November 21, 2018

Moving & Shaking: Defending Israel, Standing Up for DACA

From left: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra; Jessie Kornberg, president and CEO of Bet Tzedek; Ora T. Fisher, vice chair at Latham & Watkins; and Latham & Watkins partners David Schindler and Peter Rosen attend the annual Bet Tzedek gala dinner. Photo by Kim Silverstein, Silver Lining Photography

More than 1,000 people attended the Bet Tzedek annual gala on Feb. 1 at the JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live, which raised more than $2.2 million for the pro bono legal aid agency.

Bet Tzedek provides free, comprehensive legal services for low-income individuals and families in Los Angeles.

Honorees included Kim Selfon, who received the Jack H. Skirball Community Justice Award; the law firm of Latham & Watkins, which received the Rose L. Schiff Commitment to Justice Award, presented by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to the firm’s vice chair, Ora Fisher; John Ly, who received the Rebecca Nichols Emerging Leader Award, presented by Brian Sun, partner-in-charge at the Los Angeles office of the Jones Day law firm; and E. Randol Schoenberg, an attorney and former president of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, who received the Luis Lainer Founder’s Award, presented by David Lash, managing counsel for pro bono work at the O’Melveny & Myers law firm.

“The Bet Tzedek annual gala dinner is a powerful statement that ensuring equal justice for all is not just a tagline, it’s an ongoing commitment of our community to provide free legal services to those that need them most,” said Bet Tzedek President and CEO Jessie Kornberg.

After the gala, more than 100 young professionals gathered at The Mixing Room at the JW Marriott for the Bet Tzedek New Leadership Council After Party, which raises funds for, and awareness of, the work of Bet Tzedek.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra addressed approximately 60 people at Young Israel of Century City (YICC) last week. YICC Senior Rabbi Elazar Muskin (right) introduced Becerra. Photo by Ryan Torok

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra appeared at Young Israel of Century City (YICC) on the evening of Feb. 6 for a wide-ranging discussion on immigration, homelessness, mental illness and Israel.

Addressing about 60 people in the YICC social hall, Becerra called himself a “strong ally and supporter of Israel.”

“We endanger the fight for Israel if we make it a partisan issue in the U.S.,” he said to applause.

Asked about Democrats’ sometimes critical views of Israel, Becerra, a Democrat said Republicans were to blame for turning Israel into a partisan issue.

“Most of the Democrats I know have been strongly supportive of Israel,” he said.

Becerra began the evening with a discussion of immigration, saying the term “sanctuary cities” is a term of art. With no official legal definition, “sanctuary cities” generally describes cities whose law enforcement agencies do not cooperate with, but do not interfere with, federal law enforcement in identifying and deporting undocumented immigrants, he said.

An American of Mexican descent, Becerra became California’s chief law officer in 2017, after his predecessor Kamala Harris’ election to the U.S. Senate.

During a Q-and-A after the presentation, an audience member, who said his brother had a mental illness, asked Becerra what elected officials were doing to help people like his brother.

Becerra acknowledged the dearth of services for the mentally ill but did not have an answer. Instead, he drew a connection between untreated mental illness and the rise in homelessness.

Notable attendees at the event included YICC Senior Rabbi Elazar Muskin, YICC Past President Mark Goldenberg and Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein.

From left: Marcia Brous, Steven Wynbrandt, Ariel Wolpe and Stacie Chaiken sing at a Jews for Dreamers rally at the West L.A. office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Photo by Ryan Torok

More than 100 Jews gathered Feb. 6 for a rally in support of recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, outside the West Los Angeles office of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein at Sepulveda and Santa Monica boulevards.

“Let my people stay,” the protestors chanted.

The lively rally, organized by Leo Baeck Temple, the secular Sholem Community and Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, drew Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, part-time rabbi-in-residence at Bend the Arc; Cohen’s wife, Andrea Hodos, program co-director at NewGround: A Muslim Jewish Partnership for Change; Rabbi Sarah Bassin, associate rabbi at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills; Rachel Sumekh, founder of Swipe Out Hunger; Hillel at UCLA Director Emeritus Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller; and Marcia and Rick Brous, the parents of IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous.

While Marcia Brous banged a bongo drum, Rick Brous held a sign that read, “Republican for Dreamers.”

“I’m an American before I’m a Republican, and I can’t stand our current president,” Rick Brous said. “I think it is important for everybody to support Dreamers, not just Jews. It is the right thing to do.”

Sumekh, for her part, said she felt good being around likeminded people.

“Normally, I feel this when I’m listening to my podcasts, and now I get to feel this rage with hundreds of people,” she said.

Sumekh said she empathizes with young, undocumented immigrants because her mother fled Iran at the age of 21 “with a dream.”

LA Kids Challah Bake participants complete the first stage of making
their challah dough: adding yeast to warm water. Photo by Ricardo Cornejo

On the morning of Feb. 4, Super Bowl Sunday, about 200 people turned out for a different kind of food-centered tradition: the second annual LA Kids Challah Bake at The Majestic Downtown in Los Angeles.

Event organizer Brocha Yemini said “people who affiliate with the Jewish religion” were invited to participate. She added that she was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the attendees and heartened by the number who had never before attempted to make challah.

“That was one of our goals,” said Yemini, director of Camp Gan Israel, one of the event’s sponsors.

She said she hoped that many of the newbies would now feel confident enough to attempt making challah at home.

“Challah is delicious,” she said. “It’s something that is loved by all. We want to have unity through challah.”

She and her sister, Rochie Yemini, were inspired to start the event in December 2016 by a similar, albeit larger program in New York. They held the inaugural bake event at the Chabad Israel Center on South Robertson Boulevard in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. While they considered that event a success, they wanted to make sure everyone — affiliated Jews, unaffiliated Jews and interfaith families — felt welcome. So, they sought out a nonreligious venue for this year’s festivities.

Sarah Klegman, a writer and co-founder of Challah Hub, a local artisan challah delivery company, and Whitney Fisch, director of counseling at Milken Community School’s upper-school campus and creator of the Jewhungry blog, served as hosts and kept the proceedings lively with a competitive challah trivia game. But when they asked about the mitzvah of separating the challah, the hafrashat challah, the otherwise rambunctious crowd that included many school-age children grew quiet. The practice involves separating a small piece of dough after the flour, yeast and wet ingredients have been combined but before the dough is braided. Historically, these olive-size pieces of dough were offerings to temple priests, but these days the practice is to burn them.

Brocha Yemini said that when everyone joined together in blessing the challah, with their eyes closed, it was “a special moment.”

Then it was on to the braiding. Every child made a challah to take home and a second one to be delivered the following day to Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, whose representative, Kitty Glass, spoke to the crowd about the organization’s work.

Not surprisingly, given the age of the young bakers, chocolate chips and sprinkles proved to be the challah toppings of choice. Raisins, not so much.

Leslee Komaiko, Contributing Writer

From left: Jewish Family Service Los Angeles (JFSLA) Vice President Susie Forer-Dehry, “Laughing Matters” co-chairs Linda Levine and Wendy Silver; JFSLA board member Tami Stapf; JFSLA board chair Shana Passman; and JFSLA President and CEO Eli Veitzer attend “Laughing Matters,” a benefit for JFSLA, at the Laugh Factory. Photo by Michael Sidman

More than 200 Angelenos filled the Laugh Factory in Hollywood on Feb. 6 for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ (JFSLA) sixth annual “Laughing Matters” fundraiser, which features well-known stand-up comedians and benefits the organization’s domestic violence services.

“We are so grateful for the support of our community who came together to make this ‘Laughing Matters’ a night to remember,” JFSLA President and CEO Eli Veitzer told the Journal.

Originally founded in 1854 as the Hebrew Benevolent Society, JFSLA offers a broad range of services, including financial assistance and emotional support services for Holocaust survivors, mental health and addiction counseling, and citywide food drives.

This year’s lineup of comedians included Orny Adams, Preacher Lawson and John Mendoza, who performed their sets but also took time to stress the importance of assisting survivors of domestic violence.

The headliner was actor, comedian and talk show host Arsenio Hall, best known for hosting “The Arsenio Hall Show.”

Over the previous five annual events, proceeds from tickets, donations and auctions have raised more than $300,000.

This year, Veitzer said, “Thanks to our co-chairs, Linda Levine and Wendy Silver, we raised over $75,000 to support domestic violence services provided by JFS Hope, formerly known as the Family Violence Project.”

Tickets were $200 per person.

With counseling centers in North Hollywood and Pico-Robertson, two crisis hotlines and three residential shelters, JFSLA offers a continuum of care, from counseling and case management to housing assistance and job-readiness skills for survivors of domestic violence.

The evening also included a light dinner buffet and a live auction.

Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer

Son of George Soros launches Bend the Arc Jewish Action PAC…and it’s not about Israel

A Jewish political action committee  (PAC) devoted solely to promoting progressive stances on domestic issues in the United States was launched April 21 by the nonprofit Bend the Arc. The new PAC is the first of its kind among this country’s more than 30 Jewish PACs, most of which focus on Israel and the Middle East. Serving as the chair of the PAC’s board is Alexander Soros, son of billionaire financier and Democratic mega-donor George Soros.

The Bend the Arc Jewish Action PAC launched with $200,000 in commitments, its director, Hadar Susskind, told the Journal; it has already thrown its support behind four Democratic congressional candidates in the November 2016 election — Yvette Clarke of New York, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Rep. Xavier Becerra of California and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. 

Susskind said that the four congressional members were interviewed by Bend the Arc PAC before the group decided to support them. He added that Bend the Arc PAC plans to add more House candidates to its slate, as well as a few Senate candidates — but for now will stay out of the presidential race. “[That’s] not a reflection on [Hillary] Clinton or any other candidates,” Susskind said.

On the day of the launch, an opinion piece by Alexander Soros was published in Politico saying Bend the Arc PAC represents the political views of most American Jews, who, according to polling, are not concerned primarily with Israel and are among the most liberal groups in the United States.

“There are people, including lots of Jews, who are politically involved, who work through Emily’s List or Sierra Club or Move On, but none of them bring the Jewish community’s voice to the political table,” Susskind said, amplifying Soros’ piece on Politico. “People who are involved in the Jewish voice have, until now, only had the opportunity to do that on Israel and in Middle East policy.” Another Jewish PAC, the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs (known as JACPAC), is based in Chicago and focuses on Israel as well as on domestic abortion rights and separation of church and state.

Even while polls show an increase in the number of Jews who have moved toward Republican Party identification since 2008, 61 percent of American Jews currently identify with the Democrats, while 29 percent identify with Republicans, and Susskind said he is confident the overwhelming support for Democratic politicians and policies will continue.

“You can go back every four years and, frankly, off-cycle years too, and see the same quotes from the same people who say, ‘Oh yeah, Jews are abandoning the Democrats, Jews are abandoning the Democrats.' It’s never proven to be true, and I don’t expect it to be any different this time,” Susskind said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate when anybody says, ‘Oh, I speak for the Jewish community.’ What we are representing, though, as demonstrated by poll after poll after poll, are the political views of the majority of the community.”

PACs have existed since the early 1940s, when supporters of Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Congress of Industrial Organizations. PACs are allowed to collect up to $5,000 from any single donor and may donate up to $5,000 to any single candidate, or $15,000 to any single party. Thousands of PACs exist today, and they’ve long drawn ire from many Democrats who say they play a corrosive role in American politics by flooding elections with money. 

Andrew Weinstein, a prominent Florida trial lawyer and Democratic fundraiser,