Westside, Milken JCC teams medal in Israel


At the beginning of the JCC Maccabi Games boys’ soccer tournament in Israel, Westside JCC co-head coach Neil Sadhu gave striker Ari Spitzer three words of advice: power, precision and composure. Tied 1-1 with 15 minutes left in the final at Hebrew University, Spitzer approached Sadhu.

“We were on our last legs, but he said, ‘I can go hard for 15 minutes,’ ” Sadhu recalled.

Into the game Spitzer went.

“I had that feeling you get when you know you’re about to do something great,” the 17-year-old Milken senior said.

Spitzer’s game-winning shot went into the goal eight minutes later, sealing Westside’s win over the combined Denver, Detroit and Houston team for a third consecutive gold medal.

Southern California was well represented in soccer at the JCC Maccabi Games in Israel, July 24-Aug. 5, as one of two Milken JCC boys’ soccer teams secured the bronze with a 2-0 win, and one of two Milken JCC girls’ soccer teams also avenged a semifinal loss with a 2-0 win for bronze.

Top-seeded Allie Peris won the gold medal, and No. 2 seed Nicole Getelman took bronze for Westside in the 17-and-under girls’ tennis tournament.

Second-seeded Sigal Spitzer, cousin of Ari, earned the silver in the 15-and-under girls’ tennis tournament.

Jake Stark was the only Westside swimmer to medal in individual events, taking the silver in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly, and bronze in both the 50-meter backstroke and 200-meter individual medley in the 14-15 division. Stark said the Israel experience was “a thrill.”

“I think I gave my all,” said Stark, a sophomore at West Hills Chaminade. He also added a relay medal to his haul.

Griffin Koffman came away with four medals, all in 14-15 division relay events, including one in which he teamed with fellow Westside swimmer Jake Defeo.

Henry Waxman: In his own words


What makes Waxman run?  

Earlier today, Rep. Henry Waxman defeated Congressman John Dingell for Chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

The Westside Democrat, who is 69, now assumes a key role in pushing for greater government action on environmental issues like global warming. 

Two years ago in The Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Waxman reflected on the values and traditions that shaped his political career:

This piece is excerpted from remarks Rep. Henry Waxman gave at Carmen and Louis Warschaw Distinguished Lecture delivered at USC April 23.

What drew me to politics was the esteem I had always felt for public service and the commitment of our religious values to justice, human and civil rights, peace and the importance of helping all people be able to realize their full potential. And, of course, the essential task for our nation to be engaged in the world as a force for good.

As a Jewish congressman, I have been mindful that even in America, there have only been 157 Jews who have ever served in the House of Representatives; that I was the first Jew ever to have been elected from Southern California and the first in California in 40 years when I was elected in 1974. Today, we have 24 Jewish members, many from districts with very few Jewish constituents and seven from Southern California.

I am proud to have played a role as a congressman in events that impacted the Jewish people. My wife, Janet and I were in Egypt and Israel when, after meeting with both President [Anwar] Sadat and Prime Minister [Menachem] Begin, Sadat came to Jerusalem. We sat is amazement as we heard his speech in the Knesset. We fought for the freedom of Soviet Jews, visited Refuseniks, pressured Soviet leaders, and saw the doors open to allow them to leave. Janet was an instrumental player in the efforts to help Syrian Jews leave. We were in Israel as the airlift of Ethiopians arrived in Israel. I was able to attend the White House ceremonies for the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt, the signings of the ill-fated Oslo agreement between Arafat and Rabin; the dinner in honor of diplomatic relations between Israel and Jordan. Last August, we were in Israel as it undertook the difficult disengagement from the Gaza.

While I have always had a strong Jewish identity, only as an adult have I explored more deeply the Jewish religion. The Jewish way is to have us elevate ourselves and refine our character through the observance of mitzvot. Judaism is much more about acting and doing the right thing, rather than believing the right things. Ethics is at Judaism’s core. God’s primary concern is not that we mindlessly follow ritual, but act decently. Ritual is to help us do that.

Actions and how we live our lives and treat others is at the heart of the matter. To aid us along these lines, we have specific obligations. Tzedakah, which means righteousness, not charity, helps bring justice to others and sanctity to ourselves. The discipline of kashrut raises the most mundane of routine acts into a religious reminder that we are distinctive and the mere physical satisfaction of our appetite can be a spiritual act. Shabbat gives sanctity to time to refresh our body and our soul. It has great meaning for me primarily to remind me, no matter how important I may or am supposed to be, the world can get along without me quite well for one day. It puts a lot of things into perspective.

Jewish observance is a check on our arrogance, self-importance, rationalizations to do what we want. We are required to fulfill the ethical commands and to choose to overcome our natural inclinations that are not worthy.

I have looked at the issue of governmental power in a similar way. Our U.S. Constitution tries to put in place a mechanism for checks and balances because our founders did not trust the concentration of power and the arrogance and corruption that can come with it. By the way, Jewish sources also resist an absolute power structure. Rabbi Joseph Soleveitchik referred to a well-known axiom that power tends to corrupt the one who wields it. The noblest, best-intentioned ruler is affected by the glory, tribute, and power of his office. This may cause him to step over the boundary of legitimate authority. The human ego is likely to be distorted and intoxicated by a status, which has no external limits.

For the last six years, we’ve essentially had one-party rule in Washington. And for the last decade, the Republican congressional leadership has governed with the idea that the most important job for them was to keep the Republicans together instead of trying to seek bipartisanship.

Next week, the Republicans will put forth a bill in the House for lobbying reform, in response to the convictions of Duke Cunningham, and the indictments and convictions of a number of staff people around Tom Delay, who also has been indicted. The problem runs far deeper than can be cured by superficial reform. The problem starts not with lobbyists, but with Congress itself.

Look at the Medicare prescription drug bill. Negotiations were behind closed doors; Democrats excluded. Key estimates about the bill’s costs were withheld by a government official who was told he would be fired if he disclosed the information. Two key negotiators ended up working for the drug companies after the bill passed. And when the bill was short of votes on the House floor, the 15-minute roll call was extended to three hours. A Republican member was offered a bribe to vote for it. Now, seniors are trying to make sense of the law and how it affects them, while the drug and insurance companies are coming out the big winners, as the legislation is projected to cost billions more than originally thought.

What about our checks and balances? What about self restraint and ethical guidelines? It is as if recklessness is invited because some leaders do not think they will be held accountable.

Oversight is important, and if done right it can find the truth and bring real change.

At the same time the Congress is refusing to do oversight, the Bush administration acted, even before Sept. 11, 200l, with greater secrecy than any other in history, exceeding even Richard Nixon’s.

Last year, Congressional Quarterly, the nonpartisan magazine reported that:

“Administration secrecy has become the rule rather than the exception, a phenomenon that lawmakers, journalists, public interest groups and even ordinary Americans say has interfered with their ability to participate in government and to hold it accountable for its actions.”

Congressional Quarterly went on to note that some of the documents the administration has withheld seem to have little to do with the war on terrorism and a lot to do with keeping embarrassing information from the public.

There’s no doubt that some things must be kept secret. Our national security demands some information must be kept secret for the good of all. But what we have here is an obsession for secrecy.

Think about the secrets that we now know about: the wiretapping of Americans; a network of foreign prisons; information about detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, Sept. 11 documents proving that the White House had been warned abut the use of hijacked airplanes as weapons

I do not intend to be partisan. But I do believe that the leadership of our government in both Congress and the Executive Branch has turned away from core values we have as Americans and as Jews.

The Journal’s Raphael J. Sonenshein profiled Waxman — ‘the Democrats’ Elliot Ness’ — last year:

The sweeping Democratic congressional victories in 2006 have not translated into the kind of oversight many voters had hoped for. In particular, the SenateJudiciary Committee has been notably unable to penetrate the Iron Curtain of Justice Department resistance.

The Bush administration has figured out it can derail the traditional hearing process by simply refusing to cooperate at all, by withholding all relevant documents or either not showing up at hearings, and if there, having nothing interesting to say. White-maned senators, who look like they were sent from Central Casting to play the part of “outraged representatives,” are reduced to rolling their eyes when witnesses “do not recall.”

Without the facts being handed to them on a silver platter, the senators seem inclined to weakly extend deadlines for cooperation or just give up. How can we do oversight, they ask, if the White House won’t help us?

There is another path to oversight, though, and its model has been developed by a 68-year-old Jewish congressman from the Westside of Los Angeles named Henry Waxman. But it takes a lot more work than the standard model.

With a hostile president, even a Democratic majority in Congress cannot legislate. But it can do oversight, and in the long run, oversight creates a constituency for legislation. Oversight is about information and public education.

In fact, Waxman already did more oversight while in the minority than many Democrats have been able to accomplish with the majority. Back in 2005, David Corn wrote in the Nation magazine that Democrats considered Waxman to be their “Eliot Ness,” and that many members wished the rest of the party would adopt his approach.

The standard oversight model is the congressional hearing. But hearings are not good vehicles to gather information, and they do not work as public education without some effort and creativity. Senators who think they are one great question away from breaking the case wide open and getting their names into the history books instead find themselves drawn into obscure debates with uncooperative witnesses, which leave the public baffled or indifferent. It’s doubtful that anyone will repeat Sen. Howard Baker’s memorable Watergate line: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” So why bother trying?

A hallmark of Waxman’s work as chairman of the incomparable House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (which, Waxman notes, allows him to poke into “everything”) is that his staff does the legwork before hearings are held. Before the 2006 elections brought him into the majority, Waxman used his minority position on the committee to establish an investigative staff. He has used his staff even more effectively in the majority.

Majority staff reports on a wide array of topics are made available to the media in an accessible format. There is usually a “hook” that fosters active media coverage. For instance, in 2004 he issued a staff report listing “237 misleading statements” by Bush administration officials about Iraq.

The groundwork for the issue is defined by Waxman, and the baseline information does not depend on cooperative witnesses. These reports, covering a vast array of urgent topics, make for good reading on his committee Website. The Web site also includes a “whistleblower hotline.” The hearings then add to the data and even add some drama.

Once the report is issued, hostile witnesses have an incentive to appear before the committee to do damage control. That is why Blackwater’s founder had to testify following a blistering and well-publicized staff report that investigated the company’s activities in Iraq. Waxman knows how to run a dramatic hearing, as shown by the famous day in 1994 when he got tobacco executives to raise their hands and commit perjury about the effects of smoking.

Waxman’s latest foray into Blackwater suggests that if he keeps pulling that thread, he may bring home to the public the scope and impact of the private war the taxpayers have been financing in Iraq. That’s what congressional investigations are supposed to do.

He is worrisome enough to Republicans that one California congressman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), issued a veiled threat: “If Henry Waxman today wants to go to Iraq and do an investigation, Blackwater will be his support team. His protection team. Do you think he really wants to investigate directly?”

Waxman is easy to underestimate. He is obviously not a member of the Washington society A list. He is known for never having attended the Academy Awards in his hometown. After the 2006 elections, he told Time magazine, “It’s such a long night. When I watch it on TV, I can get a snack.”

Those who know Waxman’s political history, however, are not surprised that he is tenacious and effective. While Waxman is very idealistic about how government should work and is not a Beltway shmoozer, he is a sophisticated political practitioner.

Before he won a seat in Congress in 1974, Waxman was a young Democratic activist during the heyday of Democrats in California politics. He upset an incumbent to win election to the state Assembly in 1968. He and his close ally (and, after 1982, fellow congressman) Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) pieced together one of the few successful political organizations in Los Angeles political history.

Labeled the Waxman-Berman “machine” (which was undoubtedly an overstatement encouraged by the lack of such organizations in California), their combine backed numerous candidates for the state Legislature and other offices. They nurtured the early career of Zev Yaroslavsky.

Waxman and Berman were effective campaign organizers and team builders. They were at the center of a loyal group of elected officials, many of whom were Jewish politicians on the Westside; others were African Americans and Latinos.

So as Democrats struggle to define their role of congressional majority facing a hostile White House, they would do well to consider that neither the White House nor the mass media will do their work for them. If they want to see how it is done, they would be well served to ask the West Los Angeles expert.

Twice Upon a Time


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The adoring crowd, a beaming Antonio Villaraigosa, a message of inclusiveness and leadership — the image could have been from four years ago, when Villaraigosa’s campaign for mayor energized much of Los Angeles.

But this time, Villaraigosa also got the more votes than the other guy, and then some, scoring an astounding 59 percent, to make incumbent James K. Hahn a one-term mayor.

Under a clear night sky, framed against a canopy of downtown skyscrapers, Villaraigosa projected energy and hope amid cheers that drowned out question marks and rumblings of unease in his very different, second-time run for mayor.

Across town in Hollywood, incumbent Mayor James Hahn got his first taste of political defeat, without ever admitting defeat. His campaign was the quixotic victim of perceived insufficiencies: a candidate with not quite enough money, too little charm and, to critics, a shortage of achievement, purposefulness and ethical fiber.

Polls had suggested a Villaraigosa win, but the 19-point spread stunned politicos. Villaraigosa led among Jews and Latinos; Valley residents, Eastsiders and Westsiders — pretty much the entire city (and 48 percent of African Americans) chose Villaraigosa. Jews accounted for 17 percent of the total vote and 55 percent of them chose Villaraigosa. For Valley Jews it was 54 percent; 58 percent on the Westside, according to L.A. Times exit polling.

Straightaway, Villaraigosa sought rhetorically to knit together a disparate metropolis that is frequently disengaged and clannish.

“We are all Angelenos tonight,” he said at midnight. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. It doesn’t matter whether you grew up on the Eastside or the Westside, whether you’re from South Los Angeles or Sylmar. It doesn’t matter whether you go to work in a fancy car or on a bus. Or whether you worship in a cathedral or a synagogue or a mosque. We are all Angelenos and we all have a difference to make.”

This was vintage Villaraigosa, the hard charger of four years ago, who inspired excitement and loyalty even while losing to Hahn. The 2005 Villaraigosa campaign, however, differed tellingly from that of 2001; it was more bruising to Hahn and exceedingly cautious in staking out what Villaraigosa intends to do.

By Election Night, no one needed polls or returns to deduce the winner. The Villaraigosa event had the air of a multicultural coronation, with table after table of free tamales, Korean noodles, sushi and barbecue. Two blocks of Boylston Street were cordoned off. The press had its own filing patio; VIPs had a private indoor shindig. The stage setup resembled a presidential campaign rally, with a huge American flag as backdrop and an arch of red, white and blue balloons.

By 9:30 p.m., the streetscape swelled and bobbed with celebrants even as a line of well-wishers stretched around the block, waiting to get through four security screening stations.

At Hahn headquarters, at Element in Hollywood, no metal detectors were needed; this, in contrast, was a party searching not for weapons, but a pulse, looking more like a decently attended art-gallery opening than a political rally. The TV screens steadfastly refused to show anything but the Hahn-for-Mayor logo. There was no press filing area; reporters took interview subjects to a smoggy outdoor smoking patio on the side. Straight back from there, in a private area, anyone could catch glimpses of a calm and genial Hahn standing under a pepper tree, waiting it out with family members and his closest supporters. The party room itself could have seated the audience for a small dance recital, but the bar was long enough, sporting at least five shelves of spirits.

Bobbi Fiedler, the Republican former school board member and former member of Congress, looked like she needed a trip to the bar. She refused to call Hahn’s defeat, but her face foretold enough. She called Hahn “a man who has been working hard getting the job done as opposed to tooting his own horn.”

Hahn backers also included Evelyn Fierro, a San Pedro public affairs specialist and self-described liberal Latino, who had supported Villaraigosa in 2001. She lauded Hahn’s decision to fire black Police Chief Bernard Parks, a move that angered many black Hahn supporters in South Los Angeles.

Hahn had “the guts to stand up to people and bring in the best police chief [Bill Bratton, who is Anglo] in this country,” Fierro said, “knowing it was questionable politically. But he did what was best for the city. And this is how they’re rewarding him.”

Over and over again, Hahn was portrayed by the faithful as underappreciated, especially, they said, when compared to the more photogenic Villaraigosa.

“Our television society is taken by a flashy smile and charismatic personality, and can’t quite accept somebody who is low-key, smart and hardworking,” Fierro said. “Mayor Hahn deserves a second chance and the only reason he won’t make it is that he’s a low-key personality. What does that say about the citizenry of Los Angeles? How shallow can you be?”

But you didn’t have to love Hahn to fault the Villaraigosa of 2005, said David Hamlin, a public-relations consultant with ties to L.A.’s progressive community.

“I think you’d have to conclude that the guy everyone was excited about has decided it’s more important to win than to lead,” he said.

City Controller Laura Chick, in contrast, gave city voters, including Jewish ones, credit for deducing the better choice. She’d endorsed Villaraigosa in 2001, but backed Hahn for reelection early on, when Hahn looked unbeatable and before others entered the race.

“I thought Jim Hahn would be elected to a second term,” said Chick in an interview during the Villaraigosa bash, “and I wanted to show him that he could have confidence that I would be at his side.”

Instead, she lost confidence in Hahn, accusing him of resisting changes to city contracting practices, which had come under fire amid allegations that private firms made political donations to improve chances of winning city business. Recent voter-approved changes to the city charter, Chick added, “made the mayor of Los Angeles the No. 1 person on the firing line of accountability. What Jim has done is try to distance himself from that accountability…. The mayor’s staff, the mayor’s commissioners, the mayor’s general managers were opposing [reforms], and the mayor did nothing to change that.”

As for Villaraigosa, Chick gives an edge to the 2005 vintage over the Villaraigosa of 2001.

“He is a man who has been tempered and mellowed and humbled by the taste of defeat,” Chick said. “He’s also had hands-on city experience for two years as council member and understands much better the dynamics of city politics and the problems facing us.”

Villaraigosa’s success among Jewish voters in polls leading up to Election Day was no surprise to Chick.

“The Jewish community has always been interested in progressive reform and Antonio is a leader in those kinds of politics,” said Chick, who is Jewish. “And the Jewish community has tasted firsthand being the underdog. It identifies with Antonio as a member of a minority ethnicity with shared experiences.”

“But maybe, most importantly,” she added, “the Jewish community is very involved in civic life in Los Angeles, involved in giving back. I think they have identified in Antonio an elected official who can maybe correct some inequities that stand in the way of our city being truly great.”

Jews also need to be pragmatic about building coalitions in a city with a declining Jewish presence, noted Attorney Andrew Friedman, at the Villaraigosa rally.

“Twelve years ago, there were seven Jewish city council members,” Friedman said. “Today there’s only three. If we want our agenda to be accomplished, we must build bridges to all the other minorities.”

For some left-of-center progressives, Villaraigosa’s inclusiveness strayed too far right for comfort. Villaraigosa’s backers included property owners who oppose unionizing security guards, a top priority on labor’s agenda. Some property owners, in fact, made a point to side with Villaraigosa over Hahn. In the end, Villaraigosa’s fundraising swamped Hahn’s, though the mayor had his millions, too, as well as the backing of the County Federation of Labor.

All told, it was topsy-turvy and melancholy season for the powerful political apparatus of the County Federation of Labor. On Tuesday, most of the rank and file ignored their leadership’s directive and voted for Villaraigosa, who, after all, made his name as a labor stalwart. The result was a bizarre mirror image of 2001, when much of the labor leadership had enthusiastically backed Villaraigosa, but a plurality of union members voted for Hahn. Notably missing from the Hahn party was County Fed leader Miguel Contreras, an architect of labor’s rise in Los Angeles, who died this month at 52 of a heart attack. Contreras was a close friend of Villaraigosa’s, but had backed Hahn because Hahn delivered on his commitments to organized labor.

Villaraigosa’s “just win” strategy sounds defensible enough to Democrats who ponder the Al Gore or John Kerry administrations that might have been. But the alternative in Los Angeles was not George W. Bush, but an ideologically compatible fellow Democrat, who was enough of a coalition builder to earn the simultaneous support of labor and the Chamber of Commerce.

Hahn never did persuade enough people that Villaraigosa was too risky to elect. But Villaraigosa’s flirtation with the moneyed establishment put a scare into some longtime leftwing supporters who probably voted for him anyway. Members of the moneyed establishment, for their part, probably still regard Villaraigosa as slightly scary, but at least they went to bed Tuesday night knowing they had backed the winner. Hope and opportunity can work in mysterious ways.

Villaraigosa still has his true believers, of course, including Jewish attorney Julie Gutman, who felt devastated by the 2001 loss to Hahn.

“Antonio is a consensus-builder,” she said, “a unifier. He brings people together. He has the energy, leadership and vision to make Los Angeles the best city in this country.”

David Finnigan contributed to this article.
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Healing Has a New Home


When Gateways Beit T’Shuvah dedicates its brand new Mar Vista-area facility on Nov. 14, it will be celebrating a colossal move upward for its residential therapeutic community. The much-lauded recovery center will architecturally expand from 3,500 to 40,000 square feet. And it will be better equipped than ever before to cater to its clientele of Jewish criminal-offenders and addicts.

The brand new Goldrich, Kest and Breslow Gateways Beit T’Shuvah Campus consists of two adjacent buildings — male and female housing — as well as more office space, bathrooms, and a larger dining area.

Executive Director Harriet Rossetto thinks that the new campus — named after lead donors Jona Goldrich, Sol Kest and Warren Breslow — will make a dramatic difference in the way Beit T’Shuvah will offer assistance.

“I’m hoping now that with this attractive, comfortable facility to become the model for recovery locally and nationally,” she says.

The actual capital campaign to raise money to establish the new and improved House of Return took about a year and a half.

“But the idea for a Westside building was 10 years in the making,” says Rossetto, who told the Journal that the downtown Los Angeles environment surrounding the original Beit T’Shuvah locations was “not conducive to recovery.” The original male facility, a two-story Victorian structure near downtown Los Angeles, was established 13 years ago; its nearby sister counterpart about 4 years ago. The director points out that the new campus, across from the landmark former Helms bakery on Venice Boulevard, will triple the present treatment population of 25 men and 12 women. She also says that the size of staff will gradually increase as well, once they have settled in.

In addition, the Beit T’Shuvah grounds boasts the Bess and Ben Maltz Memorial Sanctuary, which will provide program recipients with an onsite place of worship. The Sanctuary (which will also be dedicated next Sunday) will be presided over by Rabbi Mark Borovitz, who is Rossetto’s husband. After all, T’Shuvah — which roughly translates as “repentance, return and response” — is the key component of the institution’s name. And spiritual healing is a large part of overcoming vice and personal demons.

“Our challenge now is in the future will be to continue to raise the operating funds to keep the place going,” says Rossetto.

For more information on Gateways Beit T’Shuvah, call (310) 204-5200.