New survey: U.S. has more Jews than believed


The American Jewish population is larger than suspected, according to new estimates compiled by Brandeis University.

The suburban Boston university’s Steinhardt Social Research Institute is estimating that there are some 6.5 million people in the United States who are either Jewish by religion or who self-identify as Jewish. The figure represents a 20 percent increase in the number of Jews since 1990.

The numbers were drawn from a synthesis of data from more than 150 nationwide surveys conducted by the U.S. government and other agencies, as well as from national polling organizations.

They refute information gathered in the last National Jewish Population Survey, a census-like study that had been conducted every decade by the Jewish federation system before being discontinued this year. The final survey showed that between 1990 and 2000-01, the population dropped from 5.5 million to 5.2 million.

A parallel polling by Brandeis of 1,400 Jews revealed that more than 80 percent of respondents who indicated that they are Jewish identify as such by religion, while the rest identify as Jewish by some other criteria.

According to the study, 1.27 million Jews who identify by religion are younger than 18. The Steinhardt center has not yet broken down other demographic data from the survey, but will roll out more information about demographics, socioeconomic status and other areas over the course of the next year, the center’s director, Len Saxe, told JTA.

Amar calls on Netanyahu to quash military conversion bill


Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar said he will no longer be responsible for any state conversions if the Knesset passes a bill requiring the recognition of all military conversions.

In a letter sent to Benjamin Netanyahu, Amar called on the prime minister to prevent the bill from passing, The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.

Amar has charged a committee to look into legal and halachic issues surrounding the military conversions. He asked Netanyahu to allow the committee to conclude its work before allowing the legislation to go forward.

“I see in this bill no concern for the soldiers undergoing conversions, rather a clear directive of destroying religion in Israel,” Amar’s letter reportedly said. “This is to inform you, that if this bill passes, I won’t be able to take care of all matters of conversion, and will no longer bear the responsibility for them.”

The haredi Orthodox Shas Party also called on Netanyahu to quash the bill, telling him Tuesday that it is a breach of coalition agreements with Shas, Ynet reported,

The bill to protect Israeli soldiers who have converted to Judaism through military conversion courts from having their conversions annulled was approved Sunday by the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs. It would force all state agencies, including rabbinic courts, the chief rabbis of cities and other Orthodox marriage registrars to accept the converts as Jews.

In September, a state prosecutor argued before Israel’s Supreme Court, during a court hearing to address the refusal by town and city rabbis to register converts for marriage, that conversions of Israeli soldiers by the military rabbinate are not valid. About 4,500 soldiers, the majority of them women, have converted to Judaism while in the Israeli military.

Voice of reason in a sea of insanity, Jewish Dodgers, Prager, archaeologists, politicians and peace


Food Issues

Rob Eshman’s article about food issues is a voice of reason in a sea of insanity (“Food Issues,” April 11).

Much of the meaning behind the holiday is in its simplicity, as Rob indicates. Changing one’s diet for seven or eight days obviously extends beyond the seders. Unfortunately, it is getting swept under the table with the increasing availability of processed foods just like what we eat the remainder of the year.

Fortunately, we have the opportunity to choose between our day-to-day excessive commercialism or changing our lives for a week and truly appreciating the simplicity and freedom that we normally associate with Pesach.

Ed Rivkin
Cherry Hill, N.J.

Ziman and Lee

I realize that bad news always travels faster than good news — especially with today’s technology(“Four Questions,” April 18).

But the simple and difficult question you asked — is it true — still needs to be answered.

Whatever the answer is, it will say a lot about everyone involved. As you wrote, there will probably be multiple versions of what was exactly said. I think seeing all of them, or at least the generally accepted versions, will be quite revealing.

Philippe Shepnick
via e-mail

Two facts stick out from the Daphna Ziman controversy: She is a strong supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton that included Ziman’s hosting fundraisers for her, and she gratuitously connected Sen. Barack Obama with the Rev. Eric Lee’s alleged vitriolic remarks he has vehemently denied.

She then sent out her version of what he said in an attempt to persuade as many as she knew in the Jewish community to oppose Sen. Obama. Pure and simple, it was just another political hit piece. Hopefully it has not worked.

George Magit
Northridge

Jewish Dodgers

I enjoyed Robert David Jaffee’s history of Jewish baseball players on the Los Angeles Dodgers (“Dodgers Hit Grand Slam in History of Jewish Players,” April 18).

However, I would like to correct him regarding one of the players that he stated was “hailed by some as Jews even though they are not.”

Scott Radinsky is the son of a Jewish mother and Polish father. He considers himself a Jew much in the way Mike Lieberthal identifies himself.

Ephraim Moxson
Co-Publisher
Jewish Sports Review
Los Angeles


Period slide show set to Jimmy Durante’s 1963 Sandy Koufax tribute “Dandy Sandy”

Marriage Equality

I am grateful for your publishing the article highlighting Jews for marriage equality (“Battle for Gay Marriage Rights Gains Jewish Support,” April 11).

As a Conservative rabbi, I signed the petition, and I stand fully behind the work of the commission and its desire to bring equality and justice to the many gay and lesbian couples seeking to enter into the sanctity of marriage with all of the rights and privileges that come with that covenant.

Judaism has constantly evolved, and I agree fully with Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a pioneer and leader on this issue, when he teaches that this is a landmark time in the state of Judaism, a time that will require the will and commitment of dedicated Jews to bring yet another group of outsiders into the fold of Jewish life.

Some of the arguments made today against bringing homosexuals into the mainstream of Jewish life are the same arguments made 20 years ago in the Conservative movement regarding women. We overcame those hurdles, and we have started to overcome the current hurdles. Because we are all created in the image of God, all Jews deserve full access to the Torah and equal rights in civic life, as well.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center

Dennis Prager Ad

Yes, Dennis — I’m a Democrat that fights for carbon dioxide emissions control (Advertisement, April 18).

Had you and your Republican ilk been fighting for that, rather than fighting for more oil around the world, our dependence on your black gold may not be such that we’d need to be sucking it out of places where we are so resented for our presence alone.

Corporate evil — that is what you do not fight!

Kenny Halpern
Oxnard

As a respected nationwide figure and a proponent of moral belief systems, I consider Prager to have a heavy responsibility to present meaningful, well-analyzed arguments.

After reading his ad, “I Used to Be a Democrat,” I was sorely disappointed with the weakening of his own position by the juxtaposition of evil and CO2 emissions.

The implication that being against destroying the earth is tantamount to considering that is more important than nazism, communism and terrorism is absurd and totally unfair. These two hideous problems are not comparable, and one should not have to choose between them to be righteous.

Diane Rowe
Santa Monica

How sad it was to read this full-page ad and realize that Dennis Prager would rather be associated with a presidential aspirant who actively sought the endorsement of the Rev. Hagee and all the hate and bitterness he represents and stands for then remain identified with the true inheritors of the Lincoln legacy, the contemporary progressive movement.

And when he goes on to say that Republicans are for the preservation of liberal values, well, he might as well consider going to an open mike night at the Comedy Club!

Saul Goldfarb
Oak Park

Web Editor: The Prager ad did not appear online @ JewishJournal.com

Passover Ponderings

As I participated in seders this year, I imagined the early years of the Jews in Egypt. They didn’t come as slaves but came looking for subsistence. They came looking for the opportunity to feed their families.

Doctor with ‘healing hands’ helps kids from Iran to L.A.


When Ralph Salimpour was six years old in Esfahan, Iran, he had malaria — a blood disease spread by infected mosquitoes that kills millions of people in the developing world every year.

After his parents took him to “The English Hospital” for a prescription of anti-malarial drugs, a guard at the hospital gate looked at the boy and told his mother, “He has healing hands.”

The man’s words in 1937 might as well have been prophesy. Seven decades later and across two continents, Salimpour is now a top pediatrician in Los Angeles. and will be honored by the UCLA Health Services Alumni Association in May.

In his self-published memoir, “Silent River, Empty Night” (Outskirts Press, $15.95), the 76-year-old Salimpoor recounts his journey in medicine and with patients in Iran, England and America.

Salimpour decided to become a doctor at an early age, after hearing stories about how two doctors saved his father’s life as a teenager from cholera and malaria.

“I owe my life to these two righteous people.” Salimpour’s father said.

“I think this night had an eternal impact on me. I worried at times if I could get accepted to medical school or if I could stand seeing blood or a child in pain. But then I remembered my father — who had lost his father at 2 and managed to raise a family — and reassured myself.”

If Salimpour worried about getting into one of two medical schools in Iran, it doesn’t much show. While no one would say his life was “charmed” — he was an Iranian Jew who fled the country at 48 to start life from scratch in America — the man makes it sound easy.

“I think my life is success story — it doesn’t matter what you go through as long as you see that you succeed,” he said in an interview.

And succeed he did. Salimpour graduated medical school at 23 years old, later becoming an expert in malaria and continuing his studies in England.

His sweet and meandering stories about pre-revolution Iran often have lessons. For example, when he was a medical student, a 16-year-old girl who cleaned his house and shopped for him suddenly became sick with joint pain and a fever. It turned out she had been drinking some of his milk, but didn’t know to boil it beforehand to kill the germs.

Salimpour treated her, and writes: “A lot of young children who should be at school learning, work to make a living in the developing countries. We now go to a supermarket, pick up our milk of choice, in size, fat content and even with our without lactose for taste and need, without remembering or appreciating that in just one generation before us, and in many parts of the world even today, milk, if available, is contaminated.”

Involved as he was in medicine — he became the director of the Research Institute of Child Health — Salimpour didn’t realize how bad things were getting in Iran.

“When you live in a revolution, it’s hard to comprehend what’s going on day by day and you don’t feel it, but when you look back you are surprised,” he said. “When you’re a doctor you’re surrounded by people who praise you and compliment you, and you tell yourself, ‘Everyone loves me, how can any harm come to me?'”

But his wife knew better. In 1979, when they went to visit their oldest son, Pejman, at medical school in the United States, though they had return tickets, they took a few possessions with them.

“I knew that there was no way to go back, that there was no future for the children there, that there was no choice,” his wife Farah said.

She convinced him to start over in America.

“I knew that he was a hard worker and he could do whatever he wants,” she said.

But it was strange to leave everything behind, Salimpour writes: “I often wish I had had another look at our home before we got into the car, and had viewed Tehran better from above when we flew away, to better remember what I missed for the rest of my life.”

After a year in Cleveland, Salimpour convinced the head of UCLA medicine to give him an internship there, and he eventually opened up the Salimpour Pediatric Medical Group in Los Angeles, joined by his two sons, Pedram and Pejman.

Today, with three centers (Sherman Oaks, Van Nuys and Panorama City), they treat some 200 patients per day. But the patients are different from the ones he treated from infectious diseases in Iran.

“I haven’t seen a malnourished child since I was in Iran,” he said, smiling. Today, the problem is the opposite — obesity.

But he hopes his stories will help people put things in perspective.

“I tell the teenagers I see every day, I remind them they shouldn’t take it for granted they can have running water; they should not take it for granted they can eat whenever they want to. They can dress the way they want to, wear their hair the way they want to, and no one can tell them why,” he said. “We take it for granted here. I love every breath I take in, and I can do anything I like. I love it and I appreciate it much more.”

Dr. Ralph Salimpour and grandchildren
Dr. Ralph Salimpour with his grandchildren

Jews still have big role in changing L.A. political scene


It was not so long ago that Los Angeles City Hall and the Los Angeles Unified School District school board were filled with Jewish elected officials. The first winning Jewish
candidate of the 20th century, Rosalind Wiener (later Wyman) was elected to the council in 1953. From then on, Jews translated their high degree of political interest, disproportionate turnout at the polls and generally progressive politics into remarkable electoral success.

At one point, as many as one-third of the City Council members were Jewish. During the height of the school busing controversy in the late 1970s, the leadership of the anti-busing movement, as well as the most active whites in favor of busing, were Jewish and fought each other over school board seats.

Today, Jews remain a key constituency in Los Angeles politics and generate plenty of strong candidates. The dramatic rise of Latinos in local politics, though, has carved out another niche for minority candidates that once largely belonged to African Americans.

On the City Council, three seats (Districts 8, 9 and 10) are likely to remain African American for at least a while longer and then may shift toward Latinos. Another four (Districts 1, 6, 7 and 14) are likely to be Latino seats. Of the remaining eight seats, Jewish candidates have good chances to be elected but are only certain to be elected in one, the 5th District.

Jewish candidates also have an excellent chance at citywide races for mayor, controller and city attorney. On the school board, the Westside and Valley seats and maybe one more are still fair pickings for Jewish candidates.

The City Council’s 5th District stretches from the Fairfax district to Bel Air and Westwood on the Westside and into the near portions of the San Fernando Valley. It was Wyman’s seat, and then it fell to Ed Edelman, Zev Yaroslavsky, Mike Feuer and now Jack Weiss.

The 5th District is roughly one-third Jewish in a city with a 6 percent Jewish population. It regularly turns out the highest number of voters in city elections. (As one measure in the recent city elections, there were 185 precincts in the 5th District, compared to only 59 in the working-class Eastside 1st District. The more registered voters, the more precincts.) It has the highest level of education among the voters of any L.A. City Council district.

It’s a very tough seat to win, because there are so many strong Jewish candidates in the area. Those who win it have a good chance to move up. Edelman and Yaroslavsky became L.A. County supervisors. Feuer was nearly elected city attorney in 2001 and just won a state Assembly seat. Weiss has just announced his candidacy for city attorney in 2009. His candidacy opens up the 5th District seat in the same year.

Term limits in Los Angeles create the usual game of musical chairs. Until last year, all the elected officials were limited to two terms. In November, Measure R scrambled things by adding a term for City Council members, while leaving the three citywide offices at two terms. So Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Controller Laura Chick and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo are all termed out in 2009.

City Council members who thought they would be termed out now have another term. Even with that extra council term, the citywide openings will draw some like Weiss to give up their seats to go for the gold. Chick is thinking of running for the 5th District seat, and the popular controller would be a strong candidate.

Weiss has collected the endorsements of two popular mayors, Villaraigosa and Richard Riordan. He is hoping to preempt major competition early on. A strong challenger would be Bob Hertzberg, who can draw on the Valley Jewish base, which outnumbers the Westside Jewish constituency.

The mayor’s endorsement may keep major Latino candidates out of the race, a relevant factor, given Delgadillo’s upset victory over Feuer, another 5th District City Council member with even more endorsements. Having endorsed Villaraigosa early in the mayoral campaign, Weiss earned that crucial mayoral support. Chick is closely allied with the mayor, having helped his campaign with tough investigations of former Mayor James Hahn and having formally endorsed him.

The school board elections offer another window into the changing Jewish role in Los Angeles. Jewish voters are immensely and intensely interested in public education, even when their children are grown or in private schools. As in the school busing controversy, Jews are on both sides of the power struggle between the school board and the mayor.

Marlene Canter, the school board president, has been the strongest critic of the mayor’s plan. David Tokofsky managed, sometimes narrowly, to hold onto his Eastside seat against Latino challengers but finally stepped down this year to be replaced by a mayor-endorsed Latina, Yolie Aguilar. At the same time, the mayor’s potential control of the school board likely comes down to a Jewish candidate endorsed by the mayor in the Valley’s 3rd District.

Incumbent Jon Lauritzen is being supported by the teachers union and is under heavy challenge from Tamar Galatzan, who is supported by the mayor’s reform coalition. Before joining the Los Angeles city attorney’s office, where she is a deputy city attorney, Galatzan was Western states associate counsel for the Anti-Defamation League. In the primary election, Galatzan outpolled the incumbent, 44 percent to 40 percent, setting up a tight race in the runoff.

So why are Jews on both sides of the school debate? Jews have long ties to the school board and to the teachers union. But on the other side, there is a long tradition of supporting reform in all its varieties, and Jewish voters provide the city’s most reliable bloc of pro-reform voting.

Valley Jews especially were friendly to Riordan, who has strongly backed Villaraigosa’s moves on education. And warm views of Villaraigosa himself, who has long cultivated the Jewish community, add to the mix. If Galatzan is elected, Villaraigosa will have his school board majority.

So as the rise of Latinos has moderately edged out the role of Jews in one way, the linkage to Villaraigosa (for Weiss, Chick and Galatzan) has brought Jews another advantage in a way akin to the Bradley alliance. This is, of course, typical of Los Angeles politics in that nobody makes it on their own anyway, but only in alliance with other groups.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton.

New study finds 1 million more Jews in U.S.


A new study gives fairly concrete evidence that the American Jewish population could be more than 1 million people larger than believed — but if so, it means efforts to engage them may have been less successful than the community realized.

The United Jewish Communities’ (UJC) National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01 (NJPS) was widely viewed as flawed. Still, the Jewish community held to the survey’s estimate that there were 5.2 million American Jews.

But even using the same criteria as UJC did to define who is Jewish, it’s more likely that there are 6 million to 6.4 million American Jews, according to a Undressed up

Palestinian remarks generate cheer and gloom


Cheerful news reached us last week from Damascus. Hamas’ political chief, Khaled Meshal, told Reuters in an interview on Jan. 10 that Israel is a “matter of fact,” and that Hamas
might consider recognizing Israel once a Palestinian state is established.

Don’t misjudge me. I am not particularly thrilled with the content of Meshal’s statement, especially after learning that one hour later a Hamas spokesman denied any change in Hamas’ refusal to ever recognize Israel. What I do find refreshing, though, is that Reuters asked the question, dozens of linguists and analysts were busy interpreting the answer and news channels from China to Africa were eager to report the results.

What made me cheerful was seeing that the fundamental question of whether the Palestinians would ever recognize Israel, the key to any peace settlement in the region, is back on the table and can be discussed in good company without fear of dismissal or ridicule.

Let me explain. Five years ago, if you were to ask this question among Middle East analysts, you were sure to be scolded by an army of well-meaning conflict-resolution experts for being a spoiler of peace or ignorant of the latest polls from the West Bank.

“It does not matter what the Palestinians think about recognition or legitimacy,” was the standard answer, “what matters are conditions on the ground.”

“The road to peace is incremental,” repeated all the headlines.

Remember Peter Jennings, the legendary ABC News anchor? When he interviewed Hanan Ashrawi on his show and asked her about Israel’s right to exist, she hushed him with: “Chairman Arafat has recognized Israel in 1988,” and this kept poor Peter meek and timid for the rest of the interview.

When the Syrian Ambassador spoke at UCLA in 2005, and I asked him whether he personally recognizes Israel’s right to exist, my learned colleagues were quick to rebuke my question as impertinent — “What further proof would Israelis want to convince themselves of Arabs’ intentions?” they asked.

In other words, the question of Arab intentions, the mother of all questions and the key to all solutions, has been locked in the closet for 10 good years, and it is only Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian election, together with financial sanctions by Israel and Western governments, that have brought it back to the spotlight it deserves. Moreover, now that Hamas is recognized as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, Hamas’ official stance toward Israel has given Western observers a crisp and reliable thermometer to gauge the Palestinian vision of peace, many times more reliable than the ambiguous polls and speeches we have been reading about in the past.

The emergence of such a reliable thermometer now provides valuable new insights into Middle East affairs, especially for those who believe that honesty and clarity are prerequisites to peace. True, we owe this progress to Hamas, but we have never denied credit where credit is due.

However, before we gloat, I should note that my friends in Israel have been consistently skeptical of all polls and speeches since the outbreak of the second intifada, and they have paid no attention at all to those who debate whether Hamas truly represents the heart and mind of Palestinian society.

Most Israelis today have become resigned to some version of the “salami theory,” according to which the vast majority of Palestinians, Fatah and Hamas alike, will never accept Israel as a legitimate neighbor and no matter what agreement is signed, will continue their struggle to “liberate Palestine” in incremental stages (“shlavim” in Hebrew.)

The current fighting between Fatah and Hamas is viewed by most Israelis as a confrontation between two tactics aiming for the same goal, one calling for dismantling Israel in stages, using diplomacy, international isolation, demography, deceit and occasional terror and attacks, the other calling for open warfare.

This gloomy view, depressing as it is, rests on some hard evidence, which even moderate Palestinians have not been able to dispel. Aside from Arab’s century-long rejection of Jewish sovereignty on any part of Palestine, well funded Palestinian organizations have recently intensified their anti-Israel campaign in Europe and on U.S campuses, aiming not at ending the occupation but at undermining the legitimacy of Israel as the historical homeland of the Jewish people.

Another indicator viewed with alarm by Israelis is that the subject of “comprehensive peace,” including hopes, images and responsibilities of state ownership, is not being discussed in the Palestinian street. While Palestinians do lay conditions for peace, they refrain from discussing its parameters, even behind closed doors.

Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University in East Jerusalem, is the only leader who dared remind his countrymen that compromises on the refugees “right of return” must be made if peace is to be given any chance at all. But all discussions of such compromises are considered taboo by the rest of Palestinian society, for whom “peace” has always meant a return to Jaffa, Haifa and Ramlah.

Finally, Palestinian intellectuals have been a great disappointment to Israeli peace activists. In an unprecedented candid exchange between two of the Middle East’s most respected journalists, Salameh Nematt, an Arab, and Akiva Eldar, an Israeli, Eldar writes (Ha’aretz, December 2006): “The Jewish minority, which calls for the expulsion of Palestinians from their land and steals their olives, is my enemy. I will do everything legally possible in order to protect my Arab neighbors from the obnoxious attacks of this racist minority.

“But Israelis need to know that Arabs who call for the expulsion of Jews from their [Jewish] land and deliberately murder their children are enemies of yours, and that there are many among you willing to defend my family against those who deny my right to a secure existence in my own country.”

Those familiar with Eldar’s record as a peace activist and a champion of Palestinians’ rights and statehood would appreciate his readers’ disappointment — after 30 years of intense outreach efforts, Eldar is still begging his Palestinian friends to acknowledge his “right to a secure existence in my own country.”

Iraq war conspiracy — you can’t blame the Jews


Did the Jews do it?

I mean, after killing Jesus, did the Elders of Zion manipulate the government of the United States into invading Babylon as part of a scheme to abet the expansion of greater Israel?

The question was first posed to me in 2004, when I was speaking at a meeting of Mobilization for Peace in San Jose. A member of the audience asked, “Put it together — who’s behind this war? Paul Wolfowitz and Elliott Abrams and the Project for a ‘Jew’ American Century and, and, why don’t you talk about that, huh? And ….”

But the questioner never had the full opportunity to complete his query because, flushed and red, he began to charge the stage. The peace activists attempted to detain the gentleman — whose confederates then grabbed some chairs to swing. As the Peace Center was taking on a somewhat warlike character, I chose to call in the authorities and slip out the back.

Still, his question intrigued me. As an investigative reporter, “Who’s behind this war?” seemed like a reasonable challenge — and if it were a plot of Christ killers and Illuminati, so be it. I just report the facts, ma’am.

And frankly, at first, it seemed like the gent had a point, twisted though his spin might be. There was Paul Wolfowitz, before Congress in March 2003, offering Americans the bargain of the century: a free Iraq — not “free” as in “freedom and democracy” but free in the sense of this won’t cost us a penny. Wolfowitz testified: “There’s a lot of money to pay for this that doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money.”

A “Free” Iraq

And where would these billions come from? Wolfowitz told us: “It starts with the assets of the Iraqi people…. The oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 billion and $100 billion over the next two or three years.”

This was no small matter. The vulpine deputy defense secretary knew that the number one question on the minds of Americans was not, “Does Saddam really have the bomb?” but, “What’s this little war going to cost us?”

However, Wolfowitz left something out of his testimony: the truth. I hunted for weeks for the source of the Pentagon’s oil revenue projections and found them. They were wildly different from the Wolfowitz testimony. But this was not perjury.

Ever since the conviction of Elliott Abrams for perjury before Congress during the Iran-Contra hearings, neither Wolfowitz nor the other Bush factotums swear an oath before testifying. If you don’t raise your hand and promise to tell the truth, “so help me, God,” you’re off the hook with federal prosecutors.

How the Lord will judge that little ploy, we cannot say.

But Wolfowitz’s little numbers game can hardly count as a great Zionist conspiracy. That seemed to come, at first glance, in the form of a confidential 101-page document slipped to our team at BBC’s “Newsnight.” It detailed the economic “recovery” of Iraq’s post-conquest economy. This blueprint for occupation, we learned, was first devised in secret in late 2001.

Notably, this program for Iraq’s recovery wasn’t written by Iraqis. Rather, it was promoted by the neoconservatives of the Defense Department, home of Abrams, Wolfowitz, Harold Rhode and other desktop Napoleons unafraid of moving toy tanks around the Pentagon war room.

Nose-Twist’s Hidden Hand

The neocons’ 101-page confidential document, which came to me in a brown envelope in February 2001, just before the tanks rolled, goes boldly where no U.S. invasion plan had gone before: the complete rewrite of the conquered state’s “policies, law and regulations.” A cap on the income taxes of Iraq’s wealthiest was included as a matter of course. And this was undoubtedly history’s first military assault plan appended to a program for toughening the target nation’s copyright laws. Once the 82nd Airborne liberated Iraq, never again would the Ba’athist dictatorship threaten America with bootleg dubs of Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time.”

It was more like a corporate takeover, except with Abrams tanks instead of junk bonds. It didn’t strike me as the work of a kosher cabal for an imperial Israel. In fact, it smelled of pork — pig heaven for corporate America looking for a slice of Iraq, and I suspected its porcine source. I gave it a big sniff and, sure enough, I smelled Grover Norquist.

Norquist is the capo di capi of right-wing, big-money influence peddlers in Washington. Those jealous of his inside track to the White House call him “Gopher Nose-Twist.”

A devout Christian, Norquist channeled $1 million to the Christian Coalition to fight the devil’s tool, legalized gambling. He didn’t tell the coalition that the loot came from an Indian tribe represented by Norquist’s associate, Jack Abramoff. (The tribe didn’t want competition for its own casino operations.)

I took a chance and dropped in on Norquist’s L Street office, and under a poster of his idol (“NIXON — NOW MORE THAN EVER”), Norquist took a look at the “recovery” plan for Iraq and practically jumped over my desk to sign it, filled with pride at seeing his baby. Yes, he promoted the privatizations, the tax limit for the rich and the change in copyright law, all concerns close to the hearts and wallets of his clients.

“The Oil” on Page 73

The very un-Jewish Norquist may have framed much of the U.S. occupation grabfest, but there was, without doubt, one notable item in the 101-page plan for Iraq which clearly had the mark of Zion on it. On page 73, the plan called for the “privatization…[of] the oil and supporting industries,” the sell-off of every ounce of Iraq’s oil fields and reserves. Its mastermind, I learned, was Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation.
For the neocons, this was the big one. Behind it, no less a goal than to bring down the lynchpin of Arab power, Saudi Arabia.

It would work like this: The Saudi’s power rests on control of OPEC, the oil cartel which, as any good monopoly, withholds oil from the market, kicking up prices.

With Friends Like These…


I didn’t show up to see Jimmy Carter sign any of his other 20 books, but I have a feeling none of those signings drew quite the crowd of the one Monday night in Pasadena.

At the other appearances, I bet there weren’t angry protestors from the Jewish Defense League waving signs saying: “WORST PRESIDENT EVER!” and counterdemonstrators — mostly from a group called “LA Jews for Peace” marching under signs saying “PEACE NOT APARTHEID!”

At the other signings, I bet a security guard didn’t have to ask three attractive dark-haired young women holding an Israeli flag to step back from the entrance to Vroman’s Bookstore, where the 39th president was inside signing books. I asked one of them what organization they represented.

“We’re our own group,” she said. “Call us Shirlee, Aviva and Michele United.”

Carter was scheduled to start signing copies of “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” (Simon and Schuster 2006) at 7 p.m. By 1 pm the store had sold every book and had passed out all 1,800 tickets. Ticketholders stomped their feet in the chilly night in a line that ran down Colorado, around the block and back up.

“It’s a big one,” said a cashier. “But we had more for Howard Stern.”

Sure, a lot of the people showed up for the celebrity factor — parents taking their young children to see a real president; many people holding any of the Carter oeuvre just to score an autograph, a “good Christmas gift,” said one elderly lady.

But the television news trucks, the young woman in kaffiyehs passing out flyers demanding a “Just Peace in Palestine,” the heated arguments by the magazine racks over who started the Six-Day War — the general circus-like atmosphere was solely due to the partisan passions the book has stirred.

“He’s right on the money,” said Bob, a middle-aged studio musician in a coat and tie waiting in line. “I think he’s being kind in calling it ‘apartheid’ and not ‘genocide.'”

I have a feeling the protestors — pro and con and just plain strange — will be following Carter for as long as the 82-year-old former president is out flacking “Palestine: Peace or Apartheid.”

Write a factually sloppy, unfairly partisan polemic about a complex and sensitive issue and you get just what you’d expect: controversy at every whistle stop, major face time with Larry King and a book that shoots up the best-seller list. By Tuesday there wasn’t a copy to be had at a single L.A. bookstore. It’s like “A Million Little Pieces” for the foreign policy set.

I read the book and found it remarkably shallow. Carter’s bottom line: Israel is to blame. America, urged on by the “Jewish lobby,” is the co-conspirator.

By now numerous intelligent, detailed critiques of the book are available — The Journal printed Alan Dershowitz’s dissection several weeks ago — and former friends and allies of Carter have distanced themselves from this book.

Professor Kenneth Stein resigned his post from the Carter Center last week. The book, he wrote, “is replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments.”

On Monday, I phoned Los Angeles attorney Ed Sanders to get his reaction.

When Carter was President, Sanders was his liaison to the Jewish community. He flew seven missions to the Middle East. Sanders was with Carter at Camp David and was an official witness to the Camp David Accords.

“I bet I know what you’re calling about,” Sanders said.

He said he hadn’t read the book — he still can’t find a copy to buy — but he read an op-ed Carter published in The Los Angeles Times summarizing his arguments and has followed the controversy closely. And his reaction?

“I’m shocked and dismayed,” he said. “It’s unacceptable.”

Sanders can’t understand why Carter couldn’t at the very least present the Israeli argument for the barrier it has erected between the country proper and the Palestinian territories. “The wall is being erected because Israeli citizens were being murdered,” Sanders said.

He is flabbergasted that Carter could present the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as little more than a kindly old man, when it was Arafat’s duplicitous, kleptocratic rule that helped derail peace efforts and destabilize Palestinian society.

“Arafat couldn’t make a deal if his life depended on it,” Sanders said.

Sanders was the national president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee when he resigned to serve the president. Doesn’t that prove Carter’s point on the influence of the pro-Israel lobby or, as Carter now repeatedly refers to it, “the Jewish lobby?”

Sanders doesn’t see it that way: “There was never any restraint on a discussion of the facts.”

That discussion led to the Camp David Accords, an outstanding legacy of peace. But Carter evidently sees no difference between the late Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, who came to Jerusalem to make peace in full recognition of Israel, and the leaders of Hamas who have at most offered Israel a cease-fire on the way to Armegeddon. Between Hamas and Egypt, Sanders said, “there is a difference.”

Dismay and disappointment are Sander’s gentlemanly, judicious way of saying the book is a huge missed opportunity. What’s so disappointing to me is that by the last thin chapter, Carter finally proposes the best possible course for Israel: a two-state solution that recognizes Israel’s security and allows the Palestinian a viable state.

But one-sided diatribes don’t engender the kind of debate that can help bring that solution closer. Israel is far from perfect, and its policies in the West Bank and Gaza have, as the conservative Ha’aretz columnist Shmuel Rosner pointed out, amounted to apartheid. But Israel’s enemies are far from blameless in this tragic history, and in his book, Carter all but sanctifies their heinous methods and awful aims. A fair deal can’t begin from a false premise.

“This book,” Sanders said, “doesn’t help.”

Jimmy Carter Mideast book shows his anti-Israel bias


I like Jimmy Carter. I have known him since he began his run for president in early 1976. I worked hard for his election, and I have admired the work of the Carter Center throughout the
world. That’s why it troubles me so much that this decent man has written such an indecent book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

His bias against Israel shows by his selection of the book’s title: “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” The suggestion that without peace Israel is an apartheid state analogous to South Africa is simply wrong. The basic evil of South African apartheid, against which I and so many other Jews fought, was the absolute control over a majority of blacks by a small minority of whites. It was the opposite of democracy.

In Israel majority rules; it is a vibrant, secular democracy, which has just recognized gay marriages performed abroad. Arabs serve in the Knesset, on the Supreme Court and get to vote for their representatives, many of whom strongly oppose Israeli policies.

Israel has repeatedly offered to end its occupation of areas it captured in a defensive war in exchange for peace and full recognition. The reality is that other Arab and Muslim nations do, in fact, practice apartheid.

In Jordan, no Jew can be a citizen or own land. The same is true in Saudi Arabia, which has separate roads for Muslims and non-Muslims. Even in the Palestinian Authority, the increasing influence of Hamas threatens to create Islamic hegemony over non-Muslims. Arab Christians are leaving in droves.

Why then would Jimmy Carter invoke the concept of apartheid in his attack on Israel? Even he acknowledges — though he buries this toward the end of his book — that what is going on in Israel today “is unlike that in South Africa — not racism but the acquisition of land.”

But Israel’s motive for holding on to this land is the prevention of terrorism. It has repeatedly offered to exchange land for peace and did so in Gaza and southern Lebanon, only to have the returned land used for terrorism, kidnappings and rocket launchings.

I don’t know why Carter, who is generally a careful man, allowed so many errors and omissions to blemish his book. Here are simply a few of the most egregious.

Carter emphasizes that “Christian and Muslim Arabs had continued to live in this same land since Roman times,” but he ignores the fact that Jews have lived in Hebron, Tsfat, Jerusalem and other cities for even longer. Nor does he discuss the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries since 1948.

Carter repeatedly claims that the Palestinians have long supported a two-state solution, and the Israelis have always opposed it. Yet he makes no mention of the fact that in 1938, the Peel Commission proposed a two-state solution with Israel receiving a mere sliver of its ancient homeland and the Palestinians receiving the bulk of the land. The Jews accepted, and the Palestinians rejected this proposal, because Arab leaders cared more about there being no Jewish state on Muslim holy land than about having a Palestinian state of their own.

He barely mentions Israel’s acceptance and the Palestinian rejection of the United Nation’s division of the mandate in 1948.

He claims that in 1967, Israel launched a preemptive attack against Jordan. The fact is that Jordan attacked Israel first, Israel tried desperately to persuade Jordan to remain out of the war and Israel counterattacked after the Jordanian army surrounded Jerusalem, firing missiles into the center of the city. Only then did Israel capture the West Bank, which it was willing to return in exchange for peace and recognition from Jordan.

Carter repeatedly mentions U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which called for return of captured territories in exchange for peace, recognition and secure boundaries, but he ignores the fact that Israel accepted, and all the Arab nations and the Palestinians rejected this resolution. The Arabs met in Khartoum and issued their three famous “no’s”: “No peace, no recognition, no negotiation,” but you wouldn’t know that from reading the history according to Carter.

Carter faults Israel for its “air strike that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor” without mentioning that Iraq had threatened to attack Israel with nuclear weapons if it succeeded in building a bomb.

Carter faults Israel for its administration of Christian and Muslim religious sites, when, in fact, Israel is scrupulous about ensuring every religion the right to worship as they please — consistent, of course, with security needs. He fails to mention that between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Hashemites destroyed and desecrated Jewish religious sites and prevented Jews from praying at the Western Wall. He also never mentions Egypt’s brutal occupation of Gaza between 1949 and 1967.

Carter blames Israel and exonerates Yasser Arafat for the Palestinian refusal to accept statehood on 95 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza, pursuant to the Clinton-Barak offers of Camp David and Taba in 2000-2001. He accepts the Palestinian revisionist history, rejects the eye-witness accounts of President Bill Clinton and Dennis Ross and ignores Saudi Prince Bandar’s accusation that Arafat’s rejection of the proposal was “a crime” and that Arafat’s account “was not truthful” — except, apparently, to Carter. The fact that Carter chooses to believe Arafat over Clinton speaks volumes.

Carter’s description of the recent Lebanon War is misleading. He begins by asserting that Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. “Captured” suggest a military apprehension subject to the usual prisoner of war status. The soldiers were kidnapped, and have not been heard from — not even a sign of life. The rocket attacks that preceded Israel’s invasion are largely ignored, as is the fact that Hezbollah fired its rockets from civilian population centers.

Carter gives virtually no credit to Israel’s superb legal system, falsely asserting (without any citation) that “confessions extracted through torture are admissible in Israeli courts,” that prisoners are “executed” and that the “accusers” act “as judges.” Even Israel’s most severe critics acknowledge the fairness of the Israeli Supreme Court, but not Carter.

Former Jewish Agency head tapped as Israel’s next ambassador to U.S.


One of Sallai Meridor’s first acts as chairman-elect of the Jewish Agency for Israel was to deliver relief to a Muslim country, Albania.

The delivery of food and medicine to refugees from the Kosovo crisis in April 1999 was a first for the organization best known for rescuing Jews — and was a sign that the scion of one of Israel’s founding families had a perpetual yearning for a wider diplomatic role.

A little more than a year after Meridor shocked the Jewish world by quitting the agency before his term ended, telling friends he hankered for a diplomatic role, his wish is about to come true: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni nominated him on Oct. 4 to be Israel’s next ambassador to Washington.

The one sentence statement from the Prime Minister’s Office simply said Olmert and Livni “decided that Mr. Sallai Meridor will be appointed as Israel’s ambassador to Washington in place of Danny Ayalon, who is completing his four-year term.”

Meridor, 51, still faces confirmation by the Cabinet and must be cleared by the Foreign Ministry’s legal team. But with Livni and Olmert in agreement — and they are at odds on just about everything else recently — his appointment is a sure thing.

Sources said he is set to start in January.

Meridor’s appointment comes at a critical time. The U.S.-Israel relationship has arguably never been stronger, but the path to Israeli-Palestinian peace that both countries had embraced has been crumbling amid chaos among the Palestinians and growing regional threats from Iran and Iraq.

It also comes after Olmert’s political fortunes were severely hampered by the damage Israel suffered this summer during its war with Hezbollah on the Israel-Lebanon border. The Israeli prime minister is hoping to revive talks with the Palestinians.

Traditionally, Israel’s ambassador to Washington goes beyond the role of intermediary between Jerusalem and Washington, with the ambassador often involved in helping to set Israeli policy.

Meridor had already been seen as a shoo-in because of his decades-old friendship with Olmert.
Both men are “princes” of the Likud Party establishment who have moderated their hawkish views. Olmert now leads the centrist Kadima Party, which broke away from the Likud last year.

That friendship is probably the critical element explaining Meridor’s appointment, according to Jewish leaders who have known both men for decades.

“The most important thing for an ambassador to the United States is to have the confidence of the prime minister, and they go back many years,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Meridor also has a reputation for integrity, rolling back the Jewish Agency’s notoriety for patronage during his 1999-2005 term, and cutting its expenses.

The Jewish Agency, involved in the rescue and absorption of Jewish immigrants to Israel as well as Jewish education around the world, is the primary overseas recipient of North American federation funds.

As head of the agency, he pushed for the accelerated immigration of the Falash Mura community from Ethiopia, and the establishing of MASA — a program to bring thousands of Diaspora youth to Israel for long-term study and visits. He advocated aliyah from Western countries and established a partnership with Nefesh B’Nefesh, which helped boost immigration to Israel from North America and most recently, England.

He is well-known — and praised by American Jewish officials of both political and philanthropic organizations.

Sallai has a tremendous intellect and the capacity to multitask at the highest level of detail,” said Jay Sarver, the chairman of the agency’s budget and finance committee. “He has a deep, deep Jewish identity and neshama, and a deep belief in Zionist action.”

Stephen Hoffman, the president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland and the former president of the United Jewish Communities, worked closely with him during his term at the agency.

“He is a good listener and he is articulate in English as well as Hebrew,” Hoffman said. “He thinks strategically and looks at a lot of different angles, is cautious and gathers a lot of opinions before he makes a move.”

Friends say that the more recent role at the helm of the Jewish Agency obscures his talents as a diplomat. As an adviser to Moshe Arens, who served as foreign minister and defense minister in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he cultivated a friendship with James Baker. That was exceptional because Baker, the secretary of state to the first President Bush, was not known for friendly relations with Israel.

Dennis Ross, the veteran peace negotiator and diplomat, worked for Baker at the time. Meridor knows how to explain Israel’s needs, he knows how to work effectively with American administrations, he knows how to see the big picture,” Ross said. “Israel could not have made a better choice.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby, said they looked forward to working with someone with solid Washington experience.

“He is a highly effective advocate, is well-acquainted with the ways of Washington, D.C., and will surely bring his considerable talents to bear in his new post,” said AIPAC spokesman Josh Block.

Meridor has often straddled two worlds – as a West Bank settler who lives in Kfar Adumim, a settlement near Jericho likely to be dismantled in the withdrawals that Olmert has advocated.
His dual majors at Hebrew University were in the history of Islamic peoples and the history of the Jews. He speaks Arabic.

“Sallai has the ability to take people, to appeal to people from the right and the left and make people feel comfortable whether he agrees with their opinions or not,” said Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, who admires Meridor despite their disagreements on last year’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. “In this kind of job, that’s an important trait.”

Klein noted Meridor’s profound affection for the whole biblical land of Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza.

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).

New Year brings new hope to inmates


Daniel, a 24-year-old UCLA student, has gotten under my skin. I met him a month ago when I followed Rabbi Yossi Carron on his rounds through Men’s Central Jail
and Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles. Daniel had a few more days to serve on the six-month sentence he received after his was convicted of dealing methamphetamine to some of his fellow Bruins — most likely, his release date would fall just before or just after Rosh Hashanah.

When I learned Daniel would be celebrating his last day in jail during the New Year’s service Carron organized for his prison shul, I asked to tag along.
In a hallway at Men’s Central on a Tuesday afternoon, Carron and three rabbinical students are maneuvering a pair of rickety carts loaded with prayer books and a Rosh Hashanah feast past a prisoner-painted mural that depicts a SWAT team, guns raised, staring down passersby.

At one point, several packages of pita bread slide off the top of one of the loads. At the rear of the convoy, where a Torah scroll on loan from a Sephardic temple nestles under a tallit, someone makes a joke about Uzzah — the poor guy in 2 Samuel, chapter 6, who meets with God’s wrath when he touches the Ark to keep it from bouncing off an ox cart.

Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, is onhand, along with half a dozen volunteers. As the afternoon sun slants through broken windowpanes 20 feet above the concrete floor, this small group of Jews lays tablecloths and arranges flowers to transform a disused prison dining hall into sacred space.

Simon — his name, like those of other inmates, has been changed to protect his identity — is one of the first inmates to arrive. Now 30, he has lived on the streets or in jail since he was 15. His arms are inked with menacing skulls and demons, but the most affecting tattoo is a single teardrop on his left cheek — a memento he got when his time behind bars passed the five-year mark.

“I get out again in 33 days,” he says, adding that his first stop will be a drug treatment center in Torrance. “This time I’m staying out.”

Eventually the room holds about 20 inmates from Men’s Central and from Twin Towers Correctional Facility across the street.

“You have more rabbis and rabbis-to-be in this room than you’ll ever see again in your life,” Carron tells the men in his prison shul. “Mingle and make use of them.”

The soft buzz of friendly conversation fills the hall.

I manage to get in a few words with Daniel, who looks quietly jubilant.
“Man, this feels so good,” he tells me. “This is like the perfect way to end this experience. I’ve learned so much. It sounds strange, but I’m actually kind of grateful.”

At another table, Gary, an inmate whose hard years are etched onto a face that resembles a walnut, has recognized Pauline Lederer, a wheelchair-bound but sharp-witted nonagenarian who has been volunteering in Los Angeles County jails since the 1930s.

“I first met Pauline in 1983!” Gary exclaims.

After her conversation with Gary, Pauline says, “Things aren’t going well for him. Spending so much time in here is bad for the soul. It’s very sad, but I hope this helps.”

Soon Carron asks everyone to take a seat so that service can begin. Over the next hour, he weaves prayers recalling the Israelites’ liberation from bondage in Egypt with the traditional Rosh Hashana liturgy. Noam Raucher delivers a homily about how his experience shadowing Carron has shaped his understanding of teshuvah, and Alison Abrams opens the rosewood ark to read a passage from the Torah.

At the end of the service, Michael Chusid, a veteran of last year’s Rosh Hashanah celebration at Men’s Central, blows the shofar.

“Every generation has to overcome terrible suffering,” Carron says later, after the last of the roasted chicken and apple tart has disappeared. “What we’re doing on Rosh Hashanah is redeeming that holy spark within us, which is what happened when we crossed the Red Sea. It also points toward the freedom that I hope each of these guys will experience in some way in the New Year.”

Carron’s hope reminds me of Daniel, who’s marking the New Year and his newfound freedom by returning to a life that will be completely the same and totally different from the life he knew six months ago. Really, each day is like that — each day is the beginning of a new year. That’s easy to say, but hard to accept. In my own life, I’m starting to realize that, for now, it’s enough to move through each day as if I accepted it.

So whenever you happen to be reading this, Shana Tova.

For more on Rabbi Carron’s work, see

Don’t Let Affirmative Action Fade


Louisville, Ky., is a city divided between white and black, rich and poor; between the West End of town, where blacks live in camelback shotgun shacks and the East
End, with its leafy neighborhoods of white gentility.

But after decades of court-ordered school integration, Louisville’s Jefferson County Board of Education has one of the most successful voluntary desegregation programs in the country. Schoolchildren take the bus from one end of the city to the other to maintain a broad racial balance, attending schools in both the inner city (black) and the outer suburbs (white).

Two years ago, Crystal D. Meredith, a white mother, sued the school board after her son was refused admittance to his neighborhood school because of his race. The board argued in court that his attendance would have tipped the school’s racial balance, and won. But after the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower courts decision in favor of the board, Meredith’s lawyer, Teddy B. Gordon, a self-made civil rights attorney and a Jewish liberal, believed the new conservative Supreme Court would hear the case, and he was right: After prolonged review, the case is on the Supreme Court docket for December.

The Louisville case may seem far away and far removed, but the outcome will impact hundreds of public school districts in the country if it turns back the clock on voluntary desegregation programs.

For instance, as part of a court-ordered voluntary desegregation plan in 1981, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) created its popular magnet programs, using race as one of the determining factors for school assignments. In a city rife with racial tensions, the LAUSD’s aim was for a more diverse student body.

If the Louisville school board fails to win its argument before the Supreme Court, these popular LAUSD programs will be in jeopardy. Magnet assignments, based on points that use race to achieve ethnic balance, would be invalidated by this ruling. Permits With Transportation (PWT), another LAUSD program, which buses minority students, whose resident schools are highly segregated, to more integrated schools outside their neighborhoods, would probably cease to exist.

Why is the Louisville case so important? Why should we, as Jews, care about its outcome, especially if our children may not even attend public schools? Is affirmative action even relevant in 2006, in our schools, in our world? What are the benefits of diversity in education anyway?

To answer these questions, one first needs to look at the repercussions of the decision by the Supreme Court in Dowell v. Oklahoma City in 1991 that ordered a return to neighborhood schools and an end to court-ordered desegregation, replaced by voluntary desegregation plans — such as the one Louisville developed.

For many in fiercely segregated and poor areas, the return to neighborhood schools meant a return to the segregated classrooms of the past. According to Jonathan Kozol in “The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America” (Crown, 2005), inner-city schools are now experiencing levels of segregation that haven’t been seen since 1954, when Brown v. Board of Education declared segregation unlawful.

A look at the 2005-2006 statistics from a few of LAUSD’s urban schools tell the story: Jefferson Continuing High School: 91 percent Latino, 9 percent black, no white students; Fremont High School, 91 percent Latino, 9 percent black, one white student; Locke High School; 65 percent Latino, 35 percent black, .1 percent white; King/Drew Magnet: 67 percent black, 31 percent Latino, .5 percent white; Crenshaw High School: 65 percent black, 35 percent Latino, .1 percent white; Garfield High School: 99 percent Latino, .2 percent black, .2 percent white.

If one looks, it’s not too hard to see the connection between the resegregation of our urban classrooms to the numbers of minorities admitted to our public colleges. Prop 209, the California voter-initiative passed in 1996, that banned consideration of race and gender in admissions to public colleges and hiring, has only added to the problem.

In June, the Los Angeles Times reported a “startling statistic” — that out of 4,800 incoming freshman at UCLA, only 96 were African American, the lowest level of black student enrollment in three decades. Students, professors and administrators mutually blame the school’s admission process and the passage of Prop 209 for the falling numbers of black students — a number that has been slipping for a decade.

If prospective black students were to visit the Westwood campus today expecting to see a reflection of its big-city surroundings, they would be sorely disappointed. The same goes for other UC campuses: UC San Diego counts 52 incoming African Americans this fall; UC Berkeley, 140; UC Merced, 33.

How does a return to segregated LAUSD classrooms and the end of affirmative action at the UC schools reflect upon Jewish concerns? Do we read these statistics and shrug our shoulders? Do we accept a de facto, “separate but equal,” for blacks and Latinos in our public schools and colleges?

Jews have always invested themselves in the fight for fairness and equality in the realm of public school education. After World War II, the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith waged campaigns against discrimination in schools and the workplace.

In the late 1940s, Jewish activist Esther Swirk Brown initiated the case that eventually landed in the Supreme Court as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

That 1954 landmark ruling declared that “separate but equal” has no place in the field of public school education, and is “inherently unequal.”

In 2003, the Supreme Court returned to Brown v. Board of Education when it upheld affirmative action in higher education at the University of Michigan’s law school. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor reflected upon the enduring impact of Brown in America, and expressed the hope that improvements in lower levels of education would make such policies unnecessary in 25 years. Speaking for the majority opinion, she wrote:

“This court has recognized that education … is the very foundation of good citizenship. (Brown v. Board of Education). Effective participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups in the civic life of our nation is essential if the dream of one nation, indivisible, is to be realized…. The skills needed in today’s increasingly global market place can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas and viewpoints.”

For all these reasons — good citizenship, an appreciation of different cultural values, preparation for the future — our children benefit most when they participate in a diverse society. As fully functioning citizens they must learn to sit down and talk to others to appreciate cultural differences.

Without exposure to different viewpoints, races and values, our children will be stuck with their heads in the sand, with impenetrable dunes forming on their backs. A diverse student body is necessary in assuring that all children have equal opportunities, which should be as important to Jews as to any other minority.

In December, the Supreme Court will decide if the same principles for higher education apply to public schools.

Does “race” still matter?

Although Louisville’s desegregation plan may be flawed, as attorney Gordon will try to argue, an end of affirmative action and a return to segregated schools, as we are witnessing in the LAUSD and on the UC campuses, doesn’t bode well for anyone. Affirmative action is not only for the benefit of minorities, but for the benefit of all our children as well.


Charlotte Hildebrand is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles.

Lieberman Facing Lose-Lose Proposition in Race


Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the first Jewish candidate for vice president, is in a world of political trouble. Facing a tight race for the Democratic nomination from Ned
Lamont, he has already started to collect signatures to run as an independent, should he lose the primary on Aug. 8.

Lieberman’s friends say he is being scapegoated by the left for his brave foreign policy centrism and support of Israel. He is this generation’s Washington Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, they suggest. And Jews, remembering the old foreign policy battles, should support him.

A Lieberman adviser said, “I find the behavior of a large segment of the Jewish community to be reprehensible and outrageous. When he’s in trouble like this, they all ought to rally to him.”

If this story line were true, a host of Jewish Democrats, centrist on foreign policy, such as Rep. Howard Berman (North Hollywood), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Rep. Jane Harman (Venice), would be under just as much assault, and the party would be on the verge of civil war. They are all doing fine, although Harman did face a strong primary challenger whom she defeated.

And it’s not as if the Democrats have become a party of doves. Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) voted for the war and won the 2004 presidential nomination. Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) supported the war and still leads the field for 2008. Lieberman has received the support of the overwhelming share of Democratic officeholders and party leadership, so he’s hardly an isolated hero in the party’s ranks.
So why Lieberman?

Lieberman seems to genuinely like, admire, support and crave the approval of two men who are anathema to most Democrats: President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He might also be one of the last Democratic voters left in America who thinks the Iraq War was a great idea, brilliantly executed by a smart president, leaving America and Israel much stronger than before.

Even those who oppose an immediate pullout have a hard time arguing that the war was a great idea in the first place and that things are going quite well now. Lieberman told the New Yorker, “On Iraq, Bush has it right.”

Last September, Lieberman returned starry-eyed from Iraq with glowing reviews of the president’s Iraq policy, published in The Wall Street Journal. He particularly noted the large number of cellphones, an observation made all the more embarrassing by continuing sectarian violence.

The president then quoted him at length to show the wisdom of his policy and how at least one Democrat gets it. At the State of the Union address, Bush kissed him. That kiss may prove fatal, as Bush, who is much shrewder than Lieberman, noted to Larry King, when asked if he liked Lieberman: “You’re trying to get me to give him a political kiss, which may be his death.”

Lieberman’s identification with the Bush inner circle was obvious as far back as the 2000 election. In the vice presidential debate with Cheney, Lieberman’s body language made it obvious that even if he disagreed with Cheney, it was a mild dispute among mensches of the world, who understood each other. Cheney saw the opening created by the Democrat’s eagerness to please, and he smilingly eviscerated Gore. Lieberman must have loved the post-debate reviews about how gentlemanly he was.

There is a market in the media for centrists who give their own party grief (see Sen. John McCain [R-Ariz.]). Not only has Lieberman become Bush’s favorite Democrat, he is also the favored Democrat on Republican-leaning Fox News.
Before the Lamont challenge, he regularly went on the Sean Hannity show, where Democrats are routinely bashed. He angered Democrats by telling Hannity, “It’s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.”

The Bush-Cheney team reviles Democrats of all stripes, whether left, right or center. Bush, however, has a long history of picking out and cultivating individual Democrats, like a wolf culling a weak sheep from the safety of the flock. That way, no concessions need to be made to Democrats, generally, while the impression of bipartisanship remains.

On Medicare, Bush played on Sen. Ted Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) ego to get the reform ball rolling, and then cut him out of the negotiations over the final Republican bill. For a while, the tame Democrat was Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, until he began to look like a nut case.

And now, the best catch of all has been the eyes-wide-shut Lieberman who, unlike the others, has built a career out of being the wise and thoughtful centrist revered by the media talking heads.

Lieberman seems to be genuinely baffled and indeed petulant that his fellow Democrats won’t let him have it both ways: To say he is a strong Democrat with a largely progressive record and to work hand-in-glove with the White House to denigrate his own long-suffering and battered party.

Try as he might to separate himself from Bush, with secondhand, lame lines like, “I know George Bush. I have worked against George Bush. I have even run against George Bush. But, Ned, I’m not George Bush.” He may still fall victim to the Lamont ad that shows Lieberman morphing into Bush, with the words, “Joe Lieberman may say he represents us, but if it talks like George W. Bush and acts like George W. Bush, it’s certainly not a Connecticut Democrat.”

In a year that figures to be good for Democrats, Lieberman’s fate is a lose-lose proposition that just has to be endured. Many Democrats can’t figure out which outcome is worse.

If Lieberman wins the primary or wins as an independent, he will be even more insufferable. He might even join the Bush administration as secretary of defense, further hurting his party by leaving a Republican governor to select his replacement in the Senate. If he loses, he will become a martyr available to help the administration bash Democrats on foreign policy.

At least let’s stop pretending that this is a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. That is far too elevated an enterprise. This is really about the consequences of Lieberman wanting to have his cake and eat it, too.

Spoof Rockers Pen ‘UnOrthodox’ Tunes


Two minutes into a What I Like About Jew concert, singer Rob Tannenbaum hears chairs scraping and feet trudging toward the exit.

“We tell people, ‘Look around, because not all of you are going to be here until the end,'” says the band’s co-founder, Sean Altman.

Never mind that the Boston Globe called the musical comedy duo “racy and funny and smart and affectionate … for a generation of fully assimilated Jews who grew up on punk rock and ‘South Park.'” The chair-scrapers apparently do not appreciate the band’s hillariously crass, politically incorrect, subversively funny and X-rated musical chutzpah, which makes Adam Sandler look like a choirboy. Consider “Reuben the Hook-Nosed Reindeer,” who is forced to buy Santa’s toys wholesale; the circumcision ditty, “A Little Off the Top”; and “Hot Jewish Chicks,” who put “the whore in hora.”

“They Tried to Kill Us, We Survived, Let’s Eat,” adds dandruff and acne to the list of Passover plagues.

The artists, who have performed together for seven years, will play for the first time in Los Angeles on April 20 and 21 at Tangier Lounge in Los Feliz. The revue will include a performance by Jewish comic Morgan Murphy (a writer on “The Jimmy Kimmel Show”) and songs from the band’s new CD, “UnOrthodox.”

What I Like About Jew is more irreverent than unorthodox, which is typical of artists immersed in what critics call the bourgeoning “hipster Heeb” movement. Like Jewcy T-shirts and the “Jewsploitation” flick, “The Hebrew Hammer,” their work sets out to replace images of the neurotic nebbish with an new persona: the cocky, hard-ass Jew.

“We’re having fun rejecting, embracing and acknowledging the stereotypes,” Altman, who is in his 40s, says from his Harlem brownstone.

“Our music appeals to Jews who connect to their roots by watching edgy comics like Sarah Silverman and Jon Stewart,” Tannenbaum, also 40-something, says from his Manhattan office. “People have criticized hipster Heebs for being glib and superficial and not getting Jews into synagogue, but we don’t have a cattle prod, which is what we’d need to get these Jews into temple. What we can do is share with them some of our own experiences about post-assimilationist Jewish identity.”

Actually, the musicians have lured Jews into shul, when they’ve played the occasional synagogue gig. Rabbi Lia Bass scheduled them for a concert at her Conservative, Arlington, Va., shul in 2005 — in part to draw a younger demographic to her congregation.

“The band has its pulse on the unaffiliated Jewish community,” she explains. But she was sure to warn congregants “that the show was raunchy and that they should come at their own risk.”

Rabbi Chava Koster wasn’t sure she’d be able to sit through her first What I Like About Jew concert at a club several years ago.

“But it proved to be an eye-opening take on American Jewry,” recalls the spiritual leader of Manhattan’s Reform B’nai Israel-The Village Temple. When the act later played at her synagogue, “people first squirmed, then you heard furtive laughter, and then roaring at the jokes about Christmas envy and factory bar mitzvahs.”

“Today I Am a Man” mocks the bandmates’ own bar mitzvahs, both of whom were so secular, “mine almost had a pork bar,” Tannenbaum says.

Tannenbaum met Altman at Brown University, where the two were (and still are) a study in contrasts. Altman, a professional musician and former front man of the band, Rockapella, is 6-foot-5, jovial and happily married to an opera singer he met on the Jewish online dating service, JDate. Tannenbaum is shorter, with a wicked wit, a day job as music editor of Blender magazine and a grudge against the 18 women who consecutively rejected him on JDate.

What I Like About Jew began in 1998, when Tannenbaum showed Altman a song he had written after performing in a punk-metal band in order to write about the experience for Details magazine. It was a December dilemma diatribe, satirically sung like a Nat King Cole ballad, which cheekily cites a certain anti-Semitic slur.

The impressed Altman immediately invited Tannenbaum to perform the song with him at a downtown Christmas concert, where the club’s manager dourly approached them during intermission. Some patrons had been offended by their use of the K-word, the manager said. Undaunted, the musicians enunciated the epithet even more clearly during their next set.

“I thought, ‘African American rappers aren’t afraid to use the N-word; gays aren’t afraid to say, “fag,” but Jews are still terrified of the term, “kike,”‘” Tannenbaum recalls. “It’s part of that old Jewish fear that if you stand out, someone’s going to take you to Auschwitz. But we wanted to deflate the power of the slur by not making it taboo anymore.”

The performers decided to stand out during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal by writing “Hanukah With Monica,” which describes “Eight whole days of goin’ nuts/on the presidential putz.” The clever ditty received national radio airplay in 1999 and put the band on the Manhattan club circuit.

The musicians went on to play sold-out crowds and receive mostly rave reviews everywhere, from the Village Voice to the Washington Post. (“If I were a rich man, I’d plunk down the cash to see this show,” The New York Times quipped).

Their repertoire now includes “J-Date,” where “everyone’s funny and everyone’s smart/and 20 pounds heavier than they say they are.” “Let’s Eat” mocks the musicians’ own ignorance about Judaism: “We were slaves to pharaoh in Egypt; the year was 1492. Hitler had just invaded Poland. Madonna had just become a Jew.”

Then there’s “Jews for Jesus,” which came about when the songwriters mused that while they’re unobservant, they haven’t sunk so low as to become Christian. The Ramones-inspired tirade attacks the sect with punk rock vitriol: “Jews for Jesus, I wanna chop you into pieces … I hope you get lots of diseases. You’re born again, that’s nice. Stay dead — that’s my advice.”

But while the performers are bad boys, “We’re bad Jewish boys, which means we’re not really so bad,” Tannenbaum insists. True, there are those chair-scrapers and the reviewer who couldn’t decide if the Rat Pack-style “Chicks” was racist or misogynistic.

Altman insists the song is affectionate in both ways: “We present the characters as buffoons, like Archie Bunker in ‘All in the Family,’ so you can’t really take them seriously.”

What I Like About Jew will play the Tangier Lounge, 2138 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, April 20 at 7:30 p.m. and April 21 at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tickets are $15. For tickets, contact (323) 666-8666 or www.virtuous.com. The “UnOrthodox” CD is in stores.

The “UnOrthodox” CD is in stores or can be purchased online at www.whatilikeaboutjew.com.

 

PASSOVER: Don’t Be a Slave to Tradition


When I was growing up, I never had to ask my mother what she would be serving at the seder. It was essentially the same menu every year: dishes like homemade chopped liver, chicken soup with matzah balls, turkey with gravy, mom’s special “Shabbos potatoes” (first boiled then roasted with seasonings) and matzah farfel with mushrooms. All tasty foods, of course, but the predictability was not that exciting, to put it mildly, in deference to my mother, who surely worked hard.

Why is this night the same as every other seder night? I’d ask. “Because that’s what my mother made,” she’d reply.

As she talked about the seders she’d had with her parents and grandparents, her face glowed, as if they were there preparing the seder with her. She even used my grandmother’s cooking methods: She chopped the liver by hand, in a large wooden bowl, using a hockmesser — a sort of cleaver with a rounded blade. She cut up fresh horseradish for maror, instead of using milder romaine lettuce.

Here was my dilemma when I came of age and began making my own seders: Should I maintain tradition even though I didn’t have the same associations with these foods that my mother did? Since Passover celebrates freedom (another traditional name for the holiday is Zman Cheiruteinu, or The Time of Our Freedom), I wanted to express my freedom by making foods of my own choosing, rather than feeling bound by a menu that was “traditional” only due to its roots in Eastern European cuisine.

Over the years I’ve served at some nontraditional dishes at seders, including beanless chili, gazpacho, short ribs and bruschetta served on small pieces of matzah instead of the traditional toast. But my favorite dishes are those that tap back into the deep roots of this holiday. They allow me to create new traditions via foods that took on Passover-related significance.

Another name for the holiday is chag ha’aviv, or the spring holiday. So I focus on foods that are seasonal, whose flavors evoke the freshness of spring. Other dishes aim at connecting with the many ceremonies associated with Passover.

Ceviche is a fish dish of Peruvian origin, now served widely across South America. The fish is marinated in lime or lemon juice, with the citric acid actually cooking the fish without the use of heat. In this version, the two different kinds of fish present a nice mix of color and texture, while the vegetables also add color and flavor. The tangy freshness of this blend awakens the palate, as spring weather does to the body.

While Sephardim have it a bit easier on Passover, Ashkenazim have basically two starches to choose from: potatoes and matzah. Nearly every other starch falls under the category of kitniot, which are literally legumes, but include rice and corn, and are forbidden to Eastern European Jews.

There is, however, another choice that offers variety, along with taste and healthfulness. Quinoa. The grain was never classified as kitniot because it was unknown in Europe at the time the custom was established. It has a vaguely nutty taste, is extremely high in protein and low in carbohydrates. In this recipe, the lemon juice picks up on the ceviche’s citrus, and the dish is prepared almost like tabouli. But the key ingredient is certainly the fresh mint, which adds a perky crispness that clearly recalls spring.

A great centerpiece dish is lamb and Jerusalem artichoke stew. Lamb has particular Passover significance, connecting with the paschal lamb offering both in Egypt, and later in the Temple. And although Jerusalem artichokes are neither from Jerusalem nor artichokes (they are actually sunflower tubers with an artichoke-like flavor), the name still reminds us of our annual seder proclamation to celebrate “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Plus, they are fresh in season during March and April, as are many of the wild mushrooms in this hearty stew.

Of course, there are many other dishes that can tap into the seasonal and customary aspects of Passover. Express your freedom by cooking almost anything you’d typically make for a Sabbath meal, just leaving out certain ingredients!

Two-Fish Ceviche

1 1/4 pound tuna steak
1 1/4 pound firm white fish (tilapia, trout or sea bass work great)
2 medium jalapenos, seeds and membranes removed, diced
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 small red onion, diced
juice of five to 10 limes
lemon juice
1 avocado, sliced

Remove any skin from fish, using a sharp paring knife. Cut tuna into cubes about 1-inch wide. Slice white fish into strips, about 1/2 inch by 1 1/2 inches.

In a glass or plastic bowl, mix fish with jalapenos, cilantro and lime. Add juice of limes. If limes did not yield enough juice to cover all fish, add enough lemon juice to cover.

Refrigerate, covered, for 90 minutes to two hours, stirring mixture every 15-20 minutes.

Serve in small bowls or cups. Garnish each with a half-moon of avocado.

Serves eight.

Note: If made earlier in the day, remove most of the juice after two hours (or once all fish has darkened in color) to avoid over-marinating.

Quinoa Pilaf With Fresh Mint

2 cups raw quinoa (available in specialty markets)
4 cups water
1/2 medium red onion, diced
2 scallions, diced
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 ounces sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Mix quinoa and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce flame and simmer covered for 15 minutes, or until most of the water has been absorbed.

Remove quinoa to a large bowl and let cool.

Add all other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Serve at room temperature.

Serves eight.

Lamb and Jerusalem Artichoke Stew

2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups dry light red wine (Chianti or Cote-du-Rhone, for example)
2 cups water
1 1/2 pounds Jerusalem artichokes, peeled, larger ones chopped to uniform size with smaller ones (available in specialty markets, sometimes sold as “sunchokes”)
2 pounds mixed wild mushrooms, chopped thick (cremini or shitake, for example)
2 medium yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 carrots, chopped large
2 small turnips, chopped large
2 white or golden potatoes, chopped large
2 bay leaves
1 bunch fresh thyme
salt
pepper

In a Dutch oven, brown lamb in 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat, approximately five minutes. Add Jerusalem artichokes, wine and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and skim any excess fat from the top of the pot.

Meanwhile, in a frying pan, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add brown mushrooms, stirring, approximately five minutes. Remove to bowl. Heat remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, sweet onions and garlic for about three minutes. Add to mushrooms.

Add carrots, turnips and potatoes to lamb pot. Stir to cover vegetables, and cook for 15 minutes, or until vegetables are softened.

Add mushroom mixture, bay leaves and thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook uncovered until liquid reduces by about one-third, then continue covered, 45 minutes to an hour in total.

Remove thyme and bay leaves, and serve on plates.

Serves eight.

Joel Haber (funjoel.blogspot.com) is a freelance writer and screenwriting consultant. He loves to cook because he loves to eat.

PASSOVER: 10 Contemporary Plagues


In the Passover haggadah, we read of the 10 Plagues that God sent to convince Pharoah to let the Hebrew slaves go free. The plagues — bloody, violent, magical — are a dramatic highpoint of the narrative. Mindful of the pain these plagues brought even to innocent Egyptians, Jews have traditionally spilled out a drop of their festive seder wine at the recitation of each plague.

We don’t suggest that these modern plagues are the work of a punitive God or punishment for society’s wrongdoing — we’ll leave that analysis to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

But we recall that with the original plagues, the rabbis tell us, the purpose was to instruct the Israelites as much as to punish the Egyptians. In that light, we offer 10 contemporary plagues, named in Hebrew, as an opportunity to mourn their victims and discuss how we can prevent them and their like from plaguing us next year.

Nation & World Briefs


Church Condemns Israel’s Barrier

A Protestant church has condemned Israel’s West Bank security barrier. The proposal, passed Saturday by the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s assembly, denounced the barrier for causing hardships for Palestinians, and also called on the denomination to play a role in “stewarding financial resources — both U.S. tax dollars and private funds — in ways that support the quest for a just peace in the Holy Land,” The Associated Press reported. But it did not specifically mention divestment from Israel or companies that do business with Israel. The vote is the latest taken by Protestant churches to protest Israel’s security barrier.

Travel Warning Issued on Gaza

The U.S. State Department warned U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the Gaza Strip. The advisory, an intensification of prior warnings, calls on U.S. citizens to “avoid crowds, maintain a high level of vigilance, take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness and exercise caution in public places or while using public transportation” during Israel’s withdrawal, which began this week. It also reiterates prior calls on Americans to avoid travel to Gaza, postpone unnecessary travel to the West Bank and weigh the necessity of travel to Israel.

Roberts Backed ‘Moment of Silence’ in Schools

While working in the Justice Department for the Reagan administration in 1985, Supreme Court nominee John Roberts wrote in a memo to his supervisor that he would not object to a constitutional amendment on school prayer. Referring to a Supreme Court ruling that struck down a school prayer law in Alabama, Roberts wrote that the idea that the “Constitution prohibits such a moment of silent reflection — or even silent ‘prayer’ — seems indefensible.”

The memo was among nearly 5,400 pages of records pertaining to the Supreme Court nominee released by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Roberts also wrote in a memo that a California group’s memorial service to protest abortion was an “entirely appropriate means of calling attention to the abortion tragedy.” Roberts’ confirmation hearings are expected to begin early next month.

Sharon: More Withdrawals Possible

Ariel Sharon said additional West Bank settlements could be handed over to the Palestinians as part of a future peace agreement. Asked in an interview with the Yediot Achronot newspaper if Israel eventually would withdraw from other West Bank settlements, he said, “Not everything will be there. The issue will be raised during the final-status talks with the Palestinians.” Still, Sharon insisted that the large West Bank settlement blocs would remain intact. In addition, he reportedly noted, “I never replied when asked what the boundaries of the settlements blocs are — and not because I’m not familiar with the map.”

Fund to Buy Up Gaza Hothouses

A private international fund agreed to pay Jewish farmers in Gaza $14 million to buy most of the hothouses they will leave behind. Representatives for the Gaza farmers signed the deal Friday with the Economic Cooperation Foundation, the Jerusalem Post reported. The deal came days before Israel began evacuating the Gaza settlements. The foundation, which organized the collection of private donations to fund the project, will transfer the hothouses to a Palestinian Authority company. James Wolfensohn, Mideast envoy for the Quartet — the diplomatic grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations that is driving the “road map” peace plan — was instrumental in raising funds for the transfer, and himself donated $500,000.

Bedouin Soldier Behind Bars

An Israeli soldier who killed a British activist in the Gaza Strip was jailed for eight years. Wahid Taysir, a volunteer from Israel’s Bedouin Arab minority, was sentenced by a court-martial last week to 10 years in prison for manslaughter and another 18 months for obstruction of justice but was told that three and a half years of the sentence would be suspended. It was the toughest punishment handed down to an Israeli soldier for an unlawful killing in a combat zone during the Palestinian intifada. The ex-sergeant confessed to shooting Tom Hurndall, a member of a pro-Palestinian activist group, in the southern Gaza town Rafah in 2003 and to falsely telling investigators that Hurndall had been armed. The court-martial said it chose not to give the defendant the maximum possible sentence of 27 years in prison because of his exemplary combat record and to pre-empt accusations that it was scapegoating a member of an ethnic minority.

Minority in the Homeland

Jews are no longer the majority of residents in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip combined, a study found. According to data supplied last week by the liberal daily, Ha’aretz, Jews constitute slightly more than 49.3 percent of the population in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The figures were supplied by Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s statistics bureaus. The paper included as non-Jews some 185,000 foreign workers in Israel and almost 300,000 immigrants who are not Jewish under Orthodox law. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said that the Gaza withdrawal would help Israel demographically by ridding it of responsibility for 1.4 million Palestinians. According to Ha’aretz, demographers say that after the Gaza withdrawal, the percentage of Jews within Israel’s borders will be around 56 percent, a majority that should last for around 20 years.

Oy, Mr. Tallyman

Harry Belafonte retracted his recent statement that Jews were “high up in the Third Reich.” But the singer and political activist told the Jerusalem Post that Jews had contributed to Nazism.

“Was it rampant? Absolutely not,” Belafonte told the Post. “But these things happen and people are not exempt from their behavior.”

To support his contention, Belafonte referred to “Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers,” a book that detailed how some Germans of partial Jewish descent served in the Nazi army during World War II.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Remembering Tibor


As Shavuot approaches, I can’t help but remember the afternoon of the first day of Shavuot two years ago when my neighborsand I stood outside our homes and wondered whether terrorists had struck again, as the sound of sirens permeated the air and an army of helicopters circled the smoke-filled sky above the Fairfax area. We soon learned that a small airplane had crashed into an apartment building, killing the four people on board, as well as one apartment resident, 78-year-old Holocaust survivor, Tibor Reis.

Since that day, I have thought a lot about Tibor and learned much about this kind and humble man. Tibor had been studying at his beloved shul, Young Israel of Los Angeles, until 2 a.m. on the first night of Shavuot. Before attending services early the next morning, he changed his regular routine and went to the mikvah, the ritual bath. (This act would take on a much greater significance after his death because his body was too charred to perform taharah — the ritual pre-burial washing.)

Tibor had been a member of Young Israel for more than 30 years. During that time, he had never recited the haftorah. He always deferred, saying they should give the honor to someone more worthy. At the synagogue that morning, the gabbai told him that no one was more deserving and so, on the last day of his life, Tibor had the last aliyah and chanted the haftorah for the first time. The haftorah described an esoteric view of Heaven with such verses as: “The heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.”

After shul, he had planned to go to a friend’s house for lunch, however he made the fateful decision to go home and get some much-needed rest. At 4 p.m., as he slept, the plane plummeted into the building. Everything in his apartment was destroyed by the fire — with the exception of his tallit and his kittel. He was buried in Israel, wearing those garments.

Tibor was born in Czechoslovakia and grew up in the city of Komoren, on the Hungarian-Czechoslovakian border. He was liberated from Mauthausen concentration camp, where he helped his father survive. His mother and two brothers perished, while two other brothers, one now living in New York, the other in Israel, survived.

After the war, while living in Komoren under a very oppressive regime, Tibor was caught helping Jews escape to Austria, and was put into a Russian prison for three years. Although he was tortured, he never revealed the names of those working with him.

He was finally freed after brilliantly pleading his case before a judge. After his acquittal, a kind non-Jewish stranger helped him escape to West Berlin. He eventually made his way to America, and lived in Los Angeles for more than 30 years. He lived alone and had never married; his shul was the center of his life.

Young Israel’s Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz found special significance in Tibor’s Hebrew name, Moshe Yehuda. He said King David, who was a member of the Yehuda Tribe, also died on Shavuot; and that Moshe, who gave us the Torah on Shavuot, was considered our most humble Jew. Tibor was a serious scholar who studied every day; he spoke six languages. Young Israel is in the process of creating a library in Tibor’s memory.

Tibor took the bus downtown every day, where he repaired watches in the jewelry district. He had modest means but always gave tzedakah and tried to help others. He visited homebound people in the neighborhood on a regular basis and often sent money to his brothers and their families.

Tibor enjoyed cooking for himself and told everyone at the shul what he prepared for Shabbat, or about a great soup he made. He frequently shopped on Fairfax Avenue, and was somewhat of an institution to everyone. He walked all over and loved to schmooze along the way. People often helped carry his packages or gave him a ride home.

Those familiar with Tibor’s death ask the same question: Why did this good and decent man, who survived concentration camps and a Russian prison, die in such a horrible, violent manner? Unfortunately, we will never know the answer to this cruelest of ironies.

However, we can honor Tibor’s memory by making a special effort to reach out to those who are alone; and during Yizkor this Shavuot, we can take an extra moment to think of Tibor, as well as those who died who have no one to remember them.

Despite innumerable hardships, Tibor maintained a positive outlook and accomplished many things during his lifetime. Nothing exemplifies this more profoundly than the touching scene that took place after his memorial service at Young Israel before his body was sent to Israel for burial.

As the casket was carried down the street to his apartment building and the awaiting hearse, the sidewalks on both sides of the street were lined with an eclectic mix of Fairfax area residents. Many people cried as they stood quietly and respectfully, honoring Tibor one last time.

Rest in peace Tibor.

To contribute to the library, make checks payable to: Young Israel of L.A.-Tibor Reis Library Fund, 660 N. Spaulding Ave., L.A., CA 90036.

Gloria Baran develops social action and community service programs for children, including a variety of tzedakah projects for Camp Ramah.

 

Islamic Group Uses Jewish Sect as Tool


The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) recently announced that "in an effort to foster better cooperation between Muslims and Jews," its Southern California chapter, along with several California mosques and branches of the Muslim Student Association, would sponsor a speaking tour by "the renowned Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, director of Neturei Karta."

CAIR claimed that its association with Weiss’ group would improve interfaith dialogue and "focus on ways for Muslims and Jews to cooperate, in order to challenge racism, injustice and those who attempt to divide us along religious lines."

In fact, CAIR’s sponsorship of the tour, which occurred last month, had nothing to do with improving dialogue or facilitating understanding — just the opposite.

Neturei Karta is a tiny, ultra-Orthodox Jewish group that advocates the dismantling of Israel. It has justified suicide bombings and blamed the Holocaust on "Zionists."

Its rabbis have spoken publicly at an anti-Israel rally under the banner of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist organization. After Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and leader of the terrorist group Hamas, was killed in an Israeli military action, Weiss memorialized Yassin at a New York ceremony.

During its tour, the group appeared at several colleges and universities. On the UC Irvine campus, it reiterated its support for suicide bombing, suggesting that Palestinian terrorism was the moral equivalent of Israel’s efforts to protect its citizens.

In effect, by sponsoring Neturei Karta, CAIR was able to advocate for the destruction of Israel without having to say so. Moreover, by using a Jewish group as its mouthpiece, CAIR sought to insulate itself against charges of anti-Semitism and posture as a broad-minded civil rights organization.

If this were true, though, if CAIR were actually interested in "foster[ing] better cooperation between Muslims and Jews," why is the only Jewish group it endorses a fringe sect denounced by virtually every Jewish organization? Why is CAIR’s sole Jewish ally committed not merely to the dissolution of the Jewish state but also amenable to violence against its citizens?

Those who have followed CAIR were not surprised by its involvement with Neturei Karta. CAIR was founded by leaders of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), an anti-Semitic, Chicago-based organization that has directly coordinated its activities in the United States with the leadership Hamas, according to the FBI. IAP regularly distributed communiques from Hamas — notices that openly called for a global jihad against Jews.

Since its founding, CAIR has refused to condemn Palestinian terrorist organizations by name. Indeed, when the Hamas militant Musa abu Marzuq was arrested, the group said, "This decision raises the concern that our judicial system has been kidnapped by Israeli interests." CAIR has called U.S. legislation and enforcement regarding terrorism "Zionist inspired."

While CAIR may be dedicated to securing liberty and justice for some Americans, its growing presence in the mainstream overshadows its continued willingness to offer a megaphone to conspiratorial Israel-bashers, like former Illinois Rep. Paul Findley, who says U.S. foreign policy "is made in Israel," and Bill Baker, former chairman of an anti-Semitic political party, who has written that "Zionist Jews" in America have "dual loyalty, first to the State of Israel."

During this period of increased tensions, it is vital that Muslim and Jewish groups work together to safeguard minority rights and to speak with one voice against terrorism, whatever its provenance. As long as CAIR supports groups like Neturei Karta and excuses terrorist attacks against Israel, it cannot be seriously counted as a member of the civil rights community.


Kevin O’Grady is associate director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Orange County/Long Beach regional office. He can be contacted at kogrady@adl.org.

Big Brother Lurks in Higher Education Bill


In recent weeks, a number of major Jewish organizations — the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) American Israel Public Affairs Committee and others — have announced their support for congressional passage of H.R. 3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003, which would amend Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to enhance international education programs.

The purpose of the bill is to restore some semblance of ideological balance to Middle East studies centers on university campuses, and it is for this reason that many Jewish organizations support it.

Leaving aside the question of whether it is the government’s role to ensure ideological balance in academic settings, the bill unquestionably is a well-intentioned response to a serious problem. However, Section (6) of this proposal, which is now before the Senate, would establish an international higher education advisory board.

These government-appointed overseers not only would “monitor, apprise, and evaluate” academic programs but also would have the power to “assure that their relative authorized activities reflect diverse perspectives and the full range of views on world regions, foreign languages, and international affairs.”

In other words, the U.S. government would have the power to decide whose views are heard.

With all due respect to my elders and betters who support this legislation (with the proud exception of Alan Dershowitz, whose opposition rightly prevented the Jewish Council for Public Affairs from endorsing it), this proposal is wrong for America, wrong for academia, wrong for American Jewry and wrong for Judaism.

Section (6) is wrong for America. This proposal is Big Brother at its worst and runs counter to cherished principles of freedom of expression in open and public debates. The marketplace of ideas is the vital place where scholars and citizens — not the government — decide which views are considered mainstream options and which views are consigned to the margins of the extreme. Read the text of the bill carefully — it’s online at

Truthbusters


In the checkout line of any Whole Foods Market, you can pick up a copy of a magazine called Adbusters. It’s a 120,00-circulation leftist journal, published in Vancouver, with a corresponding Web site that prides itself on deconstructing the commercial forces its editors believe erode “our physical and cultural environments.”

The current March/April issue features a lead-in piece by editor Kalle Lasn titled, “Why won’t anyone say they are Jewish?” In it, Lasn points out the fact that of the 50 or so neocons influencing United States diplomatic and defense policy either within government or in media and think tanks, about half are Jewish.

“Deciding exactly who is a neocon is difficult since some neocons reject the term while others embrace it. Some shape policy from within the White House, while others are more peripheral, exacting influence indirectly as journalists, academics and think tank policy wonks. What they all share is the view that the U.S. is a benevolent hyper-power that must protect itself by reshaping the rest of the world into its morally superior image. And half of the them are Jewish.”

The last sentence wasn’t an aside, it was the point. To prove it, Lasn thoughtfully listed alphabetically every neocon he could think of (he missed some) and put a black dot next to the Jews (he missed some). The design department may have flirted with the idea of a yellow star, but decided to go for understated. The fact that many of these post-Cold War warriors are Jewish has been remarked upon and written about quite a bit since the lead up to the second Gulf War, especially in the European and Arab press. Pat Buchanan has been hyperventilating about it for years.

Lasn presented his point not in the spirit of revelation, but of social inquiry. “But the point is not that Jews (who make up less than 2 percent of the American population) have a monolithic perspective,” he wrote. “Indeed, American Jews overwhelmingly vote Democrat and many of them disagree strongly with Ariel Sharon’s policies and Bush’s aggression in Iraq. The point is simply that the neocons seem to have a special affinity for Israel that influences their political thinking and consequently American foreign policy in the Middle East.”

And the point of “The Passion of the Christ” was not to prove that heinous Jews dressed as medieval Shylocks killed Christ, just that the Temple priests had an affinity for power and money that led to the death of the Christian savior. Hey, as Mel Gibson says, the facts are the facts.

At the end of his piece, Lasn posed the question, “Does the Jewishness of the neocons influence American foreign policy in the Middle East? Or is this analysis just more anti-Semitism?”

I think on “Law and Order” they call that leading the witness. On the eve of Gulf War II, I wrote that if it were to turn into Vietnam II, fingers may very well start pointing at these Jewish neocons. After all, as David Brooks wrote in that Jewish neocon redoubt, The New York Times, in the code language of conspiracy mongers, “con is short for ‘conservative’ and neo is short for ‘Jewish.'” The hard left and hard right converge, as humorist Tom Lehrer always knew they would, in their suspicion of “The Jews.”

A policy maker’s religion can be relevant, whether you are Jewish, Muslim or born-again Christian.

Adbusters is free to single out Jewish names on a list, but to do so without a deeper, considered analysis of what that so-called phenomenon means is an invitation to anti-Semitism and conspiracy-mongering. It’s incitement under the guise of insightfulness.

We are on the cusp of Purim, a joyous, joke-filled holiday (see cover) that recalls a time Jews found themselves in the corridors of power yet faced with an existential threat. Then, as now, Jews were powerful and weak, poor and rich, assimilated and separate, liberal and conservative; yet the Hamans of the world were all too happy to scapegoat them all and be done with it.

“If you can give your foes a collective name – liberals, fundamentalists or neocons – you can rob them of their individual humanity,” Brooks wrote. “All inhibitions are removed. You can say anything about them. You get to feed off their villainy and luxuriate in your own contrasting virtue. … Improvements in information technology have not made public debate more realistic. On the contrary, anti-Semitism is resurgent. Conspiracy theories are prevalent. Partisanship has left many people unhinged.”

Happy Purim.

The DeLay Factor and the Jews


The recent clamor over Howard Dean’s demand for U.S. "evenhandedness" in the Middle East was sweet music to the ears of Jewish Republicans, who hope 2004 will be a watershed in their long but frustrating effort to rally Jewish voters to their cause.

But the Republicans could overplay their hand, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who sometimes makes Ariel Sharon sound like a peacenik, is just the man to do it.

The Texas congressman, who has emerged as a powerful friend of Israeli nationalists and right-wingers, was on the attack last week, lashing out at Dean, the surprise frontrunner in the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.

But DeLay’s pro-Israel ardor, while galvanizing to a small Jewish minority and useful to mainstream leaders, could neutralize the positive political impact of President George W. Bush — whose support for both Israel and an active peace process may play well among Jewish swing voters.

During his 18 years in Congress, DeLay, a former Houston exterminator, has been known mostly for his intense partisanship, his hard-right views on domestic subjects and his close relationship with groups like the Christian Coalition.

For much of that time he was considered cool to Israel — hostile to foreign aid, and not particularly sympathetic to the pro-Israel cause on Capitol Hill.

That began to change in the mid-1990s as pro-Israel conservatives courted the increasingly powerful DeLay, and as a key segment of his core constituency — conservative Evangelical Christians — began to put their version of "Christian Zionism" at the top of their list of priorities.

Some analysts say that agenda is based heavily on Christian biblical prophecies, which require constant warfare in the Middle East and a terrible fate for those Jews who do not jump aboard the millennial bandwagon.

Whatever their motives, their support has been welcomed by pro-Israel groups, which face mounting hostility from liberal "mainline" Protestant denominations. It was especially welcomed by the Jewish right, which for the first time had a politically powerful champion in Washington.

DeLay was reborn into the pro-Israel faith with a vengeance.

In 2000, he was one of only three lawmakers voting against a congressional resolution praising Israel for its withdrawal from Lebanon, claiming that Israel was making a big mistake giving back any land.

In 2002, DeLay headed a congressional effort to deflect pressure on Israel from the leader of his party, President Bush.

This year, he delighted hard-liners when he told the pro-Israel lobby that Israel has a perfect right to keep Gaza and the West Bank.

"I’ve toured Judea and Samaria," he said, "and stood on the Golan Heights," he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). "I didn’t see occupied territory. I saw Israel."

He repeated that claim last week to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Jewish right-wingers here applaud such talk; mainstream Jewish leaders, while not entirely comfortable with it, are grateful for his support, and some swallow their discomfort over his hard-line views.

But if DeLay is the spearhead of a new GOP effort to woo Jewish voters, the party may be in trouble. Poll after poll shows that American Jews remain committed to the fundamentals of land-for-peace negotiations.

Despite the way Jews from across the spectrum have rallied behind a terror-beset Israel, there is very little support here for the settlers who are determined to hold onto their West Bank and Gaza outposts, or the neo-Kahanists who dream of "transferring" Palestinians somewhere else.

American Jewish leaders have expressed great skepticism about the Bush administration’s "road map" for Palestinian statehood, but polls indicate most American Jews support its principles.

DeLay may score points with some top Jewish leaders, who are interested mostly in his ability to serve as a counterweight to administration pressure on Israel, and with single-issue pro-Israel groups, which easily overlook a domestic record that makes him the prince of the Christian right.

But the majority of Jews are centrists whose votes are shaped by a wide array of issues, not just Israel. On both the foreign and domestic fronts, Jewish voters, while not as liberal as they once were, are poles apart from DeLay and his ultra-conservative colleagues.

On the Middle East, President Bush has struck a balance that may appeal to that Jewish mainstream: strong, unequivocal support for Israel, but also for a genuine peace process that everybody knows can only end with the creation of a real Palestinian state.

That combination could be especially attractive next November if the Democrats nominate a challenger beholden to the party’s left flank, where Israel isn’t exactly the most popular cause in town.

DeLay represents a support for Israel’s most extreme factions and a harsh vision for the future of the region that is repellent to many of the Jews the Republicans hope to attract.

A Biblical ‘Song’ and Dance


Two years ago, Aileen Passloff stumbled across a long-lost rehearsal tape from her 1967 dance/opera, "The Song of Songs," inspired by the Bible’s "Song of Solomon." The New York choreographer promptly telephoned her friend, Deborah Lawlor, co-founder of Hollywood’s Fountain Theatre, who had performed in the lyrically erotic show.

"This music had lived so vividly in our hearts all these years … [but] having never been written down, [it] had subsequently been lost," Lawlor, 63, said. When Passloff called, they decided to restore the tape digitallly to give the music "a new production and a new life."

Al Carmines’ lush score provides the backdrop for "The Song of Songs," now at the Fountain, in which five dancers pair off while singers chant biblical text. Its creators hope to convey the essence of the ancient poetry, which describes God’s love for the Israelites as the passion between a man and a woman. "The chief metaphor is that of a woman’s body as a garden," Passloff, 71, said. "It’s unexpected stuff for the Bible."

The acclaimed choreographer — the granddaughter of Russian Jews — was herself surprised by the sensual text when her first boyfriend gave her a copy in high school. Years later, she jumped at the chance to turn "Song" into dance at Carmine’s Judson Memorial Church, a Greenwich Village artist’s hangout.

While recreating the work in Hollywood a quarter century later, Passloff didn’t remember a single step of the original. But the music she had discovered on that dusty reel-to-reel tape helped her remain true to its romantic spirit, she said. If she and Lawlor relied on musical archeology to revive the piece, they feel it’s as relevant post-Sept. 11 as it was in ’67.

"There’s so much ugliness in the world, it’s important to think about the qualities that make us human rather than beasts," Lawlor told The Journal.

"At a time when it’s scary to be vulnerable, the ‘Song’ is about daring to open up and to love," Passloff said.

The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles. For tickets, call (323) 663-1525.

Home of the Free


The first floor of the building in downtown Paris was shielded by black-tinted glass. It wasn’t the clandestine offices of some secret government agency or a gay bar. Rather, it was the synagogue in which my nephew was to be bar mitvahed, with anyone entering the building searched by a security guard posted by the door.

Later, worried that someone who was arriving late might not be able to find us, I stood across the street after the security guard asked me not to wait in front of the synagogue, which might draw attention.

After the hours-long ceremony, the rabbi urged us to disperse immediately rather than milling on the sidewalk, once more ensuring a low profile for the synagogue. This, he said, would help protect against vandalism, as well as local residents who might use such vandalism as a pretext to kick the synagogue out.

Anti-Semitism, I learned on a recent trip through France, is alive and pervasive. Nor, I discovered with some surprise, was the rabbi or those in charge of the synagogue overreacting.

For what else was I to make during a stroll around Montmartre, when I overheard a 20-something man tell a couple, in French, that he was Moroccan. Then he shouted to me, in perfect English, "I hate Sharon."

I could have replied that I’m no fan of Sharon’s, either, but somehow I didn’t think that was his point. Shocked, I just waved back.

"See," he triumphantly turned back to the couple. "An Israeli."

Not quite, but close enough. He had been able to identify a Jew.

A few days later, in the city of Tours, a teen stared straight at me, then noted in French to his two companions, "He’s a Jew."

I was used to being identified as an American abroad. But here, for the first time, my religious identity superseded my national identity.

And suddenly I started wondering how strangers could tell my religion. Do I really have a Jewish nose? Is there really such a thing as Jewish features?

So self-conscious did I become that, going to the beach at the Cote d’Azure, I considered removing the religious medallion I’ve worn around my neck for over 10 years, the Sephardic hand of God. I didn’t, but I became quite aware of when my medallion was covered by my shirt and when it wasn’t.

Back home again, I once again wear my medallion to the beach without a second thought. Recently, seeing a street sign giving the address and pointing the way to a synagogue several blocks away, I also knew that this was something I would never stumble across in France.

And there is something I’ve also taken away from this experience.

We Americans have no idea how truly free we are in our day-to-day lives. Sure, discrimination exists here. But we still see discrimination against any minority — Jew, Muslim or other — as something to be stamped out. In France, discriminatory attitudes have become part of the very air the people breathe.

To quote those famous lyrics, I am proud to be an American; proud and relieved at the same time. The alternative to living freely is living in the same fear that, more and more, pervades the rest of the world.

Increasingly, however, that fear is coming here, masked under the guise of patriotism and homeland defense.

We cannot allow fear to run this country. Otherwise we all become outsiders, the "other" waiting for the finger of blame to point at us. And hiding our place of worship, or who we really are, ain’t much fun.

Just ask the French Jews.


Joseph Hanania is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and the
Los Angeles Times.

Getting Genealogy Help Off the Net


Joanna Rubiner, a 33-year-old actress from Los Feliz, sits in front of a microfilm reader that is likely older than she is. With a turn of the hand crank, she slowly scrolls through page after page of a ship’s manifest hoping to find the name of an elusive ancestor who immigrated to America.

Rubiner, who started collecting family stories at her grandfather’s funeral in 1986, has been coming to the Mormon-run Family History Center for more than a decade to pore over records. The information she’s seeking is not available online, and if it were she’d still want to track down the original document to confirm its accuracy.

“Sometimes I think a seance would be easier,” Rubiner said, referring to the decidedly low-tech medium of microfilmed records.

With software packages like Family Tree Maker and the growing availability of genealogy databases online, family-tree research is being marketed to consumers as an easy, accessible hobby. According to a 2000 Maritz Research poll, nearly 60 percent of people surveyed expressed an interest in genealogy, a 15 percent increase from 1995. This growing interest has spawned the PBS series, “Ancestors,” and the Museum of Tolerance’s new exhibit “Finding Our Families, Finding Ourselves.”

But the rose-colored picture sold to consumers of tracking down great-great-grandparents via the Internet in 30 minutes or less typically falls short. While the availability of records on the Internet is growing, public expectations still outstrip the reality of what’s out there. Most databases have been rushed and are rife with errors, especially when it comes to records with Jewish names. The end result has been a boon for Jewish genealogical societies and online resources, which are increasingly called on to help novice genealogists navigate resources on and off the Internet.

Recently, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation
(www.ellisisland.org) joined with the
Mormon Church to make available the passenger records of 22 million people who
entered America through the Port of New York and Ellis Island from 1892-1924.
According to JewishGen.org  editor Warren Blatt, the database has a 40-percent error rate.

“If you’re a Mormon in Salt Lake City, you’re not going to know how to translate the name Yitzhak,” said Blatt, who will be speaking to the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles (JGSLA) about Jewish given names and JewishGen’s databases on Monday, April 21 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Blatt, 40, said that JewishGen has set up its own Ellis Island database — one of 50 the nonprofit makes available to the public — which takes into account spelling variations of Jewish names to help narrow a search.

“The Internet is a way to jump-start your research, but for serious research you need to consult the original documents,” Blatt cautioned.

Cyndi Howells of CyndisList.com, an index to online genealogical resources, echoed Blatt’s view. She said that the information entered into most Internet databases is about as accurate as a game of telephone.

“You should always be trying to get back to that original document. There’s too much room for error in transcription,” she said.

Tarzana residents Annette and Joe Corn recently joined JGSLA to get help researching their family tree. The 70-something couple received a copy of Family Tree Maker as a gift from a relative but has been unable to make headway with online research.

“I tried filling out as much as I could,” said Joe Corn, who was at the Family History Center learning how to find relatives on the U.S. Census. “I’ve been frustrated with the results on the Internet.”

The need to do research offline has led to a membership increase for groups like JGSLA, which has seen a 20 percent growth in the last few years.

“The person-to-person contact is invaluable to people,” JGSLA President Sonia Hoffman said.

The society itself works directly with the Los Angeles Family History Center and helps augment the center’s holdings by purchasing books and microfilmed records of interest to the Jewish community. But the group’s alliance with the Mormon Church does make some members uncomfortable.

The Mormon Church, which requires its followers to research their own family trees and submit the names of non-Mormon ancestors for baptism by proxy, recently came under fire for posthumously baptizing Jews, especially Holocaust victims. Church leaders pledged to end the practice last December.

“Some people’s attitudes are, ‘What do we care?’ Other people get offended,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman added that JGSLA’s relationship with the Mormon Church has been very good. When a Jewish name periodically appears in the church’s online International Genealogical Index, she said that the society is able to get it removed.

For Rubiner, a five-year JGLSA member, the records offered by the society and the Family History Center are an invaluable resource. She said the details on the shipping manifest can tell her a lot about the relative she’s researching, like how much money they were carrying at the time, who traveled with them, where they departed from and where they were going.

Researching one relative can take anywhere from hours to weeks, but the allure of discovering details about a person’s life through vital records makes her regular trips to the center worth the effort.

“You get obsessive,” Rubiner said. “It’s never-ending.”

Warren Blatt, editor-in-chief of JewishGen, will speak
at the Skirball Cultural Center on Monday, April 21, at 6:30 p.m. For more
information, visit www.jgsla.org .

War necessary and just under Jewish Law


One cannot answer the question of whether going to war with Iraq
is morally justified without first establishing what state we are in now.

The truth, which many American Jews find too bitter to
swallow, is that we are in a state of total war already. We face an implacable
enemy who has struck and killed Jews repeatedly, who has vowed to wipe out the
State of Israel while making clear — in Djerba, in Mombasa, in Pakistan — that
all Jews worldwide are targets of this murderous hostility.

The very same enemy is at war with the United States of
America. Sept. 11 represents open warfare and mass murder, but this war has
been waged, overtly and covertly, for decades. The aggression includes
relentless indoctrination of hatred against Americans, aid to America’s
enemies, bombing of U.S. embassies and terrorist violence against its allies
and interests.

The “co-incidence” of war on America and the Jews is not a
coincidence. America is seen as the source of economic dynamism sweeping away
traditional hierarchies and of cultural transformation that is undermining
authoritarian faiths and inherited structures. The West, modernity, media,
“uppity women,” homosexuality, unlimited cultural choices, the decline of
Islamic civilization in the arts, science and human rights are all lumped
together and blamed on the “Great Satan”: America.

These hated values are further stigmatized by hanging them
on Jews and on Israel, the “Little Satan.”

Anti-Semites charged that Jews introduced modernity and
capitalism in Western Europe; other anti-Semites blamed Jews for communism in Eastern
Europe. Now, Islamic Jew-haters blame them for purveying the evils of Western
capitalist democracy.

Arabists have recently claimed that America is hated because
it supports Israel. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth. Israel is
hated as the outpost of Western civilization successfully placed in
Dar-al-Islam (the land divinely ordained for Muslim rule only) and maintained
by its Western technology and skills.

Some argue that the war is being waged by Al Qaeda, not Iraq.
No. This 50-plus-year war has been waged by a loose, shifting collection of
states and groups, not infrequently divided and fighting among each other but
all drawing upon Arab cultural resentment and radical Islamic fundamentalism.

The question is whether our overt war against Al Qaeda
should be extended to Iraq.

The answer: Iraq, by its behavior since 1990, has confronted
the United States and made war a needed response. Iraq invaded Kuwait. After
losing the Gulf War and to avoid invasion, it promised to disarm. Instead, Iraq
frustrated and expelled inspectors while renewing its effort to achieve nuclear
arms.

In conjunction with chemical and biological weapons, these
instruments are intended to conquer Israel, to subdue and extort Iraq’s
neighbors and to intimidate and drive out the West. Should Iraq succeed in rearming,
it would not hesitate to use these terror weapons — or to supply them to Al
Qaeda or other terrorist groups and regimes — for use against the United
States, Israel or Jews anywhere or against other populations.

Here we come to the core questions: Maybe Iraq can be
hamstrung or delayed? Maybe, even if armed, Iraq’s dictator will not strike in
fear of American retaliation — just as he has held back since 1991?

This is precisely the needed judgment call. Unlike a
situation in which we have been openly attacked, and striking back in
self-defense is self-evidently justified, the Iraq situation is debatable.
Maybe Saddam Hussein will never attack, and we can get by without a war.

My personal judgment is: Taking the risk of no imposed
disarmament is intolerable. No dictator so vile and no regime so dangerous dare
be allowed to become a nuclear-biological threat. We need only remember the
massive losses of life due to the world’s initial appeasement of Hitler and
Stalin.

If the United States strikes preemptively, it risks
inflicting limited deaths. If we allow Saddam to maneuver successfully and gain
a first strike, the death toll will be staggering. The calculus of risk tilts
overwhelmingly toward preemptive action.

Jewish tradition values peace as the highest good. It
envisions a messianic age in which war will disappear. However, until the world
is perfected, Jewish law rules that there are two legitimate types of wars.
Other types of wars are illegitimate and condemned.

The first is a war of self-defense “to save the people of
Israel from an enemy coming at them.” (Maimonides, Yad Hachazakah, Book of
Judges). Self-defense is considered a milchemet mitzvah (a commanded “good
deed” war).

The second type of legitimate war is in a situation when it
is not clear that the enemy will definitely attack. However, the government
feels that a preemptive strike is warranted for greater security or for
expanded boundaries yielding greater defensive depth against a possible future
onslaught. Since the war is not definitively one of self-defense, it cannot be
labeled a mitzvah.

However, the ruler is authorized to pursue this course of
action by his definition of national security. This war is categorized as a
milchemet reshut (permitted war).

Given that this war is not self-evidently justified, extra
restrictions are placed on the government:

  • Going to war must be approved by the Sanhedrin (a
    legislative-judicial body) and not just the executive branch.

  • There are a wide range of exemptions from service, including
    those people who are afraid (which I interpret to include those who morally
    object to the war).

  • The permitted military tactics are more tightly regulated.
    Maimonides rules that in both kinds of war, one must first offer peace to the
    enemy. Only if the enemy refuses to surrender can one proceed.

In my judgment, the Iraq situation is a classic case of a
permitted war. The Bush administration has decided that America’s security
demands preemptive action now. Since the justification is not self-evident, it
is right that Congress be asked to approve — it already has done so — and that
a wide range of exemptions (and expressions of opposition to the war) be
allowed.

The likely loss of life among U.S. armed forces and Iraqis,
both military and civilian, is tragic and heartbreaking. However, given Saddam
Hussein’s cruel and barbarous reign, many more lives will likely be saved by
his overthrow than will be harmed in this war.

Personally, I hope for much more. Smashing this dictatorship
will erode terrorists’ standing everywhere, encourage moderates and unleash
forces of democratization throughout the region. States that harbor terrorist
groups will be shocked into distancing themselves from these reprehensible
forces.

Of course, this demarche could fail; if so, the forces of
terror would be strengthened. This is the risk of freedom. There are no
guarantees in history anymore.

In my judgment, the risks of not acting are far greater; the
cancerous growth of violence and terror cannot be stopped any other way. If we
fail, we must take responsibility for our actions. If we succeed, democracy and
human dignity will take a giant leap forward.

Israel, too, may gain new neighbors willing to make peace.
For the Jewish people, then, what is good for America and American lives, will
be a blessing for Jews as well. In other words, if this war succeeds, then, as
the Bible promises, what is a blessing for the Jewish people will again be a
blessing for all the families of the earth.

Rabbi Irving Greenberg is the president of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation.

In Praise of Hypocrisy


"Why do you Jews cheat so much?"

The nun sitting next to a colleague of mine on a plane had first asked him whether she could pose a question about his Jewishness. He was more than agreeable, but expected to be queried about some point of Jewish custom or thought. He had not expected the accusation, nor did he accept the premise that thievery flourished in the Jewish community in greater proportion than in the population at large. Moreover, the unmistakable hostility in her voice left no room to suppose that her question was born of naïve misinformation.

My friend answered with a story. A simple Jew in the old country made his living as a messenger, transporting letters and sometimes goods between towns. He once traveled with a consignment entrusted to him by a dealer in precious stones. As luck would have it, he was accosted on the road by a revolver-brandishing brigand who demanded that he empty his pockets. Expecting only some loose change, the thief was delirious with joy when he discovered the gems in his heist.

"Say, would you mind doing a favor for me?" the Jew asked. "When I return to my client, he will suspect that I fabricated the robbery and stole the gems myself. I have no signs of a struggle to show otherwise. Would you be so kind as to shoot a hole through my jacket?"

The thief, celebrating his good luck, saw no reason not to comply and put a bullet through the Jew’s clothes.

"That’s good," the Jew said, "but not convincing enough. Would you perhaps put another through my sleeve here and here?"

This continued until the thief had put all six bullets into the Jew’s clothing. The Jew then pounced on the thief, beat him to a pulp and calmly retrieved the gems.

Looking up at the Jew walking off, the thief could only spit back his displeasure, "Filthy, conniving Jew!"

My friend continued, "For hundreds of years, you stole and plundered what meager resources we could cobble together. Cunning and deceit became tools for survival. For this, you call us cheats! Thank God, we now live in a society where we are protected by law, like all other citizens. The vast majority of us are law-abiding, beyond the norms of the rest of society. For a small minority, though, habits of hundreds of years sometimes take a while to change."

A bit of disingenuousness is not always a terrible thing. A bit more of it might have saved the city of Sodom.

According to tradition, it was law — not behavior — that made Sodom so thoroughly irredeemable. The rabbis saw Sodom very differently from the view popularized by Christian commentary and Cecil B. DeMille. To the rabbis, sodomy meant preventing people from performing acts of lovingkindness to others. Sodom’s residents were selfish, but they didn’t just stop being kind to others — they elevated selfishness to the standard of law. Not want-ing to be bothered by panhandlers, they criminalized the act of giving to strangers. They conceived of the world’s first gated community: wanting their privacy (and always in the mood for fun), they legislated that any guest who stayed past sundown was fair game to the depredations of the rabble.

The angels who were sent to warn Lot to flee the soon-to-be-destroyed Sodom found him "sitting at the gate." Local courts used to set up shop at the city’s entrance, so we are not surprised that a midrash tells us that Lot had been appointed a judge over them "that very day."

Rav Itzeleh Volozhin, a 19th century Torah sage, explains that timing was everything. Thoroughly evil societies can still be livable if decent folks can sidestep evil laws — and can be sneaky in applying it. Typically, the venal instincts of others leave the door open for the good individual to remain good. He or she can subvert the evil through bribery, artifice and cunning. If, however, an honest, incorruptible and energetic enforcer presides over a system of corrupt laws, the door slams shut. Sodom’s fate was sealed, Itzeleh says, when a scrupulous Lot was appointed to oversee the legislated evil of the city, and would see to it that corruption was doled out with consistency and regularity.

The proper way, then, to deal with unfair laws is to not regard them as lawful and binding.

Ironically, we often unconsciously turn our personal failings into binding patterns or predictable "laws" of behavior.

Voltaire — the great French Enlightenment anti-Semite — was likely correct. Hypocrisy, he wrote, is the homage vice pays to virtue. We should recognize that we are imperfect, that there are ideals not yet achieved that still ought to be cherished rather than dismissed. This is far better than telling ourselves that we are doing just fine.

Worse yet is to take our shortcomings and turn them into new ideologies and models of rectitude. We ought to be able to recognize when we have left Jerusalem, and wound up in Sodom. When we do, it would be best to let Lot rest in piece, rather than shlep him along to give evil the imprimatur of good.

A World Destroyed, to Be Displayed


Not long ago, a group of distinguished academics and government officials from Poland filed into the Santa Monica offices of world-renowned architect Frank Gehry. They came to talk about a Jewish museum.

Gehry is their dream pick to design the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews. Slated for completion in 2005 at an estimated cost of $55 million, the 46,000-square-foot Warsaw museum will display an integral part of Poland’s past to future generations.

“The Polish people should be acquainted, and to some degree confronted with the Jewish history of Poland,” said historian Jerzy Halbersztadt, project director. “The Holocaust brought Jewish life in Poland to an end. We need this important part of our history, which was amputated in such a brutal way, to be brought again to us so it will not haunt us like a phantom limb.”

The museum will rise across from the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, on land donated by the city. On the same plot of land in 1944, the Jewish Council, or the Judenrat, organized for the last stages of the ghetto.

Inside the state-of-the-art museum, visitors will see Polish Jewish life in all its glory, as well as in its depths. Using multimedia technology and life-sized re-creation, the museum will allow visitors to enter the homes, streets and villages that nurtured Polish Jewry for almost 1,000 years. Visitors will be able to witness the thriving 16th-century yeshiva world with a visit inside Salomon Szachna’s yeshiva in Lublin, and see a performance of S. Anski’s “The Dybbuk,” with the famous actress Ester Rachel Kaminska.

The museum will draw on its collection of tens of thousands of artifacts to enhance the displays. Those displays will include exhibits on the Nazi invasion of Poland, and the subsequent extermination of the majority of the country’s Jews.

The push to finance and build the museum comes as Poland struggles to deal with its Jewish past. Some 3.5 million Polish Jews perished in the Holocaust. The communist regine stifled investigation into the war years, but since communism’s fall there has been national soul-searching regarding the country’s wartime atrocities against Jews.

At the same time, Jewish culture in Poland is undergoing something of a revival. New Jewish theaters, Yiddish and klezmer festivals, Jewish restaurants and bookshops have become widely popular among all Poles, not just the country’s 8,000 Jews.

The impetus behind the museum came as much from Polish Jews as from the government. The founding director was the late Jeshajahu Weinberg, creator and past director of the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv. The project’s chief historian is professor Israel Gutman of the Hebrew University and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres heads the museum’s international committee.

The Holocaust is a blot on Polish Jewish history, organizers say, but it must not obliterate the high points of Jewish life in Poland. Announcing the museum to Jewish leaders in New York earlier this year, Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller said, “Jews were not just ordinary guests in Poland. The nations of Poland and the Jewish nation have over a thousand years of common history, and the disappearance of Jews from Poland was a great impoverishment for the country.”

The exhibits will feature some of the notable heirs of Polish Jewish culture, from I. B. Singer, Sam Goldwyn and David Ben-Gurion to director Roman Polanski and architect Daniel Libeskind. Gehry, himself, is the descendant of Jews from Lodz, Poland.

Organizers hope the museum will serve to educate not just future generations of Poles, but Jews as well. Over 100,000 Jewish tourists visit Poland each year, many of them from Israel. In addition, numerous Jewish youth groups tour through the country. By some estimates, as many as 80 percent of Jews across the world can claim some Polish roots. Organizers project that 250,000 people a year will visit the completed museum.

The Polish government will provide 25 percent of themuseum’s construction cost, with private donations expected to make up the rest.So far, organizers have raised a fraction of that, and they are turning toJewish Americans of Polish ancestry for financial help. Locally, the PolishConsulate General is helping to establish a Los Angeles-area fundraising group(send e-mail to consulgeneral@consulplla.org  for more information).

In the meantime, Gehry has done some initial consultation, and organizers are hopeful that they can raise the remaining funds. The museum won’t diminish the Holocaust, Halbersztadt said, adding, “Our museum will be a museum of life.”

For more information on the museum, visit www.jewishmuseum.org.pl/index-gb.html  or call (48) 22 833 0021.