Young U.S. Jews feel closer to Israel, studies find


Young American Jews have closer ties to Israel than ever before, while Israelis who have moved to the United States are raising the Jewish consciousness of all Jews in the New World.

Such upbeat conclusions may run counter to more prevalent pessimistic pronouncements, but they are bolstered by three new research studies.

Results of these studies were presented by American academicians at the recent annual conference at UCLA of the Association for Israel Studies.

The meeting brought together some 300 scholars who participated in 80 panel discussions centering on Israel’s international relations, history, politics, law, economics, literature, film and other visual arts.

Most of the participants were from Israel and the United States, with a respectable number of professors from German, British, Chinese, Canadian, Dutch, Australian and Palestinian universities.

Matthew Boxer, a senior research associate at Brandeis University, set the hopeful tone in a session aptly titled “Young American Jews and Israel: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom.”

“The trajectory of relationship between young American Jews and Israel is one of growing strength,” Boxer proposed, even in the face of an array of negative factors.

“Despite the high rate of intermarriage, despite mismatches between liberal young American Jews and a more right-wing Israel government, despite the inadequacy of the Jewish education system, we are providing young American Jews with more and more opportunities to develop a personal connection with Israel,” Boxer said.

Taking the long view, he argued that past surveys show that young Jews have always felt less attached to Israel than their elders but draw closer as they age.

That “lifecycle effect” has held steady over the decades, barring “some external force with the power to effect generational change,” he said.

Just such an external force has been the Taglit-Birthright Israel program, which, since its inception in late 1999, has sent some 340,000 young Jews between the ages of 18 and 26, from 62 countries, on free 10-day organized trips to Israel. Among them were 240,000 young men and women from North America.

Citing a survey of Americans and Canadians who participated in three Taglit (Hebrew for “Discovery”) trips between 2010 and 2012, Boxer said that participants were three times more likely to affirm they were “very much connected to Israel” than nonparticipants.

The impact of the trips holds even in follow-up surveys conducted six to11 years after early participants returned, and a high percentage of Taglit alumni have gone on to become leaders of their AIPAC, Hillel and J Street campus chapters.

To those who argue that a 10-day program is too short and superficial to have a lasting impact, Boxer pointed out that the experience comes when participants “are at an age when they figure out who they are and what they believe in.”

Indeed, it is the emotional factor that ties young Americans to Israel, rather than purely intellectual, ideological or historic considerations, according to David L. Graizbord of the University of Arizona.

Graizbord, an associate professor at the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, has been interviewing 22 young North American Jews (and plans to talk to 18 more), all of whom are self-declared Zionists or profess a close attachment to Israel.

Although warning that his study is in the embryonic stage, Graizbord cited 10 conclusions from his “snapshots” of Generation Y members as they explore their relationships to Israel.

Some of his key findings, not necessarily in order of importance, were:

Similar to Boxer’s study, Graizbord concluded that political leanings, biblical history or intellectual reasoning play hardly any role in developing a pro-Israel attitude.

The strongest bonds are emotional, he emphasized, fed by a sense of “the relative thickness and naturalness of Israeli Jewishness, as compared to the relative cultural thinness of Jewish life in North America, outside of Orthodox circles.”

While some tourists may be put off by the perceived brashness and prickliness of Israelis they meet, the impact is quite different for participants in Graizbord’s study.

One young American, who volunteered to work with Israelis in an immigration absorption camp in the Negev, put it this way: “I found myself really connecting with the Israelis,” he said. “I liked the openness of their society and their sense of humor … and the communal aspects of their lives.

“I thought, this is the kind of place I want to raise my family … I decided that some way, somehow, I’m going to make aliyah.”

Another student summed it up by noting that his Israeli contemporaries had “their heads on straight and they’re headed in a very specific direction.”

Although Jewish history, including the biblical era, does not seem to play much of a role in shaping young Americans’ attitude toward Israel, there is one aspect that does impact them, and that is the Holocaust.

When Graizbord asked his subjects, “Why should a nation-state of the Jews exist?” the answers always referenced the Shoah, he said.

As one young woman put it, “What I feel when I think of Judaism is just … that [Jews] are a small people and they were persecuted for so long, and they need a place to call home.”

Israeli expatriates in the United States exert an important influence in maintaining the “Jewishness” of the American Jewish community, according to history professor Marianne Sanua of the Jewish studies program at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

The actual number of Israelis who now make their home in the United States is a matter of never-ending dispute, with estimates ranging from 140,000 to close to 1 million.

Sanua puts the figure at between 500,000 and 550,000, if one includes native-born Israelis, Israelis born elsewhere in the Diaspora, spouses (often American-born), children and students or visitors who ignore visa limitations and continue to stay on in the United States.

Initially demeaned and scorned by the Israeli government and Jewish-American organizations as weaklings and traitors to the Zionist cause, the “yordim” are now generally accepted as a permanent and important “sub-ethnic American-Jewish immigrant group,” as the Florida academic put it.

Taking the lead in the United States in reaching out to the newcomers was Chabad, which has established 25 Chabad centers for Israelis over the past 30 years.

Among the first was the Los Angeles center, which serves more than 20,000 children and adults annually, according to Executive Director Rabbi Amitai Yemini.

The main concern shared by American-Jewish organizations, Israeli authorities and the expats themselves is to transmit their Jewish identity and connections to Israel to their children and future generations.

Sanua believes that this effort has been largely successful, in the process revitalizing the native-born American-Jewish community.

According to her research, the Israelis “speak Hebrew, they belong to synagogues and Jewish community centers, and 75 percent are married to other Jews,” a much higher rate than for American Jews.

By all other criteria, the expats are more “Jewish” than native-born Jews, including number of visits to Israel, sending their kids to Jewish schools, going to Jewish museums, attending Jewish cultural events and observing Jewish rituals.

In addition, it is estimated that one-third of the teachers and 20 to 40 percent of students in L.A. Jewish day schools are Israelis or children of Israelis.

“In many ways, when so many American Jews are being lost to assimilation and intermarriage, Israeli-Americans are seen as having a vital role to play in maintaining American-Jewish communal life,” Sanua concluded.

She cited Los Angeles as “the best example in creating Israeli-American organizations for children and youth” in the United States, with the local Israeli American Council (IAC, formerly the Israeli Leadership Council) setting the pace, Sanua said.

IAC’s three main missions are to support Israel, strengthen Jewish identity among young Israeli-Americans, and build connections between the Israeli-American and Jewish-American communities.

Other Israeli-oriented youth organizations in Los Angeles, many supported by the IAC, include the Tzofim (Scouts), B’nai Akiva youth movement, the MATI Israeli Cultural Center, and such educational institutions as the Ami School, Hebrew High School, Hebrew Discovery Center and Kadima Hebrew Academy.

San Diego offers an example of a small but innovative Israeli community; an Israeli Cultural Center was founded there in 2006, Sanua noted. Partly supported by the local Jewish Federation and the Israeli government, the center offers children of expats full-scale immersion programs in Hebrew, Israeli culture and Jewish identity.

The latest and perhaps most surprising development is the launching of Hebrew-language charter schools, which are state-funded but privately run by independent boards.

The first of the so-called Gamla schools opened in Hollywood, Fla., in 2007 as a nonsectarian, nonreligious institution. The concept has now spread to other Florida cities, as well as to Washington, D.C.; New York City; Los Angeles; and San Diego, Sanua said.

Adding another perspective was respondent Samuel Edelman, a former professor at California State University, Chico, and now executive director of the Center for Academic Engagement, affiliated with the Israel on Campus Coalition.

He emphasized that today’s Western Jews still retain their ethnic roots in the Middle East, despite a 2,000-year history in Europe and a 350-year experience in North America.

He posited that the emotional attachment to Israel by Diaspora Jews is largely fueled by their historic Middle Eastern identity.

However insightful the research papers and a Q-and-A session, the attitude of young American Jews was perhaps best expressed by a student interviewed for Graizbord’s project.

“I think it’s all about reality,” he quoted her in part. “The reality is, as of today, that there’s a State of Israel. The reality as of today is that there are also Palestinians.

“As of today, there’s a lot of internal strife, and my biggest concern is, I’m not going to focus on history. I’m not going to focus on ‘ifs,’ ‘ands’ or ‘what ifs?’ I’m going to focus on ‘OK, what is the current, realistic situation, and what do I do with it?’ Responsibility, that’s what it’s all about.”

Go West, young Torah-observant Jews!


Yeehaw!
 
The wait is finally over for members of Young Israel of Century City, who were eagerly anticipating the theme of the annual program “brochure,” which was kept secret until its publication last week.
 
It’s … Old West.
 
The Young Israel of Century Gazette is printed on antique-looking brown paper with sepia-toned photographs and illustrations, such as revolvers, spurs, snakes, lizards, playing cards, an animal skeleton and a pitched wagon (with the words “Torah to Go” written on the canopy). The main headline of the Gazette is “YICC Transforms the West! Read All About It,” shown with a grainy, blurred-edge photo of the Modern Orthodox shul, located on Pico Boulevard in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.
 
While many synagogues around the country offer adult education programs and brochures, Young Israel of Century City is one of the few to package it in a humorous, stylized brochure. Last year the brochure was designed as a National Geographic magazine. Past themes have included the National Enquirer, a museum tour, and “soul food,” featuring a diner design.
 
“We felt that if you package your program in a sophisticated fashion people will pay attention,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin, who instituted the catchy brochures in the first years of his arrival, some 22 years ago. Not only do congregants anticipate the unveiling of the brochure (at Kol Nidre), but Muskin gets requests nationwide from other rabbis who are inspired by his design and by his programming.

The brochure — created with Jeff Coen of JDC design — is just one component of the process, which takes hundreds of hours, beginning with planning speakers, guests and events one year in advance.
 
The coming year’s events range from the intellectual (Yaffa Eliach, a Holocaust scholar, and Gil Graff, a Jewish historian); spiritual (Rabbi Asher Zelig Weiss, a rosh yeshiva from Jerusalem, and Rabbi Yitzhak David Grossman, the “Disco Rabbi” who is chief rabbi of Migdal Ha’emek); political (AIPAC’s Jonathan S. Kessler, and Rep. Henry Waxman [D-Los Angeles]); cultural (author Hallie Lerman, cultural critic on returning to modesty Wendy Shalit and musician Rabbi Shmuel Brazil).
 
Why put so much effort into adult education?
 
“It says in the Talmud if you learn Torah from one person you haven’t learned Torah,” Muskin said. The programs “generate an intellectual and spiritual excitement.”
 
On the back page of the brochure is a photograph of the original founders of Young Israel of Century City standing in front of the first shul, which really does look like a log cabin, even though it was from the 1970s.
 
Which brings up the age-old question: Why is it called Young Israel of Century City when it’s clearly not located there?
 
“I asked the same question when I came,” Muskin said of his 1986 arrival as the first full-time rabbi, 10 years after the synagogue’s inception. It turned out that the name Young Israel of Los Angeles was already taken. Ditto for Young Israel of Beverly Hills (Young Israel of Century City is Beverly Hills adjacent, anyway).
 
“They decided on Century City because you can see the Century City towers from the synagogue,” Muskin said.

Beware the Finkelstein Syndrome


In May of 2006, I witnessed the bizarre rantings of the author and Holocaust revisionist Norman Finkelstein at UC Irvine. This was the second time that I had the misfortune of sitting through his lecture, the first time was at Cal State Fullerton.

Finkelstein uses his identity as the child of Holocaust survivors to gain credibility, distorting history by omitting context and defaming well-respected figures for the purpose of promoting hatred against the State of Israel and minimizing the horrors of the Holocaust.

His lectures include predictable rants against Israel, promotion of conspiracy theories regarding the reason his own new book, “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History” (University of California Press, 2005), was not reviewed and a strange continuous bashing of Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz for writing “The Case for Israel.” He spends an inordinate amount of time lecturing about Joan Peters’ book, “From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine,” and calls survivor Elie Wiesel the “clown in the Holocaust circus.”

How twisted is Finkelstein’s sense of human decency?

As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, I find Finkelstein beyond despicable. I believe he openly and methodically lies in order to promote his own anti-Israel agenda.

It is well known that some children of Holocaust survivors carry severe scars and wounds that actually manifest in peculiar psychological behavior. For two decades, I worked as a licensed family therapist, and I believe that some day soon there will be a formal psychological syndrome that would account for self-hating Jews like Norman Finkelstein. Perhaps the syndrome will even be named after him: The Finkelstein Syndrome.

It’s inconceivable to me that Finkelstein might achieve tenure at De Paul University in Chicago, where he presently teaches his bizarre theories. That he is an assistant professor there is, in my view, a badge of shame for De Paul.

His true occupation is as a member of a traveling circus, a freak show of anti-Semites who promote anti-Israel propaganda from campus to campus. He openly admits to having high regard for Hezbollah on his Web site, and he promotes the false notion that “scholars widely agree that Israel ethnically cleansed the Palestinian people in 1948.”

Even the historians that he quotes disagree with him. He denies the evidence that Arab leaders told Palestinian Arabs to leave Israel in 1948 so that the combined forces coming from Arab countries could exterminate the Jews, after which the Arabs who had lived in the region could return.

He denies the overwhelming evidence that this was the case, contained within periodicals and confirmed radio announcements at the time — among them The Near East Arabic Broadcasting Station, The New York Herald, London Economist, Time Magazine and Jordanian Daily Newspaper — that clearly reflected the push by Arab leaders to encourage the flight of their brethren for the purpose of the annihilation of the Jews and their reborn state. (A compiled list of critical quotes from reputable sources regarding this issue is available at standwithus.com/campus/pdfs/flyers/ArableaderstellPalestinianstoFleein1948.pdf).

I cannot help but wonder why Finkelstein fails to mention that approximately 150,000 Palestinian Arabs chose to remain in Israel in 1948, becoming Arab Israelis with descendants and friends that now number over 1 million. Growing numbers of Arab Israeli citizens, with representation in Israel’s Knesset, do not match with his accusation of ethnic cleansing.

I once wrote a letter to Finkelstein, because I was frustrated after attending one of his deeply disturbing lectures. I asked him why he lied to well-meaning students during his lecture. I showed him the evidence that the flight of the Palestinian Arabs from Israel in 1948 was, in part, due to the war, and, in part, due to the clear calls from Arab countries.

I showed him evidence from credible sources. I asked him to refute them, but he did not in his reply. Instead, he told me to read his book, and he told me that our conversation was at an end.

As I sat watching Finkelstein this second time, I looked around the room at the eager 300 to 400 students who came to hear him speak. Many of them were already anti-Israel and enjoyed his presentation, because it supported and expanded their own prejudices. Others, however, had heard that a controversial speaker was coming and came in good faith with open minds.

I watched for three straight hours at UC Irvine as students were poisoned by the Finkelstein Syndrome. I walked away feeling saddened by the notion that young hearts and minds were affected by a man of such dubious scholarship and malicious intent.

What remedy do we have when a hateful propagandist and academic fraud like Finkelstein comes to town? As the national director of an organization that believes in free speech, the only power we have is to expose him as a failed scholar who lacks balance, as a man with an obsessive agenda and as a man who respects the likes of Hezbollah.

Maybe if these things about him become more widely known, the people who may have the misfortune of attending his future lectures will come for entertainment, rather than for education.

Roz Rothstein is national director of StandWithUs.

 

Sweet Sixteen and Ready to Rise


Even though 16-year-old singer Liel Kolet was born on a kibbutz in northern Israel, she’d prefer to be called an international artist rather than an Israeli one. That largely explains why many of the younger generation of Israeli rock/pop buffs would know little about her. Nor is she routinely counted among the growing crop of Israeli pop princesses, such as Shiri Maimon, who also will be performing in Los Angeles later this month. She hasn’t released an album in Hebrew for wide distribution, and her English songs don’t get Israeli radio play.

And that’s just fine with Kolet. While the dark, curly-haired singer remains deeply connected to her Israeli roots — even while trotting the globe in America, Europe and Canada — she has her sights on the big leagues.

“From the start the idea was to build me as an international singer,” she said.

And there are parallels with her idol, Celine Dion. As young singers, both set their sights on international stardom with the backing of a dedicated manager (Kolet’s manager is Irit Ten-Hengel). Kolet, like Dion, has a clean and wholesome image, singing heartfelt songs about love, humanity and “the children.” On May 20, Kolet will represent Switzerland at the Eurovision singing contest, just as Dion, originally from Canada, did in 1988. The title of Kolet’s debut album is “Unison,” also the title of Dion’s hit debut.

“I’m not trying to be Celine Dion — we don’t have same kind of music — but what she achieved in her career and the steps she’s been through and what she represents are an example to me,” said Kolet in a very slight Israeli accent during a telephone interview. “She is an example of what an artist should be: She has an amazing voice and presence on stage that really touches to the heart of people. People come to hear her voice. That to me is what an artist is about.”

Kolet has a powerful voice and range, but Israeli-born female vocalists have notoriously failed to make a successful U.S. crossover. With the possible exception of Ofra Haza, another of Kolet’s favorites, Israeli divas usually fare better in Europe, which is generally more open to musical diversity.

Still, Ten-Hengel, Kolet’s international manager, left her prestigious career as a music executive at Sony Europe to focus solely on Kolet, because she has little doubt that Kolet will achieve her dreams.

“Mark my word: When she’s 18, she’s huge in America,” said Ten-Hengel. “She has the whole package — voice, personality, love for music, passion and angelic beauty.”

A select audience will judge for themselves when Kolet headlines the May 24 black-tie award dinner of the International Visitor’s Council. Music industry bigwigs are expected to be there for their own look, including Grammy-award winning producer David Foster, who has produced several of Dion’s hits. Ken Kragen, Kolet’s U.S.-based manager, is the dinner’s honoree for his production of humanitarian projects, including We Are the World and Hands Across America.

A veteran manager of such artists as Kenny Rogers, Lionel Richie, Olivia Newton John and the Bee Gees, Kragen came across Kolet two years ago when he saw a video of her performance at the 80th birthday celebration for former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. At the star- and diplomat-studded event, Kolet spontaneously called Bill Clinton to the stage to sing a duet with her of Lennon’s “Imagine.” It happened to be one of her best career moves.

“I realized this lady had amazing poise and ability and was a wonderful singer with an amazing voice,” Kragen said.

Two years ago, Kragen introduced the aspiring starlet to American music industry executives in Los Angeles.

With no major American record deals were in the offing, Kolet spent the last two years building up an impressive resume of performances in Europe, particularly in Germany, where she has won several awards. Her management believes that she’s now poised to conquer North America, making her upcoming visit to Los Angeles all the more significant.

“It’s not easy,” Kragen said. “The record industry today is much less inclined to sign new acts. The difference now is that there’s a track record in Europe.”

Kolet’s participation in charity events has put her onstage with artists such as Elton John, U2’s Bono and, most recently, Andrea Boccelli. She has developed a close working relationship with Klaus Meine of the legendary German rock band, the Scorpions, having performed with him last year in Israel.

Her first international album, “Unison,” is a potpourri of ethnic-tinged love ballads, upbeat pop songs and music with a “message”; it includes three duets with Meine. Their take on Naomi Shemer’s “Jerusalem of Gold” is the most Israeli song on the album, reflecting the Israeli pride she says she’ll always carry with her.

As Kolet put it: “Singing for peace and everything that I do and my charity events are because I grew-up in Israel.”

For more information on Liel Kolet, visit www.liel.net.

Program Tries to Sell Youth on Negev


Endless stretches of sand and sky surround the teenagers as they tumble off buses in the Negev Desert.

“It’s really pretty here. It’s very different from the Ukraine,” said Larisa Protasova, 17, as she posed for a photo on the edge of a sand dune. A recent immigrant to Israel, it was her first time seeing the Negev.

Protasova was one of 16,000 young Israelis — including immigrants as well as soldiers, students and youth group members — who were brought to the Negev on day trips in December, part of a campaign to convince them to make their lives here one day.

The two-day event over Chanukah, dubbed “Light Up the Negev,” was organized by the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (JNF) with the express purpose of “selling” the Negev to Israel’s youth.

The Negev represents about 60 percent of Israel’s landmass, but has only about 8 percent of the country’s inhabitants. After the Gaza Strip withdrawal and with pressure expected to build on Israel to uproot settlements in the West Bank as well, developing the Negev has become a priority for the government, which recently approved $3 billion toward building an infrastructure of jobs and communities in the region.

The JNF, meanwhile, has launched a $500 million campaign specifically for Negev development.

Israelis traditionally have shunned the region because of its remoteness from the rest of the country, the lack of jobs and the relative harshness of desert life. The vast majority of Israelis live in the center of the country, where the cost of living is much higher but opportunities for jobs are greater.

Officials hope the surge of investment will lure people south to fulfill the vision of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, to “make the desert bloom” by transforming the Negev into a center of life and trade, not the periphery it has remained since the country was born.

Plans include the creation of a biotech park in Beersheba, new tourism projects and several ecologically minded villages to be built with environmentally friendly materials. Also being promoted are swaths of land to be sold as ranches.

Israeli officials hope that some 250,000 more people will move to the Negev.

“We must educate young Israelis and let them know what opportunities await them once they move there: affordable housing, open spaces, jobs, a sense of community and a place in history,” said Sharon Davidovich, who helped organize the event and formerly was a JNF shaliach in the United States.

Efrat Duvdevani, director of the recently formed Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, said there is a rare consensus in the Jewish world around the need to develop the two regions.

“The Negev and Galilee are not politically controversial. It is something that unites people and brings everyone together, including the Jewish community abroad,” she said. “It has nothing that has to do with this party or that party but the history and, most importantly, the future of Israel.”

The Negev is home to some 140,000 Bedouin. Officials say the development plan will benefit them by bringing better education and housing, but some in the Bedouin community are opposed to the plan, fearing that additional building in the region will encroach on land they claim.

Over Chanukah, youth visited different sites throughout the Negev, including military bases, development towns and parks, learning about the region’s history and environment.

Some of the youth spent time painting houses and planting trees in the town of Yeruham, while others cleaned out a riverbed or helped build a bicycle trail in Mitzpeh Ramon.

One group of immigrant youth from the former Soviet Union visited Mitzpeh Gvulot, an experimental farm from the 1940s just outside Kibbutz Gvulot.

“Do you know where you are on the map?” asked their guide, a female soldier. The teenagers, all of them from the Tel Aviv area, shook their heads no and laughed.

The soldier showed them around mud buildings that a group of young pioneers built in 1943. One had served as a communal dining room, another as a bakery.

Arkadi Demianenko, 16, who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine in 2000, said the history was interesting, but he didn’t see his future in the Negev.

If even 10 percent of the 16,000 youth who came to the Negev on this trip decide to move there, the operation will have been a success, said David Ashkenazi who organized the event as JNF-Israel’s head of informal education.

He said the Negev life clearly wouldn’t appeal to everyone.

“It’s for them if they want a different kind of life — not the same kind of life they would live in the center of the country, but if they are looking for a more pioneering life,” Ashkenazi said.

That appealed to George Moscowski, 14, from the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon, who said the openness of the scenery drew him in.

“In the future I’d like to live in a free, open place that is not crowded. Maybe it will be green one day,” said Moscowski, who hopes to study computer programming.

 

The Lost Words


“Yitgadal v’yitkadash shmei.” Three words into Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, Yoni stumbled on an unfamiliar vowel. Then, again and again, as he continued reciting the traditional prayer at his mother’s funeral in Jerusalem, he twisted and mangled the words. He frowned in concentration and tried very hard, but the words would not take their proper shape. The life of a secular young man, even in Israel, contains little preparation for the rituals of a Jewish funeral.

I had come to the funeral for Yoni’s sake. He and my son had been best friends when they were in grade school. For me, Yoni was still that tousled-haired kid in the photo squinting into the sun as he stands next to his bike.

It was Yoni who had come to visit his mother one weekend but instead had found only her body. I wanted somehow to comfort this boy turned young man, whose mother had died so young. Instead, I found myself cringing at his tortured recitation.

Why did it matter? After all, religion was not important in Yoni’s home. His mother, an immigrant from the United States, never mastered Hebrew. She certainly didn’t know Aramaic, the main component of Kaddish and Yoni’s stumbling block.

Yoni’s father, a secular sabra, had no use for ritual. Yoni never had a bar mitzvah; possibly never set foot in a synagogue. There was no way he could have been prepared for this moment. And, perhaps, for his family that did not matter.

So why did it matter to me? This prayer that combines Hebrew and Aramaic speaks not of the dead but rather about the God who has created the world “according to his will.” It continues as a thesaurus of hosannas: “Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One.”

The language is light years from anything a secular young man in Israel might say or think. For a moment I thought that it might be time for a pop version, one that would roll easily off any Israeli tongue.

One thing I knew for certain: I want my own children to be able to recite the Kaddish without stumbling. That Friday at dinner I told them the story of the garbled prayer, hoping they would get the message without my having to come out and say, “Get it right!”

And it’s impossible to get it right without some practice.

They responded blithely, as if it was no concern of theirs.

“The dead person doesn’t care, anyway,” my youngest son scoffed.

Nevertheless, I sensed they’d gotten the message. But why was that so important? I have so little interest in praising, exalting and lauding any supreme being. And I know that the only afterlife is the memory we keep of the person who is gone. The body at the funeral is but an empty shell.

Perhaps what’s at issue is my own life: I’m a word person. For more than 20 years I’ve made my living by writing and editing. Getting the words right is what I labor to achieve, all day every day. It’s a struggle that often leaves me in despair.

But there’s more to it than that. In the face of the greatest anguish, words fail. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a compulsive sender of messages of sympathy to those far away who have lost someone dear, and I sense that those words give some comfort, if only the reminder that someone on the other side of the planet acknowledges the loss.

But what can one say to the mother of a toddler who has died of cancer; to the father of a youngster who has committed suicide; to the teenager whose father has been killed in a car accident? Words seem an intrusion, a violation of the mourner’s right to grieve undisturbed. Nor can even the most eloquent eulogy offer more than a moment’s balm.

It is here that the ancient formula stands in for mere words, since these can never encompass the loss. The repetition of the set phrases, whose literal meaning escapes most people, is a remedy where words fail. It is a recognition that no words, not even the most beautiful or the most caring, can undo what is done. It is a recognition that at times like these one should not have to seek the words. The mourner has a set role, and the participants have a supporting one, reciting one of the lines with the mourner and completing the prayer with a chorus of amen.

This is how it has been from generation to generation, through the chain of Jewish history. The Kaddish is a way of touching all the mourners who have been and all those who will be. It offers both a sense of community and a sense of continuity.

That’s why we have to get it right.

Esther Hecht is a freelance writer based in Jerusalem.

 

Mensch Seeks Shayna Maideleh


The search is on for “a nice Jewish boy” — and no, this time it’s not your mother who’s looking.

A team of scouts is scouring the Diaspora for the ideal single Jewish man for a new Israeli reality television show. Once selected, the bachelor, who according to producers preferably will be good looking and “financially secure,” will come to Israel for the summer, when 15 young Israeli women will compete to capture his heart.

“We all grow up in Jewish houses and we know the dream of Jewish mothers is that their son finds a nice Jewish girl,” said Gadi Veinrib, a producer for the show, to be called — what else? — “A Nice Jewish Boy.”

The bachelor will be sent to Israel “to meet the nice Jewish love of his life,” he said.

The show’s producers will be holding casting calls for the show in New York, Los Angeles and a European city in the next few weeks. There may be teleconferences in Australia as well.

Producers are trying to get the word out via Jewish organizations.

Already they have been flooded by hundreds of queries from the United States, Europe, Australia and South Africa, many from Jewish women offering their brothers, friends and cousins for the job.

In Israel, there also has been a huge response from women hoping to be among the pool of bachelorettes. Scouts also are searching for female contestants at university campuses, clubs and bars. The show is also considering including Jewish women from abroad as contestants, said Veinrib, who was among the production team of the hit Israeli reality TV show “The Ambassador.”

The reality series is to take place over the course of three months. It will be set in a luxurious villa, complete with a pool and a lush garden, in central Israel. The young women will live there, and — as in the American ABC show “The Bachelor” — will be courted by the man on individual dates. Every week another bachelorette will be eliminated, and by the end of the show, producers hope, the man will have found his future mate.

The producers are looking for women in their early 20s to mid 30s and for men from their mid 20s to mid to late 30s. Interested? Send photos and a C.V. to the show at kuperman@hot3.co.il.

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Jerusalem Gets Business Jump-Start


Jerusalem might be a spiritually moving “holy city,” but many Israelis see it as an economic backwater from which young people are fleeing. Roughly 7,000 highly educated young people leave the city each year, and 40 percent of the city’s residents live below the poverty line.

The establishment of the Hebrew University in 1927 created an image of an ivory-tower town, while commerce and industry developed primarily at the center of the country. Today, Nir Barkat, high-tech entrepreneur and dynamic Jerusalem councilman, is trying to breathe economic life into the city by using the academic and intellectual sectors to jump-start the capital’s economy. In partnership with venture capitalist Alan Feld, Barkat has created StartUp Jerusalem, bringing together high-tech and venture capital leaders, university researchers and Jerusalem businessmen in a promising new business initiative under CEO Eli Kazhdan.

The largest non-Israeli delegation at the StartUp Jerusalem Conference, which recently launched the initiative, came from California. State Controller Steve Westly pointed out that in today’s high-tech world, academic institutions, like those found in Jerusalem, are the springboard for business and industry.

“Government investment in research at Stanford University led to the flourishing of Silicon Valley,” said Westly, an Internet development pioneer.

“The future of the world economy is in technology, particularly in the life sciences,” he said, calling for investment in Jerusalem’s medical and university research, and the creation of a culture that provides incentives to take risks.

StartUp Jerusalem initiative is based on the economic “clusters” theory of Harvard professor Michael E. Porter, who served as honorary chairman of the conference, and consults for StartUp Jerusalem through his Center for Middle East Competitive Strategy. Porter was impressed that, in spite of Israel’s security situation, it has maintained its competitive advantage. In line with his clusters theory — geographic concentrations of interconnected companies — Porter offers strategic tools to analyze the dominant economic sectors in the city, and create infrastructure and links between the various companies in each sector. He emphasizes co-operation and exchange of information, rather than competition among the businesses of each sector.

“Prosperity is a win-win situation,” Porter said at the conference. “If one company within a sector is productive, it will help others be productive as well.”

StartUp Jerusalem is concentrating on biotechnology, since Jerusalem boasts resources that can make it an important player in that field. In addition to high-level research being done at the Hebrew University and Hadassah Medical Center, Jerusalem College of Technology and Hadassah College, Jerusalem also hosts 28 percent of the Israeli companies in biotechnology, including Teva and Medinol. Fifty percent of the biotech patents registered in Israel come either from the Hebrew University or Hadassah Hospital.

StartUp Jerusalem is also highlighting outsourcing, a fast-growing player in Jerusalem’s economy particularly suited to Jerusalem’s multilingual and ultra-Orthodox population. According to Kazhdan, hundreds of residents can be employed in service centers for foreign companies, particularly American organizations. Jerusalem possesses the infrastructure for such centers and the government is willing to provide subsidies for them. But most of all, Jerusalem boasts former American residents, both Jewish and Arab, fluent in English and steeped in American culture, who can man the telephones for hotel and airline reservations, banking and telecommunications organizations outside of Israel.

“Israel cannot compete with India’s cheap labor,” Porter said, “but it can provide a quality labor force able to communicate with clients on their own wavelength.”

David Silbershlag, an employment consultant and a StartUp Jerusalem board member, urges the business community to reach out to the potential in the ultra-Orthodox community.

During the 19th century, Jerusalem became a place where Jews came to study Torah supported by communities in the Diaspora. This tradition continues, accounting for a large unemployed ultra-Orthodox sector.

“But there are different types of ultra-Orthodox, many with multilingual and technical capability,” Silberschlag said. “Outsourcing can provide employment for them in frameworks that respect their unique religious character.”

Clustering can also be a model of Arab-Jewish co-operation. Since service centers must function without interruption, English-speaking Arabs can be on call Saturday and Jewish holidays, while Jews can take over on Arab holidays.

Jerusalem’s cultural and religious treasures also make it a great tourist attraction. But it must be honed and refined. But interfacing between tourism and cultural organizations must be improved to develop a clearinghouse of information for tourists.

“Economic development is not magical,” Porter said. “It involves a relentless process of improvement.”

Jerusalem must overcome many obstacles to become a flourishing business center. Former Jerusalem Manufacturing Association head Motti Tepferberg said that one of the problems is the lack of open land for manufacturing. He also points out that there hasn’t been sufficient attention given to the subject of attracting business to Jerusalem.

“The government has not provided business incentives or tax breaks to attract businesses to Jerusalem,” he said. “There also have to be greater cultural incentives.”

Terrorism has certainly affected the city.

“Foreign investment has been very low in the past few years,” said Avraham Aberman, a prominent Jerusalem lawyer. “But as terrorism has declined, or people simply got used to it, large venture capital groups situated themselves in Jerusalem, and tourism is flourishing again. The main problem remains Jerusalem’s image. It’s a psychological matter. Jerusalem doesn’t have the image of a dynamic center, a place where the action is.”

StartUp Jerusalem hopes to change this perception by highlighting Jerusalem’s competitive advantages. But what assurance is there that StartUp Jerusalem can work? Barkat, who ran an unsuccessful mayoral bid in Jerusalem, has confidence in the city’s innate advantages. But as he also pointed out, “We’re not inventing the wheel. We’re following a method that has succeeded in other places.”

“The government is on board,” said Barkat, who pointed to significant support from Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. “However, the government is not investing or interfering. We’re not asking for fish, but rather for rods that will enable us to catch the fish.”

Barkat feels that things have begun well, with the top echelons in the health and medical fields, in particular, buying into the idea.

“We don’t have any choice but to be successful,” Barkat said. “The alternative is unthinkable for the future of Jerusalem.”

Rochelle Furstenberg is a Jerusalem-based journalist and critic writing about social, cultural and religious issues. She’s a columnist for Hadassah Magazine and a regular contributor to the Jerusalem Report.

Groundwork Laid to Evacuate Gaza


Despite political hurdles, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is forging ahead with his Gaza disengagement plan, giving various government agencies the green light to prepare for the evacuation of settlers — using both carrots and sticks.

Even as Israeli police begin laying the groundwork for evacuating Gaza, an interministerial team of some 70 officials is working out details of a bill to compensate evacuees in hopes that the prospect of money and alternate housing will help avert a violent confrontation between settlers and police.

Despite police objections — "no budget, no manpower" — the Cabinet decided that Israeli police would perform the actual evacuation.

Tzachi Hanegbi, who recently resigned as minister of internal security, wanted the army to do the job, as it did in the evacuation of Yamit in northern Sinai 22 years ago. But most ministers preferred to spare young soldiers the experience of a potentially violent confrontation with Jewish citizens.

So police have begun making necessary preparations. Step one: allocating the funds.

Not only will the government need to pay generous compensation to evacuated settlers — about $400 million — the actual process of evacuation will require substantial funds. Police Inspector General Moshe Karadi met Sept. 5 with senior officers to assess the costs involved.

The cost of the evacuation will depend on the scope of resistance, both in Gaza and in Israel proper. No one knows for sure how many people will actively resist the evacuation, or over what period of time. Therefore it’s not only a matter of budget but of recruiting the necessary manpower.

It’s assumed that large police forces will be kept busy not only in the Gaza Strip but also within Israel, dealing with demonstrations against the disengagement.

Police were planning to set up an "evacuation administration" comprising two arms, one responsible for planning the evacuation and the other for carrying it out. The Border Police, which usually is deployed in the territories to deal with the Palestinian population, has been selected to evacuate the settlers.

The Border Police plans to reinforce its 12 companies with an additional 20 reserve companies, which will free up regular forces to cope with the evacuation.

Sharon hopes to create sufficient motivation among settlers to evacuate their homes willingly in exchange for generous compensation packages, avoiding violent confrontations like those in Yamit.

An interministerial team is working out details of the compensation bill. The general idea is to offer settlers a house in exchange for a house; they also will be given the option of relocating en masse to communities in Israel.

Government assessors were instructed to appraise the houses according to equivalents in regions that are better off than development towns, but not as upscale as Tel Aviv.

The evacuation administration already has proposed advance payments that would be deducted from final compensations, but advances can’t be handed out until the complicated legal procedure behind them is finalized.

The government will commit itself to paying out the full value of compensation packages even if the disengagement plan eventually collapses. Settlers also will receive special compensation worth six months’ salary to find alternative employment.

Eran Sternberg, spokesman for the Gush Katif settlement bloc, insisted in an interview with JTA that only a handful of families have expressed interest in entering negotiations on compensation.

"We regard this entire talk on compensations as psychological warfare," Sternberg said. "Sharon in his desperation shoots in all directions."

The overarching imperative in preparing for the evacuation is to avoid civil war. Policemen in the evacuation task force will undergo special psychological seminars, preparing them for confrontation with their "brothers."

When will all this take place? Sharon recently told his Likud Party’s Knesset faction that he did not intend to "drag out the disengagement plan over a long period of time."

He has presented the following timetable for the disengagement:

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• By Sept. 14, the prime minister will present the Cabinet a blueprint for evacuation and compensation of the settlers.

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• By Sept. 26, a draft disengagement bill will be presented to the Cabinet.

\n

• By Oct. 24, the financial compensation bill will be brought to the Cabinet.

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• On Nov. 3, the compensation bill — "The Law for Implementing the Disengagement Plan" — will be brought to the Knesset.

It’s assumed that the actual evacuation would take place no later than February 2005.

After Likud voters rejected Sharon’s disengagement plan in a May 2 party referendum, and following the impressive human chain protest of some 130,000 people in late July, settlers now are planning additional anti-disengagement campaigns, including an upcoming massive protest in downtown Jerusalem.

"Over 3,000 children and youths began the school year this week at our schools," Sternberg said. "I’m sure we will all be there to open the next school year."

The Circuit


A True Best Friend

A hero of last fall’s destructive brushfires in San Bernardino was 5-year-old Duke, a miniature spaniel trained since 2000 to serve as a “co-therapist.” At one evacuation center during the weeklong siege, without prompting, Duke snuggled up to a 10-year-old boy who refused to talk after losing his cat and home. Slowly, the boy began telling Duke his story.

Duke’s owner, Dr. Lois Abrams, a Los Alamitos psychiatrist uses her dog as a tool to work with kids who have been exposed to trauma. She was soon able to take the boy to the proper people for assistance.

Abrams and Duke, who volunteer with a group that offers emotional support during disasters, were honored in April by the O.C. Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Abrams is a member of Westminster’s Temple Beth David.

O.C. Honors Israel

Nearly 3,000 people attended the community Israel celebration in May. The turnout earned an estimated $2,500 profit, said Mali Leitner, of Villa Park, who organized the event for O.C.’s Jewish Federation. Her goal was seed money for next year’s affair.

Nearly 100 booths were filled by Jewish merchants of goods and ideas, a stronger than anticipated show of community cooperation and vitality.

Francie Rosen created a festive mood on stage with a balloon arch.

Leitner’s volunteers were helped by the Young Judea youth group and Tzofim, the local chapter of the Israeli scouts.

Landau Bon Voyage

Nearly 300 people packed a farewell party also on June 6 to give a heartfelt send off to Rabbi Joel Landau and his wife, Johni, leaving Irvine’s Beth Jacob Congregation for Israel after 11 years.

Nonagenarian nachas

Reuben Kershaw will celebrate his 90th birthday July 11 with a family reunion party at Mission Viejo’s city library. Kershaw was president of the foundation that was instrumental in replacing the cramped county branch facility with the modern, spacious one that opened in 1997. The gardens at the library are named in his honor.

Bar None

Stuart P. Jasper of Mission Viejo received the prestigious Harmon G. Scoville award from the O.C. Bar Association on May 14. The award is presented annually to honor a local member of the bar whose career exemplifies the highest standards of the legal profession and who has significantly contributed to the group. Jasper, who has a business litigation practice in Irvine, is president of the local chapter of the American Inns of Court. Its monthly programs help lawyers become more effective advocates with a keener ethical awareness.

Jasper’s son, Todd, graduated in June from Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School in Irvine and plans to attend George Washington University in the fall.

Bowling Over

Mert Isaacman, 57, of Irvine, the top lawn bowling player in the country for the last two years, was named to a five-man U.S. team that will compete July 23-Aug. 8 in Ayr, Scotland, for the lawn bowling world championship.

Held every four years and coinciding with the Olympics in Athens, the tournament draws competitors from 40 countries. Teams are selected based on cumulative scores of 21-point games over four years. Last November, Isaacman won a silver medal in the singles division of an international tournament in Brisbane, New Zealand. The year before in Australia — where 600,000 players play the sport and spectators scream like their at a Lakers game — Isaacman became the first American medal winner in singles, considered the premier event. Just 20,000 players compete in the United States.

Isaacman, a real estate developer, is one of Beth Jacob Congregation’s many South African expatriates. He took up the sport seriously in 1986 after an embarrassing beginning. His introduction had come 10 years earlier in a bet over a game with his late father, who spotted him a 15-point lead.

“I never scored a point,” he admitted, and also lost the $100 bet. =

The Champions

The fifth- and sixth-grade teams from Rancho Santa Margarita’s Morasha Jewish Day School earned first place finishes when they competed in the “National Current Events League” in May.

The competition consists of four “meets” where classes independently take tests that cover an array of topics in the news over the previous two months. Results are tabulated after the fourth test and overall winners announced.

Morasha’s fifth-graders went up against 115 schools,
outscoring their nearest competitor by 10 points. The sixth-graders had a bigger
field of 139 competitors, outscoring the nearest rival by 47 points. Student Ben
Cohen was the only individual who received a perfect score; classmates Dillon
Katz, Lauren Shapiro and Ari Mor were also top scorers.

Avi Chai Grant Saves Birthright


A new grant of $7 million to Birthright Israel is breathing new life into the cash-strapped program, allowing Birthright to more than double the number of slots available for this summer’s tours.

The future of Birthright — which provides free trips to Israel for Diaspora young adults — was thrown into question recently as it became clear that its sponsors were not going to meet their financial commitments to the organization for 2004.

The major drop in funding came from the Israeli government, which reduced its funding for Birthright to a token amount for 2004 due to budget constraints. That prompted Birthright to reduce its available slots this summer to 3,500.

Now, with a new "challenge grant" of $7 million from the Avi Chai Foundation, Birthright and Avi Chai are hoping the group of 14 Jewish philanthropists who helped launch Birthright will match the Avi Chai grant.

Already, the group has notified its trip providers that it will now be able to bring 8,200 young Jews to Israel this summer.

Avi Chai officials said foundation members felt compelled to contribute the money to make up for the Israeli government’s drastic slash in Birthright funding.

"[We] believed it was unfortunate for the program to have to suffer a significant reduction in the number of participants just as Birthright was reaching full strength," the foundation said in a news statement.

Birthright officials reacted to the announcement with delight.

"We are extraordinarily grateful to Avi Chai, in whom we have great respect," said philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, one of Birthright’s founders and principal funders.

Steinhardt said the foundation agreed to become a Birthright philanthropic partner and is planning to give an additional $1 million per year for each of the next five years of the program.

When Birthright was launched, the three major sponsors of the program — the Israeli government, a group of Jewish philanthropists and the North American Jewish federation system — agreed to divide evenly the funding for the $210 million, five-year program.

Each party originally committed to contributing $70 million for the first five years. However, citing severe budget constraints, Israel cut its funding this year to $400,000, from $9 million the previous year.

Compounding Birthright’s financial woes, the federation system now plans to pay a total of only $35 million, of which it is currently short $4 million to $5 million, officials say. As a result, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the overseas partner of the United Jewish Communities federation umbrella group, has increased its contribution to the program to make up for the shortfall.

Since the program began, it has brought some 60,000 Diaspora youth between the ages of 18 and 26 to Israel for free 10-day guided trips of the country. For many, it is their first trip to Israel. Only youth who never before have been on a peer tour of the country are eligible to participate.

The ambitious program has been hailed as a revolutionary way to help infuse Diaspora youth with a strong Jewish identity, a sense of connection to Israel and the drive to connect with their own Jewish communities back home.

Before Tuesday’s announcement of the $7 million grant, Birthright’s future seemed uncertain.

Although Birthright took 10,000 young Jews to Israel this winter, including 8,000 from North America, the program was forced to turn away thousands more who were eligible because of a funding crunch, program officials said.

In its statement, Avi Chai said it wants to be a partner with the philanthropists backing Birthright Israel for the next five years and said it was awaiting word from the Israeli government on future commitment to the program.

Avi Chai also said foundation members hoped that the Jewish federations in North America and Europe would fulfill their pledge to provide one-third of the program’s funding.

Avi Chai is a private foundation that funds educational programs and describes itself as "committed to the perpetuation of the Jewish people, Judaism and the centrality of the State of Israel to the Jewish people."

Established in 1984, it has offices in New York and Jerusalem.

JTA staff writer Rachel Pomerance in New York contributed to this report.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Today’s unorthodox Rosh Hashanah suggestion: Do themorning services, then tune into KCET. PBS’s newsmagazine “Religion and EthicsNewsweekly” features a “Belief and Practice” segment on Jewish High Holidaysthis afternoon. Hear Rabbi Alan Lew of San Francisco’s Congregation Beth Shalomdiscuss “the spiritual transformation that occurs during this time of reflectionand repentance.” TV in the spirit of the holiday — embrace the irony. 1:30 p.m.KCET. www.kcet.com .

Sunday

Sept. 11 on Sept. 28? We don’t get it either, but we are intrigued. Today, LACMA hosts the world premiere of “Sara’s Diary, 9/11: A Dramatic Composition in Five Parts.” Touched by the stories of mothers-to-be who lost partners or husbands on Sept. 11, Leroy Aarons, was moved to write the piece that imagines one woman’s emotional journey. Soprano Shana Blake Hill lends vocals to the music written by Aarons and Glenn Paxton.6 p.m. Free. Bing Theatre, LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 473-8525.

Monday

Enjoy this end-of-September eve with some Jewish tunes.The first five CDs in the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music have just beenreleased. Highlights from Kurt Weill’s “The Eternal Road” offers somethingtheatrical; the Old Country meets the New World in “Great Songs of the AmericanYiddish Stage”; old schoolers and clarinet enthusiasts make out with”Klezmer-Inspired Concertos and Concerts”; more religious themes come packagedas “Sabbath Eve Service and Cantata” by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco; and theindecisive find their niche in the archive’s “Sampler Disc.” Milken CDs: www.naxos.com .

Tuesday

When a girl is 5-foot-10 3/8 at the age of 13, humor seems a necessary coping mechanism. Jennifer Rosen might not have grown an inch since then, but she spent a good portion of her adolescence fearing she would. Between worrying she’d wind up a “Guinness Book of World Records” entry and dealing with a loving but neurotic Jewish mother who didn’t exactly help quell those fears, it’s no surprise she’s got enough material for a whole show. Her funny one-woman piece, “Tall Girl,” plays tonight at the National Comedy Theatre — a workshop performance in preparation for a premiere at the Groundling Theatre next spring.8 p.m. (Tuesdays, through Oct. 26). $12. 733 N. Seward St., Hollywood. (323) 960-5621.

Wednesday

Two important documentaries from Moriah Films recentlyhit stores. “The Long Way Home” recounts the postwar struggles of Holocaustsurvivors and the creation of Israel. It won the Academy Award for BestDocumentary Feature in 1997. “In Search of Peace, Part One: 1948-1967″chronicles the first two decades of Israel’s existence from a globalperspective. Both DVDs feature archival images and production stills. $24.98. www.amazon.com

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Thursday

Today we promote “Hooters,” and thank American ORT and Camp Max Straus Foundation for giving us this unique opportunity. But cool those hot wings. This isn’t an endorsement of the sports bar known for girls in orange short-shorts. This is “Hooters,” a romantic comedy play by Ted Tally. Taking place over the course of a weekend in Cape Cod, the two-act follows the antics of a couple of teenage guys who try to pick up two young women. Tonight’s performance is a gala benefit for the aforementioned Jewish organizations.Oct. 2 and 3, 6:30 p.m. (reception), 8 p.m. (performance). Oct. 4, 8 p.m. (performance, reception follows). $10-$20. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., second floor, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 481-9929.

Friday

KCRW’s Warren Olney chats with former Secretary of State Madeline Albright this evening. Subjects of discussion will include her years in the Clinton White House, the road that led her there and, likely, her new book, “Madame Secretary: A Memoir.” Will the subject of her parents’ Jewish ancestry come up? Only one way to find out.7:30 p.m. $20. Scottish Rite Building, 4357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 335-0917.

Teen Feared Kidnapped in Israel


Danna Bennett finished her waitressing shift at a Tiberias restaurant at 1 a.m., caught a taxi to a designated stop less than one mile from her house, started walking home and has not been seen since.

The Aug. 1 disappearance of the 18-year-old Los Angeles native has her family fearing their daughter might have been kidnapped. Despite intensive searches involving more than 200 police officers and civilians, appeals in the Israeli media for knowledge of Danna Bennett’s whereabouts, and a $50,000 reward for any information related to the disappearance, the Bennetts have not been able to uncover any clues about her disappearance.

Danna Bennett’s disappearance came only a week after a U.S. yeshiva student, Eliezer Zusia Klockhoft, 19, from Brooklyn, went missing after visiting the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron, another northern city. He, too, has not been found yet.

Unlike disappearances in the United States, which are often a case of runaways or kidnapping by criminals, disappearances in Israel are often feared to be a case of terrorism. Indeed, both Danna Bennett and Klockhoft disappeared just days after Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah broadcast a call to kidnap more Israelis. Moreover, since the July 27 broadcast, several Israelis in the north — the site of Danna Bennett’s and Klockhoft’s last appearances — reported kidnapping attempts at gunpoint from which they were able to escape, according to The Jerusalem Post.

But Danna Bennett’s family is not giving up the search.

"The first two weeks I was part of search parties," said Raphael Bennett, her 20-year-old brother who lives in San Francisco. "There was a base camp where people gathered, and we went out everyday literally searching fields. But now there is nothing to do except support my family."

Nancy Newport, a close family friend of the Bennetts who lives in Carthay Circle, said that since there is no body and no clues, the family fears that an Arab man posing as a Jew seduced Danna Bennett and lured her into a neighboring village, such as Kfar Kana, to work as a domestic slave. This has happened to other young Jewish girls in Israel, some of whom managed to escape.

The family does not want to discuss details of the case, for fear it would jeopardize efforts to locate their daughter.

But Raphael Bennett did say that although the FBI had come to Israel to help investigate the disappearance, he did not think that the American government was doing enough to help find his sister.

"I believe that the Israeli government is probably doing what they can, and if the American government is doing anything, I think they can probably be doing a lot more," he said. "The FBI came, but they didn’t contact me or my parents, and whether they know something or don’t know something is what we are going to try and find out. But I think they need to be over in Israel doing whatever it takes to find some idea of what happened."

A representative for the FBI would not comment on Danna Bennett’s disappearance or efforts to find her.

Danna Bennett was raised in the Fairfax area where she attended Etz Jacob Hebrew Academy, an Orthodox day school. When she was 14, her parent’s divorced and Danna moved to Israel with her mother and attended high school at a kibbutz.

Prior to her disappearance, she had been working as a waitress at her uncle’s restaurant on the Tiberias boardwalk during the day. On July 30, two days before she disappeared, she had taken a night job at another restaurant in Tiberias. She was planning on returning to the United States in October to live with her brother, work at the YMCA in El Cerrito and decide what she was going to do in college.

"My sister is a very responsible girl," Raphael Bennett said. "She liked hanging out with my grandmother, helping her cook and writing down her recipes."

Raphael Bennett said that his sister is religious, keeps Shabbat and prays every day, and hasn’t gotten serious about boys yet.

He also noted that police in Israel have closed the investigation into his sister’s disappearance.

"They spent lots of money and manpower and didn’t get any leads, so there was nothing for them to really do," he said. "But that doesn’t mean that the other authorities like Shabak aren’t working on it," he added, referring to the General Security Services.

He also said that his father had hired private investigators, but would say no more.

In Los Angeles, a number of Danna Bennett’s friends from elementary school are getting together to pray for her, and Etz Jacob principal, Rabbi Shlomo Harroush is helping to raise money for the $50,000 reward.

"She is a wonderful girl," Harosh said. "She was very involved, very active, and this is really sad."

Raphael Bennett said that his family was trying to hold up under the pressure.

"My dad is still trying to stay optimistic, and so is my mother, but it is definitely tough," he said. "Instead of getting easier every day, it just gets more difficult. Hope has become a very difficult thing."

L.A. Jews Send Aid Beyond Green Line


For the past three weeks, the theme of Rabbi Elazar Muskin’s Shabbat sermons at Young Israel of Century City has been the same. Thundering from the podium, he chastises his congregation for not doing enough to support Israel, and he urges them to pray better and give more charity in response to the horrors of the terror attacks.

Like many communities in Los Angeles, Young Israel of Century City has taken upon itself the support of a large number of charities in Israel, specifically those that fall between the lines; causes that are neither affiliated with the large Jewish fundraising bodies such as The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, nor supported by the Israeli government, despite the urgency of the cause.

Across Los Angeles, grass-roots fundraising are raising money organizations to provide Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line with emergency medical equipment and facilities, first-aid kits, bulletproof vests and buses and armored cars and to help different families who have been affected by the terror attacks in one way or another.

"Unfortunately we have had to make appeals for all sorts of things," said Rabbi Yehoshua Berkowitz of Congregation Shaarei Tefilah in Hancock Park. "Security, bulletproof vests, first-aid kits for the shtachim [occupied territories]. In the past year or two we have raised about $100,000 for these causes, and it has been very gratifying, but we are paying a very small price compared to what the Israelis are paying."

"I did try to get some help from the UJC [United Jewish Communities], but I had no success," said Efrat’s Mayor Eitan Golan, who was in town last month to raise money for an emergency medical center in his city. "And from the government, the situation is not better," he said.

Although Efrat is only 9.5 miles from Jerusalem, its location beyond the Green Line means that the main road leading to Jerusalem is often sealed off for security reasons, forcing residents to travel on alternative routes that can take over an hour.

Golan, who was amazed at the deplorable state of the Emergency Medical Center of neighboring community Gush Etzion, which is located in the garage of the fire station, said that a medical center in Efrat was necessary to save lives as the first hour is critical in stabilizing the life of the patient.

The cost of the center is $1.6 million, and together with Los Angeles expatriate Harvey Tannenbaum, Golan has been knocking on doors in Los Angeles, approaching different communities for money. They made appeals at Beth Jacob, Young Israel of North Beverly Hills, Young Israel of Century City, Sinai Temple and Beth Am, among others.

"For me it is very difficult to go and ask for help, it is not my education," Golan said. "But now the situation is too serious to play honor."

"This is not an Orthodox, Conservative or Reform cause," Tannenbaum added. "We all bleed the same blood and we all need the same attention. When they attack or shoot they don’t figure out if he or she is Orthodox, or Reform or atheist, but they know that it’s a Jewish person they injured."

Steve Berger, chairman of Religious Zionists of Los Angeles, senses a similar urgency. Berger raises money for such causes as Zaka, an organization that outfits members of the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) with bulletproof vests so that they can safely enter the territories to clean up after a terror attack, and Hatzalah Judea and Samaria, an emergency medical organization that provides medical volunteers in the settlements with $1,800 and $3,400 first-aid kits.

"L.A. started the ball rolling," Berger said, noting that with the help from the L.A. community, Hatzalah Judea and Samaria’s volunteer staff has grown from seven to 400, all trained and ready to help in an emergency. Berger estimates that the L.A. community has raised at least $1 million to help causes in Israel in the past six months.

"This is nothing to do with politics, but it is simply the protection of fellow Jews," he said. "While the state of Israel continues to support Jews living in settlements beyond the Green Line, we have to go along with that."

Glen Rosencrantz, director of media relations at UJC, would not comment on the UJC’s policy with regard to the various charities mentioned in this article, except to say that , "UJC does not fund projects beyond the Green Line."

John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, a member of UJC, said these groups have not approached the local Federation for help. But, he added, the current dire situation necessitates the Federation be, “creative and thoughtful in an overall communal mobilization." The Federation supported a walk for terrorist victims in which at least some monies raised went over the Green Line, Fishel pointed out. "This Federation believes that Israeli victims of terror on whichever side of the Green Line are deserving" of a communal response, he told The Journal. "We are open to sitting with any group and hearing what they do."

Golan said, "We say in Hebrew, ‘Yeshuat Hashem ceheref ayin’ — God’s salvation will come in the blink of an eye. I believe we will get the help we need."

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