suspected terrorists were killed and another five wounded. There were no Israeli casualties. Israel had previously relied on its air force and navy for operations in Gaza, partly out of concern that a ground operation could bolster Palestinian claims that the coastal strip continues to be occupied, despite the removal of all 21 settlements and army bases there last August.

Olmert, Mubarak to Meet

Israel’s Ehud Olmert will meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at a June 4 summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, the site of May 21 talks between Olmert’s top two deputies and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Egyptian officials said they expected the meeting to pave the way for a summit between the P.A. president and the Israeli prime minister.

Jewish Groups Gather Aid for Indonesia

Several Jewish groups set up funds to aid victims of the recent earthquake in Indonesia. The American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and B’nai B’rith International are accepting donations for victims of Saturday’s earthquake, which killed an estimated 5,000 people and left tens of thousands injured. The AJWS is accepting donations through its Web site; www.ajws.org. The JDC is taking credit card donations by phone, (212) 687-6200; personal checks should be made out to JDC: Indonesia Earthquake Relief and mailed to JDC: Indonesia Earthquake Relief, Box 321, 847A Second Ave., New York, N.Y., 10017; and online contributions can be made at www.jdc.org. Those wishing to contribute through B’nai B’rith may send checks to its general disaster relief fund, at B’nai B’rith International, 2020 K St. NW, Seventh Floor, Washington, D.C., 20006.

Israel Boycott Recommendation Blasted

British Jewish leaders blasted a decision by a British teachers union to recommend a boycott of Israel. Monday’s vote by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, which forces Israeli academics to “publicly declare their political views and subject them to the scrutiny of British academics, is especially pernicious,” the Board of Deputies of British Jews said in a statement. The boycott applies to Israeli lecturers and academic institutions that don’t publicly declare their opposition to Israel’s presence in the West Bank.

Canadian Union Backs Israel Boycott

A large public-sector union in Canada voted to back a boycott against Israel. Some 900 members of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees voted unanimously at a conference last week to support the campaign until Israel “recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination.” The president of the union, Sid Ryan, condemned Israel’s security barrier, calling it an “apartheid wall,” and urged that Israeli wines be removed from the shelves of provincial liquor stores. Steven Schulman, regional director of the Canadian Jewish Congress in Ontario, blasted the move.

Jerusalem Compensates Gays, Lesbians

The Jerusalem Municipality was ordered to pay out $70,000 to the city’s gay and lesbian center. Jerusalem District Court on Monday found in favor of a petition filed against City Hall by the Jerusalem Open House, which had been deprived of funding from the municipal cultural chest since 2003. The petitioners were also awarded $5,200 in court costs. Gay and lesbian activists have been at odds with the Jerusalem Municipality before, given Mayor Uri Lupolianski’s misgivings over the annual Gay Pride Parade in the city.

Cancer Patients Call Off Strike

A hunger strike by Israeli cancer patients was called off after the government agreed to boost state-funded treatment. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday ordered some $75 million added to the 2006 “health basket” of medications covered by the state. The funding meant a reprieve for Israeli colon-cancer sufferers who until now have had to pay thousands of shekels a month for some of their treatments. Several patients had set up camp outside the Knesset more than two weeks ago and went on a hunger strike in protest. But there was partisan rancor at the prospect that Olmert would provide the money by cutting the defense budget.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz, whose Labor Party is chief coalition partner in the Olmert government, voiced outrage at the decision, prompting speculation that the government could have trouble passing its budget.

Senate Delays P.A. Vote

The U.S. Senate delayed consideration of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act. The Senate was due to have voted last Friday on the act, cutting off assistance to the Palestinian Authority, but a security scare stemming from an erroneous report of gunfire in the Rayburn Senate Office Building delayed business until after the Memorial Day holiday weekend. With 89 co-sponsors, the act is guaranteed passage. It would cut assistance to the Palestinian Authority, but differs from a version passed last week in the U.S. House of Representatives by allowing the president greater leeway in delivering emergency assistance to the Palestinians. It also narrows the bill’s scope, limiting its restrictions to governments led by the Hamas terrorist group.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Questions Emerge Over School Board Candidate


A leading contender in next week’s L.A. school board race is at odds with USC and UCLA over his academic standing, the latest in a series of uncomfortable disclosures for Christopher Arellano.

Arellano, 33, the candidate endorsed by the powerful Los Angeles teachers union, did not complete the master’s programs for which he claims to have degrees, according to the University of Southern California. Further, UCLA declined Thursday to confirm his bachelor’s degree, saying only that Arellano’s “records are on hold.”

In an interview, Arellano said he was unaware of a dispute about his record at UCLA, but he acknowledged he did not complete a required four units of classes for the Urban Planning component of the dual master’s he has claimed at USC. He also said he fully completed the other of the two master’s degrees, in social work.

Questions about Arellano’s academic status came to light even as the well-financed political newcomer is trying to lay to rest another issue: a criminal past. Thursday’s La Opinion published details about Arellano convictions for theft — once at age 20 and again three years later.

Arellano insists that he has been open about his troubles.

“I am aware that my opponents have raised questions regarding my past,” he said in a statement provided Wednesday night to the House of Representatives of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). “And yes, I did make some mistakes. I am not proud of these mistakes, but they have served to make me a better, stronger person. I am running for school board because I want to ensure that none of our children end up in the hopeless place that I did and make the same mistakes that I made.”

Born Robert Christopher Bruce, Arellano said in an interview with The Journal that his mother was Mexican and his father Anglo and an alcoholic. He recounted dropping out of school and leaving Phoenix, Ariz. at 14, finally arriving in Los Angeles at 18, where he slept in a car.

“I have been like one of our kids who gets lost in the system,” he said.

He began to get interested in theater and also hung out with Echo Park hipsters, who knew him as Bianco. He eventually changed his name legally to Christopher Bianco Arellano. Later, as an activist, he was involved in gay rights issues — he is openly gay — and the local Democratic party.

Arellano said he became politically awakened when he discovered Chicano studies at UCLA: “I redirected my frustration and anger to doing things and good work.”

Following Arellano’s appearance at the UTLA body Wednesday night, union delegates overwhelmingly voted to stand by their endorsement. At the meeting delegates were not, apparently, aware of questions regarding Arellano’s academic status.

Arellano’s character issues both cloud and enliven a political contest far off the radar of most Angelenos. He is one of four candidates running in District 2 of the Los Angeles Unified School District to replace Jose Huizar, who was elected to the Los Angeles City Council. Huizar now holds the seat formerly occupied by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Villaraigosa’s shadow looms large over the race. After some initial hesitation, Mayor Villaraigosa has embraced a mayoral takeover of the L.A. school district. Both Villaraigosa and Huizar, a close ally, have endorsed former Huizar aide Monica Garcia. For her part, Garcia, 38, says she “can’t really comment” on Villaraigosa’s takeover plan until she sees it in writing. Some political observers have interpreted this response as indirect support for Villaraigosa’s efforts.

The other candidates are not so coy in taking a different view. The most vocal opponent of the mayor’s bid for authority over the schools has been Arellano, and his position helped win the UTLA endorsement — UTLA has made resisting the mayoral takeover its No. 1 priority. Arellano also works fulltime for UTLA as a teacher rep. UTLA has consistently been the major donor in school-board races, and its endorsed candidates hold the majority on the seven-member Board of Education.

Essentially, the contest has shaped up as a proxy battle between the teachers union (supporting Arellano) and those in town who support putting the mayor in charge of L.A.’s schools (supporting Garcia). Arellano’s corollary assets include a background as a community activist and, briefly, as a City Council aide.

But then came news of Arellano’s other background.

In his campaign bio and in an initial interview, Arellano said he has two master’s. USC spokesman James Grant said the school’s position is that no degree has been conferred. When told of USC’s contention, Arellano said he has four units to complete on the second master’s in the dual master’s program. Regarding the first master’s: “I have completed all requirements for the social-work degree. I graduated and walked at graduation ceremonies in May of 2005.”

UCLA spokesman Phil Hampton would say only that Arellano’s academic records “are on hold and as a matter of policy we can’t confirm whether he received a degree.” He declined to say why the records are on hold.

“I have no idea what the problem is,” Arellano said. “I graduated from UCLA in 1998. I don’t know what the holdup is — honestly. I do have student loans. They are current. With this campaign, people are letting me know what is happening in my life.”

Arellano’s problems could open the door for other candidates, especially if he loses the UTLA endorsement. A fallback union choice could be 31-year-old Enrique Gasca, a former Legislative aide who operates a public-relations and consulting firm and who has attracted some union support; he has presented himself as the only parent in the race. A dark-horse wildcard is Ana Teresa Fernandez, a 23-year-old UCLA graduate who works as a staffer for the California Charter Schools Association. She was schooled in activism by her mother, teacher Lupe Fernandez, who has lobbied ceaselessly for the completion of the half-finished Belmont Learning Complex. Fernandez scored endorsements from both the Los Angeles Times and the L.A. Weekly. A fifth candidate, Maria Lou Calanche, appears on the ballot but has suspended her campaign.

All of the other candidates’ professed degrees check out. Garcia has a bachelor’s from UC Berkeley and a master’s from USC. Gasca has a bachelor’s from Georgetown.

Arellano’s candidacy could have fallen apart the evening of March 1, when the teachers union House of Representatives convened for a regular meeting and then entered closed session to discuss whether Arellano would keep the endorsement. The union already has committed to donating $200,000 to Arellano’s campaign — which could swamp the opposition. And more help is in the works, including a phone-bank operation, precinct walking and campaign mailers. The House dealt with the matter for about 30 minutes, said UTLA spokesman Steve Blazac. At one point, Arellano was summoned in to explain himself.

“It was an emotional appeal,” Blazac said, “to teachers from someone who said, ‘I had a troubled youth and stumbled a few times, but I turned my life around and let’s move forward.'”

Speaking with The Journal, Arellano discounted tales told by former associates, who question his transformation and apparently alerted the media: “Obviously, they’re not my friends. I’ve told you I made mistakes. I definitely screwed up in early life and I’m sorry about that.”

In his written statement to union members, Arellano said: “Over the course of this campaign, I have always been upfront about the fact that I had a troubled childhood.”

But Arellano never volunteered specifics, let alone implied that his troubles included criminal convictions or financial irresponsibility. In 1992, he appeared before a municipal court for stealing merchandise and for battery at Pioneer Market in Boyle Heights. He pleaded guilty to the theft charge in a plea agreement. The court fined him $415 and placed him on unsupervised probation for 24 months.

In 1995, Los Angeles police arrested him for stealing more than $400, which qualifies as grand theft. After initially pleading not guilty, he eventually entered a no-contest plea, according to court records. A judge fined him $125 and sentenced him to three days in prison, 30 days of forced labor with Caltrans, and mandatory psychiatric treatment. He subsequently missed multiple court appearances. Court records indicate two bench warrants were issued for his arrest for failure to appear in court, spanning from 1995 to March 1999. The 1995 case continued until September 2004.

The 1992 case did not officially close until a hearing today (Thursday) in Los Angeles Superior Court, according to court records. For more than 10 years — until today — there has been an outstanding warrant for his arrest due to repeated failures to appear in court.

Arellano’s docket also includes a separate 1998 judgment for a loan debt of $3,610.97. Arellano said he couldn’t recall the case, but that “any kind of debt that needed to be paid I paid. My credit score I’m happy with.”

The question for voters is simply: Who is Christopher Arellano? Former friends, some claiming to be victims of alleged scams, say they consider him a charming con artist and just can’t believe that he has reformed. They point out that some of his problems have persisted into recent times, such as the now-closed court cases.

But Arellano earned good marks in his year working as a field deputy for City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who has endorsed Arellano.

“Chris, I think, embodies somebody who has not only transformed his life, but also overcome a lot of hardship to be a success story, which is what we want to see a lot of youths in Los Angeles achieve,” Garcetti said. “He was a dropout and overcame a broken home to work on behalf of social justice. He was able to put himself through college and graduate school. He was an extremely welcome, bright, articulate presence in the office.”

Additional reporting by Robert David Jaffee.

Acts of Faith


Shabbat Shalom, Los Feliz

When Rabbi Leibel Korf came to Los Angeles more than seven years ago, he started up a Chabad center in his Los Feliz home’s dining room. By October 2000, he moved to a 1,200-square-foot storefront on Vermont Avenue, in a strip mall just north of Hollywood Boulevard. For the last five years, Chabad of Greater Los Feliz has thrived so much that Korf felt it was time to move to bigger premises.

“For the past years, we felt there was a lot we could do if we had the space and a presence in the neighborhood,” he said.

Now they will, with the purchase of a 6,750-square-foot lot on Hillhurst Avenue for $1.4 million. The two-building property, located on a trendy restaurant row north of Franklin Avenue, was formerly the famous Vida restaurant. (The Los Angeles Times erroneously reported the property was sold to the Kabbalah Center.)

The new Chabad of Greater Los Feliz is set to open there Feb. 1. Synagogue services will take place in the renovated back building, and Chabad classes, lectures, day school, teen clubs and programs will take place in the main building, which will also undergo renovations once the additional funds — about $1 million — are raised.

Korf, 35, hopes to use the new premises to expand his programs and host more of the community. (Korf boasts a mailing list of 7,000 — “We know of the existence of 2,000, and we have some contact with 1,300-1,500,” he said.) They are kashering the restaurant kitchen so that his wife, Dvonye, who normally prepares large meals in their home, can now have the professional, kosher facilities for Shabbat and holiday meals.

The only cloud on this silver-lined horizon may be that it is located next door to a Scientology center, where young Hollywood types stand outside distributing leaflets and beckoning passersby to enter. But Korf says he will not get involved.

“We are very nonjudgmental in general — no matter who our neighbors are, we are very accommodating,” he said.

Korf hopes the new center will attract more people from the Hollywood Hills, Silver Lake and the surrounding Eastside areas than being “in a strip mall on the edge of the neighborhood,” he said.

“I feel if there’s one more Jew-plus by being here, then, it’s all worth it.”

Chabad of Greater Los Feliz will be located at 1930 N. Hillhurst Ave. For more information, call (323) 660-5177 or visit www.chabadlosfeliz.com

Torah, Arts Meet at the Beach

The Pacific Jewish Center (PJC), or “the shul on the beach” as it is known, is one of six synagogues to win a $20,000 grant from the Orthodox Union (OU) programming initiative awards competition. PJC is the only L.A. synagogue to receive one of these first-time grants, which were announced in May for “encouraging initiatives to strengthen local synagogue and communal life.”

PJC won for the Venice Torah Arts Festival project, which will transform the synagogue, gardens and parking lot into a summer arts exhibition. Normally, the structure is closed except for daily prayers and Shabbat and holiday services. During the summer, the festival coordinator and volunteers will greet boardwalkers and entice them to Torah, Judaism and the local synagogue in hopes of inspiring “a vibrant revival of Jewish interest,” according to PJC’s grant application.

The OU awarded grants to programs that could be easily replicated in other synagogues. Stephen Savitsky, OU president, said, “Rabbi Benjamin Geiger, President Judd Magilnick and their colleagues are to be commended for their effort in putting this program together and for the vision and foresight they displayed in evaluating their community’s needs and in devising this program as a response.”

Pacific Jewish Center is located at 505 Ocean Front Walk. For more information call (310) 392-8749 or visit www.pjcenter.com

Separate but Egalitarian

The new monthly minyan, 10 and 10, will hold its next services on Friday, Jan. 20, at the Workmen’s Circle on Robertson Boulevard. The congregation follows traditional Shabbat services with a mehitzah dividing men and women, but also has women leading certain parts of the service, as well as getting aliyot.

10 and 10 is modeled after the shul, Shira Chadasha in Jerusalem, which adheres to traditional Jewish law, but is progressive in searching for egalitarian allowances of Jewish law. For example, 10 and 10 only begins davening when both 10 men and 10 women are present. The group meets at the Workmen’s Circle in the winter and in private homes in the spring and summer. Friday night services are followed by a dairy potluck.

For more information, contact 10and10-minyan@yahoogroups.com.

 

Activists Strategize on Hotel Contracts


The gala dinner was like many others at the Century Plaza Hotel, featuring festive centerpieces atop crisp tablecloths, well-dressed guests exchanging greetings and servers bustling about offering trays of beverages.

However, this event wasn’t actually inside the hotel. Set in front of the hotel on the Avenue of the Stars, which was blocked off, this banquet-in-the-street supported some 4,000 striking workers at seven Los Angeles hotels. The traffic-stopping April gathering was among a series of actions organized by a coalition of community groups, including the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), in support of an 11-month strike that ended in June.

The outcome was an important step forward for the union: It achieved a wage hike, continued health benefits and a short contract that will expire at nearly the same time as the contracts of other hotel workers in other parts of the country.

Last week saw the next round of activism — a transnational effort in support of hotel workers in eight cities fighting for a new contract in 2006.

On Wednesday, inspired by the success in Los Angeles, Jewish social justice organizations from the United States and Canada gathered at the hotel workers’ union headquarters just west of downtown. The strategy session was convened by New York-based Jewish Funds for Justice and Los Angeles’ Progressive Jewish Alliance. Representatives also attended from other Jewish organizations in Los Angeles, as well as from groups in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Paul, Washington, D.C. and Toronto. In mostly closed-door meetings, organizers discussed the tactics and the coalition building that worked in this year’s L.A. campaign and how the lessons would apply in other cities.

Organizers say that Jewish involvement has been a central fixture within the effort.

Jewish participation, particularly at the Century Plaza Hotel, was essential, said Maria Elena Durazo, president of the hotel workers local, UNITE HERE. The Century Plaza is sufficiently serious about Jewish clientele to maintain a sealed-off kosher kitchen, she said.

“There’s no doubt that if it had not been for the influence and the participation and the constant, constant communication of the Jewish organizations, the Century Plaza would not have settled,” Durazo said.

“The most important aspect of what we did there,” said Jaime Rapaport, the architect of PJA’s hotel worker support campaign, “was this national Jewish response to a campaign that’s addressing poverty.”

The national average median wage for housekeepers is $7.85 an hour, according to the union. Wages are higher where more hotels are organized: In New York, where hotels are 95 percent unionized, a housekeeper’s wages start at $19 an hour; in Los Angeles, with a 35 percent union density, housekeepers average $11.31.

“It’s not just about a contract fight,” UNITE HERE organizer Vivian Rothstein said. “It’s a national approach to address conditions for nonunion and union workers.”

But a hotel industry representative said the union activists are over-reaching with unrealistic demands and that they misrepresent how hotels treat their workers.

“The bulk of hotel workers are housekeepers. They make, under this contract, approximately $13.50 an hour,” said Fred Muir of the Hotel Employers Council, which represents seven unionized Los Angeles-area hotels. He points out that the contract also provides for a pension fund, paid health care and free meals at work.

The strategy on the hotel side has been to prevent union contracts across the country from expiring at the same time. Hotels gave ground on that issue in the last year. Beyond that, individual hotel chains have opposed union organizing and simply worked to hold down labor costs in a business environment that includes rising health-care costs.

The economics of the hotel industry are simple, Muir said. “How many rooms can you fill and how much can you charge for them? The money to pay everyone has to come from somewhere.”

Room rates in New York are twice what they are in Los Angeles, so workers in New York can be paid more than those in Los Angeles, he said.

The activists who gathered last week emphasized that they are trying to make their labor campaign about Jewish values. The meeting’s purpose was to link local Jewish groups to the union organizing in their cities, and, just as important, bring them together to develop “a common language, a common strategy, common goals that would enable us to speak in a louder and more aggregated voice,” said Daniel Sokatch of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. He wants to expand the notion of what constitutes “Jewish issues.”

“We want to put out there on the radar the notion that social justice is central to our identity as Jews,” he said.

The idea resonates with Simon Greer, who just six months ago took over as executive director of Jewish Funds for Justice. The foundation, which handles some $15 million annually, underwrote transportation and lodging costs for participants from the Jewish social justice organizations.

Greer said that the campaign seeks to boost hotel workers into the middle class. “As Jews in this country, the beneficiaries of America as an open society, we are obligated to do something for others in this society,” he said. “A piece of this is about how we reclaim justice as a centerpiece of Jewish identity in America.”

When Jews make choices that support social justice, he added, they are, in effect, expanding the notion of keeping kosher.

Books – ‘Love’ Tries to Solve Mystery of the Heart


“The History of Love” By Nicole Krauss (W.W. Norton, $23.95).

“The History of Love” is the name of a book within Nicole Krauss’s remarkable new novel of the same name, “The History of Love” (Norton). The inner novel has had a life of its own, written in Yiddish in Poland and thought to be lost, translated into Spanish in Buenos Aires, unbeknownst to the author, and later into English in New York; it drew on real love and also inspired love. If this were a love letter rather than a novel, it would be a chain letter, broken but ultimately reconnected.

Leo Gursky, a retired locksmith living alone in New York City, who makes a daily commotion in some public place to be sure that he doesn’t die without being noticed, is the unlikely romantic who’s the original author of “The History of Love.” He wrote it while living in Poland, when he was very much in love with a girl named Alma. Jews weren’t safe in their town of Slonim, and he lost Alma, who left for America before he did, and he gave the manuscript to a friend for safekeeping.

Years later at age 57, Gursky, after a heart attack curtails his work; he begins a new book, writing daily. He muses: “At times I believed that the last page of my book and the last page of my life were one and the same, that when my book ended I’d end, a great wind would sweep through my rooms carrying the pages away, and when the air cleared of all those fluttering white sheets the room would be silent, the chair where I sat would be empty.”

Gursky is a man whose suit doesn’t quite fit, who’s always late (“I’ve always arrived too late for my life”). A magnet for small mishaps at inopportune times, he’s cranky and lonely, although still a poetic observer. “Story of my life: I was a locksmith. I could unlock every door in the city. And yet I couldn’t unlock anything I wanted to unlock.”

Also living in New York is a young girl named Alma, who understands that she’s named after every female character in a Spanish novel her late father gave to her mother. Her parents would read to her from the book, inscribed with the words that this would have been the story her father would have written for her mother had he been a novelist. Years later, Alma’s mother is hired to translate the novel into English. Excerpts of it appear throughout the book.

Masterfully, Krauss ties together the stories of Gursky and the young Alma as each searches for clues about “The History of Love.” For Gursky, the manuscript oddly reappears, with the names changed into Spanish. The far-reaching literary puzzles involve Alma’s younger brother, who has messianic impulses; Gursky’s son, a well-known writer who doesn’t know of his father’s existence; Alma’s young friend Misha, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union who learns English by memorizing Beatles songs; and ghosts from Gursky’s past. Krauss’s overarching “The History of Love” is about loss and the transformative force of love; it’s also playful, wise and funny.

Her highly praised first novel, “Man Walks Into a Room,” published in 2002, is about a man who loses his memory. That was a daring first novel, not the more usual coming-of-age story. Beginning the book when she was 25, she wrote from the perspective of a 36-year-old man. Here she inhabits the voices of an old man and a 14-year-old girl, portraying each with convincing power.

Memory is still a theme for Krauss, and as she says, it’s probably one of the things she’ll be writing about as long as she writes. In “The History of Love,” Leo Gursky is overflowing with memories; in many ways, he lives in his memories. But he has no one to share them with.

Krauss has spoken of being really in love as she wrote this, and how that feeling is evident on the page. For her, writing is “a kind of reflex.” She says that her writing has evolved from the tightly-reigned-in prose of her first novel, where she cared a lot about the sentences, to greater expansiveness. Gursky’s voice, she explains, “allowed a kind of openness and honesty felt in the moment.”

Krauss, who began publishing poetry when she was 19, still writes beautiful sentences; her pages are full of energy.

The 30-year-old author, who lives in Brooklyn, is married to the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, whose second novel, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” is also recently published. Although several critics see parallels between their work, she declines to talk about him, preferring to keep their professional lives separate.

Film rights to “The History of Love” have been optioned by Warner Bros., with David Heyman set to produce and Alfonso Cuaron (known for “Y Tu Mamá También) as director.

On Monday, June 13, at 7 p.m., Nicole Krauss will read from “The History of Love” at Dutton’s Beverly Hills Books, 447 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 281-0997.

Sandee Brawarsky is the book critic for the Jewish Week.

 

Political Journal


 

This month’s Political Journal is a tale of two labor disputes. One is dragging on and on; the other has come to a peaceful conclusion just when it seemed there might be a strike ahead.

Hotels Battle Continues

A protracted 11-month debacle continues between UNITE HERE, Local 11, representing workers at eight (formerly nine) upscale Los Angeles hotels and the L.A. Hotel Employer’s Council, representing hotel management.

The crux of the battle is the workers’ demand for a short-term contract that would expire in 2006, which is also when contracts would expire at hotels in cities across the nation. The unions would then be able to cooperate, strengthen their common positions and have more clout in dealing with the international hotel conglomerates (like Starwood) that own some of the hotels.

The L.A.-area hotels (Hyatt Regency, Hyatt West Hollywood, Westin Century, Sheraton Universal, Wilshire Grand, Millennium Biltmore, Regent Beverly Wilshire and Westin Bonaventure) have insisted on a longer contract that would extend past 2006, saying that national union concerns are not relevant locally.

At this point, there are no scheduled negotiations.

On the upside for workers, the hotels have stopped charging a $10-a-week health care co-payment, which was instituted last July, after management declared an impasse.

“We didn’t ask the union for anything in return, but we hoped that it would help bring them back to the table,” said management spokesman Fred Muir.

Not surprisingly, the union doesn’t think management canceled the fee out of inherent goodness. It points to a pending complaint by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in January, which is expected to allege that management broke NLRB rules when it declared an impasse and imposed the co-pay.

“They have not refunded any of the [health care] money they collected,” said union spokesman David Koff. “Should the NLRB ultimately prevail in its complaint, the hotels could be liable to repay this money with interest.”

Taking the issue to trial and through the appeals process could take years. The hotels contend Local 11 is using a delaying strategy to get 2006 as the date for its next contract by default.

“Every time we meet, they don’t want to meet again for a month or six weeks,” Muir said. “They basically want to keep this thing going until 2006.”

Koff responded that five independently owned hotels around the city (including the Hotel Bel-Air and the Radisson Wilshire Plaza), which usually follow the hotel council’s lead on these issues, have already signed contracts with the union that expire in 2006.

“If the Bel Air and these other properties can live with the deal Local 11 has proposed to them, there is little question that these other hotels could live with it as well,” he said.

In the meantime, portions of the L.A. Jewish community have become deeply involved in the dispute, consistently siding with the workers.

The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and the Workmen’s Circle have organized the Adar Hotel Workers Campaign, collecting $40 supermarket gift certificates for the workers during the month of Adar (Feb. 10- April 9).

“They’re not being charged [the co-pay] anymore, but regardless, they’re facing extreme economic hardship, and they’re still owed the $40 per month from before,” said PJA’s Jaime Rappaport.

The certificates are being collected at a variety of congregations around the city, including Leo Baeck Temple, Temple Israel of Hollywood and IKAR, to name a few.

Teachers Get a Happy Ending — For Now

Meanwhile, a second labor dispute, this one brewing for an amazing 18 months, has been settled peacably, which almost counts as a surprise ending. United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) reached a tentative agreement with the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) Tuesday.

For the past year and a half, teachers had been fighting for higher pay and more involvement and flexibility in the design of their own training.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation, where what’s working in the Westside will work in South Central. The teachers in the classroom know what they’re dealing with; they should be included in the dialogue with the district, and that hasn’t been the case,” UTLA spokesperson Angelica Urquijo said the day before the agreement was reached.

In the preceeding week, a work-to-rule protest spread from West Valley schools to the rest of the district. Work-to-rule means teachers stop all the uncompensated work usually necessary to improve students’ education, such as spending unpaid hours after school tutoring children.

Urquijo said work-to-rule was meant to demonstrate how hard teachers really work, how the community of parents would stand behind them and how frustrating the interminable contract negotiations had become.

UTLA members reserved some frustration for their own president, John Perez, who was voted out earlier this month. He’ll be replaced July 1 by A.J. Duffy, a teacher who pledged to take a harder line against the district, especially on pay raises. That turn of events made the prospect of a strike seem more likely.

But just the day after work-to-rule went districtwide, the union and district reached an agreement running through June 2006. It includes a 2 percent retroactive pay raise from last July 1. The union also made gains on other contested issues, achieving a greater role for teachers in evaluating their own training programs and in providing more input on student assessmens.

Negotiators will go back to the table to discuss health benefits, which are funded through December.

Los Angeles in the past two years has trudged through a series of lengthy and painful labor disputes, running the gamut from supermarkets and buses to hotels and schools. At least LAUSD students, already working against the odds, won’t also have to overcome the fallout from a teachers strike.

 

Your Letters


Wage Woes

I was deeply disturbed to read Marc Ballon’s article on “Low Wages Force Workers to Struggle” (Jan. 2). Where is the outcry from the community?

The Jewish Federation should establish a blue-ribbon committee to look into this serious matter. It should be composed of lay and professional members, management and employees, all working to explore what impact the wage and benefit policies have on recruitment and retention. All sections of Jewish Los Angeles should be represented and the matter should be thoroughly investigated. Jewish agencies that cannot attract and retain talented communal professionals run the risk of failing in their mission for the Jewish community.

With so many challenges already facing us, what will the future of Jewish life in Los Angeles be if we can’t have the most talented professionals serving our needs?

The shonda is not only paying poor salaries and benefits. The shonda would be if, once informed, we avoided the issue and let matters continue. We as a community cannot afford it.

Yonaton Shultz, Los Angeles

I read Marc Ballon’s article regarding communal workers and their struggle with low wages (“Low Wages Force Workers to Struggle). I would expect more from The Journal.

This article is a cheap shot. It could be written about any group of workers who provide social services. Society has always undervalued the worth of these critical services. There is no challenge in identifying the issue. The challenge is to provide some critical thought and analysis as to what causes the problem and to suggest some possible solutions.

What solution does the union have other than to suggest that wages be raised? Does it discuss the consequences of reducing the wages of the chief executives of many of the agencies that offer these services? Does it suggest that this will be enough to compensate for the ills set forth in the article?

The article does not suggest what may cause the limited amount of funds that are raised in any agency or the UJF campaigns. (Keep in mind that the bulk of funds that are spent go toward personnel costs.) The article does not suggest the consequence of paying far less than competitive wages for any agency executives or the effect of less qualified and skilled executives actually operating the agencies. The article does not suggest how to solve the problem of agencies that for the most part are dependent on governmental funds for their existence.

To simply call it a shonda without offering any alternative is easy. To assert someone else’s selfish and self-serving agenda is worse and is itself a shonda.

Alan Cutrow, Los Angeles

I want to laud The Jewish Journal for their insightful cover article “Low Wages Force Workers to Struggle.” The issue you brought to the attention of the readers is not just a local or a regional issue.

The Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, the largest membership organization in North America for Jewish educators, is currently conducting a national census of early childhood Jewish educators. Based on 1,700 returns, only 28 percent of the teachers state that the employer is contributing toward a major medical plan. Retirement benefits are the other major benefit workers thirst for; yet, only 17 percent state that the employer is contributing toward a retirement plan. In all formal forms of Jewish education the median age is rising — early childhood

Jewish educators have a median age of 47 years, the same as that for day school and congregational school teachers. The median age of the administrators in the three areas of formal education of Jewish children ranges from 49-52. The national median salary of teachers in early childhood Jewish programs is $18,500, while assistant teachers make $10,650 annually.

Your article rings the alarm bell — and it’s none too soon. The time for us to act as a Jewish community in Los Angeles and in the rest of North America is now

Eli Schaap, Assistant Executive Director The Coalition for the Advancement

of Jewish Education

I saw the article in The Jewish Journal, regarding good workers, low wages and the story of Sue Hallett, the single mother raising her children (“Low Wages Force Workers to Struggle”). It brought back painful memories of my own struggles when I was in a similar situation trying to build a life and raise my children. Being a Holocaust survivor, I had various experiences with social service agencies, and often I also turned to Jewish Family Service, since I had no relatives or family. During those 50 years of me being in America, there were many times (and I am grateful for that) when people helped me through crises. I consider those experiences from some very sympathetic and kind people who acted as if they were rescuing a drowning person out of the water and pulling me to shore.

But Hallett, my current social worker, has special compassion and empathy, working above the “call of duty,” which, in my opinion, is partly due to her circumstances in her private life. Therefore, she is not just rescuing me from drowning, but also shows me the way to stay afloat.

Thank you for acknowledging these dedicated people who are caring for others despite their own personal struggle. I agree with your article, that something has to be done to remedy this situation.

Mary Bauer, West Hollywood

Rich and Soulful

Rabbi Steven Leder is raising very important issues about wealth for the Jewish community (“How to Be Rich and Live Soulfully,” Jan. 9). It is important that it be understood as a communal issue as well as a personal one.

Jews, as one of the wealthiest groups in America, have to come to terms with the responsible use of wealth as a group and as individuals. The institutions can model behavior for the individuals by overtly using Jewish values in making decisions involving money.

One example: Jewish communal institutions and foundations collectively own tens of billions of dollars in endowment, pension and communal funds. A thoughtful examination of Jewish values would lead to investing those funds according to socially responsible investment criteria. One can participate in tikkun olam (repairing the world) with one’s investments as well as one’s contributions. Many Protestant and Catholic institutions direct 1 percent of their portfolio to community development loan funds.

In Los Angeles, the Shefa Fund is organizing a similar effort among Jewish institutions and individuals. In our tradition, lending money to help someone in need wanting to provide for themselves is considered the highest rung of tzedakah [charitable giving].

As a people we maintained our values through poverty and oppression, our challenge now is to maintain them through wealth and freedom.

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Torah of Money Director The Shefa Fund

Center of the Star

Heartfelt thanks to Gaby Wenig for writing such a fine, sensitive piece on “Center of the Star,” the Jewish Community Collaboration project for Cornerstone Theater. (“L.A Tour Staged With Heart, History,” Jan. 16).

In my interview, I omitted a crucial acknowledgement: the source for the title of the play was from “Ancient Secrets,” a remarkable book by Rabbi Levi Meier.

Thanks again for your support.

Yehuda Hyman, Los Angeles

Abel Salgado Keeps the Challah Coming


Forty years after he first put on a white apron, Abel Salgado remains an anomaly in the Jewish bakery world, but not for reasons one might expect. Sure, when he joined Local 453 of the Hebrew Master Bakers and Confectioners Union in 1963, the Chihuahua native was maybe the second or third Latino ever to join the union, then 2,000 strong. And even today, Salgado is one of the few non-Jews involved in the Jewish bakery business, a profession that occupies a particularly sacred — not to mention delicious — place in the religion. But, Salgado noted, ethnicity and theology were the least controversial issues when he originally applied to join the union.

"Most of the other members couldn’t stand that I was so young," reminisces the Mexican Mormon, with a cement-mixer laugh that jiggles his friendly jowls. "Most of the bakers in the union were older men from the mother countries — Germany, Russia, Poland — and would give me the cold treatment at meetings, since you had to be 18 at the time to join the union, and I joined at 17."

He quickly won over skeptics the same way he persuaded the union president to let a young Latino join the big-fisted union — baking the best damn challah bread in the Southland, loaves so wondrously plump no one could deny him acceptance.

"After a couple of years," Salgado boasted, "I was considered one of the tribe."

But the baker nevertheless remains a curiosity in his job, now for more disturbing reasons. Salgado is one of the Southland’s last makers of Jewish pastries, a quickly disappearing craft that Salgado freely admits will probably perish within the next generation or two. The AFL-CIO swallowed HMBC No. 453 years ago, and union bakers are as rare as communists.

Salgado is a large, tubby gentleman who keeps his ink-black mustache impeccably groomed and possesses gnarled hands marked with ancient burns — the man looks as if he emerged from the womb wearing a flour-dusted apron. He moved to Irvine in 1987, retiring after two decades of owning and operating Jewish bakeries around Los Angeles’ Fairfax district. But the allure of dough — and a community of 60,000 Orange County Jews forced to visit Los Angeles for their weekly bread needs — convinced Salgado to come out of retirement and open Abel’s Bakery in 1997.

Although he hadn’t baked anything in almost a decade, Salgado began preparing the meticulously presented Jewish baked goods again as if he’d been away for the weekend.

"If you’re a master baker, it’s not something you forget," said Salgado, who pronounces words like mandelbrot and challah with the Yiddish comfort of a rabbi. "You just pick up where you started. And I know everything there is to know about Jewish pastries."

He’s not kidding — in addition to loyal and walk-in customers, Salgado maintains lucrative ties with local synagogues and Jewish organizations for their unleavened needs.

The doors of Abel’s Bakery are always swung open, the better to allow the shop’s sweet scents to entice gourmands. A large tray holds made-every-morning plain, pumpernickel and seeded rye bread, their slightly dull crusts encasing soft but firm loaves. Trays buckle with rugala, small cookies moist with chocolate chips and the holy hamantashen, a fruity triangle-shaped turnover sold by the thousands during the festival of Purim and by the hundreds the rest of the year. Abel’s even sells pan dulces the size of footballs — Salgado originally hired other Mexican bakers to bake them since he didn’t know how.

But the biggest seller — and Salgado’s finest creation — remains that beautiful challah, prominently displayed behind the main counter and as imposing as a toolbox. Jewish families line up en masse outside Abel’s every Friday to order their challah loaves in preparation for Shabbat dinner, in which challah plays the lead role. The challah possesses a full, thick body and the slightest hint of egg. It’s best for French toast, but it’s good for sandwiches, too.

Salgado is so proud of his challah that he frequently puts on the following show: he’ll get a slice of challah, suddenly crush it as if it were worthless paper and place it on the counter. Rather than remain a crumbled bread ball, the challah slowly springs back to life like a flower blooming on high speed, with nary a crumb to suggest any abuse.

"See that?" Salgado said. "Let’s see Weber’s do that."

Abel’s Bakery, located at 24601 Raymond Way, No. 7, Lake Forest, is open Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat., 7 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, call (949) 699-0930.

Protest for Labor Rights


For the past four years, the predominantly Latino hospitality and housing employees at the University of Southern California have been fighting for a written guarantee of job security. Now, union leaders representing the workers have turned to Jewish leaders to support what they consider a call for justice.

The labor dispute began in June 1995, when the contract between USC and Local 11 of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union expired. Since then, USC has refused to renew a contract under terms that would preclude the possibility of hiring subcontractors, which union leaders see as a threat to the 360 workers’ job security. A rolling hunger strike on behalf of the workers, now termed “The Fast for Justice” began in May when Local 11 President Maria Elena Durazo fasted for 11 days. The fast has since been picked up by Los Angeles religious and political leaders.

In response to the protests, Phil Chiaramonte, Associate Vice President of Auxiliary Services, said that USC has no intention of replacing union workers with subcontractors, but would like to reserve the right to hire subcontractors should the university need to meet unexpected economic and market changes.

“We have indicated more than once that we have no current plans to subcontract those positions,” he said.

In fact, the university, the largest private employer in Los Angeles, has implemented programs to ensure job comfort and stability. Computer, math and ESL courses have been created for the staff. USC arranges for summer job placement for its employees at Universal Studios during the park’s peak season, as work diminishes at USC during the summer. Longtime employees have sent their children to USC on remitted tuition, a benefit the workers cherish for the opportunity it gives their family for higher education.

Many USC hospitality and housing workers agree that they have been treated well. That is why Alex Rivera, one of the more vocal union members, is all the more concerned that he and his fellow workers may lose their jobs.

Rivera, head waiter to USC President Steven Sample and waiter supervisor, has worked at USC for 32 years. He distrusts university officials when they say they will honor their jobs in the event that they hire subcontractors. He cites an episode two years ago when janitorial workers lost their jobs to subcontractors even after university officials claimed that would not occur.

At one of the university restaurants, employees on the job were quick to echo Rivera’s concerns. It was a slow day, but Miriam Siegler was reluctant to speak when managers were around. She says many workers are too intimidated to protest. Some who demonstrated at last year’s commencement were temporarily suspended which, according to officials, was justified since they did not report their absence from work.

“It’s hard when you’re poor and you have to fight with people who are really powerful,” Siegler said.

Jewish leaders who have been known to support labor causes in the past have joined with the union to bring more power to the side of the workers. Jewish support peaked last week on July 22, Tisha B’av afternoon, when about 150 Jewish leaders and Latinos united in front of the historic Breed Street Shul located in the heart of Boyle Heights to support the USC workers in their struggle for job security.

The gathering coincided with Tisha B’Av, to mark the continuation of the Fast for Justice and to commemorate the similar struggles of Jews and Latinos.

At the event, Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben of Kehillat Israel, Rabbi Aaron Kriegel of Temple Ner Maraav, Rabbi Marvin Gross of the Jewish Labor Committee and West Hollywood Councilman Paul Koretz pledged their commitment to the workers’ cause. Many of these same leaders were active in pressuring the management of the Summit Hotel Rodeo Drive to settle a labor dispute with employees last year.

Irv Hershenbaum of United Farm Workers, Los Angeles Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, Eric Gordon of the Workman’s Circle and Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami, spoke of their natural sympathy with members of the Latino community. Their parents and grandparents were also hard-working immigrants, many of whom settled in East Los Angeles, in search of a better life for themselves and their families, they said.

“The Jewish community has a long and proud history of being active in the labor movement and having an investment in Boyle Heights where many of the lowest-paid, least secure workers at USC live and raise families today,” said Scott Svonkin, a Koretz aide and Jewish activist who helped coordinate the event.

Jewish outcry comes at a time when USC enjoys improved Jewish relations. In the past decade, USC has reached out to Jewish alumni and increased it’s number of Jewish faculty to approximately one third.

In a statement forwarded to the Journal, USC trustee Kenneth Leventhal accused union leaders of manipulating public opinion to gain strength at the bargaining table. “As a Jew and as a USC trustee, it saddens me and sickens me to see the union attempt to link a sacred Jewish fast day with this dispute,” Leventhal said.

“We, the members of the Jewish community, give notice to President Sample that we have waited long enough,” said Kriegel, who is participating in a boycott call to Jewish donors to halt donations to USC until an agreement is reached.

Meanwhile, negotiators are working to resolve the issue. Possible solutions include consulting with the union before the university subcontracts or ensuring the right of the university to subcontract on condition that current workers are given first preference.

‘They Should Leave as Soon as Possible’


What can be done to help Russian Jewry? Loads, according to Simon Frumkin. He should know.

The road to liberating Russian Jews has been a long and tortured process, and few people know this more than Frumkin, who has spent decades battling to facilitate Jewish flight from Russia.

Although not of Russian-Jewish ancestry, the 68-year-old Lithuanian-born Dachau survivor has long served as a prominent voice for Russian Jewry. In 1968, Frumkin founded the Southern California Council for Soviet Jews, and later co-founded and led the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews — two lobbying organizations crucial to the Russian-Jewish freedom crusade.

The social activist, also instrumental in forming the Association of Holocaust Survivors from the Former U.S.S.R., continues his tireless efforts on behalf of Russian Jews, lending his talents to countless periodicals and organizations, including Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Foundation.

Last week, Frumkin shared his thoughts on the challenges facing the estimated 500,000 to 2.5 million Russian Jews remaining in the former Soviet Union, where the fall of communism has helped usher in the rise of anti-Semitism.

Jewish Journal: In your essay “The Anti-Semites Are Right — Jews Should Leave Russia,” you are not very optimistic about the future of Jews living in Russia. You even deem the Communist Party the Russian equivalent of the Nazis. On what do you base your pessimism?

Simon Frumkin: I’m not optimistic…because there’s never been any reason for optimism for the future of Jews in Russia…. In czarist Russia, Jews were not permitted to come into Russia (proper)…. In spite of that, anti-Semitism was rampant. Most of the people in Russia never saw a Jew, but they hated them anyway.

As soon as the revolution began, Jewish religion was eliminated. For the first and only time in history, a language — Hebrew — was named to be an enemy of the people…. Zionists were imprisoned…. There was official anti-Semitism. There were purge trials. There were plans by Stalin to send all the Jews to concentration camps, which had already been built. Luckily, he died just in time.

JJ: What are Russian Jews living outside of Russia doing to help the Jews residing in Russia?

SF: They’re not doing anything. To begin with, they can’t, because many of them can’t even speak English. They do write letters and fiery editorials in Russian-language newsletters, which nobody reads. Other than that, they have not developed into a political force.

JJ: Is President Boris Yeltsin’s government doing enough to curb anti-Semitism and protect the Jews there?

SF: They’re not doing anything. They really can’t. Their hands are tied. Yeltsin is not functioning. He’s ever more irrelevant. It is difficult to say who is in power…. In the last thousand years of its recorded history, Russia never had 10 years when things were good. Never….

On Dec. 5, a big march took place…in the center of Moscow, where (several hundred) fascist communist kids…with swastikas and black shirts demonstrated…demanding that the government abolish the law which punishes incitement of racial and ethnic hatred, because they said it violates their freedom of speech…. It was not shown on TV; they were not interfered with. That was that….

The average Russian is racist…. My granddaughter goes to Bancroft Junior High in Hollywood…they have a lot of Russian and Ukrainian kids there — the fact is that about 30 percent of the immigrants from the former Soviet Union who come to America these days are not Jewish — but here [my daughter] is in her social studies class, and they’re discussing what is wrong in the world and how could we make things better. And a little (Ukrainian) girl…says, “Well, one way is get rid of all the Jews.” This is what she hears from her parents…. Nothing has changed…. (Russian anti-Semitism) is not worst now then it was; it’s as bad as it always was. Except now it’s popular.

JJ: What can Russian Jews living outside of Russia do to help the Jews in Russia counter the growing tide of anti-Semitism there?

SF: They can learn the name of their congressmen…. (Many Russian Jews) don’t know how the political system works…don’t trust the government…because they were taught that the government is the enemy. Most of them are not aware that anything was done for them to facilitate their immigration from the Soviet Union. They think that it just happened…. When they find out about the demonstrations and the letter-writing campaigns and the prisoners of conscience (etc.), they are amazed….

At one point, the fate of Soviet Jews was an important item on the agenda in Washington. This is no longer so because American Jews feel that the problem has been solved….

JJ: Although many Jews in Russia have already received special refugee visas from the United States to emigrate, many of them have yet to exercise their so-called “Lautenberg status.” What’s being done to encourage them to leave?

SF: There are about 30,000 or so refugee visas given out each year to the United States, of which about 20,000 go to the Jews…. There are about 10,000 to 15,000 Jews “sitting on their suitcases” with visas in hand, who have refugee status…who, in the meantime, are depriving (others) by not leaving. I think that’s a crime…. There should be a time limit, that if you don’t utilize your visa within a year, the visa should be taken away and someone else should go…. We must realize that the United States government is aware of it to the point where it’s getting more and more difficult for a Jew to get a refugee visa in Russia.

JJ: If the economic crisis in Russia continues to worsen, what will conceivably happen to the Jews living there?

SF: I think they’re going to get killed. I don’t think there is a future for Jews in Russia…. They should leave as soon as possible.

For information on Russian Jewish immigrants and related organizations and activities, call (818) 769-8862. To donate furniture or toys for newly arrived Russian Jewish immigrants, contact the Association of Soviet Jewish Émigrés at (213) 878-0995.


Power, Politics And People


Israeli lawmaker Alex Lubotsky was having a bad day on Jan. 29. Hehad come to Jerusalem’s Ramada hotel to address a visiting group ofOrthodox Jews from America, to plead for their support of thecompromise conversion plan authored by Finance Minister YaakovNeeman.

He didn’t have much luck. The visitors, leaders of the Union ofOrthodox Jewish Congregations of America, displayed more skepticismthan an Arkansas grand jury. Most, witnesses said, looked as thoughthey would rather be anywhere but in that room, being asked to standup and do the right thing. Rabbi Beryl Wein, a transplanted NewYorker sharing the dais with Lubotsky, reportedly captured the moodwhen he said that he was glad he wasn’t the one who had to make thedecision.

The decision — whether the Neeman plan will become reality –rests with Israel’s Orthodox chief rabbis. The plan requires them tolet Conservative and Reform rabbis help train would-be converts toJudaism. Orthodox rabbis would still perform the actual conversionritual. Non-Orthodox rabbis would be junior partners — less thanthey wanted, but much more than the Orthodox rabbinate wanted to givethem. The non-Orthodox movements have accepted. The chief rabbishaven’t decided, but all signs are negative.

Lubotsky, an ally of Neeman, was hoping that the Orthodox Unionwould help nudge the chief rabbis toward compromise. As the mainAmerican voice of centrist, or “modern” Orthodoxy, the OU has longfavored keeping lines open to the non-Orthodox world. That’s also thephilosophy of Modern Orthodox Israelis such as Neeman and Lubotsky.It’s supposed to be the view of the chief rabbinate too.

Modernity is not what it used to be, however. Nowadays, thedecisive force in Orthodoxy is the relentless gravitational pull ofthe right-wing or “ultra-Orthodox” rabbinate, which rejects allcompromise with sinners. Fearing the purists’ wrath, nobody wants tocross them. Not the Orthodox Union in America, not the chief rabbisin Israel. In contemporary Orthodoxy, bridge-building is out.Fence-building is in.

Three days earlier and 7,000 miles west, the top leaders of Reformand Conservative Judaism held a press conference in New York on Jan.26 to give their own view of the Neeman plan, which had gone to theprime minister the day before.

They planned to lament the chief rabbis’ anticipated rejection ofNeeman. This, they figured, would prove who is ready to makesacrifices for Jewish unity and who isn’t. To their surprise, theliberal rabbis woke up that Monday to find themselves outflanked bytheir own troops. While they slept, their negotiators in Israel weremeeting with a representative of the chief rabbinate, at the home ofJewish Agency chairman Avraham Burg, to concoct a competingcompromise. It was the only way, Burg explained, to avoid a blowupwhen the chief rabbis reject Neeman.

The Burg plan lets the chief rabbis off the hook. Instead of aunified conversion process, each movement would continue its ownconversions. All converts would be registered as Jews by Israel’sstate population registry, with a notation of the date they becameJewish. But only Orthodox converts would be recognized by the chiefrabbinate, which still controls marriage, divorce, adoption andburial. This way, the non-Orthodox movements get governmentrecognition, just as they wanted, while the Orthodox retain the powerto ensure it doesn’t do them any good.

Gone is the immediate danger of conversions causing a governmentcollapse or an Israel-Diaspora explosion. Instead, look for anexplosion next year over marriages, as a growing army of non-Orthodoxconverts battles discrimination.

Both the Neeman and Burg plans could defuse, at least for now, theincendiary tensions fracturing the Jewish world. Community leadersare hailing them as nearly interchangeable, the Burg plan merely anarrower, more “technical” fix than Neeman.

In fact, as some top rabbis admit privately, the two plans arepolar opposites. Neeman, by creating one intermovement conversionprocedure, would strengthen the role of the Israeli government as acentral, unifying voice in Jewish life. Its champions see it as astep — albeit a baby step — toward healing the historic breachesdividing Judaism’s streams.

The Burg plan does the reverse. By getting the Israeli governmentout of the business of deciding whose conversions are legitimate, itis a decisive first step toward separation of synagogue and state.The rest — removing marriage, divorce and burial from Orthodoxrabbinic control — is just a matter of time. Each movement would befree to go its own way, without regard to others’ standards.

Already, the two proposals have begun to redraw the map of thereligious pluralism debate. Up to now, the struggle has dividedOrthodox Jews from non-Orthodox. With the arrival of the Burg plan,the debate is between the center and the edges.

On one side are the Conservative and Modern Orthodox movements,which enthusiastically favor Neeman. They view it as a historic steptoward recreating a common code of Jewish law, modified formodernity, which all Jews could begin to accept. That’s exactly whatthey stand for.

On the other side are the Reform and ultra-Orthodox movements,which are happiest with Burg. Both groups would just as soon get theJewish state out of the business of determining Jewish law — theReform, because they don’t believe in the idea of a binding Jewishlaw; the ultra-Orthodox, because they don’t fully accept the Jewishstate.

Reform and Conservative leaders alike insist that there is nochance of a near-term breakup in their strategic alliance. Bothmovements are still denied any recognition in Israel. They’ll fighttogether until they get it. For now, both have endorsed both Neemanand Burg, with varying enthusiasm.

Both sides admit, however, that the latest twist has brought theirdifferences to the surface quite sharply. It’s no longer hard toimagine the two allies on opposite sides in the not-too-distantfuture.

Which side will come out on top — centrism or fragmentation? IfAlex Lubotsky’s experience last week means anything, don’t bet moneyon the center.

J.J. Goldberg is author of “Jewish Power: Inside the AmericanJewish Establishment.” He writes regularly for The JewishJournal.

All rights reserved by author.

Trouble in Paradise


Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels received the surprising news during Rosh Hashanah morning services at Beth Shir Sholom in Santa Monica. The Rev. Sandra Richards of the Church in Ocean Park stood up in her seat to tell him: The Oct. 1 vote on whether to decertify the union at the Miramar Sheraton Hotel had resulted in a virtual draw.

The tally was surprising because a recent mock vote, organized by pro-union activists, had shown overwhelming support for Local 814 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union.

Now, the union’s fate hangs in the balance, and the rabbi and reverend are worried about a hotel previously regarded as the pride of Santa Monica.

The Miramar Sheraton sits astride a full block on Ocean Avenue, looks west over the Pacific and features lush gardens and a luxurious swimming pool. And, most notably, the Miramar Sheraton has been the only unionized hotel in Santa Monica.

So Comess-Daniels and Richards joined area clergy and civic leaders last month to rally on behalf of employees. They marched into the hotel lobby during a press conference and demanded to speak to someone in charge. They alleged that hotel officials had tried to intimidate workers, most of whom are Latino, into voting “no” for the union.

The demonstrators also decried a poster that hung beside the worker’s time clock; they claimed that it portrayed a union organizer as a Nazi. By late last month, they had scored a small victory: The poster had been removed.

Nevertheless, the tension continued to escalate at the Miramar Sheraton. After the polls at the Oct. 1 decertification election closed, the results were inconclusive. One hundred and six employees voted to continue the union, 114 voted against it, and 17 ballots were contested by one side or the other. Those ballots will determine the results of the election once the National Labor Relations Board completes its investigation, which could take several months.

Union officials are filing an election-violation lawsuit with the NLRB, accusing the hotel of scare tactics. Comess-Daniels, meanwhile, is preparing to take action. He says that he will attend union meetings and sit-ins at the hotel’s upscale Grille restaurant; he will speak about the issue at Shabbat services and make it part of the synagogue’s social-action agenda.

“Judaism compels us to protect the worker,” he says, “so we want to let the hotel workers know we haven’t disappeared just because the election is in contest. We also want hotel management to know we’re watching them and we won’t go away.”

Congregation Kehillat Ma’arav, all the while, has been conducting High Holiday services at the Miramar Sheraton. There was not enough time to change venues even if the union had been ousted, sources say.

But as to whether congregants were aware of tension in the hotel during the Oct. 1 vote, which fell on Erev Rosh Hashanah, remains unknown. Synagogue officials did not return several telephone calls from The Jewish Journal.

Heartbreak Hotel?


Left, an anti-union poster evoking Nazism that upset labor andJewish communal leaders, such as Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels (above)who spoke at a pro-union press conference at the hotel. Also picturedis state Sen. Tom Hayden, just left of the podium.

The Miramar Sheraton Hotel is one of the jewels of Santa Monica.It sits astride a full block on Ocean Avenue and looks west, over thePalisades and the blue Pacific. Inside, there are lush gardens, aluxurious swimming pool and tanned guests who look as if they areemblems of Southern California.

The hotel is where President Clinton has often stayed duringvisits to Los Angeles.

And the Miramar Sheraton is the only Santa Monica hotel that isunionized.

But, alas, Eden is beginning to falter: Hotel officials recentlyentered into conflict with Local 814 of the Hotel Employees andRestaurant Employees Union. According to some, they have attempted tointimidate workers, most of whom are Latino, into voting “no” for theunion in an upcoming decertification election.

One of the hotel’s tactics has set off alarm bells not only amongunion representatives but among leaders of the Jewish community.

Last week, according to critics, a 3-by-4-foot color posterdepicting a union organizer as a Nazi was posted beside the employeetime clock. The cartoon figure had military garb, a Hitlerianmustache, black riding boots, a union armband and pockets stuffedwith greenbacks. The character is pointing to a blackboard upon whichthere are slogans in Spanish, such as “Pay dues to the union.”

The hotel representatives, of course, see no connection betweenthe figure and the Nazis, let alone Hitler.

Not so, say several Jewish and Santa Monica civic leaders. Lastweek, a group of them angrily marched into the hotel and across theexpanse of marble floor, stood in front of the reception desk. Theydemanded to speak to someone in charge. Among the demonstrators wereRabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom; Rabbi Jeffrey Marx ofSha’arei Am: The Santa Monica Synagogue; Rick Chertoff of the JewishLabor Committee; Richard Bloom of Friends of Sunset Park; SantaMonica City Councilmember Michael Feinstein; peace activist JerryRubin; and a dozen others.

The somewhat befuddled young woman behind the reception desk onlysmiled nervously and said that she didn’t know anything about theissue. An impeccably coifed young man then sternly stated that thevisitors were impeding his guests and that they would have to move.Finally, two policemen arrived but were soon satisfied that thevisitors were peaceful.

The demonstrators then carried on a press conference in the humiddrizzle outside the hotel, making indignant statements to the media.

The confrontation didn’t seem to shake Comess-Daniels, who spokeof the biblical mandate to protect the worker.

Marx said that the poster trivialized the Holocaust and flew inthe face of the Jewish history of union organizing.

The poster “surpasses the normal sleaze we see associated withthese kinds of campaigns,” Feinstein said. “I am offended as a humanbeing and as a Jew.”

In a written statement, hotel officials denied the charges ofintimidation and refuted the claim that the cartoon figure was meantto resemble a Nazi. They called that allegation “ridiculous,offensive [and] untrue.”

“However, for anyone in the community who found this imageoffensive, we apologize,” the statement says.

The Journal was unable to reach hotel general manager BillWorcester, but he told the Los Angeles Times, “The real issue is, doour employees want to continue to be represented by Local 814?”

For Gail Escobar, who is Jewish and a waitress at the hotel’supscale Grille restaurant, the answer is an emphatic “yes.”

Escobar, 35, who grew up in Santa Monica, said that she was hiredby the hotel two years ago, when she needed more income to supporther 5-year-old son, Kevin. She was drawn to the Miramar Sheratonbecause the union ensured her full health benefits, which recentlyproved crucial when her husband required major eye surgery.

Escobar joined the union’s organizing committee this past springto help workers keep their benefits and a bargaining voice. But shesaid that she has been unnerved by the tense, mandatory anti-unionmeetings she has had to attend with the other employees. (Worcestertold the Times that the meetings were “informational only.”)

“If we lose the union, I’m almost 100 percent sure they’ll fireme,” the waitress said. “I’ve been way too vocal.”

But Escobar and the other employees at least enjoyed one coup lastweek. After the rabbis’ press conference, the hotel took down theegregious poster.

The union vote took place on Oct. 1, after The Journal went topress this week. Also as The Journal went to press, CongregationKehillat Ma’arav was planning to go ahead with its High Holidayservices at the Miramar Sheraton. There was not enough time to changevenues, a source said.

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