November 21, 2018

IAC Celebrates Israel’s 70th Birthday with Over 60 Members of Congress

Photo courtesy of the Israeli-American Council.

The Israeli-American Council (IAC) hosted a celebration of Israel’s 70th anniversary on April 17 with over 60 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle in Washington D.C.

According to a press release from the IAC, attendees included Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NY). Menendez spoke at the event and hailed the Israeli-American community for being “a living bridge between people in the United States and in one of our closest allies, Israel.”

“I am grateful for all that they do to communicate to fellow Americans and fellow Israelis the importance of a strong, vibrant partnership,” Menendez said.

Another senator who spoke at the event, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), echoed Menendez in stating that Israeli-Americans are “a critical link in our special relationship with Israel.”

It has been a big year for the IAC, given the recent passage of the Taylor Force Act, scores of anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) bills being passed in various states, raising over $16.5 million at their March gala.

“As we see from the incredible crowd of Democratic and Republican elected leaders here this afternoon, America’s alliance with Israel is an issue that can bring us together across party lines,” IAC chairman Adam Milstein said at the event.

Other notable attendees at the event included Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who donated $13 million to the IAC at the March gala.

Adam Milstein: Promoter of Israeliness

Photo by Ryan Torok.

Adam Milstein is a managing partner at Hager Pacific Properties, but is probably best known as the co-founder and chairman of the Israeli-American Council (IAC), a national organization that engages Israeli Americans through a variety of programming, including annual Yom HaAtzmaut celebrations, young adult groups and children’s educational communities.

He and his wife, Gila, run the Adam and Gila Milstein Foundation, which, among other activities, provides subsidies for high school students to attend the annual AIPAC (America Israel Public Affairs Committee) Policy Conference.

Born in Haifa, Milstein, who is in his mid-60s, arrived in the United States 37 years ago to pursue an MBA at USC, and he never left. After finding success in real estate, he has devoted himself to various charitable causes, the majority of which are focused on support for Israel.

Milstein met with the Journal to discuss why charity plays an important part in his life; how the IAC has nurtured a culture of philanthropy among Israeli Americans, “Israeliness,” and the dangers facing Israel today on the eve of its 70th anniversary.

Jewish Journal: What have been the IAC’s greatest successes since its launch in 2007?

Adam Milstein: Before we started the IAC, you did not have any Israeli philanthropy. The Jewish community said, “If you are a philanthropist, then you are a Jewish philanthropist, and if you are not a philanthropist, you are Israeli.” Eleven years later, at [the IAC galas], we raised millions of dollars. In March, we [had] a gala here in Los Angeles, and not counting contributions from Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson, we raised $2.5 million.

Today, the Israeli-American community is considered a very philanthropic community. So, we created a culture of giving. We took a small idea and became a nationwide movement.

JJ: Why is engaging Israeli Americans important to the greater mission of supporting Israel?

AM: There is nobody better than an Israeli American to be an advocate for the State of Israel. We have the information; we have been there; we have fought in the army; we know it is a very dangerous neighborhood. We are Americans, and we think like Americans, and I think there is nobody that can be better spokespeople for Israel than people who are Israeli Americans.

Milstein served in the IDF from 1971-1974.

The Yom Kippur war was in October of 1973, the last year of his service.

JJ: What are the biggest threats facing Israel today?

AM: I think the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel is growing. Anti-Semitism is growing, and the fact we are passive and defensive is not helping us because it is intensifying.

JJ: Do you mean on college campuses specifically?

AM: Every place. BDS and anti-Semitism are related. Maybe on campus you call it BDS. Outside, it is anti-Semitism.

JJ: There are those who argue that BDS is not anti-Semitic.

AM: I understand you care about human rights and social justice, but if the only country in the world you have a problem with is the State of Israel, or the Jewish people, then it is related to the Jews and State of Israel. If you have a problem with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad killing people with chemical weapons, if you have problem with Iran hanging gays and lesbians from cranes, then I agree, it has nothing to do with Israel. But if every second resolution in the U.N. is about Israel, if in UNESCO every resolution is about Israel, then you understand there is anti-Semitism behind it.

And even though we say it is about the occupation, or the policies of the government, or it’s about Israel shooting someone who is trying to penetrate Israel from the outside, it is about Israel, and it is about the Jews, because we don’t hear any complaints about North Korea or China or Russia or anywhere else.

So, anti-Semitism is growing in the United States. I think, again, it is mostly growing — it is growing from the white supremacists — but mostly from the radical left and radical Muslims. And we need to think out of the box and come up with new strategies, because we clearly are not winning.

JJ: To what extent is Jewish identity connected to support of Israel?

AM: In the Israeli-American community, we don’t say you have to go to synagogue every day, pray and put on teffilin. We say you can connect to Israel and to your Jewish heritage through what we call “Israeliness.” Israeliness has to do with the culture, the food, the dancing, the fact that I met you one time and the next time I say, “You’re in town? I have an empty room. Come stay with me.”

JJ: What role do you see the IAC playing 10 years from now?

AM: I believe that we will become more and more the pro-Israel community in the U.S. This is in our mission, and we made it clear our support for Israel is unwavering, unconditional. And I think that this will separate us from the other organizations that are unsure if they need to criticize Israel or support Israel. They don’t see what we see. This is the only country we have. If you look at Israel, at the 70 years that have passed since independence, there are no other countries in the world that have accomplished so much.

You Can Now Experience Israeli Tour Spots On Virtual Reality

Screenshot from YouTube

If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit major Israeli tour spots, you can now experience some of them through virtual reality tours on the Virtually Israel 2.0 website.

A project of the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation and the MERONA Leadership Foundation, Virtually Israel 2.0 features the following videos:

·      Beaches

·      Bible Land Museums

·      Dead Sea Scrolls

·      Independence Hall

·      Jerusalem & the Dead Sea

·      Sarona Market

·      Startup Market

·      Taglit Innovation

·      Tel Aviv & Jaffa

·      Tel Aviv Balloon Ride

·      Tower of David Museum

Philanthropist Adam Milstein told the Journal in a phone interview that the idea for virtual reality videos came about three years ago, when virtual reality was becoming “very, very popular” and was clearly where the future is headed. They initially produced two virtual reality videos two years ago and they were very well-received among various Jewish organizations.

“We wanted to give people a much wider variety,” said Milstein. “We wanted to give them all the different things in Israel that will interest Jews and non-Jews, so we’re giving them a lot of tourist attractions.”

Milstein explained that they had a team of volunteers that went to those specific areas in Israel that took footage and pictures of the tourist sites from different angles in order to create the virtual reality videos. He added that more videos could be on the way.

“Based on our success, we’ll do more things that people feel we didn’t cover in the first ones,” said Milstein.

Milstein hopes that the videos cause people to understand the truth about Israel.

“Israel is not a war zone. It’s not a place of the conflict between the Palestinian and the Israeli,” said Milstein. “It’s a place of peace and prosperity and happiness and innovation, a place that anybody should go and enjoy. We’re showing Israel the way it is, the real colors, we don’t let the media contaminate the image that we have on Israel.”

“The main takeaway is, we’re using innovation to tell the truth about Israel.”

The videos are all available on 2D and can be seen in 3D on platforms like Google Cardboard.

Food, money and Jews

The issue of all issues in the nonprofit world must surely be how to attract donors to your cause. Every day, thousands of good causes vie for the attention of those with big hearts and the capacity to give.

There are countless ways of getting funding — foundation grants, federations, private donors, personal connections, revenue-driving programming, fundraising galas, crowdfunding and, of course, a rich uncle. It’s not an exact science. Raising money in the Jewish world can be one big wonderful mess.

Into this mess have jumped Gila and Adam Milstein, with a dose of Israeliness.

Adam is co-founder and national chairman of the fast-growing Israeli American Council (IAC); Gila is president of Stand By Me, an organization that supports Israeli-American cancer patients and their families in Los Angeles. They are co-founders of the Milstein Family Foundation, which supports a wide range of pro-Israel organizations.

The Milsteins live and breathe the nonprofit world, so they should know what’s missing. A year ago they saw an opportunity, and with the help of friends started The Donor Forum, a private, flexible and efficient model to connect pro-Israel donors with pro-Israel causes.

About once a month, a group of donors gets together over lunch to hear pitches from representatives of select causes. It’s great if you have a short attention span — the pitches last less than 15 minutes and direct solicitations are not allowed. The idea is to make connections and let the parties follow up.

Forum members commit to giving a minimum of $10,000 annually to the organizations featured. A steering committee of prominent local philanthropists selects the causes, recommends new members and contributes a minimum of $25,000 annually to those causes.

Why do I say this funding model is like a dose of Israeliness? It’s not just because my friend Adam and I frequently use that term when talking about what the IAC has brought to the Jewish community. Adam didn’t specifically refer to “Israeliness” when he brought up the forum, but he didn’t have to. It clearly applies.

One reason is the speed and simplicity — it’s chik chak, you’re in and out. There’s no yearlong process of cultivating donors and building relationships so you can eventually make an ask. Here, the connections get made instantly. It’s all about the quality of the idea and the people making the pitch, and you see it all in one shot, face to face.

The other sign of Israeliness is the kind of causes the Milsteins pick — feisty with significant potential. Some of the groups that already have made pitches to the forum include JLens, Reservists on Duty, The Lawfare Project, Heroes to Heroes and My Truth.

Here, the connection gets made instantly. It’s all about the quality of the idea and the people making the pitch, and you see it all in one shot, face to face.

At the forum’s most recent luncheon a few weeks ago in Westwood, I saw two pitches — from the Haym Salomon Center (HSC), a news and public policy group; and Students Supporting Israel, a pro-Israel grassroots movement on college and high school campuses. HSC is involved in something like guerrilla hasbara, or public relations. It creates all kinds of original content — news stories, commentary, analysis, opinion pieces — that it disseminates throughout the mainstream media to benefit Israel and the Jewish community.

At the luncheon, the HSC’s presenter showed his hand right away: We must transform the culture if we want to influence the views on Israel, and the best and quickest way to do that is through the mainstream media, he said.

He showed examples of how media stories can be biased against Israel while being completely accurate. He also showed how a headline slanted against Israel can easily be fixed. Then he rattled off the obligatory metrics — more than 1,200 articles and media mentions published online and in print, bylines in prestigious publications, and so on — and where new money would go to help them grow.

After about 10 minutes, donors had the key information they needed.

Representatives of the second group, Students Supporting Israel (SSI), were definitely feisty. The two presenters who run the organization said they were all about “boots on the ground,” and showed how they have mobilized students on more than 40 campuses to open SSI chapters and advocate for Israel using creative techniques built on unabashed Zionist pride. Of the examples they showed, I think my favorite was a huge blowup doll of Pinocchio right next to an Israel apartheid wall.

They also rattled off metrics, which included victories against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions initiatives and the passing of pro-Israel resolutions. They showed their budget and how much money they were looking for to accelerate their growth. Every funding item was fully detailed.

It was clear to me that both the donors and the causes at the forum were vetted to be passionately and unapologetically pro-Israel. After the lunch, there was plenty of happy schmoozing and sharing of contact information, which will undoubtedly lead to donations.

The only Israeli things missing were the Turkish coffee and a little more arguing.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

The shape of things to come: Jewish L.A. in 30 years

In commemoration of the Jewish Journal’s 30th anniversary, Jewish leaders discuss their hopes and predictions for the next 30 years of L.A. Jewish life.

Melissa Balaban

Executive director of IKAR

balabanMy greatest hope for the Jewish community in Los Angeles in the next 30 years is that we come together to rededicate ourselves to finding areas of commonality, rather than focusing on our divisions. We are at our best when we work toward common goals, using the wisdom of our tradition toward achieving a shared vision of the world. I would love to see an end to the divisiveness surrounding Israel, as we all work toward ensuring that Israel is a thriving Jewish, democratic and secure state, which reflects its highest Zionist ideals.

Rabbi Amy Bernstein

Kehillat Israel

When I spoke with KI congregants who have lived here for 30 years about what they hope the Jewish community will be like in the next 30 years, they said that they hope it will be a community that is warm, close, inclusive, vibrant, prosperous and safe. They hope that it will be a community that is socially engaged, as well as engaged with the larger community—where all factions get along, where there are no “others,” and where we can truly celebrate the diversity of the Los Angeles Jewish community.

Mayim Bialik

Actress and scientist

I cannot even imagine personally what 30 years from now will look like but I guess I would like to see Los Angeles Jews continue to be what I see as an example of the openness and the inquisitiveness and the beauty that Judaism really models and provide for us as a guide – I would hope that in 30 years no matter what happens politically or globally that L.A Jews continue to lead the way as part of a very significant and thriving community that we always have been.

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

Pico Shul

Most of the growth in the community, as it has been for the past 10 years, is going to be within what is called the more traditional side of the equation on the spiritual, cultural and religious continuum. … I do have a fear that we will lose a substantial portion of millennial Jews to assimilation … but I also feel like we have the ability to do a lot to prevent that from happening. But it’s going to require a lot of dedication on the part of the community and to approach it with multiple means.

Rabbi Noah Farkas

Valley Beth Shalom

I wish day school tuition wasn’t a hindrance for people going to school.

Jesse Gabriel

Attorney and Jewish community leader

The energy, idealism, and optimism of young Jews is going to reinvigorate our communal institutions and enable us to be guided by our hopes rather than our fears. Their embrace of diversity, commitment to pluralism and inclusion, and willingness to move beyond past divisions will allow us to navigate the inevitable challenges and build a stronger and more deeply engaged community. We have much to be optimistic about!

Rabbi Emerita Laura Geller

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills


[I predict] there will be fewer synagogues because the current funding model will no longer work. … Instead of membership in a particular synagogue many people will join a “kehilla” which would be a collaboration of many different synagogues that would hire clergy and teachers. … The large and growing cohort of older Jews will create alternative housing arrangements, including new ways to age in place. … What I hope will also happen is that our community becomes more inclusive, welcoming all kinds of Jews, and that we will have learned to talk to each other about difficult issues with civility and respect, including what it means to love Israel, which has remained Jewish and democratic.

Arya Marvazy

Assistant director of JQ International

aryaMy sincere hope and prediction is that these next few decades will encompass a greater wave toward radical inclusion – embracing others and their unique differences, understanding that at our core, we are all carbon copies of one another. What we express and how we identify with respect to race, religion, sexual orientation and lifestyle will serve far less to divide us, and we will truly focus on those elements of our humanity that make us one gigantic global family.

Patricia Glaser

Attorney and Jewish community leader


Over the next 30 years, I expect the Jewish community to continue to make a substantial contribution to the culture, business and very fabric of Los Angeles. Within the Jewish community, I hope that there is a conscious effort to better understand each other; that a movement emerges to bring together the disparate views and various religious groupings within Judaism in order for an intrafaith dialogue to develop that helps all of us to better understand our community and each other. I hope that younger Jews learn to understand the significance of being a Jew in America and support the State of Israel and to understand that –  whether it is $50, $500, $500 – giving is not a choice; we all must give.

Brian Greene

Executive director of the Westside Jewish Community Center


My hope is that in 30 years – if not sooner – Jewish communal life in L.A. will be inclusive and collaborative. Cultural and denominational divisions between Jews will feel so “ancient.” Our strength will be our commitment to being a unified community that is open and welcoming to all.

Sam Grundwerg

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles

Given the fact that the Jewish people make up only less than half of 1 percent of the world’s population, it is nothing short than a miracle that we are able to contribute to the world in so many ways, from lifesaving discoveries to high-tech innovation and medical advances. In the next 30 years, may we see Jewish L.A. become more unified, spreading that spirit and passion. When we work together as a community we grow together and we are able to better serve the incredible Los Angeles community. Just like Israel, L.A. is truly a melting pot, and provides us all an opportunity to build stronger bonds with the communities around us.

Aaron Henne

Artistic director of Theatre Dybbuk

Jewish L.A. will be the fertile soil from which provocative, challenging and adventurous artistic work from a Jewish perspective grows. We will be rich in diverse viewpoints, expressed through a variety of forms and techniques, colliding, collaborating, and contradicting each other.  We will dive deep into our Jewish narratives in order to then turn our gaze outward, engaging in the world in humane, empathetic, and mindful ways.

Samara Hutman

Executive director of Remember Us

Marie Kaufman

President emeritus of the Child Survivors of the Holocaust, Los Angeles


Our hope for them [this generation of young adults] and for all of us is that we honor all communities, that we remember our roots and how we all got here and bring that to our daily work, our lives and our community.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

B’nai David-Judea

kanefskyI hope that the next 30 years bring a more affordable cost of Jewish living to Los Angeles, so that the exodus of our children to other cities might slow down. I also hope that we make the effort to really listen to each other, and learn that right and left both love Israel, that traditional and liberal both love Judaism, and that in the long run, we will pay a bitter price for the momentary pleasure we receive from screaming at each other.

Jessie Kornberg

President and CEO of Bet Tzedek

jessica-kornberg-special-to-the-daily-journal-4At Bet Tzedek, as in so much of L.A.’s Jewish community, our identity has been indelibly shaped by our commitment to meet the needs of aging Holocaust survivors. Our identity for the next 30 years will similarly reflect how we respond to the needs of new populations seeking refuge in our city from violence, war, and persecution.

Kosha Dillz


kosha-dillzThe next 30 years of Jewish L.A. are quite vibrant. I predict that … more and more Jews from around the world will migrate to our beloved, sunny Los Angeles. Tech, music and film will continue to thrive and grow to the forefront of their respective industries. We will continue to be unapologetic in our support for Israel, yet continue to engage in our criticism to be better at it, and always engage in conversations with those most critical in an educational way.

Esther Kustanowitz

Jewish Journal contributing writer and editorial director at


I hope that Jewish L.A. will comprise and embody the best that both terms – “Jewish” and “L.A.” –  have to offer; that it will continue to be a bright example of creativity, innovation, diversity and community, and that the geography of this place continues to inspire and reflect the potential that we all have.

Shawn Landres

Co-founder of Jumpstart Labs, senior fellow at UCLA Luskin, and chair of the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission and the city of Santa Monica Social Services Commission

shawn-landresHere in Los Angeles, our continuing mandate will be to connect our core values with the aspirations and needs of our neighbors of all backgrounds and creeds, especially the most vulnerable. No doubt, individual Jewish Angelenos will continue to contribute across all sectors of our vibrant region. Our broader task is to deepen our  relationships – as a Jewish community and as stewards of Jewish tradition – with everyone in the L.A. mosaic. In 2017, too few Jewish communal leaders (and not only in Los Angeles) are willing to say “Black lives matter” or “Muslim and immigrant lives matter” without qualification or apology. Whether more of us can do so in 2047 – with whoever may need our solidarity – will define L.A. Jewry’s significance in this century.

Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz

Adat Shalom

I pray that our community plays a greater role in modeling how we can love Torah, love Israel, love one another and love our greater community without conflicting values.  

Adam Milstein

Philanthropist and Israeli American Council board chair

milsteinThe Israeli-American community will be an integral part of Jewish Los Angeles for the next three decades. It will serve as an important connector to the State of Israel, as a vibrant home for pro-Israel advocates, and as a source of strength for the broader Jewish community in our great city.

Moishe House Residents

Downtown Los Angeles

moishe-house-residentsMoishe House DTLA hopes the next 30 years will bring greater unity to the Jewish L.A. community, allowing our community to be a symbol of hope and acceptance for others in the L.A. area.

Ayana Morse

Executive Director of Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center

In 30 years, I see a Jewish L.A. that is a model for the best in local engagement, innovation and creativity. Let’s open our city’s metaphorical gates to each other and delight in the knowledge and mastery that emerges.

David N. Myers

Professor at UCLA



I think the next 30 years will bring an intensification of two noticeable trends in L.A. Jewish life: more drift away from institutional affiliation for the majority of L.A.’s Jews, and growing prominence and market share for the Orthodox population in town. In between, we may well see a blurring of the boundary between Reform and Conservative institutions. In this way, L.A. will be like the rest of the country, except more.

Sharon Nazarian

President of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation

nazarianJewish L.A. will mirror our great city of Los Angeles, a city reflecting reflecting the richness of its immigrant communities. When we refer to the Jewish Community of Los Angeles, we will be referring not only to European Jews, but also Russian Jews, Persian Jews, Israeli Jews, Iraqi Jews, Syrian Jews, Argentine Jews, Mexican Jews, Ethiopian Jews. While we will continue to celebrate the strength of our cultural uniqueness, we will have consolidated our Jewishness and our cohesion as one community.

Julie Platt

Board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

plattOver the next 30 years, The Jewish Federation will continue to be a convener for the Los Angeles Jewish community, bringing us together from every spiritual region and every geographic region, casting as wide a net as is necessary. Our Federation will continue to strategically impact this community, informed by our Jewish values and with clear and nimble focus and mission. We will always continue to work together to care for Jews in need, ensure the Jewish future and engage positively with our broader community.

Bruce Powell

Head of school at de Toledo High School

My hope and prediction for the Jewish future of Los Angeles in 2047 is simple: I believe that the thousands of students now in our Jewish day schools will become the leaders of our community and thereby create a vibrant and even more brilliant L.A. Jewish life and vision.

Jay Sanderson

President and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

As the president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, I live with every day with the question of where we will be over the next 30 years. We are focusing on looking at the greatest challenges and the greatest opportunities facing our community and the Jewish people. And the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity facing the Jewish people is how do we connect to the next generation of Jews? How do we connect to millennials? How do we make Judaism relevant, and how do we make the Jewish community open and accessible to all Jews?

Rabbi Lori Shapiro

The Open Temple

lori-shapiroWe are going through a Jewish renaissance in Los Angeles and these seeds will proliferate. Los Angeles will become a center of Jewish spiritual creativity and art, and our ritual practice will include film and new media. I predict that our spiritual communities will have not only rabbis on staff but universalist ministers as well as artists and media producers.

Rachel Sumekh

Founder and CEO of Swipe Out Hunger 

I predict that over the next 30 years, L.A. will see the peak of its burgeoning cultural renaissance and there will be a beautiful Jewish component to it –– and one thing I know won’t change is that, Persian Jews will hold the title for greatest Shabbat dinner parties.

Amanda Susskind

Anti-Defamation League regional director 

So for the next 30 years of Jewish L.A., my hope is that we will continue to work in coalition with other minority communities as the city continues to thrive as one of the major diverse communities in the world. But my fear is there will be so many issues to deal with around the world, from climate change to hate to nuclear proliferation, that we will have very, very big challenges to stand up to injustice, and that’s why I think the work of the ADL is going to be so critical, because we do build those coalitions and bridges to other communities.

Craig Taubman

Founder of the Pico Union Project

craigtaubman-2The future of the L.A. Jewish community will bring to us what we bring to it. Rabbi Harold Schulweis said it best: “Think ought. Not what is a Jew, but what ought a Jew to be?” This could be the anthem for our children who, unlike us or our parents, don’t determine their future on what was done in the past. They ought to be inspired by the City of Angels they live in, and like angels strive to be messengers of goodness, kindness, righteousness and beauty. This is the Jewish community I aspire to build.

Rabbi David Wolpe

Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple

Today we will play prophets
Tomorrow, we’ll be fools:
Who will and won’t belong?
We’re certain to be wrong.
Whose words will never fade?
Predict, and be betrayed.
Triumphs may bring tears
‘Lasting’ disappears.
Who knows in thirty years?

Sam Yebri

Attorney and Jewish community leader

When I think of the next 30 years of Jewish Los Angeles, I think of my own daughters and look at that question through their lens. What I hope for in Jewish Los Angeles is there to be a Jewish community that represents the best of our values as Iranian-American Jews – love of family, tradition, and of Israel – as well as the best of our American-Jewish experience –  a community that is progress-oriented and open-minded, that is engaged civically, Jewishly and philanthropically – and also that cares deeply about the greater community and the greater world.

Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback

Stephen Wise Temple

Jewish life 30 years from now? Well, in addition to colonizing space, I have two words for you: rabbi robots. I’m joking, of course, that would be awful for me, personally. What I really see happening over the next 30 years is growth. I think our Los Angeles Jewish community, given its diversity and creativity, is going to grow, both in terms of the number of Jews engaged in Jewish life and in terms of how deeply they are engaging in Jewish life. Because actually now, more than ever before, people need meaning and purpose and that’s what Judaism offers. I’m very excited to be part of that story.

Adam Milstein: Leading by example

Adam Milstein is among Los Angeles’ most visible Israeli-American philanthropists. Through the family foundation that he runs with his wife, Gila, the San Fernando Valley resident gives upward of $1 million annually to dozens of organizations, including the Birthright Israel Foundation, the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange and Hillel. 

But Milstein, 63, who was born in Haifa and served in the Israeli army during the Yom Kippur War with Ariel Sharon’s brigade, wasn’t always so giving.

Three years after moving to Los Angeles in 1981 to attend business school at USC, he began what has been a successful career in commercial real estate with Hager Pacific Properties, where he continues to work full time as a managing partner. In 2007, Milstein — a member of Valley Beth Shalom and father of three — co-founded the Israeli-American Council (IAC), and he recently was named national chairperson.

Somewhere along the line, Milstein was introduced to the idea of philanthropy. He recently sat down with the Jewish Journal to talk about Israeli philosophies on giving, who and what led him to take a different route, and what he’s doing to instill the value in the next generation. An edited version of that conversation follows.

Jewish Journal: Did you learn to be philanthropic from your parents?

Adam Milstein: No. Really what the Israeli and Israeli-American community is missing is philanthropy. But the Orthodox Jews have grown up with philanthropy … and the fact that I had a [business] partner who is Modern Orthodox, I got introduced to philanthropy at a very young point in my life, and introduced to the joy of giving and the rewards of giving. I remember about 15 years ago I had many discussions with him, as to, “So, what do we do now?” It’s not satisfying just to continue to make more money and more money. At some point, you want to do something valuable with your money, leave an impact, create a legacy, make your community better. This was really the point that I got more involved in philanthropy. 

My wife and I established the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation. Over the years, we have established a specific mission. We want to strengthen the Jewish people, we want to strengthen the State of Israel, and we want to strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance. So, all the charities and entities we give money to need in some way to accomplish our mission.

JJ: Would Israelis and Israeli-Americans argue with your point that they aren’t naturally charitable?

AM: They would not argue. In Israel, there is a phrase called “freier.” Freier is a sucker. In Israel, to give money to charity, you are a sucker. This is the attitude. In Israel, the public gets everything free from the government — from social services to schools to temples. So people aren’t used to giving money. As of now, it is being introduced more and more because there are a lot of people in Israel who don’t have a home or don’t have food. So when we created the IAC, we said we want to encourage and inspire philanthropy.

JJ: How do you do that if people aren’t used to giving?

AM: One of our slogans is, “We aspire to be a freier.” You think that to be a sucker is stupid; we think it’s smart. We want to lead by example. We are givers. People see that we get respect and make accomplishments by giving. They see if it’s good for [entertainment mogul] Haim Saban to give, if it’s good for Adam Milstein to give, if it’s good for [IAC co-founder] Shawn Evenhaim to give, then it must be a good thing to give. 

The other thing is [to] speak about it, speak about the fact that the giver gets much more than the receiver. In fact, there was an example that happened to me in my early partnership that convinced me that charity is a no-brainer. The way that the Modern Orthodox present philanthropy is they say it’s not that you have to give 10 percent of your earnings as philanthropy. It’s the opposite. Whatever you give, God gives you 10 times more. …

I had some incidents with my partner where we were philanthropic one day and the next day something beautiful happened — suddenly we made a lot of money. The examples were so close that I couldn’t argue. It works this way: I think God is blessing the people that are blessing anyone else. God wants to really empower the people who are givers. And if I am a giver, God will say, “Let me make this person more successful so [he] can give more.”

JJ: Was this a hard talk with your wife?

AM: She was a partner from the get-go. We discuss the different program and grant requests. We make mutual decisions. She is the president of an organization called Stand By Me that helps families combat [cancer]. … So, my wife is more the soul of the philanthropy. Her heart is more into social justice, and I am more focused on strengthening Israel, the Jewish people, the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Obviously there are hundreds and hundreds of Jewish organizations in the United States. The names are confusing and you never know who is doing what. So over the years, we took it on ourselves every year to help another five organizations. I thought the only way you can learn about an organization is to give them money, come to their meetings. Now I think we have, like, 100, and I’ll tell you how we give: Besides the mission statement, we have a model of operation, and the model of operation says, first of all, we want to be active philanthropists, not just give money and forget about it, to make sure that there is an impact. Many times, we will create programs that didn’t exist. Organizations would come to us and say, “Can you help us?” And we will ask the organization, “Which programs are you running or which program would you like to run if you had the money?”

JJ: Can you give me an example?

AM: Let’s talk about AIPAC. … They said, “There is a program that we love, [but] we don’t have money for it. We would like to take non-Jewish student leaders to Israel, the people that will be the senators and congressmen of the world. They are in college today. We have identified them.” We said it’s a no-brainer to take non-Jews. Anyone you take to Israel comes back as a friend. So it has been maybe eight years since we established a program called the Milstein Family Foundation Campus Allies Mission to Israel.

The other program, for example, is Sifriyat Pijama B’America. Gila and I met Harold Grinspoon, the founder of PJ Library, on a trip to Egypt in 2010. We got friendly and we said, “We need to do a program together.” Then I thought, “We want to reach Israeli-Americans. The easiest way to reach the Israeli community is to give books in Hebrew to their kids.” I told Harold, “Why don’t we create the PJ Library in Hebrew in the United States?” And he loved it. We started with 1,000 families in 2011 and now we have 18,000.

JJ: I imagine you have to say no sometimes. Is it hard to say no?

AM: No. It is very easy. I am going back to the model of operation for our foundation because it is important. The first concept was active philanthropy. The second concept is synergy. That means every program we do needs to help other programs. We don’t like to help projects that are stand-alone and have no impact on anything else. We are looking for partnerships. We are looking for ways to make stronger relationships between organizations and to be creating a force multiplier so that one plus one equals five. … And the last [concept] is life path. … Life path impact means we don’t want to shoot and do one program here and one program there. We want to impact the life of our next generation, our young generation, in a systematic way. We have programs for every age group. The programs that we support are going from age 2 to age 40.

JJ: You have a pretty robust presence on social media, including nearly 40,000 Twitter followers.

AM: In general, anything I do I want to be good at. About two years ago, I was introduced to Twitter as a way to reach a wider audience of younger people. I decided to experiment with it. I think what it does is expand our circle of friends and partners, people reaching me from all corners of the world with ideas. 

JJ: It seems like you really enjoy your role as a philanthropist.

AM: Yes. I am really very lucky to be in this situation. I have the resources to do whatever I want. If I want to sponsor something, I don’t have to look for money. I have enough experience with what works and what doesn’t work. I have enough connection with other organizations to see how it helps everybody. I am in a situation where I can really make an impact. For me it’s easy, but I think I am very fortunate to be there. 

At Israeli-American Council’s second national conference, more people and less politics

As about 1,300 Israeli Americans convened from Oct. 17-19 in Washington, D.C., for the Israeli-American Council’s (IAC) second annual national conference, anxiety and anger over the recent wave of Palestinian stabbings in Israel was a much-discussed topic during a weekend that was otherwise less flashy, less political and more formal than the group’s flashy inaugural conference a year ago.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, gave the opening remarks on Saturday evening, with a message that Israeli officials have consistently sent over the past few weeks — that the torrent of stabbings of Israeli Jews is a result of incitement in Palestinian culture, and not something that would change even if Israeli policy toward the Palestinians changes. This was in sharp contrast with Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks at a Harvard event, where he blamed the stalled peace process and “a massive increase in settlements” for “this violence, because there’s a frustration that is growing.”

Dermer told the receptive crowd, “If the international community would focus on Palestinian incitement one-tenth as much as they focus on building apartments for Jews in Jerusalem, the situation might be very different.” And on Sunday evening, Israeli cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz offered a similar message, saying, “This violence is only about incitement.”

Dermer, like many in attendance, was born in the United States to an Israeli parent. Receiving numerous rounds of applause and a standing ovation from much of the crowd in a packed ballroom at the Washington Hilton, Dermer said, “What my ima [mother] passed on to me, you can pass on to your children,” encapsulating one of the IAC’s primary goals — to foster a strong connection to Israel among first- and second-generation Israeli Americans.

At last year’s conference, which drew 500 fewer people and was held in a much smaller ballroom at the Hilton, headlines in major media outlets focused on big political names who addressed the IAC crowd, among them 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and billionaire rival political kingmakers Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban, who participated in a lively and entertaining onstage discussion during which they talked (or joked) about teaming up to purchase The New York Times and Washington Post, in order to ensure that those two outlets would cover Israel more favorably, Saban said at the time.

At this year’s conference, the IAC’s VIP list and topics of discussion were much tamer — no presidential candidates, no senators, and an even split of Democrats and Republicans, all strong supporters of Israel and all opponents of President Barack Obama’s signature diplomatic nuclear agreement with Iran. They included California Congressmen Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Ed Royce (R-Fullerton).

Sherman, who spoke Saturday evening after Dermer, sharply criticized, to loud applause, the idea that Israeli settlements factor into the recent stabbings.

“They did not die because there were protesters who were concerned about settlements,” Sherman said. “[They] died at the hands of terrorists who are motivated by a racist ideology that calls upon its adherents to expel all Jews from the Middle East.”

Notably missing from this year’s conference was Saban, who recently ended his support of the IAC and of Campus Maccabees, a new task force he helped create last summer with Adelson to fight the growing on-campus Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has successfully passed dozens of resolutions in student governments targeting boycotts of Israeli goods and companies that do business with the Israeli government. Although it was rumored that Saban’s withdrawal of support from the two groups stemmed from differences he has with Adelson, his team has said he left in order to focus on other philanthropic efforts for the time being. Adelson has given millions of dollars to the IAC and is the group’s largest donor, having given $12 million to the group at its March gala and fueling its national expansion in 2013.

Adelson was notably lower key when he spoke Monday than he often is when in front of friendly audiences and reporters, mostly using the opportunity to praise one of his biggest philanthropic benefactors, Birthright Israel, for its impact on young American Jews. In his discussion with Barry Shrage, who heads the Boston Combined Jewish Philanthropies, among the largest Jewish Federations in the country, political observers in the room were closely watching Adelson for hints as to which Republican presidential candidate he’ll support for the 2016 election, but Adelson didn’t touch at all on politics. In fact, the most notable comments from the discussion, the last event of the conference, came from Shrage, who called on Jewish Federations across the country to work closely with the IAC and help integrate it into local Jewish communities.

“We insist that IAC become an integral [part] of every community,” Shrage said. In Los Angeles, home to the IAC’s national office and to the largest number of Israelis and Israeli Americans in the United States, the IAC and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have shared a cool relationship since the IAC’s inception in 2007, working together on very few initiatives. Shrage also criticized leading Jewish-American figures on the left, such as author and commentator Peter Beinart, “who would love us to believe that the best way to alienate our next generation is to engage on Israel issues.”

“That would be a horrible self-fulfilling prophecy, which is what I think some of those people actually want,” Shrage said.

The structure of the breakout sessions, offered in English and Hebrew, included topics such as “From the Frontlines: How to Defeat BDS,” “The Israeli Entrepreneur: What’s the Secret Sauce” and “Israel on Campus: Perception vs. Reality.” The conference felt similar in topics and structure to annual national conventions held by groups such as AIPAC and the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), albeit with more emphasis on issues relevant to Israeli Americans.

And between breakout sessions, hundreds of people, ranging from college students and young professionals to veterans of the Jewish and Israeli professional world, chatted and networked over coffee, Bamba and Bissli, schmoozing and taking advantage of face time with pro-Israel and Israeli-American professionals who they more often communicate with via email and phone during the rest of the year.

The content of the major speeches and the groups represented during the breakout sessions indicated that the IAC, although currently active in seven cities nationwide, has quickly joined the professional mainstream Jewish-American pro-Israel community, which includes much larger groups such as AIPAC, the JFNA, and Birthright. And although Jewish groups such as the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” JStreet were absent from the conference, Israel’s center-left opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, who lost handily to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the March elections, was received warmly by the crowd when he spoke onstage with Udi Segal, a journalist for Israel Channel 2.

As Adelson, who supported Netanyahu in the Israeli elections, sat only feet away, Herzog joked, “Unfortunately Sheldon and [wife] Miriam did not support me.”

“To say that it’s hopeless and therefore we should stay forever, wherever we are with no answer, leads us directly to the fact that we’ll be a one-state solution,” Herzog said to moderate applause.

Throughout the conference, people were constantly checking their phones for updates from Israel. News of several stabbings and attacks by Palestinians occurred over the weekend, and the grim news on the other side of the world was never far from the surface at the largest gathering of Israeli-Americans in the country.

“It makes me feel guilty that I am here talking about Israel and not actually supporting my family and friends who are in Israel,” said Niran Avni, an Israeli from suburban Tel Aviv who currently lives in Los Angeles. “But I like that we get to talk, and talk how we can influence from here what’s happening over there.”

One of the ways the IAC hopes to support Israel from the United States is by mobilizing teams of social media professionals to “defend Israel online” when conflicts break out. There were social media workshops and, in an area called “The Situation Room,” tables were set up with about two-dozen laptops where anyone could peruse the various ways that pro-Israel groups are using social media to advocate for and defend Israel online. The IAC also revealed a new partnership with IDC-Herzliya, in which the two groups will share resources and knowledge to assist Israel on social media.

Adam Milstein, an IAC co-founder who recently was named the group’s chairman of the board, said he believes the IAC offers Israeli-Americans a vehicle through which to support Israel from abroad. “Now that we have this organization, we have this identity, we have this movement. Part of it is to be advocates for the State of Israel.”

In addition to supporting cultural and Hebrew-language programs, and supporting Israel through social media and grants to pro-Israel groups, the IAC is also set to launch a lobbying arm that will be aimed at state and local governments, and maybe even the federal government. The group recently hired Dillon Hosier, former political adviser to Israel’s consulate in Los Angeles, to head the IAC’s statewide lobbying efforts, which Milstein said could include passing resolutions against BDS and for cooperation with Israel, and possibly become involved with Title VI anti-discrimination statutes at the federal level.

“We want to actually accomplish alliances in counties and municipalities,” Milstein said. “We want to be engaged in legislation that’s taking place on the federal level.”

IAC goes to Washington … and plans to stay

On the evening of March 1, just before a private Israeli-American Council (IAC) event for college students at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, D.C., it was difficult for two of IAC’s co-founders, Shawn Evenhaim and Adam Milstein, to walk more than a few feet without being approached by attendees.

Some thanked them for their support (both Milstein’s family foundation and the IAC have helped sponsor many students’ trips to AIPAC), others sought advice on Israel advocacy and on their careers, while the rest seemed simply to want to talk.

The post-dinner gathering was an opportunity for various pro-Israel campus activists from across the nation not only to meet one another and share tactics and vision, but also to hear from a few Capitol Hill lawmakers and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens. 

Coming less than four months after IAC’s big November inaugural conference just a few miles away, and two days after Milstein and Evenhaim announced that the IAC had decided to launch a Washington, D.C., chapter (its eighth nationally), the message was clear: IAC — the largest, if not the only, national educational group in the nation geared toward Israeli Americans — is entering the Beltway and plans to put some of its resources toward creating a federal advocacy arm.

In a March 2 interview at the 12th-floor M Club at the Marriott adjoining AIPAC’s conference center in downtown Washington, Milstein and Evenhaim said IAC’s D.C.-area branch will play two roles. 

First, like its branches in other cities — including ones in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Boston — the D.C. branch will serve as an educational, religious and cultural resource for Israeli Americans in the area. The group says it has reached about 150,000 people through this programming, and its state branches already work with state and local officials on a range of issues.

Second, the D.C. office will be an advocacy arm for Israeli-American interests on Capitol Hill. Evenhaim, the group’s chairman, said IAC’s advocacy activities in Washington will not constitute lobbying. Without elaborating, Milstein and Evenhaim referred to visa laws and education as two issues that particularly concern the nation’s Israeli-American community, which, IAC says on its website, numbers more than 500,000 people.

“Our target is much wider than Congress,” Milstein said, emphasizing that the D.C. branch will be more than just a policy arm for domestic issues important to Israeli Americans. “We feel that we have the natural knowledge to be the ambassadors for Israel.”

And that’s where AIPAC came in. IAC sees its membership as assets for AIPAC, and Israeli Americans who are at AIPAC as assets for IAC. Even when IAC got its start as the Israeli Leadership Council — a group of Israeli-born businessmen formed the group in Los Angeles in 2007 and it was officially renamed the IAC in 2013 — the mission was to bring delegations and sponsor student trips to Washington.

At the March 1 evening event for Mishelanu, IAC’s on-campus arm, pro-Israel college students took the stage one after the other, discussing the challenges they face defending Israel on campus and learning from one another’s successes. Two of the speakers were Jewish students from UC Davis who had successfully appealed to that school’s student judiciary to overturn a recently passed Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) bill, on the grounds that it was primarily political and thus violated the student senate’s obligation to focus on student welfare.

And perhaps most exciting for the students Sunday night — and a second early indicator of IAC’s networking abilities on Capitol Hill — Congressmembers Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Ed Royce (R-Calif.) stopped by to give remarks.

“I’m here tonight because of the efforts of this organization to rally Israeli Americans and Jewish Americans to support this incredibly decisive effort to stand up on the university campuses,” Royce said.

At IAC’s inaugural conference in November, some of the group’s draws included former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, and billionaire rival political kingmakers Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson, who are both major supporters.

Asked what he anticipates will be the balance in the D.C. branch between its normal work within that region’s Israeli-American community and its advocacy efforts in Washington, Evenhaim didn’t offer specifics but said it will operate similarly to how IAC’s other offices operate.

Evenhaim anticipates the D.C. branch to be “fully operational” within three months.

Israeli-American Council jumps onto national stage with a splash

At the Israeli-American Council’s (IAC) three-day inaugural conference in Washington, D.C., last weekend, nearly 800 attendees and Washington journalists witnessed the high-profile entrance on to the public stage of what was, until recently, a quietly expanding and well-funded Los Angeles group created with the comparably modest vision of providing educational, cultural and religious resources for Southern California’s large Israeli-American community.

The IAC’s first foray into the national spotlight — and its ability to attract top politicians from both parties and their donors — points to a group on its way to becoming the go-to resource for Israeli Americans across the country and their political voice in Washington.

“We will be a growing community in the United States. We will rise to national recognition and will influence the Jewish community,” said Adam Milstein, an Israeli-American businessman and philanthropist, and a founding IAC board member.

Milstein said that the group’s goal in holding its inaugural conference in the heart of the nation’s capital was to make Israeli Americans a “brand name community in the United States and to make sure that Washington notices.” On the latter point, it undoubtedly succeeded: Political correspondents for top news outlets filled the press section to cover the IAC’s prominent speakers, including former (and possibly future) Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and billionaire rival political kingmakers Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson.

Sheldon Adelson, Haim Saban and Israeli American Council Chairman Shawn Evenhaim at the IAC Conference in D.C. Photo by Shahar Azran

That Friday evening, as a packed ballroom at the Washington Hilton enjoyed Shabbat dinner, Romney told his former foreign policy senior adviser Dan Senor, in an onstage discussion, that President Barack Obama has been “divisive and dictatorial and demeaning to our friends,” and also that Democrats were routed in the recent midterm elections partly because voters felt the Democratic candidates had been disingenuous in distancing themselves from Obama’s policies.

Meanwhile, Senor and former Sen. Joseph Lieberman both strongly suggested they would like to see Romney attempt another presidential run: “It would be doubly refreshing to hear your voice in the public debate going forward,” Senor told Romney as he concluded their discussion.

The following night’s plenary, while modest by comparison, saw Graham threaten to cut off funding to the United Nations if it “turns into the most anti-Semitic force on the planet,” and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer — who was a frequent and vocal guest on cable news during the recent Gaza war — joked that the key to a happy marriage between an American and an Israeli is for the American to “preemptively concede the argument to the Israeli spouse.”

“Then you’ll actually have a chance of having your way,” Dermer said to an admiring crowd. “Now what that means for diplomacy and U.S.-Israel [relations], I’ll leave it to all the sharp reporters in the room to figure out.”

The conference’s first two plenaries, though, were only the starter for the weekend’s highlight: the first-ever public discussion between billionaires Saban and Adelson, two of the country’s most sought-after, and generous, political donors for Democratic and Republican politicians, respectively. While their conversation, which was moderated by IAC Chairman Shawn Evenhaim, at times sounded like a debate, Saban stole the spotlight when Evenhaim asked him what he would do if he were in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s shoes and Western powers signed a nuclear agreement with Iran that risked Israel’s security.

“I would bomb the living daylights out of those sons of bitches,” Saban said to thundering applause, striking a tone starkly to the right of Adelson, who only spoke in general terms of Israel needing to “take action” and “not just talk.” Earlier, Saban said that if such a deal is signed, he would come to the “full realization we are screwed, baby.”

Adelson, for his part, provided his own memorable remarks, sharply criticizing journalists in general and particularly The Forward’s Washington correspondent Nathan Guttman. He also cast doubt on the importance of Israel remaining a democracy and called the Palestinians “an invented people.”

Saban, a media mogul, and Adelson, a casino tycoon, then engaged in what sounded like either banter or an impromptu investment strategy session, discussing how to influence mainstream American media outlets when it comes to coverage of Israel, which Saban called “very left-wing” except when it comes to “maybe a bit the Wall Street Journal and definitely Fox News.”

“I wish that [ CEO] Jeff Bezos didn’t buy the Washington Post,” Saban said. “It would have been nice if you and I could have bought it, Sheldon.”

“For $250 million — bupkis!” Saban continued, as the audience laughed.

Adelson responded: “I wish I had known it was available,” then asked Saban, again to raucous applause, “Why don’t you and I go after The New York Times?”

Saban said he has tried to purchase the news giant, but that “it’s a family business” and would not sell. Adelson, sharing some corporate takeover advice with the audience, told Saban that the only way to get The New York Times would be to bid more than its worth and count on the family shareholders rejecting the offer, which would give minority, non-family shareholders a right to sue for a sale.

While marquee attractions such as Saban and Adelson provided the bang for IAC’s weekend, mornings and afternoons were filled with speakers from across the Jewish and pro-Israel world who talked about sensitive topics, especially for a group seeking to tow the line between American and Israeli and Jewish identities—such as the dilemmas facing a possible “double identity” and how to integrate Israeli Americans into the American-Jewish community.

Evenhaim, in a telephone interview following the conference, said he wants Israeli Americans to integrate within America’s broader Jewish community, but said that integration has not been a priority of the organized American-Jewish community, in Los Angeles and across the United States.

“If the Jewish-American community put that as a priority for them, there probably wouldn’t be an IAC,” Evenhaim said.

At the same time, though, IAC’s goal is to help foster a unique Israeli identity among not just Israeli expats, but their American-born children and grandchildren, too.

“We don’t want to become just Jewish Americans,” Evenhaim said. “The Israeli message is important to us, and it’s important to give to the next generation.”

To that end, the IAC runs programs including Celebrate Israel festivals across the country every year and Sifriyat Pijama B’America, which sends free Hebrew-language children’s books and music to Israeli-American families.

“Israel is our homeland,” Milstein said, when asked to discuss the vision of IAC in the context of America’s historical success in assimilating immigrants. “Our relationship with Israel is more unique than Italian Americans, Irish Americans, Chinese Americans — we are different.”

He said the IAC plans to become a “catchall” group for Israeli Americans, focusing not just on Israel advocacy, but eventually seeking to influence national policy on things like access to charter schools and Jewish education.

“Our community has issues that are important to them, and it will be our mandate to advocate for those issues in Washington,” Milstein said.

Formed as the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC) in 2007 at the request of Ehud Danoch, the Israeli consul general of Los Angeles at the time, the ILC rebranded itself two years ago as the Israeli-American Council when its leadership realized the need to be viewed not as Israelis or as Americans, but as “Americans of Israeli descent,” as Milstein wrote in the Times of Israel one year ago. Until then, he wrote, “The State of Israel labeled us as yordim [a derisive characterization for Israelis who leave]. Americans saw us as U.S. citizens, and our children definitely didn’t want to be perceived as kids of foreigners.”

Now viewed as a potential asset by top American politicians as well as the Israeli government — as evidenced by the presence last weekend of numerous Israeli politicians and diplomats — the IAC plans to open four to six new regional councils in the next year, in addition to the existing five, and has its eyes on a 2015 conference, which Milstein said will likely again be in Washington, D.C., and, he predicts, will attract two to three times as many people.

Student committee votes 10-0 to delay confirmation of Jewish UCLA student to Board of Regents

A group that represents the University of California’s student body further highlighted how this state has become the flashpoint for the Israeli-Palestinian debate on American campuses when it requested that the powerful UC Board of Regents delay its confirmation of Avi Oved, a Jewish, pro-Israel junior at UCLA, as student regent-designate.

At the same time, the group — the UC Student Association (UCSA) — voted 8-0, with four abstentions, to appoint an independent entity to investigate conflict of interest allegations in regard to Oved’s relationship with Adam Milstein, a Los Angeles-based philanthropist who donates to numerous Jewish and pro-Israel causes, following the release of several leaked, private emails between the two.

Oved countered, during an interview with the Journal, that the allegations against him are “baseless,” adding that even after a 20-minute phone call with UCSA board members prior to their July 3 vote, he is still unaware of any bylaws UCSA intends to investigate. 

Outgoing UCSA president and UC Riverside student Kareem Aref said that an investigation would help UCSA determine whether Oved violated any election bylaws. He said that the board has “the utmost faith” in the nominee, but that it wants to reassure concerned students who feel “Avi’s intentions in being student regent may not have been the purest.”

How these actions are received by the Board of Regents remains to be seen. UC’s governing body scheduled Oved’s confirmation for its July 16-17 meeting in San Francisco. A UC spokesperson did not respond to a request for more information on the matter. 

The 10-0 vote, with two abstentions, came just two days after the student group hosted a public teleconference concerning the relationship of Oved and Milstein. Their relationship was introduced last month as a potential concern by Amal Ali, a UC Riverside junior and past president of that school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

She revealed private emails between Oved and Milstein that show the latter donated to Oved’s 2013 campaign for a position in UCLA’s student government. Although Oved’s acceptance of Milstein’s donation violated none of UCLA’s election bylaws, according to a school official, UCSA’s official statement faulted him with a lack of transparency.

During a two-hour July 1 teleconference open to the public, dozens of commenters identifying themselves as students dialed in to voice their opinion. Several bashed Milstein as “Islamophobic,” “racist” and “bigoted,” and expressed their fears of being represented by Oved. Some UCSA board members present on the call expressed their disappointment that Oved — who told the Journal he believes his email was hacked — did not take part in the call.

Ali refused to comment to the Journal about the leaked email’s “confidential source” but wrote in an email that Milstein’s contribution “raises a concern for potential conflict of interest” if Oved is ultimately confirmed to the Board of Regents. 

However, election bylaws do not require “a candidate running [for] a student government position to declare the origins of funding,” according to Berky Nelson, a UCLA administrator and administrative representative for the student council.

In one of three private emails leaked to UC Berkeley’s student newspaper, The Daily Californian, Oved wrote to Milstein on April 18, 2013, thanking him for a “generous donation” to his campaign for student government, reassuring him that he would continue to fight attempts made by pro-Palestinian students to push Israel divestment bills through the student senate.

Two subsequent private emails leaked on July 3 revealed that Oved wrote to Milstein in 2013 asking for his support in light of the UCLA divestment movement’s momentum at the time. Milstein, in response, wrote to Hillel at UCLA that he would make a $1,000 donation to Hillel earmarked for “UCLA student government leaders,” adding that Hillel should help Oved and a fellow candidate find other pro-Israel community members who would support their election.

Milstein denies that he or his philanthropic foundation ever donated money directly to Oved or the student’s political party, Bruins United. He wrote in a statement that the effort to oust the UCLA junior is an “anti-Semitic smear campaign that seeks to marginalize Jewish and pro-Israel students.”

If confirmed, Oved would sit on the Board of Regents for the upcoming school year as a non-voting member beside Sadia Saifuddin, a Muslim pro-divestment student from UC Berkeley and the board’s incoming student regent. She declined to comment pending the results of the UCSA investigation and Oved’s confirmation hearing.

While there has been speculation that the board’s nomination of Oved in May was an attempt to balance its nomination of Saifuddin with a pro-Israel voice, in a May interview with the Los Angeles Times, UC regent George Kieffer denied the two students’ views on divestment as an explanatory factor.

Tensions flare on UC campuses amid allegations against Jewish, pro-Israel student

The University of California Student Association (UCSA) held an emergency public teleconference on July 1 to consider allegations by the former leader of a pro-Palestinian student group that call into question the relationship between a pro-Israel UCLA student, who was recently nominated to the University of California Board of Regents, and local philanthropist Adam Milstein.

The accusations against Avi Oved, a UCLA junior, first surfaced at a June 28 UCSA meeting when Amal Ali, past president of UC Riverside’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), released a private email in which Oved thanks Milstein for a “generous donation” made during Oved’s candidacy in 2013.

Ali told the Journal she is concerned about Oved’s relationship with Milstein, adding that the student regent-designate may have violated UCLA’s campaign finance disclosure rules.

The latter is not at issue, however, according to Kris Kaupalolo, an adviser to UCLA’s student election board, who spoke with UCLA’s Daily Bruin newspaper. Kaupalolo said candidates are under no obligation to disclose campaign donation sources.

The student board, which is comprised of representatives from each of UC’s student governments, will hold a closed meeting on July 3 and will decide whether to move forward with an investigation. Pending that decision, it could make a recommendation to the powerful board of regents regarding its recent nomination of Oved to sit on the board for two years.

This is only the latest flare-up between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students on California’s campuses, which since January have seen ” target=”_blank”>a similar conflict of interest charge arose when SJP at UCLA alleged that Sunny Singh and Lauren Rogers, two then-outgoing student government representatives, created a perceived conflict when they attended all-expenses paid trips to Israel by the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.

UCLA’s student judicial board Oved meeting with UC president Janet Napolitano and current student regent-designate Sadia Saifuddin. Photo via Facebook.

Oved further emphasized to Milstein that he and other Bruins United candidates would continue to resist efforts by other groups to pass Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions legislation.

Asked how she obtained the private email that Oved sent to Milstein, Ali declined to comment on the leaked email’s “confidential source.”

Writing to the Journal on June 30, she said that Oved’s failure to report the donation during his 2013 campaign “proves a disregard for the importance of transparency,” adding that any connection of his to Milstein “raises a concern for potential conflict of interest” when Oved becomes student regent-designate later this month.

Milstein wrote in a July 1 statement that no donation was ever made to Oved or Bruins United — either by him or by the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, and that the allegations “represent yet another step in an anti-Semitic smear campaign that seeks to marginalize Jewish and pro-Israel students.”

He pointed to his foundation’s 2012-13 tax return, which shows, among many other charitable contributions, a $50,000 donation to the UCLA Foundation and a $10,500 donation to Hillel at UCLA, but no donations to either Oved, Baral or Bruins United.

Writing to the Journal, Milstein also expressed concern at the possibility that Oved’s email account was hacked.

Oved, releasing a statement shortly before the July 1 teleconference, decried what he termed “an attack against me as a pro-Israel student,” and questioned why he is being criticized for “failing to provide information not required” by the UCLA student government’s election code. He declined further comment pending developments.

The UCSA’s two-hour phone meeting on the subject, which was open to public comment, was chaotic and disorganized at times. Several people identifying themselves as students called in to label Milstein “Islamophobic,” “racist” and “bigoted,” and voiced their fears about being represented by Oved, who, they said, does not represent the entire UC student body.

One caller, though, criticized the meeting as a “trial by phone conference.” Another, an Arab-Christian at UC Berkeley, challenged the notion that Oved — even if he did take a donation from Milstein — would be beholden to outside interests.

“We do not form our policies because of those donations,” the student said. “Rather, we receive those donations because of our goals.”

The board decided that until they could speak with Oved, who was not present on the call, they would delay recommendation on moving forward with an investigation.

If ultimately approved to join the Board of Regents, Oved would join student appointee Sadia Saifuddin, of UC Berkeley. Last year she co-sponsored a resolution that called on the university’s administration to divest about $14 million from Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Cement Roadstone Holdings. That vote, which, ironically, was also held on April 18, passed last year 11-9.

Saifuddin was reached on her cell phone, but declined immediate comment on the possible investigation.

Israeli Leadership Council changes name

When the chief executive officer of the Israeli Leadership Council announced at the group’s March 10 gala that the nonprofit’s name is changing to the Israeli American Council (IAC), the reaction from the 900 people in attendance was modest. As animations of the group’s new logo flashed on screens around the Beverly Hilton ballroom, polite applause briefly drowned out the clink of silverware against plates.

But for the leadership of the ILC — now the IAC — the message embodied in the new name is significant, signaling the group’s increased comfort with its dual Israeli-American identity.

“We felt that the name ‘Israeli Leadership Council’ did not reflect what we’re doing today,” said Adam Milstein, an IAC board member.

Founded in 2007 as the Israeli Leadership Club by a group of local Israeli-American businessmen who joined forces to ensure they could mobilize their community in support of the Jewish state in times of crisis, the organization has since grown into a nonprofit with a $3 million annual budget.

Its mission is threefold — supporting Israel, strengthening Jewish identity among young Israeli-Americans and building connections between the Israeli-American and Jewish-American communities. To that end, the IAC supports more than a dozen different projects and organizations.

Milstein first suggested to the board that the group change its basic brand, from “Israeli” to “Israeli-American,” about 18 months ago. Eli Tene, then the group’s co-chair and currently a member of its seven-person board, remembers reacting skeptically. 

“Why change something that’s working?” Tene remembers thinking, he said in an interview Sunday.

Success, indeed, is not at issue: In 2012, the organization reached about 50,000 people, up from 3,500 during 2010. Most of that growth can be attributed to two major projects: Taking charge of the citywide Celebrate Israel Festival last year, which drew 15,000 attendees to Rancho Park in May, and, secondly, helping to found Sifriyat Pijama B’America, which distributed free Hebrew children’s books to 2,000 families across the country in 2012, reaching an estimated 17,000 people. Both of those programs are projected to expand in 2013.

Still, Milstein was undeterred, and he lobbied his fellow board members in support of the name change. His argument was twofold: By defining themselves as Israelis, Milstein said, the current generation of immigrants are separating themselves from their American children, who “want to be like anybody else.”

Milstein also said he had come to realize that he could do more on behalf of the Jewish state, where he was born, by embracing his identity as an American citizen.

“Nobody around us looked at us as Israelis, and we were defeating ourselves because we were not recognizing who we are,” he said.

A real estate investor who has lived in the United States since 1981 and been an American citizen since 1986, Milstein is one of the country’s top donors to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). When he has lobbied American and foreign officials on behalf of Israel, Milstein said he began to notice a subtle discomfort when he said he was “from Israel.”

“Nobody said it,” Milstein said, “but I would see it in their faces.”

If the old ILC logo — three white letters on a blue shield, flanked by gold olive branches — subtly suggested that the group was an arm of Israel’s foreign ministry, then the new IAC logo — a Star of David half-enveloped by red and white stripes — has far more in common with that of America’s pro-Israel groups.

Now, the IAC is pushing Israeli-Americans to get involved in local Jewish communities in the diaspora, as well as in Israel advocacy. IAC chair Shawn Evenhaim spoke about connecting Israeli-Americans to their Jewish-American counterparts at the Jewish Federations of North America’s 2012 General Assembly. Milstein addressed the importance of Israel advocacy at an IAC-organized panel discussion at AIPAC’s policy conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. He forcefully rejected the idea that Israeli-Americans have already “paid their dues” to Israel by serving in the IDF.

“This is your miluim service,” Milstein said in an interview in his office in Encino just a few days after the panel, referring to the month-long reserve duty all Israeli men are required to perform, over and above their required full-time military service. “This is how you support Israel.”

Boosting Israeli-Americans’ support for Israel is one key aspect of the IAC’s mission, and political leaders from all levels of government and from across the political spectrum attended Sunday’s gala.

Longtime Congressman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) was there, as was the newly elected Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-San Fernando Valley). The two candidates who advanced to a May runoff for Los Angeles mayor, City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti, were also present, and Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles, David Siegel, read a letter from Bibi Netanyahu, thanking the IAC for strengthening the ties of Israeli-Americans to Israel.

The gala’s honorees included businesswoman and philanthropist Shari Arison, whose company owns a large interest in Carnival Cruise Lines and a controlling stake in Bank Hapoalim, and Daniel Gold, who developed Israel’s Iron Dome’s missile defense system (see related story, p. 27). Hotel magnate and political mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam Ochshorn Adelson, also received an award at the gala.

Despite the absence of a few of the group’s biggest supporters — including Haim Saban, who was away on business — the IAC raised an estimated about $2 million on Sunday.