Bijan Khalili

Persian-language bookstore Ketab Corp. closes but maintains its mission

“Reading books is a human right,” Bijan Khalili said on Public Radio International’s “The World” last month. Then, a few weeks later, he closed the doors to his Persian-language bookstore, Ketab Corp., after 36 years in Westwood.

For thousands of Iranian-Americans in Southern California, Ketab — “Book” in Persian — represented a community institution as a physical space on Westwood Boulevard where they could reconnect with their homeland. (It continues to sell books, movies and music online and by phone to local customers and Iranians around the world.)

Like so many brick-and-mortar operations, Ketab fell victim to the explosive growth of internet book sales and the logistical challenges of high rent and overhead and operating on a busy street with limited parking.

For the Iranian-American community in Los Angeles, the closing of the storefront was a major loss — one that took some history with it. Khalili, an Iranian-Jewish Kurd, said he hung the first Persian-script vertical sign on any business in America when he opened the store in 1981, and offered the first Iranian Yellow Pages ever published outside of Iran, which is still circulated and contains 2,500 listings.

Among the most notable areas of the bookstore was a shelf labeled “Books Prohibited in Iran.”

As a college student at National University of Iran in Tehran immediately before Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Khalili delivered passionate public addresses against the Ayatollah Khomeini and encouraged students to vote against regime change that led to the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979. In 1980 he was imprisoned, and like thousands of others, he feared he would be executed without a trial.

Khalili still does not know why he was released after 11 days. When the Iran-Iraq War began that September, he traveled by bus to Istanbul, then by plane to Zurich, where, with the help of Swiss Jews, he received a humanitarian parole visa from the American consulate.

Khalili opened Ketab roughly one month after he arrived in the United States. He brought 10 beloved books, including “1984” and “Les Misérables,” which became the first books he kept at Ketab.

The store featured books and films in Persian on a variety of topics, from controversial biographies to explanatory works on Judaism and Islam, as well as books in English about Iran. Its patrons were mostly Iranian exiles eager for a taste of Persian culture.

Ketab was often the site of debate, evening poetry readings and locals reading their own works.

“Offering prohibited books was one of the duties of Ketab,” Khalili said. “Since the freedom of choosing and buying and reading of books was respected in Ketab bookstore, I believe there was no difference that the owner was a Jew or not a Jew. More importantly, I always carried books that were pro-Islam and against Islam, and at the same time books that were pro-Jewish and against the Jewish faith, and the same with Christian and Baha’i books.”

Customers varied by faith and included many Iranian Muslims who often purchased books about Zionism and Israel, Khalili said. Ketab also published calendars, on which Khalili made sure to include all prominent holy dates related to both Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and to Jews, Christians, Baha’is and “nonbelievers,” he said.

Ketab came to promote inclusivity of Iranian identity for exiles young and old, yet fewer young people visited the store in recent years, due to their inability to read Persian or their lack of interest in the language.

Rachel Sumekh, a 25-year-old Iranian-American Jew who was born in Los Angeles, said she first entered Ketab after completing a Persian-language class at UCLA in 2012. Her mother escaped Iran by camel in 1983, and her father arrived in Oklahoma for college in 1970.

It was at Ketab that Sumekh purchased her first Persian beginner’s book, a famous children’s tale titled “The Little Black Fish,” which promotes allegorical political themes of exploration and venturing into uncharted waters. The book held “prime real estate” on her bookshelf, she said.

“I wanted to pick up a proper book to keep my reading strong, and it was easier to peruse a physical bookstore in a foreign language than it is on Amazon,” Sumekh said.

While the storefront has closed, Ketab remains a prominent Persian-language publisher who bypasses regime censors, offering Iranians worldwide information on critical topics ranging from gender equality to the Holocaust. The latter is considered a particularly taboo topic by Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

Ketab Corp. will continue to sell both Persian and English books online and by phone. It also will continue as a publishing source for books, as well as the Iranian Yellow Pages, which is available in a pocket edition, and the local Iranshahr newspaper.

“My hope is to send electronically all or most of the banned books into Iran,” Khalili said.

His efforts have produced unexpected results. According to the report on Public Radio International, some of those books already have made it into Iran’s National Library. 

Fred Grunwald’s collection included Pablo Picasso’s “Winged Bull Watched by Four Children.” Photos courtesy of Hammer Museum

Art, history converge in Grunwald archive

On an early May morning in the mid-1930s, Gestapo officials barged into Fred Grunwald’s apartment building near Düsseldorf, demanding of the landlady, “Where is the Jew?”

Once inside the businessman’s home, the officers declared that because he was a leader of the local B’nai B’rith lodge, they would search his apartment and arrest him. They promptly tore apart the master bedroom, in the process seizing eight to 10 portfolios of Grunwald’s treasured collection of print artworks from an antique cabinet.

When Grunwald returned home after his arrest, he found that about 500 of his prints had been taken, including works by two of the most renowned German expressionists, Edvard Munch and Ernst Ludwig Kirschner. (The prints were never returned.)

Grunwald, who died in 1964, went on to amass an even more impressive collection after immigrating in 1939 to the United States, where he became a successful clothing manufacturer.

Pieces donated from his world-class collection in 1956 established what is now the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts at UCLA, currently housed at the Hammer Museum in Westwood. Now, information about the Grunwald family and a digital archive of their collection are available on a website created by the museum, “Loss and Restitution: The Story of the Grunwald Family Collection,” which went online last month.

“It’s important for research for art historians, curators, people interested in the history of early Los Angeles collections, the history of the Holocaust and Germany, and the emigres who came from that country,” said Cynthia Burlingham, director of UCLA’s Grunwald Center.

The archive, one of several digital initiatives to be funded with the help of a $500,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, includes in-depth essays about Grunwald, official documents and some 1,500 images from his collection at UCLA. Many of the images are of 19th and 20th century French, German and American prints, as well as Japanese woodblock prints.

Erich Heckel’s “The Dead Woman” (1912), for instance, depicts a deceased, half-naked woman in bed, as two men mourn her in the foreground, all rendered in stark black and white. Woodcuts by another German artist, Gabriele Münter, mostly from around the turn of the 20th century, feature cityscapes and domestic scenes somewhat less raw than works by her fellow expressionists. There are pieces by Marc Chagall, Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso, whose “Winged Bull Watched by Four Children” (1934) centers on a swirling image of a winged bovine.

“Grunwald collected very intelligently,” Burlingham said. “He looked at very interesting artists who did excellent work; he bought good examples of their work that were in excellent condition. He also looked at the best artists — Picasso, for example — even though in some of his notes he bemoans the fact that he couldn’t collect certain Picassos because they were too expensive.”

The Grunwald family (from left): Ernest, Lotte, Fred and Trude.

Grunwald further became one of a group of émigré collectors who helped nurture the budding arts scene in Los Angeles decades ago.

The archive, in part, seeks to answer the question, “Who was Fred Grunwald?” said Philip Leers, the Hammer’s project manager for digital initiatives.

According to an essay by the collector’s son, Ernest Grunwald, who died in 2002, his father was born into a middle-class family in Dusseldorf. As a young man, he was drafted into the German army and, while fighting in World War I, shattered the bones in his left leg. During a two-year hospital convalescence, when his limb was amputated at the knee, Grunwald developed an avid interest in German graphic art, “which eloquently expressed the bitter anger of the artists after the First World War,” Ernest Grunwald wrote.

According to another account, Grunwald began collecting prints almost immediately after he was discharged from the hospital — initially, works by German artists such as painter, printmaker and sculptor Käthe Kollwitz, and the Jewish printmaker and painter Max Liebermann. The archive presents Kollwitz’s 1924 work “Germany’s Children Are Starving,” in which plaintive children appear to beg for food, holding up empty bowls.

In 1930, the senior Grunwald established his own shirt-collar business, which did well during the early Nazi period. But after his home was raided about five years later, he realized the Third Reich had become too dangerous for Jews. In August 1938, he hid jewelry inside moving boxes as the family anxiously awaited visas to immigrate to the United States.

Grunwald was arrested three months later, on the day after Kristallnacht, the anti-Jewish attack that signaled the start of the Holocaust. It was only through the intervention of a Gestapo officer who noticed Grunwald’s war injury that the businessman was released. After a former employee unsuccessfully attempted to blackmail him, Grunwald, his wife and two children boarded a boat for the United States.

His post-war collecting was “systematic and voracious,” according to an archive essay by scholar and archive lead researcher Leslie Cozzi. During the late 1950s, Grunwald filed restitution claims with the German government and eventually was awarded 125,000 German marks (about $75,000 today) for the theft of his pre-war art collection.

Grunwald spent his restitution money on acquiring even more works by both foreign and local artists.

“He’s part of a wider 20th-century circle of cultured individuals who really are responsible for many of the major cultural institutions in this city,” Burlingham said.

Visit the Grunwald digital archive at

Supporting Palestinians should not mean supporting Hamas

Last Saturday, our reporter Ryan Torok covered a massive anti-Israel rally in front of the Federal Building in Westwood. The crowd swelled to an estimated 1,500 to 3,000 people, outgrew the plaza, then spontaneously spilled onto the street, shutting down Wilshire Boulevard as it made its way east toward the Israel Consulate. The protesters chanted “Free Palestine!” and waved posters reading “Zionists, Get Out of Gaza Now!” and “Israel Is Mass Murdering Children.”

That was the message they wanted to send to Zionists. So, naturally, Ryan asked them: What message do they want to send to Hamas?

This is what they told him:

“They have to fire more rockets, and they have to fire stronger. They have to be more aggressive,” Darka Raicevic, a Serbian woman, said.

Jami King, 41, who lives in San Diego and drove to Saturday’s rally with her boyfriend, Ammar Khan, said: “I don’t have a direct message for Hamas. … I just want the [Israeli] siege to stop and for people to sit down and figure out a solution. It’s not for me to say what Hamas’ part in that is.”

Khan, 36, a Pakistani and engineer: “Hamas, their biggest problem is not having a vision for the future and not having a long-term view. … what we [the United States and Israel] do in response doesn’t justify that. … Who are we to lecture them? The U.S. has lost its moral high ground.” 

Waylette Thomas, 22, a member of the pro-Palestinian group ANSWER and a student at Cerritos College, to Hamas: “We stand with you.”

It’s not for me to say what Hamas’ part in that is. … Who are we to lecture them? … We stand with you. … Fire more rockets.

Of all the hypocrisies in the Gaza conflict, this has got to be the most galling: There is no pro-Palestinian outcry against Hamas. No messages on Facebook or slogans on protest posters addressing its leaders. No pro-Gazan street protests calling on Hamas to stop firing rockets and stop digging tunnels.

Hamas is proud of the fact that its military wing, the Qassam Brigades, uses suicide bombers, rockets and hidden tunnels to kill or threaten Israeli civilians, including women and children. If people at a “peace” rally can’t stand in moral judgment of child murderers — well, we can forget peace.

Here’s the issue: If you want to scream at Israel for inflicting civilian casualties, fine. And if you want to protest President Barack Obama for supporting Israel, OK. But if you really care about the fate of the Palestinians, if you would prefer innocent Palestinians live rather than die, you should also send a simple, two-word message to Hamas: “Stop shooting.”

Hamas needs to get the message from the worldwide pro-Palestinian movement: Resistance to Israeli control and occupation is legitimate. Violent resistance is not. Pick your reason: because violence against Israeli civilians is immoral, or because it will never, ever work. Either reason will do, but just stop.

If Hamas had stopped shooting rockets, and the Palestinians instead had used all the tools of mass nonviolent protests to draw attention to their plight, is there any question that thousands of innocent Palestinians would be alive today, living in homes untouched by bombs?

Why is the pro-Palestinian movement not marching for justice and against violence? Why does it conflate support for the doomed tactics of Hamas with support for Palestinians? 

That well-meaning souls on the streets of Los Angeles misguidedly support Hamas’ violence is especially mystifying because so much of the Muslim world opposes it. When the conflict began, Palestinian Authority officials lambasted Hamas. They know violence and unrelenting terror won’t bring about a lasting solution. How do they know? Because they’ve already tried it. 

In the early 1960s, Yasser Arafat, influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, proclaimed, “Liberating Palestine can only come through the barrel of a gun.” Arafat’s Fatah movement set off on a course of terror, which grabbed headlines, left thousands dead and pushed a just solution further and further away.

“The list of Fatah’s original founders doesn’t contain the name of anyone sophisticated enough to understand that conquering Israel was beyond their capabilities,” Palestinian-Egyptian historian Said Aburish wrote

Eventually the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agreed to recognize Israel and attempt to negotiate a two-state solution. Not because the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. had settled over Ramallah, but because the PLO leaders realized there was no way to defeat Israel militarily. Egypt, Jordan and the rest of the Arab world came to the same conclusions after wars in 1967 and 1973. Hamas didn’t get the memo.

Unfortunately, the anti-Israel protesters in front of the Federal Building are either too young to remember this history, too naïve or too blinded by hate to understand. 

If they did understand, they would peel off and set up in front of the Qatari or Turkish consulates (9355 Wilshire Blvd. and 6300 Wilshire Blvd., respectively), calling on them to cut off Hamas’ remaining sources of support in the Arab world. They would start a social media campaign calling on Hamas leader Khaled Meshal to abandon violence in the name of the Palestinian people. They would tweet Hamas @Qassam_English using hashtag  #NonviolentJihad. They would demand a diplomatic solution that would trade open borders and development for demilitarization. They would make sure Hamas uses every pound of concrete and steel for buildings, not tunnels.

In short, they would stop pretending that you can save Palestinian lives by spilling Israeli blood.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Los Angeles community reacts to violence in the Gaza war

Two simultaneous events in Los Angeles last week that focused on Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip revealed a community split between progressives who expressed some criticism of Israel even as they supported its efforts at security, and more unconditional supporters of the Jewish state.

On July 31, more than 1,000 people attended an event at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), a large Conservative synagogue in Encino. The event, titled “Shoulder to Shoulder: A Community Gathering in Support of the People of Israel,” displayed American-Israeli solidarity to full effect. 

“We have a strong Jewish community in this country and around the world. And we are organized, and we are powerful, and we’re inspired. And we know that we have a homeland to fight for that is just, that is moral,” Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel said at VBS, appearing alongside the congregation’s Rabbis Ed Feinstein and Noah Farkas, as well as Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, and others. 

At the same time, about 250 others from the Jewish community wrestled with issues pertaining to Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza at an event titled “Crisis in Israel: What Now What Next?” at the Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC). The town hall-style event featured Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR, Daniel Sokatch of the New Israel Fund, UCLA Jewish history professor David Myers, Americans for Peace Now’s David Pine and J Street’s Yael Maizel. 

“Tonight, we actually come together to reflect and to think about and hear about how we got to this place, and what in the world we can possibly do so that we might be able to find our way out of here,” Brous said, explaining her discomfort with Israel’s activity in Gaza. “There are so many Israelis who are taking the lead in this conversation now, artists and activists and thinkers and academics, people who are, with their own broken hearts, able to say, ‘What kind of country do we want to build, what are [the] great dreams we want to dream?’ We wanted to create a space for that conversation to happen here in Los Angeles, as well.” These two events illustrated how, even when the L.A. Jewish community is united in support of Israel during this latest operation against Hamas, turning out repeatedly in recent weeks in large numbers at rallies, vigils and memorial services for the three kidnapped and slain teens Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Frenkel — a Saban Theatre shloshim on July 30 drew more than 1,000 people and featured speakers Roz Rothstein of Stand With Us, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jewish Journal President David Suissa and others — it is not homogenous in how it processes what is happening inside Gaza. 

Some have found an outlet by expressing absolute harmony with the decisions of the Israeli government. 

Others are trying to carve out a moderate position between those who would call Israel’s action “genocide” (more on that later) and those who are embracing Israel now more than ever. 

Chabad of Northridge congregant Andrew Miller is an example of an ardent Israel supporter. An attendee at the VBS event — where audience members wore yarmulkes with Israel and U.S. flags stitched to them, and a video screen situated between a U.S. flag and an Israeli flag displayed pictures from Israel -— Miller said the event demonstrated that the American-Jewish community stands behind Israel. 

“It’s so nice that we had the opportunity to all get together and show our support for Israel, especially now, when they need it most,” he said. 

For some, neither option suffices. This appeared true at the Westside JCC, where emotions ran high when one audience member, L.A. Jews for Peace member Rick Chertoff, yelled out and interrupted the panel’s discussion to declare that the death of Palestinian civilians in Israel’s current war with Hamas is more than just collateral damage — these deaths, he said, reflect a concerted Israeli effort to wipe out Palestinians. 

Security officers quickly escorted Chertoff out of the event because of his disruption, which also included cursing at other members of the audience. 

It was clear that, for the segment of the Jewish community present at the JCC — whom Sokatch described as the “progressive Jewish community of Los Angeles, who care deeply about Israel and who care deeply about Palestine” — Chertoff’s claim that Israel is intentionally targeting Palestinians is too radical. 

“We do not believe Israel engages in deliberate slaughter of its neighbors and represents the sole criminal actor on the world stage,” Myers said.

“[But] I think that as we contemplate the prospect of moving forward, we have to hope for a mix of more sophisticated statecraft [in Israel] … for realist morality that has been sorely lacking for the last number of years now,” Myers said. 

Later the same week, on Aug. 2, between 1,500 and 3,000 people turned out for a pro-Palestinian rally in Westwood. And they signaled that they would, likely, dispute Myers’ remarks. Marching to and fro between the Wilshire Federal Building and the headquarters of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, which is located just over a mile west of the Federal Building, protesters carried signs that read, “Zionists, Get Out of Gaza Now!” and “Israel Is Mass Murdering Children.”

The event, as has been true of other rallies on both sides during the past several weeks, had its share of rowdiness. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) arrested one person for sexual battery, according to LAPD-West L.A. Division Officer Hornback, who described the incident as “involuntary touching of a private area.” No further details were available. 

Additionally, Israel activist Steve Goldberg, carrying a large Israeli flag, engaged in shouting matches with a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators at one point; a woman covered in fake blood carried a baby doll also covered in fake blood and marched with duct tape over her lips; demonstrators clashed with Bible-thumping Evangelicals who stationed themselves on the north side of Wilshire Boulevard behind a banner proclaiming support of Israel as the Jewish homeland.

“We stand with you,” 22-year-old Cerritos College student and pro-Palestinian group ANSWER Los Angeles member Waylette Thomas told the Journal when asked if there was any message she’d send to Hamas, the governing party in Gaza.

The climax of the event occurred about two hours in: A sea of protesters were marching eastbound on a closed-down Wilshire Boulevard under the 405 Freeway, their pro-Palestinian chants echoing against the walls of the underpass. 

Viva, viva, Palestina,” Spanish-language protesters chanted as they made their way back to the Federal Building later that afternoon. 

“We’re demanding that Israel end its indiscriminate bombing and its indiscriminate genocide of the civilian population — we ask it to end and demand for it to end its siege on the Gaza Strip,” Gus Hussein, 25, a Palestinian UC Riverside graduate student and Students for Justice in Palestine member, said, marching with the large group. 

The tone of the rally was not only vastly different from the sentiments expressed at the Westside JCC and VBS, but also from those expressed at an Aug. 5 morning ceremony at Los Angeles City Hall, where L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the city’s top leaders, including City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who organized the media event, officially expressed their solidarity with Israel. But even in those Israel-friendly rooms, there was a universal eagerness to see the conflict end as soon as possible. 

Siegel predicted, however, that Israel will face difficulties even after it ends its war in Gaza. (As of press time on Aug. 5, a 72-hour cease fire had gone into effect and peace negotiations were expected to begin soon in Egypt, with both sides already claiming victory, according to a JTA report.)

“The day after this conflict is over, it only just begins,” Seigel said, noting that the country will face “one-sided international investigations” aimed at limiting Israel’s ability to defend itself.

Brous, meanwhile, expressed hopes for a day when events like the ones last week won’t be necessary. 

“I want to suggest there is another way for us, not to put aside the pain and suffering but to hold it and grieve over it and to contemplate what in the world we can do to get out of this place, so that we don’t have to meet again in another 18 months, or two years, to have a community forum in which to grieve the loss of so many more lives,” she said.

L.A. pro-Israel rally interrupted by violence

UPDATE 9:50 a.m. (7/15):  Jennifer Schirg, 46 and a self-identified “Jewish woman, pro-Zionist, a professional and a resident on the Westside of Los Angeles” wrote in an email to the Journal that she witnessed the unfolding of the violence at the rally: “…the reason the Palestinian men got out of their truck in the first place was in direct response to a Pro-Israel supporter running up to their vehicle on Wilshire Blvd. and taking one of their flags from out of their hands, and throwing it on the asphalt repeatedly stomping up and down on it in front of them. I was there standing on the curb and saw what happened first hand and how the scuffle unfolded.”

UPDATE 11:37 a.m. (7/14): According to the Los Angeles Times, the four detained men in connection with the fight at yesteray's rally have been “identified as Mostadafa Gamaleldin Hafez, Hassan Mustapha Kreidieh, Mohammed Said Elkhatib and Fadi Ali Obeidallah. They were booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. They were expected to be released after posting bail Monday morning.”

UPDATE 10:30 a.m. (7/14): The FPS officer is on paid leave while the organization investigates the alleged discharge of his weapon.

Statement from FPS

Statement from LASD

An altercation between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protestors took place at a community solidarity rally on Sunday, July 13. Photos by  Aliya Slepkov-Dror.

UPDATE 7:00 a.m. (7/14): The four men were arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, according to NBC4. LA County Sheriffs Department said the weapons were wooden flag poles that the men were holding as they drove through the crowd. Additionally, the shot was allegedly fired not by a DHS officer, as the LAPD initially told the Journal, but by a Federal Protective Service (FPS) officer.

UPDATE 9:30 p.m. (7/13): Four men are handcuffed and being held by the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department in a sheriff's car in a parking lot at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue in Los Angeles.

The pro-Palestinian counter-demonstrators who were involved in an altercation with pro-Israel demonstrators were seen leaving the July 13 demonstration in this silver pickup truck. The federal officer at the rear of the truck, seen here with one hand on the truck and the other on his holster, allegedly fired one round when the truck pulled away heading east on Wilshire Boulevard. Photo by Edmon J. Rodman

Follow @TheSichel and @ryanharrytorok for more details

A peaceful pro-Israel rally in front of the Federal Building in Westwood in West Los Angeles was interrupted late Sunday afternoon when three or four men wielding Palestinian flags arrived carrying long wooden sticks and alledgely attacked the pro-Israel demonstrators. The Los Angeles Police Department reported that more than 1,200 attended the rally.

Witnesses said several of the pro-Israel participants were hit by the sticks, but police would not immediately confirm or comment on whether anyone was wounded. A separate counter protest of about 200 supporting the Palestinians was held across the street.

When police who were already on the scene stepped in to break up the scuffle, the attackers returned to their pickup truck and drove off.  As they left, witnesses say, a gun was fired in the direction of the truck by a  Department of Homeland Security officer who was at the scene, according to Brian Thomas of the LAPD West Los Angeles Patrol Division.

There were five people riding in the truck, all Arabs living in Anaheim, according to one of them, Hany Rafai, who said he got out of the truck before the police stopped it. Rafai denied that they were hitting the pro-Israel rallyers. Rafai lives in both Jordan and Orange County.

Hany Rafai. He was the fifth man in the truck but escaped before it was pulled over. Photo by Jared Sichel

Barry Poltorak, an off-duty Los Angeles County deputy sheriff who witnessed the incident Sunday afternoon said the perpetrators could be charged with “felony assault.” The perpetrators are believed to have been apprehended according to an officer on the scene.

Poltorak said he had heard over his radio that the police pulled the car over in Westwood, for a “felony traffic stop,” he said.

Four suspects currently being held by LASD on suspicion of assault. Photo by Jared Sichel

Adam Milstein, an Israeli-born philanthropist and board member of the Israel American Council (IAC) said that the rally was one of the largest pro-Israel rallies that LA has had. Speakers included Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel,  Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Roz Rothstein co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and Israeli actress and activist Noa Tishby, among others.

The IAC and StandWithUs were the co-organizers of the event, along with many other local Jewish and pro-Israel organizations.

Jewish Journal staff reporter Jared Sichel contributed to this report.

VIDEO OF THE DISRUPTION AT RALLY (Video credit, Allyson Basch, 20 year old student at Cal State Uni. Northridge):

‘Minister’ puts the (English) accent on politics, American style

Jonathan Lynn wants to know what an egg cream is. Sitting in Jerry’s Deli in Westwood on an absurdly hot day in early May, he’s less interested in talking about his show “Yes, Prime Minister” at this moment than he is about finding out what ingredients go into the classic New York drink. There’s something slightly comical about a 70-year-old Jew, albeit a Brit, who’s never encountered an egg cream, but then again, perhaps they never made it across the pond, something that can no longer be said about “Yes, Prime Minister,” which will make its American stage debut on June 4 at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.

While American audiences are probably most familiar with Lynn’s film directorial efforts, such as “Clue,” “The Whole Nine Yards” and the comedy classic “My Cousin Vinny,” British audiences know him well for his “Yes Minister” series, which was a massive hit on television and radio in the UK and in most of the English-speaking world, for that matter. “Yes Minister,” which followed the careers of politician Jim Hacker and civil servants Sir Humphrey Appleby and Bernard Woolley, and satirized the workings of government, won multiple BAFTA awards and various other honors. Now, more than 30 years after Lynn and Antony Jay created the series, it’s finally been adapted for the stage.

“People have been asking us to do a play based on the series … for many, many years, and we’d always said no,” Lynn said. “We’d said what we’d had to say.” They also lost both the stars of the show, Nigel Hawthorne and Paul Eddington, to illness. But, according to Lynn, as the 30th anniversary approached, “We thought, ‘Well, maybe it would be fun to examine whether things have changed or whether things are really fundamentally the same, but maybe cosmetically different.’ ”

Lynn and Jay got to work, and soon they’d hammered out a show that has played in London and as far away as Australia. It’s even been optioned for a production in Tel Aviv.  

Asked how a play about British politics can have such broad appeal, Lynn was quick to correct: “It’s about government, which is very different. Politics is what goes on in elections, what goes on in the House of Commons,” he said. “It’s not about politics in a partisan sense. It’s not possible from watching the shows or watching this play to tell which party Jim Hacker belongs to.”

Government, it seems, is a universal problem. Even the United States and England have a lot in common, according to Lynn. “The main difference is that we have an unwritten constitution, and we don’t have separation of powers built into our constitutional theory.” And indeed, in Britain, the prime minister is, by his or her very nature, a member of the party in control of the congress. “You were dumb enough to write the separation of powers into your constitution, and we see, as we look around Washington today, just what that has led to.”

Lynn doesn’t foresee Americans having a problem understanding the show, though. “We ran this in London. … A lot of Americans come and see the play, and we’ve never had anyone come and tell us they didn’t understand it.”

Lynn wasn’t particularly surprised to find that little in the nature of government seems to have changed in the 30 years between the premiere of the TV show and the play. “The biggest change in the way that government is run is that there are more ‘special advisers.’… There’s more outside influence.”

Politicians are also more in the line of fire. “The Freedom of Information Act has been passed, which is desperately dangerous to anyone who’s in power,” Lynn said. “If no one knows what you’re doing, no one knows what you’re doing wrong.”

For the Geffen production, which Lynn is also directing, he’s assembled a notable cast that includes Dakin Matthews, Tony Award winner Jefferson Mays and Michael McKean, with whom Lynn has reunited after many years. “They’re a really wonderful cast. I feel very fortunate. I’ve known Michael McKean on and off for a very long time. He was in my first film, ‘Clue.’ I knew he does a wonderful British accent, because I saw ‘Spinal Tap,’ ” Lynn said with a laugh.

Asked how he felt about unintentionally starting the board-game-as-movie movement that’s also brought the world such classics as “Battleship,” Lynn was amused but also a little sad. “I didn’t imagine it, and I feel very guilty.” 

Looking back at his long career, Lynn doesn’t have many regrets, though. “ ‘Vinny’ had a lot going for it. Although it was never sold this way, it was a satirical comedy about capital punishment. I’m very against capital punishment. It basically said these two kids would have been fried if they hadn’t had this argumentative, son-of-a-bitch lawyer,” Lynn said. “It was about class, which is something else that nobody ever talked about here. Vinny and Lisa are blue collar, and everyone else in the film was old money.”

But not all of his favorites became big hits. “One of my favorite films I’ve made here was ‘The Distinguished Gentleman,’ with Eddie Murphy, because that has proven prophetic, really. It’s about the power of the lobbyists and how they destroy democracy.” 

“The Distinguished Gentleman,” which was co-written by Jewish Journal columnist Marty Kaplan, didn’t perform well at the box office but did get a presidential stamp of approval. “When Bill Clinton went to see it as soon as it opened — he’d just been elected president — he came out and said, ‘That’s just what it’s like in Washington.’ And I immediately phoned the studio and said, ‘We must get that clip into the ads,’ and they said, ‘No, no, we can’t do that — that would be disrespectful to the president,’ ” Lynn said, still not buying the answer. “The true reason is that Disney has lots of lobbyists in Washington, and they didn’t want to upset Congress.” 

And despite politics reaching into film as much as government, Lynn sees little change in comedy in his more than 50 years in the business. “It’s impossible to sum up what comedy is in a few words. But it’s some form of telling the truth in a way that doesn’t require the audience’s empathy. That requires the audience’s objectivity.

“I think there’s more rude language than there used to be,” Lynn said. “But no, I don’t think comedy’s changed. The essentials remain the same. It’s about owning up, and it’s about recognition.”

And recognition is what Lynn thinks matters most in how a show transitions from one culture to another, and why he thinks “Yes, Prime Minister” will do well. 

“The audience doesn’t recognize the behavior in the same way. Some comedies travel better than others,” he said. “Neil Simon has never really had a hit in England. … There aren’t enough Jews in England.”

“Yes, Prime Minister” plays June 4 through  July 14 in the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse.

Egyptian exodus comes to Westwood

With focused eyes and wide smiles, a sea of preschoolers in white baker’s hats worked slowly, carefully kneading and flattening the dough that would soon emerge from a brick oven as that classic Passover food: matzah.

These little amateur cooks were part of the model matzah bakery at Chabad’s West Coast headquarters in Westwood, which over a two-week period drew about 6,700 children, most ranging in age from 3 to 7.

The 28th annual event, which took place March 3-17 at the Chabad on Gayley Avenue, gave inquisitive Jewish and non-Jewish children a chance to experience the biblical Exodus firsthand. They went from learning about the hardships of slavery to unleashing a torrent of plagues on the Egyptians to crossing the sea — and even enjoying their own hand-made, piping-hot matzah on the other side.

At the first of five stations, dozens of young participants, along with their teachers and some parents, learned about what the Hebrews suffered through: arduous work, little rest and molding mortar for the bricks. What is normally a large social hall was divided into stations, each with tarps designed according to a specific theme of the period of the Exodus.

One station resembled the Egyptian desert, with images of sand and pyramids adorning the tarps. Another featured Moses, Pharaoh and an Egyptian magician — all played by yeshiva students. 

After witnessing eight plagues, including, to their wide-eyed amazement, water poured into Pharaoh’s goblet turning into blood (or some other mysterious red substance), the children’s Egyptian masters suddenly stopped moving. They had been struck blind by the ninth plague, darkness. 

“We are frozen,” Pharaoh said, appearing to panic. 

“If you allow the Jewish people to go free,” Moses responded, then God will restore light. 

“Maybe,” Pharaoh said. “But first take the plague away.”

“OK, I trust you,” Moses said as he “removed” the darkness with a movement of his staff.

“He’s kidding!” yelled one child, not buying Pharaoh’s promise.

“Ha, ha, ha!” exclaimed Pharaoh. “I’m not letting anyone get away.”

The kids appeared disheartened, exhaling loudly. But after the 10th plague killed every firstborn male in Egypt, Pharaoh crumbled, allowing the children to leave Egypt to the tune of “Under the Sea,” from “The Little Mermaid.”

That brought them to an area where a man who went by the name “Farmer Joe” — the bakery’s wheat and flour expert — taught the basics of grinding wheat stalks into flour, the first step of the delicate and precise matzah-baking process. He softened up the crowd with a bit of comedy, introducing his stuffed ram.

“He’s an interesting ram. He doesn’t eat at all,” Farmer Joe said. “He always says he’s stuffed.”

As children crowded around several wooden tables, they separated kernels from the wheat stalks, grinding them down to flour. They then moved to the mixing station, where they watched some of their classmates enter two booths connected by a wooden plank, one booth for water and one for flour. The children in the respective booths enthusiastically dumped their flour and water into a stainless steel bowl, creating dough.

According to Jewish law, once water touches flour, there is a period of 18 minutes that may pass until the dough leavens, turning into chametz, which cannot be consumed during the holiday. In professional matzah bakeries across the world, this process is intense and hectic, as workers must ensure, down to the second, that all matzah packaged for distribution is baked within 18 minutes of the water and flour mixing.

Because the bakery in Westwood was just a model one, the matzah baked there was not technically kosher for Passover, but the kids understood that time was of the essence, hurrying from the mixing station to the bakery itself.

Little hands flattened the dough on large tables, then made holes in it using spiked rollers. They placed their creations in a brick oven, waiting eagerly for a taste. As the small, handmade, roundish pieces of matzah emerged minutes later, the kids gathered around, staring excitedly at the crunchy unleavened bread that was placed into their outstretched baker’s caps. 

As they left the building with their teachers and parents, munching on their snack, and singing a catchy tune about matzah, Rabbi Aron Teleshevsky, organizer of the bakery, reflected on the annual program.

“I love this,” Teleshevsky said. “It’s not ‘in-your-face’ Judaism; it’s a fun opportunity to celebrate Passover.”

Teleshevsky estimates that about 90 percent of the children who pass through the bakery in any given year are not from Orthodox day schools. Many, he said, are from public schools, or even a Christian school, and are simply interested in the holiday.

Rabbi Chaim Cunin, CEO of Chabad of California, thinks that model matzah bakeries — which are held worldwide — help children connect on a deeper, more personal level during the Passover holiday.

“They’ll be sitting at their own seder table, eating matzah around the table, telling the story. All of a sudden they have a point of reference to make sense of it all and to relive it,” Cunin said. 

Junior’s Deli faces abrupt closure Dec. 31.

Junior’s Delicatessen, which served the West Los Angeles Jewish community and the broader residential Westside for 53 years, will shut its doors for the final time on New Year’s Eve.

The venerable delicatessen on Westwood Boulevard, victim to what the owners call a landlord dispute, will close at 5 p.m. on Dec. 31, displacing nearly 100 employees in the process. Customers dropping by on its last day will each receive a free bagel on what is expected to be an emotional day for staffers and customers alike.

Local resident Lenore Kayne, who used to patronize Junior’s even when she lived in Beverly Hills, called the news “horrific.” She added that her 4-year-old granddaughter loved to come to Junior’s with Kayne’s son on a regular basis. “She’s going to be devastated. How do you go down Westwood Boulevard without seeing Junior’s?”

Marvin Saul, a Korean War veteran who had gone bust as a uranium miner in Utah, was the deli’s founder. According to the delicatessen’s website, “With 35 cents in his pocket, Saul arrived in Los Angeles, did odd jobs and by 1957 had cobbled together $300 to open a small sandwich shop. Two years later, he established Junior’s, an eight-table delicatessen.”

The deli’s name came from Marvin Saul’s childhood moniker, “Junior.” Originally set up on Pico Boulevard, he moved it in 1967 to Westwood Boulevard.

His sons, David and Jon, inherited the business after Marvin Saul died last year, and had been helping to manage the restaurant since they were children. They said the impending closure is due to a lack of confidence by the building’s longtime owners, Four Corners Investment Company, in the Saul brothers’ managerial style.

David Saul said that a lease had been extended for the last six months and that he and his brother were confident that they could sway the landlord from closing the delicatessen. They had invested $38,000 into refurbishing the venue, from repainting the walls to adding new light fixtures and three television sets, he said.

The Saul brothers had tried to reach an agreement with the landlord up until the last minute. When that didn’t happen, they met with their staff Dec. 26 and delivered the bad news, only a day after the Christmas holiday.

“Ninety-five employees, 95 families,” said David Saul, morosely, as his younger brother, Jon Saul, dealt with a parade of media outlets descending on the busy deli on the morning of Dec. 27.

“It’s disgusting!” Jon Saul said. “It’s an icon. It’s been here for 53 years!”

David Burgoyne, a Creole native of New Orleans who has been delivering mail in the area for 25 years said the deli has been a neighborhood institution.

“I’ll miss everything about this place,” he said.

The closure of Junior’s will be different than those of chains like Borders or Barnes and Nobles book stores, according to David Saul. He said the restaurant and its catering services have long been a part of many families’ life-cycle events, from births to weddings to funerals, not to mention the site where many deals by executives from nearby 20th Century Fox have been sealed.

As news of Junior’s pending closure spread, a steady flow of longtime regulars swung by the restaurant to share their condolences with the Saul brothers and to pick up one last order … at least for now.

The silver lining is that Jon and David said they are committed to finding a new storefront in the vicinity as soon as possible. While many employees — some of whom have been part of the Junior’s family for multiple decades — will no doubt be forced to look for other work before the restaurant is ready to return, David Saul said that he has updated the information of his staff and he hopes to rehire as many as possible.

Still, David and Jon Saul were very emotional on Dec. 27, their reality compounded by the fact that it comes mere days before New Year’s. Still, David Saul praised the loyalty of the customers and staff.

“We have employees in excess of 40 years here,” he said. “It’s a shanda it’s happening.”

Joyce fans celebrate Bloomsday in Westwood

More than 100 James Joyce enthusiasts, performance artists and Irish descendants gathered at Westwood’s Hammer Museum on June 16 to celebrate Bloomsday. Taken from the name of Leopold Bloom, the assimilated Jewish protagonist in Joyce’s monumental book, “Ulysses,” the event celebrates the life of the Irish writer and relives the events of the day the tale is set: June 16, 1904.

With plastic cups of Guinness in hand, attendees warmed to the sounds of traditional Irish music played by the Sweet Set as they waited for the festivities to begin.

Stanley Breitbard, organizer for Bloomsday at the Hammer, says the event draws a wide demographic. “We get a very mixed crowd every year,” he said. “Academics, veterans, actors and people of Irish descent.”

A worldwide celebration established in 1954, Breitbard said the appeal of Bloomsday was understandable.

“He was the greatest writer who ever lived, and clearly I’m not the only one who thinks that,” he said.

Phil Hendricks, a Jewish man in his 60s, said it had been 20 years since he last read “Ulysses,” adding that it felt like a completely different book as he read in the Hammer’s courtyard. A sign of a timeless classic. Hendricks also addressed why Joyce would choose to make his protagonist a Jew in a predominantly Catholic country.

“The Irish themselves were outcasts amongst the British, so I think there is a similarity between them and the Jews,” he said. “The juxtaposition between Jews and Irish Catholics are very well known. Bloom was definitely more Jewish than he was Catholic.”

The buoyancy of the late afternoon hushed when attendees were asked to enter the Billy Wilder Theater, where a reading was performed by a host of Irish and American actors, including Jonny O’Callaghan (narrator in “Gangs of New York”) and James Lancaster (“Pirates of the Carribean 2”).

The seventh episode of the book, “Aeolus,”  was chosen to be read in full by nine actors. Introduced by Breitbard, the story unfolded with the Irish accents of O’Callaghan and Lancaster, which eased the process of imagining an early 20th century Dublin. The reading gave beautiful insight into Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness style, taking the listener right into the minds of the characters. A difficult narrative to follow at first, the story was peppered with humorous intervals, provoking laugh-out-loud responses from the standing-room-only audience.

Margot Norris, author and former president of the James Joyce International Foundation, intervened during the readings, providing insights into Joyce’s choices of syntax and literary devices. One of the questions she raised: Why would Joyce reveal Leopold Bloom’s Jewish heritage so far into the book, in the seventh episode?

Actor O’Callaghan told The Journal that it had to do with counteracting the blatant anti-Semitism of that era.

“I think it was revealed so late to get people to like him,” O’Callaghan mused. “You got to know and like the character. Then, when someone states what people are thinking, it lets the readers heal and all their walls go down.”

Richard Levy, 52, said Joyce may have been inspired by friends to make his protagonist Jewish.

“Joyce actually had a lot of friends who were Jewish and I think they had a big influence on him,” he said.

Levy, who lived and worked in Ireland for a year, says “Ulysses” can act as more than a book.

“ ‘Ulysses’ is actually the perfect map of Dublin when you visit,” he said. “It’s amazing how you can catch every street the book is set upon.”

The reading concluded with an excerpt from the episode read by Joyce himself – a 1924 recording made at HMV studios in Paris at the insistence of Joyce’s publisher, Sylvia Beach.

After the event concluded, Breitbard weighed in with his own insights as to why Joyce made his main character a Jew.

“Joyce met Jews in Trieste, Italy, and they were the biggest role models and influences in creating characters for ‘Ulysses,’ ” he said. “I think he made Bloom Jewish to make him different from other Dubliners. He was the nicest character in the book, and a very sympathetic character.”

$20 million gift to L.A. Federation is its largest ever

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has received its largest gift ever — a $20 million bequest from Geri Brawerman to create a scholarship and fellowship program for needy Jewish college students from Los Angeles. Brawerman is a Westwood resident who, along with her late husband, Richard, has long been a major force in funding educational initiatives.

The Geri and Richard Brawerman Leadership Institute each year will fund 10 undergraduates who show both financial need and leadership potential. The students will receive $10,000 a year toward tuition and expenses at a four-year university. Fellows will participate in summer and midyear retreats focused on community service and Jewish values, and will be paired with mentors throughout the school year.

“The idea of this program is to help deserving young people get a quality education, and to do it with a sense of Jewish values and purpose, with the goal of engaging them in the Jewish community when they graduate,” said Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Federation.

Federation is currently accepting applicants from students entering college in 2012.  Four students will be accepted for the first year as Federation gradually rolls out the program, eventually hoping to handle 40 students at a time.

This is the largest gift ever promised to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and one of only a few donations of this size to federations across the country. It is among Brawerman’s largest legacy gifts, according to her business manager.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has long been an important part of the giving portfolio of Geri and Richard Brawerman. Richard Brawerman, who died in May 2009, was an attorney and a captain in the U.S. Army during World War II.  He has two children from a previous marriage, and he and Geri, a hands-on philanthropist who was raised in Chicago, were married for 24 years.

“If Richard were here, he would be thrilled to know that his legacy now includes a program that builds leadership and ensures the Jewish future by both supporting the educational goals of Jewish high school students and giving them the experiences and skills they’ll draw upon as future stewards of Jewish Los Angeles. It is my dream that the students we empower today will lead the community tomorrow,” Brawerman said.

The bulk of the funds are an endowment bequest, payable when Brawerman, who would not disclose her age, dies. But she has put seed money into the Leadership Institute to kick off the program while she can still be involved.

The Brawermans had previously funded a nursing institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and are the named founders at the elementary school at Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s west campus, as well as at the elementary school that opened this fall at the temple’s historic Wilshire Boulevard building. They created an ambulatory care center at City of Hope and have been significant supporters of the Walt Disney Concert Hall at the Los Angeles Music Center, Jewish Free Loan Association and the Los Angeles Jewish Home.

Federation leaders worked with Brawerman for a year to find the intersection of her passions and Federation’s needs, Sanderson said.

“We look to collaborate with our donors and with our agencies,” Sanderson said. “Would we have gone in this direction now, without Geri’s gift? Probably not. Do we want to be going in this direction? Absolutely. This was a collaborative idea based on Federation’s priorities and our donor’s desire.”

Andrew Cushnir, chief program officer at The Federation, notes that the program fits into Federation’s priority areas — caring for Jews in need and ensuring the Jewish future. Federation has already hired a part-time administrator for the program.

A curriculum has not yet been set for the summer and winter seminars, but it will focus on Jewish values. Students are expected to participate in Birthright Israel trips and will also engage in service-learning opportunities in the United States during winter break. The program will also include a summer institute in Israel.

During the school year, students will be paired with local mentors who can teach them effective leadership and guide them through their Jewish journey. Federation plans to nurture a strong alumni network for the Brawerman Leadership Institute.

The scholarships will be need based, and the not-yet-formed selection committee will determine need on a case-by-case basis.

Cushnir said the scholarship is intended for those truly in need, and he hopes the $10,000 will open up opportunities that otherwise would have been out of reach.

Among students who qualify in terms of need, the Brawerman Leadership Institute will be looking for students who are Jewishly involved and demonstrate potential for leadership.

Applications are due May 11. For more information, visit

Finding their place [VIDEO]

Lauren Levine is settling in with a group of friends apartment to watch “American Idol,” when a look of panic comes over her face. She rummages around, finds her keys and darts out.

“I left the hair thing on,” she says when she returns, breathless, from her own apartment downstairs. “I was straightening Jasmine’s hair before we came up here, and I forgot to turn it off. Wow. That was close.”

Levine has wide blue eyes accentuated with sparkly eye shadow, and her voice is spiced with a sense of interested wonder. She wants to be a cosmetologist — she’s taken some classes — but for now she is just happy to be living on her own, and working the front desk at a gym in Century City.

Levine’s developmental delays are less obvious than those of her roommate, Jasmine Banayan, who has Down syndrome. Banayan is gregarious and warm and asserts herself as something of a leader among the dozen or so friends who live in a cluster of apartments in Westwood.

The group gets together every night to hang out at one or another of their homes, or to go out to dinner, and, on Friday nights, the five Jewish members of the group are regulars at Shabbat dinner and services at nearby UCLA Hillel.

All are participants in a parent-led experiment in independent living for adults with developmental or cognitive disabilities.

Today’s 20-somethings with disabilities have grown up at the vanguard of a successful mainstreaming model, and they and their parents now are determined to continue to break the mold, to live adult lives with high expectations, in keeping with the ideal that not only is there a place for them within mainstream society, but that they can contribute in meaningful and enriching ways.

While the impetus for change exists, needed funds won’t necessarily follow. Government budget cuts are endangering existing programs, and start-up costs for new programs can be prohibitive.

Story continues after the video.