November 20, 2018

Los Angeles Jewish Home Welcomes Motion Picture Home Fire Evacuees

As the fires spread on Friday, Nov. 9 in Thousand Oaks, residents from the Motion Pictures Home in Woodland Hills were among those who needed to be evacuated. It was a difficult process, requiring patients to be sent to multiple alternate locations, so Motion Pictures & Television Fund’s (MPTF) Linda Healy reached out to the Los Angeles Jewish Home (LAJH).

LAJH responded to the call and welcomed 26 patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia into their Eisenberg Village facility in Reseda.

“We are tremendously proud of the staff of the Los Angeles Jewish Home,” said Molly Forrest, CEO and president of LAJH. “Their immediate response to the need to shelter and care for the fragile seniors from the Motion Picture Home during this crisis was truly heroic. It is reflective of the quality care and compassion for which the Home is known.”

Motio Picture Home evacuation, Jewish journal

Motion Picture Home Evacuation

LAJH also arranged transportation to pick up – and later send home – their special guests and set up cots and supplies in their boardroom. Residents, their family members and staff from the Motion Pictures Home were greeted with matzo ball soup and a heaping dose of compassion.

Residents, their family members and staff from the Motion Pictures Home were greeted with matzo ball soup and a heaping does of compassion.


LAJH COO Larissa Stepanians said the entire staff pitched in. They joined forces to deliver and assemble cots, hold hands of residents who were confused and afraid and speak with family members. “There was such teamwork of our staff coming together,” she said.”

Stepanians, who lives with her family in Simi Valley, had to evacuate her own home, but then drove into work, as did many other LAJH staff.  “What’s important for me is everyone felt safe, families were happy and we were able to care for this special group of residents,” Stepanians said. “It was a beautiful scene in a very scary situation.”

All residents from Motion Picture Home returned to their facility safely after breakfast Saturday morning.

“In [these] times, we all need to pull together as a community to support and shelter and we are very, very lucky to have you in our world,” MPTF President & CEO Bob Beitcher wrote in a thank you note to the Home. “And I hope you know that we are there for you in the event anything like this is ever needed.”

We All Care About Gun Violence, But There’s No Easy Solution

The video was heartbreaking.

A father, Jason Coffman, spoke before the cameras of his 22-year-old son, Cody, who had just been murdered in yet another mass shooting, this time in Thousand Oaks. “I am speechless and heartbroken,” he said through tears. “I cannot believe that it’s happened to my family. I just want him to know that he is going to be missed.”

They will all be missed: In Pittsburgh, where 11 people died in the hail of bullets in a shul; In Florida, where 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; In Texas, where 10 people were killed at Santa Fe High School; and at other schools and public places too numerous to list here. Mass shootings have become so common that one of the victims in Thousand Oaks, Telemachus Orfanos, had survived a previous mass shooting — at the country music festival in Las Vegas last year in which 58 people were murdered.

Mass shootings can happen anywhere. Mass shootings,  unfortunately, are unstoppable.

Thousand Oaks is listed as the third-safest city in the United States by Niche, a service that ranks livability of communities across the country. California is the most heavily gun-controlled state in the country, too, with laws including “may issue” statutes that enable authorities to summarily reject concealed-carry permits, ammunition purchased through a federally licensed firearms dealer, 10-round limitations on magazine size, and a 10-day waiting period for firearm purchases, among other limitations. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says California has the nation’s toughest gun laws.

Yet California has also seen, in the past five years alone, mass shootings in San Bernardino (14 dead), Rancho Tehama Reserve (five dead), Isla Vista (six dead) and Santa Monica (five dead).

The problem of mass shootings isn’t limited to California, of course. It isn’t even limited to the United States. A study of mass shootings across the world from 2009 to 2015 shows that on a population-adjusted basis, Norway experienced the world’s highest mass shooting death rate (the Anders Breivik massacre of 2011 ended with 77 dead), followed by Serbia, France, Macedonia, Albania, Slovakia, Finland, Belgium and the Czech Republic. The United States, by this metric, ranked 11th globally. 

“California is the most heavily gun-controlled state in the country.”

We’ve heard from many of those on the political left that “thoughts and prayers” aren’t enough in the wake of mass shootings. But neither is emoting that “something must be done” without actually attempting to determine the correlation between proposed legislation and possible outcome. Banning sales of AR-15s might sound good in theory but the weapon used in the Thousand Oaks mass shooting was a handgun. Requiring universal background checks wouldn’t have stopped the Thousand Oaks shooter, either — California already has them. 

But isn’t doing something better than doing nothing? It depends on the “something.” Mass shootings have been prevented or minimized by good citizens with guns, too: A former NRA instructor used his own AR-15 to shoot the perpetrator in the Sutherland Springs church shooting in Texas in 2017. And law enforcement’s use of guns is usually the key factor in ending mass shootings once they start.

Perhaps it’s too narrow to talk about mass shootings in the context of gun violence. While mass shootings provide political flashpoints, the truth is that mass shootings are a tremendous statistical outlier. School shootings in the United States have actually been in steady decline since the 1990s. Perhaps we truly ought to talk about minimizing gun violence more broadly through gun control policies.

The problem here is that there is no obvious correlation between severity of gun laws and overall murder rates. If we truly care about people dying, we should worry less about method of murder than number of murders — and by that metric, states that heavily regulate gun ownership are no better than states that don’t. As professor Eugene Volokh of the UCLA School of Law has written, “states with more gun restrictions on average have very slightly higher homicide rates, though the tendency is so small as to be essentially zero.” And as for the idea of gun buybacks and bans, as statistician Leah Libresco wrote last year in The Washington Post, neither the United Kingdom nor Australia “experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun-related crime that could be attributed to their buybacks and bans.” In fact, the United States has approximately 400 million outstanding weapons in public hands — and the murder rate has dropped precipitously since the 1990s. 

All of this suggests that there is no silver-bullet gun control solution to stopping mass shootings or homicide more broadly. That’s because there isn’t. 

Now, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do to mitigate risks at the margins, both with gun control measures and with other measures, too. On the gun control side, we should start by enforcing existing laws: Too many shooters have fallen through the cracks thanks to flaws in state reporting systems or failures by individuals to take lawful measures to prevent dangerous individuals from accessing firearms. David French of National Review also has suggested gun violence restraining orders: statutes aimed at allowing spouses, siblings, parents or a person living with a potentially threatening person to petition a court for an order to temporarily remove Second Amendment rights from that person. That law is already on the books in California — obviously, it didn’t stop what happened in Thousand Oaks, even though the police were called to the home of the gunman’s mother back in April.

“We must acknowledge that heated rhetoric has a tendency to raise the general temperature —  and that a boiling pot spills over the edges more than a lukewarm one.”

We also have to harden existing vulnerable targets. Synagogues across America have been doing this for years — and it does, in fact, help minimize risk. In 1999, a white supremacist mass shooter scoped out the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Pico Boulevard and Roxbury Drive as a shooting target; he was dissuaded from attacking because of the presence of guards. Instead, he drove to the unprotected West Valley Jewish Community Center. Shooters tend to choose targets where they believe they will be most successful in wreaking havoc. The Thousand Oaks bar was a gun-free zone — until a shooter invaded the premises armed with a gun. 

On the media side, we must stop giving outsized attention to shooters, who revel in precisely that attention. At the site I run, Daily Wire, we stopped doing so earlier this year, citing social science studies that found that “media contagion” could make mass shootings more common by catering to potential shooters’ desire for fame. Malcolm Gladwell has posited a slow-motion “riot” of mass shootings in which “young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.” As a society, we’ve decided that it’s more important to home in on mass shootings than to downplay shooters, hoping that our attention will focus the minds of our political opponents. It isn’t working.

“We should start by enforcing existing laws: Too many shooters have fallen through the cracks thanks to flaws in state reporting systems.”

When it comes to social policy, we must emphasize the presence of fathers in the home, too. Of the 27 deadliest mass shooters in American history, just one was raised with a biological father in the home since childhood. Violent crime has been consistently linked to family instability in every country in which such measures have been available.

We should also de-escalate the rhetoric on matters both political and moral. Not all mass shootings are politically driven — they’re often driven by the mental illness of a disturbed individual. And while we cannot blame politicians for radicals taking their words to the level of violence without their intent or consent, we must acknowledge that heated rhetoric has a tendency to raise the general temperature — and that a boiling pot spills over the edges more than a lukewarm one. Responsible rhetoric would be a welcome change from our current rage. (I plead guilty in this respect, and I have tried to work to change how I address issues on precisely this basis.)

In the end, though, no set of policies can completely insulate us from tragedies. The only thing we can do is attempt to build a social fabric together: a place in which we trust our neighbors, in which we are aware of rising threats, in which we rely on one another in times of grief but build with one another in times of strength. If we tear one another apart over tragedy — if we suggest that our political opponents don’t care enough about those who die in acts of evil — we become complicit in fraying precisely the social fabric so necessary to the preservation of both a free and safe society.

Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief at Daily Wire, host of the podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

After Grieving for Pittsburgh, I Witnessed Thousand Oaks

People comfort each other in Thousand Oaks, CA, where a gunman killed at least 12 people inside a bar on November 7, 2018. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

This was the “next time.”

Words fail, but words right now are all I can muster.

We were on the dance floor, in the middle of the dance floor. I heard two pops, and my first thought was that it was a prank, or a sound effect. Then everyone understood at once what was happening. We all dropped to the floor, and I dove for the side of the room behind some bar tables. I heard more pops, and people yelling to get out and move. I was a few feet from an exit, and I saw people run for the kitchen. I yelled at people to move, to get out, and I was out of the building within five seconds.

My mind flipped a switch. I had work to do. My job was to get to safety and stay alive.

I heard more shots as I ran across the parking lot and up the side of a hill, jumping over scrubby vegetation and trying not to fall. I heard people yelling “No lights!” and we kept running in the dark away from the bar. On the hillside, I saw the blue and orange lights of a police car pulling into the driveway, less than two minutes after the shooting started. Then more shots. We kept running.

At 11:26 p.m., I called my parents. Then I gave my phone to a girl beside me. She had dropped hers and ran. She called her parents, nervous after dialing a wrong number. An off-duty LAPD officer approached us to check that we were OK. He was bleeding from his ear and the bridge of his nose. He told us to keep moving, that the sheriffs would form an inner and outer perimeter and that we should move to them. We kept climbing the hill, and there was another exchange of shots, this time audibly different between the first pops and the gunfire from police.  

Four of us made our way down the other side of the hill, further away from Borderline. I called a couple friends who I thought were inside. One went straight to voicemail, the other rang and rang. I led the four of us down the slope in the dark, navigating around sharp branches and scrub. One of the girls was on the phone with her parents the whole time. I slipped a few times in the dark, unable to see loose dirt or rocks.

The LAPD officer with us kept us together and organized, and on the other side of the hill, through another parking lot, we made our way to the Ventura County Fire Department vehicles where EMTs were treating injuries. A friend of mine was there, and she told me that one of my friends that I couldn’t reach had gotten out. Sometime later I heard from him that the other friend was OK, too, that her phone was still inside the bar.

“I’m very much in shock. The weight of my emotions haven’t hit me yet. As of this writing, I know that two of the victims were friends of mine, at least five were familiar faces at Borderline.”

I stood and paced and wondered for 20 minutes. It was now almost 12:30 a.m., and I knew that I couldn’t get to my car, which was parked right outside the bar. One of my friends offered to drive me home, and I started making my calls to friends and family to let them know that I was on my way home.

At home, I hugged my parents and we watched the news in dread. I posted to Facebook: “Anyone who has seen the news about the shooting at Borderline, I was there, I got out, I’m safely home.” Over the next several hours, I heard from friends, family, and mentors checking on my safety. Some are thousands of miles away. Some I haven’t spoken to in years.

I’m very much in shock. The weight of my emotions haven’t hit me yet. As of this writing, I know that two of the victims were friends of mine, at least five were familiar faces at Borderline. I’m trying to take action while I still have my wits about me.

I want to convey my immense gratitude to the Ventura County Sheriff Department and the VC Fire Department. Their quick response, within two minutes of the shooting, surely saved lives. I send my sincere condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Sgt. Ron Helus, who likely heard the first shots and was there before anyone called 911.

The Borderline community is a tightly-knit and resilient family. We didn’t panic, we acted quickly to preserve life, and we helped each other escape the danger. We continue to support each other in grief as we mourn our friends and family who were taken from us. We did everything right, by instinct and action. And still, 13 people died.

I now join a painful, grief-stricken fellowship of shooting survivors, a membership that I never wished to seek. There is no plan for this. No one ever expects this to happen to them.

Just last week, I met with my rabbi, Paul Kipnes at Congregation Or Ami to talk about the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting. I told him, “I hate how we talk about preparing for next time. This was the next time, and there will be more next times.”

He told me “I don’t need to sugarcoat this with you. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Neither of us imagined that this would be the next time. It couldn’t happen here, right?

And it did. This was the next time.

Ben Ginsburg, 23, lives in Woodland Hills and works remotely for the University of California – Davis, Division of Continuing and Professional Education. 

Newsom Addresses Shooting, Other Issues at Encino Gathering

Gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom spoke Sunday in Encino at an event organized by the Jewish Center for Justice. Photo by Taylor Sherry

Nearly 300 people turned out on the morning of Oct. 28 to listen to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom speak at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. The free event was organized by the Jewish Center for Justice, a year-and-a-half-old Los Angeles based organization that does social justice advocacy and education.

The original plan for the event, which was weeks in the making, was that Newsom would talk about poverty, homelessness and LGBTQ issues among other things, all of which are central to his campaign and are also part of the Jewish Center for Justice’s legislative agenda. And while Newsom, California’s outgoing lieutenant governor, did address those topics, the tragedy in Pittsburgh that had taken place a day earlier, was very much felt.

Before Newsom took the podium, Los Angles City Controller Ron Galperin, who is also a trained cantor, sang the prayer for the departed. Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom read the names of the victims and urged the audience to honor their memory by continuing to embrace and share Jewish rituals and values.

“In the history of our people, we have often said the word ‘Jewish’ with a whisper,” Farkas said. “I think the time has come. … We have to do this differently. We have to be Jews in public. We have to bring our values into the public square. We have to be out as Jews. We have to be willing to stand forth in the public square and say these are our values, this is what we care about, and this is what we stand for.”

Newsom began by acknowledging the many young people in the audience. It was a sizable group, including students from Valley Beth Shalom, Temple Beth El in San Pedro, UCLA, USC and the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY).

“Leadership can be found anywhere,” Newsom said. “You don’t have to be something to do something. It’s an important point I want to impress upon on the young folks here. … Folks talk so often about leadership in terms of formal authority, not enough in the terms that we need to talk about, and that is leadership as moral authority. … What’s missing in our country is moral leadership.”

“Fear cannot be an impediment to resolve. Otherwise the fear prevails, and we can’t allow for that.” — Gavin Newsom

Newsom touted what he said is good about California. “Our ability to live together and advance together and prosper together is what makes California a special place,” he said. “At our best, we don’t tolerate that diversity; at our best we celebrate that diversity. Remarkable resilience. Remarkable adaptability. California, where we are today. And it’s also the antidote to the cynicism and the negativity and the fear and the anxiety we feel. We’re not just surviving. We’re thriving.”

But, he added, “I’m not naive about the challenges this state faces. … Despite the extraordinary progress we have made as a state, we are still leaving too many folks behind.”

Among the sobering statistics Newsom shared: 134,000 homeless and 46 percent of California’s children living at or near poverty. “You can’t live a good life in an unjust society,” he said.

Newsom also focused on the need for early childhood education and, even before that, a prenatal plan to ensure parents understand, for example, the value of talking, reading and singing to their kids. “The number one predictor, if you are going to end up in the criminal justice system, is how many words you speak in kindergarten,” he said. “People aren’t left behind in society. People start behind.”

In a brief interview following the event, Newsom was asked what would he say to people who may have been afraid to attend the event.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “I mean, fear, they win. That’s what acts of terror are about — instilling fear. … Fear cannot be an impediment to resolve. Otherwise the fear prevails, and we can’t allow for that. And it’s why I was honored that people did show up today. Everyone was wondering if people would.

“I hope today everybody here felt united in terms of our resolve to be held to account at this moment, to be participatory in the life of our city, our state, our nation, and to call out hatred and anti-Semitism.” 

Vote ‘Yes’ to Fair Housing for All

Photo by WikiCommons

In just a few weeks, the Golden State has the opportunity to follow the Golden Rule with the passage of Proposition 10 on the Nov. 6 ballot. This past summer, during the Poor People’s 40 Days of Moral Action campaign, we heard numerous stories of grandmothers and mothers, grandfathers and fathers working tirelessly in this great state in order to earn enough money to pay rent. Even after working days that left them bone-tired, some still were forced to live in their cars, casualties of California’s unaffordable rental prices.

An Urban Institute survey released in August revealed a sobering figure: Nearly 40 percent of Americans struggle to pay for at least one of their basic needs, including food, health care, housing and utilities. This is the reality of our nation — and our state — right now. Challenges once widely believed to affect only the poorest of communities now confront even middle-class households.

This should serve as a wake-up call, especially for Californians. Our state is in the midst of a decades-long affordable housing crisis that is rapidly reaching its boiling point. California renters typically pay 50 percent more for housing than renters in other states. While the state’s median rent continues to climb, wages struggle to keep pace. To add to the issue of skyrocketing rents, we simply do not have enough housing for everyone who wants to live here.

We’ve been led down this tragic road by the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, an unfortunate law from 1995 that prevents cities and counties from applying rent control to apartments built after 1995 or to single-family rental units and condos.

The bill also allows landlords to raise rents as much as they want when a unit becomes vacant. When Californians show up to their polling places on Nov. 6, they have the opportunity to vote for a ballot measure to right this tremendous wrong.
Passage of Prop. 10 would be a major victory for California and a significant step forward in the effort to bring equity back to our housing practices. Prop. 10 would effectively repeal Costa-Hawkins, thereby giving local communities the power to adopt rent control necessary to address the state’s housing affordability crisis. In other words, passing this ballot measure would give the power to adopt rent control back to the individual communities themselves.

“Both of our faiths stress the moral imperative to work for an economic system that is fair and ethical.”

Both of our faiths stress the moral imperative to work for an economic system that is fair and ethical. In the book of Proverbs, we are commanded to “speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy.” Jewish law calls on us to perform acts of tzedakah (charity), relieving someone of homelessness being one such sacred gesture. Ensuring housing for all individuals is our religious duty, and now it is time we go to the ballot box and become God’s partners in creating laws to ensure shelter for all people, regardless of class.
While opponents of Prop. 10 say that it would discourage development because landlords won’t be motivated to buy property, we know this to be untrue. Given our current housing crisis, even with rent control laws in place, there is an immense amount of demand to build more housing.

Plus, under Prop. 10 landlords would receive a “fair rate of return,” meaning they would be allowed to increase rents enough to earn some profit each year. This not only assures property owners will profit, but also that we are looking out for our state’s vulnerable and poor population.

At the Poor People’s Campaign and the Jewish Center for Justice, we’ve been working in earnest with diverse communities to increase voter turnout and educate voters about the issues facing our state. Prop. 10 is by no means an exception. Whether you step into the voting booth on Nov. 6 or send in your absentee ballot, consider voting “Yes” on Prop. 10 to return rent control power to our cities and counties.

Rev. Eddie Anderson is the California co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and pastor at McCarty Memorial Church in Los Angeles. Rabbi Joel Simonds is the executive director of the Jewish Center for Justice in Los Angeles.

Azerbaijan’s model of interreligious harmony and multiculturalism showcased in a historic visit to California

Multifaith delegation from Azerbaijan together with Azerbaijan's Consul General Nasimi Aghayev, AJC-San Francisco regional director Matt Kahn and Rev. Will McGarvey at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco

Multifaith delegation from Azerbaijan together with Azerbaijan’s Consul General Nasimi Aghayev, AJC-San Francisco regional director Matt Kahn and Rev. Will McGarvey at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco


I have visited California several times. I always remember my visits with great joy, especially the one in 2015, when we received and celebrated the gift of a beautiful new Sefer Torah from the Sinai Temple of Los Angeles for our Mountain Jewish Synagogue in Baku. In my recent visit to Los Angeles and San Francisco, in May 2018, I was part of a multifaith delegation from Azerbaijan. The delegation was led by Mr. Mubariz Gurbanli, the Chairman of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations (SCWRO) of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and included also the leaders of Muslim, European Jewish, Christian Orthodox, and Albanian-Udi Christian communities of Azerbaijan. Our purpose was to share Azerbaijan’s unique model of multiculturalism and interreligious harmony and tolerance, and talk about the possibility of lasting peace and understanding among religions.

Our visit was organized jointly by the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Los Angeles and San Francisco regional offices in strong cooperation with Azerbaijan’s Los Angeles Consul General Nasimi Aghayev. AJC and Azerbaijan have been enjoying a very special relationship since almost two decades. AJC national delegations, led by its CEO David Harris, have been visiting Azerbaijan annually for the past eleven years, and actually Azerbaijan is one of the few countries on AJC’s annual visit calendar. During this year’s visit Mr. Harris said the following: “Azerbaijan continues to be a very significant partner for both the U.S. and Israel. Baku’s contributions in many spheres are increasingly vital in today’s turbulent world, although, frankly speaking, not as well-known and recognized as they should be. In a key region of the world, where the United States has few reliable friends, Azerbaijan, a secular, Shiite-majority country, stands out. And for Israel, believe me, the bilateral relationship is no less important. Moreover, it is inspiring to see the record of respect for the Jewish community – and the striking absence of anti-Semitism – in a land Jews have called home for over 2,000 years.” As an Azerbaijani Jew, I couldn’t agree more. We are much appreciative of AJC’s friendship, and of the efforts by its California regional offices in organizing this historic visit. I would like to specially thank Roslyn Warren, Saba Soomekh and Siamak Kordestani of AJC-Los Angeles, and Matt Kahn, Serena Eisenberg and Eran Hazary of AJC-San Francisco.

During the visit we were honored to meet the Archbishop of Los Angeles and Vice President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops José H. Gomez, Chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Sheila Kuehl, Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa, Los Angeles leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Dean of the world-famous Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Marvin Hier, Member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Norman Yee and California State Senator Jerry Hill. We also visited several synagogues and churches, including Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and Presidio Chapel, Grace Cathedral and Sherith Israel Synagogue in San Francisco, as well as the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Moreover, two well-attended public events dedicated to Azerbaijan’s multifaith harmony were held – one at the Sinai Temple of Los Angeles (ably moderated by Rabbi Erez Sherman) and the other at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

At these meetings and events we highlighted the ancient traditions of tolerance and multiculturalism in Azerbaijan. We informed the audiences about how people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, including Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Jews and representatives of other faiths, such as Zoroastrians, Baha’is, Hare Krishnas and others, have been living together in peace, brotherhood and mutual respect for many centuries in Azerbaijan, a predominantly Shiite Muslim country. There has always been a strong relationship between ethnic and religious communities in the country and ethnic, religious or racial discrimination has never existed in Azerbaijan. I often was asked: “What is the essence, the core of Azerbaijan’s model of tolerance and how Azerbaijan has achieved it?” There is only one answer to it: Tolerance and multiculturalism has been the lifestyle of the people of Azerbaijan for many centuries. It has very solid foundations, rich traditions and deep historical and cultural roots.

Today there are 31 non-Muslim religious communities officially registered in Azerbaijan. Moreover, seven synagogues, one museum-synagogue that is under construction, two Jewish elementary schools, three kindergartens, one Yeshiva and fourteen churches are operating in my country. Azerbaijan may be a small country but it has made enormous effort towards maintaining and strengthening the harmony, mutual understanding and peace among religions, making the world a better place. I hope many other countries in the wider region will follow Azerbaijan’s suit.

I live in a country where the government of a majority-Muslim nation builds and rebuilds synagogues, renovates churches, and annually allocates financial support to different religious communities. I live in a country where a Muslim philanthropist funds the construction and renovation of churches. This country is the majority-Muslim Azerbaijan, and I am proud to be its citizen.

Thank you, California, for warmly welcoming and embracing us. See you next time!

Howard Rosenman: Award-Winning Producer Opens Up

What’s it like to be a gay Israel lover in Hollywood? To act with Sean Penn? To be on top of your game at 74? Hollywood wunderkind Howard Rosenman shares his life’s scoops.

Follow David Suissa on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Check out this episode!

California Supreme Court Blocks Ballot Measure Splitting CA Into Three States

Screenshot from Twitter.

The California Supreme Court has blocked a measure that would split California into three states from reaching the ballot in November.

While the court hasn’t ruled on the constitutionality of the law, they felt that the law was invalid because “the potential harm in permitting the measure to remain on the ballot outweighs the potential harm in delaying the proposition to a future election.”

The Planning and Conservation League, an environmental group, argued in court that that the measure, Proposition 9, is essentially a constitutional amendment, which would require two-thirds approval from the state legislature or further signatures.

Tim Draper, the tech billionaire who sponsored the initiative, argued that splitting California into three states would provide voters with the opportunity to have more of an electoral impact.

Under Prop 9, California would be split into three states: Northern California, which would include San Francisco, Sacramento and Eureka; Southern California, which would include Fresno, Bakersfield, Orange County and San Diego; and California, which would include Los Angeles, Ventura County, San Luis Obispo and Monterey.

Political analysts believe that California and Northern California would be blue states and Southern California would be a purple state.

Polls indicate that California voters are overwhelmingly opposed to the measure; even if Prop 9 passed it would likely require congressional approval.

Who is the Top Female Travel Blogger? #Travel1k May 30, 2018

Thank you #travel1k Top 1000+ Travel Blogs for your list! I am so excited and honored to be #5 of the top 1000+ Travel blogs and the TOP FEMALE TRAVEL BLOGGER!


Lisa Niver Top Female Travel Blogger May 30 2018 #Travel1k

Rank Travel Blogger #travel1k score
1.   Profile Image Matt Matt 96.84
2.   Profile Image Charles McCool (McCool Travel) 93.82
3.   Profile Image Rick Griffin 90.62
4.   Profile Image Andrea Pizzato 87.31
5.   Profile Image Lisa Ellen Niver 83.72

Click here to see the full list May 30, 2018


#Travel1k We Said Go Travel #5 Top Travel Blog May 30 2018

More about Lisa:

After exploring 99 countries and sailing for seven years on the high seas, Lisa Niver is ready for more unique active adventures! Find her talking travel on KTLA TV and her We Said Go Travel videos with over 1.8 million views on Roku, Amazon Fire TV and YouTube. Her stories include Dutch designer villas for Luxury Magazine, interviewing Fabien Cousteau for Delta Sky, skiing with the blind for Sierra Magazine and writing about WWII for Smithsonian and Saturday Evening Post. Her 2018 publications include American Way (American Airlines), Robb Report and Wharton Magazine.
Her latest projects are a book, “Brave Rebel: 50 New Adventures Before 50,” and Facebook Live for USA Today 10best. She has run 13 Travel Writing Awards publishing nearly 2000 writers from 75 countries and the first We Said Go Travel Photo Competition received over 500 entries in summer 2017! She has over 90,000 followers on social media and is verified on both Twitter and Facebook. We Said Go Travel was read in 222 countries in 2017 and listed as #9 on the top 1000+ travel blog list on Valentine’s Day 2018.
Lisa Niver is part of the Bixel Exchange Startup LAunch with the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce for her website and tech media innovation with We Said Go Travel. Niver was recently invited to apply for the inaugural class of Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, Powered by Techstars for Fall 2018.
She was a finalist in two categories in 2017 for the 59th Southern California Journalism Awards and received 2nd place for her Jewish Journal story: “A Journey to Freedom over Three Passovers.”
Lisa Niver is #5 on top 1000 Travel blog List

Dreaming of Snow: Best in the West with EpicPass

Where do you Dreama of Skiing? Whistler Blackcomb

Whistler Blackcomb
Whistler Blackcomb’s Peak 2 Peak Gondola is the longest, highest lift in the world, and joins the two mountains: Whistler and Blackcomb. It is the crown jewel of the longest continuous lift system in the world. Photo by Brian Webb

Are you dreaming of snow?

Are you ready for skiing at the Best in the West? I loved skiing last year at four Vail Resorts on my EpicPass. I am excited for my first ever visit to Whistler Blackcomb this season now that it is part of the Vail family.


Where is the Best Skiing in Lake Tahoe? Kirkwood

1. Kirkwood Mountain Resort

Last year I loved being part of  Expedition Kirkwood Women’s clinic and my bucket list experience of getting snowed in! I loved the clinic and skiing three days at Kirkwood. 

VideoDid Lisa Niver love Expedition Kirkwood Women’s Clinic?

Where is the Best Skiing in Lake Tahoe? Ski Heavenly

2. Ski Heavenly Mountain Resort

​Heavenly was my next mountain to explore. I loved my day of skiing which started on the Heavenly Village Gondola and included skiing in both Nevada and California. I have never skied in two states in one day before. The views of Lake Tahoe were mesmerizing. I wanted to stop at every turn and take more photos.

VideoWhere is the Best Skiing in Lake Tahoe? Ski Heavenly

3. Northstar California Resort

Last season, I rode up the gondola with Coach Toby at Northstar California Resort. With her, I skied the many neighborhoods of Northstar’s intermediate terrain including Mt. Pluto, Martis Camp, Parks and Pipes, the Backside and Northwest Territory. It was wonderful weather and snow for my first day at Northstar, which also included a VIP champagne tōst experience!

VideoWhere is the Best Skiing in Lake Tahoe? Luxury Skiing at NorthStar

4. Park City Mountain

Park City Mountain is the place where I have spent the most time skiing. I love knowing the mountain so well and having my favorite runs. I have enjoyed the addition of the Canyons Village area that has now made Park City Mountain the largest ski resort in the United States with over 348 runs and 7,300 acres of terrain. I love that there is new terrain to discover with my same ticket and the Epic Pass. I was honored to ski with the National Ability Center last year and write about it for Sierra Magazine, USA Today 10best and Ski Utah.

Video: Lisa Loves Park City Mountain!

5. Whistler Blackcomb

Where do you dream of skiing?

Magnetic is Whistler Blackcomb’s first feature-length ski movie, and all the epic terrain featured is shot entirely in bounds. Stan Rey during the filming of Magnetic on Tigers Terrace overlooking the Peak Chair. Photo by Paul Morrison for Whistler Blackcomb

I am ready for my first day on the slopes at the largest ski resort in North America. At Heavenly last year, I skied in two states on one day. This year I will ski in another country for the first time. I have heard that there is so much to do both on and off the slopes and I cannot wait to return to Vancouver as part of my visit to Canada and Whistler Blackcomb.

What are you dreaming of?

Enjoy this video below that I made in partnership with Park City Vail Resorts and National Ability Center. Make a plan for 2018 to make your dreams come true!

VideoHow Do You Create Freedom On The Mountain?

Find more about Lisa Niver at We Said Go Travel!

The Basics of California Criminal Law

If you are preparing to move and start a new life in the state of California, or are a long-term resident with a newfound curiosity concerning the Californian legal system, then you might be wondering what, in essence, a Californian criminal law is all about. This brief guide aims to give you an overview of what the legal system in the state of California is all about.

Defining a Crime


Under the principles of Californian criminal law, crimes are defined in the form of written statutes. These can be issues at the local, state, or federal level. These statutes outline exactly what is considered a crime under the law. As a general principle, crimes are those actions which are considered to be detrimental to society and these acts, when encompassed in the corresponding statute, can be prosecuted under the Californian law.

Criminal statutes will clearly define what conduct can be legally classified as a crime, and thus prosecuted under the Californian law. The criminal statutes will also make it clear what intents and actions are required in order for an act to be considered criminal, as well as the recommended punishment for individuals who are found guilty.

What is a Statute?


A statute is the written piece of legislation which defines a crime and details the behaviors and intents which are required to charge an individual with that crime. As an example, under Californian law, a burglary (Penal Code 459 PC) is defined as “entering a structure with the intent to commit a felony (or a petty theft) once inside.” This can either be prosecuted as a felony or as a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances and the criminal history of the accused.

The statute will also detail the types of punishment which are deemed appropriate for a given crime. In the case of burglary, a misdemeanor burglary would not incur a jail term of more than a year in county jail. If convicted of a burglary deemed a felony, however, then the offender could face up to six years in a state prison.

The most common punishments under the Californian criminal law are fines, probation, imprisonment, and community service.

The California Criminal Process


Crimes in California are tried in the community or area most affected by the criminal activity, this is usually the place where the crime took place. The process itself consists of an investigation, arrest (if a crime is deemed to have been committed), the criminal charge, prosecution, and if convicted, the sentencing.

If you find yourself charged with a crime, then it is important to engage the services of a criminal defense attorney. According to criminal lawyer Vikas Bajaj, “Not securing suitable legal representation puts you at a significant disadvantage in any criminal proceedings.” If you are accused of a crime then you retain a number of rights and it is important to understand these, a criminal attorney will be able to help you ensure that your rights are respected.

Californian criminal law works much like the legal systems of other states in the union, but every state has its own quirks and peculiarities and it is worth being aware of what these are.




‘Jordan’s Law’ Makes Assault Video a Felony

Jordan Peisner in the hospital. Photo courtesy of Edward Peisner

Last December, 14-year-old Jordan Peisner was the victim of a vicious sucker punch in an attack in West Hills that caused a multitude of traumatic brain injuries, and that was recorded on video and posted on the internet.

Jordan has since become the inspiration for a new law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Oct. 11, that is intended to curtail assaults planned for the purpose of posting onto social media.

Known as “Jordan’s Law,” Assembly Bill 1542 came about after Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, whose 45th District covers much of the West San Fernando Valley, saw the video of the attack on local news outlets.

Jordan was hit from behind by a stranger outside of a Wendy’s restaurant in the Platt Village Shopping Center. The gruesome attack — which resulted in him being airlifted to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where he spent a week recovering — was captured on cellphone video and posted on Snapchat.

Dababneh is close friends with Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, the former congregation of Ed Peisner, Jordan’s father. Vogel put Dababneh in touch with Peisner, and the two quickly set up a meeting.

“To me it wasn’t viral, it was vile.” — Matt Dababneh

“To me it wasn’t viral, it was vile,” Dababneh said of the video. “After meeting with Ed, we knew there needed to be a change to the laws to catch up with technology, which is usually the case if you want to solve real-world problems.”

Ed Peisner and Dababneh fine-tuned the bill’s language over many months to address concerns with First Amendment issues. With the help of State Sen. Harry Stern, the bill eventually made its way to the governor’s desk.

The law adds a year onto a felony sentence when an attacker conspires to have an assault video-recorded, and establishes a new felony for conspiring with an attacker to video-record a crime.

Although the new law won’t change the fact that the teen-age girl who shot and posted the video of the attack on Jordan was not charged with a crime, Ed Peisner stressed that he sees it as a mechanism for change.

“The goal isn’t to jail kids,” he said. “It’s a teaching tool, to hopefully let them think before they post. This is someone trying to take the worst moment of your life and to make it the best moment of their life. For notoriety or for likes? It’s that thinking we have to change.”

After Jordan’s release from the hospital, his father established the Jordan Strong Foundation, a grass-roots organization with the goal of helping to curb bullying. Ed Peisner has used the foundation to organize speeches at Los Angeles-area high schools, covering topics like the dangers of cyber bullying and using exercises that promote empathy.

“We talk about empathy online, suicidal awareness, bystander versus upstander, how to use smartphones for good versus as a weapon like it was in my son’s case. We’re trying to put together modules to teach kids real-life stuff that isn’t necessarily covered in school,” he said.

Through a mutual friend, Ed Peisner was connected with Michaela Paige, a 21-year-old singer and former contestant on the popular television show “The Voice.” A prominent anti-bullying activist, Paige has joined Peisner at several speaking engagements, including one last week in front of more than 2,000 students during two days of talks at Calabasas High School.

“We’re very lucky to have her,” he said. “We had a line of 100 students waiting to talk to her and many cried to her when they opened up. It was the most fulfilling two days of my life. These kids were so in need of someone to connect to and to not feel alone. It was amazing.”

Ed Peisner said Jordan is back in school but still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms, including headaches and bouts with depression. Jordan meets regularly with a therapist and neurologists to monitor his progress. An avid skateboarder before the attack, Jordan no longer partakes in the activity, since, as one of his neurologists put it, “the next brain injury could be his last.”

“On top of all that, he’s just a regular 15-year-old boy,” Ed Peisner said.

After running his family’s merchant-services business for decades, Ed Peisner now spends most of his time running the foundation.

“If I could speak at schools five days a week, I’d do that until my last breath leaves my body,” he said. “I just want to help kids.”

Reform Camp Vows to Rise From the Ashes After Massive Fire in Northern California

Aerial view of Camp Newman after the Tubbs fire. Photo courtesy of Camp Newman.

No lives were lost when the Tubbs Fire tore through URJ Camp Newman near Santa Rosa in Northern California, incinerating most of its structures. But as news of the disaster spread Oct. 9, campers and alumni gathered on social media or in vigils across Southern California and throughout the United States, mourning what sometimes felt more like a close friend than a group of buildings.

Rachel Katz, 22, who recently moved to Mississippi from Los Angeles, recalled her physical reaction to hearing word of the calamity. “I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “I was at a loss for words.”

Quickly, her thoughts turned to teens she had mentored as the camp’s counselor-in-training adviser, some of whom now are counselors.

“I’m just heartbroken for my kids,” she said. “You can’t train them for something like this. You can train them for pretty much everything else, but this is where their good hearts and souls that they all had, go into practice.”

“I’m just heartbroken for my kids. You can’t train them for something like this.”–Rachel Katz

Members of the Camp Newman community gathered in homes and synagogues in states including California, Arizona, Nevada and New York in recent days to discuss the outsized importance the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) camp played in their lives, mourning ties to the camp that often spanned generations. Others took to Facebook and Instagram to tag friends in old photos and share messages of loss.

At Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, Rabbi Barry Lutz invited current and former campers to share their stories during Kabbalat Shabbat services four days after the fire, which turned prayer halls, dining facilities and cabins into piles of twisted rubble and smoking ash. Temple Beth El in San Pedro, Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley and Temple Beth Israel in Pomona were among the spiritual communities that mourned the fire during Friday night services.

A Jewish star stands on the scorched campus of Camp Newman. Photo courtesy of Camp Newman.


The arks that once held the Torahs at Camp Newman burned in the fire. Photo courtesy of Camp Newman.


The rubble of a burned building at Camp Newman. Photo courtesy of Camp Newman.


Vivian Gee, whose two sons attended the camp and whose daughter, 11, normally spends her summers there, addressed the congregation at the Northridge temple.

“I never went to camp, but all of my money went to camp,” Gee said jokingly.

Her eldest son, Cole, 24, met his current girlfriend at camp six years ago and still lives with three camp friends in San Francisco. Cole’s younger brother, Chandler, “who is not always wanting to be Jewish,” their mother said, nonetheless cherishes his memories of camp.

“It was such a great loss to them,” she said as her daughter, Ashlynn, and husband, Doug, sat in the pews. “It was their second home away from home. Our kids’ motto is, ‘Camp Newman is life — and the rest is just stuff.’ ”

The camp is located in Santa Rosa, a six-hour drive north of Los Angeles. Wildfires raging across Northern California have claimed more than 40 lives and burned more than 220,000 acres since breaking out Oct. 8.

On the first day of the fire, camp staff and faculty followed the news of the massive Tubbs Fire burning nearby. After midnight on Oct. 9, authorities evacuated the five permanent residents of the camp, according to camp director Rabbi Erin Mason. After that, it was a waiting game, she said.

“I was fairly certain that we were going to lose a couple buildings, but we just didn’t know the near-total loss that we were going to experience,” Mason said in a phone interview.

Camp staff was not allowed back on site until Oct. 13, the Friday after the fire, when the impact of the blaze became clear. Everything outside of seven camper cabins, the poolhouse, some staff housing and a storage shed had burned, Mason said.

But even before the scope of the damage was known — no cost estimates were available as of Oct. 17 — the camp community began to discuss how to rebuild. By the time camp staff inspected the site, a donation page launched earlier that week ( had raised about $150,000 — not counting what Mason had collected personally.

During a Simchat Torah celebration Mason attended Oct. 12, she said a camp mom handed her a brown paper bag and told her, “The kids wanted me to give you all their tzedakah.”

Mason said about one-third of the camp’s summer participants come from Southern California. “The connection to our Southern California community is huge and is not something that we take for granted,” she said. “We appreciate knowing people come all the way up here.”

Each summer, the camp plays host to some 1,200 third- through 12th-graders during sessions that last two to eight weeks. It also hosts gatherings for NFTY — The Reform Jewish Youth Movement, as well as schools and families.

Mason said the camp is intent on reviving its programs for the coming summer even as it remains unsure how or where.

“We don’t know what that looks like or where that looks like, but it’s first on our priority list to find out how we run camp next summer in whatever iteration that takes,” she said.

Across the region, some campers cast an eye toward rebuilding while others grieved for losses that can never be recouped.

“I’ve been hearing a lot of people say, ‘But we will rebuild,’ ‘But we’re a strong community,’ ” said Ariella Thal Simonds, a Los Angeles-based attorney. “All of that is true, but that’s not where my head is right now.”

Instead, Simonds said she was thinking about the tile murals she and fellow counselors-in-training had installed together by hand, intended to be a permanent testimony to their time and memories there.

Simonds met her husband, Rabbi Joel Simonds of University Synagogue, at Camp Newman, and the pair “had every intention” of sending their kids, who are 3 and 6, to the camp when the time came, she said.

“When we play the movie in our heads of our memories, of those special times, there’s a backdrop to them, and those places played an important role,” she said, adding, “That’s why it’s so devastating to everyone, even though everybody’s safe.”

This year, the camp celebrated 70 summers since it opened as Camp Saratoga at a nearby location, later became Camp Swig and finally Camp Newman. Rabbi Paul Kipnes of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas has been on the camp’s faculty since it moved to its current location 20 years ago.

“We’re going to be OK, and camp’s going to end up in a stronger position for the next 70 years,” he said. “The hardest part is for these kids and the staff. These are places where we made memories, where people had their first kiss, where Judaism was deeply spiritual and completely creative.”

On Oct. 11, Congregation Or Ami held a support service for those mourning the loss preceding its Simchat Torah holiday celebration.

Elsewhere across Los Angeles, thoughts of mourning mingled with hope for the future.

Emily Kane Miller, 35, lives in L.A. but grew up going to Camp Newman. Her mother attended Camp Swig.

“As childhood gets further away, knowing there are these places that exist that are touchstones for your memories is something that brings a lot of comfort, and when they go away, it’s extremely sad,” she said. “But camp was never meant to be something that is a time capsule. It’s a living place that helps to greet each new camper’s summer with fresh energy.”

Miller said she and her husband, Nate, still intend to send their kids to Camp Newman, when and where it rebuilds.

“When Nate and I talk about the things that are sort of mandatory for our kids and what we absolutely want them to do to have Jewish identities, summer camp is at the top of the list, because of [my experience at] Camp Newman,” she said. “Knowing that the space is devastated doesn’t change that for me.”

Back at Temple Ahavat Shalom on Oct. 13, Lutz, who has spent more than a dozen summers on the faculty at Camp Newman, led the congregation in song and prayer as Spencer Hyam, 16, accompanied him on the guitar, playing camp melodies.

When it came time for the Hashkiveinu prayer — “Blessed are You, Lord, who spreads a shelter of peace over us” — the congregation enacted a camp tradition, where counselors spread prayer shawls over their charges as the camp director offers blessings. At the Reform temple, parents spread tallitot over their children while Lutz led the prayer.

“Camp Newman will rise from the ashes,” he said afterward.

The fire had threatened the storage shed where the tallitot are kept that are normally used for the Haskiveinu ritual at Camp Newman, Mason said. But when camp staff returned to the site and inspected it, they were surprised by what they found.

“The ground all around that shed is burned; the ground underneath the shed is burned; the water pump behind it is burned; the trees all around it are burned,” she said. “They opened the door to the shed — and all of the siddurim and all of the tallitot are untouched.” 

Gov. Brown signs law imposing harsher sentences on violent use of social media

Photo from Pexels

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law on Wednesday that slaps harsher sentences on those who use social media as part of a violent crime.

The law, dubbed as “Jordan’s Law” in response to a teenager being violently attacked in 2016, would allow judges to weigh the use of a video recording that had “the intent to encourage or facilitate the offense as a factor in aggravation in sentencing that defendant,” according to the text of the law.

In other words, uploading a video of a violent attack to social media with the intent of aiding and abetting the crime is an added factor when it comes to sentencing.

Assemblyman Matt Dababneh (D-Woodland Hills) said in a statement, “The number of social media motivated attacks, which has included hundreds of vicious assaults on children, the elderly, and the disabled, has risen sharply each year since the mid-2000s. We need to ensure that our criminal code keeps pace with technology, and AB 1542, by maximizing the sentence for those who conspire with attackers to videotape a violent crime, will serve as a strong message to our youth that California will not tolerate this sick desire for internet notoriety.”

In December, 14-year-old Jordan Peisner was sucker punched outside of a Wendy’s in West Hills by a 15-year-old boy who was reportedly paid by a girl to do so. Another girl recorded a video of the attack and uploaded it to Snapchat, which was the alleged motivation behind the attack. The boy received what Jordan’s father, Ed Peisner, thought was a light punishment while the girls have yet to face any sort of legal punishment.

Jordan suffered a fractured skull and brain bleeding from the sucker punch and has since suffered from “seizures, headaches and hearing loss,” according to CBS Los Angeles.

Ed Peisner told the Journal that the law was a step in the right direction.

“I’m hoping that this will serve as a pause button,” said Peisner. “Before you grab that phone and you’re about to do something that could get you in trouble, stop for a minute. Wait. Think about it. So it’s adding some accountability.”

Peisner added that social media has “no rules” and thought that schools should teach proper social media etiquette.

“We need to now adapt the way we think and what we do at schools and at home and apply it towards the digital world because they live in the digital world now,” said Peisner, “and we need some guidance there.”

Peisner said he hoped that Jordan’s Law would go national, thus fulfilling the goal of “changing the future… one child at a time.”


Standing up for immigrants represents of our values as Jews and Californians

A demonstrator holds a sign to protest against the refugee ban on Feb. 4. Photo by Tom Mihalek/Reuters

Few states exemplify the adage that the United States is a nation of immigrants more than California.  There is virtually no ethnicity, religion, race or nationality that isn’t represented here.  Those of us who live in and love California, as my family does, benefit in a multitude of ways from the richness and diversity of California’s immigrant community.  Without these communities, the nature of our lives in California would be significantly different, and worse for it.  This is but one of the reasons that Reform CA and many members of the Reform Jewish community of California support Senate Bill 54, The California Values Act, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León.

The main benefit of SB 54 is that it balances the precarious situation of California’s immigrant residents with the safety and security needs of all Californians. Ensuring that our state’s immigrant residents feel safe at schools, hospitals and courthouses is a crucial part of this.  For example, SB 54 protects our immigrant residents from being reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents if they come forward to assist law enforcement in criminal investigations, if they are stopped for minor traffic infractions and importantly, if they themselves are victims of a crime.  This benefits all members of our community, regardless of immigration status. At the same time, SB 54 empowers local law enforcement to communicate with federal immigration officials in the identification and apprehension of serious and serial felons and violent immigrant criminals.  The bill also allows local law enforcement to work on taskforces with federal authorities.

This legislation represents one of the most important values the Jewish tradition esteems: offering kindness and respect to strangers.  Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik suggests that whenever the Torah wishes to teach us about compassion for the oppressed, it reminds us Jews of our once-lowly status as strangers in Egypt.  For this reason writes Soloveitchik, the Torah commands us 36 times to treat the stranger kindly.

More than 100 years ago, my great grandparents made the decision to leave Kiev and make the long voyage to the United States, along with my grandfather who was only a toddler at the time. They showed up not speaking a word of English and without a penny in their pockets. This story resonates today because this is the narrative of virtually every Jew and, indeed, virtually everybody in this country.

When I speak to my congregation, comprised of roughly 800 of families, I often preach that in many ways the United States of America has been the land of milk and honey for Jews.  This is because America welcomed Jews from around the world by giving us safe harbor and sheltering us from the persecution our ancestors left behind.  I want to offer the same gift of freedom and opportunity that was bequeathed to my family to the immigrants arriving in California today.  This is why my community will join the California Reform Jewish community in Sacramento on August 22 to advocate that our lawmakers pass SB 54 this legislative session.

Rabbi Joshua M. Aaronson serves as senior rabbi at Temple Judea in Tarzana

Windows smashed at Northern California synagogue

A smashed window at Temple Israel clearly shows children’s drawings of Stars of David, Aug. 17, 2017 Photo by Mel Waldorf/J. The Jewish News of Northern California.

Published by JTA via The Jewish News of Northern California.

Police  are investigating what appears to be vandalism at Temple Israel in the Bay Area city of Alameda.

At about 6 p.m. Thursday, congregational president Genevieve Pastor-Cohen sent an email to the congregation stating, “in the morning, it was discovered that two classroom windows had been smashed,” and noting that police and Harbor Bay Security had been notified.

“During our Weds. Aug 16th Board of Directors meeting, we discussed the possibility of our synagogue being a target in our small town of Alameda especially with the ongoing expression of bigotry and anti-Semitism,” the letter continued. “It breaks my heart and soul to be exposed to this type of mindless and senseless action especially aimed at the community I (we) love.”

Congregant Mel Waldorf went to the synagogue after he received the email, and told J. that one of the windows that had been smashed “was where kids had painted Stars of David.”

He also said that another window that noted this was “the new Temple Israel” had been smashed. Waldorf said that police took away a rock the assailants had used in an effort to smash in the front door.

“There’s no question that the attacker knew this was a Jewish institution,” he told J.

In her email to the congregation, Pastor-Cohen noted that a security plan had been developed this year by a synagogue task force, and added that the plan will be re-examined after this incident “to ensure our community is protected and safe from harm, especially with our High Holy Days coming upon us.”

Police told J. that a report had been filed, and the case was being investigated. No further details were available at press time.

Keeping the peace in troubled times

Angry disagreement now dominates our national discourse, with emphasis on the “angry.”

We feel, with William Butler Yeats, that “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

I believe that however we define America, whatever principles we think it stands for, it’s worth preserving. So are our families and friendships.

Whether you think that America “was never great” or you yearn for a lost era of innocence and patriotism, no one can deny America’s achievements. No one can deny the ideals that our country has imperfectly tried to follow. People vote with their feet. Middle Eastern migrants don’t want to go to Saudi Arabia, which is much closer but won’t take them, anyway. They want to come here.

The good we have achieved, and the good we can still achieve, are things that we don’t want to throw away. America can survive a controversial president. It can’t survive being torn apart.

This is a difficult time for all of us. But we can get through it if we keep our heads and follow some common-sense rules – both personally, and as a country.

Keeping Our Personal Sanity

The personal rules are easier to follow.

First, don’t sever relationships that matter. Our relationships with family and close friends should transcend most disagreements. That also applies to other people we respect, who might have some ideas we find repugnant. If we know they’re good people whom we admire for other reasons, then we shouldn’t close the door on them permanently.

Online or in real life, I never “unfriend” family, close friends, or people I respect. Every family has its Uncle Frank who’s a staunch right-winger and Aunt Sally who’s a staunch left-winger. When they walk through the front door, we should greet them warmly, embrace them, and avoid conversation about their hot-button subjects. We can talk about the kids or the weather. Online, we can mute their posts so we remain friends but don’t have to see their political rants.

Second, forgive hurtful things that people said in heated arguments. If you’re ever in doubt, forgive them anyway. Forgiveness should be our default response. The only people exempt from this rule are those who have never said anything stupid or hurtful. Which means: nobody.

Third, remember that we all sometimes have crazy ideas. Remember that people, including us, tend to base their political beliefs more on emotion than on facts or reasoning. As a result, good people, smart people can believe things that we think are absurd. Don’t abandon them because of it.

Fourth, remember that we all sometimes change our minds. People who bitterly disagree with you today might decide tomorrow that you’re right. Or you might decide that they’re right. The fact that we feel absolutely sure of our own rightness doesn’t guarantee that we’re right, only that we’re sure.

Keeping Our Political Sanity

It might surprise you to learn that we’re not the first generation to have this kind of disagreement. In the late 1700s, the United States – referred to in the plural until the mid-20th century – were sharply divided on issues such as religion, local autonomy, and of course – to our shame – slavery.

Does this situation sound familiar?

“A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power … have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.”

That’s from Federalist Paper #10 by James Madison, published in 1788. The bitter national dissension we see today is an old problem that was solved (as well as it can be) a long time ago. We just forgot the solution.

The American Founders needed to unite the colonies into a single nation in spite of their disagreements. They did it with the last article in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” (10th Amendment)

In Federalist Paper #45, Madison explained the meaning:

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce …The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

We’ve heard a lot about the disagreements between California and other parts of the country, most notably with the Trump White House. It’s what’s got some people promoting “Calexit.”

But what if the federal government had no power to tell the State of California how to run its internal affairs, except for basic human rights and issues affecting the entire country? Then it wouldn’t matter what the president wanted to do. He or she wouldn’t be able to do it. Calexit would be superfluous.

Going back to the Constitution isn’t without cost. Apart from the legal hurdles, it requires a willingness to “live and let live.” Arbitrary power seems like a great idea when you’re the one who’s got it. But when it’s in the hands of people with whom you disagree, it’s suddenly a lot less appealing. If we don’t want people in Kentucky dictating how people live in California, then we must give up the idea that people in California may dictate to people in Kentucky how they are required to live.

The U.S. Constitution can solve our political problems, if we’ll let it.

California’s next move

With its worst fears realized and President Trump now a reality, Californians need to look forward.  We need a new approach as to how residents of the Golden State can influence the national election.  Because, since 1980 (and again in 1984), when the national news organizations called the race for Reagan while Californians were still finishing their afternoon meditation before heading to the polls, it seems the most meaningful way Golden State residents can influence election is with cocktail parties and fundraisers.  Politicians of all stripes stop in our state, to feast on tofu dumplings, non-dairy cheese served on gluten free crackers, and local – organic – wine, for only one reason: Money.

As we look ahead to 2020, if we want to make a meaningful difference, we need to be more strategic with our dollars, combining Silicon Valley ingenuity and entrepreneurship with Southern California creativity.  And by that, I do not mean hosting more Hollywood and Silicon Valley events.  (If there is one beacon of light in Trump’s victory, it is that LA freeways will have fewer days of gridlock.)  We can jointly contribute our tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars not to the Democratic party or specific candidates for President but rather to the one thing that can most ensure Trump’s defeat in four years:  Move.

Hold on, no need to reach for the Xanax and Ativan that line your medicine cabinet.  Or for the cannabis growing in your yard (likely long before it was made legal on November 8).  I am not suggesting permanently leaving our great state. 

The ‘move’ will be only for a short time period.  Enough to declare residency in a state that went for Trump in 2016 and use your vote to make a difference.  Calm down, breathe.  No, you won’t have to trade in your Tesla or Prius for a Ford pickup. 

“But – “

It’s okay, I know your next worry.  No need to dust off your winter coats, the out of style parka, or that Michelin tire looking bubble jacket that surely was the right look once upon a time before you headed west.   You don’t even have to hurry to get your KJUS or Bogner jacket back from your winter home in Sun Valley or Aspen.  You know, the jackets you wear to the après ski parties.

“Oh.  Good.  But – “

Yes, you can still keep your tan.

“I can?”


“And –“

Yes, your surfboard too.

“Dude, what’s the deal?”

Okay, so I have your attention.  

California residents donated approximately $100 million to Hillary Clinton and the Democrat Party.  That’s a lot of money for a losing candidate and party.  I suggest we channel that money to buy real estate in the sunny – yes I said sunny – state of Florida.

Here’s the plan:  Money we would set aside for the next Presidential campaign will be pooled to buy single family homes and apartments in different parts of Florida. Call it the NextMove Fund.  We’ll get homes closer to the beach for those who can’t be away from surf and sand.  A sprinkle of condos will be purchased near South Beach for those who need the paparazzi snapping photos of them. 

All we need are 120,000 votes to win Florida in the next election.  Each home will have a minimum of 4 beds so we need to purchase 30,000 homes.  At an average price of $200,000, the current average price for a home in Florida, the total needed to buy all of the properties will be $6,000,000,000.  But, thanks to our new President, mortgage rules will certainly be relaxed (ah, remember those days?), so the most we will have to put down will be $600 million.  Yeah, that leaves us short so we will essentially use each house as collateral for the next, taking out second and third mortgages to raise the money we need.  So, yes, all we need is 1-2% to fund this entire operation.  Crazy!  Impossible, you say?  Did you see ‘The Big Short’?  Right, I know it only won an Oscar for Adapted Screenplay and that doesn’t really count.  But you saw it.   

And here’s the beauty.  It’s an investment.  Unlike campaign contributions that give you no tax or financial benefit, these properties will bring rental income once the next election is over.  Maybe we can even pool the properties and go public and really make some money. 


That’s right.  The NextMove Fund will IPO.  We’ll hire Goldma Sachs.  Easy.  And, as soon as the election is over, you can leave.  You didn’t think we were going to ask you to stay more than a few months, did you? 

I couldn’t see your brow furl up because your skin is so taut. 

All you need to do is live in Florida for a period of time required to be considered a Floridian.  Once you own a home, you can become a permanent resident, which then entitles you to a driver’s license, which you can then use to register to vote.   You just need to register 29 days before the next election. 

Come summer 2020, you can begin your vacation as usual, on your yacht off the coast of Italy.  Stay longer overseas if you want to avoid hurricane season, or if you wish, come back to your now second home in California while rain batters the Southeast.  In fact, you’ll be doing your Floridian neighbors a favor because when it rains, you won’t know how to drive and the idea of buying plywood to board your windows is as foreign to you as retrofitting your water heater or buying earthquake insurance.  NextMove will have your house for you, in your name.  Arrive in Florida in time to get your driver’s license and vote.  Just make sure to punch your ballot correctly!

“Did you say permanent – “

Yoga time!  Breathe in and out through your nose, close your eyes, stand in tadasana.  And listen closely.  Nothing is permanent in life.  Nothing.  Neither is living in Florida.  Permanent is the new temporary.  Wink, wink.  You just need to keep repeating permanent because that will get you the driver’s license.  You need the license to be able to vote.

“But – “

I know, I know.  You don’t want to be a resident of Florida forever.  Who does?  After all, hurricanes, alligators, the Jacksonville Jaguars, hurricanes, Zika.


Each property comes with an endless supply of mosquito repellent.  With fragrance.  Because we understand.  The Jaguars on the other hand.  We can’t help you there. 

“But what about Zika! “

Chill.  The CDC just said the fear has passed.  You have more to worry about tanning salons than Zika.

“Okay, I am in.  But –“

Wisconsin, Michigan and Pencelvania?  We’ll leave that to the kind folks from Illinois, New York and the rest of the Northeast.  They know how to live with the cold.

Jewish community frames Prop. 57 as social justice cause

Martin Cruz owes his freedom to the California juvenile justice system. 

His childhood essentially ended at age 8, when he saw a friend shot five times and killed. Soon enough, he was part of a gang, and at 16, after years of cycling in and out of the juvenile justice system, a district attorney tried to send him to adult court.

“If I had been sent to adult court, I would be done,” he told an audience at Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) on a recent Tuesday evening. “I would probably still be in prison today.”

Seated in plastic chairs set in semicircles in the Reform synagogue’s meeting hall, shul members and representatives from other faith communities and social justice organizations had gathered to hear about Proposition 57. The measure on the November ballot aims to reduce California’s prison population through a variety of methods, including by ending the practice of allowing prosecutors to send minors to adult court without approval from a judge.

In advance of the election, Prop. 57 made its way into High Holy Days sermons across the city, including that of TIOH’s Rabbi Jocee Hudson, who moderated the Oct. 18 panel. 

While critics have raised safety concerns, the proposal sponsored by Gov. Jerry Brown has earned the support of Reform CA, the progressive Jewish organization Bend the Arc, and the California chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women.

The measure would allow nonviolent offenders to earn parole after they serve the sentences for the primary offense that landed them in prison. In addition, it instructs the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to consider educational and rehabilitative achievements when weighing a prisoner’s early release. 

But perhaps the most important step Prop. 57 would take, Hudson said, relates to juveniles being sent to adult court. When the synagogue adopted criminal justice reform as one of its initiatives and she began learning more about the prison system in California, she said, “I didn’t realize that juveniles could be sentenced to life — I mean, without parole.” 

For every six youths sent to adult court, California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) estimates that five of them are there at the sole discretion of a prosecutor, contributing to harsher sentences and longer prison terms.

 Things would have gone much differently for Cruz if he had been tried as an adult, according to Elizabeth Calvin, a Human Rights Watch attorney and co-author of Prop. 57.

“Everyone in the courtroom would have operated under the myth that he was an adult,” she said, speaking beside him at the Hollywood congregation. “And he would have faced adult prison time.”

Instead, Cruz said, he got the chance to seek therapy in a juvenile detention facility and learn about himself, eventually reforming his behavior. Today, he’s a father and film student at West Los Angeles College.

But thousands of youths in California are never afforded that opportunity — roughly 44,000 of them, according to the LAO.

“We don’t give them the right to vote, we don’t give them the right to buy cigarettes, we don’t give them the right, under 16, to drive, but we’re willing to put them into the adult system and treat them like adults,” Miriam Aroni Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor and Temple Israel member, said at the event.

She said she became jaded as she watched politicians pass harsher and harsher sentencing laws during her 15 years as a prosecutor.

“I became deeply troubled during those 15 years by the willingness of our justice system to throw away a generation of young people,” she said.

Each panelist encouraged the audience to support Prop. 57, painting it as a crucial social justice issue for religious communities.

“California’s justice system is terribly broken, really from one end to the other,” said Calvin, the Human Rights Watch attorney. “As people of faith, as people who care about repairing the world, we have to wade in and decide that we’re going to fix it piece by piece by piece.”

That, more or less, is the pitch Brown made to Southern California rabbis in April, hoping to earn their support for the measure. At a meeting in Beverly Hills called by Leo Baeck Temple Senior Rabbi Ken Chasen, at Brown’s request, the governor urged about two dozen rabbis to get behind Prop. 57, said Hudson, who was present at the meeting.

He told the rabbis he’s supporting the measure with surplus campaign funds as a way of seeking “prophetic justice” for a mandatory sentencing law he signed during his first term, which contributed to an increasing prison population. 

“It was a very profound experience, I thought, for him to say to us, publicly, ‘I put this law into effect in my first term; I never anticipated what the consequences of it would be,’ ” Hudson told the Journal.

Brown has made similar statements in more public venues. In an Oct. 21 op-ed in the Bay Area’s Mercury News, he wrote of his support for mandatory sentencing, “My idea then was to add greater certainty in sentencing, but it turned out just the opposite. The legislature kept changing sentences by passing hundreds and hundreds of new crime laws.”

Opponents of the measure — including a host of California law enforcement officers associations and district attorneys — see it as a public danger that would put violent criminals on the streets. L.A. county’s sheriff and its district attorney have joined the opposition campaign.

The “No on 57” campaign has gone so far as to distribute playing cards with pictures of rapists and murderers under the words, “Meet your new neighbors.”

“The summary says that it applies to nonviolent offenders,” said L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, speaking at an Oct. 20 news conference alongside a number of city leaders opposed to the measure. “But the truth of the matter is that the way it was written, human traffickers, who we’re trying hard to get off the streets, would actually be eligible to be released earlier.”

In fact, the measure fails to outline its definition of nonviolent crime. Instead, it assumes any crime not listed as violent in the penal code is nonviolent, according to the LAO. 

In general, Jewish activism in favor of the reform has focused on social justice and teshuvah — repentance — rather than public safety. But Krinsky, the former federal prosecutor, did address the issue during the TIOH event.

“As a matter of outcomes, we’re not making our community any safer” by trying juveniles as adults, she said. “Kids we put into our adult system are at greater risk of future criminal conduct.”

California needs anti-BDS bill to fight discrimination

Introduced in response to the “BDS Movement,” a growing international campaign of intolerance and bigotry operating under the guise of human rights advocacy, AB 2844 is an important and needed law that will help to protect many Californians from discrimination. AB 2844 would, in essence, prohibit the state from contracting with entities that engage in discriminatory activity, including, but not limited to, discriminatory activity targeting Jews and those of Israeli origin.

[OPPOSITION: Gov. Brown should veto flawed BDS law]

Many other states have adopted similar laws and with the thoughtful revisions to AB 2844 that were made through the legislative process, there is no question that AB 2844 passes constitutional muster while also protecting a minority group in California that is under concerted attack.

I have written extensively on the BDS Movement generally and the constitutionality of restrictions on BDS Movement activity in the United States specifically.  My most recent paper, “The Inapplicability of First Amendment Protections to BDS Movement Boycotts” was published in the Cardozo Law Review de novo and is available here.  This paper demonstrates the constitutionality of AB 2844, especially with regard to First Amendment concerns.

Some of those who oppose anti-BDS laws, and AB 2844 in particular, have argued that BDS activity is subject to the same type of constitutional protections that civil rights boycotts enjoy.  Indeed, the initial legal analysis prepared by the legislature for AB 2844 contained this deeply flawed position. However, after a number of constitutional scholars, including my legal foundation, informed the state of its erroneous legal conclusion, the record was corrected and the legislature resumed consideration of AB 2844.

As a legal matter, there is no question that AB 2844 is a common sense, reasonable and permissible state action to combat discrimination, no different from other actions against discriminatory conduct, such as bans on state and local employee travel to states with anti-LGBTQ policies.  As a policy matter, there is great urgency in having the State of California take a stand against the increasingly hateful targeting of Jews and Californians of Israeli-descent, and their businesses. 

While those who support the BDS Movement claim that it is a rights movement, the truth is that it is nothing more than a revival of the old Arab League boycott against Israel, reinvigorated with a savvy public relations arm and backed by designated terror organizations and sponsors of international hate.  The BDS Movement came to life at the behest of, among other state actors, Iran, in a conference that former California Congressman Tom Lantos described as “an anti-American, anti-Israel circus…a transparent attempt to de-legitimize the moral argument for Israel’s existence as a haven for Jews.” 

BDS Movement activity has, as its ultimate goal, the elimination of the modern State of Israel and the disenfranchisement of Jews worldwide from their historic homeland.  In recent testimony before Congress, Dr. Jonathan Schanzer identified ties between supporters of designated terror groups, such as Hamas, and key supporters of the BDS Movement. 

BDS Movement activities in California have a particularly important impact on me.  My mother was born in a small village in what was then known as Czechoslovakia in 1933.  Her family was persecuted by an organized group that sought to demonize and disenfranchise Jewish residents under the guise of protecting the rights of others.  While many Czechs thought that the incremental vilification and targeting of their Jewish neighbors was a passing occurrence or one that would not concern them, when the Nazis invaded and began rounding up Jews it was too late to take action.  My mother was taken from her home by SS agents and while everyone in her family other than her (and her mother and father) were slaughtered in extermination camps, through a stroke of luck my mother was allowed to immigrate to the United States in 1942.  The fate of those in my father’s family who remained in the Ukraine had no such luck, as a frenzied population, driven my anti-Jewish agitprop, worked with the Nazis to eradicate Jews from their midst.

Today, the BDS Movement dutifully spreads a similar agenda of hate and discrimination and has unfortunately found a home in California.  Under the banner of the BDS Movement, radical Islamist groups operate on college campuses, intimidating and silencing Jewish students, spreading misinformation meant to encourage anti-Semitic activity and preventing Jewish and Israeli academics from participating in university activities.  In addition, BDS Movement boycott activity negatively impacts commercial markets in California.

In a recent decision by the International Executive Board of the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), one of the country’s largest labor unions, the union found that the BDS Movement “espouses discrimination and vilification” of union members and a local union’s support of BDS was found to “Intrude upon [the union’s constitution] by subverting the Union in collective bargaining…[and] would have a far reaching  economic impact on UAW and other union members.” 

The words of the UAW speak volumes about the true nature of BDS and the impact of BDS support:

…the local union’s BDS Resolution inherently targets … Israeli and/or Jewish members…this call to action by the local union, in association with the BDS Resolution, is in disregard of the rights of … members of the UAW.  Moreover, this type of activity is suggestive of discriminatory labeling and a disparagement of these members

Similarly, the local union’s [BDS resolution engages in] biased targeting of Israeli/Jewish UAW members….

…we find that the provisions of the BDS Resolution, despite semantical claims to the contrary by the local union, can easily be construed as academic and cultural discrimination against union members on the basis of their national origin and religion

…notwithstanding the denotation and connotation of words, it is our unanimous belief that the notion of BDS, credibly espouses discrimination and vilification against Israelis and UAW members who are of Jewish lineage….Thus, the local union’s platform is apparent in its unfavorable stance against the State of Israel, Israelis, and, invariably, Jewish union members.

On this basis, the UAW found that BDS support violates the UAW’s International Constitution’s prohibition on discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion and national origin.

Make no mistake about it, while the BDS Movement is not openly advocating a Nazi-like agenda, their goal is to weaken, delegitimize and ultimately eliminate the Jewish identity of the Middle East (and all vestiges of it throughout the world). 

If the BDS Movement was, in fact, truly concerned with human rights in the Middle East, they’d be taking action against the homophobic, xenophobic and misogynistic policies of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas (and neighboring countries’ governments).  Instead, they are trying to destroy the only true liberal democracy in the Middle East and the only country in the region that respects and supports LGBTQ rights.  Recent activities on UC campuses, including targeted harassment of Jewish students by BDS supporters and fostering of radical anti-Semitic activities to marginalize Jewish voices on campuses are simply the tip of the iceberg of this hate movement.

Supporters of the BDS Movement argue that they have a right to protest against Israel and AB 2844 in no way infringes upon this right.  If Governor Brown signs AB 2844 into law, Californians can still take to the streets to voice their opinions against Israel and individual Californians can, if they so choose, avoid doing business with Israel.  

We can all agree that the people of California overwhelmingly oppose discrimination and there is no question that the BDS Movement is an organization that promotes discrimination. AB 2844 is simply an exercise of California’s proprietary power to spend or invest state funds in a manner that reflects the moral and economic interests of the people of the State of California.  AB 2844 follows the same longstanding policy against discriminatory boycotts as is enshrined in a number of federal laws, including the anti-boycott provisions of the Export Administration Act and Treasury Department regulations.

The State of California not only has the constitutional authority to choose to not do business with those who foster discrimination, it has a moral obligation to avoid contributing to such activity.  Governor Brown should sign AB 2844 into law.

Marc Greendorfer is an attorney and founder of Zachor Legal Institute, a legal foundation that focuses on constitutional scholarship and rights advocacy

Governor Brown should veto flawed BDS law

Since March, the California legislature has struggled to draft a bill aimed at thwarting BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.  As readers of these pages know, BDS is a movement that promotes South Africa-style boycott and divestment strategies to oppose Israel and its policies. For many of its supporters, BDS is a way to challenge the very legitimacy of the Jewish state.

[OPPOSITION: In support of AB 2844]

After a torturous path of amendment and revision, the State legislature now has in AB 2844 something it thinks it can live with.  But the revised bill, however well-intentioned, remains seriously flawed.  Governor Brown should veto it.

Earlier versions of the bill would have created a list of companies that participate in BDS – defined to include boycotts targeting Israel or settlements – and prohibited companies on the list from becoming state contractors (a blacklist). After being cautioned by its own legal counsel that economic boycotts qualify as protected free speech under the First Amendment, the legislature abandoned its original scheme and converted AB 2844 into a generic anti-discrimination law.

The new law requires state contractors to certify, under penalty of perjury, that they comply with California’s anti-discrimination laws, including the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Unruh Act.  The bill does not mention BDS, but it cautions that any policy maintained by state contractors “against a Sovereign nation or peoples, including but not limited to the nation and people of Israel,” may not be used to discriminate in violation of those laws.

If this sounds a little confusing, it is.  It is not clear whether AB 2844 prohibits any conduct that is not already illegal under California law, because state contractors are already required to certify that they comply with anti-discrimination laws. And the formal findings and analyses that accompany the bill do not explain what, if anything, the new bill would add to existing rules.

The bill does send a symbolic message that California opposes BDS.  And AB 2844 avoids the pitfalls of many anti-BDS bills and regulations recently adopted in other states, which unconstitutionally penalize participation in BDS, and which will almost certainly face credible legal challenges.

Nevertheless AB 2844 is unsound.  The bill’s lack of precision creates a serious risk that courts will give it unexpected interpretations, and it could become a victim of the law of unintended consequences.  On top of all that, it is unfair to put contractors at risk of perjury – with potential criminal sanctions – by requiring them to sign a certification for such a confounding statute.

The legislative history of waffling and revision on the proposal will likely subject the legislature to embarrassment and ridicule for pandering to anti-BDS, pro-settlement forces in the Jewish community.  After learning that it could not prohibit state contractors from exercising their constitutional right to participate in BDS, it looks like the legislature scrambled to come up with something, anything, to please these groups.  And yet, in a backhanded way, the bill legitimizes BDS. It states, in effect, that it is perfectly fine to support BDS, so long as you don’t discriminate in the process. And although some claim that BDS is by its very nature anti-Semitic, if there is one point of clarity in AB 2844, it is that BDS is not intrinsically discriminatory against Jews or others.

Finally, there lurks beneath the bill a difficult and complex question about what it means to have a policy against “the nation and people of Israel.”  There are many strong supporters of the State of Israel, including our organization Americans for Peace Now, who oppose the extreme positions of BDS, but who support a boycott of economic activities that further Israel’s dangerous settlement policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Does the “the nation and people of Israel” in AB 2844 include settlements that the United States government has long declared illegitimate and that are clearly illegal under international law?  

Whether state government should get involved in foreign policy issues is always a difficult question.  That state government needs to be particularly sensitive when entering the thicket of the Israel-Palestine conflict should be self-evident. The fact is, there is no pressing BDS problem that warrants this amount of legislative attention. Nobody is claiming that hordes of state contractors are boycotting Israel, let alone using BDS as a pretext to discriminate against women, the disabled, racial minorities or Jews.

The California experience shows that efforts to defeat BDS legislatively will, ineluctably, run into serious constitutional hurdles and likely will result in ineffective if not counterproductive laws.  Here, AB 2844 will give exposure to the BDS movement, but it’s just not clear what else it will do – and it’s not clear as of now whether that exposure will harm the movement. The BDS controversy is best left to those who can educate, persuade and influence.  This is an issue for public discourse, not confusing and muddled legislation.

Steven J Kaplan and Sanford Weiner are Americans for Peace Now National Board Members. Steven J Kaplan is Chair of the Los Angeles Region of APN.

California may soon legalize pot, but what does Jewish law say?

Among the more puzzling of the Jewish mitzvot is the commandment to get so drunk on Purim that you can’t distinguish the hero from the villain in the holiday story.

This year, recounted Rabbi Yisroel Engel, director of Chabad of Colorado, one ultra-Orthodox Denver man decided to ditch the booze and substitute marijuana brownies to achieve the required inebriation.

“I found that very bizarre,” Engel said in a phone interview.

The experiment was the exception to the rule in Denver’s Orthodox community, Engel said: Most understand that whatever state laws might say, recreational use of marijuana stands contrary to the values of Orthodox Judaism.

“It’s great to get high,” Engel said. “But you know what? You can get high on spirituality, on the soul, on prayer. Get high on God.”

The conventional Orthodox line on marijuana is at best ambivalent.

Nobody is suggesting that taking a puff of cannabis is like eating pork,” said Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, an Orthodox lecturer, writer and pulpit rabbi in Manhattan.

Rosen compared the Jewish view on cannabis to that of wine, which halachah allows — even encourages — but only in moderation.

“Drunkenness is totally disapproved of,” he said, dismissing Purim as a debatable exception. In general, “nobody is in favor of being drunk. But in small quantities of wine, it’s a mitzvah.”

On Nov. 8, Californians will have a chance to vote to legalize marijuana, and in fact, it seems likely they will: A statewide UC Berkeley poll of California voters published last month showed more than 60 percent of California voters favor legalization.

But just because Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, would legalize the drug in California doesn’t mean it would become allowable under Jewish law.

Though most Orthodox authorities consider smoking weed a frivolous pursuit to be discouraged, an end to pot prohibition creates an opportunity to reconsider some of the halachic and religious considerations around lighting up.

To be sure, Jewish texts bristle with verses that poseks — interpreters of Talmudic law — use to prohibit the smoking of marijuana.

Deuteronomy 4:15: “For your own sake, therefore, be most careful.”

Leviticus 19:2: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”

Numbers 15:39: “Do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge.”

For Diaspora Jews, though, the clearest prohibition is perhaps dina d’malchuta, literally, sovereign law — Aramaic shorthand for the concept that an observant Jew should obey civil authorities as well as rabbinical ones.

Legalizing weed would lighten the dina d’malchuta concerns around using cannabis. But Jewishly speaking, the absence of a prohibition doesn’t constitute permission.

“The idea, ‘Well if something is not illegal it must be OK,’ is very much not a Jewish idea,” said Rabbi Mark Washofsky, professor of Jewish law and practice at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.

“Lots of things are not prohibited,” he went on. “At the same time, you might not want to spend a whole lot of time using them. … Just because you’re allowed to drink wine doesn’t mean you should be a drunkard.”

And although wine proves a useful analogy, pot is not explicitly addressed in the Torah. Where the word of law is unclear, as it is with cannabis, the normal Jewish prescription is dialogue.

“Merely because the state of California decides to legalize marijuana does not mean anything for Jews until we talk about it,” Washofsky said.

As it stands, much of the Orthodox mainstream rejects marijuana entirely. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986), the Lithuanian-born posek whose pre-eminence in American Jewry is such that the Orthodox often refer to him by only his first name, Rav Moshe, declared smoking marijuana to be “obviously forbidden.”

“It destroys his mind, and prevents him from understanding things properly,” he wrote in “Igros Moshe,” a nine-volume halachic commentary. “This is a terrible thing, since not only can the individual not properly study Torah, he also can not pray and properly perform mitzvot [commandments], since doing them mindlessly is considered as if they were not done at all.”

To bolster his opinion, the rabbi cites the punishment for gluttony offered in Deuteronomy: death by stoning.

A Torah of cannabis

Sure enough, there are those, such as Yoseph Needleman, who dismiss Feinstein’s prohibition as “suck-up-to-the-man disinformation.”

That’s the message in his 2009 book (written under a pseudonym), “Cannabis Chassidis: The Ancient and Emerging Torah of Drugs (A Memoir),” about the canned answers he received from mainstream rabbis when he was looking for guidance as a high schooler as to how the Jewish religion treats pot.

“Not that I thought I would find one, but I wanted a tradition that was helpful about how to enjoy drugs better — specifically, reefer,” he said. “Because that was a wholly natural thing, according to all the rumors on the street.”

That search led him to Jerusalem, where he spoke with the Journal in March at a café in the Nachlaot neighborhood.

Yoseph Needleman

Needleman is a lanky, bearded man whose words tumble quickly after one another in a rush of enthusiasm. He stretched out his long legs at a sidewalk table on a street of hip coffee shops where it’s not uncommon to walk past several Friday pleasure-seekers rolling marijuana cigarettes in public.

Marijuana laws are more stringent in Israel, but both society and police are just as tolerant of it in some places as they are in California. One gets the sense the cops consider other matters more pressing in Israel.

Where most Orthodox poseks read the holy texts as prohibitive of marijuana use, Needleman sees a potential guide for the perplexed stoner.

For example, in the introduction to his book, he cites Proverbs 25: “‘If you get a taste of honey, take only as little as you need and let the rest pass, lest ye take too much and vomit it all up.”

“Very deep, right?” Needleman probes in the book. “Anything ‘sweet,’ this applies for.”

The Jewish tradition of smoking pot is old and deep, he argues.

Needleman is fond of quoting Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye, biographer of the Baal Shem Tov (Israel ben Eliezer), the mystical founder of Chassidism. Yosef once claimed he would trade his portion in this world and the next, all for just a taste of what the Baal Shem Tov got from his pipe.

Law and stigma

Then as now, divisions in Jewish opinion were stark. In a 1772 letter, the Vilna Gaon, a legendary Torah scholar, excommunicated the followers of the Baal Shem Tov, taking issue with their dancing, exuberant methods of prayer and their smoking.

In today’s terms, the letter might have read, “What exactly is it that they’re smoking over there?”

There are many who now take a similar disapproving view of Needleman’s cannabis theology.

“If that’s what you’re talking about as spiritual experience, then Timothy Leary must have been the most spiritual person ever,” said Rosen, the Orthodox lecturer, referring to the psychedelic pioneer who popularized LSD.

“I don’t call that spiritual,” he added. “I call that something else: altered mind state.”

But then, there are plenty who are inclined to agree with Needleman on the spiritual potential of marijuana use.

The manager of marijuana law and policy for the Drug Policy Alliance, Amanda Reiman, is among the top backers of Proposition 64 in the state.

Reiman grew up in the Reform tradition, though today she no longer observes most rituals. Once a year, however, she gets together with a group of friends on Yom Kippur to light up and share insights on how they hope to change and grow in the new Jewish year.

“I would say it’s absolutely been a helpful tool in terms of spirituality,” she said in an interview.

But aside from her own practice, Reiman believes that legalizing pot is a Jewish imperative because marijuana prohibition disproportionately affects marginalized populations, she said.

“As Jews, we’ve had so much in our history of being marginalized and unfairly persecuted,” she said. “I think we have a responsibility to recognize that this has been happening to our communities of color for decades in the United States, and we need to play an active role in righting those wrongs.”

In that belief, she might find some support from halachah.

“If you see an injustice, you have to fix it,” said Washofsky, the Reform rabbi. “That’s what Jewish law tells us. But how we understand the definition of injustice is not always determined by the text. Sometimes we have to look at the world and make the decision on our own.”

Coexisting with cannabis

For years, Ean Seeb, a marijuana entrepreneur in Denver, wanted to sponsor the local Jewish Community Center’s annual poker tournament, and for years the organizers turned him down because they were uncomfortable carrying the logos for his marijuana businesses.

This year, they reached out to him to say they were going to be allowing cannabis-related sponsors and branding.

For Seeb, a regional board member for the Anti-Defamation League who’s active with JEWISHcolorado (formerly the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado), the reversal is a signal that “the negative stigma of cannabis users is slowly fading away.”

If California voters choose to legalize marijuana, run-ins between the recreational marijuana industry and Jewish communities here would be likely, if not inevitable.

They wouldn’t be without precedent: At one time, the South Robertson district, which encompasses several heavily Jewish neighborhoods, was home to more than 20 medical cannabis dispensaries, said Doug Fitzsimmons, president of the South Robertson Neighborhoods Council.

For the most part, dispensaries and the neighborhood’s religious institutions coexisted without problems, Fitzsimmons said. Over time, though, it became clear that a lack of strict regulation created nuisances to the community. Because dispensaries are cash businesses, robberies were frequent, and customers would sometimes loiter and smoke weed in front of the shops, Fitzsimmons said.

After a crackdown on dispensaries citywide by the city of Los Angeles, the number of shops dwindled. But if recreational pot becomes legal after the November vote, demand for the plant could bring such businesses flocking back to Robertson Boulevard.

Talking to kids about pot

Each year, Bruce Powell, founding head of school at de Toledo High School in West Hills (formerly New Community Jewish High School), gives a talk to the school’s entire student body. He tells the teens to ask themselves five questions before doing anything:

Is it legal? Is it moral? Does it comport with Jewish values? Is it going to hurt another human being? Can you proudly tell your grandmother about it?

Powell’s prescription addresses risky behavior more broadly. But with regard to marijuana, a change in the law would modify the students’ answer to the first of those questions: Although the product would still be forbidden for those younger than 21, it would exist in the same legal classification as alcohol.

But Proposition 64 wouldn’t touch any of the other questions. Notably, Powell said, it would not impact the Jewish values on which the high school bases its drug and alcohol education.

“This is definitely going to be another challenging parenting moment,” he said of the likely change in legal status. However, “it’s no different than parents talking to their children about drinking, about driving, about sex.”

In all those conversations, Jewish teachings figure prominently for Powell.

“Everything is created b’tselem Elohim [in the image of God],” he said in an interview. “So how do we want to treat that image? Do we want to diminish that image?  Do we want to increase that image? And then we ask the question: What do drugs do to that image? Do they help the image? Do they increase the image?”

Meanwhile, at Chabad of Colorado, Engel has a different strategy for dissuading people from toking.

Instead, he suggested, “Try POT — stands for ‘put on tefillin.’ ”

If you will it, it is no dream

Every trip to New York for me is a return to the old country. Even in California, I live in the sixth borough; a bicoastal netherworld that feels like the real thing though I am 3,000 miles away on the Best Coast.

Still, New York has changed profoundly since I last lived here back in the ‘80s and as a child growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Most striking perhaps is how I can walk almost anywhere without fearing that I will be mugged or worse by a guy jonesing for his next vial of crack.

I live to walk in any city, but none more than The City. Alfred Kazin’s adoring portrait of working-class Jewish Brownsville, A Walker in the City, has been my talmud since I read it for the first time in my twenties.

On this most recent trip back to the New Jerusalem I revisited Brownsville and East New York with Bill Helmreich, a City College sociology professor whose mind is like Google when it comes to New York. The professor has walked every street in the city and has almost perfect recall of what he has seen, learned and eaten.

I meet Bill and his wife Helaine, an accomplished writer in her own right, under the elevated A train near Liberty and 80th Street in Ozone Park, Queens. Arriving early, I browse the Bangladeshi markets on 101st Avenue, taking in the ad in the window of one of the stores for Qurbani. Curious about this holiday I have never heard of, I go online and learn that Qurbani, celebrated during Eid-ul Adha is an act to commemorate the Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrifice as mentioned in the Quran. Qurbani in Islamic law means the slaughtering of an animal with the intention of getting close to Allah by giving the meat to the poor.

The author of thirteen books, including The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City (Princeton University Press, 2013), Helmreich’s next must-read for anyone who wants to discover New York, The Brooklyn Nobody Knows – An Urban Walking Guide (Princeton), is due out soon. I read the book’s galley proofs on Brownsville and East New York while heading over to Brooklyn.

Helmreich starts our tour on Blake Avenue in East New York, an area I remember as where Goodie, Mr. Goodie, who did collections for my uncle’s burglar alarm business, was twice mugged in a day back in the late ‘70s when I worked for the company as well.

We are near the Louis Pink Houses on Linden Blvd, perhaps the most infamous of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) projects in a neighborhood still known as the most dangerous in all of New York. The Pink Houses is a place where guys involved in drug deals gone bad have been thrown to their death out the window of an apartment on one of the upper floors. With a waiting list of several hundred thousand people seeking admission to public housing in New York City, East New York and neighboring Brownsville have New York’s highest concentration of public housing.

Helmreich has taken us here, just several blocks away, to see the Mafia graveyard on streets like Elden between Linden Blvd and Blake Avenue.

Gone is Murder Inc., the brutal Jewish/Italian gang that once ran numbers and other rackets in the area. Still, the Mafia graveyard is where a Genovese Family capo ran a chop shop and where hundreds of bodies of their victims are rumored to have been buried. The victims would be drained of their blood and chopped up and buried in this area which in places looks more like rural parts of New Jersey or Long Island than East Brooklyn. With its overgrown lots littered with industrial equipment and trucks, the streets here remind me of forgotten, undeveloped parts of Pacoima and Van Nuys. There are even the occasional well-tended gardens of industrious residents who find a higher use for the open space that can still be found here, a short distance from the projects.

I ask Professor Helmreich, “Where are New York’s poor moving given the City’s unstoppable gentrification?” To the Rockaways, the West Bronx and the mid-Bronx. The hipster gentrification that has hit the Rockaways is in the 80s and 90s while the poor are concentrated in the 30s, 40s and 50s.

East New York and Brownsville have special resonance for me as they are where my father was born and lived until his family, like so many other Jews, left the shtetl for better off areas of Brooklyn and beyond. In his case it was Ocean Avenue and Avenue V close to Neck Road (Gravesend Neck Road) in Sheepshead Bay. From there he was zoned to attend the renowned James Madison High School, where his classmates included Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Notorious RBG was also a candidate for office the year my father was elected president of the school.

Leaving the Mafia graveyard, we head to Alabama Avenue near New Lots Avenue, to my father’s East New York childhood home. He’s now 83 but he remembers like it was yesterday, the extended family life and the rock fights he and the other Jewish kids on his end of the block had with the Italian kids on the other end of Alabama. My father’s red brick two family house is still there and the block is practically leafy with its mature sycamores lining the street. A large community garden grows on once bustling New Lots Avenue at Alabama and the street’s current residents, a mix of African Americans and Latinos, are cordial if not friendly, to three obvious outsiders.

For the Epstein and Kolb families who lived here, even with its rock fights, Alabama Avenue was a move up from the teaming squalor of the Lower East Side; a way station on the family’s way to Great Neck, Scarsdale, L.A.’s Westside and New York’s Upper West Side.

Is this what Theodor Herzl meant when he wrote, “If you will it, it is no dream.” These are the words I read on a colorful oversized mural on Herzl Street off Pitkin Avenue in nearby Brownsville. Admiring the mural and the monument in Zion Triangle, a pocket park next to the former Loew’s Pitkin theatre, that commemorates Jewish World War I soldiers, the utterly secular Jew that I am is proud of the strong Jewish connection my children have found in the Habonim Dror youth movement and at its Camp Gilboa in Southern California.

Dominican men playing dominos have replaced the  Jewish Bundist, Worksmen’s Circle and Labor Zionists arguing politics in Zion Triangle. Do these newer arrivals know that the country of their birth was one of the few countries willing to accept mass Jewish immigration during World War II? Do they know about the importance of Sosúa where 700 European Jews found a safe haven from the Nazis? Do most Jews know this important footnote of Dominican history?

I wonder if the area’s current residents are even aware of who Theodor Herzl was and the fact that his empowering declaration inspired a downtrodden, disenfranchised people to create the democratic State of Israel.

Perhaps my children arguing with their friends about the police shootings of unarmed black men, fossil fuel divestment, gender equality and pluralistic Zionism are not that different after all from their ancestors in Zion Triangle.

“If you will it, it is no dream.”

Joel Epstein is a Los Angeles-based walker in the city and a senior advisor to companies, law firms, foundations and public initiatives on communications strategy, government affairs and corporate social responsibility.

California’s Senate passes bill targeting Israel boycotts

A bill targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) of Israel took a final step towards passage in the California legislature as the state Senate voted 34-1 to approve Assembly Bill 2844 on Aug. 24.

The bill faced a long and winding path to approval by the Senate, passing through a number of iterations in an attempt to satisfy concerns about free speech.

Whereas other state bills aimed at rebuking the BDS movement may violate First Amendment rights, AB 2844 skirts those concerns, said Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), who introduced the bill to the Senate.

“We carefully crafted this bill to not fall into any of those pits,” he said.

The idea behind AB 2844 when “>dub it “no longer a pro-Israel bill.” Bloom encouraged his colleagues to pass it anyway so that it could be salvaged in the Senate, and it passed without opposition.

Then, on June 20, the Senate Judiciary Committee tweaked the bill into roughly its current form.

Now, the measure doesn’t forbid contractors from boycotting Israel. Instead, it requires that companies certify they don’t violate state civil rights law in the course of boycotting a sovereign nation recognized by the United States – including Israel, the only country mentioned by name.

“We are looking not at people’s individual rights to speak, but whether or not what they’re doing violates existing California laws against discrimination,” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, who chairs the judiciary committee.

Block said the bill was intended to target boycotts rooted in anti-Semitism. He pointed out that proponents of BDS don’t seek to boycott Russia, China or Saudi Arabia, which he called far worse human rights violators than Israel.

“They don’t propose boycotting those nations for political reasons, only the Jewish state,” he said on the Senate floor. “Why only the Jewish state?”

The BDS movement, said Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Riverside), is “rooted in the same anti-Semitism that has surrounded Israel since its founding.”

Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) was the only legislator to vote against the measure.

“Those standards already apply,” he said of the anti-discrimination measures proposed by the bill. “So we have a bill on the floor that seeks to affirm laws that already exist and people are held accountable for already.”

He went on, “I would have much rather seen the energy generated around this bill be directed towards bringing stakeholders together on our campuses and in our communities to model the type of dialogue that is so desperately needed.”

The bill has until Aug. 31 to gain re-approval in the Assembly before the legislative session ends.

From the beginning, the bill received strong support from the mainstream Jewish community. Block dismissed as “fringe groups” the Jewish organizations, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, who have denounced the measure.

“Now we have another tool in our toolbox” in the fight against BDS, said Shawn Evenhaim, chairman of the Israeli-American Coalition for Action (IAX), which has led the move to pass AB 2844.

Evenhaim said that once the bill becomes law, IAX would look to see that it’s used to halt discriminatory boycotts against Israel.

“We’re not just going to frame [the bill] and hang it,” he said. “It’s a much longer fight and a much longer process.”

Dillon Hosier, the national director of state and local government affairs for IAX, said the federal government is producing a list of companies “engaged in a coercive political boycott against Israel.”

Once that list is composed it “will be a strong resource” in using AB 2844 to combat BDS in California.

In a joint phone interview, both officials praised the efforts by the legislature to fine-tune the measure.

“The bill was modified to really be very strong and secure from a constitutional perspective while also frankly confronting directly BDS and its effects,” Hosier said.

He said he’s continuing to work with Bloom and expects the bill to receive a vote in the Assembly on Aug. 29.

But the updates made to the bill as it wound its way through the legislature failed to quiet its opponents.

“From the start, the aim of AB 2844 has been to punish and chill First Amendment protected conduct – BDS campaigns for Palestinian freedom,” Rahul Saksena, staff attorney at Palestine Legal, said in an emailed statement. “The sponsors have jumped through hoops and hurdles trying to amend the bill to make it ‘less unconstitutional,’ but you can't fix a fundamentally flawed bill.”

How Israel manages its water better than California does

California and Israel share a climate of perpetual drought. As far as water is concerned, however, that’s where the similarities end.

Israel has a water surplus, while California struggles to manage. Among other reasons, the Jewish state owes its water wealth to technology such as drip irrigation and water reclamation, which have yet to win wide popularity here. 

But different rules on water use pose one often overlooked answer to why California remains parched while Israel thrives.

Water law is a famously complex field, but one regulatory difference is clear-cut: In California, if a landowner digs a well, he can freely use the water that comes up. In Israel, the government controls that water.

“This itself is so powerful,” said Tamar Shor, senior deputy to the director of the Israel Water Authority. 

In late June, Shor sat at a round table at the Ritz Carlton in Marina del Ray, at a conference on Israel-California water collaboration. Across from her was Felicia Marcus, who, as chair of California’s State Water Resources Control Board, is the top water official in the state.

Around them, conference guests participated in structured discussions with designated experts, riffing on cue cards that had been distributed in advance. 

At Shor’s table, the card prompted conference goers to discuss “How to design long-term water policies.” Hers was among the most popular discussions.

As Shor and Marcus talked back and forth, a group of farmers, water entrepreneurs and municipal functionaries leaned in.

Marcus expressed her “Israel envy” over the way water rights are apportioned in the Los Angeles County-sized nation.

In comparison to Israel’s system, she said, California’s water rights look something like the Wild West.

“Right now, it’s whoever has the deepest pump wins,” she said.

Shor explained that in Israel, a license is required to dig a well. In California, local health and safety departments can ask for permits, but the state does not.

What’s more, even if a farmer digs a well herself in Israel, she’s required to pay the government for the water she draws from it in the form of a tax, Shor said.

By contrast, in California “if you dig a well on your property, you have a right to use it by virtue of owning the property,” said Eric Garner, a water lawyer and adjunct law professor at USC.

Wells draw from underground water tables with finite resources. 

Imagine a single cup of water with a number of straws in it: In California, anybody with the funds to buy a straw can drink freely, while in Israel, the government owns the straws.

Of about 6,000 groundwater basins in California, some 20 percent of them are considered medium to high priority, meaning there is more water going out than coming in, Garner said. 

Southern California faces further groundwater challenges; Local officials say the aerospace industry left many aquifers tainted with toxic industrial byproducts, such as perchlorate.

But Garner said even in contaminated or prioritized basins, the only law regulating the use of private wells is a provision in the state constitution saying that all water use “shall be limited to such water as shall be reasonably required.”

Functionally, that means the law is “pump until a judge tells you not to,” he said.

 The difference in who owns wells changes the incentive scheme:  Whereas once a farmer in California digs a well, it make sense to pull out as much water as they can; in Israel they’ll draw out only as much water as they care to buy.

“I’m a strong believer that wherever the economic incentives and the regulation don’t go in the same direction, it won’t work in the end,” Shor said.

The rule on who owns wells dates back to Israel’s 1959 Water Law that established government control over water use across the state, Shor said.

That’s hardly the only difference between California’s water regulation scheme and Israel’s.

In 2006, Israel established its Water Authority to replace a previous control board that many felt was mired in politics. Since then, the agency has maintained sole power over distribution and use.

By contrast, in California multiple agencies are responsible for making sure faucets don’t run dry. In Southern California, estimates put the number of governing bodies somewhere around 100.

Often to our detriment, Garner said, “California does probably have the most complex water rights system in the world.”

These five companies want to clean up our state with Israeli tech

The La Kretz Innovation Campus is an open-concept, exposed-beam workspace across from an Urth Caffé and new, million-dollar condos in the rapidly gentrifying downtown Arts District.

Inside, teams of young people dressed casually in hoodies and jeans sit around conference tables and plan to launch startups aimed at a cleaner, greener city as part of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI).

Those young people barely looked up from their laptops on July 12 as some 20 industry players and local officials gathered to hear from five Israeli energy and water conservation companies poised to enter the California market. 

Executives from the five companies, including four startups and one established company, traveled to Los Angeles for a two-week crash course on California’s existing clean-tech economy, hosted by LACI, a project of the city of L.A. and the Department of Water & Power (DWP). 

Organized by the business group Israel-California Green-Tech Partnership, the two-week program acted as “a kind of boot-camp, a 101 of the necessary background, introductions, stuff like that, to get their first foothold in the California market,” according to the group’s co-founder, Ashleigh Talberth.

The Israeli executives met with regulatory stakeholders, such as the DWP and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, and learned from LACI’s executives in residence — seasoned clean-tech industry leaders who offer their acumen to LACI startups.

“California, like a lot of places, is really complicated on the policy front,” Talberth said. “So having a one-stop shop where you can meet the right people can save you a lot of time and money.”

Talberth grew up in the Bay Area and spent a decade in the clean-tech industry here before moving to Israel a year ago, where she advises startups in that industry. She conceived of the Israel-California Green-Tech Partnership while in ulpan, or intensive Hebrew study, inspired by an agreement California Gov. Jerry Brown and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed in 2014 to deepen ties between the innovation nation and Silicon Valley.

At the Arts District campus, a woman paced on a treadmill desk in an office behind a glass wall across from a large projector screen. She paid no attention when the screen lit up with revenue figures and technical diagrams as one by one, the companies took the stage to pitch their products.


Adam Hirsch was the first to take the stage, a lanky, bespectacled American in a salmon-colored button-up and sneakers, who made aliyah to Israel a year ago with his wife and four sons.

OptiNergy is truly a niche product — a cloud-based platform for reducing electricity use in mass refrigeration systems. But by his telling, the supermarkets that use those systems burn more energy per square foot than any other type of commercial space, so the electricity savings are potentially great.

“You can think of it as being a high-tech solution to a fairly low-tech industry,” said Hirsch, director of business development for SmartGreen, the Rehovot, Israel-based company that created the platform.

The software detects energy fluctuations and diagnoses mechanical problems. According to Hirsch, it can save companies 25 percent to 40 percent in electrical refrigeration costs.

“You could do all of this with a crew of Ph.D. mechanical engineers looking and tweaking,” he said, “but this does things automatically.”


Some time around 3 one morning, a supply line to a water cooler in an office block in Tel Aviv burst. The pipe would likely have gushed until morning were it not for Flowless, a system designed by Israeli startup Aqua Rimat to detect and monitor leaks.

Armed with an automatic shutdown switch, the Flowless unit in this office cut off the water supply, saving about $100,000 in water damage, according to Ari Briggs, an investor representative for Aqua Rimat, who told the story at the Arts District campus.

“Every device within a water system has a water footprint,” said Briggs, a South African immigrant to Israel, as he explained the principle behind the black device in his hand.

By recognizing the water footprints of each particular device, Flowless can identify even minor leaks and track water consumption. Preventing catastrophic leaks is just an added bonus.

“Everybody knows how many steps they’ve taken since this morning, but nobody knows how much water their business has consumed,” Briggs said. “This product gives them that information.”


Charging an electrical vehicle (EV) is as easy as finding an outlet and plugging in. Charging it quickly is another matter.

The infrastructure required to fill an EV battery on a commercially viable timescale can be installed only near large transistors, explained Ilan Ben-David, CEO of Chakratec, hamstringing the spread of electric cars.

Chakratec hopes to solve that problem: Using kinetic energy storage (literally, a futuristic-looking white pod with a fan-like contraption inside), it draws down electricity from the grid over a period of time. Then, when a user plugs in, it quickly delivers its energy, enabling EV users to charge in their homes and businesses without overtaxing their power lines.

What’s more, Ben-David said, “It’s totally green, no chemicals, very easy to deploy and safe.”


You probably don’t realize it, but every time you access data on the internet, you’re using something called an uninterruptible power supply (UPS): a device that ensures power won’t go down, even momentarily, if the electrical grid fails.

A UPS acts like “a bridge from the moment you detect an outage until a standby generator kicks in,” according to Abraham Liran, the CEO of Energo-On.

Such products are already an indispensable part of crucial infrastructures like the data centers that store information for the web. But Energo-On claims to work more reliably and more efficiently than its

“Everything was designed to live more than 30 years with no maintenance at all,” he said.

And data centers are just the beginning. Liran said he hopes to sell in California to customers that include hospitals, telecommunications companies, manufacturing concerns, airports and more.


Each year, billions of cubic meters of water pass through filters manufactured by Amiad Water Solutions.

Amiad was the only company to participate in the LACI boot camp that in no way classifies as a startup. 

But even though it employs 700 people worldwide with $100 million in yearly revenue from 80 countries, according to Eyal Shpitzer, vice president of research and development, it has yet to enter the California market.

The company’s filtration business emerged as a solution to dirt-clogging drip irrigation systems (also an Israeli technology) on a northern kibbutz. The need for water filters runs from the industrial to the municipal and agricultural, he said.

In Southern California, where the aerospace industry is suspected of leaving a number of groundwater aquifers tainted beyond potable use, and desalination is bandied as a drought solution, Amiad sees plenty of opportunity.

California’s stressed-out stoners

California tokers, why are you trippin’ so hard?

You keep saying that marijuana helps manage anxiety. But those of you who work in or partake of the cannabis industry sound like the most stressed-out people in California.

And that leaves me wondering what’s in your bongs, especially since 2016 is supposed to be a year of great triumph for you. Cannabis is booming in California. New regulations on medical marijuana are coming together, and a November ballot initiative to legalize recreational use seems likely to pass. California is thus well on its way to becoming Mary Jane’s global capital, and a national model for how to pull cannabis out of the black market shadows and into the legal light.

So if the future looks so dank (that’s stoner-speak for awesome), why do you all look so wrecked?

Did you get some bad schwag or something?

In recent weeks, I’ve posed these questions to people on farms and in dispensaries and I keep hearing two big reasons why cannabis people seem so burned out.  The first involves all the necessary pressure you’re putting on yourselves. The second reason is about all the unnecessary pressure the rest of us are putting on you.

Let’s start with the self-pressure. Cannabis is not just an industry, it’s a movement to end prohibition, and the hardest times for movements can come right when they are on the verge of winning what they want. Your movement’s victory—the end of cannabis prohibition—requires a difficult transition that is stressful and scary.

In California, by one estimate, there are as many as 10,000 cannabis-related businesses—only a couple hundred of which have the proper zoning and licenses to operate a medical marijuana business. That leaves thousands of you trying to work out your futures very quickly—at least before 2018, when regulations for medical marijuana (including a state marijuana czar) and for recreational use (assuming the ballot initiative passes) are supposed to be in place.

Some of you—particularly weed boutiques that operated outside the law—are preparing to shut down. But others of you are engulfed in the difficult, expensive process of making your businesses legal quickly— but not so quickly that you run afoul of the authorities. In the process, you’re learning that while managing an illegal business has its perils, it may be even more dangerous to run a legal capitalist enterprise in the Regulatory Republic of California, and navigate its dizzying array of licensing, workplace and environmental rules

A number of you are taking on outside investors; there’s even a new private equity firm making “strategic investments” in cannabis. Those kinds of big-money decisions raise new anxieties, even as you still have to operate semi-underground. Some local governments don’t want marijuana operations and are sending the police on raids of your facilities. And the federal government, by maintaining that your businesses are illegal, no matter what state law says, has made it difficult for you to use banks and pay taxes.

On top of all this stress comes the burden of being a political cause. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is building a gubernatorial campaign by backing the ballot initiative to legalize recreational use. At the local level, there are competing initiatives that sometimes divide the cannabis industry. And the presidential race creates uncertainty about federal intentions. A Trump presidency might bring Attorney General Chris Christie, who might wipe out medical marijuana. Some of you fear Hillary Clinton would turn the industry over to her rich donors in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.

“A lot is being born right now–this is going to be an entirely different animal than anyone is used to,” says Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech Corp, a publicly traded “cannabis-focused” agriculture company. “All of this creates a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety for people,”

And what makes this moment even tougher for all of you are the  outside demands that this transition has brought from what cinematic stoner Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski called “the Square Community.”

To put it bluntly (pun intended), California leaders have gotten way too high on the possibilities of fully legal marijuana. Today you hear rhetoric from politicians and media that legal cannabis in California will end the drug war, rationalize our prison and court systems, create new jobs and economic opportunities in poorer and rural areas of the state, save agricultural businesses and lands, and replenish strained local and state budgets with new taxes on weed.

But many of these plans amount to Bogarting weed for selfish priorities. Los Angeles County recently debated a plan to address its homelessness crisis with a marijuana tax. Some environmentalists have been touting how marijuana, which requires considerable water to grow, could pioneer water-saving practices to mitigate the state drought.  And no small number of musicians—chief among them Snoop Dogg, the wizard of “weed wellness,” and Tommy Chong, the “godfather of ganja”—seem to think that by licensing their names to marijuana products, they can replace the revenues that music used to provide, before iTunes and Spotify.

Cannabis has come to be seen by its most zealous champions as a substance that can alter California realities—in ways reminiscent of our craze for gold in 1849 or for oil in the early 20th century. That is an awful lot of expectations to put on this one plant.

Before exploiting legal marijuana for their own schemes, California governments need to get this transition right. The tax system for cannabis should be comprehensible and not so extortionate that it drives out small players (or creates incentives to keep the black market alive). The regulatory regimes for medical marijuana and recreational use should fit together, and be transparent enough that California cannabis goes forward as a competitive market, not a state monopoly. To ease the transition, state government needs to do everything it can to make sure your cannabis businesses negotiate these changes successfully, including protecting you from the feds..

If California gets this right, maybe some of the biggest dreams for marijuana can come true. At the very least, cannabis could be a thriving and well-regulated industry.

But for now, as the marijuana-friendly rap group Cypress Hill like to say, you gots to chill. These are stressful enough times for stoners already.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zocalo Public Square.

A ghost story of the American gun

Once the United States’ largest private residence and the most expensive to build, today you could almost miss it. The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, sits between the eight lanes of the I-280 freeway, a mobile home park, and the remains of a space-age Century 23 movie theater. The world has changed around it, but the mansion remains stubbornly and defiantly what it always was. 

Each time I visit the Mystery House I try to envision what this space must have looked like to the “rifle widow” Sarah Winchester, when she first encountered it in 1886—acre after acre of undulating orchards and fields, broken only by an unassuming eight-room cottage.

Legend holds that before the 1906 earthquake—when her estate was as huge and fantastically bizarre as it would ever be with 200 rooms, 10,000 windows, 47 fireplaces, and 2,000 doors, trap doors, and spy holes—not even Sarah could have confidently located those original eight rooms.

Sarah had inherited a vast fortune off of guns. Her father-in-law Oliver Winchester, manufacturer of the famous repeater rifle, died in 1880, and her husband Will, also in the family gun business, died a year later. After she moved from New Haven, Connecticut, to San Jose, Sarah dedicated a large part of her fortune to ceaseless, enigmatic building. She built her house with shifts of 16 carpenters who were paid three times the going rate and worked 24 hours a day, every day, from 1886 until Sarah’s death in 1922.

An American Penelope, working in wood rather than yarn, Sarah wove and unwove eternally. She built, demolished, and rebuilt. Sarah hastily sketched designs on napkins or brown paper for carpenters to build additions, towers, cupolas, or rooms that made no sense and had no purpose, sometimes only to be plastered over the next day. In 1975, workers discovered a new room. It had two chairs, an early 1900s speaker that fit into an old phonograph, and a door latched by a 1910 lock. Sarah had apparently forgotten about it and built over it.

In 1911, the San Jose Mercury News called Sarah’s colossus a “great question mark in a sea of apricot and olive orchards.” Over a century later, the San Francisco Chronicle was still baffled: “the Mansion is an ornately complex answer to a very simple question: Why?”

The answer: Sarah’s building is a ghost story of the American gun. Or so the legend went. A spiritualist in the mid-1800s, when plenty of sane Americans believed they could communicate with the dead, Sarah became terrified that her misfortunes, especially the death of her husband and one-month old daughter, were cosmic retribution from all the spirits killed by Winchester rifles. A relative said many decades later Sarah fell “under the thrall” of a medium, who told her that she would be haunted by the ghosts of Winchester rifle victims unless she built, non-stop—perhaps at ghosts’ direction, for their pleasure, or perhaps as a way to elude them. Haunted by conscience over her gun blood fortune and seeking either protection or absolution, Sarah lived in almost complete solitude, in a mansion designed to be haunted.

When I heard Sarah’s ghost story from a friend in graduate school, I was enthralled. Eventually, Sarah became the muse for my book on the history of the American gun industry, and culture.

I keenly anticipated my first visit to the Mystery House. I must have been hoping that the house would yield up its secret to me. At first glance I was deflated, for the unusual reason that from the outside, the house wasn’t entirely weird.

But the drama of this house, like the drama of Sarah’s life, was unfolding on the inside. A staircase, one of 40, goes nowhere and ends at a ceiling. Cabinets and doors open onto walls, rooms are boxes within boxes, small rooms are built within big rooms, balconies and windows are inside rather than out, chimneys stop floors short of the ceiling, floors have skylights. A linen closet as big as an apartment sits next to a cupboard less than an inch deep. Doors open onto walls. One room has a normal-sized door next to a small, child-sized one.  Another has a secret door identical to one on a corner closet—it could be opened from within the room, but not from without, and the closet drawer didn’t open at all.

Details are designed to confuse. In one room, Sarah laid the parquetry in an unusual pattern: When the light hit the floor a particular way, the dark boards appeared light, and the light boards, dark. Bull’s-eye windows give an upside-down view of the world. Even these basic truths, of up and down, and light and dark, could be subverted.

The house teems with allusions, symbols, and mysterious encryptions. Its ballroom features two meticulously crafted Tiffany art-glass windows. Here, Sarah inscribed her most elegant clues for us. The windows have stained glass panels with lines from Shakespeare. One reads, “These same thoughts people this little world.” It’s from the prison soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Richard II. Deposed from power and alone in his cell, Richard has an idea to create a world within his prison cell, populated only by his imaginings and ideas.

Is the legend accurate? I found spine-tingling clues on the archival trail that incline me to believe that Sarah really was a spiritualist, but I never found that smoking gun, to borrow a metaphor from Oliver’s empire. I do know that her mansion conveys a restless, brilliant, sane—if obsessive—mind and the convolutions of an uneasy conscience. Perhaps Sarah only dimly perceived the sources of her unease, whether ghostly or profane. But she wove anguish into her creation, just as any artist pours unarticulated impulses into her work. Over repeated visits, I came to think that if a mind were a house, it would probably look like this.

The House is an architectural exteriorization of an anguished but playful inner life. Ideas, memories, fears, and guilt occur to us all day long. They come to consciousness. If they displease or terrify, we brood or fuss over them for a while, then revise them to make them manageable, or we plaster over them and suppress them, or refashion them into another idea. One of the house’s builders recalled, “Sarah simply ordered the error torn out, sealed up, built over or around, or … totally ignored.” The mental and architectural processes of revision, destruction, suppression, and creation were ongoing, and similar.

Perhaps the same mental process happens with a country’s historical narratives about its most contentious and difficult topics—war, conquest, violence, guns. Sarah’s family name was synonymous by the 1900s with a multi-firing rifle, and the Winchester family had made its fortune sending more than 8 million of them into the world. It wasn’t crazy to think that Sarah might have been haunted by that idea, that she might have perpetually remembered it, and just as perpetually tried to forget.

I’ve come to see the house as a clever riddle. Sarah made charitable donations, certainly, and if she had wanted to, she could have become a philanthropist of greater renown. But the fact remains that she chose to convert a vast portion of her rifle fortune into a monstrous, distorted home; so we can now wander through her rooms imagining how one life affects others.

Instead of building a university or a library, Sarah built a counter-legend to the thousands of American gunslinger stories. And in this counter-legend, the ghosts of the gun casualties materialize, and we remember them. 

Pamela Haag, Ph.D., is the author most recently of The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of an American Gun Culture. She has published two other books and numerous essays on a wide variety of topics.

She wrote this for What It Means To Be American, a partnership of the Smithsonian and Zócalo Public Square

California’s bill to combat BDS passes state senate judiciary committee

California State Assembly Bill (AB) 2844 had a long and winding path to its passage by the California State Senate judiciary committee June 28. It was first submitted to the State Assembly by Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) as an attempt to circumvent the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. 

The bill passed the California Assembly on June 2, but only after a Democratic-controlled appropriations committee had transformed it, including deleting any mention of Israel while changing the language to say boycotts against sovereign nations are unacceptable. The changes were so significant that many of the bill’s original backers said they would not support it further unless the state’s Senate made significant changes.

Significant changes had been made to the bill before the vote Tuesday. The bill that was approved by the judiciary committee no longer prohibits California from entering into contracts with companies boycotting Israel. Instead, it bars the state from entering into contracts with companies that violate California’s anti-discrimination laws, including the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The current language no longer includes the word “boycott.” 

The current bill prohibits companies from having policies against a sovereign country, “including, but not limited to, the nation and people of Israel,” that are a pretext for violating anti-discrimination laws. 

The Tuesday vote, according to Bloom, was five in favor and two opposed.

Bloom said he supports the revised version of the bill: “We think it’s specific enough now to send a strong message about BDS-type behavior, which at its most fundamental level is discriminatory behavior, but broad enough to include other circumstances as well as other countries,” he said.

I’m very happy that the bill passed,” Dillon Hosier, senior political adviser for the Israeli-American Nexus, the advocacy arm of the Israeli-American Council, said in a phone interview after the vote held at the State Capitol in Sacramento. “We look forward to seeing it go to the [Senate] appropriations committee. Hopefully, we get a concurrence vote in the assembly and then it’s on to the governor.” 

Hosier was one of several Los Angelenos who spoke in support of the bill before the vote. Others included Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks).  Groups supporting the bill include the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, 30 Years After and others.

Hannah-Beth Jackson, chair of the Senate judiciary committee, is among the bill’s co-authors. Other members of the committee include Sen. Mark Leno, who voted to support the bill. He said the legislation’s wording improved upon previous versions and that he was “more pleased with this version than any previous versions.”

Sen. Bill Monning voted against the revised bill submitted to the judiciary committee. He believes the bill limits free speech.

“This bill does not seek to condemn acts of anti-Semitism,” he said. “This bill seeks to limit exercise of First Amendment rights.” 

Those speaking against the bill during the public comment portion included Carol Sanders of Jewish Voice for Peace, local progressive activist Marcy Winograd and others. 

Firefighters gain ground over devastating California blaze

Firefighters in the foothills of central California have made significant gains against a blaze that has killed at least two people and destroyed scores of homes in a devastating start to the state's wildfire season, authorities said on Monday.

By Sunday night, crews had carved containment lines around 40 percent of the fire's perimeter, up from 10 percent earlier in the day, and evacuation orders were lifted on Monday for two communities previously threatened.

But officials reported a higher toll of property losses on Monday, with about 250 structures reduced to rubble, 50 more than estimated the previous day, and 75 buildings damaged.

As of Monday morning, the so-called Erskine Fire has blackened more than 45,000 acres of drought-parched brush and grass on the fringes of Lake Isabella in Kern County, California, about 110 miles (180 km) north of Los Angeles.

The blaze erupted Thursday afternoon and spread quickly through several communities south of the lake, driven by high winds, as it roared largely unchecked for two days and forced hundreds of residents from their homes.

At the fire's peak, some 2,500 homes were threatened by flames.

On Friday, at least two people were confirmed to have been killed in the blaze, and Kern County fire authorities warned that the death toll could rise as investigators comb through the rubble of homes that went up in flames.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

More than 2,000 personnel have been assigned to the blaze, the biggest and most destructive of nine large wildfires burning up and down the state, from the Klamath National Forest near Oregon to desert scrubland close to the Mexico border. Most of those were at least 60 percent contained as of Monday.

A blistering heat wave that has baked much of California in abnormally high temperatures ranging from the upper 90s to the triple digits has been a major factor contributing to the conflagrations.

While California's wildfire season officially began in May, the rash of blazes since last week signaled the state's first widespread outbreak of intense, deadly fire activity this year.

Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said the state has already experienced some 2,400 wildfires, small and large, since January. They burned a total of 99,000 acres (400 square kms).

Winter and spring rainfalls helped ease drought conditions but also helped spur growth of grasses and brush that have since dried out, providing more potential fuel for wildfires, he said.