Is a delay of justice a denial of justice?


It is not every day that a former regional president of the Anti-Defamation League rides to the rescue of alleged Palestinian terrorists. Yet that is precisely what happened on
Jan. 30, when Los Angeles immigration judge Bruce J. Einhorn, in a stinging rebuke to the federal government, terminated deportation proceedings against two men who were arrested more than 20 years ago because of their alleged ties to a Palestinian terrorist organization.

Unless appealed, Einhorn’s decision will finally bring an end to the government’s decades-long campaign to deport Khader M. Hamide and Michel I. Shehadeh — two men who have been lawful, permanent residents of the United States for more than 30 years and whose children are U.S. citizens. Their case has reached every level of federal court, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

The government has been seeking to deport Hamide and Shehadeh since January 1987, based on their alleged support for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a radical offshoot of the Palestine Liberation Organization that has taken credit for airline hijackings and car bombings in the Middle East. The two men, along with six others who became known as the L.A. 8, have all denied membership in the PFLP, while steadfastly maintaining that they were being persecuted for lawful political activities — distributing newspapers, participating in demonstrations, assisting Palestinians with human rights and medical needs and raising money for hospitals, youth clubs and day-care centers.

Such activities would clearly be constitutionally protected if undertaken by U.S. citizens. The government has never alleged that any of the L.A. 8 were connected to the PFLP’s terrorist activities.

Of the other six members of the group, one became a citizen, three obtained permanent residency status, one is seeking permanent residency status and the sixth returned to Bethlehem.

Since the outset of its case, the government has argued that lawful, permanent residents such as Hamide and Shehadeh were not entitled to the same constitutional free speech rights as those of U.S. citizens. In doing so, the government initially invoked the now-repealed McCarran-Walter Act that had been used during the McCarthy era to deport immigrants who embraced communism.

The government also asserted that providing humanitarian aid to an organization that both sides agreed had “engaged in terrorist activities” from 1984 to 1986 was the kind of “material support” that warranted deportation. Finally, government lawyers twice persuaded Congress to change federal laws and to apply them retroactively in order to allow for the deportation of those whose activities were lawful at the time they occurred.

Prior to Einhorn’s decision last month, the immigrants had won a number of important rulings, including a 1998 federal appeals court opinion that the Constitution does not permit “guilt by association” and that their deportation could not proceed unless the government demonstrated that the men intended to support the “illegal group goals of the PFLP.”

Einhorn’s January ruling terminating these deportation proceedings arose from the government’s persistent refusal to disclose “any potentially exculpatory evidence” in its possession — a violation of the judge’s June 2005 pretrial order.

In his 11-page opinion, Einhorn wrote: “The repeated actions of the government in not complying with the court’s orders have prevented respondents [Hamide and Shehadeh] from obtaining fair hearings and closure in their cases. The attenuation of these proceedings is a festering wound on the body of these respondents and an embarrassment to the rule of law.”

Unless such a “gross failure” has consequences, Einhorn colorfully observed that “an immigration judge is reduced to the status of a Blanche DuBois, who must rely on the kindness of strangers. Such status would gut the statutory and regulatory scheme of deportation proceedings.”

Einhorn, who previously served for more than a decade in the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, where he worked to identify and prosecute Nazi war criminals who resided illegally in the United States, was obviously perplexed by the government’s misconduct.

“A reasonable argument could be made,” he wrote, “that if Hamide and Shehadeh have engaged in terrorist activity, particularly in the context of today’s world, then the government would be prepared to move heaven and earth — not to mention some mounds of paper — to complete the trial and deportation of these respondents.”

Einhorn concluded that the government’s “protracted failure” constituted a violation of the immigrants’ constitutional due process rights.
The only immigration matter in all of U.S. history that has lasted longer than the L.A. 8 case was the deportation proceedings against Carlos Marcello, a reputed New Orleans crime boss, which started in 1953 and lasted 30 years.

Marcello was briefly deported but died a free man in Louisiana in 1993. It remains possible that the case against Hamide and Shehadeh could drag on still further.

Einhorn’s decision to terminate these deportation proceedings is undoubtedly correct — both legally and morally — and should not be appealed. It is long past time for the federal government to abandon its decades-long persecution of these immigrants and its concurrent legislative and judicial efforts to exempt lawful U.S. residents from the protection of the Constitution. As Einhorn himself observed, the rule of law is tested not by its ability to protect “those we love” but by whether it protects “those we loathe.”

Douglas Mirell, a Los Angeles attorney, is a founder and first vice president of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, www.pjalliance.org.

Briefs


Presbyterian Church Fixes Divestment Damage
Two years after it angered Jews by passing a resolution calling for divestment from Israel, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is trying to undo the damage.

At this year’s General Assembly in Birmingham, a church committee agreed Saturday night to ask the full assembly to replace its 2004 resolution calling for “phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel” with a policy of “corporate engagement” that would restrict investments in Israel, the Gaza Strip and West Bank to peaceful pursuits. The full assembly was to vote on the resolution Wednesday.

The committee overwhelmingly agreed to the motion after days of deliberation in which it held open hearings and heard dozens of proposals.

Although the resolution does not formally rescind divestment, most took it to mean that the drive toward divestment had been stopped, and that the call for “corporate engagement” shows a more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The resolution approved by the church’s peacemaking and international issues committee:

  • Calls on the church to restrict its investments that relate to Israel, Gaza, eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank to peaceful pursuits;
  • Urges peaceful cooperation among Israelis, Americans and Palestinians, and Jews, Muslims and Christians;
  • Calls for dismantling Israel’s West Bank security barrier where it ventures beyond the pre-1967 boundary;
  • Aims to submit these proposals to U.S., Israeli and Palestinian politicians and religious leaders.

Klimt Paintings to Leave LACMA
Los Angeles’ loss is New York’s gain, with the sale by local resident Maria Altmann of an iconic Gustav Klimt painting to the Big Apple’s Neue Galerie, owned by Jewish cosmetics heir and philanthropist Ronald Lauder.

The gold-flecked 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, Altmann’s aunt, was sold for a reported $135 million, the highest known price ever paid for a painting.

In addition to the portrait, four other Klimt paintings were recently returned to Altmann and her family by the Austrian government, after a seven-year legal and diplomatic battle waged by Los Angeles attorney E. Randol Schoenberg.

The art works were seized from the Bloch-Bauer family by the Nazis, after their takeover of Austria in 1938.

Sale of the “Golden Adele” is a cultural blow for Los Angeles, and especially the L.A. County Museum of Art (LACMA), which is currently exhibiting all five Klimt paintings.

LACMA tried hard to keep the collection intact and permanently on home grounds, but was unable to come up with the necessary funds.

Altmann, a lively 90-year-old Cheviot Hills resident, is now planning a trip to Europe with her grandchildren, but doesn’t plan to change her lifestyle.

“I’ll stay in the house where I’ve lived for 30 years, keep driving my ’92 Ford, and I don’t need any new clothing,” she told The Journal in an interview earlier this year.

Angelenos have one more week to view the Klimt collection at the LACMA exhibit, which closes June 30. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Ethiopian Immigration to Israel to Remain Flat?
An Israeli ministerial committee recommended that the government postpone a decision to double the number of Falash Mura allowed into Israel from Ethiopia. The Falash Mura are descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity and who are now returning to Judaism. The government decided several years ago to increase the number allowed into Israel each month, from 300 to 600. However, the decision was never implemented, and the committee said the move should be postponed further because of financial considerations. The recommendation comes as Israel’s High Court of Justice is set to hear a petition next week on the government’s failure to expedite the aliyah.

Reform Movement Center Opens in Jaffa
The Reform movement in Israel inaugurated a $12 million cultural center in Jaffa on Sunday. The facility, to be opened officially in October, will be called Mishkenot Daniel. The decision to put it in Jaffa was part of the movement’s efforts to reach out to middle- and working-class families in Jaffa and Tel Aviv. The inauguration coincided with the first annual convention of the Association of Reform Zionists in Israel to be held in the Jewish state. The center is to include a youth hostel, auditorium, classrooms and a synagogue. Some prominent American Jews have donated to its building, and Israeli Reform movement officials hope local Reform congregants will help raise additional funds for the complex.

Israel Expands Residency Law
Israel expanded a law granting residency to children of non-Jewish foreign workers. On Sunday, the Cabinet approved a proposal by Interior Minister Ronnie Bar-On to ease the minimum age requirement for children whose parents work legally in Israel and who want to become citizens themselves. Previously, only children who were born in Israel or arrived before age 10 were eligible, but the bar has now been raised to 14. Other requirements for candidates are that they speak Hebrew and have lived in Israel for at least six years. After completing mandatory military service, they will become eligible for citizenship. The amendment was opposed by Cabinet ministers from the Shas Party, which said it would threaten Israel’s demographic balance. But Bar-On argued that it applied to only a few-hundred potential candidates.

Kosher Restaurant to Open in Turkey
Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday that Silence Park, a new holiday resort to be launched in the city of Antalya next month, includes a glatt kosher restaurant, the first in Turkey. The restaurant will serve both meat and dairy meals, using both local fare and products imported from Israel. Antalya is especially popular with Israeli vacationers given its geographical proximity and cheap prices.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Letters


Kobe Jewish?

The story regarding Kobe Bryant saying that he “wouldn’t mind” being Jewish was pointless and inane. An off-the-cuff remark all of a sudden becomes a possibility in the minds some people. In addition, the story was filled with inaccuracies as to the number of Jewish athletes in the major sports.

On opening day there were 10 Jews on Major League rosters this season (13 played last year), the NFl had seven Jews on the gridiron last seaso and the NHL started with four Jews on the ice this season.

Ephraim A. Moxson
Co-Publisher
Jewish Sports Review

The “Real Plague”

While the contemporizing of the Ten Plagues (in Hebrew) was a neat idea, the inclusion of Jack Abramoff in the company of Osama bin Laden, Hamas and the Iranian Ahmadinejad, the new Hitler, was not only offensive and stupid, but betrayed the real 10th plague: Moral Equivalency, the same philosophy that has de-legitimated Israel, by equating Palestinian homicide bombers with Israeli citizens and defense forces; the same philosophy that refers to terrorists as “militants,” “insurgents” and “activists.” (Modern Causes Add Meaning to Seder,” April 7) Perhaps the genocide in Sudan or the oncoming avian flu might have been better candidates.

Richard Friedman
Los Angeles

Immigration

Kudos to Joe Hicks for emphasizing that there is nothing illiberal about distinguishing between legal and illegal immigration (“Border Protests Not Fight for Civil Rights,” April 7).

Paul Kujawsky
President
Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles

Jews for Jesus

Unfortunately, David Klinghoffer did not take the time to learn about the Reform movement’s position before writing that “the Reform movement agrees with Jews for Jesus in affirming patrilineal descent” (“A Tenuous Claim as a Jew for Jesus,” March 31). In fact, the Reform movement’s policy states that a person with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother may be considered Jewish only when confirmed “through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people.” (CCAR, 1983) No learned Jew — Conservative, Orthodox or Reform — would consider David Brickner (who publicly proclaims his faith in Jesus) a Jew.

Klinghoffer also fails to understand the nature of patrilineal vs. matrilineal descent in Jewish tradition. First, he is simply wrong about the history. Contrary to Rabbi Meir Soloveichik’s assertion, both the Torah and the sages of the Talmud were very clear that lineage is traced through the father (see Numbers 1:2 and Bava Batra 109b). Just as importantly, the Reform movement has decided that it was offensive to exclude the children from half of mixed-marriages simply due to the gender of their Jewish parent.

Jews for Jesus is a dangerous, deceptive organization that preys upon our least knowledgeable Jews. They are outside the pale of anything Jewish. Patrilineal descent, on the other hand, is both an important link to our tradition and a vital step towards inclusion and the long-term health of our Jewish community.

Mark Miller
Los Angeles

Derisive Impression

Alice Ollstein’s comments (“Propaganda for the Insipid,” March 31) about the annual AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference were insensitive and profoundly na?ve. The fact that the Jewish community has nurtured and grown AIPAC into the vibrant and effective organization it is today is nothing short of a miracle. To be able to garner the respect, attention and participation from the nations’ highest ranking governmental leaders regarding the U.S.-Israel relationship is something the Jewish community can never take for granted.

During this year’s conference, as always, AIPAC meticulously showcased both Democratic and Republican voices in each segment of the program, contrary to Ollstein’s statement. Also, if she cannot draw a parallel between the vitriolic words of Hitler and Iranian President Ahmadinejad, let the rest of us not be in denial.

It is clear that America could have saved countless lives during World War II, but American Jews did not have the political influence at that time. Imagine the world with a vital AIPAC prior to the Holocaust — how many lives could have been spared. So let’s remain hopeful that other high school students will join the ranks of AIPAC, defending the U.S.-Israel relationship and protecting the safety of future generations.

Donna Bender
Encino

Al Franken

Once again Al Franken resorts to lies and distortions when he quipped, “The last time I saw that many angry Mexicans, the United States had invaded Mexico and was fighting Santa Ana, looking for weapons of mass destruction.” (“Sectarian Violence,” March 31).

It was Santa Ana who killed every Texan soldier in the Battle of the Alamo when Texans (including many Mexicans living in Texas) sought freedom and cessation from Mexico. And it was Texans who sought American statehood. Franken and his ilk profess to love America, but their deeds of besmirching our history and our leaders prove otherwise. Far from being proud Americans, they are the enemy from within. Kudos to Ann Coulter for taking him on.

Shari Goodman
Calabasas

 

Jewish Groups Take Pro-Immigrant Stand


You didn’t see many Jews amid the sea of Mexican and American flags during the recent pro-immigrant rallies that filled city streets, but Jews and Jewish groups, in largely liberal Los Angeles, have been advocating on behalf of immigrants, mostly outside the view of television cameras.

Among local Jewish organizations, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been leading the way: Its regional branch has been developing and disseminating a pro-immigrant resolution for roughly six months. The resulting declaration, recently approved by the Pacific Southwest Region of the ADL, calls for humane treatment of illegal immigrants, while also accepting the need for “security precautions … necessary to protect the integrity of the United States border and the well-being of the American people.”

Sixteen local civil rights organizations and the Catholic church have signed on to the declaration, said Amanda Susskind, regional director of ADL. The declaration has been forwarded to L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, with the hope that the City Council, too, will endorse the nonbinding resolution. Signatories hope the declaration will work its way to other cities and to the state Legislature as well.

The ADL declaration is intentionally short on specifics. It does not get into details about the number of years or days per year an undocumented immigrant should work to get resident status or whether or not illegal immigrants should be required to learn English or submit to a criminal background check. Instead, the declaration condemns in broad terms “xenophobia and anti-immigrant bias as having no place in United States’ immigration policy” and also proposes the monitoring of extremist groups.

Other local Jewish organizations also have taken a pro-immigration stance, including the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA). Two rabbis affiliated with the organization were part of a delegation of clergy who recently spoke to congressmen in Washington to “present a moral agenda,” PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch said.

A signatory to the ADL declaration, the alliance “takes the position further,” said Sokatch, urging community leaders “to take a stand substantially similar to Cardinal [Roger] Mahony’s.”

Mahony has spoken out adamantly against House and Senate bills that would define illegal immigration as a felony and would also criminalize the actions of those organizations and people who help these immigrants.

Sokatch says that the PJA would advocate civil disobedience against such provisions, which are part of legislation proposed by Wisconsin Representative James Sensenbrenner and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

“Any law that would cater to the worst, xenophobic elements,” Sokatch saus, “would require us to civilly disobey the law.”

Sokatch said that he did not attend the March 25 “Gran Marcha” because it was Shabbat, but he and his two daughters did attend another rally at UCLA, which included many non-Latinos, some Jews presumably among them.

The local branch of the American Jewish Congress also signed the ADL declaration. The national organization was expected to consider its own resolution on immigration at its national board meeting this week. Executive Director Neil Goldstein said that his organization is “strongly in favor of border controls,” but prefers the more pro-immigrant approach of legislation developed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“The historic position of Jews is that we are an immigrant people,” Goldstein says. “We support the idea of immigrants coming to America balanced with respect for the law and our border.”

Another local signatory to the ADL declaration is the legal aid group Bet Tzedek, which represents Latino immigrants through its employment-rights project. The organization aims to prevent discrimination against immigrants “whether they’re documented or not,” Bet Tzedek Executive Director Mitchell Kamin said.

An individual on the frontlines of a walkout was teacher Steve Zimmer, who runs intervention programs at Marshall High School. Zimmer, who is Jewish, marched with students to act as a “buffer” between the police and students. At the beginning of the day, he had no idea that he would end up walking with the students all the way from Silver Lake to City Hall, adding that he wore “wing tips much to my chagrin.”

Once the Marshall marchers, the vast majority of them Latino, reached the crest on Spring Street, they saw thousands of other students — estimates put the total at 40,000 — some from as far away as the San Gabriel Valley. Zimmer characterized the moment when his students spotted their peers as “jubilant.” Zimmer, who knows City Council President Garcetti, prevailed upon Garcetti to talk to the teens. Later, as widely reported, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke to them as well.

The leadership of United Teachers Los Angeles, the L.A. Unified teachers union, has passed a motion calling on teachers to have conversations with their students on immigration and to support students’ constitutional rights. The motion was proposed by Andy Griggs, who is Jewish, and it passed overwhelmingly, UTLA Treasurer David Goldberg said.

“We want to make sure students are safe and don’t get beat up,” Goldberg said.

Letters


Mensches, Menschen

The plural of “mensch” has always been “menschen” (“Mensches: Some Big-Hearted Angelenos You Would Be Proud to Know,” Jan. 6). Come Purim, will we read about “hamentasches”?

I was impressed, though, by the dedication of those featured in the accompanying article.

Ruth L. Brown
Los Angeles

I do not profess to be a Yiddish linguist, but I learned my Yiddish in the Sholem Aleichem Folk Shul in Perth Amboy, N.J., about 65 years ago, where everyone knew that the plural of “mensch” was “menschen.” Please tell me whether or not I’m correct.

Marv Frankel
Los Angeles

Ed. Note: According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the plural of “mensch” is either “mensches” or “menschen.” We chose the style closer to English, but feel free to come by and discuss it over some beigelech and blintschikes.

Interfaith Celebrations

We were disappointed by your editorial/news story, “Tis Never the Season for Chrismukkah” (Dec. 23), with its premise that interfaith or intercultural celebrations shouldn’t be tolerated.

The predictable seasonal staple about how children are confused by joint celebrations provided no evidence to support that conclusion. It was a missed opportunity.

Instead of probing how Jewish communities can respond sensitively to the growing number of intercultural or interfaith families, it adopted the contemptuous tone articulated by Rabbi Harold Schulweis, who dismisses those who want to combine holidays as “totally ignorant,” misguided and misinformed. By disparaging and discounting non-Jewish members of intermarried families, Jewish leaders put their heads in the sand and push them away.

In our secular Jewish organization, the Sholem Community (www.sholem.org), we’ve welcomed intercultural families who have been made to feel uncomfortable at synagogues.

We don’t ask non-Jewish family members to reject their backgrounds. We discuss how family members can honor each other’s heritages with respect and understanding. We explore common cultural themes in seasonal festivals, and we’ve seen how families can observe loving and warm, respectful celebrations.

This approach doesn’t work for everyone but is appropriate for people whose outlook is cultural and secular. Instead of the my-way-or-the-highway approach, families who honor each other’s cultures and traditions can enrich their own experiences, their humanity and connect themselves and their loved ones to their Jewishness.

Jeffrey Kaye
Katherine James
Alan Blumenfeld
The Sholem Community

IRS Charge

In his opinion piece, “IRS Errs on Endorsing Candidate Charge” (Jan. 6), Rabbi John Rosove correctly observes that the Tax Code prohibits, at the risk of loss of tax exemption, intervention by synagogues and other charities “in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

It does not prohibit all political activities. Charities, including synagogues, can take positions on legislation — that is lobby — so long as their lobbying activity is not substantial. (Positions on initiatives and referenda, as well as positions on nominees to the federal judiciary, are considered lobbying.) Moreover, these organizations can take positions on questions of public policy without limit.

Thus, even had Rabbi Rosove named leaders in his erev Rosh Hashanah sermon in October 2005, he would not have violated the campaign prohibition, since no election was looming. Nonetheless, since he did not mention any leader’s name, Rabbi Rosove could have offered this same sermon just days before an election without any violation of the prohibition.

In unofficial guidance, the IRS has treated discussions of issues of public policy without mention of candidates’ names as falling outside of the category of campaign intervention.

Ellen Aprill
Past President
Temple Israel of Hollywood
John E. Anderson Professor of Tax Law
Loyola Law School

Orthodox Women

I write in response to Amy Klein’s thoughtful article on “Orthodox But Not Monolithic” (Jan. 6). While your reporter generally presented both the spirit and the substance of my remarks on the issue of women in Orthodox Jewish communal life, I was misquoted as stating that no women currently serve on the board of the Orthodox Union (OU).

While I noted that there are currently no women officers in the OU, I did not suggest that there aren’t any women board members. I know better than that. My wife, Vivian, is one of the most active members of the OU’s Board of Governors.

David Luchins
OU National Vice President

Illegal Immigration

Like every apologist for illegal immigration, Rob Eshman makes a case for “assimilation” of the undocumented, while ignoring the wholesale violation of our laws and sovereignty that got us into a fiscal and social quagmire (“The Slop Sink,” Dec. 30).

According to the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., the net cost of public benefits and services for illegal immigrants in California is $10 billion a year — a structured deficit that no one in Sacramento is willing to address. L.A. County public hospitals lose $340 million a year providing uncompensated care for undocumented immigrants.

Here’s the kicker: The proposed Totalization Agreement with Mexico will provide Social Security benefits to Mexican nationals and, by extension, illegal immigrants. The price tag: $345 billion over 20 years.

Les Hammer
Los Angeles

Winter Break

Jennifer Garmaise’s article (“Taking Winter Break on Jewish Time,” Dec. 30) did not address the logistical and economic impact that shifting winter vacations to late January has on families of moderate means. Far from “disrupting vacation plans,” moving winter vacation from late December poses a serious challenge to parents who work outside the Jewish community, particularly single parents and those families where both parents must work in order to make ends meet.

Many of these parents hoard their sick leave and vacation time in order to take off for Yom Tov. Taking a week off in January (when alternative forms of child care are not available) in order to care for children out of school poses a financial hardship and, sometimes, a barrier to employment altogether. It is also difficult to see what educational or religious benefit the children gain from this week.

Giving the children a week’s break at Chanukah (as is done in Israel) would not completely solve the child care issue, but at least it has a logical Jewish rationale. Starting winter break on Dec. 26 would comply with Rabbi Feinstein’s ruling, while alleviating the child care situation.

Offering affordable day camps would also go a long way toward addressing the needs of ordinary working parents who sacrifice in order to send their children to Orthodox Jewish day schools.

Miriam Caiden
Los Angeles

 

Making Dreams of Israel Come True


In the international terminal at New York’s Kennedy Airport, the luggage carts sag under the weight of bulging suitcases, and it seems as if every family moving to Israel on this group flight is accompanied by a 10-person entourage to see them off.

Despite the El Al security guards screening passengers, all semblance of decorum is missing from the scene: children holding small suitcases run under the ropes as their mothers try to quiet them; grandparents dab their eyes with crumpled tissues, some sobbing unabashedly; everyone hugs and says goodbye with smiles, blessings and tears.

In the center of this confusion is a table strewn with informational packets from Nefesh B’Nefesh, a relatively new organization, whose name means Jewish Souls United and whose sponsorship of this trip stems from its mission to encourage families to make aliyah (move to Israel) by aiding them financially.

As the crowd makes its way to the boarding area, they pass supporters holding signs that read, "We are the future of Israel" and "road map home." Others hand out blue-and-white badges that say, "I’m making aliyah" and "aliyah revolution."

This is the third group aliyah flight that Nefesh B’Nefesh has sponsored since last summer, when it loaded an El Al plane with 519 North American Jews who wanted to move to Israel. Since then, Nefesh B’Nefesh, which calls itself an "aliyah revitalization organization," has helped more than 1,000 North American Jews move to Israel. Its ambitious goal is to help send 100,000 to Israel by the end of the decade.

The group’s determination to encourage Jews to move to Israel comes at a time when tourism to the country is at an all-time low, devastated by almost three years of the intifada. (The conflict has also caused a drop in immigration from 377,000 in 1991, when Russian aliyah was at its peak, to 7,692 in the first five months of this year.) At the same time, the intifada has also sparked emigration, with some Israelis seeking sanctuary on calmer shores.

The willingness of so many people to leave their comfortable lives in America to move to a country beset by violence and political turmoil reflects a bond stronger than current events.

"We did a little bit of market research, and we saw that across the gamut the dismal number of Americans making aliyah annually was not a true reflection of people wanting to go," said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, who founded the organization with Florida businessman Tony Gelbart. "The interesting comment that we were receiving was that people would love to do it, but couldn’t because they had no nest egg to pay for relocation."

Israel grants zechuyot (rights) to people making aliyah, such as a reduced-rate mortgages, subsidized rent, free health insurance and the ability to import a tax-free container of household goods. (These rights have been curtailed with the recent budget cuts.) Even so, the privileges often do little to alleviate the harsh economic realities of life in Israel.

As a result, Fass and Gelbart started providing grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 to help singles and families make aliyah. They also provided them with a support system to ease their transition into Israeli society.

Nefesh B’Nefesh helps their olim (immigrants) find jobs and housing, and they introduce them to other North American families who have made aliyah. On the group flights, the organization cuts through Israeli red tape by having representatives from the Interior Ministry process paperwork on the plane so the olim don’t have to spend hours waiting in line at government offices.

On this July 23 flight, the atmosphere on the plane is mildly chaotic, like one big party. Journalists try to interview olim, Nefesh B’Nefesh staffers walk the aisles, making sure everyone is being treated right, and the olim say hello to friends they met at Nefesh B’Nefesh meetings and talk about the joys of moving to Israel.

"No more yeshiva tuition fees!" says one man, excited about the heavily subsidized religious education available in Israel.

Reuven Ashenberg, a 33-year-old special education teacher from New Jersey, makes his way to Gelbart and says, "Thank you for making my dreams come true."

A Los Angeles couple, Shifra and Donny Weltman, tell The Journal that they are looking forward to moving because "it’s a mitzvah."

When the plane touches down in Israel after a 12-hour flight, the olim are greeted by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, MK Ehud Olmert and a parade of 150 Israel Defense Forces soldiers waving flags.

"This is a good start," Peres tells The Journal. "What can create a momentum is the way they will be absorbed, the letters that they will send back home. What we have to do is not to make more speeches but to see that the people will get jobs and houses."

There’s an old joke that the best way to cure people of Zionism is to have them live in Israel. The question is not whether Nefesh B’Nefesh can bring people to Israel, but whether the people will stay.

On this flight, most of the idealistic families are motivated by a conviction that they are fulfilling a biblical commandment, some also they can contribute to Israeli society, thereby helping the world Jewish community. (The organization says that 79 percent of the olim are Orthodox, 14 percent Conservative, 4 percent Reform and 5 percent are unaffiliated.) But will their idealism last once the realities of daily life set in?

With this in mind, Nefesh B’Nefesh only grants money to people they think will have a good chance of making it in Israel (i.e., people who are professionals and who have a strong commitment to the land). Also, the grants are vested over a three-year period, and must be returned if a family does not stay.

Of the 519 Nefesh B’Nefesh families who moved to Israel in 2002, 99 percent have stayed and and 93 percent have found jobs. But one year is often too early to tell, especially since olim from economically secure countries like the United States may leave after a longer period — five to seven years — often for economic reasons, and more recently, due to the violence in the region.

"However much we talk about absorbing these people and making their klitah [absorption] as successful as possible, one of the things that they are going to learn over time is that they need to have the ability to get away from here because it is so overwhelming," says Kelly Hartog, an Australian olah who moved to Israel 10 years ago and would now like to leave for an unspecified amount of time.

Yet the organization’s founders are optimistic that they will change Israeli society by bringing a substantial number of North American olim.

"It was difficult to explain to people what we were trying to do," Gelbart says. "And nobody believed us, because what Jews are moving to Israel in times of such turbulence?"

"But today aliyah is a reality," he adds. "Maybe the 2002 plane was a fluke, but the two planes we had this year aren’t — and the people who are coming later aren’t either."

World Briefs


California Tries To Help Survivors

State Treasurer Phil Angelides has called on 170 of California’s largest financial institutions to waive wire transfer fees charged Holocaust survivors and their families for restitution payments from abroad. During a news conference at Bet Tzedek legal services, Angelides said that the reparation payments, primarily from Germany, averaged $350 per month.

With banks charging a $10-$40 handling fee per transfer, such fees can subtract up to 10 percent of the modest monthly payments. Especially hard hit are the estimated 40 percent of the 6,000 to 8,000 survivors in California living in poverty, noted Mitchell Kamin, executive director of Bet Tzedek. The 170 financial institutions include banks, credit unions, savings and loans, and broker/dealers. Banks that have up to now agreed to waive the fees are Bank of America, Bank of California, Citibank, City National Bank, Washington Mutual, Wells Fargo and World Savings.

Congress Briefed by Israeli Terror Victims,
Palestinians

Sarri Singer, an American who was injured in a bus bombing in Israel, shared her story with lawmakers on Tuesday, July 22. Singer joined 25 other victims of terrorist attacks in Israel on Capitol Hill speaking to lawmakers about the physical and emotional pain they have endured in a trip sponsored by One Family Fund.

“This is not a normal life to live,” said Singer, the daughter of New Jersey’s Senate majority leader. “There’s no reason why innocent people should be hurt or killed for land or any objectives.”

Meanwhile, three members of the Palestinian Authority’s Cabinet met with congressional leaders to discuss the “road map” peace plan. Nabil Kassis, Ghassan Al-Khatib and Ziad Abu Amr met with several tough critics of the Palestinians in Washington on Wednesday, including Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), ranking minority member of the House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee. The ministers are seeking assurances that the United States will still back the formation of a Palestinian state even if Israel does not keep its commitments under the road map.

Jewish Terror Cells Active?

At least two Jewish terror cells are operating in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli defense sources said. The sources were quoted by Israel Radio on Sunday as saying the cells have been responsible for planting roadside bombs and carrying out shooting attacks against Palestinians. The disclosure came on the heels of the weekend arrest for security offenses against Palestinians of Yitzhak Pass, whose infant daughter, Shalhevet, was killed by Palestinian sniper fire in March 2001.

N. American Jews Go to Israel

About 350 North American Jews immigrated together to Israel this week. The July 22 flight, coordinated by the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization, in conjunction with the Jewish Agency for Israel, is the second such immigration of the summer. The immigrants are slated to be welcomed at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday by Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres.

Army Engineer Wins Clearance

A U.S. Army engineer falsely accused of spying for Israel had his security clearance reinstated. The U.S. Army recently restored the top-secret security clearance of David Tenenbaum, an Orthodox Jew who is a civil engineer for the Tank Automotive Armaments Command in Warren, Mich., the Detroit Jewish News reported.

In 1997, Tenenbaum became the focus of an FBI probe — and the subject of national headlines — amid allegations of spying for Israel when he applied for top-secret access. Tenenbaum’s lawyer, Mayer Morganroth, called the recent decision “unbelievably gratifying,” but Tenenbaum said he remained “deeply troubled and hurt that my entire ordeal was a direct product of anti-Semitism.”

Judge: Iran Must Pay

Iran must pay $313 million to the children of an American woman killed in a 1997 bombing in Jerusalem, a U.S. federal judge ruled July 17. Leah Stern, 69, was killed in an explosion at the Mahane Yehuda produce market on July 30, 1997. The decision for Stern’s family came the same day that the State Department pressed Congress to limit compensation in such cases to a few hundred thousand dollars, The Washington Post reported.

British Torah Sage Dies

Rabbi Bezalel Rakow, a leader of Britain’s ultra-Orthodox community, died Saturday, June 19. He was born in Germany in 1927. Rakow, chair of the Council of Torah Sages of the Agudas Yisroel of Great Britain, immigrated to England with his family in 1939.

AMIA Bombing Files to be Opened

Argentine President Nelson Kirchner pledged to open secret police archives pertaining to the bombing of the main Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. The announcement by Kirchner, made Monday, July 21 in a meeting with Argentine Jewish leaders, came after he pledged to open secret intelligence files relating to the July 18, 1994 bombing, which killed 85 people. Also Monday, Kirchner vowed in a meeting with a delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center to open files relating to suspected Nazis who immigrated to Argentina after World War II.

Morocco to Try 700 for Bombings

Morocco will put 700 people on trial next week in connection with May suicide bombings. The scale of the trials for the May 16 bombings surprised human rights groups. The bombings primarily targeted Jewish institutions, though no Jews were among the 44 people killed.

Kosher Passengers to Go Hungry

US Airways is no longer serving kosher meals to its coach passengers on domestic flights. Because of budget cuts, the airline will no longer serve kosher, vegetarian, hallal, diabetic or vegan meals, according to the Washington Jewish Week.

“All special meals are being eliminated [in coach class],” said Amy Kudwa, manager of media relations for the airline. First-class passengers can still order such meals.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Rise in Aliyah Rates From Frum


The Transcription Company, started by Rich Brownstein 13 years
ago, is the largest in the entertainment industry. Brownstein’s
business transcribes TV programs and radio shows from ABC, NBC,
CBS, Paramount, Universal and Disney.

It is a thriving business, and yet Brownstein is selling it and leaving
California in order to fulfill a lifelong dream.

It’s his dream of aliyah — moving to Israel. Despite the terror attacks, the threat of war and the economic uncertainty of Israel, Rich, his wife, Sara, and their two children will move there on July 13.

“We have always intended to go to Israel,” said Rich, an Orthodox Jew from Pico-Robertson. “And in terms of the perceived danger, I don’t think it is very different to any other time in Jewish history. They have always been shooting at us, there have always been wars and there have always been difficulties.”

The Browsteins’ move to Israel is typical of today’s aliyah reality — the majority of the Jews who choose to battle the odds and move to Israel are Orthodox.

Since the start of the intifada, Israel’s economic recession and the fear of terror attacks has kept many potential immigrants away. In fact, the number of people making aliyah has declined so sharply — from 377,000 in 1991 (when Russian aliyot was at its peak) to 35,168 in 2002, according to Nefesh B’Nefesh, a private philanthropic foundation — that last week Tzipi Livni, the Israeli minister of immigrant absorption told the Associated Press that immigration to Israel is in a “tailspin” and that her ministry needs to find ways to make the country more attractive to potential immigrants. On June 23, housing grants were reinstated to immigrants as a first step to keep them coming to the country, and a government task force was set up to study the immigrant needs.

But many Orthodox Jews aren’t waiting for the situation to get better or for the Israeli government to lure them to Israel. Of the 35,168 immigrants, 80 percent are estimated to be Orthodox. They see aliyah as an integral part of their Judaism; a halachic necessity they have aspired to their whole lives, reinforced by their education and communities. In Los Angeles, Orthodox Jews have even accounted for aliyah rates rising slightly over the past few years.

“The people who are going to Israel come from very committed backgrounds,” said Batya Dashefsky, the Israeli emissary for the Aliyah Center in Los Angeles. “I think they take the long view. They realize that things are difficult now, but [aliyah] fits into the way they see themselves as Jews, and they are able to see the bigger picture. Something that happens today or yesterday doesn’t affect what happens to the tomorrow, because they are going for the rest of their lives.”

Dashefsky said that the number of people making aliyah through her office has risen slightly over the past few years — 90 in 2001, 107 in 2002 and the prediction for 2003 is at least 120 — and about 90 percent of the Los Angeles immigrants are Orthodox. Dashefsky also attributes the slight increase in numbers to Nefesh B’Nefesh, which started in 2000 to provides financial assistance in the form of a grant to Jews making aliyah. The organization gives families making aliyah average grants of $18,000, and also assists with social integration and governmental processing. Last year, the organization sponsored a mass charter flight of people making aliyah; this year they have two such flights leaving in July.

Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, the founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh said that of the olim (immigrants to Israel) his organization helps, 78 percent are Orthodox.

“It is a tremendously high proportion,” he said. “You just have to go to the theological schools of each organization and see where Zionism and aliyah play a role in its curriculum in order to understand this.”

Fass said that people making aliyah send a strong message of support to Israel and create good public relations for Israel around the world.

“When we did the charter flight in 2001, it was covered in Russia, China, Japan — all over the world, and it showed the world that Israel is strong, and that Israel has individuals who are choosing aliyah,” he said. “It also created a tremendous moral boost for Israelis, who have been experiencing a very tough time over the last two years. To have individuals come and live there is the ultimate expression of solidarity.”

Sarah Brownstein agreed.

“This is the message we want to tell them [Israelis]: You are not alone,” she said. “We are tired of sending checks to Israel. Now we want to send ourselves.”

For more information about Nefesh B’Nefesh, visit www.nefeshbnefesh.org or call (866) 425-4924.