Coming to terms with ‘need’ this Yom Kippur

It’s not that I’m greedy and want too much, there’s just a whole lot out there that I need, for myself and my family and even for the dog, Gus, that my kids brought home last year because they needed a dog, so they rescued him from the animal shelter in Van Nuys, for $650, and when I asked why they had to pay so much money for a rescue dog, they said this one was especially cute and the shelter auctioned him and we had to outbid everyone else because we felt Gus needed to be ours. 

The thing about “need” is, you don’t know you have it until it’s staring you in the face, or knocking on your door or, these days, popping into your inbox at 60-percent-off-for-the-next-12-hours-starting-now-only-for-our-special-customers. Once you get past the basics — food, water and a warm, dry place in which to sleep — the possibilities are endless. Like the 8,000-square-foot fixer-upper that Dodgers couple owned in Holmby Hills across from their 11,000-square-foot residence. In divorce papers, the wife said they needed the smaller place for “overflow laundry.” The husband, meanwhile, pretended he was broke so he could cheat the wife out of her half of the Dodgers’ $2 billion price tag, because, you see, he needed both billions to sustain just his own lifestyle. 

I said this to some friends at dinner the other night — how laundry seems to grow along with a person’s bank account — and they agreed that rich people have more needs, and are therefore entitled to more leeway, in their dealings with the world. We were talking about those businesses downtown that were raided last month by the FBI and Homeland Security, allegedly for laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel. Someone who happens to know one of the accused brought up the fact that those downtown businesses are often very lucrative; they need to deal mostly in cash to avoid paying taxes like the rest of us saps. Someone else suggested that one of the alleged money launderers owns a great deal of commercial property in the area. He probably needs the cash to renovate the buildings so he can raise the rent on his tenants. 

It’s not just a downtown thing, or an L.A. thing. It’s not just an American thing. People all over the world have needs that grow exponentially with their wealth. You can’t begrudge the wealth, or trivialize the need, or draw a line between what’s reasonable and what’s excessive. In some parts of the world, an entire family can live for a whole year on what my kids paid for Gus at the shelter; who am I to say, then, that Leona Helmsley’s dog didn’t need the $12 million she left him in her will? 

Beside, very often this need for creature comforts engenders greater, more elusive needs. Have you noticed how the very successful seem to need to achieve ever greater feats? Or how the very wealthy seem to need ever greater recognition, respect and admiration? The athlete who has to break his own record; the airline magnate who plans to land on the moon next; the rich friend who is more easily wounded if he feels he isn’t revered enough. It’s human nature, you say, part of our evolutionary drive, the reason we aren’t still living in caves. I realize that. I know I’m guilty of it, too, in my own, minuscule way. Most of the time, I thank God for it. That is, I thank God there are people out there who need to build better computers and fly faster jets and come up with better medication. From a purely selfish standpoint, as well as in the interest of humanity, I applaud and admire their zest. 

But from a purely selfish standpoint, I also wonder whether my own need to do more and to have more isn’t encroaching too much on the rest of me these days. It may have been happening for a while, but I’ve only noticed it recently, since my youngest child decided he needed to move out for good. In between moping around and feeling sorry for myself because I had become useless and without purpose, obsolete as a typewriter in the age of the tablet, I tried to focus more on myself and my work, and that’s when I realized I still need to see most parts of the world, win the Pulitzer and buy drapery for the bedroom. 

I don’t know if it’s something that’s happened with age, the dawning of the realization that I’m getting closer to the finish line and haven’t done everything I would want and don’t have time to do. I don’t know if it’s the fear of having my life shrink, in the way of most older people’s, a little at a time at first, and later in leaps and bounds, so that you go from being a person with a family and a job and many needs, to a lone figure in an empty room with a bathrobe and a pair of slippers and needing only your meds and three (small) meals a day. Maybe it’s just a fight with mortality — this need for a second billion dollars, $35 million in cash, or, in my case, all the dog toys I feel compelled to buy through Amazon

Because, you see, there’s something pure and joyful and hugely seductive about that quality of youth, before it’s been touched by the awareness of all that it’s going to need. I don’t know what to call it, but it’s the thing I adored in my own and others’ children, that I most long for now that I have time to focus on myself and Gus and all our needs. It’s that absence of wants and ambitions and should-be’s, the loss of the ability to draw pleasure or pain from what is, that I’m guilty of letting into my soul. It’s what I’ll be thinking about on Yom Kippur, what I’ll hope, and try to beat, this coming year.

Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. She will read from her new novel, “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.,” Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. at Writers Bloc. More info at

The Real Madoff Scandal: Charitable Hoarding

Of all the shocks of the Bernie Madoff heist, perhaps none was more stunning than the list of victims. Among them were several Jewish foundations and many of our community’s most prominent nonprofits. The losses were staggering, and in some cases crippling.

Yet the real Madoff scandal isn’t the losses; it’s that our community was sitting on vast pools of accumulated wealth, much of it used to little effect. Madoff had his secrets to keep, but so, in fact, did many foundations and endowments. They had money to spend, and they didn’t spend it. Now it’s gone.

Everywhere in the Jewish community we hear of crises —in Jewish literacy and continuity, in a lack of social action and awareness, in a failure of the synagogue and the rabbinate and so on. Yet all this time, there were individual donors and philanthropy executives sitting on large pools of money that could theoretically have been used to help address many of our biggest concerns. As a community, we now live so much for perpetuity that we fail to deal with the present.

I used to think that the rise of Jewish endowments and foundations represented the pinnacle of our life here in America — financial success combined with organizational stability and careful foresight. Now, it appears, we are simply incompetent as a community, having so badly matched what we have with what we need. Either we refuse to deploy our assets to our needs, or our needs, as we define them, are in fact not that pressing. Either way, it is a stunning indictment.

Thanks to tax incentives that encourage their growth, philanthropic foundations have ballooned over the past decade. According to a report from New York’s Foundation Center, foundation assets doubled from $330 billion in 1997 to $669 billion only 10 years later. In their 2007 monograph, “A Study of Jewish Foundations,” Gary Tobin and Aryeh Weinberg note that Jewish foundations have experienced similarly rapid growth. (Full disclosure: Tobin has been a client of mine.)

Most foundations, however, do not spend the bulk of their money, instead storing it away, granting only a small portion to charities each year. “Most foundations with larger assets give away about 5 percent, the minimum required by federal law, which most foundations see as a ceiling, not a floor,” Tobin and Weinberg write.

Similarly, endowments, which also expanded with flush economic times, “rarely withdraw more than 5 percent or 6 percent of their assets per year,” as The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported.

True, endowments have their value. James Tisch, who has previously served as president of the UJA-Federation of New York, defends them strongly. “Endowments allow institutions to survive in bad years,” he told me. “Most organizations don’t have nearly enough after their annual campaigns to make it.”

I don’t disagree. There are many institutions that would close if not for their endowments, which most, thankfully, diversified.

But having an endowment of large enough size to do what Tisch describes is a double-edged sword. It does let you out of the annual campaign rat race. But it also removes your sense of urgency.

If Jewish donors were truly ambitious, they would demand philanthropic extinction. They would give money to organizations only if endowment funds were also put to work. They would launch foundations with a built-in ticking clock: Perform, or else. In short, they would operate as if Madoff were managing their money and that one day it would all be gone, anyway.

That model would involve more risk, more spending, more activity and certainly less for future generations. It would be akin to taking away trust funds from the grandchildren so they actually have to work for a living.

Fine. Jewish donors know that you don’t gain reward without some measure of risk. That’s true in philanthropy, just as it is in business. Yet many Jewish donors still give to the same old causes, the same old institutions, in the same old ways. No wonder so many got burned by Madoff. They followed the crowd on everything.

In Judaism, every 50th year is considered a jubilee year, when we are commanded to return land to its original owner and to let our fields lie fallow. Why not transpose that commandment to our endowments and foundations?

Let us resolve: Every 50 years, our community’s stored wealth must be spent, and its charitable assets depleted. After that, we can begin the work anew — yes, with fewer assets, but with a greater capacity for creativity and success.

Reprinted by permission of The Forward

Noam Neusner is the principal of Neusner Communications, LLC. He served as President George W. Bush’s principal economic and domestic policy speech writer from 2002 to 2004.


I’ve been reading a lot of Ralph Waldo Emerson lately. I recommend him when times get tough.

“People wish to be settled,” Emerson wrote. “It is only as far as they are unsettled that there is any hope for them.”

Well, there is hope for us. A lot of hope — it’s been a very unsettling week.

Any Monday that begins with news that the Los Angeles Times’ parent company is filing for bankruptcy protection, The New York Times is putting its headquarters in hock, General Motors is gong to be run by a government nanny, NBC is going to start cutting its programming hours, unemployment is at record levels and laid-off workers are beginning to protest the fact that Bank of America gets $25 billion and they don’t even get bus fare home — this isn’t the dawn of a new week, but of a new era.

A month ago my Shabbat dinner companion was an investment analyst who pulled all his clients out of the markets in October — October of 2007. He said his company ran sophisticated mathematical models that showed the financial markets were — hmm, what’s the polite word here? — doomed.

“This isn’t the end of the beginning,” he told me. “This is the beginning of the beginning.”

The pain will continue to spread around the world.

“Dubai is going to look like a ghost town,” he said. “It’s overbuilt, there are no buyers and the price of oil is going to go through the floor.”

The image of oil sheiks lighting campfires to keep warm beside their indoor ski slopes comforted me for only an instant. The truth is, their pain and our pain are interconnected, as it is with the fate of those striking Chicago factory workers, the college grads unable to find decent jobs and, of course, our own Jewish community.

“A lot of money has been sucked out of the system,” a lawyer who is active in several Jewish institutions told me Monday. “We’ll make it through this year, but ’09 will be very tough.”

What’s happening in the L.A. Jewish community is, to paraphrase Sam Zell, our ersatz Citizen Kane, a perfect storm.

Endowments invested in the markets are down. As we’ve reported here, some organizations, out raising thousands, saw millions sucked from their endowments overnight.

Donations are trending down among big donors and small. Most institutions receive 80 percent of their donations from 20 percent of their supporters. But it’s the wealthiest among that 20 percent who give the most, and that crust has gotten thinner. Real estate, financial services, and media and entertainment are vulnerable industries now, and Jews are over-represented in all of them.

The Los Angeles Business Journal reported this week that some 300 to 400 Iranian Jewish families face severe financial setbacks or even bankruptcy after real estate ventures run by Ezri Namvar, a leader in the Persian Jewish community, tanked, leaving investors owed an estimated $400 million.

Meanwhile, needs are up. One report out of San Francisco — where the worst of the calamity hasn’t even hit yet — has demand for Jewish Vocational Services up 100 percent. Personnel cutbacks, inevitable as they are, will only strain already stressed service providers more.

Monday night, Larry King had preacher Joel Osteen on CNN to offer spiritual advice to help us through these times. This, too, shall pass, he said. Be the change you want to see in the world.

No offense, but when people are wondering how to keep their homes, that strikes me as useless pap.

(Again Emerson: “I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic…. Do I not know beforehand that not possibly can he say a new and spontaneous word?”)

But then, what do we do? As I walked to my car after Monday’s lunch, the lawyer — who had just spent an hour describing the calamitous state of the community — said, “Hey, don’t worry so much.”

When the money is sucked from a community, what’s left is community. Sure, there is less for now to sustain services it provides, but the bonds of acquaintance, friendship and family abide. When your real estate business skids, when Zell’s L.A. Times defers your buyout payments indefinitely, when a trusted friend loses your millions, there are still friends to go to for support, for commiseration. Stripped of its financial successes, the community Jews have built here is revealed for what it is: bonds among people, not among donors.

“But this is an old custom on the East Side,” wrote Michael Gold in “Jews Without Money,” about growing up impoverished in the Lower Manhattan, “whenever a family is to be evicted, the neighboring mothers put on their shawls and beg from door to door.”

Of course, we are a long way from those dire straits, but the idea that help comes from our neighbors rings true. Relationships with others, with our teachers, with fellow Jews — those relationships are like meat and money in times like these.

We learn geology the morning after the earthquake, Emerson wrote. I suppose we’ll learn the richness of community now that much of its wealth is gone.

TV: Suze Orman isn’t all about the money — she has a spiritual side, too

Every morning in the shower, financial guru, TV personality and best-selling author Suze Orman says a prayer — “I ask for forgiveness and relief for all whom I did harm, and forgiveness and relief for all who harmed me” — and she has been doing so for as long as she can remember.

But it wasn’t until a few years ago, during a trip to Chicago for an appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” that Orman learned the provenance of the prayer. She happened to be in town during Yom Kippur and decided to join her mom for High Holy Day services.

“I realized it came from Yom Kippur,” she said. “I left the synagogue hyperventilating.”

Orman’s hands-on style and natural charisma have made her a favorite of many, particularly women, who used to avoid financial guidance. This is largely because Orman’s approach to handling finances, as seen in her best-selling books and in her popular TV program on CNBC TV, is part of a larger path to self-empowerment. There are also a few subtle spiritual elements in her road to stability and contentment.

After giving a recent talk at Manhattan’s 92 Street Y, Orman spoke to the Forward about her connection to Judaism. Though Orman is not a practicing Jew, her people-first attitude and spirituality have nonetheless been impacted by her Jewish roots.

“Growing up, I asked the questions nobody wanted to ask. I wanted to find the purpose,” Orman said. “It was the force of a Jewish household.”

She grew up on Chicago’s south side with a father who had come from Russia and a mother whose family had emigrated from Romania a generation before. Her father was a feather plucker of nonkosher chickens, and her mother worked for a rabbi at a local congregation. Occasionally the mother’s work, the rabbi, would stop by when her family was eating the father’s work, nonkosher chicken, and they would quickly scramble to hide the treif.

In 1971, during her sophomore year in college, Orman borrowed $400 from an aunt and then headed to Israel to work on a kibbutz.

“I was going to Israel to find God,” she said. “When I told Israelis this, they would spit on the ground and say, ‘The earth is God.'”

Orman was ultimately heartbroken by the trip. Unable to feel any closer to Judaism in Israel, she came back disheartened about the religion. Years later, after her interest in eastern spirituality was piqued, she made a similar quest to India, though she did not end up finding any answers there either.

Despite the fact that Orman has not been associated with Judaism in any traditional sense for decades, this search for purpose continues to inform her work. She says she is still a spiritually inquisitive person and that she has never stopped contemplating the concept of God.

“Faith plays a prominent role in my life,” she said. “Without faith, nothing matters.”

In fact, when Orman was in the process of writing her book “The Courage to Be Rich: Creating a Life of Material and Spiritual Abundance” (Riverhead Trade, 1999), one of six that have spent a considerable amount of time on the New York Times Bestseller List, she called upon her aunt’s rabbi for title ideas. She had been thinking about the haftorah portion she read at her bat mitzvah, and she wanted to be reminded of its significance.

“He started to explain, and I said, ‘Rabbi, I don’t have time for a sermon. Just tell me in one line,” Orman said. “He said, ‘Anything is possible with faith, integrity and courage.’ I thought, ‘Yes, it took courage to be this rich.'”

How rich? Orman’s net worth has been estimated at more than $25 million, with more coming in from her real estate investments, media appearances and books. (Her most recent book, “Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny,” was published in February by Spiegel & Grau.) As for Orman’s courage, it’s evident in both her approach to financial investment and her personal life: She caused a media stir — a risky move for such a high-profile media figure — when she came out as a lesbian last spring in a New York Times Magazine interview.

While Orman credits Judaism with some of the philosophical aspects of her advice, she doesn’t feel the same about her aptitude for managing money.

“I know there is this perception that Jews are really good with money. I don’t know if it is a reality,” she said.

In fact, she offered some specially tailored advice for the current generation of 20- and 30-somethings who — as a result of being raised by an overall successful group of second- and third-generation Americans — might not be so good with money.

“You better get a grip on reality,” Orman said in her typically frank manner. “The rich really are getting richer, and the poor really are getting poorer. Certain rights that you think are coming to you may not be there anymore. You will have it harder than any other generation I have seen.”

This article originally appeared in the

Das Happy Kapital

Last Monday, I took my ticket from the parking valet at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, turned, and came face to face with John Kerry. He was standing beside me, staring at his cell phone.

“Oh,” I said to the senator, at a loss. “Hi.”

“Hi,” he said, and turned back to his phone.

The doors to the hotel slid open. Former Secretary of Education William Bennett moved past me. We exchanged nods. I turned and ran into Paul Gigot, editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal. Three steps behind him, Eli Broad whizzed by.

Just another 30 seconds at the Milken Institute Global Conference, the annual gathering that attracts everybody you’ve ever seen on CSPAN, the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and FOX, including the owner of FOX, Rupert Murdoch — I bumped into him coming out of the men’s room.

The annual conference marked its 10th anniversary last week, with three days of lectures, keynotes and seminars on the topics and trends that organizers at the Milken Institute believe will shape our global future.

The Los Angeles Times compared the gathering to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland or the Clinton Global Initiative Conference. But what makes this high-powered global conference different from all others is the audience: not mainly policy wonks and NGO do-gooders, not politicos and journos (though plenty of all of the above), but investors, corporate types, men and women who collect and distribute private and public capital.

“We run the number one high-yield bond fund in the country!” I heard a conference-goer bark into his cell phone. Many people I met told me they ran hedge funds, though I never did quite figure out what a hedge fund is.

It’s a three-day return to university, if your university hired mostly Nobel laureates and your fellow students were all much richer than you. At about $1,000 per day, it’s just a bit pricier than an Ivy League college.

On Wednesday I attended one of the general sessions in the hotel’s ballroom, at which most of the conference’s 3,000 participants heard the conference’s founder, Michael Milken, in discussion first with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, then with a panel of Nobel laureates. The subject was global warming and energy independence.

The governor laid out how California would lead the way in reducing the gases that cause global warming and developing green technologies. He threatened to sue the federal government if it prevents California from implementing a law reducing greenhouse gases from vehicles within six months. Then, under Milken’s questioning, he switched gears and spoke of “great economic opportunities for green technology.”

Schwarzenegger challenged his audience to invest in California and in alternative energy technologies.

“Everyone needs to look at this as a huge opportunity,” he said.

In Milken’s conversation with the Nobel laureates in science and physics, he prodded them on where future energy investment opportunities lie.

“People are not sitting still on the assumption that we’ll have an energy system based on carbon-based energy,” he said.

But the panelists and Milken seemed to agree that opportunities need government to help out by passing stronger regulations on fuel emissions.

That’s what consistently surprised me at a gathering birthed by a man who has, despite a lifetime in groundbreaking philanthropy, been interred in popular imagination as a poster boy for avarice. For one thing, you end up hearing a lot about alternative energy, the end of oil, the most effective means of Third World development, curing the world’s worst diseases, universal health care, and environmental rescue. And every other chance he gets, Mike Milken himself goes on about healthier eating through soy.

Strip away the power suits and you’re back in a freshman dorm, circa 1978, hearing the campus lefties talk about saving the world.

In fact, idealism infuses this conference. It is at root about doing well and doing good; and often, in the case of investment in energy alternatives and emerging markets, in doing well while doing good. “I’d like to think [government] can tilt the playing field so the private sector is rewarded for doing the right thing rather than the wrong thing,” the Nobel laureate Burton Richter of Stanford University, told Milken. But it was Milken who provided the graph that showed that in the past stronger government regulation has improved energy efficiency while allowing the economy to grow at unprecedented levels.

Clearly, this is not your grandfather’s capitalism.

As I wandered in and out of conference sessions, I discovered not the slash-and-burn mentality of go-go capitalism at work, but something actually closer to the earliest form of capitalism in the Middle Ages. Back then, private capital was a kind of new technology that enabled a nascent middle-class to use its funds to attain wealth previously accessible only to aristocrats. Back then, money in the hands of merchants and guilds challenged the feudal autocracy and funded invention, discovery and social development.

At the Milken Conference, investment was presented as just that kind of engine of human ingenuity, and human capital as a foundation of wealth. The ultimate smart money, Milken and his conference presenters seemed to be saying, is on health and education: there’s no limit as to how much wealth a nation of smart healthy people can generate. At one luncheon, Milken flashed a chart — the man likes his statistics — showing the cost of early deaths caused by heart attacks and cancer.

Invest millions of dollars into finding cures, said Milken — founder of FasterCures, a nonprofit that does just that — and free up trillions in lost wealth.

Nowhere was this noble capital more apparent than in the Conference’s treatment of Israel.

At a time when much of the world makes a special point of singling Israel out for disparagement — just witness the British National Union of Journalists, which last week called for a boycott of Israel after one of their own members was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists — the Milken Global Conference holds Israel up as an exemplar of how a developing country can combine smart economic policies with investments in education and innovation to unleash enormous economic potential. Milken economist Glenn Yago hosted a nearly two-hour session titled, “Israel: Confessions of an Economic Growth Engine,” which dissected the country’s progress and problems.

City Voice: We’re not who we think we are

There is a preconceived notion about the Los Angeles Jewish community being affluent, increasingly conservative and preoccupied with Israel to the exclusion of other issues.

There is some truth in this, as is the case with all preconceived notions and stereotypes. There is also some untruth.

Before the 2004 election, for example, we pundits wrote much about an anticipated Jewish shift to the Republican Party. But on Election Day, Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, received 78 percent of the Jewish vote, according to a post-election study conducted for the Solomon Project by five established political pollsters.

“This number has been remarkably stable over the last three presidential elections,” they said in their report.

And there’s poverty among us. In November 2004, Jewish Journal senior writer Mark Ballon reported on a Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles study that found one in five local Jews earn less than $25,000 annually. In greater Fairfax, with its large senior and immigrant population, the figure was one in three.

Aiming to puncture more stereotypes, I visited the single-room office of the Jewish Labor Committee and talked to the western executive director, Cookie Lommel, an African American woman, a journalist and the writer of books on famous people for young adults. She is, to her knowledge, the first African American woman to head a Jewish organization.

“Stereotypes are hard to kill,” she said. “That’s why I’m here.”
The liberal Jewish Labor Committee was founded in 1934 on the Lower East Side of New York by unionized Jewish garment workers organizing a movement against Hitler’s assault on independent trade unions. The Los Angeles operation began eight months later. Soon their efforts expanded to try to rescue German and East European Jewry. Today, the committee works closely with unions representing teachers and other public employees, supermarket workers, janitors and other elements of the labor movement in Los Angeles.

“We are the link between the organized Jewish community and the labor movement,” Lommel said.

In 1991, as a journalist, she became interested in the airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. She wrote about it for black publications.

Afterward, she started Operation Unity, bringing African American and Latino high school students to Israel, where they worked on a kibbutz. Eventually, that led her to the small Jewish Labor Committee office on the second floor of the Institute of Jewish Education building, a few blocks east of the Beverly Center. Shifting from computer to desk to work table, answering the phone and my questions, Lommel was commander of her one-woman show. Her door was open, and the sounds of a preschool in the yard below provided the background to our chat.

I had called Lommel because it had occurred to me that the news media was not telling the entire Jewish story. We see Jewish Hollywood, Jewish business tycoons and Jewish political contributors, all of them at the top of the economic ladder.

Lommel knows a blue-collar side to Jewish life.

“There is a high percentage of Jews in the membership and leadership of unions,” she said.

Not all of Hollywood’s Jews are studio execs. Plenty are members of IATSE, the union representing technicians, crafts people, artists and stagehands.

Another place where you find large numbers of Jewish members is in the fast-growing unions representing government employees. I can’t think of a grittier, more blue-collar job than being a Los Angeles County social worker, driving through the poorest neighborhoods, checking up on dysfunctional homes, always worried that one wrong decision could leave a kid in the hands of a brutal parent.

Another tough job is being a school teacher. Jews are also supermarket checkers, as Lommel discovered while on the picket line during the 2003-2004 market strike. She told me about a striking checker encountering a longtime Jewish customer, who was shocked at seeing a nice Jewish woman carrying a picket sign. The customer’s surprise reflects how much of the Jewish community accepts stereotypes about itself.

Accepting these stereotypes takes the Jewish community out of the game on important issues vital to poor, working class and middle class Jews.

Certainly Israel is of great importance. The Jewish Labor Council was quick to join other Jewish organizations in protest when the United Teachers of Los Angeles’ (UTLA) 25-member Human Rights Committee planned a meeting at UTLA headquarters to discuss economic sanctions against Israel. The union, which has a total membership of 48,000, decided to deny the use of its headquarters for the event.

But there are issues besides Israel, including one of tremendous importance: the public schools. The people I’m writing about — the teachers, the social workers, the movie industry artists and technicians who don’t work in slow months — can’t afford private schools. They are entitled to send their children to good public schools. It is their right, just as it is the right of every American.

The influential, high-profile elements of the Jewish community are missing in action on this issue. To them, the public schools are a Latino thing or an African American thing. Actually, public education has always been a Jewish thing. And, considering what our community is really like, it still is.

Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. He can be reached at

Poverty in Israel: The divide deepens between the haves and have-nots

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In a shimmering luxury hotel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Israel’s banking and financial elite mingled over cocktails recently with foreign investors as they watched Donald Trump on a live telecast praise the strength of the Israeli market.

Across the street from the David InterContinental, meanwhile, more than 1,000 people protested the country’s premier business conference, chanting “welfare before wealth.”

Welcome to 21st century Israel in microcosm.

Once idealized as a socialist paradise, the Jewish state is increasingly becoming a country of two classes — those who have soared in the increasingly capitalist economy and those who have stumbled in its wake.

Despite its much-mythologized egalitarian image, Israel has always experienced economic gaps. But now the divide between haves and have-nots has grown to alarming proportions. If economic policies and other factors have spawned a privileged class, they also have produced a deeply entrenched underclass populated by the elderly, Holocaust survivors, Arabs, immigrants, ultra-Orthodox Jews, single parents — even two-income families.

One of the many faces representing this underclass is R, a poverty-stricken, 43-year-old mother of four.

At a Tel Aviv-area hospital, she weeps in the corridor as her children are being treated.

“Things are very hard for people like us; there is no life, no holidays, no Shabbat,” said R, who lives in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon, about five miles from the hotel hosting the business conference.

Like others interviewed for this series, R was so ashamed of her plight that she asked that her real name not be used. Her apartment was repossessed recently by the bank, and now she faces eviction from another one because she cannot pay the rent.

R stopped working full time as a government clerk when two of her children became chronically ill. She and her family now live mostly off her husband’s monthly salary of $760 as a moving company employee. Government child allowances and her occasional work cleaning the staircases of apartment buildings bring the family’s monthly income up to about $1,010, officially putting the family among Israel’s 20 percent of households living below the poverty line.

Poverty rates in Israel reached a new peak in 2005, although they leveled off in 2006, according to statistics by the National Insurance Institute, the Israeli equivalent of the U.S. Social Security Administration. According to institute findings, one of every four Israelis — 1.6 million people — lives below the poverty line.

Thirty-five percent of children are living in poverty, leaving Israel with this unhappy distinction: It ranks among Western countries with the greatest percentage of poor children, according to the Insurance Institute.

“Children who grow up in poverty are more than likely to live in poverty as adults,” said John Gal, an economist at Hebrew University. “They won’t have the capacity, human capital and capabilities to be able to get out of poverty, to be mobile in society.”

Chana Eliyahu, 35, grew up in a family living in poverty, and now as an unemployed single mother of a 2-year-old girl, she has become part of that cycle.

She lives off of $640 a month in welfare and child subsidy payments and has trouble finding full-time work because she suffers from anxiety attacks.

Eliyahu lives on the second floor of an apartment building in one of Tel Aviv’s roughest neighborhoods, one populated by drug dealers and prostitutes. To reach her small apartment, one has to pass brothels and climb a staircase reeking of urine and rotting garbage.

Her daughter, Hila, is her inspiration to find a better life outside the walls of an apartment where she fights off rats and cockroaches and tries to ignore the peeling paint.

“My dream for her is to live in a normal place,” said Eliyahu after collecting a week’s supply of dry goods and diapers from Food for the Disadvantaged, a relief group. “She’ll go to a school where there are no drugs or violence and will go to extracurricular activities. We’ll do her homework together. She’s so smart.”

The Rich Get Richer

Meanwhile, about a mile away from Eliyahu’s apartment at the Israel Business Conference, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert boasts that the nation’s economy is in top form.

As evidence that at least one sector is thriving, consider that the number of Israeli millionaires per capita is twice the world average, according to the 2005 World Wealth Report. Approximately 7,400 Israelis are worth at least $1 million, the report said, including 84 who have at least $30 million.

The total liquid assets of Israel’s upper echelon grew by 25 percent to $30 billion between 2004 and 2005, according to the report. Those designated by the report as the nine richest Israelis made their fortunes in everything from diamonds to real estate to communications to entertainment.

During his December speech at the David InterContinental, however, Olmert also acknowledged the roughly one-third of Israeli children living in poverty and announced $143 million in government funding for a new program that aims to help children at risk.

Although the general standard of living in Israel has risen in recent years, the lower socioeconomic classes have seen their situation plummet, largely due to massive cuts in government social spending that began in 2002. The budget cuts reflect an ideological and policy trend that is reordering the country’s class structure, according to Uri Ram, a sociologist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and the author of the upcoming book, “The Globalization of Israel: McWorld in Tel Aviv, Jihad in Jerusalem.”

Even the Labor Party, which typically is associated with generous social welfare spending, said Ram, has gone back on its founding values to become a part “of this process of transforming Israel from a welfare society into this kind of free-market, corporate-dominated society.”

French immigrant Gilles Darmon saw immediate evidence of that socioeconomic transformation when he arrived in Israel in 1994, and it shocked him.

Iranian Jews struggle with segregation, presumption and assimilation

A little historical anecdote tells much about the transition of Iranian Jews in Los Angeles over a 25-year span, from strangers to integral — though distinctive — members of the larger Jewish community.

In the late 1970s and early ’80s, following Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution, the first sizeable wave of Iranian Jews arrived in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.

Many chose the conveniently located Sinai Temple in Westwood, a prominent Conservative synagogue, as their Shabbat gathering place.

Soon their large, extended families, speaking Persian, socialized in the lobby on Friday evenings, ate oneg Shabbat cookies, and attended services the following morning.

Ashkenazi old-timers started grumbling about “free rides” for the newcomers, quite unaware that to the Iranians, paying membership dues to a synagogue was a foreign concept and that it was considered a blessing for guests to take home some cookies and candy after a bar mitzvah or wedding.

Things actually came to the point where a new Sinai Temple president “solved” the cookie problem by canceling oneg Shabbat refreshments after Friday evening services altogether.

Eventually, cooler and more perceptive heads prevailed as both sides came to understand each other’s background and customs.

Today, Sinai Temple is a model of “integration,” with Iranians representing about half of the membership, some 40 percent of the board of directors and even a president emeritus.

There is no demographic study of the Iranian Jewish community in Los Angeles, although its size is generally given as 30,000, including the American-born children of the original immigrants.

This figure is well below the 100,000 in Israel but ahead of New York City’s 12,000 — the only other large concentration in the United States — and bigger than the some 25,000 Jews remaining in Iran itself.

In a thumbnail overview, Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, describes his constituency as economically “extremely successful,” though, despite urban legend, there are poor Iranians, especially in the San Fernando Valley and the Pico-Robertson area.

However, the poor are not publicly visible, mainly because they are generally kept afloat through an extended and extremely tight-knit family structure, one of the hallmarks of the community.

One such family network is the Nazarian clan, in which the accomplishments and wealth of individual brothers, sons, daughters, in-laws, nephews and cousins combine to make the overall family clout and assets bigger than the sum of its parts.

The Journal recently met with the family patriarch, Izak Parviz Nazarian, and his daughter, Dora Kadisha, to listen to an up-to-date version of the Horatio Alger story.

Nazarian was born in Tehran 77 years ago into an impoverished family and went to work at an early age after his father died when Parviz was 5.

In 1948, he arrived in Israel three days after the country declared its independence and immediately joined a tank brigade, was seriously injured in a mine explosion and spent five months in a hospital.

After the war, he bought a truck for construction work, but soon advanced from driver to contractor. Over the next 30 years, he launched a remarkable entrepreneurial career, shuttling between Israel and Iran, and establishing joint enterprises in construction equipment, electronics and sheet metal production.

At the same time, he took an active role in the Tehran Jewish community, campaigned for women’s rights, aided Jewish refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan, and helped Israeli diplomats escape the country when the Islamic Revolution broke out.

In June 1979, Nazarian and his wife, Pouran, along with their three daughters and one son left Iran for good and settled in Los Angeles.

“We were attracted by the climate, which is similar to Tehran’s, and we were readily accepted by the Jewish community, which wasn’t the case in other American cities,” Nazarian said.

Arriving in the new country and city, Nazarian hit the ground running.

He took over, expanded and still chairs Stadco, a leading producer of high-precision tooling and parts for the aerospace industry. In 1985, he founded Omninet to develop the first satellite-based data communication system, and when Omninet merged with Qualcomm in San Diego, Nazarian became a major stockholder in the pioneering cellphone company.

Currently, Nazarian chairs Omninet Capital, a diversified investment firm in the fields of private equity, real estate and venture capital.

As a community activist and philanthropist, he helped organize the secret emigration of Soviet Jews through Armenia to Israel. He co-founded the Magbit Foundation, which has provided $6.5 million to more than 5,000 students in Israel. He is a supporter of Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University, Technion and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

The total wealth of Nazarian and his extended family, which includes his brother, Younes Nazarian, and son-in-law, Neil Kadisha, is estimated at between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.

Currently, Nazarian is focusing much of his considerable energy on the Citizen Empowerment Center in Israel, which seeks to educate the country’s citizens toward the goal of adopting a more functional electoral system.

Holidays are celebrated by the entire clan, with Parviz and Pouran Nazarian hosting around 50 family members for Passover seders, and 25 for Shabbat, including 10 grandchildren.

The Nazarian family tends to be very private and, for the most part, has avoided the media spotlight afforded some of this city’s prominent families. Nevertheless, some scrutiny is impossible to forgo.

According to a recent front-page report in the Los Angeles Times, son-in-law Neil Kadisha has been ordered to pay $100 million in damages following a four-year civil trial in which the judge ruled that Kadisha, as a trustee for a young widow, had taken large sums from her account.

Kadisha has asked for a new trial and a spokesperson said he was eager to refute the charges in public as soon as he is legally able to do so.

In their occupations, Iranian Jews are full participants in the business and professional life of this city, and they support the work of established American Jewish organizations.

Jewish causes must compete to get big charitable gifts

Roland Stanton’s $100 million gift to Yeshiva University is the largest ever to a U.S. Jewish institution. Yet as Stanton himself said, “There are plenty of people who could do it.”
Our research shows he’s right: Dozens of Jewish philanthropists are capable of equaling Stanton’s gift.
So why don’t they? It’s not that wealthy Jews have no reputation for making large gifts to Jewish causes: Julius Rosenwald in his day invented modern Jewish philanthropy; Charles and Edgar Bronfman have built and continue to sustain the core elements of Jewish life around the world.
The question is not one of capacity; the question is whether the Jewish community can imagine and prepare for gifts of that size and scope.
Jews are among America’s elite in philanthropy today. They endow professorships, fund museums, build hospitals and science labs and set up foundations. Clearly, wealthy American Jews have no problem parting with tens or hundreds of millions of dollars at a time. b
But why not more to Jewish causes? Stanton is proof that we can succeed when we ask for big figures — $100 million or even $1 billion. Other Jewish organizations can set their sights as high as Yeshiva University or even higher.
Our annual research of megagifts — gifts above $1 million — turns up at least 50 people who could match or exceed Stanton’s generosity. These typically are wealthy Jewish business leaders who give only relatively modest gifts to Jewish causes. It’s tempting to write these people off as uncommitted Jews, but it would be wrong.
If Jewish causes want to receive megagifts, they have to prove themselves worthy. They have to compete on equal ground with the secular hospitals, symphonies, museums and universities, all of which court and inspire Jewish donors.
Richard Joel came to lead Yeshiva University three years ago; his vision has energized the place and clearly energized Stanton, who is chairman of its board. Stanton could have directed his gift anywhere, but this month he chose Yeshiva University. It means that he believes in something.
That’s the character of today’s new philanthropists. They typically are unimpressed by the donor recognition events of typical charities — the fancy dinners and building-naming ceremonies. They’re more hands-on and active in their philanthropy.
They want to give away their wealth during their lifetimes. Many of them are entrepreneurial in background and temperament; Bill Gates is their living embodiment. They will disburse their money with the same attention they paid to the building of their businesses.
The Jewish communal world not only should prepare for this shift in the philanthropic world, it should rejoice. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of wealthy Jews who have yet to become fully engaged in Jewish giving. There is an enormous opportunity to engage these Jewish givers.
Look at Birthright Israel. Sending thousands of young Jewish adults to Israel for free is expensive, but it has support from some of North America’s biggest Jewish philanthropists. Look at Nefesh B’Nefesh, a project that is helping thousands of people to make aliyah. And look at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s efforts to feed the hungry and poor.
Big ideas attract big donors. These are examples of what good, provocative ideas can do, and we need more of them.
Of course, the Jewish nonprofit world — the professionals who staff the organizations — also must be prepared to become more entrepreneurial. Most often, good philanthropists work hand-in-hand with good professionals.
Look at it this way: Today’s philanthropists think like investors, because that’s how they got wealthy. They want their money to achieve a return; they want results.
We should applaud philanthropists who choose to search for cures for deadly diseases, feed the hungry or educate America’s youth. At the same time, we need to develop and support ambitious initiatives that ensure a secure Jewish community, help grow the Jewish people around the world and take care of the Jewish poor and elderly.
Philanthropists then would feel that the Jewish community is worth both a mighty financial investment and the invaluable donation of their personal involvement.

The Social Security Fix: Pay Back Funds

President Bush has proposed the biggest transfer of wealth in history. He plans to use trillions of dollars in contributions to the Social Security

Trust Fund to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and other administration spending priorities. And he does not want to pay the money back.

The Social Security system works by requiring Americans to make regular contributions to a trust fund. Currently, with more workers contributing to the trust fund than retirees receiving benefits, the Social Security Trust Fund should be accumulating a surplus. If the Bush Administration would leave the trust fund untouched, there would be no Social Security “crisis.”

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the trust Trust Fund to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and other administration spending priorities. is projected to accumulate a surplus of $5.8 trillion by 2020. Combined with future employer and employee contributions, full benefits could be paid for decades to come. The CBO, for example, estimates that without any changes to the system, there would be enough assets to pay growing benefits until at least 2052.

The real threat to Social Security is that President Bush and Republicans in Congress have raided the trust fund to pay for tax cuts and soaring government spending. Over the last four years, the Republicans have taken almost $500 billion from the trust fund to pay for tax cuts, the war and other government expenses. According to the latest estimates from the CBO, the Republicans plan to divert an additional $2.2 trillion from the trust fund over the next decade.

In Los Angeles alone, $64 billion paid into Social Security for workers' retirements will be spent by the government over the next 10 years. That's $15,000 per each worker in the 30th Congressional District.

President Bush and his congressional allies do not want to pay this money back. Instead, they are saying the system is in “crisis” and that privatization and steep cuts in benefits are needed to “save” Social Security.

Listen to what President Bush said just this month about the Social Security Trust Fund: “Some in our country think that Social Security is a trust fund — in other words, there's a pile of money being accumulated. That's just simply not true. The payroll taxes going into the Social Security are spent. They're spent on benefits, and they're spent on government programs. There is no trust…. And we'd better start dealing with it now.”

In his State of the Union Address in 1998, President Clinton proposed that Congress “reserve every penny of the surplus” to ensure the long-term viability of Social Security. This gave rise to the concept of a “lockbox” that would protect the Social Security Trust Fund from federal spending.

And President Clinton, with the cooperation of Congress, delivered on his promise. By 2000, the last year of his presidency, the federal government was not using a single dollar of the trust fund to pay for government operations.

Five years later, the lockbox has been broken and the trust funds stolen. Instead of talking about how to save the trust fund, President Bush presumed in his 2005 State of the Union Address that it's already spent, warning that “in the year 2027, the government will somehow have to come up with an extra $200 billion to keep the system afloat.”

President Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress are the trustees for people's hard-earned Social Security contributions. We need to start asking them some blunt questions. What have they done with the surplus? Why have they squandered the retirement nest egg of American families? And why weren't they more careful or responsible?

The answer to the problems facing Social Security is not to cut benefits or privatize the system. That's a betrayal of millions of honest families who have played by the rules and trusted President Bush and the Republican leadership to do the right thing.

Instead, the answer is three simple words: “Pay it back.”

Rep. Henry Waxman is a Democrat representing the 30th Congressional District in Los Angeles.

Your Letters

Wage Woes

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

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

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

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

Yonaton Shultz, Los Angeles

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Cutrow, Los Angeles

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

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

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

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

Eli Schaap, Assistant Executive Director The Coalition for the Advancement

of Jewish Education

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

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

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

Mary Bauer, West Hollywood

Rich and Soulful

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Torah of Money Director The Shefa Fund

Center of the Star

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

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

Thanks again for your support.

Yehuda Hyman, Los Angeles

Stanley Hirsh

I first met Stanley Hirsh in 1984 when he stopped by tovisit an after-school program in Jerusalem where I was working as a counselor.The kids and I were playing a game of basketball on a cracked blacktop court.

After watching from the fence for a while, Stanley called meover and introduced himself. I assumed he was going to congratulate me forhelping the indigent immigrant children of Israel.

“How can someone as tall as you,” he asked, “stink so bad atbasketball?”

Hirsh was several handfuls of human being. He belonged to avanishing generation of Jewish philanthropists, self-made men (they were mostlymen) whose drive, talent, luck and brazenness made them rich. They were tough,sometimes even gruff, and yet exceedingly generous. Their philanthropy arosefrom the same impulse as their wealth. They wanted to make the most, and givethe most.

Stanley’s involvement with The Journal came toward the endof a long life of achievement and giving. But he showed great, youthfulenthusiasm for this paper. He shared a vision of a newspaper that could serveas a kind of hub for an increasingly diverse and far-flung community. Hesupported decisions that greatly increased The Journal’s size and distribution.He supported editorial content that was tough, fair and compassionate.

We at The Jewish Journal mourn his loss, and extend our deepestcondolences to his family. 

Charming? Not the Word for Politics

Plato described democracy as “a charming form of
government.” Well, perhaps in ancient Greece there wasn’t much else to charm
away the days. But on the eve of Israel’s elections and President
Bush’s State of the Union, “charming” is hardly the word that comes first to
mind in assessing democracy’s attractions. In fact, “democracy’s attractions”
this week approach the oxymoronic.

The president in his message, to be delivered just one day
after the report of the U.N. inspectors is due, will doubtless tell us yet
again, and then once more, why we must make war against Iraq. But if past is
prologue, his argument will be more notable for its enthusiasm than for its

The soldiers, their families, all of us deserve better;
George W. Bush is commander in chief, not cheerleader in chief. Unless Bush
offers new facts to support the imminence of an Iraqi threat, his case will
rest on evidence so vague that it does not even rise to the level of

More: Whether or not Iraq has weapons of mass destruction,
there is no persuasive reason to believe that it has any intention of using
them, much less of passing them over to terrorist groups. Saddam Hussein may be
a psychopath, but he is a crafty psychopath and not at all suicidal. (For a
learned articulation of that position, see the thoughtful article by John J.
Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt in the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine.)
As against the still flimsy case for war, there remains the entirely plausible
prospect that once unleashed, this was will not soon be ended or be contained.

And Bush will likely speak about the economy. In President
Clinton’s days, the slogan was, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

President Bush apparently believes that “stupid” is the
right word to describe the electorate, for how else has he the nerve to propose
the economic program he has proposed, a program that even many Republicans see
as wrong-headed and wrong-hearted? The administration complains about a Proctor
& Gamble commercial that shows a forest ranger pouring Metamucil (a
laxative) into Old Faithful, but sees nothing wrong with pouring tax-free
dividends into the pockets of the already wealthy.

What the president will not tell us in his State of the
Union message is why his administration is dropping nonservice-related health
care for 146,000 veterans, limiting emergency room care for millions of people
on Medicaid, defining old wagon trails in our national parks as “roadways”
(hence making it possible to widen and pave them) and so forth. Charming?

Meanwhile, in Israel, land of the prophets, the most recent
predictions are that Labor will be the big loser, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
the small winner. If that turns out to be so, then we may expect Labor to
implode after the elections, with one faction (under former Defense Minister
Benjamin Ben-Eliezer) entering a Sharon government and the other, in due
course, merging with Meretz.

In the long term, such a realignment may make good sense; in
the short term, it means more of the same, and the same includes what is
arguably the worst performance of any prime minister in Israel’s history. We
may hope the optimists are right when they say that this leopard, who, like all
cats, turns out to have nine lives, will now change his spots. That is to say
we may hope that the optimists are optimists and not fabulists. For it does
seem a stretch worthy of Plastic Man to suppose that a prime minister with
Ariel Sharon’s dismal record on both domestic and foreign affairs, who has
until now been entirely comfortable encouraging the most revanchist elements of
the right and who has been entirely indifferent to the corruptions of the
ultra-Orthodox, will now suddenly be transformed into a secular peace-making

But we may grumblingly hope those who purvey this apparent
nonsense are in fact correct and that those of us who remain skeptical (to put
it mildly) will find ourselves happily eating crow.

The Israeli system itself is, as is always the case at
election time, widely criticized for its encouragement of fragmentation. To
that high cost must now be added significant corruption and the imminent
election to the Knesset of a cohort so disreputable as to render Israel’s
embattled democracy dangerously diseased. A system of proportional
representation that made sense in 1948 is plainly dysfunctional in 2003.

No other nation operates with the peculiar rules that govern
Israel’s decidedly noncharming democracy. But it is hardly necessary to add
that a Knesset whose members hold office by virtue (or vice) of the current
system are unlikely in the extreme to endorse its reform.

At times such as these, it is well, if discouraging, to
remember Kafka: “Only our concept of time makes it possible for us to speak of
the day of judgment by that name; in reality it is a summary court in perpetual
session.” But lest by these words I add to our burden of gloom, also remember
the word’s of Lincoln, who once suggested that few words are more comforting in
affliction and more true and appropriate in all situations than, “And this,
too, shall pass away.”

Leonard Fein, the founder of Moment Magazine, MAZON: The Jewish Response to Hunger and the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy, will speak at the New Israel Fund’s “On the Eve of the Israeli Elections,” Jan. 27 at UCLA Hillel, 574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. For reservations, call (310) 282-0300.

Education Activists Face Off

Los Angeles Board of Education member David Tokofsky has always taken pride in being a Jewish representative in an area that was overwhelmingly Latino.

So Tokofsky was shocked when he learned last week that his one-time supporters, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and billionaire financier Eli Broad, were trying to run their own candidate against him in the spring election.

Broad reportedly offered $10 million to Occidental College if its president, Theodore R. Mitchell, would agree to run against Tokofsky for the District 5 seat. Mitchell declined to enter the race, and Broad denied linking the donation to backing Mitchell.

The controversy pitted two effective styles of Jewish activism against each other — the grass-roots Tokofsky against the boardroom Broad — and raises the question of whether an elected governing body, such as the Los Angeles Board of Education, can be bought.

“This is not anything new,” said District 6 Representative Julie Korenstein, the longest-serving member on the school board. She said Broad and Riordan “came after her” during her last election, spending “thousands of dollars supporting Tom Riley,” who was defeated.

Korenstein also said Broad and Riordan once targeted former board member Valerie Fields, too. Still, Korenstein said she was “shocked” to hear that Broad and his cohorts were hoping to replace Tokofsky, whom at one time they had supported. “It is disconcerting,” Korenstein said. “It makes it difficult for the grass-roots candidates to run a formidable campaign against this money.”

The alleged backroom offer was most disconcerting, however, to Tokofsky. “I was astonished that somebody thought I had to be removed,” he told The Journal.

Tokofsky, a fluent Spanish-speaker who prides himself on his connection with the community, believes that Mitchell turned down the opportunity when he saw what he was up against. “Some of those trustees [at Occidental College] who know the district and my work thought it was harebrained, especially since there had been a long time of work that I put into being a Jewish representative in an area that is overwhelmingly Latino,” he said.

The filing period for the March 4, 2003 election ended Nov. 9, and Tokofsky is facing three candidates for his seat. The three, all of whom are Latino, are Jose Sigala, aide to Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh (D-Los Angeles); schoolteacher and Democratic activist Nellie Rios-Parra; and Maria Lou Calanche, an educator.

Before all the candidates had filed, Broad said he was unsure of whom he would support. Tokofsky believes Broad will support Rios-Parra.
“Hopefully, Tokofsky said, “this will be one of those campaigns that will be inoculated against the effects of politics and money.”
Tokofsky garnered the support of the primarily Latino community in his East Los Angeles district in 1995.

Broad, the chair of SunAmerica, Inc. said he tapped Mitchell because of his experience in education reform and because he heard that the district’s teachers union was “very unhappy” with Tokofsky. “I am not trying to oust David Tokofsky,” Broad told The Journal. “The fact that we endorsed him in his first race doesn’t mean we’ll support him forever in anything he chooses to do.”

However, some say that this latest turn of events demonstrates that money falls on the side of power. Raphael Sonenschein, a professor in California State University, Fullerton’s political science department and former executive director of the Los Angeles Charter Reform Commission, said that Broad and Riordan once supported Tokofsky because he was formidable at that time.

“He was never a part of their group,” Sonenschein said. “This is a group that Riordan brought on, and Tokofsky has been kind of a maverick.”
Sonenschein was struck by the idea of Broad allegedly using his monetary influence, saying, “I was a little surprised by the idea of someone making an offer to a university to get someone to run for school board. This has always been a little outside boundaries. It seems like not a good way to do business in a public education area.”

While some accuse Broad of wanting to take over the school board, the financier said he is only motivated by his strong feelings about improving the education system. His efforts to bolster education include establishing the nonprofit Broad Foundation in 1999, which seeks to improve public education in the United States. In addition, Broad was the largest contributor to this year’s two school bond issues, Proposition K and Proposition 47.

In response to those who accuse him of using his wealth for power, Broad said, “That’s just silliness. Even if it were true, what’s our motivation? Our only interest is that of citizens. We don’t control the school board or ever intend to control the school board.”

Money for Something

Abraham was rich. Jesus was poor. That fact says a lot about the relationship between Jews and money. And money, the giant sucking sound of $7.7 trillion disappearing from the stock market since its peak, is our suddenly unpleasant topic.

It is no sin to be rich, our patriarch’s life reminds us (though if asked, I’m sure Abraham would have said he’s "just comfortable."). Our tradition teaches that sex, food and money are powerful forces that we mustn’t abstain from, but should embrace and channel toward higher ends.

"In many philosophies, people saw poverty and a renunciation of wealth as the only way to achieve some sort of spiritual and moral well-being," said Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari, a former chief economist of the Bank of Israel and author of "With All Your Possessions" (Free Press, 1998), in a published interview. "That never happened in Judaism. Judaism never came to say that this was a need or a lust which had to be eradicated; all it said was that this powerful urge needs to be educated, and for that reason, we have the Commandments, which are obligatory for every Jew."

The causes of the current meltdown — the high-tech bust, Sept. 11, executive greed, Alan Greenspan — and its putative cures — more regulation, a new administration, Alan Greenspan — I’ll leave for others to debate.

What concerns me isn’t the last fiscal year or the next one, but the coming three months. The period from October through December is the primary fundraising time for charitable organizations. It’s when the majority of them find out if they’ll be able to meet the needs of their constituencies for the following year.

In Orange County, at least six synagogues are engaged in capital campaigns, two oragnzations are in the midst of endowment fund drives (Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School and Heritage Pointe retirement community), a major fundraising drive is underway for the new Jewish community campus, and the Jewish Federation’s annual campaign has begun, according to Federation Executive Director Bunnie Mauldin.

"There’s a real trepidation out there to what will happen to everyone during year-end appeals," said Dr. Eric Schockman, MAZON’s executive director.

MAZON, a national hunger relief organization that raises money through Orange County synagogue appeals, must contend not only with the bear market, but with appeals on behalf of Israel’s current crisis. "That definitely is a reality check in the philanthropic Jewish world," Schockman said.

Mauldin agrees that Israel-directed giving is also making a claim on donor dollars. But, she said, many donors are matching gifts for local needs with giufts to Israel. "While the stock market is affecting them they are also concerned by what is going on in Israel," she said. "Jewish people respond to Jewish crises."

As the market continues to fluctuate, Mauldin and other Jewish communal leaders say donations will inevitably fluctuate as well. Already, Mauldin said she’s heard some donors say they cannot match last year’s amounts. "They say the stock market has been unkind to them," Mauldin said. "I can understand."

The irony here, of course, is that just as a bear market lowers giving, it raises need. We will have less money to divide among more hungry, more impoverished and ever-more-costly programs that sustain education and social services.

Worse yet, a bear market may lead us to forget that, in contrast to most of those who need our money, we are still doing just fine. The market may have sucked off the cream, but it didn’t drink all our milk.

"Jewish tradition insists that we are obligated both individually and collectively … to help those people who are deprived, poor, weak, inefficient and even who are lazy," Tamari said. "There is no such concept in Judaism of the ‘deserving poor’ …. A poor man is not entitled; I am obligated."

In other words, our measure as a community — as a people — won’t be in how we weather the bust, but how we help others who are less fortunate weather it.

"It’s going to be a challenge for American Jewry overall," Schockman said. "As Jews, no matter how bad the market is, there is an untapped basis of goodness and largesse that comes out from us. I just think American Jews dig deeper. I hope I’m not proven wrong."

In Abraham Raisin’s short story "First Row Balcony," the once-wealthy Zalman uses his last $2 to buy tickets to a theatrical benefit being held on behalf of a poor Jew in town. Zalman leaves with his two premium tickets, unable to afford bus fare home, but happy that he has helped a fellow soul. The ticket seller never revealed that the beneficiary of the performance is Zalman himself.

May we all find the money of Abraham, and the wisdom of Zalman.

Love for Sale

I don’t need much. I’m pretty much a “jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou” kind of guy. No, I don’t need much, but my hobbies are expensive. I like Italian clothes, German cars, Cuban cigars, box seats, new electronic toys. This is the lifestyle to which I’ve become accustomed, even if I can’t afford it much of the time. Too often these days my reach exceeds my grasp, which is why I’ve come to realize: I need a wealthy woman to take care of me.

I admire those poor but virtuous couples I see at the bus stop, determined to live on love — until the rent comes due or the baby needs new shoes. Two can starve as cheaply as one, but where’s the fun in that? I admire them, but I don’t want to be one of them. Frankly, poverty disagrees with me. Just the thought of taking the bus makes me break out in hives.

When they read the wedding vows and get to the part about “for richer or for poorer,” I think: is that a question? I had a girlfriend once who said, “I’d love you even if you were a garbage man.” I think of her from time to time, and if she’d been loaded, it might’ve worked out. As Grandma Ina always said, “Rich or poor, it’s better to have money.”

Is it ethical to pursue a woman because she has money? I think so. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a communist, and, besides, the Lord helps those who help themselves. All things considered, it takes as much time, effort and obfuscation to reel in a wealthy woman as it does to snag a poor one, so why not set your sights on a gal with a heart as big as her portfolio? Rich girls need love, too, you know.

Finding a wealthy woman is a full-time job. It’s not as simple as combing through the obituaries in the morning paper and contacting the next of kin. (It’s unseemly. I’ve tried.) You don’t just stand on a street corner with a cardboard sign: “Will work for lunch at The Ivy.” You can’t send your picture in an e-mail to eligible, independently wealthy bachelorettes and hope to get their attention. You’ve got to do the work.

My father thought he was marrying into money. It was only after the nuptials that he found out the sorry truth: the dowry consisted of a couple of dilapidated apartment buildings and a company on shaky financial footing. Too bad, but at least he was on the right track.

First wives are good. They’ve already married “for love” once and have moved on. The idea of being “kept” is not entirely foreign to them. Unfortunately, due to some kind of so-called “law,” the River of Alimony stops flowing as soon as you sign on with the ex-husband’s ex-wife. By marrying a wealthy divorcée, you get neither.

I let a couple good prospects get away before I saw what their earning potential proved to be. I sold short before they were fully vested. What a revoltin’ development. As my stock broker tells me all too often: “Woulda, coulda, shoulda…. You can’t marry all the girls.” True, but any one of these gals could have been my retirement fund.

I went out with a self-made gal, the president of a big company who was introduced to me as the “$50-Million woman.” Strictly dot-com new money, but as my mother always says: “Better nouveau than no riche at all, dear.” Mother knows best.

When things were good, we were flying private planes to Vegas or Deer Valley. It was all very ring-a-ding-ding. How do you walk away from that? Breaking up was hard to do, but unfortunately, she elected not to sell her stake in the company after the lockout period ended. All her money was on paper, and when the stock went south, we went back to flying first-class like when we were poor. The draconian cost-cutting measures seemed to unfairly single me out; and I didn’t even work for the company! Our relationship was like a margin call — when the stock hit five, I had to go.

Among gigolos I was strictly small potatoes, but even I have certain standards. I left before they hit bottom. Okay, I admit I was the first one off that sinking ship, but I don’t have a damn thing to show for it — no Porsche, no Prada, no nada. By the time the party was over, she could no longer keep me in the style I’d become accustomed to. I think my union is going to have to crack down and start lobbying for better working conditions.

Of course, wise men (and the Beatles) will tell you that money can’t buy you love.

They’re just kidding.

J.D. Smith is lurking at the Polo Lounge @

Making the List

The May 21 issue of the Los Angeles Business Journal features the paper’s annual list of “The 50 Wealthiest Angelenos.” More than half the people listed, in fact, close to 60 percent, are Jewish. In a county where Jews number about 520,000, or just 5 percent out of a population of 10 million, that statistic begs examination, if not wonder.

You can object to such rankings as crass, or worry that they only fuel the fever dreams of anti-Semites. But the list is too important to ignore: it tells us something about our city, its Jews and the most prosperous among us.

In 1986, when the Business Journal started ranking the rich, a much larger percentage of names were WASPs who made their fortunes in aerospace and energy, and other non-Jews who made their money the old-fashioned way — through inheritance.

Then entrepreneuers and investors — skilled at seizing opportunities, defining new markets and extending brands — entered the marketplace and prospered wildly. They became the monied elite in a city where family history, religion, ethnicity or even prior wealth conferred no guarantee and formed no barrier. Some came to America fleeing the Holocaust, others grew up poor in New York slums, still others followed dreams of success out of suburbs, small towns, or Israel. Only one of the Jews listed has the word “inheritance” under “source of wealth,” and even he made an additional fortune as an entertainment entrepreneur. Most of those listed pursued a good education before they went after economic success. Talk about an emphasis on education paying off.

The list is highly volatile and hardly the whole picture. Last year’s tech billionaire is this year’s struggling multimillionaire. As for the rest of us, the median Jewish household income in 1997 was $52,050 — hardly the stuff mansions are made of. The truth is, many of us still struggle to pay membership and tuition fees at the Jewish institutions such wealth so generously funds.

It is difficult, though not impossible, to find on the list a Jewish man (there are no Jewish women) who doesn’t also appear frequently linked to Jewish causes. They achieved success and status without hiding their Jewishness — no small credit to our city or our times.

And whether or not their faith had anything to do with their creating wealth, it has a lot to do with how these people disburse it. There is a lot of overlap between the names in the Top 50 and the largest charitable enterprises in the Jewish community, and with some of the highest-profile civic causes and most successful political candidates.

But in the end, this list is just a freeze-frame. Decades ago Jews were not nearly as prominent, and in another 20 or 40 years, no doubt another sea change will occur among the monied elite. From our offices in Koreatown, it’s fairly easy to see the next wave.

Before that happens, these men will have the opportunity to define their legacies. Their biographies make clear that the creation of great wealth was, for most of them, not an end in itself, but a by-product of a restless need for achievement, for contribution, for the next new thing. “It’s just your money,” Wall Street Week’s Louis Rukeyser once said, “it’s not your life.” Ultimately, their lives — like all our lives — will be about the good works and good will we leave behind, and not our rank on a newspaper list.

L.A.’s Ultimate Power Broker

Eli Broad (left) is the primary moving force behind thefinancing of the downtown Disney Concert Hall designed by architectFrank Gehry, lining up corporations to drop megabucks into theproject..

For most of this century, Los Angeles has been a city of twoelites — one predominately WASPish, the other predominately Jewish.Although they occasionally collaborated on projects such as the MusicCenter, the two worlds remained largely separate and indifferent toeach other, living in a ruling-class version of institutionalapartheid.

But to Eli Broad, a native of New York and a University ofMichigan product who came here 35 years ago, neither Los Angeles northe Jewish community can any longer afford such a division. TheSunAmerica president and CEO thinks it is great that Jews arebuilding new schools, museums and other institutions, but he wonderswhat they’ll be worth if the city around them collapses intolong-term decay.

“There are many people who have gotten wealthy, who are Jewish,but don’t think of themselves as part of anything else,” Broad says.”Some members of the community just seem to want to stick bythemselves. For some, it’s fashionable to be negative about thecity.”

But Eli Broad is anything but negative about Los Angeles. Althoughclearly a member of the Westside elite, Broad has emerged as perhapsthe first Jew in this century to stand as the city’s leading businessvoice. As the primary moving force behind the financing of thedowntown Disney Concert Hall, he has been, along with Mayor RichardRiordan, the key player who’s helping persuade many largecorporations — including Times Mirror, Arco, Ralphs/Food for Less,Wells Fargo and, most recently, the Walt Disney Company — to dropmegabucks into the project.

“Eli Broad is a huge leader who does more than any organization,”says one longtime aide to Riordan, who counts Broad among hispersonal friends and advisers. “Without him, the Disney Hall wouldnever be anything but a parking lot.”

In many ways, it might have been tempting for Broad and others inthe heavily Jewish Westside business community to allow downtowncontinue to go to the dogs. Broadly speaking, Jews fared far betterthan the WASPs in the last recession. As Cal State Northridgedemographers James Allen and Eugene Turner point out in theirrecently published study, “The Ethnic Quilt,” Jews are vastlyoverrepresented in the entertainment and business service fields,which were relatively unscathed in the early 1990s and have thrivedever since. In contrast, the aerospace industry, which was wallopedduring the recession and is now only holding its own, boasts,according to Allen and Turner’s research, a notableoverrepresentation of white Protestants.

The same pattern can be seen in the economic geography where theJewish-dominated Westside has also vastly outperformed the old WASPstrongholds downtown. With entertainment leading the economicrecovery, the Westside now boasts a third more office space thandowntown. The prestige business addresses in Los Angeles — measuredboth by rental rates and fashionability — are predominately inBeverly Hills, along Ventura Boulevard, Century City, West LosAngeles and Santa Monica while the big empty blocks remain in andaround downtown. Today, according to the Los Angeles BusinessJournal, three of Los Angeles’ zip codes with the highestconcentrations of households with more than $500,000 in assets are inBrentwood, Pacific Palisades and Beverly Hills, which are also amongthe most Jewish.

Yet this success, Broad notes, also has brought with it perils.Many affluent Jews who work in these glitzy areas don’t even considerthemselves Angelenos; they see themselves as citizens of theWestside. And with the growth of these centers and emergence of anincreasingly well-developed Jewish education system, there is ampleincentive to turn our back on downtown, the increasingly ThirdWorld-minded City Council and the bumbling Los Angeles Unified SchoolDistrict bureaucracy, and instead simply further feather our ownnest.

But such disdain would also be a repudiation of our own rich andcomplex history here in Los Angeles, a history that too few Jews areeven aware of. Although its future will be as an increasinglyLatino-Asian-dominated metropolis, Los Angeles has, perhaps more thanany city in the nation, been largely shaped by Jewish influence.

In the rough and heady pioneer days of Los Angeles, Jews were atthe city’s commercial epicenter. The Hellman family virtuallyinvented banking in Los Angeles, at one time controlling both theFarmers and Merchants Bank and Wells Fargo in San Francisco. Anotherlandsman, Karspare Cohn, founded the Union Bank, which, for decades,stood as the city’s premier middle-market bank.

Jews also operated at the highest levels of the political andsocial leadership. Members of the Jewish Newmark clan served duringthe 19th century variously as city attorney, city councilman andcounty supervisor.

“Anti-Semitism was virtually unknown in 19th-century California,even in the most exclusive circles,” says Kevin Starr, California’spremier historian. “The Bohemian Club in San Francisco and theCalifornia Club in Los Angeles each had prominent Jews among theirfounding memberships.”

It was only early in this century, Starr notes, with the massiveinflux of largely Midwestern WASPs to the city, that the bacillus ofelite anti-Semitism common in older cities began to infect LosAngeles. Soon, even prominent Jewish families found themselvesmarginalized and barred from the leading clubs and bestneighborhoods. The treatment of the more ethnically distinctivenewcomers from Eastern Europe — including the founders of the movieindustry — was, if anything, even more dismissive. Having nurturedLos Angeles in its pioneer days and created its most glamorousindustry, Jews remained politically marginalized; not a single memberof the community sat on the City Council for more than a half centurybefore the election of Rosalind Weiner in 1953.

As late as the 1970s, says Broad, Jews still did not rank highinside the city’s corporate power structure (with the notableexception of MCA’s Lew Wasserman), even if they dominated the garmentas well as the entertainment industry and controlled much of the mostvaluable Westside real estate.

“When I got there, the giants were the Ahmansons, Mark Taper, EdCarter, Asa Call, and you had the energy companies — ThortonBradshaw at Arco, Unocal. It was all downtown, WASPy and they sat onall the boards,” says Broad.

Yet Broad does not harbor any resentments for these largelyAnglo-Saxon entrepreneurs, largely because their “pioneering spirit”not only built great companies but created much of the basicinfrastructure of our city — the freeway system, the ports, theairport and the County Museum. The problem, as he sees it, is that,by the 1980s, many of these pioneers were retired or dead. Many oftheir scions removed themselves from civic involvement, preferringoften to relocate to the less ethnically diverse and contentiousValhallas of rural Northern California or the Pacific Northwest.

In addition, many of the companies they started were eventuallyabsorbed by other entities or taken over by placeless professionalmanagers, for whom Los Angeles was nothing more than an anonymoussubdivision by the Pacific. The disappearance of onetime downtownpowerhouses such as Security Pacific Bank, First Interstate and theBroadway Department Stores — precisely the corporations that mighthave funded such an enterprise — further weakened the elite.

“Those banks were the glue of this community,” says DennisStanfill, the former president of 20th Century Fox and one of the fewHollywood figures close to the old downtown establishment. “When youlost all those firms — and I have seen it over the last 32 years –you suddenly found there were no leaders. They were gone.”

For art collector Broad, who once bought a Roy Lichtensteinpainting for $2.5 million on his American Express card, the failureof the old elite to raise money for the downtown Disney Concert Hall– much beyond
the $50 million endowment provided by Walt Disney’swidow, Lillian — epitomized this growing “void” in the powerstructure. As Los Angeles’ economy stumbled badly in the early 1990s,the outlook for this new cultural icon grew bleaker as more and morebusiness fled downtown for the Westside, Orange County, the SanFernando Valley or out of the region completely.

To a large extent, Broad’s own career casts him an unlikely saviorfor downtown. As co-founder of Kaufman and Broad, the area’s largesthome builder, he helped construct the sprawling suburbs that hasteneddowntown’s decline. More recently, he has built his CenturyCity-based financial service company, SunAmerica, into a major power– in the 1990s, its market value has risen from $184 million to morethan $8 billion — and a linchpin of the resurgent Westside economy.

Yet, as an Angeleno, Broad believes that the city must have somesort of unifying core. Downtown may never regain its status as theregion’s leading commercial center — both the Westside and arguablyeven Irvine seem destined to surpass it — but it does remain thehistoric hub, the common touchstone for the city. “No great city inthe world exists without a symbolic center,” Broad says. “It’s likethe Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House.”

To Broad, the Disney Concert Hall could become that signaturepiece for Los Angeles. “The success in building the hall is thedefining point for Los Angeles’ new leadership; it’s a newbeginning,” he says. “It’s a sign that the city is culturally cominginto its own.”

But it’s more than that. Disney Concert Hall — along with suchother ambitious building projects throughout the city, from theSkirball Cultural Center and the Getty Center in West Los Angeles tothe new sports arena and cathedral downtown — reflects a metropolisthat not only is recovering from the traumas of the recent past butis beginning to map out a new future that is quintessentially LosAngeles in its brashness and ambition.

But this time, Jews such as Eli Broad will not be merelyspectators, outsiders or incidental beneficiaries, but will be amongthe leaders and architects, just as they were when this city waslittle more than an obscure pueblo on the outer fringes of theAmerican continent.

Joel Kotkin, a senior fellow at the Pepperdine Institute forPublic Policy, is currently researching a report on the futureleadership in Southern California, in conjunction with the La JollaInstitute.

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Entrepreneurial Philanthropy, the New Charity

On a chilly autumn morning in late October, in a rooftop sukkahatop New York’s Abraham Joshua Heschel School, a small group ofrabbis, Hebrew teachers and millionaire investors joined hands tomark what their leader called a “defining point in American Jewishphilanthropy”: an $18 million fund to help create new Jewish dayschools around the country, paid for by a “partnership” among a dozenof America’s richest Jewish families.

Unwary listeners might have mistaken it for a defining point inJewish education. It wasn’t. The group’s leader, the canny investmentmaven Michael Steinhardt, is smart enough to know that $18 million,while a serious gesture, won’t revolutionize Jewish schooling. Itwill barely cover the chalk.

Jewish giving is another story. An alliance of a dozen wealthyfamilies could start a revolution. “This is the first time,”Steinhardt told the rooftop audience, “that 12 philanthropists ofthis stature have come together as equal partners.” It represents, hesaid, “the emergence of entrepreneurial philanthropy in the AmericanJewish community.”

For those new to the term, entrepreneurial philanthropy is anewish form of charity that devotees liken to venture capitalism.”Rather than just giving money away, I want to identify a need,identify the social entrepreneurs who are coming up with solutions,and make sure they have enough money to do the work,” said New Yorkinvestment fund manager Alan Slifka, who pioneered the practice inthe 1980s with such innovative projects as the nondenominationalHeschel School and the Abraham Fund for Jewish-Arab coexistence.

“If you look at the venture capitalists of, say, Silicon Valley,they’re in the business of looking ahead at the market trends of thenext 20 years. I want to create the not-for-profit organizations ofthe next 20 years.”

It’s not for the fainthearted, nor for the poor. Critics say thatit amounts to rich people going off and starting their own Jewishorganizations. For the rest of us, it’s a bit like that Ming vase youadmired at Sotheby’s: If you need to ask, you can’t afford it.

Over the past decade, however, it has become one of the mostinfluential trends in Jewish organizational life. Practitionersnumber only a handful — perhaps 10 real players, including Slifkaand Steinhardt, yet they are changing the structure of the Jewishcommunity.

Some examples:

  • Ohio clothier Leslie Wexner. His Wexner Heritage Foundation, which he funds at an estimated $3 million per year, runs tuition-free, two-year study programs for selected Jewish lay leaders — 120 in six cities per year — to raise the literacy of Jewish leadership.
  • California real-estate developer Larry Weinberg. A former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), he and his wife, Barbi, in 1984, launched a think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, to change the tone of Middle East debate in Washington.
  • New York cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder. Through his Ronald E. Lauder Foundation and Jewish Renaissance Foundation, he is the main backer of Jewish cultural and educational renewal in Eastern Europe.

In a sense, this is nothing new. Most Jewish humanitarian programsearly in this century were built by a well-heeled few with names suchas Rothschild, Schiff and Rosenwald. After World War I, however,baronial largess largely gave way to the federation system ofcommunity-wide fund raising and decision making.

Now the barons are making a comeback. Why? “My feeling is that theJewish community is becoming more conservative and risk-averse,” saysSteinhardt. “The federations are consensus organizations. They moveglacially slowly in responding to change. So a number of people areseeking new ways to effect change.”

Then, too, Jewish crises are changing. Unlike the challenges ofthe last 50 years — building a state, rescuing postwar survivors,bringing Jews out of Yemen and Russia — the next Jewish crises don’thave clear-cut answers. No one is sure how to cope with intermarriageor how to arrest Jewish illiteracy.

The solutions may emerge from small incubator projects, just whatventure capitalists do best. A handful of projects are underwayalready. Israel Experience Inc., created by whiskey baron CharlesBronfman and run jointly with the United Jewish Appeal, incubates andtests strategies for increasing teen Israel travel as a tool to buildJewish identity. Ma’yan, a New York think tank created by feministactivist Barbara Dobkin, is exploring ways to increase women’sleadership roles in the community. Both are long-term, uphillprojects requiring a strong-willed backer with deep pockets.

Cooperation among the barons was the inevitable next step. Theday-school partnership emerged, insiders say, from a secretivediscussion group that brings together a clutch of the superwealthyabout twice a year to chat informally about the Jewish future:Included are Wexner, Steinhardt, Cleveland’s Morton Mandel, thebrothers Charles and Edgar Bronfman, the brothers Laurence andPreston Tisch, stockbroker Alan Greenberg and a few others.

It was Steinhardt who raised the idea of joining forces to promoteday schools. Wexner, Mandel and the Bronfmans bought in. The othersdidn’t. Steinhardt then recruited other partners to round out hisdozen (one of the 12 is not an individual but the extended family ofNew York UJA-Federation). Steinhardt sees it as the first of manysuch initiatives.

Is this good for the Jews? Not if it replaces federations.Hidebound as they may be, the traditional Jewish bodies at least tryto listen to voices from the grass roots. Entrepreneurs do not.

As leavening in our cake, however, the entrepreneurs can play avital role. “If one thinks of a private foundation having aleadership role in society, think what could happen when five or 10of them get together,” says Jeffrey Solomon, who left the No. 2 jobat New York UJA-Federation last summer to become director of thenewly created Charles and Andrea Bronfman Philanthropies. “They canchange the world.”

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

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