We don’t need more gabfests on diversity


The details of the ugly dustup between a leading local Jewish philanthropist, Daphna Ziman, and the local African American head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Rev. Eric Lee, are still at issue. Ziman disseminated her account of the encounter in a widely distributed e-mail. She claimed that Lee gave a speech at a local fraternity function rife with anti-Semitic statements. Lee strenuously denied the charges, and no independent corroboration exists.

But what is of greater interest than what actually transpired at the Kappa Alpha Psi gathering is the response from the leadership of our community to Lee’s remarks and what that portends for intergroup relations in this city.

Predictably, the civil rights leadership of our communities seems to be responding to the incident just as they have in the past — with dialogue groups and resurrected “roundtables” aimed at convincing participants of the value of diversity and of our historic and present commonalities.

What ought to distinguish the response of today from those in the 1970s and 1990s is the context of our very changed society.

Society has caught up and passed well beyond dialogue groups and the need to justify and rationalize the value of diversity. Every major study conducted in this field has revealed an amazing attitude of acceptance of differences by today’s young people. As Morley Winograd and Michael Hais observe in their just-published book, “Millennial Makeover,” “the great diversity of the Millennial Generation [born between 1982 and 2003] and its experiences growing up in a multiracial society is reflected in their relatively color-blind attitudes on racial relations.”

The Pew Center concluded in its multiple surveys of millennials that “they are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, race and homosexuality.” One example documented by the Pew Center (dealing with a historically incendiary issue) found that that between 1987 and 2003, attitudes toward interracial dating among 18-25-year-olds underwent a sea change — those approving such activity rose from 56 percent to 89 percent. Those completely agreeing with interracial dating rose from 20 percent to 64 percent.

The data of a profound change in attitudes is incontestable and is manifested across racial and religious lines. The Reboot study of millennials, “OMG! How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era,” found that today’s youth are “fully integrated into diverse social networks. While previous generations often lived in homogenous religious communities, among Generation Y [born 1980-2000], only 7 percent of youth report that all their friends are the same religion as themselves. Even the most religious youth maintain diverse networks of peers.”

The study oversampled Jewish and black youth to confirm their findings.

Even the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) study of anti-Semitic attitudes indicates a decline in anti-Semitic attitudes among the African American population, historically among the most problematic cohort it surveys. Unfortunately, the ADL study does not disaggregate data for younger blacks and their attitudes.

If one believes the myriad studies that confirm the exceptionally positive trends of the new generation, how should one respond to the Lee incident? More dialogue groups that devolve into vehicles to preach to the converted seems to be what we have in store for us. The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission and its friends will be busy singing the same old songs.

What ought to inform any actions that grow out of the Lee-Ziman incident is the profound change that has taken and is taking place around us. Young people today don’t need a “coalition” to talk about how to live together — they do it 24/7. Their world isn’t circumscribed by their faith, their race or their ethnicity.

Nor should we trudge out the old nostrums and activities and think that the Lees of the world will change their version of history or their attitudes — nor should we really care. They are not the future, and their historical notions are virtually irrelevant.

Our communities’ leadership has to absorb the reality that the next generation of open-minded young people sees diversity as a plus, not as a burden to be overcome. We need to offer them activities that confirm their positive outlook and involve them in doing, not talking, about things, much as Temple Israel’s Big Sunday program does — people working together as equals, improving our community for everyone. We don’t need more gabfests or sessions of self-flagellation.

Millennials believe that they live in an exciting time, two-thirds rate their lives as “excellent or pretty good,” let’s give them reason to confirm those positive attitudes.


David A. Lehrer is president and Joe R. Hicks vice president of Community Advocates Inc. (www.cai-la.org), a Los Angeles-based human relations organization headed by former mayor Richard J. Riordan.

A shul grows in Dixie — Insha’Allah


With Wal-Mart attracting a huge number of minority religious groups to Arkansas, it is not surprising that Fayetteville is becoming increasingly diverse.

And while this ongoing change is felt in many ways, the most distinct may be the recent push by Temple Shalom to build the first synagogue in the history of the city, and the fact that the pro bono builder is a Muslim.

Fadil Bayyari, a Palestinian and a general contractor in Springdale, Ark., has already built two churches and the first mosque in Fayetteville. Now he’s donating his time to help Temple Shalom complete its first building, waiving the contractor fees customarily associated with most building projects. He heard about the synagogue plan through his participation with the Rotary Club.

“I was born and raised in the West Bank,” said Bayyari. “I’ve been in the U.S. for 36 years and northwest Arkansas for 27…. I respect other peoples’ ways of life, other peoples’ religion.”

“We’re children of God, every one of us,” he added. “I’ve been brought up that way and … I raise my kids that way — to respect other peoples’ cultures and religion. And in my heart I decided I’m going to help them.”

Up until now, Temple Shalom rented space for its meetings. However, Jacob Adler felt that wasn’t good enough, citing myriad benefits to having a dedicated structure.

“We hope that [a building] will spur further growth,” said Adler, who is a philosophy professor at the University of Arkansas and works part-time as Temple Shalom’s only rabbi.

Although the fundraising isn’t complete, the congregation is hoping to begin construction soon, Adler said, adding that Bayyari’s offer makes things easier.

“It makes a big difference,” he said. “I’m sure we’d build the building eventually anyway. This probably means we can do it a little bit sooner. It’s certainly a big difference, a big contribution, and we’re really grateful to him.”

Temple Shalom already strives to integrate with other faiths in the area, for instance, by trading child-care duties.

“We share child care with one of the local churches, so on Easter we provide child care for them and on our High Holidays they provide child care for us,” Adler said.

“Some events we’re able to do with other religions and some are distinctively Jewish, but in a place where we’re such a small group [we] don’t want to isolate ourselves.”

Temple President Bill Feldman hopes that a dedicated space will allow for even more interaction.

“We’ll have a bigger arena to be able to have activities. Right now, we’re kind of cramped,” he said. “What we’re hoping is that with a bigger facility we’ll be able to … accommodate larger numbers of people for activities that might [include] many faiths. Presently, we have such a small facility we’re only able to host activities for our own group.”

The construction of the first Jewish temple in Fayetteville is certainly a sign of increasing religious diversity, while Bayyari’s involvement indicates the prospering interfaith relationship in the area. And while Jews and some other minorities still make up an even smaller percentage of the people in Arkansas that the national average, throughout the rest of the United States, such developments lead one to question whether this will always be the case.

“I’m hoping that what we’re doing here will be an example for others to follow around the U.S., and maybe this will be taken back to … Palestine and Israel,” Bayyari said. “If we get along with each other here, respect each other, and have wonderful relationships, then maybe they want to do the same. They’ve had wars for centuries. Maybe it’s about time to build up some good will and respect for each other’s way of life.”


This article first appeared in the Fayetteville Free Weekly.

You have the right to shut up


Did you hear about the local court in Israel that sentenced a newspaper editor and a reporter to a year in jail for criticizing the prime minister? Or how about the 100 menwho were arrested at a private party in Tel Aviv because they were “dancing and behaving like women”? Or the Israeli court in Haifa that ruled that the testimony of a man is worth twice that of a woman?

You probably haven’t heard, because these abuses didn’t happen in Israel.They happened in Israel’s neighborhood, in countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and as you might imagine, there are plenty more where those came from.

What does any of this have to do with a column about the Pico-Robertson neighborhood? This week I feel like going a little broader.

There’s a controversy that has bubbled up in the Jewish world today around this question: Is it good for Israel when Jews go public with harsh criticism of Israel?

One recent example is a Jewish group that has been presenting on college campuses a stinging, single-minded and, in the eyes of many, exaggerated critique of the Israeli army. Presumably, this type of collective soul-searching demonstrates the Jewish values of fairness and good faith and ought to generate some goodwill in return.

Of course, Jewish criticism against Israel or its policies is nothing new — but not all criticism is created equal. Criticism that rails against the corruption in Israel’s government, for instance, is an example of a political system trying to clean up its act to better serve its people.

But Jewish criticism that publicly undermines Israel’s morality and ability to defend itself is another matter, and it can backfire.

If we keep “confessing” to an already hostile world, for example, that we are too harsh in defending ourselves, should we be surprised if that same world concludes that we deserve to be punished — that we had all this terrorism coming?

And if this public self-criticism happens only on our side — because the other side doesn’t allow it — aren’t we creating a false reality that puts inordinate responsibility on Israel for whatever goes wrong? When we complain that Israel’s global brand image is worse than that of murderous regimes, isn’t our public self-flagellation at least partly to blame?

In short, shouldn’t supporters of Israel be more careful with what it allows its enemies to hear?

As I write these words, I feel like an 80-year-old World War II veteran who spends his days looking at his medals. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can make you more exhaustingly boring and unsophisticated today than suggesting for one second that a Jew should watch his mouth.

For the Jews who don’t think twice before criticizing Israel in public, there’s no such thing as a bad debate. Go ahead and trash the Israeli army over civilian casualties, watch the enemy exploit this weakness to create even more civilian casualties and then let’s all celebrate the beginning of a “terribly important” debate.

Jews who are careful about not helping the enemy don’t have this fetish for debate. They see their home being broken into by people about to hurt their kids. Then, as they look at the faces of their frightened children, they have a choice to make: Do they argue with their spouse — in front of the burglars — about who was supposed to call that security company to install the new alarm, or do they figure out a way to protect their children and leave the debate on the alarm for later, in private?

These Jews’ mouths might be shut, but their eyes are wide open. They see that when Israel tried to give its enemy what it said it wanted (example: Gaza), things got even worse. They believe in peace, but not suicide, and they believe that in times of danger, knowing when to be discrete can be just as courageous as knowing when to speak out.

This is their guiding question: Does an enemy who wants to kill my family deserve to see all my insecurities?

So clearly, despite the ingrained Jewish habit of self-criticism, there are millions of Jews today who don’t think it’s a great idea to villify the Israeli army in front of American and pro-Palestinian college students.

Instead of buying you good will, it’s more likely to buy you bad PR.

Having said all that, in our collective obsession with Israel, Jews of all political stripes have missed a major opportunity: shining a light on the rest of Israel’s neighborhood.

While the world’s press records every Israeli mistake, millions of Arabs are being silently persecuted across the Middle East — gays who are arrested for being gay, women who are humiliated for being women, reporters who are attacked for reporting, Christians who are persecuted for being religious, poets who are jailed for writing the wrong poems.

Where is the outrage? Where are the “Breaking the Silence” campus road shows? Where is the liberal support for these Arab victims of human rights abuse who don’t have a fraction of the freedoms that Arabs in Israel enjoy?

The notion of shutting Jewish mouths is a moot point — nobody can shut a Jew up. If a Jew exercises the freedom to shut up, it’s a personal choice, and it’s usually for good reason.

But for all you progressive Jews out there who believe it’s in the grand Jewish tradition to always speak out, there are 300 million Arabs who don’t live in the vicinity of Israel, and who could surely use a road show.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Despite past sparks, Al-Marayati wants Jewish dialogue


It’s a Saturday morning, and Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), is playing basketball with a group of friends. He pounces on loose balls, wrestles away rebounds and knows just when to feed a teammate a perfectly telegraphed pass for an easy layup.

“He gives it 110 percent and leaves everything behind,” said his friend and occasional teammate, Ramsey Hakim, who also serves on the MPAC board. “He’s quite the competitor.”

Al-Marayati’s game, marked by a kind of intensity and focus rare among weekend warriors, reveals the kind of guy he is — in his work as a leader and spokesman of the local and national Muslim community — and as well as in his play. Simply put, he plays to win.

Over the past two decades, the Iraqi-born, American-reared Al-Marayati, 46, has helped grow MPAC from a start-up advocacy operation founded in 1988 by Dr. Maher Hathout, past chair of the Islamic Center of Southern California, into one of the country’s leading Muslim political groups, with offices here and in Washington, D.C. He has traveled the country, met with the president and other political leaders and written opinion pieces for the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Washington Post and other publications, advocating a more moderate vision of the Muslim world, and, in particular, of American Muslims.

He talks of a faith that encourages equality between the sexes, of Muslim integration into American society and of respect for and partnerships between Jews and Christians. Al-Marayati has also fought to combat what he calls “Islamophobia” wherever it crops up.

“I want my children to have a future of hope, a future where they can contribute positively to American society as Muslims,” Al-Marayati said. “I don’t want a future of prejudice, fear and victimization.”

In the process, Al-Marayati has become “one of the major mainstream American Muslim leaders,” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights group.

Al-Marayati has met with President Bush three times, as well as with FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, on the subject of counterterrorism, and he has testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on the need for the government to work with, rather than shut down, Islamic charities aiding poor Muslims around the world. On Jan. 8, Al-Marayati and other Muslim leaders conferred with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in his Washington office about the need to counter anti-Islamic sentiment so as not to alienate young Muslims.

“I told Attorney General Gonzales that the way to discourage radicalization is to promote integration, which is a joint responsibility of government and community-based organizations like ours,” Al-Marayati said in the deep, sonorous voice that is one part of what makes this rising star of the Muslim community sound statesmanlike.

During an interview at MPAC’s L.A. office, Al-Marayati comes across as serious and even a bit distant. With the din of ringing phones and staff members’ voices in the background, he maintains eye contact at all times. Dressed in a well-tailored suit, the trim Al-Marayati eschews small talk and answers questions deliberately, choosing his words with care. He cites as inspirations Green Bay Packers’ legend Vince Lombardi’s commitment to winning and teaching, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dedication to civil rights and fairness.

Al-Marayati’s biggest influence, he says without hesitation, is the Prophet Muhammad, whom he calls the “epitome of compassion, mercy and justice.”

Despite Al-Marayati’s commitment to interfaith dialogue and his open-door policy, even to critics, many in the Jewish community remain deeply suspicious of him.

On Sept. 11, 2001, just hours after the terror attacks, Al-Marayati hypothesized on a radio program that Israel might have orchestrated them “because, I think, this diverts attention from what’s happening in the Palestinian territories, so that they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies.”

Months later in April 2002, Al-Marayati appeared on the CNBC show, “Alan Keyes Is Making Sense.” During the interview, he told the host that “the country that introduced terrorism in the region is Israel. The root cause of terrorism is the illegal Israeli settlements.”

Although Al-Marayati said he subsequently personally apologized to many Jewish leaders for his Sept. 11 remarks, the damage had been done: The multiorganizational Muslim-Jewish Dialogue that Al-Marayati had helped create just a few years earlier lay in ruins, with other participants outraged by his remarks and remaining suspicious of him ever since.

“I won’t work with him, because I don’t trust him,” Rabbi John Rosove, senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood, said last week in a phone conversation. Rosove was among those who quit the Muslim-Jewish Dialogue soon after Al-Marayati made his initial Sept. 11 remarks.

Al-Marayati does have some friends in the Jewish community. Among them is Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who is Jewish. Schiff has worked with Al-Marayati for years on interfaith issues and said he has found him to be a dedicated partner.
“We both believe that by sharing insights and strengthening voices of tolerance, we can find common ground in improving the quality of life for the entire community,” the congressman said.

Al-Marayati said the hostility from segments of the Jewish community continues to surprise him. MPAC, he said, has gone on record as supporting the two-state solution and has condemned suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism, regardless of the perpetrators.

“I’m committed to dialogue emanating from the best traditions of Judaism and Islam,” Al-Marayati said. “It pains me to hear comments questioning my commitment. As I’ve stated before repeatedly, the door remains open, especially to those who have those criticisms.”

Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), a Los Angeles-based social justice organization, said Al-Marayati has repeatedly lent support to him in times of distress. For example, moments after the shootings at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle by a gunman upset by Israel, Al-Marayati called him to express his sorrow and concern, Sokatch said. Al-Marayati asked Sokatch whether there was anything MPAC could do to show solidarity with the Jewish community.

“He always reaches out,” Sokatch said.

Regime Change


I’m at a stunning house in Beverly Hills. The hosts are pillars of the Persian Jewish community. The food is incredible. Milky raw almonds and walnuts floating insilver bowls of ice water. Candied kumquats on gilt platters. Fragrant rice pilafs beribboned with dried cherries and pistachios, and uniformed waiters offering hillocks of grilled lamb chops.

But — and this often happens — the sumptuousness of the food is in direct proportion to the grimness of the topics under discussion.

I’m here with 30 or so other guests to meet Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Some hail him as a visionary, and others dismiss him as a thug for his call to demand loyalty oaths of Israeli Arabs and cut loose Arab areas of the country.

But what interests me tonight is not Lieberman’s idea for disenfranchising 20 percent of Israel’s citizens, a Kahane-esque ploy that would spell the end of American support for the Jewish state. As much as Lieberman, in his heavily Russian-accented English, pitches that dystopian idea, his audience — most of them from the Persian Jewish elite — express more concern over what Israel will do about Iran.

For this group, of course, it’s personal.

They share a language and a homeland with the mullah-run regime in Teheran. They understand the threat a nuclear-armed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could pose to Israel, and they are anxious over the fate of some 20,000 Jews still living in Iran.

This group wasn’t even that worked up about the Holocaust denial conference Ahmadinejad was sponsoring beginning that very day. Why focus on the man’s minor lunacies when his main one — his quest for nuclear weapons and his vow to destroy Israel — are so much more urgent? What these very elegant, very serious guests want is the bottom line — what can Israel do now? — to counter the Iranian threat.

Lieberman’s answer was not surprising. He spoke of tough sanctions — which no one in the audience seemed to put much faith in — followed by “harsher measures.” It wasn’t hard to guess what the deputy prime minister meant by that. If Israeli leaders haven’t issued an outright call for a military response to Iranian nuclear threat, they’ve sure been hinting hard.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni — all have spoken in Los Angeles recently on the need to confront the Iranian threat immediately and forcefully.

But I’m wary.

If the Iraq debacle has taught us anything, it’s to distrust those who promote preemption. The same Israeli and the same Americans who said attacking Iraq was the best option are arguing that now, or soon, is the time to plow our bombs into the bunkers and factories of Iran.

Ahmadinejad has certainly earned the right to be bombed, but is that Israel’s — and America’s — best and only option?

For one, our leaders are perfectly capable of screwing up a military response. If Olmert couldn’t destroy Hezbollah in their Iranian-funded bunkers, how certain is it Israel can destroy Iran’s much more safely guarded nukes? Also, perhaps the Iranian regime is vulnerable in other ways.

“Iran is in a state of upheaval,” the Iranian-born columnist Amil Imani wrote me by e-mail.

“It is prudent that the West does not embark on a trigger-happy policy. The mullahs’ lease on life is just about over. A concerted economic and moral support should be all that is needed for the Iranian people to put an end to the shameful and hate-driven ‘monkey’ and his ilk.”

Imani is a Muslim and an active — and brave, considering the international reach of Iranian agents — opponent of the regime. As much as he hates the mullahs, he doesn’t believe the military option is even necessary at this point. He wants Americans to understand that Ahmadinejad — whom a good portion of the population refers to as “the monkey” — has a less-than-solid grip on power, and the same goes for the mullahs.

But Ahmadinejad can use our saber rattling to rally Iranians around the flag, and extend his otherwise numbered days. Otherwise, their discontent becomes more and more apparent. Local elections throughout Iran on Dec. 16 demonstrated an “overwhelming defeat” for Ahmadinejad and his candidates, Imani said. The winners were a coalition of conservatives and reformers.

Perhaps a better strategy for Americans and Israelis is to do all we can to support Iranian voices of reform and dissent. We’re terrible at that. Seven years ago, on Dec. 9, 1999, thousands of students rallied against the regime. Government troops crushed the spreading protest, killing at least 19 students.

The Disaster of the University Dormitories, as it is known in Iran, received four mentions in major American newspapers, including a small article a week after the fact in the Los Angeles Times. Talk about moral support.

One step we can all take these days is to sign a petition now circulating on the Web calling on incoming U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to hold Iran’s president accountable for inciting genocide under Articles III and IV of the United Nations’ own Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

That’s the least that august body can doAdditionally, both Tel Aviv and Washington can fund television, radio and Internet broadcasts into Iran and offer Iranian dissidents real moral and financial help. Our media can tell stories of these dissidents and track their progress, to enable us not just to gawk at the monkey, but to actually help his opponents.

“Many people have asked me: How long will the present Iranian regime last?” Imani wrote. “No one exactly knows. Who among us expected that when President Reagan said in Berlin, ‘Tear down this wall,’ it would indeed fall within a few years? So, too, it is not possible to tell when change will come to Iran, although it is quite clear that the Iranian people detest the present system and are ready for change.”

An open letter to the rabbis at the Jewish Theological Seminary


I want to share with you an email I wrote to Chancellor Elect Eisen as well as Rabbi Joel Roth on the JTS board to support allowing gays to marry and become rabbis:

Dear Mr. Eisen,

I am a 46-year-old woman born and raised in Los Angeles. I am writing to ask that the Conservative movement support gay marriage. As a child, my family was members of the Conservative Temple Beth Am with Rabbi Jacob Pressman at the helm. I am a private person but I wanted to share a bit of my story with you as I know mine is the story of many.

In elementary school I realized I was different. I had no vocabulary for it, but all the books, movies and relationships I saw led me to believe that my feelings were not normal and needed to be suppressed.

I began hiding what was to me a dark and terrible secret that I could not admit even to myself until my 20s. I did not want to be different. In fact, I went to sleep every night for years and years praying that I would wake up and be straight. Of course, that never happened. The thought of coming out and hurting my beloved parents or having them feel ashamed of me was more than I could bear and I thought my only options were either to commit suicide, which gay teens do three times more than their straight counterparts, or move to another city and hide my true self from my family forever.

I stayed in the closet until I was 28-years-old, dating men and sacrificing my youth and happiness trying in vain to fit in. I started having terrible panic attacks and actually thought I was going crazy. I realized one day that it was suddenly more painful to hide who I was than to admit the truth. I tried to prepare myself to lose my family. There were hints all my life that I was gay that my parents either ignored or denied hoping, like myself it wasn’t true or it would simply go away, or perhaps I would grow out of it. Their reactions let me know this would break their hearts.

Mr. Eisen, how different my life would have been had in my early years my temple and temple community openly welcomed gay people or if there were openly gay rabbis to demonstrate that everyone has value.

As Jews we especially understand the pain of being an outsider and of doors being closed to us simply because we were born Jewish. How terrible to think that we ourselves would ever make a fellow Jew an outsider.

By locking gay people out of the rabbinate or of the sacrament of marriage is to send a very strong message that gay people are flawed and not entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as those who happen to be straight.

The reality is that 10 percent of society is gay. With an estimated 14 million Jews worldwide, that’s 1.4 million Jews that happen to be gay. With our numbers dwindling, we cannot afford to lose even one person or make any Jew feel not welcome. I have always felt great pride in being Jewish.

This year I became a bat mitzvah after two years of study. I love Jews and Israel as much as anybody. I do not think it is fair that I am excluded from being a full member of the community I love so much because of the way I was born. It’s like saying people with blue eyes can never marry.

Mr. Eisen, whether we have blue or brown eyes, straight or gay most of us grow up dreaming of the day we will stand beneath a chuppah with our family and friends surrounding us with a rabbi to bless our union.

It is my deep hope that the Conservative movement will make a strong and courageous decision to embrace all of our members so that someday no Jew will ever again feel like an outsider in our own community.

Sincerely,
Pamela Witt

Pamela Witt is a business owner in Los Angeles. She can be reached at pamwittla@aol.com.

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.

Two-state solution ASAP only chance for peace


Lebanon held the world’s headlines for much of the summer as Hezbollah and Israel waged sudden, furious battle. On the strength of the internationally brokered cease-fire that
brought a halt to the violence, Israel has now withdrawn the last of its troops and the world is holding its breath, hoping the cease-fire is sustainable.

But in the meantime, the Gaza Strip has continued to fester and collapse, seemingly forgotten. The situation in Gaza has been deplorable since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in August 2005, its population suffering from hunger and growing desperation. Late spring saw further deterioration and an escalation in the violence.

During a June 25 attack on an Israeli army base, two soldiers were killed and Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit was captured.

Since that time, Gazans have been subjected to repeated Israeli attempts to combat terrorism, resulting in enormous loss of life and damage to the area’s infrastructure. Newspaper readers know, for instance, that the war in Lebanon led to the deaths of more than 850 Lebanese and 150 Israelis, combatants and civilians. How many know that since June 25, more than 240 Palestinians, combatants and civilians, have been killed by the Israel Defense Forces?

Meanwhile, Qassam rockets have continued to be launched into southern Israel — far fewer in recent weeks, but still a source of fear and tension for those living within the rockets’ range. Despite an iron-fisted response to the Hamas attack and reports of a possible prisoner exchange, Shalit remains in his captors’ hands.

Most critically, the humanitarian situation in Gaza has gone from awful to far worse. The New York Times reported earlier this month that “it is difficult to exaggerate the economic collapse of Gaza,” and Jan Egeland, the United Nations undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, called Gaza “a ticking time bomb.”

Gaza’s economy, health care and social services are near collapse, and there are growing signs of malnutrition. Sixty percent of the population is without electricity, due to Israel’s bombing of Gaza’s only power station.

Border crossings have been open for only a few days over the past several months, leading to drastic shortages in basic human necessities: hospital supplies, essential medicines and food. Seventy-nine percent of households are now subsisting below the poverty line, and the World Bank forecasts that if the current situation persists, 2006 may be the worst year in Palestinian economic history.

As American Jews for whom Israel’s well-being is of paramount importance, we find it impossible to believe that these circumstances will lead to Israel’s security or help bring about a lasting peace. While it is understandable that we focused our attention on Lebanon for many weeks, we now call on the U.S. government and international community to dedicate the resources employed in achieving the Hezbollah-Israel cease-fire to address the looming disaster in Gaza and work toward reviving negotiations for a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

First and foremost, the United States must work with Israel and the international community to open the border crossings on a regular basis to ensure receipt of desperately needed humanitarian supplies and the establishment of a functioning economy. Indeed, the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, reported early this month that the U.S. Security Coordinator, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, told a group of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders that “without the restoration of commercial activity, there will be no security in the area.”

The possible formation of a Palestinian unity government may allow for the resumption of direct aid to the Palestinian Authority but seeing to it that more Palestinians get enough to eat and can meet their basic medical needs will not be enough.

Ha’aretz columnist Gidon Levy said of Israeli actions: “There is a horror taking place in Gaza, and while it might prevent a few terror attacks in the short run, it is bound to give birth to much more murderous terror.”

The only thing that can bring a final resolution of the conflict, creating economic stability for Palestinians and Israelis alike, as well as the longed-for end to the violence, is a negotiated, two-state solution.

Now that the cease-fire is in place and Israeli troops have left Lebanon, the international community, led by the United States, must turn its attention to Gaza. Continuing to ignore the problem will not make it go away. On the contrary, if the crisis is not addressed soon, Palestinians and Israelis alike will pay dearly as the peace process is further delayed.

Steve Masters and Diane Balser are the chair and co-chair of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom’s national advocacy committee. Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, is a national grass-roots movement more than 35,000 strong that educates and mobilizes American Jews in support of a negotiated two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Movie on pedophile priest puts a face on evil


In October 2004, journalist Amy Berg cold-called a defrocked priest she has nicknamed the “Hannibal Lecter of pedophiles.” While serving Central California parishes in the 1970s and ’80s, the Rev. Oliver O’Grady allegedly molested dozens of children — boys and girls, infants and adolescents — according to Berg’s new documentary film, “Deliver Us From Evil.”

He did so with the knowledge of church officials — including Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony — who moved him from parish to parish when parents complained, O’Grady alleges.
 
After months of phone conversations, Berg persuaded the priest to appear in a documentary that “has heightened interest among law enforcement officials … in considering a criminal case against [Mahony],” The New York Times reported on Oct. 8.
 
In a Journal interview on Oct. 9, Tod M. Tamberg, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, called the movie “very heavily biased.”
 
“This film was heavily edited and weighed in favor of Amy Berg making the cardinal the culprit and completely ignoring … that O’Grady is a skilled liar and a master manipulator,” Tamberg added.
 
“Evil” — which won the nonfiction prize at the 2006 Los Angeles Film Festival in July — presents for perhaps the first time a convicted pedophile speaking graphically about his actions on camera. O’Grady’s words provide “the backbone of a deeply disturbing documentary about the Roman Catholic clergy abuse crisis,” the Associated Press said.
 
When O’Grady first answered Berg’s call with a cheerful “Hello and good evening,” to her surprise he didn’t curtly dismiss her as had other pedophiles she had telephoned to be in her film. Berg believes he ultimately agreed to talk, in part, because he was angry with church officials.
 
“I should have been removed and attended to,” he says in the film.
 
O’Grady, who arrived in California in the early 1970s, remained a parish priest until he was convicted on four molestation counts in 1993. After seven years in prison, he was deported to his native Ireland.
 
In the movie, O’Grady describes having been molested by an older brother as a boy, and how he, in turn, abused a younger sister. As a priest, he says he sometimes started fondling children while sleeping over at their homes: He would often begin by hugging a child, then let his hand stray if they did not protest.
 
He recollects his crimes in a detached or avuncular tone that contrasts with anguished testimony from his victims. In the film, one father cries and screams as he blames himself for allowing O’Grady to abuse his daughter: “At 5 years old — for God’s sake, how could that happen?” the father says.
 
The film also includes never-before-seen taped depositions in which Mahony says he was unaware of the abuse and did not know O’Grady well when he served as bishop of Stockton from 1980 to 1985. But in the movie, excerpts from court documents, superimposed over Mahony’s testimony, suggest otherwise.
 
In response, Tamberg said Mahony’s testimony was heavily edited and facts omitted to make Berg’s points. Tamberg said Mahony did not know O’Grady had committed abuse until the former priest was arrested in 1993 and that “Evil” largely presents the opinions of plaintiffs’ attorneys, who stand to gain financially by suing the church.
 
Tamberg said he believes the documentary poignantly depicts the victims’ anguish, which is “its greatest strength but also its greatest failing. Because then we are asked to put all of O’Grady’s lying and manipulation aside and believe him…. [But] he lied to his bishop, he lied to the families, he lied to victims and I believe he even manipulated the filmmakers.”
 
Berg indignantly denied that she was ever manipulated, and that her documentary takes undue potshots at the church.
 
“If this is the best they can come up with, then let them respond to the allegations in the film, for once,” she said.
 
She wants church officials to answer questions such as “‘Why didn’t you take O’Grady Out?’ ‘What are you hiding?’ ‘[And] how many are still out there?'”Despite her bravado, Berg admitted she previously declined to tell reporters she is a Jewish, divorced single mother (she lives with her young son, Spencer, in an apartment in Santa Monica). She worried that the information might make her appear biased against the church and that the diocese might somehow interfere with the release of her film, since it successfully delayed the airing of some of her CNN pieces.
 
Tamberg said Berg’s news pieces were delayed because “we asked for fairness, and CNN management agreed.”
 
The 36-year-old filmmaker was raised Reform in Valley Glen; she attended Jewish Camp Swig in Saratoga and became a bat mitzvah at Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village. But when public high school proved too large and overwhelming for young Amy, her parents enrolled her in a Catholic school because it was affordable and many other Jewish students were enrolled there, as well. All students were required to attend religion class, but Berg said she used to ditch because she did not believe some of the teachings after having been raised Jewish. “Children were saying ‘Hail Marys’ to be forgiven for chewing gum or not brushing their hair,” she recalled of her school.
 
Years later, while producing for CBS and CNN, Berg was drawn to covering the church’s pedophilia crisis because victims exuded “this unbelievably raw, lonely, ‘Where do I turn?’ mentality.”
 
She convinced O’Grady to allow her to film him only after speaking to him every Sunday for five months. In December 2004, she flew to Dublin to meet with him in the city center (he would not tell her where he lived.) The eight-day shoot in April, 2005, was “brutal,” both physically and emotionally, she says. For example, O’Grady nonchalantly spoke of his attraction for children as kids were playing in a nearby park; in the film he even peers over the fence to look at them.
 
To keep herself calm during the process, Berg turned at the end of each day to meditation, including exercises from Melinda Ribner’s “Everyday Kabbalah: A Practical Guide to Jewish Meditation, Healing and Personal Growth.” After a week of listening to O’Grady describe his molestations of children, she said, “I was completely overwhelmed and exhausted.”

UTLA quashes Israel divestment push


Under a tidal wave of pressure from the local Jewish community, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) decided to deny use of its headquarters to the UTLA Human Rights Committee. The committee planned to discuss economic sanctions against Israel, including a boycott and divestment.
 
The move by the roughly 25-member group, a small fraction of the 48,000 UTLA members, caught the attention of the Jewish community, which quickly united in opposition.
 
UTLA President A.J. Duffy said he advocated canceling the planned Oct. 14 pro-Palestinian gathering because it would have served only to “polarize our union members and members of our community.” Instead, he said he supports convening a gathering for a dialogue between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian forces.
 
However, pressure from Duffy and some Jewish organizations has galvanized some UTLA Human Rights Committee members, who now want to proceed with the pro-Palestinian meeting at “an undisclosed location at an undisclosed time,” according to Emma Rosenthal, a committee member and director of Cafe Intifada, which, along with the Los Angeles Palestine Labor Solidarity Committee, officially endorsed the Oct. 14 gathering.
 
“Some of the Jewish establishment is absolutely intolerant of any discussion of any sort that has to do with Palestinian human rights; anything that’s critical of Israel,” said Rosenthal, a poet and political activist, who is Jewish. She added that the organizations planning the meeting probably would have canceled the Oct. 14 gathering anyway because of security concerns.
 
Rosenthal called pro-Israel Jewish organizations hypocritical in calling for “balance” when, she believes, they so rarely offer it at their own meetings and conferences.
 
The UTLA Human Rights Committee and the Cafe Intifada blog have recently received hate mail and e-mails calling members “terrorists, Nazis and murderers,” Human Rights Committee member Andy Griggs said. He added that the committee originally had expected no more than 30 people to attend the meeting.
 
Founded in the 1980s, the Human Rights Committee has sponsored and hosted a variety of meetings and conferences over the years that have addressed the environment, support for striking Oaxacan teachers in Mexico and immigration rights, among other issues. In April, the group’s two-day “Conference on Human Rights and the Environment” featured workshops on topics ranging from the environmental impact of Israel “occupation” on Palestinian communities, to the Gulf War to climate change. A lunchtime plenary session included a discussion of “definitions of genocide and human rights in the U.S., world history and in the Middle East, specifically in Palestine,” according to the group’s Web site.
 
UTLA members can join the Human Rights Committee by attending its first meeting of the year, or two consecutive gatherings.
 
Teacher Elana Dombrower, who is Jewish, said the committee’s latest stance has angered her.
“I am infuriated,” said Dombrower, who teaches fifth-grade at Roscomare Road Elementary School in Bel Air. “How dare this committee try to do something like this that doesn’t reflect the UTLA’s view or the views of its members.”
 
The committee’s planned gathering was to have been sponsored by the Los Angeles chapter of a group called Movement for a Democratic Society Inc., a new organization based in Connecticut that, according to its Web site, includes among its board members author Noam Chomsky, who has been sharply critical of Israel, as well as revisionist historian Howard Zinn. The group has tight links with Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, a student-activist movement that peaked in the 1960s.
 
Some Jewish leaders appreciated UTLA 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 have given the appearance that that UTLA endorsed divestment and a boycott, which it does not.
 
An Oct. 6 letter to Duffy from several Jewish groups, including The Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee, AJCongress, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Progressive Jewish Alliance, among others, thanked him for sending “a clear message that UTLA does not endorse the [Human Rights] Committee’s action.”
 
To try to prevent future attacks on Israel by UTLA committees, the AJC has encouraged its members who belong to the union “to make their feelings known about the indoctrination programming done by the Human Rights Committee and the hijacking of this committee,” said Sherry Weinman, president of the Los Angeles AJC chapter.
 
Leaders from several major local Jewish organizations met for two hours at the L.A. Federation on Oct. 4 to discuss how to respond to the planned event. Several participants said Duffy, who attended the meeting, told the group that 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 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. Duffy said 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,” he said in an interview.
 
A former special education teacher and dean of students at Palms Middle School, Duffy described himself as a cultural Jew. When he grew up in Brooklyn, “we used to say there were more of us here than in Israel, and it was true,” he quipped.
 
The UTLA Human Rights Committee agreed to host the pro-Palestinian meeting at the request of the Movement for a Democratic Society and after canvassing opinions of Human Rights Committee members. Although only six committee members responded to the list-serve e-mail, all said they supported the gathering, the Human Rights Committee’s Griggs said.
 
Marla Eby, UTLA director of communications, said Duffy will meet on Oct. 13 with the members of the Human Rights Committee to strongly urge the committee not to proceed. Duffy said he will “share the sheer preponderance of communications I’ve received that translate into our organization having taken a hit from our members. I’m not talking about The Jewish Federation or other Jewish organizations or Jewish teachers. I’m talking about teachers who are absolutely appalled that they think UTLA would sponsoring such an [anti-Israel] meeting.”

‘Moishe Houses’ provide post-Hillel hangout for 20-somethings


Say you’re a few years out of college, living with friends and working in a low-paying job for some do-good organization. You don’t go to synagogue, but you miss the camaraderie of your college Hillel, and you like to invite people over for Shabbat meals.

Imagine if someone was willing to pay you to keep doing it?
 
That’s what’s offered by Moishe House, a fast-growing network of subsidized homes for 20-something Jews committed to building Jewish community for themselves and their peers.
The project was launched less than a year ago by The Forest Foundation, a Santa Barbara-based philanthropy. The foundation’s executive director, David Cygielman, 25, says the goal was to give young activist Jews the financial freedom to focus on creative programming designed to reach other young, unaffiliated Jews.

To the people living in these houses, it’s a terrific gift.
 
“We were already having Shabbat dinners three or four times a month and then they came along and said, ‘We’re looking for people doing what you’re doing. Keep it up, and we’ll support you,'” said Jonathan Herzog, 29, who lives in the Seattle house with his sister Norah and two friends.
 
The project is a validation of these young Jews’ efforts to create a Jewish home for an age group they feel gets lost in the communal shuffle.
 
“After college there’s no more Hillel, and they don’t join the Jewish community until they have families,” Cygielman noted.
 
The first Moishe House opened last December in San Francisco. Seattle was next in February, joined quickly by houses in Boston and Los Angeles.
 
New ones are to open in October in Oakland, Washington, Uruguay and Nigeria, and the plan is to have 12 houses up and running by next year.
 
Except for the Nigerian house, which is a one-man outreach operation, they all follow the same formula: Three or four Jews in their 20s receive a rent subsidy of up to $2,500 a month, along with $500 for programming, and are expected to become a communal hub for young Jews by hosting Shabbat meals, card games, Yiddish lessons, film nights, book discussions, neighborhood clean-ups and other social, intellectual and civic-minded activities.
 
Residents say the formula works because it lets young people organize events they themselves would want to attend, rather than having something imposed from above by a synagogue or JCC.
In many ways, it’s the bayit of the 21st century. But unlike those communal Jewish homes of the 1970s and ’80s, which usually were sponsored by Zionist youth groups, residents of Moishe Houses don’t subscribe to a particular ideology.
 
The focus varies according to residents’ interests: The houses in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco host a lot of poker parties and film nights, while the Boston house is more involved in social action.
 
Houses have great freedom, Cygielman says, so long as they meet the minimum requirements: hosting eight to 12 events a month, making weekly reports, maintaining a Web site and reaching out to young people. Funding can be withdrawn if a house doesn’t perform.
 
“I won’t tell them what’s a wrong program or a right program,” Cygielman said. “I don’t care, so long as they’re building community and lots of people are coming.”
 
Maia Ipp, 24, moved into the San Francisco house in June. She runs a women’s group and a cooking club that is working its way alphabetically through the world’s cuisines.
 
Her parents once lived in a bayit sponsored by Habonim, a Labor Zionist youth group, but Ipp prefers the Moishe House model.
 
“We’re not affiliated with a movement that has a belief system, which frees us to do new, fresh work and engage young adults in ways other movements and campus groups can’t,” she said.
 
One recent evening, the four young residents of the San Francisco house got together for their weekly meeting. They sat around the large table in the dining room, which opens onto a large patio they use for Shabbat dinners and holiday parties.
 
David Persyko, 25, started hanging out at the house soon after it opened.
 
“I found myself really attached to being part of a Jewish community again,” he said. “Some of my fondest memories growing up were from Camp Swig, and coming here, I felt that rush of support I hadn’t felt in 10 years.”
 
He moved in in June and now runs poker night, which draws a group of guys every three weeks to “vent about the women in our lives,” Persyko said.
 
Aaron Gilbert, 24, runs a book club. The books aren’t Jewish, but the participants are, and talking about the books leads to talking about other things.
 
“It’s really intimate. We hang out, catch up on each others’ lives,” he said.
 
The house holds a big Shabbat dinner once a month and sponsors a softball team called the Matzah Ballstars. But the events and programs are secondary to the real draw.
 
“At our core, we’re four people who live in a house and we’re inviting people over. That’s appealing to people like us. It’s not institutional,” said Isaac Zones, 24, national director of the Moishe House network and a founding member of the San Francisco house.
 
On a table in the corner is a silver-toned bust of Zones’ grandfather, a man who founded his business empire with money he won playing poker. Zones makes sure the statue is always there during games.
 
The Moishe House concept is still in its early stages, and some things need to be tweaked. For example, the Los Angeles and Seattle houses are trying to beef up their social action component, while the Boston house is being encouraged to offer more “fun events,” Cygielman said.
 
It’s all part of figuring out what constitutes a Jewish community, or even a Jewish event. Must it be something devoted purely to a Jewish ritual or Zionist goal? Or is it enough to bring together a bunch of Jewish people to shmooze and eat?

Conejo and West Valley shuls rate high with newcomers


For a Jew who doesn’t belong to a synagogue, the West San Fernando and Conejo valleys are good places to shop around. A new report from the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) gives a snapshot of the community as a whole and an assessment of its ability to react to newcomers, including interfaith couples, racial minorities and sexual minorities.
 
The JOI presented results from “The Jewish Outreach Scan of the West Valley/Conejo Valley” during a well-attended Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance board meeting at The New JCC at Milken in West Hills on Oct. 4. The survey was funded by the United Jewish Communities’ Emerging Communities Project.
 
Last summer, the JOI anonymously e-mailed and called 11 synagogues and four community agencies in the Conejo and West Valley, assessed the effectiveness of local Web sites and interviewed 30 Jewish communal professionals. The organization has conducted similar surveys in communities such as San Francisco, Phoenix, Atlanta, Louisville, Ottawa and Washington, D.C.
 
The West Valley/Conejo Valley drew a 77 percent favorable response rate, placing it second overall behind Ottawa’s 86 percent.
 
“The biggest surprise was … how well we did,” said Carol Koransky, Valley Alliance executive director. “But it’s true, as was pointed out to us, that doing 77 percent means there are 23 percent that aren’t being reached.”
 
According to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey, 44 percent of Jewish adults are unaffiliated, while 28 percent are moderately affiliated. With the intermarriage rate currently hovering at about 50 percent, and with only about 30 percent of interfaith families raising their children Jewish, Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky, JOI’s executive director and former vice president of the Wexner Heritage Foundation, said it’s important for synagogues to review their outreach strategies.
 
“Eighty-five percent of interfaith families are not affiliating with the Jewish community,” Olitzky said. “Unless they engage the Jewish community, it’s unlikely they’ll raise Jewish children.”
 
The scan did not compare response rates of area synagogues or agencies to one another. However, Olitzky recounted one anonymous phone call placed to a synagogue. When a receptionist told a caller to check back after the New Year regarding an “Introduction to Judaism” class for his non-Jewish spouse, the caller asked if the receptionist meant Jan. 1.
 
“The person on the phone said, ‘Honey, when I say the New Year, I’m talking about the Jewish New Year,'” Olitzky said.
 
In addition, the receptionist never asked for the caller’s contact information.
 
According to Olitzky, one of the biggest obstacles the Jewish community must overcome is its kiruv mentality, a Hebrew term that means “to bring near.” He said many synagogues wait for unaffiliated Jews to come knocking. Instead, Olitzky suggested that congregations think outside the shul and engage in what JOI calls “public space Judaism.”
 
“We spend most of our time in a secular environment,” Olitzky said. “We need to create programs where people will stumble over the Jewish community.”
 
Founded in 1988 as a vest-pocket organization for City University sociology professor Egon Mayer to conduct studies, New York-based JOI has expanded its mission over the last 10 years and now features a variety of outreach programming, including interfaith inclusion efforts and surveys of North American Jewish communities.
 
Prior to last Passover, a Conservative congregation in Northern California took part in a pre-holiday JOI program called Passover in the Aisles. Congregants spent time near a matzah display in a Palo Alto Albertson’s, talking with unaffiliated Jews shopping for their family seders.
 
Olitzky suggests this kind of activity can draw in those who might not come to a synagogue on their own; other suggestions are holding readings in bookstores, setting up tables with kid-friendly activities in front of a Target or Staples during back-to-school shopping or holding menorah lightings in malls the way Chabad does. “Why not take what Chabad does well and copy it?” he suggested.
 
Temple Beth Haverim has been doing just that for the last 10 years, holding menorah lightings at The Promenade at Westlake.
 
“We’ve just been providing it as a service for the community,” said Rabbi Gershon Johnson, who added that the Agoura Hills Conservative synagogue hadn’t looked on the activity as an outreach opportunity. He said the congregation would be more proactive this year about collecting names and phone numbers from unaffiliated Jews attending the event.

Olitzky said that adopting a retail mentality can help get people in the door, especially advertising membership discounts and free specials.
 
Debbie Green, vice president of membership at Conservative Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, said her synagogue drew in 40 unaffiliated Jews with an outreach program that advertised special no-cost High Holiday tickets. But she said follow-up has been a problem for Aliyah.
“One month later, we need to be telephoning them and offering free tickets to something else,” she said. “We’re one-time-event oriented, and we need to get beyond that.”
 

 

For more information about the Jewish Outreach Institute, visit www.joi.org.

Baja community begins where the land ends


Waves rush over a pebbled beach as the tensions of city life melt away. The Mexican sun hangs languidly overhead, bleaching colorful kayaks stacked along the shoreline. Hovering far off in the deep blue skies, parasailors are dwarfed by the arriving Carnival cruise ship that will soon drop anchor off the rocky coast.
 
It’s easy to understand why celebrities like John Wayne, Desi Arnaz and Bing Crosby were drawn here — yet kept it a secret for nearly 20 years after the 1956 opening of The Palmilla, the area’s first resort catering to sportfishing enthusiasts.
 
Located at the tip of Baja California, Cabo San Lucas is at the western end of what has become a 20-mile corridor of hotels and gated communities known collectively as Los Cabos, bookended in the east by the airport-adjacent town of San José del Cabo. The tiny fishing village has given way to beaches lined with luxury hotels and a notorious nightlife, but the laid-back seaside attitude still hangs in region’s salty air.
 
World-class golf courses, sportfishing, scuba diving, horseback riding, hiking and desert tours are all popular draws, as Cabo enjoys 350 days of sun annually. From December to April, gray whales migrate here to calve their young, and this year’s addition of the Cabo Dolphins center to the Cabo San Lucas marina adds the opportunity for visitors to swim with Pacific bottlenose dolphins (reservations are required).
 
Since tourism continues to boom here, drawing upward of 1 million guests each year, construction projects are part of the backdrop along the corridor, much like the Vegas Strip.
 
Many of the 100,000 permanent residents are retirees from north of the border, so this decidedly Mexican resort destination has an increasingly American sensibility. A plethora of U.S. retail chains and restaurants — including Johnny Rockets and Hard Rock Cafe — have set up shop in area malls and shopping centers, and even lox is now readily available at the local Costco.
 
Once the secret of Cabo was out, it seemed that there were few surprises left. But in the last year a very visible and increasingly vibrant Jewish community is taking shape where the land meets the sea.
 
While the exact number of Jews living here is not known, a communitywide Passover seder earlier this year at the Villa Del Palmar attracted more than 100 guests, and Shabbat services on the last weekend of each month routinely draws between 30 to 50 people to a donated third-floor space in the contemporary Puerto Paraiso shopping center.
 
Los Cabos is such a boomtown it has few natives. Jews attending community events hail from all over — America, Israel, Argentina, South Africa and other Mexican states. But the diversity has led to some communication problems.
 
“Israelis here don’t speak Spanish, and some Argentineans don’t speak English. So there’s no one language [that we have] in common,” said Rabbi Mendel Polichenco, who has conducted religious services in Cabo San Lucas over the last year. “When I give a dvar Torah, I don’t know what language to use. I do half English and half Spanish usually.”
 
Polichenco, director of Chula Vista-based Chabad Without Borders, says U.S., Israeli and Argentinean employees at Diamonds International have been spreading word about the religious services, as well as Adriana Kenlan, an English news broadcaster on Cabo Mil Radio.
 
But the person he credits with being at the forefront of Jewish organizing in Los Cabos is David Greenberg of Senor Greenberg’s Mexicatessen.
 
Greenberg, a 37-year-old L.A. native who grew up in the Conservative movement, came to Los Cabos in January 1992 to consider whether he would attend law school and never left. He knocked around in construction and restaurant management jobs and spent three years as a consular agent for the U.S. State Department. But after meeting Jim Sutter, the two became business partners and decided to open an upscale New York-style deli together in Cabo San Lucas. After getting pointers from Art Ginsburg of Art’s Deli in Studio City, the pair opened the first Senor Greenberg’s in the Plaza Nautica in October 1997, followed by a second location at Puerto Paraiso in September 2004.

“Next thing I know, I’ve got another restaurant, I’m married, I have a son,” said Greenberg, whose Mazatlan-born wife, Karla, converted through the University of Judaism.
 
As if his life wasn’t busy enough already with 11-month-old Joshua and a third Senor Greenberg’s scheduled to open this month in Plaza Gali near Cabo Dolphins, Greenberg is working hard to establish a Jewish presence in Cabo.
 
Real estate developer José Galicot, who is based out of San Diego and Tijuana, has provided the funds for Polichenco’s visits, he said. But that money was only intended as a stopgap and will dry up at the end of this year.
 
“It’s going to be up to us to see it through to 2007,” said Greenberg, who added that he expects developing a self-sufficient community here will be challenging.
 
Securing a permanent space at Puerto Paraiso for the Baja Jewish Community Center is the next step, he said. Hebrew classes, as well as Spanish lessons for Israelis, will be offered there, in addition to religious services. As far as future spiritual leadership, Greenberg hopes to track down a retired rabbi who would want to spend Jewish holidays in Cabo. And then there’s the matter of finding a Torah that would be stored at the center.
 
A Torah scroll already exists in Los Cabos, at the five-star Marquis Los Cabos, some 20 minutes east of Cabo San Lucas, where Mexico City-based proprietor Jose Kalach has set up a prayer room in his hotel, complete with a small ark. But the Torah is intended primarily for the Kalach family’s personal use. Hotel guests and wedding parties can use it, but a written request must be filed with the hotel at least one month prior. Since the sanctuary is attached to a conference room, scheduling conflicts can make availability less certain.
 
Opened in 2003, this Condé Nast gold list hotel was designed by Jewish Mexican architect Jacobo Micha, who modeled the hotel’s open-air arch entrance after El Arco, or the Arch of Poseidon, a famous 200-foot natural passageway at the tip of the Baja peninsula that travelers can walk through at low tide. Statues of winged angels stand at the ready in the hotel’s entrance and throughout the property (photo below).

Enforce cease-fire terms for peaceful New Year


The Jewish people have a tradition of reflecting on the past as a tool to move forward. Never is this custom more significant than at the start of each New Year.

This Yom Kippur, we have a lot to bear in mind. At the end of summer a year ago, just before the beginning of 5766, Israel had faced what at the time seemed to be its most difficult summer with the disengagement from Gaza. A rift was created within Israeli society, one that the people of Israel were still dealing with until just before this summer began.

The thriving economy and booming tourist industry seemed a promising end to a trying year and hopeful beginning of the coming year. Unprecedented numbers of Hollywood celebrities were calling Tel Aviv their summer hotspot, and Israeli teens were trampling all over each other to buy tickets for some of the biggest acts in the world — performing in Israel.

School was out and summer camp was in. The pools had been properly chlorinated, and everyone was ready to show off their brand new bathing suits. For the kids all over Israel, this was the moment they’d been waiting for since September.

Following the deaths of 10 Israeli soldiers in two terrorist attacks, which resulted in the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit on June 25 as well as Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev on July 12, Israel set aside its summer plans and prepared to face once again what we have faced so many times in the past — war.

By mid-July the residents of northern Israel were being bombarded on a daily basis by deadly Katyusha missiles fired by Hezbollah. Innocent civilians were being targeted and killed. Hezbollah was exhibiting a new ruthlessness, placing ball bearings in the missile heads with the sole purpose of inflicting maximum injury and suffering on anyone within its reach of one mile.

Northern Israel took a harsh beating, bustling Israeli landmark cities like Haifa, Tzfat, Nahariya, Kiriyat Shmona and Tiberias were nearly deserted. Buildings were destroyed, the lush green landscape was in flames, and many lives were lost. With more than a third of Israel’s population in the line of fire, residents either fled south or huddled together in bomb shelters, transforming the animated north into a ghost town.

By the time a cease-fire was reached, 160 Israelis had been killed by Hezbollah terrorists. More than 4,000 missiles landed in Israel during the war, hitting 6,000 homes, leaving 300,000 Israeli’s displaced and forcing more than a million to live in bomb shelters.
Had the United Nations implemented Security Council Resolution 1559, the war would probably have been averted. Now, with the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1701, the international community has been given a second chance to make things right.

Resolution 1701 brought an end to the military struggle, but while the bombs have stopped falling and the focus is to regroup and rebuild northern Israel, we must remain cautious and guarded.

The clear agenda of the president of Iran, a fundamentalist regime that gives financial support and operational directives to terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, has not changed. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to sponsor terrorism and strives to achieve nuclear capabilities, while at the same time reiterating his call for the destruction of the Israel and denying the Holocaust.

Iran and Syria remain the driving force behind Hezbollah, a fact that strengthens the argument that the arms embargo addressed in Resolution 1701 must be enforced.
The culture of hatred that has grown strong in the unstable region surrounding Israel affects the Jewish people worldwide. Today, however, the Jewish people are stronger than they have ever been. That strength stems, among other things, from Eretz Israel, the one country in the world every Jew is free to call their home.

This summer, as Israel was under fire, the Jews of the world spoke together and stood together. It is well known that as Jews we band together in times of hardship. Never was that more true than during this past summer. Jews in Israel and around the world understood the stakes and made standing with Israel their first priority.

In accepting Resolution 1701, Israel has once again shown its commitment to peace by giving diplomacy a chance to succeed. It is now essential that this commitment to peace be echoed by the international community, starting first and foremost with the implementation of this important resolution.

As we continue the battle to free our abducted soldiers and secure our borders, Israel remains strong. Looking forward to a new year, we are strengthened by the lessons of our past. The Jewish people have overcome countless obstacles since the beginning of our history 5767 years ago, and we will continue to prevail against all odds and all enemies for a long time to come.

With this year ending and a new one beginning, I want to take this opportunity to thank the Jewish community for its undying support of Israel.

I pray that God continues to give us all the strength to face the many challenges that lie ahead.

I wish all of you a healthy, happy, peaceful New Year and may all of your hearts’ desires be fulfilled.

Am Yisrael Chai!

The people of Israel will live for eternity.

Chag Samech, Shana Tova and Gmar Chatima Tova.

Ehud Danoch is Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles.

Media reporters meet community; Karnit Goldwasser appeals for help


A sold-out crowd of close to 450 men and women attended the Women’s Alliance for Israel Aug. 8 symposium on “Israel and the Media — How Fair the Coverage?” The event at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel included panelists Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project; David Lauter of the Los Angeles Times; Jay Sanderson, president of Jewish Television Network; and Bill Boyarsky, Pulitzer Prize winner, author and Jewish Journal contributing columnist.

For information about Women’s Alliance for Israel please call (310) 281-4711.

A Wife’s Plea

On Sept. 6, the American Jewish Congress (AJ Congress) sponsored an event at Sinai Temple in Westwood featuring Karnit Goldwasser, wife of kidnapped Israeli soldier, Ehud Goldwasser. Along with her father, Omri Avni, Goldwasser spoke about the plight of her husband held captive in Lebanon by Hezbollah terrorists since July 12.

“I am asking for help from anyone who has the key to show us that Udi is still alive,” Goldwasser said.

Both Goldwasser and Avni urged the audience of nearly 200 to pressure U.S. government officials and the International Red Cross to send on a letter sitting in the Red Cross office in Beirut from Karnit for Ehud. Following Goldwasser’s pleas for financial help to cover the costs of her travels across the United States and the world, Iranian Jewish businessman John Farahi pledged to pay for the expenses for the next six months. Goldwasser and her father have also visited Chicago, Miami, Houston and Washington, D.C., in order to raise awareness about her husband’s captivity (see story page 8).

Gary Ratner, executive director of AJ Congress, said his group would try to get Goldwasser another meeting with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Appointment for Prager

President George Bush recently named radio host and Van Nuys resident Dennis Prager to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the governing body of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The council consists of 55 presidential appointees, in addition to 10 congressional representatives and three ex-officio members from the departments of Education, Interior and State. Prager will complete the remainder of a five-year term that expires in January 2011.

“Dennis Prager’s unique moral voice and dedication to the mission of Holocaust education and remembrance make him an ideal candidate to serve on the council, particularly today as we witness rising global anti-Semitism,” said council chairman Fred S. Zeidman. “I welcome the talent and enthusiasm he brings to the position and congratulate him on joining the council.”

Prager, host of the nationally syndicated “The Dennis Prager Show,” is a speaker, author and film producer. In 2003, Simon and Schuster reissued his work on the history of anti-Semitism, “Why the Jews,” written with co-author Joseph Telushkin. Deeply involved in interfaith dialog efforts, he is a frequent contributor to national publications and regularly offers commentary on many national TV outlets.

For more information, visit “>www.hadassah.org.

There’s A Message in the Sounds of the Shofar


The approach of Rosh Hashanah always takes me back in memory to my bar mitzvah, which took place on Shabbat Shuvah — the Sabbath of Repentance that comes
between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Two weighty questions preoccupied me that day in 1964. One: what did it mean that God called Jews and the world to “repent” or “return,” because all of us had “stumbled in sin?” The prophet Hosea, whose words I chanted that morning, insisted in God’s name that God cared about how we treated one another, and that we could all do better.

He promised that God would help us do better if we turned to the task. I marveled at this promise. It was and remains a great mystery to me.

The other big question on my mind that September day in Philadelphia was whether the Phillies, under manager Gene Mauch, could hold on to their position atop the National League and win the pennant for the first time in my life.

The optimists among my friends took victory as a near-certainty. The Phillies were six games ahead. Things looked really promising.

The pessimists warned that the team would blow it. It turned out that they were right. The Phillies lost 13 of the next 20 games.

This, too, was a mystery to me. Was it bad pitching, bad managing, bad luck? Maybe it was fate.

I bring up the connection between Rosh Hashanah and the Phillies because it gets to the heart of what the Jewish holidays mean to me each fall. In a word: it’s not fate. How things go is largely up to us, even if we do not control the circumstances of our lives.

The New Year is a time at once joyful and solemn for Jews, because it marks a new beginning for each of us. It carries the assurance that we all do get a second chance and urges us to seize hold of it.

The world, too, can be better than it is — a hope desperately needed this year. We have witnessed so much suffering in the Middle East and elsewhere — so little peace for Israel or Iraq, Darfur or the Congo.

I can still chant by heart, thanks to months of practice for my bar mitzvah, Hosea’s promise that we can change this: “The person who is wise will consider these words. The person who is prudent will take note of them. For the paths of the Lord are smooth. The righteous can walk on them.”

Hosea urged Jews more than 2,500 years ago to “blow a shofar in Zion” so as to call the people to turn and return. Jews still blow a ram’s horn at Rosh Hashanah for exactly the same reason. We need to hear loud and clear, again and again, the message to which it summons us.

Many interpretations have been given to the notes struck by the horn, but the one that means the most to me is this. The shofar’s first sound, tekiah, is a wake-up call. It calls us to attention. Look around, it says. Things are not OK. Your work is needed to set them — and yourself — right.

The second sound made by the shofar is called shevarim, or “breaks.” The world is broken. The horn imitates its cries, preventing us from stopping up our ears or our heart.

Teruah, a series of short blasts one after another, gives us marching orders. Change requires small steps that each of us has to take modestly but with determination. Overreaching will not work.

The shofar-blowing ends with a return to the first notes, longer this time — a “great tekiah.” It lets us know what victory sounds like. We can change our ways. So can the world.

Honesty compels each of us to concede that we’ve tried before to turn things around and haven’t managed it. Experiences of failure haunt all of us, not just fans of the 1964 Phillies. That’s why we need Rosh Hashanah each year to remind us that this beginning can be different.

May we all heed the shofar’s call this year and prove that the world, which so needs fixing right now, can be made better — and that we can make it so.

Professor Arnold M. Eisen is chancellor-elect of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

You can listen the

Happy Birthday from Berlin


At precisely 8 a.m. one day last year, I was awakened by a phone call. When I picked up the receiver, I heard a man’s voice say “Happy Birthday from Berlin.”

Since I
knew no one there who could possibly know my birthday, I took it to be a practical joke. But it wasn’t. The caller was Ruediger Nemitz, an official of the Senate of the Federal State of Berlin calling to invite me to come “home” as a guest of my native city.

Along with some other German cities, Berlin, since 1969, has had a program to invite “former Berlin citizens who were persecuted or forced to emigrate during the National Socialist period.” By the time I received my call, more than 33,000 former Berliners had been invited, and now, finally, it was my turn. I left Berlin in 1933, when I was just 3 years old, and I have visited the city a number of times as an adult on business, but I had no memories of my life there. I accepted the invitation and considered it a wonderful birthday present.

When my wife and I reached the London airport en route to our Berlin flight last spring, we noticed a small cluster of people with luggage tags similar to ours.

“Those must be our people,” I said to my wife, and went over to introduce myself. They were, indeed, part of our group, and we quickly played “Jewish geography.” As it happened, one of the couples lived within a block of my first London home after leaving Germany, and another, now thoroughly British, knew Los Angeles well, having worked there on several movies, most notably the James Bond series.

We were all roughly the same age, and at least one member of each couple was a Berlin native. Our group of 84 came from nine countries, with the “U.S. delegation” numbering just eight. The largest group came from Israel, followed by Chile, Argentina, England, South Africa, Australia, Canada and Belgium.

Our common origin notwithstanding, we all had become totally assimilated into the countries in which we live, and we stuck together with those who spoke our language. Moreover, I found it remarkable that we all got along well, and that there was not a single “kvetch” among us.

Yet we all came to Germany with our own “baggage.” Some knew the country from previous visits or military duty and felt no animosity toward the present generation of Germans. Others, a number of whom had lost family members or experienced Nazi atrocities themselves, were still bitter and unforgiving. Still others had lived a life of denial in their new homelands and didn’t want to admit their origins, even to themselves.

Our program included several receptions with speeches by senior government officials — all women. They expressed their gratitude that we returned to a city from which, as Mayor Karin Schubert put it, “you were driven away … exposed to profound hostility … humiliated, excluded and persecuted.”

One speaker characterized the Berlin Jewish community as “a piece of the mosaic that makes up our history” and emphasized the importance to the city of today’s Jewish community, which numbers approximately 30,000. Schubert also said that the city goes to great lengths to promote integration among various groups, including the Muslim community.

“We made mistakes in the past,” she said, “believing that different cultures can live peacefully in parallel. We have learned that integration is essential!”

Nevertheless, I found it quite remarkable that today’s Berlin contains so many reminders of the Nazi regime. Among them a billboard in front of a railway station listing the names of concentration camps to which Berlin’s Jews were deported, and so-called “Stolpersteine” (copper memorials in the shape of cobblestones) embedded in the sidewalk in front of the former homes of many Nazi victims. Our tours included these and many other important landmarks of “Jewish Berlin.”

My most indelible memories, however, are focused on three extraordinary experiences.

Visit With a German Family

We spent one afternoon with a German family, Cato and Annette Dill, two young lawyers who live in a delightful home in a Berlin suburb with their two children — their daughter, Benita, 18, and son, Dario, 14. All speak English well and have traveled widely.

Cato, 49, is treasurer of the Liebermann Society, which operates the country mansion of the German Jewish expressionist painter, Max Liebermann. Together we visited this spectacular home, filled with the artist’s paintings and located on the shores of Lake Wannsee — not far from where the site of the infamous conference where the “The Final Solution of the Jewish Problem” was planned.

The mansion and its gardens have been beautifully restored and only recently opened to the public. Our time together ended at the Dill home, where we got an insight, if ever so brief, into a sophisticated young German family whose interests and values were similar to ours and far removed from the Germany of the Third Reich.

Shabbat Dinner

By sheer coincidence, the daughter-in-law of my oldest friend was in Berlin on business during our stay. Leah Salter is an observant woman who lives with her family in Alon Shvut, an Orthodox community in Israel. We arranged to meet her for Shabbat dinner at the glatt kosher restaurant Gabriel, located in the Jewish Community Center on Fasanenstrasse. The center occupies the lot on which Berlin’s largest synagogue stood prior to its destruction on Kristallnacht, Nov. 9, 1938. Of that synagogue only a portion of the entrance arch remains and now frames the entrance to the center.

Leah and my wife, Barbara, began the evening by lighting and blessing the Sabbath candles, and we continued with my celebrating Kiddush. The restaurant has only about a dozen tables, and each was set in Sabbath finery, with starched white table linen. As the evening progressed, other family groups arrived, and the head of each household celebrated Kiddush at his table. Judging by the melodies they chanted, they were most likely from Eastern Europe.

The menu was traditional Eastern European: chicken soup, chopped liver, chicken and so on. But that was the least important element of the evening. I was deeply touched by the spirit of Shabbat, which was palpable, and the realization that here we were, all survivors, celebrating “Shabbos” on the very spot the Nazis had chosen to eliminate us. What a demonstration of “Am Yisrael Chai!” (the people of Israel live.)

Jewish Resistance Fighters

The final day of our tour began with a visit to Weissensee Cemetery. Since I believed I had no family members buried there, I remained near the entrance and admired some of the monuments to holocaust victims and Berlin’s Jewish aristocracy.

My lonesome vigil was soon interrupted by one of our guides, Caroline Naumann, a young woman active in Berlin’s nascent Jewish community, who approached me saying “Come, I want to show you something.” She led me a short distance to a memorial honoring about two-dozen young German Jewish men and women in their 20s who rose up against the Nazis during the war. They were members of a movement similar to the “White Rose” student uprising and, tragically, all were shot.

Among this small group, were three who bore my family name of Rothholz. Although I have no idea whether they were relatives or not, they made me feel very proud.

Some Final Thoughts

At our farewell reception in the ballroom of the Jewish Community Center, Dr. Otto Lampe, director of the “homecoming” program, promised to do everything in his power “to keep alive the memory of the Nazi terror and to pass it on to future generations.”

Dr. Gideon Jaffe, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany suggested that “we Jews are a warning system, because we are often the first victims of crimes, but usually not the only ones.” He concluded by saying “I hope you have convinced yourselves that Germany has changed a lot, and changed for the better.”

I, for one, left Berlin convinced.

Peter Rothholz, who headed his own Manhattan-based public relations agency, now lives in Santa Monica and East Hampton, NY and is a frequent contributor to Jewish publications.

No Vacation


The Israeli woman in the hot tub was feeling terrible.

She saw me wearing a T-shirt with Hebrew writing, and I heard her speaking to her daughter inHebrew, so naturally, amid the hundreds of sunbathers crowding the pool area of the Squaw Valley Resort, we found each other.

“It feels good to find someone to talk to about it,” she said.

By “it” she meant the situation her parents and extended family, who live on a kibbutz in the middle of the country, are facing.

The snow-capped Sierras jutted into a deeply blue sky. The hot tub bubbled away.”Israelis don’t want to run away when there’s a war,” the woman explained. “We want to run home.”

The night before, a relative from a northern kibbutz had e-mailed her a slide show of the after-effects of a Hezbollah rocket attack, and she had stayed awake playing it over and over in her hotel room.

All around us kids splashed, adults sipped pastel-colored rum drinks, the sunlight bounced off distant glaciers — and the Israeli woman told me she couldn’t relax.

What a week to vacation.

My wife and kids and I drove up U.S. Highway 395, crossed the Monitor Pass through a remote and perfect alpine landscape. But I am a subscriber to Sirius satellite radio, so as we descended through Markleeville, population 52, we heard CNN’s report on Israel’s gathering momentum for a ground invasion of Lebanon.

There was no cell phone reception at our little rented cabin near the west shore of Lake Tahoe, no Internet hot spots. But DISH network saucers grew at the base of the tall pines like forest mushrooms. By day we joined vacationers in serious pursuit of escape — tubing down the Truckee River, leaping off the dock into the deep, cold lake. At night, we watched missiles rain down on northern Israel and air strikes in Beirut. I turned away from the TV after realizing I was spending more time with CNN correspondent John Roberts, “reporting from the Israel-Lebanon border” than I was with my kids.

But the news kept coming. After a day at Sugar Pine Point State Park, an idyllic spot where Isaiah W. Hellman built a fine mansion on a quiet stretch of beach, I logged on to my e-mail to find that a deranged man had shot his way into the Seattle Federation building, killing Pamela Waechter, 58, and wounding four others.

At the gym at Squaw Creek, two men argued over Israel’s new war.

“At least we’re out of this one,” said one.

“Are you kidding?” his friend countered.

On cue, images of demonstrators in the streets of Beirut filled the flat screen mounted to his Stairmaster. “We get blamed for everything Israel does.”It’s a truism that technology has shrunk the globe and brought the tribulations of distant lands to our doorstep, or to our vacations. As much as we try to pretend there’s a faraway “they” and a safe and sheltered “we,” there are precious few places left to hide for long.

That goes double, triple for Jews. History has shown that world events have a way of catching up to Jews to us quickly, sometimes brutally. Until they do, each one of us chooses our place on the sliding scale from they to we. We can luxuriate in selecting the extent of our identity, the depth of our involvement — until we can’t.

The we-ness of our world came home to me as we dropped our son off for a stay at Camp Tawonga, a venerable Jewish camp tucked into a Tuolumne River valley. I noticed the roster listed several campers from towns in northern Israel — Kiryat Shemona, Metulla.

Camp director Ann B. Gonski told me that, for several years now, Tawonga has hosted Israeli children and counselors from northern Israel — Kiryat Shemona is a sister city to San Francisco’s Jewish community. This year there are 34 Israelis at the camp, sponsored largely by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation.

For these kids, Gonski said, camp will be a special respite from the violence. In the past the rules were one phone call home per week per Israeli.”This year,” she said, “we’re open to a lot more communication”As for counselors, Gonski said the Americans have received special training to deal with their Israeli counterparts: “We’ve told them, remember that your colleagues are really stressed. Be there for them, they’re a long way from home.”

As for my wife, daughter and me, we drove home, straight into the brouhaha about Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant. Now firmly ensconced behind my desk, I asked my friend Bryan, a television director, what accounted for the public silence from so many Hollywood Jews. Where was the sense of identity, of a communal fate that transcends business? Can’t they see a direct correction between those who hate Jews and those, like the Seattle shooter, who act on their hatred? Why don’t they choose to identify, like the people in Camp Tawonga, with a larger, communal need?

“Everybody has their head in the Garden of Finzi Contini and wants this all to go away,” Bryan said, citing the movie about Italian Jews oblivious to the impending Holocaust. “It’s actually the Garden of Malibu Contini — everybody’s playing tennis and golf and refusing to accept that hatred of this magnitude exists at the exclusive sushi table next to them.”

That is, until the vacation is over.

Groups Rally to Raise Funds for Israel During Crisis


Jewish organizations throughout the Los Angeles area, as well as supportive Christian groups, are shifting their fundraising efforts into high gear to succor civilians and soldiers in embattled Israel.

As in past Middle East crises, community response has been outstanding, according to organizational spokespersons.

In the lead is The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which expects to raise at least $2 million in emergency funds through intensive phone and e-mail drives, plus pledges gathered at last Sunday’s community rally.

The money is earmarked mainly for seniors, whose centers in northern Israel have been closed in the face of rocket attacks, and to ease the lot of children stuck in bomb shelters for extended periods, said the Federation’s Deborah Dragon.Ellen Rofman, regional executive director for American Friends of Magen David Adom/ARMDI, was trying to figure out how to keep her members involved during the traditionally slow summer months, when the fighting started near the Gaza Strip and then in Israel’s north. Now she is in the midst of a $1 million drive on the West Coast to help build a new first aid station in heavily shelled Sderot and provide medical supplies for Israeli residents of border towns near Lebanon.

At parlor and synagogue gatherings, responses have been enthusiastic, said Rofman, citing one example: “I had been working on one man to give $79,000 to buy an ambulance, without making much headway. But last week, he called me to say that the time had come, and he was mailing a check.”

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) in the United States has launched Operation Security Blanket, with a goal of $3 million. The funds will be used to send endangered children in northern Israel to summer camps, purchase emergency response vehicles and help build bypass security roads along the Gaza Strip. To meet the national goal, JNF supporters in Los Angeles expect to contribute between $500,000 and $1 million, said Israeli emissary Rami Ganor.

“The response has been incredible,” Ganor said. “People are calling in, asking us, ‘What can we do to help?'”

Within five days, the Western region of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces collected more than $500,000, with a target of up to $2 million, said Miri Nash, executive director.

Funds are being directed mainly toward upgrading rest facilities and canteens for Israeli combat soldiers and for providing entertainment for the troops, said Nash, who is also preparing care packages in her spare time.

Explaining her support for the IDF aid drive, Erika Glazer said, “My home is in Beverly Hills, but my heart is in Israel.”

A group of StandWithUs activists is leaving July 31 for a mission to Israel. It will bring along approximately $10,000 worth of gifts for soldiers and terror victims, as well as 200 pieces of baby clothing, said spokeswoman Rebecca Olch.Bea Chenkin, executive director of the local Ameinu chapter (Labor Zionists), said her organization had set up a children’s emergency fund to send youngsters from northern Israel to summer camps and give toys to shelter-bound youngsters.

Holocaust survivors belonging to the 1939 Club are aiming for $50,000 in their current Salute to Israel campaign, with the money going to facilities for Israeli soldiers and disabled veterans, according to the group’s president, William Elperin.

The Rev. Victor Styrsky, California director of Christians Standing With Israel and Christians United for Israel, is planning a series of “Nights to Honor Israel” in Beverly Hills, Simi Valley, San Diego, Bakersfield, Fresno, Berkeley and Sacramento. Funds raised will be given to the Jewish federations in the various cities for Israel-related projects, Styrsky said.

The Council of Israeli Communities is planning future fundraisers and working closely with the Christian support groups, said Haim Linder, a council official.Saundra Mandel, acting director of the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Los Angeles chapter, said her group is contributing to a national AJC emergency fund to aid Haifa’s Rambam Hospital and an elementary school in Sderot.

Local chapters of the American Jewish Congress, Progressive Jewish Alliance, Zionist Organization of America and Simon Wiesenthal Center are primarily focused on pro-Israel advocacy, but are urging their members to support the Jewish Federation campaign, various spokespersons said.

The Journal did not receive responses from other Jewish organizations on their present or planned efforts.

Spokespersons for all contacted Jewish organizations stressed that all of the emergency funds will be transmitted in full to Israel, without any deductions for administrative expenses.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make Me a Donation Match


Call him a personal shopper, a matchmaker or a boutique investment adviser. However he is described, Joseph Hyman is trying to chart a new course in the world of Jewish philanthropy. A longtime Jewish organizational professional and fundraiser, Hyman last year launched the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy (CEJP) to support and advise philanthropists who are considering major gifts to Jewish and Israel-related causes.

Hyman acts as the middle man between donors and organizations, working with philanthropists to understand their particular interests, then he hits the pavement to locate worthwhile organizations that meet their philanthropic requirements.

The center’s goal is simple: to attract dollars to Jewish groups that might otherwise have gone elsewhere.

“If successful, we believe that CEJP will help to create a new paradigm in Jewish giving,” said Hyman, who is going public about his organization for the first time. “One that empowers and inspires a new generation of philanthropists to participate because they want to, not because they have to.”

His endeavor comes at a time when wealthy American Jews make a disproportionately high number of large gifts in United States but overwhelmingly make them to non-Jewish institutions. It also comes as philanthropists are increasingly looking to have a say in exactly where their dollars go.

The approach seems to be working.

Since its launch 19 months ago, the center already has facilitated more than $10 million in philanthropic donations to Jewish and Israel-related causes. Recipients include some well-known projects, such as Birthright Israel, which provides free, 10-day trips to Israel for young Jewish adults. They also include some lesser-known ones, including Meshi, a center in Israel offering the parents of special-needs children a break from child care, and Project Kesher, a group devoted to Jewish education and advocacy for women in the former Soviet Union.
“CEJP is revolutionary,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president and founder of The Israel Project, which has received two six-figure, multiyear commitments from donors working with the center.

“What it is doing,” she said, “is taking the desires of the philanthropists to heart and saying, ‘What is the outcome that you want? What is the investment that you want to make so that you can make positive change? And what’s the most cost-effective, reliable way to achieve those goals?'”

“There are people out there who are not giving to the level that they’re capable of giving,” said Adam Frieman, a longtime investment banker on Wall Street and a financial sponsor of the new center, said, Some portion of that group would give meaningfully more if somebody were able to connect with them on a personal level and make the giving personal.”

Hyman hopes that his efforts to eliminate much of the work involved in finding worthy causes will attract new dollars to Jewish groups.

“Beginning with the creation of Birthright about 10 years ago, it has been a core group of committed Jewish philanthropists who have challenged the community to move forward,” said Hyman, who stresses that his work is meant to complement that of the federations and other more traditional fundraising arms, not replace them.

“We are now beginning to see a new generation of megadonors emerge whose support is crucial to our future.”

The center today is working with nine North American philanthropists, including real estate developers, senior management of Fortune 500 companies and hedge fund managers, according to Hyman. And while all have donated to Jewish causes before, some now are giving at a much higher level.

Hyman likens the philanthropists “to world-class athletes who, with the proper support and coaching, can become Olympic gold medalists.”

Donor-advised funds are not new, say philanthropy insiders, and in fact have become increasingly popular over the last number of years in Jewish philanthropic circles.

However, said Sue Dickman, executive vice president of The Jewish Communal Fund, which facilitates and promotes charitable giving through donor-advised funds, the center is doing something different.

“What we do and what other donor-advised funds do is simply facilitate people’s philanthropy,” she said. “We don’t provide advice and input into the direction of their philanthropy. What Joe does is help people think strategically about their philanthropy and maximize the input that they can have.”

Other Jewish groups, notably the Jewish Funders Network, offer some donor advice. And several organizations are doing similar work in the general philanthropic world – among them the Wealth and Giving Forum, Rockefeller Advisory Services and the Philanthropic Initiative in Boston.

The center is also seen as attractive because it is supported by investors and does not charge for its work. Donors say that for this reason, they feel the group’s advice is objective.

“We felt that he could offer us something that we needed” because Hyman is “not connected to any particular organization but very well connected in the greater Jewish community both here in the U.S. and in Israel,” said the administrator of a private family foundation in the Chicago area, who requested anonymity for reasons of privacy.

Nearly two years ago, shortly before the center was launched, Hyman sat down with a Chicago-based private investor Robert Sklare to chat about philanthropy. They spent about 10 hours talking, Sklare said, discussing the Jewish philanthropic interests he and his wife, Yadelle, shared, the areas that got them excited and the problems they hoped to help solve. Then Hyman got to work tracking down a series of organizations that fit their bill.

Several did. In fact, Sklare said, since then, he’s donated a “substantial” amount of money to Israel-related organizations – certainly more than he’d have given had he never met Hyman.

He has since funded, among other groups, Birthright Israel; Karev, an after-school enrichment program for inner-city youngsters in Ashkelon, and Meitarim, a group of pluralistic schools that attempt to bridge the gap between religious and secular students.

According to Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, general philanthropy has nearly doubled in the last decade, and the growth of Hyman’s center reflects that trend.

“I think we’re going to see more and more different kinds of approaches to specialize it, make it more strategic, capture it,” he said. “This is the first one that is specifically aimed at Jewish philanthropy.”

Still, asked if this sort of philanthropy is the wave of the future, Solomon demurred.

“It’s hard to know what would have happened had CEJP not been there,” he said. “Would that money have gone to different Jewish organizations? To general charities? Would it have been given at all? While helping to direct millions of dollars is very impressive, it’s hard to know what would have happened had it not been there.”

Rabbi Irving Greenberg, president of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation, said that Michael Steinhardt, a megadonor to Jewish causes, was not initially convinced about Hyman’s efforts, but after he demonstrated that “he had a little bit of a track record, Michael became a funder.”

“I think it’s very significant,” Greenberg said of Hyman’s approach. “My guess is that this has not only got legs, but that this is the wave of the future.”

Q & A With Ehud Danoch


Ehud Danoch, who has served as consul general of Israel in Los Angeles since October 2004, has been working round the clock since fighting first broke out between Israel and its neighbors in late June. The situation was prompted first by the capture of one soldier, which led to an outbreak of fighting in Gaza, followed by the capture of two additional soldiers by Hezbollah in Lebanon, where Israel’s greatest conflict in decades has ensued.

Ehud Danoch
Danoch’s consulate position covers California, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, and he has been working with communities throughout the region. This week, he spoke with The Journal about what the consulate is doing in response to the ongoing crisis, what the American Jewish community can do and how the actions here affect Israel.

Jewish Journal: You spoke at Sunday’s rally, which saw thousands of people gather in front of the Israeli consulate in support of Israel. What purpose do you think the rally served?

Ehud Danoch: It was a great rally; the presence of [Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger] and the leaders of the different Jewish communities in Los Angeles shows great support to the State of Israel and to the people of Israel. It is something that the State of Israel needs to hear, that the significant communities in the United States support Israel. It was all over the media in Israel. To see the Jewish community and the different organizations coming together warms the heart during this time.

JJ: What can the Jews do that goes beyond just rallying?

ED: The different Jewish communities in the United States are taking action. Not only rallying – San Diego’s rally had 2,500 people and Orange County had 1,500 – but communities are also having briefings, rabbis are briefing their congregations in synagogues, some people are writing op-eds in the newspapers. Federations all over are being interviewed by the media. Everything that has to do with public relations is important, because unfortunately, terrorists and Hamas are getting [media] support from radical Muslim organizations in the United States.

It’s not an easy situation in Israel. People are not going to work in the north; they are abandoning their homes, their jobs – it’s traumatic. The federations are donating money to take kids from the north to the center of the country.
People should do what they feel. We are here to help facilitate everything.

JJ: What else can people do? Are there opportunities to volunteer?

ED: We received a few phone calls from Israelis here who want to go back and do their 30 days of reserve duty in Israel. We will check with Israel on their need for volunteers. Many delegations from different synagogues and organizations are going to Israel, donating money to specific causes.

JJ: What do you tell people who are planning to travel to Israel or to send their kids to Israel?

ED: To come to Israel. Not to cancel their trip. Yes, they are launching missiles in the north, but whoever comes can go to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the rest of Israel. Everyone in Israel is very excited when there are delegations coming to Israel, especially from the U.S. Israelis really love and appreciate Americans.

JJ: Right now, public opinion has been unusually favorable toward Israel’s actions, but do you fear that it might shift as the conflict continues?

ED: What is the choice but to support Israel? To support Hezbollah? Hamas? We’re working very hard now on the public relations front. You are beginning to hear criticism, and it isn’t something we want. After all, Israel, a free country, a democracy, is fighting for its existence.

The media should take Israel as a role model of a country that fights terrorism, because unfortunately, terrorism is not only in the Middle East, it’s a global phenomenon. The media is showing personal stories of people coming from Lebanon, but it’s important to know that in Israel, there are 250,000 people in shelters, 3 million under the threat of rockets. There are soldiers dead and wounded, and all the media should report these stories.

JJ: What do you say to people who feel Israel is overreacting to the crisis?

ED: I don’t accept it. When it comes to fighting terrorist organizations, there’s a need for tough action. And it’s important to understand that Hezbollah is not an organization, it’s an army of terrorists. We have specific objectives: to bring our soldiers home and disarm Hezbollah, and that’s good for the region and the world. When it comes to global terrorism, it sends a message to terrorist organizations worldwide that they do not have any immunity. If the free world will not win in this war, chaos will take place.

JJ: As the consul general, as an Israeli, what have you learned about American Jews, especially in this time of crisis?

ED: I’m an Israeli; I’ve lived abroad over eight years, but what I saw recently, what I watched unfold is that when the American Jewish community feels that Israel is in difficult times, crucial times, then everyone comes together. The different organizations work together, people are calling in and asking, every day, “What do you need from us? What can we do?” That is beautiful to see.

In the end, the State of Israel is something that belongs to the Jewish people; the Jewish community is a sacred community that we have to hold close to our hearts.

Return to the Promised Land


“Do you think we’re crazy?” Avi Rembaum is sitting with his wife, Sharon, on a couch in his parents’ lovely living room in the Pico Robertson area, while their impish, blue-eyed 21-month-old, Ella, runs back and forth between her parents, and her brother Itai, 8, is watching a video in the family room. Ella’s other brother, Dani, 5, is out at a sleepover.

The Rembaums don’t look crazy. They don’t even look like many of the bearded or skirt-wearing flag-waving people being interviewed on television who are moving their families to Israel on group flights sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh, the American organization that gives grants to North Americans who want to immigrate to Israel. By the end of the year, Nefesh B’Nefesh will have sponsored 10,000 olim, most of whom are Orthodox.

No, the Rembaums don’t look crazy, or militant. Avi, 35, is wearing a green baseball cap and khaki shorts, and Sharon, 38, is wearing cargo pants, a short-sleeved T-shirt and matching tan plastic Crocs, and they look just like any other couple you might see in the parking lot at Pressman Hebrew Academy, a Conservative school their sons attend that is affiliated with Temple Beth Am, where Rabbi Joel E. Rembaum, Avi’s father, is the senior rabbi.

But the Rembaums could pass for a typical American family living in Israel, perhaps one from an anglicized neighborhood in Jerusalem or Ra’anana. They look that way because that’s what they once were, when the couple met and married 10 years ago. And it’s what they were about to become again, just last week, as the family prepared to once again make Israel home.

Last Sunday, while thousands of Los Angeles Jews were rallying in front of the Jewish Federation headquarters to show support for Israel, the Rembaums were showing a different kind of support for the Jewish state: They were on a plane moving there.

After living six years in Israel, and nearly the same amount of time in America, the Rembaums have weighed their options, compared the two countries, debated which lifestyle is better for their children — and themselves — and come up with one conclusion: Israel. They hope, they say, this time they’ll stay for good.

While this back and forth story sounds unusual, it’s not as uncommon as one might think; theirs is a conflict that many Diaspora Jews struggle with — an inexplicable, heart-wrenching love for and attachment to Israel, versus a pull toward a native country filled with family, friends, better economic opportunities and, especially as of late, better security. This struggle is experienced not only by people who have lived in Israel, but also many who have visited there — on summer tours or one-year programs or university semesters, or on missions – as well as virtually any child who goes through the Jewish school or camp system, with their strong emphasis on the State of Israel and Zionism. And it’s a struggle that is often heightened in times of war.

“The bottom line,” Avi’s father, Rabbi Joel Rembaum told his wife Fredi when they were discussing how upset they were over Avi and Sharon’s departure, “is that when you train your children to be Zionists, somebody’s bound to want to live in Israel.”

The rabbi of Beth Am tells the same thing to parents who want to send their kids to Pressman: “We tell the people who sent their kids to the school here: ‘Expect that your kids are going to be turned on to Judaism — you may get back a child who is different from the one you sent.'”

It’s the same thing with teaching Zionism, he told his wife: “If you’re really serious about it, then [someone making aliyah] is bound to happen, and it did.”
The Rembaum children were trained to be Zionists, attending Jewish day schools, summering at Camp Ramah, growing up in the home of a Conservative rabbi. Joel Rembaum has been the leader of Temple Beth Am for the last 21 years, and Fredi, who is now director of development for the Western Region of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, was director for overseas relations for the Federation for eight years, and has traveled to Israel as often as four times a year.

Zionism stuck particularly with Avi, who moved to Israel at 22 and attended the World Union of Jewish Students, a one-year program in Arad that teaches Hebrew and Jewish studies and helps new immigrants integrate into the Israeli job market. That’s where he met and fell in love with his future wife, Sharon Isaac, a new immigrant from London.

“My parents were Israeli, and I grew up in a very Zionist home, and I had a huge family in Israel,” Sharon said. “It was always Israel, Israel, Israel. I was always torn.”

Sharon’s parents had moved to England in 1966, where her father had citizenship, and always planned to go back.

“They got wrapped up in life there,” Sharon said. Her parents moved back to Israel after Sharon and her sister did.

In Israel, Avi worked in the booming hi-tech industry, and Sharon worked at the BBC and then became a correspondent and anchor for the local English TV news, a program widely watched by Americans and diplomats and tourists who don’t speak Hebrew. They lived mostly in and around Tel Aviv, and tried to make life work there.

But reporting daily on the deteriorating political situation was depressing for Sharon.

“After Baruch Goldstein, everything went downhill,” she said, referring to the American Jewish doctor who killed 29 Muslim worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

“I remember the bombings, and I remember the assassination [of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin]. It was relentless, it was every other day; the beeper would go off every morning, so it was very hard to live in it and breathe in it,” Sharon said. “Most Israelis have the opportunity to close it out,” she said. But she couldn’t because she was immersed in it for her work. “Israel is a great place to be a journalist if you’re removed from it, if you’re [a Brit] working for the BBC, but when you’re Israeli, it’s different.

The economic situation is what got to Avi.

“We were overwhelmed by our overdraft, we weren’t able to make ends meet, and our financial situation was going downhill,” Avi said. When his company offered to move the couple and their one child to Boston, they decided to go.
“We wanted to come to America. We wanted to have more kids. It made more sense to move here,” Sharon said.

There’s a figure that new immigrants in Israel throw around to determine whether a person will make it: Seven years. If someone stays seven years, it’s likely they’ll be there a lifetime. Even Nefesh B’Nefesh’s generous gifts are dependent on a family staying three years. That’s because people leave. Some for economic reasons, others for security reasons. Some, like Sharon, just want a break.

“I wanted to be somewhere that I didn’t have to think about it for awhile. But our intention when we left was always to go back.”

That’s another thing about new immigrants who leave Israel. Most plan on coming back. Some have a monetary goal, others set a time goal: the three-year plan, the five-year plan, the 10-year plan.

“We didn’t have a plan,” Sharon said. But they knew it was the right thing to do.

“When we left, at the airport, I turned to you and felt like someone [leaving] Europe in World War II,” Avi said, addressing his wife. “It felt like the time was right.”

Indeed, only seven months after the Rembaums moved back to America, in the beginning of 2000, the second intifada broke out. The next four years were a tough time for Jews in Israel; they shut themselves in, avoiding the threat of crowded places like malls, the movie theaters, restaurants and cafes, for fear of terror attacks.

Avi and Sharon really liked Boston.

“It was amazing; it was an incredible community,” Sharon said.

But Avi’s company shut down after a year and a half, so they decided to come to Los Angeles.

“It was a bit too cold, and we wanted our kids to have grandparents,” Sharon said. “If we would have stayed in Boston, we might have stayed [in America.]”
Sharon wasn’t crazy about Los Angeles at first.

“When I first moved here, I vehemently hated it. I couldn’t stand the fake boobs, the plastic-ness.”

But then she got involved with Pressman school and the Beth Am community, and she started working at KCRW, as a producer of “To the Point,” the call-in news show hosted by Warren Olney. “That was when I started to really like L.A.; I saw a very different side of it,” she said.

Avi, who describes himself as the “optimist” in the family, didn’t have problems with Los Angeles, perhaps because his family and childhood friends were here. But, he said, “Israel’s always been on my mind.”

There is a moment, for some people — one particular Eureka moment — that they can point to as an impetus for any decision, and especially for the decision to move to Israel. For Sharon, it was when her father died a year ago, and she was sitting shiva in Israel. “It was a very emotional time for me,” she said.
Her sister, who lives in the north of Israel, said to her, “Sharon, do you want to grow old in the city of Los Angeles?

“Oh God, no,” Sharon replied, repeating the emphasis as she retold the story.
“I didn’t want to live forever here, and I wanted to live my life there,” Sharon said now, explaining her vehemence.

“I am a better person there,” she said, choking back tears.

As she spoke, Avi took her hand in his. For him, it’s always been what he calls a “gestalt” thing.

“I am the happiest person when I’m there,” he said. “I’m most confident as a person when I’m there.”

For both of them, though, it was also about their children.

“It was about the life we want our kids to love, the freedom to be children. It seems hard to raise sane, Jewish children in L.A.,” Sharon said. “It’s very expensive here. You have to pay through the nose. In Israel it’s a no-brainer [because school is free]. You don’t have to work on chag. Here you get two weeks of vacation, if that, a year, and you have to take it off on the holidays.”
After spending Passover in Israel, they seriously began to consider moving back. But this time they weren’t going to be undone by the economic realities of Israel.

“We had three criteria: Sell our house for more money, buy a house for a lot less money and get a well-paying job,” Avi said.

They expected this would take them some time — months, maybe even a year.
“We did all those things in two weeks,” he said. Less than a month ago, they bought their tickets to Israel.

Ironically, it was Sharon, the non-native, who had a harder time leaving Los Angeles.

“It was very hard for me to leave. Even though we never said we wanted to stay here forever, I could have stayed,” she said. But “in many ways, it was now or never.”

But Sharon wasn’t the only one having a hard time leaving.

“I feel sad that they’re leaving,” said Fredi, her mother-in-law, in what was surely an understatement. “It’s going to be a big hole in our lives.”

Avi jumped in: “I reminded [my mother] that she dragged two kids to Israel in the middle of the Yom Kippur war, so she has no right to say anything.”
There is a strong parallel. In 1973, Rabbi Rembaum and his wife took a sabbatical in Israel — arriving there on the eighth day of the Yom Kippur war, when Ariel Sharon was leading the campaign to cross the Suez canal.

“When our El Al flight came to Israel we were accompanied by Phantoms,” Fredi recalled.

“As long as Israel is letting us in, we’ll go,” Rabbi Rembaum said at the time. Those words have come back as a strong reminder that each family has to choose its own way, the rabbi said, “We have no moral grounds on which to tell them they shouldn’t go.”

And besides, even though he’ll miss them, “I’m proud of them. I’m a Zionist.”
As the family talked about this landmark decision, about moving to Israel, no one really mentioned the current military actions going on, the fact that Israel is fighting in Lebanon, that Katyushas are being fired on the Northern cities, and the country might soon be in a state of war.

“I’m less distressed about the situation they’re going back to than about losing them on a daily basis,” Fredi said.

When the fighting started, Sharon said, “We looked at each other and said, ‘Are we doing the wrong things for our kids? Are we taking them into a potentially difficult situation?’ The only thing we always think about is our children.”

But they’re moving to Ra’anana, at the center of the country, where the rockets don’t hit. And they’ve already sold their house, shipped their stuff and enrolled the kids in school.

“In some ways it makes us want to go more,” Sharon said about the situation.
Avi added: “It’s happening now, but it could have happened three months from now, and we’ll be living there. It’s just the way that living in Israel is.”

Why, then, was Sharon crying? Was it because of the war, leaving Los Angeles and her family or moving to Israel?

“I just got emotional thinking about Israel and all the amazing things,” she said. “I love the fact on Friday at 3, 4, 5 in the afternoon it’s quiet, and you start to smell chicken soup, and the country just relaxes,” she said. “I love the unity that we see when times are bad: It’s the only county in the world that opens its arms and says, ‘Come.'”

Thousands Rally in L.A. to Support Israel


“I’m here to show this country, my family and friends in Israel that we Jews will be there forever,” said 14-year-old Elad Menna, a Los Angeles resident who emigrated with his family from the West Bank five years ago. “Although I live here, my heart is in Israel.”

The boy spoke to a reporter on a sweltering Sunday afternoon, surrounded by thousands of like-minded Jews and non-Jews who had come together in front of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles headquarters in one of the largest pro-Israel rallies in years to express their support for the Jewish state.

The song “Am Yisrael Chai” rang out, along with speeches by political and spiritual leaders, as hundreds of blue-and-white Israeli flags were flanked by banners proclaiming “Israel Left Gaza for Peace, Not for 800 Rockets,” and “We Want Peace, They Want Jihad,” and “United Against Terror.”

Draped in a blue-and-white scarf decorated with Stars of David, Allyson Rowen Taylor carried a banner that showed a smiling United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan shaking hands with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

The text: “The Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559!” a reference to, among other things, a resolution that mandates the disarmament and disbanding of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups that prevent the Lebanese government from exercising its full sovereignty. In addition to her sign, the associate director of the American Jewish Congress (AJC) of Los Angeles carried a special picture in her purse: a photo of her 20-year-old son Zachary, who is American-born and currently serving as a sniper in the Israel Defense Forces.

“Because I’ve taught him to be a good Zionist,” said Rowen Taylor, fighting back tears, “I have to be here and be a good Zionist for him.”

Rowen Taylor said she has no idea where the Israeli government has deployed her son.


As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President John Fishel declared their support for Israel, the crowd came together for two hours to make a statement to each other, the media and the entire world: They believe in Israel, its right to defend itself and its quest for peace. Even Jews who have long been critical of Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip came out to participate.

The gathering, which Federation officials estimate to have reached as many as 10,000 but police pegged at 6,500, stretched along Wilshire Boulevard from San Vicente Boulevard to La Jolla Avenue. To keep cool, many on hand wore baseball caps, shorts and carried bottles of water.

Schwarzenegger told the gathering that he has long, deep affection for Israel. He said that he has visited the country several times, including in the 1970s as a body building champion; the 1980s as “The Terminator;” and in the 1990s to open a Planet Hollywood restaurant. He added that his first trip abroad after being elected governor was to Israel.

“Let me tell you,” he said. “With all the trips I’ve taken to Israel, with all the business I’ve done with the Israeli people, and of course, I have several Israeli people working at my house, I can tell you there is nothing more the Israeli people want than to live in peace.”

Villaraigosa told the cheering crowd that Israelis will welcome their message.
“To the families in Haifa and Nahariyya, to all those in both the north and the south who’ve been terrorized in recent weeks by the relentless rocket attacks of Hamas and Hezbollah, this gathering 7,500 miles across the globe is no distant gesture,” Villaraigosa said.

Fishel, who heads the Federation, which organized the rally, proclaimed that the assembled stand with Israel at a “dangerous and defining moment.” He went on to question whether any actions taken by Israel can satisfy Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists.

Simon Wiesenthal Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier defiantly told Israel’s Los Angeles supporters that Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists will never realize their dream of destroying Israel, especially if the Jews and their supporters remain united in the face of such implacable hatred.

“Their objective is a Middle East free of Jews,” Hier said. “We can assure them today that is something they will never live to see.”

While there was unanimity of spirit, there was diversity in the crowd. A group of about 25 heavily tattooed Set Free Soldiers caused more than a few double-takes. Clad in black pants and black leather jackets and vests, the burly members of the Evangelical Christian network proclaimed love for Israel.

The club’s leader, a Harley rider calling himself Chief Phil Aguilar, said he has visited Israel 15 times since the early 1980s. Surrounded by his three biker sons and a daughter, Aguilar said he found the Jewish state inspirational. When visiting the Western Wall, though, he said and his fellow bikers sometimes get less than an enthusiastic reception.

“When the rabbis first see us, they look at us a little funny,” Aguilar said. “But they’re in black and white, too, and also look a little funny. In the end, we end up being good friends.”

Metal barricades and a large police presence separated the main rally from a small counter-demonstration of about 200. As police helicopters buzzed overhead, the pro-Israeli rally-goers and the pro-Palestinian protestors hurled insults at one another. Cries of “Terrorists!” “Terrorists!” were greeted with chants of “Free, Free Palestine, Long Live Hezbollah!”

With several Palestinian flags fluttering nearby, architect Eman Bermani said she made the trek from Irvine to voice her disapproval for Israel’s campaign in Lebanon.

“The violence is not going to benefit anyone,” she said. “There’s just going to be more killing and more loss of life. I’m full of frustration.”

An Orange County engineer who would only identify himself as Avraham took a harder-edged position, saying Israel would cease to exist if she didn’t learn how to live in peace with her Muslim neighbors instead of “subjugating them, colonizing them.”

On the other side of the barricade, pro-Israel demonstrator Eileen Jayson said she this was the first pro-Israel rally she had attended, and she came because of the gravity of the situation overseas. The 53-year-old Tarzana paralegal added that she hopes to take her maiden voyage to Israel in November to get married.

“It’s about time I went,” she said. “We haven’t given up yet,”
So did the gathering accomplish anything? Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss thinks it made a difference.

“This rally had everything going against it,” said Weiss, one of the guest speakers. “It was unbearably hot. It came on late notice and during summer vacation.

“And we still filled Wilshire Boulevard with thousands of people. All elements of the community really stood up and were counted.”

Letters to the Editor


AMIT

Uriel Heilman’s recent article, “Sderot’s Kids Living in Fear” (June 30), accurately portrays the situation in this Israeli city and the role AMIT is playing in helping the children of Sderot to continue their education under these difficult circumstances.

AMIT recently launched a special campaign for Sderot. Readers wishing to learn more about AMIT, can call our Los Angeles office at (310) 859-4885 or visit www.amitchildren.org.

Barbara Goldberg
AMIT Director of Communications
New York, N.Y.

Right Call

While visiting from Israel, I was interested to read Rob Eshman’s “The Right Call” in the July 14 issue, in which he described his conversation with a friend who thinks Israel is doing “terrible” things.

I would add the following: The great challenge for Eshman’s friend is to decide whether she can support Israel, when Israel must choose the best of bad options. By and large, Israelis do not want their soldiers in Lebanon and Gaza inflicting civilian casualties and destroying infrastructure, while searching for 10,000 missiles hidden amongst several million people.

However, it’s not serious to think that turning the other cheek is a policy that will stop the shelling. In fact, the alternative to the bad choices is something far worse: surrendering to the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Israel will defend itself and its citizens from attack. Israelis will be able to walk outside their homes without rockets slamming into the ground. And, I sincerely hope that Eshman’s friend will change her mind and support us in our hour of need.

Nathan Wirtschafter
Rehovot, Israel

Chinese-American Jews

Your cover story in the July 14 issue on “A Generation of Chinese-American Jews Comes of Age” moved me to tears. Especially poignant to me were the writings of Susan Freudenheim (Journal managing editor) and her daughter, Rachel Core.Rachel speaks of her friend, Willow, also born in China and adopted by her mother. Willow is one of my granddaughter Esther’s best friends. She, too, is a lovely child.

And Esther, my fantastic, charismatic, beautiful granddaughter who is named after my mother, also was adopted. Esther, too, will be bat mitzvahed in about two years at Temple Israel of Hollywood. And her sister, Dani, named after our son, David, who was also adopted, was bat mitzvahed at Temple Emmanuel in Beverly Hills and now will be a sophomore at the Marlborough School. Both Esther and Dani also went through the mikvah ceremony at theUniversity of Judaism.

Thank you for the cover story. It was beautiful.

George Epstein
Los Angeles

Rabbi Pressman

It’s one thing to disagree on the administration of kashrut in this state and city; it’s another to besmirch the reputation of one the great pioneering rabbis of Los Angeles.

When referring to the dearth of kosher establishments in the 1960s (“Kosher,” Letters, July 7), Howard Weiss forgets the demographics of the Jewish community of the 1950s and 1960s, a preponderance of World War II GIs and their brides new to Los Angeles, with few ties to the Jewish community or observance. It was in this context, that Rabbi Jacob Pressman’s accomplishments were extraordinary.As president of the Board of Rabbis, he was instrumental in installing the first kosher kitchen of the Jewish Community Council (the precursor to The Federation), creating a kosher kitchen at Mt. Sinai Hospital (the Sinai of Cedars-Sinai) and collaborating to create the first Va-ad HaKashrut under full Community Council auspices.

As a rabbi and educator, he inspired and still inspires generations to make kashrut and the observance of mitzvot a part of their lives.

Fran Grossman
Los Angeles

Silence on Gaza

Did I understand Ron Kampeas (“Is U.S. Silence on Gaza Sign of Friendship or Weakness?” July 14) correctly, that he wants our government to show neutrality by currying favor with the Arab governments and criticizing Israel’s self-defense?

The former would return us to a failed policy of the traditional State Department Arabists: It benefited undeserving autocratic, anti-Semitic regimes. The latter would be a dagger in the back of our most loyal ally, the only democracy in the Middle East and the first line of defense against the Islamo-fascists. There is no justification for neutrality between good and evil, friend and foe.

Councilman Dennis Zine and Rep. Darrell Issa, have risked the support of their natural political base by declaring that Israel has the right of self-defense and Lebanon is responsible for the conflict; a far more just position than Kampeas’. I applaud their honesty and political courage.

Louis Richter
Encino

Correction

A photo accompanying the July 14 cover story, “Dual Identity, Double the Questions,” incorrectly identified the woman examining the Torah with Lily Ling Goldstein. She is Deborah Kreingel, Lily’s Hebrew tutor.

The Right Call

In his July 14 column (“The Right Call”), Rob Eshman describes recent Israeli actions in Gaza as a “harsh and bloody incursion” and as “unnecessarily cruel and destructive.” By doing so, according to Eshman, Israel has “squandered the vast sums of moral capital Israel has accrued in dealing with Hamas.”

Eshman evidently believes that a war against an enemy — Hamas and Hezbollah and other religion of peace organizations and their sponsors in Iran and Syria — that wishes to destroy your country and slaughter or expel its Jewish citizens can be fought as gently as a badminton match.

As for the “vast sums of moral capital” Israel accrued, the withdrawal from Gaza got Israel about five minutes of favorable press coverage in countries that wish it would just disappear.

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

Your editorial (“The Right Call”) counseling Israel to show restraint is misguided for following reasons:

  1. Israel is that inevitable exception to the sound rule that nations should always try to avoid and restrain their military (even defensive) actions, because both Hezbollah and Hamas are Hitler wannabes as to Israel and its Jews, and like all their ilk, they will deem and spin any restraints by Israel as great “inspirational victories” for their evil means and goals (e.g. Israel’s leaving southern Lebanon inspired the second intifada, and leaving Gaza led to the daily rocket attacks and the invasion/kidnapping of Gilad Shalit);
  2. The fundamental goal in the propaganda war (supporting their military and terrorist wars), Hezbollah, Hamas, their allies, patrons, leaders, supporters and followers have been successfully waging for more than 60 years has been to depict Israel either as the true fomenter or the overaggressive defender in all Israel’s wars for survival.

    Advising Israel to show restraint when it has been attacked by Hamas, Hezbollah and their supporting nations unwittingly reinforces that 60-year libel campaign against Israel.

  3. Despite Israel having faced a war for survival through its entire history, its excellent humanitarian record of military restraints in its 60-year war for survival is unmatched by any other modern nation. Obviously, your editorial writer chose to ignore that noble record.

Ben Kagan
Hollywood

Rob Eshman’s casual assertion that Israel’s response to last week’s kidnappings and rocket attacks was unnecessarily cruel and destructive, squandering the vast sums of moral capital [it] has accrued in dealing with Hamas, misses the point. Consider what apparently prompted the attacks — acts of concession. Israel’s withdrawing from Gaza and its planned withdrawal from most of the West Bank.The sad reality is that good will gestures by Israel are a practical impossibility. Abandoning settlements, granting territory, releasing prisoners or easing security restrictions have never enhanced our image in the eyes of our enemies, including the Palestinians. Rather, such actions are taken as proof that the repulsive Jews are weakening.

As former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon put it, concessions by Israel are viewed by its neighbors as a sign that it is a wounded animal, ripe for the kill. And history, both past and present, seems to affirm this.

As difficult as this may be for many of us to accept, we have seen it before. No good will gesture would have been appreciated, let alone spared the Jews of Nazi Germany. If Israel is to survive, it has no choice but to demonstrate its readiness to strike disproportionately, a nightmare burden it cannot avoid.

Mark Ellman
Los Angeles

Dangerous Moves

To all those Neville Chamberlains who have supported giving our Arab enemies land for peace, have you noticed something? Since Israel gave her enemies the Gaza, she has been attacked by the Muslim terrorists more fiercely than ever.Sharon shouldn’t have even considered giving land to Israel’s enemies any more than Begin should have given Egypt the Sinai. Both moves were misguided, naive and dangerous. Last time I looked at a map, the Arabs have so much land they don’t know what to do with it. Yet the Neville Chamberlains (Jews and non-Jews) want Israel to keep chopping away at its borders.

Anonymous
North Hollywood

Middle-Class Squeeze

Leonard Solomon’s discussion of the “Middle-Class Squeeze,” regarding supplementary schools (Letters, June 23), brings many issues to light. Yes, more middle-class families could opt for the supplementary school if it were in any way possible for the part-time schools to deliver a semblance of the intensity and comprehensive study of our rich heritage that day schools do provide. In part, this is the underlying reason for the day school success.

The culprit is not the Bureau of Jewish Education’s standards as suggested by Mr. Solomon. The bureau offers much to enrich the supplementary programs and assists with school tuitions. However, on the contrary, the greatest challenge to the supplementary schools is the lack of professional personnel ready and able to make a part-time commitment to the institution and the program.

During the glory days of supplementary education, a very different dynamic was operative. Professional teachers in the public schools sought additional income to supplement their low salaries. They invested their energy and expertise in the part-time endeavor.

We knew it was incumbent upon us to educate our children. We brought excitement, innovation, knowledge and professionalism to classrooms overflowing with children eager to be challenged, and we were professionally trained to do just that.

Today, those professionals interested in Jewish education can find satisfying careers in the full-time day schools. It is rare to find professionals serving in both types of schools, but there are some. It is clear that the supplementary schools are bereft of adequate leadership and pedagogically well-trained professionals. Therefore, the question remains: Where and how to find well trained, certified teachers for a part-time program?

Those at the helm do all that is possible with the limited time allotment and untrained staff of willing, warm bodies manning the classrooms.

Could you envision surgery being performed by lay people? Why then do we accept less than well-trained, adequate professionals in our schools attempting to educate our children?

All who desire a meaningful, intensive Jewish education coming from committed homes should be able to find education assistance for whatever their choice.This must become our community’s No. 1 responsibility and priority. How else to ensure the continuity of our people?

Sandra Radoff-Bernstein
Board Member
Bureau of Jewish Education
Los Angeles

The New York Times

Rob Eshman’s defense of The New York Times (“A Different War,” July 7) and stereotypical attack on the Bush administration is uncalled for. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times published classified information, even though the administration asked them not to (The Wall Street Journal – a very pro-Israel publication heard that The New York Times was coming out with the story and unfortunately followed suit).

It is not a defense to say The Times weighed a “speculative risk against the public interest.” The Times should not be speculating on what risks are worthy of taking when it comes to the lives of Americans.

Contrary to what Eshman states, the “burden of proof” in showing the danger of revealing government secrets cannot be dismissed by simply claiming The Times disagrees. The administration thought there was a danger and the editor of The Times took it upon himself to conclude otherwise.

While the administration talked in general terms about the tracking of terrorist money, it gave no details how this would be done and our enemies did not know the specifics until provided by The Times.

It is simply reprehensible for Eshman to say that “when the conservative base” goes after The New York Times, he senses the attack is wrapped up with notions of “Jewish” and “liberals.” Many Democrats, including former Clinton advisers, say that great harm was done to a program that was effective in fighting terrorism.

This administration’s conservative base is in fact very pro-Israel and not in the slightest anti-Jewish. No other president in history has surrounded himself with as many Jewish advisers and Israel supporters as has President Bush.Overwhelming public opinion condemns The New York Times for its disclosure and supports all legal methods for punishment of those that leak classified material and those who publish it.

By condemning The Times, it is not the administration that takes its “eye off the ball,” as Eshman claims. The president is vigorously pursuing the policies that he believes best protect America, regardless of what the liberal media believes.

It is too bad that the editor of The Jewish Journal echoes The New York Times, one of the most liberal and anti-administration publications in the country.

Mitchell W. Egers
Los Angeles

Rob Eshman’s near miracle of defending the indefensible, i.e., The New York Times’ disclosure of the tracking details by the U.S. of Al Qaeda’s complex international transactions, is explainable only as one editor blindly defending another in the name of the religion of journalism.

The Wall Street Journal, unlike the New York Times, broke the story without disclosing secret details that Al Qaeda would literally have killed to learn. To suggest, as does The Jewish Journal article, that the Bush administration’s feigned outrage at the conduct of The New York Times is a political ploy calculated to whip up hatred against Jews and liberals is as insidious as the odious conspiracy story that Jews and liberals are responsible for 9/11.

Older Chicagoans will, of course, recognize that the old Chicago Tribune sickness of administration hatred (Roosevelt, Bush) has now infected The New York Times.

The Foreign Policy Magazine article cited in Mr. Eshman’s article showing that 86 percent of experts believe the world is now more dangerous for Americans has more to do with Islamo-fascism than anything else. A poll of European experts would probably show that they believe that the world has become more dangerous for Brits, Danes, etc. Surprise?

Seymour W. Croft
Los Angeles

Bill O’Reilly

I have been Jewish for 83 years. I have watched and listened to Bill O’Reilly for at least eight years. He is not the bigot that Dr. Sol Taylor calls him. Taylor makes a giant unsubstantiated leap from right-wing bloggers to the use of New York as anti-Semitic (Letters, July 7). Taylor should stop watching those hysterical left-wing bloggers.

Ed ShevickWoodland Hills

Converts

In response to Laura Birnbaum’s article (“Converts’ Hardships Expose Truth,” July 7), I would like to share an experience that I have had on another college campus that shows a very different attitude.

I am not a student at UCLA but have made myself a member of its Jewish community. Also in this community are two students who are in the process of converting to Judaism and have been accepted with open arms.

They are socially active at Hillel; one of them even shared an apartment with a few other members of the community.

Our rabbi gives them rides to daily minyanim, of which they are regular attendees. Various members of the community have driven them to and from the Beit Din for conversion meetings and classes. I even recall that on Shavuot, one of these young men gave a short shiur about a Gemara that he had learned.

It is unfortunate that Birnbaum’s friends have had to experience discrimination from a people whose religion they have fallen in love with. It is, however, somewhat comforting to know that this is not an attitude that is common across the board and that there are people who are ready to embrace newcomers to our religion with love and encouragement.

Josh Cohen
Los Angeles

Judaism Outdoors

I applaud your article on Judaism and the outdoors (“Judaism Finds Its Niche in Great Outdoors,” July 7). All the organizations you mentioned are doing wonderful work, however, besides Rabbi Shifren, not one of them is in the Los Angeles area or California for that matter.

My organization, Outdoor Jewish Adventures (OJA) is based in Santa Monica and has been servicing the greater Los Angeles Jewish community for a number of years with camping expeditions, hikes and other outdoor Jewish adventures.

Josh Lake and myself, the founders of OJA, have been part of the growing movement of outdoor Jewish educators that fuse the wonders of nature with Jewish teachings.

We encourage your readers to explore nature in a Jewish context and want them to know that they can find these experiences locally through Outdoor Jewish Adventures.

Stuart Treitel
President/Co-Founder
Outdoor Jewish Adventures
Santa Monica

Never Forget

I have admired the Jewish people since 1967, when as a student at Pasadena City College, I met and had a female friend who left to go to war and defend her country when the war broke out in Israel.

I really liked the “$61.8 Billion” story by Rob Eshman (May 19). It shows the greatness of an ethnic and religious group of folks that strive for greatness and do everything possible to succeed.

I would like to see the American Jewish people support Israel more and demand that the American quislings never ever forget their main friend in the Middle East – Israel!

John Sanchez
Madera, Calif.

Large-Scale Israel Solidarity Rally Planned for Sunday


In an effort to demonstrate solidarity with Israel, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and other Jewish groups are organizing a major community rally to take place in front of the Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters this Sunday, July 23 at 4 p.m.


RELATED LINKS

The Federation

Board of Rabbis

Wiesenthal Center Hosts 900+ for Pro-Israel Rally

Simon Wiesenthal Center

United Jewish Communities (UJC)

Planners hope to attract 10,000 supporters.

“This is an opportunity for a broad cross-section of our community to come together for the people of Israel at this difficult time,” Federation President John Fishel said.

The Federation and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California are coordinating the rally, which will include the pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, among other organizations. Fischel said The Federation will work with public agencies to ensure participants’ safety.

First Federation Rally

Sunday’s event is the first major pro-Israel rally organized by the Federation since 2001, Fischel said. That year, the nonprofit organization held a rally in support of Israel just after the outbreak of the Second Intifada.

To publicize the rally, many local rabbis are emailing congregants and will speak from the pulpit on Shabbat about the demonstration’s importance, said Board of Rabbis Executive Vice President Mark Diamond.

“The rally will send a clear message to American politicians, the U.N. and to world leaders that the people of Los Angeles stand with Israel,” Diamond said. “I think the world needs to be reminded over and over again what started this war, and that Israel is a sovereign state that has a right to defend its people.”

The attacks on Israel by Hezbollah and Hamas represent nothing less than the latest step in radical Islam’s quest for world domination, said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Standing up to the threat, whether on the frontlines of Israel or the streets of Los Angeles, is a needed challenge to the forces of darkness.

“Their first step may be the state of Israel, but it is not the last stop in their international Jihadist journey,” Hier said. “This is an historical moment for the state of Israel. And Israel is doing what the world should be doing: confronting terrorists.”

Wiesenthal Center Plans Screenings

As part of its attempts to educate the public about the roots of the current crisis in the Middle East, the Wiesenthal Center has plans to screen three films, beginning July 25. “The Long Way Home,” discusses the story of Israel’s creation; “In Search of Peace” details the conflict from 1948 to 1967; and “Ever Again,” Hier said, spotlights the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, the Federation has established an Israel in Crisis Fund. One hundred percent of all monies raised will go toward sending Israeli children living in northern communities under attack to summer camp in safer areas.

The Federation’s emergency campaign is part of an initiative among U.S. and Canadian federations to raise $1 million weekly for the summer camp program.

As a measure of its support, the L.A. Federation announced that it had donated $100,000 to the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization for 155 Jewish federations and 400 independent Jewish communities across North America.
New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington D.C. and Toronto have had or will also hold rallies to show solidarity with the Jewish state.

The upcoming Los Angeles event comes less than a week after a Chabad-sponsored pray-in and two weeks after an emotional rally at the Wiesenthal Center.
On July 17, Chabad held a pro-Israel prayer rally at Rabbi Schneerson Square in Los Angeles. The lunchtime gathering attracted about 1,000 people, including 500 children from local Chabad camps and youth groups.

“Whenever the Jewish people are threatened, our special weapon is the prayers of our beautiful children who now cry to the Almighty for the safety of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land,” said Rabbi Boruch S. Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad.

Four days earlier, about 500 supporters of Israel attended the last-minute gathering. The two-hour ceremony included speeches from Wiesenthal Rabbis Hier and Abraham Cooper, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yarsolavsky, L.A. Consul General to Israel Ehud Danoch, Judea Pearl (father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl) and The Federation’s Fishel.
“This operation will not end until we make an end to Hezbollah,” Danoch said. “Israel is strong. The government is strong. The Jewish people are strong, and we will last an eternity.”

Religion Editor Amy Klein contributed to this report.

Israel-Lebanon Strife Reverberates Locally


[Monday July 17] A nationwide effort to call Jews to prayer services Wednesday evening, July 19 — in support of Israel — is being organized by the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Council of America, and the National Council of Young Israel.

In addition, a central service and study session will be available
at http://www.ou.org led by OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, in downtown Manahattan.

Text of OU Press Release

ORTHODOX SYNAGOGUES CALL FOR NIGHT OF PRAYER AND TORAH STUDY
ACROSS NORTH AMERICA THIS WEDNESDAY EVENING

Responding to the urgent need of American Jews to do whatever they can in support of Israel and her people at this time, the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America, together with the National Council of Young Israel and the Young Israel Council of Rabbis, have announced the convening of a nationwide Night of Prayer and Torah Study this Wednesday, July 19.

The organizations are asking Jews to gather in their synagogues throughout North America beginning at 9:00 pm E.D.T. (6:00 pm Pacific) for the simultaneous recitation of tehillim (Psalms) and other designated prayers.

While many congregations are already adding extra tehillim to their regular services, Jewish tradition places great value in having an entire community raising their voices in unison.

With the expectation that several hundred synagogues will participate, many, many thousands of Jews will be united in their prayers at this time.

The program’s second segment will be Torah study, also a key means of spiritual support, for which study materials on relevant topics such as the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim, rescuing captives, will be provided to the synagogues by the OU.

A central service and study session, to be led by OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb at OU headquarters in downtown Manhattan, will be webcast and may be viewed by any synagogue, family or individual who wants to participate in this way at http://www.ou.org

The OU has also produced a Seven Point Action Plan, entitled “Israel Under Siege — What You Can Do,” which may be read on its web site.

Further plans for special round-the-clock Torah learning programs with the involvement of OU member synagogues, Young Israel synagogues, the batei
midrash and learning programs of Yeshiva University, and the rabbis of the RCA and of YI, will be announced shortly.

*****
Friday’s Stories (July 14, 2006)
*****

Rally
More than 900 Attend Wiesenthal Gathering

Hot was not the word for Thursday’s rally outside the Simon Wiesenthal
Center.

As if mirroring the escalating heat of the day’s escalating violence in, as
Hezbollah sent rockets into Israel and Israel attacked Lebanon, the Los
Angeles summer sun provided no relief for the 900-plus people gathered in the
center’s enclosed back courtyard for the 5 p.m. community rally.

“Rally” was not exactly the word for Thursday’s last-minute event either, as
it was less a public demonstration and more a gathering of friends of
Israel. The Wiesenthal Center took the lead early Thursday morning in
organizing a community event to show support for the embattled Jewish state.

“Condemn the Terrorists, Not the Response,” read a sign on the podium, which
was backed by an American flag, an Israeli flag and the Wiesenthal flag, as
well as a modern statue of Israel’s menorah, which always stands in the
courtyard.

The two-hour ceremony included speeches from Wiesenthal Rabbis Abraham
Cooper and Marvin Hier, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles County
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles Consul General to Israel Ehud
Danoch, Judea Pearl (father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl) and Federation
President John Fishel.

“It’s important that we’re here today,” said Villaraigosa, who told the
story of his interrupted phone call with Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal.

“This experience shook us to the core,” he said.

The mayor also emphasized the importance that non-Jews were present at the
rally as well, referring to himself, and what may have been one of the few
other non-Jews in the audience, the Rev. Billy Ingram of Maranatha Community
Church.

“If not here,” he asked, “then where will we come together united in
solidarity with Israel?”

Always the showstopper, Hier drew the crowd to its feet a number of times.

“Let us be clear today. This is not about borders,” he said. “It’s about a
Middle East that is Judenrein — free of Jews.”

Hier drew parallels in this situation to the Holocaust, saying that the
world “did nothing” about the constant missile attacks on Israel, and on the
diplomatic front on getting captured soldier Gilad Shalit returned. He said
there was collateral damage on Germany when the Allied forces bombed the
Nazis, but that was the price they had to pay, and that Israel did not want
this terror, and those who support the leaders “have only themselves to
blame.”

Cooper played a recording of a phone call with Cheri Drori,
a former Angeleno whose husband, Tzephania, has been the chief rabbi of
Kiryat Shemona for 30 years. Drori, was in a bomb shelter in Kiryat
Shmoneh, two kilometers from the Lebanese border.

America’s support, she said, “gives us great strength to continue … we
want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Danoch took a tough line with the terrorists: “If in Israel they are going
to go into shelters, then in Lebanon they will go in shelters This operation
will not end until we make an end to Hezbollah,” he said. “Israel is strong.
The government is strong. The Jewish people are strong and we will last an
eternity.”

Thursday was a fast day, the 17th of Tamuz, which signifies the beginning of
the three weeks of mourning for the Jewish people when the walls of
Jerusalem were breached by the Ancient Romans before the destruction of the
Temple. A number of Orthodox rabbis recited Pslams, first in English, and
then in Hebrew, to commemorate the fast day and to pray for Israel.

The program, which began with the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner”
ended with “Hatikva” and the singing of “Oseh Shalom”: “Oseh shalom
b’mromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu
…” “He who makes peace in high
places, He will make peace for us and for all Israel, let us say amen…”

— Amy Klein

Travel to Israel Uninterrupted by Mideast Conflict

Delta Airlines Flight 152 from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv via Atlanta left on
time Friday, despite the escalation of conflict between Israel and Lebanon.

While some travelers, mostly Israelis, were tranquil, others remained
skittish.

Tammy and Amit Stavinsky were flying with their three small children to Tel
Aviv to visit family. Waiting in line to check in at LAX, Tammy Stavinsky
said she was “petrified.”

Her Israeli husband was calm, however.

“The truth is nobody knows anything about life,” he said. “It could be more
dangerous here, who knows?”

“Well, obviously I have children so I don’t want to go at all,” said his
wife.

“We’ve been fighting about it,” she said, gesturing toward her husband.
“He’s going with or without me, and I don’t want to be a bad wife.”

Behind them a Calabasas man traveling to his father’s funeral in Israel said
he wasn’t concerned for his safety.

“I wouldn’t take my family with me, but I’m OK traveling on my own,” he
said.

Another Israeli man traveling to Israel via New York and Budapest said he
wasn’t worried at all.

El Al Israel Airlines reports that its Israel-bound flights continue to be
nearly full, and that the airline has not experienced an increase in
cancellations, spokeswoman Sheryl Stein said Friday. Recent demand has been
so great that on July 23 El Al will inaugurate thrice-weekly roundtrip
flights between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv.

“Tourism has really picked up in Israel, and our flights are very, very
full,” Stein said.

Like El Al, Delta Air Lines said its daily flight to Israel remains popular.
On July 14, Delta had oversold its Israel-bound flight, which departs from
Atlanta and carries up to 234 passengers, spokesman Anthony Black said.

“There hasn’t been any impact to our flights from the events at this time,”
Black said.

In other local travel news, about 60 Southland Jews have just departed for a
mission to Israel, forming half of the participants in a trip sponsored by
United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization for the nation’s
federations.

Marc Ballon, Senior Writer & Lisa Hirschmann, Contributing
Writer

L.A.’s Jewish Groups Come Together in Support

What are the leading Jewish organizations doing to support Israel?

That’s what they gathered to find out at The Jewish Federation of Greater
Los Angeles on Thursday, July 13, as Israel came under attack from
Hezbollah, prompting Israeli air strikes into Lebanon.

The 3 p.m meeting, coordinated at the last minute, saw the participation of
major players here, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee,
StandWithUs, Peace Now, the Pacific Jewish Alliance, The Wiesenthal Center,
the Israeli Consulate, Hillel and the Board of Rabbis of Southern
California, to name a few. Press was not invited to this “strategy session.”

“We were really trying to get an update on what everybody in attendance is
doing in support of Israel,” said John Fishel, Federation president.

He was referring to the general programs the organizations had been planning
as well as future action in light of the escalation. It was a brainstorming
session, he said, where people threw out ideas for future action — some
related to action within the Jewish community to show support and others
reach outside the community. It was not clear what the group would do to
actually help people in Israel — although The Federation will be sending
Fifth District City Councilmember Jack Weiss to Israel next week on a
support mission.

The “strategy” session will reconvene early next week, Fishel said, to
hammer out a specific plan. Perhaps this kind of unity in such a disparate
community is unusual.

“I was impressed by their sincere willingness to work together,” Fishel
said. “It’s a good reflection when there’s a crisis, everybody does pull
together.”

— AK

*****
Thursday’s Stories (July 13, 2006)
*****

Hebrew Union College Students Travel to Israel

About 15 rabbinic, cantorial and educational students from the Southern California campus of Hebrew Union College (HUC) have just arrived in Israel to fulfill their year of
required study at the school’s Jerusalem campus, according to Steven
Windmueller, interim dean for HUC’s L.A. campus. HUC, the Reform movement’s seminary and intellectual center, believes that future leaders of the Jewish community “need to be present in demonstrating their solidarity with the people of the
state of Israel,” Windmueller said.

Even at times of crisis, including the worst of the first Intifada and the Gulf War, HUC kept its doors open at its Israel campus, Windmueller said.

Funds to Move Children Raised Thursday

The Jewish Agency for Israel raised $1 million within a few hours Thursday to remove children from the North of Israel, according to a release from the agency. Working with the Jewish communities worldwide, as well as the Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal, the money was raised to move children who were in the line of fire to youth villages in central Israel.

–Susan Freudenheim, Managing Editor

Israeli Consulate: “Act of War”

The Los Angeles Consulate General of Israel today issued a statement directed to community leaders on the unfolding situation in Israel. The statement offers help in organizing local event related to the ongoing conflict in Israel.

“This morning’s attacks were not a terrorist attack but the action of a sovereign state that assaulted Israel for no reason and without provocation,” the consulate’s statement says, putting a unilateral spin on Israel’s attacks, which have been condemned around the world are condemning as overly harsh.

After explaining the axis of terror in the Middle East and how Lebanon is responsible for Hezbollah and its actions, the statement asserts: “The State of Israel and its citizens now stand united. In light of these circumstance, Israel has no choice but to defend itself and its citizens and will take any measure necessary for the security of its people.”

Anxious Parents Worry About Kids in Israel

For parents with children currently in Israel, these are tough times.
The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), for one, has received several calls from
mothers and fathers worried about their kids’ safety, said Emily Grotta, the
group’s spokeswoman.

An estimated 600 11th- and 12th-graders are currently in Israel on five-
to six-week visits through the URJ. In light of the turbulent situation in
the Middle East, the group has modified travel plans to ensure student
safety, Grotta said. On Thursday, July 13, a group of children who were
supposed to go to the northern Golan Heights near Lebanon went instead went
to the southern Golan Heights, she said.

The fate of the URJ’s planned semester-long program in Israel for high
school students will be determined at a later date.

Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Israel Advocacy Group will Proceed with Plans for Israel Trip

StandWithUs’s plans to proceed with its upcoming mission to Israel, although
the program will be somewhat modified according to the group’s Executive
Director Roz Rothstein. The pro-Israeli, Los
Angeles-based advocacy group plans to bring about 20
people to the Holy Land on a nine-day trip beginning
July 31, with an emphasis on better understanding
Israel’s security situation.

The intensifying violence in the Mideast will likely mean
the cancellation of a scheduled visit to checkpoints
near Gaza and a planned trip to the Israeli-Lebanese
border, Rothstein said.

Participant reaction to the growing violence has been
mixed, she said.

“I got a note today saying, ‘Please don’t cancel the
mission. I want to go no matter what,'” Rothstein
said. “I got another note that said, ‘I’m concerned.
What are we doing?'”

Rothstein said that given Israel’s past success in prevailing in defensive
Wars — in 1967 and 1973 — she expects the Jewish
state to win again and that the StandWithUs mission
will go forward.

–MB

U.S. State Department Travel Advisory

A Feb. 27, 2006 travel advisory from the United States Department of State
“urges U.S citizens to carefully weigh the necessity of traveling to
Israel,” because of the threat of violence between Israeli forces and
Palestinian militant groups based in the West Bank and Gaza and rocket
attacks into Israel by Palestinian terorists, among other reasons.

The State Department also encourages Americans to avoid all travel to the
Gaza Strip and to defer unnecessary travel to the West Bank.

— MB


Birthright Trips Continue as Planned

Officials at Birthright Israel, which sends 18- to 26-year-olds to Israel
for free 10-day trips, said it has received no more cancellations than usual
for its remaining summer trips to Israel. An estimated 7,000 young adults
have already gone to Israel this summer through Birthright, with another
300 slated to go, a spokesperson said.

“There’s been nothing out of the ordinary. No one’s canceled,” said a
spokesman, who asked not to be named. “People are still going.”
The last Los Angeles residents slated to participate in this summer’s
Birthright program departed for Israel Thursday morning, July 13, he added.

— MB

Judaism Finds Its Niche in Great Outdoors


There are Jews hanging from mountaintops all over Colorado. Others are lighting Shabbat candles on sailboats or discovering their spirituality on the ski slopes.

These Jewish adventure enthusiasts not only make an effort to do the hobbies they love with other Jews, but they do so looking for religious or spiritual meaning. By combining their dual interests, this growing cadre of adrenaline seekers is building a new definition of what it means to do — or be — Jewish.

Take Rabbi Jamie Korngold.

When Korngold realized that the Reform Jews she was trying to reach in Boulder, Colo., were more interested in skiing than sitting in synagogue on Saturday mornings, she strapped on a pair of snow boots and headed up the mountain: “For 30 percent of us, synagogue life is working really well, but the other 70 percent, we need new ways of reaching those people.”

“There are so many people whose religion is the outdoors, who really experience their spirituality outside of the synagogue,” said Korngold, who has biked from New York to San Francisco and competed in a 100-mile trail run. “So what I do is say, ‘You’re going to be outdoors, you say it’s a spiritual experience. Let me show you how it’s Jewish.'”

Korngold’s Adventure Rabbi program challenges participants to discuss Torah passages, as well as Judaism’s relationship to nature, during mountain minyan hikes, backpacking treks through the desert and Rosh Hashanah retreats to a ranch in the Rockies. Her trips are so popular that Korngold said her main problem is finding enough guides to meet demand.

“Our Web site gets 200,000 hits a month,” she said. “Our e-mail list is larger than the local federation’s.”

Rabbi Howard Cohen, a Reconstructionist rabbi who runs the Vermont-based Burning Bush Adventures organization, also talks about the need to build bridges between Judaism and the outdoors.

“I know so many Jews who have essentially grown detached from the Jewish community because as they were growing up, they couldn’t get what they wanted from the Jewish world,” he said. “So they went outside of it. But Judaism doesn’t have to be a separate part of their lives.”

Cohen calls the stereotype of the unfit, nonathletic Jew “residual anti-Semitism,” noting that Jews long have been involved in heart-pumping activities like boxing and farming.

Cohen himself is proof of the Jewish athletic tradition. Before attending rabbinical school, he spent 10 years working for Outward Bound. Now he leads day school students, among others, on such expeditions. Before going, participants are sent Torah portions, as well as a list of questions, quotes and readings.

Cohen promotes discussion on these materials out in the woods and has students keep Shabbat and bake challah in the field. Being with students in this context changes his ability to relate to them, Cohen said.

“There are a lot of rabbis who ski or play golf and put their kippah in their back pocket,” he said. “But rabbis who take their congregants skiing, they have a different bond.”

Cohen admitted that rabbis who follow this path may not serve Jewish community “needs,” such as Shabbat services and bar mitzvah training, but he said they do provide some of the “wants” Jews have from their religion.

Rabbi Nachum Shifren, an Orthodox surfer who rides waves in a wetsuit and full beard, said the surfing lessons he offers in Los Angeles and Israel offer catharsis.

“It’s definitely a therapeutic thing,” Shifren said. “Once you’re hooked on all that power and might of the ocean, you’re just never going to be the same.”

Shifren is working on a new program to wean innercity youngsters off drugs and gang life through surfing. Cohen also is developing a program for troubled youth.

“We tend to think of religion as a place where you have to toe the line … but there’s room for rebellion in religion,” Cohen said, citing “iconoclastic rabble-rousers” in the Torah such as Abraham.

The Chicago-based Steppin’ Out Adventures uses this community-building effect as a vehicle for matchmaking, allowing Jewish singles to schmooze while biking in Ireland or climbing the Inca Trail in Peru.

Robin Richman, director and one of the co-founders of the organization, described the bonding that takes place as “amazing.”

“When you’re on an adventure you plan as best you can, but things happen. Those are the things that become jokes between you,” she said, citing a weekend getaway to Wisconsin, where, due to three straight days of rain, the group wound up eating lunch in their underwear.

“It definitely brought the trip close together very quickly,” she said with a laughed.

Richman’s method has produced results. Since it began in 1993, Steppin’ Out Adventures has led to 60 marriages, 34 babies and “a whole lot of friendships and business partners,” according to the group’s Web site.

For the 20 members of the Chesapeake Bay’s Sailing Chavurah, the marriage of the outdoors and Jewish life also has proved transformative.

“At first, we all thought we were the only one” who sailed and was Jewish, said Julien Hofberg, the group’s commodore. But over time, boats named Tikkun Olam and Miss Shue Goss found each other, as did a Holocaust survivor, an accomplished Orthodox racer and a half-dozen Reform and Conservative Jews from the region.

“Now we hold Havdalah services every Saturday; we have a Chanukah party,” Hofberg said. “We share our expertise … and watch out for each other.”

 

Letters to the Editor 07-07-06


Converts
As a convert to Judaism, I was reassured to read your series of articles on those like me who chose to become Jews (“Did It Stick?” June 2). A lapsed Catholic with many Jewish friends growing up on Long Island, early on I was attracted to the ethics and worldly focus of Judaism. Following a course of study at Temple Emanuel in New York City, I converted in 1967, and my first wife and I raised our three children in the Jewish tradition.

In 1992, on the eve of her bat mitzvah, my youngest daughter asked if I would be bar mitzvahed with her. That glorious day came to pass at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, with Rabbi Harvey Fields observing that in the 130-year history of the temple, there was no record of a father and daughter having a b’nai mitzvah. At the party afterward, when Tessa and I greeted everyone, I said that I had checked around the room, and I was the only person who had had a first holy communion and a bar mitzvah.

In my life in Los Angeles with my wife, Wendy, inspired by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA and through my work with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, enriched by interfaith activities, Judaism has strengthened and complemented my struggle for civil liberties, human rights, peace and justice.

Stephen F. Rohde
Los Angeles

Kosher
From reputation and general veneration, I had always believed Rabbi Jacob Pressman to be an intelligent and reliable community leader. Reading his foolish letter June 16 convinced me I was wrong on all counts (“But Is It Kosher?” June 9).

Pressman would have us believe that there is some Orthodox cabal controlling the purse strings of the literally hundreds of kashrut supervising agencies; that a group of black-hatted, white-bearded rebbes control the bank accounts and policies of these “for profit” groups — this is America after all — shades of the protocols! And all that has to be done to properly fund day schools is to divert these funds to cover the schools’ budgets, how simple and how asinine and misleading. Shame on you Rabbi Pressman. You do know better!

Growing up in Los Angeles I know that neither Pressman nor his Conservative (and Reform) colleagues contributed one whit to kashrut observance in this city. There were no restaurants or widespread bakery products available while he was in his prime, so he has nothing to say.

As regards high and truly unbearable tuition rates in our city, there is a simple solution, one that both the secular rabbinate and The Jewish Journal oppose — vouchers. I and my fellow community members pay thousands in taxes to fund a public school system that we choose not to use. Can’t we get some credit?

Howard Weiss
Los Angeles

I enjoyed reading Rob Eshman’s article that detailed the controversy that followed People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) with the Orthodox Union over kosher slaughter practices, and AgriProcessors’ questionable treatment of its own workers. Most interesting to me was the latter part of the article, which tried to discuss the nature of kashrut.

The article quotes scholar Meir Soloveichik as calling the nature of kashrut “mysterious and obvious … the Bible insists that it be perfectly clear to the non-Jew that the Torah-observant Israelite lives a life that reminds him constantly of his unique relationship with God.” In other words, it is to let the non-Jew know that we are special and follow laws meant to “set us apart and elevate our souls.”

Then in the last breath of the article, Eshman recommends that “the kosher label should not just imply the humane, responsible treatment of animals and the just treatment of food industry workers, it should certify it.”

In other words, kosher should mean that universal standards of humane treatment are being met, standards that any reasonable person would want.

So, which is it? Do we follow kashrut to set ourselves apart from the rest of the world or to encourage the rest of the world to join with us? It can’t be both.

Les Amer
Los Angeles

Finkelstein Syndrome
Roz Rothstein’s article on the anti-Semitic Jew, [Norman] Finkelstein, highlights a major lapse in common knowledge about Jewish history (“Beware the Finklestein Syndrome,” June 9). While every effort is made to inform the world about the Holocaust, very little information is disseminated about the history of lies and hate against the Jews, or its relationship to the Holocaust. I have seen history books that devote two pages to Anne Frank but fail to mention that Jews were patriotic Germans and no threat to Germany.

Theobald of Cambridge, a 12th century apostate to Catholicism, created the “blood libel” which has lasted to this day and caused thousands of Jewish deaths. If there was general awareness of the history of hatred against the Jews, then when people hear a Finkelstein, they can wonder, is he a whistleblower or a modern-day Theobald?

Those who wish to spread vicious lies against Jews today do not convert to another religion; their venom is more credible when they remain Jews, especially if they can claim to be from a family of survivors.

Ronnie Lampert
Los Angeles

DaVinci Code
Enjoyed your articles on “The DaVinci Code,” (May 19), but only the first three gospels of the New Testament (Mathew, Mark and Luke) are synoptic gospels. They are synoptic because they are similar to each other and different from the writings of the fourth gospel of John.

Brett Thompson
via e-mail

John Fishel
While the article titled, “A Private Man,” about John Fishel that ran May 26 was informative, it did not highlight one of Fishel’s key strengths.

Expert after expert has declared that a vital dynamic causing growth and change in 21st century Jewish life is directly proportional to the successful rise of entrepreneurial, Jewish, social venture startups. Jewish Los Angeles has spawned more of these new and creative organizations that address the myriad interests and needs such a diverse population requires than any other area outside of New York.

A great deal of these initiatives are being adapted and re-created in cities across the country, such as new spiritual communities, organizations that decry global genocide and serve the special needs of Jewish children among many others. Fishel has consistently taken the position that new organizations can and should arise and that their existence alone adds immeasurable value.

This is not true in most places. I believe the prolific number of creative ventures attest to the success of this position and must be noted.

Rhoda Uziel
Executive Director
Professional Leaders Project

 

20+ Ideas to Jump-Start Jewish L.A.


David Suissa:
“Drink more coffee.”

One big, bold idea to energize L.A.’s Jewish community?

Three words: Drink more coffee.

I’m not kidding.

A new study from the University of Queensland in Australia suggests that drinking coffee makes people more open to a different point of view. In other words, it can make all of us more open-minded.

Can you imagine what would happen if our precious Jewish community in Los Angeles became more open-minded? Let’s go on a high-octane ride together:

Imagine if on one Shabbat, every synagogue would “open up” to a different rabbi. For example, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky could switch with Rabbi Yacov Pinto, Rabbi Yosef Shusterman with Rabbi David Toledano, Rabbi Laura Geller with Rabbi David Wolpe, Rabbi Elazar Muskin with the Happy Minyan, Aish with Chabad, Rabbi Steven Weil with the Persians, and so on. All over Los Angeles on this One Sharing Shabbat, Jews would experience something different, but very Jewish. If it’s a hit, we can make it a monthly tradition, and yes, the chazans would also switch, to give us the full effect.

Want a refill?

On campuses, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller would down a double espresso and invite hard-nosed right-winger Mort Klein, of the Zionist Organization of America, to speak. Seidler-Feller himself would go (with three bodyguards) to give his message of peace at Rabbi Moshe Benzaquen’s shul.

You get the picture: cross-promotion across all the colors of Judaism to energize a great community. All we need to put this ingathering of exiles together is one enthusiastic volunteer who is not afraid of rejection and has a good phone plan. (Any takers? E-mail me at dsuissa@olam.org)

This is peoplehood, my friends. We are one big, noisy, opinionated family, and we are diverse. But what good is a diverse family if we all stay in our own rooms? How can we strengthen our bonds if we so rarely hang out, pray, eat, sing and learn with each other? The opposite of love is indifference. Instead of obsessing over Jewish continuity, we should ignite Jewish curiosity. Sure, the unfamiliar can be uncomfortable, but in this case it has one thing going for it: It’s Jewish!

Forget the whiskey club. For those of Jewish unity, let’s all choose the coffee bean.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

 

Robin M. Kramer:
“Welcoming, modern, accessible, authentic Jewish nursery school experience….”

What if a welcoming, modern, accessible, authentic Jewish nursery school experience were available to the families of every 3- and 4-year-old Jewish child in Los Angeles?

The result would be new dynamism, connection and community, judging by the experience at my shul, Temple Israel of Hollywood, which has tried to create a program worthy of emulation.

What are the characteristics of a top-quality nursery school program? A school’s learned and loving faculty should reach out in the best tradition of Abraham and Sarah, welcoming strangers and those less connected to the Jewish tent, extending the community’s embrace to grandparents and to families of all configurations, including the diversity of faith traditions. Where isolation exists in our big city, the school community should offer warmth and connection — a family-centered, holistic port of entry to Jewish life. This essential school should, with mirth and through experience, mark the sacred moments of the Jewish year, and introduce the literature, music, art and soul of our people, bringing to life the belief that every individual is both special and part of a larger human family. A fine nursery school experience builds family demand for an ongoing pipeline of robust Jewish invention and education, both formal and informal. This could be catalytic.

But how could this be affordable for all Jewish families? It would require unprecedented focus, partnership, wisdom and vision — as well as the development of millions of dollars of new financial and institutional resources. Regional and master plans for early education could provide a roadmap, which would include support for educator preparation, increased salaries, and ongoing professional development. Another key is providing facilities and scholarships to ensure universal accessibility that does not presently exist.

All told, it would be a massive undertaking, but relatively speaking, the investment would be modest, given the potential yield of enduring communal dividends.

Robin M. Kramer is chief of staff for L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Gary Wexler:
“The physical center could be the Brandeis-Bardin Institute.”

The idea is about ideas.

In my work with Jewish communities throughout America and Canada, I have learned that Los Angeles possesses a wonderful characteristic that none of those other communities have.

We are blessed with the absence of ingrained tradition, free of the boundaries cast by “the way things are just done.” Unlike the New York, D.C. and Boston Jewish communities, we aren’t committed to pass our thinking and ideas through a paralyzing hyper-critical sieve encumbered with an inner lining of hyper-intellectualism, hyper policy orientation, and a hyper-sense of ownership of all things Jewish.

The L.A. Jewish community is a wide-open environment where we can embrace the vibrant, free flow of ideas. It is time we grabbed that opportunity. Los Angeles, with its thriving creative industries, is poised to become the center for the creation of new ideas in Diaspora Jewish life and beyond.

If we will it.

We even have space where this mission could be planted, nurtured and allowed to flourish. The physical center could be the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, an institution that has for years been in search of its mission. The Institute could convene the best Jewish and non-Jewish minds in Los Angeles, even establishing a creative and thinking discipline, a Los Angeles/Brandeis-Bardin brand — something that would be celebrated, respected and sought after.

Four times a year, the best minds would convene to discuss such topics as

American values and how they are influenced by Jewish traditions, including themes like education, literature, music, Next Generation issues, Israel/Diaspora relations, medicine/healing, humor, etc. The participants would represent diverse perspectives so that we are not just exchanging the same ideas back and forth. Ideas, like genes, need to be cross-pollinated, or you have a flawed process.

The Institute would have to be strategically and carefully reconstructed so that the Jewish world would wait to see what ideas are coming out of Los Angeles, the natural environment for this gestation. The discipline would lend itself to all other offerings of the Institute, including its camps, and community activities, turning them into national models.

The Brandeis-Bardin Institute would have to give up a lot of what it is holding on to, which is actually holding it back. It would need to form the type of board capable of bringing this to reality. (Imagine that process!)

Of course, you could expect that the East Coast Jewish establishment would reflexively try to negate what we do. The owners of Jewish life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan would write articles challenging our every move.

It could be just what Los Angeles and the Diaspora Jewish community needs.

Gary Wexler is the founder and president of L.A.-based Passion Marketing.

Lisa Stern:
“More children … born, adopted, fostered and reared in loving Jewish homes.”

Twenty years ago the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and my son were born.

In the ensuing years I, indeed my generation, have been busy chasing the illusive balance between career, community service and family. Many of us delayed marriage and restricted the size of our families so we could collect degrees and worldly possessions. We had the lowest birthrate in our history and the trend, we are told, is getting worse. In that echo we may have short-changed our community and ourselves.

It’s time to do something about this. We cannot afford to let our legacy evaporate. This will involve sacrifice. Our progeny may have to do more with less and those who are able will have to fund this vibrancy.

Ours is a shared mission because we are a covenantal people; our fate is inextricably bound one to another. History teaches us that even during the most cataclysmic times our people did not deviate from the Jewish narrative: the preciousness of life, family, community and continuity.

My vision for the future is both simple and radical. I pine for a bold and transformative era where more children are born, adopted, fostered and reared in loving Jewish homes.

Lisa Stern, a Hancock Park attorney, has long been active in local Jewish causes and spearheaded litigation that forced Nazi-era insurance companies to pay benefits to families of Holocaust victims.

Joan Hyler:
“The next generation must learn.”

We are at a key moment — our culture must engage a conversation between the Heeb generation and The Federation generation. The way to do this is to develop a single citywide program that will identify, train and involve these young up-and-coming adults. The program must transcend organizational and denominational boundaries.

We who have come before already know the essentialness of The Jewish Federation, synagogues, the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, etc. The next generation must learn and, indeed, must take over. To make this transition successful, these vital organizations will have to do something that they don’t always do well: work together. The future of the Jewish community in Los Angeles depends on a focused collaboration among these well-funded, mainstream institutions.

As someone who helped initiate start-up groups in Los Angeles (MorningStar Commission under Hadassah and the National Foundation of Jewish Culture’s Entertainment Council), I’ve witnessed the difficulty in getting these large unwieldy institutions to talk to one another. They must do so, and open up to new conversations with the 20-somethings who are pouring into public life — or waiting for the right invitation.

Along the way, we must embrace the tension of not knowing who and what is next.

Joan Hyler, a former William Morris Agency senior vice president, runs Hyler Management, a boutique entertainment company and agency.

Rachel Levin:
“Bring back salons.”

Conversation. That is my “bold” idea to help invigorate Jewish life (and just plain life) in Los Angeles — good old, face-to-face, word-flying, idea-exchanging talk. In a city dominated by cell phones, Blackberries and dinner reservations, the idea of inviting people to your home to sit in person and talk about things that matter may just be a radical notion.

Specifically, I am suggesting we bring back salons — a structure for conversation that originated in 16th-century France, eventually making its way to 19th-century Germany, where the most important salons were run by Jewish women. These evenings mixed Jews and non-Jews, artists and aristocrats and according to some, were “nothing less than central to the development of modernity.”

Lest I scare you off with the weight of these previous gatherings, have no fear. I am not talking about the wittiest of hostesses and guests the likes of Klimt or Rodin. At their core, salons are just “talking parties” and, according to Mireille Silcoff, who started one in Toronto (and is the inspiration for this idea), for a salon to work you only need four things: (1) a willing host; (2) a good mix of people (you don’t want “like minds to sit there and be in agreement all night”); (3) someone to keep the conversation on track; and (4) food and drink. Add to that a topic of your choice – anything from “Jewish Guilt and Pleasure” to “What’s great about our city/What’s missing?” and you’re set. (See www.rebooters.net to download topic ideas and readings.) Now imagine if 100 of these were happening around the city – with people of all ages and backgrounds. Imagine how they could change the way people experience community – not to mention the new ideas they could spark. Now go talk amongst yourselves!

Rachel Levin is the associate director of Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation.

Rabbi Marvin Hier:
“24-hour satellite network….”

Today, the majority of Jews are unaffiliated, and our challenge is how best to reach them. In a world dominated by media and technology, one of the answers is through the medium of television. The time has come for the creation of a 24-hour satellite network that would combine films, concerts, theater, educational programs and live coverage of breaking news events that have particular relevance to Jews around the world. After all, there are specific cable networks for African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, etc.

While it is true that such an undertaking would require significant funds, it is also true that the Jewish community has the resources and its prominence would surely be an incentive for the major network and cable television providers to offer the programming.

Let us remember that our world has changed. If we want to reach the unaffiliated, we must think beyond our small neighborhood and the traditional methods to deliver the message of Jewish continuity as widely as possible.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance.

Zev Yaroslavsky:
“We cannot afford to be silent or absent from the compelling issues facing our community.”

Years ago, when I was active in the struggle to free Soviet Jewry, there were two Jewish Community Relations Committees that made a huge difference. The JCRC chapters in San Francisco (under the leadership of the legendary Earl Raab), and Cleveland, Ohio, stood tall and pushed the envelope of social activism. They successfully rallied the Jewish and non-Jewish community to pressure our government and the international community to do the right thing. Our cause was helped, our community was energized and our relations with other communities were strengthened.

It’s time to bring that formula to Los Angeles.

The JCRC of The Jewish Federation should be a forum for discussion, advocacy and action on the issues that affect us and our relations with others. The JCRC should be invigorated by making room at the table for representatives of the wide variety of stakeholders within our community. This should include the breadth of the religious spectrum, our diverse social welfare and social action organizations, and the myriad active youth movements.

We cannot afford to be silent or absent from the compelling issues facing our community or our neighbors at this critical time. We should speak out on foreign affairs, domestic policy, immigration and much more. Our voices need to be constructively heard both within and outside our organizational walls.

We really don’t have a minute to waste.

Zev Yaroslavsky is a Los Angeles County supervisor.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis:
“We need a believable Jewish theology, not a set of dogmas.”

Can the Siddur be taught without Jewish theology? Can you pray without a conception of God? Can you read the Torah or haftorah without understanding the philosophy of the Bible? Can you observe the Sabbath or keep kosher without understanding its sense of purpose?

You can.

It is being done in school and shul, and to our great loss. We have been taught and learned to mimic the “how,” “when,” and “where” of ritual behavior, absent the “why” and “what for.” That sort of practice will not satisfy our spiritual and moral yearnings.

Jewish theology deals with ultimate questions: to whom do we pray; for what do we pray; and can we pray for anything? What is the nature of the God we worship? What are the attributes of Godliness, and can they be imitated in our lives? Stripped of Jewish teleology — the Jewish sense of purpose — we are left with a mindless orthopraxy. Fluency in reading Hebrew does not reveal the meaning of the sacred prayer and biblical text.

The common complaint is boredom. Boredom signifies the emptiness that comes from belief-less living. Add responsive readings, enlarge the choir, multiply musical instrumentation, shorten the sermon and all to no avail. Prayer is poetry, but it is poetry believed in. Without belief, prayer is reduced to rhetoric.

Belonging, behaving and believing are the three marks of Jewish identity. We have wrongly thought that we can overcome the need to believe and fill its vacuum with belonging to institutions, paying dues and making contributions. We have wrongly thought that ritual busyness can substitute for the rationale of our behavior.

The Sabbath; the salting of the meat; the binding of the tefillin; and the blessing over lights, bread and wine — must not be gestures of mechanical behaviors.

We need a believable Jewish theology, not a set of dogmas. We call not for a monolithic set of doctrines, but for the adventure of the ethical and spiritual wrestling with our angels of conscience. Our goal is to persuade the so-called Jewish atheists and acquaint them with the rich theological alternatives within the Jewish tradition. The role of Jewish theology is to awake in our people the excitement and moral sensibility of ideas as ideals, which makes our earned belief system credible and actionable.

C.S. Lewis sagely wrote, “When a person ceases to believe in something, it is not that he believes in nothing, but that he believes in anything.”

Human nature, Jewish human nature as well, abhors a vacuum. A theological hole is soon filled with magic, superstition and cultic sectarianism. Neither esthetics nor edifices can serve as surrogates for the foundation of religious rationale. The three intertwining threads of belonging, behaving and believing must not be unraveled.

Harold Schulweis is a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

Daniel Sokatch:
“Jewish tradition is just as insistent that Jews respect the rights of workers as it is that Jews adhere to the rules of kashrut.”

Observant Jews in Los Angeles (and elsewhere) look for a certificate of kashrut, a heksher or a teudat heshgoha on a product or on the wall or window of a restaurant or market. These symbols tell them what they can buy and where they can eat. These foods, these restaurants, are certified as strictly following Jewish ritual observance.

Similarly, many Jews and non-Jews have come to rely on the county health department for its own version of a teudat heshgoha: letter grades, portrayed in bright colors on a uniform white placard – to determine, at a glance, the level of cleanliness at restaurants and markets. Whether a restaurant has a blue “A,” a green “B,” or (God forbid) a red “C” has become part of the calculation Angelenos make when considering where to dine.

But there is a next, important step to take. It’s beyond the reach of county inspectors but entirely in keeping with Jewish tradition. The notion of what is “kosher” should extend beyond preparation of food in accordance with ritual law; it should encompass the way in which human beings treat one another.

Jewish tradition is just as insistent that Jews respect the rights of workers as it is that Jews adhere to the rules of kashrut. We can tell if the restaurant we are about to enter is clean and kosher by looking for the certificates. But how does it treat employees?

Los Angeles needs a Human Rights heshgoha. We should insist that businesses that want Jewish customers treat their workers fairly and pay them a living wage. Those that do so could proudly display the blue aleph. And we would know to avoid the businesses with the red gimmel in the window – until they improve working conditions.

Who knows? Other community groups might just follow our lead, making Los Angeles fairer and better for all its inhabitants.

Daniel Sokatch is executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

 

Uri D. Herscher:
“Jews do not and cannot thrive as “a people that dwells apart.”

For many centuries of the Jewish people’s history, the world outside was hostile at best, lethal at worst. In such a world, insularity was tempting, and sometimes essential. We now live in a nation that strives, if not always successfully, to realize democratic ideals that include openness and inclusiveness. The Skirball Cultural Center was founded on the conviction that Jews need to respond in kind, that Jews do not and cannot thrive as “a people that dwells apart.”

And full Jewish participation means that our good works, too, must resist insularity. The Jewish obligation to help the needy, to heal the sick, to school the unschooled only begins in the Torah. It ends on the street, whether that street runs through Fairfax or Pacoima.

If we offer a Judaism that stops at the margins of the Jewish community, we will have marginal Jews. They will walk a narrow path, and a futile one. For we have learned, to our sorrow, that unless the society at large is safe, Jews will never be safe. In an open society, insularity is a grave danger. Even if we could exist in a vacuum, there would be no air to breathe. Whatever the future holds for the Jews, our destiny is tied to the society as a whole, the two strands intertwined — a double helix, like life itself.

When the Torah commands, “Open your hand to your needy brother,” it does not qualify the statement. The person in need is not subjected to an identity test. Jewish concern is ultimately human concern.

We should discover and give voice to people within and beyond the Jewish community. Examples matter! We must seek out opportunities — as individuals and through our organizations — to make positive examples of ourselves. And we should focus the benefits of our good deeds where such acts are most needed — outside the Jewish community as well as within. To open our hands to those in need is to open them as wide as we can.

Uri D. Herscher is founding president and CEO of the Skirball Cultural Center.

Dr. Michael B. Held:
“Build inclusive schools where all students benefit from diversity.”

As awareness of “full inclusion” grows, the distinction between “regular” and “special” education is changing. In truth, every child has both typical and special features and Jewish education should be for every child regardless of ability or challenge.

By typical standards, 10 percent of all students have special needs. Given that, we would expect to find 1,000 students with special needs out of the 10,000 enrolled in local Jewish day schools. But fewer than 100 such students have been identified in this category. Why are so many students apparently excluded and how do we go about creating “inclusive” Jewish schools?

Largely because current efforts to help special-needs children are simply inadequate.

Local educators have sincerely tried to address the need, by adding on special services, but in a piecemeal fashion. Rather, we can build inclusive schools where all students benefit from diversity, state of the art curriculum, and a truly collaborative, team-based approach.

In other words, there needs to be a paradigm shift from the goal of simply creating make-do programs to adopting a human rights model, guaranteeing full access for all Jewish students.

As utopian as that sounds, it is the only way to create and sustain access for special needs children and improve education for all students.

And it is doable. Anyone who doubts this should visit the CHIME Charter Elementary School in Woodland Hills, an inclusive public school. CHIME’s Academic Performance Index (API) jumped an amazing 77 points in one year. Further, the school was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a national model for innovative education.

It is not about the money; it is about transforming Jewish education by including 900 new students who belong in our school system with programming that is educationally sound and morally right. Let’s not delay!

Dr. Michael B. Held is the founder and executive director of the Etta Israel Center.

Rabbi Boruch S. Cunin:
“Any child in Los Angeles who wants a Jewish education should get one.”

Any serious discussion about revitalizing Los Angeles’ Jewish community must focus on one thing: our children. They’re our most precious resource, and we must protect and nurture them to safeguard our future as a people. Sadly, we’re neglecting this responsibility each day that we fail to guarantee them access to an affordable Jewish education.

This is a real crisis. Whenever a child is denied a Jewish education by prohibitive tuition costs, we lose something that can’t be replaced. We squander a chance to impart our values to a new generation- and we abandon the future leaders of our community.

Simply put, any child in Los Angeles who wants a Jewish education should get one. At Chabad schools, we strive to accept every deserving child who comes to us, regardless of family income, so that nobody is denied for lack of funds. Now our entire community must step forward with generous scholarships for all of Los Angeles’ Jewish schools to ensure that no child is ever turned away, anywhere.

Other major American Jewish communities are already doing this. Does it cost money? Yes. But we live in a city of riches. And if we don’t make this investment today, we’ll pay a terrible price tomorrow.

Rabbi Boruch S. Cunin is director of West Coast Chabad Lubavitch.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley:
“Outreach Centers for Jewish Life and Learning as ubiquitous as Starbucks….”

I am pro-synagogue, but synagogues as they now function do not serve all Jews well enough. The problem for these Jews and other potentially interested spiritual seekers is that affiliated Jewish life is too expensive, too boring, too irrelevant, too far and just too “other.”

That’s a shame, because it’s vital to bring in as many unaffiliated Jews as possible to the wonders and beauties of Jewish life, study and practice. And as a people, we need all possible Jews to commit to Judaism and to the state of Israel. Many good people and good places are taking on this mission, but they are not networked nor coordinated, and they are under funded.

What’s needed, communitywide, is the outreach energy of Chabad and Aish HaTorah. We need to reach the hundreds of thousands of Jews (and un-churched Americans) who will not become Orthodox, who may be turned off by worship services, who might not believe in God, for whom Hebrew is (at least for now) too high a threshold for participation in Jewish life.

I would like to see Outreach Centers for Jewish Life and Learning as ubiquitous as Starbucks, as inviting as the as the first sentence of a leather-bound classic. They should feature libraries and bookstores filled with Jewish books, music and videos — for all ages, intellects and interests. There should be ongoing classes conducted by deep, learned engaging teachers who will bring the profundities of Jewish wisdom to bear on people’s lives. And these classes should be geared to different types of beliefs, learning styles, ages, and goals. These gathering spots should include a Beit Midrash (study hall) — some should remain open 24 hours a day.

Because some people are turned off by worship, or by conventional styles of worship, there should be more create ways to celebrate Shabbat. Maybe a group could read and discuss Abraham Joshua Heschel, Martin Buber, Harold and Larry Kushner, etc. There could be Learners’ Minyans for those who would like to break the code of Jewish prayer. How about music-oriented experiences, meditative experiences, even political discussion (with knowledgeable, fair and balanced moderators)?

As for the next steps…. Well, the possibilities are many, but first a few caveats.

This effort will take substantial funding. Jewish educational institutions – undergrad program, grad programs and seminaries must be ready and able to produce hundreds of talented teachers (who ought to receive excellent salaries and benefits, and lots of variegated support in their work). And synagogues and other communal institutions need to be ready to transform.

What are we waiting for?

How wonderful it would be to send the word out: “All unaffiliated Jews: Come home. We are now ready.”

Mordecai Finley is the rabbi of Ohr HaTorah Congregation, and serves as provost and professor of liturgy and rabbinics at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California Campus.

Dr. Bruce Powell
“Pay all, or a significant part, of every third child’s Jewish day school tuition.”

Millions of dollars have been expended by our fabulous national mega-donors for the Birthright Project — two free weeks in Israel for college-age students who have never been on an organized program. This is real vision.

What I now suggest is the next big step: The Birthrate Project.

Married couples with two children, and who value Jewish day school education, have told me that they have chosen not to have a third or fourth child because they cannot afford one more child in a Jewish day school or Jewish overnight camp. These choices portend a Jewish demographic reality that does not even replace our current population of Jews in America, given that many who are physically able have one or no children at all. If we believe that Judaism, and by extension, Jews, have an important contribution to make to America and the world, this situation cannot stand. We have not even replaced, in 60 years, those souls lost in the Shoah.

My “Modest Proposal” is to launch the Birthrate Project where the national community makes a commitment to pay all, or a significant part, of every third (or perhaps fourth) child’s Jewish day school tuition, kindergarten through 12th grade and/or for Jewish overnight camp. All awards would be based on financial need. A fourth or fifth child might also be funded in partnership with the local Jewish schools. If, for example, this funding produces 100,000 new kids, the total yearly cost at, say, $15,000 a year for tuition, is $1.5 billion.

Imagine the historic implications for the community, over time, of a 100,000 new, Jewish human beings all in possession of deep Jewish knowledge, vision and values from day school — or deeply identified through their Jewish camp experiences. Now imagine our Jewish future without this new life.

I’m ready to follow up on this idea. Are you?

Bruce Powell is head of school at New Community Jewish High School.

Randall Kaplan
“Adopt-a-cause, create a fun event, and make it easy for volunteers”

Our business model was relatively simple. We started with the idea for a different kind of fundraiser — a fun and cool event for a great cause — and then recruited between 20 and 30 of our most talented friends to serve on our planning committee and sell tickets and sponsorships.

But here’s where we were different. We weren’t well-heeled people in our 70s, or even in our 60s or 50s. We didn’t do this after our primary careers, after we’d made money. We were in our 20s.

And that’s how The Justice Ball was born about 10 years ago. Each year, it raises vital dollars for Bet Tzedek, a legal aid service for the poor, disabled, elderly and homeless. During nine straight sellouts, we’ve raised more than $3.6 million — making the Justice Ball the most successful under-40 nonprofit fundraiser in the country. Besides making donations, our more than 16,000 attendees and contributors have been introduced to the wonderful work of Bet Tzedek.

We started The Justice Ball at ages when conventional thought dictated that we would be more focused on careers than on philanthropy. In reality, most people in their 20s are interested in philanthropy and simply don’t know how to get involved. In essence, we made it easy for them — we formulated our idea after choosing a great cause, and with those in hand we targeted a specific but untapped group of talented volunteers.

This “adopt-a-cause, create a fun event, and make-it-easy for volunteers” approach is transportable and would work in other contexts. There are tens of thousands of young professionals in Los Angeles (and elsewhere) who want to get involved. Each synagogue could appoint a rabbi or lay leader to identify future leaders. Nearly 130 synagogues exist in Los Angeles, and if each of these adopted a cause and put its best young leaders together, this formidable but unused human capital could be harvested to do an incredible amount of good.

Randall Kaplan is CEO of JUMP Investors.

Gerard Bubis
“No economic barriers limiting the creativity and creative continuity of Jewish experiences….”

We live in a silo community — many vibrant communities throughout the city that connect and cooperate, if at all, intermittently throughout the years.

My wish is to ascertain, in a thoughtful and representative way, the driving Jewish visions for the greater Los Angeles Jewish community. Are people and institutions ready to set forth an over-aching vision for our collective future? Are there those who would act to bring those visions into reality?

I propose a series of town meetings throughout the community. Participants would be asked to ponder:

Is it important that a Jewish community exist in Los Angeles that is devoted to the cultural, social, psychological, and physical betterment of Jews here and around the world?

If the answer is some form of yes, then I would want to explore exactly how to enhance Jewish identity and how to expand interactive and purposeful relations with likeminded Jews throughout the world.

I would have as many venues as possible; the gatherings would be heavily advertised. I would train 100 or so discussion leaders to keep the focus on the question. Discussions could then lead to specific proposals to satisfy those answering the question in the affirmative.

The first stage of the follow-up would be bringing together 15 to 20 opinionmakers, shakers and doers from the worlds of business, the arts, academia, the rabbinate, Jewish educators and communal professionals. Their charge would be to refine the suggestions into an action program, set priorities and put a price tag on the visions about which there was sufficient consensus. This group would become the sales force to package and sell this set of visions to those individuals and organizations that could assure and underwrite the effort.

What do I imagine could come of such an enterprise?

I’d like to see no economic barriers limiting the creativity and creative continuity of Jewish experiences for individuals and families

What if education, trips to Israel, memberships in all manner of organizations were truly open to all, regardless of economic or social status? How much more would Jewish life flourish if more scholarships were available for those prepared to spend the lives as educators, communal professionals and rabbis serving the Jewish community? What if subsidies were available to pay decent wages for those now staffing services that assist the Jewish community in a manner related to their Judaism?

We live in a golden city and could produce a truly Golden Age of energetic,

creative and purposeful Jewish life here. Are we ready? I would hope so.

Professor Gerald Bubis is the founding director of the Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Presently he is vice president and fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and adjunct professor of social work at USC.

Rabbi Laura Geller
“A year off between high school and college to volunteer for a Jewish “Peace Corps.”

What if we could change the culture so that most American Jewish teenagers took a year off between high school and college to volunteer for a Jewish “Peace Corps” in the United States or somewhere around the world? What if this year of service was organized in such a way that these young Jewish people would be placed in meaningful work situations with social justice or social service organizations so that they would be serving the larger community? What if, at the same time, they would be living together with other Jewish young people, studying Jewish texts about justice, making decisions together about Shabbat and kashrut, and reflecting together on the work they were each doing?

What if that year were sufficiently funded so that these young Jewish people could earn enough money to live (and maybe even save something for college), and that the program could support the training and placement of spiritual mentors, counselors and resident advisers who would live with the participants? What if other young Jews around the same age from all over the world, including Israelis (before army service), also participated in the program so that all these young people came to understand the reality of Jewish peoplehood simply by living, working, learning and becoming friends with Jewish people from different backgrounds?

Maybe then … our kids would actually be ready for college when they got there, because they would have come to understand that to be a mensch isn’t measured by SAT scores.

Maybe then… these young people would have a better understanding of the world, because they would have lived in another culture. And they would be more grateful for all the privileges that they have because they will have worked with people who have so much less.

Maybe then … they would feel more able to make a difference in the world. And they would feel part of the Jewish people, because they would have developed deep and lasting relationships with Jews from other countries and other perspectives.

Maybe then … they would be turned on to Torah study, and understand how profound the connection between Jewish learning and living can be.

And maybe then … the foundation of their future Jewish lives would be enriched by an experience that transformed their lives.

Laura Geller is senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila
“A community-funded, community-owned and community-operated House of Torah Learning.”

I dream that one day, Los Angeles Jewry will have the vision to create a community-funded, community-owned and community-operated House of Torah Learning. This centrally located House of Learning would not be Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Persian, Israeli or Russian. It would belong to the entire Jewish community. Its common agenda, ideology and language will be one and the same — Torah study. It would offer no academic degrees, no rabbinic ordination and no teaching diplomas. There would be no prayer services, no “prestigious fellowships,” and no one rabbi would be called “the rabbi” in this building. This House of Learning would be open to every Jew, irrespective of background, age group or financial status.

In this House of Learning, Jews would seek spirituality through the intellect, finding God in a page of Talmud. Singles would ask each other out on a “study date,” and would meet at the House of Learning to get to know each other over a Midrashic text. Lay leaders would gather there to take a break from community meetings, and at the end of the night, new ideas would be inspired and born out of an intense study of Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed. Newlywed lovers would spend a few hours reading Yehuda Ha-Levi’s poems and S.Y. Agnon’s stories, and parents would sit with their children and study Rashi’s commentary to the Torah. Text study would no longer be the realm of a select few rabbis and scholars, but it would belong to everybody. It would suddenly be cool to sit and study text, and the House of Learning would become L.A. Jewry’s hottest hangout. The new Jewish greeting in Los Angeles will be, “Hi, how are you, and what are you learning these days?”

Daniel Bouskila is rabbi of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.


Janice Kamenir-Reznik
“The Circuit Rabbis’ services would be provided free of charge.”

All too often, affiliated Jews and the leaders who serve them, become territorial. This territorialism often clouds the greater sense of purpose of what it should mean to be a Jew or a Jewish leader. Their priority becomes the survival or success of their particular institution, rather than a desire also to serve the broader community or to propose a broader and grander Jewish message. Such behavior presents a special problem in Los Angeles because the Jewish community is so large and dispersed — and because it takes a lot to stimulate people to positive Jewish action in Los Angles’ Hollywood-centered society. Thus, dynamic leaders and dynamic programs need to be even more dynamic.

Here’s one potential remedy: The community could hire 10 outstanding rabbis and/or other leaders to serve as “Circuit Rabbis.” They would travel to various L.A. venues, providing dynamic impetus to stimulate new programs in existing institutions. The Circuit Rabbis would have no bond whatsoever to any existing institution; nor would they have to fundraise as part of their jobs. Their only objective would be to serve as a resource and to work together with the synagogue and organizational leaders and rabbis to improve and elevate programming, learning, and Jewish life. The Circuit Rabbis would be cutting-edge thinkers and effective, collaborative and dynamic doers.

The Circuit Rabbis’ services would be provided free of charge, inasmuch as this program would be underwritten by visionary and generous members of the Jewish community.

Janice Kamenir-Reznik is president of Jewish World Watch.

John R. Fishel
“Our mission is to work toward true community.”

A recent issue of Commentary Magazine contains a provocative article by two well-known Jewish scholars. They hypothesize that the concept of Jewish peoplehood is becoming rarer as efforts to stress individualistic approaches to Judaism and Jewish life in the U.S. increase.

This dilemma manifests itself visibly in Los Angeles. We live here as associated Jews in a vast expanse, but are we a “community” at all or merely a highly diverse group of individuals? Do we coalesce in a meaningful way or are we just occasionally bound together by religious or political ideology, geographic residence or, perhaps, ethnic origin?

I believe our mission is to work toward true community.

A Los Angeles Jewish community that could meld the entrepreneurial creative energies and dynamic singular expressions of Jewish identity with the traditional strength of a collective concern for all Jews as a people, regardless of their beliefs, could set the tone for a potential revolution across the country.

John R. Fishel is president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

 

The Circuit 06-30-2006


All About Aviva
It was a night of stargazing…and trying unsuccessfully to spot any flaws on the amazing “Desperate Housewife” Teri Hatcher, when Aviva Family and Children’s Services presented its annual Triumph of the Spirit Awards Gala at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. The evening sparkled as honorees recognized with Aviva Spirit of Compassion awards included Carolyn Strauss, president of HBO Entertainment; actress Raven; restaurateur and architectural designer Barbara Lazaroff, president of Imaginings Interior Design and partner and co-founder of the Wolfgang Puck group of businesses; and community leader and philanthropist Susan Casden. Hatcher served as honorary dinner chair, Jeff Garlin emceed and Macy Gray and Melissa Manchester performed.

Aviva is a nonprofit, nonsectarian, multiservice agency that provides care and treatment to abandoned, neglected, abused and at-risk youth in the greater Los Angeles community.

For more information, visit