Bill Pullman, Peter Fonda, Tommy Flanagan and Jared Moshe talk THE BALLAD OF LEFTY BROWN

Traditional Westerns have fallen out of favor in recent years, though the values they espouse remain timeless.  Writer/director Jared Moshe’s “The Ballad of Lefty Brown” may fit the mold of a Western but with one distinct difference: it focuses on the overlooked sidekick rather than the standard hero.

Moral codes like integrity and loyalty, however, remain at the forefront.  In fact, it was this code of ethics in particular that drew Peter Fonda (“Edward Johnson”) and Tommy Flanagan (“Tom Harrah”) to the film.

For more about “The Ballad of Lefty Brown” directly from Bill Pullman (“Lefty Brown”), Fonda, Flanagan and Moshe themselves, take a look below:

–>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

THE HERO *Movie Review*

Man dying.  Takes stock of life. Learns about himself.

The Hero treads a well-known plot without offering new revelations but that’s not say it isn’t worth watching.  Sam Elliott’s performance as Lee sets it apart with his quiet contemplation and impossible-to-forget gravelly voice.

The themes are familiar: cleansing, struggles and even an inappropriate romance, a convention that’s fodder for many self-reflective movies.  However, it’s the interesting cinematography and direction that reflect Lee’s struggles the best through use of interesting shots that avoid showing his full face.

The Hero also stars Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman, Katharine Ross and Krysten Ritter.  It was directed by Brett Haley.

For more about camera angles and themes in The Hero, take a look below:

—>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

Bistro St. Michael in Prescott, Arizona ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Prescott on my Mind

My road trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Wickenburg, Arizona – a bit over 100 miles northwest of Phoenix – would be a journey just a tad over seven hours. I planned on breaking up my solo drive with an overnight stay in Prescott, Arizona – the first capital of the Arizona Territory in 1864. It had been over 30 years since I last drove through this picturesque town. What I remembered most were the large, rounded boulders strewn everywhere. Utterly massive granite boulders with afternoon light bouncing around surreal outcroppings, all with a golden glow. It was about the boulders and the quality of light.

The legacy Western town is located at an elevation about 5,400 feet in a sheltered enclave of pinyon and juniper, ranging from shrubland-covered hills to woodlands at higher elevations. Heavily peppered throughout the county are strangely shaped Pre-Cambrian granite bedrock formations known as the “Dells” – the boulders that I remembered from so many years back.

Once gold was discovered in central Arizona, the area was quickly settled by Yankees anxious to preserve the mineral wealth for the Union. Prime motivator was that southern Arizona was known to be pro-Confederate. And though a devastating fire ravaged the downtown area in 1900, legend has it that patrons of the Palace Saloon took their liquor and watched Whiskey Row burn from across the street at the Courthouse.

The Palace Restaurant & Saloon Billboard ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

The Palace Restaurant & Saloon Billboard ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Today, Prescott touts its rebuilt Whiskey Row along with a two-story County Courthouse known as a social hub for community activities. The world’s oldest rodeo, since 1888, also calls Prescott home. For those with an outdoor focus, you can hike nearby Thumb Butte, fish in Lynx Lake, and paddle at the Granite Dells.

World's Oldest Rodeo since 1888 ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

World’s Oldest Rodeo since 1888 ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Hotel St. Michael

I arrived in the afternoon and checked into Hotel St. Michael – a charming historic hotel from 1901 circa, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (In its day, the hotel was known for its “gracious accommodation.”) The three-story hotel is built of brick and stone in the Second Renaissance Revival Style, with gawking stone gargoyles decorating the exterior. I found I was in good company as some of the past illustrious guests included President Theodore Roosevelt, writer Zane Grey, Western actor Tom Mix, and Senator Barry Goldwater.

Bistro St. Michael in Prescott, Arizona ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Bistro St. Michael in Prescott, Arizona ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

The lobby smacked of old-time Western décor with Victorian accents, antique furniture, and an old elevator cage looking more like an antique coop than a modern vertical lift. I had only seen this type vintage elevator at the U.S. Capitol operated by full-time employees.

Not really knowing how to operate the antiquity, I blankly stared at the elevator door for a few brief moments. “Just push your floor button twice and then pull the gate open,” the receptionist said. “Watch your step and once inside, you can close the elevator gate.” I was amused to see that it worked like a charm.

Period pieces and some antiques decorated my room, imparting a déjà vu that I was staying in my Grandmother’s house instead of a faded glory hotel. Yet, the room came with updated conveniences that included a phone, complimentary Wi-Fi, and HBO – which my grandmother’s house never had.

Hotel room at Hotel St. Michael ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Hotel room at Hotel St. Michael ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

After a friendly check-in, I off-loaded my luggage curbside before parking in the three-story garage structure less than a block away. The price for my overnight stay (under $100) was quite reasonable considering the hotel presented me with a coupon for a full breakfast and complimentary appetizer in Bistro St. Michael.

As the hotel is ideally located in the center of historic downtown, adjacent to Courthouse Plaza at the corner of Whiskey Row, it doesn’t get any more convenient. But the proximity to Whiskey Row also suggests that nights may be noisy and had me wondering if my night would be more celebratory than restful.

Matts Saloon ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Matts Saloon ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

But it was time to go discover the town. Leaving my car parked in the garage, I headed out to explore on foot.

Whiskey Row

Greeter at Palace Saloon ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Greeter at Palace Saloon ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Once upon a time there were twenty saloons and pleasure palaces that thrived on Montezuma Street (aka Whiskey Row), facing Courthouse Plaza on the west side. These days, fewer bars are open, but the western nostalgia of Old Prescott is still alive and well. Walk the infamous Whiskey Row, window shop the boutiques, and stop in for a drink, coffee, or a bite.

The Palace Restaurant & Saloon ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

The Palace Restaurant & Saloon ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

The night kicks in with a variety of live music and karaoke from haunts like The Palace Restaurant & Saloon (Arizona’s oldest saloon), Jersey Lilly Saloon (former brothel upstairs from the Palace), Matt’s Saloon (country western), and Hooligan’s Pub (hard rock).

Jersey Lilly Saloon ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Jersey Lilly Saloon ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Whiskey Row Pub ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Whiskey Row Pub ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Courthouse Plaza

Across the street in the heart of Prescott lies the 1916 Yavapai County Courthouse. The symmetrical courthouse is faced with locally quarried granite and surrounded by a plaza with grass and pavers, a historic timeline on the sidewalk, statues, bandstand, and a monument dedicated to all veterans from Yavapai County. A lush canopy from 170 trees provides welcoming shade on hot summer days.

Yavapai Co. Courthouse & Memorial ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Yavapai Co. Courthouse & Memorial ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

I walked around the square as I did the obligatory window shopping. Trouble is I came across a leather shop with hats. I just couldn’t pass it up. The good news is that the owner Paul Goodson, is very affable. I walked away with a floppy leather hat that I proceeded to wear my whole time in Wickenburg. Be sure to stop in and give him a shout.

Goodson's Leather & Suede ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Goodson’s Leather & Suede ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

I knew the town had a sense of humor when I saw the sign hanging at the Youth Detention Center. It boldly states:

Yavapai County Criminal Justice and Detention Center

“Service since 1864”

Yavapai Co. Criminal Justice_ Detention Ctr ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Yavapai Co. Criminal Justice_ Detention Ctr ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Bistro St. Michael & Prescott Station

Ready for a glass of wine, I headed back to Bistro St. Michael to check out the bar and order a complimentary appetizer. I chose the ample cheese and fruit tray with flat bread for around $10…but remember, it was free. The vibe at the bar was young and local, making for some great conversations. A couple hours later, I realized I had a dinner appointment to keep.

Bartender at Bistro St. Michael ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All RIghts Reserved.

Bartender at Bistro St. Michael ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All RIghts Reserved.

Cheese & fruit appetizer plate at Bistro St. Michael ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Cheese & fruit appetizer plate at Bistro St. Michael ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Appetizer at Bistro St. Michael ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Appetizer at Bistro St. Michael ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

A couple blocks up the hill, Prescott Station Grill & Bar is where you go for American cuisine and great steaks. The locals know that it is one of the best places in town. I checked it out with a friend and totally agree. Steaks are exquisite and the sides cooked with flavor and substance. My filet mignon with grilled zucchini and garlic mashed potatoes definitely lived up to the billing. Unfortunately, servings were ample so I had no room for dessert.

Prescott Station Grill & Bar during day ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Prescott Station Grill & Bar during day ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Dinner at Prescott Station ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Dinner at Prescott Station ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

After a restful night, I woke the next morning to enjoy a full complimentary breakfast offered at Bistro St. Michael. Located next door to the hotel, it’s easily accessed from inside the building. The breakfast was cooked-to-order, so I asked for soft poached. Many places can’t accommodate such a request. I broke a big smile when the waitress said, “No problem.”

Inside Bistro St. Michaels ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Inside Bistro St. Michaels ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Inside St. Michael Shops ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Inside St. Michael Shops ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

With only a couple hours left before I hit the road again, it seemed a great time to shop the St. Michael Shops. I picked up two unique stoneware coffee mugs at Krieger-Marcusen Gallery, and later, wished I had bought two more. As I strolled by Grama’s Bakery on the way to my car, I was enveloped with wafting aromas emanating from the bakery. No surprise that I retraced my steps to Grama’s and ordered several pastries to go for the road – a chocolate chip cannoli and a strawberry brioche.

Stoneware Mugs ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Stoneware Mugs ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Grama's Bakery ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Grama’s Bakery ©2017 K.D. Leperi, All Rights Reserved.

Then it was time to go, even though, Prescott was still on my mind.


Visit Prescott






Netanyahu claims election win despite party losses

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged the bruised winner of Israel's election on Tuesday, claiming victory despite unexpected losses to resurgent center-left challengers.

Exit polls showed the Israeli leader's Likud party, yoked with the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu group, would still be the biggest bloc in the 120-member assembly with 31 seats, 11 fewer than the 42 they held in the previous parliament.

If the exit polls compiled by three local broadcasters prove correct – and they normally do in Israel – Netanyahu would be on course for a third term in office, perhaps leading a hardline coalition that would promote Jewish settlement on occupied land.

But his weakened showing in an election he himself called earlier than necessary could complicate the struggle to forge an alliance with a stable majority in parliament.

The 63-year-old Israeli leader promised during his election campaign to focus on tackling Iran's nuclear ambitions if he won, shunting Palestinian peacemaking well down the agenda despite Western concern to keep the quest for a solution alive.

The projections showed right-wing parties with a combined strength of 61-62 seats against 58-59 for the center-left.

“According to the exit poll results, it is clear that Israel's citizens have decided that they want me to continue in the job of prime minister of Israel and to form as broad a government as possible,” Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page.

The centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, led by former television talk show host Yair Lapid, came second with 18 or 19 seats, exit polls showed – a stunning result for a newcomer to politics in a field of 32 contending parties.

Lapid won support amongst middle-class, secular voters by promising to resolve a growing housing shortage, abolish military draft exemptions for Jewish seminary students and seek an overhaul of the failing education system.

The once dominant Labour party led by Shelly Yachimovich was projected to take third place with 17 seats.


The mood was subdued at Netanyahu's Likud party election headquarters after the polls closed, with only a few hundred supporters in a venue that could house thousands.

“We anticipated we would lose some votes to Lapid, but not to this extent. This was a Yesh Atid sweep,” Likud campaign adviser Ronen Moshe told Reuters.

A prominent Likud lawmaker, Danny Danon, told CNN: “We will reach out to everybody who is willing to join our government, mainly the center party of Yair Lapid.”

If the prime minister can tempt Lapid to join a coalition, the ultra-Orthodox religious parties who often hold the balance of power in parliament might lose some of their leverage.

After a lackluster campaign, Israelis voted in droves on a sunny winter day, registering a turnout of 66.6 percent, the highest since 1999 when Netanyahu, serving his first term as premier, was defeated by then-Labour Party leader Ehud Barak.

The strong turnout buoyed center-left parties which had pinned their hopes on energizing an army of undecided voters against Netanyahu and his nationalist-religious allies.

Opinion polls before the election had predicted an easy win for Netanyahu, although the last ones suggested he would lose some votes to the Jewish Home party, which opposes a Palestinian state and advocates annexing chunks of the occupied West Bank.

The exit polls projected 12 seats for Jewish Home.

Full election results are due by Wednesday morning and official ones will be announced on January 30. After that, President Shimon Peres is likely to ask Netanyahu, as leader of the biggest bloc in parliament, to try to form a government.

The former commando has traditionally looked to religious, conservative parties for backing and is widely expected to seek out self-made millionaire Naftali Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party and stole much of the limelight during the campaign.

But Netanyahu might, as Danon suggested, try to include more moderate parties to assuage Western concerns about Israel's increasingly hardline approach to the Palestinians.


British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned Israel on Tuesday it was losing international support, saying prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were almost dead because of expanding Jewish settlements.

U.S.-brokered peace talks broke down in 2010 amid mutual acrimony. Since then Israel has accelerated construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem – land the Palestinians want for their future state – much to the anger of Western partners.

Netanyahu's relations with U.S. President Barack Obama have been notably tense and Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, told the BBC the election was unlikely to change that.

“President Obama doesn't have high expectations that there's going to be a government in Israel committed to making peace and is capable of the kind of very difficult and painful concessions that would be needed to achieve a two-state solution,” he said.

Tuesday's vote is the first in Israel since Arab uprisings swept the region two years ago, reshaping the Middle East.

Netanyahu has said the turbulence, which has brought Islamist governments to power in several countries long ruled by secularist autocrats, including neighboring Egypt, shows the importance of strengthening national security.

He views Iran's nuclear program as a mortal threat to the Jewish state and has vowed not to let Tehran enrich enough uranium to make a single nuclear bomb – a threshold Israeli experts say could arrive as early as mid-2013.

Iran denies it is planning to build the bomb, and says Israel, widely believed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, is the biggest threat to the region.

The issue barely registered during the election campaign, with a poll in Haaretz newspaper on Friday saying 47 percent of Israelis thought social and economic issues were the most pressing concern, against just 10 percent who cited Iran.

One of the first problems to face the next government, which is unlikely to take power before the middle of next month at the earliest, is the stuttering economy.

Data last week showed the budget deficit rose to 4.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2012, double the original estimate, meaning spending cuts and tax hikes look certain.

Reporting by Jerusalem bureau; Editing by Alastair Macdonald

Iran officials: Country taking a hit from Western sanctions

An Iranian government minister acknowledged that Western sanctions are affecting the Islamic Republic’s economy.

Iran’s deputy oil minister, Ahmad Qalebani, told the official Iranian Students’ News Agency that Iran’s crude oil production in 2011 had declined from the previous year due to a lack of foreign investment stemming from the sanctions, The New York Times reported.

Iran is producing about 3.4 million barrels of oil a day this year, about half a million fewer than last year.

Other Iranian officials also said that sanctions against the country have been effective.

“We cannot pretend the sanctions are not having an effect,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told the official Islamic Republic News Agency, according to The New York Times.

What is western society’s place in determining halachah?

The Orthodox community is rapidly approaching a moment of truth. The many issues that the Orthodox community is debating internally are rapidly collapsing into one overarching issue, one macro-question, with which it must grapple head-on. And this is: whether the ethical norms of Western society should figure into the process of determining halachah (Jewish law).

Consider the issues that have most roiled Orthodoxy just over the past year or so. There is the controversy over the statement of principles concerning the place of homosexuals within the Orthodox community, a document that while upholding the biblical prohibition on homosexual behavior, mandates that people who are homosexual be afforded full dignity and respect, and that they be included in their Orthodox communities. Signed by 150 Orthodox rabbis and educators, it was flatly rejected by at least as many. There is also the ongoing debate over whether women may serve as synagogue presidents, as well as the sure-to-return debate over women being ordained as rabbis. More recently, we have seen renewed controversy over whether halachah permits us to donate our organs following our brain-stem death, even as it is clear that we are permitted to receive organs from non-Jews who are brain-stem dead. And, most recently, we have witnessed the controversy in Israel as to whether halachah prohibits the sale or lease of apartments to non-Jews in the land of Israel. Each of these issues is complex in its own way, and none can be facilely decided in the absence of rigorous halachic analysis. But over and over again, the wedge issue turns out to be whether consideration of Western ethical norms is relevant to the analysis.

This emerged clearly last week, as the Rabbinical Council of America registered its objection to the ban on renting to non-Jews in Israel, saying that the halachic analysis of this issue demands “special sensitivity to societal realities, widely held ethical principles, and historical injustices.” Which is to say that when we examine our universe of viable halachic alternatives, our choice of alternative can and should be influenced by wider ethical considerations. Yet this is, of course, precisely the point of contention.

The story is the same with regard to the organ donation issue. Here, too, viable and scholarly halachic positions have existed on both sides of this issue for many decades. Last month though, a Rabbinical Council of America report (ironically), which preferred the position that effectively prohibits Jews from donating organs, elicited the following response from Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, a prominent scholar and bio-ethicist (and a longtime proponent of the brain-stem definition of death, which results in the permissibility of organ donation): “Their final conclusion is that a Jew who is in need of a heart transplant can receive a heart from a brain-dead patient but he can’t donate his heart if he is brain dead. Such a ruling defames Judaism and exposes every Jew to the hatred of non-Jews. It is saying that a Jew can take a vital organ from a non-Jew even though Jews consider him still alive — that his life doesn’t count. How could you justify such a ruling?”

The wedge issue is the same when it comes to the place of homosexuals in the Orthodox community. The opening words of the above-referenced Statement of Principles are: “All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.” While it is of course true that the idea that all people are created in the image is biblical, its specific application to homosexuals is a distinctly modern historical development. It is our way of clothing in our religious language the modern, Western ethical assertion that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The relevance of such ideas to our halachic calculus is again what stands at the center of the controversy. Similarly, when rabbinic scholars in pre-State Palestine debated whether women ought to have the right to vote in Yishuv elections, the old/new “image of God” idea was one of the main pivots of the discussion. And it continues to play out in today’s controversies over the position of women in the Orthodox community.

Are the ethical norms of modern Western society essential to halachic discussion or are they irrelevant? Are they to be integrated or to be shunned? This is, in the final analysis, the central issue that the Orthodox community is grappling with. And the answer will determine Orthodoxy’s long-term viability as a positive force in the wider Jewish community, and the wider world.

Yosef Kanefsky is senior rabbi at B’nai David-Judea (, a Modern Orthodox congregation in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

Community Rallies for Woman’s Divorce, UCLA Acquires Jewish Artifacts

Community Rallies for Woman’s Jewish Divorce

Chanting “Stop Abuse” and “Free Your Wife,” 200 people rallied on the eve of Purim in front of the Fairfax-area home of a man who refuses to grant his wife a Jewish divorce.

Meir Kin and his wife, Lonna, who have one child, have been separated for four years, and though a civil divorce has already been granted, he has refused to appear before a recognized rabbinic court to grant her a Jewish writ of divorce, or get. Without a get, she cannot remarry and is considered an agunah, Hebrew for chained woman.

The Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) issued a seiruv, or letter of contempt, against Kin in March 2007 for refusing to appear before the beit din, a rabbinic judicial panel.

The New York-based Organization for the Resolution for Agunot (ORA) organized the rally to apply communal pressure on Kin. Because Jewish law does not allow a beit din to force a man to issue his wife a divorce, communities have historically used religious ostracization and social embarrassment to pressure recalcitrant husbands into giving in.

“We feel it is important for a community to take a stand against this kind of abuse, and say we will not tolerate it,” ORA’s assistant director Jeremy Stern said. “If someone is emotionally abusing his wife, abusing halacha and making a mockery of the rabbinic system, it will not be tolerated.”

ORA works with couples from across the religious spectrum — from fervently Orthodox to loosely traditional — to help resolve tough divorce cases, Stern said. The organization tries to facilitate conversation between the parties to help bring them to an acceptable resolution with a beit din or other mediator. If that fails, ORA uses threats of protest and then actual protests at the home or workplace of a husband who refuses to give a get, or a wife who refuses to accept one. Since it was founded in 2002, ORA has helped resolve 97 cases and still has 60 cases open — just a small percentage of the problem divorce cases out there, Stern says. Several of ORA’s cases are in Los Angeles, including an Israeli man in Tarzana who has refused his wife a get for 31 years.

ORA has been working on the Kin case for three years. The case has a long and complicated history in civil courts in New York and Los Angeles, and several rabbinic courts. Kin said a get is waiting for his wife at the beit din of Rabbi Tzvi Dov Abraham in Monsey, N.Y. But that beit din is universally reviled as extortionist, and divorces from Abraham’s beit din are not recognized by the RCC, the chief rabbinate in Israel or the Beth Din of America, Stern said.

Kin comes from a prominent Los Angeles Orthodox family — both his parents are longtime educators in the Beverly-La Brea area, and his brother, Rabbi Elyahu Kin, is a leader at the outreach organization Torah Ohr. Another brother is president of an Orthodox congregation.

The protest was held outside the parents’ home. Stern has been slowly publicizing the case for two years, sending fliers and information packets to local rabbis, hoping to avoid a rally, he said. While some rabbis showed up to the rally and publicized it among their congregants, many stayed away.

Stern said the group also works on preventative measures. It supports a 10-year-old effort to make prenuptial agreements, which make withholding or refusing a get financially painful, a standard part of Orthodox wedding ceremonies. Stern flew to Los Angeles for the rally, and spent some time in local Orthodox high schools teaching students about the need for prenups.

“We see this as way of making social change from the bottom up, so everyone does it as a matter of course,” Stern said.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer

UCLA Acquires Western Jewish History Artifacts

UCLA last week celebrated the acquisition of a treasure trove of Jewish history in the American West, the legacy of four dedicated amateurs turned skilled historians.

The ceremony in the UCLA Library’s special collections department culminated decades of work by the late Dr. Norton Stern and Rabbi William Kramer, both Los Angeles residents.

When they died, they left behind some 400 boxes crammed with documents, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, memoirs, photos and assorted memorabilia.

Much of the hoard was accumulated by Stern, an optometrist, who scoured the small towns of the Western states, looking, as he put it, “through hundreds of haystacks for dozens of needles,” hidden in abandoned cemeteries and faded newspapers.

His and Kramer’s immense accumulation of history in the raw was rescued after their deaths by two Valley residents, David W. Epstein and Gladys Sturman, who went about cataloging, indexing and archiving the material.

They were aided by 11 members of Congregation Shir Ami in Woodland Hills, an $18,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation and $10,000 from Sturman’s own pocket.

A major part of the Stern-Kramer legacy was trucked to UCLA last year and, over the months, Caroline Luce, a doctoral candidate in history, has digitized the archive, which is expected to go online in May.

In the process, Luce has become an expert on the arcane history of bagels, and the audience of some 70 invited guests was left to ponder whether the Jewish gustatory icon had originated in Austria, Poland, or China.

Epstein noted that Kramer and Stern had defined rather broad boundaries for the “American West,” claiming all the land west of the Mississippi River, Hawaii and parts of Mexico.

Jews played a disproportionally large role in the development of the West, because they were often the only residents who were literate, knew about business affairs, and were trusted by both gold prospectors and native Indians.

David Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, lauded the professional standards and work by Sturman, Epstein and the Shir Ami volunteers as a prime example of collaboration between town and gown.

Additional parts of the original Kramer-Stern collection have been donated to other institutions, such as 1,000 books to the American Jewish University, 2,000 photos to the Autry National Center, and ephemera to the Huntington Research Library, in partnership with USC.

For additional information, call the UCLA department of special collections at (310) 825-4988 or Genie Guerard at (310) 206-0521.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

The Hollywood candidate is not Obama

If John McCain wins this election, it will be because of Hollywood.

It’s not that Hollywood is giving him big money (it isn’t); or that big celebrities are attracting attention to him (they’re not); or that star writers and directors are helping him with stagecraft and wordsmithery (again no).

It’s that the gradual appropriation by Hollywood of politics, journalism and practically ever other domain of modern life is reaching its apotheosis in McCain’s campaign.  His persona, and the story he is telling, and the media narrative that frames and delivers it to us, all come straight from the movies. 

Unfortunately, this movie may end really, really badly.

If you want to see how entertainment conquered reality (as the subtitle of Neal Gabler’s “Life the Movie” puts it), don’t look at Arnold Schwarzenegger or Ronald Reagan, or at Oprah or Jane Fonda.  Look instead at the inauguration day of the era we now inhabit: September 11, 2001.

“It was like something from a movie.”  It’s stunning how universal that reaction was, whether from eye witnesses or television viewers.  It is entirely plausible that the terrorists themselves intended us to experience it as a movie—a disaster film, a horror picture, an epic of spectacular destruction and mass helplessness.

From 9/11 until now, we have lived in a state of suspense, wanting to know how it will all turn out.  Are we living through apocalyptic times, heading toward nuclear terrorism and an “On the Beach” ending?  Will the anarchy of “Mad Max” be our fate?  Will the human monsters who hate us ravage us as mercilessly as the monster of “Cloverfield” or the aliens of “War of the Worlds”?  Or will we be rescued by a latter-day cavalry, like the improbable heroes of “Independence Day”? 

George W. Bush told us we were in a Western (“Wanted, dead or alive”), and in a World War II movie (“Bring ‘em on!”).  But the quagmire of Iraq, the persistence of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and the return of Cold War Russia have prevented us from reaching – except in the President’s own mind, perhaps – the ultimate victory of the white hats and the good guys that those genres promise.

At the moment when things look most bleak, in rides John McCain.  Like Rambo, he has returned to rescue us, to make this war on terror end differently than that war in Vietnam.  Like Shane, he is a maverick, a loner, a reluctant gunslinger who arrives out of nowhere, back from political death.  Like Yoda, or the Wise Man of countless other science fiction films, he offers us wisdom and judgment accumulated over lifetimes.

Only that message didn’t work.  The hero of the Hanoi Hilton has used his POW history a dozen times too many to explain everything from not recalling how many houses he owns to charges that he cheated his way out of the Saddleback “cone of silence.”  The maverick who bucked George Bush turned out to vote with him 90 per cent of the time; the loner who denounced the “agents of intolerance” in his own party returned to Liberty University to pay honor to Rev. Falwell; the opponent of torture ended up supporting it; the sage turned out to be a hothead with a hair-trigger temper whose gut instincts are the problem, not the solution.

And then there was his opponent—the true outsider who made him look like Mr. Establishment, the young guy who made him look too much like Yoda, the leader of millions who made his own claims to leadership ring hollow.  Barack Obama, to be sure, has also been the beneficiary of Americans’ inclination to experience life via movie genres.  In Obama’s case, it’s the rags-to-riches saga, the only-in-America tale, plus the crusader quests of Gene McCarthy and Martin Luther King, Jr., of Bobby and Jack Kennedy – stories so burnished by Camelot mythology and an Age of Giants romanticism that the line between legend and life hardly matters.

McCain’s Rovian campaign fought genre with genre, trying everything to recast Obama into a different story.  They depicted him as a false prophet with literally Mosaic pretensions; a traitorous “Manchurian Candidate”; a demagogue, like Lonesome Roads in “A Face in the Crowd”; a rock star egomaniac, a celebrity airhead, a diva, like the characters in the serial melodramas that we call People, Extra! and TMZ.  But for all that, the race remained a dead heat.

In panic, McCain threw a Hail Mary pass—familiar to fans of sports comeback movies—and chose Sarah Palin as his running mate.  What he gets from this self-described hockey mom is a genre lift, the Hollywood fable of the un-politician who comes to Washington to straighten things out. 

She comes from a long line of movie outsiders.  Jimmy Stewart’s Mr. Smith starts out as the head of the Boy Rangers. “The Candidate” played by Robert Redford is a lawyer for hopeless causes. Kevin Kline, who impersonates the president (for the better) in “Dave,” runs a temp agency.  In “Man of the Year,” Robin Williams is a comedian who runs for the White House.  Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods, in “Legally Blonde 2,” is the underestimated Delta Nu chick who turns Congress around.

So why not Sarah Palin as Vice President?  To be sure, the notion that women, particularly Hillary Clinton supporters, would vote for her just because she has two X chromosomes, and despite her being on the opposite side from Sen. Clinton on every policy issue facing the country: that cynical tokenism is precisely the kind of affirmative-action-at-its-worst that the right never tires of accusing the left of committing.

But McCain isn’t betting everything on the hope that self-spiting Clinton partisans and undecided younger suburban women will identify with Sarah Palin’s gender.  He’s doing it to tap into the beloved American movie myth of the salt-of-the-earth outsider who ends up in power.  He’s gambling that we just can’t help loving plots like that.

The Labor Day news that Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter is five months’ pregnant adds yet one more genre to the GOP movie arsenal: within minutes of the revelation, one media wag dubbed Bristol Palin “the Juno of Juneau.”

And what about the heartbeat-away issue? As critic Katha Pollitt wrote, “If life were a Lifetime movie, Palin would do just fine running the country should McCain keel over. Girls can do anything! And look great doing it!”

John McCain is 72, and he’s been operated on for malignant melanomas—the most dangerous kind of skin cancer—four times.

At this point in the campaign, it looks as though McCain has a 50/50 chance of becoming President.  And while I wish him 120 birthdays, it is no great stretch to imagine Sarah Palin ending up in the Oval Office.  This is the entirely possible outcome that the Republicans are putting on the table this week. 

Maybe Americans won’t want to take that risk.  But McCain could well win.  More Americans may vote for the real life movie about the moose-hunting Alaskan beauty queen who goes to Washington, than for the one about the charismatic half-black Hawaiian who ends up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

If John McCain wins, it is entirely conceivable that whatever scares you most in the world, and whatever you care most about doing at home, Sarah Palin will be in charge of it.  But by the time we realize how dystopic such a movie might turn out, it will be too late for any of us to leave the theater. 

Marty Kaplan wrote and executive produced “The Distinguished Gentleman,” in which Eddie Murphy plays a con man who gets elected to Congress.  He now directs the USC Annenberg School’s Norman Lear Center, which studies the impact of entertainment on society, and blogs @

New reports expose rampant anti-Semitic attacks in Western Europe

Western Jewish history collection gets broken up among local academic institutions

“Mr. Nathan Jacoby and party spent Sunday at Arrowhead Springs, making the journey in their automobile,” reported the B’nai B’rith Messenger of Los Angeles on April 16, 1909.

“Automobiles are a service of great joy to their owners and the fact that so many are being purchased by the Jewish community is noteworthy,” the story continued. “Mr. Sam Newmark has a new Locomobile, Mr. Jacob Loew has a Packard car, and there are many more on the way.”

This little gem tells us perhaps more about the upwardly mobile Jews of early Los Angeles than a demographic treatise, and there’s more where that came from.

A lot more. The spacious three-car garage of Gladys Sturman’s house in Calabasas is jammed to the high ceiling with 400 boxes crammed with documents, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, memoirs, photos and assorted memorabilia, a veritable treasure trove of the Jewish history in California and the Western United States.

This massive accumulation of history in the raw is the legacy of two self-made historians. William M. Kramer and Norton B. Stern started to collect and preserve, scrap by scrap, the records left by the pioneering Jews and their descendants, when that subject was still beneath academic notice.

Kramer was a larger-than-life rabbi, lawyer, professor, author, sometime actor and advertising pitchman, while Stern was an optometrist. Avid collectors, they were too busy to index and archive their material.

When Kramer, who survived Stern, died in 2004, every inch of his large Westwood home was covered with boxes, books, folders and files.

Two volunteers, who had also been bitten by the Western history bug, decided to take over the massive legacy. One is David W. Epstein, a longtime traveling manufacturer’s representative, who set up “a little typesetting business on the side” in the 1970s.

From typesetting, he branched out into publishing a number of small Jewish magazines, among them the Jewish Calendar for the San Fernando Valley, Being Jewish and the still active The American Rabbi.

In the early 1990s, after Stern’s death, Epstein took over the production end of Western States Jewish History, a quarterly magazine founded, and largely written, by Kramer and Stern.

When Kramer relinquished editorial control of the quarterly a few years later, Epstein teamed up with Sturman and they took over the publication.

Sturman had studied Jewish history under Kramer while taking her degree at the University of Judaism, and helped him with his research during his final years.

Both Epstein and Sturman are now listed as publishers and editors of Western States Jewish History, though she concentrates on the editorial side, and he on the production and business end.

The current Winter 2007 issue is devoted to the autobiography of the late Herb Brin, a feisty journalist and longtime publisher of the Heritage weekly.

Over the past few years, the two historians, amateurs no longer, have worked full and overtime cataloging, indexing and archiving the Kramer-Stern legacy, and their expertise has won the respect of prominent academicians.

They have been aided by 11 volunteers from Congregation Shir Ami in Woodland Hills, an $18,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation and $10,000 from Sturman’s own pocket.

The fruits of their labor have been moving by trucks over the last few weeks to leading academic institutions in the Los Angeles area, for the benefit of present and future generations of students and scholars.

Some 30,000 cataloged papers and 4,000 folders have been delivered to the special collections department of UCLA’s Young Library.

The University of Judaism has received more than 1,000 books.

Ephemera, very old books and pamphlets are destined for the Huntington Research Library in San Marino, in partnership with USC.

The 2,000-photo collection is going to the Autry National Center, which specializes in the history of the American West.

A large number of scrapbooks and diaries are being divided between the Autry and the Huntington.

Sturman says that it will take her another year to organize Kramer’s personal writings, which, she hopes, will be the basis for some ambitious student’s doctoral thesis.

Professor David N. Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, is greatly impressed by the passion and skill the Epstein-Sturman team brought to their task.

“The material we have received at UCLA is exceptionally well organized and a real treasure for scholars,” he said. “Gladys and David have done a heroic job.”

Epstein projects that much of the material and its database will be available in the future on the Web sites of the participating institutions and on his own.

The 69-year-old Woodland Hills resident has also evolved into a popular lecturer on the pioneer Jews of the West, among them merchants, madams and hookers.

“I’m not a scholar, I’m a storyteller,” Epstein classifies himself. “For thousands of years, we Jews have survived because we passed on our stories.

American Jews don’t do that anymore, we’ve become too sophisticated, so we’re becoming Jewishly illiterate.”

Stephen Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California, has some reservations about the Kramer-Stern trove going to outside academic institutions.

“Much of the material came from members of the Jewish community, and I hope might stay within the community,” Sass said. “I hope our organization can be involved and we can work together.”

Epstein responded that he and Sturman purposely gave the material to prestigious academic institutions, where both Jewish and non-Jewish scholars would have easy access.

“I don’t want Jews to be written out of Western states history as we were out of medieval history,” he said.

Sturman observed that the Jewish Historical Society has not yet put its own archives in order, while Sass noted that his membership has been focusing on the rehabilitation of the historic Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights and was preparing an oral history project.

To close on a historical note, here’s an abbreviated item from San Francisco’s Daily Alta Californian, dated June 23, 1851, which proves that the pioneer Jews were not solely occupied with establishing dry goods stores and houses of worship.

There’s the Rub — in Tel Aviv

Tierra couldn’t be more Los Angeles. But for this nouveau combination of mostly organic restaurant, massage parlor and oxygen bar, you’ll have to go to Tel Aviv, where this combo venue clearly out-Hollywoods Hollywood.

The only thing missing — so far — is a Hollywood-style patron, such as Madonna or Oprah. In the meantime, you can settle happily for Yaniv Ben Rachamin, the handsome young waiter. On a recent visit, he needed some crib notes to describe the eclectic menu offerings, but he’s surefooted and helpfully well muscled for any visitors who order the seven-minute, 22-sheckel (about $4) massage with their entree.

Like the others of the wait staff, Ben Rachamin is a certified masseuse. His specialty happens to be a Chinese-style regimen whose name he had trouble translating into English. But as he willingly demonstrated, the good fight against carpal tunnel syndrome knows no language barriers. You just remain at your table in your chair and let him go to work.

Tierra’s setting in its bustling, mostly residential neighborhood is stylish coffeehouse; the food is inventive. One typical appetizer consisted of figs stuffed with mushrooms, macadamia nuts and chicken — flavored with cardamom, cinnamon and a Hindu date dressing (34 sheckels). Not all the entrees strain to be eccentric; there’s “grilled pullet and polenta” for 58 sheckels and “calamari paperdello” for 54 sheckels. Some menu offerings are mouth watering; others more creative than tasty. But there’s a full bar to wash everything down.

Co-owner Yonatan Galili says he keeps the menu as organic as possible — except when going exclusively organic would raise prices. He’s gone through several career iterations, including successful industrial engineer, to reach this entrepreneurial exploration of the mind/body/stomach connection.

He sees the massages as a way for a person/diner to “be with himself for seven minutes.” He adds: “We are very aware of the Western way of life. We serve food that is friendly to the stomach so you can eat here and then later keep on working.”

Of course, another option is to get high at the oxygen bar and forget all about working. Galili has two flavors of oxygen — “secret” concoctions created specially by an expert in designing flavors for oxygen bars. One is to relax you; the other to energize you.

The giddy feeling that ensues doesn’t seem quite legal, but apparently, it’s OK to inhale. Just be glad that you’re not the one flying the airplane home.

Tierra is located at Yirmiyahu 54, Tel Aviv, 03-604-7222. Hours: 9 a.m. to last customer.


Jewish Weddings in Space

Joss Whedon’s quirky space Western, “Serenity,” features outlaws who act like Wild West gunslingers, an assassin who forces his victims to commit hara kiri, a telepath who inexplicably goes berserk, a Buddhist planet — and Jewish nuptials in space.

Based on Whedon’s short-lived 2002 TV series, “Firefly,” whose fan base helped spur the movie, “Serenity” revolves around the outlaws’ attempts to discover the telepath’s true identity after she beats up everyone in a bar.

Enter hacker broadcaster Mr. Universe (David Krumholtz), who plays the bar’s security tapes for the renegades — as well as a video of his wedding to a bimbo android. In one of the film’s funniest moments, she looks on robotically as Krumholtz (CBS’s “NUMB3RS”) ecstatically stomps on a glass at the end of the Jewish ceremony.

Mr. Universe is not the first member-of-the-tribe character the non-Jewish Whedon, has created, says Jewhoo Editor Nate Bloom; his titular Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a sidekick named Willow Rosenberg, among other multicultural pals.

Whedon said he created “Serenity,” which opens Friday, as a kind of “Wagon Train” in space. That’s about how Gene Roddenberry described his conceit for the original “Star Trek” series. But unlike “Trek” and many other sci-fi works, “Serenity” depicts real, rather than invented, human religions. So while a Jewish wedding in space may sound offbeat, hey, just think of it as the final frontier for the Diaspora, though don’t expect bubbe to approve of the intermarriage android thing.

Holy Knots


Red string. A whole ball of it. That was what a dear relative in Los Angeles asked me to bring her from Israel when I come to visit.

But not just any red string. It has to be the kind that vendors hawk at the Western Wall. That is, it has to be the stuff from which you make a bendel — a wristlet that wards off evil, restores health and makes barren women fertile. It has to be the stuff that Madonna has turned into a fashion item and that sells for $26 a throw. And there has to be lots of it.

My first reaction is incredulity.

“It’s just string!” I bellow at my laptop. “Just red string.”

Then I counsel myself, “Have respect for someone else’s talisman. You, too, have secret ways of cajoling the hostile forces around you.”

My 90-year-old mother-in-law, who was born in Jerusalem, says that when she was a child no one had heard of red string. It was red ribbon then, and a bit was tied around her wrist after she recuperated from typhus.

The string’s sanctity (and hence its efficacy) derives from its having been wrapped seven times around Rachel’s Tomb. Rachel is one of the four biblical matriarchs, and religious women seek her intercession for everything from a good husband to a cure for cancer.

The wrapping should be easy, I think. But Rachel’s Tomb — on the road to Bethlehem just outside Jerusalem, where I live — is in the territories, neighboring the Aida refugee camp. The building is now a fortress shrouded in a concrete casing. No one enters or leaves without the permission of security personnel. The only way to get there is by armored bus.

Egged, the national bus company, has regular service to the tomb, except on special days, like this one. So first I have to get to the roadblock on the road to Bethlehem and then hop an armored bus.

“When do you leave?” I ask the driver.

“When the bus is full,” he replies.

There are only two other passengers: a modestly dressed teenage girl and a bearded young man in a black suit and hat. But there’s hope. “It’s the eve of Elul,” says the black-suited passenger. Elul is the month of penitence that precedes the Jewish New Year, a time when many religious Jews visit holy places to plead for good health and prosperity in the coming year.

“I just got here from the Machpela Cave,” the burial site in Hebron of Abraham and Sarah, he announces with a grin.

Tomb-hopping seems to be a turn-on.

Suddenly a crowd materializes and starts boarding. From the back of the bus comes the call, “There’s another seat here for a man.” (Religious men and women don’t sit side by side.) In the aisle, men and women of all ages have become one sweating mass.

When it seems there’s no oxygen left, the bus sets out on the five-minute run to Rachel’s Tomb. We pass the Lama Bros. shop and the Jewelry Center, once filled with tourists and now shuttered — victims of the intifada.

The scenery ends as the bus enters a concrete womb. The passengers are hurried into the building by nervous security people. Anyone outside makes an easy target for snipers.

Signs direct us to the men’s section and the women’s section, both in a domed room. And there is the tomb: about eight feet tall and eight feet wide, covered by a navy blue velvet cloth embroidered with symbols of the twelve tribes of Israel. An embroidered inscription implores the Lord to bless “the woman who comes to Your house as [You blessed the biblical matriarchs] Rachel and Leah.”

A plastic cover protects the embroidery.

Ahead of me, as I get as close as I can, at least 30 women are jammed together in rows of six. Those in the first row lean against the tomb, their faces and hands pressed against the plastic. They mouth their prayers inaudibly; the only sound is of their weeping. Teenagers and gnarled grannies, all are crying as they beseech Rachel to intercede for them. It’s hard to ignore the intensity of their prayers. It doesn’t seem to matter that it’s only a tradition that marks this spot as Rachel’s Tomb. There is no way to circumnavigate the tomb; partitions separate the men’s section from the women’s. I reduce my ambition to touching the string to the sacred spot.

A short, heavyset woman pushes in front of me. She has iron-spike elbows; in a trice she’s at the tomb. I motion to Iron Elbows to take the string and do the deed for me.

With the now-sanctified treasure back in my hand, I head for the bus. As we board, I ask a middle-aged woman in a blond wig whether it’s always this crowded on the eve of Elul.

“You’re just lucky you didn’t come on the eleventh of Cheshvan, the date of Rachel’s death,” the woman answers. “Then the tomb is really mobbed.”

Yes, I’m lucky. And I have the red string.

Esther Hecht is a freelance writer based in Jerusalem.


The Answer Isn’t…

Aliyah is the oat bran of the Jewish people. We know it’s good for us. We know we should be having more of it. But truth is, we just find it hard to swallow. And we certainly don’t like it shoved down our throats.

While in Israel last week, I heard several Israeli officials, from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on down, proclaim that increased Jewish immigration to Israel is crucial to the country’s long-term well-being. And each time I heard an Israeli or American Jewish leader say that, I thought: "Uh-oh."

If Israel’s well-being depends on tens of thousands of us Diaspora Jews packing up and moving there, the country is in worse trouble than I thought. The numbers of Jews who immigrate to Israel from Western nations — never a very large figure — has greatly declined of late and shows no signs of reviving.

"Where are they going to come from?" an Israeli official — who preferred not to be identified — asked me. "The ones who had to come here came; the ones who wanted to come here came. There just aren’t that many Jews left to rescue. And even the ones who are in trouble don’t want to come here."

Aliyah from Western countries has never been huge. Israel’s numbers have swelled more as a result of what analysts call the "push" immigration — Jews who have been pushed out of the homelands — rather than from "pull" — Jews who feel drawn to Israel not out of need, but desire.

About 9,200 immigrants arrived in Israel in the first half of 2003, and most of these were pushed there. Over half — 5,100 immigrants — came from the former Soviet Union, 500 arrived from Argentina and 1,500 from Ethiopia. That means approximately 2,100 arrived from the rest of the Jewish world: France, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and the United States.

These numbers represent a drop of 39 percent, as compared to the same period the previous year. Although many Orthodox Jews and yeshiva students still immigrate to Israel, aliyah from North America is half of what it was in 1984, prior to the outbreak of the first intifada or Palestinian uprising.

The aliyah equation is even more lopsided, especially when balanced against emigration from Israel. Many Jews from the former Soviet Union have actually chosen to return there. Israelis who have any native rights in European countries are seeking passports for themselves and their children.

Last week, an article in Ha’aretz revealed that about 700,000 Israelis actually live outside the country. An earlier survey found that a significant proportion of Israeli youth saw little future for themselves in Israel. A friend of mine, who immigrated to Israel more than 20 years ago from the United States and raised his children there, said he suspects all of his kids will immigrate to America.

Behind the call for a magic carpet of aliyah lay an odd mixture of hope and despair. Aliyah is — excuse the expression — the Hail Mary strategy of an Israeli government that sees no other way out of a looming demographic disaster.

Sharon’s government has advanced no serious long-term strategy for dealing with the fact that within several years, the Palestinian population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean will outnumber the Jewish population. For years, Israelis on the center and the left have pointed out that when this happens, Israel will have to choose between being a Jewish State or being a democratic one.

One solution is for Israel to dismantle Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza and return to (roughly) its pre-1967 borders. Another is bringing in more Jews. As ludicrous as it seems given the numbers, that’s the only solution advanced by Sharon in a speech last week to some 5,000 North American Jewish supporters of Israel.

The fact that Sharon’s call for aliyah received a sustained ovation perplexed me. After the speech, I asked various audience members if they planned to take up the prime minister’s call and move to Israel. Of course they thought I was joking.

"Remember the old saying," a journalist friend reminded me. "An American Zionist is someone who gives his own money to send someone else’s kid to Israel."

The situation in Israel is grave. The economy is depressed, security is tight and most Israelis I met were gloomy about their country in the short-term, at least. Anti-Semitism abroad may yet create a wave of "push" aliyah to Israel, but it’s not something you want to depend upon.

"It would be preferable if the Israeli society were to flourish thanks to its own power of attraction and not because of the existential weakness of Diaspora Jewry," said professor Sergio Della Pergola of the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Aliyah is identity politics carried to the extreme. The small percentage of Jews who are actually pulled to live in Israel represents a much larger percentage of Jews who choose not to live in Israel, but who feel close and supportive of it nonetheless. I suspect the decline in one number reflects a decline in the other. As Israel’s own existential situation worsens, both these numbers are bound to deteriorate.

On the way home from Israel late last week, I noticed a counter set up at Ben-Gurion International Airport. A charming American-born woman stood behind an array of informational pamphlets on aliyah. Don’t just visit the dream, the booth advertised, come live it.

I couldn’t help notice that in the three hours I spent in the busy terminal, not a single person visited the woman at her booth. The duty-free counter, needless to say, was packed.

Now Hear This!

The radio station plays hits by Jennifer Lopez and Madonna,
and invites listeners to comment on issues such as what they’d do if they
discovered a friend was taking drugs.

It’s the type of fare broadcast to young adults from Malibu
to Miami. Except the disc jockey is speaking Arabic, and the listeners are in
the Middle East.

Welcome to Radio Sawa, the brainchild of Norman J. Pattiz,
founder and chairman of the biggest radio network in the United States. Since
March of last year, Radio Sawa (which means together in Arabic) has been
broadcasting in Arabic around the clock in the Middle East, targeting listeners
under 30 years old, who make up 60 percent of the region’s population.

Radio Sawa broadcasts a mix of Western and Arabic pop music,
interspersed with news updates and analysis, interviews and opinion pieces.
Potentially, millions of listeners can access Radio Sawa via AM, FM and
shortwave frequencies, as well as on the Internet ( and on
digital radio satellite channels.

Pattiz, the founder of Westwood One, helped conceptualize
and launch Radio Sawa as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
The BBG oversees the government’s nonmilitary international broadcasting
services, such as the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

While serving on a committee charged with reviewing the 61
different languages in which programs are broadcast, “it became obvious that
what we were doing in the Middle East was insignificant at best,” said the
59-year-old Southern California native. Once Pattiz pointed out the deficiency,
he soon found himself chairman of the BBG’s Middle East Committee.

Returning from a fact-finding mission to the region, he told
the U.S. House Committee on International Relations, “We have a vital mission
to counter misinformation and messages of hate regarding the United States by
broadcasting truthful news and information and by faithfully representing our
country’s government and culture.”

 Polling of young adults in Amman, Jordan, last October
appears to indicate that the audience is listening. Forty-three percent of
respondents tuned in to Radio Sawa, more than any other station, and 25 percent
considered it their top source for news. Both figures were higher than those
received for any other station.

“I don’t know that we ever expected to get to these kinds of
numbers, but we certainly never expected to get to them that quickly,” said
Pattiz, noting that the percentages have increased since the October poll.

Pattiz acknowledged that Radio Sawa’s impact is “less
strong” with lower socio-economic groups than with “the more educated and more
affluent and those who have more of a connection with Western values. But we
have to start someplace,” he said.

Pattiz said that by presenting news objectively, Radio Sawa
more accurately represents the United States and its culture than other
available sources. For example, he noted that Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite TV
station in Qatar, recently aired a two-hour interview of former Ku Klux Klan
leader David Duke.

“This is who they chose to interview as a representative of
the people of the United States of America — David Duke. If that isn’t bone
chilling,” Pattiz said.

Like news regarding the United States, coverage of other
areas, including Israel, is intended to be presented without bias. Radio Sawa’s
news director is Mouafac Harb, a former Washington bureau chief for the
international Arabic daily newspaper, Al Hayat.

According to its Web site, one of Radio Sawa’s guiding
principles is that “the long-range interests of the United States are served by
communicating directly in Arabic with the peoples of the Middle East by radio.”
Pattiz echoes this sentiment.

“We’re certainly better off communicating with a major part
of the world where our efforts have been woefully inadequate,” he said. “If
they’re going to hate us, let them know who they’re hating, rather than just
blindly following a path that’s laid out by their government-controlled media.”

The BBG plans to expand on Sawa’s success on a number of
fronts. Soon, specific regions will receive their own individual programming
streams, with news and features of local interest delivered in regional

A new Farsi-language service, similar to Sawa, started up
last month in Iran. Plans are also underway for an Arabic-language satellite
television station to provide round-the-clock programming.

Pattiz is no stranger to Middle Eastern politics. As a
member of the Israel Policy Forum, an organization that promotes U.S. awareness
and involvement in the Middle East peace process, Pattiz has traveled to the
region to meet with Israeli and Jordanian leaders and has held a reception at
his home for Queen Noor of Jordan.

He also hosts monthly roundtable discussions at which
prominent community members meet with Israeli leaders, media representatives
and others with insights about the region.

Although his Radio Sawa efforts are performed on behalf of
the U.S. government, Pattiz acknowledged that promoting the free flow of
information in the Middle East benefits Israel, as well.

On the state level, Pattiz serves on the UC Board of
Regents. As a member of the board’s Investment Committee, he helps oversee
billions of dollars of university investments.

He expects to be part of a task force formed in response to
a controversial course description published for a UC Berkeley class, The
Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance. Pattiz said the task force will
“examine how this course description was allowed to be printed in the first
place, and look at the larger questions of academic freedom vs.

He also serves on the California Commission on Building for
the 21st Century, which looks at how the state should address future building
and infrastructure needs. Pattiz has served as president of the Broadcast
Education Association, trustee of the Museum of Television and Radio, is on the
the USC Annenberg School for Communication board and on the advisory board of
the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy.

At Westwood One, which he founded in 1974 as a one-room
operation, Pattiz spends much of his time conceptualizing projects and
arranging agreements with artists and recording companies to generate
entertainment programs for broadcast. The company has earned a reputation for
blockbuster entertainment programming, airing concerts by such megastars as
Barbra Streisand, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen.

His professional, political and philanthropic activities
keep Pattiz busy, and he said he likes it that way.

“I’ve got plenty of things to keep me busy,” he said. “But
they’re all things I find incredibly interesting and enjoyable. I’m not
complaining about any of it.”

Norman J. Pattiz will be the keynote speaker at CommUNITY
Kavod on Tuesday, Jan. 28, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Irvine. For
more information call (714) 755-5555.