Prager won’t apologize after slamming Quran in Congress


Conservative pundit Dennis Prager has come under fire from Muslim and Jewish groups after he attacked an incoming Muslim congressman who plans to bring a Quran to the House swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 4.

But Prager said he stands by statements made in his column published Nov. 28 on the Townhall.com Web site and has no intention of apologizing to Rep.-elect Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) or his critics.

“I called on [Ellison] not to break a 200-year tradition,” Prager, who is also a radio talk show host, told The Journal. “He thinks it’s important, and I think it’s important.”

“If you are incapable of taking an oath on [the Bible], don’t serve in Congress,” Prager wrote, adding that if Ellison brought a Quran to the ceremony, it would do “more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11.”

Ellison’s decision to carry a Quran into the ceremony has infuriated some conservatives, who draw a fine line between constitutional rights and American tradition. However, Ellison has some defenders in the GOP. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) told McClatchy Newspapers that Ellison’s ability to hold the book of his choice while he takes his oath embodies freedom of religion.

Prager is also being taken to task for equating Ellison’s proposed use of the Quran at the swearing-in ceremony with a racist toting a copy of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” “On what grounds will those defending Ellison’s right to choose his favorite book deny that same right to a racist who is elected to public office?” he wrote.

Prager defends the Quran-“Mein Kampf” parallel in his Nov. 5 column, saying he was presenting a slippery-slope argument and was not defaming Islam. He writes thatpeople who draw such conclusions are “deliberately lying to defame me rather than respond to my arguments. A slippery slope argument is not an equivalence argument.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has called for Prager, who broadcasts locally on KRLA-AM 870, to be removed from his recent appointment to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Prager’s five-year term as a presidential appointee to the council expires on Jan. 15, 2011.

CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad wrote in a letter to Fred S. Zeidman, council chair: “No one who holds such bigoted, intolerant and divisive views should be in a policymaking position at a taxpayer-funded institution that seeks to educate Americans about the destructive impact hatred has had and continues to have on every society.”

The Anti-Defamation League labeled the Nov. 28 column as “intolerant, misinformed and downright un-American,” adding that Prager’s recent appointment to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council holds him to a higher standard.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, wants Prager to apologize directly to Ellison, who converted to Islam from Catholicism as a 19-year-old college student. “The notion that the exercise of your first amendment rights should be banned because someone else might misuse your words or misinterpret your actions violates two centuries of Supreme Court rulings,” Saperstein said.

Prager is a popular speaker among Jewish groups around the country,
commanding appearance fees upwards of $10,000.

While most of these groups, contacted this week by The Forward newspaper,
declined to comment on Prager’s remarks, several said they would reconsider
inviting Prager barring an apology from him.

“There’s lines you draw, and Dennis probably crossed the line,” Stephen
Hoffman, president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, said in
an interview with the Forward. “Just because we can get by with the first
Five Books and some people say it’s okay doesn’t mean it’s okay for the next
guy to stand up and say if they can’t swear on a Christian Bible, they’re
not qualified. He’s pandering… [and] I wouldn’t want the Muslim community to
bring in a panderer. So that’s what we’d have to think about.”

In his Nov. 28 column, Prager claimed that all members of Congress, including Jews, use a Christian Bible for the swearing-in ceremony.

However, members of Congress are sworn in together in a simple ceremony that only requires that the representatives raise their right hand. Individuals may carry a sacred text, but its presence isn’t required. Representatives can bring in whatever they want, said Fred Beuttler, House of Representatives deputy historian.

In his column, Prager also claimed that no “Mormon official demanded to put his hand on the Book of Mormon.” In 1997, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Oregon), a Mormon, carried a Bible that included the Book of Mormon to his swearing-in ceremony.
But Ellison’s use of a Quran isn’t without precedent. In 1999, Osman Siddique became the first Muslim to serve abroad as a U.S. ambassador, and he took his oath using both a Quran and a Bible.

Prager told The Journal that he would have no problem if Ellison brought along a Bible in addition to the Quran. And while he agrees that Ellison has the constitutional right to use only the Quran, Prager thinks the incoming freshman should consider the cultural and historic implications of his act.

“It’s an unbroken tradition since George Washington, and he wants
to substitute it with his values,” he said.

Prager said he will not take Saperstein up on his call for an apology to Ellison. Instead, he believes groups like the ADL and the Religious Action Center have wronged him.

“I think Saperstein owes me an apology,” Prager said. “It’s chutzpah … arrogance on his part.”

To read Dennis Prager’s column on Ellison, click here.

British theater group Stan’s Cafe uses piles of rice to bring statistics to life


It’s nearly impossible to comprehend very large numbers. Take the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust. How does one go about understanding the magnitude of 6 million?

One way would be to visit the Skirball Cultural Center, where the British theater company, Stan’s Cafe (pronounced “kaff”), will perform its latest piece, “Of All the People in All the World,” from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1.

Upon entering the museum, visitors will receive a grain of rice, representing themselves. Then, they will walk into a room filled with 300 million grains of rice – one for every person in the United States. The rice will be divided into piles, each one illustrating a statistic, such as the number of people who have walked on the moon or the millions of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island. One grain of rice will stand for one person.

And there it will be, among all the piles: a large mound with 6 million pieces, representing each individual Jewish life lost in the Holocaust.

The performance piece will take place during the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a time of reflection known as the Days of Awe.

“We specifically chose to do it in the Days of Awe,” said Jordan Peimer, director of programs at the Skirball. “What better way to understand your place in the world, your role in life, than to begin to understand the fabric of life on earth?”

The piece will open with 150 labeled piles of rice, illustrating serious statistics, such as the millions of people with HIV in Africa, as well as pop culture trivia, such as the number of people who watched the last episode of “Cheers.”

Over the course of the show, five actors, dressed as factory workers, will manipulate the piles to illustrate various truths, including the number of passengers on the Mayflower and the number of people per police officer in Los Angeles.

Visitors will be encouraged to interact with the actors, to share their own stories and discuss the demographics to which they belong. Occasionally, the performers will measure statistics suggested by visitors on the spot.

Peimer said he had been following the innovative Stan’s Cafe troupe for a while, waiting for the right time and the perfect piece to bring to the Skirball. When he saw the rice performance at a festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, last year, he knew he had to bring the show to Los Angeles.

The performance will be the second stop, after Portland, on the troupe’s first U.S. tour. Since premiering in Coventry, England, in 2003, the show has toured throughout the United Kingdom. It has also traveled to Ireland, Canada, Italy, Spain and Germany, whose daily newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, praised the show, saying “The knowledge gained is astonishing.”

The actors tailor each performance to the country, city and building in which they perform. They decided the Holocaust representation would be just right for the Skirball.

“To hear the statistic of the number of people who died in the Holocaust is one thing,” Peimer said. “To see all of those people represented and to have you [represented as a single grain of rice] in relation to them is a very potent thing.”

The troupe will also lead workshops for students from Brawerman Elementary School, Robert Frost Middle School, La Ballona School and Thomas Starr King Middle School. The children will research statistics and build mounds of rice to illustrate their findings.

James Yarker, artistic director of Stan’s Cafe, who co-founded the group 15 years ago, said he came up with the idea for the piece when he was on tour with another performance in 2002.

“Each time we touched down, we found another city full of people bustling about their business, for whom it would be no appreciable loss if the U.K. and its 59 million inhabitants, including Stan’s Cafe, didn’t exist,” Yarker wrote in an essay on the group’s Web site.

“This parochial small island boy was beginning to get a sense that the world was far, far bigger than he had ever imagined it to be,” Yarker continued, speaking about himself in the third person, “and he was starting to wonder if he would ever be able to understand how many people he shared the planet with.”

After considering sand, sugar, salt, pebbles, peppercorns, spices and more as a way to represent large numbers of people, Yarker settled on rice. “We needed grains that were small, cheap, robust and which wouldn’t roll around,” he said on the Web site. Rice “also has powerful resonance, being a staple food for much of the world and looking vaguely humanoid in close up.”

For piles with fewer than 200 grains, the group typically counts each grain. For larger piles, it weighs the rice. The Skirball will provide not only the scales for weighing the five and one-half tons of rice that will be used during the performance but also the rice, which it bought for less than $2,000 from local wholesalers. The grains will be recycled for animal feed when the exhibit concludes.

“We’ve never done anything like it,” said the Skirball’s Peimer. “I hope it makes people think about their place in the world, and I hope it makes people pause to remember the grain of rice that they are.”

The exhibit will be open during regular museum hours (12 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 12 to 9 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday). Admission will be free on Thursday and Sunday. Other days, general admission will be $8, $6 for seniors and free for members, students and children under 12. For advance tickets call (866) 468-3399.

9/11 Museum Head Uses Shoah Lessons


Alice Greenwald vividly recalls touring the Auschwitz concentration camp with a Holocaust survivor and watching how the woman shared her story with her children and grandchildren.

It was as if she was trying to instruct her heirs as to the kind of people she wanted them to become, Greenwald remembers.

“What struck me about that experience was that in a world that exists after something like Auschwitz happens, every one of us is her grandchildren,” she said. “We all are obligated to understand what it means to be a human being and the kind of people our parents and grandparents want us to be.”

For more than two decades, Greenwald has been helping to give people a palpable understanding of the Holocaust through her work with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Beginning this month, she will turn her attention to another terrible atrocity: Greenwald was named in February as the first director of the World Trade Center Memorial Museum in New York, which will commemorate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and their nearly 3,000 victims.

“Where the two [events] intersect for me in my professional life is in the area of memorialization,” she said recently in her Holocaust Museum office in Washington. “We deal with great loss here at this museum, incomprehensible loss. And we deal with trying to integrate that loss into our collective understanding of history, our personal history of what it means to be a human being.”

Greenwald was a member of the Holocaust Museum’s original design team, working from home as a consultant after stints with Jewish museums in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago. She joined the museum full-time in 2001 as its associate director for museum programs.

Gretchen Dykstra, president and CEO of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, said Greenwald immediately understood the memorial’s goals.

“What struck us so quickly was how immediately she understood the sensitivity of what we were doing,” she said. “She’s not somebody who comes knowing a lot about 9/11, but she knows a lot about memorializing and education.”

The hardest part in designing the New York museum, Greenwald said, is that “there isn’t a human being on the face of the planet who doesn’t have a 9/11 story.”

Greenwald herself was unpacking boxes in her new Washington home on that day, having just moved from Philadelphia. Her husband, on an Amtrak train bound for New York, had called to ask if she knew why he and his business associates weren’t moving.

The carpenter working in her home heard her gasp when she turned on the television. They watched the second tower fall together, and immediately embraced.

“This was a man I knew for 10 minutes,” she said. “And we hugged each other in an embrace, watching the television in complete disbelief, because we needed to be with another human being in that moment.”

Emotions are still very raw for those who survived the Sept. 11 attack, and for the families of those who died. But Greenwald has experience dealing directly with survivors and families who may visit the museum.

“Other museums have other constituency issues, but I don’t think they have to deal with the sensitivities we have [at the Holocaust Museum],” she said. “We are immensely fortunate to have the voice of authentic witnesses.”

The proximity in time to the event will be one of her biggest challenges in New York, she said.

“The institution will have to be flexible, because the world will keep moving forward and we don’t know what events will re-characterize our understanding of 9/11,” she said.

She has watched the Holocaust Museum evolve, noting that it was built before “Schindler’s List” and other mass-media portrayals of the Shoah.

The Sept. 11 museum will be part of several structures planned for the area where the World Trade Center stood. The foundation is constructing the museum and a separate memorial, Reflecting Absence, that will honor those killed on Sept. 11 and in a previous attack at the World Trade Center on Feb. 26, 1993.

A visitor’s center and performing arts building also are being planned. Half the site has been zoned for new office buildings, which are being erected separately.

The museum will highlight the magnitude of the attacks, as well as the global response and civic rebuilding.

“You are dealing with a site that is a burial site. People died there. That gives it a sacred quality one has to respect,” Greenwald said.

She compared it to the Holocaust Museum, which she said garners its power from its proximity to other memorials and buildings of power in Washington.

Dykstra said she has been struck by the Holocaust Museum’s impact on visitors, and hopes to replicate that.

“I think what the Holocaust Museum does so beautifully is it takes a historic series of events and personalizes them in a way that universalizes them,” she said. “It’s overwhelming but not didactic.”

The Sept. 11 museum is slated to open on the eighth anniversary of the attacks, in 2009. Greenwald said there is much to be done before then, and she is excited to be a part of this “thrilling” stage of a museum’s birth.

“Each stage will have its own challenges and its own rewards,” she said. She calls it a “Dayenu situation,” saying that if she can at least advance the plans, it would be enough — although she hopes to see the museum built and operating.

“We have to remember that it’s about people,” she said. “There’s a tendency to want to memorialize the building, and there is some significance to that. But this is not a memorial to a building; it’s a memorial to people.”

 

Bye Bye Diaspora, Hello ‘New Jews’


“New Jews: The End of the Jewish Diaspora” by Caryn Aviv and David Shneer (New York University Press, 2005).

Earlier this month, I participated in a consultation on “Jewish community in an era of looser connections.” Despite the presence of various paradigm-shifting luminaries, more than one reference was made to three absent influences, specifically, two people and a book. The people: Aaron Bisman and Matisyahu; the book: “New Jews: The End of the Jewish Diaspora.” Bisman’s JDub Records seeks “cross-cultural … dialogue” through music indigenous to just about anywhere except Israel; Matisyahu, JDub’s breakout idol, is a baal teshuvah Lubavitcher who sings “Chasidic reggae.” They are the New Jews to whom the book’s authors, Caryn Aviv and David Shneer, refer.

Aviv, a sociologist, and Shneer, a historian, are both native Angelenos who now teach at the University of Denver. They argue that the bipolar models of home and exile, center and periphery, Israel and Diaspora, no longer apply to contemporary Jewish life. “What,” they ask, “does … an upper-middle-class professional, secular Jew in Los Angeles have in common with a working-class Israeli Sephardic religious Jew in Bnei Brak except the fact that each one calls herself a Jew?”

The authors propose a new map with “multiple homelands” that displaces Israel from “the center of the Jewish universe.” They point out that since the mid-19th century, most Jewish religious innovation has originated in the United States, rather than in Europe or Israel. As of 2003, more people emigrated from Israel to Russia than vice versa, and New York is the communal and philanthropic center of Jewish life. Ultimately, the authors find, contemporary Jews are at home wherever they live. “New Jews,” they argue, “connect emotionally and culturally with multiple places and traverse routes across national boundaries but are nonetheless rooted in a specific place they call home.”

In five case studies, Aviv and Shneer explore the implications of their argument. In Moscow, they find an increasingly vibrant Jewish urban center where Jews want to live, not leave. An examination of organized youth tourism to Poland and Israel uncovers a manipulative identity-building agenda that reveals the desperation of late 1990s “continuity” campaigns — but also points toward a future in which Jews crisscross the globe to explore their diverse cultural heritage. Two other chapters complement one another. A minisequel to their previous book, “Queer Jews,” considers collective identities that connect across geopolitical boundaries, and an ethnographic meditation explores the deep diversity cohabiting within the boundaries of New York City.

Finally, Los Angeles stars in a study of the Museum of Tolerance and the Skirball Cultural Center. Aviv and Shneer provide long-overdue histories of the creation of these two institutions — and important critiques of their respective programs. At the Museum of Tolerance, the authors highlight the tension between the universalistic message of tolerance and the particularistic focus on the Shoah, a tension that leaves the visitor “suspicious of the comforts of America.” At the Skirball, they find a deeply assimilationist message in which Jewish values explicitly are presented as indigenously American. Even as the Skirball upends the logic of Diaspora and exile, the authors observe, it remains “intolerant of difference” when such difference might divide Jews from other Americans.

Religion largely is absent from the discussion, though this appears to be by design. Freed from the theological bonds of Klal Yisrael — though by no means dismissing its importance — the authors make no apologies for their challenge to the political centrality of Israel in secular “Jewish geography, culture, and memory.” They question the sociological utility of thinking about some entity called The Jewish People.

“The only thing that Jews have in common,” Aviv and Shneer conclude, “is the fact that they self-identify as Jews.”

To those who grew up within the narratives of the Holocaust and the return to Zion, this will be distressing; to those in Aviv and Shneer’s generation, like Bisman and Matisyahu, as well as to Chabad emissaries no less than Conservative and Reform outreach advocates — it is old news.

“New Jews'” greatest strength — that it is an open-ended introduction to a conversation, rather than a self-contained argument — also may be its primary weakness. Although I agree with Aviv and Shneer’s assertion that contemporary Jews are at home where they are, rather than in exile from an imagined homeland, I would have liked to see them explore some of the more dynamic implications of Jewish cultural transnationalism, or what scholars call “flows.” To study flows is to follow the movement of ideas, money, even music. Debbie Friedman tells of a Polish youth group’s request to hear the “traditional” melody for “Havdalah” (they meant her own, of course); I have sung Adat Ari El Rabbi Moshe Rothblum’s “V’Shamru” at a Czechoslovak Shabbaton. The late Pakistani Sufi musician Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan wrote a qawwali called, “Allah Hu”; a group of Americans and Israelis living in Israel adopted, adapted and exported the chant to the United States, where it was popularized by Debbie Friedman, Danny Maseng and New York’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun as the liturgical song “Hallelu.”

The authors also do not contend with the sporadic but serious conflicts over Jewish being-at-home, whether in Paris and Brussels or on “Bill O’Reilly” and MSNBC. In the United States, controversies last year over Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and this year over “Christianization” and the “War on Christmas” paradoxically juxtapose cultural complacency and communal insecurity. In Western Europe, anti-Semitic attacks by immigrant Arabs reflect both anti-Israel political violence and the jealous rage of the socially marginal against those perceived to have made it “inside,” those who are “at home.” These, too, are the experiences of “New Jews.”

Still, one hardly can fault the authors for provoking the reader to respond. And this is Aviv and Shneer’s greatest achievement with this book: to force us, gently but insistently, to consider the global implications of a world where Zion is a given and not a proposal; where perfectly respectable Jews emigrate from Jerusalem and make pilgrimages to New York; where, indeed, Los Angeles is the center of a Jewish universe.

J. Shawn Landres is the director of research at Synagogue 3000 and a visiting research fellow at UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies.

 

Center Responds to Critical News Story


Since its beginning in 1977 as a one-man institution dedicated to Holocaust remembrance, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is now perhaps among the most visible and vocal Jewish voices in the United States.

It bills itself as an international human rights organization, claims more than 400,000 family memberships, maintains offices in eight U.S. and foreign cities and its purview now includes Middle East affairs, fighting anti-Semitism anywhere, tolerance education and tracking hate sites on the Internet.

Its high profile — spurred by an aggressive and media-savvy leadership — makes the Wiesenthal Center an inviting target.

Recently, the LA Weekly published charges that reflected some earlier criticisms, though mostly voiced in private, of the center and its founder and dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier.

The alternative newspaper claimed that the center, though a private institution, was receiving substantial and scarce state funds, to the detriment of worthy causes with less skillful lobbyists.

Citing public records, the paper then noted critically that Hier received a salary of more than $400,000 in 2001, and that his wife and two sons were also on the center payroll, drawing substantial salaries. The inference of rampant nepotism was inevitable.

The newspaper article drew some spirited comments from Journal readers.

One member of the center and its Museum of Tolerance, who asked not to be identified, wrote to the editor regarding the reported salaries, saying, "That looks pretty bad! I’m pissed — and as a Jewish community professional, I’m doubly pissed."

The Journal looked into the allegations and was given the full cooperation of the Wiesenthal Center, which operates on an annual budget of $32 million. The center is in the midst of two capital funds campaigns, totaling $215 million, for its New York and Jerusalem Museums of Tolerance.

Hier released the following salary figures as of June 2003, not yet audited or filed with the IRS. Hier received $350,877 in salary and $105,271 in benefits, pension and insurance. His wife Marlene, the center’s membership director, received a salary of $258,899 and benefits of $52,472.

Hier’s son, Alan (Avi), who is in charge of negotiations and planning for the massive Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, received a salary of $134,417 and $16,710 in benefits, while son, Rabbi Aaron (Ari), director of the Jewish Studies Institute at the center, received a salary of $86,092 and $8,976 in benefits.

Samuel Belzberg, the longtime chairman of the center’s board of trustees, acknowledged that having four Hiers on the payroll looks, from the outside, "a little bit nonkosher," adding quickly, "but it’s 100 percent kosher."

The man most responsible for setting compensation levels for the center staff is Ira A. Lipman, who chairs the trustees’ three-person nominating and human resources committee. He is the owner and CEO of Guardsmark, one of the country’s leading security services, with $468 million in annual revenue and employing 18,000 people.

Speaking as a veteran business executive and lay leader of the United Way, Lipman said that before approving salaries, his committee surveys comparable Jewish and non-Jewish organizations and checks the IRS filings of museums, universities and similar institutions.

"Rabbi Hier is basically the CEO of the fastest-growing Jewish membership organization in the world," he said. "I can tell you unequivocally that a number of national Jewish organizations pay their professional heads higher salaries. If Rabbi Hier went to work for a public company, he would command a salary two or three times higher."

"This is a well-run and conscientious organization or I wouldn’t be part of it," Lipman added. "I know that when rabbis Hier and [Associate Dean Abraham] Cooper fly overseas, they take red-eye specials and look for the deepest discounts."

Lipman was equally emphatic that the salary of Marlene Hier reflected the value of her work, not nepotism. A former teacher of statistical analysis at a Canadian university, Marlene Hier is credited by Lipman with creating and directing a "fantastic" direct-mail campaign mainly responsible for the center’s large membership and for bringing in $12 million a year.

Rabbi Meyer May, the center’s executive director, has supervised the work of Ari Hier at the Jewish Studies Institute.

"Ari shares the work ethic of his father and mother," May said. "He is judged as any other professional in this organization and certainly gets no special privileges or considerations."

Larry Mizel is the center trustee overseeing the Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance project. The board chairman and CEO of a Denver-based home-building company, with annual revenue of $2.5 billion, Mizel evaluates the performance of Avi Hier.

"Avi coordinates a $150 million project, one of the most important private undertakings in Israel, and is steering it through the complex Israeli bureaucracy," Mizel said. "He is very capable and we are fortunate to have a person of his caliber. The fact that he shares the commitment of the Hier family is a plus, not a negative."

Ethical Considerations


“We will study death, but in the service of the Jewishfuture,” said Dr. Michael Berenbaum, explaining the primary mission of a newlycreated institute at the University of Judaism.

The mission is also implicit in the name of the Sigi ZieringInstitute for the Study of Ethics and the Holocaust, for it is Berenbaum’sbelief that many of the cutting-edge ethical issues facing Jewry and societytoday grow out of the seeds sown during the Shoah.

Berenbaum, one of the world’s leading Holocaust scholars,has been named director of the Ziering Institute. He says that by placing itwithin a university focused on the Jewish future and outreach to otherdisciplines, the institute can transmute the lessons of the bitter past intoguideposts for present and future generations.

As one example, Berenbaum cites the field of medical ethics.”The notion of informed consent by a patient, and his right to stop treatmentat any time, was derived directly from the postwar trials of Nazi doctors,” hesaid.

Another frontier issue is rooted in the Nazi experiments ineugenics. “Now that we are nearing the capacity to ‘perfect’ human beings bygenetic manipulation, we must ask whether something should be done, justbecause we know how to do it,” Berenbaum noted.

Turning to business ethics, Berenbaum recalled thesubstantial financial investments by Germany’s I.G. Farben to assure it asteady supply of slave laborers.

“The Nazis perfected the use of humans as consumable rawmaterial,” said Berenbaum, and applies the observation to such contemporaryissues as child labor and sweatshops.

“We must ask ourselves, what is the borderline between anappropriate investment, and a morally compromised one,” he said.

Questions arising from the role of laws and the judiciaryduring the Holocaust are now being studied at dozens of American universitiesand in military academies, Berenbaum said.

One can argue that the Nazis committed no crimes, becausetheir actions were legal under their own laws, he said. However, the Nurembergwar crime trials found that blind obedience to immoral laws, or therationalization, “I just followed orders,” are no longer a valid defense inthemselves.

“Without Nuremberg as a precedent, [former YugoslavPresident] Slobodan Milosevic would never have been put on trial by the U.N.Tribunal in The Hague,” Berenbaum argued. Another thorny legal question is theresponsibility of the bystander who witnesses a crime or a genocide withouttaking any action.

Berenbaum is also convinced that, for example, the UnitedStates would not have interfered in the “ethnic cleansing” campaigns in theformer Yugoslavia by bombing Kosovo, but for the guilt felt by the Americanmilitary for its failure to bomb Auschwitz during World War II.

“I used to think that the Nuremberg trials were a failurebecause they were not far-reaching enough, but now I believe that they setimportant precedents,” he said.

Some of Berenbaum’s conclusions may be startling, but hedoes not arrive at them lightly.

At 57, he has been studying and analyzing the Holocaustsince his graduate student days, and he is the author of 14 books on the tragicera.

Berenbaum was one of the key figures in the creation of theU.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, served as president and CEO of StevenSpielberg’s Shoah Foundation, has held teaching posts at leading universitiesand is currently adjunct professor of theology at the University of Judaism(UJ).

The institute which he now directs, funded through $3million in donations, honors the life and memory of Sigi Ziering, a Holocaustsurvivor, successful American industrialist and author of a searing play on theHolocaust, “The Judgment of Herbert Bierhoff.”

The institute, which is to become part of a planned UJCenter for Jewish Ethics, will sponsor a range of scholarly and popularconferences, seminars and lectures.

Its initial offering is a three-part roundtable discussionamong Jewish and Christian theologians, philosophers and historians on “The Vatican,the Pope and the Holocaust.”

In keeping with its outreach mission, the first session wasat the Jewish University of Judaism, the second at Catholic Loyola Marymountand the third will be held on Feb. 18 at the traditional Protestant ClaremontMcKenna College in Claremont.

For information, phone the University of Judaism at (310)476- 9777, ext. 445.

A Museum’s Fate


The rent is paid through December. After that, no one knows where — or if — the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust will have a home.

Competition seems to be squeezing out the venerable museum. Not competition from the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, but competing visions for the future between the museum’s directors and its parent, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The museum’s struggles with The Federation in many ways mirror the ongoing, sometimes contentious discussions between The Federation and the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), another beneficiary agency of The Federation. Issues of falling membership and control seem to be at the heart of both debates.

Currently, the museum shares space at 6006 Wilshire Blvd. with office and storage space for the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles (JCLLA). But JCLLA will be moving those functions into Federation headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., leaving the Museum of the Holocaust to pay the full rent with reduced funding.

Two years ago, The Federation provided more than $180,000 for the museum. This year, the allocation was $60,000, according to Dr. Gary Schiller, the museum’s board chairman. Federation President John Fishel says that Federation support for the museum is actually higher than allocated funds would suggest, as The Federation underwrites budgeted expenditures not covered by the museum’s fundraising. Schiller estimates the operating costs, including rent, programming and salary and benefits, to be $200,000 a year. "We run lean," he says.

"The issue for them is how does one offer Holocaust education and Holocaust memorialization in a place that’s as vast as L.A.?" Fishel says. "Regrettably, the number of people visiting the museum on Wilshire Boulevard is not dramatic. The cost of maintaining this museum requires a real decision on where the money is spent. It’s very important that Holocaust education continue to be a priority."

The Federation has suggested a plan that would allow the museum to spend more of its limited budget on programming rather than rent. It would like to see the museum move from its pricey rented Wilshire location to space in The Federation-owned Milken JCC in West Hills.

"They’ve done their own fundraising in a very minimal way, which to date has not been sufficient," Fishel says. "If [the museum] can even raise the money, is it best used to pay rent? I look at [moving] as an opportunity."

Museum officials, however, believe their outreach programs — both for survivors and schoolchildren from throughout the city — are best served at their current location. Though Federation officials suggest that competition with the nearby Museum of Tolerance hurts the Museum of the Holocaust, the comparison rankles museum officials.

Schiller says, "We are not constrained by some political objective, ours is merely a historical museum. We’re not in a position to teach about Armenia or Rwanda. We have a discrete niche, while [the Museum of Tolerance’s] mandate from the state is to teach tolerance."

The museum’s supporters are not anxious to move from the Museum Row location, says Schiller. "We can’t imagine a more accessible place" and will not have the same outreach ability housed in a "hallway in the Milken Center."

Michael Hirschfeld of the Jewish Community Relations Committee, the liaison between the museum and The Federation, was asked by The Federation not to speak to The Journal about this matter.

Rather than squabble about the location, museum officials are focused on increasing their fundraising efforts. Regardless of where the museum sits, major community support will be necessary to maintain the museum for the more than 6,000 student visitors a year, as well as such successful projects as the annual Yom HaShoah commemoration and the Shalmoni Holocaust Arts and Writing Competition.

To keep it all going, the museum’s board is applying to foundations and funding agencies. Museum Director Rachel Jagoda says, "I’d love to see us raise a million dollars. We need it," and adds that donors have come up with approximately $10,000 in the last three weeks.

Jagoda just wants to see the museum stay alive. "This isn’t a story about two Jewish organizations fighting with each other," she says. "This is about getting what this museum needs. We have this precious museum that’s going to rot if the community doesn’t support it."

New Leadership


Dr. Gary J. Schiller is an associate professor at UCLA, so perhaps it is not surprising that the new chairman of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust puts education and research at the top of his agenda.Schiller’s accession also marks a generational change. The son of a Buchenwald survivor and professionally a hematologist and oncologist at the UCLA Medical Center, he is the first member of the “second generation” to lead the museum on Wilshire Blvd.

The generational succession was met with some resistance by the Jewish Federation, which supports the museum, says Schiller, but it was ultimately the Holocaust survivors themselves who insisted that it was time for their children to take on leadership roles.During most of the 1990s, Schiller served as president of Second Generation, an organization for children of Holocaust survivors which, at 1,000 members, he believes to be the largest group of its kind in the United States, if not the world.

Long overshadowed by the Museum of Tolerance, the Museum of the Holocaust has raised its public profile during the past couple of years under energetic leadership and since moving into its own quarters outside the Federation building.

In education, Schiller plans to build on the museum’s strong outreach to high school classes, which are daily visitors, including large contingents of Latino and African-American pupils.In both education and research, Schiller wants to expand the already close relationship with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem by accessing their computer databases and bringing in special exhibits.

Currently, the museum is hosting a month-long exhibit, “Polluting the Pure,” in cooperation with Germany’s Goethe Institut.

Along the same line, Schiller wants to raise the museum’s academic profile through its links with the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies and the university’s “1939” Club Chair in Holocaust Studies.In another cooperative venture, Schiller hopes for a merger between the museum and the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument in nearby Pan Pacific Park, already a frequent pilgrimage site for the museum’s high school visitors.

Schiller is quite definite about what he doesn’t want the museum to do.”An institution commem-orating the Holocaust shouldn’t become a theater,” he says. And, in a barely disguised dig at the Museum of Tolerance, he adds, “I don’t think we should sponsor political debates or enter a float in the Rose Bowl parade.”