January 18, 2020

BUILDING BOOM: Is Jewish L.A. defying national demographic trends?

Image courtesy of Temple Beth Am

If you have read about recent demographic studies claiming fewer young American Jews are marrying inside the faith and affiliating with Jewish organizations, you might think organized Jewish life in the United States is on its way out.

But Los Angeles donors have a response to those studies: Want to bet on it?

In the last two years, more than $100 million has been dedicated to renovation and construction projects at schools and synagogues across L.A., and much more is expected to be raised through ongoing capital campaigns that aim to build facilities for the next generations of Jews.

Together, these projects represent the collective optimism of a Jewish community unfazed by seemingly gloomy population studies, according to clergy, donors and lay leaders.

The projects currently underway are spread across the San Fernando Valley and the Los Angeles Basin. They consist of new schools and school expansions, custom-built synagogues and old sanctuaries in need of facelifts. And they are being carried out within the three major spiritual movements: Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills, a Reform congregation, has plans to build a new preschool; Conservative synagogues Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) and Temple Beth Am are constructing new school buildings; and among Orthodox communities, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy is engaged in a $20 million renovation, while Chabad of South La Cienega (SOLA) is building a new, multi-use religious facility.

At Temple Beth Am, synagogue leadership has raised $25 million to renovate its main sancutary and construct a middle school building for its Pressman Academy day school.

“What could reflect more optimism in the school and the synagogue than that kind of effort?” said Temple Beth Am building committee co-chair Avi Peretz, who said he has donated a significant sum.

To Peretz, donations reflect a sense of obligation and a feeling of responsibility to proverbially set the table for the next generation of Jews.

Peretz recalled walking into Pressman Academy on the first day of school for his daughter, who is now 21, and saying to himself, “ ‘Wow, look what somebody built. Somebody built this school that my daughter gets to go to classes in. Somebody built it knowing full well that probably their own kids wouldn’t be the ones that got to benefit from it.’ But the sense of obligation you feel is that other people came before you and did the work that you’re benefiting from. It’s now your turn to do the work.”

The groundwork of breaking ground

Even before construction begins, planning and permitting can be complicated, time-consuming and costly.

Adas Torah, an Orthodox congregation that razed a Pico Boulevard furniture store to open a new synagogue building in September 2016, spent more than $20,000 in permitting fees alone, Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety records show.

“It’s a long process,” said Trevor Abramson, whose firm, Abramson Teiger Architects, has designed a half-dozen synagogue buildings in the past 15 years, including the project currently underway at VBS. “It takes time to draw up plans, to build consensus with the community, to get the plans approved by the community, and then also get approved by the city — and then to raise the money.

“There are some synagogues being built right now in L.A. where the wheels have been in the motions for the last three years or more,” Abramson said.

Pressman Academy’s expansion plans have been in the works for about a decade. Over that period, Temple Beth Am, directly or through its members, quietly bought eight contiguous apartment buildings on Corning Street, directly behind the temple’s La Cienega Boulevard compound. Nine years ago, it converted one building into an early childhood center, and two years ago, it razed two more to create an outdoor play space.

When Erica Rothblum joined Pressman Academy as head of school in July 2014, synagogue leadership had already judged that “the school building was bursting at the seams,” she said.

Rothblum had the idea to build a new middle school that would not just increase retention — class sizes tend to shrink as grade levels increase — but serve as the Jewish day school of the future.

“We’re not building just a prettier version of a traditional school building,” she said. “We’re actually changing how the school looks and functions. In some ways, it’s going to look more like a Google office than the school buildings we’re all used to.”

Buying in and building up

Often, the first step in a construction project is winning the buy-in of parents and congregants. “A house is really just an endeavor for an owner, but when you’re designing a synagogue or a religious building, that’s really for the whole community,” Abramson said.

Abramson’s firm designed a community center now under construction at VBS for dual use by the synagogue and its day school. Plans for that project date back 15 years, according to VBS Executive Director Bart Pachino.

Timing can depend on permitting, donor interest or even the national economy. Construction at VBS was delayed at least five years after the Great Recession as donor funds dried up, Pachino said.

Before Abramson and his employees start drawing on a synagogue project, they gather congregants for a town hall meeting about the needs for a new building.

“We like to listen to what everybody thinks the needs are,” he said. “And it’s super interesting, because some people are worried about where they can park, and some people are worried about the spiritual aspect of the synagogue, and some people are worried about saving the plaque on the wall that’s been there since 1852.”

By the time VBS broke ground in September, it had raised $26 million for the new center and for renovations to its existing buildings.

“That’s the greatest compliment a rabbi can get when somebody says, ‘I’m willing to work with you, and I’m willing to share my resources and time, and I want this to continue past me,’ ” said Rabbi Ed Feinstein, the Encino synagogue’s senior rabbi. “It’s a great statement.”

Bursting at the seams

The Montessori preschool run by Chabad of SOLA began seven years ago as a mommy-and-me group with eight children. Today, it has more than 80.

Until recently, the children gathered in the same space that served as home to four minyans — Chabad, Sephardic, teens and young couples. That arrangement presented challenges, such as having to take down folding chairs and movable walls each weekend, said Stery Zajac, the preschool’s director.

In December 2014, The Eiden Project — a nonprofit organization set up to build a new community center, mikveh and preschool for Chabad of SOLA — bought a 21,000-square-foot property at Airdrome Street and La Cienega Boulevard for $4.5 million, according to Josh Moorvitch, who runs a mortgage company and sits on The Eiden Project board.

The property was home to two car dealerships in separate buildings, one of which now temporarily houses the preschool. Recently, Chabad of SOLA began renovations to transform the empty dealership into a preschool building, Moorvitch said. After that project is completed, the congregation intends to raze the other building to create a new mikveh for men and women and a synagogue building. Moorvitch said there was a “tremendous demand” for the mikveh, as the closest one is Mikvah Esther, about 1 1/2 miles away.

Another Orthodox Jewish school, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, also is  planning an expansion. Its head of school, Rabbi Boruch Sufrin, recently announced that the Orthodox kindergarten-through-eighth-grade day school would undertake a $20 million renovation.

In recent years, Hillel’s enrollment has increased some 20 percent to 650 students. After a two- to three-year renovation process, including planning and obtaining city approvals, it hopes to have a campus for 700, Sufrin said.

Before its capital campaign went public this fall, the school had quietly raised about $10 million, half of its total goal, he said.

“The project itself brings a certain amount of optimism and hope and joy about the community,” Sufrin said. “People are looking and saying, ‘Wow, I’m going to be a part of sustaining the next 20 or 30 years of the community.’ And that means a lot to these people.”

Money management

Chabad of SOLA and Pressman Academy have taken different approaches to funding their building projects.

“There are schools in this community where they’ve raised 10 percent before they begin construction, and I know heads of schools that want 100 percent,” Rothblum said.

Pressman is somewhere in the middle, having raised $25 million of the $30 million it estimates it will need — enough that it feels confident breaking ground as soon as January, she said.

Sometimes, breaking ground can accelerate the fundraising process.

“We’ve definitely had people say to us, ‘Once I see construction, you can come talk to me,’ ” Rothblum said. “I’ve had other people say, ‘Right here, right now, I’m willing to invest in this and be a leader.’ ”

While Pressman Academy waited to raise more than 80 percent of its needed funds, Chabad of SOLA broke ground on its $1.4 million preschool project after collecting about $600,000. Moorvitch said that decision was based on confidence in the generosity of community members once they see construction underway.

“In breaking ground, our goal was to have the school open as quickly as possible for our families,” he said. “It wasn’t a choice to wait around. We had to break ground, and we have to move this project along. And we’re going to do it.”

Demographics be damned

Schools and synagogues that are literally mortgaging their futures for expansions and renovations face some troubling national trends. A 2013 Pew Research Study of American Jews painted a dismal picture that some analysts have interpreted as a death knell for synagogue life in the United States. In particular, the study focused on the increasing number of “Jews of no religion,” or cultural Jews — those who check “None” when asked about their religious practice. These Jews, in turn, are less likely to affiliate with religious institutions and attend synagogue. Whereas 39 percent of Jews by religion report belonging to a congregation, only 4 percent of those in the secular demographic do, the study found.

But the synagogues and schools working their way through their respective building projects say that overall trend doesn’t apply to them.

“The Pew study is not everybody’s written destiny,” said Temple Beth Am President Susan Hetrsoni. “It’s time to take it on.”

Hetrsoni said that membership at Temple Beth Am has held steady in recent years. Valley Beth Shalom’s membership has increased over the past five years to more than 1,500 families, a fact Feinstein attributes at least in part to a growing need for spiritual connection.

“L.A.’s a funny city,” Feinstein said. “We have these giant block walls that separate our homes from each other. People don’t know their neighbors, so you want to belong to something. You want people to know who you are. People are craving that in this moment of history.”

But L.A. is not the only metropolitan area defying national statistics, he said. His clergy friends in places such as Boston, Chicago, New York and Atlanta report similarly encouraging trends.

“In lots of pockets all over the country this is happening,” Feinstein said. “I wish I could take full credit for it and say it’s the genius of my rabbinate — but it’s certainly not.”

Innovative construction-tech hub opens in Israel

Minister of Construction and Housing Yoav Gallant speaks at the SOSA Construction Zone launch. Photo courtesy of Israel21c

The Israeli launch of the world’s first construction-tech hub aims to provide construction companies and real-estate developers everywhere access to disruptive high-tech innovation.

Announced on April 27, the Construction Innovation Zone is a joint project of the Israel Builders Association, the Tel Aviv-based SOSA platform for global startup ecosystems, the Israeli Construction and Housing Ministry and the Israeli Economy Ministry.

“The State of Israel has proven itself as a leader in the world of high-tech and innovation, changing the way we communicate, the way we drive and now the way we build,” Minister of Construction and Housing Yoav Gallant said at the launch held at SOSA, where the hub will be based.

“We are championing the combination of new technologies to create new models of operation, improve methods of construction and accelerate production times. This initiative will lead to progress and innovation in the construction industry, and as more and more startups join, and as the program expands to new industries, many more breakthroughs will be created,” Gallant said.

Software and hardware solutions for the building process — as well as planning, managing and financing construction projects — are included under the new construction-tech umbrella.

“We are in a unique position to create the next ‘it’ technology field,” said SOSA CEO Uzi Scheffer. “Much like the efforts the Israeli government took to spark the auto-tech industry with grants and a positive regulatory environment, our partnership will help lay the groundwork for the fundamental disruption of the multitrillion-dollar global construction and real estate development industry.”

Connecting the two huge industries of construction and high-tech necessitates creating a niche ecosystem in Israel, involving startups, investors, academia, government agencies, regulators and service providers, Scheffer said.

“Most of the companies in this ecosystem will be Israeli, but not all,” he said. “We will start locally but we see huge opportunity for this program.”

Examples of Israeli companies that already offer high-tech products for construction include Dronomy of Tel Aviv and Beyon3D of Herzliya.

Dronomy uses off-the-shelf drones to inspect construction sites autonomously, creating 2-D and 3-D models to compare actual progress against building plans in order to spot discrepancies. “This will have a huge impact, and it doesn’t take much to implement it,” Scheffer said.

Beyon3D offers a fully automatic robotic manufacturing process to turn a 2-D drawing or 3-D model into a prefabricated building component using high-grade concrete and gypsum mixes and a self-leveling sealer for coating and finishing.

Scheffer said startups and established companies in the fields of project management, supply-chain management and financial technology, or fintech, also are of interest to construction companies.

The Israel Builders Association’s 2,000 members will help identify pain points, and will work with SOSA to create open innovation programs leading to pilots and partnerships with new and established companies with cutting-edge solutions for the traditionally conservative construction sector.

“The Israel Builders Association is trying to actualize the potential that the global high-tech community can offer to the ‘low-tech’ world of construction, which until now has remained under their radar,” said Chaim Feiglin, vice president of the Israel Builders Association.

Pain points in the construction industry are similar worldwide, yet Scheffer said SOSA searched unsuccessfully for construction-tech hubs elsewhere.

Given Israel’s robust and geographically dense innovation ecosystem and its collaborative business culture, situating the Construction Innovation Zone in the startup nation makes sense.

“Construction technology is really an unexplored vertical,” Scheffer said. “Through SOSA’s unique and extensive network we’re able to take new verticals and position them fast and efficiently in the center of the high-tech industry and connect them to the relevant people. We have the ability to help corporations tap into innovation taking place not only in their industries but in others as well.”

SOSA, founded in 2013 by 20 Israeli innovation pioneers, including Rami Beracha and Chemi Peres, helps corporations and individual members engage with startups across various verticals. SOSA will work with the Economy Ministry’s Israel NewTech program, which focuses on the development of full ecosystems involving stakeholders with a common vision.

“This initiative with SOSA, the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Construction and Housing will connect our industry with the high-tech world and help actualize the monumental potential which Israel can bring to the world of construction technology,” Feiglin said. 

Learn About Car Garages Options and their Maintenance Requirements

Cars have become part of the everyday life and as such, they to deserve a haven to retreat to at the end of the day. It is good to know what is available and, therefore, make an informed choice as you incorporate your needs. Here are some of the more popular garage examples.

Size is a key issue to look out for when making a decision. The number of cars, the vehicle type, and how much space would you want, play a role in deciding on the size and is best addressed by the following types of garages.

1. Single Garage

As the name suggests, this type is the simplest. It is a space that accommodates an average sized car and offers comfortable space for passengers to exit and board the vehicle.

2. Double Garage

This type appeals to the homeowner who needs enough parking ports for two vehicles. It then follows that for two averaged-sized vehicles, you need double space, generally 300 square feet, which can always change to take care of the customer’s preference.

3. Tandem Garage

In this type of garages, vehicles are parked in a tail-nose order. They are not common among homes, however, families with two vehicles and end up using only one, may be attracted to such a garage.

When it comes to the attachment to the main house, two types of car garages are evident. They are two garage types, namely;

1. Attached Garage

If you want a direct link to your car, this is the garage for you. The unit is connected to the main house, and in most cases, it adds to the beautiful design of the home.

2. Detached Garage

Some of the more common designs of homes include a garage unit besides or behind a house. What separates the main house and the unit, is a driveway that can be connected by a breezeway or a roof. For some homeowners, this space has become an extra carport addition to the compound.

Construction Materials


Now that you do have an idea on what type of garage you would want, the second consideration that is equally important is the material to be used to construct the carport. Whatever material you settle on, depends with the prevailing environment’s natural calamities, security issues in the neighborhood, durability as well as your preference. So one can make units from steel, wood or aluminum.

Garage Doors

There are several types of doors available to you when constructing your next car-housing unit. They include the following.

1. Roll up

This is the most common type of door and is also known as a raised-panel door. The ease of use attracts many to it, and with technological advancements, the door panels are automated with a sensor feature that detects your car approaching and automatically opens as well as closes when you exit.

2. Swing out

In this type, the garage doors open like normal doors, that is, they swing out. In many instances, the system has two doors.

For whatever choice you make on the garage door, it is prudent for you to consider the servicing needs of the garage doors. The best way to maintain and service the garage doors is to adopt a preventive maintenance approach which is cost-effective and a measure of safety. Here are a few tips to consider.

1. Listening and Looking

This is the best option. Every time the door is in use, check out for any anomalies.

2. Tighten All Parts

Due to the constant operation of the system, vibrations and movements cause bolts to lessen. Check them out and tighten those that need securing.

3. Inspect and Servicing The Rollers

It is advisable to conduct professional servicing at least twice a year. For any rollers with an issue, replacing them would work best to avoid instances of door jamming. As part of servicing, constant lubrication of the movable parts should also be considered.



In consideration of the various preferences, individuals may have, closed structures for your car may be something you don’t want to explore. You could opt for a garaport which is a structure that is semi-covered. It is mostly open on all sides. However, it has a roofing. It is a cost effective option considering the space it also provides.

Indeed, under construction, the value of a garage unit is a major consideration when it comes to its use, and as part of the beauty compliment, it adds to the home. Happy selecting.



Israeli company to build $640 million toll road in Colombia

An Israeli company will have a pivotal role in a multinational plan to upgrade Colombia’s roads.

Shikun & Binui will build the nearly 100-mile-long Cundinamarca 010 toll road near Bogota, the South American country’s capital, the Israeli news portal Israel21c reported. The project – including financing, construction costs, rehabilitation, operation and maintenance – is estimated at approximately $640 million.

An Israeli global construction and infrastructure company headquartered in Airport City, near Ben Gurion International Airport, Shikun & Binui said  it recently completed the financing for the construction, operation and maintenance of its $1 billion toll lanes project in metropolitan Houston.

In both Colombia and Texas, the construction will be performed by SBI, Shikun & Binui Group’s international contracting subsidiary.

“We will continue to compete for new mega projects in line with our strategic targets,” said Moshe Lahmani, Shikun & Binui’s chairman.

Colombia is home to some 3,400 Jews in a population of about 48 million people. In June, an Israeli realtor was shot to death at close range in Medellin, its second largest city.

Tel Aviv cheers new subway, bemoans its construction

In 2011, when Los Angeles shut down a stretch of one of its busiest highways for a weekend of repairs, residents braced for a traffic jam “of biblical proportions.” Similar sentiments preceded the start of construction on Tel Aviv’s long-awaited light rail system last Sunday.

But rather than a few days of inconvenience, city officials warned that construction will likely cause extensive auto congestion in the center of Israel, already the country’s busiest corridor, for years to come.

“Switch to public transportation,” Brig. Gen. Yoram Ohayon, deputy commander of the Tel Aviv District police advised commuters at a press conference. “It will be easier to get to Tel Aviv and to move about inside it that way.”

The Tel Aviv rail system would be a welcome relief for the approximately half a million cars that flood the city daily from surrounding suburbs, and ultimately mitigate what has become a citywide parking lot of honking cars and buses navigating narrow one-way streets or feeding into a handful of major thoroughfares during rush hour.

But to make shakshuka, you’ve got to break a few eggs. And to give Tel Aviv a light rail system, you have to make a few traffic jams – and blow up a bridge or two.

So far, traffic in the city hasn’t been as bad as some feared during the first week of construction.

But officials expect that to change when several major junctions are closed in the near future, and in particular later this month when the 39-year-old Maariv Bridge is demolished to make room for the new Carlebach underground light rail station that will rise on its ruins.

However necessary the project may be, don’t expect Israelis to bear it quietly.

Business owners have bemoaned the disruption to parking, as well as the inevitable dust, debris and noise that drive away customers – not to mention a fear of invading rats.

One proprietor told Haaretz that the hundreds of thousands of shekels he had invested in his restaurant would go down the drain because of the deterrence to prospective diners. A local barber complained that, despite the financial losses he would incur, the city is not granting rebates on taxes or rent.

“Of course I’m happy that there’ll be a train,” he said. “But it’s at my expense.”

Another owner in the area took a more practical view, placing the country’s expenditures on this project in the context of Israel’s other expensive endeavors: “Let’s deal with this for a few years and in the end we’ll get something,” he said. “Not like the last war in which we invested money and came out with nothing.”

Officials working on the rail system’s initial Red Line, comprising 10 underground stations, said the area affected by increased traffic could span a radius of more than 25 miles — reaching as far north as the city of Netanya, Ashdod to the south and Modi’in to the east — an exacerbate an already overtaxed network of highways and roads.

Last week, NTA, the company charged with the execution of the system, also announced plans for the forthcoming Green Line, connecting Tel Aviv to Herzliya in the north and Holon in the south, with stops at Tel Aviv University and municipal business districts. (The plans are subject to pubic comment, and are pending approval.)

The Tel Aviv light rail project has been a pipe dream of residents and politicians in the coastal city for nearly two decades, with signs around town declaring the start of construction now comically out of date.

Jerusalem’s light rail system, which opened over budget in the fall of 2011, faced its own set of challenges and controversy, along with hope that it might unite a culturally divided city (a hope that was diminished after riots last summer).

NTA has released maps of the proposed transit lines and a list of benefits to the denizens of Tel Aviv, which include a reduction in pollution and a quicker, more efficient trip to work.

The government and NTA hope to alleviate some of the gridlock by adjusting traffic patterns, adding parking lots outside of town and expanding park-and-ride options (though some say not nearly enough), widening bus lanes and cracking down on private cars catching a ride on those dedicated bus lanes.

Adding to the effort to ease congestion, Israel Railways is planning to ramp up train service during peak hours, and additional buses have been added to the city’s arsenal.

The Tel Aviv police force is also preparing for the seismic shift in the city’s traffic habits by beefing up its staff by 160 officers to oversee the construction, Haaretz reported. Additionally, it will increase the number of workers at its call center to handle the expected onslaught of complaints.

Meanwhile, the Red Line, running between Petach Tikva and Bat Yam, is slated to open in 2021.

Israel OKs more eastern Jerusalem construction

Israel approved the construction of 172 new dwellings in Har Homa, a Jewish neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem.

Jerusalem City Councilman Yosef Pepe Alalu of the Meretz party, who opposes the construction, announced the approval Wednesday morning in an interview with the French news agency AFP.

“This is the final stage before construction and is the continuation of a policy that harms the peace process,” he told AFP.

Two weeks ago, Israel announced plans for more than 3,000 apartments in West Bank settlements and eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods.

The latest announcement comes as Israel searches the West Bank for three Israeli teens kidnapped six days ago.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s transformation

My old office, on the 15th floor at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Kingsley Drive, looked directly at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. It would have been an ideal location to set up a time-lapse camera to document the slow but historic changes that have taken place there over the past few years.

In 2009, the enormous Byzantine Revival-style building sat in dilapidated silence most of the time. Its exterior was the color of a pair of old, soiled khakis. There was some activity, of course, but most of the temple’s large membership used the Westside campus, at Olympic Boulevard and Barrington Avenue. 

When I had non-Jewish visitors who wanted to see what a synagogue was like, I’d walk them across the street and enter the deserted sanctuary. I have a thing for old halls of prayer, and Wilshire Boulevard Temple always gave me shivers: seats worn by generations, the famous Hugo Ballin murals barely decipherable in the dark light. It had become more a monument, or museum, than a place of worship.

Fast forward to today. The old building has been transformed over the past few years. From my window, I watched scaffolding go up and down. Fleets of workers came and went. Holes were dug, concrete poured, landscaping redone. By the time the Jewish Journal moved down the street to new digs last week, and I closed my office door for the last time, Wilshire Boulevard Temple had been transformed, a testament to the idea that the old and nearly abandoned can be made new and vital.

A few weeks ago, Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, who conceived and pushed forward the transformation, invited me to see what had been done, accompanied by Brenda Levin, the architect who oversaw every detail of the restoration.

Inside, I sucked in my breath. “Wow,” I said — and the word echoed in the vast, splendid new space.

I write “new” space because it looks as fresh as it must have during its dedication in June 1929. Levin and her team polished a Los Angeles treasure. They meticulously restored the Ballin murals, donated by Warner Bros., which now seem to shine. The massive roseate stained-glass window, taken out for repairs, now looks like a ruby in its setting. The pews have been redone, the carpet is new, the bimah has been lowered and extended, and a new air conditioning system literally breathes new life into the place.

When the late Rabbi Edgar Magnin beheld the sanctuary for the first time in 1929, he said, “The room reveals the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty.”

Now we can see what he meant.

Leder faced a choice when he took over as the congregation’s senior rabbi. The congregation could sell its historic synagogue, perhaps to a Korean church, or it could invest heavily in its repair. The first option might have made the most sense: Many shuls and Jewish institutions have moved on from where they began, including Wilshire Boulevard Temple, whose first grand edifice was built in 1873 at the downtown corner of Temple Street and Broadway.

History marches on, and Jewish history especially pivots on what happens when temples are lost.

But Leder and the leadership of Wilshire Boulevard chose the second, less obvious option and decided to stay, to invest.

“We will use it to bet on the future of this city,” Rabbi Leder said.

Young Jews were moving back into Eastside neighborhoods. The temple could serve them, but also reach beyond the Jewish community to provide services to the densely packed area’s polyglot, mainly lower-income residents.

“The core of every great city rots,” Rabbi Leder quoted a congregant, “and the core of every great city regenerates.”

The project has taken years, and along the way generated naysaying and tongue clucking in direct proportion to its $120 million price tag. If I personally had $1,000 for every person who told me it could never succeed, I could have donated the cupola. It was folly to spend so much on a synagogue, people sniped, when there are so many homeless people, when Israel faces danger, when people are starving in the Congo — name your cause. Raise enough money and people will gladly advise you on better ways to spend it.

The project officially kicked off on Sept. 1, 2008. Lehman Brothers collapsed on Sept. 15 — the official start of the Great Recession. If it is hard under any circumstances to raise money for the largest synagogue expansion in modern history, in those years it must have seemed impossible.

Yet Leder plunged forward. As historian Karen Wilson pointed out, every building boom in Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s history coincided with a market crash. The Eastside sanctuary was completed in 1929 at a cost of $1.5 million — the Great Depression raised concerns as to whether temple could survive.

A few years ago, I ran into Rabbi Leder at a Starbucks. He had been up late the night before attending an opera performance with a donor, and he had a full day of donor meetings ahead of him. “Unrelenting” was the word I remember him using.

But it paid off. The sanctuary is stunning. In 2003, no children attended kindergarten at Wilshire Boulevard Temple East. Now, 120 kids are enrolled. The next phases — to add community space and outreach services — are on track. On Erev Rosh Hashanah, the congregation will file in for the great reveal.

The lessons in all of this? Where vision and leadership fuse with need, there is more than enough money. And the smart money always bets on the future of the Jewish community, and of Los Angeles.

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

Netanyahu: Israel will build in Jerusalem despite criticism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday his government would press ahead with expanding Jewish settlements around Jerusalem despite Western criticism of its plan to build 6,000 more homes in territory Palestinians seek for a state.

In addition to several thousand housing units approved earlier this month, Israeli media said initial approval was granted on Wednesday for construction of another 3,400 units in Jerusalem and in the West Bank.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in a 1967 war and annexed it as part of its capital. Palestinians want the area to be capital of a state they seek to establish in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, land also captured by Israel.

“We are going to build in Jerusalem for all its residents, this is something that has been done by all previous governments and this is something that my government will continue to do,” Netanyahu said in a meeting with foreign ambassadors.

“Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years,” Netanyahu said, “Imagine that you would limit construction in your own capital, it doesn't make sense.”

Netanyahu launched his latest settlement expansion push after Palestinians won de facto recognition as a state in a United Nations vote last month.

Israeli analysts see the settlement drive also as an effort by Netanyahu to enhance support for his right-wing Likud party against other hawkish rivals in a January 22 parliamentary election he is expected to win.

Most world powers deem Israeli settlements illegal and say they are an obstacle to peace. The Palestinians say Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank will deny them a viable state.

The United States and Europe have strongly condemned Israel's latest building plans, and Israeli ambassadors were summoned earlier this month for a reprimand in at least half a dozen European capitals.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said this week that Washington was “deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing this pattern of provocative action.”

Nuland said settlement expansion put the goal of achieving a two-state solution already delayed by peace talks being stalled for two years, “further at risk.”

Nimr Hammad, a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas told Palestinian radio the Palestinians may protest “to the (U.N.) Security Council and seek a resolution there” against Israel's latest settlement plans.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Additional reporting by Noah Browning in Ramallah; Editing by Jon Hemming

Israel to expand settlements after U.N.’s Palestine vote

Israel plans to build thousands of new homes for its settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, an Israeli official said on Friday, defying a U.N. vote that implicitly recognized Palestinian statehood there.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's conservative government had authorised the construction of 3,000 housing units and ordered “prelimiliary zoning and planning work for thousands” more.

The official would not elaborate. But Israeli media said the government sought to hammer home its rejection of Thursday's upgrade, by the U.N. General Assembly, of the Palestinians to “non-member observer state” from “entity”.

Israel and the United States had opposed the resolution, which shored up the Palestinians' claim on all of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, saying territorial sovereignty should be addressed in direct peace talks with the Jewish state.

Those negotiations have been stalled for two years, however, given Palestinian anger at continued Israeli settlement. The Israelis insist they would keep West Bank settlement blocs under any final accord as well as all of Jerusalem as their capital.

The 193-nation U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the de facto recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged the world body to issue what he said was its long overdue “birth certificate.”

This article has been edited by JewishJournal.com.  Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich

The Architect and the Rabbi: Wilshire Boulevard Renovation is a Collaboration, History Lesson

Early on a recent Wednesday morning, architect Brenda Levin bounded up the metal steps temporarily installed at the center of the historic sanctuary of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Leading the way up 10 flights — that’s 100 feet — she climbed to the normally inaccessible domed ceiling, high enough to touch the enormous Hebrew letters circling the oculus’ opening. Those letters, inscribed in gold, spell out the most sacred words of Torah: Shema Yisra’el …

Levin, dressed in a hard hat and elegant silk blouse, stood amid a forest of scaffolding and took a moment to greet the conservator meticulously fixing spots where gold leaf had flecked off the ceiling during the 83 years since the moguls of Hollywood bankrolled the structure. Wilshire Boulevard Temple was built to be the fanciest building money could buy for the denizens of the silver screen’s Reform Jewish congregation, and its dramatic, quasi-Byzantine-Moorish design by architect A.M. Edelman (son of the congregation’s first rabbi, Abraham Edelman) was constructed over a span of just 18 months, at a cost of $1.5 million, under the leadership of Senior Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin (who presided from 1919 to 1984). It was made to compete with the cathedral-scaled churches and ornate office buildings that were lining up along Los Angeles’ grandest new street, because, in 1929, the temple’s site on Wilshire Boulevard, just east of Western Avenue at the then-westernmost tip of the city, was one of the best addresses in town. Nothing else would have satisfied the ambitions of Jack and Harry Warner, Carl Laemmle, Adolph Zukor or the boy-wonder producer Irving Thalberg.

Much in the surrounding neighborhood has changed over the years, with the waxing and waning of both real estate and demography, and despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the synagogue — now at the heart of the lively, multiethnic Koreatown neighborhood — eventually became under-used and allowed to fall into a process of slow decay. That lasted until October 2008, when its need for repair became inevitable after a potentially lethal, foot-long chunk of plaster fell from the sanctuary’s ceiling in the middle of the night. The dome was quickly netted for protection, and plans for a full overhaul of the historic component of the now-expanded campus were put on the front burner.

The ceiling of the sanctuary contains a circular opening, called the oculus, with the words of the Shema circling its perimeter. All the gold leaf on the Hebrew lettering has been cleaned and restored. Photo courtesy of Wilshire Boulevard Temple

So now, and just about every Wednesday since the day after the 2011 High Holy Days, Levin, Los Angeles’ most renowned restoration architect (and an excellent designer of new buildings in her own right), has been making a weekly pilgrimage to the site, which, under her guidance, will be a full-fledged construction zone until the work is completed by a Rosh Hashanah 2013 deadline.

Levin’s devotion to Wilshire Boulevard Temple runs deep — she, along with her husband, public policy expert and civic advocate David Abel, has been a member of the congregation for more than two decades, and she once served on its board. Her reputation for bringing new life to prominent historic buildings, ranging from Los Angeles’ City Hall, the Griffith Observatory and the Wiltern Theatre to the historic downtown Bradbury Building, would certainly qualify her for this job, but, as she put it, the fact that she’s been sitting in the pews dreaming about such things as how to “block out the view of those fluorescent lights in the choir space” during many a holiday service makes her irreplaceable.

“If she lived in New Zealand, she would have gotten the job,” said Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, who has been senior rabbi at the temple since 2003. “She is a national treasure.”

Calling it “a true privilege” of a job, Levin said she has chosen to be more present on the site than a senior architect might ordinarily be, overseeing all details of the repair, reworking and refining — which include creating invisible seismic structural reinforcement within the walls as well as installing, for the very first time, an air conditioning and heating system. There’s also the repair of the pews — with a new color scheme for the upholstery and carpeting — and, perhaps most important, reconfiguration of the bimah to make the stage and podium more accessible, enabling aliyahs for the disabled and elderly for the first time and allowing Torah readers to be more visible (think of the nervous, short 13-year-old).

Levin also has overseen a complete cleaning and careful repair of all of the structure’s ornate surfaces and conservation of artist Hugo Ballin’s historic murals depicting the history of the Jewish people. (Ballin is the same Samuel Goldwyn protégé whose paintings also adorn the walls of the Los Angeles Times’ Globe Lobby and the Griffith Observatory.)

A paintings conservator repairs damaged areas of the Hugo Ballin biblical murals in the synagogue’s historic sanctuary. Photo courtesy of Wilshire Boulevard Temple

Along with all that, Levin has supervised repair and upgrading of every inch of the exterior of the 100-by-100-foot building, which, when all is done, will be somewhat darker in color, in keeping with its original, earthier hue. Currently, dozens of workers can be seen each day standing on sky-high scaffolding, arduously filling in wall cracks in what looks like an endless process.

“The challenge here,” Levin said, standing in the sanctuary in one of a series of interviews over the course of several months, “is how do you honor such a strong and significant architectural space? It’s one of the best rooms in all of Los Angeles — if not the best — so how do you honor it, but also, in a sense, reinvent it?”

Once the work is complete, those familiar with the space will notice that the sanctuary, overall, is brighter, cleaner, more comfortable and a bit more, well, modern. But, Levin is quick to say, it will also seem completely familiar throughout. Its historic fixtures won’t change, for example, but the lighting throughout the sanctuary will be more energy-efficient, balanced and also able to be controlled for dramatic effect, “like in a theater,” she said.

“What you really want is for the architecture to augment your experience,” Levin added. So instead of leaving you worrying about feeling too hot in summer or cold in winter, “What we’re doing is to augment your comfort to pray, sing, watch your child chant from Torah … whatever it is you are there for, so you own it, so you feel ownership of it.”

And this is just the first phase of the makeover of Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s eastern campus, located in an area that Leder calls the heart of “the latest migration of new Jewish kids.” This phase, which will also produce a new six-floor parking structure (three above ground and three below), a school and a tikkun olam (literally, “healing the world”) center, is expected to cost some $150 million.

The site’s zoning would have allowed for a much larger development, but, Leder said, “We chose to remain low-density, with a half-dozen open courtyards, so that this would be a gathering place.”

It’s all part of an effort to breathe new life into a crucial hub of L.A.’s Jewish history, and it’s a mission that Leder and Levin — the architect and the rabbi — expect will impact Los Angeles far beyond just the current preservation project. They envision the revitalization of Wilshire Boulevard Temple and its city-block campus literally helping to change the face of this part of Los Angeles not just for Jews, but for everyone, because part of the plan is creating whole new plethora of resources — a social service center, learning center, social hall and prayer hall — open for use by the entire population, Jew and non-Jew, from the neighborhoods surrounding the temple.

Rabbi Steven Z. Leder and architect Brenda Levin discuss the renovations.  Photo by Dan Kacvinski

Before starting on any part of this project, the synagogue’s board of trustees — which for years had been more focused on expanding its highly successful Westside campus — had to be convinced of the need. Though this was the place from which it drew its name and where the whole congregation came together for the holiest holiday services, the huge investment needed wasn’t a given. They considered selling the property, a concept Leder said he couldn’t stand for. “It would have become a Korean church,” he said. So to make the picture real, he’d take potential funders out around the immediate neighborhood to illustrate his point.

“We’d go to Fourth [Street] and New Hampshire [Avenue], and we’d get out across the street from a beautiful old synagogue that was Sinai Temple, and there’s a gigantic cross on the front of it, just above the Ten Commandments in Hebrew, and I’d just look at people, and I’d say: ‘That’s the other alternative; it’s very disturbing.’ ”

Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s board undertook a demographic study of changes in the surrounding neighborhoods from 2000 to 2005, covering the area from West Hollywood on the west, to Eagle Rock and Pasadena on the east, stretching from Adams Boulevard on the south, up to Hollywood Boulevard on the north — roughly the range from which they could hope to draw congregants.

What they found, Leder said, was “a 64 percent increase in Jewish households where the heads of the household are in their 40s and 50s. And what does that tell you? Those are the people with children. And the number of people in their 30s was big, too.” His board, he said, “wouldn’t green-light anything anecdotally. So, their question was, ‘Can you raise any money?’ ” They considered, he said, “Maybe we should just fix up the sanctuary — we all agreed we had to do that — and not worry about the rest. But I told them that didn’t make sense. Because then you’d have a beautiful building that’s empty most of the time.”

Leder, 52, who just passed his 25th anniversary as a rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, began fundraising in earnest in 2007, soon after he was named senior rabbi and, unwittingly, just before the nation’s economy took a nosedive. Although on his first outings he’d quickly raised about

$50 million, he said, after 2008 the next $40 million was much harder to bring in. Now, he’s closing in on a promise for another $5 million, which will bring the total to $95 million. It’s a substantial beginning by any count, but he still needs at least $40 million more just for phase one.

Beyond the sanctuary restoration, which is costing about $50 million in itself, the temple paid $20 million for land in order to own the full city block. There’s been about $20 million in carrying costs — a bridge loan was needed, Leder said — and the next $40 million will pay for classrooms for the new day school (the nursery school will go into an existing structure) and a parking lot big enough to hold more than 500 cars and a block-long tikkun olam center where, among other things, congregants can volunteer. Another phase — which will need yet more funds — will include a new courtyard, fixing up the existing school, plus building a structure for events and programing. In its sum total it’s vast and would cost far more than any figure Leder is as yet ready to name.

The master plan by Levin & Associates Architects envisions all that could be built on the campus.

For now, talking about any given portion of the project can animate the rabbi. Particularly the part about the kids coming up in what are still new nursery and day schools (in addition to the K-12 religious school) on this campus, for example, and even more so when conversation turns to the tikkun olam center, which he describes as not just a food pantry — the congregation already offers one in a somewhat more limited form on Sunday mornings — but also a medical and dental clinic for those in need.

“Right now, we’re in the process of doing the due diligence to find the right people to operate the tikkun olam center,” Leder said. “Were talking to people at PATH [the L.A. social service group]; we’re talking to the Korean community; we’re creating and strengthening relationships so that when we open the door, we’re staffed and running it in a way that meets the real needs of the community, not in a way that we perceive or imagine it to be. … There’s not another synagogue in the world that interfaces with the Korean community the way that we can.”

Both architect Levin and Rabbi Leder point to the nearby subway as one of the extraordinary assets for the neighborhood, as well, imagining commuters from downtown hopping on the subway to get to and from the temple, or using the future Westside extension that will one day go all the way to Santa Monica on the same line. And they imagine churches, community members and even other synagogues holding events in the new facilities, which will include a fully kosher kitchen, a cafe and, Leder said, a new mikveh, only the second non-Orthodox mikveh in Los Angeles.

“It will,” architect Levin asserts, “reinforce Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s commitment not only to this site, but to this community at large, as well as to the Jewish community, in terms of investing in the future of Jewish children, and by being a good neighbor and investing in teaching, learning, prayer and charity. That’s a huge statement in this community.”

To this, Rabbi Leder adds his uncontained optimism: “When people ask me what the temple’s mission is, I tell them, ‘We make Jews,’ ” he said, pointing to the many unaffiliated and secular Jews who have joined the Westside branch of Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Reform congregation. It’s the same kind of underserved and often disenfranchised Jews or aspiring converts that he wants to reach here.

“The thing that compels me most is I feel the incredible potential of the combination of freedom and capitalism and Torah in a place like Los Angeles that has never existed before for the Jews,” Leder said.

“We can do anything here. We can’t do everything, but we can do anything.”

[UPDATED] Minus the eruv, no excuses

UPDATE: According to the Web site laeruv.com, the Los Angeles eruv is down again for Shabbat, beginning June 22 and continuing June 23.

UPDATE: As of 1:30 p.m. Friday, June 22, the Web site laeruv.com is now reporting, the Los Angeles eruv is back up, in time for Shabbat.

When construction for the widening of the 405 Freeway put the Los Angeles Community Eruv out of operation for Shabbat on June 15, it added some complications to the Sabbath plans of some observant Jewish Angelenos. But probably few more so than Elliot Katzovitz, who was among those involved in designing the eruv about a decade ago.

An eruv defines a specific area and allows a rabbinic work-around to the prohibition of carrying in public spaces on the Sabbath.

“There was an old eruv that covered the greater Pico neighborhood, which not everybody found amenable,” Katzovitz said, explaining that it, like most such enclosures, was constructed from posts and strings.

“The current eruv” — whose 40-mile circumference is composed primarily of freeway fencing, the walls of mountain passes and large buildings — “is acceptable to all the different viewpoints of Orthodox Judaism, from the black hats in La Brea to the Modern Orthodox at B’nai David-Judea,” Katzovitz said.

Eruv administrators knew by June 12 that, because paving on a stretch of freeway wouldn’t be dry in time to replace a stretch of fencing, the eruv would be out of operation for Shabbat, for only the second time in as many years of construction. For most of the estimated 40,000 to 50,000 observant Jews who live within the eruv’s perimeter, this meant making sure their Shabbat plans didn’t include pushing children in strollers or carrying a prayer shawl to synagogue.

But for Katzovitz, whose youngest son was becoming bar mitzvah on Saturday morning at B’nai David-Judea, the absence of an eruv didn’t just mean that some guests with small children wouldn’t make it to synagogue, nor were the logistics — making sure the text of his son’s speech was in the synagogue before sundown on Friday, for one — the most significant hardship.

Katzovitz, who lives in Pico-Robertson, about a mile from B’nai David-Judea, suffers from psoriatic arthritis, a condition that doesn’t always afflict him. But last weekend, he suffered a spell that made walking painful.

“Normally, I would’ve used a cane or a wheelchair,” Katzovitz said, and had his condition been one that required him to use a cane or wheelchair all the time, Katzovitz explained, he would have done so, even without an eruv.

But because he is not permanently disabled and would have been using a wheelchair as “a temporary convenience,” Katzovitz said, it was off-limits without an eruv.

“Because I could theoretically walk, I can’t use that wheelchair,” he said, “which is going to sound crazy to anyone who isn’t an Orthodox Jew.”

Katzovitz made it to his son’s bar mitzvah on foot, and even walked back to the synagogue again on Saturday afternoon.

“God granted me the freedom and the lack of pain to be able to do it,” he said.

As of press time on June 19, administrators expected to have the eruv back in operation in time for the Sabbath beginning on June 22.

Palestinian leaders reject Netanyahu letter to Abbas

Palestinian leaders reportedly have rejected the contents of a letter delivered by Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal envoy Isaac Molho to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

“The content of [Netanyahu’s] letter did not represent grounds for returning to negotiations,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told Reuters.

The letter delivered Saturday night was in response to a letter sent to Netanyahu last month from Abbas in which the PA chief blamed Netanyahu for the stalled peace process. The Abbas letter said the Palestinians would return to the negotiating table only if Israel accepts a two-state solution based on 1967 borders with “limited” land swaps, halts all settlement building and releases Palestinian prisoners.

Molho and Abbas issued a joint statement following the meeting saying that “Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to achieving peace, and the sides hope that the exchange of letters between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu will further this goal.”

A statement issued Saturday night from the Prime Minister’s Office did not divulge the contents of the letter. But Palestinian leaders said Sunday afternoon that Netanyahu’s letter rejected the Palestinian’s requirement for a halt to building in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem and called for a return to stalled peace talks without preconditions.

During the meeting with Molcho, Abbas reportedly brought up the plight of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and asked Israel to accede to their demands, including no solitary confinement and family visits for prisoners whose families live in Gaza.

Olmert indicted in Holyland scandal

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been indicted on bribery charges in one of Israel’s largest corruption scandals.

The indictment filed Thursday accuses Olmert of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes during the construction of the Holyland apartment project in Jerusalem when he was mayor of Jerusalem and then trade minister.

Seventeen other people were also indicted in the case, including Olmert’s former bureau chief Shula Zaken and former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski.

Olmert is currently on trial in three other cases: for allegedly paying for family vacations by double billing Jewish organizations through the Rishon Tours travel agency; for allegedly accepting envelopes full of cash from American businessman Morris Talansky; and for allegedly granting personal favors to attorney Uri Messer when he served as trade minister in the Investment Center case.

The ex-Israeli leader is charged with fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate records and tax evasion. He has pleaded not guilty on all charges.

Olmert is the first former Israeli prime minister to stand trial. He resigned as prime minister in September 2008 after police investigators recommended that he be indicted.

Jerusalem committee approves new Gilo housing

A Jerusalem building committee has approved the construction of 130 new apartments in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.

The construction must still be approved by the government’s Interior Ministry. It will be about three years before ground will be broken on the project, if approved at all levels.

The project received its first round of approvals in November 2010.

Building approvals in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem were sped up by the Israeli government in response to the Palestinians being accepted for membership in UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, in November of this year.

U.N. Security Council states condemn Israel over housing

Members of the U.N. Security Council criticized Israel’s decision to construct additional housing in the settlements and the United States for blocking a vote to condemn the action.

The four European Union nations on the council—Britain, France, Germany and Portugal—issued a joint statement slamming Israel for settlement building. They cited a briefing by the U.N. assistant secretary-general for political affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, who said such construction is preventing the restarting of peace talks with the Palestinians.

“One of the themes that emerged was the severely damaging effect that increased settlement construction and settler violence is having on the ground and on the prospects of a return to negotiations,” the EU council members said in their joint statement, Reuters reported.

The president of the Security Council, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, indirectly blamed the United States for its role in the stalled negotiations.

“There is one delegation which would not want to hear anything about it, any kind of a statement, which believes that somehow things will sort of settle themselves somehow miraculously out of their own,” Churkin said.

Statements from the Nonaligned Movement, the Arab group and the group of emerging powers that includes India, Brazil and South Africa also condemned Israel and the United States, according to reports.

Meanwhile, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, issued a statement expressing her “strong disapproval” of Israel’s announcement earlier this week issuing a tender to build more than 1,000 housing units in the West Bank, including in eastern Jerusalem.

“I urge them not to proceed with this publication,” Ashton said in the statement. “The EU’s position is clear: Settlement construction is illegal under international law and further complicates efforts to find a solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By ensuring the suspension of the publication of these tenders, the Israeli government can contribute positively to these efforts.”

Israel closes Jerusalem holy compound footbridge

Israel on Monday closed a footbridge it deemed unsafe at Jerusalem’s holiest and most volatile religious site after fears that demolition of the structure, used mainly by non-Muslim tourists, could spark Arab anger.

The wooden ramp was erected by Israeli authorities as a stopgap after a snowstorm and earthquake in 2004 damaged a stone bridge leading up from Judaism’s Western Wall to the sacred compound where the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine stand.

Any construction at the site can be politically explosive. During Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister, his opening in 1996 of a new entrance to an access tunnel for tourists near the compound touched off Muslim protests and gun battles in which 60 Palestinians and 15 Israelis were killed.

The footbridge was to have been torn down last month but Netanyahu postponed the demolition on the advice of Israeli diplomats and security officials, government officials said.

Netanyahu was cautioned that removing the structure and building a new bridge could enrage Muslims – especially in turbulent Egypt – who might believe the work could damage al-Aqsa, said the officials, who insisted no harm would come to existing buildings.

A police spokesman said the bridge was closed after Jerusalem’s city engineer declared it unsafe. It had been used mainly by tourists. Muslim worshippers use other entrances to the holy compound. Jews pray outside at the Western Wall.

Israeli media reports said Israel would consult with the king of Jordan, the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, on the future of the bridge.

The city’s senior Muslim cleric, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem, said Islamic religious authorities opposed demolition of the existing structure and construction of a new one.

The holy compound is in the old walled city of Jerusalem.  Jews revere the compound as the site of their Biblical Temple, destroyed by Roman troops in the 1st century. Surviving foundations of its Western Wall are now a focus of prayer.

For Muslims, who captured Jerusalem from the Christian Byzantines in the 7th century, the Dome of the Rock marks the spot from which Mohammad made his night journey to heaven.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller

Netanyahu rejects widespread criticism of homes plan

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected Western and Arab complaints that the planned construction of 1,100 new homes in Gilo on annexed land close to Jerusalem would complicate Middle East peace efforts.

“Gilo is not a settlement nor an outpost. It is a neighborhood in the very heart of Jerusalem about five minutes from the center of town,” Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev said.

In every peace plan on the table in the past 18 years Gilo “stays part of Jerusalem and therefore this planning decision in no way contradicts” the current Israel government’s desire for peace based on two states for the two peoples, he added.

Netanyahu also stressed the construction approval announced on Tuesday was a “preliminary planning decision.”

The United States, Europe and Arab states said the announcement would complicate efforts to renew peace talks and defuse a crisis over a Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations.

Britain and the European Union called on Netanyahu to reverse the decision, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said new settlement building would be “counter-productive.”

The U.S. State Department’s number two and three officials for policy, Deputy Secretary Bill Burns and Under Secretary Wendy Sherman, discussed the issue with Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren on Tuesday, the State Department said.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters both meetings were in person but had been previously scheduled, so Oren was not “summoned” to the State Department—a sign of diplomatic annoyance.

Nuland declined to say whether the United States had been given any advance warning of the construction decision.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas applied at the United Nations on Friday for full Palestinian membership, a move opposed by Israel and the United States, which urged him to resume negotiations with Israel to end the 63-year-old conflict.

Abbas has made a cessation of Israeli settlement building a condition for returning to talks which collapsed a year ago after Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month partial moratorium on construction.

The so-called Quartet of international mediators—the United States, the European Union, Russia and the U.N.—has called for talks to begin within a month and urged both sides not to take unilateral actions that could block peacemaking.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the new housing units Israel wants to build represented “1,100 ‘noes’ to the Quartet statement” urging a resumption of negotiations.

Palestinians want to create a state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel’s Interior Ministry said a district planning committee approved the Gilo project and public objections to the proposal could be lodged within a 60-day review period, after which construction could begin.

Reporting by Douglas Hamilton; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Matthew Jones and Jackie Frank

Israel permits construction of 1,200 new homes in Gaza Strip

Israel has authorized the construction of 1,200 new homes and 18 schools in the southern Gaza Strip.

It will be one of the largest building projects in Gaza in years.

Israel’s Civil Administration made the announcement Tuesday, the AP reported.

The homes will replace some of the 60,000 the United Nations claims were damaged or destroyed during Israel’s military offensive against Hamas almost three years ago, as well as others destroyed in earlier operations in 2003 and 2004.

Since Hamas took control of the Strip in 2007, Israel has banned the entry of construction materials including cement, metal and glass, for fear they will be converted to military use.

U.N. Spokesman Adnan Abu Hassna told reporters that he welcomed the announcement, and that the U.N. is awaiting the arrival of thousands of trucks full of construction materials, so the building can begin.

Abu Hassna said the projects are being funded by Japan and Saudi Arabia.  

E. Jerusalem apartment construction begins

Construction began on apartment buildings in eastern Jerusalem for married students attending a nearby yeshiva.

Work clearing the land for the three buildings for Yeshivat Beit Orot, funded by American businessman Irving Moskowitz, began Wednesday. The 24 apartments on the Mount of Olives Ridge will be located a short walk from the Hebrew University campus.

“We are joyful and honored to commence the construction of our new neighborhood which strengthens the Jewish presence in united Jerusalem and stresses the fact that Jerusalem is the home of every Jew in Israel and throughout the world,”  yeshiva head Rabbi Dani Isaac said in a statement on the yeshiva’s website.

The Jerusalem municipality approved the construction in May. Construction is expected to be completed in one year.

Abbas speaks against settlements at Arafat memorial

Mahmoud Abbas told thousands of Palestinians gathered for a Yasser Arafat memorial that “The Palestinian state will arise when it is cleared of settlements.”

The Palestinian Authority president also told the crowd in Ramallah marking the sixth anniversary of Arafat’s death that he would not sign a peace agreement unless it included the release of all Palestinian prisoners, according to Ynet.

Memorial participants were bused to the Mukata, the PA headquarters, from all over the West Bank. Many in the crowd wore Arafat’s trademark black-checkered keffiyah and waved Palestinian flags.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas officials broke up an Arafat memorial consisting of two dozen people screening a film about Arafat, who headed the rival Palestinian Fatah Party.

Arafat was the Palestinian Authority chairman when he died in 2004 at a French hospital from complications of the flu. Some Palestinians still contend that he was poisoned by Israel, though no traces of poison were found in his system after his death.

Housing construction announced for eastern Jerusalem

A Jerusalem municipal committee has approved the construction of more than 1,000 Jewish homes in eastern Jerusalem.

The announcement of the program’s details came Monday, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the United States to speak at a gathering of Jewish leaders and to meet with Obama administration and United Nations officials.

The plans published by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee include 978 new housing units in Har Homa as well as 320 in Ramot, all east of the Green Line.

The plans reportedly were approved months ago, Israel’s Interior Ministry told Haaretz. Monday’s announcement was made in accordance with the proper process, according to the report.

The announcement came a day after Netanyahu met with Vice President Joe Biden. In March, an announcement of plans to build 1,600 Jewish housing units in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo during a visit to Israel by Biden caused a diplomatic uproar.

Netanyahu trying to convince top ministers to extend settlement freeze

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will convene his forum of top ministers on Tuesday afternoon to debate extending Israel’s moratorium on construction in West Bank settlements for 60 days.

The concession would be made in exchange for a series of reported U.S. guarantees in Israel’s direct peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Israel halted construction temporarily for 10 months, a freeze that ended on September 26.

The Palestinians have said they would not continue the recently renewed negotiations unless Israel agreed to halt construction again. The Obama administration has urged Israel to reconsider its refusal of that demand.

If Netanyahu succeeds in convincing the Forum of Seven to accept an extension of the construction freeze, he plans to bring the matter to the political-security cabinet for a vote later Tuesday.

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Construction begins on E. Jerusalem Jewish homes

Construction began on a Jewish housing project in an eastern Jerusalem neighborhood.

A construction crew arrived Sunday at the Shepherd Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah to begin drilling as part of engineering testing on the site, according to reports.

Twenty new Jewish homes are set to be built on the site by American Jewish millionaire Irving Moskowitz, who purchased the property in 1985. In 2007, Moskowitz proposed a plan to build 122 apartments on the site; he modified the plan to 20 apartments in 2009.

The construction plan originally was approved in July 2009, contingent on the payment of certain fees. Final approval and a permit for the construction project was granted after the payment of the fees in March, just hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Obama at the White House, during which observers have said Obama snubbed Netanyahu.

The construction this week comes just days before Netanyahu is scheduled to again meet with Obama at the White House.

Peace Now said in a statement Sunday that “The mayor of Jerusalem and his partners in the right wing continue to decide the facts on the ground and harm Israel’s political status. Netanyahu must order [Nir] Barkat to stop the construction in Sheikh Jarrah immediately.”

Report: Israel has frozen E. Jerusalem construction

Israel has frozen new Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims that building would not stop, according to municipal officials.

The Associated Press cited two Jerusalem city officials in an article released Monday as saying that a de facto freeze had been put in place.

One city councilman told the AP that Jerusalem City Hall officials told him that they had received a verbal order of a construction freeze from the Prime Minister’s Office. Another councilman told the AP that the two committees that review construction plans for the city have met infrequently since last month’s visit by Vice President Joe Biden, during which the announcement of the approval of housing construction in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem caused tension between Netanyahu and the White House.

Meir Margalit, a city councilman from the dovish Meretz Party, told the AP that “The government ordered the Interior Ministry immediately after the Biden incident to not even talk about new construction for Jewish homes in East Jerusalem. It’s not just that building has stopped: The committees that deal with this are not even meeting anymore.”

Projects under construction would be completed, Margalit said.

Another councilman, Meir Turujamen, who sits on the Interior Ministry committee that approves building plans, said the committee, which had been meeting weekly, has not met since the Biden visit.

“I wrote a letter about three weeks or a month ago asking [Interior Minister Eli] Yishai why the committee isn’t convening,” he said. “To this day I haven’t received an answer.”

President Obama reportedly asked Netanyahu to declare a freeze on eastern Jerusalem construction in order to bring the Palestinians back to proximity talks on a peace agreement during their meeting last month at the White House. The Palestinians have said they will not enter new indirect talks with Israel until Jewish construction is halted in eastern Jerusalem.

Netanyahu had rejected an Obama administration call for a total construction freeze in eastern Jerusalem in a message conveyed recently to the White House, according to The Wall Street Journal and confirmed by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu did agree, however, to undertake confidence-building measures toward the Palestinians, including allowing the opening of Palestinian Authority institutions in eastern Jerusalem, turning over more West Bank land to Palestinian security control and discussing core issues such as permanent borders and the status of Jerusalem during indirect peace talks instead of waiting for direct negotiations.

Netanyahu: Israeli construction in East Jerusalem is justified

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Monday that Israel would not accept Palestinian demands that it stop building settlements in East Jerusalem.

Appearing in an interview broadcast Monday on ABC’s Good Morning America, Netanyahu called the Palestinian demand that Israel stop building in settlements “unacceptable” and said this long-standing Israeli government position is not his alone, but rather dates to governments led by Golda Meir, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.

Netanyahu has sought to minimize differences with U.S. President Barack Obama over the Middle East peace process. But he acknowledged on Monday that “we have some outstanding issues. We’re trying to resolve them through diplomatic channels in the best way that we can.”

During the interview, Netanyahu also urged the United States and the world to impose “crippling sanctions” on refined petroleum on Iran to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon.

Read the full article at Haaretz.com.

Israel Supreme Court OKs Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem project

JERUSALEM — The Israeli Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the Simon Wiesenthal Center can build its long-planned Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance on a contested site in the middle of Jerusalem.

The decision came eight years after the initial announcement that famed architect Frank O. Gehry would design the landmark museum, and four years after a ground-breaking ceremony attended by Israeli and California dignitaries.

In the meantime, the estimated cost of the project has escalated from $120 million to $250 million. The Center already has raised $115 million for the project, according to Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center.

He said construction would resume immediately and praised the court’s ruling, adding, “All citizens of Israel, Jews and non-Jews, are the real beneficiaries of this decision.”

Hier estimated that the museum would open in about three-and-a-half years.

Following Gehry’s design, the new complex will consist of a general museum and a children’s museum, a theater, conference center, library, gallery and lecture halls, with the mission to promote civility and respect among different segments of the Jewish community and between people of all faiths.

The museum site, adjoining Independence Park, served as Jerusalem’s main Muslim cemetery until 1948. Muslim authorities appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court that museum construction would desecrate the cemetery, which allegedly contained the bones of Muslims killed during the Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries.

Attorneys for the Wiesenthal Center countered that the site housed a four-story underground garage for three decades, and before that the old Palace Hotel, and that Muslim religious authorities had ruled earlier that the location had lost its sacred character.

In an 85-page decision, a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court agreed with the Wiesenthal Center argument.

Other objections had been raised by some Israeli politicians and initially by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Memorial Holocaust Authority. Hier assured Yad Vashem that the new museum would not deal with the history of the Holocaust.

Throughout the lengthy proceedings, the project had the unstinting support of Ehud Olmert as mayor of Jerusalem and later prime minister of Israel.

The Supreme Court decision drew immediate objections from Gershon Baskin, a longtime Israeli opponent of the project because of its Muslim cemetery connection.

Baskin, co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, called for letters of protest from all “Jerusalemnites, rabbis, Israelis, Palestinians, Jews and citizens of the world.”

Artist’s rendering of the project

Malibu Shul Begins Building — Finally

Construction crews broke ground at the site of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue (MJCS) last week — two and a half years after the congregation held a gala groundbreaking celebration for the new $10 million building.

"Building in Malibu is legendary — it’s very difficult to get through the regulatory process. Thank God, we’ve made it through all of that," said George Greenberg, congregation president.

It took about seven years for the 225-family congregation to work through the red tape that binds any building project in Malibu, from city permits to the daunting state Coastal Commission. With permits finally in hand and $7.5 million raised, construction trucks moved onto the 5-acre site on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), about a mile up the coast from Pepperdine University.

The new building, a sweep of steel and glass that is deliberately ambiguous about where the outside ends and inside begins, will be the first major synagogue erected in Malibu. Chabad has a small congregation nearby, also on PCH, and the nearest shuls are in Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica.

"Malibu is an interesting place because people come here to get away — they come here specifically not to join, to be secluded with nature," Greenberg said.

Set into a lush hillside on PCH where lizards and dragonflies crisscross dirt paths, the Reconstructionist MJCS has eschewed the conventional routines of some communities, offering alternative portals to participating in services or classes. Rabbi Judith HaLevy relishes in programs such as Shabbat on the Beach — a hallmark of summer here — and she has set up a regular rotation on Friday nights of healing services, family services and small Kabbalat Shabbat services in people’s homes.

Until now, the physical space has worked well with the ad hoc aura. The "temporary" cluster of prefabricated units put up 10 years ago on the northern end of the site still serve as the way-too-cozy administrative offices, the preschool, the religious school and the main sanctuary — which also serves as a preschool room and a kitchen — and where bar and bat mitzvah’s require setting up tents outside the sliding doors on either side of the ark.

For the High Holidays, 1,200 congregants will worship in a tent set up in a dusty athletic field in the shadow of the mountainside, where if you sit in the right spot you can see over the trees lining PCH and catch a glimpse of the ocean.

HaLevy and Greenberg have worked with architects to maintain both the closeness with nature and the intimacy with each other in the new building.

The new campus will house the preschool and offices in the old prefab units. The centerpiece of the new 20,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor complex is the nearly all-glass main sanctuary, which opens up in back to two roofed patios covered on three sides. On the other side of the bimah and ark, glass doors open up to an outdoor amphitheater. The entire building is surrounded by lushly landscaped concourses. Catered events can also be held in the space, and the new kitchen will be under kosher supervision.

The natural beauty of the site is one of its biggest assets, and also turned out to be a major obstacle toward developing the property. The parcel of land, acquired from NBC 10 years ago, is a long, narrow lot, and about 40 percent of it turned out to be designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area, rendering that part of the land ineligible for any development. (NBC agreed to forgive almost $800,000 of the remaining mortgage when the condition of the land became known.)

The entire property has to be regraded, sound barriers to PCH will be built and the shul will have its own waste water treatment facility.

While the delays were a headache for the congregation, Greenberg acknowledges the extra time was also necessary for more fundraising. Malibu Beach’s image as playground of the rich and famous holds true for a small percentage of the congregation, but most members are from plain old Malibu — just regular professionals, says Greenberg, attracted to Malibu’s small-town feel.

As one of the only shuls for miles, MJCS attracts a wide range of members, from the very traditional to the barely affiliated. It tries to be inclusive of the many intermarried families, while not lowering the bar of what is expected from both kids and adults.

Greenberg and HaLevy both realize that putting up a major edifice will challenge the warm and intimate character they have worked hard to nurture.

HaLevy looks to innovative programs like Shabbat on the Beach, where the candles flutter in the wind and the dolphins come for a weekly dose of spirituality, to keep congregants tied to the community.

"The direct spiritual experience is very difficult to provide, but my saying ‘let’s be quiet for a three minutes and listen to the waves before we say the Shema’ might be enough for you to find a place in your soul that is very hard to find," HaLevy said. "Hopefully the space we are building will have that kind of a feel."

Valley Cities JCC Slated to Shut Down

For more than 50 years, Valley Cities Jewish Community Center (JCC) has served as a magnet for San Fernando Valley Jews, a one-stop shop that offers a panoply of services, ranging from nursery school for the young to lectures for seniors.

Thousands of Jews have kibitzed, made lifelong friends and gained their first exposure to the community at Valley Cities, which has become nothing less than one of the linchpins of Jewish life in the Southern California.

In a blow to area Jews, Valley Cities is slated to close its doors forever on June 30, a victim of rising deficits, falling enrollment and a nasty fight between The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, its biggest benefactor, and the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), the agency charged with running it.

The center’s impending demise follows the closure less than two years ago of Bay Cities JCC and is yet another sign of the shaky overall health of Los Angeles’ JCC system. More casualties, including the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center and possibly JCCGLA itself could follow.

The problems plaguing L.A.’s community centers come at a time when the national JCC movement has shown robust growth. Close to $500 million in construction is planned, under way or has recently been completed at JCCs around the country, said Alan Mann, executive vice president for JCC and community services at the JCC Association of North America.

The movement has flourished despite a decline over the past decade in federation funding. In the early 1990s, federation dollars accounted for 25 percent to 30 percent of JCCs’ overall budgets but have dropped to about 13 percent, Mann said. To compensate for the reduced funding, JCCs have raised more money from donors, increased membership and expanded program offerings.

News of Valley Cities’ fate has stunned many current and past members who argue that the center is too much a part of the fabric of local Jewish life to be allowed simply to disappear.

Art Verity, a former Valley Cities advisory board member, said both his daughters benefited greatly from attending nursery school there. He partly attributed his 21-year-old daughter Sarah’s active participation at UC Berkeley’s Hillel to the strong Jewish identity she developed at Valley Cities.

"This is a tragic loss," Verity said. "The center is unique, irreplaceable and plays an important role in fostering tzedakah [charity] within the Jewish community. It’s a place where nonaffiliated, secular and other Jews can gather in a Jewish setting, an anchor."

Thirty-seven full- and part-time employees could lose their jobs when Valley Cities closes. The center serves 90 preschool students, about 70 grade-school students through its after-school program and 100 seniors.

Michael Brezner, Valley Cities board president, said he was stunned by JCCGLA’s decision to shut the center and sell the property, especially since JCCGLA had spent more than $100,000 at the center over the past six months for such capital improvements as repainting the auditorium and replacing its 400 chairs. Brezner said JCCGLA officials, in the midst of discussing the 2004 budget with the board, suddenly pulled the plug on the center, saying they needed to sell the property to pay off debts to the L.A. Federation and other lenders.

JCCGLA officials said they told Brezner they could no longer afford to subsidize a money-losing operation. The organization owes The Federation $2.2 million, JCCGLA Executive Vice President Nina Lieberman Giladi said. The agency must still replenish $1 million in its special fund and owes banks $450,000, she said.

The centers’ organization reduced its debt by more than $600,000 last year after paying The Federation that amount from the $4.7 million it netted from the sale of the Bay Cities and North Valley JCC properties. It also paid down the debt on its special fund by $550,000 and paid off $350,000 of its bank debt.

A beleaguered JCCGLA plans to reinvent itself again, just a year after Lieberman Giladi said the organization was set to move out of the business of running centers and into providing them legal, financial and other consulting services. It has yet to map out its future role, although its size will shrink significantly, said Lieberman Giladi, who acknowledged that she might lose her job in any reorganization.

Brezner said he and other Valley Cities supporters hoped to find a benefactor who could help them purchase the center, which he said JCCGLA has valued at about $2.5 million. Other options include rezoning the property and attracting a developer who would allow the center to continue operating at a reduced rent. Valley Cities boosters are planning rallies and fundraisers to save the embattled center, he said.

"We’re not going to just walk away from this," Brezner said. "We want this 50-year treasure to flourish for another 50 years."

Those efforts might fall short, JCCGLA officials said. Valley Cities loses more than $16,000 a month, and its after-school program has seen participation plummet over the past year as nearby public schools have opened competing programs of their own. With little indication the center can right itself financially, JCCGLA has no choice but to sell Valley Cities and other nonperforming properties, especially since its own finances are stretched thin, Lieberman Giladi said.

"The board has decided it wouldn’t incur any more debt, and any plan going forward had to see all outstanding debts paid in full," she said.

Lieberman Giladi said the Westside JCC, Shalom Institute in Malibu and Zimmer Children’s Discovery Museum all have the capacity to become self-sufficient.

JCCGLA executives appear to think that their best hope for reviving the city’s centers lies in helping the Westside JCC raise millions to construct a state-of-the-art facility.

"One fabulous center will beget other fabulous centers," JCCGLA President Randy Myer said at the group’s Feb. 12 annual meeting. "And down the line, I see a Los Angeles dotted with active and thriving JCCs."

Looking back, JCCGLA’s sanguine predictions have sometimes soured.

Little more than one year ago, the association said it wanted to help those centers under its control become independent and strong. The West Valley JCC, with significant funding from The Federation, has achieved those goals.

However, Valley Cities is on its deathbed. North Valley JCC, albeit now independent, is far smaller than at its peak. In the Conejo Valley, JCCGLA is actively working with local Jewish leaders to ensure the continuation of services at the JCC.

In Silverlake, JCCGLA appears less interested in saving the Silverlake Independent JCC than in fetching the highest possible price from selling it, Silverlake executives said. The agency has rejected a $1.8 million bid from Silverlake supporters that would have ensured the center’s survival, they said. Instead, JCCGLA has put the property on the open market.

"Having somebody look at it doesn’t mean that it’s sold tomorrow," JCCGLA President Myer said. "The ball has been in their court" to make another offer.

The Federation has a $550,000 lien on the Silverlake property.

Given the checkered performance of the area’s JCCs, JCCGLA has lost some of its credibility.

"Our [Valley Cities] members stand to lose their jobs, which I think is a real indictment of GLA’s new management," said Jeff Rogers, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Local 800.

JCCGLA leaders said they have done the best they could there and elsewhere, despite a precipitous drop in Federation funding. Also, they inherited a financial mess created by a former JCCGLA chief financial officer who hid ballooning deficits. The group’s one major shortcoming has been its lackluster fundraising record relative to other Federation beneficiaries, Lieberman Giladi said.

Some in the community think The Federation should do more to help the ailing JCCs. Activist Barbara Yaroslavsky wonders why The Federation doesn’t just forgive or restructure JCCGLA’s debt. At the very least, The Federation could have undertaken a special fundraising campaign for the centers as it has done for Israel in times of crisis, she said.

"I don’t know why The Federation hasn’t stepped up to the plate," Yaroslavsky said.

Indeed, federations in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and elsewhere in the country have helped bail out troubled JCCs in the rare instances when difficulties have flared up, said Mann of JCC Association of North America. They have forgiven loans, made emergency cash infusions and hammered out long-term strategic plans with the centers to shore up balance sheets, he said.

Los Angeles Federation President John Fishel said his organization has worked hard over the past decade to ensure the survival of local JCCs, although he acknowledged that his relationship with JCCGLA executives has verged on frosty at times. When JCCGLA experienced its major financial crisis two years ago, The Federation loaned it $1.1 million. (To secure the debt, The Federation put a lien on the Bay Cities and Silverlake properties.)

In the early 1990s, The Federation lent JCCGLA $1 million during a cash-flow crisis. The group later forgave the loan, he said.

The Federation’s commitment to JCCGLA appears to have waned. Fishel said that his organization last year allocated $2.8 million. However, it only disbursed $2.5 million, including $1.3 million to the West Valley JCC, which later went independent. The Federation held back funds because JCCGLA had failed to provide registration, membership and other program information as required, he said.

Lieberman Giladi said she was told their money was withheld because JCCGLA had outstanding debt. She added that her organization gave The Federation all requested information.

The ongoing financial problems of JCCGLA seem to suggest that local centers cannot survive without "extraordinary grants," Fishel said. Given the need to balance local, domestic and international demands, The Federation is not in a position to provide that kind of money, he said.

With many "megashuls" and other Jewish institutions now offering teen services, adult education and other programs similar to those found at community centers, it is unclear how many JCCs Los Angeles can support at the beginning of the 21st century.

"The danger for an organized Jewish community of our size is we try to do everything at the same time and don’t achieve the level of excellence we should," Fishel said. "I think the question might be how do you have less venues providing quality programs with superior staff and market them effectively. I think you start with the premise of creating centers of excellence in a few places."

Fishel wouldn’t say how many centers he thought appropriate for Los Angeles. JCC observers, though, said they thought the West Valley and Westside are the only two centers likely to emerge from the wreckage with strong Federation support.

Center Construction Moves Ahead Despite Shortfall

Though Irvine’s Samueli Jewish Campus is $2 million short of $20 million required to finish a community building, the project’s supporters are moving ahead to avoid the potential costs of delay.

Permits for the 123,000-square-foot building adjacent to Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School were issued in March.

"We’re moving ahead as originally scheduled," said Ralph Stern, of Tustin, who is leading fundraising. In a communitywide appeal in May 2002, he promised a fiscally conservative stance: construction would start when financial goals were met.

"If it weren’t for potentially inflationary pressure, we wouldn’t have started," he said last month.

Waiting for the till to fill would incur extra costs from disbanding the building’s construction team, an expected hike in steel prices and bid escalation due to a predicted surge of postwar construction, Stern said. Known costs alone amounted to $500,000, said Irving M. Chase, of Irvine, a member of the capital campaign committee.

"This is one way to protect the bids we had," Stern said.

Adequate funds have been pledged for the $6.5 million first phase, which includes grading, utilities, a foundation and steel-support structure. Stern hopes to raise the remainder by July, as the initial construction nears completion.

An anonymous donor and Broadcom Corp. co-founder Henry Samueli provided two-thirds of the project’s total $60 million cost. Jewish agencies now in Costa Mesa anticipate relocating next spring.

Meet Me at Third and Fairfax

These days, Third and Fairfax is pure traffic mayhem. Bulldozers, big rigs and construction workers jam the city streets and block available driveways. Trying to park at Farmers Market, the historical market and eatery that has drawn locals and tourists for 68 years, is like entering a revolving door and not stopping. Not only is the Market going through a $45-million revival, but a new outdoor shopping mall, The Grove at Farmers Market, is being erected, for a projected March 15 opening, amidst a flurry of dissension and exhilaration.

The Grove, a 575,000-square-foot exterior mall costing $160 million, sits on 20 acres of land, with an eight-level, 3,500-space parking structure, over 54 stores and restaurants, and a 14-screen multiplex theater. With the Farmers Market to the west, CBS to the north, Pan Pacific Park to the east and new residential development to the south, across Third Street, The Grove will offer prospective customers the most elegant shopping this area has ever seen: Nordstrom, Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew, The Gap, Banana Republic, Nike Goddess, Victoria’s Secret and FAO Schwarz, to name just a few. Restaurants will include Madame Wu, Maggiano’s, The Farm of Beverly Hills and Morels French Steakhouse.

The project is being developed by Caruso Affiliated Holdings, whose executive director, Rick Caruso, is president of the Police Commission and developer of some of the most successful shopping malls in southern California.

Concurrently, Farmers Market, owned and operated by A.F. Gilmore Co. (which owns the land that the Grove sits on), is changing. For the first time, merchants will be expanding their store hours to be in line with the Grove’s — from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., (10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday); valet parking and new Epicurean shops will be added. The Gilmore Bank and office spaces, part of the North Market expansion, will open in October. Weekend entertainment is scheduled for a new plaza, and "The Red Line" tram will link Farmers Market and the Grove — the old and the new — along a single trolley track.

If "the new" is The Grove at Farmers Market, then "the old" is the Fairfax district, center of Los Angeles’ Jewish community. A generation ago, Jewish families moved west from East Los Angeles (Montebello, City Terrace and Boyle Heights) to Fairfax Avenue, which runs from Wilshire to Santa Monica boulevards, and set up shop. Kosher restaurants, butchers and bakers populated the area. As more Jewish families moved into the Fairfax district in the 1950s, religious schools, synagogues and a Jewish Community Center sprang up. Recently arrived Jewish emigrants from Israel and Russia gave the area a cosmopolitan air.

With its Old World atmosphere and open-air vegetable stalls and eateries, Farmers Market was an instant draw. Many Jewish residents of the area can’t remember a time when Farmers Market wasn’t part of their shopping or kibbitzing routine. Today, the Farmers Market retains a home-away-from-home allure for many seniors and immigrants in the Fairfax neighborhood.

As much as these regulars would like Farmers Market to remain the same, The Grove, with its many retail options and restaurants, signals a welcome change for many in the Fairfax neighborhood. CBS employees, who stumble out of work at 7 p.m. with no place to get a drink or a bite to eat will now be able to go to Farmers Market and the upscale restaurants and shops at The Grove. The young singles, couples and artists who populate West Hollywood, as well as the tourists, say they will benefit from the expansion of Farmers Market and the Grove.

President of A.F. Gilmore Co., Hank Hilty — whose great-grandfather bought the original 30 acres that Farmers Market and the Grove occupy in 1860 — observes that "people’s reactions are very mixed" about the project. But he believes that this stems from current conditions. "There’s the confusion of parking, construction, concern with the change of character of the market environment," he says. "But this whole project is to preserve and enhance Farmers Market, which is the bedrock of the entire project."

When development-minded Hilty first thought about expanding Farmers Market in the late 1980s, he met with a contentious community. "A lot of community groups were very active at the time, having seen their neighborhoods change, with little input from the people who lived there," he explains. He sought a developer and worked with the community, but due to the recession of the early ’90s, the project ultimately failed. Hilty put the idea on the back burner until 1996, when he decided to try again, and chose Caruso Affiliated Holdings for the project.

"Rick Caruso has earned the respect of each and every community in which he has worked, even among those who traditionally oppose development. His responsiveness to community concerns has led to some of the most popular retail centers in the region," Hilty states on the Caruso Affiliated Web site.

This time around, the community offered little resistance to Farmers Market expansion and the Grove, except, Hilty says, from one community group that questioned the number of liquor licenses requested. That number was modified, and a compromise was reached through a hearing process with the city.

For many regular customers, who have been coming to the storied corner of the Farmers Market for the last 40 years, the idea of a new shopping mall going up next-door has hit them hard. Their main concern is retaining the quaint character of the market: Why do they need another shopping mall in Los Angeles? Isn’t there already enough shopping?

"I think the Grove is a positive thing," says Kathy (who declined to give her last name), one of six seniors sitting around a table in the east plaza at Farmers Market. "But where in the heck are we going to park? We can’t come here and pay $10 a day; we live on a fixed income."

"They’ve really broken up the entire area, with more high-rises and department stores, and the traffic is horrible," says Beverly Baker of the mid-Wilshire district, who sits at the same table and has been coming to Farmers Market for the past 35 years. "Older people need to have a connection [with other people] on a human level, and instead, it’s more and more about commercialism and a world full of objects," she said.

For the Boren brothers, Jack, Morris and Herman, the prospect of a new shopping mall is a positive, except for the parking." It’s going to hurt them if people have to pay for parking," says Morris, 88, who has been coming to Farmers Market for 40 years. "If you have to look on the clock how long you’ve been sitting here, there will be no business."

Despite customer opposition, merchant Paul Sobel, 45, owner and operator of two newsstands at Farmers Market, welcomes the change., saying, "I think it is a fabulous project…. If you’re not moving forward, you’re standing still. This area needed to become more relevant and vital, and the only way to do that is developing, and they’re doing a wonderful job."

Sobel, like many of the merchants at Farmers Market, endured a difficult past two and a half years. Many buildings, including one of his own, were demolished to make way for The Grove. He moved to the other side of the market and almost immediately had a front-row seat to the construction outside his door. One of Sobel’s newsstands, Sheltams, sits at Gate Two, which will be the end of the line (or the beginning) of "The Red Line," and where a replica of an old Gilmore Gas Station will be erected.

With the confusion and inconvenience of construction, some vendors left the market, but the loyal ones stayed behind.

"What Rick Caruso and Hank Hilty have done is impressive," Sobel says, voicing no regrets. "These guys have a lot of integrity. This is more than just a business, more than just a shopping center. They’ve created a sense of place that relates to Farmers Market, a place that has survived time and is still relevant."

"There’s a lot of apprehension, apprehension of the unknown," Hilty says. "But we’re fully confident that [The Grove and Farmers Market expansion] is going to be a great success and benefit to all. It’s like when we announced that we would be open on Sunday, everyone was concerned, but today, Sunday at Farmers Market is one of our most popular days."

"Of course we’ll still come," says Paula Levine, a regular for 42 years, "This is our home."